Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 Bighorn 50K Race Report - Rocks, Mountains, and Views

As I looked up the slope coming out of the start line, I thought, "That won't be so bad. Warm-up hike and then we'll be up there." And then the mountain JUST. KEPT. GOING.

It was race day morning for the Bighorn 50K. The biggest, hardest mountain race I'd taken on. One Lesley and I had started talking about at Palo Duro Trail Run last October. After traveling to Bandera in January, Jeremy was on board to do the 100 mile. And now we were all finally in the land of very little air, big mountains, and giant canyons.

It took me two blog posts just to get us to this start line. One about the 2 days leading up to the race, and how Jeremy and other friends had already started the 100 mile race. And one post about the logistics required for a point-to-point mountain race to even get to the start line.

And now it was our turn. We lined up in the back.

It was time to go, and we saw our friend Luke racing up the mountain at the very front of the pack. For the rest of us HUMANS, everyone quietly powerhiked up the mountain. Compare it to a large road marathon, and it's the quietest, least energetic race start you've ever seen.

It wasn't long before both Lesley and I could feel the impact the altitude had when climbing. I wasn't going to hold it against my Hypoxico altitude tent training I had been doing because climbs like this even at sea level would have had me huffing and puffing.

The line of powerhiking runners turned a bend, and we kept going up. We came up over a hill.... and we kept going up. Into a few trees and back out... and we kept going up. It was about 2 miles of just UP, and some of it decently rocky. This was part of an 8 mile stretch the 50K would do to loop around to rejoin the 100M and 50M course to get our distance. Only the 50K saw this section. We were literally climbing a mountain to run along a ridge before descending to rejoin the other distance runners.

We spent this uphill ridge section picking our times and places to run versus walk as the hills rolled through this terrain, yet still sending us up. "We'll walk at that tree that the light is hitting." "Run again when we hit that patch of sage bushes." Horribly pretty, but for identifying places to run or walk, sometimes you just wished you had a mailbox or lamppost or stop sign for a reference point!

About 3 miles in we came around a bend with pine trees, and in the shade was a 6'x6' pile of SNOW! Lesley laid down and did a snow angel and once she froze her butt doing that, I was not laying down in that! The participants behind us laughed like we were the oddest things they'd ever seen. But when we explained we were from Texas, it all made sense. We definitely a state slogan we could use with all the people who were from the area: "Come Visit Texas. We've Got AIR!"

At 4 miles, we had an "aid station"... of sorts. In a trail race, sometimes your aid station really is just a guy with a Search & Rescue ATV on the side of the trail, with a cooler of water hanging off his tailgate. We refilled our water and were thankful to him. Of course, then we had to drink the water for another 4.2 miles to the next aid station, and it had an "off" not fresh taste that just bugs you when it's your only hydration for miles to go.

Then we passed an older gentleman, and he asks in a surprised voice, "Did you two ladies start the race late?!" We laughed and said, "No, we're just being conservative today!" We told him about being from the land of sea level. He had run the race before.

The altitude didn't really bother me much. Lesley said it didn't bother her, but she was running an easier pace - she's a faster runner than me, for sure. While the ups were hard, they were hard regardless of altitude. On the flats and downs, I felt like I could run the same paces at home. And when I finished, that result would show in my finish time. Seattle friends said the altitude was noticeable to their perceived effort too. 5 weeks in a Hypoxico altitude tent with a handful high altitude treadmill workouts had worked its magic to take the edge off of what was already a hard race.

5 miles in and we note and step over a piece of contractor tape that appears to have blown onto the trail from wherever it was attached, as we continued on this wide ATV trail. There was no one ahead or behind us in view at all. After a quarter of a mile, we noted there weren't any trail markers. As we approached a half mile, we started to really worry we had missed a marked turnoff. At 0.6 miles from where we had ended up going off trail, we hit a deadend in the ATV trail. It literally ended in a turnaround donut. Lucky to get off trail on a place that made it so obvious. Of course before backtracking, we took a "selfie" of us in front of the deadend.

We encountered a couple runners as we headed back. Later we would talk to a few others who called people back from the spot where we went off. As we were heading back to find where we got off course, the older gentleman from before said, "I'm not above bushwhacking down this mountain. Are you up for an adventure?" Uh, no. We'll stay on the trail, thankyaverymuch.

