Friday, August 26, 2011

As if

As if there is not enough ultra/trail running business happening this weekend.  Today’s TransRockies wrap up, Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in Europe and, most importantly, VHTRC’s largess of runners to tomorrow’s Cascade Crest 100 in Washington State.  Yet, here I am, shamelessly plugging myself.
The September issue of Trail Runner Magazine is out.  First, check out the piece on running in Queenstown, New Zealand.  If you’re up for a running vacation/adventure and you have a little extra cash in your pocket to get you there, do consider Queenstown.  Why?  Read the article to find out, of course.  Second, in the same issue, find out what (and who) makes Charlottesville, Virginia a great place for trail running and racing.
That’s all. Go back to your Twitter updates now on this weekend’s events.
This post.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 Leadville Trail 100 Race Report

Running the Leadville Trail 100 is quite the job.  Negotiating the climbs, the descents, the rollers, the flats and, of course, the altitude over 100 miles ain’t easy.  Some call Leadville a “runners course” though I highly doubt anyone has or could actually ever “run” the entire course- save for possibly Matt Carpenter.  Conversely, the course and event itself is worth every penny, every day off work for travel, every day of training, every moment paid in emotional toil and anxiety.  The climbs, the descents, the rollers and, even, the altitude.  They’re exactly what we hope for.  Add to the mix 14,000 foot Rocky Mountain peak scenery, dutiful event management, a critical mass of active volunteers, fired up spectators, the charm of Leadville itself and what we runners are treated to is a spectacular exercise in self-punishment and what we’re left with is a lifetime of memories.

Approximately six or seven miles into the race, at the boat ramp along Turquoise Lake, I departed company with the lead running pack for a momentary pit stop.  Running with the lead pack, among no one I had yet to know, felt comfortable enough though all things usually feel more or less comfortable at the beginning of such an event.  Once back on the trail my orginal running mates were out of site and I felt something of a relief.  I figured I would see most of them later- possibly much later- in the day and that there may be a chance I would not see as many as two or three at all (except at the turnaround).  A few moments later I passed the second pack, and found myself running in no man’s land- not quite with the lead group and ahead of the following chase pack.  I thought it odd running all by my lonesome so early into a long event filled with +/- 640 runners.  It didn’t matter.  Setting my own pace along the lake and watching first light slowly gather over the eastern mountain horizon was far more interesting than worrying about the position of other runners.

Moments before entering MayQueen aid station I passed a few runners, positioning myself somewhere around number 10 or so.  I was shocked to see and feel the energy of the crowd gathered at MayQueen- the sun had not even risen yet.  Running out of the aid tent area I felt like the tip of a thread navigating a long shafted needle head.  A crowd, one, two and three people deep on both sides, with only feet in between as a makeshift path, cheering, whistling, clapping for what seemed like running the length of a football field.  What a crowd.  At an ultra no less.  Before sunrise!  Only in Leadville.

The next section, climbing Sugarloaf, I felt a little off.  As soon as I hit the trail heading up the thought of the job ahead of me that day wrapped and knotted itself around my brain.  Was I up for it, really?  My breath felt off since the first few steps leading out of town.  My stomach had just forced another pit stop and left me with the feeling that more were to come.  All of the sudden I felt slow and paranoid that I would be slow all day.  Nonetheless, I soldiered on.  Strangely, if I ever have a thought of not finishing an ultra it usually comes within the first hour or so of running- never late.  I guess that is a good thing.  Soon my spirits were quickly lifted as I approached another runner, Duncan, chatted with him for a moment and pushed forward with renewed momentum.  I remember thinking, ‘geez, that is Duncan Callahan, former two-time winner, maybe I am okay after all.’  The climb continued up, so did my energy levels and so did my attitude.  I passed a few runners by the summit of Sugarloaf and began the Powerline descent.  Duncan caught back up after I surrendered to *another* pit stop and we ran into Fish Hatchery together.  Our pace was solid.  Things began feeling right.  I zipped in and out of Fish Hatchery, ahead of Duncan, stripping down to bare essentials and hit the road section, feeling the strength and warmth of the risen sun.

Outbound.  Fish Hatchery.
The literal version of me running-my-own-race continued along the road section.  I moved well though Duncan caught back up with me at Pipeline.  I was actually glad to have company and to be holding a conversation for the first time in the race.  It is funny looking back on mine and Duncan’s conversation now because, partly, we spoke about who we thought would finish top three and what their times might be.  We ran together up to Half Moon aid station and Duncan pulled ahead from there as I was forced again to stop for a few moments.  At this point forward, all the way until Fish Hatchery inbound, I ran alone.  I must say, too, the Colorado Trail section worked me over.  35 miles or so created a space where my legs felt wobbly.  The rolling hills proved difficult.  It was out of my control.  I kept moving, kept a level head and remembered patience.  The few miles of downhill leading to Twin Lakes aid station, mile 39, is where I caught Duncan again and finally passed him for good.  My quads felt strong, at the perfect time, running technical downhill.  I took advantage.  I was in sixth place, and there I would stay for a while.
I was in and out of Twin Lakes outbound aid station in about a minute.  At this point my previous stomach issues finally felt resolved.  Back on the trail, crossing the meadow, I thought I might have a chance of catching a runner or two climbing the front side of Hope.  Once I hit the climb I realized that might not happen.  My breath became very labored and I pretty much hiked the entire way up, through Hopeless aid station, and to the summit.  I simply could not draw enough oxygen out of the air to move the way up the mountain I wanted.  It was a struggle at best, and I knew coming back up the back side would be even worse.  A quick descent, an uneventful out-and-back gravel road run up to the 50 mile turnaround point at Winfield and I was back on Hope, hiking up the backside.  I picked up a second bottle at Winfield, almost forgetting the other contents of my drop bag, because I knew the heat of the day would be on my back during this section.  It was.  My labored breath returned and my forefeet and calves worked overtime up the climb.  I was surprised to see so many descending runners looking roughed up coming at me.  I must have looked twice as bad going the opposite direction.
Hope summit returned and I cruised down the mountain, across the meadow, through the river, to Twin Lakes inbound, having not passed a single runner and not knowing how close or how far Duncan, Billy or any other trailing runners were in proximity to me.  Gaby told me I was about 10 to 12 minutes back from where I should be at that point, that Mike Arnstein was five minutes ahead and that I needed to “close the gap” with the other runners ahead of me.  “How did they look” I asked.  “They looked good,” she said.  Gaby often knows what to say to motivate me at aid stations, sometimes even resorting to trickery to do so, but I believed her and for the first time I became worried about my eventual place in the race so I took to the climb out of Twin Lakes with purpose.
Inbound.  Twin Lakes.  "Gaby, honestly, do these shorts make my ass look big?"

Leaving Twin Lakes.  "Seriously, do they?"

My neck got a serious workout over the next several miles as I kept looking back for Duncan and other runners.  Especially every time I hiked a hill.  Finally, I hit my groove.  At the makeshift water aid station, three miles up from Twin Lakes, a volunteer attendant told me the next runner was only two minutes ahead.  ‘Arnstein!’ I thought.  My energy and pace instantly rose a level.  There was blood in the water.  I was a shark.  It took a while but I finally caught a glimpse of Mike and his pacer around a bend in the trail.  A return to Half Moon aid station revealed I was only one minute behind him.  At that point I also learned my place instantly bumped from 6th to 5th.  Ryan Burch was sitting inside the tent, regrouping and tanking calories.  Another three miles or so and I caught and passed Mike along Pipeline. 4th place.  He was moving well- the guy always moves well- though he explained he experienced a meltdown coming out of Winfield.  Um, that was 20 miles prior.  The guy is hardcore.  Moments after passing Mike I see Timmy Parr and his pacer up ahead on the road section.  More blood.  Motivation for a third place position energized my legs even more along this section.  Eventually I caught and passed Timmy shortly before running into Fish Hatchery in the rain and wind.
Gaby told me that from Twin Lakes through Fish Hatchery not only had I made up the 12 minutes I had lost previously running into Twin Lakes inbound but that I had also gained an additional five minutes.  That was a nice thought but I was more concerned about climbing Powerline in the very near future.  I also learned at Fish Hatchery that Gaby and Jason Koop secured a pacer for me while socializing at Twin Lakes.  Kate, from Denver.  Wow.  She looked fit and ready to rip.  I was content to finish the race as planned, sans pacer, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to reject the energetic, selfless help of an able pacer to keep me on track all the way back to 6th and Harrison, in downtown Leadville.  I threw on some layers and we rolled out of Fish Hatchery, up the road towards Powerline, with Mike and Timmy nipping at my heels.  Kate was a trip and we clicked instantly.  We moved well up the Powerline, as well as can be expected, the goal being to put as much of a gap on Mike and Timmy behind us so that once we crested Sugarloaf we could widen the gap even more on the descent into MayQueen.  Mostly, the planned worked.  We saw Mike and his pacer a few times behind us coming up the Powerline and then eventually lost sight of him completely, never to see him, or Timmy, or any other runner, until the finish line.  Kate and I moved well down the front side of Sugarloaf and into MayQueen.  I ate whatever solid foods I could and we were back on the trail.  It was still light out.
Inbound.  MayQueen.
The solid foods at MayQueen helped my energy levels and mood running along the rolling, single track trail, paralleling Turquoise Lake.  Kate and I admired the natural beauty around us and mostly ran quietly, with heads down, focused on covering as many miles as we could before dark.  By the time we reached the dam at the other end of the lake it was pitch black.  We chatted and moved confidently.  At that point I knew a third place finish was secure, as Ryan “TV” Sandes and Dylan Bowman had run very well all day and were well ahead of us in first and second position.  Once we left the lake trails Kate and I continued running along the jeep and gravel road sections.  We passed the campground, crossed the rail road tracks, and hit the eventual, long, gradual ascending “Boulevard” gravel road, bound for Leadville.  This is where I got lazy.  I hiked a lot.  I could have covered this section much faster had I simply run the entire thing, though I just didn’t feel like it.  A sub-18 hour time was secure.  A third place finish was secure.  I was content.
The eye-closing satisfaction of a Leadville finish.
Me, Kate, Jason and his pup.

