Thursday, June 5, 2014

2014 Cayuga Trails 50 DNF Report

I was a DNF at this years Cayuga Trails 50.  Not finishing a race is never fun.  It is strange to even sit here and write a blog about it, but this blog is intended to document my trail ultrarunning endeavors so it is only natural to account for the bad along with the good.  Even if I did not finish the Cayuga Trails 50, I still had a great race experience and overall great weekend of traveling and hanging out with great people.
Hanging out at Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Company with some old and new friends.  Photo by Richard Bolt
The Cayuga Trails 50 came onto the scene quickly at the inaugural race last year with the announcement of a good amount of prize money and a slew of sponsors and backers.  Race Director Ian Golden wanted to assemble a contingent of front-runners to make a competitive 50 mile race in Ithaca, NY.  The 2013 version was a showdown with Sage Canaday winning and Matt Flaherty and Jordan McDougal hot on his heals.  I remember when the race was first announced in early 2013 that I wanted to run it - however, I was still trying to get fit from a nagging injury and my focus was to stay injury free for Burning River 100 later in the summer.  And this year my plans were to gain entry into Western States at Ice Age.  So after not having the chance to run Western States, and feeling recovered soon after Ice Age, I contacted Ian to see if I'd be able to join the pack of other top runners for this years Cayuga Trails 50.

Ian does a great job at recruiting top runners for his race.  He provides what we need without going over the top and makes us feel very welcomed in a down-to-earth style that is so fitting for the sport of ultra trail running.  This year Cayuga Trails 50 was the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship, so it attracted some more media and coverage.  Although this race catered to "elites" more so than other races, the weekend atmosphere still had the community feel that most ultras have.  There was an entire week of events centered around trail running including Animal Athletics workshops and the Trails in Motion Film Festival.  All of this provided a top-notch event!  The race weekend is also the same as the Ithaca Festival, which made for more excitement in the downtown district.  Ithaca is a cool place and reminds me of a little bigger Athens, Ohio (although I would say Athens has a little more flare and style ;) ).

Early Race
Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
Giddyup!  Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
The race started out what felt like a casual pace.  After a pretty tight pack for the first mile or so, it ended up being a lead pack of 5 with Matt Flaherty, Chris Vargo, Jordan McDougal, Zach Ornelas, and myself.  I knew these were the guys that were going to be in the front all day.  I found myself running off the back of this pack for the better part of the first quarter of the race.  I was trying to get a good feel of the rhythm and try to run my own race.  I sensed that the pace was fast, and indeed it was as we came through Buttermilk Falls Aid Station (12.4 miles) in around 1:30:00, which puts us on a target that is too fast to achieve.  I also began to sense that I was weaker on the steep uphills and steep downhills than the guys in front of me, but I was gaining during the gradual downs and gradual uphills.  So for the entire first part of the race I was falling back, then catching the front pack.
Crossing the early Lick Brook with eventual winner Chris Vargo.  Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
The early pack at 7 miles and the largest creek crossing, before the Karnage.  Photo by Joe Viger
Photo by Joe Viger 
Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
Photo by Richard Bolt
Soon after the one-fourth mark, I passed Zach and moved into fourth place.  Vargo, Flaherty, and Jordan were within sight the entire next section to the Underpass Aid Station but I never pushed hard to get to them, just made sure to keep them in sight and not let them slip too far in front.  The course is basically two 12.5 mile out and backs so every section is ran four times for the 50 miles.  I was able to see a couple sections of the course the two days leading up to the race so at this point, I was fairly familiar with everything I was encountering.  
Relentless steep hills.
Shortly before Lucifer's Steps around mile 20 I passed Jordan who was stopped on the trail coughing and puking.  He had coughing fits for a while more and ended up dropping out at 25 miles.  As I ran to the base of Lucifer's Steps I caught up to Vargo and Flaherty and was now with the lead group again.  Lucifer's Steps requires hands on knees power hiking for any runner and it was kind of cool battling with Vargo and Flaherty in a true all-out power hike to the top of the stairs.  They power-hiked a bit faster than me and was 20 seconds ahead for the remaining miles into Old Mill AS for the second time at 22 miles.
Coming out of the Buttermilk Falls AS at 12.5 miles.  Photo by Joe Viger 
Photo by Richard Bolt
Top 5 coming out of Buttermilk Falls 12.5 miles in.  Follow @wMichaelOwen
I'm In the Lead?
After Old Mill AS is when things got a bit interesting for me.  I continued to trail Vargo and Flaherty by about 20-30 seconds for the 3 mile section back to the Start/Finish area before the halfway point.  I would see them on straight stretching but when there were turns or hills, I didn't see them.  I knew I was keeping them pretty close and I pushed hard to make sure they did not separate too far.  My goal was to keep them within sight going into the turnaround mark.  Coming into the turnaround area I expected to see them coming back after turning around and I could get a good idea at how far back I was.  However, when I ran into the start/finish area, there were no signs of Vargo and Flaherty.  All of a sudden, all sorts of thoughts went through my head.  "Did I go the wrong way?"  "Did the course split off and follow a different trail back to the finish?"  I was following the pink course markings and knew I came down the exact trail we started, so I explained this to Ian when I came in.  I spent a good 2-3 minutes hesitating and trying to figure out what was going on in the start/finish area before heading back up the trail.  Ultimately I told Ian that I followed the markings and the exact route we started so he said I should be good and would confirm at the next aid station.

