Sunday, January 22, 2012

Urban Pioneering on the Run

Last Saturday night I met my friend Tim at his house in Durham for an evening run. We usually run at Umstead park or in Raleigh, but occasionally, when time is tight, we'll meet at his place.  Saturday night found us starting our run a little after 8:00 p.m.  We have done this a few times now, and I always enjoy seeing new sights around Durham.  It's also nice to start a run at night after being up for the last 14 hours or so.  We ran around Duke University's east campus and then over to west campus where we did about 9 miles on a dirt trail that runs through a golf course. On the way back to Duke Chapel we stopped at Wallace Wade Stadium, which is generally left open to the public in an increasingly rare gesture of faith in humanity.  We decided to go down and run a comfortable mile around the track, just to mix things up a little bit.

As soon as we entered the stadium I had one of those vivid childhood flashbacks. I was in middle school and really into running so my parents took me to see a track and field meet at Wallace Wade.  I have no idea who was competing, but I remember being in that huge concrete bowl, looking down on those athletes and thinking how cool it was to be there as a spectator and how awesome it must be for them to be competing.  My folks bought me a white cotton tank top with DUKE on it that day.  Even though I didn't have the physique to wear a tank top, I loved that shirt and wore it quite a bit. (Sadly, I still lack the physique to pull off a tank top but continue to wear them while running.)   I hadn't thought about that shirt or that day in years. As soon as we entered the stadium it all came flooding back to me.  We had a nice run around the track, completing 4 laps at an easy pace.  It was pretty cool to round the bend and hit the straight away looking up at the giant cement horseshoe that encircled three quarters of the track, with Duke's campus towering above in the background.  I was quickly brought back to reality when I looked at my watch and discovered that mile had taken just over 10 minutes.  Like I said, comfortable, not fast.

As we continued our run we decided to stop at a gas station to grab a quick drink and a snack.  We went to the same one we have stopped at the last few times we have run in Durham in the evening.  The last time we were there a man in the parking lot asked us if we were both doctors.  Confused, we told him that we weren't.  He went on to say that he thought we must be doctors because we had lights on our heads.  That's right.  In his mind, doctors wear shorts, are dripping with sweat and have lights on their heads in gas station parking lots in the middle of the night.  While this individual was very polite, I suspect he was only loosely tethered to reality.  This is what happens when you stop in a gas station around midnight in any urban area.  You get to meet interesting people.

This past Saturday wasn't quite as eventful, but we did get flirted with by a middle aged woman buying gas station wine.  As we pounded down our sodas in the parking lot I commented on her flirty demeanor and Tim agreed that it wasn't just in my head.  As he took a swig of his drink, I stretched out my arms, puffed out my chest and said, "Yep, I've still got it."  This caught Tim off guard, causing him to choke on his drink and spit it across the parking lot.  At mile 18 at 11:30 at night you take your comedy where you find it.

We finished up right around midnight with somewhere around 21 miles. I had hoped to do 24, but it was a good run and was nice to see Durham, which is a great town.  Lots of people ask me if I felt safe running in Durham at night.  Let me take this opportunity to say that I felt completely safe and that Durham has an undeservedly bad rap. Just like any location, urban or rural, have a plan and be alert and aware of your surroundings and you can almost always avoid trouble.

Sunday, I was supposed to do 12 with Wendy, but we pushed it off until Monday, which was a holiday and made for easier child care.  We went to Umstead and ran the 12.5 mile loop that is used for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. It has 1,000 feet of vertical gain in 12.5 miles.  We both felt good and finished in an hour and 54 minutes.  (Wife/editor commentary: I explained to Ashby that my 8-year-old sports bra, which was the only one I  had clean, chaffed me within an inch of my life that day -  somehow he interpreted that to mean "felt good" - that, or he thinks this blog is just about him and not my bra issues . . . )

Yesterday after work I ran 12 and got faster with each passing mile. It was a nice, mild night and I had the chance to listen to some great tunes as I ran 3 laps around my neighborhood.  It was one of those runs where I could just feel the stress bleeding off of me.  By the time I got back to the house I was in a great mood.  We put the kids to bed and then did 30 minutes of core work to finish off the day.

If I can keep from falling apart and keep anywhere close to my proposed training schedule, I'll run just shy of 80 miles this week.  That's the most I've ever run in a week, if you don't count races. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Frosty Fifty Race Report

On Saturday I ran the Frosty Fifty 50K in Winston Salem, NC.  I ran this race in 2010 as my first foray into ultra marathoning.  On that first occasion, it was 19 degrees and the lake the course circled was frozen.  I was very pleased with my time of 5 hours and 25 minutes.  Since that time I've run a lot of distance and was really looking forward to going back.  This year was different in that it warmed up to 60 degrees, and they had added a 25K and relay option.  This meant that the crowds were much bigger, but the race still kept the same small, community feel it had the last time I was there.  It was well marked, well organized, and well supported.  For the price, $30 for the 50K before Dec. 15th, it's hard to beat. 

