Monday, June 26, 2017

Jim Walmsley

Disclaimer: I don't know Jim Walmsley. I have never spoken with him. Below are my own thoughts and feelings about what transpired on Saturday at Western States.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard the news of what went down this past weekend at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. The odds-on-favorite, Jim Walmsley dropped out of "the Big Dance" at the American River after what can only be described as a very aggressive first 60-something miles. A year ago, he missed a turn some 90 miles into the race, when he was on course record pace, and lost the lead.

Jim's DNF per se isn't why I'm writing this post. And, honestly, not even his fairly uncomfortable pre-race interview with iRunFar, in which he may or may not have had a few too many drinks and said things he shouldn't have said, is why I'm writing this blog. But let me just say for the record that the iRunFar interview was bad!

The reason I'm writing this blog is the reaction to Jim's failure on Saturday...which I find troubling upon some reflection. On the one hand, there are those applauding his "guts," "aggressiveness" and "balls." I get that--what he did was ballsy and probably a bit stupid given the precarious trail conditions in the high country and the very warm conditions throughout. On the other hand, there are those pouncing on his failure, kicking him while he's down as he really put his foot in his mouth in that iRunFar interview and, as the story goes, got his just deserts on Saturday when he was denied a win and a finish as a result of arrogantly going out too hard. His DNF was karma, some say.

Both sides have some merit to their arguments. But I would submit that Jim is probably living with some regret right now. This is not a bad guy. Despite that iRunFar interview, this is not a guy who lives to put down and disrespect his competition and run recklessly. I think this is a guy who is 27 years-old, a world-class athlete, and a big believer in his own amazing abilities. He over-committed himself early on in Saturday's race and paid the price for it in a race that really doesn't start until after Foresthill (mile 62), when he found himself out of gas.

Just to get right to the point: To some, Jim is the quintessential millennial. Which I think is unfair.

Jim made a mistake, paid for it and is probably now learning from it the hard way. Rather than kick the guy while he's down, we should recognize what he did on Saturday for what it was: a very public learning experience. If there is one thing I've gleaned from more than a few years in this sport, it's that world-class athletes don't think like those of us with regular or even above-average abilities do. They are world-class athletes in part because they have a huge mental edge, and not just physical talents. It might be hard for us regular folks to understand that edge--it may come off in the wrong way sometimes.

Jim's mental edge, which usually serves him well, probably got the better of him Saturday, leading him on a fatally flawed strategy when the best plan would have been what he himself was probably incapable of doing at the time: starting off conservatively, adjusting to the course conditions and weather, and letting the win--and not course record--come to him.

I don't know Jim but when I see things like this, I can't help but think he's a good guy who probably had a few too many drinks before his iRunFar interview and started howling at the moon when the cameras were on. He had a bad moment and things came unraveled on Saturday when all eyes were on him. Simply put, he erred in some critical areas and has paid for it with a high-profile DNF.

Jim Walmsley is one of the most talented ultrarunners this sport has ever seen. He puts in the work and trains super hard. He races all-in (sometimes too all-in), just as Steve Prefontaine did (I do not use that comparison lightly). He is very aggressive and confident in his own abilities. Sometimes he takes it a bit too far, as he did in his iRunFar interview and race. But, as someone who sincerely enjoys this sport and watching new talent come in and take the greatest races by storm, and as someone who has also made some mistakes on the trail over the years, my sincere hope is that Jim learns from this experience, grows from it, reaches out to a few folks who he may have dissed, and comes back next year and gets the win that he has been chasing for a few years. I hope he learns some humility and will get that win next year the old-fashioned way--with his head down and doing what needs to get done from Squaw to Auburn.

I hope he gets it right after getting it wrong two years in a row. Because, as Andy Jones-Wilkins observed, that's what Western States is all about. It's about finally getting it right when maybe you have gotten it wrong.

