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Training Tips from Three of Ultra Running’s Greatest Coaches

Whether they’re gearing up for your first marathon, making a third attempt at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, or testing their legs on a 24-hour, the most important piece of any long-distance runner’s preparation is a thorough, intentional training plan. The right regimen can spur an athlete to P.R.s and victory laps, and a mistimed routine can leave the same athlete on dead legs before the starting pistol fires.

With so much riding on a runner’s routine, there’s little wonder that a handful of high profile champions have leveraged their racing success into reputations as the sport’s ultimate gurus. Let’s check in with three of the top trainers in ultrarunning for a quick primer on the techniques and philosophies that carry their clients to the finish.

Sundog Running’s Ian Torrence

Ian Torrence has built a sterling reputation in the ultrarunning world, winning 53 of the 200 ultras he’s completed. 27 of his finishes have been 100-mile runs. Formerly a coach under the legendary Greg McMillan, Ian and partner Emily Torrence (nee Harrison) formed Sundog Running in the hopes of reaching more runners. They offer personal coaching services, advisement, and weekly training plan packages, and keep up a blog with free tips for all levels of experience.

The Sundog team stress individualized plans for each athlete. They build long-term plans for the full season based on the runner’s goals, experience, form, injury history, life events, and fitness gains.

Training Zones

Torrence’s training philosophy revolves around four training zones, each of which focuses on improving a small subset of the body functions involved in an endurance run. This allows a runner to emulate the effects of extreme distance in shorter training sessions. As Torrence himself wrote in Trail Runner Magazine, “Training is the art of replicating different exertion levels in short, controlled bouts so that our body and mind may adapt to the new stressors and be better able to handle that workload on race day.”1

In the Spring Zone and Neuromuscular Training phase, we enhance the ability to run quickly when our muscles our inundated with lactic acid. This includes workouts like neuromuscular strides, and interval springs with slow jogging recovery between. In this zone, a focus on proper form is stressed.

During Speed Zone Training we run full speed for extended durations (8 to 15 minute bursts) to improve mechanics, recruit fast-twitch muscle fiber, improve our metabolic pathways to use fuel more efficiently, and improve the rate of oxygen uptake from blood into muscles.

To improve the body’s ability to remove lactic acid building, we use Stamina Zone Training, which consists of race pace work for an hour or more. Steady state runs, tempo runs, tempo intervals, cruise intervals, and progression runs are a few recommended Stamina Zone exercises.

Lastly, Endurance Zone Training, which forms the bulk of the training under Torrence’s plans. These runs improve the ability to run for long durations, maintain aerobic fitness, and maximize the capacity to train and recover in the other three zones. These are long, easier runs where the heart rate should not rise about 70% of the runner’s maximum threshold.

Base Phase

Torrence’s plans interweave the 4 training zones throughout four training phases. The first phase is the base phase. This phase should make up more than half of a runner’s training throughout the year, and consists of lighter work in all four training zones to keep the body fast and efficient without a high degree of exertion.

Pre-Race Specific Phase

This consists of a 4 to 6 week ramp-up phase. Runners in this phase perform roughly the same exercises as in the base phase, but slowly increase distance, duration, and intensity to prepare the body for hard running.

Race Specific

Three to 10 weeks of full intensity in all four zones. During this phase, the runner focuses most strongly on their individual weaknesses and on the specific demands of the race.

Peaking

For the last two to three weeks before the race, Torrence’s team recommends maintaining the race specific routine and intensity, but gradually dropping the volume of each run to rest while maintaining peak form.

Jacob Puzey of Peak Run Performance

Compared to Ian Torrence, Peak Run Performance founder Jacob Puzey has had a slightly rockier road to renown in the running community. While Torrence’s claims to fame largely hinge on his own running career, Puzey became a name in the running community when he returned to Hermiston High School, his Alma Mater, and coached the cross-country team to their first ever state title. Despite the differences, the two do share one key link: both have worked as coached under the legendary Greg McMillan.

Training On A Treadmill

As holder of the 50-mile treadmill world record, Jacob Puzey is a major proponent of training on a treadmill. He sees treadmills as a technological advantage, a way to help balance the demands of long running with the other commitments of a busy life.

Aside from taking advantage of treadmill time to spend time with family while training, catch up on TV, or listen to an audiobook, Puzey also loves it for form improvement: put a mirror in front of the treadmill (or find one near the mirrors at the gym) and watch yourself run.

Finding Your Form

If you’re not sure what to look for in the mirror, Coach Puzey has a lot of great advice available on the Peak Run Performance YouTube channel, including an excellent series on injury prevention that serious runners absolutely must see.

In his “Running Form Cues” primer, he provides these vital tips to help with efficiency, speed, and safety.

Relax your jaw. To get the feel for this, Puzey recommends clenching your teeth and then letting go until your mouth is slightly open. A tight jaw causes tension in the neck, which can travel through the back, shoulders, and even into the glutes and hamstrings.

Relax the shoulders, too. To test this out, raise them as high as possible, then drop them to your sides.

Hold your elbows at a 90-degree angle, and don’t open and close them while you run. Your arm movement should be driven from the shoulders, almost like putting your hands into your pockets.

Don’t let your hands cross your upper body.

Hold your hands slightly closed, but not clenched, with the thumbs on top, nearly touching the index finger. Puzey suggests visualizing a delicate, dry leaf between the thumb and finger.

Hold your body tall while you run, with a slight lean forward at the ankles. Your feet should strike the ground directly beneath your hip.

Sage Canaday’s Sage Running

Sage Canaday has been running, and winning, on some of the sports biggest stages for 16 years. His pro endurance wins include the World Long Distance Mountain Championship (Pikes Peak Ascent), the Tarawera 100k, the Speedgoat 50km, and TNF50 mile championships.

Through his and Coach Sandi Nypaver’s Sage Running coaching company, Sage offers training plans and advice to runners across the world. His Vo2maxProductions YouTube channel, where he releases training tips, gear reviews, and other content, has over 100,000 subscribers.

Feeling Based Training

As vital as a strong training plan is, it can be even more important to know when to know when to leave the plan behind, so Sage Running’s training plans are all based on how the runner feels. Canaday and Nypaver futher explain the philosophy in a joint post on the Sage Running site, “The Art of Feeling Based Training”.

In the same post, they offer several tips to avoid (or recover from) overtraining.

The coaches caution that poor sleep, incomplete nutrition, long term stress, or bad caffeine habits can all mimic the symptoms of overtraining. If you maintain healthy habits outside of running, it will be easier to tell when your body needs more rest.

Be honest with yourself when evaluating your condition. You don’t want to force yourself to meet the schedule unless you’re sure it’s right for your body.

Bad quality of sleep, an uncharacteristically sour disposition, a weak immune system, or an elevated resting heart rate can all be signs of overtraining.

If you have overtrained, check your training logs to get a sense of where you went wrong. For now, cut back on hard runs and mileage. Go easy until you’re feeling normal, and then cautiously ramp back up to full intensity over a few weeks.

Don’t Underestimate Easy Runs

Canaday is a big believer in easy runs, and pushes runners to take them at an even lighter pace than they typically expect. Pushing the pace on easy runs limits your ability to recover from the hard days. The key is to get enough work in to keep your heart rate elevated for an extended period, while still giving yourself enough rest to heal from your more intense work. The exercise strengthens your heart, builds capillaries and increases the efficiency with which your body transfers oxygen to your muscles.

Make the Long Runs Count

The long runs on Coach Canaday’s schedule are all specific workouts, rather than pure mileage. Canaday believes that this is the most effective way to simulate race conditions for event specific training exercises, so he makes them an integral part of his training. To further simulate the intensity of competition, Canaday recommends planning long run workouts so that the second half of the run is taken at a much faster overall pace than the first half.

