Indoor Training

"It's sad to see anyone inside on the trainer." That was the comment attached to an article about riding outside all winter lo...

Saturday, October 6

Any Plan is Better then No Plan

It's a oft discussed topic in the world of ultras with firm opinions on both sides. To have a plan or to not have a plan?

The no plan camp says that a detailed chart can lead to more mental anxiety then not if things don't go according to that plan. There is truth to that statement - how many times in a race have you targeted specific goals and then struggled when the goal times weren't met? Seeing goal times at checkpoints slip away can have a devastating effect on a race. Athletes either push too hard trying to make up time or just give up because the goal is gone. Pushing too hard often has the opposite effect. Instead of making up time, there's too much energy expended and the athlete loses more time in the end. On the other end of the spectrum is the athlete who simply gives up and stops. This athlete isn't hitting the goal splits and doesn't see the big picture that while one segment of the race might not go according to the plan, there's miles left to go. Another issue with having detailed plans is feeling like they need to be matched exactly. If the plan says eat this and the athlete feels like eating that instead, there's another area for mental anxiety. It is too much food? Not enough food? Or if there is crew involved, will they actually be able to help the athlete if they are just sticking to the plan? These are all excellent points and some good reasons to not get completely invested in a plan.

At the same time, if an athlete doesn't have a sense of how long the miles between aid stations will take, how will they be able to estimate how much food or water to carry? If they don't have an idea of when it gets dark and what drop bag location will be before darkness fully arrives, then will they have the lights and warm clothes needed to keep moving? If the crew doesn't have some idea of the options the athlete might want at different aid points, will they best be able to help? These are the points that the Have a Plan camp bring up in response to all of the concerns of the No-Plan camp. If you don't know what you are doing, how can you best prepare for the event?

Me? I am firmly in the Have a Plan camp - but with the cavate that you need to be willing to abandon the plan or move to plan B at any time in the race. It's one of the things I provide to my athletes - a simple spreadsheet based on the target event. I highlight the important sections - miles between aid stations for instance - and provide estimated splits for those sections. The splits are based off the terrain and the training each athlete has done, but the key is always estimated. In the spreadsheet, there's room for planning fluids, food, gear and any notes such as crew points, cut-offs and other important information. Why is all that information important? Because in a race, I want my athletes to be prepared - but I don't want them carrying around the kitchen sink! If the goal race is a trail marathon with aid stations every 4 miles or so, then the athlete doesn't have to start the day with 2L of water and a full pack. However if it's a 125 mile bike race with stretches of 5 hours between aid stations, then the amount of food and fluids need to be carefully assessed - as does the gear required. Having those splits between aid points helps with the food and fluid planning. If the race has crew access, then the crew needs to know a range of when to be at the first crew point. The crew also needs to have a sense of when to have fresh shoes or a new pack ready for the athete. These are things that need to be thought about in advance.

Which is another reason why I ask my athletes to sit down and make a plan for the race - it makes them think about the day in realistic terms. I don't write the plan for them. I want my athletes to reflect on the hours of training for the event, considering what kinds of drinks worked best for training runs, what foods sat well on the stomach and what were some treats or motivational tricks  that always got them going at the end. While race day will be different with the increased adrenaline and intensity, the training standbys are good starting points. If on a hot day, the athlete is drinking a liter an hour, then that needs to be considered into how much fluid is carried. The history of training provides the  framework for successful racing and there is no better way to learn from history then reviewing it and preparing from what was learned. This goes for gear as well. Perhaps one pair of shoes is really comfortable for Hike-a-Bike but not so comfortable for hard pedaling? Maybe the pack that is super comfortable when empty has some horrible chafing after adding some extra gear. Now is the time to think about this - before the race starts. If there are drop bags, then I want my athletes to write down what and when they will be exchanging things. Again - it makes them think. Why am I doing this? It also gets into the brain so when the athlete is tired and delirious from hours of running, the steps at the aid stations are second nature and nothing is forgotten.

The biggest take away I give to my athletes though? That the plan is just that - a plan to help prepare for the race, not a firm set of instructions or times that have to be met. And like any plan, things change. Flexibility is one of the most important factors for success in any sport. Running a little faster then you thought? Maybe you don't need quite as much water then. Going a little slower? Have your crew give you warm clothes and lights a little sooner in the day then anticipated so you aren't caught between aid stations in the dark. Have the plan for the crew so they have an idea of what to do for you, but realize that when you come into the aid station - they are in charge. Ask for what you want if there's something specific, but be willing to let them help you if things are changing. The plan is for before the race - not during. It helps my athletes prepare for the event better then not having a plan ever would. But during the race, live in the moment. Don't stick to the plan at the detriment of the end goal - which is finishing.

Tuesday, September 11

Preserverance - The 2018 Imogene Pass Run

This is from Merideth - her story of perseverance despite crazy odds to reach the finish line. 

Like the sun, we must always keep moving. Sunrise on the road to Imogene Pass
Imogene Pass. A little slice of heaven that separates Ouray, CO from Telluride. I was privileged enough (thanks to a dear friend) to secure a highly coveted place in a 17.1 mile race that goes over this 13k foot high pass. (All 1.6k-ish slots sold out in less than 30 minutes). 5,363 feet of constant and unrelenting elevation gain while climbing for 10 miles, and then descending 7.1 miles back into Telluride. There were 3 cutoff points where the race officials reserve the right to turn runners around based on weather and elapsed time. The first cutoff for this race was 7.65 miles in.  Runners have 2.5 hours to get to this cutoff point, and “all” runners who arrive at this point after the 2.5 hour mark were supposed to be turned around to trudge back to Ouray with their tails between their legs.

