Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Did it My Way: A Tucson Marathon Race Report

December 2005 I ran my very first marathon right here in Tucson. At the time I weighed in at 225 pounds down from a high of 310 pounds. My time for that first marathon effort; 4:50:55. That earned me 90th in my age group, 612th out of the men and 912th overall. I trained hard for that marathon, or at least from my perspective back then I trained hard. I also tapered and came in rested and ready to go. After the race my legs were beaten to death. I hobbled over to our car with the GeekGrl helping me each step of the way. We then drove to a Circle K and the GeekGrl bought two 10-pound bags of ice and we went directly to the friend’s house where we were staying and I took an ice bath. We drove home that very night. It was a painful drive.

I began running in March of 2005 only because I wanted to do a local sprint triathlon, the Jay Benson. I hated running, HATED it. In all the sports I had ever participated in growing up running was the punishment. When I was in the Marine Corps we ran in formation and it was a duty; lock-step: “low-righty-leauft we love to double time!” I never learned to just run, to love running. It’s too bad because running is such a beautiful thing, such a natural human activity. It’s what children do freely, laughing and smiling all the while. However, since those first meager, painful, dreadful little two mile runs back in the spring of 2005 I have learned some things and put in a few thousand miles.

What have I learned? Well, as I recently told a group of ultrarunners, I learned how to run like an idiot.

It wasn’t until December 2007 when I finally learned to “put the fun back in my run” at the Las Vegas Marathon when I did my first marathon dressed as Elvis and coincidentally, or not, I ran my first sub-4 hour marathon. During that run as Elvis I wasn’t doing anything special but having a good time, saying, “Thank you, Thank you very much” to all the aid stations, slapping hands with the cheerleaders and giving cheering spectators the famous Elvis point. It was at Las Vegas where I learned that I really didn’t need to be TOTALLY serious about my running. In fact, I learned quite the opposite, that I probably ran best when I wasn’t very serious; at least during a race.

My next step forward was ultrarunning. Not only did it introduce me to trail running but it introduced me to what it REALLY means to hurt during a run. Ultrarunning taught me what it is to persevere, to dig deep, to exhaust every resource that I THINK I have and still keep moving. In short, ultrarunning helped me excoriate my ego and get the hell out of my own way.

These days I’m running pretty much however the mood takes me. Sometimes I run too slow, too long, too fast and every once in a while, too short. I do some races just to run with the GeekGrl and some races I go out too fast just to see how long it takes me to blow apart. In August this year I finished the Leadville Trail 100 then in September I ran the Turtle Marathon, the Do-Wacka-Do 50K and the Rio Del Lago 100. October I ran the Duke City Marathon, the Javelina 100K and set a new 10K PR at the Great Pumpkin Chase. Just last weekend I set a new marathon PR at Death Valley and the next day I renewed my marriage vows with the GeekGrl during the Las Vegas Marathon; once again dressed as Elvis.

Any serious runner would advise this is just too much running too close together to do well. Like I said, I’ve learned to run like an idiot which, I suppose, explicitly make me not a serious runner.

On December 12th 2010 weighing in at 203 pounds I ran the Tucson Marathon in time of 3:28:13, 5th place Clydesdale, 14th in my age group, 93rd out of men and 112th overall.
I qualified for the big game, I qualified for Boston. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I Do, Twice! A Death Valley and Las Vegas Marathons Race Report

This past weekend was an incredible experience. I renewed my vows with the GeekGrl AND set a new marathon PR AND completed my first back-to-back marathons! Not necessarily in that order.

The weekend began with a flight to Las Vegas where the GeekGrl and I met up with Form and JT for a quick breakfast before packet pickup at the Las Vegas marathon. We gathered up our luggage and rental car and called Form for a breakfast recommendation and shortly thereafter we all met up at Hash House A Go-Go. Oh my god that place is a giant feed trough of comfort food. I had the Ft. Wayne Hash and it was delish and clearly provided me with what I needed because the very next day I ran a new marathon PR.

Yes, it is true; unbelievably the Death Valley Trail Marathon stands as my new marathon PR! This was just one of those rare days when everything felt perfect and everything went perfect. With a time of 3:40:34 I beat my Ogden marathon time by 6 minutes 3 seconds. Ogden is a road marathon and is mostly downhill and my Ogden PR has stood for two years. Death Valley has a massive downhill beginning about mile 12.8 and lasting to the end of the race but before you get to the downhill there is 2394 feet of climbing in an almost continuous climb. The descent is unbroken and will utterly destroy your quads if you are not prepared.

At the starting gun lots of people took off ahead of me and after about a mile I could see a pretty good crowd stretched out in front because the trail was a continuous uphill. I’m not sure just how many people were ahead of me at the beginning of the race but it was a good third of the runners. Within two miles, however, I began passing people and didn’t stop until I crossed the finish line.

I’d have to say my favorite part of the race was shooting down through the narrows of Titus Canyon. There was this one guy who looked to be a particularly strong runner. I had been going back and forth with him all morning mostly because he seemed to be running with one particular woman for at least the first six or eight miles and then he took off. I caught him again near the top of the climb just before entering Titus Canyon because he was taking a few pictures. At the top of the canyon he put away his camera and started running. I went ahead and took chase and within a mile or two I had caught up and was running just a couple yards behind. He must have heard me behind him because he sped up. I thought I’d just try and hand on as long as I could. We ran stride for stride through the narrow, winding canyon for about four miles and then he started to slow just a bit. I pulled alongside him and he accelerated a bit but then slowed again as soon as I fell in behind him. I pulled alongside him again and pushed the pace. I looked at my Garmin and said “Only 5K to go” and he said “Good, I thought we had more like 4 to 6 miles left. He then faded back and I did not see him again until after the race. It sure was a blast though racing through a narrow canyon right on the heels of another competitor.

Death Valley is definitely an interesting race. I would say this is a must do marathon. It’s kind of costly for an “old school” marathon but old school it is, small, friendly and based more on scenery than seeking flat and fast or some venue where you can cram the greatest number of people.

