Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Oh, What A Year It Has Been

I have been looking forward to writing this post, my year retrospective, but have been waiting to reach a particular mile-stone. Last night after work I ran my 1500th mile for the year! It looks like I'll finish off the year with about 1515 give or take, my best running year ever and testament to my improved bone health and the high mileage that can be run if you tend toward trails.

This year I have had several ups and downs but if I am honest it has by far been a very positive year.

Out of my three iron distance triathlons I beat my old PR, which had stood for two years, every single time. My new IM PR took place at IMCdA, my first iron of the season, and as the season wore on my times got slower though I consider them all be good. I now have an iron-distance sport PR at three different races. My best run is just a fraction over 5 hours and was run at IMCdA, my best swim was just a fraction over 1:10 and was done at the Vineman and my best bike split was 5:52:31 at IMAZ…if I could only put together PR splits all on the same day!
Though I am happy with my year in triathlon I am even happier with my running this year even though it also handed me my worst disappointment. This year I bested my marathon PR twice to bring it down to 3:46:39 at Ogden, for me an unbelievable time and an effort that just about caused me to pass out right at the finish line. It was the only time I have ever run so hard that I was fighting back vomit and struggling not to black out in the last few meters of the run. I also set a new 5K PR at the "Running Psychologists" race an this year's annual convention of the American Psychological Association. With a time of 21:11 I took 3rd in my age group and beat the legendary Bill Rodgers, who of course in his prime could have beaten me while confined to a full body cast.

The best and the worst happened to me in the world of ultra-running. I set a new PR for the 50K, a new PR for the 38.5 miles at the Ghost Town and ran my first 50-mile and 100-mile ultras. I was also dealt my first ever DNFs back to back. The first at the Arkansas Traveler 100 was voluntary at 32 miles and easy to deal with but the second was at the Palo Duro Canyon 50-mile and I was pulled for missing the cutoff at 38 miles.

To be completely honest I am very conflicted about ultra-running. I have really come to love running but ultrarunning is the hardest thing I have ever done. Training for an Ironman is by far the most time consuming thing I have ever done but the racing itself really isn't that difficult. As a matter of fact I discovered this year that the faster you are able to go the easier the race really is. I suppose that's true of any of these long distance races. Anyway, for me the outcome of an Ironman is pretty much a known quantity. I will finish, fast or slow I'll make it to the end. Ultrarunning…not so much.

I want to run some particular races. I'd love to run Leadville, Western States, Tahoe Crest, The Bear, Wasatch, and others and maybe, just maybe, Badwater but these races are HARD, HARD, HARD! Running the Lean Horse 100 really was about the most spiritual experience I have ever had but it is also the most painful experience I have ever had and that pain still haunts me when I think about running 100 miles.

ANYWAY, what a year it has been! I am happy and healthy and heading in to a new year and a new life. My 2009 season begins with an attempt at the Bandera 100K, my first attempt at that distance, and then I have Rocky Raccoon in February where I am registered for the 100 mile but still very much considering dropping back to the 50 mile. That is a decision I will probably make in the last few days before the race. Beyond those two events the only other sure thing I have is the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon 70.3 in June. I am secretly starting to consider an attempt on Leadville this year but I'm not committing to anything until after Rocky Raccoon. If this really does become a year of big ultra attempts then that is going to have to me little or not triathlon for me.

Happy New Year Everyone Everywhere!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Domestic Animal

I have neglected my blogging and every other online activity but I feel like I have some pretty good reasons. I am amazingly busy with the new job and since the kid is visiting family in Dallas Misty and I have occupied our new home. We have been having a blast putting things together and enjoyed a banner Christmas filled with all kinds of house wares. I have been spending a lot of time surveying my new garden and thinking up ideas for spring. Of course the garden was surprisingly neglected given the amount of activity that appeared to have gone on there but it has good bones and that is something I can capitalize on.

Our new home does not have internet at this point since we will only be there full time for the next week and then it is back to the home in Rio Rancho until further notice. This situation explains the lack of blogging etc…

My running has been rather poor over the past week mostly because of bad weather and a stronger desire to stay in my new home than to head out for a dark and cold run either before or after work. It is that time of year when it takes all my motivation just to get out there and if anything interferes then I fold pretty easily. However, I do have a 100K nipping at my heals and then there is that goal of hitting 1500 miles this year that I am painfully close to.

I’ll make the 1500 I’m certain and the 100K, well, that might get a little ugly but I am apt to arrive well rested.

Ok, gotta go pack some more stuff and run it over to the new chateau!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tick – tock, Tick – tock, Tick – tock

Time is not on my side right now and there is no doubt about it. This month has been crazy and I have already sped half way through it. What have I been doing you ask? Well, let’s see.

Buy new home: Check!
Start repairs and painting of old home: Check
Apply for new job: Check
Get new job: CHECK!
Begin new job: Check
Ramp up my training for the Bandera 100K: Check
Meet my goal of running 1,500 miles this year: Che….well, I still have a few days.

This has been the most amazing few months for me and the GeekGrl. She got a new job that she loves, we almost literally stumbled upon our dream house, and now I have a new job that, with any luck, will become permanent. All this is falling into place just as our last bird is ready to leave the nest. The GeekGrl is giddy as a school girl and I am spending money like a drunken sailor stocking our new home with goodies.

This year our Christmas will be a bit more extravagant than usual because I am filling the GeekGrl’s kitchen will all new stuff. Yes, we have an embarrassingly traditional marriage in many respects but it works for us. Anyway I’ll leave it to her to fill you in on the kitchen details because I know she is really excited but there is one little oddity that I will fill you in on because it is mostly for me. Off the end of our kitchen we have a big bay window that looks out onto part of our garden and built into that space is a breakfast nook. I’m pretty excited about that because, as I told the GeekGrl, I’ll always feel like I’m eating in a restaurant. I also really like to look out onto our garden when I eat. My chair at the table in our current home faces the garden.

The new job thing has been quite an ordeal. There are very few things that get me wound up but I do get wound up over major things that I don’t have much control over. Oddly enough I have been drawn more to the administrative side of psychology even during graduate school so once I got my Ph.D. and my job I went back to school to get a Master’s degree in Public Administration. While at the VA I have also been to every leadership development course that I was eligible to attend and I have just been waiting for an opportunity to apply for a Chief of Psychology position. The rub is that I didn’t want to leave Albuquerque and I thought our current Chief would be around for at least another 10 or 15 years.

When the position opened I was floored and very excited to have a shot at it. Of course the only problem is that the hospital was looking for an interim Chief and there will still be a nation wide search for the permanent position but at least I’ve been hired for the job once and now I suppose I have the best shot I’ll ever have to prove myself. At least for now I’m livin’ the dream! (Yes, I know it is weird that my “dream” is to be a psychologist administrator in the federal government but what can I say, it takes all kinds.)

In sports news after a quick recovery from IMAZ I moved on to training for the Bandera 100K, my first race of the 2009 season. It almost didn’t feel fair that I should move immediately from IMAZ to training again with no real break between my 2008 and 2009 seasons but once I hit the trails I felt revitalized and motivated. I have been trail running almost exclusively and the majority of that has been in the foothills of the Sandia mountains and two runs took me almost all the way up to the mountain crest. I am lovin’ my mountain running and even though there are some snowy patches on the high trails I am still able to go almost anywhere. Um, ok, it’s snowing right now so I guess now I will need to bring along my snowshoes to go almost anywhere but that’s good training too.

In my training up to Bandera I figured that I needed to get in about 165 miles or so in this month with a lot of climbing and so far this month I’ve run 83 miles and in just my two long runs have logged 9570 feet of climbing so I think I’m on track. I’m also on track for a new PR in annual running mileage. Just 61 more miles and I will hit the big 1500!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Iron Redemption: An Ironman Arizona Race Report

I went in to Ironman Arizona seeking two things, redemption and an Iron distance PR. I was determined to give it my best shot or blow up trying. Well, as it happens I did not get the IM PR and I did blow up trying but in the end I found redemption.

The morning started off well and I was feeling pretty good. The water temperature was about 64 degrees and the air temperature was about 55. IMAZ begins with a deep water start and is a single, long rectangle. I positioned myself inside and to the front and was swimming well from the start. I really didn’t have many issues until maybe the last half-mile when I started getting hit and grabbed a lot. At first I wondered why everyone was suddenly swimming all over the place and then realized that it was actually me. My relative lack of recent swim training began to show and I was losing my form and weaving from right to left. I was still able to hold on for a decent swim time of 1:11:57.

