Friday, December 28, 2007

Six Months to Go!

It's six months to the day before the 2008 Western States 100 Miler. That, in and of itself, gets me excited. Even though I am currently running 90 minutes a day through snow and ice in sub-freezing temperatures I know the beauty and Heat of The Canyons awaits. Going for my 5th consecutive top-10 finish gets me out the door in the morning and knowing that the competition will all be there ready to go fires me up in the midst of the brutal Idaho winter. So, bucking the traditional New Year's Resolution Thing, I resolve to do five things over the next six months:

1. Keep the Base Mileage going through February 3rd -- I know I need to do this to stay patient and focused on the ultimate goal. As much as I'd like to blow out some carbon in the next few weeks I also know that would be a bad idea. In the next six weeks it's all about the long, slow miles.

2. Let the Oregon Guys have their day at Cool -- They all beat me last year and I expect them to do the same this year. All I can say is that they better be ready for some serious competition at the Georgetown Hotel for Karaoke. And, if they want to get fiesty, watch out for Team Idaho at Cool, with AJW, Mitchell and Dart we'll be tough to beat!

3. Get the hill mileage in early (and often!) -- I need to get the climbing legs going hard in March and April. In order for me to have any improvement at WS 2008 I need to run the first 30 miles faster than ever before. The only way that can happen is for me to climb better. Take a look at the splits, aside from a few outliers, the guys who beat me climbed hard early. Not gonna happen again.

4. Focus on having a great last month -- From May 15 to June 15 I will run longer, harder and faster than at any other time in my life. I just need to be healthy enough to do that when the time comes. No races, just good, old-fashioned training and healthy, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale fueled recovery.

5. Race assertively and aggressively -- I am ready to go for it this year. Vermont and Teton in 2007 taught me what I can do. Now, it's up to me to get it done. I have no time left to leave anything in the tank.

Happy New Year everybody!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 - Year in Review

It's a week or so before the New Year but it seems as good a time as any to look back on 2007 and reflect on my year in running. This year, I thought I would focus on the ten best individual runs of the year. So, here is my top-10 list for 2007:

10. The Ice Cream Sandwich Run with Scott Wolfe, Jeff Riley and Craig Thornley - This was a classic run with the Oregon boys on Miwok Saturday. Scott bailed early and I should have with what eventually amounted to an infected blister on my heel but it doesn't get much better than 52 miles on the Western States Trail followed by an evening of fun and frolic at Michigan Bluff. This run was Step One in my WS preparation.
9. The Little Wood Loop with Mike Stevens and Brad Mitchell - This 28 mile epic took 7 hours and we all ran out of water. It was a death slog after about 4 hours but we all laugh about it now. The fact that it was two weeks after WS and the temperatures were in excess of 90 degrees only added to the fun.
8. The Seqouia 50K Run - I was fat and out of shape for this little doozy in February but I was in the Bay Area for work and the run was held in my favorite training grounds of the East Bay Hills. Even though it is a "run not a race" I managed to finish within an hour of my good friend Jon Olsen which told me winter in Idaho wans't completely ruining my running career
7. Western States Training Run - Foresthill to Last Chance and back - I traveled down to The Trail the day after graduation to spend four hard (and hopefully hot!) days on the The Course. This run on the second day showed me I had my downhill legs from 2005. Sadly, it also showed me I still had the same uphill legs. Therefore, I knew sub-17 wasn't in the cards.
6. Western States Training Run - Placer High School to The River and back - This run, two days after the one listed above, showed me I could still ahndle heat after a winter in Idaho and that it was not necessarily a bad thing to know every mile point from Green Gate to the Finish. I was also encouraged to realize I still had a bit of footspeed after 150 miles in four days.
5. Pacing Rob Landis at Wasatch - Rob teaches at my school and was the winner of Wasatch in 1983 and 1984. In fact, he was the first person to finish the race under 24 hours. Needless to say, pacing a Legend to a strong 12th place finish was an honor and a privilege. I'll do it again next year unless I end up actually getting in to the race!
4. The Javelina Jundred - Having another battle with Jorge was fun although one of these days I'd like to finish ahead of him. Spending time in my beloved Sonoran Desert in late-October was a bonus and one I think I'll try to take advantage of in the future.
3. The Grand Teton 1oo Miler - Battling Matt Hart all day for this win was tough. The climbing and descending on this course are brutal and keeping focused when night falls make this a race that tests you physically and mentally. I also was surprised by some rather serious stomach issues which forced me to re-group in the late afternoon. That said, who can complan about a 4 hour course record in an perfectly organized race in a stunningly beautiful location.
2. The Vermont 100 Miler - This was my first 100 mile win. After 4 2nd place finishes I thought I was due. On this day, four weeks after WS, it all came together. Jim Kerby made me earn it and I will cherish the memory forever. Crossing that finish line in the daylight and falling into Shelly's arms made me understand how good it can get. I will never, ever take what I can do for granted.
1. The Western States 100 Miler - OK, I have to do it. In case you're wondering why this is my #1 just check out this link (feel free to fast forward through the 3rd place guy, his name is Cooper or something like that:):


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Importance of Running

I have just come through the most difficult three-week stretch ever in my professional life. Among other things I had to make some extremely difficult personnel decision for my school and have been living with the fact that I have disappointed many people. These decisions are in the ultimate best interest of the school but being a "pleaser" has made it quite difficult. The end result is that I have probably had not more than 4 hours of sleep a night in three weeks.

My tonic through this stretch has been running. Sure, I am not training for anything right now and that's probably a good thing. But logging the daily miles in the cold and snow has helped me stay centered and given me the confidence to face my job every day. I am not sure I would have the same ability if I did not have running as such an important part of my life. Here's to the part of running that saves our lives!

