Thursday, December 12, 2013

The North Face 50 Championship

The hills in the background...that's where we raced.

My 12th place finish at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile race was the lowest finish in my ultra career...and I couldn't be happier about it. Perhaps this feeling is a result of my low expectations going in, but I also see a lot of positives following the race. Given the level of competition, the setbacks I've experienced this fall, and a course that did not align well with my strengths, I really think I finished just about as well as I could have expected.

I detailed my adductor injury in my previous blog post, so I won't dwell on it here. Suffice it to say that as my injury spiraled out of control this fall, and my training plans for TNF50 had to be abandoned, it was very frustrating. I knew the 10,000ft of climb in the Marin Headlands would challenge my abilities, and so I had intended to spend much of my time preparing for that. But the injury precluded those plans. I only ran hard a few times in the six weeks leading up to the race, giving my adductor as much time as possible to heal. The week before the race I finally felt like I was turning a corner, thanks in no small part to Andy Shetterly at Peak Performance Sports Therapy. I was quietly confident, but knew my fitness would be lacking.

After listening to the rain pour down and the winds howl the night before the race, the weather cleared just in time for the 5AM start. The stacked field left the start line at a surprisingly comfortable pace. A couple early leaders separated themselves, but a large majority of the serious contenders were content to sit and wait. I was bumping elbows with some big dogs the first few miles, but felt like I was running very controlled. The first 7 miles or so was very runnable despite including 1500ft of climb. We flew through this section and gradually became strung out.

Just before the peak of the second climb I stopped to take a leak. I thought the fire road would continue and I would be able to catch up with my group with little trouble. But the descent was technical and the group seemed to have evaporated in the darkness. To make matters worse, I suddenly realized that my headlamp wasn't very good without all my friends' help. It turns out that my batteries were dying. This was one of my few mistakes during the race. I gingerly struggled down the dark trail as guys like Dave Mackey flew past. At Muir Beach (12.7mi) I stopped briefly to correct my second rookie mistake of the race and applied Vaseline to my nips.

Leaving the Muir Beach aid station I quickly latched on to the shoulder of a runner who passed me as I was waiting on the Vaseline. This runner turned out to be Mike Foote and we began chatting a bit before starting the biggest climb of the day. Mike set a very consistent and manageable pace as we made the 1800ft climb up to the Cardiac aid station. I am still learning how to control my effort on big climbs, so Mike’s pacing was very helpful. It was finally light enough that my dying headlamp wasn’t helping anymore, so I switched it off for the day.

The majority of the ascent occurs in just a mile or two, but the trail continues to climb gently for several more miles. This allowed Mike and I to return to conversation. I’m not usually a big talker during races, but I found Mike really easy to talk to and it seemed to help me settle in to a reasonable effort.  The wind had picked up by now and was blowing into our faces. I wanted to help, but we were still climbing and I didn’t trust myself to manage the pace. Mike and I passed a struggling Matt Flaherty shortly before entering the Cardiac aid station together.

Mike Foote and myself (Photo by Galen Burrell)

I waited a bit for Mike, respecting the fact that he just led that whole climb, then I led the way as the trail flattened out. The wind was quite brutal in this section, so I was happy to still be wearing gloves, arm warmers, a windbreaker and buff. I don’t know how some of those guys ran with bare arms and hands. This should have been a very pretty section of the course, but it was quite miserable for me. In addition to being cold and windy, the trail was very narrow and slightly off camber. This aggravated my groin injury.

This was also an out-n-back section of the course...both positive and negative. Positive in the fact that I found I was only 3 or 4 minutes off the leaders. Negative in the fact that I had to fight two way traffic on the narrowest trail of the day. I lost a big chunk of time at the turn around aid station trying to get my GU powder out of a baggy with frozen hands. Mike didn’t stop at the aid station, so he was long gone by the time I was running again. I gave chase, but hip flexors were not happy. My foot slipped off the soft edge of the trail several times when trying to leave space for passing runners, and that really aggravated my injury even more. I wouldn’t see Mike again.

The descent down to Stinson Beach was nasty...steep, with lots of stairs and switchbacks. All the twisting and turning was increasingly painful and I couldn’t descend like I could have when healthy. I let a couple of people pass without a fight and mentally went from race mode into run mode. I made it down to the Stinson Beach aid station at mile 27.7 where my wife was waiting. I traded my bottle out and told her that I had quit racing, but was determined to finish the race. I was surprised to hear that I was only 5 minutes from the leaders though.

Fortunately, I knew the climb I was about to tackle was a beast because I had a chance to run it this past summer. I was very conservative to start and began hiking the steeper sections. When I hit the stairs, I was hiking almost exclusively. I hiked at least half of the climb back up to Cardiac...anything over 5% grade and I was hiking. I was able to pass someone on this section, and passed through the aid station feeling a little better. I still wasn’t feeling great on the next descent and was passed by someone else. The next section seemed like constant ups and downs. It felt like I was hiking more than I was running.

This would have been a lonely section if not for the 50k runners that were sharing the trail. They gave me something to focus on and chase. I still wasn’t trying to race; I was just trying to get to the next aid station. Around the 37 mile mark I came up on Rickey Gates. He was obviously not having the race he had planned. I ran with him for a few minutes, but a rare flat section allowed my legs to find their happy place again and I slipped away. The flat section was short lived and we started climbing again at mile 40.

My climbing legs were shot. My quads were beginning to cramp. I had nothing. I was hiking almost everything. I turned around and looked down the trail and saw someone catching me. He was climbing really well and I knew it would just be a short time before he caught up. As he passed, he confirmed who I was and mentioned that he had run Stone Steps 50k in Cincinnati. I knew this was Peter Hogg from Michigan and I was not pleased to be getting passed by someone who doesn’t live in the mountains. But he passed me with authority, and I had no response. I couldn’t match his rate of ascent. Although I hadn't consciously noticed, I realized later that my adductor was no longer bothering me by this point.

Soon after, a strange thing happened. Peter quit putting time on me before we reached the top of the 900ft climb. I wasn’t really trying to catch him - I thought he had me - but I just kept moving and he started to come back. Although I wasn’t climbing well, I could still descend just fine. Shortly after cresting, I passed Peter back on the descent. I began to believe again and got my racing mentality back. I flew down into the aid station at 44 miles and traded in for my final bottle.

I still had another 600ft climb to survive. Even though I had put close to a minute on Peter on the prior descent, he quickly made it back up on the final climb. I tried to hang to his shoulder, but my quads started cramping again. I knew the race ended on a long downhill and decided my best strategy would be to bide my time and wait for the descent. I caught Peter sooner than expected on a short descent before the last aid station. I was able to hold my advantage on the brief climb into the final aid. It was there I was told someone was less than a minute ahead of me.

