Sunday, June 20, 2010

If you can't stand the heat...

...just shut up and RUN!!!

That was my mantra during the second half of Highlands Sky 40 on Saturday. After a lovely, cool, breezy morning of running high above tree line on the Roaring Plains in the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia, the real challenge of the day revealed itself in the 7+ mile exposed road section of the race during miles 20-27. It was on this section that I needed to dig up the positive mental talk and just run from "shade to shade." Once we hit the Dolly Sods we got a nice cool breeze from time to time, but the damage was done, as they say...I was toast.

What makes some runners better in the heat than others? I have a friend whom I'll call Alisa Springman. She LOVES running in the heat, so much so that she LOVES running Badwater. This year will be her third in a row in Death Valley. She is a swimmer in her former life, so perhaps she has a natural "thing" with being in the sun. Not me.

Give me 15 degrees in mid-December and I will flow like water. For some, running in this kind of cold is not appealing---they would rather be warm and toasty by the fire than running up Headforemost Mountain in a 9 degree wind chill. My body runs really well in cool and colder weather, and most of my ultra course PRs have been set in cool and/or rainy temps: Bull Run in the 2006 cold rain, 9:00; Mountain Masochist 50 in 40 degrees in 2007, 9:34; Hellgate 100K's 15 degrees in 2009, 14:58; and Highland Sky 40, where, in 2004 in the cool rainy 50s, I ran a 8:06 AND was the female winner. Co-inky-dink? I think not.

In 2006, I ran Western States 100 in the third hottest conditions in race history. It was 70 degrees at the start in Squaw Valley (at 4,000 feet) and 110 in the canyons during the race, and 95 degrees at 8:00am at the finish line. I was prepared for these conditions--I had sat in the sauna following the plans provided by the Badwater race site, adjusted my race time goals by at least two hours, started very slowly, and got wet at every AS and stream crossing. Mentally I knew the heat would be my challenge of the race, not the 100 miles run, and this preparation was a huge factor in why I was able to finish when so many didn't that year.

So that's why I spent the week before this year's Highlands Sky checking out the weather and adjusting (and readjusting) my fluid and calorie needs. The forecast (which was correct) called for clear skies with 50 degree temps at 6:00am with 90% humidity, eventually reaching 85-88 degrees with 50% humidity. I knew the humidity wasn't going to be a concern but the exposed sections and the lack of cloud cover were going to be the challenge. For this reason I tucked in an extra 20 ounce handheld for the second half to use just for dousing water over my head, in addition to the 70 ounces of water in my Nathan pack and the 20 ounce handheld that I used for Perpetuem and Nuun, alternatively. I also took an S cap every hour, sometimes every 30 minutes whenever I felt cramping coming on, and this strategy worked well. Finally, I consumed 2300 calories (mostly Hammergel, Clif Bloks and Perp) over the 9 hours I was out there, a perfect amount as it averaged about 250 and hour.

In addition, I wore what are probably the best trail shoe for the Highland Sky course: the inov-8 Flyrock 284s. These shoes were perfect for the variety of conditions we encountered (in order of appearance): pavement, muddy singletrack, rocky, technical trail, slick rooty steep downhill trail, rolling dirt road, old jeep road, narrow sandy singletrack, wide horse trail, boulder hopping, steep scree on the ski slope, and pavement. I loved how fast and quick I felt in these shoes, even if I wasn't really running fast and quick!

And despite the heat and my whining about it, I didn't bonk, cramp, or Death March it in---in fact, I ran the last road section with relative ease. The bottom line was that heat slowed me significantly on sections where in the past I tend to run fast (miles 20-40), thus registering my slowest and most painful Highland Sky finish to date. BUT being a "glass is half full" kind of gal, I had a blast hanging out with my VHTRC and WVMTR friends, and am pleased with how my nutrition and hydration went. With all the walking I was doing, I was also able to enjoy the gorgeous views of one of my favorite courses. The pics below are just a few of the many that I took during the race...hmmm, perhaps that accounts for some of the slow down? Never mind.

My favorite section of the Dolly on it for a larger view. Note all the runners far ahead down the trail. That's Billy-Bob Combs in the yellow shorts.

I would have loved to have sat down beneath the shade of this tree...

