Jun 06

Desert Dash Trails of Fury 50k Recap by Steve

I have done a bunch of Desert Dash trail events before. They put on trail running events around Las Vegas. They put on great events with a friendly, relaxed, family-style atmosphere. It’s the type of atmosphere that encourages runners to take a seat after a race, relax, and enjoy the company of their fellow trail runners. They do a variety of distances at their events from 5k to ultramarathon. They also have some more novel challenges like their Dirty Vert race where you race up trails in Bootleg Canyon and take the FlightLinez zip lines down. They also do dirty double races offering races in the day and evening plus an award if you do both. If you are looking for a trail race in the Las Vegas area, I highly recommend Desert Dash. They also do group runs on some of the local trails. The folks at Desert Dash have always been good to me. For example, at one of their races, Rob (one of the Race Directors) knows how much I like running buffs and showed me the Altra buffs they had just got in and gave me one!
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The Trails of Fury 50k is located in Cottonwood Valley, just outside Las Vegas. The 50k consists of 3,800 ft. of elevation gain. The trails themselves can be technical (they’re often rocky here in Vegas). The trails at the race were superbly marked. Let’s just say that if I didn’t get lost (which happens to me from time to time) then they’re well-marked. The course was open to the public during the race and I ran into quite a few mountain bikers. Most were courteous in letting me by.

One asked if I was doing a 10k.

I responded, “50k!”

His eyes got big. “Woah! What is that like 29 miles?”

“More like 31 miles.”

Beards & Buffs

“Way to go, man!” he yelled as I was almost out of earshot.

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The morning really started out great as I drove to the starting line. In my rear view mirror, I could see a beautiful sunrise. This seemed like a good omen for the day. The race started at 6am. I was concerned about the temperature in Las Vegas during late May. The high the previous weekend was 101 degrees.  The high the subsequent weekend was 99 degrees. However, it turned out to be much better with temps starting in the 60s and a high in the 80s.   

There weren’t very many of us doing the 50k and there were some registrants that appeared to be running late. All the other distances would be starting at a later time.

We started off with one runner going much faster than the rest of us and he would end up winning by a very healthy margin. I settled into exchanging 2nd and 3rd place with another run for the first 9 miles or so.

There were some absolutely spectacular views of the area. The morning sun with the rich vibrant colors of Cottonwood Valley had me looking at awe at my surroundings. Those are some of the best trail running moments. I wish I had a camera but taking a picture would almost ruin being in the moment and just experiencing it alone. I had to settle for mental pictures in these instances. 


I kept on top of my fueling throughout the race. I brought some GU gels with me and consumed the Island Boost at each aid station. The Island Boost worked great. It includes coconut water and my body responds well to it. I only wish I had brought some salt with me (as I will mention soon).  Also, at about mile 8, the other 50k runner nearby, Frank, offered me a key lime sugar cookie his wife made. Key lime cookie? Heck yeah! It was great. Props to Frank’s wife.

As I approached the aid station near mile 11, I noticed another runner in the distance.

“Is he running the 50k?” I thought to myself.

Sure enough, he caught up by the aid station. At this point, it became 3 of us running for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place.

As I approached the aid station, I didn’t notice a beautiful white mustang until he was right next to me on the trail! I knew there were wild horses in the area but did not expect to encounter any, especially like this. Fortunately, one of the aid station volunteers took a picture!

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This race has the BEST spectators!
The aid station volunteer informed me there was a herd just down the cliffs near the aid station. I couldn’t miss this! Sure enough, I ran over (in the wrong direction) to go look and saw the herd. One of my fellow ultrarunners, later chastised me (partially in jest) for taking the time to do this during a race, but I simply could not miss seeing these wild horses. Cottonwood Valley is one of the few places in the US that still has wild horses.

As I left the aid station, despite the exhilaration of the unique experience, I fell into a low. I was feeling worn down and things were heating up. I began feeling cramps/nausea. I quickly fell back to 4th.

I remained in 4th as I entered the main aid station. Rob reminded (warned) me, that I was currently out of medal contention. My friend Joseph had finished his 10k and enthusiastically greeted me with a high five. I used the restroom, got fuel, and mentioned my cramps. Joseph started suggesting some salty items. I opted for the pretzels. As I finished up, Joseph pointed to the distance at the other two 50k runners and said, “They’re right there. Go get them!” 

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After the aid station, my stomach felt much better. I made a mental note to grab pretzels at every aid station after that. The next part of the race was a smooth downhill and I cruised. I caught up to the other two runners by the next aid station. I refueled quickly and left the aid station in 2nd place.

