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4 Refugios Race – Bariloche, Argentina – March 1st 2015

By: Amy Sproston

Perhaps there are races in the US like 4Refugios Nonstop (The Rut and Speedgoat 50K are probably most similar, but both are 6 miles longer with slightly less vertical), but I’ve certainly never done them. 4Refugios made every “technical” trail race I’ve ever done seem tame in comparison. The race is advertised as 42 Km (26 miles) with 3500 meters of elevation gain (11,500 feet) and 3700 meters of descent (12,100 feet). When you factor in that the first 3 and last 3 miles are relatively mild and don’t go up or down that much, it leaves most of that ascent and descent crammed within the middle 20 miles, which makes the average 15% uphill grade and 18% downhill grade even steeper. If you like to bomb wildly down steep insanely technical descents, or scramble up slippery talus slopes at 60% grade then this is the course for you. Add it to your bucket list. Or, if you’d like to be surrounded by grandeur so amazing that it makes you forget that you don’t like really steep insanely technical slopes, then this might also be the course for you. 4Refugios is tough, but so beautiful you won’t regret that face plant down the steep scree field. And, you’ll be wearing a helmet, so at least you won’t damage your head if you do fall.

4Refugios is challenging not just because of the grade, but the technical nature of the trail, many parts of which are hard to distinguish as a true trail, but rather an exercise in heading in the direction of red painted dots which blaze the way over talus-covered passes. An indication of how poorly I followed this “trail” would be that my Garmin registered 29 miles for the 26 mile course. The shortest point between 2 red dots is indeed a straight line, but this was for me, easier said than done. I also spent some time off course on top of La Navidad, which probably added on a mile, and I potentially took a slightly longer route to the finish, as I passed the same person twice during the final 4 miles, flying by each time, the second time 20 minutes after I passed her the first time. So, my mileage totals were potentially wonky for more reasons than my inability to hit the tangents.

2015 was the 10th year of 4 Refugios, but only the 2nd year of the version of the race that I was entered in, 4 Refugios Nonstop. 3 races happen during the weekend, 2 Refugios on Saturday, 4 Refugios Classico on Saturday and Sunday (2 Refugios each day), and then the 4 Refugios Nonstop on Sunday. A refugio is basically a mountain hut that provides lodging and meals to backpackers/climbers/skiers. The race passes by 4 scenic mountain huts, which double as aid stations. The event is capped at around 600 runners in the 3 events, somewhat equally distributed among the 3 races. Unique to this race is the requirement to wear a helmet the entire race and carry a harness and 2 locking carabiners to clip onto a fixed line during one of the 2 “tiempo muertos”. The required gear includes an additional long list of items including a somewhat extensive medical kit and enough layers to keep you warm were you to get stranded/injured along the way, or survive in the case of inclement weather. The “tiempo muertos” or dead times are designed such that during zones that are particularly tricky/dangerous were you to try to race through them, you’ve got sufficient time to pass carefully before “racing” on. There’s one 30 minute dead time on the climb up out of the 2nd refugio (Jakob) where you’re required to clip onto a fixed line and it’s a one-at-a-time deal. Another 40 minute dead time starts the final descent, to encourage folks to not kill themselves getting down to the last refugio (Lopez) where there’s someone in charge of telling you when your 40 minutes is up and you can start running again (based on the time that was sharpied onto your race bib at the pass above).

A short summary of my race: I was with the women that finished 1-3 (all previous winners of various versions of past editions of the race) on top of La Navidad (on the elevation profile, it’s what looks like the middle high point), where we got somewhat lost, and struggled for 10 minutes or so to find where the trail descended off the side. It was clouded in up top, and getting cold, so I stopped to take a jacket out of my pack right about the time the group (including several guys) found the trail, and everyone took off down the side of a very steep slope. By the time I got my pack back on, they were already disappearing into the distance, and I stood there momentarily jaw dropped watching them fly down the very technical descent. This descent was my low point in the race, as I couldn’t stay on trail, and struggled to try to run over terrain I wasn’t comfortable moving fast on. Losing the group so quickly left me deflated. The trail eventually became one with a river that descended down the valley and at times was the river, and at other times skirted along the sides. At one point I came to a waterfall, which seemed unlikely to be the trail, but not impossible based on the trail to this point. About halfway down the waterfall I came to a point where I would have had to have made a bit of a jump so stopped to reassess the situation. I could jump down the falls, and perhaps pummel myself on the rocks below (wasn’t that far, but would have hurt), or turn around and climb back up and go back to find the trail. As I sat there, I looked up above and could see the trail off to the side of the river on the opposite side, so realized I needed to back track. It was during this descent that I really lost any competitive drive I’d had, and also realized I just didn’t have the technical skills and/or confidence to try to keep up with the women in front who were able to push the pace over terrain that I would prefer to butt-scoot across.

Visualization can be a strong tool, those in the sports psychology world say, but when I visualize myself running down a steep rocky slope, it’s never a pretty picture. It starts out OK, but then I always catch my toe and skid to a halt on my face. Lucky for me, I only had one real fall, which cut up my hand a bit and the side of my thigh. My lack of confidence perhaps slowed me on the descents, but looking back, spending extra time on the course was not all bad, as it was unforgettably gorgeous from the minute the sun came up. I don’t regret stopping to snap a few photos, and only wish I’d captured a few more at the hard-to-describe places. But being hard to describe, they were also tricky, and I was more focused on surviving them.

