Race Report: 2014 Little Grand Canyon Marathon

This is one of my favorite recipes for a fun race:

sign up on Wednesday night for a Saturday marathon
drive 8 hours after work on Friday to a Wal-mart parking lot in the middle of nowhere
fall asleep in Hotel de Subaru just before midnight
wake at 4:15, more driving
run a marathon in a cool place you’ve never visited before

A last minute trip to Utah to spend the weekend with family led me to do a quick search of race calendars to see if there would be anything I could do along the way.  The Little Grand Canyon Marathon turned out to be a perfect fit.  It is a nice low-key event that was exactly what I was interested in doing.

I was only a couple of weeks removed from finishing the Leadville 100, but had the itch to do a longer run as prep for a 50 miler later in the month.  I told myself I’d just take it easy and treat it as training.

A pre-dawn bus ride dropped us off in pretty much the middle of nowhere.  We stood around, casually waiting for everyone to have a chance to take care of last minute business before the RD gave the ‘go’.  No rock and roll bands, or cheering spectators.  Just a few runners and 26 miles of road in front of you.

I haven’t run a marathon in a few years and had forgotten that this event wasn’t like an ultra with tons of leap frogging during the start as people’s pace changed to accommodate tying shoes, pit stops, pack adjustments, etc.  It seemed everyone locked into a pace and there was a mostly static chain of runners cruising through the countryside.  I settled into 11th place and just stayed there forever, never really gaining or losing any ground with the runners around me.  It was kind of an odd sensation.  I topped  out the longest climb of the day at mile 5 still locked into the same place.

The course starts with a few miles of pavement with a few long-ish climbs to keep things honest, before transitioning to dirt/gravel road that descends very gradually all the way to the finish line.  The first half is wide open and barren (but beautiful in its own right), and the second half follows a tributary to the Little Grand Canyon which is an amazing place I somehow had never visited before despite having traveled all over the state.

lgcmapThe final 13 miles

The sunrise across the endless expanse of desert-like surroundings was well worth the price of admission.  Truly an amazing sight.

The terrain changed leading up to the halfway mark and the static nature of the placings finally started to change as well.  Rolling climbs with a rougher road started to take a toll on some of the runners ahead of me and I was able to move up to 7th without changing my effort level.  This was a small race (55 runners in the full marathon) and we were getting well spread out by now.

I essentially ran the final 14 miles alone, except for picking up stragglers from the half marathon that had started their race at the 13 mile mark.  It was a long lonely haul, but a great experience.  I locked into a steady pace in the very high 7 range and kept it there for 10 miles before starting to fatigue a little in the final two as some hills had to be dealt with and my Leadville legs started to show up.

I stayed in 7th place with a 3:32:08.  Not too speedy, but it got the job done and was just the type of run I was looking for.  6th and 8th place were 6 minutes ahead and behind me, so I was definitely in no-man’s land.

Strava data here.

20141006-10659281_10152745282352485_3582262573842259518_nThe that was fun but I’m glad it’s over look

While it isn’t necessarily a destination-type race, I would definitely do it again if time and circumstances permit.  I would love to spend a couple of days in the area exploring and photographing the canyon.  It was a lot more impressive than I was expecting.

lgc

Photo Shoot: 2015 USATF Cross Country National Championships

I had the great opportunity of going up to Boulder yesterday to photograph the Cross Country National Championship races with a media credential for Colorado Runner Magazine.  It was a good workout for me, as I logged over 10 miles sprinting all over the golf course to keep up with the runners.

It was great to bump into GZ and get caught up on the status of the Grumpy Old Man contingent.  Those moments are always good for some laughs.

I was cold enough at the beginning to have numb fingers for a while, but it soon turned into an outrageously nice day and I spent the bulk of the time in shorts and a T-shirt.  Much better than when I shot this same race last year (Part 1, Part 2).

I got to have a front row seat to some incredible performances.  I was shaking my head at how easy it looked for the leaders, while the rest were turning themselves inside out.  I always admire how much some runners can suffer and still keep cranking.

The masters Women kicked things off:

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Followed by a large group of Grumpy Old Men:

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Then an 11 year old leading the high school girls race:

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And a kid from Vista running well over half of the boys race with one shoe to finish 3rd:

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The junior races were a blast to watch as some hard-fought battles took place as runners tried to earn a trip to China for the World Championship races later this year:

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Then the big girls and boys took off to show who’s boss:

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The racing photography season has officially started, and I’m looking forward to a great 2015!

The entire gallery can be found here.

Race Report: 2014 Leadville Trail 100

2007 - volunteer
2008 - DNF @ mile 77
2009 - 24:44 - 55
2010 - 27:52 - 180
2011 - 28:23 - 198
2012 - 28:45 - 226
2013 - 27:28 - 215

Every year when I wonder if I should run Leadville again, I ask myself what else would I be doing???

