Friday, February 27, 2009

Audio Motivation

Whether the reason is injury or bad weather, being stuck indoors for workouts is never preferable. In a perfect world we'd all live in a temperate running climate with mountains, soft trails, and pleasant breezes right outside our door every day. Sadly, very few of us live in this running utopia (we're angrily shaking our jealous fists at you, California Bay Area!), and an inevitable forced death march on the treadmill or elliptical is bound to occur more often than any of us would like. Since there's no way around it, I'm wondering what my fellow runners do to break up the monotony and keep the energy level up when stuck on an indoor machine. Of course I'm asking this right now since I face a couple more weeks of rehab on the elliptical, and my current level of motivation/desire to keep coming back ranks just below participating in a Tin Foil Chewing Contest. I need some help!

Obviously movies and music are the best medicine for my ellipti-phobia, and since I have the semi-odd habit of running/elliptical-ing with my eyes 99% closed on long workouts, I usually opt for musical entertainment. (This is probably a topic for another post, but seriously, does anyone else run with their eyes closed? or am I just the laziest guy in the world? Obviously I pay attention if I'm on a new route or near other runners/bikers/traffic, but on my usual/familiar long-run courses, I usually slip into a running coma about an hour into the run and my eyes just start to close - The right one shuts completely, and the left one stays open just enough to see the rough shape/direction of the footing ahead of me. If I'm stuck on a treadmill, the eyes shut immediately since I know there won't be any rocks or turns to worry about. Now that I've actually typed all this out, it seems even weirder to me....let's just get back to the point of this post and forget about all about the eye thing.)

So...back to the topic of music. Since I'm stuck indoors for rehab right now, I'm looking for some new suggestions/recommendations for bands/songs that people like to listen to while running (also, good "driving" songs tend to work just as well for me when I run). I like just about every type of music, so feel free to send along some of your favorites without fear of me judging you and your love of Swedish Dance Pop. We all have an 'Ace of Base' or 'ABBA' cassette kicking around in our basement worries.

To prove I will shame no one's musical taste, I've set my ipod running playlist to 'shuffle', and here are the first 10 songs to come up (with a couple links for songs you may not be able to find on iTunes if you're interested):

1) Iron Maiden - 'Two Minutes to Midnight'
2) Lily Allen - 'LDN'
3) Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - 'Daniel Lee'
4) Rancid - 'Lock, Step, Gone'
5) Fatboy Slim - 'Going Out of My Head'
6) Huey Lewis & The News - 'Power of Love'
7) That Dog - 'Never Say Never'
8) Mighty Mighty Bosstones - 'Hope I Never Lose My Wallet'
9) Diesel Doug & the Long Haul Truckers - If I'd Shot Her When I Met Her (I`d Be Outta Jail By Now)
10) Sev - 'Same Old Song'

So there's a random sampling from me, how about you? Any songs to toss my way and help me break the boredom of rehab? I thank you mightily in advance!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Iron Horse 100 - Volunteer Report

I'm back from what was both a rewarding and inspirational weekend in Florida at the Iron Horse 100. Here's the report!

I awoke on race morning wanting to make 100% sure I gave myself every chance to actually run the race if my injury allowed. I took the time to go through my usual pre-race routine starting at 5:00 a.m. - I prepped my body and mind as though I was going to run 100 miles, and when the Starter's gun went off, I was right there in the middle of the crowd running my planned 9 min/mile pace. I had spent the preceding 48 hours resting my injured leg as much as possible, and as I cruised through the first mile pain-free, I smiled as I enjoyed the familiar and comforting rhythm of my stride for the first time in two weeks. The sunrise was tinting the early morning sky a brilliant pink, and feeling the dirt and rocks under my feet made every step feel like I was shaking hands with old friends. I couldn't have been happier - All was perfect in my running world.

At that point I let my mind run away with crazy thoughts: Maybe I'd actually be able to run a 25 mile loop? Maybe 50? Shoot, if I just ran 1 pain-free mile, certainly 100 is possible too, right? I imagined myself in the final moments the 100 miler, fighting off fatigue as I crossed the finish line with a 15 hour time and a celebratory fist pump. Oh what a magical day this could be...

