Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Look at Drug Use in Sports

On November 10, 2010 I was fortunate enough to sit in on Dr. Thomas C. Werner's lecture titled "Performance-Enhancing Drug Use in Sports: Catching the Cheaters (Sometimes)" at USI.  Werner, a Professor Emeritus at Union College in Schenectady, NY, is currently traveling around the country as part of an American Chemical Society effort to promote an understanding of drug usage in sports.

Werner combined his expertise in analytical chemistry (PhD MIT '69) and his interest in sports to produce an informative lecture outlining the history of drug usage in sports dating back to the 1940's. He prefaced his talk by emphasizing the high profile of drug usage as it has ruled sporting news in recent years. Werner discussed usage and screening of amphetamines, synthetic anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, and erythropoietin (EPO).  This blog entry is based on the eight pages of notes I wrote while Werner talked.

Who sets the rules used to define and monitor performance enhancing drug (PED) usage in sports?  The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was created (coincidentally on Nov. 10) in 1999. Many governments and world sporting organizations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), back and fund WADA.  Individual governments create their own agencies like the one created in the US (USADA).  Sports leagues such as the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA have created their own sets of rules.  Furthermore, 145 nations have ratified the 2004 UNESCO treaty against drug usage in sports.

What follows is a brief layman's analysis of the primary types of PEDs used and the screening processes used by the above agencies to detect the PEDs.

Amphetamines are powerful stimulants used to treat such problems as sleep disorders, asthma, and ADHD.  Amazingly, a 2009 study showed that these drugs are used by MLB players at a rate more than twice that of normal society.  Amphetamines can be detected in urine, even though finding them has been compared to "finding a needle in a haystack."   They are separated through gas and liquid chromatography before being detected using mass spectroscopy.  The identification is based on the known retention time of the amphetamines in mass spectrometers.

Synthetic Anabolic Steroids can be used to build lean body mass, especially muscular tissues.   More than sixty of these steroids are on the list of substances banned by WADA.  These exogenous steroids are derivatives of testosterone that can be detected in urine.  Though used for decades by athletes competing in a wide range of sports, anabolic steroids came to world focus after Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic Gold Medal and 1987 100-meter world record for using stanolozol.

An analysis of MLB players hitting 50 or more home runs in a season reveals interesting data.  From 1920 to 1995 the feat was accomplished 1 in 4 years.  From 1996 to 2002 there was an average of 2.4 batters reaching that number of homers each year.  Finally, from 2003 to 2009 there was an average of 0.71 batters hitting 50 or more homers.  It is widely believed that the high level of home runs hit during the 1996-2002 time period were due to the use of the BALCO-produced "cream" and "clear" by MLB players.  The "cream" was a testosterone-based cream used in conjunction with the "clear," an anabolic steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).  THG was a tetrahydrated form of steroid that long avoided or "cleared" screening by anti-drug agencies because the clear did not show the peaks that analytical instruments were looking for and because the combination of the cream and the clear prevented upsetting the natural ratio of testosterone and epitestosterone, which could also be detected by analytical instruments.  The decrease in MLB home runs that occurred after 2002 aligned with the discovery of the cream and the clear.

Human Growth Hormones (hGH) are used to treat growth hormone deficiency and growth disorders.  hGH promotes repair, regrowth, and regeneration in all types of cells.  Screening cannot detect exogenous forms of this polypeptide hormone in urine and a sufficient screening method for its detection in blood was not developed until 2004.  This method involves the use of an anti-body hGH to capture hGH and before another detection particle is attached.  The resulting charged complex is then detected when it produces a light flash in an analytical instrument.  The intensity of the flash is used to measure the level of hGH in the blood sample.

Erythropoietin (EPO) plays a key role in regulation of red blood cells (RBCs).  Exogenous EPO is used to treat anemia brought on by kidney diseases or cancer treatment.  Synthetic EPO (rEPO) can increase the RBC by 5-10%, making it the drug of choice for endurance athletes who rely on RBCs to carry oxygen to muscle cells. rEPO is detectable in urine, but only for a short period of time due to the presence of proteases.  Athletes use microdoses that are undetectable within 24 hours.  Many of the 80+ EPO biosimilars fail standard EPO isoelectrofocusing (SDS-PAGE) tests.  The difficulty in screening for synthetic EPO made it the first "blockbuster" biopharmaceutical drug.  Usage of rEPO has reached world wide attention due to its detection in a wide range of Olympic athletes and Tour de France cyclists. 

The ratio of red blood cell volume to total blood volume is known as hematocrit.  After extensive evaluation, WADA set the allowable hematocrit limit at .50 or 50%, since it is extremely rare for humans to have higher levels.  Some sports have implemented a longitudinal biomarker system known as a Biological Passport to monitor hematocrit over time.  This long-term, multi-test system allows for the creation of a hematocit baseline in athletes which can be used to indicate blood manipulation.  Though the Biological Passport cannot be used to determine if an athlete is using PEDs, it can initiate closer scrutiny that can then produce positive tests for PEDs.  International cycling and skiing unions are already using this system to test athletes.

Dr. Werner concluded his lecture by stating that there is currently debate about the efficacy of drug screening.  While the screening processes are limiting PED usage, they are quite costly to sporting organizations and governments.  Furthermore, knowledge of the screening is likely causing cheaters to continually develop new molecules to replace the detectable ones.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Passionate Comback

