Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Saturday, November 19, 2011

3:54:52 for 50K! Huge PR. Won the Race!

Previous 50K PR: 4:41:00
Today's time (half mile longer than 50K): 3:54:52- 47 minutes faster than old PR
Pace: 7:24/mile
Winning margin: 23 minutes

First, let me say I know there are tons of faster people out there. I know I'm nowhere near them. The Mad Marsh 50K with 68 competitors wasn't the largest, most competitive race out there. BUT, I am really happy with my accomplishments lately & was proud to say I won a race for the first time since 1988. People have asked what the secret to my improvement is...

* Significant weight loss.
* Experience & putting things into perspective during a race.
* Pushing myself in training (though my long runs could be more frequent).

I have raced way more than ever before this year and I think all but one race was a PR. After Kiawah, I will have raced 552 miles this year. There's simply no doubt in my mind that I'll PR in every race I run. The question is by how much. Maybe that sounds cocky, but it works. I used to worry a ton and doom myself to a bad race before I even started. 6 years ago, I started doing ultras & trail races because I didn't like the pressure I put on myself in road races & didn't like the disappointment that went with it. Things went downhill when I turned 30 & I thought I had not hope of getting better or returning to where I was.

Switching to trail running & ultras helped relieve some pressure but I still had a bad attitude. I made up excuses but could hide it with "Oh, but it was an insane mountain trail. How was I supposed to do well?" My return to more road running and trying to run fast has been way more enjoyable than I ever thought it could be though I do still enjoy the rocks, roots & especially the scenery of trail running.

I set some goals in July & one of them was to break 4:00 for 50K. I honestly thought it was the hardest goal on my list and wasn't sure I'd get it. Frosty 50K in January was going to be my big attempt. I found out about the Mad Marsh 50K a couple of weeks ago & just decided Wednesday to come down to Beaufort, SC and run it. I told some people on my team I was going to win it & run under 4 hours. Most believed me, I think, but some asked, "How do you know? You don't even know who's going to be there?" I told them I didn't care. I was going to do what it took to win. If that meant I had to run 3:40 to win, I would just have to do that. If it meant I could run 3:59 and win, then so be it. Wait, did I mention 4:41 was my PR before?? :)

The race was 7x4.5 mile loops around an abandoned golf course. I guess it was on what was once unpaved cart paths. The surface was sandy and a little loose, but better than I expected. There was one short section where the grass was pretty tall and rough, but other than that, it was a great surface though calling it a trail is a bit misleading. More like grassy/dirt/sand path. I enjoyed the course and always like loop courses.

I have to talk a little junk. There were some "cool guys" decked out in fancy gear who yelled at me a minute after the start to slow down, that I didn't know what I was doing, that they were the ones setting the pace & for me to fall back. I turned around & said, "I think I want to run a little faster if that's OK." They indicated they'd see me in the last half of the race- implying I'd die & they'd catch me. I must say it brought me a little joy to lap them on my 5th lap. I felt like I was pretty encouraging to the people I lapped, but not to the guys who yelled at me. Maybe that's mean.

I went out with another guy for the first lap. I ran right on his shoulder for 4 miles and then beside him for the last half mile of that lap and we talked a little. He was just running 3 laps- a little over half marathon & I left him shortly after the end of the first lap. There was one other guy in sight behind me for the first 2 laps but that's all. I led the whole way but wasn't sure how much of a lead I had. 

Things went perfectly other than frequent bathroom breaks (what's new??) & I was able to run very consistently. I hit the marathon in exactly the same time as I ran last week at Thunder Road! 3:08. After that, knowing I'd be under 4:00 & would win, I backed off the last 5 miles. I kept looking back, seeing if I needed to pick it up in case someone caught up, but I didn't realize how much I was leading by. I won by 23 minutes and had a 47 minute PR! Actually, the course was a little long, at 31.7, so it would've been a few minutes under 3:54. I usually like to finish races strong, but I'm OK with easing up at the end here. I think the best I could've done would've been 3:51. 3:51, 3:54... not a big difference. Had I been able to get under 3:50, I would've gone for it.

Below is the breakdown, not by 4.5 mile lap, but by 5 mile increments. Each lap included a bathroom break &/or aid station break & the last 2 laps included a minute of stretching each. I kept it pretty even and cruised after the marathon.

First 5 Miles- 35:19  (7:04/mile)
Second 5 Miles- 35:15 (7:03/mile)
Third 5 Miles- 36:12  (7:14/mile)
Fourth 5 Miles- 36:11 (7:14/mile)
Sixth 5 Miles- 37:50 (7:34/mile)
Seventh 5 Miles- 40:41 (8:08/mile)
Last 1.7 Miles- 7:52/mile

This race gives me a lot of confidence for Kiawah & Frosty 50K, both in the next 6-7 weeks. I know both will be PRs & I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

3:08:34 Thunder Road Marathon- 9 Minute PR

Q: Why would a 9 minute marathon PR be kind of ho hum? 
A: When you know you could've done better.

I decided to run this race less than 48 hours before the gun went off because Wren's soccer tournament times were different than expected & I could make the Saturday game and still run. So my training wasn't exactly what I'd want for an "A Priority" race. I am focused on the Kiawah Island Marathon Dec. 10 & Frosty 50K in January, with a big push after that for a couple of spring marathons. Thunder Road was just thrown in there because it was close to home, I knew I could PR & wanted to test some strategy.

I was confident for the 2 days before the race until I tried to go to sleep. Sitting in bed, I started letting my mind get to me. A friend texted me, "You will have a great race. Your training has been great. I will be thinking about you while you're running." That did the trick & I fell asleep by midnight.

I've really been on a roll this year of running well with confidence & focus I've never had before. In this race, though, I just never was that into it. Didn't seem... I don't know... important for some reason. I still gave my best effort but things didn't exactly click. My running's been different the past 3-4 weeks. I'm going as fast or faster than ever, but it seems to be more of a struggle. My legs feel heavy and not really sluggish but like every step, the muscles are flexed. Feels like I'm pushing- like running uphill, instead of the light, quick (for me at least) feeling I had before this. ...just muscling through. Every step seems like an individual effort that has to be thought about rather than just moving along with fluid motion.

The first 8 miles were uneventful except for a bathroom break that cost me a minute. It was my only one of the day, so not a killer. My sciatic nerve gave me problems starting around mile 8 & I remembered I hadn't taken ibuprofen. I was surprised by the number of spectators I knew who yelled.

Around mile 12, when the half marathoners went one way and the marathoners went the other way, there was a big letdown. There always is, but this time was different. I HATE running a marathon alongside a half. I certainly have nothing against people running a half marathon, but it just messes with my head. I guess I was in about 35th place in the combined race, but I was told I was 12th after the split. For about 4-5 miles, I didn't see a single person in front of me. 11th place must've been pretty far ahead. Then a group of 3 passed me around mile 17. At mile 18, my sciatic nerve was hurting more and I stopped for a second to stretch my hip. It was one of those moments where I thought, "I just gave up. I am still on pace to break 3:00, but in this one instant, I've told myself I can't."

I started back up after 20 seconds of stretching and was fine for a half mile before noticing an unusual pain in my chest. Never felt anything like that. Got worse as I went along. By mile 20, I had decided there was a decent chance I was having a heart attack. I backed off by about a minute/mile and really took uphills easy. I knew even if I managed 9:30 miles, I'd set a PR but hopes for sub-3:00 were over and breaking 3:05 didn't look likely. I focused on 3:10... but more than that, just surviving! That's all I could think about and I kept going back & forth in my head, "Should I drop out & go to the hospital? No. You're going to set a  PR & it's probably nothing." If I saw anyone looking remotely like an EMT or something I probably would've stopped.

I ended up in 3:08:34, breaking my PR (set in June in Seattle) by 9 minutes. That's a major accomplishment but I'm disappointed because I knew I could do a lot better. I went to the medical tent afterwards & they said I had a tight diaphragm and worked on it for 20 minutes. No heart problems.

So, I'll push hard to Kiawah, have better luck there & expect another big PR.

Monday, October 24, 2011

1:24:15 Half Marathon- Almost 10 Minute PR

I entered the Rocktoberfest Half Marathon on a whim. I knew I could PR. I wanted to test out sub-3:00 marathon pace and see how progress towards that goal was coming. It also just fit into my schedule and was close to home. I was very pleased with the results.

The course was fairly hilly and ran along roads used in Charlotte road races for at least the 30 years I've been running- Morehead, through Myers Park, etc. I couldn't sleep the night before, worried about pace and how prepared I was. Silly to get nervous about a half marathon, maybe, but I was. Just didn't know what I was capable of. Regretted not knowing what 6:45 pace (my initial goal) really felt like anymore since I haven't been wearing a GPS watch lately.

