Monday, October 22, 2012

298 days and counting

It's a strange feeling to end a running season. Normally at the end of a season I'm past my peak, I'm burned out and tired. This isn't really the case this year, I'm stoked for another race. I'm ready to keep knocking out the high mileage weeks to prep for another big race. This week I had to force myself to rest and recover, although the intense winds helped that, but really I couldn't stop thinking "is there another race I can get in?" I've been to quite a few races, mostly road marathons, where people are constantly asking me how many races I've done that year. There are always those people who have raced a marathon every weekend for the whole year. I've never been interested in that. Sure racing is more fun than training, but racing well is more fun than just racing. So sure I could go line up several more races for this fall, but what I really want when I crave another race is to prepare my best for a race and to try to achieve the new goals I've set for myself. I'm not just looking for another medal to hang up, I'm looking to compete with myself and see what new challenges I can take on. That's my favorite part about running, there is always another challenge waiting around the corner. It just so happens that my next really big challenge is 298 days away (the Leadville 100). In between now and then there are plenty of mountains to be skied, many more trails to be ran and certainly the Leadville Marathon, which will be its own beast.

This week I didn't run much. I knew I needed to let my body recover from the GT50 even though I really didn't feel too bad. Greeting me when I got back to Colorado were my not so favorite winds that like to sweep through every fall and spring. Maybe this was a good thing to force me to relax a bit. When I don't have to get in a run and its that windy out its pretty easy to skip a day. So Friday Dan and I ran a relaxing run at Apex and Sunday morning I went out for a neighborhood run. Nothing spectacular, just stretching out the legs and enjoying the beautiful weather. Both days were those perfect Colorado fall days with a gorgeous sun, brilliant blue skies and a slight crispness to the air. Next week I'll get back to logging miles for awhile, at least until there's enough snow to really get excited about winter!

Week October 15-21

Miles Running: 11.8
Hours Running and Hiking: 3

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Glacial Trail 50 Mile Race Report

Rob was with me for all 50 miles

Sunday I ran the Glacial Trail 50 Mile Race in Greenbush, Wisconsin. It was cold. It was beautiful and a great race, but mostly it was cold. I got to the firehouse just after 5:00am and reorganized my drop bag and my crew bags. Made sure I had everything I needed, shoes, gus, rain vest, headband, headlamp and picked up my bib. At 5:59 we all headed out front to the starting line and a few seconds later we were heading down the road to the Ice Age connector trail. It was one of the quietest race starts I have ever ran. The nervous buzz usually present at a race start wasn't there, just the sound of the rain hitting the pavement. The line of headlamps ran silently down the town roads, along the wide connector trail and then spread out along the Ice Age Trail. It never gets old to see the line of headlamps at a race start and I couldn't help but think how Rob would have loved the sight. Everyone filled with hopes and ambitions for the day, nerves and excitement for what was to come over the next miles. Sunday though it was mostly heads down as we all plodded along, everyone slightly worried about how the torrential downpour would affect the day.

I had read several race reports before I hit the trail, but wasn't sure how to interpret them. Everyone said how technical the trail was, but to be honest from my background the trail was not technical at all. There were roots and a few rocks scattered on the trail, but nothing like the trail around Turquoise Lake in Leadville. I didn't see anyone fall or any evidence of people having fell throughout the day which was impressive with the deteriorating trail conditions. From the race reports I was also expecting much more elevation gain, but my Garmin only showed a bit over 3,000 ft of gain, most reports said 5,500 ft. Personally I thought the trail was great! It was extremely runnable and absolutely beautiful. The connector trail was wide and long enough that by the time we hit the single track Ice Age Trail everyone had spaced out enough that there weren't any bottlenecks. I know I was tentative on my foot placements for the first hour as it was still dark and I was expecting more roots and rocks. I kept a fast leg turnover and this seemed to be very effective, at least I was able to stay upright for the whole race.

Finally the sun began to rise and the trail was easier to follow and foot placements became more steady. The trail itself was easy to follow and well marked, although at a few intersections you had to stop and really check for flags to make sure you were going the right way. This was a common complaint I had read about. I heard of a few runners getting off course, but I didn't have any trouble. I cruised through the first AS at Hwy 67, mile 7, filling up on water. At this point I was right on pace 1:10 and was out of the AS in less than a minute. As I continued down the next section I fell into pace with another guy who had ran the race the year before. He told me about an area coming up that was absolutely beautiful. And at about 10.5 miles in I saw what he was talking about. We ran across this ridge, it may have been an esker, but I'm really not sure without a closer look at the geology. But on either side were huge kettles covered in brilliant red, yellows and oranges. Fall colors had peaked the week before but I was still a breathtaking site and a good reminder to why we were out running. I could feel Rob tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to look up and enjoy everything around me, to enjoy every moment of the course.

