Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to Train for 6 Marathons in 6 Days in 6 States

How to Train for 6 Marathons in 6 Days in 6 States
By Van DeWald, 50 State Marathon Finisher, Marathon Maniac, Half Fanatic

Running a marathon is hard.  Running a marathon two days in a row is a lot harder.  Running a marathon every day, for six days, in six different states, might be epic.  How do you train for something like that?  Well, you run.  A lot.  But it's also important to walk too.  Recovery after each day's run is perhaps a key component. It's a delicate balance of doing enough mileage to complete the distance each day, but also fuel your body properly, recover, and be able to do it again day after day after day.

Where do you begin?  First off, I should say, you should already have a well-established running base to attempt this.  What's an ideal base?  That's going to vary for every individual.  Suffice to say, you need to be able to log some significant mileage in training to successfully be able to do this for your event.  I would also add, going into something like this injured could be asking for more trouble.  If your body is already compromised, subjecting it to high mileage could make things worse. 

When people want to attempt this, they often ask, is there a training schedule for something like this?  How do you train to run marathons multiple days in a row?  I developed my own schedule, but ideally, you'll need to find something that works for you. When training for an ultra marathon, like a 50 mile, 100k, or 100 mile race, you typically run progressively longer back to back runs on Saturday and Sunday, with much lighter mileage during the week.  While that may work for multiple marathons in multiple days, for others, it might not. Back to back long runs certainly help, but does it really mimic your multiday race conditions?  Thus, you may need to develop your own training schedule, and see what works for you.  Remember, the key is to progressively build mileage, while training your body to take the daily rigors of increasingly higher mileage.  Ideally, for me, I wanted to mimic what would happen during my event as much as possible.

Below, you'll find the training schedule that worked for me when I did the New England Series in 2016.  I developed this myself, and you'll see, it's fairly simply, starts low, but progressively builds mileage each week of the schedule.  Note, I already had a significant mileage base going into this, with numerous marathons and ultra marathons, several multi-day events, and several 24-72 hour events that I had previously run.  You should give yourself plenty of time to ramp up!  Start slow. Gradually build your mileage.  Do a walk/run.  Like a normal marathon training schedule, build in cutback weeks to give your body a chance to catch up. 

It's also hard to balance the time commitment versus other things that happen in your life.  Sometimes, life gets in the way and you miss a run here or there.  It happens to everyone. I would add, as you build mileage, listen to your body. It will give you subtle clues that you may be ramping up too much.  If you have aches and pains, ease off and give yourself a cutback week, even if it's not on the schedule.  Yes, it's ok to make adjustments!  In fact, it's absolutely necessary.  As you continue to build mileage, you'll find that it does get easier.  What seemed daunting at the beginning is now becoming part of the routine.  Day by day, you'll get stronger, your body will adapt, and with a little bit of luck, you will be able to do this.

How far should you go?  Again, this is going to be something is highly variable for everyone. In a typical marathon training schedule, you progressively build up to a long run of 18 to 22 miles, with a 1 to 3 week taper at the end.  If you're running multiple marathons in multiple days, do you really need to run 20 miles every day in training?  Maybe. But most likely not. However, I firmly believe you will find that you'll be able to complete the events with fewer miles.  For myself, I topped out at 15 miles for 6 successive days as I felt it was enough. Could I have run more?  Sure.  Remember, it's a fine line of preparing your body for the daily demands, but keeping yourself healthy enough to get to the finish line. Could you run less?  Yes.  Some of this is going to be trial and error and you'll just have to figure out how much you need for your own success.

What about pace?  Marathon runners can often become obsessed with running a certain pace, setting new personal records, and advancing your finish position in your age group.  And that's great, it's the competitive nature that drives us to do better.  However, for multiple races in multiple days, my advice would be to not worry about pace and just focus on completing the distance.  These events are about endurance, and not speed.  So, slow down.  Yes, it's ok to run slower than you would be used to, with a lower heart rate, and take a little more time to finish.  Running slower will allow your body to burn more fat than glycogen, perhaps allowing you to go a little further before you hit the wall.  Our bodies are amazing at storing excess fat.  If you can tap into that by running slower, and forcing your body to use it, the longer miles become easier each day.

It's also important to take walk breaks.  Gasp.  Yes, take a walk break, and start doing it from the very beginning of the run.  This is something that you may have to experiment with to find the right ratio that works for you.  Start off with running for 10 minutes, then take a 1 minute walk break.  Try other ratios.  Run for 0.9 miles, then walk for 0.1 mile.  Or change it up, run for 5 minutes, walk for 30 seconds, etc.  Find what works for you.  I honestly believe, that for the average person, walk breaks are essential in multiday marathons.  There are a handful of elite runners out there that could probably run the entire distance every day, but for the average runner, walk breaks are necessary.  Required.  And really, the walk break is just a built in recovery period for your muscles, while you're still doing the event. Taking a walk break changes things up, uses muscles a little differently, gives your heart a chance to slow down a little (or a lot), and also helps to flush your legs with any lactic acid that might be building up.  So run when you can.  But plan for walk breaks.  And plan on incorporating your walk breaks from the very beginning. Don’t wait until you’ve already run 10 miles.  Walk from the very beginning. They are a key component of a successful multiday event in my opinion.  Ultra runners often walk the hills, and run the downs and the flats. That's a great strategy, but is also dictated by the courses that you'll be running on. If you're running entirely flat races, waiting for a hill to take a walk break will never happen.

