Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 Year in Review

The last 12 months of my running career have been unbelievable. I've accomplished so much this year that I wasn't even dreaming about in 2010. I'd be inclined to classify the past year as "fairy tale" material if it weren't for one bad race. But when I look back at all of my race results, I know that one poor performance can't overshadow everything else I've done. And I couldn't have scripted a better finale to my year of racing.

With that said, I'd like to recap some of the highlights.  Hope you enjoy!

I started off 2011 with a great run at Mtn Mist in Huntsville, AL. Even though I cut my teeth on those trails and knew them well, I blew up in 2010 and barely broke 4 hours. I paced myself much better, finished strong, and took 15 minutes off my time from last year. I also shaved a few minutes off Dave Mackey's course record from 2007. That race gets overshadowed with some of my later accomplishments this year, but I'd really love to see someone go after that time because I think it's pretty tough.

February 19 - Sylamore Trail 50k - 3:31:44 (1st, CR)

This photo is from 2010, but you get the point.
February brought another opportunity to break a solid 50k course record that I missed a year before. Dink Taylor set the course record 11 years ago and the Sylamore race director had put up $2000 for anyone that could take it down. Amazingly Dink himself drove out from Alabama to the middle of nowhere Arkansas to crew for me so I could beat his record. Yeah, he's just that kinda guy. The weather cooperated, I fixed my mistakes from last year, and ran 3:31 on a challenging course. Sylamore is a neat trail and I think you should go run it if you ever have a chance. Just make sure you stay for the post-race bonfire party.

March - I didn't race, but I did go to Colorado.

I did a little cross-training in March, snowboarding out in Colorado for a week and hiking to 13,000 ft from the end of the ski lift in snowboarding boots when I could. But I still ran 65 miles that week with the majority of it above 8,000 ft. Before I left, I got to check out the famous Magnolia Road located just outside of Boulder. That was a tough run after a week of riding.

After my breakthrough race at JFK in 2010, I decided to turn down my auto entry into Western States. Instead, my goal for the year was to make the US 100km team and race at the World Championships in the Netherlands. To qualify for the team I needed to win or run a sufficient qualifying time at the Mad City 100k. I wasn't able to catch Andy Henshaw and win the race, but I did run fast enough to qualify for the team. I ran a very patient race and didn't move into the 2nd place position until 90km. And it was great to run just under my goal of 7 hours in my first attempt at the distance.

May - Flying Pig Marathon - 2:31:14 (2nd)

Only three weeks after Mad City, I wasn't expecting much from this race. Our big local marathon here in Cincinnati, it caters more to recreational runners and rookies than elites which gave me a good shot at stealing the win. It would have been really fun to roll out of bed, drive 15 minutes to the start, then win a pretty big marathon. Unfortunately, I came up a bit short this day. With my fastest race pace over the previous 4 months being 6:45, I was pleased to be able to drop down to 5:47 pace for a marathon. One fast guy too many showed up on this particular day though.

June 4 - Another Dam 50k - 3:34:34 (1st, CR)
AD50k is a local race I did last year on a whim and thought it would make a good long run this year. It's also the easiest trail race I did all year. I ran relaxed the whole day, but with better course conditions than last year, I was able to reset my own course record.

Just for fun, and literally, a little change of pace, I took a few weeks after the 100k to train for a decent 5k effort. I was pleased to run 15:23 even though I got smoked in this stacked, elite-only race. Definitely a cool experience as it was run on a criterium course and had lots of crowd support.

September 10 - IAU World 100k Championships - DNF

The only disappointment of my year came at the 100k World Championships. After fighting a fever and dizzy spells in the week preceding the race, I felt the need to drop out at 34 miles as the nausea and dizziness were preventing me from getting my nutrition down. It was truly bittersweet though, because the US men's team went on to win the gold medal. My wife and I also made a really nice vacation out of the trip. It stinks that my one bad race this year had to come at such an important venue. I vowed to rebound from that race, and I think I made good on that promise.

This was another small, local trail run that I wasn't planning to run because of it's proximity to the World 100k. But I was desperate to race after my DNF to prove (to myself) that my fitness was just fine. Mission accomplished.

October 1 - Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k - 3:49:52 (1st, CR)

This one was just a week after Germantown, but it's a pretty big trail race that I'd had my eye on for a while.  I toed the line praying that I hadn't run too hard the previous weekend in my rush to reassure myself of my conditioning. This was the most elevation gain I'd ever encountered in a race, and I'd trained for a flat road 100k all summer, so I was really rolling the dice. I wasn't sure how my body would handle the technical trails and difficult climbs. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. I had enough strength to survive the climbs and there were enough runnable sections where I was able to use my speed. The course was beautiful and Rock/Creek really puts on a great event as a whole. Germantown gave me some confidence, but being able to shave a significant chunk of time off the course record at a well-established race proved that I was in great shape.

October 23 - Stone Steps 50k - 3:40:56 (1st, CR)

Following the World 100k, my next major focus race was without a doubt JFK. But Stone Steps has become my new "hometown" 50k since I moved to Cincinnati. I couldn't miss out on this one even if it did fall right in what should have been my last really big week of training before beginning the taper for JFK. So I just incorporated it into the training plan. I was super happy to shave over 3 minutes off my CR from 2010 en route to a 120 mile week of training. This was another huge confidence builder heading into JFK.

November 7 - My wife's first half marathon

Stef's in the pink shirt.
This obviously isn't a personal running accomplishment of mine, but it is a highlight from this year that I wanted to share. My wife is not a runner. She has many gifts and talents, but natural running talent was not something that God blessed her with. I have been very careful not to push her into the sport even though running is a huge passion of mine; but I know she sees the joy that it brings me. Needing an exercise program and a stress-relieving outlet, she joined a local half marathon training group. (I did not need to be her coach). Having the company and accountability of the training group, she finally began to see how running can be an enjoyable activity. Her motivation only grew stronger as she relished the sense of accomplishment that came as her long runs increased in distance. Although her work schedule prevented her from completing the half with the training group, she found another half and did it on her own. As we embraced after her finish, I was reminded of the emotion I felt after my first marathon finish when the indescribable combination of utter fatigue and complete satisfaction brought me to tears. Her time is not important. I know how tough it was and what a huge personal accomplishment it was for her, and that's why it ranks as one of my running highlights of the year.

