Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Post-Run”

Yo Adrien! Rocky 50K Run Report

There is a time and a place for a routine workout that you’ve completed in the past, and you have the luxury of knowing benchmarks that you can work to improve. Truthfully, not every training run can be an exciting adventure filled with new experiences and memories. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out those experiences! One of the joys of living in a new part of the country has been exploring and experiencing new running routes and locations, and meeting new people along the way. In all honesty, the fact that I have been bombarded with so many new experiences to input has almost made up for the friends and running partners I miss back in Iowa, and the significantly disproportionate number of solo miles I’ve logged in the last six months.

So, when I read about a Rocky-themed fat ass run through Philadelphia a few months back, I knew I had to put it on my calendar and check it out. I had traveled to Philly on several occasions prior to moving out here, and although I had enjoyed running in a new area and had fun exploring, I generally found the city itself to be less than thrilling. Aside from the amazing historical significant tied up in the city of brotherly love, I always found it lacking some of the energy and charisma that New York, D.C., or San Francisco possess. I also felt like the environment lacked a sense of pride in home, based on the lack of cleanliness and overall disrepair in many areas. Now, I realize that every city has these characteristics, especially once you leave the tourist-centric areas and head into the everyday world outside. However, there was always just something about Philly that never gave me the same excitement or eagerness to explore. I’d be lying if I said this most recent 50K running tour improved my perception of Philadelphia, but it did change my perceptions. Much of that change was the result of getting a better sense of the people make up the community. After completing the Rocky 50K run, Philly was no longer just a destination. It was a community, and one that I am looking forward to becoming more a part of in the future.

When the alarm went off at 4AM, I began to immediately second guess my plan to drive 45 minutes north for what was essentially a large group run with a bunch of people I didn’t know. 7AM starts are hard enough close to home, but I sucked it up, got dressed, and was out the door by 5:30AM. I had printed out the turn-by-turn directions for the run ahead of time, and since it was a point-to-point, I decided to park near the finish at the Art Museum steps, and run to the starting area ahead of time. I found a meter near a Whole Foods about a 1/4 mile from the museum and got myself situated. It was 3 miles to the start, and I had 30 minutes to get there, so I thought I would be fine. However, I didn’t anticipate needing to use a restroom, of which there were none to be found as I ran through random dark neighborhoods I’d never visited before. Luckily (I think), I passed a port-a-potty in a small construction site, and did my best breath hold and hover before getting back out on the street. I managed to make it there a few minutes after 7, and there were plenty of people still lingering so I was in good shape.

Many folks had busted out the gray sweat suit and red headband for the run and the energy of the group immediately lifted my spirits. I started out again almost immediately, and the run was underway. My intention was to take things pretty slow and easy, and use this run as training for the Across the Years 48-Hour run at the end of the month. As is typically the case when I’m surrounded by folks I don’t know, I slipped into race mode a bit, and began passing some folks and jumping ahead to other groups who had headed out a bit earlier or were running a bit faster. Eventually, I fell in with a group of runners who were moving at a comfortable pace, and I took to enjoying the experience and taking in the sounds, sights, and smells of my new environment. Regardless of what I might have thought about Philadelphia before the run, it’s safe to assume that many of the areas I went through on the route would not have been places I would have visited otherwise.

Rocky-1

That’s me on the left…someone on the interwebs captured me!

We made our way to the downtown area relatively early in the run, and once we passed City Hall (an area I was familiar with from previous exploring), I was in completely uncharted territory. I was moving at a comfortable pace, and feeling good about the day. This being a fat ass race, I packed all of my own supplies, and was wearing my Salomon S-Labs 12L vest. I decided to conduct another nutritional test, so I filled my 2L bladder with Tailwind, and used it exclusively for the entire run. Not surprisingly, it worked like a charm and kept me beautifully hydrated and fueled for the long slow miles!

After about 20 miles, I found myself separated from most of the other runners, and was navigating on my own via the directions I printed out. The route took us through some neighborhoods that left me more sad than anything else. The area wasn’t inherently bad, but it was clear that the city had long since stopped investing any significant resources into maintaining the buildings and the streets. The sidewalks were littered with trash and other less savory discarded items, buildings were in need of repair, and cars found their way into awkward angles on sidewalks and in yards. It was a stark contrast from the clean, historic, and proud buildings of the downtown area, and it gave me pause. These impressions were contrasted by the amazing volunteers who had come out on the route to cheer us on, ask if we needed anything, and randomly hand out water and other snacks. This was a fat ass race, but these amazing folks wanted to be a part of the event, and this is how they chose to do so. They took pride in their community, and in the broader Philly running community, and it was contagious.

Our own world views are so often shaped by information given to us by others, and not information we gather ourselves. Not surprisingly, the information we receive is the result of different motives and views, and is never truly objective. The same is true of most road races. Think about the road marathons you’ve run, and the routes you’ve taken. You’d be wrong if you think the route was decided at random, or simply the result of what was “easiest”. Sure, race organizers want to show of their city, but there is also a lot of motivation to keep us from seeing many aspects of the real city. Each race is a narrative written by someone else, a work of fiction we are meant to enjoy (and spend lots of money in, hopefully). The Rocky 50K run was different. This route was a story written the year I was born, when the city was much different than what it is now, but also one written for a different purpose. The result was a very reflective run on this cool, comfortable Saturday morning in December.

Gotta love those stairs!

Gotta love those stairs!

Eventually the route led down to the Schuylkill River and followed a path towards the museum that I had run previously. It was refreshing, after 20 plus miles, to be on a dedicated running path, and be able to check out mentally a bit more. As if to tease us, the route past right by the museum, and then headed back into the downtown area for the final 5 miles or so before looping back. With a few miles left, I caught up to another runner wearing a Salomon pack, and my TAUR-dar kicked in 🙂 Sure enough, he was an ultra-runner from just across the river in New Jersey, and we got to chatting about different races we’d done, and how much we preferred trails to roads. It was a refreshing way to end the run as we headed up the final stretch towards the famous museum steps. I was feeling really good, albeit a bit more tired than I had planned, probably because I had gone faster than I had intended. I hit the base of the steps, and my final kick hit as I tackled the stairs two at a time and reached the top in no time. There was no finish chute, no medals, no mylar blankets or cheering crowds. There were a few other runners who had finished, along with some folks taking pictures, but they were simply interspersed with all of the other tourists who had come out that day to check out the steps, and hopefully head instead to enjoy the museum’s wonderful collection.

