Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Nothing too exciting to report from the week of running on my end, but I do want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!!  This completes the third year for me posting to this blog, and regardless of my successes and failures in races, I'm always so grateful and thankful for everyone who follows along and sends in words of encouragement and advice. I've learned so many great things and met so many wonderful friends in the running world through this site, and without question all of this has made me a better ultra runner. Thank you!!

I just remembered one quick story from my long run yesterday, so I'll pass it along:

About half-way through a 30-something mile run on the icy/snowy Mt. Vernon trail, I passed another runner coming toward me. I did my usual 'nod & smile', and since the wintry conditions had kept 90% of the usual running/biking crowd home on this Sunday morning, I added a little "good morning!" to my greeting as we passed; Sort of an implicit sign of solidarity to someone also willing to tough-out the cold and wind along the Potomac. ...Of course that effort to be nice caused the guy to look up at me instead of focusing on the snow and ice below, and his feet immediately slid out from under him causing him to land hard on his back-side! I'm such an idiot.

I felt horrible since it was obviously my fault he fell, but as I apologized profusely and helped him up, I looked at his feet and saw he was wearing Vibram 5-fingers with completely smooth bottoms!  I know everyone has their opinions and preferences for the barefoot running craze, but wearing them on an icy/snowy trail? No wonder he fell! Forget just wearing shoes with more tread, this was most definitely a YakTrax or Screw Shoes kind of day.  Having seen the unnecessary pain suffered by this fellow runner, here's a special holiday message to everyone who runs in Vibrams:

Dear Minimalist Runner,

I promise the Tarahumara indians won't be upset if you leave the 5-fingers at home when things are icy this winter. Otherwise, you'll need five fingers of whiskey after every run to dull the pain of your many bruises. If you promise to wear shoes w/ better traction, I promise to keep my mouth shut when we pass so I don't break your concentration!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

MGM 50K Race Report!

This past Saturday marked the 19th year the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club has held its annual holiday-themed 50k run along the Bull Run trails. Seeing as how this is a Fat Ass race, its name has evolved over the years by translating "Fat Ass" into various languages. A few years back they settled on the Latin name: Magnus Gluteus Maximus, or MGM for short. Regardless of the name, the point of the race is always the same: Give the opportunity for VHTRCers to gather one more time before Christmas and have some fun on the trails.  This year had a special bonus in it for me as I had the privilege of pacing my friend Andy through his first-ever ultra. Considering he just ran his first marathon a couple weeks back in Philly, and the MGM was a breeze for him as well, I'd say the sky is the limit for this guy!

Like an idiot, I forgot to bring my camera, but thanks to the VHTRC website (you're the man, Anstr!), I can share some of the sights here:
RD Joe Clapper would look a little strange in his green tights anywhere but the MGM (or maybe in a Green Giant commercial). Either way, "Ho Ho Ho" applies!

While Joe instructs the crowd, I sneak in late and sign-up on the roster. I know, the ring around my hat isn't really "green", but it was the best I could do!

A total of 188 VHTRCers signed up to brave the cold for this run. Bonus points if you can spot me and Andy (green shirt) in the back!

The colorful pack stretches out along the banks of the river early on...

Most people fear the "Do Loop" on the Bull Run course. Not for any imposing climbs that you can see, but for what secrets (all bad!) it hides under its year-round blanket of leaves.

The best part about the MGM is the "Hanging Bourbon" tradition at the Aid Station just after the Do Loop. No better way to forget the horrors you just survived!

Mark Z. sums up the fun of the MGM run in one shot here. Also, he looks like Santa, which is pretty darn awesome for this race!

I've had a ton of fun over the past few weeks while starting to run again and taking advantage of the opportunities to pace a few friends in various races. Now that the race schedule is clear for the next few weeks, I'll start ramping up the training to prepare my legs for a year of more mountain running than ever before. With a couple races still TBD for me next year (most notably Hardrock..and whatever 100 I replace it with if I don't get in), I'm just going to prepare the best I can with focused speed and climbing workouts multiple times each week to have me ready for whatever races I find myself lining up for in 2011. The weekly long runs will be back in full-order starting this week, and with my body and mind both feeling great, I'm excited to see what kind of shape I can hammer myself into over the next couple months!

Oh, and speaking of Hammer...

Many of you know I love using Hammer gels and perpetuem as my main fuel source during races, and I thank them quite a bit for their sponsorship during this past year. That said, I've decided to not renew my deal with them for 2011. I'll continue to use their products, but I'll also feel much less guilty about mixing fuel from other companies that I've found also works well for me (and my stomach) at various times. I like to be able to tell those of you who are interested exactly what I'm taking during my races to help you possibly find better ways to fuel yourself in your own runs. The point of this blog was never to "sell" anything, just to help share info with other runners to help everyone achieve their best in this sport. I look forward to doing that in a completely unrestricted way once again from here on out!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MMT100 = I'm In!

The Massanutten 100 miler has sort of a "unique" way they hold their lottery: Each applicant is assigned an original 3-digit number when they sign up for the lottery. My number this year is 352. On the day of the lottery (which is today), they use the last three digits of the Dow Jones closing number to establish the "starting point" of the acceptance list. If the Dow finishes "up" for that day, the MMT race accepts the first 180 runners who had numbers higher than that starting point.  With the Dow closing UP 13.32 points today, the final closing number was 11,372.48. Looking at those last 3 digits, our official starting point is 248. This is AWESOME news for me, Mr. 352!!

The wait for my return to MMT will finally be over after three years of frustration...Revenge (and lots of smiles) will be mine on May 14!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Strike One!