After a couple miles of downhill, the next 6 miles after that were a mostly uphill grinder. The heat intensified. The three of us were trading places between 2nd, 3rd and 4th. We were all running low on water and fuel. At one funny moment, the three of us were clustered together and we all just started walking. I was in front and asked one of the other runners, Mark, if he wanted to pass. He chuckled and said, “Nope!” As we approached the end of this grind, Mark took off. At first, I let him go. Then, I didn’t want him to get too far ahead and out of sight, so I started running again too. We got on a smooth downhill that I have run plenty of times in this area before. I felt great and picked up the pace. 

My Garmin stopped keeping track of distance around mile 23 but kept tracking time. This had never happened to me before but I knew the course well so it wasn’t a huge concern.

Mark and I arrived at the aid station at approximately mile 28 at about the same time. This was my chance. I fueled as quickly as I could and bolted out of the aid station! I grabbed 2nd place and refused to give it up. I tried to keep out of sight of the other two runners but on the last mile I could see Mark running hard in the distance. Fortunately, I had enough of a lead to hold on to 2nd place. I was ecstatic!


I wasn’t planning on pushing myself as hard as I did in this race but I couldn’t resist the competition. I was glad for the experience.

After arriving to the finish, Rob informed me that I had won the raffle! I won a free massage from Thrive Massage that I would sorely (pun intended) need after a 50k.

But it doesn’t end there.

I had signed up for the dirty double.

Wait. What was I thinking?

I returned later that evening to run the Moonlight Madness 5k. With a relaxed pace, I completed the 5k (making a total of 55k for the day) and was rewarded with a sweet Trails of Fury pilsner glass.

The whole event from beginning to end was an exceptional experience. 

May 02

Snowed Out at Ragnar Trail Relay – Zion by Steve

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The above picture is joking a bit. Nonetheless, the Ragnar Trail Relay in Zion was quite an experience!

I previously shared some thoughts I had about the Ragnar Relay series on this blog. I wish to add the unique experience I had at the 2014 Ragnar Trail Relay in Zion.

I wasn’t planning on participating in this event but a friend (that works with Ragnar) of mine had a free open spot on his team. It’s hard to pass up a free race (Thanks Joseph!), especially an event like Ragnar.

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The drive up through Zion National Park was gorgeous as always. You do have to pay the $25 park fee just to drive through, though. 

They changed the logistical setup of unloading gear and shuttling people. Previously, you shuttled gear and people. This year, you dropped your gear at one of the multiple drop-off points, drove to the parking area, and were shuttled back to the campground. Ideally, you should travel to the event as a group to do this more efficiently. Since I went up by myself, I had to leave my gear with a volunteer. Once I got back to the campground, I had to carry my gear searching for my team. Keep in mind there is very limited cell reception. It was nearly impossible to get a message through.

 
I went to the village because eventually everyone has to go there for the exchange and found my team there. Upon reaching our camp site, I begin to set up my tent. I laid out the tent.

Then… I realized there are no poles. No stakes either. Crap.

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I had borrowed a small tent from a friend and neglected to double check it before leaving. This was poor planning on my part.

Normally, I would just sleep under the stars. However, the forecast showed 100% chance of rain. I decided to turn the tent over, using the bottom tarp to cover me from the rain. I borrowed a cot from someone on our team to keep my sleeping bags off the ground. It actually turned out to be quite warm, like a little cocoon. 

The trails were the same loops as last year. The scenery is beautiful. I ran the red loop first and had a blast. Last year, I did this loop in the dark so I enjoyed running it during the day this year.

PictureCompleting the Red Loop

I had a bit of foot pain from a foot bone issue and some peroneal tendonitis. I was able to run, just a bit slower and with some discomfort. Fortunately, one of the vendors, Mountain Land Rehabilitation, was providing round-the-clock physical therapy. They really helped me by massaging and wrapping my foot.

The rest of the Ragnar Village was much like last year, which was great. They had some great vendors, including Salomon shoe demos, free Nuun refills, and many others. I love those campfires.

By the time I ran my next loop (yellow), a light rain had begun. During the run, the rain picked up. Fortunately, I was still warm throughout the run. I was just wet. Upon finishing, I grabbed a s’more and huddled into my makeshift cocoon for some rest. I was kept nicely dry and listened to the relaxing noise of the rainfall. 

PictureShortly after I woke up

I was awakened to some commotion. People saying, “Are you seeing this?” “Can you believe it?” I realized the tarp was pressing against me, weighed down by something. I looked out of my covering and it was snowing! There were big flakes coming down thick and it was sticking.