Butler Lake was the next AS at mile 13 and you could see the lake for a couple miles before you actually got into the AS. In Colorado you don't get to run around too many lakes so I loved watching the mist floating above all the lakes I passed. Coming into and out of Butler Lake AS are sets of stairs which were not as daunting as I had imagined them. I quickly ran down the stairs, grabbed some more fruit straws and gus from my drop bag, a cup of coke and filled my water bottle with Heed and was off. I was now about 5-10 minutes off my estimated pace and knew if was unlikely that I would make the turnaround by 4 hours, but I was still running strong. Now I was running alone and this is how it would continue for the next 37 miles. Just me, the songs running through my head and my own stream of consciousness thoughts.

The section to Mauthe Lake was fast and runnable. And to be honest about all I remember is I just kept running and running. I also kept wondering when there was going to be a mountain to climb up, I mean there had to be a solid section of hiking coming up right? I mean no one really runs a whole 50 miler, that's just silly! At Mauthe Lake I grabbed more coke and headed out. By this point in the race my stomach had completely deteriorated and I wasn't sure how much longer I was going to be keeping food down. Up to this point I had been trying to get as much food down as possible knowing stomach issues would be coming. I also kept Heed in my handheld after Butler Lake outbound to make sure I was getting calories there.

Mentally this was an easy part of the race. It was 5 miles to New Fane and then 5 miles back to Mauthe Lake, easy sections to knock out both physically and mentally. Plus I knew at this point I would get to see the leaders and see where I stood. At the start I thought about 3-4 women started ahead of me and I thought I passed one, so I thought I was in 3rd or 4th. Around mile 22 I saw the lead men, but no women. I kept waiting and waiting wondering where they were. Just before I came into New Fane I saw the first woman. I got into New Fane AS, mile 25 at 4:27 and was feeling great. My Dad and some family friends were there and let me know I was in 2nd behind by about 6 minutes. Based on where I saw the woman I figured it was more like 10 minutes. I grabbed some more fruit straws and a pack of Honey Stinger chews, a couple cups of coke and some Heed and was out of the AS in less than 5 min, my longest stop. I ate the Honey Stinger chews at this point and knew immediately I was not going to be getting any more food down. I kept a fairly good pace back to Mauthe Lake but I knew I was slowing. I had run nearly the entire 25 miles to New Fane, which is significantly more than I typically run in an ultra so I wasn't sure how I was going to handle the back 25 miles. At mile 26 I began to question what was wrong with marathons. I mean nearly everyone in the greater midwest had run a marthon the weekend before and that was still a great challenge. 26 miles is no easy feat, so why did I think 50 was a good idea? Just the night before Dan and I were chatting about how gerat 50s were. You just got to go run all day, sleep in a bed at night and you didn't have the logistical planning that's needed for a 100.

After another short stop at Mauthe Lake AS and a couple cups of coke, my stomach started to settle, but I didn't dare try any more food. I was still managing fine and not feeling like I had a deficit of calories so I decided to continue with this plan. From Mauthe Lake to Butler Lake I know I slowed a bit more and was now really starting to get cold. I debated grabbing dry clothes from my drop bag, but figured it was futile. So when I got to Butler Lake I just grabbed my drop bag and threw it in the finish pile. That's when an angel decended upon me offering me a cup of chicken broth! I'm not going to lie I had been dreaming about a steaming cup of chicken broth for the last couple miles so a lukewarm cup of anything was wonderful.

13 miles left. 13 long miles left, but only 13 miles left. I kept repeating this to myself as I mindlessly left Butler Lake. Remind me why I wanted to run the Leadville 100 again? AFter only 37 miles I couldn't imagine another 63! I knew after Mauthe Lake I had to just keep moving myself forward and get out of each AS. After leaving Butler Lake I knew I had one more AS before the finish. Now I was really getting cold though. At mile 40 I started shaking pretty uncontrolably. I had been soaking wet for 39.75 miles and it was really starting to set in. The more I worried about it and got my heart rate up the more I started shaking so I reminded myself to control my breathing and keep drinking Heed and I would be fine. By this point the trail conditions had deteriorated considerably as well.  There were sections with several inches of standing water, of course you're feet weren't dry so it didn't matter if you avoided the mini lakes or not. Which by the way despite running 50 miles with wet feet I didn't end up with a single blister! Gotta love drymax socks! The downhills were also quite treacherous. Each step was more of a slip and slide and you would just sink several inches into a thick mud. Its a miracle I stayed on my feet the whole race.