Friday, December 7, 2007

100 Mile Trail Championship? How about Javelina?

OK, so all this talk on the blogs about some kind of championship race for the elites has gotten me thinking about what would make a good championship race. If you put aside history and tradition which is clearly something all the Big Boys have and should have then I would say the following criteria would be best (in no particular order):

1. A Good Course, one that is a fair test for a wide range of runners (flatlanders, mountain goats, speed demons and patient folks) and allows for competitive racing.

2. An Attractive and Accessible Location, Whether the race pays for you to be there or not it would be great if this championship venue was in a "destination location." By that, I mean a place where perhaps people could enjoy more than just the race when they travel there. Also, it would help if there was a major airport nearby that accessed many areas of the country.

3. Solid Organization. Some of the Johnny-come-lately championship races have been lacking in such things as course markings and aid stations. This championship race would need to have those things dialed.

4. Incentives, This is, of course, totally up to the organizers but incentives will get people to the race and keep them coming back.

5. A Good Spot on the Calendar, With some months completely taken with some of the big races and acknowledging the fact that people will continue going to those races until they can't anymore (for example, I will not stop going to Western States until I drop out of the top-10, which could be this year!) it would be best if this championship race took place during a time that did not interfere with these other races.

And, given these criteria, (and I admit, I created the criteria) I declare the Javelina Jundred the perfect Championship Race.

To wit:

1. The 15.3 mile Pemberton lTrail oop is all pristine desert single-track with moderate climbs and descents, some areas of sketchy footing, and fair distances between aid stations. Furthermore, the "washing machine" format allows a runner to size up his competition regularly.

2. The desert is beautiful (especially in November!), Phoenix has many attractive places to visit, and the airport is accessible from all corners of the country. Also, camping is cheap, convenient, and fun right on the race course.

3. The race organization is second to none. Just ask Dave Combs (Mr. UltraList)

4. If the incentive to spend a weekend in the desert in November is not incentive enough, consider the awards (I have two on my mantle in my house and let's just say they are truly conversation pieces.) The court's still out on Prize Money.

5. With the exception of the San Diego 100 Miler ,the month of November is light on 100 Milers. Even if guys have done a 100 miler in June, July and September (like I did in 2007) they could probably get focused for one more.

So, there's my idea. Let it be noted that I have no financial interest in the Javelina Jundred nor do I know if this is something that the race organizers are even interested in. All I can say is that I will be there in November, 2008 and if a bunch of fast guys were there vying for prize money or funny things to put on their mantles I'd be psyched.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Western States

Let me open my comments with the statement that absolutely I love the Western States Endurance Run. In fact, I am obsessed with it! I love the tradition, the mystique, the environment, even the heat. Most of all, indeed, I love the competition. I truly believe (selfishly perhaps) that a top-5 finish in Western States is paramount to winning another 100 miler. So, the comments I make below are largely out of love and respect for this amazing and are not, in any way, intended to be a criticism of the quandary the Western States Board finds themselves confronting this month.

With this in mind I thought I would throw out a simple scenario for the future:

What if, in addition to the previous year's top-10 finishers, winners of a dozen or so of the other 100 Mile races in the USA over the past year were also granted entry if they applied.

With that simple change the following people could be added to the list:

Jasper Halekas - Tahoe Rim Trail
Anton Krupicka - Leadville Trail
Jon Olson - Rio del Lago
Karl Meltzer - Bear and San Diego
Jorge Pacheco - Javelina

I can't remember if Todd Walker, Leigh Schmitt or Lon Freeman won any 100 milers this past year but if so they would be on the list as well.

In addition, just think of the excitement that would be generated at the following races in 2008:

HURT, Rocky Raccoon, Coyote Two Moon, Umstead, Masanutten, Old Dominion and whatever else I'm missing.

Do you think the RD's of those races would be psyched to have a smackdown at the front in their races!

Just a thought.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

December...Western States...


This is an interesting and complex time of year for me. The big Western States lottery took place today and there are many disappointed folks. I can relate to this as I have never actually been selected to run a race via lottery. It must be excrutiating to sit through that pain! At the same time, I am also saddled with a nagging hamstring problem that is keeping me from doing what I love.

More to the point, this is the time of year that makes me think of Base Training (aforementioned injury notwithstanding!). For me, Base Training is long slow miles at aerobic pace intended to provide the foundation necessary to withstand the Canyons without hardship and stay focused going into the final "runnable" 20 miles. In this phase I never exceed 140 BPM on my Heart rate Monitor. And, in that context, this time of year is highlighted by skiing with my kids and the occasional trip to the mountains to test my mettle in the Backcountry. I'll save the Training Log for February.

And, for the Elephant in the Room, let me say I am a bit disappointed by the entrants list for Western States 2008 as it stands now. On the one hand, it is encouraging to me as it suggests a bit of an easier time getting that Top-10 finish that I compete for every year. On the other hand, as I view the Western States as the Masters' or Kentucky Derby of Ultrarunning, I wish a few more thoroughbreds had been granted admission for the 2008 Event. Don't get me wrong, the list as it stands is impressive, but if you added Meltzer, Krupicka, Halekas, Nielsen, Bien, Olsen and Freeman to that list (among many others) you might just have the Race of the Century.

