Monthly Archives: April 2008

Race Report: Desert RATS / Spring Desert Ultra 50 miler

Another race in the books. Fruita is awesome, I love it out there. Raw and natural, rocks and dust.

I arrived plenty early for the 06:30 start. So early that I had time to re-tie my right shoe about two dozen times trying to get it just right. I was totally OCD there for a while. Must. Get. Shoe. Tied.

I toed the line in the pre-dawn light wearing throwaway gloves and tube socks I had cut the ends off for arm warmers. I was stylin’! Or ‘fashionly’, as my 5 year old daughter would say. After a week of going crazy fighting a cold, achy legs, and bundles of nerves I was ready to get going! Thankfully, I felt pretty good and was optimistic that I could at least finish this thing.

The course is a 25 mile loop that you finish and then reverse direction to make 50 miles. The tricky thing about this race is that there is a 25 mile race and a 50 mile race being run at the same time. The 50 milers can drop out at the turnaround and still get credit for a 25 mile finish.

Connect the dots…

It’s a tough run with a lot of tight singletrack, and a few stretches of dirt road. Plenty of rocks, sand, and slickrock to grind your feet into bloody stumps, and a little over 8,000 feet of climbing to keep things interesting.

The plan for the day was to hold back and save some for the final 1/3 of the race. I sort of followed that, but could have done better. I ran all of the first climb, smiled and shook my head at the amazing summit sunrise, and then got held up a bit on the descent by a train of people in front of me. After the first aid station I caught up with Kirk, he recognized me from Salida (where he finished one spot ahead of me) and I recognized him as well. It was the first of about 100 times we would cross paths throughout the day. He had never gone longer than a marathon and was running strong in his first 50 miler!

Kirk having WAY too much fun – at least make it look like you’re working!

The middle part of the course is so cool. Mostly flat, but right along the edge of cliffs and winding in and out of canyons. You can really cruise on this section and take in the great scenery.

Mile 10 – feelin’ good…

Around mile 15 I hooked up with Sandy, one of my new teammates. We each knew the other one would be at the race, but hadn’t set up a way to meet. And there we were. Small world. We ran together for a few miles, before he pulled away at the turnaround.

Sandy cruising along a few minutes ahead of me

Sorry ’bout the watermarks, I’m buying prints and they don’t offer electronic downloads

You can view/buy photos here.

I hit the skids hard after the halfway point and struggled for a good 5 miles or so. Then the phoenix rose from the ashes and it was game on! I steadily reeled in 6 guys up to mile 35. Including Kirk and Sandy, who I thought were LONG gone. It helped that some mountain bikers told me some guys were not too far ahead (but still out of sight). Things came together great for a while and I pushed hard to gain some ground.

Sandy looked like grim death when I went by him, and then I caught Kirk at the mile 38 aid station. We ran near each other for the next few miles, but he was going strong and I was starting to fade. I had run myself into the ground earlier when I was feeling good and was paying for it. He was gone again.

Into the final aid station I focused on the climb that followed. Here comes Sandy! Looking strong and determined. Man, what a comeback! Now I was the one left for dead as he would go on to put 10 minutes into me by the finish. Then – what the @#$?? Kirk comes by me AGAIN. Turns out he missed a trail marker and put some extra distance in. It didn’t slow him down at all, I still couldn’t stay with him after he spotted me some free time. Great run!

I finally crossed the line in 10:12, 11th place – 6 blisters, one missing toenail, and Niel Diamond’s Sweet Caroline blasting through the loudspeakers. Life doesn’t get any better than that!

Sweeeet Caroline, da da dah…

My result was not what I’d hoped for, but better than I expected. I cut an hour and a half off my time from last year, and gained a lot of valuable experience. It cracks me up to think of setting a Personal Best in terms of hours! My fuel was 100% gels, and I only took water from the aid stations. My total aid station time was 9:20 vs. 23:20 last year. I did great with the salt intake and poorly with the fluid intake. Still work to be done there.

