Sunday, June 30, 2013

San Juan Solstice 50 Miler

It all started with our buddy Kyle Stone mentioning that we should do this race -  He had participated in the event 7 or 8 times previously and said that it was one of his favorites and that it traverses some of the most scenic terrain you could ever want to see in 50 miles.  In addition, as I did a little recon for myself I saw that this race was rated as the one of the most difficult if not the most difficult 50 miler in the US - This is what we knew we were up against.

The difficulty lies in a few details;
50 mile distance
The race traverses miles at 8600ft - 13,400ft of elevation
13 miles are on the continental divide and above 12,000ft of elevation
The weather on the continental divide is unpredictable with widely varying temperatures, potential for hail, life threatening thunderstorms, wind and total exposure.

I wasn't so worried about the distance but how my body would react to the elevation, and not just the elevation but the effects of the elevation during a race.  Perceived exertion is a tough thing to judge in a race let alone this kind of race.  So my plan was to go by feel, run a smart conservative race, take a camera to help me slow down and enjoy the race and to have some memories from the event, all in an effort to see the likelihood of doing future races at elevation.  This race was either going to open the door to bigger events or it was going to slam it shut. 

The race starts on Main Street in Lake City Colorado at 5am.  There are 6 water stops and 3 places for drop bags.  At the start, it was just light enough to not need a headlamp or flashlight.  I decided to run in my Salamon Speedcross 3 with a 70oz Nathan pack and 1 20oz handheld (camelbak with a podium chill bottle).  I used the race sponsored Acli-mate drink in the handheld for the entire race. 

The course runs just under 3 miles along a gravel road before it hits the first trail running up Alpine Gulch.  This trail climbs up for 6.75 miles crossing a creek 7 times and climbing just under 4000ft.  The creek has log crossings to help you keep your feet dry, if you have good balance and have shoes that can grip wet logs.  I took the logs on all but 2 crossings (saw a guy slide off and decided not to chance it).  This trail was a mix of running and hiking.  I enjoyed the mix and had dreaded that this would be a hike only when I initially saw the elevation profile. 

Once to the first water stop things became more of a hike.  Since this was above tree line you could see all the people in front of you and distance and elevation that was ahead.  At the top of the climb things switched in the opposite direction.  A mostly steep downhill that hammered the quads all the way down to the Williams Creek Campground.  I noticed the weirdest thing on this downhill, my speed was limited by oxygen.  I couldn't go downhill as fast as I wanted without gasping for air and getting light headed.  So I had to slow down a bit.  In addition, the same thing would happen when drinking or eating.  Normally here in Virginia, I eat and drink on the uphills when I'm going slower.  But out there at elevation I couldn't do both at the same time.  I'd have to stop and drink, or take a bite of food and then eat it slowly or stop to chew it up.  I expected to be out of breath moving but was totally surprised by this. 

I hit WS 2 in 3:25, things were going well and I felt like I was running smart and conservative.  I had hoped to meet up with Lori Stone at this WS and get a stash of bars I had left with her, but I didn't see her at the stop so as I left the campground I begged someone else's crew member for a hammer bar.  Otherwise I would have been in rough shape climbing up to the next water stop.   

The course follows a gravel road for 2.5 miles before heading onto a very long and steep jeep road.  The only good thing about this road is that it was mostly shaded,  It was all hiking.  The road didn't give a bit in regard to steepness.  I was surprised when I hit the aid station and they asked if I wanted my drop bag.  I was thinking the drop bag would be at the next stop. 

I took my drop bag that had my emergency "Divide" items and asked some of the other participants if they felt like we needed the weather safety gear.  My drop bag had a water resistant coat, gloves, fleece hat and buff, and wind pants.  I took the buff and left everything else.  I had a microlight jacket in my pack already and kept it.  I put on some sunscreen, rested, packed more bars for the upcoming 13 miles and was off.  This next section seemed to be an endless climb.  We would head up the high point of the race at 13,400ish before traversing the up and down continental divide section.  It was great and it was miserable.  The views were fantastic, we could see forever, we could see the fire that threatened the neighboring cities, we could see where we were and where we where headed.  But the climb was a death march.  It was difficult to do more than a hike and the hiking was tough due to the thin air. 

Once through the high point it was up and down for the remainder to the next water stop.  Some of the downs were really rocky and took the conservative angle and hiked these.  I didn't want one misplaced foot to ruin my chances of finishing the race.  It was toward the end of this section that I started to get very light headed.  I could feel the "buzz" building up for awhile but thought it would go away.  The sensation was that of an alcoholic buzz and as it got worse I noticed I couldn't run in a straight line.  Thankfully having a seat at the water stop and chilling for awhile things went back to normal.  Now it was an 8 or so mile section to the next water stop and drop bag where Lori was waiting for Kyle so that she could run in with him over the last 10 miles. 

This section had another climb and then was followed by a dirt road section that was a gradual up and down.  Then came a very steep rocky technical decent, which made me think it was perfect training for the end of the Iron Mtn 30 miler at the end of August.  Toward the end of the this section the jeep road went through an aspen grove.  If you've never run or biked through aspens you've really missed out.  It is indescribable. 

I hit the 40 mile point and the Slumgullion water stop ready for my change of shoes (newer Salamon Speed Crosses).  Lori helped me change socks and shoes, refilled my pack and bottle, resupplied with bars, took a picture I don't remember and sent me off. 

