Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bring on Race Season!

OK, OK, so the actual racing season started months ago for everyone else, but for me in my lame-legged world, the fun is just starting to heat up. Sure, I'm not running full speed just yet, but the miles are piling up and my shin no longer feels like it's being hit by the lightning bolt on the Gatorade bottle after my runs. I know the speed will come, but quite honestly, with my desired pace in my upcoming races hovering somewhere between 9 and 10 minute miles, I'm not too worried about running any sub-5 splits any time soon.

Coming up in less than two weeks is the much-anticipated Viaduct Trail 100 in PA. With a solid month of training in the swamp air of DC under my belt, I'm ready for whatever heat/humidity northern PA has to offer. It's probably pretty unrealistic to think that I can run the full 100 miles considering my last long run was back in April, but whatever...this sport pretty much re-defines the word "realistic", so I'm just going to head up there and get it done.

One really cool thing about this race is I will also be testing out a new (to me, anyway) way to post audio updates on my blog during the race via Utterli. I've set up my cell phone to automatically post my calls to my blog, so I figure I'll check in every 25 miles or so with an update. Since I'll be heading up there alone, it'll be a nice way to assure Elizabeth that I haven't been eaten by wild pack of Pennsylvania wildebeests or something. Given the issues with lots of races having trouble getting their live web-casts to work in remote locations, I hope this audio-posting thing catches on with more runners and their crews since they only need a cell phone and not a computer w/ internet connection to make it work.

A couple weeks after Viaduct, I'll be heading out to West Virginia to run Adam Casseday's Cheat Mountain 50 miler, and then if I can still walk, the following weekend I'll be running The Ring, which is a 71 mile loop of the entire orange-blazed Massanutten Trail in VA. Most likely I'll need to choose one or the other of these two races to run, but we'll see how the old legs hold up. Regardless of the races, I'll be using those two weeks as peak mile training weeks for the 24 Hour National Championship in Cleveland on October 3.

So that's the next month or so in a nutshell for me. Hopefully I'll have 3 low-key but super-fun and healthy races in the books by time September rolls around and everything gears up for Cleveland..."Hello, Cleveland!!"

One last note: I left work early last Friday to head out for a fun 26 mile run in the woods. It
was 90 degrees and humid out there, so I had my Nathan 2L hydration pack loaded up to get me 13 miles in to the only water-source out there. About 6 miles into the run my brand-spankin' new hydration pack sprang a leak. Crap! I'm sure all the deer and squirrels found the sight of me trying to suck the last drops of water from the side of my hemmoraging pack quite hilarious. For me it was less amusing considering how hot it was and how I'd have to run 6 miles back to my car w/ no water. Needless to say, the day didn't turn out to be as fun as I hoped. When I got home I sent the Nathan folks this photo and asked nicely for them to replace my defective bladder since I've only used the thing about 4 times to this point. I hoping they come through for me in time for the Viaduct race.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vermont 100 Pacing/Volunteer Report

For the past few years, I've headed up to Vermont every July to meet up with 11 friends at the Lake Morey golf resort - We play way too much golf, have perhaps a few too many beers, and most importantly have a tremendous amount of fun and relaxation in the country. The fact that Lake Morey still doesn't have cell phone access really helps you forget about work and the chaos of life and just enjoy the beautiful countryside up there.

Just a couple days before leaving for the trip this year, I heard that my running friend Tammy was in need of a pacer for miles 88.5 to 100 in the upcoming Vermont 100 miler that just so happened to be taking place a few miles from where I would be golfing. After doing some quick time calculations, I figured that I could help her out, and lucky for me she was in favor of the idea as well. I was so excited to head back to the site of my very first 100 miler to help out a friend!

On race day I golfed my two rounds at Lake Morey (we won't talk about my scores, thank you very much), ate dinner, and drove the 40 minutes to the Start/Finish line for the race. I arrived in time to see Jack Pilla become the first VT resident to win the race just before sunset. On top of that great news, Jack also became the oldest to win at age 51! Way to go, Jack!!

After chatting with a few other really nice folks (including super-fast Sean Andrish who was there to pace as well), I decided it was time to start running backward into the course to reach Bill's Barn Aid Station at mile 88.5 where I'd meet up with Tammy later on that night/morning. It has only been two years since I ran the VT100 myself, but in that short time I had clearly forgotten how relentlessly hilly this course is. I was working hard through those 11.5 miles, and I was on fresh legs! ...Talk about appreciating what the 100 milers were doing at that point - wow!

It was tough to complain about the few sloppy trail sections when I also had the pleasure of passing through the open fields where approximately 9 billion stars put on a show for me. More than once I had to stop, turn off my headlamp, and just stare in pure awe of the night sky up there. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Aside from the beauty of nature, the runners and horses passing by also fired me up with quite a bit of inspiration. I did my best to update every one of them on how much further to the next Aid Station and what the trail was like the rest of the way. I had a great time out there, and the 11.5 miles absolutely flew by.

When I arrived at Bill's Barn, it was 1:00 a.m. and I knew I had plenty of time before Tammy came through. Her arrival at Bill's in last year's race was 4:48 a.m., so I did my best to use the next few hours to help the volunteers there take care of the runners coming through. Bill's is a mandatory medical check-point for all runners, so more than a few folks were forced to take a seat and have their vitals checked before they were allowed to continue. When one runner was forced to sit down next to me because he came in 7 lbs. over-weight (which could be a sign of kidney failure), he was particularly distraught. As I was talking to him, I noticed he was still wearing his fuel belt. When I mentioned this to him, he couldn't believe how absent-minded he was by forgetting to take it off before stepping on the scale. When it turned out his belt weighed 7 lbs., the docs let him continue in the race. We've all been there with that 88 mile fog in our heads, and I was just happy to be there with fresh eyes to notice his mistake before they carted him off in an ambulance!