Going in, I knew that the race would not play to my strengths–more runnable courses are my strength, but despite that, courses like 4Refugios are more intriguing to me, and by continuing to run technical mountain races I hope to continue to improve at them. The race distance was also fairly short. Time-wise, no–I’ve finished 100Ks faster than I “ran” these 42K, but upon finishing I felt I hadn’t paced myself properly as I could have kept going for another few hours, held back more by crappy technique than fitness. Not the feeling you want to have at the end of a race. I wound up 4th in 9:47, a long ways off of the top 3 who came in fairly close together with Claudia Veronica Ramirez winning in 9:08, Sonia Boretsky in 9:11, and Lau Lucero in 9:22. Claudia won last year’s Clasico version, Sonia has won the Clasico 4 times in the past, and Lau won last year’s Nonstop in 9:40, which, without any other reference, was roughly the time I was shooting for, although I also hoped to be competitive. This is a race that I’d love to do again, not necessarily because I feel like I’d be any faster, but just that it was such a cool experience. The 3 local talents definitely showed the visitor who is top on these trails. I’d love to learn some descending tips from these ladies; they were fun to watch bomb downhill.

At times, such as the descent off of La Navidad, I got frustrated with how timidly I was approaching the race, but then would look up at the beauty around me, and acknowledge just how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities that I’ve had, and the good health to participate in events like these. Out there on course, it was easy to put myself back in a happy place by simply looking at the immense beauty surrounding me. So many highlights, including the reflection on the lake by Refugio Frey, the turquoise mountain lakes looking down from the first Tiempo Muerto, the views both arriving in and leaving Laguna Negra, the complete shock at looking up at Lopez and realizing we literally were going straight up that thing, and then the relief of coming down the other side in a tiempo muerto, and mainly on my butt.

One lesson learned if I were to do this again (and for UTMB later this year), would be to pack more carefully–I felt like I was carrying a ton of bricks, and others seemed to have better thought out the gear requirements and were carrying packs half my size. When you are doing that much climbing, a heavy load feels like a really heavy load. I was happy to finish with minimal damage: no blisters, no hot spots, all my toenails, my quads intact, and all fingers unbroken.

Bariloche was a place I visited back in 2003, and it left a lasting impression back then. During the course of the week, I’d get to a place and have one of those deja vu moments, and realize I’d been there before, like Refugio Frey. In returning to them again 12 years later I couldn’t help but reflect about who I was then versus who I am now and the adventures I’ve had in between. Kind of like the experience of the entire 4Refugios course—you finish not quite the same person at the end as the one who began it, but overall better for the experience.

4 Refugios was a memorable race experience, and I feel very fortunate and thankful to my sponsors, for allowing me the opportunity to travel down to Bariloche to participate. Many thanks to Mountain Hardwear Argentina for extending the invitation and for providing great support while I was down there. Petzl was also a huge help in providing me with a helmet, harness and new Nao light for the race–if I were to ever choose to run in a helmet again, the Petzl Sirocco is the one I would choose as it’s light as a feather. In the meantime, having some basic gear (helmet and super lightweight harness) and living next to Smith Rock has motivated me to climb again after a 20 year break. I’m heading out for my second time next weekend. Also, the organization that puts the race on, led by Martin “Cepi” Raffo, with a lot of assistance by Club Andino Bariloche, is top notch. Admittedly, some of the volunteer posts were downright dreamy (albeit a bit cold, windy, and exposed), as you’d run into volunteers standing in the middle of the most spectacular vistas. Many thanks to Cepi and all of the volunteers. 4Refugios is truly a unique event for its difficulty, design, and above all, for its beauty. If you have a bucket list, the desire and means to experience the beauty of Patagonia, and you like technical mountain trail scrambling, then 4Refugios should be on that list!

Words don’t really do the course justice, so some photos to fill in the gaps. Luckily I had the chance to be down there for an entire week, so many of these pictures from the course (or near the course) were from the days prior leading up to the race.

 

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Western States and All That History

The best way I can describe Western States 100 for me is a whole new level of hurt. This photo says it all:

A whole lotta hurt!

It, of course, was much more than that. I’ve only had a few race experiences when crossing the finish line comes an overflow of emotion rather than just trying to catch your breath. WS100 was one of those where coming through the finish line was a good mix of crying and laughing, happy to be done and in awe of what I’d just done. Not the fact that I’d been able to run the course in what I would consider a fast time but more that I’d just freakin run a hundred miles. Because, lets face it, that’s the accomplishment that we were all striving for. Your first goal is to just finish the darn thing, think about running it fast later. That’s a long way by the way, a hundred miles. The longest I’d ever run by about 38 miles.

Squaw Valley to Auburn photo: irunfar

This was more than just another race for me, of course any hundred miler should be for anyone, but a short list of reasons this was my first hundred reads like this: This is the first hundred I ever knew about growing up in Sacramento, I spent countless hours in the Tahoe, Foresthill, American River, and the whole Sierra area and it’s a special place to me, probably my favorite place in the world, my family gets to see me run and follow along, it’s the first ever hundred miler and the history and tradition are full of legends of the sport, stories, native American routes, and thousands of people making their way over the high Sierra to Auburn.

I’ve always known I wanted this to be my first hundred and I’m glad I made it my first. I’m also glad I waited. Many of you know I started this race with no intention of finishing back in 2009 after I won the American River 50 then got injured. Looking back now the injury between was a blessing as I was grossly under prepared for such an undertaking. In several of the years since I’ve been fortunate to head to Squaw Valley and follow the race as it winds its way to Auburn as a spectator, taking in all the hoopla and preparing myself for what that would be like.

Still lots to learn in 2009

The road to get into Western this year was not without it’s hiccups as I didn’t perform at Sonoma and then had to make an emergency trip to Ice Age to qualify. At the time I was torn 50/50 on whether to go or bag out. Finally deciding that it was worth pursuing this year since I had other plans next year already, I’m glad I made that trip for many reasons, not the least of which turned out to be a great experience at Western States and one I’ll remember for all time.

With qualifying and having a short window to actually train specifically for Western I did what I thought I had to do and headed first to the Western States Training Camp to see the course. In all my years around the area I really hadn’t run the course. This was by far the best thing I could have done to prepare mentally for the run. It let me “see” how I would mentally break 100 miles into smaller doable segments. It became doable in my mind and not as daunting a task.

