The Interval, 7/5/17

On top of Mt. Marathon in Seward AK.

First, I want to express my profound apologies to the readers of The Interval.  The last 2 issues were the result of Andy Bitner colluding with Russian hackers to take control of Armadillo Running.  Luckily, our country’s media critic in-chief was doing his job so I was able to quickly reclaim control of the site and restore normal operations.  Our regular standards of truthiness, good grammar, and use of spell checking programs will now resume.

Just kidding, I enjoyed reading Andy’s issues and I’m sure you all did as well.  We’re in negotiations about Andy becoming a regular writer for the site.  He has a humorous and creative style that I appreciate and hope to learn from as I continue to build Armadillo Running.

Katara and I were in Alaska the past few weeks, first on a cruise, then touring around in a small RV.  I’ll write in detail about the running aspects soon, in a new feature I have planned about travel running.  In the meantime I’ve posted some running photos on the Armadillo instagram account:  @armadillorunning (also with the #rundillo tag)

For now I’ll just describe the Mt. Marathon course and race, held annually on July 4th since 1915, the result of a bar bet.  It’s turned into a major event in Alaska, with up to 30,000 people traveling to Seward every July 4th.  With the race field limited to 350 men, 350 women, and 300 juniors, most of these people are spectators, just there to watch runners on this insane course.  I’m sure many of you have heard of this race and seen the amazing videos.  It’s just a 5K.  But it’s straight up and down a 3000 foot mountain.  The course averages a 23% grade, with sections of it up to 34%.  No switchbacks, just straight up and down.  I ran the course while in Seward the other day.  The start/finish are in downtown Seward and the mountain is less than a quarter mile away.  At that point the course directs you up a super steep portion of rocky cliffs or a muddy hill with roots.  From there you have about a half mile of muddy steep singletrack though vegetation.  Some of it requires the use of your hands to avoid slipping on the mud and going backwards.  Once above tree-line, the course follows a shale covered ridge to the top.  This part was treacherous due to the loose rock and the well-deserved expectation that some of the solid rocks would break.  All fours for these spots and rock climbing experience is a plus.  OK, get to the top.  Kilian Jornet’s record ascent is about 30 minutes.  It took me over an hour and I was trying to go somewhat close to my limit.  Now the down.  I was so scared about falling and started out really slow.  Then a local just flew by and I could observe his technique.  Above treeline, the downhill course is on a scree slope with a thick layer of small shale stones.  The proper technique is to plant each heel and then slide a bit before the next plant.  You can scrub excess speed with the slide to maintain control.  I enjoyed this while it lasted, check my video:

The scree slope goes down below tree-line, to the section just above the cliffs. Runners have a choice between the creek + cliffs or the creek + switchbacks.  The elites go for the creek + cliffs and generally practice their technique extensively.  I picked the creek + switchbacks and am happy to still be mostly intact.  The elites run the downhill in 11-15 minutes.  It took me about 40.

The course record is 41:26, by David Norris in 2016.  I ran about 1:40.  I don’t see how I could get under 60 minutes, even by living in Seward for months and training on the course.

The 2017 race was not as fast as last year, probably due to the mud.  Like most years, a couple locals were the winners:  Allie Ostrander and Scott Patterson.  Outsiders, like Kilian, have won occasionally, but the advantage of local knowledge and the lack of prize money combine to keep this race dominated by Alaskans.

Full results here.

Course description here.

Many other races took place on Independence Day and the biggest was the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta.  This is the world’s biggest 10K and generally gets about 55 thousand entrants.  Leonard Korir and Aliphine Tuliamuk were the winners.  Jordan Hasay was third in the women’s race after skipping the US track nationals to focus on Peachtree.  The results for the elite field are here.

Andy mentioned last week a couple races:  Cap’n Karl’s and Western States 100.  On the Cap’n Karl’s Pedernales Falls event, just another shout out to my friend Thomas Orf.  He won the 60K in style, posting 5:25 in the heat, humidity, and darkness on a difficult course.  Thomas is now training for the Desert Solstice 24 hour race, a longtime goal of his.

As for Western States, like many I was hoping Jim Walmsley would break the course record after coming so close last year.  Instead he flamed out around 75 miles.  Initially I was thinking about how dumb he was to go for the course record and not adjust to the conditions of the day (muddy and slow at the top and super hot during the afternoon) and just win the race.  But then I read this letter from John Medinger, the WS100 director.  I agree with him, we want our heroes to go for it, to strive for greatness.

A local runner, David Iler, finished WS100 in 27:37, a super time, especially with the hard conditions this year.  David is a massage therapist with The Iler Method and I can personally recommend his services.  We emailed about his WS100 race and about his plans for pacing a friend in the Badwater 135 race next week:

Armadillo Running: Tell us about your race, the course conditions, weather, how you managed to finish with such a great time.

David Iler:  This year’s Western States was the 4th hardest year based on median finish times so, not ideal PR finish times or course records. The first 15 miles was a mix of snow,  ice,  slush and knee deep mud. It actually felt more like an Adventure Race than it did a major 100 mile ultra. After the first 15 miles the triple digit heat and the suffering became pretty great through the notorious canyons.

AR:  The race field at WS100 is small, did you have much contact with the elite runners?  Did you know during your race what was going on at the front?

David Iler: This year’s lineup was one of the best in the history of Western States as far as I could tell. Guys this year have been trailblazing records all across the country… Very exciting!! Other than the headliners I managed to follow a new Pro her name is Dana Anderson and I met her at Javelina 100 and we exchanged Facebook information and kept track of each other. Funny, we managed to meet up around the same place as we did while we were running Javelina in Arizona. Dana had a another great day; she won Javelina and she took top 20 female at Western States.

AR:  WS100 is the major goal race for most ultra runners.  What did it mean for you, being part of the event and finishing?

David Iler:  I got into Western States after running Javelina in October and winning the lottery 2 weeks later. I got pretty lucky! What Western States did for me was give me an outline of what my training year would look like, lots of heat and lots of hills and lots of hills and lots of hills.

AR:  You’ll be pacing a friend at Badwater 135.  I guess between Texas and WS100 you’re about as heat acclimated as possible.  What are your expectations for next week?

David Iler:  Badwater and Badwater weather is tough for anyone. It’s not natural for anyone to run 135 miles in an average temperature of 115°.  Plus starting out at below sea level and climbing to over 9,000 ft at Whitney Portal. The tough part for me is the turnaround of having only 3 weeks in between Western States and Badwater.  My job will be to keep my runner Ken Lewis hydrated, motivated, and well supported for the duration. Ken’s a very experienced Ultra Runner and was hand-picked by the race director to run Badwater.  I will say that my work and my Crew’s work is cut out us.

Thanks to David and best of luck at Badwater.  Make sure you come back ready and able to help me out with my left hamstring…

Interesting Articles

I didn’t keep up with much of the news from the USATF outdoor track championships while on vacation.  One item I did notice was the failure of former champions Leo Manzano and Nick Symmonds to make the finals of their events.  I enjoyed this Outside Magazine article on Nick.

The WS100 site has all kinds of interesting stuff.  Check out the results of their annual runners survey.  (Hat tip to Andy Bitner.)

One more great article in Wired on the Nike Breaking2 program.  The author, Ed Caesar, has also published a book on the project.