Once out of the swim I entered the dreaded IMAZ transition area, a transition area that must be the longest in the world of triathlon and appears to be getting longer and more complex every year. Amazingly I got through T1 in 7:49, much faster than I had anticipated.

Finally out of transition I entered the bike and I must say I love the new entrance to the bike course, which is a fenced off chute through throngs of people. You feel like you are riding the Tour. Out on the bike I was disappointed to find there was more wind than we had originally thought there would be but it still wasn’t nearly as bad as I faced in 2007. As I had said in my last post I was committed to trying for a PR so I pushed the bike to what I thought were my reasonable upper limits. In IMAZ 20007 I had a disastrous race specifically because I began my ride with a HR of about 176 and I kept it there even while knowing it was WAY too high. I have taken to keeping my HR in the upper 130s to low 140s for at least the first 30 miles of the bike and then I’ll move up from there as I can. This time out I tried to keep my HR pegged at the upper 140s from the beginning and every once in a while I would see it drift into the lower 150s and I would force myself to slow down.

Once out on the course I was moving pretty well and actually passing a few people, which I usually don’t do in an Iron distance race, at least not until around mile 90. As with most Ironman races the bike was a bit crowded in the beginning and there was some obvious drafting going on but during lap two something happened that really pissed me off. I was riding uphill out on the B-Line and there was a group of three cyclists just ahead of me, one of which I had been going back and forth with for the last few miles. The group wasn’t drafting each other or anything it was just some people relatively close together in a lot of empty space and I was at the tail end. Guy number three was the guy I had been going back and fourth with and I didn’t recognize guys 1 and 2. The line was moving just a little slower than I wanted so I started moving up to pass and just as I closed in on guy 3 he pulled out to pass guy 2. So it proceeded, guy 3 continued his pass on guy 2 and I pulled out a bit further and continued my pass on guy 3 and guy 2. While this was occurring guy 2 called out to me and said “Hey Pilgrim, stop drafting” (my name was on my back). I said, “I’m not drafting” and guy 2 said “Ahh, come on.” And I continued my pass and passed guy one and went on my way but I was really angry about having been accused of cheating. I actually couldn’t shake the negative feeling for maybe an hour or more.

So, let me explain what happened out on the course and why I had such difficulty shaking my anger at the situation. First, you have 4 non-drafting cyclists and cyclist 4 (me) goes to pass #3. I have 20 seconds under WTC rules to complete my pass of #3. Once I enter #3s draft zone I must complete the pass or I will be drafting. Just because 3 also pulls out to pass #2 does not matter, I still have to pass but now because #3 is moving into #2s draft zone I am now committed to pass #2 as well because I can not back out of #3s zone or else I will be drafting. It was while #3 was passing #2 and I was still trailing #3 slightly when #2 accused me of drafting, which I was not because it had not been 20 seconds. I did complete my pass of #3 once the plane of my front wheel broke the plane of his front wheel, it is now #3s responsibility to fall out of my drat zone. I then went on to pass #1 and went on my way. As far as my actions are concerned it was all perfectly legal.

So here is what angered me. The simple accusation would have been annoying but no big deal. However, as many of you are aware the recent cheater caught with fins at Ironman Florida has raised a furor in the triathlon community. This furor has lead to a post on Everyman Triathlon that was calling for an anti-cheating campaign beginning with the November IMAZ. There was a call for people to take pictures of “cheaters” and expose them by posting the images on the web. I don’t want to see cheating in our sport, I’m a ref after all, but I sure as hell don’t want to see vigilante justice running rampant. There are some situations that are very obvious, some situations that are ambiguous unless you are an observer with a stop watch and some situations that can’t be observed at all. How many armature Kona qualifiers are juiced? I would like to hope none but the fact is we don’t know. We don’t need McCarthyism in our sport. If you really want to get rid of cheating you need to put pressure on race directors to increase the number of refs at races, be more patient after races to allow refs the chance to cover the entire race. Right now there is enormous pressure for the refs to have all penalties in shortly after the bike so that by the time most runners are done the results can be ready to go. All I am saying is there is a lot that athletes should do to protect the integrity of the sport but vigilante justice is absolutely not one of those things.

Anyway, now I’m off my soap box. By the time I got off the bike I ended up with an average HR of 146 and an Iron distance bike split PR of 5:52:31…Yea! I rolled in to T2 and was out in 4:47, not too bad.

I began my run feeling surprisingly strong with no discomfort at all. I actually had to force myself to slow down a number of times in the first three or four miles because my HR was getting to high. I made it through my first of three loops in record time but I was beginning to slow down. Because of my knee injury I have been only doing runs of 5 to 6 miles on dirt trails knowing that if my knee got better I stood a better chance of a good run than if I went to IMAZ injured. My fear was that I would wear out too fast and that is basically what happened. About 80% of the IMAZ run is on concrete sidewalks and I was also de-conditioned to running on hard surfaces. I felt pretty beaten up during my second lap but was able to stage a bit of a comeback during lap three. At some point, maybe two miles from the finish, I was done. My feet and legs were hurting and I couldn’t do much more than walk. My final run time ended up being 5:55 and a few seconds, not my worst IM run but not my best.

My total time was 13:12:25. Out of 7 Ironman finishes this is my 3rd best time so I am pretty happy. I have been doing these for a while and I knew my four races were slower than my potential. My last three races have been this one at 13:12, Vineman at 12:47 and IMCdA at 12:31. I am thinking that these times are about what I should expect from a “standard” course. I could probably go faster if I trained harder and raced less but I’m not sure I am all that motivated to do that. I do not think I can cut off enough time to qualify for Kona so what’s the point. There are some people who are mostly driven by a need to do better and so they train hard, rest properly and race the same courses always going for a better time. Me, I’m really about the experience and while I want to do well I mostly want to see lots of places and people, which brings me to the last thing I want to say about my race.

This is the second time I have raced IMAZ and the last time I had a terrible race so I was out for redemption, revenge on the course so to speak. I got that but here’s the thing, I really didn’t get any pleasure out of it. I was just out there for 13 hours working. I got a little charge the last couple hundred yards of the run heading in to the finish chute and of course I appreciated the volunteers but my enjoyment was low all day. I have raced IMAZ twice and Soma, much of the same course, two or three times. I am just sick of racing in Tempe, which kind of sucks because I have some good Tri buds in the Phoenix area, but there it is. I don’t think I’ll be back for a long while, at least not for triathlon.

I can recognize that I had a kick ass season and despite some of my negativity about this race it really was a pretty good ending. Even with a body that was totally beaten down and motivation that was stretched to the breaking point I did pull off a decent time in a season ending Ironman. I also got to see fellow Outlaw Cody complete his first Iornman and while I missed their finishes, fellow Outlaws Michi and Hartly also became first time Ironmen.

Next up, Bandera 100K on January 10th. Some have said it is the hardest trail race in Texas…we’ll see.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's IMAZ Time plus Newsy News

Well, it is upon me, IMAZ, my last race of the season. I have much redeeming to do this weekend; redemption for a horrible IMAZ race in 07 and redemption for my disastrous month of October.

I am approaching this race with some trepidation because I have really been focusing on rest and recovery for the past month and feel like I will be running off my base. I haven’t done any serious, systematic, triathlon focused training since my lead up to IMCdA but I have done a lot of distance since then so while my endurance is as strong as it has ever been my sport specific training, at least in the bike and the swim, may be somewhat lacking.

I think I'm ready for an Ironman PR but I am not entirely confident about my run off the bike. I am concerned that my knee will flair up towards the end of the bike and then I'll be hobbled for the run. In any case, I'm out there to race like nothing in the world is wrong so you should expect to see some strength with either a great explosion or a great finish.

My bib number for IMAZ is 1230…as it happens the time I will be trying to beat.

Newsy News
We finally got our new house and closing is on December 19th. We were able to talk them down 20K so we got a pretty good deal though it would have been nice to go lower. Anyway, things age going to be tight for a while but we would probably be worse off trying to unload our current home too soon.