The next day the GeekGrl and I were in Las Vegas to renew our vows at the Rock-n-Roll Las Vegas marathon. The R-n-R Las Vegas stood in stark contrast to the Death Valley marathon. At Death Valley there were about 240 participants whereas Las Vegas had about 30,000. Death Valley had aid stations about every five miles and there was no trash to be seen whereas Las Vegas had aid stations every mile and you practically waded through a sea of discarded cups and gel packets at each aid station. Death Valley was on trail with plenty of room to either open up and run or just enjoy the scenery whereas Las Vegas was in the middle of the city and despite being on the strip for half its distance there wasn’t much to see and you had to keep your eyes fixated on the massive crowd you were “running” in.

It really was a good time going through the Run Through Wedding Chapel and both the GeekGrl and I were surprised at how poignant the ceremony ended up being for us but as marathons go I would have to say that we are both well past the ability to garner much real enjoyment from a massive marathon with tens of thousands of people. I mean, I had a good time but that was created by my experience of the wedding and what it symbolized about my marriage, about my reflections concerning my marriage and the adventures the GeekGrl and I have had and just the sheer joy of running. If anything the marathon itself was a distraction to my good time.

Anyway, I won’t dwell on the negatives; ultimately I had a fantastic time and am exceedingly glad I planned it all out. The experience of vow renewal during a marathon is unparalleled. The experience of running two marathons in one weekend is painful but very satisfying.

Now I have to complete the Tucson marathon this coming weekend to get my three marathons in three states in nine days. That will be interesting. I went on an easy four mile run today with a friend and it was slow but went ok. I don't think I'll be setting any records at Tucson but then again, you never know. Tuscon is, after all, the National Clydesdale marathon championship and a downhill course so I have plenty of motivation to try and do well and it is on a course that suits my specialty.

Friday, November 26, 2010

New Adventures Both this Year and Next

My 2010 season hasn’t been the model of well thought out plans and or logistical wizardry that are usually the mark of my racing seasons but it has been interesting and still contains more in the next three weeks. Leadville pretty much consumed my focus and planning so the remainder of my season has been governed by impulsivity. While this has led to a lot of great experiences such as the Devil Mountain 50K, Rio Del Lago 100 and the Do-Wacka-Do 50K to name but a few, it has also led to a real loss of focus on one important goal that the GeekGrl and I had set before ourselves some 4 years ago, running at least one marathon or longer in all 50 states.
During the 2010 season I only picked up one state, Colorado, and the GeekGrl picked up two, California and Oklahoma. It was better that nothing but we need to get busy if we are going to accomplish this goal before we are 70. After Leadville, as I was reflecting on the lack of my focus on this important marathon goal and so started casting about to see if I could pick up another state or two. During my research I started thinking about how it would be necessary to pick up races further east by running back-to-back marathons on a single weekend unless I wanted to double my airfare and the number of days I needed to take away from work so I started to look for doubles but the only one that showed up that seemed reasonable for us to accomplish this year was the Death Valley Trail Marathon and Las Vegas Marathon double, both in states the GeekGrl already have.

However, the Death Valley – Las Vegas double does allow the GeekGrl and I to raise out status in the Marathon Maniacs from 4-star Iridium to 5-star Ruthenium all we needed was a third marathon in a different state either on the preceding or following weekend. I found the Tucson Marathon, my very first, on the weekend following the Death Valley – Las Vegas double so it is game on!

Next weekend will be our first attempt at a double. All reservations are made and all contingencies are planned. The one wrench in the plans is that the Las Vegas marathon dropped its marathon cutoff to 5:30, something that I just can’t seem to let go. Not only did they do that but they make the run through wedding chapel ceremony take place three miles in at a 15 minute per mile pace. A 5:30 marathon is a 12:40 pace. Is the run through wedding chapel so prohibitively expensive to operate that they cannot afford to conduct two ceremonies? One for half-marathoners at a 15-minute pace to be, as they say, inclusive, and one set to go so people can remain on a 12:40 pace if they want to run the marathon.
ANYWAY, because the GeekGrl and I already have Nevada, California and Arizona it really doesn’t do much in terms of the whole 50-state goal…or does it? Next weekend will be our first double. Next season, with better planning, we will get at least 4 more states in TWO consecutive weekends. That’s right, a Double Double!

April 30th we will be running the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. I have heard this is a good marathon so I’m looking forward to it but I know there are some beautiful trail marathons in Tennessee so I’m sure I’ll be back.

May 1st we will be running the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. There are also a couple ultras I want to do in Ohio but the Flying Pig is supposed to be one of those must do marathons for those of us who travel the country collecting marathons in different states. I am REALLY looking forward to this one.

May 7th we will be running the Wisconsin Marathon. Apparently the Wisconsin Marathon is the cheesiest and who wouldn’t want to do the cheesiest marathon. Like so many other states Wisconsin also has at least two ultras that I’d like to do one day but marathons first. We ran a half-mary there last summer and got to meet up with Mike and Jenny Wimmer so we’ll see if that is in the cards once again.

May 8th we will be running the Kalamazoo Marathon. This one has a special deal where the first person registered from each state gets their entry fee comped, a free pair of New Balance running shoes and gets to stay in a special tent at the finish line. I registered the GeekGrl first so if we were the first New Mexicans to register she will get the special treatment.

The Double Double is going to be a wild ride and will represent our biggest adventure yet, 4 marathons, 4 states, two weeks. It is going to be a blast! If anyone is interested I have the logistics worked out. We could make it a party.

However, before that little shindig there is one major task to complete. I will be going back to Rocky Raccoon to finish what I started in 2009. I’m a much more experienced trail runner and I have been training hard since my recovery from Rio Del Lago. I’m feeling confident and will be going for a sub-24 hour finish. I know I can do it I just have to keep my feet and have a good race. The GeekGrl will be running the 50-mile at Rocky and is looking to smash her 50-mile PR.
It should be an exciting season!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Kingdom for a 50K: A Veterans Day 11K Race Report

Today I ran the Veterans Day 11K because someone I know told me they were going to sign up. They didn’t sign up. Still, it resulted in a good workout that I wouldn’t have otherwise attempted. I have fallen back on my weekly mileage this week because it has been pretty cold and my mom was visiting so I needed to do some extra miles today to try and make it up.

The 11K began at Kit Carson park where all REALLY flat and fast Albuquerque races begin and there was a really small group present, maybe 50 or 60 people. However, it turns out there were a few really fast people there including a disproportionate number of fast Masters runners. My plan was to take if relatively easy since I had a long run to complete after the race but as Misty had predicted my competitive side got the better of me.

