Monday, January 27, 2014

8 Ways Family Vacations Are Like Ultramarathons

A few weeks ago our family put on our tourist hats and went on vacation to California. We saw how astronauts go to the bathroom at the California Science Center. We tried to pet Jaws at Universal Studios. And we ate ridiculously overpriced (and highly delicious) churros at Knott's Berry Farm.

I couldn't help but notice all the similarities between family vacations and ultramarathons. Allow me to share some of those with you:

Hope you like stale sandwiches and warm soda. The "once food" you pull out of your backpack for lunch after hitting a bunch of roller coasters is shockingly similar to the crusty sandwiches and warm Coke at the aid station that have been sitting out on the table for twelve hours. Delicious! (Or not.)

If your family is anything like mine, you'll hear the phrase "Are we there yet?" somewhere between two thousand and three thousand times on the drive. The first hour. But that pales in comparison to the amount of times you'll hear it during an ultra when you are in that black hole between aid stations and your pace has slowed to that of a sloth drunk on Benadryl.

Going to a new race where you're unfamiliar with the course can be daunting. I was petrified when I signed up for a race that included a climb called "Widowmaker". I was also petrified at the log flume ride.

Take a 6+ hour drive with your kids. You will hear "She's touching me!" or "He's breathing my air!" approximately, oh, a bajillion times. Similar fighting is found at ultramarathons. The scene goes kind of like this:

Pacer: "It's time to eat something."
Runner: In slurred speech - "No."
Pacer: "You haven't eaten for an hour and a half. You NEED to eat. Try this Gu packet."
Runner: "NOOOOO! And if you tell me to eat something again I will choke you with my hydration pack, pour salt from my S-Caps in your eyes, and leave your corpse here in the desert for vultures to eat.

DISCLAIMER: Then to pay you back for being sassy they will take a humiliating picture of you at mile 92 when you are sleep walking and praying for a visit from the angel of death.

On vacation it's people dressed up in hot, sweaty costumes that have to pretend they're happy hour after hour. During your ultra you get to run with the same characters. It's just that you're hallucinating them. But seriously, how awesome would it be to have Homer Simpson as your pacer?!??!
Sanding with Marge and Homer Simpson

I enjoy traffic and waiting in long amusement park rides as much as I enjoy Celine Dion music. Likewise, challenges and temporary misery are inevitable in ultras. Nausea, blisters, aches, pains, cramps, and exhaustion so intense that you swear a Care Bear is trying to give you a fist bump. Ugh.

I was ecstatic to get home and sleep in my own bed after our vacation. I also feel so happy when my scrawny chicken legs arrive at the finish line of an ultramarathon. It's like all that soreness and exhaustion vanishes. (But fear not amigos, five minutes after you cross the finish line you'll swear a Greyhound Bus is resting on your legs.)

I can't remember which day of the vacation it was (hmmm, all of them?) when we were trapped in the car listening to kids argue and I swore to myself that I was retiring from vacations. But when I look back through pictures all I think of is the fun times. And aren't races exactly the same? Once you are able to walk down stairs without resembling Frankenstein, you think of the fun and excitement and the enormous sense of accomplishment. And you find yourself searching the internet for your next fix of ultramarathon awesomeness.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My 2014 Race Schedule

I am so excited to be trying out some new races this year as well as some old favorites. Here is what I'm planning so far:

February 1st: Antelope Canyon 50 Miler
This one is going to be epic. And it's NEXT WEEK! This is the first time a race has ever been permitted to run through Antelope Canyon, definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world.

February 15th: Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 100 Miler
This will be my first short loop race ever. It's a 2 mile loop.....for 100 miles. I can't wait. I'm hoping to earn myself one of these belt buckles:

March 21st: Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 Miler
I got a PR at this race last year and had a complete blast. I'd highly recommend this for a first 100.

May 17th: Grand Canyon 50 Miler
This is a brand new race and I'm expecting some awesome scenery and beautiful trails.

