The SOB 50k in Ashland, OR marked my first attempt at the 50k distance and the longest I’ve ever run! Maybe a little daunting for a former collegiate middle distance runner, but a life-long love of trails, getting lost in the woods and running long distances coupled with an awesome coach (Stephanie Howe!) made this goal possible. Steph’s been my coach for about 10 months now and having one of my best friends and grad school buddies as a coach has been a blast! Geeking out on the latest nutrition and exercise science studies with your coach is one of the best things around J
I’ve got to give credit to my former running shop co-worker, Kim Rapp, for first putting the idea in my head and inspiring me to run ultras back in my freshman year of college when she ran the Vermont 100. Hearing her training and race stories and seeing her commitment and dedication to a goal sparked something in my mind and I knew one day I wanted to do one (or more than one…) I’ve never lost sight of that goal, and fast-forward about 9 years and I find myself on the Vertebrata Ultra Running Team lining up for my first ultra with 3 other teammates! Given my last race experience was the 2013 Boston Marathon, my main goal for this race was to leave with a positive race experience and still loving running. Any time or place goals were secondary (but put me in a race and slap a number on me and my competitive streak always comes out!)
Ok, now to the race! Considering this would be the longest distance I’d ever run and a history of going out too fast in races, my race plan was to take it out easy, run by feel, power-hike the uphills if necessary, nail my nutrition, and conserve until about 25 miles, at which point if I was feeling good I would allow myself to get competitive and start racing. And most importantly RUN MY OWN RACE! In the hustle and bustle of trying to get ready for the start, I forgot my Garmin watch in my bag back at the campsite and only had my normal watch. In hindsight, this might have been one of the best things that could have happened because it forced me to simply pay attention to how I was feeling and not rely on or get caught up in how far I had gone or what pace I was going. My mantra for the first half of the race was an old one from a former college teammate: “Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’, all cool!” Repeating this over and over helped me keep my pace in check early on, especially on some of the longer climbs. I only had a general idea of how far I had gone based on the aid stations but was pleasantly surprised when I asked at one of the aid stations what mile it was and greeted with “Mile 16.4, more than halfway- you’re rockin’ it!” I thought I had another aid station and at least 4-5 miles before halfway...sweet!
I ended up running most of the race by myself, going back and forth with a few guys, which allowed me to run my own race and keep my intensity in check early on. I had promised myself before the race that if I saw a woman ahead where the course starts going downhill for the last 5 miles to the finish that I’d chase her down. Sure enough, I come out where the course opens up and can see a woman about ¾ of a mile ahead. Damn. Now I’ve got to make it hurt! Luckily the decision is already made. I let my stride open up and started cruising on the downhill, quickly gaining on her and passing a bunch of guys. But not knowing exactly how long was left until the finish I didn’t want to make the pass too early so I hung back and relied on the confidence that even though I’m now running longer distances, all my middle distance miler-speed hasn’t completely disappeared! Finally I made the pass with about a half-mile to go and kicked it into the finish. I crossed the line and the first words out of my mouth to the race volunteer were “That was so much FUN!”…which, she informed me, I was the first person to say that right after the race. But honestly, the whole race was SO MUCH FUN! I ended up running 5:09:01 and placing 6th overall for women. While I would have loved to be under 5 hours for my first stab at a 50k, considering this one was at a bit of altitude mixed with a tad bit of heat, I’m pretty stoked for the next!
Looking back, my nutrition was great…I started taking gels every 20 minutes with the goal of getting around 300 kcal per hour, with S-Caps as needed (about 2 every hour). I was able to get enough fluid in, which has taken a lot of getting used to, but crucial for someone like me who loses a lot of water over the course of a long run. Normally, a track runner wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a water bottle on a long run. I’ve gotten over that by realizing how much better I feel when I actually hydrate and eat during a run! Amazing concept. It was only after about 3.5 hrs that the mere thought of taking another gel made me want to puke. It took a lot of talking to myself (yes, out loud) and literally coming up with a song to get myself to eat another gel but I kept up with it no matter what, which did result in getting my first ultra puke out of the way! Glad I can cross that one off the list.
