Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mechanical Mayhem and a Snow Shoe Race

We have been having a heck of a time on the home front recently so my blog activities has been kind of hit or miss. It started with the GEEKGRL's laptop going down and we shared mine. Then my laptop went down and we hauled out one of our desk tops. Our wireless network went down so we strung cable. Finally my smoothie blender broke and then our heater went down and the house got very cold until the thing was fixed. I guess when it rains it pours.

On the training front the running is still going well and I've worked my way up to an average of 40 miles per week and the legs feeling pretty good. I'm hoping to hit an average of 50 miles per week next month and then reevaluate. It is also getting close to time for me to add in real cycling and swimming for IMCdA.

Ir racing news there is the little matter of the Sandia Peak Snowshoe Race. Holy cow that was tough! The race took place on the peak of the Sandia Mountains at an elevation of about 10,200 and was 3.2 miles. A couple small sections were on forest road but the majority was on single track trails. I have a pair of snowshoes that are not exactly for racing but really more for hiking and winter back packing so they are pretty big and not tapered at the back. It was, as you can imagine, like running in big clown shoes which worked out well since my nose was red from the sub 10 temperatures.

I didn't have any idea what to wear in a snowshoe race beyond the obvious snow shoes so I went with my heaviest gloves, snow boots, my running tights, a heavy long sleeve tech-t, a wind breaker vest and a skull cap. I was FREEZING until the race started and then within about 5 yards I was very comfortable. Not knowing how I should be pacing myself for such an event I just ran at what felt like a comfortable jog and that put me up toward the front of the pack.

The leaders and I quickly outpaced the remainder of the runners and I found myself playing caboose and the front runners stretched out ahead of me once we hit the single track. I felt like I was in a pretty good rhythm and was having minimal trouble keeping my giant snowshoes from overlapping. I was running easily so I decided to pick it up a bit and was really moving on the downhill sections until I caught a tip and did a face plant on a downhill slope. Fortunately I wasn't in a spot surrounded by deep soft snow so I was able to use a tree and get my feet pretty quickly.

Off again I was still the caboose of the leading pack but was beginning to fall further behind due to the fall. Now I was pretty much alone in the woods in that the trees and snow do a great job at dampening sound and the trail wound so much that you could only catch brief glimpses of people. So I was running along and for the first time became aware of a metallic clicking right on my tail. I thought someone was coming up behind me so I pushed harder to stay ahead but the clicking was relentless. At the next turn I glanced over my shoulder and saw absolutely nobody, it was my own snowshoes that I was running from.

As the race progressed I was really starting to wear down and the hills were getting pretty steep because we were now heading back up the mountain after an initial descent. I finally saw a couple people ahead who looked like they were lagging so I picked it up ans best i could and started trying to pick them off. I was able to pass three people before exiting the trail and getting back on the forest road for the final 100 yards. There was one last guy maybe 15 yards ahead and he was walking. I thought, "What the hell" and started running for all I was worth. I passed the guy and he said "Gotta pass one more person huh?" and then he started running. It was a spring finish with maybe 30 yards to go and we were both running hard and breathing harder. It looked like we crossed the finish line at the exact same time but the final results have me beating him out by 1 second.

As it turns out I was the first of 6 Outlaws to finish and was 21st out of 85 overall with a total time of 44:10, not too shabby. The guy who won did it in an amazing 29 minutes!

I doubt I'll take snow shoe racing up as a sport but I will definitely return to the Sandia Snowshoe Race next year.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Racing at the Speed of Smell: A Ghost Town 38.5 Race Report

This weekend was the third running of the Ghost Town 38.5 mile ultramarathon in Hillsboro, NM and it was my second running of the event. The first year I ran it was the inaugural year 1n 2006 when the whole thing was run on roads and about 2/3 of the run was pretty much flat with a long climb at the end. The race has since changed course and begins with a little more than 6 miles of uphill road, ends with a little more than 6 miles of downhill road and has about 26 miles of sometimes intensely rugged, rocky and steep forest road and trail in-between.

My weekend was pretty much a whirlwind of activity and about the only time I was able to relax was during the race. I began Saturday morning by having to get a few odds and ends done around the house and wasn’t able to leave for Hillsboro until about 1:30 in the afternoon. Hillsboro is a 2.5 hour drive and the last race briefing and packet pickup took place at 4. The GEEKGRL and I sped south to the Black Range in the Gila Mountains and made it just in the nick of time to pick up my packet, get a race briefing and turn in my drop bags. When I went to turn in my drop bags I discovered I had left behind my water bottles filled with my pre-mixed Accelerade. This was all I had to carry my gels and fluids between aid stations, which were generally 4 or 5 miles apart.

