Mar 25

Red Rock Canyon 50k by Steve

 

This is an ultra that was once run by elites like Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner, Nikki Kimball, Karl Meltzer and more. Not many people know about it because this was long ago when there were far fewer ultra events in a year, especially not in the winter months. Las Vegas is perfect for that.

The event is put on “Fatass” style. Fatass style is generally a low key event with the motto, “no aid, no entry fee, no awards, and no whining.” A group of like-minded individuals getting together to run a course self-supported without expectation of awards. Many of the current ultra events started out as Fatass runs. Many of these events’ courses were grandfathered in to current regulations. Unfortunately, the Red Rock Canyon 50k course never had that done so it remains low key.

This event is actually one of the ultrarunning’s oldest ultras at 21 years.

The event has a unique entry system. The details are generally spread by word of mouth. You basically have to know someone to find out where and when to go.

Last year, due to a schedule conflict, I could only do part of the course. Many runners are encouraged to come out and enjoy the comradery and at least do a good portion of this great course.

This year, I wanted to do the entire 50k. I felt like I needed to do it out of respect to its history.

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Getting the rundown on the course

I show up and greet the group of other runners milling around the area. It was a pretty good turnout this year. We socialize until we reach a general consensus that this is everyone that is going to end up coming today. The organizer, my friend Eric, shares an overview of the course, offering maps. I already know the route.

“Nature’s arena has a way of humbling and energizing us.”

― Scott Jurek, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

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A couple older photos of mine of the Calico Hills area

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It’s a beautiful run through the Calico Hills area to Sandstone Quarry. Then, we go over to White Rock Loop, which is one of my favorite trails in all of Las Vegas.  We do a couple of loops at White Rock. One is clockwise then one counter-clockwise. After that, we return the way we came.

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Snow on cactus?!?

The weather was perfect that day. It got a little cool around the backside of White Rock loop. There were patches of snow on the ground. It’s funny to see snow on cactus in the desert.

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The best way I can describe this 50k is smooth. It went about as a smooth as an ultra can go. That might be surprising for running 50 kilometers with no aid, but I knew that going into this. I was prepared. I ran most of it with my buddy Josh (it was his second 50k) at a good but comfortable pace. I really enjoyed my time out there on the trails, taking it all in. When I finished, I wasn’t completely wrecked (maybe I should have pushed harder) but very satisfied with how the day went. At the end, there were no awards, no t-shirts, and no swag. It was just friends and fellow runners sharing some good food, experiences, and commending each other on their efforts. That’s good enough for me.

This is an event I will continue to go out of my way to make sure it is included on my race calendar in the future. Interested in running it? You’ll have to ask to find out the rest of the details. 🙂

Jan 19

4 Steps to Running thru Adversity (and Life)

It was just above freezing, the rain was coming down and the wind was whipping the few remaining tree leaves through the streets. Despite this less-than-ideal weather, for nearly an hour I was out running in my shorts and t-shirt. An acquaintance who drove by me that day later asked, “Aren’t you cold?”

Honestly, I was. Or I had been. Until I decided I wasn’t going to focus on the cold anymore. It got me thinking about what happened on that run and how it was a template for adversity I may face in my life. Pretty simply, it was four steps I had gone through in those cold, rainy miles.

