This past Saturday was the last race of the season – so time to switch gears for the “off-season” which will hopefully include lots of powder ski days!
My two major goals for 2012 were achieved!
My first goal was to finally break 3-hours in the marathon – which I’ve tried to do on many occasions and which I finally achieved with a 2:58 at the Salt Lake City Marathon in April.
My second major goal of the season was to finish the Wasatch 100 in September. The time limit for the Wasatch 100 is 36 hours – so I felt good to finish it on my first try in 32 hours and 32 minutes.
I had a LOT of help on both goals from my wife and Wicked Fast partner, Julie – who ran weekly treadmill intervals with me leading up to the SLC marathon – and who crewed for me at the Wasatch 100 (including actually pacing/running with me for the last 25 miles – the hardest part of the course).
Here are my 2012 events with a few thoughts about each one…
April – Salt Lake City Marathon (2:58:10) – 17th place overall and 4th in my age group (40-44)…
Being a local race, Julie and I were able to sleep in our own bed (woohoo!) and wake up early for the race start. Julie did the half marathon and I did the full marathon.
We both trained our butts off – with a very consistent schedule of long steady runs on the weekends and short high-intensity intervals a couple of times each week (usually at lunch time at the gym). Most weeks, we would have one day of “shorter” intervals such as a ladder workout (1-2-3-2-1-1-2-3-2-1 for a total of 18 minutes of “hard” work) and one day of “longer” intervals such as a “5×5” (5 sets of 5 minutes hard) or “5xMile” (5 repeats of 1 mile). One of the secrets to proper interval training is to be sure to go hard on the “hard” efforts and easy on the “recovery” efforts – which sounds obvious. Unfortunately, too many athletes and coaches tend to go “medium hard” on the hard efforts and “medium easy” on the recovery efforts – so they never get the real benefits of intervals (which is to increase your lactate threshold and allow you to compete at a higher intensity before your body shifts from burning fat to burning sugar and accumulating lactic acid).
All in all, the training obviously worked – I was able to stay precisely on my target pace (~6:50/mile) without any fading. I had one little tough patch around mile 16-ish, but just then, the first place woman came by me and when I said, “Looking good” – she said, “Come with me” – so I did (for awhile). That change in pace was just enough to “wake up” my legs again and get me focused on staying on pace for the last 10 miles.
I didn’t really “know” that I had the sub-3 in the bag until about the last 2 miles, where I had about 2 minutes of “cushion” and just knew that even if I blew up right there, I’d still be able to gut it out.
Coming across the line and seeing two things will always be terrific memories – the clock at 2:58 – and Julie smiling away because she knew how hard I had worked for this one (and how long I’d been chasing it).
May – Draper Trail Run (15 miles) in 1:56:48 (1st place overall)…
This just a little hometown race on my local trails that I train on – literally in my back yard – so I know most of these trails like the back of my hand. My goal here was to see if I could cover the 15-mile course of very hilly single track in less than 2 hours. Mission accomplished due to my residual fitness from the SLC Marathon – and lots of fun getting to share the beautiful Draper trails with lots of good friends.
June – XTerra Triathlon Festival (Moab Utah) – 27th overall and 7th best overall run with 4th in age group (45-49)…
I had big plans for this race, despite having very few mountain bike or swimming miles under my belt. Unfortunately, I had a lackluster swim and then crashed in spectacular fashion during the bike leg – and then proceeded to crash 4 more times before the transition from bike to run. I really thought I had broken my wrist in the first crash – so each of the other wipeouts really hurt like hell. At the transition, Julie could see the bloody gashes on my legs and how I was holding my wrist and asked me if I was OK or if I wanted to drop out. But, I was so pissed about my poor bike leg, that I tore away from the bikes to “run off” my anger. I guess “running pissed” helped me because I had the 7th fastest run overall – but not enough to make up for the earlier bumbles. Still, any trip down to Moab is a good trip – we took the kids rafting, hiking, and horseback riding, so it was a fun trip for everyone.
September – Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run (Utah) – finished in 32 hours and 32 minutes (128th out of 213 finishers and 308 starters)…
This was the granddaddy of my 2012 events – 100 miles thru the rugged backcountry of the stunningly beautiful Wasatch range in Utah. If you’re an ultra-runner, then you know this event as one of the “big four” (along with Western States 100 in California, Leadville 100 in Colorado, and Vermont 100) – and if you’re “thinking” of attempting a 100-miler at some point in your life, then put Wasatch on your bucket list – you’ll be glad you did.
Julie dropped me off at the bus in downtown Salt Lake City around 4am – for the ride to the 5am start. The energy at the start of a 100-miler is always a strange mix of nervous/anxious/worry mixed with hopeful anticipation. We all know that we’re in for a long day ahead of us (hopefully hitting the finish line sometime before the cut-off – 36 hours later).
