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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Snow Slogging into Red Hot Redemption

Several weeks ago I awoke to nearly three feet of fresh snow outside my sliding glass door. The snow had been hammering so hard the prior evening that I received the phone call universally coveted by students, and welcomed with even greater excitement by teachers. "It's a snow day..." said the automated message. In my hometown of Aspen, where I still work, that equates to a double win. Not only is school/work canceled, but it's a powder day on the ski mountain. In my "interim years," the decade between the culmination of collegiate running career and the commencement of my ultra running career, you surely would have found me, with along with every other Aspen local on a snow day, shredding the pow! It always makes me laugh how no one can make it to school or work, but the entire town is fighting for that first chair. What does this have to do with running you ask? Well, it's challenging training to run a fast 50K with 30" of pillowy white snow blanketing the ground. 
Snowy Doorway
The 50 year storm, as it was dubbed in the local news, was unable to persuade me to strap on my boards to carve some turns. My trail runner passion won the day and I instead headed out to meet my good friend Jeason Murphy to shred the powder trail runner style. With roads in barely runnable condition, we decided to head to the the hills, Red Hill to be specific. Red Hill is our winter playground, offering a maze of earth toned trails, hidden amongst a forest of junipers. It's our go-to run that has a calming, meditative feel that makes trail running so enjoyable. However, the best part about Red Hill is it remains runnable throughout the winter, something nearly every other trail in the Roaring Fork valley cannot boast. Suffice to say, on this day, the trail was knee deep in fresh snow and we were the only idiots dumb enough to try and run, or even hike it. Upon my first stride I knew we were in for a superb adventure!
Jer and I on East Sopris Creek Road
Jeason and I eventually made it around a seven mile loop. It only took us 1:50. However, while this run clearly did nothing toward developing speed, it was a fantastic strength workout and a highly memorable excusion. The next day I took to the roads with Jeremy Duncan and Gina Lucrezi for a 23 mile loop. Again we were relegated to a pedestrian pace as we negotiated roads where mother nature had triumphed in the battle between the snowstorm and the snowplow. Since that big dump, the clouds have curtailed their frozen precipitation and the running conditions have steadily improved, allowing for faster running. And while the snow made training for Red Hot challenging, I can't help but think they set me up to have far greater success in the mid winter classic than the debacle that unfolded during my 2008 attempt at Red Hot.

In 2008, I landed on the cover of Ultrarunning Magazine after only my second ultra, Moab's Red Hot 50K. Of course, the cover shot was merely circumstantial, as I had foolishly charged to the front of the pack, photo bombing a shot of Tony Krupika and Kyle Skaggs. I paid the price for my early effort and lack of training, running what I consider to be my worst race ever. This year I was determined to do two things at Red Hot, train more leading into the race and go out conservatively. I am happy to say that I did one of the two. I was disciplined enough throughout the winter to put together a fairly solid block of training, but I was not disciplined enough to run smart. Being a teacher, I turn everything into a grade. One out of two is a 50%! That's a firm "F". Luckily for me my fitness was sound enough to prevent an epic blowup! 
Early Going at Red Hot
The funny thing about my plan to take it easy at the race's start is that, deep down, I knew I was going out with the leaders. Seventeen months away from racing created a hunger to compete that overpowered prudent strategy. So there I was, banging heads with the leaders, thinking I might just win this thing. Soon, Paul Hamilton and Dan Gorman slowly opened a lead and my thinking shifted to "let's podium." Not long after that, eventual winner Alex Nichols went flying by me like I was walking as I climbed a slickrock slab. The technical and punishing slickrock slowed me to a cautious pace, allowing a hard charging Mike Foote to roll me up. My soft snow conditioned legs were trashed when I hit the dirt road along the flat mesa preventing me from finding a faster rhythm. During the final descent  I was barely able to push my pace at all. I finished 5th, which I am pleased with, but running too fast a the beginning of the race may have cost me a place or two. It was a good opener, reminding me to race smart and I hope to build on it at the coming races.
Home Stretch at Red Hot
I suspect that we have turned the corner in regard to the challenging training of deep winter and I am a happy to have broken the racing ice with a solid performance. Now I turn my attention to our little Frances, coming in a mere two weeks. I feel blessed to live the life I do. I have an amazing wife and daughter, and will soon have another one to add to our growing family. I live in an incredible place and a spring and summer of cool races and adventure runs lies ahead. It doesn't get much better than that!
Chris Keleher Running Into the Sunset  

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