Heat Training: Ringing out my shirt. photo: Recharge

The training weekend was a great way to see the course, definitely more enjoyable than the race. You get to run with friends (I got to run with the future womens WS winner, yeah, that’s right, and my buddy Byron who was also running his first 100miler), we all camped in Foresthill, swam in the river, and did it as enjoyable 30 mile segments. So, if you don’t get into the actual race, go to the training weekend and enjoy the trail just as much. The training weekend also got me from dreading running the race to actually becoming excited to run it.
I have to admit that something other than myself was pushing me to go to Ice Age because prior to that and the training weekend I wasn’t sure I wanted to run Western or if I was just doing it because it fit into the schedule this year. After all, after Lake Sonoma I wasn’t really in the mood to ever run another ultra race.
The about face in my mental state was a combo of Ice Age boosting my ultra confidence, the training weekend just being what I’ve always loved about running, having friends to run amazing trails with then hanging out with the family camping the rest of the time, and really getting into the training, trying to figure out what would prepare me the best mentally and physically.

Training Weekend Partners

Best View from a Grocery Store EVER, other then Byron.

The training weekend would boost me to my highest mileage week at 135 miles. Subsequent weeks were 115-110 with some good elevation gain like a 30 miler w/ 11,500ft of gain followed by 20 mile road runs in under 2hrs, at one point clipping off a 53:30 10miler on the second half. When you can do that, training is really hard but really rewarding. You’re putting all you’ve got into it and it becomes important to see what your body can really do.

When Western rolled around I was as ready as I was going to be and what amazed me was that I was excited to do it. I spent some time gathering up gear, I had my crew, I put in the training as best I knew how, and I knew the course. We packed up the car on Wednesday (100milers take a lot of gear) and headed South. It was me and Tonya, one of my crew people that works at Footzone with me. We made it south to Susanville where we had our only negative encounter of the trip, a cranky old pizza making lady. I’ve never had to wait an hour for pizza before, unless there are actually other people in the restaurant. We camped outside Susanville that night and continued on to Squaw Valley early the next day to catch the USA soccer match, good game by the way. We had a nice relaxing two days in Squaw hanging out at the Montrail house, helping with the 6K Uphill Challenge, and enjoying the views of the valley. Makes for a good start to the weekend.

Squaw Valley at Dawn photo: irunfar

Only a fraction of the top guys

Since Western is a pretty big deal in the ultra world I ended up doing quite a few interviews with Ultrarunner podcast, iRunFar.com, and a few others and in each one I laid out exactly how I would run and what my goal for the weekend was. First goal: finish in 24hrs to get that belt buckle. How: I would run my own race at my pace and see how things ended up. I might just lead to Foresthill and then blowup and walk it in. Well, you all know how it went, just as I said. I ran my own race at my pace. I knew I would be more comfortable and efficient if I could run what I’m used to running on an easy run and that that pace was most likely going to be faster than most of the runners really wanted to go.

Me


And Byron, His first 100miler too.

The Start. A long way to go.photo: iRunFar

So, I found myself leading Western States at about mile 9 after a cruising a flat road. What I didn’t know was that I would continue to lead until about mile 70. I wanted to keep my HR low and knew that I could cruise areas that were flatter like from Robinson Flat to Last Chance but thought I would be pretty slow going up/down the canyons and that on each climb a handful of people would catch me. Except for a brief moment at Robinson that didn’t happen. Looking back, maybe I should have taken those climbs a bit easier and slower. I don’t know. All I know was that it was a lonely 70 miles but it was fun to come through the aid stations, whoop it up with the crowd, and be on my way. It was uplifting to come through and talk to my crew too. They did an amazing job getting me what I needed. I saw all the wildlife on the course and scared it away for the rest of the pack and got into a better rhythm by not following behind another runner.

Movin

My mantra going in was to feel good to Foresthill, then I could push. Stay relaxed, smooth and efficient. I knew at some point Rob would catch me and so it was just a matter of time before he caught me just after the Cal 1 aid station. I probably pushed this section a bit too hard and should have just kept my foot off the pedal a little longer but I felt good and knew he was coming up. It wasn’t until the last 20 miles that it started to get interesting. I started to feel it coming up to the river crossing and knew it was going to be a long final 20 miles unless I could turn it around. The problem was, I didn’t know how to turn it around. Just not enough experience yet. I ran well up to Green Gate but at that point the stomach started to shut down. Nothing seemed to be passing through and all the water just sat in my stomach. That didn’t feel good and I started to slow my pace. Whether it was the accumulation of fatigue or my stomach I don’t know, but I wasn’t running at a pace that was going to keep me in second for very long. I kept sipping on water, GU, and taking an S-Cap at aid stations but couldn’t seem to get things moving.
At some point around Browns Bar I just stopped eating. Big mistake. I ran Quarry Rd, then ran well up to 49 crossing. I saw D-Bo come through the aid station just behind me and I cruised up the penultimate hill trying to fend D-Bo off. We got up to the flat though and the lack of fuel caught up to me. I bonked hard and fast. Dizzy, I sucked down a bit of GU and walked a couple minutes downhill to get it back together. Miraculously it helped and I finished off the downhill. I crossed No-Hands Bridge then looked back to see Ryan Sandes gaining ground on me. He passed me and pulled ahead by 20-30sec. I sucked down a bit more GU and charged the hill as hard as I could. This whole time I was pushing hard knowing that Ian Sharman was lurking back behind me somewhere and he was the one I didn’t want to pass me. I gained ground quickly back on Ryan and passed him on the climb to Robie Point. The final mile on the road I kept looking back expecting Ryan or Ian to come around a corner at any moment.
They never came back and I hit the track and I knew it was over. Overwhelming emotions came up and I was high fiving the crowd knowing it was about over. I crossed the line and began heaving, laughing, and crying at the same time. So happy to be done. Feet hurt, legs hurt, stomach hurt. Everything hurt.
I crossed over to the grass and laid down for a very long time. I did not feel good. I could have slept there. I laid there for about 2hrs until finally moving again. Staggering around to do a quick interview, staggered to the showers, then to the trailer for the night.

