More
21.10.11

50 miles of RnR

I think I'm currently moving towards ultra-distance racing in a transition away from triathlon and more towards running again, and more specifically mountain running.

Last year's midnight Caesar's Camp Endurance Run and this year's Lakeland 50 may become pivotal races that spawned my love for ultra-running. Only time will tell.

Having now completed the toughest iron distance races on the planet and some unfinished Deca business but still finishing five iron distance triathlons in five days, I am keen to be able to compare an iron distance race with that of 100 mile ultra-run. Which is tougher?

Knowing that I was moving to California and with one eye on filling the 2012 race calendar, I found the Rock 'n' River 50. A qualifying race for the legendary Western States 100 (or at least finishing it under 11 hours would give me a 10:1 chance of getting a slot through the ballot). If I did get in to the Western States 100, it would fit well, coming six weeks after Ironman St George (an A race for 2012), but will probably compromise Vineman 70.3, which is two weeks after, but a B category race.

Providing I paid particular close attention to my recovery, the timing of the Rock 'n' River would coincide with the ITU World Triathlon Championships three weeks later (I'll let you know whether this was a good idea) and act as my last long run.
The race also happened to be on part of the Western States route so doubled up as a partial recce as well.

The race is an end-to-end course and like many similar ultras had a coach laid on early in the morning to transport runners to the start. As Rachael was supporting by driving to aid stations along the route, we decided the extra sleep would be more important so we booked a hotel in Auburn near the start.

We called in at packet pick up (timing chip, race number and goody bag) and pasta party on our way to the hotel. We had a couple of questions about the legalities of pacing and on course assistance, none of which we could get an answer to.
Those getting the bus were up at 3am, we got up at 5am.
A 10-minute drive to Auburn Dam Overlook Park and I was donning my race kit in the dark and walking to join the others at the start line. It was dark and cold at the start, so I had a long sleeve top and head torch.

Ready for the start
Ready for the start

There was a short race briefing, which said to follow pink ribbons that marked the course and we were off, 06:30.

My strategy for this, my second 50 miler, was to run the whole distance or as far as I could before adopting a run/walk strategy. The course is downhill and I was concerned how my quads would hold up. I had contemplated quad guards but was unable to sort this before the race.

I started out at a 6-7min/km pace and had the usual smile as most of the field charged past me with their over enthusiasm.

After about 2kms we began a steep road descent down to the river. It wasn't long after that I could hear shouting ahead followed by more and more people slowing to a group halt. We had gone the wrong way…already..!

Amused, I stood watching the carnage as runners went too and fro, up and down the hill searching for a pink ribbon. The majority of the field was lost. At times like these it is better to conserve energy (do not go charging up and down a very steep hill) and not to act on bizarre comments from those panicking around you, such as: "It cannot be this way", "It must be this way" or other non-constructive, non-factual, irrational utterances.

In the end, myself and a couple of others amused by the headless chickens, decided to retrace our steps by walking back up the hill. It worked, we found a ribbon (we whistled and shouted to say we had picked up the route) and after 17 minutes we were back on course and I was back to 6min/km pacing.

Soon after, the road wound down to the river and I decided to save my quads and held back as I witnessed a lot of runners opening their gait and hammering down the hill. Perhaps due to the earlier mis-direction and people getting fired up but again I was astounded as to how many runners were thrashing down the hill. So much so that an older runner commented to me, as we were both getting passed, that he expected some people to be suffering later on. I agreed.

We eventually joined the American River and ran alongside it and around Folsom Lake, which was the best part of the course for me.
At the first aid station, the sun was rising so I got rid of my head torch and long sleeve top (in hindsight I shouldn't have bothered wearing it).

I held back for the first two aid stations and then began to pick up the pace as I was enjoying the trail and fantastic scenery to my left. Unfortunately, picking up the pace meant I had to now go passed all those that had charged from the start line, those that charged after getting lost and those that charged down the descent. This was a lot of people and a lot of calling out, waiting, then passing. I wasn't consciously racing but testing whether I could run the whole thing, so to keep things positive my thoughts were that if I got held up by slower runners it was probably for the best and I would benefit from it later.

I always test kit as much as possible before using it in a race and for this race I was introducing The North Face Enduro 13 pack (two bottle carriers instead of a bladder, quicker to fill), Injinji Performance Mid-weight Toesocks (my toes beat each other up and my thoughts were if they were individually wrapped it might delay the damage), Saucony Peregrines (grippy and light, even with my orthotics). I wanted to trial this kit but if I were doing this race again because the aid stations are so close together I'd carry a single bottle (either handheld or around my waist).

There were a few inclines along the river route but nothing that caused me to walk (long training runs up Mt Diablo on the Summit Trail served me well). I was going well at around 6min/km or under so continued at this pace.