I ran the first mile with some of my new TrySports teammates who I knew were going to run my target pace of 6:45/mile. It was downhill and I think we hit it in 6:12. I felt good so I picked up the effort in the next uphill mile and ran the rest of the way by myself. Hit the 10K mark in 40:12. I was nervous about a race of this distance but I really enjoyed it. Seemed really short (not bragging at all) and I was able to divide it up easily. "Half way there? Crazy! I just started!" or "Just 35 more minutes. That's nothing." I kept a very positive attitude & was confident the whole time. Once I hit the 2nd or 3rd mile, I knew I wouldn't slow down and I averaged 4 seconds per mile faster in the last half than the first, which is pretty remarkable pacing if I do say so myself. Though I was pushing it hard the whole way, I can't describe how easy it felt. Knew I'd finish strong. Thought about every step. Told myself to run as fast as I could each step. But still, ZERO fatigue, no problems, no slowing down, no getting passed, etc. Couldn't ask for anything more.

My PR had been 1:33:58, set in January. I was just looking to break 1:30 Saturday but ended up at 1:24:15 because everything just clicked. I took a gamble not knowing exactly what would happen because of my inexperience at that distance but I think I played it perfectly. A little faster early & I may have died. The ultimate goal is sub-3:00 by this Spring. There are a lot of "what ifs," but I feel certain I could've run that Saturday. Experiencing no fatigue, no problems & no negative thoughts, I'm pretty sure I could've kept that 6:25/mile pace until 20 miles and then fallen back to 6:45-7:00- let's go high & say an average of 7:00 for the last 10K. That would've given me 2:51. Even 7:00 pace for the last 13.1 would've given me 2:55 and that would've been a big slowdown. Will I go out in 6:25 for a marathon? I don't know why I can't be close to that and still have a good marathon. More work & testing, but I feel very confident. It's a good feeling.

I finished 12th place out of 709 finishers. Top 1.6%. Strange being that alone in a pretty big race.

Now, I register for Kiawah Island Marathon which is December 10 to see what I can do.

Really enjoyed my Sunday 10 mile run at ASC trails just before sundown. I used to love squeezing in as many miles as possible before dark on Sundays out there but haven't been in a couple of months. And sadly, with the faster paced, non-trail running I've been doing lately, I noticed it on the trails. I wasn't as nimble & didn't see the trail like I used to. Still fun.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Runner's World comes to my box at school. I flip through & look at the pictures but rarely read anything. Not all that interested in "8 Miracle Foods That Can Make You Faster," or "6 Tips For a Stronger Core." Maybe I'm jaded or think I know it all. I don't, but so little of the advice in there seems to apply to me or my runners. This month, there was an article about recovery with this chart. I thought it was a little funny as I saw it after my Wednesday hard run following a weekend 103 mile run. Nothing in the chart to tell me how long to go before doing a hard workout after running 103 but it says don't go hard until 26 days after a marathon. Really? If I followed that logic I think my running would be a lot different.

I am positive I do things that aren't in my best interest... often to prove something to my team. I'm still alive, but there hasn't been much recovery after running 50 miles at the Blue Ridge Relay or 103 at Hinson Lake. Two days after Blue Ridge Relay, I did 10x600 in 2:03. Ouch. Really hard. Sore. Three days after Hinson Lake, I ran 4 miles at 6:18/mile pace. I was sore then too but more than that, just completely fatigued still. I thought of every excuse possible to stop but kept going. One of the guys on my team said recently, "You're too hardcore for your own body." Maybe so. Maybe these aren't great choices, but if I followed what Runner's World seems to suggest- give yourself a day free of hard workouts per mile of racing, I wouldn't have run hard until 2012. 103 days, 3 days... same thing, right? :)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Blue Ridge Relay 4 Person Team

Just realized I hadn't posted about BRR. Out of the blue, I was contacted by some friends of friends about running the 208 mile Blue Ridge Relay as part of a 4 person team... Thomas Eggar, Matt Jaskot & Chris Causebrook (who I knew as the boys XC coach at Charlotte Catholic). Sounded like fun. I was in.

I'd run BRR as part of a 10 person team in 2006 & ran 4 legs. It was hard. I remember thinking at the time, "Running what equates to 4 hard 10Ks is much harder than a marathon." How would I handle running what equated to 9 x 10Ks? Sounded challenging. It was. Blue Ridge Relay is divided into 36 sections and teams must rotate in order. It's designed for 12 person teams but smaller teams must also rotate, so it's not like we could each run 52 miles straight. 52 straight seems a lot easier than dividing it up & running 9 times, but I'm positive our time was way faster running 9 times and I think in the end, I actually prefered it. The breaks gave your body time to get sore but you'd be sore towards the end of a 52 mile mountain run anyway. Everyone on our team had major cramping problems in the van between runs.
So, if you're running nine 10Ks (really, the legs range from 2-10 miles but average about 6 miles) in a little over 24 hours, you're going to pace yourself, right? I ran the first downhill leg in 5:33/mile pace. Guess I decided not to go easy. Next 3 legs were mostly uphill or up & down and I averaged about 6:50 pace. Way way way too fast I knew. The guys on my team are young, really competitive & I'm probably the slowest of the 4. I felt a lot of pressure to do my best. I think I held my own and while I slowed down some, the wheels never fell off. In fact, all of us started off fast and no one died. I was impressed. I did feel like dying a couple of times. I ate some potato chips after a leg. With no gall bladder anymore, my body has a hard time digesting fats. The next leg was... umm... problematic, but I was OK after that. Collapsed at the end of a leg and came close to passing out, but that leg was fine & I was strong for the next one. 

I ran legs 1, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29 & 33. My toughest leg was my last one. An incredible 13% grade! 13%! Yowza! I ran the entire way on each leg, including this one. A guy 100m ahead of me walked the whole way up the mile long hill. I ran & he walked & I swear I didn't catch him until the very top. It was STEEP! I actually felt really good on this leg. Running down the mountain was more painful than running up. Legs were shot.
So, all in all, it was a fun time, tough challenge & rewarding experience. We finished in 27:11 (7:51/mile pace for the entire race), which was good enough for 23rd place out of 120 teams... not bad considering most teams were 12 person teams. We were the only 4 person team this year & only the 3rd every to try it with 4. We beat the previous 4 person record by nearly 3 hours. We were 3rd out of 19 ultra teams this year (All other ultra teams were 6 person teams.). Good stuff.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

103 miles at Hinson Lake. Difficult.

OK, yeah, how could 103 miles NOT be difficult? I guess it's always going to be hard, but this just seemed... more difficult than anticipated. I was a little foggy most of the race, just out of it mentally. Hard for me to remember many details or chronology. Had one MAJOR problem that let to other issues I think- dehydration. I lost TWELVE POUNDS during the race. That's not good. Not good at all. Keep reading.

Quick Facts:
* Marathon: 4:09
* 50K: 4:57
* 50 Miles: 8:49
* 100K: 11:22
* 100 Miles: 21:39
* 103.36 Miles: 22:55 (Yeah, I was done an hour early. Done.)
* 5th place male. 2 women beat me. 277 people registered.

PRs in 50 Miles, 100K, 100 Miles & 24 Hours!

Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run & Mt. Mitchell Challenge are my two favorite races. I didn't get into the MMC lottery. I've been thinking about Hinson Lake since the last Hinson Lake! Really looked forward to it. Called out a pretty lofty goal- 112 miles. Got 92 last year, 102 at Black Mountain. I figured the next step was 112 to go up by 10 again. My running keeps improving, used to heat now, as opposed to early June for Black Mt. and Hinson Lake is an easy course. Thought about this race most days this summer. Imagined myself going around & around & around the 1.52 mile loop.

I came in with severe achilles pain, but different from anything I've ever experienced. More like nerve damage or something. Running didn't seem to effect it. Felt like a hard pinch every 30 seconds. Didn't hurt at all at Hinson Lake. Legs have been pretty dead since running about 50 miles at part of a 4 person Blue Ridge Relay team 2 weeks ago. They were dead at Hinson Lake but never really got worse until the end.

First 30 were fine & uneventful. Felt confident & strong. Controlled. Drizzly start. Humid. Yuck. Not muddy like I thought due to sandier surface. Hit a pretty quick marathon in 4:09 & 50K under 5 hours. Started feeling queasy about that time. Because of that, I got behind on calories and maybe fluid intake. As discussed here before, I sweat a lot & my body can't absorb enough fluid to replace what I sweat. So, what happens is I end up dehydrated & not sweating but also with a sloshy, bloated stomach.

I always feel like my running is pretty strong during 24 hour races, I just take to many breaks. I wanted to work on that this time, and I did to an extent, but the more I felt sick, the less I could eat and drink... the less I consumed, the worse I felt. Couldn't find a balance. At 33 miles, I took my first 10 minute, get horizontal on a picnic table break. They got more frequent as the night went on.

In loop courses, I pick spots I'll allow myself to walk and never stray from that. At Hinson Lake, I walk the little hill and aid station a little. It helps break it up into short sections I can run no matter what. ...and like I said, the running was strong. 8:15/pace for first 8 hours maybe, then 8:45, then 9:00 maybe. And of course that + bathroom/walking/eating/drinking/gear breaks. I stuck to the plan until very late but was disappointed I had to stop when I did. Felt like motion sickness. Dizzy. Restless. Tired. Skin really hot. Face & shoulders broken out. Not mentally coherent. Got worse & worse. As I looked down in the night, I didn't recognize my arms & legs. When I went to the bathroom & looked in the mirror, face, neck, chest looked different. Veins sticking out that don't normally. Knew I was dehydrated & had lost a lot of weight. Didn't know until I got home it was 12 pounds. Dangerous. I gained most of it back by now just by drinking a lot in the past 36 hours. 