The finish.

Pain, oh the pain. photo: iRunFar

I’d been thinking about it all day, poison oak! I just remembered that I meant to tell my crew to find some Technu Poison Oak wash so I could shower with it otherwise I was going to be miserable for weeks. So, my amazing crew of Geof and Tonya found a 24hr pharmacy, picked up some Technu and a strawberry milkshake at In n Out to cap off the night. Wow, what a day.

There was so much anticipation in town that it was getting hard to handle everyone asking about it before I left. It starts to mentally affect you because you’re continually thinking about it, but when we got back it’s really pretty awesome when you get everyone following along with the race. I’ve had so many people say “I was glued to my computer all day!” That’s cool. And a good feeling that you have so many people back home that care about you. So much so that Footzone threw a Race Re-cap party for the 4 Bendites that ran the race. Stephanie, of course, Denise Bourassa, and Scott Wolfe. Put us up against any other town and we did pretty well considering we’re 80,000 people.

The Homecoming Crowd at Footzone

Bendites in WS100 photo: Footzone

One of the coolest things was to see two guys walk in that had WS belt buckles from their races…in 1978 and 1981. Running the race, you join a small but dedicated crowd that is passionate about the race, can talk about the different elements of it and man can they tell stories, and the stories are amazing.

I finally had the chance to meet the amazing Ann Trason after the race. I mentioned my plans for next year included Comrades Marathon and so probably didn’t include a Western States. And she says “I did both.”

Gear:
Montrail Fluidflex II shoes
Swiftwick Aspire socks
MHW Ultrarefueler Shorts
MHW Way2Cool Singlet
MHW Way2Cool Arm Coolers
Rudy Project Rydon II Glasses
MHW Way2Cool Neck Cooler
Ultraspire MBS Synapse Waste Belt
Straw Cowboy Hat

More Photos:

Out of the river and to the woods. And hurt box. photo: tachiyama

Up to Michigan Bluff photo: ultrarunnerpodcast - Stephanie Deveau

River Crossing photo: irunfar

Frolicking Through the Wildflowers photo: irunfar

photo: Matt Trappe

photo: Matt Trappe

photo: Matt Trappe

photo: Matt Trappe

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Montrail Ultra Cup Final Results

Well, folks, the results are in, and the Montrail Ultra Cup Champions have been crowned. Big congrats to Kaci Lickteig and Ian Sharman! Thanks to all the runners who participated in the Montrail Ultra Cup this year. Top-20 results are below.

WOMEN

Runner Bandera 100k Sean O’Brien 50m Rocky Raccoon 100 Lake Sonoma 50m Ice Age 50m Western States 100 Grand Total
1 Kaci Lickteig     26.00 13.97 21.00 20.74 81.71
2 Larisa Dannis     22.91   13.92 25.81 62.64
3 Meghan Arbogast 23.40 10.84       20.70 54.94
4 Shaheen Sattar     23.94     20.70 44.63
5 Denise Bourassa   13.88       20.73 34.61
6 Lise Plantier 13.22   20.75       33.98
7 Cindy Stonesmith 13.24   20.72       33.96
8 Rachel Ballard 13.19   20.68       33.87
9 Maggie Guterl 13.17   20.69       33.86
10 Nicole Studer     31.00       31.00
11 Stephanie Howe           30.83 30.83
12 Mauclair Nathalie           23.79 23.79
13 Tera Dube   12.88   10.86     23.74
14 Pam Smith           22.78 22.78
15 Riva Johnson     21.90       21.90
16 Nikki Kimball           21.75 21.75
17 Caroline Boller   10.79   10.86     21.65
18 Sally Mcrae           20.70 20.70
19 Beth Cardelli           20.68 20.68
20 Serena Wilcox           20.67 20.67


MEN

Runner Bandera 100k Lake Sonoma 50m Rocky Raccoon 100 Sean O’Brien 50k Sean O’Brien 50m Ice Age 50m Western States 100 Grand Total
1 Ian Sharman   10.81 25.98       20.94 57.73
2 Max King   10.93       21.00 22.95 54.88
3 David Laney 18.39 11.94         20.81 51.15
4 Brian Condon 13.22         13.95 20.77 47.94
5 Paul Terranova 15.31     10.16     20.85 46.32
6 Ford Smith 14.26   20.82     10.79   45.88
7 Jorge Maravilla 23.40           20.87 44.27
8 Matthew Laye     31.00     11.91   42.91
9 Matt Smith 13.17   20.73         33.89
10 Hideki Kinoshita 13.00   20.57         33.57
11 Jesse Boisaubin   10.70     10.67 10.73   32.11
12 Rob Krar             31.00 31.00
13 Seth Swanson             25.97 25.97
14 Dylan Bowman             23.95 23.95
15 Steve Speirs     22.86         22.86
16 Ryan Sandes             21.94 21.94
17 Miguel Ordorica   10.67       10.65   21.32
18 Alex Varner             20.94 20.94
19 Brendan Davies             20.93 20.93
20 Brett Rivers             20.91 20.91
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GoPro (or go home!) Mountain Games

By Megan Lizotte

It felt so good to be back in the mountains, running trails, sucking wind and chasing some great friends/competitors! I was so happy to be back in Colorado—I just feel like a different person when I’m in the mountains, like I’m home and I know my way around even if I’m deep in the middle of the Elk Mountain wilderness.

[Training run on Arbaney Kittle…one of my favorite trails in Colorado.]

Go Pro Mountain Games—probably my favorite mountain running fest EVER! The atmosphere at this event is unreal—there are people (and dogs) everywhere psyched to watch some of the world’s most talented athletes, stoked to be outside celebrating the long-awaited arrival of Colorado summer…and getting free KIND Bars. We joke that Colorado has two seasons: winter and July! It’s either covered in gorgeous snow or perfectly warm…and always sunny! This weekend was no exception…perfect running weather, bluebird ski and beautiful mountain views.