November 19 - JFK 50 Mile - 5:40:45 (1st, CR)

JFK was undoubtedly the crowning race of my 2011 racing season, and probably the most significant running performance of my life. I won't rehash it here in detail since I just wrote the race report a few weeks ago, but it was pretty much the perfect race. It still makes me uncomfortable to discuss the facts. The nation's largest and oldest ultramarathon. 864 finishers this year. It's been run for 49 years. The previous course record was set in 1994. No one else had even run within 4 minutes of Eric Clifton's course record, and I took over 5 minutes off his time. But I'm most proud of the fact that I won the race over an incredibly talented field. I'm still in disbelief. I've been running competitively since the 7th grade but I've never been the best of the best. I think that's why I've had so much trouble wrapping my head around this result. All I've come up with so far is that I'm blessed, truly.

So there you have it. My nearly perfect year of racing. I thought about trying to get into The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile a couple weeks after JFK, but decided there was really no way I could top my race at JFK and I would only end up disappointed. Better to close out the season on a huge positive note, I thought. I've got big plans for 2012 and I wanted to give my legs a well-deserved rest before serious training begins.  Here's to 2012.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dream: 2011 JFK 50 Mile Race Report

Where do I even begin?

If you're here reading this race report, you probably already know how this story ends. If not, here's what you need to know: On November 19th, 2011 all the puzzle pieces fell into place for me at the 49th running of the JFK 50 Mile. I was able to break the legendary Eric Clifton's course record at the nation's largest and oldest ultra marathon -- a course record that was set in 1994. No one had even come within 4 minutes of Clifton's time in the last 17 years. But, more personally gratifying was the fact that I had to overtake Michael Wardian, the pre-race favorite and one of the top ultra runners in the world, to win the race and capture the new course record (CR).

Eric Clifton and myself after the race.

I am struggling to find the words that might best describe my emotions. I'm inclined to say that the race was a dream come true. To be perfectly honest though, that's just not the case. You see, I never dreamed that it would end quite like this. As strange as it might sound, I dreamed of being able to tell everyone that I was the guy that broke the JFK course record, yet wasn't the current record holder. The best ending I could even fathom was finishing second behind Wardian. And I knew that goal was even a long shot with the stellar field that had been assembled for this year's race. I believed the course record was within my reach, but I put Wardian in a class by himself. I still do. But this particular day everything worked out perfectly for me and I very likely ran the race of my life.

Wardian led out hard from the starting gun. We started much more conservatively when I ran JFK for the first time last year (2010 race report). I wasn't surprised by the brisk pace this year because Wardian made it clear before the race that he was looking to take a big chunk off the CR and would need to run hard from the start to do so. I laid back a little as we climbed the road the first 2.5 miles to the Appalachian Trail (AT) section. The pace wasn't ridiculous though, so I pulled up on Wardian's shoulder just as we entered the trees.  Matt Woods, Kalib Wilkinson and I traded positions a couple times as we let Wardian gap us a little on the climb to the course's peak elevation at 5.5 miles. Woods and I were able to catch and pass Wardian shortly after we started descending a technical trail section.  The eventual third place finisher, Jeffry Buechler,  came flying around all of us and led the charge into the mile 9.3 aid station.

Seconds after the start.  Photo by Derek Schultz

I was already 4 or 5 minutes ahead of my pace from last year, but I still felt very relaxed and was much more patient in my bottle exchange with my dad who was crewing for me. Woods and I left the aid station together, but he immediately commented that his stomach wasn't feeling so well. I knew it wasn't a good sign to have stomach trouble that early in the race and that's the last that I would see of Matt. I spent the next few miles of technical trail focusing on running relax and fast, but being careful not to fall. On some of the climbs, Buechler would come back into view but I was content to let him go on the descents and he disappeared from sight once I made a brief pit stop.

The 5 AM starters or trekkers were absolutely fabulous again this year. I began passing these folks and they were super considerate, stopping and stepping to the side giving us plenty of room to pass. Then they would yell "runner" to their friends ahead so we would not have to waste our precious oxygen to warn of our approach. If you're a trekker and are reading this: Thank you!

Nearing the end of the trail section.
Photo by Derek Schultz

The Weverton Cliffs are a series of tricky switchbacks that drop you about 1000 ft in a mile. Last year I nearly busted getting a little too aggressive. I was more careful this year and cleared the switchbacks without incident. With only about 200-300 meters left on the trail, I lifted my eyes to plan my approach into the spectator area where my dad would be waiting for me. WHAM! My right toe caught on something, probably a rock, could have been a small stump, but whatever it was, it instantly ended my foot's forward motion. It sent me sliding forward on my hands and knees. A trekker that I had just passed watched me fall. She yelled forward, "Get up!" with a frantic concern in her voice, obviously worried that she had just witnessed the end of my race. Luckily it was a smooth, leafy landing and I was able to roll out of it and continue running with almost no hesitation. My toe smarted for a bit, but other than that I suffered no ill effects.  I was lucky.

I exited the trail and traded bottles with my dad for the second time. After crossing under the bridge, I hit the real aid station where I grabbed a cup of coke and quickly downed it. As I crossed the timing mat which signaled my entrance onto the towpath section, a race official clearly indicated that I was in first place. That took me by surprise because I was fairly certain that Buechler had been ahead of me leaving the trail. I sure wasn't going to stop and argue, so I turned my focus on running 6:35 pace for as long as I could the rest of the race. Buechler caught up to me a few miles later and explained that he had stopped at the aid station to change shoes.  Mystery solved.

Transitioning to the towpath.  Photo by Ray Jackson Jr

Buechler and I ran together for a while until I had to stop and pee again! I resume running alone and try to concentrate on how relaxed I should be feeling with more than half of the race left. I'm also making sure to focus on my nutrition. I take my second gel of the day, but as has been the rule recently, I struggle to get it down without gagging. I eat probably half of it and throw the rest away at the aid station. After trouble on my third gel, I decided to give up and go the rest of the race on the GU Brew that my dad would give me, cokes at the other aid stations and a salt tab or two every hour.

