Bear training weeks 1-8

The first quarter of my season has been challenging. I've had to deal with injuries and other niggles, and I'm just starting to feel better when I run. Moving forward on fitness while not being able to run very much has been an interesting problem to work on.

As I mentioned in Preason running I started my 8 week block of interval workouts with nagging knee pain. This pain continued for 6 weeks. I dealt with it by alternating outdoor runs with low-impact sessions on an elliptical or stair-stepper machine. I did one outdoor session of hill intervals and one indoor session of stair-stepper intervals every week. By the end of the block, I was doing 36 minutes of hard uphill running, and 4 hours of easier running or stepping in a week. It's not where I want to be. At least I didn't have to skimp on the hard intervals. I'm satisfied with doing as much hard running as my knee allowed, and enjoy feeling more fit.

At the end of last year, I was determined to get some physical therapy and rehabilitate my ankles and feet. I've been visiting a local clinic once a month and have been diligent about doing the recommended exercises. The therapist says that I have good range of motion in my ankles, though there is an imbalance; my right ankle has excellent mobility while the left is only better than average. My bigger problem, in the therapist's view, was that my toes and feet are weak. I needed to build muscle so that I can do toe stands easily and lift my arches. So, I've been going to the gym to build muscle three times a week. I do sets of back squats (5 x 5) for overall strength, and then do sets (3 x 10) of single-leg calf raises on a step with a kettlebell, single-leg squats with toe taps using a barbell and band around my thighs, and single-leg deadlifts with dumbbells. The Three Amigos, as I've been calling these single-leg exercises, have been working for me. My feet and lower legs are stronger and their imbalances are getting ironed out. I feel almost equally good with the deadlifts now, wobbling just one time out of ten, at most, on my left leg. The therapist has me progressing to single-leg jumping now, and I'm feeling better balance with the new exercises, too.

Consistent strength training, conservative running, and changing the way I sit at work seem to have let my knee recover. I'm standing, sitting on a stool, and reclining more when I work, using a conventional office chair less, and at maximum height when I do.

A radiology visit in December revealed that I'm developing a bone spur on my right heel. I wonder if this is yet another symptom of imbalance in my feet and legs, more stress on my right foot caused by favoring my weaker left? I'm getting some consultation on this and meanwhile am icing regularly. Two weeks ago I had to stop running for 3 days to treat aggravation of my right sciatic nerve. It was a good reminder to be more diligent about stretching and foam rolling. Otherwise, I'm doing pretty well. Heart palpitations are behind me. I'm eating and sleeping well, keeping sinus infections at bay, and enjoying longer days and generally nice spring weather.

I'm grateful to be able to continue training and am looking forward to a productive block of tempo running.

Preseason running

My 32 week running season starts on February 19 and ends on September 29, at Bear Lake if everything goes right. My preseason running has been light on running because of various maladies. I strained my back at the end of December and just as I recovered from that I experienced some knee inflammation that was badly aggravated by running. For the past three weeks I've switched to weight training and chugging on the elliptical machines at a nearby gym. I'm doing 5 x 5s of squats, deadlifts, etc three times a week and 4-5 x 3 minute hard elliptical intervals once or twice a week. In between I've been walking briskly on the bike path or hiking on trails. I'd hoped to be actually running 6 hours a week by now, but am adjusting and getting some good workouts in. By February 19, I think I'll be able to take my interval workouts outside and switch from hiking to running without beating up on my knee.

Station identification

Hi, my name is Sean Gillies, and this is my blog. Blog is short for "web log". I write about running, cooking and eating, travel, family, programming, Python, API design, geography, geographic data formats and protocols, open source, and internet standards. Mostly running and local geography. I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and sometimes in Montpellier, France. I work at TileDB, which sells a high performance multimodal database as a service. I appreciate emailed comments on my posts. You can find my address in the "about" page linked at the top of this page. Happy New Year!

2024 running goals

I've registered for the Never Summer 100K (my 3rd) at the end of July, the Black Squirrel Trail Half-Marathon (my 4th) in early September, and the Bear 100 Mile at the end of September (my 2nd try). All are events that I've run before, but never as a set. I ran Never Summer and Black Squirrel together in 2021. I did the shorter 60K version of Never Summer last year along with the Bear.

I intend to do Never Summer as part of my build up for the Bear 100. I'll give it a good go, but stay composed, and be mindful that it will be just the first week of my peak training block. I registered for Black Squirrel because I've missed running it, could be really fit that week, and some faster running might be a fun break from the long slogs of late summer.