Ok, so the Western States 100 lottery didn't work out for me this past weekend. Once again, my name wasn't drawn, so back into the pool it goes for next year. Oh, well. Tough to be too disappointed when friends Tammy, Mike, and Ric all got in though -  I look forward to cheering for you all next June. Congrats, Everyone!!!

Despite the continued lottery losing, the weekend wasn't a total bummer for me. I joined up with crew of my in-laws out in Dallas to cheer Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game. Even though the game ended about as well for Nebraska as my WS lottery did for me, we all had a great time...Not to mention the fact that I was in complete awe of the JerryDome out there in Cowboys country. Holy Cow, that thing is HUGE!

 Blurry iPhone shot of 4 of us (Me, nephew Spencer, Paul & Jon - Jeff was taking the shot), but check out the insane size of that stadium!

 That HD scoreboard is 180-feet wide!! In fact, look out your window right now at home, you can probably see it from there!

 SO MANY Nebraska fans made the 700 mile drive from their home state...I bet the number of them in the stadium eclipsed the number of Nebraskans actually left in the state itself that night!

The casual observer might think Spencer is staring in awe at the football game, but I know the truth: He couldn't take his eyes off the Chick-Fil-A blimp (in the shape of a cow) flying around the inside of the stadium dropping free chicken sandwiches on parachutes. In his defense, it WAS pretty cool!

With the WS100 & Nebraska losses behind me now, I can rekindle some hope for Wednesday night's Massanutten lottery results. This is my best chance to get into one of my Big Three 100s for 2011 (along w/ WS and Hardrock), so I'm really hoping my luck changes in a couple days!

Since I should probably mention something about actual running in this post, I'll mention I took the day off work on Friday to enjoy a great 28-30 miler on the Bull Run course. The cold weather has its benefits when I can get that many miles in without re-filling my Camelbak. I enjoy that kind of freedom to explore out on the trails without worrying about resupply. I was happy I decided to wear my Hokas out there as well...the extra cushioning helped protect my feet from 43 million of the leaf-covered rocks/roots I stepped on. I don't think I could wear them all the time (still not 100% confident on the most technical & rocky terrain since I've rolled my ankle once or twice in them already), but I was happy to have them on Friday's run, that's for sure!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Start Your Lottery Engines!

Even though it hasn't worked out too well for me in the past, I always love this week on the ultrarunning calendar. ...and it's not just because it marks the time for the biggest $$$ race in the sport at the NorthFace 50 Mile Championship in San Francisco. Sure, that race for the $10,000 first prize is fun to follow, and yes, I even earned an free entry via a sponsor's exemption from my Mohican 100 finish...but the reality is I'm smart enough to know all those guys can run faster than I can sneeze, so I'm better off saving my travel time and money and just watching the race from the east coast.

That race aside, the reason why I'm always most excited about this week is it's when the lottery season really starts to pick up for 2011 races. Tomorrow (Dec 1) marks the opening of the Massanutten 100 lottery, and with this most likely being my focus race for the Spring, I'm hoping I can sneak my way into the starting field. My return to MMT has been delayed for a couple years, and I'm anxious to get back out there in great shape to avenge my stupid DNF caused by a ridiculous fall on what was decidedly "non-MMT" type terrain. I mean really, the course has all those miles of rocks and roots to avoid, and I ended up slipping on what was basically a patch of wet grass. So stupid!

A couple days later on Dec. 4, the Western States 100 lottery drawing takes place out in California. Sure, I have almost no chance of getting into this race, but with three entries in the ol' hat this year, (I've applied and lost the past two years) I think that gives me something like an 8% chance of being drawn...which is better than some!

Should a miracle occur and my name actually be selected for WS100, the big question I'll have to think about is: Do I make this The Year I run the Grand Slam? Odds of me getting back into WS100 another year will be just as slim, so I'll have to take a loooong look at the calendar for the other three races (Vermont, Leadville, Wasatch) to see if I can swing it in what could be my only chance to actually "race" the Slam in top form. There are really only two "Bucket List" events left for me in the ultra world, and along with the Spartahlon, the Slam is on that list. Here's hoping the ping-pong balls bounce the right way on Saturday!

Fingers crossed for a little lottery luck to all of you who have your names in the various hats right now too!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Need for Speed (Translation: I am slow!)

Now that I'm a couple weeks into my new training plan, one fact has made itself abundantly clear:

I used to be fast.

...or at least much much much faster than I am now. Sure, it's been a solid 12 years or so since I've done any focused speed work on the track, but still, it's not like I'm in bad shape right now. Even with the lack of track time, I still run solid tempo runs every week, and I figured those would at least allow me to jump back in and run some relatively quick 1/4 mile laps. As it turns out...NOPE!

After two trips to the track, I think my legs and lungs are doing their best to quickly file a 'Cease and Desist' order to keep this trend from continuing. It doesn't seem like so long ago when I would glide around the track in what could be an endless string of 60-second 400s. Now, when I finish just a few at 70-second pace, it appears to on-lookers that I'm actively trying to breathe out of my eyes.

Clearly I've uncovered an area of my training that has been woefully neglected, and I know I need to pay the price over the next couple months to get things back to where they should be. The hard-working part of my brain is embracing the challenge with a mighty "Bring it on!!", but at this point the rest of me is most definitely responding with a "Seriously, Dan, what is wrong with you?". Hopefully the next couple months of track visits will result in all of me responding in a much happier fashion.

To all of you who are out of school and still keep speed work as a regular part of your training schedule, I have a whole new level of respect for you! Keep it up!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Richmond Marathon Race Report!

OK, so the Richmond Marathon didn't exactly go as planned. As most of you know, the plan was for me to pace my friend Amelia in her first marathon this weekend. As horrible luck would have it, a family emergency on Friday morning forced Amelia to stay in NYC and miss the race.  I was pretty upset upon hearing the news of the emergency, and at first wasn't too interested in going down to Richmond to shuffle through a boring marathon with my thoughts elsewhere.

