Monday, December 28, 2009

2010 Here We Come!

Lizzy and I add the latest to our "Dan Preparing to Run while on Vacation" collection. This past week we were up at my parents' house on Cape Cod for Christmas festivities!

With the last strides of 2009 heading into the sunset, I'm anxiously awaiting the fun that the New Year will have in store! I learned a lot this past year in terms of dealing w/ a major injury and realizing that having fun out there is way more important to me than any results. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not going to shoot for some solid performances in just means I might also still spend a few minutes on the trail at mile 90 trying to catch a bunny rabbit w/ my bare hands (I totally would have had it too if I was, like, 1 second faster!).

 I'm looking forward to some hard work this winter/spring while I properly ramp up for the big race in France, and later on in the summer I'll be switching gears and getting back to the mountain trails for training while I gear up for my Vermont Long Trail record attempt. All in all, it should be a tremendously fun and adventurous year...I can't wait!

In the mean time, it's back to the training...we all know this scene (except for you runners in FL, CA, etc...we hate you!). Happy New Year to Everyone! See you all in 2010!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Early X-mas Gift - New Sponsor!

Looks like Christmas came a little early for me this year! I'm proud to announce the good folks at Hammer Nutrition have offered me a contract for 2010 which I've happily signed!  As those of you who read my blog know, I swear by Hammer Gel and Perpetuem as my sole fuel source in all my races. To be quite honest, if it came down to another fuel company offering me their products for free, I would still rather pay full price for Hammer fuel instead. How lucky for me that Hammer has a little faith in me as well!  I look forward to a great partnership in 2010 and beyond! Merry Christmas, indeed!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50K Race Report!

OK, so maybe all 195 people signed up for the 14th Annual Christmas-themed 50K put on by the VHTRC weren't exactly there to "race", but it was a fun group run nevertheless...Here's my recap!

First off, it was COLD here on Saturday morning. So cold, in fact, that I had to run from my car to the check-in lodge to stay warm before the start...walking those couple-hundred feet was not an option. Sure, maybe I've grown soft since moving down to DC from Boston a few years back, but whatever the reason, I was not a happy camper out there before the start!

It looked like the cold convinced about 1/3 of the runners to stay home on this morning, but the rest of us were stupid enough to show up and pose for the group picture just before the 8am start. Here's the far right side of the group (with me in my holiday colors). More wore similarly festive garb, but at the start it was all buried under layers of coats and pants (Quatro Hubbard Photo):

 The crazy SOB in shorts w/ his hands on his knees is RD Joe Clapper. I honestly have no clue how he (and a couple other guys) ran in shorts at the start. I think if I tried to do that my legs would shatter like glass on the first downhill.

Once we started, my plan to just hang back with the masses was quickly replaced by the need to run a little quicker to stay warm. Once I got up to the front group, I settled in w/ a nice comfortable pace and eventually started generating some body heat after 3 or 4 miles.  The beauty of the MGM 50K is the course is not if you don't know the Bull Run Run 50 mile course (MGM is the southern 50K of that course), you need to stick with someone who does or risk ending up hopelessly lost in a maze of intersecting trails on the southern end. I personally have no clue how to follow the course on the infamous 3 mile "Do Loop" at the southern tip. Neither did the other 3 guys I was with at the front when we reached the start of the loop at about mile 13.  Did that stop us from just heading into the labyrinth and hoping for the best? Of course not.

I should mention the Aid Station prior to the loop had all this lovely fuel, and an extra little treat from Gary K. hung from a tree next to it (Q. Hubbard and Doug Sullivan photos):
Please note the level of that tasty bourbon prior to our Do-Loop adventure. 

