Sunday, June 28, 2009

New York Times Features Bighorn Trail 100

While most of us have been riveted to the triumph and tragedy playing out at the Western States 100, the editors at the New York Times have been honing a nice piece on last weekend's Bighorn Trail 100 in Wyoming (article). It's a well done article that captures the essence of Bighorn in particular and ultra-running more generally. Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections on the 2009 Bighorn 100

Twilight dissolved into full darkness as I made my way across the boggy meadows to the turn-around at the Porcupine Ridge aid station at mile 48. It's the time in a race I've really come to enjoy. And Friday's Bighorn 100 was no exception. The harshness of the day softened; the maddening crowd of the early going dispersed; and the questions starting to be answered.

How do I feel? How's my pace? And most importantly for my first 100 mile attempt: How are things looking for a finish?

Until this point, I really had no answers. The warm, 11am start at the Tongue River Canyon, while wondrously beautiful, made the day already feel long even before the gun. But it gave me a chance to chat with a couple great Fort Collins guys I'd only met via blogs and, who would both go on to very strong finishes: Nick Clark (2nd) and Pete Stevenson (7th).

At the gun, it was up the canyon on the gravel road a couple miles; then on to some undulating, singletrack for another couple; then, the first extended climb that would be surprisingly crowded until the next aid station. It certainly challenged me mentally. My legs didn't feel particularly spry; my stomach felt bloated from mishandling the late start, and the tailwind up the canyon kept things feeling warmer than they should have.

The Upper Sheep Creek aid was great to see (mile 8.5). A chance to fill bottles and shake off the climb. Things began to spread out a bit as well, and I got to run on and off for a number of miles with Steve Kirk (RD of 3 Days of Syllama, who'd have to eventually drop at the turn-around with an offline stomach), Ashley Nordell (who'd soon drop me and go on to win the women's race in 24:51), and Trevor Hostetler (who'd finish after some hiccups on the way).

Aid stations came and went, I ate my PB & J's, drank my Nuun and Succeed products, and took many photos of the amazing scenery. The climbing kept going, the mud kept getting deeper, darker, and less avoidable. Night began to fall, and I finally had some early answers.

Nearing the mile 48 highpoint of the out/back course: My stomach was feeling good; my pace felt good; and knowing there was a long way to go, I was beginning to sense that a finish was possible if I kept positive and to my plan.

After the turn-around at Porcupine Ridge ranger station around 10:30pm, I headed into full darkness and crossed paths with runners heading up (some feeling better than others). This part of the course was marked by wide, watery (often trail-less) meadows and expansive views of the milky way. I'd just mark the next glowstick and slurp my way along to it -- sometimes quickly realizing I was heading for a low-slung star instead. Of all the memories of this day, those from this section are the most vivid.

Creek crossing not far from Porcupine Ridge

From here, I passed through a couple aid stations -- passing a couple bonked runners on the way -- and got back to the major Footbridge station (mile 66) around 3:30am, still feeling good.

After a quick weigh-in, the real run for home then began. Out of Footbridge is a big, nasty and often muddy 2500 foot climb over 3.5 miles. It was slow going, and as the day began to dawn, my energy began to drain. I was able to keep up a good steady pace up until Cow Camp aid (mile 76), but from there on, I picked my way home, trading leads with Ogden runner, Tom Remkes (who'd eventually get me by six minutes).

Cow Camp aid station

Although I could keep taking gel after gel up to the finish, my legs just couldn't seem to muster any energy, and my quads screamed on anything but the slightest downward pitch (of which there are very few in the closing miles). Seeing my hubristic goal of a 24ish time slip away, I grew a bit despondent, but kept picking my way home.

When I finally hit the Tongue River Canyon road aid station (mile 94), I figured out that if I ran 90 percent of the closing miles, I could come in under 26 hours. So I filled my bottles, pounded four more gels, and shuffled for home in the now hot mid-day sun, crossing the line in 25:35 -- good enough for 11th place.

Into the finish at Scott Park (photo by Michael Powers)

While I may have wanted a bit more, I'm extremely happy with the result. Eleven months after my first ultra (the White River 50), I was able to toe the line and finish a challenging 100 miler -- and most importantly live to tell about it. I can't thank my much more accomplished training partners enough for sharing their tricks of the trade that really made it all possible.

Still, I've got a lot of work to do, a lot of troubleshooting to perform. But for the time being, I'm going to put my feet up for a while and just enjoy the moment.

Don't tell my Wasatch pacer.

(Complete photo album)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Early Results: Meltzer, Nordell Win at the 2009 Bighorn Trail 100

Update: Full results now available on the Bighorn site.

Karl Meltzer sloughed off an encounter with an angry moose and took a handy victory in record time on Saturday at the stunningly picturesque and challenging 2009 Bighorn Trail 100 in Dayton, Wyoming. Women's winner, Ashley Nordell, went unchallenged from start to finish. (Click on finishers' list to enlarge).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Heading North: Ready for the Bighorn 100

Driving north back toward town this morning after dropping my boys off at camp I realized that I could see a lot of the trails and peaks that made up the backbone of my winter and spring training this year. Bald Mountain (Baldy), where I made many crampon-donned ascents and descents this winter in a desperate quest for vert, dodging baffled skiers all the way. Quigley Canyon, my go-to route for the standard, no stress 7 - 10 mile runs. And Carbonate Mountain, the lifesaver singletrack climb that's one of the first to open in spring and on which my buddies and I have done lap after lap after lap getting ready for the early season races.