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Skyline Scotland

Four years ago, Skyrunning UK was created to bring the ethos of running in the Alps and Pyrenees to UK shores. Of course, as many pointed out, the UK lacked the altitude and high-peaks of our French, Spanish and Italian friends. However, what we lacked in height most certainly could be compensated for with technical and challenging terrain.
Emelie Forsberg
2014 was a breakthrough year with the inclusion of the Glen Coe Skyline race. This race personified the pure ethos of Skyrunning and the race was modeled on the Italian classic of Trofeo Kima. Tempted by the initial PR and photography, many of the world’s best mountain runners converged at a tiny ski resort and by the end of the inaugural event, history was made. Emelie Forsberg took top honors for the ladies and Joe Symonds for the men.
It soon became apparent that the Glen Coe Skyline was going to boom and a new start and finish venue was created in the small village of Kinlochleven. But race director Shane Ohly didn’t stop there. A VK (vertical kilometer) was added, the UK first and in addition, for year two, the Ring of Steall SkyRace was added – all races joining the prestigious Skyrunner World Series.
In 2017, Skyline Scotland comes of age. From the short, sharp and brutal VK in the VK World Circuit, to the long, demanding and challenging ultra – the weekend became the pinnacle event of racing in the UK in 2017 and saw three events, Sky Classic, Extreme, and the new Ben Nevis Ultra being added to the newly formed Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series.
The weekend kicked off with the Salomon Mamores VK™, an incredible leg burning and lung-busting ascent from sea level to a Munro summit. p=Participants followed a marked course climbing 1000m of vertical gain in less than 5km’s. The route starts easy with winding trails but it soon kicks up with a wall of vertical muddy grass and fell. The terrain at times so steep and slippery that participants slid backward while trying to move forward. In the final sections, grass and mud turn to rock with a stunning run up the ridgeline to the summit. Departing at timed intervals, it’s like an epic stage of the Tour de France as runners push their limits, in principle, the fastest runners going last – the fastest overall time to the summit is the winner! The day was won by Stian Angermund-Vik from Norway and Laura Orgue from Spain, the duo, VK, and short distance specialists. They ran strong and fast races against strong competition to take the victory.
Saturday, day two of Skyline Scotland saw an early start for the runners in the inaugural Salomon Ben Nevis Ultra, a brutal 120km race with over 4500m of vertical gain. Using remote runnable tracks, technical single track, and airy trackless ridges, the highlight of the race comes with a climb and traverse via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, leading to the summit of Ben Nevis. Starting from the southern shore of the world-famous Loch Ness, the race follows a route through remote Scottish Highland Glens, before finishing at the Event Centre in Kinlochleven. Local runner, Donnie Campbell set his stall out early on and dominated the race he was so desperate to win, post-race he confirmed that victory on home soil was a dream come true. For the ladies’ we saw the return of Nepalese run sensation Mira Rai. Mira ran an incredibly smart race and so strong was her performance she placed 5th overall.
Skyline Scotland
The Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace started several hours after the Ultra start from the event center in Kinlochleven. It’s a challenging race to push the most experienced Skyrunner to the limit. The Devil’s Ridge providing a thrilling and airy traverse, in total four peaks were summited. The race is a pure ‘classic’ following in the tradition of Zegama-Aizkorri and the Dolomites SkyRace, the route consists of uncompromising mountain running with scrambling along mountain ridges. A world-class field toed the line with a who’s who of the mountain running world. In the early stages, it was all to fight for with Marco De Gasperi, Jan Margarit, Alexis Sevennec, Stian Angermund-Vik and the USA’s Andy Wacker dictating the pace. But just as in 2016, it was Angermund-Vik who grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and just as he did in the VK he went on to victory with a new course record. For the ladies’ Laura Orgue battled with Sheila Aviles, Laura Sola, and Maite Maiora but like Angermund-Vik, Orgue was too strong for the completion and pulled off the ‘double’ and in the process set a new course record too.
Sunday saw the third and final day, undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend, the brutal, demanding, challenging and yes, dangerous, Glen Coe Skyline Extreme Race. The race so challenging that runners must be vetted for experience before being allowed to toe the line. The race is up there with Norway’s Tromso SkyRace and the iconic Italian classic of Trofeo Kima. The race fuses mountain running and alpinism in an extreme test of speed, endurance, and skill on an uncompromising, world-class course. The race follows the true and pure traditions of ISF President Marino Giacometti who pioneered and created this sport on the slopes of Monte Rosa in the late 80’s! At 55km with 4,750m of vertical gain, the race is an ultimate teat and includes the most challenging Scottish mountain terrain with a traverse of the Aonach Eagach ridge and a technical scramble of Curved Ridge coming very early in the race. The 2017 edition of the race, understandably, had the eyes of the mountain running world upon it with the best in the world toeing the line. Notably, Kilian Jornet fresh from 2nd place at UTMB would race for the first time on UK soil. The early stages of the race were dictated by Andre Jonsson but as Curved Ridge approached, Jornet took the front of the race followed by Alexis Sevennec, 2016 Glen Coe winner and Skyrunner Extreme Series champion, Jon Albon. It was all too close to call with Him Gurung, Max King, Hector Haines, and Cody Lind all running close. It was the climb to Aonach Eagach were the damage was done, Jornet and Albon pulled away and as they traversed the airy and technical ridge, Jornet but his experience to use pulling away from the 2016 champion to clinch victory in a course record time. Albon finished 2nd and importantly once again clinched the Skyrunner World Series title for the Extreme category.
For the ladies’ Emelie Forsberg and Megan Kimmel dictated the early stages of the race with the duo swapping the lead. But just as with Jornet, once the technical and challenging Aonach Eagach arrived, Forsberg used her skill and knowledge from victory in 2014 to pull away from the American and like Jornet she clinched victory with a new course record. In the ladies’ overall category, Maite Maiora was crowned 2017 Skyrunner World Series champion after gaining victories in Tromso and Italy at the Royal Gran Paradiso.
The 2018 Skyline Scotland events will no doubt be a highlight once again in the UK calendar and after this year, the world calendar too!
 
 
©iancorless.com

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Elisabet Barnes-“Transrockies"

