Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bighorn 100 - the original race recap

I forgot that I wrote this up soon after the race. . .

I arrived in Wyoming confident of a sub-26 hour finish.  If things went really well, maybe even sub-25 but regardless of the time, I would run the race smart and not take the first long downhills hard because I wanted to be able to run well the back half of the race, which has more descent.

I went food shopping.

I cooked food, ate and then drove up to a higher elevation (8,500 feet) to read a little, listen to some podcast (Talk Ultra) and relax for 90 minutes.

I went to the house and did some work.

I unpacked a little and organized some of my drop bags

I spoke to Aleks and then went to bed.

I made breakfast and then tried to finalize my drop bags.

I did a very short (1.5ish mile) hike up to 8,000 feet and hung out there reading UltraRunning Magazine and drinking coffee and relaxing for about 2-3 hours.

I ate some lunch and finalized my drop bags.

Drove to packet pickup and picked up my bib, schwag, then dropped off my drop bags.  I almost made some fatal mistakes but triple checked and corrected what was in the drop bags

Went back to the house and watched some Sneaky Pete, cooked dinner, prepared my stuff for the race the next morning and went to bed.

Around 1AM I think my friends arrived from their drive up from Denver.  I'm used to waking up in the middle of the night so it was not a problem for me to go out and welcome them, chat for a short period and then head back to bed.

I woke up at 6AM and began to get ready for my race which started with a nice cup of coffee.  The good thing about a 10AM race start (with 8AM race briefing) when you are an 8 minute walk away is that you can have a relaxing cup of coffee before the start.  As I eventually got fully dressed, tutu and all, the quote of the day came from Jon and I when he said, "Nice Skirt!", and I replied, "it's not a skirt, it's a tutu!"

The race briefing was good, especially the knowledge that there would be about 180 lbs of bacon at the Cow Camp (19.5 and 76.5 mile) aid station.  That's on top of he bacon that I packed in my drop bags!  Next, it was time to take the bus for the 3 mile ride to the start.  To be honest, it was somewhat annoying getting to the start over an hour before the race starts.  It's just endless waiting when I just want to start this race and get the adventure on.  However, it was nice that my crew (well, not actual crew since they had their races to do on Saturday) came along for the ride and it was good to see so many friends who were doing this race.  I guess since these races are generally small, you see many of the same people at them.  Though with over 180, 100-mile races in North America, I would expect to see fewer and fewer of those same faces.

With 5 minutes until the start, I say my goodbyes and head up towards the middle of the starters while they do the national anthem and then someone leads a quick prayer (we are in God's country).  Hey, it can't hurt.

The race begins on the jeep road and continues for a mile or so before heading onto the single track trail.  Another mile or so of this trail before we start heading up.  We keep heading up basically forever.  Alright.  I'm starting to get worried. My climbing legs are lacking and we are climbing forever.  You can see the top of one climb but once you get there you look up and see we have to climb even further.  This just has me worried about the 18 mile climb to come later.  The sun is out and I'm sweating and huffing and puffing but trying to stay in control of my climbing.  I don't know if my poles are helping or hindering me because the weight of them is additional stress on my upper body and possibly tiring me out.  I think overall, it is probably saving my legs for later on so just keep on climbing.  To give an idea of this climb, miles 4 had 500 feet of climbing, mile 5 had 800 with no descent, mile 6 had 900 with no descent, and mile 7 had 555 with 3 feet of descent, before getting into more climbing with some small descents in there.  Most road marathons don't have more than 500 feet of climbing in the entire race.  About 3 hours and 12 miles after we started, I finally crest the last of this first crazy climb and I can feel the altitude up at nearly 8,000 feet.  I can feel and even hear my heart beating in my head and in my chest.  Why do such great mountains have to be at such high altitudes?  Why do I want to get into and run Hardrock so badly when it will be 50% or more altitude and climbing than this race?!  The scenery was beautiful though with the Wildflowers in full bloom and matching my tutu.  My spirits were not as high as the altitude that we were at.  I wouldn't call it a low point but I tend to get to a point where I debate dropping out so that I don't have to suffer very late in a race.  I was more concerned at this point with my arms feeling heavy.   I told myself to just wait for the downhills and that the race will get better.  At least the views were fantastic.