On the road up to Imogene
Luckily, beautiful weather and forgiving volunteers let me continue even though I arrived 10 minutes after the cutoff. I only continued because I had no way of getting a hold of my husband (who was in Telluride) until I got back to Ouray or to the summit of Imogene. Cell service isn’t a thing when you’re 7.65 miles into a slot canyon in the middle of the San Juan Mountains. I sat on my butt and cried. I was so frustrated. Down or up - it was going to be a long and grueling journey, and I had just lost any semblance of adrenaline or motivation that I had.  The 2.3 miles from that point to the summit of Imogene were merciless.  The few of us that were “fortunate” enough to be allowed to continue were all broken. “One and done” was said by many of my cutoff friends as we hiked to the summit.  (Most of us were racing this for the first time.).  I laughed at the thought of making up my 10 minutes and getting to the summit by the second cutoff time- noon.  You don’t “make up time” on elevation like that. I reached the summit at 12:15. Luckily they still had water at the aide station there, but no food or anything substantial that I could use to replenish. The summit photographer had even left already!
Had to be my own summit photographer!
Feeling small in the huge mountains.
I was hoping the downhill would be more relenting since it was.... down. Uh, no. The next two miles down were rocky and potentially ankle-breaking-if-you-try-and-run miles. I feel like I was lucky to not slip and fall. After the aide station at the 12 mile mark, I was walking by two ladies who were hiking casually and chatting like they were out for a walk in the park. I asked if they had missed the cutoffs and they said, “No” - they had made the summit with 4 minutes to spare.  What?!  I was cutoff at BOTH points and I was passing them. Also, the course was clearing off enough that there was about a 1 foot wide path through the rocks so I could actually RUN. I checked my watch and did a little math - I could still make the cutoff at the finish. 2:30pm. I had an hour and 15 minutes to run 4 miles. Easy. Off I went. 

I passed runners, cars and dirt bikes passed me.  But 48 minutes and 36 seconds later, I crossed the finish line. I made up my 15 minute deficit and finished with about 20 minutes to spare. You wanna know the best part about finishing so close to the back of the pack? You get a solo photo finish just like the winners do. But only if you keep running.  🏃‍♀️

Thursday, August 16

Ultra Part 4 - Dreams Worth Dreaming

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

At the base of Rosa, I encountered the second to last aide station where one of my friends was volunteering. Not only did I grab my typical potato chips and Coke, she also handed me some candied bacon she had brought with her. My nutrition felt really good at this point, and honestly, I stopped checking my watch. I was within 10 minutes of my target overall time, and I felt really good. I also had a bit of a cell signal at this point, and got a text from my coach - who had already finished - reminding to be mindful on the decent I had in front of me because it had some rough spots.

Just past the aide station, I received a notification on my phone for rain that was supposed to start very soon. I was grateful I was off Rosa in an area with tree cover, but I also knew that I had some technical spots ahead of me that would be more treacherous if they were wet. I also realized that I was past the 20 mile mark, and I was feeling good enough that I could run at a normal downhill pace with a normal gait. I wasn’t hobbling, my feet didn’t hurt, and I wasn’t having any issues with nutrition. I ran for a few miles until I got to the switchbacks on the trail near St. Mary’s Falls, and then I noticed the thunder starting. I had a baseball cap on my vest and a rain jacket in my pack. I grabbed my hat to start, but I didn’t stop since it was attached to the top of my bag. Big mistake. While focusing on getting my hat, I lost sight of the trail for a split second and caught my foot on a root or rock and fell hard. I landed off the side of the trail that was descending, so I started sliding for a few feet. Luckily, I mostly landed on pine needles, which slid with me. I climbed my way back up to the trail and checked myself over. Thankfully, I wasn’t bleeding anywhere. I just had a little rash on the front of my right shin and a good bruise on my left kneecap, but otherwise, no marks. I walked for a few feet to be sure my knee was ok, but then kept running. Once the rain and pea-sized hail started, I slowed down a bit to make sure I didn’t fall again. I also took advantage of the slower pace and ate another gel (which I can thankfully do without taking my eyes off the trail!). It only rained and hailed for a few minutes before everything subsided.

I arrived at the last aide station, the Gold Camp station where my drop bag was located, around mile 25. As I arrived at the aide station, a good friend completely took my vest to refill it for me so I could take care of my nutrition and grab my drop bag. I ignored the mess in my bag as I dug around for the charger for my watch. As she finished filling my bag, I grabbed my go to chips and Coke, as well as a tater tot they were cooking at the aide station. After regrouping, I finished one more small ascent - a mile up High Drive. This is my favorite ascent in all of North Cheyenne Canyon. My legs felt so strong, and I was able to keep a very steady pace all the way to the top. I didn’t even feel like I was 25 miles into a run. When I got to the top of High Drive, I starting processing that I might be able to come in faster than my 10 hour predicted race finish. I tried to keep a steady pace coming the 2.5 miles down High Drive that I ran in the first part of the race. I did walk a few times, but I was very happy with the pace I was able to keep between intervals. As I transitioned at the base of High Drive to the final 2.5 mile push into Bear Creek Park, I power hiked the uphills and ran as much as I could on the downhills.


On one of the last hills in Bear Creek
My husband and daughter, as well as a huge group of my friends were at the finish line waiting for me. My daughter was even able to run into the finish with me. I ended up finishing in just over 10 hours, but I felt AMAZING. I was able to run in strong at the finish, and I felt so good. No demons. No dark places in my head. The perfect race. Rain, hail, 7,500+ feet of elevation gain, strength, perseverance, solitude, strangers, friends, family, trails.

Crossing the finish line with my daughter

50k - 10:04  I am an ultra runner.