  1. Acknowledge it. Yes I’m cold. There’s no point in lying to myself about it. But what if tomorrow I’m too hot? What if in Mile 19 of the marathon my stomach hurts? Or I get a blister? Or I just want to quit? What if I’m not able to maintain the pace I had trained so hard and long for? There are countless things that can go wrong over 26.2 miles. And there are just as many things that can (and probably will) hurt. Perhaps some will try to block everything out, grit their teeth, let out a primal scream and continue on. Fine. But there are other ways to deal with adversity.
  2. Embrace it. Rather than pout or shrink, embrace this obstacle and recognize it as a learning, growing or strengthening experience. Yes, it’s cold. And I’m cold. But is it hurting me? (No). Am I still running? (Yes). Can I continue? (Yes). If this is the case, then why not turn what was initially thought of as adversity into motivation. Heck yeah it’s cold– but I’m out here anyway, putting in the miles, putting in the time, putting in the effort, working towards my goal. And nothing will get in my way of that. Certainly not being wet and cold for a bit.
  3. Push through it. At some point, I no longer felt the cold or the rain or the wind. I had already acknowledged it and decided it wasn’t going to affect me and now it was time to move forward. Emboldened, my pace quickened. I laughed as a semi-truck passed me (going the opposite direction) and a wall of wind and water spray barrelled into me as I ran on the sidewalk. I was not going to be beaten or slowed by the elements.
  4. Be better for it. I finished my run and I felt great. It was just one run and only a few miles in a long process, but a lesson was learned. Limits were pushed back just a bit more. Confidence increased.

These lessons are no different for trials or obstacles in our lives. We can choose to lie to ourselves and try to bury our feelings of disappointment, struggle, and pain. Or we can acknowledge that there is adversity of some kind in front of us — whether it has been self-imposed or not it makes no difference — and begin the process of overcoming it.

By embracing what we are going through we stop looking to the past and begin looking to the future. We can’t change the past but we can choose to become better and stronger because of it. Is it keeping us down or are we choosing to let it keep us down?  What are we going to do to get up off the mat, put one foot in front of the other and start moving again?

Ultimately, as we push forward we begin to learn things about ourselves that can and should convince us that we are strong and that we can choose how we will respond to adversity. Bolstered by this blossoming confidence and with continued effort we will, at some point, be able to look back at the person we were and the trials we faced. It is then that we will see how far we’ve come and that we know how to handle future obstacles on our journey.

Jan 13

Post 100 miler Thoughts – Running Without a Goal

I haven’t blogged since I completed my first 100 mile ultramarathon in October. I found myself in an interesting position. I had accomplished something I had set my sights on a long time ago. It took me years and lots of work to achieve it. Now I’m left wondering what’s next. I don’t have a running goal. I feel like I’ve always had a goal in running.

I still want to run forever.

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”

― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I’ve had some great runs since the 100 miler. I’ve attached a few pics from my runs. I had fun exploring and taking photos.

Leaping Through a Slot CanyonВ Sunrise at Lone MountainВ Calico Hills at Red Rock Canyon

More of my photos can be found on my Instagram.

I did the Ragnar Relay in Las Vegas with some friends. I had some great paces on those runs. This was a good event at the time because, as a non-competitive team, there’s no pressure for a time goal. Just do your best and have fun as a team. This was a good sign because I was still uncertain how my recovery from the 100 miler was going.

Start of RagnarSunrise at Leg FinishRace in Progress

Later that month, I ran the 30k at Desert Dash’s Trails of Glory. I considered the marathon. I’ve run the marathon before and wrote about it in a previous race report. I wanted to run the marathon. But, I just didn’t think my body was recovered enough for it. So, I ran the 30k. AND, I ended up winningВ the 30k!! That was a great experience and a lot of fun to podium. My friends teased me a bit because I had voiced my concerns about lack of recovery from the 100 miler before the race. Still, when I finished the 30k, I had nothing left. I knew I made the right choice in not doing the marathon that particular day. Desert Dash’s race experience was top notch, as usual.

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A little over a month later, I ran a 50k, which I’ll go into more detail in another post (with less delay between posts).

Surprisingly, I’m enjoying running without having any particular goal I’m driving towards. I’m enjoying some nice runs and races.

Scott Jurek put it well:

“The longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind–a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.”

― Scott Jurek, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

Nov 02

Autumn Leaves 50 mile Race Report

Hadn’t raced in a year. Woefully undertrained. Coming off a weekend on the road with very little sleep while crewing/pacing Steve in his 100-miler. Sounds like a great time to run a 50-miler of my own. Did I mention the undertrained part? My “training” consisted of essentially starting from scratch in June, running 5-6 mile runs a couple days a week and throwing in 15 miler in September and another in October. I could write it out in its entirety on a napkin. But I love the Autumn Leaves 50mi/50k race. And so four days after watching Steve do his thing, and three days before the starting gun went off at Autumn Leaves, I signed up.

