22 June 2019

Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k

I love this picture!

I'm jumping to ring the cowbell at the finish of the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k in Squaw Valley while holding my phone so I could film my run to the finish. I'm not crying, I am tired, and I'm very happy.

I usually travel to races alone but this time a ton of friends and Shelley were there too. Also running today were Aaron Ostrovsky and Seth Davis.

This race started at 7:00 AM which was very reasonable! Especially considering that we were staying in the Squaw Valley Lodge and our room was about 100' from the start line. :) I still stuck to my normal routine of sleeping as late as possible, skipping breakfast, and showing up as relaxed as possible. A 5:30 AM alarm was pretty luxurious considering I usually wake up at 4:30.

The night before I laid out all my gear and nutrition, pinned on my number, and all I had to do after getting out of bed was fill my bottles with water and drink some tea.

ASIDE - my strategy of not eating prior to a race (or big workout) is not random, it's based on the Hammer Nutrition SOS (Secrets Of Success) manual. I have been VERY (and pleasantly) surprised by how much of a difference this has made for me. I don't consume anything for three hours prior to a race and as soon as the race starts I start to consume liquid fuel. Pure gold.

My strong suit this year and last year has been pacing. I'm getting older and slower but by being more intelligent about my pace and optimizing my time at aid stations, etc. I have managed to record some PRs lately. I'd be lying if I said this was not pretty addictive! One big key to my pacing has been my Stryd running power meter. Which I forgot at home. Damn! I realized this on the flight here three days ago and had not been at peace with it until this morning. When you have been relying on a tool and that tool is not available, it can throw you for a loop. But then when I realized that the altitude would probably render my "normal" power numbers useless and I was more relaxed. So today I was going old school and would run by feel/perceived effort. I did have my heart rate strap but again, at this altitude, I was not sure if I could rely on the numbers.

I walked to the start and miraculously found both Aaron and Seth. We took the obligatory start line selfie.

3, 2, 1, go!

The start was on the other side of the village so the first thing we did was run through the heart of the Squaw Valley resort.

This was pretty cool! For a few seconds it felt like we were in Chamonix at the start of a much bigger race.

Yesterday at the VK I learned a valuable lesson. Wear sunglasses (which I also forgot at home) when on the snow! Lucky for me the La Sportiva tent was giving them away for free and I was more than happy to wear these bright yellow shades today. They really saved my bacon!

I was told the first mile or so of this race is the same as the start of Western States. So now I guess I have run a tiny piece of that famous course. :)

The beginning of this race heads up the ski slope for a bit and then dips into the woods. There was snowmelt running down and across the trail on the ski slopes so your feet got a little wet if you were not careful but it wasn't a big deal. What was a big deal was Aaron. I had hoped that we could run together today but he kept easing up the trail and would pass people when I felt like I was already going as fast as I wanted to. Seth was already gone up the trail.

In the woods I got stuck behind some slower runners for a while and when I finally worked my way past them there was no one in sight in front of me. Darn. But I knew better than to force it so just ran my pace which was a little faster than those folks I had just passed. After a while I saw Aaron up ahead, apparently he was also stuck behind some slower runners. :) For a little while, we were running together again.

But that didn't last long. As we hit the first big hill, I pulled out my phone to take a picture. Aaron said something like, "Get me...!" and ran ahead. I did get him, and that's the last I saw of him. :)

Solo baby! One upside to running alone is I only went my pace. But I did miss the company.

Once you start climbing in this race you don't stop for a long time. There are a couple of descents sprinkled in the climb but it's pretty much up. And up. And then you use a fixed rope. And another. And then you climb a fixed ladder. #skyrunning

Whew! It's logical I guess, but about 90% of the climbing in this race is in the first half of the loop. There is only one climb of note in the second half of the course. And if you ran the VK yesterday, hello! You get to do most of it all over again. Twice. But no complaining, this is what I came here for.

I finally made it to the top of Squaw Peak. which is about halfway through each lap.

After you crest the peak you run across a small plateau, descend a bit and then run this long traverse across the top of several chairlifts. During the first lap there were hardly any people up here but during the second lap I was dodging around skiers and snowboarders constantly. Turns out you could ski for just $5 today! It was pretty funny to be out here in shorts and a t-shirt in the snow and to see all these people staring at me with this, "What the eff...?!" expression. Some skiers did cheer, that was nice.

