Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jackpot 100 Mile Race Report - NEW PR!!!

This weekend at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 100 miler was the most amazing experience I've had since I started running. I could have never imagined what would come of this race.

The race is a 2.3 mile loop through Cornerstone Park, a wilderness reserve in Las Vegas. This was the inaugural race as well as my first time ever racing on a short loop course. I've run many races with my good friend Susette and encouraged her to sign up for this one as her first 100. I hoped she'd still be my friend after the race.

I mixed up some bottles of Tailwind the night before the race, put them in a cooler, and my plan was to only stop during the race long enough to fill up my water bottle. In and out. No dilly dallying. Keep moving forward. Livin' la vida loca. Ice ice baby. I believe I can fly. Beware the chair.

The race had some different options. You could register to run 6 hours, 12 hours, or 24 hours. There is no fixed distance with those, you just run as far as you want during that time. This is a GREAT way to break into ultramarathons. Or runners could register to go for 100 miles. All the different groups started at the same time which was fun.

About half the course was paved asphalt. I do most training on trails so I was apprehensive about this but it actually ended up working out fine.

There was a short section of rocky, technical trail but the rest of the trail sections were beautifully runnable packed dirt and sand:

We circled a small lake full of ducks and geese that honked incessantly like broken bike horns. I caught my friend Kit's reflection in the lake as she ran by.

The headquarters where you finished then started each loop had a huge aid station and live bands throughout the day. There was one time when we came through a loop that these cheerleaders greeted us.

Temperatures were forecast to reach 80 degrees and I drove to Las Vegas knowing that without any heat acclimation it was possible that my skin might melt. Thankfully we had cloud cover almost the entire day which kept the temperature perfect.

Throughout the race I ran quite a few miles with Colby Wentlandt. Listen. This kid is 13 years old. Nope. Not a typo. 13. And not his first 100 miler. During those many miles we talked a lot and I was seriously impressed with his wisdom and understanding of the sport. He is wise beyond his years and kept a steady, solid pace the whole race. (While managing to smile the whole time.)

The thing I love most at ultramarathons is the fine group of people I get to share the trail with. Everyone is so amazingly supportive and encouraging. Especially on courses like this where you see each other often, everyone was saying "Good job" or giving a thumbs up or a "Way to go!" each time they passed. Everyone. The fastest people. The slowest people. Everyone helps everyone.

I was particularly inspired by one lady I saw throughout the race. I had to ask her name, and asked her forgiveness for asking how old she is. This, my friends, is Barbara. She is 79 years old. She told me she registered for the 12 hour race as a training run. She's doing a 24 hour race next month to train for her 100 miler in May. (She already ran a 100 miler at age 74.) I looked her up after the race. There is an awesome video about her HERE and an article on Trail Runner Magazine HERE. Talk about going beyond limits.

I remember seeing a horrible infomercial years ago for a rotisserie cooker. The audience kept chanting "Set it....and forget it!" I thought about that while I was running. I really focused on staying in the "Set it and forget it!" mindset during the race. I got into a steady pace where I was pushing but not overdoing it.......and I stayed there. Hour. After. Hour. In the zone. Just livin' la vida loca. (Thank goodness THAT song didn't get stuck in my head for 100 miles!) That got me to the 50 mile mark in 10 hours and 37 minutes. I was ecstatic, I've never run 50 that fast before.

I changed my socks, coated them with Body Glide, and took a dose of Vitamin T (Tylenol) as the sun set on day one.

I used primarily liquid calories for the race and thankfully my stomach stayed great the whole time. The aid station was amazing so when I passed by I would occasionally grab a few pretzels, or a bite sized piece of pumpkin pie, or for the first time during a race......cheesecake. Cheesecake. I heard the heavens open and a choir of angles rejoice when I took a bite.

When I finished 50 miles, my friend Marcellus showed up to pace me for a while. I was starting to bonk a little before he got there so I hoped I could get back on track. Marcellus is a crazy fast Kenyan runner who has finished a marathon in 2:48. (Nope, not a typo.) This was his first encounter with an ultra. On my first loop with Marcellus I showed him the easier parts of the course where I pushed, and the harder parts of the course where I held back. I wanted him to just lead me along. Set it and forget it. This was my only view for the next 4+ hours.

In those 4+ hours we didn't talk hardly at all. Which is EXACTLY what I look for in a pacer. Trying to hold a conversation takes too much mental energy at that point in a race when I'm just trying to keep one foot in front of the other. I am so, so thankful for his help keeping me going.