Elisabet Barnes, 2017 Marathon des Sables champion decided to get steep and get high at the 2017 edition of the Transrockies – an iconic multi-day race that takes place in the USA.
The race is a multi-day point-to-point race that is based upon the European TransAlpine run. Starting in Buena Vista, the race concludes in Beaver Creek. It’s a race that traverses wild and fantastic scenery through the heart of the White River and San Isabel National Forests. Single-track, forest road and 20,000ft of elevation gain make this a tough race especially when the race reaches high-points of over 12,000ft.
It is not a self-sufficient race – racers are fed and housed in tents, hot showers are available and they are supported throughout the journey.
I caught up with Elisabet Barnes after placing 4th – a race that certainly had some real high and low points, and I don’t mean attitude!
*****
Elisabet Barnes
Ian: I last spoke to Elisabet Barnes a few months back, she was telling me about training in Tenerife at altitude. She then went off to the USA to race TransRockies and she’s here to tell us all about it. I think it’s fair to say, Elisabet Barnes, going racing at altitude, a multi-stage race was something new and a learning curve and I’m sure that you can pass on some knowledge.
Let’s, first of all, go back to your training. You had a block of time in Tenerife and then, you moved over to the US for three weeks before the race to finish off the acclimatization process. How do you think that whole preparation thing went and now, with a bit of hindsight, do you think it was the right preparation or would you have changed anything?
Elisabet: As far as the acclimatizing to the altitude, I did okay with the time I had. I spent five weeks in Tenerife and the last four of those was living at 2100 meters and training a bit higher. You can get up to 3,500 in Tenerife but that requires you to run up the volcano. Mostly, I trained around 2,500. That’s the closest to the race level to come to from sea level. Just the first few days there, they were hard and I definitely noticed it. If I would have gone straight to 3,000 meters, then, I think that would have been a bit of a shock to the system.
It was like three acclimatization’s if you wish. I definitely noticed a difference when I left Tenerife – I had gotten used to that altitude. I would have maybe wanted more time in Tenerife, but the altitude out there just makes it a little bit more difficult to recover. If you train hard and do more climbing than normal, which I did, and then you have the altitude to deal with. After three weeks, I actually got really tired and I thought that I had overdone it.
I didn’t really take into account the added effects of doing all the climbing at altitude, and it’s something that I don’t normally do. My body just needed a bit more time to absorb. You always must listen to your body. If you get really tired, you just can’t push on and I really had to back off a bit. That was frustrating but I did that because I knew I had to.
Ian: From a coaching perspective, that’s classic mesocycle and microcycle, isn’t it? Where you have your block of training but then that block of training, needs to be broken down into smaller segments and that classic three-week build and one-week recovery is effectively what you’re talking about there.
You can’t just keep adding volume and time without your body saying, ‘hold on a minute!’ What you’re doing is taking on a much more feel basis because, obviously, it’s a new environment and you have to work out how far to push and when to pull back off. I think that’s maybe what I’m touching at in terms of, for you, this was a new experience, a new learning curve. And so, the next time, you can either start at a higher level or go into your training with a greater knowledge of what you need to do.
Elisabet: Yes, absolutely. I certainly agree with you, it’s pushing your body and maybe working it and seeing what happens to learn. In Tenerife, it was hot too and the altitude, in addition, makes it fairly hard. I absolutely loved it out there and the trails were great.
Ian: We’ll come on to the fact that the trails are easier in the US and you purposely did all your training on more technical trails. Let’s talk about the transition from going from Europe to the USA and that period of time before the race because this is always a really difficult thing. It is easy to run yourself into the ground before a race, but we both know, you are not going to get any fitter in those final 2-3 weeks, just more tired.
I understand this, as runners, we love to be in the environment and I think what happens is it’s very easy to drop yourself into an amazing place and just want to run, but in a way, forget that you’ve got this really big race in 7 or 10 days. How did you manage to drop into Colorado and that amazing landscape with those amazing mountains and not overdoing it?
Elisabet: I came home from Tenerife, I had about five days at home and then I traveled out to Colorado. It was two and a half weeks before the race and I went to Leadville. I have decided to go to Leadville because I just wanted to go as high as I could, basically, knowing that the race would hover around 2,600 to 3,100 meters most of the time. The high point is Hope Pass which is just over 3,800 meters. My thought process was to go out there and then as soon as possible just try to adapt and learn a little about the course.
Stage one, or most of it, which was probably around 20 or 21 miles was actually my longest run that I did out there and I did it as soon I came out. Then, I wanted to spend time at altitude and obviously, I wanted to experience Colorado since I was there.
I decided to climb a few peaks but that was hiking. I took it relatively easy and tried not to really exhaust myself. It was quite enjoyable actually. I did some shorter runs as well but it was fairly low in terms of what I did in Tenerife. I felt good. I was focused on trying to get used to the altitude but then, there was a Leadville 10k.
I did the Leadville 10k and that was so hard. I have never walked in a 10k my whole life, but this course goes downhill for 5k and then you have to run back up for 5k. I tell you, running a 10k at 3,100 meters altitude, that’s no joke. That was really tough. And that got me actually a little bit worried about the race. I actually spoke to a guy in Buena Vista the day before the race and he had moved there from sea level, he said it had taken him a year to get fully acclimatized.
Ian: I get that. I spend quite a lot of my year at altitude but it’s a little bit here and a little bit there. As soon as you start getting above 2500 the impact of altitude is phenomenal, particularly if you’re trying to push the pace.
The difference comes when you have to push the pace. And of course, you can only realize where you’re lacking when you’re in a race because up until that point the only gauge you have to go off is yourself. It’s only when you’ve got another woman or two women in front of you and you’re then trying to keep up that you realize, “I’m missing X.” Like on day one of the race, you have Magdalena Boulet who has won Western States who is running ahead of you. She’s a world-class ultra-runner, who took the stage one victory.
And we know that Magda is adapted to this environment. Do you consider, if you want to excel at something like TransRockies, you need to be there at altitude for much longer.
Elisabet: Yes. I would need to be out there longer. But I have lived at sea level my whole life and I have rarely been at significant altitude. For my next race at this kind of altitude, I would definitely go a few months beforehand or at least a few months of altitude training. There’s also the climbing too to consider. I come from a road running background and I’m more used to running flat sections, and I’m quite good at running downhill, but climbing is my weakness – it is something that I need to work on.
I think I can definitely get stronger in the climbing with more training. But I do think it helps if one is petite. I am not, I am tall! Going downhill I am (my head) just farther away from the ground. And I think it might make it a little bit more difficult. Maybe my stride length is going to be a little bit longer?
Ian: Did you did you use poles for the climbs?
Elisabeth: I didn’t use poles on day one. I didn’t use poles on day two either which is actually when we went over Hope Pass. I hadn’t used poles at all in my training. Maybe a little bit in Tenerife. But then I did take them out for stage three. And then I immediately regretted not having used them on day two. And I did use them for the remaining stages on the climbing. Actually, in hindsight, it was stupid of me to not use my poles, particularly for stage two being on the Hope Pass. I’m actually a good user of poles. I did a lot of cross-country Skiing, growing up so I learned something there!
Ian: I didn’t know the answers to the poll question and I am surprised by the answer. I had the expectation that you were going to say yes. With the level of climbing involved poles would seem logical.
Elisabet: I think stage one was a mistake to not have poles. We had 12 kilometers climb going up to the first checkpoint – I would have done it faster with poles, I now know this now. On day two, I dropped one placing, so I finished fourth. And that prompted me to take the poles for stage three and I finished second.
I had a really strong climb on day three, that was my best climbing. In most of the stages I was behind on the climb and I gained some time and placings on the descent. Whereas on day three when I had the poles, I felt good. And for some reason, I was really good with altitude that day as well even though it was a high day.
But then I injured my knees so that’s when I deteriorated a bit.
Ian: I was going to come on to this… We do have a little bit of a joke with you as you do have a habit of falling over when running. It’s very rare that I don’t get a bloody knee photograph of you… Ironically in Tenerife, the trails were more technical and you had no issues, you felt as though you were adapting well.
You fell twice during Transrockies, the second time was a little more serious.
Elisabet:  The second fall wasn’t great and the doctor decided to mummify me, it took about 45 minutes to an hour. Ironically, both falls where not in the technical sections in the race. I’m becoming pretty good at focusing when it’s technical, all it takes is a lack of focus, which is easy when it goes from technical to non-technical and then suddenly you are on the floor! I’m not really sure, but on the second day when I tripped over, I realized afterward that I was a little dizzy – maybe the altitude was impacting on me. Maybe it was the fact that we went over Hope Pass, the highest point of the course.
The second time, which was on day three, we had this amazing lovely rolling downhill section through a pine forest and I absolutely loved it. I love stretching my legs, I’m pretty fast on the downhill. I ran some smooth road, took a sharp right down a single track and then it got quite steep. I just didn’t pay attention and I tripped over some rocks, that was pretty bad.
I slid on my forearms, and I didn’t realize at the time but I must have twisted my knee a little bit. When I finished, my knee started to swell up and it did get quite bad in the afternoon. I was really worried about the rest of the race, I thought if it gets any worse I won’t be able to continue because I could hardly walk. I elevated it, iced it, applied some creams and took some painkillers, anything to make it possible to just be able to start the next day.
I wanted to finish the race but you have to balance these things, I didn’t want to do myself any long-term damage. I concluded that it was mostly swollen, maybe a little sprain or bruised from the inside of the knee? The following day I could put weight on it, I could run, I did take some painkillers which I don’t normally do when I run and it seemed to work out ok.
Ian: You were never out of the top four ladies, you were always in or around the action but the knee slowed you of course. There was probably an element of adaptation going on during the race too.
Was there an element of you saying to yourself, “Well, I can only do what I can do, it’s pointless trying to push too hard,” because as you say at altitude like that and with an injury, you can be fine one minute but then 30 seconds later you can just blow up.
Elisabet: Yes, you can and it was interesting because there was one day, it might have been stage four or stage five. We spent quite a bit of time just running on this undulating trail at quite a high altitude and I did feel a little bit dizzy. I heard other people after who said the same – you just have to constantly monitor how you feel.
You can feel absolutely brilliant one day, then the next day it’s different. When the medics looked after me up after day three, they said, “Are you actually continuing? What? Are you running tomorrow?” I said, “Ye!”  It just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t keep trying.
I had to reassess the situation and say to myself, “Okay, maybe I can’t push that hard,” but we still had three stages to go, in a multi-stage race it’s never over until it’s over.
You don’t stop. You have to be sensible of course and I consider I was sensible – you can’t just give up because there’s always the chance, right?
I said before the race that if I was in the top five, given my experience of this type of environment, I thought that that would be okay because I knew there would definitely be people who train in the mountains or are more used to the altitude.
A great deal of people said to me beforehand, “You’re going win this, you’re going to smash this,” but people don’t necessarily understand that there are lots of different types of running and because you win one type of race, MDS for example, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to win another type of race just like that!
Ian: Absolutely it’s all about the learning curve, the balance, a completely rounded runner is somebody that can do all these things but these are few and far between. You do extremely well at multi-day races, and that’s confirmed by you placing fourth overall and achieving a pre-race objective of top five.
I certainly think if you went back to TransRockies next year with what you’ve learned this year then it may very well be a different story. With that assessment, now that you’ve had an opportunity to asses with the race behind you, what’s your overall opinion now, in particular, you will go to Nepal next and the Everest Trail Race – Transrockies will be great prep for this race?
Elisabet: I think Nepal is going to be a little bit more challenging in several ways, I think it could be a more uncomfortable week, probably in terms of the camping and the shifting temperatures. The amount of climbing, it’s quite a lot. I’m not necessarily worried about it. In fact, I think it might be a good thing because I think I’m maybe better at steeper hiking than just running up more shallow inclines. So, I’m hoping that there will be more of that, and that’s mostly good. I will be taking poles!
Ian: Poles are absolutely essential for Nepal.
Elisabet: I did work a little bit with sports scientists at Bryson’s university this year. They said that if you have routine exposure to altitude it can help accelerate future acclimatization and adaptation so I’m hoping that I won’t lose everything I gained out in the USA in terms of adaptation.
In an ideal world, I would have probably just gone to Nepal now and trained but that’s not possible, so, I will try to spend a couple of weeks at some altitude before the race. The plan is to go back to Tenerife if I can make that happen.
Ian: That sounds like a good plan.
Elisabeth: With the experience, I’ve had, I do feel a lot more confident about my ability at altitude. Although I know it’s going to be challenging, I’m not that worried about it. Whereas before, I was really worried about the altitude because in the past I have had a couple of really bad experiences where I’ve basically got altitude sickness. When I ran the Grand to Grand stage race I had altitude issues and we started at only 1600 meters elevation.
Ian: Yes, I am sure the adaptation is better and you will adapt much quicker in Nepal – it’s also important to note that ETR is more like MDS, you are semi self-sufficient and you need to carry a pack.
Elisabeth: Yes.
Ian: You’re not carrying your food, but you’ve got to carry what you need for the race, and of course because it gets so cold in the evening, that is a warmer sleeping bag, you need a down jacket, you’re going to need a change of clothing for the evening in comparison to day clothing. You’re going to need layers, you’re going to need a long thermal top, you’re going to need some sort of thermal leggings or tights or whatever they may be. And I do think that is an advantage for you because you do run well with a pack.
Food is provided, you’re sleeping in tents which are provided, it will all fit into your skill set. I think all those things are going to go into your favor in terms of the Nepal experience, and I think, like you say, that the climbs are so long and the altitude so high, that they’re not running climbs.
Elisabeth: Yes. [laughs]
Elisabeth: I think having done a few peaks out in Colorado, I have learned that you just have to be patient, you have to fall into a rhythm and just keep going. In regard to the backpack as well, I’m a bit taller and bigger than maybe most female mountain runners and that works in my favor when carrying 4-6kg’s!
Ian: What three pearls of wisdom from your last six months could you pass on? If you have to give them three tips, what would it be?
Elisabeth: Well, if I look at people who are not living at altitude or not necessarily having mountains next to them, you have to always look at the specifics of the race and replicate it as much as possible.
If you’re doing huge mountains in your race, you have to train climbing and descending, there’s no way around it. You have to be creative and find ways of doing that with what you’ve got available, even if that means a treadmill, it could mean specific strength training.?
Altitude, I’m always surprised talking to people doing multi-day races for example that will take place at altitude and then don’t think about adapting to the demands that this brings. You need to adapt!
My third one is the tapering. You need to do the training building peaks and troughs but importantly you need to ease off in that final 2-3 weeks so that you arrive at the start line fresh and ready to dig deep.
 
