Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 Fall Training and Franklin Mountain 50K

T Wilkin & I in Santa Elena Canyon
September 2015
The fall training block was varied and inconsistent but ultimately effective. After I finished up my internship in Columbus, Texas where I ran for the latter half of the summer I headed back to Austin. No sooner did I arrive in Austin, I was back on the road to Big Bend National Park with my friend, college teammate and former Leadville pacer, Tom Wilkin who flew in from Cleveland, Ohio. We hiked to the summit of Emory Peak,  and wandered around Santa Elena and Boquillas Canyons before reluctantly ending the trip.

Running up Wallaby Peak
September 2015; PC: Apryle Craig
Because my seventh semester was not quite in full swing yet, I had a chance to focus solely on running and was able to get in some quality long runs with Anthony Jacobs and Seth West. I ran my first Goodwater loop, hit the trails at Bull Creek, Slaughter Creek and started grinding out some hill repeats. I was barely settled back into Austin life when I boarded the plane for Seattle to visit Apryle. I was able to put in some fast miles around Discovery Park, Green Lake, the Arboretum and Cougar Mountain trail network. Additionally, I had the opportunity run some isolated trails in northeast Washington and put in some pushes up Wallaby Peak and Bandera Mountain.

Good Water Loop PC: Anthony Jacobs
It was late September and I really had to get back to school, so I headed back to Austin just in time to take my exit exam and attend the myofascial seminar. I continued ramping up my pace, putting in two-a-days, challenging my legs with hill repeats, and even running some quicker time trials on the track. On October 11th I competed in a 5K in Round Rock and was fortunate enough to nab my first win of the season with a somewhat respectable time of 16:52. The last big week of training came four weeks out from Franklin Mountain 50K, which consisted of an 18.7 miler with Seth, some quick miles at the Ragnar Relays and a tough 25 miles pacing Anthony Jacobs at Cactus Rose.

Apryle at the Start
The last three weeks before the race consisted of less mileage but a much quicker pace in the middle distance runs. I was also more cognizant of my diet and cut my weight to 72 kilos which is the lightest I have been since the midway point of Leadville in 2013 (70.5 kilos when I was dehydrated). Unfortunately, these weeks were also more stressful times for me at school, due to quantity of seminars, assignments, and exams. However, with my comfort running 6:40 pace consistently, running 25+ miles in a day, and lighter weight, I was feeling quite confident going into the race.

Myself, Anthony, and Seth at Cactus Rose 100
PC: Apryle Craig
Franklin Mountain 50K greatly appealed to me because I knew that November would be one of my last months in Texas. I could not think of a better way to finish out my 2.5 years in the state than with Texas’s first mountain race. Further, looking at the logistics made me want to run it even more, since moving to Texas, exploring parks in the Chihuahuan desert has been one of my favorite past times. 

Seth & I; PC: Apryle Craig
Therefore, exploring and racing a in a new location seemed too good to be true. Additionally, Franklin Mountains are the southern most range of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. The Rocky Mountains will always hold a special place in my heart because of my time working at Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the most interesting aspects of the Franklin Mountains, is the fact that it is the largest urban park (24,247.56 acres) in the nation because it is completely encompassed within El Paso’s city limits!

Apryle & I in Franklin Mountains
PC: Seth West
On November 13th, Seth, Apryle and I departed for El Paso, arriving at Franklin Mountain State Park in the early afternoon. We booked our campsite and attended the prerace meeting and ran/hiked a few trails. Seth had a long string of bad luck in the three weeks preceding the race being ailed by sickness and kayaking injuries, but was determined to race regardless. When we ran up some of the hills we were surprised at how bad we felt and wrestled with the fact that even after only about two hundred meters we were out of breath. We tried to put that behind us and just be ready for the start of the race.

