Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ebb & Flow: Progession and Setbacks

Last year, in the midst of a very good year, I felt writing this blog was smooth. However, 2015 for the most part has been very different. It has been a struggle which is a good reflection of the running year in itself.

Aside from Umstead at the end of March, it has been incredibly tough going. And even that was considering I lost a month due to bronchitis in the winter. House hunting/buying/moving has consumed a large chunk of the last three months of focus. This has taken its toll and manifested in my conditioning (both mental and physical) and training. I've done a lot of running still but have had pockets where I had to completely scale back due to the stress causing anxiety that becomes exacerbated during running. Only for short spells it seems I have had good running periods. Around a month ago, I had a nice little period of good running as evidenced by how I felt at the Wissahickon Trail Classic. Since then, I did a few more races and learned I'm not out of the rut. Chasin for Chaflin resulted in a 3rd place finish that just felt sluggish. My climbing legs were gone despite having felt good about my ability coming in. Then, I had some good running up in Maine and NH finished off with a 50K upon my return in NJ.

I felt so good, I signed up for the Eastern States 100. Since then, I've been doing 80 miles weeks with the intention of putting one in this week as well and move into a taper being that ES is a month out. However, the past 5 days have been incredibly tough so this week might end up short. We have finally relocated into our new home. That has meant a lot of physical expenditure. I'm feeling it. Today, on a run-commute that normally is not much of a problem, I had to walk a few short spells. My body was telling me it was working too hard to manage all of its systems. It feels like a bad rut. Hopefully, it is short. I want to really get back to enjoying running. Being in a new home is wonderful but mentally and physically, I need to move beyond life being about the home process. It has now taken up more than 3 months of my year and cost me more than people realize. Not from a financial standpoint but from a standpoint of health which running plays an integral part of.

Let's put it this way, I NEED to move on. Sacrifice time is over.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Climbing Back - It's a Process

If you have been following lately, you might have figured I hit a bottoming out point around 3 weeks ago.

As a result, I made the decision a few weeks back to not race the recent Cayuga Trails 50. It was a race I was deeply looking forward to but I could not put myself in a situation that was likely to push me beyond the physical and mental capacities of the moment. In other words, it would have been too stressful.

So, I've been doing a little running, My mileage is maybe 30 a week. Basically, I am doing whatever I feel comfortable. As you may remember, I bottomed out by a lot of stress so for my health I scaled back massively. The month of May ended up being the lowest mileage month in over two years. Right now, June is on target to be less but that is okay by me. Why?

Well, the limited running I have been doing has been extremely enjoyable. You could say I stopped training so I can just go running. I've not been worried about mileage or pace. I've mainly been on trails. I'd say 90% of the distance has been on trail. Last week, here in the Philadelphia area, it got a little Northwestern with moisture and I had some fantastic runs. The type of runs, I didn't want to end but since they have been in the morning, did have to come home so I could go to work.

This past Sunday I did an hour on the trails. On the day before, I did a 10K trail race (Wissahickon Trail Classic) and took 4th. Considering everything, it felt like a really good performance. Three young studs took it out from the gun and all finished within a 30 second span. I was 2 minutes behind 3rd. Still despite things, I managed my fastest time in the event. Early on, I was outside the top 10 so I ran smart too. Made me really happy with my effort. I enjoyed it, especially since I decided the morning of to do it. As I am running when I feel like it is not stressful and will be fun, I have to wait until the last minute to see how I feel and that is fine. Call it being footloose and fancy free.

Basically, right now, taking it one day at a time is serving me well. Since I am doing some running, I am not losing too much so as I progress I'll be just fine fitness wise.

With my upcoming trip to Maine, I am looking forward to some long slow stuff on mountainous trails.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dealing with the Runner's High...

Yesterday’s entry was initially meant to be a stand-alone entry, however, during the course of some reflection after having written it, I think there is another element as a runner, I want to discuss: Addiction.

Some people are wired to have addictive personalities. In other words, for those programmed that way we become addicts in one way or another. Addictions can take many forms and for those suffering from seriously destructive ones, it is a constant struggle. (As a pop cultural aside, I highly recommend Elementary on CBS as Sherlock Holmes struggle with addiction is a present theme throughout the show. This past season dealt with it in some intense ways.)

You would think as a straight-edge vegetarian, I would be lacking in addictions. That is not the case, as I too have addictions. Mine might not necessarily be as destructive. (Lets face it all addictions are destructive on some level based on the nature of negative consequences.) For me, one of the addictions, I struggle with is an addiction to soda. Growing up in a household that was only slightly above living paycheck to paycheck, we had a lot of the ‘nutrition’ available you would expect in that type of home. This included lots of soda. In and of itself, soda is not necessarily a bad thing. Other factors can influence the outcome….

