Kendall Mountain Marathon and UTMB Training

Jul 18th 2011

Yes, I owe of all you a Western States race report. That time will come. In the mean time, I jumped into a race over the weekend and thought I’d fill you in on my post-Western States training for Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

To start, I’ve been on the road for a day short of four weeks with two one-nights stays at home in Park City. This past Thursday, I traveled from Silverton, Colorado home to mail out items from the iRunFar store and run some errands. As always, things took much longer than expected. Arriving late Thursday and leaving again Friday afternoon just wasn’t going to happen. I accepted that fact and consoled myself with the prospect of two Grandeur Peak repeats (3,300′ or so per climb) in Salt Lake City on my way out of town Saturday morning. Then, at 9:07 Friday night, I received the following email from Meghan, “Look what you’re missing tomorrow! http://www..”

Kendall Mountain Marathon
Silverton’s Kendall Mountain Run and Marathon were being held the next morning. I’d heard of the Kendall Mountain Run, a 3,800′ climb from 9,350′ in Silverton to the top of Kendall and back to town in 12 miles. I didn’t know of the two lap “marathon” nor the fact that the race was run the week after Hardrock. Needless to say, I quickly finished up the errands I was on, packed up things at home, and started the seven and a half hour drive to Silverton at 10:40 Friday night. One harrowing drive later (and, yes, driving the Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain at 5 a.m. on no sleep is harrowing), I arrived at our campground at 5:40 a.m. I was in bed five minutes later and, after some tossing and turning, fell asleep for 45 or 50 minutes.

When I woke at 6:45, I quickly packed a some supplies in a backpack and walked the 3/4 of a mile to town for signup before dropping the bag at the nearby finish line, which also doubled as the marathon turn around point. When the gun went off, we ran a flat mile across town before starting the looooong climb. On a whim, I’d run Kendall for the first time just two days before (although I took a late fork that led me to a 12,800′ mine adit rather than the peak), but I ended up running much more of this climb even though I kept my heart rate in around 155 beats per minute, well under my 160 bpm effort I use for 50 milers. As we climbed higher, the pitch was tougher and the oxygen rarer, so I walked much more. Still, I was psyched to be run some shallower pitches above 12,400′ without too much effort. On the other hand, the final 250′ scramble to the peak left me breathless … repeatedly. The view from the top, however, was breathtakingly worth it.

The scramble back down? Well, I held my breath for that. I wore New Balance 890 road shoes as they’re light and supportive and all but 1 mile of the race was on dirt roads. I’m glad I wore them, but they’re not meant for 45-degree tractionless slopes! Once back on the road, I settled into a comfortable downhill rhythm. It was fun watching as my downhill pace continuously decreased as I dropped in altitude. I’d never seen that before, as it’d be much harder to gauge on trails.

I cruised back into Silverton and to the finish-line turn around where I resupplied. I went super minimal on the first lap with only the 4 “S”es – shorts, shirt (actually, a 2012 Mountain Hardwear Way2Cool singlet that’s the best running shirt I’ve ever worn), shoes, and socks, along with four GUs. That’s it. I didn’t want to carry water up that climb if I didn’t need to and the seven aid stations in 14 miles meant I didn’t need to. For the second lap, I picked up my iPod shuffle, Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles, cycling gloves, and four more gels (I popped one at the turn around, too). I probably spent two minutes in the aid station.

Heading back out of town, I got a nice boost from seeing Meghan on Main Street and it was appreciated. While this was a training run, I couldn’t help but think, wasn’t once enough, as I headed out for another 3,800′ climb when the vast majority of runners called it a day with one summit.

Bryon Powell Kendall Mountain Marathon

Me just after the turn around. Photo by Meghan M. Hicks.

To save you from the gory details, I made fine, if slower, progress to the second summit. Having music was nice (one ear bud only, so I could hear and cheer on runners headed down the mountains) and having trekking poles was even better. One marathoner passed me a bit over half way up the climb. He was running far more than I was, but I kept him close until the summit. I took my second scrambling descent quite easy as a couple hundred passages had left the mountainside treadless, I wasn’t as confident in my turnover, and I had nothing to gain. After all, this was a substitute training run for my planned Grandeur Peak double and I was running on less than an hour sleep.

I’ll be honest, I was disappointed with the rest of my descent. I ran fine down it, but was probably 40 seconds per miles slower than the first time. That’d be fine, but I’d purposefully contained myself the first descent to have something for the second go around. I did make one surprising discovery on that descent – I can use trekking poles to speed myself up on shallow-to-moderate declines. I love my trekking poles and worked them shamelessly for the final mile across town. I was glad to have finished.