North Franklin Peak
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
When we woke on November 14th we did not have very far to walk to the start line, which was quite convenient. It was a cold morning, relatively speaking, and I debated what to wear for the race, I settled on my triathlon compression shorts, my race tested gray long sleeve and my ultimate direction vest (with a 2 liter camel back and one boob) as opposed to the handheld water bottle. I was only able to eat a small piece of toast with peanut butter due to my nerves, but was still energized and ready to run.

Ascending North Franklin Peak
PC: PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
The race started in the dark, but it was probably light enough to run without the headlamp. I wanted to take off conservative, because in the prerace meeting Rob mentioned that the last six miles were fast and easy. I figured I would just do damage control on the climbs and try not to loose too much time and then make moves on the descents and more rolling terrain. The first 3.8 miles were on the Shaeffer Shuffle trail, which was slow going but offered a beautiful platform to watch the landscape illuminate by the light of the rising sun. I moved from fifth place to second place during the first few miles heading back to the start/finish line and then we headed back out to bag North Franklin Peak.

Ascending North Franklin Peak
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
I relinquished second place before the start of the climb and then after the 10.65 mile aid station, Jeff Ball overtook me and I dropped back to fourth place. At this point I simply hiked up the mountain trying not to hemorrhage too much time to the leaders. I was not sure how my strategy would play out, I knew that Josh Pauley was training in Flagstaff and had some impressive results and I knew that Jeff Ball was a perennial powerhouse always putting in solid performances, and although, I was not aware of who Jacob Phillips was at the time, he looked to be an incredibly strong runner. Therefore, I thought my chances of a win on the day were slim to none.

Approaching the finish
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
However, at the bottom of the descent from North Franklin Peak, I caught up to Jeff. I figured that we might work together to reel Josh and Jacob back in, but I could tell that Jeff was not feeling it that day. A few months earlier at the Horseshoe 50K Jeff left me in the dust… or should I say mud, so even though he appeared to be struggling, I did not for a second dismiss the fact that he could easily catch back up to me. At any rate, I pressed on and felt a little fatigued on some of the flats, I stopped and walked for about 100 meters and then fortunately my legs came back I was able to run nearly all of the back 15 of the course.

Finishing Franklin Mountain 50K
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
I arrived at an aid station, and quickly asked what time it was and how far into the course I was. Unfortunately, none of my watches work anymore so I had no concept of pace, distance or time. I have to say it felt freeing running without it, I was running purely on feeling and heart. The man at the aid station said that I was at mile 21, that it was nine o’clock and that the leaders were two minutes ahead. This was quite helpful, but when I caught a glimpse of Josh and Jacob they looked to be further than 2 minutes ahead, but appearances can be deceptive… I pressed on.

Apryle & I Post Race
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
In the following six miles I closed the gap to Josh first (about a mile or two from the 21 mile aid station), he appeared to be struggling and employing a run/hike strategy on the uphill sections. Once again, I did not dismiss the fact that he could rally back and catch me later so I kept the pace strong. I also caught a glimpse of Jacob running in a valley while I was still skirting along a small ridge line. I surmised that he was about a minute ahead of me, meaning that I was closing the gap. Finally, after about 26 miles of pursuit, I assumed the race lead, and was ecstatic but also quite nervous.

Apryle & I Post Race
I passed Jacob just prior a series of steep switch backs leading down to an aid station. I tried my best to run strong and put some distance on him and when I got to the aid station, I did not see him behind me. I was told that I would be running about two miles weaving in and out of a rocky wash and then the last four would be smooth sailing. This was pretty much true and I found myself weaving through a relatively flat upland desert. I looked back way too much, and was more concerned about losing my lead than finishing the race. After what seemed like an eternity in an isolated desert, I heard voices, then saw people running (presumably some of the other distances) and knew that I must be close to the finish. Another runner told me I had under two miles to go, and I was beginning to feel comfortable that I would win my first ultra this year after three disappointing second places.