I passed Martin Gaffuri while he was stopped at the aid station. I did not need to stop, and probably would have slipped passed unnoticed if not for his pacer. Dominic Grossman saw me come through and alerted Martin to the fact that I was in the 50 mile race. Martin quickly gathered himself and began to fly down toward the finish. He passed me back quickly, but I was content to manage my energy and stalk him from a distance. I suspected I was still descending really well and the two 5:4x miles recorded on my Suunto Ambit confirmed my suspicions. Martin probably had 20 seconds on me as we hit the paved road with less than a mile to go. It was a slight uphill, but I was giving it everything to catch him. Dom kept turning around to see if I was gaining. It didn’t feel like it, but I slowly was closing. With less than 200m to go, I put my road speed to good use and unleashed my final kick. I eliminated the gap much faster than expected and turned into the finish line in 12th place, stopping the clock at 6:57:10.

Chasing Martin (photo by Dominic Grossman)

I know I didn’t start the race completely healthy or fit, but I’m really excited about the outcome. I broke 7 hours in a trail run with over 10,000ft of climb. A year and a half ago, I didn’t even break the 8 hour mark on the Quad Rock course that had just 1,000 more feet of climb. I would have loved to finish in the top 10, but I was just a few minutes behind A-list trail runners like Dave Mackey and Max King. I made a couple small mistakes, but nothing major. And my nutrition...something I usually struggle with...was great. I didn’t take a single gel the whole race, but my all-liquid nutrition plan worked great, and my energy levels were even all day.

For starting with such low expectations, the final product turned out better than expected. And for the first time in a long time, I’m excited again about what I can do in the future.  But first, I’m going to get completely healthy.



The bridge is awfully exciting.


Sunrise from the houseboat.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Toad, Tussey, and TNF

It's been a long while since I've done a blog post, and I know I'm overdue for an update, so here goes. My last post was a short report detailing the Hood to Coast Relay that I ran at the end of August so I'll pick up there.

Following Hood to Coast, I had business in Seattle so I headed north and spent the next week working in the shadow of Rainier. I spent most of my time working and recovering from HTC, but finally on Friday I had a free day to check out the mountain. I spent about 3.5 hrs on the trail that day and definitely could still feel the beating my quads took from running the downhill 1st leg of HTC a week earlier. Three days later I was home and looking to close out the 7th year of my daily running streak with a bang. I needed 30 miles to hit 30,000 miles total over the previous 7 years. An aggressive goal considering HTC, Rainier and the 446 miles I'd already logged in August. But I pushed through and finished the run without too much trouble.

I gave myself a much needed down week, but jumped in a local 6 hour race 2 weeks later. I knew I wouldn't be "racing" anyone, but used it as a workout and ran 6:30 pace for 43 miles on a flat 1.4 mile paved loop. My fitness was was solid, but something was a little off. I pushed through.

By this point, I knew the World 100k was canceled, so I rushed to switch gears from flat 100k training to more of a focus on hills in preparation for Toad 50k, Tussey Mountainback 50 mile and The North Face 50 Championships. I hit the treadmill several days later for a set of simulated hill climbs. A little more than two weeks later I'd be racing the Toad 50k in Canada. The treadmill climb workouts highlighted some discomfort in my groin, but it wasn't enough for me to skip the upcoming 50k.

Held just outside of Toronto, Run for the Toad 50k was the Canadian 50k national championship race. While I wasn't eligible for that honor, the race had assembled a strong field of Americans to come run the race as well. There was a significant amount of prize money available, especially considering the course record bonus, which I felt was in reach. But I knew it would be tough to win, because a guy named Verrelle Wyatt who had run 2:57 for a road 50k was going to be there. I don't have that kind of 50k speed right now. I might not even be able to run his Caumsett split of 2:28 for a marathon. This was a trail race, but it was quite flat. I would have stood a better chance against Verelle if it were a 50 miler or if there was more elevation change, but that wasn't the case.  

To his credit, Verrelle went out very controlled on the first lap out of the four but I was right there with him. He took off on the 2nd loop and I let him go, hoping I'd see him again. I was hovering around 4th or 5th place at this point, but felt in control. Nearing half way, I rolled my ankle really bad on a manicured dirt road with just one rock in the wrong place. I never seem to twist my ankle on the technical stuff, just when I don't think I need to be paying attention. This took me the better part of a mile to hobble off and get back to my regular stride. I chipped away at everyone else for the remainder of the race, but I never caught Verrelle. I finished 2nd and even broke the old CR by a few minutes with a 3:18, but couldn't hang with Verrelle's time of 3:14.

I was pretty trashed after the race, and the ankle I rolled hurt quite bad running the following day. But I also learned at Toad 50k that a strained adductor was at the root of my groin pain. I believe I injured my adductor way back in May or June and it has just slowly grown worse. I could now no longer ignore the injury, but I hoped only light running for two weeks would allow me to compete at Tussey.

I felt good enough to start Tussey and ran with Zach Bitter for almost 32 miles before my ankle/foot injury forced me to stop. I didn't know exactly what was wrong with it, but it hurt and was getting worse flying down those long hills at 6 min pace. Thinking it could be a stress fracture, I pulled the plug. Matt Flaherty ran a great race and ended up winning with a new course record. And just a couple weeks later, Zach Bitter went on to run the fastest 50 miler since 1981 (the year I was born).

This is going to sound odd, but my ankle/foot injury healed frustratingly fast after Tussey. After hurting for 2 weeks, I was nearly pain-free in just a few days. My adductor injury, while less acute during the race, ended up being a much bigger issue following my effort at Tussey. I finally realized that my groin wasn't going to heal if I kept running hard on it. I continued running easy everyday, but cut my weekly mileage lower than any point in the last 7 years. I did this for over 3 weeks and began massage therapy as well.

A couple weeks ago, even though I knew I wasn't completely healed yet, I decided that I would try to do some late preparations to TNF50 to a) test the adductor to ensure it was strong enough to run 50 miles, and b) attempt to prepare for the climbing that I would face in the San Francisco. Some runs have been good, others not so great. I think I can finish the race and have enough residual fitness to have a respectable showing, but it certainly won't be the fitness that I intended to bring when I decided months ago not to race JFK and focus on TNF50.

I'm going to give it a go, enjoy the single track, and just take what my body gives me Saturday. At this point, I'm just happy to be running. This may not be the type of injury that forces me to completely quit running, but I think it's safe to say this is the most significant injury I've had in my running career.

And if you're following TNF50 this Saturday and see me back in 30th place or so, don't worry, that would be a respectable finish given how incredibly stacked this race will be.

P.S. It's great to be an Auburn Tiger! WDE!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hood to Coast Mini Report

Before the race report, a couple of quick notes:
* The IAU World 100k has been canceled, again.  It's sad, but it's the best decision that could be made at this point.  I'll announce my fall racing schedule soon.
* After Hood to Coast, I spent a week in Seattle for work.  I had one day off so I drove out to Mt Rainier to run around the Mowich Lake area.  Check the bottom of this post for a few pics.
* This past Saturday (August 31) I closed out the 7th year of my daily running streak with a 30 mile run.  It was a tough run after being out of town for over a week, but it allowed me to hit the 30,000 mile mark over the past 7 years.  The 476 miles I logged in August is my 2nd highest month ever.  I'm tired now, but taking a much-deserved down week.

