The month of October has been an interesting one for running. Coming off a so-so September where I got some good running in but all in the summer heat and never really feeling "back" or even strong at any one point. Temperatures dropped and my legs and lungs came back as I started to pile on some long runs. I started out with the Mazatzal 18 miler which was borderline disasterous with my stomach issues. Following weekend I ran the Grand Canyon for the first time. I felt amazing the entire 47 miles and powered up the South Rim faster than I ever have by HOURS. I felt so great after 47 miles and 20,000 feet in elevation gain that I was more confident than I have been in a long time. I mean, if I can do that well in the Canyon...shouldn't I be able to push that level farther, faster, and longer? I think so.
Fast forward to this past weekend where I paced my friend in his first 100 mile race, the Javalina Jundred here in Phoenix. I felt tired earlier in the week from the Canyon but that disappeared after a fast and hilly WMRC on Wednesday. Friday I had my first test with the ASU Ultra study. That made sure of any rust on my legs to be completely destroyed and flushed out of my body. Wearing a mouthpiece to capture my breathing, nose plug and heartrate monitor I pounded out 7 minute miles for 7 minutes. Then the grade was pushed to 4.0 for another 5 minutes at 7 minute miles. Then 5 more minutes at 6.0 grade with 7 minute miles. Then again to 8.0 until 2.5 minutes in I was stopped involuntarily because my heart rate was too high. All this to determine my maximum threshold via my VO2 max. This would be used for later tests to help determine my optimal pace for Ultras where I burn fat not muscle. They gave me a printout of the test results and my VO2 max total which was 59.7. Solid but certainly not "elite." Brutal test though.
So come 7:30pm Saturday night I was pacing Matt on laps 5&6. 31 miles of the Pemberton Trail in the moonlight, sans headlight. It was perfect weather, awesome crowds and I felt this vested interest in all the runners completion having spent 9 hours earlier at the start of the race volunteering at the aid station. Watching all the runners come through over and over again for their first 40-60 miles and then running later that night and seeing them once again, I couldn't help but root for each of them. Matt shuffled along making some great time on lap 5 but lap 6 proved to be his most challenging as he slowed down considerably both physically and emotionally. He still dug really deep and made sure he got his goal of sub 24 hours. I left him after 93 miles where he had one last 9 mile loop with a new pacer and he came back and finished in 23:06. Very respectable 35th overall. I was thinking the entire 31 miles that I could run 100 miles right now. This instant I could just keep going. I could have entered this race. I was ready. 31 miles later "running" for nearly 8 hours...I was ready for bed and not interested in running another 4+ laps like Matt had just done. It seemed so monotonous. So boring. So why would I want to run a 50 miler around a 500 meter flat track?? I don't know either.
I do know I want to see what I am capable of. That has been the goal from the beginning. How far can I go? How fast can I go? How fast can I go and stil l make it to the finish? Sometimes I test those boundries and sometimes its all I can do just to make it to the finish. One thing that I am interested in is finding out how fast I can go when terrain is not a factor. In all my races I've done thus far elevation, terrain, and overall difficulty of the course led to much slower pace times than I know I am capable of. Take all that away and give me a track course what kind of time am I capable of? Can I just keep running all night long? Can I hold a steady, if slow, pace? Will my knees, ankles, and feet hold up to the beating? I kind of want to
Just watch the videos. It will all make sense. Amazing.
It's been a running packed two weeks. R2R2R last weekend, then a very interesting and challenging 1st day testing for the ASU Ultrastudy and the VO2 max test, then volunteering and pacing at Javalina Jundred this past weekend. More testing this week for the Ultra study, a 5K I organized for work. Cancelling the Mountain Mist 50K? Running this weekend for a third ultra this month? Most miles in one month this month EVER. Lot's going on, no time to write it. But, I'll get to it!!!
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Simply amazing. I'd love to find this full legnth somewhere.
I really can't say enough about the Grand Canyon. Every trip is a magical experience. Sounds corny but when you have really experienced a Rim to Rim to Rim you grow this intimate relationship with the Canyon to the point where it feels like leaving a family member when you finally drive away. The staggering beauty never ceases to amaze me. The sun coming up over the ridgeline and the way the colors change as the sun climbs in the sky...it's why I run, it's why I hike, it's why I love the life I have.
47 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain later I'm feeling pretty solid going into the Javalina Jundred race pacing Matt. I'm volunteering the morning shift which I'm actually quite excited about. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the regular people there and cheering people on from the other side of the refreshments. A few hours after that I'm changing shoes and jumping to the start line to pick up Matt and hopefully pull him through for the full 100 miles.
Before I can even do that I have my first test with the ASU Ultramarathon Study which is attempting to determine what the fastest pace you can run an Ultra and keep burning your fat supplies and not switching over to burning your muscles. So Friday morning I have a 50 minute walk as they test several levels of my fitness. Then it's a max test to determine my max VO2. Starting at a moderate pace (7:00-7:30/mile) with an increase in grade every 30 seconds until I can no longer stay on the treadmill. Exciting to be a part of it and to find out what I'm capable of on an offiical level.
