Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Trail Marathon / No Wimps Challenge RR

Two races: a trail ½ marathon Saturday morning, then a full trail marathon Sunday morning. I’ve never done “long” races on back to back days like this before, so there was the specter of the great unknown that had me far more concerned than I really needed to be. As usual.

I’ve done the full marathon before on its own so I was familiar with the course. The full has an elevation gain/loss of 2550, so it’s like going to to the top of the Empire State Building and back to the bottom, twice, while covering 26.2 miles on your feet. It sounds way more impressive that way, but really it was just hilly trails.

Conditions both days were very conducive with starting temps in the upper 30’s, finishing temps near 50, mix of sun & clouds, and no mud. During pre-start pacing I made it a point to meet Chuck Cova and Katie Zopf, a couple of fellow insane running maniacs that do crazy-long races and live nearby. One can never know enough trail runners in this world.

Everyone lined up and just after 7:59 we started going in waves. Since I knew I’d be doing a full the next day I specifically tried to go out “slow” and treat this as a soft little practice/training run as much as possible. However I also didn’t want to go so slow that it would take all morning. Further into the race I found that I was maintaining a remarkably consistent 12 minute pace. So, I ended up deciding to try and stick with that through the remainder of the race and finished with an average pace of 12:02. (46th place out of 51 guys in my age group? Really? I didn’t think I was going THAT slow.)

The outside of my right ankle started bothering me about half way through, just under the knob that sticks out, and continued to bother me all the way to the end. Some kind of a tendon or ligament. This was a concern, because even though it felt better later in the day, I knew I’d have to run a full marathon on it the next morning. Sometimes you need to trust that you know the difference between a minor pain and a minor injury; this was clearly the former so I didn’t let it derail the weekend. Just something to watch.

Saturday afternoon I didn’t want to take a nap and then not be able to sleep the night before Sunday’s full, so I made a cup of extra-potent coffee and went to hit a bucket of range balls. I was feeling a bit loopy after I had dinner and a few of cocktails while watching the Red Wings win a playoff game, but still I was on track to go to bed early so that I’d be well-rested for the full. The cocktails would help me sleep, right? Right.

So, I went to bed about 10, woke up and looked over at my clock—it said 3:45. Knowing I needed to get up at 5, I tried to go back to sleep for that last hour…but then I started thinking, well, shoot, I’m wide awake right now, maybe I should just get up now. So I got up. Picked up my phone, which said 2:50, and started to wonder. Went downstairs to double-check the other clocks, they said 2:52 and 2:53, so once I finally got my act together I determined that my normal bedside clock has it’s own internal clock that determines on it’s own when to make adjustments for Daylight Savings time. It must’ve perhaps been built based on an old algorithm.

Anyway, here I was at 3:00am, extra wide awake now, knowing if I tried to go back to sleep I’d wake up exhausted, so I decided to just stay up and deal with it. Of course, right before I was planning to leave for the race (6am) I started becoming insanely tired. Still I had to go so off I went, I-69 West to 23 South. That 4th cocktail I had right before bed must’ve been lingering in my system. I felt extremely loopy driving, probably would’ve blown a .2 if I’d gotten pulled over, but I managed to get there and started prepping. Deciding what to wear when temps start in the low 30’s and go up to the 50’s can be tricky, but I came up with a good combo. When I was about 90% ready I heard the early notes of the national anthem and realized oh yeah, we start at 7:30 today, not 8, so I had to scramble a little to get the rest of my act together and get down there in time to start.

Again there were wave starts and I started in the last or second to last wave. Off we went and I tried to treat the opening 13.1 mile loop like the start of an ultra—start easy, then ease back. That right ankle was becoming iffy again, but I quickly figured out that running uphills made it worse, so from that point I made it a point to walk every uphill, no matter how gradual. It got better and despite my woozy, sleep-deprived, still-half-drunk disposition, things were going fairly well from a pain standpoint. My only issue was my weariness, which turned into sloppiness a couple of times, especially when I turned my left ankle 90 degrees inward at about mile 11. Wow, two bad ankles? Fortunately I didn’t hear/feel anything snap crackle pop so I slowed down and just kept running (but more slowly/gingerly), which is what you’re supposed to do when this happens. Within another 5 minutes it was pretty much 100%.

My other problem now was my stomach. Maybe it was the booze from last night, or the Honey Stingers I had about 6 miles in, or the Gatorade, but things were not going good. I felt barf-y. Then I had a scoop of trail mix at the halfway point, but there were too many raisins and M & M’s. No problem with water all day, but I was clearly over-sugared at the 13.2 mile mark.

So I didn’t eat anything the rest of the way, figuring the exercise would help me burn through whatever foul nastiness was in my stomach and I’d be ok by the end. Starting that second loop, I was still weary, sore in spots, and not looking particularly forward to running for another 13 miles. But then a funny thing happened: at about mile 14, I got this weird, mysterious second wind. Something was telling me to start flying. Coincidentally, around this time some guy passed me pretty quickly and when I mentioned he was making this look easy, he responded saying he’d gotten a second wind and needed to take advantage of it. About 15 minutes later I had passed him for the very same reason.

