Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bear Mt. 50-miler: Nor'Easter but still course PR.

On my last blog update I noted how thus far, my lifestyle change with diet and exercise led to better race results, even with less training and the challenge of a now 10-month old at home.  One thing in the back of my mind though was if the success would continue to a mountain race.  The reason for having some doubt was because my normal training routine of running 8.7 miles 2-3 times a week to work and once or if lucky twice a week running home from work is on road and relatively flat.  Sure, there are a couple inclines here and there but nothing "mountainous".   My weekend runs if lucky would be one day in Forest Park on the easy trails there for about an hour.  My next major test would be my sixth time running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler at Bear Mountain on May 13th.  I was lucky enough to get one day this year to train at Bear Mt. for 3 hours and challenged myself to a brutal course and didn't run it at a low heart rate.  I felt my climbing legs were under trained but my overall fitness was ok.  That was only for a 3-hour run and I covered 13 miles.  This 50-mile race would also be the longest run since the Tesla Hertz 100K in October which is a flat course.  In fact, the only hilly and mountain type of run I had done of more than 13 miles was the Bear Mountain race in May 2016!  I set a PR by 1 minute in that race of 9:39.

I was looking forward to a beautiful day for the race as it had been the last five years but the weather forecast 7 days out remained the same until race day.  Lot of rain, heavy at times.  Some news called it a Nor'Easter the day before.  You can't change the weather, you can only prepare for it.  Luckily, I had done some runs in the rain and was only a little worried about what a muddy and wet day and course would be at Bear Mt. with the rocks and descents.

As opposed to last year, where I stayed in a hotel before the race, I went back to my prior roots of sleeping in my parent's mini-van in the parking lot the night before the race to make it not so comfortable to wake up and get ready and also to spare me from the commute (and cost) of a hotel. Unsurprisingly, my sleep was pretty good or as good if not better than the sleep I get at home with Jake!  It was already raining when I awoke thanks to a volunteer's dog in the parking lot at 3:15AM, 45 minutes earlier than my alarm.  I tried to go back to sleep but never got back and at 3:55 decided to just get up and on with it.  I got dressed and all set up in the van and at 4:25, left the van to walk to the venue and give in my drop bags.  I was wearing my NYC Marathon Poncho (those who have run the race post-2013 know what that is) and didn't really feel much rain but when looking at the floodlights, it looked like a lot of rain was coming down.  It was just a easy, misty rain.

I didn't see anyone I knew as I walked around the start/finish area.  I chatted with some random people, one of which was from California and not sure what to expect with this east coast course.  Another runner chimed in and told us he was pacing a completely blind runner.  I find that incredible given the technical nature of this course.  Before I knew it, there was 5 minutes to the start so I handed in my start/finish bag and went up to the start line.  It's fairly low-key, wave 1 runners (as I was) walk up to the start and listen to Dean Karnazes say some motivational things and then we are off.

As usual, I run out at a fast enough pace but let the real speedsters go.  I slowly jog up the initial climb but start to hike about halfway up.  Then I fly down the rocky and wet descent.  I am the lone guy there with no headlamp.  I know the sun will be up by 5:30 so I just use my small sniper scope (gift from David Snipes 7 years ago which is a small LED flashlight with some bungee cord that goes around my water bottle).  Unfortunately, the batter was low on that so it didn't provide me enough light but everyone else's headlamps did enough for me and before you know it, the sun provides the light I need.  Lots of people pass me as I walk more uphills.  I know I will pass them later on in the race.  Even if I don't, I run my race and am not concerned about keeping up with other people.

This year, as opposed to 2016, I remembered that miles 12-20 were tough miles.  I was mentally ready for it and expected a down moment.  It thankfully never came.  Sure, things got a little tough at some points but I knew they were temporary and just went with them.  In fact for the entire race, I don't recall any real down moments like I've had before where I had to walk a good stretch before feeling better.  I believe there were 2 or 3 reasons for this.

1) Different weather.  Sure, it was colder (50s) and constant rain but that prevented me from overheating.  I was wearing my new investment, the North Face Hyper Air GTX rain jacket and it worked great by keeping the rain from getting me super soaked and allowing excess heat to go through the jacket as opposed to the less breathable jackets that just stifle you.  In prior years, the temperatures would get into the 70s if not warmer and that seemed to sap me at some points.  There is a long road section from mile 23-25 I think and a long up hill road around mile 33 I think that I would always walk parts of because of its sun exposure but this year I ran both of those sections in their entirety.  Of course, the non-stop rain made footing in certain parts, especially once we merged back with the 50K/Marathon race more treacherous.

