On the Trails: Desert RATS Expedition Stage by Gregg Lemkau

When I opened my eyes on the dawn of the 52-mile expedition stage, I was in good spirits. A medic had lanced my toes the night before and wrapped them in various tapes. I thought I was ready to go, but after wiggling my toes and stretching my feet the thought of standing made my stomach turn. The blisters had healed and refilled overnight. I awkwardly placed my beaten pads softly on the ground. They hurt. Fluid pulsed once again across the virgin skin. I readied myself for the coming miles and stuffed extra supplies for foot care in my pack. Shoelaces loose and tongue stretched taut, I tried to slip my battered feet inside my shoes. Did some devilish desert pixie swap shoes with me overnight? I ate a bagel, downed some Heed and tried not to think about my extremities and the miles that lay before me.

Today’s stage was the true test of our resolve.

At the start the Race Director told us that parts of the race today were going to be hot, desolate and hilly. The information was delivered as though it were a departure from the norm. While real competition in this race was limited to a handful of runners, we all shared the palpable charge in the air. Today’s stage was the true test of our resolve. The stage began. We trotted away from the crew and up a hill. The familiar crunch of soles on the trail calmed my nerves. We were damaged goods, having been tested for three days and 70 miles through a sun-baked sea of sand and rock. Today though, lore of the cool La Sal Mountains gave us new legs.
The first nine miles lacked significance. Early walking. Slow progress. Mounting pain. Hours into the stage, Entrada and Navajo Sandstone behemoths began to rise from the desert scrub. The overwhelming awe I felt in the presence of these formations was the reason I was running in the desert, it is why I am inexplicably linked to this hostile land. I was renewed. After three hours on my feet, twice the time it should have taken, I crested a hill and saw the Old Dewey Bridge and the first aid station. I hobbled down the path to the teenage son of a Scottish runner, assisting with the road crossing for safety. He was filthy, sullen and downright pissed-off that his father had dragged him to this forsaken corner of the Earth. We all liked him in camp. I gave him a thumbs-up, and he leaked a hint of a smile. His mistaken gift drove me forward.

One of the older guys running the race this year caught up with me a few miles before the first water drop. He immediately began to fart – seemingly uncontrollably.

It was a relief to get to the station and sit. I was frustrated by the condition of my feet and the crew’s jovial mood smothered me. I drained my toes, re-taped my foot, added a liner sock on one side and got on my feet again. Deflated, I started the long climb to the next water drop alone. One of the guys at the station yelled “what’s wrong – it looks like you are walking on glass!” It felt like I was. Out of habit I checked my Garmin but it was of little use. It had to remain off until mile 25, or it would not hold a charge for the rest of the stage. I had only the passing hours to gauge my progress.

I climbed slowly higher. I grew tired of the slope, and began to cuss at the trail when it offered a false crest. I questioned the path ahead whether it was going to be an “uphill” or a “downhill” and started to sing. From those miles came a short unsavory ditty about the “uphill prick-bastard,” a personification of the never-ending uphill climb. I laughed at my condition and trudged on, running for a minute on a relative flat and walking the next ten. When the trail meandered close enough to the face of a butte, I shouted to see if my voice would echo. My daughter tests an echo by shouting the name of her favorite stuffed animal. Sometimes the walls shouted “Goldie” back at me, and she filled me for that moment. One of the older guys running the race this year caught up with me a few miles before the first water drop. It was a nice change from the solitude of the last hours of solitary climbing, but it made me wonder whether I would finish within the cutoff. He immediately began to fart – seemingly uncontrollably. I ignored it, and asked him about past runs; running veterans are a wealth of valuable information. He began to tell me about trail running in its youth. A pause . . . more farting . . . still he did not address his flatulence. After a few more respectable rips he apologized and then told me he used Boost during races. It made him fart constantly. Apology out of the way, he found it easier to talk through the gas. He was farting more often than not – but it made me smile, and the laughs we shared eased the weight of the climb we were finishing together. At the first water drop we parted ways and I carried on alone – limping away from water, companionship, and an early finish.

Much of the trail at that point was rough, rutted, and unforgiving. Toenails ready to come off. Blisters separated by raw layers of skin. Walking on razor blades. I kept moving.

