Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quad Rock 2014

Photo: Sean Lara, Coloradoan

2014 Quad Rock

The third round of Quad Rock packed another wallop, but not enough to knock out over 350 of us who took on a vertical mile of burly climbs and descents, with 132 folks making the decision to turn around and run everything again in the opposite direction.

This was my slowest finishing time yet, and I was unable to finish in the top 10, but by no means did that make for an unenjoyable race.  That's because of the fantastic race organization and community of fellow runners, spectators, and volunteers, to go along with some of the best runnable trails on the Front Range.  With the same tales on the same trails as previous years, augmented with an handful of shirtless un-glamour shots, why bother with another race report? 

Mostly, I want to take the time once again to thank everyone involved with the race, and reiterate what a great event it is.  Any indulgence from writing about the race is from people reading, commenting, or telling me that they've read these reports, and cheering by name during the race itself, which is incredibly rewarding.  I know some people are trying to get all the information they can as they're excited about the race; others are contemplating the race as a new distance challenge, or a more difficult trail race than they've done before.  A tip of the hat to both.

I also have to back up and give Nick and Pete an extra "Thanks" this year because I was able to gain a free entry into a race that is already a bargain, whether you slice it by average cost of 50 milers; cost-per-mile; cost-per-minute; or the amenities (useful and aesthetic coffee mug, shirt, great food, beer, and music).  This was because they graciously donated a Quad Rock entry as a raffle prize as a fundraiser to send legendary ultrarunning superfan (and fellow Packers fan) Bill Dooper to Western States.  Jessica and I were happy to donate a small share to help Bill realize his dream, and then I was fortunate to have my name drawn for the Quad Rock entry.  As another link to the race, it bears mentioning that Deceptively Fast Aaron Marks and QR-CR-holder Ryan Burch initiated the fundraising campaign; and as a testament to the broader running community, it's inspiring that 40 people donated more than enough money to get Bill out to Auburn (by way of Squaw).
So with savings from the entry fee, I was then able to give a bit to Larimer County Search and Rescue, one of the QR volunteer groups and beneficiaries.  (Admittedly, there's a reasonable chance that's more of a selfish "investment" than a donation).

I'm not too much into pre-race "traditions," but again I went with a big rice stir-fry from East Moon.  A difference this year was not sleeping in my own bed before the race, but because my wonderful in-laws put me up for the night (and various trailrunner friends undoubtedly would have done the same), I still only had a short drive in the morning, with a bonus of getting to play with my adorable niece and read her a new (used) book I brought about a bicycling turtle.
The point here, is, if you're thinking about this race as a possible "destination" race, you should totally go for it!  There's a ton to do in Fort Collins, great places to eat and drink before and after, and if you send out an email to the trailrunner list or use the ultrasignup forum, you might be able to find or share lodging or a campsite with fellow runners.

One change this year was a start time of 5:30AM, negating the need for a headlamp (and the logistics of dropping them off/retrieving them) at the start.  This also made it half an hour "warmer," which made a noticeable difference in making short sleeves tolerable at the start.  Great change!  
As far as conditions, we had some rain a few days leading up to the race.  Mud was a concern, even when parking in the morning, but it turns out the trails were essentially perfectly tacky.  

I checked in and chatted with friends, and then found myself in a bathroom line less than 10 minutes before the start.   Now I hesitate to share my secret, but I quickly remembered the other bathroom up by the Timber Trailhead, a scant tenth of a mile up the road.  I gambled and jogged up there, and the gamble paid off.  As a small suggestion (if only to balance out my otherwise effusive praise and at least give the appearance of objectiveity), a few more bathrooms might have been helpful. 

Barely able to make it back in time, we were off with the usual mellow start at a chalk/flour line on the ground.

I ran next to and chatted with former occasional training partner Sarah Hansen a bit, who was running the 25M, where she would eventually finish 2nd.  Things were conservative and felt easy, yet I was a bit closer to the front this year.  Then we hit Stout/Sawmill after a 24-25 minute warmup, and it was time for the business of the day: up, down, up, down...rinse, repeat -- a veritable Konami code of a course.
On Towers, I was happy to hang out and chat with Nick D.  He's one of the fastest Towers ascenders around, but he also hiked the steeper sections along with me, knowing full well the value of saving and using different muscles early in the race.
We rolled down to the Horsetooth Trailhead just under 90 minutes in, which I think is a few minutes faster than my previous times.  Everything still felt good, but it was warm enough (almost perfect) that I ditched the shirt already in my Horsetooth anti-dropbag as the sun shone down on the trail.

As usual, I was overjoyed at seeing friends at each aid station, and received personal, quick aid station attention from NMP and the Erskine, Mr. May, and Deceptively Fast Aaron Marks, with cheers, greetings, and photography from others.  If anything, I think I lingered a bit longer at aid stations this year to greet friends I hadn't seen in months.  
I should also mention, by way of advice, that the gel situation was a bit "sticky", let's say, at times.  I really love the use of VFuel because the product itself, the folks that run it, and the support they give is top-notch.  I also prefer the use of gel flasks to cut down on waste -- not just raw garbage (and those little tops of the packages that sometimes fall out of your pockets and into the weeds, despite best intentions), but the unnecessary silliness of sending a product out to be packaged unnecessarily.  Thanks to this race for leading the way in reducing waste. Logistically, though, cooler temperatures made it difficult to pump/pour the gel from the bulk containers, and some aid stations were low later in the day.  The volunteers did a great job of improvising anyway, and this overall wasn't much of an issue for me, but my thinking and concern is more for other runners coming later or arriving in larger groups.

I was surprised to see Golden/Lakewood fasties J-Fitz and P-Mac pass me up.  I wouldn't have thought they both had extra-long pit-stops, but it turns out they missed the Westridge turn -- which they said was indeed amply and adequately marked.  Bummed that they tacked some on but hopeful that it wouldn't make much of a difference in the long run, especially if they didn't let it bother them mentally.

Farther along in the race, by the Arthur's Aid station, I was again recharged by the sight of friends.  But I was completely unprepared to see one person especially: Jane Welzel.  
No exaggeration, I cannot think of a more inspiring runner I would rather have seen at that point.  Here, she is focused on taking a picture of me, right before I gave her a big hug: 

Photo, and much more, by Jane Welzel

A third of the way into the race, and it was already a good day.
Race deja-vu for the rest of the first lap, although I was pretty much alone.  I missed running with Alex and Lee from previous years!  Ended up in and out around 4:08 or so, similar to previous years.

No thought of stopping, as I headed right up.  I had counted heads somewhere around 15, with an unknown handful at the turnaround as well.  This was surprisingly closer to the top 10 than I expected -- but seeing who was in the top 10, I knew it was a stout group that likely wouldn't falter, nor would I wish that upon them.  I was focused on my own race....

...Mostly.  The advantage of the multi-loop course is seeing everyone else coming down.  This ends up being a mutual cheering parade for over an hour. The parade begins with folks and friends that I know, some of which are literally chasing me, and then continues with an inspiring group of first-timers and others from all walks of life.  Dare I say it, it makes the Timber Climb (which I was able to run entirely) almost a "freebie" if you let yourself flow with the spirit of the other runners.  I try to call out as many people by name as I can, and am humbled by those that do the same before I can stumble out theirs.  If you signed up for the 50 and have that moment of doubt, just turn around and head up, smile, and take out your headphones and cheer each other on!
I have a commitment to cheer on each and every runner that I see, which is easy, but as I started downhill, I decided to turn the knob to "11" and really start whooping and shouting whenever I'd see a small group of folks pushing hard up the hill.  It helps me as much or more as it helps them.

Otherwise, I started faltering on the descent back to Arthur's, though, as my legs and feet weren't cooperating on anything technical.  In future years (this is a note to myself as much as anything), I'd put extra training here, as it's probably also the section of trail, literally in the middle, that I run less than the other sections.  This was a theme for the rest of the trail: losing ground on rolling, technical terrain.

Caught a few people and passed by a couple -- still a net win.  

The only other thing of note was finding myself in the thick of the women's race.  This was between Darcy Africa and Becky Wheeler -- 2 incredibly impressive runners with lengthy trail resumes.  Usually, the competitive front-end of races isn't one of my top interests -- I'm more concerned with how my friends are doing (often enough, some of them *are* at the front, so I'm interested in that point).  But I do appreciate the promotion of excellence in performance as supported by races, and Gnar Runners have done everything they can to recruit and reward fast men, women, and master's runners alike.  While past races have had great performances all around, this one was shaping up even better with two experienced athletes pushing each other the whole way.

