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.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Going the Distance

Whatever you think you can do, or dream begin it now...boldness has genius, power and magic in it.-Goethe

One more night of rest and it’s a 4 a.m. wake up, breakfast and head for the Lean Horse starting line. On Saturday the 23rd at 6:00 a.m. Mountain Standard Time I will begin my 100 mile odyssey. If I run very well I should finish right about 5:56 a.m. on Sunday the 24th. I can be flexible and I will be happy just to finish but I’m not entertaining any other times.

The GeekGrl will be helping me out on the trail and she and I will be writing about our thoughts and experiences out on the trail and that will become the race report. I very much look forward to writing it over the next two days.

Wish me luck!

Enjoy the mood music.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ok, Maybe Just One More: A Ray’s Race Race Report

Today was the 30th running of Ray’s Race, which is put on by “The Running Psychologists” of Division 47, sports psychology. This is a race that I have always wanted to do for obvious reasons but something on my convention schedule has created a conflict every year to date. Well, not this year baby and you could have predicted that if you combine me with free time with some race entry money burning a hole in my pocket then I am going to be there.

It is weird to think that this was my first ever stand alone 5K. Previously the shortest distance I have ever run as a stand alone is a 10K. I know that I am absolutely not trained for distances as short as 5K but I really wanted to see what I could do so I got a good night sleep and had a nice light breakfast in plenty of time for everything to settle. Much to my surprise also running in today’s race was someone who I consider to be my best friend from Graduate School, Stephan Schulenberg…now a professor at Old Miss. Ok, sorry I don’t know if that is Mississippi State or The U of Mississippi or either for that matter I just know it’s Old Miss. Anyhow it was great to see him again and to see that he still has the same dry sense of humor.

So as far as the race goes what can I say? It was 5K and there really wasn’t a lot of time for much to happen. I ran until I felt like my heart was going to explode and then backed off just a little so that I could make it the whole 3.1 miles. I started out running with the lead group of runners and then backed off a bit and fell in behind a guy who appeared to be about my age. I ran behind him for most of the race since he was running strong and at about my pace. I thought I would try and ride him most of the way in and then try and pick him off at the end.

I ran behind my pacer until around mile 2 when I noticed he was falling off the pace and I felt like I had more left. There were two guys ahead of us that were possibly within my striking distance so I decided to make my move and see if I could catch them but about that time we turned a corner and had to climb up and over a bridge. At the kind of pace we were running I didn’t want to try and pass going up and over a bridge especially considering how much weight I was giving up to the guy I was getting ready to pass.

As soon as we hit the apex of the bridge I made my move on the downturn and started trying to close the gap. I was running at top speed and gaining ground but there was still .7 miles left and the oxygen didn’t seem to be as plentiful as it was at the beginning of the race. I was closing the gap and probably came within 10 yards of the two runners but then with about .3 miles left they started their kick to the finish and I lost a couple steps on them and could not gain any more ground.

I crossed the finish line in a time of 21:11, a 6:50 per minute mile pace…not bad for someone who has done nothing but train for ultra endurance racing for the past year. I ended up winning 3rd in my age group and was 14th overall out of a field of 138 running psychologists. The winner ran it in just over 15 minutes!

So here is the coolest thing, I beat Bill Rodgers…THE Bill Rodgers who is the only person to with both the Boston and New York Marathons 4 times each. Ok, so he is over 60 now and, well, probably wasn’t running quite as hard as he is capable of running…he has a Boston PR of like 2:09:27, but still!

Oh, and yes, I got him to autograph my bib number! I’ll post a pic when I get home.

Ok…NOW there is no more races between me and Lean Horse.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trying not to Think too Much

I am currently in Boston attending the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. It so happens that I am the president of my national organization of psychologists who work for the Veterans Administration so I really need to be here to do important stuff like attend meetings, give an accounting of what I’ve been up to on behalf of VA psychologists over the past year and my personal favorite, handing out awards for the accomplishments of various VA psychologists.

All of this is important stuff in my professional world and important to me, I really do love my work and believe deeply in what we, as VA psychologists, do for a living. However, my head is just not in the game. While my body is in Bean Town my mind is in Hot Springs South Dakota where the Lean Horse awaits.

Just a couple short weeks ago I had Vineman to face and last weekend it was the New Mexico Tri Club State Championships but now there is nothing but an appallingly short span of time standing between me and my date with a 100 mile ultra-marathon.

