Sunday, 21 August 2011

Waldo 100k

Being back in Oregon means all the races I meant to fit in last time I was here are now back on my to-do list. That meant I was able to squeeze in Waldo 100k through the Cascades in Central Oregon and see some of the lakes from the Cascade Lakes Relay from high up. Supposedly 11,000ft of climbing in 100k, but several people claim it's more like 13,000ft and, given Miwok 100k is around 10,000ft, this one feels way steeper. Mind you, still a lot less than the UTMB races in a week - the CCC 100k there is over 20,000ft of ascent.

A lack of air-con at home has meant that getting to sleep at a reasonable hour is very difficult right now so I wasn't able to pre-adjust myself for the 5am start but drove down to Willamette Ski Pass the night before to sleep in the car then wake up in a complete daze about five hours too early for my body.

Being the first race of the 2011/12 Montrail Ultracup (which finishes with Western States), it meant runners were attracted by being part of the cup, by the decent prize money to the top finishers overall and by the lure of qualification spots for WS100 for the top two men and women (dropping down to third if any of the top two had already qualified). Given Dave Mackey was the clear favorite (CR holder at Bandera and Miwok 100ks as well as winning both of those this year) and had a WS100 entry already, plus I already had my WS100 place too, that meant it would be very likely that top three in the men would be enough to get that coveted spot. Ditto for the women since Aliza Lapierre was running as the favorite and already had her spot too.

Many of the guys I'd met at Mt Hood 50 and the run around Mt Hood shortly afterwards were there, plus a whole host of other Oregonian and Californian ultrarunners whose names many would recognize. Yassine Diboun in particular was gunning for a WS100 qualifier and looked like he had a great chance to get it...I knew I'd be looking out for him along the whole way and hoping to stay ahead.

The course went up the ski run from the lodge, climbing steeply enough to make me walk before the top of the approx 1,200ft climb. It was pitch black and my headlamp was dying so I had to focus very hard through the trees (no moonlight to help out) to not fall and to spot the lights ahead of me so I wouldn't miss a turn on the single-track.

By the first aid station at 7.4 miles, Dave had zoomed off but the next six or so guys were all together and we could finally turn off the lights. Time to make the ascent from under 5,000ft (lowest point on the course) to around 7,200ft on top of Mt Fuji. Hopefully I'll see its namesake next year in Japan for TNF Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji but this one was mainly runnable and in the last few steps we were given a sudden and spectacular view out over Waldo Lake and a large chunk of the Cascades.

Waldo, photo courtesy of Craig Thornley.

Fuji view from a random Flickr account online.

Unfortunately we then headed straight back the way we came so the view was only for a few seconds. I'd have loved to stay longer but the heat was on and I was only in about fifth with Dave already about 10 minutes ahead, judging by the out-and-back to the summit. I at least wanted a chance of winning.

Lots of fast downhill followed and I moved past Yassine into fourth, trying to conserve energy and reduce pounding on the thighs given I was only about 15 miles into the race. Nick put some distance on me but I felt I was going fast enough and looked at the splits I'd written on my arm for the CR and saw I ran that section below CR pace, albeit still five minutes too slow overall.

Annoyingly, I still haven't felt fresh and good in a race since about March, just before I ran way too many races and overtrained. I'd hoped to be back to normal by now but the legs still had that heavy feeling and, relatively, a distinct lack of pace compared to five months ago. I've accepted that I need to do a hell of a lot more proper hill training to improve running in races like Waldo, but Bend is the perfect place to do that. I've already started, with runs around Mt Hood and up to the top of Mt Bachelor a week ago (can hardly call it a run, but 'crawl' would be fairer). It's funny that I went an entire winter with no snow in Cali but now it's summer in Oregon I'm getting in a couple of snow runs every week by going up high.

The day heated up on the way through to the third climb up to the Twins and I kept discipline to run where possible, even if just for 50 yards, and power-walk any harder gradients. I could see how Dave was going so fast since the course was almost all runnable, but not yet for me. I went over the top of the first Twin and reached the 32 mile aid station on the way down, still in fourth and having run solo for quite a while.

I eventually caught up to third after the bottom of the descent and managed to overtake since he had stomach problems and later dropped. Then the climb up started again, but it was fairly easy at first and a slow jog was possible. It did gradually get steeper, but I jogged maybe half the time and on every section that I could.