I walked aid stations eating half a PowerBar (20g of carbs), swapping a full for empty bottle of electrolyte (Heed) and then having two Gu Roctane gels (25g of carbs) per hour aiming to ingest about 70g of carbs per hour. I started this after sipping only water for the first hour. The aid stations were well stocked and managed. Towards the end of the race I was drinking cola and stuffing ice down my front and back to keep my core temperature down (the good thing about wearing the TNF Enduro 13 is that the chest straps held ice on my front and back whilst it melted).

I started to feel some cramping in my quads in the late teen miles so downed a Salstick Cap, which did the trick. The route now joined the American River Parkway for the last 19 miles, which meandered along the Jebediah Smith Memorial Trail, which was a tarmac bike trail all the way to the finish. You could run on the crushed granite to the side if you didn't want to run on the tarmac. Knowing the surface was going to change, I switched to a pair of Brooks Ravenna 2s, to enjoy a bit more cushioning.

Being on a bike trail, I had to constantly look around so that I could take the shortest route possible, which only incurred the wrath of one path-user and I had to apologise to a couple of other cyclists for causing them to slow down and use greater caution.
At this stage, there were very few runners around, little shade and the heat was relentless. The great thing about this part of the course is that you receive a lot of encouragement from other park users, which really helps.

The good news was that I was holding pace very well and apart from the odd sloshing feeling, in which I backed off the liquid a little, my stomach was holding up great.

When another runner did come in to view, I stuck to my pace and would eventually reel them in. each one a great boost in the latter stages. It's better to be overtaking than overtaken towards the end of a race.

When I stopped at aid stations, I didn't check the mileage and didn't ask for positions, times, etc. I had a rough idea from studying the maps but daren't look at my Garmin in case it said I had longer to go than I thought. It was only at the 42-mile aid station when someone said: "only eight miles to go", did I start to calculate possible finish times.

Running on the American River Parkway's granite edge
Running on the American River Parkway's granite edge

Knowing the wheels can come off at any time during endurance races, I was happy with what I'd achieved up to this point. If I could hold on to the end, then…bonus! I'm sure there had been a significant amount of sub-6min kms and I was continuing to run strong, so I continued with the nutrition strategy and plodded on in the baking heat.

During the last five miles I was yo-yoing with a couple of runners, gradually getting closer and overtaking them. I felt really strong. The volunteers at the last aid station pointed out the finish line but explained I had two miles still to go, an out and back of one mile and I was done.

On the way out along the final stretch, I saw the next runner in front of me. She was returning to the finish line and I concluded I didn't have time to catch her. We waved to each other as we passed. I rounded the final turn, one mile to go. During that last mile, I too saw a few of the runners behind me and we all saluted one another as we passed.

The finish was the usual low-key affair as a handful of volunteers and supporters clapped me in. I hugged Rachael, who'd been fantastic all day and headed for the river, where I stood up to the top of my thighs for the next 30 minutes. Total time of 8h 19mins, 6th overall and 1st in my age group.

The crowd filled finish chute
The crowd filled finish chute

There was a great spread at the end. I tucked in and chatted with other finishers as we waited for the drop bags to return. Great event.

Now this is who you should get a massage from...yikes!
Now this is who you should get a massage from...yikes!

11.10.11

ITU Long Course Recce

I recently spent a week in Vegas on a friend's stag/bachelor party. Knowing that I was returning a month later for the ITU Long Course World Championships and to get out in the fresh air (smoking is allowed in the casinos!), I took my bike so that I could recce the course.

There is a lot of information (some more useful than others) about the course and what to expect, here:

2011 ITU Long Course World Championship website

The 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championship was held on most of the course and useful info can be found here:

Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Lake Las Vegas

Also, YouTube has a collection of useful videos:

Ironman 70.3 World Championships YouTube clips

In addition to this I thought I would upload my own thoughts on the course having done a recce last week.

Swim:

This is a straightforward out and back course, entering from T1 and swimming under the Ravella Hotel arches to the start line. Keeping to the left of the bouys, it's about 1.8km to the first right turn, 225m to the final right turn, then return to the Novella, under the arches and exit on the left with a run around the bottom of the lake in to T1. Flat, non-tidal but could get some wind chop depending on the strength of the wind.

T1:

Not that much to say on top of doing your own walkthrough of entry to your bike station, exit, etc. Quite a sizeable, flat run into transition and a good flat section to get your feet in after the mount line.

Bike:

A small loop around Lake Las Vegas, a climb from the roundabout near T1 all the way up to Lake Mead Parkway. We turn right initially and it would be worth doing a recce of the layout of the tunnel that will take us under the road to avoid making a left hand turn back towards the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Watch out for sand and rocks if it rains
Watch out for sand and rocks if it rains

Underpass to get on to Lake Mead Parkway
Underpass to get on to Lake Mead Parkway

At about 10km you're at the highest point (about 2500ft) of the Lake Mead section, which is a thunderous descent for about 7kms.

Note: The whole lake section is very exposed and susceptible to gusting winds. When I recce'd I was into a head wind (and from the left) going along Lakeshore Road to the first turn point managing about 25km/h in some sections. Then after turn one, with the wind behind me, I was sat up and travelling at 70km/h+. Think Ironman Lanzarote and be prepared to change your kit on race day (make sure you can control that deep section front wheel!). Northshore Road is also exposed, helpful on the way out but after turn point two it was a grind in places.