To reach the next water drop I had to traverse a blistering canyon and cross the Rose Garden. The Rose (or Rock) Garden is a stretch of steep trail littered with boulders better suited for hiking than running. I had what I hoped was about 120 oz. of water when I left the drop, but was careless in my haste to get back on the trail. After a couple of hours of travel, I reached the interior of the canyon. The stifling heat waves parted only as I moved through them. With burnished skin and a sandy tongue, water conservation was difficult. A small alcove offering shade appeared around a bend. That 10 feet of shade was all the day would provide until sundown. I leaned against the cool sandstone, trading my heat for its soothing relief. It could have been habit forming, so I left quickly. Some time later, at a fork in the road, I began to show signs of fatigue. I found the telltale shoe prints showing which path to take, but decided not to trust them. A mistake could cost hours and probably the stage. Nothing crystallized, so I made the obvious choice against my own will – it was of course correct. Much of the trail at that point was rough, rutted, and unforgiving. Toenails ready to come off. Blisters separated by raw layers of skin. Walking on razor blades. I kept moving. Occasionally I mustered a joggy trudge, but mostly I walked. It is odd how so many hours can pass so quickly when one is enduring such pain. Maybe I have repressed those miles, but I’d like to think I was in a zone – listening to the wind and the earth, searching for signs of life.

A frequent companion traveling those slow miles was the desert fly (latin – buzzicus pissofficus). The noise a fly makes when it follows you in the desert seems altogether different than it does elsewhere. Maybe the difference is based in its confusion that this particular carrion was still moving. “Get off me” I told it. “I stink but I am not dead.” No luck. During the 40 mile stage I swatted at flies, now I just let them land on me. I am unsure whether I wanted the company or I thought it better to conserve my energy for forward momentum. The flies left within a couple of minutes, leaving me alone again with the desert, the sky, and my battered soles.

It was frustrating to feel so strong, yet be so limited by my body. There was nothing to do but keep on moving forward. I arrived at the Rose Garden. There were lots of rocks – from boulders to pebbles, sharp and rounded, laying lateral and perpendicular to my steps. This was no garden. Common gravel was the worst. It pierced my heat-softened soles and drove through to the battered pads of my feet. Every now and then, I stopped to drink and rest. I’d kiss the desert stained bracelet my daughter made for me, thank her out loud, and keep moving forward. I tried to gauge my progress, but matching mesa outcroppings to my stage map proved unsuccessful. There seemed to be an infinite number of them, proving my map-reading skills, my stage map (or both) deficient. I caught a glimpse of a solitary monolith miles away, gracing an entirely different canyon system. Others had traveled this way long ago. Did they also view this relic of the Earth with such reverence? The thought nourished my soul. They pulled me closer to home.

Climbing out of the Rose Garden, I saw someone above me on the horizon. It looked as though he were filling up a bladder. Common sense told me it could not be the next water drop. “Tell me that is water,” I shouted. The person responded, and I decided it was a “yes.” When I got to the top of the hill, I found the RD and no water. Reid asked me if I was out, and I told him I was close. He immediately offered me some water from his handheld but I declined, hoping to get to the drop without his help. He asked me how I felt, and I told him that but for my feet I felt strong. We walked in an unsettled silence. Reid asked me if I would continue the stage after the next aid. I could not comprehend the question. I felt the need to show him I was not unprepared, so I began to tell him the story of how I ended up doing the race. Years before now, when the event was still young, I stumbled upon the site for Desert RATS. There was an immediate draw to spending days running through an unspoiled area most people don’t even know exists. I had only trained for a marathon, but found long runs more fulfilling. In a short email I asked him what it took to be prepared for such a race. He responded, suggesting I had at least an ultra under my belt. I found a 50M I could do, and decided that I was slowly going to work my way towards RATS. I told him “I guess you could say the reason I have continued to run all these years is to be right here, right now, doing this.” There was silence again, but this time it felt right. My mouth now completely dry, I accepted his repeat offer of water. Renewed by his visit, I trudged on towards the next water drop, now only minutes away.

Relief filled me when I saw Trevor, the foot-fixing guru. I just sat at first, unable to think about removing my shoes.