I know it's not all about the Elites at this event and certainly many fast folks have crashed and burned over the years but the race and the sport are at a Crossroads and the signature event in the sport could make a strong statement in the 2008 race. To me, the Western States not only represents an event, but it stands for an ideal. It's an ideal I feel worth perpetuating.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007


It's that time of year and I'd like to give thanks to some of the people who have made this year so special for me:

Race Directors: Wendell and Sarah, Greg, Sean, Greg (again!), Jim, Lisa and Jay, and Rodger and Jimmy. Thank you so much for your extraordinary events. I look forward to sharing the trails with all of you in the future.

Pacers: Kyle Hoang - You got me to the River fast. I needed a strong split from Cal 2 and you did it. Thanks! Jeff Hutson - What can I say? When I wasn't choking up Gu from another hilarious Sawchuk story I was on the rivet as you had me chasing Tweit (at least in my mind). Hope we can do it again. Bryon Powell - You brought me back to life and made me feel like a runner. We had fun too! James Bonnet - I was toast at Mile 90 and your youthful energy gave me what I needed. To all you guys, Happy Thanksgiving!

Competitors: Craig Thornley - Our early season battle at Cool was one for the ages. Nothing like hammering home for a top-25 finish. Graham Cooper - I thought you were closer than you were and everybody told me you were popping Advil like candy but you held me off. Good thing you had a cooler full of beer at the finish. James Kerby - You had me totally freaked out at Vermont. I wanted that win badly and I knew you were closing. I hope you are getting back to it after your injury. Matt Hart - Man, for a first timer you really nailed it! Right to the end I knew I had to hammer to get it done. Jorge Pacheco - You did it again. I can't think of a more humble classy guy to lose to. Your race was awesome!

My Crew: To Shelly, Carson, Logan and Tully you make me a better runner just by being there. I cannot think of a better crew. Get ready for another fun ride!

There are many others out there who know I'm thankful but it's late and I have turkey to make. So, that's all for now.

Here's hoping for an even better 2008!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lottery Musings

Although there are a record number of entries in the Western States lottery this year and a dismal 16% chance of getting selected, a quick look at the 1352 names paints an interesting picture. Without a doubt and regardless of the lottery results, the 2008 Western States is likely to be the most competitive ever especially since the list may not even include some of the automatics from the Montrail Ultra Cup Series.

So, in the spirit of getting pumped up for the Big Day, here are some in the potential men's field:

Hal Koerner - 1st last year
Erik Skaden - 2nd last year
Graham Cooper - 3rd last year
AJW - 4th last year
Glen Redpath - 6th last year
Tracy Moore - 7th last year
Hiroki Ishikawa - 8th last year
Jeff Riley - 9th last year
Rod Bien - 11th last year
Jon Olsen - Rio del Lago Course record holder
Lon Freeman - Miwok Course record holder
Karl Meltzer - Multiple course record holder
Anton Krupicka - Two time Leadville 100 Champion
Jasper Halekas - 2007 USATF 100 Mile Champion
Derek Blaylock - Perennial top-3 finisher at Wasatch'
Josh Brimhall - Multiple winner and course record holder
Matt Hart - 2nd place Grand Teton 100 miler in 2007
Troy Howard - 2nd place Angeles Crest 100 in 2007
Brian Morrison - Led WS at Mile 99.9 in 2006. Has unfinished business.
Jorge Pacheco - 1st place 2007 Javelina Jundred
Tom Nielsen - Multiple winner at Angeles Crest, four time top-10 at WS
Joe Kulak - Grand Slam Record Holder
Leigh Schmitt - Vermont Course Record holder. East Coast fast guy #1
Todd Walker - Multiple 100 mile winner. East Coast fast guy #2
Kevin Sawchuk - 4 time top-10 at WS
Craig Thornley - 2 time top-10 at WS
Brian Purcell - 1983 Western States Champion
Steve Warshawer - 1980something Leadville Champion
Lewis Taylor - 2007 Way Too Cool Champion
Scott Wolfe - 2nd place 2007 American River 50 Miler

I am sure I have missed some people but reagrdless this is clearly shaping up to be an amazing year. Now, I, for one, am hoping it's hotter than 2006!


Monday, November 12, 2007

Resting and Planning

I've been looking forward to this time all season long. Currently I am nursing a nagging hamstring injury, sleeping and eating a ton, and savoring time with my family and time off the trails. In fact, I am looking froward to getting a out of shape, doing some skiing and re-charging the batteries. I know that sounds weird but it's true. There's plenty of time to get in shape. Right now, it's rest...and planning!

In thinking about that, of course, I am focusing on what I need to do to get ready for Western States. As anybody who knows me clearly understands Western States is the focus of my entire season every year going into 2008 I am directing all my energy into an attempt to break 17 hours if conditions allow. With a 17:07 in 2005 and a 17:20 in 2007 I think I can get there. It will just require total focus.

So, my plan is channeled into three areas:

1. Weekly Long runs on Western States type terrain
2. Once a week hill repeats both up and down (on an 800 meter hill with 300 ft of climb)
3. Speedwork in the form of long 1200-1600 meter intervals on track or bike trail.

All other runs will be easy runs on trails between one and three hours.