Finally, I am in the process of vying for the position of Chief Psychologist at the VA where I work. As VA Chiefs of Psychology go I am really young but I think I have a good shot at it. I met with our Chief of Staff, the head medical director for the hospital, yesterday to interview for the interim position and I feel like that went really well. I can't think of anything I could have done better or wish I would have done differently so now it is up to the performance of the other competitors and our Chief of Staff. If I do get the interim position that may give me a leg up on getting the full time position but once they post that it will be a nation wide search. This is actually one of the highest level psychology positions in the VA because we are a big facility so a national search is likely to produce some big guns, well see. I really hope I get it though because as difficult as the job is it is something that has been in my sights for about the past six years and it is something to which I think I am well suited.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Still with the House Hunting

The GeekGrl is doing a fine job of keeping everyone posted on the ongoing drama of our house hunting so I really don’t have much to say on the matter except that in this family I am the money guy, I handle all aspects of our financial affairs and while I refer to myself as cheap the GeekGrl generously calls me “thrifty.”

I come by the miserliness honestly though, both my grandparents were products of the Great Depression and my Dad, despite making a good living, always had me concerned that us kids were going to be shipped off to work a farm while he and my mom moved in to a cardboard box.

The thing about this house situation is that the mortgage guy has run the numbers and we should be ok. Of course in typical style I had him run the numbers using only my income, figuring it at the highest price we have gotten the sellers to come down to and figuring that we would not sell our current home and STILL we qualify…but it freaks me out. Large numbers freak me out and by any measure I seem to run across my idea of large numbers is kind of pathetic.

We went back to look at the house again today and I told the GeekGrl that the house has all the updates and custom touches that I would want but would be too cheap to pay for and too unskilled to accomplish on my own. I am pretty good at landscaping if you like a natural look. As a matter of fact our last home I had registered as a backyard wildlife habitat but when it comes to home interiors, mechanical systems, carpentry etc…I like to tell people that my Dad never really taught me that stuff, he taught me how to make enough money so I can pay others to do it for me. The problem is, well, I don’t pay anyone to do much of anything.

I think today I have come to recognize that I do have to work harder to invest in our happiness in a little different way. I think that for whatever reason we kind of need this house if only because from the moment we saw it it already felt like home.

Oh, can’t forget, Ironman Arizona in two weeks. It will be interesting.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Just Stuff on the Home Front

For a few months now me and the GeekGrl have been debating whether or not to move once our youngest graduates and leaves the house this year. We really only bought our current home because we had kids and needed the extra space, it was close to where GG worked and it is in a good school district. It’s a nice home and all but she and I would prefer something smaller and since we both work in the same place now it would be nice to have something a bit closer to the job.

This last Friday GG and I went for an after work trail run in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on a trail that has become our favorite place to run. After the run I was stretching and notice a for sale sign hanging off the wall of a home that backs right up to the open space and is like 20 feet from the trail head. Today we went and took a tour of the home and loved it. This week we are going to look into financing and possibly put our current home on the market.

Since the current market is terrible for selling but great for buying we may see if we can swing both homes but I would actually prefer not to do that but we really want this new place. So, if there is anyone out there in the market for a home in Rio Rancho, NM drop us a line.

In training news I had a pretty good weekend. Saturday was a 102 mile ride in 5 hours and 41 minutes. I think that once I have tapered and put on my race wheels that will translate in to a 6 hour bike at IMAZ, which would be great. I also got in an hour and a half run and my knee is feeling better all the time. I have discovered that the thing that really kills my knee is a lot of down hill running and there is very little of that at IMAZ so I think I’ll be good. Also my swimming has been faster than ever recently. I seriously can’t account for it because I have been swimming less than ever but I keep getting faster now my only concern is being able to sustain over 2.4 miles.

In these final three weeks leading to IMAZ I’m going to focus mostly on frequent, short distance workouts because I think more than anything I need to recover and heal. I’m feeling more and more optimistic, I sure hope the weather on race day cooperates.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rethinking 2009

First off I want to thank everyone for your kind words of support. I am actually feeling pretty good and recognize that I have had a pretty amazing season. I also recognize that my season from July through October has been marked by a ton of impulsive decision making and overconfidence or maybe just too great a dose of optimism.

In any case, I was reading another race report from the Arkansas Traveler and the person wrote that it was better to deal with the physical pain of finishing a race afterward than having to deal with the pain of a DNF. I’m not sure what kind of “pain” that person feels after a DNF but having had two consecutive DNFs and having run myself into prolonged injuries in the past I can assure you that, for me, a DNF is WAY easier to handle no matter how frustrating it may be.

So, given my recent misadventures I have been thinking a lot about what exactly my next season will look like. I am already registered for the Bandera 100K on January 10th but I could drop back to the 50K and I’m scheduled for the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile on February 7th but could drop back to the 50 mile and run with the GeekGrl. Beyond that I am not scheduled for any other runs but I’m thinking about maybe throwing in another couple early season trail marathons or 50Ks because that seemed to work very well for me in terms of weight loss and preparation for IMCdA last year.

As far as triathlon is concerned I am already registered for Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon 70.3 on June 28th and it is that event’s 25th anniversary. I was thinking of making it a summer of old school triathlon by doing Vineman again on August 1st for it’s 20th anniversary. I think that would be pretty sweet, two classic races, one summer, both anniversary races.

As far as late season goes the Outlaws are planning a team Ironman and Half-iron at the Beach to Battleship on November 1st. I also have a friend and fellow Outlaw who will be attempting his first iron distance race at the Oklahoma City RedMan on September 19th and I do try and race every Outlaws first iron with them being the team captain and all.

If I go with this schedule it would give me some great build runs early season followed by a half-iron and three full irons during the second half of the season. I could also toss in a few local sprints and olympics for speed work.

I really like the sound of 2009. I’ll take another couple months to think things through and then firm up a schedule. However, I think my major goal for next year will be to achieve balance between long course/ultra events and some solid recovery and training time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lost: A Palo Duro Race Report

This is not a race report that I am all that inclined to do but I have to get it out of my head and move on to something new. This weekend was the Palo Duro Canyon Trail Runs and they had a 20K, 50K and 50-mile. Of course I was registered for the 50-mile being as it was the first race in the 50-mile Texas Style Grand Slam. I will not be doing the slam because I did not finish the race. That's right, I was pulled at mile 38 for missing the cutoff I needed to make in order to head out for the fourth loop.

I felt pretty good about my decision to DNF at Arkansas but this was hard, this is still hard. I guess I don't mind saying that I feel weak, angry, embarrassed and generally like a giant fat looser.

I suppose there are some valid excuses I could make but that's just it, they feel like excuses. The simple fact is that I did not perform to my own expectations. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't try because I did. The problem was that my knee gave up on me just like it did at the AT 100.

The 50 mile course consists of 4 12.5 mile loops. I covered the first loop in 2:24, which was six minutes ahead of pace seeing as how I was going for a sub-10 hour finish. After running that first loop I knew that I would not be running a sub-10, the course was just too difficult. My second loop I had designated as my photography loop. I grabbed my camera to head back out and shoot the canyon, which also helped me slow my pace to something that was more appropriate. Probably somewhere around mile four of the second loop I took a pretty nasty spill falling downhill rolling head over heals to the base of a little draw. I ended up covered in mud but no apparent bumps, bruises or abrasions. I got back up and ran on finishing the second loop in 2:47.

I felt that second lap was too slow as my total race time was now at 5:11 for 25 miles but I figured that the fall and the picture taking had slowed me more than I had planned and since I still felt very good I was confident that I would be able to pick up the pace during the next loop. So, finishing my second loop I jogged over to my drop bag to drop off my camera and re-load some nutrition.

As I turned from my drop bag to head back onto the trail I felt a sharp pain on the outside of my right knee exactly as I had at the AT 100. This is the first peep it had made all day. When I got back on the trail I discovered that not only could I not run downhill but I could barely walk down hill. I also couldn't pivot off my right leg and could not run around any left turning bend in the trail. I was also unable to run uphills that were very steep because it hurt to try and leverage my body weight upward using my right leg. In other words I was basically limited to running straight ahead on flat, even trail with either no grade change or extremely mild grade change.

It just so happens that flat, straight, unchanging trail makes up maybe 10% of the Palo Duro trail. Most of the trail twists and turns and rolls up and down frequently and more often than not, steeply. My 3rd lap took 4:13. That's right, four hours and thirteen minutes to cover 12.5 miles of trail. Not only did it take 4:13 but I was getting progressively slower the further into the loop I got. When I got to the finish line where I would have normally headed out onto my 4th lap I was pulled from the race. That was hard. I knew it was perfectly reasonable. I had know for maybe four miles that I would most likely get pulled and even if I didn't get pulled in the finish area then I would most certainly get pulled at some other check point out on the 4th lap.

