Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trampled by the Goats

It started well enough. It ended badly and prematurely.

The one thing you can definitely say about the Speedgoat 50k is that the profile doesn't lie. It is either relentlessly up and relentless down. Often on a mountainside, never predictable. Snowbird Ski and Summer resort, the race start is at 2500m above sea level. It was supposed to be in the 80's fahrenheit, but that never materialized, and as I should know by now, the mountain is an unpredictable host.

A bit hilly

From the start you climb to the highest ski station at 3300m in 12km, up jeep tracks, single track and mountainside scrambles. It was tough but not impossible. I walked and jogged about as much as anyone around me and got to the top. Eventually. Then the altitude, or something, hit me. Going down I felt dizzy and spacey, and unsure of my steps. I was so looking forward to some proper running, that it bottomed me out mentally. It also got cold, and I started to shiver.

The 18th km involved a duvet
The second aid station is at 18km, and the start of a 16km loop with no way of getting out if in trouble. The aid station helpers fed me, sat me down and eventually wrapped me in a duvet. The weather had turned and it was raining, so heading out on the loop in the cold rain, with only a vest wasn't very appealing. I sat there from 9am-11.30am waiting for the cable car to open, and watching every other runner go past. No one else dropped that early. Everyone else managed. It was chastising. 

Runners weren't the only ones suffering for the Speedgoat 50k
Eventually I was joined by three other drops on their way out of the loop; a torn calf, badly bruised foot and a.n.other. Our broom wagon was the cable car back up to the top, and then down the other side. Then I could disappear into the crowd once again and not be the runner who quit.

It really is the ultimate conversation stopper for runners after a race. It's not shameful, is often a sensible course of action, but still you are the one without the war stories of bee stings, moose encounters and muddy, bloody legs. You can't share in the camaraderie. As Olson, Clayton and another top 10'er soaked in the hot tub back at the hotel, I couldn't bring myself to join them. I hadn't earned that right.

A moose was encountered (photo; irunfar)
Upfront it was fast with Sage Canaday breaking Killian Jornet's record, and second place Anton Krupicka doing likewise, almost running Canaday down in the process. The women's record also went. And a 15 year old finished seventeenth overall. This is now a youngster's sport.

Finish of the Speedgoat 50k
I'll take away yet more respect for anyone who can run these hills, at this altitude, especially those training below a mile high. It's a different sport!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rock Hopping with the Mountain Goats

This weekend is the Speedgoat 50k in Snowbird ski resort near Salt Lake City. At altitude, in the heat and with big hills. None of my favorite things! In preparation I did a local hidden gem, Larch Mountain. Starting at 5am and having a doc's appointment at 9am, I thought 2 hours tops for the up and down of 21km. I'd forgotten what REAL climbing was like, having run up and down the 300m to Pittock Mansion, 1200m in one never ending climb was something different.

Multnomah Falls
BUT, it has to be one of the most beautiful trail runs (well trail hikes) in the area. You start at the (surely it's photoshopped) spellbinding Multnomah Falls and climb past waterfalls, fast flowing rivers, volcanic screes, pine forest, up, up, up to Sherrard Point with 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks; Rainier, Adams, Hood, St Helens, Jefferson. You can see them all. It has to be the best view in Oregon.
Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in the distance
The run is easily the most technical I've found here and raised the expletive count above the norm, especially on the jagged rocks along the river. For 11km to take 1 hour 50 mins shows you the terrain and the vertical.

Mount Hood, I think!
So back to Speedgoat, which has a stacked field, mainly due to the proximity to the West Coast rock rabbits and the small matter of $12,000 in prize money (Western States $0 prize money). WS winner Timothy Olson runs, along with speedsters Cameron Clayton (dropped at WS) and Sage Canaday. This is allegedly a VERY technical 50k that plays out like a 50 miler, so it will be interesting to see who prevails. I'll just be happy to finish in under 5 hours given my three least favorite factors are in play. Especially after my one altitude foray at the Collegiate 50 miler resulted in a drop at halfway! Here's the men's preview And the women's

Speedgoat 50k profile
The upside is that it's pretty unique in any sport to be able to be on the same start line as the best in the business and, in theory, have a chance to race them. In other sports you couldn't just tee up with Tiger, knock up with Roger or warm up with Wayne. So, we are lucky to have such an non-exclusive sport. OK, you won't beat them, but you could, and no-one could exclude you, say you weren't in the race or find a rule to kick you out. Beautiful!

