Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grand Mesa 100 Ultramarathon Course Notes

Grand Mesa 100 Ultramarathon Course Notes

Here are my thoughts and advice for running the Grand Mesa 100 Ultramarathon.  I have run this race every year since it began.  Granted, this is only it's 4th year, but it is a streak and I believe I am the only fool runner to have that claim.  The first year, I (only) ran the 50 miler (I was targeting Leadville that year and my much-wiser-than-myself wife suggested that running 100 at Grand Mesa and Leadville with less than a month between might not be a well thought out plan).  In 2011 and 2012, I did sign up for and complete the 100 mile course.  And I have to say, I really like this course.  (See my actual GPS track for the course here.  Note that my phone died around mile 90 and I am missing a few bits of the course.  I have other maps from 2011 here, here, and here, but note that the course is slightly different in 2012 and will be again slightly different in 2013.)

Overall, I think the race directors do a pretty good job (especially considering there are not a lot of people involved with the setup etc.)  Personally, I wouldn't mind going up there to help setup/mark sections, but once again this year, I was not able to do so.  Hopefully, next year.

Here is a quick run down of areas to watch out for during the race.  Some due to the nature of the course (remote, not well-traveled, etc.) and a couple are gotchas which could be addressed, but are not too bad.  Just be aware of them.

First, most of the race takes place around 10,000 feet (3050 meters).  If you are not used to this, it is going to hurt a bit.  You will get dehydrated and more easily winded.  There is already loads of information about this on the Internet.  Google around and read all about it.

Mosquitoes can be a problem in certain areas and can be viscous in some years.  2010 was rough.  2011 was not too bad (other than around Granby lakes).  2012 was a really good year in that there were very few mosquitoes.

Weather is always going to be a factor as well.  2011 was dry during the race, but had been wet prior to the race so the area around Anderson reservoir was flooded with ankle to mid-calf deep water.  2012 was a bit cloudy and rainy at times, which kept the temperatures down while not so wet that the trails was actually drier that the previous year.  Despite being cooler during the day (nice!), the air temperate at night was very pleasant (probably due to cloud cover or higher humidity).  So nice in fact that I ran most of the race in just a t-shirt and ended up losing my beanie which I had taken off.

Those are general concerned for any high country Colorado ultra.  Specifically for this course, here is my list of gotchas.

Crag Crest Loop

This is a beautiful loop and easily one of the most scenic parts of the course.  Even if you don't think you can do the full course, at least finish this part.

  • When the race starts it will be too dark to see comfortably and the trail is a bit rocky in spots.  A light is definitely needed for the first 30 minutes or so.  But the sunrise is worth it.
  • There is a funny little single track cut through some trees to get around a pile of boulders.  This happens in first quarter mile or so.  There will be a traffic jam.  It doesn't last long though.
  • The course turns to single track rather quickly so it will be more difficult to pass past the first half mile or so.  Be patient.  It is a long race.
  • This first section is a big counter-clockwise loop.  You do the lower section first, then return on the Crag Crest.  There is a T-junction less than a mile from the start of the race where you head right to begin with.  After completing the loop you will hit this same T-junction, but you will be running along the top of the 'T' and you will have to look for the turn to the right.  I have heard people have missed this in the past.  Keep your eyes open starting around 10.5 miles.
Crag Crest Loop

Crag Crest Loop terrain view.  Notice the ridge that the course follows.  Very scenic and, at times, uncomfortably exciting.

Mesa Top

This is a reroute from previous years.  I know that the area around Granby could be quite muddy and buggy and certainly was rocky and rolling.  I don't know what this section will bring, but from the looks of it, it should be easier than before.

What to watch out for:
  • If you ran the course in prior years, be aware of the reroute.  Also, note that the course no longer goes over the Flowing Park Reservoir dam.  Instead, the course follows the dirt road all the way to the aid station (this changed from 2011 to 2012).  I had to cut back to the road after noticing this last year.
    My slightly lost route in 2012.  Stay on the main road all the way to the aid station.  In previous years, the route went over the dam.  This changed in 2012.