Finishing the Bear 100 is my number one goal. I'd like to finish and do well at Never Summer and Black Squirrel, too, but am ready to sacrifice these goals if I must.

Along the way to finishing the Bear I'm going to try to add 250 miles at 220 feet per mile to last year's numbers, so 1850 miles running and 275,000 feet of climbing. This is feasible if things go well. I ran 2000 miles in 2021.

I aim to lose at least 15 pounds in the next 9 months so I don't have to drag them for 30 hours through the mountains of Utah and Idaho. I'll have to omit junk food and DIPAs to do it. In their place, I can work on training my stomach to handle Spring Energy gels.

My last goal is to increase the flexibility and durability of my ankles so that I have a better chance of weathering the trails of the Bear in 2024. I'm planning to get some physical therapy help on this early this next spring.

Good luck in reaching your own goals for next year, whether they are on or off trail!

Running in 2023

2023 was a pretty good running year. I was both ambitious and conservative, overcame some adversity and learned a lot. The numbers for 2023:

  • 363 hours

  • 1610 miles

  • 220,128 feet D+

  • 3 ultra finishes

  • 1 DNF

Coming off a down year, I signed up for my first 100 mile run, and tried to do it on fairly minimal training relative to the big miles I ran in 2021. I got my third Quad Rock 50 mile finish in May, did the Kettle Moraine 60K fun run in June, and the Never Summer 60K in July.

I had to manage and run through an episode of intense back pain in July, but recovered in time for the Bear 100 in September. At that race I was on track to finish in less than 36 hours, but wrecked my left ankle and dropped out at 61 miles. I'm going to try it again.

I ran fewer miles than in 2019-2021 years, but did a lot of climbing (including a new weekly total high), and started 4 ultra-marathons. That's a new high for me.

In 2024, I'll be trying a different mix of events. And I'll be back here at Kelly Lake.

Kelly Lake at Never Summer 2023

2024 Bear 100 registration

In my previous post I said that I was going to register for the 2024 Bear 100 and I did. I was logged into UltraSignup promptly at 8 am on Friday and am glad, because this race apparently filled up within the day. 2024, let's fucking go!

Brunch at Upper Richards Hollow, 2023-09-29

Bear 100 retro

After the race I needed some time to deal with my disappointment about rolling my ankle and dropping out at mile 61. Then I got busy looking for a new job. Writing up a retrospective that I could use in the future was delayed. Here it is, at last. I hope it's interesting and useful to others. This kind of retrospective is something I've learned to use at work. It's roughly organized around what went well, what could be better, lessons learned, in the areas of preparation and training, planning, and execution.

First of all, the race itself was great! Other runners I know said it was, and they were right. It was very well run. The aid stations were well stocked and operated smoothly. The course was beautiful and well marked. I felt constantly challenged, safe, and encouraged. I won't forget the super runnable single track down into Leatham Hollow, the springy soil made of pine needles, the ferns, and the view of the cliffs on the sunny slope. I lived just a few miles away for 10 years, but I'd never been on that trail before. The shady side of the canyon was super lush and green, almost Pacific Northwestern compared to Colorado's Front Range foothills. My memory of arriving at the Upper Richards Hollow aid station is another favorite. After a tough climb out of a wooded canyon, we were greeted on the flat bench above by an aid station volunteer holding a tray of cool, moist towels! They invited us to freshen up and enjoy a fancy brunch at clothed tables served by volunteers in tuxedo t-shirts. More than one of us expressed the feeling that it was way too early to be having hallucinations.

Much went according to plan, or better. My summer training volume was adequate and I did plenty of hiking and running on similar terrain at a similar, or higher, elevation. 4.5 weeks of fine tuning and tapering suited me well. I started the race feeling fresh. Flying to Salt Lake City and driving to Logan worked well for me. I was able to close my eyes and snooze while others transported me from Fort Collins to SLC. After landing, I had a sentimental and tasty lunch at Red Iguana, one of my favorite restaurants. In Logan, I enjoyed an entire day of hanging out with my aunt and her dog before race day.

My simple race plan was fine. I started out aiming to leave aid stations at the times that previous 36 hour finishers have, and did that. I aimed to slow down less than the typical 36 hour finisher after 40 miles, and achieved that, too. It was a good pacing plan for finishing in less than 36 hours. At each aid station I knew how many 100 calorie portions of food I should be picking up, and how many drink bottles to fill, and this was a fine fueling and hydration plan. I didn't bonk, cramp, or run out of drinks at any point, thanks to the water drop above Temple Fork.