Assuming I can have a foundation in place by the beginning of February I'd like to follow the following program leading up to the Big Day:

Week 1 - Feb 3 - 15 miles hilly trails, 3x1200, 2xhill
Week 2 - Feb 10 - 17 miles hilly trails, 4x1200, 3xhill
Week 3 - Feb 17 - 20 miles hilly trails, 5x1200, 4xhill
Week 4 - Feb 24 - 18 (Sun) and 12 (Sat) miles hilly trails, 6x1200, 5xhill
Week 5 - Mar 2 - 12 miles flat (Sun), NO SPEED OR HILLS THIS WEEK, Way Too Cool 50K (Sat)
Week 6 - Mar 9 - NO SPEED OR HILLS THIS WEEK - 16 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 7 - Mar 16 - 10 miles flat, 3x1600, Coyote Two Moon Ultra 100 Miler (Sat)
Week 8 - Mar 23 - Recovery week
Week 9 - Mar 30 - 14 miles hilly trails (Sun), 3x1600, 3xhill, 22 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 10 - Apr 6 - 18 miles hilly trails (Sun), 4x1600, 4xhill, 24 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 11 - Apr 13 - 20 miles hilly trails (Sun), 5x1600, 5xhill, 26 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 12 - Apr 20 - 22 miles hilly trails (Sun), 6x1600, 6xhill, 28 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 13 - Apr 27 - 20 miles hilly trails (Sun), Recovery week
Week 14 - May 4 - 52 miles "Ice Cream Sandwich Run" Cal 2 to Swinging Bridge and back , 4x1600, 4 x hill
Week 15 - May 11 - 30 miles hilly trails (Sun), 3x1600, 3xhill, 20 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 16 - May 18 - 14 miles hilly trails (Sun), 4x1600, 4xhill, 38 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 17 - May 25 - 32 miles hilly trails (Sun), 24 miles hilly trails (Mon), Recovery week.
Week 18 - June 1 - 20 miles hilly trails (Sun), 6x1600, 6xhill
Week 19 - June 8 - Western States Training Camp 124 miles in four days:
June 10 - Michigan Bluff to Last Chance and back (24 miles)
June 11 - Foresthill to Last Chance and back (38 miles)
June 12 - Foresthill to Driver's Flat (18 miles)
June 13 - Placer HS to The River and back (44 miles)
Week 20 - June 15 - 2x1600 (Wed), 12 miles hilly trails (Sat)
Week 21 - June 22 - Race week!

It'll be fun to see how it all pans out!


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ultrarunner of the Year and My Plans for 2008

I'd like to get my votes in early for Ultrarunner of the Year even though none of this is official.

My top-5 male list looks like this:

1. Karl Meltzer
2. Scott Jurek
3. Hal Koerner
4. Kyle Skaggs
5. Anton Krupicka

With close 6th and 7th going to Jasper Halekas and Greg Crowther

My top-5 female list looks like this:

1. Nikki Kimball
2. Krissy Moehl
3. Anne Lundblad
4. Suzanne Bon
5. Liz Irvine

And, since many people have asked, here is my 2008 Race Schedule:

Way Too Cool 50K- March (if I'm quick enough on the keyboard!)
Coyote Two Moon Ultra - March (if I can convince my family that Ojai in March is a good call)
Western States 100 - June (going for my 5th consecutive top-10 and the Masters CR)
Vermont 100 - July (defending my first win)
Leadville 100 - August (just trying to stay ahead of Kulak)
Wasatch 100 - September (if I get in)
Grand Teton 100 - September (if I don't get in to Wasatch)
Javelina Jundred - October/November (just because)

Of course, all this could change but if I'm sitting here one year from now and all this has come true, I'll be a happy man.

Rest hard people!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Javelina Jundred Report - 4th Race of the Andy Slam

It is, at times, difficult for me to believe this but for those of you keeping track Jorge Pacheco and I have history. I mean, real history. Of course, most of that history is in his favor. With the exception of races in which Jorge has dropped (or taken a long nap!) I have never finished ahead of him in a 100 Miler. And, most painfully of all, I now have three Bridesmaid’s Finishes to accompany his three victories. A quick scan of the archives tells a painful story.

2004 Angles Crest, Jorge first, AJW second.

2006 Rocky Raccoon, Jorge First, AJW second.

2007 Javelina Jundred, Jorge first, AJW second.

You get the picture.

Nonetheless, the 2007 Javelina Jundred was a great race. Sure it was hot, painfully hot for a Rocky Mountain transplant like myself but who cares? It was a great way to spend a long day in the desert and what could be better than heat in the desert? It’s just the way it is. I wouldn’t want it to be any different.

Jorge started out hard along with Eric Clifton who always starts out hard. I was content to hang with friends Craig Thornley, Rob Evans, and Wendell Doman and see how things started to shake out. Jorge and Eric finished the first lap in record time and I was thinking this could work out OK. The second lap went by fast as well but as Eric started to fade and Jorge kept pushing. By the time we crossed paths at the third lap turnaround he had 28 minutes on me.

Yikes, this was going to be a race!

Shelly, my wife and crew, told me at that point that if I wanted to win I quite simply couldn’t give up any more time. I was feeling pretty good but with the heat coming on I didn’t feel like I had much more to give. I pushed up the long grinding ascent over the first five miles of the fourth lap and then began to push harder on the rollers between Miles 50 and 55. Here, I began to have hope. All the people coming the other way had beta for me and it all suggested that the gap was closing. I pushed harder. As I got to the wash at the bottom of the biggest hill of the race I saw Jorge in the distance. I think the gap was 5 minutes there. Maybe I could get him? But should I try to cover the gap now? Oh, these were haunting questions indeed. Questions that my aching legs didn’t want to answer.

I got to the turnaround and was met by my son Logan in a Grim Reaper costume. I don’t know if he understood the significance of the occasion but I did. His outfit symbolically represented just what I needed to know -- "Damnit, I should quite this sport." But, I couldn’t. Jorge had only five minutes on me. Crap, if this was going to be a race now was the time to make a move (like I even know what that means!).

Of course, this is ultrarunning so if I was going to make a move first I had to puke. The combination of 95 degree temperatures, lukewarm chicken broth, and Coke brought it all home (so to speak!) Fortunately, my friend and comrade in arms Chris Thornley was there to tell me it would pass. And, my kids, well they basically said, “Everybody pukes, what are you waiting for?” So, I set out in pursuit of Jorge.