2) Nutritional - Last year they had Tailwind on the course.  That is my go to nutrition drink.  This year, they never announced what they would have and unfortunately, it wasn't Tailwind.  Still, I fried up and packed bacon in my 2 drop bags and those treats were awesome (even though I "lost" my first bag of it somewhere in my rain jacket - I ended up finding it on Sunday and eating it!).  That, along with banana pieces, a few Honey Stinger gels from the aid stations and Skratch Labs gummy chews was all I needed and I never felt the bonk.  I also attribute that to my Primal lifestyle where I eat mostly fats and less carbs and am able to go a long period of time whether exercising or not without nutrition.

3) Baby motivation - I was surprised to find how motivating it was to think of Jake and his silly happy smiley face and laughs.  That pure joy kept me going and lifted me up when I was on the cusp of feeling down.  Even thinking about how big a jerk he is by not sleeping well at nights made me laugh because I figured it's good training.

I'm not going to go through excruciating details of the race. Instead, I'll mention the memorable moments.
1) Strap on water bottle - The comfy strap around my handheld water bottle was always coming undone by the Velcro on the bottom.  This was so annoying because I didn't have a backup water bottle and it is very annoying "holding" the actual bottle.  But I spent so much time trying to fix it that in the end, it was a big distraction.  Finally, at the mile 45 aid station, I had the volunteer Duct tape the strap to the bottle so it wouldn't fall off.

2) Shorts falling down - I've been wearing the same blue shorts for races for about 5 years now.  The elastic has worn out a bit and I didn't tie the strings well before the race. Around mile 5, my shorts started to feel like they were falling down thanks to a couple things in the pockets and the weight of the wetness from the rain.  Since I was wearing gloves for warmth and rain protection, I couldn't tie the strings so I would just pull my short up and the strings tight and hope that lasts a while.  IT would work as a quick fix but every so often would start falling down again.  At the mile 18 aid station, I asked a volunteer if they could tie it for me and he did.  However, about 7 miles later, it came undone.  At around the 30 mile aid station, I asked another volunteer to tie it and they tied it well.  This leads into memorable moment 3

3) It's around mile 40 and I still haven't taken a bathroom break to pee.  Finally, I get that urge but with my shorts tied and not wanting to deal with untying and retying, I decide to give peeing while running a try.  Yes, peeing my pants while running.  It was a little difficult to start at first but then it was nice and warm.  With the rain and mud and puddles, any hint of it was washed away with in minutes.  I don't think I would do something like that on a warm day; or a cold day for that matter.  A rainy cool day is the perfect time to do that.  

4) The thing that sort of bothers me about this race is the number of likely first time ultra and trail runners but not that it is their first trail race, but the facts that either they haven't trained and had no idea what to expect from this course or are just so uptight that they do everything in their power not to get any dirt on theme at all.  Are you kidding me?!  My race was going well and the course was not a complete mud fest like the 2013 TARC-100.  However, once we merged back onto the course where the 50K and Marathon runners came through earlier it became much more slippery mud and a worn out trail.  The slower 50K runners were still out there on the course.  These are the runners that I'm complaining about.  Now don't get me wrong, this is nitpicking and I'm not trying to sound elitist.  The thing is, these runners, many of whom have resorted to walking a large portion of the course from that point on (roughly 12 miles or so left in both our races) are doing their utmost to avoid getting their feet wet and/or muddy.  There were more giant mud and streams that required crossing than I can count due to the heavy rains.  Yet every time I came from behind on a runner at these sections, they were looking for ways around the mud/stream or very carefully trying to balance on some rocks or trees to cross it, and taking a real risk of slipping on that wet rock or tree.  So as I approached many of these runners I just shouted that I'm coming from behind and then offered the advice to just go through the puddle and mud since you're already wet and dirty.  I get it though.  By that point in the race if you are walking, you are having a bad day.  It doesn't feel any better having to continuously walk through streams and mud.  That's the reality of it though.  Change your mindset and just embrace the suck.  Hopefully these runners will learn from the experience or won't ever bother repeating it (one and done).  But good on them for giving it the effort and not dropping out.  