Miles 40-43 were the hardest, some of the hardest miles I've ever ran. With only 10 miles left it doesn't seem so bad, but then you start thinking about how long that will take and realize that you have at least 2 more hours of running to get to the finish. I kept wondering if my crew would be at Hwy 67. I thought if I see them I'll just drop and be done with this mess. But then I thought about the note on the back of my vest, "Climb On Rob" and thought about how many times had Rob been more cold and wet, in much worse conditions and I was sure he didn't just push on he did so with a smile. So I pushed on, not with a smile though. At Hwy 67 I grabbed two cups of coke and didn't look up, didn't stop, nothing other than some huge thank yous to the volunteers who had to be even colder than I was. I knew if I stopped for even a moment I might never get going again. I also kept repeating to myself "The best way to end pain is to finish the race," Ken Chlouber you are brilliant!

2nd place finishers swag
Its a strange mental thing, but as I was only a couple steps out of the Hwy 67 AS I knew it was the finish line or bust. Leaving an AS, even if its only a few steps is a huge mental breakthrough. I immediately felt warmer, stopped shaking and most importantly I knew I was going to finish. There was no where to drop anymore, I had to finish. I had 7 miles left, probably an hour and a half and it would be over. I would be warm, in dry clothes, and drinking beer! I looked up to the grey sky and silently thanked Rob for pushing and pulling me forward. I wasn't going to let him down, but now could I hang onto 2nd? I had no idea how far behind me the next woman was and had no idea how fast I was going to be able to continue, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself the more I ran the faster I would get to the firehouse. Then before I knew it I was on the connector trail. I was almost there, the pavement would be coming up soon. Then I hit the asphalt and the town of Greenbush, half a mile left. Half a mile and a ginormous looking hill, okay maybe more of a slight incline. A huge grin broke out on my face. I just kept pounding and ran up the hill, made the left turn and followed the cones down the road to the firehouse. I did it, I finished, I held onto 2nd and I came in under 10 hours. 
Finishing line

My goals for the race were to go under 9:30, place in the top 3 women, and to work on my mental toughness during the low points. My results: I ran my fastest 50 mile time by 91 minutes and took 2nd which was great. I didn't whine, at least not out loud, and I didn't quit, although I definitely thought about it several times. It wasn't a perfect race, but I definitely improved upon my performance at North Fork in 2011 and Leadville this year. I cut down my time at AS which hurt me in North Fork and I was much more on point with my nutrition. Even though I had stomach issues I didn't bonk. I also ran at least 45 of the miles, which is more than I've ever done before. As a mountain runner a 50 miler usually means you're going to spend 15-25 of those miles hiking. This race was a huge test of my mental toughness and while I certainly didn't win that test, I finished much better than I have before.

Finishing in under 10 hours also qualified me for the Western States 100 lottery. This would normally not even be a thought (as in of course I would enter the lottery), but its the same day as the Leadville Marathon next summer. Dan said I would be silly not to enter the lottery, that Rob would say I was ridiculous for even considering not entering. I can see the look on his face that I would think about not trying. He would probably even offer to skip the marathon and pace me! By Monday afternoon he would have sent me a million WS100 race reports, course descriptions, video links and probably daily pictures of the buckle to remind me what I'd be missing by not entering the lottery. The lottery opens November 10th so I have some time to decide. Its definitely not an easy decision. It was great to finish another ultra, to test myself in some pretty rough conditions, and I owe it all Rob. These 50 miles were for you! They may not have been fast, but I ran them hard and I laid it all out there. I know Rob was there the whole time, but especially at the end, because when I finished not only was I ginning ear to ear, but I couldn't wait to do it again!

