I didn’t commit to running UTMB this year until two weeks before race day. During the second week of July my historically-troublesome right shin became a worry once again, and I was able to do very little true running for all of July and August. In early August, in hopes of keeping my Hardrock Qualifier chances alive, but wanting to buy myself a little more time, I had even signed up for the Bear 100 and given up on racing UTMB altogether. However, my shin unexpectedly experienced a turnaround a couple weeks before the race, which made the opportunity to head back to Chamonix too appealing to pass up. Continue reading
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Ambassador Post Written By: Ethan Veneklasen
I have run 100 mile races, but I have never truly “raced” one. I thought I had, but no. What I did was something entirely different.
This past weekend, I had the distinct honor and privilege of pacing fellow Ultimate Direction athlete Vajin Armstrong of New Zealand at the Western States 100 Endurance Run. His time of 17:50 was good enough for 17th place in the deepest field ever to toe the line at this most iconic of ultramarathons.
Completing a 100 mile race is truly a grand accomplishment at any pace. Most will never race a 100 to win (far fewer still at this granddaddy of them all). We run simply to finish or satisfy time goals. I feel tremendously fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness first-hand what it means to run with the big guns and really race a 100 miler.
After taking six of the previous eight months off, I finally started daily running again on April 23rd, the day I got back from a trip to Japan. The first week I began with 35-60min flat jogs, but only a month on I did my first race of the year—the Jemez 50mi—and after that knew that I wanted to find some kind of focus event for the first half of the summer. Ever since I DNFed in Trient, Switzerland (140km) last year, UTMB was always going to be the goal race for the second half of the 2014 summer.
(Note: Amanda is a member of the Women’s Collective, a group that helped Jenny Jurek design the first women’s-specific Collection of hydration gear)
I’m not your typical runner here in Boulder. I don’t call myself an ultrarunner, I rarely race, and running in groups gives me hives. I am a happy introvert by nature, and most days, running is my bestie. (Don’t worry, I have plenty of actual human friends, too).
My preference is for longer runs, on trail, with ample vertical where I can drop it into low gear, with fun technical descents which more often than not result in a collision between me and a rather insignificant in size, albeit dangerous rock. Or maybe it’s a lazy day running flats. I let my running happen without dictation; I don’t need races, PR’s, or cheering to get me running.
Regardless of what sort of day I plan to have on the trails, I buckle in to my UD Jenny Collection Ultra Vesta – it is much more than just a hydration pack only worthy of Hardrock.
A couple weeks ago I did a bit of a tester long run on my home trails in Boulder—31mi, 4h26min, 7k’ vert—to see how/if my hip would hold up on a longer effort. It did, and afterwards I started thinking about what I could race on the upcoming calendar, despite the fact that I’d only been running pain-free for all of 16 days. Originally, I’d planned on racing the Zegama Skymarathon in the Basque country in late May, but despite that being an incredible event, there was no way that I could be fit enough in time to justify the international travel.
The Jemez 50 miler in northern New Mexico, however, was the same weekend, and it is an event that I’ve had in the back of my mind for years, mostly because of Kyle Skaggs’ recommendation. Unfortunately, the original course—which reportedly featured a tasty mandatory hike up a boulder field on one of the route’s three 10k’+ summits—burned down in 2011, so the current course has seen a couple of different renditions. This year’s route would retain many of the original’s defining features: an ascent of 10,400′ Pajarito Mountain (which we would actually do twice), a loop through the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a rugged cross-country ascent to access Pajarito Canyon, and the classic 3000′ finishing descent of Guaje Ridge.
My main objectives going into the race were: 1) to not lose any training before or after the race—I basically wanted to put out a solid training effort, 2) not re-injure myself. As such, I didn’t rest at all leading up to the weekend. My sister was moving into her new house in Colorado Springs, so I headed down to help her with that and took the opportunity to run up and down Pikes Peak on Wednesday, an almost 4hr effort with 8000′ of pounding on the pins. Friday morning I felt terrible on my nearly 2hr run, and I calculated that in the seven days leading up to the race I’d run 40k’ vert and 125mi. Ok, so, not rested. Let’s see if I can achieve my other goal.