By about 40 miles the power-hike/jog combo put me in sight of Nick Triolo in second, who was having a great race in his first 100k. I met Nick at Mt Hood 50, where he was third, then again running round that mountain where he carried one of my water bottles after my big fall left too much blood on my right hand to carry anything with it. We pushed up and up, maybe jogging half the time as we hit the snow. It's very rare for this course to have snow as it's in late August, but luckily the last few weeks of melting after a monster winter had meant we never had more than about 200 yards of snow and trail-finding was very easy with the pink surveyor's markers.

At 42 miles I felt slightly fresher after not having run much in the last few miles so I started running more than Nick and soon left him behind near the top of the climb. Just two more downhills left and one evil bitch of an ascent in-between.

I kept stuffing food and gels into me whenever possible but I was knackered and had lost my uphill legs, or whatever I had of them in the first place. Luckily I still felt fine on downhills and was cruising those through the single-track (almost the entire race is single-track and, if not tired, really enjoyable running).

The final climb started and was gentle at first so I hit the 49.9 mile aid station looking hot and bothered and really not looking forward to the steepest and greatest climb of the day up to Maiden Peak at over 7,800ft. However, I'd been told by Jeff Browning (who at that exact point was en route to a solid fifth at Leadville Trail 100 - nice work, mate!) that the gradient changes a lot so there are plenty of short runnable bits. Maybe for him, but after a third of the climb I was stuck in a power-walk. Well, not even that - more of a determined tip-toeing gradually uphill. I was working so hard, even at a very slow pace that I couldn't take on any food - I literally didn't have enough breath or saliva to swallow and didn't want to stop to eat. That's a new sensation, but reflects that I'd hammered through the day on legs that hadn't had any taper whatsoever (not smart, but I need the hill training and miles to get ready for UROC 100k and TNFEC Championship Final).

When I finally got to the top, the view was just amazing, but I was paranoid about losing my position and was sure that at least one of the guys behind me wouldn't have been so slow on that climb. I did stop for a few seconds to take it in, but then headed straight back downhill and didn't see anyone on the out-and-back final section to the peak so knew I had at least six minutes on third.

Maiden Peak summit view, courtesy of a random Flickr account.

Down, down, down and very steeply at first. Now I could feel it a bit in the legs but knowing it was only 7.5 miles to go from the next and final aid station, I didn't mind. I ate, drank and was generally incoherent while the aid station volunteers were very helpful. Now I just wanted it over and it felt more like closing out a 100-miler than a 100k.

Theoretically it was great running to the end, with three miles of gentle rolling trails then a gentle downhill for the final 750ft descent. Normally this would have been the type of trail to make me smile like a lunatic, especially with the few sections along the edges of the turquoise mountain lakes. But I was running with the fear of being caught by third, who I assumed would be able to chase me down after such a slow section previously.

Eventually I saw Lake Odell and the Ski Lodge and ran in for second in 9:42:51, exactly 36 minutes behind Dave. He crushed the CR by over four minutes and was on a massage table looking much better than when I last saw him post-race at WS100 where it looked like he was on a drip. He'd led from start to finish and run a very solid race, but I still posted the sixth fastest time in the race's history and only Dave has run the final section faster (so I probably wasn't in danger of being caught, in hindsight). A tough day which didn't go to plan and felt pretty awful 90% of the time, but it should make future races feel better and this was one I'm glad I got the chance to do.

It's a fantastic race course and was a chance to catch up with many of the non-Ashland-based Oregonian speedsters who either ran, paced or just showed up to chill out with a beer. Nick held on for third in 10:08 so has his spot at WS100 booked, which is great for him, but unfortunate for Yassine who really had his heart set on it (he ended up fifth after a hard day with a very respectable 10:28). Aliza won but just missed the women's CR by 10 minutes and finished in sixth overall in 10:33. Full results here.

Going to the Bend Brewfest afterwards was also a slight endurance feat, but in a town with so many breweries, this is something I couldn't miss.

Next up is a trip to the Alps to crew for a TNF athlete at UTMB, probably Hal from how things seem to be headed. I fly in two days and once I feel less exhausted I'll have enough adrenaline to get really pumped up about this instead. But I'm very glad I didn't enter it this year since I'm clearly not ready for it yet. One year of training should be enough so I can at least get through it ok without completely breaking myself.