My particular home was far from what one would call ideal.  Yes, we had cable. But I had a 6 x 7 room where my mattress was just directly on the floor (it made my space roomier). I did not get a computer until the fall of 1996 and it was a used 286. It did serve its purpose of being a word processor. (Before then, I had to use an old typewriter that became increasingly difficult to get ribbon for.) I mention all of this because we hear how poor households are likely places to have poor dietary habits and medical issues as a result. Despite where I am in life, you could say I am proof.

All of the content in the previous paragraph were components in a very stressful household. We made the best of things and I got a lot from my formative years. Yet, it was an environment that was not good for me. Once in 6th grade, I had a meltdown in the hallway regarding a group math assignment. My perception of it included feeling like I had to do extra work. Well you could imagine, in stressful environments, we search for comfort. Since soda felt like a real treat, it created a perfect avenue for addiction by way of a coping mechanism. That is just exactly what it became. Greater stress = more soda. When Code Red Mountain Dew came out…..at one point, I was downing 2 liters a day. I’ve struggled a lot with keeping this addiction in check. 6 years back, I decided to cut out coffee and soda at the same time. Doing both was helpful for a good while. I still haven’t had coffee since the day I stopped. However, soda came back after a few years. I do not drink nearly as much as I used to but recently I realized a huge correlation of stress with soda (and energy drink) consumption. Since then, I have begun to really push the urge to have a soda down. One of the ways I have done this is by having a tea in the morning instead of a large cold sugary drink. And I am not a fan of tea unless it is iced. My day began to have an association of starting with an energy drink. So in order to battle one addiction, I am replacing it with another routine.

What does this have to do at all with running? Well, running was another outlet to combat stress through high school. Having success and joy through running created another avenue to be addicted as a result of acting as a coping mechanism. Since running is known to help reduce stress this is great for most people. For me, this was also my real means of social interaction at the time. And if it was not for my stepdad, I would have never had this avenue. (Running has been very good to me.) So for addictive personalities, the sensation of happiness gets tied to a specific set of parameters.
So while running has given me goals to strive for those goals themselves have become a sensation to aim for. This is both constructive and destructive in addicts. To play out the statement “You are only as good as your last race”, if that race is not good, I want to immediately go find that good sensation. And even if it is good, I want to feel it again. I don’t think this is far off for many people for who running is an escape whether it is competitively or recreationally.

To tie this all into yesterday’s entry, while knowing I should not be running anything major that may act as a stressor, I want to get out and race. And that is because the addict in me says feeling that high will erase that stress. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inconsistency 2015: Anxiety, Stress, Change and Stubborness Amongst the Miles

So the title of this post is a bit long winded much like this might be....strap yourself in as we delve into the mind of a thickheaded numb-skull. (If you haven't guessed, who that last part refers to, it is this guy. :::points to self despite you not being able to see it:::)

Since Umstead I have not written here with the exception of one entry that I have since deleted. It served its personal purpose but I felt it was not appropriate for sharing. Some of the same themes will be mentioned here so you will not have missed anything.

If you have been following my escapades this year, you know it has been a completely mixed back of results and training. Prior to Umstead, I had a second place at Phunt followed by a DNF at Batona followed by a month of bronchitis setting up a wonderful DNF at Black Canyon. I topped off that series with an epic 3rd place at Ugly Mudder losing in the last 100 meters because I lost some footing after having broke trail for the majority of the race. Not long after, I started righting the ship getting in weeks of good training and having some positive small local 5K results in the lead up to Umstead. 

Since Umstead, I've been running but doing it like a blockhead. Race wise, I've won two 10K's and the Mt Penn Mudfest 15K. However, the past two ultras have resulted in another pair of DNF's at Rock the Ridge and Dirty German Endurance Fest (both while being signed up for the 50M distance.) With Rock the Ridge, piriformis issues led to a drop at mile 23-ish. While feeling comfortable about the decision as a couple years back, I had to stop running for about a month as I pushed through a similar issue until I could not walk without a limp. Didn't want to go there this time. On the downside, it was a great course and for the most part of the day, the temps were perfect. I mention this because just yesterday at Dirty German, I dropped out after 34 miles. Primarily, the heat and my head did me in. DG is a 3 loop course run in Philadelphia's Pennypack Park. Most of the course is shaded which is a plus. However, with temps starting at 70 moving into the 80's with humidity near 100%, it made it a tough day. On my first lap, I did my best to run smoothly. I felt I was not overdoing it. I was even taking it easy on the short climbs by hiking them. However, really early into my second loop, I felt like I was redlining to keep any sort of pace. Going into such a spot so soon, mentally broke me with physically dismantled me...

