Thursday, July 11, 2013

Into Thin Air

OK, first let me apologize to John Krakauer for ripping off the title of his book.   While it may not be the most original title for a blog post, it does seem very appropriate.  With the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 Run just over a month away, the time has come for me to begin acclimatizing to the altitude I will experience on the course.  The race starts in Leadville, CO, which is the highest town in America at 10,200 feet above sea level.  It has two major climbs to 11,000 and 12,600 feet, which have to be crossed twice.  No small task for someone who lives at 300 feet above sea level.

Leadville Trail 100 Run Elevation Profile

I rented a hypoxic tent last year as part of my preparation for Leadville, and, even though I didn't finish, I'm convinced that without it I would not  have gotten as far as I did.  (You can read my race report from the 2012 Leadville Trail 100 here.)  That belief, along with a recommendation from my coach, led me to reach out to Matt at Hypoxico to arrange delivery of another tent.  It arrived this week, and I began the process of acclimatizing myself to 10,000+ feet above sea level.

Admittedly, this process seems a bit extreme to most people.  Whenever it comes up that I'm sleeping in a hypoxic tent, I get shocked looks, laughter, head shakes, and lots and lots of questions.  Those who are serious runners or endurance athletes seem to understand, while those who feel a brisk walk to the fridge is exercise view it with mockery and sometimes thinly veiled hostility.  I'm not too worried about what those folks think.  What I worry about is being as prepared as I can be for my second attempt at Leadville next month. 

Since I DNF'd at Leadville last year I have expended considerable effort to avoid that happening again.  I've hired a coach and started running with a GPS religiously.  I've experimented with nutrition and have developed (with my coach's help) a nutrition plan where I can consistently take in 300 calories and 20 oz of fluid every hour during long events.  I've run in freezing temperatures.  I've run on beautiful days.  I've run in the dark of night.  I've run during North Carolina summer heat and humidity.  I've run until I've puked and my toenails have fallen off.  Since September 1, 2012, I have run approximately 2,400 miles.  I've spent countless dollars on nutrition, shoes, and AAA batteries for headlamps.  I've spent hundreds of hours away from my family running.  On more than one occasion I've woken up at 2 a.m. so I can get in a 30 mile run and be home before 8 am to spend time with the kids.  So, to those who say that sleeping in an altitude tent for 5 weeks is extreme, I say, "Hell yeah it is.  Everything else about this quest has been so why should this be different?"  If I was going to run Badwater I would be training in a sauna, so why shouldn't I be training and preparing for the conditions I will experience on the course?

I have read several articles and blogs discussing the use of altitude tents and whether they are just a part of training and being thoroughly prepared for an event, or whether they fall into the same category as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and are therefore cheating.  The more I read the more I realized that people seem to have very strong feelings about this issue.  I fall very squarely into the smart training school of thought.

Here's my thought process.  The idea of PEDs or blood doping involves putting a substance into your body that isn't supposed to be there.  In essence you are getting a benefit without the work.  Sure you still have to train, but PEDs allow you to train at a level that you could never accomplish naturally.  It is artificial.

Sleeping in a tent causes your body to adapt naturally, the way it would in nature if I lived at 10,000 feet. This is no different than running hills to cause your body to adapt to running hills, or running faster to get your body used to that.   I don't think anyone would say that I'm cheating if I go out and run 20 miles of hill repeats in the middle of the night.  They might say I'm nuts, but that's a discussion for a different post.

Would anyone say it was cheating if I quit my job, uprooted my family, and moved to Leadville so I could train live and train at altitude?  How about if my job and finances allowed me the flexibility to travel to Colorado a month in advance so that my body could adapt to the environment?  Of course not.  That would be stupid.  So what's the difference between sleeping in a tent and moving to Leadville?  Bottom line, it isn't feasible for me to live there.

To those who question why I would spend my hard-earned money to sleep in a hypoxic tent so I can be prepared for a race, my answer is very simple.  Why wouldn't I?

Saturday, April 13, 2013


April 3, 2011, 10:23 a.m. 

I staggered across the finish line of my first 100 mile run. I had completed the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run after 28 hours and 23 minutes and two sunrises.  I was glad that I finished, but I was broken.  I just wanted to be done, to rest, and, in that moment, to never run again.  I went home and collapsed.  I wasn’t able to walk normally until the following Wednesday.  I didn’t run for weeks and often thought of quitting altogether during that time. 
I signed up for the 2013 Umstead 100 for several reasons.  It is an amazing race, the organization and support is unparalleled, and the volunteers are second to none.  I love the park and run there almost every weekend, as it is just a few miles from my home.  After my DNF at Leadville last August, I hired Scott Weber as my coach for this year’s Leadville Trail 100 Run.  He recommended completing a 100 mile event as part of my preparation for Leadville.  I could think of no better event.  All of those factors had me glued to my high speed internet connection at the moment registration opened.  I was one of the lucky ones who was able to secure a slot in the race before it filled up almost instantaneously. 
In the weeks leading up to the race, I knew I was in good shape and felt that I was stronger than I had ever been but still had no idea how that would translate to a 100 mile foot race.  I knew I would finish. It was just a question of how long it would take and how much it would hurt.  When I finished in 2011, I received a brass belt buckle that read 100 MILES FINISHER to signify I had completed the distance in less than 30 hours.  Those who complete the race in less than 24 hours get a silver belt buckle that reads 100 MILES – ONE DAY.  I really wanted to run this year’s race in under 24 hours so  I could earn that silver buckle.   
I talked with my coach about split times, pacing strategies, and a nutrition plan.  I knew exactly what to do, but I didn’t know how I was going to feel after 50 miles . . . or 75.  In 2011 I fell apart after mile 60 and walked (OK, well trudged may be more appropriate) the last 40 miles.  I didn’t want that to happen again.  I had a plan.  But, as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”  I just didn’t know when I would get hit or how hard.
The park gates opened a 4:45 a.m.   I awoke at 4:00 a.m.,  ate, dressed, and headed to the park.  I got there early and waited in line with everyone else and slowly wound my way into the depths of the park to my assigned parking area.

Waiting at the gate to Umstead State Park.