We then descend a little but the descent did not seem nearly as steep as the climb or nearly as long.  Soon we are at the first major aid station and drop bags, Dry Fork.  Here, I drop off my heavier trekking poles, pick up some bacon, fill one water bottle with Tailwind, grab some ginger chews, and head out.  We go down slightly but before long, there was some climbing to do and I was just very confused of where we were based on my memory of the course elevation profile.  

In my mind, I thought we were going to descend all the way back down to our starting elevation but now looking at the elevation profile above, oops, I was wrong.   Around mile 18 the pressure had been building a few miles and I finally found a good place do take a poop.  Yay! And then my spirits lifted.  I was moving faster and once we hit the steep downhill I felt I could move really well.  One thing I noticed along this point is that we were running on very hard mud.  It looked like the mud just solidified and I hoped that if it did begin to rain as the forecast called for, that this wouldn't become the mudfest it could be.  I wasn't optimistic, but figured that I would deal with that when we get back to this point. It was just starting to drizzle a little but I had felt some drops in the beginning so I hoped it would go away.  For now, I enjoyed it and then enjoyed the steep, non-muddy downhill.  However, I didn't go fast because I struck up a conversation with another runner, Andi, about the rest of the course.  She had run Bighorn I believe three times before and this race would be her 25th 100-miler if she finished.  I asked her how the upcoming 18 mile climb was and she said it was easy, especially compared to that initial climb we did to start the race.  While it is a good 4,000 plus feet of climbing, it is over 18 miles so it is a gentler grade and there are plenty of parts where it flattens out for a short stretch of running.  This made me feel really happy.  She said that this part we were coming down is actually the worst part of the race when we hike it back up on the way back.  Great! Something to look forward to hating later.  

We coast over the footbridge into the Sally's Footbridge aid station at mile 30 and 7 hours into my race.  I am given my drop bag and take out my good head lamp, some bacon, and fill my bottle with tailwind. Then I ask the people next to me if I should take my trekking poles.  They said they saw a lot of people taking them out of their bags for this climb.  So I decided to go with the crowd and take out my lighter poles.  Then I got under way for the long climb.  This first part of the climb was rocky and a lot of fun.  The rain started to come down harder but it was nothing I couldn't handle and didn't need my rain jacket as I liked the rain cooling me off on this climb.  It took about an hour to get to the next aid station and they had delicious Gu Stroopwaffles there and I devoured two of them.  As I left, they said to be careful of the course being slippery ahead.  I guessed that the rain was making some of the rocks slippery up ahead?  I was hitting some wet patches and some mud but it wasn't until about mile 37 that the real fun (I mean nightmare began).  I encountered the first slippy sliding, shoe sucking mud.  I powered through the first few miles of it but then the climbing and mud only increased in veracity.  My pace had slowed from 14-16 minute miles to 18-19 minute miles.  As I increased in elevation, and my pace slowed, and the rain kept coming down, I was getting colder.  At the next aid station I decided to change into my rain jacket, gloves, and arm warmers.  As usual, I got some nice comments about my tutu and struck up a conversation with the aid station volunteer about Ironman races since I was wearing my Ironman hat and he did Ironman races.  After I finally was able to change into my jacket and gloves (it took a while because my fingers were cold and wet), I went back to grab a cup of warm soup and the lady there said I was the second person with a tutu to come through.  I asked if I was the first purple tutu though and she said that person was also wearing a purple tutu.  This really disheartened me to hear that, especially since I never saw this guy but then the other aid station volunteers notified her that I'm the same person and just took a while to change clothing.  Yay!  Still first place tutu.  On I go and the course just gets worse and worse.  There is no running; just walking and trying not to slip.  I'm so glad I brought the trekking poles because the climbs are so slippery that I need the additional stakes in the ground to pull myself ahead.  

Around mile 42 I see the first place guy heading my direction.  A couple minutes later is second place and a few minutes after that is third place.  I just think it is probably much better to be heading down the mountain in this mud than up it, but at the same time, I know it won't be easy.  I'm glad I have my trekking poles.  At close to 9:30PM, it's finally getting dark enough for me that I take out and turn on my headlamp.  Ah. . .light.  Much better.  Though the trail is not much better.  In fact, since the last aid station at mile 43ish, my pace has slowed.  It's now pushing 25 minutes per mile and my fingers are starting to get cold inside my gloves.  I'm worried now about the real overnight section and how my hands will fare on the way back.  I figure they may be cold but using the poles should keep them warm.  The slog continues.  Finally, after crossing some massive wet spots, not stream crossings, just flooded sections, we get to a road and I just stay on the road.  However, I'm supposed to head a little to my left and go back on some grass since I see some headlamps in that direction as opposed to car headlights where I am headed so I head back on the very wet grass but in less than 1000 feet I'm back on the road.  About another quarter or half mile and I'm finally at the aid station.  What a relief to get there and try to regroup and consider my options.  

