Monday, March 17, 2014

First-World Problems

I want an Oompa Loompa NOW! -Veruca Salt

     

With my first race of the year less than a week away I am faced with certain realities. I have been dealing with an injury for over six months now and, while I have been seeing steady improvement, it is likely that it will be several more months before I am back to my pre-injury level of running fitness. I have not been able to train at the intensity or volume that is necessary for meeting the kind of goals that I was setting for myself a year ago without doing further damage to myself. I have come to terms with this, though not without going through the stages of running-related grief:

 

Denial: The crippling pain in my back and hip is normal. I'm just being a sissy. It will surely go away after a few twenty mile tempo runs and a smokin' fast track workout!

 

Anger: WHY ME!?! I deserve better than this from the Ultrarunning Gods after all the toenails I have sacrificed and gels I have choked down over the years! F*<# you and your PR! I don't care, I hate running anyways! I want my money back!

 

Bargaining: Maybe if I just run hard on the odd days of the week, warm up real good first and wear my lucky arm panties...

 

Depression: Imma eat this whole cake cuz I'll probably never walk again. 

 

Acceptance: I am injured and it will take some time to get better. I will have to stretch and do the exercises that my physical therapist prescribed. I will have to work on my form and focus on other aspects of fitness while my body heals. I cannot eat a whole cake because I will not be able to fit into my lucky arm panties.

 

Most importantly, I have had some time to realize just how lucky I am that I get to do what I do and that it is okay to have a "building year". I might not finish this year's races as fast as I have in the past but I still get to run in some of the most beautiful and exotic places in the world with an amazing group of people. 

 

Even injured, I am more fit than 99% of the population and that is priceless. So, I will run as best I can while I continue to heal and not feel as though I am being "cheated" or missing out on "what could have been". The reality is that I am pretty damn privileged to be traveling the world, running hundreds of miles for fun. Fast or slow, I am going to enjoy that privilege.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuck and Roll...

 If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading  -Lao Tzu


The new year has brought some big news, and one of the best lessons I've learned from running ultras is that things can change in a hurry so you'd better be able to adapt.  Sometimes that means making better use of time and resources.  Sometimes that means making compromises and taking care of the important things first. 

Our little family will soon be a little bigger.  This is exciting news for Tawny and I, but it also means that we are going to have to work hard and stay focused if we want to keep working toward our goals.  We are both working,  going to school, and doing our best to raise an almost-tween.  Managing all of that and still finding time to run is going to take everything I've got.  Bring it on!

I've had to rearrange my racing schedule a bit this year because of Tawny's expected due date, but that that by no means leaves me short on adventure.  The biggest change I made was the decision to not run the Tahoe 200 in September.  I was super excited about this race from the time I heard about it, but it will have to wait.  Too close to more important things.  To her credit, Tawny did encourage me to sign up for it anyways.  Best.  Wife.  Ever. 

I still have a monster schedule building and might add on a thing or two as time permits.  So far my year looks something like this:

March: Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50(?) mile.  I'm just getting over an injury and this will mostly just be a systems check.  Maybe.

May:  Massanutten 100? This race has the most fair and transparent lottery system of any race out there.  I just happened to draw about the worst possible number.  I'd love to run this one again and see if I can't get through it without taking a nap but I'll have to see how the wait-list shakes out in February.

June:  Bighorn 100.  I will be taking my Rusty Spur Club award with me so they can stamp it with another sub-24.  The gauntlet has been thrown!

July:  Ronda del Cims.  This beast of a 100 mile race in Andorra has  over 13,000 meters (42,000 feet!) of elevation gain and a 60 hour cutoff.  Mierda!

August:  Standhope 60k near Ketchum, Idaho.  This small yet tough and technical race looks like the perfect way to cap off the season.  If I finish all the 100 milers I have lined up I will probably be lacking the speed to be too competitive here but one never knows.

Looks like it's time to get busy...