After a couple hours of thinking it over, I randomly stumbled on a Facebook update from my friend Tammy. I was surprised to find out that she was going to be running in Richmond too.  I paced Tammy for the last stretch of the Vermont 100 a couple years ago, so I knew I'd be in good company if I ran with her again.  Amelia said she'd feel better if I still ran the race, so off I went to pace Tammy once again. As the following pictures will prove, no one runs a marathon quite like Tammy!

 Here we are at the chilly start...eventually the layers would come off as it turned out to be the best race-day weather I've ever experienced!

Proving the ultra-world is well-represented at every race, I ran into fellow VHTRC-er Mike Bailey (who I'm sure appreciates me including this "bottoms-up" photo of him!) and his friend James Carter just before the start. Mike went on to pace James to his first marathon finish - Congrats James!!!

 The race started off nicely as we ran through some beautiful fall roads in and around Richmond. Tammy only had to take her eyes off the views every few seconds as she put on an amazing display of running-while-texting early on. After we chatted with our friend Jamie on speaker phone for a few minutes, I realized we probably woke her up since it was only 6 a.m. at her home in Colorado. Sorry, Jamie!

Tammy is known for carrying her Sparkly fanny pack filled with waaaay too many supplies during races. The day before her running of the Javelina 100 a couple weeks ago, Jamie texted me to say Tammy had "15 lip balms and a poncho" in her pack. Here I am showing off the Chapstick I carried with me as a sign of solidarity for Tammy!

 Eventually we caught up with Tammy's husband Tristan and his dad around mile 12...for a much needed Cupcake break!

I was laughing at Tammy for eating the cupcake while we were running, but a couple minutes after that she really started moving!  I should also point out that Tammy's outfit (complete with pink everything, sparkly waist pack, and a lei!) made her a HUGE fan favorite along the course. Richmond loved her!

Of course she was also taking pictures the whole time too, so I think everyone got a kick out of that as well!

After running across a loooong bridge back into the city, we passed by the "Mosque Theater" where I took Lizzy to see a comedian on one of our first dates!

Shortly after the cupcake energy wore off, Tammy hit The Wall. ....actually, she never came close to hitting any wall. We clicked off even-paced miles in the second half to negative-split the race quite nicely. While you may not be too impressed by that fact per se, check out all the rest of the crazy stuff we did over the last few miles!

 First off, when Tammy saw a cute dog along the course, she demanded a photo stop!

Seriously, this happened multiple times!!

 ...but I guess I can't complain. I had my own reasons for stopping too...

 ...multiple times as well!  Tammy posed with me here to help me feel like less of a lush!

 The colors were extra-pretty the rest of the way!

 Sadly, the finish line came all too soon. ...and while you might think it took us forever to finish with all of the photographic evidence above, I'm proud to report we crossed the line in 4:07, just a couple minutes off Tammy's marathon PR! Sure I might come back in the future and try for a fast time of my own on this excellent course, but I guarantee I won't have as much fun (or beer!) as I did this time around!  Thank you, Tammy!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Volunteer Fun at Potomac Heritage Trail 50K!

Just because I'm not in racing shape doesn't mean I had to miss out on all the racing fun from this past weekend. With Mountain Masochist, the 100k World Championship, Pinhoti 100 miler, and NYC Marathon all taking place this weekend, there was hardly a moment that this ultra dork wasn't checking for online updates and split times. To help cure my racing jonze, Lizzy and I headed out to help volunteer at the Potomac Heritage Trail 50k on a beautiful day in DC!
Yes, it was quite cold out, but did I remember to wear gloves? Of course not.

The excitement of working the Mile 17 & 21 Aid Station kept us busy and distracted from the cold all day as 100 runners came through our oasis twice.

For added fun, this race has a few "Time Bonus" opportunities. Since runners had to pass through our Aid Station twice, we offered up a 10 minute bonus for anyone who could carry an egg (intact) over the 4 mile stretch of trail before they returned to our Aid Station the second time.
 Many took us up on the Egg offer, and all but a couple succeeded. It was safe to say the runners had a much easier time with their task than the guy in charge of getting everyone's splits as they passed through. Good help is so hard to find!

 As the sun went down and the last of the runners made their way through our stop, the cold was clearly telling us one thing...
Time to go home and sit in front of the fire!!

It was, indeed, a fun day working at the race yesterday. As much as I love running these races, I also enjoy being on the other side of the clip-board too. I know without the great volunteering spirit in the ultra world, none of the races I like to run would exist. It always feels good to give back a few hours of time to help give this great community of crazy people a reason to run outside on a freezing cold Sunday morning!

Yesterday also marked the completion of my first week of running again. The point of my 5-week break was to rest and recharge my body in preparation of a fun stretch of training over the next few months. The great news is not only do my legs feel great now, but I also don't appear to have lost too much speed either. Sure, I'm not going to blaze through a 50 miler any time soon, but it feels good to be able to cruise at a 6:30 or 7 pace without feeling like I'm working too hard on shorter runs. I expected Week 1 to be much more painful than it turned out to be. Of course, the last time I ran before my break it was still 90 degrees in DC, so I think the shift to 50 degrees helps put a little extra giddy-up in everyone's step this time of year!

The training continues this week, and as a Super Huge Highlight this weekend, I'll be heading down to Richmond with my friend Amelia to run her first marathon with her!  As a really good swimmer back in college, I seem to recall her thoughts about ever running a marathon falling somewhere between "Not in a million years" and "Not in a billion years".  So, technically-speaking there WAS a chance she'd run one someday. I couldn't be more excited that it's finally happening this weekend, and I'm super-psyched that I get to run it with her! I wonder how I can convince her to run a 100 miler...hmmmm...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back in the Saddle!

