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. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Run for the Bridges Half Marathon

Fun race in Wilderness Park.  Set a new half PR here, on a pancake flat course. Last year, I thought was having a heart attack at the end of this marathon because it was 90 degrees that day. Much colder this year, downright chilly!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Land Between the Lakes Trail Marathon

Wow, this was a really fun race on a really cool trail.  Awesome weather, definitely glad I made the trip.  New PR for a trail marathon too.  Yay!  My 25th state on a quest to run a marathon or ultra in all 50 states.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Livestrong Austin Marathon

What a wonderful race, running in memory of my mom and dad who have both died from Cancer.  Great town, wonderful race, great finish time for me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Psycho Wycho Run Toto Run 10 Mile Race

I just signed up for this 10 mile race to get the new medal, which included a spinning tornado.  The course, which I've run before, ended up being extremely muddy.  Oh well, it was only 10 miles. And a fun race with several of GOATz runners.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

St. Jude Memphis Marathon

Very well supported race, but got very nauseous at the end. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marine Corp Marathon - Outrunning Hurricane Sandy

Summary:  This past weekend, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC.  It was my 29th marathon/ultra, in my 22nd state.  I finished in 3:54:15, 3530 / 23515 overall, 2705 / 13520 gender, and 55.6% age graded placement. 

Leading up to this race, I've had a very busy year, focusing on completing events in different states, but also am just coming off a 24 hour event just 4 weeks ago, so I knew going into this race that it wouldn't be a PR effort.  Still, I felt good leading up to the race, and really wanted a sub4 race here, and couldn't be more happy with the results.  3:54 is still 11 minutes off my PR of 3:43, but that's OK.  This race was a solidly strong race for me, and I'm happy. 

Pre Race Weather Drama: I had great hopes that this would be a fun getaway weekend with my wife. It was a chance to see some of the sights in DC (we have both been there several times before, but never together), while also checking off another running marathon state (Virginia).  However, earlier in the week, Hurricane Sandy developed and it was clear that it may impact this race, in a negative way.   We even thought about not going, as we didn't want to get stuck in DC leaving our daughter home alone for upwards of a week.  I tried to change flights to arrange to come back home Sunday night after the race instead of Monday morning, but it was going to cost $400 each to make the change.  We decided that it was too expensive to make any changes and thought we'd take our chances. 

We indeed headed to DC on Saturday morning, and immediately headed to the expo.  I'm not a big fan of crowds, and the 30 minute wait to just get inside was annoying, but we eventually got in and had fun shopping at all the booths. My wife bought a new armband holder for her phone and I bought a Nite Beams running armband.  The photo above is myself and my wife cheesing for a shot at the expo. 

Meanwhile, all during the day Saturday, I kept obsessing about the weather.  We had flights out first thing Monday morning, but being a meteorologist, I kept checking the latest computer models on my phone and was becoming increasingly worried that we were going to get stuck in DC, and possibly for several days.  We ate an early dinner and headed back to our hotel so I could watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers play football on TV and try to relax. It was at this time that our airline had offered anyone with flights on the east coast the chance to make flight changes for free without penalty so I immediatley got on the phone to see what we could do.  After about 4 hours of trying (no luck the first time because our reservation was still on hold from flying just 5 hours earlier), and eventually being put on a call back list, we got a call about 11 pm Saturday night from the airline.  My wife was able to reschedule her flight home for 6 am Sunday morning and would miss spectating the race. She got the last seat on that flight.  She resecheduled my flight for 6 pm Sunday night, and I got the last seat on that flight.  So that was one less worry on my mind, which honestly, consumed me more than the race itself. It was mentally exhausting worrying about it.  It was a relief knowing that we would be able to escape the area before the hurricane hit and wouldn't strand our daughter at home.

Ok, on to the race:   I got up early to see my wife off to the airport, knowing it was the only choice we had.  She would miss the race.  I dressed and headed down to the shuttle a couple blocks away at 530 am.  I arrived at the Runners Village very quickly and milled around. I sat and rested.  I stretched.  I used the porta johns a couple of times.  I was very impressed on how well everything was organized.  It was awesome actually.  For a mega race, the organization was superb.  I tried to meet other forumites for a pre race meeting and photo about 7 am, but didn't see anyone, so headed over to the starting corrals, placing myself in the 3:45-4:00 corral.  I did jump the fence a couple of times to use the trees along the sidelines, and was ready to run at 7:55.

In the hotel ready to head to the starting line.