  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

If You're Running Western States This Weekend, This Could Be the Single Most Important Thing You Do

This morning, I checked the weather for this weekend in Auburn, California (the finish of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run) and saw this:


101 degrees is no joke--and neither is a low of 69! That would tie for the third hottest WSER on record. I have written at length about how my race last year fell apart in the canyons. I am still amazed that I somehow finished that sucker. If you are lucky enough to be running States, this weekend you will get lots of advice. I know I did last year. Overall, I took the advice except for one nugget of wisdom that, looking back on it, might well could have been the difference between my 26-hour-and-change finish and a sub-24, which I was fully capable of achieving.

This weekend you will hear many advice-givers encourage you to take full advantage of the water on the course--the streams, the river, and of course the ice at the aid stations. That is dead-on. But let me take it one step further and make it as precise as possible:

When you reach the bottom of the insanely hot Deadwood Canyon and are greeted by a raging river, do yourself a favor and get in it. 

Last year, when I reached the bottom of the canyon (mile 45 or so), I thought to myself, "I'm not that hot. I did plenty of heat training and am good to go. Skip the river and onward!" Huge mistake. No sooner than a few hundred feet up the nasty climb to Devil's Thumb (and it is very nasty), I was melting from the heat. By the time I reached Devil's Thumb, I was was overheated, leading to major stomach distress at the aid station that ultimately plagued me through Foresthill (and then after that the damage was done). Had I taken the good advice I'd gotten and soaked for a few minutes in the river at the bottom of the canyon, I would have gone into the climb up to Devil's Thumb much cooler and my stomach might have held together. But I didn't and I paid for it...and I believe it was the single biggest mistake I made--a mistake that cost me hours and hours.

So, on Saturday, when you reach the bottom of ridiculously hot Deadwood Canyon and are looking at the wall of a climb in front of you, take stock for a second. The 2-3 minutes you spend in the river might actually save you hours in the long run. Get in the river. Soak for a short bit. Get your head, neck, wrists and entire body in that cold water. You will be glad you did it.

Enjoy the race and get it done! It's an amazing experience.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Who's Going to Win Western States?

The "Big Dance" is only five days away and the pre-race hype has hit a fever pitch! It could be a "fire and ice" year at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. As has been reported, there's still a lot of snow up in the high country and, as of last night, the forecast for Auburn on Saturday is a balmy 98 degrees. Fire and ice! When I ran WSER last year, there was basically no snow up in the high country and we were able to cross the American River by our own power. Probably not the case this year!

I mostly agree with AJW's picks for the guys and gals, which is to say I like Jim Walmsley as the top male and Kaci Lickteig as the top female. Those two seem to be the consensus picks. As Meghan Hicks from iRunFar correctly pointed out, the only person who can beat Jim Walmsley is...Jim Walmsley. I think, on Saturday, Walmsley takes the lead and never relinquishes it, running at the front the whole time but certainly feeling the pressure from a stacked field behind him. He finishes/wins with a time of about 14:55.

On the women's side, I just think Lickteig operates on another level (similar to Walmsley), though certainly Magdalena Boulet (former Olympian and 2015 Western States champ) and Stephanie Howe (2014 champ) are no slouches and will be ready to pounce if Lickteig falters (which I doubt will happen). Lickteig weighs maybe 100 pounds soaking wet but, like Ann Trason, is a full-on badass.

So there you have it: Walmsley and Lickteig both win. But I am going to say that neither sets the course record for their respective genders.
  
***
  
For whatever it's worth, my training is progressing nicely. My right knee is better than 90% (knock on wood) and my left knee is about 80%. My left knee starting barking at me likely because it was compensating for the right knee. But both are on the mend and, fortunately, there's always KT Tape if I need a little extra support. But, overall, the body is holding up very nicely and I'm liking where things are with the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run now about two months away. I'm getting in some good training and have prioritized legit trails on days that I can get to the foothills and/or mountains.

That said, it is clear to me that, with age, I'm slowing down, especially on the trail. But yet I have never felt stronger. While I have clearly lost a step, the raw endurance is there more than ever. I can go a looooooooooooong way. It would be interesting to run another 24-hour race and see if I could go north of 135 miles. I feel the maturity is there to crank out 135+ over 24 hours. Maybe next year?

