Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

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. :)