Autumn Leaves is a 6.25 mile loop with an out and back section at the halfway point. 8 laps. Three aid stations per lap, so there’s very little need to bring any of your own fuel. Lap 1 started in the dark as it does every year. I ran a nice slow pace with a group of Marathon Maniacs, but that ended at mile three when it became evident that I may hear something like “49 to go!,” “48 to go!,” “47 to go!” every mile. No way. I pulled ahead a bit when they stopped at the aid station and enjoyed the nice quiet, dark morning as I ran the trail section of the loop (the final 1.25 miles of each loop). A 65 minute first lap, right where I wanted to be.

Laps 2 and 3 were fairly uneventful. The sun came up but it was cloudy, making for perfect weather conditions in the low 50’s, though I was a little concerned about how cold my hamstrings were, especially given that I was quickly approaching mileage I hadn’t run in 14 or 15 months. But two 66 minute laps were in the books and although I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, I was happy with the pace I had been able to keep.

I learned a lot from watching Steve suffer up close the weekend before. One of the big things was the value of Hammer Endurolyte pills. I started popping them early and often and continued to do so throughout the day. Even though I was increasingly uncomfortable from this point on, I never cramped and I continued to sweat. My stomach was an issue though. No matter what I ate or drank, I couldn’t get it to calm down. My gels were making it worse, so no more of those. Nothing on the table looked at all appetizing, and the Coke that I had started drinking around 8am wasn’t doing any good either. Then I remembered Steve’s advice to me during the week to go with ginger. I pulled into the aid station near the start of Lap 4 and asked if they had any ginger ale. They did! I downed a cup of it (it was gross, I hate ginger ale) and within minutes my stomach had returned to normal.

I finished Lap 4 in 73 minutes, and at every aid station I was now grabbing a quartered turkey sandwich, orange slices, watermelon and a cup each of water, nuun, and ginger ale. But I was really hurting at this point. I knew I had blisters on multiple toes, my quad muscles were becoming tender and my ankle and hip joints were becoming increasingly sore (surprisingly, my knees were still alright). But during Laps 5 and 6 I unfortunately allowed myself to begin focusing on all that was hurting and that took me to my darkest place of the day.

I started running less and walking more, not because I didn’t want to run but because I just didn’t have the will to anymore. I knew if I could just get to the end of Lap 6 that things would get better, as I had a friend waiting to run the final two laps with me, but this only served as sufficient motivation for short stretches. I finished lap 5 in 81 minutes and Lap 6 was my slowest of the 32 laps I’ve now run on this course, at 88 minutes.

My wife had arranged for my friend Dave to come out and run the final two laps with me the previous afternoon and I’m so glad she did. Dave is a super gentle guy, but put him in a race atmosphere, even one he’s not running, and look out. The competitive juices kick in quickly. He was the perfect pacer on this day, just the right combination of understanding, encouragement and kick in the butt. We finished out Lap 7 in 78 minutes and I was still taking water/nuun/ginger ale/oranges/watermelon at every stop, but that was it. I was a little concerned about my calorie intake but more concerned that I had another 6+ miles to go and every part of my body was screaming at me to shut things down.

Just past the Start/Finish line were the drop bags and as I concluded rubbing out my legs one last time I glanced at the big clock and saw that it read 8:44:00. I could still break 10 hours but it would take a 75 minute lap. Dave told me to start running and without much sense left in me I did so. I don’t ever recall being in so much pain as I was on that last lap. My knees were now hurting badly, as was everything else below my waist and as we went up and down over a couple of rollers it was all I could do to hold back tears. But we ran. We hit the turnaround and headed for home, bypassing the final aid station. It would be close. The trail section remained and I had 15 minutes to break 10 hours.