...then, about 3 steps later, my shin pain came back and I knew I was done. Crap! A bucket of water to the face on this cold 31 degree morning couldn't have snapped me back into reality any quicker. I am indeed an injured runner, and only rest and rehab (not wishful thinking) will get me back running free...

...*sigh*...being human sucks.

After I felt the pain return, I just finished the first 3.5 mile loop that brought me back to the Start/Finish aid station. I told them I was dropping and would love to stay and volunteer. Sure, I was disappointed that I had to stop, but the remainder of the day would more than make up for my personal disappointments. Simply put, I really really really REALLY liked working at the main aid station - especially in a race like this when runners passed through multiple times over the course of the day. It was like the best Reality TV show ever: I got to see all of the individual dramas unfold as the hours clicked by. So many triumphs, struggles, and moments of pure inspiration unfold during an ultra, and to be there to play a roll in helping people fight so hard to achieve their goals is so rewarding.

There are WAY too many highlights to mention, but here are a few:

- Super fast Bob Adams was there to run the 100k version of the race as his first ultra. He's a 2:35 marathoner, and as he took the lead early on, I spoke with his parents to find out more about him. I made sure to run ahead to get his water bottle from him and refill it so he didn't need to stop at our aid station each time he passed. Sure, it hurt my leg to do this, but the excitement of the moment easily numbed the pain. He was clicking off the miles all morning, and as he crossed the 50 mile mark in 6:04, he was only 6 minutes behind the qualifying time for the National 100k Team. I gave him this update hoping it would help him fight off fatigue a bit, but even though he wasn't able to reach that qualifying mark, he crossed the finish line with a stellar 7:40s time. For someone who had never raced longer than 26.2 miles, that's pretty darn good for 62!

- At the pre-race meeting the night before, I met a great guy named Keith from Florida. He was running his first 100k as well, and when he pulled in next to me on race morning in his 350Z (I love that car) and we chatted again, I knew I had my favorite runner to root for all day long. As it turned out, he ran a fantastic race. When I saw him at mile 50 he had a fired up look in his eye and was still light on his feet - he knew he was going to make it and was clearly enjoying the moment. Twelve miles later, just before sunset, I saw him emerge from the woods striding toward the finish line. He had about 10 family/friends there to give him a great ovation as he came down the home stretch. Since the race director was checking on the other aid stations at that point, I had the great pleasure of awarding Keith his 100k Finisher's belt buckle. I've never been so certain that I need to direct a race myself at some point - It feels SO GOOD to give an exhausted and elated finisher their finisher's award!

- Watching the number of couples/pairs who run these long races together (and I mean stride for stride the whole way!) is amazing. After seeing their names in seemingly every 100 mile race results list, I was able to watch the tandem of Anita and Jay Finkle hammer out yet another 100 miler together. Jay was even in an arm cast from his elbow to his hand, but that didn't slow them down one bit! In addition to the Finkles, there was a pair of 20 year-old twins from Texas who ran, and another 2 or 3 couples who came to suffer with each other on the course. It was so great to see that kind of teamwork!

- Race Director Chris Rodatz put on a very well organized race. As a 30 year man in the Marines, he clearly had his logistical plans well in place. Heck, he even had an old military Jeep (complete with the old gun-mount on the hood!) that he used for driving up and down the course as needed. He had a great staff of volunteers (friends, family, ROTC guys) to make sure everything went smoothly. It was an honor to join them to help make the race a success for everyone involved. This race has now been run 3 years in a row as a 100 miler with a 100k, 50m, and 50k option. Chris allows anyone who can't continue to stop at any of those distances and receive credit for their efforts. About 85 runners started the race, and as long as this new course doesn't have the same size-limits as the old one (75 runners), I can see this race easily growing to 150 runners in the next couple years. I recommend this race for anyone looking to run their first ultra, the loop course and distance options make it perfect for reaching new distance goals.