As soon as I enter the tent, I'm greeted by volunteers who take care of me and am assigned one specifically.  My volunteer Tony, was just incredible.  He has run Bighorn three times before and said he has only heard how terrible the conditions are and said that reports are these are the worst conditions the race has ever had.  GREAT!  He asks if I have a change of dry clothes in my bag and I do and I change into a long sleeve shirt and and my windbreaker while I let me rain jacket dry a little.  Then he gets me soup and a giant quesadilla.  The scene around me though is total carnage.  Dead eyes staring into nothingness.  Noisy chatter of volunteers scrambling to help these people get back to life and continue on or to get them into some sort of shape to get evacuated off the mountain.  Most of the destruction is in the form of hypothermia.  On my way up to the top, it was hard to tell with the headlamp but the rain turned into snow.  It was also a headwind into the aid station.  I asked Tony if he could somehow dry my "waterproof" (apparently not Nathan Sports) gloves.  He squeezed all the water he could out of it and was holding it near a heater for me.  He and another volunteer were very happy to see I was not shivering and was quite responsive to everything they asked.  Still, I was not yet mentally prepared to head out.  Next, a woman who I remember seeing on the course and wondering if she was going to change into warmer clothes as she was just wearing a tank-top and a running skirt with no tights walks in and she is wearing the same outfit plus a jacket.  She looks in bad shape.  Her crew gets her something to eat and as soon as she swallows some of it she asks for something to vomit into and then proceeds to vomit into the garbage bag they get her in the nick of time.  They ask if I still need my blanket they gave me to keep me warm and I don't so she gets it.  It's probably 30 minutes later and Tony is now trying to get me out of here.  He is saying I look great, especially compared to everyone else and that I have plenty of time to finish.  So I have to make a decision now to drop out or get out of the aid station.  I tell him I'm going to continue on but just have to get everything sorted out to be on my way.  So I make sure I have my bottles.  I add my rain jacket over my windbreaker.  Put a Buff around my head and mouth, my hat over the Buff, and my hood over my hat.  I put some light gloves on my not so dry waterproof gloves over those and then ask for one more cup of Ramen soup.  I get everything else ready that I need from that drop bag (spare headlamp, batteries, 5-hour energy, bacon) get my soup, inhale it and then gratefully thank all of the volunteers and get out of there. 

I definitely feel rejuvenated and it sure is nice running on the road for that stretch.  I felt like I may actually be able to run well the rest of the way back.  Once I hit the wet patches and then the slippery mud, I tried to continue at a good pace by glissading  down the mud.  The attempts at moving faster didn't last long.  Going downhill on the mud was treacherous and I'm thankful for the hundredth time that I had my poles for stability.  Around 1AM I took the 5-hour energy even though I wasn't feeling sleepy.  I wanted to be proactive with taking it and knew that once the sun rose, I would be okay.  I was moving faster compared to going uphill but still averaging a disappointing 19-21 minutes per mile.  I think the concentration I needed in order to not end up on my butt is what kept me from getting tired.  Even with my poles, I was slipping constantly and taking a lot of near falls.  I don't count them as actual falls because like American football, my knee never his the ground.  However, one of these near falls hurt my wrist as I jammed my trekking pole down hard to stop myself from falling and jammed my wrist.  It took a lot of effort to move and not fall and it just seemed like I was going faster than my actual pace was.  This was frustrating as felt like it took forever to get to the aid stations.  I was however, passing a bunch of people.  It was like the walkers passing the slower walkers and they were either just tired or hurting or both.  I know that once I get to the mile 64ish aid station, I will hopefully not encounter as much mud and it will be more rocky.    My pace picked up to 16-17 minute miles.  It seemed like forever but I finally reached Sally's Footbridge and I was able to change socks and shoes, hoping the mud won't be nearly as bad the rest of the race.  