September 13th: Mid Mountain Marathon
Last year was my first time running this one and it has the best scenery I've ever enjoyed during a marathon. The trails are runable and fun. Can't recommend this one enough.

September 26th: Bear 100????????
There is a little part of me that is thinking about the Bear 100. I'm not sure I'm man enough to tackle this beast yet.

October 4th: St. George Marathon
If I don't run the Bear 100 I'll probably run a double St. George Marathon again.

Yes, it is shaping up to be an AWESOME year of running!!!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Interview with Ultramarathon Guru Kelly Agnew

My friend Kelly Agnew is a ultramarathon running beast. Not only does he run a ton of races, but he runs them fast. Just a few weeks ago he won the 48 hour race at Across The Years running more than 200 miles! He is a great resource for information and writes at the blog Slipping Slowly Into Pain.

I wanted to tap into his expertise to share here on the blog. Here is our interview:
First of all how many 100 milers have you run?

Not counting my run at Across The Years, I’ve completed sixteen 100-mile trail races. My first 100 miler was the Leadville Trail 100 in August of 2011.

Do you have a favorite or two, and why?

I’m a big fan of the Bear 100 because the scenery is stunning. It’s a September mountain race and the fall colors are at their peak. The course is very challenging so I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line. I ran this race for the first time in 2013 and I’m sure it will be an annual event for me. It’s just amazing.

I also really love the Javelina Jundred, but for totally different reasons. Javelina is just a fun event with a lighthearted and festive atmosphere. It embodies everything I love about the trail running community. I’ve finished it three times and will be back again this year for sure.

Your speed continues to increase so obviously you're optimizing your training. What does your training look like building up to a 100 miler?

I run about 35 races every year, so my training isn’t specific to a certain race, or even a certain distance. I focus on a few key events each year and prepare my race schedule to isolate, or protect those events. This means I reduce my total mileage in advance so I can be rested on race day. A lot of my races leading to these key events are intended to be training runs, but I still run those events in a competitive manner. For me, the key is maintaining a reasonably high weekly mileage while mixing in a lot of vertical gain and a bit of speedwork.

Something that is sometimes overlooked is nutrition. A lot of runners fade so much in the late miles because they’re not fueling properly in the earlier miles. I’ve got much better at managing that process and it has paid dividends in my ability to maintain strength and speed late in a race.

 In ultras you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. What helps keep you going when every cell of your body is begging to quit?

You help keep me going, and so do all the other athletes in the race. I try to remember that we’re all suffering together and that helps me stay focused because I don’t want to be the guy that takes the easy way out while so many others are courageous enough to stay in the race and get it done. I have a lot of deep conversations with myself on the trail and the topic usually revolves around trying to be strong. It’s not easy, as you’re well aware, but I would feel guilty taking the easy way out.

I’m a HUGE fan of the back of the pack guys that finish just before the 100-mile cutoff. Those guys inspire me so much and I sometimes try to draw strength from them, reminding myself of how strong they have to be. These days, my most emotional race experiences come from being at the finish line to watch the last runners cross the line. It’s powerful to me.

Any tricks of the trade when the stomach goes south and just the thought of eating anything makes you want to barf?

That’s one of the worst things that can happen in a race because without the ability to take on fuel, you’ll eventually grind to a halt. It’s important to remember that you have time to work through almost any issue in a 100-mile race. When I have this problem, I slow down to an easy walking pace and take in fluids for a while until my stomach feels a bit better. Once I feel somewhat stable, I eat SLOWLY. Just tiny bites at first and I focus on something bland, totally avoiding sweets. I wash all my food down with more fluids. I eventually pull myself out of it and begin running again. Slowly at first, while I focus on getting calories in my belly.

How do you work through times when your feet or knees or muscles are completely shot?

Those types of pains are inevitable. You have two choices. You either muscle through it or you call it quits. If I don’t feel like I’m doing real damage, I’ll just keep at it and endure the pain. Sometimes I can alleviate it by walking more or performing some stretching or massage. Running 100 miles hurts. It’s unavoidable.