Bryon Powell 2011 Kendall Mountain Marathon

Me in the final meters of the course. Photo by Meghan M. Hicks.

On the upside, I’d logged 7,600′ of climbing at an average elevation of 11,200′. Yes, I’d be climbing faster and perhaps training “better” if I were closer to see level, but there’ve got to be advantageous adaptations to such workouts at two miles and more above sea level. I was also psyched that I had an average heart rate of 152 to 154 beats per minute for all four of my town-to-peak or back splits. Plus, I figure a “marathon” with 7,600′ of climbing on next to no sleep was perfect training for the final two climbs of UTMB. I sure hope it was!

On the downside, I degraded a good deal on both the second climb and descent despite trying to hold back a bit the first lap. I was 1:26 for the first climb and 48:30 for the descent, although I think that includes 2 or so minutes in the turn around aid station. On the second lap, I climbed to the peak in 1:39 and came back to town in 53. At no point did I fade or feel bad, I simply wasn’t as quick the second lap. It’s quite possible that my lack of sleep and/or the cumulative effect of effort at altitude contributed to the slow down.

UTMB Training
All the advice I’ve received regarding training for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is to give up running for the summer and, instead, focus on hiking. I’m doing that in spades and doing so in one heck of a spot to do so – Silverton, Colorado.

It’s only three weeks since Western States, I’ve already logged 17 runs for 132 miles, and I feel great. In the week after States, I logged three short, easy (ok, hard, but slow) runs of 2-3.5 miles midweek before an 8 miler the Sunday after the race. I logged at total of 16.5 miles of mostly active recovery type work. None of this felt like “training.”

That Sunday 8 miler was the start of my “San Juan Sessions.” Have you ever seen photos of the Hardrock 100 course or heard people talk about it? Well, that’s what I’m doing every day. A typical day involves a 3,000′ climb up to 13,000′ or so followed by a run back down to where we started. Some days are quite a bit more than that.

In week two, I hit 58 miles in 6 runs (one double the day of the Hardrock 100) and two days off – Saturday and Sunday – while I concentrated on reporting on Hardrock.

In this past week – week three – I hit 73.5 miles in seven runs and one day off. There were two anomalous days last week. On Thursday, I climbed Kendall in the morning, drove home to Park City, and blasted out 8 miles on the trails and roads. The “hills” now seemed flat and I could crank out 6 minute pace on the roads. 7,000′ elevation seemed like sea level. That was fun! The other out-of-the-ordinary run was the marathon.

The day after the marathon I was flat and we cut back our planned outing to the spectacular Highland Mary Lakes. I was positively amazed that my legs were 100% fine. No soreness, stiffness, or fatigue at all. Two weeks of mountain training (and Western States) have really helped me in my quest to make my legs bombproof for UTMB. The two major detractors were core soreness, which greatly limited my desire to run, and limited lung capacity. After the marathon, I did a good deal of hacking from the altitude, dry air, and effort.

My totals for the past two weeks are:

  • 13 runs, with 2 doubles
  • 131 miles
  • 39 hours on trail (although you could probably cut 20% for picture taking!)
  • 41,500′ of ascent
  • 44,500′ of descent
  • 3 off days
  • A heck of a lot of fun

We’ve been having such a good time in Silverton and it’s such good UTMB training that we extended our trip an extra two weeks after our planned departure last Thursday. I’m not sure when, but I hope to put a bunch of pics up of our San Juan adventures once I get a chance.

I will admit that I’ve ramped up my training way more than I’d recommend to anyone else, especially so soon after Western States. It’s a calculated gamble. I’ve recovered quickly from States, am doing very low intensity work, having two decades of base, and had a very easy past year and a half. In addition, this will be a VERY short UTMB training season of maybe five weeks total. Going forward, I’ve got another week and a half of prime mountain training in the San Juans, Karl Meltzer’s Speedgoat 50k, and a week of pre-Outdoor Retailer show training in SLC with lots of UTMB and Wasatch 100 runners in town looking for a same sort of training. After OR, I’ll start tapering although I’ll keep some UTMB-focused sessions on the calendar until maybe 10 days pre-race.

Call for Comments
As always, feel free to ask questions about my Kendall Mountain run or my UTMB training!

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  1. 2011 Trail and Ultra Race Plans?
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  3. Marathon des Sables Training: Weeks 9-22