Then the inevitable occurs. Wardian appears. Quickly. Very quickly. He's probably running around 6 flat pace or better to my 6:30s. He backs off briefly and encourages me to roll with him, but I politely decline his invitation. I explain that I want to be more consistent than I was last year when I ran with him for a few miles in the middle of the race and paid for it later on in the race. He doesn't wait around. That was right around the 27 mile aid station. At the mile 34.4 aid station, they tell me he has 4 minutes on me. You do the math.

Gorgeous shot of the towpath.
Photo by Derek Schultz.

I figure I won't see him again until the finish, but this was to be expected right? This is how the dream goes.  Wardian wins, we both break the course record. Everything is falling into place. Except I'm currently in third place. But it's not long until I catch back up to Buechler. We run together for quite a while. It helps to break up the monotony a little. We're much less talkative now than we were when we ran together around mile 20.  I'm still clicking off 6:30s like its my job. Eventually I pull away from him and am alone in second. The dream comes into focus.

Miles 35 to 41 were the toughest for me. This is where the irrational thoughts start to creep into the head. I'm sitting here in 2nd place, on course record pace, and I'm wondering why I keep doing this to myself.  "Why don't you just quit and find an easier sport?" I knew from experience that those demons would appear around this time. I had rehearsed it in my mind. "Just keep moving." I knew one thing. I wasn't going to drop out. I took my mulligan for the year at the 100k World Championships. Somehow logic won out and I focused on making it to the end of the towpath.

Before I get there, Andy Mason who's covering the race for the local paper, the Herald-Mail, yelled over from his car that I had whittled Wardian's lead back down to 3 minutes. "That's interesting," I thought. "I wasn't even trying to mount a comeback." But I was still not in my happy place, so I didn't have much of a reaction. Finally I reached the aid station at the end of the canal section. I had just run a sub 2:53 marathon on the towpath. The aid station volunteers informed me that Wardian wasn't that far ahead and looked vulnerable.  Our split from the chip timing system say I was 3:13 behind with 8.3 miles to go on the roads.

Now the gears start turning in the head a little bit. But first I have to get up this darn hill. It's short and steep, but really a welcome change in the stride after almost 3 hours of pancake flat. The legs seem to find a little more pep. "Ok, let's see if I can get close enough to see him."  First, the cars following him came into view. I started reeling them in first. That gave me a boost. Then a lady in a car pulled up next to me (turns out it was Dani Mason, the wife of Andy Mason who was covering the race for the local newspaper). She had the radio blaring "Sweet Home Alabama." It was like the first 28 years of my life (when I lived in Alabama) flashed through my mind in an instant. Everything and everyone that had helped me get to mile 43 of the JFK 50 Mile was suddenly captured in the notes of that song. I began to choke up. It's really hard to breathe properly when you're crying though, so I quickly had to gain control of my emotions and focus on the task at hand. I pressed on.

Wardian himself first came into view while turning the corner at the mile 44 aid station. I could tell I was closing quickly and that only added fuel to my fire. I was still paying attention to my nutrition though, and I calmly took the time to down a cup of coke before continuing my pursuit. A mile later the cars started pulling over to clear the road between me and Wardian. It reminded me of the Tour de France when they pull the cars out of the gap between the breakaway and the rapidly closing peleton.

I made the catch shortly before the aid station at 46 miles. What do you say to someone that you have tons of respect for in a situation like this? I tried to say something motivating, knowing full well the place where he was at mentally and physically. I've been there before. The pass was made decisively. I couldn't afford to risk allowing Michael Wardian back in the race. I can't imagine the emotion and surprise of my dad as we came into view at the Downsville aid station with me now in the lead. I was three minutes behind the last time he handed me a bottle.

The pass had just been made.  Photo by Rich Secrest.

The dream is no more. It was once Wardian's race to lose. Now it was mine. I knew that as long as I didn't cramp up I would run away with it. Naturally, that's when the twinges in my calves started, signaling cramps weren't far behind. I took a salt tab and sucked down some GU Brew. I had built a decent gap and relaxed the pace a little as well. I had quit paying attention to my watch miles ago when I started racing for the win, but I knew my time was going to be great.

The rest is just a blur. I crossed the tape in 5:40:45, breaking the course record by over 5 minutes. Relief swept over me, but I was oddly unemotional considering what I'd just run. I struggled to comprehend the gravity of my accomplishment. I knew the facts: the 49th running of JFK, Clifton's record had stood for 17 years, the great runners that had tried before and failed. I fumbled for the right words during the media interviews. It still doesn't make sense to me today. I just ran. Like so many races that I've done before, I just ran as hard as I could. Why was this one so special?

Just a little excited.  Photo courtesy of Reiko Cyr.

There really is no explanation. It was just a perfect day for me. Everything fell my way. Wardian rolled the dice, went really big, and came up a little short. If he had sat on me at mile 27 he probably would have won. He can run faster than I did on that course if he runs it right. He's going to need some good weather and maybe a full two week taper, but he can lower the CR. He's still the best all-purpose ultra marathoner in the country.

But I will never forget the day that Wardian coaxed out of me the best running performance of my life.

Riddle and Wardian.

My Splits
Trail:             1:55:04 1:55:04 (7:25 pace)
Towpath:       4:47:43 2:52:39 (6:34)
Road:            5:40:45 0:53:02 (6:19)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stone Steps, a step in the right direction

Accepting my sweet custom award from RD Dave Corfman.
(Thanks to Brian Nash for sharing the photos.)

I'm the type of guy that likes to pick out a few goal races during the year and focus on running those really well. I believe you can only get a few truly all-out efforts from your body a couple times a year. I pride myself in being able to time my peak to race well at these select events as opposed to just racing every weekend and occasionally popping a good one. And I'm very deliberate in the way I structure my training plan around these focus races.  

