Tuesday, November 20, 2012

End of the Old, Start of the New

Running the last race of the season is a bittersweet event for me.  I’ve been truly blessed with a great year.  I was injury-free and have had only one race I would consider “bad”; and that turned out to be a 50-mile PR, making “bad” a relative term.  My 2012 races:
I know.  Three lousy races.  I am hardly king of the trails.  It is kind of weird, but I take those races pretty seriously; fuel for my type-A personality.  Afterward the transition can be kind of abrupt:

Spring-Summer-Fall schedule
  • 5:00 am: alarm goes off
  • 6:30 am: get out of bed
  • 7:30 am: endless miles, lots of hills and stairs
  • Remainder of the day: eat like a horse, complain about my aches and pains, fight the dog for the best sun patches, take some vitamin-I and go to bed
And then it ends: The Winter schedule
  • 10:00 am: no alarm necessary, I can set my internal clock to “sloth”
  • 10:30 am: do a few squats and core exercises until I get bored
  • Remainder of the day: eat like a horse, complain about my aches and pains, fight the dog for the best sun patches, take some vitamin-I and go to bed
And plan for next season.  I like to up the ante and then regret about it later, and am faced with the choices of trying to improve speed, distance, or course toughness.  I choose the first two for next year.  I’ll save Superior for the following season.  Chicken, I know.

A New Diet – To help me to take it to the next level, I am considering a change in my diet from non-existent, to low carb/high-fat.  The intent is to convert myself into a “butter burner” after about a two week transition.  I read a great book called The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.  Zach Bitter introduced me to the concept on his blog; the science looks sound and the concept just makes good sense to me.  I may also start adding Vespa to my training and racing nutrition.  Maybe.  I’ll wait until AFTER the holidays though; fudge truffles will be impossible to resist.  My main purpose trying this diet:
  • Steady flow of energy by tapping into an “endless” source of fat-based fuel, instead of the rollercoaster ride that is carb fueling.
  • Better mental clarity by reducing central fatigue – I’ve read that bonking comes at a time of battle between your brain and muscles for your depleted glycogen reserves.  Since you need those muscles to outrun the lions, your brain attempts to perform at a reduced energy level.  Kind of like my laptop.  Bonking may have something to do with aromatic amino acid uptake as well (whatever that means).  I’ve always felt that if I could eliminate one challenge from running, it would be central fatigue.  I’ll take tired muscles and an upset stomach before I start feeling like I want to pass out.  Mental morass just sucks.
  • Reduction of CO2 in my bloodstream – Seems that when exerting yourself in strenuous exercise, C02 can accumulate in the bloodstream as a byproduct of lactic acid buildup due to carb metabolization, reducing your blood pH, and placing yourself in a state of hyperventilation.  This has happened to me a few times and has been incapacitating (blog post).  Fat burning causes less lactic acid to build up, and thus less CO2 in my bloodstream.  This is my second choice for elimination.
  • Quicker Recovery – Burning fat causes less metabolic stress than burning carbs.  As I get older I am finding that the tough runs are harder to bounce back from, causing me to reduce my training volume immediately following.  I’m lucky if I can do a 70 mile week.  To do well in a 100 mile race, I think I want to increase my training volume, which means I need to recover quicker and more thoroughly.
  • Sour cream, butter, cashews, coconut oil, bacon, eggs, cheese, cream, lard, …
Which gets me to the races I want to do next year – For some reason I get great comfort from running the same races year after year.  I’ll try to force myself out of this rut a bit next season with a race longer than I’ve ever run, and one shorter (and hopefully faster) than usual.
  • Kettle Moraine 100m – This will be my first 100 mile race, and I think I’m ready for it.  The race is run in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine in WI; trails I’m very familiar with and love (blog post).  The biggest challenge, I think, will be getting in the long runs though the winter months.  Training starts in February.  Brrrr.
  • Afton Trail Run 50k – I just love this race and cannot fathom a year without it.  I did pretty well last year (blog post) and hope to hit those hills even stronger next year.  The big challenge will be recovering from Kettle Moraine in time for this race.  Is 5 weeks enough time?  If not, this turn into a fun run.
  • Hartman Creek 25k – This race has been on my radar for a few years now.  I took my kids camping here a few times; very nice.  The trails are nice and flat and well maintained.  This should be a fast and fun 25k, and I can take my family camping to boot.
  • North Face Endurance Challenge 50m – This will be my fifth time running this race and I’m ready to be done with it.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a fun race, but it is getting expensive and I think I’m outgrowing it a bit.  It is flat and fast and beautiful; and I have some unfinished business (blog post): namely a sub-8 hr 50 miler.  This race is at the same time of year as Superior, with which I hope to replace the following year.
  • Willow River 10k – Just a low-key, fun and hilly race on my home turf.  I train here every week and enjoy my unfair local advantage.  Plus it is pretty cheap and supports a good cause.
  • Surf the Murph 50m – I really like this race, after I’ve (kind of) figured out the course.  If I can stay on the course I can do pretty well here (blog post).  Plus it is close by, relatively cheap and becoming an end-of-the-season tradition.
Should be fun!

