Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ambulate and Hydrate: Zane Grey 50 Mile Report 2015

I tend to have some degree of difficulty separating my life into individual pieces. It's hard to think about running, school, work, and relationships as separate entities when they all affect each other directly. For that reason, my trip reports tend to meander. Apologies. 

Kelsey, Cohen and I strolled up to the pine trailhead with about 5 minutes to spare. I pinned by folded, crinkled-up number to my shorts and walked over to the start area (I can't even remember if there's a line or not). It's a competitive race on a relentless course, and I was excited to actually make it there.

Training for the race had gone well, considering the short amount of time that I had. I'd say it "started" with a failed attempt at the Antelope Canyon 50 mile in late February. I had done virtually no running up until that point, and arrogantly tried to cruise a 50 mile race. My state of mind was anxious and irritable, and I was doing things for the wrong reasons. I got caught up in poor study habits, not balancing school, work or training in the least. Life felt overwhelming and just kept doing the same shit that wasn't working, wondering why I felt frustrated. Antelope Canyon was the final blow to my ego, and it was time to rebuild.
En route to a colossal implosion at the Antelope Canyon 50M Photo: Craig Lloyd

I learned that "winging it" isn't always for me. Maybe I'm getting a little more "type A" in my old age or my expectations for myself are just increasing, but constantly wondering how things were going to work out was making me feel that I was losing control of my life. For better or worse, running has become a part of me that I won't let go. It's a positive thing that keeps me from falling into a trap of complacency. Even with 20 credit hours and 30 hours a week of work, it's something I need. To simply want it all and not be willing to work for it is childish, and that's how I was acting.

I needed to get ready for Zane Grey. I needed to do it in six(ish) weeks. I needed it to happen while working weekends, having one 10 hour clinical each week, and other courses to study for. Who would be up to helping me with such a ridiculous task? I reached out to elite ultrarunner, coach, and fellow Flagstaff resident Chris Vargo. We met up and he didn't bat an eye at the idea of helping me with this. Even in my own coaching, I'd be at least a little reluctant to help someone with such a time crunch to get ready for a demanding event like Zane Grey.

Adding structure and accountability to training instantly turned it around. I progressed from my 30-40 miles each week to peaking at 87. My best week of training consisted of only 72 miles, but had a hill workout, several easy 10-13 mile runs, and most importantly, a 4 hour run with 4000' feet of gain followed by a 10 hour shift on my feet at clinical. Tempo runs, intervals, and progression runs peppered my weeks and kept me from getting flat.

It's easy to train when sights like this lie around every bend.

A 20 minute nap separated a long run and a long day of learning hospital stuff. I felt great and alert all day.

Oh, right, this is a race report.

The race start felt eerily similar to last year. Since the race is 100% singletrack, there really isn't anywhere early on for people to "find their place." Excited people were going out hard and slowing down at the first climb. Everyone can and should run their own race, but I like taking the first mile a little slow so that the first big climb doesn't knock me on my ass 2 miles in. Since that's my strategy, the price is having to get around people as we climb. No big deal. It's a long day. I kept thinking about the year before, and how I taped my achilles' and didn't run on it for over a week before the race. I actually felt good this time! No shitty KT tape falling off of my leg. No lackluster training at sea level, no fatigue from driving and flying for two days. It was going to be a good day. I knew that on relatively scant training, my best time would come from staying steady and focusing. Running at a supramaximal effort wouldn't bode well.

I had decided that I had two goals for the day: to maintain focus, and to do exactly what I wanted. I wasn't gong to slow down to chat with anyone, nor would I speed up. Every step was going to be mine. I let my legs feel springy as I cruised the descents, and kept a short, bouncing running gait on all but the steeper climbs. I was having fun. On this crazy ass practical joke of a hiking trail, I was enjoying myself. The first 8 miles went by without feeling too difficult. A quick fill-up at the aid station and a handful of fuel from Kelsey, and I was on my way. I thought the aid stations being relatively far apart compared to other ultras I've run would be a major hindrance, but it made the run more fun. With my inov-8 race vest, I had just enough fuel and water to make it between aid stations. If it were warmer, I may have needed a little more and added the 2L bladder to the pack.

