Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fast Fun at the 2015 XTERRA Trail Run National Championships

It had been a few years since I raced an XTERRA trail run, and I'll be honest, I missed it. XTERRA has always been able to take their cool mountain community vibe and inject it with some polish, such as a blazing finish line chute full of top notch sponsors, professional prize purses, enough events for the whole family to get dirty, and a post-race video worthy of sharing. Even in this world of barbed wire obstacle and tough mudding insanity, XTERRA successfully sticks to their roots and consistently wins the hearts of a loyal group of outdoor warriors. The events are long enough to hurt, but not so long you can't spend the afternoon meeting people and sipping beers at the end. When I saw a weekend free up that would allow me to head to Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah, for the XTERRA Triathlon and Trail Run National Championships, I was eager to get reacquainted!

(Mario Mendoza tackles the 2014 course)
On the flight up, I found myself excited to shift into the different gears required for a half marathon (21k) trail distance. After ultra training most of the year, it seemed like I was going to have to go at "ludicrous speed" just to keep up with the likes of Patrick Smyth (2x XTERRA World Champion, 2015 US Mountain Running Champion), 2015 NCAA 5k Champ Travis Morrison, 2015 St. Louis Marathon winner Richard Chelimo, and defending champion and 2x Olympic cross country skier Liz Stephen. It would be a good shake up the ultra training! 

(Sharing a beer with Josiah Middaugh after winning his 10th national title)
I arrived in time to watch the last of the XTERRA Off Road Triathlon National Championships, and watch the amazing bike skills these athletes have. And they can still head up into the hills and clock 6:30 min/miles! You could tell these athletes were stoked to punch their ticket to the world championship in Hawaii. A few were doing the double and would be back for the Trail Run the next day. Yup, these are my people!

(perfect day, ready to run)
Come race day, the weather was ideal and cloud free, and the single track beckoned the ~250 runners to come play. As the cannon sounded, we headed around the roads before tackling one of two big climbs. First mile was a 5:50 min/mile, and I was in 40th! This is a fast group.

(the cannon fires, and we are off!)
(Alayna Szuch - 11 years old, and killing it!)
I could feel the 6k-8k foot elevation pulling at my lungs, but when the race is this short, you basically have to charge the whole thing. I took the first climb with Alayna Szuch, an 11-year-old that was holding onto third Woman overall, and showing no signs of slowing. Incredible!

(the single track is fast!)
The dry single track was well groomed by the mountain bikes, providing a fast course with lots of banked turns. I was picking up places on the downhills and straights, my inov-8 X-Talon 212's proving to be the right shoe for nimbly jumping from mud to rocks, but wow, I just could not adjust to this fast pace! I swore I was one step away from a swan dive into the Wasatch canyons. As I looked ahead at the group of runners charging into the second hill (mile 6), it was clear the track runners had a special advantage with their speed and ability to come quickly out of switchbacks. I spotted some likely Masters runners ahead, so made my way up to them as we crested Sardine (mile 8) and ran the ridge line.
(breaking through to the ridge line on Sardine)
The Fall colors lured us off the ridge and into the final long set of switchbacks. I caught up to Wilhelm Northrop, who was the winner in my age group last year, and stuck close to him knowing his course familiarity (4x finisher) was better than mine (nada). As we hit one mile to go, I had enough to push past him in the final climb, only to learn that climb was A LOT bigger than I had thought. Darn you, announcer that sounds so close! But I pressed through, and crossed the finish in in 1:36:59 for 20th place, turning and thanking Wilhelm for his help. It turned out to be much slower than his finish last year, as he has been focusing on cycling this year, but it sure felt fast to me.

(Wilhelm sets the pace)
Patrick Smyth (1:13:55) handily won, holding off Travis Morrison (1:17:29) and Flagstaff's Mike Popjoy (1:21:07), while Liz Stephen (1:28:39) brought home a convincing win. The 11-year-old I passed, Alayna Szuch (1:45:32), held on for an impressive 2nd overall! She was one of a dozen truly outstanding young kids in here mixing it up in the full 21k...there is no doubt this sport is building the future of trail running. (all results, summary of race and national championship)