Mike said he tried to catch me coming up the Boulevard.  Next time he will undoutedly have a bull's-eye on me.
As I said after Leadville last year, I will definitely return to run this race again.  I can’t say it will be next year but I will definitely return at some point.  Looking back, I am confident I could have run a 17:30, at the very least, had I not gotten lazy at the end and maybe pushed it a little more up the Powerline.  To run any faster I think would require longer acclimatization than the four weeks I had under my belt.  Or just be in better shape.  Or both.  Four weeks of acclimatization is great but nothing beats actual sustained living at altitude, especially when it comes to performing at the highest possible level in Leadville.  If I lived in Colorado, at least for an entire summer, could I have gone sub 17?  Maybe, but only if every other factor, including my stomach-causing pit stops, all aligned perfectly and I ran every possible section and did not get lazy at the end.  That would be a nice goal some day, I think.  Running Leadville in sub 17.  TV did it.  He was only the third runner ever to do so.  Impressive.

Cheers to my bro, Cornbread, who finished the race, his second 100, after a return-from-the-dead puking-his-guts-out climb up the backside of Hope.  Imagine running the second half of Leadville, puking, not eating anything and laying down for 45 minutes at MayQueen inbound.  Also impressive.  Even I probably would have thrown in the towel.
Cornbread at the line.
A word about the woman standing beside me in the picture below.  Moms.  (Donna) As I often tell her, she epitomizes the raw ingredients of a tough endurance runner.  She has strength.  Stamina.  Patience.  Tolerance (for pain and other things).  A positive attitude.  A happy, healthy appetite.  An open mind and an open heart.  And a working pair of ears.  Nurse, artist and mother of 13 children- yours truly is #11- she does it all, including staying up all night, clear through sunrise, at age 74, to witness both of her sons cross the finish line in Leadville.  She has passed on to me all of the ingredients that I have, some of which I never even knew I had, that has allowed me to excel (to a minimal extent) at ultrarunning and, more importantly, to run happily.  She has spectated many of my races, travelling far, getting up early and staying up late.  You couldn’t keep her away if you tried.  She is a trip!  Last September she traveled to Utah because she said she knew I would break Joe Kulak’s Grand Slam record and she wanted to be there for it.  This summer she said she wanted to come to Leadville to see me win.  Guess I can’t always live up to the expectations, can I?  At least from this race I take another level of desire, motivation and confidence- things she has also passed on to me.  And for that I am even more excited than earning a third place finish.  Next up is Grindstone in October.  I’ve got my sights set on Karl’s 18:46:26.

Friday afternoon.  MayQueen campground.
Friday afternoon.  Checking out the fish at the Hatchery.  Me and the rest of the crew: Cornbread, Pattie and Gaby.
Finally, a treat from the New Wave era.  (I was seven years old at the time).  One I have enjoyed over and over during my time in Colorado these past weeks.  One that I will likely listen to in the future and when I do think back on this summer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A person of interest at the Leadville 100

Last September the editorial staff at Tails & Trails enjoyed a rather unusual conversation with elite ultramarathon crew chief, Gaby Gorman.  Here is a link to the excerpts from that interview.
We recently conversed again with Gaby, discussing the ups and downs, the ins and outs, working as an elite ultramarathon crewer for a sub-amateur athlete.  Here are the, um, finer points from our interview.