I was planning on flying solo for the first 50 miles with no crew.  I had pacers lined up, but they wouldn’t be there until after the first 50.  I lugged all my extra clothes, nutrition, medical kit, etc. from the car and set it up under a tree alongside the trail, not too far from the start/finish.  Umstead consists of 8 loops of 12.5 miles each with 1,000 feet of elevation gain and 1,000 feet of elevation loss for each lap.  My plan was to grab fresh bottles and energy gels at the start of each lap. 
I finished setting up and wandered into the lodge.  I still had 30 minutes until start time.  There was a lot of energy in the air, punctuated by nervous laughter.  People all around stood quietly or talked too loudly, depending on how they dealt with the excitement and stress that exists moments before you set off in the dark to run for 100 miles.  Everyone was friendly and supportive, as is common at these events. I told one of my pacers that there are only about 10 people here for a race.  Everyone else is here for an experience.  That is certainly why I was there. Before I knew it, the race director shouted go and several gunshots went off, and we were on our way.  I clicked on my iPod, which I had set to shuffle, and was very pleasantly surprised to start my run with The Beatles singing Good Day Sunshine, one of my all time favorites.  I couldn’t suppress a smile as I slowly jogged away from the start.  My headlamp illuminated a small puddle of ground in front of me as we glided up the service road to the main trail.  The sky was crystal clear, and a sliver of a crescent moon hung in the inky blackness, seeming at times to nestle itself in the branches of trees overhead.  I felt strong and happy.  Happy to be running.  Happy to be injury free.  Happy to have this opportunity. 
Lap 1  Mile 0-12.5

I was shooting for just under a 24 hour finish.  I knew I would slow down as the day progressed.  The plan was not to slow down too much.  I wanted to spend about 45% of my time in the first 50 miles and 55% in the last 50.  That would shake out to 11 hours for the first half and 13 for the second.  In order to do that I needed to make sure not to go out too fast.  Any fool can blister the first lap, but that is suicide for all but the most gifted runner.  According to my plan, I needed to run the first 4 laps at about 2hrs and 42 minutes per lap.  Well, that was the plan I had on paper and the plan I had told everyone about.  For some reason I had it in my head that I should be able to finish in closer to 22 hours.  I just didn't want to admit that out loud to anyone other than Wendy.  So I ran the first lap with two goal times in mind.  2:42 and 2:30.  2:30 would set me up for a 10 hour 50 mile time and a 22 hour finish.  I kept cruising past the mile markers and checking my split times with my watch.  I was running too fast.  I just didn't feel like I could physically run any slower.  I finished the first lap in 2 hours and 15 minutes, faster than I wanted, but feeling great.  I had kept up with my nutrition plan, just as my coach had instructed, and was ready to go.  I got fresh Hammer Gels, two new bottles of Perpetuem, and headed off.  By this time the sun had risen, and it was a cool, clear morning.  About 500 yards after I headed back out, I realized I had forgotten to take off my head lamp.  No big deal because it didn't weigh very much.  I would just look stupid for the next two and a half hours or so.   I told myself that, if that was the worst mistake I made, I was in great shape.  

Lap 2 Mile 12.5-25

I had two main goals for this lap.  Slow down and stick with my nutrition plan.  I allowed myself to walk some of the smaller hills on this lap but still ran a comfortable pace on the downhills and flats.  As far as nutrition went, I was planning on trying to get through the whole race with no solid food.  That would require one 20 oz bottle of water with one scoop of Perpetuem every hour, along with a Hammer Gel and a salt tab every 30 minutes, for a total of 300 calories and 20 oz every hour.  Not the best tasting stuff in the world, but I've had worse.  I stayed right on schedule with my nutrition and felt pretty good. This lap is where the mental math started in earnest.  I kept telling myself that I wouldn't have a good idea about how things were going until I had finished the first 30 miles.  I just couldn't stop myself from calculating and recalculating my pace and potential finish times.  I knew that I had to pace myself this early on, or I would make a huge mistake and push too hard too soon.  I managed to slow down on this lap, but not as much as I thought I needed to.  I finished the loop in 2:25, had an aid station worker refill my bottles with water, and headed to my stuff to mix my bottles and grab some more Hammer Gels.

Lap 3 Mile 25-37.5

This was the first lap where I began to not feel great.  I wasn't too worried about it, as I knew that I would have both good and bad stretches.  I was keeping up with my nutrition, but it was becoming less and less appetizing, and I was starting to get a headache.   There were two ways to look at it.  One, I could ignore it and realize that sometimes your body does weird stuff; or two, I could convince myself that I had a headache because there was some terrible biological black magic going on inside me, which would soon lead to me collapsing on the trail in a sputtering pile of drool . . . and who knows what else.  I waffled back and forth between the two extremes for a few minutes before settling on the first option.  Sure enough, once I decided there was nothing to it, my headache began to shrink and eventually went away altogether. I passed the runner below and was inspired by the simple message on his shirt. 

It's hard to argue with that logic. 
I came into the start/finish in 2:32 and still felt very fresh and positive about the day.  As I came up the final hill, I heard someone shout my name and was thrilled to find my friend Jonas there waiting for me. He had been on a work trip all week and didn't get back until 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning.  He had taken a quick nap and headed out to the park to support me for a few hours.  He helped me fill my bottles and replace my empty Hammer Gel packets and got me back out on the course with lots of encouragement.  

Lap 4 Mile 37.5-50

Having a friend there to support me gave me a huge lift. I felt totally fresh as I headed out to start my 4th lap. On this lap I began to get sleepy.  Not tired of running, but sleepy.  It was strange to just want to stop and take a nap when I was otherwise feeling great.  Up to this point I had no aches pains, and my legs still felt very fresh. I just felt like I needed a nap.  This sensation continued for a couple of miles and eventually went away.  By this point I had been running for 40 miles and a little less than 8 hours.  I was pleased with my progress, and the thought of a sub 24 hour finish seemed very achievable.  However, I was getting pretty sick of eating a Hammer Gel every 30 minutes.  As I was descending the south side of Turkey Creek, around mile 42 or 43, I ate another gel and washed it down with some Perpetuem.  I fished a salt tab out of my belt and popped it into my mouth and attempted to swallow it.  It went down wrong and caused me to gag. I spit it out, but it was too late. I ended up emptying the contents of my stomach onto the side of the trail with considerable force.  As I was bent over, projectile vomiting into the dirt, I told myself that this was not a big deal.  Puking is very often a part of ultra running. I was a little bummed it was so early in the race, but  I knew it was not the end of the world. I finished as quickly as I could and kept moving.  Much to my surprise, within a minute of that episode, I felt great.  My energy came back, and I was able to pick up my pace comfortably.  

