Monday, October 21, 2013

When the pain is worth it…..


Tussey MountainBack 50 mile race report.

I am sitting on a plane going back home to California from my former home state of Pennsylvania, my legs are totally trashed, I am sore from the neck down, but feeling smugly satisfied with the reward for my efforts over the weekend.

You see I qualified for the 5th year running for Western States 100. As a bonus, there was a 12 minute or so PR for 50 miles. YAY!


But wait, there is more….

Let’s go back in time. This year in general hasn’t been the best for running, and getting the WS qualifier was becoming elusive. Plan A was to run a sub 11 for 50 at Umstead in April. I did great until I fell apart at mile 42 – after which I just strolled it in.

Plan B was to finish 100 miles at the Tahoe Rim Trail. Nope, fell apart at mile 40 (again).

Pretty soon, August was about half way through, and I was running out of time, (the qualifying period ends in early November).

I was signed up for Dick Collins Firetrails 50, but anecdotal evidence from friends and reading previous results gave me the impression that this would be close to impossible for me to get in under 11 hours.

It came to a head sometime during the Run On The Sly 20 mile race on August 18th  – it was toward the end of that race that I decided that I needed help. I had already downgraded myself from the 50k to the 20, so was feeling bad about that, and then there was my minor melt down at about 15 miles or so into that run. I finished that run averaging a totally unspectacular 13:38 pace. Ugh. To get the WS qualifier, I would need to average 30 seconds per mile faster for 30 more miles. Impossible the way I was feeling at that point.

Ultimately, I decided to reach out to my friend Shannon (here is something I wrote about her several months ago) – she agreed to take me on and started putting a training plan together for me. She did however acknowledge that it was going to be a challenge to get ready for a sub 11 hour 50 mile run in just a couple of months. For my part, I promised that I would do everything in my power to complete the workouts that she prescribed, and in the manner that she prescribed.

Of the few WS qualifying runs that were practical that remained – we soon figured out that Tussey Mountain would be my best shot. Right time of year, a non technical running surface – and looking at the previous results, a huge percentage of runners came in under 11 hours.

Hills are my friend. Really.

Over the weeks – I mostly stayed off of the wonderful trails I have so close to me in favor of running the roads in my ‘hood. I really needed just about every mile to be better than 12 minute pace. There was simply no time to “build a base of long slow runs”. In my immediate vicinity, there are some nice hills – a couple of them, about 2 miles long. I became intimately familiar with them. Running hard down, power hiking up – eventually jogging up, and then finally running up them. The efforts were almost always medium to hard.

Test #1 a month or so into the training, was the Sierra Nevada Endurance runs, a Marathon that starts at No Hands Bridge in the Auburn State Recreation Area. The goal – under 13 minute pace. I struggled the last few miles – but had enough energy left in me to throw down a 10:30 mile at the end. I succeeded – 12:51. I was a little hard on myself, and slightly disappointed with my run, as I struggled to hold it between miles 16-22. But Shannon was happy.

The training continues, my legs were feeling the punishment – just a recovery ruin or two and then it was back to business. Pounding the hills of Camino, and reporting to Shannon daily.

The next weekend was a return to Hinson Lake for the 5th time– unlike previous years where I showed up and had no idea how my run was going to go – whether I was just going to run and have fun, or hang out with friends; no this year, I had been set specific goals. 35 continuous miles, sub 13 minute pace. 50 miles total over the whole 24 hours. I didn’t spend much time socializing for the first 7.5 hours. I had a mission, and ultimately succeeded, (barely), average pace was 12:58. Through the night, I did 10 easy miles, and then Sunday morning, did a hard 5 on tired legs at 11 minute pace. Both Shannon and I were happy.

My final test the following weekend was a pretty tough 21 mile trail race. Knowing the terrain on this course (there are two really steep climbs both over 1000’, one of them in less than a mile), I knew this would be tough to get in under 13 minute pace, but gave it a shot. 13:06 min/mile average. I was happy.

The last 3 weeks had been pretty high mileage, with some pretty hard efforts. Taper time. I was looking forward to tapering. My legs had felt almost continually heavy for the last 3 weeks.

Final test was one of my favorite trail runs near home. I had used this 7.1 mile loop as a guide to “monitor” my progress. I would go maximum effort and see where I was. Week 1 of my training – 12:14 pace. 2 weeks later, 11:36. And finally, the last week of training, 10:37 pace. There was no doubt Shannon’s medicine had worked.

Race day execution.

