Posted by: pointlenana | June 23, 2015

Counting Down To Western States

It all starts here, in Squaw Valley.

It all starts here, in Squaw Valley.

Janet and I arrived in Squaw Valley today.  Western States Endurance Run (100 miles) starts in about 4 days, at 5am PDT on Saturday June 27.  This post has 3 parts:

1) how to track people (like me) during race day

2) my projections/guesses at when I’ll make it to each of the aid stations/milestones along the course

3) for the curious, how I trained

1) Tracking

Western States uses the same live tracking from UltraLive that UTMB had last year.  This is the main tracking page for race day, where you can track leaders and the rest of us.  My bib # is 151 and you can find me in the middle of the list of runners.  Click on my line and it will take you to a page that shows my arrival times at aid stations.  There’s a button near the top where you can turn a map on/off that shows where I am on the course relative to the leaders (far behind, except maybe before the start).  There is also Live Race Video on race day, either at this link or available at the top right of the main Western States page – not sure what will be on there, since I haven’t watched that before.

At the top of the first big climb, as the trail is about to leave Squaw Valley and head southwest towards Auburn.

At the top of the first big climb, as the trail is about to leave Squaw Valley and head southwest towards Auburn.

In terms of tracking those leaders, iRunFar has write-ups on the top men and top women in the race.  I’m rooting for my Seattle friend Justin Houck in the men’s race.  And for Gunhild Swanson’s 70+ women’s record attempt – she finished about 20 seconds behind us at Sun Mountain.  USL has 12 minute course preview video – it’s mostly of a guy running on a trail :-), but it shows bits and pieces of the 100 miles.

This is on a monument at the pass, near the previous trail marker.

This is on a monument at the pass, near the previous trail marker.

Looking back east, past Squaw and to Lake Tahoe.

Looking back east, past Squaw and to Lake Tahoe.

2) Projections/The Plan

Here are my projected splits and some info about each leg:

From ETA
From
To
To ETA
Distance (miles)
Target Pace min/mi
Approx Ascent (feet)
Approx Descent (feet)
5:00
Start
Lyon Ridge
7:07
10.5
12.1
2600
2100
7:07
Lyon Ridge
Red Star Ridge
8:15
5.5
12.4
1900
1700
8:15
Red Star Ridge
Duncan Canyon
9:47
7.8
11.8
800
1700
9:47
Duncan Canyon
Robinson Flat
11:15
5.9
14.9
1200
800
11:15
Robinson Flat
Miller’s Defeat
12:15
4.7
12.8
300
900
12:15
Miller’s Defeat
Dusty Corners
12:55
3.6
11.1
200
1000
12:55
Dusty Corners
Last Chance
1:55
5.3
12.3
900
1500
1:55
Last Chance
Devil’s Thumb
3:20
4.5
17.8
1100
1500
3:20
Devil’s Thumb
El Dorado Creek
4:20
5.1
11.8
300
2300
4:20
El Dorado Creek
Michigan Bluff
5:20
2.8
21.4
2000
300
5:20
Michigan Bluff
Foresthill
6:50
6.3
14.3
1300
1600
6:50
Foresthill
Dardanelles (Cal1)
7:30
3.7
10.8
400
1400
7:30
Dardanelles (Cal1)
Peachstone (Cal 2)
8:45
5
15.0
1800
2100
8:45
Peachstone (Cal 2)
Ford’s Bar (Cal3)
9:20
2.3
15.2
400
800
9:20
Ford’s Bar (Cal3)
Rucky Chucky
10:35
5
15.0
400
800
10:35
Rucky Chucky
Green Gate
11:10
1.8
19.4
700
100
11:10
Green Gate
Auburn Lake Trails
12:30
5.4
14.8
1100
1100
12:30
Auburn Lake Trails
Brown’s Bar
1:45
4.7
16.0
500
700
1:45
Brown’s Bar
Highway 49
2:50
3.6
18.1
500
500
2:50
Highway 49
No Hands Bridge
3:45
3.3
16.7
300
1200
3:45
No Hands Bridge
Robie Point
4:25
2.1
19.0
800
0
4:20
Robie Point
Finish
4:40
1.3
15.4
200
100
4:40
Finish

I’ll be happy to finish this race period, but given that 24 hours might be achievable it seems worth aiming for.  Once the race starts, all I can do is run, trying to move forward efficiently balancing effort/speed against the remaining distance.  With the ups and downs and trails, it’s impossible to aim for any pace.  Nevertheless, to finish in under 24 hours I need to reach certain milestones in roughly certain times.