I cruised into Aid Station #2 and stopped for the first time to grab a small cup of ginger ale. I figured the ginger might help settle my stomach, and I love soda and really wanted some.  As I was leaving, I heard my name and looked up to see Wendy and the kids coming toward me. All three of them had made signs and seemed really excited to be there.  They walked with me for a hundred yards or so before the trail headed back into the woods. I got lots of hugs and kisses before we parted ways, and I left them feeling happy and inspired.  I knew by this time that I was on track for a 10 hour split for the first half of race, which was where I wanted to be for a 22 hour finish.  

I cruised into the start/finish in 9 hours and 57 minutes, still feeling really fresh.  Jonas met me at my cooler to help me get my bottles ready.  He was supportive and full of energy and enthusiasm.  
At this point I decided to check a small hot spot I felt on the side of my big toe.  I sat down and pulled off my shoe and peeled back the sock to find the beginning of a tiny blister on the side of my toe.  I should have lanced it and taped it right then, but I made the decision to leave it alone, figuring that it was on the side and not bottom of my foot and wasn't bothering me and wasn't likely to, even if it grew.  I pulled my sock and shoe back on and got ready to head out.  

It was then that Jonas asked where my pacer was.  Well, here's the thing.  I had recruited 4 different pacers and had sent them all an email with my proposed 24 hour schedule.  At this point in the race I was an hour ahead of where I had told my first pacer I would be, and she was nowhere to be seen.  On the way in I had done the math and realized that was a very real possibility and was fully prepared to run the 5th lap without a pacer if I had to.  When I explained this to Jonas, he was way more upset than I was.  It was nice that he was so involved in my race effort.  I assured him that I would be just fine and thanked him for all his help, as he had to leave during my next lap.  I then headed out to run the second half of my race, hoping to do it in about 12 hours.

Lap 5 Mile 50-62.5

As I was running up the service road to the Reedy Creek Trail, I passed my pacer, Sam, who was riding in on her bike.  She saw me and told me to go on and she would catch up.  I clicked off the iPod, took out the ear buds and put the whole shebang into my pocket.  Shortly after the first mile marker I heard foot steps coming up fast behind me.  I knew I was either going to get lapped or that Sam had arrived.  Sure enough, I looked to my left, and there she was.  

Sam's son and my kids both take Tae Kwon Do together.  She has done a couple of the same triathlons that Wendy and I have.  She had no experience with ultra running, other than passing runners in the park from year to year while she was out for a training run.  Having just completed her first marathon last month, I figured this was a perfect time to make the introduction.   I asked her to pace, and she agreed and did a fantastic job.  

We ran and talked about kids, spouses, work, Tae Kwon Do, triathlon, cycling, running, and how insane this event is generally.   I told her my nutrition plan, and she helped me keep track of the mile splits and time my gels.  As we got farther and farther into the lap, I noticed that we were running much faster than I planned for that lap.  I had been excited to start lap 5 because my schedule, even my secret ambitious one, allowed me to slow my pace for the second half of the race.  As it turned out, Sam pushed the pace for me and kept me distracted and entertained, so I didn't realize until much later that we ended up running the 5th lap faster than I had run the 4th lap.  

I told her that her last duty as my pacer was to pose for a picture with me.  Not surprisingly, she was a great sport for that too.  

Lap 6 Mile 62.5-75

Pacer #2, Andy, had eagerly volunteered to pace for me when he first heard I was running this year.  I have done several training runs and bike rides with him over the last couple of years and know how strong and dedicated an athlete he is.  I knew I could count on him to be there and to take his responsibilities as my pacer seriously.  Sure enough, there he was, early and ready.  He took my bottles and filled them with water and met me at my cooler.  I quickly explained my nutrition and pacing plan.  We topped off and headed out.  About 50 yards from my stuff, I realized I didn't have enough salt tabs for the lap, so he went back to get them.  I decided to put as much distance between the two of us as I could.  He caught me somewhere around the one mile mark and insisted on carrying bottles for me.  For the first time in 13 hours, I was able to run with two free hands.  I won't lie - it felt good. He set his watch to beep every 15 minutes, and we settled into our rhythm.  We made good time around the course as night fell around us.  Once the sun went down, the temperature dropped, and I put on a jacket shortly before Aid Station #2.  

We passed the time by talking about work and running and training.  He is training for his first Ironman race this August in Louisville, the weekend after the Leadville Trail 100 Run.  Wendy is doing the same race, so we had plenty to discuss.  

Andy did a fantastic job of keeping track of split times and nutrition requirements for me.  As time wears on in these events, it is very easy for the head to get fuzzy and to start to make mistakes and forget things.   He was also really good about going with the flow.  When his watch beeped, there were times I felt I couldn't stomach a gel, and he offered but didn't push.  He offered to run the 7th lap with me if my next pacer didn't show up.  I thanked him, but I was as certain that my pacer would be there as I was that I was going to finish.  We finished the lap, still feeling strong, and found my next pacer, Tim, early and ready to go.  

Andy took a moment to pose for a picture before filling up my bottles and explaining the process to Tim while I had a quick cup of Mountain Dew and an orange slice.  I thanked Andy for everything, and Tim and I headed off into the dark for Lap 7.  

Lap 7 Mile 75-87.5

I knew Tim would be there, because he always is and always has been.  You see, Tim has been my training partner for the better part of a decade.  I've lost track of how many marathons we've run together.  He introduced me to Umstead State Park and the Umstead Trail Marathon, which he's run every year since it started a decade ago.  We did our first ultra together.  We did our first Ironman together.  He is the only person I know who is foolish enough meet me at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning for a two to five hour run, no matter how hot or how cold or how dark or how stupid.   He paced me in 2011 from the half way point of lap 6 to the halfway point of lap 7.  During that time, I was reduced to a slow walk(stagger) and was falling asleep on my feet.  I hallucinated and walked backwards down hills because my quads were so shot.  It was not pretty. 