Follow the Speedgoat on Saturday on Twitter @irunfar

Monday, July 22, 2013

Run Down

Advisory; this is a very personal blog post!

Everything you read, all the common advice given is that exercise in general and running specifically improves your mental health, helps fight depression and is a fillip to the body and soul. I buy into this if running isn't already a big part of your life. But if it is, it only works up to a certain point. I've never followed training plans or had structure. I run how I feel, and as long or short as moods take me. I know that if I want to run marathons and further there are SOME runs I have to do, but beyond that I just figure it out.

So, when I've had mood swings, or events that have had a significant effect on my life my running has changed. I find that if my life is happy and balanced I'll run 80km (50 miles) a week week in week out. If I'm going through difficult times it goes up to over 100km a week and sometimes hits the 'magic' 100 miles a week. This is never a good thing. My body doesn't like a 100 mile weeks anymore. My feet and stomach rebel. I can't stay awake, and I'm more of an unsocial than usual. When I've been hit with real black moods, I don't want to run. I literally can't run. All the natural motivation and enthusiasm seeps out of my body and mind. Mentally I don't want to step out of the door, and physically when I do, its a slog. When Lindsay passed away I didn't run for a week, I couldn't. Eventually it became cathartic again, and although certain runs still evoked bittersweet memories, it was a good kind of pain; one of remembering fondly. 

Lindsay and Nikki Campbell at the Hewat 100 miler
There's no doubt that over the last 7 years running had saved me from spiraling into an abyss, but it has also propped up and kept issues at bay. It has stopped those issues being addressed. It hasn't really 'saved' me from anything, it's plastered over the cracks and proved that you can't avoid pain, but have to confront it head on. Running is an escape. A much better, healthy, life affirming one than most, but still an escape. 

Winning the Comrades marathon. As a novice.
Maybe it's time to stop running. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Running with the Sandman

I think it was September 2008 when I was running the Volunteer Wildfire Services Trail Race on Table Mountain when I first spoke to Ryan Sandes. It was early in the race and this young guy bounded up to me. I'd seen him at a Trail Series race that we sponsored (at CAPESTORM) and had heard he was running the Gobi Desert March later that year. We chatted at the VWS race, I wished him luck, said something crass like 'be careful, its a tough race' and he shot off into the distance.

Ryan won the race, then four of the next five races in the series, by increasing margins. Oh, and winning every stage. Some people said he was only a multistage racer, where the competition was often the older and wealthier runners. The next year he entered the Leadville 100 miler and won, with the third fastest time ever. But the field wasn't the strongest was it, they said. So onto the most revered 100 miler, Western States last year. After an epic battle with Timothy Olson, Ryan was second in the second fastest time ever, only an amazing day from Olson bettered it. Olson won again this year.

Leadville, above 10,000ft
I guess my point is that every time Ryan has a challenge, he steps up to it, and almost always comes out on top. He doesn't race like the Americans, every week, but picks his races and ensures he is in shape for that race. Olson seems to have a similar outlook, and before his win this year, it was obvious he was 100% focussed on the race.

This week at the Hardrock 100 miler (probably one of the toughest in the States, with the winning time in the region of 24 hours) a number of Western States runners and of other recent 100 milers turned out, and almost all dropped (ie pulled out before the end). I don't understand this racing mentality. Is it sponsor pressure? Is it 200 mile weeks that makes them think they are indestructible? Or do they get something from pushing themselves to and beyond exhaustion that makes it worthwhile? We all have bad races and runs, but rarely is it so obvious to work out why!

In a month's time Ryan heads back to Leadville again, after missing out on this year's Western States through injury. I'll be there as part of the pacing team that includes elite athletes Anna Frost, Adam Chance and Ryan Scott. I'm honored and looking forward to being part of the action. After getting a taste for these 100 milers at Western States, I'm thrilled to be part of the front of the race, and hopefully be a small part of seeing Ryan home for his second Leadville win. A sobering note is that as Tim Olson won his second WS this month, he dropped his pacer. That's how well he was running. The pacer would have run a MAX of 20 miles when he got dropped, Olson, 82 miles!!