I arrived almost a week before GoPro Mountain Games and stayed with my parents in Basalt (my dearly-missed hometown). Not having raced at altitude since I moved to San Diego last fall, I wasn’t sure how this sea-level girl (okay, that just doesn’t sound right, we all know I’m really a mountain girl through and through!) was going to respond to the huff-and-puff effort of hauling my butt up Vail Pass, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to acclimate…and of course grab some extra backcountry time before race day! As we flew into Aspen, my daughter Maven and I were glued to the window and I remember thinking, “Oh man, I am NOT going to want to leave here next week!” Everything was so vibrantly green and the peaks were still plastered with snow. Late spring, early summer is my favorite time in Colorado and I was soaking up every aerial minute I could.

[The ultimate playground! So fortunate to have spent a few hours running around the Bells!]

I’ve been struggling with Achilles tendonitis since January. It’s the most unpredictable injury I think I’ve ever had!? Some days it hurts like crazy and then the next day, it will feel totally normal. I’ve never had an injury I could really run through until this one. While I’m thankful I’ve been able to baby it while still putting in some big miles, it’s also frustrating not knowing when it’s going to freak out and not let me run for a few days! So, sure enough, Monday before the race it started throwing a tantrum mid-10miler. That run left me questioning whether I could even run the next day…let alone race an all uphill half marathon Saturday and then turn around the next day and bomb through a technical trail 10k. However, after lots o’ icing, arnica, and massage from my go-to therapist in Colorado Denise Abrams, I was confident I could get through the weekend sans Achilles hissy fits.

On paper you’d think I’d be super nervous for this year’s GoPro Mountain Games Vail Pass Half Marathon as I have won the race every year since its inception in 2009, except for 2011 when I was 2nd to the queen of uphill, Kim Dobson on a shortened course due to lingering snowpack (Vail got pounded that winter!). I’ve also placed among the top 5 females in the Spring Runoff 10k every year. Stats aside, the majority of my training now takes place at sea level and the entrant list was super-stacked! I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me, but I was also less anxious than I’ve been in the past—all I could think about was how excited I was to be racing in Colorado again. Regardless of street cred, stats, entrant lists or outsider expectations, it was nice to not feel so much self-imposed pressure for once. I was honestly just so grateful to be in Colorado, that it made me more motivated to work hard…almost like it was my way of saying “thank you” to my home-state for hosting me!

[Stacked! Start line of the Vail Pass Half Marathon was full of superstars!]

Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous for the half marathon, but it was a very necessary amount of nervousness—the amount that says, “I’m invested in this, so I better run well!” rather than, “What the heck am I doing here on the start line with 6 USATF national champions, an Olympian, a Footlocker finalist, the former USA high school record holder in the 1600m and 3200m, the entire gold medal-winning women’s USA Mountain Running Team from the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships…I could go on and on with the accolades! However, as I’ve gotten older (and wiser?), I’ve become more calculated and mature in my response to race day angst. I don’t flip out as much as I used to and instead remind myself to trust my training, run my own best race and go for it. If you take yourself out of the mix before the race even starts, there’s no reason to get on the line! I have to remember that by being there, I am making that race competitive too! So, when the gun went off, I did exactly that. I ran smart, kept the front pack of girls in sight and moved up on them.

[Me with mountain running phenom and new mommy, Brandy Erholtz and sweet Baby Asher at the Vail Pass Half Marathon finish area.]

I was surprised at how good I felt cardiovascularly (that is, as good as racing 13.7 miles uphill at 10,000 feet can feel)…I felt like I had never left Colorado! In effort to suppress my hesitation about how miserable racing at high altitude would feel now that I live/train at the beach, I read an article that talked about how runners who live/train at significant altitude (above 5k feet) for 30+ years often become exempt to the negative effects that racing at high altitude can have an performance. SWEET! Check! I guess that little tidbit rang true last Saturday as I finished 4th in 90 seconds faster than my time last year. Although to be fair, I was still breastfeeding last year at this time, but hey, an improvement is an improvement and I’ll take it! It wasn’t the best time I’ve posted on that course, but I was pleased given the way my race plan unfolded, my continued battle with my own Achilles, and the insane level of competition (congrats to the top 3 she-beasts: Morgan Arritola, Allie MacLaughlin and Stevie Kremer!).

After the Vail Pass Half on Saturday, my plan was to recover as quickly as possible because I wanted to do well in Sunday’s trail 10k. Not having podium’d in the half stunk a little. So…to the creek for a real ice bath it was! Thanks to my awesome husband who played with Maven all weekend, I snuck in a 90 minute nap, sat in Gore Creek for what seemed like an eternity (6 minutes) and then hopped in the pool and had some family swim time at our hotel! I was in bed by 10pm and up again at 6am—ready to roll!

The competition was just as steep in the Vasque Spring Runoff Trail 10k and I knew I’d have to get out hard and pull away on the climbs if I wanted to snag a top 3 finish. I’m a really good uphill runner and an equally terrible downhill runner! If it weren’t for the uphills in trail racing, I would be just a regular back-of-the-packer! I found myself in 5th place within the first 800m of the race and then as soon as we started making our way up the first ascent, I quickly moved into the lead, but with Megan Kimmel and Morgan Arritola clipping at my heels. Once that initial climb flattened out and we started approaching the downhill, those girls flew by me like I was standing still! However, I knew I’d make up some time on the not-so-far-away uphill. I moved back into 2nd for most of the 1st half of the race, but with the majority of the downhill in the 2nd half of the course, I faded into 3rd and managed to stay there through the finish line. Overall, I was really pleased with my finish in the 10k and it gave me a good dose of confidence going into my final build-up for the Loon Mountain Race, which is the sole selection race for the USA Mountain Running Team where I’m hoping to make my 5th USA Mountain Running Team.