Finishing the Leadville Trail Marathon
on Saturday.
Last month, I lined up for the Colfax Marathon, a road race in and around downtown Denver, with a back-of-mind goal of qualifying for the 2018 Boston Marathon. Though I did snag that BQ time, it was by no means easy! With a fair number of hills and the "mile high effect" in full force for all 26.2 miles, this race is no joke. At mile 10, I was feeling it but somehow hung on and came in with a just-okay time of 3:13, good for a BQ but probably just short of the threshold for being able to gain entry into the actual race due to what will surely be high demand. We'll see how it goes. If I don't get into Boston, I will not shed a tear for I'll have a winter of skiing in the Rocky Mountains to look forward to. But it would be nice to go back one of these days.

Then this past weekend I lined up for my sixth Leadville Trail Marathon. This year, due to very heavy late spring snow in the high country, we ran the snow route, which misses Ball Mountain but still takes you up Mosquito Pass, which tops out at 13,185 feet. Given that I had put a decent effort into the Colfax Marathon, my goal for the Leadville Trail Marathon was simply a strong training run up high. And that's what I got from it. Despite absolutely brutal 50+ mile per hour headwinds at the top of Mosquito Pass and some stomach discomfort around mile 22 (nothing ever came of it--just some discomfort), I crossed the finish line feeling good. The snow course throws at you a mind-blowing 12,600 feet of combined elevation change, all between 10,200 feet and 13,185 feet, over the 26.2 miles. I must have run it at a smart, conservative pace because I felt great the next day and feel good again today. No post-race issues at all.
  
My next event is the Chase the Moon 12-Hour on July 7. Again, the goal is a strong training run. I had originally signed up for CTM with a goal of 50 miles but we'll see how that goes. If I can get in 40 strong miles and walk away feeling good, that's OK, too. But 50 miles would be optimal.

***
  
Best of luck to all toeing the line at Squaw Valley Ski Resort this weekend. If you have made it this far, you have guts and determination to the max. If you cross that finish line, you will cross it as a champion and will never look at life the same. It's the most magical ultrarunning experience I've ever had.

Now it's your turn: Who ya got for Western States--top male, top female and the podiums for each?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Want to Get In Shape as a Runner? Here's Step 1.

One of the athletes I'm coaching has experienced a full 4-minute drop in his average Maffetone Test pace since February. What's Maffetone? Keep reading!

Yiannis Kouros said that, "you must be patient and then do
solid training. Without patience (read: aerobic base building),
you will never conquer endurance."
He went into his training for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run having not trained consistently but having tried his hand at the 50K distance, where it took him 7+ hours to finish. When he came to me for coaching services back in January, I asked him a bunch of questions and out of that experience came the realization that this was an athlete who had the desire but required at least 3-4 months of nothing but aerobic base training. So we created a program that revolved around the Maffetone Method. For him, based on his age, this meant all runs were in the 145-155 beats-per-minute range (never going over!), as I'd determined exclusive aerobic training was a fundamental area of need early in his development.

Essentially, the Maffetone Method is a personalized program, using the 180 Formula, for developing a solid aerobic base and optimizing the athlete's health and well-being. It's what made Mark Allen into...Mark Allen the Ironman legend. But I believe the Maffetone Method, while brilliant, will get an athlete training for a mountain race only so far. So my approach is to then build on the aerobic base, after it's been carefully developed over the course of months of consistent running, with some specific types of workouts that achieve specific things. For this runner, because he's training for the Leadville 100, we started to gradually introduce fartleks, intervals and then hill repeats and 20-25-minute tempo running, in addition to long runs on trails and roads, after he'd put in 3+ solid months of MAF. He was ready for this.