We get back to the contractor tape across the trail. And that's when we finally see that up the hill, through the grass (not a trail!), is a flag. Then another flag. OH! We had done 1.2 miles of bonus miles, or as David Hanenburg would say, we were getting the best value out of our race entry fee that day.

And that path through the grass ended up signifying the trail all the way down the mountain. We went through trees, around downed logs, with soft dark forest soil and numerous muddy or snowmelt brook crossings. A super steep descent at one point through soft soil that gave way mixed with rocks. And the whole time, Lesley keeps saying "This is NOT a trail." Someone had come out with their plow and a weedwhacker and made a way down the mountain it seemed, to make the 50K distance work out. I took a shadowy picture of Lesley in front of some giant boulders. Our friend Rebecca said in her blog that she liked this whole bushwhacking section. I did not. Perhaps it was that now I was on high alert and in front. I was wayfinding for flags and course marking ribbons like it was the difference between life and death. Maybe it was that they had said we would have an aid station at miles 6 and 8.2, and we were at 7 miles without a mile 6 aid station. Was the water cooler at the ATV at mile 4 the actual mile "6" aid station?! Did we miss one? Did they just set up 2 miles earlier on this race day? Welcome to trail racing and its mysteries and unknowns when out on the course. :-/  One cool thing though was that, with a big break in runners thanks to us getting lost, in that time between the runners ahead of us and us coming along, multiple deer had come through, leaving big tracks in the soft soil!

We emerged from the trees into the meadows of the canyon down below. This was our "Heidi" moment or our "Sound of Music" section, where I realized as I sang that I only know the first line to "The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music". LOL.

Lesley and I were finally seeing runners once we were in the rolling meadow section. We would exclaim "I See Humans!!" I looked back up at the mountain ridge we had traveled on. I said to Lesley, "Look, there's the boulders I took a picture of you on the other side of." They looked so far away now!
Up on the mountain. Lesley in front of boulders. (Stupid shadow)
That gray horizontal line of rocks in the middle of the picture near the top of the mountain? Yeah, that's where we had come from! Really puts it into perspective.

We came into Cow Camp Aid Station at mile 8.2. We had heard they take 40 pounds of bacon to this aid station, so we were excited. I ate two pieces of bacon - so crispy, it was delicious! They also had roasted potato slices. Oh my goodness they were still blazing hot, but that didn't really stop Lesley or me from shoving them down because they were so good. Ultrarunners turn stupid in front of food after the miles we put in, so they really should be careful about what temperature the food is they are setting out.

Now we were seeing lots of humans as we had intersected the 50 mile and 100 mile runners. We met a super nice 100M runner from Sweden. He said he could race anywhere in Europe but he had chosen to come here! Very cool! We were all chitchatting as we encountered each other on the trail.

This field segment from miles 8.2 to 14.4 had a dozen snowmelt crossings. Being back of the pack meant that the crossing had been widened too with mud and deep footprints of those before us. My feet got soaked over and over again during this.

Yet we knew we had to go up-up-up to get back to our start line, which would be the Dry Fork Aid Station at mile 14.4. Every time we had a big hill, we would then have downhill. It was maddening because each downhill meant that the uphill was getting shorter and steeper. It was not helped that the canyon's meadows made it that you could see the glint of the cars when you were miles from the aid station. The distance didn't bother me personally because, with my Garmin, I had realistic expectations of how far we still had to go. But knowing the hill was coming was unsettling.

The slog up the hill into the Dry Fork aid station was exactly as terrifying then as we had built it up to be. A big long uphill. Lesley said it made her think of a biblical exodus as the hill was dotted with ultrarunners slow hiking it. I sang from Ferris Bueller, "When Cameron was in Egypt land... let my Cameron GOOOooooOOO!" Yes, I'm a goofball.

Into the Dry Fork aid station, and this was our longest stop. About 7 minutes. I wanted to really catch my breath from that 800 ft ascent we had just made. I had some potatoes with salt, some peanut M&Ms, and some Pepsi. I don't drink soda normally, but love it starting about 13-15 miles into an ultra. But it has always been Coke until this time around. Blech to Pepsi. Overly sweet to me. But it was caffeine and liquid gold in terms of calories, so I downed 2 cups.