Tails & Trails: It’s been a while since we last spoke of your success on the national ultramarathon crewing circuit.  What’s new since we last spoke?  How are you helping to prepare your runner for the Leadville Trail 100 this weekend?

Gaby: Not much.  I got a haircut recently.

Tails & Trails: Oh, I see.  Very nice.  Seriously, what else? What have you been doing to prepare for this weekend?
Gaby:  Well, I recently l flew to Colorado and I brought, like, 10 gels with me for the race.  I was nervous carrying them on the flight, you know because of the extra weight, but figured it was worth it. 

Tails & Trails: I guess that is something.  Have you prepared in other ways?  Any new developments in your race preparations, crewing wise?
Gaby:  The biggest change to my preparations has to be that now I mostly go off of feel.  For example, when practicing my crewing, if I feel like a bottle re-filling speed workout, I do it.  If not, I don’t.  Sometimes I simply feel like a long, slow pour.  And other times I might mix in short, fast pouring bursts of water into a bottle.

Tails & Trails:  Wow.  That is not what I meant and definitely, um, unorthodox.  Do you think that kind of preparation will actually help your runner?
Gaby:  Why wouldn't it?

Tails & Trails: I don't know...  You mentioned you recently arrived to Colorado.  How is the altitude?
Gaby:  What about my attitude?

Tails & Trails: Wait, I meant… nevermind.  What is your runner doing to prepare these last few days before the race?
Gaby:  Nothing.  He is boring.  He sits at his desk, eating pretzels and fruit.
Tails & Trails: Maybe that is part of his taper plan?  Resting, I mean.
Gaby:  No.  It’s not a good idea.  He needs to be up and moving.  I keep telling him.  How is he supposed to run a 100 miles if he just sits there all week?  The race is in three days.  There is still time to train.
Tails & Trails: Let’s not even go there...  Let’s talk about music.  I understand your runner doesn’t train or race with music.  How about you when crewing?
Gaby:  Oh, definitely.  I love to dance.
Tails & Trails: Really? Um, good for you.  What do you listen to then when crewing?
Gaby:  My playlist is deep but this weekend I’ll probably be rocking a little Antoine Dodson, Russel Brand, Heavy D and the Boyz.  You know, some hip hop, love ballads…  The good stuff.  I get down at the aid stations.
Tails & Trails: Really? I wasn’t aware.  How does this help your runner passing through at the aid stations?
Gaby:  I’m not really sure if it does or if it doesn’t.  I mean, he says he has fun in between the aid stations, running- just running- but I don’t know… He usually looks pretty terrible when he comes through.  When I’m rocking out at the aid stations, it’s kind of like saying “cheer up, bud.  Loosen up out there and get going.”  I think it works.  Actions speak louder than words.
Tails & Trails: That is really hard for me to comprehend.  Let’s change the topic.  Hydration is critical at high altitude.  I hear your runner likes to drink coconut water at aid stations.  Do you have that ready to go?
Gaby:  Yep.  I’ve got some coconuts for the race.  They’re hard to open and tough to drink from so he will have to be patient.  I’m going to City Market tomorrow to look for little umbrellas to give to him with the coconuts.  That will be a nice surprise.
Tails & Trails: I kind of doubt it, but do what you like.  Let’s talk about the race itself.  The Leadville 100 invokes a lot of energy out its runners.  The web is lighting with excitement on the blogs, twitter and Facebook…
Tails & Trails: …hold on.  Um, nothing.  My question is what do you think about all of the excitement and the chatter?
Gaby:  I think it’s a good thing.  It shows the passion of the runners.  Plus, I love to read what people are saying about me.
Tails & Trails: I don’t know that people are saying anything, which I assume is a good thing, right?
Gaby:  C’mon.  They’re talking.
Tails & Trails: No, really.  I don’t think they are.
Gaby:  No, really.  They are.
Tails & Trails: You know what, let’s wrap this up.  Thank you, again, for your time.  Good luck to you and your runner this weekend.  And, please, do try to remember, as Ken Chlouber says “you are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.”
Gaby:  Thank you.  I enjoyed it.  By the way, that’s not what he says at all…
Crew work complete.  2010 Leadville Trail 100.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Walk In The Woods

It looks like Bill Bryson's hilarious travelogue about hiking the Appalachian Trail might soon actually be made into a movie, and star Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.  In a small way, I hope it isn't made because I highly doubt a movie could ever do the book justice.  Alas, it's not up for me to say...