As with any 100-miler start, there was a lot of talking and laughing for the first bunch of miles – lots of questions from “Wasatch virgins” like me of the veterans about what to expect – where are the hard sections – what to keep in mind, etc. My “plan” for the day was to stay well-within myself – steady pace – keep fueling – take it easy. I have learned the hard way in other 100-milers about how a fast early pace (even when you’re feeling great) can come back to bite you. This time, I kept my iPod in my pocket for all but about 1-mile of the race because I was afraid that I’d get into a groove of jammin’ songs and I’d start running too fast too early. The only time I broke out the iPod was somewhere around mile 72 or 73 – just before I got to Brighton Lodge at mile 75 – because I was starting to fall asleep while running (it was coming up on 3am and I needed a little jolt of tunes to get me to the next aid station).
The race started simply enough just chugging along in the dark with my newest 300 friends. I used a small handheld flashlight for the first hour or so and then ditched it at the first aid station (Francis Peak – mile 18). It’s funny to think that after running for 18 miles, you’re just getting warmed up, but that’s exactly how I felt.
From 18 to the next major aid station (Big Mountain at mile 40), I just stayed on-pace with my drinking, eating, and supplements. I was carrying a water bottle, eating MonaVie RVL HDH Pro10 protein bars, and supplementing with both Recover-Ease and Energ-Ease from Wicked Fast. The Pro10 bars are 160 balanced calories of carb/protein/fat, but the unique aspect is the specially hydrolyzed whey protein (HDH – high degree of hydrolysis) that allows the amino acids to be digested easily and absorbed quickly. Normally, you wouldn’t care too much about protein intake during any endurance event, but during a 100-miler where you’re expecting to be going for more than 30 hours, the protein can make a huge difference in energy levels. The Energ-Ease is probably an obvious supplement for its ability to help my body use oxygen more efficiently and burn fat at a higher rate, but Energ-Ease also helps to balance stress hormones (cortisol/testosterone) to maintain stamina and mental focus in the later stages of an ultra event. Taking Recover-Ease during the event often surprises people who think of Recover-Ease as only a way to accelerate post-exercise recovery (which it does in amazing fashion), but we’ve found that the specific amino acid blend in Recover-Ease can also help to delay “central fatigue” during a long-distance event (anything 3 hours or longer). Central fatigue is when the brain simply says, “I’m done” and forces you to slow down due to what you might view as a “lack of drive” (it’s not “motivation” per se that is lacking, but instead a dearth of brain neurotransmitters that can be maintained with Recover-Ease).
At mile 40, we got to see our lovely crews at the Big Mountain aid station. I was there right on pace to find Julie waiting for me with fresh shoes and socks (a new pair of Hoka shoes and clean Drymax socks), food (turkey sandwich), and cold water (it was starting to get hot). I spent about 20 minutes at Big Mountain to make sure I was properly fueled – then off to the next big aid station 13 miles later at Lambs Canyon (mile 53). I felt great during this section – passing halfway and still feeling like I could keep going for hours and hours. I’ve been at mile 50 in plenty of races before, where I think, “Uh oh – I’m not sure I can do this again” – but so far, so good.
Lambs Canyon is an interesting aid station. Again, Julie was waiting for me with chair, food (chicken noodle soup with a scoop of mashed potatoes mixed in – it sounds gross, but it tasted SO good), lights (because it would get dark during the next leg), jacket (because it would start getting cold), and her typical big smile and energy (if I could only bottle that!). I spent another 20 minutes here because the next crew station would not be until 22 miles later at mile 75 at Brighton Lodge (a long way thru the cold dark canyons). I felt like a million bucks as a left Lambs Canyon around 7pm (14 hours into the race) and headed up the road toward the pass up and over into Millcreek canyon. For me, this was the hardest section of the race because it was dark, it was a relentless uphill, and it seemed to go on forever. I thought about taking out the trusty iPod to help motivate me – but I was afraid that I’d get “too motivated” and would burn thru vital energy going up and over the pass. By the time I got to the next major aid station (Big Water in Mill Creek canyon), I was freezing my ass off – so I checked in, changed into warm clothes (tights, gloves, hat, and jacket stashed in my drop bag) and sat in front of the heater drinking chicken broth. I spent almost 40 minutes at Millcreek trying to warm up – I never thought of dropping out, but it sucked to “lose” so much time there.
From Mill Creek (Big Water – mile 62) to Brighton Lodge (mile 70) was actually the section that was the most fun for me. It was pitch black – the stars were amazing – I was adequately fueled – and it was cold but I was now properly-dressed (there’s an old saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing). At the next 2 aid stations – Desolation Lake (mile 67) and Scotts Pass (mile 71), I spent 3 minutes and 2 minutes, respectively – just enough time to top off my water bottle. I was very motivated to get myself to the “crux” of the race – Brighton Lodge at mile 75.
