Tag Archives: USA

2016 Boston Marathon - Logo

Race Report: Boston Marathon

In 2016 I returned to run my second Boston Marathon. I never wrote a report of my first race there because I could never work out the story I wanted to tell. That first time took place in 2013 and many narratives of that race have already been told.

2013 Boston Marathon - Boarding the bus
2013 Boston Marathon – Boarding the bus

I was joined in 2013 by two great running mates. On a remarkable day in fantastic conditions, all three of us managed to achieve best times over the marathon. It was a day to be celebrated, and it started off that way as we enjoyed drinks in the Lenox Hotel, with a view of runners headed down Boylston St towards the finish line from one story above street level. The bombs that went off were to either side of the hotel.

By the following day armoured vehicles were parked on Boston Common, and at the airport, as we prepared to depart two days after the race we were interviewed by the FBI. The manhunt was still ongoing and they were interested in any photos or video from the finishing area.

I knew that Boston would respond and considered returning for the 2014 race, but it didn’t fit in with my travels at that time. So in 2016 I returned to enjoy a Boston Marathon trip from start to finish.

I had no company for this trip, but as I waited in a toilet queue I started up a conversation with a guy just behind me when I spotted his Seattle Running Club cap. Then it turned out that the guy in front of me was also from Seattle so we talked about favourite running spots.

I had qualified with a time five minutes faster than in 2013 but would start from the same wave and corral. In another parallel to 2013, my target was not to race flat out but rather to slip in under the three-hour mark. In 2013 I had gone three minutes under that mark for a PR.

Continue reading Race Report: Boston Marathon

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Seattle Run Series 10 km - Logo

Race Report: Seattle Run Series 10 km

The lesson

Control every variable you can, but accept the variables you can’t control

The story

On Valentine’s Day, I achieved my first running target for the year by breaking 17 minutes for 5 km. A month later I was ready for a single attempt in 2016 at my second target, to break 35 minutes for 10 km.

My time over 5 km predicted that I should be able to achieve my target and the intervening training had gone well. I found a perfectly flat course, although the nature of the race (predominantly targeting novice runners) meant that I would likely be running alone. But despite all of the steps you can take in preparation, a variable that cannot be controlled through training and preparation is the weather. Race day was cold, wet, and most importantly, windy.

With an extremely strong wind I would have likely called off my plans but instead, it was only stiff enough to ensure a tough day. The course featured a 2.5-km section of paved trail around the outside of Seward Park, run as an out-and-back, and then repeated once more. The headwind would be faced at the end of each “lap”.

Seattle Run Series 10 km - early running
Seattle Run Series 10 km – early running

Continue reading Race Report: Seattle Run Series 10 km

Valentine's Day Dash - Logo

Race Report: Valentine’s Day Dash 5 km

The lesson

Never say never

The story

A couple of years ago I realised just how difficult it can be to achieve great race results across varying running distances. The only times I felt in shape to mount a challenge at a respectable time over 5 or 10 km was in my training towards longer-distance races. At those times I wasn’t willing to incur the lost mileage of taper and recovery that the shorter distance race would require. Furthermore, my training was never focussed on improving pace over such short distances, so any times achieved would still have been short of my potential. With my focus firmly set on racing marathons and further I conceded that I would never achieve 5 or 10 km personal bests that would be representative of my capabilities.

Then in 2015 I had a period of struggle following a tough ultramarathon. I needed to refresh myself, and I decided to do that by focusing on shorter distances. All of a sudden I was including new speed workouts into my training plan, I had signed up for a series of short road and cross country races, and two very specific time targets evolved. I would look to break 17 minutes for 5 km, and 35 minutes for 10 km. During 2015 I did not quite make it, managing to lower my times to 17:13 and 35:17 respectively. I would start 2016 by having one shot at each target.

I signed up for a Valentine’s Day race over 5 km around Green Lake in Seattle. It was fast and flat, and other fast runners in the field meant that I would have company.