What a busy weekend of races it's been and congratulations to all the finishers at all of them, especially the friends I've got running these: Pike's Peak Ascent/Marathon, Leadville Trail 100, Trans Rockies.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Training, Waldo and a TNF Running Video

Training's been going well towards the races over the next few months and I'm looking forward to a great course and several fast guys to race against at the Waldo 100k. I've heard it's got a pretty tough set of hills but recent weeks have shown me just how weak I was (and still am to a lesser degree) on the climbs so it should be fun to do the work to improve. This type of fun: running 40 miles around Mt Hood with 12,000ft of ascent/descent with friends, as recorded by Yassine Diboun on his blog.

Also, I did a promotional shoot last month with Kami Semick around Marin County for TNF Japan and the video is now on YouTube here and on my blog here. It shows off some great trails near Pan Toll, just up from Rodeo Beach and high up above Stinson Beach which show why there are so many fantastic races based there (like Miwok 100k, TNF Endurance Challenge Final, PCTR Headlands races and several other PCTR races). Kami's running alone until about 3:25, then just me until 6:25 then both of us for the last few minutes. Was really fun to shoot and a perfect reminder of the trails there now I've moved away.

Kami and myself running around Marin for a TNF Japan promotion

Monday, 8 August 2011

Cascade Lakes Relay - 216.6 miles touring Oregon

Diamond Lake the night before the race

These two didn't manage any legs and looked sorry and deflated by the end.

Since I moved to Oregon and changed my race schedule, I've been able to get some last minute entries to races. That includes the 216.6 mile relay around Central Oregon which starts at Diamond Lake (near Crater Lake), weaves round a whole lot of other lakes then ends in Bend. The Cascade Lakes Relay is only in its first few years but has a great reputation as a more scenic, fun and relaxed version of Hood 2 Coast, its more famous Oregonian cousin.

I've never run a long distance relay and was lucky to be able to get a last minute place on the Pace Invaders team due to one of them being unable to get the time off work at the last minute. All I knew in advance of the race was that some of them had run it the previous year and a spreadsheet of the predicted times on each of the 36 legs, showing roughly a 35-hour finish time and about a 9:30/mile pace. I've never been in a race for that long so I knew it'd be a totally different experience, plus the team element would make it feel more like crewing for Mike Wardian at Badwater than running a race solo.

I met the guys the Thursday evening before the race at Diamond Lake after a day of hiking and walking round Crater Lake with Amy. We were split into two vans with me in van one with Gillian, Mary Beth, Katie and Lauren then the other van had Toni, Lynn (the boss), Terri, Corban, Eric and another Lauren. The first van runs legs 1-6, 13-18 then 25-30 and van two does the other legs up to 36.

Everyone seemed ready to have a good time and there were plenty of beers around but since I'd be sleeping in the car with Amy and getting up really early for our 6:20am start I thought I'd wait til the running was over. There's always a little risk joining a new group, especially when committing to sitting in a car with them for a day and a half and working up a stink on the roads and trails. But there's a self-selection in ultra running and this counts as that type of race, which tends to mean only kick-ass people bother turning up. The rest do triathlons.

After some car decorating (in an alien-related theme for Pace Invaders) we got a relatively early night and were all bright-eyed and raring to go around dawn. Well, mainly sleepy and glad that Lauren was doing the first leg so we'd get some time to wake up and let the temperature rise from around 40F. Most legs would be supported by the van but a few trail sections were inaccessible, including the starting 8.5 miles round Diamond Lake so we had to wait and have no idea when we'd see Lauren come through the mist.

I loved the way on each leg we had the stream of teams coming through, some in costumes or at least a team theme. Unlike Badwater where I was running at some point in virtually every hour of Mike's run, here I was scheduled to run basically once every 12 hours. In the end I got more runs in than just my scheduled once per grouping of six legs, but unfortunately that was due to Kurt's knee not holding up from an injury he's been suffering from.

Kurt while his knee still held out.

Our first section took close to the predicted eightish hours but most of us ran a little slower than we expected due to heat, soft trails and altitude of 5,000ft. It was certainly toasty out on the soft red dust trail for my 8.7 miles and I wished I had one of the road sections since I fancied a fast run to stretch out the legs. In temperatures around 80F, I was fairly happy with keeping just under a 6:30/mile pace but it did feel hard.

Gillian finished off our sixth leg then we drove to the van switching point in a small town called Silver Lake where we'd pick it up from van two after leg 12. Teams were laid out in the shade in a field and we had several hours to chill and chat to other teams, including the favorites and winners every year, Team Rebound/Footzone. I knew about half their team given they're from Bend and they were running solidly with some wicked fast times (they won it with an average pace of 6:29/mile). I'm loving the choice of races I'm getting now I'm back in Oregon - this one is definitely a gem.