Week October 8 - 14

Miles Running: 60.1
Hours Running and Hiking: 13

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Leadville Trail Marathon Race Report by Rob Jansen

Rob and Ben at the Leadville Marathon finish line
This year I didn't get the opportunity to run the Leadville Marathon myself (I can't wait until June 2013), but I had the honor of reading Rob's race report. Rob not only read every race report he could find, but he practically memorized them. He learned  as much as he could from each report he read and thought about how it would apply to his race. I know he would hope that people use his Leadville Marathon race report the same way. Rob's humble account of his first marathon has taught me when to push it, when to challenge myself, and when to grin and bear it, things I have not been so good at in recent races. Next year we will all hope to keep up with the pace Rob set!

I “ran” the Leadville Trail Marathon this past Saturday. It hurt. A lot. I’ve climbed some mountains in my life and have had some days stretching over 17 hours, but the 4:48:38 that I took to complete the marathon course Saturday was three times tougher than anything I’ve ever done in my life. At least.

I wasn’t much of a distance runner in high school or college, but when I saw that registration had opened for the Leadville race series I knew I had to give this marathon a go. I love hiking and climbing, and have never had altitude issues despite climbing 65 peaks over 14,000’ in my life. I felt that this combination could help me to a decent time on what is widely considered the toughest marathon in the country. The argument can be made that the Pikes Peak Marathon is harder, but those people almost always say Leadville is the second hardest.

I went over my strategy one final time at 7:58am on Saturday morning during the national anthem. Starting at 10,200’, go easy the first 3.8 miles to aid station A at ~11,400’. From there, jog as much of the 12,000’ Ball Mountain loop before returning to aid station A at mile ~7.1. Run from A to aid station B at 11,200’, which marks the 10 mile mark and the beginning of the 3.1 mile, 2,000’ ascent to 13,185’ Mosquito Pass. Hike hard to the pass and let it rip on the descent back to aid station B at mile 16.2. From there, keep it reasonable without redlining for the entire Ball Mountain circumnavigation, and run the final 3.8 miles back into town without falling and hurting myself. If I could keep all of my miles under 20 minutes I figured had a good shot a breaking 6 hours.

The shotgun was fired at 8:00am, and the pack of 1,000 runners slowly jogged past the starting line and up 6th street out of Leadville. I had run this stretch in training and knew that the first 6 miles would involve nearly 2,000’ of elevation gain up to Ball Mountain. It took my 8:35 to reach the dirt roads at the east edge of Leadville, and shortly after that the marathon and Heavy Half courses split. We continued up scree-laden jeep roads, and I figured I had covered the first mile in roughly 11 minutes. Having left Ben and Bryan behind (they were shooting for sub 6:30) I followed the line of runners up a steep slope and took a 30 second walk to as to let me heart rate even out. I looked at my watch, which read 12:35. “Great,” I thought. “My first marathon ever and I’m walking after 12:35??? Just stay conservative early. Run within yourself” I ran from minutes 13 to 25 before the course turned up a very loose, steep jeep road and everyone switched to a hike. I passed a few dozen people on the hike as my breathing was steady and my heart rate consistent. Running the occasional flat and down, while passing 4 or 5 puking athletes in the process, I made it to aid station A, at 3.8 miles, in 50:50. I knew that 5 hour pace to here was 47:00, so I was happy that I hadn’t gone out too hard (I was aiming for under 6:00). I figured I was probably on 5:30 pace, which was reasonable. No worries yet.

I had the aid crew fill my water bottle (I carried a 20oz bottle as well as 940 calories in the form of Shot Blocks and Fruit Straws), and left aid station A at 51:00.

The course continued up, and I knew another ~700’ of climbing was in store to get to the Ball Mountain Pass at ~12,200’. My legs felt strong, and when a 200’ downhill appeared I eased into a running pace, maybe 7:30 or so. I didn’t dare go faster than this, even on a descent as I knew I could easily spike my heart rate and dig a deep hole; not something I wanted early on. When the course evened out and began ascending again, I could see a long line of runners in front of me winding up toward the pass. I hiked the ups and jogged the occasional flats. Even if a flat stretch was only 30’, I would run it as I knew from my 14er TTs that every bit of running adds up.

Cresting Ball Mountain Pass was a high for me. The jeep road switched to dirt singletrack that I ran downhill back to aid station A, which I reached in 1:28 (7.1 miles into the race). Despite enjoying this section I knew it would be a b---h on the way back.

I refilled water at Aid A and left after just 10 seconds. From here, I jogged ~80% of the distance to aid station B, located at the base of Mosquito Pass. Only 7.1 miles in, my legs still felt strong so I decided to keep the jog controlled and easy, knowing that Mosquito is often the beginning of the end for many racers.

