US Mtn Championships Preview

There is going to be a heck of a race this weekend in Bend. The US Mtn Championships are coming to Mt Bachelor and with it most of the top trail runners in the country, vying for a spot on the US team. Preview the men’s field here.

The course consists of a 4k loop that ascends and descends 800+ feet on the ski trails and service roads of Mt Bachelor. Women race two loops for 8k, men 3 loops for 12k, following the World Championships format. Bottom elevation = 6400; top = 7300. Get ready to feel the burn.

Preparations

After coming back from a spring knee injury, I’ve been training for about 10 weeks and have gotten in some great work, not to mention new trails, events and mountains. In mid June I ran my first race since December, Bend’s locally famed Dirty Half, which helped scrape off the racing rust. There was a good crew to push the entire way, and I traded 4th through 8th places before the wheels sagged with two miles to go, finishing 7th in 1:19. Still not bad and with a little more fitness much better. The very same evening I drove to Trout Lake, WA to meet Annie for a climb of Mt Adams, and with more rest than the previous week on Mt Hood, the climb felt much better, affording tremendous views and some sibling bonding when altitude sickness struck. Annie proved to a be a real trooper.

Western States 100 weekend was another solid back to back effort; racing the Montrail 6k uphill challenge on Friday (39 minutes of intense climbing) and then pacing Seth the last 22 miles Saturday evening from the Rucky Chucky river crossing to the Placer track finish. WS is an incredible and humbling event; it takes a team to race 100 miles and I’m proud to be part of it. More on how Seth’s race unfolded here.

Into July I’ve been using long runs of 2-3 hours once a week to explore trails around town and in the nearby mountains. Claire and I found our way to the summit of another cascade peak, Mt Thielsen; Dirk and I ran a section of the PCT around Mt Washington I hadn’t trod since 2011; and the three of us made it above the din of Cultus Lake jet skis to Cultus Mt and back.

The the crew in Bend has turned Wednesday mornings into Bachelor sessions, previewing the course with Max King and readying the legs with repeats. This is probably the biggest advantage over my experience at the championships last year in New Hampshire. There I saw only a fraction of the course before racing it; here we’ve been able to pick every line and gauge every grade, visualizing how to best expend energy over three laps.

So is all this enough preparation? The reality is that races with tough courses and tougher competition always put you outside your comfort zone. Halfway through, no amount of preparation seems enough. And yet, it teaches you to dig down and keep going. I have no idea how I’ll finish this weekend, but hopefully I can put together the best effort possible on the day. It will definitely be fun.

Beer Chase Relay-Mt Hood Double

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On Thursday team Sole Brothers recruited me for the Bend Beer Chase, a six person 70 mile relay between the breweries of Bend, Redmond, and Sisters; on Saturday morning we were cranking out the miles in 90 degree heat, using the lawn and garden sprayer liberally, and drinking more water than beer; on Saturday evening I drove to Timberline Lodge with Courtney and slept for two measly hours; on Sunday in the wee hours I struggled up Mt Hood for my first summit.

The Beer Chase was an unplanned but fun outing with a group of fast guys in Bend who get together annually to roll the local relay scene. We got to use Focus PT’s sprinter van, which with plenty of leg room, sink, outdoor shower, and mounted speakers was the finest relay accommodations I’ve yet experienced. Everyone at the exchanges bobbed their head to our ride. We rolled to the win averaging 5:53 in temperatures that made the black top an inhospitable wasteland. At least I was wilting in the final miles. And fending off rogue farm dogs less than a half mile from Bendstillery. It was a great group who supported each other well.

After refueling at the finish line and with help from Claire to gather my things, we set off for Timberline Lodge and a chance at Mt Hood. To say the least, I was disappointed with the agreed upon 12:30am wake up call, which afforded two hours of cowboy camping sleep. Fatigue made the first few thousand feet on the mountain a bit rough, and at times I thought about turning around, or at least stopping for an extended nap. As dawn broke however, the waning stars and waxing horizon shook me awake, and the summit was close. After a brief wait at the base of the Old Chute route our group crested the summit shortly after 6am to an expanse that included every peak north to Seattle and south to Bend. A rough climb turned fantastic. Adding to the magic, Andrew broke out a special ring for Devin and we all enjoyed celebratory champagne and apple pie. No climb of Hood will ever be the same.

Round Crater Lake

I’d hiked along the western side of Oregon’s sole national park before, but never made the complete circuit until now. Superb scenery and another reminder of how cycling is such a great mode of travel. Running shoes were on the back for a midway Mt Scott run, but it was a bit snowy so will have to return for that one. Umpqua hot springs the night before were something else too.

Injury Comeback

Men's group shot

Men’s group shot

It seemed as though I would need an MRI, since after four weeks I was still limping around the house unable to shake the pain in my right knee from a skiing fall. Hiking South Sister with friends proved to be a turning point, mentally and physically. It’s been six weeks since the fall, and I’ve been running for a full week. While my knee mildly protests certain movements, overall it feels promising. The mountains took my mobility away, and then they gave it back.

The Accident

The fall came while backcountry skiing Tumalo Mtn, a small knoll across the highway from Mt Bachelor. It was my first time trying to ski that bowl, and fresh snow made the conditions trickier for me. I took a turn too slow, fell softly forward, and landed weird. My left ski popped off but my right didn’t and I felt an ominous tug on the inside of my right knee. Luckily I was able to get up and ski down the road, but I felt a little unsteady and very nervous. Funny how quickly you can go from confident to conservative. After 30 minutes in the car my knee was very stiff, not bending well, and I knew I had a problem.

I spent the rest of the week couch ridden, icing my knee, and trying to avoid extraneous walking. Burke Selbst at Focus Physical Therapy thought it could be a grade 1 MCL tear, and my doctor thought it could be a bad MCL strain. The internet described lots of scenarios I wished I hadn’t read. Recovery meant either time or surgery, and neither was what I wanted to hear. It seemed like my desire to train harder increased as my body said no. I was working against myself.

Recovery

The first week was the worst mentally, and I admit to being in a very surly mood. I went through several stages of grief while realizing I’d have to miss the Corvallis half marathon and Eugene marathon, the latter of which was supposed to inch me closer to the Olympic Trials qualifying time. Then a funny thing happened. As I realized those races were out and the only thing to do was save running dreams for later and focus on now, I began accepting the injury and I got a lot happier.

I took up the bike, borrowing Claire’s road steed and Fox’s mtn bike, and started discovering new territory in my backyard. I rode through neighborhoods I didn’t know existed, eastern country roads with horse farms and endless juniper, mountain bike trails with roots and rocks that tested my nerves and patience, filling areas on the map that had been blank spots. On climbs pretended I was in a breakaway, the peloton bearing down. On descents I savored the wind in my face and the ever-changing views. Cycling stirred my imagination on how to cover ground in a new way. I might be hooked.

The Tumalo knee incident turned into my second longest time off running due to injury (#1 being 8 weeks in 2012 for the Eugene 5k foot stress fracture).

What do YOU want to do?

I spent a good chunk of my injury rethinking my outdoor priorities and threatening to sell my skis to anyone who would listen. I started getting into skiing because I really liked the idea of fast mountain descents and becoming a more versatile athlete. Skiing down was seductive and seemed like this great nexus of outdoor pursuits. It was also not entirely realistic with my novice skills. Managing all conditions in the back country takes years of practice and even then there’s a sizable risk of injury. And while all activities carry some risk, I think what I’m looking for is a combination that limits risk where possible while still pushes personal limits.

When I really think about how I want to spend my free time, it’s moving through new places, seeing how fast I can be, and chasing the next view. Mountain running certainly carries risk, but it’s closer to my heart. Maybe the most telling sign for me is that my wish list for running/hiking/climbing objectives is much longer than for skiing. For me, right now, skiing is probably not the best fit.
Hopefully soon I’ll have trouble remembering which knee was injured in the first place. I’m looking forward to a summer of big mountain running: pacing Spooter at Western States, the US Mtn Championships in Bend, and Skyrunning races in Washington and Arizona. I have a hunch I’ll keep pedaling the bike too.

Mill Valley and Mt Tam

Photos from a March trip to the bay area for Ben DiPardo and Lindsey’s wedding. In addition to the terrific celebration with friends atop Mill Valley, got to do some running in iconic Muir Woods and to the summit of Mt Tam. What a trail system so close to a major city!

2014 in Review

A few photos from trips and visitors at the end of 2014.

California Int’l Marathon

My first road marathon is in the books. Why it took until 2014 I’m not sure, but the timing was right to attempt a fast road effort after a summer of trail and mountain running. While 2:27:28 still leaves some to be desired, CIM was an awesome introduction to big city running and a great time with my family who came out to support.

The Buildup

After two weeks down from Flagline 50k, the calendar allowed nine weeks to prepare for CIM. Sufficient but not extended. Advice from more seasoned marathoners said it was better to be a little undercooked than overcooked, which is exactly what my buildup turned into. I did do a decent amount of the requisite training including several long runs over two hours, marathon paced (MP) runs between 4-13 miles, generally more road miles, and a few hills for good measure. But I admit lacking consistency in the “little things” like core, strength, and speedwork.

My weekly mileage ranged from 70-90 (8-11 hrs), again following an undercooked strategy. Several MP workouts were done on the treadmill, the result of repeated early snow and ice in Bend. I was banking on the monotony of these particular efforts building a secret reservoir of strength. One time I stared at Max King’s 2002 All America plaque for over an hour, right next to the altitude tent. Another time I rolled to Macklemore in an airy garage and dreamed of Montana dirt roads. A keynote workout came two weeks before race day, the EWEB half marathon in Eugene. I ran comfortably to the finish in 72:15 for the win, and hoped I could double the distance at the same pace. Trying to dial 5:30 pace during these workouts it occurred to me that’s the same pace as the Luther cross country prologue workout (2:45 800m, 1:00 jog 200m), and a marathon would equal 52+ reps, no breaks. Steve cut us off at 10-12. Whew. I knew 2:24 or better would be a major effort, I knew I was still undercooked, but I was ready to go for it. Cheering my buddy Dan Kraft the previous day at the North Face 50 in the Marin headlands, along with so many other great runners, got me sufficiently amped.

The Race

There was no secret porta potty. Normally before races I can find some out of the way bathroom with minimal wait time, but this was the biggest start line I’ve ever been at. I got in just enough warm up to not feel cold, wormed past the camelback racers crowding the start, and we were off, 26.2 miles from Folsom to the state capitol. It was 50 degrees, overcast, and calm. The leaders immediately galloped away and I consciously held back from the swollen pack trying not to do anything stupid. I had no idea what pace I was running and was relieved to see 5:25 at the mile. Time to settle in. Over the next few miles a contingent formed and everyone agreed they were looking for 5:30s. Perfect. Unlike my other races this year, CIM would be almost entirely time centric. Instead of chasing places and jerseys, I was chasing minutes and seconds. We all were.

Our group clicked off mile after mile, 5:33 on the dot. We rotated the lead and passed around bottles at aid stations, strangers on a Sunday morning helping each other make the long straightaways and curving hills a little easier. My parents, sister, and Claire were out there cheering, ringing the ol Norwegian sheep bell. I was soaking up the miles and the crowds, really floating the streets. At one large intersection I held out my arms airplane style and soared past the police barricades. Through halfway in 72:35, our group had swelled to over ten strong. Our splits were a touch slower than I wanted, but with so much race left and an empty road ahead for over a mile, it made more sense to stick with the pack. Be patient with the trigger I thought, because you’ve heard plenty of stories where latter miles trump early ambition.

In the pack near halfway

In the pack near halfway

After mile 14 the group started stretching out to ones and twos, no longer four abreast. I hitched onto the pace setter as we continued to roll, occasionally catching someone who’d blown up from the hot pace ahead. Mostly, the road was wide open and empty. It was around this time I started noticing my upper hamstrings and glutes, a tightness I’ve known before and that tends to get worse with provocation. Mile by mile, the clenching crept up until it was the only thing on my mind. Our group of three clocked 20 miles in 1:50:56, still exactly on pace, but thoughts of tightening the screws over the last 10k were evaporating. When they pulled away at mile 21, I knew I was in mild damage control mode. As at Flagline 50k, no amount of sports drink, GU, or shaking out could relax those muscles; I was going to have to press on regardless and try to salvage as much time as possible. You could say this is where my race really started.

Miles 22-24 were a blur, mentally and meteorologically. A fog had descended on the course, runners and aid stations suddenly appearing out of the mist, the American river passing beneath. I stopped checking splits and just kept going, hoping the next mile marker brought good news. Call Me Maybe echoed from a street corner and briefly brought me to a better place; if only my Headwaters teammates were there with a van and non-stop motivation. Inside the last mile, a police motorcycle pulled up and hovered near. Could he sense my exasperation? The cheering got louder but seemed directed behind me. Enter the lead woman into my periphery, accelerating past a cadre of bicycles and yours truly. Fortunately, her move saved me. She was riding a wave of crowd energy down L Street, and I knew I wanted a piece of that too. I matched her stride and together we bore down on the capitol building, my legs hurting, my goal time lost, but my finish salvaged. Encouraging her seemed to bounce back and buoy me. Around the final turn I surged and gained a few strides, then it was all sound and noise sprinting those last yards, the capitol dome gleaming overhead. I ended up getting her by a few seconds.

Later, it was pointed out how funny our finish looked, her swarmed by a crowd of officials and photographers, me stumbling into the post race area alone draped in an emergency blanket. But I didn’t care, my legs could relax. Soon I had my own crowd and photographers, my mom and dad, Annie, Claire, and Dan. I caught up with fellow Bend runners and old Eugene friends, soaking it in. The palm trees and Christmas lights still seemed out of place. We spent the rest of the weekend in wine and redwood country, a great break from the taxing of the race. Wine helps sore muscles right? The company definitely did.

Final Thoughts

A few days removed from the race, I think I can put my effort at CIM in perspective. While a little disappointed with my final time, I executed great for over 20 miles, and hung tough when the race turned. I might have only been a few muscle groups away from running 3-4 minutes faster, as my engine and energy levels were still strong. Muscles can be improved, especially strengthening my hams and glutes for the latter stages. While I like the undercooked, fresh-at-the-line strategy, I could probably stand to do more miles and more pace work. And as far as Olympic Trials, it’s hard to say what is realistic. Ten minutes seems like an awful lot to shave, but maybe wisely doubling down it could be possible. I ran solid, but have yet to knock it out of the park. Either way, I want to see just how fast I can go, standard or otherwise. I’m already drawing up a racing wish list for 2015, and I think this excitement shows I’ve got a lot more to give.