Leaving Dry Fork, it was a long uphill on a wide dusty road. Occasionally cars would come roaring down the road making the air thick with dust. Even once we left the road, it was a big uphill section of trail.

Lesley and I had a good rhythm going after that. We almost went off the course another time, seeing a giant creek to cross ahead, before another girl pointed out the flags going through the grassy field higher up the hill. Oops. "NOT a trail!" from Lesley again. But when we followed, the place where we crossed the creek did have a pretty cool, yet unstable, bridge for us!

I chatted with a guy from Arizona who was doing the 100 mile. He was happy for the distraction, and we bombed a downhill together leading up to the mile 19.5 Upper Sheep Creek aid station. Lesley started noticing her knee bothering her on this downhill.

By the way, they totally should have had aid station shirts, even available for purchase, that said "Bighorn Trail Run... Upper Sheep Creek without a Paddle". I sooo would have bought one. It was my own private giggle.

Out of the aid station we soon came to "The Haul". It was about 1000 ft up in a mile or so. BIG up. Lesley is a stronger climber than me, so she was consistently far ahead. She would reach what we thought was the top, disappear, and then I'd hear "It keeps going." And then I'd get around the next bend and yell curses. I took a couple short breaks up this hill.

Lesley had thankfully waited for me, finding she had cell service, she called a friend to say she was on top of a mountain. As we ran through this field, I'm in front watching for rocks, picking my footing, and wayfinding for course markers. Lesley pipes up that she thought she spotted poison ivy by the trail. Oh great, then all I could see when I looked at the trail were the plants on either side. I was sure I was going to take a big tumble and kept having to snap myself out of it. Then at one point I said, "My leg itches. But I'm afraid it could be poison ivy and I don't want to spread it, so I will NOT scratch it!" LOL.

Then, it got exciting as we had to drop 3500 ft in just 2 miles. It was horribly steep, and the trail was narrow with lots of loose rocks and embedded boulders. And it went down right alongside a barb wire fence that just screamed "Tetanus". At this point, Lesley's knee was having a lot of trouble taking the downhill. The distance between us started to widen. I would look back a lot and for a long while I could see her when we'd both have come over one of the hills.

Besides being such a steep drop, we would also then have a small uphill here and there. Watching the relative elevation on my Garmin, I knew how much we still had to drop to get to the aid station at mile 24.5. When I arrived in the aid station at Lower Sheep Creek, I chatted with the aid station volunteers. I talked about being from Texas, which would be great when Lesley came in because they would light a fire in her to hunt me down to finish together when they said another girl from Texas had just come through!!
How's that for a creek crossing?! Interesting "bridge"

It was a long 2.2 miles to the next aid station. My feet had been hurting. It was what hurt the most on me, but it was getting progressively worse. I knew I had multiple blisters forming, but I couldn't do much about it now. It was mind over matter.

Lesley caught me a half mile before the Tongue River aid station. We had to scramble over some boulders with a cliff to one side and a mountain wall on the other. I wasn't very talkative with my foot pain at that point, but I was happy to see her.

At the Tongue River aid station, we knew we had 5 miles left ... of awful pebbly gravel road. I turned away from the real food this late in the race and just did a cup of Pepsi and a cup of Ginger ale.

That horrible gravel road that went on forever. In the hot sun with no shade. I was mostly silent, letting Lesley do all the gabbing with an occasional hand gesture thrown in from me. Everything in my energy not to think about how much my feet hurt. I stopped a couple times from the pain but Lesley would say, "No stopping, let's go!" She acted like a pacer, keeping just ahead and to my left so I couldn't smack her or tackle her or strangle her. All things I wanted then. The flat terrain wasn't completely tearing up her knee at this point, so advantage Lesley on that one.
Set up in someone's yard. The legs spun thanks to drills attached to the back. So cute!