Rocky50k-1

The low-key nature of the morning suited me just fine. I downed a bottle of water, paused for a few minutes to take some pictures and rest, stopped by the Rocky statue, and then headed back to my car for the drive home. I ended up with just over 36 miles on the day. More than that, though, I left with an appreciation for the community of Philadelphia, which is the true appeal of the city, and I can’t wait to become even more a part of that community!

Rocky50k-2

Baltimore Marathon 2015 Race Report

You’ve no doubt noticed a “busy” trend with the past few posts, and the active extravaganza that was October continued with the Baltimore Marathon on October 17th. I’m still in the honeymoon phase of our move to the east coast, so having such easy access to so many large metropolitan areas and so many new races is a thrilling novelty. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to run the Baltimore Marathon, and I realized it was an easy 90 minute drive, I obviously jumped at it.

Stefan was able to reserve an inexpensive hotel room in Baltimore, and I drove down on Friday night after work to meet him and a bigger group of folks from D.C. for a fun morning of running and exploring the city. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and I was gone less than 24 hours, but it still ended up being quite satisfying and I had no regrets! Stefan was able to pick up my packet earlier in the day, along with his own, so we simply relaxed for a bit in the hotel room, got everything ready for the race the next morning, and caught some zzz’s.

The 8AM start time, coupled with our close proximity to the start, meant we didn’t have to leave all that early from the hotel. We ran into some minor traffic, but made our way around and found a relatively close parking space with plenty of time. Everyone else was running the relay, so Stefan and I made our way to the start (he was running the first leg) while the others made their way to their respective checkpoints. I had no expectations for this race, aside from enjoying the course and finishing, and I figured I’d simply run by feel when I got there.

I might look a tad bit more pained :)

I might look a tad bit more pained 🙂

It was a beautiful morning for a race, with temps in the low 40’s, a little breeze, and the sun shining. We made our way a bit closer to the front and ended up around the 7:30 pace mark, which seemed rather fast to me, but it would at least mean we wouldn’t have to bob and weave through as many people to hit our stride. I decided I would simply hit the pace hard from the beginning and see how long I could hang on. I hadn’t raced a marathon since moving to the east coast, and I was curious to see what all of the hill work over the summer had done for my pace and endurance.

The first few miles definitely went by like a blur, but I was feeling good, and Stefan was pushing me enough that I didn’t notice the pace as much. I had my simple hydration bottle with me, filled with Tailwind, so I could avoid most of the water stops and keep pushing through, and that proved to be quite advantageous. My splits for the first 6 miles were pretty consistent and in the 7:35/mile range, which I knew was too fast, but I had already made my mind up to try and push myself. I will say that I “tried” early on to pull the pace back a bit, and both Stefan and I said we needed to do so, but the collective adrenaline meant we never actually slowed down much!

The hills were weighing on my legs!

The hills were weighing on my legs!

At the first exchange point for the relay, Stefan decided to keep running and simply run the marathon (he had really been planning it all along), so he passed the chip off and continued on with me. We made our way through the Baltimore Zoo and were greeted by several birds of prey and a penguin (with handlers), which made for a welcomed distraction from the pace, not to mention a nice touch for the route itself. Despite our continued attempts to slow down, we still managed a 7:07 9th mile, and I knew I was probably on borrowed time before my body forced me to slow down regardless.

I continued to push and hit the half marathon mark just short of PR time, which was encouraging. However, it was about this time when I realized just how hilly this course really was, and I started to think more about the unrelenting rolling hills. We made our way through Under Armor Headquarters (Baltimore Running Festival sponsor) and continued on past the half-way mark. My pace was holding, even if I was feeling the effects a bit more. Around mile 15, I began to pull away from Stefan a bit but knew I only had one pace in me so I kept moving, and he happily pulled back a bit. I made it through 20 miles before my body left me no choice but to slow down a bit.

My mile splits dropped down to the 8:05 range, but I was still feeling good, and content to continue pushing and tackling the hills. The last 10K was definitely a challenge, and the hills never really quit, but I could taste the PR at that point, and I wanted to know if I really had it in me. The final push past Camden Yards, greeted by a sizable crowd, was considerably energizing and made the stretch to the finish line tolerable and invigorating. It had been a while since I had really left everything out on the course, and it felt great to have truly pushed my body to the limit.

We were all smiles at the end :)

We were all smiles at the end 🙂

The bottle of water I downed once I crossed the finish line tasted extra-delicious, and the mylar blanket was especially warming. The medal around my neck even felt a bit more hard-earned. Ultimately though, the 3:23:40 was my reward, and a PR I once thought well out of reach was now in my possession. I collected some food in the finish area, made the mistake of trying a Gatorade protein shake (awful!!), and waited a bit until I found Stefan and the others. We hung out for a bit in the finish zone, and ultimately decided to make our way back to the cars and go find some lunch.

B-More 1

Unfortunately, I got stuck in traffic on the way to lunch, so I never made it and decided to just head home. However, despite it being a whirlwind race experience, I couldn’t have been happier with the end result. The Baltimore Running Festival was well-organized, the aid station volunteers were friendly, and the organizers seemed to have a great handle on the race experience as a whole. Even though I had already crossed Maryland off my 50 States list back in August, it still left a smile of accomplishment on my face as I made the brief journey home to enjoy the rest of the beautiful weekend with the epicurean! #chasing42 #chasing42reports #tailwindnutrition

 

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part II

I believe I last spoke to you as I was returning from my second loop. I had completed 50 miles, was smiling, and my crew of friends, along with the epicurean crew chief, were restocking my pack, bladder, and flasks. My legs could definitely tell that I had just covered 50 miles, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit jealous of the folks finishing their race at that moment, but I was feeling really good for the most part. I was ready to tackle the second half of the race, and excited by the prospect of having pacing company for the next 50 miles. I was going to treat these miles as just another great run through the woods with some amazing friends! I ate part of a bean and cheese burrito, along with some orange slices, and was ready to roll.

