Monday, January 31, 2011

Five Questions with my friend Steve at Blogging the Suburbs (145 days to go)

We're in the middle of Snowmageddon here in St. Louis, and I'm wondering how I'm going to get a tempo run in when there is an inch of ice with snow falling over it on the ground and a very real likelihood that the gym is going to be closed tomorrow. No worries! I got today's 7.60 miles in before work, when the weather was still good. But Tuesday through Friday? No idea what's going to happen.

But that's not the reason for my post. No, I wanted to share my Q&A session with my friend and fellow blogger Steve D'Avria over at the Blogging the Suburbs blog. I answered five (okay, six) questions about my running that I wanted to share here. Check out Steve's blog at Blogging the Suburbs. Prepare to be amused.

Stay safe out there, my friends!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Training Week Four Recap (146 days to go)

After setting a new mileage record last week, Week Four was a stepback week. I gave my body a chance to recuperate a bit, and by midweek, I could feel the speed returning to my legs. This was a big week for the Wounded Warrior Project fundraising, too, because with nearly five months until race day, I'm less than $100 short of being halfway to my $10,000 fundraising goal! Thank you all for your support!

Here's what I did this week:

Monday: 5.12 miles...nice and easy in the neighborhood. I could feel my right calf tightening a bit at the end of the run, a sign that my legs were still feeling the nine straight days of training intensity.

Tuesday: 7.21 miles, including 5x800s at the track. These 800s were a lot slower than the previous three weeks, because my legs were tired and the track was covered in bumpy snow and ice. Parkway West High School's track apparently doesn't get much sunlight.

Wednesday: 8.10 miles, including 4 miles at a 6:42 tempo pace. The legs really came alive, and I could have held the pace for a few more miles...a big change of pace from the previous Sunday's tempo run.

Thursday: 6.23 miles, including 4 downs and ups on the quarter mile hill nearby. I ran this in the dark, and I couldn't see the snow and ice. This was a tricky workout.

Friday: 1.05 miles with the dog! Ah! This morning run felt great.

Saturday: 16.19 miles, including 15 plus miles of trails at Castlewood State Park. I made sure to run some of the hillier sections. The overall pace was not fast, but the workout was effective.

Sunday: 7.62 miles, again nice and easy. This run featured the added bonus of being warm enough to wear shorts.

Total Week Four Miles: 51.52 miles...almost twenty miles fewer than last week, but the first time I'd ever run four consecutive weeks of 50 miles or more! With one day left in the month, I've run over 248 miles in January, a new monthly PR!

Week Five will involve another mileage increase, though I may fall short of 70 miles for the week. We'll see!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dusty Corners to Last Chance (Miles 35.3 to 43.3) 149 days to go!

The eighth stage of the course takes runners deeper into the canyons from the Dusty Corners aid station at Mile 38.0 to the depths of the appropriately named Last Chance at Mile 43.3.

Thanks to the following for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project: John O'Brien (a partner at my firm and a fellow runner who ran Boston in 2010), my colleague Todd Nissenholtz, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill Amann, longtime friends Tim and Maria Neuner (random fact of the day-Tim was friends with my wife Beth in high school in St. Louis, while Maria was one of my friends in high school in Minnesota...and both couples met independent of the other at Notre Dame) and Brian and Anne Murray. A special note of thanks to Tim, an oral surgeon in the US Army, and Brian, a pilot in the US Navy, and their lovely wives for their service and sacrifice. At Tim's request, I'm proud to be running a couple miles in honor of the men and women recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The five mile stretch from Dusty Corners to Last Chance is a jagged journey down and up and down again a few times, dropping a net of approximately 500 feet. The trail looks runnable, and there are some tall pines to provide some cover before the sun exposure and heat of the canyons ahead.

Last Chance draws its name from the ghost town not far from the aid station.

It had been a booming mining town in the late 1800s, but today is little more than an abandoned building and an historical marker. The ghost town is perched on a large drop-off overlooking the north fork of the Middle Fork of the American River.

The aid station is also the second medical checkpoint, where runners have to step on the scale to determine their weight loss or gain.