To our alarm, we realized the runner after me was still out there! A loop that should have taken about 2 hours, took her about 4 hours. After my run, the trails had gotten much worse due to the rain and snow. The footing was sloppy, slowing down many runners. Runners slowing down coupled with the plummeting temperature and snow caused runners to become hypothermic. 

Runners and Ragnar were expecting rain and cold. I don’t believe anyone was expecting so much snow! Many groups were discussing how safe it was to continue sending runners out. There was an awkward period of time where people were unsure what to do or what Ragnar would do. Once the trail markers became covered with snow, causing runners to get lost, Ragnar decided to call off the rest of the race. 

 
 
Picture I believe this was the right decision. Ragnar had to send people out to find the lost or unaccounted runners. Fortunately, everyone was recovered. Thank goodness.

Ragnar distributed the medals. Many runners were uncomfortable with the medals since they didn’t really “complete” the race. However, I feel they survived this unique experience, so they earned it.

It was a bit sloppy with everyone trying to pack up and exit on muddy/rainy/snowy roads. I was impressed with how things went given the conditions. Fortunately, Ragnar got the shuttles running quickly. I was glad my snow-covered car didn’t get stuck!

Overall, I did enjoy myself and it was certainly a unique adventure! 

The drive back through Zion was beautiful with the snow and rain flowing down the rock formations.

Feb 22

My Respons to Steve’s Hansons Marathon Method Review by RJ

67, 72, 83, 93, 60, 114, 90, 101.

Those were my monthly mileage numbers in the eight months prior to running the 2013 St. George Marathon.  That’s nowhere near as many as I was running in training for, and setting a PR at, the 2012 Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, yet my St. George finish time was just two seconds slower (I really wish my watch hadn’t died around mile 10, I had no idea how close I was to a new PR).

Three weeks after St. George, I took more than 20 minutes off my 50-mile PR from the previous year and nearly 80 minutes off of my time in the same race in 2011.

Steve has previously posted about his experience using the Hansons Marathon Method as he trained for the 2013 Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll and Pocatello Marathons. He did amazing in those races, setting huge back-to-back PRs. If you’ve read his post though (If you haven’t, HERE it is. I’ll wait…), you’re already familiar with three pillars of the method which I have issues with in my own training:

1.      The weekly mileage. The Hansons method training increases the weekly mileage up to approximately 60 miles a week on the beginner schedule. That’s not a number I’ve ever hit for a week. Ever. Even in training for 50-milers. Heck, even in weeks I ran a 50-miler.

2.      Six days a week running. That’s also not a number I’ve ever hit for a week. It’s not that I don’t like running, obviously I do, but I don’t want to do it that much.

3.      The Hansons method is very pace-based. Each workout is run at a specific pace for a specific reason. Surely there is genius in this and, if done correctly (meaning, have a realistic goal, among other things) it can produce a desired result. Ask Steve. Maybe I lack focus or discipline, but some days I want to run faster than others and I don’t want a schedule to dictate that to me (maybe that’s why Steve’s PR is 25 minutes faster than mine). I was discussing this with another runner friend of mine a few years ago, someone who also keeps to a very strict pace schedule and my thought then as well as now is that upwards of 90% or more of my runs are not races. If I’m not enjoying the non-race runs, then why am I doing it?

One of the most irritating things I hear people say when they tell me all of the reasons they could never run a marathon is that they either can’t, won’t or don’t want to put in the huge mileage that certain monthly publications geared towards Runners and their World (as well as other sources) tell them they must meet in order to be “prepared.” Bull. Loney.

So how did I do it?

Distance running is, in large part, aerobic. Sure, some would argue that maybe Ryan Hall is not running aerobically when he clocks a 2:10 marathon. I don’t know if that’s true or not and I hate to be the one to break this to everyone, but with very few exceptions, none of us are Ryan Hall. So back to this aerobic thing.

Training the body to withstand long periods of aerobic exercise doesn’t require 20 hours a week exercising. Surely someone putting in that sort of time is going to benefit, but all I’m saying is that it’s not a requirement. It really doesn’t even require three hours or more in a single workout (again, you really want to go knock out two or three 20-mile training runs for confidence sake, go for it). In fact, some studies show that workouts of around three hours or more offer little additional benefit over a two hour workout and greatly increase the risk of injury.