Fuel is another important component for successful multiday races. In a typical marathon, runners may drink a sports drink, or consume energy gels or chews to help keep their glycogen stores up.  A runner might consume a 100 calorie gel every 45 minutes, or every 3 to 5 miles as an example.   And that's a great strategy that works for a single race.  However, when you're doing multiple marathons in multiple days, I've found that real food often works better.  As in, instead of fueling with only gels or sports drinks, eat real food during the run.  Cookies, potato chips, small sandwiches, fruits, other sweets, etc.  Anything with carbs and sugar. It just seems that gels alone aren't enough to sustain your body for a multiday event.  So eat.  Real food.  In a typical marathon, you burn 4000 calories.  If you consume 5 gels, you've supplemented your intake with only 500 calories.  During a multiday event, you need to focus on topping of your glycogen stores as much as possible so your body has enough energy to do it again day after day.  So you need to eat.  And drink.  You have to have enough energy to be able to run strong each day.  You'll find that it might be hard at first, but it's something you need to practice.  So during your training runs, find what real foods work for you.  Some things might work great, others, not so much.  Just like anything else, you need to figure out these details before your race, so your body knows what to expect. 

Recovery after the run is yet another component that is just as important as any of the others.  It's just another piece of the foundation of success. If you can’t train your legs to perform each day during training, you won't be able to do it during a race.  Remember back to your first marathon? Do you remember how sore you were the next day?  And I'm guessing it was extremely painful to walk, to go down stairs (if not impossible), and to even sit on the toilet to use the restroom.  The thought of running another marathon the day after would have been impossible.  You need to train your legs to be able to move, day after day after day.  While it may seem impossible at the beginning, with proper training, you will adapt.

Immediately after your runs, especially as the mileage progressively builds, a cold water bath helps tremendously.  Just the mention of this makes many runners cringe.  And while it is shocking for a few seconds, it's actually very beneficial for immediate, rapid muscle recovery.  And, it's something very easy to do.  After your run, get in the empty bathtub.  You can do this with our without shorts, and with or without a shirt.  For myself, I strip down naked, and use a towel to drape over my shoulders to keep myself warm.  Turn the cold faucet on, with no hot water at all and let the tub fill up.  As the cold water reaches the bottom of your legs, it will be quite a shock.  Force yourself to endure it.  As the water gets a little deeper, you may start to immediately shiver. That's where a towel on your shoulders or a shirt helps keep you a little warmer.  Let the tub continue to fill, until your legs have been covered.  I'm not going to sugar coat it, the first couple of minutes are going to be brutal.  It will be very cold.  But then your body adapts, and within a couple more minutes, it's fine. Seriously.  And just sit and chill or awhile.  Do this for about 10 minutes, or 15 if you have the time, and then get out and immediately get into a hot shower to warm back up.  Now you may say, this takes too much time, however it really helps immediately stop a lot of the inflammation that you inflicted during the run.  And that's important.  It will help your legs feel much better to be able to run again the next day.  It will probably not reduce all of the inflammation, but it will definitely help.  And the 2 or 3 minutes of very uncomfortably cold conditions at the beginning are worth it.  You don't even need ice.  Just cold tap water for 10 to 15 minutes does wonders.  Try it, you'll discover this for yourself.

After the run, you need to eat.  After you've warmed up from your cold water soak, start refueling, immediately.  Eat something with carbs and protein, ideally in a 4:1 ratio (although not necessary).  This will help to begin refueling your spent glycogen to help your muscles recover quicker.  You don't need to go crazy with food intake, but as mileage progressively builds, you will definitely be needing more and more calories. Remember, you just burned 4000 calories.  You need to replenish that to be able to run well the next day.  For myself, I have found that immediately after a race, I will start grazing.  Eat lunch, and then continue to graze during the afternoon.  Eat a good dinner, and graze a bit more before bedtime.  Eating a huge meal with 4000 calories in one sitting will make you feel sick and bloated.  But if you graze during the remainder of the day, you can pack in the calories without making yourself sick.

And keep moving after your run.  After a typical long run, you might want to hit the couch and not move for the rest of the day.  That's not an ideal strategy for multiple day marathons.  You need to keep those  muscles loose.  That might involve going for an afternoon or evening walk, even if it's just around the block.  Another thing you can is do gentle stretching during the evening to help keep muscles loose.  Stretch the hamstrings, the quads, the calves gently, mainly just to keep them from stiffening up too much.  You might even use a foam roller or rolling-pin style roller to help work out any kinks or trigger points you might have.  Once the muscles tighten up, it will be much harder to run the next day.

And sleep.  Get plenty of rest each night after your run.  Ideally, 8 hours of sleep is recommended.  So got to bed early, which usually means lights out by 8 pm.  I found that after a couple of days, I was quite tired, and sleep came very easily for me. You need to rest your body to be able to do this again day after day after day.

Another beneficial thing, if you have time, once or twice a week, is to take an Epsom salt hot water bath.  Take a hot water bath as you normally would, but add 1-2 cups of Epsom salts to the water.  It refreshes me every time, and the Epsom salts really help with substantial recovery in my opinion. If your budget allows, you might also consider a sports massage once in a while.  Massage has also proven to be an effective means of recovery to help keep your muscles loose.

And that's pretty much it. Running 6 marathons in 6 days in 6 states sounds daunting. And some would say impossible.  You have to run, a lot.  But walking is important too.  Fueling your body is necessary to be able to do this day after day after day.  However, recovery is equally as important, otherwise your legs won't be able to perform.  And rest is important too.  But, with proper training, it can be done! 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

It was the best, worst running adventure of my life. A few years ago, a running friend said that she wanted to run across the Grand Canyon. At the time, I was just getting into ultra running and thought that seemed like an impossible goal. However, I've proved to myself on many levels that I am stronger than I think I am.

Last summer, while running up and down Pikes Peak, I decided that running across the Grand Canyon and back in a day (known as a rim to rim to rim, R2R2R, or R3) would be my next big adventure.  It scared me. But at the same time, it also excited me.  It was something big.  And it was something that I wanted.