Three of us were willing to hang back for a few minutes and wait for the group behind us (which we knew contained a certified Do-Loop Sherpa), but the other guy in our group decided to just head on out and take his chances w/ the loop. Not wanting to fall behind, the rest of us were convinced to be just as dumb and headed right behind our newly anointed Pseudo-Sherpa. The loop started off familiarly enough to me (I've run it once before when fully marked and recall a few sections)...we headed mostly downhill toward the water...then veered left-ish...and then, well, we had no clue where we were. Orange-Blazed trails intersected with Red and Blue and Yellow...our self-anointed Sherpa was completely lost, and when I ended up losing a shoe while trying to ford a muddy river, I couldn't help but yell "Hey Sherpa, you suck!". I sensed a mutiny coming very soon...

Once I dug my shoe out from the mud, dumped it out, and caught back up to the others, we noticed we lost one of our group. He must have turned around at the river and headed back to the Aid Station. He was a wise man. What followed for we 3 Stooges was a random bush-whack for about a 1/2 mile searching for...well, I'm not really sure. Our Sherpa seemed to just be walking aimlessly over the hills asking if we saw anything. I was about 30 seconds from turning around and heading back when we finally popped out on a marked trail. Sherpa seemed fairly confident that we should go right, so off we went. I was still pretty sure we were still lost, but a few minutes later we passed the happiest landmark ever: the old rusted-out Nash Rambler...I remembered that from Bull Run...we were miraculously back on course!

Shortly after that our Sherpa was released of his duties when we heard the chase pack just behind us and happily waited to join their group. Once we were guided safely back to the main drag leading back to the Aid Station, Will (who was part of the 3 Stooges w/ me and the Sherpa) and I took the lead again and made our way back to civilization. Will didn't bother stopping at the Aid Station when we got back there, but after that Do-Loop experience, I felt the need to take a little dose of the "medicine" to calm my nerves. You'll note the level of the bottle now...a lot of wise people took a shot even before heading into the Loop themselves:

With Will long gone at that point, I was happy to just cruise it on home. I always enjoy running the Bull Run trail quite a bit, so I took my time enjoying the bright sunny day (it was even in the high 30s at this point too!). A few miles down the trail a young guy caught up to me and we chatted for a bit. He was running with much more of a purpose than me, so I let him go and continued to enjoy my easy pace. With about 6 or 7 miles to go I ran into my friend Tammy heading down the trail toward me. She had gotten a late start on the race and was chasing down the rest of the group. She also just finished running a double marathon out in Vegas/Death Valley last weekend, but did that slow her down? Nah, she was happily jogging down the trail when I came upon her. She's one tough cookie!

After seeing Tammy I was pretty much on my own the rest of the way. I kept the pace easy aside for the rocky stretch along the river in the last 2 miles. I always love running this section as fast as possible to work on my "light feet" technique (it's really a jagged rock-strewn mess, so "fast" is a relative term here). I had a blast on this stretch, as always, and as I made my way up the final climb to the finish I caught up with the young guy who passed me 12 miles back. Just like my finish at Bull Run earlier this year, we brought it in together and crossed the line in a tie for 2nd at 5:02. Definitely the slowest 50K I've ever run, but with all the Do-Loop fun, I was more than happy to just be back at my car! Fellow Stooge Will ran a great second half and finished about 15 minutes ahead of us for the win. Big congrats go out to all the finishers who were brave enough to tough-out the weather at the start...and a big Thanks goes out to Joe Clapper and his gang of volunteers who helped make this race such a blast!

On a personal note: This race marked the official beginning of my training for 2010. The previous three weeks were just easy 50 mile maintenance weeks to give my legs a nice break, but now the regular long runs are coming back and the weekly mileage will double. I'm excited to put together a solid stretch of training this winter and emerge from the season ready to run with some real purpose in France!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Annual "Stuff I Like" List!

Yes indeedy, once again it's time to recap the Year in Gear.  Here's the stuff I used this year and feel confident recommending to everyone...and no, none of these companies are paying me to plug them...I just like their stuff!

