Monday, June 30, 2014

Transmogrification

The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there. ~Robert M. Pirsig
 
Bighorn shenanigans.
I am not going to write a 2014 Bighorn 100 race report. At least, not in the usual sense. Sometimes you just have to be there to fully grasp the essence of a thing and I don't think I have the words to take you there. Suffice to say I suffered, I endured, I suffered some more and ended up with a respectable 23:15 finish. Rather, I would like to paint brief a road map of how I got to Dayton at 10:15 A.M. on June 21, 2014.

In the days and weeks leading up to my first 100 miler, The Bear in 2008, I was of the mindset that finishing something of such magnitude would somehow change my life. I had a sense that, if and when I finished, there would be some sort of tangible change. A switch would be flipped and I would be a new Aaron in a new phase of my life. I would be better and shinier somehow. Angels would trumpet and the sweet smell of success would linger about my general vicinity. But it did not happen that way. 

I finished, got my buckle, celebrated with the other runners and enjoyed the rest of the weekend. And that was about it. At work on Monday a few people said congratulations, a few shook their head in confusion as to why someone would do such a thing. And then it was back to life. I still had to go to work, take out the trash, pay bills and deal with the minutiae of existence. It was all rather anti-climactic and it certainly did not change my life in one definitive moment.

It took me some time to come to terms with this. Outside of our little tribe there is little merit in doing what we do and running 100 miles does not translate well into the popular definition of success. But I am a slow learner and my expectations always seem to outweigh reality. For a long time I had the notion that if I could capture the perfect race I would come out the other side a changed person.

Fast forward to 11 A.M. on June 20th, 2014. Since then I have run a dozen or so 100's,  run several other races and logged countless miles on roads, trails and through back country wilderness. Some runs are forced, dreary slogs pounded out for the sake of future fitness. Some are unexpectedly sublime romps through some of the most amazing places on the planet. Throughout it all there has never been an "aha" moment for me. No blazing impression of crossing some finite threshold. However, I am no longer the same animal I was when I started running. That is undeniable. 

When I started the Bighorn 100 this year, there was never a moment of nervousness, doubt or apprehension. I knew that I would be able to deal with whatever challenges I met on that day. I knew that I would have low points that would challenge my resolve. I knew that I would balance smart decisions with calculated audacity. Most of all, I was perfectly comfortable throwing myself into an uncomfortable situation with confidence, running or otherwise.

As I closed in on the finish line of the Bighorn 100 this year I was acutely aware that I have changed to a discernible measure over the last several years and that seeking out big challenges has a lot to do with that change. It is not crossing an arbitrary line that makes us who we are, rather what we do every day that changes us into something more.
 
What are you doing today?
Shoot for the stars. PEW! PEW!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One tough Nut

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. -George Carlin

Reckless confidence helps. Photo by Jared Spurlock 

As I'm sure is the case with a lot of competitive athletes, I have a bad habit of trying to predict how things are going to turn out by micro-calculating every detail leading up to race day. I spend way too much time weighing nonsensical variables, assigning numerical values to arbitrary factors, figuring those same asinine values with entirely made up systems of calculation, and basically working myself into a tizzy over details that will likely have very little bearing on what actually occurs. For example:

"If I extrapolate my long run cadence trajectory by a factor of exponentially decreasing stride efficiency, multiplied by a projected finish time based on (my Ultrasignup ranking (minus DNF's)) x (the Kilian "what if" potential actuator), add two minutes for drop-bag rummaging, minus (minutes per missing toenail) x (chafing factor of temperature/humidity), = The Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs?"

Pretty deep stuff. But, most of the time I somehow end up being wrong anyways, and going into this years MMT100 I made a mindful effort to let go of all expectations concerning the outcome of the race. I spent a good portion of the last six months recovering from, and attempting to train through, a persistent back injury. I really didn't know how things were going to hold together for 103 tough miles so I focused on getting in quality miles as well as I could, eating well (lots of chocolate), and getting some decent sleep in the days leading up to the race. I would have liked to have gotten in a few more miles earlier in the year but sometimes you just gotta go with what you got.

I was relaxed and rested on the morning of the race. My dad was running as well, looking for his sixth MMT finish. 4am and we were off. I ran with my dad for about a half mile before losing him in the herd. He would end up finishing his day at Camp Roosevelt, 63 miles into the race with stomach issues. Like the old saying goes: Some days you get the get the tiger by the tail and some days the chicken crosses the road to rough you up for your lunch money. Or something...

The area had been drenched by rain showers meaning we would be looking forward to a wet course but cool weather. I was trying to take it out a little slower than usual, in an attempt to have a more consistent race than last year. My feet were soaking wet within the first two miles, a foreshadowing of what the course would be like for the next 100 miles. What were dry stream beds and trails last year were shin deep runoff and mud holes this year. I was comforted in knowing that everyone would be enjoying the same fine conditions.

Photo by James Williams
My brother was crewing for me and was ready as I came into the first aid station, 12 miles in at Edinburgh Gap. He informed me that I was only five minutes behind the lead runners, which meant that I was starting out much faster than I had intended, but I felt like I was running easy so I tried not to worry about it too much.