In the past, the Last Chance aid station has been run by the Stevens Creek Striders, a running club from Cupertino, California. The Striders have operated an aid station at WS since 1981, and most camp out at the site on Friday night before the race. Runners are treated to grilled cheese, among the usual buffet, and many take advantage of the "car wash," buckets of cold water and sponges for the runners to clean their dirty legs off or cool their heads.

The lead runners will enter Last Chance around 11:20 a.m. In a sign that the gap between the leaders and those chasing a silver belt buckle will continue to widen, 24 hour finishers will enter the aid station around 1:55 p.m., a twenty minute bigger gap than there had been at Dusty Corners. Thirty hour runners will enter around 4:25 p.m., with an absolute cutoff of 5:30 p.m.

It will truly be a Last Chance of sorts for the runners...the next twenty miles are known as some of the most difficult in all of the sport. Those passing on their last chance to avoid that pain by departing the Last Chance aid station will have 4 1/2 miles to Devil's Thumb and only 56.9 miles to the finish line!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Training Week Three Recap (153 days to go)

It was a goofy week of crummy weather. We had two snowfalls this week, which resulted in several near-death experiences as no one around here expects to see a runner, even one in reflective gear, running on the shoulder of the road in 15 degree weather after 6 inches of snow, and heaven forbid everyone in the neighborhood shovel their sidewalks. But there I was...dodging fools driving SUVs. I'm still alive, and better than ever, as you'll see by my mileage total for the week.

Monday: 8.54 miles to ring in the MLK day of work from home. I ran it very, very slow.

Tuesday: To the track! Total mileage of 7.51, including 6x800 in what can best be described as 2:50ish. The track was white with a coat of snow/sleet over it, and imagine my surprise when I finished my final interval with an R-rated outburst...only to realize that a jogger had entered around the first turn gate to run a few laps. Oops!

Wednesday: 8.15 miles, including 4 tempo miles at a 6:39 pace. It hurt, I won't lie.

Thursday: 6.58 miles, including 5 ups and downs my usual 6 inches of fresh powder! At least it was light out, though, since I worked from home.

Friday: 7.01 miles, in a slow pace again. It was 18 degrees, which is the equivalent of -10 in St. Louis.

Saturday: 20.58 miles on the Green Rock Trail.

My planned workout was something easy. My coach even capitalized the word in his email to me, trying to emphasize its importance: EASY. I ended up doing the hardest trail in St. Louis again, with 4000 feet of incline and decline, plus a good 4-6 inches of barely touched powder to run through. I tried to do it easy, but I'm not sure that was possible on any trail in the area. Around Mile 16, I started feeling it, especially after I finished my water, and the last 4 miles were a sad combination of jogging and death march, punctuated with a nice fall around Mile 18 that left me with a sprained finger. Oops.

Sunday: 12.15 miles, including a bit over 5 at a tempo pace around 7:00. It snowed overnight, and the sidewalks and roads were a mess, so I cheated and did this workout indoors. I started with 2 miles on the indoor track, and then I did the unthinkable: I ran a bit over 10 miles on the treadmill. I think I logged something like, I don't know, eight miles on the treadmill last year. The strangest part of this workout was developing a blister on the inside of my right big toe. I've never had one there before!

Total Week Three Miles: 70.52 miles! This is a new mileage PR by 5 or so miles (and the first time was the week of my 50 mile race where I ran 56 miles in one day!). Back to work tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Miller's Defeat to Dusty Corners (Miles 35.3 to 38.0) (158 days to go!)

The seventh stage of the course takes runners from Miller's Defeat at Mile 35.3 to Dusty Corners at 38.0. Special thanks to the following people for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that make this stage tour possible: Kelly Glynn, Jenny Wittich, Abby Gabrys, and my grandma Lucy Tucker! Your generosity is appreciated by me and put to good use by the WWP!

From what I can tell, this stretch of trail will be a respite from the climbs behind us and those to come. It's a downhill route with a wider trail than usual. Snow could be an issue, if the trail photographs are are any indication, but it looks extremely runnable. That's a good thing...we're less than 10 miles from Devil's Thumb, which is as bad as it sounds.

