Thanks to a very generous offer from The Watch Company, I’ve been testing out the Suunto Ambit2 S for the past month or so. Over the years I’ve owned several Garmin GPS watches, but recently the eye-catching looks of the Suunto range have had me thinking it could be time for a change.
The model I received was a Graphite Ambit2 S – a super-sleek design with advanced features for running, biking, swimming and multisport events. At first glance, the S model appears similar to the more expensive Ambit2, but lacks both barometric pressure and temperature features. At 72g, the S is also slightly lighter than the Ambit2, with a battery life of approximately 25 hours using a 60 second recording interval, compared to 50 hours for the Ambit2.
Box contents were pretty minimal, with just a USB charging cable, comprehensive user manual and the watch itself. My particular unit did not contain a heart rate monitor strap, but there is a variant available if you’d like to go that route. For the record, the Ambit2 S is ANT+™ certified and paired easily with my existing Garmin heart rate strap. In fact, it should pair easily with any ANT+™ footpod, speed/cadence sensor, power meter etc. The 4-pin charging clip simply clamps onto the unit itself, and can be powered via a USB wall outlet or USB computer/laptop port. The manual is very comprehensive, but thankfully, pretty easy to follow.
So far, I’ve only used the run and bike features of the watch. After entering my weight and max heart rate, then setting up some of the available general options (time/date formats, tones and display), I was off on my first run. Despite being used to the intuitive Garmin devices, it was pretty straightforward to figure out how to kick things off on the Suunto too. Simply press the top right Start/Stop button, then select which activity you’ll be doing; which, in the case of my first workout was running.
Satellites were found quickly (literally just a couple of seconds), and using a combination of the Next and View buttons, there was a wealth of data available throughout the run – all of which is customizable if required. To pause a workout (i.e. when crossing the road, or waiting at traffic lights), simply press Start/Stop to trigger the pause. Simply press the same button to resume the run. Naturally, there’s a Lap button available where you can create markers/intervals that can be viewed post-workout. I haven’t used it, but you can also set up an AutoPause feature which detects when you’ve stopped running and will pause the watch automatically.
Post-run, it was time to upload the workout. First thing to do is download and install the Suunto Moveslink software from the Suunto Movescount web page. This acts as a device agent to upload data from your watch to the Movescount site, similar to the ANT Agent if you’re more familiar with Garmin products.
Once the software is installed and configured, connect your watch to your computer using the USB cable and the Moveslink agent will upload the data automatically. Once the data is uploaded, head over to movescount.com, which is Suunto’s free online site for viewing/analyzing your workouts. Again, I guess you can compare this to the Garmin Connect website. The initial setup may seem like a bit of hassle, but it’s a one time deal and doesn’t take long at all.
I really like the look of the Ambit2 S compared to my Garmin GPS – it’s definitely more watch-looking than the rectangular laptop-on-a-wrist 910XT. However, I wasn’t totally happy with how the Suunto felt on my wrist during a run. It’s probably more to do with the shape of my wrist than the weight of the watch or the design of the strap, but it was either too loose and moved around a bit, or too tight which caused slight discomfort on my knobby wrist bone. On a positive note, the display is very easy to read, and once I’d configured the unit to my own preferences, was straightforward to navigate.
Initially, I wasn’t too keen on having to connect the watch to my computer via a cable, but uploads have been straightforward and there haven’t been any annoying failed uploads like I seem to regularly experience with the Garmin ANT Agent. The clamp-action of the clip is sturdy too and there’s no danger of a bad connection when you’re charging the unit between workouts.
So, all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the Ambit2 S, and am looking forward to using it more during training and future races. The swim and multisport features also look great, plus there’s the maps, compass and navigation to explore as well. Regular retail price for the Ambit2 S without HR strap is $400, but if you’re interested, you’ll probably be able to pick one up a bit cheaper at one of the links below.
More info: for a really comprehensive review of both the Ambit2 and Ambit2 S, please visit the excellent DC Rainmaker web site. Make sure you have plenty of time on your hands though, as the quantity/quality of information in Ray’s post is staggering.
- Suunto Ambit2 S Product Page
- The Watch Company Ambit2 S Product Page
- DC Rainmaker Review
- Amazon.com Ambit2 S Product Page
I’ve been looking forward to the 2103 12-HR Adventure Trail Run for quite some time. I really enjoyed the event in 2011, but last year picked up an injury just a week or so before the race, forcing me to drop after just a quarter of a mile. Looking back, it was foolish to even take my place on the start line, but it was just one of those things I had to do, even though deep down I knew it was a pointless exercise.
Anyway, on to this year’s race. With several months of early-season Leadville training in the bank, I still felt like I was in pretty decent shape. Recovery from the gruelling 100 Miler had gone well, and I’d even managed to knock out a fairly solid half marathon in early September.
I logged some confidence-boosting runs on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of race week, then took things real easy on Thursday/Friday with just a couple of short runs. The Friday night pre-race meal was my traditional burger and fries with a pint of Guinness, which always seems to sit well. Back at the hotel it was time to organize and lay out the race gear, then turn in fairly early for a good night of sleep.
After recently watching an excellent video on fueling and nutrition for athletic performance, I’d decided to exclusively use Hammer Nutrition products on race day. Taking Steve Born’s advice of not consuming any food 3 hours before the race, I skipped breakfast and made do with drinking several ounces of water instead. My stomach did feel empty, but I trusted in Steve’s wisdom that “you should complete your pre-workout/race fueling three or more hours prior to the start to allow adequate time for insulin and blood glucose to normalize.” You can read more about this on Page 99/100 of the Endurance Athlete’s Guide.
After the standard pre-race briefing and 1st time ultra runners welcome from Race Directors Alex & Scott, we were soon off and running. Part of the 1st loop would be run in darkness, but with my Petzl Nao Headlamp lighting the way, there was no real difficulty in navigating the trail. I settled in quickly to a good pace and enjoyed chatting with the experienced marathon/ultra runner Michael Campbell. A few guys had set off at a brisk pace and were soon out of sight after just a couple of miles. Michael dropped off at some point, but his place was quickly filled by The Flying Frenchman, Olivier LeBlond. Olivier is a super talented ultra runner with an impressive 100 mile best of 14:33:25. We’ve run several of the same races in the past 2 or 3 years, and he always has a knack of making things look easy.
We ran pretty much the first 4 loops together. Conversation was good and the pace was comfortable, although we both knew it was probably a bit too swift for a 12 hour race. I distinctly remember saying “We never learn, do we?” as we clicked off several miles in the low-8:00s. There were a few guys ahead of us that we’d kind of labelled with nicknames – Beard, 125, Green, Black & Team. We were happy to let them do their own thing, and I thought of world class ultra runner, Karl Meltzer, and his typical race strategy of running his own race and not worrying about the opposition. 12 hours is a long time to race, and so much can change along the way.
Loop 1 – 57:27
Loop 2 – 56:54
Loop 3 – 54:49 (probably a little fast…)
Loop 4 – 55:22
Fuelling was going well. At the end of each loop I’d run up the slope to the start/finish timing mat, shout out my race number to Alex, before breezing through the official picnic shelter aid station and down the slope to my own little aid station at the back of my MINI. Servings of Perpetuem were arranged neatly in small ziploc bags which I dumped into my handheld and topped off with water. I grabbed a gel to take out on the course and also popped a couple of Endurolytes before heading back out for another loop. Olivier did his thing at the aid station and we were able to set off together at a similar pace.