I saw him on the horizon about an hour later. He was moving along well but not too fast. We were about a mile from the 65-mile aid station. I said to myself (sort of), I guess this is it? We’ll see what happens. It was, indeed, a collision course. I got to the aid station and he was still there drinking water and filling his bandana with ice. I tried to stay cool by filling my bottles and getting out of there. Man, I was hurting! And yes, he was right there behind me. I knew the drill. It was time for a marking exercise. If there were fire hydrants around we would both be peeing.

We ran the next 10 miles stride for stride. That, in and of itself, is amazing! For those of you who know the nature of 100-mile races that does not happen very often. But, here we were at mile 65 of a late season 100 – friends, rivals, competitors – what else could we do but run? I can’t remember which parts I led and which parts he led but I knew I was on the rivet and I could tell he was not. I didn’t want to admit it but I could just tell. Plus, I knew Jorge. Yes, the guy has crashed and burned in these things before but not often after night falls. I knew this would be tough, if not impossible, to beat. So, I switched into learning mode.

We arrived at Mile 75 together and someone took a picture (whoever took it, I want it!) I knew Jorge had the upper hand with rested legs and greater footspeed but I still had hope. For those of you who don’t think these races have drama you should have been there then. You could feel it, taste it, even.

After that, Jorge took off. He opened a lead on me I could not combat. Sure, I still had a glint of hope but I could tell this was his day and he deserved to win. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was simply happy to share the trail with this humble, smart, and compassionate champion on this day. In many ways, Jorge’s character is summed up in his post-race greeting to me, “I’m sorry.” Man, what a man!

To Rodger, Jimmy, Dave and the rest of the Javelina Crew thank you for an amazing day.

Now, I am off to rest. See you in Squaw!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Andy Slam

OK, I know it's not on the list of various "Slams" posted on Stan Jensen's website but it is mine all the same. And, I must admit, it's been fun. Beginning with Western States in June and finishing (hopefully) with Javelina on Saturday I will have completed four 100 mile races this season.

In many ways, this has been a breakthrough year for me. While I have had success in 100's before this year I had never won one. Now I know what it feels like and I'm hooked. It'll be interesting to see how all that plays out next year when I have a go at the "real" Grand Slam (assuming I can get into Wasatch!).

As for the upcoming race at Javelina I am really psyched. It looks like there will be some competition there and it is expected to be hot (93 degrees at last check). It's also taking place in my old training grounds in one of the most beautiful desert parks in the country.

So, my plan at this point is to run the first two loops pretty hard and then back off a bit during the heat of the day. If that strategy works out I'll then try to push the pace in the late afternoon and evening and hope for the best. My guess is I'll be eating Succeed! Caps like peanuts.

I'll write again after the race.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Training the Mind

I admit to being a proponent of Tim Noakes’ Central Governor model and this fall I am putting the theory to the test. As most of you know, Noakes’ theory suggests that a significant factor in running success is training the mind. Indeed, training the body is essential and good genes are helpful but Noakes notes that a well-trained mind can lead to performances that exceed expectations more often than training or genes can. And after all, exceeding expectations is something we all hope to do once in a while.

So, for me, this fall is a good time to test the theory. Clearly, I am experiencing the accumulated fatigue brought on by having run three 100-mile races since late June and as such every day is a new adventure for me as I continue to travel down uncharted territory. Furthermore, the shorter days of fall, the more intense work schedule I have at school, and the chilly temperatures are all sapping my motivation. And that is where the mind-training part comes into play. In May, I must admit, I have absolutely no problem getting out the door to run. Motivated by the eternal hope of spring and the burning desire to be adequately prepared for Western States makes my mind hum and I am ready and eager to run every day. Now, several months and many miles later, it’s a bit tougher to keep that edge.

For me, the training of the mind at this point in the year is training for the long haul. Every run is characterized by some mental challenge. Most of the time I present myself with a hypothetical mental challenge like coming up from No Hands Bridge on the edge of breaking 17 hours or looking up to Sam Merrill and seeing Tommy Nielsen’s flashlight beam and some of the time I set up a barrier that I should beat even though I am tired (get to the fire hydrant in 6 minutes, run this entire hill, hammer this downhill to get a little extra quad pounding). While these are little, seemingly meaningless goals in the grand scheme of my physical training, they are essential for my mental preparation.

Just over two weeks remain until my run at Javelina. It will be the culmination of the “Andy Slam” for 2007. Certainly, it’s nothing like the Grand Slam but it’s a first for me. And, I must admit, I want to win. I am not sure if I can but I’ll give it a try and hope for the best. My body may be beaten and worn down but my mind will be focused. With the right training it seems to me that the mind is much more resilient than the body and if I can take that knowledge into my race I may just get my third win of the year and gain some mental fitness in the process.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On Turning 40

I was feeling a bit of angst about turning 40 so I did what any smart educator would do. After celebrating the Big Day with my wife and three kids at home I took off with 30 sixteen year-olds for three days of camping in the Sawtooth Mountains. I figured that perhaps some of their youthful exuberance would rub off on me. Or, at least, I could get out of the office and into the mountains for a little while.

Of course, the purpose of my being on the trip was to chaperone the kids but the true joy came during the three runs I was able to squeeze in during the trip. For those of you who don’t know it should be said that the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho are seriously beautiful. The crisp air of late-September makes them even more so and the changing colors of the Aspen leaves make them downright breathtaking. So, in this context it was easy to see that I was going to get in some great running.

