Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mohican 100 Race Report June 16, 2018

I feel it’s important to try and write things down and share experiences on these great adventures.  In many ways the journey of a 100 mile race becomes a transcendental and surreal dream-scape.  Like my nightly dreams, the raw experience of the race gradually fades away with my gradual return to everyday life.  Capturing a little bit of the experience here hopefully preserves some of my memories, provides insights to my friends and family, and also maybe helps a future runner of this and other races.

The Journey

The Mohican 100 is in Southeastern Ohio at the Mohican State Park.  With family logistics being cheaper and easier with 1 traveling vs. 4, it was decided some time ago that I would venture out on this trip solo.  I stayed at the Mohican Adventures campground in the meadows.  I didn’t realize it at reservation time, but the race runs right by there (tip: ask for a campground close to the showers).  This made packing my drop bags much easier as I knew I could stop at my car if something unusual came up during the race.  I met some great folks from all over who were all there for the race.  Mixed in with the regular family Father’s Day camping crowd, it was quite the scene.  My favorite part of the campground was it coming to life around 3:30am as everyone was prepping for the long day ahead.

The Training
If you judge training only by the miles you put in; the number of marathon distance training runs; and/or the back to backs you do every weekend; then this training cycle was pretty terrible.  After the Umstead 100 in April, I took some planned time off.  After that I ended up with a nasty cold that kept me from training for at least a solid week.  This was quickly followed by a freak turf-toe injury.  Eventually I had to start running again.  I kept up with my cross training, and ran where I could and tried to stay patient and let the fitness come back.  Eventually I managed a 20 and a 30 mile run; and maybe 150 miles total in two and a half months.  Nothing near what I’d like to have heading into a race like Mohican.

On the other side of the coin, if you define training as the process that puts you in the best position to complete your goal – I feel like my training was very successful.  Had I simply tried to plow through these obstacles, I risked putting myself in a position where I might find it challenging to even make it to the starting line, much less be considering a finish.

The Course and Race

Having never run at Mohican State Park before, I had no real plan of attack put together.  I had no idea how the terrain would roll together and what to expect mile to mile.  This was actually a welcome adventure as my last race was my hometown race where I knew the course like the back of my hand.  At Mohican, I simply set out to take what the course gave me and enjoy the cool temperatures while they lasted.  I finished the first lap in a little more than 6 hours and could feel the heat of the day coming on as well as my lack of training in my legs.  The first seeds of doubt.
The heat bearing down at the start of lap 2
The start of the second lap I was a little grumpy (right where you should be for 27 miles!) but decided to simply take it easy for the climbs up to the first aid station.  The strategy worked and I felt strong for the next section to the fire tower.  At fire tower I took my first of many, many glorious sponge baths.  The heat and humidity were kicking.  From hear on out the goal became heart rate management and managing core body temperature.  I’m somewhat used to the heat being from North Carolina.  What heat acclimation has taught me more than anything else is to respect it, walk as necessary, and be patient.  Especially with being undertrained I knew patience, respect, and humility were going to be the only paths to a successful finish.
Photo Credit: Bruce Phillips Photography
Leaning in to the climb
The Dark Place
The darkest moments of the race for me came at about mile 50.  On the long descent from Hickory Ridge I smashed the hell of my foot.  I kicked a root so hard I yelled out a loud F_____K!  The kind you save for when it really really hurts.  I managed to stay upright and kept moving to “run it off”.  The adrenaline wore off pretty quickly and my toes were telling me they were hurt.  My mind raced with the possibilities, are they broken?  Will I have to drop? Is my foot bleeding?  Maybe I just smashed my nail?  If I dropped, would I being weak?  Maybe I should give up running entirely?  That kind of self-questioning and self-examination went on for the last four miles as I walked most of the way in to the aid station.  Being solo, I didn’t have any crew to pick cheer me up at the aid station so I called home and got a nice pick me up from my wife.

At the aid station, I grabbed a slice of pizza and sat down with the podiatrist group from Kent State.  We took of the shoe, and there was no blood to be seen (positive).  We took off the compression sock (always fun at 54 miles) and all the toenails were there (yay!).  After some bending and pressure tests she declared nothing broken, only to expect some bruising, and that if I could handle the pain I could go on with the race.  Best.News.Ever!  She buddy taped the toes and off I went for lap 3.  All in all I took a half hour at this stop, but it was necessary and I could feel recharged from the rest. 

The Night
It never cooled off at night.  Yes, the temperature dropped, but it was still in the 70's with high humidity for most of the night.  I was still climbing great at this point.  The quads and the downhills were progressively becoming more and more iffy.  I just kept doing what I was doing keeping my effort level in check and using Ice, Icees, sponge baths, and ice chips wherever I could to keep myself cool and not over-exert myself. 

One of the fun parts about the night time is that you start to notice the wildlife around you in an entirely different light.  My favorite scene was the first climb on the way towards Firetower.  The forest floor is covered with ferns that are three and four feet high.  What made this particular section spectacular were thousands and thousands of fireflies lighting up amongst the ferns in the night hours.  It seemed like it was straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  The other fun encounter is when I came upon three younger raccoons on the trail and had a bit of a stare down.  My headlamp lit up these massive eyes that just stared back at me – not quite sure what to make out of the guy at 2 in the morning running down the trail.

Trail Angels are Real
Coming into the end of the third lap and start of the fourth and final lap, I determinedly ran a quick and efficient run through the aid station.  I was ready to get moving on finishing.  As I’m about 200 meters out of the aid station -giving wide berth to a skunk scavenging someone’s supplies – I hear a voice running to catch me.  “Are you running alone?  Do you want a pacer?”  “Yes, Yes I do want a pacer”  Insert Megan from Cincinnati who saved my race.  Sometime around the 24 hour mark I became almost uncontrollably drowsy.  My body just wanted to crash.  Simply having a pacer watching over me for that hour period kept me moving.  As it was, I barely felt like I could keep moving.  Had I been alone, I almost certainly would have been sitting on a log, catching some z’s…and who knows what would have happened at that point.  Megan accompanied me all the way to Covered Bridge (mile 89).  With the sun up and some coffee in my system I was rejuvenated to finish the last 2 sections to the finish.
Photo Credit:  Bruce Phillips Photography
Finish and Aftermath.
I ended up finishing in 30:25:52. There were 188 starters, 91 finishers, and I finished 61st out of those 91 finishers.  The goal for this race was simply to finish, earn my WSER ticket and points; and take the hot summer off.  I’m learning quickly that for 100 mile events it only takes 1 or 2 variables to make or break your day.  Given the training I put in (or didn’t put in more precisely), I was lucky to keep things in front of me the whole day.  But that may also have saved me.  I didn’t have any illusions of grandeur about personal performance. 

Photo Credit: Bruce Phillips Photography
Getting some foot care post race.

A final footnote and shout out to the community and ultra folks taking care of each other.  As I recombobulated in the finish line aid station, it dawned on me that after being up for 35 hours I was in no shape to drive myself to Columbus for my flight home.  Enter Travis (who ended up being an old friend from Canyon’s 2017), Drew, and Irene who put together a plan to drive me and my car to Travis’s house, and eventually to the airport.  Thanks guys, you totally made Father’s Day still happen for me!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

2017 Hell Hath No Hurry 50 Mile - 6/24/2017

Some days are just really good days.  My day at the 2017 Hell Hath No Hurry (HHNH) 50 Miler was one of those days.  There were all the things that you would want out of a good day on the trails for an ultra - a fun runnable course, great people, great organization, perfect weather, and just enough slop (mud) on the course to add a healthy sense of adventure to your run.  Throw in a solid day of running where nothing really went wrong, and you can't ask for much more.  Final result:  49.25 miles, 6k of gain, 10:29:57, and third place overall.

I came to HHNH in my search for a "training 50" in preparation for my first hundred miler at the North Downs Way 100 in August.  My first choices were the Midnight Boogie or the OSS/CIA which would have been 8 weeks out.  But alas life got in the way of those plans.   As fate would have it, a planned trip up to Pittsburgh to see my in-laws coincided with HHNH.  

HHNH is a multi-event trail race put on in Settler's Cabin Park in Pittsburgh, PA.  It consists of a 50 mile, 50 mile relay, 50k, 30k, and 10k.  Races are staggered throughout the day with the intention of everyone finishing in the same window of time.  I was worried that the trails might be too crowded but was pleasantly surprised at how other than some extra mud-prints on the trails, I hardly noticed.  The course is a single 10k loop with about 750 feet of gain per loop, and a very well stocked and enthusiastic aid station at about 3 miles.  Even on a muddy day the course felt fast for a trail race.  The best way to describe the course is that each half of the course consists of about 2.5 miles of downhill and flat running, followed by about a half mile of climbs.  The final 200 meters or so is a nice and easy downhill that makes you feel strong and look good as you come across the timing mat to finish your lap.

