Sunday, August 25, 2013

FKT Fever

This last 6 months has seen some inspiring and unbelievable Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempts. The most eye popping was Kilian Jornet's ascent and descent of the Matterhorn in under three hours. The footage I have seen is spine tinglingly exciting and scary. Links below. Other notables are Rob Krar's Rim to Rim to Rim traverse of the Grand Canyon in just over 6 hours for the 42 miles, and Hal Koerner and Mike Wolfe 3 day completion of the entire 220 miles of the John Muir Trail.

Kilian Jornet on his way to a FKT of 2,52 for the Matterhorn
There are three 'categories'; Supported, where you have crew to look after your nutrition, hydration, feet and mental welfare. Self supported, where you can stash goodies on route, in advance. Unsupported, or Alpine style, where you only have what you run with, plus any natural water on route (ie not raiding a store!). For longer distances both supported and self supported seem the most common, as most trail runners, especially in the US, consider even running shorts a hindrance and too much weight! Shorter distance, probably up to 50 miles, unsupported seems the default choice.

This subject vexes and excites me. There's something unnatural about seeing how quickly you try and get from point A to B on a beautiful trail or mountain that just longs to be enjoyed and savored. Surely races are for racing? However, trail runners especially,  myself included, seem to like the idea of completing a 'hikers' trail quickly. I'm trying to work out the exact appeal and whether it's a 'healthy' appeal. Is it a 'You take how many days to hike it?' type of condescension? Is it just the challenge of covering often tricky terrain quickly? Or maybe the chance to take in a trail you wouldn't have the time or patience to hike, and would never get to race? The nearest 'long' trail to me with a FKT is the Wildwood trail, covering 30 miles of Forest Park. It's an easy trail to run, un-technical and not that hilly. I've now run it three times and am down to 4,12 one way. The one way FKT is 3,38 and both ways 8,48. I wouldn't have the patience (and maybe time) to cover all of this trail in one go, so to run it and see the experience the variety of flora and fauna in a morning is special. HERE is my blog on this weekend's run.

This weekend's attempt to at least get in the same ballpark as the Wildwood FKT
Whatever the motivation I think FKT attempts are going to continue to increase in popularity which could lead to issues over perceived damage to the environment, mass use of trails and runner safety. Already there are rumors that Rim to Rim to Rim unsupported attempts will be outlawed after concerns over runner safety.

In South Africa the parks have been reluctant to accept trail runners as 'legitimate' trail users, believing their effect on the environment is higher than other users. The more enlightened race organizers are either providing trail upgrades or undertaking impact studies to prove the contrary. As the FKT movement grows, there needs to be an awareness of any potential negative reaction to increased attempts and therefore use of the trails. I'm surprised there isn't already a 'trail runner' category of permit for parks, but maybe that's not far off!

Killian's Matterhorn record HERE
Koerner and Wolfe's JM Trail FKT HERE
Rob Krar's Rim to Rim to Rim FKT HERE

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hope and Uncertainty

Most competition has uncertainty at it's core. Unpredictably keeps us all watching, that along with the sublime, but mostly the knowledge that anything can, and often does happen. Such was the Leadville 100 miler this past weekend.

Ryan Sandes went into the men's race as overwhelming favorite against a past Olympian who had blown in the race last year after going off too fast, and two men in the midst of running four 100 milers in a 3 month period for the 'Grand Slam of ultra running'.

Watching a pro athlete prepare for an ultra, especially one as organised as Ryan is recognizing that of all the things that can go wrong, not having the right nutrition, meds, kit at each station wont be one of them.

Meticulous notes for each aid station
The two days before the race were a frenzy of ziplock bags, water bottles, shoes and clothing. All meticulously packed and labeled with the aid station name. Our job (Vanessa mainly, Ryan, Cassie and I) was to be at each station in advance of Ryan with the table set up for whatever Ryan needed. It worked like clockwork.

Aid station ready for Ryan at Twin Lakes outbound
But you can do all the training in the world, all the prep, and plan to the infinite detail, but if your body lets you down, it all amounts to nothing. Ryan arrived off of Hope Pass at the halfway point in a car, his race over. He didn't risk running or walking in and have us try and cajole him to continue and sustain further damage. A smart move. Coming down Hope Pass he had aggravated a dormant injury and made it impossible to run downhill.

Ian Sharman on route to winning Leadville
Dropping is the easiest and hardest thing to do. Easy because you stop the pain and the prospect of further damage. Hard for every other reason; the endless questions, the feeling you have let people down, not least yourself, the wasted preparation. The list goes on. They all go through your mind when you make that call. For a professional athlete the idea of walking to the finish for 'pride' is nonsensical, and I think most runners get that, but most pros also understand that to voice that as a reason somehow belittles every other runner. So they are, as Ryan was, humble, diverting attention away from himself, and then with a big heart going to every other aid station on the way to the finish to cheer the front runners through. That's a hard thing to do when you've been training and preparing for months for the race that now belongs to someone else. Respect.

