Monday, February 24, 2014

Four weeks Ending February 24

Week Ending February 2

Monday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Jogged up in the cold and snow for a tag of Horsetooth. Perfect training run for the upcoming stage race in the tropics.

Tuesday - 7 miles (1,800') easy. I was going to do Jane's workout in the morning, but it was cold and crappy again, so I deferred to Horsetooth.

Wednesday - 5 miles (1,500') easy. Not a whole lot of time with work pressures and the need to start getting the family ready for the trip to Costa Rica and the Coastal Challenge, so made this a quick Horsetooth tag (25), starting at the trailhead.

Thursday - 4 miles (1,000) easy. Running out of time on the day, I ran the 'neighborhood round-up' in the dark, covering all the road mileage in the neighborhood on a beautiful evening with big flakes floating serenely to the ground. A predicted 10 inches of overnight snow meant one hour less of sleep for what was already promising to be a long day of travel on Friday.

Friday - Off. Travel day to Costa Rica, with a 2:00 am wake up. The extra hour allotted for crappy roads turned out to be unnecessary as not nearly as much snow came down as predicted. And so the weeklong exercise in sleep-deprivation begins.

Saturday - 4.5 miles easy. Ran a couple of loops with Mike Wardian from the hotel we were staying at in San Jose. Pleasantly surprised at the comfortable temps up in the relative altitude of the Costa Rican capital. The story at sea level would be markedly different.

Sunday - 22.5 miles (2,700') steady. It was a ridiculously early wake-up call for the four-hour trip out to the race start, made even more painful by the fact that I basically didn't sleep because Stella was tossing, turning and coughing all night. Slept a bit on the bus but not much. The route for this, the first stage of the Coastal Challenge stage race, was tough in that it was hot, involved 10 miles of rock infested road running right off the bat, and did I mention that it was hot.

Wardian was off to the races almost immediately, and by the time we hit trail after 10 miles he had something close to a three-minute lead. I was running with Martin Gaffuri for most of this and we made back some time heading up the first major hill of the race through some good jungle terrain. By the time we popped back onto the road, Wardian was not much more than 100 meters ahead (aided by a wrong turn), and then over the next climb I pulled back up to him. He put me away on the long descent to the finish, and I ran the last four or five miles with Vincente Juan Garcia Beneito from Alicante, Spain. With my lack of Spanish and his lack of English, we didn't have much to chat about, but we'd get to know each other well over the next few days as we essentially ran shoulder to shoulder until the end of stage 4. Vincente is a prolific and thoroughly successful stage racer and an absolute machine. Despite our inability to communicate verbally, I learned a hell of a lot from the guy over the week.

Vincente and I ended up crossing the line together for joint second, two and a half minutes behind Mike. Carlos Sa would have been fourth a few minutes back, but he ended up taking an inexplicable three-hour wrong turn when he was just 100 meters from the finish line. Seriously, the course was marked immaculately. Hobbling around afterwards, I couldn't believe how beat up I felt from a measly 20 miler, but there was no rest for the wicked and it was straight on to fathering duty - enabled by some gloriously cold Imperials.

Total: 50 miles (8,800')

Week Ending February 9

Mon - 24 miles (4,800') steady. Day two of the Coastal Challenge. This was a fun stage and I felt good the whole way around, finishing strong over the last three or four miles of beach running. Joint third overall on the stage and 3.5 minutes back overall on Wardian. The staging area on Dominical Beach, like all our staging areas for the week, was sublime.

Tues - 29.5 miles (5,200') steady. Day three of the Coastal Challenge was the first of two 'long days,' and ended up being a real bruiser by the time it was all said and done. The first 10kms through the river was a ton of fun and one of the more unique trail-racing experiences I've had. The middle miles climbing through the jungle was dense and intense and the final miles on the beach under the blazing sun were pure brutality. Finished the day in fourth, losing 10 minutes over the last 12kms to the finish. Again, our finish location on Ventanas Beach was other-worldly and about as far removed from February in Colorado as imaginable.

Weds - 23 miles (6,500') steady. Day four was a big climbing day and the end of my race. I pulled up lame with five kms to go, sat in the shade for 10 minutes and then hobbled home.

Thurs - 29.5 miles (3,000') easy. After my medical issues from day four, I committed to taking things easy for the final long day of the race, and did just that. The miles clicked by quickly on this relatively flat leg. The section through the mangroves was just fantastic. The finish in the gob-smackingly beautiful Drakes Bay was incredible.

Friday - 14.5 miles (1,200') easy. With positions essentially set, we agreed to run as a group for the final stage of the race. The tour was fantastic and included a bit of everything we'd run through the previous five days. A great way to finish a great week.

Saturday - Off

Sunday - Off

Total: 120.5 miles (20,700')

Week Ending February 16

Mon - Off

Tues - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth jog. Decided against intervals in the morning in favor of sleep and additional recovery. Got a jog up Horsetooth done and felt pretty good all things considered.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Another easy jog up Horsetooth.

Thurs - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth. Declined on the regular Thursday tempo in favor of some easier recovery miles. Conditions were okay, but continued to be totally snowpacked.
PM: 7 miles (1,700') moderate. A moderate climb of Towers (~37 mins) in less-than-ideal conditions, with heavy mud at the bottom and bullet-proof ice at the top.

Fri - AM: 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth with Danny. Kinda icy and choppy, but decent enough.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. Jogged another lap on Horsetooth late in the day.

Sat - 13 miles (3,500') easy. Set out with Danny to bag a Horsetooth Hattrick, but bailed after two summits, completely frustrated with the terrible, icy underfoot conditions.

Sun - 17 miles (4,800') easy. Conditions were marginally better today, so I resolved to get the triple done, bagging a south, middle and north summit via the south, middle and north routes up the mountain.

Total: 70 miles (18,700')

Week Ending February 23

Mon - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth north summit. With warm winds blowing all weekend, the trails are really starting to clear. Nice easy jog up the hill.

Tues - AM: 9 miles intervals. Eased in and generally didn't push too hard. Ran with McCullough and Garica, both of whom seemed fine with the casual effort. I wasn't going to push the issue. Workout was mile (cemetary), 2 mile fartlek (City Park), mile (cemetary), 2 mile fartlek (CP): 6:05, 12:01, 5:30, 11:30.
PM: 5 miles (1,500') easy. End of day Horsetooth summit.

Weds - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Lunchtime easy up the hill. Wanted a second summit, but never found the time. Winds were brutal.

Thurs - 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Centennial Rd out and back. Big tailwind coming home, but didn't get too aggressive: 31:30. Really wanted to get out for a second run, but the wind was just brutal, so I opted for rest.

Fri - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Big push up the hill with the wind, which made for a fun and quick outing. Climbed the north-gap route and almost got blown off the rock by the gusts funneling through. Exhilirating.

Sat - 24 miles (4,800') easy/steady. Ran from Devil's Backbone with Jason & Mike to top of Horsetooth via Towers, Herrington, Wathan, then tacked on another summit on the Rock trail for good measure before heading home. Felt strong all morning. Fitness is coming around.

Sun - 15 miles (4,500') easy. Triple Horsetooth (44) via the three-way. Up Southridge/Audra, down Wathan, up/down Rock trail, up Wathan, down Southridge/Audra, home on the Grim Reaper. Gorgeous morning out with a nice layer of low-laying clouds to the south/west and in the valleys. Felt strong all morning again. Super solid weekend.

Total: 84 miles (17,600')

Phew, it's been a very busy last month, and keeping up with the blogging has been a challenge. Happy to be up-to-date with things here now that I'm reasonably up to date with other facets of life.

This past weekend was really encouraging from a running standpoint. My week in Costa Rica, while a fantastic experience, was less than stellar with regards to fitness. I went into the race with next to no long runs under my belt and suffered as a consequence, fading badly on a couple of the stages and ultimately breaking down physically in the heat by day four. Nonetheless, I was proud to see the week out and cover the full course. It was the kick start I needed, and this past week things have really been clicking. My endurance felt great, I'm moving much better uphill and I'm excited for the 2014 season ahead.

Speaking of which, I am really excited to be adding the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji 100 to my racing schedule this year. It comes a little early in the year for me, but it was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. What effect it has on my form for Western States is to be determined, but hey, as all the kids are saying these days, you only live once!

What else, well I'm excited to be representing Ultraspire again this year. There is a lot of innovation happening out in the St. George, UT HQ and I'm excited to test run their new offerings for 2014 - starting with the simplified bottle tops.

In other sponsor news, unfortunately I've had to part ways with Pearl Izumi for 2014. It was a great experience working with the guys in Lousiville, CO for the four years that I represented the brand, and helping to move the shoe line from - let's be honest - mediocre to outstanding was a ton of fun. Pearl has hit a home run with the E:Motion line and I wish them nothing but the best for 2014 and beyond. And the future appears bright, with shoes in the pipeline looking even better than the first E:motion run, and the apparel remaining up there as an industry leader. Quite honestly I'm sad to move on, but also excited for future opportunities.

I am happy, however, to be maintaining a relationship with Pearl through the Quad Rock races coming up in May. For the third year running, Pearl will be the presenting sponsor, so there will be opportunities for runners to demo the new shoe line on race day and at the spring training run. The 25 mile race sold out quite some time ago, but we do still have spots left for the 50 miler. The field is already looking strong in both the men's and women's division, so we're excited that through our relationship with the Hunter Team at Cornerstone Home Lending we've been able to bump the prize purse to $1,600 for 2014.

We'll also be opening registration for our summer and fall races - the Black Squirrel Half Marathon and Blue Sky Marathon - on April 1 and have some really fun things planned for both races. But what we're even more excited about is getting up to Cameron Pass this summer to scout out a high-altitude, mountain 100km route that we have planned for 2015. We have an initial nod of approval from the powers that be up there, but there is still plenty of work to be done. If we can pull this one off I really think this will be one of the premier destination ultra races in Colorado. The terrain up in the Never Summer and Medicine Bow Mountains is quite honestly some of the best that Colorado has to offer. But we have to be patient and wait for the spring thaw before we can get things totally figured out.

Spring is on the way. Fire up the stoke!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Coastal Challenge

My family and mother-in-law joined me for the weeklong trip out Costa Rica for the 10th running of the Coastal Challenge stage race, a six-day, 145-mile run through the jungles, beaches and coastal mountains of this gorgeous Central American country. To celebrate the decade-long anniversary of the event, the organizers had invited a number of runners from around the world to make a race of it at the front of the field. In the men's race, there were six of us who seemed likely to be in the running. I was the only one coming in as a stage-racing rookie, with a couple of the European guys bona fide specialists.

The start. 
After settling into a day of hotel living at the Best Western in San Jose, the capital city, for pre-race briefings and the like, we were whisked off in the wee hours of Sunday morning on a long bus ride to a beach from where we would begin the six days of racing.

San Jose sits at relative altitude and as such enjoys relatively cool temperatures. The situation on the coast would be markedly different, and by the time we got running on day one it was already a scorcher.

On the docket for the morning was a stage right out of the Mike Wardian playbook: 10 miles of flat jeep track, followed by a couple of 1,000 - 2,000 foot bumps and then more flat running into the finish. Mike's superior leg speed was evident from the get go, and by the time we finally made the turn onto a stretch of rough singletrack through the jungle, he was a couple of minutes off the front. Frenchman Martin Gaffuri and I worked together up the hill and by the time we popped back onto the jungle road Mike was no more than 50 meters ahead, a gap that was soon closed on the climb to the high point of the day's stage.

All fun and games at this stage.
Photo: J.A. Vargas Lead Adventure Media
Thinking smart thoughts (or so I thought), I let him go on the ensuing descent with the goal of preserving my quads for the five days of racing to come. With a few miles left to the finish, Spaniard and stage racing legend Vincente Juan Garcia Beneito, caught up to me and we pushed together into the finish, crossing as one at a stunning eco-lodge tucked away in the depths of a luscious jungle valley. Martin rolled in 10 minutes later, followed by Philip Reiter from Germany a few minutes after that. Badwater champion Carlos Sa ended up taking a mysterious wrong turn 100 meters from the finish line that cost him something in order of three hours, essentially putting him out of the running for the rest of the race. Much to his credit, however, he persevered.

Quite frankly, I was stunned at how much I was hurting after a fairly simple 22 mile run and shuddered at the thought of the early mornings and heavy mileage ahead. I licked my wounds and attempted to play with the kids through the afternoon. Eventually, after some quality time in the cold pool accompanied by cold beers, I was able to walk with a little more fluidity. As would be the case all week, my appetite was insatiable and I was able to put food away in vast quantities.

Not a bad spot to end day 1.
In order to beat the heat, each day started early. Fortunately I didn't have to pack everything in the morning as Dana and the kids would leave a little later with the staff bus, but trying to find things at 4:30 in the morning amid a mess of soggy gear intermixed with a mound of kids' stuff all the while grimacing at inexplicably sore legs was an interesting way to prepare for the morning's racing. With five minutes until the start, I finally found my race bib, slotted into a damp pair of running shoes and got ready to go.

