My first race for 2015 will be tomorrow (January 11th) at the Two Bays 56 km trail run. I have been preparing for this race for … 1 day.
Bogong to Hotham – Logo
Bogong to Hotham – Course Profile
I was signed up to run Bogong to Hotham on that same day, an iconic mountain run that includes the highest and third highest peaks in Victoria. But earlier in the week weather forecasts started coming in predicting a huge storm that was expected to drop a month’s worth of rain over the state, all within the period of race weekend. On Thursday night we were informed by the race director that there was a risk of the race being cancelled, and it was officially cancelled yesterday. The reason was due to the risk in the crossing of Big River as well as the high likelihood of tree falls due to the combination of bushfire-damaged trees, soft soil and high winds.
Having been up to that area, and knowing the remote nature of many parts of the course I totally respect the decision that was reached by the race director in combination with Parks Victoria. But I had put a lot of effort into training to peak for the race and had already tapered for race day. But luckily there was another race taking part on the same day, in the same state (actually closer to home), and race entries were still open.
Two Bays – Logo
Two Bays – Course Profile
Two Bays follows an out-and-back course along the 28 km Two Bays trail between Cape Shanck and Dromana. Having had no intention of doing the race until a day ago I didn’t know all that much about the race (besides its distance) when I entered my credit card details.
The race website warns of a steep climb rising 1,000 feet over 3 km, but considering Bogong to Hotham starts with a 1,300 metre climb within the first 9 km I am not too worried about that. I can also pack away the mandatory gear (including thermals, map and compass) that I had pulled out, since Two Bays only mandatory gear is 500 ml of fluid-carrying capacity. I guess everything else I need to know I will learn on the day.
My normal training week involves six days of running and a day of rest. After two weeks in Iten I had run for fourteen straight days. With a life focussed around training, but with an important focus on eating and recovery I didn’t feel the need for my usual weekly day off. But I decided to start my third week with my only rest day for the four weeks I would spend in Iten.
On Tuesday I headed down to the track to run a pyramid session, running intervals of 400, 600, 800, 1000 and 1200 metres, before working back down the pyramid to 400 metres. The recovery periods between each interval was just over half the length of the preceding interval. I had set target times that would be challenging, and they turned out to be slightly too challenging, but I enjoyed a good session where I managed to get close on all of the splits.
Most Kenyan runners head out 2-3 times a day to run. After using double sessions in the first half of 2012 when starting to seriously build my mileage I had returned to longer single run sessions after a few months due to the time taken to fit in two runs around a working day. But with no work to get in the way I included three double sessions in a row. The plan was to run an easy shake-out run each afternoon after a hard morning session.
After looking at route options from Colorado through to Oregon I determined that I would be visiting Idaho for my first time. I therefore looked at my running options in the potato state. I considered paying a visit to Sawtooth National Forest, but further investigation showed that much of the forest was closed due to severe bush fires raging in the area. The next option I looked at started right in the state capital, Boise. Ridge to Rivers is a trail system covering over 130 miles, with a number of trailheads right in town. The next step was to pick a route.
As usual I looked for a challenging option. The website for the trail system separates its trail into easy, moderate and difficult so I picked out a couple of the difficult trails, looked for any commonly used routes on Strava and MapMyRun, and put together a lollipop route. All that was left was to arrive in town and slot the run into my day. Unfortunately due to the timing of my travel it would be an afternoon run, and after some time enjoying the cool temperatures of Colorado I was back into summer running.
After a quick glimpse at the trail map posted at the trailhead I headed off on my route. Then a couple of hundred yards later I turned around and returned to the map to take a photo on my phone. I had made the mistake of passing up the opportunity to do that while running in Flagstaff and ended up having to ask some mountain bikers for directions, so at least I had learned my lesson. Then I set off once again.
After running parallel to the road for a short while I turned away and started to climb one of the ridges leading away from town. Being well into summer the ridges were covered in dry grass, making for a very brown panorama. The route I had chosen would climb up a ridge, occasionally reaching the spine of a particular ridge before peeling off and heading towards another ridge. In this way I made my way from ridge to ridge, occasionally descending but spending most of my time climbing. As I looked at the trail ahead of me and spied a high peak ahead of me that still required plenty of climbing I considered the name of the trail I was on (Watchman Trail) and realised that it should have been obvious that I had selected one of the highest viewpoints.
Already from 10 days out the extended forecast for race day was looking ominous. The cold front that had come through and shortened my run the previous day would stay in the area for a further two days before being replaced by a hot front. The forecast for race day had temperatures peaking at well over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
The forecast had it raining for the entire day so when I rose to look outside and see a steady rain falling I decided that I could afford an extra day off. I relaxed in the morning reading, surfing the internet and preparing some blog posts, before setting out to grab some lunch as well as some items for my drop bags and crew points. Then late in the afternoon I looked outside to see a lighter sky, and upon closer inspection saw that the rain had stopped for the moment. I immediately decided that I would squeeze in a quick run.
I was staying in a recreation area called Truckee Donner that provides plenty of facilities so a quick online search brought up a series of trails through the area. Unfortunately the trail map was not to scale and provided little information on distances, so I found a useful trailhead and mapped out a route to follow. I was only looking to run 3 miles (5 km).
I drove to the trailhead as my trail mindset has kicked in to a point where the thought of wasting mileage on road seems wasteful. I set off from the trailhead and reached a branch in the trail where a nature loop started. The two branches would rejoin and continue further along, and could therefore be used as a loop. I set off in a clockwise direction noting a sign mentioning a distance of 1.3 miles, hoping that the distance referred to the far end of the loop, which would thereby give me a distance of almost three miles. The trail gently climbed initially and then flattened out as it passed through some wetland areas. It consisted of some nice single track as well as some boardwalk.
To add to the challenge of starting day 3 of the Three Cranes Challenge (race reports for the first two days here and here) with 73 km and just under 7.5 hours of racing in my legs, it also had the distinction of starting 2 hours earlier. After 6AM starts on the first two days in the early morning light, day 3 started in the dark at 4AM with sunrise views expected as runners reached the top of the major climb for the day. As the campsite rose for the day we were greeted by the race announcer advising that rain jackets and whistles would be mandatory due to misty conditions. The race started in light, misty rain and the lead group set off at a blistering early pace.
I was sitting in sixth place overall. Eddie was two positions ahead of me in fourth place after a very fast day 2 took him from 11 minutes behind of me to 11 minutes ahead. Dirk was one place ahead of me with a buffer of just under 5 minutes. Graeme was less than 2 minutes behind me after catching up five minutes on day 2, and someone that I didn’t know named Frank was two positions behind me with a gap of just over ten minutes.
I noticed that Graeme went off with the lead group but I knew that I run best when I stick to my own pace so I decided not to stay with them. We took off on the relatively smooth road out of the campsite under the light of our headlights. The misty conditions were causing the light to bounce straight back into my eyes and I noticed that I quickly developed tunnel vision in the difficult conditions. The Golden Gate Challenge (organised by the same organisation and race director) had similarly featured a start in the dark, with all of the running on roads (some paved and some unpaved) until the sun had risen. I expected a similar route for this day until suddenly we were turned off the road and started a grassy trail descent.
I thought that I was running at a fairly good pace on the fairly smooth but still quite technical descent, but then I heard someone rapidly gaining on me and as I reached and splashed my way through a river crossing I was quickly passed by Matty, one of the runners a few places behind me. Matty quickly moved out of sight, but shortly after the river I started ascending and soon caught up with Graeme. We ascending up a forested single pass taking advantage of the power from our combined headlamps. As we eventually exited the forested section I started to run as the gradient slackened and noticed that Graeme continued to walk. At that point I realised that he was struggling and was unlikely to challenge again on the stage.
I started day 2 of the Three Cranes Challenge (day 1 race report here) in 5th place. I had not tapered for the race, having run 50 km during the week before arriving for a further 100 km over three days. I had ended day 1 feeling strong, and had enjoyed a post-run massage and ensured that I followed a good nutrition strategy to aid recovery. I went to bed early but had to wake up early for another day of racing.
I took in a good breakfast, put on my running kit and made my way down to the start line. My legs felt a little tired but not too much so. I lined up behind the lead runners and we soon started down the road. The route had initially been planned to start by reversing the end section of day 1 for the first few kilometres, but a route change had been announced the previous evening that we would instead head out down the road for the first 4-5 km. I suspected that the race director Heidi was trying to shorten the day by a few kilometres to make up for the bonus mileage from day 1 (you can read about that story, plus all of the characters that will take part in day 2, in my day 1 race report).
I noticed Eddie take off at a blistering pace with the leaders but set into my own pace, knowing that I always temd to improve my position as the day progresses. It was fairly flat running along the road until we turned off onto some single track and started the first big climb for the day. I caught and passed a couple of runners and then pulled alongside Graeme, who was sitting one position behind me in the standings with a seven minute gap. We climbed together, chatting way and were both happy for the company after we had both run most of day 1 solo. It turned out that we had run a few of the same races, and interestingly he had finished just a few minutes behind me in the Otter Run (race report here) last year. We climbed through a forested area before clearing the treeline, and I turned around to admire the stunning early morning view behind me. I pointed out the view to Graeme and then we continued to climb towards the peak before descending down the other side. I noticed that the first table was earlier than had been advised and realised that I was correct in my assumption that Heidi had shortened the course with the alternative starting route.
Day 2 would take us into Benvie Farm at around the 20 km mark, where the 2nd table would be positioned. The farm features trees from around the world that have been collected and planted by the owner over many years. As a special addition to this stage a time-out zone was arranged, where runners could check in upon arrival at the farm, spend some time to look around and enjoy some extra food that was being laid out, and then check out upon departure. Time spent in the time-out zone would be deducted from the overall time. Unfortunately there was a special exception to that rule, in that the time-out didn’t apply to runners that wanted to qualify for the top 10. Therefore I would be running straight through.
This year with my running focussed around my major goal of running Western States I put together a training plan to include as much time on the trails as possible, and tried to fit in plenty of weekend races as part of my training. Unfortunately the race calendar in South Africa is heavily biased towards road running between January and June due to Comrades, with most of the major trail races taking place in the second half of the year. One race that did appear on the radar was the 3-day Three Cranes Challenge. Last year at the Golden Gate Challenge (race report links below) I completed my first ever stage race, and with that being a great race and a brilliant workout Three Cranes was an easy decision for inclusion.
The Three Cranes Challenge takes place in the Midlands area of KwaZulu-Natal, and features three stages of roughly 30 km, 40 km and 30 km. On the Thursday morning I took off early from work for the 5-hour drive down to the Karkloof Reserve where the race was based. I travelled down with a friend, Caroline, and we eventually arrived after the race briefing had concluded and most people had already completed their dinner. After eating a quick dinner, we collected our race packets, found out tents, and headed in for an early night in preparation for a 32 km first stage.
I woke early in the morning, dressed and went to the dining tent for a nice breakfast of eggs and bread. After filling my hydration pack and kitting up to go, I stood on the hillside above the start line watching a beautiful sunrise over the green hills in the area. There were hills in front of me and hills behind me, so there was no doubt that we would face some climbing. A few minutes before the race started I headed close to the start line and tried to position myself close to the front while staying behind the serious competitors. My intention was to get in some good training, and racing flat out was not on my agenda, although I realised it was likely that once we were underway I would push harder than intended if I ended up in a competitive position. I recognised Salomon-sponsored athletes Jock Green and Graeme McCallum as well as former triathlete Claude Eksteen. There was another long-haired guy at the front that I didn’t recognise but who looked quite serious, and I eventually found out that it was a trail runner named Eddie Lambert who has won a few races. I also heard that there was a runner in the mix with a 5:50 Comrades time, placing him in the top 25 of that extremely competitive race.
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.