My good friend Gary I am leaving him at mile 7 on the Roaring Plains, only to have him pass me back at mile 38. An amazing performance by a legendary ultrarunner!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Highlands Sky 40 = Summer!

Out in Northern California, ultrarunners know it's officially summer when Western States weekend rolls around. In Colorado, it's officially summertime when the "Camp Hardrock" people start to show up in Silverton to mark the course and get acclimatized to the altitude two weeks from race day. For others, its when they touch down in Death Valley in mid-July for Badwater, and the first sign of summer for many in the VHTRC is when they take off for Bighorn 100, 50, and 50K.

For me, it's officially summer when Highlands Sky 40 is here! Held the third Saturday in June, HS has been a staple on my racing calendar for the past 6 years. I have written about it in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and, most likely, will write about it again this year...and I am planning to take my camera along this time so that I can capture all the glory of this very tough course.It is a 40 miler that runs like a 50 every time.

After a crazy spring of very little training and racing because of work and family obligations, I was looking forward to getting serious about my preparation for Highland Sky by mid-May. By then, lacrosse seasons were over (this year was very bittersweet as it was Chape's last high school season), school was wrapping up, and I was finally getting heat-trained. We had many hot and humid weekends in May which added up to many excellent long runs in the mountains in the heat, and I was particularly happy with a double that included 23 miles on the Grindstone course (with a ball-busting 45 minute run to the top of Dowells Draft) followed up by 20 miles in the 90s on RipRap. Good stuff!

I also pulled out the old training logs and recycled my best track workouts for the last four weeks leading up to Highland Sky, including Bill's and my favorite:

4 x 1200 at 5k pace (4:50 for me, 4:40 for Bill) followed by a run off the track, down a steep hill and back up for about 800 meters with 3:00 recovery in between each 1200.

This one kicked our butts, but only after we ran this one the week before:

200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 at 5K pace with 2:00 rest in between each interval.

Yowza! This is a confidence builder, to be sure. Bill needed it for WS and I needed it for HS. It was a great feeling to push through the doubt and anxiety ("this is going to hurt") that came through my mind after the 1200.

After running the Priest and Three Ridges two weeks ago, it was time for the taper. Last year I wrote a post about the taper after attending an informative session on marathon tapering at Ragged Mountain Running Shop. While I won't rehash that post here, I will just say that I love the taper. It's a time for examination and reflection, as well as getting down to brass tacks and to start packing, planning, sorting. The homework is done and it's time to get ready for the exam! This week I am off from work, and have spent a lot of time catching up on sleep and fave book to read before a race is Running Within by Jerry Lynch. It has excellent chapters on mental preparation for racing and training, something that I have been working on.

I am looking forward to seeing the usual suspects as well as meeting new friends this weekend, and will be sure to post my pics here. Both the men's and women's fields are looking really tough, which is a great motivator for me.

Summertime...sweet summertime.

**NEW** Just came across this VERY cool video from Running Times of the trail work done on the Highlands Sky course this spring in preparation for the race on Saturday...a wonderful piece on the history of the Dolly Sods and a lot of glimpses of the trail!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Western States Boot Camp weekend!

My training buddy Bill is running his second 100 and first Western States in less than four weeks. He has been training all spring for the "big dance" as some people call it...Boston Marathon, followed by Promise Land 50K five days later. Then it was off the the Grand Canyon with the boys from West Virginia for a two day crossing, followed up 4 days later with a 20/23/20 training weekend, which included 23 miles on the Grindstone course and 20 miles on RipRap in 90 degree heat. During the week he's been kicking my butt on the track. We think he's ready to go!

I just sent him this link to a recent blog post that shows all the SNOW out on the WS course...including 6 feet at Robinson Flat!

All this WS training has been good for me as well. I am starting to taper a bit for Highlands Sky 40 but first we have have one more tough run: The Priest and Three Ridges on Saturday!

Memorial Day Boot Camp is a fun time of year---great adventures with new and old friends, different trails to explore, heat to acclimate to, gorgeous flora and frisky fauna (we had a bear check us out 20 yards off the AT last week), and good climbing and descending miles, and the satisfaction at the end of it all of putting money in the bank!!