Loop 3- The Darkness Sets In 

The nature of the course and the number of pacers meant that each of the four folks would tackle either 9 or 16 miles with me. Nicole and I headed out back onto the trail, and we were ready to conquer the next nine miles. It was nice to have someone to chat with after 50 miles of relative silence, and our conversations bounced all over the place. As I’ve talked to my friends more and more about the race, I’ve come to realize that I don’t actually remember nearly as many of the conversations as I thought I did. I was still feeling good early on in the third loops, so my mind wasn’t straying all that much from reality. My stomach, however, began to stray from comfortable after about 3 miles. Almost without warning, I began to feel nauseous and acquired a throbbing headache. I shared my discomfort with Nicole, and we spent some time trying to think about where my nutrition and hydration plan had gone wrong at this point. Most ultrarunners know that the stomach is a finicky beast, and I’ve certainly had my share of G.I. issues in the past. However, I felt like I had been taking in solid foods, Tailwind, and water pretty consistently over the course of the day.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

After a bit of discussion, it occurred to both of us…the burrito! How could I have been so foolish?! I was perhaps more hungry than I realized when I returned after the second loop, and the burrito sounded great at the time. It even triggered memories from the race in Arizona and the fantastic overnight burritos they fed us. Those, however, didn’t have cheese in them. I should obviously know better since I’m lactose intolerant. The middle of a 100-mile race is probably the wrong time to add some dairy-induced distress into your system, but that’s exactly what I did. The sun was setting, and my body was diverting resources to deal with the nausea that was consuming me. This, coupled with the declining temperatures, meant that my body was no longer balancing the fatigue that was beginning to overtake it. Our pace dropped off significantly, and Nicole did her best to keep me moving. The first aid station was a bit of a blur but I drank some ginger ale and found a ginger chew to try and calm my stomach. Running became considerably harder as I was constantly holding back the urge to vomit, and I’m still not sure how I managed to not return my dietary acquisitions to the earth. I focused on her voice, feet, and the trail and just kept moving forward.

By the time we reached the small section of black top before the mile 9 aid station and crew access point, I was hurting. It was a struggle to keep moving, and I was at a loss for how to describe the battle my immune system was waging against me. I was convinced that I was being attacked from within, and all I could do was settle in for the overnight siege. I’m not entirely sure how Nicole dragged me up to the aid station, and I don’t entirely remember it happening, but I made it and everyone was waiting for me. I found a chair, sat down, and put my head between my legs. Everyone worked around me to fill my bottles and get me food, and the images in my mind are more like blurry photographs than clear thoughts. The warmth and blandness of a cup of mashed potatoes was the perfect medicine for what was ailing me, and I gladly accepted it. I sat in the chair for what seemed like an eternity while everyone assured me that I was doing great, and Carla readied herself to take me out on the next segment. This was my first moment of doubt. This was the first time thoughts of quitting entered my mind. Everyone lifted me out of the chair, and the epicurean shared her faith in my ability to finish, quietly in my ear, as I left. That small, whispered sentence may have been the only think that got me back out on the trail.

Coming in to Mile 59...who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Coming in to Mile 59…who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Carla and I made our way down the trail to the stream-crossing, and I slowly stepped across, trying not to topple over. She helped me across (I think), and we continued on our way. I had picked up my headlamp at the last aid station, and it was now entirely black in the woods, so our lamps were the only think lighting our way. The moon would make an appearance later in the evening, but only in those brief moments when the tree canopy parted long enough for the beams of light to float down to the forest floor. After about 30 minutes, my headlamp began to get much dimmer. This was considerably worrisome, because a) I had fully charged it before the trip, and b) we had many hours left to go in the dark! After a few minutes, my headlamp was completely dark. Fortunately, my intrepid crew had snuck my flashlight back into my pack after I had handed it off. Carla fished it out, and we carried on,

The next few hours proved to be the lowest point not only in the race, but in my entire running career. My energy never really bounced back, and each step became a battle with my body. We ran a little, walked a lot, and our conversations drifted from topic to topic, becoming more and more random and non-coherent as the miles passed by (from what I remember, and what I’ve been told, anyway!). I struggled from aid station to aid station, and my mind drifted to thoughts of quitting quite frequently. Luckily, Carla kept me talking, kept me moving, and didn’t acknowledge my self-doubt. She maintained such an amazing attitude throughout the entire 16 miles, and I’m fairly certain that I finished those miles with her energy more than my own. This part of the race was such a blur that I seem to be gaining new memories each time we talk about it. I do, however, remember that silent moment in the dark when we heard a rustling to our left. We both pointed our lights on the area, and ever so faintly, we spied the image of a small, spotted cat. At the time, it didn’t register as overly frightful to me, although I’m guessing Carla, who was far more coherent, had other thoughts. We would find out later that bobcats are pretty common in the Mark Twain National Forest, and the story only grew from there 🙂

Somehow, despite my body’s constant onslaught on my movement, I continued to make relentless forward progress and we finished those 16 miles. It took 6 hours, which if I had been asked earlier, would have seemed like a ridiculous figure. Carla had definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty as a pacer, and earned her MVP (most valuable pacer) status for the trip. There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t have finished that loop without her. I had plenty of time to plan my DNF speech, but she got me to the 75 mile mark. I walked into Jackson’s landing like a zombie, with a look in my eyes that no doubt gave everyone a bit of a scare.

