Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stuff in the Basement: Graveyard 100, Round 2

(photo credit Russ Carawan and RacENC)

"Hey Rock. It takes guts climbing back in that ring knowing you're going to take a beating. Yo Rock....You're gonna do alright Rocko. There's stuff in the basement."

Eleven months ago I finished the innaugural Graveyard 100 in the Outer Banks. My body hurt more after Graveyard than other other race I have finished. My feet were swollen from pounding 101.2 miles of pavement. My teeth were chattering like castanets from being exposed to mid 30's temperatures and a constant wind. My mind was drained from gazing upon miles and miles of endless route 12 road. I told myself I was never going to run the Graveyard 100 again. Apparently, I lied. In two weeks I will step back in the ring for another round with the long lonely shoreline of the OBX.

I've always been a huge fan of the Rocky movie franchise, and as we are now fourteen days away from the Graveyard 100, the quote from above rings truer than ever. For those not familiar with the film Rocky Balboa, potentially the final movie in the series, the quote is from a short dialogue between Rocky and his often troubled brother in law Paulie. An old retired and recently widowed Rocky is coming out of retirement for possibly the last fight of his career. He knows he's rusty, decades beyond his physical prime, and knows he doesn't stand a great chance against the younger stronger opponent. He knows time is not on his side and that he's going to have to dig deep in order to go the distance. He has to find "the stuff in the basement", and if he does, only then will he be fully satisfied with the effort he gave.

Well, I may not be Rocky's age, but I am rusty and have had limited time to run the past six months. Thankfully, I seem to be mostly recovered from all the injuries that built up from September through January that prevented me from maintaining much of my fitness from 2012. I have some how managed to get in about a month of relatively consistent, though still fairly low intensity and low volume training. All my longs runs have had an average pace of 10:00 to 13:00 minutes per mile, and thus my speed is pretty much non existent these days. In all honesty, anything faster than a nine minute mile is probably too fast, so again, lack of speed isn't so much an issue as is conditioning for the distance. Like Rocky, I have had to revert to going completely old school in my training and methodology. No track workouts, no tempo runs, no 100 mile weeks, just grinding out the long stuff at a slow and steady pace.

If I am going to finish the Graveyard 100, I too will need to find the stuff in the basement. I'm not in the shape I was in last year, but I have valuable experience going in. Let's take a look at last year and see what I did right, and what I did wrong.

What I did right:

1. Not much, but my training leading up to Graveyard was solid, and eventually building up to some 90 mile weeks. Too bad I squandered good training with a poor strategy.

2. Kept my nutrition and hydration pretty good during the race.

What I did wrong: Everything

1. Went out too aggressively. Led through the mile 38.6 water stop before being passed by the eventual winner. Ran splits of 2:44 through 19.9 miles, 3:40 through the marathon, 4:22 through 50k, and 4:35 through 32.7 miles. Way too fast for a 100 miler, but it was tough earned lesson in realistic pacing. FYI, it was a projected sub 14 hour pace. Legs got too trashed too early which caused me to slow down way sooner than expected. End result, epic blowup, finish time 20:28.

2. Did not use a crew. This meant I had to carry all my clothing and nutrition in a pack for the 18-25 mile durations between full aid stations. Carrying the extra weight took its toll over the course of the race.

3. Did not pack warm enough clothing. My body got very cold after mile 80, and really prevented me from getting my legs moving much for the remainder of the race.

4. Did not take care of blisters early. Again, the blisters started forming, and I was still 15 miles from the next place to fix them. When I got there, they didn't have anything to fix blisters like duct tape, body glide, or vaseline. My feet were too wrecked to even jog after mile 80. Lack of running meant I got cold quicker and easier which led to even slower walking. In fact, lack of any running/jogging after mile 80 probably cost me over an hour.

5. Missed a waterstop. Some of the main water stops were not set up when I ran through, and therefor only gallon jugs of water were put out. I actually missed one completely and had to run backwards on the course a quarter mile to refill.

This year the game plan is to be smarter than last year, which shouldn't be tough. Looking back at last year's splits it's crazy how fast I went out. That 4:22 50k split was actually a personal best (which is never ever good to do during a 100). Factor in wearing about six pounds of gear, spending six minutes at the water stops, I was probably running low eight minute miles for the first third of the race. Stupid, stupid, stupid. This year, I will be uncrewed again, but hopefully plan ahead a little better.

On another note, this year's event has drawn some of the biggest names in ultrarunning, including Valmir Nunes, Mike Morton, Jonathan Savage, and Connie Gardner. This means the 2013 Graveyard will host two of the fastest Badwater champs of all time, a Western States champion, two American 24 hour record holders, and three members of the US 24 hour team. Every name mentioned above is capable of breaking 15 hours, and most likely 14, and dare say 13 for Morton. My one regret is that I will be hours behind and won't be able to watch this incredibly talented field. There are also several other very exciting names in the mix including Brad Smythe, Olivier Leblond, and Marie Ange Smith. Jan Erick Olsen, who battled Brenda Carawan for first place in the later miles last year, is back to avenge his mile 90 DNF. Andrei Nana (2nd last year) is another returner who has recently taken the 100 mile running scene by storm, as well as last year's female open winner Kelley Wells. All in all, it should be an exciting day, and depending on what the weather decides, we could be in for one wild ride.