The next twenty or so miles to Shawl Gap is one of the most technical sections of trails anywhere. Last year I fell here many, many times. I skillfully avoided most of my falls this time around by instead rolling my ankle, many, many times. Ouch.  About a half mile or so before Elizabeth Furnace fellow Altra athlete Angela Shartel snuck up behind me and we cruised into the aid station together. This would be the last I would see of her as she would leave Elizabeth Furnace before me and go on to crush the womens record and take seventh overall.

My brother Jared was waiting at Elizabeth AS with a swig of Ultragen. and a fresh pack. I took a quick minute to collect myself there and pose for a sweet picture (see above) before heading out and promptly having a full-blown meltdown. I had been keeping on top of my nutrition and fluids but all of a sudden I had that "maybe I should fall down for a little while" feeling. I sat down on the side of the trail and actually set 10 minute a timer for myself in case I ended up falling asleep. I don't know how many people passed me as I sat there but it was several.

I didn't feel well at all but I willed myself up just before my timer went off and tried to focus on just moving forward as fast as I could without putting myself deeper in the suck. I put down a caffeinated gel just before the next aid station at Shawl Gap and eventually started to come around. I don't know if it was the caffeine or just part of the ebb and flow but I really started to feel strong for the next few hours. I used the momentum to pass other runners on the road sections and maintain a steady pace on the climbs.

At Camp Roosevelt AS (mile 63) Jared was waiting again with a flask of Ultragen and some fresh gear. I took the time here to change my socks, not because they were wet but because they were packed with dirt and sand from the numerous creek crossings. This would prove to be a futile effort as the next three miles was literally a slog up a creek in shin deep water. Good times.

I got into the Visitor Center AS (mile 78) at almost exactly the same time as last year, just before sundown. I had purposely avoided knowing what position I was in all day so that I would be more inclined to run my own race. I was feeling good and ready to knock out the last 25 miles so I asked my brother what spot I was sitting in. "11th overall including two women." Dang. I knew the competition was a notch higher this year but I was gonna have to work if I wanted to break into the top 10. Time to go.

That would be the last time I would have any support on the course so tried to focus on the world in my headlamp beam and shut out the pain that always seems to creep in during the night. The climb up to Bird Knob went by quickly but the next "six" miles to the Picnic Area AS were the longest of the day. The section never seemed to end. The sounds of traffic let me know I was getting close to the Picnic Area AS when I saw headlamps ahead of me. I got into the aid station at the same time as the legendary Eva Pastalkova. She was looking tired but she barely took a minute in a chair before she was up and going again. Shit. No rest for the weary.

I had leapfrogged for several miles with Eva earlier in the day and I knew that she was the faster runner but that I could put some distance on her on the uphills. Fortunately, the next section was one of the biggest climbs of the course. Unfortunately, it was more like swimming than running. By the time I reached the top of the climb I had taken a full plunge in one of the several cold (so cold) stream crossings. But my uphill push had been successful and over the course of the next 15 miles I gained exactly an hour on Eva who would be the next finisher.

Can I please stop now?
The last three miles of road was more painful than it should have been but I had no idea how far behind Eva was and I had every intention of fighting until the end. I rolled into Camp Roosevelt 22h22m53s after I had started and I was beyond ready to be done. Massanutten wears you down from the start and I was mostly just happy that I didn't have to run over any more rocks. F#@k those rocks.

With a week now to process the whole affair, I really couldn't be any happier with how it all turned out. I got to spend a weekend with my dad, brother and extended running family that I haven't seen since last year. I cut about an hour off my time from last year. I finished a tough hundo without crippling back pain. I managed not to take a nap along the way. I got to stop running over those relentless rocks!

And maybe somewhere along the way I have learned, if just a little, to stop second guessing myself and what I am capable of. Maybe I will stop obsessing over the minutae and trust in my training and experience. Maybe sometimes it's just running and that's all it needs to be. I'll have to do some calculating...

The Spurlock boys.




Thursday, May 1, 2014

Inspiration

SHADOW RACE
Every time I've raced my shadow
When the sun was at my back,
It always ran ahead of me.
Always got the best of me.
But every time I've raced my shadow
When my face was toward the sun,
I won.
~Shel Silverstein


I had intended to write a race report following the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 mile back in March but it just never found it's way to the surface. I performed well enough and enjoyed visiting with friends but honestly, after some reflection, I found that any feelings I had about running there felt forced to me. Jim Skaggs puts on a fantastic series of races and the island itself does have a certain stark beauty about it. I have always enjoyed being there in the past. But I felt as though, this time, I was there to fulfill some sort of contrived and fabricated notion. I was there to race my perception of others expectations. That is not why I run.

Fast forward to mid-April. A trip to Bryce and Grand Canyon. No contrivances. Simply a bipedal animal moving through an immense landscape. My art is movement and my inspiration must be genuine or else I am a fraud. No finish lines or buckles or crowds to affirm my expression of being. Move swiftly because the rocks and trees and sun are unforgiving and do not compromise if my technique is insincere. This is why I run.




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.