Brighton Lodge is a crucial aid and crew station. It’s inside. It’s warm. They have breakfast cooking, so it smells warm and inviting. It’s basically HELL for a tired ultrarunner because Brighton can SUCK you in and it is here where lots of people DNF (do not finish). My mantra in the weeks leading up to Wasatch 100 was “GET OUT OF BRIGHTON!” – I even had it written on my drop bags. To help me “get out of Brighton” I asked Julie to “crew” me outside – our plan was for me to go inside to check in, but then come back out to the parking lot to eat, change shoes, take my supplements, and then get the heck back on the trail toward the finish. I even asked a few good friends to write some motivating words for me in a card – and Julie would only give me the card if I was having thoughts of dropping out. Luckily, I was feeling fantastic when I reached Brighton (cold, tired, and hungry, but relatively strong and motivated). We did not have to crew outside in the cold because I had no intention of DNFing at Brighton. Unfortunately, 4 or 5 people DNF’d in the 40 minutes that I was there (we decided to spent as much time as necessary for me to feel “ready” because there was no doubt at this point about reaching the finish line).
Julie and I rolled out of Brighton Lodge a little before 4am – into the cold and dark and toward the gnarliest section of the course (steep ups and steep downs) – but we were having a blast. Both with headlamps and handheld flashlights – we stopped to talk to the wonderful volunteers manning each of the aid stations (Ant Knolls at 80, Pole Line Pass at 83, Rock Springs at 87 where we also had breakfast, and Pot Bottom at 93) – these are great folks at every aid station and they are MUCH appreciated by each and every runner.
From Pot Bottom (mile 93) to the finish at The Homestead (100!) is the suckiest section of the entire course. We left Pot Bottom at a little past 11am, so it was starting to get warm again – and we had decided to stay in our tights (leaving our shorts in our drop bags at Pole Line Pass (10 miles and 3 hours previous) because it was still cold at 7am. It would have been really nice to have been wearing shorts during these last 2 hours because it heated up very quickly – but c’est la vie – with every step (and every curse word out of my mouth for the “evil” race organizers) we were getting closer to our goal of finishing the Wasatch 100.
About 3 miles from the finish, we saw Karl Meltzer (the speed goat himself) coming up the trail toward us (Karl coached me for this event and I would highly recommend him if you want some guidance for your next Ultra) – so he offered some encouraging words and basically said, “Suck it up, you’re almost there!” – which I really needed at this point. The last few miles are some of the sketchiest, crappiest, poor footing, slippery, junk trails that I have ever had the displeasure to run (especially considering that the Wasatch range also has some of the most beautiful trails in the entire world). Maybe I was just a little bit cranky from running for over 30 hours?
Overall, it took me 32 hours and 32 minutes – which is well within the cut-off of 36 hours – so I felt good about that. Being a “mere mortal” it is often humbling to run the same course with the elite athletes who finish hours and hours ahead (the winner this year finished in 19:33 – or 13 HOURS ahead of me! Sheesh! There were also 77 DNFs and 18 “DNS” (did not start) for various reasons from injury to fatigue to who-knows-what. To those folks, I’ll encourage them to come back for another go – I’ve been on the bad side of a DNF and it “hurts” even worse than whatever it was that actually caused your decision to drop.
Hitting the finish line was terrific – Julie and I running in together was a hoot – especially after about 10 hours since Brighton Lodge and after almost a year of steady training. We had some great friends there to meet us at the finish – and with a cooler full of cold Newcastle Brown Ale (the beer that Julie and I consider to be “our” beer – long story, but romantic, and for another time).
November – Moab Trail Marathon – 4:16, 55th overall and 11th in age group (40-49)…
This event was just a “fun” event for both of us – I did the full marathon and Julie did the half marathon – just like we did last year. This was perhaps the MOST beautiful race we have ever done in our lives – so we just had to come back for another go. Last year, it was pouring rain and we were literally running IN the streams – but this year was completely dry – so the event was very different from one year to the next (but stunningly beautiful both times). Julie ran exactly the same time this year as what she ran in 2011 – so that tells me that she is equally good in the mud or the sand! I was 21st overall in 4:29 in 2011 – so without the rain/wet, I shaved 13 minutes off my time from last year (but even with a better time of 4:16, I came in at 55th place because of all the fast runners chasing the USA Trail Championships this year). The winner “just nipped” me at the line (by 1 hour and 8 minutes) – sheesh! This event is a terrific excuse to get down to Moab and “sight see” some of the most beautiful red rock scenery in the world.
Thanks to everyone who followed, helped, encouraged, and cajoled me through each of these events. I hope each and every one of you achieved your 2012 goals – endurance and otherwise – and looking forward to a fruitful 2013!
About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers), physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) and lifestyle entrepreneur (EMP, Entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Dr. Talbott is the author of 10 books translated into multiple languages and has appeared on numerous media outlets including The Dr Oz Show (to talk about vigor) and The White House (to talk about obesity). He competes in Ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons – and tries to make each event as much of a family affair as possible.