In any case, here is a funny spoof trailer for the movie.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The High

Part of the joy I often take away from attending races, either as a competitor or as a spectator, are the encounters I regularly have with people I find interesting.  While watching the Leadville mountain bike race finish on Saturday I chatted with a guy about endurance performance at altitude and he told me about a race, also happening this past weekend, in India.  In the Himalayas.  It is called La Ultra The High.  In short, the race covers 138 miles, climbs over two 17,5 ft passes, while averaging 15,3 ft.  Apparently six people started the race this past weekend, in the race’s second year, and all six finished.  Including American, Ray Sanchez, who finished second.
Check out the race profile chart below, taken directly from the website, comparing Leadville, the Everest Marathon (world's highest marathon) and La Ultra The High.  Can you imagine running straight downhill- at altitude- for 50 kilometers?  Even if at a slow grade.  Or how about running straight up for 100 kilometers, after running 90?  The long chasm valley between downhill and uphill running is likely indicative of the range of weather and physical, mental, spiritual, even metaphysical, variances one must experience during such an event.

A trip to the Himalayas would be a true life experience.  Running La Ultra The High may be- just maybe- a good reason to go some year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spectating and such

There is no place I’d rather be in August than the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado.  The weather is near perfect and there are so many fun outdoor activities to take in, including race spectating.  Since I’ve been in Vail there has been a half marathon and a 10k, both of which I did not run and unfortunately also missed as a spectator.  The D.C. area has no shortage of running events, and the like, happening pretty much every weekend.   Here it is a bit different, though- at least for me.  Pretty much all of the races usually involve trails and mountains, which are more my kind of thing.  Yesterday I decided to head to Leadville and catch a bit of the mountain bike race.  I hung around the finish, soaked up the excitement, took a few pictures with my cell phone and conversed with a few athletes and vendors.  Witnessing the top male finishers cross the line was a thrill, as was watching Rebecca Rusch capture her third consecutive win, shattering her own course record time by 15 minutes.  What an athlete!
In just over a week I will also have the pleasure of spectating the USA Pro Cycling Challenge as it passes through Vail and nearby towns.  Top riders from the Tour de France (Cadel Evans, Schleck brothers, Ivan Basso, etc.) are among the athletes expected to compete.  The same week will also deliver runners from the TransRockies to Vail and Avon (Beaver Creek).  Friends from D.C. and a few other places are set to compete.  Catching up with them at the event stages will be a lot of fun as well.  The number of high caliber pro and amateur athletes who live Colorado is nothing short of remarkable.  Add to that the number of athletes who descend on the Rocky Mountains each summer (and winter for winter sports) to train and compete.  It is no wonder there are so many great events held in Colorado, all of which make for fun spectating.
Here are a few visuals from yesterday's Leadville 100 mountain bike race:
Winner: Olympian, Todd Wells.
Alban Lakata, the beast from Austria, taking 2nd.
Co-Outdoor Mag mutant, Alex Grant, taking 3rd.
Finish line media.  Obviously a popular event.
Next up the run.  Runners, take your mark!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Race Across the Sky