While the rain from hurricane Sandy was supposed to be on us, the western edge was actually just 20 miles to the east so we got incredibly lucky. And in fact, it didn't rain the whole race.  It rained down leaves from the beautifully colored trees and that was it.  Temps were in the upper 50s, so it was a great day to run actually. It became increasingly windy though, with gusts up 25 to 30 mph as the race continued.

Overall, I just loved this race. Yes, it was very crowded, which I'm not a big fan of, but the course was awesome.  Some hills in the first 8 miles, but the scenery was just so much fun.  Running through Arlington, along the Potomac, through Georgetown, and eventually into DC, through and around the Mall, around the monuments, the capitol, back into Crystal City, and a finish at the Iwo Jimo War Memorial.  The crowd support was phenomenal, so much fun and they showed up along the most of the route!  Really, while I don't want to diminish how hard a marathon is, because it is hard, but at the same time, this race felt easy for me.  I was running well, everything felt OK, and I was having fun!  That's what it's all about.  My knee hurt a little bit midway through so I stopped to stretch it briefly a couple of times. Running past the capitol around mile 18 was maybe a highlight of the race.  It kind of choked me up, thinking about the history.  It was windy, but I had a long sleeve compression shirt on underneath a short sleeved shirt so I felt very comfortable. I also enjoyed the donut holes around Mile 24.  Ha.

I also walked the water stops, which was part of my original plan.  I was ahead of schedule, but solidly on pace for the entire race.  First half in 1:56:36, and second half with a slight positive split in 1:57:39.  The last mile got hard though.  My heart rate was starting to spike, so I did do a couple of walk breaks there, otherwise it probably would have been an even steven split.  The last surge up the hill to finish at the Iwo Jimo Memorial was hard and I really thought I might throw up, but it still was an amazing feeling to finish.

The finish area was annoying though.  So many people.  We funneled through to get our medal from a marine, a picture in front of the memorial, then got water, Gatorade, and a boxed lunch, and a nice recovery jacket which felt so good since I was now getting chilled.  After about a half mile walk, wading through a sea of runners that were not moving, I finally hit the baggage pickup, then another 1/2 mile walk to get back to the shuttle. I should also say, the medal is perhaps one of the nicest medals I've received. 

Post race pic in front of the Memorial.

The medal. Very classy, with a spinning globe.

Post Race:  I headed back to my hotel on the shuttle bus and ate my box lunch on the way (which included a fruit cup, hummus, crackers, a bagel, a banana, granola, and a piece of chocolate).  The shuttle bus driver got lost, and we ended up back over in DC, so I got another tour of all the monuments again.  Ha.  I grabbed a quick shower once I finally got to my hotel, checked out of the hotel (they were kind enough to only charge for one night instead of two because of the storm), and headed to the airport. After enjoying a post race beer and a club sandwich (with a 25% marathon discount) at the airport, I was grateful to be able to go home early.  Many people weren't so lucky.  All the flights were full.  My flight was overbooked by 24 people, who were not so lucky.  Hundreds more were scrambling to make other arrangements, trying to escape the storm. Hurricane Sandy was looming.  And our original flights, along with nearly all other flights on Monday were cancelled by the time I got on the plane Sunday evening. 

Final Summary: This was a great race. A very well organized race, with marines everywhere. I tried to thank every one of them that I encountered.  I got to spend a weekend with my wife, even though it was ultimately cut short.  We were able to make last minute arrangements and got back home before the hurricane hit.  And today, I sit and watch at how large of an impact it will have and think about all of my running friends on the east coast that will be affected.  Stay safe! 

Overall, even though this wasn't a PR race, it was still a really strong effort for me though, and that's more important.  Priceless memories from this race, and I have no regrets.  I've got more races planned in the future.  The St. Jude Marathon in Memphis in a month, then the Livestrong Marathon in Austin in February.  One by one, I'm seeing the USA 26.2 miles at a time!  22 down, 28 to go!

Monday, September 24, 2012

North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run

Short and Sweet:  I participated in the North Coast 24 Hour Endurance run this past weekend in Cleveland, Ohio, completing 83.8 miles in 20 hours and 20 minutes, and then stopped because I don't think I could have continued.  I did this same event last year, and did 83.4 miles in 24 hours last time, so I feel that I made some progress, completing essentially the same mileage as last year, but much quicker this year.

The Before and After:


Ok, here is the much longer version. After doing this event last year, I decided right away that this race was going to be a goal race for 2012 and signed up as soon as it opened.  I was the 4th person to register, however, plans changed and I pulled out of the race back in January.  Plans changed again later on in the year and I decided that I really wanted to crew the race when I found a really cheap summer airfare sale, round trip from Omaha to Cleveland for $200. And by late summer, I decided that if I was already going to be at the race to crew, I might as well run it, and the RDs let me back in, so I really didn't start "training" for this until the end of July.  Oops.

