Monday, July 7, 2014

2014 Moab's Alpine to Slickrock 50 Mile: A Trip From Clouds to Furnace

When Grassroots Events race directors Justin Ricks and Chris Martinez told me they were moving the date of their Moab's Alpine to Slickrock 50 Mile from September to July I shuddered.  I had run this event two times previous (see my 2012 report here), however I'd spent three years living in Moab and knew that July was not the best time to dance too long in this southeastern Utah desert.  Temperatures would easily top triple digits and tree and cloud cover would be at a rare premium.  Initially I balked at the idea of starting an event that was already hard enough.  With 10,000' of gain in its first 28 miles amongst the sky-scraping La Sal Mountains followed by a 22-mile knee jarring descent into Moab's Slickrock Trailhead, I knew the added heat component would certainly add another dimension of difficulty.  Then I "warmed" to the idea.  Why not challenge myself, test my early race day pacing, and fluid and nutrition intake in some of the toughest conditions imaginable:  rugged and sometimes indiscernible trail, oxygen deprived altitude and 104 degree desert heat.

Here's a video teaser of the race from 2012.

Just like the other old and new events on their race calendar, Grassroots Events did a stellar job of presenting MAS as a professionally orchestrated, yet low-key race.  Thanks fellas!  Yes, some runners were caught in hail, rain and thunderstorms, some stepped in cow patties and others missed critical turns and added miles to their day.  This is a tough event and has truly earned its "mini-Hardrock" moniker.  Per usual...some photos from race day!  Cheers!

Headlamps were needed for the 5am start, but once the sun rose Bryon Powell caught this low-light shot of me covering some of the early mile scree fields.

Again, a Bryon Powell photo of my back side crossing some of the high alpine meadows.  Where's the trail?

Coming into the first crew accessible aid station at Oowah Lake (mile 16).  Emily Harrison captured this moment and would also crew me through the long, warm day.  Thanks for getting me in and out of aid stations fast Em!

Coming into the Warner Lake aid station at mile 25.  Photo by Harrison.

Looking into Miners Basin and the course's final descent.  Photo by Chris Martinez.

Speaking of descents...Miners Basin Road is all quads (mile 32).  Harrison's photo.

A view from the Porcupine Rim (mile 35).  Photo by Martinez

More awesome views from the course as we descend into Moab.  Photo by Martinez.

The final 7 miles on the Sand Flats Road.  100+ degrees and clearly exposed to the sun. (photo from Matt Hart)

The guy I chased all day.  The 2014 MAS winner Matt Hart.  Photo by Meghan Hicks.

Crossing the finish line for a third year in 10 hours and 18 seconds.  Photo by Hicks.

The final strides and final stages of baking.  Photo by Harrison.

Your Moment of Zen

Oh how I wished I could have had access to this watery fun in the final 20 miles!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 Mount Evans Ascent Race

Mount Evans' (14,264') summit from Summit Lake (12,850')

Ever since my father, Paul Torrence, told me about the horrible conditions (wind, freezing rain, snow, drastically dropping temperatures and lack of oxygen) he faced at this race years ago, I knew this was an event I had to try myself.  I finally remembered to enter the always sold out Mount Evans Ascent Race this past November.  I'd finally get my chance to test my mettle at "America's Highest Road Race" and bag another Colorado 14'er in the process.

The course as seen from the summit.

At 14,264 feet Mount Evans looms over the Colorado front range.  A one-of-a-kind paved road winds to within a quarter mile of its summit.  The Ascent Race starts near Echo Lake (10,600') and climbs nearly 4,000' in 14.5 miles.  On the way runners struggle for air, fight a variety of grades, and battle the weather of the day.  This year that would consist of sunny skies, but some tough (40 mph gusts) winds.

Read Nancy Hobbs' post-race report.  Full race results are here.

Thank you to good friend Carey Martin for providing these awesome photos.  Also must thank Emily Harrison, David Martin, Jana Gustman, and Mason Martin for their race day support.

Boulder Running Company's Andy Wacker would claim victory in 2014 in 1:44.

Nike's Zach Miller finishes third overall in 1:51

Marathon killer, Jeffery Eggleston, deviates from his usual terrain to finish 7th in 1:57.

Fellow Flagstaff runner Forrest Boughner finishes in 2:02.

Stevie Kremer, who has run under 2 hours for this event, finishes second in the women's race today in 2:07.

Jason Bryant finishes first in the 40-44 age division in 2:08.  The first runner from the east coast. 

Catching air where there is no air to catch.

The final steps in the chute and a 2:18 finishing time.

Looking down on the Chicago Lakes.

Summit Lake sits along mile 9 of the course.

Mount Evans' rugged summit slopes.

Race spectators donned their winter parkas.

The spoils of victory: my race bib, finishers medal, "A Rock" for finishing under 2:40, and a clay bowl for taking third in the 40-44 age division.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Inaugural Behind The Rocks 50K & 50 Mile

A few months ago Chris Martinez and Justin Ricks, the race directors of Grass Roots Events, hinted that they were putting on a new race in Moab, Utah.  This inaugural event would be in addition to their already wildly successful Red Hot 55K/33K, Alpine to Slickrock 50 Mile, and Amasa Back 6, 9 & 14 Mile.  They didn't have to nudge me too hard, I immediately added The Behind the Rocks 50K to my racing calendar.  The new course would navigate runners around Behind The Rocks (the race's namesake), a Wilderness Study Area south of Moab known for its sandstone fins, cliffs, and arches.  It was an area I frequented when I lived in Moab a decade ago and I looked forward to getting back to those lonely trails, deep canyons, and wide open views of the snow-covered La Sals and Abajos, the two prominent mountain ranges in southeastern Utah.

The 50K course weighed in with 3,500 feet of elevation gain over its 32 mile distance.  The deep sand running and technicality of the slickrock also added dimensions of difficulty.  As promised, the race did "...highlight Moab's last hidden gem."  50 mile racers were in for a longer day as the race covered ~56 miles of rugged Utah red rock, washes, and climbs.

Thank you to GrassRoots Events and all their volunteers for laying out an event that is certain to grow in the coming years.

Thanks also to Emily Harrison, Brandon Stapanowich, and Karah Levely-Rinaldi for some of these photos you'll see below.

The view as the sunsets from the Behind The Rocks start/finish line.

Co-race director Chris Martinez gives a last minute course briefing.

The start of the 50K.

The very technical single-track on the Hunter Rim Trail (mile 14).

Looking over the edge and down to the canyon bottom where we'd eventually end up (mile 15).

Arriving at the Gatherer Canyon aid station (mile ~16).

Looking back up at the Gatherer Canyon ascent.  Yes, there is a trail here among the rocks and ledges (hands necessary).

Aid station #3 for the 50K'ers and #7 for the 50 mile runners.

Descending on Kane Creek Rim Road, seven miles from the finish.

Done and done.

180 ultras later and still able to collect a tally mark in the "W" column.  
I'm happy that it was Martinez there to congratulate me on my finish. 

A view from Jacob's Ladder at the Jackson Hole aid station on the 50 mile course.

Kane Creek Road, also part of the 50 mile course.

Prostitute Butte, the beacon indicating that we were very near the finish line.

Your Moment of Zen

Are you looking for a summer ultra adventure that'll blow your mind?  May I suggest the Moab's Alpine to Slickrock (MAS) 50 Mile on July 5th, 2014.  It's a little-known, low-key, and well organized contest that highlights both the 12,000+ La Sal Mountains and the Moab slickrock desert.  It's the perfect preparatory event for those fall mountain 100-mile races.  It has it all: running at dark, heat, and altitude.  Check out this new video about the MAS50.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A 50K National Road Championship Victory: A Coach's View

Emily Harrison wins the 2014 USATF 50K National Road Championships.

On March 2, 2014, on Long Island, New York, Emily Harrison crushed the Caumsett State Park 50K course record by running 3:15:00.07.  In doing so she won a USATF National Championship and ran the second fastest 50K in North American history.

Many folks have inquired about her training and tactics going in to the event.  When asked about her training Emily quietly states that her "coach" might be more apt to shed light on the "nitty gritty" of her training.  Here's my attempt to do that.

Let's first define what constitutes coach and athlete for the purposes of this article and this particular training cycle.  Not once did I don my sweat pants and whistle and stand at the side of the road or track yelling out encouragement or splits.  I built the training plan, altered a few workouts depending on how she was feeling, and offered encouragement during the non-running hours.  I "ran" water for her once on a long run in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  She joined the Northern Arizona Elite group less than a half-dozen times for workouts.  90% of Emily's miles were done solo.  A testament to her dedication to the end goal.

The Impetus:  Why the 50K Road Championship? 

This event didn't enter the picture until the 2013 JFK 50 Mile was completed.  Emily won the race, but with a time that was slower than the year before when she went head-to-head with Ellie Greenwood.  The training prep for her 2013 JFK was abbreviated as she struggled for months, post-2013 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, with a nagging knee injury.

Emily desires an Olympic Marathon Trails qualifying time.  The idea of attempting this task this spring was batted about, but we agreed that the timing between JFK, proper recovery, and her next goal, the 2014 Western States, was not optimal.

Building confidence was paramount.  I suggested the 50K at Caumsett as a way for Emily to do this without necessarily instituting tough marathon training.  Race pace would be slower.  Endurance and strength would overshadow the need for speed.  The idea of a national title and a shot at an American record was also enticing.

The Training:  "The Nitty Gritty"

We had this knowledge:

Emily at 2013 Gaspin' in the Aspen 15K.

  • Emily had a stout running background.  Lots of high school, collegiate, and post-collegiate success.  While running for Team McMillan Elite, under the tutelage of coach Greg McMillan, she posted a 2:32:55 at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2011.  She had already forayed into the ultra-world with 6:17 and 6:35 finishes at the JFK 50 Mile and a 7th place finish at Western States.  
  • She was already fit and fast.  The only thing her coach had to do was keep her confident and injury-free.
  • The injury-free component was easy to achieve.  Strength work, flexibility, and weekly visits (or more when needed) to Dr. AJ Gregg at HYPO2 was needed to keep the worst niggles at bay.
Long training run in Fountain Hills, Arizona
  • Building Emily's confidence was a tougher cookie to crack.  Like most runners, Emily compares her present day workouts and race performances to Emily's of the past.  In order to mitigate this factor we did workouts that weren't involved in training cycles of the past (a half-marathon race, 1200-meter repeats on grass, long runs with mid-run pace changes).  We still threw in her favorite workouts and those she usually excelled at (Buffalo Park hill circuits, Lake Mary steady state runs, and tempo intervals).  And to remember she's training at altitude.
Buffalo Park hill circuits with Kellyn Taylor and Amy Van Alstine.

The Training & Racing Highlights

The plan

  • January 2nd - Emily's first workout after six weeks of doing nothing more than 40-60 minute easy runs:  6 miles at steady state on paved Lake Mary Road averaging 6:04 pace at 7,000'.
  • January 11th - "An epic fail," says Emily.  16 miles at 7:43 pace on forest roads.
  • January 12th - But she volleyed the following day with 14 miles at 7:15 pace on forest roads.
  • January 15th - Speed Intervals (4 x mile): 5:23, 5:22, 5:20, 5:19. solo
  • January 18th - 8-mile steady state on Lake Mary (total time 47:43)  splits:  6:09, 6:04, 5:54, 5:52, 5:54, 5:56, 5:58, 5:56 with NAZ
  • January 22nd - Buffalo Park hill circuits with NAZ (4 x 2 mile circuit in 52:36)
  • January 25th - 20 miles averaging 6:43/mile on Lake Mary Road solo
  • January 28th - 15 miles total with 3 mile fast finish (sub-5:50/mile pace) with NAZ
  • February 9th - 20 mile pace-changing (between marathon & half-marathon effort) long run in Fountain Hills, AZ, averaging 6:34/mile on pavement
  • Feb 11th - Grass 6 x 1200m with NAZ:  4:14, 4:06, 4:09, 4:07, 4:07, 4:05
  • Feb 16th - IMS Half Marathon on roads in Phoenix in 1:15:45.  HM PR, 1st!
  • Feb 19th - Tempo Intervals:  "I was going backwards, so I pulled the plug on this workout," says Emily. 6 x mile: 5:47, 5:51, 5:53, 5:56, 6:03, 6:12  Too much too soon after the half.
  • Feb 22nd - 14 miles with 6 mile fast finish, averaging 6:02/mile on the final 6 miles.
  • Feb 26 - Cruise intervals on "Trina's Loop" road. 4 x 1000m: 3:26, 3:31, 3:24, 3:33
  • March 2nd - Caumsett USATF 50K National Road Championships: 3:15:00, 1st!

Race Day Strategy

Making fast loops at Caumsett.

The goals in order of priority:

  • National Championship victory
  • American Record:  6:12/mile pace.  Simply hold the pace until you can no longer.
  • Course Record: 6:26/mile pace
  • Run even splits and fuel with a combination of gels and maltodextrin/water mix.

Payday with race director Carl Grossbard.

Emily accomplished big things, however the big goal still alluded her.  She says trying again in 2015 isn't out of the question.  See Emily's splits here.

In closing, it is interesting to note that on our race morning warm-up Emily uttered, "I really don't feel like doing this today."  Coach's response, "Mmmm, let's get back.  They'll be starting soon."

Congratulations on winning huge Emily!

Special Thanks
To Caumsett State Park 50K race management, Cheryl & David Harrison, Pat Burba, Phil & Sandra Morris, Northern Arizona Elite, Team Run Flagstaff Pro, Dr. AJ Gregg & HYPO2, adidas, Nathan Performance Gear, Injinji, and New Belgium Brewing.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

2013 JFK 50 Mile

The start in Boonsboro, Maryland of the 51st annual JFK 50 Mile.

Enthusiasts call it "38 Special."  Others have dubbed it "Mondel's."  The official JFK 50 Mile course material calls the aid station at 38.4 miles "Taylor's Landing."  The name doesn't really matter, but it's what happens there that is of most runners' concern.  It's an idyllic spot.  You're on the banks of the Potomac River, the Canal towpath is split into two seamless single tracks by a ribbon of green, mid-road grass, and historic stone houses line the road opposite the dry C&O Canal.  However, like at the Battle at Antietam, which occurred a few miles away and more than 150 years earlier, this is where the shit goes down at JFK.  Potential front runners must make a gut check:  Push with all they have to maintain their top standing or watch their position slide quickly to hungry pursuers.  Middle-of-the-packers assess the bodily damage they've incurred over the previous wild and rugged miles of Appalachian Trail and endless, repetitive towpath.  Back-of-the-pack runners can not dally either or they risk not making the 5pm cut-off at Dam #4 less than 3.5 miles away.

Not until I reach "38 Special" do I want to know where I am in the field or what my splits are.  I've run enough JFK's to know that you can have an excellent 38.4 miles (PR potential stuff) only to have a brutal final 11.8 (see walking).  On the other hand, a rugged to mediocre first 38 can still be salvaged so that you end your race decently (relative to other runners).  

After 20 starts and 19 finishes JFK has never been the same race for me.  The weather, competition, and my own personal circumstances always see to that.  Two decades is long time.  Did I drive over in the morning from my mother's house in Gaithersburg, MD, am I fresh off the plane from Vegas, Moab, Seattle, or Ashland, or did I just roll into Hagerstown from Flagstaff in my pick-up?  Did I just spend the last month slinging packages for UPS, was I working the previous eight days in the Canyonlands National Park backcountry, was I at another race two weeks earlier promoting a new trail shoe, or will I be scanning the results after I finish trying to locate the athletes I helped get to the starting line?

Who knows from which direction I'll come in 2014.  But I'll tell you this:  I'll be at that starting line next November in Boonsboro going for my 20th JFK 50 Mile finish.

2013 photos by Geoffrey Baker.

2013 photos from the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

Who's legs' are those?  (left to right) Iain Ridgeway, Matt Flaherty, Tina Husted, and Ian Torrence

Dropping into Gathland Gap (mile 9.3)

Rock dancing on the Appalachian Trail

Emily Harrison leading the women's race on the C&O Canal.

Passing through Antietam aid station at mile 27.1 (Thanks Steve Itano for the photo).

Catching some fluids at "38 Special."

My training partner and confidante, Emily Harrison, wins the 2013 JFK 50 Mile and receives kudos from race director Mike Spinnler. 

Finishing number 19 in 6:44:54

My 19th pat on the back from Pink.

A few of the top men's JFK blog posts:

Your Moment of Zen

Paramount JFK training:  VO2 max and "the urge to regurge" practice at the 2013 Flagstaff High Altitude Beer Mile.  Trying my damnedest here to outdrink Olympian Andrew Lemoncello and 2x Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier Ben Rosario.