Thursday, March 28, 2013

Buffalo Run 50k Race Report

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Last Saturday I ran the 2013 Buffalo Run 50k on Antelope Island on a course that I am VERY familiar with. Back in 2011, I ran my first ultra out there and finished the 50k in a fairly conservative 6:14:03. I remember training my ass off for the race and then not really feeling all that whooped until the last few miles before the finish. Confident in my abilities, I bumped up to the 50 mile distance last year and paid a decent price for my cockiness that early in the season (race report here). I was under-trained, not ready for the heat on race day, and went out a bit too fast. I ended up with some monster blisters, a disappointing finishing time (lots of walking in the later stages), and a torn hamstring a few weeks after the race (from not letting my body heal up properly). Anyhow, it was quite the fiasco last year, and so I decided this year that I'd take it a bit easier and sign up for the 50k.

Having done relatively well at the American Canyon 25k in February (race report here), I had great expectations for the 50k. My goal was to shave about 15 minutes off my previous time and go under six hours, which I deemed to be a "realistic expectation". The forecast for race day was calling for cold temperatures and possible snow, which definitely caters to my strengths as I've been running in that kind of stuff all winter. When we arrived on the island Saturday morning, it turned out to be clear and cold... 27º at the start with a very stiff, cold wind dropping the temps even lower. I ended up running the entire race in my shell (lightweight windbreaker), beanie, and gloves, as it was just too damn cold without them. The first 25k lap was pretty uneventful. I was moving well but keeping my effort in check so that I saved enough energy for the second lap of the same course. I ran past a bunch of 25k runners (heading out as I was heading back... they started an hour later), including my coworker Stevie and my wife Ashley. I felt great until the last mile or so to the finish/turnaround, when my foot started to hurt a bit on the downhill. I completed the first lap in 2:50 and was quite pleased with myself, as that left me a bit of cushion to possibly achieve my sub-6 goal. Mentally, heading out for a second lap of the course is tough. I half considered calling it a day and dropping down to the 25k, but realized that I'd later be pissed off at myself for doing so.

I headed out on the second lap and immediately things started to feel a bit "off". I walked up the initial two-mile climb instead of running it as I had the first lap. Anytime I tried to run this uphill, a muscle in my hip/groin area cramped up and forced me to walk. Once the terrain flattened out a bit, I was able to run pretty smoothly. Upon my decent into the large, open valley I ran past Stevie and Ashley again and was feeling pretty good. Once the terrain tilted upward again, I was forced to walk. Thus began the downward spiral. By the time I reached the Elephant Head aid station for the third time (2x per lap), I was not feeling too hot. I took a few minutes there to down some Coke and a few handfuls of potato chips (after eating gels for a few hours, these are amazing). I started on the long two-mile downhill to the shore of the Great Salt Lake and I was unable to run most of it because my feet were hurting so bad. No bueno. Upon return to the uphills on the far side of the course, I was forced to walk yet again due to cramping. By the time I returned to the aid station at mile 27-ish, I was in a very bad place. I had walked almost the entire stretch and my stomach and feet were not happy. I sat for a good ten minutes at the aid station trying to psyche myself up to go the remaining 5+ miles to the finish. I finally walked out of the aid station around 5:45 on the race clock, knowing that my time goal was unattainable. I walked almost the entire way back and then was greeted with a slightly happier stomach and a boost of adrenaline for the last few miles, so I ran it in for a 6:47:13 finish. Ugh.

At first I was very disappointed with how things went down. Instead of lowering my time on the course, I added 33 minutes to my 2011 finishing time. Upon further review, however, I heard that many people struggled with the frigid wind that day and posted slower times than in the past. On a more personal level, I realized that it had been a full year since I had run an ultra. Sure, I had a handful of shorter races and a few runs in the 20-22 mile range over the past year, but nothing quite long enough to remind my body what an ultra feels like. Most of all, after a season of injury and little racing last year, I am just happy to be healthy and out there doing my thing. I honestly think that this was an excellent early-season test of fitness and practice for many a slog-fest to come.

A huge congrats to all of the race finishers, including those who dropped down in mileage and still ran a hell of a long way (you know who you are). This race really is a homecoming for the local running community, and it is great to see so many familiar faces and friendly volunteers out there having fun.

Cresting the first climb of the day. Quite the conga line.

Insert frigid wind here. Nice clear day on the island though.