I just can’t seem to get it out of my head. I think about all my training. I have had a huge year so far. I’ve logged almost 1000 miles, which is what I logged all of last year and that was a record running year for me. I have lowered my marathon PR 3 times and lowered my IM PR once but by almost two hours. I have lowered my 50K PR by an hour and have completed my first 50-miler in a respectable 10:28 but 100 miles!

You know they say you always have to respect “the distance”, whatever that distance may be and believe me, I respect the distance…really! However, I have that insidious worry, “Do I respect it enough?”...what exactly is enough respect for a distance anyway?! Seriously, if someone out there can quantify the level of respect I need to show or if there is some “Respect guy” out there that I can write and fervently explain just how much I do respect 100 miles of running you let me know…soon.

I am trying to balance my running, resting and crazy schedule of meetings while here in Boston but my mind is always somewhere out there in western South Dakota, somewhere out on the trail just waiting for my body to arrive.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Back in Black: A New Mexico Club State Championship Race Report

Today was the Socorro Chili Harvest Triathlon, otherwise known as the New Mexico Club State Championships. This year the competition seemed particularly stiff but as the club president of the New Mexico Outlaws it was my distinct pleasure to walk forward and accept the club championship trophy on behalf of the team. The Outlaws had a great turnout of 27 athletes; more than half the team, which is pretty amazing considering the busy lives that I know most of us lead.

I feel like I had a good race considering I did Vineman six days ago. I got out there and posted a 1:10:35 according to my Timex.

400M swim - 7:34
T1 - 1:53
20K bike - 34:58
T2 - 1:23
5K run - 24:46

My swim went well and as expected my pace over 400 meters is almost identical to my IM swim pace. On the bike I felt pretty good as long as I wasn’t pedaling on anything flat or even slightly uphill and if the hill was anything resembling steep forget it. The run, well, lets just say it hurt. I was working as hard as I could but just didn’t feel very lively.

Oh well, on the whole I am happy with my performance but today really wasn’t about me or my performance it was about being there for the team.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cliff Notes from the Field: A Vineman Race Report

First, the whine-man report. The course was too bumpy, the roads in many places were basically crumbled pavement and there was not one single mile marker on the bike. It was windy on the bike. It got really hot, high temp was 98 degrees. The run course was brutal I tell you BRUTAL!

Ok, now that I have that out of my system here is a brief recap. The swim in the Russian River is pretty cool. The water temps were very mild and there was a thin fog over the top of the water but it didn’t really obscure the sighting. I took off with the second wave and swam very well. I ended up getting a 1:10 and I think 12 seconds, which is an IM swim PR for me by a little over two minutes.

The bike, as I said, was very rough and much more technical than any triathlon I have done. This is a cyclist’s course but more than anything it is a course that seriously needs to be re-paved. It is difficult to make a comparison to the bike course at Coeur d’Alene because this one has so many more turns and is so much rougher and it was so much hotter that it made it equally as difficult as CdA, which makes it a tad bit easier than Kentucky, much easier than Silverman and harder than Redman and Arizona. I ended up doing the bike in 6:05 and some change, which also makes this my IM bike PR.

The run, what can I say, it was 98 degrees when I started the run and the course was freakishly hard. It is a particularly cruel course for a Clydesdale. Let me see if I can provide some visuals. Have you ever done Kentucky or CdA? Well, the run course at Vineman is a lot like the bike courses at those two events. There is a ton of climbing and descending and they are not mellow climbs and descents. In my humble opinion I rate this run course as being harder than the Silverman run course. In fact, this run course is harder than the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon, indeed, it is harder than the Mississippi Blues Marathon. I didn’t get the final time for my run but if you want you can do the math, my T1 was 3 minutes and my T2 was 4.

My total time was 12:47 and some seconds. I gave it all I had and even though I wasn’t totally fresh I felt like I did pretty well. I ended up being second place Clydesdale overall. I am pretty sure the guy who beat me was a 27-year-old whipper-snapper who passed me at mile 24.5. He was running well and I was pretty toasted. I tried to keep pace somewhat in the hope that he was, well, premature in his more to the finish, but no such luck, he just got smaller and smaller until he was gone.

This was a hard ass race! I’ll post pics at some point but now I am going to hit the sack.