Cars kept passing us. Unless you were one of the few who lived on that road or you were going to or from the aid station, they'd made it clear that crews were NOT supposed to drive on the road. They would kick up tons of dust, and they would throw us off our path. Because we would pick the flattest most worn down pebbled section of the road and run on that. Deviating off to a more gravelly section hurt terribly. At one point I tried to muster a bigger run and after saying for a half mile that I wasn't going to cry, I started crying on that run and then hyperventilating, and we had to slow up while I breathed.

Two miles out, I suddenly stopped. Lesley said, "Let's go!" I said, "Wait." A blister on my right heel had exploded and a searing hot fire shot through my body, and I sobbed for a second. So incredibly painful. Then we got moving again. A couple hanging out by their Jeep cheered us on, but, while I normally get out a Thank you, I had nothing for them. Lesley said, "Let's go!" about a mile out, and I suddenly yelled, "I'm going as fast as I can!!!" Seconds later I added, "I'm really happy you are here on this trip and that we're going to finish together". It wasn't personal, she knew it, but I was beyond grumpy.

We crossed a bridge into town with about 0.4 miles to go. A woman cheered, "You're Almost There!" I said," NO! No, we're not. Stop saying that." She said, "Ok." And I actually said, "Thank you." It was that moment where unless that finish line was 20 feet in front of me, I was nowhere near almost there, and I couldn't take it. I imagined how ripped up my feet had to be, how many blisters I must have, because my feet were on fire.

We came into the park, and people were cheering. Nice small group of lovely spectators. The park gravel got terribly rutted and Lesley's knee barked at her... hard. Suddenly after 5 miles of pacing me, it turned around into me pushing the pace and telling her, "Just a few more steps" for that tenth of a mile.

We crossed the finish line spent. And we were shocked that Rebecca, Luke, and Courtney were all right there waiting for us. Rebecca got a picture of us crossing the finish line. And Luke and Courtney had finished their races and collected their awards hours ago, so we were so touched and surprised that they really had waited for us! I couldn't speak. Then Lesley was crying to Becca. I started to walk a little towards where Luke and Courtney had staked out a spot, and Becca was asking me what I needed. That's when I cried that my feet hurt so bad. She steered me straight over to medical.
No smiles.

It turns out I had feet maceration. All the wet creek crossings had done a toll, and I was told I basically had pulverized them into "hamburger". The entire bottoms of both feet looked smashed, flattened, and the skin was white, paper thin, like pruny fingers to 100x the magnitude you've seen. My right blister that had exploded they cleaned up with antiseptic. And I had a handful of other various big and small blisters, but after reviewing, it was agreed I should leave them alone for now. I was told to walk around the race site and hang out barefoot. My feet basically needed to dry out so the skin could firm back up and stop folding over itself to make blisters or potentially ripping. It was so painful.

But back to the results.... With 5000 gain in elevation and 8700 loss, with altitude thrown in, and technical terrain, and a bonus 1.2 miles, and we had finished in 9:30. I had set myself a goal that I wanted to finish faster than the rocky, yet low altitude, Bandera 50K I had run back in January, where I finished in a 9:52. So I was really pleased with my time.

Afterwards I sat with my lovely friends for quite a while. Luke offered me one of their camp chairs, and eventually, even though I'm not a big beer drinker, I did finally accept his offer and drink one of theirs. I needed the calories. Nothing in me wanted to eat and wouldn't for hours after.

Then, we saw our friend Jaime coming around the corner of the park. And we cheered him in. He was worn out.

15 minutes later, Jenn crossed the finish line, with a nosebleed.

2 minutes after that, Jeremy came in and completed his 6th 100 miler in 33 hours, 15 minutes.

Bighorn 50K was definitely the hardest race I had ever done. Yes, harder than the other 8 50Ks I had completed previously. Yes, even harder than the 2 50 mile races I'd completed. And it was so worth it!

New and old friends, a strong personal challenge, absolutely gorgeous views, what a fantastic race weekend!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 Bighorn Train Run 50K - Getting Up the Mountain

After two days of ultrarunner friends and sending off some of our friends on their 100 mile race, it was time for Lesley and I to run the Bighorn Trail Run 50K on Saturday. The logistics of even getting to the gun start of a mountain trail race that's point-to-point was a lot, and that's this post, hopefully useful for anyone running it next year too!