Viewing the canyon the day before the run. 
But, I didn't know anything about the Grand Canyon, or even how to run across it once, or twice.  The logistics seemed daunting. But I researched, found a few articles online about how to do it, and began reading reports from others who had done it. I bought a book on how to hike and backpack in the canyon. I bought a trail map.  I joined a Facebook group. And with each new resource, I learned.  That's the way I roll.  I am always very prepared in everything to do.  Along the way, I hooked up with a couple of other guys in my running club who also wanted to do this, Scott and Troy (who are also really close friends).  And so it began, the journey to R3 developed.

The training:  I had no idea where to begin.  The route we chose was 47 miles round trip (although there are 3 different routes, either, 42, 44.5, or 47 miles), with about 22000 feet of elevation.  Wow! That's scary. Our route was Bright Angel Down, North Kaibab up, then return.  I had never done anything this physically hard in my life. Plus, it's a self supported run, at high elevation, in the desert. If you screw up, it could result in an airlift out if the canyon and thousands of dollars in bills.  You have to train for the distance, but also be strong enough to do the hills as well.  Hill repeats, StairMaster workouts, and squats and lunges became my regimen. However, it also brought on a running injury back in February and almost prevented me from running altogether.  Thankfully, with custom orthotics and learning how to tape and support my fallen arch, I was able to heal to get it done. My mileage peaked at 50 miles per week, two and three weeks prior to the run, and while I wanted significantly more training, it was all that I could do.  The injury had cost me about 6 weeks. I was willing to accept anything in the canyon, even if it meant stopping short and turning back early.

The goal:  based on what I had learned, healthy, trained mid pack runners should be able to complete this in 14 to 16 hours.  This isn't a race, it's just a run, and I'm only competing with myself.  I developed a timeline for a 16 hour finish.  Honestly, time should be irrelevant, and enjoying the experience should be more important.  I wanted to do well and not be miserable.  I also wanted to enjoy it enough to want to come back.  I also wanted to get out alive.

The run:  my running buddies and I spent the better part of 9 months exchanging messages back and forth about the run.  It helped build a little bit of confidence as we shared tips and advice, and shared some of the training.  The injury set me back, and my confidence waned. But the trip was booked, and I was going to accept whatever my body could give.

We flew into Phoenix on Friday, May 2, rented a car, and drove the 3 ½ hours to the Grand Canyon thinking about the adventure that awaited us.  We arrived around 430 in the afternoon and checked into the Maswik Lodge, just ½ mile from the canyon edge.  While the weather had been cool with rain and snow in the previous week, it was forecast to be hot and 95 at the bottom for our run.  We walked to the canyon edge, walked a bit down the trail, and mentally prepared for what would begin in a few hours.

We initially wanted to start around 4 am Saturday morning May 3.  I had taken an Ambien, was in bed by 730 pm and slept very well.  But Scott and Troy did not.  I woke up around 230 am. They were already awake and thought we might as well leave.  Let’s go!  After quickly getting ready, we were descending Bright Angel trail by 320 am.  In retrospect, given the forecast heat we should have started even earlier.  Starting temp was in the mid 30s, with very little wind. It was perfect.  With no clouds in the sky, it was a magical experience dropping into the vast darkness below us.  We couldn’t see it, but you could sense it.  And you could feel the heat rising from the deep.  It was exhilarating.

The initial descent was very smooth. Down.  It felt comfortable.  I had on arm warmers, lightweight gloves, a beanie hat, a short sleeve shirt, and Columbia hiking shorts with compression shorts underneath.  Around a switchback, and down again. Surprisingly, for me, it was hard to get into a good rhythm, with so many water boards, and many more rocks than I had anticipated.  But we were quickly dropping, and a quick stop at the 1 ½ mile rest house had us shedding our jackets and arm warmers.  And down some more, quickly reaching the 3 mile rest house, with another quick stop to do a self assessment.  However, by this time, I was already experiencing a hot spot on my right heel, which worried me.  I never get blisters on my heel.  Never.  I had been training with my custom orthotic, but I was not able to train for the rocks with such a rugged, steep descent, which I think threw my gait off a bit.  

Down.  I continued on, knowing that I had to stop to take care of the hot spot quickly or my run would end. We reached Indian Garden at 4.5 miles and I stopped to assess the damage.  A quarter size blister had already formed.  Ugh.  I taped it as best as I could and moved forward. It felt better, but still hurt with every step.  

After Indian Garden, the first light started to peak over the canyon. It was breathtaking to watch the canyon come alive. And within another 20 to 30 minutes, we were able to turn the headlamps off. We quickly reached the Colorado River shortly after sunrise and stopped for a few pictures. 

At the bottom at the Colorado River.

Pressing onward, we crossed the Silver Bridge, past Bright Angel Campground, and on to Phantom Ranch, total distance 9.9 miles in just under 3 hours.  We were a little behind schedule, but I honestly didn’t care.  It was already warmer than I thought it would be, it was already 70 at Phantom, and time goals were melting.  I checked my blister, and it had gotten bigger.  There was also a larger group of runners who had commandeered some of the picnic tables, and the flies and mosquitoes were buzzing around me, which annoyed me even more. I applied a blister gel pad, retaped it, and pushed onward.  I headed out of Phantom Ranch in a bad mood, heading out ahead of Scott and Troy, knowing they would catch me.  

After Phantom Ranch, the climbing begins. Up. It’s gradual at first, at 3 to 5% incline, through the box canyon up the North Kaibab trail.  It actually turned out to be a really pleasant stretch, running along the creek, enjoying the almost 2 billion year old rocks, and finally acknowledging what I was doing.  It wasn’t hard work, and my legs actually felt really good. This is a 7 mile stretch, it actually passed pretty quickly for me, arriving at Cottonwood Campground.  Miles weren’t fast, just slow and easy forward progress. Up.  And, about 4 ½ hours into the run, the sun finally peeked over the cliff tops, beating down on you, and it warmed quickly.