The trail section the final few laps was a killer. Uneven terrain, up and down – just brutal on already tired and sore muscles and joints. The minutes ticked by and Dave kept pushing, even getting ahead of me by 40 or 50 yards a few times. We came off the trail and into a parking lot, which led to the final few hundred yards (uphill) to the finish line. As I crossed at 9:58:42 my wife and kids were waiting for me and I needed a few minutes to gather myself.

It’s not the fastest I’ve ever run this course (8:55 in 2013), but given the struggle that it was and remembering where I was in my fitness just four months ago, it may be the most satisfying as a personal accomplishment. This is a great race and a great course for anyone looking to push beyond the marathon distance. It has great organization, great support, there’s a 50k option as well (5 laps) and all the photos taken are free (imagine that!).

Oct 23

Pony Express 100 miler – Steve’s first 100

The Pony Express 100 was my first 100 mile ultramarathon. I decided last year that I wanted to do a 100 mile ultra and I spent all of 2015 leading up to it getting ready for this race. I ran multiple 50 milers earlier in the year, then I dialed things back a bit to let my body heal. A couple months before the race, I ramped up the training again. As the race approached I became more and more nervous. 100 miles is a REALLY LONG WAY. The longest I had done before was 100k (62 miles), and I now needed to do 38 more miles than that.

This 100 miler has an interesting format. The race takes place on dirt roads on the old pony express route (I’m sure you figured that part out). Participants provide their own vehicle and crew. The crew vehicle leapfrogs the runner along to give aid. The actual race only has a few aid stations and check in points. This format makes it great for first-timers like me. I had ample access to aid. This also makes it so friends and family can be a direct part of the race for their participants. I had my friends RJ, Josh, and Paul to crew/pace me. I realize this was a huge sacrifice in time, energy, and cost on their part. I deeply appreciate it.

I didn’t realize the logistics involved in a 100 miler. I had to make sure the crew was all briefed on their duties, the route, and timing. I had to make sure I had a vehicle and the right gear/equipment. We were also camping at the start the night before so I had to prepare for that. Plus all the normal items to pack like race clothing, nutrition, etc for a very long run.

The Pre-Race Crew Pic

We pulled up to the campground at the start line late Thursday night. It was a beautiful evening. The stars were amazing that far away from civilization. I didn’t sleep too well, as I suspected, given my nervousness. Also, there is a staggered start for the race to break up the crew vehicle traffic and have everyone finish within a certain time window. I was starting at 8am (with the faster group, although I wasn’t sure I belonged in that group). The others started at 5am, 6am, and 7am. So I kept getting woken up by runners starting, not that I slept much anyways.

The Pony Express

The race began in usual ultra fashion, laid back and without much fanfare. Off we went. The beginning of a 100 mile journey. The weather was fantastic in the morning. The first 13 or so miles were downhill. I settled into a pretty quick pace alongside the eventual 100 mile winner Curtis Eppley and Peter Van Horn. We had a good chat as we ran. My crew settled in a routine but quickly decided it would be prudent to top off the gas tank in the vehicle. This was fine since it was early in the race and I didn’t need as much aid. Curtis’ crew kindly took a few of my things to help me out along the way. I love stuff like that in the trail and ultra running community. People are willing to help each other out and want to see everyone succeed.

Running with Curtis Early(photo credit to Lara Roundy Eppley)

Eventually my crew returned and Curtis took off and I ran by myself through long stretches of the pony express trail. It was beautiful out there. You could see so far. There were very few man-made items along the natural landscape. There were some cool historical monuments along the way. The biggest hazard were the hunters flying down the road without regard to how dangerous it was to runners or how much dust they created for me to choke on while I ran. All the crews, volunteers, and everyone else associated with the race were very respectful keeping their dust and speed down as they approached runners. Some of those other drivers were scary, especially at night.

