Wednesday, August 24, 2011

D-D-D-Doubler! 2011 PPM

I recently overheard my high school cross-country coach tell one of his current athletes the following:

An old coach of mine once said to me- "you can't put in what God left out." My response then and now... "Well, let's see how much he put in."

Saturday was a pretty rough day on the mountain.  I was dejected, to say the least.  This marked my third disappointing Ascent in a row, and afterward I didn't even feel surprised.  Not because I was unprepared, but because I was used to the disappointment of falling short of my perceived capabilities when it came to this race.

What made this year's disappointment different than those of 2010 and 2009 was that once I was done with those years' races, that was it.  Race season OVER.  Suck it up.  Reflect.  Stew.  Move on.  This year, I intended to come back and run the Pikes Peak Marathon the following day.  I didn't have the luxury of sitting back and letting answers come to me.  I had to make some immediate changes to my racing strategies to ensure I didn't put together yet another above-timberline gong show.

So what did I alter?
I decided my struggle on Saturday was likely caused by three factors:

  1. An overly aggressive early pace
  2. Insufficient hydration on a hot day.
  3. Insufficient nutrition.

To address, issue #1, I punched a slower finish time - 2:50 - into the trusty ol' pace calculator and committed to memory some of the early splits.

Issue #2 required I change how I like to race.  I decided to carry a water bottle on Sunday.  Some folks have absolutely no problem with this, and I don't mind running with one for long or slow days.  However, carrying any extra weight in the "sprints" has always felt unnatural and uncomfortable to me.  I bit the bullet and filled up the bottle.  I figured if it truly was a hinderence, I could ditch it up top.

For issue #3, I forced myself to come up with a more structured "plan" for what I was going to eat and when I was going to eat it.  On all of my PPA races, I had always gone light on calories, choosing to eat anything between nothing and two gel packets.  On Saturday, I had just the two gel packets.  While I never felt underfueled, it just makes sense that I probably was.  I stuffed an easy-to-digest energy bar and two gels in my water bottle holder and another two in a pouch around my waist.

All three remedies forced me into a "slower" mindset - one that got me ready to expect a longer, less pedal-to-the-metal type of day.

I was not surprised to find that my warm-up was painful.  I went through all my pre-race motions, just accepting the fact that I was one sore dude.

2011 Pikes Peak Marathon
Just prior to the gun, I lined up with a few of my peers.  While I smiled and let them think we'd all be running near or with each other, I fully expected to lose sight of them within the first few minutes of the race.  Right from the start, I continued to hurt.  Every step I took sent dull pangs of discomfort throughout my body - a grim reminder of the experience I had endured the previous day.  All I could think was "How the @#$%@# am I supposed to come even REMOTELY close to a respectable effort today?"  The only answer I had for myself was in the fact that others before me had done just that, so I knew it must be possible.

As the field sorted itself out on Manitou Avenue, I found myself a few strides behind GZ and Brad.  I could feel a different energy from the field - more relaxed than the front of Saturday's race.  Whereas virtually no one around me on Saturday besides myself walked the steepest paved section of Hydro, a majority of the marathoners switched to a powerhike on that stretch.  Brad began to disappear above me, but GZ and I were essentially matching pace somewhere around 40th place as we hit the top of the W's in 33:48.

Not much happened through the tame part of the course.  GZ and I played accordian, switching leads, but never leaving each other's sights.  Every once in a while, Brad became visible in the distance.    Every time the slope angled up, GZ, would catch up and blow by.  Whenever it dropped or flattened, I took the opportunity to open up my stride and would re-take the lead.  I had no choice; I only felt OK when I wasn't climbing!  Through Barr Camp in 1:28, I met up with Harry Harcrow and worked with him through the Bottomless Pit sign.  GZ had dropped a little, but Brad was now clearly visible ahead of me. At this point, I had no clue what was in store for me up above the trees.  Another meltdown?  My legs were bricks, but they weren't cramping like they had on Saturday.

A-Frame to Summit
I hit A-Frame in 2:08 and change - a full 12 minutes slower than the previous day.  Brad and I found ourselves in kind of a no-man's land.  Dude was delirious from altitude, as he chattered constantly for the next mile and a half.  I had sadly been alternating between run and walk for a very long time now.  My walk wasn't as fast as Brad's, but my run was, and I was running for longer stretches, so I went ahead and passed him a little before the 2 to go sign.  It wasn't a very confident pass; I just figured as long as I could keep squeezing in good running pulls, I should.  Matt passed me on his way down soon thereafter.  After a long gap, Daryn came into sight on his way down too.  This was somewhat expected.

