“Notes for next time” has become a regular feature on this site, following major hikes and races. Its usefulness to readers is unclear to me, but I plan to keep it up anyway — I reference them often enough prior to future big hikes and races to make the effort worthwhile. Let’s get started.
Links and resources
- Avoid Denver metro traffic — particularly in Golden — by leaving at least by mid-day Friday.
- The Western Inn ($170-ish with tax for two nights) was much better than I expected. The room was clean and big, and had a small kitchenette; and the beds were okay. It was also very close to the race start.
- As a cheaper option, dispersed car camping is permitted on USFS lands outside of town; camping at the Fairgrounds would probably go unnoticed.
- For a post-race breakfast, go to the Brown Burro. Here’s why:
Race organization and vibe
- A small, casual, and intimate race, with zero egos.
- The RD, “Sherpa John” is a genuine and good character, and didn’t seem as eccentric as I’d heard he might be. His pre-race meeting was the funniest I’ve heard. He’s also working his tail off to put on high quality races — he’s worthy of the support.
- Fairplay is welcoming. This was John’s third(?) race of the season there, and they have given him free reign of town facilities like the park and town hall. Our pre-race meeting was held in the South Park Community Church, which was built in 1874.
- The mandatory pre-race meeting was relevant and succinct. Course conditions, markings, weather update, “mountain people” precautions, etc.
- Aid stations lacked “to go” food like gels and blocks, but were otherwise stocked with more than enough hydration and calories.
- It’s a relatively easy race to crew: the course swings through Tarryall three times and Poor Man twice.
- Markings were sufficient and consistent, and not annoyingly overkill.
- Vertical efforts — both ascents and descents — are relatively short-lived, but they are endless and add up. Total vertical gain is 16-17k. Most grades are easy or moderate; steep sections are rare.
- Expect a good variety of run-able dirt roads, washed-out ATV tracks, and nice single-track. The course is not as fast as Run Rabbit or Leadville.
- After rainy periods, Beaver Creek will be swollen and wet feet may be inevitable. Trail crews constructed a “bridge” across the creek, but something more permanent is probably needed to keep feet dry. The other problem spot is Crooked Creek — it’s brushy, and it will be wet with morning dew and immediately after rain events.
- Should I even call it that? My last “good” run was three weeks prior, towards the end of a second consecutive 100-mi/20-k week. Then I went for a hard 6-day backpacking trip in Glacier, bookended by two long days in the car (each way). In the ten days between Glacier and the race, I went for a few easy runs and took several days off.
- Some abused muscles and tendons haunted me during the second half of the race. I trace most of them to Glacier, where I was unaccustomed to the relatively heavy pack. Four days in a car and a round-trip flight to SLC for ORSM did not help things. Normally I have Lisa at Lifesport Chiro give me a pre-race tune-up, but I did not this time. A mistake.
- I didn’t deprive myself of caffeine during the taper. And I noticed — caffeine seemed to provide little boost during the race.
- I was last at altitude four weeks prior, when I did the Pawnee-Buchannon Loop; the highest elevation in Glacier was 9k. Since I live at 5k and generally manage altitude okay, I wasn’t crippled by the altitude in Fairplay. But I certainly would have benefited from having spent more time at 10k+. In particular, maybe I would have had more of an appetite.
- My feet were a mess when I returned from Glacier — they had been badly macerated, and a case of athlete’s foot had exploded. I did my best to remedy both issues by applying clotrimazole cream and Bonnie’s Balm. Per usual, I also shaved down callousses and cut my toenails. I had no foot issues during the race, but others did not fare as well. There wsa some serious foot carnage at the finish line, including this guy:
- With each ultra, I feel as if I do less prep. Or, maybe, I simply do it faster, or have less of it because I better know my needs. In any case, I hope that I am not becoming overconfident in my prep.
- I was partly in denial for Silverheels, too. I was not expecting a competitive field or a course with a SJS50-like wow factor. And a major reason I registered for it was to gain entry into another race (UTMB). In hindsight, the race was worthy on its own (and will become increasingly so) but I had no validation that it would be.