Pre-race briefing

Race Notes and Comments

  • Being that this was an 8 lap race, I took a throwback to my track days and envisoned my run as a 3200m run.  The goal was to run as easy as possible for the first 2 laps, hold pace for laps 3 and 4, grind for laps 5-7, and let the barn take me home for the final lap.
  • It was weird coming into a 50 miler and it not being an "A" race.  My previous 2 50s were at the JFK50 and were goal races.  It's more than a little surreal to drop in a 50 mile effort with no taper whatsoever as part of a training block.  Using ultra-logic I'm told I can double that distance to run a 100 miler in 6 weeks.  We'll see.
  • I feel really good about how even my effort was at HHNH.  Out of 49+ miles, I'd say I ran 40 miles - and 8 of those other miles were hills.  Even though I gave the race a complete effort, I felt like there was another level deep inside me that I could have tapped into if I wanted to dig deep.  To be clear, I had no desire to go there this weekend - but there is something invigorating about catching a glimpse of what you might be capable of achieving.
  • A big thanks to Kirsten for the great company and conversation on the trail.  You were super positive out there.  But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the cold sponge!  It was glorious!
  • A huge shout out to Meg - the eventual Women's winner (aka the Queen).  I would venture to say that Meg and I ran less than a mile together the entire race, yet we were never further than a couple of minutes from each other.  I would pull away from her on the flats and she would reel me back in on the descents.  It got to the point where I was sure she was just stalking me to blow past me in the final lap.  Turns out, keeping me in sight kept her motivated and her lurking behind me kept driving me forward.  I enjoyed the competitive rhythm we fell into and appreciate the heck out of your effort.  I'm not at all convinced my performance would have been as strong without you pushing me from behind.
  • Any well put together ultra doesn't get accolades without the organization and efforts of a great race director and volunteers.  The aid station spreads were wonderful, but the energy of everyone supporting the runners mad it an all around great day.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Canyons Endurance Runs 100k Race Report

This is the story of how I set out to run a 100k race; ended up with a DNF; and yet, I am very happy with the experience and the accomplishment. 32 miles, 9k feet of elevation, and 8 hours of beauty, suffering, and fun that only an ultra can provide. Endeavoring into ultras for me is all about maximizing my human potential. The races and events themselves are benchmarks for where I am on that journey any one point in time. My Canyons 100k is a fantastic marker of what I have accomplished and what more I can do in the future.

Ultimately, we all reap what we sow. I did not put in the training block that I needed to effectively complete the 100k. In the three months prior I completed 1 50k, 2 Marathon distance, and another half dozen or so 20+ mile runs. I lacked the back to back training runs and the elevation work-which you can’t expect to skip and function effectively on the Western States trail.

Despite being under trained there is a real sense of accomplishment in making it to the starting line. Due to injuries over the last year+, this was the first ultra in 16 months that I was even healthy enough to stand at the start line. The choices I made to skip or shorten workouts all revolved around keeping my body healthy and keeping my family’s priorities front of mind. My training was also complicated by the fact that we went through the process of selling our house, buying a new house, with moving day happening 1 week before the race (a restful taper I did not have!). Going back to the idea of “maximizing my human potential” these things are a big part of that formula as well.

These were the thoughts that began to swirl through my head climbing out of El Dorado Creek up to Michigan Bluff. As the decision to drop began to solidify, I noted that I wasn’t thinking about what I could or couldn’t do – I was contemplating what I wanted. The ultimate reason that I was not prepared for the challenge of the day, is that I prioritized family over training. Realizing that, it became crystal clear that I did not want to in some way punish myself by grinding out the next 32 miles for another 9+ hours. Not to mention my wife (she was running the 25k) and I were on a little kid free weekend and had a fun day planned in San Francisco for Sunday. Once all those things came into focus, stopping at 50k became a pretty straightforward decision.

For those interested in notes on the course itself and more specific race comments:

Bath Road to Volcano Creek – Pretty straightforward downhill start. Things were a little crowded and a bit of a conga line once everyone matriculated onto the trail. While crowded everybody was good tempered and moved smoothly down to the creek. The two slack lines for the crossing worked great. I crossed with little wait. I opted for the upper crossing which was deeper, but actually felt really good.

Volcano Creek to Michigan Bluff – The climb here was more of a parade than anything else. Still too early for there to be much separation and difficult to pass.