That last 12 miles were some the greatest miles I’ll ever run. I was bombing the flats and the downhills, even running most of the uphills. The harder I ran, the less my ankles hurt. I was passing a lot of people at this point. For a while I’d had thoughts of trying to break 5:20 (which would mean a PR for this course) but because I’d started so conservatively on the first loop it would prove to be just out of reach. Still it felt so good to run full-blast over those last couple hours and I was reminded once again why trail running is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I finished in 5:24 (3rd from last?? You know what, screw these 45-49 year old Men with their faster, less-drunk legs), euphoric at the end and wanted to keep going, got my swag (Turns out my coveted No Wimps Challenge t-shirt was a Women’s XL, oops, working to rectify that), soaked my legs in the agonizingly cold water of Silver Lake, and then headed home.

One note of reflection: Not 100% sure, but I’m seriously thinking my low-carb diet is going to work for me. It was my first ever race of marathon distance or above where I did not hit any sort of a wall. We’ll see how well that holds up over 50k,  50m, 100k or beyond, but so far so good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

College Cultural Marathon--RR

The online community recently presented me with the opportunity to run a different kind of marathon, one without an entry fee, t-shirts, medals, swag, aid stations, spectators, a set start line or finish line. The ‘race’ would begin when I hit start on my Garmin, and stop when I hit stop. I wanted this to be on a course that was interesting enough on it’s own merits, but with as little traffic as possible so that I could blare dumb music into my ears without fear of being run over. I wanted it to be outside, where I’ve always felt I belong ever since I was a little kid riding my bike through the neighborhood, playing football in front yards of my friends and enjoying one of those glorious sunny days that seem to last forever. Most of all, I wanted to re-visit that utterly unique Long-Run feeling, the one you get when your distance somehow goes from a just a couple/few miles up to 20-something, you start to lose yourself in the act, a weird cosmic flow happens, time becomes irrelevant, your consciousness elevates, the soul becomes cleansed and this life we’re living finally starts to become truly Alive again.

Someone I’ve never known (and only briefly may have spoken with during a race earlier in the year) was putting together a 24 hour run to help raise awareness about teen bullying, depression and suicide. Her name is Adele Garcia, and her event was called the Upward Spiral 24 Hour run. I really wanted to participate, but the 5 hour round trip plus the timing (it would start on a Friday afternoon) just weren’t conducive to my situation. Still I wanted to do something positive on my end to help out and maybe raise a little awareness. I’m not entirely sure why; I’ve never done something like this before, and I’ve never had involvement with that particular cause. I just wanted to help. She didn’t ask me, I simply decided to run a satellite marathon on the same weekend and do what I could to contribute to the cause.

In a way, fate was on my side. On the day I would end up doing this run it would get all the way up into the 20’s and the sun would shine all day. This during the coldest February in the history of the state of Michigan, when almost every day of the month it never seemed to get out of the single digits and clouds have been so prevalent you’d think the sun was gone forever, never to return.  

In other ways, fate was not on my side. The day before my Saturday run, a burning plastic smell started to permeate the air of my Flint, Michigan home. Upon further inspection I discovered my furnace had somehow managed to tear apart and suck a piece of air filter into the motor, frying the motor and rendering my furnace useless. It would get below zero outside that night, and indoors I awoke to a crisp 53 degrees in my house.

So, earlier in the week I’d published online that I would be running a 2 mile loop of trail and roads until I reached a distance of 26.2 miles. I was calling my run The Applewood Marathon since much of the course would be on the Applewood Trail that runs through Mott Community College near my house. There was even a port-a-john on the course for workers doing construction on the planetarium that sat next to where I would start. Every marathon worth a darn has got to have a port-a-john, right?

The plan was to start at 9am, and finish around 2pm. However, with my furnace dying the night before, I had no choice but to put off my run until my Furnace Guy came and my furnace was fixed. Fortunately I have the greatest Furnace Guy ever, and he got me back up & working that very morning.

In the meantime, I also happened to notice that my tap water was suddenly coming out orange. Anyone who follows Flint knows we’ve had an almost circus-like time of getting clean water in recent months, for which we pay some of the highest monthly water bills in the country. It’s even gotten some national attention from Erin Brokovich. I’d heard through the grapevine that the key is to run all faucets for a couple minutes to flush out the bad and then everything would be fine. Still, of all the mornings for this to happen, it just had to be that morning? Really? I’d been planning on doing this run for a couple of months; to have my furnace die and my water turn orange in just the few hours leading up to it, well, it was bizarre more than anything.

Fortunately, I seemed to have a somewhat zen-calm that morning and didn’t want to let it derail my plan. I mean, how could I really get upset over those things? They were out of my control, mere setbacks that I addressed calmly and moved on from. I would still get over to my little starting area by about 11:30, do my run and get back in time for some dinner, a shower, a cocktail and a smile as I drifted off to sleep. The final twist of fate unveiled itself as I approached the area where I would start my 13 two-mile loops and saw 5 or 6 City Of Flint maintenance trucks working on what was clearly a water main break. Ah, this explained my orange / rusty water. They had the area completely blocked off, and down the hill from where they were working, on the start of the paved Applewood Trail where I’d be running, there was about 100 yards of thick, frozen slush and ice from where water had leaked out, pooled at the bottom of the hill, and frozen everything in it’s path along the way. The trail was completely un-runnable. My course was destroyed.

At this point, really all I could do was shake my head and wonder. I briefly thought about throwing in the towel, considering that maybe this was a higher power telling me to not do this run for some uncertain reason. But I’d made a promise, one I felt compelled to keep. So I drove back home and decided to simply do loops through my neighborhood. The roads there were also snow covered and solid ice in many spots, but at least I knew the terrain and wouldn’t have to (literally) skate around those maintenance trucks.