Short of spending time with my family, nothing else compares as far as making a huge deposit in the memory bank. I remember struggling through my first finish and at one point wishing I was furniture shopping instead. We had been doing a bit of that in the week or two leading up to the race and I don’t enjoy that at all to say the least. Just goes to show how bad I was hurting during the race to think I would rather be picking out a couch! My point is this. Life is full of work, picking out furniture, etc. Why not do something to break that cycle? Truly make a memory.

I wouldn’t trade that finish for all of the finest couches in the world.

So if you decide to run 100 miles through the mountains instead of shopping for a couch, here’s what is in store for you.

It’s 4am in the center of the highest incorporated city in North America, and you’re about to go for a little jog…

As I cross the timing mat and begin the this same journey for the seventh time, my mind is on evolution. Primarily the changes in the race – bigger crowds, different vibe, more hype? Less substance? And on my my evolution as a runner, or non-runner as the case may be at any given time.

Due to life influences and choices, I have not had the time to dedicate myself to training as much in the past couple of years. I am at times unhappy with those circumstances, when I know better training would yield better performance, but I also recognize that these are choices I have made – and in the overall scheme of things I have it quite good.

When I look back on my Leadville performances over the past couple of years, I see a pattern that reminds me of stealing Oreos from the pantry. The first time, you carefully and quietly open the noisy package. You might only take one cookie, two at the very most. Not enough to be noticed. Then seal it back up and put the package back in the exact same position you found it.

You get away with it.

The next time, emboldened by your previous success, you take 3-4 cookies.

You’re a little louder, maybe you don’t replace the package so perfectly.

You get away with it.

Creeping ever closer to that line of getting caught, but being too lazy or sloppy to care about it.

Some of you will be nodding your heads in agreement, others will be wondering what the hell is this guy talking about.

Running this year’s race felt kind of like that. I wasn’t necessarily lazy, but my preparation was very much lacking. I stood on the line about to take the whole stupid bag of Oreos and see what happens. Daring the race to bust me.

Could I get away with it?

How poorly prepared can I show up and still get it done??

The first few miles in the dark pass by with one repetitive thought. Holy crap I’m here again. Of course, everything feels so fantastically easy at this point. The miles roll under your feet almost as if you could keep this up all day. If only.

I am getting better and better at making my way around the lake in the pre-dawn light. No trips or stumbles this time. I treat it like surfing the back of the peloton at a bike race. Sit in comfortably, but mind the gaps ahead. If you see any opening up, carefully squeeze by and grab on to the group ahead before the gap gets too big. Using this method, I conserved energy and mostly enjoyed the long section to the first aid station at mile 13+.

I didn’t feel nervous before the start. Instead, I cultivated a sense of purpose and determination. Knowing that I would be needing plenty of both to see this through. I kept those thoughts front and center as I jogged out of that first aid station.

There is a grunt of a climb up the road to the trailhead. Lots of people hike this part, but I like to keep a little jog going for a few reasons. It’s tradition, I suck at hiking fast, and there will be plenty of walking later.

Up and over Sugarloaf, then down Powerlines to the paved road I kept the pace piano piano, if I am continuing with the peloton theme.

The new FishTimberOutwardHatcheryBoundLine aid station location was really nice. Kudos to race management for getting that dialed in after a few bumpy years, and creating a nice separation of runners from the crew vehicles. The ‘trail’ out of the aid station I didn’t exactly love, but no biggie. Just don’t break a leg in one of the holes hidden in the grass.

I bumped the effort up just slightly for the next 15 miles or so, and put some nice long running stretches together. Admiring the beauty of a day we had in store, and getting pumped up from seeing friends along the way.

I cruised into Twin Lakes just like clockwork, and Scott was there to get my drop bag and help me with crewing again. Thanks, man! I got a great boost from getting lots of cheers from my friends along here.

I have these first 40 miles completely dialed, coming in within around 5 minutes of the same time every single year. This year I was trying to hold back a little more, and still was right on time. Textbook.

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Photo I took on a training run earlier in the Summer. Lower slopes of Hope Pass.

The first time up and over Hope Pass kicked my butt as usual. My strength to weight ratio for a steep climb like this is totally screwed up. All weight and no strength. I finally made it to the Hopeless aid station and Becca was there volunteering – she grabbed her phone and took this shot. Thanks, Becca!

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Photo Credit: Becca Hall

Even though I was hurting, I was glad to still be able to smile and have fun. That was a great sign.

Going over the top is so cool. I love running down the upper part of the pass with the long flowy switchbacks. It’s also somewhat daunting, as you realize you will have to climb up all of this fun trail you are flying down. My legs felt decent and like they were able to absorb the pounding just fine.

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Photo I took on a training run earlier in the Summer. David Long descending the back side of Hope Pass.

I really struggle on the newer section of trail over to Winfield. I always ran far better on the old dirt road route, even if the traffic was a pain to deal with. This trail just seems like an endless climb! Right up to the last second when you finally drop down to the aid station.