I left the second water drop quickly, anxious to get more miles under my feet, and finally started my watch. I drew strength from the information I knew it would offer. Quarter-miles would tick away slowly, but as long as forward momentum existed, I would reach the next aid. I had saved my music for a time when it was most needed and I could wait no longer. The boys of Wilco and Alterbridge helped me more than I could have guessed. Every song was written for this moment. Each strum of the guitar, every beat of the drum and every note sung massaged the pain from my conscience. After an hour plus of walking on shredded feet, I came over the top of a rise in the desert floor and spotted flags at the second aid station. I took off my headphones, anxious to hear a noise from another being. Within minutes the telltale “woohoo” from John, a volunteer and the father of another runner in this year’s race, bounced off the butte walls. I broke into a jog, knowing that his smiling face would be there, ready to fill me up with a dose of feel-good and send me off on the next leg of my journey. I hobbled the last 100 feet towards temporary rest. Relief filled me when I saw Trevor, the foot-fixing guru. I just sat at first, unable to think about removing my shoes.

After water and ginger ale, I slowly took off my first shoe so Trevor could assess the situation. “Woah, you are in bad shape, dude” he announced. I asked if I was the last on the course. “Every runner behind you has dropped. You gonna’ keep going?” He asked. My response was the only one I could have uttered at this point. “I want to see every mile of this race. Fix me up so I can finish this. I think I still have enough time left.” I handed him my son’s mini Gerber knife and some K-tape. He rubbed the blade on an alcohol pad, and dug into my left pinky toe. I gritted my teeth and gripped the arms of the chair. He pressed the fluid out. Stars filled my vision. “Oh man, it looks like you have a second blister under the first one . . . you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “Just get it over with.” I pleaded. Again, Trevor began to slice into my toe. It would not pop. “I am having trouble, it’s pretty leathery skin under there” he said as he sawed through the second layer. It reluctantly gave. He squeezed as hard as he could on the raw skin. The pain was numbing, but all I could do was look at my watch and calculate how fast I’d have to travel the remaining miles to finish the race before the cutoff. There was so much attention on my feet, I’d stopped eating or drinking. Trevor finished his work and I cautiously replaced my shoes and socks and got up to leave. A thousand microscopic needles drove through the virgin skin. The first steps were the most excruciating. I spotted a bag of chips, and asked if I could take them. I’d refuel on the go. As I stepped away from the tent, John began to cheer again. I asked him if he might do it in slow motion to match my pace. His laugh strengthened my stride as I sauntered away. I washed the chips down with cool water, hoping that darkness would come soon. Energy replenished and feet stabilized, I started to jog some. So began the slow climb into the LaSalle Mountains. On went the headphones to let Mr. Tweedy croon away the pain. My pads felt usable, so I did a fast walk on the downhills and straights, and loped on the ups. Up the twisted path carved through the desert facade I climbed for hours, aided periodically by a huge butte blocking the setting sphere of heat. I thanked the running gods for their mercy.

I took off my headphones to take in the surroundings. Deafening silence. Another participant in the race decided to ride the stage that day, and I heard her catching up to me on the trail. It was good to see another human being. We exchanged a few words about the benevolence of the waning temperature. Little else was said. We played leapfrog for a while as darkness approached and decided together to don our headlamps. As we began to climb a large hill, she dismounted and walked alongside her bike. I thought of all the riders on that day – it was no easy task to haul a bike through the Rose Garden. Although my speed was slow, walking the bike was cumbersome, and I said good-bye to Wendy for the time being. I reached the top of the mesa by starlight, inhaled a cool breath of pine-laden air, and watched the fading colors of the forest ahead of me. The La Sal Mountains! The water drop was not far, and I filled up for the trek to the last aid. I put on my long sleeve shirt to meet the advancing cold, and moved towards the looming sentinels.

My legs were shot, my depth perception was poor, and every time I started to run, pockets of soft sand threw me forward. A new blister along my left heel was forming. The forest on both sides grew ever thicker.

