Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dream Races...Revisited

One of the best things about ultra-running is being able to set your sights on a lofty (occasionally crazy?) goal and achieve it with good ol' fashioned hard work (...with a dash of pain and suffering thrown in).  The other "best" thing about ultra-running, for me anyway, is meeting so many great people in this sport and celebrating along with them as they achieve their own hard-earned goals.

Two years ago I wrote this post on "Dream Races" in which I listed a few of my own "bucket list" races and asked readers to list some of theirs as well.  My motivation to look back to that post today was to confirm my suspicion that with the upcoming Spartathlon in September I will have run all 3 of the original dream races on my list (sure, the 24-Hour Worlds and Long Trail ended less-than-perfectly for me, but I have nothing but wonderful memories of both....OK, maybe a few mud-flashbacks still haunt me from VT, but they're mostly all wonderful memories!). The pleasant surprise and excitement I realized while re-reading the comments at the end of that post was seeing the lists of Dream Races my friends offered up; I immediately began smiling as I realized how many of those dream goals have also been achieved in just the past two years!

Tony P has become a machine in the 100+ mile world and completed his goal of Badwater TWICE and is headed back for a third this July. This recurring dream is apparently no nightmare for Tony!

Chris Roman is also checking off that Badwater box this July, and to double my excitement on that one, I'll be pacing him along the way to realizing that dream!  Even more important, Mr. Roman's goal of raising money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation keeps getting bigger and bigger as he racks up the miles and dollars to support this excellent charity. Speaking of which, if you'd like to help Chris's CAF fund-raising effort at Badwater, just follow this link for all the inspiring details. Chris has all sorts of bonus/matching $$ scenarios out there, so anything you can donate will be doubled at least!

Adam Cassaday has not only achieved his dream to set up an epic 3-day stage race in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia (The Trilogy), but in less than a week he will be headed down to Georgia with his wife Kadra to begin the realization of his huge dream of hiking/running the entire Appalachian Trail! Color me white-blaze-jealous!

With so many goals already checked and dreams realized, I think it's appropriate to send out the call once again to see what races are on your "bucket list" now. The three big goals I've been thinking about over the past couple years since the last post are:

1) Completing the Grand Slam (as soon as I get into WS, it's on!)
2) Going after the Grand Canyon R2R2R2R2R record (4x crossing, current FKT is 22h48m)
3) Trying my hand at the Sri Chinmoy 6-Day race in NYC (this one is less of a Dream and more of a curiosity!).

While I may not be fortunate enough to achieve all three of these goals in the next two years, I'm happy to know that their simple existance out there on the horizon is enough to keep me motivated and day-dreaming while racking up my daily miles until the right time comes.

So how about it, what's on everyone's current Dream Race list? Judging by the success of my 2009 post on this topic, if you say it out loud, odds are it WILL come true!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My New Treadmill is a Jerk

Sure, the weather is excellent for running in DC these days, but my lack of access to mountains during the busy work week means far too many hours must still be spent climbing the old hamster wheel indoors. The good/bad news is, we recently acquired a new treadmill that has the insane ability to ramp itself up to a 30% incline. I didn't even know anything higher than 15% was available until now....and I kinda wish I was still unaware of this fact. The reason being, if you put me on a machine that can be run at a 30% incline, I'm going to jack it right up there and run at 30%. Of course, what I realized about 60 seconds after starting my first workout on that steep of a grade is "running" is only possible for about 61 seconds. After that I'm forced to slow it down and yell out, "Let the shuffling commence!".
The good news is, I do love to suffer, so this baby is definitely filling that void in my life these days. It's all in the name of cramming in training for MMT on May 14, so I'll keep coming back for my regular 30% beatings until then. It's pretty amazing how quickly you can rack up 4,000 ft. of gain on this thing (what's less-than amazing is how quickly you want to pass out immediately thereafter)!  If anyone else wants to suffer like me, here's the link to this beast on the FreeMotion website.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bull Run 50 Miler - Race Report!

"OK, let's see if I can't fake a 50!"

These are the words I said to myself as I walked to the starting line of the Bull Run 50 in the pre-dawn darkness on Saturday morning. I knew my body was seriously under-trained and still struggling to regain its normal energy/breathing levels after fighting through the longest respiratory cold in the history of phlegm. I knew the only way I wouldn't embarrass myself is if I made sure to focus on the things I could control (fuel, pace, snot-rocket trajectory, etc.), and then hope the 5 days off from running leading into the race did something to help my energy levels return. Also important to note: Bull Run is only a 50 miler, not a 100+. This means after the first step of the race, my brain begins telling me, "Only 40-something miles to go...". Good thing I'm dumb enough to buy into "glass half-full" stuff like this when I'm running.

