Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Frozen Trail RunFest 50K Report

Initially, I was not going to post a report on this event, because I did not consider it to be a true race.  Its purpose was to be a key, final long run before Bandera 100K in January.  However, because it was a dress rehearsal for Bandera - and because it turned out very much like how I'd like Bandera to unfold - it bears processing and reflecting.  And sharing!

To preface: this is a local race.  In fact, it's the closest ultramarathon to Eugene: only a few miles outside the city limits, at Buford Park.  Most people refer to the name of the butte, Mt Pisgah.


It has snowed – quite epically – the week prior: nearly eight inches in the city of Eugene, alone. Big snows are rare: however, the fact that temperatures plummeted to single digits and below for days after was what made it truly epic. Schools were cancelled for five days. As for me, a dormant “Midwestern Snow gene” expressed itself in me, and I ran 93 miles in the six days of snow cover before the rains and warmer temperatures eroded away the bulk of it.

By race Saturday, the vast majority of snow was melted in Eugene, and Buford/Pisgah is only a few miles to the east. Yet, upon arrival of the start/finish on the west side of the butte, the parking lot was still covered in snow and ice. Temperatures hovered just above freezing.

However, I was prepared. While the Pearl Izumi E-Motion line – particular the N-Series Trail shoes – are the best hybrid trail shoe I've ever worn, conditions such as these required a bit more. I had a pair of Salomon Speedcross that have the unique combination of one of the most aggressive, two-dimensional treads I've ever seen – featuring a smooth undersole with ¾-inch wide, ¼-inch deep chevrons – as well as being unusually light (about 10-11 ounces). They were the perfect choice for the snow and mud before us. The ice, on the other hand, was another story.

On top of that? The usual Olive Oil layering. With temps in the 30s, I went with both upper and lower body covering. For up top, I went with the highest quality: Twin Palms Olive Oil, courtesy of Tropical John Medinger and Lisa Henson. A thick, lustrous coat covered my arms, shoulders, face and neck. As I blew through several ounces, I decided to go with a lower, supermarket grade for the legs.

The rest of me featured Pearl Izumi compression shorts with sidepockets, the Team issued P-I tech shirt and shell jacket, and, of course, my white P-I visor, the same one I've worn in almost every ultra I've ever run.

As stated, the RunFest was intended to be a final long run workout as well as dress-rehearsal for all things Bandera, including pacing and nutrition. The pace plan for this 50K, four loop course was the run the first three loops (roughly 24 miles) fully aerobic (or under my ventilatory threshold of 160 bpm), then go very hard in the final loop. Each loop featured about 800-1200' of gain, but the final loop included the only bottom-to-top summit of Mt Pisgah – a fitting way to end the race.

As for nutrition, I've been consistently low-carb/high fat for the bulk of 2013, yet it's only been since this fall that I've truly felt a significant shift in my energy demands. Previously, I've taken upwards of 300-400 calories per hour during most ultras. But now? I hardly feel any need for fuel at all, especially for aerobic runs under four hours. The Three Sisters Circumnav in September – 50 miles in 9h40, with zero calories – was evidence that, if kept aerobic, I needed no sugar, period. The experiment would be just how much energy would be required to sustain a hard pace shift I had planned at the end.

I decided to experiment with the Maffetone honey/water mix recipe: about 20-25 grams mixed into 16oz bottles. I prepared four: one for each loop. Should I drink them all, this would amount to 100-125 calories each.

The roads were ice-slick and the race parking lot – where the start/finish was located – was covered in crusty snow and ice, a prelude to what lie ahead of us. I parked my truck near the course and flipped open the tailgate, where I kept the fuel bottles.

Some light jogging, stretching and drills filled the time before the luxurious 9AM gun – a critically late start time, which allowed for some ice to melt as the day wore on. The field was small – perhaps only fifteen, but it was a merry bunch.

Start – Lap One

The opening stretch for all four loops featured the same three mile section: a brief flat across the road, followed by a 300' climb, a gradual descent (of all 300'), then a wide double track road/trail that wraps through the Buford Aboretum.

Nearly all but the road crossings in this early section were ice-covered. At the gun, I settled into aerobic pace on the initial climb and was quickly passed; another guy was in tight behind me and the three of us ascended the initial loop.

And...that's how it would stay. For 24 miles.