After four days in the desert, the huge pines seemed out of place. Although I had looked forward to this stretch of the race, it was no easy task to carry on in the dark. My legs were shot, my depth perception was poor, and every time I started to run, pockets of soft sand threw me forward. A new blister along my left heel was forming. The forest on both sides grew ever thicker. The exhilaration of reaching the mountains relented to the eerie silence of the darkening path through the woods. What roams just past that stand of Aspen? What was that noise off to the side? What the hell are those wraithlike eyes looking at me? It took a moment to remember they belonged to cows grazing on BLM land. Whenever I found a sturdy part of the road I jogged, aided by the nighttime jitters. A couple of miles before reaching the last aid station, I saw a light approaching. I knew I had more time, but wondered whether the race organizer had decided to stop me. It was Ajul, part of the crew from Boulder. He gave me his characteristic thumbs up, and filled me in on the status of the other racers. The lead runner had seen a bear on the trail. That was no help in the moonless night. He also told me I was closing in on the last aid station. It gave me a much-needed boost, but not for long. After realizing we were still miles away, I reverted to an uncomfortable shuffle, and Ajul left to find the last rider. No music for now. I heard the sound of rushing water, and knew I must be at the waterfall the RATS veterans had mentioned. “My goal is to cross it in the daylight this time” one had said. I was happy to have reached it at all.

I reached Aid 3 at 11:30 p.m. – the last runner to check in. They were staying open for me, volunteering their time so I could finish. It was humbling and energizing all at once. All of the others had begun their last miles or dropped long ago. I was the worst, the slowest, and maybe the dumbest (for trying this), but I knew I would finish the stage. After a quick refuel, I decided to set off. Too close to home to rest now. Six miles left. Six. A number that during training was short now seemed insurmountable. I knew it would take well over an hour; my walking was labored and slow. I left the last station alone, but it was not long before Wendy passed me up, and I had three new companions for the remainder of the ride. The course sweepers had finally arrived. I was spent, but their enthusiasm was sincere, and it kept me going. I do not remember much about those last miles. My blister ridden feet pulsed painfully. Walking took real concentration. I wanted to crawl into the ditch on the side of the road and sleep for a while, but the sweepers pushed me on. Finally, after a couple of hours of walking, the sweepers pointed out the lights in the distance. Base camp! The twinkling lights helped me straighten my spine, forget the pain, and find enough energy to trot to the finish. As soon as base camp saw us coming they started to cheer, flash lights on and off and play music. They stayed awake to bring home the last arrival. Choking back tears of gratitude, I crossed the finish line around 1:30 a.m., fell into a chair and thanked all of my trail comrades. Camp cleared in a matter of minutes. Happy silence. I accepted a last grilled cheese, ate, gave thanks, and said goodnight. As I entered my tent, a few sleepy runners stirred to congratulate me. I smiled in the darkness and fell to my pad, slowly pulled my shoes off and crawled into my bag.

As I lay down that night, my feet throbbed and legs ached in a way I have never felt before. But my heart was filled with joy.

Given the day’s events, I thought sleep would come quickly. It did not. As I lay down that night, my feet throbbed and legs ached in a way I have never felt before. But my heart was filled with joy. My tired, desert-beaten body sang a song to me – not some silly ditty about the troubles of trail running, but an epic song of ancient mesas, austere monoliths and the unrelenting heat of the red-rock canyons. A song of the sky, a blue so deep and striking one cannot describe it with words alone. A song of the living, breathing Earth under my shoes giving me strength to travel through Her beauty. It came not from one voice, but from the many people I like to call my Desert R.A.T.S. family. It is a song that will not soon be forgotten.

It was 5:30 on a Boulder morning, the sun wouldn’t ascend for another hour, and the staff, costume-adorned, traipsed from trailer to base camp to set up for the 24 Hours of Boulder…Endurance Races for an eighth consecutive year. A cat, a Viking, a dead hunter, and a dreaded Rastafarian race director set up shop at the Boulder Reservoir, on a platform overlooking the dark shoreline. Racers filtered in to register among flickering lights and hanging ghosts. A great group of 24-hour and 100-milers gossiped around base camp until Reid Delman, Rastafarian, called them to the start line. Pleasantries were exchanged, a horn blew, and into the early morning light filtered a half-costumed, half-regular, but wholly thrilled bunch of endorphin-seeking diehards.

With Glen Delman, race photographer, at the event, racers had the option of having their photo taken after each lap was completed on the out and back course. He/she would run into base, check off at the timing booth (through the Ghoulish Journeyman Adventure Enterprises), snap a quick photo, perhaps to capture for themselves by end, an explanation for what had just been accomplished, or to see how fatigue, or strength becomes vivid in the cheeks, eyes and posture. Whatever the case, the option to capture the journey made the 24 Hours of Boulder more exposed – turning something extremely intimate in the long hours logged by the individual, to more communal, like a family portrait at the fireplace, year after year.