Wind aside, the two sections around the lake are a time trialer's delight, rolling hills, nothing steep, fast smooth tarmac surface…enjoy. The main drag (which is steady) comes from the bottom of Northshore Road, right back on to East lake Mead Drive and back to Lake Mead Parkway.

Northshore Road descent, climb up to Lake Mead Parkway, Lake Las Vegas (left)
Northshore Road descent, climb up to Lake Mead Parkway, Lake Las Vegas (left)

Now for the interesting bit. We have to join the River Mountains Loop Trail (seriously worth recce-ing this section), something Alexander et al did not have to do during the 70.3 World Championships.

This is a very narrow eight-mile desert section taking us towards Henderson and T2. It has about three or four short sharp climbs early on, some fast descents with sharp corners worth noting, then mainly open and wind exposed long false flat sections. The field should be strung out by this time but bunches could form and passing will be interesting (pick your moments and be vocal, Brits remember that it is 'on your left' over here). Also, if it has rained or rains on race day, sand and stones do get washed on to the course.

These should give you an idea...

Sand on course, first short/steep ascent
Sand on course, first short/steep ascent

Sand on course, fast descent in to sharp left.
Sand on course, fast descent in to sharp left.

Tyre selection...some deep tarmac cracks in places
Tyre selection...some deep tarmac cracks in places

Second short/steep uphill section
Second short/steep uphill section

Fast decent, chicane then third short/steep uphill
Fast decent, chicane then third short/steep uphill

Third short/sharp uphill
Third short/sharp uphill

Steep descent with short/sharp hill
Steep descent with short/sharp hill

Fast descent with chicane, caution: sand on bend
Fast descent with chicane, caution: sand on bend

Very fast descent with sharp left
Very fast descent with sharp left

Pylon alley: Not my idea of a beautiful course
Pylon alley: Not my idea of a beautiful course

Long, long, long straight. If it's windy this will be very slow.
Long, long, long straight. If it's windy this will be very slow.

Take a right off the trail
Take a right off the trail

Trail exit
Trail exit

After the desert section, we join the main roads, which get more and more suburban as we get closer to T2 (the only part that will attract the public's attention).

The course goes along another trail for a short period, roll out the blue matting...

Let's hope they finish the course..! Left on to another trail before a railway crossing
Let's hope they finish the course..! Left on to another trail before a railway crossing

The final section is made up of flats, some gradual inclines/declines, with a notable fast descent at 109kms for about 3.5kms before steadily rising again to the bike finish with plenty of time to get your feet out and spin.

T2 is a 21km drive away from the start and T1, map. Nothing much to add other than to recce as usual.

T2, Henderson Pavilion
T2, Henderson Pavilion

Run:

The most notable thing about the run course is that there is very little flat. We will be running either up or down on about a 2% grade. There is little to no breeze and when I ran it in 36-degree heat, I found it very draining. Don't go out too fast, pace well as the incline and decline will add up over four laps. It doesn't look much at first but it will be interesting to see how it takes its toll on athletes.

First turn out of T2 area on to Paseo Verde Parkway (downhill)
First turn out of T2 area on to Paseo Verde Parkway (downhill)

Paseo Verde Parkway (downhill)
Paseo Verde Parkway (downhill)

Paseo Verde Parkway (downhill)
Paseo Verde Parkway (downhill)

First turn point...it's all uphill back to T2 and towards turn point 2
First turn point...it's all uphill back to T2 and towards turn point 2

Back up Paseo Verde Parkway
Back up Paseo Verde Parkway

Up Green Valley Parkway (as far as you can see and then some) towards turn point 2
Up Green Valley Parkway (as far as you can see and then some) towards turn point 2

Down Green Valley Parkway
Down Green Valley Parkway

Running around a new neighbourhood - it's not going to be the most memorable of run courses, but may attract some spectators other than those you brought with you.

Overall:

A spectacular desert course that will be especially striking to European competitors.

An unusual eight-mile narrow track that will make things interesting.

The weather will be a massive factor on race day (wind and heat) and you will need to choose kit wisely (difficult with excess baggage charges these days).

You will not need a compact on this course. I'm not a strong cyclist and recce'd the course in a large compact chain ring easily. So, 53/39/25 but stronger riders may want to go bigger.

Wheels: If there is high wind, deep dish rear only. No wind, deep dish wheels or disc rear.

Time trial setup, aero helmet, etc. All the wind cheating accessories you own, you will need it on this course.

Plan how you will get to and from T1, T2 and team hotels. Swap mobile numbers with someone staying at the team hotel or the team manager so you don't miss any notices going up on team noticeboards. I once turned up to race and the start time was put back an hour, I wasn't staying in the team hotel so no one told me..!!!

I'm looking forward to the event, have a great race. If you have any questions drop me a line.

Back to top