Sunday, November 24, 2013

Quality Juice

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” - Buddha - See more at: http://quotesnsmiles.com/quotes/calming-buddha-quotes/#sthash.PDrjO4pV.dpuf

 "In the sky, there in no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true."- Buddha

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” - Buddha - See more at: http://quotesnsmiles.com/quotes/calming-buddha-quotes/#sthash.PDrjO4pV.dpuf
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” - Buddha - See more at: http://quotesnsmiles.com/quotes/calming-buddha-quotes/#sthash.PDrjO4pV.dpuf
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” - Buddha - See more at: http://quotesnsmiles.com/quotes/calming-buddha-quotes/#sthash.PDrjO4pV.dpuf
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” - Buddha - See more at: http://quotesnsmiles.com/quotes/calming-buddha-quotes/#sthash.PDrjO4pV.dpuf

Okay, here we go with the obligatory "end-of-year recap and what's on tap for next year" post.  A quick summary would be that I either surprised myself with an unexpectedly strong performance or went down in a heap of smoking carnage.  About 50/50.  Having taken the last month off of running and giving myself some time away from a competitive mindset, I can say I am perfectly fine with a glass half full. The stuff that went into the glass is some dang good juice.  I got to travel to some amazing places with some amazing people, run in some of the most beautiful places in the country, and had freakin' great time.
Even when things didn't turn out quite as I had envisioned, lessons were learned and good times were had.  Except when things sucked, and that's okay. Sometimes you've gotta go through a lot of suck to get to the chewy nougat center of awesomeness, and usually you come out the other side a little wiser and a little stronger than before.

Looking back:
January: Spent two weeks on the island of Oahu in a lil' hut on the North Shore.  Had one of those races where everything came together and managed to run under 24hrs at the HURT 100.  Apparently slogging through the snow translates well to slogging through the jungle.
March: Dropped out of the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 at around 35 miles feeling flu-ish.  Not much I could do about that one.
May: A quick trip to Virginia and a redemption run at the MMT 100.  Managed a sub-24 with a 90 minute nap included.  Sleep is important.
June: Made the yearly pilgrimage to Dayton, WY for the Bighorn 100.  Things started off rough but sometimes it just takes a little while to warm up.  Happy to be done in 21:10.  Where the hell did that come from?
July:  Made a run at an unsupported loop around the Hardrock 100 course.  DNF.  Stopped around 55 miles in.  If I had it to do over again I'd probably take a little more time for naps and cookies.  Sleep is important! 
September:  Another DNF at the Bear 100 just to even things out.  Had some mechanical issues in my back and hip.  45 miles in and still on sub-24 pace when I dropped but I'll take a few more years of running over a glorious crippling any day.

The present:
Working on some rehab for my hip and making plans for.....

The future:
2014 is gonna be another burner!  Plans on tap for now include (but not limited to): MMT 100 in May to see if I can make a loop without falling asleep, Bighorn 50 to keep in line with tradition, Ronda del Cims (because it's freakin' Andorra!) in July, and Tahoe 200 in September because it will be nothing short of epic!

And if I end up with a DNF somewhere along the way, that's okay.  Anything is better than a DNS.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Lessons from the San Juan




This is an abridged and much belated report on my "Softerrock100" attempt.  Sorry about the delay, I've been really busy!

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
Mark Twain

For the last four summers I have made the trip to Colorado's San Juan Mountains.  Each year has brought a different experience.  I have participated in and paced for The Hardrock 100.  I have made an epic 55 mile, one day trek from Vallecito Reservoir to Molas Pass.  I have spent many hours among the beauty and thin air of Colorado's high country.  It is a place unlike any other and demands to be respected.  It's beauty is intoxicating but it will humble you quickly if you fail to pay attention to what the mountains are telling you

Two years ago, the year I ran Hardrock, my dad set out a week before the race in an attempt to complete the circuit on his own within the 48 hour Hardrock cutoff.  No aid stations, only a short nap in the camper about half way through.  He finished with little time to spare, but he finished.

As the roles were reversed this year with my father being selected via lottery to run the "official" race I thought it only fair to attempt what most have come to call "Soft Rock".  My spin on the challenge was to attempt the circuit with no outside help, aid stations or drop bags.  Upon hearing of my plans (and denied by the lottery once again), Mike Evans decided to join in the attempt.

We decided to start and finish at Ouray for the sake of logistics as my dad would be checking on us at a few select points along the way.  He agreed not to offer any help unless solicited but to act solely as a safety net if anything went awry.  We left Ouray at 4am the Sunday before Hardrock, heading toward Telluride.  

I will forego the suspense and say now that we did not reach our initial goal.  We had a fantastic time "running" through the San Juans, but fell short in our attempt to complete the full loop.  No excuses, it kicked our asses!  Mike ended his journey at Silverton, unable to take in calories.  I stopped shortly after at Cunningham, stumbling, exhausted, and making the decision to stop as a matter of safety.  No worries, the San Juans will be there for a long time and I will most certainly be back at some point to revel in their splendor and subject myself to their relentless tutelage.