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Does One Race a Phantom?

OK, let me start this post by stating this is not about sour grapes.  Really.  Well, maybe just a little.  I am usually not one to rant and I try not to come across as pessimistic.  Even so, I want to share an interesting experience from Surf the Murph 50M this year.
I am a competitive person, and I set personal race goals for motivation.  There really is no social aspect to running a 50 mile race for me; I have a set of goals and I try to achieve them.  My social scene is saved for before and after, usually racing from start to finish.  I am not particularly fast, but I don’t care about that.  This year at Surf the Murph my goals were twofold: under 9:30 and top-10.  Finishing well, I thought I achieved them both.

Leaving the last aid station (horse camp) on the last loop, I was 4.5 miles from the finish.  I was on pace for 9:10 and was told I was in 9th place; both goals easily within grasp.  It would take disaster to not achieve them.  Of course, this is where I say “and then disaster happened”, but it didn’t.  I ran a very strong finish, actually pushing hard to see if I could make ground on 8th place.  Who knew, number 8 could have been hurting.  In the last mile, there were straight sections that allowed about a 50-100 meter view ahead.  I was alone both in front and behind, and thus was not picking up or losing a spot.  I crossed the line in 9:12 and (supposedly) 9th place.  We wife told me that the previous racer crossed the line about 10 minutes prior; the next person crossed the line over 5 minutes after.  I really was racing alone.
I was surprised after seeing the published results a few days later:

·         9:06:52 9th

·         9:12:28 10th

·         9:12:54 11th (my time)

·         9:18:46 12th
That surprise eventually led to confusion regarding how this could be.  This did not deter from satisfaction with my performance or enjoyment of the race.  But still, I was perplexed.  I do remember people talking about some who were allowed to start later than the official 6:00 am start.  This race has timing mats that record one’s time when crossing at the start and finish, not gun time.  If so, this may provide a possible explanation.

I’ve allowed this question to simmer for a couple weeks now, and have ended up in a state a little less pleased than when I started.  It is not boiling over really, but it is not cool to the touch either.  Most larger races in which I’ve competed count only clock time for the first three places for male and female open divisions; after that, it’s chip time.  Is there a limit to how much after an official start someone is allowed onto a course?  In a race with timing mats, are cutoffs the only deterrence to the late starter?

And how does one strategize against a late starter?  Take, for instance, someone who might cross the starting mat 5 minutes after the official start.  In my point of view, they are at a competitive advantage.  They know they need to hold a position of no more than 5 minutes from the racer in front to maintain their position in the race.  The racer in front has no such competitive knowledge.  The front-runner, of course, is (wrongly) assuming that they need to maintain about a 10 second lead on the person behind (accounting for the mass start) in order to maintain their position.  If I’m that front-runner, I am running a strategic race, and I am at a strategic disadvantage; and I’m ahead!  In my last leg of Surf the Murph, if I saw a racer 26 seconds ahead, I would have busted my ass trying to hatch him/her.  How could I have done that when 10th place was a phantom?
Is this really no big deal?  Should I just shut up and be happy with my 11th place and quit being a crybaby?  Does anyone else even care about this?  Well, I guess I do.  Maybe races should have a period of time in which one may start in order to be listed among the ranked finishers; say 30 seconds for a race like Surf the Murph.  If you start after that timeframe, your time is listed as a finisher, but you are not ranked.  Might there be other possible options?
Please share your input in the comments section.  Thanks!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mary's Javelina Jundred 100M Race Report

This has been kind of a crazy year for me because of my 94 year old mother’s health situation. In April she was admitted to the hospital and then to hospice. I returned to MN to help with facilitating aspects of the transfer, returned to AZ and the next day ran the Mt Lemmon Marathon here in Tucson, a beautiful continuous uphill course from 2700 ft. elevation to approximately 8500 ft. It’s an excellent, unusual event which I would highly recommend.