I remember sitting down in that chair, exhausted, and barely able to coherently utter the words I had been mentally rehearsing for the last two hours. My entire crew could sense my mood, and I whispered hints of dropping, which they expertly ignored as they checked my gear, filled my water, and sought out food to nourish me. My hands were almost numb after forgetting to pick my gloves up off the ground following a pit stop hours earlier, and I needed gloves. My fingers couldn’t function properly, so they slid the gloves onto my fingers comically as the race director watched on with a smile. He made a comment about getting me back out on the course, and was quick to help me remember I’d feel worse if I stopped than if I jumped back on the trail for the final 25 miles. He was right. I knew it, and I fought my body every step of the way so I could get back out there. Ultimately, I was simply too tired to quit. The words didn’t come out, and deep down, I didn’t want them to leave my mouth. They lifted me up, and Lani assumed her role as the next pacer as we slowly made our way to the trailhead.

Loop 4- Let There Be Light! 

The first nine miles of this loop were more of a blur than perhaps any other section of the course. I was unreasonably tired for some reason, and could have curled up on the ground at any point to take a brief nap. Lani’s amazingly positive attitude kept me moving as she announced each and every rock and tree root that my reflexes were too slow to adequately avoid. At certain points, stopping to take a drink of water meant teetering on the brink of sleep, and I spent most of those nine miles on the verge of falling asleep right on the course. My legs were heavy, and she helped lift them over the fallen trees that looked like the walls of Alcatraz, trying their best to hold me in the gloriously open prison of my own making. I’m always thankful for Lani’s positive attitude and energy, but was no more so than during those nine miles. I followed her voice, stared at her feet, and kept moving. The darkness seemed to encompass us completely, and the tunnel vision I experienced was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

I don’t remember making it to the first aid station, but I’m sure I took in some nutrition, drank as much as I could stomach, and kept moving. The nausea was gone, replaced by fatigue as pure as freshly fallen snow, and it took all of my energy reserves to keep moving. These hours represented a very dark point in my journey, and tested me in a way that no previous endurance event had. We were passed by a few folks in the couple of hours it took us to navigate the darkness, but for the most part, we were alone and left to our own thoughts. I recalled later hearing strange noises, but Lani brushed them off as kicked brush at the time, although I would learn later that she felt a shiver of fear at what might be lurking in the darkness. Our saving grace was truly the rising sun, which began to cut through the darkness slowly and gave me hope. I recognized the trail more towards the end of our 9-mile journey as I caught a subtle 8th or 9th wind. However, each time I thought we were close to turning the corner, I’d realize that I had miscalculated. I was running from tree to tree, from Switchback to Switchback, and eagerly anticipating our emergence onto the short stretch of black top. We finally hit that section as the light emerged with enough strength to allow us to turn off our lights, and it was a wondrous moment. Lani looked over at me and said “we did this”, and “you’re going to do this!”, and she was right. I could feel the sunlight coursing into my veins and reinvigorating me as we strolled into the Huck’s Watering Hole and Eric was there to meet us. Lani had pulled me through the darkness and I was eternally grateful!

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

I stopped to refuel, enjoy another cup of mashed potatoes, and visit a restroom that didn’t involve nature’s toilet paper. Many ultrarunners talk about the importance of getting through the night, and reaching the dawn. If you can reach the dawn, you can do it. I’d always thought this was a nice sentiment, and great for motivation. However, it wasn’t until this moment that I realized just how true it really was. Almost instantly, I felt my energy return, my mood improve, and excitement fill my body. I had just woken up from a walking slumber, and I felt as well rested as when the race had begun 25 or 26 hours earlier. My crew was admittedly surprised, especially considering how I looked the last time they saw me, and I assured them that it wasn’t a fluke. I took a final drink of water, and Eric and I headed out for the final 16 miles.

I was now awake and aware enough to appreciate passing each portion of the trail for the last time. We joked, talked about the previous lap, and discussed my new-found energy as we pushed forward at a much more brisk pace than I had seen in quite some time. I was able to run and power hike the whole rest of the route, and felt like I had extra energy to burn. Eric began joking about how easy his pacing duties were compared to the others, and I laughed with him. It was true, and I knew at that point that I would indeed be finishing this race, and my excitement only grew with each passing mile. In some ways, this segment became like any other early morning run with a wonderful friend. Eric and I have spent many early mornings ticking off the miles before meeting others, and I could think of no better person to finish out the race. We stopped at the final two aid stations and joked with the volunteers, ate pancakes, and I thanked them profusely for their support. Many folks seemed a bit surprised at my energy, but they were ultrarunners so they understood. Heck, we even passed a few people on the way into the finish.

Crossing the finish line...I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

Crossing the finish line…I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

With about a half mile to go, we came across a volunteer standing on the side of the trail and she began cheering us on. It was a testament to the dedication of all of the race staff that she had hiked that far down to cheer runners as they entered the home stretch. No matter how hard I push myself and for how long, I always seem to find a little bit of extra energy at the end of a race, and this one was no different. Eric and I rounded the final turn up the hill and into the clearing near the finish line, and I picked up the pace and began running with all the energy I had left. I crossed the finish line in 29 hours 46 minutes, wearing the biggest smile I’d had all day. The immensity of what I had accomplished took much longer to set in, but my joy was immediate. I felt a surge of endorphins rush through me instead of the expected final wave of fatigue, and I knew it had been an amazing race, and an incredible experience. There were plenty of hugs and handshakes, and I took a bit of time to rest and eat before we packed up the car. Our exit was quick due to the 9 hour drive we had ahead of us, but that just meant I had plenty of time to process what had just happened. I’ve never been more thankful for such amazing friends and an incredible partner than during this race, and there is no question in my mind that I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve no doubt forgotten many moments in this recap, despite it’s length, but that’s the beauty of a 100-mile race. The memories will keep floating in for months to come, and they’ll bring a little smile to my face every time!

Hard-earned hardware!

Hard-earned hardware!

