82 Days and counting...
After the Tucson Marathon deflating defeat I went on vacation.
I was beat. I was working every day, long hours, and hours that never really ended with the phone, email and responsibilities tethered to me like a fish on a line. So getting back to Vermont, my home state, for Christmas and without access to phone and email was a dream.
Then I remembered that the weather there is absolutely terrible. This whole "winter" thing was quickly jogged back into my mind and I remembered that people owned coats and gloves back there. Twelve years in the desert does that to you but nonetheless I got out and ran. My first run was a 35 degree rain shower where I ended up running stronger, faster and easier than I had in months. I had nothing to worry about except finding my way back to our rented house. I absolutely hammered that run, every bit of it. Running through the rain and sloppy wet snow was more fun than I remembered. It was the single most fun run I've had in the entire year in running.
A week later I set out on Christmas Eve at 4:30am in 8 degrees. 8.
I ran 11 miles of trails with 3,500 feet of climbing, got lost, bushwhacked down the ridge, found the trail and flew down the mountain with a reckless disregard for my own safety only a drunk can appreciate. I finished down the grassy hill past a llama barn and my watch read a 3:43/mile pace for the max pace. Clearly my Garmin is broken...but again...one of the most fun runs I've ever had.
Those two runs in Vermont gave me hope that running could again be fun. For months it's been almost a chore getting training in. Partly because my work schedule has drained me so getting up at 4am for mile repeats on a track isn't exactly like someone just gave me Superbowl tickets. Doing it three mornings in a row doesn't add to the appeal either. Throw in a toddler who wants/needs attention as much as I want to give it to him and a wife who is wondering if I ordered a cot for my office or if I'm actually coming home from work one of these days. To say I've succumbed to "Runner's Guilt" more than my fair share of times is an understatement. It nearly killed me at Javalina Jundred when I went into that race averaging 33 miles a week of training, then Tucson with less than that.
Track on Tuesdays and then long runs on Saturday's does not equate to successful results in racing...
Fortunately I hate quitting as much as anything so instead of hitting my goals I instead just spend the middle of every race thinking about how I should just focus on my hidden talents in landscaping and bedtime stories and save the legs for carrying babies up our stairs. Then I get passed that dreaded wall, finish the race hard and magically forget how miserable I was and sign up for another race...it's a vicious cycle.
So I went into 2014 with another near empty training month to close out the previous year but with some great, and more importantly FUN, runs. With the turn of the new year comes the start of training for the most important race of the entire year.
The Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Race.
My "A" Race. My only race.
Everything else is just filler.
Last year I set a more than ambitious goal of breaking ten hours. My previous high was 12:26, followed by a terrible 13 plus hour finish in 2011. I skipped '12 to volunteer and in 2013 I finished in 10:36, 13th place overall. It was disappointing to not hit sub 10 but very gratifying knowing I gave it 100% from start to finish and didn't leave anything out there. I ran steady, strong and was passing people every segment of the race while never once getting passed by someone I didn't ultimately beat to the finish. I learned a lot about pushing past what you think is fatigue. Jay Danek paced me the final 17 miles and he pushed me hard to the finish. We'd come around a corner or over a ridge and spot a runner up front and he'd just give me a look over his shoulder and then immediately take off for the guy. We'd push a solid pace right past them and give a polite hello and speed on by. All the while my mind raced and prayed that they would just give up and not give chase because I could only hold that pace for the 40 more feet to the next bend where we could walk again...
We came across the finish line with more daylight left than any previous time I've ever run it. I was proud of that finish but it only left me wondering how in the world I'm going to take off 37 minutes next year and break 10 hours???
Race, you just have to race
I think the key for me is consistency and that's no small task. Already in 2014 I'm down 55 miles in January to what I ran in January 2013 and putting in the miles continues to be a real challenge. My time is so limited right now that heading out for back to back long runs on the weekends after working 60+ hours during the week is a tough sell with the wife.
And it should be. Ultimately running is down at the bottom of the food chain in our family, despite how important and prevalent it can be at times. Given the option of doing something with my little boy and my wife on the weekend, that always trumps a 5 hour run in the mountains. So instead I have to get up earlier, run faster, and get home sooner. Its certainly not ideal, I look back longingly at the weekends where I could just get up and run 8 hours and be back whenever I happened to finish.