Right from the off on day two, we were into the jungle, gaining elevation quickly and sweating profusely. Five of us in the lead group ascended the climb as one, with Philip off the front and out of sight. We spaced a bit as skill sets dictated across a mix of technical descents, jeep road and cow pasture. It was on the super rutted cow pasture descent, in particular, that we built a gap on the Yellow Jersey of Wardian.

By the river crossing at the halfway point of the day's stage he was out of shoulder-check sight, while Philip was maintaining his lead off the front. Nonetheless, there would be a long stretch of groomed dirt road that would allow Wardian to catch back up and grow a lead over myself and Vincente Juan, the two of us again firmly in lockstep in third and fourth. The stage ended with approximately four miles on the beach to the finish in the small surf town of Domincal. Vincente and I closed  the gap on Mike to less than a minute by the finish, working well together under mercifully overcast skies, with Philip a couple minutes ahead of Mike. Martin and Carlos ended the day another 10 to 20 minutes back, so it was looking like it would be a four-horse race, with less than four minutes separating the first three, Vincente and I finishing the 24-mile leg together for the second straight day.

Beach fun in Dominical.
The camp location right on the beach was absolutely stunning, and I spent the remainder of the day playing in the surf with the kids, building sand castles and consuming calories. There was a large population of beach dogs down here in Dominical, no doubt thriving off tourist generosity, and one mutt in particular attached himself to Alistair and the camp in general.

At close to 50k, day three was the first of two long days, and perhaps the one to start stringing the field out a bit. It began with a short tour through town and then launched into 5kms of swimming, wading and rock hopping along the course of a gorgeous river, which after a short stretch of connecting double track would lead us to a stunning double waterfall.

Running through town, Alistair's mutt friend from the night before was right there barking and nipping at our heels. At first an annoyance, the dog stuck with us through the first 5km, then proceeded to make his way up the river with us, whining and crying at particularly tricky spots but always finding a way to navigate. By the first aid station, five of us plus Ultra Dog emerged from the river and crossed the bridge on the way to the waterfall. Looking back down the river, Wardian was nowhere to be seen, which meant he was floundering in the river at least 10 minutes back, more than enough to erase his lead from the first two days. This was getting fun and the race was on.

After some howling and hollering at the sight of the waterfall, it was time to get our heads down for some grunting up steep jungle trail to the rolling roads that led us out to some of the thickest jungle terrain we would see all week. By the time we hit the trail and started moving through the thicket, it was myself, Vincente and Philip - accompanied by Ultra Dog - leading the way. There were stretches in here that had clearly just been machete'ed days before, the fern-like foliage collecting and piling up around our ankles as we waded through. The heat of the day was once again piling on, and at each and every creek crossing I silently implored the dog to stop and get some fluids, but he seemed unflappable and singularly focused on hanging with the group.

Climbing out from the waterfall. Photo: J.A. Vargas Lead Adventure Media
After a long climb to the second aid station, we were off to the races with a long stretch of downhill dirt roads, punctuated by short sections of technical jungle trail. Wardian had been running the smooth descents a lot quicker than all of us on the first two stages, so I was expecting him to pick us up at some point before we got down to the beach, but I don't think any of us expected him to close on us quite as quickly as he did, not far from the high point of the course. Once he got on the train, we ran pretty much as a group - dog included - for the long descent to the Pacific Ocean.

After four hours of hard running through the jungle, the exposure to the sun and soul sapping views of endless beach kms did a major number on me. I'd been told 12 kms of beach, so prepped myself for an hour of torture and dropped off the back of the pack, alone with just the dog for company. As it turns out, it was only 30 minutes of beach running, but by the time I made it to the canopy and the short climb out from the beach I was wobbling like a drunk man, more than a little disoriented. The final three or four kms on the road to our unbelievably scenic finish location at Ventanas Beach National Park were some of the more pathetic miles I've put in during my time as a runner.

I gave up more than 10 minutes on those last few miles on the beach and road, but cared about nothing more than getting rehydrated and cooled once finally at the finish, the toll of the last three days, 75 miles and scorching sun really starting to take large chunks out of me. I was quickly realizing that I was coming into this race woefully underprepared.

The kids on Ventanas Beach.
Once I was back in the land of the living, it was time to figure out the camping situation and then spend some quality time with the kids in the ocean at one of the most scenic and secluded beaches I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying. The heavens opened up rainforest style that night, and the first two hours of 'sleep' were spent trying to keep water out of the tent. It was not a good night's sleep to say the very least, and the race was quickly becoming as much about managing exhaustion through sleep deprivation as it was managing a physically dinged up body.