There is crew access at Dusty Corners, a maximum of one vehicle per runner. Dusty Corners is in a remote location, though, and the volunteers bring their supplies into the aid station by horse trailer on Friday night, over 12 hours before any runners will pass through! Many choose to camp at the site, given the difficulty in reaching it.

The leaders will arrive at Miller's Defeat only 25 minutes after they left Miller's Defeat. The 24 hour runners will arrive about 30 minutes after their Miller's Defeat departure, while 30 hour runners will traverse this downhill stretch of 2.7 miles about 45 minutes. The aid station will close at 4:10 p.m. Runners will have 62.2 miles to go!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Training Week Two Recap (160 days to go)

I'm a low mileage guy, so these initial weeks are all about building up an ultra base. Even then, my mileage is lower than a lot of marathoners. Oh, well! Week Two is in the books, and there's no looking back!

Week Two was pretty much the same schedule as Week One, except we changed up the long runs a bit...same mileage, just different distances. Recall, of course, that I went longer last Saturday than I was supposed to!

Monday: 6.21 miles. Nice and easy at an 8:30 pace. There were flurries coming down as I ran.

Tuesday: It snowed 4-5 inches overnight, which basically shuts down St. Louis, so I headed indoors for my track workout instead of trying to do it in the snow. I ended up with 6.49 miles, including a rough estimate of 5x800s (our indoor track is 8 1/2 laps to the mile, which a bunch of twists and turns instead of being oval shaped). The 800s were slower than last week, which I account to the extra turns, the fact that I run indoors on the outer lap, and the imprecise measurement I gave myself for the 1/4 lap to round it off. They were all in the 2:50s, so I felt okay about it.

Wednesday: 7.36 miles with a 30 minute tempo thrown in. The tempo was tough...I ran the same route as the week before, but the sidewalks had snow-packed trails worn in. It was tough, but I managed a 7:33/mile pace for 30 minutes in between my warm-up and cooldown.

Thursday: Hills again! Ended up with 5.87 miles, including 4 ups and 4 downs on the nature trail hill. It was snow-packed, too, so my splits were slower than the week before. It's all good training for the high altitude miles at Western States, right?

Friday: 1.05 miles by myself at 3:45 a.m. I had a 4:30 departure for the drive to Kansas to welcome home my brother, so this run was early. It gave me a nice jolt of energy before the long drive mostly in the dark.

Saturday: 13.19 miles in Junction City, Kansas. I ran it mostly on the shoulder of the roads because no one had shoveled. It was faster than it should have been, about 1:45 total, but I felt good and I really wanted to get back to my family. I had mapped out a route on, and in spite of not remembering the street names once I got out there, it turns out I followed my plan perfectly. The highlight of the run was at Mile 9, when I looped back past the hotel. My mom was driving toward me, and she honked a hello as she turned into the parking lot. I noticed a Sheriff's car following her, and he turned in behind her. I circled back to the lot to see that he'd activated his lights. She was parked and didn't see him, so she hopped out to unbelt my nieces...only to be told to get back in the car. Lucky for her, she got off with a warning for her alleged 42 in a 30. (And 30 mph on that road?! It has 4 lanes!)

Sunday: I ran a solid 17.12 miles in about 2:43 out at the Lewis & Clark Trail along the Missouri River bluffs in St. Charles County, about 15 miles from my house. I did two loops on the Lewis Trail, an 8 plus mile loop that involves a few ups and downs along with a lot of single track. As you can see from the sign, I did it faster than the Department of Natural Resources anticipated.

The views of the River are beautiful, and there are remote sections where things are very peaceful. On my first loop, the path was snow-packed and pretty slick in a few sections, but the afternoon sun made a few miles a bit muddier on the second loop. I broke out my Brooks Cascadians for the first time, and I think I'll be buying another pair or two because I loved them!

Total Week Two Miles: 57.29

Pretty solid back to back weeks! In fact, I've never run that far in a 14 day period before! Bring on Week 3!

Friday, January 14, 2011

One of my heroes is home! (162 days to go!)