Now I have to make every run count because it's a common occurrence that work or life will interrupt my scheduled runs and there won't be an opportunity to replace it. You can't run Zane Grey on borrowed training hours, it just doesn't work. I tried that in 2011 and it broke me in two.
February is a key month for me. I'm focused on a major event this week in Grandpa Jim's 12 Hours of Camelback. A fundraiser for Sunshine Acres (www.sunshineacres.org) where we will hike/run up and down Echo Canyon non-stop until 6:30pm. 1.3 miles up, 1.3 miles down, 1250 in climbing. The record is 12 roundtrips and my goal for the day. That would end up being a 15,000 foot in climbing 50K. My knees are already destroyed thinking about it...but it will be great training for the month and assuming it doesn't wreck me long term will get me back on track.
I'm planning on tackling Elephant Mountain 35K again this year after having a lot of fun out there in the inaugural running. Mountain to Fountain 15k is March 9th, a great local road race that involves beer, running on the Team RWB team and beer. Hopefully this year I cross both timing pads and not stop at the first one like last year...1:00:02.
Mesquite Canyon 50K in late March will be my last race tuneup before Zane Grey and will be my fifth time at the race, every year its been run since Aravaipa Running started their race series. I ran a 5:07 last year there, good for 4th place, but really want to be sub 5 hours this year after missing it last year. It's a tough course but perfect Zane training with the rocks, exposure and climbing there.
If none of that gets me where I need to be, well, then I'll be in Pine anyway for the start of Zane. I mean, what's the worst that can happen on the Highline when you're unprepared??
Our summer is over and the race season is just beginning. Another October is upon us and I've already been completely taken over by the incredible weather and forgotten completely that it was 110 degrees just a month ago.
What miserably hot summer?
It's perfect out.
And running has never been easier.
No water bottle.
No dry mouth.
No getting back to your car after the run feeling destroyed and then five minutes later your body catches up and sweats through the cloth seats.
No more strategically planning your week of training around the sunrise because once it comes up it's like the Chronicles of Riddick...it's overbearing and ever present in the rest of the run. A monkey on your back waiting to pop you in the ear with those stupid symbols (that can't be spelled right....) I can run in the heat and I know many that actually enjoy it. Many go out at noon in August. But that doesn't mean it's smart or fun. In fact...I hate it. It's bearable through mid-July but the last month plus is always rough for me.
Now, you can run at any time of the day or night and it's perfect. I ran this morning at 5am without a shirt on, just a headlamp, shoes, shorts and the Disco Biscuits. It was incredible. Running up hills I've always walked in the past, cruising along at a solid pace without the interruption of walking to get my core temperature down to under 201 degrees. Running the the fall in Phoenix is a rejuvenation.
To test the rejuvenation I'm running my first race since the Mesquite Canyon 50K way back in March. March. Seven months ago.
It seems odd that I haven't raced since then, but I skipped Zane Grey this year, didn't run a 100 all summer and was focused on the Monster up until a few weeks ago. I ran a ton of marathon or longer training runs on the Mogollon Rim and a 85 mile jaunt on the Mogollon Monster course in May but nothing with competition.
So this will be fun. 18 miles up in Cave Creek Regional Park at the Cave Creek Thriller 30K, the first of the Aravaipa Running DRT Trail Series here in the Phoenix area. It has some trails I know, some I don't. But it's 18 miles and it'll be a good test of my fitness after putting in a couple decent runs the last couple weeks and one strong week last week. I'm still way short on training and being where I want to be in having a focused training plan but comfortable enough that I'm ready to head up north, run a few trails and hang with the fast guys. We'll see how long it lasts. Bret Sarnquist, Jay Danek, Tony Delogne, Jules Miller, Jeremy Schmuki and as usual in running and ultrarunning...a whole bunch of people that will come out of the group and crush a bunch of us. It's not a Dark Horse in running, it's a Dark Herd. So many unknowns that can pop up and put down a fast time. Which is part of the intrigue in running a race, especially one where it's around 50-100 runners. Just enough to know who is going into this with you and not so many you have zero chance of competing for a respectable place.