For about two months now, my stress has been high due to things at work and home. Since the things are connected they have been compounding each other. Think of it as exponentially increasing stress. Factor in potential change and a tidalwave might as well hit. Each of us have our pluses and minuses. One of my minuses is reaction to change even small things like moved furniture and compounding stress. I've gotten better over the past 7 years with change. Stress is a different story. I am a compartmentalizer if you will. As a highly analytic person, I keep balance by placing each thing in tidy little boxes. Disruptions to the organization can be shocks to the system. Furthermore, being more introverted enhances the effects. It's self-analytical scrambling to put the pieces back. Now, this may make me sound rather frail. And in some ways when the weight becomes too much I am. But one of my positives is my capacity to endure. I do think that has to be a requirement to be an ultrarunner or any type of runner for that matter. 

Normally, the mere act of running would help reduce the stress. What makes this current stretch different is that my stress levels are the highest they have been since mid 2004. While running usually benefits, the timing, I believe has left me behind the eight-ball. The wise thing to have done after Umstead would be to take it easy on myself running. Yet, the presence of stress put me in a position that I needed to run. But the runs were not helping. All I would think about was the stress. Eventually, I would periodically experience some symptoms of anxiety during my runs in addition to 'daily-life'. 

This came to a head yesterday at Dirty German.....once I started having trouble, my inner-tyrant, took hold as I started to think about the non-running stressors. This brought me down enough mentally that it had a physical impact. Couple that with the heat and I was in trouble. What ended up happening was not pretty. I run my second lap at a pace 3 minutes slower per mile. I think it also was my worst 50K split. I began to worry about my ability to finish the race where I was mentally. As a result, I pulled the plug.

Now, the act of taking another DNF smarts too because it feeds a negativity the inner-tyrant can grab hold to. So right now, I have to resist the urge to cave to its whispering.

Upon arriving home from the venue, yesterday, I took a look at why I am having these results and it boils down to sheer stubborness. By putting my nose to the grindstone thinking running would magically make all of my stress manageable, I set myself up for failure. Or I should say a harsh lesson. As a result, I've come to a conclusion that right now, I need to adjust my running to alleviate stress. And that actually means reduce the running intensity at the moment. The biggest aspect of my schedule is knowing that I should not run Cayuga Trails 50 despite being signed up. (Viaduct is also possibly out.) It is a tough realization since I had to drop from injury last year. However, I do feel I could be on the border of Overtraining Syndrome if I keep going as how I have been. So my training for at least a few weeks is going to be next to nothing. Or simply when I feel like it will be enjoyable. This may mean small races or might mean no racing at all.

Take the step back to move forward.....

(And for the record, this entry is not about me making excuses but coming to a realization. I want to add that at the end of the day, I'm where I am in this because I made the decisions that led to this.)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Umstead 100 - A long time....

As you may have guessed if you are one of the three people who semi-regularly check this blog (which is more than I even do and I write on it), things have been a little light in the britches lately. Well fear no more, I'm alive and ready to thrill you with a wonderful crafted or awful (you decide), entry about what might have turned out to be a journey for the mountaintop.

Since this has now turned into a vision quest, I might as well take you back in time for a moment. (Or a marathon, possibly an ultra if I get really long-winded.)

If you remember from the latter half of last year, I attempted my first 100 miler in July at Viaduct and that included an epic 10+ hour break at mile 90. You know when I hit 13 1/2 hours and sat down at a road cross because I did not think I could make it 3 miles to the aid station so I got a ride to the start/finish. And then around dawn with race director permission went back out for the finish. That was quite the experience because I succeeded but failed at the same time in a really tough way that I didn't really consider what I did finishing a 100 mile. However, what came out of that experience were friendships and connections that definitely bound to impact me.

After taking pride but struggling with Viaduct, I toyed a bit with the idea of finding another 100 on a fast flatter course. Eventually I shelved that idea until around the time of registration for the Umstead 100. It was not even on my radar as a thought. And this is where some of the connections from Viaduct started to kick in......

Following Viaduct, I joined up with a group you may have heard by now called Trail WhippAss through my friend Maggie along with Dylan and KenTom (both of whom helped me with the 100 mile finish at Viaduct without even knowing me). A fellow member of the group, Jacqueline started talking about the race and how it sells out so quickly and alerting everyone interested in registration. She started planting a seed since I had not considered Umstead. And in fact, general registration opened and closed before I moved towards signing up. Yet, you could say I was getting caught up in the joy of others registering that I explored if I had options. Amazingly, I did. The race offered extended registration for 10 competitive entry slots. Opting to roll the dice, I contacted the race director Rhonda Hampton asking them to take a chance on me. The folks at Umstead agreed to let me in as one of the competitive slots. At this point.....it just got real.

Unlike my previous 100 experience and actually for the first time in my ultra career, I was going to bring a crew. And I was going to bring the best crew possible which led to Maggie and KenTom. KenTom was Maggie's crew chief at Viaduct and highly experienced in steering ships. Maggie is a great friend and agreed to come aboard to not only crew but pace. Rounding out the team, eventually referred to as Team Peggatom was my partner, Peg. She literally was putting the Peg in Peggatom. In the 7+ years, we have been together, Peg has witnessed a lot of my running successes and failures. She knows me the best and could provide a level of knowledge that is crucial for KenTom and Maggie.

