Monday, September 28, 2009

NorthCoast 24 - Giddy Up!

There's nothing like race week. It seems no matter the shape I'm actually in, my mind takes over in the days before a big race and convinces me that I'm 100% ready to not only rock the race, but possibly set world records and get millions of dollars of non-existent prize money as well. I guess that's called positive thinking, I don't know...but it beats being nervous or doubtful in your abilities before a race, right? That said, I'll cut through my delusional thoughts to spell out the reality of this weekend's big race.

So here we are, just a few days before the NorthCoast 24 Hour run that serves as the National Championship this year. I couldn't possibly be happier that, even though I'm not in top shape, I will be starting a race 100% HEALTHY for the first time since last November. Even if I put up some less-than-stellar results, I'll be more than happy to just get the experience of another 24 Hour run under my belt. I'll also be encouraged, no matter the final distance covered, by the fact that I know I can get into much better shape (and therefore cover more miles) in my next attempt no matter what. Sure, I'd like to knock out the 135+ in this race, but it won't be the end of the world if I don't.

I should have a few things working in my favor for this second attempt at the 24 Hour event, even if my overall shape isn't as good as last year's debut. First off, the course won't have insane hills, which is nice. Second, while I do expect some pretty good wind to be coming off Lake Erie (and possibly precipitation), there's no way the weather gets as bad as UltraCentric in Texas last year (crazy wind during the day, sub freezing at night). ...and the last (and most important) change from last year will be my pacing plan. Simply put, I learned to run slowly this year. The injury/rehab I went through surely helped me develop that skill, and my 3 races last month proved to me that such a pace pays off in the long run (quite literally). Last year I wanted to stay in the top 3 right from the start, but this year I will literally be ecstatic if I'm in 10th place (or 20th!) after 50 miles. If that's the case it will mean I'm sticking to my plan. Patience will be the theme of the day for me, and my move will be made late.

As for the field, it is super-stacked: I'm pretty sure Akos Konya will win by knocking out 160 miles or so (although I believe he's the only runner in the field who is not a U.S. citizen, so he may not factor in the US Team selection). Current Team USA members Phil McCarthy, Bill Allen and Matt Chaffin will certainly be racking up the miles all day as well. Last year's National Champion Byron Lane will be back (and hopefully healed up from his fall at Viaduct), as will all-time stud John Geesler and the always insanely fast Serge Arbona (who very well might win the whole thing). Talk about some serious talent...and that's just the guys!

*This just in, Scott Jurek was just added to the roster as well. The stacked field just got even stackier. Looks like we have a new favorite to win!

**...and now David James has been added! I'm going to be dizzy watching these guys fly around me on the track!!

On the ladies' side, Connie Gardner will be going for the women's American Record of 145.28 miles, and considering she ran 145.26 miles two years ago at the National Championships, I'd say she's got some revenge on her mind! Team USA member Deb Horn and super fast Jill Perry will also be lining up looking to earn spots on the National Team for next May's World Championship in France as well.

Helping me try to keep up with those monsters of the sport all day will be my beautiful wife Elizabeth and brother in-law Jeff who is flying up from Texas to reprise his role as Best Crew Member Ever from last year. Even if my legs aren't in the best shape, my crew and pacing plan will help me wring the best possible result out of my body by 9 a.m. on Sunday. I'm ready to have some fun out there!!

A couple quick shouts-out here before I sign off: A big congrats to Nick Pedatella who finished 2nd overall in the Bear 100 miler out in Utah this past weekend. That followed up a 6th place finish at the Leadville 100 just last's great to see his year rebound so nicely after injury forced him to drop at Massanutten back in May. Way to go, Nick! Also, a hearty Good Luck to Adam Cassaday in this weekend's Grindstone 100 in VA. He'll have his hands full trying to keep pace with Karl Meltzer out there, but if anyone is going to give Karl a run for his money, it's Adam. Go get him, buddy!!

With that, I'm off to make my final preparations and head out for my trip. Elizabeth and I will actually be making a detour road-trip before the race to swing by Charlottesville, VA and catch the U2 show on Thursday night. From there we'll head up to Cleveland on Friday and meet up with Jeff that night. The big race kicks off at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and everyone can follow along w/ the live webcast here. It looks like it'll be updated every 30 mins or so, and they'll also have twitter and webcam updates all race as well. I'll call in after the race is over to add my 2 cents here on the blog as well.