I think it was early in Loop 5 where Olivier stopped for a bathroom break. I carried on running at the same pace, expecting him to catch up pretty quickly. However, it was at the end of the loop where I was refueling that Olivier came into the aid station as I was just leaving. A mile or so later on North Orenda Road I heard the “crunch, crunch” of footsteps behind and just like that we were back together. I was going through a bit of a rough patch with my groin at that time, and Olivier was running strong. He breezed by easily and started to gap me. I maintained the same pace up the gradual incline and by the time we reached Scenic Drive a half mile later, Olivier had opened up a nice little lead. Sportingly, he glanced around as I was sidestepping through the gate-opening, and slowed his pace allowing me to catch up.
Loop 5 – 55:38
It felt good to run down Pyrite Mine Road with company again, even if the conversation had started to peter out due to us both feeling a little tired. I felt Olivier was running stronger than me on the gravel fire road, and it was definitely an effort to keep up with him on this downhill stretch of the race. We made the right turn onto the trail along the river, and if I remember correctly, I think Olivier said his legs were starting to get tired. Mine were too, but at least the pace still felt manageable. I went ahead on the single track and enjoyed the slight climb, then the descent, then the numerous twists and turns before reaching the suspension bridge. For the first time in the race I felt like I was in the zone and cruising nicely, and it was good boost to finish off the loop strongly.
Loop 6 – 56:34
After almost 6 hours of racing, the taste of Perpetuem started to lose its appeal. Also, my stomach also felt a little bloated, so to refresh the system I decided to run a loop with just water and an espresso gel to keep the calorie intake going. Just past the halfway mark of the race, I remember experiencing a bit of a low spot. My groin was acting up, and the inclines were definitely getting tougher. The urge to walk the more challenging sections of the course got stronger, but I told myself to hang in there and keep things ticking over for as long as possible. In 2011 I succumbed to too much walking, and looking back, I think that was more due to me being soft than actually needing to slow down to a walk. Gotta stay tough. I closed out the loop in good spirits, despite it being my slowest of the day to date.
Loop 7 – 1:00:02
Here’s me finishing up Loop 7 – still smiling, but ready for some Tylenol to help ease the sore groin. Video courtesy Andy O.
The next loop was meant to be another water-and-gel loop, but chatting to Andy at my aid station distracted me, and I set off with no gel – a silly mistake which I hoped wouldn’t come back to haunt me. About a third of a mile from the trailhead, Olivier and I crossed paths. His shout of “You’re on fire!” was a nice boost and I headed on up the trail feeling pretty good. The solo loop was a tough one, but I hung on quite well to close it out in just over an hour.
Loop 8 – 1:01:48
At this stage in the race, I knew I’d be able to comfortably match the 10 loops from 2011. My pre-race goal of 11 loops was also on the cards, but the thought of another 20 miles of running was tough on the mind. It really is so easy to get defeated by the big picture in these ultra races, so I just tried to focus on breaking up each loop into small, runnable sections. Sure enough, in no time at all, I was back at the main aid station. However, the lack of fuel in the previous loop had definitely caught up with me, so I decided to chug down some Coke and Mountain Dew while Craig (the aid station volunteer) filled up my handheld with icy water. I grabbed a couple of gels at the car before setting off on the next loop.
Loop 9 – 1:03:27
This was a weird loop. Less and less people seemed to be out on the trail now, and with the sky getting gloomier by the minute, I figured the late afternoon rain prediction would soon become a reality. I’d found out at the aid station that Olivier had dropped from the race after his 8th loop, so my thoughts turned to the clock and potentially beating the old course record (thanks, Scott Crabb for putting that little worm into my mind). The only problem… what was the record? I thought Olivier had completed his 71.5 miles from 2011 in 11:15ish, but wasn’t 100% sure. Maybe I could shoot for finishing in 11 hours and hope that was enough? A couple of 70 minute loops should do the trick, right? Who knows? Let’s just run and hope for the best, I said to myself.
With half the loop done and my legs getting heavier by the minute, I stopped at the Scenic Drive water stop to take in some extra fluids and down another gel. I also took a minute to stretch out my calves before setting off again like an old man hobbling down the street. A short way down Pyrite Mine Road the heavens opened and the rain came down. Hard. I glanced at my Garmin and realized I’d need to pick up the pace if I wanted to close out the loop in 70 minutes. Maybe the gel kicked in early, but somehow I managed to find some speed on the gravely fire road, and before I knew it, was making the sharp right turn onto the single track alongside the river – my favorite section of the race. The rain felt fantastic and once again I was bouncing along, big smile on my face, reveling in the conditions. Somewhere on the tedious Birch Bluff Trail I passed daughter, Shannon, who was was closing out her last loop on the way to an amazing ultra debut of 39 miles. I finished out my loop absolutely soaked but in fairly good spirits. I downed more Coke and Mountain Dew at the aid station, exchanged a few words with Olivier and Andy, then set off on my final loop.
Loop 10 – 1:06:11 (slowest of the day)
Once again I forgot to pick up a gel, but figured I could get through the final 6.5 miles with water alone. The rain was still pelting down and by now there were hardly any runners left on the trail, although numerous turtles, snakes and frogs all came out of hiding to join in the fun. Just after crossing the ever-bouncy suspension bridge, I spotted Ally and her running companion heading towards the bridge with just a couple of miles left to run. Despite the rain, both were in good spirits and still looking strong.
Me? I was purely on a mission, driven on by the possibility of a course record, but more importantly, just enjoying the buzz of running at my absolute limit. I’ve experienced this before in the final loop at the 2011 24-HR Adventure Trail Race, and more recently in the final miles of the Rocky Raccoon 100. It’s hard to explain; the mind and body are absolutely exhausted, but somehow you can keep pushing, pushing, pushing to the finish. It’s a surreal feeling that I definitely want to experience again in the future.
Loop 11 – 1:02:49
I closed out the loop with 10 hours 51 minutes on the clock. Alex and Scott tried to get me out for another loop, but I’d paced myself to be done after 11, and to be honest, 11 was more than enough. Pre-race goal achieved with plenty of time to spare.
Here’s the Garmin details. Not quite the official 71.5 miles (11 x 6.5 miles), but if you zoom in a bit you can see how spotty the GPS tracks are.
So, all in all a very enjoyable event, with many positives to be taken away.
- Fueling was good, despite a bit of a sour stomach mid-way through the race.
- Shoes and socks were a good choice on the day.
- RockTape is a great product.
- Rough patches during the race can be worked through.
- You’re stronger than you think you are.
- Shoes – Saucony Kinvara TR2
- Socks – Injinji Original Weight Mini Crew
- Shorts – Nike Tempo
- Top – Saucony Hydralite Sleeveless
- Headlamp – Petzl Nao
- Handheld – Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Plus
- Groin Support – Rocktape Kinesiology Tape
Great video filmed a couple of years ago containing a wealth of valuable information regarding effective fueling for training and competition. Steve Born, Technical Advisor for Hammer Nutrition, is the speaker, and although many Hammer products are featured in the presentation, the techniques and methodology can be applied to other products and brands.
