Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dances With Dirt Gnawbone 50 Mile (Part 2)

On race morning, I woke up at 4:00am, and started my usual counter intuitive pre-race routine of taking a shower (loosens me up a little I think), had a cup of coffee, and ate my a race morning breakfast of a few cashews, a small bowl of corn flakes and banana.  The race start was at 6:15am so after rounding up all of my gear I had Katie drive me down to the race start at Mike's Dance Barn on SR 46 on the way to Nashville.

After our arrival at 5:30am, right after the early 50 mile start we milled around for a bit and I used the facilities and chatted with a few fellow runners.  One guy had told his wife he was going to work and driven straight through the night from Michigan to come to the ultra trail race instead.  Wow.  I appreciate Katie.  I did have one well timed discussion with another runner who clued me in to the fact that there would be ALL flavors of GU at the aid stations every 4 to 5 miles for the 50 milers.  This was great news as I promptly unloaded all but 8 of my "belt gels".

Race Start

Time flew by and it seemed like I didn't even wait for the pre-race meeting and gathering for the 6:15 start.  Unlike usual, I squeezed into the back of the starting corral and avoided the front since I had decided my first 50 miler shouldn't begin with an especially aggressive start.  I got a kiss from Katie for good luck and then waited.  We started with no gun, and began running with just barely light conditions.

The start was actually very calm punctuated by a little nervous and excited energy amongst the runners.  Since the 50k was on the same course, there were plenty of us in the pack that quickly turned from grassy field to gravel road and eventually horse trail.

Ultra Course: Pink Line (Two Loops of the upper half)

It became gradually muddier as we climbed and I found myself dodging all over to avoid wet shoes.  Luckily, the warm conditions over the past few days had dried up the worst of the horse trail.  It was still pock marked with inches deep mud but at least didn't immediately soak my shoes.

At this point the sky was partially cloudy and the temperature hovering around 60.  Perfect!  The trail was suitably wide but still the traffic jam was apparent in the back where I was at and I did get a little irritated knowing that I would be completely unaware of who the front running 50 mile runners were.  The mysterious front pack made things fun for me later, however, so that was fine.  I got to chat with quite a few runners on the way uphill so I stayed relaxed.

Finally after 5 miles or so we left horse mess trail (and steady climb) for the BCSP trails.  A group of runners tucked in behind me and I talked blindly to them from the front for a while.  When I asked where everyone was from, I heard two say they were from Bloomington, and saw that a young couple was behind me.  I recalled only two names from the pre-registration list from Bloomington, a couple (I assumed) with the last name Potter running the 50k.  There was only one other local runner I never saw, also running the 50k, and no local runners in the 50 mile.  I guessed who they were and ended up running with them and chatting for at least the next 10 miles, keeping me relaxed and running at an easy conversation pace.  This was such good luck, we got to have a nice time talking and I kept my inclination to "hammer it" at bay for just a little longer.  At both the Hoosier's Nest and Ogle Lake aid stations I also was greeted by Katie cheering me on and the Potters congratulated her on our upcoming wedding, which she got a kick out of I am sure.  I don't usually make that much conversation during a race!

Team Potter and I

I ended up slipping off at an aid station and starting the strategy I wanted to stick with for the remainder of the race at around mile 20.  First, begin to pick up the overall pace for a negative split and hopefully strong finish.  Second, walk the steepest hills to conserve energy, and stride out on the flats just slightly faster than what I felt like I should run to make up time.  This mostly went as planned until I caught a number of other 50 milers and a pack of us second guessed a turn down by the lake, and then ended up with at least ten people running backward, then the wrong way, then back the same way again until we eventually saw the elusive pink flag.

Speaking of the sometimes well hidden pink flags, these were one of the defining features of this course. Some were strangely spaced, others just plain led through off trail brush piles to create whatever inconvenience was possible.  But, this is what I signed up for!  After 50 miles, my mind was programmed to be searching constantly for them, and I actually dreamed about looking for pink flags while running that night.  If you've ever played a video game for an entire day, then had strange "in game" dreams you might know the feeling I'm talking about.

Soon after the lake the serious climbs begin as well.  These were the non-runnable climbs, from ridge bottom to ridge top in BCSP, anything from stairs to the nature center to flat out walls of land that had to be gripped with both hands down to climb.  There were four of these, and two loops of the BCSP section so therefore eight non-runnable climbs in all I think.  I loved it, some might not, especially if looking for a PR.  Finishing the section with all the climbs also meant descending onto more horse trail, and running through more off trail brush.

Throughout all this I kept my race long nutrition strategy (timed by my watch).  Every 30 minutes, whether I wanted it or not I forced down a GU.  Every hour, I had one or two endurolytes depending on how much I felt I was sweating.  I also made sure to finish my hand bottle of water before each aid station.  Early in the race I stuck with non-caffeinated GU and switched to more caffeine as the race went on.  I am convinced that going GU only was another key in having a great race, as I have thrown up at some point in almost every 5 hour or longer race I have ever participated in.

As I passed the drop bag point I made my one and only stop of the race.  An extremely helpful volunteer helped me get my drop bag, take off Lunar Racer 2 pair #1, and put on Lunar Racer 2 pair #2 and fresh socks.  My legs started tightening even just sitting for seconds, but it was definitely worth it.  Fresh shoes and socks felt great, partially because I definitely had some residual mud and water inside the first pair.

Coming into the final 20 miles, I had been passing a constant string of 50 milers, many who had started at 5:30am.  There were plenty to catch given my definite negative split as I had run the first 25 in well over 5 hours (can't remember exactly what it was, but I know it was over 5).  This was fun as I slowed for a bit to talk to most and then went on my way.  Around this time, however, and as the 50k runners disappeared after the cutoff at the 25 mile "decision point" things got quiet.  That's when I spent more time alone, and the mental state I would describe as "the hunter" began.

"The Hunter"

When you're out trail running alone, with just silence around you, your senses begin to sharpen and every sound, rustle, snap or fleeting glimpse of movement is processed by the mind.  In this case, I was looking for the elusive "next" runner, and I never knew when I might get a glimpse and make the catch.  This got more exciting when I passed a few more, and got some words of encouragement from the aid station.  "You're looking fresh, and you just made top ten.  The next guy is just a few minutes up, you'll catch him."  This was the sort of stuff I got from the aid station guys.  A lesson to be learned, when I thought about it.  If they are telling me this, they probably are passing this sort of information to the next guy too.  I made it my goal to always look really "fresh" and cheery to the aid station folks.

After I made 10th, my adrenaline likely sharpened my senses further, and I could feel how tuned in I was to the slightest flash of color or movement ahead, as my field of vision was tuned around bends in the trail and through the foliage, taking in every movement to spy my next "catch".  I also knew when I was spotted, and tried to make up tons of ground while still out of sight.  I think this must be the slow moving "game" of competitive trail running and I completely enjoyed it.

I found myself thinking of the slow moving "persistence" hunters in our ancestry, no doubt moving through the woods in pursuit of their prey and with keen senses detecting the unwitting meal's every move from afar.  I think the trendy ultra running writers are onto something here, because I felt like my mind acclimated a little too easily to this mode of operation.  I also know this "hunter" bit sounds ridiculous and will not talk about it again for a while.


As I had said, I tried to cover ground quickly and catch the next runner.  But things work both ways.  Although I was never passed, I was "caught" several times.  By the time I hit 6th place, the aid station guys were telling me about a "mystery pack" of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place and telling me they were only "5 minutes ahead".  I did finally make one final, and difficult catch.  I got fleeting glimpses of a runner ahead at several trail vantage points.  I finally caught him, and as soon as I slowed down, hesitated at a confusing flag, power hiked a steep hill, or got water at an aid station I was caught back.  Now from my description, this sounds awfully competitive but really was friendly, as I got to chat and run with Zach a little during all this back and forth.  I looked up all the of the the guys I finished around on ultrasignup.com and found out he's about my age and a great ultra runner.

I did finally make a break for it and charged a few hills, and then hammered after the climb to gain a hopefully insurmountable gap on the last horse trail.  I gained quite a bit but I was constantly pushing at every opportunity for the rest of the race thinking that Zach was likely to finish strong and catch me.  When I finally broke from the woods on top of what was once a Ski World slope I took several look backs going down the steep and rocky slope to see if he had come out of the woods.

I pushed very hard for the last five miles.  I can't be sure but I think I threw a sub 7 minute mile in there somewhere.  Ouch.  I did wish a little for ibuprofen around this time as I had pains sort of radiating from all directions of my knees at different intervals.  I definitely couldn't crash downhills at all.

My only regret from the last ten miles of the race is that I didn't push even harder through the campground section of the loop each time as it was very flat and fast.  It seemed like I had a lot more left than I thought.  The campground road really hurt my feet the last time through, and that dissuaded me a little.


The last mile of this race felt great for sore feet, but was also just ridiculous.  The flags were placed to encourage running entirely "in" the creek from the slope bottom to the dance barn, and I definitely did.  I emerged from the creek, almost couldn't believe I was actually looking at the finish line, and ran a fast and strong 2oo meters, and also sprayed a little celebration water from my hand bottle as I saw Jeanette (my sister who came to see the finish) and Katie.

I got immediate results after crossing the line, 5th overall and 1st in age group.  The next guy had fallen off the 2,3,4 pack I was chasing and was only a minute earlier.  I saved a salty kiss for Katie, filled up a dixie cup of beer, and walked down to the icy creek to get my legs some relief.  I talked to the 4th guy (Matt, also in the creek) for a bit and really just enjoyed not having to run anymore.

I found out the winner, Josh Wopata ran away from everyone with a time of 8:31:50, only a minute or two off of Scott Breeden's course record (well, if the course changes can there even be a course record?).

Of the almost one hundred (I heard varying numbers) of actual registered starting 50 milers, only 33 finished. According to the results I believe there were more than few that opted for the 50k cutoff and a number of DNFs.

I forgot to stop my watch so I thought I was at 9:44 but my time turned out to be 9:41:56.  I really had no time goal (or idea of what I could do or how I should race) so I was very happy with how things went.  I ran a conservative and mostly sociable race, followed my nutrition plan, executed well, and finished very strong at the end of my first 50 miler.  I also feel fortunate to have had one day of perfect weather sandwiched between a week of hot humid and then cold rain this week.

Overall, even with the non-runnable climbs, confusing turns, horse mud, bushwhacking, and ski slopes. this course is made up of some of very enjoyable trails.  Although very slow, the course is not "as bad" as one might think and the aid stations were excellent.  I would actually recommend it to another first time 50 miler provided they had logged some time on the trails around here.

I could sum up this race by mostly just being thankful.  I'm thankful for great weather, fiance race support, a nice group of runners to race with, a cheap race (considering) of $69 (including DWD camping chair, BBQ meal after, free local beer, technical shirt, running hat, great aid stations), a great injury free spring of training, and no blisters!.  Oh, and I'm thankful for 2x GU.

Blister Free!  Thanks Balega!

Lunar Racer 2 Soles, Foot Soles: Both Held Up

Ice Bath

My Nurse

Dances With Dirt Gnawbone 50 Mile (Part 1)

It’s now Tuesday after DWD50, and I am finally able to walk somewhat reasonably with the exception of navigating stairs and inclines due to extremely tight/sore quads.  Recovery from a well run 50 miler is definitely slower than what I have experienced in longer races like ironman, etc.

My final few weeks of build and taper in mileage are below, I hit three peak weeks of training at 80+ miles in the process and got in several longer trail runs, and two solid 30 mile efforts, with one run on tired legs from a 15 mile marathon pace run the evening before.

This certainly boosted my confidence a little going into the race, but still I was very apprehensive about going into the last 20 miles of a 50 miler on a rugged trail.

Why Dances with Dirt for my first attempt at 50 miles?

An ultra distance trail event has been gnawing at the back of my mind ever since I read some ultra marathon books a few years ago, including Dean Karnazes: Ultra Marathon Man.  Dean is somewhat self promoting in his writing but the story of his first crack at the Western States 100 got an idea in my mind that I haven’t been able to forget.  At the time I was deep into a planned cycle of two years of triathlon training, so I wanted to wait till after Ironman Wisconsin in 2009 to start thinking about getting into an ultra distance trail race.  I felt the best step to getting started racing rugged trails locally might be DWD, and of course being Brown County I have had some opportunity to train there and also ran the relay last year which was an absolute blast.  I wanted a challenging course and I think I got it.  Making my first attempt at an ultra distance race locally was a good idea as well logistically since getting to the race required no travel.

Throughout the spring, I have been slowly building mileage, lengthening my long runs, and getting out to local trails including Deam, Tecumseh, and BCSP.  I have been missing out on on some great running having always started my long runs from in town in the past.  I also have had some great (although flat) fun fighting through the briars and debris of the "unsanctioned" part of the rails to trails railroad south of where the trail ends with the "no trespassing" house.  I will break through that railroad all the way to Bedford someday, just not sure when that will happen yet.

I also have picked up a few new road favorites including heading out Lampkins Ridge road on the east side of town and coming back in the same way or going out to Mt. Gilead road.  My other road favorite I have added to heavier rotation on my schedule is running from the SRSC, up the grass field behind, down the Jordan extension, out to Lake Griffy, then from Bethel to Old 37, North Dunn, and through the Stadium back up the Jordan extension and striding out fast on the grass field down hill all the way back to the office.  This is a great and fast run that can be finished in an hour if I want to push it.

I also made some breakthroughs in nutrition, I found (thanks to my fiancé Katie's dietary leanings) that my overall energy levels and recovery were greatly improved by eating lots of whole foods, more fruit and brown rice, vegetables and far less grains.

This has also cleared up a lot of digestion issues I had faced on longer efforts.  Prior to the race, I dropped to even fewer carbohydrates and mostly the carbs I consumed were from fruit for about a week, follows by three days of lots of brown rice and fruit prior to the race.  Quality proteins and vegetables including lots of nuts, spinach, kale and avocados were also a constant throughout my nutritional "adjustment".  This has definitely been the breakthrough for me and I quickly found myself down from 149 lbs at Christmas to a race ready 135 for the first time in two years.  No doubt, I have Katie to thank for her love of veggies.

Throughout the spring I decided DWD would be a goal but I decided to keep my plan low key and not sign up till I was certain that I wouldn't break down during an aggressive build of running mileage.  I didn't even tell anyone but Katie till I was sure about my training, as I didn't want to be set on thinking I had to do it if training didn't feel quite right.  I had just come off of injury from knee tracking issues last year and winter due to an overbuild up of my outer quads from cycling.  My new strength routine I started this spring to hopefully avoid this has been several times a week hitting slightly modified leg extensions, calf raises, weighted foot (pulling up with resistance attached to toes) raises, and lots of core work.  It’s a fast routine I can knock out in 30 minutes, which is key because I’d rather be out running than in the gym.  Through all of this, I feel like my knees are solid for the first time in years.

Pre Race

I took the day off on Friday before the race, since I had some errands to run and needed to get my things together for the race.  I packed a drop bag with 4 power bars (didn’t end up using), three small plastic plastic zip lock bags of BBQ potato chips and two pairs of shoes (one extra pair of Nike Lunar Racer 2, and old standby Brooks Infinity).  I also included my trusty old Bloomington Bagel Company water bottle (not a hand bottle but the indentation in the bottle rests perfectly in your hand) in case something went awry with my new strapped on hand bottle.  Finally, (and most importantly) I had two pairs of Balega socks that have been the only clearly blister free socks I’ve run with.  Oh, and finally I threw in my old Muncie Endurathon running cap that provides a nice rescue from rain in the face (or branches in the face on the trail).

I also prepped for race start my new Nathan Hand Bottle (Thanks InRunCo!) and shoved in the pockets 12 endurolyte tablets, 3 2X caffeine GU, and a course map (all in tiny ziplock bags).

My primary supplies were on my race belt, a very minimal Nathan elastic type belt with race number clip.  Since this belt doesn’t actually hold anything but a race number I took 17 standard (half non-caffeinated, 4 2X, 4 1X) and folded them in half to make them round, and created a duct tape wrap with a small folded tab on the top to quickly “rip” them from the belt.  This was an awesome discovery because on testing this with the belt tightened well (with all 17 loaded on the belt) I could actually run shirtless with no rubbing, no feel of weight, and absolutely zero bounce.  Incredible!  The gels just slid on the end of the belt (very snugly slide, I had to push) and were easily loaded that way.  (See belt photo below.)  This was all assuming a wost case scenario I thought of an over 10 hour race, with a gel every 30 minutes, and zero aid station GU.

Finally, race wear, another pair of Lunar Racer 2 flats (the older ones as I figured they would get slimed on the horse trail pretty quickly at the race start), more Balega socks, and the forest green Brooks running shorts with the HUGE split up the sides.  I picked these since I have noticed even when completely soaked they don’t provide any unfortunate “display” to spectators.  I also wore a recently purchased InRunCo logo Brooks technical shirt.  (I thought I’d probably lose the shirt almost right away given the humidity all week but it ended up being just right).  I also finally replaced the battery in my old Timex Ironman watch, so I could stop running with either no watch or Katie’s pink version of the same watch.

My final meal of the evening was a large spinach, tomato, carrot, avocado and chopped almond salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  My theory being a super light meal keeps me from having GI issues but with a little fat in there gives my body one final nudge toward considering fat energy to be plentiful prior to the race.