Wednesday, August 15

Ultra Part 3 - Reaching the Summit

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

The race started at 6:30am sharp. The first 7.5 miles of the course included a few miles of rolling trails before the first big ascent started up High Drive. I started the race with just a small hand held water bottle and a gel. Earlier this year, I ran the High Drive Challenge, which is a 10 mile out and back race that includes the exact same first 5 miles as the PPU. I used my times from that race to help guide me on my pacing up the 2.5 mile ascent and to help me gage my food and fluids. Once I got to the top of High Drive, the course circled around to a trail called Captain Jacks, which is a mountain biking trail that descends another few miles to the first aide station. I felt great by the time I reached the aide station. I refilled my water, took my gel, and drank a small glass of Coke, which was available for runners. I did notice that I was behind on my goal time for this section, but I wasn’t worried. I had a lot of time to make up the minutes I had lost.

The second section of the race was the shortest segment between aide stations – a “short” 3.5 miles along a rolling trail combination of Spring Creek and Columbine. I was definitely feeling the humidity in the air, but otherwise, I was feeling really good.

The next aide station on Gold Camp Road was the main aide station for the race. I would run through this station a second time later in the race, but it was also where we were allowed to leave a drop bag. This race was my first race that gave me an option to have a drop bag. In my training, I had purchased a pair of more advanced trail shoes that worked really well on more technical trails, but I had experienced blisters when I used them for my longer runs. I had planned on switching to these shoes and grabbing my hydration vest at this aide station since the most technical trails were next. But I had a huge problem. I hadn’t locked the nozzle on my hydration vest, and my shoes were soaked. I also had some trail mix in Zip Lock bags that had spilled all over my wet bag. It was a mess. It was at that moment that I stopped to breathe. The shoes I was wearing were feeling really good at that moment, and we had experienced a lot of rain in the days before the race, so I wasn’t as worried about lose gravel on the technical part of the course. I kept on my shoes, grabbed my vest, and dug to find some backup snacks that were still sealed. I was also planning on taking in something salty at this stop, so I grabbed some potato chips and tater tots from the amazing station volunteers and took off. This stop alone cost me over 5 minutes. Something I will definitely fix next time.

I was dreading the next 6.5 miles of the course. There were two big ascents before the next aide station with a little bit of a flat reprieve in the middle. After the aide station disaster, I was also about 20 minutes behind my goal pace. This was not enough of a setback to be worried about missing race cutoffs, but it was a little frustrating. At this point, I was still around quite a few people because there were places were spectators could hang out, and the 30k course included the same trails up to this point. Once we hit the Gold Camp aide station, the course split away from the 30k. I was over 10 miles into the race, I had my audio book ready to go, but my demons hadn’t started creeping up yet.

I started this 6.5 mile section with a climb up a trail called Seven Bridges. Due to the torrential rain we had experienced before the race, the first bridge crossing had been taken out by a mudslide. The creek had rerouted itself around the former bridge, so a little unexpected jumping and trailblazing had to take place in order to get across. I felt strong during the ascent up Seven Bridges, but the humidity was draining. I kept an eye on my watch, but my pace for this section of the race was looking really good. Even though I felt like I was going slower than I wanted, I was quite a few minutes under my goal pace, so I didn’t make any attempts to speed up. By the time I finished the first ascent up Seven Bridges, I was at a beautifully shaded intersection that connected me with the Pipeline Trail. The first part of the Pipeline Trail is almost perfectly flat because it literally follows a pipeline that brings water into Colorado Springs from the mountains. I felt like I should run on this section to take advantage of the terrain, but I chose to relax a little, get my heart rate down, and refuel. I ate a PBJ sandwich I had picked up from my drop bag, and I focused on my hydration. The hardest part of the course was the next ascent up the end of the Pipeline Trail. When the uphill terrain started, I felt really good. There was another runner about 30 yards ahead of me, and I kept my eye on him. I would make small goals to power hike up to a spot he had just been, little by little working my way up the trail. Even though this was supposed to be the hardest part of the trail, I was able to complete it stronger than I anticipated. I was expecting to mentally crash during that ascent. I kept thinking about turning on my audio book because I felt like I was supposed to, but honestly, I didn’t need it.

When I reached the aide station at Pipeline, I was now only 4 minutes behind my goal instead of 20. I refilled my hydration vest, grabbed more potato chips and Coke, and headed up the final big ascent of the race: Mt. Rosa. I noticed the fatigue on my legs heading to the summit, but I still felt really good. I made sure to take a gel half way up, and I paid very close attention to my hydration. Mentally I was starting to get really excited because I was about to hit the highest point on the course, and I was about to surpass the longest distance I had ever run. Also, I had conquered my demons. They were gone. I did end up turning on my audio book near the top of Rosa, but it was only because the course was pretty solitary at that point, and it was nice to hear another voice. The decent down Rosa was pretty rocky, so I took my time to be sure I didn’t fall or injure my ankles.