Attended a Vail symposium this evening and watched the 2010 Race Across the Sky movie, documenting last year’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.  The film itself was pretty great, as far as race documentaries go.  If I were competing in the bike event this coming Saturday I would have been on pins and needles in my seat.  And since I am not, I must say, it definitely got me even more pumped than I already am for the actual running event in 10 days.  The scenery footage.  The excitement.  6th Street.  Powerline.  Ken and his trusty shotgun at the start and finish.  Good stuff.  In addition, if I were a mountain biker I would definitely attempt the Leadville mountain bike race.  The race looks super intense- especially up front.  Those guys hammer.
Following the film was a panel discussion hosted by Vail’s very own Xterra National Champion wunkerkind, Josiah Middaugh, peppering Rebecca Rusch, Chris Carmichael, Dave Wiens and Life Time Fitness CEO/founder (and race athlete) Bahram Akradi  with questions .   Eventually Josiah turned to the audience for questions and picked me as the last person to ask a question before ending the panel.  I directed my question at Bahram and attempted to ask in a very general, though sincere, manner how does he (Life Time) expect to manage the Leadville races series going forward, as the expected popularity momentum builds.  My question was very micro- calling out my focus in name, the mountain bike and 100 mile run events- but his response was very macro.  Now, he is the CEO of a very large corporation so I wasn’t too surprised by that.  I was surprised by his authenticity, however, and his deep passion for healthy living, in all respects, and for working hard to help others achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles.  Life Time is a gym business primarily, or at least that is how it began as I understand it.  Bahram believes that fitness and activity doesn’t necessarily belong in a gym, and that people with goals, for example an upcoming race, are very motivated and more apt to keep on track in terms of maintaining and growing in their fitness, than say those who go to a gym simply because they have a membership or do not know of any better way to stay fit.  Sure, there is money to be made in buying the Leadville race series and other “epic” race events as he called them.  He said the primary goal of Life Time is to maintain the nostalgia of the Leadville events, and all other races they have bought, and attempt to give athletes- all athletes- the best possible experience they can.  If that means making some improvements he said that is what they will do.  Or making no changes whatsoever if none are needed.  Bahram is such a health conscious guy he is removing all food and drink, beginning next year, from future Leadville races that have artificial coloring, additives, etc.  He said all foods provided during future events will be organic.  Period.  That was one example he gave of making improvements.
I can’t say that I don’t think race entry fees won’t rise.  I think they will.  And not just at Leadville.  No matter, something also tells me that the popularity of the Leadville Trail Run 100 will continue to grow.  It started before Life Time bought the race.  It started before Born to Run was published.  And it will continue.  Who knows, maybe it will become so popular that very soon the race will require a lottery to sort out entrant demand.  Maybe eventually it will adopt qualifying entry races, like Western States and the Leadville Mountain Bike race.  Western States continues to dominate as the competition-race-of-choice in the US 100 mile circuit but if any race could overreach WS in this area, any race at all, it has to be Leadville.  It won’t happen at Hardrock and we all know why.  Leadville is the only logical next possibility, if that possibility even exists- which I think it does.  What would it take?  Only one of two things, really.  (1) This one is easy.  $.  Life Time could pony up a purse.  But that probably won’t happen so it would probably take (2) a critical mass of inner-circle-elite-type-and-minded athletes (I mean that in a friendly way) huddling up and all agreeing to enter and run the same 100 mile race.  That race being Leadville, of course.  It fits the bill in many respects.  It can support the crowds.  Etc.  I am not suggesting that this should happen.  Or that I want it to.  Or even that I think it will necessarily.  I more or less see it as a possibility.  Why?  Up until a few years ago the Leadville Mountain Bike race was a popular event and everyone loved it.  Then something special happened.  Lance Armstrong showed up and broke the course record in epic fashion.  Not only that a movie documentary was made on that particular race and it was a big hit among mountain bikers and cyclists everywhere.  Now the Leadville Mountain bike race is on every cyclist’s to-do list.  It has to be one of the biggest, most popular mountain bike events in the world.  Am I right about that?  Say something similar happens with the run: a crush of special runners show up (not that special runners don’t show up every year) and produce a truly epic event.  The race is caught on film, distributed as a documentary and becomes a hit.  Boom.  The Leadville Run’s popularity mushrooms even more, possibly eclipsing Western States in terms of demand and competition.  Stranger things have happened, no?  As I said, I think it could happen.  Not that I hope it does.
Here is a YouTube link for the film trailer.  If you are into endurance sports, particularly cycling and mountain biking, you can’t help but want to see it yourself.

Monday, August 08, 2011

2010 Leadville Trail 100 race report

The Leadville Trail 100 is 11 days, 13 hours and 30 minutes from now.  To say I am excited for this event is a gross understatement.  To suggest I haven’t gone to bed each night, or woken up the following morning, for the past several weeks in a row, thinking of the race, would be a herculean underestimate of my focus and desire for a good race.  What is not to be excited about as Leadville nears?  How is it possible to over obsess on something that one considers as valuable to life as sunshine to a tree?  Why does a stream flow downhill is nearly as relevant a question, in my opinion.  The answer is just as obvious.

Given the fact that I am enjoying the pretty side of August summer weather high up, in the Rockies, with trails leading into the forest in every direction, except down, I can’t say that I am fully excited about tapering at the moment.  Imagine yourself in elementary school during recess, seated Indian-style in time out, staring out to the playground, watching friends run, swing and laugh; you, squirming against a brick wall, chomping at the bit.  Yeah, it’s kind of like that here for me now.  The sun is shining.  The aspen leaves are swirling and dancing in unison as the wind passes through.  The mountains are tall and green.  Beckoning.  And I’m mostly sitting on my ass.  Damn this chair!  Damn the taper!

Yes, this is one of the ways we running fanatics, naturally pre-disposed to obsess, obsess over upcoming races.  We complain when we’re not doing anything other than running and then we complain about not running when we actually stop running.  It’s a crazy, mixed up world.

Given that Leadville is now 11 days, 13 hours and 28 minutes from now I thought I might share my 2010 Leadville Trail 100 race report with the readers of this blog, the goal being to perhaps provide inspiration for first time Leadville runners, or hopeful future Leadville runners, or merely provide a wee bit of semi-entertainment for those with nothing better to do.  By the way, during August, 2010, the editors of this blog had yet to coalesce around a media stratagem, thus the launch of “Tails and Trails” had yet to occur until just before Wasatch only weeks later.  Therefore, what you are about to read below was emailed (gasp!) to family and friends in the days after the event.