But I frequently use other races as substitutes for regular long runs, fitness checks, or a hard workout. There are many advantages to using races as workouts, but to be perfectly honest, my primary reason is that it just gets boring training by myself. I try to run with friends when I can, but my specific training plans and busy work schedule don't always align well with others' schedules. So I jump at the opportunity to participate in a local event like the Stone Steps 50k that requires no travel and allows me to run around with a bunch of friends all day. Even if I'm not exactly running with anyone most of the time, I really enjoy being around everyone and socializing at the end. I feed off the energy of the spectators, aid station volunteers, and fellow competitors. The convenience of aid stations is also a huge benefit when you're running a really long run.

Cresting the Steps with the sunrise on my back.
I mention all of this because I used this year's Stone Steps 50k as a hard, long, trail run. But the primary goal was to continuing building my fitness ahead of the JFK 50 mile on November 19th. That's the focus race. I didn't taper at all this week. I didn't come in with fresh legs ready to see how fast I could run. In fact, I hit a personal all-time high of 120 miles last week, capped off with the 50k on Sunday. That included a track workout on Tuesday, marathon pace run on Thursday, and an easy 21 road miles the day before. I was definitely taking a risk pushing that hard last week, but I feel it's necessary to push my limits if I want to compete with the guys that are going to be at JFK.

Early in the race, the legs were definitely feeling fatigued. I focused on staying relaxed and happily let Harvey Lewis lead the first 5+ miles. I knew roughly what my course record splits from last year were, but I wasn't sure I'd be fresh enough to better that time (3:44:39). I planned to run relaxed and see what the legs were giving me toward the end. Last year, I blasted the second 5 mile loop (~8.5-13.8 mi), but paid for my early aggression later in the race. I was much more patient this year, running alone after the first 8 miles. (My very first blog post was my race report for the 2010 Stone Steps 50k. Check it out here.)

Relax your arms!
I was definitely having my doubts with 10 miles to go that I'd be able to set a new CR. At times I found myself hoping that my aid station split at mile 22.3 would be slow enough that I could forget about my record and just cruise it in.  Although I felt tired, my splits were still looking solid, so I just kept trucking. With just the final 5+ mi loop remaining, I was less than minute off pace. I knew then that I had to go for it.  But I also knew that I had a mini blowup on the last loop in 2010 because I hadn't been taking my salt tabs and started to cramp a bit. Somehow I found a little extra energy and really attacked the start of the loop hoping to put some time in the bank to prepare for the large withdrawal that the infamous Stone Steps were bound to require. I just about passed out when the GPS watch reported that I ran an 8:15 mile which included the Steps ascent. That's the fastest I've ever run a mile that included that climb. At that point I knew I had my CR in the bag and I could shut it down and cruise in without going to the well. I grabbed some gummy bears atop Gummy Bear Hill as treat to enjoy over the last half mile and then headed for the finish. I crossed the line in 3:40:56 shaving almost 4 minutes off my time from last year.

The real takeaway from my race performance really must take into account the work I did leading up to the race. It is a huge confidence boost to run that fast with no taper and tired legs. I may not have the leg speed that I had last year, but I definitely have another level of trail strength. As long as I can stay healthy, the past week was a big step in the right direction.

Full Results

Friday, October 7, 2011

StumpJump 50k Race Report

Running a race on a technical trail that you've never laid eyes on before is tough.  Well, at least trying to run it fast is tough.  I learned this the hard way in 2010 when I went after Dink Taylor's course record at the Sylamore 50k in Arkansas.  I bonked hard and shuffled to the finish missing his mark even though I was probably fit enough to best his time.

Even a trail you're familiar with can be a very different beast when you attempt to race it all out.  This was the case at the Mountain Mist 50k in 2010.  The Mist was supposed to be my home course -- there was no trail I knew better.  I had spent many hours studying those trails on training runs before I ever attempted to race her.  But she won a decisive battle on race day.  Sure, I beat the other competitors that day, but The Mist had conquered me.

I returned to both of those trails in 2011 and the results were much different.  My fitness may have been slightly better with another year of training under my belt, but it was mostly the experience factor that helped me claim those two course records in 2011.  I knew what the trail was going to throw at me, and when.  I knew where I needed to conserve.  Where to push.  Where I needed to refuel.  And how I needed to feel.

My crew.

So when I entered the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k a few weeks ago, I was concerned because I was totally unfamiliar with the trail and had never run a course with more than 5000 ft of climb.  I really needed to have a good race to bounce back from my DNF at the IAU 100k World Championship (race report).  As with other important trail races, I had prepared meticulously for StumpJump.  I spent a week examining the course map, studying the elevation profile and reading past race reports.  I use all of the information I gather to calculate my expected splits and prepare my race plan for my support crew (thanks Stef and Dad!).  In spite of all the preparation, I have found it's extremely important not to get caught up in predictions and desired splits.  Running by feel is by far more important than any amount of preparation that you can do.  I felt like I had learned that over the past two years, but now I would put myself to the test.

No pressure or anything.

The race started under clear skies and temperatures in the upper 40s.  Perfect weather for gloves and short sleeves.  A helicopter video taping the start hovered above for the first half mile. Can't say I've ever seen that at a race before.  My plan from the gun was to relax and sit back behind some of the guys who had seen the course before.  Unfortunately an injury had kept expected competition Aaron Saft out of the race, but I anticipated that I would be spending some quality time on the trail with the course record holder, Josh Wheeler.  I ran on Josh's shoulder for a while, but it was clear that he wasn't going to just let me sit on him the whole race.  I was going to have to assume some of the pacing-making duties as we descended the first few miles of trail.

Wave to the camera in the helicopter.

In my plan for the race, I had divided the course into three sections with the Indian Rock House aid station being the logical dividing point.  We passed through it twice (10.6 and 20.3 mi), splitting the trail into three sections of relatively equal length.  My aim was to stay relaxed on the first section, work into a nice rhythm on the second part, and then see what I had left on the big climbs to the finish.  I used Wheeler's race report from last year's race to set some rough time estimates for each section, but when Josh and I came through the Suck Creek aid station (6 mi) 6 minutes off his pace from last year, I didn't panic.  I continued to stay very relaxed on the climb up from Suck Creek Rd, but gradually pulled away from Josh much earlier than I had intended.  After the race I learned that he was still regaining his strength after a recent bout of the flu.

Nearing Suck Creek Rd.  (Thanks for the pic, Jamie Dial.)

By the time I arrived at Indian Rock House for the first time, I was only a minute or two off Josh's split from last year.  That got me really excited because I knew how little I had pushed myself and I still had made up a bunch of time.  After a short stop to grab some water and a GU, I started to roll.  I had been told the loop portion of the course was the most runnable — except for the Rock Garden — and that's where I would need to push the pace.  I ran fast while I could because I had no clue how hard the infamous Rock Garden would be.  I made good time on the loop until the climb at the Hailey Rd aid station, and then came the rocks.  The hardest part about running the boulder strewn, half mile stretch known as the Rock Garden was finding the course markers when you're staring at your feet.  It was definitely challenging, but that's what technical trail running is all about.  (Anyone know who the guy taking pictures in the garden was?  I wonder if he got some good shots.)  When I came out of the garden, though, the legs were refreshed and the trail was wide open.

About to hit Indian Rock House aid for the second time.

I flew from there back to Indian Rock House.  The crowd support was strong in this section and I started to get excited.  I split 2:30 at the aid station and immediately started doing the math in my head.  It only took me 1:18 or so to make it out here, so I knew I was on record pace.  This only got me more excited and I rolled through the aid station without stopping.  Shortly thereafter, the excitement and brisk pace caught up to me a little bit and I had my only brief down time of the day.  But after I chilled out a while, I got it back together on the descent down to Suck Creek.

The last 6 miles to the finish is a pretty brutal climb.  But I knew that if I kept moving, I would be able to get the race record (The race record was faster than course record because of a course change a few years back, but I wanted to break both records).  I chose to walk a few of the steeper sections to save energy, but was able to run for the most part.  When I arrived at the final aid station at Mushroom Rock (26 mi), the volunteers were completely caught off guard.  They said they weren't expecting anyone for another 30 minutes.  I stopped and waited for them to open up a sleeve of cups and pour me some coke.  That's something I would have never done 2 years ago -- stop and wait for some aid.  But I've learned.  Patience is a virtue in ultrarunning.

Cruising pretty good for mile 31.

I was able to run the last 4 miles to the finish with relative ease.  I backed it off just a little because I knew there was no reason to push.  I was going to be well under the record and I wanted to enjoy this one.  As I came back out onto the road and the finish chute came into view, I couldn't help but accelerate.  I was was welcomed to the finish by the largest crowd I've ever seen at the end of an ultra.  It was an awesome feeling.  I recorded a time of 3:49:52 and became the first person to break four hours in the race.  I'm happy that I won and got the course record.  But I am most proud of how much I have progressed over the past two years.  I was finally able to race well in my first attempt on a challenging new trail.  My only regret from the race was not being able to take more time and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the trail.

Post race interview.  Can't wait for the video from Andrew Kornylak.

If you haven't figured it out yet, this was a fantastic race.  A big thanks goes out to Rock/Creek, RD Randy Whorton, plus all the sponsors and volunteers who helped make this event happen.  Those guys know how to put on a race.  StumpJump doesn't hype their overall awards too much, but let's just say they were quite generous in that area as well.  They've got a cool vibe going down there in Chattanooga and I think I'll be back to check it out again before too long.

Links to more race coverage:
50k Results
Interview I did with Rock/Creek
Rock/Creek's Blog Post
Rock/Creek's Flickr Photostream
Times Free Press article

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Germantown 50k mini race report

I'm going to make this a quick one.  Two weeks ago I had no intention of running the Germantown 50k.  I had expected to lay it all on the line at the IAU World 100k Championships — instead I laid an egg (race report here).  The queasiness responsible for my DNF in Winschoten subsided a few days later and my legs recovered quickly since I only ran half the race.  After the 100k, I questioned my fitness even though I had little reason to do so.  I felt like I needed to find another race to renew my confidence and convince myself that I really did just have an off day in the Netherlands.  Only an hour from the house and not too difficult for a trail race, the Germantown 50k was just the race I needed.

I'm going to skip the detailed play-by-play, because there isn't much to say.  I went out hard and ran alone from mile 3 to the finish.  The course was surprisingly tough for only having about 2400ft of climb.  All of that elevation came in the form of frustratingly regular 150ft hills.  If it weren't for the 6 miles of flat pavement, it would have been even slower.  The trail wasn't particularly technical, but a good portion of it was rhythm killing.  Short switchbacks, sharp turns, muddy creek beds and bridges so slippery they might as well have been covered in ice, constantly forced me to speed up and slow down as opposed to just cruising along comfortably.  The weather, however, was nearly perfect.  Mid 50s and overcast the whole morning.

I won the race with a time of 3:36:10.  The course is officially measured at 31.6 miles, so it's about a half mile long.  I felt like my climbing ability really diminished in the last 10 miles, but I ran my last mile on the bike path in 5:48.   That last mile was huge because it was the proof I needed that I am in great shape to run what I trained for this summer — long, flat, road courses.

But that ship has sailed for now, and I am excited to get back on the trails.  Today's race served as a great warmup.  Next weekend I head down to Chattanooga for the StumpJump 50k.  It is much more technical and has significantly more elevation change than today's race, so I expect it to be pretty tough given my current strengths.  I just hope I didn't overdo it this weekend and arrive in Chattanooga with tired legs.  I feel alright several hours after the race, but we'll see how I feel in the morning.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

IAU 100k World Championship Race Report

Credit goes to Darryl Shaffer for many of the pictures in this post.  Thanks!

Bittersweet. That's really the only word that describes this one. The 2011 IAU 100km World Championship did not go to plan for me as an individual, but it was a huge success for both the men's and women's US teams. The women brought home the silver medal and the men won gold for the first time in the history of the event. The US men took the 2nd, 3rd and 6th individual places and also put 2 more in the top 20. The other guys ran great in warm, humid, and windy conditions. To say the least, it didn't go well for me. I was forced to drop out at 55k after suffering from dizziness and nausea. I couldn't get down any calories and that led to muscle cramps way too early in the race.