Fortunately I had a water bottle lying in the back of my car and, more out of confusion and time pressure than any prior planning, I had brought along a few boxes of Gu and Accel Gel and a giant container of Accelerade powder. At least I had the basics for nutrition but this meant that I would have to grip a water bottle in my hand for 38.5 miles and who knows how may hours and would have to do the same with a stock of gels. I have been doing a lot of trailing with my hand-held bottles and have come to enjoy them quite a lot but gripping a bottle is a little different.

Race morning didn’t unfold quite as I had planned. The GEEKGRL and I were staying in a rustic cabin about 20 miles of narrow winding road from the start line at the race directors house. The start was at 6 a.m. and we woke at 4 a.m., no problem. I began eating and drinking to get in about 1000 calories for breakfast and then sat down to have a nice relaxing read. After a bit I looked over at the GEEKGRL and casually asked her what time it was, “6:15” she said. Holly Crap, 6:15! We hadn’t event packed up the car yet so we frantically set about throwing everything in a jumble into the car and sped off into the darkness. I was flying down this little road at break neck speed worried that I wouldn’t get to the start on time. When we arrived by my clock it was two minutes to start and I had to go to the bathroom. I went into the race directors house where all the runners were gathered and just then she announced “five minutes to start” so I hit the restroom and made it back out as the runners were filing out the front door. I checked in and went to the starting line and then we were off into the dark, cold morning.

It was 19 degrees and the morning was crisp and clear with a nearly full moon hanging in the sky. I had some vague goals for this race because there were many unknowns. The first year I finished this race in 8:44 and change but I was not as good a runner as I am now, it was my very first ultra distance event of any kind and I was carrying an extra 25 pounds or so at that time. Also, the course was almost entirely different and much harder now, mostly on trail, and I had never run a trail race of any kind. However, knowing I needed to have some goals to keep me on track I decided on the following.

In my past two marathons I finished in the top third of all runners so I figured that I would shoot for a top third finish in this race, something that is easy to keep track of given there were only 47 people registered. The top third would put me in 15th place overall. I also noticed that the last few of the finishers of last year’s race who finished in the top third did not reach the turn around point in the top third but passed people later so my second goal was to not reach the turn around in the top third…I didn’t know how to actually reach this goal except to try and start slow and count runners at the first little out-and-back segment. I also noticed that there was a guy named Marcus who had run the first year with me and had run last year. In the first year Marcus had beaten me by nearly an hour. In the second year his time was 8:34 so I knew the race was much harder. Marcus had finished last year’s race just in the top half, I knew what he looked like and so I decided that my ultimate, tangible goal would be to beat Marcus, who by the way is a very nice guy.

As the race began I was trotting up the road at a nice easy pace. The lead pack began pulling away immediately and I was not at all tempted to give chase and instead I just started chatting with the guy next to me who was a Deputy Sheriff from Denver. He was going a bit slower than I wanted so I pulled ahead a bit and started chatting with a guy who had come all the way from Montreal, Quebec. Canadian guy was a much more experienced marathoner than I and his PR was something like 3:45, six minutes faster than mine. I figured he would be a good person to hang with for a while since our abilities were close. We talked the whole way to the first aid station at mile 6.2 when the race turned off onto the forest road. By the time we reached the aid station my water bottle had long ago frozen shut and I was having to twist the lid off to drink the Accelerade slush inside. Canadian guy grabbed a bit from the aid station and took off running again but I decided to take a walk break.

The sun was beginning to rise over the Black Range and the temperature had dropped to maybe 15 degrees but I knew things would eventually warm up. I really enjoyed the experience of running on the dirt forest road. At this point it was pretty much a smooth dirt road with gentle rollers heading into the mountains but as we went the road became increasingly rugged. There were maybe 10 water crossings in all but you never got wet because they were so small they could be jumped across or they had partially frozen so the water was under ice and you could walk across on rocks.

Because the terrain was so rolling and variable I went with the strategy of running the flats and down hills and walking the uphill sections, not that I would have had a lot of choice because there were some sections that were so steep that you were nearly on all fours. There were sections of trail that were mostly covered in fist to basketball sized rocks with washed out dirt around them. There were other sections of trail that were steep roads than had been carved up by torrents of rain and were covered with an inch or so of decomposed granite and rhyolite, which was a bit like running on ball bearings. I knew that some of the run was going to be “rugged” but holy cow, I would have never guessed I would be facing some of the stuff I was running on and I was extremely grateful that I had been running the trails I had run so far, paved superhighways by comparison, and was extremely happy that I had been working on my downhill running. As a matter of fact a few veteran trail runners told me after the race that I was a good downhill runner and that my downhill running was “graceful.” Graceful…I like that so much more than what was going on in my mind, a panic stricken Clydesdale whose bulk is hurtling him down a very precarious mountainside toward almost certain oblivion.