Flowing Park to Indian Point to Flowing Park

This section follows the edge of the mesa.  On the plus side, it offers amazing views and pretty easy running (it is very flat except of a gradual climb up from the reservoir out to the park).  This is also one of the few places where I encountered people not associated with the race.

  • This is a long loop without much cover.  It can get uncomfortably warm.  Also the distance to the Indian Point aid station is quite far.  It is further than indicted in the course overview.  I think it is closer to 9 or even 10 miles from the reservoir and is well past the halfway point.  I have brought extra water for this section for the past two (over 100 oz.).  Just be aware that the heat and distance are working against you here.  The folks at the aid station are very friendly, but they are right in the fact that horses need shade.  Don't expect much beyond water and some snacks (though last year they had grapes and potato chip, both of which were awesome!).  The good news is that you only have 5 or so miles to get back to the res and it slightly downhill.
  • The trails can be a bit faint and there are "cow trails" which may be confusing.  Generally, stay towards the mesa edge all the way to the Indian Point aid station (stay to left) and you will be fine.
  • The first year (when I ran the 50), I managed to lose the course between the I.P. aid station and the res and repeated a few miles of the loop.  I don't know how I missed this, but at one point you need to cut through the skunk cabbage to complete the loop.  In 2011 and 2012, this was easy to follow.
Flowing Park.  The blue dot in the upper right is the Flowing Park aid station.  Follow the loop in a clockwise direction, will bring you to the Indian Point aid station (this is the approximate location if I recall correctly).  Notice that outbound distance to the Indian Point aid station is significantly more than the return distance.

Flowing Park to Carson Lake

This section is fairly short and easy to manage.  It is on a slight uphill, but offers a bit more shade than the previous section.  This is also time to say goodbye to the 50 milers.  They do around 2/3 of this section before heading back to the Mesa Top aid station.  The 100 milers will go that way after returning to Flowing Park for a third time much later in the race.  (This is my understanding of how the course works as of 2013.)

  • Finding your way to Carson Lake can be tricky.  Study the maps a bit here.  Once you pick up the trail in the trees after you leave the dirt road, it is not that bad.  The open meadow is a bit of a gamble though as the "correct" trail is faint.

Carson Lake to Kannah Creek

I really like this section.  And the aid stations volunteers are fantastic.  :-)

  • It can be quite humid in the aspens and kind of buggy.
  • The trail tends to get torn up by cows and will be choppy in spots.
  • The trail can be muddy in spots.
  • There are numerous creek crossing.  2012 was a low water year and it was possible to make it down with dry feet.  2011 not so much.
  • As you descend, the temperature will rise and the humidity will fall.  By the time you get to the aid station, it will be very hot and dry!  In fact, the aid station can be 20+ degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the top of the mesa.  You will go from pines and aspens at the top to sage brush at the base.
  • This is another rather long section.  Again, I recommend bringing extra water and a snack.  The heat and distance will get to you.

Kannah Creek to Lands End

Oh, boy.  If anything is going to take you out of the race, it is this section.  It is a long and steep climb.  It will be hot at the bottom.  Did I mention that it is steep?  Did I mention that it is hot?  The climb to the (minor) aid station is around 4 to 5 miles, but climbs around 4000 feet (around 15% on average).  My advice is take your time, but make steady progress.  Personally, I avoid sugary foods for this section, preferring boiled potatoes and chips instead.

  • The climb is long.
  • The climb is hot.
  • There is very little shade.
  • There trail is faint at times.
  • It may get dark during your climb (it did for me in 2011 but not for 2012).
  • You may want extra water.  (I did not bring extra water for this section -- I had probably 70 oz or so.  It only took my two-and-a-half hours or so.  Combined with the dropping temperatures and a conservative pace, I was able to complete this section feeling pretty good.)
This is the section from Kannah Creek to the top of the mesa.  Note the blue dot in the lower left corner is the Kannah Creek aid station.  The blue dot in the upper right corner is the minor aid station at the top of the mesa.  The Lands End aid station is another 2 to 3 miles along the road at the top of the mesa.
Kannah Creek to top the mesa

Kannah Creek to the top of the mesa terrain view.  Notice the contour lines are working against you especially at the top.