After about 20 miles he left and my plan was to just hang on and make sure the wheels didn't come off the bus. I very desperately wanted to run a sub-24 hour race. Whenever I started to feel discouraged or tired or frustrated or exhausted, one number popped into my head: 24. I saw this sign during every loop which helped me keep focused on my goal:

I wasn't wearing a Garmin and didn't really know how my pace was going but as the sun started to rise on the second day I realized that if I kept setting it and forgetting it I would be able to achieve the inconceivable sub-24.

I saw some inspiring stuff as the hours went on. I saw people persevering despite clearly struggling. I saw Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen propelling himself down the trail in spite of working through a past injury. You have no idea how much determination and grit is behind this picture. It's no wonder that Ed inspires so many runners.

I saw the absolute best of humanity. For example, my friend Karen signed up for the 12 hour race. She decided to run 33 miles then be done. She left, did a little shopping, ate, then came back to cheer for runners. She saw a 100 mile runner who was really struggling and decided she'd go back out on the course to help him finish the race. And ended up doing another 32 miles. Things like this give me chills.

I got to mile 90 and could taste that sub-24. I think it tasted even better than cheesecake in the middle of the night. I started pushing even harder. I was so excited knowing that unless the wheels really fell off, THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.

With four miles left I broke down crying. I'm not a very emotional person but I had that kind of uncontrollable crying where you can't see straight. This happened during my first 100 miler too. At that time it was because my legs hurt so bad. This time it was because I was so completely overcome with happiness. I've always felt kind of inadequate as a runner. I always thought it would be impossible for me to finish a 100 miler faster than 24 hours. I would have never, ever believed it. And now it was about to happen. It was my happiest running moment ever.

I stopped before I got to the finish line. I wanted to breathe in every bit of this experience. The impossible.......happened. 

22 hours and 24 minutes. And I was at the finish line. 

That beat my previous fastest time by almost five and a half hours. Words can't describe the happiness that filled me. It was amazing watching so many other runners finish; watching others who had also pushed beyond what they thought was possible. And then about three hours later someone else accomplished something incredible. Susette met the finish line of a 100 miler. (You can check out her blog HERE, I'm sure a race report will come soon.)

The Jackpot Ultra Running Festival is put on by Beyond Limits Running. I can't recommend this race highly enough. They took great care of the runners and certainly exceeded expectations. Runners of the 6, 12, and 24 hour races got a cool medal. 100 milers got that medal plus a big belt buckle. I will never forget the amazing people I met, the kindness they showed, the encouragement they gave, and the happiness I felt at this race.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Day Before A 100 Miler

The Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 100 miler starts tomorrow morning at 9:00am. What precisely does one do the day before a 100 miler?

I'm working for the first part of the day. Then.......

Finish packing. MP3 player......check. Spare socks.......check. A drop bag full of hopes and dreams.......check.

I will continue carbo loading with a steady stream of chocolate chip cookies and my dietary secret weapon:

I will then proceed to drive to Las Vegas. During that time I will be VERY, VERY careful about what enters my ears.

One time before a 100 miler I walked into a gas station and heard Bette Midler on the speaker system. I'm serious. When you're running hour after hour whatever has been trapped in your brain is played on repeat over and over again. BETTE MIDLER IS NOT THE KIND OF JUNK YOU WANT PLAYING IN YOUR BRAIN FOR 100 MILES.

Speaking of Vegas, I am reminded of some betting odds from a race I saw during the Zion 100:

I will check in at the packet pickup. Liz Zelandais summarized this experience perfectly. "I gazed in envy at ultra runners whose quadriceps had the kind of definition that tells you Secretariat is somewhere in their family tree."

I will eat dinner then try to sleep. And by "try to sleep" I mean that I will not sleep. I will lay in a bed and stare at the ceiling all night begging for at least a few hours of slumber before the alarm clock goes off.

It's going to be a good time! (For at least the first four miles.)

If you'd like, you can check out my Facebook page HERE, there may be some updates during the run. The race Facebook page might be posting some updates HERE too. Bring. On. 100.

Monday, February 10, 2014


So I'm running this 100 miler in, um, five days.

The magic number: 27:44.

Twenty seven hours. And 44 minutes.

That's the time of my fastest 100 miler. My goal at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 100 miler on Saturday is to beat 27:44. If that doesn't happen, the consequence will involve a punishment of McDonald's breakfast burritos and Celine Dion music.

I really have no barriers. I feel pretty well-trained. I ran a few times this past week and have no residual soreness from the Antelope Canyon 50 miler a few weeks ago. Saturday's run was splendid.