Shortly after leaving to begin the second loop, I saw Vargo and Flaherty running toward me and I quickly checked with them and they said they made a wrong turn.  This meant that I had ran the correct route and that I was in first place for the first time all day.  This sort of took me by surprise and a lot of emotions quickly ran through my mind.  I tried to relax and just continue to keep a strong pace.  I was feeling the best I had all day, running some of the steeper uphills that I hiked earlier in the day.  It wasn't until around 30 miles that Vargo caught back up to me.  We ran together for a good 3 miles until the Lick Brook climb, which was the hardest climb of the course.   
Coming into the turnaround mark at 25 miles, not really knowing what just happened.  Photo by Richard Bolt
Photo by Joe Viger
Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
In the lead and grab n' go from the Old Mill AS, 28.1 miles.  Follow @wMichaelOwen

Dropping Out
I expected Vargo to reach the top of the Lick Brook climb faster than me, but I didn't expect to feel as bad as I did when I reached the top.  When I finally made it to the top, I looked ahead and Vargo was already out of sight.  I tried to resume a decent pace but it was challenging.  My legs felt incredibly heavy and drained, for the first time all day.  All of a sudden, things started going wrong for my body and mental scope.  At times I could summon up the strength to run hard but it didn't last.  After cresting Lick Brook I ran a 9:30 mile, which I had run in 7:20 earlier in the day.  My Garmin shows that mile 36 was 11:10, which was 7:22 during the same stretch at mile 11.  My mind lost focus, and I began tripping over small roots and rocks that shouldn't be tripped over.  I nearly missed some easy turns in the trail.

I stopped to pee for the first time around mile 35, and it was a dark brown color.  This concerned me as I normally stop earlier in the race.  My mind was weak and I had a hard time convincing myself to keep pushing forward.  When I arrived at the Buttermilk Falls AS at mile 37.5 I was feeling the worst I have ever felt in an ultra.  After 5 minutes of drinking cold drinks, eating salty foods, I sat down, and I was finished.  As much as my wife tried to take care of me, my spirit was pretty low and I wasn't feeling any better.  I was weak.  I pulled the plug because I didn't think I was going to get better and I didn't want to go through another 12.5 miles feeling the way I did.
A slow trot into the Buttermilk Falls Aid Station.  Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
Ian trying to encourage and help me get back on track.  Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr. 
Cramming in real food, nothing seemed to help.  Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
After deciding to drop out.  Photo by Eric Eagan
What Went Wrong?
Looking back, it is sort of easy to determine what went wrong for me after 33 miles.  For 13 miles, between mile 20 and 33, I pushed hard; first, trying to catch Flaherty and Vargo, then trying to hold my lead.  During this 13 mile stretch I ate hardly anything.  I don't even remember what I ate but it wasn't more than 100 calories.  All the while, it was heating up and getting more humid.  I got in a serious hole with nutrition, water, salt, and electrolytes.  I was able to get by until the Lick Brook Climb completely zapped me.  To make matters worse, I wasn't able to recognize that I needed more fuel after the Lick Brook Climb.  I just kept running and stumbling without taking in anything except for a little water.

This was my 12th ultra, and until this year, eating a lot was never an issue for me.  I used to be able to just eat my way through an ultra.  Lately I don't have an appetite for gels or anything while running.  So even when I was so depleted, I didn't crave or have a desire to eat anything.  This is something that I will need to work on in the future and I will certainly learn from this mistake.

After the DNF, I went back to the start/finish area to await everyone.  Slowly, I began to feel better.  I enjoyed hanging out at the finish line with everyone of the next 6 hours as people finished.  A huge congrats to Chris Vargo for finishing it out.  We went out hard but Flaherty still pushed through to finish third.  One of the more smarter races of the day came from Tristen Williams who finished 2nd and was closing hard on 1st.  Everyone who ran and finished did a great job!  This course is no joke and the steep ups and downs will test your fortitude.

I hope to come back and get a bit of revenge on the course and my nutrition.  This was a great experience and I have no regrets other than not staying on top of nutrition and fueling.  Rookie mistake for someone who has gone through these ultras before!  Next time I'll be more aware of what I need even when my body is not telling me it wants something.  Sometimes you just need to force the gels and calories down.

Overall, it was a great weekend and great racing.  I am at least glad I put up a fight and made the competition interesting for about 33 miles.  Ian puts on a great race and I'd come back to run one of his races any time.  The Virgil Crest 100 is already on my radar!  The entire Finger Lakes Running community is great and they embody the spirit of trail ultra running!

There are no immediate races on my schedule right now - I want to make sure I am fully recovered before I start any more higher mileage weeks.  I hadn't taken a day off since December until after the race so that was a solid 22 weeks of training before any break.  Time for rest and recovery to get ready for some late summer and fall races!

Run Free!
Hanging out after the finish.  The Vargo with his Nike bling.  Photo by Richard Bolt

Chatting with Matt Flaherty.  Photo by Joe Viger

Photo by Joe Viger
Photo by Joe Viger
Photo by Joe Viger

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Race Report

Running the Western States Endurance Run has been a dream of mine since I first learned about the race and ultra running in 2007.  I've tried to get into the race via the lottery for the past 3 years, and this year was the second attempt to gain entry into WS via a MUC qualifying race - both being the Ice Age Trail 50.  To make what will be a long story short, I finished 4th in this years Ice Age 50 and exactly 92 seconds behind 3rd place and an entry to Western States.  Although I am disappointed I won't be toeing the line on June 28th in Squaw Valley, let's focus on what was a great day of racing at the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50!
A bunch of Ohio folks in Wisconsin.  "Better watch out."
After a long wait in the bathroom line, I had just enough time to tie my shoes and make it to the starting line.
My goal for this race was to race.  I've competed in 11 ultras now, and it is strange that I have never really entered one with a "race" mentality.  Usually it is more of a "persevere" or "get to the finish" sort of mindset.  However, with ultra running getting more competitive with deeper race fields, and loftier goals and ambitions for myself, I really wanted to go into this with the ability to "race" the latter part of the race.  If this meant going harder in the earlier parts of the race, it was what I was ready to do, and I hoped that if a scenario presented itself in the last 10 miles of the race, I'd be able to at least have some fight in me.  I was also very confident with my training, with 13 weeks of 100+ mile weeks coming into Ice Age, including more "speed work" than I've done in the past 3-4 years.

As expected, the race started out fast.  With Ice Age being a part of the MUC series, there are normally a contingent of guys and gals vying for the last few spots for Western States; as noted I was one of those guys.  Ice Age's super stout course record set by Andy Jones in 1988 had also formed this allure for folks coming and trying to run faster, and many had failed trying over the 25 years.  With speedy guys like Max King, Matt Flaherty, Zach Bitter, Joe Uhan, Matt Laye, etc., I knew it was going to be fast on the opening 9 mile Nordic Ski Loop.  Shortly into this loop, a front pack had formed but a few were separating even further ahead.  Without really consciously thinking about it, I made a move to join that front pack ahead.  That decision changed the entire outcome of the race for me.

1. 6:16
2. 6:13
3. 6:08
4. 6:18
5. 6:15
6. 6:19
7. 6:37
8. 6:19
9. 6:27
First 9 Miles - 56:52 (6:19 pace)
Early in the race near mile 5.  This would end up being the top 4 finishers, left to right, Brian Condon for 3rd, Max King for 1st, Matt Flaherty for 3rd, and myself for 4th.  Photo by former IAT50 RD John Zinzow.

Okay, so great.  6:20 pace for the first 9 mile loop.  I was happy at this point to be in the front pack - however, I won't lie and say that there wasn't some doubt in my mind about the fast pace.  I've never started out this fast in an ultra, let alone carry a sub 6:30 mile through a significant portion of a 50 mile race.  Typically, I would be further back relying on some of the top gunners to fade later or drop out.  I quickly knocked out some bad thoughts about falling apart later and joined the singletrack Ice Age Trail following Brian Condon, Matt, and Max.  I figured the pace would slow as the Ice Age Trail is tight, semi-technical, and a bit turny.  However, the pace started to quicken even more.    

10. 5:56
11. 6:23
12. 6:16
13. 6:32
14. 7:30
15. 7:21
16. 5:56
17. 6:05
Highway 12 near 17 Miles - 1:48:51 (6:24 pace)
Not sure what I am saying here but the race was getting intense.  Trying to keep the 6:30's rolling.
Once we entered the trails the miles continued to stay in the mid 6 minute range with a couple even being below 6.  Some of the more hillier miles were over 7, but the four of us continued to push hard.  It is crazy that even in these fast miles Brian, Matt, and Max pulled away from me a bit.  I could still see them on the straights, but the fast pace was a little hard for me to maintain on the technical trails.  Once a section opened up, I felt like I was able to keep even with them still.  Sadly, I noticed my technical trail running ability was lacking compared to my competitors.  This was only a problem in keeping with them during the middle section of this race, as I think this technical ability sort of evens out when fatigue starts to set in.  Matt stopped to water the flowers and I was able to hook up with him until the turnaround at Rice Lake (21.7 mi.).  He shot by me at this point and I was never with him again.
At the Rice Lake turnaround - as Matt heads out I head in.  I never catch back up to him.
Now I was in no mans land and could not see the three guys in front of me.  I could tell based on seeing the guys behind me on the out and back that I was over a mile ahead of fifth place, so I knew our fast pace was a surprise to the rest of the the viable contenders.  Now it was just a question of whether or not any of us would be coming back.  At this point, I thought maybe that guy would be me.  I ran alone through Highway 12 at the Marathon portion and was told I was 3-4 minutes back on the leaders.  They must have maintained sub 7 miles when I was waning a bit.  Regardless, I was happy with my time and knew that we were well under course record pace. My halfway split would have put me at just over 5:30, which would have been 20 minutes under the course record.  This gave a lot of wiggle room, but I knew the 8 mile out and back section to Emma Carlin was much more hilly and technical than the first part of the course.

18. 7:13
19. 6:56
20. 6:31
21. 7:25
22. 7:00
23. 7:36
24. 7:30
25. 6:56
26. 7:30
Highway 12 near 26 miles - 2:53:28 (6:40 pace)
Sweet singletrack on the Ice Age Trail.  
From Highway 12 and past the halfway point I continued to run alone before heading into the last out and back section starting at mile 32.  Based on my 6 miles (splits below) during this stretch, it is easy to see I was starting to waver and see some slower miles.  My first 8+ minute mile came at mile 29 and I continued to try to stay focused.  One interesting dilemma during the race that I encountered was that my appetite was lacking completely.  Normally I eat a lot during ultras and I don't have problems with gels or water, or anything I throw in the system.  It wasn't like my stomach was refusing what I ate, but for whatever reason nothing seemed good and I wasn't hungry.  25 miles into the race I had only 2 gels and two handfuls of Pringles.  At one aid station I grabbed a stack of Pringles and still had them in my hand at the aid station 2.5 miles later.  I just couldn't bring myself to stick them in my mouth.  Gels were the same way, being opened in my hand and running a couple miles before finally sucking them down.    

27. 6:38
28. 6:57
29. 8:11
30. 7:46
31. 7:54
32. 6:58
Near Confusion Corner at 32 miles - 3:37:52 (6:48 pace)
Trying to get some Gatorade in me.  Drank and ate too little during the race.
Entering the out and back to Emma Carlin, I got word that Max and Matt were pulling away from Brian and that I was only about 2 minutes behind 3rd.  This gave me a jolt of adrenaline and I pushed hard knowing that a Western States spot was within grasps.  Even though I pushed so hard on this 8 mile section before turning around, I never even caught a glimpse of Brian.  At another aid station I was told I was 45 seconds behind.  The demons crossed my mind from 2012 - this is the section that broke me at Ice Age last time with a lot of walking and bonking.  I had to escape these thoughts and trust that this year I was in better fitness.  I was able to see how far back I was from Max and Matt on the out and back and as I got closer and closer to the turnaround, I wondered when I would see Brian.  It wasn't until I entered the field to the aid station that I saw him leaving.  It was a race - I was just seconds behind!

33. 7:34
34. 8:07
35. 8:02
36. 8:20
37. 8:48
38. 7:33
39. 8:07
40. 7:28
Emma Carlin Turnaround at 40 miles - 4:41:51 (7:02 pace)
At the Emma Carlin turnaround - it's a race now.  Photo by @nmwied
Soon after the turnaround at mile 40 I caught Brian and could tell I was feeling better than he was.  I knew I had to have been moving faster than him since I rolled up on him and had to slow down.  He powerhiked a couple steeper uphills while I jaunted behind feeling good.  I thought that I was saving energy and would wait to make my move.  Looking back, this was a mistake - I should have gone by him when I was feeling the best.  The roles soon reversed.  After running with Brian for 5 miles my calves suddenly became sore and tight and I watched as he pulled away on one longer uphill.  I was still entirely focused and I yelled at myself out loud to fight through it and not let him get away.  As much as I pushed, at mile 45 or so, I lost sight of him and ultimately the position for a Western States spot.  I have to give big props to Brian for being a strong runner and competitor.  I'm not sure how he was feeling when I caught him but he dug deep and held me off.

