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!