Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tony Bennett, The Cure, Southeast Idaho Rockers, and an Ultramarathon

A few days ago, I found out Tony Bennett was playing at Outlaw Field by the old penitentiary. As an admirer of lounge singers in general, this was big news. Unfortunately, I had already purchased tickets to see The Cure the same night at the same time. As luck would have it, The Cure had an opener, Twilight Sad, which I had no interest in seeing. So at 7:00, Deanna and I ascended the Old Pen Trail above Outlaw Field and enjoyed the smooth croonings of 89-year-old Bennett for free, from a distance. He still sounds awesome! I figure if you're touring as a soon-to-be nonagenarian, it is a labor of love.

We left to hoping to catch the beginning of The Cure's set, unsure of how long the openers would take. We came in to the packed Centurylink Arena a few songs into the set and were immediately blasted with some of Simon Gallup's bone-shaking bass lines. I'm a casual Cure fan at best, really only delving into the early albums and having a superficial familiarity with everything since, ie "Lovesong," "Why Can't I be You," "Friday I'm in Love," etc. I had read that Robert Smith didn't really like the Boys Don't Cry/Three Imaginary Boys album, so I didn't expect to hear them play any of the songs I liked. (It turns out they haven't played any of those songs since 2011 other than "Boys Don't Cry"). But, this outing was mainly one of curiosity for me and an chance to spend some time with my much more legitimate fan wife. Despite my pessimism, I was blown away by how good these guys are and feel like I get their later stuff now after seeing them live. Some notable performances: "A Forest" "Let's Go to Bed" "Lovesong" "Sleep When I'm Dead" "Never Enough" "The Lovecats" Really the whole show was great-here's the entire setlist. They played for 3 hours with 3 encores!

How does this relate to running? People think about lots of things while they are running: nature, their place in the universe, how to solve a complex problem at work/home. And while I do contemplate each of these, I primarily get caught on a loop of one or two songs repeated over and over again. In the case of this weekend's Scout Mountain 60K, it was obviously The Cure. A fantastic way to focus on cadence.

The race was extraordinarily well organized. More so than any race I've run and that is probably because a decorated runner, Luke Nelson, is the race director. We arrived Friday afternoon to the Mink Creek Group Campsite and checked in, finding out that I randomly won a Black Diamond backpack. There were sponsors and giveaways galore-La Sportiva, Zeal Optics, Ultraspire, and even a local pharmacy-Shaver's.

Our pre-race meeting was short and to-the-point: don't litter or you'll never run the race again, take twice as much water as you planned because it's going to be hot, and be nice to the volunteers. Sage advice. Deanna and I set up our tent and headed back into Pocatello for a night on the town. We settled on sushi for dinner, a risky choice, but ultimately a good one. We walked around downtown and heard quite possibly the worst band in existence playing 80s hair metal (big surprise) at a record store with obscene prices. Exploring, we found what was once The Roche Motel, a small venue that was shortly in existence during my high school years. Notably, I attended my first concert here, Dropkick Murphys, which was a wild, wild punk rawk show! I remember bloody people emerging from the mosh pit and the lead singer threatening the venue staff when they turned off the power because they thought it was getting too violent. They played with Oxymoron, a now defunct German band, as well as The Ducky Boys and Randumbs. I had never seen such a spectacle in my short Snake River Valley tenure!

But back to running-we crammed into our ultralight 2-man tent to call it a night. I brought my obnoxiously large cot to make sure I slept well whilst my beloved found herself smashed against the wall of the tent. What a gentlewoman. At 5am, the 100k runners toed the line and made surprisingly little noise. We were able to sleep another hour or so before getting up and packing my race vest and trying to find the appetite to eat something. I had some nausea that was lingering from the day before, maybe due to nerves. It stayed with me off and on the whole race and after wards, probably exacerbated by dehydration. Never puked though. Ultimately, I ate a stinger waffle and chugged water. Then it was time to get on the bus that took us to the starting line. Before:

Luke gave us some final instructions and at 8:30 sharp, we were off. We followed city creek up a gradual incline in a mostly-cohesive pack of runners. Eventually we parted ways with the creek and hiked straight up the side of the mountain (not a soul was running). It was warming up and I was already pouring sweat off my face. Fortunately, this would be the steepest section of the race. We reached the top of the ridge near Kinport Peak and things flattened out on a jeep trail. This would be the most runnable section of the race and most of the shuffling took place over the next 15K. I made it a point to hold back the pace on this section, keeping my heart rate below 160. I wanted to be cautious about running conservatively the first half of the race so I would have something in the tank for the end. I'm glad I did this, because things got exponentially harder after reaching the Mink Creek aid station at the 25K mark.