I felt great leaving this water stop and hitting the initial downhill before the last climb.  I thought the shoes had re-energized my legs and feet.  But I was wrong.  We hit the next climb and the wheels fell off.  This thing felt like the steepest climb of the day, which it wasn't, and every time I looked up I would see the guy in front of me still climbing.  It was dreadful.  It went on and on and I had to take numerous breaks to catch my breath.  I normally can hike like crazy, but throughout the day it was the lungs, not the legs that were the limiter.  Finally to the top and I could run again.  This was a nice section, again through the aspens that took us to the final water stop managed by the Vickers (owners of the property we were going through on this section).  I had a couple guys near me at this point so I topped off my bottle and was off.  The trail continued a slight up and down until we his the last few miles which were once again on a very steep rocky technical downhill trail. 

The best part of this was seeing Lake City emerge from the tress and knowing that it was downhill and then through the town to the finish at the park.  Once off the trail the course went down a rocky road to the city limit and asphalt.  The road was fairly level but it was so hard to propel myself along at this point.  I wished it was downhill.  I finally got to the bridge over the river and knew exactly where I was.  It was another 1/2 mile or so to the finish.  They had volunteers at the intersections managing traffic and had us running down main street to the park and finish.  Everyone along the way was clapping and congratulating me as I finished up this last section.  The whole town is behind this race.  I hit the line in 12:27:20 and in 69th place. 

The whole story - and pictures -
I took 190 pictures during the race.

I usually know how bad a race went by how long it takes to forget the bad parts.  By later that evening and the next morning most of the negative had worn off.  I'll do something like this again and am already planning ahead to our vacation adventure of 2014.

Training Week of 6/11/13

6/12/13 - I took Tuesday off to give my foot a little extra rest.  Ran through Fishburn Park and Grandin Court for a 6 miler.
6/13/13 - Road biked to Green Hill Park and Back for 19 miles.
6/14/13 - Wanted to get in a decent run so I did 9 on the road and greenway.  Foot did OK but it does have me a little worried.
6/15/13 - Ran the trails of Mill Mountain on the morning of our RNUTS Social.  Did a total of 6.4miles.  Foot felt OK.
6/16/13 - Ran a 8.35 mile loop through Garst Mill Park and Fishburn Park.
Total for the week; 29.75 miles running and 19 miles cycling.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Week May 20th to June 9th

Here is a recap of the weeks following the Smoky Mtn Traverse -

5/21/13 - 6 mile loop and 1.5 mile cool down.
5/22/13 - 8.15 - Ran at the cove, road in, 1000ft climb to the Drop, down the drop to comet, lower comet and out on the road.  Felt decent on the 1000ft climb and legs are feeling good despite the previous weeks activity.
5/24/13 - 13.4 - Ran 4 gorge and the lower loop at the cove while marking the CtC course.
5/25/13 - 7.6 miles - Hiked up McAfees for a sunset and moonrise hike.
5/26/13 - 10 miles - Woodthrush - Chestnut Ridge - Woodthrush.
Total for the week; 46.65 miles running
All in all I felt pretty good this week following the big efforts in the Smokies.

Following the 5/26/13 run I started having left tibialis anterior muscle strain issues.  It bothered me on that run but wasn't too bad until I stopped and afterwards was having a lot of pain with each step.
5/27/13 - Decided to ride the Trough/Gauntlet loop to cut out some trees and mark those trails for the CtC races.  Leg hurt the whole time.
I decided to take the week off until 5/31 when Gina and I biked the entire CtC Marathon course to mark it and put out the mile markers.  28 miles of mtn biking.
Total for the week;  35 miles of mtn biking.
It ended up being a decent week to take off from running since I needed to give myself a break from the last few weeks of effort and in preparation for the Conquer the Cove races.  That event puts a lot of stress on me and dealing with that stress alone was probably a good thing.

6/3/13 - Ran 6 miles as a test for my leg.  Still feels off but the run went OK.
6/4/13 - Ran the 6 mile loop and 1.5 mile cool down.
6/5/13 - Ran the gauntlet and trough loop.  I hit the Gauntlet pretty hard to test things out and it went well.  The gauntlet is a nice time trial trail.  It isn't too long but it can really hurt.  It is a good place to test the lungs and hill climbing legs.  I usually time things from the gate at Timberview to the top of Gauntlet.  I think I've been in the 30's a few times and this time was in the upper 32's.
6/7/13 - 21.41 miles running from our house on the greenway.  The greenway was closed due to the low water bridge being out, so I ran on Main Street to Elm to Jefferson to Walnut and back to the greenway.  From here I ran to the Star Trail Trailhead and took Woodthrush to the top and then the Star Trail to the pedestrian crossing.  At this point I ran the entire Mill Mountain Mayhem 10k course back to Woodthrush and then continued to the Parkway Spur where I took the Fern Park Trail and then hit the greenway and headed back home.
The run felt pretty good but I was spent at the end.  It was a humid morning and I was soaked at the end.
6/9/13 - 9.25.  Ran to the bridge street greenway, smith park, and then back through the cemetery.
Total for the week;  52.16 miles of running.
Decent week of mileage.  Now I have a new pain at the proximal 4th metatarsal.  Not too bad but enough to make me worry a bit.  I'd hoped to hit this race in good form but random issues are popping up.