To stay in it mentally is so so so hard for me and I imagine a lot of other people. People ask me how I keep going. I honestly don't know. For the last 18 hours or so, I think about quitting about every 20 minutes... "44 is a lot of miles. That's respectable. You can quit now & it's not a failure. Dude, 44 miles! That's not bad at all." An hour later, "OK, 50 miles. Now that's an even number. Quit now. Nah, better not. 55 sounds better..." "Nah, 100K. 80. 100." I think about quitting all the time.

One of my Blue Ridge Relay teammates, Thomas came to run some laps in the evening with a buddy of his and ran 4 with me. After one of them, I felt like I was going to fall on my face. First, but not the last time I really felt awful. I was down for about 5-10 minutes & then felt a little better. My energy & nausea really came in waves. 10 minutes of good, 10 minutes of bad all night.

I got to the point at 96 miles that I just couldn't run. I tried. Believe me. Step, step, OWWW! Legs just wouldn't go anymore. Mind was gone. Dizzy. Sick feeling. Had to think hard about where I was and what I was doing a couple of times. I ended up walking the last 7 miles until the last .75 or so, which, of course, I could run just fine (???). I got to the end of the loop at 103.36 miles with 65 more minutes. I could've easily walked 3 more miles, shuffled 4 or run 5-6. I decided to do none of those and call it quits. That put me at a 1 mile PR for 24 hours & secured me in 5th place. I was good with that. At the time, I didn't feel like there was a choice. Done. I was pleased.

 My training has been really good the past few months but NOT for 24 hour running. I haven't been doing any long runs. Nope. I did it on more like 1/2 marathon training. I let good general running fitness, experience & confidence get me to 103 miles, but I haven't done a run over 2 hours in 2 months. That could've played into the wheels falling off at Hinson Lake, but I don't think it was nearly as significant as the dehydration. Made me wonder about 24 hour/100 mile races. Was REALLY tough. I seem to do a lot better to 12 hours and then fall apart. I have been in so few ultras other than 24 hour races in the past 2 years, I just realized. Strange. I'm going to push it in some marathons & Frosty 50K. Don't have anything over that on my schedule for awhile. I'm positive I'll be back to 24 Hour races & Hinson Lake. Love what race director Tom Gabell, his crew & the friendly runners at the event!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lots of Work Ahead

Summer is over. Good. It wasn’t a good one for me personally . Running was good but other than that… I won’t get into all of that, but I’ve come to the realization that I just need structure in my life. Being a teacher and having summers free sounds great to most people but I’d rather be in school. It's been a long time since I've written here, but the running's been good.

The summer running was a lot different than most years. 3 years ago, I tried to get in as many miles as possible. Got in at least 300 miles each of the 3 summer months and my summers usually have some really long slogs in the woods where I’m pretty sure a family of bears is ready to rip my limbs off. I did plenty of trail running but I wouldn’t call it the wilderness. I ran far more miles on roads, paved greenways, and wide, groomed paths than I have in years. I’m not going to get my “crazy, ultra trail running dude” card revoked am I? This summer, I ran much faster than ever before but the mileage wasn’t as high. I averaged about 50 miles/week this summer with one week in the 80s and one higher than that with the 102 miles at Black Mountain Monster. I ran two good marathons at Seattle and Grandfather Mountain (pacing Shannon, but couldn’t have run much faster) this summer.

At Brevard Distance Runners Camp in July, I had the team write down personal goals. I wrote down my goals for the team as well as my personal running goals. Having them in black & white in front of me made them more real. Putting them in the blog makes them even more real.

• 5K under 18:00 (completed August 20- 17:52)
• 10K under 40:00 (completed August 2- 37:54 solo on a track)
• Marathon under 3:00
• Frosty 50K under 4:00
• 110 miles at Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run

These are really lofty goals. I have set PRs in everything from 5K-24 Hours these past 6 months. I have a lot work ahead of me but I feel good about it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grandfather Mountain Marathon- Highlight of the Summer

SHORT VERSION: 3:50 at one of the toughest road marathons around, pacing someone I coach was a truly a phenomenal, emotional experience.


Shannon texted me in late April asking me how Grandfather Mountain Marathon would be. I thought... 18 years old. First marathon. One of the toughest road marathons around. Only 10 weeks to train. In contention for state title in 4x800 & spot in the 3200m (thus 4 more weeks of track where we couldn't disrupt her training with really long runs). Longest run ever was 13. History of chronic injury.

So my answer, "Sure, why not?" Shannon had a chance to run in college but decided to go a different route. Because despite all of those obstacles, Shannon is one of the toughest, most determined people I know. She's not demonstrative at all and you would never know how driven she is until you're around her awhile. Having had the privilege to coach her for 4 years, I have seen her grow incredibly, shared a lot with her and have made a real connection that I expect to last a long time to come. By the way, this is a girl who came in as a 9th grader running 28:00 5Ks, dropped to 23:30 at the end of the season, and was in the mid 19s this year. She has had to work HARD for everything. I respect that.

Shannon's training has been going really well. We had to put her on a crash course in the 7 weeks since the state track meet. Her fitness & speed was already fantastic but we needed to get some long runs in there. She ran 12, 14, 16, 18 & a couple of other 10-14s in there. It wasn't ideal marathon training, but I felt like it was the best we could do in 7 weeks. I never told her long runs are supposed to be slower and never told her a marathon is scary. I didn't want her to be intimidated. We'd get done with a long run and I'd think, "Hmm... 7:45 miles... this girl is going to KILL the marathon." About 3 weeks ago, she had some pain in her foot. Still had the pain the week of the race.

I've had some severe achilles pain for 3 weeks. Ran the marathon in Seattle on it and really had to be like Patrick Swayze & tell myself "Pain don't hurt." It's hurt every step for 3 weeks though. I didn't care how it effected my race in Seattle and was determined to get through it. I was really nervous, however about how it would effect me at Grandfather Mt. I felt a huge responsibility to Shannon- to be there for her and get her through this race. I didn't bother telling her the ins & outs of marathoning because I thought it would make her nervous. I thought I'd just tell her as we went along. I knew my biggest job would be to SLOW HER DOWN in the first 18 miles.

It was. I told her 50 times it seemed. "Ease up." "Let's back off a little." "Hey, slow down." Finally, at mile 14 or so, I got a little frustrated as she pulled ahead of me. "Seriously, we're halfway done, but you've got to slow down. This is a critical time of the race- like mile 2 of a 5K. We have to still be conservative so we have something left later." Keep in mind, this was Shannon's first road race of any length & longest race over a Cross Country 5K!

The course starts on the track at Appalachian and is flat for the first mile or so. We talked a lot during the first 3 miles, but as the ground got more vertical, the talking ceased. I have loved my solo runs with Shannon, Chelsea & Mallary lately, and you usually can't get me to shut up. Hard runs with super serious discussions. I had all sorts of topics stored up for discussion, but man... the hills got to me. Neither one of us were able to talk. I'm amazed with how much comfortable silence we shared.

At mile 7, I felt a familiar feeling and made my way into the woods, telling Shannon I'd work hard to catch back up. Took about 1.5 miles of hard running to catch her. Stomach hurt all day. Achilles hurt all day. I tried not to talk about either. I was there as a coach and spectator, not as a runner. I was 100% there for her. No other reason. But I really felt rough. Didn't say anything because I didn't want to complain and didn't want to plant seeds in her head. ...and I was supposed to be the experienced sherpa getting her through this thing. In actuality, she helped me more than I helped her I feel. Gave me purpose and made it impossible for me to ease up and (literally) limp to the finish line.

At 16, we were at 2:15 and I said, "OK, we've got 10 more miles. If we run these in 9:00 miles even, we'll be home in an just an hour and a half. We're almost done." I knew the last 10 miles looked to be some of the roughest terrain, but still thought we'd be in under 4 hours, which was her goal. After those words of encouragement, I veered off into the woods again. Before I caught her again I had to go again. So we're talking about making up 4 minutes on a girl who won't slow down. Tall order. So I killed myself. At 20, I saw her on one of the few straight sections on the course (super windy mountain roads) but maybe 1:30 away. That gave me some hope. Went as hard as I could and I'm telling you- the endorphins were kicking. I freaked out on a couple of people as I passed. Frantically yelling, "I'm supposed to be pacing someone up here and I can't catch her! Can't stay out of the woods! Good job man!!! I gotta go get her!!!!!" When I got within 30 seconds of Shannon, I yelled and clapped. Finally I caught her a little after 21. And as quickly as I caught her, I had to go to the bathroom again. I told her good luck if I didn't see her again. Told her how amazing she was and how much I care about her & this accomplishment. Almost cried. I'm emotional. What can I say?