ASIDE - maybe I should just always wear a race number? I like it when people cheer me on.

After this traverse, you run down the biggest snow descent.

During the first lap I was being overly cautious on the snow descents but during the second lap I said to myself, "C'mon Martin, you're a skier! Go for it!" And sure enough, I promptly passed half a dozen runners. I also wiped out three times in rapid succession but the falls were no big deal. :)

At the bottom of the snowfield you did a 180 and climbed right back up. But then it was about 3.5 miles of descending to the finish. Most of this descent was on a dirt road that had a layer of wood chips on it so you could really go fast as the surface was nice and soft. And there was a section of singletrack to keep things interesting. And one small climb to keep things honest.

The first lap was hard and I was dreading the second one just a little. But as I started the second lap I realized that each time I finished a difficult section, it was the last time I would do it so that cheered me up.

On this day I was doing fine on the descents but struggled just a little on the climbs. Not an ideal situation when you are in a Skyrunning race. Thank GOD I had my trekking poles... Not everyone uses these but I swear by them for hilly ultras. On this day I was poling so much and so hard that I got a small blister on the inside of both thumbs! And my lats were a touch sore the following day. But they sure saved my back. Having poles also meant I did not need to grab the fixed ropes! I was able to kick my own steps or use existing ones and use my poles for support.

I've gotten in the habit of carrying all of my nutrition and this event was no different. I had my own gels with me and small, ziplock bags of powder that I could dump in my bottles so all I needed from aid stations was water. This strategy has worked out very well for me.

Since I usually carry two 24 oz bottles, I only needed to stop for aid twice. #winning

I used the aid station at the top of the last descent on the first lap and the one on the climb during the second lap. After that my two bottles were plenty until the finish, I think I finished with half a bottle left.

We had such perfect conditions! The views were off the charts but unfortunately, my attention was usually focused on the 5' directly in front of me. I did stop twice briefly just to look around. And I did take a few pictures.

After about half a lap the field had gotten very strung out and you had an idea of where you were. And after one lap you had a much better idea. I was running close to this group of five people during the second lap and couldn't make any progress until that last snow descent, here I was finally able to pass them. I also passed a few more people on the last dirt descent but one guy who I thought I had put in the rear view mirror came storming back and sprinted past me with about .5 miles to go. Good for him!

The finish of this race is awesome. You can see the base of the ski area for a few miles and there are no surprises so as you descend you have a good idea of how much you have left to run. And people in the village can see you with about one mile to go so the cowbells start ringing and it's a great feeling when you hear them. As I ran down the last stretch of road to the finish I pulled out my phone to make a movie but I could not switch it from camera mode to video mode while on the run so I had to stop for a second within sight of the finish. It was worth it.

And Shelley got a movie of me finishing too!

Mission accomplished!

Venues like this make racing a real treat! I love ski resort villages and being able to hang out so close to the start/finish. Like today, I crossed the line, hugged Shelley, we went for a little cool-down walk, and then I showered and went back to the finish to cheer on other runners. And eat food. And have a beer. Duh.

Some takeaways.
  • Skyrunning is what it sounds like, lots of up, down, and plenty of technical terrain. You will do your share of hiking and will probably need to use your hands.
  • The vibe at this race is great! So is the race swag and the prizes if you get on the podium.
  • Pace yourself! How often have you heard this? Well hear it again. Save something for the second lap. One of my goals was to have enough energy to really run the second descent and I accomplished that.
  • Plans change. Just one month ago Aaron and I ran almost an entire 50k together and finished within a couple of minutes of each other. Not today. Roll with the changes.
  • To my surprise, the altitude did not affect me as much as I thought it would. In fact, I never really thought about it and just ran. At no time was a gasping for breath. For sure I went slower than at sea level but it was not the issue I was expecting it to be. Nice.
  • During this race I literally didn't use anything from the aid stations except for water. And I consumed fewer calories and liquid than I was expecting. And I was fine! Probably a bit of an anomaly but this also reinforces the "less is more" Hammer Nutrition philosophy in the SOS handbook.
  • I wore a large vest and carried lots of supplies including an emergency rain jacket and first aid kit. None of this extra stuff was needed today but you just never know...
  • Lots of climbing means lots of descending. Make sure you have comfy shoes with enough cushion to survive the downs. Mine were awesome!
Here are all my pictures and videos.