I started out at a good pace but not top speed for the distance but as the race progressed I kept seeing people I wanted to try and pass. My splits were Mile 1 – 7:59, Mile 2 – 7:56, Mile 3 – 7:53, Mile 4 - 7:39 (yeah, this is the mile in which I said “what the hell” and really started trying to pick people off) Mile 5 – 7:25, Mile 6 – 7:17. The last few tenths of a mile got rolled into my long run so I don’t know what it was but I was pretty much sprinting because I began my final kick WAY too early.

There was one last guy that I thought I had enough distance left to pass and I could see the people standing around the finish line approaching. I knew if I was going to pass this guy I was going to have to kick it. I increased my speed and pulled ahead. I kept increasing the pace in case he was able to fight back and then I realized that the people I thought were standing next to the finish line were actually cyclists way down the path. Once they pulled off the path I could see the people next to the finish line and it was, relatively speaking, a LONG way away. I took the chance of easing up just a little because I knew I could not sprint all the way to the finish. Within maybe 50 yards of the finish line I could hear heavy breathing behind me and figuring it was the guy I just passed I turned the kick back on and sprinted as best I could to the finish. I crossed the line and indeed they guy I had passed crossed maybe 15 seconds behind me. I had run much harder than I planned and now I had a long run to complete.

I diced that I would try and get in around 28 total miles for the day and I used Running Map to measure it out but since I was going to stick to trails most of the time as opposed to the dirt roads along the Bosque I wasn’t exactly sure how far my run would end up being. In the end I got in 30 miles in a total time of 4:47:31. I was on pace to crush my 50K PR, which is 5:41:22 on an easier course at about 800 feet above sea level as opposed to 5000 feet above sea level. I was really tempted to go for it but I knew the GeekGrl was waiting for me and it would have been meaningless so I turned off the trail and headed to the coffee shop and finished off the run.

I never would have begun a 30-mile long run by doing the first 11K at about a 7:30 pace but I think it has taught me that I can probably run a 50K much faster than I have previously tried and that is a pretty awesome bit of information to have.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

That was NOT Easy: A Great Pumpkin Chase 10K Race Report

Today the GeekGrl and I went out and ran a local 10K called the Great Pumpkin Chase. Maybe a month or so before Javelina the GeekGrl announced that she wanted to make sure we ran this race because it was her first 10K and she wanted to see if she could PR. This was my first 10K as well and I thought I’d give getting a PR a try as well. However, based on my run yesterday I didn’t really think a PR was in me.

Yesterday was the second time I ran since the Javelina 100K. My first run was an easy 4.2 mile loop in the foothills behind my house at an 11:50 minute per mile pace. Yesterday I headed out for a 10.3 mile run and ended up with an 8:58 minute per mile pace, pretty good but a far cry from what I needed and I just didn’t think my legs had a 10K PR in them.

This morning it was nice and cool and having run the course before I knew it was a pancake flat double loop lollypop-shaped course. The GeekGrl and I showed up about 40 minutes early so I headed out for a couple easy miles to warm up, as I told the GeekGrl, “Just in case I decided to go for it.”

The race started promptly at 9:00 a.m. and I took off at what felt like a pretty comfortable pace. After a couple blocks I looked at my Garmin and I was running a 6:40 pace. I knew I needed to slow down immediately but I was really glad that I could actually move my legs fast enough to hit that pace. After I slowed a bit the small lead group continued to pull ahead then there was a small group of three and then there was me running alone ahead of a small string of people followed by the main pack.

I was running hard but smooth and when the first mile passed and I was at a 7:03 pace I knew I was going to try and hold on for a PR. I knew that a 7:03 pace would crush my 10K PR so I slowed a little bit more thinking that it was more likely that I would blow apart at that pace than actually crush my PR. I ran mile two in 7:15 and was starting to breathe a little too hard for that early in the race so I backed off just a little bit more and ran mile three in 7:24.

I thought that I had found a pace that I could hold that I would beat my PR but when I hit mile four I had dropped to a 7:30 pace and was starting to hurt. Mile five was a real struggle and by the end I had dropped to a 7:38 pace. Now overall I was still under my PR pace but I was starting to worry that I would miss it by a few seconds, something I did not want to do. I could not tell if I had sped up or not but I do know that I increased the pain I was feeling trying to speed up or at least hang on.

By the end of mile six I was rewarded with a 7:30 pace. Just .2 miles left and I was really struggling to avoid slowing down. There were a couple people finishing up the 5K that was going on at the same time and they were sprinting to the finish so I tried to pass them. Finally I was across the finish line in 45:25, a new 10K PR! My old 10K PR was 47:14 and has stood since November 2007. I also ended up winning second place in my age group. Love those local races!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In the News and New News

In the news: Thanks to both Joja Jogger and Johnny Tri I found out that I’m featured in Runners World! Ok, so by “I” I really mean me disguised as Elvis…without my actual name associated with Elvis and by featured I mean the article starts “There was Elvis.” and there was a picture of me running a Elvis and by Runners World I mean the Trail Heads blog section of the Runners World website. So, I don’t have the star power of Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezighi…yet, but it’s a start. The next step would be to get my picture in Ultrarunner Magazine. If I can do that I’ll as cool as Form. Notice too that the GeekGrl is included in the Runners World picture too. We were heading in from our first lap and I was running ahead to alert the crew.

New News: Back in September I ran the Rio Del Lago 100-mile Endurance Run and when I arrived at the Cool aid station I met up with Johnny Tri and some other crew people that he was hanging with. The folks in that crew did not want to yell out the nickname the GeekGrl has given me, Sweet Baboo. Instead they decided to call me Big B. Ever since then JT has been calling me Big B. I have really taken to that moniker so I did something about it, I got myself a new license plate. I have to give credit to Nancy Toby because that is where I first saw this plate but it is at least unique in New Mexico and I LOVE the new colors. Oh, and one other thing about the plate. For the first time since high school I have been able to keep my weight just below 200. It hass been about three months now and the only time I pop over is the week prior to and after an ultra and then just barely. I attribute that to running so I sort of felt the desire to kind of memorialize running in my life.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Even in a Hero’s Heart the Better Part is Discretion: A Javelina Jundred Race Report

Early in the year the GeekGrl and I talked about doing the Javelina Jundred 100K together and so we registered and then went about our season training and racing pretty much as planned. However, as Javelina drew near and the GeekGrl’s training remained steady she started talking about doing the 100-mile and not the 100K. This changed things quite a bit and so we talked about me crewing and not running then we talked about me just running a couple loops or maybe the 100K while she went on to finish the 100-mile and then I pretty much decided that I’d go ahead and run the 100-mile as well. I’m not usually so flakey about an event but once plans start to change mid-stream then everything seems to get knocked loose and who knows how things will turn out in the end.