Everything was in place....I had an early 2015 schedule lining up with Phunt, Batona, Black Canyon and some other small races all primed to be progressive steps towards Umstead. And then the calendar rolled....

I'll put it this way, much of 2015 has felt like a miserable sh*tshow. For what seemed reason after reason, the year was not going well for me. All the 2015 stuff through Black Canyon you have been able to read here. Following Black Canyon, I signed up for a local trail race called the Ugly Mudder which had several inches of snow fall on it a few nights beforehand. Despite leading most of the race, thus breaking trail for the giant single file, on the last hill I lost some traction and wound up in third place. It felt like a dagger in the heart. Then following, I had a 5K race that felt just horrible from organization and time perspectives. Other races were being canceled and scheduled. Not helpful when I needed something to right the ship. February and March in Philadelphia have been absolutely full of below average temps.

Around this time, I just needed to kind of go dark. I stopped talking about my racing and really Umstead at all. Basically, I put my nose to the grindstone. I cranked out mileage and increased intensity in late Feb and early March to bring my conditioning up. The bronchitis really took a huge toll on my base and legspeed.

However, ready or not, Umstead was coming. Two weeks prior, I crafted a long specific as I could make it email covering all sorts of needs to my crew. That was helpful in starting to put together the items necessary for race day. A week out from the race, I packed 98% of the items for Umstead. The missing components were the matzo ball soup and grits which I was going to make mid-week.

Come the day before the race, Peg and drove out to Maggie's house where we loaded up KenTom's Suburu for the long drive. Weather was not ideal on Friday so it took longer to get to Raleigh, NC than expected. So much so we almost missed bib pick-up on Friday. Thankfully, we did not and I was able to grab my bib before going to the Embassy Suites. Originally, the plan was to stay in some of the cabins but with how winter was I booked a hotel room just in case. And based on lows in the 30's for Friday/20's for Saturday and the moisture in the air, I'm happy to have had a good back-up plan.

Since I checked-in online, it was a breeze to get up to our room. At this point, I was left to my own devices as Peg, Maggie and KenTom went to meet Jacqueline at a local eatery for dinner. My meal for the evening was Saag Paneer with rice. Eating in the room, allowed me to not be out forcing me to rest a bit. Never a bad thing, I say. Eventually, the crew returned and I went over some or my bag organization before we all hit the hay until our 4am rise and shine. I was up a bit before 4 but I got a relatively good sleep not waking up to think about the race whereas with Black Canyon I did.

We rolled into Umstead State Park as part of a giant caravan of cars found our parking spot and proceeded to haul my gear up for a spot to set-up. I asked a volunteer were I could set up and was pointed over towards a spot near the bathroom along the start line. Perfect, I thought. Note: Thought. (You'll understand why in a few.) Hit the bathroom, prepped my first round of bottles filled with Tailwind and went over one final time specifics with the crew. As I also set up a chair, I told Maggie, don't let me sit in it. Since we had 20-30 minutes still, we all went inside the race HQs building where I sat next to the fire all nervous. Like really nervous. Despite having some serious time goals, the 100 mile distance scared me because of what happened at Viaduct. Was 100 going to be too much for my body to handle? I got pretty quiet. The competitors I knew of before the race were Mark Manz and Hal Koerner. A couple of minutes before 6am, everyone lined up for the start to go off in the darkness.

...And we went.

One runner took off like he was shot out of a cannon! I knew better than chase him especially so early on. I have no idea who he was but he had a bib of 10 which told me, he had been to this dance before. As we rolled through the hills of the park, the sun started to rise. Some conversation was shared but eventually for me turned into silence. In a park with lots of users and a couple of hundred people running a race, I was isolated. I'm used to it. Early on with energy it doesn't feel too bad. That energy lasted about 3 laps. However, prior to then something major happened. Apparently, I had not set up in a good spot. (This is why I mentioned 'thought' earlier.) My crew had to move my gear so when I came in to finish the first lap and start my second, I was thrown really off. I planned on hitting my bag. Instead I was in and out after nothing more than a bottle swap. One in which I did not realize I drank less than I thought.  I did manage to strip a shirt layer, headlamp and gloves on the u-turn and pass them off.

Lap 2 felt almost identical to the first lap. I was hitting pace, feeling good. Only difference was the sun was out and I was one layer lighter. I did pause this loop to pee. Color was like lemonade so all was good. Or so I thought. I still was not drinking enough as I would be told over and over. Motto of the day became 'You need to drink more. You need to eat more.' I did manage to eat this time on the transition of lap 2 to lap 3. Last time, I was so thrown off I did not grab the PB&J I required opting to not stop and turn back. But this time it was ready and so was I. I thought to myself, at least I got that right this time.