Lands End to Anderson

This section is a welcome reprieve after the previous climb.  For me, this was the transition from day running to night.  I changed to fresh clothes, grabbed my real headlight, and had some warm clothes ready to go.  I also had a bowl of soup.  In 2011, I remember being cold when I left this aid station mostly due to wind, but the air temperature had definitely dropped as well.  In 2012, I had no such issue.  Granted I left Lands End aid station almost two hours earlier in the day.  This section is rather easy, but it is also a steady, but gradual climb.  Push all the way to far side of Anderson Reservoir.  Just stay on the main road and it will be hard to miss the aid station.

  • Do not head off towards Carson Lake prematurely.  Stay to the left around the lake until you find the aid station in the camp ground.

Anderson to Mesa Lakes

The first part of this section can be easy depending on water levels.  In 2012, it was dry and easy.  In 2011, it was covered in ankle to mid-calf deep water.  The trail can be very difficult to find.  Look for the markers.  Hopefully, there is a blinker to focus on.  There have been cows in the section in previous years.  I have never had a negative encounter with them, though it can be unnerving at times seeing eyes reflecting your light everywhere.  :-)

  • In 2012, I managed to lose the trail (which is faint at best).  I think some of the markers got knocked down.  I eventually found it again, but be careful.
  • The trail gets much more "exciting" once you get into the trees.  It gets a bit rocky and steeper so be aware with tired legs and have good lighting.  In fact, I'd recommend grabbing a hand-held light at Anderson aid station for better light.  The trail is generally easy to follow and a lot of fun, but keep on your toes.
  • The aid station moved in 2012.  Previously, this was an out and back section.  I didn't realize that it had moved and in my exhausted state of mind, thought that they had packed up and left (I had been up and running for probably 19+ hours).  I was able to find the markers for the rather strange bushwhacking section, but I was convinced that I had missed the aid station.  It turned out the aid station was a little less than a mile up the road.  And the aid station crew were super nice.  Plus, the universe sensed my anger and threw me a bone (actually, a beer which I found unopened on a log in the middle of nowhere.).  I suspect there won't be beer most years.  :-)
Wandering around trying to find the aid station
Blue dot showing the actual location of the aid station
Magical beer from the Universe! :-)

Mesa Lakes to Anderson Reservoir

This section starts out tough.  The course follows a scree/boulder field on a climb that is ridiculous (but mostly in a good way).  Again just be prepared and tough it out as it isn't terribly long, but it is pretty technical.  The good news is that this section was very well marked last year.  But once I made the top, I had a difficult time following the trail because it was very faint.  Look for blinky LED markers.  The good news is that if you just keep going straight, you will eventually hit the road.  At which point, you turn right and head back to the Anderson Lake aid station.

  • Steep, technical climb.
  • Faint trail back to the road.

Anderson Reservoir to Carson Lake

The trail to Carson Lake is a bit hard to follow near Anderson Reservoir.  The trail is rocky and faint.  However, once you get past Anderson Reservoir #1, it becomes easier to follow and pretty easy to run.  You should be able to make pretty good time on this section.

Once you cross the road though ('A Rd' is how it is labeled in Google Maps), you will be faced with the challenge of finding your way through the skunk cabbage.  The marking through this section are kind of hit and miss.  Just find the most tramped route which is headed generally east and go for it.  You should eventually hit a much better defined trail to follow.  The trail is rocky and technical at times.  If you are tired (you are human, right), you should be careful as there are amply opportunities to take a fall on this section.  Also, you must pay attention to the sharp turn on the trail.  I missed this turn last year and added another quarter mile or so before realizing my mistake.
The red dot on the left is where I realized I missed my turn.  The red dot on right is the Carson Lake aid station.
  • Faint trail with rocky footing for the first mile or so.  Can be flooded (was flooded in 2011).
  • Trail finding through the skunk weed can be tricky
  • Relatively steep and rocky descent.  Beware or be prepared to face plant.
  • At least one sudden, sharp turn

Carson Lake to the Finish

The rest of this course is the same, but in reverse (and probably in the dark).  I found getting back to road to be much easier than finding my way to Carson from the road.  Once you are on the road, it is a relatively gradual descent back to Flowing Park where hopefully, you can get in and out (without napping like I did) and be on your way to the start.  Again, I don't know anything about the "Mesa Top" section, but it looks easier than the section it replaced.