I was determined to catch her though. 90% of it was wanting to share the finishing moment with her but yeah, 10% of it was having to deal with certain members of my team making fun of me for getting beat by her. I went all out to catch her this time. "Only 4 (super steep) miles to go. What do I have to lose?" I caught her pretty quickly this time and was able to run the last 3 with her. Just before the 25 mile mark, I said, "Shan, do you care about catching her (woman ahead of us who we'd passed back & forth a couple of times.)?" She said she didn't. If she had said yes, I would've told her to go because I thought I was going to throw up from all of the hard efforts I had put in. "OK, then let's just relax, enjoy this last mile and kick when we see the finish line, OK?" She agreed.

We passed the woman anyway. In fact we passed a lot of people in the last 10 miles. As she wanted to pick it up at mile 6, mile 10, mile 14 because people were passing us, I assured her we'd pass most of them back and we did. We hadn't seen Stan all day though & as we're passing people pretty strongly, here he comes flying past like we're standing still. He later told me my bright yellow Brooks singlet was a target. I tell kids that all the time about uniforms that stand out! I always gain a lot of momentum passing people late in a race and lose a lot if I'm getting passed. I tried pointing out that to Shannon. Her response, "Yeah, but a lot of them were walking." HA! That counts double! :) We didn't walk a step during the race except through a few aid stations.

As you crest the last hill at the park entrance, you can hear the bagpipes of the Scottish Highland Games. I told her, "Let's go. It's time to kick." She said she didn't have anything. As we got onto the dirt road to the finishing track, I said, for the 10th time probably, "Shannon, you are incredible. This is an amazing accomplishment. I am so glad I can share this with you. Means so much to me." A few seconds later, "Shan, I'm going to cry." I did shed some tears. She wasn't lying when she said she didn't have anything left. She ran an absolutely BEAUTIFUL race. Hard to determine pace and effort in the mountains, but I would say there was never a spike or lull in effort/pace all day. Totally consistent. Mile 25 was just as strong as Mile 2. But yeah, she wasn't kicking. At all. She said she died, but not at all. She just maintained that 8:30 pace around the track, got passed by the woman we had passed earlier and finished one tenth of a second ahead of me. Awww, she beat me. ;)

She was 5th woman. 61st overall out of 360 people who finished under the cut off and 465 entrants (which tells me a lot of people didn't make it under the cut off or dropped out). 1st in 29 & under age group (I finished a tenth of a second behind her & was 21st in my age group!). 3:50:33 which is 8:48/mile on a pretty brutal course. Have I run tougher races? Of course, but never even close to a tougher road marathon. Point to point, 2000' of elevation gain. My guess is that you can take a flat marathon time & add 15-20 minutes to it which would put her at 3:30-35 and I projected she was about a 3:35 flat marathoner. There are downhills, but many more uphills of course. For her to pick this as a first marathon & run so flawlessly is... I'm just at a loss for adjectives. I have never run a race that went so smoothly as her's did- including this one! No one told me good luck or anything before this race- only, "Take care of Shannon." I'm glad. Even people who didn't know her told me that. That was my whole mindset and I feel bad I had to drop back a few times, but she pulled through. When I was done a few people asked me how I did. Seemed like a foreign concept. How I did?? Didn't even feel like I ran. Just there as a spectator.

But as for myself- achilles hurt bad. There were times I ran up hills with my foot positioned outward so it wouldn't hurt as much. There were times where I said, "Owww." There were a lot of times I was worried I wasn't going to make it with her. If I had been on my own running this, I may not have started because I know the achilles hurts most uphill. But if I did run alone, I would've been more aggressive which may or may not have paid off. Still I don't think I could've been much faster than 3:35 and on the other hand, could've been as far back as 4:05 without the responsibility I felt to catch up to Shannon. The day after, I'm not the least bit sore and my achilles actually feels the best its felt in 3 weeks!

Course is beautiful winding through mountain laurel, a few streams, rock formations, Price Lake... no real overlooks. Has the feel of a mountain trail race without the trail. I fell hard late in the race looking at a small waterfall. Who falls in a road marathon?? Roads aren't closed to traffic and a lot of people complain, but it didn't bother me at all. It was a cool 65 degrees, but really humid and foggy. Strange to be dripping sweat and wringing out your shorts when it's 65 degrees outside. This is one I will definitely run again, but one you have to be in shape to run. I can't imagine going out there not feeling ready and trying to fake it. Probably the most meaningful experience yet in what has been the best year of running I've ever had. ...keeping in mind I started running in 1981.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

7 Minute Marathon PR in Seattle! 3:17:17.

Short version: I had an achilles injury coming into it, hurt every step, fairly tough course but still managed a 7 minute PR in 3:17. Super pleased but ready to take the next step- sub-3:00 marathon.

Long version: I was coming out to the Seattle area for a coaches camp Brooks was putting on for free. Signed up for a tough trail 50K much like Mt. Mitchell and was looking forward to it but at the last minute, they canceled the race due to flood damage. The Seattle Rock'n'Roll Marathon happened to be the same day and though it was closed, the people from Brooks pulled some strings, got me in the marathon and paid for it. Nice!

I ran the original San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon in 2005. I think this year, the series has expanded to races in 24 cities. These races aren't really my thing. Huge production. Big expo. Lots of frills. Inflatables. Bands. Just huge. Brooks people told me 42% of the R'n'R runners are first time marathoners and 68% are women- not that either is bad by any means! Just different than most events I'm at. There were just over 3,500 marathoners and over 17,000 half marathoners. I'm amazed with how many half marathoners there are out there now. Exploding, it seems. It been awhile since I've been in the world of road racing but have made a few visits this year. It's different. The sort of "We're going to have a blast! Start off slow and ease up." attitude in a road marathon doesn't really fit with my personality. Yes, I'm the same person who gets offended when people don't talk enough in ultras. :)

I was really excited about the 50K and felt mentally and physically... I don't wanna really say "tough," but yeah, I guess I do. I pictured myself really pushing through a difficult trail run. I was really ready to run. I did NOT feel all that prepared for a road marathon though. Haven't done any hard workouts except a few tempo runs in 6 weeks. I was sick for a month, ran a 102 miler, and recovered from that, so training just wasn't great. Not terrible though. I told Jennifer the night before though, "Brooks' slogan is 'Run Happy,' but I really feel like running angry. I'm ready to kick the crap out of this race."

I had pushed though an achilles problem all week and had a slightly noticeable limp going to the STARTING line. Bad sign usually. I was fully committed to having a great race though. There was no way I was not going to PR in this race. Period. No room for failure. Never been as focused and confident. The achilles hurt every step but I don't think it effected my performance. It was just pain. As Patrick Swayze says in Road House, "Pain don't hurt." No excuses in this race. I put the ipod on which I usually don't do, got in my bubble and got ready to kill it.

I went out in 7:05/mile and felt really comfortable. Hillier than expected. At 6 miles, something happened to the ipod. I stopped for 30 seconds to fix it and the 3:10 pace group passed me. I thought it might be nice to run with them and caught up. It was really easy to just tune out and go with the flow. If you tell yourself you ARE running with these people, it's a lot easier than doing it alone. Came through the half marathon within a couple of seconds of my half marathon PR set earlier this year! Either I was going to have a great race or blow up, but I didn't really consider blowing up. It's funny how running ultras gives you a different perspective. At different milestones I thought, "8.5 miles and I'm already 1/3 of the way there?" or "only 90 minutes to go?" Don't get me wrong- a marathon is hard but not long to me anymore. Don't think about walking or anything now. Not about finishing at all anymore.

I ran with the group until 15 miles when I had to go to the bathroom. We were averaging 7:08 miles and it felt perfect. I was almost positive I would be able to hold it and run 3:09. Very determined. My legs have hurt all over since Black Mountain Monster. When I stopped for the bathroom, my hamstrings cramped up. BeforeIstopped, I knew I could make up the minute I lost and get back with the 3:10 pace group. With the cramps, I had to make up 1:30. I pushed it and 100m later, more leg cramps. Hard to get it rolling after stopping.

I could see the pace group a long way up the road (most of the course was on big 6 lane concrete (not asphalt) highways & bridges- weird.) and was willing to chase them down over the next 4-5 miles, but I was worried about the cramping. Knew a better plan was to scale it back and run 7:45ish miles, be a little more conservative and still get a big PR. I thought 3:15 was still in the bag. The last 10 miles were really hilly. Mile long hills. I could never seem to really make up time on the downhills. Felt like I was pushing it but Garmin said 6:55 or whatever. Uphills were 8:10ish. Kept telling myself at 5K to go I was going to fly. There was a big mile long hill at about that point and whew--- I swear I gave it what I had. 3:17:17 was the best I could manage. 138th place out of 3,520- or top 3.9% for what it's worth.

3:24 was my previous PR & was run way back in 2003 in Louisville. That was the only time I've ever run under 3:30.

I was extremely happy with my effort and time. It's been an emotional time lately. I shed a couple of tears when I finished, I'm a little embarrassed to say. I felt like there were tons of reasons I could've had a bad race. Had doubts about even starting. BUT while I was pleased, it only took 2 days before I started setting goals. Started thinking about what I was capable of and what I could change. There's a lot to change. I haven't developed a training schedule in years- just run what I felt like running. Little consistency. 30 miles this week, 80 the next, 50 the next, 100 the next, 25 the next. Have a lot of other factors to change- nutrition, strength, flexibility, recovery, etc., etc., etc.