Tuesday, August 14

Ultra Part 2 - Ultra Dreams and Demons

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.
Last year, I found a love for trail running. It started with the peer pressure of friends to sign up for the Pike’s Peak Ascent, but was solidified through the running of other local trail races and adventures on the back country trails of Pike National Forest. My confidence in myself as a runner really started to establish roots in trail running. I didn’t feel like I had to be fast. I just had to be strong and determined. Check. I could run a half marathon up the side of one of the tallest mountain peaks in Colorado and complete 5-6 hour long runs in the middle of the wilderness. What else could I do?
A few weeks after I completed the Ascent, I was continually researching trail running so I could learn more about trails, equipment, and training, and one word in my research kept popping up: ultra. For those of you who are unfamiliar with an ultra in the running world, it is any race longer than a 26.2 mile marathon. When completing my long 5-6 hour runs for the Ascent, I was always frustrated that I couldn’t stay out longer. I felt like I was physically and mentally ready to tackle an ultra, where I would be on my feet for much longer. I also had my supportive coach, Tracy Thelen of Thelen Coaching to help me realize that a 50k is only about 5 miles longer than a marathon. I decided to support a local trail running family that directs races as Mad Moose Events. They have a fantastic reputation for putting on stellar races with amazing support. Another bonus was that the Pikes Peak 50k that I decided to run included some of my favorite local trails, so I was able to actually train on the trails that I would be running on race day. This made the daunting task of running my first 31 mile race a lot less intimidating.
I was so excited about the training. Hour after hour on the trails near where I live sounded like the perfect way to spend my summer, so in November last year, I bit the bullet and signed up for my first 50k.
The past few years with my running, I have completed many training runs and races socially with a friend or groups of friends. Once I hired Tracy to coach me, I chose to become more of a lone wolf. My workouts became a lot more focused and intentional. I was doing hill repeats, intervals, and ladders for the first time in my life. With my customized workouts, I was able to focus more on my form, pace, and effort during each run. My self-acceptance as a runner was becoming stronger and stronger.
Once the New Year rolled around, I chose to focus solely on trail running in order to prepare for PPU. I only signed up for three trail races between January and July, and I ran as many of my training runs as possible on trails. While I still desperately enjoyed being on the trails, my mental demons started impacting my training. I think that most people I know who run would agree that the gross majority of running is mental ability – not physical ability. When you spend 15-25+ hours a week on your own on dirt trails, you spend a lot of time in your own head. I tried to combat this by listening to audio books on most of my long runs. However most of the time, this wasn’t enough of a distraction to keep the demons away.
Overall, my training wasn’t what I had pictured. My legs did exactly what they were supposed to, but the mental frustrations I was encountering were exhausting. I trained on the trails that made up the 50k, but a lot of the time when I was supposed to go back to these trails for more training, I just couldn’t. I thought that exploring some new dirt would help, and sometimes it did. A little. But most of the time I just kept becoming less and less confident in my ability to mentally push through this race. I knew I had the legs to do it, but I didn’t want to remember my first 50k for the mental pain.
Two weeks before the race, I texted Tracy and told her that I thought it would be a good idea for me to drop down to the 30k, the shortest distance that was being run that day. She asked if we could meet to go through her plans for me for the 50k – broken down aide station by aide station – before we decided. Logistically, the plans that she had carefully laid out for me were all very doable. I knew physically I could do it. We even talked about “distraction techniques” for what I could do if I started mentally crashing. Ultimately, I decided to stick with the 50k because I knew I would always regret not trying. I think it would have been easier to swallow a DNF (did not finish) compared to a DNS (did not start).
The week before the race, I worked to make sure I had all the gear I would need. I had all of my gear packed up and ready to go a few days early just to be sure I hadn’t forgotten to buy or wash something. I wore clothes I had trained in frequently and food I had always had on me during training. I also worked with Tracy to make a game plan of what food, fluids, and gear I would need to think about at each aide station stop. Last year during the Ascent, my fluids and nutrition were a huge problem in the last 3 miles of the race, so I knew this had to be very carefully planned with some backup options in case I started noticing issues during the race.
Some friends that were also running the race posted about being nervous and regretful about signing up in the days before the race. Honestly, I didn’t feel that way at all. Once my gear was all ready to go, I was ready. I had made the decision to be strong and determined. I could do it. I am a red-head, after all. I just needed to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. My training was strong enough that I knew I didn’t have to worry about three time cutoffs on the course. I was going to do it and I was going to enjoy myself. I had finally made that choice and there was no going back.

Monday, August 13

Ultra Part 1 - Prologue

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

I am a runner, but you would never know by looking at me. I don’t fit a stereotype of what one might think of as a runner – lean, tall, strong. My sister and father have had running in common for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I remember watching my dad leave for hours at a time to complete his runs, as well as watching him run across the finish line of our annual local 10k in rural central Illinois. When she was in middle school and high school, I remember watching my sister at track meets – tearing up the track in the 400. Her junior year of high school, she even ran on a relay team that won second place at the Illinois state track meet. I remember wanting to be a runner so I could have that in common with my family – to fit in more – but I was not built like my dad or sister. Slow to the core, I never saw myself as a runner, but my desire to try to fit in more pushed me to try SOMETHING. I knew I couldn’t compete with my sister on the track, so I went out for cross country. I was always the last one on our team across the finish line. I couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the rest of my team. I always felt like I was practicing alone. Racing alone. Finishing alone. Then I went to college.

My freshman year of college, I was working on figuring myself out. When I went home for the summer before my sophomore year of college, I was working a full time job. However this was in my hometown of less than 5,000 people, and I had limited access to a car to take me anywhere where I might find something to occupy my free time. So, I set a goal to run all the roads in the city limits of my hometown. That took less than a month to complete. All the runs were slow and steady with no goals for time or distance.

Time for a new goal. I had no desire to train for a 5k or even a 10k. Those races were for “fast people”. It was also around this time in my life that I was starting to understand my freedoms. Weekend trips on Amtrak to Chicago were starting to become part of my life. In trying to plan out my next goal, I combined running with my love for the city, and decided to run the Chicago Marathon. You don’t have to be a fast runner to run a marathon. You just had to finish. I could do that. I was told that I couldn’t, but it was this point in my life that I realized the true depth of my stubborn red-headed nature. I could do it. Just watch me.

Fast forward 17 years, 3 marathons, and 119 other races, and a move to Colorado later...