Hood to Coast Mini Race Report
I originally didn’t plan to run the Hood to Coast Relay this year.  I’ve run the 198 mile, 12 person relay, 3 times before and didn’t really want the training interruption during a really big mileage month.  Plus, my work schedule had me heading out to Seattle in early August.  But, as luck would have it, my trip to Seattle kept getting delayed until finally I didn’t need to be there until the Monday following Hood to Coast.  This meant I would only have to make one trip to the Pacific Northwest and I could kill two birds with one stone.  So I found my way back on to GE Runner’s corporate mixed team.

Big mistake, giving a Hood to Coast team a brand new SUV.

Another bit of good fortune had the team picking up our two rental team SUVs in Seattle.  So I flew straight there from Cincinnati with my buddy, training partner, and team captain – Max.  We easily found our other driver there at the Seattle airport, picked up our vehicles, and were off to Portland with no problems.  We had dinner and a quick team meeting Thursday night, but headed to bed relatively early knowing that we’d need a good night’s sleep to get us through the next 48 hours.

There are 1050 teams that were entered to run the relay.  This requires teams to start in small waves every 15 minutes throughout the day on Friday.  Usually the best teams start later in the day so everyone reaches the finish in Seaside, OR about the same time on Saturday.  For some reason, HTC had our team starting at 11:15AM – much earlier than competitive GE team usually starts.  We were on our way to the start quite early to allow time for check-in and warm-ups.

The start. I was beat for about 100 meters.

I volunteered to run Leg 1 this year.  Leg 1 is notoriously difficult because it drops from 6000ft at Timberline Lodge down to 4000ft in just 5.65 miles.  It’s great fun running downhill fast, but it’s brutal on the quads when you have to come back and run 2 more times in the next 15 hours.  I quite enjoyed taking the lead of our wave start with a 4:33 first mile.  I quickly realized that I had a lot farther to go and that was probably unsustainable.  So I eased back and tried take a little pressure off the quads by shortening my stride and quickening my turnover.  The quads get all of the attention, but I could feel it in my calves too – it’s just a very different stress from the usual.  I was well out in front of my wave and actually caught about 15 people in the wave that started 15 minutes before ours.  I handed off to our second runner, Liz, having averaged 4:40 pace.  My legs were tired, but not immediately blasted.

Liz is fast...like ran in the US 10k Olympic Trials last year...fast.  So there was no time for me to cool down.  I had to hop in our Yukon and get to the next exchange quickly.  It only took us about 10 minutes to get to the 2nd exchange, but as soon as I stepped out of the van, I realized how destroyed my quads were.  While waiting for Liz to arrive, I managed to run a 2 mile cool down very gingerly.  I was seriously questioning my ability to run sub-6 minute pace for my next two legs based on the condition of my legs at this point.

We eventually cycled through all six runners in “Van 1” and handed the race over to Van 2 to continue pushing the charge.  I can’t say much about what happened during the Van 2 legs, because I wasn’t there.  My van headed back to a hotel room in Portland for an hour-long break.  It was a quick stop though, as we had to allow plenty of time to make it through Portland rush hour traffic to make it to the next van exchange point where I was scheduled to run again.  The van exchange point was a mess, but my crew dumped me out in plenty of time to receive the handoff our 12th runner.

When my second run of the day began, it was still quite sunny and warm.  Even so, I was decked out in a reflective vest, flashlight, and two red flasher since the rules require these items after 6PM.  I tried my best to warmup, but the quads were definitely protesting and did not want to stretch out.  After splitting a 5:35 first mile, I was feeling quite tired.  Knowing I had a long 7.3 mile leg to do, I decided to back off and try to settle in a little more.  I slowed a few seconds per mile, but continued to pass tons of runners.  I stopped counting around 30 “kills,” but I must have finished with well over 50.  Eventually, I guess I got completely warmed up again and the pace started coming back to me.  I was running along the riverfront near downtown Portland and all of the people, whether involved with the race or not, were motivating to me.  I made my way into an industrial area and started to recognize the upcoming exchange zone.  Liz took the handoff from me again and I was pleased to see my Suunto report an average pace of 5:34.

Repeat the process.  Get in the van.  Drive to the next exchange.  Get out and cool down.  Now I’m extremely sore.  My one mile cooldown was around 9 min pace.  I had forgotten the pain by the next exchange zone because the world record holder in the decathlon, Ashton Eaton, was there with Team World Vision and I got to talk to him a bit.  A little farther down the road, I decided to run into a McDonald’s and get a sweet tea and some French fries.  Don't judge, it's what the body was craving.

Me, Ashton Eaton, and my buddy Max. One of the highlights from the trip.

My third and final leg was scheduled to start around 2AM.  At midnight, we pulled our van into a big grass field and we all tried to get a quick nap.  I got a little sleep, but I didn't want to get too comfortable because I was going to have to wake up and warm up again to run well.  It started raining, but after two warmish runs, I was a little happy to have some cooling assistance.  I took the handoff and started off down the pitch black country road.  The 3.75 mile leg felt almost like a sprint, but I was happy to get it over with quickly.  Another set of low 5:30 splits was all I could manage.

Our girls ran awesome this year!

Maybe the hardest part of the event for me is dealing with the lack of sleep.  After my final run, we still have 11 more legs to finish the race.  I just felt miserable there for a couple of hours.  I finally got a some sleep just as the sun was coming up and our team was heading toward the finish.  After celebrating our finish, my body finally agreed to wake up and we all left the beach in Seaside to enjoy a big breakfast.

The GE Meatballs team ended up finishing 11th overall out of over 1000 teams with a time of 20:44:14.  We were 2nd in our corporate mixed division only 13 minutes behind a team from Nike.  I think we'll take that.  I'm really proud of everyone who ran this year.  It was a great team.

I love the reflection in this shot.

And here are a few shots from my run in Mt Rainier National Park:












Monday, August 19, 2013

August Update

Well friends, I know I’ve been a little quiet lately.  That is usually a good sign or bad sign.  I’m happy to report that in my case, it is indeed a good sign.  I took a relatively short period of downtime following the IAU Trail Champs in Wales and felt ready to get back at it.  The last 4 weeks have been great - both high volume and high quality training.  If you haven’t heard, the IAU Road 100k Champs scheduled for South Africa in October has been cancelled.  Even so, because I was so mentally prepared to shift into road 100k training this month, I have basically maintained course while I’ve tried to decide what my revised fall racing plans will look like. I’ve almost got the plan figured out now, but I’m not quite ready to put the schedule in writing yet.  I’ll let you know when it’s official.

