IMTUF is likely to forever hold its position as my craziest spur-of-the-moment, last-minute race signup.
With the difficulty in securing entry to popular and enduring races these days it is important to plan ahead, and I already have most of my key races for 2016 pencilled in. The problem is that you can’t know whether you will be able to secure entry into the race until much later. I will have my name in the November lottery for next year’s Hardrock 100, but if I miss out again (this will be my 3rd attempt) then it will be necessary to complete another qualifying race prior to next November in order to enter the lottery in 2016 for the race in 2017 (I hope you could follow that).
Only 23 races count as qualifiers for Hardrock, of which 10 are outside the US and one of them is Hardrock itself. Wanting to stick to US options gave me a list of 12 races to consider. Further looking into those races uncovered a number of already sold out options and some that didn’t fit in with other races already planned. I was struggling to find a 2016 race that was still available for entry and fit into my schedule. But why did the race have to be in 2016?
In January I will run the 64 km Bogong to Hotham, which shares significant parts of the route followed by Australia’s toughest 100-mile race, the Alpine Challenge. I decided that the race weekend for the Alpine Challenge would provide me a great opportunity to head up to the area, hopefully perform a bit of a recce for Bogong to Hotham, and give back to the trail running community. I would join fellow sweeper Clare for a 60 km loop including Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop. The section is known as Mortein Alley (after a brand of insecticide), since it generally constitutes a considerable portion of the drop-out rate within the race (i.e. people drop like flies).
I headed down to the starting line to watch the runners set out at 4:30 AM, but then was able to return to sleep as my leg of the race would only commence after the sun had risen and then set once again. In the afternoon I headed over to Pole 333, one of the old telegraph poles in the area where our loop would start and finish. I set out for a solo run to see a bit of the Bogong to Hotham course, heading back towards the oncoming runners. I encountered some confused runners as I went but made sure to comfort them that they were headed in the right direction, and it was in fact me that was heading the wrong way. I chatted with a few runners, some tourists out for a hike, and one of the aid station volunteers further along the course. The last section of my run as I returned was particularly challenging, as the dipping sun shone brightly in my eyes to cause sun spots while the trail was already in shade. When I returned to the aid station I put on some warm clothing to wait.
Just after 11 PM we set out for our loop, 2.5 hours after the last runner had departed. I was carrying VHF and UHF radios, while Clare carried first-aid, spare food and warm gear. We set out rugged up as the temperature and wind had been cold while waiting at the very exposed aid station, but by the time we reached the river below we started to shed layers before commencing the climb to Mt Hotham. We arrived at the aid station, located in a hut on the mountain, where we were updated on the status of the runners ahead of us, and were given a SPOT tracking device that would allow us to be followed by race headquarters. As we followed the road away from the aid station, Clare pointed out that we would be taking a turnoff following huts on both sides of the road, and marked by a large sign. There was “no way” we could miss the turnoff, but shortly after we turned around and tracked back almost a kilometre to the turnoff we had missed.
Rather than a detailed review of any particular piece of gear this post will cover the gear that will be joining me as I run 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn as part of the Western States Endurance Run. One of my running mates Lindsey once quipped that I would be the perfect gear tester, since I have no brand loyalty and like to own nothing but the best. It was a fair comment since at the time I don’t believe a single brand was represented twice. I generally have favoured brands for specific items at any point in time, but if another company comes out with something better I will not hesitate to switch.
For my upcoming race there are a lot of different brands represented, although one has managed to sneak in three times. So here goes, working from head to toe.
Cap: Brooks HVAC Infiniti Mesh Hat
I do own a lot of running shoes from a lot of different brands, but when it comes to road running Brooks are my go-to shoe. Recently most of my road miles have been completed in the Brooks PureConnect, a shoe which I would confidently run a road ultramarathon in. In terms of this cap it is quite simply the best one I own. The one I will wear was recently purchased on this trip, but is simply a newer model of one that I have been using for the past couple of years. It is comfortable, light and quick drying.