View north from the top of the climb to the Elephant Head aid station.

Close encounters of the buffalo kind. A small herd grazes near the trail on the western shore of the island.

I just figured out why the trail is named the Split Rock Loop!

Singletrack with a view.

Greenery and scenery.

Climbing the dreaded switchbacks.

Headphones are in... time to get serious.

With that race in the rear-view mirror now, it is time to focus on future happenings. In May I'll be running the Timp Trail Half Marathon with Ashley and her parents, who will be driving out from SoCal for the race. This is a favorite of mine and I am really looking forward to it, although I will be taking it fairly easy on race day. Two weeks after that race, on June 1, I will be undertaking the biggest athletic challenge of my life so far by running the Squaw Peak 50 miler. Squaw is a classic race in the Wasatch which boasts approximately 11,000' of climb (and the same of descent... ouch!) over rugged mountain terrain, topping out at 9300' atop Windy Pass. I am totally stoked for the race and plan on getting in some very long runs in the mountains to prepare. We'll be moving to Denver in July (if not sooner, depending on my job search), so this will be my final farewell to the Wasatch and probably a fairly emotional run. And now I must go train...

Happy trails!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ready to roll

I have to say, knock on wood, things have been going pretty well on the fitness/running front since my last post in early February. I have taken a slightly different approach to training this season, and it seems to be paying off so far. In addition to my weekend long runs of increasing length, I have also been doing some speed work, strength training, and yoga to mix things up a bit. My overall mileage is lower than usual, but I'm okay with that, as I learned a lesson about moderation last year with my torn hamstring. Ashley and I have cleaned up our diet a ton and have really been noticing the difference in everyday life as well as running. I can honestly say that I am in the best shape I have been in a good number of years and feel pretty damn good. Here's to health and fitness!

A few weeks ago I took a long drive out to hang out with my college buddy/best man Coldie in Auburn, CA and run the American Canyon 25k. It turned out to be a great "man weekend" filled with good times, food, drink, music, and running. Race day turned out to be gorgeous... high 30's and sunny at the start, which felt warm to this Utahn. Knowing that this was a totally runnable, non-technical, fast course with only mild vertical, I was very tempted to head out on the opening downhill stretch at a blistering pace. Realizing that I had been slogging through snow for the past few months in SLC, I decided against that strategy and went out fairly conservative. I ran at a decent, sustainable clip with a group of female ultrarunners from the Bay Area until about mile six, when they slowed a bit and I was feeling good and picked it up a bit. By the time I reached the turnaround at highway 49, I was feeling great and decided that now was the time to put the pedal to the metal on the 3+ mile downhill back to No Hands Bridge. I ended up absolutely hammering this section of smooth, buttery single-track and was ready to attack the remaining 4.5 mile climb to the finish. I was able to maintain a decent pace uphill despite mild cramping (it was in the 50's by now and hot by my winter standards) and passed a few runners. As I crested the last ridge, I came upon a fellow runner who looked to be struggling a bit. With the finish line in sight, I urged him to run the last bit in with me, but he was badly cramping so I went ahead with my uphill sprint finish. My goal for the race was to break three hours, and I absolutely crushed it... I crossed the line in 2:47:13 in 11th place overall. This year's winner came in at a very speedy 2:09, whereas my time this year was only five minutes slower than the winner last year and would have gotten me fourth place overall. No complaints, I couldn't be happier! After the race I spent some time chatting with the race director and his wife (former SLC residents) and commended them on a job well done. Overall, a great race... beautiful course, well organized, and good aid stations and volunteers.

Yours truly at the finish line of the AC 25k.
Just some no-name trail... no biggie.
Coldie and I.
The drive home, near Donner Pass.
A quick run on the drive home at Rye Patch Reservoir, Nevada.
Sunset on I-80, near the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Since then I've been getting my weekend long runs in, adapting to the wide range of trail conditions we have had the past few months as winter recedes and spring arrives in the Wasatch. One weekend, it was a spur-of-the-moment, Friday-after-work, five-hour-long, solo outing with headlamp in the snow along the foothills (which was the very definition of epic). The next week it was a 22 mile road run on Antelope Island with a fellow runner after discovering that the trails were in horrible shape due to snow and ice. The whole spectrum of weather has been experienced here in the last few months... from stupid-cold temps and white-out conditions, to glorious sunny days with temps in the mid-to-high 70's. You just never know what to expect.