- Attaching my bib number to my backpack was acceptable to race officials, at least this year with the small field. I prefer this to wearing it — bibs get covered by other clothing and the pins can create problems.
- Add this task to your last-minute items, along with taping nipples and cutting toenails: apply Leukotape to your back to prevent chafing by the plastic pieces on your heart rate strap.
- No tattoo from ElevationTat was available for Silverheels, so as a backup I printed out the vertical profile and laminated it with packaging tape. I’m glad I did: the visual reference is very useful.
Hydration & nutrition
- With the 4 AM race start, it would have been better to eat dinner earlier (rather than at 8:30 PM the night before). Within the first 30 miles I had to pull over twice to squat, since everything wasn’t ready to flow by 3:30 AM.
- Morning cloud-cover and afternoon showers greatly minimized hydration needs. I was able to run between most aid stations with just a 17-oz bottle. In a few locations I topped off with natural water sources.
- My appetite was lacking, which is generally the case during ultras and which was probably exacerbated by the altitude. Liquid nutrition is the most reliable source of calories. Foods that are dry or that require chewing were very unappealing. Bacon was working well, but the taste became pretty strong. I bet that avocados would be better late in the race — they are slimy and have little flavor.
- My standard race uniform continues to work well, with no discomfort or chafing.
- At ORSM the week before UD gave me a SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 to replace my well worn A.K. Race Vest 2.0. But I didn’t want to use a new pack for a race so I stuck with the 2.0. It’s probably retired now. I did, however, use the 17-oz soft bottles, which are awesome — they don’t slosh like the 20-oz squeeze bottles, and the port is nearly as big.
- Don’t underestimate how cold it gets during the night portions of these races, especially in the valleys and open parks. If you’ve been racing all day, assume that you will be generating very little body heat at night, and thus need at least one full layer more than you would need for a normal run in the same conditions.
- Before the race, replace all headlamps with fresh batteries. Environmentally and economically, it would be better to deplete used batteries first before replacing them, but it’s not worth it: swapping out batteries costs at least a few minutes, assuming that you brought a back-up light or that you have a pacer with an operating light.
- My Ambit2 GPS watch had a 5 percent charge at the end of the race, 23.5 hours later. According to Suunto, it should last for 24 hours when set to 5-second GPS pings. So it was on track to hit this.
Pacing and overall performance
I discussed my intended pacing strategy earlier. Essentially, I hoped to determine if I could run faster overall by running more even from the very start. I executed this strategy perfectly for the first 42 miles, until the climb to Hoosier Ridge. Beyond that, my HR began to fall, and my overall average slipped below 130 at Mi 55. The decline continued, especially after Mi 60, and by the end of the race my HR was averaging about 100 bpm.
Based on this race alone, it’s unclear if this strategy is useful. In fact, if you look at this race, you might conclude the opposite — in my last 100-miler, Run Rabbit, I started harder and finished stronger. Go figure!
With that result, you’d think fitness might be the culprit. But I don’t think so: I raced very well in the Colorado Marathon in May and at San Juan Solstice 50M in June; and my training was solid, with two consecutive 100-mile weeks with 20k vertical gain, and with a new PR (and several CR’s) on the Pawnee-Buchannon Loop in early-July.
Let me offer some additional theories:
- Elevation. The course hovers between 10k and 12k. I have spent very little time at those elevations this summer.
- Poor taper, as detailed above
- Motivation. To run really well in a 100-miler, you have to dig deep. After running solo all day and getting a lock on first place, I became more interested in minimizing the hurt than running outside of myself.
- Nagging body parts. It’s Thursday and my left hip is still giving me problems — if I hit the right location during a self-massage, I can feel the nerve endings in my feet. This was an issue before the race, and such issues seem to act like a governor late in the race.
- Difficulty of the course. It may have been unreasonable to think that I could average 127 bpm as I did at RRR. After all, the course is higher (10-12k versus 6-10k) and more technical. By maintaining an average of 130+ for the first 50 miles, I may have gotten in over my head.
I plan to give this strategy another chance in October at the Indian Creek Fifties.