I ran the first 10mi at a relaxed pace with birthday boy Joe Grant. Neither of us were feeling much pep in our legs on the uphills (and it would stay that way, at least for me), and we soon realized that this was very much a running course—there wouldn’t be many steep, hiking grades to vary the leg muscle recruitment. While I prefer the steep and techy stuff as much as Joe, I’m able to hold my own on the smoother, flatter stuff, too, so began to push out a bit of a gap as we made our way up Pajarito Mt for the first time. This climb was on a moderately-graded, but freshly cut trail before traversing over the top of the mountain past ski lifts and descending in a circuitous fashion down to the Pajarito Lodge at mile 18.6. I enjoyed this flowy singletrack downhill and felt firmly ensconced in training run effort.
Joe’s wife, Deanne, was gracious enough to hand us gels at the Lodge all day (we would pass through this aid twice), so after picking up an extra water bottle and some sugar there, it was off to the Valle Grande. I skipped the Pipeline Aid as I had more than enough water, but I doubt it was a full 4mi from there to the aid station in the Caldera (mile 25.4) as I covered this smooth double-track in only 24min (3:27 at Pipeline, 3:51 in the Caldera).
A short while later, the route left the double-track and headed across the grass and up the hill to a low pass between Cerro Grande and Pajarito Mountain. After 4hr of basically continuous, up-tempo running, I was ready for this short hike uphill. The grade wasn’t particularly steep, but the route was flagged off of any discernible trail, directly up the fall-line, over rubbly footing and many burned, downed trees. If there had been a trail (solid footing), it would’ve definitely been runnable. I’m glad there wasn’t; I was tired of running. I hit the pass at 4:18 (it was only a 1000′ climb) and immediately enjoyed a rollicking descent down Pajarito Canyon. It began as more cross-country fare over grass, but eventually we picked up a trail that only got smoother and smoother and was at the absolute perfect grade for fast, unbridled descending. This was one of my favorite sections of the course.
I reached the Pajarito Canyon aid (31.4mi) in 4:51. I was having a blast, but after a solid 50K, running starts to feel a bit redundant no matter what. Nevertheless, with a pair of full bottles and another summit of Pajarito between me and the next aid I took off with continued enthusiasm and energy. The climb back up the mountain went better than expected—I did it only 1min slower than earlier in the morning—and now there were 50K runners to exchange encouragement with along the way. When I saw Deanne back at the Lodge again (38.6mi, 6:11), I knew there was frequent aid the rest of the way, so picked up a couple extra gels and left my extra bottle. When she asked how I was feeling, though, I think I mostly responded with a desultory grunt about how it was going to be work from here on out.
It definitely felt that way on the jog back over to the Pipeline aid—I was thoroughly uninspired and just ready to be done—but if I’d known just how sweet the upcoming Guaje Ridge singletrack was going to be, I would’ve been operating with a whole lot more enthusiasm. This descent was spectacular. A carpety trail traversed along the gently descending ridge for miles and miles at a grade perfectly suited for running downhill fast. Seriously, it is one of the more quality descents I’ve experienced in the sport.
Eventually, the terrain flattened out for a couple of frustrating, wandering miles through an extensive burn zone, but by now I could smell the barn and soon enough I was back on singletrack dropping into Rendija Canyon (mile 50.6 in 7:48) before the interminable final two miles leading to my 8:07:07 finish in the now full-on rain. Unfortunately, it was snowing up high and they ended up having to pull runners from the course early. Considering it had been exactly only a month since my first run back from my hip injury (a flat 33min outing on the creek path the day after I got back from Japan), I was satisfied with the effort.
Even with the rain, the finish was a perfect example of the intimate, community feel to this event, which was a big reason I wanted to run it. Selfless volunteers, tables and tables of very good Southwestern food, and general mirth defined the atmosphere. I’ve always respected my friends who will run all kinds of races—big and small, local and international—while it seems I’ve mostly gravitated towards the competitive and high-profile.
Running hard and fast against the best competition will always be my number one priority in the competitive realm, but I hope to do more low-key, less intense events, too, where there is as much emphasis on the camaraderie and fellowship and community as there is on the top runners at the higher-profile races. Obviously, our sport is large enough to accommodate both types, and I hope I can begin to fit more of each into my schedule.
You could say that going to a local event like this for an easy win is cherry pickin’, but I would argue that that term works in more ways than one. Cherry pickin’ is often used to refer to scouting for weak fields where one can snag an easy victory, pad the ol’ win-loss column. A slightly different use of the phrase, however, refers to selecting the best out of a bunch, and in than sense, the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs certainly qualify. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for a fun, flawlessly-organized, friendly race with an above-average course.
Finally, a huge thanks to all the volunteers—I mean, really, who wants to stand out in the woods all day waiting for runners to come through?!—to Deanne for putting up with Joe and I all day, and to Blake for so kindly opening his home. That shower felt incredible.