OK, enough of the pre-race's time to pull out the wheel blocks, rev up the engines, and prepare for lift-off!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lazy Government Workers Unite!

One of the downsides of running after your school days are behind you is you're no longer able to race as part of a team. Sure, there are running clubs, etc, but in just about every race as an adult you're basically running for yourself. This past weekend I had a great opportunity to step back into the tremendously rewarding world of being part of a team, and I had a blast!

Two of my co-workers at the Library of Congress and I formed "Team" and entered an International distance Triathlon on Saturday on the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland. Since I'm a horrible swimmer and don't own a bike, I've always wanted to hook myself up with a couple friends talented in those areas and give this team relay thing a try. Thanks to Rob (our swimmer and previous IronMan Triathlon finisher) and Chris (lightning quick on the bike), I had my chance to compete as a teammate once again!
Triumphant Team at the Awards Ceremony

The weather for the day was beautiful, and Rob started us off in style by rocking the 1500m swim like a star. This guy is built perfectly to power through crowded open water swims. By time we took the timing chip off his ankle and strapped it on Chris, we had a couple minute lead over the next team heading into the 24 mile bike portion of the race.

After Chris took off, I had about an hour to try and warm up the ol' engine for my 6.2 mile run. It has been so long since I've run hard on asphalt, I wasn't sure how my body would respond (most specifically my shin). One thing was certain: I didn't want to run too hard and re-injure myself this close to the 24 Hour championships in two weeks. I told Rob my plan would be to run just fast enough to win, regardless of my time, and I certainly didn't want to let my team down.

After a couple miles of warm up and stretching, I was ready to get the party started on the rolling hills of the road course. I sized up the competition in the transition area, and one guy in particular looked to be a potential "problem"....mostly because he was wearing the full University of Maryland Track uniform (crap!). He was also built exactly how one would assume a distance specialist would look (double crap!!).

Just about right at his predicted time (which was fast!), Chris came bombing around the corner to the transition area. Just like Rob's swim, he nailed the bike leg, and after a quick swap of the timing chip to my ankle, I was off and running. I had no idea what kind of lead I had over the next team (which I assumed was Mr. Maryland's), so I just set off on a steady pace to get my lungs open and find my rhythm. I thought I was moving at a respectable pace, but when I crossed the first mile marker my watch read 7:14 (ack!! way too slow!!). My first thought was maybe the course was marked incorrectly, but then I thought "it can't be off by that much...I'm running way too slowly!". I quickly shifted gears and attacked the hills a little harder to get back to a respectable pace. Mile 2 passed by as a 5:40 split, so I felt a little better about things...especially since I was now feeling warmed up too.

As I made my way toward the mile 3 turn-around post, I was quite happy I would be able to get my first view of the competition behind me as I headed back into the oncoming chase pack. When I made the turn and didn't see anyone immediately on my heels, I saw it as a great opportunity to put the hammer down and stretch my lead. I figured I could break the will of the chasers if they thought I had an insurmountable lead at the 1/2 way point. I kept pushing hard until I saw the red of Maryland coming toward me. It helped that I was on a downhill while he was climbing as we passed; I'm sure I looked like I was running faster than reality. His stride looked great, but the look on his face when he saw me pretty much told me he knew the race was over. It's been a while since I've made any in-race psychological moves like that, but this one was definitely a success!

I did some quick math and realized I just needed to cruise it in with some 6s and I'd still win comfortably....and when the course surprisingly switched off the road for a mile-long trail section, I figured this was the trail gods doing me a favor....then I quickly realized why we don't wear road flats in the mountains: it was a slip-sliding adventure for the first few steps as I figured out the appropriate stride for the terrain. Once I settled into this new rhythm, I knew no one would catch me on the trail. A few minutes later I crossed over the wooden bridge and up the final hill to the finish line area. It was great to hear the announcer say "Team are the relay champions!" as I crossed the tape. It's always nice to win a race by yourself, but it's even better to do it as part of a team - especially when your teammates do all the hard work for you! Thanks Rob and Chris!!