The next aid station at mile 17ish came up pretty quickly as well. I made it there in just a little over 3 hours. According to my terrible math skills, I was on pace for 9 hours. This was the plan A/best case scenario. Considering that such a time is usually reserved for the top 5 or so each year, I knew it was still a long shot.
Leaving Washington Park Aid Station at mile 17
Photo: Melissa Middleton (talented photographer, runner, and fellow former Michigan Resident)
Check her work out here
The next section was by far my slowest and most frustrating of the day. The trek to the Hell's Gate aid station involved very little running, some nausea, and some gross bowel stuff. The last few times this has happened to me, I've gotten pissed and written the whole day off. This time, I was having too much fun to give up. I marched on, eating and drinking as much as I could. It may have been a bit masochistic, but I figured that taking advantage of a temporary slowdown would allow me to cram calories and fluids in. I ate GU packets two at a time and whole packages of Clif Shot Bloks as I grunted up climbs, washing it down with swigs of water and that nasty, minty, chalky electrolye drink (Come on, GU, step up your flavor game). Maybe being tested on fluid and electrolyte balance on a daily basis in school is helping to reinforce their importance. The giant loose rocks of this section stick out in my memory as the worst on the course. At one point, all I could hear were rocks scraping together and me yelling "fuck" over and over again, perpetually tripping. I'd guess that it's what hell is like, but it was kind of fun. At one point on this section, I must have been focusing on the trail a bit too much. I picked my head up to see a cow elk running parallel to me about 15 feet away. Naturally, seeing a 500lb animal running next to me was startling and awe-inspiring. Thanks for not killing me, nature.

The rough patch slowly faded away as I cruised into Fish Hatchery, where I heard Kelsey say "Oh, here we go!" followed by an excited grumbly noise of a Great Dane. I filled up with water and stuffed what was probably a selfish amount of GU into my pack. Seeing Kelsey and Cohen made me happy and I headed out for more. This section was one of my favorites on the course, as it was a bit more buffed out with some crazy steep climbs. There was actual soil and trees in several spots, adding to the beauty and changing the scenery. It was the longest section without aid (I think), but went by pretty quickly compared to the last one. All that was left was a refuel and a 7 mile push.

I strolled into the last aid station pretty nonchalantly, resting a little as I soaked my bandanna with water and ate candy. Kelsey helped by providing a little sense of urgency and kindly told me to put my head down and hurt for 7 miles. I have a slight aversion to being told what to do, so I held my own little protest in my head and ran happy for a mile or so. After the kinks shook out and I accepted that it was just going to hurt for an hour, I started the push. I picked up one spot and did my best to float the downhills, keeping my knees bent and springy. This is a hard thing to do late in a race because it hurts, but once I make myself do it, it hurts less than stiffening the legs and riding the brakes all the way down. If I could see the top of an uphill, I pumped my arms and ran. If I couldn't, I put my hands on my knees and grunted until I saw the top. With all of the seasoned runners entered in the race, I knew I was at risk of being picked off at the last minute. I never looked back, but just used the fear of being chased to get the damned thing over with.

I finished the race in 9:51:03, netting me a 12th place spot. There were 120 finishers, so being in the top 10% of the field feels pretty good. Placing in a race like this almost seems arbitrary, considering that it's relatively small, but competitive. It's kind of the luck of the draw when it comes to who shows up and who drops out. but I showed up that day and I got 12th.

Hours, minutes, and ranking aside, I'm proud of this effort. Prior to this day, I hadn't finished a 50 miler since 2013. 2 years without a finish. I hadn't even realized that fact until I was about to finish Zane Grey. On a long run of 21 miles, I ran negative splits for a 50 miler. The exciting thing is that it happened at a time when my life felt balanced for the first time in a while. It's a good reminder of how elusive being present-minded really is. If I didn't know I was focused until after the fact, then how do I recreate a perfect moment? Just keep trying shit, I suppose. I enjoyed myself, put the work in, and success came out. Each time I nail it, I get a little closer to figuring it out. Each time I swing and miss, I still learn something, even if it's the same damned thing I learned last time.

Miscellaneous notes:
Gear: Nike Racer shorts, cheap cotton singlet from Kohl's, Inov-8 race ultra vest, knotted up rag bandanna, Patagonia Duckbill cap, Suunto Ambit 2 watch.

Food: Upwards of 18 GUs and three packages of Clif Shot Bloks, M&Ms, a banana, and an accidental ginger chew (who the fuck is eating those? Gross).

Shoes: New Balance WT110 v1. Women's size 12 = Men's 10.5. (It would be really cool if NB made a shoe very similar to this again). The men's version in my size is long extinct, so I scoop up the women's. One small blister after 10 hours with no socks.
I only get a few hundred miles out of them before they come unglued or tear across the top, but they're glorious miles.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank my partner Kelsey for her support. On many occasions during training, she encouraged me to get out and run when I wanted to cut it short. I lean on her more than she realizes.
On a training run in the Grand Canyon before the race. 

