Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Palo Duro 50

There was a single goal coming into this year’s Palo Duro 50 Miler: finish under 11 hours for a Western States qualifying time. To be sure, my history with gaining a Western States entry has been somewhat tortured. Unsuccessful lottery entries for the 2008 and 2009 races meant that with the so-called Two-Time Loser (“TTL”) rule, my spot would normally have been assured for the 2010 race. Except that there was no 2009 race. Cancelled due to wildfires. With the folks originally entered in the 2009 now guaranteed entry in the 2010 race, the backlog of TTLs had to be split into two groups – half get in the 2010 race, the other half (my half) in the 2011 race. It was just as well, because I was plagued with injuries through much of 2009 and early 2010. By last spring, I had managed to become reasonably healthy and started training in earnest, with my sights on either Dick Collins Firetrails or Palo Duro as my qualifying race (Palo Duro won out). Thus began a long training slog through our horrendous Houston summer. As anyone who logged many miles through the summer can attest, it was utterly miserable. But train I did. And, in some ways it was the most consistent and satisfying training cycle I’d ever had. By the first weekend in October, I had notched something approaching a 70-mile peak training week, with plenty of solid weeks leading up to it. I felt fit and strong and ready to roll. Still, I knew going into Palo Duro that there would be little margin for error.

I’d never run Palo Duro before, and coming into Amarillo and driving down to the town of Canyon (home of West Texas A&M University – whoop!), it’s easy to see how this race might be overlooked. I mean, seriously, there’s NOTHING but flat, empty space. Then, when you’ve almost made it to the park entrance, you get your first glimpse of the canyon, and a quarter mile later, the entire vista opens up before you, utterly shocking in its sudden beauty. But as I looked out across the canyon from the scenic overlook Friday afternoon, the excitement of running through such a gorgeous environment was tempered with the realization that it was hot. Really hot. Not Houston hot, mind you. But bone-dry hot. Clearly, heat management was going to be a huge part of race day.

When I stepped outside of my hotel early Saturday morning, it wasn’t nearly as cool as the forecast originally called for. Instead of 47, it was 55. By the time I parked inside the canyon, it was 57. It was obviously going to be a long day. Race organization was excellent – quick parking, easy check-in, convenient spot for drop bags right along the course, no-frills start. All things I’ve come to value in races. Found Les, then Kevin W., and finally Kim. We tucked in toward the back of the combined 50M/50K pack and in no time we were off. Well, sort of. Probably should have started farther up, because almost immediately we were funneled onto deeply-rutted single-track in a molasses-slow conga line. We’re talking walking for much of the first mile or so. Very frustrating. Once we broke free, I felt the need to make up for lost time, and probably put the hammer down a little too hard. Despite a solid perceived effort, my first loop split was close to 2:25, which put me a bit behind the eight ball.

The second loop was pretty forgettable. With a general idea of where the aid stations fell on each loop (3.5 miles, 6.3 miles, 8.8 miles, 10 miles, 12.5 miles), I recalculated my splits and was hitting them pretty well. I recall spending a little more time enjoying the views on this loop, particularly the section between the 2nd and 4th aid stations, which was just phenomenally beautiful (and completely exposed). Toward the end of the second loop it all of a sudden became hot. Not the kind of hot that immediately overheated the system, but definitely the kind of heat you couldn’t ignore. Back at the start-finish in just under 4:55 total, I quickly grabbed my iPod, downed an Ensure, snatched a few extra gels and headed out in just under 5:00 total elapsed time. It was absolutely clear to me that loop 3 would be the crucible. For any chance at finishing sub-11:00, I needed to cover this loop in no more than 2:45-2:50.

And things started okay. My legs were feeling the accumulated miles, and it was hot, but I was holding together. There were no acute problems. A little cry from the left Achilles every now and then was about it. Stomach was pretty solid, hydration and electrolytes were in order, no hot spots on the feet…. Not too bad. But it was getting much more difficult to run for long stretches. The little uphills were the first to go and I made the decision to begin walking most of them as an energy-conservation strategy. Figured I had at least enough cushion to do that, as long as I ran all the downs and most of the flats. Made it through the first aid station in okay shape timewise, but coming out of that aid station I found myself unable to run any of the gentle, long-ish uphill toward “The Lighthouse” formation. I soon caught up to Bobby Keough, an incredibly nice guy who has run about a million of these, and was content to follow his lead. Walked all of the ups, no matter how slight, ran all the downs, and mixed on the flats. For a little while, a high, thin layer of clouds took the edge off the heat and there was a nice breeze. Alas, that didn’t last and it soon became really hot. The water in my bottle quickly became nasty warm, and for the first time I could feel my system begin to overheat (sloshy stomach, too-quick exhaustion from even minor running efforts). At this point, there was little to do but mix in more walking and hope for some sort of miracle re-birth.