I better start training!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sea View

After 8 months in Oregon, I finally got to the coast on Sunday, even though it's only a 90 minute drive away. Im not sure why it's taken me so long. Maybe a combination of winter, not owning a car and having too many cool places around Portland to explore.

Sunday I had been gifted an entry to the Fuelled by Fine Wines half marathon in Dundee, deep in wine country. After 30 miles the day before, it was just a training run with benefits. 1500 runners, a very hilly route (555m of climbing) and lots of vineyards visited makes this a must do. You get a feast of post race food, at least 20 wines to taste and a pretty good wine glass for your entry fee. After a couple of post-race tasters it was off to the coast.

Fuelled by Fine Wine and water

I'm not sure what I expected. Mainly I was envisaging a rugged, beachless coastline, battered by the Pacific Ocean. Beautiful but not really a playground. What I found were winding coast roads, long sandy beaches, pine forests leading down to hidden coves and pretty little seaside towns. It was a revelation!

Smugglers Cove
From Tillamook, up the coast road past Wheeler, Manzanita and to Cannon Beach, you wind through pine forests and national parks, with very few of the typical American roadside fast food joints.

Walk down to Smugglers Cove
Smugglers Cove is in the Oswald West State Park and a definite hang out for the surfing community. Accessed via numerous pine trails, by a bubbling river, it is pretty close to outdoor heaven. The mile long beach yesterday had very little surf, but who cares when you are surrounded by this level of beauty. Its not really signed and there are no real amenities to speak off. But on a chilly Sunday the beach was still full of chilled out folks! 

Smugglers Cove
I'm not sure why this stretch of the coast isn't full to bursting point at weekends. Maybe it's early in the season, or it's just an Oregon secret, but there wasn't either the small town crush or the traffic chaos I'd envisaged for a July Sunday. Now I've discovered the coast, it's just a case of finding the running routes and hidden accommodation gems for more weekend getaways.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Inspired by Life

So it's been a week since an epic experience at the Western States 100 miler, and my 38 mile pacing duties. I went into the weekend definitely not wanting to ever run a 100 miles in a day, ran my section still in that frame of mind, but coming away, reading the accounts of the runners and seeing Dave's (my runner) elation, and that he recovered quickly, has replanted the WS seed.

Reading the blogs of some of the contenders this week has been inspring, but also instructional, as to how to train and run the race. The heat has always been a negative factor with my running, and that would be my biggest fear. As well of course as the distance, 89km being the longest distance I've run in one go. 

Local runner Yassine Diboun who surprised many;

Ex-Pat and now on the West Coast Ian Sharman;

Joe Uhan, who dropped late in the race, really worth a read;

Lining up for WS 2014 is still pretty much a remote possibility given the number of factors involved; 1. Qualify by running at least a 50 miler by November (and one of the designated races as decreed by WS). 2. Get into the race! There is a lottery process where you have a 1 in 10 chance IF entering as a US resident. 3. Training properly for the race, gobbling up enough miles to get into the shape I would want to be in. 4. I know this either sounds arrogant or an unrealistic possibility, but I would want to toe the start line with a realistic chance of top 20 which is pretty much a sub 20 hour finish. Don't ask me why, that's just something I have in my head. To GET to that standard requires a hell of a lot more than I'm doing now.

100 miles is a long, long way further than the 38 I did at WS on probably the easiest part of the course and in the 'coolest' conditions of the day. But I have recovered well and pinged out a 2,58 marathon on 4th July, so I DO have some leg speed and speed endurance. I just need to then convert that into all day endurance! Luckily, here in Oregon we have a plethora of excellent ultra trail runners including both winners this year and many of top 10 runners. I wouldn't be able to use lack of influences as an excuse!

This year I've run more miles, more trail and and climbed more metres than most previous years. So I guess that IF there is to be a year for WS it should be 2014. 

In the meantime, theres still some running fun ahead. In two weeks time it's the Speedgoat 50k in Snowbird, Utah, with some hills and a bit of altitude. Then a possible 50 mile WS qualifier in Sausalito in September, followed by the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim run with a friend in October. Oh, and hopefully some very special pacing duties at Leadville next month. Watch this space!