The story really started the Monday prior to the race on Saturday. After spending four days in London, my family took the ferry over to Amsterdam. We went out to dinner that night in a nice little restaurant and I started feeling like I was still on a boat. I had no trouble with seasickness on the ferry from the UK, but that was exactly how I felt at dinner. My appetite was weak, but I ate anyway. That night, chills started when I crawled into the hotel bed. I woke in the middle of the night soaked in sweat obviously fighting a fever. I didn't sleep much the rest of the night and continued to sweat profusely. The sheets, pillow, and comforter were so wet in the morning that I stripped the linens myself and I called the front desk to ask them to change everything.

I ran a few easy miles that morning and actually started feeling a little better. We had tickets to the Anne Frank House and I thought I was feeling well enough to do the tour. I thought wrong. After a few episodes where I had to kneel down to stop the room from spinning, I left the house without finishing the tour and headed back to the hotel alone. I slept most of the rest of the afternoon. But that was the worst of it. I was still running a little bit every day and the legs actually felt quite good. The seasick feeling came and went over the next few days, but I really didn't think it was going to be an issue. I tried to be as positive as possible hoping that the bug wouldn't affect me much on race day.

Me and Michael Wardian. He's a first-class guy in addition to an awesome runner.
On race morning, we took charter buses from the athlete village to the start of the race about 30 minutes away. Just like at JFK and Mad City, my dad was there to crew for me and my nutrition plan was the same. It had worked before, I wasn't going to change anything for this one. The only thing out of the ordinary on race day was the weather. It had been cold and rainy the whole week I'd been in the Netherlands, but race day was forecast to be 20 degrees warmer in the upper 70s and cloudy. Except it wasn't all that cloudy. So it was warm, muggy, sunny, and windy. I fully realize that upper 70s is not all that hot relative to what I've run in all summer, but after running in 50 degree weather for two weeks, it was definitely a shock to the body. The 10AM start time didn't make matters any better.

The men's team was believed to be the best 6 guys the US had ever sent to the IAU 100km Championship, so we were shooting for gold and nothing less. There was no team strategy dictated by our coaches, but it naturally fell out that there would be two basic groups. Wardian, Henshaw, and Woods wanted to be aggressive from the start and push the pace early. Ricklefs, Binder, and myself wanted to be a little more conservative at the start and try to mow people down late with a strong finish.

Wardian, Henshaw and Woods ran together much of the race.
The race started much like any other aside from the fact that everyone around was wearing their national uniform. And there were a lot more people in front of me than I'm used to, but I didn't get sucked in. I stuck to the plan of using the first 10k loop as my warmup. The 3 fast guys took off as expected and were quickly out of sight. Ricklefs started a little faster than I expected, but Binder and I settled into a nice rhythm together. Almost immediately I started looking for groups to tuck in behind to avoid the wind. I knew any energy that I could possibly save now would be needed later in the race.

A little before 5k as I was easing down the pace, I rolled up on a group and tucked in behind a woman. That felt a little wrong, but the woman was Ellie Greenwood, representing Great Britain. She's pretty much an ultra running badass, so it was kind of cool to run with her a little. I guess realizing I was English-speaking, she talked to me after I pulled alongside. It's all kind of foggy now, but I think it was just some comment about the weather. Anyway, it's like meeting a movie star on the street. I actually got a chance to talk to her again at the train station when leaving Winschoten. She's very nice and quite approachable, but I'll admit, I was still slightly star-struck.

The course was very flat and should have been fast if the weather cooperated. The surface was either asphalt or brick pavers. It would have been quite scenic if I were in the business of sightseeing. There were several of those old fashioned windmills that Holland is famous for within sight of the course. But, I was not there to sightsee - I was there to race. There were two aid stations on the course. One at 5k and just after the start/finish line. My plan was to use the start/finish aid station as my primary and just use the 5k aid station as a backup. 

I split the first 10k feeling pretty good in just under 42 minutes. I picked up my handheld bottle and ate a GU and salt tab from the pocket. I was settling into a nice pace still running with Joe and drafting off anyone available. I continued sipping the GU Brew the rest of the lap but it wasn't as appetizing as normal. When I hit the 20k split I realized that I hadn't drank very much of my bottle. I quickly gulped down probably half of the bottle knowing that I needed to stay fueled. As I passed through the aid station, I took a new bottle and continued on. But my stomach felt full and I had no desire to eat the GU that was scheduled. I rationalized to myself that I only needed to take one every hour so I would wait. But my stomach never really recovered. I don't even remember if I ever took that GU.

The fuel I was supposed to be consuming.
This is also when the dizziness, lightheadedness and slight nausea started to affect me. As I write this post, it's really scary to realize how much I can't recall or have forgotten. Usually I am so tuned into the race, that I can remember lots of details, especially early in the race. This one is all a blur. I know I kept struggling with dizziness and thinking that Stef would be really mad if I pass out on the course. I kept running, but I quit eating or drinking. Plain water was the only thing that sounded good to me. When I realized I wasn't getting calories I tried to get some Coke, but I think it was too little, too late. The seasick feeling and dizzy spells continued to get worse and more frequent. It was frustrating though because my legs felt good. I stopped to urinate on the 3rd loop I think hoping that would clear things up. It helped at Mad City. Not this time though.

Sitting down to change shoes. The beginning of the end.

The internal struggle was difficult. The watch still said I was running really well, but I felt terrible.  My calves werr clamping down at the end of the 5th loop and decided it was time for a shoe change. I stopped at the aid station to change from my Kinvaras to Pegasus.  Looking back, I don't really think I needed a change of shoes, I just needed a break to collect myself and refocus. But the stop backfired. As I sat to change shoes, I caught a terrible cramp in my right calf. And then my quads started seizing. I got up and started running again, but I was never the same. My pace fell 30 seconds a mile, I felt dizzy, and I hadn't eaten anything in a long time. At 55k I stopped and sat down. The crew tried valiantly to get me running again and fed me lots of coke which is the only thing with calories that I would drink. It almost worked, but when I stood up to think about running again I was immediately dizzy and nauseated. I sat back down. I waited for 25 minutes, but the only way to get back to the start/finish area was to walk or run back. I headed back mostly jogging, but with the occasional walk break. This is why you'll see a 60k split for me in the official results. After I made it back to the first aid station I pulled out for good. My legs were wrecked even though I should have been able to run a 50k at that pace as a workout. 