As I ended the hilly singletrack section and approached the last 1.5 mile section of smooth trail, my legs came out of their despair and I pushed hard to the finish.  I thought if I could try to through down a quick last mile and Brian would be bonking, I might have a chance to get him.  But, he must have finished strong because he beat me by 92 seconds.  It was strange finishing the last mile - I only ran a 6:58 but it strangely felt the easiest 7 minute mile of the entire day.  I officially crossed the line in 5:59:56 in 4th place. 

41. 7:33
42. 7:47
43. 8:00
44. 8:54
45. 8:33
46. 9:24
47. 9:53
48. 8:26
49. 6:58
Finish - 5:59:56 (7:11 pace)

STRAVA Details
iRunFar Results Article
Sprinting the last few meters to ensure a sub 6 hour finish!  Photo by @nmwied
I'm really happy and pleased to break 6 hours - prior to this year only 5 other runners had broke 6 hours in the 32 year history of the Ice Age Trail 50.  This year 4 broke the mark.  I told people leading up to the race that if I was able to break 6 hours somehow I would be a lock for the Western States spot and maybe 1st place.  To be a part of the fast Ice Age ever is cool.  Max King crushed the course record by over 12 minutes and Matt Flaherty also came in under the 25 year CR.

So even though I was 92 seconds from a Western States spot, I am entirely pleased with my performance.  I put myself in a great position to be able to race at the end.  I just wasn't quite the top 3 strongest runners on that particular day.  Normally a race with such a fast start would see more fading at the end, but all four of us stayed strong.  I PR'd in the 50K en route by over 34 minutes and gained some great confidence and experience in faster races on this terrain.    

I felt strength from the support and cheers from back home in Ohio throughout the entire race.  One of my weaknesses is that I get emotional during races.  This can be a bad thing sometimes but I've learned to harness the emotion in a productive way.  I get choked up for moments during almost all longer ultra's I've ran, and this energy helps fuel my performance!  Knowing my wife, family, and friends are back home supporting my adventures is sometimes what gets me through the low patches.

My crew was great and I'll hand them the best crew award for the day.  I probably stopped for less than 1 minute combined over the entire race.  Adam Stumbo and Kameron Starr, both first time at crewing for an ultra, was on the ball at every aid station.  They used creative ways to get me food and drinks and was in perfect position where I was able to just grab and go.  Thanks you two!
Ultra-buffet - all the essentials that I needed.
Grabbing the Pringles, my go to source of salt in the form of real foods.  Grab and go, less than 5 second pit-stops.
Also a big thanks to Race Director Jeff Mallach for letting me get in the race late and for organizing such a top-notch event.  As a new Race Director myself, I am even more appreciative of the effort race organizers put in and notice all the small details and behind the scenes work they do.  It was a great experience.  The many volunteers and workers were awesome and encouraging as well!

Run Free

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"I feel like a kid again"

@SEOTrail Runners
"I feel like a kid again."

This is what a college-aged student said to me after I brought my trail running class to an open grass field and told them to take their shoes off and run a mile barefoot.  I want to preface this by saying that this same kid had no running experience (ex-HS basketball player), let alone experience running trails or barefoot.  After only 2 minutes of running barefoot, he experienced the freedom of not being constrained by norms and the rush of trying something new.  He had an open-mind, and let himself be free.  These are exactly the kind of things I love to hear from my students!

I have an amazing opportunity for my Teaching Assistantship to be able to "teach" running 9 hours a week to around 100 college students.  How amazing is that!?  I find it inspirational to see college students realize for the first time that they can do more than what they ever thought they could.  Whether it is a new runner realizing they can run for 10 consecutive minutes or a seasoned runner realizing they can navigate a technical trail, I've tried to give students the freedom to discover themselves in ways that aren't traditional to the college model.

This is not a blog post about barefoot running - far from it.  The exercise of running barefoot with my trail running class was simply a lesson about the possible benefits of supplementing trail running with barefooting a couple miles a week.  I want to introduce as many concepts that I can to them and let them make their won decisions on what running will mean to them.  But I realized after I heard the reaction from some of my students, that this was more than just a lesson about trail running.  It was a exercise about how to release the inner child within and to make running fun!

We should learn from a new runner who has just fallen in love with the freedom that we felt when we first fell in love with running.  Peel off the thick layer of callouses that we've built from the ritualistic nature of running run after run.  Strip away the parameters of what we think "running" is.  Do something different.  Feel like a kid again, and Run Free!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Race Directing: An Ultra Journey Itself

From the time I started developing a passion for trail running and ultra running in 2008 until now I have had this desire to create and direct trail races in the place I know best - Southeastern Ohio.  Once I found myself living permanently in my hometown I started seeking ways to share my passion with the community in hopes of growing the trail running culture in SE Ohio.  What I found is that I am not the only crazy trail loving runner in the area; however, there wasn't a central hub or common identity among all the trail runners in SE Ohio.  That is why I began to develop the idea of a Trail Running Club, in the form of a non-profit organization, who's aim is to promote trail running and to continue fostering this idea of a trail culture that I believe can thrive in SE Ohio.