As for anyone considering this race as THE ONE on which to set your 100 mile PR, I'm not so sure it's definitely the fastest option out there. Sure, it is flat and fast, but there are enough sections of lose rocks along the way that will chop up your stride and force you to slow a bit. When the railroad shut down and they pulled up the rails and wooden ties, they left behind most of those baseball-sized rocks that you usually see surrounding railroad tracks. Over the years many of the rocks have been covered by dirt/grass, but even on the short 3.5 mile section I ran, I quickly realized I needed to focus on my foot placement just about the entire time. Judging by the number of runners finishing with bruised toenails, I'm guessing anyone running this race should expect to kick more than a couple rocks along the way (especially at night when your feet get heavy). A light trail shoe with a rubber toe is highly recommended. Gaiters too...lots of loose debris will fill your shoes otherwise.

The other obstacle(s) that will slow you down just a bit are the old trestles you'll need to cross (think 'Stand By Me' train bridge scene). These haven't been maintained in many years, and the wood (or what once passed for wood) is in rough shape. The Race Director put plywood over the longest (350-foot) trestle, and his wise advice was for everyone to walk over it to be safe...with no trains bearing down on you from behind, his advice should definitely be followed. Between the trestles and the rocks, I'd say this course is about 1 hour slower than what someone could run on an optimal flat/smooth surface...with Rocky Raccoon now on a rootier (not a word, I know) and slower trail itself, I'm guessing the Iron Horse is about even with it in terms of speed potential.

As for my running plans, I am encouraged that I healed up enough to walk without any pain at the end of last week, but seeing as the pain returned after just a mile of running in the race, I'm no longer going to try and rush this healing process. For the next couple weeks I'll be doing only non-impact rehab, and my plan will be to slowly build back up to run Bull Run as a training run. Once I get through that, I'll finally ratchet up my training again for my focus 100 miler of the year - the Mohican Trail 100 in June. I'm already excited to get out there and tear up that course, but I also know the road of rehab before that will be a long and frustrating one. I'll just keep telling myself it's all part of the mental training, right? Hopefully I can learn to watch movies on the elliptical machine without getting dizzy and losing my balance (haven't quite figured that out yet), because I'm going to be logging some serious time on that thing for next month or so...

If anyone has any good movie suggestions to help pass the time, fire away!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Iron Horse Pre-Race Report

Just checking in from sunny Florida with a quick pre-race report (yes, I'm currently bored out of my mind while sitting in my hotel room helping my leg heal). My drive down from DC yesterday was mostly uneventful, however I do have one observation to report: Apparently the entire state of New Jersey vacations in Florida in the winter, and from what I saw, they're all in a HUGE hurry to get down here. Even with the generous 70 MPH speed limit most of the way, their pedal-to-the-metal speed made the rest of us look like we were shuffling through the last stretch of a 100 miler out there. I stopped counting after the 10th car with NJ plates blew by me, but there were easily 3x that many by the end. At one point I wondered if the state was being attacked by Godzilla or something and everyone was just trying to drive to safety...but I digress...

This morning I made the 1 hour drive south from the race hotel to check out the actual course. The Race Director said the "lack of suitable hotels" near the race course justifies the need for such a distance between the hotel and course, and now that I've made the drive myself, I can back him up completely. Let's just say much of the countryside near the course is so desolate it makes you want to lock the doors and speed through there faster than you can say "shallow grave". Producers for the next Friday the 13th film need look no further for a prime filming location.

Once I arrived at the course itself, I found it to be just is as advertised - a flat and "unimproved" former railroad track. From the sections I explored, it looks like mostly a short grass/dirt surface with sections of gravel and deeper/rutted dirt (a result of some new access roads that cut across the trail and lead to new housing/development areas). The overall course definitely warrants a light trail shoe, as there is enough dirt/grass out there to make a road shoe fill with debris relatively quickly.

As for the latest update on my shin injury - After sitting on my butt for the 10 hour drive yesterday, and another day off my feet today, things are definitely clearing up. I'm now planning to at least start the race tomorrow...I have no false illusions that I'll be able to run any real distance, but a nice 20 minute rehab run on this soft surface might be a nice way to start my recovery. Once I finish my run, I'll help man the main aid station for the rest of the day/night. I'll definitely appreciate a couple miles of running to warm my body before volunteering since the forecast is for 31 chilly degrees at the 6:30am start. It will warm to the mid-60s by the afternoon, and then only dip back down to the 40s over Saturday night - All in all, not a bad day for running!