Honestly, I can’t think of any point in the race where I had a rough patch…besides the aforementioned puking, and maybe after the race when I was on the ground trying to take my shoes off but couldn’t because my hip flexors kept cramping and had to ask a random passing stranger to help me. Details… Anyway, I was able to be mentally and physically strong and keep it together thanks to some mantras and a variety of choice song lyrics stuck in my head (Thrift Shop, anyone? ;) I stuck with my race plan, was confident, believed in my training and preparation (thanks to an AMAZING coach!!!) and generally felt great! Gotta give credit to a great coach for helping me through training, racing and everything in between. Of course there were times where it was tough, but I’d either start singing (good thing I was by myself most of the time!) or simply look around and enjoy the views…how can it not get you out of a funk and make you happy when you’re in the beautiful mountains on some sweet trails?! Smiling’s my favorite J
What’s next? Well, I’ve still gotta figure that one out but it’ll for sure be something on trails! I’m itching to do my next 50k…have I been bitten by the ultra bug? Yup J
In July, I was lucky enough to pace a friend at Hardrock in Silverton, Colorado. I crewed a runner in 2012 and had a blast. I ran sections of the course while I was there and really got hooked. Truly, Hardrock is a one of a kind event. There is a family of runners there who are an amazing bunch of outdoor enthusiasts. They are the real deal when it comes to trail running. No gear geeks or obnoxious egos. Just real folks who can climb the hell out of the San Juans, and love doing it.
I started training with Stephanie this spring. She is a wonderful coach who I have yet to meet! I live in Memphis and she, of course, is in Oregon. I found her on the web and decided to give her a try. After much collaboration, she designed a training program for me and we’ve been texting, emailing, and talking by phone since then. I get to meet the famous Stephanie in September when I run Flagline 50K in her hometown of Bend.
Stephanie, my runner, and I decided that I would pace the last 26 miles of the race. My runner, Claire, had completed numerous 100 milers but this was her first HR. The course is well known for being uber technical with elevations that make almost anyone nauseous. Hence, Claire and I were clear that our goal was to get her to the finish under the 48 hr limit, nothing more.
Stephanie prepared me well. She emphasized speed work and time on my feet. I climbed hills over and over. I had to go on a scavenger hunt to find hills in Memphis. There are none. I gave up and settled for regular trips to the Ozarks in Arkansas. I also went 2 weeks early to Colorado so I could climb/run on the course itself. Stephanie also emphasized nutrition and how to “run on feel” rather than by my watch. That proved to be a key concept for HR. Knowing when to push, knowing when to conserve, knowing when and what to eat/drink---all of this cannot be done without an intuition about one’s body and how to read the cues. Thanks to Stephanie, I was able to take care of myself so I could spend the majority of my time focused on getting Claire to the finish.
I joined Claire at Telluride, which is about 70 miles into the race. She was running nearly 2 hrs late because of terrible weather on the top of Handies Peak the night before. We left the aid station at 2 pm and headed out. Beautiful weather was forecast for that day and night. We were relieved because it was going to be a push to get to the finish by the nextmorning. In fact, some of my friends who are “veteran HRs” said that we’d really need to stay focused if we wanted to finish under the limit. Claire is no slow bunny so that tells you how tough the course can be, especially given changes in weather, course conditions, and potential injuries.
I won’t bore anyone with a “blow by blow” but rather just say that the course served up all it could and more! Beautiful scenery, roaming elk, sunshine as we descended into valleys and a clear night sky as we climbed the last peak. I got my fill of scree and rocks. I actually loved running on the rock, but climbing a wall of scree on Grant’s Swamp Pass was crazy hard. There is really no trail up that wall of rock….and as I was so wisely told, you can forget climbing it quickly. Just step and slide, step and slide, and step and slide. We did it in the dark so it was pretty intimidating. But, we got to the top and the run down the backside felt awesome.
At no time did Claire lose her cool or focus. I kept up with our pace and our eating/drinking schedule. Stephanie taught me the “dos and don’ts” of pacing so I kept positive, on task, and motivating. Claire was mentally drained during the last 10 miles or so which meant I had to watch her carefully. I stayed ahead of her most of the time as I was not so sleep deprived. We didn’t need to lose time by getting lost. I quickly learned how to find those reflective HR markers in the dark. It’s like an Easter egg hunt. I have such gratitude for the volunteers who placed each one.
I learned quite a bit about my body and my mind during the hours I was on the course. I learned that exhaustion and altitude equal nausea, for me at least. I learned that I can eat real food at the beginning of the race but it is only gel, water, and salt tabs for the majority of the time. I learned that the strength of my core is essential---something I need to continue developing. I learned that feelings come and go on the trail but determination must persist. Most importantly, I learned the importance of humility. There is no room for hubris. I came away respecting the San Juan Mts, Mother Nature, and the HR runners who come back year after year.