I recall pulling into the second aid station (Dos Loco Senoritas) a couple of minutes ahead of my top-end (i.e., slowest) splits and thinking I was still in the game. Grabbed some nice cold water, a little Coke (which all the aid stations had!), and moved out at a brisk walk while trying to force down a Gu (Chocolate Mint – not just for the holidays anymore). My thoughts were 100% on splits at this point and my mental outlook was still pretty positive. But this 2.5 mile stretch to the next aid station (which always seemed at least a mile longer than that) was both the most scenic and most exposed of the entire race. The sun was merciless and the heat radiated off the nearby canyon walls like a convection oven. It became increasingly difficult to move at a decent clip, and although I had only fallen behind my splits by about 10 minutes, by the time I finally made it into the next aid station, I was cooked and somewhat dispirited. Some cold water, some ice in my cap, and more Coke helped clarify my thinking a little (I was definitely getting a bit woozy), and as I walked into the only shady stretch of the entire course, I began running the numbers again. It was then that the reality hit: I was going to need a huge effort to finish this loop in 3 hours, an effort that - even if I had it in me – would likely leave me with nothing at all in the tank for the final loop (which I would have to do in exactly the same time, if not less than #3). I knew – I mean absolutely KNEW – that this wasn’t going to happen. And at that moment, in the blink of an eye, the little life I had left in me just drained out. My day was done. My only goal evaporated and with it all of my motivation. Made it back to the start / finish in about 8:30 elapsed time & told one of the race officials I was done (to his credit, he didn’t try to talk me out of it).

Where does that leave me? For a moment, I entertained the thought of entering Cactus Rose for one last try at sub-11. I’m feeling pretty good physically. With runs of 32 and 37.5 miles over the last 3 weeks, I’m trained up. But my chances of running a sub-11 at Cactus Rose would have been exceedingly slim given the finish times from last year (it would have taken a top-10 effort this year). I know that course fairly well, and for all its charms, it’s not built for speed. Anyway, I think it’s time to reassess what it is I want from running and where racing (particularly the ultra distances) fits, if at all. I love running. It is without question an important part of my life. But racing 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles? I’m not so sure anymore. So, for now, I think I’ll be content to keep running 40-45 miles a week, maybe focusing on regaining some long-lost leg speed, staying healthy. I’d like to go back to Bandera, because I love that race, but strictly for the 50K (leaving much quality beer-drinking time afterwards). We’ll see. Finally, for anyone looking for a great 50K or 50M race next fall, I can’t recommend Palo Duro enough. Just a terrific race in a magnificent setting.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Endless Summer

It hit 100 today in H-town. Heat index: 112. Given that it's mid-August, this shouldn't really be news. But, in what has to be one of the more meaningless statistics of the summer, it was the first 100-degree day this year. Why meaningless? Because even without a 100-degree day, the first two weeks of August have been really, really hot. Like the hottest on record. By 4 degrees. The other day, the LOW temperature was 83. Eighty-friggin-three. The highest low ever in August. Global warming is a hoax, my ass. Do these facts make me feel any better? Yeah, right. In fact, I've become almost numb to the heat. Sure, I'm tired of running in it, but there's no use fighting it. With every run I bank, I'm one day closer to fall (known in Houston as "Not Summer").

As for my actual running, June and July were not quite everything I had aimed for. After a solid May, I was hoping I could take a step up in June. Wasn't to be. 118 miles over 17 runs - not what I was shooting for. July was slightly better - 137 miles and 19 runs. Wouldn't have been a bad month had I not completely burned out a couple weeks in. Just couldn't bear to get out there anymore. So, I took a solid week off - Summer Break - in hopes of refreshing the soul. Worked okay and I closed out the month solidly. The first couple of weeks this month have gone decently as well. High hopes for finishing it out strong and positioning myself for a solid peak in September before Palo Duro. Keep telling myself that running through this horrific heat can't help but make me stronger come this fall.