4:30 am: Yep, a 4:30 wakeup for an 8 am race. Yawn.

5:15 am: Lesley, Rebecca, and I loaded into the car for the 25 minute drive from the hotel in Sheridan to the tiny town of Dayton. We had to park at the local high school there, about a mile from the finish line.

5:45 am: We're loaded one of several school buses. You HAD to buy a bus ticket for $10. I personally wish they had included it in the entry fee, because making sure you had that ticket on you was very stressful! Ultimately, they didn't even check for our bus ticket. However, please note I would NEVER advocate not having a bus ticket. If you didn't have it and they had been sticklers about it, you would have been stranded completely!

6:00 am: The bus starts the long drive up the mountain. By trail, the start line would be 17 miles away. But by road, it took an hour to make the drive. We saw deer as we drove up. Our bus driver did not really get where he was going and missed our turnoff (luckily enough had run it before or crewed the day before to yell to him seconds after it happened), and then he made a wrong turn on a dirt road that he had to back up and turn around. Great way to make us all nervous that we would even get there!

7:00 am: We had to disembark the bus so they could get them out of the start area. So we're 7500 ft up on a mountain, in 45ish degree temperatures, with no bag to leave gear, trying to stay warm and standing around. We immediately got in the portapotty line, thinking it would get worse with each bus that arrived after us.

While in the line, we could see Luke and Courtney. We chatted about our awesome friends and our amazement that they could win the whole thing. A girl in the potty line behind us chimed in, disgustedly, "You can't tell how people will perform just by their body type. That's not fair." I was astounded. And Rebecca says, "No, we know them. They're friends of ours. And they're really really fast."

After the bathroom stop, we met up with Courtney, Luke, and Phil and talking to everyone passed the time quickly. Shivering loses lots of energy pre-race, especially with standing around for an hour, so I was glad to have my jacket, even if I would tie it around my waist only 2 miles in.

8:00 am: A guy sang the national anthem, we lined up, and off we went.

I'll write up the race itself soon!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bighorn Trail Run Travel and How the Ultrarunning Community is Amazing

I need to write a race report about the amazing experience at Bighorn Trail Run 50K on Saturday, but since the race weekend technically started Thursday, I thought a post about the lead-up to the race would be a good idea too. And in my head it quickly evolved into a story of just how amazing the ultrarunning trailrunning community is.

Getting to the Middle Of Nowhere

Lesley, Jeremy, and I started our Thursday at the airport at 5:30 am. First a 1 hour flight to Houston. Then a 2 hr 46 min flight to Rapid City, South Dakota, which ironically I had just been to for the first time ever only 2 weeks before when I ran Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon.

Then, we picked up our rental car: a Subaru Outback with only 1000 miles on it. It even smelled new! It was a 3 1/2 hour drive to Sheridan, Wyoming. Along the way we chatted nonstop, made Lesley snort-laugh over crude jokes, and had a bird hit our windshield just as we were entering Wyoming! It sounded like a dull baseball hitting the windshield and was terribly disturbing.

We checked into the hotel to immediately head off to packet pickup.

Not Sisters and Awesome Swag

Thursday was really intended to only be packet pickup for the 100 milers, which Jeremy was running. But Lesley and I went ahead and asked if there was a chance to get our 50K packets. They were really nice and accommodating when we would have been totally okay if they'd yelled NO and told us to come back tomorrow. The race director asked us our names and we had our "Are you sisters?" of this trip. "No." Then: "So, sister-in-laws!" ... "Um, no, we just have the same last name."  ... "OH!" We'd even talked in the car about if it would happen on this trip - it has before!

The bibs were personalized, although oddly the 50M and 100M bibs had "[Last Name] [First Name]" without even a comma. 50K had First and Last Name in order. We were given our choice of shirt colors. For the 50K women, it was purple or pink short sleeve shirts. We both chose purple. For other distances, I saw blue, green, orange, turquoise. They had a lot of options!

The race packet bag was actually a lime green insulated zippered lunch tote. Really nice.

100 milers also received a "Bighorn 100" beanie cap, and "I [heart] Bighorn" socks.