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Western States 2017

It’s that time of the year when the ultra and trail running aficionados go crazy at the prospect of another Western States 2017 Endurance Run (WSER) – the oldest 100-mile race in the USA and the one with the legendary story of Gordy Ainsleigh and a lame horse.
With 18.000ft of climb and 22.000ft of downhill, the race has in the past been full of incredible stories – Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Nikki Kimball, Ellie Greenwood, and Timothy Olson to name just a few names from an incredible 40+ years of history.
Over the years, the course is often discussed around the heat that the canyons bring and if it will be a snow or no snow year.
Let’s be clear, the Western States 2017 is going to be a snow year but it is melting.
Before I get into the names that will contend the top-3, let’s just first mention who will not be running. Last year’s winner Andrew Miller (yes, Andrew Miller won WSER, remember him?) and 2nd place Didrik Hermansen will not race – that is two any shows! But where is Francois d’Haene, Luis Alberto Hernando, Kilian Jornet, Rob Krar, Max King, Zach Miller and so many other names? Is it a sign that the calendar is just getting way too big and priorities are shifting…? Or are many injured? For the ladies’, no Ellie Greenwood, Rory Bosio, and Caroline Chaverot to name just three.
MEN
Well Jim Walmsley is (no he didn’t win in 2017) and he is not only looking for redemption but maybe looking for sub-14! I personally think Jim should try and win the race and forget CR’s, especially with the snow. If he does that, I think he will win. However, the only person that is going to beat Jim, in my opinion, is Jim himself by racing too hard and too fast looking for that time.
With 8 of last year’s top-10 returning, there is no shortage of runners to step into Walmsley’s shoes. A surprise may well come from the UK’s Paul Giblin who placed 5th last year. Of course, you can not rule out Jeff Browning (3rd in 17) and Thomas Lorblanchet who placed 4th. The remaining runners – Ian Sharman, Kyle Pietari, Chris DeNucci, Chris Mocko, and Jesse Haynes are all going to be in the ball-park but I don’t see any of them winning.
 Endurance Run
The surprises, although not surprises to trail running fans may well come from outside last year’s top-10. Ryan Sandes is back and he’s addicted after placing 2nd in 2012. I don’t think he can beat Walmsley in a toe-for-toe run but if his form and fitness is good, the podium is a possibility.
For me though, Alex Nichols and Jonas Buud are the ones to potentially upset the apple cart in what is essentially a runner’s race. Both guys excel at running fast and Nichols gets the nod for handling the vert and snow. Let’s not forget Buud was 2nd behind an on-fire Walmsley in New Zealand earlier this year.
Elov Olsson is going to be pretty much unknown in the USA but after this year’s race I think many will know his name and then my final tip for the podium is Tofol Castanyer – yep, if he can just sting it all together, the Spaniard has the potential to rock the Canyons.
My dark horse prediction is with Alex Nichols and Mark Hammond, the duo battled out Run Rabbit Run and placed 1st and 2nd.
LADIES
The ladies race for me is all about four runners – Kaci Lickteig who won the race last year, Camille Herron who was the first American in 20-years to win the iconic Comrades in South Africa just a few weeks ago. Magdalena Boulet who won WSER in 2015 and Stephanie Howe (now Violett) who won the race three years ago and then was unfortunately hit by injury. The winner will come from these four, but who?
Well, I am going to stick my neck out and go with Stephanie Howe, however, don’t get me wrong, it could be Kaci, Magda or Camille…
Western States 2017
Emily Harrison (now Torrence) may well stir up the apple cart and if one of the ladies above falter, and one will, Harrison will be there to step in and take over. She has speed, she is an IAU and USATF champ, however, the 100-mile distance may well be her biggest test.
Beyond this I am at a loss, for sure Amy Sproston will be in the mix, she has been 3rd and 2nd and has a list of great finishes but I see her fighting for top-5 and maybe 3rd, it all depends on what happens to the four above? Meghan Arbogast (no Laws) can’t be ruled out in any race, she is a true inspiration and her WSER list of results speak volumes.
Andrea Huser is unbelievably doing this race as well as pretty much every other race in the racing calendar, she is relentless! She will finish, she’s as tough as nails but she doesn’t have the speed to contend with the fast ladies who will fight for the top-5.
Amanda Basham finished 4th at WSER last year and I must be honest, she is not a runner I know a great deal about – 4th is 4th though so one can expect her to be around the front-runners.
5th in 2016 was Alissa St Laurent and she followed that up with 2nd at Run Rabbit Run but since then it’s difficult to gauge her form. Being quiet is a good thing though, it very often can mean careful and meticulous preparation.
My dark horse prediction will go to Fiona Hayvice from New Zealand and I believe we can expect a strong performance from Ildiko Wermescher who recently was 4th at Penyagolosa in Spain and 5th earlier in the year at Transgrancanaria.
I’ve missed plenty of names, so, who do you think will upset the race, who will be the next star and surprise of the ultra-running world?
Action starts on Saturday, June 24th at 0500 PDT and one thing is for sure, we are in for an exciting race.
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The Coastal Challenge 2017

The Coastal Challenge 2017 : Frost and Owens dominate

New Zealand’s Anna Frost and the UK’s Tom Owens dominated Costa Rica’s 13th edition of The Coastal Challenge 2017 – a six-day race that follows the coastline stating in Quepos and culminating at the iconic Drake Bay.

