Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ragnar Relay Great River 2009

Wow, what a crazy week+.

Last weekend I was out in CO and did a race up Pikes Peak. Came back Monday and floated the idea to a friend* that maybe I could try to get on a Ragnar team - be a sub on a team that lost a runner to injury. By Tue noon I was on a team... though I was a little concerned as it was a FAST team. yikes! Oh well, they took me so they must've figured adding me was better than going 1 runner short. :) [*Thanks for the help, Lisa... but I didn't have anything to do with you ending up on a fast team so you really didn't have to put me in the same 'predicament'!]

Team Picture (before)
from Kim, one of our super-studs
should've stood by someone else

Ragnar Relay - Great River 2009 was a running event that started in Winona and finished at a park in Mpls, some 194.4 miles later. The idea is to have 12 people on the team... unless you are one of the super-stud teams that decide that would be too easy so you go with less, like an ultra team with 6 runners who each run 2 legs before passing the 'baton' to a teammate. There were a couple ultra teams out there and they were very impressive, and friendly, and fun to 'compete' with.

There are specific exchange zones set up so each leg of the race is defined, and you have to run in order, stick to your assigned legs, and everyone runs 3 times. I was given what I'd consider the easiest assignment [Thanks, Mark!] - runner 12. Which means I ran the 12th, 24th, and the final 36th leg. My runs were: 3.2mi Easy, 3.0mi Easy, 5.4mi Hard for a total of 11.6 miles. For comparison, runner 5 had: 6.6mi Hard, 6.8mi Very Hard, 7.2mi Very Hard for a total of 20.6 miles. Wow!! [Thanks again, Mark!!]

Each 12-person team would have two vans of 6 runners each. I was in van 2, runners 7-12. After the start we had a bunch of hours to wait/waste until our first runner started. We went to a grocery store and got some food, drove to the first major exchange and ate... and waited. It was fun and relaxing... and then it was our turn. From then on it was a mad crazy tiring event! My first leg started around 11:30pm and then we went to the next major exchange and tried to get some sleep (2.5 hours??). We were all up by 4am and waiting for runner 6 to come in so we could do it again. I think my 2nd leg started about 8am and then we went to (runner 11) Dave's house for showers and a little more sleep (45 minutes??), and then back to the next major exchange to do it all over again. My 3rd leg started about 3pm. While our van was 'on'... we'd see our runner off at the exchange, usually stop part way into their leg to cheer, then on to the next exchange to pick them up and see our next runner off. Repeat ad infinitum, or so it seemed by the end. We started at 3pm Fri and finished before 4pm on Sat for a total time of 24 hours 39 minutes and 56 seconds (avg of 7:41s)!

So how did I do on the FAST team? Well, way better than I thought I'd do. In my email to Mark I told him about my Douglas Trail Run (flat, 11 miles, avg ~8:50s with a couple 8:30s, very good day). I said I'd run hard and that's all I could offer. I was hoping for another very good day and figured I'd be way happy with 8:30s for the two 3 milers. I believe the goal for our team was to average 7:45s. If anyone had suggested I could run under 8s I truthfully would've told them they were nuts, and had they suggested under 7:30s I would've told them they were delusional. So what did I do? According to my Garmin which came up with the correct mileage - 7:28s, 7:22s, 8:29s. What?? Really?? I was amped up waiting all day for my turn, the adrenaline was pumping, I was inspired and challenged by the event and everybody else on the team coming in minutes under their projected times... so I ran harder than I've run in years. 3 times. (It also helped that I mostly ran by myself, especially in the dark, so I didn't care that my breathing sounded like a wind storm!)

If I hadn't done it and timed it myself I wouldn't believe it. This is fast for me, way fast, so I'm blown away and a little perplexed. Now what should I think about my running? Well, the ultra training I'm doing seems to be helping, in ways I didn't expect... so I think I'll keep doing it. And maybe I should run 'harder than I've run in years' more often! :) In this case it worked out great and was a lot of fun.

The Ragnar Relay was a great event and I highly recommend it. Thank you to the organization and all the volunteers that were out there making the whole event possible! And Thank You to Mark and all my teammates - it was blast getting to know you (mainly Van 2 because of the logistics). Thanks for having me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pikes Peak Ascent 2009

The Pikes Peak Ascent was this past weekend in Colorado. It's a race to the top of Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail -- it covers 13.32 miles with 7,815 feet of vertical gain. The race starts at 6300' and ends at 14,115'. I did the Ascent which was on Sat. On Sunday was the Pikes Peak Marathon -- America's Ultimate Challenge -- where you go up AND down. And as you might expect from the ultra world, there are people that do both races!