In January of this year, after finalizing the paperwork and duties required to start a non-profit organization, and with help from some other dedicated trail runners Southeastern Ohio Trail Runners (#SEOTR) was officially established.  Good things are beginning to happen and hopefully this organization will spur some more interest in trail running among community members!
Local Art: Sharron Smith
With that said, I was presented with an opportunity to partner with a group of graduate students in the Recreation Studies program at Ohio University to create, plan, and implement a trail race.  With the newly formed SEOTR and some sort of central identity of a trail running group, I felt like this was a perfect time to host our first trail race!

So on April 26th, SEOTR will host the 1st Annual Iron Furnace Trail Run (#IFTR) with a 20k and 5 mile race option at beautiful Lake Hope State Park!  So a dream I've had for years is coming true as I get a chance to direct my first trail race.  The process began in early January and things have had to move pretty quickly.  Luckily I have a solid group working with me to help the process move along faster.  From getting a couple special use permits approved, to figuring out logistics and details, to developing and designing a quality course, it's been a lot tiring but rewarding work.  When I posted the website and made registration live yesterday, I was really pumped that my dream of becoming a race director has come to fruition.

I'm a nut for course layout, design, distances, numbers, elevation profiles, etc. etc.  The logistics to design an event and plan a course is right up my alley.  I'm also naturally organized, to a fault according to my wife, so directing a race was going to be an enjoyable challenge for me.  I do have the support of my trusty team of graduate students to help in areas such as marketing, sponsorship, advertising, etc.  I have the tendency to have the philosophy of "If you build it, they will come."  Although the course is 100 percent built for an amazing experience, I probably would only get a handful of participants if I was left to marketing for the race myself!

So this is a shameless plug for SEOTR and the Iron Furnace Trail Run!  Check out the IFTR Event Page and find other information about SEOTR.  Become a member, support trail running, help give back and maintain trails, join our cause and promote the trail running culture in SE Ohio!  Also, follow SEOTR on Twitter @SEOTrailRunners, Like SEOTR on Facebook!

Happy Trails!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

SEOTR Website!

Southeastern Ohio Trail Runners just put out a new website and created a twitter handle.  SEOTR is a non-profit group promoting trail running in SE Ohio and hopes to grow the trail running culture in the area as well as to give back to the trails we use.

View the new SEOTR website

Follow on Twitter @SEOTrailRunners

Also like SEOTR on Facebook 

If you support trail running, support SEOTR!  Consider becoming a member and joining us on the trails!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 North Face Endurance Challenge Race Report

I always revel in tradition.  Sometimes going back to a place that is particularly meaningful for some reason or another after not being there for some time can make that place even more meaningful.  It's about creating memories and experiences in that place and then revisiting them.  My first ultramarathon was in 2010 at TNF EC 50 Championship in California.  The experience of a first ultra alone will always stand out for an ultramarathon runner; in 2010, the field was stacked as always and I was shown the beautiful world of the ultra running community along with an amazingly scenic course.  Since then, I'd hoped and wanted to travel back to California for this event.  This year I finally had the opportunity to do so.

Going into the race I was calm and relaxed and looking forward to being free from school and work and enjoying a beautiful area of the States.  I've run three ultras that took place during or close to finals week of school and I've always took that time to relax and reset my mind; spending over 7 hours in nature is a great way to do that, even if it is a competitive atmosphere.  Speaking of competition, this years version of TNF50 was possibly the most competitive year yet, maybe even the most competitive 50 mile trail race ever.  Check out iRunFar's preview to see the pre-race excitement.  I was mentioned as a "top-ten longshot."  I will take that honor when stacked up against all the names above me!

All photo's by Bobbi or Becca Owen.
I'm always fast to arise the morning of a race and eager to begin the adventure.  I was late getting into the starting corral and settled in a position about 10 people deep.  All the who's who of the ultra running world were standing in the chaos in front of me, including all the elite women.  After the 10 to 1 countdown, we set off to a pace that seemed quick, probably because I was trying to inch my way through the crowd - soon though I settled into a place that I felt comfortable with beside the "older" guys like Karl Meltzer, Dave Mackey, and Mike Wardian.  These guys were sure to set an even, controlled pace even if there were 25-30 people in front of us.

We made our way up the Bobcat Trail and around to Alta and back down the Rodeo Valley Trail where everyone bypassed the first water stop.  I didn't have a good idea of our pace but I wasn't surprised to look ahead and see a few outlying headlamps bobbing in front of the main large group; I joked with someone that it was sure to be Cameron Clayton, and it was.  The pace was somewhat relaxed though as we made our way up another stinger and down into the Tennessee Valley aid station at 8.7 miles.