Interviews with winner Ian Sharman and runner up Nick Clark HERE

Interview with Ryan Sandes HERE

Friday, August 16, 2013

Race Face

Any runner who races reasonably competitively, trains for racing. Its the goal in your mind when that track or hill session is hurting, or when it's peeing down outside and dark. Once you start to race over marathons and further, you then have to take seriously the 'race week'. You can't blithely just remember that you have a 100 miler at the weekend on Thursday and then try and prepare.

Having spent race week with Ryan Sandes, argubly the least grumpy, most laid back taperer around, it reminded me of this unique runner's hell.

Ryan Sandes after last pre-Leadville training run
Despite the fact that pretty much all my really intense and emotional running experiences have been connected to races, its still the week I like the least. Firstly, you have to taper, which involves cutting mileage and sessions and using your running time for the one thing that, if you were running, is a joy; eating!

A Margerita is a pre-race no-no!
Racing on Sunday is the worst. From Monday you are tapering, and by Thursday you really shouldn't be running, and if you are it's a miserly 40 minutes SLOW. Hardly a calorie burner. By Friday you are convinced you've put on 10 pounds and then you have the prospect of a work free Saturday, ideal for a long run, which of course you can't do because you have to race Sunday, grrrrr.

Saturday is spent trying to keep busy, but out of sun, avoiding exercise, drinking lots of water and choosing foods that wont come back to kick your ass (literally) on Sunday. You eat early, as the start is dawn o'clock or earlier (Leadville 4am) and then try and hold out going to bed at least until it gets dark.

850 runners at briefing for Leadville 100 miler. Insane!
Then it's race day and despite all the prep, you have NO idea whether it will be a stellar day or a day when you get dropped. Logic says it will be the former, but I've had pretty good days on a crap prep and vica versa.

Racing is fun!
The upside of this week of depravation is that hopefully you've had a good race and post event you can enjoy the flipside. You've burnt off all those calories and because of an overload of sweet crap during the race, foods like salty peanuts, pizza and slap chips all have increased appeal. Hydration via beer seems like a great idea, and when hydration is achieved, cold white or full bodied red wine hits the spot.

I normally have a nice sleepy, tired feeling after a race, when laying down is close to heaven. Sleeping that night not always such a winner, with various muscles deciding to cramp randomly, including, oddly toes.

The next day you hopefully have a satisfying still shuffle you can show off to friends and family along with the medal and t-shirt you must wear. And life can return to normal again, before you embark on the marathon or ultra madness again!

Follow Ryan's progress tomorrow @irunfar @ilittle17 or @planetPi Race start 4a, hoping for Ryan to be finished around 8p Mountain Time.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Suck it up

This Saturday is the 31st running of the Leadville 100 miler, one of a number of iconic US ultra trail races. The races starts at 10,200ft and rises to 12,600ft, before returning to Leadville. The combination of vertical and altitude make it a toughie.

Leadville profile for the 'out' section

SA trail runner Ryan Sandes returns to try and make it two wins out of two at Leadville, after his win in 2011. Ryan has the fifth fastest time ever of 16 hours 46 mins. Those ahead include some amazing performances. Anton Krupicka's two wins in '06 and 07' were by a combined 5 hours 5 mins over the runners up (Anton' also had 2 DNF's and a fourth). The record run was in '05 by Matt Carpenter with an 'unbeatable' 15,42 when he finished almost 4 hours ahead of the second placer, and ran close to even splits, something near on impossible in a 100 miler.

Ryan's been in Leadville for three weeks getting used to the altitude which conservatively can take 10 days. He's fresh, well rested and super amped to be lining up again. Should be get anywhere near Carpenters record, his place within the trail running greats will be a step nearer.

He has a great team of pacers. And me. Cassie Scallion, Adam Chance and Ryan Scott will all run with Ryan from the 50 mile mark. I get the last 'flat' section from May Queen at mile 86 to the finish, a real honor. The downside is that to run record pace, Ryan will need to run that section in sub 2 hours, and therefore so will I. The POSITIVE is that if he is clipping along at not far off 5 minutes a km/8 minute miling, he probably won't need me to 'pace' him. My runs at altitude have been overwhelmingly rubbish, and the 2 days 'acclimitization' from tonight won't help much. Still, I can't wait to be part of the race and watch it pan out during the day. You can follow on Twitter at @irunfar and i'll also tweet @ilittle17 until my pacing duties.