Rob Goyen & I Post Race
PC: Apryle Craig
The last mile was not easy with a series of ascents, rocky cliff edges, and traffic, but I heard Apryle cheering me on about a half mile away and tried my best to finish out strong. I was overwhelmed with excitement when I began walking up the steps into the finish. With a base elevation over 5000 feet and over 7000 feet of elevation gain throughout the race, this was the challenge I was looking for to cap off my time in Texas. Even the relatively flat sections of the race were technical and rock strewn making the ability to settle into a rhythm near impossible. To cross the finish line first on such on the grand stage in Franklin Mountain State Park against such distinguished competition will remain one of the most memorable moments of my running career.

Apryle & I Post Race Cool Down
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
Thank you to Robert and Rachel Goyen for putting on another amazing event. Not only do you both put on spectacular races but you also encourage exploration of relatively unknown areas. You have a knack for locating hidden gems in this widely diverse state. Thank you to the staff at Franklin Mountain State Park for your hospitality. Thank you to all the amazing volunteers at this event! Thank you to Seth West and for driving nearly all of the way down to El Paso, I can't wait to watch you kill it in 2016! Thanks to Myke Hermsmeyer for taking some amazing photos of the race! Thanks to Anthony Jacobs for introducing me to the all of the best toughest places to run in the Austin area. Thanks to Jeff Ball and Tracie Akerhielm for always extending me an invite to join in your relay teams this summer/fall! Thanks to Gordy Ainsleigh for all of your advice on 100 mile training; it truly was an honor to converse with the man that started Western States. Thank you to my parents for supporting my running over the last decade! Finally thanks to my beautiful fiancĂ© Apryle for your unrelenting support and always believing in me!

Fall Running Log

30 to 5

6 to 12

13 to 19

20 to 26

27 to 3

4 to 10

11 to 17

18 to 24

25 to 31

1 to 7

8 to 14

Running & Racing Statistics from the Fall
October 11th: Country Run 5K; A cross country style race in Round Rock. 1st overall in a time of 16:52.4

October 23rd: Ragnar Relay Results: 1st Overall in 16:03:29 (120 miles). Some amazing performances from my fellow teammates: Apryle Craig, Calum Neff, Jeff Ball, Tracie Akerhielm, Daniel Bucci, and Venus Turner. I ran a 5 mile leg: 31:52 and two 7.70 mile legs: (52:08 and 56:18). The conditions were less than ideal with torrential down pour ensuing as the sun went down.

October 24th: Had the opportunity to pace Anthony Jacobs the final 25 miles of his Cactus Rose 100 mile race. Anthony ran an impressive first 100, capturing second place in a time of: 21:20:50.

November 14th: Franklin Mountain 50K; 1st overall in

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Summer 2015 & Habanero Hundred Relay

Moonshadow Trail in Austin;
PC: Zach Szablewski
Summer 2015 was quite low key for me this year, which I knew it would be based on my school responsibilities. That is not to say that the summer was not interesting. I started off what I consider to be summer; the beginning of May, in Seattle with Apryle. After our two week visit, I flew back to Austin and immediately moved to my new home in Giddings, Texas to begin my first clinical rotation. I stayed in the town for three months, making periotic trips to Austin and going on other weekend adventures from time to time.

Apryle & I on Guadalupe Peak;
PC: Inventor of timer feature

After my internship at Giddings Physical Therapy ended, Apryle and I made a trip to Guadalupe National Park and enjoyed a week together in the Chihuahuan Desert. After the brief visit, it was time for me to get back to work on my second internship in Columbus, Texas, a town that was 45 miles southeast of Giddings. This meant I had an hour commute each day, making for a long month of July. The only consolation was that July meant the Tour de France on television and the Hardrock 100 on irunfar’s livefeed. This allowed me to live vicariously through other endurance athletes and take my mind off of my current situation.

Richter Road; PC: Zach Szablewski
In August, I moved to Columbus, thanks to a very nice family (The Richters), who kindly allowed me to stay at there residence during the latter half of my second internship. Fortunately, the month of August was quite busy for me, making it go by quickly. 