Leadville started Saturday morning like pretty much every other ultra race I’ve ever run: early and cold.  It didn’t take long for the excitement to build as a critical mass of 630+ runners toed the start line at 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville, CO.  I was calm and ready, despite a lackluster night’s sleep.  Sure, I had been in Colorado the past few weeks acclimating to the dry air and lack of oxygen at high altitude but race day was here and surviving Leadville’s 10,200 base elevation over the course of 100 miles would prove a great challenge.

Like every morning the clock eventually struck 4:00am only this time a sea of thoroughbred runners from over 40 US states and numerous countries began hightailing it due west on 6th Street.  Though not something I require for motivation or generally seek out in races, the energy of the town during the Leadville Trail 100 is palatable.  6th Street residents huddled in their pajamas on their front lawns, blaring music, cheering and spinning glow sticks as we sailed by.  Clearly, we runners we not the only scantily dressed loonies hanging outside at 4am in 39 degree weather.  The excitement was fun while it lasted but the day beckoned, and the mass of runners headed for the first marked trail out of town.

I mentioned this race was crowded but what I failed to mention was how ambitious the crowd appeared to be.  I came to Leadville planning to run the first several miles, like 40ish, conservatively.  I wanted- nay- needed to warm up my legs and my lungs.  Proudly, I succeeded in this goal and immediately realized others did not share my vision.  I pulled into the first aid station, MayQueen – mile 13.5, in 40th or something place.  Fine by me.  I was happy to let these runners carry on, able bodied or not.  I knew they would come back to me later in the day.  And I didn’t care much really anyway if they didn’t.  My obsession over the race in the preceding weeks taught me that if I hit my time goal an overall satisfactory finish place would be secure.  After all, this was the 28th running on the Leadville 100.  Ready data exists and I took advantage.

Leaving MayQueen I ran with Rod Bien and Jason Lantz, two very kind and capable athletes, all the way up to Sugarloaf summit, minus a bit of speed hiking at the base over steep pitches of technical grade.  We passed several runners through this stretch.  Unfortunately Friday’s meals did not sit well with me up to this point so I marked the trail a few times.  I pushed it only slightly going down the backside of Sugarloaf, aka “The Powerline”, and into Fish Hatchery, mile 23.5, because I wanted to make up for unwelcomed pit stops and maintain a certain level of consistency with desired split times.  I breezed through Fish Hatchery and kept running in the company of Jason and Rod, and a few other runners we picked up along the way.  I was content and ‘running within myself,’ as they say.  This part of the course, scenery wise is excellent, only the actual course itself is not.  Flat, paved road for about 5 miles. Trails and gradual hills soon returned and we arrived at Halfmoon aid station, mile 30.   After Halfmoon things spread out a bit in my company and I motored up and down rolling trails often by myself to Twin Lakes, mile 39.5.  This is where I saw Gaby for the first time.  I arrived in 17th place and behind on my time goal.  “What’s up” she asked.  “It’s hard” replied.  I realized then and there my overall goal time was likely a bit too ambitious but also knew I could easily pull ahead of several runners still in front of me.  And that I soon would.

Twin Lakes crouches beautifully at 9,200 feet, the lowest elevation grade of the course, and at the antapex of several large, imposing mountains.  From here the course crosses a river and traverses a beautiful meadow for about 1.5 miles and them, bam!, winds straight up Hope Pass to 12,600.  By the time I reached Hope Summit, mile 45, I was in 8th place.  My name is Neal, and I like to climb.  Running down the backside of Hope then up to the 50 mile turnaround point at Winfield was exceedingly beautiful but otherwise rather uneventful.  I remained in control, ate, drank, etc. and stay focused on the real work ahead of me: grunting back up Hope in reverse.  This is an extremely daunting task under the best of circumstances- altitude or not, race day or not.  Negotiating trail space with the plethora of descending runners as I re-climbed Hope was tricky, even though most of the runners were very gracious and granted me right of way since I was head of them.  All was well.  During my re-climb up Hope I was, shockingly, passed by a very loudly wheezing runner and his pacer, and then I also passed two additional runners.  7th place.  I re-entered Twin Lakes, mile 60.5, moments behind Wheezy.  I saw Gaby again, joined up with my extremely fit pacer, Tony Stafford from Boulder, CO, and exited the aid station in 6th place.  Wheezy was apparently content to hang out at the aid station longer than me.