The course is 25 miles of dirt and about 6 miles of asphalt green way that circles Salem Lake in a double out and back course.  I ran with my frequent training partner, Tim, and my neighbor, Rob.  We left Raleigh at 5am and made it in plenty of time to get a good parking spot, pick up our packets, and get organized before the 8am start.

Moments before the start.
I had set three goals for myself but hadn't articulated them to anyone.  First, I wanted to break 5 hours.  If that didn't work, I wanted to be faster than the first time I ran it.  Finally,  if the wheels fell off, I just wanted to avoid a DNF.


We all started off together, and I felt really great.  I wasn't pushing at all and was running very comfortably, with no pain or effort.  I was a little surprised when we hit the first mile marker right at 8:30.  We kept that pace for the entire first leg, hitting the turn around in about 1hr 7minutes.  I carried a handheld bottle full of Gatorade and my own nutrition, eating a little something every 30 minutes.


On the way back I managed to maintain almost exactly the same pace without too much effort.  By the time I was about 5 miles from the start/finish I had finished my bottle and was getting noticeably hungry.  I failed to recognize the prophetic foreshadowing that my hunger represented.  Still, I made it back to the second turn around in 1hr 11 minutes, only three minutes slower than the first leg.  What I chose to do next was the beginning of my downfall.

Prior to the race I had decided to experiment with nutrition at the halfway point of the race.  I have read lots of accounts of ultra marathoners who use Ensure or some other type of liquid meal replacement during races.  I thought this might not be a terrible idea, so I decided that I would leave a drop bag at the start/finish with an 8oz. bottle of Ensure to see how my stomach would handle it.  I hit the turn around, topped off my handheld bottle, and drank the Ensure.  It went down really well and tasted good. 


About a quarter mile into this leg, I could tell I had a belly full of very calorie dense liquid.  I felt full and sloshy.  I decided to just take it easy and give myself 30 minutes or so to digest.  Even taking it easy, I still hit the first mile marker in just under 8:40.  I could tell that I was having to work a lot harder to maintain a pace that had seemed very easy just 20 minutes ago.  I managed to maintain just under a 9 minute pace until the turn around, but it was no longer easy.  I was starting to suffer.  My stomach felt off and I was getting nauseous.  The muscles in my things and lower back were starting to cramp some but nothing too bad.  I was still harboring ideas of a 4:40 finish with a marathon PR in the process.  This all came crashing down on the final leg of the race.


I turned around and started back and was just out of energy.  I knew I needed to eat, but I didn't want to take any nutrition.  My Gatorade tasted sickeningly sweet, and I could only make myself drink a very small sip every now and again.  I was slowing down and my legs were starting to feel heavy, but I was still running somewhere around 9 minute miles.  I hit the 26.2 mile mark of the race in about 3hrs and 59 minutes.  Not as fast as I had thought I would do after the first leg, but still good for my second fastest marathon time.  shortly after that I knew I was going to be sick.  With just over 4 miles to go I stopped, walked over to the edge of the trail, and heaved the contents of my stomach into the woods.  Yes, this was just as unpleasant as you imagine.  Ultra runners being who they are, those who passed me asked if I was OK and even offered salt tablets.  I told them I was fine and declined any assistance.  After a minute or two, I stood up and ran about 20 feet before vomiting again.  After that second round my stomach finally felt much better. The problem was by that time I had no nutrition and was a little dehydrated.  I completely bonked with 3 miles to go.  I had pulled away from Tim and Rob on the first lap and was running by myself until just before the 3 mile marker.  At that point Tim caught and passed me. (Tim went on to finish in 4hrs 56 minutes, achieving his goal of breaking 5 hours and besting his old time by almost half an hour.)  I knew he was putting time into me with each stride and that Rob couldn't be far behind.  Even with that as motivation, the best I could do was run for 3 or 4 minutes and then walk for a minute or two.  I was actually relieved when Tim passed me and then again when the 5 hour mark came and went.  I knew I was going to finish and that I was going to beat my time and no longer had to worry about pushing to break 5 hours.  I crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 4 minutes, 21 minutes faster than my last attempt.  Rob came in just a few minutes behind me. 

All finished and ready for the drive home.


I was hoping to be able to post the results and top finishers here, but as I write this the race website has not posted the official results.  I do know that there were some rockets out there, as usual. I will update this as soon as I have the finishers' information.  I learned that I will not be using Ensure again in the middle of a race as we do not seem to get along well.  I have always heard that you have to eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty, and Saturday really proved that point to me.  From here on I will make more of an effort to have a plan for, keep up with, and monitor my caloric and fluid intake during races. My training schedule called for a 10 mile run on Sunday.  While it would have been very easy to come up with an excuse that would have satisfied me to skip it, my legs were sore and I figured it would be a good way to work out some of the lactic acid.  I expected it to hurt and be slow so I had no pressure or preconceived notions of pace.  I started off with a brisk walk to get warmed up and then launched into a 6mph jog.  As the miles ticked by, I began to loosen up and was able to pick up the pace.  It felt good to stretch out the legs and run fast again.  I'm still a little sore but none the worse for wear and looking forward to another week of running.