I guess I was hoping to at least get credit for the 50K since I had run 38 miles but I didn't and I felt like a whiner for even feeling resentment that I did not get credit. You see, in ultra running some races give runners credit for completing shorter distances that have been covered if the shorter race is also being run at the same time. In some races, like Palo Duro, you only get credit for covering the distance that you intend to cover regardless of what else is going on that day. It also bothered me that I saw four people cut the course, three not by much but one guy cut it by as much as 4 miles if he did what I saw him do on each lap. To make matters worse, the guy who cut the course so severely was one of the last people to make the 3rd lap cutoff and I saw him running along the trail as I was driving away.

Well, it looks like my 2009 season has pretty much been freed up. I am scheduled for the Bandera 100K and the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile but at this point I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. The GeekGrl and a number of other Outlaws will be at Bandera doing races between 100K and 25K and the GeekGrl will also be making her first attempt at 50 miles at Rocky Raccoon so I’m sure I’ll be along for some distance at both those events. I am also registered for the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon in late June but other than that I no longer have plans and am feeling a bit lost.

I still have Ironman Arizona to run in November and am still feeling pretty good about that but this season has been a wild ride. My seasons have been getting progressively harder over the past three years and I think I may need to regroup a bit next year, maybe limit myself to a race or two at most per month. Maybe I’ll even try and speed up some rather than go farther…who knows.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Seasons Passing in the Night

I can hardly believe it but this weekend is the first race of my 2009 season and I haven’t even wrapped up my 2008 season. I must have put some kind of wrinkle in my time-space continuum with all my long distance racing over the past two years. Sure, often enough I can hardly tell whether I’m coming or going but my racing seasons? I mean, shouldn’t there be some kind of logical progression that is governed by physics?

This weekend, in case you were wondering, is the Palo Duro Canyon Trail ultras. The races include a 50 miler, a 50K and a 20K fun run. The 50 miler is the first race in the 2009 edition of the 50-miles Texas Style Grand Slam. The other races include Rocky Raccoon and Cross Timbers Trail Run both in February, Grasslands in March and Rocky Hill Ranch in April. The completion of this Grand Slam series is my major goal for the 2009 season.

Of course this weekend I am running the 50 mile race and the GeekGrl will be running the 50K. My goal for Palo Duro is to run a sub-10 hour race, which would be a PR for me by about 30 minutes. That is a pretty tall order but at least worth a shot and I think within my abilities. I have recovered nicely from my 32 miles at Arkansas last weekend and had a fantastic trail run this evening after work. The weather in Palo Duro for the past couple days has been cool, overcast and raining, which means that any sandy sections of the trail will be packed and any dusty sections will be clean. The projected temperatures for Saturday, race day, are lows in the mid to upper 40s and a high near 77; far better than last year’s 90 degree highs with a hot and dusty trail.

So while Palo Duro is my first race for the 2009 season, Ironman Arizona will be my last race of the 2008 season and that is something that I should probably start training for one of these days. Actually I’ve done a few long bikes and a couple of intermediate distance swims and have been glad to see that the huge base I built this season allows me to snap back into iron distance training fairly easily. I am starting to get excited about IMAZ. All the other Outlaws who will be racing are gearing up and talking excitedly and I am getting swept along.

My goal for IMAZ is going to be 12:30 or faster. I think that is within reach if I can get back into the groove on the swim and bike, which I should be able to do beginning next week.

This is a great way to end what has been an awesome season, two big races, two big distances, two big PR attempts. I can be accused of a lot of things but I suppose one of those things isn’t sandbagging.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Best Result I Never Achieved: An Arkansas Traveler Race Report

Saturday at 1:47 p.m. I DNF’ed the Arkansas Traveler 100 mile ultra and I feel pretty good about it. I know that may sound strange but because I have never DNF’ed before there are some people out there, maybe most particularly my parents, who believe that I may not know when to quit and I have never had any proof that I do know when to quit until now. It is not my life’s goal to become a cautionary tail, rather, it is my goal to never limit myself without proof that a limit actually exists.

The day started out well enough with the race beginning at 6 a.m. At the beginning of the race the temperature was mild and it was still dark. The run began on an asphalt road and about a mile and a half later it turned onto a dirt forest road. The forest road was pretty nice, few rocks and no ruts. At this point in the race I was feeling fine and was just settling in mentally for 24+ hours of running. About four miles into the run I could see some flashes of lightening and about seven miles into the race I felt my first drops. By mile eight it was raining, a steady soaking rain that looked like it was going to hang on for a while.

Running in the rain actually wasn’t all that bad though it totally messed up my plans to keep my feet in good shape. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy and dry so I decided to go with tape and lots of foot powder, something I have used successfully before. Of course the wet weather quickly negated my foot powder and, as I would discover when I first went to change my shoes, completely wrecked my tape job. A better choice for a rainy, muddy run would have been Vaseline or Hydropel to keep the friction in the shoes down but I never got to that point.

Miles 11 through 16 are all on the Ouachita Trail (pronounced Wash-i-taw), a single track through the Arkansas wilderness. The trail stretches 223 miles through the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma and on this day it was the picture of a temperate rain forest. The day before the race I went for a quick four mile run to stretch out my legs before the race and I ran about a mile and a half section of the trail and really loved it so on race day I was looking forward to running the trail again and wishing that more of the race took place on the trail, however, once I was about a mile onto the trail I realized why more of the race isn’t on the Ouachita; it’s very rocky almost everywhere.

The sections of the Ouachita that were rocky were almost completely or completely covered in turtle sized rocks and many of them were slick. Before hitting the trail I had passed two aid stations, Brown's Creek and Flatside Pinnacle, and at both I was on pace for a 24-hour finish. I had planned on setting this kind of pace early on as long as it felt comfortable so that I would have more room later in the race to slow things down as needed because I was actually hoping for something more in line with a 26 and a half hour finish. There are two aid stations on the Ouachita, one about half-way through, a different Brown's Creek, and one immediately after you get off the trail called Lake Sylvia. When you leave Lake Sylvia you are back on dirt road.

By the time I hit Brown's Creek aid station my overall time had dropped to a 25 hour pace and by the time I got to Lake Sylvia my overall time had dropped to a 26 hour pace. While I was already planning on falling off an early 24 hour pace I certainly wasn’t planning on doing it this early in the race but I still felt very strong and was running as well as I could given the footing. I figured that I would be able to pick things up a bit once on dirt road.

Most of dirt roads leading from Lake Sylvia to the next aid station, which is called Pumpkin Patch and is at mile 22, are all pretty nice but in the rainy conditions there was water flowing down the smoothest sections of the road and the clearing created by the road left you fully exposed to the rain. Now the run in the rain was less pleasant as my shoes became muddy and water logged and my shirt and hydropack were soaked and hung clammily on my body. Still, it was a new experience and I knew I had fresh shoes and clothes in a drop bag further up the road. In addition to the soaking some of the roads leading to Pumpkin Patch are classified as “unmaintained gravel roads” and they aren’t kidding. These “roads” were pretty much pure blankets of fist sized rocks and there really wasn’t any running around them or stepping in between them and I was able to feel each one individually in excruciating detail.

At some point between Pumpkin Patch and the mile 24.5 aid station, Electronic Tower, the rain subsided and the roads improved but I began to notice a pain toward the outside of my right knee. I noticed that if I tried to run at a slower pace and was careful not to allow any lateral movement I could avoid the pain but of course this meant a slower pace and having to approach a simple water puddle or little pothole like a genuine obstacle. I continued running and eventually the knee pain seemed to subside but I was now running a slower pace and noticed that small things like hearing other people talking were starting to piss me off. I knew this was way to early in the race to be having any negative thoughts whatsoever so I began to try and adjust my attitude by thinking about what I had enjoyed at Lean Horse but pretty much every memory I had that made me smile featured my New Mexico ultra buddies and the GeekGrl. I forced these memories from my mind, focused on the scenery and just moved ahead. One skill I have developed is the ability to pretty much wipe my mind clean for long periods of time and do nothing but observe. Though I had cleared my mind as I was doing it I was also aware that it was too early to be relying on this skill and my last though was “I’m just not feeling it today.”

