Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WS 100 -- Men's Poll

The results from the first poll of the season are in and it appears as though the readers of this blog think it'll be a four-man race in June.

Geoff Roes was the top vote-getter with 57 votes and Hal Koerner and Anton Krupicka were next with 42 and 41 votes respectively. Killian Jornet rounded out the top-4 with 25 votes.

Of course, as the Speedgoat pointed out, Tony is not even in the race yet but I am assuming he'll snag a spot with a top-2 at Miwok on Saturday and then the stage will be set. So, I felt OK putting him in the poll.

I was surprised to see that Jez got only 3 votes and Leigh only 2 with Tsu, Zach, and Erik completely shut out. Is there anyone I missed?

We do, of course, have ample time for more prognostication and I'll post a couple more polls in the coming weeks but I'd be curious to hear from the readers of this blog who they think will be the surprises this year? Who will be the disappointments? Who are the dark horse top-10'ers and who are you sure will be in that top-10 when all is said and done?

It's been a really great spring season so far and the excitement is only beginning.

As for me, I am counting the minutes until Friday when I head to Michigan Bluff for a weekend of training on The Course.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Zane Grey 50 - A Spring Classic

On the European cycling circuit the highlight of the early season are a series of one-day races known affectionately as the “Spring Classics.” These races; Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Flaanderan, Paris-Robaix, Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, are typically characterized by rough terrain, inclement weather, and maniacal crowds of spectators along the racecourses. In addition, these races are most often won by the toughest one-day riders in the world, as they began their build-ups to the Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and the Vuelta de Espana) of the Summer.

The world of ultramarathon trail running has its own set of “Spring Classics” that also tend to bring out the best in their competitors. The best ones, in my humble opinion, are those that, like their European cycling counterparts, have been around the longest. Among some of the most notable of the ultrarunning spring classics are Way Too Cool, American River, Miwok, Bull Run, Leona Divide, and, the one I ran yesterday, the Zane Grey 50 outside of Payson, AZ.

Zane Grey has been around for 21 years and has undergone a series of changes over the years. However, the essence of the race has remained constant. Running the entire length of the Highline Trail from west to east, this 50 miler is tough. The climbs and descents are short and steep but what makes the course so unique (and so brutal) are the rocks.

I was pretty psyched going into this year’s event. I had not run Zane Grey in nine years and this year’s edition featured one of the most competitive fields in recent history. From the start Karl Meltzer and Scott Jaime took off into the darkness and I settled into a small chase group of Steven Moore, Dave Hunt, Jamil Coury, Nick Coury, Ian Torrence, and Larry O’Neill. Diana Finkel, defending women’s champ at Hardrock, was also lurking not far behind.

The nature of the course is such that it is difficult to maintain any sort of rhythm and staying with a group is virtually impossible. In recent years, fire, erosion, overgrowth and USFS budget cuts have all left this iconic course somewhat worse for wear. In addition, since its inception, Zane Grey has been a great place to go if you want to get lost.

I survived the first 8 miles intact but found myself hopelessly lost several times in the brutally exhausting section between Miles 8 and 17. I am not sure what it is that makes this part so tough but it turned out to be the most tired I was all day as I battled missed turns, huge moving rocks, and branches that literally tore my legs to shreds. I was, therefore, a bit happier when I settled into a group with Ian, the Coury brothers, and Larry for the long slog to Mile 25.

One thing that made this year’s running so interesting was the stream crossings. We spent most of the day with wet feet and two of the crossings were running so high that race management installed fixed ropes to help us across. The deepest of these crossings was immediately after the 25-mile aid station and at this point the race began to take shape. With Karl and Scott off the front by 18 and 10 minutes respectively, a three-man group of Ian, Steven and I pushed on. The temperature was warming up and the course loosened up slightly. The three of us took turns in the lead through this 90-minute stretch and arrived at Mile 33 (Fish Hatchery) together. After a quick re-group, Steven left first followed by me, and then Ian. We had all picked up an additional bottle and some nutrition at the Fish Hatchery as we knew the next 11-mile stretch would likely take us over two hours in the heat of the day.

With about three miles to go before the 44-mile aid station we had a funny exchange. Running together, with Ian in the front, Steven in the back and me in the middle Steven asked,

“Anyone need an S! Cap?”
“No, I’m good.” Ian replied.
“Thanks bro, I’m good.” I puffed.
“You don’t sound good.” Steven joked.

And, within about five minutes Steven had moved to the front and had put a gap on Ian and I. It was the last we would see of him until the Finish Line.