At 6 pm Saturday evening, the 6-hour nighttime fun run group lined up, contributing a new and vivacious energy to the spaced-apart pack of 24 hour, 12 hour, and 100 mile participants. A short six hours later, Chris Lennon and Theresa Daus Weber finished as First Place Male/Female with 28.56 miles accomplished apiece. Second Place Male and Female were Terry Gold and Stephanie Maria Bollini with 21.42 miles clocked in before the cut-off.

A loan ambulance sat ready in the Reservoir parking lot for 30 hours without a single hiccup to address.

This year’s 24 Hours of Boulder…Endurance Races was extremely exciting, because Jeremy Bradford, who competed in the Triple Crown Series in 2011, shattered his previous series record (24 of Boulder, 24 of Utah, 24 of Laramie), with a truly inspiring completion of 100 miles in 15:42. His cumulative time for all three 100’s was 58:10. The 24 Hours of Boulder…was Bradford’s 7th 100-mile race of the year, and with such a strong, consistent, and passionate pursuit of the distance, it’s a surprise he isn’t sponsored. Nudge to Hoka, who Bradford swears by for his races.

Second place male in the 100-Mile was Jeremy Ebel from Boulder, CO, 33-minutes behind Bradford, with a time of 16:15. After Ebel had completed his last lap he pulled out a bottle of Patron, took a shot, and sat by it for the next couple hours through that dark night, inviting all to follow suit.

The first female to complete 100 miles was Lisa Purul from Highlands, CO, with a time of 19:06. Second place female was Claire Dorotik from Aurora, CO with a finishing time of 25:30.

Those to run this portion of the race would endure several weather changes, from brisk morning chills, to a full Saturday of rain and wind, and finally, to bring them home, a clear blue and perfectly temped runner’s Sunday morning. At night, a propane heater, a couple sleeping bags, and each other’s encouraging remarks of a morning soon to come was barely enough to remove the chill from the rain. Long-time veteran chefs, Karen Balog and Josh Weissman kept filling the coffee old school style, ladling boiling water over a makeshift prop of filter and grounds – it always tastes better when made slowly, especially when you can cup it in your hands on a cold night after 18 hours of running. On top of this was that delicious, nostalgic pot of top ramen, and an even larger vat of marinara chicken pasta, and an even larger pot of chicken broth soaked potato chunks.
Reid Delman’s twin daughters, who inspired “Gemini Events,” dressed as a clown and a giant blow up blue person made brownies the likes of coffins, adorned in candy corn and icing for the racers. Along with the festive treats were assorted candies, chips, pb&j rolls, and energy capsule-time-released beverages.

Mountain Magazine sponsored a team of workers turned racers, and it was their tent that boogied throughout the night. Jace Wirth, team captain, along with Olivia Dwyer ran the most for the group, capping a total of 28.56 miles apiece; the most that Jace had run in his life. Team Mountain Magazine ran a total of 149.94 miles in 24 hours, just three minutes before Team Run Like The Winded who clocked the same amount of mileage.
Several racers dropped from the 100-Mile to the 24 Hour category, and it was Chris Roman from Jacksonville, FL who courageously endured 114.24 miles on the 7.14 mile out and back (12:07/ a mile). Carlos Valdez from Denver, CO took 2nd with 71.4 miles. The first 24 Hour female was the seasoned RATS veteran, K RAY (Karen Ray) from Tijeras, NM with 100 miles. 2nd place female was Fran Mason of Boulder, with 71.4 miles.
12 Hour participants finished Saturday evening with Michael Hewitt of Denver, CO as lead male, having run 71.4 miles, and 2nd place male, Shawn St. Sauveur accomplishing the same mileage 36 minutes later. 1st place female was Jacqlyn Ducharme from Aurora, CO with 28.56 miles and 2nd place female was Stacie Butow from Glenwood Springs, CO with 21.42 miles.

