On July 15th 2012, I ran (and hiked and walked) my first 50 mile race, in none other than the highest incorporated city in the country, Leadville. I signed up in May and then planned a vacation around it, trying to stay at a similar elevation the entire week before the race. April 1st of this year I ran Brew to Brew – a solo or relay race that goes from Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City, MO to near FreeState Brewery in Lawrence Kansas, for a total of just under 44 miles. Finishing in 6 hours and 31 minutes and sixth place, it gave me the confidence needed to sign up for a little more distance and a lot more hills.
There was a little more than hills… That’s more elevation gain in the first 5 miles than I get most weeks running 50 miles. My training consisted of just a couple of things leading up to this; – 35-60 miles a week peaking at around 61 miles, and racing – usually race weeks were the short mileage weeks. I tried to run all of the miles at a quality pace, my “recovery” runs didn’t go much slower than 8min/miles.
My races this year (some of which I may write reports for later):
Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run 50K – 5:57:48 Feb 11 – injured in the first 10 miles but still cranked out a decent time on the toughest course we have here in sub-zero temps.
Westport St. Patrick’s Day Run 4 Mile 25:30 Mar 10 – first time doing a short road race
Brew to Brew 6:31:43 44 Miles April 1
KC Corp. Challenge 5K 18:24 May 5 – this was my first 5K, very hilly and hot. My first time trying to run under a sub-6 min/mile pace.
Rock-On Lake Perry 50K 4:50:30 May 12 – I went out fast and was in the lead all by myself for the first 13 miles… Not sustainable.
Kansas City Corporate Callenge Half Marathon 1:28:46 May 19th – Still a bit sore from the 50K and not experienced pacing for a road 13.1, but happy with the result. Hot day.
Hospital Hill Half Marathon 1:26:14 June 2nd – I got a free entry from Ben who runs the Trail Nerds, couldn’t pass it up. It has hill in the name but there’s a bunch.
KC Corporate Challenge Mile Run June 5th 5:31 – I was very sore. I’d like to run a mile on the track again when fresh. I ran the 1500 meter portion of a relay two days later – not sure of my time but ouch.
KC Corporate Challenge Duathalon 1:20:57 June 17 – This race had a 2.4 mile run at the beginning and end, and 13.5 mile bike, all hilly, and it was my second day ever riding a bike with gears.
The speed training and all of the double runs commuting to and from work, especially when it was so consistently over 100 degrees every afternoon helped me get in pretty decent shape for this race, without super high mileage. I think the heat also helped prepare me for the altitude, since your blood volume is supposed to increase when training in in hot weather.
I actually bought shoes specifically for this race – Brooks PureGrit trail shoes. My favorite road shoes are the Brooks Green Silence which are basically light-weight racing flats – I like them so much I wore them for my 44 mile race and for a trail 50K. I needed something that was built to drain if wet and had a bit more protection and traction underfoot, with the same level of comfort as the Green Silence. Weight really matters to me with a size 13 foot, those ounces add up.
The other item I purchased for the race was a hat with a detachable neck shade – the Salomon XA+ Cap. I chose the Asphalt color, because not only does black look cooler, it might actually keep you cooler in the right circumstances. This article from Nature helps explain basically that black material as long as it allows air movement underneath provides more shade and can keep you cooler because less light reaches you, the key being air movement and moisture being able to escape. Plus, there’s that Darth Vader look I had going. The Salomon hat has plenty of ventilation and the largest size fit my big head perfectly and looked decent which is rare for a hat on me. I spent weeks wear testing it in the height of Missouri’s heat. The last thing I wanted was to spend a week camping, hiking and running in the mountains getting burnt to a crisp before a long race. I’m not a big sunscreen fan either, I just try and not get more sun than I can handle without burning.
On to the 6:00 Am start of the race. Ben Keefe, fellow Kansas City Trail Nerd, and his father, were camping with their family two tents down at SugarLoafin. They gave me a ride to the race which greatly reduced the stress getting all of the kids up and ready, which would have been hell, it’s hard enough for me. I had done a run around WYCO Lake with Ben, and knowing also some of his race times – I think he is a stronger runner than me, but it was not his day out there. Also joining us at the start was Pete Kostelnick, another fast runner whom I met running Brew to Brew. We ran a large part of the race together there and he finished over half an hour ahead of me, and he has done a couple 100 mile races and generally races fast. My plan was to stick with him and Ben at first, though I knew Ben’s goal was to just finish, no time goals set so I knew that we probably were not going to run the same pace. Pete also had been dealing with a foot injury so I think he planned to run more conservatively, and this is why my planned running company was suddenly nowhere to be seen behind me half a mile into the race.