As the crowd coming through Bill's started to thin out, and the clock passed 5:00 a.m., I began to worry about Tammy. I checked with the race headquarters to make sure she hadn't dropped out, and they assured me she was still on her way. After helping the staff break down the cots and pack up most of the supplies at the Aid Station, I saw it was now 6:05 a.m., and there was still no sign of Tammy. At this point I was almost certain she would have to drop at Bill's as the cut-off time was fast-approaching. Just as I was ready to give up all hope, Tammy and her pacer Shane came bombing around the corner. I had Tammy's drop-bag ready, but she said she didn't need anything from it. She was clearly ready to move to try and finish this race in the 30 hour time limit. After a quick bathroom stop, all 3 of us were on our way (Shane decided to stay on for some extra pacing miles with us!).

I started to explain the time issue to Tammy without sounding too pessimistic, but as soon as I saw she was willing and able to run the first uphill without any problems, I was beyond encouraged - She just might be able to pull this thing out after all!! Sure, her quads were too shot to run the downhills, but her speed on the hills and flats was way beyond what I expected. As we made our way through the course I had run earlier that night (we were now in the sunlight), I found I didn't really need to employ any pacer tricks to keep her moving. As it was, we were passing people left and right as we moved toward the finish. The conversation between the 3 of us was light and mention of any real pains or issues from Tammy at all - Talk about a positive attitude!!

As we made our way through the final stretch of trail before the finish, Tammy's husband Tristan was there about 1.5 miles from the finish to take some pictures and accompany his wife to the line - how nice! Just before the finish there was a bagpipe player on the trail signaling our arrival to the crowd gathered for breakfast at the finish line. It was quite a rush to hear all of their cheering as we crossed the line together. I can only imagine how great Tammy felt after 29 hours and 41 minutes of running!! She had not only beat the cut-off time, but passed about 8 people in the final 11 miles and finished with plenty of time to spare...she was a machine out there!!
Here's the triumphant Team Tammy at the finish! I wish I could have stayed to congratulate her further, but I had to run off to my car and get back to Lake Morey in time for Sunday's tee time. I did have a little bout with the sleepys while driving back to the golf course, but I snapped out of it when I thought about how easy I had it compared to Tammy and her 29+ hours of running and zero hours of complaining. No way I could whine about being a little tired after seeing her never-give-up effort!

Congratulations, Tammy!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jamie Does It Again!!!

The picture says it all!!! Congrats to Jamie Donaldson on defending her Badwater 135 championship w/ another amazing time: 27:20!!! That's the second fastest all-time next to her course record from last year. I understand it was super hot this year (120+ degrees!!), so that makes her effort even more amazing. Way to go, Jamie!!! You're the queen of the desert!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

There's a Badwater on the Rise!

Less than a week from today, 88 insane (yet legally-competent) runners will step out into the 120-degree heat of Death Valley to run the annual 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon. I always enjoy following this race online (in an air-conditioned room), and if you don't know what happens out there in those conditions, check out Running on the Sun and The Distance of Truth - they're fun for the whole family (provided your family is also insane).This year I have a bunch of friends running, so I'm super-excited for the webcast. First and foremost is my friend and returning ladies' champ - and course record-holder! - Jamie Donaldson (shown on the right in last year's race), and if there wasn't already enough reason to be excited about her race, this year she's making the Spirit of the race proud by running the extra 11 miles up to the peak of Mt. Whintey (the highest in the contiguous U.S.) after she crosses the finish line! The race was originally run this way as a 146 mile race from the lowest point in the U.S. (-280 ft. in Badwater, CA) to the highest on Whitney's peak at 14,496'. Permit and access issues have forced the race to end half-way up Whitney in recent years, but Jamie's ultra-running heart is proving to be pure with her extra effort and planning to attain her own personal permit and continue on to the top with her crew. I love it!!!

Also running this year are my friends Adrian Belitu (running in support of Imerman Angels!) and Anthony Portera who is looking to add another gold star to his fantastic 2009 season with his first two sub-24 hour 100s already in the bank! Good luck to everyone out there - stay cool!!

I know Jamie's and Anthony's feet will be perfectly cared for on this scorching terrain by Drymax Socks...I just hope all of the other competitors are as lucky! If you watch either of the movies I mentioned above, you realize how feet can be destroyed in no time at all out there on the 200-degree pavement. Drymax can save runners time by eliminating all the endless foot-care needed during the race, and to go one step further, by eliminating debilitating blisters, these socks can literally mean the difference between dropping or finishing the race. Why anyone would ignore the evidence of these amazing socks at this point is beyond me...maybe they just like running in complete agony, who knows?!

As for me, I'm quietly racking up the miles and increasing my speed in rehab. I'm up to 52 miles this week, and everything is feeling great. "Nice and Easy" is the theme for the next few weeks still. I'll be looking to max-out around 75 miles for the last couple of weeks before the Viaduct 100 on August 8. No need to try and do too much and risk injury before this "100 mile training run"!