Ok, I survived the 50 miles, now I just have to go back! Drawing on some lessons learned from last year, I sat for a few minutes and tried to take in some fluid and calories. It’s a long, long haul back to Twin Lakes. Somewhere around 4pm right now and I’m trying to make it there before the sun goes down…

The trail outbound from Winfield feels like it climbs the entire way back to the pass. I probably need to go run that section a couple of times outside of race day and make friends with that section. Try to find some much-needed flow.

Climbing back up the pass was not too shabby. I”ve had worse times and I’ve had better. One thing that doesn’t change is the relief you get crossing over the top again when you are homeward bound. It is a fantastic feeling!

I cruised down the steep and rocky trail back to the Hopeless aid station with Coke on my mind. Last year I filled most of one bottle with soda and sipped on it for the entire descent. It was great!

As I was getting my bottle filled with it this year, another runner stepped up and asked for some de-fizzed Coke. As the volunteer was still filling up my bottle, she said this is never-fizzed. We made it up here. I thought that was odd, but wanted to get on my way, so I took my bottle and started running down the trail.

After about five minutes when I came to a smoother part of the trail I pulled my bottle from my pack and took a giant tug of the stuff. Uh oh. Wham! Before I knew what hit me I was doubled over in the middle of the trail spewing ‘coke’ all over the forest in an amazing fountainous display. Multiple times.

A girl I had just passed kindly stopped to check on me. I assured her I would be alright, even though I really had no idea if that would be the case. The whole episode had just caught me so completely off guard. I don’t know what that stuff was, but I think I will skip it from now on.

The good news is that I actually started feeling decent after working my way back up to speed again. I hadn’t been moving fast all day, but was still moving well enough. I popped out into the clearing before the river just as the sun’s final rays were hitting a 50 yard section of the trail. Sweet! I had made it, and I was feeling good.

My good buddy Stu was waiting to pace me and as we were jogging the last bit of trail before the aid station another good buddy David was there taking photos. As you can see from the pics he took, I was in great spirits. It was so great to see these guys and talk smack while I was feeling good. Last year I was a horrible mess when I met Stu at the very same spot. I was optimistic about the night ahead.

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Photo Credit: David Manthey

Stu hadn’t run a single step since the North Fork race back in June. Here is was two months later and he was raring to go 40 miles with me through the night! I was happy to have him along for the ride, and even happier to be in good enough shape to be cracking jokes and having a good time despite 60 miles in my legs. One of my big goals for the day was to get to this spot in a good physical and mental state. I pulled it off.

The next section to Outward Bound went well. We yo-yo’ed back and forth with my neighbor Luke, who was there pacing a buddy. If anything, I probably fell a little bit into the trap of running too hard when I felt good. This often comes back to bite me. I think I need to be more careful of the effort I am expending when I feel good, I seem to dig myself into a whole and really pay for it later.

I honestly don’t recall that many details of the final 20 miles now. I got damn cold at times. I was super tired and moving slowly at times. I climbed powerlines far better than my worst years, but far slower than my best. I mostly went into damage control mode and kept moving slowly to the finish line.

I crawled across the finish in 28:40, 206th place out of 361 finishers (~800 starters). A solid four hours off my best, but I had gotten away with stealing another bag of Oreos.

While being a little disappointed with my time, I was elated to come away with another finish considering the circumstances.

I think at some level I am a little scared of pouring my whole energy into preparing to run at my ultimate potential. Almost to the point of wondering if I am self sabotaging my preparation so I can always say that I was unprepared when it comes time to explain a poor performance.

For me, the revelation of this year’s event is that I need to remember to focus on the journey. What if you make all kinds of sacrifices, show up in tip-top condition, and have a crap race? Wouldn’t it be better to skip all of those sacrifices, do just enough to probably ensure a finish, and have the best of both worlds?

I’m learning that it’s not the best of both worlds, though. It’s the best of neither.

Concentrate on the journey. That preparation and those sacrifices have their own rewards, regardless of the race outcome.

I need to remember that even if the day of the race is complete failure, it is the journey leading up to it that needs to be given the attention. So what if you sacrifice and invest all that time, then fail on the day. You are still better off than not trying at all. And I would argue better off than half-assing the preparation and still managing to ‘succeed’ on race day. Nothing is learned from that. No growth occurs.

So what have I learned?

Get the finish no matter how slowly. It’s WAY better than not finishing.

I always thought that my past ‘disasterous’ races were so bad, that I could show up with even less training and run faster (as long as I avoided disaster).

That makes sense on some level, but is not necessarily the case. In looking back at seven year’s worth of split times and accounting for what kind of condition I was in, I was actually faster on the disasterous years because I had such a depth of training to draw from. Even when laying on the trail for over an hour, camping out in Winfield for an hour, etc. I had a faster finish than this year. If I had one of those disasters this year, it would have taken me out of the race. I just didn’t have the legs to make up for it.

My wish is to someday combine this year’s strategy with last year’s legs. Then I’ll have it dialed.

Until then I’ll keep trying!

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