The next aid station is called Rocky Gap and that is exactly what it is, a gap in the forest filled with rocks. The race website generously classifies the thing leading to and from Rocky Gap as a “four-wheeler trail” or "old road" and I suppose you could drive a serious four-wheeler along this thing but it sure made for difficult running and it brought back my knee pain full force. In addition to the difficulty of the terrain the rain had long stopped and the temperatures were starting to rise. While it was still overcast it was becoming muggy and somewhere around this time I received my first mosquito bite. I had some bug spray packed in a drop bag further along the trail because I was thinking it could be buggy in the early evening and I had put some bug repellant on before the race but that had long since washed off in the rain. Things were starting to suck and I began to have my first thoughts of pulling out of the race.
My first impulse when the DNF thought wafted through my head was to review all the good reasons I had to pull out. This is not a good strategy for someone who wants to stay motivated and stay in the race but it happened automatically. I had not planned on this race and only did it on impulse. I have a 50 miler in two weeks that represents the first race of the 50-Miles Texas Style Grand Slam, which it is my major goal for next season to complete. My knee was beginning to hurt in a way that suggested injury and not fatigue and, maybe most importantly, I was missing the GeekGrl, was becoming cranky and was starting to not enjoy what had otherwise been a fairly enjoyable day.

The more I thought about it the more I felt good about the decision to stop and the worse I felt about the idea of continuing. I knew I could continue but to what end? At this point I had fallen to a 28 hour pace and the chances were good that I would eventually get pulled with my only achievement being a longer recovery and a potentially season ending injury and if I did make it, well, at what cost and for what reason? I could not think of a single solitary reason to continue. I joke with friends as many others do that I hope one day to be old enough to be able to qualify for Boston and to be old enough to be able to qualify for Kona. Well, I'm only half joking and the only way it will ever happen is if I still have knees left when I'm 80 or 90 so the decision was finalized.

I only had about a mile to go until the Lake Winona aid station at mile 31.9 so I decided to mostly walk and enjoy the remainder of my day. When I did get to the aid station I went ahead and told them I was dropping but nobody seemed to take me seriously. I sat down and was handed my drop bag and I pulled off my shoes and socks and my tape job mostly came off with my socks and so did some skin. My feet were already completely tenderized and callouses were peeling off. I put on my fresh shoes and socks, stood up and started to take a couple steps down the trail. My knee immediately complained and I thought “What the hell am I doing?” and I turned back to the aid station and told them once again that I wanted to drop. They asked me twice more if I was sure I wanted to drop and when I answered in the affirmitive they cut off my wrist band and I was done.

The ultramarathon is still very new to me and the 100 miler is even newer and definitely an event unto itself with no parallel. What can I say but that I have a lot to learn. I learned a few important things at Arkansas but one thing that stands out more than anything else is that I need to add agility training into my program and I need to run more rocky trails in order to build up the lateral strength of my knees. The funny thing is that the more I ran road marathons and did my training on road I felt increasingly weak. My speed increased but in general I felt more susceptible to injury and my legs felt more fragile like they were built only for forward movement and could not handle anything else. I think this race proved the point so now it’s back to work, back to preparing for my next adventure.

The race wasn’t a total loss. I got in a good 50K training run in preparation for Palo Duro, I got to visit a new place and run some new trails and maybe best of all I got to cruise around in a convertible.

Oh, and one final note...these days 50K is just an easy jaunt so you can immagine I'm feeling pretty stoked about that!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mama Said They Was My Magic Shoes: An Elephant Man Race Report

Today was the second running of the Elephant Man Triathlon. The Elephant Man is kind of an Olympic distance race. It has a one mile swim, 26.5 mile bike and six mile run so all in all it’s a bit longer. It is also the hardest race in New Mexico and in only its second year rapidly becoming the favored race among the top age groupers of both New Mexico and southwest Texas. I was assistant ref at this race last year and so knew the course. I had actually done the swim and rode the bike course twice and knew it to be a tough race. This year I was ambivalent about doing the race at all given the rest of my schedule but the GeekGrl was adamant that she needed to do this race so I went ahead and signed up too. Of course, as bad luck would have it, the GeekGrl came up with an injury post Colorado Relay so was unable to do the race but since the Outlaws host an aid station at Elephant Man she went down and took charge of that along with Dread Pirate, Courtney, Steve and Orlando. I, on the other hand, was on the hook for the race.

To be honest I was dreading this race. Everyone I know was telling me “Man, this will be a walk in the park for you after that 100 miler” but the more I have raced the more I have come to respect the unique challenges posed by all the distances and of course to actually try hard to race and Olympic distance triathlon is no easy feat. Because I knew this race would draw a strong crowd and because, as I have been telling people, I have to much run in my legs, not enough bike and no swim in my arms, I registered as a Clydesdale. If I was going to get myself into something I wasn’t really looking forward to then I was at least going to put myself in a reasonable position to compete. Oh, and have I mentioned, I’ve put on about 15 pounds since Ironman Coeur d’Alene…eeek!

Anyway, we were driving down to Elephant Butte Saturday afternoon and were in a hurry because I was running late for a USAT officials clinic that I was going to attend the night before the race. About 15 miles away from Elephant Butte I suddenly realized that I did not have any running shoes, just my cycling shoes and Keens. Well hell! Many of you may not realize the difficulty of the situation because I was heading to another town, right? Just pop by the local running store and get a pair. Well, Elephant Butte ain’t all that big and neither is Truth or Consequences (Yes, there is a town in New Mexico named Truth or Consequences) so I pretty much thought I was screwed. Fortunately Pirate was many miles behind us near the “city” of Socorro and she happened to need to stop at Wal Mart so we asked her to PLEASE pick me up some random pair of “running shoes.” She walked out with a size 11.5 Dr. Shoals for $30. I wear a size 12 but if that was all I could get, well, whatever.

When we got to Elephant Butte we discovered that a brand new Wal Mart Super Center had just opened up in Truth or Consequences, Halleluiah! The GeekGrl and I tore down the road to see if we could make out better than Pirate.

I ended up scoring me a pair of Sloans baby! I paid $25 for those bad boys and so with purchase in hand we went back to Elephant Butte and I attended my officials’ clinic.

Race morning was the moment of truth. As noted I had many misgivings about doing the race but holly cow it was great to see all the familiar faces, all the old friends and all my fellow Clydes. It’s fun to travel around and race different people from different places but there is nothing like racing in your own back yard. I was immediately at ease and ready to take on the day. I think having the $25 Sloans were a big confidence booster too!

So the race was the SECOND time this month I have gone for a swim and I faced it with some trepidation but once I hit the water it was old hat within a stroke or two. I was swimming well and fairly straight and ended up doing the mile in 31 minutes and 48 seconds. My left shoulder is a little sore right now but I felt great throughout the swim. Once out of the water T1 is a bit long, maybe 150 yards through sand and part of an asphalt parking lot and it is almost all uphill but I made it through in 1 minute and 51 seconds and was pretty surprised when I saw my time. I actually thought it took me the better part of three minutes.

The bike was flat out tough and I was worried that all the run in my legs would take its toll while I was trying to maintain an Olympic distance race pace. There is a big long climb immediately out of T1 followed by about 10 miles of big rollers, the kind that you don’t get near enough momentum going down in order to crest the hill on the other side so its, speed down the hill, climb, climb, grind, grind, grind, recover, recover, speed down the hill and repeat and repeat and repeat then you hit what the RD lovingly calls Crash Hill, which is basically a drop down into a canyon followed by a series of turns rated at 25 mph. This, of course, is followed by “Big Daddy”…yes, the climb back out of the canyon. Big Daddy actually comes in a series of three climbs with, well, slightly less climbing in between. The first climb is basically a wall. Everyone who is able to stay on their bike is in the smallest gears, out of the saddle and moving at maybe 3 or 4 mph. This is the honest truth, you push downward and your wheel turns, you push down again and your wheel turns again. What happens when you d not push down? Well, your wheel comes to a complete stop…a complete stop. It does not roll, not and inch, not a centimeter, not a millimeter, it just stops and you are left doing a track stand until you push down again. The wall part of Big Daddy is immediately followed up by two sustained climbs that are not nearly as steep but mightily unwelcome at this point in the bike. However, once you have departed the lowest point of the canyon the remaining 10 or so miles is either flat or downhill all the way back to the lake. I covered the 26.5 miles in 1:21:15 and was pretty happy with my efforts.