After the start up the steep slope of Dutch Henry hill came that first recognition I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (a place I tend to avoid anyway except for where there’s good trails) as there is sudden oxygen debt that sneaks right up on you. It went away pretty quickly for me and my easy pace was fairly zippy, no reason to run slower which would have taken nearly the same effort. I was steadily passing people but not at a ridiculous rate. Less than a mile in there was a short downhill when suddenly there was a runner in front of me yelling at the guy that just passed him “You Asshole! You broke my pole!” Insert joke here? This guy already was using hiking poles, on a crowded trail at the start of a race. I’m pretty sure it was his responsibility to keep them out of other runners way. My opinion on the use of poles would change a bit later in the race when I tried to use my hands on my knees like I had them. I passed this guy and didn’t look back, I don’t think it could have ended well for him.
The first 7 or so miles weren’t that bad, it was a pretty steady ascent and while the trail was pretty rock strewn it was easy to traverse with fresh legs. The next 3 miles to Mile 10 and 12,000 feet began to get tougher, and I was taking short walk breaks, more the higher up I went. Up past tree line it was incredibly beautiful though and that helps propel you, that and the knowledge you’d be flying downhill soon. I had trouble keeping the pace in check at that point, with a nearly 3 mile downhill on an nice steady-grade dirt road, and was probably averaging about a 7:10min/mil pace for that section. I was wearing a GPS watch which told me this, but when it died 34 miles into the race it didn’t save what it had recorded, one of the many issues with the Timex Run Trainer I use – I could write a whole post about that. One feature I do like about it is eat and drink reminders. The drink reminders I use more to keep track of time every 15 minutes or take a small sip just to avoid dehydration, but I mainly try to drink to thirst. The eat timer I had set to 30 minutes, and I kept to that schedule pretty well for the first half of the race, taking a 100 calorie GU gel, I alternate between the caffeinated and unadulterated kind. The second half of the race my diet went more by feel, esp. with no watch.
I made it to the 13.5 Printer Boy aid station and stopped just to kiss the wife and the couple of kids I could get ahold of. It was the second aid station and I felt no need to stop at but that would change. I came through in pretty good time – 2:17:40. The course departed the mountain road and kept going downhill a couple miles on still pretty runnable single-track, but no more 7 minute miles again in this race, far from it. Up the trail went past a number of old mining operations, bulwarks, shacks, closed off shafts, and the spillage of mineral rich rocks and dirt from abandoned mining operations. Eventually you rise above treeline again and the going is slow but not too steep and you near the Rock Garden aid station, which is a false summit – near the 12,000 feet you are going to hit again but there’s another valley and climb to go.
I only stopped for some coke here, and briefly – figuring I’d be taking plenty more time on the way back and not having any real nutritional need I wasn’t meeting with what I was carrying in my Nathan pack. At this point I had taken only 2 S-Caps – it was still cool enough I wasn’t loosing too much salt. I’d only take a couple more the rest of the race, I sweat a lot but I’m pretty sure I have a huge store of the stuff in me already.
The second climb back up to 12,000 feet was a bit steeper this time at around 20 miles in, and the knowledge of the coming pain (going back up after the turnaround/halfway point) as you crest the other side of the pass and hit the steep downhill which was bad enough to make me wonder how the mountain bikers in the race the day before on the same course made it down without all eating dirt. The grade was enough that I had to apply the brakes big time, and it was on the way down to Stumptown the 25 mile turnaround that I saw the lead runners start trickling by me, I kept a rough count as I came to mile 25, I was probably near 25th place, but that’s a very rough estimate. A few of the lead girls passed me as well and there was anything but wounded pride, just admiration.
Stumptown had a huge crowd there and there had been enough struggling by this point it was hard to not let the cheers get to you, plus the aid station seemed like it would never come as they throw one more hill at you as you run around a turnabout. We drove up here the day before to check it out during the bike race, the road getting there was really steep and rough and there was no plans to have Aubrey and the kids meet me there, not worth the risk. I stopped and started eating bits of all the things, bananas, pretzels, and more coke… I also got a refill on my hydration pack, a first in a race for me. There was a bit less room in there for water than normal since I started the race with a long sleeve shirt I stowed in the first 3 miles. There was a WTF moment when someone found a race chip that had my number printed on it, but it was not mine thankfully since there it was firmly attached on the back side of my bib. I pictured results chaos, but my time clocked in without issue the whole way. I left the halfway point about 4 hours and 16 minutes into the race, an hour and 59 minutes between the first and second checkpoints.