 So many reasons to be happy on this crisp fall morning here in DC...

1) It's November 1...That means I can officially start running again!

2) I actually cheated and went for my first run yesterday!

3) Since Lizzy and I moved into our new home during my running hiatus, I have so many new running routes to explore. My little jaunt yesterday took me over some hilly roads, a couple miles of paved bike path along a stream, some super-gnarly single track (that I spied off the side of the bike path and just had to explore!), an excellent 1/4 mile track for future speed work, and some slightly less gnarly single track that I enjoyed on the trip back home. I was like an excited puppy going around every corner thinking, "What's that over there? I wonder where this trail goes? Is that a squirrel? Oh, let's chase it!!".  It looks like I'll be strapping on the Garmin and exploring all these new routes for quite a while!

4) Not a lot of people know this, but I absolutely destroyed my back two weeks ago and could hardly walk for about 10 days or so (it was really really bad!). I was worried I wouldn't be able to run for quite a while, but it started loosening up over the past couple days, and when it felt pretty good after stretching it out yesterday, I decided to go on that little 6 mile run to test it out. I wasn't breaking any land-speed records or anything, but it felt so great to have it respond as positively it did. Back pain is the worst!

5) I'm someone who feeds off of the excitement and success of my friends in their running achievements, and the past couple weeks of PRs and CRs from my friends Tammy and Jamie have been so great to see! Amazing running, ladies!!  Also, I'll miss running the Mountain Masochist 50 this coming weekend, but I wish the best of luck to all my VHTRC friends and buddy Adam C. as he guns for one of those guaranteed WS100 spots. Good luck, everyone!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Starting with a Clean Slate in 2011

With today marking the 28th day of my break from running, I've had plenty of time to think about my goals for 2011. I'll start training again on November 1, so that means I'll have a solid two-month base in my legs once New Years rolls around and I start to look for some tune-up races. The Big Question is, what races should I run? Odds are I won't get into Western States or Hardrock (both lotteries have steep odds), so my focus 100 miler for the spring most likely will be the Massanutten 100 (I have much better odds in that lottery). Since I have some unfinished business at MMT100, I'll be more than happy to return there in killer shape to make things right. As for my other first-half-of-the-year races, I'm pretty much looking for ideas from other people. I know the 100 mile world pretty well, but I've only run two 50 milers, and two 50Ks, so any suggestions anyone has for great races to run, I'm all ears!

Once summer rolls around, I'll be super-excited to head out to Death Valley and crew for my buddy Chris Roman at Badwater. I'm very much looking forward to seeing that course up close and running as much as Chris needs me as a pacer.  After I return from that race, I'll focus on making a splash at the 24 Hour National Championship (it'll probably be in Ohio at NorthCoast again), and then find something fun to run in the fall (also looking for suggestions for races in October-December).

No matter where I end up toeing the line, I know I'll be in a "different" kind of shape next year. I've had plenty of time to plan out a new training schedule, and hopefully this plan translates into a little success for 2011. I haven't really focused on any "speed work" since I started running ultras, but I think this is as good a time as any to see what remains from my old 4-minute mile days. It's been a while, and I know it's gonna hurt like hell, but I'm also pretty darn excited to see what I can do with this new speed/distance hybrid training plan I've cooked up. It all kicks off in one the meantime, how about some race suggestions?!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Anatomy of a Running Closet

Just because I haven't been running these past couple weeks doesn't mean I've been taking it easy. For the past week or so, Lizzy and I have been moving into our new home! It has certainly been its own special breed of "ultra" over this time, and even though my back is pretty much shot, I'm happy to report we are officially all moved-in!

My first project in the new house? Setting up my running gear! I'm not sure how everyone else organizes all their stuff, but I'm loving my new set-up in this over-sized closet!

In terms of my body, my legs are definitely enjoying the break from running (15 days and counting!), and now that the move is over, I think my overall energy will be jumping back to normal as well. Now that I have a new starting point for all my daily runs, I'm excited to head out on a few mapping expeditions to see what fun routes I can find. I'm already excited by the fact that I have a BIG hill (just shy of a mile long) just around the corner from me now, and there's also a nice cushy high-school track 2.5 miles down the road that will be perfect for speed work (I've decided to blow a few years of dust off my track workouts and integrate them back into my training for 2011).

For my long adventures, I'm just a couple miles away from hooking up with the Mt.Vernon Trail (my old friend), the W&OD trail (45 miles long), and the 4 Mile Run Trail (longer than 4 miles!).  All this talk of new training routes is getting me excited, but for now I'm even more excited to rest up for a couple more weeks so I can be completely healthy when I hit the ground running in November!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why I Run

I watched the ESPN documentary on Canadian legend Terry Fox last night, and within 10 minutes I was flashing back, quite vividly, to my days in the cancer ward. His motivation - to go out and fight for those still suffering through treatments - is exactly what I've felt from the day I finished my chemo treatments.  Obviously Terry faced far more challenges than me in his running goals (note the primitive prosthetic leg he had, and consider the condition of his skin/bone after running well over 3,000 miles on it), but my motivation is exactly the same.

The distance he covered and the money he raised are, quite literally, breathtaking. Even though I will never approach such remarkable feats myself, I find comfort in knowing that if I keep running, doing my small part to keep getting out there and striving to inspire, a patient somewhere may stumble upon my blog and be motivated to keep fighting through their own treatment. ...and if they're anything like me, Terry, and countless other patients, they'll find a way to give back and inspire their fellow patients once they get out of the hospital.

We're all quite different in our abilities and backgrounds, but together we make an amazing team of cancer fighters. ...and through my running, I consider myself lucky to be a member.