I am a geek, so using the amazing amount of data on the Tussey Mountain website, I came up with a plan, it involved spreadsheets, some calculations taking into account fade, and elevation gain and descent. My plan was to finish in 10:43. This would be a PR. I pinned my race day plan to my water bottle and ending up referring to it often.

An uneventful journey to PA and early Sunday morning, I found myself lining up at the start line, it looked like the weather was going to be perfect; cool and sunny. Other friends were there too, as well as Shannon, Alanna, Jessi, and Joey were also there ready to go.

The first 3 miles or so, pretty much all up hill felt good, the long hill training was showing benefit. I came in to the first aid station a couple of minutes under plan. Next was a long downhill section – again, the long hills paid off, I gained a couple more minutes against the plan. I was liking the course, the surface was great, and the hills so far weren’t bad

And so it went – some climbs, some descents, some flat. Follow the plan. I passed Joey at around 16 miles. He was also aiming for a WS qualifier. He was injured and nursing a bad hamstring – he was running smart and just aiming for sub 11. (He succeeded, 10:47)

The biggest climb was 3 miles long at mile 20. Again, I didn’t find it too bad, I power hiked most of it, jogged some of it, and still came in under plan for that section.

Half way, I was under still 12 minute pace average, and I was starting to believe that I was going to pull this off.

I passed Alanna about mile 28, she was struggling unfortunately with stomach issues. It was great to get some encouragement from a friend. (She finished very respectably also under 11 hours)

At 30 miles, the belief kicked in – I was 20 minutes ahead of my plan – this was significant in that I could do every mile one minute slower than plan and still make my qualifier with a PR.

35 – I was still on a 12 minute average pace. Now it became a case of just keep moving and I would make it. It would take a complete and utter disaster for me to fail. At this point, my legs were beat up, I was tired and sore, but happy with how the day was progressing.   I now made a conscious decision to start ‘withdrawing’ the time I had deposited in the ‘bank’. My mantra was “Relax Jimbo, you’ve got this, relax”. And I did. I took the foot off the gas and started visualizing the finish. Relax.

One climb left somewhere around 43 miles, sure I was slow going up it, but by this point I didn’t care, my mission was all but accomplished. Relax Jimbo, relax.

The last 4.2 miles are a gentle descent to the finish. This was fabulous because if time was tight, and if I had needed to, I would be able to haul ass down the hill to make sure I got the time I needed. But I didn’t need to. I just relaxed, jogged some and walked some to the finish. At one point, I thought I could go for it, and shoot for a sub 10:30 finish. But I just LOL’d  and said WTF? to myself, I didn’t care, I was going to get what I came for.

10:36 – a 12 minute PR and 7 minutes under “The Plan”


Tussey is an awesome race, really awesome. The  level of detail on their website is incredible and also extremely accurate (distances between aid stations etc.), and the course is amazingly well marked, every mile has a mile marker, which really inspires confidence (it would have been no fun to think I was at 48 miles and then realize that there were 4 miles left, especially when chasing a time – distance is no guarantee at some trail races.) The relay runners and their crews give tons of support – cow bells and “WooHoo’s” may seem cheesy, but it helps!

I had no interest in the scenery or the views, this race for me was all business. I was happy though that once I relaxed a bit, that I could take in the views and enjoy my surroundings. The leaves were at their peak for color and some of the mountain vistas were spectacular.

Post race, my legs totally seized up, it took everything I had just to move one step! I wanted to lie down, but knew I wouldn’t be able to get up without help, I wanted to sit, I wanted to cry, I wanted a beer, I wanted water, I wanted coffee, I wanted a cheeseburger; I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do.


I caught up with Shannon soon after I was done (who had finished several hours earlier – fast enough to win prize money; AWESOME!) It was then I got a little emotional. The last two months have been hard, really hard, and Shannon has been an amazing mentor along the whole journey, we hugged and I got a bit of a lump in my throat and a tear or two in my eye. I DID IT! I DID IT! I DID IT! YEAH!!! I know it was me who put in the miles and the effort, but I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have got there without her plan, guidance and motivation. Thank you! Thank you! What an amazing journey it has been!

So, now my name goes into the lottery for Western States 100 – My name will be on 5 separate lottery tickets, one for each year I have qualified and not been successful in getting in to the race. Maybe this year will be the year.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jimbo, I was following along on Joey's race and hoping you were accomplishing your goal too. After you got to experience the race this year out there and share in my finish I really hope that you and Joey get in. Great Job on putting in the work to achieve this. Western States was an Incredible Experience and Kudos to Shannon in helping you:D) Cheers!!!JA