The story is not quite over, however.  My father ended up finishing The Hardrock 100 a few days later in 36:10:35.  About 16 minutes faster than I managed two years earlier.  Not only did he run the race faster than I but he also has the distinction of finishing the loop solo.  Dang.  That's one tough Old Goat.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bighorn 100 Race Report 2013

“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.”
John Lennon

 I will make an effort to keep this report brief because, well, I have got a lot to do in the next couple of weeks!  That being said, this will not likely be too brief because it was such a rich experience.

On the way to Wyoming with Tawny and Ella

Last week I headed over to Dayton, Wyoming with my wife, dad, mom and the dogs for some relaxing and some running at the Bighorn Trail Run.  I was running the 100 mile, my mother was running the 50k, my dad was on pacing duty for me and my wife was set to crew.  I was really looking forward to this race for a number of reasons.  The Bighorn Mountains are beautiful and rugged, I knew a ton of people who would be there and was excited to chat and run with them, and because this was where I ran my first ultra in 2007.  That first 50 mile ultra changed my life in ways I could never have foreseen.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to return to the Bighorn races every year since and hope to continue that annual pilgrimage for some time.

We arrived in Sheridan on Thursday for pre-race check in and then headed over to the Foothills Campground in Dayton.  The Foothills Campground and adjacent park comprise the staging area and finish line for the Bighorn races.  It was like a family reunion.  Dogs and kids and runner folk from all across the country catching up on life and stories.  For me, the Foothills Campground and the culture that surrounds it for a few days every June is just as much a part of the experience as the actual races held around it.  Awesomeness.
Kris Q and I, setting fashion trends. 

I awoke Friday morning feeling well rested and relaxed.  Unlike many races that start at completely unreasonable hours before even farmers, chickens and donut makers are awake, the Bighorn 100 starts at a merciful 11A.M.  Plenty of time to sleep in, eat breakfast and take in the pre-race energy.   I had no excuses and was very much looking forward to a fun day on the trails.

The Bighorn 100 mile is an out and back course and so the race starts a few miles outside of Dayton for the sake of logistics.  Runners started arriving about an hour before the start.

The national anthem was sung and we were off.  My "plan" was to use the first big climb to warm up and then slowly reel in others throughout the day.  I managed to stick to that plan as we headed up toward Lower Sheep Creek but not without considerable effort.  My energy level and mental state were good but my lower half seemed to be working against me.  My hips were tight, legs felt heavy, and I had a shooting pain in my left foot every time I stepped down.  This all continued as I saw my crew for the first time at Dry Fork aid station at about mile 14.

Cruising into Dry Fork

My wife was there with a new pack and I barely slowed as I checked through somewhere between 15th or 20th place.  Over the  next ten or so rolling miles I was making a conscious effort to gain ground on some of the runners ahead of me.  I was making good time but slowly losing ground to everyone ahead of me and it still seemed like I was running through mud.  It was around mile 25 that I decided to stop worrying about what others were doing and concentrate on having a good time and running to my own strengths rather than set my pace based on others.

Some day I am going to learn that this is what I should be doing all the time.  As soon as I adjusted my mindset to focus on where I was and what I was doing, instead of worrying about others, things really started to come together.  By the time I reached the Footbridge aid station at 30 miles I was feeling strong and ready for the long and steady climb up to the turn around.  I pushed hard for the next few hours but was alone for almost the entire time.  A few miles from the top I started catching runners that had gone out much faster than I.  Game on.

Ready to go after a 48 mile warmup
My wife was again spot on at the turnaround and got me quickly set up with night gear.  I also picked up my dad here who would pace me back to Dry Fork.  I could tell he was excited to go because he took off like a rocket!  I was feeling really good at this point and figured "why not?"  Long story short, we crushed the next 34 miles.  I let my dad lead and the miles seemed to fly by whether we were cruising the downhills or grinding the uphills.  Nobody passed us but we passed quite a few others.  Being able to spend hours on the trail with my father on Father's Day weekend was a real treat and I was grateful to have him along.

Dry Fork Ridge seemed to come around again all too quickly.  My wife was once again waiting and ready to keep me moving.  I spent just a few minutes at the Dry Fork aid station swapping packs and socks before heading out into the very chilly dawn.  It was light enough that I didn't need a headlamp and I was looking forward to the sun coming around to warm things up a bit.