Sunglasses: Rudy Project Rydon with Photochromic Clear Lenses
I had previously owned running glasses made by Nike and Smith Optics, but after buying these glasses it will take a very special product to remove this company. The quality of the lenses for these glasses are fantastic. The glasses allow interchangeable lenses and I have five different pairs (Transparent, Yellow, Laser Blue, Photochromic Red and Photochromic Clear). For the race I will use my Photochromic Clear lenses, which although they don’t go extremely dark in very bright sun, they do adjust very well in shaded areas so I will only need to remove them in particularly dark areas.
I am not sure whether any other companies make running buffs, but my buff is made by Buff. The idea to wear the buff actually comes from an ultrarunning friend, Tamyka, so I have to thank her for this one. It would have acted to help keep my neck warm at the start of the race (unlikely to be required with the weather forecast), I can pull it over my face in case the dust is extremely bad, and I can wet it to keep my neck cool during the hot stages of the race. This particular Buff I received from running the fantastic Otter Run (tagged as the “Grail of Trails”), a stunning race along the southern coast of South Africa.
Shirt: Salomon Exo S-LAB Zip Tee
I ran Leadville last year wearing this shirt. I like the tight fit of this top, which has meant that I don’t suffer any chafing on either the nipples or under my arms. There are a couple of other brands (2XU, The North Face) that were starting to challenge for this spot but Salomon still holds them off for the moment. There are two in the photo since I will have a second waiting for me after the Rucky Chucky river crossing in case I opt to change into a dry one.
Hydration: Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka Race Vest
Up until only a few months ago Salomon would have had a sure thing in this space with their Advanced Skin S-LAB Set (I own both the 5 litre and 12 litre). I am not a fan of carrying water bottles in my hands (although I do own both an Amphipod hand bottle and the Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set) and therefore opt towards a hydration pack in most circumstances. For this race my plan is to go as light as possible and minimise time at aid stations by using water bottles at the front of the pack, rather than a hydration bladder in the back. When Ultimate Direction released this pack, weighing less than the Salomon pack and costing less than half the price I decided to purchase it. I have used it a lot during my training runs (fitted with both bottles and a 1.5-litre bladder) and I can actually fit more in this pack than in the Salomon 5 litre.
The clear problem that I have found with the vest is the included water bottles. I carried along one of the included bottles for a 20-mile run on the Western States course, and found that no matter how it was adjusted, it was digging into my ribs. I felt it starting to bruise so I ended up running the final 12 miles carrying the bottle in my hand. My solution to that problem was…
Hydration: Salomon Soft Flasks
Salomon make these soft flasks in 5 oz (148 ml), 8 oz (237 ml) and 16 oz (500 ml). They are brilliantly soft (therefore not bruising rib cages), and since air does not replace the water that you drink they do not create a sloshing sound at all. It does mean that they collapse as you drink from them, so they drop into the front pockets of the pack. For me, these flasks with the Ultimate Direction vest are an absoluate winner in terms of hydration. I will carry one 8-oz and one 16-oz around for the day, and due to the extremely warm weather forecast for the weekend will also pick up a second 8-oz to carry through the hottest part of the day for wetting my buff and face.
Watch: Suunto Ambit
The Suunto Ambit is a great product and has improved consistently while I have owned it. It has been great to watch the firmware upgrades that have slowly shaped it into the brilliant device that it has become. I have just upgraded it yesterday to what will be the last firmware upgrade (almost as if they planned it in preparation for my race), and it is likely that I might end up with the Suunto Ambit2 (or Ambit3 or Ambit4) when I eventually upgrade. Suunto have also made some great improvements to their MovesCount.com website so that it is now a useful tool for evaluating runs.
Compression Shorts: Skins A400
As an Australian (the company originates from that great country) Skins were the first compression brand that I tried. I had previously used bicycle shorts when running since my large upper legs have always made chafing a problem. I used Skins for a while before switching to 2XU compression wear, but have once again returned to Skins.
Running Shorts: The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts
When I arrived in the US I had never owned any item produced by The North Face. I always knew of the company as a good brand, had looked at and tried on their products on numerous occasions, but no purchase had ever taken place.