This is why I run!
(, not for the NFL/Verizon ad you have to wait through...the part after that!)

ESPN will be re-airing this 1 hour documentary a few times in the next month, but I'll be honest in saying the air times are pretty horrible. The good news is you can find it on iTunes and Amazon. I haven't checked it out yet, but I would hope that some of the proceeds would go to the Terry Fox Foundation (if not, shame on you, ESPN!). Enjoy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Self Transcendence 24 Hour - Race Report

Well, this one will be pretty easy to write. I drove up to Ottawa on Friday for the Self-Transcendence 24 Hour run. I arrived just in time to get this shot of me in front of the Parliament building downtown before the sun went down. 

Sight-seeing? Check.
I then drove over to the dome and got some sleep in the XTerra Inn. 10 hours of sleep, to be accurate.

In the morning I set up my table and was ready to rock and roll. I swear the location I chose had nothing to do with my neighbor's back-side on the left there.

At 8:00 a.m. about 50 of us were off and running around the 400m track. I settled into my prescribed 9 minute pace and adjusted my liquid and electrolyte balance to suit the warmer-than-expected dome. After 2 hours (roughly 13 miles), I noticed a strange pain in both of my legs. It wasn't muscular, but more like a bone ache deep inside. I ignored it and continued on figuring that it, along with all dozens of other pains that pop up in a 24 hour race, would just go away.

An hour later, to my great surprise, I started yawning while running. Seemed about 20 hours early for this to start happening, but I brushed it off and soldiered on. I was still running my 9 minute pace, but for such an easy cruising speed, it was becoming increasingly more laborious to maintain...and what the hell was up with that ache in my legs? It kept getting worse. When I passed through the marathon mark and finished up the 4th hour, I felt like I needed a nap. Like, really needed a nap. What in the world was going on??

Over the next couple hours, I pulled out all of my tricks that I usually save as motivational elements for much, much later in races (music, 5-hour energy shots, etc etc). On this day, all of those things would serve to give me temporary jolts of adrenaline, but all that fuel was needed just to fight and keep my pedestrian 9 minute pace.

After the 6th hour, I was so wiped out I decided to mix a recovery drink and walk a couple laps to try and do something to snap my body out of the funk. I can normally run 24 hours on a surface like this without walking a single lap, so the fact that I needed to walk so hilariously early (and after two 5-hour energy drinks!) proved something was wrong, big time.

Immediately after starting to walk, I noticed my leg pain felt much much worse than when I was running. All I could do was grunt out two laps of walking before the pain forced me to start running again. I had no clue what was going on, but I figured I'd let my recovery drink get in my system for a couple hours and see how I felt then.

At the 7 hour mark I was out of tricks, and even though my leg muscles felt good, that weird bone ache was now spreading up through my hips. When I heard my lap-counter say I was on lap #193, I figured I'd get through 200 laps (50 miles) and then try to regroup somehow. As it turned out, I hit the 50 mile mark in 7 hours 30 minutes...exactly 9 minute pace. From an outsider's prospective, you could say I ran those first 50 miles precisely to plan and was in great shape to knock out another 95 or 100 miles. The reality was, I was fighting those first 50 like I had already covered 100 miles before them. I was completely wiped out. I staggered over to my aid table and plopped on the ground for a solid hour of moaning and grunting. My body was done. Clearly, this was not my day!

So, what the heck happened? Probably a couple things: Most significantly, my body is still probably still dealing with the trauma from my 150 miles of hell on the Long Trail a month ago. I figured the flat terrain and easy pace of this race would be OK for my legs, and from a muscular stand-point, I was right. I didn't have any specific muscle pain or fatigue, just that overall lack-of-energy and the strange bone pain. Probably a result of my body needing more general recovery time than it had. Also, for the week leading up to the race, I was super-tired during the day for some reason. I had to take a 3-hour nap a couple days after coming home from work, and the night before the race I was fast asleep before 9 p.m.. Maybe I have some random cold coming on, who knows?

The bottom line is, I gave it my best effort, but my body just didn't want to play along yesterday. The lesson to be learned here: I need to space out my major events next year. I enjoy 100+ milers so much that I forget it's probably smarter to mix in shorter races between them to allow for better recovery.  I hate the fact that I dropped from so many races this year, and I need to learn to plan my schedule accordingly next year to make sure this doesn't happen again. I know I have a big 24-hour run in me, I just need to learn to get myself to that starting line in better shape.

Speaking of recovery, this is officially it for 2010. I'm taking 6 weeks off, and then starting a proper training schedule for 2011. I'll come back a smarter and stronger runner from what I've learned this year, and even though I won't be sporting the Red, White, and Blue at the World Championship next year, I'll use the coming months to quietly hone my skills in training. That way, when I do make it back to the Team, I'll be better equipped to help them bring home a Gold Medal!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting Loopy in Canada this Weekend!

First of, let me congratulate everyone for their fantastic performances at the 24-Hour National Championship this past weekend in Cleveland! I certainly missed being there to share in the fun (and try for one of the automatic bids for Team USA like last year), but my "real life" schedule (work & a wedding) never really made it possible for me to consider it this time around. It was fun cheering on my friends from my computer throughout the race though, and Serge Arbona and Phil McCarthy showed their grit and racing smarts by hanging on to finish 1st and 2nd for the men and earn their spots on the Team for next year's World Championship in Switzerland. Also impressive was the young (23 years old!) but strong and smart Nick Coury who charged past the 135 mile mark in the final hour to grab the last automatic spot on the team. Great job, guys!  On the ladies side, Connie Gardner stormed back to the top of the 24 Hour world by winning the ladies' championship (and finishing 2nd overall!) with Anne Riddle Lundblad and Anna Piskorska securing the other two spots on the Team. Fantastic running, Ladies!!