After getting myself put together and ready to go, I walked down to the intersection of Meade and E. Second Street. For some reason it seemed that an intersection was the right place to start. I pushed the button, started my music and off I went, 3 hours later than I’d originally planned to start. My new course was basically the outer boundaries of what’s known as the College Cultural Neighborhood, roughly outlined by Dort Highway, I-69, Burroughs Park, the aforementioned Applewood Trail (only the runnable portion, not the mushy/frozen disaster area section) and Robert T. Longway Boulevard. Thus the College Cultural Marathon was born. Upon completing my first loop I discovered the distance was approximately 4 miles. I would simply keep doing this loop and then do a shortcut on my last loop to get to 26.2 miles.

It’s just not a marathon if you don’t go out too fast, which is exactly what I did, what I always do. My legs felt decent, it was a beautiful sunny day, good music flooded into my ears and out here on the roads, I didn’t have a care in the world, other than maybe getting hit by a car. As I ticked off a few miles I started calculating possible finish times: 4:10, 4:20, 4:30? I would soon see the error of my ways, as I always do. Certain parts of my feet started to hurt, and my IT Band started to grumble, and my hips started to groan, and my hamstring started to mumble, and my groin muscles started to voice their displeasure, and my Achilles started to protest, and my calves started to balk. It wasn’t long before I regained my common sense and eased off, thankfully. Plenty of walk breaks and only easy jogging/running the rest of the way.

My mind went everywhere and anywhere as it typically does during one of these long runs. But there weren’t any divine inspirations, no ethereal visions from the heavens, no Meaning Of Life insights to report. Just running. Living in the moment. Appreciating the gift. Since this “satellite” run was in support of troubled teenagers I tried to think back to the time when I was that age, awkwardly struggling through hormones and pressures and high school in my quest to figure out my place in the world. Even though I was listening to the music of my youth and thinking back to those days, it was hard to relate because I’m not struggling anymore like I was back then. Things have turned out well. I love my career, social life is as solid as it can be, I’m healthy, have a few bucks in the bank. Basically everything has worked out. If I had a chance to go back in time, I guess what I would say to my younger self is “Just be patient, everything will work itself out.”

Anyway, the run came and went with much fanfare. Simply a 26.2 mile long run through my neighborhood. I finished in 1st place at the inaugural College Cultural Marathon (and last place); my reward was food, a shower and a couple of cocktails. Sometimes the simple pleasures in life are the most profound; such was the case on this day. It was a great long run on a beautiful day that resulted in $262.00 worth of support for an important cause. Doesn’t get much better than that.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Bad Apple Ultra 12 Hour--RR

If I was going to do the 12 hour race, I’d have to leave my house by about 3:15am so I could do the 2 hour drive, sign up and start at 6am. If I was going to do the 6 hour race, I could sleep in and not have to leave until 9am, which would get me there by 11am so that I could start at noon. I set my alarm for 3am, got to sleep early, and would see how I’d feel in the morning. I’d be a game time decision.

I woke up at 2:45am, and thought, “Well, I could try and sleep for 15 minutes, get up at 3, leave and do the 12 hour. Who am I kidding? Sleep for 15 minutes? No, if I’m going to get up and do this, I might as well get up now. Although, I’m really super comfortable, and warm, and tired, plus I can sleep in, still do the 6 hour and have a fine day of running, complete a marathon, it's all good. I’m not really in ‘12 hour’ shape anyway; heck I’m barely in 10k shape! Besides, I haven’t had any exceptionally good Long Races all year. On the other hand, if I did the 12 hour, am ‘just not feeling it’ and want to quit early, I’d have the flexibility of being able to quit whenever I wanted. Still, this is crazy, getting up this early to drive 2 hours to spend the money and do a race I’m not anywhere near adequately trained for? No way, I’m going back to sleep.”

Which meant that I was now wide awake at 2:50am, so there was no point in lying awake for the next hour hemming and hawing about why I should’ve gone ahead and left so that I could start at 6am for the 12 hour. Such is the mind of an ultra-marathon runner. So I got up, ate some yogurt, packed, made a bullet coffee and hit the road. The highways are blissfully free and clear of cars between 3am and 5am. Obviously there was a serious concern about deer and I did see one on the side of the road, but there were no incidents. I arrived, signed up, geared up and prepared to go. A last minute sit in the men’s room was critically important but I had to sprint to the starting line and everybody was just taking off as I arrived. Off we went into the dark.

The course was a 4 mile loop consisting of a combination of dirt roads, 2 track ‘roads’ through apple orchards and pumpkin fields, and a couple sections of single track. I’ve had plenty of experience running in the dark, but for some reason, I’ve not had too many problems seeing. Wearing two little headlamps, I thought I’d be ok…but between the unfamiliarity of this course, the clouds blocking any moonlight and just the seeming dimness of my lights, I couldn’t see worth a darn. Had to take it slow, feel my way through (especially on the single track section) and try not to get lost.

I got lost, but it wasn’t for very long. I basically missed a turn and ended up on a road to nowhere, but since I didn’t see any additional flag markers I had the wherewithal to turn around fairly quickly and get back on track. Only added about ¼ miles to my day. It was a relief when I finished my first loop, but it was still very dark when I headed out for my second loop. Legs felt good, energy was decent.

Second loop I got lost, in the woods. I missed a sharp turn and for a brief moment thought I might be seriously in a dead zone where I’d have to wait an hour for daylight. A brief pit-in-stomach moment passed before I was back on track. Either my headlamps were getting dimmer or I was getting blinder. Really hoping for light at this point. Finally light came on the third loop and I was able to start seeing the footing, the flags, the course, the apples and pumpkins.

