Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Carlsbad Marathon

Seals at the beach at La Jolla near San Diego

Despite the Desert Solstice and Across The Years ultras last month causing some knee problems, I only realized that needed to be fixed after a two-week off season at the start of January since it didn't fade. Some Active Release Technique (ART) therapy from Mark DeJohn locally in Bend seemed to help a lot so I decided I'd still run the Carlsbad Marathon near San Diego in California.

I hoped for a respite from the winter cold and it was certainly warmer but also rainy almost every day on my first trip to SoCal. The course itself is mainly along the coast but has more hills than your average marathon and my Garmin came out with 900ft+ of ascent. After only 60 miles of running in the previous four weeks I knew I'd be a little rusty but it was a good way to kick-start the season with a 2:43 for 9th. Hard but satisfying. Plus it was a chance to catch up with Devon Yanko who was the clear favorite for the women's marathon but had some issues with nutrition pre-race and ended up DNFing.

However, the best aspect of it was unexpectedly meeting some of the fastest people I've ever been lucky enough to meet, from Kenyans and Ethiopians to speedy Americans. Chatting to guys who run 27-min for 10,000m or 60-min half marathons gives a great perspective on running. It also shows how relative things are - those guys are unbelievable athletes who work very hard and make me feel like I move in slow motion, yet they can't get their heads around running 100 miles in one go. Well...they only need to run for just over two hours at most so it's not surprising, even if they run 150 miles/week every week. Was great to bump into my speedy Scott team-mate and reigning USATF 50k champ, Joe Gray, before he ran a disappointing (for him) 1:08 in the half.

I've hyper-motivated now to get in some fast training this year and at some point it'd be fun to really focus on the marathon for six months but I can't see when I'll get around to that.

Marathon winners:
Mario Macias (2:19:43)
Lauren Kleppin (2:42:17) - yes, I got chicked

Half Marathon winners:
Stephen Sambu (1:03:02)
Belainesh Gebre (1:12:10)

Full Carlsbad results here.

La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla

San Diego zoo - a diamondback rattler. Somebody I don't want to meet on the trails but probably will one day.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

2012 In Pictures

2012 was a fun year for me and before I get into 2013 (am currently having a bit of a rest and dealing with a knee issue from Desert Solstice that I probably shouldn't have run on at Across the Years 24 hour) I wanted to reminisce, in roughly reverse order. It's mainly the people that made it so enjoyable but I'm thankful to have seen so many beautiful places.

Running and walking through Across The Years 24 Hour  with Dave James and Mike Arnstein. Photo: Aravaipa Running

Jon Olsen and Mike Arnstein running sub 13hr 100 milers at Desert Solstice . Photo: Aravaipa Running

The day before JFK50 on a run with CR holders Max King and Ellie Greenwood, plus  Andy Mason being the guide extraordinaire.

Running around Mt Hood v2 with a bunch of speedsters - this photo has Ellie Greenwood, Max King, Steph Howe and  Mike Palichuk. Was fun to do a training run with no less than 3 World Champs (Ellie, Max and Amy Sproston was the 3rd)

Running around Mt Hood v1 in sunny weather with Yassine Dibboun and  Brian Donnelly (taking this shot)

Runs at Smith Rock, this one with an early winter snow for a day

Mountain running up South Sister with Steph Howe and Taryn  Hand

Atop South Sister with Middle and North Sister in the background. It was shorts and T-shirt weather at the summit but cold back in town

Running down Middle Sister on the way back to the fiery parking lot on the day the massive Pole Creek Fire started

From the top of Middle Sister before we spotted the smoke

Rod Bien and myself with no idea we'd spend much of the rest of the day escaping the fire and just managing to get the car out on sketchy fire service back-roads

Starting to speed up when we saw the fire might be somewhere near the car

An ascent of Mt Bachelor looking at most of the Oregon Cascades

Hanging out post-UROC 100k after trashing our legs. L-R: me, Dave Riddle, Jorge Maravilla, ?, Nick Clark, Dave Mackey and Scott McCoubrey. Photo: Bad to the Bone

Pre-dawn running with Eric Senseman at TNFEC Madison 50-miler. Photo: TNFEC

Road marathons - this one was the Sunriver Marathon, close to home

My father-in-law crewing at the Tri Cities Marathon in Washington

Hiking at Crater Lake after the marathon there

Jumping around the day before the Crater Lake Road Marathon

The first road marathon of the year, running along with Devon Yanko (she was still Crosby-Helms at this point) at the Napa Valley Marathon. Photo: Napa Valley Marathon

After the sleep deprivation of  the 216-mile Cascade Lakes Relay on the Footzone Mixed  Team, it's not surprising my world was sideways. Frans Alajoki hands over to JJ Howard