Good luck to everyone and I hope you enjoy this course as much I have.

Here's to keeping the streak alive in 2013 and beyond!

Also, if you like I have a photo album from the 2012 race.  Most of the images are not tagged, but you can turn on location to see where they were taken.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This morning I ran the 2011 Colder Boulder.  And it lived up to its name as pretty cold.  But mostly it was snowy and sloppy.  A perfect day for a little race!

I woke to a bit of a surprise this morning.  I had known that it was supposed to be cold, but I hadn't expected another layer of snow on top of the snow from just a few days ago.  And it was still snowing pretty solidly.  In fact, if it was for any other reason, say work, I would have stayed home, but come on, this was for a race.  I grabbed both my microspikes and my screw shoes and gingerly made my way to Folsom Field and prepared to have as much fun as the conditions would allow.

The drive was pretty bad, but I had allowed myself plenty of time so that was not a problem.  I made it to the race with minimal incident (a bit of sliding here and there but manageable).  After picking up my number and packet, I considered my options and went with the screw shoes.  The microspikes are better suited for thicker snow on trails, but the route had been plowed so there was only minimal snow.  It was a mix of slushy spots, snow, and a few icy patches.  I was once again very glad to have the right gear.

I finished warming up by jogging around in the field house and decided at the last minute to ditch my running jacket.  I jogged over to the start of the race wearing two layers on my top and a pair of short running tights.  I changed my mind at the last minute and went back for my arm warmers (a recent present from my wonderful wife).  All set.  Let's go!

There were around 20 to 30 runners in the 8:30 wave (I think; I am not very good at these sorts of estimates).  I started about three rows back trying to find that balance between getting too far back and going out too hard.  I made it through the craziness which was the first corner, and fell into place somewhere about ten people back from the front.  I had this crazy thought of at least keeping the front of the race in view for a while.  I settled into a solid, but not overly fast pace and just kept my place for a while.  After the first quarter mile, some of the rabbits started falling back so all I had to do was not slow down.

I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the front of the pack wasn't really pulling away from me like they customarily do.  I began to entertain thoughts of doing well in the race.  At this point (probably 3/4 of mile) I was around fourth or fifth and feeling pretty good.  And I continued to gain and pass people.

We finally passed the one mile mark around 6:32.  I often have the most difficultly on second mile, but the excitement of being near the front of the pack drove me on.  I slowed realed in two more runners which put me into second place at around the mile-and-a-half mark.  I began to have doubts about whether I had gone out a bit too hard.  I didn't feel too bad per se, but just questioned whether I was pushing too hard.  I decided the best course of action was to hold steady and not let the next runner gain any distance on me.  He was probably 10 to 15 meters ahead of me and looked steady.  I held my own and did my best to hold that difference.

I did not see the 2 mile mark, but it was my understanding that the aid table was right around the two mile mark.  According to my watch I hit it at 13:57 for a 7:25 mile which seemed long at the time, but probably because we had been going up hill and it was slippery.  As far as I could tell, there was a sizable gap between myself and the next runner so even if I couldn't hold the pace, I could still get second.  It time to make my play.  I had about 15 meters to make up and around a mile to do.  I felt pretty good (if you will extend me the liberty of redefining "pretty good" as "not dead yet") and mentally painted a target on the guy's back.  I slowly started reeling him in.

