The Boston Marathon was more epic than usual this year with cold rain and wind added to the challenge of 26.2 miles and late race hills. I was thrilled by the women’s and men’s winners, Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi and their very different paths to Boston glory. (Coverage by Let’s Run.) The elite fields were decimated by the cold weather and the winning times were much slower than the typical Boston.
Almost all of the pre-race favorites dropped out or did poorly. Linden thought about dropping herself. “Honestly I felt miserable, but sometimes when you pick it up and forget about how you’re feeling and just engage for a little bit you can turn everything around,” she said post-race. Good advice.
Second place woman, Sarah Sellers, was unknown to the running press and only knew about her position from spectators near the finish. She, like Yuki Kawauchi, has a full time job. (Coverage by the Washington Post, H/T to Jenny Waldron.) That’s a cool thing about running, we all run the same course at the same time and you can be a nurse or a school administrator and still, occasionally, compete at the highest level.
Big groups of runners from Rogue and Gilbert’s Gazelles were in the race, close to 100, I believe. A couple of Rogue teams placed in the team competition. Team Rogue open women finished third (Krysten Tucker 2:57, Cate Barrett 2:59, and Rebecca Jones 3:00). Team Rogue men’s masters were 10th (Jim Moore 2:48, Arik Yaacob 2:59, Roger Sutton 3:00). Full results are here.
I heard from Coach Rachael Blair of TrailRoots after her excellent 3:25. She didn’t have a photo to share because “I was shaking and my teeth were chattering so no photos were allowed. Boston was brutal this year! It was my 12th Boston and by far the most challenging one. The pouring rain, wind gusts and cold temps made for a tough day! My hands were freezing and I don’t think I could feel my toes for most of the run. Just had to gut it out! Despite the insane weather, the spectators were out in full force and the volunteers were amazing, as always. The best part of the day for me was hearing right after I finished that Desi won the women’s race!”
Congratulations to all the Boston finishers. I doubt that I would have been able to cope with those conditions.
From cold rain to hot desert, here we go. Jordan Vonderhaar, a training buddy, recently set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Outer Mountain Loop at Big Bend National Park. The 31.5 mile route goes around and over the mountains in the park, with 3 major climbs totaling 7,000 feet. Here is his entry at fastestknowntime.com. Jordan and I emailed about his run:
Armadillo Running: What made you decide on this challenge?
Jordan Vonderhaar: The main motivation for this challenge was a fitness test. I’m currently training for the San Juan Solstice which will be my first attempt at the 50 mile distance. It’s a tough 50 miler in Lake City, CO with about 12K of vert and a good amount of time running above 11,000 ft. I wanted to find a mountainous route that had a similar elevation profile so I could test my training progress, and West Texas is the closest mountain range with climbs big enough to replicate Colorado. Also, most of the big mountains are snowbound until late May. I have been eyeing this as a potential backpacking route with my wife for a few years now and it was nice to preview the route before. I’m definitely glad I got to preview the route, because about 16 miles of the route are extremely rugged, cacti infested, and sandy/rocky labyrinth. It would not be an enjoyable backpacking experience for the family. I wasn’t actually planning on an FKT attempt until I started researching the route and found the FKT of 8:04 was within my ability. At that point I decided I would run with a sense of urgency and see what happened.
AR: You started at about 7am on April 7. What was the weather like at the start? How did it change over the 7 hours?
Jordan Vonderhaar: The weather was one of the biggest challenges. When we started running the temperatures were in the low 60’s but surprisingly humid for the desert. We started at Homer Wilson Ranch and traveled eastbound on the infamous Dodson Trail. This is the lowest point of elevation on the route and has zero shade, so we wanted to complete it first. After 2:15 elapsed, we reached the parking lot for the Juniper Canyon trail, and the temps were already in the 70’s. Juniper canyon is the biggest climb on the route, climbing from 3,800′ to 7,000′ in about 6.5 miles. Luckily, as you climb to the higher elevations you get into the oak trees, where there was both shade and a nice cool breeze. At this point, my buddy Chris was feeling really bad and decided to walk the short way down. I would complete the next 13ish miles alone. I dropped down the Pinnacles trail into the Chisos Basin where I was able to resupply water. At about 22.5 miles, the temperatures in the basin were in the 70’s and still humid. I was feeling OK as I climbed up the Laguna Meadows trail to South Rim, and I think this is where the difficulty started. As I reached the top of the Basin I was back in the oak trees and I started to have a pretty nasty allergic reaction. My throat was itchy and my lungs began to react asthmatically. It was impossible to take a full breath, but I had a long 5.5 mile decent down Blue Creek trail. I decided to alternate running and walking to keep my breath under control, however I did not account for the heat and direct sunlight on this section. The trail is a long rocky, sandy wash that descends west/southwest. Since it was early afternoon at this point, I was in direct sunlight for the entire descent. It was very hot, I couldn’t breathe, and the trail was alternation between piles of shale and sandy river bottom. It took me over 90 minutes to run the final 5.5 mile descent. The longest 5 miles of my life. Even for several hours after the run, I could only take shallow breaths. Eventually, after 4 Benadryl, my breathing returned to normal. Not fun at all.
AR: How did you train for this FKT attempt?
Jordan Vonderhaar: Running big vert always seems scary when you don’t live in the mountains, so I was really focused on that. As many of you will know if you live in Austin, the best way to train for hills is the Hill of Life. I try to do 4-8 reps every Thursday morning. If you’re there around 6:30 (or 6:45 when I hit the snooze) you’ll probably see me there. Feel free to deliver tacos and coffee anytime :). I also try to incorporate hills into every Saturday long run. In all honesty, I didn’t find the climbs to be a challenge. Since I expected the run to be long and slow, I decided to hike all of the climbs and found them to be a nice rest and change of pace to flats and downhills. I’m certainly not planning to run any of the huge climbs in the San Juan Solstice, and I’ve found that Hill of Life reps will more than adequately prepare you to powerhike for several miles. In comparison to other training cycles, I have also incorporated less speed work, in favor of more volume and that seemed to help for the 7 hour run. Less speed and more slow volume has made my legs feel much more durable, which is helpful for a run like this. My legs held up really well, it was my lungs and immune system that really killed me.
AR: What is the course like, compared to Hill Country trails?
Jordan Vonderhaar: Comparing the Hill Country to the Outer Mountain Loop is apples to oranges. Maybe the closest comparison would be the Cactus Rose course, but it’s just an entirely different terrain. The terrain is so difficult, that your mindset is more about survival than about pace or effort. The Dodson Trail has MUCH more cactus than Bandera, and left my legs quite bloody after the first 12 miles. Next up is a 2 hour climb that starts out sandy and only gains firm ground when you reach the steep switchbacks at higher elevations. Next up, you lose 2000 ft and then gain 2000 ft over 6 miles, in a section that can really trash your quads if you’re not careful. Lastly, the Blue Creek trail is extremely rocky and steep at the top, with lots of cacti covering the trail, and it ends with several miles of ankle deep sand. Although I’ve never run in the Franklin Mountains, this area might be the best comparison. Even with fresh legs, I don’t think I could have averaged better than 10 minute miles on either the Dodson or Blue Creek trails. They are simply too rugged in every way.
AR: If you wanted to break your own FKT, what would you do differently?
Jordan Vonderhaar: Call me a nerd or whatever you want, but I’ll never leave home without my inhaler again. My biggest challenge on this run was the allergy induced asthma I experienced from the oak pollen in the Chisos Basin. I think this could have been easily remedied with some Benadryl and an inhaler, and I intend to find out on my next attempt. Additionally, the heat was really tough at the end, so I think I will try again in the winter, maybe on a really cold day because I just love the cold. Also, I need to learn how to eat solid food on long runs. I stuck to gels, chews, and waffles, and I was really sick of them 5 hours into the run. I may have been a shot of the inhaler and a ham sandwich away from finishing in under 7 hours. It’s also worth considering where to start the route and which direction to go. Next time I may start in the Basin and Run up the Laguna Meadows trail first, which would allow me to tackle the Blue Creek descent with fresh legs. Lastly, I would carry more water than I did. I carried about 1.75 liters and I was definitely thirsty before I got to each resupply point.
This is an incredible route, but it’s not for everyone and it should not be taken lightly. If you’re going to try the Outer Mountain Loop, I recommend having a team to support you. There are a lot of things that can go wrong and not much margin for error. Even just getting tired and slowing your pace can leave you exhausted and walking through the desert with little-to-no food/water and miles to travel for help. Be smart out there. In retrospect I’m not sure I took all of the precautions I should have. This section of the Chihuahuan Desert is absolutely merciless.
Having said all of this, I can’t wait for one of you to go lower the FKT by 30 minutes. It’s totally possible.
Thanks to Jordan and good luck at the San Juan Solstice 50M.
It was a good few days to be a distance running fan. Boston on Monday. Jim Walmsley on Saturday. The leader of the Coconino Cowboys was in action again at the Lake Sonoma 50M race in Northern California. He had set the course record of 6:00 in 2016. This year, with an entry to WS100 already secured, he was free to push the pace from the start and ended up beating his old course record by 9 minutes. From Lake Sonoma 50 Race Director Tropical John on iRunFar – “Hard to fully describe just how phenomenal Walmsley’s course record time is. 5:51:16 on a course with 10,500 feet of vert. Consider the other elite men over the years: Alex Varner 3x, Sage Canaday 3x, Rob Krar 2x, Max King 2x, Jared Hazen 3x, Timmy Olson 2x, Dakota Jones 2x, Hal Koerner 4x, Zach Miller, Tim Freriks, Dylan Bowman, et al – and nobody else has run within 18 minutes of this time. Meaning Walmsley would have beaten them all by more than 2.5 miles!”
Incredible. Check out his Strava entry for the race. 48.1 miles, 9,573 feet of vert, 7:16 pace.
Local ultrarunner Paul Terranova also raced at LS50. He finished in 7:53, first place masters, beating ultra legend Hal Koerner for the wine prize. From Paul:
My 4th consecutive Lake Sonoma 50 and it ain’t gettin’ any easier that’s for sure! Hitched myself early on to what I thought was a conservative pace on eventual women’s winner Keely Henninger’s heels. Had to back off the pace and manage my own effort for the rest of the race and then fend off a charging fellow men’s masters Hal Koerner in the last couple of miles, who to his credit I don’t think knew there was anything at stake. All in all a good racing/training stimulus leading into Miwok 100K next month and then States in June!
Not an article, but a book. A post-retirement Deena Kastor ran with the lead women for a while at Boston before dropping. Her new memoir just came out last week: Let Your Mind Run.
The second race in the Rogue Trail Series is The Tangle and it is on April 29.
Some upcoming track events (H/T to Matt Fletcher):
May 19, Lions Roar Games, Salado. This meet open to all ages…youth, Open, Masters. Info/Registration
May 26, USATF Southwestern Open/Masters Championships, Arlington, Tx. Open to ages 18+. Info/Registration
June 30, USATF Southwest Region Masters Championships, Hutto, Tx. Open to ages 30+. Info Registration CASH PRIZES PAID AT THIS MEET!!!
The Austin Runner’s Club is hosting the Daisy 5K on Saturday, May 19 at Camp Mabry. You can get a 10% discount by using the code MK18.