(yeah, finish!)
(Patrick Smyth and the Top 5 Men)
(Patrick catches up with fans, while Travis wonders what the hell I'm doing)
(The future of our sport...how cute are they?)
I managed a 2nd for my Age Group, behind a blazing fast Donnie Gray from the local Salomon team who had me by three minutes thanks to his amazing climbing skills. Yeah, gonna have to tune in that training to beat these mountain goats. But also great fun to meet so many new runners and see all these young speedsters. The Szuch family managed to have three wins, with Alayna, Mom, and brother taking national titles before heading off to soccer practice. Many age group winners had won their age group in the triathlon the day before, including 71-year-old James Meskimen from Truckee, CA, donning his Ironman Lake Tahoe buckle. Yup, these are serious mountain athletes right here. It is great to celebrate a wonderful day in the sun with them.

My thanks to the XTERRA family and their amazing volunteers for putting on a world class race. It was great to see you again!

Friday, September 18, 2015

U of Oregon Track and Football Stars Re-Enact The Animal House Toga Scene

Great cameos from some University of Oregon track stars in this video that Nike put together. A stunningly accurate re-enactment of the toga party scene from the classic movie, Animal House. Be sure to watch until the end to see Galen Rupp, Ashton Eaton, and more.

And how awesome is Otis Day and the Knights, still crushing it?!? Here's the original clip from the movie for comparison...


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Registration for the 2016 Boston Marathon Opens Monday, Sept. 14 (10am ET)

Just a quick reminder for those of you who worked your butts off to get a "BQ" (Boston Qualifying time) this year - the rolling registration process for the 2016 Boston Marathon begins next Monday, Sept 14th. Mark your calendars!

For those who don't recall, here's how it works. If you have run a qualifying time between Sept 13th, 2014 and Sept 13th, 2015, your day to register depends on how much you beat your qualifying time:

  • Those who meet the qualifying standards for their age group by 20 minutes or more more can register starting Sept. 14 at 10 a.m. ET. 
  • Those who meet the qualifying standards for their age group by 10 minutes or more can register starting Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. ET. 
  • Those who meet the qualifying standards for their age group by 5 minutes or more can register starting Friday, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m. ET. 

Registration will then close on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 10 p.m. ET. If space remains after the first week of registration, then registration will re-open for all qualifiers from Monday, Sept. 21 at 10 a.m. ET to Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. ET.

Although we all wish it were that easy, there are two additional factors to consider. Be sure to check your qualifying time for your age, which was made more difficult in 2014 (3:05 for men under the age of 34, 3:35 for women in that age bracket, for example). And hopefully you have a bit of cushion under that time - you may recall that in 2015, you needed to beat your qualifying time by 62 seconds to get one of the ~23,000 entries. The registration fee for the 2016 race is $180 for U.S. residents and $240 for international residents.

If you are interested in doing my favorite marathon double (2 marathons, 2 coasts, in six days), the Boston 2 Big Sur drawing is open until Oct 1st, 2015.

If you're in the lottery, good luck! I hope to see you in Hopkinton next April.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Strava McMillan Training Plans - A Review and Test at the 2015 Tamalpa Headlands 50k

Many of you know (or in my case, obsess with) Strava, the online service that tracks your runs/rides and allows you to share them with fellow overachieving athletes. For myself and many in the endurance community, it is the go-to social app, more so than Facebook, Instagram, or the proletariat calorie- and step-counting nonsense of Fitbit. As a good friend likes to say, "Strava keeps you connected with the people who actually get out and make the most of the day, rather than complain about it while posting cat videos."

So it was no surprise to see that when they added free training plans this summer, they partnered with McMillan Running, one of the best in the business. Coach Greg McMillan and his team are known for their thoughtful coaching and planning tools (his running pace calculator and book, You (Only Faster), are two favorites) and a willingness to extend to the ultra and trail community. I was excited to see what an online training plan could do, so I picked the Tamalpa Headlands 50k/USATF Championships on Aug 29th as my goal race and let it build a 12-week plan for me. The daily emails would keep me on track, and ensure I ramping up and tapering down as needed.
(A snapshot of a typical week of the plan)
I am a good candidate for the "light coaching" that comes with an online service like this. I don't have trouble motivating to run daily, nor do I stress a lot about my finish times/places most of the time, so a dedicated full-time coach isn't quite the right fit. But if I don't structure my season, I'm prone to taking far too many long runs, with not enough rest or speed work, meaning way too many lackluster results and skipped races from overuse injuries. What I really need is some structure around a goal race, some daily reminders, and a few pats on the back if I actually take a rest day. This should be just about right.