Thanks to Stephanie, I was ready to pace Claire and we finished just 19 seconds from the cut off. As we crossed the last creek, some friends were at the other side shouting, “You can do it! Drop your packs and sprint! “ I looked at Claire and asked “Do you want to try?” and she said “Why not!” So…. we dropped everything and literally ran a 5K into the finish. It is a HR tradition for the early finishers to congregate at the finish and see the caboose. Well, it was Claire. I rounded the corner to the finish and nearly dropped my teeth. Folks cheered as Claire kissed the rock with only 19 seconds to spare. We had a blast. I’ll be back for sure. Thanks Stephanie for your guidance. Let’s get me ready to run HR one day! Ok?
BigHorn Trail Run Race Report - Zach Violett
My first 100 miler was a great success! I had a goal of finishing and being sub 24. I finished in 20:16 and in 4th place. I never had a rough spot and did an excellent job following my pacing and nutrition plans. I walked every hill over 2-3% and ate a GU every 20 min. Steph paced me for the second half and gave me a lot of encouragement and helped me throughout he cold and pain.
I'm very proud and happy with my result. I'm already considering the next one…!
Extra Long Winded Version:
"Keep going, you can hold this pace. Just a little further." Says Steph, my pacer (who happens to also be my girlfriend and coach).
I look down at my Garmin and it's 7am, we are holding 8:32min/mile pace and it's mile 97 in the run. How did I get myself into this one..?
This all started sometime last year. I got the itch to do my first 100 miler. I figured Western States would be a great one. I'd put in for the lottery and if I had a good one maybe I could race my way in.
During a training run I mentioned this plan to Jeff Browning. He said Western States is great and all, but that's a lot of pressure for my first 100 mile. Maybe I should consider a different race for my first. He suggested the BigHorn in Wyoming. The way Jeff was raving about the race I figured he got a cut of my entry fee if he recommended me. I left saying "sure, that can be my back-up if I don't get into Western States"
An unsuccessful lottery and a few races later, I realized that getting into Western States is really difficult. I wan't even close to racing in. Time to re-evaluate. What was that race Jeff mentioned? I did a little research and it looked pretty incredible. Big mountains, all single track, BBQ & party after plus is one two weeks before WS100. The prices were still at the lowest rate, so I signed up. Heck there was still Leona Divide to try to race into WS100. My training would be the same either way.
Leona Divide went well, but I was still far from racing in. Time to accept Plan B. Let's do this BigHorn thing. I'd been sticking to a decent training plan. I was doing short (1hr) runs before work on weekdays, then long runs (3-5hr) on weekends. I was feeling in good shape, but kept traveling for work and would miss big blocks of training. June rolled around and I wasn't sure if I was in great shape or not doing nearly enough. Time to find out.
Steph and I took off on a Monday after work to start the long drive. We decided to break it up over 3 days and try to enjoy the drive. We pushed to Boise the first night and got a hotel. Tuesday we rolled into Yellowstone National Park in the early afternoon. I had never been there and was quite excited to explore. Tons of wildlife and beautiful scenery greeted us. Saw animals, saw geysers & sulfur pits, did a nice hour jog and got back on our way. That night we camped a few miles outside of the Park and slept listening to the river the whole night. Wednesday was a short easy drive to Bighorn State Park. Sheridan was just a short distance away over the mountains. We then drove up and up and up and I started thinking "Do we go this high in the race?" WE reached the summit at 9,500ft and I was starting to get nervous. That was a 5000ft climb and the other side looked the same. Wow!
We enjoyed a little time in Sheridan, went for a short jog on the race course to check trail conditions, did race check-in got ready for the big show.
Race morning rolled around with a nice relaxed 7:30 wake up. Made 2 eggs with chicken and Veggies plus ate the rest of the pasta leftovers for breakfast. 9am was the race briefing in Dayton. Pretty relaxed with the typical warnings. Watch out for bears, snakes, poison ivy, and other critters. Be ready for the cold, the heat, the dark, the sun and everything in between.
I firmed up my nutrition plans and made sure I had enough with me. My plan was a GU and a salt tab every 20min from the start. Normally in 50milers I do every 30min, but with this length I wanted to stay on top of it. I'd also try to eat and aid-stations.
11am we do the national anthem and next thing you know the race director is yelling "GO!" Off we go. A few start off like a 10km 'ok that is interesting' is all i think. I drift back to 20-25th place. There I find a Jason Leman from Portland. He is smiling already and seems to be quite excited. We talked for a bit and he helped calm my nerves saying that the guys up front will slow down or blow up. Don't stress it. After a few miles of flats, we hit the first climb. 6.3 miles averaging 9% with 3000ft of climbing. Time to do some walking. I caught Jason and we spent the rest of the hill walking together and on-off chatting. It was great to get to know him better and it kept me from the foolish mistake of charging through the field. However, I have to admit it was hard to go slow. I could see guys ahead running the uphill. I just had to keep reminding myself that it was really early and there was no way I or them could maintain that speed.
