The Interval, 3/1/17

Clearly, it’s better to be a trail runner.  At least that’s my conclusion after spectating the Austin marathon last week and then racing at Spectrum’s Saddle Blazer this week.  We had clear, cold, and dry weather, interesting and challenging trails, good competition, and a lot of fun.  This is the second year for Spectrum with this event at the Parrie Haynes Ranch near Killeen and they added a 100K race,  along with a marathon, half marathon, and 10K.

Just 5 people started the 100K and only 3 finished.  Steven Moore and Thomas Orf, training partners and top ultrarunners, pushed the pace the whole day, averaging about 9 minute miles.  Moore finished in 9:30, just 6 minutes ahead of Orf.  Martha Newton won the women’s race in 15:25.

The marathon was also fast, with Brandon Ostrander winning in 3:24, just 50 seconds ahead of James Valent.  That’s about 7:45 pace on single-track trail, with a fair amount of climbing, some creek crossings, and about 200 yards of “creek running.”  Katie Towle won the women’s race in 4:25, closely followed by Lauren Schachner.

Kate Leugers repeated as the winner of the women’s half marathon in 1:48, a few minutes in front of Jackie Stafford.  Michael Kurvach won the men’s race in 1:31, outpacing Josh Beckham by a couple minutes.  (I was a distant third.)  Kurvach, pictured above, is stationed at Fort Hood as an Army officer.  He recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  Mike agreed to answer a few questions by email:

1.  You mentioned running while a university student at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Were you a distance runner?

Yes, I ran cross country and track for RIT.  I was very fortunate to train with some very unique and talented athletes.

2.  Have you been able to run consistently while in the Army- before or during your deployments?

I would say my training is very inconsistent. But on the positive side; it has really taught me to listen to my body. There is no point in forcing a run when you are too tired for it.

3.  Does your runner’s endurance give you an advantage as an infantry officer?

I like to think so; I believe it helps you stay focused when you are tired. Everyone has to sleep at some point though.

4.  What kind of workouts were you able to do while in Afghanistan?

There was a nearby mountain that I had the opportunity to run up on Fridays.  I did some tempos on the treadmill from time to time. Near the Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ).  I enjoyed doing 200s because that road was paved.

5.  I’ve read that the terrain there is rugged and beautiful. What area of the US is most similar?

Yes, I observed a lot of rugged and beautiful mountains with large desolate spaces in between. Some areas are more green than others. It all depends on where you are at.  It reminded me of the Mojave Dessert.

6.  You mentioned that the Parrie Haynes trails are similar to what you have at Fort Hood. Are any of those trails open to civilians?

I should say no to that one.  I would suggest Dana Peak Park though. My favorite run there is from Dana Peak to Stillhouse Hollow Park. I am not sure how far it is.  I want to say about 14 miles. Miller Springs can be fun too.

7.  What other races do you have planned this Spring?

I really have not put to much thought into it. Probably a lot more spontaneous trail races.

The 10K women’s winner was Beth Lindquist in 53 minutes, followed by Teryn Robinson.  Trace Heavener won the men’s 10K in 44 minutes, a few minutes ahead of Andy Bitner.

The 10K also had a dog division.  Toby, pictured above, was the winner.  He pulled Matt Hanlon to a third place finish in the men’s division.

It was another successful event by Spectrum and they ended the day with a beer trail mile.  It’s possible that Tyler Matthews won, but Steven Moore in overalls was the most stylish.

Full results here.  Photos courtesy of Spectrum and Azulox.

The other race I paid attention to last weekend was the Orcas Island 100 miler.   Pam Harght and Fred “White Stallion” Riethmiller, top area ultrarunners, made the trip to run in this challenging race.  The event is held on an island near Seattle and features  a total of 26,000 feet of elevation gain over the 100 miles.  Pam was seventh in the women’s race with a time of 33:41.  Fred was tenth in the men’s race in 27:34.  Fred was nice enough to answer a few questions by email:

1.  What is your background as an ultrarunner?  How many races?  Did you run in high school or college?

I don’t have a lot of experience running ultras, actually.  I never ran track or cross-country in high school or college.  I think my background for ultra-running really comes from high school football and my years of specialized training in the U.S. Army.  My first ultra was the Hell Hills 50K in the Spring of 2015.  Since then I have progressed rather slowly, gradually increasing my training distances and picking up races along the way.  I’ve probably completed about 15 ultras by now.

 2.  What attracted you to the Orcas Island 100?

The Orcas race had several things that I was looking for when I registered late last year.  Having just completed the 2016 Bear 100 back in September, I was looking for a race that would challenge me to keep up on my training.  With 26K of vertical climbing, Orcas seemed like a reasonable progression from the Bear without jumping into a really hard race like the Hurt 100 or the Cruel Jewel 100.  I also really liked the location obviously.  The videos and pictures of the island are amazing.  I don’t know too many people who wouldn’t want to run or hike the trails there.  The place is stunning!

3.  Your training included multiple repeats on some of Austin’s toughest hills, like Ladera Norte 15 times.  What is your approach to these workouts?  How does it help you for tough ultras?

Let me turn this around and start at the ‘tough ultra’.  When I find one I want to do, I work backwards from the race date and begin planning my weekly training.  This may include one or two ‘training races’ along the way but this is secondary to the actual training runs/workouts.  There’s so much that can go wrong out there during an ultra.  Sometimes it’s outside of your control but toeing that start line properly prepared for that specific race is what will greatly improve your odds.  In my opinion, this should be your primary focus during training.  I try to make the training ‘hard’ and the race ‘easy’.  When you look at a race like the Orcas Island 100 with 26,000+ vertical feet you have got to focus on getting your body ready to be climbing and descending non-stop for many hours at a time.  I use steep road hills like Ladera Norte, Jester, and Beauford because they allow me to focus on my running/hiking mechanics while lessening my chance of injury.  I still get plenty of trail time out there on the weekends but for my climbing/descending workouts, I find roads to work the best.

4.  Describe the terrain, trail surface, vegetation, and weather during the race?

Orcas is a beautiful, forested island with mountains, moss-covered trees, rushing streams and pristine lakes.  The trails there are very runnable but can be rocky, slippery, and very steep at times.  The weather during the race was cold but calm.  While the temperatures were in the 20s and 30s, we never experienced any real rain and only got a dusting of light snow at the highest elevations of the course. 

5.  Did you use trekking poles?

Yes, but only for a tough six-mile section in the middle of each twenty-five-mile loop.

6.  How do you approach nutrition for ultras?

With great trepidation, of course!  Obviously, you need to eat as much as you can manage to get down during an ultra, but this is something that I struggle with at almost every distance.  I’m constantly working to improve in this area.  As you know, nutrition can be a moving target sometimes.  What worked last time may not work next time – so I try to be adaptable when it comes to taking in the calories.  To me this is the ‘real work’ of running an ultra.  For Orcas, I got my crew involved to help me stay on top of things and it worked very well.

7.  Did you have any low points?  If so, how did you get past them?

Sure!  About halfway into the race I started developing a pretty painful cramp in my left shin muscle, which really started slowing me down.  It got to a point where I was wondering if it was going to keep me from finishing.   Luckily I was able to mitigate the problem with salt tabs but it wasn’t until after a 20-minute nap at an Aid Station at mile 70 that it finally went away.  I guess resetting my brain did the trick.

8.  Looking at the splits, it seemed like you were running alone for most of the race.  How do you manage to stay focused for such a long time, while working so hard?

That’s correct.  The runners really got spread out on the course and I think most of the passing was done unceremoniously at the aid stations.  Being alone out there for long periods of time during a hundred-mile event is expected.  I actually experience this a lot during my long training runs and hill workouts.  For me, keeping my mind busy on nutrition, hydration, and the current section of the course really helps me to keep focused.

9.  Your crew included Katie Graff, a hugely experienced and talented ultrarunner herself.  How did that help you at Orcas?

My crew was Katie Graff!  She is about the nicest person on the planet and a real asset out there during a race.  She knew exactly what to ask or say to me, at the right time, before and during the race.  Whether it was putting a big ole’ piece of pizza in my hand and telling me to eat or helping me assess my progress in determining a time goal for that next lap, I think it really made Orcas a ‘great’ race for me.  I think that is reflected in my finishing time, as well.  I hope someday to return the favor. 

10.  What’s next for you?  Will we see you at more TrailRoots workouts?

You’ll definitely see more of me this Spring.  I’m turning my attention to some local races here in Texas before leaving to run the River of No Return 108K out in Idaho in June.  Anyone who knows me has heard me talk up this race.  This race is a beast!  I got injured last year at mile 30 and had to power-hike for 40 miles just to finish.  My goal this year is to stay healthy and be able to run the entire course.  We’ll see but I’ve got a lot of training to do before then.

Some pictures from Orcas, courtesy of Fred and Katie:

Interesting News and Articles

My good friend Chris Kimbrough was featured in Pam Leblanc’s story on healthy habits of local elite athletes.

The US women’s 24 hour record was broken by Courtney Dauwalter.  She ran 155.4 miles in the Riverbank One Day race, that’s about 9:20 pace.  Coverage by iRunFar.

Check this movie from Trail Racing Over Texas.  It covers the inspiring story of the founder of that race company along with coverage of the Brazos Bend 100.  The link is to the short trailer.  You can watch the whole thing on Vimeo for a $3 rental fee.  Totally worth it.

Steve Smyth set a record for running sub-3 marathons 40 years apart, at ages 18 and 58.  Article by Runner’s World.

Upcoming Races

Trail runners will head up to Colorado Bend State Park for the first running of Tinajas by Tejas Trails.  The event has 100K, 50K, half marathon, and 50K and 100K relays.  Tejas has mapped out a single 50K loop that forms the basis of all the events.  All of the races are with minimal support, just water and ice at the aid stations every 4-6 miles.

I couldn’t find any significant area road races this weekend.  Let me know if there is something I should cover in The Interval next week.