Configuring the 12-week plan was really simple. You just pick the date of your race and distance (up to a marathon), and it does the rest. I was a few weeks short of the full plan, and it adjusted nicely. It would have been great to also set my rest days (Tuesdays work best for my work schedule, but the McMillan plan likes Mondays), but it was close.

The daily emails were simple instructions, complete with some context and a few words of motivation. I liked how it would tell me why I was resting (big workout tomorrow, get those gains from yesterday, you've got an easy week to recoup after last weekend, etc.) and presented a light run option if I didn't want to park on the couch. I could also see the whole week laid out so I knew what was coming. I found it particularly helpful to get those daily emails as I was traveling - no longer could jet lag stop me from sticking to the plan!

(A typical daily email reminder)

In general, I found myself shifting from my typical workouts. McMillan likes his "long runs with fast finish" and fartleks, but there wasn't a lot of hill repeats or 400/800 intervals. There also wasn't any weights, stretching, core, or balance work - it pretty much focused on your miles. I would have liked to see those incorporated, but honestly, I would be leaning into a full coaching service at that point. After the first six weeks, I noticed that my overall mileage was down from 55-60 miles/week to 45-50 miles/week, much in thanks to more rest days. This included extending my long runs a bit to account for my goal race being a 50k vs. a marathon. I certainly wasn't struggling with days where I was too tired or had nagging injuries - perhaps I had been doing too much!

The Headlands 50k turned out to be a perfect goal race. Race Directors Tim and Diane Fitzpatrick have turned this into an epic event, and now as the USATF 50k Trail National Championships it was attracting a world class field. Even as a Masters runner, I had to be ready to go up against Jean Pommier (age 50, but likely a Top 10 finisher), the incredible Mark Richtman (age 60 and still in Top 20 shape), Mark McManus (local sub-4:30 runner here) and quite frankly just hoped I could make the top 50 runners. The race conditions were wet and muddy, but much of the hilly trails were runnable.

(At the start!)
By the time I reached the starting line, I was juggling a few issues that weren't in the Strava/McMillan training plan. Mainly, I had less than 5 hours sleep in the 48 hours before the race (a serious no-no) due to traveling, work, kids, wining and dining, and a lot of other ill-advised habits that Strava couldn't keep me from. When I fell asleep in my car 20 minutes before race time, it was clear I had not made the most of that crucial 72 hours before the race. It only took 10 miles to realize my body was fit, but my mind and energy levels were not ready to compete. My bad. But as I ran along with Brendan Donahoe (5:02, even after having a fourth kid two months ago) he reminded me it's all about the smiles-per-mile, and this course was full of them. It feels good to be fit!

(David Roche paces through the puddles on his way to a 3rd place finish, photo courtesy of David Roche)
I still had a great time running, making new friends, catching up with the locals, letting my inov-8's rip through the mud with ease, and watching Caitlin Smith (4:31) win the Women's title just ahead of 50k World Champ Emily Harrison (Andy Whacker was 1st dude in a new 3:37 course record, with Patrick Smith, David Roche and Mario Mendoza all doing amazingly well). Jean Pommier and Mark Richtman picked up wins in their age groups well ahead of me (all results). My body felt great the whole time despite the sleep-deprived energy levels, and when 45-year-old Duncan Seay caught me in the last four miles, we hauled ass together to the finish line and clocked our fastest section on the course. He out-kicked me by one second, and we later found out it was just enough for him to take the last podium spot for our age group. Well done, Duncan! When we compared notes, we both cited solid training leading up to the race. And it was a good reminder that a plan is not enough when the competition is good - you have to cross all those t's and dot the i's.

(Another finisher comes out of the clouds)
(Caitlin Smith back in form, and now the 50k National Champion!)
(The reason I have to train - Mark Richtman [4:47, AGCR] and Jean Pommier [4:29],  two of the fastest Masters in the sport)

So despite my less-than-stellar result, I give the Strava Training Plan a big thumbs up. I've already set it up for the next race in October. If you need just a little bit of structure, check it out. And the Tamalpias Headlands 50k gets the double thumbs up - an amazing race!

See ya on the trails...

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