El Dorado Creek to the Pump – this is where things started to point in the wrong direction for me. As would become a theme for the rest of the day, I just couldn’t stay attached to a train of runners. At 4.5 miles of climbing, this presented a challenge for me in duration. Nonetheless I hit the Pump at a little more than 3 hours which was still within race plan.

The Pump > Swinging Bridge > The Pump - The decent to swinging bridge is the most technical of the first half of the race. Combined with runners coming up from the turnaround, it was difficult to find a consistent rhythm. The climb back up to the pump is when I knew I was in trouble. The climb up devil’s thumb is just brutally intense.   Leaving the pump at about 4.5 hours, I felt good about the prospect of  making some time up and building momentum for the second half of the race.

Pump > El Dorado Creek was a great run and for a little while felt like I was going to be able to piece together a nice recovery and build some momentum. However about 3.75 miles into the 4.5 mile decent my left ankle started to revolt from the cumulative stress of navigating the terrain for the day. Thousands of micro-sprains turned into one painful ankle which forced me to walk the remaining decent.

El Dorado Creek to Forest Hill – Not much to report here other than a lot of hiking. The only areas I was able to consistently run were the flat areas which were few and far between. At Forest Hill, I pretty much confirmed I was done for the day. I took an extra 15-20 minutes sitting in a chair refueling and resting to confirm that I just wasn’t lacking calories. My body was trashed. I certainly could have gone on. On this day however, I just didn’t want it enough.

The day was in my book a successful failure. I had a great day. I overcame life and training challenges to make it to the starting line to see what I had.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

JFK50 2015 - November 21st, 2015

The 2015 edition of the JFK 50 Mile run wasn't even on my race calendar at the start of 2015.  The 2014 JFK50 was my first attempt at the 50 mile distance and was intended to be a stepping stone to some longer ultras in 2015.  A little bit of bad luck got thrown my way and I ended up not running for two and a half months; having knee surgery in April of this year; and did a solid 6 weeks of rehab before running again.  Building my base from literally nothing, I tentatively set the goal of completing JFK for a second time.

The start in Boonsboro

Training Cycle

With my first run being a mere 1.25 miles long in the brutal NC heat and humidity, I knew that I had a long road in front of me.  I committed myself to being patient, and to simply take what my body gave me.  In getting injured, I realized how quickly things can change.  In the course of one day I went from the best shape of my life to not being able to run without pain.  I've always envisioned that I would be one of those that never really stops running.  Having surgery made me realize that may not necessarily be my call.  Going forward I was going to take advantage of the privilege of running. Yet, I wasn't going to force anything happen that wasn't supposed to.  Training wasn't just about getting fit anymore, it was about finding sustainability.

Looking at the entire training cycle, I am really proud of my patient execution of my plan.  My "training plan" went out the window pretty early as I learned the different ways I could push my knee and leg.  In fact, my challenges were not my knee.  Rather my challenges were more about building back equal strength in my legs and avoiding over compensation. I ran two 50ks (Weymouth Woods (6:32) and New River Trail (4:48)) in the lead up and did hardly any speed/tempo work.  I actually love speedwork - ok its really more of a love/hate.  However, it was apparent that the stress of speed and adding the miles to build the base I wanted was going to be too much too fast.  The net result was that compared to last year's JFK, I actually had a more complete and consistent training cycle.  So while I wasn't able to run as fast as I could last year, I felt like I had better overall endurance.

The Race

I was very serene in the immediate lead up to the race.  I wasn't worried about time, pace, cutoffs.  I was honestly just happy to be at the starting line doing what I loved.  I knew from last year that I needed to be really patient to have the kind of day that I wanted to have.  In 2014, I had a bad day - or at least a day where my performance didn't reflect the training I had put in.  In 2015 I simply wanted to be wiser and hopefully have a day that allowed me to improve on my 2014 performance.

Start to First Timing Mat (2.5 Miles)  23:30
The start of the race out of Boonsboro has a slight downhill out of town before you climb 600 feet over the next two miles.  I ran this "easy" even if the breathing was a bit labored, but felt fresh hitting the AT and just a little bit faster than last year.  Perfect.