We had exceptionally good weather on race day and night, so flaws in my equipment choices didn't surface like they might have. Tony Grove was, in fact, a good place to have a change of clothes, pants, and a sweater. Temple Fork would have been too early for warm layers. Franklin Basin would have been too late.

My feet suffered less in 60 miles of the Bear than in any of my previous 100K runs. I lubed them well before the start and changed socks at 28 and 50 miles. I had no blisters and no hot spots. I started the race in a pair of newish HOKA Mafate Speed 4 and they were fine. In the weeks before the race I had some persistent soreness on the top of my right foot and was concerned about a stress injury, but this didn't get any worse during the Bear.

I had no crew at the race, but found good company on the trail multiple times. Sometimes with other people making their own first 100 mile attempt. Sometimes with people going for their third or fourth Bear finish. I heard hilarious stories about the extreme hallucinations you can experience after 48 hours without sleep. I met a guy who graduated from Cache Valley's other high school a year after I graduated from Logan High. I ran with a woman who lost her colon to cancer a year ago. I spent four hours on the trail before Tony Grove with a guy from Boulder who runs a molecular biology center at CU. We run many of the same routes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Now for the things that didn't go as well. Some flaws in my training and overall fitness were exposed by the Bear's long and rough downhills. I should lose at least 10 pounds. 15 might be better. I can feel the extra weight in my knees and the sensation compounded over 20+ hours. Also, I feel like I've lost foot speed and spatial sense over the last year or so. Three years ago my favorite fitness trainer went out of business and exercises like skaters and box jumps fell out of my repertoire. I believe that I can improve my proprioception by bringing these kinds of exercises back. If I can, I should be better able to dodge impacts instead of absorbing them.

My stomach was fine at the Bear, but I struggled with lower intestinal trouble from miles 20-40. I had to make a lot of stops in the trees, used up my supply of toilet paper, and had to resort to various leaves. Burdock is my friend in this situation. It wasn't the end of the world, but was a distraction. I don't know what the cause was. In the interest of keeping things simple, I had decided to go with the race's drinks instead of bringing, and mixing, my own, but I didn't train with them beforehand. Gnarly Fuel2O treated me well enough at Kettle Moraine, so I felt safe at the Bear. I started the race with 3 bottles of GU Roctane because I spaced packing some Tailwind mix for my initial bottles. I've never tried this stuff before. It has more ingredients than Taillwind or VFuel, my staples, including taurine. Maybe that was the culprit? I can only speculate. As I said, this was not a problem that would have prevented me from finishing.

Long descents in the dark made my brain and eyes tired. I was not fully prepared for this. I had a 350 lumen light on my belt and 500 lumens on my head. This was fine for 9 hours at Kettle Moraine in June, but not great for 12 hours at the Bear. I'll bring more light next time. Why spend energy trying to figure out mysteries on the trail that could be solved by better illumination?

Without a crew, my stop at Tony Grove to change clothes and get set for seven more hours of night running was overly long. I wonder if I'd left 20-30 minutes earlier I might have reached Franklin Basin without incident? At the very least, I'd have reached Franklin Basin that much sooner. A crew wouldn't have helped earlier, but would have helped at 50 miles when I was trying to change clothes, stay warm, and get fed simultaneously. It was mentally tiring at a moment where I was already mentally tired.

I've mentioned before that I left Tony Grove alone at 11 pm and had a sprained ankle at 1 pm. I was out there by myself and am not sure what happened. I could have fallen asleep on my feet; this has been known to happen. Having a pacer could have helped get me to Franklin Basin and beyond in good shape. Being able to follow someone with fresh eyes and a fresh mind would have helped with the issues I mentioned two paragraphs above. It's always easier to follow than to break trail. Even without a pacer, if I'd been in a small group I could have done some leading and some following. This would have been good. And I think getting out of Tony Grove earlier would have made it more likely to join such a group.

In hindsight, I should have had some plan for resting or napping. At 20 hours, I was more groggy than I expected, perhaps because I was alone with nothing but my breath, footsteps, and sleepy thoughts. Recently, a friend of mine shared his tactic of laying down on the trail for short naps, to be woken by the next runner 5-10 minutes behind. This issue is very connected to the previous ones. With less exertion, there is less need to nap. Even if I solve other problems, I bet I'll still run into the need to shut my eyes at 3 or 4 am. I'm going to think about this for next year.