THE NEW GOAL is an extremely bold one. I never thought I'd be shooting for such a lofty goal but I've decided to give everything I can to run under 3:00. It'll take a lot to run 6:50/miles. I'm ready to get to work!

Monday, June 6, 2011

102.5 Miles at Black Mountain Monster (full report)

I'll get this out of the way. 102.5 miles. 2nd place overall out of 48. Running 100K, "beat" all but two 12 hour runners to the 12 hour point (I would guess more 12 hour starters than 24.). Hit 100 in 22:48. Extremely pleased. Broke the course record of 98 miles, but of course, so did the guy who won this year. Now for the details...

I was more nervous about this race than I have ever been before... OK, not exactly true- first marathon, first Ironman, Rocky Raccoon- those were scarier. But let's say I've never been more nervous about a distance (time in this case) that I've already run before. This is my sixth 24 hour race in less than 2 years. I should be used to it, but this one gave me a bad feeling.

It's been a strange few weeks- really a strange 6 months or so. Very emotional (no nothing like divorce, losing job, etc) and I've had some health problems that have scared me. I was most concerned about how I'd handle this race emotionally. I always tell people running ultras the way most of us run ultras is not a particularly impressive physical feat. People can't comprehend how tired you must get, how "out of breath" you are, how much your legs hurt, etc. To me, that kind of stuff is so secondary though. The hard part is being where you need to be mentally. On a course where you need 33 x 5K laps to get you to 100 miles, the mental focus is even tougher. It's incredibly hard to pass your car every 30-45 minutes and know how much easier your life would instantly get if you hopped in. I get really lonely out there. I latch onto people when I can and run with them, but 24 hours is a long time to feel sorry for yourself. Given my kinda screwy emotional state lately (OK, a lot of it has to do with seniors graduating and other team issues. I'm not trying to hide anything.), I imagined the worst. I thought the chances were well over 50% that I'd break down and cry during this race. I didn't.

BUT the other 30% or so of me thought, "You've trained better than ever, you've lost 40 pounds since last year at this race, you know what you're doing, you like the course, people care about you, and you have been trying to run 100 in under 24 hours for over 2 years. It's not that hard. Get out there and do it!" That's the voice I listened to. I told myself I would not feel sorry for myself. I didn't.

The high was 90 and was predicted around that for a week. "Yeah, it's hot. Who cares? I can manage." That's what I told myself, but I also thought about how 95 at Hinson Lake didn't bother me too much because it's in September after a summer of running in the heat and it's much more shady. Still. I could handle it, right?

Jennifer asked me to set limits before I left. "What will you stop for?" I did not want to suffer through severe heat problems like I did last year at this race. I told myself I'd quit before I'd lay around all day with ice or trudge through slow, agonizing laps. I meant it. Maybe it's wimpy, but I was either going to have a good day or quit early. I knew I'd run 30-50 or over 80. To me, if the goal is 100, 51-79 is too much to invest in a run that you're going to end up disappointed in. I've done it 3 times.
I did experience problems from the heat, but nothing severe until late and we'll get there in a little bit. I got to the starting line right as we started so didn't get to talk with anyone. Ran with Denise Davis for the first minute and she said, "Go ahead. You'll be ahead of me." Haven't been before but went ahead. Ran with Mark Elson for another minute and he stopped for the first hill and said the same thing Denise did. Mark has also beaten me consistently.

I felt slow the first couple of miles, but that's OK. Was hitting the first several laps in 30 minutes, including walking hills, drinking and getting everything situated. I figure I was running at 8:30 pace when I was running. Easy on a lap course to want to have everything just perfect. "Do I need to carry this, or should I leave it? Would I rather wear this shirt or the other one?" I took more time than most people at the end of each 5K loop, as I always do, but I am proud to say I only took two 10-15 minute breaks all day where I laid down and shut my eyes. That is sometimes a problem for me. Both of the ones this time were out of necessity as I packed my body with ice to cool down.

It heated up nicely but I felt strong. Never ran with anyone the first 100K. Exchanged words with people I knew in passing, but nothing more than that. It was enough to not feel lonely. I got a lot of compliments on my running, weight and friendliness from people I knew and didn't know- sometimes all at once. "For someone so lean and fast, you're really nice to encourage us slow people. HEY! I reeead your blogggg!" That was incredibly unexpected. Strange. Flattering, but strange. I would certainly not categorize myself as being lean by any definition.

Everything after 50K was a PR for me in this race! Couple of marks I remember: 25 miles at 4:15. 50 miles at 9:24. 100K right at 12:00. I think I was the 3rd person to hit the 50K mark including two doing the 12 hour race. That's what they told me, but it seems like the eventual 24 hour winner should've been ahead of me at that point. I know he was ahead of me soon after that. I think the 4 of us were the only people to get in at least 100K in 12 hours. The two 12 hour guys got in 68 miles.

I felt really strong through about 75 miles. Yes, I had stopped sweating long ago and had goosebumps at 90 degrees but I FELT fine. No hot skin. No dizziness. No hallucinations. No stomach problems. No muscle cramping. I ran up on Joe Fejes as he was walking a flat section pretty late into the night. I didn't know who the leader was but I knew his name was Joe and he was on the same lap I was. I hadn't really seen this guy all day because we were on the same lap most of the day or he was one up on me, but I asked people a lot after 15 laps or so how many they had completed. Joe told me what lap he was on and it was the same number I was on. I asked if he knew what place he was in. He said he didn't know and I asked him his name. "Joe." I patted him on the back and said, "You're the dude. You're in first place. Well, tied for first place now!" He let out a friendly little grunt as if to say, "Eh, now I gotta go run with this guy." We ran about 10K together at this point and ran fast. One of the laps was at 28:00. I hadn't run any under 30 at any point during the day, much less after running 70 miles! Joe later told me he was having a hard time keeping up and he would never have pushed it without me. In no way was I trying to burn him out or really even thinking about winning. If I wanted to be sneaky, I would've just passed him the first time and kept going. I even told him, "When I hit 100, I'm done even if we have a couple of hours to spare." For me, the pace we ran was comfortable and it was good to have someone to run with. Gave it some purpose in the wee hours. I knew that if I lost him, I'd slow down a lot and potentially feel sorry for myself. It wasn't exactly like that, but I took an emergency bathroom break after our 10K together and that was the beginning of the end for me.

Stomach issues until the finish. The last 6-8 hours I guess. The good thing is they didn't completely shut me down. I felt very much in control and knew I could bang out the last 25 miles with certainty. When I got to 7-8 laps to go to get 100, I started doing the math. I knew I couldn't push it or the stomach would get worse, but I could easily get through and get my 100 if I stuck to the plan. That didn't stop me from running a lap or two with Joe the next two times he lapped me. He ended up with 114. I could hang with him even late and we'd run a 30:00 lap and then I'd have to go to the bathroom. Legs felt great. Not that fatigued but just couldn't hold anything in. When I was on my own, I took my time at aid stations, walked all inclines, but ran as well as ever all other times.

The 32nd lap put you at 99.4. Kind of cruel to make you run a whole 5K just to get the .6 for 100 I thought! I hit where I estimated .6 to be for the 100 miles at 22:48. That is a little over 5 HOURS faster than my only other 100 miler which was also notable for stomach issues in the last 20 miles. Right when I got to the point I thought was 100 miles, I saw Jason, Wayne and Christian walking on the other side of the fence- about 500m ahead. I stopped and talked for a minute and shuffled ahead to catch them. Walked with them the rest of the way in because... why bother? Not going to run anymore laps. Never got to talk to people for more than a "good job" exchange (Joe and I ran together for maybe 1.5-2 hours total, but didn't say a whole lot. It was cool though.). So we walked. A couple of them had bad blisters so the walking was slow. Took me exactly an hour to complete that lap, but it was a good time. Those guys are funny.
Basic thoughts about the race:

* Great course that has a mix of everything- I would estimate that it's somewhere like 60% grass or wide open dirt trail (hot), 20% really narrow, rooty, poison ivy covered singletrack, 10% wider wood chip trail, 10% paved greenway. Literally, there was no section that took over 2 minutes so even though it was a loop course, there was no monotony. I was told 100 miles had over 10,000' of elevation gain. You don't notice it though.

* Like most people, I always take electrolyte supplements in the heat. It helps to prevent cramping and settles my stomach (which was SOOO evident this time!). BUT, when it's really hot and I'm taking the salt, I've noticed chafing is so much worse. Not just the "usual" locations. When I finish, I'm covered with scabs. Honestly, in most ultras, the seemingly minor issues that you wouldn't think of are way worse for me than the big ones like joints, muscles, etc. This time, even my chest is covered in scabs. I protected the nipples but they put up a fight. Seriously, after the Band-Aids wouldn't stick from sweating too much, I broke out the glue and duct tape. Yes, I glued duct tape to my body. But the other parts of my chest were raw. Armpits, waistband, where the bottom of my shorts touched my legs (really bad there), "usual" locations- even my shoulders. I think it's from sweating out the salt. I wore two shirts. The first one, was when I stopped sweating, so it was dry, but stiff and white from salt.