One thing I really tried to do right from the start, since I was concerned about being woefully undertrained, was to walk even just the slightest uphills and only run slowly, lightly, on the flats and downhills. The longer I kept jogging (and not walking), the better I thought I might do. The goal was somewhere in the 40 mile range, around 10-12 loops. 48 miles would be a very good day.

The fall leaves were on full display, the clouds parted mid-morning and it became a sunny, beautiful day…except for the wind. When we were running with the wind at our backs, it was perfect and even got a little warm. Running into the wind was brutal. All morning and all afternoon. Loop after loop. And every loop finished with an uphill section dead into the wind. Yes a little wind is nice to help keep you cool and dry, but fighting it for hours and hours got really old for me.

The orchard soon became a bustling hub of activity with all kinds of folks all over the place—out in the fields, on tractor rides, at the pony rides, in the parking lots, young, old, medium, everywhere. They pretty much all had the same bemused, uncertain curiosity looking at us, like we were a strange native species that they’d never really seen before (which we were).

Just as I was starting to hit 22-24 miles or so I struggled a bit, but it was short-lived and I kept going along nicely. My slow and easy start must have been paying dividends. One drawback to the morning was my shoes, which were no good, so I changed them out with a different pair and almost immediately my feet felt better. Simply going to a different model/year of the same brand of shoe can make a big difference. After passing the marathon point and approaching 50k the 6 hour starters assembled, began and joined us on the course. They all looked so clean, fresh, virginal without any signs of sweat or fatigue. It was cute. I thought about how my fellow 12 hour competitors and I probably looked exactly like that 6 hours ago when we started, but it would’ve been too dark out to notice.

Seemed like I saw a lot of folks over and over, either blowing by me or who were walking while I passed. Every single chance I got I said “Hi”, “Good job”, “Looking strong” etc. Karma may or may not be a real thing but in a race like that you need all the help you can get and besides, they were saying the same things right back to me. We’re all fighting the same battles and are on the same team, no matter what loops we were on. A lot of really wonderful people out there.

As the afternoon started to age I noticed something extraordinary; I was still running pretty much just as strong as when I’d started. Thanks to my very short stops at the aid stations I was also doing well on time, and as the loops ticked away I started to see 48 miles as a very realistic goal, with plenty of time left over in case I hit a rough patch and needed to walk a lap or two. I was having a good day.

4 miles is a good distance for a loop ultra because on the one hand there is plenty of distance and variety so that things don’t get monotonous, while on the other hand you’re regularly returning to the home base so there’s the frequent sense of consistent accomplishment. After 8 laps I thought, “Heck, Richie, only 5 more loops and I’ll have 52 miles. I definitely think I can break the 50 mark. Maybe I really am having a good day. Although I sure am getting sick of that wind. Ugh. I mean, man, come on, give it a rest already…”

For a bit I was concerned about dehydration, but then I got my fluid intake back up a bit and was fine. My food intake was less than it’d been at past races but this day it didn’t seem to be an issue. By now the 3 hour people were on the course were with us. A couple of them just flew by, it was quite a sight. And still I was running, even during loop 10, 11, 12. By this point it was no longer just a good day; I was having an epic day, one of the best races of my life. 13 loops would now be assured, and I was even entertaining thoughts of 14.

But I was also hurting. My hips, right ankle, feet, back, shoulder, IT band, all the usual suspects. And I knew I would have to drive all the way back to Flint after it was over. If I quit at 13 it would mean I’d have 52 miles which was still awesome and a very successful day. I could be on the road by 5:45pm, get home with plenty of time to clean up, relax, have a victory scotch and reflect on my day.

But…56 would sound so much better! Such is the mind of an ultra-marathon runner. Besides, how many more opportunities would I get like this? I literally was flying along effortlessly, figured I had another 30 or 40 miles in me if the need arose, and days like this just don’t come along very often at all. And most importantly, if I didn’t head back out for that 14th loop, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. That settled it. This was my day and I would not be denied. So I refilled my bottle and headed back out. Last lap was the most enjoyable, and the perfect ending to a dream day.

Final tally was 56 miles in about 12:15. I give it an A+. Maybe I was just delirious from the endorphins and sugary gels/beans/chews, but wow… If everyone felt like this during every run, every single person on earth would be a runner. This was my version of a BQ, sub 4:00 mile, summiting Mt. Everest or dating Katy Perry. Kudos to the race director(s) and volunteers, they did a spectacular job. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to this race because I’d hate to tarnish the memory. For once in my short ultra life, it all came together. I spent the day running on magic legs.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hungerford Games Marathon--RR


This would be my 19th race of marathon distance or above. And once again, distance running found a way to be humbling.

The race was The Hungerford Games in Big Rapids, MI. I planned on staying at Nirvana, a “town” 30 minutes away where I have use of a cabin on the bank of the Pere Marquette river. It’s late September so the salmon are coming upstream to spawn, rot and die. I saw at least a couple dozen. It’s heart-racing as a fisherman to see 10-15 pound king salmon swimming by in 1 foot of water.

My prior race was the 100k at Run Woodstock 3 weeks prior, where I had a great race, finished strong and felt invincible. About 10 days after that race I went for a run and proceeded to sprain my ankle. It wasn’t a devastating sprain, but it was of the high-ankle variety and I was limping for several days after. So, zero running, zero walking in the 8 days leading up to this race. In fact, really just a single 3 miler in the 3 weeks leading up. Probably not good, but apparently you only lose 1-2% of your training if you take 3 weeks off. I’d be fine.