After wearing mostly Brooks the past couple years, I ran a bunch of miles in some other brands this past year as well. With the world's supply of clearance Brooks Glycerin 6s in my size pretty much tapped out, I needed to move on from my 2008 shoe crush and find a new love. For my first new shoe date, I wore a pair of Vasque Aether Tech SSs during the Bull Run Run 50. They're not bad for 50 milers like this one on moderate trails, but I wouldn't recommend them for a 100 miler or anything with super gnarly terrain (The uppers tear easily and the boa lacing system pops itself out every now and again on rough stuff)....but for a 50-mile or less speedy trail race, they're actually quite an enjoyable (and light!) shoe to run in.

Later in the year I hopped back on the Saucony bandwagon after a few years away and ran 200+ trail miles in the original Xodus (newer version linked here) before the heel cup failed on me and ripped up my foot during The Ring. I liked this shoe a lot, and I assume my heel-cup issue was a freak thing. I'll probably pick up another pair for my 2010 trail races. Needing a new trail shoe with my Xoduses (Xodi?) out of commission, I picked up a cheap pair of the Saucony Grid Excursion 4s for $53 the week before my Horse-Shoe Trail adventure and they worked out pretty well. I know I complained about their friction heat on the roads, but I should probably realize they only started to bother me on the roads after 110 miles of running in that adventure. For anyone looking to run 100 or less on a course that demands a hybrid shoe, this is actually a great affordable option.

Finally, I'm happy to report I logged all of my road miles in the second half of the year (including my 139+ miles at the NorthCoast24) in the discontinued Saucony ProGrid Ride 1. I have a couple pairs left that I'll rack up a few hundred more miles on this winter before I need to find a replacement as my go-to road shoe. The ProGrid Ride 2 version is out now, and I figure by the time February rolls around and I run out of my stock of 1s, the 2s will be on clearance to make way for the 3rd generation. Not bad timing!

As always, no matter the shoe I'm running in, I always get them online at Holabird Sports. No, they don't pay me or give me any discounts (beyond what they offer everyone on their website), but shipping is always free over $65 (and I usually buy 2 or 3 pairs at a time, so that's not a problem), and they even offer discounts on brand-new shoes too. I highly recommend.

Drymax, that's all you need to know. I've been wearing them for about 18 months now and haven't had a single blister. I pretty much stick to the Maximum Protection versions (with the hot weather versions being great in the summer), and to give you an idea of how well they're made, it took about 1,500 miles per pair before they started to show any wear (and it was on the back of the ankle and not the bottoms!). Simply put, these socks kick ass and are made by Kick Ass people. I couldn't possibly recommend them more. *Disclaimer: They do give me free socks, but I would still pay for them if I had to.

Hydration Pack:
Here's the deal. Nathan's HPL20 pack itself fits great and pretty much has all the pockets and features you need to run a 100+ miles happy. The problem is, their hydration bladder is a total piece of crap. Mine started leaking within the first couple weeks of using it. When I checked for similar issues from others online, I found dozens of other who were dealt the same crappy hand by Nathan's shoddy work. To make things worse, they never bothered to respond to my requests for a replacement bladder online or by phone. Boo to you, Nathan. You're totally off my Christmas list.

I ended up replacing the defective bladder with a great 70oz Camelbak that fits and works great. I highly recommend all Camelbak bladders for their sturdiness and technological advancements (internal support structure, much more flexible hose, etc).

I tried out a lot of new stuff this year, and wouldn't you know I ended up right back where I started. This isn't a bad thing since I always run great on S-Caps and Hammer Gel and Perpetuem, but all sorts of fancy new products continually trick me into thinking there's something even better for me out there. You know what I realize after trying all of these "magic bullets" over the past couple years? What makes me a better runner is working harder (and smarter) in training, and running my races with a smart pacing plan. There are no short-cuts in ultra running. My S-Cap and Hammer combo plan keeps my stomach happy, so I'll stick with that in the future and trust in hard work to make me better.