What happened next, though, caught me completely off-guard.

I thought I was in about 30th at this time.  I expected to start seeing the trickle of downhill traffic turn into a full-fledged downpour, but I kept climbing and climbing and no one came.  I made it past the 1 to go sign and realized I was in MUCH better shape on this day than the previous one.  I realized there were quite a few guys within just a couple of minutes of me and a strong last mile might get them.  Most importantly, I began to realize that with a strong descent, I could end up catching a ton more.  I ran hard but comfortably through the last mile, passing a good five or six guys just past the Golden Stairs, and a couple more just before the summit.  When I hit the turnaround in 2:59:30, I had counted 18 guys in front of me.  Of those 18, almost half of them were within striking distance.

I got rid of my water bottle - both to save weight and give me two full working hands in order to catch myself in event of a spill - and sprung down from the summit like a shot.  Within a minute, I had passed two guys.  I felt like I was dancing on the rocks; the descent was coming so easily to me and I was thrilled.  By the time I hit the cirque aid station, I had passed a bunch more and suddenly found myself in 12th.  I knew exactly what top 10 meant and realized that if I held together, I was going to get it.  The thought pushed me as I caught another and yet another guy before AFrame.  JV was somewhere in that mess.  Just as I hit AFrame, I went by a cramping Brandon Stepanowich, who had been in 8th place.  This was the last downhill racer I would see for a long time.  Passing Brandon was one of my friends, it pained me to see him struggling, and it didn't look good for him.

A-Frame back to Barr Camp only took 15 minutes, but it was an eternity.  The initial high of moving into the top 10 had worn off.  My quads were beginning to remind me what they had been through in the previous 26 hours.  As I dropped lower and lower, the temperature rose.  I began to call out, "BARR CAMP!??!"  I knew my pace had settled into something a little more pedestrian and the fear of getting caught creeped in.  Eventually, one of my calls for camp was answered, and I rounded a blind turn just to find Teresa and the crew there to refuel me and cheer me on.

The lower parts of the course were lonely.  Barren.  I felt someone gaining on me, but couldn't see a soul.  I tried to visualize another competitor struggling in order to focus myself on what was ahead instead of behind me.  The uphills sapped any remaining energy I had.  The downhills had become tiring.  I was hanging on by a thread.  When I hit the Bob's Road aid station, they told me that someone had indeed just left the station and had maybe two minutes on me.  I redoubled my focus and visualized catching him.  At the same time, I tried to shut out the feeling that I was also being hunted.  The aid station workers at No Name said I was less than a minute away from 7th...I tuned everything else out.  I remember nothing except trying to make up ground and being aware that I was running out of distance in which to do it.  Just before the top of the W's, two pro Euro cyclist guys emphatically pleaded to me, "fifteen seconds, allez, allez!"  Finally, I heard footsteps!  Just before I hit the Incline Cutoff aid station, I caught Corey Hanson - who was still going at a decent clip.  I tried to put a surge in to lose him for good, but he stuck with me and I could still hear his footsteps a switchback behind me.  Suddenly, my stomach turned.  Those weren't a set of footsteps I heard - that was two pairs.  I looked up, and there was Brandon, flying down like he was being propelled by an outboard motor.  I knew there was no holding him off for the next two miles.  At the same time, I was so proud of him - he had found a way to bounce back from his cramping issues at AFrame and had put together a very strong descent of his own!  (I soon learned of some sort of salt shot off of Teresa's wrist that cured him.  Not sure what that looked like...)

Oprah ran 4:44, right?
Hitting the pavement, I found myself alone again.  Neither Brandon ahead of me nor Corey behind me were going to alter the order by now.  As I passed the Cog Railway, the reality of what had happened started to hit me.  I was going to top 10 the Pikes Peak Marathon after throwing up a stinker the day before!  A spectator at the cog shouted a word of encouragement.  I gave a thumbs up in response, and next thing I know, all of the people waiting at the cog were cheering me on.  The number of people lining Ruxton continued to increase the closer I came to the finish, and the emotion traveled to my face.  When I saw my good friend and training partner Amanda with a half to go, my day was officially made - she couldn't hide the shock to see me so soon.  By the time I passed her, I was smiling ear to ear.  I came around the last corner into the crowd, and crossed the line in 4:37 and change, good for 8th place.
Tired, happy