I arrived with a pair of 2XU shorts that were intended as my race day shorts, but soon realised that “dying” was not the correct term to use in describing them since they were already “dead”. 2XU has been my go-to brand for both running shorts and shirts over the past couple of years. I still have many shirts remaining but I can’t see myself buying any more of their shorts. I have always disliked the lack of storage, with only a single zip pocket on the left-hand side of the shorts.
Shopping around I found a rack of The North Face running clothing, and was very interested that their Better Than Naked Shorts were extremely light but also featured a central zip pocket at the rear, as well as an elastic pocket to either side. I had found my new race shorts.
I have since bought a couple of Better Than Naked Shirts that I found on a clearance rack, which I have been impressed with, and it is likely that The North Face will start to occupy more space in my running wardrobe going forward.
Calf Sleeves: Salomon Exo Calf Sleeves
I only use calf sleeves during long trail runs. I am unconvinced whether the compression does provide any aid during the run but I definitely do not find them to hamper my running. On trails they provide the additional benefit of protecting the legs from scatches and scrapes, and in California they also protect from Poison Oak. I own calf sleeves by 2XU and Salomon, but the Salomon have received the nod for the race.
Socks: Falke Falkelite
Produced in South Africa I purchased 10 pairs of these socks before departing. They are a great light-weight running sock that wick well.
Shoes: Inov-8 Trailroc 245
A pair of Brooks Adrenaline ASR (the trail variant of the popular Brooks road running shoe) was the first pair of trail shoes that I purchased. Since then all of the trail shoes that I have purchased have been from Inov-8.
I started out with their Roclite 295, with a 9 mm offset, and then ran Leadville in a pair of Roclite 285, with a reduced 6 mm offset. But while I loved the feel of the 295 and wanted the lower offset of 285, I found the Roclite 285 too tight in the mid-sole. When the Trailroc series was announced last year they seemed like the answer. I opted for the Trailroc 245, which has a 3 mm offset, as I felt that I was ready to take it down a step from the 6 mm offset I had used at Leadville, but didn’t feel that I wanted a zero drop shoe for ultramarathon running up to 100 miles.
I recently retired my first pair of Trailroc 245 shoes after 340 miles (550 km) of use, with well-worn but still workable soles, although they do have a couple of extra holes in the uppers that weren’t there when I started. I will start off the race in the blue pair and will switch to the red pair if I decide to change shoes and socks after the river crossing.
Last year my running focussed around two main targets: the 89-km Comrades Marathon in June and the 100-mile Leadville Trail 100 (pre-race information here and race report here) in August. Despite improving on my Comrades 2011 time by over 35 minutes, my Comrades 2012 race was a bit disappointing as I missed out on my target of a silver medal (achieved for running a time under 7:30). Leadville more than made up for my disappointment.
Leadville was my first 100-mile race and I had no idea what to expect from the race or myself. I looked at target paces and they all seemed so slow due to the extreme distance and the extreme challenges (starting and finishing at 3,200 metres of elevation with a total ascent of over 4,800 metres and a single climb of 1,000 metres over a 3,800 metre pass). I set myself a target that appeared realistic but there was no way to really know how my body would feel after equalling my furthest run to date (89 km at Comrades) and still having over 70 km remaining. As it turned out I was so far ahead of my stretch target at the 60-mile mark that I was able to relax and enjoy the remainder of the race. I took extra time at aid stations and walked sections that I definitely could have run if I had been pushed for time. Already by the next day, rather than swearing I would never run 100 miles again, I was already contemplating what time I could run at Leadville if I went all out. I thought about the time I could cut out at aid stations, the sections I could run instead of walking, and the sections where I should lift my running pace. I had a better understanding of what my body could withstand, so it was obvious that for my next 100-mile race I would leave everything out on the course.
Despite the very small percentage of the population willing to consider running such a distance, there is also a limited number of events available, and only a few races that really capture the imagination of the runners wanting to participate. Therefore it is considerably more difficult to secure an entry for a major 100-mile race than it is to secure an entry for a major marathon such as New York or London. I went for a three-pronged strategy in my 100-mile race applications for 2013, with all races taking place in the US.
First up was the Western States Endurance Run, the world’s oldest (and generally considered the most prestigious) 100-mile trail race. As a point-to-point race between Squaw Valley and Auburn in California, the race has a net descent although it still features around 5,500 metres of ascent (but 7,000 metres of descent). The race runs through a protected wilderness designation that would normally forbid the race from taking place, but since the race pre-dates the protection of the area the organisers were given congressional permission to continue running the event with the proviso that they could only allow as many participants as ran in the year the protected designation was declared. As such the race is limited to 369 competitors per year based on a 5-year rolling average. Entry to the race is through a lottery process that is oversubscribed by a factor of around 10 each year. Entrants must have completed one of a select number of qualifying races before being allowed entry into the lottery.
Just before 4AM on the morning of August 18th I stood at a starting line on the corner of Harrison Ave and 6th St in Leadville, Colorado (USA). At 10AM on the following morning the race that was about to start would be cut off after 30 hours with the firing of a shotgun. Between those two points in time stood approximately 102 miles of running and walking in order to complete the Leadville Trail 100. For more details on the race (stats, history, course) check out my earlier post here. For details on my Leadville experience I will try to enlighten you below.
I had arrived in Colorado a week before the race, and after spending a day driving through Rocky Mountain National Park I made my way through to Leadville to spend time acclimatising to the 3,000 metre elevation. I spent my time in Leadville relaxing, scouting the course, going for a couple of runs along sections of the course, and finalising the logistics of the incredible variety and volume of nutrition and gear I would spread amongst drop bags along the course. My nutrition plan during the race included 27 energy gels, 3 energy bars, 3 energy shakes, 24 electrolyte tablets, and chocolate coffee beans that I would provide myself, plus whatever else I felt like consuming at the aid stations. The gear requirements included two sets of lights since my race would include running in the dark at the start and end, and clothing to handle alpine weather that can include temperatures ranging from below zero overnight to 25 degrees during the day. Having scouted many parts of the course I also spent time tweaking my pacing chart, planning rough times through each of the major aid stations for my main target of breaking 25 hours. Then I looked at where I thought I could potentially save time if all went well, in the hope that I could achieve my stretch target of completing the run within 24 hours.
The morning of the race I rose at 2:30AM to consume an energy shake and a banana for breakfast, showered to relax my body, and then dressed in my neatly laid-out clothing and gear. The house I had rented was barely over 100 metres from the start/finish line, and just after 3:30AM I exited the front door for the very short walk to the start. Standing at the start line with almost 800 other runners I was about to run 75 km longer than my next longest run but I did not feel nervous at all. I was excited and ready, and it wasn’t too long a wait until 4AM came around.
This is actually being published after the race, but this is what I would have posted had I started this blog a few weeks earlier. It provides some useful background for those who will read my soon-to-be-posted race report.
The Leadville Trail 100 is a race that was added to my bucket list in the last couple of years. When it comes to road running it was the Comrades and Boston Marathons that were at the top of my list, and when it comes to trail running it was Leadville that piqued my interest. I cannot accurately recall when I first learnt about Leadville, but it was either while reading Chris MacDougall’s brilliant book “Born to Run” or Dean Karnazes’ “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner”. I am unsure whether my first reaction was an immediate desire to sign up, but I imagine that I more likely thought it sounded a little bit (or maybe a lot) crazy. But at some point I realised that completing a 100-mile foot race was not only feasible but actually desirable (and maybe even enjoyable). Yes, I did just mention 100-mile race and enjoyable in the same sentence and no, I did not miss a negative in there.
In November 2011 I signed up for the Leadville Trail 100 to be run on 18-19 August 2012, and that left me with only a few things to do: complete a training plan with ludicrous mileage, get my mind around the fact that I would need to run for approximately one entire day, and plan to fly to the other side of the world in order to do that.
But what is the Leadville Trail 100?
For those with a short attention span: Leadville Trail 100 is a 100-mile (161 km) race completed entirely at altitude incorporating a dual ascent of Hope Pass (elevation 3,822 metres). And if you want more stats, more history, and hopefully more useful details read on.