I continued over the next half mile to gain on the leader.  We both were putting forth a good effort and a one point passed the bike pacer for the wave who had slipped off to the side of the trail.  It was pretty close to that spot that I had my only slight slip during the race.  Did I mention how much I like screw shoes?  :-)

With only my watch to as a clue, I had decided that there was probably about a third of a mile left and that it was time to see what I had.  I surged forward and passed the leader.  Of course, he was having none of it and surged in return.  I let him go for a few meters, then using a very short downhill to help me accelerate, I put forth another surge.  This time I flew passed him.  That in turn, provided enough of a mental lift that I was able to surge even harder and soon peeled cleanly away.  I had moved into the leaded spot with less than a quarter of a mile to go.  I pushed myself even harder hoping to psych out my opponent.  And low and behold, it worked.  I burst into the field house at a full sprint and won my wave with a very solid five second gap!

P.S.  I am attributing at least some of my success to the book Run Less, Run Faster which has me kicking my own butt several times a week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Best running moment of summer

I had a number of good runs this past summer (2011).  But I find myself drifting back to one run in particular.  It was the midnight run during the Wild West Relay.  I took on the "hardest" leg which really meant the most uphill climbing.  The toughest climb (and toughest rated leg of the race) was a 2000 foot climb spread out over 8.8 miles.  Really?  This was the "tough" section.  After races such as the Grand Mesa 100, my perspective is pretty skewed.  I have even been accused of being an "outlier!"

The team was divided into two vehicles.  I was the first runner in the second vehicle.  My first leg was a brisk 3.6 miler with a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain and loss (more gain, but not by much).  It was pretty hot and I would not be allowed to have vehicle support on the section, so I carried a few ounces of water with me just sip once in a while.  I was not able to pass anyone on this section.  In fact, I only saw one person in the distance.  I think I may have closed the gap just a bit, but I can't really be sure.  I averaged around 7 something per mile on this section (IIRC around 7:20).  Not blazing, but given the heat and hills, not bad.  Then I spent the next several hours yelling and supporting the other runners in our van.  So much fun!

After handing the baton to van #1, we took the long route to Woods Landing, WY.  There we fueled up both the van and ourselves.  Then we laid down to try to get some shuteye.  We expected the other van to arrive a bit after midnight, but the team as a whole was a bit behind schedule, so I wasn't too worried.  I must have fallen asleep at some point, because I remember having a bit of trouble waking up.  :-)  I heard that the other van had arrived, and that the runner was coming in fast.  Crud!  I quickly tossed on my running stuff, and threw my sleeping bag and pad into the van.  I rushed over to the port-a-potty and then rushed to the exchange point.  Our runner was already there waiting.  Damn!  (I learned later that he had been waiting for less than a minute and all was good).  I must say that van #1 kicked some ass and made up some good time!

I started running, still a bit stiff and cold, along a highway up hill at night.  Luckily, I had hit upon the idea of tossing my phone into the front of my reflective, mesh vest.  With my race number belt strapping it down, it really did not move much, and I could hear some tunes on my run.  (Headphones were verboten, so I had to rely on my phone's speaker.)

After about half-a-mile, my gut started to express its displeasure.  I was convinced that something was going to move one way or another.  This was not a good situation.  I had to back off the pace just a bit (probably less than 30 seconds per mile).  This continued for a while and I was not in my happy place.  Then two things happened which changed the whole run.  First, van full of people screaming my name went by (my "posse") and second, I saw my first "victim".

By nature, I am not a mean or cruel person.  In fact, I am probably too forgiving and too accommodating.  For that matter, I am not even that focused on winning or being first.  But hand me a target in the distance during a run, and something primal happens.  My gut had settled, the night was nice, I had warmed up (and removed my light long sleeve shirt).  It was time for fun.

I was able to find another gear and start speeding up.  I soon passed my first person in the race (dubbed "roadkill" in these events).  Deep down, I think it's wrong, but whenever I pass someone like this, I get a little lift.  A nod, or a "good job" and I sail on by.  By this time, my posse was giving me support.  They'd drive a mile or two up the road, and jump out to give me water and to cheer like Roman's at the Colosseum (it's amazing how loud and energetic it felt at the time).  This helped the next runner (Ivan) warm up for his run while I got water and news about the next victim right around the corner.