What is so great about this athlete's progress isn't just the steady improvement in his MAF Test results. To be sure, that's very exciting! But what's so gratifying at this stage is the fact that he's steadily increased his weekly mileage (now at 55 per week) and increased his long runs, while also gradually implementing quality workouts and staying healthy, injury-free and mentally engaged. He is now ready for the peak period of his Leadville training. And I think this all goes back to the aerobic base he built for those first three months. Without a solid aerobic base, an endurance athlete has built his or her castle on sand and not rock. If the former, the castle will crumble come race day (if not sooner). If the latter, the athlete will have what it takes to cover the distance--he has the requisite aerobic engine to more than cover the distance.

What's next for this athlete? The buildup for Leadville will continue with increasingly longer runs, many of which will be on mountainous trails, tempo runs to countinue building strength, hill repeats to continually develop speed and efficiency, and nothing but MAF pace on easy days.

If you, too, are an athlete looking to get in shape and maybe try your hand at the marathon or even ultramarathon distance, consider the Maffetone Method! It works!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Being "All In"

Last night I showed the short video below--already a classic in the growing collection of ultrarunning documentaries--to my almost 9-year-old son. At varying times, he and I have talked about what it means to be "all in"--totally dedicated to the moment at hand, doing it right every step of the way, and stopping at nothing to get the goal achieved. In this video, "Miller vs. Hawks," with The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in San Francisco as the backdrop, we see two athletes who are "all in."

But the athlete who most strikes me is Zack Miller, winning the hilly race despite a ferocious challenge from the young Hawks. You can see Miller's "all in" dedication throughout (and Hawks' too) but especially in the end as he is looking to put time on Hawks, who is trailing in second only a minute or two behind. Miller's breathing in the last 3+ miles says it all. Miller's raw talent is exceeded only by his heart--he runs with the heart of a lion.

Also striking is the sportsmanship between Miller and Hawks. Miller, after celebrating his win, waits for Hawks to finish and then helps the exhausted Hawks to the ground, even assisting him in stretching out his legs. The two congratulate each other after a hard-fought race. These two guys are champions.

At a time when there are a dwindling number of athletes to look up to, I was proud to show this video to my son and point to how these two athletes ran the race so hard and showed what it means to be "all in."

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Spirit of Ultramarathoning

Yesterday I got this e-mail (which I slightly edited for better clarity) from a reader. I've responded below.

Dear Wyatt:

I really enjoyed your last post, especially the thoughts on Anton Krupicka. It got me to thinking about what my running friends and I call "the spirit of ultramarathoning." We're so wrapped up in the elites and what they're doing that we forget what the sport is all about, and that's the folks out there doing it because they love it no matter where they finish--back of the pack, middle of the pack or barely making the cutoffs.

Thanks,
Joey

Joey:

Tim Twietmeyer won Western States 5
times while holding down a full-time
gig at HP. Source: here.
Thanks for your e-mail. I couldn't agree more. While it's exciting to watch the elites and see and read about their amazing feats (like what Jim Walmsley was on the cusp of doing at Western States last year, before missing a turn--unreal), I agree that the spirit of ultrarunning is on full display in ordinary people out there running crazy distances and finishing races because it's what they love to do.

I saw this firsthand at the Greenland Trail 50K last year, when I was manning an aid station. I felt such love for the trail and the community from everyone who came through my aid station, especially the back-of-the-packers who were so easy-going and just happy to be out there despite the fact that we were experiencing a full-on blizzard. And I felt it at Western States last year when I saw a second sunrise while still on the course (it was a tough day-plus for me).

There was a time in my ultrarunning life when I was driven to win, podium or, at the least, finish top-5. When I stood at the starting line, that was what was going through my head. I didn't always have fun in these kinds of races--a lot of times I felt pressure that, looking back on it, I put on myself. It is amazing I didn't burn out, and I think the reason I never burned out was that beneath it all was a love of simply running in nature.

Now that I'm a bit older (and slower), I look at why I'm still doing ultras and it's because--probably like you and thousands of others--I love to run and I love the community. People like us have demanding jobs, families, lawns to mow and unending competing priorities, and yet we make the sacrifices to train for and finish ultras...because we love it and it's who we are deep down. And, honestly, that's how it was back in the day even with the elites. The guys and gals who were dominating in the 80s and 90s often had full-time jobs and families. Paid sponsorships? Pfft. They were punching the proverbial clock like the rest of us.