Not only did I race in Vail while I was in Colorado, I also got to pound out some miles while my up-and-coming media hound husband took some photos and videos! We are working on some promo videos for my coaching website www.hgrunning.com so here’s a little taste of what Colorado is serving up right now in the backcountry!

Happy Trails!
-Megan Lizotte
Follow me on Instagram & Twitter: @MeganLizotte

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Western States 100

In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh ran alongside horses in the Western States Trail Ride. Finishing 23 hours and 42 minutes later, Gordy proved that a runner could travel the 100 miles in one day. The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run – the granddaddy of them all – was born.

Since then, during the last full weekend in June, dedicated runners and top-class athletes from around the world have converged in Squaw Valley, CA to challenge 18,000ft of climbing, 22,970ft of descending, and an unforgiving, never pausing clock to earn themselves a handmade finisher’s buckle. Finish in less than 30 hours and the buckle is bronze, less than 24 hours and it’s silver. Either way, it’s legendary.

Learn more about the race here.

Check out the Montrail Ultra Cup standings here.

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2014 Montrail Ultra Cup Standings

 
The Montrail Ultra Cup is heading towards another exciting finish at Western States on June 28, 2014. Thus far, the Women’s field appears to be a bit of a runaway, while it’s up for grabs for any of the Men!

Montrail is proud to have helped 21 elites gain entrance to a coveted Western States spot in 2014 through the Ultra Cup, including its own Max King who won Ice Age 50 miler and set a blistering new record. Of the current MUC Top 10 Men and Women, almost half are slated to toe the line at the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100 miler.

Standings After Ice Age 50

Women

Name Bandera 100k Sean O’Brien 50m Rocky Raccoon 100 Lake Sonoma 50m Ice Age 50m Grand Total
1 Kaci Lickteig     26.00 13.97 21 60.97
2 Lise Plantier 13.22   20.75     33.98
3 Cindy Stonesmith 13.24   20.72     33.96
4 Rachel Ballard 13.19   20.68     33.87
5 Maggie Guterl 13.17   20.69     33.86
6 Nicole Studer     31.00     31.00
7 Shaheen Sattar     23.94     23.94
8 Tera Dube   12.88   10.86   23.74
9 Riva Johnson     21.90     21.90
10 Caroline Boller   10.79   10.86   21.65


Men

Name Bandera 100k Lake Sonoma 50m Rocky Raccoon 100 Sean O’Brien 50m Ice Age 50m Grand Total
1 Ford Smith 14.26   20.82   10.79 45.88
2 Matthew Laye     31.00   11.91 42.91
3 Ian Sharman   10.81 25.98     36.79
4 Matt Smith 13.17   20.73     33.89
5 Hideki Kinoshita 13.00   20.57     33.57
6 Jesse Bolsaubin   10.70   10.67 10.73 32.11
7 Max King   10.93     21.00 31.93
8 David Laney 18.39 11.94       30.33
9 Brian Condon 13.22       13.95 27.17
10 Steve Speirs     22.86     22.86


Note: If you don’t see your name on this list, please sign up here and send bpittam@mountainhardwear.com a note confirming. We’ll do one more sweep in lead up to Western States approximately one week prior.

RD Prusaitis again at Rocky with winner Matthew Laye (center), 2nd place Ian Sharman (left) and 3rd place Jared Hazen (right).

Bandera & Rocky Raccoon Race Director Joe Prusaitis with Female Winner Nicole Studer (right) and second place Kaci Lickteig (left) at Rocky Raccoon 100 miler.

Winner of the Bandera 100k Jorge Maravilla and 2nd place David Laney in Texas.

RD of Sean O’Brien 50m Keira Henninger with winner Dylan Bowman (r), second Michael Aish (right center) and 3rd place Mike Wolfe (l).

From left to right: Tera Dube (4th), Sally McRae (2nd), Denise Bourassa (3rd), Cassie Scallon (1st) and RD Keira at Sean O’Brien 50 miler.

Max King and Kaci Lickteig with their Ice Age 50m trophies!

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Best 50…ever! …Still hurt.

I don’t really know where to start this one. I wish I could say that heading to Wisconsin was all in the plan and that everything was planned out so that I’d done everything right in training both physically and mentally to set myself up for the race I eventually had. Nope. Not true at all. Truth is, I’ve been having a bad attitude, well, as bad an attitude as a Care Bear maybe, about having to run another 50 miles to try to get into Western States. Not even sure that I want to run 100 miles and with just about zero confidence that I can run 100 miles I had about as much motivation to fly back to Ice Age 50 as a monkey without a banana. So yeah, not much.

The Start

I guess I can do a pretty good job of convincing myself of just about anything though and did decide that another attempt to get into Western States was worth another 50 miles and a lot of pain, potentially a lot of it mental anguish when I closed out another poor 50 mile performance. I think that was more frightening than actually now having a 100 mile race looming in about 6 weeks. A bad 50 mile performance (or 100 miler I suppose) is pretty disheartening. You don’t get too many chances to redeem your confidence, and with several in a row with Lake Sonoma last year, TNF50, then Lake Sonoma this year I was starting to think I just couldn’t run a good one. I am pretty convinced that I can’t run a mountainous long race well but that remains to be seen. I continue to do races with big elevation gain for a few reasons but the motivation is waning and it’s tough to keep getting your butt kicked if I know I’m stronger on different terrain. The training for that however, is beneficial for every distance and every type of race, I’m convinced of that, so I’ll continue to challenge myself through training and racing those types of races until I succeed.
I’m finding that a lot of success at 50 miles is just not running like a sissy. Hanging back at Lake Sonoma was a huge mistake for me. I was 7 min slower through half this year than I was last year because I listened to myself and everyone else saying I’d gone out too fast. I didn’t go out too fast last year, I just bonked because my nutrition plan was bad. This year I ran like a sissy and got stuck in a rhythm and pace I wasn’t used to and it backfired. (yes, I do realize that I’ll have to run slower for 100 miles so I’ve got some work to do)

50 Miles of Beautiful Singletrack

At Ice Age I didn’t have any expectations or maybe they were just really low. I was going in with an almost bad attitude about it then I talked myself into just running it how I like to run. We were out fast, well relatively anyway, and I would say a normal pace through 9 miles of very rolling terrain in about 60min. The one thing I learned at LS was just to not run like a sissy, so I didn’t. I like to run scared. I ran easy but pushed up the hills a bit more than I did last time. I ran smooth and relaxed and let Brian Condon set a good honest pace through almost half. It was nice to have other guys around that were keeping it honest and set a very reasonable pace.

