Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I Am Ready

As I've written about before, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run became a bit of an obsession for me back in 2012.  To someday be at that start line in Squaw the last weekend in June, the white bib pinned to my shorts, staring up at the climb up to the Escarpment while awaiting the shotgun blast signalling the start.

Three straight years of qualifying and attending the December lottery ended in disappointment, but it gave me the opportunity to run more races, and to learn more about myself and this sport.  I knew my time would come eventually, and I drove up to Placer High this past December hoping this might be the year.  And then Tim Twietmeyer called my name:

Since the Cascade Crest 100 in August, my running had been a little sporadic.  I was still getting out and enjoying time on the trails, but without any real focus.  After the lottery I had a trip to Oregon planned in late December, and a work trip to Vegas in early January, so I just focused on trying to get a little more consistent for that six week period with a plan to begin training in earnest in mid-January.

The break had also given me some time to re-evaluate my running and training.  If I'm honest, while I've learned more about how to run ultras, I haven't really improved my fitness much the past few years.  Looking back, that shouldn't be much of a surprise as I've lacked year-round consistency, and have pretty much just gone out and run easy most of the time.  I'd been reading Jason Koop's Training Essentials for Ultrarunning, and even had the chance to chat with him a bit up at the Ouray aid station during Hardrock last year.  So I decided to adopt his principles which are essentially:
  1. Train the least specific aspects farthest away, most specific closest to event
  2. You must incorporate all three key intensities during a training block - SteadyState, Tempo, Intervals
  3. Work strengths closes to race, and weaknesses further away

This was a departure for me, but led to planning out a three-week block of vo2 max-focused intervals (2 x per week) in January-February, a short Endurance phase to ramp up my long run for Way Too Cool, a Tempo phase that went up to The Canyons 100K, and then the final several weeks leading into States were to be Endurance/SteadyState focused

Way Too Cool played out like I had hoped, I'd almost describe it as uneventful", which is exactly what I was looking for.  I ended up at 6:08:21, 14 minutes off my PR from 2015. But considering the muddy conditions and an extra .3-.4 of a mile (including a climb) on the course due to a washed out section of trail, I was really pleased with the result.  The purpose was to get in a long, supported training run, practice my nutrition (gel every 30 minutes plus 1 bottle/hour electrolyte drink), and come out uninjured.  So I considered the day a success.

Training went pretty well after Way Too Cool, and I ramped up to The Canyons 100K feeling pretty good.  If you haven't run that race, I'd highly recommend it.  I've run it the past two years, camping out in the back of the car behind Foresthill School, the race just has a cool vibe and provides the chance to cover 30+ miles of the Western States course.
Dirtbagging in the Duckmobile
This year brought the added bonus of Eric from Ultrarunnerpodcast and his lawn darts camping out beside me, and we threw those weapons back and forth across the lawn while sipping beers and telling stories for a couple of hours - a great way to relax before a big race.  And it is a big race, with over 15,000' of elevation gain over 63 miles.

Other than some blown quads on Cal St. thanks to taking the descent into Volcano Canyon a little quicker than I should have, the race went well for me and I came in at 16:40:53, over an hour and 20 minutes faster than the prior year.  A solid, long effort in my build up.

I recovered well, especially considering I had thought about dropping to the 50K going into the week to be sure I could keep training going.  After a single down week, I put in four straight weeks of 10-12 hours and decent (5800'-8800') vertical.  I did develop some pain in the back of my knee during the first 34-mile day of the Memorial Day training runs, so I took Sunday off but was able to run the 22 miles on Monday with no real issues. 
Robinson Flat looking a little different than I've seen it on race day
The pain in the back of the knee crept up anytime I went over 90 minutes, so after one more 20 miler I tapered a little more aggressively than I had planned.  I also got treatment from Dr. Chappy Wood, asking him to throw everything at it - electrostim, Graston, lasers, even cupping.  Along with 7-8 sauna sessions and a couple of runs in 90 degree heat while bundled up head to toe, I've done everything I can to be ready for this thing.  
110 degrees in the car
This has been the most consistent, focused training block I've put in since I started running ultras in 2013, the year after I first experienced Western States as a crew member and pacer.  I've dropped 20 pounds since January, rolled out my troublesome calves and IT bands daily, and put in 119 miles on the actual course.  As I stand here writing, hitting F5 on the Auburn weather forecast page every few hours (100 degrees on Saturday!), 2 days and 10 hours from the starting gun, I of course have doubts.  I'm scared.  I'm nervous. I'm excited!  But most importantly, I just keep forcing my mind back to the same mantra - I Am Ready.