And now, in the tradition of music-posting-running-bloggers, a terrific video from someone who deserves far more attention than he receives:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May In The Books

[Trail in the Hood - Memorial Park]

Time for a progress report. If the goal for May was consistency, then I'd have to say the month turned out pretty good. 24 runs and 131 miles. The long run was 10 miles and it was early in the month. The last couple of weeks nearly all the runs were in the 5-8 mile range. The idea was to see how the hip/back/shin would react to moderate, nearly-daily effort. Although the physical issues are still around (some days fairly achy, others hardly an issue at all), I've been able to keep running without any significant problems or setbacks. And on the whole, everything is clearly moving in a positive direction. Just really nice to lace them up almost every day and keep one foot moving in front of the other.

So, what's the goal for June? More consistency and a bit more volume. Consistency plus. By the end of June, I'd like to be somewhere in the low-to-mid 40s for weekly mileage, with another 24-25 days running for the month. Plus more stair climbing and strength work in the much-hated gym. The week of Western States will be an outlier of sorts, but I'm still going to try to keep that week in the 40-45 mile range, even with a couple of longish treks planned for that weekend. A 160-mile month, while hardly all-world stuff, would mark the biggest month I've had in well over a year. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


One of the reasons I maintain a running log is simply for sheer quantification. How many miles was I able to run this week? This month? What sort of pace did I maintain on a given run? Another reason is to track progress through the short narratives I draft. Was I feeling stonger this week than last? Am I getting better at dealing with the heat? That sort of thing. Only recently, however, did I begin to use it to highlight what's been missing in my running for the last 16 months or more: consistency. Looking back over 2009 and the first 4 months of this year, a disturbing pattern emerges. First, the spotty build up to a race. Some weeks are pretty decent, others not so much. Relatively shorter and faster runs during the week, followed by longer and slower weekend runs. In and of itself, a pretty standard approach. Nagging injuries here and there, followed by extra days off, as needed. The taper, then the big race. Bandera (good), Rocky Raccoon (not so good), El Scorcho (good), Where's Waldo (not so good). Each of these runs understandably followed by radically reduced mileage - sometimes just out of a need to rest, other times because of injury.

The overall view, however, was disheartening. In 2009, it appears I logged 129 days of running. While it's possible I failed to log a few days, much of this anemic total was due to various injuries. My most consistent month in 2009 was May, where I logged 19 runs (most were much worse). So, while 2009 was memorable for finally finishing Bandera and having a wonderful time (DNF notwithstanding) at Waldo, the reality is that I spent far more days not running than running. Not running makes me not happy. For that reason, my current focus is on running 6 days a week in a sustainable, healthy fashion. For the next couple of weeks, that means logging 6 - 6.5 hours a week, with no runs over 1.5 hours. The goal is to increase this time in small increments through the summer, until I'm hopefully logging 8 - 8.5 hours a week, with long runs in the 2.5 hour neighborhood. If all goes well, I should be running around 45-50 miles a week by the end of August, putting me in solid shape to peak at 65 miles a couple weeks out from Dick Collins Firetrails (Oct. 9). Most important, though, by the end of the summer, I'd like to be able to look back over my log and see some . . . consistency.

While I'm sure I'll write about it in an upcoming post, the one concession I'll make to this plan will happen in late June, when Chris and I travel out to California to witness the 2010 Western States 100 in person. The race promises to be an epic showdown at the front between some of the sickest 100-mile talent around. The trip will also give us the opportunity to check out parts of the trail before my return as an actual entrant in 2011. A Friday jaunt will start at the Finish and run back to the Highway 49 Aid Station, before turning around and experiencing the course in the normal direction coming back. About 13.5 miles. After Saturday's race viewing and beer-drinking break, on Sunday the plan is much more ambitious, as we intend to drive out to Michigan Bluff and run/walk/saunter a key part of the course, down to the Swinging Bridge across the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River. After a soak, we'll turn around, make the fabled climb up to Devil's Thumb and eventually make our way back to Michigan Bluff - just short of a 20-mile roundtrip. Very slow, very relaxed. Lots of photo breaks. More to come...