Mary Beth and Katie relaxing at Silver Lake.

The scenery along the first stages involved roads straight through the forest but in legs 13-18 we were more out in the open in cowboy country. It was also sunset and after the first few miles we were in the dark on dusty double-track trails which all the passing crew vans turned into a choking mess. However, the vans did entertain too with music, comments and their lit-up decorations. I remember the pirate ship on top of one van, in particular - I think their team name was Chasing Booty, which was about a typical name (many involved either the words 'ass' or 'beer'). Kurt had suggested the raunchier name for our team of 'The Third Leg Is The Hardest' which was certainly a good one given the third leg for each of us probably would be the hardest after little sleep and general fatigue.

Through the dark we had plenty of softer surfaces to run on while in the middle of nowhere due to a lack of paved roads. It was difficult to judge pace at night and all of us thought we were running faster than we were and that our sections went slowly. I had my Garmin to help me and enjoyed most of my 7.1 miles of gently uphill track (plus most of Kurt's leg an hour earlier). Then by around 2am Gillian anchored home leg 18 and we headed to LaPine to get a couple of hours rest in a cabin that had been rented. It was a reasonably high spec place but we were all ready to drop and didn't even shower first. Some of the girls did wash in the morning but I stayed asleep until the last second.

Our final legs were generally shorter and prettier back in the woods with views of the Cascade Mountains and finally seeing some of the lakes too after going within a short distance of many more in earlier stages. It was hot again by the time it got round to my final runs (a 7.5 miler from Kurt then my own final 2.1 mile sprint) but I hammered them out for a bit more speed work. It felt a lot harder than the day before, but at least I didn't have to slow down during each run.

Unfortunately Lauren joined Kurt on the injured list and Gillian picked up her leg after a couple of miles. We all gave a lot to the race and the team and were exhausted and mosquito-bitten (some times we seemed to get attacked by entire swarms) by the end of our part, leaving the final six legs to van two to finish in style.

Van one's final leg - straight uphill for Gillian with help from Katie.

The finish in the west side of Bend was almost an anti-climax since we stopped running at 1pm but had to wait until almost 5:30pm for the proper race finish as we finished it as a group of twelve in 35h9m. The beers tasted good in the sun after that much time on our feet. Full results available on the CLR website.

Pace Invaders were a fun bunch and I was so glad to be able to join their team - thanks guys! We came 128th out of 153 finishing teams, 12 hours after the winners. But it's not a whole lot different being on a fast or a slow team since both involve supporting the team and pushing yourself. The main difference is just the expectations of times and places are altered, but the fun is still basically the just lasts longer :) I love the variety of different types of terrain, distances and event styles. But I also enjoy having some races where everything is hyper competitive while in others it's more about just taking it all in and enjoying the experience. I try to mix both together often but it's most important to get good experiences and just have fun. Otherwise I can't see the point of running or any endeavor, really.

Next up is a fun jog around Mt Hood on Tuesday for 40 miles with friends. Will be my longest run ever outside of a race and almost equivalent in terms of altitude gain per mile to UTMB.

Lauren and Katie at Devil's Lake after our last leg.

Devil's Lake.

Mt Bachelor, the ski mountain for Bend.

Most of van one (L-R: me, Gillian, Katie and Mary Beth).

Monday, 1 August 2011

Mt Hood 50 miler and a new race schedule

Mt Hood

Timothy Lake
I've been meaning to run the Mt Hood 50 miler for the past few years since it's a great excuse to run around a striking mountain I can see every day in Bend, albeit very far away. But it's always clashed with other races. In London I always had the Davos K78 since a large chunk of my running club would race there. Then last year I was in the Bay Area and chose the local San Francisco marathon (btw, congratulations to Mike Wardian for winning that yesterday).

So it was great to run it this year, even though it involved a four-hour drive from Amy's sister's PhD graduation in Eugene (another congratulations) and very little sleep in my car. However, once the race starts it's always easy to remember why I do the early mornings and minor inconveniences.

The race started near Clackamas Lake and was mainly shaded under tree canopies, although it was surprisingly cold for the first hour anyway. I'd planned to jog it with Yassine Diboun but he zoomed off with a group of about five others while I started at a more leisurely pace with Amy Sproston. Mind you, we were still going close to a six hour pace.