I pulled into Aid station B at 1:48 (10 miles), tanked up on water, and jogged out on the jeep road toward the road split. I hit a 70 calorie fruit straw before the road began sloping up, and passed Dave from run club here. Not to sound cocky, but passing him gave me extra motivation to hammer the Mosquito ascent. I’ve climbed enough peaks here to know how I handle hiking, and I was confident I could do some damage on this section.

Eventually the flats ended and the road aimed toward the sky. At this point, the Heavy Half course had merged with us, so I had no shortage of targets to try and catch. I kept my back straight and my steps short but quick, as many people (most likely flatlanders) were bent too far forward while hiking, a red flag for incoming disaster.

I ascended past the lakes near 12,000’, cheering for Ray, Jason, Sylvia and Jenni as they came down the pass (they were running the 15.5 mile Heavy Half Marathon). About 20 minutes into the ascent, with my breathing feeling unexpectedly relaxed, I picked up the pace even more and really started passing people. As I neared 13,000, Wyatt Hornsby (100 mile trail run champion and LT Race Series vet) came running down. I figured he was either having a terrible day or I was doing better than I had anticipated. Probably the former, as I’m maybe 1/100th the runner he is.

As we reached the final switchback I knew that the pass was close, and began to jog deliberately. The road here is covered in scree and sand, and it impossible to run on without looking carefully for foot placement. Several half marathoners ate it big time on the descent as they approached me, which wasn’t comforting to see. Just below the pass, an ATV came down with a runner on it, clearly injured and done for the day. Another scary sign of what could happen up there.

Finally, the ATVs and 4wd vehicles appeared ahead. 13,185’ Mosquito Pass, and the halfway point of the course. I had the crew fill my bottle, grabbed a quick cup of Sprite, and immediately tore into the downhill. I glanced at my watch and gasped. 2:41. Had I accidentally stopped it earlier? No, it was running! At that point I realized I had CRUSHED the climb up to the pass in 53 minutes. Quickly realizing that the 5 hour split for Mosquito is right around 2:44, I knew I had done serious damage coming up there, and, legs feeling good with over 4,500’ of climbing and 13 miles down, made the decision. Game on. Break 5 hours. 5:00:00 and 5:59:59 were now the exact same thing. Realizing I still had ~2,000 of climbing, 13 miles, and endless opportunities to bonk or role an ankle (or worse) I steadied into a run down the road, dodging those still ascending.

Around 16 miles, near the bottom of the pass, my quads started to feel it. I maintained a jog back to aid station B, where I refilled my bottle, hit a 30 calorie Shot Block, and downed a cup of electrolyte mix. I said hi to Siobhan as I left, and started back up to Aid A after 3:01 on the course. 30 minutes to descent 2,000’ and 3.1 miles on Mosquito Pass. Not bad, but I had wanted that section to be under a half hour.

In all of the race reports I’ve read, people talk about they’re low points in this race. At Leadville, the unanimous agreement seems to the re-ascent to Ball Mountain Pass at 12,200’, which features some soul-crushing climbs that are the graveyard for many marathoners.

I knew I’d have a rough patch, and it turns out it came around mile 18, which has some gentle yet long climbs, all approaching 12,000’. Having jogged the majority of miles 16.1-18, I realized I might be redlining and switched to my trusty 90/30. This strategy of hiking 90 seconds and running 30 seconds, or different versions of it depending on the terrain, has helped me on my 14er TTs in the past, and it saved me here. As I approached Ball Mountain and aid station A, I remembered what Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville Race Series, once said: “There comes a point, no matter how good an athlete you are, no matter how well trained you are, that it’s going to transcend the physical, and become about the mental. You better get rid of that comfort zone real quick.” I continued my 90/30 on the unrelenting uphill, once again cresting treeline. This was likely my lowest moment. The Heavy Half Marathon had split off from the marathon course, and I had no one behind me, and just a couple of marathoners stretched out hundreds of yards ahead. Nothing but my thoughts, sore legs, and heavy breathing accompanied me here.