My goal for this summer was the Sunrise to Sunset 42K and 100K run in Mongolia which I wrote about in an earlier post. When I returned from that trip our family had decided that it was time for my parents to move to an assisted living apartment. This decision occurred right about the time that I ran the North Face 50K in WI. During this run I fell and landed on my left hand and discovered 4 days later that I had broken a bone.  I’m happy to report that I was able to finish that event and it was a great motivator for how I could possibly perform at the Javelina event in October.

After running the Twin Cities Marathon for the 31st time, we returned to Tucson. Plans were in place for my parents move and we were just waiting for an apartment to open up. I was able to do one good desert hike two weeks before Javelina. In the meantime I was trying to determine if I should give up my race and return to MN to help with the move. The gods were with me and my youngest sister was able to work it out to go to MN from Denver.

Four days before the race my parents' move went very smoothly and I felt a load lifted and I was ready to run the Javelina Jundred.
Pam Reed and Mary
A week prior to the race I was all set to go. I left early and picked Pam Reed up at the airport in Phoenix. She was planning to pace me and had informed the RD that she would be pacing me an extra loop, because in some 100 milers runners over 60 are allowed a pacer for the entire run. This was hardly necessary in this run. I have run the loop as the Pemberton 50K in Feb. a number of times. But it was great to have a pacer from the time it was dark.

We arrived at the race headquarters without a tent reservation and were prepared to set up a tent if necessary. Luck was with us and there were a couple tents quite near to the start/finish available. So we paid our fee and were set to go. In the past it has been possible to park at the start of this event. But since it has become so popular, the RD decided to institute a shuttle system, which according to my pacers really worked quite well.

The host hotel was a very nice Radisson which is associated with a very large and busy casino. Lots of smoke in there, so probably not too many runners. But there are also two hot tubs and a beautiful pool. Great for soaking in after the race. 

The race started at 6:00 AM and most people were arriving around 5:00. A number of runners had camped at the race site so there was lots of activity when we arrived.

The Javelina Jundred is a 15.4  mile loop which is run 6 times, reversing course after completing a loop. Then to complete the 100 miles there is a final 11 mile loop, thus giving you a final run of 101.4 miles. The Pemberton 50K always runs two loops clockwise, so this is the route I am most familiar with. During the race I came to realize why I like this direction. Somehow the rocky sections just don’t seem as bad, which is purely psychological, but it sure played with my head in the dark.

There was an extra aid station added to the race this year which I neglected to pay attention to prior to the race. This only became a problem in the first loop, since I didn’t fill my water bottle at the 2 mile aid station and then discovered it was 6 or 7 miles to the main aid station. Since it was early in the moring this didn’t really pose a problem, other than I was planning on an aid station in 3 miles. This change is an excellent one and was clearly explained in the course description. I just was going on my past experience.

Before the race I had filled out a race log provided on the website with my predictions for each lap. I had done my predictions based on my time from my previous race and added a bit of a cushion, since I felt a bit undertrained.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that by the last two laps I was over an hour ahead of my predicted time, and was ahead for each lap by at least 10 minutes.  Ironically, I was 10 minutes slower in the first loop, but that was partly due to a very slow start, since I started quite far back in the pack and we walked for about half a mile on the single track trail.

In the past few years I have become a big proponent of eating real food in ultras and try to stay away from anything “sugary”. Thus I am limited to peanut butter sandwiches, potatoes dipped in salt, potato chips, pretzels, soup, mashed potatoes, etc. The exceptions I made in this race were to eat the cantolope and water melon, which were very refreshing in the heat of the afternoon and during the night I had some dates because the other food did not appear appetizing. I carried gel packs only as a back-up in case I was stranded with low energy between aid stations. I took only two gels the entire race.