The Front Pack

Through 9 Miles

Matt and I put a small gap on Brian between 21 to 26 and he and I ran a good pace around 7min to about 32mi. Those miles were by far the easiest miles I’ve ever run in a 50 miler. I couldn’t tell you why or how but it came together right there. I could tell Matt was just starting to crack on the hills at that point and I was running so easy that with every passing mile my confidence grew. I had to keep reminding myself that we still had a long way to go and that is one of the hardest things to do in an ultra for me. I’m still too used to go, go, go, push, push, push when I’m racing and I don’t think that will ever change, so when I feel good it takes all my restraint to hold back. I passed Matt at 32 but was careful not to do just that and take off. Just keeping everything smooth, the 8 mile out and back to mile 40 would be the only chance I would have to learn the course before I had to head back over the final 10 miles to the finish. I soaked up as much terrain info as I could so I would know how far out I was. I knew it was going to hurt. I just didn’t know how much. I continued through 40 still on a record pace we had set up early. It was nice to learn that I’d been holding pace the last 10 and not relinquishing time like I thought I had been. Turns out GPS just isn’t a reliable guage on trails like that. I knew at 30 that we were just about 10-13min up on the record. I figured that would begin to shrink for me after about 35 miles and I’d start to give up time, it would just be a matter of how much I would give up. About 44 miles I started to hurt and looking at my watch I was starting to hemorage seconds/minutes to the time. I started seeing 7:45, 8:15, 8:25 and thinking Matt was only 2-3min back and probably gaining pushed me harder. My legs started to go flat on the uphills, flats and downhills were still good, my vision was starting to narrow and get a little foggy, and HR was starting to drop, usually a sign that I’m slowing down. Hang on, hang on. Hitting the ski trail with 1.5 to go I knew I had it. I pushed it in with all I had to what I would consider the most successful 50 miler I’ve ever run. I learned later that I’d held on to run 69min over the last 9.7 miles so really hadn’t lost much time at all. I was surprised. To sum it up, things just clicked. Wish I knew why but I’ll take it.

Sequence 1

Sequence 2

My Pacer

Maybe my encounter with my pacer the previous day was a sign(although it doesn’t seem like an obvious sign) or just that I didn’t have the expectations on myself, or maybe it was the full moon on the trail (check the lunar charts and you’ll realize it wasn’t of the heavenly variety). Yes, it’s quite possible that 20 years of specific training has made me much stronger on this type of course and it will be another 20 years before I can master a technical mountain course.
Well, to say the least, I’m glad I came. Everything about it turned out to be a great race. Dinner with Matt, Matt’s Dad, and Gina the night before, great people like RD Jeff Mallach, a beautiful spring day in the Kettle Moraine Forest, and a great after party with the whole trail community just relaxing after a day on the trails, oh, and a win and course record too helps sweeten the day.

And it seals my fate for the next couple of months as well. Barring anything unexpected I’ll toe the line for the second time at Western States with the intention of actually dropping off the back side of Squaw and stopping only when I arrive at Auburn High School 20 (or so) hrs later. Yeah, I said 20hrs, I’m sorry but if you thought I was going to say 15 then you’ve put some pressure on me that I’m not sure I’m willing to take on just yet. I may be keeping something to myself but lets just say I’m trying to get through 100 miles this go round. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot and run like a sissy but that almost guarantees that I’ll be blowing up somewhere between Forest Hill and Rucky Chucky, I’ll take a leisurely swim in the American River and death march it in the final 20. It’s a long ways in case you didn’t realize. It’s hard enough to drive 100 miles as some would say.

Two CRs

Congrats to Kaci Licktieg who broke the women’s course record an to Matt who also broke the men’s course record. And thanks to Jeff for putting together a great day of racing and the sponsors that continue to work with me to refine the gear, nutrition, and shoes that get me through these races. Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, GU Energy, Polar, Swiftwick, and Rudy Project.

#seeyouinsquaw

Raced With:

Roctane
MHW Way2Cool Singlet
MHW Ultra Shorts
Montrail FluidFlex II
Ultraspire MBS Waist Belt
Swiftwick Aspire One Socks and Sleeves
Rudy Project Rydon Shades
Polar RCX-5 HR/GPS Monitor/Computer

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Ice Age Trail 50 Preview

By Ice Age Race Director Jeff Mallach

The Ice Age Trail 50 has been held on the second Saturday in May every year since 1982, making it one of the longest running 50-mile races in the country. The event was founded by Badgerland Striders running club members Glenn Wargolet and ultrarunner Tom Ulik. At the time, there were very few ultras to model the race after, so Glenn’s vision – formulated over a few beers at a Milwaukee tavern – was to mark a one-mile loop in a nearby county park and have participants run the course 50 times.

Tom had a better idea. He invited Glenn for a run on the single-track trails of the Southern Kettle Moraine Forest, about an hour southwest of Milwaukee. Captivated by the difficulty and beauty of the trail system there, Glenn dropped the idea for a park run and the stage was set for the Midwest’s first ever 50-mile trail race.

The course followed the National Scenic Ice Age Trail, so the event was named in its honor.

The first IAT50 attracted 99 runners. The race grew quickly in the ensuing years, attracting ultrarunners from around the country interested in testing themselves against each other, the twisting and technical single-track and relentless hills of the Kettle Moraine Forest and Wisconsin’s unpredictable Spring weather. By the late 1980s, Ice Age was the third largest ultra of any distance in the United States – and Andy Jones, one of the early stars of ultrarunning, drew even more attention to the race when he ran the course in a blazing fast 5:53:21 on a hot day in 1987. His record still stands today.