Blank stare as I try to figure out what went wrong.

Before the race even started, I talked to our team doctor about my seasick feeling and fever from a few nights before. He thought it sounded like an inner ear infection. I honestly believed though that it wouldn't be a factor in the race, and I'm happy I went in with a positive attitude. But I underestimated how much such a seemingly insignificant issue can impact the body. The legs were fine, but the stomach and head were not in a good place. If you want to run 100k fast, everything has to work together as a system. Part of the system broke down on Saturday. I tried to fake my way through it for a while, but I eventually gave in. They say it happens to everyone at some point, but I had never dropped from a race before. I've taken this one quite hard. It was difficult to drop at the World Championships and feel like I let the team down. 

Thinking while everyone else was still running.

On the slow trudge from 55k to 60k a small girl spectating on the course saw my uniform and starting cheering "USA! USA!" with genuine excitement. I struggled to choke back the tears as I felt like I was dishonoring the uniform and our country by giving up. "There must be many more people more worthy to wear this uniform," I thought to myself. The only way I'll ever convince myself that I simply didn't just give up is to race again. I need to remember what it's like to feel good and be healthy. I will have no problems finding the motivation to train over the next few weeks.

Matt Woods showing off his medal.

The past year of racing has gone unbelievable well for me. At this point last year I had never run a 50 miler or 100k. I am very proud of what I accomplished over the past 12 months. To be selected for the US 100km team was an improbable feat in itself. It hurts that I did not finished the World Championship race, but I will use it as a learning experience and grow from that. And there is no better group of guys to learn from than the team we had in Winschoten. I am so fortunate and happy to be a part of the team that won the men's gold medal for the first time.

It was just my turn for a bad day. I'll be back.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pre-race thoughts from Winschoten

It's 5 AM here in Winschoten the day before the starting gun at the 2011 World Championship 100k race is set to be fired.  I slept well, but since I woke up to use the restroom this morning I have been unable to fall asleep.  I really do enjoy my taper time, but I notice that I don't need as much sleep when I'm tapered.  So I'm taking this as a good sign that I'm recovered and ready to race.  Anyway, with thoughts racing through my head, I figure it's a good opportunity to write some of them down here.

The Heineken brewery was one of my favorite places to visit in Amsterdam.

I left Amsterdam with my family two days ago and arrived in the small town of Winschoten after a 3 hour train ride.  It was a hectic day making our train transfers and bus pickup with all of our luggage and no ability to speak Dutch.  Fortunately, many Dutch speak English quite well and we finally made it and were able to settle in at the athlete village yesterday.  

I also was able to get out and run a lap of the 10k loop course yesterday.  The course is flat.  Completely, flat.  It is mostly asphalt, but does have some old, rough brick pavers that might be a little unusual to run on.  And it is quite twisty and turny as it loops through the city center and residential areas.  The best I can do for a map right now is my GPS track from yesterday.  Ignore the first and last half miles and you basically have the loop that we'll be running 10 times tomorrow.

It rained on me yesterday during the run (surprise!), but we're in the Netherlands so what can you do.  But the forecast for Saturday is mostly cloudy with a high of 76 deg F.  That's quite a bit warmer than it's been around here recently so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.  Hopefully I haven't lost my summer heat acclimatization yet.  I also wouldn't rule out a passing rain shower, because that's just how it works here in Holland.

The race starts at 10 AM for us, so that means it will be 3 or 4 AM for most of my friends in the States when the gun goes off.  I'll post a few links for those insomniacs out there and other who want to check in when they get up in the morning.  I have no clue how well updated these sites will be and have been less than impressed with the information available online so far, but maybe it will be there when the race starts. - live updates and news, right now check out the media report in the news section, also follow IAU on twitter @iaunews - website of the local organizing committee with start list
IAAF preview article that you might enjoy

My cell phone data connection here has been spotty, but hopefully I can have someone in my crew updating my twitter account (@rundavid1) so that might be something you want to check out as well.

Today the schedule includes team pictures, opening ceremonies, an athlete parade, and a pasta dinner.  And then just a few more hours until we get this party started.  Team leaders tell us this is the best team on both the men's and women's side that the US has ever brought to a World Championship 100k.  No pressure though.  The men will try to step up a level on the podium and take home the gold medal this year.  I don't want to give too much strategy/information away because I'm old school like that and you never know who might be reading this stuff, but I expect this race to be fast.  If you know me, and have seen how I run my best races, I'll be sticking to what works for me and looking to make things exciting late in the race.  My body and legs feel good, my confidence is high and I am well-supported.  I just have to run.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Five Years

Today I arrived in London.  Although in vacation mode right now, in a week I will be in the Netherlands for the World 100km Championship race.  I am blessed and honored to have the opportunity to join 5 other guys in representing the US against a field of some of the best ultra runners from around the globe.  It seems only fitting that the day I departed the States was a milestone in my running career.

Yesterday was five years.  Five years in which I have run every single day without fail.  1826 days in a row (don't forget the leap year).  More runs than that since I ran doubles over some of that time period.  21030 miles logged.  4200 miles per year.  350 miles per month.  11.5 miles per day.

There is nothing magic about five years.  There is nothing magic about running every single day.  It's not necessary.  For most runners, it's not even recommended.  But to me, it is symbolic.  It represents a commitment I made 5 years ago.  I had finished my collegiate eligibility and I had a decision to make.  Did I want to continue running competitively or not?  I took some time off that summer to see if I missed the training or if I found other passions to consume my time outside of work.  I decided to give it a shot.  I was going all in.  And that's when my streak began. 

My running goals have changed significantly over the years since I made that decision.  I initially intended to pursue the US marathon Olympic Trials qualifier which was 2:22 at the time.  When the standard was subsequently lowered to 2:19, I felt it was placed just outside of being a realistic goal for myself.  Then I discovered trail racing and the ultra running community which eventually led me where I am today.  Though my racing focus has shifted, my commitment to be the best I possibly could be has never wavered.