Your wife is awesome. I've never seen a more efficient husband/wife, runner/crew team. That's not a question. I'm just sayin'.

She is absolutely the best in the business and I couldn’t do it without her. Thanks for noticing!

(This picture is with Kelly and his wife Jo before the Javelina Jundred.)

You won the 48-hour race at Across The Years running 200 miles. Up until this time, was 100 miles the farthest that you had run?

I had never gone beyond 100 miles and had no idea what to expect. I hit 130 miles in 23:15 and felt like I had a good race going and took 45 minutes to eat and I napped for 10 minutes. When I reached 201.5 miles in 40:57, I was far enough ahead that I was able to quit with the win and not worry about being caught by any of the other runners. I could have gone another 7 hours, but I definitely didn’t want to. It was a brutal experience for me.

How was your training different in preparing to run 200 miles?

The training wasn’t different, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. I allowed for more rest before ATY, but otherwise, everything was normal. If I had to do it again, I would find a way to get more time on my feet. My feet really suffered in that race.

Sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion are huge issues for me in 100 miles. How in the world did you address this in running 200?

Not well. As I said, I only slept for about 10 minutes but it felt great. I had never run for more than 28 hours and once I got to 32 hours, I started to have some serious issues with my mind. There were a lot of very odd things happening in my brain in those late hours. In retrospect, I probably should have slept more, but I was focused on the win and afraid to lose the time. I’m grateful for pictures because I don’t have a lot of recollection beyond 160 miles.

I'm intrigued by short loop races like Across The Years. I'm doing a 100-mile race next month on a 2-mile loop. Talk about the added mental challenge of doing a short loop course.

You have to get mentally prepared well in advance. Don’t allow the monotony to be a surprise. One of my tricks is to stockpile thoughts before a long race. When I need to work something out in my brain, I set it aside for my race. Training ideas, blog topics, long-term life goals…whatever! When it comes to me before I race, I set it aside and decide to work it out on race day when I can use it to occupy my mind. It’s easy for me to get lost in my thoughts and tune out the actual race. Running becomes automated while my mind is somewhere else. I don’t know if you can train for that.

What training preparations would you recommend going into a short loop race?

Get your iPod loaded with a lot of fresh music. Have several fun topics to discuss with your fellow runners so you can keep plenty of conversation going. Mentally drafting you memoir during your race is also a great idea. Outside of that, it’s tough to be fully prepared for that type of race.

What suggestions do you have for people wanting to get into running ultramarathons?

Don’t get too eager. Make friends with some experienced ultra runners and spend time running with them. Listen to them when they talk about running long, but don’t assume their strategies will work for you. Personal experimentation is the key to success. Log a lot of miles, but also play around with your nutrition. Even if you have a huge weekly mileage, you’ll never finish a 100 miler without proper nutrition. Experiment, track the results and refine. It’s a constant process and should be focused on during your entire running career. That’s the #1 piece of advice I give to aspiring ultra runners. 

Again, to read race reports on his blog and see more pictures you can visit his website HERE. Huge thanks to Kelly for all these insights.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Running With Territorial Cows

Last week I had a lovely reunion with my dear old friend the Gould's Rim Trail. A few sections run along the rim of a canyon....which is how the trail acquired the funniest trail sign I've ever seen.

The trail took me past quite a few herds of cattle. I'm talking RIGHT past them. I prayed they weren't aggressive cows who would try to get justice for all the Big Macs I ate in my younger years. Thankfully they were friendly.

The trail is technical and rocky and beautiful. Beautiful enough to justify a jumping picture. Or two.

And then, wouldn't you know it, more cows. Cows are very territorial. They stick their tongue out at you if you want to share the trail with them.

Dear Gould's Rim: I love you. I will be back to see you soon.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Allegations Against Me In The News

HURRICANE, UT - Having gotten off work, coming home, eating dinner, and spending some time with his family, ultramarathon runner Cory Reese ran 20 miles consisting of one mile loops around the block Friday night.