So the fun thing about this race for me was as I mentioned earlier it was my first mountain type race since the prior year's edition.  I didn't know how my training for this would hold up versus my better road running results.  When the race began, I started my watch and the only time I looked at it was just when it vibrated and I looked down and it said "Mile 10: 10:05" meaning I just finished mile 10 and that mile was run at a 10:05 pace.  From that point on, I didn't look at my watch again.  Mostly because it was under my rain jacket.  I figured I was feeling pretty good most of the race.  I knew I was moving well but unsure of how the wet and muddy course was slowing me down.  When I got to the aid station before Timp pass, roughly mile 45, I looked at my watch to see what my time was and if I was going to have a shot at a PR or sub 10 hour finish.  My watch was no longer in tracking mode, it was back on regular watch mode.  D'oh!  I don't know how the watch stopped and restarted to that screen but that was that.  Later that week I saw that it stopped around mile 21.  Anyway, I looked at the time and it said something like 1:35PM and since we began at 5AM that meant I was 8 hours and 35 minutes into the race and had no more than 5 miles to go.  Sure I had the biggest steep climb and a minor steep climb coming up but that was ok.  I realized I had a solid chance at setting a PR and if lucky, sub 9:30.  So I started hustling but hiking those uphills that still made sense to hike.  After hiking up Timp pass without any issue I ran down the rocky backside portion recklessly but still in control and then opened up my stride on the more runnable sections that followed.  The last 1-2 miles we have the added benefit of having the marathon relay runners on our course.  They run roughly 3 miles out and then back for their relay course.  I find it funny to "compete" with those runners on the course seeing as how the 50-milers are at mile 48+.  I saw two marathon relay runners sort of pushing each other to go and I tailed them.  But when I felt like I could move faster, I passed them on an uphill and then the final downhill section back towards the parking lot before the final 200 meters.  That's when they decide to sprint it in and I'm not dumb enough to hurt myself by sprinting the last 200 meters of a 50-mile race for no reason.  I ran fast but comfortable and slowed down to walk the last 5 feet through the finish line.  My official finish time was 9:27:59.  I managed sub-9:30 in the Nor'Easter condition and was 5th in my age group and 27th overall (25th male).  

So my confidence now is unfortunately quite high heading into this last month before Bighorn.  I plan to take Bighorn like this race.  Just run within my ability and mentally stay focused and smart.  Once again, following the Primal nutrition and exercise program has given me my 5th PR in less than a year since I started it.   Tesla Hertz 100K result was a PR (though I hadn't run an easy 100K before so it would have been a PR regardless - but I took 1st palce). The Knickerbocker 60K was a big PR.  The Caumsett 50K was a PR for my marathon as well as 50K.  And now Bear Mt. 50-miler.  Bighorn will be a course PR regardless, but it's all going to be about having as great day and see how it evolves.  If I can avoid sleepwalking are death marching and have a decent time (let's say sub 26 hours) that will be a great success. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Caumsett 50K and Primal Endurance Produces Results

As I mentioned in my last blog post, in July (right after Jake was born) I began following the Maffetone and Primal Endurance methods of training and nutrition (or diet, or lifestyle, whatever you prefer to call it).  I had a positive result though a little slower than my goal at the Tesla Hertz 100K in October.  The next month (Nov. 19th), I ran the Knickerbocker 60K going for a goal of sub-5 hours.  This was something I was not certain if I could do as it had eluded me the last time I went for it.  Since my training was also mostly at a much slower pace than 8 minute miles and much shorter distance than 37.2 miles (I think my longest run was 18 miles), I was venturing into the unknown but hopeful I could achieve the goal.  I was lucky enough to have a few running friends come out and do a few of the 9 loops with me and I was holding onto my pace well.  It definitely felt more difficult the last 3-4 loops, especially because the volunteers at the main aid station with our drop bags couldn't find my bag with my Tailwind nutrition for the final two loops but Coca Cola at the aid stations did the trick.  I finished in 4:59:13.  That certainly made me realize that the nutrition and training were indeed working.  But could it continue to work and when will I plateau?