F'in B

I'd highly suggested Jeremy do a drop bag just in case when he was leaning towards not. And since I knew the course, I told him Footbridge Aid Station seemed a good place to put it (Miles 30/66). However, Jeremy hadn't studied the course and didn't know the aid stations. A very different attitude for attacking a 100 miler than me, the data-obsessive type.

So we take his bag to the dropoff spot and he again asks me where the bag is going to. "Footbridge". On the drive back to the hotel:
"Where did we put it?"
"Okay, F'in B. F'in B."

By evening, Jeremy says, "So my drop bag is at... F'in B... Fire. Buh, buh, buh..."
I gave him 50/50 at that point of him remembering and thought he'd be going into each aid station having to check for a bag or he would miss it completely. [Ultimately, he'd have no trouble accessing his bag]

Everyone Knows Everyone... Almost

We went to the pasta dinner at the local restaurant, Ole's Pizza and Pasta House. We get our food and then run into Sonia (who is coached by Jeremy and I'd met at Bandera this year) and the 100 miler she was crewing for, Jaime. So we all sit down to eat together.

Lesley is watching for her friend Jenn (running the 100M) to arrive. I'm wondering if we'll see Betsy (running the 50M), who I've been Facebook friends with since Gorge Waterfalls 50K March 2012 but not really met, and it turns out Jeremy knows Betsy's husband Matt (running the 100M)! So imagine our surprise when all 3 of them walk in together, along with Vivian (running the 50M) who we got to meet for the first time!

We had a great time eating pizza and spaghetti, talking about races we'd done, races we want to do, mutual friends we know (which is always a bunch of people), and anything else. Non-stop conversation. You would think the entire group of 9 had all known each other for years. It was so amazingly cool. THAT is the ultrarunner community for you.

100 Mile Race Briefing

The briefing for the 100 milers was at 9 am. But the race didn't start until 11 am. Everyone hung around and chatted. The casualness and calm intensity of the 100 mile runners is pretty neat to watch. The participants are happy and excited; many are ready for a beautiful day... and night...and day again journeying all over the mountain.

At the end of the briefing, they let us know that the start line was 4 miles away, on a little dirt road that had very little parking. The amazingly tight-knit community of ultrarunning shown out again. We were told not to leave the briefing without a car full of runners, crews, and spectators. Everyone to work together. And that's exactly what everyone did. No "out for myself only" mentality, or "I can't be troubled" attitude.

100 Mile Start

After Lesley had commented on the drive that she didn't know what poison ivy looked like (and frankly I didn't either!), Jeremy called her and me over and showed us some in the field by the start. I worried I wouldn't remember what it looked like when I came upon it on the trail - it looked like just a bunch of leaves to me.

A national anthem with the US flag, and then the race was off. No fanfare. Everyone jogged off down the road to start climbing up the mountain.

Scoping Out the 50K Start and Cheering Our Friends

The 50K race would start at mile 13.5 of the 100 Mile race, at the Dry Fork Aid Station. It took an hour to even get up to there from the 100 mile start, which was another 30 minutes from the town of Sheridan, where our hotel was. We did a caravan up the mountain with our friend Sonia and another girl who was crewing her boyfriend that Sonia had just met that morning.

Once up there, it was about 15 degrees colder than 3500 feet lower in the town of Dayton. Sonia was sweet enough to lend Lesley a jacket and me two layers of long sleeve shirts in her trunk. Of course, she's an itty bitty thing so it was the tightest shirt EVER, but it was warm.

Lesley and I jogged the half mile from the parking to the aid station. Breathing was a little harder than usual, but it wasn't terrible. It was good to get a sense of what was to come tomorrow.

We met up with Betsy who was just seeing her husband Matt off as he left the aid station, then we made ourselves comfortable on some rocks and cheered in all the runners. One older fellow came in and his wife appeared to be crewing for him. He was cold and had forgotten to put a long sleeve in his pack so he said he needed his wife's long sleeve. And right there, she made the best crew ever as she gave him the shirt off her back, shivering in the short sleeve she had on underneath. He looked a fool in a normal crowd with his long sleeve women's tech shirt, but it got the job done and that's the point in 100 miles. Get it done.

Jennifer came running in, and we all cheered and took pictures.