The aid stations were amazing and the volunteers were always very eager to help fill our water bottles and help us eat as much as we could. Many of the volunteers worked more than one shift and it was fun to see familiar faces as we kept looping around the course. Each aid station also had a small ”mash unit” and it was obvious that the runners in their care were being well taken care of.

Mary (center) with her pacers
It definitely helped to have a pacer in this event. There is never really a concern about going off course, but when one has tired legs, it is even possible to lose your balance, especially in the rocky sections, and we saw this happen a couple times. As I indicated, I broke bones in my hand in Sept. and had not had a recent X-ray to determine how healed the break was. So I ran with a splint in place and was more cautious, as I was constantly aware of preventing a fall. I only fell once in a very rocky section in the middle of the night, and landed right on my splint. The pain was immediate, but I took an Advil and continued running, hoping I didn’t do any more damage. (I’m happy to report that I got rid of the splint this past Thursday-no apparent re-injury.)

This was only my 4th completion of a 100 mile run, and my most successful as far as avoiding stomach issues and feeling fatigued. I never felt hallucinatory, or over-tired. I had chocolate milk after the 4th and 5th loops. And during the 6th loop I had a half cup of coffee at the midpoint aid station.  For some reason I was able to hydrate myself adequately during the heat of the day and I believe this contributed to my success during the later hours of the race. This race has a fairly high DNF rate for one only moderately challenging. It seems the mistake that many make is either going out too fast or becoming dehydrated in the midafternoon when the temperature is usually in the high 80s. The other challenge is a mental one and that is to believe that the 100K will do if you are not feeling so well.

It’s been 9 days since I finished the race. I think I can safely say that I feel almost completely recovered. I will find out if that is true in 2 days when I do a difficult hike in the Catalina mountains near my home. It will be a continuous downhill hike for 16 miles and will be a good test of the recovery of my quads. I’m more worried about the residual effects of some nasty blisters I got during the run.

Like Dave said in his report of Murph the Surf, now it’s time to take a bit of a hiatus from training and concentrate on healing mentally and looking forward to runs for next year. I am very excited to say that I will be running the CalballoBlanco Ultra in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. This is the event that was featured in the book Born to Run.  Since the death of Caballo Blanco (aka Micah True) last spring, there is more interest in this event. And this year there will be a special tribute to him, so I am very excited to be part of that celebration.
I would like to thank those who show an interest in my crazy running adventures and encourage all of you to explore what might challenge you to go beyond the limits that you may have set for yourself. If you are still only running road races, you would be surprised what joy can be found in running on trails.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Surf the Murph 50-Mile 2012 Race Report