Leading up to this race, we had joked about looking forward to some more drug-free hallucinations.  This year was very different.  I was there to run.  I was wide awake and fired up.  Sure, there were walk breaks, but there was also lots of running.  We quickly fell into our familiar rhythm of running and talking.  We have a lot in common.  We're in the same profession, are same age, and both have two kids that are close in age.  We never seem to run out of things to talk about, and this night was no exception. 

I was getting pretty excited as the miles counted down.  I knew I only had one lap left.   I knew I was way ahead of my 24 hour schedule, and I knew I still felt pretty good.  Don't get me wrong - I was tired, and my legs hurt like hell, but it was a pain that I knew meant that they were still working and would still continue to work.  They were stiff and heavy and liked to either walk or run but not transition between the two.  I could still feel how I had allowed that pain to get the better of me in 2011, and I didn't want that feeling again.  During the times when I started to run after a walk break or a steep hill, my legs would hurt intensely.  Instead of giving into the pain like I did in 2011, I focused on it and concentrated on really analyzing the sensation as I continued to run.  Without fail, the rhythm of the run would take over, the stride would lengthen, and the pain would surrender and retreat to the periphery of my consciousness.  I may have waxed rhapsodic about this experience during this lap.  

We headed into the turn around, and I was still running and feeling relatively fresh.  I was supposed to meet my final pacer, Rob, for my last lap.  We got to the turnaround, and there was no sign of him.  I knew he was there because he had spent the evening volunteering at Aid Station #2, and we had spoken as I passed.  He knew my schedule and said he would be there in plenty of time.  I had Tim pose for the obligatory pacer picture and then sent him into the lodge to look for Rob.  

I headed down to my cooler to blow my nose.  Tim arrived shortly after and said he couldn't find Rob but that he would run with me.  I suggested that he go back and check one more time while I headed out.  If he found him he could send him on; if not, he could catch up with me.  He agreed, and I started out for my last lap.

Lap 8 Mile 87.5-100

I hadn't gotten very far when I heard Tim and Rob coming up behind me.  Rob had been there, but Tim had just missed him the first time he checked.  I was relieved for Tim that he didn't have to do another loop.  He said he might take a nap in his car and wait to see me finish.  I thanked him, and he headed back to the turn around.

Rob is my neighbor and was the first person I every knew who had run 50 or 100 miles.  So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is all his fault.  He made it seem easy and fun.  He paced me after Tim in 2011 as well.  I chose Rob and Tim as my last two pacers because I knew that I could be completely at ease with them.  They are both good friends, and we have run many, many miles together.  I knew that Rob knows what it is like to be in the last 12 miles of a 100 mile run and that experience would be invaluable.  I wasn't wrong.  

I ran the better part of the first two miles before running out of gas.  I walked most of the next four miles.  It wasn't that my legs were holding me back, nor was any sort of pain.  I simply was too tired to go any faster.  If I tried to, I became nauseous.  By the time we got to Aid Station #2, I was really cold.  I asked Rob to get my second jacket and some gloves from my drop bag while I had a cup of chicken broth and sat in front of a propane heater. This was the only real break that I allowed myself.  I set some rules before I started.  I was not going to waste time in the aid stations.  I was not, under any circumstances, going into the lodge at the Start/Finish, and I wouldn't sit down for the first 50 miles and would only do so after that if absolutely necessary.  This felt necessary.  

After a few minutes (I would guess about 5, but my clock was probably screwed up,) I got up and headed away from the heater and out of the tent.  As soon as I hit the cold air outside, I began to shiver.  When I say shiver, I mean SHIVER.  My hands and arms were shaking uncontrollably, my teeth were chattering, and my legs were starting to tremble.  I knew if I didn't warm up fast, I was going to be in trouble.  I figured the best way to do that was to run.  So that's what I started to do.  

It was a very halted, stiff-legged gait, but I was moving faster than a hike.  I began to get pissed at my legs.  I felt they were holding me back.  At one point I yelled at my legs that I was tired of it and they were going to have to get with the program.  I may have used more colorful language than that, but you get the point. Hearing this outburst, Rob enthusiastically yelled his own words of encouragement, and we were off - slowly and stiffly at first, and then gradually faster and smoother.  I still walked the uphills, but I ran the flats and the down hills.  As the miles wound down, I began to get excited.  I knew I was way under 24 hours and was surprised to see that I was going to be under 23 hours as well.  

For the last two laps I had been passing lots of people.  This made up for any frustration that may have been present for the first few laps, when I was passed by many people. I had managed to run a smart race and save plenty of energy for the second half.  By the time we hit the turn off for the final half mile stretch to the finish, I was at a full run.  Rob kept reminding me to watch my footing. I guess he had visions of me tripping and knocking myself silly in the last few hundred yards.  I didn't trip. I ran.  I ran up the final hill and crossed the finish line with my arms in the air.  I felt amazing.  My legs were tired but nothing hurt.  I still had lots of energy and was on an amazing high.  One of the Race Directors came up and handed me my silver buckle, and I couldn't wipe the giant, maniacal grin off my face.  I made sure to have my picture made with my final pacer.  To top it all off,  Tim had taken a quick nap in his car and stayed to see me finish. 


I crossed the line in 22 hours 13 minutes and 4 seconds.  44th place out of 263 starters.  Over 6 hours faster than I had in 2011. 


Running 100 miles is not a solo event. I could not have accomplished it without a lot of help.  I owe my race to these people.  Wendy, Sutherland and Kettler - you were always supportive of my long runs and even encouraged me to go when I may have had transient motivational issues.  I spent a lot of my day with you all in my head.  My pacers - Sam, Andy, Tim, and Rob.  Best pacing crew ever.  You did your job of keeping me moving and distracted better than I could have ever hoped.  I owe all of you.  Let me know when you need a pacer, and I'm your man.  Jonas - thanks for coming out to cheer me on.  My coach, Scott Weber - wow.  Since I started working with you last September, my running has improved dramatically, and I've set multiple new PRs.  You have a believer in me.  Last, but certainly not least, thanks to Jim and the folks at Raleigh Running Outfitters for their continued support.    


Lap 1  2hrs 15min  Avg. Pace  10:51 per mile
Lap 2  2hrs 25min  Avg. Pace  11:38 per mile
Lap 3  2hrs 32min  Avg. Pace  12:14 per mile
Lap 4  2hrs 44min  Avg. Pace  13:07 per mile
Lap 5  2hrs 42min  Avg. Pace  13:00 per mile
Lap 6  2hrs 52min  Avg. Pace  13:50 per mile
Lap 7  2hrs 56min  Avg. Pace  14:09 per mile
Lap 8  3hrs 42min  Avg. Pace  17:50 per mile
100 miles 22 hours 13 minutes 4 seconds  Avg. Pace 13:20 per mile


I went home and slept for a few hours and was surprised to find the energy and desire to get up and move around.  I was on my feet and moving on and off for the rest of the day.  My recovery is coming along rapidly with about 20 miles for the first post race week.  I will be back up to lots of miles in the next couple of weeks.  I did learn a few lessons.  I slacked off on the nutrition towards the end of lap 6 and was totally off plan by the end of lap 7.  I think that explains why I was so out of gas in the final lap.  I'm convinced that, if I had stayed with the plan, I could have shaved a considerable chunk of time off my final lap.  I also should have taken care of that small blister when I first examined it.  While my feet didn't slow me down at all during the race, I did end up with a couple of blisters and three toenails that are destined to turn black and fall off.  I first noticed them on the drive home after the finish.

All of the things I have read and been told over the years about ultra running finally clicked into place.  It was an epiphany.  I finally got it.  Train hard.  Race smart.  Start slow.  Eat, but not solid food.  (The only solid food I had for 22 hours was three orange slices and 1/4 of a bagel at mile 82.)  I am more excited about training for and running Leadville this August than ever before.  Lots of miles still to go.  I'll keep you posted.

The morning after.  Nice, huh?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Here is Wendy's race report from the Myrtle Beach Marathon.  She did it way more justice than I ever could.  I was just along for the ride on this one.

Myrtle Beach Marathon 2013
by: Wendy Ray

Goal:  It started as sub-4:00 marathon.  Then I got ideas.  If I'd done 26.2 in 4:11 in an Ironman race, surely I could shave a significant amount of time from that in a stand alone marathon, I thought to myself.  What was Boston qualifying time again?  3:45. Sure, why not go for that?  Nevermind that my previous marathon PR was 4:09.  Nevermind that at all . . .
Race plan:  The plan was laid out quite clearly by my coach, taking the guess work out of it.  That should relieve my nerves, no?  Actually, no, because the plan was to negative split the marathon – something I'd never done before.  Mile 20 is where the wheels generally come off.  Stuff hurts.  Nothing specific, just everything.  But according to plan, this was where I was expected to kick it up a notch.  No wonder my hands were sweaty just thinking about it.  The vast majority of my training had been according to heart rate, and that is what would guide my race.  Jog the first 5 miles, run the next 15, and race the last 10K - heart rate zone 2, then 3, then 4, respectively.   Fuel 3 hours before race start, 5 minute jog to warm up, energy gel and water 30 minutes before race start, follow heart rate guidelines, energy gels at mile 5, 10, 15, 20, and 24.  Follow these simple steps and pull off a sub 3:45 marathon.  Ready, set, go.
Pre-race:  I'll be honest. I had high hopes - high hopes and tremendous amounts of anxiety leading up to this race.  I don't know why I was so nerved up.  Qualify, don't qualify – it wasn't going to make or break me.  Other things besides training and racing mean more to me in life.  Still, this meant something.  Working hard and achieving a goal is satisfying.  And in some way, it would symbolize how far I've come . . . in a lot of ways.  I put in the training.  I did every workout exactly as prescribed by my coach.  I was injury-free.  I even managed to get reasonable amounts of sleep the week before the race.  Ashby and I loaded up the kids and headed to Myrtle Beach on Friday afternoon.  We stayed with Ashby's mom and her boyfriend at his house, which happened to be about 2 miles from the race start.  They wanted to spend some time with the kids and graciously invited us all down for the whole weekend.  I had been checking the weather all week.  The forecast was ever-changing – 40s, 20s, 30s, 23 mph winds, 9 mph winds, 13 mph winds, sun, rain, partly cloudy, snow flurries (which, incidentally, did hit later that night – thank you, race organizers, for doing this on Saturday!!)  It was in the 60s and sunny and beautiful on Friday, and we hoped it would hold up for the morning.  We went out for a nice dinner, picked up our race packets, organized our things, and got to bed at a decent hour.  The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. so I could "fuel" – i.e. eat 2 waffles w/peanut butter and a half cup of greek yogurt with blueberry preserves.  Then I actually went back to sleep for an hour or so, which seemed weird, but the man said fuel 3 hours before race start, so I wasn't about to start bucking the system.  5:00 a.m. we got up and dressed and headed to the race start.  The drive over to Broadway at the Beach took about 2 minutes.  This is possibly the most well-organized race I've ever done.  There was no traffic getting into the parking lot, parking spaces were plentiful, and it was about a minute walk across a field lined with a generous number of porta-potties to get to the start.  We arrived around 5:30 a.m. and had time to sit and enjoy the heat in the car.  5:55 a.m. – warm up jog.  6:00 a.m. – energy gel and water.  6:15 a.m. – porta-potty visit.  6:20 a.m. – lined up at the start.  I was wearing shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, gloves, ear warmers, and a sweatshirt jacket to throw away at the start.  Overall, I have no complaints about the weather.  It was cold but not miserable with very little breeze.  Inside the start line crowd, I don't think I even needed the throwaway jacket.  This is the moment I noted that nerves really do mess with your heart rate.  Normal standing around heart rate for me is somewhere in the 60s.  Standing there before the gun went off, my garmin was reading 100 bpm.  WTF??  But nerves are good, right?  As my coach said, it shows you respect the distance.  As many times as you've done it, a marathon is no joke.  This was exciting!  And there was a live elephant up ahead – you don't see that every day!  *The race provides funding for some animal charities, so the elephant was representing, not just spectating.