It was on!  I continued to pass runners about once a mile on average.  It did not take long after passing one, before then next runner would come into view.  I had a mix of hard rock/heavy metal playing on the phone, and while the speaker was not loud, I know the other runners could hear it from quite some distance ahead.  Other than a few cars, it was quite and still.  Then the other runner would hear some music approaching from behind.  I would get my first taste as they turned to look (all I could really see was the required red blinky light and the glow of their headlamp).  I knew that when they turned around, it was over for them.  I was coming and it was only a matter of time.

So it went for most of the leg.  In the end, I passed eight or nine runners, and I ran hard.  I don't recall my average pace, but I think it was just over 8 minutes per mile (8:30?).  Given the slow start and the constant climb, I was quite happy with the time.  I passed many teams and was passed by none.  Another sign that the leg went well, is that when I finally saw the exchange point, I was actually disappointed.  I was hoping to pass a few more runners and just enjoy the feeling of speed and strength.  But it was done.  I handed the baton to Ivan (and gave him the team's signature "butt bump" -- our team was "12 Geeks and 24 Cheeks").  I then went on to scream myself horse cheering for the rest of my team and every other runner we passed on the road that night.

It was a real privilege to be part of such a great team and more over to be part of an event with such energy and fun!  It really reminds me why I love this sport and the people who do it!

After a brief rest, I had the leg which climbed which climbed the eastern side of Rabbit Ears pass.  It was hot and support was not allowed.  I passed only one person and really struggled.  I even *gasp* walked for a few seconds.  Twice.  Overall I averaged around 8:45 on a steep climb in the heat after having gotten about an hour of sleep under the steering wheel of the van.  Luckily, my teammates held their own and we really had a great finish to the race.  (1st place in the Open Division.)

Thanks to all of my teammates and to the race director and volunteers!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The final mile

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Time seemed to move so slowly. Twenty four hours, and twenty minutes.  That is how long I had been on my feet.  I had had a fifteen minute cushion and yet some how had pissed it away.  I was a few miles from the finish, struggling to jog for one minute at a time.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Months of hard work.  Hours of reading and preparation.  And I wanted that big buckle.  Earlier I had settled for the small buckle in my mind.  But now.  Now I realized that I would not settle.  I would push.  "You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can."  The phrase echoed over and over in my head.  Tick.  Thirty-eight minutes left.  How far is it?  I can't see Leadville.  I can't see any lights other than from a few runners just ahead of me.  Walk faster.  Push.  Push, damn you!  It just doesn't seem fast enough.  I have to run.  There is no other choice.  "You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can!"  Maybe I can run after all.  I start to jog.  My interval timer is off, so I my watch can't tell me when to stop.  When should I stop?  How far should I run, before I recover?  Just run.  Just a little more.  I start feeling a slew of emotions: anger, panic, fear.  Then determination.  I will run as far as I need to.  I will push.  I can do this.  I continue to jog.  Linda leads with me.  She is slightly ahead and to the left.  The road is a dusty and dark and is a gradual climb.  Thirty-six minutes.  The jog becomes a run.  I think that I can't run for long.  But I continue to run.  I increase the pace.  The road just continues on.  No lights.  No Leadville.  Where is it?  How much further?  We crest a slight hill and the road descends a bit.  I start to let up.  No!  Push harder!  Go faster.  There is no time to stop.  I speed up.  Linda starts to fall behind.  I continue running.  I can no longer feel the pain in my legs and my feet.  I want to stop, but I know I would not start again.  Linda tells me to drink incase I leave her behind.  I take two gulps of sweetened water, but don't gag like before.  I continue to run.  I continue to go faster. "You are better than you think you are..."  I know that stopping would end the push.   I wouldn't be able to rally again.  This is it.  There is no more time.  The road continues.  Still no sign of Leadville.  How many miles left?  How much time left?  I glance at my watch.  Twenty minutes left.  I am moving fast now.  Faster than nine minutes per mile.  Linda fades away.  Then I see a light.  I cannot remember what this looked like when I started more than a day ago.  I remember that it is a mile from the pavement, but I don't know how much further to the pavement.  I am holding a fast pace.  Don't stop.  Don't stop.  " can do more than you think you can."  Push.  Dig.  Fourteen minutes left.  I have passed all of the runners on the road.  I barely remember doing it.  I see someone up ahead, it is Kummi.  I grab her hand, but hardly break my pace.  She follows me along the dirt, but she is carrying too much stuff and fades behind.  I make it to the pavement. Less than ten minutes left.  I can't see the finish, but I remember that I must climb the "hump".  A race volunteer tells me that I can make it in under twenty five.  I increase my pace again.  A eight minute mile at this point in the race?  Can't be!  I can see the final climb called the "hump".  The dam inside of me breaks and whatever I have been holding back, not this day but for all days surges forth.  I increase the pace again.  I see Mike at the top of the hill.  I hand him my flashlight and he runs with me.  I don't know how much time I have, but I can see the finish.  I up my pace again.  I pass other people in the street, but it dark and don't know who they are.  A quarter of a mile left.  I slam down the accelerator hard.  Mike has faded quite some time ago.  I grunt with exertion and raw determination.  Then it is over.  I finished the race.  It is twenty hours and fifty-seven minutes.  I have finished the last mile in around seven minutes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