With just a couple weeks left before the big race in Cleveland, I'm just about as ready as I can be. I didn't have the chance to build a proper base in my rehab months this summer, and I'm definitely not in the kind of shape I was last fall, but I'm confident I did everything I could to get the most out of my 2 months of training while staying healthy. I'm also encouraged by my new pacing strategy and the dividends it will pay off in the final third of the race. The competition will be stiff (I count 8 guys on the entry list who are better runners than me), but I'm sneaky-confident that I'll be able to start picking them off in the overnight hours. ...and if I can somehow pull off a 3rd place finish w/ 135 miles, my reward will be the chance to run with a team again, only this time it will be Team USA!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Ring - Race Report

The third and final race of my "Who needs training? Let's just race!" month was the 71 mile Massanutten trail "Ring" in the George Washington National Forest of Northern VA. Three weeks earlier, my rehab/race plan had me up in PA running the Viaduct 100 miler w/ slow n' steady success. Last week the fun, fog, and ferns of Cheat Mountain had me working hard over the 50 miles of Moonshine Madness up there. Having made it through both of those races without any issues w/ my stubborn shin injury, I was feeling great and ready to complete my triple crown of races w/ The Ring.

I made the drive out to Front Royal, VA on Friday night after work, and parked the XTerra Inn at the Signal Knob parking lot which serves at the Start/Finish for the race. The moon was just about full, and on this clear and crisp night I felt like I had a spotlight on me all night as I slept in the back. By 7am the gang of VHTRC runners and volunteers had amassed in the lot and we were off and running. In true VHTRC form, the support from RDs Quattro Hubbard and Mike Bur, along with dozens of selfless volunteers along the course manning the Aid Stations was amazing. This is a no fee Fat Ass race, but the Aid Stations were better stocked than many $$ races I've run. Also, the fact that they drive your drop bag from one Aid Station to the next after you passed through was beyond amazing. With all the runners spread out by hours and miles on the course, I have no clue how they had the man-power to get this done, but every time I'd pull up to an AS, my bag was there!

As for the run itself, things started out slow n' steady, just like I planned. I joined up with super-fast (and two-time defending MMT100 champ) Amy Sproston early on, and we clicked off 10 or 12 miles together while chatting about all things running. Unfortunately, the stubborn ankle injury she's been nursing started acting up on the rocky trails and she decided it was best to ease up and drop at the mile 25 Camp Roosevelt Aid Station. Since she's so nice, I was sad to lose the company, but as someone who has nursed his own injury for 6 months, I knew she was making the right move.
Amy and I (and volunteer) around mile 11 before her ankle started barking (Carl Camp photo)

After pulling away from Amy, I noticed the back of my left heel was really starting to hurt. I stopped a few miles earlier thinking it was a rock or something that somehow got through my gaiters and stuck in the back of my shoe, but there wasn't anything there
when I looked. With the irritation still there a few miles later, I knew the culprit was heel cup of the Saucony Xodus shoe I was wearing. So much for my positive review! Actually, the shoes themselves are fantastic for fit and grip and comfort on the trails, but for whatever reason the internal plastic heel cup on my left shoe started poking through the lining and into the back of my heel. Thankfully, I made it to Camp Roosevelt somewhat quickly where I could change shoes...just in time to halt the damage at only one layer of skin lost:

After the shoe swap and refill of my Camelback, I headed out on the ten miles o' fun to the Crisman Hollow Aid Station. This section includes two of my least favorite parts of the Massanutten trail: Duncan Hollow and the "Waterfall" trail. The Duncan Hollow trail seems timid enough, but for some reason it finds new and creative ways to suck every time I head out there: Occasionally the trail is a muddy river the whole way, other times the clouds of bugs are thick enough that you mistake their buzzing and flapping for the sound of a rescue helicopter that has mercifully come to take you away from such hell...and on some lucky days, when the sky is 100% sunny and you hit the side of the mountain at just the right time, the climb will roast you harder than the Friars' Club - Such was my luck this time around. To add to my fun, I finished off my water with 3 or 4 miles left in the section and quickly became overheated, nauseous, and dizzy. Things were turning south quickly for me out there. After a couple sun-baked miles of stumbling and retching, I would have paid a dude in Timberlands to kick me in the head and put me out of my misery.