The video lasts for almost 2 hours, but is well worth watching and provides a great insight into several of the Hammer Nutrition products that I currently use.
Recorded live on August 11, 2011 at Pilgrim’s Market in Coeur D’Alene.
The 15 topics Steve covers are as follows:
- Keep fluid intake during exercise between 16-28 ounces per hour.
- Restrict calorie intake to 280 calories/hour or less during exercise.
- Avoid simple sugars in your fuels. Use complex carbohydrates only.
- Exercise in the longer than 2-3 hour range requires protein too.
- Soy or Whey protein? Which one to take, and when.
- Use liquid fuels as your main energy source, even during prolonged training and races.
- Electrolyte replenishment is just as important as calories and fluids.
- Don’t rely on salt tablets to fulfill electrolyte requirements.
- Don’t use any new supplement or fueling protocol on race day.
- The importance of proper recovery.
- Don’t over consume food the night before a race (aka carb-loading).
- For races and workouts over 60 minutes in length, finish any pre-race meal 3 hours prior to the start.
- Don’t sacrifice sleep to eat a pre-exercise meal.
- If you are going to eat a pre-exercise meal, you don’t need to consume a 1,000 calorie mega meal.
There’s also a short question and answer session at the end of the video that covers a few other topics.
All of the products featured in the video are available on the Hammer Nutrition web site. If you’re interested in trying one or more of the products, feel free to use my affiliate ID  to receive 15% off your first order.
To receive your discount, simply browse the Hammer Nutrition website and select the product(s) which best meet your needs.
Your 15% discount will not be shown on your shopping cart total, but WILL be applied after your order has been processed. You will see the correct total in the order confirmation email that gets sent after one business day from the time your order was placed.
Referral Number: 29178
[Please Note: Referral credit does not apply to Compex units.]
I’ve had my eye on the compression + ice gear from 110% for quite a while now. I first read about their unique products on the Joe TRI’s For Dom Blog way back in January 2012. The local Triathlon store, Final Kick Sports, also stock an impressive array of their goods, so when an offer to try the Transformer Short arrived in my inbox a month or so ago, I jumped at the chance.
From what I understand, a guy named Steve Petiit invented the product back in 2005 after sitting in an ice bath. In 2010 he sold the company to the folks at 110%, who have since made further developments with the product. Cool idea, if you pardon the pun.
According to the 110% web site, Transformer Shorts “combine the benefits of compression and the power of an ice bath in a single piece of gear, and target the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings IT band and glutes.”
Compression gear for recovery is something I’ve been doing for quite some time. I’m also a fan of soaking in a cold (not necessarily icy) bath after a tough workout or race. The concept of combining compression clothing with ice is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” ideas…
So, onto the product review and to find out whether the shorts actually do what they’re supposed to do.
The shorts come packed in a square-shaped thermal bag. The bag is not only a nice storage option, but is designed to keep the included ice inserts cold for up to six hours. At first glance the shorts look like most other compression shorts on the market – black, stretchy spandex/polypropylene fabric with a bold 110% logo on the back of the left leg. However, on closer inspection, the shorts feature several strategically placed icing pockets that transforms them from high performance compression gear to an active recovery system in one simple step.
The reusable ice inserts (6 were included with the shorts) are easily prepared for their first use – simply soak the sheets in warm water for 5-10 minutes until the cells expand, dry them off, then place in the freezer with the cloth side up. The thermal bag will keep them frozen for up to 6 hours, or if placed in the shorts should stay cold for about an hour.
It’s important to place the inserts with the black side facing the body. The inserts can be cut to size if required, then are simply slipped into the required icing pocket on the shorts.
For heat therapy, 110% state that the inserts can be warmed in a microwave for approximately 15 seconds before being placed into an ice pocket.
The shorts are pretty easy to put on (unlike some other compression brands on the market), and for the most part, very comfortable. They fit great in the waist (no drawstring to rip in to the belly fat) and provide an excellent level of compression to the glutes and thighs. The only negative is a seam that runs up both legs and across the front of the shorts. Maybe it’s me, but it just feels odd.
I’ve worn the shorts after several runs in the last week or so and am really pleased with the results. The gradient compression is not only super supportive, but if the marketing hype is to be believed, provides increased circulation and mobility. The ice inserts are a breeze to insert, and definitely help keep post-run swelling and pain at bay.
If I can get over the odd placement of the front seam, I’ll definitely try the shorts on a run sometime soon. The fabric is moisture wicking, and I’m sure the extra stability and muscle support will feel great.
Check out the video below for a closer look at the 110% Transformer Short, and be sure to take a look at the other great products on the 110% Play Harder web site.
This past weekend I took part in the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 – without doubt, the toughest, most challenging event of my 32 year running career. This recap could potentially turn into my longest ever blog post, so please bear with me as I attempt to process my many thoughts, memories and emotions.
Number of starters – 943
Number of finishers – 497
Finish rate – 52.7%
Finish time – 27:16:17
Finish place – 209th/497
Age group position – 53rd/125
Gender position – 183rd/415
The legendary “Race Across The Sky” 100 Mile Run takes place on extreme Colorado Rockies terrain, from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. I signed up somewhat on a whim way back on New Years Day, just over a month before attempting my first 100 Miler. Most people probably would have waited until after their first 100 before signing up for another one, but I didn’t want the Leadville 100 to close out and risk not getting an entry slot.
The plan was to focus on the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February, have fun at a 24-HR event in April, then start the training cycle for Leadville in early May. Meanwhile, I’d read as much about the course, the conditions and the cut-off times.
We arrived in Colorado a couple of days before the race, and made our way to Leadville via a Whole Foods in Denver where we stopped to pick up supplies and grab lunch. We were soon checked into our 3rd floor guest apartment located just a few blocks from the start of the race, where I unpacked some of my gear and started to get organized.
The next day or two consisted of a short shake out run, more planning/strategizing, a reccie of most of the aid stations/crew areas and probably most important of all, attending the mandatory pre-race meeting which was packed with almost 1,000 runners plus their support teams. After an awful pre-race dinner at The Silver Dollar Saloon (their food was just as bad as their web site), it was time to set the alarms and turn in for the night. Despite feeling just a tad nervous and a lot excited, sleep came surprisingly easy.
The first words I heard on race morning were “I’m glad I’m not you” courtesy of super-crew member, and loving daughter, Shannon. Thanks. I think. Sustained Energy was the breakfast of choice, which I sipped easily as I layered up into my race gear. Head crew Ally was getting her stuff together as Jeff & Ryan (the two other crew/pace guys on my team) rolled up outside the apartment. Minutes later the crew vehicle was loaded with gear, and we made our way on foot down to the corner of 6th Street and Harrison Avenue for the start.
The Start to May Queen
- Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Shoes
- Swiftwick socks
- Zensah Calf Sleeves
- Nike shorts
- Salomon EXO S-Lab Tee
- Mission Athletecare cooling arm sleeves
- Generic gloves
- Petzl Nao Headlamp
- Gore beanie
- Salomon waist pack
After a somewhat emotional start (lining up with almost 1,000 runners about to tackle one of the most challenging races in the USA really hit home), we were finally off and running. The goal was to keep things very easy on the initial downhill stretch to Turquoise Lake. I looked for Maddy in the hope of running some of the early miles together, but it was too dark and crowded to find her in the mass of runners crunching their way along the gravel of The Boulevard. As expected, the first 5 or 6 miles passed pretty quickly. The temperature was cool, but not cold, and pretty much perfect running weather. I alternated sips of Tailwind Endurance Fuel and water, and just concentrated on finding a good rhythm.