Wow.  What a difference a year makes.  This race went from a total bummer last year, to my new favorite 50 miler.  The volunteers were fantastic, the weather perfect, and the trails in pristine shape.  What a great way to end the season.  And what fun it was.
Surf the Murph is a series of three races set in the 2,800 acre Murphy Hanrehan Reserve in Savage, MN.  A single loop of the park nets a little less than 17 miles, so we get races at 25k, 50k and 50 miles depending on the number of loops you feel like suffering though.  The terrain varies from dirt road to technical singletrack with about 2,000 of elevation for each loop.
This race is a bit unique to the ones I tend to choose.  Ignore the trail markers at any time, at your peril.  You’ve got to pay attention.  On every loop.  The RD’s worked a great, well-marked course, and it is our job to follow it and not create our own.  As I tend to zone out on long runs, this always proves a challenge.  And as I know, I can be attention-challenged.
My goal for this race was a top-10 finish, under 9:30.  I find this course a challenge to move through quickly, especially on the final loop, so I may have been a bit delusional.  The first loop was a planned easy glide, the second a major push, and the third, well, whatever I had left in the tank, if anything.  Also, after getting pretty dehydrated at North Face, I committed to drinking plenty and keeping the electrolytes coming.
Before the race – I’ve been trying something new with pre-race nutrition: starting on the Monday prior, I greatly reduced my starch intake (no pasta, no potatoes).  Then on Friday I snacked all day on a trough of mashed potatoes.  4:00 Saturday morning saw a cup of oatmeal, a banana and a caffeine-free Gu about 20 minutes prior to the 6:00 am start.  Though nutrition is probably my weakest link, this plan seemed to have worked well this year.
The temperature at the start was upper 20’s and felt vastly better than the 22° at last year’s start.  I was wearing a technical long-sleeve turtleneck with compression shorts, gloves and a knit cap.  I brought lots of clothes along though, because I knew the temps would be rising.   Though the aid stations were close-spaced, most people carried water.  I had mine in the form of a single 22 oz bottle in a waist-pack.  The parking, check-in and pre-race brief went very smoothly.
And then we were off – About 50 bobbing headlamps trundled into the woods for the first of three loops.  This initial portion of the loop consisted of about 5 miles of wooded hills, which seemed like the bulk of the elevation for the course.  My easy glide was working fine for me.  I kept telling myself to ignore the other racers and focus on my pace.  I know it sounds silly, but the urge to race at mile 2 of a 50 mile race was so strong.  Like being first into aid station 1 was the goal.  Way to go.
I didn’t mind these hills in the dark when I couldn’t see them approaching; so much easier to zen through.  Before we knew it we were through the cheerful aid station 1.  What a great group of volunteers; I drew on their fantastic energy (and their orange gels, mmm).  The hills weren’t done yet though.  Among the challenges following aid-1 there was a series of three step hills that gave you a steep 370 feet of slogging.  If someone has named these, I’d love to hear about it; I like cursing them with their proper names.
Into Aid-2 – It was still dark when I met my wife Beth at the second aid station.  This station doubled as aid-4 as well, and had room for crew.  As I rolled in I was met with a “Hey Hon”, followed by a chorus of “Hey Hon”s from the aid station volunteers.  What a great group; they cracked me up.
Beth and I planned a quick pit stop and it worked pretty well.  I exchanged my (almost) empty bottle with a fresh one filled with warmish water.  That aid station water can get cold, and very uncomfortable to drink.  Beth also warmed up a gel in her arm pit.  Tasty Tropical!  And then I was gone.
Smooth and Flatish – While the first 5 miles of the course had some hills I tended to hike, the remainder were mostly of the short or unsteep variety, and thus pretty runnable.  And the sunrise was gorgeous!  What a wonderful feeling to be in the first 10 miles of a trail run, early on a clear Saturday morning, at sunrise, among friends.  Ahhh.  Hmmm.  Uhhh, I haven’t seen a trail marker in a bit.  At about this time someone yelled “Trail!” behind me, and saved me from a long, unplanned excursion.  Thanks.
In and Out of Aid-3 – The third aid station was a bit more business-like, really getting us in and out fast.  Great energy.  I grabbed another gel, (tropical again) and was out, down a mouse path through the woods, with a limbo tree thrown in for free.  I knew that I would curse that tree by the third loop.
Following some very relaxing trail running, we started the first of two technical, wooded singletrack areas called Smurph Village.  I loved this section.  It was like the snowshoe section at Afton, only a bit more technical (and shorter).  The signs placed throughout were humorous, but I’d have to stop if I wanted to read them.  I needed to keep my eyes on the terrain.  At this time, three deer came flying like missiles though the woods, toward a group behind me.  The deer just put their heads way down and turned on the turbos.  Yikes.
The Final Bits – Into aid-4 (same location as aid-2) I did another bottle swap, along with an S-cap and gel, and a quarter of a PB&J with a potato chip inside.  This seemed to work very well at keeping my stomach happy as I had no digestive issues throughout the race.
The final 4.5 miles of the loop had gentle hills and nice flats.  That is, except for the second technical, wooded singletrack, called the Fun Zone.  Last year I missed the turnoff for this section.  Twice.  And it really set my mood for the remainder of the race.  I was bound and determined not to miss the turnoff this time.  The RD’s placed what looked like a billboard at this turnoff this year.  Thanks.  I guess I was not the only dork not paying attention last year.  The Fun Zone was pretty short, but had a nasty climb and descent in the middle.  The trail was covered with leaves the first time through, and thus traction was very difficult to maintain.
And then the first loop was complete!  As the temperature was climbing (mid 30’s I think), it was time for a technical tee and a pair of running sleeves.  After a gel (still caffeine-free), S-cap and PB&J, I was into my second (and toughest) loop.
Loop-1 plan: 3:10, actual: 2:50
Second Loop – After an easy glide on loop-1, this loop was to be the one where I pushed myself.  But not in the hills.  I tried to take the first 5 miles with an easy perceived effort; I knew I would see these one more time.  On the flats following aid-2, I started my push to about 7:30 miles.  My legs were not happy, and I went through my first difficult phase.  My respiration climbed and I was afraid I would not be able to hold that pace.  After what seemed like about 5 miles (shortly after aid-3) my respiration relaxed.  I did go off-course again in Smurph Village, though not very far.  I also cut back on the gels to about every 45 minutes; instead of the every 20-30 minutes.
Following aid-4, I started with the Double Espresso-flavored Clif Shots.  I can’t stand the taste of coffee, and these gels make me gag.  But wow, what a kick in the shorts they gave!  I loved those things.  I also dropped the running sleeves, as the temperature was now in the low 40’s.
Loop-2 plan: 3:00, actual: 2:55
Into My Last Loop – I was feeling great heading into the hills for the last time, and was very optimistic.  I knew that a sub-9 hr race was within reach.  Of course, it was easier to be optimistic before the hills.  I was trumpeted in to aid-1 by one of the volunteers.  Awesome!  The crew here was very energetic and supportive.  I heard that trumpet booming for the next 2 miles or so, accompanied every so often by a drum.  I flew through aid-1 with a smile and a thanks, unlike last year when I slogged up to the table in pretty sad shape.  What a difference a year makes.
Following aid-1, there was a gate we needed to squeeze by followed by an immediate left.  It was here that I took my biggest off-course excursion.  I went straight after taking the left correctly on the first two loops.  Agh!  This was almost exactly a 1 mile off-course jaunt which cost me about 10 minutes.  I was really upset with myself.  It took a bit of self-phych to get myself back into the race.  After getting back on course a guy with a skeleton shirt on flew by me, racing up and down the hills.  I think it might have been the first-place 50k racer.  Wow did he look fresh and friendly.  Way to go!
Following aid-2 my legs felt as useless as tree trunks.  Ugh.  My respiration was fine, so I did what I needed to do and concentrated on keeping my stride and pace consistent.  Finally working though that, the flats went by quickly.
Out of aid-4 I was told I was in 9th place.  That felt pretty cool.  As this was the start of the final 4.5-mile portion, I dropped my hat and gloves.  The cold became my motivation to finish fast.  I passed a racer who was looking pretty beat up and tried my best to motivate her with encouragement, stating she was “very near the finish”, and “as good as done”.
And then I was Done – The best pace I could manage into the finish was about 7:00, but that felt right.  My time was 9:12, well under my 9:30 goal.  At first I was hard on myself for the 10+ minutes I spent off-course, but not for long.  Paying attention is a big part of this race, and those ahead of me did that well.  I finished in 11th place (vice the reported 9th), with the elusive top-10 only 26 seconds ahead.  Motivation for next year!
Also, that racer I tried to motivate in the last loop bypassed the finish mat and headed back out again.  She was just starting her third loop.  I can only imagine what she was thinking when I told her she was “as good as done.”  Way to persevere!
What a great way to end the season.  I felt I ran a strong race and took from it motivation to run stronger and smarter next year.  Thanks to the RD’s and volunteers for a great race.  Thanks to God for the wonderful gift of running and the freedom and peace it brings.
Now it's time to relax (a bit) and get fat (for a bit).  Until next year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I See Dead Turtles