Lap 3 is really were my race changed. It was here that my pee break was darker. Like coke with water. I knew something was going to need to change or my day would be done. This woke me up to drinking more and more. It became finish more of my bottle. Heck, try to finish all of the bottle. My crew was reinforcing that increasingly as the day went on. But what really broke me was the sight of people walking up hills in groups. It was not bad they were. Heck, I probably should have done that earlier and even now. But the Umstead course is far from flat. It is constantly rolling so I did not want to sacrifice at that point. So I started to think and mentally crack a little. I was not beginning to enjoy this much. In fact, a clear sign was when my crew asked me as I was about to head out for lap 4, how I was feeling. My reply: 'This sucks'. In fact, I think it might have been on this lap, I cursed how much I did not like things and apologized to some other people cheering.

It was on lap 4, Hal strode up aside me and asked if I knew who the first person was. I told him I had no idea but said 'Maybe he is just doing 50'. And like that Hal cruised away as I could not go. I had to walk. I had been broken. This lap was filled with lots of little walk breaks. Despite being on target pace for the first 3 laps, I knew the plan was now, get through 50 and take it from there. Towards the end of the fourth lap, I told myself if the leader and Hal went out, I was going to drop and just accept a 50 mile time. This too went out the window as on the way in, a terrific older man who was so supportive even using Mike, told me that John dropped at 50. My only thought: F*ck.

During the transition, I told my crew, do not expect anymore sub 2 hour laps. My last one in fact had been over 2 hours. Now, in addition to the PB&J's, I was consuming Matzo Balls and Veggie Broth. But here on out, my crew was stepping up big time. Maggie told me the plan was now to meet me at AS2 since I could now pick up pacers. She was going to pace me the back half of the loop. What this did was make me want to not let down my crew and have them waiting for me. I moved as best I did. It was this single aspect that likely saved my entire race. Eventually, I got to the aid station where they were waiting. I told Maggie it was going to be slower than we originally discussed. I was going to be walking some of the hills. I did tell her my pee was back to lemonade. Because this is one of those things you discuss. Her company was helpful and got me through the lap. On the repeated portion of the course, I didn't see Hal so I figured he was well up on me at the 100K mark. He's incredibly experienced and this is in only my second go at this distance. And then this happened.....

After dropping Maggie off, eating more food and starting the climb out of the spectatory start/finish area, I got news I had moved into first. Hal apparently had come in only 10 minutes before me with some issues and not gone out yet. But this was Hal and I was suffering. More or less, I did not believe it. Yet, it gave me a little jolt...

In fact, my 6th lap was my 4th fastest of the day. This was in due part to getting an extra pacer for about 4.5 - 5 miles. Oddly enough, a runner strode up near me and asked if I could use the company. I did. Turns out it was a small world experience. His name was Mike too. Also attended Rutgers, is from NJ and lived in Philly! Furthermore, he was at the race to pace Hal. Sadly, this meant Hal's day was done. Now with my position confirmed, it was now, wanting to finish this lap in the lead. Mike's presence really helped. We motored and chatted away. Our pace was quick enough KenTom had to help Maggie strip quickly for the transition. Thankfully, Peg being able to see me coming down the hill to announce it helped move that along. Having them there really was pushing me through. At this point, I thanked Mike for the help. KenTom tried to offer me a bottle swap which I declined. I knew if I stayed with the same bottle that I knew what I was drinking. My aim was to finish a bottle a lap. The back half with Maggie was much of the same as our last lap. But it was steady as she goes and we were going. I told her, I wanted to finish this lap at least in the lead. That goal was done but now I was going to be alone for a full lap.

See originally, the goal was to have a pacer lap 6 and 8. Maggie was going to be the closer since she too has a huge race coming up. Something little like being a member of Team USA at the 24 hour World Championships. I tried to get a local pacer for lap 6 and that did not work out as hoped. So I was going to be alone for lap 7 all along. Yet, I did plan to be headed into the lap a little earlier and feeling better. Neither being the actuality.

Lap 7 was hard. I was going to see everyone at AS2 but I was doing this solo. At least knowing they were there made me do my best to get to them which kept me from not walking. I also knew I had to move as the same older gent from before told me Dan, who was in second with the most fabulous beard ever (sorry Rob Krar), was a good closer. I did not want to find that out the hard way. One of the most memorable things about the race occurred going into AS2. On the approach there is a chair, which at times had someone present. This was one of those times. And the woman sitting informed me 'my fan club was waiting for me'. I did do an extra bottle swap this time but I did turn down a Veggie Burger from KenTom. My thought was, 'Is he crazy?'. Instead I took more Matzo Ball and broth. As I moved onto my nemesis. Being on the back half of the course, which I hated and I am sure hated me alone was not as bad for this lap. I moved on some of the hills a little better than my walk the prior few laps. Lap 7 was in the bag.

Leading the race now moved from, I am leading this to, I might win this damn thing. Picking up Maggie, I consumed my last bit of Matzo and veggie broth.  KenTom and Peg were ready to leave for AS2 but I stopped them. I said they would not see my finish if they did that. I was going to finish after 8pm when the gate only is open for 15 minutes on the hour. They had forgotten that. Yet, somehow I managed to.