We reached the mile 6 summit together and had not put ourselves under at all. We were right around top 20 and feeling good. We kept a nice pace for the next 6 miles until the Dry Fork aid-station. By that time we had worked up to 16th place and were still relaxed. I saw Steph for the first time and she seemed really happy for me. Said I was being smart and to keep it up. Grabbed more GU & water and off we went again.
I ended up running with Jason for most of the first 25miles. He shared some 100 mile knowledge and we got to know each other. I'm looking forward to spending some time on the trails later in the year once we are both recovered. Around mile 25 Jason's stomach started acting up and he needed to pull over. I went on solo over the next 5 miles passing a few people and going cautiously down into Footbridge Aid-station at mile 30.
Footbridge is the start of a 14mile and 4,400 foot climb. I filled up my pack with GU, water and grabbed my jacket, shirt and headlamp. I know it was gong to be a slog and wanted to be prepared. I left the aid station just as Jason got there smiling so I knew he was still doing well and would be right behind me. I figured we'd see each other somewhere. I started the mix of hiking and jogging the flats. Next thing I knew I had passed somebody and was at the next aid-station. I didn't need anything so blew through and passed somebody there as well. I was starting to wonder what place I was in. Had I worked into the top 10? I was feeling great and kept at the hill walking everything over 2-3% grade.
I was slowly working through the field and by Elk Camp aid-station caught my friend Gary Gellin. He was having a rough patch but was in good spirits. He gave me a ton of encouragement and kept telling me how awesome I was doing. I didn't realize it but I had just got into the the top 5. I was feeling good and Gary gave me that little extra motivation to keep trucking.
At the turnaround point I got to see Steph again. She seemed almost surprised that I was the the turnaround so early. Had I gone out too hard? I hope not, I still felt amazing so I wasn't worried yet. I filled my pack again and got ready for 14miles of downhill. Steph looked ready to go and she jumped in as my pacer. Steph was coming off an injury so the plan was for her to bail if her leg started hurting or if it was too big of an effort. Other than that she would keep me company through the night as long as she could. We took off knowing that it would get dark really soon. We started catching up on what had happened so far in the race and Steph was checking me over to make sure that I was being smart and doing a sustainable pace. She was excited to hear that I felt great and was really thinking I could hold top 5. Somehow in that excitement she forgot how to run and while we crossed a meadow she tripped and fell. She did a nice roll and got up laughing. 50 miles and no falls for me, half mile for her and she fell.
We reached mile 50 at 9:45 of racing. That was a bit faster than I planned but I was happy with it. Right about then the decent began. We let the legs run knowing that it would be dark in 30min. Any gains now would be way faster than in the dark. We passed another person and I was working hard to hold back my excitement. We were in 4th and going strong. We covered a few miles and a bit after Elk-Camp needed to turn on the headlamps and slow down a bit. It was getting quite dark and despite my 200 lumen headlamp, I wanted to relax and be smart by keeping our feet under us.
2 miles from the bottom I hear this "zoom Zooom ZOOOOM". I look back and see an extra headlamp. Its Gary and he is moving twice our speed. He is all smiles and we let him by. He is back feeling good and looked untouchable. Wow, I don't think I could run that fast on that technical terrain in the light, much less via headlamp. Good for him.
Back at Footbridge we stocked up on another 12 GU's, lots of water and we get ready for the next big climb. This one is very steep and I knew it would play into my abilities. All those years of ski racing still allow me to power hike without putting in much effort. Steph and I started off knowing that this is when the race would start to get hard. 5 miles of 8% climbing going up over 2,000 ft in vertical, with more rolling up after that. I got into my 'fast walk' and tried to enjoy the dark. This is when Steph really started to help me out. She was giving me encouragement saying how good I was doing for mile 70+. She also kept saying that I was walking too fast and she had to jog too keep up. Not sure if it was true, but it was a major ego boost. We caught Gary a mile or two later and got to give a quick 'Hi' to Nikki (who was pacing Gary) before passing. On and up we walked. When it flattened out I jogged. Next thing I know something was hurting in my right ankle when I jogged. I had slightly rolled it on the downhill, but it was pretty minor. Now it was really starting to hurt.
Oh well, walking felt fine so I ignored it. Then each flat was getting worse, and the downhills even worse. Not good! We got up to "Bacon" (Yes, they had bacon) Aid-Station and all of a sudden we were out of the trees. The temperature dropped significantly and the wind picked up. We were now at 7,000ft elevation and it was cold and exposed. We both had on every piece of clothing we had with us. All we could do was push to the next aid station and hope they had a tent and a way to warm up.