On my drive up I saw a semi overturned on it’s side. Part of the payload had broken through the roof and spilled out. It was trying to pull into a business but cut the turn too close, back wheel went in the ditch next to the entrance and down she went. Not something you see every day.

The weather was beautiful, mid-70’s and sunny, leaves were starting to turn, it was Pure Michigan to make Tim Allen proud. Hadn’t rained in at least a week, so everything would be nice & dry. I went to bed unusually early after setting the alarm on my phone, which, it turns out, was set to PM instead of AM, so I overslept by about an hour. Fortunately I woke up at all, got moving and got to the race with plenty of time to spare.



They bused us out to the start, about ½ a mile from the finish. It was cute, my first school bus ride since I was a teenager. There were about 40 runners on the bus; we launched spit wads at each other, worried about the quiz in 3rd hour biology and talked about what we would do at recess today. I decided to do this race without music, which I ended up regretting. However it was such a beautiful day, birds were chirping, plus I’d be able to hear cars coming which is always nice when a race is 100% on roads.

My “A” goal was sub 5:00, B goal was sub 5:30, C goal was just finish, but I felt good so the initial plan was the A goal. We lined up, gun went off and off we went. A short way in we came to an uphill. This would become a recurring theme; I figured there would be some hills, but in fact there were WAY more hills than I thought there would be. I should’ve started hiking the ups at the start, but I didn’t think there would be that many. Plus this was my 19th Marathon-Or-More, I was invincible and thought I would try to run the whole thing and be a tough guy.

The early part of the course went from pavement to dirt road to seasonal road. It got a little rough in a couple spots where the ruts in the seasonal 2 tracks were deep and sometimes muddy. I can’t imagine what they get like after heavy rains. Still it was all pretty negotiable, sandy but not too bad.

Then we came to a stretch of powerline two-track, where the sand went from sandy to deep & mushy. This was the hardest part of the course because it was all hills, and all mush. With footing like that you trash your feet more than you might expect, tweaking the tendons/joints/ligaments a little with each step. Amazingly I didn’t re-sprain my ankle. However, when I got done with that stretch I had to reassess. No more running the whole course. In fact I was already pretty beat-up with still 19 more miles to go.

More seasonal road followed, then a long stretch of flat dirt road through the countryside. This was where I wished I wasn’t so beat up, because it was very runnable and I could’ve made some nice time through here. But I was beat up & beat down, and only just heading into the halfway point. This is where I missed a turn, the volunteers yelled at me & got me headed the right way, then I missed another turn about a mile later. Thankfully one of the other runners behind me yelled to me and got me back on track. Some days it’s just not your day, I thought to myself, and today was one of those days. I tried to enjoy the countryside, enjoy the weather, enjoy the damn birds chirping but it was hard to do because all I thought about was the pain. I wanted to stop, quit, go back to the cabin and play with my phone or something.

At mile 16 I thought to myself ok, 10 more miles to McDonalds, since there was a McDonalds on the way back to the cabin. A buddy of mine wrote a song many years ago called “One More Mile To McDonalds”, and for the next two hours that song was stuck in my head. Each time I passed one of the mile markers, “8 more miles…” etc. Then I got a different song stuck in my head: “I’ve seen better days, I’ve been the star of many plays, I’ve seen better days” and then the Game Over riff. Over and over. It’s always a good idea to wear headphones and have music available to listen to for this very reason.

Leaving a seasonal road to enter a regular dirt road I saw a pickup truck that tried to take a turn into a campground, but he cut it too tight and had slid into a ditch a little. 7 or 8 people standing around, coming up with a plan to get him unstuck. I thought, wow, that’s twice in two days that I’ve seen the end result of a badly negotiated turn. ½ a mile later I saw a third minor disaster, where a pickup pulling a horse trailer had it’s trailer in the ditch. He tried pulling it out but he’d spun his wheels so bad it just dug ruts in the road. Thankfully there weren’t any horses in the trailer. Still, 3 separate 1 vehicle accidents in 24 hours.

I was starting to feel like a car wreck myself as I plodded on past mile 20, 21, 22. Couldn’t run any of the uphills at this point, had to walk them. My feet were on fire, my IT band was flaring up badly, my hip was bothering me a little, it was getting hot out. I’m a little embarrassed with myself for all of this whining and self-pity but it’s an accurate depiction and it was all I could think about. I felt like one of those salmon, rotting and withering away, dying a cruel and painful death as I swam/ran uphill/upstream to seal my fate and succumb to an unceremonious death that would finally put me out of my misery. At last, the final mile. “One more mile, to McDonalds…”, I’ve seen better days…”. Finished in 5:25, got my awesome finisher’s medal, so glad it was over.

When driving back to the cabin I missed my exit.