 

Flatrock 101K Race Report: A Tale of “DNF”

I’ve run quite a few races in the past few years, and many of them have been what I considered to be rather difficult. They included varied terrain, elevation changes, and weather conditions, and they all managed to challenge me in different ways. I’ve tackled everything from a 5K up to 105 miles, but I managed to skip over the 100K distance. My plan was to rectify that fact as I drove down to Independence, Kansas with a good friend for the Flatrock 101K this past weekend. I’ve had a solid spring training season, and my legs and endurance were ready to tackle just about anything. However, I’m not sure that any amount of training in Iowa could have prepared me for the most difficult trail course I’ve hiked, let alone run. Thus, this is a tale of my very first race DNF, and I couldn’t be more happy to call it just that.

Randy and I headed out from Ames on Friday morning, and after a few directional “miscalculations”, found our way to our campsite in Independence. We were both eager to stretch our legs after 8 hours in the car, and we met up with Randy’s brother, Ryan, at the site. He made the trek down from Colorado Springs pulling a trailer, so I guess we couldn’t complain too much, right? The race was located along the Elk River Hiking Trail and our campsite was just down the road, which was incredibly convenient. We headed over the start/finish area to check in and pick up our packets. This was a small race (49 registered participants), so we made our way to the aid tent, picked up our packets, and sat down for a pasta dinner provided by the race staff. We had a chance to chat with some of the volunteers and other participants, and get a bit more information about the trail itself. Things were looking pretty dry, and there were no huge hills but we were warned about the small but repetitive elevation changes. Folks mentioned that it was fairly rocky, but still runable, and we left optimistic and looking forward to the challenge.

The storms from the night before were still lingering at the start.

The storms from the night before were still lingering at the start.

We relaxed after dinner, and prepared our packs and drop bags for an early wake-up call. I decided to wear my Salomon pack, including hydration bladder, and carry a handheld bottle that I could keep full of water with electrolytes so I could rotate between the two. The pack is perfect for distances up to around 100 miles, as long as there are some aid stations in between. I decided to leave a drop bag at the start/finish area with my Hokas, a change of clothes, and some extra nutrition. The course was a double out-and-back, with manned aid stations around miles 3, 10, and 15, and unmanned stations with water in between.

The alarm went off at 4:30AM after a stormy and windy night, and the darkness and cool temps definitely made getting out of bed more of a challenge. I was happy we had the trailer to sleep in though, because tent camping would not have been ideal! The three of us slowly and quietly went about the business of getting dressed and having some breakfast before heading down the road to the start. I decided to run in my Altra Lone Peaks for the first 50K and that proved to be an excellent choice. We got to the starting line a little before 6AM, with a scheduled 6:30AM start. It was cool, and not terribly windy in the morning, but the forecast was for a hot day with temps reaching close to 90 degrees and plenty of wind. The time before the start gave us a chance to wake up our legs a bit, and do our best not to psych ourselves out. Although I’d never tackled the 100K distance, I felt pretty confident, and was excited for the challenge.

 

Dropping off our drop bags before the race.

Dropping off our drop bags before the race.

Just before the start, we were joking about the anti-climactic start of most ultras as the gun goes over and everyone begins to slowly shuffle and try not to head out too fast. Sure enough, that scene played out a few minutes later, and the 40+ runners shuffled down an access road about a quarter of a mile to the trailhead, and we were off. I’ve struggled with going out to fast before, and I was determined not to make the same mistake today, so I took it pretty easy from the get go and tried to stick with the pack. As soon as we hit the trail, it was clear that the “rocky” description was quite accurate, and perhaps a bit of an understatement. We hadn’t rolled along the rocky trail more than a mile when we reached a drop-off that forced the pack to stop and slowly descend, one at a time. This was followed by even more rocks, both protruding from the ground and flowing along it like a stoney river hiding the age of the land. I reached the first manned aid station around mile 3, and I could already tell that this course was going to be more difficult than any trails I had encountered, and certainly more treacherous than anything I’d found in Iowa. You could have mistaken the trail for a dried up-stream bed through a rock quarry. Little did I know that I was still underestimating the journey ahead.

Do we have any idea what we are getting ourselves into?

Do we have any idea what we are getting ourselves into?

We weaved through cliffs and bluffs that had been carved out of the land over millions of years, and it was visually stunning to constantly disappear around a rocky corner and not know what to expect. The nearby lake followed us on the left, the sound of waves crashing on the shore faintly echoing along the trail as the wind whistled through the trees and rocks. I have no doubt that this was a visually stunning trail and there were a multitude of places to stop and enjoy the views. However, the technical nature of the constantly shifting rocks, tree roots, and stones hidden by leaves meant that my gaze was firmly directed at the ground, never more than a few feet in front of me.

All smiles before the trailhead!

All smiles before the trailhead!

It was a welcome relief to hit the next full aid station around mile 10, and as with every stop, the volunteers were absolutely fantastic! We had heard some talk of the trail becoming more “runable” after this aid station as we headed towards the turnaround point at mile 15.7 or so, and this upcoming leg of the trek boosted my spirits. The first two or three miles out of the second aid station proved to be just as rocky, hilly, and treacherous as the first 10, but things did open up at bit after that, and I was able to gain a bit of speed on some flatter and less rocky sections. Mind you, “flatter and less rocky” is quite relative, and even these sections were still quite technical. I rolled into the turnaround point (1/4 done) aid station in around 3:20, and was quite pleased with the time I made considering the terrain. I took a few minutes to fuel up, rehydrate, and pack some more nutrition for the road, and then turned back around.