AT (13 Miles)  2:29:00
For me, the hardest part of the AT is the 1.5 to 2 miles before the Weverton Cliffs at the end of the AT.  The earlier sections of the trail vary from non-technical to what I would call "fun running".  These are certainly not running trails to take in the scenery, but they are fun and varied trails that keep you on your toes - quite literally.  The challenge for me comes toward the end of the section where the trail goes up and over the spine of South Mountain a couple of times and then for the mile before the Cliffs you have some of the most awful jagged rock trails that you'll ever have the privilege of running.  In fact during this section, my timing tag (during the race referred to as the doolallie) got caught on a rock and snapped right off of my shoe.  Thankfully, I was able to grab it and have it reattached at the next aid station.

"I need the THING for the DOOLALLIE!"

Towpath - Aqueduct (11.8 miles) 2;07 
Entering the towpath you are filled with an initial glee to be on firm, flat footing.  The towpath is an impeccable running surface with gorgeous views of the Potomac river.  Throw in idyllic fall conditions and sharing the trails with your fellow lunatic ultrarunners and you are in heaven.  That is until a mile or two later when you realize that you will have the exact same scenery and terrain for the next 4 - 5 hours.  From this point forward it is all about keeping your head in the game.

For me, this first section of the towpath was where things unraveled for me in 2014 with the onset of cramping that would nag at me for the duration of the race.  In 2015, coming off the AT I was feeling good, but could definitely feel some fatigue from the bounding up and over obstacles for the last 15 miles.  I quickly decided to adopt some run/walk intervals on a proactive basis.  I knew that I could do a 5:1 run/walk for hours and still feel relatively good.  The focus was on being conservative.  I knew that if I was spent for the last 8 miles of road it would cost me much more than whatever I was giving up in walk breaks.

Aqueduct to the End of Towpath (14.5 miles)  2:30:13
Combined, I ended up running the 26.3 miles of the towpath in about 4:52 which wasn't bad, but I honestly felt like I could have pushed harder through here.  Miles 31 - 35 here are the toughest of the whole race.  Given the consistent flat terrain, and that you are past halfway done, but not quite close enough to smell the barn is where the attention and focus wanes a bit.  Around mile 35 I realized that I only had 5 to 6 miles of towpath left and that if I wanted to take advantage now would be the time.  I had a great stretch of running from that point on.  It was hard.  But it was good to teach myself what I am capable of doing and learning what it feels like to push through that fatigue.

Towpath to Finish Line (8.5 miles)  1:31:30
Exiting the towpath you are greeted with a climb of about 125 feet out of the river plain.  By no means a huge climb, but after 41.5 miles it is certainly enough to put the screws to you.  I hit the 8 miles to go marker at exactly 7 hours and 40 minutes.   That meant that if I could average ten minute miles for the last 8, I could finish in 9 hours.  Game ON!  From this point on I was in a racing mindset. It was all about grinding it out.  The challenge in this section is that the rolling hills take the wind out of your legs.  After being ground down by the AT and then a pancake flat marathon, the hills are a tough battle.

At the end, the hills won, but I was again really happy with how I battled through to the finish.  Of the 19 minutes that improved upon from last year's race, 5 of those minutes came in the last 8 miles alone.  My conservative strategy paid off.  Hammering the uphill finish, I had one of the best call outs ever complements of Mike Spinnler.

The Aftermath

With a finishing time of 9:02:04, I bettered my 2014 time by 19 minutes and change.  PRs are always sweet.  To have a PR at the 50 mile distance almost 7 months to the day after knee surgery is about as sweet as it gets.  The stat that tells the story of my race the best - and that I am most proud of -  is that I only had a 12 minute fade for the second half of the race.

Many thanks to my brother Kevin, Courtney and my wife Jenn for taking crewing for me throughout the day.  When I adamantly said "I need the THING for the DOOLALLIE"  you knew exactly what to do.  Kevin and Court you both took time out of your weekends to see me for but brief moments along the trail.  Your time and support were much appreciated.  To Jenn, who not only supports my endeavors - she now sometimes encourages them - I am beyond thankful to have you on my team.

Finishing two minutes shy of 9 hours (an arbitrary time marker, I know) you can't help but think about all the places you could have picked up 120 seconds during the course of the race.  As I reflect on the race and my performance I see lots of opportunities for future races from time management to simply having more experience grinding later races.

Gear:  Shoes - Salomon Speedcross 3;  Fuel - Shotbloks; Gu Roctane; Salted Carmel 2/hour;  Hydration - Nathan Handheld gatorade/water;

What's Next

After a few weeks of rest it will be time to tackle the next goal and graduate to 100 miles.  I am registered for Umstead this April.   I can't wait to see what that adventure brings!