And I had a front-row seat.  Actually, a middle-row seat, for pretty much an hour and a half or so.

As it turns out, I was running near Darcy all day.  I actually can't think of a time where I've run that long, that close, to another runner.  I've seen her very stout Hardrock finishes, and the only ultra I remember running with her was Collegiate Peaks a few years back, when her steady presence made me realize I had gone out too fast.  We leapfrogged at nearly every aid station, as I'd run ahead and then linger a bit too long at the aid station.  This went on for the entire 9 hours, as it turned out.  If nothing else, it gave me the illusion of running steady.

Rolling along Westridge was where I lost more time -- with Darcy pulling ahead, and another runner in a red shirt catching up to me.  I didn't know nor think about gender -- just "blue shirt" and "red shirt."  I have a tough time with Westridge in general, which is improbably uphill in both directions.

Conceptual drawing of Westridge Trail, which goes counterclockwise

Also had frustration with the technical parts of upper Horsetooth, and finally when it smoothed out, I tripped over a few granules of sand on the ground.  I popped up before Becky ran me over, a little surprised she didn't even laugh at me.
Luckily, I still had downhill roadie legs, which is what really saves me at the end of this dumb race, as I'm able to run the service road and Towers, so I was barely able to stay ahead, until both women exited the Horsetooth aid station ahead of me, and very near each other.

With long views up Spring Creek, I was able to watch the chase unfold.  Becky closed in slowly but not without a fight, and they ran a bit together.  I was gaining on both of them, but needed to take the time to step off trail for a quick but important minute or two.
They were still in sight and I was still gaining, but once Becky opened up a bit of a gap, she sped up.

Again, Darcy and I swapped spots at the aid station, and both gave each other a "Nice work."

Alex, Eric, Ellen, Rob, and crew had me in and out as fast as I was willing to go.  They told us 5 miles downhill/flat, which is a double lie, because it's more like 6 miles and nobody should ever forget the rolling climbs remaining on Stout.

I was optimistic about the Towers downhill, and able to catch back up to Darcy, but Becky was nowhere to be found -- not even a distant view on the Stout turnoff.  She must have been flying. 
I was able to run the Stout climbs as well and wanted to get as much out of sight as possible from Darcy, but still stumbled a bit on anything semi-technical.

Finally, the "flat" finish on dead legs.  I did the math and realized 9 hours were out.  Becky was able to do and thus set a challenging bar for the women's race. I checked over my shoulder once or twice or 80 times for Darcy: I dread ever having to race on that final stretch.  Swapping positions 5 miles earlier would be fine, but would be quite distasteful that close to the end.

 I kept my eye on my watch to keep my 2nd loop under 5 hours, an arbitrary but extra goal.  That's a bigger positive split than I'd like and has some lessons in it for the astute reader.  Then again, when I train on this course it usually takes 5-5:30 for a single loop, so it blows my mind how much the race day support and excitement add to performance for anyone. 

"Top 15" (although there's really no such thing) was still much better than I expected.  The attrition or folks that stayed with a 25M time unbelievably made the Top 10 within reach again, should only I have been in a similar shape as previous years, so a missed opportunity there.  But I'll take it as yet another fun day on great trails with great friends.

I took a good 20-25 minutes to change clothes and get recombobulated.  
(Protip: Bringing a bicycle is a good way to go back and spectate along the course, and/or make it the long 1/3 mile back to your car without hobbling).
As fun as it was to run, it's even better to sit and enjoy a great veggie burger, tabbouleh, Pateros Creek brews, and good company with the Swashbuckling Doctors rocking in the background.


Thanks everyone who was at the race, and thanks for reading.  Hit me up if you want any extra motivation to sign up for this race or run it!  It is as much of a shining example of a well-run race and supportive community as you'll find anywhere.  Put it on the calendar to run, spectate, volunteer, and join the party.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Oklahoma City Marathon 2014: One Last Hometown M

2014 Oklahoma City Marathon
3:01:37, 9th

Jessica and I made our third trip out for the Oklahoma City Marathon and Half Marathon.  Things were stacked up to make this one a little tougher than other ones, but perhaps no less memorable.  Because this is a really great race with great citywide support, I always like to share a bit about it.