The first challenging section of the race was a short, steep, rocky slope known as Mini-Powerline. Everyone ahead of me stopped to walk, so I followed suit and just tried to pick out the best line. The climb didn’t last long and pretty soon we were crossing a road and heading towards the single track trail around Turquoise Lake.
The trail was narrow, rocky and rooty with not too many chances to pass or be passed. Actually this suited me fine as my pace was good and it kept me from pushing too hard. I wondered where Maddy was, and even shouted out her name in the darkness in case she was close by and we could run together. Worth a try, but alas, there was no reply. We quickly reached and crossed the Tabor Boat Ramp, then continued on the trail around the lake and towards the May Queen aid station.
At the end of the trail, we popped out on to an asphalt road which made for a pleasant change from the early miles rocks, roots and gravel. The noise ahead clearly meant we were close to the aid station, and just as it came into view, I heard someone shout my name from behind. It was Maddy – big smile on her face and running along at a good, controlled pace. We exchanged a few words, but soon got separated again at the aid station where I took the opportunity to ditch my Petzl Nao Headlamp and exchange water bottles. It was great to see my crew after a couple of hours of running, but there was no time to hang around before setting off on the next leg of the journey.
May Queen to Outward Bound
The next 10 or so miles consisted of a gradual climb up to the top of Sugarloaf Pass (approx. 11,000ft), followed by the pretty steep and nasty Powerline descent. I hiked the steeper sections of the climb, stuck to the plan of gels, Tailwind and SaltStick capsules, and was really enjoying the experience of “running Leadville”. Some of the runners were super chatty, but others (like me) were more focused on their races and in the zone.
The Powerline descent was a bit tricky on the dusty, rutted trail. Some parts were pretty steep, so I tried to find the balance between trashing my quads and maintaining a good pace. Somewhere on this section a runner (Charlie) introduced himself to me, and asked if I was the Hundred Pushups guy. Amazing! We chatted briefly before wishing each other well and going our separate ways.
Once at the bottom of Powerline, there was a nice paved road where I could draw from the crowds and pick up the pace slightly to run to the Outward Bound aid station. I expected to be weighed at Outward Bound, but for some reason the volunteers just ushered me in and out without any checks, leaving me to hunt down my crew for another handheld bottle/gel exchange. I think the only other change was to ditch my beanie which I’d stowed in my waist pack, pick up a visor to shade my eyes from the sun and get sprayed with Mission sunscreen to keep my head from burning. Again, I didn’t hang around and was soon heading to County Road 11 and the next leg of the race. 24 miles down, 76 to go.
Outward Bound to Half Pipe
The sun felt great on this relatively short section, and I was able to pass several runners without having to pick up the pace. The road was paved, fairly flat and it was cool to be passed by my support team as they made their way to the next crew station. After navigating through a grassy meadow, we made a left turn where the crew zone soon came into view. I’d only carried one handheld on this section, so picked up another before continuing on to the Half Pipe aid station located 2 or 3 miles away.
Half Pipe to Twin Lakes
I stopped briefly at Half Pipe to ditch a couple of annoying sticky gel wrappers, and took the opportunity to grab a quick slice of watermelon and a cup of water. The next 4 or 5 miles were a gradual uphill until we popped out at the Mount Elbert trailhead and the Camelbak-sponsored water station. Again, I took the opportunity for a quick water top-up, high-fived the young lad operating the spigot, then took off in good spirits towards Twin Lakes.
This section was mainly single track, with some rocky switchbacks to navigate the closer we got to Twin Lakes. Oddly enough, I was able to hear the aid station before I could see it, and after a short, steep descent (where I’m glad to report I didn’t fall), I hit the road running in the search of calories and my crew.
Once again it was a big boost to hook up with my support team. As I concentrated on taking in calories, my crew swiftly changed shoes (Saucony Kinvara Trail) and socks (Drymax), and applied more sunscreen. I switched out the visor for a hat (knew it was going to be extra sunny at the top of Hope Pass), strapped on the Nathan Vapor Wrap pack, and without thinking too much about the massive climb ahead, took off across the meadow and towards the river crossing. 40 miles down, 60 to go.
Twin Lakes to Hopeless
Running swiftly across the meadow, I attempted to brace myself for the toughest 20 miles of the Leadville 100 – firstly a 3,400 ft climb to the summit of Hope Pass, via the Hopeless aid station, then a wicked descent down into the ghost town of Winfield. At Winfield, you grab aid and a pacer and do it all in reverse.
The meadow was easy to navigate, although the Nathan pack containing 2 liters of water felt heavier than I remembered in training. Ugh. The river crossing was refreshing though. Not too deep, but cold enough to numb my feet for a few hundred meters. Nice. Once the feeling in my feet came back, I realised my Drymax socks had scrunched down with the weight of the water and were causing some friction on the back of my ankle. I quickly tried to pull them up, but decided to press on rather than spend too much time messing with them. Note to self – stick with the Swiftwicks next time.
The climb up Hope Pass was just as tough as everyone makes out. However, I switched my Garmin to display elevation and was surprised at how quickly the number increased – 9,200.. 9,400.. 9,700.. 10,000.. 10,300… I was able to keep my breathing under control until about the 10,800ft mark where the grade seemed to kick up a few more %.At Twin Lakes I’d made the decision to leave my Black Diamond Trekking Poles behind – I hadn’t trained much with them, and figured they’d be more of a hindrance than a help. In hindsight I should have carried them “just in case”, as I soon found any kind of forward progress was difficult without some form of aid. Luckily I found a longish stick on the side of the trail which I used quite effectively for at least half a mile. The stick was quite spindly though, so I kept my eyes peeled for something sturdier. As luck would have it, tucked just off the single track I spotted two almost perfect sticks which were MADE for the climb.
From this point on, progress was good and the effort level under control again. I made it to Hopeless, topped up my Nathan and sucked down some Tailwind from the Salomon flask I was also carrying. I munched on some Sport Beans, thanked the awesome volunteers (and llamas) at the surreal aid station, and trekked on towards the summit.
Hopeless to Winfield
The switchbacks seemed never ending, but eventually I made it to the top. I took a deep breath, turned myself around and spent a good 30 seconds just looking back at the amazing view with the tiny town of Leadville in the distance. I shook my head in disbelief at the miles and terrain I’d already covered – 45 miles so far and we weren’t even 9 hours into the race. No time for sightseeing though, so I turned around again and began the treacherous descent into Winfield.
I have to be honest here; the descent was pretty scary for this flatlander with limited downhill experience. The trail was narrow and dusty with a sheer drop on many sections of the descent. It would have been way too easy to lose control on the steeper sections and go barreling off down the side of the mountain, so I took things rather gingerly and made sure of my footing.
The cool part of the descent was having to step aside for the race leaders – first Michael Aish, closely followed by one of my favorite runners Ian Sharman, then Nick Clark with Scott Jurek and his pacer Hal Koerner not too far behind. It’s not often you get to share the trail with some of your idols, so I tried to take inspiration from them, and continued the descent with a bit more confidence.