Which is to say being an ultrarunner has been, and probably always will be, about making sacrifices out of love for the sport that most people wouldn't make--waking up at 4am on a Saturday or Sunday to go for a long run, training when most people sleep, saying no to that second beer or glass of wine, going to bed at 9pm. No one is paying us to do this. We have no sponsors pressuring us. It's all about love and the community...and sacrifice. So, yes, I agree 100% with you: While I do think the elites embody the spirit of ultrarunning (they, too, love it), I feel that the spirit is truly sustained in ordinary people like us getting out there in nature and putting one foot in front of the other with like-minded folks, whether it's in a training run, at a local fat-ass event, or in an organized race.

Thanks,
Wyatt

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Mountains Are Calling; Thoughts on Anton Krupicka

It has been an up and down spring. Through mid-March, my training was going super well. I had put in a few 20-milers and had started to get to the Foothills trails (which at the time were crazy dry) for some long runs. Speedwork and tempo runs were coming along, too. But then on a 20-mile run up through Waterton Canyon and into Roxborough State Park on Sunday, March 19, it all came apart...my knee, that is. Oddly enough, my knee only hurt a little on the back half of the run but then the next day I was barely able to walk.

Having experienced this injury before (back in 2008), I know exactly what is it: patella femoral pain syndrome, also known as "runner's knee." Although painful and aggravating, it's not a serious injury as it involves no structural damage. It mostly just requires time and patience. And that is what I'm giving it...time, patience and lots of KT Tape, foam rolling and ibuprofen! My knee gives me good days (like yesterday and today) and not so good days (like on my run on Friday in Topeka, Kansas).

The most aggravating aspect of the injury is that it interrupted what was shaping up into a really strong spring buildup...with a Boston bid at the Colfax Marathon in sight. Not sure that's going to happen as I have done no speedwork, no tempos and no 20 milers in the last 6 weeks...meaning my fitness has taken a hit. So, as of now, Colfax is a question-mark.

My main focus is getting my knee back to 100% so I can line up with a reasonable amount of confidence at the Leadville 100 in August. As of now, it is not ready for big descents in the mountains. Far from it. But the good news is that it's getting better and over the past two weeks I have gotten in 126 miles, which isn't great but it's progress toward what I'm hoping will be weeks of 80-90 miles going into my taper. So we'll see how things shape up. I am really hoping my plans for the Leadville Trail Marathon and Chase the Moon 12-Hour, as well as some Fridays I'll be going up high, hold up because they're there to get me ready for the 100 in mid-August. To say the mountains are calling would be an understatement. I am so ready to get up high and do some epic stuff this summer.

***

Life has been so busy. Last week, I spent four days on the road (two in Albuquerque, NM and two in Topeka, KS), leaving me feeling pretty tired (read: exhausted) going into the weekend. The good news is that there is no travel in the immediate future but right now I'm feeling like my life is so dominated by everything not called running. Running is like this little thing in the back of my mind and I have to remind myself that I have this big race in August called the Leadville Trail 100-Mile. I was starting to get into it when my knee blew up but, over the past 6 weeks, I've felt distracted, a bit stressed about the injury and overall insecure. Take away my physical prowess as a runner (leaving me with a bum knee) and I'm left a bit exposed and vulnerable. It's that way with every runner I know--we're an injury away from being a basket case. I have not been a basket case, but I'm not at my best when I have a bad wheel.

Which means I'd better have a good backup plan when I "retire" from this sport due to old age, if ever. It might be then that I take up being a race director, a career aid station volunteer...or something like that. I can't imagine a life not involving ultras. A few weeks ago, I watched the new documentary about Karl Meltzer's record-setting run on the Appalachian Trail and I have to say I was struck by Dave Horton's efforts to keep the Speedgoat going. As I watched the movie, I thought to myself, "Someday I can see myself doing that...being the older, grizzled veteran out there helping the younger guys get it done." Except I'm no Dave Horton. There is only one Dave Horton.