I am definitely taking my time changing my socks and shoes and getting sorted out at this aid station.  I is much quieter now than when I was here the first time around.  Reports on the number of drops are quite high.  Andy Jones-Wilkins, a writer for iRunFar.com is at the aid station and running the race and was talking to people about how he slipped on the mud and hit his head on a rock and got a slight concussion.  The aid station workers from a prior aid station kept him for 30 minutes to make sure he was good to continue on and the aid station medics at the next aid station also wanted him to wait a little to observe if he was ok to go on.  I'm listening while soaking and cleaning my feet in some cold water buckets they had at the aid station for the runners.  I take a wash cloth and try to clean off my feet but mud is just stuck in the wrinkles on the bottom of my feet.  I do my best and then put on new socks and my Hoka Mafate 4 sneakers hoping that the worst is over.  I also hope it will relieve some pressure from the back of my right foot just above the heel near the achilles where some blister or something else not so good is going on there.  I change into a short sleeve shirt but keep my rain jacket for warmth here and pack away into the drop bag everything I will no longer need.  I then feel the urge to poop so I head to the port-o-potty and quickly take care of that.  With everything just about set, I grab some soup from the aid station, slurp it down and head out over the foot bridge.  

Well if this race didn't suck before, now it really sucks.  The climb out as Andi told me so many hours earlier is much worse than that 18-mile climb.  What makes it even worse now is the amount of shoe sucking and slippery mud there is on this climb up.  Unfortunately, my shoe change didn't help me out because these shoes are slightly big on me.  So the mud is literally sucking my shoe off my foot but I am conscious enough to shove it right back in and not step with my sock into a new pile of mud.  The first mile up this climb took about 40 minutes.  the second mile took over 30.  At this point, I am not concerned that I may not finish the race in time.  While I thought I had enough time if necessary (but not wanting it to come to that) to walk it in at about a 20 minute mile pace and finish under the 34 hour cut-off, if I do many mile at 25 or 30 minutes per mile or slower, then all this effort would be wasted and I will miss finish the race in the cut-off time.  Not finishing, or DNFing a race is not the end of the world.  I DNF'd the Tesla Hertz 100-miler in 2013 at the 30-mile mark and was extremely happy with that decision.  The problem for me is when it isn't up to me.  If I can continue on and finish the race and think that is the right decision then I will go for it.  Yet if the clock makes me fail, then all that prior effort was for nothing if I don't finish.  Well, it's not for nothing. It's still a valuable experience.  It's just that when I have the opportunity, as I did numerous times during this race to quit, I do wish I would spare myself the carnage if I know I won't finish the race in the end.  That's just how I feel about my races.  Although I know that when the time comes and that does happen to me, it will be sad, but ultimately a very helpful and likely beneficial experience.  
It took 80-90 minutes, but I eventually got out of that 3.5 mile climb and insane muddiness and was ready to move a little faster.  While I did move a little faster, closer to 19-minute miles, it was still so f'n slow.  My next focus was just getting to the Cow Camp aid station to get some bacon and be so close to the Dry Fork aid station and hopefully better conditions for the final stretch, assuming I would be able to make the cut-off times.  At one point I was able to see the aid station and I thought it was close, but the course winds up, down and around this giant hill before making a big climb up to Cow Camp.  And the mud continued.  At this point, I again thought that maybe they cancelled the race for the 52-milers and the 32-milers because I wasn't passed by anyone doing these races, and I don't recall being passed by 100-milers either here since everyone was going slower than a snail.  As I got closer to Cow Camp, I saw a weird site of these runners way above flying down the trail before making a left and heading towards the aid station.  This was really confusing me.  I thought that maybe that was the 18-mile race.  But we were more than 18 miles from the finish so maybe it was just some people training and doing hill repeats up and down?  Before the last longer climb up to Cow Camp, someone was walking in my direction and I asked who those runners are and he said it was the 32-milers.  So there goes my idea that they started from Dry Fork.  I hoped for Jon and Judith's sake that the miles until that point were not as muddy.  Then the person told me that the conditions from Cow Camp to Dry Fork, a six mile stretch, were just as bad as what I've come through. Ugggh.  Well, truth is better than being lied to about the conditions.  Worst case, maybe he was lying and the running would be better.  I got to the Cow Camp aid station, had a couple pieces of bacon and filled one bottle up with water and the other about 2/3rd of Coke.