So I'll for the first time give it a shot up front of the pack and see where that takes me. I'll shoot for a spot in file behind Jay Danek as I know he's in the fastest shape of his life and after 10 miles see where each of us are and go from there. Eighteen miles is a perfect distance but I've never ran it without thinking I had another 13 to go. But as my races typically go, 18-20 miles is usually where I have a low spot before rebounding for the last ten miles of a 50K. Maybe for 18 I can hold a much faster pace and remain up front. If not...
I'm sure my ego will survive it.
R2R2R - 2012
November 2nd I'll be taking another trek down to the Canyon for a Bright Angel>North Rim>Bright Angel Double Crossing. I haven't done it since last fall and aside from a trip this February for a 50K route off the Tanner trail I haven't seen the Canyon since. So I'm totally oblivious again as to just how difficult and challenging this trip can be and always is. Jay Danek is going for his first go of the Double Crossing and of course Honey Albrecht who always makes it when it involves the Grand Canyon. It'll be my 5th double and probably Honey's twentieth or something. It's great to have done it and a once a year trip. Not sure I'd be up for multiple attempts in a calendar year. It's a lot like Zane Grey. Always sounds like a great idea until you hit about 30 miles and you're staring down 8 miles of switchbacks...
Either way...really looking forward to it and starting out at night Friday night we'll be up over 24 hours before we even start climbing back up. And we'll catch the sunrise which is worth a thousand gels.
The Zane Grey Obsession Continues....
The Mogollon Rim. Photo by Andrew Pielage- www.apizm.com
It's easy to be lost sometimes. Buried amidst a world of high speed activity, stress filled lifestyles and the ever climbing necessity of improvement, being lost is sometimes natural.
We go from one thing to the next. Thanksgiving to Christmas. Spring Break to Summer Break. Empty checking account to pay day. Starving to bloated. Happy to sad. Every day brings a new day and with that new challenges, new changes, and new views of what needs to happen.
For nearly two years it's been a non-stop whirlwind of change. Married. Honeymoon. Rented a house. Said rental went into foreclosure. Auction owners tried to evict us. I extorted them for payment to break our lease. We get pregnant. We buy new house. Start a new website with John Vaupel & Jay Danek. (www.trailrunningclub.com.) We have baby. We prepare for Mogollon Monster 100. We direct Mogollon Monster 100. We still have baby. Still have house. Still working all the time. And apparently I still have a blog.
Yet the Monster has come and gone. And the void that remains leaves me lost in what to do next. Immediately I volunteer to motivate and train our hotel staff to run the P.F. Chang's Half Marathon, something I'm passionate about but realistically didn't have time for. When I should be putting a hold on my ambitions to focus on traditional household husband things like siding, lawn care, organizing shelving, etc. I'm out signing myself up for more time consuming projects. Yet I can't help myself. I don't have ADD but I cannot just sit around. As great as that can feel sometimes.
I need to be involved in something.
I need goals.
I need ambitions.
To fill a part of that void I signed up for two races the day after the Monster finished. The Cave Creek Thriller 30K and the Zane Grey 50M a ways off in April 2013. I haven't run hardly a lick since my son Dean was born but now with the race behind us (for now) I should have more time... My training "program" the last three months consisted of a 30 mile training run on the Mogollon Monster 100 course on a Saturday.
Rest for 6 days.
Repeat on a different section the following week. I would run 20-30 mile long runs every weekend for 8 of the 10 weekends of August/September in preparing for this race in both training runs and course marking. Some went well...others were miserable death marches.
Yet somehow, towards the end of the summer, leading right up to the race I started to feel stronger. Not strong, but stronger. Last Tuesday I covered 16 miles on the Highline Trail for course marking for the race and on the return trip I pushed the pace, hammered the hills and came back into Washington Park feeling great. I drove up to the top of the Rim and ran another two miles along the General Crook Trail marking it along the way and somewhere on the way back, as the sun was coming down, still slightly poking through the tall Ponderosa's I felt like I was cruising down the trail on a bike. Nearly 7,500 feet up, it felt like sea level and I was off. It was short distance but a big boost to my confidence. Running hasn't felt that "easy" in a long time.
So the race is over. Planning for next year is ongoing and constant. Ideas flood into my mind in an ever rotating display of improvements and projects. Never submitting to mediocrity, my aspirations always at least reach for something greater. That will never change but leaves me pulled in another direction, a constant tidal pull bringing me back out to sea every few hours, every few days. As welcome a distraction as unwelcome. Focus on one thing, one specific goal has become very challenging with so many aspects of the race I'd like to change while also focusing on work, family, and training (not in that order necessarily...)
With the race over though it does allows me to focus on running again. My son is three months old now, bigger and stronger and stroller ready. We can train together and focus on the Zane Grey 50M in April and get back to running with Jay Danek. I've missed our reckless descents down Bell Pass at breakneck speeds and the much faster pace Jay trains at than I would running solo. His big ambitions, goals and training regimin rub off on me and I need to get back to that.
I have big plans for Zane Grey, my favorite race to hate in all of running. Yet ultimately...my favorite race. My brother distinctly remembers my putrid attitude following my horrible experience back in 2011 where I suffered through a death march the final 17 miles. All of which were self imposed through my own stupidity, poor planning and newly found arrogance.
This time around though, I'm smarter, I'll be stronger, and I feel like that's my home turf now. I've run the Highline so much now in preparation for the Mogollon Monster I know so many of the in's and out's of the trail. I know it's a whore of a trail. An unrelenting beast waiting to eat up the first runner that succumbs to the heat, elevation, exposure, manzanita, or those few rocks out there. The last time I was arrogant. I had been running 50K's like they were 5k's. The 50M was a near regular event for me, at least once a month. I had run a wickedly hard and vicious Superstition Wilderness 50M the month before and felt that Zane Grey was just a stop at the ice cream shop in comparison (incidently, during that delusional Superstitions run the first seeds of the idea for the Mogollon Monster we laid).
I made a cardinal Ultrarunning sin. I did not respect the distance.
Zane Grey is one of the toughest 50 milers in the country. I don't care which one you compare it to. There may be "harder" ones but there is no debate that this is towards the top of the list. Nobody leaves the Highline saying, "That was easy." Nobody. Most leave in a near crippled state saying, "I'm never coming back."
Which any Zane Grey veteran likely say's in their head, "See you next year."
I'm not overlooking the distance this year. I'm focusing on this race and this race only. I'm not going to go out and do all these fat ass random runs through the desert. My off course adventures that end up eating up every ounce of my energy. I'm training for speed, stregnth and endurance. I'm not just looking for an improvement over 2011. I want to knock several hours off it.
I want to go sub 10 hours.
At Zane Grey.
I know. Ridiculous right?
Anyone just ultrastalking me can look at my past results and will be wondering, "How in the world are YOU going to run sub 10 hours at Zane Grey??!"
It's 2:24 better than I ever have run there. Ever. I have zero statistical data to back up that kind of time. My fastest "official" 50K on there is 4:54. I barely ran 10 hours on a flat,loop course.
BUT...I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of. I know I've never even gotten close to pushing boundaries on speed or training. I've always skirted by with just enough training to keep it from being a full on death march. I ran Cascade Crest 100 last year topping out at a 52 mile week. I get by because I'm a strong hiker and I can run downhill. I've always been weak on the flats and actual "running", as ironic as it sounds, and that is what has kept me plateaued, just off the cuff and from taking that leap to the next level.
My problem has always been that I could hinge back on the "I don't really train excuse" for my less than stellar times at races. It's always been a side joke with my running friends but ultimately it's just an excuse. I'm capable, I can make the time, I just have to put the work in.
So I will.
And when it comes down to the line, come April, on the Highline, I'll really see where that takes me.
And if sub 10 hours doesn't happen at Zane Grey...well look for me at the finish line. I'll still make it there. It just might not be as pretty.
The Monster has officially consumed me.
Consumed everything around me.
Now just a little over three weeks away its down to the wire on planning this monstrosity. What started as a pipe dream over some maps almost two years ago has nearly become the dream.
A one hundred mile wilderness run through some of Arizona's most beautiful terrain was the goal from the start. I had a ton of help from local ultrarunner Jeff Jones on designing the course and creating one that is both challenging and logistically possible with the unique challenges that comes with a 2,000 ft. escarpment between aid stations. I sparked the idea on the tail end of our Superstitions Wilderness 50 Mile adventure and Jeff took off with it like a kid in a candy store. My original idea to create a hundred in Arizona where people would come, run and leave with a whole new idea of the state, showing that it was more than "just a desert." It started Jeff off in a tirade of ideas that resulted in nearly 500 emails over the next year.
