Sunday, June 30, 2013

A 100 of everything

100 miles is a long way in a car, with air conditioning, the radio, a coffee and an open road. From Squaw Valley to Auburn, with 18,000ft of climbing and temperatures that topped out at 104 in Auburn at the finish, and stayed in the 80's ALL NIGHT, it's a flipping long way!

The start of WS100 at Squaw Valley
This year's Western States was 'only' the second hottest in the 40 year history. It was a long day of ups and downs, literally. If you could fill a day with drama, amazing performances and just downright grit, Saturday was the day.

I was 'pacing' Dave Ross, a Zim/UK friend from Foresthill, the 62 mile marker, to the finish 38 miles away. The only time 38 miles doesn't sound a long way, is when you know your runner has already run 62 miles! This gave me the chance to watch the start, and then follow the race via the excellent timing system and  irunfar tweets. It's hard to access the route and with the temperature at 90 early morning, the air conditioned Auburn Starbucks became race headquarters for me. 

The early pace seemed fast, with defending champ Tim Olson on record pace (set in much better running conditions last year) with a stacked field keeping pace. Olson never faltered and was always tweeted as 'looking strong'. He beat of all the young and old bucks to repeat his win. A great result for a real nice guy. The other story at the front was women's winner 38 year old Pam Smith who astonishing was ninth overall in the most competitive MENS field ever. She was 1 hour 50 mins behind Ellie Greenwood's record, but in the conditions, the placing was the real story. Plenty of the top men will be having nightmares about being 'chicked' in their target race!

Olson and Ross, both very proud of their achievements
So to our race. Dave's splits had been consistent all day, and that was the only info I had. So I waited at Foresthill, trying to drink, stay cool and not think about running in the heat, which I am very crap at. Dave appeared on time, looking super strong and full of beans. Off we set, after weighing, food, drink, sponges etc down into the canyon. It was hot! We were setting a good pace, going past other runners and enjoying the shade. The river crossing at 78 miles is really the next big landmark and where Dave pulled out 2 years ago, so also a psychological barrier. It seemed to take forever to get there, and we arrived in the dark, waded across and started the climb out the other side, 300m up to Green Gate. 

The real trick to running 100 miles (I'm told) is nutrition and body management. To keep eating all day whilst running near your limit is a challenge. Some guys take literally a gel every 20 minutes all day. I'd hate to see what comes out the other end. Most runners try and mix it up with some real food, supplements, tablets, muti and anything that the aid stations provide. Dave had done a great job til after the river, then his stomach rebelled, and like most things that would put normal people in bed, it worked the runner's miracle and got him moving better and faster. It had taken us 58 minutes to make 1.6 miles but now we were suddenly regaining places again. BUT, we were 80 miles and almost 20 hours into the race, and it was hard and slow. BUT, we were in the game, and 54 overall, with over 300 runners behind us, many of whom would take the full 30 hours allowed to finish. Dave's goal was the sterling silver buckle for a sub 24 hour run (ie the WS in a day).

It is quite alluring.....
We kept moving, and as the night wore on, cursed the many climbs, but walked, jogged and ran our way towards Auburn. When 5 mile stretches are taking over an hour, the time goes slowly and it can be quite demoralising for the runners. There was plenty of silence and just focusing on getting to the next aid station and refueling, not just on nutrition, but also on good will and encouragement. They were ticked off slowly and as we moved past 3am, we climbed the last hill and onto the Placer school track and the finish. Dave was 54th and 22,38 hours was on the clock. Another 329 runners were still on the course or had dropped (ie pulled out). 

Dave went to the hotel to shower and sleep, but I wanted to get a taste for the race and see all the finishers come in. Just like Comrades a steady stream of runners becomes a torrent in the last hour, and as 30 hours approached, the numbers finishing grew. I felt quite emotionally that these runners had been on the trail since 5am yesterday and it was now after 10am the next day. They'd had 100+ degree heat yesterday and now had another 5 hours of sun on Sunday to contend with. They all looked pretty stuffed! 