At this point I was in 5th place and was very determined to keep it that way.  I knew the next runner ahead was probably out of reach but had no idea who was behind me or how close they were so I pushed hard the last 17 miles into Dayton and ended up 5th overall in 21:10.  Not bad considering I hadn't done any specific training for this race.

Bighorn 100, DONE! Next?
 In the end I had a great race, got to spend some quality time with family and friends and just had a really fantastic time overall.  As with any long race, there were plenty of ups and downs, lessons were learned and toenails will be lost.  I won't mention everyone here who made it such a special weekend because, honestly, there are just too many to name!  You know who you are and thank all of you for making the Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run such a big part of my life.  See y'all next year!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"SofterRock"

Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid. ~ Heinrich Heine

In less than a week I will toe the starting line at the Bighorn 100.  I am certainly excited for this and will be sure to share some thoughts on my experiences there, but this post is about another project.  After Bighorn I intend to take a lengthy three week rest before attempting "SofterRock". 

The idea is simple, complete the entire Hardrock 100 course in under 40 hours with no outside support.

Why?  Because the San Juan's are incredibly beautiful and because I don't need no stinkin' lottery to tell me whether or not I can run there!  To be fair, I did put my name into the Hardrock lottery this year and would probably be entered in the race if my name had been drawn.  However, not having been selected this year, I have decided to forego all the pomp and ceremony, aid stations and pampering.  Who needs chicken broth and rodeo queen-sized buckles anyway?  Besides, it's only a hundred miles of high altitude, bear ridden, remote wilderness. What could possibly go wrong?

Fortunately, upon hearing of my brilliant idea, Mike Evans was eager to join.  It's always more fun to have company along when things get sketchy, and with something like this there are sure to be some moments of questionable reason.  With the help of my dad we have cobbled together a "plan" of sorts that should provide a worthy adventure.  For the sake of definition I will outline my intentions and the conditions of SofterRock as follows:

Mike and I will start following the CCW route from Ouray at approximately 4am on July 8th, a few days before Hardrock to ensure that we will not be a nuisance to the race and/or racers.  I know, Silverton is the traditional start/finish of the race but for logistics sake it makes more sense to base out of the 4J+1+1 campground in Ouray.  I fully intend to complete every mile of the Hardrock course, just with an altered start/ finish point.  My dad will plan to meet us at Cunningham Gulch and Grouse Gulch, not for assistance of any sort, merely as a safety measure.

I plan to carry all supplies with me from the start.  No stashes, drop bags or  muling.  I am still working out how to carry that many calories without resorting to exclusively "race" food (i.e. gels, powders, etc.), so if anyone has suggestions for easily portable, palatable calories please feel free to share.  I will take a SteriPen for water and a whole lotta' S-Caps.

Well, thats the plan. If you don't hear from me by late July you can assume I have taken up permanent residence amongst the San Juan's, for better or worse.  And for those of you wondering why I have dubbed this event "SofterRock", it's mostly just because "Your Grandma's 5k Fun Run" was already taken.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Success and the MMT 100

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise”
Oscar Wilde


I had set two running goals for myself at the beginning of 2013.  One was to place top ten or better in all of my 100 mile races for the year.  This started off spectacularly with a 4th place finish at the super rugged HURT 100, followed by an equally spectacular crash-and-burn-in-a-pile-of-flaming-carnage DNF at the decidedly not so rugged Antelope Island 100.  Hmm...  Now what?

Now off to Virginia to run the MMT 100 is what!  103.7 miles of the rockiest and most technical trail you will find anywhere.  To be fair, there is about 20 miles of dirt road/asphalt mixed in but the remaining 80+ miles make up for this with unrelenting technicality.  Take your eyes off the trail for a second and, "BAM!  On your face, sucka!"  (This happened to me many, many times.)  My revised goal was very simple: finish, no matter what.

With performance pressure off I felt very relaxed the morning of the race.  I was tired, having not slept well for several nights in a row, but unconcerned about much of anything.  I find it fairly easy to be devoid of higher thinking at 4a.m. and this day was no exception.  The first four miles of road rolled by uneventfully.  I was glad I had chosen to start mostly naked as the warmth and humidity of Virginia quickly had me covered in a film of greasy sweat that would last for most of the race.  Eww.