Fast forward to this past weekend (March 5th), and the Caumsett 50K.  I ran the race in 2013 and had an epic blow-up, finishing in 4:18:59 (yay sub:4:19?!).  I was hoping for sub-4 (7:44 pace) but ended at an 8:20 after logging some 10 minute miles I think.  So this time around, I signed up hoping to go sub-4.  But then something else entered my mind.  A couple of years ago, they added a timing mat that coincided with 26.2 miles (marathon distance) which would enable someone to officially qualify for the Boston Marathon as long as they also finished the 50K distance.  While I really prefer to focus on trails and ultras, the Boston Marathon and my marathon PR in 2009 of 3:10:29 (which did qualify me back then and I ran the Boston Marathon in 2010) was something I wanted to go for again, and at some point, I would love a sub-3 hour marathon.  At my age, I need a sub 3:10 to qualify, but a couple minutes faster likely to actually get accepted into the race because the field is limited so the take the fastest qualifying times first.  Mind you, my fastest road marathon time post-2009 was a 3:19 I think.  Reasons for that are plentiful, but the main reason (or excuse) I made for not bettering my road marathon time was that I focused on ultras and trail running.  It's true.  I didn't plan road marathons to get my fastest time.  I ran them as a pacer for friends or a few weeks after running a 50-miler or 100-miler or a day or two after going for a multiple hour trail run.  However, when I look back at that 2009 qualifying run at the NYC Marathon, I was struggling and giving everything I had to hold on and qualify and I barely did it.  Now that this interesting thought crept into my head, I thought to myself that I could see how a pace around 7:15 felt (3:10 marathon pace) and if after a few of the 5K loops I felt like I was struggling, I would slow down and try to maintain a pace needed for a sub-4 hour 50K and scrap a BQ (Boston Qualifying) attempt.  So that was the plan and I was nervous about it because it really sucks to go out hard and blow up early and struggle through an hour or more of running (or shuffling) where everything hurts.

Before I get into the start of the race, I have to give a huge shout-out to the following people:
I'm very thankful that my friend Rebecca Odessey (who's gains as a runner have been incredible and will likely qualify for Boston 2019 if not 2018) came to the race to run the 25K and was very supportive before the race and on the course at the times I saw her while she was running and then she crewed me for my last couple loops after she finished.

Paul Kentor ran with me for 3-1/3 loops and it's always good to have good company running.

Devon Yanko. If you don't know who that is, just check this out
This elite woman was testing the waters in her first race in 5 months following an injury.  It was awesome just chatting with her as if she was not one of the greatest runners on the planet the last few years, and a normal human like the rest of us (as opposed to the super-human than she is).  It's what I love about ultra-runners.  The elite athletes are always down to Earth great people and you would never know that they are some of the most incredible athletes in the world by just running and or talking with them.  They are really just like us, just much, much faster when they want to or have to be.

Back to the race.  Well, pre-race to be exact.

The good thing about being a "Primal Aligned" athlete is that I don't worry about carb-loading or nutrition frequently.  The ability to fuel myself even at a marathon pace with mostly my own fat makes the race that much easier because I don't have to worry about carrying this gel or chew along with sports drinks.  I use Tailwind Nutrition but I never feel "starving" for carbs or calories.  My breakfast about 90-120 minutes before the race was 2 bananas and a large coffee with cream.  I did not start to take my Tailwind until the 4th loop (75 minutes into the race) and was mostly sipping on it using it for the hydration, not as much for the nutrition but it is that as well. But I digress.

The race started at about 18 degrees F.  This made me question if I should cancel that BQ goal.  But then I figured, if it's cold out, I should run faster so I get done sooner and not be out in the cold for a long time.  So I kept on with my goal.  The race began and I started running at what I felt was a comfortable pace.  I was not wearing a heart rate monitor.  After maybe 250 meters, I hear Paul behind me talking with someone.  I look back quickly and notice it is Devon Yanko.  I slow down so they catch up and I run and chat with them.  A few times I look at my watch to get an idea of pace and it fluctuates between 6:45 minute mile and 7:10.  Great. . . I'm going out way too fast.  I decided to just go with it since the pace really felt slower and thought maybe my watch wasn't accurate.  We finished the first 5K in a 7:02 minute/mile pace, so the watch was indeed accurate.  I felt good though and decided to maintain the pace and relatively good effort.  No guts, no glory.  The pace stayed surprisingly consistent and I focused on my form a few times and tried to assess how I felt and I kept coming back with surprisingly good but cautious, knowing that at any moment, things could fall apart and fall apart big.  Once I was no longer running with Devon, who passed us on loop 3 after she took a bathroom break and Paul took a bathroom break on loop 4, I had to focus more now since I was on my own (asides from all the other runners on the course who we always exchange "good jobs" with) and not give in to any negative thoughts.  I was scared that I had gone out too quickly and it would come back any minute now and make me slow down.  Each time that happened, I just decide to see what the clock says and timed myself between mile markers (not my watch GPS mile split).  Sometimes I would forget my time and had to start over at the marker.  It gave me something to focus on and also gave me the truth about my pace.  Each time I did it, I was still within my BQ mile split pace.