We arrived at Cottonwood Campground for a stop, to refill water bottles and hydration packs, and eat. My goal was to eat and drink all day long.  To graze.  To never get behind on nutrition or hydration. And I feel it worked.  My stomach actually felt great most of the day, despite the heat. I had a large variety of food.  I was drinking Hammer Perpetuem in my water bottle and water from a 2L Camelbak. I had Clif bars, Kind bars, Larabars, Honey Chocolate Waffles, homemade beef jerky, Hammer Gel packs, and Strawberry Newtons. I also carried a bottle of Coke that I intended to stash in the creek to enjoy on the way back down, but forgot I had it, so I carried it with me all day and never even touched it (although Scott and Troy would drink some late in the night). I also took an S cap once an hour, and twice an hour when it got really hot.

After leaving Cottonwood, the steep climbing really begins, at 12 to 17% incline. Up. We did meet a park ranger coming down the trail, and she informed us that the water was on at the north rim, but not at Supai Tunnel. That was a huge relief.  We would need it.

It was only 1.7 miles to the Pumphouse residence, but the work was much harder with the steep ascent. Up.  We stopped to fill water bottles, and for the only time of the whole run, I felt like I wanted to throw up.  I didn’t stay there long, since I felt better if I kept moving, and again left ahead of Troy and Scott, knowing they would catch me.  It worked, my nausea passed quickly.

The climb up the far North Kaibab trail was hard.  A lot harder than I thought it would be.  It climbs 3400’ over 5.4 miles.  Most of the trail is fully exposed to the sun, which was getting hotter by the minute.  You do catch a break with some shade under an occasional tree or rock ledge, but we were slowly being cooked. I actually felt pretty good, but Scott started to suffer.  As we climbed higher, he got slower, and we had to take more frequent breaks, eventually able only to move for a minute or less at a time because his heart rate was just too high.  And he was getting really nauseous.  I was also losing track of time, my goal had become irrelevant.  It had moved to a mode of survival as we still had 27 miles to go to get ourselves out.  Troy was feeling good I think so he continued on ahead of us. I stayed back with Scott, moving up the canyon one switchback at a time. Foot by foot. Up. 

Going up the North Kaibab Trail.

We reached Supai Tunnel and I was concerned whether we should keep going.  Scott was getting progressively worse, having dry heaved a couple of times.  He had nothing in him.  I was worried, knowing that we still had to save enough energy to get ourselves back.  I was fine, but Scott was in bad shape.  Scott said a couple of times that I should go on and summit without him, but there was no way I would leave him. I thought to myself that we would either summit together, or go down together.  I suggested once maybe we should stop and turn around. After sitting and resting and getting his heart rate in check again, Scott said that he really had to make it to the top, so we pushed on.  It was 1.7 miles.  Up. It took a long time, although I didn't look at the watch.  Step by step, we made it.  We kept meeting other runners coming down, and they would all say it was only ½ mile. There were mostly wrong. Eventually, around ⅛ mile from the top, Troy came back down to meet us, and walked back up with us.    

We had made it across. 23.5 miles, and 11000’ were behind us. It took about 9 ½ hours, notably longer than planned (my original goal was 6:45).  But 23.5 miles and 11000’ were also ahead of us.  It worried me. Scott had been sick. There was very cold water at the trailhead on the North Rim which helped tremendously. We cooled off by dumping water on our heads.  We rehydrated.  And we just rested, almost a full hour. The flies were very bad though, which annoyed me.  I swatted them away with a bandana.  Troy had already been up on north rim for awhile, and he was starting to seize up so he decided to start back down.  At some point shortly before 2, I thought we needed to get moving again, and also thought that going down would be much easier.  Yes, it was work, but it would be much easier going down than coming up.  Scott was also feeling better, which was a huge relief.  My quads were cramping very badly though, and I was worried what would happen on the descent.  I took a couple of salt pills and tried to self massage them a bit before we started down. 

At the top of the north rim at the North Kaibab Trailhead, halfway there.

Surprisingly, I think we felt pretty good going down the North Kaibab Trail.  We didn’t have to stop for breaks, and we were able to capture the scale of the canyon we had just climbed up. It was amazing.  I wish I would have taken a picture.  My blister, which was feeling pretty good climbing up, really started to hurt again though with every step when going down. Nothing to do but bear it and ignore it.  Down.  And my quads felt OK thankfully.  And Scott and I were in pretty good spirits. We knew were going to get out of the canyon, we just didn’t know when. But I also didn’t care about time. It was hot, we were sweating profusely, Scott was feeling better, and life was OK at the moment. The views were spectacular, despite the sheer 500-1000 foot dropoffs just another foot off the trail.  We joked and laughed a little. It was a good stretch. 

We caught up to Troy just as we reached the Pumphouse residence.  He had taken his time, took a few pictures, and had slowed down. I was starting to feel pretty dehydrated at this point though and mentioned it to Troy. I think Scott was fighting off the nausea again. After another break there in the shade, rehydrating, and soaking hats and shirts in water, we headed down to Cottonwood Campground.  It was still hot. The sun was beating down on us.  At Cottonwood, we decided to take another long break and try to wait out the sun a little.  We ate. We drank. They snoozed.  It wasn’t really sleeping, but just recovery to get us through the next stretch and to cool off a bit. I was wearing a Columbia Freeze Zero neck gaiter, which I think helped keep me cooler than you would think. It’s sweat activated, and really works when it’s soaking wet.  It was like a mini refrigerator pulled up around my neck and face.  It felt great.

Heading out of Cottonwood was a very long, 7 mile slog.  Temps were in the mid 90s, running into a 15 to 20 mph headwind. It felt like a blast furnace. The close black rock walls made it feel even hotter.  We were descending at 3 to 5%, and able to clock 16 to 17 minute miles, but it just never seemed to end. The sun was just falling below the west canyon walls, but it just seemed to go on forever.  It was also during this stretch that the vision in my right eye got very blurry.  I’m pretty sure it was from my dehydration, but it also felt like I had some sand or dirt in it. I was a little worried about having vision in only one eye for the climb out.  We took a trail shortcut near Ribbon Falls which avoided one of the hills (asinine hill we were told), and we almost got lost. It was only 1/8 mile off the trail so no big deal. The same park ranger that we had met earlier in the day saw us and helped us get back onto the trail after an impromptu, unscheduled creek crossing. She gave us a check-out to make sure we were good to continue.  She suggested we rest and snooze at Phantom Ranch, and we said we had been doing that all day long.  She wished us luck and we continued on, nothing else to do but keep moving forward. Up. 

Heading back south to Phantom Ranch.
We reached Phantom Ranch around 630 pm.  It was busy with a lot of folks milling around, eating dinner, playing ball, and just relaxing.  We rested here for a full hour, again, just trying to recharge the batteries enough for Scott and Troy to keep going.  They were both not feeling good.  Troy had not eaten in a very long time, he was just very nauseous and didn't want to eat anything. I think his calves were really hurting too.  Scott had dry heaved again (better out than in), and also napped on a bench. I was still feeling generally OK with no major issues.  My stomach was fine, I was trying to drink a lot more water, tried to wash out my eye, and felt ready to go. My blister from earlier also felt a lot better. I just wanted out of the canyon, ready for this adventure to be done. It was fun, until it wasn’t, and now I was ready for it to be over. 

Troy and Scott not feeling well at Phantom Ranch.

The final challenge of this run, despite that it’s self supported, the mileage, the elevation, and the desert climate, is that the hardest part comes at the very end.  You still have to climb 9 miles back out of the canyon, ascending 4400 feet. That may not sound huge, but after you’ve already run 38 miles with 17500’ completed, it’s hard. Very hard.  And in our case, through some pretty brutal heat. We thought ascending in the cooler, darkness would help.  Surprisingly, it didn’t really cool off that quickly once darkness fell, it would take at least a couple of hours.

We left Phantom Ranch around 730 pm, knowing that nightfall would be upon us within 15 minutes. I started off in the lead, although I missed the Bright Angel trail turn, and kept going another ¼ mile to the South Kaibab Trailhead and the Black Bridge. It was dark, and my vision was still a little blurry. Once I realized my mistake, I doubled back, and then spent the next mile trying to catch Troy and Scott.  They were moving quickly, a lot quicker than I thought they would be.  The rest at Phantom really helped them I guess.  

I finally caught them at the River Rest House. We still had a long climb ahead of us. Up. We pushed forward, stopping to rest whenever we needed it, and eventually reached Indian Garden.  It felt like another long slog getting there though.  I was out of water, and Troy was too.  We had crossed a couple of streams, and I did have a Sawyer Squeeze water filter, but I think I was too tired to think about it or even remember that I had it. But Indian Garden was only a mile away. 

Still 4 ½ miles to go to the top.  Up.  We finally made it to Indian Garden.  My GPS had died, and I didn’t even look at my phone for the time.  I was fading, just very, very tired from a day that should have been over a couple of hours ago.  By this time, it had cooled off quite a bit, and it was getting breezy.  Temps were back down into the 60s or maybe 50s I think.  I tried to sleep on a bench at Indian Garden but just couldn’t get comfortable. I was getting chilled, it was windy, so I put on my arm warmers, hat and gloves, and after 30 minutes, I decided that I couldn’t stay any longer.  I had to get myself out of the canyon.  Now.  

Troy was shivering a little.  I had an emergency mylar blanket in my pack which I gave to him.  Scott was sleeping hard, tucked into the jacket that he had started out in.  Scott’s nausea was also gone in the cooler temps, and his numerous power naps gave him enough energy to get him through. He was doing much better.  Troy was still feeling nauseous though, still not able to eat, and had dry heaved a couple of times.  He had a couple of sips of my Coke before Indian Garden, but that was it. I gave Troy the blanket, wrapped him up, gave him a spare set of batteries for his headlamp since his was fading, and headed out. Up.  I knew they had to get themselves out, but also knew that Scott was helping Troy quite a bit. They just needed some rest to do it. I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to take advantage of the fading energy that I had left.

The last 4.5 miles was alone and in the dark for me.  I was leapfrogging two other runners from Dallas and Nashville that we had been chatting with since the north rim, but mostly, it was just me. One switchback at a time.  Up.  I stopped when I needed to rest. The wind was getting a little stronger, so I stopped wherever a spot was out of the wind for short breaks.  I was still feeling relatively good though, still eating, still drinking.  Stomach felt mostly ok, I was just getting extremely fatigued.  And ready to be done.  I did notice 2 more headlights coming up the canyon far below me, and I prayed that it was Troy and Scott. I tried to yell out to them, but the wind was blowing my echo back to me, they couldn't hear me.  One of my fears was that Scott or Troy would fall into a deep sleep down in the canyon and begin to suffer hypothermia. Thankfully, they had started out about 45 minutes behind me.  