* I'm not exactly sure what causes my stomach problems. Heat? No gall bladder? Not enough solid food? Dehydration? Too much liquid unable to absorb (a little sloshy)? I think it's the heat primarily, but I did try something a little new with calories. I'm always on the very low end of calorie intake in a race for someone my size. 100-150 calories an hour. It's not that I think that's ideal, but that's all I can stomach. I ate almost no solids all 24 hours. Maybe 10 pretzels, 2 small handfuls of nuts, 2 small pieces of watermelon and 1 gel. Most of it made me gag. I had to spit pretzels out because I thought I'd puke. I tried a drink Jonathan Savage concoction with a minor change. GU2O (like Gatorade but more complex carbs), whey protein, glutamine, branched chain amino acids. Mango flavored GU2O, vanilla whey protein. Tasted good and went down easily until my stomach went bad. Then I just went straight Gatorade and crystalized ginger. I kept the protein ratio pretty low, but I think adding it was helpful.

* My legs were really swollen after the race. That's not new. What was new was the bulging blue veins in my legs and arms. Is that my body trying to pump blood where it needs it for recovery? Looked gross but subsided after 36 hours.

* I'm not exactly a minimalist shoe kind of guy, but I've been doing most of my non-technical running in Brooks Racer ST. I knew the course wasn't very rocky so I planned on wearing them most of the run but also brought Brooks Cascadias & Brooks Adrenalin ASRs. I wore the racing flats (which are a tad bulkier than most true racing shoes, but less than a lightweight trainer) for 75 miles. My feet had swollen a little and the gravel parts had started to hurt some. I changed in the the ASRs which have a rock plate & I have in a wide EE. Zero foot problems all race.

* Things were far from perfect, but I managed to make a good day out of it. Makes me happy.

* Mark Connolly told me I would surpass this mileage at Hinson Lake with an easier course. Sheesh. Something I haven't even- and don't want to think about. Usually I set goals when things haven't gone well and think about what I could do differently. I'm content with 102.5 miles for now. Do I think I can run more in 24 hours or run 100 faster? Yes, but I just want to relax and let everything stop swelling first. :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beyond Bonking- Scary

A year ago at this time, I weighed a lot. More than I have in a very long time. I needed to lose a lot. I think I have these numbers right. I think I lost 25 by November 15 or so. Running started getting good then. I gained 5-10 back by February 15 or so. Lost 20 in past 5 weeks by eating 800-1,000 calories most days. You don't have to tell me that's dumb. I know it is. I'll spare you the issues of control, "all or nothing" mentality, and long term relationship I've had with food. But I know better than to try to lose that much that quickly. I tell my team all the time all about the importance of food as fuel and why you need to eat for performance.

This past Saturday, I ran a routine 12 miles with Shannon. I'd eaten a Powerbar and a medium sized dinner the day before and that's all. Nothing Saturday morning. I got to about 11 miles feeling fine & then all of the sudden, I started having trouble seeing, the trail "moved" from side to side, and I was super dizzy. I was sure I would pass out. I think I grabbed onto a tree. I had already fallen twice in the run, but I don't think that was connected. Maybe. I convinced Shannon I was OK and we finished up the last mile in silence. I was close to passing out and honestly, was just waiting until I got back to the parking lot/bathrooms/water area before I dropped. Shannon went to her car to get her phone or something. I vaguely remember walking behind the bathrooms and the next thing I knew, Shannon was over me. She said she had been there for 2 minutes and it could've taken her about 2 more minutes to find me. I may have been out for 4-5 minutes. I am positive I passed out because of no food. Like a mega-bonk.

I figured that was an isolated incident and told myself I just needed to change my eating habits, but it lasted longer than expected. I felt terrible all day. I was going to cook dinner, and knew what I wanted to make but stared at the pantry for 5 minutes before giving up. I simply couldn't think of what to do. Sunday was worse. ZERO energy. ZERO brain function. I could hardly get a single coherent sentence out all day. I stayed in bed for the most part until 8 PM! I'd get up, get confused and get back in bed. Not really to sleep, just to avoid having to think and function. I really felt dumb. Shannon texted me to ask how much she should run Monday. It took me 2 hours maybe to think "6 miles would be good." I weighed all kinds of options in my feeble mind to come to that brilliant conclusion.

Monday was better and I went to work but felt foggy. Today was better than that but I don't feel 100%. I went to the doctor this afternoon and he told me the drop in blood sugar &/or blood pressure could've been so severe that my brain and the rest of my body just shut down. I haven't really bonked more than once or twice since 2000-2003, when I was training for triathlons and I remember feeling bad for a couple of days afterwards, but nothing like this. I was really incapable of much thought or movement for 36 hours. Luckily, the doctor said the effects would be temporary, but still pretty scary. They did an EKG & blood work. Results from blood will be back in a couple of days. EKG looked good. Resting heart rate of 36. He said that was the record low he's ever seen in a healthy person & I felt like saying, "If I was so healthy, I wouldn't be here." I also got another kind of antibiotic & inhaler for the month-long bronchitis I still have.

Some of my runners are really concerned & tell me I need to take a break from running- that I need to get my eating under control & take care of myself. One told me if I can't get through 12 miles without passing out, I can't consider doing more. It makes sense, but I'm committed to continuing and having a great 24 hour run in a week & a half. I just need to be smarter than I am. I tried to lose the weight to improve my running. Now that it's having a negative effect on it and potentially serious effect on my overall health, I'll eat what I need. I haven't been able to run what I want to the past month because of the bronchitis, but I've run enough to call it a "taper," and my running before that was good. I've been able to get in 30-40 miles/week this past month for most weeks, but nothing longer than a 12 mile run. 100 mile week the week before. I think I'll be OK as long as the bronchitis passes and I fuel myself to run.

People always say, "Listen to your body." Mine never says much to me but it was yelling this time! Maybe this was a teachable moment for the team.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Too Much?

Maybe I overdid it.

Week 1: 100 miles. I've run 100+ mile weeks before. Not a ton of times, but I have. I don't know if I've done as many short, semi-fast 6 mile runs as I did. Over Spring Break, I tried to meet with anyone on the team who wanted to run whenever they could do it. That sometimes meant 3 runs a day. Luckily, I did not repeat the 16x400 workout! It was a lot for the week.

Week 2: Fewer miles, but some hard running. This week I got 15 hours of sleep in a 5 day period. I tried to sleep more but couldn't. Could be a sign of overtraining now that I think about it.

Week 3: Worst cold/flu/bronchitis I can remember ever having. Completely shut me down. I only got in 12 miles for the week. 9 days later, I've been running but still sick.

I think it's safe to say these could all be connected. Sometimes, I guess, too much is too much.

Monday, May 2, 2011

18:10 for 5K!

I say it was when I was in 9th grade, but actually, I think I ran my previous PR in 1988 in 10th grade at McAlpine- 18:15. I dunno, it could've been 9th grade. I never got any faster than that. I turned 30 in 2003. I ran 18:58 that year and have not run a 5K race since. Last fall, I ran on our XC course by myself and ran 19:07. I was pleased. My running's getting better & better and I started doing the math and thinking that I can run under 18:00. We have a 5K on the track May 19 and I thought about jumping in on that but I'm worried about the pressure. I went to the track yesterday to see if I could maintain sub-18 pace for 2 miles. I knew if I could, running under 18 was a possibility.

First mile 5:48. Stomach hurt a little and legs were not fresh feeling at all. I started the run 45 minutes after I woke up and blame that. Second mile 5:46. Still not feeling good, but not feeling terrible. Decided in the last 200m of the 2 mile to keep going for 5K. Last mile 5:56. Completely zoned out with 3 laps to go. Started thinking about other things and was 1:33 that lap instead of 1:26. Last 200m :40. Total time 18:10. Lifetime PR by 5 seconds. Adult PR by 48 seconds. Very happy about the time and the possibility of a faster time on the horizon.

After turning 30, things seemed to fall apart for me running-wise in a lot of ways. I just assumed I was going to get slower and operated under that mindset until this past fall. For 7 years, I did marathons, ultras, got hurt a few times, but never pushed my speed limitations. I figured, "If I can't run fast anymore, at least I can run long." Don't know why you can't do a little of both. (Obviously, someone who focuses on 100 mile races exclusively isn't going to be a great 5K runner and vice versa, but there is some middle ground.) I've been doing hard workouts faster and more effortlessly lately, but last week, after 600s, we did two 300s that were supposed to be at 800m race pace. Who knows what that is for me, but I was just trying to stay ahead of the girls as I did on the 600s. Hit the 200m mark of the first one at :33 and got passed by Mallary. She was :50. I was :52. Legs were screaming. Difficulty breathing. Next one, Mallary & Shannon passed me. I was :52. They were :48 & :50. I thought I would die.

I may do that 5K on May 19 but on a track with people watching me... I dunno. I'm very much looking forward to Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour in a month. Wasn't planning on doing it, but I think I was just put off by last year's unseasonable heat.