One of the primary reasons I chose to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project is my little brother. Matthew joined Army ROTC in college, serving one weekend each month and two weeks each summer in the National Guard while he was at it. When he graduated, he was assigned to an aviation unit and lived in Alabama for two years to attend flight school. Today, he returned home to his beautiful wife Megan and two-year old son Jack after serving ten months in Iraq. I wish I could find the words to describe the depth of the emotion I felt today, or the pride I have for his dedication and sacrifice. I can't, so let me leave it at this: I couldn't be prouder of him. I love him so much.

Matthew returned home safely, and my family offers prayers of thanksgiving today for that. Other military families are less fortunate. The Wounded Warrior Project seeks to assist those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, helping fill the gaps in their transition back to society that the government cannot, for whatever reason, fill. I am proud to dedicate my Western States run to this organization. Please consider making a donation today in support of our wounded veterans, and in honor of my own brother's safe return into the arms of his family.

Here's video of his favorite part is Jack's comment "Dada's home" at about the 1:04 mark.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Robinson Flat to Miller's Defeat (Miles 29.7 to 35.3) 164 days to go!

The sixth segment of the course tour takes us from the Robinson Flat aid station at Mile 29.7 to Miller's Defeat at Mile 35.3. A special thanks to Lauren Garvey and Matt Garvey, Beth's cousins, my in-laws John and Sigrid Sheehan, Mark and Liddy Strus (in honor of Ayden Crumpley), Caroline Hoenk, and Kevin and Michelle Brandl, whose donations to the Wounded Warrior Project sponsor this stage. I also wanted to thank my mom, who donated in honor of a patient of hers, Tom Regnier, who recently died. Tom's two sons are in the military, and his wife Cynthia is a Blue Star Mother with my mom.

Keep in mind that I've never run these miles, but from what I've been able to determine, the trail along this stretch is fairly new single track path that is mostly downhill with a few switchbacks. The Robinson Flat aid station is the second highest aid station, at just over 6700 feet, but the course rises up from there. It peaks at over 7,000 feet after a short ascent up to Little Bald Mountain, but descends slowly over the next three miles to a low around 6,000 feet.

Given the relatively tame terrain, this stretch will be very runnable and also a good chance for calorie intake. Having just seen my crew, it will probably be a good idea to take a homemade sandwich or two with me for the descent into Miller's Defeat.

Yes, those are horses! This is, after all, a horse trail, and this race, of course, got its start after a horse race competitor's horse went lame, leading its rider to run the distance to Auburn. The rulebook notes that "horses may be spooked by the sudden appearance of a runner, with serious consequences to the rider. Stop and step off the trail to let oncoming horses pass. Runners should never pass a horse form behind without first notifying the rider."

The Miller's Defeat aid station at Mile 35.3 will see the leaders pass through at 10:15 a.m. The 24 hour runners will be by at 12:25 p.m., and the 30 hour runners will arrive at 2:30 p.m. The aid station will close at 3:10 p.m. Runners will have 64.7 miles to go!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat (Miles 23.8 to 29.7) 165 days to go.

The course tour continues today with the fifth segment of the course, the 5.9 miles from Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat. Special thanks to Jenni Sevenich, Kristin Clark, Chris Manuel, my lovely wife Beth, Angela Petrucci (in honor of Gerard Petrucci and Edward Nugent), Mark & Katie Zoia, Amy Craft Ahrens (in honor of Chris Miller of the National Guard), and Andy Vitt (in honor of Dylan Schoo) for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this stretch of trail.

The fifth segment takes runners deep into Duncan Canyon in the first 1.8 miles from the Duncan Canyon aid station, a drop of about 1000 feet. Like the last stage, forest fires destroyed the foliage along much of this path, leaving runners exposed to the beating sun overhead. Having passed through snow fields a few short hours ago, it will probably be a shock to the system to feel temperatures rising toward triple digits.

A lot of the path looks runnable. Of course, it quickly starts a three mile climb into Robinson Flat that ascends well over 1000 feet. This area also is prone to being a winter wonderful of snow banks, which seems hard to believe having just experienced rising temperatures in the valley.