The Leader – Josh Zielinski, of Salem – gradually pulled away over that first lap, as we picked our way through the high-and-tight iced-over single track, down to the ice-covered mud sections of the Arboretum. The footing was truly tricky, trying to determine if either ice or mud was preferential. Thankfully we had four times through this brutal section to help figure it out.

As Josh pulled away, the fellow behind me, who turned out to be a young guy named Walker Augustyniak – a former South Eugene/U of O walk-on – stuck reliably in tow. This was a bit disconcerting at times for me, especially in an ultra, where one is so used to running alone near the front. It was good practice in staying relaxed and composed, as having someone that close – yet never drawing even or passing – has a way of making a guy anxious.

Conditions improved only slightly as the course rounded counterclockwise to the south end of the butte. This is to say, the ice and snow was more crunchy and stable. However, this quickly ceded to a 600m dirtroad out and back to the mid-loop aid station (mile 4.x?). This road, typically solid gravel, was completely covered in snow and ice without a bit of respite. Josh was out of sight as Walker and me headed out on the lolli stick. The one positive with this course feature was getting a bead on the leader. He was about a minute up on us as we hit the aid station (30:40), touching the “AS Garbage Can” as a way of tagging in. Neither Walker or I stopped for aid here, in any of the three goes 'round.

And so it went: back through the ice, and around the Base Loop One, which rolled along the lower – but egregiously muddy and narrow – Trail Four around the shaded northeast corner of Pisgah. I took my time, though I could tell at times that I was pushing that anaerobic barrier. Things were smooth sailling 'til we were deep in the woods and came across an unmarked intersection. I chose to go right and ran for about 200m before feeling like we make a mistake, so I – and Walker – 180'd and headed back and uphill, which was the correct path. Walker and I chatted a bit about the mistake – and whether the Leader had done the same – and quickly informed the water aid station on the shoulder of Pisgah of the oversight.

We bombed down the hill the mile+ back to the start/finish, through intermittent snow and slick ice. I quickly tagged in and out of the start/finish and scurried over to my tailgate for a second bottle of honey water. Walker might've stopped – I'm not sure – because he briefly disappeared, only to catch back up on the ascent to lap two.

Lap Two

Lap two was more of the same: the same uphill and ridgeline ice, the same snow and mud doubletrack through the Arboretum. Walker and I picked our way through it once again, with no sight of Josh. I thought he might've taken the wrong course, but spectators noted that he was several minutes ahead.

My focus for this second lap – which includes a near-summit of Pisgah – was to run the opening section as close to equal that of the first lap.  We came close, clocking a 31:12 to the first Aid Station.  From there, rather than stay low and loop around, the False Summit Loop would climb nearly a thousand feet.  I shuffled along - barely moving in order to keep the effort aerobic - with Walker right along side.  Finally, we crested the peak and, once again, bombed downhill to the start/finish.

Lap Three

Once again, I paused just long enough to grab my third honey water bottle before heading out for the third lap - a repeat of the first.  Walker tucked in behind for yet another round of fun.  Just before hitting the Aid Station out and back - mercifully our last across that 600m ice sheet - we ran into Josh.  He lead had dwindled to under two minutes; he was coming back.

He remained in sight as we climbed away from the AS, then disappeared again as we plunged into the tight, winding, mud-filled singletrack of Trail 4.  But about midway through the backside of Trail 4, he came into sight.  Finally, he was coming back to us. 

We catch Josh just after the powerlines, about 2.5K from the start/finish.  I said hello and snuck past him, climbing the muddy trail past him.  I could feel someone behind me for a while - was it Walker or Josh? - but after a mile or so, it was quiet.  I was finally alone.

Things were coming together.  And I was feeling great.  

The course popped out to the main trail and, once again, I bombed down the steep gravel to the start/finish.  Neither Josh or Walker were in sight, but they couldn't be that far behind. 

Lap Four

I was pumped with anticipation for the final lap: things had gone well through three laps, and I felt strong as I rolled into the start/finish for the penultimate time, grabbing my last water bottle.  I slowed just a bit to get out my iPod and put in the ear buds.  

Then I was off.  Hard.