The trail to Winfield seemed to snake on forever. To take my mind off things I started to count the runners in front of me who were over halfway done and heading back up to the summit. I lost count after about 50, but at the same time I could hear the noise and excitement of the Winfield aid station. Finally I popped out of the trailhead onto the dusty, washboard road and bounced along to the aid station where I realised I was still carrying the trusty old school trekking poles.
Ryan, my pacer, was there to greet me – he grabbed the sticks and directed me into the tent where I was to be weighed. I think I was about 3 pounds down. The medical guy looked me in the eye, asked if I was okay (I was), then ushered me out of the tent where I picked up some soup and salted potatoes before plopping myself down into the crew chair.
Once again I was able to consume some food while my crew took care of a sock change, Garmin 910XT exchange, Nathan hydration top up and an awesome sponge down of the legs and head. I also decided to pick up my Black Diamond poles before heading off for the second half of the race. 50 miles down, 50 to go. Halfway split 9:54:56 – almost an hour ahead of schedule, but feeling surprisingly good.
First Half Garmin Stats
Winfield to Hopeless
According to many blog reports/race recaps, a lot of runners quit at Winfield. The Hope Pass crossing is pretty crazy, and I guess it can easily psyche you out. My plan was to get in and out of Winfield as quickly as possible so that quitting would not be an option. I can honestly say that pulling out here was never an option. Sure, the climb was going to be brutal, but I was halfway done and my legs were ready for the challenge. Ryan and I set off in good spirits. It felt great to have company and I was looking forward to spotting a few friends on the climb back up Hope Pass.
Maddy was one of the first people I came across. She was about 1.7 miles from Winfield and still smiling like she was totally having a ball. I wished her well and continued the hike. I remember working hard back along the trail, feeling very thirsty and a bit lightheaded. I also remember having to constantly stop and pause on the trail – I’m not sure if it was the sheer volume of runners making their way down the narrow trail to Winfield, or the fact that I really needed to stop and catch my breath. It might have been a combination of both.
Somewhere on the ascent, the lightheadedness changed to a feeling of nausea and my breathing became more and more labored. My body was struggling to process the food I’d consumed at Winfield, and it was also trying to fuel my muscles for the tortuous climb to the summit. Something had to give, and it turned out to be the stomach. About 1,000ft from the top I stepped to the side of the trail to allow a few runners to pass by, steadied myself against a tree and threw up. Not once, not twice, but at least three times. Ryan was a little bit further along the trail probably wondering what I was up to. Thankfully I don’t remember too many details about this stage in the race, but I do vividly recall seeing the many switchbacks still up ahead. This was the first low point of the race. I felt weak, sick, despondent and totally drained of energy.
[Sidenote: The day after the race I mentioned to Ally that I wish I'd seen my friend Jon Vizena out on the course. Jon, despite giving it his all, decided Twin Lakes II would be the stopping point of his race, so I sent a text congratulating him on his gutsy 60 miles and apologized for not spotting him on the Hope Pass ascent/descent. His reply stunned me -- "Haha, I talked to you on Hope and I told you I was hurting. You were coming up as I was going down." Wow. I have no recollection of seeing Jon, let alone talking to him. I guess I was pretty much out of it at that stage in the race.
After violently throwing up the immediate challenge was to get up and over the summit, then down to the Hopeless aid station. Ryan took my pack to lessen the weight I had to carry, and would stop to give me water every time I needed it. My throat was the driest it's ever been in my life and I found myself stopping often to drink and wet my mouth. I was absolutely parched and the heat was starting to get to me. Thankfully Ryan stuck to me like glue, we somehow made it to the summit, and then down to the Hopeless aid station for the second time.
Hopeless to Twin Lakes
On reaching Hopeless for the second time, I was (a) desperate for calories and (b) ready for the Nathan pack to be topped up with water. Ryan took care of the pack while I made my way to the food tent to grab noodles and a drink. The noodles/broth tasted great so I grabbed another cup before leaving the tent to find a shaded spot to sit down. Seconds after plonking myself down on a small camping stool, the water and noodles came up. Twice. Maybe three times. Ugh. I asked Ryan if he thought Tums would help. He thought they would, so headed to the aid station to grab a couple. I chewed the first one, tried to swallow, but the stomach just couldn't keep anything down.
Next thing I know one of the aid station volunteers appears on the scene. She asks if I'm okay (clearly I'm not), congratulates me on the time it's taken to arrive at Hopeless Part II, then instructs me to sit still for ten minutes to allow my stomach to settle down. Ten minutes later she reappears with a cup of broth and a cup of flat coke and proceeds to spoon feed small doses out of both cups. Meanwhile, Ryan is phoning Ally to let her know the situation, whilst slowly, but surely, I start to feel more alert and desperate to get going. The volunteer lady has other ideas, however. First she motions for Ryan to pick up some Roctane for me to sip on the descent back down to Twin Lakes, then makes me sit for a few more minutes for the calories to settle. Finally she instructs us to be on our way. I thank everyone within earshot and head on out of the aid station with 45 miles ahead of me. See ya later, llamas.
We slowly start walking out of Hopeless - Ryan loaded up with both packs and both sets of poles, me carrying just a flask full of Roctane. The walk turned into a jog, then the jog turned into a run. Somehow I managed to run pretty much all of the descent, and 40 minutes later we were back at the meadow, about 1.5 miles from Twin Lakes. My energy level was waning again, so we just decided to walk it in across the river and towards the aid station. Ryan ran ahead to prepare some stuff for the next leg, while I kept plugging away, trying to stay positive. Seeing Maddy's Mom was a welcome sight and gave me a bit of a boost in the final stretch before Twin Lakes. Finally, I arrived at the aid station where Jeff was waiting to walk me to the tent and take care of my nutrition needs.
Twin Lakes aid station was the third low point of the race. Nothing on the table was enticing, I felt completely drained, yet knew I still had 40 miles to cover. We sat inside the tent for a while, then moved to an outside seat when the tent started to get busy. As my crew were buzzing around getting things together, I sat for way too long and considered the dreaded DNF. Again, being totally honest, I doubted I could make it to the finish and didn't want to end up stranded between aid stations in a sorry state. I remember shaking my head in frustration, and with every shake I was closer to calling it a day - there was no way I could go another 40 miles the way I was feeling.
Even when Maddy came breezing through the aid station, I made a motion with my hands to let her know I was done. I watched her speed off into the distance and sat for at least another 10 minutes. Thinking. Debating. Wondering. Still shaking my head, I sipped more coke, then something clicked in my mind and I announced I'd be ready to go in 5 minutes. I told Ally I didn't come here to quit and that I was ready to give it my best shot and finish this thing. Ryan prepared the gear and we set off walking out of the aid station.
Twin Lakes to Half Pipe
The next leg of the race should have been 8.5 miles to the Half Pipe aid station, but I think it turned out to be at least 10. The climb out of Twin Lakes was just as steep as I expected it to be, but somehow I was able to keep moving. We made it safely to the Mount Elbert water station where I just cupped my hands and took in some water. In truth, the next section to Half Pipe was fairly runnable, but energy levels were low and walk pace was all I could manage. I tried to eat along the way, but nothing sat right and all I could take was water and the leftover Roctane.