The reward, when a runner reaches the Robinson Flat aid station at Mile 29.7, is the presence once again of the runner's crew, which has been bussed into the aid station...and a whole lot of excitement. The Robinson Flat aid station features a loudspeaker announcing the name and hometown of each runner. Crowds line the roped-off aid station, cheering for the entering runners. Runners are ushered, for the first time since Squaw Valley, to a medical checkpoint to confirm adequate weight (see my post here about aid stations to learn what the medical volunteers are looking for). There is one weird rule at this aid station: crews are not allowed to touch their runners. I really don't know why that is.

The leaders will pass through Robinson Flat around 9:30 a.m., about 4 1/2 hours after race start. Those on a 24 hour pace will pass by almost two hours later, at 11:20 a.m., and 30 hour runners keeping pace will pass through at 12:55 p.m. The aid station closes at 1:50 p.m. Only 70.3 miles to go!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Training Week One Recap (167 days to go)

I have a consecutive days running streak that exceeds 500 days, so some might say that I'm always in training. There is no question, however, that the intensity of being "in training" exceeds those easy weeks of mileage that I log most winter months. Under the guidance of my coach Andy Jones-Wilkins, I kicked off the official Week One of my Western States training this week. Here's a quick recap:

Monday: 6.05 miles. There will be plenty of nice and easy runs, and Day One was no exception. In fact, it was basically the same run I would have done even without a training plan, except I slowed it down even further than usual. My marathon training "easy pace" frequently falls in the 7:30 to 7:45 per mile pace, partially a product of the fact that I keep the intensity higher even on easy days to compensate for my relatively low mileage and partially in an effort to save a few minutes of time each day. As I ramp up my mileage for Western States, I'll also be slowing my pace down to something slower than 8:00/mile on these easy runs. There is something to be said for time on feet...and a good recovery.

Tuesday: 6.68 miles total in a trip to the track. Yes, that's right...a track workout as I prepare for a 100 mile race! The 800 is one of my favorite distances, largely because I ran it competitively in junior high and high school. This dark, cold, crisp night was my first time on the track since late September. It didn't disappoint. I knocked off splits of 2:44, 2:44, 2:45, 2:43, and 2:41. The strangest part of this workout? There was another guy running on this track, in the dark, in the 28 degree weather.

Wednesday: 7.14 miles, including 30 minutes tempo pace. I started out easy with the dog, then dropped him off and "dropped the hammer" for a bit over 4 miles. I finished up with a short cooldown and felt great.

Thursday: 5.79 miles in a hill workout. I am lucky to have a long, steep hill that runs through a nature park about a quarter mile from my house. I hit that hill for 4 sets of intervals, and my GI tract was thanking me when we finally finished.

Friday: Gotta keep the streak alive...1.05 miles with the dog before work. I think Lou appreciated the chance to get some fresh air.

Saturday: 20.44 miles. I was invited to join a group of ultrarunners from the area on an out-and-back trail run on what is known as the Greenrock Trail, which isn't too far from my house. It's an area I've run before on my own, but I'd never made it from one end to the other because I always got lost. We met at 7 a.m., the sun just starting to peak over the horizon, and the temperature resting at a chilly 14 degrees. I am grateful for having met these turns out two of them finished Western States in 2010, two others paced those runners, one finished the storied Leadville 100 in under 24 hours, and all have impressive ultrarunning resumes. It was a cold, but rewarding run...check out the sweat icicle that formed on my hat. My glove fingertips froze, too, causing me to run the last 10 miles with my hands in fists, the glovetips clanging like windchimes as I ran. Overall, we had 4000 feet of climb and 4000 feet of descent (it was an out-and-back, after all!), and a warm shower never felt so good.

Sunday: 10.15 miles, nice and easy. My legs felt surprisingly fresh...hopefully a good sign of things to come!

Total Week One Miles: 57.30.

I won't tell you what my all-time weekly mileage record is...but it's not too far from that number! The difference? Instead of slamming fast, hard miles, I focused on long, easy miles with effective speed and hill workouts intertwined. I've run several PRs in the marathon never even reaching 57 miles in a week, and here I am hitting that mileage in the first week of a 24 week training program. My legs feel great, though, and I'm looking forward to Week 2!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Red Star Ridge to Duncan Canyon (Miles 16.0 to 23.8) 169 days to go!