For the start of the final loop, it was still light out but darkness was approaching. With darkness meant cold, which told me to finish this damn thing. On the Airport Spur, I was on the lookout for Dan. If I saw him before I the 2 mile marker, I was going to be really worried. However, that was not the case. I had what I estimated around 20 minutes up on him. (In reality it may have been more but when you are told someone is a good closer, you crap your pants and think about the smallest gap possible.)  The lead made me think I had a shot but not to let up. Maggie and I went as hard as I could doing my best to put more damage in. After the 3 mile point, I did mention that it was now officially the farthest I went without stopping referencing the Viaduct experience. Maggie also was now going to see the other part of the course since she was pacing me all of eight. In my head, I was going mile by mile trying to hit each one under 10. After that horrible 4th lap, despite telling the team expect no laps under 2 again, all of them had been. Yet, now, I was just holding on. My tank was empty and I was running on guts really beginning to want the win. We got through 9.5 mile of the loop before it got truly dark. But it also meant we got through the hardest part. And in my head I am thinking, hold 10's and you win this. While it felt like I may have been moving faster I wasn't. My body really was out of gas. Eventually, we hit the last major hill on the course (all the hills were major at this point but this was the longest one.) I had Maggie turn back to see if the headlamp behind us was catching up thinking it was possibly Dan. She said no. Whew. I really thought it was. You could say I was thinking how I lost Ugly Mudder at the last moment 100ft from the finish. Not the case this time.

I came up that final stretch to the finish full of emotion. I really was about to win a major 100 mile race in a pretty good time. Not my intended time but a good enough one.

As I approached the line, I was asked for my number and I said 'your winner, 89'. And like that I crossed screamed in excitement (it was either that or I cry) victorious at the 2015 Umstead 100.

Two days later and I am still in disbelief about the turnout of the race.

As a funny note, because of the time I finished, my crew grabbed my gear so we could catch the 9pm gate opening. I would have loved to stay but I needed a hot tub at the hotel before it closed. (Only knock on the room was it had a shower only.) Thankfully, I got to spend 10 minutes or so before leaving.

My success at Umstead would not have been accomplished without a lot of support. In addition to all my friends that constantly have my back, there are a few that need some extra love today. First on that list is Peg for who words can do no amount of justice. Maggie for her belief in me and being just a great friend. KenTom, you are the crew chief of all crew chiefs. Jacqueline for planting the seed. Carl & Dave from Viaduct, you two started me on this ultra path by allowing me into the 50 mile back in 2012 and for having a 100 mile that I learned so much from. Trail WhippAss for being one big crazy family. And lastly the organizers at Umstead for their willingness to give me one of the competitive slots. I hope I did you all proud.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Black Canyon 100K - Grit, Pride and a DNF

Go West. Go West.

If I wanted to seriously appear on the big stage of ultrarunning, it meant venturing out west. In the later stages of a successful 2014, I began to really embrace the idea of doing a western ultra. Looking at the calendar in terms of both other potential races and time off of work, I landed on Aravaipa Running's Black Canyon 100K (this year part of the Montrail Ultra Cup). So around Thanksgiving, I signed up for the trip out.

Black Canyon was a perfect choice. Course suited a lot of my strengths. The average high for the Phoenix, AZ region is usually around 70 a temp, I adore. And coming from Philadelphia, PA, where we average around 45 degrees, not a huge jump. Furthermore, the 100K was 6 weeks out from Umstead 100 at the end of March allowing me plenty of time to recover. However, in no way did the assumptions I made play out as expected.....

Going in, I expected to have a good solid base of training. In other words, fully healthy. After Batona, I had been enduring 4 weeks of bronchitis, translating into 4 weeks of little running. And forget it if I tried to run outdoors. Hack a lung central. Usually, in addition to my running mileage, I bike commute to the office. Also out the window. It was not until a week before the race, I could really do anything. Talk about a blow to my conditioning. Only a few people knew going into the race I was experiencing this.

Weather, you could say was the big player. My expectations were way off in the reality. Winter here in Philadelphia has been more like highs of 20. And as race day got closer the forecast for Black Canyon called for temps in the 80s. So instead of a manageable 25 degree difference, it was headed for a 60+ degree shock. In a fully exposed area, this scared the heck out of me. Due to this, I packed one of my Ultimate Direction hydration vests with some Nathan's waist pack bottles for use later in the race.


The night before the race, I did not have the best of sleeps mainly due to some fear of the heat. Yes, it really was freaking me out beforehand. But once the race started, that was going to have to go out the window in such a deep men's field.