I get just a little delusional when really fatigued.  I wouldn’t call these hallucinations, but I have these weird moments that happen predictably, and in a preset order.  You see… I see dead turtles.  And they don’t know they’re dead.
More on that later.  Surf the Murph is less than a week away.  I am pretty pumped.  The weather is supposed to be cold: 20’d to 40’s, but sunny.  I’m ready to make friends with pain in the Fun Zone and Smurf Village again.  It’s gonna be great!  I am looking for a 9:30 finish; I’ll have a race report next week detailing my folly with unrealistic race goals.  Probably.  Maybe not though.
OK, back to the turtles.  I have a unique (I think) tendency late in 50-mile races to see things that are not there.  Nothing exciting like lost ghost miners or phantom pacers; just little things that I have come to expect to see when really fatigued.  They seem harmless at first, but I am convinced they are phantasms out to ensure my death.
The turtles are the first to attack.  Roundish rocks in the trails become little reptile monsters.  I don’t see four legs, a head and a tail per se; my mind just tells me that there is a turtle on the trail, and I should act accordingly, getting out of the way in case it’s a snapper.  At first it is kind of funny, but after a while I get sick of the !@#$ turtles.
come closer...
I have a confession.  I know why the rocks become turtles, and not beach balls or banjos.  It is my dead pet from the 70’s coming back for me.  Swimmer was a painted turtle that I caught while swimming in a Wisconsin lake when I was about 10, and kept for about 5 years.  He (/she, who knows?) died when I forgot to feed him (/her, whatever).  The Ghost of Swimmer back from the grave.  And (she) wants blood!
After turtles come snakes.  Sticks in the trails become causes for alarm, turning into snakes when I’m about to stride over them.  This causes me to over-extend, or stumble.  Again, no snakey tongue or markings; just my mind re-categorizing the threat from stick to reptile.  I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in snakeacide, and they really don’t freak me out.  Maybe I’m just a dork.  Probably.
The coup de gras (or is it ‘fleur de lis’?) though is when complete strangers become familiar; their identity being just on the tip of my tongue.  I hate this!  I once stared down a guy at the finish of last year’s Surf the Murph, waiting for him to recognize me and say hey.  I’m pretty sure I freaked him out.  Strangers on the trail become Ted from accounting.  I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut now, but it can get pretty embarrassing.  If I ever have the fortune to meet you on the trail some day and I greet you as a good friend, please just smile and play along.  I’ll tell you all about the snakes and turtles.
All this from a mere 50 miles.  Next year I run my first 100 miler at the Kettle Moraine, and  I am just a bit concerned as to what the next step in the delusion progression is.  My fear is that I’ll be found on the trail; dead from a series of triangular bite marks before I find out.  I think I need a plan.  The snakes would make my death a little quicker and less painful; if I can make it past the turtles that is.  Or maybe the snakes will be preoccupied with the turtles and I will be able to skip right though to the next delusion.
Man, I hope it is not clowns.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