Other Gear:
You know what else kicks ass? The Black Diamond Icon headlamp, Oxysox Compression socks for lower legs (cut off the feet and put your Drymax there!), BodyGlide, Ultragen and Endurox for recovery, Proline Sports Nutrition for great deals on supplements (look for promo code discounts), the Gregory Miwok pack for self-supported mountain trips!, POM juice (drink it straight up if you're tough, or check out their site for great recipies!), these Sennheiser headphones (awesome for running!), this awesome winter hat from Under Armour, CW-X Tights (love the 3/4s for cold days/night runs), and Dirty Girl gaiters!

I'm always looking for new stuff, so let me know if there's any gear you swear by too!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Congrats Chris Roman!

Just like 1300 or so other folks, the Western States 100 lottery didn't pan out for me today...but it's not all bad news as my friend Chris Roman was one of the lucky ones to get in!! Congrats buddy!!

Chris and his wife are truly special members of the ultra-running community as they have joined forces to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation through their running exploits. CAF was started by Jim MacLaren, an extremely talented runner and triathlete who I was lucky enough to meet in San Diego a couple years ago.  Jim suffered a horrible accident in the 1980s that left him as a double amputee, and even more tragically, a few years later while completing once again in the IronMan triathlon in Kona he was struck by a vehicle on the bike portion of the race and left paralyzed.  The CAF helps all levels of disadvantaged athletes achieve their goals in the sporting world by providing the necessary prosthetics, wheelchairs, etc to get them back in action. On December 20 Chris will be running a double Jacksonville marathon in his latest effort to support CAF. You can click here to support this worthy cause.

....and hey, as Mr. Roman's selection into the Western States 100 proves, a little karma never hurts!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Exciting Saturday

Who says December is the "off-season" for ultra running? Tomorrow is quite the big day for many 50 mile speedsters and Western States hopefulls (not to mention the day Nebraska and Texas play for the Big 12 Championship - Go Big Red!!).  Even though the NorthFace 50 Mile Championship is 6 months apart and half the distance of the Western States 100 miler, they're two of the closest-linked ultra races in my mind.

The common bond between these two races, as I see it, is the Almighty $Dollar. Not a whole lot of prize money exists in the ultra world, so the NorthFace 50 miler series (now finishing up its 3rd year) really stands out as a big attraction for speedsters of that distance ($10,000 goes to the winner of the Championship held tomorrow in San Fransisco). As always there will be a deep and insanely talented field lining up tomorrow, and the race for the cash can be followed here.

Western States might not have any prize money, but considering it has the highest entry fee of any 100 miler (and tons of sponsorship connections), I consider it a big $$ race too. With it being the oldest (and most popular) 100 miler in the country, the desire to line up in Squaw Valley every year is shared by WAY more folks than can actually be accepted into the race. The big excitement tomorrow will be the live lottery to see which of the 1,500+ applicants get selected (about 1 in 5 will get in). Since I'm a guy who prefers to spend my money on things other than huge race fees, I've never had much interest in running Western States, but I figured what the hell this year and threw my name into the lottery for fun (at least that part is free!). The big reason for me throwing my name in the hat is that while I don't like all the fees, I do have a tremendous respect for Tradition. Having run Boston a couple times, I know first-hand what it feels like to run in the steps of so many legends, and I know doing the same at Western States one time will feel just as cool. Anyway, the lottery kicks off tomorrow at Noon EST and can be followed here.  I know I won't be the only one following along!

As for my personal running news, I very much enjoyed taking 10 days off following the Horse-Shoe Trail adventure and am back in the swing of things as I ramp up for an exciting first few months of 2010. I'll join up w/ about 200 fellow VHTRC-ers next Saturday for the annual holiday-themed 50K on the Bull Run course known as the Magnus Gluteus Maximus run. You don't have to be a Latin scholar to know this is a Big Fat Ass run! I'm looking forward to hanging back in the pack and enjoying an easy run w/ friends to help ring in the Holidays!