The Salomon sponsored duo grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck on day one and neither looked in danger of relinquishing the lead despite the intense heat, high humidity and a tough and challenging course that weaved in and out of the Talamancas for an overall distance of 250km.The Coastal Challenge 2017

Spain’s Chema Martinez, a participant in the 2016 edition of the race had spent several months specifically preparing for the race but despite his speed (he’s a 2:08 marathon runner) he could not handle Owens technical prowess not only climbing but descending.

Hardrock 100 winner, Jason Schlarb placed 3rd with a strong performance. His ability to transition from the cold and snow of Colorado to the heat and humidity of Costa Rica was impressive. The race was not without its challenges for the Altra athlete, on day one he made a navigational error losing him valuable time.

Notably, Costa Rican athletes came to the fore and impressed, the highest place going to Erick Aguero who just missed the podium placing 4th after fighting hard with Schlarb.

“I am very motivated and proud of my performance so far. I turned on my phone yesterday and was amazed at all the messages of support I’ve had from the Costa Rican running community. I will give it my all to complete this race 3rd overall. A podium finish has been my objective from the start.” – Erick Aguero

The ladies’ race had arguably the strongest line-up in the history of the race with 2016 champion, Ester Alves returning to defend her title. In addition, 2015 Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet Barnes toed the start line with mountain specialist and two time Everest Trail Race winner, Spain’s Anna Comet.

Frost, a last minute entry to the race, dominated from beginning to end with five stage victories, the only lapse coming on the last day when the New Zealander could ease off the gas and enjoy the Corcovado National Park. It was an emotional journey!

“This has been a tough and emotional journey, three editions in the making. I have finally won the race I love! I think I am done, not with Costa Rica or The Coastal Challenge – next time I will be watching and spectating though!” – Anna Frost

Elisabet Barnes placed second on day one and looked set for a strong race, however, her technical running could not match Alves and Comet. Finally finishing 4th a podium place had maybe been a possibility had she not made a navigational error on day four.

Anna Comet started steady and looked relaxed and strong as the day’s passed. She had a battle on her hands on day five when sickness and a stomach upset scuppered her otherwise consistent running. Her margin though over Alves was enough to allow her to lose time and still place 2nd overall.

Portugal’s Alves looked to struggle through day one and most definitely improved as the day’s passed. She excelled on day five and opened up a gap of 9-minutes on Barnes thus taking the final podium slot. Barnes was not willing to give up without a fight and vowed she would fight the last day. Alves was like a tornado on the sixth day and from the gun pushed hard leaving the rest of the ladies’ in her wake.

“I decided not to waste any time and ran the last 10km full out skipping the water point. It’s amazing what the body can do in this heat, the mind takes control and the drive is there.” – Ester Alves

Dense rainforest, technical trails, stunning beaches, palm trees, a plethora of wildlife and relaxed campsites in amazing locations make the ‘The Coastal Challenge ‘ one of the bucket-list races for the runner who is looking for the next challenge.

Race winner Tom Owens summed it up as he flexed in Drake Bay after the last stage, “This has been an incredible journey. It’s a stunning and magnificent part of the world and the course, terrain, views and the racing has been world-class. I have been blown away by everything – the final stage was just stunning and it managed to compress the whole TCC experience in just 22km. I’d be back to TCC and Costa Rica in a shot…!”

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Dean Karnazes – "The Road to Sparta"

Dean Karnazes

“The Road to Sparta” 

Tanned, chiseled, beaming smile, shortcut blond hair and a reverse turned peak hat –  Dean Karnazes personified cool. This guy is ripped and yes, he doesn’t look like a runner. Legs bulge with toned muscles and they are big; so far removed from the fleet of foot Kenyan’s. Dean’s arms are bigger than most marathon runners legs!
He’s edgy, almost nervous, but I soon find out that this guy can’t keep still. Sitting is an alien thing that is forced on him at social occasions and meal time. “I work standing up – I have a stand-up desk and that works for me. When I am ‘in’ training for an event, my day starts early – around 4 am! I will run a marathon before breakfast, I will work all day and then in the evening I will run again, say 12-miles with some faster running or hill work.”
It’s a grueling routine and one that is added to by numerous ‘HIT’ (high-intensity training) sessions throughout the day. Dean will include 4-to-6 10 to 15-minute sessions were he breaks away from his desk and goes through a routine of pull-ups, burpees, press ups and so on.
Dean Karnazes
Dean is in Bulgaria at FIZKULTURA – a one-day running event with guest speakers. Dean is heading up the day and I am joining him along with adventurer Sean Conway, marathon runner Irina Daniela, and host of local running talent. Dean’s first book, ‘Confessions of an all Night Runner’ has just been translated into Bulgarian and in addition, ‘The Road To Sparta,’ Dean’s new book is being launched worldwide.
For many, ‘Confessions…’ was the book that started their own ultra running odyssey – I included. Dean made a very niche and undercover world not only accessible but manageable. Today, ultra-running would not have the profile it does had Dean not made this world known.
Put a guy on a pedestal and there are those who are keen to knock him off. It’s the nature of things – a lack of understanding, jealousy, whatever it may be it has no bearing on the man, who at heart is a person who beams enthusiasm for a sport he loves. His charity work is boundless and as Dean himself says, “You have to ignore the criticism for all the thousands of emails and messages I receive that are positive!”
This guys body, face, health, and charisma shows no aging of his 54 total. At 5ft 8in he is not the towering ‘Greek God’ that many think he will be. Don’t get me wrong though – the dude is impressive. On stage he moves left-to-right, no doubt trying to add his talk to one of his daily ‘HIT’ sessions. It’s a new audience and coinciding with his first book, he takes them back to the old days.
“It was my 30th birthday and I was doing what anyone does on the 30th birthday – I was out drinking with friends. I had the car, the house, and the high-powered job but I needed more. I left the party, went home to my garage, took out a pair of run shoes and ran a mile for every year. Off the bat, 30-miles and a new story began.”
His talk is interspersed with video clips of documentary clips and a fascinating medical research program that showed how Dean does not produce lactic acid like a ‘typical’ human.
“I ran 350-miles in 80-hours, 44-minutes with no sleep. I found myself drifting to sleep while running and I would wake up in the middle of the road not quite sure how I got there. I single-handedly completed ‘The Relay,’ a 199-mile run
from Calistoga to Santa Cruz (normally done by teams) eleven times. I ran a marathon at the South Pole and if course I ran the iconic Western States eleven times.”
The audience burst into applause. Rightly so! But they all know the stories are not finished.
Dean has a mischievous glint in his eye while telling the story of running for 24-
hours in a glass box while being suspended above Times Square – “I needed the loo, not a no1 but a no2.” The auditorium is filled with laughter. “I had a potty and shower curtain inside the box, so, I go make myself comfortable, pull the curtain around me and start the task at hand… just as a helicopter sweeps in to film me for the news!” A whole new meaning to, oh shit!
He’s run across America, ran 50-marathons in 50-states in 50-days. He’s run and won Badwater 135, Vermont 100 and the 4 Desert Races amongst others and yet when asked, what is the most memorable achievement?
“Running a race with my son!”
Dean Karnazes
Dean did relax over dinner and yes, he did manage to sit down and say sit down. He talked about how fortunate he is, how blessed and how thankful he is for what running has given him.
“You know Dean Karnazes, we have a race tomorrow in the park,” Elenko Elenkov, director of events at Fizkulktura says. “It’s 12 or 6-hours to see how little or how far people can run. The real motive is to provide a 12-hour course so that those who want to qualify for Spartathlon”
Dean looks up from his spread of raw food and grilled Salmon, his eyes glow.
“Count me in for the 6-hour.”
True to his word, the following day Dean lined up on the start and ran 600m loops for 6-hours.
He and I would have it no other way, Dean Karnazes is ‘The Marathon Man!’
www.ultramarathonman.com
“Ultra Marathon Man – Confessions of an all-night runner” available here – https://www.ultramarathonman.com/web/books/ultra.shtml
Dean’s new book “The Road to Sparta’ available here – https://www.ultramarathonman.com/web/books/roadtosparta.shtml
 
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Jason Schlarb – “As Hard as A Rock!”