Anyway, race morning the GeekGrl and I were on tap to run 100 miles at Javelina and we took off at the starting gun with that intent. I took on the responsibility of straying on top of our hydration and nutrition but that wasn’t really necessary so I mostly started talking to other runners. The other thing about this race was, since I didn’t really consider it MY race but the GeekGrl’s race, I decided to run it as Elvis because ultimately I didn’t care if I finished and being that it is a Halloween party race it was a good excuse to try to run an ultra as Elvis.

I think the Elvis suit was a huge hit out on the course. It was fun getting all the attention and seeing people smile when I ran by but I was getting pretty annoyed with people asking me to sing them a tune. I know it’s kind of stupid not to expect that request but honestly I have never had anyone ask me to sing before so it was unexpected and unwelcome though I did eventually have something to say about it at an aid station. I told the workers at the aid station that there was a strict division of labor among Elvi and that some of us run while others sing and I could get in trouble with the union if I were caught doing both. Whatever, it was enough of a distraction that they stopped asking and it got a chuckle so I didn’t seem like a jerk.

I was also starting to feel bad for the GeekGrl because I was running the first three laps with her and this race was supposed to be about her as far as I was concerned but it really seemed to be more about me. Another thing that I should have considered.

After three laps the GeekGrl and I went our separate ways, she to her crew and me back out on lap four. I was running lap four very well and had plenty of energy until I was 10 miles into the lap at the Coyote Camp aid station. At Coyote Camp I was refueling and among the things I was considering for calories I chose some pumpkin pie. I had some earlier in the day and it tasted good and sat well so I decided to have some more and was almost immediately sorry for my choice. I can’t say with 100% certainty that the pie was bad but what I can say is that within about two minutes I was on the side of the trail throwing up and it was not like the cumulative fatigue, long hard day “I’m finally sick” kind of thing that I often experience in super long events, I was just feeling great and then I had the pie and then my stomach started grinding into knots and that was that. I experienced a dramatic cascade of nausea, pain, fatigue and, well, a bit of good sense.

I knew earlier in the day that the GeekGrl was not going to make 100 miles though I never let her know I knew because she still believed in the goal and I was going to let her enjoy that ride and reach her own conclusions. Knowing that she would be finishing at 100K I felt that it would be a really bad idea for me to push through and go the full 100 miles on her day so I decided that I too would drop at 100K. Believe me, I’m not saying that I was all gallant and self-sacrificing; I had a whole raft of reasons not to push through to 100 miles and I would have happily used each and every one of them but it at least makes me feel like I’m not 100% self-centered to know that not wanting to upstage my wife on her first attempt at 100K was at least one of those reasons.

So, I had a good time, I got to get some running in with JT who ran this as a training run for HURT, I got to get some running in with Form who (what the hell was he doing there anyway?! The man hasn't been training but there he was ready to go), I got to meet and get some running in with Joja Jogger (who finished the full 100 miles!), I earned a 100K JJ buckle to go with my 100-mile JJ buckle, I set a 100K PR for myself and I ran a 100K ultra dressed as Elvis. All pretty awesome.

However, the real story of the day is the GeekGrl’s monumental accomplishment, her first 100K finish. That solidifies her status as an ultrarunner in any country in the world. She continues to amaze me. I love her and am very proud of her and I still know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she CAN finish a 100-mile ultra.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Running with the GeekGrl is Back

Early this year the GeekGrl and I registered to run the Javelina Jundred together with the intention that she was just going for the 100K and I’d run along and get my 100K buckle at Javelina as well, having already earned the 100 mile buckle last year.

As the year progressed the GeekGrl’s goal became to run the 100-mile so then the plan was for me to run a while and then crew and then the plans evolved further and I was going to crew from the very beginning. However, The GeekGrl already has a crew of three friends who are really reliable and one is already an experienced crew member.

As the time for Javelina drew near though I started itching to be out on the course so that’s where I’ll be. The GeekGrl and I are registered in the team competition. In the team competition at Javelina both runners are really independent runners you don’t have to run the whole thing together but each runner does have to run the whole thing. The award goes to the team with the lowest combined time. I’ll go out easy and hang with the GeekGrl for the first 3 or 4 laps depending on when her pacers take over and then I’ll see what I have left and do as much running as I can. I’d like to bring it in under 27:28, which would be a 100-mile PR for me.

Oh, and two more things. I am 100% certain that the GeekGrl can complete the 100-miles at Javelina. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever...PERIOD.

Secondly...I just may run this thing as Elvis. I submitted my name in the constume contest today. I have feared the heat but if the high does only go into the upper 70's as predicted it should be tolerable. Besides, the suit is white and wicking.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

JT Wants Me Dead: A Duke City Marathon Race Report

It is true, JT wants me dead but that will have to come a little later. Today I ran the Duke City Marathon, a race I said I’d never do. I said I’d never do it not because it is a bad race but because it just isn’t all that interesting a race for someone who lives in Albuquerque. However, earlier this year the GeekGrl and I ran the Turtle Marathon in Roswell, another marathon I said I’d never run, and we had a really good time. Then and there the GeekGrl and I decided that since New Mexico is our home state and there are relatively few marathons, six total I believe, we really should run them all.

So since I am back to training mode and running longer and the GeekGrl is in full taper for Javelina I signed us up, her for the 5K and me the marathon. She was mighty disappointed to be running the 5K. She complained to me “I REALLY want to do the half” but I wouldn’t relent. Speaking to her as a coach I told her there was no way she was going to run a half marathon the weekend before her first attempt at a 100-miler but I told her she could run the 5K as fast as she wanted, which she did.