At the Leadville

I arrived in Leadville today for the Leadville 100.  I was in town for 3 minutes when I saw Chris McDougall.  How cool is that?  To a running nerd, pretty cool.  I also got a lift from Ken Chloubler to the pasta dinner.  While there I ran into many familiar faces from previous races and even met Barefoot Ted.  I had a several minute conversation with Chris Labbe whose advice I had been reading quite a bit via the Leadville mailing list.  All very cool stuff.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grand Mesa Results

There were 60 starters (across all distances) and 33 finishers.  I was the 7th man out of 12 finishers.  Not to go all "could have/should have", but had I not missed an important turn, I would have been in contention for 5th place (32 minutes ahead of me).  Still not a bad showing I suppose.

Grand Mesa Ultra (the executive summary)

On Saturday, July 24th, I attempted to complete the 50-mile distance in the first annual Grand Mesa Ultra.  All that I can say is that if you seeking adventure along with beautiful vistas and some challenging trails, then this is the race for you!  OMG!  :-)

We started at 5:30 am (pretty close at least), and immediately ran a tough, but amazing beautiful, loop up and over the Crag Crest trail.  I thought I was pretty conservative for this 11.5 mile stretch, but realized that with a 2:04 time for the loop, I was a bit fast.  Of course, I felt great, but there was that voice in my head telling me to slow up a bit.

I hadn't expected the next few miles to be as tough as they were.  I was ready for Crag Crest which was a pretty decent climb, but the hilliness and rockiness of the next section was a bit of a surprise to me.  It was fun running through this wooded section of the course.  I made it to the aid station still feeling pretty good, but we were only about 15 to 16 miles into the race.  The first real issue came just after leaving the aid station.  We had to cross a small creek, which left my feet wet for quite a while.  In hind sight, I should have removed my shoes, as I developed a couple of pretty good blisters during the course of the day, most like due to this water crossing.  (I think my shoes retain too much water....).

The course was quite a cruiser for quite a few miles after that.  I was losing a bit of ground to a few runners, but was only concerned with running my own race.  I made it to the Flowing Park aid station still feeling good, but I could tell the tree cover was beginning to thin as the temperatures were starting to rise.  I can't say enough good things about the Flowing Park aid station volunteers.  Fantastic!

After leaving the Flowing Park AS, I headed out around the Flowing Park loop.  This was a very long, sparsely covered section of trail.  The vistas were amazing!  Wow!  But the sun was certainly heating things up.  (I do not know the actual temperature, but I am guessing low to mid-80's in direct sunlight at 10,000 feet.  Hot!  I had been following an individual up ahead since leaving the aid station and finally passed him with about a mile before the small AS on the outer most point of the loop.  They had water (which I had run out of), and tortillas with PB&J.  The water was excellent as was the PB&J, but I drank too much which probably diluted my sugar level too much and caused me to suffer quite a crash for a few miles.  I was forced to really cut back on my speed and to speed walk through a couple of my running intervals.  Nevertheless, I push on and push.  And apparently right passed the turn I should have taken to get back the flowing park AS.  As I was running along a fence (which I did not recognize), I notice some other people hiking along on the other side of the fence.  One of the waved in a friendly gesture, so I waved back.  I had my music play, so I was unaware of the fact that she had more to say for a while.  When I realized she was trying to tell me something, I pulled out my earphones.  She told me I had missed my turn and was adding extra miles.  Oh great.  I head made it almost the entire way back to the Flowing Park gate, adding almost two miles to the course.  So, I got back on the right trail and ran into another confused individual.  It took us a few minutes to figure out which way to go (this time I was right, but not confident at first).