The climbing from that point wasn't particularly steep, but it was getting hellaciously hot and I already had 25K behind me. My standard long training run on the weekends is about that long, so there is a psychological wall once I get to that point. This is where I went into phase 3 of running: where there is jogging to exhaustion followed by hiking, rinse, lather, repeat. (phase 1 is feeling great, phase 2 is able to push with some discomfort). Level 4 would come later...

I pushed onward, eventually catching up with some of the 35K runners. I also realized I had been followed for some time. I couldn't shake this older guy behind me who started messing with me and threw a rock in a puddle trying to freak me out. Turns out he was using me as a pacer and would run when I would run and hike when I would hike. Eventually, coming up the South side of Scout Mountain he caught up to me and told me as much. Bill and I became well acquainted over the next 20K or so. He had a camera and we snapped pics from the summit, glissading down a big snow drift, and generally acted goofy trying to get our minds off of how difficult this climb actually was. It worked. We made small goals to run to the next bush or rock, then walk a section. This section would have not gone well at all without my new compadre to share the pain with. This was a really cool experience in the Ultrarunning culture; people are competitive, but collaborative. In general, everyone is absurdly polite and chatty. It's a survival method to deal with these ridiculously long runs, I suppose. If ultrarunners were jerks, I don't think many people would be drawn to ultras. I've found the same culture among Boise trail runners. Running in groups is genuinely fun and mutually beneficial because everyone pushes each other to run faster and distracts each other from the pain. While I still enjoy most of my running solo, I'm a firm believer in group runs and races to push me beyond my normal efforts. And to spend time with some genuinely cool people!

Back to the race-passing the summit of Scout Mountain, we began our mercilessly steep descent. My legs were hurting in new ways at this point so this downhill was excruciating. Bill and I pressed on in an all-out effort to the 50K aid station. I was confident in my downhill running and put everything I had in this push. We started passing other runners who were walking downhill sections, so I knew we were making great time. Finally we hit the aid station and I was exhausted. I plopped down in a chair and one of the volunteers made it her mission to get me anything I needed-fruit, electrolytes, then she started massaging my calves! I will note here that the aid stations were unlike anything I have experienced previously. It was like a NASCAR pitstop. The second you rolled in, people were all over you applying sunscreen, filling bottles with ice, handing you food. It was great!

Sitting down was necessary at this point, and also dangerous. I did not want to run 10 more K in this heat. I took a few short minutes to compose myself. Looking around at the volunteers, I noticed none other than Karl Meltzer chopping up strawberries! Bill was ready to go at this point, so I joined him and we headed....straight uphill again! This is where Phase 4 began. The sun was beating down on this exposed climb and I could not physically run for any distance. When I tried, my breathing and heart rate would go wildly out of control and I would get dizzy. I literally felt like I would topple over. I feel very fortunate that I could at least hike as my primary goal at the start of this race was to keep moving no matter how hard it got. Bill seemed to only gain momentum and eventually he trotted off into the distance, but not without yelling at me to "come on!" A gentleman and a scholar...

Phase 4 was ugly. After finally cresting this blasted hill, I began a downhill section and found myself too exhausted to run. Downhill. That was demoralizing. Now I was getting passed by the occasional runner. If that wasn't enough, there was one last brutal climb over grassy exposed hills. I was overcome with thirst and chugged water and electrolyte, which did nothing to satiate my thirst. It was oppresively hot and I thought briefly that I would now die. I slowed the pace and pressed on. Delirious now, I stumbled on toward the last few kilometers. When the road to the finish came into sight, there was to be no more walking. I would run no matter how painful. The campground came into sight and Deanna met me a few 100 meters from the finish to taunt me that she was running faster than me. I couldn't even laugh! Focused completely on the finish, I crossed in just over 8 hours, 17th overall.