Epic night run,. Photo by Ashley Gleason.
The lights of the Salt Lake Valley from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail above the Avenues.
Slow, sloppy day on the trails of Antelope Island.
Pounding some pavement instead of post-holing, Antelope Island.
Ruby, soaking up the rays and loving life.

Speaking of unpredictable weather, this Saturday is the Buffalo Run. After a few weeks of glorious sunshine and warm-ish temps, the race-day forecast is calling for a high of 39º and a low of 23º, with a good chance of snow on race day and the days leading up to it. The good news is, I absolutely love racing in colder temps, even if there is a little white stuff falling from the sky. Almost every ultrarunner I know in the Wasatch (and a few from out of town) will be racing this weekend, so it should be a blast. Thoughts/prayers/offerings go out to the handful of friends that are running the 100 miler, starting Friday at noon. Running a 100 miler in March in Utah is quite the gamble, and it looks like this year they will be facing some seriously cold overnight lows and possible snowfall... I hope everyone wears their "woolies" and stays warm out there! On the saner side of the crazy spectrum, I am very much looking forward to running the 50k. My buddy Adam is driving out from Bozeman, MT for the race, so it will be good to hang out with him before and after the race (he's much faster than I), and I know a few first-timers out there, including my coworker/cubicle-mate Stevie who is running the 25k with Ash. Should be fun all around... best of luck to all!

Happy trails!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Overcoming winter inertia

So, yeah, it's been a LONG time since my last post here. Like three and a half months long. Whoops... life got in the way! I'm hoping to get back to more frequent running and more frequent posting soon.

Let me give you a quick recap of what has gone down since last October. I crewed a friend at the Pony Express 50, pacing her for the final 21 miles of the course. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed helping someone else achieve their goals. Our neighbor Rain and I got out for one last epic long run in early November before the weather turned and his wife gave birth to their first child. A few weeks after that, we met my in-laws down in Zion and got in some great runs, despite cold temperatures and wet weather. Everyone had a blast and we vowed to return again in the coming years. In early December, Ashley interviewed and accepted a faculty position at Regis University in Denver, CO. Thus we'll be moving in July or August, and I've already begun the job search in hopes of finding something before the big move.

So far, 2013 has been lackluster in the running department. I came into the new year mid-way through a running streak experiment (ran at least a mile a day for 29 days), which helped get me out the door on numerous occasions (toughest being Christmas Day while home in CA). My streak and motivation to run died a quick death when we returned to an abysmal January in SLC. I'm okay with snow. I'm okay with cold. I'm generally okay with running in either condition. What I am not cool with is the "mother of all inversions" that we experienced for most of January. The air quality was horrendous... about as bad as my trip to China in 2009. It's just downright unhealthy to try and run in the conditions we have had in the valley. That combined with a freak episode of "freezing rain" (which coated everything with a thick layer of ice) and single digit lows for weeks on end pretty much sealed the deal. January was not a good month for training.

Having said that, I will be heading out to the Tahoe area next week to kick off the racing season with the American Canyon 25k in Auburn, CA. It'll be interesting to see how my low-volume, slow-snow-and-smog-slog training of late translates to a relatively dry, flat, and fast course along parts of the Western States trail. An experiment of one, for sure! On the plus side, despite the 50k having over 100 entrants, the 25k should be pretty low-key, with only 21 entrants so far. Regardless of what happens on race day, I'll be hanging out with my buddy Coldie at his pad in Auburn, so it promises to be a good time!

Beyond that, I am signed up for the Buffalo Run 50k in March, and the Squaw Peak 50 miler in June. I haven't quite wrapped my head around attempting a tough, mountainous, 50 miler a few weeks before our big move to Denver. I go back and forth between being totally pumped for the race and wanting to withdraw from the race. Only time will tell which way I swing on this one... hopefully better weather and upcoming races help to reignite the flame! Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are some photo highlights from the past few months. Enjoy.

Happy trails!

Looking south over the Salt Lake Valley from the western ridge of City Creek
Canyon, early November run with Rain.
On the way to Observation Point, overlooking Zion Canyon.
View from the canyon floor, with Cable mountain in center.
Animated GIF of the Fricks family at the Observation
Point trailhead in Zion.
With the speedy Jon Clark atop a peak in SoCal.
Gorgeous day above the inversion with Ruby, atop Mt. Wire.