As we drove the curvy mountain roads toward the starting line at 2:30 Saturday morning the van was pretty quiet. Especially quiet for a team that had been chatting constantly all week about everything from GU flavors to training plans. My mind was still a little fuzzy (as it usually is at that hour). As we got into Annecy and got closer to the starting line, the years of dreams about competing for Team USA started becoming clearer…and scarier. I started thinking, “I’ve never climbed 17,000 feet in a day before, I’ve never run with a pack on before, I’ve never eaten real food during a race before! This terrain is far more technical than anything I’ve ever run. How much blood did they take for yesterdays drug test? Will that effect me?! Did I eat too many baguettes yesterday? Did I eat enough baguettes yesterday? This could be a very rough day…” But as we got to the start line, put on our head lamps and stripped off our USA warm-ups the worry melted away, and I remembered, This IS GOING to be a rough day. That’s what ultrarunning is; rough. Expecting anything less than getting your bell rung is a mistake. The sport is a marriage of freedom and suffering that will make you extremely tired but also unbelievably free.
The starting gun went off at 3:30 A.M. We ran through a tunnel of fans holding fireworks and flares, down the boardwalk on Lake Annecy, and then began the first climb up Semnoz. The trail was dark, wet, and fairly quiet. Near the top of the climb the trail popped out in a campground complete with large expedition tents, campfires, and huge geo-domes lit up with purple and green laser lights. The place looked like it had been the scene of a pretty spectacular alpine party the night before, but maybe that’s just how people camp in France. From the campsite to the top of Semnoz the trail was lined with flaming torches, it made for a pretty spectacular sight. From the top we descended down through the ski resort on a fairly rocky jeep road, and continued down to Saint Eustache. On the way we passed though many tiny towns where spectators were cheering and ringing bells. From there we went back up and down 5 more major climbs and descents from which I will spare you the details. Here are some pics from the day.
On the ascent up Col de la Forclaz I started hearing the ringing of cowbells in the distance. I was pretty hungry and thirsty and was looking forward to an aid station, or at least a town to fill up a bottle. The higher I climbed the louder the bells got, and the drier my mouth got. I was really looking forward to an aid station. As I crested the hill, I looked down to a green valley full of cows eating, bells swinging in the wind…It was not from the encouragement I was looking for but in its own lonely way, it was far better.
Over the final climb up Mont Baron I ran out of water, got hot and started bonking pretty good, it was really motivating knowing my teammates were counting on me to power through the hard sections, and it was really inspiring knowing they were doing the same thing. In the end the US men’s team took home the silver medal. Here are a few post race photos.
Here is a brief summary of what I used during the race. -Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Pack – 3 Simple Bottles- Great hands free bottles that fit in pockets, waist band or pack(message me at davidlaney12 at Gmail.com for a 35% off promo code) simplehydration.com – 2 UGo Bars- Really good, fast and easy to digest, Check them out at UgoBars.com -Special Edition Nike Zoom Kiger 3’s. You can buy them soon at Nike.com/Trail – A bunch of GU, Shot Blocks and Coca-Cola.
Thanks to Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks of IRunFar.com for their coverage of the event for friends, fans and family around the world. These two do an awesome job and are all over the course taking pictures and tweeting standings/updates.
Thanks to Team Coach Richard Bolt for being an awesome support system, crew, and manager while in France, and thanks to Nancy Hobbs, USA UltraRunning and ATRA.
Finally a HUGE thanks to Trail Butter for creating a “TEAM USA” flavor and supporting us with the proceeds from sales of that flavor. It is amazing to see a small Oregon company volunteer big support for the team. Without support like this the elite component of trail running would not survive. The small companies that give back to the sport in a big way are necessary for dreams to come true, and to you we are all very grateful. Check them out at TrailButter.com
And for those of you that are still reading, here are a few more pics from the event.
Usually I start these things with some failed sarcastic joke and end them by thanking the race director, organizer and volunteers. Today, we give thanks first.
On Saturday morning temps at the Hill Country State Natural Area outside Bandera were below freezing. Freezing rain and ice covered the ground, tarps and cars. The temperature rose little over the course of the day, and I assume it dropped once the sun went down. The cut off time for the 100k is 24 hours, meaning volunteers spent all night in the cold cooking food and warming soup for the runners. Thank you for being out there. With out you all (or should I say ya’ll) I’d likely be shivering under some ice covered cactus, swearing I was never going to run again. Thanks to Joe Prusaitis, Tejas Trails, and all those who worked hard organizing and executing this great event.