I headed out for the marathon not having much of an idea what to expect. I know my strength and endurance is really good but I am not trained for marathon running right now. Pretty much since Leadville all I’ve done is race and recover with some 4 to 10 mile runs in-between. I figured I might run in the ballpark of four hours, maybe a bit longer. I also decided to continue my experiment of pushing harder from the beginning of the race to try and narrow down just how hard is hard enough.

At the Do-Wacka-Do 50K I discovered that an average heart rate of 160 from the beginning of the race is too much and I exploded around mile 21. Today I thought I’d try a starting average heart rate of 150 and hold that until the half-way mark and then if I had it in me I’d push harder on the way back.

Right from the starting gun people took off like we were running a 10K. I started to get caught up in it but thought better. I looked and my heart rate had already spiked to 157 so I backed off and let all manner of people surge past me. I hung back and made predictions as to when I would pass this person or that. Some folks looked like I’d probably catch them by mile 15 if at all, some I figured I’d catch within six miles but what amazed me were all the people blowing past me that looked like I’d catch by the end of the block.

So I was cruising along not paying attention to my pace until my heart rate was a solid 15. When I hit 150 I stole a look at my pace and noted it was an 8:47. That seemed too fast. I thought I should be running more like a 9:15 or so but my HR was where I wanted it to be and this was an experiment so I just thought, “Well, let’s see how long I can ride this out” and I just kept going. The miles kept ticking by and I still felt comfortable and my average pace was still dropping. I was really tempted to just slow down even though my HR was rock steady at 150. It took a lot for me to convince myself to just let come what may.

By mile six I was already starting to feel a little tightness in my legs and immediately thought that this was way too soon to feel anything. Six miles into a marathon you should still feel like you just started but I stared again at my HR and convinced myself to just keep going. By the time I hit the turn-around I was hitting mile splits that were in the low 8:30s to high 8:20s and I was actually feeling a little better than I was at mile six.

Now was the point in my plan where I decided that, depending on how I felt I would try and speed up. I was feeling good but I was also running pretty fast. I decided to just hold my current pace and maybe try and speed up a bit at mile 20. I figured that even if I wasn’t able to speed up at that point and were somehow able to maintain my current pace I’d still break four hours, which was my secret goal but not something I really thought I could pull off.

I had been passing people without being passed myself since about mile five but as I closed in on mile 15 the people I was passing were getting smaller and smaller and they were fewer and farther between. By mile 20 I was starting to pass people who looked like they were actually running pretty well but by mile 23 the people I was passing were either doing the marathon shuffle of were in a full blown death march. Despite the fact that at this point we were all mixed in with the back of the pack half-marathon runners and a random assortment of half-marathon walkers the marathoners were easy to spot.

As I entered the final three miles I was struggling to hold my pace but managed to keep it below 9:00. When I hit the final mile I began to pick up the pace again and was able to squeeze out just a little more and I crossed the finish line in 3:47:04. I was pretty stunned because that is only 25 seconds off my marathon PR and that was run at the Ogden marathon, which takes place at fairly similar elevation but which has some really long downhill sections. The Duke City marathon takes place at an average elevation of 5,000 feet but is pretty much flat except the rollers that start about 2.5 miles from the turn around.

So when I finally got home to check my Garmin data I see that the course was measured by my Garmin as 26.35 miles not 26.2. I am used to my garmin being slightly inaccurate but it always registers shorter not longer. The GeekGrls Garmin measure her course at 3.15 instead of 3.1. If I go with my data for average pace and distance than that would put me at 26.2 in 3:45:55, a PR by 44 seconds. I’d love to claim that but I’m sure that would raise more than a few eyebrows. However, I can still claim to have run the fastest average pace for a race that was advertised as a marathon so I guess I’ll go with that.

The best thing, however, is the fact that I ran a negative split by about two minutes. Even better, my negative split was so small that I take it to mean I ran almost a perfect marathon because, I guess in theory, if you started out as fast as you possibly could without dying at the end you would run a perfectly even split, which I damn near did.

Hooray small negative split! Hooray Beer! (my nod to Red Stripe, I can’t get their adds out of my head recently.)

So, I claim that JT wants me dead because he put the evil thought into my head that we should run the Zane Grey 50-miler next season. Zane Grey is most certainly one of the top three hardest 50s in the country if not the hardest. I have a few friends who have run it and they say it is super rocky and you are basically getting lashed the whole way by cactus and dry branches. It’s apparently a lot like getting flogged by a cat-o-nine tails for several hours. Hell, it took Anton Krupeca just over eight hours to finish Zane Grey and he can run Leadville in 16 hours.

Why JT, why?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Most Disappointing PR Ever: A Pajarito Trail Run Race Report

Today was the second time I’ve done the 15-mile Pajarito trail run and it wasn’t any easier this time. Last year my time was 3:04:14 and I was 25th of 45. This year I finished in 2:38:35 and was 18th out of 45. I recognize that an improvement of nearly 26 minutes on a 15 mile mountainous run is a pretty tremendous accomplishment so I probably sound like an ingrate saying that it was a disappointing finish but it was just one of those situations where the end of the race was so much worse than what I was hoping for that it kind of wiped out the luster of the beginning of the race.

I remember last year starting too far back and getting stuck in a long line of runners that were much slower than I wanted to be running so I spent a lot of time waiting to pass and then expending a bit too much energy on the pass. This year I started pretty far forward though it is always difficult to judge where to start on this race because you take off with 10K and 15-mile runners mixed together and you don’t know who is who. It turns out that I chose my spot just about perfectly. The run starts with almost a mile of short, gentle rollers and then a good downhill before beginning a two mile climb from 9200 feet to 10,500 feet at the top of Pajarito Mountain. During these first three miles I may have passed two or three people and was probably passed by two or three. Near the time I reached the peak I could tell that I was at the head of the runners who needed to use a run/walk strategy to make it to the top and the group of runners ahead were all ones who were able to run most, if not all, of the climbs.

Upon reaching the peak there is a spectacular view of the Valles Caldera and then you duck back into the forest for some nice flat trail and the beginning of a huge, steep downhill beginning with a run straight down the middle of a ski slope. As I went bombing downhill I hit a 6-minute mile, which is pretty scary on technical, twisting trail. I was dodging rocks, ducking under branches, leaping small boulders and vaulting fallen trees, it was a total blast. However, on one of the sharp turns I started to lose control and I rolled my right ankle and went down hard. I scraped up my left knee a bit and my right ankle was sore but I was able to get up and continue running pretty well.