Thirteen weeks ago I woke up on a Sunday morning feeling pretty good about my health and my overall fitness.  I had just run a 5K in 17:08 off of one fast workout and only a month after completing the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Run.  The cycling was consistent and strong, with several really fast workouts on both flat and hilly terrain.  Little did I know that morning that the previous day's 5K was the last run I would take for almost a month.
While riding a mountain bike equipped with a Jones Counter over the Evansville Half Marathon course, I was chased by a car full of all-night partiers.  The chase ended when I crashed while crossing wet railroad tracks.  That crash left me with a torn hamstring and a strained gluteous muscle.  The torn hamstring bled out over the next week, forming a massive bruise behind my knee and into my calf. It has yet to reach the flexibility and strength it had before the attack. 
Other injuries from the attack have been slower to heal.  A thick scar and calcium build-up formed on my right elbow.  This mass has been pressing on the ulnar nerve which is causing constant tingling and often intense burning in my forearm and fingers, especially when my arm is bent - like it is while running.
The radial nerve in the right shoulder was also compressed in the fall.  This injury has also contributed to tingling, pain, and weakness in the right forearm and fingers.  Several times each day the nerve becomes trapped either in my shoulder or under the scapula. The resulting breathtaking pain seizes control of me for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.  This is especially irritating when the forearm feels as if had been set on fire.
I have attempted to see my doctor three times, but I waited so long that I had to leave.  A recent letter from his office states that he is no longer practicing family medicine!  So, now I need to find a doctor to get a referral to a specialist in order to satisfy the demands of the insurance company.
While the nerve injuries have kept me from cycling, I returned to running in early September.  The runs were short and quite slow at first.  I abandoned my normal routine of Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday running because I used the short runs as therapy for the hamstring.  During each run I stopped several times to knead and compress the scar tissue in the hamstring.  It was during the last week in September that the hamstring had enough flexibility and felt strong enough to attempt an hour-long run (8+ mi).
Encouraged by that first long run, I started milling over the possibility of running in the Evansville Half on October 10th.  Ironically, the injuries I sustained while measuring the course had eliminated the potential for me to have a fast race. Throughout the week of the race I continued the therapy runs, but lengthened them to as much as 4.4 miles.  It was during the Tuesday run of race week that I attempted to run at 6 minute pace.
On Sunday, October 10, I lined up for a run that I didn't know if I could finish.  The RAV was parked near the eight mile marker, so I knew I had an easy out if the hamstring became tight.  Acting like a novice, I ran the first downhill mile of the race in 6:02 before settling into a 6:1x pace.  My stride was still a little off due to the hamstring tightness, which would not allow me to come within 5 inches of the reach I had with the left hamstring.  Still, I passed the RAV feeling great.  I became tired, but maintained the 6:1x pace until the final mile.  I covered that 13th mile in 6:02 while pushing the pace to test the right leg.  I was ecstatic about finishing strong and feeling great after the 1:21:23 effort.
I then did what is normal for me:  I set another goal.  I entered the Chicago Monster Dash half marathon that took place on Halloween three weeks after the Evansville half.  And I began to push the training.  I continued to train almost exclusively on the new 1.1-mile stretch of green way on the USI campus.  The pace dropped with each run as of a result of the increasing flexibility and strength of the hamstring.  I even completed runs of ten and eleven miles on a very hilly course.  Honestly, the rate of improvement I experienced was the fastest of my thirty-plus years of running.  I was experiencing a renewed sense of passion like the one I experienced last year after learning of the skin cancer.  Passion is a powerful elixir that permeates body, mind, and soul in a way that can unlock our potential.  It took me more than forty years, but I have begun to understand and utilize passion to benefit several areas of my life.  As the Monster approached I began to believe that I could average less than 5:50 per mile and finish in about 1:16.  I ate, slept, and trained with that goal in mind.
And that is what I did - sort of.  It turns out that Obama made a last-minute decision to participate in a political rally in the Hyde Park area of Chicago.  Faced with canceling an event in which several thousand people had paid for and traveled to, the race organizers settled for a route using lakefront trails to the north of Grant Park instead of the original route that used the lakefront trail to the south of Grant Park.  The new route incorporated a lot of trails near the lakefront.  Several of these trails were concrete. There were, unfortunately, many trail junctions. 
After covering the first mile in 5:40 we turned north into a hard blowing wind.  I became alarmed that the people I was running with immediately slowed down.  Facing the choice of plowing alone through that wind for six miles or surging up to the group that was about fifty feet ahead of me, I surged.  My son, Tyler and his teammate, Lawson, were in that group.  Their legs found the 5:40 pace easy since they were trained for the 5K distance.  I wondered how long they would last.  Lawson dropped back soon after I had joined the pack of nine runners.  Lawson was going to try to enjoy the longest run of his life.
Another interesting development during the second mile was when the group took a hard left turn and proceeded up a long set of stairs.  This seemed wrong.  It was wrong.  The group had somehow gone off course and climbing those stairs put us back on the route.  We hit the 2-mile mark in 12:36, indicating a 6:55 second mile, though we had not slowed a bit.  This was a bit annoying, but it was only the fourth most annoying event of the race.
Somewhere in the third mile we went off course again as we took a right-hand turn when we should have gone straight.  The aid station workers were great at handing out water, but horrible about indicating which direction we would go. After we ran off the route a cyclist chased us down and turned us around.  Of course, he reached the trailing runners first and the fastest runners last.  Consequently, our order was reversed as we returned to the race route.  A younger and faster Hispanic runner yelled something in Spanish to the aid workers as he passed me.  The same scenario took place two more times.  Each time I noted how long it took me to get back on the route.  My total off-course time was 2:34, meaning that I ran approximately 0.3 miles extra from these excursions.
It was during our tour of Lincoln Park that Tyler began to feel the pace.  He had stayed with me for thirty minutes even though illness had caused him to miss most of his summer running and his recent training had  been geared toward the 5K distance.  Amazingly, he would finish 14th overall about 3:40 behind me.  I have always been proud of Tyler's work ethic and running tenacity, but never more than on that tough day in Chicago.  Well done, my man!
At the north end of Lincoln Park the course turned back to the south and the we had relief from the powerful wind for the first time.  My next four mile splits were between 5:40 and 5:45.  Just before the eleven mile mark I surged hard to drop a couple of runners only to be directed off course for the fourth and final time of the day.  When I turned around I became frustrated that the two runners I had just put time into had gained a 30-second advantage over me during the side trip.  Finally deflated, I did not have the energy or the desire to chase them down again.
Though I was sure that we were still running at the same 5:40ish pace, it took us well over eight minutes to cover the last 1.1 miles.  A day later I learned that multiple Chicago-area runners had gone back out and found that the last 1.1 was actually almost 1.5 miles.  Wow!
In the end, my hard-earned 1:21:24 time was for a distance of about 13.8 miles!  That translates into a time of about 1:17 for 13.1.  I was satisfied with the tenacity, tactics, and fitness I exhibited in the Monster, but I was most displeased with not having a good time to show for it.  So, I set another goal.
I entered the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon that took place on the next Saturday.  Racing two half marathons in six days would require as much rest as life would allow.    I was going to Indy to record a 1:17 half marathon.
Though my legs seemed to recover quite well from the Monster, I knew from experience that I might get 3, 8, or 10 miles into the IMM and fall completely apart due to incomplete recovery from the Monster.  The only real worry I had on race morning was that the injured hamstring had remained tight all week despite receiving my constant attention.
I was lucky enough to meet up with my good friend Jeremy Aydt in the parking garage before the race.  We visited the icy port-a-potties and then sat in the warm RAV for awhile in an attempt to stay warm.  Jeremy is making a strong comeback after a long layoff that included some weight gain. Seeing Jeremy lifted my spirits.  I am most proud of him and inspired by the way he lives his life.
With almost 7000 runners on hand for the half and full IMM events, there was an incredible mass of people standing in the 27-degree air at sunrise.  This was the largest field I had ever been a part of.  It was dealing with this crowd after my typical last-minute port-a-potty visit that started my troubles for the day.  Unable to find a quick route to the start line, I had to "excuse" my way through the mass of runners for ten minutes.  I had a yellow bib that allowed me access to the front of the field, but I simply could not get there.  When the gun went off there were still about 1500 people ahead of me.  A full fifty seconds passed before I walked across the start.  Thank God for chip timing!
It wasn't until after the first turn and more than a minute of weaving and jogging that I felt like I was finally able to run.  I was frustrated to the point of laughing when I managed to find myself passing much slower runners using both sidewalks along a very wide stretch of road.  I reached the first mile in a hard-earned 5:58.  Soon after that the field began to thin to the point that my weaving was greatly reduced.
Honestly, I didn't know how fast my legs would allow me to run or when or if they would tighten up on me.  But, because I had entered the race to find my limit, I pushed the pace hard.  I continuously passed runners as I ran several consecutive 5:40ish miles.  I reached the 10K time mat in 36:06 feeling relaxed while acknowledging that the effort was high.  Unfortunately, my right hamstring had tightened enough to become slightly painful.  Still, I continued to run at a high level of perceived effort: I ran passionately.
Though I was running with the same intensity, that tight hamstring caused my stride to shorten mile splits to creep into the 5:50's.  When I reached ten miles in 58:43 I knew the last three miles were going to be tougher and slower.  I had been setting the pace for the third place woman, but she passed me near the ten mile mark and gradually pulled away despite my best efforts to stay with her.
Those last three miles rolled by in about 6:05, 6:12, and 6:11.  The hamstring was tight, but I felt fine in every other way.  With the temperature still below freezing and a seemingly constant wind cooling me, I had not sweated much until the final miles.  And with the memory of cold water spilling on me a few days earlier in the Monster, I did not take any aid during the IMM.  My watch read 1:17:46 when I crossed the finish line.  Mission accomplished.
Within minutes my core temperature dropped and I began to shiver madly in my wet shirt.  I tried to eat a Panera bagel, but was unable to due to its frozen state.  Then I walked over to the finish line to wait for Jeremy.  He finished in a PR 1:33:18.  Nice job, Jeremy!
It would be rude of me to not state that all three of the events I participated in were put on with great care and attention.  I have known the people behind the Evansville Half for years and have come to expect great things from them.  I was amazed at the huge quantities of materials (barriers, food, drink, time clocks at each mile) brought in for the IMM.  And I was especially impressed with the Chicago Monster, considering the last minute course change.  I hope to race in all of them in the future, but not necessarily in the same month!
I ran in Scott T2 C racing flats fitted with my orthotics for both the Monster and the IMM.  These shoes are light (228 g/8.25 oz per shoe) and extremely soft.  I believe the cushioned shoes protected me during both races and led to less quadriceps fatigue. As I sit here editing this piece I honestly believe that I could run another 1:17 next weekend.  Perhaps I can rest more and set my sights higher.
This recovery and comeback has been one of the toughest of my long athletic life.  Of course, the knowledge I gained from all of the other comebacks allowed me to make the right decisions and follow successful methods of rehab.  The hamstring is tight right now.  I intend to let it heal while I continue the rehab practices until the flexibility and strength in the right leg match the levels of the left leg.  The nerves are another matter all together.  The self-therapy I am using is helping, but I will probably need professional attention.  I miss cycling.
I intend to keep this rekindled passion for running alive into the foreseeable future.  And I am trying to let that passion fill every facet of my life.  I've given myself a week to set some new goals.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Minutes to Memories