The extra running got to me mentally and I was not able to keep up with the individual whom I had met.  I slogged back to the Flowing Park AS for the second time.  Tired.  Achy.  And my foot hurt like hell.

After refueling at the AS, I was ready to go back out for the final section of the course, but remembered that my foot was hurting.  Ah crap, a big honking blister had developed on the inside of my left heel.  And here is were the AS volunteer did a fantastic job of applying mole skin and duct tape.  I headed out for the final push which I knew from the elevation profile was going to be "challenging".

After about a mile or so, the course dropped pretty much straight of the side of the mesa.  It was too steep to be runnable.  Plus, the "trail" was practically overgrown with skunk cabbage.  Once, I hit the bottom, I thought I only had a couple of miles to go before starting the climb.  Along, the way, I was able to pass a couple of runners and so was feeling pretty good (at this point in a 50 miler, it is rare to even see other runners, let alone pass a few).  It turned out that I was incorrect about the distance to the climb.  It was much closer to 6 miles.  Then the real fun began.  As steep as the descent had been, the ascent was much, much worse.  It was very steep and often rocky four-wheel-drive road, which would have tested a good 4-wheeler rider.  And it just kept going and going.  Luckily, the race people had decided that an aid station along this section would be a good idea.  I was out of water and hungry.  Two thumbs way up for the folks at this one!  I filled up with water, ate cooks, tortillas with PB&J and can it be the greatest ultra food ever?  Yes!  Boiled and salted potatoes.  Yum!!  I left drinking a coke filled with ice.  (Talk about strange cravings, I am not normally much of a soda drinker and never drink Coke, but at the time, this stuff was awesome.  Could have used a bit of rum though.  (Later, Kummi suggests the same giving me a good laugh.)

After this AS, the climb continued for the better part of mile.  I wasn't moving fast enough to outrun the mosquitoes, and my bug spray had worn off hours before.  Ugh.  I must have killed 20 or 30 of the buggers.  Like the OK GO songs says, "This Too Shall Pass" and eventually, I reached the top.  What really surprised me, is that felt alright.  I was actually able to move along at a good clip, out running those damned mosquitoes at last.

After a mile of being on the top, I caught up with another 50-miler struggling along.  I have a hard time passing people this late in a race.  It just seems so cruel.  So, I encouraged her and we talked and struggled along together.  This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the race.  I knew the difficult part was over and I had some company plus I felt I was helping her out as well.  We stuck together through the final AS and beyond.  It was only after another 50-miler caught us from behind that I left her behind.  I hadn't even realized that this had happened until I looked back notice that we had pulled away.  I hoped that she wasn't too upset, but this knew pace was suiting me much better so I stuck with this new runner until the end.  She was interested to talk with and had a very brisk and powerful walk which really moved us along.

Finally, we finished together around 40 or 50 minutes later.  I encouraged her to run (or make a motion not unlike running) down the final hill to finish line.  I was happy to learn the next day, that she was the first female 50-miler, so I didn't feel too bad about my time.

Kummi and Kaylin were waiting for me at the finish line.  Kummi was even brave enough to give me a hug.  Kaylin thought better of it, but she was happy to see me.  (Probably so that we could leave for Grandma's house.  :-) ).

Final round up:
Time: 12:38 (I don't have my watch with me, but I think is correct)
Distance: 50 officially (probably 53+ due to lost trails, etc).
Place: not yet known
Verdict:  I will probably not do this race next year.  I will probably do the 100 instead.  :-)