Jason Schlarb

“As Hard As A Rock!”

A broad smile, tanned face, and that classic 80’s ‘mullet’ confirms (if I had any question) that I am sharing a table with Jason Schlarb. We are on our second ‘Imperial’ and the Costa Rican sun is beating down on us.

“Dude, I have just loved being in Costa Rica. This race, The Coastal Challenge has a Hardrock feel to it. ya know what I mean, it’s laid back, small, homely, uncluttered – I have just loved it!”

Jason Schlarb has just placed 3rd at the 2017 ‘TCC’ (The Coastal Challenge) and he may well have been 2nd had he not made a navigational error on day 1 and thus throwing away vital time.

Jason Schlarb is chilled though, it’s early in the season and having just come off skis, he’s happy with his form. “You know what, I am stoked by this race and I already want to come back next year but in shape. Let me clarify, I am in shape, I am fit, but I am not 100% run fit. To win this race and to run at the pace that Tom has set (Tom Owens from the UK won the race), I would need to be in Hardrock shape, but that is possible.”Jason Schlarb - “As Hard as A Rock!”

Costa Rica is not a new environment for Jason, he has spent many a year here with family. The place, the ‘Pura Vida’ approach to living is something that he digs. It takes little adjusting. Living in the San Juan mountains draws parallels, not in temperature or humidity, but in approach to life, the landscape, and the environment. Jason and his family love the open spaces and Costa Rica feeds that hunger.

“Winning Hardrock 100 alongside Kilian Jornet was a highlight of my career and yes, I will be back this year to see if I can do it again. That course holds something so special and like I have said, the parallels and similarities with Costa Rica are uncanny.”

Jason has very much paved the way for US-based ultra runners and yet, he still, in my opinion, floats a little under the radar. Less so after Hardrock 100 in 2016, but Jason has been killing it year-on-year. He is one of the few Americans to make the top-5 at UTMB, he’s won Run Rabbit Run and in and amongst this, he’s regularly listed a stunning set of palmares.

Jason has even skied the Hardrock 100 course – a first, along with his fellow ski-mountaineers, Scott Simmons, Paul Hamilton and filmmaker, Noah Hamilton. Jason is not an experienced ski mountaineer but like many mountain runners, he transitioned as a way to stay fit and explore in winter months. Of course, living in the San Juan made the process easier but it was still a huge undertaking and one that he conquered – a sign if we needed one of the man’s ability and class.

With 2017 well underway and the prospect of racing Zach Miller and Kilian Jornet at Hardrock 100, I wondered what the year would hold for him, what challenges lie ahead?

Hardrock

“I am returning to La Palma in May and I am running Transvulcania. That island and that course is quite magical and I think I can have a great day there. Timing is perfect for Hardrock and therefore it’s a race that i can do 100% and still be able to recover.”

Transvulcania has become a bucket list race for many a mountain/ trail runner. Way back in 2012, the ISF (International Skyrunning Federation) elevated that race to a new level and it has grown and grown. Now, it is considered one of the ultimate races to do.

“I will go back to Chamonix in the summer but no UTMB, I will do one of the shorter races such as CCC and then my big target to end the year will be going to Reunion Island and tackling the super-tough Diagonale des Fous (aka Raid de la Reunion) which is just an ultimate mountain journey.”

It’s a balanced year and one that Jason could excel at. In current ultra running circles, it’s almost reserved and restrained?

“I am learning that as I get older and races get faster, that less is more. There are so many races now that it’s just not possible to do them all and more importantly, do them all well. I may squeeze another race in here or there but in principle, I want to pick and choose and race to my potential.”

“Diagonale des Fous comes at a good time,” I joke. “You will be able to recover and then pick up your training and be ready with all guns blazing for Costa Rica and the 2018 edition of TCC!”

“Is my plan so obvious…?”

Jason laughs and as another ‘Imperial’ is drained to the bottom of the bottle, I know that at several points this year, we will be raising full bottles and toasting success as Jason once again sets the bar high in the world of mountain, ultra, trail and Skyrunning.

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Transgrancanaria 2017 Race Summary

On the stroke of 2300 hours, 900 runners departed from the northwestern coastal town of Ageate in Gran Canaria for the tough and challenging 125km journey with 8000m of vertical gain that is simply known as Transgrancanaria.

A race in the UTWT (Ultra Trail World Tour) it has become over the years one of the worlds most iconic ultra marathons. The list of previous winners reads like a who’s who of the sport – Ryan Sandes, Sebastien Chaigneau, Didrick Hermansen, Núria Picas and Caroline Chaverot amongst others.

It’s a tough race. No, it’s an extremely tough race and one that should not be taken lightly. The island of Gran Canaria is traversed from north-west to the south via the trails and mountains that make Gran Canaria a must for any trail runner.

From the gun, the climbing starts and doesn’t let go. A rollercoaster ride of trails is made harder by darkness and often inclement weather. With the arrival of daylight, moods lift and as the runners travel south, temperatures rise as the lure of the sea and the finish line in Maspalomas brings the journey to the end.

The 2017 edition will be remembered for a cold and windy night that battered the runners both physically and mentally – over 300 runners would not make the finish line. Didrick Hermansen and Caroline Chaverot, champions from 2016, headed up a stellar field of world-class talent but they would not have an easy ride. Chaverot over the first 30km’s was off the pace and running out of the top-5 resulting in a withdrawal from the race at the first major control in Artenara. Hermansen equally was not having an easy run, like Chaverot, he was running off the podium in the first third of the race but he persevered – he is a master of pacing!

By contrast, Pau Capell and Azara Garcia, both from Spain, were showing the rest of the race the sole of their shoes. They started the race with commitment and dedication, pushing hard from the gun and opening up time on the chasers.

Daylight brought with it the arrival of Capell at the iconic Roque Nublio early, his pace considerably faster than that of Hermansen’s 2016 record time. Using poles he set a relentless pace and he looked relaxed. It was going to be his day! Behind, Lithuanian revelation Vlaidas Zlabys chased, he too looked in the zone while pre-race favorites of Diego Pazos, Andy Symonds, Hermansen, and Timothy Olson were accompanied by Jordi Gammito Baus and Maxime Cazajous chasing.

Azara Garcia was the First Lady to arrive at Roque Nublio and although she looked tired and sore from the journey, she had a steely focus that told all who watched her that she was going to fight for the line. Her time margin was significant over the chasers of Andrea Huser, Kirstin Beglund and Ildo Wermescher.

Garavan and then Pico de Nieves came and went, the journey to the coast was now seeing the runners descend from the mountains and with every meter of elevation loss, the temperature rose. From the almost zero temperatures of the night and morning, 25-degrees plus were punishing the runners as they fought for the finish line. Zlabys had closed some of his deficit on Capell, they were 10-minutes apart but Capell rallied and pushed for the line taking one of the greatest victories of his career – a new course record just reward. Zlabys finished 2nd and Hermansen paced his race to perfection using incredible closing speed to pass the runners ahead and take 3rd slot on the podium, he was just 6-minutes slower than his 2016 winning time.

Garcia produced a gutsy and incredible run to finish 50-minutes ahead of 2nd placed lady Huser. The race took it’s toll though. She was an empty shell on the finish line. A vacant expression replaced a normally glowing smile. Her fatigue deprived her of a celebration as she was stretchered away for medical attention. Rousset completed the podium.Azara Garcia

Pre-race favorites – Diego Pazos, Andy Symonds, and Timothy Olson all had solid races and finished in the top-10. Each had a story of overcoming adversity.

“It was so cold in the night, I hadn’t anticipated that,” Olson said. “I hadn’t taken gloves and I really regretted it. I just had to push on and make the best of it. This is such a tough course, the contrasts are amazing.”

Transgrancanaria is no longer just one race, it’s a weekend of racing and this year the addition of a new 250km event created a stir amongst runners and media. 

Transgrancanaria 2017

The 82km Advanced race was won by Sebastien Chaigneau – a popular victory for the ambassador of trail and  took the ladies title.

In the Marathon, former Transgrancanaria ladies winner, Nuria Picas, took the female victory with a course record time and lead the men, notably, Ryan Sandes placed 4th.

Men Results

Pau Capell 13:21:03 new course record (Didrick ran 13:41 in 2016)

Vlaidas Zlabys 13:35:38 (also under the 2016 course record)

Didrick Hermansen 13:50:06 

Jordi Gatito Baus 13:53:53

Maxime Cazajous 13:53:54

Ladies Results

Azara Garcia 16:25:20 (Caroline ran 15:23 in 2016)

Andrea Huser 17:15:45

Melanie Rousset 17:30:40

Kirstin Berglund 18:00:04

Ildo Wermescher 18:17:43

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Hayden Hawks – C'min’ at ya, fast!

Hayden Hawks – C’min’ at ya, fast!

On February 18th, Hayden Hawks will toe the line of Moab’s Red Hot 50k. If I was a betting man, I’d be having a punt and naming Hawks as the victor. Yes, this guy is on fire – he proved it in December when he pushed Zach Miller all the way to the line at San Francisco 50. Zach took the day and the $10.000 prize purse but the duo both went under the old course record, as Hawks says, “I broke the course record by over 10 minutes and did everything that I possibly could today but Zach just had a little more than me.”

But who is this 25-year old from Utah? In 2016 he burst on the scene with victory at Speedgoat 50K, sponsorship with Hoka One One followed and victory at Capstone 50K in November laid the foundations for that very memorable head-to-head with Miller.

Hayden grew up in St. George, Utah. For those who don’t know where that’s at, it’s right next to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Just 15-20 minutes from Zion it’s a beautiful area, where there are many places to run trails. For example, he had United Trails right in his backyard where he can get a quick 20-mile run in.

Ironically, growing up he never took advantage of those trails. He played baseball, played football, played basketball, but then going into junior year of high school Hayden started to think about cross-country, track, and field.

It was a catalyst – he would just go out and run on trails close to his house. “I would run off a mountain, you know there’s a big mountain by my house, and I would just be like, hey I’m going to run to the top of that thing. So, I’d go and run to the top of that thing, because that’s the only thing I knew that would probably get me better at running.”

Hayden joined the cross-country team and guess what? He found out that he had a talent for running.

By the end of my senior year, I was a state champion in cross-country. I went on and got a scholarship to run for a local university here. It’s a Division One University but kind of a smaller school, Southern Utah University (SUU). I started running there and tried to just get better each year. So, by the time I graduated at SUU, I ended in a Division One All-American in cross country, and I ran a 28-minute 10km and 13:51 for the 5km.”

A picture starts to build; the outline is now being coloured in and we start to get a little bit of a glimpse of the final painting – a painting of speed!

Hayden Hawks

Ultra-running is changing, we’ve been saying it for the past few years with Sage Canaday, Rob Krar and Max King but now Jim Walmsley, Zach Miller and now Hawks are taking the sport to a whole new level. It’s an exciting time but also a frightening time. Godfather of the sport, Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer recently said, “The sports just going to a whole new level, these fast-track guys are coming in and the pace is getting quicker and quicker.”

But I wondered, what is that makes these fast guys and girls miss out the progression through the ranks of 10km, half-marathon, and marathon and jump in at ultras?

By the end of track season, my senior year, seven-eight months ago. I was kind of burned out with track and field, to be honest with you. I was trying hard to hit an Olympic trials qualifier on the track, and I was just putting in the miles and putting in workouts. After college, I was kind of questioning a little bit if I was going to continue to try to do this track and field, road running thing, or if I was just going to go to a medical school… that’s when I started running a lot of trails again.”

Cedar City is a town close to Hawks home and they have a lot of trails and mountains up there. Hawks started back to his basics and started running the trails and started climbing the mountains. “I’d pick one mountain in that area and be like, Okay, I’m going to run to the top. I just fell in love, and found a passion for running again.”

Hawks signed up for the US championship for mountain running and signed up for the Siskiyou Race because he and his wife were going to go on a road trip to the Redwood Forest.

“I qualified for the US national team for mountain running, and I just loved it. I loved the people, I loved being up there in the mountains, I loved climbing; it was so much fun. And that, as I said, that passion came back. And I decided, I think I’m going to try to give this one more go. I’m going to try to make it as a professional runner, but I think I’m going to change my focus here, and I’m going to go more into trail running and mountain running!”

Going straight to ultra had me wondering why? Maybe Hawks thought he could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In marathon terms these days, unless you’re running 2:04, 2:05, you’re not in the ballpark!

Yes, that’s maybe true? I still run roads, I still run track workouts. I pride myself on keeping that leg speed and being fast. I think it’s an advantage I can have in this sport and I still do some of that stuff but you know what, I run faster on trail runs. I think it’s just because I love being on the trail so much.”

Running is less hard when on the trail, it becomes fun. It becomes just this beautiful thing; we can all go out there and just explore. We all do sport for our own individual reasons but certainly getting out in the open space and the fantastic landscape is what it’s all about.

In 2016, Hawks, a complete unknown and rookie ultra-runner turned up at the tough and competitive Speedgoat 50km race and won it.

I signed up the night before the race. I wasn’t planning on running, I wasn’t even planning on moving up to 50k anytime soon,” Hawks tells the tale. “I had a buddy that was running it. I contacted him he talked to Karl (the race director), Karl got me into the race the night before and I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t even know what the course looked like or anything. All I knew is that it was a tough course but I sometimes I get myself in trouble being maybe a little too overconfident. I thought a tough course, I can handle that, I think I can do that and I went out and ran that race and had a blast doing it and was lucky enough to come out with that victory there.”

It was the catalyst, the transformation process where Hawks looked at himself and the ultra-community looked at him and thought, this guy could be good? In future years, and it might be two or three years’ time, but Hawks himself will look back and say that was the moment. That was the moment when it all changed.

*****

It’s all well and good winning Speedgoat 50km but stepping up to San Francisco 50 in December 2016 was a big and bold move. San Fran has the reputation as the big showdown to close the year, especially with the $10.000 price money at stake for the winner. There’s a big gap though between 50km and 50-miles, how did Hawks prepare?

Hayden Hawks

I average 120, 130-miles a week and I was doing that as a track athlete. Our program here at SUU was high mileage and so I was doing that. The workouts though have been different, I’ve been doing a lot more climbing, for example, going up mountains and doing mile repeats.”

“Today, I am going to do a workout where I will do a 15-mile run at a pretty decent pace on the trails. It will be under seven-minute pace for 15-miles and then I will do three by one-mile hill repeats and the hill repeats will have about 5-600 feet of elevation gain for each mile and I’m going at about 80 to 90% of my threshold up these hills. It will end up being about 21, 22-miles – quality stuff.”

Ouch! Now that’s a workout! Trail and ultra-runners have been renowned for just heading out the door, putting the hours in and then coming home to repeat the next day. But here, we see the track background and structure falling into place. It’s an ethos, a work ethic that will change the front end of the sport – the sport is going to get quicker – much quicker!

“Some days I run once a day, like today, this will be a single day, a 22-mile day single. The other days I am doubling. I’d say about half and half – I double and single. I think singles are important too because of getting in the required distance, I need to get used to being able to go for three or four-hour runs and teach my body how to do that especially if I plan on moving up to 100-mile distance in the future.”

I wondered what a long run is for Hawks?

“Pretty much on a regular basis, I’m doing 20 to 25 miles a day. But I do go out and I do five, six-hour runs. I call them adventure runs where I’ll just find a mountain and run to the top of it and then run around and try to just explore areas but just make sure I am out there for five to six hours on my feet. Sometimes, I do them without water or without food. Just trying to teach my body to use its fat metabolism and just learn how to fight through bonks and different things.”

Hawks always has an expectation to win. He is very competitive. “I am a very competitive person,” he confirms. Confidence can be perceived as arrogance though, especially when toeing the line at San Francisco 50 amongst a stellar line-up. “I knew the field. Not to say that I didn’t respect the field. I respect the field with guys like Sage Canaday and Zach Miller and stuff. I was like, this is going to be a tough race. I was hoping that I could be top five. That was the goal, but to win it was the ‘real’ goal and I knew that I could win it. I knew that I had done all the training. I knew that I was prepared, I was ready to go, I was healthy. That’s why at the beginning of that race, I went out hard and I wasn’t afraid to lead because I was confident in myself.”

Hayden Hawks

That’s brave. It’s brave, certainly within the context of the people that Hawks was racing against. Looking at the race, we knew that Zach Miller was going to go off hard because he only races one way. We love his attitude and we love his give-it-everything or die trying approach because that is the only way he runs. But for Hawks, it was his first 50-mile race, how could he have so much confidence?