"I had already seen that night's rerun of Seinfeld and didn't feel like watching The Bachelor so I decided I'd just go out running instead." He admits that had there been Alf reruns on television he likely would have skipped the run.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Reese added. "I have a 100 mile race coming up in a month and the course is a two mile loop so I figured it would be good training." As wise philosophers have said, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Reese's son Jackson thought the idea "sounded pretty fun" as well and joined Reese for ten miles.
Marathon around the block

Reese told reporters that running around the block for four hours doesn't even come close to the nonsensical half-brained ideas he has been involved with in the past. "Once I ran 20 miles around the middle school track. I considered quitting my job to become a cake decorator. One time I even got gutsy enough to make fun of Spartan races."

Having already completed five 100 mile races over grueling, difficult trails, Reese has been vocal about his intentions to run a PR at the 100 mile Jackpot Ultra Running Festival on February 15th. "I plan on finishing this race faster than 27 hours and 44 minutes. If that doesn't happen, I'll probably drive to McDonalds and drown my sorrows in breakfast burritos. Then I'll punish my poor performance by forcing myself to listen to a Celine Dion CD on the way home. Chances are that I'll spend the next six days sitting in the corner of my bathroom crying."

Though the stakes are high and Reese clearly feels threatened by the possibility of listening to Celine Dion, all indications are that we will see a PR at the race. Friday night's run was smooth and deliberate.

"Actually it was pretty boring. I listened to NPR on the radio until 1:00am. How fun does that sound?" Polite reporters declined to offer an immediate response such as "I'd rather get paper cuts on my eyeballs than run 20 miles around the block."

Reese was joined for three miles by his dog Aunt Jackie. Asked to comment on the experience, Aunt Jackie's only comment was "Cory smells like sausage."

Throughout his running endeavors, Reese's wife Melanie continues to be a stalwart supporter. "Quite frankly I'd rather have him be out running. When he's home all he does is blabber on and on about Scott Jurek or steal the Raisinets out of the secret stash in my drawer."

Jackson finished a spectacular ten miles before retiring for the evening.

Allegations have surfaced against Reese that he is planning to use soreness from his 50 mile race a few weeks before the 100 mile race as an excuse if he does not achieve a personal record. Reese declined questions about this saying "I can neither confirm nor deny that I'm already preparing an excuse."

The city of Hurricane seems to be rallying around Reese's efforts. "We're really pulling for him to get a PR," said neighbor Tom Dansie. "We know how much Cory hates McDonald's breakfast burritos."

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Sponsor - Altra Shoes!

I received some exciting news over the weekend - I was selected to be an ambassador for Altra shoes! My dad passed away when I was young but I remember his lessons about how hard work pays off and you can do whatever you put your mind to. I think he would smile to know that hard work over the last few years led to sponsorship from one of the biggest running shoe companies in the country.

Part of the application process was to make a video, so my goal was to make a video as funny as humanly possible. Thankfully I got some pretty funny suggestions during the production. Would you like to see the video? Great!

I'm really excited to see what 2014 brings. I've got some cool races coming up and I'm psyched that I'll be able to do them with these cool shoes strapped to my feet.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Zion 100 Course With Biggest Running Group Ever

I am deeply, madly, wildly in love with running on trails. I love trails more than Justin Bieber loves hairspray. I love trails more than Miley Cyrus loves being repulsive. I love trails more than Whitney Houston will always love you. (Ha ha! I just hijacked your brain and got that song stuck in there!)

What's fun is sharing some of the awesome trails in our area with people who haven't experienced them before. I put an open invite on Facebook for anyone to come and run one such trail, the Grafton Mesa Loop this past Saturday. We had 19 runners there! That is the most people I've ever run a trail with outside of a race.

All of the following pictures are part of the Zion 100 course. Grafton Mesa is one of my favorite places to run. It starts off with a long, steep climb but these guys weren't deterred.