With every stop, I would turn my headlight off and just sit on a rock in the darkness. Feeling so small, alone, in such a vast expanse.  The sky above me.  The canyon below me.  Resting for a bit in the dark, then moving forward.  Up.  I reached the 3 mile rest house, and checked for a cell signal to let my wife back home know that I was still alive since we were well past our expected finish time.  I had a 3G cell signal (AT&T) on the south rim, but nowhere else below in the canyon. Thankfully, here at 3 mile, the signal finally returned and I sent a text that said I was OK, that Scott and Troy had been sick and were struggling, and that I had 3 more miles to go.  Then the 1 ½ mile rest house.  Up.  And I finally reached the south rim.

At 210 am, 22 hours and 50 minutes after I had started, I was done.  I was exhausted, I didn’t feel the joy. There were no cartwheels or hand stands. Just relief.  It was very windy and cold.  I tried to take a self picture at the trailhead, but it was too dark. I was spent.  I hiked the ½ mile back to Maswik Lodge where we were staying.  I posted on Facebook, texted my wife that I was done, and instantly fell asleep on the bed.  No shower. Still in my canyon clothes.  Done.

Scott and Troy finished about an hour behind me, just under 24 hours. I was glad when they walked into the lodge room, thankful that they made it out.  And by then, I was happy.  I finally was feeling the joy of the accomplishment that we all had just finished. Yes, it took much longer than our original goal. But in the end, it doesn’t matter how long it took. We still finished, on our own two feet, without needing an airlift out. Helping each other when we needed it, sharing the joy, some of the pain, and the journey together.  We made some smart adjustments to get us through.  And while we may have also made mistakes, we adapted.
We all took showers, and I think Scott and Troy fell instantly asleep.  It was about 430 am, but I was getting very hungry.  I still had plenty of trail food, but none of that sounded appealing.  I decided to take a quick nap, and then got up to get breakfast from the lodge cafeteria at 6 am.  I enjoyed the Grand Canyon breakfast.  Scrambled eggs, chicken fried steak, 2 pieces of toast, country potatoes, and hot decaf coffee. I felt awesome.  I walked over to the south rim and peered over the edge one more time.  I looked across the vastness to the far north rim where we once were, just 17 hours earlier.  And I was content. I wondered if or when I would be coming back.

We traveled the 3 ½ hours back to Phoenix to spend the night with Scott’s uncle and aunt.  It was a wonderful evening reliving the memories of the canyon.  Scott’s uncle Bill cooked us a steak dinner, we enjoyed a couple of beers, and felt the glory of our accomplishments.  

A vague idea that had developed a few years ago was complete.  It wasn’t easy.  It was damn hard.  It was definitely an adventure, probably the most exciting one of my running career. By far, it was probably the physically hardest thing I've done.  And I feel proud.  Yes, the destination was pretty cool, but the journey was just as important.  I learned a lot about myself, my abilities, and things that have made me not only a stronger runner, but a stronger person.  Up!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Acessory Navicular Syndrome

I visited my podiatrist yesterday to help get a handle on my latest injury.  About 4 weeks ago, I started having arch pain after a 20 mile long run.  I was able to manage the pain with ice and NSAIDs, and kept running.  However, the pain hasn't been getting better.

I initially thought it was a case of PF developing so I started stretching my calves again (hadn't stretched in a very long time).  And then, after about 2 weeks, I thought it might have been a sprain in my abductor hallucis since that's where the pain settled.  Most recently, the pain has settled in the navicular region, which is the prominent bump on the inside of your foot, below the medial malleous.  This is where the posterior tibial tendon inserts on the under side of your foot, so my injury has developed into a minor case of tendonitis. 

It turns out, I have an accessory navicular bone, which makes my bump protrude a little more than normal.  It's something that you're born with.  I've been running with no problems with it for years.  However, I'm guessing the combination of extra hill work, combined with lunges, combined with trying to save a little money by running in worn out shoes caused me to fall off the edge.  Training/running is about finding your edge, taking your body to a point of extremes, without falling off the cliff.

This problem can lead to falling arches, and increased pain with physical activity, and possible posterior tibial tendon problems.  This can be manageable, but often results in surgery if the pain doesn't improve.  For now, my doctor has taped my foot to help provide more support for the arch.  However, the taping appears to be aggravating my navicular bone even more.  My arch doesn't hurt anymore, it's just the navicular. Anyhow, he suggested that I try to run, but even walking is painful now.  He also feels that I need to be in custom orthotics.  I've been wearing Superfeet Green for about 4 years, after trying a pair of custom orthotics early in my running career.  I've got insurance coverage for it, so it's worth a shot.  And, if we can't get the pain under control, it would eventually result in the removal of the extra bone, and about 6 months of recovery.

My Grand Canyon run is in 6 weeks.  Or, it could just be a vacation to see the Grand Canyon as a tourist, and not as an ultra runner.  It's just running.  It's amazing to me that runners put so "much" into our sport.  It's also a little disturbing to me at the same time that we put so "much" into our sport.  Perhaps injuries are a good time to self assess, and perhaps take a step back.  Runners often push themselves too hard, in some case (present company included), we go too far.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I'm Still Here

It's been awhile.  About 10 months.  And a lot has happened since then. Last May, I ran the Three Days at the Fair event in New Jersey.  61 hours, 175 miles completed.  It was a very memorable event. I felt proud of my accomplishment, and would definitely consider doing it again.

In June 2013, I ran the 12 Hour Dizzy Goat, our local trail race and completed 48.75 miles on a very hot day, but I rolled my ankle and sprained it badly about 15 miles in.  I completed the race, but then it swelled very badly and forced me to stop running for a couple of weeks.

In July 2013, I hiked/ran up and down Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail.  That was another lifetime experience for me, so cool. 

In September, I ran double marathons as part of the Center of the Nation Series in Wyoming and Montana.  That was a lot of fun too.

In October, I ran the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque, NM, and then the GOATz 50k (another local trail race) in Omaha a week later.