During the first six miles when you have the big climb and descent there was already some snow on the trails at the higher elevations but it wasn’t enough to make a significant difference in footing. This year, however, the trails seemed rockier, like there was more loose rock on the trails, rocks that would bounce up and hit your ankles or would roll out from under your feet. Other parts of the trail just seemed more worn like there had been heavy rain erosion and this made footing more difficult as well.

Despite the issues with footing and the fall I continued to run well through the big climb and descent. The next section of the course is a long out and back with a relatively gentle 4.5 mile climb out and then a descent back. The entire way out I was looking forward to my run back to the finish line because I knew it would be a mostly gentle downhill all the way in and I was positive that I would be able to pick up a few more places before I crossed the finish line. However, at about mile 10 I started to experience the faint beginnings of pain in my stomach. I backed off my pace a little and things seemed to settle but at about mile 11.5 I was experiencing serious pain in my gut and I could not run downhill because the pain was just too intense so I was reduced to a combination of slow jogging and walking.

In short order people started to pass me but there wasn’t anything I could do because any time I tried to pick up my pace the stabbing pain in my stomach would return. Before long my right ankle started to ache as well and the ankle began to feel really unstable on uneven surfaces, which was just about every footstep of the course. I tried just being patient and hoped the bad patch would pass but then I started alternately getting cramps in my chest wall on the left side of my body and side stitches low on the right side of my torso. All the while more people were passing me cheerfully saying “Good job!” and my body seemed to be in full revolt. My mood started to darken significantly but at least the distance to the finish was still diminishing.

It was strange to have done so well at a race and end up not feeling very good about it but I guess that’s just the way it is sometimes. Still, a 26 minute improvement, I’ll take that! I just need to focus on being grateful I can run races like this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do-Wacka-D’oh!: A Do-Wacka-Do Race Report

Leading with the biggest news from this event; The GreekGrl won first overall female! I am a very proud husband and coach. She is really looking good for Javelina.

The Do-Wacka-Do 50K takes place at Sandy Sanders Wildlife Management Area just outside Erick Oklahoma. Erick is to be found in the south west part of the state and is where Roger Miller grew up. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t have a clue who Roger Miller was prior to this race, which benefits his museum, but you should check him out as he has written a few songs that are instantly recognizable American classics that I suspect 99% of people would not attribute to him.

So, the wildlife that appears to be managed at Sandy Sanders includes tarantulas, millipedes, black snakes of some sort, numerous of large black beetles, grasshoppers as thick as rice at a wedding and three white tail deer. I’m sure there is more, for example the GeekGrl said she saw a variety of giant black beetle with huge orange wings that they were apparently flying around one particular part of the course.

I’ve lived all over Texas, even parts very close to the Oklahoma boarder and generally in the west and southwest most of my life and this is rough country. The wildlife tends not to be fuzzy and snuggly and there is little about the land that is gentle or forgiving.

I was expecting this race to be somewhat difficult if only because of the anticipated heat and humidity. I always do poorly in the heat and I really haven’t ever run anywhere that was humid, at least nothing longer than a 5K. The high temperature for the day was 87 degrees and when the race began it was 90% humidity. For most of the race it remained humid, 82% by 11:00, 74% at noon and still 56% when I finished. For me this was like breathing water. I was soaked within the first couple miles and by the end of the first of two loops my shoes were as wet as if I had been doing stream crossings. The humidity pretty much prevented me from cooling off because, of course, the sweat didn’t evaporate. The only thing that kept me somewhat cool were the lower temperatures that mercifully extended fairly late into the morning because of some early cloud cover.

This was an interesting race for me because I was really only doing it for three reasons, the GeekGrl needed one last tune-up race before Javelina, she also happened to still need an Oklahoma marathon and I really liked the name of the race.

Any name, race information or quirky sounding organization causes me to really want to do the race because I imagine the race director has a laid-back personality and good sense of humor, two qualities that I really love in a race director. This race had it all, the name, a "primitive shower" that ended up being a garden hose and a tarp, and a load of super friendly volinteers all in a small town with home-made food and good conversation after the race. This will end up being one of my more memorible events.

However, beyond these non-reasons for actually doing "a race" I didn’t have any personal goals so I just made two up, one that I could control and one that I couldn’t but was at least related to the first. I decided that I would (1) start by running this race hard (for an ultra) to see how far I could get and (2) try and earn a 50K PR.

The 50K PR was going to be a ridiculous goal to begin with because my 50K PR is on a perfectly flat, non-technical course, that is run at night when it was relatively cool and I was in pretty good shape when I ran it. I’m in better shape now but that course, El Scorcho in Fort Worth Texas, is the easiest course in existence.

The going out hard goal was silly but completely in the spirit of experimentation. I remember one year I hired a triathlon coach just to see if it was worth it and he set up some workouts for me that had me going harder than I had previously thought I could. I was pretty amazed because every time I felt like backing off a bit I could almost feel him standing behind me pushing me to speed up rather than slow down so speed up is what I did and I survived.

I got to wondering, “how hard is too hard for me and how would I know without personal experimentation?” Normally in these things I would go out at a heart rate of 140 and keep it in the low to mid 140s for the entire first half of the race. The next quarter I would let it get into the low to mid 150s and the final quarter I would run in the low to mid 160s with occasional spikes into the low 170s if I’m doing something short lived like a steep climb. This race, I decided to start at a HR in the low to mid 160s and just run that until I finished of blew apart.

The strategy worked for about 21 miles and then…KA-BOOM! It was a glorious explosion the likes of which I have never experienced in a race as short as a 50K. As a matter of fact the only similar experience I have had with such exhaustion was through the heat of the day when I ran the Javelina Jundred though my "run" at Rio Del Lago was a close second. It took me about 2:42 to finish the first loop and then about 4 hours to finish the second. Through about mile 21 I was the first place male and then in a matter of seconds I was in fourth place; there were three guys running side by side the whole race. I passed them in the first mile and as I did I heard one tell the others, "We are going to run just like this for about the next five hours. I thought, "Smart" and then forged ahead into the great unknown.