The Training:  I had just come off the year-long streak of completing 17 marathons or ultras in 17 different states earlier this summer, so I had a fairly strong running base.  I quickly ramped up the mileage and was able to reach 72 mpw through the month of August, but didn't do any significantly long runs (which would be typical training).  In 2011, during my peak training, I hit 310 miles in a 30 day period, and my longest solo run was 42 miles. In 2012, I again hit 310 miles in a 30 day period, but my running was a lot of doubles and triples (shorter runs), no single really long runs, and overall, 1 minute faster on my pace than last year.  So, same training volume, but a completely different style of training for an event like this.

My Goals:  Going in, I really didn't set a hard goal.  I found that last year, once I hit my goal, my mind said I was done, even though I probably could have gone further.  So, I decided to not set a goal this year and just see what my body would allow.  I'm serious. I did however give myself 10 mini lessons that I wanted to remember. 

1) Slow down while running. 2) Walk more frequently. 3) Walk/run the tangents. 4) Use porta potties (versus spending time walking to the flush toilets). 5) Stretch every hour. 6) Take care of hot spots immediately. 7) Even if it hurts to change clothes, utilize what I have to feel comfortable. 8) If it hurts to run and it hurts to walk, run (slowly). 9) Have fun and smile and be grateful, even if it sucks. 10) Don't die.

And I would say, I met nearly all of those objectives.  The course is a 0.9 mile loop.  I walked at least twice each lap from the very beginning, and when running, I was running slow and comfortable and easy.  I never felt out of breath once during the event.  I never used a flush toilet, I did stop and stretch once, and occasionally twice an hour, and felt I managed my blisters to the best of my ability (although could/should have done it better perhaps).  I had a pretty good attitude through about 67 miles, but then, I got into a really dark emotional place and really just wanted it to be over (more on that later).  Overall though, it was a great, fun race, and I most certainly didn't die, probably the most important thing! 

The Weather:  Well, it was grand for the first 6 hours and 45 minutes.  Cool at the start with a temperature of 54, with a nice breeze of 10 to 15 mph, then the sun came out and I even got a nice tan/sunburn out of it.  Then all hell broke loose about 340 pm when a severe storm rolled in.  We got blasted with a measured 38 mph wind squall, gusting up to 60 mph wind right on the lake front, half inch hail, lightning, thunder, and torrential sideways downpours, which in fact destroyed many of the tents and canopies that people had set up.  Oops.  We saved ours though. And after a 10 minute break to ride out the worst of it, I was back out there.  And for the next 19 hours, it rained off and on, with 15 to 30 mph winds that were constant, non stop.  Mostly light rain, an occasional dry period, but occasionally periods of heavy rain when a squall would move off the lake.  Those were the worst.  I'm a meteorologist, and to put it bluntly, it sucked. I wore a rain poncho, which helped keep my head and body core dry, but everything else was soaked.  It sucked some of the joy right out of me.  And that's where I got into a really dark emotional state late in the evening, around 67 miles in.  I texted my wife and posted on Facebook, "67 miles, physically I'm fine, emotionally, I'm toast."  Once you get into that state of mind, it's hard to pull yourself back out. It's dark outside. You're alone in your thoughts, doing endless laps around a 0.9 mile track.  The wind beating you. The rain pelting you. Questioning why I was there, thinking that there wasn't any real point. I hated running at that time.  I was still moving relatively fine, with a decent pace, but I just mentally had checked out.  Note, going in, we knew it was going to rain.  In fact, I was joking earlier in the week about using an umbrella when someone asked what to use for rain gear.  Race morning gave us an 80 percent chance of rain, so the forecasts were spot on.

Radar image at the time the first storm hit, at 341 pm.  The race location is at the center of the white square that I added to the image below.