I looked at splits for 23-25 hour finishers last year (and the hot year before that), and looked at distance/up/down for each leg (like I did for UTMB) and came up with goals/projections for each aid station.  These are roughly inline with the “official” 24 hour pace times that the WSER folks provide.  If I can stay ahead of those during race day, I’m doing well but I can even arrive at Foresthill (mile 62) a little behind and still have a chance – the last 38 miles are pretty runnable if I haven’t trashed my quads already.  If I’m way ahead of the times early, it might be a bad sign – realistically I think 23 hours would be an outstanding best case and going faster earlier probably sets me up to fail later.  If I’m way behind early that’s a bad sign too (although after Janet and I did a trial hike up the first big climb today, I suspect my times above to the first couple aid stations will be optimistic by 5-10 minutes).   So, from the perspective of finishing in less than 24 hours, a good day means I’ll be on the edge through most of the race.  If it goes really well, I’ll probably know 22 hours into the race (3am Sunday morning) that I’ll make it (assuming no spectacular failure at the end, like a bad fall).   Oh, I should explain that the 24 hour goal is significant because that was the original cutoff when the race started, and now sub-24 hour finishers get a silver buckle with other finishers (30 hour max) getting a brass buckle.

This page has maps and elevation profiles for the whole course and each leg of the race.  Scroll down to see Detailed Course Maps for each leg.

3) Training

There are some great resources out there for WS training, in particular Pam Smith’s writeup on how she trained before winning Western States in a very hot year.  Joe Uhan also has a good writeup on the challenges of the course, aka the “Killing Machine”. Those cover a lot of the “why” behind the training, so I’ll just talk about what I did.

For better or worse, about all I’ve done for the past 6 months is train for this race.  Train, eat, train, sleep, repeat.  This 24-hour goal is right at the edge of my capability and this may be my one real chance at it – I’m not getting younger and it could be a long time before I win the entry lottery again.

Volume – In 20 weeks from Jan 19 through June 7 I averaged 96 miles/week, hitting 140 a couple of those weeks.  This is my third year with high volume, and although I wouldn’t say I survived it 100% healthy, I came through mostly ok – luck plus some great bodywork from a very smart person at strategic times.

Hills – Western States is net downhill but has a lot of up and down – something like 18000 feet of up and 23000 feet of down.  My hill training for UTMB last year worked pretty well, so I did that again this year, maybe with a little more intensity.  My hillwork included long hills, short hill repeats, hilly races, and hills whenever possible in my daily runs.

Halfway up the first climb, one of several big climbs during the race.

Halfway up the first climb, one of several big climbs during the race.

Long hills:  Prior to UTMB last year, I started running laps up (via the Section Line trail) and down (via the main Tiger 3 trail) Tiger Mountain, which is about a 30 minute drive east of Seattle.  The up leg ascends about 2000 feet in 2 miles, with a somewhat-runnable first mile and 1300+ feet of gain in the 2nd mile (~25% grade).  Before UTMB last year, I worked my way up to 4 laps in a day.  This year I peaked at 5 laps in one 7 hour day – 10000 feet up and down, which is about half of what I’ll do at Western States.   Based on a run two weeks ago – Janet and I ran the second half of the White River 50 course, which included a 5 mile fast descent down a dirt road that drops about 3000 feet – my quads are ready for the downhills.

Short hill repeats:  As with UTMB, I’ve gone to Queen Anne Hill every 2 or 3 weeks and run hard up a 0.6 mile hill that gains about 250 feet.  Before UTMB I was able to get my time down to about 5:45/repeat.  The past couple times I’ve done it this year, the repeats took about 5:40.  UTMB was harder but I have to go relatively faster at Western States, so hopefully that slight improvement is somehow significant.

Speed –  If I have a great day at WS and break 24 hours, my average pace will be something like 14.5 min/mile – quite slow – so real speed won’t be an issue.  However, I suspect that typical marathon speedwork like tempo runs or 800m repeats will still help, for example by keeping me farther from redlining when I’m hiking up a steep hill or helping with leg turnover when running the easier/smoother downhills.  I did fairly typical marathon speedwork into early April, in part to help with my B-level effort at the Boston Marathon in late April.  Since then, I’ve relied more on the long and short hill repeats but also included a couple faster workouts on the flats.

Strength – For the past couple years I’ve been going to exercise classes at a place called Kinetic 6 Fitness, often going with some or all of the rest of my family.  One way to describe it is High Intensity Interval Training with a PT-like focus on pre-hab, trying to get the body to move correctly and efficiently.  Initially I went 3 days a week, with one day devoted to legs, one to core, and one to upper body.  At some point, after more than the usual amount of aches and pains, I decided that legs day and my running volume didn’t work together, so I’ve mostly skipped legs day.  But usually I’ll do some strength work at home another couple days a week.  Between class and my own stuff, I’ve done a lot of deadlifts, single legged squats, kettlebell swings, planks, and so on.