I'll report back after the race with my full report...Adios!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doing the Smart Thing

Here's the latest:

I'm heading south tomorrow morning for the Iron Horse 100, but most likely I won't be running in the race. That said, the last two days of applying Weapons-Grade analgesics to my shin have actually brought about a tiny bit of improvement. Sure, that "improvement" is the difference between walking 100 feet without pain and walking 200 feet without pain, but it is something. I'm encouraged that if I continue to rest and treat the leg, I'll be back running full steam sooner than later.

Since I'm 99% sure I won't be able to run a step in the race, I'm happy to head down and volunteer at an aid station for the day. I don't think there is a single ultra runner out there who will argue that the words/actions of volunteers during your race can make a big difference in helping you to a successful finish. Having been helped many times by many volunteers in my short ultra career, I think I owe it to the sport to make the drive down to Florida and give a little help to my fellow runners this weekend.

I'll report back with some kind of race report and photos when I get back home. I'm bummed out that I won't be writing 10,000 words about my own race, but I'm excited to see how things are seen from the other side of the water coolers.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Injury Frustration - Need Help!!

For some reason, I've completely lost the ability to heal myself over the past week. My lingering shin injury hasn't gotten any better over the past 7 days. I've tried everything from Arnica to Zulu witch doctor chanting, and nothing seems to help. I still can't walk more than a 100 feet or so before the pain flairs up again. Obviously running 100 miles in this condition is impossible, but I'm holding out hope that someone out there has a remedy for shin splints or other such stress injuries that will help me. I will try anything over the next 4 days if it will let me at least start the Iron Horse. Obviously I'm not going to go down there and do some serious damage to myself, but I do want to at least try to run as many pain-free miles as possible....if possible.

Advice? Remedies? Anyone?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Iron Horse Testing Grounds

With just a week to go before the Iron Horse 100, I thought I'd take a moment to let everyone out there know my many reasons for running this race:

First off, let me dispel any thoughts that I'm only running this small race (capped at 75) to try and get an "easy" win in a 100 mile race. This is simply not true - I am not running this race to "win" - I don't run races for pride or glory, and picking a small race like this wouldn't be a way for me to gain either anyway. The reason I'm running this race is for research and testing purposes that will hopefully help me reach higher levels of success in my "focus" races later in the year. The only Pride and Glory I'm after will be found after I both qualify for the US 24 Hour Team and then work harder than ever with my teammates to represent the country on an international stage. After my bitterly disappointing run at UltraCentric last fall, I knew I needed to hit the drawing board and find ways to both improve my training and racing plans in order to perform at a higher level. Here are a few of the things I'll be working on while running the Iron Horse 100 next weekend:

1) First and foremost, I need to learn to start out at a slower pace in 100+ mile races. My goal for this race is to hold 9 minute miles for as long as possible. Previously I've gone out at 7:30 or 8 minute pace, and while that brings me through 50 miles at a quick and flashy time on paper, the reality is my inevitable crash is just around the corner when going out that fast. I may "survive" the next 50 miles and finish with a 16+hour time in a 100 miler, but in order to have enough gas left in the tank to continue on for a 24 Hour race, I need to find a way to more smoothly crash and burn. I think learning to run 9 minute pace right from the start is a great place to start. Iron Horse's flat surface is the perfect terrain for holding a constant pace while not worrying about climbing over any mountains or through any rivers.

2) The more I run, the more I realize how important it is to find the best gear possible to wear in 100+ milers. I've learned that something that may work for 50 miles might not be the best for 100. I love my fuel belt, for example, but there comes a point in my 100+ mile runs that I just need to take the thing off and give my stomach/back a break from it. Occasionally it's the weight of two full bottles late in a race that bothers me...and sometimes it's a random point of contact on my back or side that begins to painfully chafe. Whatever the problem is, I've decided I needed to come up with an alternative piece of gear to wear when just a hand-bottle isn't enough. Enter the Nathan 2.0 HPL vest. With a 2 liter bladder on the back and enough storage pockets on the front for my gels, S-Caps, etc, I'm excited to test out this new (to me) hydration system at Iron Horse to see how it holds up. Even if I don't find it to be perfect for 100 miles, I hope it to be a nice break from my waist belt when I need one in the future.