The Aches and Pains:  I can honestly say, I didn't have a lot early in the race, although once the rain hit, my legs really stiffened up and I slowed down.  After completing my first 26.2 miles, around 4 hours and 45 minutes, I stopped to change socks and thought I was getting a blister.  The sock change helped, and that pain went away.  For the next several hours, I was pain free.  I ran easy, I walked, I stretched.  I was never winded.  Everything felt great.  Even at 67 miles, even though my emotional state was low, my body was mostly still fine, legs were really getting stiffer though, but OK. However, those last few miles during the middle of the night, the blisters started to develop, the wet conditions just made them worse. I stopped to change my socks a couple more times, hoping it would help.  But the rain was just too much for me. Running through puddles of water for hours and hours makes it hard. I should have stopped at the medical tent to ask for help, but it was also very cold with the wind blowing.  Anytime I stopped, I immediately got chilled and stiffened up, so I knew spending 30 minutes in the med tent to get blisters looked at would probably be the end, so I didn't stop. I couldn't stop. Temperatures were in the mid 40s (colder with the wind chill), but as long as I was moving, I was generating enough heat to keep warm. However, toward the end, the blisters were too bad for me, and my pace had slipped below the point of diminishing returns and I couldn't stay warm any longer.  I told myself that once I reached a distance PR, I would stop.  I also knew that I could not make it to the end of the race, and I finally made peace with that.  It was a very hard decision to make, but at 20 hours and 20 minutes, I completed my last lap and turned in my timing chip.  I was shivering, despite having on every layer that I brought, another rain squall was coming in off the lake, I could barely walk on my feet, and also noticed a red tinge seeping out of the side of my shoes.  Both feet were bleeding slightly.  It was time to stop.  I also had a little bit of chaffing, in an unmentionable place, most likely from all the rain that kept running down/through there, despite generous amounts of Body Glide. Oh well.

The Food:  Fueling and hydration are keys to a successful race, no matter the distance.  For this race, I ate just about everything, but mostly from the aid station. Even though we had enough food at our own aid station to stock a convenience store, I did most of my eating from the main aid station, although I did grab chips and cookies from our own table.  I drank Heed and Gatorade mostly, and occasionally a cup of Coke or Mountain Dew. I ate PB/J, ham, turkey, and cheese, sandwiches, candy bars, MnMs, rice krispies, fruit, crackers, grilled cheese, ginger cookies, pizza, ramen and potato soup, potato chips, and probably a few more things I don't even remember.  Every lap, I would grab something, a handful of whatever. I carried a hand held bottle with me that I kept full at all times, to sip on every little bit.  You need calories to do this, and I was piling them in.  In fact, I joked that I probably was close to consuming more calories than I burned, and I never once felt sick or tired or just worn out, so I think I did a good job of maintaining my fuel source.

The Finish:  Even though I stopped my race at 20:20, I fully intended on coming back to see the friends I was running with finish.  After retreating to my motel room for some foot care, a shower and a 30 minute nap, I made it back to the course with 5 minutes to spare, just in time to see a good friend Sue complete her last lap and also win the race!  She was not only the lead female, but the overall winner.  I gave her a big hug, and also helped cheer other runners in.  Everyone gathered for the post race breakfast and relived some of the triumphs and tragedies of the race, and to help Sue celebrate. It was a great ending to a tough 24 hours!

The Race Organization: Overall, this is an outstanding race, and an ideal entry into ultra running.  The race directors do a great job of paying attention to every detail.  It's a short 0.9 mile loop course, with bathrooms on each end, a smorgasboard buffet aid station with more food than you could ever dream of, and all around, just a wonderfully run race!  That's the nice thing about a timed event, there is no chance of a DNF.  You can go as long as you want without fear since there's no chance that you won't reach the finish line.  You can go for as long as your body and mind will allow.

My Pacing:

The first 44 miles were pretty evenly paced, average pace 12:18, which included the breaks for changing socks, etc.  Average running pace in there was 10:59.

The next 40 miles...Note the pace was still pretty consistent through about 67 miles, but then you can really see the dramatic dropoff once the blisters started hurting more and more.  Even at midnight, I was on pace to hit 100 miles in the event, and Sue walked with me a bit to give me a mental boost. The blister set in fast though, and that was the beginning of the end for me. 

The Crew:  I can't say thank you enough to the crew who helped us this year.  A local running friend arrived and set up our home base with a canopy, a tent, tables, signs, and more.  Another running friend Jenny was there to cheer us on and take pictures.  And an online running acquaintance George was there too offering encouraging words.  I really appreciated their willingness to help out.

The Runners:  For me, the big draw for this type of event is the camaraderie.  Something on this scale would be hard to do by myself.  I can't thank enough the other runners from my online running board that helped make this event a life experience. I've had the privilege of doing this race twice. And legitimately, it's a group effort, we all helped each other at various points in the race to get through it.

Pre Race Picture: (courtesy Bob)

Post Race Picture: (courtesy Bob)

The Aftermath:  I know it sounds crazy, but this morning (Monday) 24 hours after the event, my legs did not hurt that badly.  I was slightly stiff, but otherwise felt fine.  Really.  The bottoms of my feet were another story.  Very painful to walk on, huge 2" blisters on the balls of my feet, and hobbling through the airports was challenging, if not comical. But overall, the legs felt fine.  Guess all that walking really helps.