As mile 18 passed though, so did the hills. I knew aid station A was close, and before reaching it, I gained on one runner in front of me. As I closed in, I saw he was wearing a 2012 Mount Evans ascend shirt, and a smile overcame me. It was Abe, “FireOnTheMountain” on 14ers, and the person whose Mount Bierstadt climb time I had beaten the weekend prior. I shook his hand, exchanged words, and continued my 90/30 as I started to gap him. Then it hit me. He ran this race last summer, at age 24. Finishing in 5:14, it was his first marathon ever. He had told me he was shooting for sub-5 this year, and again, just like atop Mosquito Pass, I began thinking. “Can I get to the final aid station before 4:20? That will give me 39 minutes to run 3.8 miles, mainly downhill, to the finish. Am I still on track for sub 5?” I tried to remember Ball Mountain’s ups and downs from the outbound portion of the race earlier in the day, but struggled to. It was all running together. No matter, I kept my 4:59:59 or bust mentality. I hit aid station A for the third time at mile ~19, filled my water, hit a cup of electrolyte, and left immediately. I was focused on the task at hand: Ball Mountain. Again.

I continued to 90/30 up to 12,000’, where the road switched to singletrack and I began jogging toward the 12,200’ pass. I passed the race photographers, who spurred me on despite my deteriorating state, and aimed for Ball Mountain as the wind kicked up and thunder rumbled to the west. Gapping Abe more, I staggered the last few steps to 12,200’, steadied myself, and began carefully running down the south side. Nearly 20 miles in, my legs were starting to wobble, and I found myself worrying that I would stumble to the ground and hurt myself. I forced myself to drink as I reached the bottom of the pass, and focused on a lone marathoner maybe 100 yards ahead of me. “Just get to mile 22 and it’s nearly all down back to town,” I thought.  Trying to keep him within reach without redlining, I hiked up around Ball Mountain, running any flats or downs, and finally saw trucks in the distance. It was aid station A, at 22.2 miles. The fourth and final time I would pass here.

As I filled my bottle and hit my final cup of electrolyte mix, I heard a familiar voice,” Roberoo!!!” It was Ben, coming up to aid station A for his second Ball Mountain loop just as I had finished mine. “You’re my hero dude!” I don’t know where his energy came from, but it helped me. We quickly hugged, exchanged encouraging words, and went our separate ways. Only one problem:

In the process of filling my bottle, chugging fluids and hugging Ben, I had become disoriented, and didn’t know which was lead down to the finish, (there were three paths leading out of aid station A). Without hesitation, I yelled “which way is down?!?!?!” The crew members pointed in a certain direction, and I was off. A quick check of the watch. 4:18. 42 minutes to go 3.8 miles, 90% of which was downhill. “Be careful and run within yourself,” I said.

I staggered down the rough jeep trail into the forest, and settled into the best rhythm I could muster. Wondering if I could keep a 10 minute mile pace for this section, I focused more on my footing. With over 22 miles and 6000’ of climbing on my legs, I was becoming more unsteady with every mis-step, and prayed that I wouldn’t slip and hit the deck. With no one around me, I was able to stay in the tire tracks and off the worst of the scree, but I still found myself flailing my arms to stay upright. I passed by an intersection where a race volunteer said it was all downhill to the finish. Thanking him silently, I rounded a corner, and was greeted with the most demoralizing sight I had ever seen. A 100’ ascent. I stuck a middle finger out at it, and “hiked,” (more like a pathetic walk) up it, before regaining my difficult jog.

Then, at mile 24.5, with another runner ~30 yards behind me, I nearly bit it hard. A missed foot placement with my left caused me to stumble, and a shoved my right foot out to stop myself while quickly lifting my arms for balance. A fell into an uncontrolled stride at an awkward angle, and managed to catch myself before falling face first onto the scree. “Whoa there,” came from behind me. Not wanted to waste energy talking, I simply lifted my hand to let the other marathoner know I was alright, and continued down, now beginning to cramp heavily.

After 20 of the most grueling minutes of running I’ve ever suffered through, the jeep trail merged with a dirt county road, and I knew I was no more than 10 minutes from the end. 4:40 read my watch, but it couldn’t lift my spirits. My back was now completely seized up, both hamstrings were shot, and as I staggered down the road at 8:00 pace, my left calf began to give out. I faltered slightly, going into a shuffle for 30 seconds before slowly accelerating again to ~8:00 pace. As buildings began to appear, I saw the pavement. I knew that it had taken me 8:35 to leave the pavement on the outbound, and figured I should be able to do the inbound section in less than 7 minutes. Yes, this entire section is downhill, but I was in such pain I couldn’t run faster than 8:00 pace. It must have looked pathetic / hilarious / very painful.