Mobility/Rehab – In addition to the pure strength work, I also have done a bunch of “easier” exercises to help get my body moving correctly.  I’ve gotten most of these from PTs, to address injuries or dysfunction.  E.g. I had shin splints in one leg a year ago after Miwok, so I have a few things I do a couple times a week to keep those from coming back – walking on my heels, “drum kicks” where I sit with straight legs and flex my foot back against resistance from a theraband, etc..  I did something bad to my hamstring and/or glute last October, so a lot of this work involved trying to heal/strengthen that and get my glutes to activate more while running to offload the hamstring – fun things like side planks where I lower/raise my hip while simultaneously lowering and raising my top leg.  I had a gait analysis done at RealRehab a few months ago, and once I get done with this race I’ll focus more on fixing all the wonky things they found.  For now, I/we mostly focused on getting me to the start line relatively healthy in spite of the wonkiness.

Training Races – In addition to all the miles and hills I did on my own, I had a pretty intense 7 week period from mid-April to late May with big organized runs every week or two:  running my third-best marathon time at Boston, equaling my best 100k time at Miwok (about 13000 feet of climbing), running with Janet when she did her first 50M race at Sun Mountain, running 70 miles of the Western States course during organized training runs over the 3 day Memorial Day weekend, and finishing up with a small 7 hour race where I ran about 43 miles (and won – thus the “small” qualifier).  Adding it all up, it was something like 250 miles of “races” with about 40,000 feet of elevation gain, mostly done without taper while training.

Heat – On an average year, Western States temperatures will reach the 90s and probably higher in some of the canyons.  Currently the forecast is for mid-90s on race day – it doesn’t look like we’ll luck out with a cool day.  In a bad year it can be 10 degrees warmer.  In Seattle we don’t have many days above the 70s (although lucky for me, we’ve had some 80+ degrees days lately).  The best way to train for heat is to run in the temperatures you expect, but since I can’t do that well in Seattle, I’ve settled for running midday in the heat I have with a hat and dark long-sleeved shirt.   (Janet and I met/ran into Ian Sharman today – one of the top men – and he was power-hiking up the hill in a black sweatshirt, hat, and long black pants.)  I’ve also spent the past 3 weeks sauna training, spending up to 65 minutes in a 190 degree sauna about every other day.  That’s been surprisingly exhausting – my runs were all horrible during the second week and I think it was fatigue from the sauna.

Putting these things all together, my peak week at the beginning of June looked like:

Mon: am 15M, pm 10M + 80 minutes of strength/rehab + 35 minutes sauna

Tues: am 12M, pm 6M + 60 min strength/rehab

Wed: am 18M, pm 6M + 35 min strength/rehab + 40 minutes sauna

Thur: am 13M w 3x(1M at MP + 1min rest + .75M at HMP + 1min rest + .5M at 10kP + 3min rest), pm 9 + 90min strength/rehab

Fri: am 11M, pm 8M + 15 minutes strength/rehab + 40 minutes sauna

Sat: 22M + 30 minutes strength/rehab + 50 minutes sauna

Sun: 10M + 80 minutes strength/rehab

140 miles (most of the long runs had hills) plus a lot of time doing other stuff.  I wasn’t joking when I said that training for WS is about all I’ve done for the past 6 months.  I’m definitely trained, and hopefully my 3 week taper is enough to get me to the start feeling energetic.

Comparing my training to Pam Smith’s (not that I have a chance at winning), I seem to have checked most of the boxes.  She trained for altitude (with a tent) and  changed her approach to nutrition – I didn’t do those things since they’d impact my family and I’m just a midpack runner trying to have a good day.  Hopefully the training I did do will be sufficient – it’s unlikely I will ever train this hard again.  Maybe hard, but not crazy hard like the past six months.

I do want to thank Nancy, Bruk, Seth, and Kailey for helping me keep my body somewhat functional in recent months, and my family for tolerating this ridiculous obsession that’s nearly done.

Resting my legs, while I can.

Resting my legs, while I can.

Another run with wildflowers blooming.

Another run with wildflowers blooming.

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Good luck!!! You’ve put in a lot of hard work; I’m sure your efforts will pay off!

  2. Congratulations, Markl! I know you’ve very hard to be there…enjoy it all! Especially enjoy the scenery, flowers (pics are gorgeous) and mountains.

  3. “worked” (‘very hard’)

  4. Hey, Mark – Great blog. It’s impressive to read about your prep. I’m watching your arrival times and cheering you on…Go, man!

  5. Congrats on a great finish, Mark! I look forward to hearing your account of the run.

  6. Congrats on the race, Markl! Great job. We “watched” the web cast transfixed by your accomplishment, effort and performance. Very impressive and nice all your hard work paid off. So proud of you. What a HUGE victory and one you’ll never forget. Enjoy the “Belt Buckle” Award! 🙂


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