The trails were gentle enough for a first run back after WS100 and the first out-and-back had some perfect views of Timothy Lake (both with and without mist) and Mt Hood. The turn around was at 14.2 miles at Frog Lake and I was about a mile behind Yassine and his friend Nick Triolo. They were laughing and chatting so I decided to maybe speed up a little or I might end up a long way behind them. I mainly wanted a training run, but I also didn't want to be slow (kind of a contradiction, but hey).

Yasine and Nick headed back while I was still headed out

As the day heated up I arrived back at the start/finish for the 28.4 mile aid station and set off on the second, harder, out-and-back. I was in fifth and feeling fine so jogged off and saw Sean Meissner sitting and spectating (I think he ran to the race through the night, but I'm not sure where from).

It was a gentle climb up almost 1,000ft to the next aid station and just beyond and I saw Yassine and Nick there. They took a bit longer to get through the aid station and get going again so I ended up ahead then had a fairly steep and more technical downhill, although still good trail compared to high in the mountains.

It heated up and that out-and-back was steeper than the first one had been so I drank a lot more from my hydration pack and ran out just before the turn around. But after a couple of minutes of refueling I was good to go and almost immediately saw Yassine and Nick who were jogging uphill well.

It had now changed from a training jog to an attempt at the course record, which one of the other runners told me was 6:30. I would have to do the return section three minutes faster than the out section, but I felt like I'd put in enough effort to justify fighting for a win, if necessary. So I put more effort in to try to stay ahead of the other guys and left myself with 42 minutes for the last six miles, which were mainly downhill.

I felt like I was going fast, although I was barely staying on the required pace, but a little more effort for a CR compared to jogging in and just missing it seemed like a simple choice. Sean was waiting again near the end with a group of people and urged me on to break 6:30, which again suggested that was the CR. And as I sped up I realized it was going to be very close and the undulating terrain in that last mile made it hard to go all out, particularly when I got stuck behind a troupe of horse-riders on the single-track.

Finally I broke out on to the road just before the final turn to the finish and I sprinted through the line in 6:29:10, much more exhausted (and dehydrated, after running out of water five miles earlier) than I'd planned. Todd Janssen, the Race Director, then confirmed I had the 16 minutes. Hmmm...seems like I could have just jogged it in, but I feel fine two days later so no harm was done by speeding up. Yassine then finished in 6:45:00, also just under the previous CR and Nick was another four minutes back plus Amy Sproston knocked a few minutes off the ladies' CR. Full results are here.

The podium. L-R: Nick, me and Yassine

I had a good couple of hours catching up with new and old friends at the finish and was generally satisfied in my decision to move back to Oregon. If this is the type of fun I'll get regularly then it'll keep me happy, plus my Amy knows a lot more people up here too. I'll miss a lot of Californian races, particularly the great PCTR series, but there should hopefully be one of their races in Bend next year - you heard it here first.

The move to Bend, OR, has meant shifting my race schedule around a bit, such as giving up my spot at the SF marathon for the Mt Hood 50. I also turned down my spot on the GB 100k team for the World Championship in Winschoten in the Netherlands in September. That wasn't an easy choice but was made based on costs. I'll be able to do it another year, hopefully many times but it was an honor just to be selected in the first place to run for my country.

Instead, I'll now have space to fit in cheaper, local races instead. Luckily there's plenty of good ones (thank you, Oregon) and the next one is the first race in the Montrail Ultracup, Waldo 100k in three weeks. I've heard it's a hard one and the field looks fast too, so hopefully the Mt Hood 50 signalled the end of my overtraining and fatigue from the past few months.

I've also entered the UROC 100k on the other side of the country at the end of September. It's got a load of elite men already signed up and there will undoubtedly be more given the prize money and the organizers aiming to make it as easy and convenient for fast runners to enter, with help like accommodation and ground transport covered. Any opportunity to race a large, fast field is welcomed since the competitive aspect of racing is one of my favorite things...amongst many. It's what made Rocky Raccoon additionally good this year and attracts people to Comrades and WS100. It's also partly what draws me to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc next year.

So I hope to see plenty of passionate runners out at the races in the next few months. And one final thought is to point out my fellow Serpentine RC friend's blog. James Adams has got through 44 days out of around 70 in the LA to NYC race, averaging around 45 miles per day. He's gone through days of diarrhea and the current heat wave through much of the US and is still his usual, chirpy self.