Tuesday 27 May 2014

Final Western States Build-Up

View down the initial climb out of Squaw at WS100.

I felt a little sad to miss the 70 miles of Memorial Day weekend training runs for Western States, but have been in the UK for a couple of days in transit to Comrades in South Africa. The whole year so far has been about preparing for that classic trip from Squaw to Auburn and I've even decided to take Comrades easy (relatively), despite the fact I love the race and have given it my all five times already.

I've been getting in more vertical than previous years and heading up Mt Diablo as much as possible. Plus working on speed since there are so many ridiculously fast guys on the trails now that 5-minute mile pace isn't particularly quick to them. Lake Sonoma 50 was a good example of these speedsters really performing on hilly trails.

A week ago I took part in the Bay Area carnival that's Bay to Breakers, although I did a bit too much speed work during the week and didn't have much in my legs on race day. Still better than the last time I ran it, so the 43:41 for the 12k course wasn't a disappointment. However it was slower than the some of the other local guys who'll be racing WS100, given one of the centipedes (12 runners leashed together) had Matt Laye, Brett Rivers and Alex Varner...in fact Alex managed to jog 5:30s in a Daft Punk helmet. Scott Dunlap wrote it up very well with plenty of photos of the drunken costumes, plus those with a lack of costume.

With Comrades just five days away I'm planning on relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere without caring too much about how the race goes. I've always wanted to do it purely for fun and that should work better as a quality training run with a lot of downhill pounding. Instead I can live the race through Mike Wardian and Ellie Greenwood, both aiming to win after coming back from injuries. Once I get the last long haul flight out the way I'll be excited like a puppy being fed (trust me, I see that level of excitement twice daily).

Then it's just four weeks 'til the Big Dance. Plenty of time for a few more Diablo summits and also one on Mt Tam with the SF Running Company boys.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Mt Diablo 50k

This weekend included the start of the Skyrunner World Series with the Transvulcania VK and Ultra, plus the last qualifier for Western States 100 at the Ice Age Trail 50. These races attracted a large portion of the world's trail ultra talent for good reason and led to many amazing performances and records. However, in-between peeking at updates for these races on Twitter I took advantage of yet another great Bay Area ultra, this time from the revitalized Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR).

Under previous race management I ran the Mt Diablo 50k back in 2010 and this largely affected the decision to move to Walnut Creek (which is at the base of the mountain) in 2011 and again last year. In fact, running on Diablo has been the centerpiece of my training over recent months so I knew every tiny change in gradient in the race. The double 25k loop which summits twice totals 8,900ft of ascent, making it one of the harder 50ks locally (Skyrunning's Speedgoat 50k has 11,600ft of ascent for comparison).

After a purposefully hard April with plenty of races, some at harder efforts than others, I wanted to see whether that training was paying off. When I ran it before it took 5:09 but the loops were 2:26/2:43 so I aimed to be a little more consistent while keeping things at a sustainably hard effort. Since only one person broke five hours since the race started in 2002 and many fast runners have had a go over the years, that was my target. Yet the more important part of the plan was to keep the lap times similar to practice pacing - running a fast 50k but fading near the end would tell me nothing useful about my fitness for 100 milers.

At the start I bumped into Brett Rivers (fresh off taking my Diablo Challenge 50k record last month) and Dylan Bowman (just a week after his strong win at TNFEC Bear Mt 50 Miler) who were squeezing in their eight hours of trail work for Western States before the deadline by volunteering. There were only about 10 runners in the 50k event, partly because PCTR is still getting back on its feet and many more were running the 25k or 8k distances. If this event is anything to go by then that will soon change and PCTR, like all the Bay Area trail race companies, should flourish. 

So I headed up the Back Creek Trail and was passed after a couple of miles by a guy I didn't know who ran every step of the ascent. I ran perhaps a third of it but used power-hiking efficiently enough to be only 30 seconds back at the summit in 1:26, then took the lead immediately on the descent. Loop one ended in 2:15, which was quicker than I expected, but I know several runners who started with that kind of time in previous years but missed five hours overall by slowing significantly. 

Loop two was similar and I got the pacing about right as temperatures heated up slightly. The summit came a little slower, arriving after 1:29 on the loop (3:44 total). Then the familiar descent was still fun with my legs behaving and feeling surprisingly unbattered. My final time was 4:33 with loop splits of 2:15/2:17, taking 15 mins off the 2009 record. Overall, it went better than expected and the record was a bonus plus a great confidence boost. However, I think that record could go much closer to four hours if some of the best mountain guys turned up motivated.

Full results are here and thanks to the race directors and volunteers for another excellent day on the trails.


Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels and bloks
UltrAspire handheld bottles with new 2014 nozzles
Drymax Trail Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades