Wednesday, February 12, 2014

January Racing

January was a great month for racing and a particularly poor month of weather at the same time.  I raced three times, with wildly different conditions at each event.

Tecumseh Trail Marathon (January 11th)

First up was the Tecumseh Trail Marathon, a race rescheduled from December (due to snow and ice) to January 11th.  Leading up to the race the trails in the Yellowwood State Forest were covered in heavy snow and ice.  However, a warm snap and plenty of overnight rain caused the snow covered trails to turn to pools of water and mud.  The gravel roads were left covered from edge to edge in sheets of still thick ice.

With these conditions in mind, the race organizers opted to alter the normal point to point route into an out and back with a loop in the middle run three times (a lollipop I guess).  At first I thought this might be a faster course, but as it turned out the conditions made a mess of everything.

My strategy was simple: "Go out hard on the first gravel mile, get to the single track first before it is crowded and the muddy trails deteriorate.  Run the first loop as hard as possible as well because it will likely to be difficult to make up time on the second and third pass after all the runners have already been through once and wrecked the trails."

This was my kind of strategy anyway.  I hate going out easy.  I talked with my friend Ben Bartley about this and even he agreed that it was probably a wise choice.  With that thought in mind, I arrived at the race start and tried to stay warm in the still cool conditions while talking to friends and Quaff On teammates.



Race Start

So, as planned I went out fast.  Two other runners went out even faster.  I was willing to dash through the first mile of gravel to get to the trail but under 6 minutes per mile seemed a little excessive for a trail marathon start.  I ended up taking the first mile in 6:35 along with Ben.  We crossed our first stream of deep ice water and it was apparent that keeping feet dry was a lost cause.

We hit the trails and the mud next.  We passed the first of the two rabbits who was struggling to navigate the muddy trail in road shoes.  For the first time ever I realized the shoes I had just purchased were actually making a difference.  A few days prior I bought a pair of Salomon Fellraiser trail racing shoes with nice rubber half inch lugs.  These would be terrible for road running but today was the day for condition specific shoes if there ever was one.  I flew through the mud with relative ease with Ben running just behind.

Then we hit the ice pool.  It was an unavoidable lake of foot deep ice water, blanketed underneath by a sheet of solid ice.  There was no choice but to carefully wade through it.  There was no doubt in my mind that some would fall here and get a freezing soak along with it.

The Loop

Finally the trail circumnavigating Yellowwood lake ended and we ran a small patch of gravel road to the largest climb on the specially made loop course.  I fell back and lost Ben and two others here, leaving me fifth place.  As I methodically grinded my way up the several hundred foot climb and hit the upper gravel road I saw the others just ahead.  I made up a little distance and tried to comfortably run a little under 7 minutes per mile.  The road went by fast and then back down a winding and muddy trail I went.  Since few had trafficked it as of yet it wasn't so bad.  I was comfortable but pushing.

I repeated this pattern three times, going back to the gravel road for the start of the loop, and then up the climb and back to the road again.  I drank no water, only pausing to take two gels up the climb on my third pass.




All the while I chased the fourth runner, but never did seem to get any closer when I saw him on the gravel roads between the deteriorating muddy trails.  I also never saw anyone chasing me, not even once.  I did see Katie and her friend Amy spectating and cheering so that lifted my spirits each time.  I also saw Danny Webb and my friends Alex and Ted spectating as well.  I stayed motivated and tried to charge the miles of gravel road while just maintaining pace on the increasingly treacherous trails as the entire crowd of runners passed through each loop.

The Finish

I finally hit a low point after finishing the loops and getting back on the lake trail toward the finish.  I knew I was starting to lose my mental stability and focus so I ate another gel.  The gel worked, and I ran on toward the trail exit and back to the mile of gravel road we started on.

Finally, I saw Ben running having come back to run it in with me to the finish.  What a good friend!  He had finished in 1st (winner) and come back to see how I was doing.  Unfortunately the fourth runner was just a little too far ahead so I pushed hard to the finish but didn't have enough to catch anyone.  But top 5 is top 5!  I was happy about it!



Racing around the flags to Finish

5th Overall - 3:34:28 (hopefully a personal best as I will never have to run the modified version of this course ever again!)



Frosty Trails 5 Mile (January 18th) (Brown County State Park Mountain Bike Trails)

This was a nice small local race, and lots of the Quaff On team showed up to race.  This would be a fun opportunity to compete with some of the guys on my own team.

As a bonus, since it was a 5 miler Katie decided to run it as well so it was a good day for family fun on snowy trails with some nice hot soup afterward.

We went out reasonably hard at the start and gradually climbed our way to the top of the 5 mile mountain bike trail loop.  We had a pack of five Quaff On guys and also Ryan Wells and Andrew Walker in tow.  I ran close to the front, pushing my way up to the high point at 3 miles with the rest.

After about a mile or two, Ryan (the fastest of the group) took off.   The question was raised, but nobody was ready to chase him at this point.  He wisely got out of sight quickly and that was pretty much the end of the race for first place and a free pair of shoes from Indiana Running Company.



Running in the Pack

I pushed and pushed but when we began to hit the downhills the pack fractured.  I think according to my GPS Danny Webb and a few others were just too much faster downhill even at a 6 minute pace.  I threw up in my mouth a little and gagged loudly.  The others noticed and cheered but there wasn't much I could do but fight through it.  I lost them a hundred meters ahead but kept pushing.  It seemed that 6 minute trail miles were unreasonably hard in snow and I felt the pain of trying to sustain that pace flying around bends downhill.

There was a sprint finish through an open field and unfortunately I was a little less than a minute too late to contend with the numerous others in the chase pack.  Regardless, it was a fun day of racing and good workout.  I have some work to do on turning my legs loose downhill as the other guys blasted away from me at this race.





I cooled down with a large group of teammates on the Brown County cross country course nearby and then got some delicious soup with Katie.  She was happy to have run consistently and beat numerous women!  I also still got a free pair of smart wool socks for my 7th place finish so at least that was something!  I should admit that my performance was probably also okay for having poured out plenty of my energy at the Tecumseh Trail Marathon the weekend before.

7th Overall (5.22 Miles) - 34:46



Mountain Mist 5ok (Huntsville, Alabama - January 25th)

I knew coming into this race it would be tough.  Not just because of climbs triple the height of those here in Bloomington, but also because of the consistently extremely rocky and difficult terrain.  I also knew I didn't have the right trail shoes to deal with this sort of terrain, so I got a pair of Salomon Sense Mantra trail shoes.  These light but very rigid and "rock tough" shoes seemed to be according to reviews and testing the right fit for the terrain.

Scott and another friend of ours (Beau) had been lobbying for me to join them on this race road trip so I decided to give it a shot.  I felt good and training had been consistent as my daily running streak continued.


Monte Sano - The Course

From the start, I lined up next to Scott, pro David Riddle, and many fast local runners to get a start that would push my abilities.  I went out aggressively in the front of the pack and ran the road start at 6:30 to 6:40 miles with Scott and David until we hit the trail.  I stuck with them and gradually lost all the other runners chasing.  The three of us continued, with myself not even pausing to think as the trail became rockier and more treacherous on the way down to the bottom of the mountain at mile 10.  I was surprised to still be hanging on to these two.  There wasn't much to say as we all were focused on running the trails without falling.  Scott fell once after surging and David and I caught up.

There was some fantastic scenery here off the mountain side I would love to have photos of but there wasn't any time for that obviously (nor did I have a camera).

As we reached the first big climb I lost them both.  They climbed faster and I wished them both good luck as I lost them.  This was when the going got a little harder.  After the climb I hung on to my 7 to 8 minute miles and tried to focus on maintaining efficiency and not tripping on rocks.  Then there were more rocky descents.  Each got trickier than the last as I jumped over rocks, onto rocks, down from rocks, slipped through rock crevices and even ran through a cave.  This was cool.  This wasn't Brown County.  This wasn't like anything I had raced before.

I hung onto third place for a while but by mile 17 the seasoned local runners (some who had won previous years) caught me.  It wasn't ideal, but at least I could tell they were running strong and were great competitors.

At mile 23 things got out of hand.  I reached the gigantic 800 foot "waterline" climb up the mountain and had little to give.  I hadn't been running many hills and it showed.  I lost sight of all the runners who had passed me.  I was in 9th place and would stay in 9th place till the end.


Mountain Mist Elevation Profile

At the top of the waterline climb I reached 30% grades over an ice waterfall that had to be gripped and crawled up.  I was so zapped I thought I might tumble down backward and roll back to the bottom of the course.  I hadn't taken any gels, but grabbed Coca Cola or Mountain Dew from every aid station.  That helped.  Carbonated beverages are glorious for a runner with a stomach in poor condition.

Back down another icy and rocky climb I went, this time frustratingly close to the finish dropping another 800 feet in vertical.  I knew I would have to climb back up again to finish.  Nobody caught me, but I certainly wasn't gaining on anyone as I was reduced to an alternating jog and power hike up the steeps.  Finally when the trail flattened I just tried to put one leg in front of the other and at least run eight minute miles as I followed the several mile section to the finish.

Finally I got there!  I was beat.  My training and shoes had helped as I wasn't really sore but I was just excruciatingly tired.  The course was slightly longer than 50K and so difficult that I was very pleased to best my last over 5 hour 50K with a 4:49:10 finishing time.  I saw Scott (he won!) and Beau (unfortunate DNF, not his day) waiting for me and was glad to be back with the crew.


They took so many race pictures I made a video from them!

What a race.  Of anything I've run on trail I can't recommend this one strongly enough for someone looking for a reasonably close by technical and mountainous race.  The course sucked me in with a downhill start and then crushed me with the finish back up the mountain.  These Huntsville folks knew how to design a tough course.

9th Overall - 4:49:10

With January complete and still cold weather upon us, I'm done racing for the moment.  The next race for me will be in March at Dances With Dirt Green Swamp (Florida) with the Quaff On team.  Since this will be a relay it should be fast and flat trail repeats of 4-7 miles.  I just can't wait to run in warm weather.

However, I have finally embraced the cold.  My weekly mileage had been hovering around 50-60, so I decided to push for more miles and hills last week and got a 70 mile week of all hilly routes.  I ran the hills on the Lake Griffy roads almost every day. 

Hopefully some consistent training without racing should put me in good shape for races to come this year and also for the upcoming Hoosier Half Marathon in April here in Bloomington.  It feels good to be training consistently and getting stronger this early in the year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2013 Wrap Up

January is almost over and I have forgotten to create the yearly summary post I intended to publish.  What happened last year?  I guess I really mean to say, "what happened in running last year?"

I got back to racing.  Actually, I got back to a lot of racing:
  • Louisville Lovinthe Hills 50k (7th)
  • Land between the Lakes 60k (10th)
  • Kentucky Derby Marathon (3:04:29) (46th)
  • Run with the Foxes Half Marathon (6th)
  • Sunburst Marathon 
  • Sugar Creek Swim Club Triathlon (Relay Team) 5k Run (17:16) (1st)
  • Jeremy Wright (Flatrock) 5k (18:07) (8th)
  • Mill Race Marathon (3:03:31) (13th)
  • Columbia City Marathon  (11th)

A few of these races went pretty well.  I marked the road races of standard distances with noteworthy improvements in red.  Although the marathons were not perfectly executed both the Kentucky Derby and Mill Race marathons were good shots at running under 3 hours.


3 Time SCSC Triathlon Relay Champions!

I also was happy with my attempts at the SCSC 5k and Jeremy Wright 5k.  Our relay team (Katie swim, friend Arvin bike, myself run) won again at the SCSC Triathlon, and I found that while that course was short, the Jeremy Wright 5k was a little long so I think both efforts would have been around 17:4x on a certified course.  


Made it from Bloomington to Van Buren Elementary with Scott 

Running with Sand Flea, the dog who followed us for 23 miles from Yellowwood to BCSP

I also ran in training and racing distances of a marathon or greater 12 times last year.  This included three 30+ mile point to point runs on trails from Bloomington to Nashville, Van Buren, and Brown County State Park.  Scott Breeden and I finally found the elusive trail connectors in Yellowwood, the Tecumseh Trail and Brown County State Park (and only a little trespassing) to put these routes together nicely.  


Stopping for a snack in BCSP at Hesitation Point

Finally last year I also accomplished two other goals I have had long been considering.  On my 34th birthday I ran 34 (+1) miles from our house in Bloomington to Nashville with my good friend Ted, who was thankfully game to take the day off for this impromptu trail run he had not really prepared for at all.  Despite some predictions that we would get lost or injured, we made it safely and refueled with Big Woods Pizza in downtown Nashville.  That could have been my last run of the year and I would have been happy.

The second run on my goal list was running point to point from Bloomington to Martinsville, mostly by way of Old 37.  This was Scott's birthday run so we ran roughly the mileage of his age as well (less than mine).  

I also ran a point to point marathon route from my parent's house in Millersburg to my uncle Marvin's pig farm on New Year's eve at the start of 2013.  It was slow, but since I had just returned from injury I was happy just to make it and then gorge on party snacks.

While home for Christmas I even got a run in with my youngest sister (Jennifer), as she has cultivated a running habit while teaching in Honduras.


Running with Katie on the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina

We did travel quite a bit, and I got to do some mountain running in North Carolina and Virgina, as well as Colorado.  I ran beautiful rocky and remote trails on the island of Utila off of the gulf coast of Honduras while visiting my youngest sister during spring break.


Running in Utila

Rocky Utila Beach

Mountain Biking a trail I ran earlier in the day

I finished up the year with some great runs in Colorado including bagging a few peaks near Golden and Boulder and finally experiencing the steepness of the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs.  I think I am more interested in returning for a completion of the Barr Trail all the way up to Pike's Peak than I was before.


The longest stairway ever . . up the Manitou Incline

Otherwise in training I managed to run 2480 miles for the year.  I ran anywhere from twenty to over 100 miles per week.  Some days I ran to and home from work, during lunch, and after work as well.  I ran in temperatures less than 0 and over 100 degrees in ten different states and in a foreign country.  I ran on roads, trails, railroad tracks, cornfields, no trail at all, up stairs, in airports, in Assembly Hall, in parking garages, and even on Highway 37.  I can't say training was monotonous this year.  I was hoping to get to 2500 miles but this was pretty close considering I cross trained (biking and swimming) primarily for the first two months of the year.


Local GPS tracks of my most frequent routes for 2013


As far as injuries are concerned, I had a few but all were tolerable and I was able run them out.  The list was not too long but included:

  • Lingering abductor hallucis pain in my right foot that dissipated with cross training and occasional long runs in the early spring.
  • A right achilles strain
  • Bursitis lingering in both heels (Strassburg socks helped greatly with this while sleeping, as well as avoiding hard heel counters in shoes)
  • Severe blistering and swelling to my right heel that required two weeks of careful taping and low mileage
  • A shin contusion from falling on a log that left me unable to run for a week
  • A 4th metatarsal bruise that lingered for two months
  • Right hip bursitis and IT band pain that plagued me during October and November
  • A right knee injury to my patellar tendon that started in April and disappeared after two months of routinely stretching my quadriceps and hip flexors.
  • A splinter to my right foot that took me out of commission for a few days and hurt to run on for a week more after I had it surgically removed.

Actually, I guess the list was somewhat long.  I learned plenty about taking care of my body this year and mitigating many different types of minor injury without significant lay off.

What was missing?  I am itching to return the longer 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile distances in racing.  I have not decided on a strict schedule for 2014 but I think I may target some longer races in the fall.  2014 will be a good year I hope!  I started a running streak of consecutive days in December that is now up to 52 consecutive days of running.  I am somewhat weary of subzero temperatures in Indiana but I have gone outside anyway and only once opted for a treadmill.

Warmer weather is just around the corner I hope!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Another Road Marathon

I ran another road marathon.  I learned more lessons.

Columbia City Veteran's Marathon (Columbia City, Indiana)

I ran less in preparation for this race.  Between the last race (Columbus) and this race I put in about 280 miles in 6 weeks (averaging 47 mpw).  I did a few specific workouts that gave me a little confidence leading up to the race:
  • A few miles at 5:30 - 6:00 per mile around campus
  • A 12 miler with a 10K tempo at 6:10 per mile in the middle
  • A 22 mile long run at around 7 minute miles
  • A half marathon distance - marathon pace run on a hilly loop at 6:30 per mile

I pondered my race strategy daily during the week leading up to the race.  Columbia City is a small marathon with a mildly rolling course on the northern Indiana country roads.  The weather promised to be cool with a little sunshine.  

I decided to try a few new things that went against my intuition:
  • Eating more gels (make me sick, but maybe if I start earlier they'll go down better?)
  • Go out more conservatively (try for a 7:00 first mile) (I always feel like running faster feels easy when I start out faster than goal pace)
  • Attempt to run an "even split" (I hate doing this as I like to bank some time and hang on for dear life . . and I like to try to hang with the faster pack just in case it's my day)
  • Choose a more conservative goal pace (2:59 finish - 6:50 per mile). (I hate this too, all of the esteemed Daniels and Noakes formulas say I can go faster.  Why take a shot at less than my best?)

I made my plans, folded my race clothing, grabbed my 8 gels, and packed up for the road.  I was ready to race (conservatively race that is).

I'm not a superstitious person but I am a superstitious runner.  I buy the same shoes over and over again.  I have to eat brown rice the night before a race.  I have to be up three hours before start time or an optimal outcome is impossible.  I also believe in staying relaxed and calm the night before the race.

I was slightly concerned when I managed to hit a deer on the way to my nearby hometown and family.  The deer seemed to flee in an adrenaline fueled state of post-impact terror and fell in the woods.  I don't think he survived.  I could have reacted more quickly, so therefore in my mind I had failed and the ultimate cost was the life of a deer.

I got to my parents house and tried to relax.  The deer had probably enjoyed running carefree across the fields and through the woods much like myself.  This line of thought wasn't helping me.  I vowed to run well for the sake of the deer.  If he was going to give his life for me to race a road marathon I needed to make it worth his while.  I was not calm.

The race start came, and I ran the way I planned to.  I stayed back at an easier pace.  The most difficult obstacle for a northern Indiana runner is the strong wind blowing across the mostly treeless fields.  I forgot about that.  A well formed pack of 20+ half marathoners ran just ahead of me for much of the first few miles.  I thought about catching up and working with them but it would have thrown out my new conservative race strategy.  I ran with the first half marathon woman and one other runner for most of the first loop, but the draft advantage in our small group was minimal.  Still, I finished the first loop at exactly 1:29 as planned.  The deer would have been proud.

I also ate gels, three to be exact over the last loop.  The wind picked up, and the 2o mph winds seemed like 30 mph winds now.  This time every direction of the second loop felt like running into the wind.  I slowed a little but felt like I was working much harder.  I ate another gel.  I caught a few runners and had perhaps reached 5th or 6th place.  As I neared the 22 mile mark and turned out of the wind I knew my time might be a little slow but I was poised to make a great finish.  I downed another gel, this time throwing up a little in my mouth.  The first drop I swallowed brought forth a wave of nausea.  I like blueberry but I should have stopped right there.  

I felt faint, and stopped for water.  I stopped for more water.  Two runners passed me.  I stopped again, this time throwing up all over the road.  Two more runners passed me.  I stopped yet another time, this time leaving my fountain of expunged electrolytes and fluid in the ditch.  I started to run again, and the female winner cruised by.  I was miserable and forgot about my promise to the dead deer.  After four 9:00+ miles I cruised into the finish line for a 3:12:13 finish. 

Finish - 3:12:13 - 11th Place

I cannot eat that many gels.  I cannot slow down and avoid running by feel.  If the pace feels easy and I have a pack to work with I will go along next time.  Cheer up.  I won my age group, I learned some new lessons, the race was well run and inexpensive, and I got to see plenty of family and see two of my uncles run.   


In Memoriam: SR 13 Deer
Unknown - November 8th, 2013

Sorry you got badly maimed and probably died so that I could
run 9 minute miles to finish a questionably executed road marathon.

I will try again to run sub 3 in your honor, but in the meantime
I will learn from your tragedy and probably stick to the trails.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Mill Race Marathon (Columbus, Indiana)


I stood at the starting line near downtown Columbus (Indiana) beneath lines of trees on either side of the street.  The mass of runners (2500+) had begun filling in behind me, packing the single corral from the gate all the way to the line.  Everywhere I looked I saw familiar faces; some with names I knew, others just familiar.

I was well rested, and ready.  I had gone to bed early and woken up in my own bed in the morning for an almost hometown marathon.  I had actually tapered for two weeks, and peaked at 130 total miles of running during a 9 day stretch three weeks before.  I ate my usual pre-race bowl of corn flakes at 4:00 am on the dot.  I took one Starbucks expresso shot exactly an hour before the race start.  The temperature was cool and the skies were clear.  I counted mentally each variable that had been set with a value in my favor.

I felt the firmer lift under my feet of a fresh but familiar shoe.  I am "shoe-perstitious" to a fault.  My 6th pair of the out of production Nike Lunaracer 2 flats had arrived from eBay just two days before.  Originally a shoe with four different colors, these days I have no choice but to accept a women's size pink.


Family Portrait: Lunaracer 2 - #'s 1-5

While the crowd of runners chattered, I gave a final fist bump to my pal Ethan who was himself running the half marathon.  I spotted Joe, another runner I had just met recently at a 5K from the "Quaff On" team.  After a quick exchange with Joe and a few other nearby runners we quickly determined our goals were similar.  We could all run together at an even pace of 6:30 per mile, hopefully followed by an under 2:55 finish.

Race Start


Race Start - more photos at The Republic Photos

The starter's gun fired, and I began to run.  My stride felt effortless.  I cruised with Joe, even backing off a little when a glance at my Garmin showed 6:15 per mile.  We ran through a red covered bridge over the river.  The paved running path was flat and wound with only gentle turns.  The early morning sun still hadn't risen above the tree-line so all was shaded and cool.  The first mile came at 6:23.  The next at 6:27.  Before I knew it I heard the chirp of my Garmin and the third mile split was an exact 6:30.

Time and miles passed so easily that I can't even remember what the miles felt like.  I talked with Joe and enjoyed my first trip around the city streets of his small town.  Two african runners passed by quickly behind a volunteer on a bike.  We were bewildered but surmised that they had arrived late for the race.

I ran the first 13 miles comfortably with Joe in a small pack that continued to grow.  As I reached the half marathon split my watch read 1:26:01.  I felt elated and comfortable.  This was going to be my day.

Letting Go

I had only sipped a little water so far.  I try to drink well on the run, but I just fail to get more than a small swallow while keeping my stride long and cadence quick.  As I neared the next table of water I knew I should probably take a gel as well.  I couldn't stay with the pack, drink water and take a gel all at once.  So I slowed down and reached into my tiny waist pack for a gel, meanwhile watching the group gain on me.  I sucked the blueberry flavored syrup from the wrapper and finished the entire cup of water, not wasting a single drop.  The slowdown seemed worth it as I felt confident that my fueling would pay off.  I increased my pace and gradually closed in on the group.

I wanted to stay comfortable and not make a costly surge so after gaining a close visual I just kept my distance and ran comfortably in solitude.  As I ran from winding neighborhoods to wide open and long stretches of road I noticed I was only following Joe and one other runner.  They had fallen from some of the others.  They had also had clearly slowed just slightly and so had I (6:45 - 6:50 per mile pace).  As I reached the 18th mile I walked for just a few seconds to finish another gel and drink a full cup of water.  I began to feel fatigue but still kept the pace at around 6:50 per mile.

Can I still run a 46 minute 10k?

I looked at my watch, I had only a 10k left to run.  I noticed large patches of sweat enveloping my shorts.  Sweat streamed down my body into my shoes and my singlet alternately flopped against or stuck to my back.  The cool day had suddenly become quite hot and there wasn't any shade to be found on the long, open and straight roads.  I began to ponder the pain that was to come.  I hoped to feel a boost from the gel I had recently consumed, but I didn't.  I worked out the pacing math again.  I knew I could just keep an even pace and run a 2:55.  I realized I could even relax and still easily finish in under 3 hours.  I kept calculating options, splits, and paces in my mind.

As I turned from the long open road into a neighborhood I shortened my stride and quickened my cadence.  A friendly couple on a shady street even shot me with their garden hose.  I dumped the next cup of water I came across directly onto my head.  I was getting hot and tired, but my pace stayed consistent.  I felt strongly there was no way I was going to miss my secondary goal of running under 3 hours.  I just had to run under 7:30 per mile.

Hamstrings

At 24 miles I slowed and walked while eating another gel.  I felt nauseous.  I didn't want another gel but I needed a miraculous energy boost.  There was no miracle.  My pace had fallen to a 7:30.  I felt the pull of a cramping left hamstring when I began to run.  I grabbed my hamstring and felt a knot like a golf ball.  I stretched it while pushing it back in a power walk.  Then the right hamstring cramped.  As the suburban families gathered on lawns watched and cheered I was engaged in my own struggle against a physiological response I am convinced no-one fully understands.

I heard voices talking about inadequate hydration.  I heard others proclaiming salt the savior of the cramped athlete.  I thought of pacing errors and going out too hard.  I thought of redlining core temperatures within the muscle.  I thought of Tim Noakes and the "Lore of Running".  I thought of Alex Hutchinson and his "Sweat Science" column.  None of the advice I had ever heard mattered.  It was me against the cramp.  I ran again and the hamstring cramps returned.  I struggled to stretch each back out and tried to keep a quick but short cadence.  I would will them away.

It was at mile 25 that I knew my quest for at least under 3 hours had failed.  A pace nearing 9 minutes per mile was too slow.  I could throw myself into an under 6 minute mile and still make it to the elusive 2:59:59.  I was a long way from the beginning of the perfect marathon day and had lost my will.  I lengthened my short strides and leaned into an exaggerated forward position to pick up some speed when I saw the finish line.

3:03:30 - 13th Overall

It was my best marathon so far, but that wasn't much consolation to my defeated optimism at the finish.  I was just glad the suffering was over.  This was my fourth road marathon that I had intended to run in under three hours, and for the fourth time I had failed.

I found out later the lead runners hailing from far away had been guided off course by the lead bike volunteer.  The mid-race flyby of 5 minute per mile runners giving chase was logical after all.  At least I didn't have someone else's error to blame for my near miss, nor was I racing for my paycheck.

I don't think I've run a "great" road marathon.  I've only run road marathons that "aren't as bad".  Still, I got closer to my current goal and the real wall happened a little later than usual.  Running at my goal pace had felt easy for most of the race.  My fourth road marathon was still an improvement over all that had come before.  That crazy old swimmer lady had to try five times before she made it from Florida to Cuba.

It looks like I'll be racing another one soon.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Marathons

It's been far too long since I've updated our blog with some running and racing updates.  I've missed documenting a few fun races!  This spring/summer I have twice succumbed to the temptation of running a road marathon.  One went decently well, the other did not.



Kentucky Derby Marathon (April 27th) 3:04:29

I ran this basically on a whim after a tempting "free entry and trip full of fun" offer from Scott Breeden to visit his Louisville friends (Kenyan runner Pius Nyantika and Beau Hollis).

This was by far my favorite road course I've run.  It begins flat and fast, and at the midpoint (roughly) has a nice 3.5 mile stretch of tough hills in Iroquois Park followed by more long flats and a few challenging hills toward the end of the race.

I didn't have any hard goals going into this race, but aimed to run around a 2:55.  I had some great Kenyan style black tea before the race that really kicked me off feeling warmed up and ready to race.  I started off easy and naturally fell into a 6:30-6:40 pace for the flat and long straights leading up to Iroquois Park at the 12 mile mark.  I actually was pleasantly surprised as I hadn't done anything resembling a tempo run in a while and felt quote comfortable despite some "dead quads" earlier in the week.

I came through the half at 1:27:54, close to goal pace and felt pretty good about that as the miles through the hills were a little slower.

I had miscalculated one logistical necessity however.  I had heard the course would have gels so I assumed I wouldn't need to carry any.  This became a huge issue as I started to slow down at mile 20 and still hadn't seen a gel.  I felt strongly that a single caffeinated gel could save me at this point and felt mentally drained in my fruitless constant surveying of my surroundings for some sort of a fix.  Finally just before mile 23 I found a gel, but by that time the gel didn't kick in and revitalize my pace till about the 24 mile mark.  I picked the pace up gradually to a 7 minute pace but knew my 2:55 hopes were gone.

A lesson was learned.  I won't fully plan to rely on course nutrition ever again!

Despite this I finished at a <6:45 pace for the last mile and just barely managed a Boston Qualifier at 3:04:29!  This was still a big marathon PR or me as I hadn't run a road marathon since the 2008 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (my first, and a 3:15).


Post Race - Me, Scott, Pius (Won Half!), Beau

Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, IN June 1st) 3:35:23

I went into this marathon ready to run hard and fast, with another 2:55 goal in my sights.  The weather conditions promised to be much more humid and hot, but with morning rain seemed better than originally expected.

Most unfortunately my pre-race preparation did me in this time.  I ate a large amount from a salad bar on Friday night (unusual foods that didn't sit well) and on Saturday morning decided to ease my already uneasy stomach with some super concentrated coffee that I thought would help kick off my digestion before the race.  I started to gag and feel a little sick while drinking this black oil and should have thought better and stopped before polishing off the cup.

Another lesson was soon to be learned.  I did pack my own gel, but never ate even one during the race.

I started off well and ran with the second pack of leaders and my friend Becky Boyle (a fast girl aiming for a fast marathon debut at around my goal time) which seemed well enough at the time.  After 2 miles at below goal pace I started to gag.  Soon I was throwing up in my mouth and swallowing it back down hoping the nausea would subside.  By mile 7 I slipped from a 6:20 - 6:30 to a 6:54 split and stopped at some bushes by the river to throw up.  I did throw up and threw up volumes.  I tried to run again but by mile 10 I had dipped to an 8 minute per mile pace with nausea still overtaking me whenever I tried to pick up the pace a bit.

It was at about this point that a long forgotten tendonitis pain came back in my flexor hallucis tendon and plantar fascia.  Every step started to hurt, and the pain stayed with me. I contemplated a DNF but realized that the easiest way to find everyone was at the finish in the Notre Dame stadium so kept forging ahead.  I decided at this point to throw out my goals and just use the marathon as a painful long run.

I finished but it was a painful journey the entire way.  I stopped a few times to massage my foot but nothing seemed to work.  I finally finished at 3:35 after seeing everyone I had been running with on the long out and back river section of the course and galvanizing my demoralization.  The one bright spot was seeing Scott and Becky run extremely well and each finish in 1st place for the men/women wins!

I will say the course was not all that great.  Although not terribly hilly it did have plenty of twists, turns, and turnarounds to kill momentum.  Although I think I could run a good time here, the time of year and course probably make it a poor choice for a stab at a PR.

Strangely after the finish Katie (who ran the 5k quite well at 24ish minutes) used my race medal to perform some nontraditional graston on my foot.  It worked like a charm and I never felt the pain again after this!

Sadly it took a real beating to drive the lesson home.  Take care of your stomach, and be careful not to abuse it before a race!


Happy finishers, some just happy to be finished

Where do these two marathons leave me?  I got my road marathon fix for a bit, but I'm still eager to put in the performance that I think I'm capable of.  Perhaps after a summer of training and a turn of cool weather in the fall I'll take another stab at this road marathon thing.

A great marathon is truly a difficult accomplishment.  One error, and hopes quickly fall by the wayside as a few miles way off pace can be insurmountable to reverse.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bagging Peaks in the Smoky Mountains

A few weeks ago I made the trip down to the Smoky Mountains (Gatlinburg, TN) with my friend Ben for a  weekend of all day trail running.  After day one of 26 miles, and 32 the second day I was somewhat battered from all the climbs and sustained downhill running.

I got to see plenty of the park and we got some great photos in the process.

Descending Bullhead from Mt. LeConte

Back Down Chimney Tops

Chimney Tops

Chimney Tops


Bullhead Trail (Descent from Lt. LeConte)


Bullhead Trail


LeConte Lodge

Mt. LeConte (Around Summit)

Ice Bath

Rainbow Falls



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Land Between the Lakes 60K


I wrote most of this report six weeks ago and have continually forgotten to finish and post it.  I signed us up for this race literally a few hours before registration closed (about a month ago) after getting a well timed warning from Scott Breeden that the race director would be closing registration within an hour or two.  I signed up for the 60k, and Katie signed up for the 10k.

My training for the race looked pretty much like this:

  • Run Lovin the Hills 50K
  • Don't run for a week, body is decimated*
  • Run a 34 mile point to point run to Brown County
  • Fall on a log, bruising shin badly - too painful to run after this
  • Don't run for two weeks*
  • Run another 34 mile point to point to point run to Brown County to test out the body
  • Don't run for a week*
  • Run the race
*I did swim and bike during all this

As we got close to race day we worked out a plan with our friends also running the race (Alex, Giesla, Scott, Becky) and all stayed together the night before the race.  In the race preparations I likely made three key nutrition mistakes:
  • Added an extra late night meal of an entire Subway footlong
  • Added an extra cliff bar to my already adequate breakfast of cereal and milk
  • Forgot to bring my corn flakes and soy milk so had dairy and heavier cheerios, plus extra half bowl of cheerios instead
The consequence of my ravenous pre-race eating would be revealed soon enough.


Course Map (Start, Finish and Canal Loop)

Race Start

As we gathered at the race start in the "center" of the town of Grand Rivers (Lighthouse Landing) I was impressed by the sheer size of the crowd.  The morning was cold but within the mass of almost 700 runners (50 mile, 60k, Marathon, 23k, and 10k simultaneous starts) I felt much warmer.  I wore only a technical shirt and shorts with an Amphipod brand strap hugging several gels above my right hip.  In dry conditions, I've been putting pretty much all of my miles in using the Brooks Pure Grit shoe (excellent on road and trail - but terrible and in fact dangerous grip in slick conditions).


Race Start

Instead of lining up at the front with Scott and the familiar cast of more aggressive running leaders I lined up a bit further back next to Katie, Alex and Giesla.  The race runs on approximately two miles of road before connecting to the single track trail known as "The Canal Loop".  Because of this, I had struggled with a choice:
  • Run faster and get to the single track ahead of most
  • Not worry about it and run further back, allowing myself to run a relaxed first loop of the "Canal Loop" (~12 miles) and deal with passing and catching people later.
I ended up opting for the second option and waffled a little on pace to run back with Katie for a minute (in the 10k) and then run back up to Alex and Giesla again.  After a relaxed 7:40ish pace for 2 miles, we dropped down a small hill onto the start of the singletrack "Canal Loop".

Loop 1




I spent some good times hanging with Alex and Giesla on the first loop.  The lap went by quickly with the first half being the easiest and the second half of the loop adding some small (100 ft. at most) climbs.  Aid stations were plentiful but I didn't really have much more than a cup of water and another cup of Heed.

There were a few nice spots of "cliff"-like trail that looked over the lake off to the left and perhaps were even a little dangerous for an inattentive runner.




As we finished the first loop I could detect that I had a made mistake in diet before the race.  I was going to need to find a bathroom soon.  I slapped a high five to Alex and Giesla as they exited the loop to the road spur back to the finish of the half marathon.  The first loop had ended with a total time of 1:35:00.




Loop 2

At first I tried to pick up some speed on the second loop but after initial few miles of "very easy" terrain I started to slow down.  My stomach again sloshed and I knew I had to find a bathroom.  I couldn't stomach a gel for some reason and took only a Coca Cola can which was actually quite good and provided a nice boost.




I finally found a port-o-pot (which was occupied) and ended up waiting a little before I could get in.  I had passed a few more runners but found (discouragingly) I had to pass them all over again.

I got to the mid-loop aid station and Katie, Alex, Giesla and Becky were all there and got me a throwback Mountain Dew can from my supply bag.  I chatted for a moment, chugged my Mountain Dew and gave Katie a kiss as usual before going off on my way again.  My stomach still sloshed and I again felt nausea when I tried to think about taking a gel.  I sort of mentally settled on only fueling with soda for the rest of the race.

I passed some more runners and chatted with a few who were using the race as a build-up to a 100 miler in the summer.  As I passed another two or three runners I tried to build up a lead as I could feel the need to find a bathroom again.  This didn't happen and I settled for charging up a hill behind some large tree stumps and digging a hole.

Again, it was somewhat discouraging to pass the same 3 or 4 runners again on my way to finally completing the second loop in 1:40:39.  Since I was racing from the far back of the pack, I really had no clue what place I was in or where the next runners were at.

Loop 3

Admittedly, by the 3rd loop I settled into too comfortable of a pace.  I saw few runners until the end of the loop and took two more bathroom stops and two more cans of Coca Cola.  I realized I was at least keeping an even and relaxed pace but had simply stopped too often to gain contact with the next runner or two that I would have liked to catch.




I did run into one guy during the last few miles of the loop who I passed and then continued to push and catch me on the flats.  I got motivated and ran the climbs with as much effort as was reasonable and was able to gain a lead that put me out of sight coming into the end of the loop.  My stops again inflicted a slowdown on the lap, making my time a 1:51:47 for the final trip around.

Looking back the three laps my "moving time" mile splits were pretty consistent at around an 8:30 average but the stops cost me more time with each consecutive lap.

Finish

As I dashed out of the trail loop (glad to be out of it finally after three times) I ran for a few seconds next to Alex, Giesla, Katie, Scott and Becky.  Katie sprinted out for a few hundred meters and pulled me into a faster pace.  After a few inside motivational jokes I turned off onto the main road and picked up the pace even more for the last 1.6 miles, starting at around a 7 minute mile pace and running the final stretch at a 5:50 - 6:00 per mile pace.


Finishing fast . . too much kick left

The energy I had finishing led me to believe that I probably should have been pushing myself much harder.  Then again, I was just happy to run reasonably and finish given that I had mostly been mired in injury over the previous few weeks.

I ended up finishing 10th with a total time of 5:34:19.  Had I known that the 3rd-9th runners were all over 5 hours and somewhat within reach perhaps I could have pushed my pace a bit more.  But, in my experience it has always been a little difficult to go out at a slower pace and maintain contact and competition with the faster runners.  In my mind, this also reinforces the "strategy" of staying out of sight on the trail if you don't want to get caught.

That being said, I think I will be motivated to give this race another try next year as I would like to run a much faster time.