Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Allure of 100 Miles

In the minutes after completing a 100 mile race I usually have the same internal monologue with myself. The conversation typically involves me telling myself I will never run a hundred miles ever again, that I need to take a year off from ultramarathons, or I hate running and knitting seems like a rather painless hobby worthy of pursuit. Mike, remember that time you had ten functional toe nails? Neither do I.

For reasons unknown to man, about 24 hours after this, I am figuring out which 100 miler to do next. It's a twisted passion in that when it comes to running, I have a memory like Ten Second Tom from the movie 50 First Dates, or Dory in Finding Nemo. As soon as my body starts feeling physically better, it's like I completely forget how much stress it went through during the previous hundred mile escapade. But, there's something about the 100 mile distance that keeps bringing me back, eventhough I feel like the distance has gotten the better of me on most occasions. I have attempted six very different 100's and finished four. Even the races that I have finished, and seemingly finished well, I felt like my body felt good for maybe two thirds of the race, and then was basically in survival mode the final thirty miles. That's a long time to feel like you are just trying to gut out a finish and not DNF.

It makes me wonder if training for 100's is even something you can do, or if you just have to learn by doing them and finding out what your body does best, or worst, for one hundred miles. I have found that even with 100 mile training weeks and long runs of 20-30 miles at 8:30 pace, that you still can't fully prepare the body and mind for what will happen in the depths of the 100 mile distance (ie after 50 and 60 miles). If you have a rough patch in a 50 miler, you can gut it out for the last couple of hours and still finish well, yet a rough patch in a hundred could yield hours and hours of discomfort. In the case of a race like Hardrock, or Badwater, a rough patch may be an entire day's worth of slow hiking, walking, vomiting, and kidney failure.

Despite over 60 ultramarathon finishes, I find the challenge of 100 miles to be the most alluring distance. No matter the race, or terrain, there's that mystery of what will happen beyond the 100k mark. You can train day and night and somehow a hundred miles can still throw you the one curveball you didn't expect. My most recent race, the Graveyard 100, humbled me in that I felt like the race was a total disaster (given the 30 miles of walking), and yet I still ran a relatively respectable time. I suppose it still boggles my mind how I can run pretty much every step of a 50 miler, but end up walking historically 40-50% of the second half of each 100 I have finished.

Again, I am admitting I am still a novice at 100's. I still go out way too fast, though I wonder if running even 30 minutes slower over the first 50 miles will cause my gynormous second half positive splits to shrink a little. Before my first 100 in 2007, a friend told me that a typical runner sees a 1:1.3 ratio for the first and second half of a hundred, assuming the course runs similar for both halves of the race. This is fairly consistent, but it does make me raise an eyebrow at my 1:1.5+ ratio I've been churning out. Reflecting back at my awful splits from the Graveyard 100, I ran a 7:57 front 50, and a sloth's pace 12:31 for the second 50 miles. That 7:57 jumps off the page as looking too fast, but this is about 30 minutes slower than if I went full out for the same distance, thus it felt slower, though it was still way too fast. I'm thinking 8:30 would have been much more practical, and may have saved enough in the legs for a 10:30-11:00 second half which would have gotten me much closer to an achievable time of 19-20 hours (maybe not). It seems no matter how fast, or slow, I start a 100 mile race, my legs are reduced to a slow jog at best and a lot of walking.

After reading this and seeing how much I struggle the last 40 miles of all my hundred milers, you're probably wondering why on earth I would want to keep doing them. Why not just stick with the races I can run the entirety of and be happy with 50 milers and 50k's. Well, the answer is that I love venturing into the physical and mentally uncharted territories of my ability, and is often the reason I willingly choose to run 100 milers without a crew, or pacer. I also found that the things we use to distract ourselves from the pain, or monotony of 100 miles (like a pacer, or headphones) can often take away from experiencing the intricate details of a course and it's surroundings. Instead of tuning out, I really enjoy being forced into a sometimes uncomfortable place where I can't simply ignore my thoughts and physical nuances. It really makes it that much more of a symbiotic relationship between the run and the runner. I love it!

BTW, I wanted to give a last shout out to Graveyard 100 Champion Brenda Carawan. I don't know if people realize how amazing running a 16:33 for 100 miles is on any course. This is a phenomenal time for a man, or woman, and is really an elite level performance. It was the fastest female 100 of the year, and unless someone runs faster at a 24 hour run, Javelina, or Umstead, I dare say it could be the fastest female 100 time in 2012. This really does place Brenda up there with some of the elite US women who are running anywhere from 15-18 hours at road and trail 100's. Keep up the good work!

"The way you approach the first 10% of a race says a lot about your personality, but the way you endure the last 10% of a race says everything about your character."
-Mike Bailey

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rising up for the Grave...the Graveyard 100


Well folks, we are only five days away from the inaugural Graveyard 100 mile run in the Outer Banks. This is a race I know little about, but it looks to be a formidable challenge in a rather nontraditional sense within the context of ultra running. The course is almost completely flat, non technical, and is 100.7 miles of point to point pavement. It will likely be windy, cool, possibly rainy, and very lonely with only 87 runners in the 100 mile event. The Graveyard 100 breaks away from the trails and mountains that I have grown so acustomed to running, and the monotony and pounding of seemingly endless pavement should be a whole new mental challenge.

The race logistics are rather unique. Runners are being given the option of either being driven over the course's 2.5 mile bridge, or running it. Riders must make up the distance at another designated point in the race. The aid stations are also rather sparse, given that they will be spaced over segments of 18-25 miles. The one great thing, especially for me, is that the course is essentially a straight line on one road, so it should be humanly impossible to get lost. Can I get an amen!

The game plan: I'll be going at this race old school like most events I run. I will be driving down before the race and sleeping in the hotel de sedan (aka my car). I have no crew and no pacer. Unlike Western States, I will be wearing a watch, and perhaps even a gps for the last third of the race.

The race director has stated they are preparing for racers who could potentially run in the 14 hour range. I'm not sure anyone in the field is capable of that, but it does appear the course could dish out some fast times, especially if we are treated with a nice tail wind from the north.

Goals: Making time goals for any 100 miler can be daunting, because there are so many variables that can change over the course of 100 miles. I suppose I'll start by saying that I am trusting the "training" that I've done over the past few months, but also aware that with only three one hundred mile finishes, I am still a relative novice at the distance. My 100 mile personal best is a modest 21:52 at the 2010 Old Dominion 100. On paper it looks like a stout race, but in reality the run was marred by a few poor decisions with nutrition and dealing with feet issues. I also lost about 20 minutes trying to find the course during a section where the flagging had been removed. I think I'm in shape for this run? I won't divulge all my training secrets, but is does involve a lot of Taco Bell. The irony is that I still understand that even with all the training in the world, I could end up having a disasterous race at 20 miles, or a huge personal best. That's life.

All in all, I am going to enjoy this event and the pure solitude. Yet, sadly I will be running in memory of two good friends that I have lost in the last month. They are Bill Parkins (61) and Ian Hodges (22). These were two people, born of humble beginnings that eventually touched people in mighty ways. Bill wore braces on his legs as a child and was told by doctors that he would never walk. But, Bill had another idea and though his life was never full of the physical health we value, he was more alive than many of us. When Bill passed away from cancer, you knew that the boy they said would never walk ran the good race. Then there is Ian. Ian Hodges was born with Down Syndrom. He was a beacon of light in our community, in our church, and in my life. I will miss his smile and the frequent hugs.