As luck would have it the kids were scheduled to go climbing on “the slabs” on the day after my 40th. Getting there for the kids and guides required a 10-mile boat ride followed by a 3-mile hike. I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to run there and back making it a clean 26-mile day (or approximately 40K in honor of the day!).

In short, I had one of those runs that made me feel like I was 20 rather than 40. Starting with a 1200-foot climb to the top of a ridge I enjoyed unencumbered views of Redfish Lake before plummeting down 1000 feet to the lakeshore. From there, it was into the wilderness area and three miles uphill to the climbing location. I hiked around the rocks and arrived in time to meet the kids at the top of their climb and after having lunch and hiking back to the boat dock together I got in the second part of my birthday run as the sun was setting over the Sawtooths.

Certainly, there are times when getting in the miles is a slog. Times when the heart and the mind are battling with the body to just do something else. Then, there are days when you feel like you can run forever. I had one of those days after turning 40. That must be a good thing.

So now, I am preparing for my first race as a “Master.” With admittedly weary legs from three 100 milers over the summer I am excitedly getting ready for the Javelina Jundred on my old training ground in Arizona. It’s funny, even after the summer I’ve had, I am now re-energized to get out to the track a couple times a week and to strap on the headlamp every morning at 5AM to get in the miles. I am not sure if this growing older thing is worth it but on this beautiful day in early October it certainly feels pretty OK. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Friendships Forged on the Trail

I have often wondered what it is about our sport that nurtures such incredible friendships. I can honestly say that some of my best friends in the world are ultrarunners. In fact, they are actually some of my only friends. As much as it’s hard for me admit, even though I spend my days among literally hundreds of people, I would not consider many of them friends. It’s odd, really, but true nonetheless.

The extraordinary thing is that the friends I’ve made through this sport are not people I spend a whole lot of time with. Some of them I see once or twice a year and yet, when we are together, it is like we see each other all the time. Perhaps it is because we are united in this unusual endeavor or that we seek the same answers to life’s perplexing questions. However, whatever it is, I know that my best friends run, they run long, and they love to share the joy of running long with me. In most cases, that’s all I need in a friend. Strange, I know, but true.

First, there’s Tom. He basically taught me how to run. Spending countless hours together on the Angeles Crest course in the late ‘90’s cemented our friendship and taught me most of what I know about running ultras. Tom taught me how to eat, pace, talk, act, and, most of all, run downhill. Tom shared with me secrets of strategy in the late stages of a 100 miler as well as how not to get too caught up in the moment. In the 2006 Western States Tom and I shared the trail through the canyons and survived the heat together. It was a moment of solidarity that I do not think I could replicate in any other part of my life. Tom, my friend, here’s to you; mentor, friend, role model. In an age when we have fewer and fewer people to truly look up to I hope you know that you will always be the Gold Standard for me.

Second, there’s Craig. This guy is a true Pied Piper and a pure connector. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his bestselling book, “The Tipping Point”, the success or failure of most of life’s ventures rest in the hands of the “connectors.” These are the people who bring people together and keep them together. They unite people around a common cause and celebrate others’ accomplishments more than their own. My friend Craig does this in spades! Seeing him cheer his good friend Ed on to a 24-hour finish at Western States or watching in awe as he supported and cajoled countless runners to the finish line at Western States over the years assured his status to me as the consummate connector. Add to that the annual post-Way Too Cool Karaoke party at the Georgetown Hotel and the “Blichigan Muff” training camp every spring and you have a guy who knows how to bring people together in meaningful ways. Just being around Craig makes me feel better and I will never forget his comment upon finishing Western States this year, “I kept waiting for the carnage until I realized the carnage was me.” Craig, here’s to you, our connections, and the brotherhood of the trail.

Third, there’s Graham; family man, professional guy, nutcase! Honestly, I thought he was toast at Western States this year after he told me he had traveled to nine countries in seven days to take his company public in mid-April. I should have known better. After a burst of training and his usual preparation which includes running long distances in intense heat wearing his “bank robber costume” and spending way too much time in ice baths he pulled off a third place finish and sent me away with my tail between my legs. Of course, after pulling my tail out we spent a wonderful day on the track in Auburn, cheering in the runners and reveling in our families. Not only do Graham and I understand each other, but even worse, our wives accept and even embrace the insanity of this sport. It’s certainly a bit odd but we are actually united in the silliness of it all. At the end of the day, that brings us closer together in ways that I can’t quite explain but can’t ignore either. Graham, here’s to you, your family, and the battle that awaits next year!

Finally, there’s Joe. I first met Joe at the Vermont 100 in 2002 and couldn’t believe he was passing me at Mile 32. Of course, a year later this same guy was breaking the Grand Slam record and doing so in style. What the heck? Here was this Philly boy, moved to Colorado, taking the sport by storm. What could be better? Damn! Then, of course, he starts talking smack about 30 mile weeks, long junkets on the tab of the insurance industry, and the inevitable decline of Western Civilization. Of course, in the midst of all this, I realized I was making a friend, a good one. This was confirmed at Western States 2005 when I managed to finish 8 minutes and 59 seconds ahead of Joe (but who’s counting?). It was the pinnacle of my athletic career and when Joe finished he ran to me with congratulations. Joe, here’s to you, our smack talk, your sandbagging, and the glory of what once was and what will always be.

I, of course, could go on for days with this list but I hope my theme is clear. This sport has given me friendships to last a lifetime. Friendships forged through hard work, competition, and shared pain. I hope that you can all feel the same thing. We runners are a strange lot and sometimes we find comfort in strange places. For me, the four friends above and countless others have shown me the power of friendship. It is a power I would not know were it not for our sport. For that, I am truly thankful.