Nutrition (before)
Nutrition (during)

21 June 2019

Broken Arrow Skyrace VK (Vertical Kilometer)

A Vertical Kilometer never fails to impress, and the Broken Arrow Skyrace edition didn't disappoint. Per Skyrunning rules, these events gain 1,000 meters in no more than 5k, must be above 2,000 meters and the incline has to exceed 30%. #vertisreal

If you go to any high alpine ski area that has a peak above treeline and find the most direct route from the base to the top, you get the idea. Most of the time you are not on a trail.

I have only ever run one other VK, that was at the Lone Peak Vertical Kilometer which was part of The Rut back in 2015. Looking back on that run report I packed a camera and took pictures! Hahaha...

These events take me roughly one hour to complete so I didn't need to carry anything with me. We were allowed one drop bag for the top which is always nice as you might be freezing once you finish and you always want a drink and snack.

The start time was 11:00 AM which was great! I could have a real breakfast without getting up at some insane hour and let it digest. What a treat as I usually never eat prior to a morning start.

Here I am leaving our room about 45 minutes prior to the start.

[Photo credit Shelley Criminale.]

I have never taken so little with me to a trail race! Those poles weigh less than a full handheld bottle.

You know what's crucial prior to a short race like this? Warming up. You know what I hate to do? Warming up. I know, such is my life. But I forced myself. I jogged up a dirt road from the base of the ski area and threw in a few accelerations and a few stretches of walking to recover. I knew it was going to suck but I also knew I would feel better when I was done. I was right on all counts. And I was glad I warmed up.

The start of these events is always spectacular. The gun goes off and a herd of people charge up the mountain. It's pretty funny looking.

[Photo credit Seth Davis.]

We ran up a ski slope, up some cat tracks, there was actually a small descent halfway up, and then we hit the snow. The snow slopes were so steep that the organizers had fixed some ropes with knots so we could pull ourselves up. Turns out the snow was just soft enough for me to kick my own (tiny) steps and so I just used my trekking poles and never grabbed the rope. I was able to pass a few folks on this section.

The last part of the climb is on rock/shale. It's not loose but it is steep and just before you get to the summit there is a fixed ladder with a handrail that you need to climb. I was pretty winded by this point and so needed to grab the handrail just for safety.

Once you step off the ladder there were about 20 steps that had been dug in the snow and then a 50' sprint to the line.

Here I am coming off the ladder putting my pole back on.

Once you finish you get to hang around and cheer on other racers, that was cool! Luckily the weather was cooperating and I was not freezing. This was especially nice as our drop bags were not actually at the finish, they were over a hill and down by a saddle which was about .5 miles away. Okay today but that would sure suck if the weather wasn't perfect...

I wasn't at this race alone, Aaron Ostrovsky, Andrea Ostrovsky, Holly Davis, and Seth Davis were here too. After collecting Aaron and Andrea we headed down to the drop bags.

Then we were on snow.

The path to the gondola took us across one ski slope and then down another. WHAT FUN! Just before we ran down we bumped into Michael "of course I'm running all three races this weekend" Wardian. He was so psyched about being on a ski slope with skiers that he asked me to take his picture with some of them. You can see him here on the left in the beginning of the video.

At the top of the gondola it was gorgeous! So warm and sunny. We hung out for a bit and I just soaked in the scene. And made a mental note that Squaw is an amazing ski area and we need to come back in the winter.

Eventually I reluctantly got on the gondola.

I recommend this event! The scenery is spectacular, the venue is awesome, the organizers do a super job and there is lots to do in Squaw. Plus, you know ski villages have great bars and beer...

What did I learn?
  • Sun on snow is bright! I should have worn glasses and by the time I was on the gondola, I was seriously squinting. Almost everyone else wore them for the race.
  • Pacing is important no matter what the distance! I was hiking within 100 m of the start but I also ran lots of sections. It's always better to finish strong than gas half way up.
  • You pee a LOT at altitude. Be prepared and budget your time accordingly, you will need to go again just before the start. Also, be sure to hydrate accordingly or you will suffer.
Here are all my pictures and videos.

Nutrition (before)
Nutrition (during)
  • nothing
Nutrition (after)
  • Topo Athletic MT2 shoes
  • Stance socks
  • Topo Athletic Team Shorts
  • Topo Athletic Team Singlet
  • Topo Athletic Team Hat
  • Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles
  • Garmin fenix 3 GPS watch

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