Jeremy was next.

Lesley jumped in to fill his water pack and grabbed his hat when it suddenly tried to blow away, because it was terribly windy up there. Jeremy filled up on calories and then was ready to head out. I told him to stop so I could get a quick picture. Then he gave us each a quick hug, thanked us for being out there, and headed out.

Jaime came in just a few minutes after Jeremy. While Sonia was helping him, Lesley saw two 100 mile ladies head out the wrong way from the aid station. "Are they supposed to go that way?" she asked the volunteer manning the check-in and check-out of the station. They just looked at her blankly. Then said, "no". And just stood there. Lesley went running after them and turned them around. We were both shaken and upset to see those couple volunteers just stood there and didn't address it.

Dinner with Long Time Friends, First Time Face to Face

Lesley and I went back to the hotel and hung out before meeting Rebecca, Luke, and Courtney at Qdoba for our race eve dinner. For knowing Courtney and Luke through Facebook and Twitter for a couple years now, it was crazy to finally meet them face to face. We agreed it was like we had already known each other.

We hung out and all talked nonstop. Then it was time to get our rest, but we had to get a quick picture before we all separated.

Race Report Next

So that's how it had already been an extraordinary weekend of new and old friendships in the space of only 2 days. And we hadn't even raced yet. In the next day or two, I'll write up the actual running part of things!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

This Mathematician Loves The Data: Getting Stronger

I have metabolic testing done every 2-4 months. I have done this for a couple years. It's a great benchmark for where my fitness is at the time. And I can see changes in realtime when my mileage drops a little, or when I'm doing more long easy base miles, or when I'm doing more speedwork. It's a great check-in that I recommend anyone serious about their running invest in.

I had my testing last done 8 weeks ago in mid-April. We retested this morning. And the results showed some awesome improvements. At the same speed, my VO2 had dropped, my fat burn efficiency had gone up and my calories burned per minute had dropped (those last two are super important for ultrarunning). It also meant that I had basically jumped a heart rate zone which was very interesting.

I'm not a physiologist, so I tried to see the best way to show this. Here's the test data results with my heart rate zones from the old and new tests. And I highlighted an example of 5.5 mph in the old and new test so you can see the difference.

VO2 at 5.5 mph went from 29 to 25. Woo hoo! Even more striking was that my Heart Rate Zone 2 average fat burn % went from 27% (old zone 2) to 39%. And at 5.5 mph, that fat burn % went from 21% to 39%. Whoa!

What this means is that last time, my Zone 2 fat burn % looked like you fell off a cliff. Which meant I couldn't raise my heart rate in an ultra without super burning my carbs up, which is a great way to have a horrible race.

Now the graph is a lot flatter for a bigger heart rate range. So I can pound a downhill, or rally on a flat section, without the worry of going into major "sugar burn".

Look at how flat Zone 2 looks. That's the improvement.

Causes For These Improvements?

Well, let's see...

  • Awesome coach Jeremy and awesome trainer Donnie consistently guiding me toward being a stronger runner
  • A load of hills. "Speedwork in disguise", hills are a good workout to build up Zones 2 and 3. It's interval training!
  • Altitude tent. I've been sleeping in a Hypoxico altitude tent for 37 days, as well as using the Hypoxico equipment for a handful of high altitude workouts on the treadmill. I'll talk more about the altitude tent another dedicated time.
  • Mileage? In 2012 I had 4 months with over 125 miles, including one 200 mile month. In 2013, my mileage hasn't been anything special. Worn out from constant child sickness this winter, I let my miles fall off some. Not even hitting 100 miles in a month for some of the year. So it's not like I tripled my miles over that 60 days since the previous test.

January 2013 121.2
February 2013 95.5
March 2013 88.1
April 2013 80.3
May 2013 125.0

Moving Forward

Regardless of the cause, I'm hoping the improvements will make Bighorn 50K on Saturday a LITTLE less uncomfortable. Mentally, my goal for this race is to have a "strong race". I have a visualization in my head of what that means to me. It's not necessarily fast, it includes taking pictures, it includes spending time with one of my best friends on the course, and it includes minimal miserable miles. We'll see if I can execute that on Saturday.