Saturday, August 4

Summer Recap

It's been a busy few months and I've been remiss on the athlete updates and results. Lots of racing and training going on for Thelen Coaching athletes over the summer. Quick recap of all the great things going on right now. Hopefully I didn't miss anything!

May brought some fun events and some serious events. Merideth traveled to Southern Utah for the Ragnar Relay Zion, racing with her family. The trail relay events are as serious as you make them and Merideth and her team had a blast. They ran hard but also enjoyed the family time camping in the desert.

Merideth coming through camp during the Ragnar Relay - Zion

Also in May, Brenda rode in the Santa Fe 50 mile ride, smartly making the choice to drop to the shorter distance when the weather proved more then challenging. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor and making the smart choices can mean more time to train and play later.

Over Memorial Day, Dianna and Merideth ran in the High Drive Challenge 10 mile race, running to summit of High Drive and back down. It was part racing, part trail scoping for later adventures. And it's always great to run in challenging local events. A little further to the South West, Ray and Judd raced the train in the Iron Horse Classic. Ray made it part of a long weekend of training and got to explore the singe track around Durango after the race. Judd was one of only a few to take on the road race on his singlespeed fat bike, but still had a solid performance, riding close to his time from last year.

June started out busy. Brenda and her four teammates raced in the Elephant Rock Sunrise to Sunset 12 hour mountain bike race. For an all women's team racing against the men's and co-ed "geezer" teams, they held on to a 6th place finish. Shana headed to Leadville to run in the Turquoise Lake 20 trail run, using it as a training run for her half marathon later in July. Dawn finally got into the open water at her first triathlon of the season - the Colorado Sprint Triathlon. She had one of her stronger races ever, placing 7th in her age group.

Shana at the Turquoise Lake 20k

The weekend of June 9/10 saw a lot of action. On the mountain biking side, Dennis headed down to Salida, CO for the Salida BFL. He raced the 88 mile base loop on the singletrack and jeep roads between Salida and BV. Sticking to a smart hydration and pacing strategy, he completed the trek in just shy of 13 hours - a solid time for that event. Brenda went north to Wyoming and raced in the Goudy Grinder at Curt Goudy State Park. This was her second time racing there and she finished strong her class on a hot day. The runners all gathered at Garden of the Gods Park for the Garden of the Gods 10 mile race. For Dawn, Dianna and Shana it was a return to the hills of the garden, on a day with challenging conditions between smoke from nearby fires and the heat. Dianna and Shana both had solid performances, running close to their times from last year in much harder conditions. Dawn set a new personal best in the 10 mile race, running 1:56:57 - a PR of nearly 14 minutes.

On June 16th, Shana toed the line for her summer A race - the Leadville Heavy Half, a 15.5 miles journey around the east side of Leadville, CO. She had a great day, finishing with a smile in 4:24:55

The finish line awaits Shana at the Leadville Heavy Half!

Some hits and misses in July with a few unfortunate injuries that derailed events. But things are back on track now and even the bad races are important learning experiences. Some bad news for Dennis as the Vapor Trail 125 was forced to cancel the event for this year, throwing his summer plans into a tailspin.

On the 14th, Brenda returned to the Pagosa Springs Duathlon. This year was a great race for her as she felt strong on the first run, comfortable and confident on the bike leg and then able to keep the pace high for the second run. A huge improvement from last year's performance!

Brenda at the Pagosa Springs Duathlon, ready to go! 
Out east, Jennifer was getting ready for her summer A race - the Scream Half Marathon in North Carolina. She finished in 2:27:42 and learned that downhill is fast, but it's hard on the legs the next few days!

The end of July brought the Pikes Peak Ultra - Merideth's first Ultramarathon. She picked a challenging one for her first race, but had the home town advantage when it came to training. Pushing through a few issues and one nasty thunderstorm, Merideth finished in 10:04. She will have her race story featured in a few days. There's nothing like the experience of finishing your first ultra and I know this will be a memory she treasures
Running across the finish line with her daughter

Thursday, May 3

April Results

The end of April saw lots of events and races for Thelen Coaching athletes!

Jen returned to the Rattler Trail Run in North Carolina, where she raced the 10k event again. She had a great race, with a PR of over nine minutes on the challenging trails of San Lee Park in Sanford, NC. Last year at this time, we'd just started working together and the 10k was a hard event for her. This year, even with a greatly reduced training load to allow for the extensive studying required for the Physical Therapy OCS exam, she had a great time and felt strong the entire way. And she placed second among the women for the 10K!

In Colorado Springs, Merideth took on her longest trail race to date, the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race 25k. It's held in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, on a rolling, challenging
course. There's more climbing then it appears on first inspection, with three major climbs and plenty more short, punchy hills. Add in the unexpected technical challenges and it's a harder race then many people realize. Combined with the first really hot day of the spring and that made it even harder since the last half of the course is fairly exposed. Merideth pushed through some mental struggles during the entire event and kept moving forward. She managed the challenges the course provided, drawing on the preparation and training over the last few months. In the end, she preservered and finished in 4:30:32 - a very respectable time for a first 25k on such a hard course. She also proved to herself that success in endurance running comes from mental strength. Having the mental strength to keep forward momentum when things are looking rough will be key for some of the goals later this summer.
Merideth finishing her first 25k and the longest trail race to date

Shana returned to the CMTR this year after a severely sprained ankle knocked her out last year. Because of work commitments, she wasn't able to get the training needed for the 25k, so was racing the 10k this year. Even the 10k at CMTR isn't an easy jog in the woods. It climbed up to top of Blackmere, almost reaching the second highest point in the park. For Shana, this was a triumphant return to the trails - a reminder that even though something knocks you down one time when you get back up, you get back up strong and smarter. She had a great time, finishing in 1:19:58

Shana enjoying her day out on the trails of CMSP in the 10k
A little further west, Dennis was in Moab to tackle one of his bucket list rides - the White Rim Road of CanyonLands National Park. To finish the White Rim in a Day (WRIAD) and to do it unsupported was something he always wanted to accomplish. Between the huge fitness base the ITI had provided and the perfect weather opening, the end of April was the best chance for this season. To do it unsupported meant carrying over 230 ounces of water - as well as food, spare clothes and gear. A lot of weight to be pedaling around with... Dennis had a great day on the trail, including plenty of photo stops and touristing adventures during the ride. Sometimes it's not about speed - it's about the journey. Even so, Dennis still finished the ride in 12:40 - including the photo stops and touristing. Not bad for solo/unsupported adventures!