[At the bottom of Deadwood Canyon, on the WS course]

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Long Road Back

As I wrote in my last post of any length, life after last year's Where's Waldo 100K has been a challenge. I'm now about 8 weeks into my very slow, very conservative return to running after 9 weeks on the shelf. A glance at my Attackpoint log tells the story - some short runs during the week (generally at a decent pace for my slow ass) and some slightly longer, much slower stuff on the trails each weekend. Is the body 100% healed? I wish. Fact is there are still mysterious things going on with my left leg, pretty much from hip to ankle. I now believe that the root of the problem is my back and that much of my discomfort is nerve-related. I've tried sprinkling lots of off days between my runs, but to little effect. So time for a new approach: run more - not necessarily mileage-wise, but more consistently. Like 6 days a week consistently. And for now, to limit the maximum time of my runs to around 2 hours (the point at which the left-side demons usually start to pop up). Kind of the same approach taken by this guy (who knows something about injuries): http://antonkrupicka.blogspot.com/2010/01/green-mountain-project.html Except without the ridiculous vertical climb. Or speed. Or grace. But with way more heat! Point is, the basic idea is the same. Be consistent and build a strong base. Come June, I'll reassess and maybe start to stretch out the long runs a bit. Still plenty of time before Palo Duro & that's all that matters right now.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Rush Hour at Park Road.

The Witching Hour.


Been meaning to write something about running (with Chris and the incomparable Mariela) the Park Road Aid Station at this year's Rocky Raccoon 100 (and 50). First off, major thanks to everyone who came out and volunteered. Hope it was a good experience for everyone. Second, a quick observation: it's f-ing hard work to run an aid station at a 100, especially one at a huge (5-loop) race like Rocky Raccoon. By my rough estimates, that's well over 2500 runner visits. Keeping things running relatively smoothly is a full-time job for all the volunteers. Finally, kudos to Joe and Joyce Prusaitis, and Henry Hobbs, and all the other folks who put on this race (and so many other great races) - best outfit in the business IMHO. A couple of photos from Park Road (with its totally tacky Mardi Gras theme) to follow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Long View

Time to blow the dust off the old blog, I suppose. A perfect storm of insanity has kept me away: work, aging parent headaches, injuries. The first two problems would be more manageable but for the last one. After my last visit to the doctor some time ago, I decided to attempt to run through my left leg issues (shin, calf, quad). After all, the doc said he thought the root of my problem was my lower back - so the whole thing was just nerve-induced pain. No biggie. Right.

Well, I ran for a while and it was good for my mental wellbeing (I didn't want to kill anyone on a daily basis). But there was never a run without some sort of leg pain. Sometimes the shin was fine, but the calf was a problem. Other times my quad was tender. Other times it was the same old shin issue. Then, three weeks ago, after a nice weekend of trail runs, my shin hurt in a new and disturbing way. In fact, there was this redish / bruised spot right at the site of the pain (which was now localized rather than diffuse). And the tibia, well it was extremely pressure sensitive. Bad combination. After some in-depth online research, I felt reasonably certain that if I didn't have a stress fracture before, I had one now. Rather than shell out more money for doctors and imaging studies, I made the decision to simply treat it like I would treat a stress fracture. That means no running or other significant weight-bearing exercise for 8-10 weeks. So, come early March, we'll see where we are.

This decision was certainly easier to make three weeks ago when the shin still hurt. But now that it feels pretty good, I'm starting to get antsy. Knowing that I'd quickly devolve into a grumpy tub of goo if I didn't do something, I held my nose and . . . yes, joined a gym. You see, I hate gyms. It's just not my scene. But I had to do something. And, actually, I found a pretty good one - small, just down the street from work, not crowded, reasonably priced (no contract either!). And, did I mention that it shares a building with a modeling agency? Sweet.

For now, it's dull-as-dirt sessions on the stationary bike and some work on the weights. In a couple of weeks, maybe I'll mix in some time on the elliptical. Yea. Come early March, the plan is start walking again, then mix the walking with some short bursts of running, then all running. Baby steps. And a completely new race schedule. Nothing until late-spring / early summer, and no serious races until next Fall. Intrigued by Joe Prusaitis's Gila Gundred in September. No details posted yet, but that part of New Mexico is supposed to be rugged and beautiful. We shall see.

Until then, going to focus on helping put together a truly first-rate aid station for Rocky Raccoon 100 this year. HTREX is sponsoring the Park Road Aid Station (at roughly miles 15, 35, 55, 75, and 95). Turnout should be HUGE - closing in on over 700 runners in both the 100 and 50. We'll have a Mardi Gras theme, a great group of volunteers, top-notch food and drink, and beads. Laissez les bon temps roulez!