My strategy was simple enough. Take advantage of the cooler portion of the day before the sun really gets up. And then once it got warm, do what I can with the goal of finishing. For a while this worked well. For the 1st 18 miles, I was in a solid pack of runners but started to feel off but I was still running at a reasonable but untaxing pace. Once I left the 24 mile aid station, things changed. I was out of there around 3:02. It was a good 24 miles (I was still in the top 10 at this point) but my race after that no longer became a race. The warmth really began and the lack of training started to show up. My pace suffered. However, I told myself I did not come out to DNF. I came to finish no matter the time. I pushed on. During this section, eventual Women's Winner Caroline Boller passed me. She looked solid. And just before the aid station, fellow Trail Whippass Member, Michele Yates caught up to me. She left the station before I did as I was utilizing some extra fancy sponge cool down equipment. (Ok, it was a large sponge sitting in a big bowl of ice water.)

Maybe it was the sponge coolant but the next section was fairly well to me. There was a pep to my step again and I moved decently passing Michele and a couple others. But while I ran, the pace still was slow. In my head, I was moving aid station to aid station in want to finish this thing survival mode. Eventually, I made it to Black Canyon City around mile 37. (Taking a fall on the way in on the out and back.) Here, I had a drop bag for me with my UD pack and bottles. Prior to that point, I was running with a visor and a Nathan handheld. A headgear swap also occurred. Now I was sporting a full hat so I could put ice in it. The Nathans bottles I was using on the front of the UD pack had one purpose, cool down water. And with this being the longest stretch before an aid station, vital equipment.

But instead of getting juiced up and getting into a groove, the sun and heat were taking there toll. The aid station could not come soon enough. Eventually when it did, I was now asking what mile I was at and how far to the next station. As it turned out, it was mile 46 and 4.5 to the next. My watch had me at around 8 hours. I mention this because it took me close to an hour and a half to cover that distance. My pace felt like a crawl. I was passing some 50K participants which at least made me not feel like I was alone. For some reason, when I finally got the next aid station in sight, my body did not want to take another step. 400 yards out from the station, I had to pause for a second. It was at that moment, my day was done. In no way was I going to be able to cover the last 11 miles. Sure I had been out for 9:20 giving me over 8 hours to make the cut-off but I had no headlamp. Which not really a huge deal since I am sure I could have latched on with another runner with one. Physically, my body told me enough. Walking into the aid station, I gave my number and uttered 'I'm dropping out'.

Did I want to finish? Absolutely, given it was my first time to race an ultra out west. And to be honest, that is what kept me going even when I knew my day as a contender was done. It was pure pride and trying to represent the east coast. I dug as deep as I could have.

Once I was out, I layed on a cot for a bit with a cold rag around my neck before some roll and puke action. Knowing it was an aid station that allowed crews, I was able to get a ride to the finish area. While I was walking well, it took about another hour to feel better. Should I have just waited the 2 hours total to make a finish? You could say possibly but when I made my decision, I reached a point continuing was not possible. I knew it and knew it was a reality I could not turn an eye to.

It was nice to be able to speak with some people at the finish including both Caroline and Men's Winner, Ford Smith. Ford ran a tremendous race.

Bravo to everyone who got a finish. It was a tough day out there for many of the contenders as a list of DNF's could show you.

I cannot be upset because I went to my end. Normally it gets me a finish but when I'm compromised from the start, you see how far it gets you. It got me pretty damn far. And I can look at Black Canyon as a good time on my feet. Since I have the Umstead 100 mile at the end of March, no time to dwell on the bad but to find the positive. There are some adjustments that will be in place for Umstead.

And hopefully in the future, I'll be back out west for another race. In the meantime, I leave with this feeling....Black Canyon really made me realize how much I love trees!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wintery Mix - A wet start to 2015

So we are roughly three weeks into the new calendar year of 2015. I’d love to say it has been going smashingly but it has been a bit of a struggle. But if this blog was all sugarplums and roses, I’d be either the greatest runner ever or just not honest. I’d bet money on being neither. Currently having a nasty cough does not help matters. Especially, considering the timing of the cough but I’ll circle back around to that in a bit.

For this month, I had two races on my plate right out the gate.

