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.