The JEM trail was the first trail I ever ran. Since then I have spent countless hours on this trail. I know every twist and turn and it feels like my home trail. It's like a little piece of heaven in my backyard.
utah trailrunning

This was the first run with some Altra Superior shoes. They felt a little more minimal than my other shoes and they felt good. I'll definitely give them some more miles at the Jackpot race.

My favorite part of the trail skirts right along the edge of the Virgin River.

Race Day Plans

  • STAY HYDRATED (Daytime temps going to be around 80 degrees).
  • Keep pace comfortable and consistent.
  • Minimize time at aid stations.
  • No curling up in fetal position on the side of the trail to suck thumb.
  • Race smart. (Check out this podcast from Trailrunner Nation with some excellent race execution tips).
100 MILES OR BUST!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 7, 2014

How To Get A Piggy Back Ride During An Ultramarathon

The night before the Antelope Canyon 50 I got a text from my friend Catherine. She asked if I could bring her some Tailwind Nutrition for the race. "Definitely", I said. Her response: "And you shall have the first piggy back ride."

She paid up at mile 40. (Sadly this did not last for the final 10 miles of the race.)

The caption of this photo is not "Will work for food." It is "Will give piggy back rides at ultramarathons for Tailwind."

I made a video with more pictures from Saturday's Antelope Canyon race. (If you missed the race report, you can check it out HERE.) These were undoubtedly some of the most incredible slot canyons and rim overlooks I have ever seen. Care to see that video? (Please say yes. Please say yes.) Swell! Here it is:

Speaking of videos, want to get a preview of the new Altra Running commercial that is coming out this weekend? It's pretty sweet. (Please say yes. Please say yes. Swell! Here it is:

Only one more week until the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 100 miler in Las Vegas! I am so excited for this one. This is a 2 mile loop course........for 100 miles. I've never done a race like this and am 113% sure it is going to be awesome. Can't. Wait.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Antelope Canyon 50 Miler Race Report 2014

On Saturday I had the opportunity to run 50 miles in a place that has been described as one of the most amazing places on Earth - Antelope Canyon.

The Antelope Canyon 50 (they have a 50k and 50 miler) is based out of Page, Arizona. Even the drive to get here is like something from a postcard. I was excited to experience the scenery of the race, and was equally excited to spend 50 miles with some of my best friends: this is Clair, Catherine, Jill, and myself a minute before we started running.

We ran a bunch of miles in the dark waiting for the sun to come up. There were some ominous clouds on the horizon. And then the last thing you'd expect in Arizona....happened. Those ominous clouds turned to snow! As we were running down a ravine of sand, tour groups started driving by on their way to Antelope Canyon. We joked that it was like being in an animal cage at the zoo as everyone goes by looking at you. Notice that pounding snow too:

We soon reached the opening to Antelope Canyon. Certainly reason to celebrate because it is a rare opportunity to experience these slot canyons.

When we got there it was still pretty dark inside. This is the first opening when you get inside the canyon. Out of all the views inside the slot, this is my favorite place:
Antelope Canyon 50k, 50 mile ultramarathon

The actual Antelope Canyon is short, less than half a mile. I thought this would be the highlight of the route but there were even better views to come. Following Antelope Canyon there were more slots we got to run through:
Antelope Canyon 50k, 50 miler ultramarathon

Antelope Canyon 50 miler, 50k race

In order to get to Antelope Canyon earlier in the race, we had to descend a huge ladder to get to the canyon floor below. After the canyon we looped around and went back up that same ladder. You can see how high the climb is, but notice Catherine toward the top of the hill. Our quads were on fire after getting to the top of that puppy.

By this point around mile 16 Catherine's knee was getting unhappy but Jill was feeling great so we told her to go on up ahead. Catherine, Clair, and I pressed on and then out in the middle of nowhere we saw this toilet plunger on the side of the trail. When Clair popped that thing on his head I suddenly admired and respected him even more. Now that's funny.

It was precisely after finding this plunger that we realized something bad had happened.........we were lost. We were able to find our way back but ended up getting lost a total of six times. Sometimes it would take a group of 6-7 other runners gathered up with us trying to figure out where to go next and we accumulated some bonus miles to add to the 50 mile course. Course marking is an area where the race could be improved. I was happy that at least I was able to catch this shot during one of our detours.

The next incredible location we hit was Horseshoe Bend. I have wanted to see this all my life, and to actually experience the views here on the trail, it was simply spectacular.
Antelope Canyon 50k, 50 mile race

The cool thing is that we were on a side trail experiencing views that people never see when they just stop at the scenic turnoff on the side of the road. It was so incredible that I didn't want to leave.