A couple weeks ago, a lot of my friends in my Facebook Feed were popping up with comments and results from the Colorado Marathon up in Fort Collins. It reminded me that, hey, I ran that race once. And that, holy shit, it was 10 years ago! In retrospect, that 2004 marathon—my third, at that point—and that spring in general, was a harbinger in a lot of ways for where my running has taken me 10 years later. There were two main themes to my running that spring: 1) a shift to minimalism and barefooting in my footwear choices, 2) a frustration with track racing and speedwork and subsequent turn towards the longer distances.
One meets a lot of influential people in college, and for me, Kiran Moorty was one of those people. In early 2004 this talented freshman runner (I was a junior) started experimenting with wearing shoes that were light, flexible, and had little to no drop between the heel and forefoot. He even started running barefoot on a regular basis, and later that spring would do 400m repeats on the track in aqua socks. Kiran had a pretty deep interest in primitivism and indigenous cultures and one that he mentioned—the now-famous Tarahumaras of Mexico—tripped my memory of some 1970s running literature I’d read in high school about this tribe in Mexico that would spend days kicking a wooden ball. The article I had seen had focused more on the age-longevity that resulted from active, calorie-restricted lifestyles, but it had piqued my interest, nonetheless. How could anyone run along kicking a ball for multiple days, I wondered. Additionally, I’d sustained 12 stress fractures in the previous six years, and a lot of what Kiran (and our internet sources, mostly anecdotes from the Letsrun message board, as I recall) was saying about shoes, running mechanics, and injury prevention was making sense.
For Spring Break that year, Kiran and I went on a backpacking trip together along the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas (the better to spectate at the NCAA Indoor Track Champs that same week in Fayetteville—Alistair Cragg and Kim Smith dominated the distance events that weekend) and during this trip I started experimenting with “minimal” footwear myself. This meant first simply removing the stiff, fiberglass orthotics that I’d been wearing since I was a sophomore in high school. Over the next six weeks I got rid of the orthotics completely, started doing a little barefoot running on grass, and gradually started wearing road racing flats for my daily running instead of the motion control shoes I’d been in for the past six years. Kiran was even the instigator for my first foray into shoe modification: we would buy pairs of the New Balance RC240 racing flat from the Colorado Running Company for $40 and hack the heels off with bread knives to achieve the desired zero-drop effect.
Meanwhile, I was having an increasingly frustrating track season, trying to run fast for the 1500, 5000, and 10000. A typical week of training was in the 100-110mpw range, with a Monday long run (15-20mi) on trails, Tuesday and Thursday high-intensity interval sessions on the track, and Saturday races. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious why I was racing so poorly—going too hard in workouts trying to run with faster teammates, running too hard on the “easy” days in between workouts, all while running some pretty high mileage—but at the time I was unwilling to change anything, probably because I thought if I just tried hard enough, things would certainly improve.
At this point in my running life, I was at the peak of believing that running was very much a sport that would reward you proportional to what you gave it. If I ran more, and at a higher intensity, of course I would be compensated with improvement, PRs, the realization of my lofty goals. In the classroom, I was splitting my time between Physics and Philosophy. I quickly latched onto the Continental Existentialists’ dictum that life’s meaning was the individual’s responsibility. Meaning required self-creation; there was no place for chance, luck, or fate. I saw running as an apt avenue for practicing this belief (my thoughts on this have…evolved…over the last 10 years).
Of course, I was overtrained. The nadir of my disappointment came in late April at Grinnell College in Iowa, where I raced a desultory 36:55 10k in the humid morning, followed by a just as bad 17min 5k in the brilliantly warm, spring afternoon. My Dad had driven over from Nebraska to spectate, and I remember being baffled talking with him, trying to figure out how I was running so poorly. The Grinnell track meet held a sort of magical aura for us Colorado College athletes. It was oxygen-rich, low-altitude; the vibrant, lush spring-time green-ness of the Midwest was always an inspiring departure from the more arid environs of Colorado Springs; and the track had short straightaways and long, gentle curves, making for what felt like shorter, faster laps (of course, they were still 400m). Personally, in 2001, I had almost accepted my entry there instead of attending CC.