Last official finisher at WS100 after 30 hours running
I can't really comprehend running 100 miles in one day and before yesterday would definitely have said no chance, but looking at that shiny silver buckle and seeing what it meant to people has put a glimmer of interest in my mind. The destructive nature of running that far, in one go, will probably stop that becoming anything more concrete. I like recovering, I like running for fun, but also being competitive, and right now I'm not fit or good enough to do WS100 justice. But never say never!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


So this weekend is the iconic Western States 100 miler, from Squaw Valley to Auburn, the 40th running of this event that started with one runner back in 1974 and is now the most sort after ultra in the States. There's no easy way in, no special exception for the pros. They all have to qualify like the rest of us. If you are having your first attempt at 10 runs, or 19 or 20 you get in, but lets be honest thats not going to bump the numbers too high.

Once you are in you have the prospect of 100 miles of trail in potentially 100 degree heat (forecast for Saturday at the finish is currently 99). The winner will be around 15 hours (last year saw the first 2 sub 15's in winner Timothy Olson and runner up Ryan Sandes who both broke the previous record) the first  woman 17 (Ellie Greenwood beat the 'unbeatable' Ann Transon record by 50 minutes last year). The rest have 30 hours to complete the race. In a good year 80% of the limited 400 runner field will complete. In a 'hot' year maybe as low as 50%. This year is going to be hot!

When I moved to the States, WS was definitely a long term goal, something to measure myself by, maybe even get a tattoo! But after an aborted qualifying attempt in Colorado, stupidly at altitude, I've had to adjust my goals and maybe accept I have neither the physical, or more importantly, the mental fortitude to join these guys. We all have our limits, Comrades is probably mine, and 50k where I enjoy playing.

Before the DNF I committed to supporting friend David Ross on his second attempt to get that WS buckle, so I'll be at Western States to see the Olsons, Meltzers and Koerners go through the 62 mile mark where I'll be waiting to 'pace' Dave to the finish. I've never been more excited to not be part of a race before! I get goose bumps thinking of following the race unfold during Saturday, and then being with Dave as he achieves a lifetime goal. Pacers are really only there to 'encourage' and be company for the official runners. We can't carry their provisions, run ahead to aid stations, tow or push them! 'Pure' runners consider it if not cheating than outside assistance, but only the really, really hard core in an already hard core event refuse the services of a pacer. And from a safety perspective it makes perfect sense. I can't see how I would be the difference between Dave finishes or not. but if he or anyone around gets into trouble at least I can raise the alarm.

The Western States 'family' at the 4 mile point of Saturday's race. 1000m climb straight up

It seems ridiculous that running 38 miles is only PART of a race, but that's the case on Saturday. I think it's far enough to feel like a very long day for someone who is used to 30 miles max most of the time. My biggest fear is that I'll be the one who struggles and gets into trouble, and that would be embarrassing and mildly concerning for the runner I'm supporting. 38 mies really is a long way whatever the conditions and whatever the pace.

Start of the Western States 100 miler

I'll tweet from the events up until Dave comes through and the after that if conditions allow. We should get decent info from the aid stations on the leaders. Irunfar will be the best place to follow this amazing race as it unfolds in what is a stacked field upfront.

@ilittle17 and @irunfar plus @wser100. For previews etc go here

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Searching for a 'W'

Talking about weekend plans with a friend on Friday I mentioned that I was racing a half on Saturday (nothing unusual there!) and she replied that it was about time I got a 'W', in other words a win. It's been a novel and motivating experience lining up at races here and having a good chance of a podium finish pretty much every week. I've had seven second or third places in 17 races since moving to the States. The two races in SA before leaving I was 40th and 51st. When I arrived I expected the standard here to be better than SA, especially in a run crazy city with Nike HQ just up the road. So why the difference? Portland is much smaller than Cape Town admittedly, but EVERYBODY runs or cycles. The main reason I believe is prize money and the vastly different demographics of the population. The fact is that in SA, if you win or place you could earn a week's wages. That ensures that at any given race in either Cape Town or Joburg you have 20-30 guys who are racing for their dinner, and that of their families, literally. The good running clubs in SA also offer incentives for their runners when they win or place. If you are a manual labourer earning say R150 ($15) a day, a run of the mill race might offer R500-750 for the win. That's a big motivating factor, to win a week's wages in 30 minutes! With age category prize money at similar levels, it ensures the fields are stacked against average club runners like me, who admittedly have the luxury of not having to race for our dinners. Here in the US, good runners are I guess on the track or targeting the few races with prize money. Ironically, trail races now offer better prizes than road races, a situation that seems very unlikely to happen in SA.