The End: Well, that's it. I completed another fun event, with a faster result than last year, and slightly more mileage. At the end of the day, I'm pleased with my progress.  Could I have done more, or done things differently?  Absolutely.  In hindsight, I really should have tended to the blisters more diligently and taken a chance with the med tent.  In the end though, I'm content with my results.  After all, It's Just Running.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

North Country Trail Marathon

This past weekend, I traveled to northern Michigan to participate in the North County Trail Marathon in the Manistee National Forest west of Cadillac, near Wellston.  It was my 27th long distance event, completing my 21st state on a quest to run a marathon or ultra in all 50 states.  I'm getting there, 26.2 miles at a time.

I will preface this by saying that I'm not a trail runner.  I don't really run trails, don't train on them, and as much as I want to like them, I'm just not sure they are my thing.  Going into this event, I initially had signed up for the 50 mile option last fall, but downgraded to the marathon this spring when my running priorities changed.

I'm in the midst of training for a 24 hour event next month in Cleveland, so I decided to train right through this run and not really treat it as a "race".  I did not taper at all, running high mileage (for me) for the previous 4 weeks, reaching a 30 previous day peak of 290 miles. So, realistically, I had no expectations for a fast finish time, although given recent road marathon times, I was shooting for 4:30, which in reality, was a pipe dream.  Ha.

The race is held in the Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan.  It has a lot of hills with 2250' of BOTH elevation ascent and descent, and it's mostly a single track sand trail with a lot of roots, but thankfully no rocks or mud.  It turned warmer in the last couple of days before the race.  Starting temp was in the lower 70s and finish temp was near 90 for me.

The course itself is a 1.2 mile out/back on the roads, then a 25 mile loop through the forest.  After a 30 minute delay because of a tree fall, we were running.  It was also very humid.  I live in humidity so I'm used to it, but it really affected me today.  Overall, the miles ticked off.  I walked the hills, ran the downs, and was having a pretty enjoyable time through the first 15 miles.  First half split was 2:18, just 3 minutes slower than I had planned.  But by then it was getting progressively hotter, even though we were under the tree canopy, but with the high humidity, I was sweating a lot and was soaked from head to toe. 

By mile 18, my stomach started rebelling, and I was getting pretty nauseous.  I "wish" I would have thrown up, it probably would have felt a lot better.  The heat was really getting to me.  I've run 3 extremely hot marathons in the past 4 months, resulting in a bad case of heat exhaustion on the first one back in March and also just recently in June, so I think the heat gets to me much faster/easier because of that. 

Any running by mile 19 resulted in feeling generally worse, which is unfortunate because there were a lot of runnable parts of the trail here.  So I decided to essentially walk it in mostly, deciding to not push it, and still tried to jog short distances when I could without spiking my HR.  A LOT of people were walking.  One guy was down on the trail with heat exhaustion, but he seemed fine and was talking and told me and others to go on.  But I just wasn't having a lot of fun in those last 6 miles.  I really hated the heat, the hills, the humidity, and I really just hated running in general at that time. 

I did finish with a time of 5:06.  That resulted in 7th out of 18 for my A/G of 40-44. The winner in my A/G finished with a time of 4:30, my original goal.  Overall, the race was very well organized, the aid stations were well stocked, the volunteers were fabulous, and the after party was absolutely awesome with beer, hamburgers, chips, beans, and just a lot of fun.  About 500 people total participated in the event, split between the half marathon, marathon, and 50 mile run.

This race also gave some of the best swag I've gotten for a race.  Because I was one of the first 100 people to register, I received a nice running jacket with my name screen-printed on it and a pair of tech running shorts.  We also got a canvas shoulder bag, and the shirt is a nice tech shirt, and the medal is about 7" in diameter, supposedly the 3rd largest marathon medal in the country, and weighs about a pound. It's like a small dinner plate.   Ha.

Another cool thing, Marshall Ulrich was also there.  I've read his book Running on Empty on Kindle, so I had him sign my bib instead.  He wrote, "Van, Good luck with your 50 States quest!  Dig Deep and Love More."  That last part is his signature line I think.   I also got to meet another forumite, mjsmith1223, whom I've chatted with on here for a couple of years at least, so it was great to finally meet him. 

Bottom line, I completed a fairly difficult trail trace in an OK time given all the conditions.  I really didn't have this as a goal race, and just used the event as a stepping stone to complete a race in another state. I didn't taper, and the hills with 2250' of both elevation ascent and descent, on single track sand, along with the heat and humidity, really made this a challenging race!  In retrospect, the trail was beautiful, and perhaps I will run another trail race some day in the future!