The two Ryans have been out and about in Leadville and you can see some of their exploits at You Tube, here's the a short one on running at Altitude, More HERE

You can read a preview of the front of the field HERE

More from base camp Sandes over the next 2 days.....

Sunday, August 11, 2013


I'm a stats fan, I'll admit it. I like numbers, especially when it comes to running. I've kept a logbook pretty much since I started running. It give me a measure, some previous form to see where I'm at physically and competitively. Age doesn't seemed to have slowed me yet, although recovery time is way longer than when in my 30's. I feel 'lazy' a lot of time, rather having a beer instead of that second run of the day. But I think thats my own 'central governor' kicking in and protecting my body!

So this year after 7 months the stats are 3180km, which included 66,000m of climbing (I quite like that stat :) ) although it didn't help me at African X, Speedgoat or Buena Vista. 18 races which included 2 DNF's, 2 sub 3 hour marathon, 10k and 21k PB's, 3 overall top three placings and 14 Veteran top three placings. I've run 1238km on trail, 1348km on road, the rest in races. Average weekly mileage is 101km, higher than last year. I'm running hills every day and averaging 250m of elevation on each run. I think that's made the difference to my racing, given me strength and speed, although not enough a lot of the time.

2013 numbers

Since I started logging miles in 1996 (soon after I started) my lifetime mileage is 90,086km, 357 races, with 91 marathons. I've run 5066 days out of 5841. My average weekly mileage is 91.5km. My highest week was 216km (134 miles) and highest month 904km (561 miles) both in 2002. That year I ran 361 days out of 365, averaging 171km a week, had no PB's and was injured for 5 months in 2003, no surprise really. I don't regret it. It was an interesting experiment in what my body could cope with, but it achieved little else. The sweet spot for me is 80-90km a week, with cross training.

But when I step out of the door for my next run, very few of these numbers mean anything. You start every run wondering how it will feel, will you struggle or float? The accumulative miles may give you confidence that you won't end up in a heap, but it's no guarantee.

The best days are magical though. A post race feeling that you want to hold onto, not return to the reality of a life that actually matters. Racing does that for me, training is the day in day out mood lifter.

Runners get to see the sunrise more than most

And after all those miles and all those races a few home truths that haven't really changed;

Hills still hurt. Always.

I still forget to take water or gels on long runs.

Any race under a marathon feels like 100% effort from the start to finish.

Running at dawn is hard to beat, and worth the early start.

It still blows my mind to run a sub 3 marathon.

Runners should really have regular pedicures.

When you haven't got the legs you haven't got the legs.

This week I'm off to Leadville to try and keep up with Ryan Sandes during the last 14 miles of the Leadville 100 miler, as Ryan attempts to win the race for the second time. Should be fun!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


It's a glorious time of year in Oregon. The days are long, we've had one day of rain since July 4, and there's really very little excuse not to be outdoors, especially as we know there WILL be a winter sometime.

Sunrise from my apartment this week
The incentives to get up and run early are many; the sunrise, the forest quiet, often a light mist amongst the trees, and of course the knowledge that you'll be done before most of the world is awake. It's ALWAYS worth the effort.

It's probably been the most uneventful running week this year. Working at the Outdoor Retailer Show from Monday thru Saturday on the Hi-Tec stand meant long days standing, with running confined to the flat streets of Salt Lake City (at 1400m altitude), with the morning temperature at 70+, and evening never less than 90. Having a post race jump in the pool was a bittersweet reminder of Cape Town.

And talking of sparrows....

It's a time when I get angsty about food and drink and lack of exercise. I'm sure only runners, and maybe only obsessive runners would understand. I haven't really changed my eating habits since I started running. I've always been a grazer rather than a structured meal type of person, and also commit the sin of eating late most days. So a week with very low mileage and lots of time to eat and drink, especially during the day leads to those completely illogical worries about putting on weight and losing shape. I say illogical because every time this has happened in the past, I still come back the same weight and with no noticeable lose of form!

Almost everyone I meet comments on my lack of eating, or at the very least odd eating habits. My weight has stayed constant for 15 years, at between 77-80kg. I've also been a vegetarian for 20+ years, which also normally elicits comments about not eating enough protein. I don't know if I'm doing it right, and maybe I'm storing up trouble for later in life, but I sort of like my skinny, light frame, and that I'm not dictated to by meal times, convention or peer pressure.

Ryan in Leadville training with legend Scott Jurek (photo: Jenny)
So, this week it's back to the shorter distances with the Hagg Lake 21km trail race, then off to Leadville to try and hang with Ryan Sandes for 10-15 miles, as he attempts to win his second Leadville 100 miler. Ryan's been there since mid July getting used to the 10,000ft+ altitude. My 4 days in Snowbird showed me how hard it is to adapt. If I get miles 84 to 99, I 'might' be ok!