Laps 5 and 6 were probably the hardest because I knew there were so many more laps to go and so much time for me to implode.  My tricks kept working and once I crossed the start/finish to begin my 8th lap, I had to get to that near half-way mat which would tell me how much time I needed for the final 5K before the marathon finish.  When I got there, I needed something like 25 minutes (give or take a minute now on my memory) to get my BQ.  So now it was just give it almost everything I had for the next 5K.  I say almost everything because I still had to finish the 50K in order to qualify.  And since I was a few minutes ahead of the 3:10 I needed, I held on to my effort and made sure I wasn't going slower than I needed to qualify.  I hit the start of the 9th loop and the clock read 2:58 I think so I knew I had 12 minutes to run 1.4 miles.  I knew I was gong to qualify but it ain't over until it's over.  Also, due to the popularity of the Boston Marathon, even if you run a qualifying time, you may not be accepted because they accept runners based on fastest time first.  For example, in 2016, you had to run 2 minutes and 28 seconds faster than the qualifying standard for your age group in order to be accepted.  For the 2017 race, you had to run 2:09 faster.  This is why I didn't just jog it in.  As I ran down that hill and then up the next towards that marathon finish, I put all my effort there and got it at about 3:06:58, a 3 minute 30 second marathon PR!  At that point, my mind relaxed and my body started to ache.  However, it was now time for my victory lap and I coasted nice and easy (also took a port-o-potty poop break on the final loop) to finish the 50K at 3:52:32.  So I got my 50K PR by 25 minutes and hit my sub-4 goal.  All in all, another successful race.

This brings me back to the title of this blog post.  I am well aware of the "n=1" logic behind training and nutrition (diet) plans.  What works for me will not necessarily work for you.  That said, unless you are an elite sponsored athlete, I really believe going Primal will improve your results especially if you have had some bad races and training periods or think you may have plateaued.  I think it's much easier for someone with a stronger mindset that doesn't have a lot of social pressure on them.  Like me for example.  After Jake was born eight months ago now, my days of going out for a drink, or dinner, or to watch "the game" or to hang out are pretty much over for the time being.  So I have been able to more easily avoid the temptation of the foods that I should not be eating (processed foods, refined sugars, grains, alcohol, etc.).  Once you go 21 days or more without those and you encounter and win the test of will when these no-no foods/drinks are presented to you, it is much easier to forgo them in the future.  That's not to say I was 100% compliant over the last eight months.  My work holiday party, X-Mas/Chanuka, Thanksgiving, and a work trip to Amsterdam were a few of the times I know I ate some foods that would not be on a Primal menu for certain.  But that's ok.  It's bound to happen and just like a bad race or training day, you accept it and move on.  Most days (weeks if not months actually) I would say I am 100% compliant.  I feel much healthier (could be placebo but I think its real), I lost at least 5 lbs and I'm not a big guy to begin with (which definitely helps me run faster), and I definitely notice I'm leaner with more muscle mass (I can now do 13-15 pull ups where when I began, I could only do 3-4) so I lost fat, not muscle. My lab test results from a check-up in the fall show I've improved all of my stats over the last few years and my resting heart rate at one Dr. visit was 45 beats per minute.  Can't wait to see what the results are later this year.  All of this with less training compared to the last 8 years (or 12 years if you go back to my triathlon days).  It takes a little effort though as does most of the important things in life.  It's very easy to just order a sandwich, eat cereal, have that supposed "healthy" protein or other bar that is loaded with things we don't have to have for optimal nutrition.  So you can't be lazy.  If you've read this far, you're probably not lazy or maybe you want a change in your life.

I highly recommend checking out Primal Endurance ( or Mark's Daily apple and even asking me for more details about it.  I'm heavily into the science of it and enjoy the subject.

My next race I'm signed up for is Bear Mt. in May.  I may do a race in April but that will be decided on closer to race day.

The adventures continue.

FYI - Coconut is a top-notch Primal food and apparently, hilarious