It's been a long road filled with many ups and downs.  Who knows how this 100km race will turn out for me and the US team?  All I know is that I will toe the line ready to give it my best shot.  The work is all but done.  So I approach the race with confidence, knowing that the commitment I made five years ago has led me to this race.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Taper Time

I was super excited to receive my Team USA gear this week.  Thanks USATF!

Throughout my running career, I’ve heard many folks complain about how difficult it is to back off the training and rest.  They claim to get restless and fidgety, bouncing off the walls with excess energy that is usually absorbed by intense training.  They can’t wait to be done with their break and get back to work.  I don’t understand.  I certainly don’t have this problem.  I’m beat and it’s time to taper.  And you know what?  I am absolutely looking forward to the rest.

If you are one of those people who can’t seem to enjoy your recovery, maybe you weren’t training hard enough in the first place.  Or maybe you need your head checked.  Maybe it’s the fact that downtime for me still means at least 50 miles a week and not stepping completely away from running.  Maybe you don't understand how important proper recovery is to advancing your fitness level.  Or maybe it’s just me.

I’m ready to not feel like a zombie anymore.  I’m looking forward to having fresh legs again.  I want to step out the door and run easy because the schedule says I’m supposed to, not because my body gives me no choice.  And I’m looking forward to the easy runs that turn into light tempos just because it feels good.

Rest is an integral part of the training plan.  If you train hard, but don’t allow your body to recover, then you never have a chance to rebuild and become stronger.  So go ahead, relax a little.  And don’t feel guilty.  You've earned it, right?  I know I have.

That’s my rant for the week.  Now let’s talk shop...

Monday was just easy mileage coming off of last weekend’s back-to-back long runs.  I headed to the track Tuesday but kept things very controlled.  6x1600m w/400m jog recovery averaging 5:10.   The legs were definitely tired, but it wasn’t a hard workout. 

After an easy run Wednesday, I cranked out another quality workout on Thursday.  3x5k in 17min (5:30 pace) w/2min recovery on a flat bike path.  That was a toughy.  Lots of little things were conspiring together trying to ruin this workout.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I had to push a little harder than I would have liked to keep this one on pace.  I did this workout as a dress rehearsal in my Team USA uniform just to make sure no unexpected issues cropped up on race day.  That was very motivating for about half a mile, but reality set it in shortly thereafter and I found that the team USA singlet unfortunately does not confer superhuman abilities. 

I took it easy Friday and got in 20 miles on Saturday but actually felt a little better.  Sunday was a 25 mile long run which I normally would have tried to run in a progressive fashion, but felt that a little discretion would be wise on this particular day.  I thought there would be little to gain and a lot to lose if I tried to force my tired legs through a hard effort this close to the World 100k.  I was tired, but I made it through with a little help from some friends.

That closes out one of the most aggressive weeks of training in my running career reaching 110 miles including two hard speed workouts on just 7 runs.  But more than that, the past 3 weeks have been an incredibly solid period of training that has left me understandably tired.  It’s now time to bring down the mileage and ease off the speed just a bit. 

I’m confident, fit, and excited about the 100k.  I really believe the US men’s team has a good chance to improve on last year’s second place finish to Japan, and I hope I can be a scoring member of the team that brings home the gold.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Strictly Business

With less than one month to go before the IAU 100km World Championship race, the last couple weeks of running have been the heart of this training cycle.  I have one more week of big miles and tough workouts before I start my three week taper for the race.  Although the last few weeks of training have been some of the most aggressive that I have ever done in my career, I feel quite good and I am very confident in my fitness.

Last week, I touched 100 miles (in singles, of course) with three quality runs.  The first was 3x3200m on the track with 400m jog recovery where I averaged 10:45 for each interval.  With just a single easy day after the track workout, I did a 9 mile marathon pace run on a flat bike path.  Although I managed a decent 5:38 pace for the workout, I was uncharacteristically inconsistent in hitting my splits.  To cap off the week, I followed an easy 17 miles on Saturday with a 24 mile progression run on Sunday.  The Sunday progression run started pretty mild as I was just enjoying the company of the group run, but I began getting to work after half way.  I averaged 6 flat pace for the last 10 miles and closed with a 5:30 final mile.  The weather really started to improve toward the end of the week, and I acknowledge that I probably couldn't have pulled off this level of quality running if the temperatures were still in the 90s.  

The past week, which ends today in my training log, was a great week of training as well, but with only two quality workouts.  On Tuesday, I did 4x2mi on the roads with 2 minute recovery jogs.  The average pace wasn't quite as impressive on paper as last week, but when you consider the fact that I did full 2 mile repeats on a lightly rolling road course, it was really a pretty good workout.  Not to mention an additional interval.  I took three easy days before doing 12 miles at marathon pace (5:37 avg) in the middle of a 20 mile run (6:06 avg) on Saturday.  That was a big step up from my last marathon pace workout which was just 9 miles long and I maintained the same pace.  But, it's not 100k training until I follow that workout with a 25 mile long run on Sunday.  I was very pleased to be able to maintain 6:43 pace today and log 106 miles for the week.

That's how I do 100k training.  206 miles over the last two weeks averaging 6:30 per mile pace.  I don't get caught up in the super long training runs, but rely on consistently high mileage at relatively fast paces to condition the body.  I guess we'll find out before too long how well my training philosophy works.  I'm healthy and confident right now, and think I'm faster than I was in April, but I'm not ready to make any predictions just yet.  One of my teammates on the US 100k team, however, is setting some serious goals.  Andy Henshaw has his sights on the American record of 6:30:11.  That's a cool 6:17 pace for 62 miles, folks.  The course and competition will be conducive to taking a shot at the record, but I don't think I'm ready to be quite that aggressive.

On a side note, I wanted to mention that I've been trying out the Saucony Kinvara 2's in my faster workouts to see how they might work for me in the 100k.  At 7.3 ounces, the Kinvaras are significantly lighter than the 11.6 oz Nike Pegasus that I wore at Mad City.  I was looking for something in the lightweight trainer range because I don't feel comfortable going to a racing flat for the 100k.  I've got about 50 miles in them so far and they haven't resulted in any deal-breakers like blisters.  The lower profile has caused a little tightness in the calves, but I think that will dissipate as I get used to them.  I'll keep you posted.

I'll check back in a few miles down the road...