The major emphasis of training - perhaps the only intensity emphasis - was running hard at the end of long efforts.  Since July, I can count on two hands the number of hard sessions I've run.  But the bulk of them in the past two months have been run at the end of 3-5 hour runs, going very hard - often as hard as I can - over the last 30-60 minutes.  And each of these runs have been done with zero fuel

I charged hard up the climb into the final lap, with Akon blasting in my ear, cajoling me up the trail.  I came across Josh - with Walker in tow - about three minutes up the trail, so they weren't too far behind. 

For the longest time I couldn't fathom pushing very hard at the end of a trail ultra, but what makes it possible is the variable terrain: because of the ups and downs, you're never pushing hard for too long, as there's usually a flat or light down to alleviate the effort.  As such, most end-of-run tempos are more like farleks.

This was the case the last lap: after a hard 4-minute push, I had an equal-length recovery downhill to the doubletrack, where I once again pushed hard.  Major focus was placed on form: strong elbow, forward trunk and opening the hips behind.  I felt great.

The music is always a great addition, especially when you feel great.  After Akon, I got treated to some ASAP Rocky, then a slew of Eminem; I even put "one of those fingers on each hand up" as I hit the trail junction to start the final summit - a brutal <2 mile, >1000 mud-slicked climb to the top of Pisgah.  The trail consisted of steep, washed out double track, then even steeper mud-caked trail as you approached the top.  I got goosebumps as I hammered up the steepest, muddiest section when this song came on.  

There'd be no "collapsing" today, as I summited Pisgah for the final time and hammered down the last 1.3 miles downhill to the finish.  

 finished in 4:03:30.  While the course was a bit shortened (about 1.3 miles of flat road was cut due to the snow and mud), I busted my friend Dan-O's course record by a solid half-hour.  

The splits:

Base Loop (#1): 1:03:54 (AS#2 ~30:40)
[False]Summit Loop 1: 1:06:25 (AS#2 31:12)
Base Loop (#2): 1:04:20 (AS#2 ~31:xx)
Summit  Loop 2: 48:50
---------Total: 4:03:30

Once again, the base loops were were the same, and the segment from the Start/Finish to Aid Station #2 were the same for the first three laps.  Excellent pacing, requiring very little effort to maintain - I think Gary Gellin would be proud.

I ran hard on that last lap, and I felt exceptional doing so, over that last 6-ish miles and >1000' climb.  Zero issues, other than a little stomach rumble from drinking only honey-water for four hours.  I took no other aid from the stations - a first for me in any marathon+ event.

I feel like this is exactly how I will run Bandera - and how it needs to be run: 95% aerobic for the first 50K loop, intermittently hard from 50-85K, then go as hard as I can go for that last 15K or so.  It is the fastest way for me to run it; the only question, then, is, is it fast enough for a Golden Ticket?

All in all, it was a great day, but the highlight was having Chelsea there.  I met her a year-and-a-half
ago, after taking the plunge into yoga following Western States 2012.  We quickly became close friends after that.

If relationships are hundred milers, we ran into some problems in The Canyons and wound up on the cot at Michigan Bluff four several hours.  DOA.  But as they often do, things turn around. Miracles happen. We got off the cot, and started walking toward Foresthill..  Things began to turn around...

About six weeks ago, we decided to put on a bib number.  We're rolling along pretty well now, and things are looking great.

It was great having her there.  For one, it was terrific to show her some athleticism: after 18 months of (poser at best, awkward at worst) yoga practice, something I'm better at than her! But more importantly, having her there - and in my life - adds valuable perspective: that running isn't everything, and that running is merely an avenue for personal growth, developing relationships with others, and contributing to the community.  But most importantly, it's being able to share these experiences with another; sharing passions

That said, I'm very much looking forward to what 2014 has to offer.  Starting with a little trail run in the Texas Hill Country.

Some pics from the day, all courtesy of Michael Lebowitz and LongRun Picture Company

A look at the conditions at the Start/Finish - about a third of the course was snow/ice covered

The Start: me (L) and Josh Zielinksi, just before he took the lead.  Notice the adidas adizeros he wore.  Ballsy.

Skating along the ice around mile two or so...

A look at the doubletrack road/trail in the Mt Pisgah Arboretum.

Me leading Walker into the second lap.

Securing the honey-water heading into the last lap, with the awesome OOJ Truck in the background.

"He's smiling because he's insane!"

1 comment:

  1. Addidas Adios were a bad choice! Just one of many for me that day. Props on that last lap effort. Great write up. Bandera's got something coming... good luck!