This was the basis for my training as I entered 2013. After three years of doing nothing but running, my focus changed and I set my sights on training for a couple of half-ironman distance triathlons. So when I put my training schedule together it included just three days of running along with two swim workouts, a short bike ride (an hour or less) and a medium length ride (1-2 hours) per week. With only (only) a half marathon run in mind, my run workouts never exceeded 10 miles and my total weekly workout time averaged around 6-8 hours a week (I doubled up my workouts on some days, combining a swim with a short ride, a medium ride with a short to medium run, etc).

The importantly thing was that those 6-8 hours a week were nearly all aerobic. If I had been running aerobically for the full eight hours each week, I’d be right around 50 miles. See where I’m going with this?

My monthly mileage in June (114) spiked only because I decided to run the Seattle marathon with Steve at the last minute (by last minute I mean 60 hours before the race began and by “with Steve” I mean the first 11 miles before he left me in the dust—it wasn’t an aerobic pace for me). It was a bit of a stretch, but I finished that race right around my average marathon time. And I was fine the next day. Because it was aerobic. Readers of Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra will recall that as he religiously spent the bulk of his training time in his Zone 2 heart rate zone (an aerobic state), his pace while in that zone gradually increased. All he did at the end of his training was complete five Ironman distance triathlons in seven days, one on each of the Hawaiian islands.

By the time the end of the year came my body still felt fresh. There wasn’t the wear and tear on it that there had been in previous years. And so when I hit the starting line 26.2 miles away from Worthen Park in downtown St. George I felt great. And I ran great. And afterwards I recovered quickly and lined up to run 50 miles three weeks later – feeling great (I won’t tell you how I felt AFTER running 50 miles…but not so great).

My point is that there are probably as many training programs and philosophies as there are runners. The Hansons Marathon Method is one of them and many runners have had great success using it. There is certainly a place for more rigorous training programs. But if you’re thinking about running your first marathon, or maybe running another marathon but don’t feel you have the time or can’t run 50 miles a week please don’t be discouraged as you look at various training schedules. Keep it aerobic. Keep it simple. Enjoy yourself. Finish with a smile on your face.

Dec 27

Stepping Away by RJ

PictureI went from non-runner to marathoner to marathon maniac to ultra marathoner to multi ultra marathon and half ironman triathlon finisher over the course of about 48 months. 16 marathons, three 50 milers and three half Ironman triathlons in 40 months to be exact (plus dozens of shorter races). It was hard, I pushed myself beyond limits I thought existed, it wore me down and I fought through a couple of injuries here and there. The one constant through all of this was that I was always motivated. There was always the next race, and thus, the next workout. Every one of them mattered and I took every one of them seriously. Put the time and effort in now, was my thought, or you’re going to have regrets on race day.
 
I can’t think of too many races, any really, where I felt unprepared on race day. Well, maybe the 2013 Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon that I decided to run 72 hours prior to the event, but that was purely for fun and not one I had planned on running until my wife decided she would be unable to run it on Wednesday night of race week. That’s not to say that all of the races went how I had hoped they would, certainly many of them did not, but I never felt like it was a lack of preparedness. I was always motivated.

The end of 2013 has been different. After pulling off a 50 miler/trail half marathon combo on consecutive weekends for the third straight year (and destroying my 50 mile PR from 2012 in the process), I had a pain in the arch of my foot that lingered. Week after week I felt it with every step and it hurt. I took time off from running and hit the gym, participating in a weights class and a core class. Running was out and cycling aggravated my foot even more so there was none of that either. Even the light kick in my swim stroke aggravated it.

My foot eventually healed as I knew it would. But it’s been eight weeks now since that half marathon and I’ve run exactly three times. Three easy 5k runs. And while it felt great to get out and run again, and while I do miss it somewhat, there was no motivation behind it. There still isn’t. It might be that I’m not signed up for any races so there’s nothing I’m working towards right now. But I’m not even motivated to think about looking for a race to sign up for. It’s just not there.

Perhaps this is my body’s way of telling me it’s time to rest and recover. To really rest and recover. To recover from the stress of going from nothing to four consecutive years of go go go, pounding out the miles, treating every workout like it was a race, putting in the time and stringing together as many endurance races as I could fit into my schedule and budget. That doesn’t even include the mental energy used to prepare for each race, put together training schedules, learn about nutrition or pace strategies and doing all of it while juggling a family and full-time job. Perhaps this is my body telling me it’s time to rest and recover, not for a week or two weeks or even a month, but as long as it takes. Toss out the calendar, it means nothing. 