Here is a comparison between my Sunday ascent and Saturday ascent by section.
Start to Hydro - 30 seconds slower Sunday
Hydro to W's - 2:33 slower
W's to 7.8 - 3:07 slower
7.8 to Camp - 3:07 slower
Camp to AFrame - 1:49 slower
AFrame to 2ToGo - 1:37 faster
2ToGo to 1ToGo - 2:32 faster
1ToGo to Summit - 4:37 faster

Gutsy race by Brandon.
Courtesy of

Top 10.  Courtesy of
Post-Race Thoughts
Nothing like ending on a high note!  While my plan has been to race Leadville next August, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about coming back for another PPM.  With fresh legs, I think it could be an even better experience.  Yes, I've thought to myself, "How fast could I have gone had I been fresh?"  Coulda.  Shoulda.  Woulda.  I chose to double, and I'm glad I did.

The awards ceremony on Sunday was fun; not just because I was happy with my performance, but because I had the opportunity to talk to so many friends and other competitors.  I'm not alone when I say that the past few days have been anticlimactic.  I need a new goal...soon!


Double results

Sunday results

This song...I guess it just makes me happy.  Mellow. least for a little bit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

D-D-D-Doubler? 2011 PPA

Pikes Peak is the 30th tallest mountain in the state of Colorado.  At least 42 other peaks are classified as more technically challenging than Pikes.  It lacks many of the jagged, heavens-searing features that many other peaks sport.  It's terribly unremote - one can have better luck grabbing some solitude in a shopping mall than on the summit of Pikes.  So what is it about this giant pile of rocks that seduces me so?  As I reflect upon this past weekend and my experience on the mountain, one thing is clear:  over the last five years, this mountain has practically become a part of me.

Previous to the weekend
Moved to CO in 2003.
"Ran" the Ascent in 2005, when I weighed 25 lbs more than I do today.  4:04.
Tried again in 2007.  3:10.  Began to think breaking 3:00 was possible.
2008 - 2:53 in a blizzard as a warm-up race for the last Ironman I ever did.  Thoughts of sub-2:50 entered my head.
2009 - 2:44 with a meltdown up Barr Camp in 1:15.  Thought I could get into the 2:30's.  Laid out the plan - post a good time in 2010, move on to Leadville in 2011.
2010 - more fit than 2009.  Easier pace through Barr, 1:17.  Blew up horribly anyway, finished in 3:21.  Left a terrible taste in my mouth.  Couldn't believe I had squandered another possible sub-2:40.  Decided I had to come back - Leadville could wait.

But why the double?
I wanted more on my plate.  Shaving a few minutes off of my PR simply wasn't enough to get me going.  After many years of scoffing at the idea of coming back down the mountain, it suddenly sounded appealing.  Just before signing up in March, John O'Neill caught my ear and suggested I double.  I was lukewarm to the idea at first.  After all, how would I run a strong round trip on tired legs?  Two factors eventually sold me:  1)Doubling seemed like a rite of passage.  I knew too many people who had done it, and had seen from afar some who had even done it successfully.  It would be fun to try and join that crowd.  It also seemed to play better into my eventual transition to longer distances.  If I shy away from a 39-mile weekend, how could I expect to go after 100 miles in a shot?  In the end, I ponied up for both races.  In the weeks before the races, I started to think about dropping Saturday to focus on the round trip.  I must've changed my mind one hundred times.  It wasn't until a few days before the weekend before I finally committed to the Double.

Weekend Goals
My season had gone well.  I managed to PR at Barr Trail when almost everyone else struggled.  I ran well in Vail, Salida, and Buena Vista.  Knowing how I screwed up in '09 and still went 2:44, I figured I could possibly run in the mid-2:30's.  My workouts up top had gone well.  The pace calculator matched up with my efforts.  It was all laid out for me - I would leave nothing on the trail Saturday.  Once done with the Ascent, I would only then begin to even think about the Marathon.

Ready to rock.  Gun went off, familiar faces surrounded me.  Ratcheted down perceived effort a couple of notches from my previous time trials, but still came through Hydro a little hot in 9:30 (2:30 pace).  I must have been in 50th place at the time.  Tried to tone it down a notch, still on the fast side at the top of the W's in 30:35 (2:32 pace), still around 30th.  More conscious effort to hold back saw me at the 7.8 sign in 1:01:20 (2:34 pace) feeling comfortable.  A spectator told me I was in 25th.  A struggling Kevin Morgan said he had been in 23rd when I passed him.  I felt for him; hurting so early was a bad omen.  So far, so good.  Barr Camp came and went in 1:19:10 (2:36 pace) - slower than 2010, and significantly slower than 2009.  I'd done a ton of work up above timberline this season, so I felt I might have finally solved this mountain.