I've lost 30-35 pounds in the past year and that's probably been one of the biggest factors for my improved running. I felt terrible a year ago. Pushing harder has meant having to bump up my vegetarian (post/semi/not exactly-vegan) protein consumption. The last couple of days, I've neglected that & can feel nagging calf and hip problems that aren't too happy with my lapse. On to tomorrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

100 Mile Spring Break

I hit 100 miles for the week with a two hour run, a three hour run, a four hour run, two quality hard workouts and a few other runs. I ran twice a day a few days to run with people who couldn't make it to our regular practice. Everything went very well. I took Saturday off for afamily camping trip and I was a little sore for Sunday's run, but all of the others were fine. I ran a pretty hard ~28 miles in four hours. 16 x 400 in 1:21 on Tuesday which felt incredibly comfortable- almost too easy as each 100 was exactly the same each time. I guess a hardworkout doesn't have to involve throwing up to be effective! Ha! Felt very fresh everydayexcept for today and today wasn't bad. I wish I had the time to run like this every week. Got to visit a couple of places I've never been before, most notably, South Mountains State Park, below Morganton. Also did some hiking with the family this week. Very enjoyable.

I really love it when running is an excuse to see beautiful new places. Waterfalls, overlooks, animals, flowers, rock formations, the trail itself... I only wish I could stand and enjoy it longer.
At South Mountains, I knew I only had 22 minutes to get from the top of Chestnut Knob, to my car to the gate before the sign said it would be locked. I was 3 minutes late and the ranger was waiting for me at the gate to lock up. I apologized. "Not a problem. Glad you could enjoy the park." I did, but wanted 10 more minutes to stand on the rocks and look out. Got a good
picture at least.

I also love it when I come back to familiar places and remember little details about the trail... how many steps to take after the big rock and before the dip... the rhythm of cresting the little hill and then shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, lean left so you don't hit your shoulder on the tree on the way down... remembering what the trail was like in different seasons, or thoughts like, "I remember when I used to have to walk up this hill. Ha!" I did some running at Beatty Park and ASC trails which are local favorites.

After knowing that I've never been more ready for a marathon as I was last month and then
having an unforeseen setback (stomach problems), I was kind of disappointed. As it gets warmer, there are fewer chances to test my race fitness, but I decided to add a couple to the calendar I wasn't planning on doing: Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Run in early June & Grandfather Mountain Marathon in early July.

I did Black Mountain Monster last year and melted in the unseasonable heat. I am ready to really go for it this year and plan on treating it as a 100 mile race, not a 24 hour run. Minimal breaks. Minimal time spent at the end of each 3 mile loop. Keep pushing forward. I liked the course last year. I did not like the severe dehydration I noticed early on or the hallucinations once it got dark. ...actually thinking eels and sea turtles were coming out of my body was kinda neat. :)

I've always wanted to run Grandfather Mountain Marathon. I was signed up in 2005 but chickened out. I ran the Rock'n'Roll Marathon in San Diego the month before and didn't do well. I thought, "If I can't do better than that on a rolling course, I don't have any business
running up Grandfather Mountain," and backed out. I got a text from Shannon, one of my runners last weekend. "Is Grandfather Mountain a good place for a long run?" My response: "Huh? Yeah, you're not there are you? I didn't know you went to the mountains." Shannon: "No. I was thinking I want to run a marathon this summer. Is that a good one?" Ha! We discussed it and I came up with a bare bones training plan for her. It's not ideal, but enough to get her to the finish line uninjured I think. I know she could handle a 14-16 mile run now but hasn't done over 8-10 since the fall. She's a 5:30 miler/11:59 2 miler right now and in good shape but the jump to long runs will be a welcome challenge. What a tough marathon to do as your first one & especially the month after you graduate high school. I'm incredibly excited about running it with her!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wrightsville Marathon- The Good & Bad

I've worked harder than ever since November. Training has been great. In 2011, I've:

* Had a great 24 hour race going until mile 68 when I got hurt.
* Half Marathon PR
* 50K PR on a solo training run
* Another Half Marathon PR en route to a solo 18 mile training run (silly, I know)
* Great Mt. Mitchell Challenge
* Several other 20+ mile training runs that went well
* Good hard workouts

I was really excited about this race & ready to go but the week after the Mt. Mitchell race was too light. I missed some runs because I was busy and sore and only got 19 miles in that week. I was ready for a Sunday long run when I stood up and my back seized up. I could only run 4 miles the next 10 days and then one day my back was fine. I ran Wednesday, Thursday & Friday with no problems and decided to run Sunday's Wrightsville Beach Marathon.

I was a little nervous that I'd struggle only getting in 23 miles in 17 days. I thought there was a decent chance I could have back problems again. Neither of those problems occurred but a very significant one did arise. Let's just say I had severe stomach issues. I don't know why I get like that sometimes. I used to eat too much before races, but didn't even come close to eating too much (or the wrong things) the day before this race. I really don't know what caused it, but I woke up with stomach pains and from the start, I had intense stomach cramps. I was still able to run 7:20 miles easily for the first 4 miles before it really hit me.

Once I'd stopped a few times, I realized the sub-3:20 I was shooting for. I sort of gave up there in the middle of the race to settle my stomach and because I knew my time was out the window. I threw up and immediately started feeling better around mile 18 and pushed harder the last several miles. I really enjoyed myself the last 8 miles.

I ended up running 3:39:44. Considering I wasn't moving for probably 18-20 minutes, I feel pretty good about it... especially since days just don't get much worse than that. I ran pretty strongly when I was able to actually make forward progress. Not even close to having to walk. Virtually no fatigue. Legs felt good. It actually felt easy and short. Felt very confident even though things didn't go right. I am positive I could've run under 3:20 and set a PR by several minutes. Bad part is I just don't run many marathons so I don't know when I'll have a chance to take advantage of the better running I've been doing on a better day. I'll have to look at the calendar.

The course had a lot of loops and turns and didn't flow very well. There were a lot of spectators on the course. Average shirt, medal, post-race stuff, etc. for a race of that size. Weather was super. Had been a lot warmer the two days earlier but was in the 40s until the very end when it was probably about 52.

I didn't come close to accomplishing what I set out to do, but I actually feel pretty good about it. I did the best I could given the circumstances, know I could've done a lot better, and still 3:39 isn't terrible for me. Better luck next time- whenever that may be.

Oh- and a little footnote- I don't think I've ever run the day after a marathon or ultra. I went out today for 2-3 easy miles but the team was doing a hard fartlek workout. When they went hard the first time, I felt compelled to do so and made it through the whole workout. BARELY. I was really struggling but managed to stick with the top girls, grunting and groaning the whole way. I'm not sure why I did it. Dumb, I guess.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Great Mount Mitchell Challenge!

This is my 3rd time doing at least some of this race. In 2009, I was coming off a 100 miler and felt like "just" running the marathon would be the best option. In 2010, I signed up for the 40 miler, but the course was cut short due to terrible conditions. I was really nervous both of those years. I love running in the mountains, but I'm slow uphill. This time, I was very confident and excited about running it and finally seeing all of the trails. I wasn't disappointed. Had a great race!

7 AM start in the town of Black Mountain which is at 2405' in elevation. You go up to the top of Mt. Mitchell which is the highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6684' and then back to the town of Black Mountain. The first 2-3 miles is paved and slightly uphill until you get to Montreat College, go up a steep hill and hit the trails. I had planned on running as much of the race with a buddy of mine as I could. He's always faster than me but I thought I could hang onto him to the marathon turnaround. I lost him right at the start, waited a little for him, but ended up running ahead on my own. I had looked forward to the companionship. More and more, I really get lonely and start thinking negative thoughts on my own in long races, but get distracted when I'm with people. I did latch onto some strangers and acquaintances during the race though. I ran 15 miles on the way down by myself and enjoyed it.

I went slow for the first mile waiting, then picked it up a bit. Walked the steep road at mile 2-3 and enjoyed the narrow singletrack from about miles 3-6.5 more than I remembered. A good chunk of the race is on the Toll Road, which I believe was an old railroad line and then old road. It is a moderate grade. Very runnable and not the gruelling climb you'd expect "running up a mountain." Wide but very rocky. Muddy in places during the race. You run up the Toll Road until about mile 14. I felt great, chatted with some people, and stayed relaxed. Ran the whole way until mile 10. This guy started talking my ear off and asking me questions that required long answers. Friendly but as soon as he started talking he wanted to walk. We walked probably 70% of the next half mile together. I didn't want to but wanted to keep talking to him. Finally, I left him, but he kinda threw me off my game. I took four or five 30 second walk breaks in the next 2 miles even though I didn't really feel like I needed them. I got to the marathon turnaround at mile 14 (it doesn't go back exactly the same way) at 2:35. The cutoff was a little tight I thought at 3:00. But I got there in plenty of time, felt good and decided to celebrate the accomplishment (Last year in the deep snow, I was legitimately worried about making the cutoff.) with a more substantial break. I broke the race down into segments and kept looking forward to the next piece. "Can't wait for the Toll Road!" "Can't wait for the Parkway!" "Can't wait wait to get back to the Toll Road!" When you get off the Toll Road and to the Blue Ridge Parkway, everything opens up and for a half mile, you are surrounded with great views. I took them in, took a few pictures, ate, drank, situated stuff in my pack, soaked in the sun and walked for most of that 1/2 mile even though most if it's downhill. Just enjoyed myself. It was a good mental break. Worked hard up to that point. Knew I'd have to work hard on the steepest parts ahead, and just took it easy for a few minutes.