I'll try to add more pictures from the race itself if they come about. Anybody have any?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekly Recap 3/30 - 4/5/15: A possible peak

10 miles  - 1:10:00 - +/- 0' : A 9 hour day of ass-sitting at work made for a rather uninspired evening of running. I can't seem to find my Black Diamond headlamp, leaving me with a dollar store headlamp that makes a weird noise when I run with it on my head. After drooling over some cool Petzl designs online and procrastinating, I realized that I was either going to have to do the stop/start dance of running around downtown or utilize the treadmill. I also saw a weird YouTube video about a chemical that temporarily gives you night vision, but I didn't have that in my possession at the time. Anybody recommend a really good headlamp?

The run was surprisingly fulfilling, in a fortitude-cultivating kind of way. I was going to zone out and watch the TV in the fitness room, but that was mysteriously not working. I had my phone and a pair of headphones, but the battery life was initially at about 8%. My gym luxuries were fading. About 15 minutes in, the lights turned off because the positioning of the treadmill in the room made it so I wasn't tripping any motion detectors. There I was, in a silent, poorly-lit room, with only the sound of my breathing and my feet pounding on a moving treadmill belt. 10 miles of that shit! Like I said, a character-builder was in order. I eased into it with an 8:20 mile, then cruised at 6:50 pace for a bit. A quick pickup of 1 mile at 6:20, then another at 6:00, and back up to 6:30 for the final three. The whole thing felt relatively easy, which was a solid ego boost. Truly training must be working. Shocking.

AM: 8 miles of cycling

PM: 8 miles - 1:17;00 - +/-1300': an easy 8 miles after class. As much as I love running right from my apartment, the requisite 4 miles of flat gravel warmup/cooldown is starting to feel like "fluff." That being said, I really like the way my legs feel when I get to technical trail with decent climbs. Whenever I try to get right into a run that starts off with a big climb, I feel like I blow up quickly and have to "start over." The easy 2 miles of urban trail to get to the mountains is a mixed blessing, is what I'm saying. for this 8 mile run, 50% of it is easily navigable on a road bike. Another fantastic day to be outside. Just as I turned around, a girl ran up behind me and started chatting, talking about what a wonderful place this was (turns out, shes from BC, Canada). I've only been here for 7 months, and I'm already catching myself getting used to it. These trails are magnificent, and I live 2 miles from them.

AM - 19 miles - 4:00:00 - +/- 5400': Long run day. I had grand ambitions to hop in the car and drive down to Sedona. Of course, I stayed up until midnight the night before to write a paper, do a case study, and clean my kitchen (for some reason). I set the alarm for 4:30, but should've known better. As a stayed supine in bed, hating myself for every second I remained beneath the warm blankets on my dope memory foam mattress (being a mattress salesman has its perks, you know), I recalled the revelation from the day before: I live in one of those "trail runner paradise" places from Outside Magazine, and I'm fussing over driving my car for an hour each way to go to another. The rationale was heat training for Zane Grey, but I convinced myself to put sleep at a premium. Kelsey would be on her way back from Las Vegas by early afternoon, so running from home sounded better and better.

The route I selected, happened to have more vertical feet per mile than the ZG course (by my rough calculation). My ego couldn't help but pick such a route to see what kind of hurt I'm in for. I opted for going up Elden via the Lookout Trail, to Sunset, to Heart, then back around, then the reverse route. The first lap really front loaded all the climbing, ascending about 2500' in 2.5 miles. The reverse stretched the climb out for a gradual, sun-exposed, technical route filled with loose sheets of rock. I did the whole thing on 3 gels and 2 bottles of water, which both pleases and worries me. I'll need to practice eating and drinking more if I'm going to survive 50 miles of sun and heat and rock.
Mount Elden. Twice up in the morning, once in the afternoon. Best Wednesday in a while. 

PM - 10 miles - 2:00 - +/- 2050': Less than an hour after the AM run ended. I was a little short of my long run goal, and Kelsey wanted to get a run in after a couple days in Vegas for work. I merrily went along, assuming it would be 5-6 miles at the maximum (since she's focusing her efforts more on 10k races these days). Nope. 10 miles, summiting Elden again. Elden Lookout Road to Oldham Trail to Sunset to Brook Bank and back to the road. Though not expecting such an outing (and bringing one bottle with no calories), it was fun and rewarding. I actually ran "ultra" distance in one day to prepare for an ultra. What a novel idea!