There is some huffing and puffing to get to the top but in comparison to some of the other climbs in the Zion 100 Grafton isn't too bad. After a mile or two we made it to the top of the mesa. Check out this fine group of folks who survived the climb and made it to the top. (That guy holding the dog on the right is Jud. He didn't carry that thing on the run. That dog ran the whole 8.5 miles on a challenging trail!)

After reaching the top of the mesa we pulled over for a few minutes and watched a beautiful sunrise lighting up Gooseberry Mesa:

And then, just in case the legs have a little juice left, there is some more climbing:

The route back around the loop involves going down something called Crybaby Hill. I took no pictures on the decent because it is so steep that I was just trying to keep my feet moving one foot in front of the other without tripping and doing a two mile somersault down the hill. Me and Cherie celebrated finishing the loop. My seriously funny friend Turd'l was just a tad late on the jump. (Sound familiar?)

I had so, so much fun running with these guys.

My friend Rick Whitelaw signed up to run Zion as his first 100. He wanted to check out some other sections of the course and I wanted to get in more miles so we planned to continue running after Grafton. Our next spot of the course was the Guacamole Trail. This is Rick enjoying his first view of the mesa rim:

Here are some of the amazing views we enjoyed out on Guacamole:

There are little pools of slick rock all over the trail. I've been here after a storm when the pools are full and it is just amazing. We still found a few that had water in them.

You can see that this trail skirts right along the edge of Zion National Park:

Our last destination was the climb up Smith Mesa which is positively insane in the membrane. It is vertical. It climbs straight into the sky. In the 1950's the military tested jet propulsion by launching monkeys over the cliff to test ejection seats. Hence the name of the trail that climbs to the top of the mesa is.....The Flying Monkey Trail.

During the Zion 100 there was an actual flying monkey at the top. You can see the picture HERE. I caught this little arch on Saturday which I've never seen on this trail before:

I learned this about Rick after many miles, many hours of running, and almost 4,000 feet of climbing: Rick is ready for the Zion 100 in April.

The view near the top is a bit difficult to enjoy since your lungs will feel like they are full of molten lava. But it is about as good a view as you'll find anywhere.

It's easy to see why people are eager to come and run this race.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Guacamole Trail Section of the Zion 100

I have had the pleasure of surviving running the Zion 100 both first year and the second year since the race was born. The Zion 100 is incredibly challenging and stunningly beautiful. I am blessed to literally have the course in my back yard and almost every mile I run in training is a point somewhere on the course.

On New Years Day I ran a section of the course with a seriously fun group of friends. Our route: The Guacamole Trail. (Mmmmm. Sounds delicious!)

A few sections of the trail wind along the edge of the mesa. I caught Colleen and Cathy admiring the view.

The majority of the trail is on rolling, twisting slick rock akin to slowly forcing your legs through a meat grinder.

One of the things I like about the Guacamole Trail is that each run is like a scavenger hunt. Much of the route is marked by little rock towers so sometimes it takes a minute to spot the next tower. Scavenger hunts are fun!

For me the highlight of the trail is Zion National Park looming on the horizon. The views here are beautiful.

I think this picture gives the best idea of what you're in for with the trail. You can't get into rhythm with running because of the rolling rocks. It's a unique and rewarding challenge.

Don't let these pictures deceive you. Although there was plenty of running, there was also a hefty supply of laughing, joking, and fun. Running with such a fun group of friends makes the miles fly by. That is until the girls decide they want to plank across a deep crack in the Earth. (The crack in the picture looks way scarier than the fact that it's only about five feet to the bottom.)

At the end of the run someone suggested we better take a jumping picture before we go. Did it take seven tries before we got this one? Yep. Was it worth it? Undoubtedly.

In order of appearance, this is Ben (clearly in the midst of a back spasm), me, Dustin, Lyle, Colleen, Anna, Jud, Cathy, and Kristal. Everyone in the country would be runners if they knew it could be this fun.