By now it was dark, the headlamps were on and there was a long night ahead of us. As the temperature dropped I also started to think about hypothermia. I was barely moving quick enough to generate body heat so pulled the Salomon wind shell out of my pack and kept on walking. Eventually we made it to Half Pipe and the comfort of a heated tent. Energy levels were really low at this point, so I took my time, enjoyed the heater and tried to get a few spoonfuls of fuel inside.
The next stage was just a couple of miles to where my crew were waiting and where Shannon would take over the pacing role. I felt fairly energised on this short stretch and made it to the crew zone in pretty good spirits. 30 more miles and I would be done!
Half Pipe to Outward Bound
Shannon took over the pacing and it was great to spend time with her. Conversation was good and thankfully the miles ticked away pretty quickly. I had coconut water to sip and knew that after this leg there were only *two* more sections to go, and one big climb. I wish I'd had more energy as this would have been a great section to run, but I needed to conserve as much energy as possible for the remaining 7 or 8 hours I predicted it would take.
It was really good to get to the Outward Bound aid station - lots of people, lots of distractions and a comfy chair to sit in. Again, it was the same routine - sit down, allow the stomach to settle, sip calories and go. Here I tried some oatmeal and chili, both of which tasted good and seemed to sit okay. It was now past midnight and time to ring in my 47th birthday, but all good things come to an end and it was soon time to move on for the next leg of the journey and the dreaded Powerline climb.
Outward Bound to May Queen
Powerline would be the last serious climb of the race. In the back of my mind I knew if I could just make it to the top of the 11,000ft Sugar Loaf Pass, I'd almost be in the clear and set for a sub-30 hour finish. Powerline was a cool, but cruel climb on a dusty, rutted surface. The cool part was looking ahead to see numerous dots of headlamp light from runners further up the climb. The cruel part was the 6 or 7 false summits that made the climb go on forever and ever. Somehow we made great progress up Powerline, and aside from one weak spot on the first part of the climb, the pace was good and we were able to pass several runners. Perhaps it was the miracle chili at Outward Bound?
The climb was also a warm one, so much so that I had to remove one layer and unzip the long sleeve Salomon top I had on underneath the thin wind shell. Much to the relief of Ryan and myself, we finally reached the summit and were soon able to make the long trek down to the final aid station. The rooty trail was quite windy and seemed to snake on forever. At one stage I thought we were close to May Queen, but the trail twisted away from the noise before looping back around to a small bridge crossing and the road to the campground. We made it. *Just* 13.5 miles to go.
May Queen to Finish
As we ran over the timing mat and towards the mass of crews and crew vehicles, we speculated whether Shannon or Jeff would be ready to take over the pacing role. However, Shannon was freezing and taking refuge in the Jeep, and Jeff was waiting with calories galore to help fuel me to the finish, including peanut butter, bread, soup and the strongest instant coffee ever! Despite a few minor hot spots, my feet were still feeling good, but I figured a change of shoes with just over a half marathon to run could be a good thing. The Saucony Virratas felt like carpet slippers and was definitely a great decision.
After several sips of broth and a spoonful or two of peanut butter, Ryan and I set off towards the rooty trail that would take us a good portion of the way around Turquoise Lake. Ryan won't mind me saying he was feeling pretty tired by now. The trail around the lake was monotonous, tedious and meandered on and on and on. It felt like you were running the same stretch time and time again.
We briefly stopped at the Tabor Boat Ramp, just in case the crew had made it and Shannon was ready to run the final 7 miles. The area was pretty deserted though, so we just continued along the trail, desperate for it to end. Eventually we popped up onto a road, ran a bit more rooty trail before scrambling down the wicked 1/3 of a mile Mini Powerline descent.
It felt so good to reach the bottom and exit left onto the wide gravel road. I tried to remember how far this point was from the start of the race, and guessed it was about 4 or 5 miles. Not too bad I suppose, but at this stage in the game all we wanted was to be done. To make matters worse, after the shelter of the lake trail, the exposed gravel road felt pretty chilly. Time to zip up the jacket again. The long stretch to the finish was pretty much all uphill, which surprisingly felt fine for the legs. A similar downhill could have been interesting the way the quads were feeling, but thankfully that was one thing I didn't have to worry about.
Eventually the high school came into view, and with the right turn onto 6th Street successfully navigated it was just a question of walking the final mile to the finish line. I glanced over at Ryan and said “I can’t believe I made it.” Squinting into the sun, I spotted Ally and Shannon in the distance, maybe a third of a mile from the finish line. It was great to see them again and quite an emotional moment for me. After almost calling it a day over 17 hours ago, somehow I’d managed to hike my way to the finish line. All that remained was to hit the red carpet running and cross that line.
Second Half Garmin Stats
I went into the race with the main aim of completing the course within the 30 hour cutoff, but also with a stretch goal of earning the coveted sub-25 hour gold/silver buckle. I thought long and hard about just playing it safe to make sure of the finish, but in the end decided to shoot high and go for gold, even if it meant blowing up and suffering for a bit towards the end. Despite the stomach issues, I’m glad I went for it, and strange as it may seem, it’s a great confidence boost to know I ran the first 50 miles of the Leadville 100 in under 10 hours. I’m sure I’ll return to Leadville one day, but for now I have other goals on my mind and lots of learning still to do….
As predicted, much like my race, this blog post has rambled on a bit it. To close, I’d like to sincerely thank my crew of Ally Speirs, Shannon Ralston, Ryan Knapp and Jeff Kline, and make it clear I wouldn’t have achieved my Leadville 100 finish goal without them. For them to totally sacrifice their weekends to support me, means a great deal. Thanks for reading. Comments are welcomed in the space below.
Photographs courtesy of Ally Speirs. Please respect the copyright ©
It’s been way too long since the last blog update, so here’s a little taste of what’s been happening. As many of you already know, on August 17th I’ll be toeing the start line of the 2013 Leadville Trail 100. Training has gone well, but now I find myself in that awkward taper phase – the mind wants to keep running, but the body needs to recover and rest up for the big race.
After stringing together some pretty solid training weeks, I’m probably in the best shape of my life right now. 3 of the last 5 weeks have seen me log at least 100 miles. In July I ran over 400 miles for the first time ever, including several Rocky Mountain National Park runs/hikes at the PRSFIT Trail Running Camp. Thankfully I have no injury concerns or issues, and am totally focused on preparing for the most challenging race of my life.
It hasn’t all been long runs and trail time, however. I’ve managed to log some faster training runs and even squeezed in a couple of fun 5Ks last month – the Independence Day 5K on July 4th, and more recently the Memorial Scholarship 5K on July 30th. I’m really happy with the respective finish times of 17:51 and 17:43, although I know they won’t count for much as I attempt to haul myself up to the 12,600ft peak of Hope Pass from Twin Lakes.
I still have a few decisions to make with regard to nutrition, clothing and footwear, but for the most part I have everything sorted in my mind. Drop bags, crew and pacer details will also be finalized in the coming days. So much to think about, but at the end of the day, it’s all about keeping moving during the race and focusing on the goal. The goal which I haven’t quite defined at the moment….
Earlier this month I received an email from an Under Armour representative regarding an “exciting new running shoe launch”, with the offer of a pair to try out before the product hits the stores in July.
Their brand new shoe is called SpeedForm, and will be available in an eye-catching array of colors – lime green, blue, orange and red. SpeedForm weighs in at a fraction under 6 ounces (approx. 170g), is super flexible and is manufactured with virtually no seams, stitching or insole. A somewhat unique fact is that SpeedForm is the first athletic shoe manufactured outside of a footwear factory. According to Under Armour’s pre-launch marketing literature, Speedform was built in a bra factory, inspired by the bra-maker that used their knowledge of how to clothe the body to create the first Apollo spacesuits!
Here’s a straight-out-of-the-box pic of the size 9.5, bright red pair I received yesterday.
Today I’ve been wearing them sockless around the house all day, and I have to say they are extremely comfortable – almost slipper-like in fact. Tonight I ran in the SpeedForm for the first time on a brisk 10 miler (with socks) and they performed exceptionally well – no hot spots, zero rubbing, great flexibility and super comfortable. Actually, they kind of reminded me of one of my favorite shoes, the Inov-8 Road-X Lite 155. I almost went sockless on the run, but decided not to risk blisters or hot spots, and save that experiment for a shorter run in the next couple of days.
So, initial impressions are rather good and I’m looking forward to logging more miles in the coming weeks. I may even give them an outing at a local July 4th 5K. We’ll see….
Speedform will be available for purchase in July on UA.com for $120.
Under Armour recently released the Speedform Apollo – a 7oz performance shoe that according to Competitor Magazine “feels as if it’s almost painted on your foot.” The Apollo features a 8mm stack height (24mm heel/16mm forefoot), perforated upper, seamless heel cup, and smooth, ultrasonic welded seaming for next-to-skin support & comfort.
The Apollo is available for $99.99 at Zappos.com. Click on the image below for more details:
Brooks have been well represented in my shoe rotation for many years, so when I received an email from one of their representatives asking if I’d like to test out the PureConnect 2, the answer was a resounding “Yes, please!”
The 2nd Generation PureConnect weighs in at just over 7oz (size 9.5), and is a neutral shoe suitable for daily training or racing. Flexibility is good, and the mid-sole a nice combination of firmness and cushion. In my opinion, the red and black color way definitely makes for an eye-catching shoe!
Since receiving the media sample from Brooks I’ve racked up about 150 miles on a mix of asphalt, concrete, grass, and dirt trail, in both wet and dry conditions. The PureConnect 2 is built on an Anatomical Last which makes for a slightly narrow fit. Typically the first couple of miles into a run were fine, but by the end of the workout the outsides of my feet were definitely feeling a little cramped. Traction was good in dry conditions, but the narrow, rounded outsole made for slower cornering and a slight hesitancy approaching turns.
According to Brooks, the split toe design is meant to “allow the big toe to function independently and engage the runner’s natural balance during toe-off”, but to be honest I didn’t experience anything too unique. The front of the shoe curls up quite dramatically (see photo below), but this didn’t impact toe-off or ground feel as much as I expected it to.
The mesh upper is very breathable, and features a stretchy nav band that hugs the midfoot to keep it secure. Some people love it; others seem to hate it. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle – it doesn’t cause discomfort, yet it doesn’t appear to add stability either. One thing I do like is the Asymmetrical Lacing. Earlier this year I suffered a swollen tendon located on the top of my foot. The only shoe I could wear that didn’t cause more pain was the PureConnect 2, leaving traditionally laced shoes such as the Saucony Kinvara, Grid Type A5 and inov-8 Road-X Lite 155 relegated to the sidelines for several weeks.
I typically run in the PureConnect 2 once or twice a week for a maximum of 7 or 8 miles. Any further, and the narrowness of the shoe begins to cause cramping issues as mentioned above. I’m definitely a fan of the PureConnect 2, but if I’m being honest, it’s not the first shoe I reach out for.
- Weight – around 7oz is perfect for a daily trainer, yet light enough to wear in races too.
- Style – great looking shoe, with prominent reflective accents.
- Asymmetrical Lacing – makes for a very comfortable fit, even if it looks a little weird.
- 4mm Heel-Toe Offset – anything in excess of 4mm is too clunky a shoe for me, so the PureConnect 2 fits the bill perfectly.
- Width – slightly too snug a fit for a perfectly comfortable ride.
- Sole – outsole could be grippier. The 3 hollowed out areas in the forefoot tend to pick up rocks.
- Durability – Brooks claim that “shoes from the PureProject line will last approximately 250-300 miles.” For a $90 shoe, I’ll be hoping for at least 400 miles. Time will tell I guess.
From the Brooks Running web site:
Embrace the ground beneath you with the featherweight feel and pliable flex of the PureConnect 2. This slim and nimble turn-hugger is the perfect fit when you crave less shoe and more freedom. A split toe groove extends toward the midfoot, engaging the natural movement of the foot and letting you feel every nuance of the run. With rad looks, the baby is ready to run, right out of the box.
Weight: 7.2 oz
Platform: Anatomical Last
Launch Date: January 1, 2013
• BioMoGo DNA Midsole
• IDEAL Heel
• Toe Flex
• Nav Band
• Anatomical Last
Disclaimer: The PureConnect2 are a media sample provided free of charge by Brooks Running.
Since January 13th I don’t think a day has passed where I haven’t thought about my DNF at the 2013 Houston Marathon. It’s not like I’ve been dwelling on it for huge amounts of time, but I guess the disappointment of how the race panned out is still lingering. I do know, however, it was 100% the right thing to do. The Rocky Raccoon 100 was just 3 weeks away when I lined up at Houston, so doing-no-damage was always in the back of my mind.
The fact that I was able to far exceed my goal at Rocky Raccoon is partly due to the “smart” decision to pull out of Houston when things were going bad. Since Rocky, I’ve been fortunate enough to recover quickly and run a couple of solid local races – the Distance Series 30K and Mettle Events 15K – both of which turned out to be Personal Records. However, despite these relative successes, the main thing I’ve been looking forward to is a return to the marathon distance and another crack at 26.2 miles.
Enter the Shamrock Marathon – a local marathon that I’ve run 8 times since the year 2000, with finish times ranging between 2:52:55 and 3:07:30. I guess I kind of knew a few weeks ago I’d be running Shamrock this year, but didn’t actually sign up until last Friday night at the pre-race expo. I left it late as I had to be sure there were no lingering issues from Rocky Raccoon, and be positive that my mind was 100% up for running another marathon. As race weekend approached, mind and body were good, so I took the plunge and signed up with the following goals in mind:
- Break 3 hours to keep my sub-3 marathon streak going. Not hugely important, but I’ve run at least one sub-3 each year since 2004 and am curious to find out how long I can keep it going.
- Run my fastest Shamrock Marathon. As mentioned above, my fastest Shamrock to date is 2:52:55 set back in 2007. On current form, I felt like I had a shot at something in the 2:50:xx range. We’ll see.
- Finish as high in the Masters Division as possible. Always an unknown, as you never know who will be lining up against you on race day.
- Have fun. Houston was definitely not fun. I typically race with a smile on my face, so it was important to have an enjoyable marathon and regain my love of marathons.