flatrock101-2014-1780

I spent the next five miles running with a guy I met just as we were coming into the aid station turnaround. We had some fantastic conversations about various other ultras, and he became clear very quickly that he was much more experienced, both on this trail, and in ultra-running as a whole. He kept our pace brisk and I think I felt some energy return as we made our way back to the start. It was great to pick his brain about other races I’ve been thinking of taking on, and the conversation was the perfect example of why I love ultra-running so much. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known each other for years, or you just met. You become friends quickly, and everyone is so giving of their time and knowledge. I let him go on after we stopped at the next aid station (ok, he took off and I couldn’t keep up), and it became very clear that navigating the loose rocks was becoming more and more difficult. At around mile 20, I could feel myself hitting a wall, and I slowed down a bit to conserve more energy. As I was working my way around the bluffs, I tripped on a rock and cracked my right knee pretty hard. I was actually quite surprised it took me that long to fall, and I paused to shake off the pain and make sure I didn’t do any permanent damage. The remainder of the journey back to the start and 50K mark was a bit of a blur. As I rolled into the starting area, I couldn’t help but think that this would have been a great 50K race. Unfortunately, I still had another 50K to go!

flatrock101-2014-3065

Ryan rolled into the starting area a few minutes after me, and we exchanged an initial look that told us both everything we needed to know about how the other felt. The first 50K had been hellish, and there were already points where the only thought that comforted me was pretending that I was done. I spent about 20 minutes at the aid station, eating some more substantial food and getting some more fluids down. The first 50K had taken about 7:20, and the midday sun was now out in full force, along with the almost 90 degree heat. Ryan and I begrudgingly agreed to head back out for the second half and stick together to push each other. We were both really feeling it, but still left determined to finish.

One step at a time!

One step at a time!

The remaining 15+ miles were a combination of short running bursts and power-hiking through the ridiculous terrain. By this point, it was clear to me that calling this a trail run or race led to some pretty lofty assumptions about the ability to actually run. There was definitely more walking and power hiking happening by everyone at the race the brief conversations and passing glances made it clear that everyone was suffering just as much as I was by mid-afternoon. We got to the mile 10 aid station in pretty good spirits, but feeling extremely fatigued. My knees and ankles were throbbing, and I might as well have strapped sharp rocks to the soles of my feet by that point. We charged out of the aid station, and pushed each other into a few decent miles. Then the rigor of the day began to set in.

In any ultra, a run/walk combination is necessary for a majority of participants. Thus, walking is to be expected, and I’ve come to embrace it as a part of the sport and the experience. However, as we pushed onward, our walk breaks became longer and slower. We seemed to alternate discussing various levels of pain or localized discomfort, and cursing the course in about as many ways as we could. Then we started running the math on projected finishing times. The race had a very generous 24-hour cutoff, but that meant running through the night, obviously. We were still well ahead of the cut-off pace, and had plenty of time to get the race done. However, our legs became increasingly sore, and our knees screamed louder and louder. Most of all, we had already been out on the trail around 12 hours, and the sun would be setting soon. Based on generous calculations, this meant we had about 7 hours of hiking this trail in the dark to look forward to moving forward. This trail was dangerous in broad daylight. Even with a headlamp, the thought of navigating it at night didn’t sit well with me!

This...over and over again!

This…over and over again!

Around mile 46, the comments we were exchanging aligned and we made the decision to drop from the race. As we were crossing a barbed-wire fence via a set of metal step, I may have even uttered “next stop, the DNF station” without even realizing it (as opposed to “aid station”, of course!). We made it to the turnaround point, having completed 3/4 of the race, and let the volunteers know we would not be going on. They were nice about asking us several times before sending the official word, but I was definitely done. My legs had taken quite a beating, and the thought of going back out there in the dark brought no joy to my mind. Above all else, I run and race because I love to be out there. I love running and taking in the environment around me. I love sharing the experience with others when possible. I probably could have headed back out, and slogged through the 6 or 7 hours it would have taken me to finish, but it didn’t have that joy, that appeal, anymore.

Ryan and I- relentless forward progress!

Ryan and I- relentless forward progress!

Every ultra runner needs that first DNF feather in their cap, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I earned mine. I enjoyed (almost) all of my time out on the trail, made some new friends, and still managed almost 50 miles. When we arrived at that final aid station, that volunteers laughed that we were calling it quits out there, as most folks had apparently pulled the plug at the 50K mark. In all, only 22 of the 49 participants had finished the race, which was the ultimate testament to the difficult of the course and the day. I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t had brief moments of regret for not changing my mind and suffering through the last chunk of the race. However, this was first DNF I feel like I can be proud of, and I’ve got plenty of other races coming up to keep my motivation high.

The “Flatrock 101K Trail Race” was anything but flat, ALL rock, and more power hike than race. The finishers buckle alluded me, but I walked away with some amazing memories and a great first-DNF story. Now, I can turn my focus to a busy month of races, including my next stab at the 100K distance at the end of May. Bring on the miles, and bring on the trails, but keep me out of Independence!

I think he had the right idea the whole time.

I think he had the right idea the whole time.

Rub it Out!

Just to be clear, I’m talking about your legs. What did you think I was talking about? This really isn’t that kind of blog…although that is my area of research, broadly speaking of course, so I’m sure we can work it in somewhere. Wow, the puns just keep coming, don’t they? Ok, seriously, it’s time to get down to business. Ahh, I just can’t help myself!

Deep breath…

With Mother Nature finally beginning to relent (knock on wood) and clear away some of the debris from the roads and sidewalks, my runs are once again much smoother and less treacherous under foot. Winter running is definitely excellent training for my legs, and it helps keep me in shape for trail running, but I’ve definitely noticed that it can be harder on my calves, thighs, and IT bands. The uneven surfaces, ice patches, sand, salt, and pot holes all present additional stress on my legs in various ways. On the plus side, recent research has found that runners are more likely to run on their forefoot on hard surfaces, so perhaps the winter running has helped my forefoot strike consistency. These facts have made me focus a lot more on foam-rolling my legs and making sure I am stretching properly after my runs.

Is it finally over?

Is it finally over?

I will admit with a modicum of guilt that I have historically been pretty inconsistent when it comes to using the foam roller on my legs. Intellectually, I know it can help sustain my legs and ensure that I am doing my best to prevent injuries. However, when I get back from a great run, I am usually looking to jump straight in the shower, and then relax. The last thing I want to do is sit around in my sweaty clothes and roll out my legs (even if that’s exactly what I should be doing!). However, the intense pain I’m met with on the occasions when I do roll my legs out makes a pretty clear case for consistency. Thus, I’ve been trying to focus on using the foam roller when I get out of the shower, as well as using a more dense rolling stick before bed. We affectionately call the roller massager the “pain stick” in honor of the screaming and tears it elicits during a vigorous massage. It can be hard to remind myself that it is for the best sometimes, especially when I’m screaming into a pillow, but my legs always thank me the next day!