I eventually reached the turn-around point, about mile 21 or so because of a little out-and-back section earlier, and I was in 13th place overall but there were two other runners immediately on my heals so I got there sooner than I had wanted but not by too much. The other two runners left the aid station before me so I was now in 15th place…the dead end of the top third. I suddenly found myself in a race and knew that Marcus was somewhere behind me but not too far because I had passed him maybe an hour earlier.

I headed back out onto the trail in 15th place knowing I had to hold that position and also knowing that there would be some runners attacking from behind advancing as others tired. I only hoped that there was someone up ahead that would be faltering, some I could drop late in the race and about two miles from the turn around I saw him, yellow-jacket, trudging up a particularly steep and nasty hill. I decided to push the pace just a little harder and catch him. In about another mile I was by yellow-jacket and back into 14th place.

When I got to the next aid station and drop-bag area it was time to change shoes and socks and inspect my feet. I don’t know what exactly was going on but it took me an impossibly long time to get through that damn aid station. I fumbled with my gear, joked around with the aid station workers, walked back and forth to my gear bag and the truck bed where all the goodies were laid out all the while never accomplishing anything. Yellow-jacket come and gone and I was once again in 15th place still farting around like an imbecile. I checked my feet and they looked good. I powdered them and started digging out my new shoes and then came Marcus. He sat next to me and I just chatted with him and then he took off and there I was shoes in hand, socks in my lap watching him leave as I tried on my new position in 16th place, out of the top third and behind Marcus. What an idiot. I hurried up and put on my socks, shoes and gaiters and hit the trail wondering how much distance I had to try and make up.

With about 26 miles down I started to push myself. I knew I would not be content saying I had done my best unless I had indeed done my best. This next bit of the race was a bit of a blur, a horse race with unseen competitors all fighting to advance. I was alone in the woods but I knew someone somewhere was pressing at my back and that Marcus and Yellow-jacket were fighting to push me further behind. I began running the downhill harder and longer, running the flats faster and even running some of the slight up hills.

It took me about 4 miles of hard running to finally catch Marcus. I saw him just as I crested a small rise in the road. He was heading into an aid station and Yellow-jacket was heading back out, I had closed the gap and with about eight and a half miles left they were both within striking distance if I could keep up the pace. When I reached the aid station Marcus was still there and seemed to be stuck in the same time-warp I had been trapped in when he passed me. I just drank down a few cups of Gatorade, grabbed a couple cookies and headed back out on the trail in 15th place leaving Marcus to ponder the assorted snacks. Yellow-jacket was somewhere ahead and now there was a new guy I hadn’t seen before who came running into the aid station as I left and he looked like he was running strong.

I started running as hard and as long as I could but knew I had to keep up with the walk breaks on the uphill portions or I would waste whatever energy I had left. I caught Yellow-jacket within a mile of the aid station and he was looking a little weary but I was feeling strong and running well and then it happened, an aching in my right foot. It was about mile 31 and I had the same kind of feeling in my right foot as when I had fractured it the last time. I tried curling my toes hoping it was a muscle spasm or something, hoping that maybe that shoe was just too tight and curling my toes gave me relief but now I was worried. That nagging pain kept coming back and I decided to take more walk breaks. I was also worried because I had a six mile downhill run on pavement on what may be a fractured foot.

The paved road back into Hillsboro has many curves so you can not reliably see people ahead of you or behind you. It is a bit like running in a strobe light, people are there and then gone and then there again but in a totally new position. With my increased walking I knew that Yellow-jacket and Marcus and any other number of runners would begin to gain on me and there I was in 14th place, precariously close to missing my goal of a top third finish and of beating Marcus. I looked back and could see a string of runners between a mile and maybe two back and I only had 4 miles to go. I looked back again and there was nobody. I looked back again and there was this woman barreling down on me at maybe a 8 minute per mile pace. I started running again and she blew right on by. I chased for a while but my foot began to hurt again and I stopped to walk now back in 15th place. Not one other person could pass me, not one, and I had three miles to go on a questionable foot.

As I walked I took another look back and saw three more runners, Marcus, Yellow-jacket and a third mystery runner. I know I have advised before that you never look back in a race because the race is in front of you. Maybe I’m just full of it but I wanted to spend as much time as I could walking to try and protect my foot but I also did not want to fall any further. I had two miles to go and it looked like I had the cushion necessary to finish in my current position but with only two miles to go I also decided to run as much as I could just to hedge my bets.