The Ice Age course has been tweaked over the years and is generally more runnable than it was 30 years ago, due to changes to the Nordic trail made by the park service and Ice Age Alliance volunteers, who have straightened, added steps to and often plucked rocks out of the Ice Age Trail (shame on them!). Still, the course features about 7,000 feet of elevation change and has been described as “deceptively difficult” by more than a few ultrarunners.

The wider Nordic loop – the first nine mile section of the course — tempts runners to accelerate their pace early on. It also gives spectators something to watch as the leaders re-enter the Start area about an hour after the race start. Runners then merge with the Ice Age Trail and run two out-and-backs on largely single-track trail, finishing a short time later in the Start/Finish area, where friends and family, a BBQ lunch, local microbrews and a live band are waiting for them.

In 2000, Ice Age added a 50k race – and a Half Marathon in 2011.

Ice Age became part of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series in 2010. The series has bolstered the race’s reputation as a competitive event, helping to draw runners from around the country and the world. The 2014 edition of the IAT50 will include runners from 31 states, two Canadian provinces and three foreign countries.

Last year was arguably the fastest field in the history of the 50-mile race. David Riddle became only the fifth runner in 32 years to finish under six hours, coming within two minutes of Andy Jones’ CR. And Cassie Scallon – whose ran her first 50k and 50 mile races at Ice Age – shattered the 18-year old women’s course record by more than 18 minutes, earning her the “best CR-breaking” performance of 2013, according to Ultrarunning magazine.

This year’s field will be even deeper – led by Zach Bitter, 2012 IAT50 champion, recent winner of the US 100K championship and North American record holder in the 100-mile and 200k distances, Matt Flaherty, who won the American River 50 and Tussey Mountainback in 2013, finished fourth at Ice Age and just ran a 2:22 at the Boston Marathon. Montrail-runner Max King is coming off a 7th place finish at Lake Sonoma 50 miler and doesn’t want one of those Western States spot to elude him again. Madison runner Brian Condon is also looking to finish high, after spending a lot of time on the Ice Age Trail since his second place finish at last year’s IAT50. Joe Uhan, 16th at the 2012 Western States and sixth overall at last year’s Where’s Waldo, Iain Ridgway from the UK, who finished 4th at JFK and won the Flatrock 50k. Matthew Laye, who ran a 13:17 at this year’s Rocky Raccoon 100 will also be running to capture one of the three automatic entries into this year’s WS100, as will Michael Owen (2nd at Burning River 100 and recent champion of the Terrapin Mountain 50k), 2011 IAT50 winner Shaun Pope, Kalib Wilkinson (6th Mad City, 1st Sean O’Brien 50k and 4th place finisher at last year’s White River 50M) and Jason Wolfe. Veteran runner Ian Torrence will be at Ice Age this year, as will ultra-newcomer Michael Borst, who, at age 20, has already won five of the eight ultras he’s entered and placed second in the other three. Michael will be pushed by 17-year old wunderkind Ford Smith from Texas, who ran Bandera in 9:21. Others to watch include C. Fred Josyln, a 2:18 marathoner who is making his ultra debut at Ice Age, Christopher Wehan, Brian Tinder, Adam Condit and Kelly Agnew.
The women’s field is also stacked. At the top is Kaci Lickteig, who has never finished below third in any of the ultras she’s run and who took #7 overall at this year’s Rocky Raccoon 100M, Larisa Dannis (1st LBL, 4th at Rocky, 1st at Vermont 100M and 2nd at Zion 100M), Stephanie Weigel, winner of six ultras (1st Zion 100K & 2nd Ray Miller 50M) and runners Caroline Boller, Maddy Hirbit and Kerrie Wlad.

In the 50k race, Scott Gall will be returning to break the 3:14 CR (he came within four minutes two years ago) — and 2010 IAT 50M winner Meghan Arbogast will be running to top her 4:04 third-place overall 50K performance in 2013.

The 2014 50-mile field will also include seven runners who have completed more than 20 IAT50 races.

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BMO Vancouver Marathon

By Ellie Greenwood

BMO Vancouver marathon is an event of mixed experiences for me; 2008 – my first sub-3 (yay!), 2009 – my first DNF (boo!), 2012 – 2:42 for the win and a PB (yay!), 2013 – another DNF (boo!), and then this year – just a nice solid jaunt around the course with lots of friends and team mates both running and cheering. With Comrades 89km just 28 days away the aim of yesterdays race was not to race too hard, but to get a solid effort in all the same. I still need to get some solid training in this week for Comrades so if I raced too hard then the recovery time for the marathon would eat into the training time for my A race – not a good idea. I am more than happy with my 2nd place, 2:43:04 finish time yesterday, mostly for the fact that I felt great at the finish and feel great today so I know that I can still train well this week.

A training race like yesterday also has added benefits of working out a few race day details for Comrades. I am now set on the shoe and sock combination that I’ll sport on June 1st in South Africa, I got good practice at grabbing bottles from a the table and remembering to look out for elite stations on a race course, and I had the added benefit of running the first approx 23km with Wayinshet Abebe Hailu (Ethiopia) which was great as we took turns sharing the pace, something which might also come in useful at Comrades. All in all I got exactly what I hoped for out of the day, and had great fun doing so with so many Vancouver Falcons team mates to chat with at the finish line and share our accomplishments together. A huge shout out to Kim Doerksen who nailed her marathon in 2:36:59 for the win, to Bryan Andrews who ran a great race and surely helped Kim to that time both on race day and in training, and to all VFACers who competed in the marathon, half and 8km. In the full marathon all 7 VFACers who raced all came in sub-3 – nice work!

Hope everyone else had a fun day, despite the rather rainy conditions!

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