The 6 Hour field was tight, with both male and female leaders even in miles accomplished. Chris Lennon from Westminster, CO completed 28.56 miles earning 1st place, while 1st place female was Theresa Daus Weber from Morrison, CO with the same mileage, but just over an hour later. 2nd place male was Terry Gold of Boulder, CO with 21.42 miles. 2nd place female was Stephanie Marina Bollini with 21.42 miles run.
For the first time ever, the 24 Hours of Boulder…Endurance Races 2012 introduced the 50K to the lineup. With a 7 am Sunday morning race start, a solid but small group of racers would pave the way for a race that will, in the future, likely gather a herd (awesomely affordable entry fee, snacks, scheduled for a Sunday start, pre-Boulder Marathon, etc.). Bill Fauselow finished first male with a time of 3 hours, 32 minutes (6:49 pace). Second place male was Patrick Garcia with a time of 4 hours, 15 minutes. First Place Female was Lisa Javernick (2nd place overall male/female), with a time of 4 hours, 4 minutes (7:51 pace), and second place female was Karen Kantor with a time of 4 hours, 19 minutes.

What’s really beautiful about the 24 Hours of Boulder…Endurance Races, and Gemini Events as a company, is that those involved and those who are attracted to its types of races are down to earth, low-key adventurers who don’t need frills or belt buckles to understand the roots of the sport. It’s about getting lost in your head, about moving beyond the monotony, about making new friends, and giving the ones you made last year that tired head nod, to confess, “This is hard, but I’m here.” K Ray, first place female in the 24 Hour, quotes it sensationally in, “I was witness to the kindness of strangers from start to finish in Colorful Colorado and it started from the moment I arrived at the Reservoir…Although I made the trip to Boulder alone, I felt like I had family and friends the entire race.”

Riding the Kokopelli Trail in one push is truly one of the greatest mountain bike endurance tests in North America. Easy access and relative proximatey to airports makes this a must do for hardcore endurance athletes. The Kokopelli Trail is 142 miles of beautiful rugged jeep road and travels past wonderful ruddy-colored canyons, arches, the La Sals, and the Colorado river. It transcends from Loma, CO to Moab, UT and offers its marvels to the adventure seeking cyclist or runner.
Epic – This trail can be ridden in one push. Mere mortals can ride it in 30 hours, super human athletes can aim for under 24 hours, but the FKT for riding centers around 15H and the FKT in running is Peter Bakwin’s 32:47.
Endurance – With support it can be ridden in 3-5 days, but some sick riders do it in 1.
Day ride – There are many sections that can be ridden as an out and back with some incredible scenery. A couple options include: Mary’s Loop, Troy Built, Moore Fun, or Mack Ridge.
Location: Fly into Grand Junction. From GJ travel West on I-70 for 15 miles, to the Loma exit (exit 15). Turn left (West) at the top of the exit ramp to cross over the interstate to the South. Turn right at the access rd. and follow signs to the trailhead parking area 0.5 miles down the gravel rd.
Logistics: There are many shuttle services in Moab to get you back to your car. Camping is available at various sections off the trail, located mostly by large parking areas like the Mack exit (8 locations along the trail).
Length: 142 miles
Weather: Early May is ideal for riding conditions. Expect daytime temps to be mid-70’s to 80’s, cooler as elevation increases. Nights will be cooler – 40’s to 50’s.
Elevation: Elevation Gain: +18,195/-22,800. Starting elevation (Loma): 4606 ft. Ending (Moab): 4024 ft. Elevation Max: 8603 ft.
Terrain: Rolling singletrack through buttes, sand, 4×4 and country road terrain.
Riding season: Spring and fall are the best time to ride or run.
Details: Latitude/Longitude – 39.20894, -108.97230
Shop: Singletracks in Fruita, Poison Spider in Moab.

Guess who just rocked the World Mountain Running Championships? Gemini Event’s 2012 Festival guest speaker, Melody Fairchild did, that’s who! The WMRC’s is an epic international mountain running competition governed by the WMRA. The championships include Senior Men (13km), Senior Women (7.9k), Junior Men (7.9k), and Junior Women (4.1k) events as well as Overall Team. This year’s championship was held on September 2, in the villages of Temu and of Ponte di Legno, Italy. All finished at Tonale Pass, located at 1.884 meters above sea level.

A record of 40 nations competed in the WMRC’s this year. The weather threatened rain but dispelled into a light breeze, opening up a successful race for the United States.

In regards to the Senior Women – Melody took 8th out of 88 category participants, with a time of 48:57, 3 seconds behind her teammate, Stevie Kremer. “Morgan Aritola (USA) took the bronze medal…The USA team were the strongest team taking gold with 3 athletes in the top 10 with just 18 points. Second place went to Italy (29), with Switzerland in third (58).” – Quoted from WMRA, Bashir Husssain.