In November, I ran 198 miles for a running game, and felt good, if not tired, and borderline burnt out.  Ran 170 miles in December, but my paces suffered a bit, and I generally don't like extreme cold weather running.

In January 2014, I ran the Louisiana Marathon, which marked a marathon or greater distance in my 31st state.

And that brings me to the current day, when I'm in the midst of some serious training cycle for a Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) Grand Canyon run in early May.  I've been adding a lot of hill work to my runs to prep for the 22,000' of ascent and descent that I'll experience in the canyon. Unfortunately, about a month ago, I developed some pain in my right arch, and have been dealing with it ever since.  I first thought it was a case of Plantar Fasciitis developing, but it didn't display classic symptoms.  The pain moved more to my medial arch in the abductor hallucis muscle, and very recently has settled at the insertion point of the posterior tibial tendon. I haven't stopped running, and have managed to ramp up both mileage and cumulative ascent/descent each week, however, the foot isn't getting better.  I have an appointment with my podiatrist to get the final diagnosis. 

So, I'm still here.  I'm still running.  And still reaching for new goals, new challenges, and pushing to find my edge, with an occasional stumble along the way.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pikes Peak

Several years ago, a couple of my nephews and one of their fiances hiked to the top of Pikes Peak, and I've wanted to do the trip myself. Since then, I've become an ultrarunner and was interested in doing the Pikes Peak marathon. Being in the best shape of my life, I decided that this year would be the year that I would try the trail since I was going to be in the area for a family reunion.

Initially, I was going to just do the ascent and ride the Cog Railway back down. Then, I decided that I really wanted an up/down adventure and was going to do the Crags Campground route since it's shorter. In the end, I ascended and descended on Barr Trail, 24 miles round trip.

I'm a flatlander living in Omaha. I run a lot, and am just coming off a 72 hour event 2 months ago, and a 50 mile trail race last month, so a 24 mile run is not a big deal for me. However, I don't have steep hills to train on, and really didn't have a chance to do much stair climbing leading up to this.

I arrived at the Hydro Street parking lot around 415 am on a Friday morning. There was already a very large group (about 30 young men) that had been dropped off, and as soon as I pulled in, another group of about 12 cars pulled in. It was a nice crisp clear morning, lots of moonlight, very little wind, temperature of 55 degrees. I paid the $5 parking fee and was ready to go around 4:35. I wore a tech shirt, a pair of running shorts, Hoka Bondi B shoes, wore a Camelbak marathoner hydration vest, had a hat, a headlamp, sunglasses, and trekking poles. For water, I had 70oz in the Camelbak, and also carried two 16oz bottles of water. I carried 4 Hammer gels, 4 Clif Bars, and 4 Honey Stinger waffles.

And so it begins. I was immediately behind the group of young men, and was able to pass when I could. I was power hiking the switchbacks, and the guys were generally walking slower. Up and up I went, actually not having a lot of problems. Yes, my heart rate was up, but I made a point to never allow myself to get into oxygen debt and said that I would slow down if needed. Stopped for a couple of pics of the city below at mile 1 and 2. By about mile 2.5, I saw my first view of the actual peak. It was pretty cool, and good motivation of where I'd be in a few hours. Once I got out of the switchbacks, I was able to run most of the way up to Barr Camp, arriving there in 2 hours and 4 minutes. I stopped to snap a picture and to let my wife and family know I was OK, and continued on, really only resting at Barr Camp for about 5 minutes.

Shortly after Barr Camp, the climb got noticeably harder for me, and I was starting to get just a little dizzy. At that point, I slowed down just a bit and stopped running, and also changed my breathing to deeper longer breaths trying to maximize oxygen intake. And I continued up. Hitting the A frame shelter at treeline about one hour 5 minutes after Barr Camp. At this point, when I looked up toward the peak, or down the mountain, a little bit of vertigo would set it, but as long as looked ahead of down on the trail in front of me, I was OK.

A Frame to summit took one hour and 39 minutes, and I hit the summit at 4 hours and 49 minutes since I began, with virtually no running after Barr Camp. The Cog train had arrived about 15 minutes prior to my arrival. I hit the summit feeling pretty good, no major aches or pains. As I climbed the 16 golden stairs, I did drain the 70 oz Cambelback, but had not touched either of the water bottles. On the ascent, I had 1 gel, 2 Clif bars, and 1 waffle. Up on top, it was a beautiful day. Winds were less than 10 mph, it was still sunny, and maybe 45 degrees, not sure, never did see a thermometer.

I spent only 20 minutes on the top. Long enough to get the obligatory summit picture in front of the sign, emptied my 2 water bottles into my Camelbak, refilled the water bottles from the tap in the bathroom. I thought about getting a donut, but they looked really bad, kind of rancid actually, and I decided it wasn't a smart choice. When I walked back outside, the chilled air made me feel a little nauseous. I sat down, quickly ate a gel, and emptied my shoes since they had a couple of small rocks. Also, I noticed that clouds were quickly swirling up the east side of the peak, it was like someone flipped a switch. I saw that and decided to immediately begin to head back down.

The descent back below tree line wasn't that bad. I was moving along, and running when I could once I got past the boulders. I noticed that I was stumbling over the small rocks though, almost tripped a couple of times, and really decided to just slow down a bit. The lack of oxygen was getting to me, and I was worried about being caught above tree line with the developing clouds. Once I hit the tree line A frame shelter, the stumbling became a little more pronounced with the increased number of roots. I had also stopped once to clean out my shoes again before hitting the A Frame, and immediately my thighs and hamstrings started to cramp. As long as I was moving, I was OK, but if I stopped, my legs would start to cramp again. By the time I hit Barr Camp, I had turned both ankles a few times, nothing serious thankfully, but enough to make me say a few more swear words outloud and to be very thankful that nothing was hurt. By this time, there were also significantly more people coming up the trail, which I always pulled off to the side to let them pass. Coming down, I had another waffle, a Clif bar and one more gel I did not really stop at all on the rest of the descent, just kept moving, occasionally turning my ankles all the way down though. Any one of those could have been serious, but I got lucky every time.