Anyway, it was fairly miserable for the last 12 miles because I had become badly dehydrated, behind on my nutrition and my stomach wasn’t emptying. The sun came out, the temperature soared but the humidity kept hanging around. Somehow I was able to hold on to 4th overall and won my age group, pretty impressive considering there were 15 people in the 50K and me and one other guy in my age group don’t you think?

So what did I learn? In a 50K or marathon I can probably go out harder than I had previously given myself credit for and if I approach a race fresh and tapered this may result in much faster times. I continue to seem to do disproportionately poorly in the heat. I used to mostly blame that on my size and while I am still, and probably always be a “big” runner, my size has been decreasing more than I think my hot weather running ability has increased. I also learned that, probably also because of the heat, I don’t do well in really humid weather. I know I can do cool and humid I just stay really wet. Hot and dry is bad but hot and humid is the worst.

So, what’s up next? I will be crewing for the GeekGrl and probably JT for the Javelina Jundred and I might try to pick up the state of Louisiana during November in my 50-states quest but other than that the only thing I have planned for this season is three marathons in ten days, December 4th – Death Valley, December 5th – Las Vegas, December 12th – Tucson. Three Marathons, ten days, three states earns me the “Ruthenium” level in the Marathon Maniacs, five stars!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Short and Sweet A Chips & Salsa Half-Marathon Race (Pace) Report

Today was the seventh running of the Chips & Salsa Half-Marathon, a local event that I have never done. In previous years I have always let other things get in the way of showing up at the local running events, other “bigger” races or training for longer races and today it struck me what a shame that is. Local races are fun not to mention convenient and inexpensive. What’s more, they aren’t local races to some people at all. Today when the GeekGrl and I were standing at the start line I overheard two people who are apparently going for their 50 States Half-Marathon tour. I didn’t know people did such things I thought all the 50-staters were marathoners. Just this morning the GeekGrl were wondering if people really did travel to distant cities just to do races that were shorter than a marathon they do.

The other thing that is fun about the shorter distances is all the people who are new to running. You don’t get that in ultras, “Hi, yeah, my name is Candy and this is my very first race! Why did I choose Leadville for my first race? Because it’s so pretty!” Nope, that only occurs at the much shorter distances. I still vividly remember my first half-marathon and it was an amazing experience. I remember getting home and feeling that really good kind of tired. I showered off and lay in bed just saying to myself over and over “I just ran a whole half of a marathon!” It was pretty awesome.

This morning the GeekGrl and I met a woman who was out for her first half-marathon and boy was she excited. She was chattering away trying to calm her nerves. She asked us if we had run many of “these” before to which we replied, “We’ve run a few” and smiled. I didn’t say, “Sure, as a matter of fact I ran 7.65 of them back-to-back last weekend.” I never volunteer my running habits like that so it always makes me wonder who else may be lurking in the crowd, someone I’m sure.
Anyway, this race was part of the GeekGrl’s training plan, kind of an ultrarunning-speedwork day. I went along to see if I could get my legs stretched out and get back into the groove. A week of no running whatsoever is not an easy thing so it felt good to be back out there. I ran alongside the GeekGrl to see if I could help pace her to a half-marathon PR. At the 10K split she broke her 10K PR and by the end of the race she had broken her half-marathon PR by at least a couple minutes. We finished in 2:24:59 according to my Garmin but I think our official time will register a tad faster.

And then, well, then we collected our cool ceramic salsa dish for our finishing prize, went and got my car washed, went home and I mowed the lawn and had plenty of time left over to just lounge around. If I’m not careful I may just discover that you can run AND have a life.
Next up is the inaugural Do-Wacka-Do 50K in Erick Oklahoma…I bet you ALL know exactly where that is without even consulting a map.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Superman Finds His Cape: An Rio Del Lago Finale

I was stunned into bewilderment and my tenuous momentum dissipated like match smoke in a hurricane. Trying to resurface, my mind began a series of silent questions in the hope that it could find some footing. “I have missed the extended cutoff by 15 minutes, 15 minutes, what is the cutoff? What are they telling me? Why are they just staring at me? Fifteen minutes PAST the cutoff?” No foothold was found and I stood there stupidly with my bottles in hand, arms hanging limply by my side. I slowly looked up the trail toward what had so recently been my direction of travel and then dubiously back the way I had come. My mind again retreated to a blissful state of emptiness, a chill shook my body and my feet silently lodged a complaint. Suddenly a large grey beard with broad shoulders sprung from a chair behind the aid table and thrust its face in mine and hissed, “Get out of here, you can’t stop, don’t stop, you cannot stop…EVER.”

In my blunted emotional state my mind achieved a reasonable facsimile of panic and I spun on my heals and bolted from the aid station with the phrase reverberating in my head “you cannot stop…EVER.” As I turned the GeekGrl and RBR were walking toward me and I shouted out “I can’t stop, I need caffeine.” The GeekGrl ran to the car and met me just before I descended the hill atop which Hazel Bluff sits. She thrust two gels at me, both of which contained caffeine and neither of which I had ever tasted before.

Quite frankly I had in mind something more like a quad shot mochaccino with an orange twist, a double tall caramel dulce de leche or, for god’s sake, even a cold cup of burnt Folgers hobo blend but not another F @#%*ing gel! Alas, everyone was doing everything within their powers to keep my ass on the trail and moving forward so I took what I could get and plunged down Hazel Bluff toward the bridge over the American River.

Now I was running on a sidewalk spanning the American River and cars were driving by at irregular intervals. Street lamps lit my way and I moved through the suddenly urban night. My earlier sense of panic had cycled down to a vague anxiety and was now being reborn as determination and focus. “I can’t stop, I can’t stop, I can’t stop” became less the refrain of a frightened animal and more the mantra of a boxer beaten and bruised reentering the ring for one final round.

As you turn off the Bridge over the American River you soon enter a very large, riverside green space complete with shade-covered picnic tables, smooth double-wide “single track” trail and a leisurely looping bike path. It was one of those spaces created by landscape architects that is designed to offer the illusion of being in the wilds but falls well within the survival parameters of our more fleshy and clawless brethren. I found it ironic that I entered such a civilized space at civil twilight and was given a bit of a boost from my newfound affiliation with modernity.