All of those 19 races were hard, but this one felt like one of the hardest for some reason. Maybe it was the course (fear the mush!), maybe it was the completely staying off my feet for all of that time leading up to the race. Maybe I went out too fast. Maybe I should’ve walked some of those early uphills. Maybe I should’ve walked more in general early in the race. Maybe I should’ve listened to music. Maybe it was all of those things. It was a stern reminder that these races can be very humbling, and that it is never, ever a good idea to go into one of these events with a tough guy invincible attitude. I’ll give myself one day to lick my wounds, reflect, watch the salmon…and then figure out when & where the next long race will be.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Run Woodstock 100k--RR

When I showed up for this year’s Run Woodstock race in Pinckney, MI and started feeling the vibe and getting into the experience of the race, I almost immediately felt a twinge of disappointment because I was ‘only’ doing the 100k and not the 100 mile. Now, don’t get me wrong, 62 miles is a no little baby joggie; it’s a plenty long ways. But for an event like this, it’s a 100 miler, and everything is geared towards those 100 milers, as it should be. They’re the main attraction, and I lamented not being a part of that main event like I was last year. Fortunately it was still an ‘ultra’, and had all the ingredients necessary for a good ultra experience—humor, danger, religiosity and hallucinations.

11 days prior, I registered for the race. One day later I looked at the 10 day forecast on the Weather Channel website; it called for upper 80’s and thunderstorms on race day. So I checked back pretty much each day until race day and it continued to say the same thing, day after day, culminating in a high of 90 (hottest day of the year) and pretty much a 100% chance of storms, rain, etc. Clearly things would start ugly and stay ugly out there.

I did this race a few years ago when they got the epic monsoons that literally flooded certain parts of the trail in as much as a foot or more of water. That year I was attempting my first 100 Miler; the rain broke my spirit and I ended up dropping to the 50 mile. The difference this year was that I would “only” be doing the 100k, so I could endure any storms and finish.

The morning of the event (which would start later in the afternoon at 4pm and goes all night, mostly in the dark) I bought a rain jacket and a newer headlamp, both of which proved to be poor purchases. The jacket was really just annoying, and the headlamp wasn’t nearly bright enough. 18 lumens is nowhere near adequate for trail running. I recall seeing a 90 lumens option at the store, which would’ve been much more effective.

So we had our pre-race meeting at 3:00pm, then starting at 3:05 we all had to sit there and fidget, worry, wonder, look at the radar on our phones, take selfies, prepare and wait around to start. They should have their pre-race meeting at 3:45. Just a thought.

Finally we lined up, started at 4:00 and I just started roasting. 90 degrees with a heat index of 98 is too hot for running, period. Unless it’s the Badwater 135, which is a small field of mostly elite runners that have rolling crews available to help runners in trouble during any part of the race and has since been banned from existence for being far too dangerous to human health because of the heat…but that’s off-topic. So I was dehydrated an hour into the race, cooking like pork tenderloin and despite otherwise well stocked aid stations, for the first three hours I couldn’t get any ice. If a race is going to be held on a 90 degree day, every aid station needs to have ice. Just another thought.

Because I was literally baking on my feet, the first loop was unusually unenjoyable, even though it was my fastest loop by far. It was appropriate that I was wearing an orange hat, orange shirt and orange calf sleeves (a.k.a. “calf panties”) because I literally felt like I was a 170 pound campfire chugging through the forest. Barbecued Ultrarunner. Alright I’ll stop with the descriptions. Eventually I did get some ice, in my hat and in my hydration pack. There is nothing on this earth better than ice cold water when you’re on the verge of heatstroke. It saved my race, and maybe my life.

As I was reaching the end of that first loop, the cold front came through. Winds of up to 70 miles an hour swirled, trees were falling, dust was flying, branches were dropping, I may have seen a small partial tornado, it was a wild environment. A tree branch about an inch in diameter bashed me hard square in the mouth (I actually caught the branch with my hand after it hit me in the face, that’s how I know how big it’s diameter was). It didn’t break the skin or give me a fat lip, which strangely almost disappoints me. What a badge of honor that would’ve been, coming into the home camp with blood all over my face, right?

Between loops 1 & 2 at the base camp, with enormous wind gusts bringing down campers’ tents and furiously flapping the tarp walls of our drop bag area, I chugged Powerade and Ensure like there was no tomorrow because I was desperately…lacking, in electrolytes and nutrition and fluids. Overall I don’t think I’ve ever drank more at a race than this one. I was also hitting the Gatorade at almost every aid station. Another check of the radar on my phone revealed that the storm didn’t look too terribly bad for us in the immediate future, but it didn’t look good for later. Afterwards the newspapers would claim it was the 10th most “impactful” storm in the past 111 years because of those winds and the power outages in created all over the state. Nice.

Darkness didn’t take long to settle in after the start of the second loop. The rain never came in a deluge, but it came. Basically it rained on & off for the next 8-9 hours or so. I was already drenched from sweat so I’m not sure why I was trying to keep myself dry with a raincoat. More than dryness, I was expecting the temperature to plunge so I thought I’d need it for warmth. You always try to plan for possibilities; this was one thing I kind of got wrong. I should’ve just run in my shirt the whole time.

I’ve always run these long races with music. However, something was different this time for some reason. What I found was that I simply didn’t want to listen to anything on my iWalkman thing. Plus I wanted to listen for thunder in case the skies were about to open up, but mainly I just found that music blaring into my ears was strangely upsetting and unsettling. So I started running this loop with no music, and whether it was a result of this or not, I settled into a wonderful, blissful running “flow”. Fellow runners who’ve been there will know why I say it’s hard to describe, but basically it was a zen-like purity, like I was running for God or something. Of course the old familiar “ultra-ache” was still there, I acknowledged it, worked within it’s confines and just ran. There was a profound yet understated magic to it. All of my problems, my anxieties, my job, my failures, any and every thing about my entire life faded and dissolved into nothing. I was left with nothing but my body, the moment, the rhythmic steps, the trail and surrounding environment, and breathing. It was beautiful beyond words, but the beauty of it wasn’t the point. I was completely living in the moment, but I also was transcending the moments and the reality of the situation. See? It’s hard to describe. All I know is, at one stretch I did an hour that felt like 5 minutes, and then another 2 hours that felt like 5 minutes. This was despite the nagging, incessant rain which, at the time, did not matter at all to me. Even the mud wasn’t a problem. I felt like a shaman, or the Dali Lama. I was Buddha wearing Brooks Adrenaline GTS running shoes. Granted I’ve “only” been running for about 7 years, and they’ve been productive years resulting in 4 marathons, 13 ultras and countless shorter races and runs. But never, in all of that time, have I felt this ‘flow’ in quite this way.