It was really amazing to take it all in in a single view, which brought with it flashes of all the hours I've put in and all the tune-up races I've done. For the first time in my taper week ahead of the Bighorn 100, I felt calm; I felt confident; and I felt ready.

Time to get the bags packed and head out the door.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sun Valley Runs: Today's Photo Log

I am not a great photographer, and barely an artist by any measure, but I love to bring my camera along on any run over a couple hours, knowing that at some point there will be something unique worth chronicling.

Here are a handful of images from today's clockwise run around the Adams Gulch big loop in Sun Valley, ID. (If so inclined, my web album with a few extra shots).

Adams Gulch Trail/Short Loop junction. Don't miss the chipmunk

Swollen singletrack

My favorite scorched tree, now two seasons on

Boulder Mountains view

Wood River Valley. How do I get to call this home?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bighorn Trail 100: 10-Day Forecast

Now ten days out from the start of the Bighorn Trail 100, here's the first look at race day conditions. High of 80 with showers -- better Nikwax my Houdini.

For my brief thoughts on the 10-day forecast as race prep milestone, check out this post.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

RJ Review: Brooks Cascadia 4

Marketing folks are not known for measured statements. Still, one wonders if the merry band of workers at Brooks actually gave any thought to the expectations placed on a shoe whose insole is adorned with both a stylized map of the Western States 100 course as well as Scott Jurek’s 2004 course record of 15:36:27. In my book, this sets the bar very high, and I have to say that I think said shoe -- the Cascadia 4 (retail $100.00) – falls short of the mark.

While many an ultrarunner views the Cascadia line as a new gold standard for trail shoes, I just don’t agree. Though, they certainly look great and feel pretty good on, they just don’t perform as well as many other shoes when it comes to the rough and tumble of long, long runs on varied terrain. When it comes to descending steep and technical singletrack, their light weight gives them a good level of responsiveness, but they lack the solid, quick, descending-on-rails feeling that a shoe like the Inov-8 320 delivers. On rocky trail, the shoe’s midsole Ballistic Rock Shield offers only modest protection from sharp rocks, which turns long sections of craggy trail initially tedious and eventually painful. Asics’ Gel-Trail Sensor and any number of Inov-8s perform better on such terrain.

Even when it comes to comfort and feel, the Cascadias just do OK. They’re certainly not uncomfortable, but for the frailties in other performance points, I’d at least want them to feel as good if not better than other shoes in their class, but even here, I’d say Asics’ Gel-Trail Attacks feel better on the trail in true-test conditions.

There are any number of runners out there who will contest this review. I know. I’ve spoken to a number of you. But, among the quiver of shoes I’ve used and tested, the Cascadias have been one of the biggest disappointments. Yes, they’re good on a number of points, but a standout on none, which isn’t what I’d expect from the imprint: 15:36:27.

More shoe reviews on Run Junkie (shoe reviews).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sun Valley Runs: A Soppy, Notable Day on the Trails

I took my camera along on today's gray, soppy 29 mile run on some classic Sun Valley, ID trails: starting in Adams Gulch, heading over to Lake Creek, then up and around Oregon Gulch. The quality of the singletrack and the vertical is astounding for a trail head that's just a few minutes outside of town. Apart from the wet and rainy conditions, which were notable themselves, I crossed paths with ultra legend, Rob Landis, a thankfully docile cow moose and yearling, and tons and tons of wildflowers. That this was my last major run ahead of the Bighorn 100 made it all feel that much more poignant. (Slideshow below; Album link).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is There Anyone Else Out There...Who Loves to Taper?

I love to taper.  I love everything about it:  fewer runs, fewer miles, fewer UN negotiations with spouses for run time, less need to plan meals, and less need to quash that ravenous feeling every 30 minutes during big bouts of training.  It's just an all around pleasure, and one I seem to relish a lot more than others.  

Reading blogs and talking to folks, you'd think that tapering was some form of incarceration meted by race directors -- a prerequisite for participation to be suffered through rather than savored.  Maybe this is grandstanding by some, headgames by others, but overall it seems to be heartfelt that tapering removes them from what they love best:  running, and running a long way.  

At times, it can make me feel like less of a true runner to love to taper so much, to let my slothful inner core out to blink at the sun.  But, just as some folks love distance training and some folks love speedwork, I love tapering.  I wish only that it came around every Thursday like trips to the track.   

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sun Valley Runs: Adams Gulch Panorama

Yesterday's late afternoon run around the Adams Gulch/Fox Creek area of Sun Valley was rich in snowy peaks, verdant meadows, and tons of wildflowers. This shaky panorama from the top of the Adams Gulch Loop doesn't do it justice, but it certainly captures the essence of what makes late spring and early summer trail runs so great here in the Rocky Mountains.