I had about 22 and a half miles to go and with a new day dawning I was finally beginning to return to life. I started to accelerate my walking and to extend my running. I looked at my Garmin and my overall average pace though mile 78 as a whopping 18:58 minute mile. If maintained that would result in a finish time of 31 hours, 41 minutes and 59 seconds. The race had a 30 hour cutoff and I still didn’t know by what amount that time had been extended due to the earlier vandalism on the course. What I did know is that I was firmly within the realm of the walking dead and that I needed to escape.

I was beginning to see people on their return route from the turnaround at Mountain Lion Knoll, very, very few people. The vast majority of those who had at one point been behind me had dropped, all but one. The first person I saw was a man with a heavy Irish brogue that I had met briefly years ago when I was running the Olmstead Loop in Cool California. At that point he was chipper, motoring his way through his first 100 with a smile on his face and a bottle filled with ice. Now he was hobbling painfully and holding onto his pacer’s shoulder in order to keeping himself upright and moving forward. I mustered all my cheer and said, “You’re doing it!” and he just shook his head and hobbled on. I never say the Irishman again.

Next up was Roger. He continued his mincing jog at a dead steady 15 minute pace just like he had the previous 85 miles. He said nary a word as we crossed paths but broke into a broad smile and began to applaud me. I was reminded of what Roger had told me way back at mile 65. “As the night wears on people will get sick, they will continue to drop and our position in the race will get better and better.” I knew this to be a fact having myself dropped at mile 80 in Rocky Raccoon. I have also heard of people dropping as late as mile 90, even mile 93 of a 100 mile race. Now that I was into the new day I knew this would not be my fate. I would have to be pulled or someone would have to shoot me in the face. It was time to turn back the clock.

I picked up my pace further and jogged almost the entire four miles that were left to Mountain Lion Knoll. When I reached the turnaround the GeekGrl and RBR were standing there waiting for me and cheering. The aid station captain looked at his list of runners, looked at my bib number, did a double-take and said, “Well, it looks like Superman finally found his cape.”

The GeekGrl told me she had some caffeine for me that even had some herbal crap in it and I said, “Great, I love me some herbal crap” and with that she handed me a 20 oz Amp Energy drink and I slammed it down like it was a six ounce cup of water. I informed everyone that it was time for me to run and the aid station captain suggested that I drop my hydration pack and one bottle since it was only about three miles between aid station between here and then end of the race. I shed my gear and grabbed my iPod and headed out.

I have put a lot of time and effort into organizing my running playlist since the GeekGrl introduced me to running with music. Even though I rarely race with music I have taken to always carrying my iPod for just the perfect moment. As I left Mountain Knoll for the finish line 17 miles distant Collective Soul’s “Run” slowly began and I could feel myself entering a nice, relaxed running zone. Later the mood shifted to a more determined “Going the Distance” by Cake and I found myself nudging the pace upward. By the time I returned to Hazel Bluff I was ready for blood having just been hit with a dose of “Thunderstruck” and “Hard as a Rock” by AC/DC.

As I reached the top of the bluff there stood the GeekGrl, RBR and Johnny Tri. The aid station volunteer who had earlier told me that I was 15 minutes past the extended cutoff stood staring at me holding his list of runners limply at his side. As if he were

addressing a formerly dead messiah whom he had publically dismissed as a goner he said, “You’ve made up all the time…and gained. Nobody that we let through has done that.” I reminded him of our earlier discourse saying, “Well, you all told me not to stop…ever.”

The GeekGrl came up to me and said, “Are you ready to have JT pace you for a while?” and I said, “Hell yeah!” JT stood there with a huge smile and was ready to rock. The GeekGrl gave me a second Amp, I drank it down then told JT, “Let’s go to work”, we gave each other a high five, pointed ourselves in the direction of the finish line and bolted for the cliff face that was the trail dropping off Hazel Bluff.

At that moment the song “Low Rider” by War came thumping through my headphones. For reasons unknown to me the song Low Rider resonates deeply with me. In my high school year book I was third runner up for “Whitest White Boy of the Senior Class of 1985.” My best friend at the time, Hector Ledesma, used to call me the Campbell’s Soup Kid. Ok, I’m lying, I wasn’t third runner up but I did have a best friend named Hector who, for some reason, could not get enough of the word nalgas.

Anyway, fueled by Amp, by the new day, by the motivation of having JT pacing me and by Low Rider I started to run. I asked JT if there were any runners ahead and how far might they be and he said there were runners ahead but they were quite a way off. I didn’t say anything but my one thought was “Time to go hunting.” My run became faster and faster and I was somehow freed from the shackles of fatigue that had bound me for so long. I ran with abandon, I attacked the hills and went skidding around the turns. I was simultaneously trying to chase down as many people as I could find and trying to outrun JT.

Believe me when I say that I do not know where this strength comes from so late in a race. It comes no matter how badly I have suffered but it is not something I have planned for, it is not a strategy and I don’t secretly hold back until mile 90 and then take off. I do not know from whence it comes but come it does and when it is there I just go like crazy until it is gone.

My morning burst had me flying the entire 4.5 miles from Hazel Bluff to Negro Bar. When I hit Negro Bar the GeekGrl and RBR were still sitting in the car and didn’t have time to do anything but sit there and cheer me on. I filled my bottles and tore off down the trail whooping like an animal. There were several runners strung out through the Negro Bar aid station and beyond and I started picking them off one after another. My running lasted just a little while longer and then I hit yet another hill and ran out of steam. The day had begun to heat up again and I had to conserve what was left to finish the race.

As I walked along I attempted to reflect on my race but I couldn’t put together much in the way of coherent thought. At this point I was also becoming emotionally fried. I just needed someone to be with, someone to walk with me and keep me company because I was not in any shape to be alone. I was swinging from high to low and wanted only to make it to the next aid station, the last aid station. When I arrived the GeekGrl and RBR were there waiting and were aware I had slowed again. I called out to the GeekGrl and asked her to pace me the rest of the way to the finish just like she had at Leadville. She stood by my side and accompanied me to the end.

They say pain is just weakness leaving the body. I’m really not that big on who is “strong” and who is “weak” because we are all both. I enjoy having my weakness. I grapple with it and by knowing it in all its many faces I am able to witness my strength in opposition to it.

One final word. Thank you for reading. I’ve been dying to finish this report specifically because I wanted to thank you. Yes, part of my strength is because, at least in my mind, I know I have weird bloggy peeps who have an interest in me just as I know I have an interest in you.