Bottoms up, Kevin!
Wrong.  Bottomless Pit sign in 1:31:31 (2:37 pace) and my only company was a struggling David Phillips.  As I made what turned out to be my final pass of the day, I began to realize what my splits were already telling me - I was SCREWED.  My hamstrings began to tighten up.  I started walking...just a step here and there at first, but by A-Frame I was doing more shuffling than running.  By now, the bottom was falling out.  A-Frame in 1:56:30 (2:44 pace). Visions of my 2010 meltdown came screaming into my head...I couldn't bear the shame.  It was deja freaking vu.  Few people passed me in that next mile, but the line was approaching.  That's the horror of struggling up see your fate.  Not just the pain above you, but your fate below you in the form of all the others who are there to make you pay for being stupid.  2 to go in 2:15:34 (2:47 pace).  For the third time in 4 years, Michael Hagen passed me on the long straightaway. 1 to go in 2:33:19 (2:51 pace) and people were passing me left, right, over, under, and through me.  I was dizzy, definitely not feeling good, and just trying to get off the mountain by this point.  Kevin Morgan, who was in a world of hurt himself, caught up to me and joined in my pity party for a bit.  With a little less than a half to go and our respective races both in the tank, we accepted a kind offer for PBR from "Nacheaux" a crew of rabid fans.  We tipped our glasses to a better run in the future, took a few pulls,  and then went about our business.  Kevin's business involved passing by me just after the pit stop.  When the noise of the crowd hit, there was nothing in me to go.  My last mile ticked by painfully slow in over 22 minutes, bringing me home in a disappointing 2:56:30, which was good for 44th place.  Results here.

I really wanted to stay up top and catch up with so many of my friends.  I fought the urge and got off the mountain on the first van down.  Did the best job I could of refueling and refocusing.  For having such a struggle, I bounced back quickly and felt surprisingly strong by Saturday afternoon.  I began to think I might actually be able to get up the mountain in a respectable time on Sunday.

Looking at my splits from my armchair, it's quite obvious I was out too fast.  It's also interesting to see how the splits were telling me this IMMEDIATELY, yet I thought all was good until past Bottomless Pit.  One more reason why I think things like splits should be respected.

But this is the part I still struggle with.  If I'm capable of a 2:35 yet 2:30 pace even for 10 minutes puts me in the tank, how come everyone else that runs a 2:35 can get away with it?  While it seems I'm out too fast, THE ENTIRE FIELD is out too fast.  Kim, who ran 2:34 and rocked the world, must've been through Hydro in 9:00 and the top of the W's in 29:30.  I'm confused.

Nutrition.  I'll get more into that on my PPM report.  For PPA, it was scant.  Carried two Accel Gels.  Hit up an average of two gatorades at every water stop.  Ate Gels near Bob's Road and A-Frame.  Had to pee the entire race, finally pulled over around 2 to go for over 60 seconds.

Regardless, I changed some things up on Sunday.  The results were...different.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Went to the summit of Pikes again today.  Brad joined me; plan was to get a little bit of intensity in.  Met up with a few other folks, but all in all the summit was desolate when we got there.

14:26, 14:06 for the top mile.  Compared to the 15:30's on Sunday, I'll take 'em.  Supposedly, that's what a 2:17 feels like.  I can't wrap my head around that.  Still, Matt went sub-12:00 on Sunday for the same stretch.

It's encouraging to see improvement over the same stretch in the course of less than a week.  I doubt it's because of increased fitness.  Could it be that physiological adaptation at that altitude works that quickly?  That seems like a stretch, as well.  Maybe it's psychological.  Whatever the case, I'm feeling somewhat confident that I've got a quick time in me - and hopefully two - next weekend.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Garmin

Remote controlled by a Garmin 310
I'll admit it.  I'm a slave to my Garmin.  You know, that big honkin' alien-transceiver looking thing.  Gawdier than anything Elizabeth Taylor ever wore.  Weighs 12 lbs.  Beeps and shakes every couple of minutes.  Makes it miserable to run, right?

I held off for a while.  I thought to myself, "Why don't these runner geeks put the tech down for a second and just enjoy running???"  Isn't running about getting out there and just going?

Well, I'd like to share with you lessons I've learned from my transformation from tech-loather to lover.  I'm now a firm believer that for some folks, one of the best items they could purchase is one of those crazy GPS units.