One lesson that I learned from my completed 100 miler last year was: MIND YOUR FEET. When I packed my stuff for this race, it seemed like overkill but without really thinking I packed three pairs of running shoes and like 5-6 pairs of socks; this ended up being the smartest thing I did.  Since I don’t run with gaiters, I always get sand gathering between my socks and feet. Combining sand with heat and moisture and friction from running is a recipe for disaster. So between loop 2 & 3 I cleaned up my feet, switched socks and switched shoes. Went through a lot of shoes but so what. This was huge.

Loop 3 was not particularly good for me, but it was also maybe the most interesting, or at least eventful. When your lighting is bad, and you’re running through the forest from midnight to 4am, your eyes can play fun little tricks on you. At one point I saw a catfish which, upon closer inspection, had a striking resemblance to a curved rock embedded in the trail. I also saw a nice trout swimming downstream/downtrail. Perhaps the fish sightings were a side effect of having spent the past several hours running in rain, puddles and mud. But then I also saw a cat (plastic bag), a mini statue of Frankenstein and a goat (tree trunks) so maybe not.

If you run ultras long enough, you’ll see someone throw-up. Just past one of the aid stations, this poor girl didn’t just retch a little dry heave; it was projectile, a massive purge. I was hoping it would help her be able to start fresh (a good barf can do wonders for your race) but when I passed her again a few hours later she did not sound good at all. That was during loop 2; on loop 3, in almost the exact same spot, I saw a guy doing a standing/squatting dump next to the trail. This is a very Human sport, and being human is not always pretty. I heard numerous farts, probably because I was running without music. My excessively “human” trait is that I belch, loudly and often. If any of my fellow competitors end up reading this, I hope it didn’t bother you too much.

My Flow on loop 3 wasn’t nearly as religious or nirvanic but I was still able to run fairly well and made decent progress. Normally I have no issues with my stomach but on loop 3 my belly was not feeling good at all. Nothing looked appealing; salty, sugary, gels, any kind of drink, all of it was gross to me. Fortunately I got down enough to keep me in the game, but it was a definite concern at this point.

A stretch of the course is on dirt road. Because it was wet already and with the help of many hours of rain, the consistency of the road became something like diarrhea on top of firm dirt. The sound of running was a high-pitched splat splat splat splat. In comparison I definitely preferred the trails. At least the road only looked like fecal matter and didn’t smell like it, right?

Because of the many hours of rain, there was significant deterioration of trail conditions as well. If the trail was sand-based, it was fine; if it was clay-based, it was like the roads, almost an oily wet poo consistency and especially since it was dark those areas became very difficult to navigate. I never completely biffed but came close several times. I also stubbed my toes on roots about two dozen times. That always gets old.

When I got back to camp between loops 3 and 4 I changed shoes/socks again, chugged more Ensure, had some soup and wondered how I was going to get through that last loop because I was feeling extremely weary. But I didn’t have to wonder for long, since almost immediately upon starting loop 4 I got a second wind and suddenly felt invincible. The “Flow” was still there but now it was also combined with a new-found strength. I was churning up some of the uphills, running for long stretches, completely reborn at 4:30am. I tried to be conscious of how I was feeling, keep in mind that this was 62 friggin’ miles and not get too reckless, keep eating/drinking (my nausea was now gone) and hopefully not blow my race with this new confidence, but damn it was hard because I literally felt amazing.

Once daylight finally emerged it became much easier to run because I could now see all the nuances of the trails, the mud, the branches and roots, and navigate them much more effectively. It also stopped raining, the temperature was cool with a nice little breeze, conditions were perfect. It’s genuinely surprising how much you can run, and run Hard, on exhausted, beat-up, tired, sore, pulverized legs. My feet and hips were in pain at this point, but it was a very manageable pain and they weren’t getting any worse from the hard running. Again, the between-loop shoe/sock changes were just critical in keeping my feet from having the hotspots develop into full-blown Blister Hell.

For each distance in these races there is a uniquely colored bib. For the 100k, it was a light yellow. So as I was in the second half of my final loop, I started looking out for 100k bibs, seeing if any guys in the 40-44 age range were around and looking strong. I did see one. The Competitive Gene kicked in at this point and it was game on; there was no way I could let him beat me. Ridiculous, I know, but I couldn’t help it. So I started pressing a bit more, which was ok because I still felt great. Despite my increased efforts, he never really fell back. Maybe he was 51, or 36, didn’t matter. He was hanging tough. But so was I.