So yeah, the last 4 weeks of training have been great.  I’ve worked my mileage up over 100mpw in singles with back-to-back long runs on the weekends, and I’ve also mixed in some good speed workouts.  I’ve stuck to the roads mostly because the limited trail choices in Cincinnati aren’t that great in the summer, and if you’re training for a road ultra, you kinda need to train on the roads.  So I may not be worried about a flat, road ultra anymore, but I still find it to be a nice change of pace (literally and figuratively) from the trail running.  The weather has been unseasonably cool and dry in Cincinnati the last month, so that has really helped me feel unusually good for August.  Let’s hope I can keep this training momentum going through September.

I don’t normally like to chase miles simply for the sake of hitting some arbitrary number, but I’ll admit to doing that this month.  I’ve got a big goal, and it will get me to a major milestone in my running career.  This is really helping to keep the motivation high while my race goals are a bit ambiguous.  I’ll be sure to share how it all turns out at the end of August.

But first...I’m running the Hood to Coast Relay this weekend!  I tried my best to get out of running this event this year, but I just couldn’t do it.  This will be my fourth time running the 197 miles from Mt Hood to Seaside, OR with 11 other teammates...each of us running 3 legs roughly 10km a piece.  I’ll be running on a mixed corporate team from GE again this year.  I didn’t think I wanted to bother with the travel and interruptions in training to run HTC this year, but perfect timing has work sending me to the Pacific Northwest anyway, so I decided I was destined to run.  I’ve always been intrigued by the first leg of the relay which drops 2000ft in less than 6 miles.  It’s not classified as the hardest relay leg, so I normally get assigned to run another leg where I might be more useful to the team.  Now, I don’t have tons of leg speed anymore, but I figured my experiences over the last couple years make me uniquely qualified to run well downhill, so I might as well jump on the opportunity to run this part of the course.  I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month, and what I’ll be doing for a few more weeks.  Don’t look for me to race anything serious until October, but I’ll let you know when my racing plans are finalized.  In the meantime, follow me on twitter (@rundavid1) if you want to live vicariously through my experiences at Hood to Coast and elsewhere.  Happy trails...whether they be dirt or paved!

Monday, July 22, 2013

IAU Trail World Championship Race Report

Our team hotel in Llandudno.

I’m not exactly sure how you can be disappointed in a race that you go in to not having a clue what to expect, but that’s precisely the place I find myself right now.  I’ve thought about it now for two weeks before writing this race report to be sure I had time to fully digest the experience and not jump to any premature conclusions. But I haven’t really come to any other conclusions in that time.  I raced below my ability, and I also ran a boring race.

The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) Trail World Championship race was held in North Wales on July 6.  I finished in 7th place with a time of 6:04:04.  The course was 48 miles long and my Suunto Ambit recorded 7600ft of climb and equal descent.  The weather was surprisingly nice for Wales over the few short days I was there.  It was sunny and warm during the race, but it wasn’t humid and there was a nice breeze.

I flew across the pond on a redeye after work on July 3rd.  Arriving in Manchester on the 4th of July, I took a train to the race headquarters in Llandudno, a small resort town right on the coast.  After dropping my bags off in my room, I headed across the street to check into the race.  This is where, for the first time, I saw a proper course map and elevation profile.  But the numbers on elevation change were still suspect because the amount of climb and descent were different even though the race started and finished at the same place. Right, that doesn’t make sense.

So this is what I mean when I say I had no clue what to expect.  I arrived in Wales two days before the race having not seen a detailed course map, and I wasn’t even convinced it was correct even when I did have a map in hand.  I also had no idea who I’d be racing against.  The only name I recognized was Ricky Lightfoot from the UK, and only because he runs for Salomon.  But I had no basis for comparison to figure out where I should be relative to him in the race.  Really all I had to key off of was the last IAU Trail Champs that were held 2 years ago and teammate Ben Nephew finished 15 minutes off the leader.  That turned out to be a poor data point to key off of due to considerable course differences.

On Friday, I did get to run a bit of the course.  It had a couple fairly significant climbs by my standards, but it also featured a considerable amount of pristine fire road.  The single track sections were quite nice, there just wasn't enough of it to satisfy most people.  The race was set up as a 15km loop run 5 times with a 1km section of paved road to start and finish.  The climbs would be tough for me, but I thought the fire road would actually work in my favor.

There would be two aid stations on the course, but no one was really sure what would be available to the race as a whole.  For IAU world championship races, there are very specific rules for providing aid to the competitors.  Each team has a table from which they can serve the individual needs of their team members. Then there is a “common” table that everyone in the race can use.  In my past IAU experience though, there’s no guarantee what will be available on the common table and I can’t recommend relying completely on the race-provided aid station like you could at almost any ultra in the US.  This isn’t a big deal, except that the US team only had one crew member.  While very grateful to the help this spouse provided, there is no way he could cover both aid stations, so our team had no one supporting the second aid station.  We sent drop bags out, but that’s not always a perfect solution.

I went in running blind, but I still had expectations to be in contention.

My plan was tried and true; go out conservative, work into a rhythm, pick up the pieces as other fell apart, and finish strong.  I stuck to the plan and a mile into the race, I was the last man on the US team of 6 guys.  Once we made it up the first big climb and hit a fire road, I settled into my happy place and focused on relaxing the first lap.  After the first 15 km loop, I was in 31st place and 7:30 off the leaders, although I didn’t know exactly how far back I was at the time.

During the second loop I focused on running controlled and picking off the low hanging fruit, but tried not to get too excited.  It was starting to warm up quickly due to the relatively late 9 AM start, but I wasn’t overheating. I was still eating and drinking well at this point.  By the end of the second loop at 31km, I had moved all the way up to 17th place.  I also had passed US teammates Brian Rusiecki and Ben Nephew to move up into 2nd place for the team.

On the third loop, I started pushing a little especially when I was on the downhill jeep roads.  I felt like I was running quite fast, but I was weakening a little on climbs.  The heat started to bother me a little, and I lost the desire to eat.  I didn’t feel like I was absorbing calories in my stomach, so I switched over to plain water, but I still wasn’t eating gels like I should have been.  I also wasn’t taking salt tabs regularly, which I think was a big mistake.  I was taking coke at the aid stations when I could find it, but it just wasn’t enough.  I still had a good split on the 3rd lap and had moved up into 12th, passing teammate Justin Ricks to move into the lead for the US.

As I started the climb at the beginning of my 4th loop, I realized my climbing legs were gone.  I had been running the climbs all day thus far, but I was forced to switch to the power hike.  I was able to move well, but it’s just not as fast as running.  My hamstrings also began to cramp on this loop.  I shouldn’t have been cramping at this point in the race given my conservative start.  It was probably the accumulation of the climbing, now around 6000ft total, which I am not accustomed to, and a deficiency of electrolytes due to the fact that I was drinking plain water and not taking enough S!Caps. The cramps really put a dent in my killer instinct when I should have been hot on the trail of those in front of me because I never knew when the next one was going to strike.  The one bright spot from this loop was when I caught the defending IAU Trail Champion, Erik Clavery.  He went out hard and paid for it, but there wasn’t as much carnage as I had hoped.

I was in 8th place as I started the final loop.  I was still struggling on the climbs, cramping when I tried to push the pace, and I didn’t feel like I was making progress on anyone in front of me.  I realized how far off the leaders I was a little late in the race and knew I had no chance to catch them.  All of these things sapped my desire to race and I basically mentally wimped out on the final lap.  With 8km to go, I desperately needed calories and asked for the bottle of Coke that I stashed in my drop bag.  It was nowhere to be found — lost or stolen.  The common aid station table was also out of Coke.  I grabbed some Pringles as a salty consolation prize, but left mad and dejected.  

I slowly made my way to the 76km aid station where I felt so low on energy that I stopped for Coke even though I only had 1km left to the finish.  I knew an Australian was close behind, but I felt like I had to have some calories.  He was 19 seconds back at the timing mat, but only a few seconds behind by the time I had downed several cups of hot Coke.  Everyone was yelling at me to just finish, so I finally took off.  The final kilometer included several hundred feet of descent on a paved road.  Luckily, my quads had held up well and I was able to run downhill without any issues.  The Australian was hanging tough, but since I had basically given up on the last lap, my legs had recovered and I was determined not to let anyone pass me now.  It’s impossible to figure out precisely how fast we were running, but we were flying.  My road speed served me well and I was able to hold the challenger off by 6 seconds.

Although I had little idea what to expect, I still hoped to be closer to the front when I crossed the finish line. Having the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think I had the ability to win, but top 5 would have been a realistic goal. I believe I could have run 10 minutes faster and finished in 3rd on a great day.  I have felt for the last 2 weeks that I ran a boring race.  My conservative start made me feel like I was never in contention.  In a championship style race, where everyone running is really good, going out that slow may not be the best plan of attack.  On the other hand, if I had run even splits for my 4th and 5th loops — a realistic plan had I not cramped and been low on calories — I would have moved all the way up into third.  That would have completely changed my feelings about the race.  But for many reasons it just wasn’t my best race.  Some of those mistakes were my own and I will learn from them, but some of the issues were out of my control.

I am glad that I chose to run the race and enjoyed my short time in Wales.  I'm happy that I was able to lead the US team to a respectable 4th place finish.  I also still believe that I made the right call when I chose not to run Western States.  It was really good to get some international trail experience, and honestly, it was good to get my butt kicked.  It will serve to keep the motivation high as I train for races in the future.

Speaking of future races...my plans through November are a bit up in the air.  We just heard back today that the IAU 100k road championship race is still happening in Cape Town, South Africa sometime in October, but the fact that they still don't have concrete date is a bit worrisome.  I am waiting to learn the final decision regarding that race because it will completely dictate my training and racing schedule for the next few months. I'll let you know when I have more details.


The US team on the beach in front of our hotel.

Overlooking Llandudno from a nearby hillside.

Sheep!

The scenery in Wales was green and gorgeous.  This was near the race start/finish.

Ben Nephew checking out the well-manicured fire road on our Friday shakeout.

More scenery near the start.
Sunset on the coast in North Wales.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rock/Creek Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race

If there's one word that describes my weekend down in Chattanooga it is – fun. I am very competitive and I take racing seriously. Sometimes I come dangerously close to forgetting to have fun. This weekend, I did not. The trails were fun. The city was fun. The people were fun. Of course, winning was still fun. But the whole experience was genuinely fun. The weather was even...wait for it...fun.


The first stage begins.  (Photo by Jeff Bartlett)

On a gorgeous Friday morning I drove up to Raccoon Mountain for the 8AM start of the first day's 18-mile stage. The course circumnavigated a TVA reservoir dug out of the top of the mountain, but was relatively flat and fast making it perfect for my Salomon Sense Ultras. I began conservatively and socialized a bit until around halfway before I took control of the lead. My goal was to be just under the course record for the stage without using any more energy than possible. This was actually quite a challenge because I hadn’t seen the trail before the race and it turned out to be undulating, rocky, and full of rhythm-destroying turns. Luckily, I came in less than a minute under Dan Mueller's course record time from 2011. Dan was racing again this year and was only 90 seconds back, but I done what I needed to do on the first day.

Friday afternoon and evening was fun as well because I had the opportunity to make the 2 hour drive  over to Huntsville, AL and see my family. I played in the kiddie pool with my 2-year-old niece and then celebrated Father's Day with a home cooked meal. In addition to my parents and brother's family, my 92-year-old grandmother was there along with an aunt and uncle who just happened to be in town. I couldn't stick around for long, but it was great time while it lasted. I was back at my Chattanooga hotel by 9:30 PM and headed to bed to rest up for day 2.

The second stage was billed as a 22-mile course on Lookout Mountain in north Georgia. I heard it was supposed to be the wet day, so I laced up my Salomon XT 5 Softground that feature extra grip. It turns out the Lookout Mountain course was the most consistently runnable trail we had all weekend. There were a few wet spots, but only just enough to make it fun. I ran conservatively again at the start and only took the lead on a big climb just before halfway. On the descent home, I tried to make it a little exciting by slipping and falling hard on large, wet rock that might as well have been a patch of ice. I landed square on the side of my left calf, but as it was a very smooth rock, little damage was done. The creek crossing near the end was awesome and just the perfect ending to another beautiful day on the trails. Again, I ran just under Dan's record for the current course from 2011 and increased my overall lead.  (Ultrasignup.com shows a faster time was run by both the male and female winners in 2007, so I'm fairly certain that was a different course).

Creek crossing with less than a mile to go. (Photo by Mark McKnight)

Saturday night I headed back up on Lookout Mtn to a house rented by a crew of my ultra crazies from the Huntsville area. We had an absolute blast while enjoying tasty treats like fresh fruit, grilled salmon, delicious desserts and of course, beer. I think only in ultra running could you assemble such a random selection of personalities and backgrounds and somehow make it work. Unfortunately, I just haven't found a community quite like this in Cincinnati, so it was especially enjoyable hang out with these friends again.

The start of the last stage. (Bartlett)

The final day was a little more “business formal” as opposed to “business casual.” I had been saving a little, and it was time to test myself along the 20-mile route. As such, I took the lead quite early as Dan humorously pretended to commentate my obvious change in strategy. The Signal Mountain stage overlaps a couple of the biggest climbs on the familiar StumpJump 50k course then veers off on trails that were new to me. The weather was slightly less perfect on Sunday morning, but nothing you could complain about for June in Tennessee. I led by a minute at halfway when the trail really started to get interesting. It was a section of very technical trail that ran for miles, but my favorite S-LAB XT 5 shoes handled the rocks well. At one point I began to think that I had saved too much on the previous stages because I simply couldn't run fast enough to get tired...it was just too dangerous. There was a brief break from the rocks during a short road section where we visited an assisted living facility (yes, we were actually routed through the front drive and the old folks on the porch waved at us) before we transitioned over to another section of very technical trail. The final mile or so finally allowed me to pour it on, and I ran a legitimate sub-6:30 mile as recorded by my Suunto Ambit. I cruised into the finish nearly 10 minutes ahead of the old record for the stage.