The View

I was going faster than I should have. During the beginning of the 100 miler, I ran a sub 2 hour half marathon, then a 4 hour marathon, then a 9 hour 50 miler, I PR’ed my 50k, and then PR’ed my 100k. Apparently, my first 50 miles of the race were nearly as fast as the winner of the 50 mile race. Yeah, it was a fast start to a 100 miler for me.

Cruising Along

About 50k into the race, my feet started to get a bit sore. I was still cruising though. By this time, I had Josh pacing me and things were going great. At first, I was hydrating with plain water or water with Nuun. I was consuming gels and Mamma Chia squeezes. I quickly got sick of the gels. Literally, my stomach was getting upset. I ate some ginger candy (with real ginger) and that helped settle things. I didn’t want to go back to the gels though. I rotated through coconut water, fruit, and chia squeezes. That seemed to work well. When I got to Blackrock aid station at mile 68, I had some hot broth that really helped.

Running with Josh(photo credit to Matthew Van Horn)

After about 50 miles, I started rotating more walking alternating with running. Most of the race so far I was in second or third (to my knowledge). I yo-yoed back and forth with Melissa Soper, an amazing ultra runner that went on to take first place woman. At the aid station at mile 33, Melissa and another runner Philip, left the aid station before me. I wasn’t stressed about it. I was content to run my own race. There was so much race left to run. I was focused on getting through it and my own issues (my stomach at the time). There was also a lot of sun exposure along those long straight dirt roads. The temps were fine but the sun took its toll even on this desert runner from Las Vegas. The sun was almost always on my left side throughout the race so I ended up with a funny sunburn only on my left arm and only on the left side of my face/neck, haha.

Pain Face

As I got to Fish Springs, I saw Phillip and his RV (sweet crew vehicle) on the side of the road. He was in a chair with his socks and shoes off. I asked him if he was okay and if he needed anything. He said he was having blister problems. Ouch. After checking in at the turnaround at Fish Springs, and re-applying some anti-chafing product (to avoid problems of my own), it had become dark and we headed out into it. RJ started pacing me at this point. Not far out of Fish Springs, we saw no sign of Philip or his RV as my crew leapfrogged ahead. Last we saw of him, he didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. Later, when we had cell service, we saw they hadn’t recorded a check-in for him at Fish Springs. We theorized that his foot issues were bad enough to warrant a DNF so he packed it up and drove off. We figured I was second or third as I kept changing places with Melissa.

Melissa and I got to Blackrock aid station (mile 68) at nearly the same time. I stopped for soup and she left quickly (smart). Sitting in the chair at the aid station was a bad idea for me. I did NOT want to get up. Paul was an awesome crew member and rubbed my sore lower back muscles. Eventually, I forced myself back out on the course. I felt really great after the soup but the feeling didn’t last long.

Having some soup

The miles in the 70s were the toughest for me. I started a long incline up to Dugway pass. I just didn’t have it in me to run at this point. Everything started hurting. My feet, calves, back, hips, glutes, and quads all hurt. Every step hurt.

Pain

I knew my crew was getting tired too. I was worried about them. I wanted them to get some sleep in shifts. I felt bad for how BORING the race was at this point too. We were walking along at as quick of a power hike as I could muster for so long. RJ traded pacing duties with Paul who hiked with me for a while. I was glad when I would get to vehicle and see a crew member or two grabbing some rest. I still felt like I wasn’t eating enough. Just some fruit and coconut water? I didn’t think that was enough fuel but I couldn’t risk another upset stomach. The night temperature was pleasant. The stars were beautiful and it was quiet. I had some negative thoughts though. Should I quit? Is this worth it if I have to walk the rest of this thing? I had come so far though. RJ had previously done the math that if I could maintain even a 15min/mile average, I could finish under 24 hours, which was my goal. That was a nice thought but that was such a long time away. Being out there walking so long was not appealing. When I hit mile 74, I realized I had a whole marathon left. When I hit mile 75, I realized I had one fourth of the whole race left. I was so negative even though I tried to tell myself to be patient. There I was in a world of negativity and pain.

But… I kept going.