Tony and I motored up the climb out of Twin Lakes and back on to Halfmoon with the hopes of making up some of my lost goal time.  We succeeded and actually gained a few minutes over this stretch.  The only persistent and annoying problem I continued having all day up to this point was drinking too much water, which caused me to pee.  A lot.  The calorie soaked Cliff blocks I gleefully munched on all day made me feel more thirsty than I probably actually was.  So I drank.  And I peed.  This sucked.  Seconds count.  Even in a 100 miler.  Anyway, from Halfmoon it was on to more flat trails, then back on to the terrible paved road section once again, where we saw 5th Jason Koop plopping along roughly 1.5 miles off in the distance.  Tony assured me not to worry about him at that moment, focus on running- and not walking- into Fish Hatchery.  We made it to Fish Hatchery after a sad pace on the roads.  At this point I would need to eat and drink in preparation for tackling the day’s next great challenge: grunting up Powerline.  Gaby hustled us in and out of Fish Hatchery, expeditiously as usual, and we were on our way up Powerline.  It didn’t take long to catch Jason on the climb.  He was very fatigued.  We exchanged pleasantries and he pointed out that it was at about this point in the race at Western States in June where I passed him.  “Really?” I thought.  “Pleased to meet you” I responded politely.  Then kept going.  5th place.  My stomach is usually excellent during races and could digest an anvil if need be.  During these hours of the race it taught me who was boss and I was forced to ingest calories the way Mom had always taught me- though I never properly learned- slowly.  Heck, it could have been worse and I knew it.  Fortunately a swig of water with every bite made things tolerable. 

Fortunately we rounded out Sugarloaf summit and moved somewhat sprightly down the front sloping side to Hangerman Pass Road, then on to the final technically trailed wooded base of Sugarloaf during the fleeting moments of sunlight before landing back at MayQueen, mile 86.5.  Ah, MayQueen…the final pit stop before finishing.  As we threw on our left turn signal and pulled into the MayQueen some spectator shouted “you’ve moved up all day.  Great job.  You’re in 4th.”  “4th” I thought?  Gaby swooped on the scene like a paramedic, the way she always does, and whispered “Anton DNF’d”.  I inhaled a small cup of burnt noodles, a few other things I can’t remember, drank three types of fluid, ate some more, picked up a light, and was gone through the backside of the tent in which I had entered about 14 hours earlier.  Leadville lights glimmered in the distance.

The Turquoise Lake waterfront trails were nice.  Oh how it would have been fun to run them in daylight.  Unfortunately however for the second time this day I would half-circumnavigate Turquoise Lake courtesy of my not-very-powerful LED headlamp.  I kept eating and Tony kept the pace.  I was far behind on my time splits and as a consequence was unwilling to surrender my hard earned 4th place.  So we plodded along.  I figured any place greater was unlikely thanks to the raucous campsite cheers we heard in the distance as my nearest competitor, Dylan Bowman, passed through.  We finally made it off the lake trails and on to gravel roads for the last few slow and ascending miles back to the finish at 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville.  With no other competitors in sight we anticlimactically crossed finish line threshold at 18:47:54.  All in all a great day.  A big thank you and congrats to Gaby, Tony, race official people, all of the great volunteers, spectators and competitors.  I will definitely return to Leadville.  No question.

Race results hereRace pictures here.  The first few pictures are from Aspen and Independence Pass the weekend prior.  And, yes, those are pictures of Christopher McDougall (Born To Run author), Jake Gyllenhall and Peter Skarsgard in the mix.  Peter is a runner and paced for a friend.  They came in not longer than me and we chatted for a bit; I didn’t recognize him at the time and impolitely texted race results like a teenager during our conversation.  The next morning he and Jake approached me and Gaby at our breakfast table and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation about the race, running in general, running shoes, my Grand Slam endeavor and a few other fitness related topics.  Peter seemed very interested in learning more about possibly progressing into ultras.  Jake on the other hand was very engaging thogh not as talkative.  (I think he liked Gaby.) They both stated they will keep an eye on my Grand Slam progress through Wasatch.  The pressure!  By the way, this is as much celebrity gossip as you will ever hear from me.  So, enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Eat chocolate

There are a few paragraphs in this NY Times blog article, by Tara Parker-Pope, on the potential bonus endurance effects in muscles from eating small doses of dark chocolate that I find interesting.  Check it out. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Health, looks and aging

Here is a good read in the Post on health and looks with regards to aging.  The guy featured, Jim Pressler, appears to have some things figured out.