Is that a grimace or a smile?  (Bartlett)

As for my 3 day total, I was 12 minutes under the old record with a final time of 6:47:15. Full results can be found here on ultrasignup.  In the end, I got a great weekend of high quality training and racing that should serve me well as I travel to Wales July 6th for the IAU World Trail Championships.

So kids, here's what we learned this weekend. Rock/Creek puts on great events. This would not be possible without a boatload of extremely generous volunteers from the area who are passionate about the sport. The trails in Chattanooga are probably some of the best in the Southeast. And I'm pretty sure you folks out in Colorado who think your trails are the bees knees would find these courses to be as challenging as they are beautiful. And of course, trail running is just. plain. fun.  Don’t forget it!

Finally, I must thank the race director Randy Whorton and also Salomon for making this possible by sponsoring the Rock/Creek Trail Series.

With race director Randy Whorton.

My favorites.  S-LAB XT 5.  (Bartlett)


All smiles.  That was fun.




Monday, June 10, 2013

Racing Plans

So this is just a quick blog post to let you know about my race plans over the next month or so.

First though, a brief update on my activities since Ice Age (race report).  So after the race, I took a full two weeks really, really easy.  Like some of the lowest mileage I've run in the last 7 years.  I don't usually take days completely off, but I do need a couple of rest periods throughout the year to let the body completely recover, and that's what I was going for there.  I really felt like I recovered from Ice Age quickly...maybe even faster than I recovered from the road marathon I did in April.  But, I took the two weeks easy regardless and made sure I got my batteries recharged.

My first day back to real training, I ran 4 hours on the trails with a group of folks at an informal group training run on the Stone Steps 50k course here in Cincinnati.  I kept it really relaxed and enjoyed the company of others for a change.  I only covered 25 miles, but I spent a lot more time on my feet than I would have had I just run by myself.  The Memorial Day holiday allowed me to get in 3 trail long runs the following week making for a fairly aggressive ramp back into big mileage training.  That brings me to last week where I had a really nice 5x1200m track workout and another long trail run.

Now I'm focusing on getting the legs recovered for the Chattanooga Mountain Stage Race this weekend!  This is will be my first stage race, and I'm really looking forward to the experience.  Rock/Creek puts on top notch events, and Chattanooga is just a cool little city, so I'm really excited to be heading down there for a few days.  That basic setup is 18 miles Friday morning, 22 miles Saturday, and then 20 miles Sunday.  I haven't run the course, but it sounds like the trails vary quite a bit from fast and rolling, to steep and technical.  The heat may be my biggest concern though.  I'm just not very experienced racing long in the summer.

Next, I have just 3 weeks to get recovered for my next race...in Wales!  I'll by flying across the pond on the 4th of July to race with the US team at the IAU World Trail Championships on July 6.  I don't know a bunch about this race or the competition but I do know that it's 75km long.  I don't think it has a ton of climbing or is very technical, but I know better to rule out anything since I haven't seen the course yet.  Running for the US, we have: Jason Bryant, Dave James, Ben Nephew, Justin Ricks, Brian Rusiecki and myself on the men’s side. For the women, it'll be Stefanie Bernosky, Tracy Hoeg, Stephanie Howe, Amy Rusiecki, and Michele Yates.

So those two races are definitely my focus in the near term.  The week following the Wales race, I'll be heading to San Francisco for a corporate track meet, but that is more of a fun event in my mind and I'll probably just be running a 5k and 10k.

We now have confirmation that the IAU 100k World Championship race will be October 26th in South Africa.  That will be my big focus race for the fall.  I'm not quite sure what I'm doing in August and September, but it will be focused on preparing for the 100k.  I will likely be looking for a flat and fast 50k-50 miler in September as a tune-up for the 100k, so if you have any ideas, let me know.

That all I have for now.  I'll check back in after the stage race.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ice Age Race Report


I wanted the course record.  I needed the win.  It was never about Western States.

Honestly.  I've already turned down my spot into WS100.  Heck, I was so ambivalent about the Western States slot that my wife didn't even know Ice Age was part of the Montrail Ultra Cup and the top 2 finishers would be granted an automatic entry.  Here's the text message I got from her when she saw all the social media traffic about the auto entry:



Eleventh at WS100 and 3rd at JFK last year...both races I missed my chance to make the starting line again in Squaw Valley by one place.  Heartbreaking, right?  Why wouldn't I accept?

I'll get to that, but I have to tell the whole story first.

It just so happens that the Ice Age course record holder currently lives in Cincinnati.  His name is Andy Jones and I see him regularly as he still trains with a competitive group. (Not to be confused with Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW) who is also well known in ultra circles.)  Andy Jones is a Canadian-born ultra runner who was very fast back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.  He's run a 2:17 marathon, is 3rd on the North America all-time performance list for 100k with a time of 6:33:57, and he still holds the North American record for the road 100 mile at 12:05.  Suffice it to say, the dude had wheels.

When Andy saw the success I was having at races like JFK, he mentioned Ice Age.  He explained that he still had the course record, but it had been around a long time and he felt this new wave of ultra talent was bound to be on the verge of breaking his mark.  He suggested that I give it a shot.

What's more is the fact that I consider JFK, American River, and Ice Age to be the Triple Crown of fast, flat US 50 milers.  I've done JFK of course, and I wanted to race American River, but my work schedule prevented me from running it this year.  Ice Age fit into the schedule nicely, so I entered the event simply to run the race.  Western States was little more than an afterthought.

I wanted the course record.

After attempting my first 100 miler and dabbling in a couple more mountainous ultras in 2012, I had a quiet year without any headline wins.  Max King trounced me at JFK, taking my record down just a year after I set it.  I thought I ran well last year, I just felt like I couldn't compete at the very top level of mountain ultras when I had no mountains to train on.  Admittedly, my confidence was a little shaken.  I decided that I should return to my strengths and run races that I could properly train for in 2013.  I had a good start resetting my Mountain Mist CR in January, but that didn't mean much on the national level.  Ice Age was my first real opportunity to prove to myself against a national class field of fast 50 mile types that I still had it.

I needed the win.

The race started fast.  Really it was just the first mile, but still, I had no interest in getting caught up in the early shenanigans.  The leaders settled in relatively quickly about 30 seconds ahead of me, and I stalked them for the first loop of rolling, grassy jeep roads.  I don't think they were more than a minute up at the 9 mile aid station.  Josh Brimhall and Zach Bitter were starting to pull away together while Eric Senseman, Matt Flaherty, Scott Breeden, and Brian Condon trailed in a tight group.