It's not an easy, PR-type course anyway, but my initial plans back in January were to improve upon previous times.  My training and workout/race results weren't suggesting this was possible, so I had to dial that back.  I figured I might be good for around a 3 hour effort, so of course that was the goal, which I missed, but I also planned on letting things play out as they may and then try to race for position at the end.  That part ended up working out alright.

This particular race was even more bittersweet, because my parents (who live near OKC) had decided a month earlier to move back to Wisconsin.  This meant the end of running races in Oklahoma with some regularity, and certainly the ability to run as a "hometown" race where we can hang out at home peacefully before and after.  It was nice, however, to know this information ahead of time so we could really appreciate the race itself one more time and let it all soak in.

And soak, we did:

It was obvious throughout the week that the race weather was going to be fairly dreadful, mostly with wind, rain, and high humidity.  The worst part, though, was intense storms that threatened tornadoes, in addition to lightning and hail: a distinct line of a dark red dry line on the radar, scheduled to hit right at race start, in addition to storms that may occur earlier the previous evening, which could impact some of the earlier equipment setup.  And any lightning strikes that occur anywhere near the course -- probably more than 25 square miles -- cancels the whole race, understandably.
The only hope was that it would move out quickly.  It looked very likely that it would be delayed, but we had no idea how much leeway they had.  Remember, volunteers are scheduled for a block of time, as are road closures and police/fire/emergency resources.  Truncating the race would cause consternation among the participants who would take longer on the course.  With the overwhelming majority of runners doing the half marathon, I actually wondered if they'd cut the marathon in half was well.

With all this uncertainty, we were still up by 4AM, and out to the start line before 6.  We met our friend Andrea, up visiting from Texas to run the half marathon as well, and headed to the start line, with dark clouds overhead, sticky but cool weather, but not much precipitation yet.  Andrea and I made our way quickly to Corral A (listed on the bibs), which is always a little stressful but not too bad.  Other than a few people mingling right in front of the corral entrance with headphones on, it was easy to make it through toward the front.  (If a fast runner made it closer to the start time, keep in mind that the wheelchairs start 5 minutes early, but other than that it's possible to jog in a few blocks from the front of the course).
I knew there was no chance we were going to start at 6:30, but decided to loosen up with some strides anyway, figuring that any delayed start would be more compact and after a quick weather break.  Plus, it was nice to get out for a jog.  A few other folks taking strides but not too many, people were just waiting for an update.
Then we got the announcement of a half-hour delay, so we had almost an hour to get ready.

Since Andrea hadn't been to Oklahoma City before, I led her off the course and onto the grounds of the National Memorial.  This is a poignant tribute to the victims of the 1995 bombing, and although I've seen it at dusk and during the daytime, it was even more humbling to walk through the grounds at dusk, right before a race.

The race really is a testament to the community spirit of overcoming a tragedy.  Think about it: we often memorialize tragedies with statues and monuments, which are our best attempt at superseding our own mortality, but isn't it even better to have a yearly renewal of blood, sweat, and spirit?   This is a marathon with a purpose.

And up until now, it hadn't ever been canceled.

Well before 7 o'clock, we heard of another delay.  I don't remember the sequences of delays vs. the heavens letting loose, but eventually it was obvious for everyone to take shelter.
We had been warned of different parking garages in the case of storms.  Andrea and I headed out vaguely in search of Jessica, among tens of thousands of people, slowly moving under different buildings and awnings and through a few parking garages.
By blind luck, we found her, and huddled inside the garage. Some minutes later, my parents, who were walking the 5k, also found us.  Lots of iPhones around us were either on a weather radar page or Facebook.  As the wind picked up and heavy rain came down, I poked my head out to see boiling, churning clouds moving swiftly across the sky.

Rumour was that 8AM was the absolute cutoff.  8AM was approaching fast and we had no further delays, so the word was to line up.  I got up and out of there quickly, but the storms were no less menacing.