Brian and I at Galveston Beach
PC: Becka
The first weekend, I made the trip to Galveston Beach meet up with Brian Campbell where we were able to get in a run and catch some waves. The next week, I flew from Houston International Airport to Detroit Airport, en route to Tiffin, Ohio, for the wedding ceremony of my good friends Craig and Emily. This was a great weekend, I had the honor to be a groomsman in their wedding, was able to celebrate my dad’s retirement after 40 years of service to the Tiffin City Schools system, and visit with family and friends that I had not seen in half a year.

Craig/Emily Genet Wedding
PC: Ian Kinkly
As always, mom had the garden beds looking beautiful and full, and as my greatest mentor in all things horticulture, she and I remembered back to all the countless hours we spent cultivating the yard. In addition to swimming and gardening, dad put in some miles on the bike while I ran along side, just like old times. After a visit that was far too short, I flew back to Houston and made the drive back to Columbus to finish up the last few weeks of internship II. Fortunately the third week of August was the Habanero Hundred relay; which made it a little less depressing to leave my family behind again.

Mom & I at the northwest corner of the house
PC: Walt Szablewski
After an extremely hot summer of training, I was well prepared for the race. I typically ran around 5:30pm each day when temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I often drank 2 20 ounce handheld bottles per run in the exposed country roads of Colorado County. I typically held between 7:20-7:40 pace for most of my runs, but they were all on flat road, the gapping hole in my training was the absence of trails. It is difficult to call myself a trail runner anymore when 99% of my runs this summer were on an asphalt surface, but I worked with what I had.

Goose, Myself, and Dad
Celebrating his retirement
PC: Mary Szablewski
Two days before the race, Columbus finally got some much needed rain and with it, a bit of a cold spell. I put in a slight taper; instead of running 10 miles the last two days before the race I ran 7 and 8 miles and explored the historic northeast portion of Columbus. Even put in some miles on the Old Spanish Trail, which was the first all-weather transcontinental highway to span the United states, from St. Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California.

Shake N Bake: Anthony Jacobs, myself,
Ben Drezek, Tracie Akerhielm, Jeff Ball
PC: Rob Goyen
Back to the Habanero Hundred, the relay team was formed by team TROT runners Jeff Ball and Tracie Akerhielm who got Anthony Jacobs, Ben Drezek, and myself on board for the August hundred miler back in May, shortly after the Horseshoe 50K. With a team of five established trail/ultrarunners, I think we all had high expectations for the race. Although, with Anthony running the Captain Karls series, Ben holding down a busy triathlon training schedule and Jeff and Tracie’s running a 50K the next weekend in Morin County California, the relay was not the highest priority. Fortunately, the other ambitions did not stop them from putting in a tremendous effort.

Zachary Szablewski trail runner at Habanero 100 race
Zach Szablewski, Habanero Hundred, End of lap 1
PC: Jeff Ball
Once again Rob and Rachel Goyen put on an amazing and challenging race. Not sure that anyone else in Texas has ever had the audacity to put on a 100 mile race in the summer heat of south central Texas, but fortunately Rob and Rachel did and they executed the race flawlessly. Great aid-station support, plenty of ice and water, and a generally fun and friendly atmosphere. Not to mention the race was set in the beautiful 1,016.7 acre Post Oak Savannah of Buescher State Park.

Buecher State Park
Because I am not sure that this post is long enough already, allow me to delve into a lesson in ecology. Buescher State Park is located within a unique woodland environment known as the Lost Pines ecosystem. This area is unique because it contains a stand of Loblolly pines that are completely isolated from those found in east Texas. Additionally, this is the furthest west that these pines are found. 

According to pollen records, the pines have survived for over 18,000 years in this area, only slightly longer than it would have taken me to finish this race solo. As many of the runners can attest, the soil is quite sandy and gravely, but beneath it is a water retaining clay. The soil mixture along with the pines adaptation to survive on 30% less water than eastern loblollies, have allowed the trees to flourish in this area.