Solo unsupported WRIAD rig from Dennis
And finally, on the edge of Pacific Ocean, Dianna was running in the Big Sur International Marathon.  This was a dream marathon for her, one of those once in a lifetime events due to the lottery that you have to deal with in order to enter. At the start of the year, it was looking questionable due to some major health issues. Then her doctors finally got things under control with some med changes and we were able to to get some solid training done before the race. Again, a large part of endurance running is mental strength and Dianna was able to find her confidence with some hard long runs in the Garden of the Gods. Out in California, she was able to find her pace and make the needed adjustments on fly to finish strong. She put the preparation with gear, nutrition and hydration to good use, as well as learning some important things for her next big race this summer. Even better, she finished with a new marathon PR of 5:40:17! Not many people set PRs on the Big Sur course between the hills and the wind, but she was able to put all the pieces together for a race to be proud of.
One well worn bib number and the finishers medal from Big Sur

Monday, April 9

Iditarod Trail Invitational - Conclusions

This is athlete Dennis Staley's report from his trip to Alaska for the Iditarod Trail Invitational 130 Fat Bike Race. I've broken the report up in to 4 parts for easier reading.

2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational: A Race Report by Dennis Staley
WARNING: This report is long-winded, contains typos, and is likely to be quite uninteresting to anyone other than my Mom. And even she might get bored
Dénouement: Winter Lake to Anchorage
Upon reaching the finish line I checked my Garmin InReach Satellite Messenger, to find a message from Tracy Thelen, my MTB coach, congratulating me for finishing and informing me that I was the first 130 mile racer to reach Winter Lake Lodge. That was a pretty sweet message to receive, and in all my eloquence all I could come up with for a response was “holy shit."
The racer accommodations at Winter Lake Lodge consisted of a crowded, wall-tent with a small woodstove as the sleeping space, with a makeshift port-a-potty behind it. I stashed my bike near the main lodge. We were only allowed into the commercial kitchen. Looking forward to getting out of the wind, I proceeded inside, immediately removing my boots and washing my hands per explicit pre-race instruction. Everyone was super-friendly, and in quick order I had a beer and burrito in front of me. Jill and Kim were finishing up their food when I arrived, and we were all happy to be out of the wind and sharing our stories of the previous 7 miles of trail. I was able to send out messages via my satellite messenger letting family and friend know I'd finished. Apparently I didn't need to do this, as my wife Kim, my sister, my Mom and Dad, and several friends had been watching my blue flag on the Trackleaders site. They knew I had won before I did! Ben Pysto walked in about 30 minutes after I sat down to eat, and Pam Todd was not too far behind him.
The rest is a bit of a blur. I retired to the sleeping tent, where I found a spot underneath the sign-in table to unpack my sleeping bag. I crawled in and fell into a surprisingly good night’s sleep, waking only occasionally as the 350 mile racers departed for Puntilla. At one point I recognized Kim Riggs, and gave her a thumbs up, psychically wishing her good luck for the remainder of her race.
Around 7:30 the next morning I woke up and headed up to the Lodge to inquire about the status of the flight back to Anchorage. The volunteer reported that a plane would be arriving around 10AM, and since I had arrived first that I would have first-dibs on a seat. I slowly ate my breakfast (so that they wouldn’t throw me out of the kitchen), and then headed back out to repack my bags and prepare for the flight. Pam and I also took pictures of each other at the finish line, as it was far too windy, cold, and dark to do so the previous evening. Around 9:45 AM, we pushed our bikes to the end of the runway and awaited the bush plane back to Anchorage. Shortly thereafter we were on the plane, and about an hour later we were safely back in the city.

Yes, even the bikes fit on that tiny plane!
It’s hard to sum up the experience. This was the craziest, most fun, and most surprising athletic experience of my life. I enjoyed every second of the race. It was truly a privilege to line up at the start with some of the finest winter endurance athletes in the world, and even better getting to know them over the next 130 miles. The race organizers, volunteers, and local residents who let us invade their homes and businesses were a huge part of making this experience so enjoyable.
In the hours following finishing, there was no chance in hell that I wanted to participate in the 350, even though I had earned an automatic qualification in a future year by winning the 130 mile race. After 24 hours, I thought “hmmm, maybe…”  Now, a couple weeks later, my legs are fresh and my saddle sores have healed, and I can’t stop thinking about getting back to Alaska and riding to McGrath. I may be thousands of miles away from that thin white line in Alaska, but my thoughts are never far from the Iditarod Trail.
I’m 41, have a fake hip, and you never know what curveballs life will throw at you. But I am hopeful that I’ll be back in 2 years to test my mettle in the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 mile race. Bill Merchant has been quoted saying: “We go into the Alaskan backcountry to find cracks in ourselves. We go back a year later to see if we've done anything about them.”  I certainly found many cracks on the snowy trail between Knik Lake and Finger Lake. With a little luck and a lot of training over the next two years, I’ll figure out what I’ve done about them, and hopefully will discover a few more on the trail to McGrath.