As you'll be able to see from the pictures the weather was great! (Helen, you called it!) There was a little grapple/hail at one point and the threat of a storm but thankfully it never hit. I put on a long-sleeve shirt and gloves above treeline, but never did put on my sweatpants or winter hat.

here I am, off like a shot!

The trail is mostly smooth... a little technical in some places but not a problem. But of course I only went up, it would probably look different if running back down.

I mostly just kept going and going and watching the heels in front of me. Caught myself trailgating at times. Every now and then I had to think "look around and enjoy the views!"... so it was like most other trail runs in that regard. :)

early, in the W's

It was very crowded for quite awhile. A few gaps opened up before Barr Camp (the halfway point). But I never went very long before I'd catch someone or someone would catch me.

There was the normal ebb and flow of runners like you see in other long trail runs... I'd pass someone and then later they'd pass me, etc. There wasn't a whole lot of conversation as the day went on, but everyone seemed to enjoy a word of encouragement when it was offered... and would usually return it between gasps of air. :)

The distance and the continuous climbing are certainly factors in this race, but the big deal is the altitude... as in the lack of oxygen! This is a race, but running - well, I didn't do much of that. I basically power-hiked the whole thing... I ran a little on the street at the very beginning, and then in a couple places that were level or slightly downhill (between No Name Creek and Barr Camp). And it was kinda strange because once on the trail I almost felt like I needed to explain to people why I was running. And other runners seemed to be doing that too. When you're at the back of the pack and everything you've heard is to take it easy or you'll pay for it at the top, it seems strange to run as that seems like you're 'pushing it'. Anyway, the running parts worked out well. I wasn't racing anyone and wasn't even racing the clock... the run was just a nice change of pace and brought some other muscles into the act - my walking muscles were doing all the work and getting tired.

Above treeline I saw people sitting every so often, which didn't seem horrible. I saw one guy down on the ground with his feet up on a rock, that didn't look so good. And I saw one person getting oxygen while being walked back down by two medics... we must've been within 2 miles of the summit (which is 11 miles from the bottom) so that is definitely NOT the way to go. All the advice is to take it easy on the way up and that certainly seems like the way to go.

click for full-size picture and notice all the people!

It gets tough at the top... there's just no oxygen, and it feels like you're bonked and about to get dizzy if you push at all - a normal-paced walk put me right on the edge. Thinking about those that do the marathon, it's such a struggle that it's gotta be hard to think about going back down after feeling so slow and powerless the last 3 miles. The last 2 miles took me over 30 minutes each! It would take some mental toughness to turn around for the return trip.

Thankfully I didn't have to worry about turning around as I was 'only' doing the Ascent. There are 2 cut-offs along the way and the finish line cut-off is 6.5 hours. Even though I didn't run very much, I just kept plugging along and was relieved to finish in just over 5.5 hours. It felt very good to be done! :)

almost done


Some numbers: I beat about 200 people to the top, 1442 people beat me to the top, and only 82 people beat me in the predict-your-time competition - at 5:32:01 I ended up 2:01 over my prediction.

From my experience it's unusual (and I know some people don't like it... hehe), but they give out finisher's jackets for both the Ascent and the Marathon. And a medal. In the ultra world it seems you earn a jacket for the 100 mile races, which are certainly way harder than either of the Pikes Peak races. But what was I going to do, turn down the jacket?? No way. :)

finisher's jacket - back
simple, I like it
finisher's jacket - front
also got a medal with the same design

This was a great race and I highly recommend it.

Since I didn't run very much of this race I kinda feel like there's some unfinished business there. I don't think that I'll ever be able to run very much on the way up the mountain, which means the only way to really run on the mountain is to run back down. So yeah, I'm thinking what you're now thinking... I need to go back and do the marathon! Up AND down! Anybody want to do it with me?!?!

We'd just have to get to the top (if I can do it, you can do it), and then be mentally tough enough to turn around and head back. I think a lot of the course should be quite runnable once you get back to where you can put forth some effort without passing out.

So what do you say, any takers? Pikes Peak Marathon next year?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

SUMMIT!! 5:32:32 [5:32:01]


[Official time 5:32:01]


... from my phone

1mi to go 4:54:00

No. Air. :)


... from my phone

2mi to go 4:23:00


... from my phone

A-frame AS 3:40:00

Getting harder.... :)


... from my phone

Barr camp 2:32:00


... from my phone

No name creek 1:30:00


... from my phone

Top of W's ??? [1:01:01]

[I wasn't exactly sure when I hit the top of the W's... split of 1:01:01 is my best guess.]


... from my phone

Hydro? 18:00


... from my phone

Almost GO time...

Beautiful weather... Great forecast. About 10 minutes to start.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Pikes Peak Preparations

Wednesday I'll be flying out to Colorado Springs to spend time with my brother and his family AND to run the Pikes Peak Ascent!!