I was now warmed up and starting to get into rhythm.  I slowly started to reel in the pack of 4 in front of me. I was very careful though, and didn't catch the group until around mile 14.  At the time we were in a section of tight single track so I was just content to sit at the back.  A short time later we popped out of the forest and were cruising on some super smooth single track.  This is my natural strength and I started stretching the string just a little here.  Keeping myself under control, but ever so slightly trying to pull everyone else out of their comfort zone.  Zach and Josh were still out of sight in the lead, but now our chase group was beginning to splinter a bit.  By the 22 mile turnaround I was solidly in third and closing on the leaders.  Most importantly, I was just running my race, according to my schedule.

Zach and Josh came into view on the return trip through the same field where I started to pass the chase pack.  I wanted to hold back and relax, but I was closing and could feel it.  I dropped a 6:30 mile and caught them at the 27 miles.  I sat on them for a minute and collected myself, but I had too much momentum and decided to push into the lead.  I felt Josh drop off the pace soon after, but Zach tried to keep in contact.  I knew I needed to back off into a more mangeable pace...I still had a long 22 miles in front of me.

At this point, I was on course record pace, but the relentless small climbs were taking their toll.  I ran a few miles of the course on Friday and knew it was going to be like this, but I hadn't seen the last 13 miles of the course, so I had no clue what I needed to prepare for.  I didn't know if I would be able to continue at CR pace. I could go after the CR, but it was risky, and I might blow up in the process.  I mentally made the switch.  I had to make sure I won.  I would have been very disappointed had I moved into the lead that early then fallen apart and given up the lead later in the race.

I dialed back the effort level a notch and started focusing on my nutrition.  I could tell I was still gradually pulling away from Zach so that was a good sign...as long as I could keep it up.  He passed me late in the race last year at Western States so I knew he could be dangerous.  I was able to pass him back before the finish at WS100, but I didn't want to try my luck again.

Why do you continue to run these stupid races?  This isn't fun. You don't have to do this to yourself.  I battled my own demons from miles 32 to 36.  I had been running too fast.  I had been neglecting my nutrition.  My quads were on the verge of cramping.  I had been listening to those scientists who say salt doesn't help cramps and had not been concerned about my salt intake.  Luckily, I had put a few S-Caps in my Salomon fuel belt as an afterthought.  That probably saved my race.  If my own experience wasn't enough, Meghan Arbogast and Jeff Browning set me straight at dinner that evening...we don't know why salt works, it just does.

The salt and a steady stream of Coke pulled me out of my funk eventually.  Another out-and-back section turned around at mile 40 and I found I had a 5 minute lead on Zach.  Brian Condon and Matt Flaherty were only 30 seconds behind Zach and looked quite good.  I was confident though that I had pulled through the hardest part of the race and I'd be able to hang on.  The last few miles were uneventful.  I knew the course record had slipped out of reach, but I was oddly content with the result.  I found one more 6:30 for the last cruiser mile and crossed the line in 5:56:46.

I haven't been more pleased with a race since I broke the CR at JFK in 2011.  I ran the 3rd fastest time in the history of the race.  Only Andy Jones and Dan Held have run faster.  Coincidentally, both of those guys also have run 6:33 for the road 100k (6:19 pace for 62 miles).  Guess I have a new goal this fall for the World 100k race in South Africa.

It was never about Western States.

The hardest part about turning down my entry is that everyone just assumes that I would accept.  There were so many comments and congratulations that ended in "See you in Squaw!" or something to that effect.  I didn't see AJW's iRunFar column until after the race, but it pretty much sums up what I think the popular opinion is regarding the Montrail Ultra Cup Series...the only reason to run a MUC race is to get into Western States.  But that's just not how I see it.  I treat the MUC like prize money.  Money rarely, if ever, has motivated me personally to run a race.  But money inevitably brings competition, and that's what I want. Same with MUC, it attracts a solid field.  Some folks trying to get into WS100, others just looking for someone quality to race against.

The problem is that the sport of ultra running is changing.  It is becoming more and more specialized.  People have long commented that the MUC races are unfair to 100 mile specialists like SpeedGoatKarl because he'd rarely be able to earn a spot in a fast 50 miler.  Fortunately, more 100 mile races have been added in the past couple years to help those types get into States.  But I have the opposite problem.

I can earn a WS entry in a fast 50 miler, but I can't do anything with it.  If I accepted my slot this year, I'd only have 6 weeks to recover from Ice Age, train for States, and then taper so I arrived well-rested.  If I was lucky, I might be able to crack the top 10 again, but I want more than that.  I want to be truly competitive.  This year I wouldn't be, so I'm not running it.  I believe that by making these tough decisions now, I will extend my career and be healthy enough to have more opportunities in the future. I just hope I can still earn my way in when that time comes.

See you in Squaw...just not this year.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

Everything Bagel

...err, Everything Blog.

Panorama shot overlooking Ogden.











As the title implies, I'm going to cover a lot of ground in this post, so let's get started.

My last race was several weeks ago at the the Xenia marathon where I forgot how to run a marathon.  I felt quite good the day after the race, so I immediately started looking for another marathon to redeem myself in short order.  But two things happened that made me change my mind.  First of all, my legs didn't bounce back as fast as I thought they were going to and I was tired for a week (imagine that!).  Secondly, I decided that I really didn't run that poorly in Xenia.  If I had run 2:28 I would have been very pleased.  After some research, I think the 20mph headwind the last 11 miles was worth 2 minutes.  And if I hadn't gone out in 1:12 for the first half, I believe I could have run 2 minutes faster on the return trip.  So, I see a clear path to the 2:28 I thought I could run.  Plus, I ran completely alone after 7 miles so it was basically a time trial.  Sometimes I think I might be too hard on myself.

Pretty sweet setup for the Salomon/Suunto crew in Ogden.

Next up, the Salomon US Trail Team Summit.  A couple weeks after the marathon, I had the chance to go on a great trip that involved running, but it wasn't a race.  Salomon organized a summit for the US trail team at their headquarters in Ogden, UT and brought us all out for a long weekend.  It was so refreshing to go on a running adventure that didn't involve the focus and stress that comes with a race.  The Salomon crew took us on some beautiful trail runs just a couple miles from downtown, and I got to know so many of my awesome teammates in a way that wouldn't have been possible at another venue.  Of course, Salomon also hooked us up with a ton of great product, and I want to tell you about a few of my personal favorites.



Did you know that Salomon and Suunto are owned by the same parent company?  Well, now you do.  So my first new toy that I want to talk about is the Suunto Ambit2 S.  I've had the original Ambit for almost a year now and it's been a great watch, but it's a bit overkill for your average runner.  Suunto realized this and designed the 2S.  It gives up some battery life (now 6 hrs) and the barometer/altimeter to become a much slimmer, sleeker, lighter, and less expensive package.  It is now a full-featured GPS watch that is comfortable enough to wear as a regular watch.  It may be only a few millimeters thinner than the original Ambit, but it fits my wrist so much better.  It also has a new GPS chip that seems to be more accurate and consistent than the previous version.  If you need the additional battery life and barometer, there are refreshed versions of regular Ambit as well.  What's more, Suunto has also completely revamped the Moveslink site and it is also much improved.  For these reasons, I highly recommend looking into the Ambit2 S if you are in the market for a new GPS watch.

Testing out the Advanced Skin S-LAB Belt in Utah.

Another product I am excited about is the Advanced Skin S-LAB Belt.  It is designed to be used with the soft hydrapack water flasks.  I have run with a couple different water bottle belts, and they all bounce and slide up to my rib cage.  This belt, however, fits comfortably and stays in place quite well.  I also like carrying and drinking out of the soft flasks more than I thought I would.  Although this belt is a great idea, and I'll be wearing it this year, I'm hesitant to recommend it to the general public just yet.  The clip system is a little awkward and it doesn't stay cinched tight as well as I think it should.  It needs one more design iteration and it will be great, but I already like it better than anything else I've worn.

The S-LAB Belt with 2 full flasks.  Two in the belt + 1 in the hand = 24oz.

A quick comment about Salomon's shoes.  Building on the success of the Sense, designers introduced the Sense Ultra and Mantra this year.  I think these are great shoes that will work better for your average trail runners.  I have enjoyed running in the Mantra lately, but I'm not quite ready to race 50 miles in it yet.  So I still plan to wear my favorite XT 5's at Ice Age.  But there looks to be a lot of nice refreshes coming down the pipe.  I haven't run in it yet, but the Fellraiser looks awesome if you need lots of grip in a low-profile shoe.  I'm looking forward to running in the XT 6 shoes soon and I got a sneak peak at a big change in the XR Mission that is a little farther out.  I'm excited about the future, that's for sure.

A sneak peak of the XT 6 from runningwarehouse.com

So, next weekend is Ice Age 50 mile in the Kettle Moraine State Forest of Wisconsin.  Should be another very competitive race, but I think it suits me well.  I'm told the course is very runnable, but there are some short, steep climbs as well.  I hate mentioning names because it's so easy to accidentally overlook someone in a list of 400 entrants, but I'll give it a shot anyway.  From the Salomon team we have myself, Matt Flaherty, Glen Redpath, and Cassie Scallon.  Other top male contenders that I spotted on the list are Zach Bitter, Scott Breeden, Adam Condit, and Josh Brimhall.  I'm not as familiar with the women's field, but I see Denise Bourassa and Melanie Peters who should be able to give Cassie a good race.

My last ultra was in January at Mtn Mist, and it was only 50k, so I'm not exactly sure what to expect.  I think I'm in pretty good shape, but I've gone a little light on the ultra-distance long runs during my spring marathon training phase.  Luckily, there aren't any big mountain climbs, because I haven't spent much time climbing lately.  It should be interesting.  But this is why we race though, right?  

Follow me on twitter or facebook for the latest updates at the race.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Forgot How to Run a Marathon...

...but hopefully I learned something from the experience.

It's been nearly 2 years since I ran my last road marathon.  A messy calendar packed with work and personal travel left my training and racing plans in limbo most of this winter.  It also forced me to spend a lot of time training on the roads and kept me away from the trails.  After training for some really long trail races last year including Western States 100, I honestly enjoyed honing in my road speed again.  I was really pleased with how quickly I felt I was returning to respectable marathon shape.  So, before heading back to the trail ultras this year, I wanted to wrap up this phase of training and test myself in a race.

With such short notice though, I really couldn't get into a big marathon like Boston.  So, I picked a small race an hour from my house - the ORRRC Marathon just outside of Dayton in Xenia, OH.  It's usually won with a time around 2:30, so I thought I might have one or two people to run with.  I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago in 1:11 at the end of a 110 mile week of training, so I felt like I had a decent idea what kind of speed I had.  I said I would have been happy with a 2:30, but I felt like I could go even faster under good conditions.

The course vs the wind.

But, good conditions were not on the menu.  The forecast called for overcast skies, and good temperatures, but also a wind from the southwest of 15-25 mph.  I knew this was going to be a big problem because the course is mostly just an out-and-back where the back part is 11 miles heading directly to the southwest on a perfectly straight bike path.  I was hoping a tree-lined bike path would provide more protection than an open road, but it turned out to be just one of many "hopes" on Sunday.

The race began and I quickly settled in behind 3 or 4 half marathoners.  I was content to sit on their shoulders for a few miles, but as I started getting into rhythm, I felt several of the others weakening.  I began taking a little more control of the pacing hoping to keep the pace honest.  One of the half marathoners was just a little fitter than the others and we pulled away a bit.  We were running side-by-side for a few miles and really got into rhythm.  I split two 5:20s with my buddy before he split off and headed for home around mile 8.  I knew I would be all alone for the rest of the race.


I looked really good early.

I had no business running 5:20s in a marathon (faster than my recent half marathon pace), but I had the wind at my back and I was feeling great.  This is what I mean when I say I forgot how to run a marathon.  It's so easy to feel great at mile 7, but you have to run the first half of a marathon with your head, knowing what pace you are actually capable of maintaining.

I realized that was a little fast though, and attempted to make some corrections.  But even after the adjustment I was still running low 5:30s - much faster than my goal pace.  I used the wind at my back as an excuse to put some time in the bank, even though I know that rarely ends well.  I felt the first hint of fatigue at mile 11, but I continued running well splitting 13 miles in 1:11:40.  I was still confident at this point because I knew I was on sub 2:25 pace and felt I could hang on well enough to run a decent time.  I was running 5:40s when I turned for the finish at 15 miles.

The wind was soul sucking.  My pace instantly dropped 15 sec/mile and I was struggling to even maintain that.  I remember running through a wide open aid station and it was so windy that dust and cups were flying all around me.  It was miserable.  That's really the only description that fits.  By 18 I couldn't even run under 6 minutes per mile.  I knew my hopes of a good time were gone, and I just had to survive to the end now.  It was strange though.  I didn't feel like I was bonking (low on calories), my legs were just too fatigued to maintain the effort needed to hold pace into the wind.

I rejoined the tail end of the half marathon race around 22 miles.  This gave me a little boost since I was no longer completely alone and was now able to pass someone.  I never did completely regroup, but I was able finish strong, win with a healthy margin, and sneak 1 second under 2:32 with a little kick.

Ugly, just like my race.

It wasn't the race I planned.  It wasn't the race I was capable of running.  I forgot how to run a marathon and I made some mistakes.  But there is no doubt in my mind that those last 11 miles would have been much worse without the lessons learned from ultra running the past few years.

So, what now?  I plan to return to the trail on May 11th at Ice Age 50.  But I still have this nagging feeling that I didn't quite accomplish what I set out to do in the marathon.  I might take another stab at it, but I have to be careful not to interfere with my goals at Ice Age.

Finally, I just wanted to say the Ohio River Road Runners Club (ORRRC.org) is just a fantastic organization. The race was well organized and results and pictures were posted before I went to bed. Thank you to everyone who made the race possible.