One really out the gate on 1/3 down in Elkton, MD at a race called PHUNT. PHUNT has been around for some time now but this was the first year of an entry fee as the run transitioned from a fat-ass to a full blown race. Carl Perkins, the RD, really did a tremendous job on a number of accounts and it showed with 350 (correct me if I am wrong, Carl) individuals signing up to tackle the 25K and 50K courses. Originally, I was not going to do PHUNT but back around late October, you could say some bugs were put in my ear by my friend Maggie and Carl, himself. Part of this was due to Brian Tinder flying out from Arizona for the race. Brian is a member of Adidas’ Ultra Team. Eventually, I folded to the pressure and signed up for the race. To be one of the best, you race the best. You could say that was my first mistake. And I say mistake because I really should have expected other factors around the date of the race to impact race day. See I work for a financial company that just so happens to match their fiscal year to the calendar year. You might be able to guess, I should have saw the crazy workload coming. Boy did it come. It also matters that it is the time of year when people have to use time off or lose it. Both my boss and I fall into this category. So here we are with a major project and understaffed. Add in the demands of the holiday and I toed the starting line at PHUNT much more tired than I usually would. Of course, I had to put thoughts of being tired out of my head once we started. I did my best by taking the race out from the start trying to get into a nice flow and hopefully open some gap on Brian and Chris Beck. Lets say, my plan did not work. I felt tight in my shoulders and knew I was not in for my best day. I could not get into a smooth rhythm. Towards the end of the 1st 25K loop, I felt like a sitting duck. I let Brian and Chris move ahead. Aside from catching them both at the S/F aid station, this was the closest to the lead I would be the rest of the day. It was now cold and a slight drizzle was moving in. I thought about not going back out but made myself move forward. In hindsight, I probably should have brought more layers with me on that second loop. I muscled through as much as I could just trying to enjoy the scenery a bit more. And if I got close to the lead great. I was being honest with myself what I had in me. Eventually after the second major aid station, I caught up with Chris whose day took a bad turn and just kept moving. For a little bit, that put a spark in me but when I learned Brian had ten minutes on me with less than 5 to go, that bubble was popped. I meandered in to the finish content with second place and was happy to be out of the cold even if my body was still cold. Eventually I layered some clothes and took a nap in a chair. Conditions were getting worse and by the number of people who dropped from the 50K down to the 25K, it emphasized how crummy a day it was. A few of the TrailWhippAss folks dropped but the majority were still out on the course so I was waiting for the rest of the flock to come in. Dylan ran a great race for third. Maggie tied for 1st female. Eventually Ryan and Destrie made it in. It was at that point of us all being in that I headed home. Next year, I am going back but only for 25K. I learned my lesson of trying to race a 50K at one of the company’s busiest periods. Congrats to Brian Tinder for coming out east and running a textbook race for a solid win in miserable weather.

Up second was a super small race I did last year, the Batona 50. This year it on 1/19 and was extended from the 53.4 mile distance of the Batona Trail to 55 miles so people could run to their cars.  Also, notable is the decision to do away with the long 50K option. 2015 meant all or nothing. I had a blast in the inaugural running so once registration had opened I signed up. Batona fit perfectly into my schedule as it was a nice long effort far enough out from Black Canyon (on 2/14). A week out the weather looked fantastic. However, as the week progressed, there began a call  for rain. But this was not to be until after 3pm. Based on my goal of close to 7 hours, I was not worried. Then the time moved to 1pm. I got concerned enough to run out to buy a piece of gear I did not have. A light packable rain shell that could handle the rain. Night before, the talk of rain turned to 11am! Holy cow, this is not what I wanted to hear. But of course, it got better as I started developing a little cough the day before. Terrific timing. My cough told me I would have to run a pace that did not induce coughing. With this being a 55 mile run, that was not expected to be a problem. Race morning, I woke up feeling nice and rested until at PHUNT. I felt good because Peg was driving me down to the race and would be supporting me at the even number aid stations. Given the weather forecast this benefited me by having access to additional clothing without needing to carry more. Batona is a super small race with only 8 people toeing the start this year. Once the RD, Angie sent us off, I went out nice and comfortable running wise. I could not say the same about the weather as immediately precipitation started to fall. For the most part the trail was very runnable. Caution had to be taken on the road crossings from thin-ice and patches of the trail had ice too. I went through the 1st aid station without stopping since it was early. When I got to Peg at aid station 2 (Paul was manning the official support station), I had her assist with refilling my handheld and with giving me a cough drop. I had encountered a few spots when I throttled my pace down, I would cough. It was in this stretch before AS 3, that two things would happen, I would scrape my knee after a minor slide on some ice and I would lose my GPS signal. Denis at AS 3 helped by pouring some water on my knee to clean up some of the blood. The rain was not washing it away. Oh, I should mention the rain just kept getting steadier now. I was not having any fun. I was not soaked but a cold rain with trail ponding was wearing me down. It felt like the horrible weather at PHUNT again but worse since I would be out much longer. As I made it into AS 4, I decided to drop. I had been running for a little over 3 hours and did not want to subject myself to another 4-5 hours of rain. I was thinking about my health predominately. Having a cough meant I was compromised to a degree and did not want to make matters worse in the long run. Amazingly, three hearty souls finished the full race! I applaud them for their determination in quite possibly the worst race weather I have been a part of.  Also, amazing dedication to the volunteers who supported these three people on their finish. Ironically, the finish rate for the race was higher than last year when only two people finished.

So for those keeping score at home 2015 has yielded a 2nd place and a DNF. Not the start I was hoping for especially since the Batona race was a great long run for Black Canyon. I’ll have to regroup a bit. I’ll be having a lighter mileage load this week to tend to my health. And I will figure out how I will get another long run in before Black Canyon.