What we came up with amazes me with each long run spent on the course. Weekend after weekend, I've driven the 100 miles from my house at 4am to arrive at the trailhead to run the course. Mile after mile I fall more in love with the area, the terrain and every God forsaken rock that hits the bottom of my sole. I've run some sections of the course a half dozen times this summer alone, others just a few times, but in all, I've traversed that Rim as much as anyone probably has at this point and now just a few weeks away...I can't wait to see what everyone has to say about it.
The challenging thing about directing a race is not fully grasping what it is that is "hard" for other people. Every race bills itself as a certain adjective leaning one way or another. "Hardest", "Toughest", "Fastest" something or other. Even the Zane Grey 50M race this race shares part of the course with has for years been called, "Toughest 50 Miler" which for many has been a debatable, none wishing to debate fresh off a ZG finish. This race, the Monster, will likely be one of the toughest endurance feats many of the entrants will have taken on at this point. I know this because of what I have experienced on other courses, what others have when running this course and how revered the Zane Grey course is in general. It's going to be hard. Really hard.
But what is "hard?" Hard to me is the Lean Horse 100. Running a flat surface 50 miles, then turning around and running it back?! That is a hell of a lot of running. Keys 100? Indiana 100? Javalina 100? I've paced the last couple years at Javalina Jundred for 30+ miles and while it's probably the most FUN race atmosphere and an event I look forward to each year...I'm extremely hesitant to ever run it myself. Because I feel it's extremely hard not having a major climb plopped somewhere in there or having to repeat the same thing over and over again. Across the Years this past year I hit 50 miles and quit out of sheer boredom. Terrible I know and something I'm probably going to go back and rectify but that day, running loops...I just couldn't get myself into a groove and really enjoy it. It was one of the hardest 50 miles I've done and I didn't climb 12 feet...
So how will everyone feel about the Mogollon Monster 100? I have compared a lot of hundreds trying to determine how it will be met once the first race is completed. I've spent countless hours on the internet reading all 88+ other hundreds websites, maps, elevation profiles, crew access, past times, cutoffs, etc. There's only about a dozen races with more elevation gain or outright by the numbers is "harder." Of course there are the Hardrocks, Wasatch races with the climbing but also taking into account the average elevation of each mile, terrain, technical nature, weather and all the other factors that makes a race difficult and challenging some are tougher than others for different reasons. I feel this race has them all to put it in a class that will challenge even the most seasoned ultrarunner. That wasn't the goal in designing the race any more was the extra 6 miles some kind of masochistic attempt at one upping anyone. It's just the way it panned out that way.
So after hundreds of hours of planning, hundreds and hundreds of miles on the course, and over eighteen months of constant planning we're almost there. The buckles are in the mail, supplies filling my garage, volunteers committing and contingencies being finalized. Planning a hundred mile race was a dream, an incredibly ambitious one I'm finding out, but one that I'm determined to see through successfully. Runners are coming from all over the country, pacers and crews with them. We'll all be in Pine, Arizona come Friday morning and I'll be there standing up among them for the briefing. A moment I can't believe is almost here, a weekend of determination, stubborness and drive coupled with beautiful, surreal & majestic. I can't wait to be on the other side of the finish line to see each of the runners come through successfully. To be able to shake their hands, congratulate them and hand them the infamous belt buckle that all non-runners feel is so insignificant.
20,000 feet of climbing.
One hell of a challenge completed.
You won't find a more rewarding experience anywhere.
Here it Comes
It's amazing how quickly perceptions can change. A little over a year ago my idea of a weekend was hanging out with friends, housework, going to coffee or breakfast, maybe taking a trip somewhere. While I still like to fit all of that in it's certainly taken a dynamic shift in how I spend my weekends.
This weekend would be a great example. The Plan? 50 Mile "Fun" Run.
I remember last April when I signed up for the Copper Basin Fun Run 50K how I thought "why is it called a fun run if it's 30 miles..." only to then realize later it's simply denoting the fact that it's not an official race, just an organized training run so to speak. At the time I remember thinking how idiotic that was, how crazy to think of just going out to run that long and you don't even get a t-shirt or credit for it on Ultrasignup.com or some kind of prideful boast to show you completed it.