“Talking about it here, it brings chills to me. It brings it back to me, how fun and how exciting that was. I look up to guys like Zach. I look up to guys like Jim Walmsley, these guys that have been doing it for a few years now. They have been my idols. They have been some of my influencers, my big influences to how I should race, how I should be. When I had the opportunity to race guys like that, it was amazing. I wanted to go out and beat them. They want to beat me just as bad as I want to beat them, but I want to race like these guy’s race. I want to make this sport exciting so that people can look at it and be like, man, these ultra-marathons, they are exciting.”

I hear an imaginary applause and cheering as ultra-running fans throughout the world get excited and whet their appetites of the showdowns that are to come in 2017, 2018 and in the future. This attitude may well make ultra a spectator sport, something that Hawks feels passionate about.

“If that means going out and racing as hard as I can from the front and maybe blowing up at the end, if that is what is going to bring people to watch the sport and see how amazing it is, then I am willing to do that and that is the only way I want to race too, just like Zach!”

There are so many others that are going to bring that too. I can’t help but think the next time that these guys are all on the same start line, it’s just going to be one of the most exciting races to watch.

Despite matching Miller stride-for-stride at San Fran 50, Hawks in the latter stages faded and placed 2nd. It was a great result, echoed by his time. He was 10-minutes under the old course record. Was he disappointed?

“It would have been nice to get that money but I was so caught up in the moment and I was happy that I had accomplished what I had done. When I saw that we had both broken the old course record I thought about it and I was like, man, what else could I have done? I broke the course record by over 10-minutes but I did everything that I possibly could today but Zach just had a little more than me.”

It’s a mature head on this 25-year old body and with a new year, new challenges are waiting. I can hear the excitement and anticipation of what’s to come within Hawks voice.

The target race, the big one is CCC (part of UTMB weekend in France) because that will be my first 100K and I’m going to do that in August and everything is going to be geared towards that and I’m definitely going for the victory there, hopefully, a course record.”

That confidence shows its head again; boy it must be great to be young and talented?

“I am doing a couple of 50km races, the first is in February and as I said, I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to break course records, I’m going to try and run as fast as I possibly can!”

The excitement and anticipation is infectious, I feel my pulse increase as Hawks voice starts to run away with him, he is talking like he races – fast! Finally, what parting shot does he have for us

“I am excited to get going this year. To be honest with you, right now, I’m ready to race and I’m just getting anxious, I want to race so bad and I want to travel so bad but for now I need to get a good base in training and then I’m going to go out there and be ready to go…!”

Watch this space.

Credit ©iancorless.com

Photo Credit(s): Derrick Lytle & Josue Fernandez

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Kaci Lickteig – Dreams Do Come True

Dreams do come true!

Kaci Lickteig ran her first ultra in 2012 aged 25-years. A small lady, she does pack a punch. It’s all wonderfully echoed by her nickname ‘Pixie Ninja’ – that sums up Kaci in a nutshell.

Some may say, 3rd time is a charm. It certainly is the case with Western States 100. The rise of this lady has been gradual but logical – 6th in 2014, 2nd in 2015 and yes, you’ve guessed it, top spot in 2016. The ‘WSER‘ is rolling course, which begins in Squaw Valley, California. It climbs more than 5500m and descends nearly 7000m before reaching the finish in Auburn some 100-miles later. It’s the ‘Grail of Trail!’

Lickteig was recently announced 2016 female ultra-runner of the year by voters in Ultrarunning Magazine, a huge honor but one that is deserved. Lickteig is on a roll of victories now, 7 consecutive at my last count. What impresses many, is the diversity of those wins. Western States is far removed from the tough and gnarly conditions that Kaci encountered at Bear 100. In and around these two top results, victory has come at 50k and 50-miles, the last result coming in Iowa at the Hitchcock Ultra which took place at night.

Some days, everything lines up and clicks the 2016 ‘Western’ was exactly one of those days, ‘Western States definitely was the race of my life. Everything came together so perfectly that day. I had a once in a lifetime race day experience. I had only dreamed of winning Western States and wanted someday for that to happen. All the stars aligned and I could win. To be among the winners’ list is surreal…I admire and respect all those women and men who have won. It’s such an honor to have my name listed as a winner of Western States 100.’

Kaci Lickteig

It’s not all been plain sailing though, severe anemia and a calf injury way back in February may well have scuppered what has been an incredible year. It’s easy to drop your head and give in when this happens, especially when one wants something so much! believe me, Lickteig wanted victory at the 2016 Western States!

Accepting the injury, cross training became a way forward not only for the body but the mind. A strategic and planned approach, allowed iron stores to return and without losing too much fitness, Lickteig was on the start line of Lake Sonoma 50 where she placed 2nd.

The countdown was on and Western States loomed. Jason Koop, her coach since 2014, has gone on record in the past saying, ‘I tell her she can step on the starting line and expect to win!’ This is not arrogance or bold statement. It’s a fact. It’s all about work ethic and the ever-changing world of ultra-running. The introduction of faster and faster runners, a world-class runner these days can’t just churn out the miles. It’s all about peaks and troughs; Lickteig follows a plan of immense variety.

‘A typical training week varies throughout the cycle I am in. Farther away from an ‘A’ race, I will do the least specific work for the race and as I get closer to the race it will be race specific work. So, for my 100 miles ‘A’ races I will start off early in the season with shorter intervals for workouts and less volume running. The closer my race comes I will progress to longer tempo runs and more volume on more course-specific
terrain. I am scheduled a day of rest either every week or every other week.’

Let’s not forget vertical too… no good being fast if you can’t climb and descend when it’s required (view Lickteig’s training on Strava here) This variety and dedication is what makes Lickteig’s victories at Western States, Bear 100 and all her other races so impressive.

Money or fame don’t motivate her, or so it seems. Lickteig holds down a full-time job as a physical therapist, surely this goes hand-in-hand with her ultra-running? ‘I am able to distinguish normal muscle soreness versus soreness related to an injury. I can then be proactive at treating any injuries that may occur. Knowing your body well and knowing the physiology of the body are both key elements for me to stay injury free.’

Ultimately, no matter who you speak to, several words are repeated when talking about Lickteig: stubborn, trains hard and she’s tough.

At 5′ 3″ and weighing around 90-pounds, Lickteig personifies the term, ‘Pocket Rocket!’ Watch her run and she seems to float, no levitate over the trails. Diets don’t interest her but rock music does. She laughs and smiles a great deal and let’s face it, the end of 2016 and the arrival of 2017 has brought much to smile about! Lickteig’s 2016 results have been recognized and she has gained the title many covet – ‘ultra-runner of the year!’ But looking ahead to 2017, Western States is, of course, a primary goal but Pixie Ninja has been given a shot via IRUN4ULTRA to run the iconic UTMB in France.

Western States

“UTMB is a dream race for me and so many others. It’s the iconic race known around the world. It’s so big and pristine. To be able to run this race with the depth of worldwide competition is like no other. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity and I am excited to go on the journey.”

It will be a whole new ball game for the lady from Omaha, Nebraska. It will be a first-time experience racing outside the USA and arguably on the biggest stage, the ultra-world can offer. Is she intimidated? I very much doubt it! Nikki Kimball very much paved the way for US ladies’ in France, I have a feeling that Lickteig may well pick up the baton and push on, after all, Krissy Moehl, Rory Bosio, Stephanie Howe Violett and Magdalena Boulet amongst many others have taken Kimball’s inspiration and moved it on.

It’s good to dream big and aim for the stars, after all, if you fail, you may just land on the moon!

Career Highlights:

Black Hills 100 1st 2013

Rocky Raccoon 100 2nd 2014

Western States 100 6th 2014

Javelina Hundred 100 1st 2014

Western States 2nd 2015

2016:

lake Sonoma 50m 2nd 2016

Silver State 50m 1st 2016

Western States 100 1st 2016

Psycho Psummer Run Toto Run 50k 1st 2016

Bohemian Alps 50k 1st 2016

The Bear 100 1st 2016

Goatz Trail Runs 50k 1st 2016

Hitchcock Experience Endurance Runs 50m 1st 2016

Kaci Lickteig Ultrasignup HERE

Credit ©iancorless.com

Img Credit: Paul Nelson, Sweet M Images, Kaci Lickteig

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