Monday, March 31, 2008

My Honorary Pacer for Umstead

During the second half of most 100 mile races, runners are allowed to have a pacer jump in and run the remaining miles with them. Usually pacers are allowed to join a competitor somewhere around mile 70 or after the sun sets. Most runners rely heavily on having a pacer to guide them through the hardest miles as their companionship helps pass the time and distract them from the pain. From a weary runner's stand-point, it also helps to have a fresh set of eyes stay on the look-out for course markings/turns, etc. In many cases the pacer is like a Designated Driver for the drunk-like runner who needs a little encouragement and direction in order to shuffle on home to the finish line.

While I know having a pacer helps immeasurably in the last part of a 100 miler, I personally see it as cheating myself of the complete challenge of running a 100 miler on my own - It's simply not for me. For the Vermont 100 last summer, I picked up my iPod when most runners picked up their pacers. This year, however, when I grab for my iPod at mile 72.5, I'll also be "picking up" a special guest pacer, Mr. Max Thomas.

Max is a 10th grade honors student up in Maine who is currently fighting one hell of a battle with a brain tumor. He and his family have made a couple trips to my friends at Dana Farber in Boston this past week, and I'm hopeful they can work some of their magic in planning out the next steps in his treatment. From what I hear he's pretty good skier, so I'll be thinking positive thoughts to help him get out of those claustrophobic MRI and PET scan machines and back to wide open slopes and fresh air of New England.

When I "pick up" Max as my honorary pacer, I'll make it a point to tell every runner I speak with during and after the race about his story. There's an unbelievable sense of camaraderie between runners on a 100 mile race course, and if I can motivate even one or two of my friends out there to contribute a little time/money to a cancer charity, then we've already made a difference. July's "Run 192" will be the big charity run for this year, but it's never too soon to start thinking about making an effort to help out kids like Max. After all, we could all use the help of a pacer in life every now and then, right?

You can follow along with Max's story on his journal here:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Week Training Log: 3/24 - 3/30 & Umstead Goals

With the last two weeks having gone by without a true long run, my legs are starting to feel completely charged up and ready to race. Aside from the rest, another reason they feel so good is the result of Elizabeth sending me off to the Capital City Spa for an hour-long massage on Friday. I'd never had a professional massage before, but now that have, I assure you many more will follow. The timing of this massage was perfect as my legs enjoyed being pampered after logging so many hard miles in training. For anyone looking to reward yourself and loosen up/relax before a big race, I highly recommend this method.

Week Training Log:
Monday - Off
Tuesday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Wednesday - 4.3 miles - Treadmill Death March
Thursday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Friday - Off - Massage
Saturday - 6 miles - Hains Point Mini-loop
Sunday - 6 miles - Hains Point Mini-loop
TOTAL - 33.3 miles

Occasionally a taper can make me feel a little uneasy since I feel like I'm slacking by cutting down the miles, but this time I have 100% faith in my resting period. For the past 3 months I've pushed my training to a level higher than ever before - not only have I run more miles, but I've also pushed the pace faster than before on all of my long runs. With all the hard work behind me, I feel I've completely prepared myself to kick some ass in Umstead.

That said, in my usual pre-race tradition, I'm posting my Three Goals for this race. For those of you unfamiliar with this method, the rules for selecting each of the goals break down like this:

Goal #3 = An attainable goal I feel comfortable in realistically attaining. If I miss out on the other two, at least I can be proud of accomplishing this one.

Goal #2 = A tough but not unreasonable goal that I've focused on during training. If I reach this goal, I go home completely happy and satisfied.

Goal #1 = This is the "Perfect Storm" goal. Not only does everything have to go perfectly for me, but I also need to surprise myself by making "the leap" during the race to achieve something beyond what I can reasonably expect.

For the race on Saturday, I'm declaring these to be my goals:

#3 - Set my PR time for 100 miles. This means I have to break 21:40. Unless I get mauled by a bear, this one is in the bag.

#2 - Break 18 hours. A TOUGH but possible goal. I've aimed all of my training for this one. I don't care if I cross the tape in 17:59:59, I'll be happy.

#1 - Break 17 hours and/or place in the Top 3. If the weather is horrible, time goals get thrown out the window, so I'm giving the alternative Top 3 finish as the #1 goal. If either one happens, I'll be smiling like the Cheshire Cat when I collapse at the finish.

It seems a little crazy for me to think I can finish that high considering there are at least 3 elite runners in this race (and who knows how many other great ones I simply don't recognize in the maxed out field of 250), but I do know I'm going push the needle on this one and see how fast I can get the ol' legs to kick. Let the pain begin!!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Umstead Updates & Runner's High

The Race Director for the Umstead 100 has released the final roster (w/ number assignments) for next weeks big race. Yours truly has drawn '206' for a number, which is notable because that is exactly how many bones in my body will be hurting by time I finish. For those of you unfamiliar w/ the human form and don't understand that reference, click here and read the first sentence.