(Writer’s Note: The last names of the four men described above have been intentionally omitted to protect the innocent)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Tiptoeing Through the Tetons

“Are you OK?” a voice behind me asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I mumbled as I bent over and puked again.

It was 57 miles into the Grand Teton 100 and my stomach was acting up. I had just come down off of Fred’s Mountain and was pushing ahead for my third loop out of four. The combination of Nuun, Gu, warm water, and chicken soup was being soundly rejected by my system. It was time to regroup, or else.

The Grand Teton 100 miler was my third 100 miler in 10 weeks. It had started out quite well. In the cool of the Rocky Mountain morning I made my way around the first 25 mile loop in 4:08. I had built up a small lead and was feeling smooth. The second loop was a bit tougher but I was holding my own and the miles kept clipping by. On this third loop things were beginning to unravel.

Ahead of me was a 1600 foot descent down to Mill Creek. I had been able to make great time on it over the first half of the race but now I was a bit worried. I figured I might as well just hammer down to the aid station at the bottom and then try to get caught up with calories after that. Hopefully, fast-charging Matt Hart would cruise this section and not close on me too quickly. I knew he had incredible foot speed and that he was prepared to battle hard all day. His races earlier in the year suggested to me that he would be tough to hold back.

The stomach was OK by the time I hit the 61.3 mile aid station at the bottom of Ski Hill Road. I treated myself to a five minute “chair break,” an ice-cold ginger ale, and a handful of Pringles. Honest to God, they were the best Pringles ever! I got out of the chair and began a brisk walk up the road. I was feeling better and began to sip off an energy gel. Things were slowly coming together. Halfway up the climb I began to run. By the time I got back to my crew at Mile 70 I was ready to resume my attempt at breaking 20 hours.

The Course Record was just over 24 hours and it was held by Bozeman’s Mike Wolfe. Having been smoked by him at the White River 50 in 2006 I knew the record would be tough. However, after covering 50 miles in 8:45 I adjusted my goals. A course record could happen. If the long-term fatigue was not too extreme I had a shot at sub-20.

I picked up my pacer (Bryon Powell) at Mile 70 and we smoked the “Rick’s Basin” section of the course in just over an hour. Then, after a quick pause at the base we climbed and descended Fred’s Mountain in 1:11. It was only 11 minutes slower than I had run on the first loop and a full 10 minutes faster than my third loop. I was back! Now, all I needed to do to prevent my stomach from going south again was to not stop running. I told Bryon I would not be stopping at any aid stations and that ice water and CLIF blocks would get us through. We hammered the Mill Creek loop in three hours and by the time we returned to Mile 95 my lead was 1:30.

Sweet! However, not sweet enough for Bryon. As we left for the final 5 mile stretch he said simply, “We can break 19:30.” Damn, the dude is tough.

We were close but a massive dry heave session about two miles from the finish cost me five minutes and I came in at 19:35. Good enough for the win and the course record. My wife Shelly and my three boys were all there as well as the entire crew of incredible people who had staffed the aid station all day and night.

Lisa Smith-Batchen, Jay Batchen and Zach Barnett are absolutely first-class race directors. The course was marked impeccably and the attention to detail for the entire event was superb. Shelly and the boys were able to swim in the pool, play on the zip line, and frolic in the grass while I worked my way through a beautiful 100 mile course.

With 20,000 feet of climb I thought the course was a bit tougher than Western States. However, without as much heat and a bit more mellow scene it is different. Wasatch is tougher as it has more steep technical stuff late. Of the 100’s I’ve done I’d say Teton is comparable to AC although it has no net elevation loss which means it’s not quite as favorable for downhillers like me. In short, get this event on your calendar. At least for now there is no lottery, it’s tough, and it’s fun. Furthermore, Labor Day weekend in the Tetons is about as good as it gets!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Running Relationships

Running Relationships

Recently I have been thinking a bit about my running relationships and how important they are to me. In fact, with the exception of my relationship with my immediate family, the relationships I have developed over the past 10 years in the sport of ultrarunning are the most meaningful and important connections I have.

This truth was brought home for me this past weekend on a trip to Salt Lake City to attend the Outdoor Retailer Show. Attending the show itself was fun but the best part about the weekend was the gathering together of good friends who are also great runners.

On Friday afternoon at the “Uphill Treadmill Challenge” (an event during which I was soundly beaten by the eventual winner, Dave Mackey) it was like an ultrarunner’s reunion party. In the crowd and on the treadmills were the following folks we all know on a first name basis: Karl, Scott, Krissy, Nikki, Dave, Anton, James, Jasper, Hal, Roch, Garett and Ian. In the midst of the absurdity of this event and the corporate craziness of big time retail, was a group of friends bonded by the simple act of running the trails.

After dinner that night and licking my wounds from the treadmill embarrassment, I went off with Roch, Jasper and Garett to run the last 26 miles of the Wasatch 100 Course, hard. As we bounded through the Wasatch Range, the conversation ranged from family and friends to various predictions about the fall ultra season. By the time we arrived at The Homestead at 2AM we had once again confirmed to brotherhood of the trails and felt that warm feeling that comes after enjoying the better part of the night chasing a headlamp beam and savoring the joy of just being alive. None of us seemed to care one bit about the two hours of sleep that awaited us.