I was really surprised by my last 3 split times compared to last year. I didn’t gain much ground in that section. I was slightly disappointed after the race, but considering being sick with a cold and the bad blistering that started at mile 10, I’m glad I was even able to finish. When the huge blister popped on my left foot, I could hear my shoe squishing with every step as if I’d run through a puddle. Ouch! I need to get that figured out. The only other time I’ve gotten one that bad was on the other foot at this same race last year…

da splits (just running time – no AS time included)

I had a great time meeting some new people and running the desert trails. I drove 4 hours home that night and 2 days later am recovering well. It’s definitely cool to walk the halls at work and not have people stop in their tracks and ask, “What happened to you?!?!”. That was a frequent occurrence last year…

I still can’t get that Neil song out of my head.

Back to Where it All Began

In a week’s time I will be running through the desert again, participating in the Spring Desert Ultra 50 miler. I can’t wait to be on the trails of Fruita. Carving up the singletrack, and skipping through the rocks. For the first few miles, anyway!

This is one of my all-time favorite places to run – u can see why

One year ago, this was my introduction into the world of ultrarunning and racing. I picked this race out because I had ridden my bike on all of the trails and was familiar with the course. It was every bit as hard as I thought it would be – I was hooked!

I had no idea how to train for running a 50 mile event. The limited information I could find all shared a common theme – accumulate time on your feet. Starting out with a good base was emphasized over and over. Well, I took a somewhat unorthodox approach. My training started on New Year’s Day with a 3 mile run. I did my first ever double-digit run (12 miles) in the middle of January. It took me 4 days to recover from that one. I was slow, but determined. Leading up to the race, I put in 8 weekend runs of between 20 and 30 miles. The rest of the week was spent recovering and getting in a few 3-5 milers where I could. In the four months before the race I ran a total of 510 miles.

It was far from the ideal approach, but considering where I started from and the short amount of time I had to work with, it did the job. I survived the run taking 11:37 to finish it.

Fast-forward to this year. In the last 4 months I have run just a little under 1,000 miles. I have also raced a 10k, 12k, 50k, and marathon in that period. My runs this year have been significantly more difficult, incorporating speed and hard efforts, technical trails, and lots of climbing. Around 30,000 feet in the last 6 weeks or so. Last year it probably totaled less than 5,000.

What is most interesting to me is to see a graphical representation of my daily distances over the last 4 months. Last year I did consistent long runs, but the overall mileage accumulation was lacking.

Leading up to the race last year

The graph for this year tells a much different story. I put in 7 consecutive 60 mile weeks in the dead of winter. Then I cut back in preparation for the Psycho Wyco 50k in early February.

The same period this year

After that race, I started working with Coach Karl. He’s had me doing shorter distances (but still significant) for my long runs, and focusing a lot more on climbing, tempo efforts, and technique. I still have a long way to go, but I have been getting a lot stronger and faster in the process. A friend asked me the other day if I did any cross-training. I replied no, but then added that I don’t really feel like I need to. My running is so varied now. 10 min miles on a flat treadmill, 14 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing after work on rugged trails, steady-state road runs, pushing my daughter in a stroller, footwork drills, tempo work in the low 6:00 range, easy hills, hard hills, cadence, night runs, long walks with the dog, etc. I had fallen into the trap of doing the same old thing over and over. It was good consistency for the winter season, but the training I’m doing now is what will really help me get to a new level.

Ok, graphs do not a successful race make. I’m still relatively inexperienced and need to be very smart about pacing, fueling, and hydrating. I’m a little bit concerned about the lack of 20+ mile runs I have in me leading up to the race this year. If the tradeoff is me being fit, uninjured, and with fresh legs at the starting line – I’ll take it. It will be interesting to see how I hold up beyond 35. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch a whiff of the finish and drive it on home. We’ll see!