I trust that when my body has healed and rested sufficiently, physically and mentally, that I’ll know. It might be that a particular race catches my eye, or I may see someone running along the road as I drive to or from work, or someone may post something about their latest workout on Facebook. Something will happen and the motivation will return. I’ll be excited to set the alarm for 5am the next morning and anxious for it to go off. And then I’ll hit the road and start moving again, realizing very quickly that If I’m going to do this I’m going to have to start back at the beginning. But I’ll be motivated to do so. 

In the movie “Searching for Bobby Fisher” there is a principle that the Ben Kingsley character tries to instill in the child chess prodigy that he coaches. “Don’t move until you see it,” he tries to drill into him. “Don’t move until you see it.” Make a move too quickly without being absolutely sure of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the consequences that will follow, he taught, and it could be disastrous. 

For me the principle is similar: don’t move until you feel it. Don’t move until the motivation is there and I’m absolutely sure I’m ready to take on the challenge and stress and work of preparing for and completing 26.2 miles, or 50 miles, or an Ironman, or whatever it may be. 

I’m looking forward to that motivation returning. In the meantime I’ll rest, recover, sleep a little more, eat a little less and wait patiently for that moment to arrive.


Dec 18

Ragnar Relay Thoughts (Road & Trail) by Steve

First, this isn’t meant to be a specific race review.

To me, the Ragnar Relay series really captures the spirit of:

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.”

? Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

I have run three Ragnars so far. I have run the Las Vegas road Ragnar twice, and I have run the Ragnar Trail Relay at Zion.

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From (Road, not Trail) Ragnar’s own website:

“Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport.

You and 11 of your craziest friends (or 5 of your crazier friends for an ultra team) pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time. Each participant runs three times, with each leg ranging between 3-8 miles and varying in difficulty. So, from the elite runner down to the novice jogger, it’s the perfect race for anyone.”

Yeah, a Ragnar seems crazy (and it is). People (especially non-runners) wonder how something like that can be fun. But it is!

For the Ragnar Trail, it involves 8 runners (4 for ultra), fewer miles, camping, no vans, and trail running (duh).

You don’t do a Ragnar Relay to set any PRs. Your team is timed but individual legs are not timed. Add in the fact that you have to run three legs and the distances vary, then you realize you aren’t setting records like your normal races.

It is more than a fun run though. Sure, there are decorated vans, crazy costumes, and teams with themes. There is still the friendly competitive element to it. You cheer random people on but you also try to beat them. Many vans tally their kills (when a runner passes another runner). 


This also makes it the perfect race for everyone. Both experienced and new runners can push themselves in speed and/or distance. If you’re a marathoner (which is why I assume you’re on this website), you’ll do just fine.

It is an overnight relay. If you do not do well with lack of sleep, this may not be your thing. By that third leg, you may very tired, sore, worn out, etc but you get out there and run it nonetheless. Your team is counting on you!

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For the road Ragnar in Las Vegas, we started at Mt Charleston running on the roads down the mountain. I got to run a bit on the highway into Las Vegas. What other time do you get to run on the highway? We traveled through the city and near Red Rock Canyon (a beautiful section that was unfortunately run at night). You run through the city itself more (but not the strip) and up along the beautiful River Mountain Loop trail by Lake Mead and into the finish at Lake Las Vegas. We ran mostly on the public roads with some paved trail mixed in there.

I think I may enjoy the trail relay more than the road relay. You get to camp and enjoy beautiful trails. At Zion, we ran on mostly single track trail near Zion National Park.  You camp in one spot (no traveling around in a van). Ragnar sets up a nice base camp with vendors. You get a tiny bit more sleep (every little bit helps!). There are fewer rules (especially regarding safety since it doesn’t involve vehicles and public roads). 

I do have some complaints about the relays. They are expensive! For example, our early registration for Las Vegas 2013 was $1,392 ($116 per runner). The registration fee alone is pricey. If you are traveling, you have to deal with those costs, plus van rentals. You can also end up spending on decorations, team shirts, etc. I understand that a relay race over such a distance would be expensive for everything that needs to put the event on though. If you do not travel, you have to deal with finding (or paying for) volunteers. After paying registration, you are required to provide volunteers for them! Also, there are little charges here and there along the course for food items, sleeping, etc. I understand some places use this for fundraising but as a participant you can get a bit of fee fatigue. 


PictureBling!

Overall, I find Ragnar races to be a great experience and I would like to do more of them, especially at different locations. It really brings you closer to the people on your team. Although the cost can be high and the logistics of the race can be challenging, the experience outweighs the cons. I would recommend the event to anyone looking to test themselves in something new.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment.