The Interval, 5/16/18

The start of the Texas Switchback Marathon. Photo by Dan Hannon.

With the race schedule easing up, The Interval will be skipping a few weeks here and there, probably including next week.  Don’t worry, this ‘Dillo is still kickin’.  Keep scrolling past Interesting Articles and Upcoming Races for a special Flatlanders Doin’ Werk, with a R2R2R report from Matt Fletcher.

This big race this past weekend was the Texas Switchback, hosted by TrailRoots, my home club.  Erik Stanley and crew set up again at Flat Creek Crossing for the marathon, half marathon, and 10K races.  The route was the same as last year and overlaps somewhat with the Rogue Tangle course, but is more demanding with extra climbs and technical sections.  The Tangle was a few weeks ago and the area was still green and pretty, but it was a lot warmer and more humid.

I arrived just in time to see the start of the marathon, with Colin Hagen taking the lead immediately.  I warmed up a bit with Dan Hannon and Andy Bitner and then we started the half marathon.  Andy and I led briefly and the first mile was fairly quick, before the first climb.  David Zuniga zipped by soon after, he would go on to win easily in 1:31.  I fell behind Andy by the third mile and was also passed by Luis Briseno and Douglas Brock.  Those 3 would battle for second and third, see below for Andy’s report.  I tried to stay close to them for a while, but by mile 5 it was clear that the best I could hope for was to keep an even effort level and finish without a total bonk.  Amber Reber passed me around mile 7 and we ran together for a mile or so, until I couldn’t match her smooth and powerful stride.  She won the women’s race by about 9 minutes, in 1:42.  I was passed a few more times, finishing in 1:43, about 5 minutes slower than last year, but still good enough for the Grand Masters win.  In general, I’m happy with my spring racing results.  One key lesson is that I shouldn’t expect to do well on my third race in 3 weeks.  What was I thinking?

Andy, who is smarter than me and listens to his coach, went on to finish in second and emailed me his report:

Coach Carmen’s instructions were 1) STAY UPRIGHT (which has been an issue in the past) and 2) treat it as a long run, but pick up the pace where it is safe to do so.  A large part of Carmen’s job is to help me see the big picture so I don’t get caught up in doing dumb things that jeopardize that.  Like putting a race type effort in the middle of a marathon build-up.  Or falling on some very, very hard and sharp rocks.

I typically don’t carry water bottles when I’m racing, but the no cups policy and doing a half marathon in 75 degree heat and 90% humidity, I decided a water bottle would be a good option.  I purchased one I could strap to my hand so I wouldn’t have to grip it the whole race.  The choice to bring a bottle proved prescient.  Only slightly less important was remembering to bring a chair for the post-race beer & chili.

I spent most of the race in fourth place.  I had planned on trying to average around 8s for the first half of the race, which was generally uphill and then 7:30s on the back half.  Despite the course being an overall climb on the first half, the terrain was significantly better on that portion and the 2nd half was a ton of technical side-hill trails and a lot of twists and tight turns that give the race its name.  That led to almost exactly even first and second half splits on the course even though I picked up the effort starting in the 7th mile.

I slipped into 3rd place at around the 9 mile mark and into 2nd around the 11 mile mark.  I talked to both guys I passed after the race and they agreed that the key was not bringing a water bottle and that they paid for it in the heat.  The eventual winner also had a water bottle–or so I was told.  I didn’t see much of him after the first mile.

I was really happy with some smart pacing and planning and execution.  It’s a lot more fun passing people late in a race than trying to hang on between bouts of walking and shuffling.  The course is great, with a good variety in elevation and trail difficulty.  Most importantly, though, I STAYED UPRIGHT.

Sally Ng admiring the dirt collected by Amanda Bergstrom while winning the Switchback Marathon. Photo courtesy of Amanda.

Colin Hagen won the men’s marathon in a super fast 3:22, even more impressive since he got some extra credit off the course.  The race for second and third was close, with Travis Jones beating James McElroy by just 2 seconds, in 3:45.  The women’s marathon was won by Amanda Bergstrom (TrailRoots) in 4:49, with Kacey David and Jenny Waldron (TrailRoots) also on the podium.  Amanda came in covered with dirt and said that her fall actually gave her some extra energy.  I don’t think this is a good strategy for racing, but I’m glad Amanda is OK.  She emailed me her thoughts on the race:

It was easy to be positive and happy about the race during the first half but not so much during the second half.   I’m not an experienced longer trail runner so for me, this day was a lesson in that a conservative start on the road is something entirely different than a conservative start on the trail. I refused to walk up the hills and thought a slow trot would be okay. Needless to say my second half was very uncomfortable and clumsy.

I was so grateful to the volunteers who ran water towards us as we came through the aid stations to help refill our bottles and offer friendly encouragement.  And it’s always fun to hear the bluegrass music about a mile out from the finish. That’s the happy signal that the misery is coming to an end!

Robin Joyce hydrating during his second loop. Photo by Trieu Phan.

Another TrailRoots runner who did well was Robin Joyce, running his first marathon.  He finished in 6th place, at 4:12, and had this say about Switchback:

I tried to start out easy to save some energy for the second loop, which I knew would be hotter. I was running with Christian Hawley and Michael Kleinpaste which kept me in good spirits for the first half. Another runner on my tail early in the second loop kept me pushing through the middle of the race, along with some great encouragement from David Yin around mile 14. The second half of the race I really just focused on keeping moving as the temperature kept rising and the fatigue set in. For my first marathon I’m really pleased with how it played out. As always, it was great to spend the weekend  with good friends. 

The 10K racers started last, at 8am.  The women’s and men’s races were won by runners more accustomed to road racing.  Jenn Hall won the women’s 10K in 1:02, by a couple minutes over Grace Davis.  Claudia Valdez was third.  JT Sullivan easily won the men’s race in 45:19, over 8 minutes ahead of the quick Joel Stanford (TrailRoots).  David Kleifgen was third.

Here is a list of the winners, complete results are here.

Marathon:  women
Amanda Bergstrom 4:49
Kacy Davis 4:54
Jennifer Waldron 5:08
Cheryl Tulkoff 5:09 Masters
Laura Buttner 6:11 Grand Masters
Marathon:  men
Colin Hagen 3:22
Travis Jones 3:45:15
Joseph McElroy 3:45:17
Kyle Rodemacher 3:56 Masters
Reginald Crouch 6:56 Grand Masters
Half Marathon:  women
Amber Reber 1:42
Genevieve Moran 1:51
Gina Zapata 1:54
Casey Ulman 2:08 Masters
Sara Ferniza 2:34 Grand Masters
Half Marathon:  men
David Zuniga 1:31
Andy Bitner 1:35
Luis Briseno 1:36
Douglas Brock 1:38 Masters
Sam LaBrie 1:43 Grand Masters
10K:  women
Jennifer Hall 1:02
Grace Davie 1:04
Claudia Valdez 1:07
Ginger Crouch 1:15 Masters
Debbie Casey 1:28 Grand Masters
10K:  men
JT Sullivan 45:19
Joel Stanford 53:42
David Kleifgen 55:45
David Boone 1:02:06 Masters
Emil Jimenez 1:04:00 Grand Masters

The scene after the race was almost more fun than running.  We claimed a spot in the shade with a view of the finish line and the excellent blue grass quartet, the Bottom Dollar String Band.  Adelbert’s supplied a bunch of beer and a food truck was selling delicious chili cheese fries.  I could have stayed there all day.  Thanks again to Erik and his crew of TrailRoots volunteers for a great event.

Interesting Articles

A nice article from The Loop on 4 local high school runners.

WS100 legend Gordy Ansleigh will once again run the race he originated.  Read about his 2018 qualification race in Trail Runner.

iRunFar with a brief article on the incredible Ann Trason and WS100.

Also with relevance to WS100, Eric Senseman of the Coconino Cowboys writes for Ultrarunning on the origin of this elite training group from Flagstaff.

A beautifully shot and edited video about trail running in Oman from Trail Runner.

Sports Illustrated has an article on the tragic childhood of UC Berkeley track star Deshae Wise.  She and her mom survived years of exploitation by sex traffickers in Las Vegas.

Upcoming Races

The Austin Runner’s Club is hosting the Daisy 5K on Saturday at Camp Mabry. You can get a 10% discount by using the code MK18.

The Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita Run is June 7.  I ran this last year and had a blast.  It’s a fund raiser for The Trail Foundation.

The next event from Tejas Trail is The Festival, on June 2.

The last race in the Rogue Trail Series is The Ranch on June 3.

Flatlanders Doin’ Werk

A trio of top runners from Spectrum Trail Racing made the trip to Cloudcroft NM for a 53K race in the Sacramento Mountains.  The Cloudcroft Ultra starts and finishes at 8600 feet and includes over 5300 feet of climbing.  Mallory Brooks was second in the women’s race.  Brandon Ostrander and Jonathan Garner took second and third in the men’s race.

Well-timed bucket list completion, Rim to Rim to Rim, Grand Canyon N.P.
Matt Fletcher, May, 2018

These notions of extreme fitness activities usually start as seeds planted over years of early morning runs when your friends talk about doing or wanting to do things like run a marathon, run an ultra, run the beer mile!  One that had been developing into quite the romantic notion for me for years is Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim (aka R2R2R, aka R3, aka There and Back Again… oh wait, that was Bilbo Baggins, but oddly there are many parallels), but about the same time that my fitness level would remotely qualify me to attempt it, I also finally qualified for Boston, so the timing was always wrong, naturally favoring Boston.  I decided 2018 would be the year to skip Boston (and wow, did I pick a good year or what!) and open the schedule for R3.  I had some friends who knew some guys planning a trip and managed to connect and put my name down as a strong maybe!

There’s a narrow window when it’s warm enough on the canyon rims to not have snow/ice on the trails near the top yet not yet be crushingly hot at the bottom of the canyon where the Colorado River flows, not “our” Colorado River (aka Lake Travis / Lake Austin / Townlake / Ladybird Lake), but the big one that cut a groove 5000 feet deep into the Arizona high plains in order to give ultra runners something to do.

Most folks run it between the middle of April and the first weekend in May (therein the Boston conflict).  Autumn is also possible but I’ve heard more people suffering serious heat conditions at the bottom at that time of year.  My group started with about 35 interested and settled at about 30 mostly Gazelles (current/former) including an ex-Austin runner who brought his Fort Collins friends, 3 badass ultra ladies who kept me company coming back down the North Kaibab trail (to/from the river to the north rim), and who posed for me in this photo before dropping my ass at pump house:

Since everyone tends to run at different paces at different times of the adventure, I think the large group format will give you far less alone-time on the trail!

We had decent weather, as earlier in the week there was snow on the south rim and it had just melted and rained the day before we arrived, cutting down on the moon-dust quite a bit, and it was definitely warm at the bottom, in the high 80s and full sun, but not as hot as I’ve heard many people suffering through.

You’ll need water capacity to endure the South Kaibab downhill with no water source from the rim to the river, and from the river (Phantom Ranch) to Pump House/Manzanittas, a steady couple/few hours uphill 8.6miles along the creek… though you can certainly carry a filter to pump from the river (I took a water gift from a camper at Cottonwood campground who was filtering water, since I decided not to carry my filter, but wanted some to dilute my squishy bottle with Skratch.)

I wore a white long sleeve shirt (my Bandera shirt) for morning/evening warmth and sun coverage options in the day, carried a thin, light shell jacket in case of rain, but didn’t need it.  Compression calf sleeves, and compression shorts (minimal chaffing), and injinji socks rounded out the clothing.  Wore a white running ball cap and covered the exposed areas with sunscreen at the river outbound.  Shoes I went a little unorthodox, and wore the UA HOVR Sonics that were the AustinM pace team outfit, as they have decent outsole tread to handle the typical light technical portions of the trek, but still provide very smooth running on the majority of the smooth terrain, and they have some pretty spiffy cushion that held up very well.  I started the morning with 5 miles “warmup” from the lodge to the trailhead in order to make it a true 50, I wanted something with robust cushion and these did the trick well.  I’m pretty sure I was the only rimmer in the canyon that day in UA runners, but I’m glad of the choice… medium tread was perfect, and the cushion was excellent!

I wore a Nathan ultra vest carrying the bladder, one bottle, two PB&J sandwiches, about 750 calories of Skratch, 3 power-gels w/caffeine, and 12 salt caps.  Of that I ate one sandwich at Phantom Ranch outbound while running, Skratch up and down the north rim, all 3 gels back up the Bright Angel inbound, and 10 salt caps.  The other sandwich I couldn’t bring myself to eat as I was suffering from the heat returning to the river, so I donated it rather than carry it back topside again.  I had a primary headlamp and a backup both with fresh batteries, and didn’t need the backup.  I also wore a neck gator for dust and sun protection and other uses!

Finally I had a pair of light running gloves I only needed for the first hour, and my Z-carbon poles, useful for de-loading your quads on the unending downhills, helping your legs on the steep unending uphills, for pole-vaulting over the trail obstacles like the tall runoff diverters that were every 20 feet in many places, and for navigating the water crossings.  Here’s my gear-pose on the north rim overlook:

We did South Kaibab to Phantom (the river) to North Kaibab (to rim) and back to the river again, then up Bright Angel, through Indian Gardens campground, up again to the village atop Bright Angel.  That route is 46 miles (plus my 5 extra gave me 51) by the trail maps.  My Garmin said 54.7 due to some sketchy GPS in the deeper canyon sections.  Some people ran Bright Angel out and back which is 48 miles.

We started at the trailhead in the dark about 4:45am or so by headlamp and got to watch the sunrise about halfway down or more.  I ran with local 200miler triple crown legend, Katie Graff, all morning, and we had shade until Cottonwood after which it started getting quite warm:

It got warmer as we ascended and I slowed down and she dropped me after we hit Pump House and I refilled my bladder.  I debated a partial fill so I didn’t carry extra weight all the way up, but by the time I finished that final grueling climb, the increasing warmth of the day was only slightly offset by the cooling from the elevation increase from 2200ft to 8200ft, and as such I nearly drained a 2L bladder, only having 3 or 4 good gulps left at the top.  Glad I filled it!  Here’s a pretty view down the North Kaibab with the purple trees that appeared at some elevation.  You can see the trial way down there and the bridge across the creek channel:

I did a half-fill for the downhill which was plenty, and refilled it and my squishy bottle of Skratch at Pump House again for the 8.5 miles in the sun back to the river.  I ran that section with the Gnar ladies from Fort Collins, who were fun and nice enough to stop when an adductor cramp a mile from pump house stopped me in my tracks, surely due to not having trained for such an unrelenting pounding.  They dropped me at pump house since my crampy gimpy ass was slowing them down and I had to refill on water and mix some Skratch.

I used my neck gator to dip into the creek for cold water to squeeze on my head and soak my shirt to cool me off… in the 14% humidity it dried very quickly, however, and I was pretty well cooked by the time I hit Phantom again.  Turns out several buddies were in the lounge at Phantom drinking the overpriced lemonade and having a bite to eat and I just went to the river to refill my water and rest about 25 minutes to cool my core temp and recover for the climb up.  A buddy from the group solidified my plan to just power hike it out and rest as needed at spots along the way.  I crossed the silver bridge and ran the river trail to catch Bright Angel and start the ascent back up to Indian Gardens.  I ran into a couple ladies from Boulder and mostly walked with them all the way back up to Indian Garden, and they dropped me about 3 miles from the summit.

While approaching Indian Garden we got passed by a teenage kid who was trying to get cell service to call for help for his friend in a small group a mile back who was having heat distress — we told him to find the ranger at Indian Garden for help… ain’t no cell service 🙂  We saw this sign shortly afterwards… it’s like it’s beckoning ultra-runners, am I right?

Coming back from Indian Gardens (water supply), it’s 1.5miles to water at ​”3 mile house” (3 miles from the rim), another 1.5miles to “1.5 mile house”, and obviously 1.5 miles from there to the rim.  It was getting dusky by 3 mile house and downright dark by 1.5 mile house when I finally pulled out my headlamp again.  That climb from Indian Garden to the rim was over 3000 ft vertical over 4.5 miles, most of which was in the last 3 miles.  I could only slowly power-hike it on my dead legs.  About 3 miles out I started getting cell service pop in and out, and was getting texts from Katie asking where I was, and it was nice getting some moral support since I was solo again at that point.

About half a mile from the top you approach a false summit, so be ready for that.  I soon started hearing Katie cheering me on from the rim, which was nice.  After you pass that false summit where the pine trees appear again, it looks like you have a lot farther up to go when you look west, but the trailhead is actually lower elevation that that spot, so don’t lose heart.  It will eventually come and you’ll hit the top.

They were ready to go eat dinner so I joined the already-showered folks for dinner in my nasty run kit, but didn’t care… I ordered food and a beer and changed into dry clothes but still was shivering cold until my body recovered.

Overall a great experience.  Very difficult, as expected, but such a beautiful place to experience such a physical and mental challenge.  I had in mind a time of roughly 16 hours so I could enjoy it and take lots of pictures, and I did the R2R2R portion in 15.5 hours, plus the time for the extra mileage before the trailhead.  Made many new friends, most of whom I now co-follow on Strava, and bought my kids some t-shirts 🙂  For myself I found this souvenir for the car window… oddly you can’t buy any R2R2R stickers at the village… I had to improvise… I think this says something about how extreme this is… it’s now in the window of my truck like this :

Here’s a cool guide/map:  https://www. uploads/2011/05/Rim-to-Rim- Map-2.jpg

Thanks and congratulations to Matt!