Answers to questions I had before the race:
Judd Rohwer, who had completed the 350 the prior year, was kind enough to answer some questions I had prior to the race. In order to keep the experience more of an adventure, I did not want to ask too many questions. But, there were two specific questions I had that would better inform my decision-making process for packing and planning. I’ll provide my answers (not Judd’s) to my questions, based on my experiences, below.
1) How hard is the route finding?
Route finding was surprisingly easy, even after the weather took a turn for the worse. The route was pretty obvious leading up to Flathorn Lake with the exception of the Y on the snowmobile trail at mile 21.5. There were spectators on fatbikes who were very helpful in pointing out the correct trail. Even if I had proceeded down the wrong branch, I would have discovered my mistake quickly based on the GPS track.
On the river the trail was easy to follow. There were stakes that loosely defined the route, and kept riders away from open water (Cindee at King Bear Lodge said that the snowmobilers maintain those stakes with changing river conditions). Judd’s tip about the “Y’ at mile 34.5 (bear right) certainly saved some hand-wringing and stress. All of the checkpoints and unofficial stops were very obvious, as was the trail between Skwentna and Shell Lake Lodge. After Shell Lake the trail was a bit more “rustic,” though there were often stakes in areas where it could get confusing. These stakes were helpful during the brief heavy snow squall and the ground blizzard. At no point in the 130-mile distance did I feel lost.
2) Is food/water available at the checkpoints all day/night?
I arrived at Yentna Station at 12:30AM and there were people making grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, and water (hot and cold) were both available. The “trail angel” at King Bear Lodge was awake and serving breakfast at 8:30AM. Pam Todd bivied a few hundred yards from King Bear Lodge because she arrived around 4am, and it did not appear that anyone was stirring. I arrived at Skwentna and Shell Lake during the day, and both were fully operational. We were told at the pre-race meeting that the hours at Shell Lake Lodge were 9am – 8pm. Winter Lake Lodge was running 24 hours per day, but they powered down around 10pm, so I’m not sure if they were cooking or not. Beverages and hot/cold water were available, and racers received one free burrito. I ate my free burrito just after finishing (around 8pm), and then I purchased a breakfast burrito in the morning.
Sleeping arrangements were available at Yentna Station, Skwentna Roadhouse, and Winter Lake Lodge. Yentna was $21 for half a bed. I think Swentna was around $60, and the tent at Winter Lake Lodge was free. If you wanted a cabin, you’d have to reserve it well in advance and cough up around $2500 per person, minimum 2 people…
3) Other things a rookie should be aware of, without spoiling the adventure?
Bring cash. Approximate costs were as follows:
- Yentna Station: grilled cheese, soup, and coke = $14. Bed = $21. Grilled Cheese and coffee = $12. I also tipped $10.
- King Bear Lodge “Trail Angel”: food and beverage were free, but she wanted a hug, me to sign the guestbook, and a tip. I tipped $20
- Skwentna Road House: plate of spaghetti and coke = $28. I tipped $12.
- Shell Lake Lodge: I did not eat, but food was available for purchase. I do not know the cost. I filled a Wampak with water for free, but tipped $5.
- Winter Lake Lodge: First meal is free. Second meal was $12. I also bought a coke ($4) and a beer ($7 or $8), and tipped $20. Flight from Winter Lake to Anchorage was free for 130 mile racers.
What worked?
(Tracy's note - I always encourage my athletes to sit down after the race to look at what worked, what we need to improve and what went wrong. It's a great way to learn from a race, even a successful race like this.)
  • I had an amazing amount of support at home. Even during her illness, my wife was incredible in her encouragement of this undertaking. Not to mention her good humor in dealing with all the weird stuff I did preparing for this race. (Leaving a perfectly good warm house to ride in horrible weather and sleep outside, testing headlights in the freezer and then all the gear purchases and returns...) Without her buy-in and unwavering confidence in my, there was no way I would have been able to pull this off. My mother-in-law who had traveled to AK to spend time with her daughter while I was racing was there to help me talk through the pre-race decision of even making it to the starting line or to go home. She also made sure I was very well fed before the race. In addition, I had a ton of support from my parents, co-workers and friends. And of course, then group of Gilpin County crazies who like riding bikes in the snow, wind and cold and made some of the lower points during training both bearable and fun.
  • I was lucky. I managed not to get bogged down in the storm by staying right at its leading edge. The trail conditions I experienced were way better than it was for the folks who were only a few hours behind me.
  •  I was able to keep myself in a very good mental place throughout the race. At no point did I think about quitting. I did have a few low moments on the river, which were “cured” with some hydration and snacks. I need to remember that when I start feeling down, or questioning why the hell I’m doing what I’m doing, it means my blood sugar is low and I need to eat and drink. This was a valuable lesson learned during long solo training rides in the dark and cold Leadville winter night.
  •  I like committing races. It was really, really expensive to bail, with the flight out of Yentna around $250. That’s plenty of motivation for me to keep pedaling. I’d rather buy bike stuff.
  •  Tracy put together an amazing training plan that got me in the best shape of my life. Long training rides, lots of intervals on gently inclined trails and the pavement on Lookout Mtn, double sessions, strength training and stretching, tempo walks with a full pack. I’d walk on hot coals now if that’s what Tracy put on the training calendar.
  •  Long Leadville rides the night before grooming (they groom on Tuesday and Friday mornings, so I on Thursday nights). This was good preparation for the various snowmobile trails that compose the Iditarod Trail.
  • Practice bivys and stopping on shorter training rides to unpack/repack the gear, and stove practice. This got me comfortable with my gear, my ability to quickly pack and unpack without getting cold, and confidence that I could survive a cold bivy without too much discomfort.