Hanging out after the Mt Hood 50 miler with Pam Smith and Yassine Dibboun. Photo: Long Run Picture Company

In the foothills of the Pyrenees before the Zegama Marathon. L-R: Ian Corless, Mike Wolfe, Nick Clark and Marcus Warner

Skyrunning hospitality pre-Zegama. L-R: Bryon Powell, Sean Meissner and Mike Wolfe

Days before Zegama was the Transvulcania 83km race. Bryon's interviewing Darcy Africa and Nikki Kimball for irunfar

Transvulcania winner, Dakota Jones, swinging Nikki Kimball  round at the party organized by the local Mayor

Running post-Transvulcania on the same island (La Palma). Nick Clark behind me then Dakota Jones. Photo: Joe Grant

UTMB stars Seb Chaigneau and Francois D'Haene running around on La Palma

Sunset at La Palma around Transvulcania

The huge Salomon contingent the day before Transvulcania. A few runners from other sponsors are dotted in there too

More La Palma running. Too many names for me to pick out but Joe Grant's in the foreground

My one UK run of the year at the Northants Ultra 35-miler, 2 miles from where I used to live when I was growing up. Photo: Amy Sharman
Badger Mountain 50k in Washington. The final outing of that particular Elvis suit. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Gorge Waterfalls 50k - my first finish of the year after a DNF at Rocky Raccoon. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama, I think

Multnomah Falls along the Gorge Waterfalls course

Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Year, New Sponsors

2013 should be a lot of fun for me with races like the Fuego y Agua 100k in Nicaragua (with a star-studded field), the Jungle Ultra in Peru (this is why I run ultras!) and the Grand Slam. So I'm very fortunate to have some great companies to support me through the year who are all dedicated to making the best products without compromising on the details.

Scott Sports - these guys are really breaking into running in a big way with ultra legend, Scott McCoubrey, knowing exactly what a great pair of shoes requires. And with the likes of Marco De Gasperi and Sage Canaday on the team, I know I've joined some ridiculously good runners who'll be creating headlines throughout the year.

Clif Bar - great organic race food from a company I hugely respect for their attitude to the community and to everyone they deal with. It helps that their food tastes good too.

Julbo Sunglasses - I'm loving the pairs of glasses I've already tried out (which is a good selection of their running offerings) but most races recently I've worn the Dust shades which are also great for trail running, especially with the Zebra lenses that change based on the amount of light.

Drymax Socks - the best in the business and certainly the best I've ever had for avoiding blisters. I always used to think socks didn't matter but since I moved up to 100-milers I'm feeling the benefits of wearing socks that leave my feet in good condition at the end of a race. The Max Pro Trail is perfect for any trail race and the Max Pro is the comfiest sock I've ever worn and is my go-to for road races.

UltrAspire Hydration - under the guidance of Bryce Thatcher, Krissy Moehl and others UltrAspire is making the best possible hydration packs and handhelds for ultrarunning, not just the mass market.

Dave's Killer Bread - great quality bread from Oregon that seems to be very popular with the ultra community over here. If you can find it where you live, try it out.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Across The Years 72/48/24hr

Motivational signs - always useful. Translation from American to British English:  If you are literate then you're a jolly spiffing chap.

After the Desert Solstice 100 mile/24hr race was cut short at 70 miles by my inability to accept that Phoenix, AZ, can be stormy, windy and cold, I was looking forward to down time at the end of the season. However, the Coury brothers also have a second 24hr-style event called Across The Years so I decided on Christmas Eve that I didn't want my training to go to waste and I entered it.

It's an interesting concept - 72/48/24hr races that straddled 2012 and 2013, hence the name. And instead of a 400m track like at Desert Solstice, it uses a flat 1.05-mile loop near Phoenix on a gravelly path with some paved sections. That sounded more interesting, plus it has a lot more people than the 20 runners round the track.

In fact, at least five of the runners returned after varying degrees of success at Desert Solstice - Joe Fejes won the 24hr race 2 weeks ago and smashed Yiannis Kouros' old 72hr course record this time with 329 miles (six more than Yiannis); Charlotte Vasarhelyi won the 24hr race before then broke the Canadian 72hr record with almost 251 miles and I returned with Mike Arnstein (12:57 in the 100 with a ridiculously fast final three hours followed by 100 miles this time in the 24), Dave James (about 23 miles at Desert Solstice then 50 miles on day one and 50 more on day three of ATY). Full preliminary results are here.

I turned up a day early to spectate and crew for Bret Sarnquist as he did the 24 over the middle day of the event since there were three separate 24hr races with the winner being whoever ran the most out of all three days. Compared to a trail race there were a lot more marathon T-shirts, especially from Boston. But as with any ultra everyone was as friendly as can be and it was good to make new friends. Plus my old running club in London had a representative in the 72hr event in my friend, Jen Bradley. She jumped in at the deep end of ultras this year by running her first 100 (I think) then running across the US over the summer. Then she had a really solid race at ATY with over 200 miles and third woman. I can't fathom doing that loop for three straight days...