I drank a little more, ate a little more, kept running all of the runnable trail and hiked fast on the uphills. When I’m running like this I feel like my potential is way beyond the level I typically run at. Normally I always run easy because I don’t want to get hurt. But this day, I felt almost immune from injury. So on I pressed, felt great, fast, invincible, fantastic, my pursuer was getting further behind and I knew I had him beat. Unofficial time was in the 16:22-16:24 range, 1st place age group (out of like 3-4 people). I know I shouldn’t, but now I’m wondering and playing the what-if game: what if I went on and did the full 100 miles? As good as I felt, I’m sure I could’ve done it, and probably much faster than I did it the year prior. Or, I could’ve crashed & burned, especially since I ran out of running shoes. I don’t know. What I do know is, I need a nap. Maybe I’ll find the answer there.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Dirty Burg 50K 2014 – RR


Undertrained…as usual. My 2 “long runs” leading up to this
race were a hilly half-marathon about a month prior that was more like 14.5
miles (run at max effort, all hills), and a 20 mile trail run along a portion
of the North Country Trail near Baldwin, MI over 4th of July weekend
with almost no hills (at least no Large hills), at minimal effort. These
efforts apparently served me well enough, but still, I needed to be much
further along. Of course I’ve been undertrained ever since I first started
running 7.5 years ago. Whenever I try to train “enough”, I get injured. So in
that respect, I was in perfect shape, right where I needed to be. Night before…slept
maybe 4 hours, woke up at 1:15am. Could NOT get back to sleep. So I got up, ate
½ a bowl of cereal, grabbed my stuff and got on the road about 3am. Off I drove
for 2 long hours through the dark-but-brightly-moonlit night from Flint to Grand
Rapids, passing scores of deer that chose not to jump out into the road to
destroy my car & my morning.

I arrived about 4:45am, and was the first one in the parking
lot of Cannonsburg Ski Resort. Took a grainy picture of the moon & posted
it on Facebook, of course. Once the officials arrived I signed in, went to the
bathroom several times, wandered around a bit, we lined up and off we went. 30
seconds into the race I was about 7th from last place, of course. It
was good to know some things never change.

Despite my slow start, I still pressed it somewhat because I
was feeling good and thought that banking a little time while I felt good could
never hurt. The morning was warm and humid, the trail was sandy and not too
wet, and bugs were very light. I like this course, lots of twisty-turns and
very runnable single track. Only a couple of hills.

The race consists of 5 loops, 10k each. The only drawback
(in my mind) was, last year in 2013, you had to finish each loop with a hike up
to the top of Cannonsburg “Mountain”. Which made this an AWESOME race. This
year they took the easy route and went around the mountain instead of straight
up to the top. The problem this created (for me) was that because the course
was easier this year, I forced myself to go too fast in the hopes of hitting
some unrealistic PR. No mountain to climb to the top of, so no need to slow
down, right?

I soon found out I went out way, WAY too fast. My legs were
trashed by about mile 12. I decided this was good in some delusional way
because since this was a “training run”, I would have to go another 19 miles on
trashed/tired legs. Other ultrarunners might understand that because of this,
it would be a good training run because it would make future efforts seem
easier somehow.

Had one tumble/fall, rolled, almost bashed my face into a
tree. That was pretty cool. Apparently I should wear a helmet when I trail run.
For some reason I followed and ran with other runners a lot more than I
normally would, instead of trying to just run solo. Passed about 10 people
throughout the race.

I showed up to the race dehydrated, so after having drank a
significant amount throughout the race and eating every time when I should
have, I was feeling poorly. Like almost heat-stroke-ish.  The race started becoming more of a
self-maintenance event. I was on the verge of passing out a couple of times. I
drank a LOT of water, but still I ended up not going #1 throughout the entire
race. It was in the mid- or upper 70’s and humid early in the race, stayed warm
& got warmer, which didn’t help. Not good.

Got a hunk of Honey Stinger chewy running food stuck in my
sinuses somehow; ended up blowing a snot-rocket a few minutes later and
shooting that chunk of food right out of my nose and onto the side of the
trail. It was totally a highlight of my race.

During loop 4 I really started to hit a wall. No energy,
legs all beat up, had nothing left. Hurt all over. So I started having some
more of that running food, but eating it slowly. That was when the
food-snot-rocket happened. Still felt dizzy, trouble getting fluids and/or food
down. But then slowly but surely I started feeling better. Also started getting
some ice in my drinks. The ice was Huge. I’d been roasting all morning, and the
iced water was saving me.

Loop 5 I finally got past my “wall”. Started running more
and walking less. Felt beat-up-but-good. I was a new man. Kept trying to run
hard, seeing if I could break 6 hours for 50K but that just wasn’t meant to be.
Still I pressed on, trying to give myself something to be at least a little proud
of. Told some shirtless dude a few hours prior that my goal was to break 6:15,
having no idea how I would feel a couple hours later towards the end. Finished
in 6:14.

I was tired & beat up at the end, caked with sweat,
hadn’t brushed my teeth, complete disaster-area, knew I was severely dehydrated
and hungry so I soon hit the road, got some food & coffee, drove from
Lowell, MI back to Flint, MI. I was just so looking forward to a shower, a
sandwich and a nap before waking up, having a cocktail and then having a nice,
relaxing night. 

Got home about 2:30 in the afternoon, opened the front door
and found my house completely and totally destroyed by burglars. My home of 14
years had been broken into, probably between 3am and 5am. Every cupboard and
drawer had been opened, every closet door opened, every spot of floor space was
filled with stuff on the floor: upstairs, main floor, basement. Ridiculously,
the burglars didn’t take any of my valuables, only about $10 in spare change. Clearly they
were dumb, misguided kids. I even know where they live, as do the police and
our community watch group, but there’s nothing we can do about it, because the
system is broken.