I was also able to spot another super-star of the ultra world on the roster. Matt Kirk has come back after a couple years away from the race to set up what should be an amazing showdown with returning champ Serge Arbona. A look at the all-time standings for this race shows Serge has run the 2nd fastest time ever on this course, and Matt has run the 3rd (just a few minutes off Serge's pace). An interesting side note about this match-up of elite 100 milers is the age of the runners: Matt is 27, Serge is 43. One of the truly great aspects of the 100 mile world compared to shorter races is that age is not necessarily a bad thing. It takes a long time to figure out how to properly pace/fuel/train for races of this distance, and aside from a few young guns out there, most elite 100 milers don't peak until their late 30s and 40s. I guess that proves practice does make perfect in this sport...then again, maybe the reason for the success of these older runners is just a result of early-onset Alzheimer's which allows them to more easily forget the horrible pain they put themselves through every race. Either way, I find it quite nice to be considered "young" for my sport.

Speaking of the biological make-up of the body, my buddy C.H. sent me this N.Y. Times link about the mystery of "runners' high". It talks about the link of endorphins in the brain and the euphoric feeling some endurance athletes experience during/after races. Seeing that I head out on 4 to 5+ hour runs every week, I feel I'm experienced enough in this world to add my thoughts here.

I can certainly agree that the endorphins released during a long run help energize me for certain periods, but it's not the fact that I'm running per se that brings me to the level of a euphoric high. Most people agree that running 100 miles requires just as much work mentally as it does physically, and it is the mental aspect of running that I've found to control my endorphin releases more than anything else.

We all need to experience certain "triggers" out there to release endorphins as we run. Listening to music, running w/ others, and experiencing emotionally-charged thoughts are common triggers for most runners. For me, the triggers that work early in a race aren't necessarily those that will be useful for me later on. For example, the first two or three times I run past my crew at an aid station, the excitement of seeing them causes a major spike in my energy level that allows me to glide through the next couple of miles almost effortlessly. ...but after seeing them a few times, the experience is less novel and I no longer feel the same rush (of course it's still nice to see them!).

After 5 or 10 hours of running, I need to find new motivational sources to spike my endorphins. In the Vermont 100 last summer, I picked up my iPod at mile 77 for motivation. Being someone who never runs with music, the excitement of hearing my pre-selected "VT100" playlist helped re-energize my legs for a few miles at a time. When music or seeing friends/family aren't working and I find myself slipping into a runner's fog (the opposite of a high), I search my brain for memories or thoughts that will jump-start my legs again. For me, emotional thoughts of my cancer treatments and my friends who weren't as lucky as me generate tremendous waves of energy that I feed off of for miles and miles.

Maybe the reason so many 100 milers don't blossom until they hit middle-age is because on average younger folks simply haven't experienced as many major emotional events in their lives. Sure, some people have the natural talent to win a 100 mile race without needing to rely on the same type of emotions for energy, but I know there's no way I could run 100 miles (never mind 192!) without the past few years of experiences under my belt. ...and, of course, the iPod clipped ON my belt cranking out punk tunes helps too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Week Training Log: 3/17 - 3/23

Thankfully the black plague I had at the beginning of the week eventually subsided and allowed me to get back on my feet. I ended up with four nice runs, one of which was an easy and quick 20 miler - my last "long" run before Umstead. With the race now less than 2 weeks away, I won't run anything over my usual 8.5 mile loop in an effort to rest up. I'm already feeling the positive difference in my legs after missing those runs in the first part of this week. With a proper taper over the next two, I should be in peak form on April 5.

Speaking of race day, if anyone happens by a computer between 6am and Midnight that day (when I'll be on the course) and wants to see how I'm doing out there,, should have live updates every hour or so all day long. I'll double check on the details, but this race has a strong history of excellent time/split monitoring for all the runners, so I expect they'll be happy to show it off to any fans checking out their site during the race. I'll have an update w/ my post next week.

Week Log:
Monday - Sick
Tuesday - Sick
Wednesday - Sick
Thursday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop - Felt pretty good, considering...
Friday - 20 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail - Fast run, felt strong.
Saturday - 8.5 miles - Burke Pond Loop - Ran with brother-in-law around great trail in suburban Virginia
Sunday - 8.5 - Burke Pond Loop - The day before was so great, we had to do it again

Week Total: 45.5 miles

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Week Training Log: 3/10 - 3/16

I guess if there was a good week to catch a nasty stomach bug during training, this was it. ...and even though it meant missing my long-run this week, a lost 20 miler isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things. That's what tapers are for, right?

Interestingly enough, a couple decades back the practice of "carb depleting" was all the rage in distance running. Simply put, this theory claimed if you completely starve yourself of carbs (think Atkins) for a few days the week before a big run, your body will then increase it's capacity to absorb/store them in the days immediately following the starvation period. When timed properly in the days leading up to a marathon, lots of folks said the resulting increased glycogen stores helped them run faster races. True or not (much has been written on both sides), the theory is still out there and some folks still practice it.

All of this relates to me this week since I couldn't eat anything for the better part of two days, and my glycogen levels are probably where those of someone practicing this method would be. Of course, since I've also been depleted of every other nutrient, I'm in no shape to run for another day or two, but it will be interesting to see how I feel on my long run this weekend once I reload my carb stores (and everything else).