I got through T2 in 1 minute flat and was on to the run, which is also a pretty tough affair. The run at Elephant man begins with one mile of sand. The very beginning is somewhat less sandy and it gets progressively deeper as you run with the grand finale being about a 50 yard dash up a steep and deep sand hill and onto a road that crosses one of the two dams that you cross during the run. The run is also very hilly and fully exposed to the New Mexico heat and sun. It is scenic however so there is that.

When I began the run my Sloans were working like champs. They felt a little weird around the ankles but other than that they seemed to have plenty of cushioning and were stable enough to keep my ankles and arches feeling fine. Once I got out on the dam I realized that maybe the cushioning had more to do with the sand than the shoes but they seemed adequate and were still stable. Being the first aid station on the run I immediately came across the GeekGrl and the Outlaw Oasis. The music was cranked, the Outlaws were enthusiastic and the wet sponges were ice cold…pure heaven! I ran as hard as I thought I could manage and maintained an average HR of 171. I didn’t feel like I was moving very well and my legs felt heavy but at least I was making some progress. As the run wore on my Sloans were struggling far more than I was. By the time I hit the turn around they felt about as cushiony as racing flats, by the three quarter mark they felt more like cheap flip flops and by the time I hit the Outlaw Oasis again they felt like strips of cardboard taped to my feet but the Outlaws were there with the ice cold sponges, the GeekGrl was there with a little sugar and Bob Marley was singing “Don’t worry about a thing cause every little thing gonna be alright” I was recharged and ready for a mile of running in hot sand. I completed the six miles in 54 minutes and 3 seconds, not exactly blazing along but I'll take it on that course and in those shoes.

I crossed the finish line if 2:49:55 and headed straight for the lake to cool off. My efforts barely won me first place Masters Clydesdale and second overall Clydesdale with the second place Masters Clyde time being 2:52:52. Friend and fierce competitor George, took top honors as overall Clydesdale with a blistering time of 2:35:52.

All in all it was a good day and a great race. I was pleasantly surprised by my race and am now ready to give the legs some rest before the Arkansas Traveler this coming weekend. To top things off…the Outlaws won the aid station contest…again.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Running Hot and Cold at the Colorado Relay

Well, the Colorado Relay has now come and gone. Talk about a workout! The relay consisted of several teams of 10 people each running 174 miles through central Colorado beginning in Georgetown, CO and ending in Carbondale, CO. There are a total of 30 legs and each person runs three, each leg ends up being run about 8 hours apart. I ran legs 9, 19, and 29. Each three leg set is rated in difficulty from one, being the easiest, to 10, being the hardest. My series of legs was rated an 8…Yea!

I began my first leg and 4:03 p.m. on Friday the 12th and it was 5.9 miles. The leg started at 9800 ft. and ended at 9300 ft. It was almost all gravel road and it was clod, windy and drizzling. My average HR for the run was 172 and I could hardly breathe the who way down. I covered the distance in 50:12.

My second leg began at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday the 13th and it was 10.8 miles. The leg started at 7000 ft and ended at 6800 ft. It was all on pavement, Colorado Hwy 6, and it was again cold but it was clear and dry. There was a full moon out and highway 6 ran right alongside the Colorado river so every once in a while I would round a bend and get a long view of the river flowing down the valley with moonlight glinting off its surface. It was a beautiful night run but once again I was working hard to pull my share of the team’s workload. I covered the distance in 1:37:05 and maintained an average HR of 166, a bit lower since I was at a lower elevation.

By the time I reached my third leg my own legs were brutalized from 15 miles of downhill running. My final leg began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday the 13th and it was 5.1 miles. The leg started at 6500 ft and climbed to 7200 ft. It was all on dirt road and it was the most beautiful run of my series. I ran through a high mountain valley with soaring red cliffs enclosing acre after acre of verdant green pastureland. At the far end of the valley in the direction I was running was a monstrous snow covered peak. The morning was crisp and clear and the sky was a cobalt blue. This is one of the many reasons I do this crazy stuff, there is just no better way to see the beauty contained within our nation. Despite the climbing and the condition of my legs I worked it hard and covered the distance in 51:21 maintain an average HR of 164.

Overall the Outlaws were happy with their performance. I think we covered the entire 174 miles in 29 hours and 25 minutes. In other words we averaged a 10:08 pace for the full distance, not shabby.

The Colorado Relay, or any similar long-distance relay, is a very unique event and well worth doing but you need to make sure that you and your team-mates get along as well as the Outlaws do otherwise I suspect it could be one hell of a long night.

I am completely burnt but it was one hell of a workout and I think it will serve me well at the Arkansas 100 once I recover. Now it’s time to enjoy some beer and pizza with good friends. Mighty Mike just put in our order for Newcastle Brown Ale, Fat Tire and Blue Moon….mmmmmmmmmm, carbs.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I Have My Reasons

…and the GeekGrl thinks I should explain them right here in the blog. She thinks some people would want to know or would be interested or would understand better if I were to write out my reasons for wanting to run 100 miles again. I’m not all that sure. Like anyone my reasons are mostly my own, things I connect with because of who I am and what I have experienced in life. Some of the reasons are pretty superficial…You know I’m all about the race shirts and the buckles. Some of the reasons are based on the personal challenge and the feeling of accomplishment; it’s a pretty good feeling to know you can rise to such a task.

However, neither of those are sufficient to bring someone back to something like 100 miles, you get a buckle and you get to brag…whatever. You meet the challenge, ok so you met it and now nobody can say you didn’t or couldn’t because it’s right there in the record books. No, for me, my reasons run much deeper. My reasons are both spiritual and philosophical and are well represented by one simple line from my original race report “I had long since ceased to be myself and had simply become another animal in the woods trying to get home.”

This is not about self-abuse, believe me, I am not into that. A couple years ago I did a 300K brevet and after I got off my bike I genuinely believed I had done some permanent damage to my body and I have never ridden anywhere near that far again. I also have nothing for which I need to repent and if I did a simple apology would be far more efficient.

One hundred miles puts me in my place…in a good way, it puts me in context, a small man in a vast universe of time and space. In my humble opinion most people walking this earth could use similar perspective but who am I to judge. As far as I’m concerned I’m just doing my part to get my head on straight and my perspective in line with reality and I think I have a lot of work to do. I get a sense of peace, a sense of the order of things and a greater degree of inner peace and compassion.

This is the direction of my life. Those who have known me best and known me longest know this has been my path. I have found another tool to take me where I’m going and there is really no time to spare.

My next journey will be the Arkansas Traveler 100, October 4th and 5th, yes…2008, yes in about 4 weeks.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Lean Horse 2: The Basics

Here is the second part of my Lean Horse report. As promised this one is full of the nuts and bolts of my training and racing. I don't know how useful it will be or to how many people but it is the kind of post I would have loved to come across. It's not like I'm any kind of authority but if anyone is interested in trying the 50 or 100 mile ultra feel free to drop me a line. If you are thinking about the 50K then you can e-mail me as well but you should know that a good marathon plan is plenty to get you through a 50K.

My training for Lean Horse, the way I look at it, began January 1st 2008. My hope was to train as I would for an Ironman but make the running a bit heavy. I also wanted to use an iron-distance race as my last long workout before Lean Horse. My reasons for approaching training this way was because I wanted to try and avoid injury through heavy cross training and there is no way that I wanted to put triathlon on hold in order to accomplish my ultramarathon goals.

So here is the basic breakdown. Between January 1st and August 22nd I ran 1001 miles, bikes 3000 miles and swam 108,000 meters. As far as prep-races go I did a marathon and a 38.5 mile trail run in January, a 50K in February, a 50-mile in March, a Marathon in April, a marathon in May, an Ironman in June, a 50K in July and an Ironman at the beginning of August. I really feel like I was very well prepared to run 100 miles at Lean Horse and were it not for my blistering I would have felt a heck of a lot better. I think that one key to running the ultramarathon is to get in a lot of good general endurance training in addition to leg strength building and both your run and bike gets you there and the Ironman races gets you the “long-day” practice. I do think that at least one 50-mile race is necessary and it should be as similar to, or harder than, the 100 miler you plan to complete.