...and what's a great solution for someone in this condition? How about a climb up the Waterfall trail! For those of you unfamiliar with this section of trail, I'll just say it's so steep that when you mention it to other runners, the first thing they say is "I don't even like running down that thing". The friction you build up on your shoes when running down is so intense it nearly sets your feet on fire. Lucky for me in this race, as I wobbled around the corner and saw the sign marking the start of the climb up this path of joy, I did a system check of my unstable legs and found a silver lining: "Well, at least if I fall, I'll be falling 'up' this thing and not down."

As I started the climb, I remember thinking "Just keep your head down, keep your balance, and you'll be at the top in no time." About half-way up, I saw a somewhat odd-looking guy walking down the trail toward me. Maybe it was just my clouded and dizzy vision, but he looked kinda like a creepy 45 year-old version of the kid on the Dutch Boy paint can - Same haircut and everything. I'm sure he was just a nice guy out there going for a hike, but in my state I figured there was a 50% chance he'd hog-tie me and drive back to his shack in the woods with me on his roof-rack.
"Hey buddy, does this rag smell like chloroform to you?"

After we passed each other with just a friendly "hello", I wasn't entirely happy he didn't knock me out and put me out of my misery. Eventually and mercifully I made it to the top of the Waterfall and stumbled into the Crisman Hollow Aid Station at mile 35. Finally, I could quit!

The volunteers had a great set-up there with a tent for shade and the most welcoming chair I've ever seen. The guys hooked me up with some ice water and I sat there for a while sipping my water and doing my best to return the favor of their niceness by not puking all over their aid station. I was in rough shape, but it felt good to be in the shade and sitting down. A bunch of other runners came through while I sat there, but I wasn't even keeping track. I had already dropped the race in my mind, so I just worried about getting in some fluids and feeling better. About 30 minutes later I started to get the chills pretty bad, so I changed out of my running clothes into my dry gear in my drop bag. I even put on my long-sleeve shirt to stay warm (it was in the 80s out too!)...I knew my body needed more calories and electrolytes, and now that I had my stomach under a little control, I nibbled on some cantaloupe and drank a little Ultragen that I had in my drop bag.

About 40-45 minutes after I stopped, I started feeling better and was actually looking forward to volunteering at an aid station for the rest of the day. Before asking where my services could be of best use, my thoughts went back to MMT100 two years ago when I had to drop at mile 58 with a hip injury after a nasty fall. Just when I was about to say "You got me again, Massanutten!", I realized that I had to drop that time because of injury...but that wasn't the case today. I wasn't hurt this time...and if I felt better after 45 minutes (which I did), maybe after a few more calories I'd feel good enough to get up and move again.

I'm smart enough to know when I'm in trouble health-wise, and after my standing 8-count (or 45-minute count, as it were), I decided it would be safe to try and walk the 6 miles to the next Aid Station. I knew the section of trail over Kerns Mountain and down the other side wasn't too bad, and if I doubled up on fluids and calories, maybe I'd feel even better by time I hit end of the section.

So, after mumbling something about being "a stubborn son of a bitch", I stood up, put my running gear back on, and headed off down the trail. I walked the first mile or so drinking and eating pretty well. By time I hit the ridge I was feeling good enough to actually shuffle the flat sections. I wasn't exactly moving fast, but I also wasn't telling myself I should drop at the next station either. A few miles later I made my way down to the Moreland Gap aid station at mile 40.7. I took my time here grabbing extra food and fluids, and was encouraged that I felt good enough to continue on over the notorious 8 miles of Short Mountain. Normally what makes Short Mountain so hard to run is the ragged trail, lovely thorns, and 9 billion false summits that break your will, but lucky for me, I wasn't moving fast enough for the trail to necessarily slow my desired pace, so I just took my time and kept the fuel intake going.

I call this piece: "Short Mountain Leg"

As it turned out, I passed 2 or 3 other runners on this section, and while I wouldn't say I was feeling great, I did feel the slow cranking of my engine trying to start up again inside my legs. I figured if I was still feeling good by time I made it to Edinburg Gap, I'd see if I couldn't put in an honest effort over the last 23 miles from there to the finish.