The 2012 US Women’s Mountain Running Team. From Left to
Right: Stevie Kremer, Brandy Erholtz, Melody Fairchild, and
Morgan Arritola at the qualifying race at Loon Mountain, N.H.

The following is quoted from Melody Fairchild, and will appear in a Flagstaff, AZ publication, interviewed by Ian Torrence,

It was a pleasant surprise to find all four of us running together; I always am energized and motivated with TEAM. (This whole trip was, for me, about TEAM; I feel extremely proud of U.S. mountain running and it’s runners for being a strong presence in the World Mountain Running Scene). I actually was pacing myself. I know that in a marathon, the race doesn’t begin until 20 miles…and in a race where we were to ascend nearly 6,000ft. in the second half of the race, my strategy was to make sure I didn’t feel like I was ‘pushing’ or ‘straining’ before we reached Lauderbrunnen, where the first big climb began. Having not been marathon trained, I was especially conservative early. I look forward to going back trained for the distance, so that my ‘not pushing pace’ can be what the top three were running-probably closer to 6 minute pace, not 6:20’s. It usually is a successful strategy to ‘negative split’ in a distance race…it’s just knowing how to gauge one’s fitness and to get to that edge of out aerobic capacity, without going over the fine line between it and anaerobic, because once one does, in a long distance race, it’s too late to recover. – Melody Fairchild

Following the race, Fairchild ran in the September 8th Jungfrau Marathon, which was awarded host of the World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge (not considered a World Championship). Fairchild was 2nd American with a time of 3:44, behind Kim Dobson.

It was the biggest race in Europe I have run. It is ‘trail’ in the last third pure ‘road’ the first 12k, and a mix in between. I loved the course; it requires a distance runner to be a versatile athlete and to have a mind with positivity as strong a steel, to keep going in what I found to be the toughest final three miles of any race I have run. I am excited to go back, trained for it and mentally prepared. The challenge physically and the emotional ride of going from clipping along at 6:20 pace to crawling up a 30% grade for two miles with no one around, then hitting the town of Wengen, where thousands of people are cheering you and you have a descent…then beginning to hit the trails…and your Soul’s depths, is awesome. – Melody Fairchild

All WMR Championship results may be found at the WMRA website.

Next year’s WMRA World Mountain Running Championships will be held in Poland on September 8, 2013.

In the September article we discussed the importance and purpose of Zone 2 workouts. In today’s article we will discuss how including Heart Rate Zone 3 in your training plan will lead to improved performance and fitness.

The purpose of including Heart Rate Zone 3 workouts is to increase one’s endurance capacity. The higher the endurance base, the longer the athlete can maintain a race specific pace. A high endurance base is best obtained by training at a Heart Rate intensity of 75-85% of your Max Heart Rate. When an athlete increases their intensity into Zone 3, the energy system shifts from primary fat oxidation (Zone 1-2), to a higher contribution of carbohydrate oxidation (Zone 3). When an athlete’s performance is fueled by a high contribution of carbohydrate oxidation, the time spent in exercise can be time limited. This is because there is a limited amount of muscle and liver carbohydrate stores that can be utilized to fuel performance. Learning to fuel and run is an important part of training at this higher intensity. Endurance Zone 3 training improves the athlete’s ability to maintain a higher pace for a long duration of time without the accumulation of blood lactate levels, which is an important distinction for our next month’s discussion of Zone 4 workouts.

The best way to increase endurance is by running 20-25% of one’s weekly mileage in Zone 3. Zone 3 workouts include tempo runs. Tempo runs are defined by a steady effort level of 20-40min, with a pace slightly slower than 10k pace. Zone 3 workouts are best described as a comfortably hard effort during which the athlete can have a broken conversation.

Training Recommendation: Spend time in Zone 3 after you’ve built a large Zone 1-2 base. One to two days of Zone 3 tempo work per week on flat terrain and hills will increase your endurance and overall fitness. Build Zone 3 workouts into your training plan when you are ready to, “leave it all on the course” in your next race. Zone 3 is a race pace for ½ marathon to 50k races.

Cindy Stonesmith CMT ACSM/HFS
Owner and Endurance Running Coach

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