The formula I worked with in order to develop my pace plan was to take a predicted time for my first 50 miles and multiply that by 1.3 in order to get the estimate for how long it would take me to finish my second 50 miles. The only reason I did this was so that Misty would have some idea of how my race was going based on my first 50 mile performance. I figured the pace possibilities for a 24 through a 30 hour finish. I started at 24 hours because my only actual 50-mile finish was done in 10:28 at the Grasslands trail run and I thought that the terrain at Grasslands and Lean Horse would be somewhat similar. If I were to finish the first half in 10:28ish I could have come in under 24 hours. I completed the first 50 miles of Lean Horse in about 11:30, which actually puts me at closer to a 26:30 to 27 hour finish, which gets me much closer to my actual finish time. The other amazing thing is that a 27ish hour finish is predicted by my 50 mile run time if you look at the pace prediction chart on Kevin Sayers ultrarunning site.

A couple of important notes about predicting finish times.

1. You have to use your longest ever race in order to predict an even longer race with any accuracy. My marathon PR predicts that I would run a 50K in about 4:30, a 50mile in 8 hours and a 100 mile in just over 20 hours. Those numbers are mind boggling to me but then again so is the fact that I can run a 3:46 marathon. Maybe if I gained a lot more experience and endurance. My 50k time predicts a 100 mile more in line with 25:30 or so, now we are in the realm of what I genuinely believe I can do. In fact at mile 87.8 I was on pace for a 23:26 finish time. As I said my 50 mile time predicts a 27ish hour finish, which is what I did.

2. The times you use to make predictions must be on courses that are as similar as possible with conditions as similar as possible. The Grasslands and Lean Horse actually ended up being pretty good in terms of compatibility because both courses really fall within what most would call the “easy” category. The big difference was that Lean Horse was much hotter during the day than Grasslands so I had to run a slower 50 in order to keep going. It would have been sheer fantasy to try and use my Grasslands time to predict a finish time at somewhere like Leadville

Race strategy
Simple, I took the race one moment at a time. I researched the hell out of how people run 100s and came up with about 1000 conflicting ideas. I finally read one female ultrarunner who said that her worst races where when she tried to stick to a pace plan and her best races were when she just ran as hard as she could whenever she could. With that bit and some advice I took from Macca I decided to do the best I could do at any given moment. I had my big pacing charts to try and help my crew understand how I was running and hopefully better plan when they needed to get to the next aid station in order to meet me and the plans also gave me a sense of how I was doing at any given moment. I had my time goals sure but I wasn’t dead set on anything but finishing. Spending all the time making the pace charts ingrained in me a sense of, well, pace, which was actually very comforting during the race because I could look at my average pace on my Garmin and immediately know about what I could expect. My determination to take the race one moment at a time helped me accept the times when I had to slow and really enjoy the times when I was fast.

Injinji socks
– loved them as usual
Compression socks – I wore these over my Injinjis. Many ultrarunners double sock to help reduce friction. It is hard to tell how much the compression socks helped to keep my legs feeling fresh but they did feel good almost the entire race, my real problem was blistering not tired legs. I’m also not sure to what extent they helped keep the swelling in my feet down but they probably aren’t designed to prevent the swelling associated with 27+ hours of foot pounding buy a 210 pound man anyway. Now I do believe they helped me a great deal in terms of providing my arches with a lot of support. After the El Scorcho 50K my feet really hurt, the arches I mean, but I wore the compression socks at Vineman and nothing, Lean Horse, nada. In the final analysis I would say the compression socks worked great because anything that stops even the most minor pain during a 100 mile race is a godsend. There is one potential drawback though, Misty did not have the hand strength needed to stretch the socks over my tender and blistered feet but the other crewman, Scott, was able to stretch them enough but said you “had to be some kind of power lifter to get them on.” I don’t know if I would have had the strength to take them off and put them back on during the last 20 or so miles of the race.
Hand held water bottles – they rock! Many people do carry things around their waist but I hate the feel and it has caused me both stomach distress and chafing to wear some kind of hydration belt. The other thing I love about the hand held is that it really reminds you to drink. I carried liquid calories in one hand and water in the other throughout the race.
Hydration pack – I can not drink from a hydration pack so I don’t even bother. However, I do like to take the bladder out and use them like a mini backpack. I keep a spare bottle of water, medical kit, toilet paper, cool off bandanna, sponge, headlamp and spare batteries, and some solid calories like powerbars, gels, salted nut rolls…whatever I’m eating. And here is the other great thing about the “mini pack”, I could carry trash. There were plenty of times when I needed to consume some calories from something like a small can or plastic bottle and I didn’t want to stuff it down or chug it but I also had to keep going. The extra pockets in my mini pack served as a trash can so I could hit the trail with my nutrition and not litter.
Medical kit – just carried some Band-Aids, tape, scissors and Tylenol, at least that’s all I remember. I should have also carried some lubricant and/or salve. Oh, I ALSO SHOULD HAVE USED THE DAMN THING! I could have fixed my own feet or at least seriously reduced the damage but I didn’t. I mean I did fix my tape job once at about mile 22 because I knew it was going to cause me trouble but then I heard narry a peep from my feet until close to mile 60 or so and then I just dumbly thought “boy, my feet are starting to hurt.” I did tell my crew and aid station folks to please look at my feet at the mile 64.5 mile aid station but we failed to look UNDER my tape job so didn’t see the impending doom. That was my mistake. What can I say I’m just an F.N.G.
Hiking poles – SUCKED! I thought that they might be useful during the last few miles if I was really hurting and in the last few miles I was really hurting so I broke them out and had Misty drive three miles down the road where I would meet her next. That was the longest three miles of my life! When I used the poles I moved much slower than if I were to have just hobbled on by myself. The energy required to move quickly with them was far more than I could muster and the strength necessary to use them to actually mitigate the pressure on my feet was far more than I possessed at that time. I also couldn’t just carry them because they were too awkward, too heavy at that point in the race and they prevented me from using my hand held water bottles. I was literally in despair after about a mile with those god forsaken poles and when I finally reached Misty I was just dragging them along behind me with my shoulders slumped and my head hung low. I had been passed by about five people while I was dicking around with those cursed poles.
Cool off Bandanna- RULES as much as the hiking poles suck. I have been able to run much better in the heat when I am wearing that bandanna. It is a life saver. I did have to slow my pace when the day began to heat up but not as much as others who did not have a similar means of cooling off. You don’t want to put ice on your head because it will totally mess up your temperature regulation and dumping too much water on yourself can soak your shoes plus it’s not all that effective when you have 5 or 6 miles between aid stations. The cool off bandanna lets loose a slow release of cold around your neck and shoulders. Did I say it rules?
Shoes – I wear New Balance 767 or 768s but that’s not what is important. What is important is that you should really have different size shoes for later in the race. I normally wear a size 12 E and at mile 35 I changed in to a pair of 12 ½ EE and at mile 76 I changed in to a pair of 13 EE. If you don’t have any trouble with swelling feet then it is at least a good idea to put on a pair of fresh shoes after a while for the extra cushioning. However, the shoe change is a delicate process because you have to be certain not to tie the new shoes on too tight or you will bruise the top of your foot. It’s just like any other time but for some reason it seems easier to do in an ultra. This happened to me at the mile 76 change on my left foot so I then had pain from both the top and bottom of my foot.

Gels, powerbars, Nuun and Accelerade were the usual suspects in my kit but I got pretty sick of them after maybe 7 hours. My surprising secret weapons were cans of Slimfast, coke, bottles of coffee mixed with Swiss Miss cocoa and of course water, lots of water. I tell you the slimfast was awesome! I never got tired of it and it packs about 230 calories and it goes down well and I was able to run on it even after slamming a can. Were it not for the slimfast I would not have been able to consume enough calories to keep going.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Singing Warrior: A Lean Horse Race Report

Running 100 miles over the period of 27.5 hours is such a monumental task that it is almost impossible to digest. It also does not lend itself to the kinds of exciting blow-by-blow race reports that we in triathlon are used to…I ran and ran and ran, what else is there to say? Well, fortunately, or unfortunately, I do have a number of thoughts on the subject of running 100 miles and my own experience while entering that rare circle of people who have done so.

I have written and rewritten this race report and spent the past couple days trying to figure out what to post and I’m just going to go all out and include just about everything mostly so I can come back to it one day. To make things a bit easier on people who may read this I’ll break it into sections so you can skip around to what you may be interested in and I think I’ll post the nuts and bolts of my race report later. Today I post the report.