After a mile or so we could see the lights from the dry-fork aid-station. I was freezing cold and my ankle was really starting to be a problem. At this point Steph tripped over a rock and landed on a bunch of other rocks. This was not a funny laugh it off fall. She was already having a very hard time with the cold and that put her over the edge. I realized this was going to be a very difficult final 20 miles! 3 miles later we finally got to the aid station (Yes, that light was visible the whole time). They had a tent and a space heater. Steph and I both ran to it and started trying to get feeling in our hands and feet while drinking warm soup. I then realized just how cold we were. We spent almost 15min in that aid station until we felt ok to head back out in the cold again. By that point my ankle was really stiff.
That next climb was hell. The wind was whipping, we instantly lost all of the warmth we had gained. We were back to slogging up a mountain trying not to freeze. I looked back and luckily couldn't see any headlamps. I had no idea how close the next person was, but with a 15min break I knew that I could be passed if not careful. We got over the summit and everything got better. The wind was now on our backs, the light was beginning to shine on the east side of the mountains and it was almost all down and flat to the finish.
A few good miles of running & hiking later we turned off our headlamps and found ourselves in the saddle with a view of the finish. 12 miles to go and "all downhill from here". The problem was that my ankle was doomed. It was hurting every step and the downhills were the worst. That next 4 miles of steep decent were hell. Each step made me whimper in pain. It took everything I had just to get to the bottom and I was surprised nobody caught us on the downhill. I was really afraid that we were going to be passed. The good news was that everything else was going well. I still had energy and was in good spirits. We hit a gradual climb and I got up on my toes to run and the pain went away. I could be pain free if I can actually run in. The next 3 miles I stayed up high on my toes and we were flying. I was stoked to be feeling good and pain free. We were also running, not jogging!
We hit the road for the final 5.25miles and my left calf was giving warnings of cramping. I went down to a jog and my ankle screamed at me. How could I run in without doing serious damage to my ankle and not cramping my muscles?
At that point Steph started to crack the whip. She got us up to speed knowing that I didn't hurt as much if I was running. I look down and we are doing 8:02/mi. Ok babe, no way we can hold that, lets slow down. She does, but barely. She says it is all mental and we are not getting passed. She starts giving me encouragement and we seem to be holding 8:30-8:45/mi. I'm hurting but I think this is possible. Mile by mile we work our way towards the finish. Each mile is under 9:00/mi pace and we are getting so close. We finally get to the edge of town and I start looking over my shoulder. Nobody in sight! Ok, now can we relax? Nope,keep it up and finish strong.
We ran together all the way into the finish with a time of 20 hours, 16 minutes and 41 seconds. We held our 4th place and had a very strong finish! I gave Steph a big hug and a kiss and thanked her for the support. Then I looked around and realized that there was almost nobody around. Two timers, a few volunteers and Matt Hart sitting in a chair looking as dead as I felt. He points at the chair next to him and I finally sit down for the first time. It felt sooooo good. We started chatting and I found out the first two guys already left and that we were only 7 min behind him (at dry fork they told us 27min). I also realized that it was 7am and I was really tired.
I wanted to wait around for Jason and Gary to finish but I was not doing well and Steph advised me that we should head back to the hotel and get some rest. I tried to get out of that chair to walk to the car and almost fell over. Yep, time to go!
The rest of that day was hell. I was so sore and hurting that I couldn't sleep. I was so tired that I couldn't stay awake. The whole day was napping, eating (but wasn't hungry) and trying to take care of my body. Every move in bed would hurt my ankle and staying still would make my muscles cramp up. Not a fun day.
The next day was completely different. The swelling in my ankle went down, I could walk (with only a slight limp) and I finally felt a little hungry. That was good because it was going to be a busy day. Needed to pack up, go to awards at 8:30am then start the drive back to Oregon!
Awards were done in a cool way. They take over a block downtown and set up tables for a pancake breakfast by the local Kiwanis club. The Awards are relaxed and fun with door prizes for most racers that attend. I got to catch up with Jason, Gary and Dave Town (from Bend) to hear their experiences and of course got to meet some new people. I got my swag and we hit the road. We made good time and got back to Bend by Monday afternoon. Wow, what a whirlwind trip!
Overall a great experience that I'd recommend to anybody. Amazing trails, great organization, and a very fun experience. It is a darn hard first hundred miler, but I can't imagine a better one to do as my first.
Zach & Jason post race