Colorado River
PC: Zach Szablewski
I digress, back to the race, starting at high noon, our team took to the front early lead by our first runner Jeff Ball, who passed off the baton to Anthony Jacobs, who relinquished his time on the trail to Tracie Akerhielm, who handed off to me who then tagged in our fifth leg Ben Drezek. Without trying to think of any new transition phrases, our order changed up a bit in the next nine laps: Jeff, myself, Anthony, Tracie, Ben, Jeff, Anthony, Tracie, and myself. 

Pre Wedding Pictures in Tiffin
PC: Walt Szablewski
The race went well for me, I was sure to hydrate well and keep eating a little between each leg. The heat was not a problem and much to my surprise I rather enjoyed running the trail at night. The headlamp and belly lamp illuminated the trail well, forget everything you were told about exterior illumination (Christmas Vacation reference) and try this technique. Because my watch broke I am forced to refer back to the timing system and race photographs that show the clock at the finish area to determine my times, thus accuracy might be off. However, I believe my times go something like: 48:16, 51:30, and 53:50. The important thing is that overall we went 12:33:30 and set the bar high for future Habanero Hundred Relays. Additionally, we accomplished an unspoken goal of not losing to Ian Sharman’s American 100 mile trail record of 12:48.

Apryle enjoying a sunset on Guadalupe Peak
PC: Zach Szablewski
At any rate, thank you to all my teammates, you made it an enjoyable day! Thanks to Rob and Rachel Goyen for putting together another memorable event! Thanks to all the volunteers who made the race possible. Thanks to the my mother, father, future mother and father in-law and Apryle for their support of my running. Also thanks to anyone reading that has made it through the whole blog post to this point!

For those of you that enjoy statistics…


10 to 16
Long Run
17 to 23
24 to 30
31 to 6
7 to 13
14 to 20
21 to 27
28 to 4
5 to 11
12 to 18
19 to 25
26 to 1
2 to 8
9 to 15
16 to 22
23 to 29


Slaughter Creek Trails
PC: Zach Szablewski
Long Days
22.00 2:50:00 North Austin and Bull Creek with Anthony Jacobs and Ryan Hess; Quick pace for 13 miles on the roads and then 9 more miles on the trails at Bull Creek.
16.75 2:03:00; 2-a-day in Giddings, out County Road 208 toward Serbin in the morning and a run around town in the evening.
17.00 2:12:00 2-a-day back in Austin. Morning run at Bull Creek with Anthony Jacobs and a solo evening run on the Slaughter Creek trails.
17.00 2:15:00 2-a-day back in Austin. Morning run on the Slaughter Creek trails and an evening run on the Moonshadow trail system.
16.00 1:57:57 2-a-day both in Galveston and Columbus. A morning run along Galveston Beach with my old college teammate Brian Campbell. Brian Campbell played an instrumental roll in helping me develop an obsession with high mileage. Then an evening run on the stone driveway called Richter Road in Columbus.
City Park in Giddings
PC: Zach Szablewski
3 x 6 minute pushes with 3 minute recovery on the back roads of Giddings
4 x 1 kilometer with 1 kilometer rest at Independence Street Park in Giddings. (3:12, 3:10, 3:15, 3:19)
5 mile Tempo at Giddings City Park (30:20 6:04 min/mi)
3 x 1 mile at Giddings City Park (5:07, 5:14, 5:13)
2 mile time trial at Giddings City Park (10:40)

Apryle and I on Hunter Peak
Guadalupe National Park and Carlsbad Cavern Running/Hiking:
Apryle and I made a trip to the this hidden oasis and put in some solid miles in this diverse ecosystem in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. This expedition warrants a blog post of its own (coming soon).

Day 1: 5.00 Total and a hike to Devils Hall from Pine Springs Campground.

