27 June 2012

Western States: Getting My Money's Worth

You know you're getting your money's worth at Western States when:

-The last 15 miles takes you 6:44! I had 7 hours to go 15 miles to earn a Silver Buckle...and I knew it was going to be tight!
-Other walkers start passing you going twice as fast! I was getting crushed!
-AD Thornley tells you to leave some food for the other runners at the Michigan Bluff Aid Station. They also need fuel!
-A high step involves lifting your foot 1 inch off the ground while your hip flexor barks at you.
-You start singing along to the AS music. Freebird!!! AS volunteers happily pull out lighters and phones as you do your best Skynyrd Serenade. "And this Burch you cannot change!"
-Your pacer starts hallucinating.
-You start asking AS cooks for one of those "dang k-suh-dill-ahs" in your best Napoleon Dynamite voice.
-You miss your time goal by 6 hours and Tim Olson beats you by 9 hours.
-Your family and friends get worried when you are hours behind schedule. Thinking you are injured, off course, having an allergic reaction...when the reality is you're just moving really really really slow.

Overall this was one of my more memorable finishes. From a performance standpoint it was a rough and tumble day. 10 miles into the race I felt the "ultra-ache" in my legs. This feeling first occurred for me at mile 25 during Leadville 2008. When I experience this I know it is going to be a long day. I knew I could fake it for 50 miles. Everyone was telling me, "You look great!" "Smooth and relaxed!" Inwardly I knew the wheels would slowly start to fall off.

I began to analyze why I might be feeling this. I had only raced three ultras in 2012, accumulating 112 race miles compared to 2011's 210 race miles leading into States. Then it dawned on me. WS was my 4th ultra in 7 weeks. On paper it looked like a piece of cake. Two 50K's and one 50M with a few weeks rest b/t races. I had been running well and winning some races. With this confidence I decided to run Golden Gate Dirty Thirty last minute and go for three wins in a row. The decision made total sense at the time...and it was only a 50K, I'd basically start my taper after the race. Racing is really fun when you're winning. I wanted to squeeze out my fitness gains one last time before States. I squeezed a little too much. In hindsight I lost vision of the big goal- competing well at WS. This decision impacted my day from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

Shortly after Robinson Flat (mile 30) the ultra-ache began to slow my roll. I had been leapfrogging with Riddle, Bitter, and Diboun for the first third of the race. We'd been running comfortably. Aerobically it felt like a jog but my legs were heavy and aching. Here's a look at the path of destruction I experienced.

Juxtaposition. Above the waist I felt like a champ! Below the waist I had been TKO'd with many miles to go. I was two people running. Mentally I felt like the strongest runner on the course. Physically I was Old Man Burch creaking down the trail. What I was most impressed with was my attitude. On a number of 100's I have turned into a hangry, rock kickin', f-bomb droppin', slow movin', monster. During the race I was slap-happy, Mr. Positivity, joke crackin', and enjoying myself despite my physical condition. I was hydrated, well fueled, and electrolyte balanced. If only I had some legs!

I love the part of the movie Into the Wild when McCandless is in the ocean with the waves. He says something to the effect of, "It's not about being strong, but feeling strong." Our minds are so powerful. I experienced that Saturday in a physical state that was less than stellar. There's something to that experience I'm still digesting, and it is deep. Concurrently I felt a pull to the finish that I've never felt so strong in any other race. At Foresthill I knew I would finish. I knew it would be tough. I knew it would get ugly. I knew I would get it done. I visualized myself going through the course and being led to the finish. I was led by the thousands of finishers who came before me at Western States. I was led by Gordy. I was led by Tim, Ann, and Scott. I was led by the strength of finishing. No matter how fast or how slow it is, you can't take a finish away.

Emotion. I'm standing at the crossroads right now. In a few days I head off to Georgia for Basic Training. Western States brought with it a lot of finality. My last race and finish for awhile. My last time to see a lot of friends. A lot of changes and things to think about as my life begins a new chapter.

My family and I road-tripped it to the race. Mom,dad,sister and me just like growing up. Great to have them share this experience with me. It was fitting to have them finish with me. As I hit the track Sean and I waited for the rest of the team to assemble. First I saw my sister running towards me. Then I saw my mom walking slowly to us. Last it was my dad coming from the other direction with a skip in his step and a smile on his face. As one team the five of us walked hand in hand the last 250 meters to the finish. Pretty special. Even better when Thornley placed the finishers medal around my neck. He had seen firsthand everything I went through the year before when I dropped at mile 70 with airway issues. He could see the significance and meaning of this finish.

Thanks. To the family. Sean- your pacing was a tremendous boost! Awesome having you share stories and slow miles with me. You deserve a medal!

John Tidd- Congrats,heck of a race! Didn't know I was famous...especially in Uruguay...thanks for saying hi. Likewise to Josh Katzman...the world is a small place with the Web...great job!

10 June 2012

A few pics from Memorial Day Weekend

Freezing on the Roof of Colorado. Mt. Elbert.

Gisler fired up! Mt. Oxford.

Gisler, Lee, Stefanovich.

CO splendor in May!

After running the past two days in 90+ degree temps higher terrain is a refreshing sight! I've been taking advantage of the high temps to heat acclimatize for States. Friday was a good vert session at HTMP. Saturday I entered the Republic with Doug for a great run/climb loop starting at NCAR. Up the 2nd, Green Mtn. summit, and a descent in which I found my 100 mile stride. Here's to the taper!

03 June 2012

Dirty Thirty: Bringing Balance to the Force


After driving home from the race yesterday two titles came to mind for my run. The other being, "The Beauty of Karma and One Wrong Turn." The second one foreshadows my race better while the stated title brings everything full circle. As a Libra balance is an important aspect of my life. Yesterdays race brought the scales to a closer equilibrium.

Our story begins at the 2008 Run Through Time Marathon in Salida. It was an especially snowy year that left sections of the "trail" buried by 18 inches of snow. Jedi's Parr, Callahan, and TGNMP led the charge through 17 miles. The trio missed a critical turn while young Skywalker made the turn and broke trail through the crusty snow. I left a blood path from my lower limbs that guided the following runners to a safe finish with no added mileage. It was a unique set of events that led to my first career win.

Our story fast forwards to 2010 Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50M. Mexifast and I leapfrogged each other all day long throughout the course. We were within 1 minute of each other at all times. Then a shift occurred. Imperceptible to those unaccustomed with the Force. Vader's mind powers temporarily clouded Obi Wan's vision leading him past the finish turn and into the parking lot. Young Skywalker yelled frantically as he watched in horror as the Jedi Master's Runner was being pulled farther from the finish by the Dark Side. Skywalker had a decision to make. Looking back he's unsure if it was the right one. Young he was and took the victory he did while Obi Wan cleared his mind and made it safely back home a minute later. The plot begins to thicken as the scales begin to tip.

Lightspeed ahead to yesterday, 2012. Young Skywalker starts the race and notices the huge pace difference between a 50K and a 50M. The first few miles he sits in the 7th spot as the leaders have thoughts of a Benjamin dance through their heads. By the time he hit the first AS at mile 5 he had worked into the 2nd spot with Ricks a $100 dollars happier 20 seconds ahead. Skywalker closed the gap and assumed the lead around mile 7. From here he began to build his lead ascending the rock strewn trail and descending at a good clip. Then another shift occurred.

Skywalker came to an unmarked trail junction. He knew the 3rd AS had to be close. The Garmin Light Saber read 16.5 miles. Aid was at 16.8. The next chain of events speak a lot about how to live life. Sometimes we misinterpret their meanings when the answer is in front of us. Skywalker studied his options. The Emperor whispered through the trees, "Go the Right way, do the Right thing." Skywalker accepted the first voice he heard instead of truly listening to the Force. Right he went. Downhill. Out onto a paved road. Next to a bridge. "This ain't it," he so elegantly remarked. Two hikers were coming up the road. "Maybe these two hikers who have no idea that a trail race is going on will know how to direct me back on course." He desperately asked the question he already knew the answer to. The hikers responded, "Not sure where the race goes but the Visitors Center is a mile behind us."

Skywalker thanked them and retraced his steps uphill to the trail junction as Ricks sped by. His 5 minute lead was vaporized just like that. As he got back on course Obi Wan appeared and reiminded him to contemplate the following: Take the High Road. When in Doubt Go Higher. The Hardest Thing and the Right Thing are the Same. Skywalker centered on knowing the correct definition of Right. Lesson well learned. He kicked himself for taking the Easy Way Out and going down the Path of Least Resistance. The answer was in front of him all along.

Now back on course he had to let go of the deflating thoughts that tried to imprison his race. On the other side of the equation he knew Ricks had been given a huge boost to regain the lead by simply Staying the Course. Skywalker fought hard and kept his head in the game as the duel intensified. Ricks had opened up a 30-40 second lead by mile 20. Coming into AS 4 at mile 23 Skywalker had slimmed it to 10 seconds. Game on! Towards the base of the final climb up Windy Peak Skywalker had bridged the gap. Unexpectedly Ricks pulled off the trail, motioning and telling Skywalker, "Go ahead, I hate this last climb." Skywalker knew what he had to do. Put in a strong climb, tag Windy and bomb down to the finish.

The heat increased. Skywalker was sweating. His legs were feeling the drain of already ascending 7000 feet in the last 4 hours. The final grind to the top was steady, not spectacular. After the summit Skywalker started downhill with a 20 second lead. The pins were a bit crampy. Ricks looked like he was done. Skywalker kept the cramps at bay through the techy initial descent off the peak and found himself cruising down the buffed out singletrack shortly thereafter.

Footsteps. The long drawn out foot falls of someone on a mission began to reverberate in Skywalker's ears. "Crap!" Skywalker glamourously muttered. He began to recall the events of the day. How hard he had worked to get back in the race. And now it was slipping through his hands. Ricks was getting closer and closer. Skywalker accelerated. Ricks was breathing down his neck. Skywalker accelerated. Then a shift occurred.

Ricks hit Lightspeed and blew by Skywalker like he was the Millenium Falcon down for repairs at mile 28. The final AS came and went. Less than 3 miles to go! Despite Skywalker's downhill strength the crevasse widened. Soon it was swallowing buses. Then houses. And finally Skywalker's hope of making it three in a row. Dust in the Wind.

Yoda, Obi Wan, and the other Jedi runners who have lost a race while going off course accompanied Skywalker those last few miles. "It's part of trailrunning," they instructed. Skywalker sat with this simple yet profound statement. "Yes it is," he agreed, "The trail presents us with many turns. Our attitude towards the trail defines our journey along it. And running the trail is just more fun!" Yesterday, 2012 balance was brought back to the Force. Full balance shall resume during Skywalker's 2014 race season. It is an even year.

Extras: This was one of my favorite 50K's. Beautiful course, a variety of terrain, lots of inspiring CO singletrack. The post race was awesome! I made sure to plan ahead for this one and brought the camp chair and my huge bowl and spork. Why? 'Cause they were sauteeing Noodles on sight and I mos def had to get my grub on! RD Megan Finnesy and her troop of volunteers did an incredible job of orchestrating a great race and a stellar post race which is the icing on the cake for an event. Thanks to all who volunteered and made the race a great experience. And to the disgruntled hiker who was removing markings near AS 3...I shake my fist at you!

Congrats to Justin Ricks! A hard fought battle he won. It was really impressive watching him close out the race. His 2:22 marathon PR was evident in the leg speed he exhibited those last few miles. In three miles he put a minute on me. I was crawling at 5:55 pace compared to his 5:35s. Awesome.

20 days until Western States.