It's too late to get my body ready for the climb so now I'm making sure I have everything else ready.

This picture shows my new Nathan HPL 028.

The Nathan is loaded up with what I hope to take with me. Out-of-towners are advised to bring every type of clothing they might possibly need and then decide race morning what to use. So the other clothes pile is the "every type of clothing I might need" pile and some of that will go in my sweats-check bag the race officials will take to the summit.

Here's a pace chart the master of Pikes Peak (Matt Carpenter) has put together indicating when you should be where for different finishing times. I've printed out a modified version of this and will have it with me - I don't really know what to expect but I know I have no use for the first columns, and I figure even hitting times in the 4:30 column will indicate impending doom.

the blog plan: if it works I'm hoping to take pictures along the way and send them to this blog with my current time. It might just further clutter up the blogosphere but I think it'll be cool if it works. I don't know what my brother is going to do while I'm running up Barr Trail... maybe he'll sit at home watching my blog to get an idea of when and where he should pick me up. :) In theory the pacing chart and any blog posts should give anyone who cares an idea of how I'm doing. [Note: if you see a bunch of #@$%@#$%^@#$%@#$% and 2nd pictures of the same places then you'll know I missed a cut-off and was sent back down the mountain.]

my Pikes Peak history: my brother and I hiked up Pikes Peak in 2006 and it took me a little over 8 hours. All the advice says to take it easy on the bottom to not burn yourself out... or you'll pay for it at the top. Ok, but I need to make up more than an hour and a half and I figure the only place I *can* do that is at the bottom. So it'll be interesting. Since I've done it before I figure I can make the climb, but I am wondering if I can do it fast enough to make the cut-offs. Oh well, that's why we sign up and do these things, right??

Yeah, this whole blog post is a good indicator I'm getting just a bit excited about the whole thing! :)


Some updates -- a webcam link and a picture:

8 views from the summit of Pikes Peak

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Today's Lunch Sighting

Happy Birthday, Steve!

Mickey's Dining Car
Stop #2 on the birthday tour.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

2009 Douglas Trail 11 mile

The Douglas Trail Races were this weekend and I ran the 11 mile. This is a low-key local race, simple, cheap ($10 race day signup) and fun. The run is held on the Douglas Trail which is asphalt on an old railroad bed running from Rochester through Douglas to Pine Island. It's an out and back with one water stop stocked with... water. The overall and age-group awards are watermelons. Just a nice race all around.

Flashback: there's also a 2 mile race that's held after the 11 milers take off. I ran the 2 mile one year and actually took 2nd. Pretty much everyone runs the 11 mile and there were only about 10 of us. A friend of mine blew away the field and then the rest of us came in minutes later. So, they did the awards and everyone got one... except me! The winner and I were in the same age/gender group and everyone else was in their own. Crazy. Not all of the age/gender groups were represented so after the awards ceremony a woman gave me one of the left-over awards - that was a nice touch.

this year's shirt

Races like this are kinda scary now as they are in the 'flat and fast' category. Hmmmm. Well it actually went very well. I biked there and the 8.6 miles were a good warm-up... but then my legs felt kinda thick the first mile. Eventually I settled in and then realized I had to make a pit stop. doh. I was in a good group and was able to reconnect and hang with them to the turn-around. At that point I felt good so I took off... vroom.

I passed two women soon after the turn-around and the one gave me a really strange look. Crazy how her look and my fear went hand in hand (at least in my mind): "you're going to crash and I'm going to beat you and you're going to feel stupid". Yikes. I used that as motivation and hammered the next 2.5 miles. I did fade a little bit (it didn't help that I turned around about mile 8 and she was nowhere in sight)... but I was able to settle in and finish well. I managed under 9:00s for the 11 miles so I'm very happy with that.

So about the shirt. I've done a ton of races over the years and collected a bunch of shirts, but I think yesterday might be the first time I didn't even bother bringing it home! I gave it to Andy who figured (correctly) that one of his daughters would be happy to have it. :)


So, 2 weeks until the Pikes Peak Ascent, and 6 weeks to the Superior Trails 50! I'm jazzed to give both of these a try. Everything is feeling good right now, so I just need to remember to keep doing the 'little' things (squats, situps, adam's burpees, kel's side hip raises, etc) that seem to hold everything together.

And speaking of the Pikes Peak Ascent... just today I found a good place to train for it! Maybe just a little late. After an hour and a half at Whitewater State Park (mostly hiking, some running) I went and found the Elba Fire Tower. Turns out there are 630+ steps to get from the parking lot to the top of the hill, at which point you can climb the tower. It was pretty tough... I did it twice and I think I'll go back.