Out of the couple hundred pictures I took, this is one of my favorites:
Horseshoe Bend, Ultramarathon, runners

Let me give you a little more info about the race. There are tons, and tons, and TONS of sand. Not the kind of happy sand you'd find walking on the beach. It is thick, relentless, energy-sucking sand. Like in the movie Neverending Story when the horse stands on sand and get sucks down to its death. We decided that SAND deserved to be added to the list of 4-letter swear words. We started saying things like "Holy sand!" or "Hmmm, this blister feels like it's getting pretty sand big." (It's true, I did get a pretty sand big blister from all that sand sand.) We were so sand happy when we'd get to a section of slick rock and get a break from that sand.

Let me give this report a disclaimer: there are about four incredible once-in-a-lifetime locations on the course (that's all the pictures you're seeing). But to connect to each of those places requires some long, unremarkable routes through that deep sand. So in actuality, much more of the course is long double track trails of sand than it is slot canyons and rim views. This is a typical view of those miles:

I laughed when we saw this writing on a marking flag.....that happened to be stuck into a pile of cow poo:

The next 10ish miles were quite slow because we were doing a lot of route-finding, getting to one flag and then spending some time trying to locate the next flag. Every once in a while the trail would take us again to the edge of an amazing viewpoint.

Eventually we arrived at my favorite part of the whole course: Waterholes Canyon. It was similar to Antelope Canyon minus the tourists. To grasp the size of this area, look at Clair surrounded by the enormous slot canyon:
Waterholes Canyon, runner

I just could not believe that scenery like this could be experienced in the middle of a race. All those miles through Neverending Story sand was worth it. I was in heaven.

Every time I'd try to put my camera away I'd have to pull it right out again to catch a shot of what was around every corner.
Waterholes Canyon, Page, Arizona

Waterholes Canyon, running

I am scared of heights. No, let me rephrase that. I am terrified of heights. So when you're having nightmares about ax murderers or clowns or an eternity of Kenny G music, I am having nightmares about ladders. When I arrived at this particular spot I wondered to myself if the finish line of a 50 miler was worth trying to go up this ladder. Which. Is. Propped. Up. On. Rocks. I gave myself a little pep talk saying something like "Sand it Cory! Get your act together, stop whimpering like a baby, and get up that sand ladder!" For me, getting to the top of this thing was as much an accomplishment as running the 50 miles.
Waterholes Canyon, Page, Arizona, ultramarathon, ladder, slot canyon

Waterholes Canyon, slot canyon, running

We got to the next aid station and I was welcomed by my good friend Rick who had been working the aid station all day. He knows my affinity for sugar and made me a special treat....grilled Nutella taquitos! Those were honestly the best thing I've ever eaten at an aid station. Pure bliss. Thanks Rick!!!!

Unfortunately by this time Clair's body was done. His feet weren't cooperating and he knew that with darkness coming fast he wouldn't be able to keep going for another 11 miles so I he took the 50k route back to the finish. I admire and look up to that man, I was sad to see him go.

So Catherine and I pressed on. Until we got lost. After a bit we found our way again and then out of nowhere guess who came running up behind........Jill! She had gotten lost after she left us earlier in the day and added another 9 miles to her race. I was so happy to see her, and I know she was ecstatic to see us after being alone for a few hours.

This was Jill's first ultramarathon. We talked about how she had heard that in ultras you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. With about six miles left it was cold and dark and we kept getting lost and she was hungry and frustrated and wanted to quit. She broke down and sobbed. She had reached the lowest of lows. I felt for her because I know that feeling well. But I knew that if she keep going, that low would pass. I knew it would. I gave her a hug and told her that we would help each get to the finish line.

We got to the last aid station and she got something to eat and drink and immediately felt better. She became a new person. I knew that because she had experienced the lowest of lows, that finish line would be even sweeter, an even more incredible accomplishment.

As we neared the finish line I was caught up in how thankful I felt to have the experiences I had throughout the day. I was so thankful to spend time with all these amazing people. I was proud of what we had accomplished as a team. It was a great moment for all of us.

The course marking is an issue, but that's something that can easily be fixed. The long slogs through sand were tough. But it was worth it for those spectacular once-in-a-lifetime views. The Antelope Canyon 50 had the most amazing scenery I've ever seen during a race.

At the finish line we were given a medallion that a Navajo artist had made. Out of all the races I've run, I've never been given something like this. It was an amazing day of snow, sand, slot canyons, and seriously awesome runners. (And a toilet plunger on the side of the trail.)
medallion, race, ultramarathon, Page, Arizona