The clock stops for nobody, and by 4:30 it was time to start sorting through the damp and wet to get ready for the next day's racing, which on paper looked like something of a respite at just 22 miles. But we'd been warned of some pretty gnarly terrain, so nothing was being taken for granted. And then, once again, we were off to the races.

Day four opened up with a few kilometers of gradually ascending jungle road, before a big 3,000 foot climb on steep, tight and barely-there jungle trail. Once again I found myself working with Vincente up the hill, Philip off the front and Mike a minute or two up the trail. We hiked 90 percent of the climb, and despite feeling like I needed to be pushing harder, I was content just to follow Vincente's heels to the top. It came relatively quickly, and once at elevation we would follow rolling, wide and well-groomed dirt roads with huge views for miles. I made the occasional attempt at dropping Vincente, something I'd yet been able to do over the first three days, but soon gave up figuring that the steep, technical descent at the end of the stage would be where I'd chop some time on the competition.

Au contraire, Blackadder. With a measly five kilometers to the finish, my race essentially came to a grinding halt.

I was pleased that I needed to pee, as it would allow me to stop running for a few seconds to take care of business, but I wasn't prepared for the thick ruby red flow that ensued. Immediately my brain shut things down and I was no longer able to run. The day had turned into yet another scorcher, so I found a spot in the shade, laid on my back and considered my fate.

"Kidney failure, hyponatremia ('wait, what are the symptoms again?'), dehydration, bladder chaffing?"

"Which one is it damn-it?"

After 10 minutes of sitting, I finally decided I needed to get to the finish and be done with running. I was pulling the plug, DNF'ing, spending tomorrow playing with the kids in the ocean.

I finally rolled into the finish after a long, hot 5km shuffle, some 30 minutes behind the lead, and set about rehydrating. Exhaustion aside, I actually felt fine. I told the camp doc the same, and he prescribed a couple of hours of fluid intake before deciding what needed to be done. A couple of hours and many liters of water later, and hey presto my pee looked like pee again. There went the excuse to dodge day five and a further 48kms of fun.

Heaven. Photo: RestArts Studio
And Hell! Photo: Ian Corless
I ate well for the remainder of the day, looked for crocodiles with the kids and slowly got my mind back into the game. I would finish out the mileage, complete the Coastal Challenge, but the racing was over with. I felt good about the compromise and got a sound night's sleep.

Day five was a long one for sure, but mercifully it was relatively flat, which allowed the miles to float by in a metronomic rhythm. For the first time all race, I had some space from other runners, so I sat back and enjoyed the scene. The mangroves in particular were stunning, but just as bucolic were the horses out to pasture in a beautiful valley as open as the mangroves were dense.
End Day 5 at Drakes Bay

With every passing step I was getting closer to Drake Bay, our final and perhaps most stunning location of the entire trip. I passed an ailing Carlos Sa at mile 20 or so. Carlos, like many in the race, was dealing with pretty major feet issues. Mercifully my feet had held up through the humidity, dousing and countless creek and river crossings. It could have been so much worse.

There was one final river to cross before we made our way to the finish on the beach. I sat for a while to cool my jets, then engaged the final kms of road to the beach. Popping out onto the beach at Drakes Bay, the finish line was a mere 800 meters away - no endless beach running to finish the day - thank the sweet baby Jesus.

Despite having a final day of running left to complete, there was a definite sense of accomplishment around camp that afternoon. The final day at 13 miles would be nothing more than a victory lap, a quite stunning victory lap as it turned out, with rivers, waterfalls, dogs, dirt roads, beaches, coastal singletrack and a final few hundred meters of beach running all packed in there as a punctuation point on a fantastic week.

I felt a true sense of accomplishment at the finish. The Coastal Challenge had lived up to its name and challenged me in ways I hadn't predicted it would. Each and every day was a grind, the heat and humidity were intense, and the level of competition meant that there was simply no letting off the gas. Every day was a race - until, of course, it wasn't.

I have to thank the race organizers for putting together such a stunning course and figuring out the crazy logistics that go into an event like this. Camp was ripped down every night and miraculously re-established at the next day's location, kitchen, med tents and all. The staging locations were gob-smackingly beautiful and the camaraderie around camp was flat-out fun. I was a little nervous about bringing the whole family out for this one, but the kids had an absolute blast and were truly sad to leave camp life and the warm ocean.

This one comes highly recommended, solo or en famille.

Stella was quite taken with Dr Luciano!

Photos: Ian Corless 

Photo: RestArts Studio