  • Shitty snow conditions at home. Brainard Lake hike-a-fatbike, Golden Gate tech, in the snow, on studded tires, and generally crappy Gilpin County snow conditions and wind. These prepared me mentally for slow slogs, and improved my bike handling in soft conditions, and got me used to cold headwinds. The snow conditions on the Iditarod Trail (at least the part I rode) were an improvement over much of what I experienced on my training rides.
  • Training at high elevation, on steep terrain. This made the flat, sea-level trail feel relatively easy.
  • Sound advice from Tracy for the past several months, followed up by a last-minute, strongly worded text the day before the race that honed my focus and desire to complete the race when I was still debating if I should scratch to go home and take care of Kim: “You MUST be able to focus on the race. From the time it starts until the time you reach the finish. Will you be able to do that?”  And then another one that helped me clear my head and distill things down to the basics: “Ride your bike. Be smart. Have fun. Enjoy the experience.”
  • Garmin Satellite Messenger. It was awesome to be able to check in with friends and family. I only sent a few texts from it because I didn’t want to stop for the entire second day, but it was really great to get some messages of encouragement. I think it also relieved some of the dot-watching stress on my Mom and Dad, as I was able to let them know that everything was fine, I was just stopping for food or a nap. Also, I received a text from an undisclosed source on Monday morning telling me I was in second place. This lit a fire under my ass and gave me the motivation to push a little harder and maybe even win the 130.
  • AA Batteries. It was really nice to have a GPS and headlamp that uses AA batteries. My satellite messenger uses rechargeable USB, so I only had to bring along a single backup USB battery pack, which would be sufficient for over a week of messenger use. I had plenty of spare AA batteries with me for lighting and navigation.
  • Revelate Designs. I absolutely loved every piece of gear of theirs, with the exception of wishing the framebag had a bit more capacity. It doesn’t quite fill up the entire triangle, and could be a bit wider without causing any trouble. I might go with a custom bag for the next race.
What didn’t work or could be tweaked?
(Tracy's note - this is the important part of a post race review. While race conditions will never be the same again, it's vital to learn from any small errors or miscalculations. Even if it's something that the athlete can't control, we can learn to manage it better.)
  • Upper body layering could use improvement. This system worked well in training, but the race was a lot more humid that what is typical in Colorado. I’m wondering if I could replace part or all of the vest/windshirt/nano-air with a nice breathable but warm softshell. If it works, this would reduce the amount of stuff I was carrying and hopefully add a bit more weather-resistance when it’s snowing lightly.
  • Bring my good bike shorts WITH ME next time. These stayed in Kim’s suitcase, which stayed in Colorado. My ass was killing me by the end, and did not heal up for a week afterward.
  • I have never had chafing issues until this race. I need to figure out a better personal care / skin care system before the 350.
  • No need for a light on the bicycle, an AA battery powered headlamp is perfectly adequate. I never turned my bar-mounted light on.
  • Socks: I think I’d be better off with a liner sock, a VBL, a thick sock (but not as thick as the one I was wearing), and then the insulated RBH socks. I still have plenty of room in the boot even with the extra VBL.
  • I brought way too much food, though I suppose it would be singing a different tune had the weather turned for the worse. Even so, I could have gotten away with a single freeze-dried meal and no gel. I tried one gel and it was really unappealing in the temperatures that I experienced.
  • I would probably get a really big, warm, but light and packable pair of mittens and only bring those, and then bring 1 warmer pair of gloves, and a pair of 3-season mtb gloves. Regular mtb gloves might not be warm enough, even with pogies, for the trail after Winter Lake as my hands got pretty cold approaching the finish.
  • I might want to replace the buff with a neoprene face mask
  • My goggles were too dark. I knew this going in, but didn’t have the $ for a new pair. I’ll be keeping an eye on sales.
  • I’d like to get rid of the glorified stuff sack on my back, and be more efficient in packing. I think a bigger frame bag and two fork-mounted bags would work great. This seemed to be a standard setup. I’d also use my Revelate Pocket. I took this off because it interferes with my bar mounted light, but I will only be using a headlamp next time. This might not work for races that involve more singletrack where I might want to use my bar mounted light.
  • I’ll need more than just junk food for when I’m on the trail for a week. More experimentation with real food that works in the cold is in order.
Flying over the river where the course traverses - look closely for the tire tracks!

Quotes (as best as I can remember them…):
“Miller lite, please” –Tedd Rowher, fellow 130 racer, at the Knik Bar, 1 hour before race start.
“You are off course!!!” –Text from my mother-in-law, sent when the bikers took the shortcut to the road. Sent to my phone, which I would not see until I had coverage again 2 days later, in Anchorage.
“We wouldn’t listen to a health inspector anyways.” –Purveyor of Yentna Station, when I questioned the health implications of letting me (a smelly racer) dump out my water in the sink that was in the kitchen where they were preparing food for the lodge guests.
 “I’d rather it was dark. I don’t like being able to see where I’m going to be in 2 hours” –Chet Fehrmann, when discussing benefits of day vs night for lakes, swamps, and long straightaways.
“You’re an asshole” –Pam Todd, upon our reunion in Skewnta. At this point she still thought I knowingly blew by her without stopping to answer a question. We became friends again after my most sincere apologies and explanation of what happened.
“Don’t pee by the trail. It offends the guests.” –Worker at Winter Lake Lodge, moments before his two dogs peed* right by the trail. *Note: the pee marks were all dog-d**k in height.
“Wooohooo!” –Jill Martindale, passing me at 4am in a snowstorm on the Yentna River. That pretty much sums it up.