Beautiful countryside for the Bald Peak half marathon
So to this weekend's Bald Peak half marathon out in stunning farmland Hillsboro' way. I love these races. Generally a happy crowd, no real rabbits and the chance to mix it at the front. This was a tough little race, 600m of climbing with the first 2 miles uphill.

A cruel last mile. Spot the walks!

You get a feel for the race on the start line, and this race felt weak. No college kids bouncing up and down, no obvious sponsored kit and a field of only 146. As for almost every race here, it was chip timed (now I know where my $40-120 goes every race) via a disposable race number. We set off and I found myself at the front with a twentysomething who volunteered that this was his 'first race for 5 years'. Umm, bad tactical move as it gave me a bit of confidence. Up the first 2 miles climb of 300m and he'd dropped off the pace. So I was in splendid isolation at the front of a race for the first time for a long time. It was missing a motorbike or pace car with a clock on it (this was Hillsboro' not Boston) but otherwise it was kinda fun. The problem was last week's sub 3 marathon and a course that was NEVER flat, the hills just kept coming, and after 4 miles I heard the ominous sound of footsteps behind me, approaching at a rapid rate. The 'W' day wasn't going to be today. Although it's disappointing to be overtaken, its not like a skill sport where you can blame playing crap or your opponent being inspired, and berate yourself. In a race, especially where you at or near maximum effort, you are trying your hardest, you're in pain, you're leaving it all out there! Someone else is just better, fitter, less tired, then you. It's also rarely like a tennis match where you can come back from 0-2 down. Once you're passed, there's not normally a way back especially on the road where you are tapping out consistent km/miles.
The medal and trophy for third place
I was running hard! My flat and downhill kms were where they should have been, sort of 3,40-3,50 per km but on the ups I was struggling, and 2nd soon become 3rd when ANOTHER vet came past me. Now 3rd isn't great, but 4th is the pits, so I now had to ensure I didn't lose a podium spot. I don't look around in races and rely on listening as I go through water points, to hear the claps, cow bells, encouragement for the runner behind. I hadn't heard anything for a long time, then at the last WP at 11 miles the noises were only 30 seconds after I had gone through. That pesky twentysomething was hanging in there. Now the last mile was a 150m climb, which was just cruel, and my legs were jelly. So I broke both my rules of the road, never look around, and never walk in a 21km! Luckily the hill had curves, and around a couple I had a sneaky look and walk when I thought I was out of sight, and that restored enough energy to get home in third. The top three were all 45 or 46 years old!

The old 'toppies' reign!
Contego and CAPESTORM kit, Hi-Tec Luca road shoes
This was as near to the beauty of the local trail races you get here as is possible for a tar race. The after race refreshments here are also a step above the (half) cup of coke you get in SA. We had water, juice, freshly made pancakes, peanut butter sandwiches, bacon, homemade crunchies, all in abundance.

Next weekend is the altogether more serious Western States 100 miler, where I'm pacing a friend for the last 38 miles. At night. More on that later....

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Back to Black

I'm  definitely a trail runner now. Not a mountain goat or rock rabbit, but happiest when in the forest, with birdsong, away from the traffic, people dodging and flat miles. So this weekend was my first tar marathon since a 28 lap Sacramento mind game in December. My mileage has been great, but at a slower speed than previously. 10k and 21k PB/R's  showed that maybe it didn't really matter what pace you trained at. BUT a marathon you can't bullshit, or just hang on if you go off too fast.