Paul kept hiking along with me trying to be positive. We kept hiking up to the top of Dugway Pass, which felt like it would never come. Once I got to the top, I was so happy. I could run! I ran down the other side and kept going for a while. I pepped back up and did more running alternating with walking.

RJ started pacing me again. Before the 100, I was worried if I would get really loopy late in the race. I don’t think I got too bad. I heard some noises in the bushes and I got really drowsy at points as I watched my headlamp beam bob in front of me. I didn’t have any crazy hallucinations though.

Josh started pacing me. Now, Josh meant business at this point. “Let’s run,” he says. “I can’t,” I replied. “Sure you can. Let’s run a quarter mile.” “Okay.” And on it went. Josh kept pushing me, trying to get all the running he could out of me. I tried not to get too frustrated because I was in pain, and I knew Josh was trying to help me. He knew better than I did what I was capable of. He kept prodding just enough to get more out of me.

Now in the mid-80 miles, Josh and I were approaching another runner in the distance. His name was Kyle Emery and he had started at 7am. I knew, as far as placement, that I was still ahead of him because I could see him and I had an hour buffer. Still, it was nice to have someone to chase after. Eventually we caught up to him and it appeared he was resting in his vehicle and really struggling.  After we passed him, I kept running to put a little distance between us so he didn’t get any ideas about chasing me, hehe.

As I kept going, we saw more vehicles ahead. We ran by Melissa who was sitting in a chair being tended by her crew. I asked if she was okay and they said she’ll be fine. Josh and I got really excited because this now meant I was possibly in second place. I saw Melissa getting up and Josh and I took off! I don’t know what came over me. I had energy and motivation. I was excited and wanted to run. It felt like I was flying! Although I checked my splits later and I was running 9-10 min miles. I suppose that pace is kind of like flying at 86-96 miles into a race. The crew vehicle would move up for aid. I would wave it off. I wanted to keep this rhythm. I couldn’t stop (because I didn’t know if I could start again). I had to ride this wave. We just kept going, kept waving off the aid vehicle. Josh and Rychen ran alongside me. Everyone was pumped. We saw some other runners and their vehicles as we passed by. We saw Melissa’s crew vehicle pass by me, turn around, and head back. Hmmmm maybe she sent her husband up to see how far ahead I was? As he drove by, I did my best to look like I was running as fast as possible and showing no signs of slowing down!

Coming in for the finish

Finally, with a few miles left, we reached a hill and I had to slow down. I kept looking behind me as I hiked up that hill to see if anyone was coming. Nobody was catching up. I was so excited to be so close, but, seriously, a hill at mile 99? What’s up with that? I felt the anticipation building as I rounded that final corner, and ran down to the finish! What a feeling! I had accomplished this goal I had worked so hard for so long to accomplish. It was incredibly difficult. In my most optimistic projections, I thought a finishing time of 22:30 would be great if everything went right. I ended up finishing in 21:42! I thought maybe I had finished in second but Davy Crockett, the race director, told me I was third. Apparently, Phillip had really taken off and done well after he tended to his blisters rather than dropping and took second. I was so happy with third overall. I did not anticipate finishing so well. I got that 100 mile buckle too! It sure was nice to finally sit down with a cup of hot chocolate at the end and take my shoes off. To my surprise, no blisters or toenail problems! I wore the Altra Lone Peak 2.5s for the whole race with Injinji trail socks and it really helped.

Finished

I have so much more respect for the runners that compete in the 100 mile distance now. It was more difficult than I could have imagined.

Thank you to my family, crew, friends, trail and ultra community, volunteers, Davy Crockett, and all others involved in the Pony Express 100!

Buckle and Medal

Running Gear: Altra Lone Peak 2.5 shoes, Injinji trails socks, Pearl Izumi shorts, Ink n Burn shirt, Ultimate Direction handhelds

Nutrition: Water w/ Nuun, Mamma Chia, GU gels, Coca-Cola, fruit, ginger, PB&J, C2O coconut water, and hot broth.