I can't even think about this run in anything other than disappointment. I finished the "race" in 3:31 for 17.25 miles. There was about 3,500 feet in gain and around an equal amount of loss. The race took you up 7 miles of dirt trail from 3,800 feet in elevation to a little over 6,000. Aid station was at a bit over 9 miles and then a trip down 4 miles of nearly non-existent "trail" as part of the long Arizona Trail. Thorns, briars, cactus, snakes, stream beds and full on river beds. Probably the most fun part of the course but then we came back out on a jeep road that returned to a packed dirt road like the beginning.
My legs were only ready to run for about 300 meters of this entire race. From the start I felt heavy footed, dead legged and unmotivated to do anything. When I did feel like running my stomach was rolling and spinning to the point of near vomit. This went on from miles 2-17. Couple that with my left hip tightening up and then my right side of my groin straining due to dehydration I had a miserable run. I certainly could have pushed it a good bit harder up the mountain and down the last stretch but my stomach was NOT doing well and afterall, it was only a "fun run." More importantly I knew I had a very tough run in the Grand Canyon a week away and I didn't want to damage my body for that trail.
A few really good positives:
Lot's of familiar faces. Jon Roig, Coury brothers, Laura from WMRC, Paul Bonnet, Honey of course, Boone, Paulette and a few people I've seen at other races in the past. I also had a chance to run with Matt Schmidt who I'll be pacing for 2 laps at Javalina Jundred. We ran the course together for the entire way and had a great time talking to him along the way. I felt bad I was holding him back a bit on some sections due to either my stomach or groin but I held up several times on the sketchy trail heading down so we'll call it almost even.
The views are amazing. In every direction the mysterious and rugged Mazatzal Mountains loom around you. While it was a jeep road for the majority of the 18 miles it was beautiful and absolutely perfect weather.
Arizona Trail section heading down the mountain was both fun (saw a 4 ft snake), rugged and dangerous raging down the trail. Several times we lost the trail, nearly fell down the cliff, cut our legs to pieces, and all in all had a great time. Until we came back out to another jeep trail...
A lot of people say this is one of their favorite races every year. One guy even said aside from Hard Rock it's his favorite race. I think maybe I just dislike running on roads so much I just wouldn't enjoy this course. It's scenic and it was definately fun but running up a dirt road for 8 miles only to run down a dirt road for 12 miles isn't necessarily my dream course. So I'll probably do it again next year...:)
My last three runs have left me with an eye opening sense of hope. For the last year I've been running and running and never seeming to be getting any better or faster. Granted I have yet to fully "push the envelope" on training and put in some serious miles (I'm rarely over 30 a week when I don't have a race versus 60+ for a lot of people). As it is it's a crunch to fit in 3-4 days a week of an hour plus each time. The typical life needs of long hours at work, family committments, friends, and the day to day stuff that really crunches your time and makes getting that special time in for running that much more difficult. So it's really not surprising that I've yet to see great gains in my running ability when I'm putting in 2-3 runs a week at a whopping 22 miles for the week or whatever it ends up being. There have been several weeks lately where I've run Wednesday morning for 6 miles with WMRC and then only got in one long run on the weekend for 15+. Two runs for 20+ miles. Probably not the best recipe for increased lung capacity and leg stregnth. So it was that much more exciting when I had the chance to read the remaining 150 pages of ChiRunning on the plane ride to Vermont last weekend. His repeated mantra of form, form, form while running really struck home and I was excited to try out his points of success while running long in Vermont. Many of his points were exactly what I've been doing all this time. When I stride out to pick up speed I'm striding too long and my foot is forced to heel strike because its so far out front. I run on my toes too much and grip with my toes. I am far too tense in the shoulders and calves while running and my breathing is too shallow. My body is upright often which I now know is what slows me down. So my new found technique in a forward lean while running (from the ankles not the back or hips), small light steps behind my body not in front, and a concerted effort to breath fully and evenly while running has made a gigantic impact in my runs. First run in Vermont I found myself running along at 1-2 minutes faster per mile and I didn't even notice it until I checked my watch. I felt so fresh I was flying up hills and mountains I would usually walk. I couldn't believe it. As ChiRunning instructs you your body doens't nearly have to work as hard as you think it does and using their lean and form instructions they are totally right. Next run of 6 miles was the same thing. Effortless, smooth and smoked the hills. Last night I ran 9 miles in 97 minutes with over 1,500 in elevation gain. I ran 98% of the run and felt absolutely incredible the entire time. I was running along in amazement of how my legs felt so fresh and afterwards I felt cheated that I didn't have more time to keep running. Granted, I have LONG ways to go in perfecting this and truly improving. Running 9 miles is far different than running 31 and maintaining that same form but I'm ready for that challenge. I'm not looking to go out and win all kinds of races but I'd certainly like to be somewhere near the back of the front. Goal 1 is always to finish but I want to finish strong and faster than anyone else. I think this new form adjustments are exactly what I need to do that. Tomorrow I have the Mazatzal 18 mile trail run that Honey puts on for Arizona Road Racers and I'm pumped to see how it goes there. I haven't ran a "race" since Crow Pass so just being out there, even in a small crowd of racers, is exciting. I've also not been in the Mazatzal's since the little overnight excursion a couple years ago when I was stuck on the cliff for the night