So Sunday was the Vancouver marathon. That's Vancouver, USA, not Canada, which is in Washington State, which isn't Washington DC. Easy for Americans, confusing for me! It's the 'hidden jewel of the Northwest' alongside the mighty Columbia river. But I also work in marketing and suspected it was maybe a bit of the 'world's most beautiful marathon' syndrome. It turned out to be a bit of marketing speel and a bit of the truth mixed together. 

The marathon had 630 runners, and there was reasonable quality for a small city race (although "Vancouver is the largest city on the Columbia" the mayor proudly told us) with a 2.45 pace bus! More like a unicyle by the end. What I hadn't worked out til halfway, was that the pacers only ran half the race then handed over to another runner, which I can't work out if it's a great help or a bit of a con!

Spot the 'restroom' stop!
The route was flat for the first half and then some gentle climbs, the weather overcast, cool. A perfect combination for a good time. After the gun the 2.45 pace bus disappeared into the distance along with the leading woman and I settled into the sub 3 bus. Our pace hovered around the 4,10 a km mark, which for 42km, seemed very fast! Now, I've been running a LOT, but mostly on trails at between 5-5,30 a km bar the odd 21km and 10km race, so to keep this up for 3 hours seemed unfeasible. But muscle memory seems infinite, and after about 12 miles I drifted into this odd space, where it felt like I was 'jogging'. I can't really explain the sensation. I'd caught the 2nd woman after a loo stop and decided that her sub 3 hour pace was perfect for me. So we lobed along for 10 miles, slowly catching the lead woman, but Jen was taking some strain running at PR pace in only her second marathon, so I got to back off and occasionally feel like I wasn't at 100% marathon pace effort. Maybe it's something to do with someone working harder than you, that helps to make your effort feel easier? I'm pretty sure if I'd pushed on I would have go burnt and ended up with a slower time. So I waited, and waited and waited. Sort of like a leashed dog, knowing that there was still gas in the tank.

1st vet, sort of, 45-49, so really 3rd vet
The marathon is the hardest standard distance because the temptation is to run harder, earlier, than is  wise. I kept my patience until 23 miles, then it got too much and I pushed, going from 4.15 kms to 4,08, 4,06, 4,04 and 3,47. Why? I would have run sub 3 (Jen finished in 2,58 and change) if I kept the pace, but the thought of gaining a few seconds was enough of a carrot to push harder.

2.57.37 was the time on the clock. A first sub 3 marathon since January 2012 was a nice surprise after miles and miles of slow trail running, lots of climbing, but no long quicker pace runs.

It was good to run a quick marathon and when I hit that sweet spot of cruising, was a lot of fun, but it doesn't compare to running a trail 50k where every kilometre is a surprise, the terrain testing, the scenery always stunning. Most trail runs can claim to be 'The most beautiful marathon in the world'. That's the diference.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mount Bachelor Party

A delayed blog on the (not so) recent PPP race in Bend......

This last weekend was a chance to take part in a pretty unique relay, the Pole, Pedal, Paddle relay race in Bend, Oregon. Bend is great little town 3 hours from Portland, at 1200m and a running, biking destination. A sort of low key Boulder!

The PPP race is a logistical challenge with snowboarding, skiing, biking, running and paddling legs. Starting near the summit of Mount Bachelor, the team makes its way down the mountain via snowboard, ski, bike, run legs and paddles!

The team doing their stuff
I was part of a team from Square 1, our digital agency. We were in the business category, the last to start (I guess so we didn't get in the way of the 'proper' athletes) at 11,30am. Our snowboarder started first and realised that there were some serious teams when some of the boarders started the 50m run to their boards in bare feet to cut down any wasted time clipping in boots! He slid down the mountain to the hardest leg, cross country skiing, on a hilly course. Many expletives later Emily handed over to Scott who had a 22 mile downhill road bike section. Seemed a bit unfair. Then I was off on the riverside (and therefore reasonably flat) 5 mile run. We scythed our way through the field to hand over to our two paddlers for a 3 mile paddle along the Deschutes river. Lastly an 800m sprint to the finish.

The serious.....
Like most business teams our abilities were pretty mixed despite trying to tailor the leg to the athlete. Out of 900 teams (which included singles, pairs, trips and 6 person team) we finished 512th. Not bad for minimal training, borrowed equipment and a non-serious approach to the race.