Now here’s what happened out there. The first 5 miles were pretty slow and cautious as no one wanted to risk an early spill on the icy rock. Once we got out on the smoother sections the group split up quickly. Paul Terranova and I ran together, off and on, for the next 30 miles or so, chatting shoes and GU flavors. Neither of us was in any hurry to push the pace. By the second loop the rain and foot traffic from the 50k and 25k, as well as the other 100k’ers had turned the Texas dirt into a thick muddy paste that stuck to anything it touched. Within minutes my shoes and back of legs were fully coated in mud, pebbles, and sand. The slop made running on the “easy” sections of the course very challenging. I tried to stop and scrape the sludge off a few times but the process was a waste of time. I started looking forward to the last 15 miles, where the mudfest gives way to rockier trails with less shoe coating mud. The last 5-10 miles flew by. Cold temps made eating and drinking easy. Usually the body has to work hard to cool itself down and blood goes to the extremities, I’m guessing with less cooling work to do my stomach was able to digest much better.
Having raced every distance from 100 meters to 100 miles, and I’d have to say 26.2 is probably my favorite event. Elements of both speed and endurance are combined to create a race that is just long enough to get some serious chaffing, but not so long where the chaffing actually scabs and scars. Essentially 26.2 is long enough to destroy you, but just short enough to keep you coming back for more. Here are a few rules and thoughts to keep in mind if you are thinking of graduating to the marathon.
**This is written for anyone, but it is most applicable for competitive minded runners with a background in track and cross country, and who have trained consistently for a few years. Its not so much focused on specific training, rather just general principles. These have been important in my training, and I believe they are applicable in many training programs.
1. Don’t forget the track. Its easy to focus on road running, long runs, tempo and threshold workouts and neglect the speed that is imperative for racing. You don’t really need to be doing 200’s every week, but regular kilometer and mile repeats will undoubtedly help you keep the speed needed to run a competitive marathon. Do them on grass or track or dirt. You may struggle to run as fast as you normally do when training for cross country or track. That’s OK, focus on short recovery rather than blazing intervals.
2. Sundays not for Gossip. College long runs are usually a social hour (or two), recapping the team drama or previous nights festivities. This is great if you are training for a 5k. With your key race being over 2 hours, the long run needs to be a more focused effort. This isn’t to say that talking isn’t allowed, but the long run should be a workout. If I’m running hard enough I usually don’t want to talk. Sunday long run shouldn’t leave you ruined for the upcoming week, but it probably should leave you wanting to spend the rest of the day on the couch.
3. Wear Pants: If it’s under 50 degrees (Fahrenheit), bundle up. The first glimmer of warmth or sunlight usually leads to every dude on the team pulling out the split shorts and running shirtless through campus. This is why so many people get injured during the winter. Wear tights, wear a long sleeve shirt. You don’t have to be sweating profusely, but wearing tights will keep your muscles warm, relaxed, and less likely to get injured. When the temps warm up instead of being stuck in the pool aqua jogging you will be able to run outside…in shorts.
4. Wake Up. Marathons typically start before 8am. Waking up 3-4 hours before the race will make you feel and perform better. I know waking up at 4am sounds ridiculous on a night when you just want to get some sleep. If you give yourself that extra time to really wake up, eat, and warm up you will feel fresh and ready when you finally get to that starting line.