So, onto race day. Conditions were cold and windy – pretty typical for the Shamrock Marathon – but at least it was dry. Parking at the Oceanfront wasn’t too problematic, and after hanging out in the Holiday Inn lobby for a while, we made our way to the 44th Street and the start of the 1/2 Marathon where I said my goodbyes to Ally and Michelle. Despite a slight delay due to some timing equipment issues, it was fun to watch each of the 10 corrals start their 13.1 mile journey, which left me about an hour to prepare for the start of my race.
I headed back along the boardwalk to help visualize the final half mile of the race. The wind was whipping up nicely, so it was good to get back to the car to warm up for a while, get my head straight and go through some pre-race leg-loosener exercises.
All that was left to do was pin a couple of gels to my shorts, pull on the armwarmers and head to the start line.
The marathon start was also delayed about 5 minutes, but time passed pretty quickly as I chatted to several of the local runners. The plan for most of us was to use the tailwind and get into a rhythm for the first 5 miles, and then hope that the wind had died down a bit for the almost 10 miles heading north to the relative shelter of Shore Drive.
Finally we were off and running, and, unlike at Houston, I was relieved that 6:30/mile goal pace felt comfortable. The first 4 or 5 miles were uneventful. I enjoyed listening to all the banter from the runners around me, but focused on conserving energy and settling into my own race.
At mile 5.5 we made the 180 turn at Prosperity and for the first time in the race experienced the brisk north headwind. I’d counted at least 50 runners ahead of me at the turnaround, 9 or 10 of which looked to be aged 40 or over (i.e. in the Masters Division). Some looked to be coasting. Others already looked under pressure. Plenty of folks to chase down. Just the way I like it.
Thankfully, this early in the race I was still feeling strong, and maintaining goal pace was no real problem. The mile or so around Camp Pendleton broke things up nicely and before I knew it I was heading over the Rudee Inlet bridge and passing the 10 Mile marker.
As is typical of the Shamrock Marathon, the Boardwalk section was tough. If you push the pace here against the wind, chances are you’ll waste valuable energy and suffer in the latter miles. Been there, done that. A couple of times. I leaned slightly into the wind, relaxed my shoulders and focused on a quick, efficient cadence. The mantra for the next mile or so was 1, 2, 3, 4…. 1, 2, 3, 4…. 1, 2, 3, 4, until we made the sharp left, then right onto Atlantic Avenue.
Still feeling good I pressed on to Mile 12 and hopefully a sighting of Ally and Shannon who should have finished up their races and would be waiting with words of encouragement. They didn’t disappoint, and the boost from seeing them really helped. I took the opportunity to ditch my gloves, and once again pushed on into the wind.
The halfway mark came in just over 1 hour 26 minutes – a fraction slower than I’d hoped for, but with the brutal wind, probably right where I needed to be. The next 3 miles were a straight shot north on Atlantic Avenue – another tough section into the wind, but with the added bonus of seeing some of the half marathon runners finishing up their races. I always get a boost along this stretch, and this time I got to see Michelle and local runner Christopher having fun as they headed south to the finish line.
As soon as I reached the left turn onto Shore Drive I realized for the first time that fatigue was setting in. The headwind really sucks the life out of you, and I started to wonder if I’d used too much energy along the toughest section of the course. I mentioned to the guy I was running with that I’d probably use the next 3 miles on Shore Drive to regroup, before trying to pick up the pace for the final 10K. I glanced down at my Garmin and noticed the average pace had only slowed by a second or two – I just needed to hang tough and get things back together.
Surprisingly the Shore Drive section passed quickly, but as we made the right turn into Fort Story we were greeted once again by the nasty north-east wind. I’ve run many miles in Fort Story over the years, and despite the wind, I felt strong and in control. I thought back to some of the great Tidewater Striders Distance Series battles I’ve had in the past and used those thoughts to drive me on. At Mile 20 I was flowing and ready for the final push.
I can’t say the last 6.2 miles were easy, but I do remember feeling happy and very much in the zone. Step by step, block by block, and mile by mile, I made my way to the finish line. With about a mile to go I thought back to Shamrock 2009, where I’d faded badly and been passed by a constant stream of fast finishing marathoners. Not today. Today it was me who’d been doing the passing from early on in the race.
Finally I made the turn onto the boardwalk where I’d walked and visualized the finish just 4 hours previous. The only difference now was that spectators lined the bike path and the noise was incredible. My legs felt great and I had no problem whatsoever kicking it in to the finish for a new Shamrock PR of 2:50:53.
Official finish time: 2:50:53
Overall finish position: 22nd
Masters Division position: 3rd
Mile 7 – 49th overall, 9th Masters
Mile 13.1 – 34th overall, 6th Masters
Mile 18 – 28th overall, 5th Masters
Mile 26.2 – 22nd overall, 3rd Masters
Enjoyable, but chilly, short run in Saucony’s latest zero drop offering; the Virrata. The Virrata features 18mm of foam cushioning underneath the foot, which offers a level of protection comparable to traditional training shoes. In fact, my early miles in the Virrata have felt very Kinvara-like. Which is a good thing of course.
Just ran a nice, easy 10k on the treadmill during my lunch break, and started up some more supplemental strength work with Troy Jacobson’s excellent StrEndurance program.
Great day to be outside, so ran steady for about an hour. Ended up with 8.6 miles which is a lot better than all the shorted mid-week runs I’ve been logging lately.
Ran a steady 10k in the Saucony Virrata. Conditions were a bit blustery so very happy with the average pace of 6:18/mile. Also did another round of StrEndurance as a warm up for the run. Lots of push-ups, squats, squat thrusts, mountain climbers, dumbbell rows, shoulder press, crunches, back extensions, jumping jacks and flicks definitely loosened things up!
Busy day at work, so just ran 5 miles on the treadmill. Started off slightly slower than 7:00/mile pace, but gradually picked things up to finish at 9.5mph. Also did more BOSU ball push-ups, some core work and the latest round of the one fifty dips program.
After a couple of easy, warm-up miles with some drills, it was soon time to race. There weren’t too many familiar faces at the start line, so I decided to set off fairly comfortably and see how things panned out.
I soon found myself sitting in 2nd place for the first 2.5 miles, but was able to gradually close the gap between me and the leader, then I think it was just after the 3 mile mark where I was able to make the pass and press on.
I maintained pace to the turnaround cone, then stepped things up a notch for the remainder of the race, feeling good the whole way to the finish line, with no issues whatsoever. Even the tendon on top of my left foot that’s been bothering me since Rocky Raccoon didn’t trouble me today.
The Saucony Virrata (as seen in the photo above) was the shoe of choice for the race – very responsive, and with a tremendously cushy feel for a zero drop shoe.
My official finish time was 57:15 (6:28/mile pace), but as the course came out a bit long (15.5 instead of 15.3 miles), my actual pace was closer to 6:00/mile – not too shabby at all.
Legs felt pretty good after Saturday’s race, so I decided to run down to the Oceanfront and back for an enjoyable 20 miler. I kept the Garmin hidden under a jacket sleeve, so I wasn’t sure of my pace until I reached the 10 mile mark at Rudee Inlet – it was a pleasant surprise to have averaged sub-7′s as it felt nice and easy. Turning for home wasn’t so pleasant, however, as the cold wind was pretty much in my face the whole way back to the house. Nice end to a 66 mile week!