John Mellencamp is one of my favorite recording artists because he knows me so well.  A comparison of our changing moods and viewpoints over the years, or shall I write "decades," reveals that we have "grown up" or matured in similar manners.  We were both rebellious leaders in our youth, each choosing to play life by our rules to make certain that we did not become cultural statistics.  We have both questioned leaders, loyalty, lovers, laziness, and life in general.  The lyrics to Jack and Diane, Case 795, Jackie Brown, Human Wheels, I Need A Lover, Small Town, Just Another Day, You've Got to Stand For Somethin', and Teardrops Will Fall all have had real meaning in my life.  Minutes to Memories and Your Life is Now both have special meaning to me.  Isn't it interesting how songs so often reflect and resonate life?

 Mellencamp, of course, expresses his thoughts and beliefs in popular (and lucrative) music from a multifaceted soap box while my very different (and non lucrative) pathway through life causes me to bite my tongue on topics such as sex and politics.  Just to clarify a point, anyone who knows both me and his music well enough are aware of the fact that Mellencamp and I do not hold the same viewpoints on politics because he has "picked a side" while I distrust both sides.  I'll delve no further into that topic due to the fact that my disdain for politics and politicians caused me to create a "no politics" rule for this blog.

Another difference between Mellencamp and myself lies in the our perceptions and implementations of personal health.  Mellencamp had a heart attack in 1994.  The official press release stated that it was a "minor" heart attack. Minor?  Is any heart attack really minor to the person who suffered it?  His doctors told him that the combined stresses of months of touring and decades of smoking several packs of cigarettes per day had caused the heart attack.  They told him to stop smoking.  His response was, basically, the same middle finger he's raised to adversaries and disapprovers throughout his life.  Oh, he did manage to cut back to about one pack per day on most days, but he has never stopped smoking.  His increasingly crackling voice reveals the effects smoking has had on this throat.  Interestingly, his youngest child, Speck, created a Facebook page seeking 1 million members to get Mellencamp to stop smoking.  I signed on to the group, but I could not find the page just before starting this post.

I responded with the same middle finger attitude when I was told to stop running by a neurosurgeon after a 1998 accident left me with two herniated discs.  I'd like to have seen the look on his face when that card-carrying member of the Doctors Infected With God Syndrome Club received the race results of my 2:51 marathon.  The difference was that my running "problem" is actually good for my health.  In fact, I used that injury as a springboard to acquire more knowledge about keeping the back healthy throughout a long and active life.

Last summer, when I was diagnosed with skin cancer, I laughed at my dermatologist when he told me to limit my running to a treadmill.  Seriously!  I did become much more nocturnal, starting many of my runs and rides before dawn.  I now cower from direct sunlight as if I were dodging bullets.  I also own several shirts that, unlike typical clothing, actually keep most of the UV rays from reaching my skin.  In the kitchen is a shelf filled with all of the sunscreens I have bought and tested for sweat resistance.  Residing in the basement is a very lonely treadmill.

One year ago I spent the last weekend in September participating in the ITU Duathlon World Championships at Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord, NC.  Still reeling from the news of the tumors and the weight loss that accompanied the stress and treatment, I somehow managed to stick to a rigorous training plan that had my 45-year-old body running and riding almost as fast as it did when I was in my 20's.  Because of the nature of the sport, I was driving home in a pouring rain when my good friend, Jeremy, called me to congratulate me on my finish. Within seconds tears were rolling down my cheeks as I thought about how that silver medal was my Mellencamp-style response to both the cancer and aging.

Five weeks ago I was attacked by a car filled with thugs.  The injuries from that incident have cost me many nights of sleep.  The hamstring and glute have mostly healed, but a pinched nerve is still causing a constant burning in my right shoulder, arm, and hand.  I have also experienced nearly constant headaches since that day.

I was happy to run again after more than three weeks off.  I have been consistently riding short, fast rides for two weeks.  Therapy?  I believe that riding and running are great psychotherapy for me.  My running is far from normal, but my desire to run is strong.  I logged my normal three runs last week, covering 17 miles.  On Tuesday I managed 3 miles at sub-6 pace.  Yesterday I managed to hold a sub-7 pace on a hilly course for an hour.  Those runs took a lot out of me but, as I see it, I am in such a position that I must give all that have.  Cycling is also full speed ahead. 

I cannot rest comfortably until I once again feel fit.  I honestly do not believe that I can feel alive unless I am active.  Sitting around looking at a TV or otherwise wasting time is not my idea of living.  I would much rather create memories by sharing active, loving, and meaningful time with family and friends.  

Like Mellencamp sings in his song Minutes to Memories, life is trying to strip away my dreams!  I've just got to suck it up and do the best I can.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mean People Suck . . . Better Days Ahead

Sitting before this computer hurts.  Poking at this keyboard hurts even more.  It has been sixteen days since a car full of hoodlums chased me and attempted to attack me with a baseball bat.  Lucky for me, I managed to crash the bike I was riding while crossing railroad tracks just as the window-riding batter swung hard in an effort to put my head in the cheap seats. (Steeeerike!).  Each day I have experienced a margin of improvement, but each day I have also experienced moments of severe pain that are sometimes accompanied with anger and disdain. 

Anyone who has laid eyes on me during the last two weeks has seen the massive bruising caused by the bleeding of the torn hamstring and gluteus muscles.  An observer cannot see the painful and annoying tingling in right hand, arm, and shoulder that is much like that feeling that comes from bumping the "funny bone."  A person looking deeply into my eyes lately might have recognized the pain I have felt from both my physical injuries and from the mental anguish accompanying my inability to participate in the physical activities I have enjoyed for most of my life.  That same person might not have recognized my daily resolve aimed at getting back to normal.

I did not talk much about the incident at first, but a week after it happened a friend asked what happened when she saw the bruises and bandages.  Another person overheard me telling her.  That person then told a person who told another person.  That person then fired off an email that, apparently, made its way into several circles.  So, a lot of people learned that I was struck with a baseball bat while being robbed of a bike (Fuji) that I never owned.  I thought the mix-up was funny.  To those of you who thought the story was funny, well, you just might be "mean people" yourselves!  Sorry, I didn't get hit or robbed.

Yeah, just like that old bumper sticker says, "Mean People Suck."  And just like Paul Thorn sings, there are "better days ahead."  I am bummed that a seemingly random act of violence has made simple tasks like brushing my teeth, holding my coffee, and typing my tests, novel, and blog painful and stressful.  I am equally excited to report that I did not break my clavicle or crack my skull.  It disturbs me to know that I live in a world where a person can swing a bat at another person's head.  It is comforting to know that dozens of people, some who know me well and some who have never met me, contacted me after the story broke to see if I was OK and, in some cases, to offer help.  It is also great to have motivating, uplifting music like Paul Thorn's to keep me from focusing on dark places.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Surprise Milestone

I fielded questions after a recent local 5K about how I have been able to maintain my fitness for so long.  One question came in this form: "Dude, you are so old!  Did they have running shoes when you started out?" Answer - No way.  We either ran barefoot or wrapped our feet in animal skins.  Actually, the running shoe industry was in its infancy.  I raced in a pair of Adidas that amounted to nothing more than a strap of nylon stitched to a thin solid rubber sheet.  And I loved them! 

Another question asked was:  "You have placed high in races for years.  How have you managed to remained healthy for so long?"  I have not always been healthy, but I have been almost completely free of injuries for two decades. That is how long I have been practicing the low-mileage approach.  I am betting that there is a limit to my lifetime mileage and I want to spread it out over a long life.  My running age is 32 years and counting.