The starting much talent from all corners of the Ultra world!     Robert Fabia Photo
...and we're off!    Robert Fabia Photo
In retrospect, it was probably not a good sign to be straining on the first mini-hill of the day!  Robert Fabia Photo
The race started off easy enough just after sunrise. I made sure I was close enough to the front during the opening 1/3 mile loop through the parking area to avoid any log-jams when the 344 of us hit the tight and twisting single-track (which makes up about 99% of the course). Even though the weather was perfect for running (cloudy, 40s to low 50s), the previous day's rain made more than a few sections of the course a slick and muddy mess. Lucky for us, the rains also turned a few of the river crossings into "knee deep" affairs, so we had a couple chances to "rinse off" while running through them as well. As for running in these conditions, I've said it before, not as a shameless plug but as an honest reality: Thank God for Drymax socks! Their Max Pro trails are the greatest. Even with my under-trained feet, I finished the race blister-free, yet again.

A few of the concrete cylinders were still semi-useful in the high water!   Robert Fabia Photo
Others were just slippery ramps into the river.  Robert Fabia Photo
 As the early miles rolled on, I warmed up on the flats and cruised up the first couple hills in a loose pack with Keith Knipling, Brad Hinton, and a couple others. Quite honestly, I was just happy to have made it to the first aid station at mile 7.2 without needing to lean on a tree and wheeze away like an accordion while catching my breath (as has been the case any time I've tried to even shuffle that far in the past couple weeks). While the others stopped for quick refills at the aid station, I cruised through and headed up river on my own. Since I train on the BR50 course so much, I knew precisely how to plan out my fuel stops to minimize delays during the race. I started the race carrying all the fuel I needed in my Camelbak (full bladder with 5 gels mixed in, and a 5-gel flask for each of my two refill stops). I just needed to stop two times (mile 21 and mile 35) to refill with water and mix in a gel flask. I spent no more than 60 seconds at each of these aid stops, and I can't imagine saving any more time even if I had a crew out there. The excellent team of volunteers are to be thanked for this (Thank you Tammy!).

It was a little sloppy out there, but who was I to complain, I couldn't run fast anyway!  Desiree Williams Photo
As I neared the northern turn-around (mile 9.4) I saw that Matt Woods and David Frazier were having no trouble with the mud as it appeared their feet weren't even touching the ground as they ran. A handful of other great runners were already a few minutes back from those speedsters, and when I hit the turn-around cone myself, I realized I was in 8th place. Since I figured I was already running on borrowed time,  there was absolutely no "race" in my legs/mind, I just wanted to settle into some sort of groove and survive the day without having to take a nap along the trail.

Reality caught up to me shortly after passing through the mile 11.6 aid station. This is where runners climb back up/down the first couple hills they traversed to start the race before continuing on with the southern part of the course (which has dozens of hills itself). Since I've run these couple hills on the northern part of the course roughly 47,000 times in the past few years of training out there, I knew I was in real trouble when about 1/2 way up the very first one my lungs pulled the emergency brake and I was forced to walk. I believe the exact words I said matter-of-factly to myself, bad grammar and all, were: "Well, this ain't no good!"

No wonder running uphill was so hard, my GIANT head must weigh 50 lbs. Thanks fish-bowl lense!  Bobby Gill Photo
With about 37 miles to go, and my ability to run up the big hills already gone (I just want to point out how ridiculous this fact is was only mile 13!), I looked back into my bag of tricks to figure out a way to survive the day. Time to focus on controlling the things I could control. With the overcast and cool weather, I knew my fuel plan was spot-on. I had my ipod waiting in my pack to deploy as needed later in the race (I found out later on that the music also blocked out my wheezing and gasping as I climbed up the hills, and the lessened awareness I had that I was struggling had a wonderfully positive affect on my mindset). I also had a couple caffeine bombs (Roctanes) to drop as needed in the 2nd half.

All of those treats were nice pick-me-ups to have handy, but they wouldn't mean much if I didn't figure out a way to make up for the lost time from walking all the hills. Lucky for me, I have two things that I figured could make up for the problem: 1) Really long legs, and 2) A complete fearlessness of running downhill like my Camelbak is on fire. Normally I run quick-but-controlled while going downhill, like most of us do, but I needed to throw a little caution to the wind on this day to make up for the lost time on the climbs. Why not let gravity do the work for me, right? I opened up the fly-wheel on pretty much all the downhills and ran some of them thisclose to reckless pace. I would never do that in a 100+ mile mountain race since it would trash my quads pretty quickly, but this was only a 50, so I just embraced the fun!