What does all of the above have to do with my race this weekend? Well, with Serge, Phil, and Nick officially on the team...and Mike Henze's impressive 154.5 miles at the worlds pretty much guaranteeing him an open qualifying spot...and the likely odds that Scott Jurek will not run World's next year (thus opening up his automatic spot on the team to the rest of us)...that means there are probably two spots left up-for-grabs on the team. Depending on how far back they stretch the qualifying window (it's been 18 months recently), it most likely means I'll need to run somewhere in the 141-145 mile range this weekend to have a good chance of grabbing one of the final two spots. There are still 3 or 4 more 24-Hour races left in the year (including the return of Across the Years) too, so nothing is guaranteed for me, but if I can grind out a 145, I think I'll be in pretty good shape.

So, do I think I can run 145 miles in Ottawa? Sure, why not?! I'll be running in a dome, so weather is taken out of the equation...and unless the 1/4 mile loops make me loopy, the flat and fast surface should certainly help me maximize my potential. I'll also be heading up to the race solo and running without a crew. Some may see this as a detriment, but I've actually run some of my best races when I've been all alone. Obviously I love having a crew and family/friends cheering for me, but when I'm alone I've found that I'm able to reach a tremendously deep level of concentration and focus as I slip into my running coma out there. I'll lose a little time mixing my drinks, etc, but in the long run of a 24 hour race, it really won't matter too much.

I'm excited to head up north and put forth the best effort I can. It'll definitely be the last race of the year for me (I did get into Mountain Masochist, to which I applied months ago, but if I do head down for that race in November it will literally be on zero training and I'll plan to just use it as a fun scouting run for a future "race" attempt). I need a solid 5 or 6 weeks of NO RUNNING between Ottawa and November to recharge my legs and bring back the excitement and desire for putting in a serious training period for 2011 (Read: I'm a little burned out on running right now!). No matter what happens in Ottawa, I'll enjoy 24 hours of peaceful calm as I loop the track at 9 minute pace and reflect on the ups and downs of the past 14 months of running. I fell short of a few goals, sure, but I also learned quite a few lessons along the way that will help me come back as a stronger and smarter runner next year. Sure, it'll be great to show off those new smarts in Switzerland as a return member of the Team, but I know I'll find some great new running challenges in 2011 no matter what happens in this final chapter of 2010!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Taking Stock

Now that two full weeks have passed since my Long Trail fund-raising success/physical failure, I think it's time to look ahead at the rest of the year and see what makes sense in terms of running plans.  First off, the good news is my knee is feeling much better after the ridiculous beating it took in Vermont. All the tendons, ligaments, and muscles surrounding the joint are structurally sound, and once the swelling went down after a week, I was walking pain-free. It still hurts to the touch in spots (probably a result of a bone bruise?), but I've been able to run on it a little in the past couple days, so that's encouraging.

Also encouraging is the fact that I hammered my legs into fantastic shape for the Long Trail, but didn't actually get a chance to beat them up as much as expected (stopping 120 miles early will benefit you that way). This means they're still in great shape and ready for one more big run before I shut things down for a bit. I've been racing/training for 14 straight months without a real break at this point, and I think it's foolhardy to tempt the injury gods much more before giving my body a chance to heal up completely.  Even though that means missing out on a month or so of fantastic fall running weather, I know I need to make the investment.

That said, my last big run of 2010 will take place up in Canada in a couple weeks. It'll be my only 24-hour effort of the year, so if I have any chance of making the U.S. Team again in 2011, it'll have to happen there. I think my knee will be fine, and my overall fitness should be pretty good too, so it's just a matter if the Circle-Running Gods want to shine on me or not up there. The insane part of my brain is actually looking forward to mind-numbing practice of running around a 1/4 mile track for 24 hours (that's 560 laps for 140 miles...yikes!). I'll be running w/out a crew too, so if there ever was a chance for me to slip into a 24 hour running-coma, this is definitely it. ...and if the race ends up not going so well for me, at least I can look forward to some Tim Horton's on the drive home, eh?!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Long Trail Race Report!

When can falling 120+ miles short of your goal be considered a successful run? When you realize your adventure isn't about personal achievement at all, but about rallying an amazing group of friends to support a cause more important than any silly trail run. Thanks to all of you who so generously donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I have a big smile on my face while typing this report knowing the great thing we all accomplished. Together we raised over $3,000 for cancer research. Teamwork is awesome. Thank you!!

As for the down-and-muddy details of what happened up there over 150 miles of the VT Long Trail, here we go...

I knew I was up against a tough challenge when the pre-run forecast of rain, rain, and more rain came true. My crew (parents Joan and Steve) drove me up to the Vermont/Canada border from MA on Sunday under dark skies and steady showers. They, along with their over-stuffed Murano, would serve as my lifeline over the next three days in the mountains.
You need a slice of pizza or a roll of duct tape? The crew has it!

Since the Long Trail starts about 1.5 miles from the nearest road, I packed up my gear and hiked about half-way up to the LT the night before where I could sleep in a shelter out of the elements.
Great shot of me prepping in the rain just before I headed into the mountains
Steve's look sums up my feelings about the rain too!
...and off I go into the slop!
I was lucky enough to have some company in the Journey's End shelter: Peter, a recent retiree from upstate NY was ready to begin his own Long Trail adventure the next day as well. Pete was planning on taking about 4 weeks, and in many ways I was envious of his plan. I grew up vacationing, hiking, etc. in the mountains of New England, and as a result I truly feel at home up there. A nice side-note for this Long Trail adventure would be that I would finally complete a long-delayed goal of hiking all of New England's 67 peaks above 4,000 feet. Even though I didn't make it to the end of the Long Trail, I did get far enough to cover the last of the 4,000 footers on my list, so that's something to smile about!