A third question I answered was:  "How have you stayed motivated for so many years?"  The answer to that question is the one that I want to address in this post.

Way back in the late fall of 1978 I ran 1.5 miles in gym class on a "D" shaped track with about 100 other people all doing the same thing at their own paces.  I finished in 8:03.  A week later the gym teacher took me out to the track and had me run it again.  Alone.  He timed me as my freshmen football coach and the freshmen track coach looked on.  The result - 7:52.  The advice for this 128-lb wanna-be football player came from my football coach:  "Shane, you should run cross country."  My reply:  "What is that?"

And thus began my running life.  Several weeks after that second timed run the track coach asked me if I was training. (What's that?)  My first run took place just after school had been called off on account of a 6-inch snowfall.  I ran five miles that included the crossing of a not quite frozen enough creek.  Good thing I had put those bread bags under my tube socks! 

I soon learned that I would likely be a "2-mile" man.  I also found a nice 4-mile loop.  I measured the loop with my moped, marking the 1- and 2-mile marks.  The two mile mark was located at a bus stop on top of a quarter-mile long hill that (I now know) climbed 70 feet.  A good climb.  Not having any idea what "fast" was, I ran the first two miles of that course hard EVERY day.  The times slowly got better:  11:38 - 11:27 - 11:19 - 11:15.  Looking back now I have to laugh about how much that hurt - how much I abused myself.

You see, I had a job at first one grocery store, then another.  I rarely ran this loop before 10 pm and quite often didn't get out there until midnight after work shifts in which I moved 2-3 tons of stock.  The important message in this post can be stated in one word: goals.  I didn't know what a fast 2-mile time was, but 11 was a round number and I wanted to break that mark as soon as I had finished the first run.  Before that freshman (1979) track season started, I celebrated when I clocked 10:59 and 10:58 on the course that I now know was about 35 meters short.  I went on to produce times in the 10:40's on the track that year.

Why would I rehash that start?  Because I have never lost my "attachment" to the 2-mile run.  I am, today, a 2-miler.  Yeah, I'm old school "mile" man.  How have I remained attached to the 2-mile?  Go back to the one word that I earlier wrote is the message of this post:  goals.  Because it was a goal that was so hard for me to achieve, I decided in high school that it took real fitness to run a sub-10 2-mile.  So, I decided that I would try to run a sub-10 2-mile every year.  Then, while attending Purdue, I decided to put myself to the 2-mile test every year sometime around my birthday (Nov. 11).  I realize that this is simply an arbitrary time and an arbitrary goal that I established based on my own life experiences, but that goal has supplied most of the driving force that has kept me fit for so long.  I have reached the goal in all but 3 (non-running) years since 1982.

Notice that the goal has nothing to do with winning a specific race or beating ANY other human.  The goal is to run, usually alone with a witness or two watching, a little more than eight  laps around a track in less than 10 minutes.  One man on a track racing only the clock.  A straight forward goal and a simple task.  Reaching that annual goal has taken me on quite a long ride that has required me to learn a lot about physiology and even more about myself.  There are very few days in a given year when I do not reflect on the fact that I have to get myself ready to attempt the run.  My fitness may vary throughout the year, but I try to be within a 4-6 week program from reaching the goal.

I eventually took up bike racing.  With that I added the goal of riding an annual 40K time trial in less than 60 minutes.  That goal is one that I have reached all but 3 (non-cycling) years since 1988.

Last Saturday I decided, on a whim, to run in a local 5K.  I simply did not want to suffer, so I settled into a fairly comfortable 5:30ish threshold pace and finished in 17:07.  Then I went to the USI woods and ran for an hour.  It was a hot day, so I spent hours sipping on fluids after that.  Late in the day I got stir-crazy and decided to take a ride.

I thought the ride would be an easy hour long effort.  But I hit the first five miles in 12:20.  Hmmm.  I thought that I had a tailwind - a strong tailwind.  I kept turning the pedals and hit ten miles in 24:25.  Hmmm.  There were plenty of rolling hills in there.  I then started pushing a little harder on those pedals.  Fifteen miles passed in 36:24.  That was about the time that I noticed a flag.  It indicated that I had been riding into the wind the first five miles.

The easy hour ride went, well, ballistic.  I started pedalling even harder as I began to tighten up.  Twenty miles went by in 47:42.  Then the course flattened out and I turned, gaining a slight but much needed tailwind.  I hit 25 miles, just over 40K, in 59:10, making this my 20th sub-60 year in 20 years of cycling.  A milestone.

I put a lot of miles on the bike leading up to the big week in July.  Those miles are obviously still in there!  I realize that a sub-hour 40K bike TT is not any more awesome than a sub-10 2-mile run.  I know that I am not, and never have been, a good athlete.  I'm just above average on my best days.  I also realize that I make goals important and that I strive to reach them.  Reaching them, year after year, has kept me fit.  Sadly, my fitness is well above average for a man my age. (I wish all of the guys voting for a federal healthcare plan had to live my healthy lifestyle in order to receive benefits. McD's would soon close up shop!)

Reaching my goal of maintaining a high level of fitness is one of the things that keeps me happy.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Five Days of Sawatch 14ers

Back in the 1860s a Yale graduate and Harvard professor by the name of Josiah D. Whitney completed a significant amount of surveying in the western United States. Acting as the official California state geologist, Whitney compiled an extensive quantity of data about that state's natural world and published much of it in a collection of books called the Geological Survey of California.  Whitney also produced the highly praised and valued work called The Yosemite Book which brought recognition to the value of that landscape through photographic excellence.  John Muir walked into Yosemite valley soon after that book was published.

Looking north into the Collegiates from Mt. Yale's summit

Whitney was also assigned a surveying job in the highest valley in Colorado.  It was there, along the Arkansas River, that Whitney measured and named a series of tall peaks.  Given his Ivy League background and the customs of surveyors of his time, it was no surprise that Whitney named several of the giant peaks after the prestigious schools.  The highest peak he measured was christened Mount Harvard (14,427 ft).  He did not know that only nearby Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, at 14,440 ft and 14,428 ft would be deemed higher a few years later by the Hayden survey.  Whitney then named the second highest peak in his survey after his Alma mater, Yale, and the third highest after Princeton.  It was later determined that Princeton, at 14,204 ft, is actually one foot taller than Yale.  My students will understand it when I say that this Ivy Leaguer should have made more measurements in light of finding these two mountains so closely matched.  Nonetheless, those mountains retained their names and, along with other Whitney-surveyed peaks, they now make up a mountain group called the Collegiate Peaks which can be found in an area called the Collegiate Peak Wilderness.  I recently spent five days climbing the Collegiates and a few other 14ers in the greater Sawatch Range.

Why are you walking sooo fast?

Cruisin' down from Aspen Pass to Frisco on Monday
Brandon (l) and Tyler (r)

On Monday July 19th, one day after the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile trail run, I walked about five gentle miles on trails near Frisco and Dillon.  I later rode/coasted thirteen miles from Aspen Pass to Frisco with Brandon and Tyler on rental bikes.  One day later I ran thirty minutes on a splendidly soft single track trail paralleling the Breckenridge ski resort amid a lush and diverse forest.  Both of those excursions loosened up my sore quads and back while also causing intense pain in the toe I'd stubbed on a rock.  So, on Wednesday when I had left the family at the Denver airport at sunrise, I wasn't too upset to find it raining when I reached the Echo Lake Trailhead.  I had decided on a whim to climb Mt. Evans and, via The Sawtooth, also summit Mt. Bierstadt in order to start the climbing that day.  No problem.  I enjoyed an hour-long hike around Echo Lake.  I hoped that the sharp pain in the toe would diminish to an acceptable level by the next morning.

After collecting provisions, mainly food and water, I drove to the Missouri Gulch trailhead on Chaffee County Road 390.  I studied my copy of Gerry Roach's outdated 1999 Colorado's Fourteeners Second Edition as the sun went down.  The plan was to start out by climbing Mt. Belford (14,203 ft), Mt. Oxford (14,160 ft), and Missouri Mountain (14,074 ft) on Thursday.  These three mountains are clustered closely together and can be climbed in a single 14.5-mile journey with 7400 ft of vertical gain.  Belford and Oxford are joined by a 1.1 mile saddle and Missouri can be reached either by descending to the valley and climbing back up or via the Class IV ridge. 
The trail in Missouri Gulch

I would climb Missouri before descending to the valley and powering up the steep switchbacks of Belford's west ridge and then completing an out-and-back to Oxford through the saddle.  That was the plan.  After climbing a challenging set of 8 switchbacks into Missouri Gulch, I ran through the alpine valley before alternating running and walking up the face of Missouri Mountain.  I usually try to stay on the 14er summits 30-60 minutes.  However, only five minutes after finding the Missouri summit marker a large cloud mass began to form over both nearby La Plata Peak (14,368 ft) and Mt. Elbert.  Only another five minutes passed before the cloud had enshrouded Missouri's upper reaches, providing me with 20-30 ft visibility.  Then it started raining. 

Mt. Belford (l) and Missouri Mtn. (c) from alpine meadow

I must state here that safety is a primary concern for me when I am on the 14ers.  To offset the fact that I am a solo climber, I put a few safeguards in place.  I always arrive at the trailhead early - often the night before - so that I can monitor when other climbers hit the trail.  I let others leave as much as 90 minutes before I set out in order to always have people between me and my vehicle on the out-and-back climbs.  Because I run any portion of the trail that I find runnable, I always pass most or all of those groups on the way up, so there are always people behind me on the trail.  I also do not allow myself to leave so late that I cannot be safely below treeline before noon.  Afternoon lightning storms are daily events in the Rockies, so it is wise to be among the taller trees by noon.  I also always carry a summit pack containing: Gortex parka, Gortex pants, puffy (down jacket), gloves, warm hat, extra shirt, first aid kit, compass, map, whistle, 1000 Calories, and plenty of water.  On almost every descent I encounter ill-equipped climbers who are not carrying warm weather gear and/or are who are moving far too slowly to even reach the summit before noon.

Clouds roll onto Missouri's summit

14er summit markers are rare these days

That summit marker is on this somewhat small stone

I climbed down Missouri's face in a light rain before running through the alpine valley to treeline.  When I reached the car at 9 a.m. the sky was crystal clear.  I was a bit perturbed, but I got in the car and drove four miles further up the road to the south Winfield trailhead where I could climb Huron Peak.
Winfield is an old mining ghost town/museum that serves as the turn-around for the LT100 Trail Run.  The trailhead is just outside of Winfield and more than twelve miles up the annoyingly bumpy County Rd 390.  CR 390 has many sections, washboard in nature, that will rattle your teeth.  Anyone running the LT100 should make certain to give special thanks for crew members who venture up there.  I was surprised by the number of people who were camping along the dusty road in the San Isabel National Forest.

There is a locked(!) outhouse behind Winfield's school

The first two miles of the hike followed an old jeep road.  I found it easily runnable.  The next two miles involved a lot of really steep switchbacks that were only partially runnable.  I reached the summit under blue skies at 10:25 a.m.  I then enjoyed a relaxed meal spent gazing at all of the surrounding scenery before running most of the way back to the RAV.  For the day, I had climbed almost 8200 ft while traveling 18 miles.  My toe had become stride-changing painful before I reached the RAV.  While cleaning up at the BV public shower ($1!!), I was surprised to see the toenail had already blackened and was beginning to lift off.

Friday started where Thursday did - at the Missouri Gulch trailhead.  I made quick work of the switchbacks and once again ran through the alpine meadow to the foot of Mt. Belford.  I took a deep breath and started power walking up the steep switchbacks.  I passed three groups along the way, but there was one guy behind me who was moving only slightly slower than I was.  When I reached the top of the switchbacks I was greeted by a cold, stiff wind.  I quickly put the Gortex suit, gloves, and hat on over my shorts and knit t-shirt.  That didn't quite do it, so I quickly put the puffy on beneath the parka.  Ahhh!  Ten minutes after reaching the summit I was joined by a young man who said he ran for a Colorado college.  Fifteen minutes later we were joined by a trio that included an IU grad.  So, we talked basketball before moving across the saddle to Oxford.  Moving at our individual paces, we descended Belford via Elkhead Pass.  That gave me 12 miles and 5900 ft of vertical.  My toe and back were both quite sore by the time I descended the Missouri Gulch switchbacks.

After the climb I drove into Buena Vista to eat a big meal at the Eddyline Brewery and  to enjoy a big mug of mocha and a cookie at the BV Roastery.  The BV proved to be most satisfying because they make a great mocha and bake mighty good cookies.  The Eddyline, quite frankly, pissed me off.  They were out of my first two choices of beer, namely the wheat and stout.  The waitress brought me an amber that had been pulled out of the fermenter about 8-10 days too early.  It was as cloudy as a muddy river.  I let them know how wrong that was.  The pizza also left a lot to be desired.  They will have to make some changes if they plan to stay in business.

On Saturday I climbed "the Harvard Group," which is made up of Mt. Harvard (14,427 ft) and Mt. Columbia (14,080 ft).  This 13.5-mile trip involved 5900 ft of climbing.  The long approach to Harvard traveled along an easily runnable trail through the Horn Fork Basin.  I passed and talked to several groups of climbers.  I also stopped to take a couple of dozen pictures of the flora and surrounding peaks and ridges.  What an outstanding trail! (Someone had the audacity to complain in the trail ledger that the trail was too long - Stay on the couch Mr. Potato!) 

Harvard (c) and traverse (r) from Horn Fork Basin's
most runnable trail at about 12k feet.

The Basin ended with a short, steep climb up to the top of the ugly pile of rocks called Mt. Harvard.  Sorry, but most of the climbers I met on the summit felt the same way.

From the summit of Harvard a person can return on the same shallow path or choose to make the traverse to Mt. Columbia.  Most of the two dozen people with me on the summit of Harvard chose to make the traverse.  One lady told her husband that attempting the 2.2-mile traverse at that late hour (8:15) was "absolutely stupid."  I did not believe her - yet.  After all, I can still cover two miles in just over ten minutes.

On Harvard's summit - still smiling

The traverse and Columbia

The traverse started off fun.  I bounded from boulder to boulder and jogged along the connecting trails for about a mile.  During that time I passed almost all of the early Harvard climbers.  Then I reached a point where the ridge became a knife-edge cliff of unstable rock.  Most of the other climbers went quite low, losing about 1600 vertical ft, to stay on the alpine tundra.  I chose to stay as high as possible and, thus, continued to move through a slanted boulder field.  It was fun for a while.  Then the heat set in.  And the boulder field became quite steep.  Then the summit of Mt. Columbia seemed to begin moving up and away from me.  And then the words of that lady on Harvard came out of my mouth as I mumbled something about the traverse being absolutely stupid.

Stupid traverse!

Upon making the top of Columbia I could see that many of those who left Harvard with me hours before were 15-45 minutes away on the steep climb up far west ridge of Columbia.  Because it was after 11 a.m. I stayed only a few minutes before descending.  A few other climbers left with me.  One guy moved ahead as I was stopped by some climbers who wanted to talk.  I do, you may know, have a hard time turning down a good conversation. . .

By the time I began the descent there were a few others not far behind.  In a state of fatigue I moved quickly down the extremely steep, short switchback slope.  About half-way down I heard someone above me yell, "Rock."  I looked up to see several fist and football sized rocks rolling down in a non-threatening manner.  Closer observation revealed a boulder the size of a beach ball was also falling.  Gravity was putting on a display of Newtonian physics.  The problem was that I was directly in the path of the falling stone.  I moved right.  The boulder bounced right.  I moved left and the boulder bounced left. Radar??  In a move that probably disturbed the people of above (one of whom dislodged the rocks), I leaned into the slope and held my ground while the rock gained speed and bounced loudly.  When it bounced about 15 feet in front of me I could see which way it was going and I dove in the other direction.  Then I turned to watch as that rock exploded upon impact with another stone.  Wow!  Nothing like that had ever happened on my previous 40 14er climbs.  I gave a quick thumbs up to those above me before speeding off to the relative safety of the basin trail.  An adrenaline rush caused (allowed) me to run quite quickly back to the RAV.

This time I followed the day's climbing with an excellent meal down in Salida at Amica's.  I ordered a big pizza and a couple of well-composed beers.  The attentive staff got a workout by filling my water glass every few seconds.  I then drank a great mocha as I walked through Salida's downtown to the Arkansas river.

Then I drove the 25 miles back to BV to attend the Collegiate Peaks Music Festival.  The line-up included everything from mountain locals to front range reggae to DC hip hop.  Amicas pizza and Ska beer (Durango) was served.

Yale (r), Princeton (l), and Antero (horizon)
from Harvard summit
Yale was the next 14er on the southern horizon.  It was a short and challenging climb.  The early trail was covered in fist-size stones - and it was steep.  After running through a nearly flat sub-alpine meadow the trail began to pass an incredibly steep mountainside.  Seeing it stretching nearly vertically out of sight through a veil of trees, I thought about how awesomely brutal it would be for the trail to climb that hill.  Moments later I had to stop and laugh as the switchbacks began.  The trail then entered an undulating alpine meadow.  What followed was about a thousand feet of vertical climbing on a dirt and gravel slope.

Trail crews were busy constructing badly needed switchbacks on these upper reaches of Yale.  The crews consisted of twenty-somethings who didn't mind climbing up to their boulder moving, pick axe jobs before dawn.  I couldn't help but feel guilty as I took pictures of them moving large rocks.

Six people moving one stone

Workers all over Yale's steep upper slopes

The Yale summit was the typical pile of boulders.  I stayed there for 40 minutes and still managed to leave before most of the people I'd passed in the alpine meadow arrived.  Running down Yale was the easiest way down the steep slopes.  I enjoyed the run and the early finish of a 4-hour climbing day.

Why are these summits just piles of rocks? Erosion, which is
occurring as fast as the mountains are growing.
They are much fun to run on!

With my son's tonsillectomy approaching, I knew I needed to get home.  I also knew I would regret leaving that valley without reaching my goal of climbing all of the 14ers along Hwy 24.   From the summit of Yale I could clearly see the two neighboring monstrous heaps of rock known as Princeton and Antero (14,276).  I would have to attempt to climb both of them in one day.

Princeton from high on Yale

I parked at the trailhead of Princeton as the sun went down.  This "trailhead" is a parking lot (Shared by a Young Life ranch) at the end of a long jeep road that winds up Princeton.  Roach's guide said to leave your vehicle in the lot if you value that vehicle.  Well before dawn a big 4-wheel drive truck stopped at the edge of the road before roaring away.  Then a couple of climbers parked a car in the lot and walked up the road.  I was putting the finishing touches on my summit pack just moments before the sun rose above the eastern mountains when a jeep started up the rough road. 

Eye on the prize - only 1.7 miles to go

Long shadow as trail becomes
a boulder field - for a 1.5 miles!

Curious about the size of that summit pyramid?
Click twice and find the (4) people

The couple in the jeep were putting their packs on when I passed that jeep after running three miles up that road.  I continued running for about another mile before I turned onto the summit trail.  That trail was runnable for about 400 meters.  The rest of the "trail" wound through 1.5 miles of boulders that crept up slowly before arching up to Princeton's summit.  Princeton was, as a fellow climber called it, a big ole pile of rocks.  I loved hopping from rock to rock in a near run.  I was welcomed to another 14er summit by a cold wind and incredibly clear blue sky.  Looking over at majestic Antero, I knew I had to eat and drink a lot so that I could make the 16-mile round trip up it before noon.  So, I ate all I had in the pack and a bunch more after I had scrambled and ran back to the RAV.  BTW, that 4-wheel drive road was not all that bad.  The main obstacles were 3-5 foot wide water berms made of dirt.  Because there were very few protruding boulders, I believe that the RAV could have easily handled that rode up to where the jeep sat just beyond the radio towers.

It was 9:15 am when I reached the RAV and started the short drive to the Mt. Antero trailhead.

Now that (Antero) is a beautiful specimen.  That is about
a mile elevation gain you're looking at.

The morning temperature was a warm 79 degrees, so I stopped at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Country Store for more liquid refreshments - water and orange juice.  Then I sped further down the road until it turned to dirt.  Then I drove a little further until I was smack dab between Princeton and Antero.  While observing Antero from Princeton's summit, I had wondered where the "trail" went up the mountain.  Like the trail up Princeton, the most commonly used trail for Antero is also a jeep road.  There is, however, a difference.  The actual summit trail on Princeton leaves the road about 1700 ft and 1.6 miles from the summit.  That road up Antero winds around (forever) through the forest before making a few series of switchbacks to within 600 vertical feet of the summit.

While the Princeton road may have been handled by the RAV, the Antero road was far too rough for my comfort zone.  The first half-mile and many of the stretches up to tree line were steep, covered with fist to football sized loose rocks, and sprinkled with tall embedded rocks.  It should only be climbed in vehicles having 4-wheel drive and big, sturdy off-road tires.  I saw several such vehicles and quite a few motorbikes going down as I climbed up.

I ran when I could on the way up to tree line, but that was not very often.  Within minutes I had rolled the ankle on a loose rock.  After tree line was another story.  Beyond a wide parking area the road began making switchbacks and was 95% runnable for me and my ankle.  I was happy to be moving swiftly in the hot sun at such a late hour (11 a.m.). 

The upper reaches of Antero more closely resemble the photos sent back from Mars than anything I'd seen on the other peaks.  Most of the rocks are small in size and orange or white in color.  And there are many areas mine pilings are spread down the slopes.  Interesting and eerie would be my best description.  Also interesting was the old man from Kansas I met whose grandsons were exploring the mine he bought 31 years ago.  Even more interesting was the back country official driving a small pickup down from near the summit like he was escaping a fire.

Antero road switchbacks at 13K feet - easily runnable

I managed to "run" most of the way back down the rocky road from the Antero summit, reaching the RAV at 2:15.  Including the time on the summits, shopping time, and the transfer time, it was an eight-hour day.  I made use of the BV public shower once again before making my way back to Amicas.  That left me with just a 20-hour drive home!

Passing close to the Sangre de Cristo 14ers as I leave CO
Can you see the ghost calling out to me?

While waiting for my pizza I calculated that I had traveled about 74 miles and climbed 33K feet during those five days in the Sawatch.  Not exactly an ordinary experience for me.   And, I almost forgot, there was that 50-mile trail run four days before the climbing started.  Remember, I usually run about 75 miles per month!  So, one would expect me to be extremely sore or fatigued or both.  I was, in fact, neither.  Because I always moved at a comfortable pace, I actually became stronger with each passing day.  I honestly wish that I had been able to do such climbing 1-2 weeks before the SR 50.  Perhaps I can work that out if or when I declare a rematch.  I do still have eleven 14ers to climb and I would love to try other routes on several of the ones I just climbed.

Right now, I am extremely thankful to have the health, finances, and time to complete such an adventure.  I am also happy to report that a minimal amount of my blood ended up leaving my body!  A caught toe while wrestling food from my pack during the Belford/Oxford descent run came during a series of well-constructed stone stairs.  Ouch!  And diving out of the way of that boulder-turned-missile onto a pile of rocks (what else?) resulting in more damage to all four of my limbs - no kidding.  And then there was that sharp-edged slider that got my left shin while building a cairn in the Princeton boulder field.  In all, I have just 23 lacerations currently healing.  They are just little reminders of the fun I had. . .

Setting my sights on new experiences

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Silver Rush 50 Follow-up

While climbing in the Sawatch Range during the last several days I had a lot of time to think.  Then, when I was recovering for each climb, I looked into a few things and thought some more.  In my SR 50 race report I stated that I was quite pleased with my result.  Well, now I am even more pleased.

I reviewed my training log again while sitting in the BV Roastery Monday afternoon.  In an earlier post I wrote that I was underprepared for a 50-mile race - at altitude - with big, rough climbs.  That was because I had already reviewed the log before the race.  My training plan had called for eight progressively longer runs that would serve as the foundation of any strength I had for the race.  In other words, I planned my whole program around that long run build-up.  The long run build-up WAS my training plan for the SR 50.  It was through meeting other ultra runners on those 14ers that I began to realize that my "part time" ultra runner routine was an even smaller part time than I wanted to admit.

The log says that I planned to complete four runs of more than the marathon length, culminating in runs of 32 and 36 miles.  I turned my ankle (turtle) minutes into the first long run.  Then came the extreme sweating caused by an unusually hot and humid June.  That weather caused me to significantly shorten four long runs.  Only two runs reached the marathon distance.  The only positive was that those two runs did include dozens of Stru Hill climbs that allowed for about 3K feet of vertical.

During the ten weeks prior to the SR 50 I averaged just under 32 running miles per week!  That is not exactly a solid foundation for running an ultra.  Of course, I did average 111 hilly miles per week on the bike, too.  I do not know how much the cycling helped me climb mountains on foot, but I must speculate that I did gain something useful from all of that work.

I looked back into the training log because two of the runners I met on the 14ers complained about the fact that the weather had kept them from completing their long runs.  In fact, both of these runners (from Nebraska and Illinois) had, like me, been limited to sub-3-hour runs.  Both also complained about ion imbalances and equilibrium problems that lasted for days after long run attempts.  So, I have not been alone in my struggle.  Unfortunately for those two runners, they plan to complete the Pbville 100.  I sure hope that they keep logging mountain miles in that kind, cool, and dry Colorado air.

Duncan was logging 140-mile weeks in the mountains around Gunnison leading up to the race.  Helen told me that she had been logging 80-100 miles per week in the mountains around Breckenridge.  Their results showed that they had solid foundations for that 50-mile effort.  Then again, those two are real mountain ultramarathoners.  I wish that I could run free in those mountains.  I wish that I could gain 3-4K ft in a single climb on a typical run.  I wish that I had nearby mountain tops calling me up to them.  I wish.

The next post will cover the five days during which I climbed nine of the Sawatch Range 14ers.  Now that was some great mountain ultra training!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Silver Rush 50 Race Report

I'll just start off by saying that I was quite pleased with every aspect of the day.  The bed at A Wolf Den Bed and Breakfast was comfortable enough to make this insomniac sleep.  (Thanks Liz and James!!)  The dry mountain air was warm and the sun was hot.  The course was well marked.  The volunteers and fans were exceptionally supportive and kind.  All of the runners I made contact with treated me like we were old friends.  My crew did a fantastic job.  My legs and lungs gave more than I should have expected them to be capable of.

If you haven't seen the results, I finished in a time of 8:41:22.  That is an average of 10:26 per mile.  I covered the first half in 3:57:20 (9:30 per mile) and held onto the same pace during the return until there were only about four miles to go. For perspective, the winner was the exceptionally talented Duncan Callahan of Gunnison, CO in a record time of 6:50:55.

Looking back on my race-specific preparation, I knew going in that I would come to suffer at some point this 50-mile race that I was not really prepared for.  The only questions in my mind were about what form the pain would come in and how I would respond to it.  Well, the answer to the first question was a surprise.  The answer to the second question was unexpected, but acceptable.

It was a cool 50 degrees at the 6 a.m. start.  Cooler would have been better for everyone, but I am not complaining - it was a beautiful day.  All of my nutrition needs for each of the three assisted aid stations had been discussed with the family the night before and all of the bottles and flasks had already been prepared.  Because of this in-depth preparation and the thorough recon of the course during the week, I stood on the starting line without the slightest hint of nervousness.  I was excited to be there.

Climbing the ski hill.  Should have gone for the coin!

The customary blast from Ken Chlubber's shot gun started the race.  Everyone ran surprisingly fast up that steep hill - even me.  There were two people standing at the top of the hill who held special silver coins for the first male and female runners to snatch them.  As I ran I noticed that no one was really sprinting up the hill.  The guy running right next to me looked all around a couple of times before accelerating slightly to grab the coin.  The women's coin was grabbed by the great Helen Cospolich out of Breckenridge.

Within a few minutes I had settled into a pace that had me running near Helen and a one-time D-II powerhouse Western States runner, Mike Ray.  Mike and I talked for awhile about common experiences and mutual friends.  He had completed the SR 50 mountain bike ride the day before, finishing in 30th place.  Helen is a sponsored ultra runner (The North Face) who has won many of the top ultras, including the 2008 Leadville 100.  The three of us ran within a hundred feet of each other all the way to the top of Iowa Gulch.

Through running with these two accomplished mountain athletes and glancing at my heart rate monitor from time to time I knew that the pace was bordering the edges of sanity for me. I didn't care.  I felt comfortable and I wanted to get as many miles behind me as possible before the sun began to heat the air and bake me by convection.  Running along the bottom of Iowa Gulch during the early hours of the day meant running in the shade of the mountains on the eastern edge of the gulch.  It was cool and pleasant. 

Mountains still casting long shadows over Iowa Gulch.

My previous experiences running and hiking the entire out and back legs of Iowa Gulch had made me aware of how rocky and steep the jeep road became just before the foot of Mt. Sherman where we would meet up with the gravel road.  Because of the loose rock, I was trying to be careful with my ankle.  I even experimented with walking a few steps at a time.  I immediately noticed that I was walking faster than both Helen and Mike were running.  Hmmm.  I also noticed that my heart rate dropped a few beats when I walked.  Hmmm.  Then, shortly after that epiphany, I stepped on a rock that rolled my left ankle inward.  The pain was piercing, but manageable as I kept up the pace.  The turn on Mt. Mitchell two weeks earlier was worse.

As soon as I stepped onto the gravel road and turned back down the gulch I noticed that Mike had basically sprinted away from Helen and I.  When I pulled up next to her she commented about how he had reached the gravel only a couple of seconds ahead of her.  He was now two hundred meters ahead of us.  I ran with Helen for a short time.  Then I noticed that my heart rate had decreased from the mid-160's to the high-150's.  My response was to simply open up my stride a little and let gravity work more in my favor.  I soon pulled far ahead of Helen and was reeling Mike in.  Within two miles of gravel road I had put about two minutes on Helen and pulled to within thirty seconds of Mike.  Then I had to stop to remove rocks from my shoe.  I followed that with a jogging "natural break," as they call it in the TdF.  Looking back during that break I saw that Helen had made up most of the  distance I'd put on her. 

Minutes later I came into the Printer Boy aid station in 1:57 where Brandon and Tyler were waiting to crew me.  Everything went perfect.  I dropped my used flasks on the ground and drank a bottle of water in rapid gulps amid huge gasps in the thin air at just over 11,000 feet.  Then I ate a banana like a starved wild animal before thanking everyone and running away with the new bottle of fluid and gel flask.  The watch read 2:01. 

Loading up at Printer Boy I - 13.5 miles in.

The next mile was that steep "Stru-like" one mile hill I ran earlier in the week.  Almost immediately I noticed the pain in the ankle as I planted the left foot on the uneven ground.  That kept the pace honest.  Then I slid and took on more rocks which I stopped to unload.  When I bent over I became quite nauseated.  So much so that I spit out the sticky Cliff bar I had been chewing on.  I saw Helen and a guy bearing down on me as I turned to run again.  The three of us stayed close to each other during the mostly uphill 3-mile climb up Ball Mountain.  My stomach became increasingly uneasy as I climbed.  Just before the mile 18 Venir aid tent I stepped into a porta-potty - where I stayed for an agonizing 4:43.  Yes, I spent almost five minutes in a plastic sweat box while five or six runner passed by.

Knowing that I had 6 miles of mostly exposed and challenging miles of climbing and steep descending before the Stumptown turn-around aid station, I stopped to drink three cups of water and one cup of Poweraid while a volunteer filled my bottle.  I left that aid station feeling miserably weak and unbalanced.  It was only a slight grade, though, so I forced myself to continue running.  I convinced myself that the strong flavored Cliff bar was what had done me in.

The trip around Ball Mountain was not new to me.  I had run the same trail while competing in the 2008 Leadville marathon.  After the aid station the trail crested over a nearly flat alpine field before beginning a rocky roller coaster ride to the 11,992-ft saddle we would pass over.  Though the Pbville marathon course continued in a nearly flat circle around the summit of Ball Mountain, the SR 50 "trail" that descended from the pass was super steep.  This insanely steep trail varied from powdery black dirt to loose rocks as it wound down toward Stumptown.  I couldn't help but think of the bikers who I had seen at the medical tent the day before - two of them had crashed out of the race on this trail.  No wonder! 

I lost a few places on the steep descent because I was pampering the ankle.  No problem.  I had decided going into the race that I would do everything I could to keep the ankle from stopping me.  The course teased us by allowing us to pass close to the 11,130-ft Stumptown turn around before turning us down a long set of switchbacks down to 11,000 feet and climbing back up.

I arrived at Stumptown in 3:57 feeling good.  It was hot, but I had been drinking a lot and had finished both my bottle and gel flask on the approach to the aid station.  Recognizing how hot it was, I drank 4 cups of water from the aid station and a 16-oz bottle from the boys.  I also ate a banana before grabbing my new bottle and flask.  At the last moment I stuffed a package of gel cubes into a pocket in my shorts.  I left Stumptown in 4:07.  I was quite pleased with that time, but I told the boys that I would certainly be drifting back toward my 9-plus hour finish time due to the heat.  I said nothing about the ankle.

Approaching Stumptown while Ken Chlubber scares a one-eyed car.
25 miles and almost 6000 vertical feet of climbing.

Here - eat this . . .
Ty held that banana out there until I had eaten all of it.

That large intake of fluid and nutrition caused me to leave Stumptown feeling bloated as the fluid sloshed around in my stomach.  I ran down and then then began to alternate running and walking as I climbed back up Ball Mountain.  Interestingly, I passed a couple of people on this section.  Ben Lahood, a 22-year-old from Peoria, IL ran with me until he cramped badly as we ascended the steep Ball Mtn. grade.  To his credit, Ben would finish almost an hour after me. More than two dozen runners out of just over 200 starters would not finish the race.

Of note, the dizzying and nauseating feeling that comes with pushing the pace in the thin air near 12,000 feet can quickly become alarming.  I became really dizzy on one occasion near the saddle and I later passed several people who were climbing to the saddle for the first time who were stopped and panicked.  The heat certainly made the effort even more challenging. 

Also of note, I took my only spill of the day when caught a toe on an embedded rock while descending from the Ball Mtn saddle. The big toe on my left foot (bad ankle foot) took a direct hit.  It stung like hell.  I had never hit a rock so solidly with a toe, so I knew that one would hurt for a while. 
I arrived at the Venir II aid station feeling much better than I had the first time.  The time of 5:12 surprised me.  I once again took in three cups of water as my bottle was refilled.  Then I grabbed a cup of Poweraid before jogging away from the 11,920-ft aid station in 5:15.

The following three-mile descent proved to be a great challenge.  The combined pain of the left big toe and left ankle kept my stride much shorter as I descended.  Every time I tried to speed up I noticed a big hitch in my stride that would certainly lead to another problem, so I responded by shortening the stride again.

This leg of the run ended with the big one-mile climb up to the Printer Boy II aid station.  I jogged/walked it in 13:58, allowing me to arrive at the aid station in 6:07.  I was really pleased with this.  Knowing that I had climbed up to his aid station in less than two hours, I now had hope for an 8-hour finish.  I then spent way too long at the aid station as the overly helpful volunteers sprayed me with bug spray and poured water over my back.  Brandon and Tyler once again did a fantastic job of crewing, though. 

The topless, stylin' crew awaits

Is it possible to have too much aid?

Where did you hide that Organic Wit?
Judging from the yells I heard behind me as I started that one-mile climb, I knew that I had almost two minutes on at least two competitors before the climb.  That lead had grown to over four minutes at the aid station.  All of it was gone.  Two guys popped into the aid station as I left at 6:12.  They were both on the road within a hundred meters of me as we left.  Hmmmm.

I spent the next three miles alternating from running to walking as I climbed the gravel road up Iowa Gulch.  My back began to hurt and cramp when I tried to run up the steeper sections of the road, so I walked.  I shook my head, smiled, and walked.  I did look back a couple of times, expecting the two guys to be  right behind me.  They were not.  They were also walking some.  I pulled about 2 minutes ahead of them before reaching the end of the gulch.  Then I turned down onto the steep and rocky jeep road.

This is where the ankle and toe really starting hurting.  Once again, this shortened my stride as kept thinking that I would not allow a careless, fast stride to turn my ankle on the loose fist-sized rocks.  With nine miles to go I still thought I could finish in 8:15 if I made it out of the worst rocky section of trail.  With eight miles to go I left that section and noticed on a bend in the trail that the two guys behind me had closed to within about 30 seconds on the rocks.  Hmmmm.

I took off.  I was flying along at what must have been a low-6 minute pace.  Soon I could no longer see those two guys around any bends in the trail.  I rushed through the last aid station, filling my bottle and throwing back three more cups of water.  If I had not been in such a rush I would have, and should have, taken in four or five cups of water plus one or two cups of Poweraid as the temperature had reached an uncomfortable near-alpine temperature of 81 degrees.

That last 7-mile section of trail should have been the fastest and most fun.  It turned into a death march.  It wasn't the heat as there was some shade.  It wasn't the ankle/toe pain as the grade was slight enough to decrease to pain to acceptable at a full stride.  The problem came from my back.  No, it wasn't the bad discs.  My back muscles simple gave out! 

With about four miles to go I realized that I was leaning forward.  I tried to run upright, but within about a dozen strides I was bent over again.  Eventually, the muscles of my lower back began to burn like a leg muscle might during a hard 5K race.  I had to take short walks while I massaged my lower back.  When I ran, I ran fast.  My legs still had a lot of pep in them.  Unfortunately, the run distances became frustratingly shorter and the massage walks became longer as I approached the end of the course.

I found myself laughing - at the situaton - at myself.  What else could I do?  I wished that I had walking sticks like a couple of older men I had seen on the course.  I wished that I had a back brace.  I wished that the strained abs had not caused me to stop doing core exercises last month.  I badly wished for the finish line to appear.  I laughed and then laughed some more as I shook my head.  If trees could laugh I'd now be deaf from the roar.

I forced myself to run all of the last mile except the steep climb back up to the top of the ski slope.  I crossed the finish line in full stride at what had to be a sub-7 minute pace.  And, though I tried with all my might to prevent it, I was leaning precariously forward.  I felt some pride as the announcer stated that I was 12th overall and the first finisher from outside of Colorado in a time of 8:41:22.  Those two chasers came in one and two minutes behind me.

The leaning finish!

My family later teased me because the leaning kept me off balance and moving forward.  This made it difficult for the volunteers to give me my booty.  That booty included the sterling silver finisher's bracelet, the finisher's medal, and the mining pan for winning the old man category.  I certainly felt like an old man as I made my way through the crowd all hunched over!

Evidence of the fall.  And barely balanced.

 I wrote at the start of this long post that I was under prepared for the run.  The unbearable heat and humidity had shortened half of my planned long runs.  I believe that I would have done much better at a 50K distance at altitude that day.  I also believe that my experience with the LT100 did not allow me to have enough respect for the SR 50 course.  The SR 50 course was definitely much tougher in terms of both the footing and the vertical gains per mile.  My heart rate monitor indicated that I had climbed 11,104 feet or 2.1 vertical miles during the SR 50.  It is a shame that it was the descending that slowed me.  It is also embarrassing that a weak back was eventually my biggest problem.  Pardon me while I do some more core work . . .

The swollen, discolored, and filthy left toe and ankle back at A Wolf Den B&B.

I do believe I will run this race again.  I think I will make certain to come back and complete both the mountain bike and run races.  And I will be better physically prepared. I cannot have a better crew.  After having the worst possible crew experience in the LT100 in 2008, I was lucky enough to have Brandon and Tyler and Shari (pictures and logistics) provide me with perfect aid during the race.  Thanks!!

Now I must go and see if this swollen and blackened toe will let me climb some mountains.