I had never been on the next part of the trails but I expected them to be rough. In actuality, they weren't bad at all at first. You're on the Buncombe Horse Trail which is flat in places, wide, not very technical, but pretty muddy with snow melting and rain the day before. There was patchy snow and ice in places here, but nothing more than a few steps at a time. I stayed with a few people for most of this 4-5 mile section and it was a lot of fun. I very easily could've picked it up here if I wanted to pick up 5 minutes. Felt good pushed at a decent pace, but was well within my limits. Took a few pictures and bathroom breaks and kept catching up to my group. Towards the end of this section, you come out into some clearings and the terrain was really rocky and dry. Didn't look like NC to me. The dead hemlocks and firs weren't as apparent to me as they were other times I've been to Mt. Mitchell. I was enjoying the views when SPLAT, I tripped on a rock and landed on my side in a giant puddle of melted snow. I was completely soaked. Would've been bad if it were cold, but the temp at the top was probably 38 and 60 at the bottom. Unbelievably PERFECT conditions.

The last 1.5 miles to the top is narrow singletrack that you have a hard time recognizing as a trail sometimes. It's straight up. Rooty and rocky too. Not very runnable. I could've scrambled a little faster and run 4-5 steps between rocks here and there, but I was content staying with another group I'd joined. The last half mile up was icy and very slippery. I put on the YakTrax which were helpful for that half mile + the first mile downhill. Made it to the top in 4:30. At the top, I took some pictures and talked to some people before heading back down. Beautiful clear day with 360 degree views from the observation tower. There are plenty more miles to go from the top, but you know the real work is done at that point. Good feeling.

I went down the first 1.5 miles very slowly talking to a guy I'd run with earlier. VERY slowly. Thick, slippery ice. Super steep. After this steep downhill singletrack, the trail dumps out to a gravel road. I knew this was a moderate uphill mile and decided to get serious and work hard from that point on. Ran almost all of that uphill section and then went as fast as I could go the next 15 miles or so. 2-3 miles pounding down the Mt. Mitchell entrance road made my stomach a little queasy. Still felt kinda bad the top mile of the Toll Road but kept running fast. Passed 15 people or so on the way down. No one passed me. Pushed as hard as I could go. Felt great.

Kept looking forward to the road, which means about 3 miles to go. Ran down the Toll Road with a grin on my face knowing that I would finish strong. When I saw the road for the first time, I think I may have literally laughed out loud. You hit Appalachian Way and fall out of the sky. The steepest paved road I may have ever seen. Always burns the feet. A lot of people walk down because it's rough on the quads, but I've never had a problem with it except for the feet. Flew down and then hit the flat last 3 miles and went as hard as I could. 8:00 miles. Seemed a lot faster than that, but after 35 miles, that's still pretty fast for me. Felt fantastic. Hit Lake Tomahawk 1/3 mile from the finish and felt like really kicking, but that seemed silly. I did finish strong but scaled it back more than I wanted to.

Finished in 7:43:05 in 74th place out of 179 people registered and 129 finishers. Not sure how many people didn't meet the marathon turnaround cut off and how many just chose to turn back there. With the number of people on the wait list, I wouldn't imagine many people registered just didn't show up.

I feel really good about this race. Everything was perfect. Couldn't imagine feeling any better. Felt very strong. Could've taken it a little harder on the way up, but I really enjoyed my day and was happy with how things went. Had fun, ran hard, got to spend 8 hours with beautiful scenery doing something I love to do and met people along the way. Couldn't beat this experience.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pre-Mt. Mitchell Thoughts

picture from last year's Mt. Mitchell Challenge near the top.

Saturday brings the Mt. Mitchell Challenge- 20 miles to the top of Mt. Mitchell and 20 miles back down. Last year, there were single digit temps and 30-50 mph winds along with a lot of snow. I worried for weeks about it last year. I'm not nearly as worried this year and have barely thought about it until the past couple of days.

I'm expecting it to be about 10 degrees warmer this year- around 35 at the start and in the teens- maybe 20s at the top. Reports sound like snow, and some tricky footing, but not as bad as last year. Expecting less snow at lower elevations. Report said 2 foot drifts of crusty snow you could run on top of in places, but around 4" more common in upper elevations. It was around 30 and snowing yesterday while being above 60 in Black Mountain where the race starts.

Two years ago, I did the marathon, which doesn't cover the upper part of the course. Last year, I did the Challenge, but it was rerouted to the roads above the Parkway, so I still haven't seen the upper trails.

I plan on bringing a lot of gear to the race. I'll decide on what to bring with me at the briefing meeting the night before. My guess is that I'll start in shorts with calf sleeves (which sort of serve as leg warmers) with a short sleeve and a long sleeve shirt & hat. I'll carry a thin shell, pants/tights, and Yak Trax. That may be all, but I'll bring more in the car with me. I guess I'll take a hydration pack with a bottle in the pocket and a my extra clothes where the bladder goes.

Conditions and terrain make this less about racing for me and more about survival. I struggled last year and my training had been terrible. Lately, it's been good. No time goal or anything though. I finished a disappointing 87th out of 121 finishers last year (many no shows & people who were forced to, or decided to turn around early). I'd like to finish better than that and should barring any problems. I feel good about it.

Speaking of training, yesterday, I went out and ran a hard 18 miles with the GPS. I actually ran a half marathon PR by a few seconds! Really pushed it. Intentionally slowed down just a little the last 5 miles and averaged 7:12/mile for the 18 miles. Followed it up with a hard tempo run with the team today. Legs sore. I'll take it easy the next few days, take care of myself and be ready to go Saturday. Excited!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Peak to Peak to Peak to Peak at Crowders

Had a great ~4 hour run Sunday at Crowders Mountain State Park. Parked at the Visitors Center which is between Kings Pinnacle & Crowders Mountain. The Visitors Center is at 850' elevation and each peak is at about 1700'. I went up Kings Pinnacle, then Crowders, then repeated. Felt absolutely perfect! Ran all the way up each time (except on some of the icy stairs on Crowders), which I've never done before. Great run!

I came upon a couple who were in their 70s. They asked if they could take my picture. I said, "Yes" and stood there. They said, "No go back and run towards us again." I obliged. They asked if I had a camera with me and wanted to take my picture with it. Here's what came out:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Good Weekend? 2 PRs?

I guess I set 2 PRs this weekend, but have mixed feelings about both.

Winter Flight 8K in Salisbury on Saturday. I used to run this race with my dad in the mid-80s. Haven't run an 8K in over 20 years. I didn't remember this race being so hilly! I did a lot of thinking before the race and felt pretty confident I could run 6:20 miles for a 31:40. First mile was 6:18. After that, there was hill after hill. Long fairly steep ones. Each was about 2:00. The whole last 4 miles I was either going up a hill or recovering from one with the next one in sight. I ended up with a 34:13- 2:33 slower than I expected. 1:30-2:00 of that could be attributed to the hills and :30-1:00 of it could be because I backed off a little (not much) when I knew I'd be slower than I thought. I feel like I kept it steady and hard, but the time is not a very good gauge of fitness due to the course. Results say I was 43rd overall out of 260- top 16%. 4th in my age group. I guess this was a PR. I haven't run an 8K since I was about 13, so... I feel OK about the race. Tried hard but I'm so bad in the hills that it's hard for me to recover before I get to the next one. I ran within myself but it was a hard effort. Here are some pictures.

Sunday, I went to McAlpine with the GPS and ran 50K. I didn't set out to run a PR time, but I did feel bad about how Frosty 50 turned out and an hour into it, I felt good and the average pace was 7:50, so I decided to break my PR of 4:41. I felt good for the first half and averaged 7:55/mile through 15 miles. Then two miles around 8:20 and then crashed. Last half, I averaged 9:09/mile. I guess the good thing is I never dipped to 10:00/mile or below. I was able to keep my running pace to about 8:40/mile with some breaks for water and bathroom. I really felt terrible the last 15. Just felt like sleeping. So tired. I think the weather had something to do with it. All of my long runs in the past 3 months have been at 45 degrees or below. Most in the 30s. I started at 11 AM and it got up to 73 today! Tomorrow's high is back down to 45. Sheesh! Very sweaty & salty. All out in the open at McAlpine. I think it really zapped me.

I ran a 4:27:40, bettering my PR by 14 minutes, but I don't feel great about it. First of all, it doesn't really count since it was by myself, but the main thing is just that I'm worried b/c I felt so bad so early in the run. If I die at mile 15 of the marathon in March, I'm in trouble. Obviously, if I was running a 50K race and expecting to do well, I wouldn't run an 8K race the day before, but I don't think that had a major impact on today's run. My energy level for last weekend's 20 miler wasn't great either. Sleep hasn't been good at all lately. I didn't get more than 4 hours of sleep any weeknight this week. I usually crash Sunday and don't do anything except lay around and run. Both of these long runs were on Sundays. I'll make an effort to sleep better this week and hopefully perk up a bit next weekend. If next weekend's 25 mile training run goes bad, I'll adjust the training plan.