The rain came down steadily all night as I half-slept in the shelter. When I awoke at 5 a.m. to hike the final half-mile up to the official start of the Long Trail, the trail was a flat-out river, and the fog limited my visibility to about 10 feet. I took me 40 minutes of slipping and tripping to finally get up to the start, and with a quick video post, I was off at exactly 6:00 a.m.. I knew I was in for a challenge to stay on record pace with the wet conditions, so I did my best to ignore any time-goals and just take what the trail gave me. This really held true for the whole adventure. I didn't run with any music or anything that normally affects my effort or speed in normal races. I just let the trail dictate what speed it would allow at any given point, and took advantage when I could. Since I knew I had crew stops (with fresh shoes and socks) at roughly 10, 20, and 30 miles, I was able to worry a little less about avoiding some of the crazy stretches of mud and just plow through when I felt like keeping my momentum going. Exactly how bad was the mud? I posted this clip just to give everyone an idea. Conservatively speaking, I'd say at least 50% of the trail for the 150 miles I covered looked like this:
Mother Nature laughs at my record attempt plans!
The first of FIVE shoe/socks changes on Day One
Even with all the mud and slick-as-ice rocks, I was able to move pretty well along the trail early on. My legs were in perfect shape to power up the steep inclines and hammer the downs that offered reasonable footing. I finished each of the first three 10-mile sections about 15 minutes ahead of record pace (using Cave Dog's pace chart from 2004 since JB basically ran the same pace last year). I knew I was in excellent physical shape coming into this adventure, and the biggest factor for me hanging close to the record would be the weather. Having made it through those first 30 muddy miles in such good time, I figured it would only get easier as the trail would hopefully dry out as the day(s) went on. Of course, I also thought Cop Rock was a good idea for a TV show, so you know, I've been wrong before.

Up next after my mile 30 crew stop was a 20 mile section without any chance for crew access, so I loaded up on extra water in my pack and headed out looking to make it through mile 50 in the daylight (something I never thought possible in the wet conditions to start the day). I had another nice section of progress here, signed into the trail register near mile 50 at Route 15, and packed up my overnight bag w/ my change of clothes and mylar blanket.
"Trooper" signs in yet another trail register

It got pretty cold at night, but I had my grandma's cookies to keep me warm!
My plan was to get up over Madonna Peak by midnight so I could grab some sleep on the trail before heading back down to meet my crew at Rt. 108 around 7 a.m.. The trail over Madonna Peak is notorious for being poorly marked and tough to follow. I knew this heading in and took extra time to make sure I was on the right route. As a note on the Long Trail markings overall, I must say I was surprised at how hard they were to follow on many of the open crossings near ski areas (Stark's Nest, you're totally off my Christmas card list!)...and then there was the 17 mile section between Lincoln Gap and Middlebury Gap where, apparently, they've decided to remove ALL trail blazes...can't figure out the reasoning on that at all, but some of the trees literally had chiseled out sections were the blazes once existed.

As it was, I didn't get lost heading over Madonna Peak, but that section did prove to be super muddy and slippery (made worse by that fact that I was doing it in the dark). After getting to a good spot to lay down, and taking the time to clean up with some baby wipes and change my clothes, I only had 90 minutes to sleep (between 2 a.m - 3:30 a.m.) before I had to get back on the trail to meet my parents at the appointed time. As expected, this time passed like a blink of the eyes, and I was up and on the move before I knew it.  I was probably a little anxious to get started on the massively-tough second day, and in my haste on the dark trail, I took a couple stupid wrong turns wasting about 30 minutes total. At one point, I was so turned around, I needed to crack out my compass to make sure I wasn't actually headed back up toward Canada on the trail. So stupid!  Delays aside, I made it back to my crew in good shape and ready to tackle the big climbs of Day 2.

First up was the highest peak in the state of Vermont, the "Chin" of Mt. Mansfield. This was a beautiful (and tough!) climb, and I posted this clip about 500 feet below the peak as the sun started coming out. I figured with sun and wind the trail would be finally drying out and I could have a strong day on solid trails, but man-oh-man was I wrong. Nearly this entire 20 mile un-aided section was a mud bog mess (with the exposed rocks above the tree line being the only dry terrain I would traverse all day).  I felt like I was in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner with 'water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink'!  Even though things weren't going easily (on top of struggling w/ the terrain, I had two hard falls when trying to push the pace), I did force a smile when passing by this sign so I could send the pic to my wife's Nebraska-native family:

By the time I made it back to my crew at Bolton Notch Road, I'd fallen more than a couple hours off record pace and was tremendously frustrated w/ the all the mud. My legs still felt surprisingly strong, but they wanted to RUN, and there was precious little of that on this day. After the next short and somewhat easy section, followed by the only three paved road miles of the Long Trail (that I reached, anyway), I pulled into Duxbury Road parking lot at the foot of the huge Camel's Hump climb ready to regroup and have some dinner. The crew had a tasty pizza waiting for me, and I was more than happy to make it disappear!
Enjoying dinner while checking out the work ahead of me when the sun goes down.
I felt fantastic after my dinner break and actually enjoyed the tough 7 mile climb up and over Camel's Hump. It wasn't until the top section that the trail reverted to its usual muddy mess. Prior to that, I was enjoying the best trail conditions of the whole 95 mile journey to this point. After making it up and over the Hump, I headed a couple miles back down to find a vacant tent platform to crash on for a couple hours. I was pretty tired after such a long, hard day (and only 90 mins of sleep the night before), and I was happy to be able to get 3 hours of sleep here in the appropriately-named "Wind Gap". That wind, I should point out, provided me with one of the more humorous moments of my adventure: About 2 hours into my sleep, I had a dream in which a couple morning radio DJs were reading off a list of the "Top 10 Most Useless Consumer Products". They were laughing at #7 on the list, the "Emergency Space Blanket", when I woke up and realized I was shivering like crazy as a result of the wind blowing my emergency blanket off my feet. It's crazy how quickly the brain works like that!