The "Pain Stick"- very effective if you can stand it!

The “Pain Stick”- very effective if you can stand it!

There seem to be quite a few specialized foam rollers on the market claiming to provide added benefits due to different contoured forms or raised portions. In my experience, and in speaking with several PT friends, the only benefit is in your head and in your smaller bank account. The simple white foam roller I have has worked incredibly well, and has proven very versatile for all of the various massage techniques I utilize. I will spare you the detailed descriptions of each of the routines I implement, mostly because Runners World does a much better job, and they include videos as well!

My nice and simple foam roller.

My nice and simple foam roller.

A few simple exercises

A few simple exercises

Aside from the foam roller and the pain stick, I try to utilize some simple DIY massage techniques throughout the day to try to keep my legs as relaxed and stretched out as possible. This is especially important because I spend a lot of time sitting in front of my computer. After transcribing interviews for my dissertation for several hours, some stretching and leg massage is a welcome break!

ff_foam_roller

The weather is warming up, and there is talk of 50 degrees by the end of the week, so I couldn’t be happier. I’m going to be ramping up my training in some new ways in the coming months, and experimenting with some new things, so stay tuned, and happy spring!

T & T Chronicles: Dancing with Lady Chancellor

While we were in Trinidad, it was quite clear that Carnival was right around the corner. The steel pan drum competitions were in full swing as teams practiced for the finals, Soca artists were performing for free in the main square in Port of Spain, and every other radio announcement was advertising a Fete (think GIANT party with live music). Perhaps the most noticeable sign of the impending festivities was the plethora of activity on the Queens Park Savannah. The Savannah is a large park and open-space located in Port of Spain. During Carnival, performances and vendors set up shop and it becomes party central. Vendor space is at a premium, and although it is supposedly a democratic selection process, it sounded like knowing someone in the Ministry of Tourism certainly didn’t hurt.

All smiles before heading up the hill!

All smiles before heading up the hill!

Around the outside of the Savannah is a large walking/running path. The elaborate and revealing costumes of Carnival mean people love showing off their bodies, and subsequently become quite focused on making their bodies as attractive as possible. The fitness industry is huge in the months leading up to Carnival, but for those who don’t want to drop a nice chunk of change on equipment or classes, running around the Savannah works quite well. In the evening, once the sun has gone down, the paths get pretty darn crowded, as we learned during an evening stroll to work off a delicious dinner.

Just off of the Savannah pathway is Lady Chancellor Hill. This 2.0 (I measured it at 2.2) mile hill ascends 700 feet to a lookout point that provides absolutely stunning views of Port of Spain and the Gulf of Paria. Whereas most of other roads in Trinidad & Tobago lack sidewalks and any room to run, Lady Chancellor Hill actually provides a bit of room to move out of the way when a car is heading straight for you. This is a good thing considering the high speeds and blind curves that seemed to characterize Trini drivers and their roads! The hill is typically more quiet since it is a residential area, so it has become a focal point for Trinis looking to test their athletic ability or simply shed a few more pounds before Carnival.

Port of Spain the the Gulf of Paria

Port of Spain the the Gulf of Paria

While on the way up, I saw a few other walkers/runners, but I basically had the hill to myself. The incline was definitely intense and it never really let up. At times, I felt like I was running up a treadmill that wasn’t going to give me any sort of break. As I ascended the hill, the views to the right became more and more breathtaking, although I wasn’t fully taking them in because I was extremely cautious of drivers and trying to actually maintain a running pace.

Views on the path

Views on the path

However, when I reached the top, the view was everything I was hoping it would be and it made the killer run completely worth it. I’m sure I’ve commented before about how flat Iowa is and how I wished I had more choices for hill work. More than that though, I was just struck by the natural beauty of my surroundings. Perhaps Trinis eventually take the beauty for granted after living there for a certain amount of time, but I almost don’t know how that’s possible. There is just so much to stimulate the optic nerves and keep you engaged with your surroundings. Although the path was paved, I felt just as engaged in my surroundings as if I had been running a trail race. It was absolutely incredible!

QPS-05

QPS-03

How can you compete with views like this?

How can you compete with views like this?

After some time at the top to take in the view, I began my descent. I knew it would be a whole lot easier going down than it was coming up, but I don’t think I was prepared for just what a difference it made. I would describe the run down as more of a controlled fall than anything else, and it felt great. I knew my quads would be screaming at the bottom, but I didn’t care. I was flying 🙂 I had averaged about 9:58/mile on the way up, and about 7:23/mile on the way down. That should tell you everything you need to know.

QPS-06

When I reached the bottom, I continued around the Savannah, taking in the people, the traffic, and all the glorious sounds of a bustling urban environment. I passed by children in their school uniforms, food vendors getting ready for carnival, and folks out for an afternoon run/walk in preparation for the upcoming week. The loop took no time at all, in part because I was so enthralled by my surrounding. I simply didn’t want to stop running and I probably could have continued running around the Savannah for hours.

Still smiles at the end!

Still smiles at the end!

When I reached my starting point, the beautiful epicurean and our amazing friend turned tour guide were waiting to greet me. Now, if only I had a bottle of water or something refreshing to finish off my run. Oh wait, I just walked over to the nearest coconut vendor and bought a cold nut! He lopped off the top with his machete so I could drink the deliciously fresh water straight from the nut, and then he opened it up so I could eat the delicious coconut jelly and flesh hidden inside. Yes please! I’m pretty sure that if every run ended with fresh coconut water, I wouldn’t have a job because I’d be running all the time. Except then I couldn’t pay for the coconuts, so that would be awkward. Just sayin’.

