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.