I've never been tempted to test this theory by choice, but given the circumstances, at least I can try and find some silver lining to this bout of the plague and see if I can't learn a little more about carb loading.

Week Log:
Monday - Off Day
Tuesday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Wednesday - 4.3 miles - Treadmill Death March
Thursday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Friday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Saturday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Sunday - Too sick to run (missed 20 miler)
TOTAL MILES: 38.3 Miles

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Umstead field is set!

The Race Directors for the Umstead 100 miler have posted the final roster for the April 5 race in North Carolina. While there are always a couple "unknowns" who come out of the pack and run like the stole something, I see two notable "elites" in the field - both returning champions from last year. I look forward to meeting them before the race and doing my best to steal some of their DNA....though I'll be honest, I still haven't entirely worked out the details on that plan yet.

On the men's side, ultra legend Serge Arbona will be back to defend his 2007 title on the Umstead course. He's actually won the race 3 times (in the process clocking 3 of the 6 all-time fastest times), and in 2002 he finished in a completely insane time of 14:42. If that's not enough to earn your respect, he also set the 24-hour treadmill world record (since broken by a couple miles)in 2004 by running 154 miles in one day on the good ol' hamster wheel. Crazy? Yes, but....actually I have nothing else to add. That really only qualifies as crazy.

For the ladies, defending champ and course record-holder Jamie Donaldson of Colorado will return to defend her 2007 title as well. Jamie is a member of the newly pared-down Montrail Racing Team, so you know she's the real deal. I look forward to running with her at some point over the 100 miles as I plan to run roughly the same pace she ran last year. Among her other achievements, she's a Badwater veteran who will be returning to run the notorious 135 mile race across Death Valley again this summer. I'll be sure to wish her the best of luck in that march across the desert.

Sure, there are still 3+ weeks to go before the race, but I'm already chomping at the bit to toe the line with these stars of the sport.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Week Training Log: 3/3 - 3/9

Peak training is officially in the books. Somehow I've made it through 1000+ miles since December without ANY injuries and without missing ANY scheduled workouts. This is about the luckiest streak I've ever had while training for a race. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find a huge piece of wood to knock on...

This weekend's 25-25-25 miler line-up kicked off a little differently than I had planned on Friday night. After work I ran into my friend Dr. Wade on the street. We had this conversation:

Me: "What are you guys doing tonight?"
Dr. W: "Heading to Old Town for some drinks, you want to come?"
Me: "Nah, I have to run 25 tonight"
Dr. W: (looking up toward the cold rain falling down as we spoke) "In this?"
Me: "Yeah, there's no way I could run 25 miles on a treadmill...."

...and with those last words, I knew I had sealed my fate for the evening. Basically, once I have a thought that I can't do something in the realm of running, my brain immediately makes it its sole mission to taunt and tease me until I get off my butt and accomplish whatever stupid goal I said I couldn't accomplish. Sadly for me on this particular Friday night, I cursed myself by saying I couldn't run 25 miles on a treadmill. So stupid, stupid. Once I realized I had no option but to spend my evening on the hamster wheel, I thought about it a little longer and realized it would actually be a great mental training exercise to suffer through 25 miles of boredom on the 'mill. So much of running a 100 miler is mental, and this would clearly.....ahhh who am I kidding: It sucked. Plain and simple. Let us never speak of it again.

The rest of the weekend went well (outside, thankfully), and my second consecutive 96+ mile peak week is now in the rear view mirror. Last night I realized that adding the miles from these two weeks together makes 192 in total. That has to be a good sign, right?

Week Training Log:
Monday - Off Day
Tuesday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Wednesday - 4.3 miles - Treadmill Death March
Thursday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Friday - 25 miles - Treadmill Run (do not try this at home)
Saturday - 25 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail
Sunday - 25 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail
WEEK TOTAL - 96.3 miles

Let the Taper begin!!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Week Training Log: 2/25 - 3/2

Simply put, this was an extremely encouraging week of training. The highlight, of course, being the hat trick of 25 milers to end the week. All three were run at mid-7 pace, and the middle run on Saturday was basically covered during a hurricane. How bad was the wind along the Potomac that morning? While running toward a family of tourists, I saw the little girl (about 8 or 9 years old) blown clear across the sidewalk into a parked car. Seriously. Lucky me got to run directly into that gentle breeze for 12.5 miles. Of course once I hit the turn-around point, all I needed to do was pick up my feet and the wind basically carried me home (which was great because I was spent after fighting it in the first half). Sunday was much better weather-wise and I enjoyed a smile as I crossed the finish line of my 75 mile weekend with a final mile split of 5:45. I guess my legs held up pretty well over this 96 mile week.

Week Log:
Monday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Tuesday - Off Day
Wednesday - 4.3 Treadmill Death March
Thursday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Friday - 25 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail
Saturday - 25 miles - C&O Canal Trail
Sunday - 25 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail
WEEK TOTAL - 96.3 miles