Lastly on the could-have-gone-better front, how about my reaction to my ankle injury? My fuzzy recollection is that I came to full consciousness with a painful and unstable ankle in the dark at 1 am, a mile from the Franklin Basin aid station. I was concerned and went gingerly over that mile, and my plan was to try 15-20 minutes of elevation and compression before deciding whether to continue. I wasn't otherwise physically tired, hungry, or thirsty. My ankle became more swollen and painful while I was off my feet, and after 30 minutes I concluded that I could could not continue.

What if I had not stopped and just grabbed some hot food and kept going? The worst case scenario would have been hiking some small way toward the next aid station and having to return to Franklin Basin, with some damage done to my ankle. What if I had been able to hobble 8 miles to the Logan River aid station and continue slowly from there? I've run through mild sprains several times this year, and have endured worse grade 2 sprains than this one, yes, but not this year. Being alone out there make it harder to push on. If I was pacing myself, I may have been able to convince myself to take a shot at continuing. I think dropping out was 99% the right decision overall. My chance of making it another 8 miles to Logan River was maybe 50%, though? It's hard to say.

I learned two lessons. The TSA says no hiking poles allowed in carry on luggage! I had to leave mine behind at DEN and get new poles at the Farmington REI after leaving SLC. I won't make this mistake again.

While I was mentally prepared for the possibility of dropping out of the race, I did not have any plan for getting back to town after I did so! After two hours of sitting by the campfire at Franklin Basin I did finally meet someone who was heading directly back down the canyon to Logan.

As I said earlier, things mostly went my way. Except for some bad luck and a misstep I believe I would have finished. Registration for the 2024 edition of the Bear opens on December 1. I'm going to try again with more or less the same simple plan, stronger ankles, more light, and fewer distractions.

Status update

Finally, I have a professional update. I started work at TileDB on Wednesday. I'll be working from Fort Collins alongside colleagues around the world. I know a slice of TileDB's market, dense multi-dimensional arrays like earth observation data, well, but have a lot to learn about genetic data, embeddings, and storing graphs in adjacency matrices. I expect this to be both challenging and fun. I'll post more about it once I'm settled in.

I'll be resuming work on open source projects, which I've paused while job hunting, soon!

Wellsville fall colors

After crashing out of the Bear, I picked myself up by going for a short hike in the Wellsville Mountains. This range frames Cache Valley on the west side and is covered with bigtooth maple.

The Wellsville Range draped in red maples.

The colors made my jaw drop. I lived in Cache Valley for 10 years and don't remember a better show.

Closeup on pink and red maple leaves.

Dark red chokecherry leaves.

Hobbling through this landscape and seeing the color change as the sunlight fluctuated improved my mood by several hundred percent.

View across a sunlit pasture to red maple covered slopes under a partly stormy sky.

Bear 100 recap

A week ago I started the Bear 100 Endurance Run. I did not finish. This was my first DNF. I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong and evaluate how I responded.

To recap: I rolled into the sixth aid station, Tony Grove, mile 51, at 9:59 p.m. I made a head to toe gear change. Underwear, pants, hat, socks, and shoes. Diaper ointment lube on my feet and privates. Ate potatoes and chicken noodle soup and refilled my bottles. I spent too much time there, but this was going to be my main stop before dawn, and I wanted to get properly set up for 8 hours of plugging through the night. I left at 10:43 p.m.

Somewhere around mile 59, descending into Franklin Basin, my left ankle stopped working, and I limped into the Franklin Basin aid station (mile 62). After 15 minutes of triage, I decided to quit. I had no flexibility or stability in my left foot, and continuing seemed pointless.

What happened? I couldn't remember a single major incident. I'd had a number of little wobbles earlier in the day and the descent from Tony Grove was pretty rough. I certainly picked up a little damage along the way. And I'd sprained this ankle four weeks ago. Maybe it wasn't strong enough to go 100 miles. It's possible that I fell asleep on my feet at 1:30 a.m. and rolled it. I was certainly sleepy enough at some points. Either the accumulation of stress was too much for my ankle, or an acute injury happened while I was checked out. Or both. I don't know for sure.

I'm disappointed. Otherwise, things were going well. My gear choices were solid. I was eating and drinking well enough. Other than one toenail lost to kicking a rock, my feet were fine, no hotspots or blisters. My ankle was swollen for several days, but I didn't go far enough to wreck my quads or hips. Sigh.

I will try this again.

More about the race, photos, stories, etc, soon.