3) At this point in my running career, I know the type of shoes I like to wear in training/racing on the roads and on rocky n' rough terrain. The missing link in my closet arsenal of footwear is what to wear when racing a course that requires a light trail shoe. Since I have 3+ races scheduled this year on such terrain, I'm testing out a great new shoe at Iron Horse that I hope will become my go-to trail race shoe this year. The new Vasque Aether Tech SS is nothing like any shoe I've worn before. First off, it has the Boa Lacing system (just a knob you twist to tighten the wire laces), which is nicely adjustable in how/where you loop it along the top of the shoe. Next, it has a completely soft fabric material on most of the upper (everything in red you see on the shoe is non-reinforced super light fabric) that both makes the shoe impermeable to trail debris/dirt, and also has the beneficial effect of making the shoe super light (less than 10 oz. for my size 11.5s). The treads on the bottom are perfectly "light trail shoe" appropriate, and I look forward to wearing them in at Iron Horse to see if they're 100 mile appropriate as well. If they pass the test, I'll surely be wearing them in the Bull Run 50, Mohican Trail 100, and my "TBA" 100 miler on trails in the fall.

4) In terms of nutrition, I've definitely worked out the kinks and determined what works for me during a race (gels, perpetuem, S-Caps), but with the new GU Roctane gel claiming all sorts of magical and wonderful benefits over regular gels, I'm bringing a box with me down to Florida to see how they perform over 100 miles. As I mentioned in my last post, the "Orange-Vanilla" flavor might as well be re-named "Rusty Car Undercarriage" flavor, but whatever, I'm not after taste, I'm after performance. Hopefully I find some positive benefits out there that make it worth the gag-reflex work-out these things give me.

5) Finally, this will be my first 100 miler (or race of any distance, for that matter) wearing compression socks. I'll still have my Max-Protection Drymax on my feet, but from ankle to knee I'll have my compression socks shining brightly. I'm already sold on the benefits of these things after a few weeks of training, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they help out in a race of a much longer distance. Picking up a new nickname to add to the already popular "Mr. Kneesocks" will be nice as well. Here's hoping the kids of Florida are kind.

With all the new plans and gear to test out in this race, I must say I'm just as curious about how everything will go as I am excited to get back out there and race again. Since I've dealt with some nagging injuries lately (including a shin issue that won't seem to go away this week), I won't bother to guess at what my finishing time will be. Mostly I just want to be able to get in some quality 9 minute miles with my new gear and avoid any injury issues that can throw a wrench into my plans for later this year. I'm hoping the shin issue clears up in the next week (I've been on the elliptical for the past 4 days, but not much progress has been made in the healing department). With 7 more full days of non-running, I'm hoping things clear up. The soft surface of the Iron Horse trail should be kind to an impact injury like this...I have my fingers crossed!

I'll post again before I head down to FL for the race next week. Since this will be a solo trip without a crew or pacer, I'll be sure to work on my ipod playlists between now and then. With only 75 people stretched out on the course, I'm guessing there won't be much human interaction during this race for me. Maybe I'll just have to chat up a few alligators as I run by them...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pros and Cons of The Week

Rather than write a coherent post this week, how about a list of random pros and cons from this past week of running?

PRO - A nice 80 mile week is in the books, and I'm ready to taper for Iron Horse. I won't be in top shape for the race, but I feel confident enough where I am right now that I should be able to clock a sub-17 hour race.

CON - I turned 32 this week. How'd that happen? Regardless of how relentless the progression of my numerical age may seem, I'm grateful for my health and fitness keeping me feeling young these I guess this birthday counts as a PRO too!

PRO - I received a bit of lottery luck and got into the Bull Run 50 mile race (running as my great(x3) grandfather 'Tom Griffin'). I'm greatly looking forward to that 'battle' on April 18 in the hills of northern Virginia.