The race:  We started somewhere around the 3:35 pace group.  It seemed somewhat loosely organized, and the 4:00 pace group wasn't that far behind, so I'm not sure it mattered.  We were not too far back from the start line, and when the gun went off, there were only a few seconds of shuffling before people broke into full-fledged running.  I tried to keep my head down and stay at a comfortable jog.  After all, that was the race plan.  It was to be a negative split, and in order for that to happen, my coach had very clearly warned me that I would have to be okay with being passed in the first miles.  A lot.  And so I was, but it is hard not to get caught up in that.  The pounding of shoes all around and the excitement of the crowd – it all gets inside your head and rattles around and makes you go out too fast.  I knew I couldn't let that happen, so I missed the sights in those first few miles.  I tuned everything out and found my rhythm.  Of course I had figured out the pace I would need to maintain to make a qualifying time, even though I was supposed to go by heart rate, and I knew if I stayed around 9:00 the first 5, 8:30 the next 15, and 8:00 the last 10K, I would be golden.  Of course I also had doubts about being able to do 8:00s in the last 6 miles, so I was more comfortable being a little sub-9:00, and that is where I landed – about 8:50-ish.  It felt good.  I could chit chat and breathe easy, but my heart rate was troublesome.  It was supposed to be 148 or less for the first 5 miles, but I was pushing 148 in the first mile.  I decided that race day excitement was to blame, so I let myself push the heart rate a little in the first 5, at times up to the low-150s.  If I felt this good, I figured it was probably okay.  Approaching the 5 mile mark, I assessed how I was feeling.  Absolutely no aches and pains, legs felt fresh, breathing easy, and I didn't have to go to the bathroom.  My extremities were a little numb from the cold, but overall the temperature was comfortable.  The sun was out, so it felt a little warmer, at least in my head.  I took an energy gel and kicked it up a notch at the 5 mile mark. 
This is where we started doing the passing, and it felt nice and easy.  I was really in my groove, ticking off the miles.  My friend and always awesome supporter, Paige, was out to cheer at mile 6, and I dropped my ear warmers with her.  It was turning into a beautiful morning.  Miles 8-17 were along the ocean.  First, I took a stroll down memory lane – the strip in Myrtle Beach where I spent many hours cruising back and forth as a teenager.  I hadn't been back to this beach in nearly 20 years, so the nostalgia kept my mind busy.  Then we came to a stretch with a wide open view of the ocean, and that was where some wind kicked in.  It didn't feel too bad, and I tried to draft off of other runners as much as possible.  Ashby and I chatted here and there, but we were mostly all business.  I entertained myself by eavesdropping on bits of conversations other runners were having as we passed – "no one expected that from Bon Jovi . . . ", "I need to get angry to get through this . . . ", "my legs feel weird . . . "  No shit, dude.  Around mile 13, when the half marathoners split off, I started to feel some tightness in my quads.  It wasn't bad, but I was aware that they were working overtime.  Again, my heart rate was a bit above where it should be.  Max should have been 158, but I was inching up into the 160s. Again, I felt good, so I figured it was probably okay?  Yes, my legs were starting to feel it, but my breathing was still very easy and relaxed.  Each mile, my pace was comfortably under 8:30, and I was almost sure I could kick it up if I HAD to.   
Mile 18 – Okay, this is when shit started getting real.  To be honest, this is where the doubts started creeping in.  We turned a corner and realized we had, in fact, been running into a headwind.  The flip side of that was nice and made us pick up our pace a bit, but I could tell that I was starting to fade.  I had two miles before I was supposed to kick it up again, and I wasn't sure I had it in me.  This is where I started doing too much math in my head.  Let me make this clear – I am not a math guy, so this is nothing but trouble.  The next two miles I felt generally uneasy, trying to assess how I was feeling and what I had left in the tank.  Having reached no conclusions, I hit mile 20 and kicked it up another notch.  My heart rate was immediately at or exceeding the max I was supposed to reach in the last 10K.  My breathing was still easy, but my legs were starting to feel heavy.  I had run a solid race for 20 miles, and I was starting to panic at the thought of it all falling apart at the end.  I overheard two guys talking as we passed.  "We're still at a 3:40 right now," one of them said.  "No way," the other said, huffing and puffing.  "3:50, maybe. I'm not going to get any faster than this."  But we were passing them pretty easily, so assuming THEY were good at math, this could be okay.  At mile 22, I realized there was no way I could keep up the new pace, so I eased off a little.  I just have to get to mile 24.  Then I'll have my last energy gel.  It will give me something to do, maybe give me a little boost of energy (this has literally never happened immediately after eating a gel - while I'm sure it works in the overall scheme, the immediate reaction is a boost of nausea.)  Around mile 24, I saw a clock that said 3:22.  On the one hand, I felt like my legs were going to stop working.  On the other hand, my woefully inept mathematical skills told me that I could fall to 10 minute miles at this point and still come in under 3:45.  Totally doable!  Ashby said what I was already thinking, "You can do anything for 20 minutes."  At mile 25, I let myself think about what it was going to feel like to get back and tell the kids that we're going to Boston.  The next mile would hurt like a mofo, but nothing was going to stop me now.  I felt like every step was getting slower and slower, but it turns out that was all in my head.  Up ahead, I could see the course turn to the right.  Just beyond the turn was the 26 mile marker.  A quick glance at my garmin told me I was still at 3:30-something.  One more right turn, and I could see the finish line, but the view was disturbingly like that classic hallway scene in Poltergeist.   I was sure I was moving toward it, so why did it keep moving farther away?  I dug deep, I picked up my pace, and I crossed the finish line.  Best of all, I crossed it leaving everything out on the course – everything I had in me - and it was worth it.
Post-race:  This was a truly awesome experience for me.  Qualifying for Boston was something I never thought I could do.  A year ago, I would have said it wasn't possible.  This was my tenth stand alone marathon.  It was the first time I negative split a marathon.  It was the first time I ran every step without stopping and/or walking.  It was the first time I actually went in with a well-thought out plan.  I feel like I did a pretty good job of controlling the few things I could control.  Everything else happily fell into place.  I should mention here that Ashby did not intend to stay with me the whole time, but we did end up running the entire race together.  As in life, I think we are stellar partners in running.  We push each other to keep going without saying too much or too little, without being gratingly cheerful or harsh and unforgiving, without pressuring but not letting the other off the hook either.  I don't know if I would have done as well without him, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out.  In the end, we all win – family vacation to Boston, April 2014!!
The numbers:
Gun time – 3:40:52
Chip time – 3:40:18 
F40-44 age group – 5/93