As my shoes left the sand and hit the tarmac, I turned down 6th Avenue and could see the finish in the distance. It was far away. Really far away. I told myself to just endure six minutes more and I’d be done. But I couldn’t. I focused on getting to Poplar Street and just stared at the pavement below me. After 30 seconds I looked up, and as I passed the Poplar street intersection, I told myself to make it to the house with skis in the yard. As I did this, a runner (a f*****g Leadman, it turns out), passed me. Only if a gun had been pointed to my head could I have gone with him. My back, hamstrings, and left calf were in such pain I couldn’t open up my stride, and I thought of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz before he was oiled up, (seriously, I thought of this). I simply couldn’t escape the robotic jog that was consuming me as I approached the finish.

I don’t really remember what I did those last few minutes, but the only thing that helped offset the pain was the finish line. Inching ever closer, if this had occurred at any other point during the race, I would have been reduced to a hike. As the clock came into view, I realized that, unless I broke down further and was forced to hike, I was going to break 4:50. My goal coming into the race was to go sub-6, and I was going to dip under 4:50. In the Leadville Trail Marathon. Finally I entered the finish chute, and the announcer came on: “This is number 270, from Denver Colorado, Rob Jansen!” The final moments were a blur, and my arms fell to my side as I broke the tape in 4:48:38 for 33rd place. I had to place both hands on my knees to prevent stumbling over, and a race official unlaced my timing chip from my shoe as a finisher medal was draped over my neck. The 32nd finisher hugged me, and I staggered around in a circle for a few minutes, too overwhelmed by what had just taken place to process anything.

After a dozen watermelon slices and five cups of Coke to settle my stomach, I cheered Abe into the finish. He went 4:53 in his second Leadville Marathon, and we chatted for a while at the finish. As we talked, I noticed someone approaching and did a double take. Tyler had shown up. He had just climbed Mount Elbert, and was on his way to Belford, Oxford and Missouri with his uncle, but had stopped in Leadville to see the race. It was a moment I won’t forget.

The three of us chatted as runners continued to finish. I struggled to take in the enormity of the experience, but slowly the pain retreated and I was able to see what had happened. Bryan, Ray, Sylvia, Jenni and Jason came over to congratulate me, and we spent the next two hours cheering in the rest of the HTB Run Club.

 I’ll need to revisit this reflection over the coming weeks as my thoughts come together. With that, what can I say about this race now? It was hard. Really hard. The f*****g hardest thing I’ve ever done, by far. Mount Shasta has held that title for several years, but no more. I hammered the Mosquito Pass ascent as I thought I would, and probably passed 75 people on this stretch. Alternatively, portions of the second Ball Mountain ascent were some of the most difficult times I’ve had during any physical endeavor. I’ve never struggled to run an 8 minute mile (except maybe 5th grade and earlier), but I had literally nothing left at the end. I vividly recall looking to the sky and praying for strength during those final miles. Whether it was the altitude, the uneven terrain, combined 12,666’ of elevation change, or that and countless other factors, this race was indescribably difficult. You always hear “you need to see it / do it / experience it to really understand it.” Well, there can’t be many examples of that being truer than the Leadville Trail Marathon. I can’t wait for next year!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Blood, sweat, and tears

Well Monday started off with a bang...okay maybe more of a thud as I bounced my face off a rock at Matt-Winters. I was out for an easy run to loosen my muscles and get the blood flowing from my long run Sunday. About a mile into the run I was running easily when seemingly out of nowhere a massive rock snake jumped up, grabbed both my legs and flung me to the ground. I managed to escape with a split lip, road rash, bumps, bruises and mostly a bruised ego. After my fall I picked myself up and turned to run back to the car...then I stopped. I evaluated my injuries, am I really hurt that bad? Can I really not push on and knock out a few more miles? So I turned back around and continued my run.

I think Dan was more concerned about my little crash than I was so he insisted on running with me on Wednesday. Of course I never mind having company during tapering. I hate tapering, at least sometimes. When I'm running great it always feels like tapering is going to ruin everything you've been doing. Somehow erase all those good runs. I know its totally the opposite, but its still hard and I always end up feeling anxious. I'm just ready for race day to come, to hear the gun go off and to start running.