PRO - I had another great week of running in my new compression socks....

CON - ...I picked up a new "nickname" while running yesterday as a bunch of teenagers on the side of the Mt. Vernon Trail called me "Mr. Kneesocks" as I passed them. ...and I don't think they meant that as a term of endearment. Kids these days...

PRO - It was about 60 degrees out here in DC each of the last two days...after a couple windy sub-20 degree runs earlier in the week, I tip my cap to Mother Nature in thanks for this weekend.

PRO - My insanely talented running friend Jamie Donaldson won her first race of 2009 this weekend by taking the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler down in Texas. While it's pretty obvious she has a tremendous amount of talent, what makes me admire her most is her incredibly dedicated work-ethic and training regimen. ...and on top of that, she's about the nicest person you could ever meet. Congrats on another win, Jamie!

CON - I picked up some of the new GU 'Rocktane' gel this week. With a bunch of added Amino Acids and some caffeine, they claim this to be a best ultra endurance gel out there. ...and at twice the price of other gels, I hoped it would deliver on its promise. Since I didn't run anything longer than a couple 3 hour runs this weekend, I can't speak on Rocktane's benefits in longer runs just yet (I will be using it in Iron Horse, so I'll be sure to report back then), but I can definitely say one thing for sure: The Orange-Vanilla flavor tastes positively horrible. Now, I'm one who can and will eat anything no matter how bad it tastes if I know it has positive health benefits, but as a warning to anyone out there who may not be as committed to such practices - Unless you like drinking used motor oil, stay away from the 'Orange-Vanilla' flavor. As of now they do make Rocktane in 'Blueberry Pomegranate' flavor as well, so perhaps that's the one worth testing out if you're hoping for something a little more palatable.

That's all for now, here's hoping the warm weather sticks around for a few more days for everyone out there!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Great news on the injury front: This week I was able to rack up some quality pain-free miles for the first time since hurting my knee. After yesterday's run, my total for the week was a solid 101.8 miles. Obviously I'm happy that I was able to log at least one honest week of training before Iron Horse 100, but the most positive result is that I'm definitely 100% injury-free again.

I had a few moments of pure bliss while running this weekend and realizing (for the first time in almost a month) my pain receptors weren't firing back angry messages to my brain with every stride. Running with an injury is like swinging a weighted bat while warming up in baseball - once you drop the weight/injury, your swing/stride seems so light and easy. ...and when you mix in the 50 degree day we had yesterday in DC, well, it felt like I could just run all day long. Sure, I still won't be in top shape for Iron Horse, but just knowing I'll be able to glide along for a few miles and enjoy the warmer weather sounds pretty good to me!

In other news this week, I was able to get out and run a few days with a new (to me) product I've been interested in tying for quite some time. Over the past few months I've researched everything I could find about compression socks, and I found enough positive reports to give them a try myself. Of course, I want to be clear that I'm still wearing Drymax on my feet (they ARE the best socks ever) - The compression socks are just an additional piece of gear that I wear on my lower leg (think soccer shin guard).

The claims of compression sock makers is that their product promotes more efficient circulation of blood in the calf area, and therefore helps to deliver oxygenated blood to the muscles more efficiently, thereby reducing the rate of fatigue and encouraging muscle repair. They also claim the snug fit of these socks keeps the muscles in place and reduces any unnecessary energy-wasted movement. Whether any of this is true or just a bunch of bunk remains to be seen. I'll be (obviously) happy with any of the above proving to be true in the long run, but the main reason I'm trying these socks is for an entirely different benefit. Last year during my Run 192 (and on more than a few long training runs on hot asphalt), the heat-reflection from the street onto my calves was brutal. I figure a white sock cover from my ankle to my knee will help shield me from some of that reflected UV-pain on hot and sunny asphalt runs this year. We'll see how they hold up when the heat comes back in a couple months. In the mean time, I'm happy to report the socks have felt great thus far, and I'm looking forward to wearing them in the Iron Horse as their first 100 mile test - just 3 weeks away!