A Spring of Trail Running, 2017

Next week Annie and I are heading to southern Utah where I’m going to compete in one of my biggest races of the year, the Bryce Canyon 50K. This will be my second ultra since I ran the North Face 50K in San Francisco last December. This post isn’t so much a reflection of my race goals going into Bryce, but more of a recap of the past four months since I raced the Austin Marathon in February.

Since February, I did have a couple low points, and the worst was when I pulled my right hamstring trying to sprint a 400 meter leg of a mile relay for a work sports event. Of course I would get injured in a “fun” running episode that mattered little to my personal running goals, and it was quite a blow to my pride to walk off the track in front of more than 300 people who were out for our Wing’s sports day. The injury forced me to take three weeks off from running and focus more on physical rehab. But I’m fortunate that my body was able to heal allowing me to bounce back. March became a cross training month, not to mention a very busy month for us as we moved houses. But once my hamstring was better I was able to get on the training horse in April.

In training for this 50K, I’ve really tried to keep the approach flexible by simply adhering to some basic rules…

  • consistent running of 5-6 days a week,
  • interval training weaved into at least two of those sessions,
  • at least one weekly strength training session,
  • one weekly rest day,
  • and some kind of trail adventure on the weekends.

As part of this approach, I would assess how each week matched up to my plans, and use those results to create a plan for the subsequent weeks taking account of training results, my work and family commitments, and simply how I felt.

Additionally, I had the chance to compete a few times throughout the spring…

Sierra Vista 30K

Sierra Vista is a scenic and rocky desert trail event in Las Cruces, New Mexico held at the beginning of March. I entered the 30K with a race credit I had from last year, but I was really on the fence about competing since this was only two weeks after I ran the Austin marathon. But the co-race director, Eugene, commented on one of my Strava runs that he hoped I would show, maybe three days before the race, and that was my deciding factor, but perhaps a slightly brash move. So I raced not 100% recovered from Austin.

With a strategy of racing at my most pedestrian pace, I very quickly got competitive and spent the whole race stalking a local runner named Dylan running his first trail race, but who I later found out is a sub-2:30 marathoner (and this figures because he definitely ran like an elite). Pushing the pace on the downhill first half came to bite me on the uphill second half where I had to push through the heat and a superior round of bonking. I was surprised to meet up with Dylan again who had gone off the course by probably two miles, but found his way back. I had to suck it up to finish second which I barely held on to at the finish line. Overall, I was surprised that I could still run at a high level within two weeks of running a full road marathon.

Cactus to Cloud 10 Miler

After Matt and Cindy Preslar took over Cactus to Cloud as race directors, I decided early on that I had to be at Cactus to Cloud. The 50K race is a true journey taking runners from the desert south of Alamogordo up the steep western face of the Sacramento mountains to the alpine village of Cloudcroft. I certainly think the 50K has a lot of appeal, but this was the first year that a 10 mile race was offered concurrently which still ended at the course’s highest point in Sunspot, offering 5000 feet of vertical climbing, or 500 feet of climb per mile. So I decided to give that a go.

Racing the 10 mile, I knew there wasn’t much competition for me, so I was more concerned about beating Matt to the top to win “King of the Mountain.” While running up the fabulously difficult Dog Canyon trail, Matt blazed way ahead and I lost sight of him after five miles. Getting on Joplin road after the first aid station, possibly the only “flat-ish” section although still uphill, I geared into a tempo pace until reaching West Side road and getting to the area I was anticipating, the climb up Road Canyon which packed another 1500 feet of climbing into a 1.5 mile section. Coming around a tree, I was surprised to run right into Matt who had been cramping up, so I led the way up the climb. Of course as we neared the Sunspot solar research site, Matt found another wind and surged just beating me by less than 20 seconds. But because I was racing the 10 miler, I was able to gracefully call it good at that point.

Photo by Gay Sargent Mylius, On Course Photography

I was impressed that a lot of people from out of town showed for this race and they all seemed overwhelmingly positive about the whole experience. Matt and Cindy did a terrific job with race directing, and I could tell that a number of runners were inspired but also reeling from the brutal difficulty of the course. A number of recaps went like this… “that wasn’t a typical 50K.”

Jemez Mountain Trail Run 15 Miler

Jemez is the trail event I’ve wanted to show for ever since I got into the New Mexico trail running scene. It has a reputation as another extremely tough, high altitude course, especially the 50 mile and 50K distances. Knowing that C2C was the previous week, I opted to tackle the 15 mile. Although it doesn’t cover the expanse of terrain the other races go to, I wanted to show for a middle distance event with a defined up/down profile, especially since C2C was all up.

Knowing that this would be a much more competitive event than my previous races, I wanted to show with realistic expectations, and I figured that top 5 would be realistic. I also anticipated that the first mile would be fast as we were starting on pavement, and we had a number of high schoolers in the crowd who would push the early pace. So I wanted to be in a good position by the time we hit single track, and I knew that I could take names once we hit the climb. Suprisingly, I found myself in the lead by mile 3.  My sense of survival kicked in to sustain the effort. Using perceived effort as a rule of thumb, I pushed the climb up Guaje Ridge, which was mild compared to the Dog Canyon climb, and surprisingly required very little power hiking. After cresting, and still holding first place, I probably entered a flow state and hammered the downhill. There was at least one moment where I nearly crashed face first, but I held on somehow and finished for the win.

And this win was gratifying! Hanging out by the finish, I was interviewed for the Los Alamos Daily Post which was my first ever media experience. And the trophy was a beautiful, hand made pottery bowl created by the Toya family of the Jemez Pueblo. For winning a race previously won by some big name elites, like Rob Krar, I feel humbled.

Looking Ahead

 To be honest, I really look forward to December when I plan to take a break from training, and I think it will be extremely helpful to reset for an even better 2018. After I run Bryce next week, I’m planning to recuperate for a couple weeks, and then start another training block for some late summer and fall races, including the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC.

My races this past spring have confirmed that my wheelhouse is anything between 10 to 20 miles.

My hope next week is to run a strong 50K, stay moving the whole time, and enjoy the experience. But I don’t know how I’ll compete. In any race, I really don’t know how I’m going to feel or perform until the race actually starts. I just try to train hard, show up, and see what happens.

It seems to work.