Because of the cold and wind, I woke up again before my 3:45 a.m. alarm and hit the trail to warm up. I had my nutrition plan operating to perfection on the whole trip, and I smiled at how completely fresh my legs felt even after nearly 48 hours of being beat up on the trail. Even my knee, which I smashed up pretty badly on Day One was starting to feel better as well. I was a couple hours behind record pace getting to Appalachian Gap, but with things feeling as good as they did, and the trail hopefully improving in the miles ahead, I was confident I could make up the time once I was able to run a little more.

First up on Day 3 was a 12 mile section to Lincoln Gap that would climb up and over two more 4,000ft. peaks. My fresh legs laughed at the climbs, and the predicted rain held off throughout the morning, but other than that, the section was a disaster. I lost the trail twice when passing over unmarked sections by ski trails (seriously, why aren't these things marked better...or AT ALL, even?!!!) and wasted about 30 minutes walking around in circles looking for the correct route. In addition, the 4 mile ridge line between Mt. Ellen and Mt. Abraham was a pure slop-fest. I really was trying to run (fueled by my trail-marking frustrations), but the mud and slick rocks would have none of it. When I made it down to the crew at Lincoln Gap, they were happy with how quickly I covered the section, but I let them know about all the delays and knew I lost a big opportunity to get back on record pace because of it.
Storming down to the road after a frustrating section. Note that sign says the trail is closed through Memorial Day to preserve it through the Spring Mud Season. Here's one vote to formally extend "Mud Season" through August!
Everyone says the trail gets easier once you head south of Lincoln Gap, so I was excited about starting out on the next 17 mile section through the Breadloaf Wilderness to Middlebury Gap. The good news was, even though the mud was still horrendous, there definitely were more runnable sections of this trail, and the climbs were short and easy as well. The problem was, with more runnable sections, the number of my slips and falls increased as well. The most notable fall involved me banging the inside of my already-banged-and-swollen knee extremely hard on a rock (this spectacular fall also involved me bouncing off my chest and knocking out my wind for a while). I knew I needed to keep moving to keep the knee from stiffening up too much, but it was certainly painful going for a mile or two. I knew I dodged a serious bullet, and even though I couldn't run as well as before with the new hitch in my gate, I still made good time over the section and had made up a huge chunk of time on the record pace.  I arrived for a some dinner at Middlebury Gap in a good mood and ready for things to get faster and easier on the final 130 miles or so.
All smiles at Middlebury Gap with dinner in my belly and easy miles ahead
I headed into the darkness ready for a couple more hours of moving before grabbing an hour or two of sleep wherever convenient along the way. Just as things were looking really good (and my parents had just promised me the forecast was for nothing but clear skies for the rest of the week), it started to rain again. Son of a Blaze! Not again!!

About an hour later, while moving pretty well despite the conditions, I had another surprise fall and hit the inside of my knee again. The resulting stream of expletives came out my mouth so hot and fast I think they actually dried out a mile of trail in front of me. I tried to walk it off for 20 minutes or so, but the pain and swelling was far too much to think about moving ahead safely, especially in the rain. I was able to hike up a little further to get cell coverage and let my crew know I needed turn around and meet them back at Middlebury Gap. I took a few minutes to record my "video of defeat", and then I broke off a nice crutch from a dead tree and began the s-l-o-w trip back down the mountain. With my knee limiting my leg flexibility to about 10%, I wasn't very stable on my feet when I hit the rocky sections, but I had to make my way off the mountain, so down I went.

Just to prove Nature didn't care about my (or any human) intentions, about a mile from the road I came upon a toad sitting in the middle of a wooden plank covering a mud bog . I didn't want to step on the toad with a wobbly step, and since I couldn't go around him due to the deep bog, I used my cane to give him a little tap on the butt to get him to jump out of the way. To my surprise, he didn't budge one bit! After another tap, and no reaction, I realized what he was really telling me: That toad, just like the rest of Nature, really didn't care about my plans. The toad wasn't moving for me, the rain wasn't stopping for me, and those rocks weren't drying off for me. In the months of preparation for this adventure, I had done all I could to put myself in the best position to break the speed record by controlling all the things I could (training, nutrition, gear, etc), but without a little luck from nature, it just wasn't possible to reach that goal. ...and even though I hate to fall short of any goal, I was OK with being forced to stop this time. There was simply nothing more I could do.

As it turned out, it rained all night long, and my knee swelled up even more making anything more than a slow, painful limp impossible. I gave it all I could during my 60 hours on the trail, and I tip my hat to Jonathan Basham, Cave Dog, and all the men and women who have made it through the entire Long Trail. It is, indeed, a rugged trail that rewards you with views of  beautiful countryside (when it's not slapping you in the face!). I highly recommend planning an adventure on the LT if you like this type of terrain, and I'm more than happy to lend some planning advice for anyone planning such a journey. Just let me know!

As for where I go from here, I'm not really sure. My legs feel fresh and strong, but my knee is pretty messed up. I'll need to give that some solid rest and rehab before getting back out on the training roads/trails. I'll most likely miss the Trilogy in WV, which pains me quite a bit since I've been looking forward to it for months, but I need to make sure this knee is 100% before I start beating it up again!

Finally, once more with great heart-felt emotion, I want to thank all of you for your donations and support for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We've raised over $3,000 together on this adventure, and I couldn't be more proud to count all of you as my friends. You guys are the best!!