When the finish line finally came into view there was nobody to be seen behind me. I ran in as strongly as I could and the GEEEKGRL was there to cheer me in. I felt fantastic! I had finished in 15th place overall, top third; I had beaten Marcus and I had shattered my old PR with an official finishing time of 8:07:33!

I knew Marcus was going to be finishing soon so I stayed outside to cheer him in. The GEEKGRL was admonishing me to come in and sit down out of the cold but I still waited for Marcus who finished up maybe 8 or 10 minutes behind me.

When I finally took off my shoe I saw a bruise on the top of my foot. My first thought was “it’s broken” but there is no pain with pressure and it is not painful to walk on and loose shoes feel good so I am hoping that in my hurry out of the aid station where I changed shoes I tied that shoe too tightly and maybe inflamed some tendons and burst a blood vessel. I have an appointment with my podiatrist tomorrow morning to see.

All in all I had a great day, I met my goals and actually found myself wanting to come back for more unlike my first time at this distance that left me feeling like I was not sure when I would ever try this again. I am concerned about my foot but am holding judgment until tomorrow. For now at least I have earned my rest and I am quite happy to take it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Little Motivation Goes A Long Way

38.5 miles to be exact…

So I am reading this awesome book right now, “To the Edge: A Man, Death Valley, and the Mystery of Endurance” by Kirk Johnson. The book is great and it has me really getting mentally prepared for my upcoming spate of ultras. In addition to that I have been doing a bit of chatting with the Blink Meister and Run Bubba Run…and, well, they are a bad influence on my already linited ability to stay away from the races, the book, the Blink and the Bubba…bad influences I tell you. I have gone and tossed in a bit of an event for the weekend, just something to keep me occupied,

I just couldn’t help myself…I couldn’t resist the siren song of a nice long trail run through the mountains of central New Mexico…I’m weak, lord help me I’m weak.

The Ghost Town 38.5 was my first ever ultra-distance event and I have intended to go back ever since and I don’t know, this feels right…to kick off my ultra year in my own back yard. and the race director for this event is awesome. I wrote her a brief e-mail just to let her know I was coming because it is so last minute and here was part of her response:

"Hi, Brian,Very cool on you returning to the Ghost Town. I remember you, I remember all my runners - you're like family to me!"

So, I was talking to my interns today, who did their first ever ½ marathon last weekend at the RR Arizona…(yea them!) and mentioned my developing thoughts. Their eyes got big and they innocently said, “But Dr. Pilgrim, don’t you need to rest from your marathon 2 weeks ago? Aren’t you supposed to take time off? Isn’t there some kind of limit to how many events someone can do in a year?!”

I just stared at them kind of blankly and said, “I don’t know…I mean, sure you need rest and recovery but I honestly don’t know where the boundaries of MY endurance lies. I mean, you have people who run 50 marathons in 50 days, run across the continent on consecutive days, run the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Sahara Dessert, I don’t know what I can do.”

I honestly can't just pin this on Blink or Bubba, though because one of the ideas I have been considering lately is that rising to great challenges has the power to strip you down to your core being, they can boil you down to your essence so that all the accretions of life just slough off like strips of old paint in a chemical bath. The facades, the defenses, the over-built egos, the fears, the disappointments…everything that is toxic in life, everything that is toxic about life and everything that separates you from life all falls away if only for a day and you can reach a new level of clarity, of vision and of perspective and it allows you to live life more authentically and with greater courage, which in my opinion is a lot more fun and a lot more interesting.

I suppose that in large measure that is what I'm after, not because I am overly burdened by life's troubles...I am not, just because I do have a bit of anxiety about life passing me by and to me that is about the saddest thing I can immagine. There are some Pink Floyd lyrics that roll around in my head often - "Ten years have got behind you No one told you when to run You missed the starting gun " the first time I heard that I was maybe 20 or so, I mean really heard it and wondered, "Can that really happen, can someone kind of check out and get caught up in day to day junk and lose 10 years of their life?" Yes, they can...I see it every single day in my work...every day.

But look, I know there are some limits and I know that I can’t magically just hope I can go out and run a 100 miler this weekend and then do it without paying a serious price. There is a process, a physical and mental development that must occur in order to be able to cover any distance in a way that is healthy and, well, dare I say reasonable?