First, ultrarunning is both similar to and different from Ironman triathlon. The differences are obvious, no uber-expensive gear, no “Ultrarunner Village” where you can drop hundreds on an endless supply of schwag and no fanfare…at all. I think this is how iron-distance triathlon was in the beginning with friends and family following their athlete around the course doing what they could to provide support with maybe the odd aid station thrown in now and again. However, like in long distance triathlon in ultrarunning you are surrounded by a community of people who believes there is magic in going well beyond what “normal” people are supposed to be able to do and they are true champions of the notion that you can always accomplish far more than you ever dreamed possible. Another similarity, they are always ready and eager to lend the novice a hand, to lend support and advice when they can and simply to provide a knowing look when the individual is deep in a personal misery that must be conquered alone. Running 100 miles is both profoundly individual and fully dependent on the hard work of your crew and those wonderful people called volunteers.

Me and fellow ultrarunner Don ran this race and we had the crewing help of the GeekGrl and friend Scott. I also received help and advice from California based ultrarunner Rajeev and long-time New Mexico ultrarunners Bobby and Dennis. Without them I may well have simply run myself into oblivion and failed to finish or worse.

I did not have my dream race of a sub-24 hour run but I was still on target for a sub-24 hour run at mile 83.4 and then it took me 7 hours to traverse the next 16.6 miles. I made it through mile 20 on pace and then it started heating up and I was forced to slow my pace and try what I could to stay cool.

It got quite hot, enough to force me to slow down and to carry a lot more fluids, three full water bottles just to get me from one aid station to the next. This is where the cool off bandana really kicked in because though I had to slow a bit many people were sweltering and I’m not sure three bottles would have lasted me between aid stations if I didn’t have the extra cooling. There were also a couple of times early in the race like around mile 20 and 25 or so when the thought that I had 75 to 80 miles to go lept into my head and it made me want to throw up but I was able to banish the thoughts almost as soon as they occurred to me. Banishing bad thoughts is a skill you will want to develop because if you left too much negativity creep in you are in for a miserable time.

So I was able to hold my slightly slower pace but my stomach was getting increasingly worse probably beginning around mile 40 and by the time I hit the turn around I was beginning to fall apart. To make matters worse when I hit the turn-around a fellow runner cheerily said “Great job, your halfway there!” HALF WAY THERE…I had been running for eleven and a half freakin hours! That was a real test of my trying to keep things positive. I later told Misty that was the single most de-motivating experience I have ever had in a race but instead of getting depressed I mostly got angry at the guy and reminded myself of the ultrarunning axiom “no matter how good you feel or how bad you feel it will soon change” and since I was in a down turn I knew things were about to get better.

Still at the turn-around point aid station I started throwing up because my stomach was so bad. Ok, maybe things weren’t going to get better immediately but I have become a big fan of throwing up when my stomach is feeling bad. As long as we are not talking about uncontrollable retching the well timed barf kind of resets the stomach and gives you a second lease on life. At that point two experienced ultrarunners came to my aid. One named Rajeev, who was doing the race, gave me some ginger candy that helped settle my stomach. The other ultrarunner who helped me out was a fellow New Mexican named Bobby who ran Leadville last weekend and was helping out crewing for someone at this race. He filled one of my water bottles with coke and also told me that I needed to make sure that whatever I drank was closer to room temperature, nothing cold. He told me that when the cold fluids hit my stomach it caused it to cramp after a while. I had been drinking as much cold fluid as possible to stay cool and had been getting progressively sicker as the race wore on. I took his advice and began drinking my coke and water and made sure that both were slightly warm.

Leaving the 50 mile turn around the route has a 5 mile uphill section so I decided to walk the entire uphill and get my nutrition back on track; this is when I got the next bit of great advice. Another New Mexican ultrarunner named Dennis told m that I needed to run every once in a while if only for a hundred yards or so even if it was uphill so that my running muscles wouldn’t forget how to run. I don’t know if those were his exact words but I spent the next several hours bringing myself back to a run by saying “I can’t forget how to run”, which is pretty ridiculous considering the situation. Anyway, the ginger and the advice from Dennis and Bobby completely turned me around so that by about mile 54 I was feeling better and getting stronger so much so that when the GeekGrl met me at mile 63 or so she could not keep up with me. I began passing people at mile 60 and continued to do so through mile 80; I was strong and I was running.

Night began to fall shortly after I left the aid station around mile 60 and initially I was able to run in the twilight and then dark without a headlamp. During my training I did a couple night runs of 3 hours each and then the one 50K that began at midnight and I have to say I have come to love the night run. It is peaceful and solitary and it’s like you have the world to yourself. I also had some rather silly times that helped keep my spirits high. At one point I saw someone ahead of me, a dark figure running down the trail. I thought to myself, ah ha, someone I can run down! And so the chase began. I picked up the pace and so did the dark figure ahead of me. I thought this was going to take more than just a burst of speed…this guy was on to me. I slowed to a quick walk to conserve a bit of energy thinking that if I kept at a brisk walk and every once in a while broke in to a run I would eventually catch and pass him. However when I slowed he slowed and when I sped up he sped up…oooh, this bastard was good then all of a sudden his entire body elongated sideways and spread across a field. WOW, that freaked me out for a moment and then I realized that I had been chasing my own shadow! Then all of a sudden it occurred to me that I was Mr. Gumby from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, you know, the guy with the Hitler mustache and the diaper looking thing on his head. I’m telling you, I was having a ball! The video proves it. Now remember that video shot is of me at mile 80 and I am genuinely having fun even if I am half out of my mind.

At the mile 76 aid station I complained about my feet hurting like they were blistered and we pulled my shoes and socks but didn’t see anything. Unfortunately there were blisters developing on the balls of each of my feet deep under the skin below some calluses and that could not be seen. We all just assumed my feet were getting tender. By mile 83 I was really hurting but I was also a bit out of it so forgot to have my feet looked at. I was also chafing badly in my nether regions and forgot to have that taken care of as well. All that was in my mind was getting nutrition and getting back on the course. Of course as soon as I had sent the GeekGrl three miles up the road I immediately realized my mistake and was determined to get help when I found her next, which I again forgot to do but thank god I only had her drive one mile down the road.

So there I was at mile 87 having the GeekGrl try and mend my feet when fellow ultrarunners Don, who was racing, and Scott caught up with us. I was not having fun at this point. Scott immediately set to work on my feet while Don continued to run on down the road. When my feet were revealed they were a complete disaster. I had a couple blisters on my toes that looked like second toes and the blisters that were deep under calouses covered the entire the ball of each foot and they had their own blisters forming on, under and around them. We drained what we could but some were too deep and could not be drained so we just wrapped my feet in tape and slathered them in lubricant to try and reduce the friction. With my foot care done as well as we could manage Scott ran off after Don who he was pacing for the last 20 miles. It was in and exhausted condition after the foot care at mile 87 and with Scott gone down the road that I stepped on the edge of the road and it was sloped just enough that I lost my very precarious balance and fell into the ditch. It was depressing to be exhausted, in significant pain and lying in a ditch but on the other hand the ditch was rather comfortable. Anyway I was going so slow at this point that I knew I didn’t have time to waste. It took the GeekGrl a couple minutes to help leverage me out of the ditch and back onto my feet but I was eventually standing again and pointed in the right direction.

By that late in the race with my feet in such bad shape I was getting passed by everyone I had worked to overtake during the previous 20 miles, it was disheartening to say the least but I had long since ceased to be myself and had simply become another animal in the woods trying to get home. Though the pain was excruciating it held little meaning because it stood between me and the finish. Nothing mattered but forward movement to the finish line and any thoughts, emotions or bodily sensation were luxuries I could not afford. By the last mile of the race I was reduced to a 30 to 40 minute per mile pace and when I crossed the finish line I did not stop and celebrate, I’m not even sure if I raised my arms or anything I just walked across the line and kept walking straight to our hotel room. Strangely enough I thought there was an old Sioux warrior standing at the finish line beating a drum and singing a warriors song but the finish line video shows that this was not the case but I could swear I heard that Sioux warrior singing, I can still hear him when I think back on the moment.

From what I understand from other ultrarunners in the big races like Leadville I would have been yanked from the course. I don’t know what to think about that, on the one hand I’m alive and I was able to meet my goal but on the other hand maybe I passed too far into a danger zone to be safe, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I ran 100 miles in 27 and a half hours and in the end it was by sheer force of will. I don’t think that bestows any special rights or privileges upon me but maybe it does give me the right to commune with dead warriors, to hear their battle song and partake in their ancient ferocity.