I realized here that I was experiencing a classic early season “yo-yo” effect. You see, I have found over the past couple of years that early in my training cycle, when I am building up volume, I tend to burn energy more quickly than I do later in the season. I have no idea why this is but after about 7 hours on the trail I was taking a gel about every 15 minutes and the energy seemed to wear off in about 10. It’s funny, because usually by the time WS rolls around I can go 45 minutes to an hour between gels and rely a lot more on fat for fuel but on this day that was not the case. Fortunately, at least from a competitive standpoint, it appeared to me that Ian, too, was “yo-yoing.”

The biggest surprise of the day came when Ian and I rolled into the Mile 44 Aid Station together. Steven had already been through and we learned that Scott had about 12 minutes on us. But, what surprised us the most was seeing Karl in the Aid Station, smiling and carrying on with a sling and a large brace on his left arm.

I asked him what happened and he said, as only Karl can,

“I was climbing through one of those big trees back there and I fell, I think I broke my arm.” Evidently, x-rays taken later proved he was right. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery! I am, quite simply, amazed he ran the four miles from the downed tree to the Aid Station with a broken arm!

Back to the race, we now had six miles to go on the best section of trail all day. I tried to hang with Ian as he pushed to try to catch Steven but I didn’t have the foot-speed on the rolling terrain. I caught glimpses of him now and then but also knew I should not empty the tank with nine weeks to go until Western States as every little bit of depletion can be harmful. So, I settled into a nice rhythm and finished comfortably in 9:52, good enough for 4th place

Scott won in 9:40 and joined an illustrious group of Zane Grey champions with names like Jurek, Torrence, Meltzer, Brimhall, Skaggs, Krupicka and Creel. Not bad company, if you ask me!

All in all, I was quite happy with my day on the Mogollon Rim. Sharing the trail (and the post-race fun) with good friends Scott and Ian made it all worthwhile and for those of you out there looking for one of the best “Spring Classics” around, make the trip to Zane Grey. You’ll be in for a treat.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quick update from Zane Grey

I'll write a more thorough report about the race in the next couple of days but the short story from this Arizona Spring Classic was this:

Scott Jaime won in 9:40.
2nd -- Steven Moore 9:45
3rd -- Ian Torrence 9:47
4th -- me 9:52
5th -- Dave Hunt 10:01:59

Didn't catch the name of the first place woman but Hardrock Champ Diana Finkel was 2nd.

Also, Karl Meltzer was forced to drop out (which he never does) as a result of a broken arm he sustained while climbing over one of the many downed trees on the course.

More later after I have gotten a bit of sleep.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ask an Ultrarunner #3

Western States Widow asks: It’s Western States training season again. That means glimpses of my husband are becoming as rare as cougar sightings. Entire weekends are consumed with training runs. And when he isn’t running, he’s sleeping on the couch instead of pulling his weight around the house. When he’s awake, he pours over stats from previous years, reads countless running blogs, and talks incessantly about training and race strategies until my eyes go crossed. While I can appreciate his passion for the race, I have grown to resent how much it impacts our lives. What should I do?

Well, my first suggestion would be to call Carly, Laurie and Shelly to compare notes. But, if you don't want to do that, perhaps you can provide your husband with a bit of counseling. Clearly, he is an obsessive/compulsive nutcase who obviously lacks meaning in his life. I mean, anybody who devotes all of his time to thinking about one seemingly meaningless event in a forgotten corner of California on a scorching hot weekend in late-June, has to be a bit off. Sure, your house is probably filled with belt buckles, old "M" race numbers, S-Caps, nasty running shoes, decade-old issues of Ultrarunning Magazine, socks with Western States moon dust in them, and cases of Gu20 powder but hey, look at the bright side, at least he's not Tiger Woods!

And, if the counseling doesn't work you can always threaten to open a yoga studio in Southern Thailand.

M@ asks: I’m a runner in my late thirties, returning to ultras after missing a year due to a torn calf and related injuries. I’m building up mileage for my 2nd hundred, this September, near a 2-bit Southern Oregon town known for cougar sightings and men in tights. My question has to do with core stability. Why does my "crew" have, at most, 2 or 3 pictures of me running, while our pc’s hard drive is full of photos of young, buff, shirtless, male ultra-runners with shaggy hair, dreamy eyes, and more ab muscles than I can count? Should I be doing some sit-ups or something?

First off, you need to pick another race. That 100 miler in Southern Oregon will likely result in a whole lotta pain. Let me suggest something more pleasant. Something like...Javelina. Who wouldn't want to run 7 loops through the desert in October? Pine to Palm? What's up with that!