Saturday at the show in the midst of all the handshaking and schmoozing I caught up with running friends from across the country and around the world. Seemingly brought together by the needs of our sponsors, this close-knit group of runners finds a way to connect in ways that few other groups do. As I finished the weekend with an early Sunday morning run with Nikki and Krissy, I imagined what it would be like for a stranger to encounter us on the trails. In the course of 8 miles we talked about Krissy’s amazing Hardrock victory, Nikki’s plan for winning Tour de Mont Blanc, and my tired legs. These topics, of course, are normal enough, but we also got into it about peeing standing up (both boys and girls), puking blood, and ripping off toenails. I can only imagine what the mainstream Salt Lake City populace would have thought of us having overheard the conversation.

That, ultimately, is what I left the weekend thinking about. We are, at our core, just normal people doing extraordinary things and the fact that I can count these people as friends means the world to me. I am looking forward to next year’s crazy corporate show already!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Vermont: My First Win!

“OK Andy, you have five miles left, be sure to savor it!”

These were my wife Shelly’s last words of encouragement as I left Polly’s, the final aid station at this year’s Vermont 100. I had been leading the race for nearly 80 miles. I was tired, aching, and absolutely full of a feeling I had never had before. I was going to cross the line first in a 100-mile trail race!

As has been described in these and other pages previously, I have a bit of a track record finishing just short of first place in 100 milers. In fact, my good friend and fellow runner Garett Graubins wrote a piece in the November, 2005 Trail Runner on exactly that theme. He ruthlessly titled the piece, “The Bridesmaid.” In the article Garett provided painful detail on the string of 2nd place finishes I had during 2004 and 2005. Needless to say, I had to admit the article and the subsequent attention gave me a bit of a complex. I was left contemplating the inevitable question:

Could I actually win one of these things?

I had run the Vermont 100 back in 2002 and 2003 and I knew it was a “runner’s course.” Even with the course changes this year I knew it would be fast. I also knew that there were some hungry guys in the field and I didn’t know for sure what I had in my legs.

I started out as I often do running gently and getting a sense of the day. An hour into the run a small group of runners had split ahead of the pack and we enjoyed the sunrise and the camaraderie. In that leading group were some talented and experienced 100-mile runners. Among them were Todd Walker, Jack Pilla, Glen Redpath and Jim Kerby. All these guys were capable of fast times and they all seemed a bit frisky. I tried to stick to my pre-race plan and just worked to run my race. As Shelly had nudged me to do the night before, “Run assertively, not aggressively.” It was a subtle distinction but an important one.

Having run Western States the month before I was truly inspired by Hal Koerner’s run and was thinking about that in the early miles of Vermont. Largely overlooked in the pre-race hype always surrounding Western States, Hal simply went out and ran off the front right from the start. It was one of the most impressive runs I have seen at Western States and given the course adjustments over the past two years, is worthy of consideration among the best. By the time I got to Michigan Bluff and learned that Hal had come through on record pace I knew the race was, at that point, for second place.

On the downhill heading toward the Taftsville Bridge at Mile 15 I thought about Hal’s run from the front and wondered:

Could I go off the front? Could I do that today?

Turning down to Taftsville on a short paved section I chatted briefly with my good friend Jim Kerby and could tell he was focused. I also could feel some spring in my legs and decided to stretch things out a bit on the one-mile downhill to the covered bridge.

With the exception of the few yards that Shelly walked with me over the next 13 hours, I ran the remaining 85 miles alone.

I was now in completely new territory. My head swirled in the ether of the unknown. After making a career out of hunting people down I was now the hunted.

“Run your race.” “Think of Hal.” “Be smart.” The self-talk was deafening. For the first time ever in a 100 miler I actually felt lonely.

By the 21 mile Aid Station I had a five minute lead, by mile 30 it was ten minutes and by 47 it was seventeen. I made a deal with myself to not look back.

“If you run your race there’s no reason to look back.” Again, haunted, or perhaps, inspired, by Hal, I changed the refrain, “You know Hal didn’t look back!” I put my head down and ran.

Shelly, meanwhile, was also in uncharted territory having to deal with, for the first time, a new animal, the “front runner.” Having become accustomed to my come-from-behind-strategy she never really had to think about the runners behind me only those ahead.

What was she to do?

Well, as we all attempt to do when we are thrust into the unknown, she improvised, basically waiting as long as she could at the aid stations after I'd gone through and then estimating how long it would take her to race to the next check point to meet me. It was fun but a totally new and somewhat disconcerting experience for both of us.

I did have the requisite “bad patch” around Mile 75 and coming into the Westwinds Aid Station at Mile 77 I was beginning to doubt the front-running strategy and lose a bit of faith in my legs. Was I succumbing to the “Bridesmaid Syndrome” once again? I thought perhaps I was but Shelly clearly had a different idea. Seemingly paying no attention to my mental state as I stumbled into the aid station muttering, “I’m tired.”
Shelly said simply, “That’s OK, drink this.” It was a painfully salty concoction of cold chicken broth with which I was all too familiar at this stage in a race. I knew better than to reject it. As I swallowed hard, I asked,

“What’s the gap.” There was a pause, a little longer than usual.

“20 minutes. Everybody looks strong, especially Jim.” I knew what that meant. It was basically code for “get out of here now!”

I took off. About 20 minutes later the salt kicked in, I downed two gels and I felt like myself again. I don’t think much time was gained after that.

Looking back now, the race itself didn't feel that different than others except that I had no one in front of me to pass. So, after about 85 miles, I decided to race the clock, and the demons of the bridesmaid. With a sub-16 hour goal I thought I'd be motivated and knowing the guys behind were chasing hard kept me focused.

In the end I did savor those last five miles and felt exhilarated and complete as I emerged from the woods a winner. The truth is, I don't know if I can ever go "off the front" again but I now know what it feels like. I also know that I can finally put the bridesmaid to bed.