5. Don’t be Stupid. Depending on your fitness and goals a training segment may be 8-14 weeks. During that time you are bound to get a cold, tweak a muscle, have a bad workout, or get stuck in a blizzard. These things aren’t the end of the world, (except possibly the blizzard…) If you respond properly to these blips in training they likely wont effect your race at all. This fall I took a trip to Boulder, Colorado for a Nike Trail meeting. When I left home it was 55 and sunny, when I landed in Denver it was 20 and snowing. I had mile repeats scheduled for the next morning. When I woke up it was 15 and there was 4 inches of snow blanketing the town. I jogged out of the hotel looking for a plowed road or track that might allow me to do the workout I had planned. I quickly realized that running 4:40 pace in snow, ice and 15 degrees was likely going to result in injury. Instead I ran 10 miles easy and called it a day. The next day the conditions were worse and I was forced to do an easy 90 minutes on paved streets. When I landed in Portland I eagerly got my gear together for a hard workout. When I got to the track and finished my warm up my right Achilles tendon was painful and seemed swollen. I tried to do strides but every step was causing it to tighten up. I realized that during my runs in Boulder I had worn long tights and tall socks, covering my entire Achilles and ankle, but the snow had still frozen to my socks and caused the area around my ankle to stay cold while I was running on it. Needless to say I was frustrated. I had missed two key workouts and now was tiptoeing around a potential injury. I foam rolled, iced, pumped anti-inflammatory, got back to sunny Southern Oregon and restructured the training for the week. That Saturday I had the best workout of the segment. I was fresh, and was able to run faster and easier than I had expected. The workout convinced me I could PR in every distance from 10k to the marathon and gave me a boost of confidence going into the last three weeks of the training block before the Cal International Marathon. Its a long story but I think proves a point. Things are bound to go wrong, when they do use logic and reason to adjust your training.
6. Find a Road and Love it. Whether its a bike path or road, find somewhere with little traffic that you can use a couple days a week for your tempo, threshold, marathon pace, or long runs. Having consistency in your training venue will allow you to gauge your fitness throughout the segment. It might be boring at first, but you will probably grow to love it. The Bear Creek Greenway has become my home away from home over the last 2 years.
7. Dial your nutrition. If you take time to figure out what gels work and which ones don’t, you might end up in a porta-toilet at mile 18. You still might end up there, but spending a few workouts deciding between GU, Roctane, Power-Gel, Hammer Gel or Clif Shots can save you precious moments. You’re gonna have to take in calories and fluid during the race. Be comfortable with it.
8. Run a Lot. Mileage isn’t the only indicator of solid training, but going from racing 10k’s to racing marathons will require an increase in something, and part of that something is probably weekly mileage. You don’t have to run 140 miles per week, but also don’t be scared of running more miles than you have before. The marathon is a long race and it takes a lot of training to be ready to race that last 10k. This is where the magic of the marathon happens. Having a massive base of miles in your legs can get you ready to crush yourself, and the last few miles.
9. Learn. I’ve been learning how to run slower and how to run faster my entire life. The trick is doing the things that make you run faster instead of slower. Your first marathon could be amazing, and it could be a total disaster. Most likely it will be somewhere in between, leaving you to feel accomplished but unsatisfied. Learn from your experience. You spent months preparing for this race. Spend a few hours writing down what went well and what didn’t. Use the things you learned to get better next time. I really believe that with enough work anybody can be a good marathoner. In 2 marathons and 19 months I took 5 minutes and 32 seconds off my marathon PR by simply learning from past mistakes and tweaking my training. The learning curve is big. For somebody with a lot of desire the marathon is a good place to race. But, don’t take my word for it. Go do it.
I was a surprise. With 7 years between me and my closest sibling, saying I’m the baby of the family is an understatement. Being the baby didn’t mean I wasn’t going to claw and fight my way into the mischief and general competitiveness of my sisters and brother. Being the baby also didn’t mean I was treated like the baby. (OK, that second part is a lie…)
With older, stronger, taller, smarter, cousins and siblings being my main competitors I didn’t win a lot. But I did learn a lot. I learned that competition is far more about getting back in the fight than the actual act of winning. Learning this lesson was a process. The Inner City Steppers Track Club hosted all comer track meets at Madison High School on Wednesday nights during the summer months. As a 1st grader I typically ran the distance events, the 200 and the 400 meters, yes distance events (as opposed to the 50 and 100m). One evening I lined up for the 200, and the starter sent us off. 50 meters in I found my self in last place, 100 meters in I was far behind, at 150 I stepped off the track… before I could sit down in the grass a small hand firmly gripped my arm and in a tone I hadn’t heard before, my Mom said, “You never quit.” Her usually gentle eyes made it clear, I was going to finish the race.
