Joint 18th Place- Timing out at Moab’s Alpine to Slickrock 50


Breathe in…Breathe out…Check the pulse oximeter- 80%- simulating an altitude above 15,000 feet…Vision tunneling a bit…Check the watch- 3 more minutes to go…

Intermittent Hypoxic Exposure (IHE) was the method I chose to help me adjust from Saint Louis (465 feet above sea level) to the mountains of Utah (race start at 6,500 feet, climbing to 10,500 a few times). Rather than spend hundreds of dollars on an altitude sleeping tent (which my wife veto’d even before seeing the price), I decided to build my own. It was deceptively simple and, following the instructions from, I ordered the parts and built it.


Essentially it’s a rebreather, where you filter your breath through a CO2 scrubber, and work to get the air your breathing in line with what you would experience if you were living at altitude. There are training programs that can be found on the site as well, and since I don’t do things halfway, I went straight for the “Extreme” regimen.

  • 15 days, 1 hour per day consisting of 6 minutes using the contraption, 4 minutes breathing regular air
  • Then 6 days on, same hour as above, followed by 10 days rest in a pattern until the race
  • All the while, slowly lowering spO2 (increasing simulated altitude)

There are various studies on the effectiveness (or lack of) on both elite and non-elite athletes. Most of the studies focused on the improvement in performance at lower altitudes from training or living at higher altitude. I was less interested in that and more in being acclimatized to the altitude so I didn’t pass out in the first 30 minutes. I made it 6 hours with what I would consider a reasonable heart rate given the steepness of the terrain (see below), so I’m going to call my experiment of one a success.

That being said, as you probably guessed from the title, I still timed out of the race (35 racers started, 17 finished, hence the joint 18th place). I put it down to two things: hill training (or lack of) and strategy (again, lack of).

Hill Training

Near my house, I have a few roughly 50-100 foot hills to train on. I did hill repeats in a 30lb weighted vest on them. I did hill work on my treadmill. I ran two Spartan obstacle course races back-to-back.

IMG_5763Not enough.

The first climb in the slowly brightening dark started immediately and didn’t stop until we had climbed 3,400 feet in the first 5 ½ miles through big rocks, loose rocks and roots. Not my grassy hill. Not my tranquil stroll on my treadmill.

The next 11 miles “rolled”:


Down 1,200 feet in the next 2 miles

IMG_5762Up 600 in the next ¾ of a mile


And then up and down over the next 8 miles…


My legs weren’t shot, but I wasn’t moving quickly. I thought, however, based on the race briefing and my Garmin, that I was on track to make the 5:45 cutoff with (not a lot, but some) time to spare. On the briefing, the aid station and cutoff were supposed to be at 15.7 miles. I didn’t get lost and can only assume my Garmin got it wrong. The aid station was at 16.7 miles and the extra mile took me 25 minutes to navigate. I missed the cut-off by 20 minutes.

So, cutting it WAY to close was a strategic mistake. Taking any distance in a trail run as gospel was also a rookie mistake that I shouldn’t have made. Too many things affect distance on the trail. I also had brought trekking poles but didn’t pull them out until I was struggling up a particularly fun hill during the 5th mile. It made things easier (mentally if not physically) and I may have gained a few minutes if I’d thought to bring them out earlier.

Here’s the link to my Garmin profile:

So, live and learn. I may not be back next year, but I will be back. Next challenge is to apply what I’ve learned to the SRT Run/Hike. A 74 mile, self-supported race I’ll be running on September 18th and 19th.

In the meantime, run free!

The Idiot

Louisville Lovin the Hills- 1st Ultra of the Year

The sea was angry that day my friend…Of course, I was in the foothills of Louisville, Kentucky, so not really relevant…

I had made the trek down from St. Louis the day before, the entire family coming to support me (or more accurately, visit the water park adjacent to our hotel).  I was now standing near the start line, a sunny 28 degree day, waiting for the “go” signal.  I was a bit nervous because I had changed my training to see if it made a difference and I was about to find out if I’d made a terrible mistake.  In my short ultra career, it had been drilled into me that miles was the training answer.  Not one to love doing the same thing over and over, I decided to switch things up in December.  I reduced my mileage (10-15 miles would be my longest single training run for a 50k), include a “speed” day and a “hills” day, and do leg strength training.  The net result was fewer hours training, more time with my family, and hopefully at least as good a result in my races.

Which brought me to Louisville and the Louisville Lovin the Hills 50k.  Originally, I had signed up for the race as a “training” run for my 50 miler in March, but it was becoming apparent that this one might be more difficult, even though it was 19 miles shorter! (Why do I underestimate these things?) The elevation profile on the site said there was 5200 feet of gain during the run, putting it on par with my Dogwood Canyon 50k I had run in October.  That one, if you remember, took me almost 9 hours, so I was in for some fun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe run started a little after 8, and I had 3 layers on top and only my shorts and compression socks below. (Note I have no financial interest (NFI) in any product I talk about on this entry) On my feet were a pair of VivoBarefoot Neo Trail shoes that I had put a sum total of 7 miles on, and an UltrAspire Kinetic hydration vest that had zero miles on it.  I had Clip2 in my bottles, experimenting with them as well.  Nobody said I was smart.  My goal was to hydrate/fuel every hour with a bottle of the Clip2 (24 ounces ~ 150 calories), supplement with food at the aid stations, and use S-Caps when needed.

The first section was flat to downhill, and after about 2.5 miles we hit our first serious hill.  Everyone (there were 15 mile racers on the same course) bottled up a bit there as it went to single track and we trudged up the hill.  It wasn’t the 15° incline of Dogwood, but it wasn’t easy.  Here I learned the valuable lesson that, like Derek Zoolander who couldn’t turn left, I couldn’t go right and reach one of the bottles on the vest.  Super.  Luckily, during the run a few of my compatriots felt sorry for me and either helped me get it out or get it back in after they saw me writhing around like I was trying to swat a bee off my back. (note- must work on right shoulder flexibility)  So, back in the race, I hit the first aid station at mile 5.7 in 1:10 and was feeling pretty good.  Grabbed a banana and motored out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next section was the very definition of single track.  Barely more than a foot wide, we negotiated the sides of hills that luckily weren’t greasy with mud.  My pace was still pretty good, but because of the difficulty in reaching my bottles, I had fallen off the pace in staying hydrated.  I justified it by convincing myself I wasn’t thirsty, but in hindsight probably should have had a bit more to drink.

At this point (mile 10, 2 hours into the run) my feet (that I had mostly taped) were feeling pretty good with the exception of my second toe on my left foot (that I hadn’t taped).  It was sitting next to one that I had, and decided that rubbing was a good idea. A bit of pain that would be my constant companion for the rest of the day.  My drop bag (with new socks, a stick roller to get the lactic acid out of my calves and thighs, and some ibuprofen) was at a place called Scott’s Gap.  I didn’t know how far it was, and when I asked at mile 15, was told “I think it’s at mile 22”. While this was technically correct, it was at the beginning and end of the loop known as Scott’s Gap.  Luckily, mile 19 was the beginning and mile 22(ish) was the end.  I needed the stick roller both times I hit that aid station.  To explain, I had used the 5200 feet estimate from the website as a proxy on how many more hills I had to go.  By mile 19, I was very near that number and feeling it.  I was told Scott’s Gap was a “killer”, but my watch wouldn’t lie, right?


Scott’s Gap took me an hour to navigate and it was only a little more than 3 miles. (the first 1/2 mile was a 10° incline and then it got fun) It nearly killed me with what felt like a lot of elevation gain and a lot of straight up and down trails.  Luckily, two things helped me.  The first was the realization that after Scott’s Gap, I only had 9 or so miles to go (less than double digits!) and the second was a fellow runner who I had seen off and on during the race. I caught up with him after leaving the Scott’s Gap aid station for the second time. We ran together, talked, pushed each other and made it through the final 9.  He was running his first 50k and he was a 3:30 marathoner. I wouldn’t have finished as quickly (a relative term) without him.  I was slower on the ups and he was a bit slower going downhill, but we ham and egged it to the finish.  (there was a bit of nice scenery on the way)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Both my quads cramped about 150 yards from the finish, so my assessment is that I left most of it out on the course.  I finished in 7:57, nearly an hour quicker than Dogwood, and if Garmin is to be believed, Louisville had about 1000 more feet of climbing.  Regardless, a good run. Here’s the link if you really want to experience the entire experience!

Louisville Lovin the Hills by 8728753 at Garmin Connect – Details.

The volunteers were great, the runners were kind and the chili and vegan options at the end (as well as the massage therapist) were well worth it!

I’m convinced the training change was effective (although I was sore for longer after) and I’ll take the lessons learned (taping, fueling, hydration, training) and incorporate them into the next month before the 50 miler.  As mentioned on my tweet, I have a new challenge to help the kids at SouthSide Early Childhood Center, and I’ll have something out on that next week!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 348 other followers