I pulled into Edinburg Aid at mile 48.7 and had the feeling that I was finally back to 100%. I left the aid station with Justin Faul, who I hadn't seen since way back at Crisman Hollow during my crash. He was still moving pretty well up the climb, so I figured I must be rebounding if I caught back up to him in 3rd place. Just before the top of the climb he stopped to put on his headlamp, and that's when I figured it was a good time to put the hammer down and see how good I was really feeling. As it turned out, I was feeling fast as hell. I know some people don't like running on trails at night, but I love it, especially when my headlamp works. As I burned over the 8.2 miles of trail toward Woodstock Tower, my legs felt lightning fast. As my feet skipped over the rocks on the trail, I envisioned them as the fingers of a piano player flying over the keys during a particularly fast section of music. I had found my speedy rhythm and I was having a blast. Woodstock tower came quickly at mile 56.9, and I did my best to get in-and-out as quickly as possible. I was done with resting, I wanted to race!

I kept the pedal to the metal over the next section (there were beautiful views of the lights in Woodstock, VA from the open parts of the ridge), and couldn't have imagined things going any better....until I took a right turn and started bombing down off the ridge to...nothing. In my haste I had taken a wrong trail. I knew I needed to take a right off the ridge, down about a mile to a road, and then a left up the road to the next aid station. Well, stupid me took that right off the ridge too early down a purple-blazed trail (the Massanutten trail is Orange-blazed the whole way). By time I hit the road and saw it was a dead-end, I knew I made a mistake. Angrily, and as quickly as possible, I hauled ass back up the steep trail to the ridge. I didn't know how many people passed me during my 25 minute detour, but I imagined it was about 79 jolly runners just laughing and skipping along having a grand old time while I added in an extra 2 miles and 500 feet of climbing just for fun.

The good news is I run pretty well when I'm pissed at myself, so I rebounded nicely on the trail and made it to Powell's Aid at mile 62.7 feeling pretty good. ...especially good when I heard that no one had passed me during my trip down and back up the Moron Heritage Trail.

A good portion of the climb out of Powell's to the towers at Signal Knob is on dirt road, and I was able to push the pace a bit on that solid surface to be sure I didn't have anyone breathing down my neck behind me. I knew I wasn't going to catch up to Sean Andrish and Keith Knipling in the lead (I figured they were done long ago), but I did want to hang on to 3rd place, just to keep the positive vibes flowing from my rebound from death at mile 35. The moon was bright and brilliant as I made my way around a reservoir and up over the Signal Knob overlook. I made sure I soaked in a bit of that beauty since I knew the last 5 miles of trail to the finish were pretty much the worst on the course. Much of this final rock-strewn disaster of a trail is completely un-runnable,but I did my best to pick up the pace where I could. Before too long I saw the lights in the parking lot at the finish line, phew!

Keith and Sean were there along with RD Mike Bur. It was great to congratulate Keith and Sean on their solid run (they finished 30 minutes in front of me) and thank Mike for all his hard work. I was also happy that Mike saw me finish since he was one of the guys who helped me out back during my crash at mile 35. Without his help and that of all the volunteers, there's no way I would have rebounded like I did. It was definitely a group effort out there, and I couldn't be more thankful to Mike, Quattro, and all the VHTRC folks for all their hard work. I look forward to running and volunteering at many more of their events in the future.

Speaking of the future, it looks like my month of races got me back into a bit of shape just in time to gear up for the 24 Hour National Championships in Cleveland next month. The competition will be stiff out there, but I'm confident in my strategy for the race and will look to survive the day and make my move at night (sound familiar?). I'll need to place top 3 and run 135 miles to qualify for the National Team, so that's the goal. With all the things I've learned in just the last month of races, I should be ready to rock and roll out there!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Ring - Quick Update

Just got home and realized none of my audio posts made it to the site...must have been the bad cell coverage up there in the mountains...

Anyway, the quick and dirty is this: I had a real rough patch between mile 25 and 35 where I couldn't keep anything down (it was hot and I ran out of water, which I'm sure didn't help). I was pretty dizzy, and once I made it up the epic Waterfall climb to get to the mile 35 aid station, I was 100% sure I needed to drop. I was only 10 minutes or so behind the two leaders, but I knew I was done. I sat down in the shade and did my best to try and drink some ice water, etc. I even changed into clean clothes and put on a long-sleeve shirt because I was getting the chills pretty bad. I sat there recovering for 40+ minutes while 6 or 7 guys came through the aid station and continued on.