Valentine's Day Dash - Course Map
Valentine’s Day Dash – Course Map

Continue reading Race Report: Valentine’s Day Dash 5 km

North County Road Run - Logo

Race Report: North County Road Run 10 km

The first race in my new home state of Washington is one that nobody seems to have heard of. Taking place in the town of Lynden, just 4 miles south of the Canadian border, even residents of the 12,000 population town had no idea that a race was taking place. While sitting down for a coffee prior to the race the waitress mentioned that she only realised the race (which ran straight past the restaurant) was taking place on her way into work that day, and vaguely recalled the first running of the event last year.

I signed up for the race as it offered a fast and flat course that is rarely available closer to home. I had initially been planning on attempting to break the 35-minute barrier, but the training disruption caused by an intercontinental relocation made that unlikely. After warming up I headed to the start line, noticing one other runner who had done likewise. It was the two of us that stood towards the front of the field as the countdown started.

Setting off from the start I needed to settle down into race pace, but I realised a problem. I had switched my watch from kilometres to miles earlier in the week, but had no idea of my required pace in min/mile. I was at the front of the race, using the first mile to perform some mental arithmetic to calculate what pace I should be running. It turned out I had set off slightly fast on the gentle descent out of town so I eased back as I ran alongside corn fields on the country roads with low-lying fog creating surreal, muted colours.

Continue reading Race Report: North County Road Run 10 km

Upcoming Race: IMTUF 100

IMTUF - logo
IMTUF – logo

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?

Continue reading Upcoming Race: IMTUF 100

Mt Hood - Peaks and Gullies

Running Around the Bend, and the Rest of Oregon

Oregon had not been part of my travelling plans until around three days before I crossed the state line from Idaho. But it certainly contributed some amazing running to my travels. Outside of my race at Western States (the Race Report for that can be read here), which was a magical running experience, I would classify my six days in Yosemite National Park and my eight days in Oregon as the running highlights of my trip. I plan to cover the sections of my Oregon experience in greater detail once I catch up with some recent race reports from the next stage of my travels. So for now, I will cover it in summary.

A number of great ultra runners, both trail and road, currently reside in Oregon. It doesn’t provide the elevation that draws elite athletes to Boulder and Flagstaff. Many parts of the state are particularly wet, not contributing ideal weather conditions for outdoor training. But the state does contain some of the best trails in the country, and not just in my opinion.

I do love running through forests, with trees whizzing by on either side and ground cover brushing my legs (excluding poison oak), bounding along soft dirt (and even occasionally muddy) trails, navigating around or over rocks and roots and branches. They are my favourite types of trails and they are plentiful in Oregon.

But I did say “not just in my opinion.” The McKenzie River Trail has been rated as one of the twenty-five best trails in the country by Runners World. Bend was named “America’s Best Trail Running Town by Outside Magazine in 2006. I didn’t bother to look up any accolades that might have been won by Ashland, but as home to two separate two-time winners of the Western States Endurance Run I think its inhabitants spell out its accolades. Of course the state did also manage to spawn a little shoe company called Nike and happens to be home to a city known as Track Town USA (Eugene).

So now that I have talked about the state in general, let’s briefly cover my running experiences.

McKenzie River Trail - Sahalie Falls
McKenzie River Trail – Sahalie Falls

Continue reading Running Around the Bend, and the Rest of Oregon

Ridge to Rivers - Trail and Ridges

Running Destination: Boise, Idaho

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.

Ridge to Rivers - Trail Around a Ravine
Ridge to Rivers – Trail Around a Ravine

Continue reading Running Destination: Boise, Idaho

Mount Timpanogos - Trails Along the Ridge

Training Run: Mount Timpanogos

At Leadville this year I paced Mike (check out my Pace Report) for 40 miles but only joined in from Twin Lakes, thereby missing the race’s major ascent of Hope Pass. I made up for that a couple of days later while stopping by Salt Lake City.

Mount Timpanogos is the second-highest mountain in Utah’s Wasatch Range. There are two main trail options to the top, and I chose to start from the Timpooneke Campground trailhead at an elevation of 7,370 ft (2246 m).

I immediately started out by climbing from the trailhead, running most of the lower trail. The lower sections of the trail were well protected by foliage, providing shade but also blocking out views of the surroundings. Once I went above the tree line I had increased views but could also feel the heat of the sun beating down. As I climbed up the mountain I came to the conclusion that the local hikers and trail runners must be a bit lazy, since there were plenty of well-worn trails short-cutting many of the switchbacks.

 

Mount Timpanogos - Looking East
Mount Timpanogos – Looking East

Continue reading Training Run: Mount Timpanogos

Pace Report: Leadville Trail 100 Run

No, the heading is not a typo. After running the Leadville Trail 100 Run as my first 100-mile event last year, this year I returned not to race but instead to pace. I would pace Mike, one of my pacers from Western States (check out that Race Report), for the final 40 miles of his race.

I arrived in Leadville on the Wednesday afternoon before the race. I was sharing a house with Mike (who is an ex-pat Canadian), Dennis (a transplanted New Zealander who first suggested Mike to pace me), and another Australian also called Mike who was just out for the race. The Australian Mike mentioned that he was speaking to another friend and it sounded like he was starting a joke when he mentioned that he was sharing a house with an Australian, a New Zealander and a Canadian. On Friday we were joined in the house by Duncan (Mike’s coach and the official Leadville coach), and another runner coached by Duncan along with his wife. Therefore by Friday night the house (which can sleep up to 14 people) was populated with a total of 7, including 4 racers, 2 pacers, and 1 crew member.

We spent time relaxing, preparing (pacing charts and drop bags), attending race events (mandatory briefings, optional briefings, race registration), and even squeezed in a couple of last runs before race day. On the Thursday Mike and I went out for a 7-mile run along the Half Pipe section of the course, and on the Friday I completed a solo 6-mile run along Turquoise Lake. On Friday night we sat down for an early dinner, and I even felt relaxed enough to enjoy a beer. Then it was off to bed in preparation for an early morning start. Despite feeling relaxed about my involvement on race day I still struggled to sleep, possibly only sneaking in 2-3 hours before being woken by my alarm at 3 AM for the start at 4 AM.

I walked with the guys down to the start line, grabbed a coffee once they were in the starting pen, and then positioned myself in front of the start line to watch almost 1000 people (up from 800 last year) run down 6th Street on their way out of Leadville. Once all the runners had cleared the area I walked back across the start line (which is also the finish line), as I would do once again more than 24 hours later.

Mike would run the first 50 miles to Winfield, where he would pick up Duncan as his pacer on the return leg over Hope Pass. Once they reached Twin Lakes on the return I would join Mike for the final 40 miles back to Leadville. Therefore I needed to make my way to Twin Lakes. I had arranged to work with the crew for Denise Bourassa, who I had met at Western States, through until her return to Twin Lakes so that I could await Mike there. Then Mike and I would return to Leadville on foot. It was to be my first time crewing a trail race as well as my first time pacing a trail race.

Continue reading Pace Report: Leadville Trail 100 Run

Running Destination: Moab

Moab is famous as a mecca for mountain bikers rather than trail runners. But any trail that can be cycled can be run. I went out for a couple of runs on the famed slick rock that makes up many of the trails in the area.

My first slick rock experience was in Canyonlands National Park, running a trail that involved a combination of slick rock and sand. Since traversing slick rock leaves no visible trail as it does on dirt or sand, the trail was marked by a series of rock cairns (piles of rocks). Upon reaching a cairn it would be necessary to locate the next one and run towards that. The trail I followed was a well-marked one but even still it is occasionally difficult to locate the next marker, particularly at a running pace.

Canyonlands NP - Following a Slick Rock Trail
Canyonlands NP – Following a Slick Rock Trail

The other interesting part about running on slick rock is that it is no softer than running on roads. I normally consider trail running as having less impact on the joints (due to the softer surface), but requiring more work from the muscles (since more energy is absorbed by the surface). Therefore running on slick rock surfaces has the impact of road running but requires the concentration and focus of trail running.

Continue reading Running Destination: Moab