Mile repeats, 15:30 pace.  Push the flats below
and above the 16 Golden Stairs.
One of the strongest arguments I have for using a Garmin is the feedback it provides.  In Colorado, I don't have the luxury of driving the loops I run.  I can't really use applications like map my run or the USATF mapping tool due to the nature of the terrain around here.  Those apps are only really effective when you run on streets and sidewalks.  (can you imagine the horror in that??? haha!)  Wear the Garmin on a loop just one time, though, and you know what you're dealing with.  It also records elevation gain and loss, which is a critical piece of info to track for any somewhat serious mountain/trail runner.  60 miles with 12k of gain is a helluva lot more time on feet than 70 miles and 2k of gain.  The Garmin also provides you with your current pace.  Not information you need constantly, but there certainly are instances where that information is invaluable.  The difference between LT pace and a pace that tears you down is a pretty fine line; having the Garmin there to keep you from blowing it is amazing.  The visual interface and ability to actually see what you've done for the day is nice, too.   For instance, I have run the top mile of Pikes enough to become familiar with particular switchbacks.  When I see an image of my Sunday workout, though, I can easily recognize and put in perspective each of the twists and turns.  Just by looking at the picture above, I know see just how far into the last mile I go before hitting the 16 Golden Stairs.

Another factor to consider is how well GPS units like the Garmin aid you in honing feel.  Anyone who is serious about his training needs to be able to tell the difference in his pace beyond "hard" and "easy."  I know many programs in college that expected their runners to be able to tell the difference between a 7:00 mile and a 7:05 mile.  I also know that once you're dialed in, that's not only possible but somewhat simple to do.  Since most runners tend to start races, workouts, etc too quickly, the Garmin can keep you in check until you find your groove.  Instead of having to wait a full mile to get that first pace check in, you simply look down at your watch and see if it matches what you perceive.  It's cool when those two start to jive with increasing frequency.

Possibly the biggest advantage I've found to owning a Garmin is in how it has motivated me.  Before I had one, I could only estimate how far I ran in any given week.  When I'm actually tracking that number, I'm much more motivated to bump that number up - to get out the door on a day where I'm otherwise feeling lethargic or to tack on that extra loop just to hit double digits.  It's fun to see what I've done and to challenge, to one-up myself.  I can also tangibly see differences in my fitness by comparing similar workouts across different points in time.  It's powerful stuff to see that I'm 30 sec/mile faster on a given loop now than I was last, maybe the miles ARE adding up.  When it comes down to it, the Garmin causes me to get my lazy butt out the door more, for longer, and faster.  Not sure how an addiction like that can be a bad thing.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Barometric Pressure?

For geeks like me, this article by local distance guru Alan Versaw is pretty fascinating.  I haven't begun thinking of all the ramifications it could have on comparing performances across the state.  Just boils it all down to head-to-head I guess.  FWIW, I derive some sick pleasure from working my ass off just to run 10 (or 11 or 12 etc) minute miles on any given run whereas anything over 8 minute miles at sea level was considered dog-slow.

Teacher's summer kindasorta ends today, as we have a training class spanning the rest of the week.  Next week is our last week off, then back to it on the 15th.  Doesn't much affect my training, as I thrive on routine.  I notice the difference in the little things that fail to get done during the school year.  Dishes, oil changes, home improvement projects tend to get pushed to the back burner.

Elk Park crew - 7/30/2011
Got up to Elk Park last Sunday for some altitude.  Brandon, who writes for pikespeaksports, scared up this cool entry.  Third time this summer - I'll probably get up there twice more before PPA/PPM.  I splitted 2:29 pace for the top three miles this time.  Sure would be nice, but I can't wrap my head around hitting that pace down low.  I would be quite happy with any type of PR on Saturday.  Maybe - just maybe - one that starts with a 2:3x.  Sunday could be quite frustrating/challenging, as many of my peers will be fresh.  The competitive entries have been listed, and PPA is about as deep as last year.  Heck, up front it could be deeper, with a good 10 guys clamoring for 2:15 or faster.  Three years ago Manning was 2nd with a 2:19.

Instead of hitching back to EP, Brandon and I
came up with a fun descent line.

This shows our descent.  The 5 miles back to EP
took 1:50.

Picked up a pair of Inov-8 Road-X 233's last week and have put a few miles on 'em.  No surprise - I'm quite happy with their fit.  It's kind of strange to even own a pair of "road shoes" again, but given the options surrounding my new residence, it makes sense.  I estimate I am running approximately 20 of my 60-70 miles a week on pavement.

A little dramatic, but since today marks the first day of the new school year...