I can't tell you how many times I fell over the next few hours but it was a hell of a lot.  The scenery was beautiful and unique, especially to someone coming from the high deserts and pine forests of Idaho, but I quickly decided I didn't like the scenery as much as I liked keeping my teeth.  I devoted most of my attention to the rocky footing and trying to stay relaxed.  I figured things would smooth out as the sun came up but I was wrong.  The light only served to give me a better view of the finer details of the Massanutten Trail as I hurled myself against it repeatedly.  This would be a recurring theme for the rest of the day.

I hardly stopped as I rolled through Edinburg Gap at mile 12.  My crew of wife, brother and mother were phenominal all day long and kept me moving through aid stations with clockwork efficiency.  I knew I wouldnt see them again for another 20 miles so I settled into a kind of comfortable mental numbness that seems to embody long races.

Party rockin' at Habron Gap.
I percolated my way through the damp morning making a point of not over-thinking anything.  I was here to have fun.  As the miles rolled by I noticed that I was not feeling OK.  I was feeling fantastic, almost euphoric.  The less I worried about "racing" the stronger and happier I felt.  I was having a great time and would continue to do so for a long time.  I clicked off many more miles and aid stations feeling just awesome.  My crew continued to be spot-on and I couldn't help but feel as though I were being handed a gift in the form of a life lesson: HAVE FUN.

Me and Jeezard, rockin' the MMT.
Camp Roosevelt at mile 63 was an especially meaningful point for me as I had dropped here in 2011 due to comically huge blisters.  This time around it was an entirely different story as I blasted through feeling like I was just getting warmed up.  I won't pretend like it was all rainbows and unicorns.  I continued to fall every few miles for the sake of consistency.  I was chafing something awful in some very tender places.  But on the whole I really dont think I have ever felt that good after running that hard for that long and I was having a blast.

Feeling fierce at mile 77.
I checked in to the Visitor's Center aid station at mile 77 vaguely aware that I was in sixth place overall but trying not to think about it too much.  I was looking forward to the next section as night would be falling soon and I could zone out in the beam of my headlamp.  I passed the next two runners within a mile as we ascended the short but steep Bird Knob.  As I cruised through the Bird Knob aid station at mile 80 without stopping I couldn't help but celebrate a little.  "OK Aaron, you are sitting in fourth place with only 24 miles left to go. Time to bring it home."

This, of course, brings us to the part of the story where our intrepid hero is dealt a healthy dose of adversity, humility and general ass-beating.  As mentioned earlier, I had not slept well for the few days preceeding the race.  This fact was going to be made apparent to me very abruptly and with absolute certainty at approximately mile 84. 


Not so fierce at mile 87. At least I got Jeezard to snuggle with.
Almost without warning I started seeing double, stumbling and quite literally falling asleep on my feet.  There is no substitute for quality sleep and there comes a point where no amount of caffeinated gels or Red Bull can deny this truth.  I was passed by another runner shortly before the Picnic Area aid station at mile 87 like I was standing still and knew that I had to take action.  Action arrived in the form of throwing myself to the ground falling asleep at the next aid station. 

What felt like blinking to me was in reality an hour.  I don't think anybody expected me to move from my cozy spot for quite some time, but something clicked mentally and I knew I had to start moving.  I sat up, got some fresh clothes, chugged a Red Bull and somehow found the resolve to start moving forward again.  I kissed my wife and thanked her and my brother for taking care of me and set off into the night, ready to be done for good.

I had spent nearly 90 minutes in my reverie and was now in 11th place.  I found myself surprisingly at ease with this and resolved to enjoy the last 17 miles as much as possible.  I passed no one and no one passed me from that point on.  I finished in 23:26, not bad considering I had made a stage race out of it.

Running alone for the last few hours I had a chance to reflect upon the events of the day.  What was clearest to me was just how fortunate I am to be where I am.  Ten years ago I could not have run ten miles and now I am setting goals that most people will never have the audacity to aspire to.  I have an employer that encourages my running and racing and who allows me more time off than is reasonable.  I have an amazing family who supports my crazy adventures and whom I truly could not do these things without. 

Aside from my wife, brother and mother being the best crew I could ever ask for, I have to mention that my dad was also running and managed to crush the record for the Super Seniors age category in an amazing 25:37.  You read that right, 60 years young and able to crank out a race that most people half his age will never come close to. 

I did not manage a top ten finish at MMT but to say that is not to say that I did not succeed.  I will continue to set lofty, improbable goals not because I know I can achieve them but because they are hard.  To not try for the impossible is the only real failure.