mile 1 – 8:55
mile 2 – 8:54
mile 3 – 8:49
mile 4 – 8:51
mile 5 – 8:49
mile 6 – 8:24
mile 7 – 8:19
mile 8 – 8:17
mile 9 – 8:17
mile 10 – 8:24
mile 11 – 8:25
mile 12 – 8:27
mile 13 – 8:15
mile 14 – 8:19
mile 15 – 8:23
mile 16 – 8:15
mile 17 – 8:16
mile 18 – 8:12
mile 19 – 8:12
mile 20 – 8:18
mile 21 – 8:03
mile 22 – 8:05
mile 23 – 8:24
mile 24 – 8:13
mile 25 – 8:11
mile 26 – 8:15
last .2 – 7:47

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Leadville doesn't care.

When I hired my coach shortly after my DNF at Leadville last year I was struck by something he told me.  “If you want to finish Leadville, just do the work.  Leadville doesn’t care.”  By doing the work he meant running an average of 60 miles a week for 50 weeks.  That’s five days a week, every week for almost a year.  That’s what it will take to finish.  That’s what it will take to redeem myself.  That’s what it will take to bring home a buckle.

I have spent the last 5 months doing the work.  After my fall at the Frosty Fifty a couple of weeks ago, I was sidetracked for a week and didn’t run at all.  In addition to losing some training time, I started to lose my mojo.  I really enjoyed not running 10 hours a week and spending more time with my family.  As my knee healed, I began to get back with the program and found myself looking for motivation to recapture my drive and commitment.  That’s when it hit me.  I remembered my coach’s words,  “Leadville doesn’t care.”  It got me running again.  Now, every time I’m not excited about a run I stop and repeat that simple mantra to myself.  It’s written in small font on a sticky note on my computer at work.  It stares at me every day.  Taunting me.  Reminding me.  Encouraging me.  It doesn’t yell.   It doesn’t have an explanation mark at the end of it.  It doesn’t need one.  That sentence is powerful enough, even when delivered in a no nonsense, matter of fact tone.  

Leadville doesn’t care…
  • ·      If I’m tired
  • ·      If my knee hurts
  • ·      If I miss my family
  • ·      If I have to work late
  • ·      If I have to work early
  • ·      How much I think I deserve to finish
  • ·      How great I think I could be
  • ·      How great I think I should be
  • ·      Who I am
  • ·      What I do for a living
  • ·      Where I live
  • ·      Why I’ve decided I need to do this
  • ·      How fast I think I can run
  • ·      How long I think I can run
  • ·      What anyone else thinks
  • ·      If it’s too hot
  • ·      If it’s too cold
  • ·      If it’s raining
  • ·      If it’s snowing
  • ·      Whether I’m sick
  • ·      That I’ve been a runner for over 30 years
  • ·      How much sleep I didn’t get
  • ·      What is on TV
  • ·      That I really want to see that latest movie
  • ·      That sugar-filled foods taste good and make me happy
  • ·      That Perpetuem tastes like warm spit during a long run
  • ·      That Hammer Gels often have the consistency of warm mucus, or cold mucus depending on       the ambient temperature of the run
  • ·      That it’s “too late to run”
  • ·      That it’s “too early to run”
While Leadville may be a harsh and unforgiving mistress, she is one to whom I have given part of my heart and soul.  As I write this, it is snowing outside, there is a fire raging in the fireplace, there’s a pizza in the oven, and my kids are sitting on the floor in the family room watching a movie.  While Leadville may have a part of me, the rest belongs to these moments.  I will do what it takes to finish this year, but I must also do what it takes to be with my family and make them happy.  So, after we eat that delicious pizza, I will sneak upstairs for a quick 6 miles on the treadmill and be done in time to read a story to the kids and tuck them in bed.  Tomorrow I will take turns doing long runs with my wife while we juggle time with the kids. 

Although I realize that Leadville doesn’t care, there are some things that must come first.  While I work hard to get in my miles, I work even harder to make sure I spend quality time with my family.  After all, if it weren’t for them, none of this would mean a thing.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Frosty Fifty Race Report- The Perils of Gravity

I have to be honest, I have a real love hate relationship with this race.  It was my first ultra back in 2010 and was a catalyst for my growing passion of ultra running.  That year I was happy to finish at all and thrilled with my finish time of 5:25.  I missed the race in 2011 but went back again in 2012 and ran a 5:04.  Here is a race report from that experience.  I was a lot faster but had nutrition problems and ended up puking and bonking.  Never one to be deterred by a bad experience with a race I went back again this year with my trusty running buddy, Tim.

I had no real plan or expectation for how I would do.  My training plan called for a five hour run on race day, so I took that as a sign and decided to shoot for a five hour finish.  This would also be my first experiment with my coach's prescribed nutrition program.  As the race approached I definitely had mixed feelings.  It is a great race and a very forgiving course, but it would be cold, and Tim and I would have to leave bright and early to get there, which would require a 4am wake up call.  It was also hard to get fired up about a race that I've finished twice.  Putting all negativity aside and focusing on the positive, Tim and I ventured to Winston Salem early Saturday morning.  Besides, I had to run for 5 hours anyway.  Might as well be at a pretty cool race, right?

The race has grown exponentially since we first ran it in 2010.  There are now 25K and relay options which brought out a lot of runners.  While this completely changed the feel of the race, it was great to see lots of people who had never thought of running an ultra be exposed to one.  As I have come to expect with ultra runners and trail races, the runners were friendly and supportive and the volunteers were amazing.

The race started at 8am with a temperature somewhere in the low 30s.  Tim and I sat in his car until about 10 minutes before the start and debated what to wear.  I opted for long running pants, a compression shirt, a thin fleece pull over, fleece gloves and a skull cap.  It was a good choice for the first hour of the run.  By the second hour I was intermittently too hot and too cold.  I ended up dropping the gloves half way through.