Apryle and I at the Grotto
Day 2: AM - 3.2 miles to the Guadalupe Peak campsite, then 1.1 miles to the summit of Guadalupe Peak follow by 1.1 miles back to campsite. PM – 1.1 miles to Guadalupe Peak followed by 1.1 miles back to campsite. Total: 7.6 miles (roughly 3h 30min of hiking and 3500ft vertical).
Zack Szablewski runner
Zach Szablewski at McKittrick Canyon
Day 3: EARLY AM - 3.2 miles to Pine Springs Camp Area from Guadalupe Campsite. LATE AM - .2 miles from the wash to Tejas trail, 3.8 miles along Tejas trail to the junction near Pine Top Campsite, 2.5 miles along Bush Mountain trail to Bush Mountain, 2.7 miles to Blue Ridge Campsite.
PM – 1.3 miles along Blue Ridge trail and 1.2 miles along the Marcus trail and back to campsite. Total: 17.4 miles (roughly 7h 30min of hiking and 4500ft vertical).
Apryle on the trail
Day 4: AM – 1.6 miles along Blue Ridge trail to Tejas trail for 1.1 miles to Juniper trail for 2.0 miles to the Bowl trail for 1.3 to Hunter Peak and back for .2 miles, to Bear Canyon trail for 2.3 miles, to the Friloje trail for 1.5 miles and through the wash back to Pine Springs Camp Area .2 miles. PM – 2.5 miles to El Capitan Lookout and back to Pine Springs Campground, 2.5 miles. Total: 15.10 miles (roughly 6h 30min of hiking and 2500ft vertical).
Day 5: AM – 6.5 miles to the notch along the McKittrick Canyon Trail; with stops at the Grotto and the climbing rock. Another 6.5 miles back to the car at the McKittrick Visitors Center. Total: 13.00 miles (roughly 4h of hiking and 3500ft vertical).
Day 6: AM – 1.0 mile along Natural Entrance trail. Followed by 1.0 mile along the Big Room trail. EARLY PM – 1.0 mile along nature trail near visitors center. Followed by 1.0 mile in the Kings Palace portion of the cavern. Total: 4.0 miles of leisurely walking around the cave and surrounding area.

Trail Work
  • Four 10-12 milers at Moonshadow off Travis Country Circle both solo and with Anthony Jacobs throughout the summer. I was unable to log very many trail miles so I took advantage of any opportunity to leave the pavement behind.
  • Couple of solid runs on the Bull Creek trails, and Barton Creek trails from the Hill of Life on my occasional trip back to Austin. Most notably a 11 miler during the heat of the day in late July with Anthony Jacobs, Ryan Hess and Seth West.
  • Several jaunts on the Slaughter Creek trails back in my former trail running territory. Most of the terrain in flat, but it was quite nice to feel the gravel and dirt underfoot.
  • A trail run around Brazoria and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuges
  • Several laps up and down the stone driveway of Richter Road while living in Columbus gave me a break from the pavement in early August. However it took about 6 laps to equal 10 miles, making this route somewhat monotonous, even for me.

Myself and Coe post Tiffin Bike Ride
PC: Walt Szablewski
Cross Training
  • 1500 meter swim at Circle C Pool in Austin with Apryle followed by a 250 meter swim the next day.
  • 250 meters on two separate days back home at my parents pool in Tiffin, Ohio. I’m not much of a swimmer but I enjoy logging a few laps here and there when I am able.
  • 12.00 mile bike at the Veloway in Austin on a weekend trip back. The old Ironhorse could use some repairs, but with some duct tape applied to the wheels and a little air in the tires I was good to go.
  • 38.50 mile bike with my good friend from college Nathan “Coe” Nemire. On a trip back to Tiffin for my good friends Craig and Emily’s wedding, I was lucky enough to catch up with Coe as well. Coe has two very nice bicycles, so I was fortunate enough to hop in the saddle of a carbon fiber bike that he let me borrow. The bike was not quite good enough to make up for my lack of cycling prowess, so Coe had to hold back a bit, but it was a great ride down memory lane. Reminiscing of the college running days on the country roads around Eden Township that I know so well.