And then more lightning, rain, and thunder.  I jogged up ahead to another "unofficial" parking garage I spotted in front of the start line, which had a few dozen other runners in it.  I also realized I had totally ditched Andrea in the corral in my hurry to get back to the start line.
And then, behind speeding clouds, were small patches of blue sky.  We were right on the edge of the storm...but also right on the edge of a possible start.  Indeed, we lined up for an 8:20 start -- which would have been quite a gentlemanly option from the off.  But by hanging around for a couple hours, this meant I hadn't eaten anything for 4 hours, and was also thirsty.  I was looking forward to the first aid station just to get something to drink!

At 8:15, the wheelchair racers started.  This was really going to happen.
I found Andrea again and we lined up several rows back.

And then we were off.

My vague plan was 6:20's, 1:25 out, in a cross-wind/tailwind, before getting smacked with a headwind and higher temps on the return.
I spotted course-record holder/female winner Camille Herron at the front.  I jogged up to her at Mile 1 -- right at 6:20 -- wished her luck and then backed off.

Even with all the half-marathoners, and relay runners, we were spread out pretty quickly.  I'd occasionally draft or lightly greet another runner side-by-side, but soon enough we were even more spread out.
The race is great with lots of aid stations and a clock at every mile.  The cheering at each of these points helps keep a steady, honest pace.

There's a "hill" on the course called "Gorilla Hill", which isn't that much of a climb, but is a pretty fun experience, with a giant inflatable gorilla and people dressed as bananas.

The best part of this is that it's just some private citizens in a neighbourhood that decided to do this -- the guy owns the giant inflatable gorilla!  And they hand out bananas to runners.
I think I was "too serious" last time to take a banana, but this time I gave a finger wave and nod, and someone lobbed a banana into the air in front of me to grab mid-stride.

Not long after this, we split from the half-marathoners, in a lonely stretch of road where I had to pay attention to see if I was really on course.  Then the crowds picked up a little, and then waned on what really is the biggest/hardest hill on the course: a climb on a bridge before descending to the lake.

I hit the halfway point right at 1:25, then turned into the brutal wind and watched my pace drop into the 7's.  Couldn't get my wet singlet to stay around my waste, so I wore it on my head.  Felt like I was really sluggish and expected to get caught by some people but we were all in the same situation.  Pace was slowly fading as full sun came out, so I figured I'd be around 3 hours and just decided to enjoy the rest of it.  One guy told me I was in 13th place.

In the last 4-5 miles, we re-merge with the half marathoners.  Up until this year, it was a nightmare for running twice as fast through crowds, and even harder to get over to the aid stations.  Several of us shared feedback on this and the race addressed this by having a separate lane for marathoners.  Bravo!  This was great and much easier than weaving, ducking, and warning.
There was still a few hitches, though, as the second marathon aid station was walking across and giving extra support to the half marathoners, so nobody on the marathon side had any Powerade.  Occasionally, half-marathoners or spectators would also walk back-and-forth across the lane to visit friends or get a water bottle, invariably with headphones in the ears (more of a frustrating etiquette issue than anything), but by and large half-marathoners would kindly cheer and I was happy to do so as well.  One of the most enjoyable things about a race like this is seeing so many people taking on a monumental personal challenge for themselves and their health.  Sure, that happens in Colorado races as well, but I feel like the majority of Colorado runners are quite into running and competition at some level, which can be daunting for an average non-runner.  OKC presents an inspiring picture of what's possible for anybody.

Somehow I still passed 2 guys, with nobody up ahead in sight.  With a couple miles left, I saw I could run low 6's -- basically my starting pace -- and still break 3 hours.  Doing this into the wind was a painful proposition and my legs didn't want to go any faster.  I checked behind me a couple of times, and my calf cramped up if I did anything other than run in a perfectly straight line, so now I had to hope it held on.

Without any ability to kick at all, I jogged in, about 10 minutes slower than 2 years ago.  I fought my way through slow-moving crowds, past the cheeseburgers and bagels and what-not, before finally reaching simple bottles of water, of which I was able to drink 2 immediately, despite drinking at every single aid station.  Not used to the heat yet.  But I started feeling much better.
J found me right away and she had a great run, pretty much the same as last time in harder conditions.  Andrea ended up blowing past her PR and finishing in the top 5W for the half.  Camille won again, in her 2nd-worst marathon time and about 6 minutes slower than her course record, suggesting to me how tough the conditions were compared to 2 years ago.