Week One of training is coming to a close with a 15 mile run tomorrow and 10 miles on Sunday. I had a fantastic week of running, including my first trip to the track (yes, I'll be doing speed intervals for a 100 mile race) since September and a hard night of hill running last night that left me sucking for air. This was a big week, too, because I booked a flight for the Memorial Day Weekend Training Camp along the course--32 miles on Saturday, and 20 each on Sunday and Monday--and reserved a hotel room in Auburn so my crew and I would have a place to shower after I cross the finish line before 5 a.m. on Sunday, June 26...not to mention a place for Baby Silker, who will arrive in plus or minus 7 weeks, to rest!

And of course, thanks to so many people's generosity, I needed to update the course tour today!

The fourth stage of the Western States course takes runners from Red Star Ridge to Duncan Canyon. Special thanks to my little brother Matthew and his lovely wife Megan, my parents Dave and Teresa Silker, Megan's parents Brian and Carrie Hetzler and her brother Lucas, my brother-in-law Jack Sheehan and his wife Alicia, Elizabeth Cunnane, Rabeh Soofi, Jeff Wittich, Tom DeLuca, and Randy Blake for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsored this section of the course tour. To meet my goal of $100 per mile for 100 miles, a total goal of $10,000, every donation, no matter the size, matters. Please visit my Wounded Warrior Project donation page at to make a tax-deductible donation online or to print a copy of the offline donation sheet for mailing to the WWP.

At 7.8 miles, the Red Star Ridge to Duncan Canyon route is the longest stretch between aid stations. As the elevation profile shows, it is a net downhill, though not without a steady series of ups and downs before a final descent into Duncan Canyon, where the elevation drops approximate 900 feet in a little over 1 1/2 miles.

Much of this stretch appears to be single track dirt and rock trail.

The eye-opening part of this stage is the sight of burned out trees. There was a devastating fire in the area in 2001 that led to a course re-routing from 2002 to 2005 due to the destruction to Duncan Canyon.

I'm not sure where it was located, but a fire wrecked havoc on the race in 2008 as well. After several thousand (yes, thousand) lightning strikes started several hundred forest fires in northern California in June 2008, the race organizers were left with no choice but to cancel the 2008 race. There was no guarantee that the fires themselves wouldn't endanger runners, and the air quality was so poor, at over 10 times worse than what is considered a high level of air pollution, that even the fittest of athletes would have been at risk. The decision was made only three days before the race, with a hope that a miracle would prevent the only cancellation in the three decades old race. No miracle occurred, and the 400 entrants in the 2008 WS100 were given automatic entries into the 2009 or 2010 events.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of this section is that Duncan Canyon is the first station where there is crew access. Each runner can designate one vehicle to access the Duncan Canyon aid station. Don't get me wrong...the aid station volunteers are amazing, but the sight of friends and family is a beautiful sight for sore eyes (and legs). Nearly one quarter of the way into the race, and I'll finally have someone there who loves me enough to touch my dirty socks!

The lead runners will arrive at Duncan Canyon around 8:30 a.m., about 3 1/2 hours after the starting gun. 24 hour runners will arrive 80 minutes later, around 9:50 a.m, while 30 hour runners will arrive at 11:05 a.m. The aid station officially closes at noon, seven hours after the race first started. Traditionally, most of the runners make it out of the Duncan Canyon aid station, only 76.4 miles between them and a belt buckle.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Official First Day of Training! (173 days to go)

Today marks the offical first day of my training. Like most training plans, it involves a pretty normal run..5 or 6 easy miles. It's a good 24 weeks to race day, so I've got a lot of running in front of me.

While reading the paper this morning, I found an inspiring piece on Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who recently became the first living soldier since Vietnam to receive the Medal of Honor. I had the privilege of shaking Sgt. Giunta's hand at Carnegie Deli in New York City in November, a few hours before his appearance on the David Letterman Show. The photos below are our blurry attempt to capture that moment....that's my gray sleeve in the lower left corner!

His story is just one of many among those with whom he serves that drive me to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project. He, of course, avoided injury during his heroic acts, but many others do not while exhibiting bravery in the line of duty. I thank them all for their service.