Fresh coconut water...amazing!

Fresh coconut water…amazing!

Race Report: Northface Endurance Challenge

Its been quite the race season for me. My miles have piled up at a rate I didn’t think possible a few years ago, and I’ve fallen even more in love with a sport I have every intention of participating in for the rest of my life. Thus, it was fitting that I finished up my 2012 race season with my third ultramarathon of the year. Not only did I start the year with an ultra, but I accepted my second Northface endurance challenge, which is where my ultra-history began (I make it sound mildly epic, despite the fact that my “history” started last year, and I’ve now run a total of 4 ultramarathons).

The Northface Endurance Challenge 50K in Kansas City, MO is the second to last race in the series, and the only road race on the calendar. After finishing my first 50-miler a few weeks back, I didn’t so much train for this 50K as I did taper after the longer race. This quasi-organized training schedule left me a bit anxious, but I’ve also been pretty busy in other areas of my life, so I luckily haven’t had as much time to obsess over my schedule either. In addition, since neither the beautiful epicurean or I had spent any significant time in KC, we decided to turn it into a mini-vacation, which added to the stress-free nature of the race. In all honesty, this was probably the least I’ve thought about any race this season. By in large, this didn’t prove to be an issue, as my endurance is quite high at the moment (go figure, right?!). However, my lack of observation did catch up to me in what appears to be the theme of my entire year- HILLS!

Friday Afternoon: We arrived in KC around 3:30PM, which gave us plenty of time to head over to packet pick-up. As luck would have it, I ended up booking our hotel is pretty much the ideal location for both the race and the rest of our weekend activities. Packet pick-up was within walking distance, and was relatively well-organized as I expected. Northface contracts with a company to provide “virtual race bags” in order to save both on costs and environmental impact. I’m quite a fan of this, since most of the handouts you receive in your race bag end up in the garbage anyway. We picked up my bib, shirt, arm-warmers, and water bottle, and headed back to the hotel to drop everything off before dinner. The swag for the race alone almost makes the registration cost worth it, so I was quite pleased! We had dinner at Waldo’s Pizza, which had incredible pies and an enormous craft beer selection- I highly recommend it!

Saturday Morning/Race Morning: The starting line was located at Frank A. Theis Park, which was only a few blocks from the hotel, so we left the room around 6:15, getting there in plenty of time for the 7:00AM start. Northface had to change the starting times for all of the races due to city restrictions (I believe), so it was quite a whirlwind as the 7 o’clock hour approached. This is the only race in the series without any participant caps, so the numbers were perhaps a bit higher but still not overwhelming. They had fire pits set up at the starting line for folks to keep warm, which was really nice. It was 38 degrees at the start, and I knew it was going to get a bit warmer, so I opted for shorts and s sleeveless running shirt, along with gloves. I was wearing a new pair of Smartwool compression socks (review forthcoming) which served the additional role of keeping my legs warmer at the start as well. They lined up the runners based on the race they were running, with 5 minutes separating start times for the 50k/marathon/half marathon/10k/5k. This made things a bit crowded but still manageable. Things ran right on schedule, and about 150 or so runners took off at 7:00AM for the full 50K experience.

The start/finish area

It didn’t take long for me to realize that Kansas City was a hilly community! For the next five hours, it seemed as though I was either going up or going down one hill after another. Had I read the race description more carefully (or perhaps just not blocked it out of my memory?), I would have remembered the words “surprisingly hilly” as they described the eb and flow of elevation change from 720 feet to 1020 feet, which seemed to be repeated so often that I felt like the needle of a record player moving back and forth over a broken record. We wound our way through downtown Kansas City, through the University of Missouri- Kansas City campus, and  in and out of historic neighborhoods with grand old houses. One of my favorite areas was down along the Missouri River which we reached after descending what seemed like thousands of stairs down into the Mines of Moria. The banks of the river were a calming respit from the more active scenery of the city, and there are some amazing bridges crossing the river. Alas, going down stairs meant we also had to make up that elevation decline, and I was ready to hurl my water bottle into the fires of Mount Doom when I got to the top.

Have you been to this part of Kansas City?

Luckily, the aid stations were very well placed along the course, and nicely stocked with fluids, GU, and fruit. In all, it was a very visually stimulating course, which definitely helped the miles go by that much quicker. They had countless intersections blocked off so I had plenty of opportunities to thank KC’s finest for their help, some of them more pleased to be out there than others. At one point, after the marathon and 50K participants followed the same course, we split so that the 50K runners could get in the extra distance. These 5 additional miles may have been the hilliest of all! After the last ridiculously steep hill, I got to the top and was greeted by volunteers congratulating me for making it to the highest point in Kansas City. You don’t say?!

The lone flat section of the course!

Despite the hills, the race seemed to go by rather quickly, and when I reached the 26-mile mark, I realized that I had maintained a pretty consistent pace and was actually at or near my marathon PR time. So much for slowing down a bit, eh? I kept on pushing, and at mile 28, I was fairly certain that the race organizers had made a mistake. We couldn’t possibly be going up this hill, could we? Alas, we did, and I pushed through! Luckily, the knowledge I gained from reading ChiRunning proved very useful and the angled stride strategy probably saved my legs on all of the hills.

In the last mile, we finally received a bit of rest as we hit some nice downhills on our way back to the park. The last half mile was all down hill, which gave me an extra burst of energy (or was I just falling forward at that point?) and I pushed hard into the finish. I crossed the line in 5:06, which almost seemed ridiculous to me when I saw it! I had been shooting for a time somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00, so I was ecstatic. The beautiful epicurean was there to greet me at the end, having arrived extra early after missing my finish in Sioux Falls…I guess she knows me pretty well 🙂

Crossing the finish line…early!

All said, it was a fantastic race, and a wonderful weekend. We stayed in KC a few extra days and did some shopping, visited some museums, and ate some great food…all within walking distance of our hotel. Did I mention that our hotel was on a hill?

A great end to a great race season!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: