16 February 2019

Moab Red Hot 55k

The Moab Red Hot 55k is entirely on a jeep road. There are occasions where said "road" is incredibly steep and/or technical (because that's what jeepers love), and about 25% of this course is on sandstone. If your raison d'etre is twisty, turny, woodsy singletrack, you might want to pass this one by. That said, sections of this course are stunning! There's nothing quite like running on top of a sandstone shelf that drops off into space on one side. Or running on the Slickrock Trail. I think the main reason I continue to race ultras is just to see new places that I would otherwise never explore so this was a welcome change of scenery.

Here I am after finishing, still practicing keeping my eyes open when someone takes my picture. Obviously, 55 years of practice is not enough.

This race has been on my radar ever since Rob Krar got 2nd here in 2015. And after his comeback from injury on the way to great things like placing in the Leadville 100-mile mountain bike race and then winning the Leadville 100-mile trail race one week later in 2018 kept me thinking about running in Moab.

Weather - you can't control it, you can just come prepared. I checked the forecast before packing my bag and it looked pretty cold. When my plane landed Thursday it was DUMPING rain and I'd be lying if I said my moral didn't wane just a little bit... Thank goodness Friday was warm and sunny. Race morning was windy and cold but the forecast was great! I run (pun intended) really cold these days so arm sleeves were not an option but I did ditch my windbreaker, buff, and gloves during this run so no complaints from me even though I was overdressed the last 15 miles. The alternative would have been brutal.

This run was one big, long core workout. The sandstone surface is always uneven and you are constantly running along a sidehill. Even on the dirt road, which was either covered in snow or really soft, you rarely had firm, even footing. Pretty much every time I put my foot down I had to stabilize myself and by the finish I was tired and sore in some new places.

What an amazing day! We had 100% blue skies throughout, the views were off the charts, and although I have not mountain biked here in about 15 years, some of the Slickrock trails were immediately recognizable to me. The first OMFG moment was after climbing up to the ridge above Hwy 191 and looking over the edge. It was a sheer (concave actually), 800' drop to the ground. I was totally winded from the climb and probably not super steady on my feet so when I noticed the two people next to me who were lying down on their stomachs to carefully peek over the edge I backed off in a hurry.

I must have run 90% of this race alone. That's a little unusual. The field was not as large as I expected with around 180 entrants and I started solidly in the middle. Specifically, there were five elites off the front, another large group behind them, me surrounded by just a handful of runners, and then the bulk of the field behind me by a significant margin. After a couple of miles I caught up to two women but they both pulled away from me shortly thereafter. In the middle of the first loop, I ran perhaps one mile with another woman and about nine miles from the finish I ran maybe three miles with a nice guy. So I had lots of time to just look around and I saved my breath.

Which was sorely needed! Holy cow. Right from the gun I felt like crap. It was not so much my legs or my heart, it felt like I was completely out of breath! I guess the race did start at 4500' and went up from there but for some reason, I thought this would be no big deal. Wrong. Where does Martin live again? AT SEA LEVEL. I was gasping for air during the first mile (which is all uphill) and even after slowing down it took me 10+ miles to recover and find my gear. It took even longer until I felt "good" again. I have gotten so used to relying on my Stryd running power meter and heart rate to guide my pace and today those numbers were just too fast. As in they looked like I was not stressing myself but I sure was.

My goals going into this race were to run sub-6 hours and to hopefully win my age group. Having never run this course it was tough to come up with a time goal but the times seemed fairly fast so I figured in spite of this event being three miles longer, it would not take more time than the Orcas Island 50k I ran two weeks ago in 5:49. Turns out this is a relatively fast course. Sure, there is a big climb in the middle and there are some technical sections but you also spend a lot of time on dirt roads with moderate grades where people with leg speed can scorch along. Listening to Sage Canaday (2nd place by five seconds) after the race it sounded like he ran pretty much every step.

Like most runners I have several pairs of running shoes. It's funny, some runners spend as much time stressing about what shoes to wear on any given day as a cyclist spends deciding on what bike to ride or what tires to run. I'm lucky that most of the trail shoes I own now have Vibram soles which I figured would be aces on the sandstone. I was right. I'm also lucky that some of the trail shoes I own (the Ulraventure) have ample cushion which I figured would be needed for all the running on the rock. And all the running period. I was also right about that. Topo Athletic shoes are great because their trail models have traction and other features that are good in the dirt, yet they don't feel slow or awkward on pavement (sandstone in this case). #winwin

This is only the third time I have entered an event that was supported by Hammer Nutrition (my nutrition sponsor) and it's a freaking dream! Although I'm in the habit of carrying all my own nutrition these days, it was so nice to know that every aid station had just what I wanted. And I actually got more than just water from one aid station for a change because of this.

When I go to races I tend to hurry up and wait meaning I get there nice and early and then relax. That was the case today. I was a little worried since all the race announcements said you could not park along the road leading to the start and we would have to walk .5 miles to get there. In this case, I needn't have worried as the parking lot is big and you can see the start from where you leave your car and most of the runners got dropped off so there were not that many vehicles. What I could also see was a fresh, liberal dusting of snow!

Walking to the start was a mixture of, "What am I DOING" with, "This is so BEAUTIFUL!" with, "I'm already shivering and the start is still over 30 MINUTES AWAY!"

Here I am at the start having just put my finish line drop bag in the truck. Apprehensive? Just a tad, does it show?

This person in the down skirt had the right idea.

The race got started and immediately I felt like utter garbage. Yikes! Was two weeks an inadequate amount of time between races? Had I effed up my training by not doing exactly what I was supposed to? Did I drink too much 4% beer in the last two days? Okay, it's pretty hard to drink too much 4% beer so at least one fear was quickly allayed. And I have run enough ultras to know that sometimes you just need to let the race come to you. So I backed off my pace and waited. And waited. And waited some more... Good grief, this might be a hard day?

I have become a HUGE fan of my Stryd power meter and have been using a heart rate monitor for decades. In 2018 I had my best results ever by relying solely on my power numbers and when I looked at my watch today, neither my power nor heart rate was alarming. In fact, it was well within my abilities. So why did I feel so bad? Nothing to do but slow down so I backed off the power by about 10 watts. This meant I had to walk some of the early climbs instead of jogging them but it was needed.

Looking at the aid station spacing, I figured I would only need to stop at #2 (mile 12?) and #4 (mile 25?), there were five total. And that's pretty much how it played out. Turns out I stopped at #5 (mile 30?) too for a quick top off of HEED but didn't drink very much of it, I was just playing it safe as I had drained an entire bottle since the last aid station.

If I'm on my A game, once I start passing people they don't usually pass me back. Well two weeks ago at Orcas one guy passed me about two miles from the finish on the last descent and today a woman and man passed me about one mile from the finish on the last descent. And I like descending! I guess I'm slowing down or am not quite as strong as I need to be in order to hammer the downhills later in a race.

Here I am, mostly just happy to be done.

The finish line "expo" was outstanding! The sunny, warm weather sure didn't hurt and right after Bryon Powell hung a medal around my neck I was able to avail myself of food (snacks, chili, cornbread), drinks and a beer garden sponsored by Moab Brewery. Nice! And when you are ready to leave, there is a shuttle to drive you back to the start.

Here are some takeaways, I love lists!
  • Even though I am a giant fan of trekking poles I did not bring them to this race and it was the right call. The biggest climb that would have warranted poles was just a little over two miles long and almost entirely on sandstone so I had super traction.
  • The first half of this race slippery! It looked like a vehicle had driven the road we ran on just prior to the start and the tire tracks where the snow was packed down were slick as shit. I opted to run in the fresh snow right down the middle or on each side. Once we hit the Slickrock, all the water puddles (there were a ton) were frozen and there was ice in random spots. You really had to watch where you put your feet.
  • There isn't much vegetation out here and there is even less on the Slickrock. Course marking left something to be desired if you are used to being led around by the hand. Every time I tried to speed up I had to look down more to ensure I didn't step on ice or into a crack or twist my ankle; of course this meant I messed several ribbons. I think I took a wrong turn about four times but luckily each time was not more than a 100' detour. And truth be told, there were loads of opportunities to go your own way from ribbon to ribbon, it was pretty fun "route finding" actually. Frequently I would just follow the paint markers on the sandstone or do some dead reckoning and just run hoping I got it right. I usually did.
  • Less really is more when it comes to consuming calories in a race. Of course you shouldn't overdo this but every time I eat or drink a lot my gut rebels and I can't run. Why be burping (or worse) when you don't need to? I just kept sipping from my bottles and ate a few gels.
  • Normally I'm that guy eating and drinking more than their share after a trail race but not today. I had my recovery drink and then suddenly got very cold so changed my clothes and waited for a shuttle. It didn't come right away so I grabbed some chili but had to eat it really slowly. I guess I worked hard. I had on a hoody and a down jacket and Sealkinz hat in the sunny, 50-degree afternoon.
  • I really do not excel at races that are so runnable. Is it lack of foot speed? That I'm a bigger guy? That I don't have a running background? All three? It's frequently hard for me to focus on moving forward when I'm on a long dirt road. Give me a huge climb any day! Not that climbing is easy, but it's easier for me to focus on the effort.
  • One good thing about running with power is that it keeps you honest on the flats and descents. I suspect that is the only reason I did as well(?) as I did because I sure wasn't setting any PRs on the uphills today. Which is ironic in light of what I just said above.
  • You'd think I had learned this by now and wouldn't let it get me down but when you start out feeling slow and labored, it takes patience and confidence to stick it out rather than throwing in the towel. Around mile eight or nine I finally felt like I was moving consistently and it wasn't until around mile 15 or so that I felt like I could push the pace on the climbs. From there on I felt mostly normal.
  • I did fade a bit in the last three miles (which were all dirt road) but not as much as I might normally. For sure it was more than I wanted to. I need to rediscover my mojo from the 2018 Chuckanut 50k where I was able to close really well while running on the flat. Guess what Martin, every race can't be your best race. :)
  • I have noticed that my hands sometimes swell when I run an ultra. It happened again today and I think I've figured out that it's when I don't use trekking poles and my arms are constantly swinging by my side forcing blood into my hands. I know my venus return system is shite because I get cankles at the drop of a hat and this must be another manifestation of that lousy system. At least it goes away quickly, faster than my ankles anyway.
  • There is a loooong dirt road downhill between aid station #2 and #3. The dusting of snow had melted by the time I got here so it was a giant, greasy slip & slide. I am so glad I wore trail shoes.
  • Sometimes after running an ultra, my legs have a hard time quieting down. I'm super tired but when I lie down my legs sort of twitch or "vibrate" and actually sleeping is tough the first night. Today I consumed twice as much CBD as I normally do after a race and then had some more before going to bed when I felt like my legs might act up - I had 100 mg after the run and another 100 mg with dinner for 200 mg total. My legs were fine and I slept super well. Love it!
I would recommend this race to anyone that loves to run on sandstone, that loves to run period, that loves views, and that loves running in the dry. Looking at reports from the past few years it is rarely wet here. Other than the mud on the dirt road descent I mentioned above and a few puddles on the course, the entire route was really dry! Even the sections of dirt road where your foot sank in because it was soft did not cling to you. I finished looking cleaner than I ever have after a 50k. There was just a little mud on the toes of my shoes. Did I mention I didn't fall down once? Yes.

Here are all my pictures and videos.

  • 1st - Men 50-59
  • 32nd - Overall
  • official results
Nutrition (before)
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)
Here is my Stryd power file.

02 February 2019

Orcas Island 50k

4th time's the charm!

I have been knocking on the door of six hours at the Rainshadow Running Orcas Island 50k for some time and finally managed to get there. I was not the fittest I have ever been but we had a super day and my pacing definitely is much better than it used to be so today really was a case of (my more) experience(d) (self) triumphing over (my more) youth(ful) (self).

Thanks to James Varner for doing what he does so well!

Here is my history at this race.

2013 - 6:04
This year I (re)sprained my ankle pretty badly early on which cost me some time as I slowly recovered and accelerated.

2015 - 6:02
No physical ailments this year, but it was really wet and muddy which slowed everyone down.

2017 - 6:07
I fractured my fibula one mile from the finish! That cost me 10-15 minutes.

2019 - 5:49

My previous efforts indicate I had a sub-six run in me all the time so it's super satisfying to finally pull it off. Showing up healthy and finally having an incident-free day sure helps. :)

Pacing has been my mission ever since the beginning of last year. I know, I know, why not all the time? Well as anyone that competes knows, it can be hard to actually execute a plan. I always thought I was okay at pacing myself but the truth was I needed to start even slower. Last year I finally began to walk the talk. and it has paid off big time.

What changed? Two things.
  1. I got older. Seriously, I knew I was not getting any faster so I tried to focus on the things I could improve like being more efficient at aid stations, my fueling, and pacing.
  2. I got a Stryd running power meter. I have used power meters for years racing bicycles but until recently there were no good options for running. Stryd is great! It's incredibly consistent (much more important than accurate - but it also appears to be very accurate), super easy to use, and power is the most objective and reliable indicator of how much work you are doing. I wear it for pretty much every run and race.
The start was very chill. I got there early, picked up my number, and relaxed in my car. With about 15 minutes to go I walked over, did a light warmup, listened to James' pre-race announcement, and we were off.

Speaking of pacing, it always surprises me how many people appear to be gunning for a 10k PR in an ultra. I started near the front just to try and avoid getting mired in the herd but at least 80 people passed me in the first two miles. On the other hand, only one person passed me between mile two and the finish.

Once I had been running for a few minutes I switched my watch to the screen with heart rate and power. Whoops... looks like I had forgotten to put on my heart rate strap. Oh well, that data is nice to have but I really only use my Stryd for pacing so tried to not let it bother me.

Based on an excellent run at last year's Chuckanut 50k, I guessed I could average 285 watts today. Proving that I'm not perfect at pacing, I made two mistakes. Last March I was fitter than I am now (and last year I already had a race under my belt come February) and this race starts with a big climb and I let my power sneak up a little too high. On the paved climb, I kept seeing 300-320 watts and on this day that was just a little too much. It always feels easy at the beginning of an ultra, right? In the end, I averaged 260 watts and faded a bit in the last six miles. My climbing felt pretty good, but my flat running (lack of fitness) and descending (lack of strength) was not the best it has been. Kind of a bummer too because I love to run downhill!

Looking at the aid stations in advance I figured I would only need to stop twice. I usually run with two 24 oz bottles which is a lot of fluid on a cool day so figured I only needed to stop at mile 13 and 20. Turns out that was perfect.

Ever since I switched to liquid food as my primary fuel aid stations have gotten much easier. I just pull up with a bag of powder in my hand, dump it in an empty bottle, and get it filled up with water. Done. Both times I showed up at aid stations today they were not crowded so I was even able to ask a volunteer to do this for me and was able to calmly eat a gel while getting serviced. Nice!

Another thing that has let me run worry free and focus on my pacing has been my shoes. I can't overstate how important comfy shoes are. They should not rub or bind, they should not impact your toes on descents, and you should feel like you have control. My Topo shoes do all that.

I dressed perfectly today. I had on a little more than some other runners but these days I don't run very hot and it worked out. I was warm at the top of the first climb but it cooled off again on the Power Line climb so no problem.

Here are some highlights.
  • Orcas Island is so freaking green! There are several, long sections of this run where the trail or road is totally surrounded by fields of vivid moss. It looks like the trail has been cut through a big, fluffy, green quilt! So beautiful.
  • I felt good on all the climbs. Even on Power Line and the subsequent climb I was still doing okay. I love trekking poles!
  • I ran for a while with this guy in sandals that would burst into song every so often. The first number I heard sounded like an original as it was about descending too fast and needing to recover. Later on he sang Macho Man by the Villiage People. Twice.
  • I was hoping to see some of my friends during the run which didn't happen. But I saw a ton at the finish! So cool to be a part of this community.
  • On the Power Line climb I caught this 20 something named Chris. After just a few seconds of hiking together, he spouts off with, "I thought I was going to be the only Clydesdale in the front of the pack." I gotta say, Chris was super game. He was running all the flatter sections and smoked the descent after Power Line. And he was a huge talker. You know, all the stuff someone who is running their first ultra would say.
    • "Boy, I sure am thirsty!"
    • "Man, this climb is hard!"
    • "Wow, I am so psyched!"
    • "My friends aren't going to believe this!"
  • On the Power Line climb I heard this one guy say to another behind me, "If your ass was any tighter, you would split your tights." I'm pretty sure that he meant it as a compliment (and in retrospect, I'm pretty sure it was Chris that said this), but at the time I almost laughed out loud. Truth be told, the guy the talker was referencing did have a very athletic ass.
  • About one mile from the bottom of the last descent (that's about 2.5 miles from the finish) this guy in a bright orange shirt passed me. I saw him behind me for a couple of miles but could not hold him off. To his credit, he was very polite and told me I had a good chance of going sub 6. Until then I had not dared to look at my watch, after he told me this I glanced down and saw I had about 22 minutes to get to the finish. With only about 1.5 miles to go that was a real morale booster.
  • I think I set a personal record for least calories consumed during a 50k. I sort of wanted more but every time I tried to drink in the second half of the race I would start to burp. I figured less was more on this day. Luckily it worked out.
  • My weight is the heaviest it has ever been since I started running ultras and this was my best time on this course. Take that body image.
  • It's only the beginning of the year but even after running this race my toenails were perfect.

Here are all my pictures.

Nutrition (before)
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)
Here is my Stryd power file.

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