The conditions ahead were atrocious. The mud was a new type of orange/red clay mud which was horrible.  Many runners would try to run on the grass off the trail but it wasn't much easier as it always seemed to shortly take you back to the mud or was just slippery or hard to run on itself.  The 32-milers were running so much faster than the 100-milers for obvious reasons, though I was frustrated by how well they were handling the mud and was wondering why we couldn't move on it better.  The sun was out and it was beginning to heat up and I was hoping that would dry out the mud but I knew it would take a long time for that to happen.  The entire stretch from basically mile 70 to Dry Fork at mile 82 was 20-minute miles.  At this rate it would have taken another 6 hours to finish the race IF I could keep up this pace if the conditions allowed ahead.  This section was also slow because it includes a somewhat long climb up to the Dry Fork aid station, about 900 feet over four miles.

I got into the aid station and all the spectators there were happy to see me and my tutu.  I got my drop bag and packed everything I no longer needed into it.   Before I sat down I was approached by two 10-year old (my guess) girls who offered me two slices of what looked like some Dominos Meat pizza and I gladly accepted.  I took a seat and there were two other runners sitting near me and one of their crew had a cold IPA to give to her runner but wasn't going to give the entire thing and gave out about two ounces to those around that wanted including me.  I took it happily and it was quite refreshing.  With that, I was off and before I left I was told there's just a little mud over the next couple of miles before it is much better.  Now that was good news.

He was not lying as there was some  mud ahead but not too terrible.  It took a while for me to get going but after a couple miles, I was able to pick up my pace to about 17 minute miles before we got to one last big climb of 400 feet over a mile, mostly in half a mile but it brought us to the unbelievable views of the mountains and valley.  The views would continue on nice runnable trails while we headed back downhill.  I was leap-frogging with other 100-miler runners and their pacers when one stopped and sat down on the trail.  I asked what was wrong and his feet were killing him.  I offered him some tylenol and he accepted.  Later in the race he thanked me a lot as he ran quickly by me.  My legs weren't feeling great.  I had some pain on that spot above my heel and my legs were tight and I wasn't running the downhills as fast as I wanted to or could.  After 

2 weeks later, I saw a podiatrist about that bump on the back of my heel / achilles and an x-ray revealed I have something called Haglunds Heel which is a slight deformity in my heel bone.  It is hereditary but any type of constant rubbing or pressure and cause that additional part of the heel to protrude and can cause a bone spur and/or cause damage to the achilles tendon.  Interesting stuff.  It also explains why my shoes also wear out in the back of my heel.  In the picture below it is hard to see now but the little bump on the back of my heel was a lot bigger. 

Quick update 3 - Ghost Train Trail 100

So it finally arrived.  After being 81 on the wait list, I shot up every week and then nearly every day starting in late September and by the time early October arrived, they actually had no more wait list and were letting people sign up as so many people dropped out of the entry list.  My goal for the race was sub-18 hours.  I chose this because when I won the Tesla Hertz 100 in 2014, I ran 100 miles according to my Garmin in a little over 18 hours.  However, the race was about 105 miles so my finishing time of 19:20 stood as my official 100-miler PR.  At the FANS 24-hour race in 2016, I couldn't hit 100 miles until 20 hours so this upcoming race was the chance to run fast if I could.  It is a pretty flat course (only ~3,200 feet of gain) with the only real climb and descent being about a 1 mile stretch or less and that is also the only technical portion. 

I went out at a comfortable pace.  I knew I would slow from this pace but basically wanted to keep the same effort level throughout.  After about 30 miles, the heat started to rise a bit, which caused me to slow down just a little bit but it didn't last long.  Things were going well.  I felt reasonably comfortable.  I got to 50 miles in something like 7:45 and thought I had a chance if things went really well to break 17 hours or in an amazing case, 16 hours.  However, at around 60 miles, my right eye started to get signs of corneal edema.  This time, I was prepared (or so I thought) with some 5% solution drops to help.  Unfortunately, these drops didn't work and my eye got progressively worse.  To make matters worse, my headlamp started to die at mile 80 (and I wouldn't be able to get batteries until mile 90) and that combined with my declining vision in that eye made moving on that course difficult since there were runners coming at me and their headlamps basically blinded my good eye.  The technical section was really tough with only one eye.  Still, I pressed on and when I got the new batteries for the final 10, I was ready to run as best I could.  I pushed and ended up finishing in 17:20, good for 5th place.  I was so happy about this time and I think I could have gone below 17 hours had I not had the eye problem. 

This is not to say the race was easy except for the eye issue.  For many parts of it, once the eye problem began, and even before that, I thought about dropping.  I don't know why.  I think I was scared to hold that pace and thought I would blow up.  I felt my legs starting to get a little heavy around 40 miles and didn't want to have to walk and have a close to 24 hours finish when I was on pace for under 17.  So my mind thought about quitting before that happened.  Instead, I just thought about everything I could to distract myself and keep running.  I did not allow myself to walk this course except for a hundred feet or so out of the aid stations.  I through on my iPod earlier than I wanted to but needed it for the distraction and it worked very well.  This race really showed me that it is a mental game and I need to just get rid of bad thoughts and keep moving forward and running as much as I can or the very least, keep up a certain effort level.  Obviously, if this were a big mountain race and I had some big climbs, I would be hiking those and not running.  But when running is possible, just run.  Worry about falling apart later. 

This race made me very proud of what I can do and I'm going to stick with my Maffetone / Primal Endurance lifestyle of diet and training.  It has worked wonders.  I'll discuss this in a future blog.  Up next (in 4 days) JFK 50-miler. 

Quick update 2 - Dirty Dozen 50K

I took a good deal of time off following Bighorn.  My legs and feet and heel (I was diagnosed with Haglund's Heel post-bighorn) recovered and I signed up with Meghan to run a local trail race in Forest Park.  The Dirty Dozen 50K.  The race is 12 loops on my favorite Orange trail in Forest Park.  It's roughly 2.25 miles per loop and even with the out and back to start the race, I don't think it is a 30 mile race.  Anyway, I wanted to run well and kept up with the lead runners the first 4 loops before I fell back after refilling my bottle with Tailwind.  I caught up but then fell back off when I refilled 2 loops later.  I didn't know exactly how far ahead they were but I wasn't feeling fantastic.  My stomach was a little uneasy and I was getting a cramp.  Still I felt ok overall and ended up finishing in 3rd place only a few minutes behind the first two spots.  I wasn't expecting a prize but the RD gave out prizes to the top 3 male and female runners.  Meghan crushed the race as her preparation for the Atacama Desert stage race had been stellar.  She took 1st place.  So running this race gave me a little more confidence that I was getting back into the swing of things but my Garmin readings for GPS were so messed up in the forest that I couldn't tell how my splits evolved.  I had about 6 weeks before Ghost Train Trail 100 and just had to keep doing what I had been doing and hope for the best. 

Quick update 1 - Bighorn 100

Whoops.  I went a while without updating the blog.  So here goes.

June: Bighorn 100 -
This race is the reason I didn't update my blog.  I was hopeful prior to the race to come in around 26 hours.  The weather gods had other plans.  The race itself felt difficult for me early on and that was not weather related.  Yes, it felt pretty hot as we climbed the thousands of feet to start the race.  My climbing legs seemed to have gone missing though that was expected from Bear Mt. experience and from my lack of hill training.  Still, I was being passed by everyone and don't recall passing anyone on the climbs for these first 10 miles.  I felt better when we got to the descents and though I was feeling pretty foul for the upcoming 18ish mile climb that was coming from mile 30, a runner told me that the climb is nowhere near as bad as the initial 10 miles.  She was right.  However, rain started a little before I got to the climb and continued for I think 12 hours.  The rain turned the course into a mudfest and the mud was shoe sucking and slippery.  Not a good combination when you are climbing forever and even worse when you are descending forever.  It was even snowing at the top of the climb at the turnaround and I was lucky (smart) enough to carry cold weather clothing in my pack to help get me to the turnaround in better shape than most of the people in that tent.  The way back was more treacherous.  There was no moving quickly.  There was lots of flailing and falling.  There was much thanks given for carrying my trekking poles.  I was hopeful once the sun came up and with about 30 miles to go that the mudfest will be gone but things got worse.  The mud became even more inhospitable on the extreme climbs back out and the heat shot up making the work to move up through this mud even harder.  I was going slower than 2 miles per hour for a few miles and was happy to hit 3 mph.  Thankfully, the mudfest ended with about 12 miles to go and at some point (thanks to Jon Brause for catching up to me in his 50K race) was able to run really fast down hill.
The mile or so before the finish we were back on a road but I was so overheated and tired and didn't care about my time that I started walking.  I finished in 30 hours and 2 minutes and was just not happy with the race.  The course was beautiful when it wasn't dark and raining and volunteers were amazing.  It is just a course that I didn't know is usually pretty darn muddy.  I hate mud.

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  http://ultrasignup.com/results_participant.aspx?fname=Devon&lname=Yanko
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 (https://www.primalblueprint.com/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