The section after Tennessee Valley is one of my favorites - once we crest the ridge, not only are runners able to look behind and see a beautiful string of headlamps gritting their way up the Coastal Fire Road, but its the first time we get a good glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.  Overlooking Pirates Cove, as in 2010, I was greeted by a dimly lit horizon with a foggy ocean speckled with little lights of boats on the water.  This is all right before bombing down a semi-technical singletrack section before going up and down into Muir Beach.
A nice elevation profile from the runners packet - the big uphill stands out in the middle but it was the downhill at mile 26 and the cumulative short downs that really did it in for my quads. 
From here and onward for the next 7 miles or so, I was running next to Alex Nichols.  I had just read a RunTramp article on Alex and knew of his recent success in the Skyrunning Series - in my mind Alex was a contender and I was more than pleased to be able to lead him up the largest single uphill of the day going into Cardiac at mile 17.9.  I felt confident with my uphill running all day and Cardiac gave me some added spark going past Pantoll and onto a fairly flat portion of smooth trail.  Shortly after leaving Cardiac I saw Miguel Heras, two time winner of TNF50, walking back toward the aid station - he was the first known drop of the day.  I was thinking maybe there would be some carnage from that huge front pack. 

After getting onto the Matt Davis Trail I got ahead of Alex and didn't see him the rest of the day - I later learned he dropped.  I caught and passed a struggling Matt Flaherty - told him congratulations on his JFK50 win a couple weeks ago and got onto the only out and back section of the course, the Coastal Trail.  After passing a couple people and feeling confident from the long climb up Cardiac, I came down to earth a little, the spark of nailing Cardiac had died.  Mike Wardian and someone else came blazing by me and I was hardly able to respond, I just didn't have the legs on this semi-flat section of the course.  Shortly after this Peter Hogg caught up to me again - we met up earlier in the dark and exchanged pleasantries.  Peter ran an incredible Burning River 100 in July beating me by a staggering 1hr20min - and since I finished 2nd, his time was that much more impressive!  I was stronger on the early hills but now he had re-caught me - we ran and chatted for the rest of the Coastal Trail until the turn around at McKinnons Gulch at 22.7 miles.  While running with Peter we got a brief glimpse of the leaders when they came back through on the out and back - we noted that we were probably in about 25th place and 12-15 minutes back.  Peter got out of the aid station about 10 seconds quicker than me and unfortunately I was never able to catch back up to him.  He ended up running a great second half, finishing 14th place and 20 minutes ahead of me.

Definitely not rushing through Stinson Beach aid station - trying to find salt.
After the out and back was the longest downhill of the day on the Matt Davis Trail leading into Stinson Beach - I wanted to take it easier on this section in attempts to save my quads.  I took it easy but it was still a struggle.  My downhill training is just not adequate and I didn't feel confident with my quads going into Stinson Beach at mile 27.7.  I lost a place or two on the downhill and could tell I was losing more time.  But, I did what most ultra runners do best, put my head down and move relentlessly toward the finish line.  The next section is the section that I faltered most in 2010, and the same was true for this year.  The Dipsea Trail leading to Cardiac for the second time is probably the most steep section of trail - it is relentless.  Unfittingly for me, this is the most beautiful forested section of the course and I wish I could say the reason I was so slow through here was because I was stopping to admire the lush ravines.  But, my head was focused on the ground "above" as I attempted to power-hike as fast as I could up the many stair steps on Dipsea.  I passed a Geoff Roes who was a spectator this year and he assured me a lot of other people were struggling on this section as well, but I doubted they were as slow as me.  Eventually after a grueling 2.7 miles and probably one hour +, I reached Cardiac aid station for the second time at mile 30.4 and refueled. 

After the race I broke my day down into three sections: a good first 20 miles, a very slow middle 10 miles, and a regrouped last 20 miles.  Shortly after Cardiac is when my race turned around and I can credit a lot of this to women's 50 mile leader and eventual winner, Michele Yates.  Michele passed me on the Dipsea Trail no more than 2 minutes after I left the Cardiac aid station and I followed along.  I had never met Michele but I definitely recognized her from the success she has had in 2013.  I was not surprised to see her passing me at that point - she was running super strong up and down hills and I was just happy to be moving again.