Now? I LOVE the "Fun Run." Don't get me wrong. I LOVE gearing up for a big race, starting off the race knowing i'm going to have to run hard all day and with every person I pass I'm that much closer to first. (not that i ever get that close but you get the point.) With a Fun Run though you are usually able to go out into areas that you cannot have an organized race due to it being in a nationally recognized protected area, a reason that many trail races have gravel roads, fire roads or even pavement sections. You just can't have a great trail race in the great wilderness areas out there. It's great on one hand but disappointing when you look at how absolutely incredible some races would be in the right areas. Like the Superstition Wilderness Area near Phoenix, Arizona.
Most Beautiful Place outside the Grand Canyon???
The Superstition Wilderness Area is a protected collection of desert mountains, canyons, rivers, slots, and diverse vegetation ranging from 2,000 ft to 5,000+ in elevation. It's in Apache Junction, Arizona an eastern suburb of Phoenix and part of the cities surrounding skyline.
The Wilderness area is unique for many reasons and more so for the reasons pertaining to trail races. One is it's just so diverse in it's terrain. You have massive saguaro cactus, forests of Teddy Bear cholla, buckhorn cholla, prickly pear, and every variety of cactus out there. You'll run across white rock bedrock, past sandstone cliffs, massive pillars of rock, slot canyons, forests of cottonwood trees and all along a perfectly rocky, rugged, ruthless stretch of singletrack that goes on...and on...and on...in a collection of trails over 140 miles long.
As it is already the area is set up perfectly for an organized race. First Water Trailhead is large enough to hold the vehicles for parking, restrooms are there already, overflow parking is available. The trail is wide in the start, major trail intersections are already marked with fencepost. One major trail, The Dutchman, travels all the way across, North to South, and meets with the Peralta Trailhead. Peralta is also home to a large parking area which is perfect for setting up aid. The trip back to complete the loop includes the 1,500 ft climb in the two miles up Peralta to a spectacular view of the area and the majestic Weaver's Needle. Coming down Peralta is a dream trail. Ridgeline running while overlooking massive canyons, red rock singletrack on the edge of the drop off, flying down the ridge on what feels like a magazine cover for National Geographic.
50 Miles of "FUN"
Knowing all of this through the Superstition Wilderness 50K I put on back in Janaury for some friends as well as other hikes and runs I've done out there I'm even more excited to see what a 50 mile trip through the Wilderness will hold this Saturday. My friends from the East Coast make the argument often that there are no "wilderness" areas in Arizona when you don't have forests. Conventional wisdom may say that to some but when you get out into the desert in those lonely canyons you suddenly realize you can't possibly be in anything more "wild" than where you are right then. Some of those areas in the 'Supes are so remote, so untouched, so wild people get lost, bewildered and in a heck of a lot of trouble really quick. It's as wild as it gets regardless if there are little trees.
Training for this run was going great up until last week when I slid into second base playing softball of all things and destroyed the first 2.3 million layers of skin on my left shin. That perpetual pain left me with a massive road rash on my leg, major swelling for a week on that leg and ankle and a 101.2 degree tempature the following night as my body continued with the internal mantra of "You are a moron Jeremy. You are a moron. Look what you did THIS time." So due to that slice of luck I was not able to run a lick all week long. I hiked 4.5 miles in the McDowell Mountains Sunday morning for the first bit of exercise all week. Felt ok so I played softball again Monday night with no issues minus another slide on the same leg (luckily wrapped this time but no less painful...and no less stupid). Wednesday morning I ran with the WMRC group which was the first trail running I had done since the Cave Creek Fun Run Marathon 10 days prior.
So you could say I tapered. I had a great base going into last week after completing the 25 miles of rough Cave Creek run last Sunday and feeling absolutely wonderful afterwards. So I'm feeling ok that I didn't get to run last week and should be fine for Saturday. Knowing the 'Supes I'm sure there is some hiking involved as we push our way through Ironweed and catclaw as blood drips into our socks.
Harder than Zane Grey?
So come Saturday we'll see how in shape I really am. My real goal of course if Zane Grey 50 on April 16th which I was fortunate enough to complete last year in my first attempt at a 50 miler. I'm really looking forward to tackling that course again this year with a lot more miles and a lot more experience under by belt. My one thought though is...what if Zane Grey isn't even as hard as the Superstitions??
Very possible. We'll see.