***

There's an article on Trail Flow about ultrarunning in the "post-Krupicka climate" that's got a lot of people talking. The reason is that it's a rather strange article in its nauseating fawning over Anton Krupicka. The author basically says Anton represented the end of an era for mountain trail running and that the sport is now impure, soulless and dominated by fast guys, like Sage Canaday, who aren't "true" mountain runners like Anton was. The author doesn't even know Sage and yet kind of attacks him, saying he has a "stupid haircut" and would rather run intervals than up mountains. Hmmmmmm. As I read the article, it occurred to me that the author is new to the sport (he admits his inspiration came from "Born to Run") and doesn't really know much about its history, let alone the fact that Sage is one of the nicest guys in all of ultra (saw it firsthand at Run Rabbit Run last year).

What I think about Anton doesn't really matter but I have always felt some people don't fully understand the kind of runner he actually was/is. When you look at Anton's best races, most of them were on runnable courses...like Leadville, Miwok, White River, Western States (where he finished a very strong second), Rocky Raccoon, etc. He is indeed great in the mountains--one of the best--and I really hope he finally gets a crack at Hardrock, but Anton is first and foremost an awesome runner. I would not put him in the category of Kilian Jornet, the most dominant mountain runner on planet Earth. Anton in his prime was a great runner who performed brilliantly on very challenging but mostly runnable courses, some of which involved mountainous peaks. But every day he tagged Green Mountain or did some epic run in the Rocky Mountains--all of which he recorded on his well-trafficked, amazing blog (which has since been replaced with a fancier website)--and over time this became how people viewed him...as a mountain running god and living legend. It brought him mythical status and a cult-like following, as exemplified in that aforementioned trashy Trail Flow blog that made many people queasy.

Anton inspired many people, myself included. His prime coincided with a magical era for the sport, and this era was beautifully captured in his blog (Anton's old blog was in a league of its own). I remember in 2010 going up Hope Pass during the Leadville 100 and seeing him come barreling down the mountain in the lead and near course-record pace (alas, he would later crash and burn going up Powerline). It was quite a sight.

I think for working guys, the thought of living in your truck all summer, bathing in mountain rivers and basically bagging peaks all day and everyday--as Anton does/did--has some major appeal, because all of that seems so much better than being a working stiff with a lawn to mow. What this appeal comes down to can be summed up in one word: Freedom. We humans yearn to be free and Anton embodies freedom. He lives by his own rules and basically is a professional runner and peak bagger. This really resonates with guys.

And so a lot of people live(d) vicariously through Anton. Yeah, while Anton is still around, mostly doing non-running stuff like biking, climbing and backcountry skiing--and hopefully plotting a comeback to ultras--the sport is definitely missing him. But life goes on. Just because he isn't racing right now (I think he is young enough to come back very strong and win again, if he can stay healthy) doesn't mean the sport is impure, as the author of that crappy blog suggests.

With that, a final point: In almost all facets of life, there will always be tension between old school and new school. The only constant in life is change. The young and fast guys in ultra--guys like Jim Walmsley--represent a new breed of runner. Doesn't mean they're better (or worse) than the guys before them. It just means they're a different breed of runner in a sport that's always evolving. I am excited to see what these young and fast guys do (so long as they do it the right way), just as the older guys probably said about dudes like Scott Jurek back in the 90s. I for one will be pulling for Sage at Western States this year as I think Sage has struggled in 100s and is due for a big one (he's not quite as young as Walmsley but he's still a kid in my eyes).

I don't ever want to be that guy who trashes and immediately discounts the new it because it's not what it was like "back in the day." Like Dave Horton, I want to be around the sport for years to come, surrounding myself with people of all ages and celebrating what makes ultramarathoning so unique and special: a community of like-minded folks out there putting one foot in front of the other in nature.