29 miles and 7450' of gain. I sure as hell didn't do that to prep for this race last year.

3 miles - 23:00 - Ugh. Frustrations mounted as I realized that I had completely neglected to whip up a presentation on evidence-based practice for my clinical group. The morning was intended to be used to knock out 18 miles, giving me back-to-back magical long run powers, but no, I'm an idiot and forgot to make a powerpoint. A quick 3 miles was all I could manage, but it felt pretty easy, even after the long effort yesterday. Instead of 21 miles and 18 miles, It was more like 29, 3, driving to a hospital, and not sitting down for 9 hours. Listen to me. I'm turning into one of those "my life is a marathon" people.

Missing a run aside, I couldn't be happier with the way life is going all-around. Spending time in a hospital, getting more comfortable each time, is reinforcing the idea that I'm doing something I'll like. Even the gross stuff that people don't want to talk about is worthwhile to me. Do I like seeing some dude's giant cellulitis balls or a plastic tube hanging out of a girl's ribs? Not particularly, but walking into a room knowing I'm equipped and motivated to help people in these situations is indescribably fulfilling. In a way, it helps to offset the rather self-centered act of spending time and money on jogging shit. I've said this like 10 times on this blog. I'll stop until I have something more creative to say on the subject.

13 miles - 1:59:00 - +/-1200': The academic debacle from the day before caused me to switch my rest day to yesterday. I ran too long Wednesday, too short yesterday, and thought I'd just go for a medium distance run in an attempt to restore balance to the universe. Easy run on the Arizona Trail from home to Fischer Point Vista and back. This run feels fairly effortless, even on legs with some training under them. There's only one substantial climb, which is almost exactly a mile long before the turnaround. It's cool.
A really flat path leads here.

The last mile brought me up here. Pictured is the spot from which the first photo was taken. 

This trail ventures into Walnut Canyon. I'll have to check it out. 
10 miles - 1:25:00 - +/- 460' - Super relaxed run from home at 9pm. Something about working all day makes me feel decidedly uncreative when route-picking. I just strolled to Buffalo Park and ran laps in the dark. I even stopped on my way home to buy a sweet new headlight, but it needed to charge for 4 hours before I could use it. My old headlight has a clear lens on the bottom that seems to shine equal amounts of light onto the trail and directly into my eyes. The moon was so bright that I just turned it off and ran in the grey. Runs like this make me feel happy to be healthy. In the middle of a pretty heavy training week, I was plodding out 10 miles, feeling only a gentle oscillation and the comfort that came with it. It seemed like the only thing moving as I trotted around were the deer, rabbits, and frogs in the park. Not adventurous, but wonderful.

14 miles - 1:46:28 - Progression run. 4 mile warmup, and it was terrible. I felt dizzy, lightheaded, and disoriented. I could feel my vision narrow if I didn't stop and walk. Since I didn't want to put Kelsey through another loss of consciousness, seizure, and hospitalization, I reluctantly headed home with her. I knew it was behind on eating. The amount of food I have to eat doesn't correlate with my appetite, and the only option is to wait until I feel like shit, or just record my intake and plan accordingly. Obviously, I was doing the former. I'll have to fix that.

I went home, ate two bowls of oatmeal, a frozen fruit bar, and two packages of Clif Shot Bloks and then hopped on the treadmill.

I did the run on the treadmill so I could run a consistent pace that wouldn't allow me to let up without manually changing the speed. 7:30, 7:20, 7:10, 7:00, 6:50, 6:40, 6:30 6:20, 5:50, 5:18. The last two were sporadic because the treadmill stops at a certain interval and has to be restarted. I was pissed off by having my vibes killed, so I let it fly and ran fast. Not exactly a scientific approach. I got caught up in weeks of improvement without any real negative outcome. I made it through the recklessness this time, but shouldn't push my luck anymore. I went from passing out to pounding out a pretty solid workout.

87 miles, 15 hours, and approximately 10,000' this week. A long run with plenty of gain, two faster/flatter runs, and lots of steady miles. I hope I can remember this feeling when I'm not able to do this anymore. Training is going so well that it makes me a little nervous. Doing most of it alone is probably giving me a false sense of accomplishment, given that I can name about a dozen people who'll be attending Zane Grey that will be kicking my ass. Regardless, a week of 20 hours of work, 20 credit hours of school, a 10 hour clinical shift, and 15 hours of training makes me feel more... well, me I guess. Maybe the trick isn't to lighten the load, but just to balance it.

It might be gross, but the fact that my skin is hardening to the elements makes me feel like I'm putting in adequate time.