After that meet, I was fed up. On the interminable, through-the-night, 16hr bus ride back to the mountains, I resolved to quit caring about track and instead focus on running the Colorado Marathon in Ft. Collins in three weeks time. Despite having raced 15k on the track the day before, spending all night on the bus, and not getting back to my dorm until 5am Sunday morning, I slept only 3hr, got up, and went and logged a 20 miler through the Garden of the Gods and the COS foothills. I was happy with my decision; long runs just felt right.
The next day, I talked with my coach, who, much to his credit, agreed to let me substitute the team interval workouts with tempos and long runs but still run the last meets of the season with the team. The following weekend I made my first true foray into the “ultra” distances (I’d run the 25mi up and down Pikes Peak a couple of times, which was longer on my feet, but technically not further than a marathon) with a 30mi out-and-back training run on Colorado Springs’ central trail along Monument Creek. The challenge of the unknown distance inspired me, and, much to my surprise, I felt better and better as the run went on, averaging 6:40s the whole way and finishing up with an almost accidental sub-6min final mile. I ran the last 10km faster than the 10k I could muster on the track in Grinnell.
I was quite taken aback. In contrast to trying to run fast on a track, this felt so right, so effortless, really. Natural, empowering, restorative and strengthening rather than the seeming stress and destruction—both mental and physical—that resulted from interval workouts. I’d been running for nine years and never had an aspect of it come so easily to me. I had, obviously, always worked very hard—and loved putting in all that work—but I had never really felt any sort of tangible, quantitative, performance pay-off for it. Suddenly, it seemed obvious to me that I needed to forget about 5k’s and 10k’s and focus on long stuff, the fun stuff, marathons and farther. I was even more excited to head to Ft. Collins in two weeks time and race a marathon.
Before that, though, I had one more track meet left in the season, in Albuquerque, NM on May 1. With my coach, I decided to race the 1500m and 800m, instead of the usual 5k. And with a marathon only a week later, I was no longer emotionally attached to my results on the track; I remember I doubled the day before the meet and even ran an early morning 5mi shake-out before the afternoon races. Again, much to my surprise, two weeks after substituting long runs for speedwork, I PRed in both the 1500 and 800. My times were flagrantly mediocre–4:25 and 2:11–but, hey, they were the fastest I’d ever gone (and remain my PRs to this day), and that’s always fun. Five days later, on May 6th, the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannisters first sub-4min mile, I set a PR in the mile of 4:42 (at 6000′ in COS) in a celebratory time-trial with some of my teammates.
Another three days later, I PR’ed in the marathon, running a 2:47:18 for 3rd place in Ft. Collins. The night before, Kiran had driven up to FoCo with me and we bivied in sleeping bags on the infield of CSU’s track before the early wake-up for me to catch the shuttle bus to the start in the Poudre River Canyon (we were sure to scope out a spot free from sprinkler-water). I’d been running nine years, I was 20 years old, and finally it felt like I was taking my running in the right direction. I didn’t win—I mean, I was nearly a minute per mile off the pace!—but I felt good about what I was doing. Running fast for that long was exhilarating and new and best of all, satisfying. Not to mention, I’d PR’ed across the entire spectrum of race distances since cutting out formal speedwork.
Obviously, college is all about trying new things, finding out what is important to you, developing a personal set of values, discovering your passions and talents, but it is still striking to me just how enduring the constellation of revelations and new experiences I was having in the spring of 2004 have been 10 years onwards. Sure, things have evolved for me in those 10 years, and it would take me another full two years after my race at the Colorado Marathon before I got around to racing my first ultra, but there’s no denying it’s role in nudging me towards the things I do today. Maybe I’ll have to go back and race it again next year.
EDITORS NOTE: ANTON SWORE OFF INTERVALS – WHAT ABOUT YOU?? WE LIKE YOUR COMMENTS.
Grant Guise from New Zealand is our Guest Blogger this month – here’s his report.
The inaugural Motatapu event was held in 2005, with marathon and mountain bike options, and attracted around 1000 competitors. Fast forward 10 years and the event has over 3700 people taking part in over 5 different events – the original marathon and mountain bike, an Xterra Tri race, the 15km “Miners” trail running race and the “Adventure Run”.
The Adventure Run tackles the true high country, traversing steep country, rough animal tracks and often no track at all, for 49km with over 3100m of ascent. If the terrain was not unique enough, it’s also a team race, where you must race with your teammate for the duration, side by side.
We’ve put together a crew of runners from all over the country to help us test and represent Ultimate Direction. We are proud to have these talented ambassadors on board and want to wish them a great season of racing and adventuring. Keep an eye out for them on the trails! We’d like to introduce you to the class of 2014 –>