From here I ran the majority of the winding 6 miles to the Old Inn aid station at mile 36.3, trying to keep up with Michele.  Sometimes I would be in front of her, and sometimes she would be in front of me; we were never more than 10-15 seconds apart.  I didn't stop for long at Old Inn and made my way to Muir Beach at mile 39.9.  Getting to the 10 miles to go mark is always refreshing in an ultra - I was actually excited to attack the steep hill after Muir Beach.  I strongly power hiked the majority of the hill and ran when I could.  At this point I got into a nice rhythm of power hiking the steepest hills and running everything else; I was also sort of over the fact that my quads were rocked and decided running faster downhill was less painful.

Coming into Tennessee Valley aid station with 6 miles to go.
Coming into Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 44, I was shortly ahead of Michele but she got out before I did and it took me half of the next hill to catch her.  I remembered this hill from 2010 when I was in a battle with Thomas Lorblanchet of who could hike the fastest to the top - he won.  This year I felt good enough to run the entire hill; as I passed Michele I gave her some more words of encouragement.  I can't imagine the emotions that must have been going through her head with five miles to go - she was running for the win, a hefty prize, and from the unknown of who might come from behind.  I was glad to turn around shortly after finishing and see her come in less than a minute behind me for the victory.  She ran an incredibly strong race and rejuvenated mine... the way she ran during the ~18 miles we were together, I just thought she was way up on the ladies field.  In reality though there was a good race behind her and she had to work hard to finish it out.  That just shows the level of competitiveness that women are seeing in ultra's.
The last five miles for me was good - I passed a few guys and was told with a few miles to go that I was in 20th place.  I had just passed Scott Breeden at that time and my goal became to finish it out without getting passed to stay in the top 20.  It was tough hammering the last two mile downhill after the Alta aid station with Scott right on my heels, and then to summon up one last finish on the pavement, but I was able to and finished barely ahead of him.  I ended up finishing 19th so I was going to be in the top 20 regardless, but it felt good to "race" at the end.  My official time was 7:21:09.

As always iRunFar was on hand to provide comprehensive coverage of the race.  They just continue to lead the way in ultramarathon news and race coverage, providing spectators at home "up close and personal" live insight to races.  For complete results and references, check out their TNF EC 50 Results Article.
Fun Fact: the lady behind me in the above picture was a finisher of the 50k - her last name was also Owen.  What are the odds.
Although I've now completed nine ultra's, I continue to learn and discover aspects to improve on, weaknesses that need addressed, and new strengths that need continual fining.  TNF EC 50 was no different.  There are many points about TNF EC 50 that are worth bulleting:
  • Race specific training needs to be more specific.  I like to run trails.  A lot of times I find myself running trails at a casual pace.  For races like this, I need to be fast in order to compete.  Incorporating some, well probably a lot, of speed work in some fashion is needed.
  • Find downhill's, pound them a lot in training.  Southeastern Ohio has hills - they are short, steep and rugged.  Unfortunately they are not long.  I feel like I am adequately prepared for the amount of uphill's in a race like TNF EC 50 since there is no altitude, but the downhill's got me.  My quads need to experience that pounding in training.
  • Competition is fun, but be ready for it.  This goes hand in hand with the above two points.  I don't race often, and enjoy trails on a training basis a lot, but when I do race, I like to find competitive races.  TNF EC 50 was super competitive, but I don't think I was ready for it.  Maybe I got psyched out.  I thought it would be nice to finish in the top 3, and even thought I might have a chance, but I was fooling myself because of the first two points.  I didn't train to compete for the top spots, and that is on me.  I got to wrapped up in "thinking" I was training good. 
  • I can eat and drink less.  At Burning River 100 I ate a ton and drank a ton, I stopped an peed I don't know how many times during that race.  At TNF EC 50, I ate less and drank less.  I didn't have to stop as much, really only twice to pee and that was all.  During cooler races, I can alter my nutrition and intake to help my performance and stopping time.  I can also pee while moving - who knew!?
  • Being happy with any performance.  I had never finished outside the top 10 in an ultra prior to TNF EC 50.  This time I finished 19th.  Even though it was my lowest finish, I was still stoked to finish and have the experience I did.  Ultra running in getting super competitive.  I ran only 4 minutes slower at the same race on a similar course in 2010 but finished 9th that year.  Never be dissatisfied after finishing an ultramarathon!
  • Women are catching men and I was almost chicked!  I had never thought about losing to a female in a race, until Michele Yates passed me at mile 31.  I can't lie, the thought of losing to a woman was motivating at the time, but getting beat by someone like Michele Yates, Ellie Greenwood or Emile Forsberg in an ultra is not bad - it just shows that women are bridging the gap to men in endurance performances and the social barriers should be taken down.  Later in the race, I looked at Michele as a competitor and that is what fueled me to stay with her.

Big thanks to my crew who traveled all the way out to California with me from Ohio (such a hard place to visit, huh?) - My wife Bobbi and sister Becca.  They are becoming quite the seasoned vets in ultra crewing :)