Jen Bradley and Anastasia Supergirl Rolek in the 72hr race

Running 70 miles at a pace that was on track to go under the American Record for 100 miles two weeks ago left me more tired than I realized so within an hour or so my legs were sore, even at 30 secs/mile slower than the pace in that previous effort. Not a good sign, but this time I was in for the full 24hrs so it looked like being a long day with a 3:18 marathon split feeling more like a 2:40 effort. Mike Arnstein found the same and Dave James wasn't feeling it either, so we all hit 50 miles between about 7:20 and 7:40, way off the pace I'd hoped for. Dave stopped, but Mike and I grumbled along, epitomized by us both frequently mentioning we couldn't see the point of running/walking a relatively poor distance. We also definitely questioned why the hell we do this sport when the tough days can be so unnecessarily nasty.

It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day and the aid station had a full kitchen where they took orders for meals and had a wide variety available. It's certainly a great set-up, but the gravel paths were tougher on the feet than expected. Most runners were in road shoes or racing flats, but those who switched to trail shoes seemed to avoid some of the (unexpected) foot bruising that 24-72hrs of running on that surface caused.

Things weren't going to plan but we'd made the effort to fly out, me from Oregon, Mike from New York. Dave had only driven up the road from the same metropolis as the race was held in, so he probably had less incentive to keep going. However, once I told Mike that there's a buckle for breaking 100 miles, he put his head down and we set about checking off slow miles, with me doing little else but walk after the first five hours. However, there was a bright spot when I decided to reinvigorate my legs by trying a fast lap and aiming to go under Sean Meissner's best lap time from the previous day of 6:09 (5:51/mile pace). I squeezed out a painful 5:41 (5:24/mile) then went back to walking as it didn't do anything other than brighten up my outlook for half an hour. 

Sean Meissner leading the way on the 24hr race on the middle day.

Tents - where people hid in the middle of the night to reduce the number of people out there from about 170 to more like 20. Bastards!

The one thing I'm happy about is that I chose to grind out a full 24hrs even though there was no hope of getting anywhere near my goal of the 24hr British record of 170 miles. Given I've got the Grand Slam (four 100s over the summer) in 2013, I thought it was worth sucking it up and proving to myself that I can force out a semi-respectable result even when things go bad. But this was the most miserable and painful race of my life, as well as the longest in terms of time and distance. I've never had to dig really deep in an ultra before about half way so this was an emotional experience with a lot of time walking through the sub-freezing night to contemplate about many things and to work out how to avoid this happening to me again.

In the end Mike stopped at 100 miles after about 17hrs while I went through 100 in just over 20hrs after hitting 70 at 12hrs and managed 109 in total (a mere 39 from the second 12hrs), with around 65 of that as a power-walk. Not fun, but satisfying to have not given up, despite the final 19hrs (longer than I've ever run) being a painful, slow and difficult death march. 

Without a doubt it was a fun idea to bring in the New Year while doing something that I love, but I was in a world of misery at that point and was struggling to get my head around the idea of there still being nine hours left, even as we toasted with champagne at the aid station. But there are much worse ways to celebrate the New Year, although I'd have struggled to name them at the time.

The other positive to take away (apart from proving to myself I can dig in even on a bad day) was that I somehow won since nobody else did more than 106 miles and many who could have gone farther stopped at 100. I don't blame them. But that's overshadowed by the fact that several of the 72hr runners did more miles on day one (and maybe day two) than me - Joe ran around 140 miles on his first day!

So, lessons have been learnt. Firstly, fixed time races are mentally tougher than fixed distance trail races and very boring once things go wrong. Secondly, 70 miles at a reasonably hard effort tires me out more than I can tell from one test run. Thirdly, I should end my season when I originally plan to and not add on extra races, especially very tough ones. And finally, the Coury brothers put on excellent races via Aravaipa Running and I should probably turn up to one giving it more respect than just assuming it's relatively easy because it's flat.

Time for the off season, trips to Bend's brew-pubs plus a lot of sleep. Happy New Year everyone!

Additional write-up:

I wrote the above while on the plane out of Phoenix. However, I then got stuck at Portland airport overnight after no sleep for two days. It wasn't just a delayed flight but a flight that started at PDX, flew for 25 mins to Bend, circled for 40 mins then decided the freezing fog was too dangerous and we went back to PDX to arrive after 11pm. Since it was a weather delay Alaska Airlines wouldn't pay for anything and I ended up 'sleeping' in the airport. I got home by 2pm on Jan 2nd and am now looking forward to a year that can only improve and with a lot of fun stuff lined up.