It was a bit demoralizing getting moving again knowing the climbs I was about to face, but I figured after the first return to 12,000+ feet the worst would be over, and that was more or less the case. I passed Pete as he was about a mile and a half to the turnaround as I was heading up the course on the return, he was close enough behind me that he could catch up depending on how much I slow down, and if he didn’t. I was hoping for some company, and would at some point ask his fiancée as I passed her how far back Pete was, but it was not to be.
A mile later or less I high fived Ben as he passed by, not noticing he was still in long sleeves and tights, just that he looked like he was doing fine, but he had been dreading the climb I was about to start that at one point had me moving at a 24-26min/mile pace near the top, hands on knees climbing and one short step in front of another. It was just a really hard mile, and once back on top I started getting back to normal, not running strongly per se but regrouping. At the 30 mile mark back at the the Rock Garden Aid station I discovered just how great watermelon really is during a n ultra. It kept going through my head later, “I fucking love watermelon!” I wanted to tell people. You grab onto thoughts like this running long distances, like a mantra. After a quick stop to get a rock out of my shoe it was more downhill again, and the watermelon didn’t shield me from the affects of all of the coke I guzzled. I began to get a side stich that would last me most of the way to the Printer Boy aid station, where I was anxious to see my family.
I started running and chatting with one of the guys who was doing the Leadman competition – completing the Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush 50 bike or run, Leadville Trail 100 run, the Leadville Trail 100 MTB and the 10K run all in just a couple of months. I asked him for sage advice regarding my cramp, which wasn’t too bad uphill so I could keep up with him there, but there is nothing magic other than it will go away. It did right before Printer boy, where I devoured more watermelon while getting more hugs and kisses from my family. It was hard to leave, and on the long steady climb to the last high point of the day I was talking to a guy who had seen me getting loved on and he said it made him tear up, he wished his daughter was there, which made me almost cry as well. I then put on my headphones for the first time, and along with everyone else who isn’t in the top 10, began mostly powerwalking/hiking and sometimes running for a short bit up the long 3 miles back to the top. The music got me going and I found myself passing people, walking.
The forty mile mark came and it was time to run, downhill and as hard as I could muster. I kept it up, passing many people that passed me after the turnaround, didn’t stop too long at the last aid station Black Cloud – and had just 7 more miles to go. I was even battling it out with a guy that wanted to finish sub 9 hours, we were yo-yo’ing back and forth as we passed people. The last few miles were not on the same course we started on, and I was alone again and getting convinced I was going in circles or the wrong way, the course came close to intersecting itself a few times. So close to the end, but hard not to start walking every little random uphill. Suddenly I could finally hear the crowds, and see the path we were taking around the top of Dutch Henry hill and began to pick speed back up. They had one nice steep downhill section before the turn to the red carpet finish, and then it was done. I had beat my family there, but I had my medal and a chair, and a girl from boulder who finished not long after me even had a beer to share.
Sitting there within 15 minutes the temp dropped 20 degrees it seemed like, and the wind picked up. Pete finished under 10 hours as well and we chatted for a bit. Aubrey and the kids arrived and we didn’t stick around long. It was about to start raining cats and dogs as we walked to the car. I was glad I was not still running in that. People would be out there 5 more hours. I was very happy with my 54th place finish, couldn’t expect a lot better with my background and being a flatlander.
I felt so well in fact that I decided to come back before the cutoff time and enter the lottery for the 100 mile run a month later. I’m still not sure why I did that. We had some good beer back at camp, but I won’t blame that. There was 10 spots and 10 people crazy enough… The race sells out almost instantly every year now, so there was a chance I wouldn’t get in if I wanted to do it next year, which would have made more sense for me than doubling my longest distance in a month. As it is I’ve had some knee trouble this week, I started back in on hills and weight training a little too quickly after the race thinking all was good, but tightness in my hips and glutes are causing IT band tracking issues in my knee. It’s nothing I can’t deal with in the 3 weeks to the race though, it’s a familiar injury to me. I’ll probably write a separate post about my prep and thoughts going into the Leaville Trail 100 run.
Gallery below of all the pictures and here’s a link to the Google+ gallery if there is issues viewing.