I was happy to run another OKC marathon, and also pleased to find out I made it in the top 10.  I also learned that I wasn't even the fastest guy from Colorado...or even from Golden (Josh Vaughn)!
If I hadn't done it last time, the extra 100 seconds over 3 hours would have tormented me.  Instead, it got me excited about putting the training, timing, and right course together for another go at a faster time -- but the window is short.

Also proud of my parents, who walked the 5k again.
Mom doesn't get lost in races like her son does...
We're really going to miss this tradition...
One that includes a post-race Mexican feast:


The OKC Marathon is a great race for everyone.  We're really going to miss it as a sort of adopted hometown.

May Update

Well, it's been awhile.  Sorry!
This blog is mostly to share what I think are interesting trails, races, and places; and how to get there and enjoy them on feet, skis, or a couple of wheels.  Even when I haven't written in awhile, I'm always pleased to see people reading (and hopefully learning something) about cool stuff in Colorado and the Mountain West, much the same way I enjoy reading other people's tales and beta.
I do have a few things I hope to write about of general interest and reflection, and hopefully even more as the summer kicks off.  I hesitate on more of the boring, personal details which are less useful.  Then again, I'm forgetful and now enough that I sometimes go back and try to figure out what I was doing (or didn't do) at various points throughout the year.

Briefly, I was both busy and sick for the whole month of April.  I got some sort of sinus infection in late March, the week after a bit of a challenging run at Salida.   This was planned to be a big "March Madness" weekend of miles. J and I both got sick, and of course, I thought it would pass quickly and ignored it.  I took a short jog that Friday to the base of Green Mtn., just over 2 miles away, and felt tired enough that I laid down on the grass for about 10-15 minutes.  Bagged the rest of the run and jogged/walked home and slept.  Slept during the day and didn't run at all during the weekend.  Then it moved into my lungs and I was coughing every morning and night.  Did some occasional jogs and felt a little better, so went ahead with a big workout on Round Mountain that Saturday.  Felt OK and not fast, but still ran a little faster than the previous time I did it, mostly by being smarter and saving myself for the final downhill.  Naively hoping to back that up with another long run the next day, but started feeling worse with sinus problems throughout the day, and then felt terrible the next morning.
Backed those plans down to a shorter run with Clark and Ostrom, until I actually started running and felt like death, so took a shortcut back and laid down on the bench at the TH waiting for the other guys.  Driving home, coughing fitfully, I pulled off halfway back to Denver, at the Johnstown exit, to take a nap.  It wasn't long (actually I don't know exactly how long) and I had the radio on enough that I killed my car battery and needed a jump.  Nobody stopped when I had the hood open, but the first pick-up truck did as soon as I got my cables out and stood there (thanks!)

With an obvious infection settling in, I spent the next few days sleeping whenever I could.  I wasn't going to consider antibiotics until >10 days passed without any improvement.  I did start to get a little better so avoided going to the doctor or drugs.  Jogged when I could, which non-runners might not understand but otherwise runners would know that it helps loosen and clear things up.  Got better slowly, although it turns out I was coughing at least in the morning every day of April, ugh.
Stopped worrying about losing fitness and instead focused on being able to get out without feeling terrible.   Still rode the mt. bike a few times, and raced at Platte River Half, and OKC marathon, which felt more like training runs, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Not sure what to expect at Quad Rock in a very stacked field, but looking forward to feeling 100% in mind and health, with my legs a few weeks behind from what I'd like.  Really excited to be out on the trails with friends and see it as a new beginning to the season.  At the same time, I've probably gone into June the past few years being overtrained for summer races, and I focused too much on splits and competition.  Instead, the big goal of Bighorn is doing just fine: a chance to be out on beautiful trails with friends, especially with a cool and supportive small town near the summer solstice.

I hadn't been that sick for almost two decades, as I spent large chunks of my childhood/teenage years with extended health problems with allergies/sinuses/asthma, so I don't take health for granted.   I know I've had it worse, and many other people regularly do, so each day and experience is a (secular) blessing. Losing a few weeks reminds me that, what I really like, is just being out there.  The green Spring is certainly helping as well, as I'm finally feeling healthy and happy again.  More stories coming soon, and see you out on the trail!

Green Mountain (center) aptly named.  Finally.
(L-R: S. Table, Green, Dakota Ridge, Mt. Morrison)