Sitting down was wonderful. After:

Strava Activity

Altra Superior 2.0 w/ Gaiters
Zensah Compression Sleeves
Half Buff
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0
Darn Tough Herringbone Micro Crew Light
Pearl Izumi Maverick Shorts
Brooks Shirt
Spy Dirk Sunglasses (found on the Appalachian Trail!)

Started with 100oz water, 60 in bladder, 40 in bottles
Picky Bars
Ginger Chews
Gu Gels
I took other food, but ended up not needing it because of the well-stocked aid stations.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Race to Robie Creek

Final Time 1:41:46 89th Overall 16th 30-34

After moving to Boise, the Race to Robie Creek was immediately on my radar because of the overwhelming consensus among runners that it was a great race. I was not disappointed. It was highly competitive, well run, and a fun/challenging course. There is roughly 2000' of climb in the first 8 miles, with the final mile of climbing being the steepest, but still runable (slowly).

Registering for the race is a nightmare. When the race opens online, it sells out within 15 minutes. I tried at 20 minutes to no avail. I entered the second-chance drawing and also failed to get in. Eventually I listened to some seasoned Boise runners and bought my bib from someone else.

My training has been very specific to Robie conditions. Initially, this wasn't intentional. I just did most of my training in the foothills close to the course. As race day drew near, I ran more specifically on the course to get familiar with it. That training was extremely beneficial from a mental perspective as I knew exactly how long I had to suffer through each climb. I also proved to myself that I could run the entire climb without stopping or hiking any sections.

The night before the race was surprisingly cold, there was a light freeze and frost on cars/roofs. The day was sunny and slowly warming up. I opted to wear wool compression leg sleeves primarily for warmth, but also to feel some lower leg security for the traumatic course. I brought a handheld water bottle and a single Gu gel. There would be aid stations, but I didn't want to rely on these.

My pre-race goal was to break 1:45. After running most of the sections, I calculated that I could achieve this goal if things went moderately well. I had a secondary, lofty goal to PR my half marathon time and go under 1:37, something that would take a miraculous effort.

I used my heart rate monitor to pace myself on the uphill while training, keeping in the 165-170 range. My max effort was about 190, which I would save to push through the steepest sections, if at all. What I found on race day, however was that my HR was averaging around 180 from the start (race environment). This was a good thing as I was able to keep a faster pace while feeling I was putting forth my normal effort.

The uphill went remarkably well. I blew past all the strange folks lining the course handing out booze and condoms and began the steep descent to Robie Creek. This section I had never run in it's entirety. I pushed really hard down from Aldape Summit and even clocked a sub 6 minute mile thanks to gravity. I tried to trust my legs and the steep training I had done. But I hadn't trained a lot at this red-line pace. So at mile 10, things started to go haywire. I developed a major side-stitch and leg cramps. This had happened during the few intense downhill training runs I had done, so I was frustrated but not terribly surprised. I attributed it to bad timing of my nutrition, but may also be a result of just not training enough at that intensity. If I could do this race over, I would have taken gatorade in my handheld instead of water. I would forego the gel at mile 3-4. I don't see this helping the stomach situation. During low-intensity training I don't have a problem with gels, but doesn't seem to work with this type of race.

Miles 10-12 were rough. My breathing was all over the place and my side-stitch made me feel like I was suffocating. I pushed through as hard as I could, but could not maintain the pace I wanted. Eventually I reached an aid station and speed-walked through while drinking a cup of gatorade. This short break was the reset I needed; I felt great for the last mile and upped the pace again. I'll keep this in mind for future runs when I have stomach issues: sometimes a break can set things back to normal.

Post-race consisted of a surprising amount of food (turnip greens?) and a bus ride back to town. Overall, a really fun, tough race that I'd like to make an annual tradition. I think on race day I was capable of breaking 1:40, but made some mistakes that prevented that from happening. I'm happy with my effort, however. This is the hardest I have raced at that distance and I was glad I held up as well as I did. After running a lot of races with poor training during college, pharmacy school, and residency, it feels great to train adequately and perform well on race day.

After the headache of registering and spending money to do something I can do on my own for free, I wasn't sure how much racing I wanted to do in the future. But after running this race and finding again that I simply don't reach my full potential during everyday running, I am a firm believer in the importance of periodic organized racing. It provides structure to training and competition that pushes me more than I would on regular runs. Next race-Scout Mountain Ultra Trail 60k