My Dad ran a lot, marathons, Hood to Coast, etc, and I would make him take me running and to local road races. My siblings were all moved out and in college by the time I was in middle school, but the local road race scene proved more than enough competition for me to channel my need for competition. In 5th grade I figured out that to make the Sydney Olympic Marathon Team, you had to run the Olympic Trials. So I dug around on the USATF website and found that to make the Olympic Marathon Trials you had to run a marathon in 2:22, with some quick research on Google I discovered the Cool Running Pace Calculator a tool that would tell you the average pace and splits for any race distance. I learned that running just over 5:24 per mile 26 times would qualify me for the Olympic Trials. Considering my mile PR was a stout 5:59, I blindly considered this goal very doable! I upped my training plan and started every recess with 8 laps on the dirt track at Glencoe Elementary.Train hard, race harder, repeat. In 2004 I remember spending my lunch break reading Track and Field News in the CCHS Library, I looked at the photos of Alan Culpepper, Meb Keflezighi and Dan Browne racing through the cold streets of Birmingham, Alabama and thought, I’ve got to run this race. Train hard, race harder, repeat. After the 08 trials the qualifying time was lowered to 2:18:30 and after the 2012 Trials I discovered 5:17 pace wasn’t going to be good enough to get into the 2016 Trials, 2:18:00 was the new qualifying time, requiring 5:15 pace for the 26+ mile race… Train hard, race harder, repeat. Fast forward to California International Marathon last year. You can read that story/blog here. In 2013 I missed the Trials qualifying time by 26 seconds. I learned lessons during that race that I applied to my training and racing during 2014, namely, you don’t need to lead the first half of the race, especially in a marathon. (And for all of you who reminded me of that over the past week, Thank you).
The training segment for the last ten weeks has gone pretty well, not amazing, but got some pretty good quality efforts in. Based on the previous years workouts I estimated I was about a second a mile or about 20-25 seconds over the course of the marathon better than last year…that would leave me at 2:18.01. A very empty feeling PR. So I did what I’ve done 100 times before, I went for it anyway.
I’ll post Part 2 of this blog…soon, probably tomorrow.
Sundays Flagline 50k was a grind from the start, not sure why, but it was one of those tough days on the trail. Just glad to have reeled in a few guys over the 2nd half of the race and pull off a 3rd place finish. (AKA It was 50K, There was some dirt, I got 3rd place.)
Huge thanks to all the volunteers out on the course, Race Director SuperDave, and all the folks out on the course!
Finally, Congrats to Tim Tollefson for winning the US Trail 50K and setting a new course record! The days of going out and cherry picking your local 50k are over people. The growth of trail running and lack of incentives on the roads will lead to greater numbers of “track guys gone rogue” that can show up and throw down on a trail race like a veteran.
Photo credit to USATF Mountain/Ultra/Trail Richard Bolt
Over the past year the dirt road up to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area and I have become quite well acquainted. This route, has seen me at my best and my worst. I’ve ran hard, easy, powerhiked, limped, and flew up and down just about every section of the road, as well as the trails that weave in and out of this major artery. Just for clarification, by major artery I mean, you might see one person on any given morning. Needless to say its often just you, the mountain and a few stray vultures.
The Mount Ashland Hill Climb is a 13.3 mile footrace from Lithia Park to the summit of our 7,532 foot peak, for a total of 5,600 feet of climbing. The idea is pretty simple, start in the heart of Ashland and go up to the top of the highest mountain that you can see from town. As an employee of Rogue Valley Runners for the past two years, and a resident of Ashland since 2007, I feel a certain sense of pride for our trails and local mountains. The hills and trails you train on really define you, as a person and a runner. I’ve watched the seasons change in the Ashland watershed, and I think I’ve taken a lot more than stronger heart and tougher legs away from those hours and days on the trails… or maybe not…
Usually I want to win races because of a goal I have set, my competitive spirit, or the fact that I hate to lose. Surprisingly none of these reasons really played a part in Saturdays race. I wanted to win because Mt. Ashland is our local ski hill, its our place of freedom, its the highest peak in the Siskiyou’s. I thought somebody who lives at the bottom of the mountain, who eats at Ruby’s, shops at the ShopN’Cart, and ice baths in Ashland Creek ought to be the first to the top.
The race is special because on any clear day finishers can look upward and see those chair lifts and that weather station, and know they got to the top on foot. The race may have taken all morning and runners may have decided to never do it again, but a lot of folks got there, and fast or slow that is a pretty cool accomplishment.
Thanks to all the amazing volunteers! HUGE thanks to first year race director Joseph Chick, he organized and executed like a veteran. The event has been, was and continue to be a challenge and a success in every aspect.
I’d also be interested in opinions on how far this ball at the top of the mountain would roll if a particularly large gust of wind were to blow off the top of the mountain… In case you were wondering what I think about on my way up.