Then, for no real reason other than not wanting to give up, I stood up, put my running clothes back on, and told everyone I was going to continue. It was only 6 miles to the next aid station, and I figured if I could keep taking in some fluids and get my stomach under control, maybe I had a chance to keep going.

Those 6 miles went pretty well. I was no longer dizzy, and I drank a ton while getting in some S Caps for electrolytes too. The notorious Short Mountain was next, and I felt good enough to carry a bunch of food out onto that 8 mile section to see if I couldn't stoke the fire w/ some calories. That section of trail always sucks, but by time I got to Edinburg Gap Aid Station (mile 49 or so), I was feeling pretty good. The calories were doing the trick and I was ready to try and run. The climb up Edinburg went pretty well as I felt stronger and stronger the further up I went....and when I crested the ridge, I put the hammer down to see how my legs would respond. As it turned out, I absolutely flew over this 8.2 miles section clocking the fastest split of the race. Over these miles I had re-passed everyone who leap-frogged me at mile 35 and was now back in 3rd place (I was running crazy fast!)

I kept the ball rolling while blowing quickly through the Woodstock Tower Aid at mile 57 or so. I stupidly took a wrong turn that resulted in me running about 2 extra miles (down and back up a steep side trail), but I had run the past 10 miles so fast that no one caught back up to me during my detour. I was so angry at myself for being so stupid that I think I broke a couple land-speed records climbing back up to the ridge after realizing my mistake.

By time I made the final climb up Signal Knob and then down the 5 miles of hell (the Signal Knob trail is brutal) back to the finish line, I learned that I was only about 25 minutes behind the winning times (Massanutten studs Sean Andrish and Keith Knipling shared the win). I made up an hour (maybe more) on them over the final 21 miles or so, which made me feel pretty good...and I definitely ran a negative split for the race as well. I think my finishing time was 18:35 or so. All in all, just a fantastic return from the dead, and one of my all-time personal favorite race experiences. I'll write a nice report after I go pass out and get some sleep!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

'The Ring' is on My Finger this Weekend!

Less than a month ago I had some pretty big doubts that I'd be able to ramp up my training fast enough to get in shape for the Northcoast 24 Hour race on October 3 in Cleveland. My insanely stubborn shin injury just didn't want to go away, and my training was very slow and comically short in the weeks leading up to August. I set a pretty tough schedule for that month knowing that it would be the deciding factor in terms of me either being able to get in shape for Cleveland or not. Basically, it was time to put-up or shut-up.

This weekend marks the end of that month-long test with the running of the 71-mile Massanutten Ring Trail, and I'm more than happy to say that I feel infinitely better than I thought I would at this point. The Viaduct 100 three-plus weeks ago went so perfectly to plan that I didn't need to take any time off the following week to recover. Last weekend's Cheat Mountain 50 went equally well (light issues aside), and my legs are already pulling at the leash like puppies ready to go play outside again. Lucky for them, in three days "The Ring" will put forth the toughest test for them thus far. My plan for this race is to use the same slow n' steady pace I've applied in the past two races, and hopefully I'll still have some gas left for the crazy climbs on the west side of the course. More important than my time or placement is getting in a few more healthy training miles to cap off this successful month of my running resurrection!

As for those who will actually be racing, I'm hoping a few of them feel like starting out slow like me before they really take off. I'd love to get to chat with some of the super-fast mountain goats in the field as the roster reads like an All-Star Massanutten 100 Miler list: Knipling, Andrish, Mason, Clapper, Sproston, etc...That's some serious mountain-running talent! I'd love to pick their brains to figure out how they run so well on such tough terrain. Any inside info I can gather from such speedy veterans can only help me the next time I line up to run the MMT100 out there.

I'll bring along my phone for the run and post a few updates throughout the day. I figure it'll take me somewhere between 17 and 19 hours to finish this thing if all goes well. ...and yes, I'll be sure to have extra batteries in my drop bag to make the night a little more enjoyable this time...Talk to you all from the trail!