Monday, January 2, 2012

UNBREAKABLE, well sort of...

I was very excited last week when my copy of UNBREAKABLE arrived in the mail.  It is a documentary by Journey Films about the 2010 Western States 100.  It focuses on Hal Koerner, Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet and Gordy Ansleigh.  Here is a short, yet compelling trailer that does a great job of capturing the spirit of the movie. 

The race coverage is exceptional.  Journey Film has managed to run along with the leaders during key moments of the race and really deliver a sense of what the trail is like.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys ultra running.  I have already watched it twice, and it has served as a great motivator to me. You can find information about the movie here.

The last week of running has been a perfect metaphor, especially for running an ultra.  It had highs and lows and points where I stood in the woods, broken, defeated and said to myself, "I'm done."  (Of course, I wasn't, but it sure felt that way at the time.)

If you have been reading this blog regularly, and come on, why wouldn't you?  You'll remember that Tim and I ran the first annual Boxing Day Trail Marathon, also known as 26 on the 26th, last Monday.  On Tuesday, I did a short run/walk on the treadmill for about 5 miles.  I spent a fair amount of that workout with the incline set to 12% and the speed at 4mph.  While this may be easy to some, it kicked my ass and I was huffing and puffing and sweating up a storm.  On Wednesday I decided to take my rest day, since I had run on Monday.  Thursday night was incredible.  I got off of work late, picked up the kids from camp and headed home.  My wife got home, and the plan was for me to head out for an 8 mile run around the neighborhood.  I was tired and cranky and didn't want to go, but I knew I would feel better if I ran and would be upset with myself if I didn't so I changed clothes and headed out before I had too much time to think about it.  I have a 4 mile loop mapped out from the house and started off nice and slow, with the plan to take it easy and just run comfortably for two laps.  I finished the first lap in 31 minutes and felt great.  I decided to see if I could run a negative split for the second lap.  I got back to my mailbox in 29 minutes.  Needless to say, I was very pleased with myself and all things began to seem possible. 

I met Tim on Saturday morning with a plan to run about 24 miles.  From the time I got up, I could tell there was something wrong with my right hip.  It felt tight and ached.  I decided I had just slept on it wrong and that it would loosen up.  I was wrong.  I didn't have one comfortable step during the run and when we hit the single track things got worse.  After a couple of miles of the trail I came down on a rock and rolled my right ankle enough to make me stop.  I was tired, hurt, disappointed and frustrated.  I figured I'd just take the most direct route back to the car and call it a day.  I told Tim I was shot and he should finish his run, that I was just going to head back.  He refused to go on and walked with me back out to the bridle trail.  Once we got out onto the main trail I was able to run again and ended up running about 16 miles for the day - quite a bit less than I had planned, but I was still on track for 65 miles for the week. 

I got home and cleaned up and made a trip to Raleigh Running Outfitters and picked up a foam roller.  This is a great shop that I have been fortunate enough to run for since 2007 or so.  While most of the people who are on the team are super fast, I was able to convince Jim, who owns RRO, that if he sponsored me he would get lots of advertising bang for his buck, as I am generally on the race course for an extended period of time.

I spent a lot of time rolling around on the floor, working my hip, hamstrings and calf in an attempt to loosen things up.   (My kids thought this was awesome and wanted to play with my new toy.)  My wife and I had scheduled a 10 mile run on Sunday and I really didn't want to start off the new year by missing a run, especially not one with her.  The smart thing to do would have been to take a rain check on the run and let the hip rest a bit. I'm not well known for common sense or moderation, so we ran anyway.

In keeping with the Buddhist tenant of impermanence, in an ultra marathon when things get bad, it is important to remember that they can't/won't stay bad forever.  The same is true for training.  Before we left I rolled the legs some more and hoped for the best.  It was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures reaching the lower 60's by the end of the run.  We stuck to the bike and bridle trail and covered 10 miles in a little less than 90 minutes.  My hip didn't bother me at all during the run and was only a little sore later on during the day.  We had an amazing time together and I felt better and more fresh at the end of the run than at the beginning.  I'll take it as a good indicator of the year to come.

I ended up running 65 miles last week and 231 miles for December.  With the exception of a race week, that was the most I have ever run in a week.

I'm taking it easy during this first week of January and will run the Frosty Fifty 50K in Winston Salem this Saturday with Tim and my neighbor, Rob.  I ran this race with Tim in 2010 as my first ultra.  Rob has run several 100 milers and I will be crewing for him at the Graveyard 100 in March.  Check back this weekend for a full race report.