I arrived back at the parking lot about 8 hours and 32 minutes after I had started. Ascent time was 4:49, 20 minutes on top, and descent time of 3:23. Felt pretty good when I was done. Was partly sunny and hot when I finished, about 80 degrees, and could not see the peak since it was obscured with clouds. Overall was tired, but not completely bagged at all. No blisters (I taped my feet and used Blistershield in my socks). No chafing. And overall just pleased with the day.

I did use Black Diamond trekking poles, which I thought helped immensely. They helped push me up the mountain on the ascent, and really helped me from completely falling on the descent. I had though about doing the actual race next year, but you can't use poles in the race. I'm not sure I would want to do this ascent/descent without the poles.

24 miles. 15000' elevation ascent and descent, a flatlander with no specific hill training. Fun stuff!

                          Ascent     Descent
Trailhead to Barr Camp   2:04:19     1:32:15
Barr Camp to A Frame     1:05:38     0:46:45
A Frame to Summit        1:39:23     1:04:33
Time on Summit                 0:19:51

Totals                   5:09:11     3:23:33 8:32:44

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ready or Not

I haven't written anything on here in awhile.  Yet life goes on and I'm still running.  More than ever.  In the previous 2 months, I've had arguably the best training cycle of my life, reaching a new lifetime peak mileage of 325 miles in 30 days.  I ran my first 50 mile trail race.  And I've been healthy!  No problems, and training was going very well.  On Facebook, I mentioned that I was trying to find my edge, but without falling off the cliff.  Unfortunately, I think I found my edge a couple of weeks ago.

During the 50 mile trail race in mid April, I ran the first 34 miles with a pair of trail shoes that are slightly tight in the toe box.  And then I switched shoes, and used a Superfeet insert that did not have a cork metatarsal pad (used because of my Morton's Neuroma). Near the end of the race, I felt a twinge of pain in between my 3rd/4th toes, but thought it was just because I was nearing the end of a 50 mile very hard effort on the trail.

The following weekend, I made a significant push for one bigger weekend, running 15 miles on Saturday, then 15 on Monday, and 25 on Tuesday.  That was apparently my edge, because on Wednesday May 1st, my foot was on fire.  The Morton's Neuroma pain was there between the toes, and the ball of my foot was incredibly tender.  It really came on without any notice.  Tuesday I was fine, Wednesday, I was a gimp.

I immediately called my podiatrist on Thursday to get in for an appointment for the following week.  In the meantime, various folks on the Internet recommended stuffing a piece of cotton between my toes to help alleviate the pressure. Well, that apparently worked.  I eased down to let my foot rest, and by last Tuesday, the pain was mostly gone and I was running again.  I had the doctor put some new metatarsal pads on new Superfeet inserts, and we both decided that a cortisone shot was not necessary (I had one before two years ago). 

However, fast forward a few more days, and the ball of my foot is still tender to walk on.  Enough that I feel it with every step.  I don't have any pain between the toes, but the ball of my foot hurts.  This could even be a case of Metatarsalgia as well. And I question how the upcoming 3 Days at the Fair will go.  I'll be on my feet for 64 hours (well, with breaks of course).  And I really don't know how it will turn out.  I'm nervous.  I'm angry that I've come this far, with the ideal training cycle, only to come up lame a couple of weeks before the race.  Was this my edge?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lucky Bucket 7k Trail Race

I ran this race mainly because it was cheap, and the perks seemed good.  Entry was only $35, which included a tech shirt, a couple of free beers, a free brewery tour, and a fun after party.  Not that I especially enjoy shorter races, but I also knew that a lot of my GOATz friends would be running it too, not to mention that it would be on the trails at Mahoney State Park.  I know they exist, but really haven't been on them. It turned out to be about 0.4 miles short.  Yeah, I know trail races are usually "around" the expected distance, but this was really short.  I did run really well though, 114th out of 1047 runners, 90th out of 505 males, so I was happy with that. 

And my foot felt Ok.  The ball hurt a little, but it was manageable. The weather was absolutely gorgeous.  Perhaps a little breezy, but sunny skies.  The Lucky Bucket beer was good, and I bought a grilled hamburger, the smell was just too much to resist.  All in all, it was a worthwhile event.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Indiana Trail 50

This was my first official 50 mile race, although I've run 50 miles twice before as part of the North Coast 24 hour Endurance runs.  Training leading up to this has been ideal, and I've hit a new 30-day PR in the process.  Leading up to this race, which was held at the Chain O Lakes State Park near Albion, Indiana, the area received 5 to 7 inches of rain, so a lot of the course was flooded.  This resulted in 48 ankle-to-knee deep water crossings on the 3 lap course, but otherwise, the weather was perfect.  Starting temp in the mid 30s, finish temp in the mid 40s, with sunny skies.  Lots of mud too, but tough courses make tough runners.  Really, this race was a near-perfect execution for me, although I did end up tying my shoes too tight on the last lap to prevent them from being sucked off in the mud, which gave me a case of extensor tendititis on my left foot.  Live and learn.  Because of the water and mud, I also tried 2Toms Sportshield for the first time ever, coating my feet before the race.  It's a silicone-based lubricant that worked extremely well.  My feet were constantly soaked in water, yet I had absolutely no chafing or blisters, period!  Overall, an awesome race, finish time 10:23:26!  Finished 24th out of 77.