And, about the abs, core strength and guys with shaggy hair. Trust me on this one, those guys on your hard drive are all models, they are not actual runners. Real ultrarunners are round in the middle, have virtually no hair, smell like they just got out of a cave and drink beer more often than water. In fact, I know this guy who has finished in the top-10 at Western States for 5 consecutive years and all he does to get ready for the race is drink beer and train like an animal (apologies to the great Rod Dixon:). It works. And, it's more fun.

This whole barefoot, core-strength, CrossFit, yoga nonsense is a silly fad and a sham as far as I'm concerned. To get ready for The Dance just run and run a lot. If you've ever seen the runners come across No Hands Bridge in the middle of the night you can see that all the core strength in the world won't help a bit when you've been on the trail for 20 hours.

Monkeyboy asks: What advice would you give for prospective parents who want to make signs to leave on the WS course such as "Dan O, the quads are evil and they must be punished. love, Mom and Dad" when doing exactly what mommy and daddy say could lead you to an extended stay in the Auburn Hospital?

This whole quad trashing debate is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Sure, the number of ER trips at Western States has increased over the years but isn't that part of the deal? I mean, come on, these guys are laying it all on the line and the race is more competitive than ever. So, isn't a little renal failure to be expected? Truth is, since the beginning of this crazy race people have been literally torturing themselves to get through the thing and if a few of them end up in the hospital is that necessarily a bad thing? Especially now that we all get free health care?

On a serious note, I do think we all need to be careful to race to the extent to which we've trained. If you train hard you can race hard, and, if not, you may pay the price. I know, on the right day, I can run 17:30 based on my training. If I'm lucky I could get close to 17 flat but to go under that, for me, would be to risk serious trouble. I know that about myself and therefore feel confident going into the race with manageable expectations and variables I can control. That's a lesson I learned way back from the late Dave Terry and one that I'll carry with me always.

And, this guy pictured below knows exactly what I'm talking about so, if you don't believe me, ask him.

To read more answers, check out the following:

Friday, April 2, 2010

WSER Board Changes Course

As is often the case these days in the politically charged environment in which we live, the WSER Board reconsidered the recently passed dnf clause and, today, announced that they would look more deeply into the ramifications of the decision. Therefore, for the 2010 race, the rule will not take effect and the decision passed on 4/1/10 is now, effectively, nul and void.

The Board, under tremendous scrutiny, did say that, while they feel excessive dnf's do damage the reputation of their event, this hastily drafted decision was largely motivated as a result of the loud and persistent voices of a few individuals in the blogosphere who seem to have hang-ups about dnf's. The WSER Board, typically understated and highly sophisticated, realized that they had fallen victim to the hype generated by a few well-meaning but mis-guided bloggers and had, as a result, departed from protocol in this regard.

The Board continues to believe that the WSER is the world's greatest race and can stand alone, without a dnf clause, for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Western States 100 Announces Rule Change

In a surprise decision, the Board of Trustees for the Western States Endurance Run announced this morning that, beginning with the 2010 race, race officials would levy a one-year penalty against any runner failing to finish the race. This new “DNF clause” was apparently passed as a result of months of debate on the Board. The WSER Board, in their quest to make their event the premier ultramarathon in the world, is making a bold statement to runners that if they toe the line in Squaw they are expected to arrive, intact, in Auburn.

The new rule, presented by the Board in an email, states that “any registered runner who starts the event and fails to finish will be ineligible to register for future WSER’s for one year following the DNF”. Citing increased pressure from the national and international running community the board went on to say that “While we realize this may come as a shock to many, from our perspective, the finishing rate for our event is, in many ways, as important as the number of sub-24 hour finishers. By levying a one-year penalty for DNF’s we believe we will create more seriousness and focus around our event and hopefully weed out the ‘tire kickers.’”

Several long time Western States finishers from both the front and back of the pack applauded the Board’s decision and claimed this as a “truly triumphant moment for the race and the sport.” In addition, these loyal runners were quick to point out that “this new rule should finally, once and for all, serve notice that our event is the best in the world.”

Craig Thornley, six-time finisher, two-time M10'er, and long-time WS blogger was quoted as saying, "From my point of view, this rule is too little too late. But, perhaps, in the long run, it will pave the way to the Haggin Cup and that, I believe, is very good for the sport."

Finally, in the context of this decision, the Board resolved to change the race tagline from “The Oldest and Best” to “Finish What You Start.”