As it turned out, the downhills were a total life-(and time)saver all day long, and even though I felt wiped out so early in the race, not struggling to run up the hills kept me from ever reaching a level of true suffering. I'll take "wiped-out" over "full-on suffering" any day!  A nice distraction I also had for the final 25 miles or so was chatting (and playing leap-frog with) Jim Blandford from PA. James was annihilating his course PR by over an hour out there, and it was a treat to watch him do it for all those miles. Just when I thought he was fading behind me, he'd come storming back to jump in front of me. We cruised in the last few miles together, and I figured he deserved the extra spot on the finishers list so I stepped back at the last second to give him the clear 7th place finish. Awesome run, Jim!!
Crossing the line with Jim shaking RD Anstr Davidson's hand in front of me.  Robert Fabia Photo
The race was such a departure from my normal "even pace" plan, but the end result was an average of 8:35/min miles and a 7 hour 15 minute finishing time which was good enough for 8th place. I'm more than happy with how it all worked out in the end. I'm looking forward to having my energy-level and lung capacity return to normal over the next couple weeks so I can get back to some real training and put in an honest effort at the Massanutten 100 in May. One thing is for sure, with fellow MMT100 entrants Neal Gorman and David Frazier both obviously in great shape (tied for 2nd at Bull Run in 6:44), it'll be fun to see them mix it up with the rest of the loaded field over those 100 miles of rocky fun on next month!

Finally, BIG congrats go out to the winners of this 19th edition of the Bull Run 50 miler: Matt Woods broke the course record by one minute (!!) in 6:08, and super-talented Annette Bednosky came up from NC to take the women's race in 7:39. Just as big of a congratulations goes out to my friend Andy Gingrich who went from volunteering at this race last year (having never run more than 13 miles) to racing in it this year and scorching the course in 8:39! Awesome job!
David Frazier (2nd-tie, 6:44), Matt Woods (1st, 6:08 CR), Neal Gorman (2nd-tie, 6:44)  Robert Fabia Photo

Annette hammers it all the way to the finish for the win!   Robert Fabia Photo
The finish line gathering was full of great folks for me to catch up with (24-Hour teammate Anna Piskorska was a surprise treat to see out there) and meet for the first time (Neal Gorman, Annette, Howard Nippert), and as always, the VHTRC crew of organizers and volunteers were beyond top-notch. RD Anstr Davidson did yet another stellar job through-and-through, and I hope he and all the hard workers on this event are enjoying a nice relaxing day off today! Congratulations to all!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Time to Run with the Bulls!

Ok, in my current "recuperating" condition, running with the actual "Bulls" in Pamplona wouldn't be such a good idea (on account of all the trampling and such). The good news is, I get to drag my out-of-shape butt down to a much more enjoyable place to run slowly this weekend at the Bull Run 50 miler! The blue bells are out in full-force on the course, and this annual marker of the arrival of spring has me quickly forgetting how disappointed I am at not being able to run the race at 100%.
Running through the sea of Blue Bells in 2009
Even though I won't be able to run at full speed (75% still feels like 100% as I slowly get my energy back), I'm looking forward to building some character and "gutting out a 50" as some solid mental training for the rest of my much-longer races this year. A little suffering goes a long way in this sport...and I mean that in a positive sense!

As far as the guys and gals who will be leading the way along this historic Civil War battlefield course, there will be some excellent talent for me to watch on the out-n-back sections: Matt Woods (100k National Team), Annette Bednosky (100k & 24 Hour National Team), Neal Gorman (Grand Slam record-holder), Adam Hill (always kills this race), Jack Pilla (VT 100 Champ), Aaron Schwartzbard (faaaaaaaaaasssssst!), and a bunch of other folks who can bust 7:30 on this course.

Sure, I'd much prefer to be up there mixing it up with this crowd, but my last couple weeks of running have firmly proven that my body is still recovering from what will be known for all-time as 'March Illness Madness'. I'm happy to be able to simply strap on the shoes Saturday morning and enjoy the fact that I can put all of that nonsense 50 miles further in the rearview mirror. I think I'll even run with my camera to add some fun to my Race Report next week as well. Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying the return of Spring as much as I am!