Snow finally came this weekend so Saturday was officially my first snow run of the season! I LOVE running in the snow! Of course this was the icy snow, not the soft, big, beautiful flakes that are actually fun to run in. This was more of the stinging your face with shards of glass snow, but still fun! And a beautiful change of scenery. To run through the trees covered in snow, many still with their yellow leaves. Saturday and Sunday I ran Conifer Mountain, both runs in the snow. They felt easy and relaxed and I know I'm ready for next weekend.

I've been reading all the race reports I can find about the GT50. Everyone describes the race as "pretty damn hard". Its supposed to be technical, although I'm not worried about the technical part so much as the leaves covering rock snakes and roots. And with rain coming next weekend it could be pretty slick. I think footing could definitely be an issue, but I know my tried and true Cascadias will rock it. And if I end up a bit bruised and battered, well it won't be the first time and certainly won't be the last either. As for the elevation of the course I know I can handle it. In fact I'm sure I've raced races with more elevation gain, but I keep thinking of Segment 3 of the CT and the brutal, endless rolling hills. There aren't many big climbs on that section but the smaller hills are really wearing after awhile. I think it will be extrememly important not to go out too fast. That'll be tough given I'm used to starting with pretty big climbs. I just need to remember there is a lot of race to make up time later on.

Week October 1-7

Miles Running: 21.0
Hours Running and Hiking: 5

Monday, October 1, 2012

The tortoise or the hare?

A " big hard sun" behind Baldy Trail

When you share a trail or a mountain with someone you love it doesn't matter how fast or how slow you're going. It's about enjoying being out there with each other and not about the fact that your time was 5 or 10 minutes slower than you would normally run. I mean really are those few minutes really going to make or break it for you in your next race? If you can't enjoy running a trail or hiking up a mountain with a friend because you're too worried about your pace than maybe its not really what you should be doing. I run to see new and beautiful things, to feel alive. I try not to run for digits on a watch, but its easy to forget this sometimes. This week I've tried to slow down and enjoy every moment of every run, to have fun, to revel in the beauty of the trails.

Early in the week I got in the starndard runs at Matt-Winters and Apex. Then Thursday while I was debating the need for a run and evaluating the darkening clouds Dan rang to see if I wanted to meet him at Apex to run together. It was exactly the motivation I needed for a mid-week run. Plus I needed a run to just relax and not push it too hard. Friday Dan and I met for our normal weekly run. This week we decided to try out White Ranch. It was a great new run! We started in the lower lot running up a steady climb to overlook Golden and downtown Denver. I enjoyed the trail as we ran through the arid lower stretches of the foothills, through meadows and down through the forested areas. The cooler temps of late have been amazing as well. Friday was the perfect day for a run and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Storm brewing over Baldy kept the temps low

Sunday I went out for my last long run before GT50. With 2 weeks until race day I didn't think it was wise to destroy myself running up Georgia Pass again so I headed to my old standby Buffalo Creek. I originally wanted to get in around 23ish miles, but seeing as we were halfway into painting our decks and porches this weekend I decided to do the 18 mile loop and spend the rest of the day painting and doing housework. This seems to be just as effective for training as a longer long run or back to back long runs. Sunday was pretty chilly when I started running so I was in long sleeves, gloves, and had my now signature Colorado buff covering my ears. It felt great to finally be running in much cooler temps. I didn't even take off the gloves or long sleeve until around mile 12 as I was heading up Baldy. I felt good and relaxed as I made my way up Buck Gulch. I tried to push it a bit more than usual on the flat section from Buck to Gashouse. I know the GT50 will be more flat, rolling hills than I"m used to so I wanted to get used to pushing these sections. Then I hammered out the Gashouse downhill before powering up Baldy. When I got back to Miller Gulch trail I realized I really could break 3 hours this time. I cruised hard all the way back down to Pine Valley crossing back into the parking lot in 2:59! I feel physically ready for GT50, but now I just need to get my mind in the right spot. I need to make sure I'm mentally prepared to handle the inevitable low that I'm sure to hit around mile 30 or 40. I also need to make sure I'm mentally ready to push it when I need to. I seem to run better in training runs when I just relax. I've been working lately on pushing it at different points during my runs and taking it easy during other points; now we'll see if I can do that during a race. It's never been my strong point, but no time like the present to change that. If I'm going to be somewhat successful at ultras this is something I'm going to have to learn.

Week September 24-30

Miles Running: 44.0
Hours Running and Hiking: 7.75