I think I’m there for this distance, this weekend, right now and so off I go to Hillsboro New Mexico to spend some quality time with myself and the woods and the trail.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One Step At A Time

I continue to think about doing the Lean Horse 100 mile ultramarathon and so have been reading everything I can get my hands on including posts from an ultra running list serve that I joined. On that list serve a newbie posted a question about training for your first 100 mile race and said they had planned on doing a 50 mile race per month in the lead up. Several people responded saying that is about what they do so I guess that is what I need to work on doing if I am going to be in a position to register for the Lean Horse because I am not going to just sit on the fence and let inaction make the decision for me.

So, having decided to plunge ahead and see where this takes me I have registered for the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run, the 50 mile version. A few other Outlaws will be doing this race at the 25 mile distance so I will have some company for a while at least. The race takes place in Buena Vista Colorado, just a few miles south of Leadville so I will get to kind of scout out what it might be like to do the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile race this July…well, with the exception that the Collegiate Peaks reaches its highest point at about 9,400 feet and the Silver Rush has its lowest point at 10,000 feet. Gotta love it!

I also wanted to post this pic of me immediately following my record breaking run at the Mississippi Blues Marathon. Thanks to Bill Anders I do have proof that I was there and did the run…note my salt encrusted face, the sweat still on the arms, the craggy pained look and the blues band in the background.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Not So Blue At The Inaugural Mississippi Blues Marathon: A Race Report

Today was the FIRST running of the Mississippi Blues marathon and I would say that it has the potential to be a popular race. The race was very well organized and the whole Blues thing is great. The post race party area had live Blues, food…pizza, sandwiches, pastries, cookies and red beans & rice and drink…energy drink, water, coke products and two beer trailers! The course is probably not one where you can plan on a PR but it can be done. The course has several turns so there is never a stretch that becomes overly long or boring and the only long straight stretch is an out and back that makes up maybe six miles of the course and it is more than welcome because it is the only flat section. The rest of the course is pretty solid rolling hills, some of which are pretty steep in several places including a long climb from about mile 25 to the finish line.

The race began at 7 a.m. and the temperature was somewhere around 45 degrees. There was also complete cloud cover so the running weather was perfect with the exception of a bit of wind that came up late in the race. My Garmin ran out of juice at mile .79 and at about mile two I was passed by a man wearing pink running shoes, a pink tank top and…a pink tutu, yep, a tutu! He was pretty fast so I guess he gets to wear whatever he wants. Undeterred I pressed ahead and focused on keeping my pace. By mile 8 I was already feeling the hills in my hip flexors but still felt pretty strong and by mile 11 I was having some difficulty running down hill.

Somewhere near mile 12 the long flat out and back started and it was just in time. I was running very well on the flats and ended up passing a few people and then about mile 13 and a half I was passed by a woman pushing a baby jogger…ouch! I’m not sure if she was part of the race but if she was I never saw her again. At mile 14 there was an excellent Blues guitarist and my chance to see tutu guy heading back in from the out and back. There was also a huge group of Blue Cross Blue Shield employees, the main event sponsor, on the side of the road cheering like crazy. It was a great shot of motivation.

Once I left the flats it was back to the hills, probably the steepest and longest of the race and I could feel my pace slowing as I continued to grind out the miles. About mile 20 I began passing some people who had passed me earlier in the race and started to look for people ahead to try and pick off. I got a couple people who had pretty much blown up or were cramping but there were not a whole lot of runners near me at that point, maybe one every 100 yards or so. During the final mile long climb to the finish line I could hear someone coming up behind me and I tried to push the pace and succeeded in putting some distance between us but in the last tenth of a mile or so the guy caught and passed me and I didn’t have enough to answer back with but I did get a pretty nice surprise…the finish clock had just rolled over to 3:51…a new PR was in the bag! I ended up finishing in 3:51:33, which was good enough to get me 103 place overall out of some unknown number of participants…I think there were over 600 in the marathon, maybe over 1000 I don’t know I’ll have to come back and check out the results.

Finally, the schwag was probably the best I have ever received…if you decide to stay over Saturday night. In the schwag bag you get a pair of cheep sunglasses, a hammer gel, a couple ads and a Blues CD. However, as part of the race you also get free entry into a live Blues concert at a locally famous club…Hal & Mal’s, and you get two free drinks while there! The GEEKGRL and I went to the concert and hooked up with fellow blogger Bill Anders and his wife and son. We had a great time and, incidentally, used our full compliment of free beer tickets.

The Mississippi Blues marathon is and up and comer I think and people shouldn’t be concerned about “What on earth is there to do in Jackson, MS?!” because the answer is plenty…or at least enough. There are some very good restaurants, a well run race and the best Blues I have yet to hear.