As for me? I don't have any real goals, other than to finish. Hopefully, I can break 24 hours again. I still plan on putting everything out there and to do my best, regardless of where my fitness may.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ultra Numero 75

It doesn't seem long ago that I was cruising the trails with Bill Gentry en route to his 100th ultramarathon finish, and my 50th. Both milestones occurred on the same day, at the same race, an incredibly hot and humid Catherine's Furnace 50k. It was July 2010. Heat index 105 degrees.

My 50th ultra seems like forever ago in some respects, but also like yesterday in others. There have been so many variables over the last several years regarding work, health, social life, and other time commitments, that you can never take for granted all that you have already done. Life doesn't guarantee a tomorrow, no less something as trivial as another ultramarathon finish. You simply have to take time to appreciate every single event as something of value and meaning. No race is ever pointless, nor is any ultramarathon ever just another ultra. I've learned over the years that it doesn't matter if you have one ultra finish, or 600, that each individual step in a 31 to 100+ mile odyssey has a significance. One step forward is always one step further than where you ever were.

Two and a half years after my 50th ultra, and 8 years after my first, I arrived at the 2013 Holiday Lake 50k in hopes to complete number 75. The day was the perfect way for me to celebrate the community of runners and volunteers who have gotten me as far as I have. My pace did not matter, my time did not matter, and my placing did not matter. Setting aside all the things that did not matter allowed me to truly enjoy the things that did matter. I got a chance to catch up with friends and run with people I rarely get a chance to run with. I also got to spend some time talking to the wonderful volunteers, instead of the usual dropping in for a few seconds, saying a quick thanks, and taking off. In 2007, I ran Holiday Lake for the first time and didn't know any other runners, and awkardly ate my pre-race meal and post race meal with little conversation. It's nice to know that the years have turned some of those unknown faces from the dinner table into established friendships.

Those friendships and familiar faces were common place on the trails Saturday, and noticed a lot of the smaller nuances of the trail that I admittedly overlook too often. I ran with friends Tim Cohn, Jim Bradford, Jenn Nichols, Jim Ashworth, Martha Wright, Stephanie Wilson, Amy Albu, Greg Loomis, Rick Gray, and a host of others who have made the Virginia trails one of the friendliest places to be. In other cases, I only saw folks near the turn around as they were way out ahead of the main pack. I got to witness fellow JMU Duke Matt Bigman nailing an impressive top ten finish. Matt was shortly followed by Guy Love, Emily Warner, the two Ryans(Nebel and Quinnelly), and Marc Griffin. Everybody ran personal bests, which always makes me happy to know the countless miles and hours of hard work are paying off for my friends. Then there were those who came to cheer and support the runners. People like Bill Potts, Tammy Gray, and Sophie Speidel. In culmination, I have literally shared thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on the trails with these folks. The miles went by super quick and the weather was possibly the best I have ever seen at Holiday Lake. If the quality of a day can be measured in miles and smiles, then this, by all measures, was a good day.

At mile 24, I joined up with a runner named Jeff Martin. Jeff was running his first ultra, which seemed so fitting that in a race where I wanted to reflect on my own humble beginnings as a ultrarunner that I would pair up with someone doing their first. Jeff and I got a chance to talk a good bit, and he mentioned his goal of just finishing, and maybe breaking 6:30. With all our talking, it turned out we were actually running a good bit, and possibly even enough to start a realistic push to break 6 hours. While it certainly wasn't easy, Jeff pushed through some cramps and fatigue and ran a good portion of the final miles. With about two miles to go it now looked like Jeff could break 5:50, which would have been 40 minutes faster than his goal time. Pretty soon we passed the "One mile to go" marker and we took off down the final segment of trail and onto the final stretch of pavement. I took a moment to really admire Jeff's spirit as he held nothing back and gunned it down the hill towards the finish. Just a few steps before the finish I moved behind Jeff so he could have sole ownership of his first ultra finish. He blew away his goals by clocking a time of 5:47. It was 43 minutes faster than he expected. I must say, there has always been something special about running with someone during their first race, and something additionally special about seeing them finish. Props to Jeff for really digging deep and having a strong finish worth being proud of.

So, that's pretty much it. Ultra number 75 is in the books. It was a wonderful day of sunshine and trails shared with good company. I don't know when, or if I'll get to ultra number 100. Based on current projections, I "might" get to 100 by the time of my 35th birthday, and maybe even my 34th. It's never been a priority of mine to see how many ultras I can do, or how quickly I can get to a certain total. Now adays, with so many younger folks entering the running scene, I suspect someone else will hit 100 finishes far sooner than 34 years old, which is fine by me. For the time being, however, I have made a personal note to be more thankful for every race I get to start, experience, and finish. Athletes like David Terry, Mike Broderick, and Micah True are reminders that life can be short, even for the strong and healthy.

Run free. Run strong