Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mountain Valley 10 Miler

This was the second annual Mountain Valley 10 miler, located in Keezletown, VA. The course is mostly rolling hills and runs alongside the beautiful base of Massanutten Mountain. Since I began running races in 2004, I have logged 785 race miles in 18 events. That is an average of 43.6 miles per event, and that is not a miscalculation or typo. The events I run are ultramarathons, or races over the traditional 26.2 mile marathon distance.

The Mountain Valley 10 Miler was my first non super long distance race. A mere 10 miles. However, this race reminded me alot of when I first started running. Not because of what I experienced, but because of what one of my friends experienced. About a month ago, I read about this 10 mile race in a small ad in the local paper. It was low key, fairly new, and would have fewer than 50 runners. I thought it would be a fun race for me, but a better race for my friend John Fontana. John had recently signed up to run the Rock 'N Roll half marathon in VA beach. He had decided to take on the physical challenge of running 13.1 miles. John was a standout cross country runner in high school, so the tools for running were there, they just needed to be re-sharpened. The main challenge is the distance, and mentally knowing that he will need to run the equivalent of a 5k, plus an additional 10 miles. Thus, the 10 miler would prove to be a key training run in overcoming the mental hurdle of a half marathon. If John could finish a 10 miler, he could absolutely finish a half marathon.

May 24th Race day!

Me and John got up at about 6am. We drove to a local bagel shop for some breakfast before heading to the race. The weather was perfect. Low 60's, sunny, with a decent breeze. We both register ourselves, get our t-shirts, and bib numbers. We had about 40 minutes of down time before the race in which we did some light stretching and a short jog. I honestly couldn't tell if John was nervous or not. I was pretty laid back, so hopefully that helped. The other runners showed up all looked pretty serious. I had a feeling it was going to be a fast group. I recognized some former elite college runners and my friend Jack, who had just run the Boston marathon in an impressive 2:57.

The RACE begins! We line up at the start...and then GO! 8:03 am. I hit my stopwatch so I can keep track of John's pace and mile split times. The group goes out fast, and the front runners are already distancing from the pack. I initially thought we started too fast, but we clocked the first mile in at 8:33. At this point I told John that he would control the pace of the run. I did not want John to run my pace, but me to run his. The next couple of miles gradually climb until about 3 miles into the race. John's pace was still pretty good, and we were taking advantage of the "flatter" road sections. The road was mostly open, and the wind was both good and bad. It felt nice to have a breeze, but sometimes the headwind seemed to slow things down.

3.5 miles- This is where the climbs start. I mentioned this to John, so he seemed pretty ready for the vertical running. This big hill went for about a mile, and John was able to run the entire thing in impressive fashion. However, the hill descends as steep as it goes up, which can take a toll on your legs. That was supposedly the only big wasn't.

5 miles: I told John he was now in uncharted territory. His longest run previously was 5 miles. From this point, he would have to run twice as far as he ever had. A big challenge for anyone, but he was up for it. The only question was how John's body would respond to the extra miles.

6 miles: More hills. This section was a surprise, since we ended up going up another steep hill. I think this is the only spot that gave John trouble. The road got so steep that running and walking would be about the same speed. Needless to say these were the slowest miles of the race. So we walked a few feet, got to the top of the climb, and began running again. The next few miles after this were mostly flat like we thought.

7-8 miles: Didn't do much chit chat. I wanted John to be in his zone. I occasionally asked how he felt, and if the pace was ok. This is probably where the fun part of running becomes more serious. You're initial adrenaline wears off, you might be a little hungry and thirsty, and you want to stay strong for the next two miles. Your thoughts focus more on your breathing, strides, and your listening to your body.

9-10 miles: I tell John this is the home stretch. I am very impressed with how well he is running after 9 miles. We pass back through the little town we started in, dodge the other vehicles on the road, and have the finish in site. We pass through the finish cones, John is a few steps in front of me. 1 hour and 33 minutes. I never told John, but I had predicted he would run under 1:35, and so he did. A very good performance. John doubled his longest run ever, and looked strong at the finish.

After the race: We get our finishers medals, some snacks, and do some picture taking. I think John is more confident now than ever that he WILL be able to finish the Rock 'N Roll half marathon. With a couple of months left to train for it, the question is not if he will finish, but how fast? My guess is he'll run under 2 hours. The other runners posted some very fast times on the day, making me wonder what I would have run. However, I had more fun seeing a friend test his limits. It didn't really matter if it was 1 mile, 10 miles, or 100 miles. It was rewarding to see him through from start to finish, and with very little help from me. Ironically, John's best friend from high school introduced me to ultra running in 2004. I guess things are coming full swing. We'll have to wait and see if I can recruit someone to run an ultra next!

-Good job John. Well done chap!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Magic at the Relay for Life

In 1984 Dr Gordy Klatt ran 83 miles in 24 hours at the first Relay for Life. His goal to raise money for cancer research. Over the years, this has become one of the country's most popular fund raising events, with thousands of participants. I have personally lost close family members to cancer.

In 2006, I signed up as a one person team at the Rockingham County Relay for Life. Most teams consist of 10-15 people who take turns walking a track for about 12-13 hours(or an hour each). My goal was to run, not walk, the entire event by myself. Word of my one person "relay team" spread and soon I found myself on the evening news and in the local paper.

The Relay for life began at 6:30pm on May 11th. I registered myself as a one man team and quickly the organizers knew that I was the crazy guy who was attempting to run the entire night. Soon I was escorted by a TV reporter for an interview and some sound bites for the news. It felt strange to be in the spotlight for running, especially since I never considered myself a great runner. It was a great opportunity to tell the world about both my grandmothers who faught cancer, and how I planned to run 70 miles in their honor. Every hour of the run would represent one month they battled this disease. By 9:00pm the festivities were on full blast, and there were hundreds of people walking the track. For the first four hours I found myself weaving slowly through crowds of walkers, and other folks standing around enjoying the night. I never took into account the large masses of people I would be running against. After midnight things started to thin out and quiet down. Many people now realized that I was not joking about running the entire night. I had completed my first marathon and was in a nice groove. The night brought temperatures in the low 40's, and it got downright chilly in the early morning. I had set up a table with food and drink by the side of the track, along with a mileage chart that showed people how far I had run. Many people stopped to look at my display and learn why I was doing what i was doing.

By about 3:30am I had completed 50 miles. I was getting tremendous support from everyone at the event. Adults and kids would take turns running, or walking with me, and would continue to join me until the end of the run. I was told that I was an inspiration to others and soon a few folks were also running as long as they could. People came by to give me free food and drinks. I even had a few songs dedicated to me by my "fans". I was being cheered on every lap, and when my feet were sore, people continued to tell me to keep going.

At 8:00am exactly I finished 70 miles. 280 laps. My feet were so sore from running 13.5 hours on pavement. For the next month or so people would stop and tell me they recognized me from the Relay for Life. I was the guy who ran 70 miles. Although many better runners could have run further, I was the first the try it at the Relay for life. The record still stands as the most miles run in an overnight event. The fanfare died off. The news of my run stopped. However, it still remains as one of the most memorable nights of my life.