...and the not so serious
Square 1 are a great example of a young, motivated agency who work hard, work with rather than for their clients, and also involve their clients in their fun activities. It creates a bond, a friendship and I'm sure a more productive working relationship. We had fun, but we also had a chance to feel their culture and them ours.

Back to the race, and I was a little disappointed to run 30,30 for the 5 miles, but even 1200m seems to effect me on hills, however small. I've intentionally shortened my runs the last few weeks to try and get back some feeling of enjoying the daily runs. Portland weather has returned to type after a couple of glorious weekends, so the shorts and t-shirts are back in the drawer. For now.

With 5 months of the year gone, the score is 3 x 50kms, 2 x 21km PB's, a 10k PB, 2nd at the multiday stage race African X and race figures of 2, 8, 12, 17, 78, 5, 2, 10, 13, 4, DNF, 3. A couple of bad races, but mainly some real fun racing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Trail and Tar

One of the differences I notice here when running on trails, compared to SA is the birdsong. It's more obvious, louder and frequent. My main trail routes take in Forest and Washington Park, where the canopy is thick and green, with a massive variety of flora and fauna, although my encounters with wildlife has been restricted to squirrels.
The view from the top of one of my favourite runs - Pittock Mansion
I had started running with music, especially on runs where I needed some motivation, but find that you miss a lot of the sensations when running in the forest. Your footfall and the birdsong are generally all you can hear as you move away from the city and deeper into the 70 miles of trails. I don't like my senses deadened when I'm running, and it also cuts down on your interaction with other runners, hikers and dog walkers along the way.
Lots of switchbacks in Forest Park
The forest here is a mix of fir and redwood, and is a joy to run between these towering trees on pristine trail. Last week was my first 100 mile week for 5 years, and this was mainly due to the better weather and the temptation to run both morning and evening in the forest. It felt good to push the mileage, on a soft surface, in the cool, but now my body is repelling with a sore back, stiff achilles, tiredness and some seriously bad looking feet! This used to be my norm but for the last few years 50 miles (80km) had seemed the sweat spot unless you were training to run a very fast Comrades.

Comrades, ummm. Sunday was the 88th running what is probably the greatest road ultra in the world. This year was an 'up' run, from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. It was hot! Now Durban in June is never really cold but this year was the hottest I remember since 2000 or 2001. 18,000 runners had signed up for the race, 14,000 of them had made it to the start line. The race alternates in direction each year, so you either start in the aching cold of Maritzburg at 5.30am or the humidity of Durban. I've always hated the up run with a passion, never running well and always struggling in that first 30km which pretty much climbs and climbs.
Shannon Campbell by Lindsay's wall of honour placque, a special pic

Watching this year for the first time since 1998 outside of SA was hard. The excellent you tube feed helped, the commentary and visuals didn't. It is a word class race with less than worldclass production it seems. I think everyone appreciates that having a running event on national TV for 13 hours is unique, but even so...

Anyway, as I said it was hot, and following about 10 friends on tracking it became obvious that a lot of runners were having a very, very hard day. Starting in hot, humid conditions and then running uphill for 7-12 hours is going to be a big test! The medical team reported record numbers, many people were hospitalised and 5 were in ICU. The winner was seen walking up one of the big hills near the end, looking around nervously for the second runner. A friend stopped after 60km or so and had a 2 hour nap in a sugar cane field before continuing to the end. Another, who is a 2,30 marathon runner went through halfway (about 27 miles) in 3 hours 20 mins and finished in 10 hours, thats a tough second half! The 'war' stories are endless, and even from 12,000 miles away, in the middle of the US night it was spine tingling to watch the race live on the you tube feed and know what a tough day it was.
Comrades Winner 2013. Claud Moshiywa
I've run Comrades 12 times, it was my reason for going to SA as a tourist and even more so moving there to marry. I have a protea tattoo, my permanent Comrades number very permanently on my back, so Sunday was my toughest day in the US, bar none. However tough the conditions were, I still wanted to be there on the road to Maritzburg, with my war story. Next year.