We started out conservatively, with a 9:15-9:30 pace and felt comfortable and relaxed.  We cruised along, chatting about everything and enjoying the scenery.  Then somewhere between miles 6 and 7, while running in the middle of a fair number of other runners, a tiny rock jumped up and grabbed my right foot, sending me hurtling toward the ground at what I'm convinced was at least three times the speed of sound.  My left knee hit first, taking the brunt of the impact, slamming into the asphalt greenway and bouncing me forward toward my face.  I had just enough time to tuck my head and roll.  This resulted in a brief, absurd, and somewhat impressive display of acrobatics.  I caught a flash of one of my legs flying through the air with the sky bright blue behind it.  Surreal.  When I came to a stop I jumped up and kept running as quickly as I could.  I chose not to look around but heard several gasps as I went down and a few people asking if I was ok. My knee hurt like hell, and I was embarrassed and pissed off.  Once the adrenaline wore off I realized that I had hurt myself.  I walked for a minute or two to assess the damage.  Only a couple of small scrapes but there was some swelling and discoloration around the knee cap.  I decided it would loosen up with time and kept on keeping on.

By the time I got back to the start finish at the end of the first lap, I wasn't sure I was going to head out for a second lap.  I felt fine from an energy point of view, but I was in a lot of pain and started to worry about doing damage.  I voiced this concern to Tim who was appropriately supportive and encouraging.  I had just about convinced myself to quit when the trail leveled out, allowing me to run more comfortably.  Then the turn around appeared too soon.  I wasn't ready to stop running yet.  I knew I had more in me and decided I would turn around and head back out and just quit and head back if it got too bad.  Rationalization firmly in place, I turned around and headed out for the second lap.

Tim and I continued to run together, but I could tell he felt better than I did, as I had to push to keep the pace we had been running and that he was comfortable with. Around mile 21 Tim started to pull away from me.  He wasn't speeding up, but I was slowing down.  I didn't push it and let him go.  By this time I had figured out that I could run on the flats and small hills without too much discomfort in my knee but had to walk up and down any significant hills.  On the way back after the final turn around I caught up with Ryan, whom I had met at this race last year.  Since that time I've seen him at a few races and had the opportunity to run with him during a long training run at Umstead.  He is training for his second attempt at the Umstead 100 this year.  We began to run together and pushed each other to run more often and faster than either of us would have on our own.  We ended up crossing the line in 5 hours and 22 seconds (at least according to my watch.)  I am very grateful to Ryan for the company and motivation for those last, difficult miles.

Aftermath:  Tim had a great race, finishing in 4:48, almost 10 minutes faster than his previous finish. I wouldn't have been able to keep up with him, even without the fall.  The nutrition plan worked well.  I was able to take in two gels and 20 oz of Perpetuem (totaling 300 calories), and two salt tabs every hour.  This was quite a change from my traditional approach, which usually involves having no plan at all and running until I'm hungry and then eating a bunch of crap until I bonk.  My coach's plan required a lot more effort but worked well.

My knee is swollen and has a lovely purple shade covering the entire knee cap.  Nothing seems to be broken, but it hurts like the dickens when I go up or down stairs.  I was scheduled to run for two hours the day after Frosty Fifty but had to forgo it to let the swelling go down. I should be back in the swing of things in a couple of days.  The good news is that I set a PR for the race and am not sore at all, except for the knee.

Next race will be the Myrtle Beach Marathon in February.  I'll be doing my best to keep up with Wendy as she blisters the course.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Embracing the cliche

This time of year the internet is overflowing with year in reviews, looks back and other self indulgent retrospectives.  Not being one to buck the trend, here is my look back at 2012 and a few things on the horizon for 2013.

January -   Ran Frosty Fifty in Winston Salem with Tim and Rob.  Started too fast. Tried new nutrition. Got sick. Got slow.  Puked.  Bonked.  Lesson learned.

February - Couldn't get into the Mount Mitchell Challenge so I ran the marathon.  It was cold, I had fun and ran slow.  No puking so we'll call that an improvement.

March - Ran the Umstead Trail Marathon with Tim and Wendy.  I had an amazing time running with Wendy and pushing myself to keep up with her 10th place overall female finish and setting a course PR for myself in the process.  One of my all time favorite races.

March - "Ran" the Bel Monte 50 Mile Endurance Run.  Rained the entire time.  Wanted to quit a lot.  Kept going.  Learned a lot about myself.  Finished by myself in the dark, cold and rain.  Hated it.  Loved it.  Will do it again.  (I'm a moron.)

April - Volunteered at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run.  The kids and I worked an aid station for several hours.  They loved the atmosphere and worked hard the entire time.  I was thrilled that they didn't want to leave.  Paced a lap for Jen and then a lap for Amy.  Stayed up all night.  Had a ball.

June - Started sleeping in a tent inside the house.  Yes, I'm sure that's normal behavior.  Shut up.

July - Ran the Grandfather Mountain Marathon.  One word, humid.  Drove the course the day before and freaked myself out.  Ran conservatively and surprised myself with an amazing day.  Finished in 4:03 and felt amazing.  Convinced myself I was ready for Leadville.  (I wasn't.)

August - Piled the family into the Family Truckster and drove to Leadville, Colorado.  Wife and kids crewed.  I ran.  I walked.  I gasped.  I puked.  I walked some more.  I ran a little.  I missed the cut off at Winfield.  I cried.  I cussed.  I reflected.  I focused on the positive and decided to go back.  Hired a coach and started getting serious for Leadville 2013.

September - Ran a lot.  Searched for my motivation.

October- Ran the Medoc Trail Marathon with Tim.  Had a great race and began to get my mojo back after Leadville.

November - Went to Panama City Beach, FL. to support Wendy while she kicked ass at Ironman Florida.

November - Ran the Richmond Marathon with Tim.  Low expectations.  Negative split.  New PR.  Color me surprised.

November - Paced my neighbor Rob for several hours at the Crooked Road 24 Hour Run in VA.

November - Ran a local 5K with my wife, 6 year old daughter and 8 year old son.  They loved it.  Very proud.

December- Ran a lot.  Finished up the year by running 830 miles between September 1 - Dec. 31.  Became addicted to  You should check it out.

January 1, 2013- Registered for the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 Run.

Lots more running planned for 2013.  Thanks to everyone who checked out this blog during the last year.  Please keep checking back and let me know your thoughts and comments.