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.