2012 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race Report

What a great day and venue for a 50-mile trail race!  The North Face race in the Southern Kettle Moraine (they call it “Madison”) is set in beautiful Southern Wisconsin (see KM post below), along the Ice Age and Scuppernong trail systems.  This was my fourth, and supposedly last, North Face race, but I think I’m rethinking that now; I have some unfinished business.

Cutting to the chase, I ran a personal best for the course and distance, placed 28 out of 221, and won the Male 46-55 age group.  And I was greatly disappointed with my results.  What a dork, huh?  I’ll try to explain.

Pre-Race – The 50-mile race started on a star-filled, fall Saturday morning.  The temps were in the upper 40’s (perfect) and there were a ton of people.  I haven’t seen the totals, but I’ll bet there were over 200 people for the 50-mile.  The start/end area had a festival-like atmosphere with a high-energy announcer (dude, it is 4:30 in the morning) and some very eclectic music (Prince?  Really?).  Definitely more produced than the low-key trail race atmosphere we all are used to.  I kind of liked it.  It provided a dichotomy for the solace of the trail to come.

This race was a run on a pseudo-loop with 5 distinct sections.  The route was 99% trail and was a mixture of flat prairie, rolling hills, horse trails and singletrack.

Ottawa Trails (10 miles) – I started near the front again this year, and it worked out well for me, avoiding the slowing at the timing mat constriction.  All 200+ of us then ran north on Hwy 67 for less than a mile, headlamps bobbing in both directions, before we made an abrupt turn onto the wide Scuppernong trails.  We ran this first section was mainly on continuous, unremarkable rolling hills through a wooded area.  The trails intersected and looped in the dark but were very well-marked.  I had a feeling I should be careful in this section; but with such fresh legs, I felt no hills, running them all.  My breathing and legs remained strong.  I did get off-course once, but lost only a couple of minutes.  As I was getting back on course I had the opportunity to run with Adam, a fellow Navy-man from Chicago (I served in the early 90’s).  This was Adam’s first ultra, and he asked for advice.  I went on with some blather about pace and nutrition; what I should have said was “Enjoy the day Adam, set no goals other than to finish, and be pleased with that finish”.  I did see that you finished Adam.  Well done.  See you next year.

Ice Age Prairie (10 miles) – Following Aid Station-2, as the horizon was getting lighter, we got directed onto some of the greatest singletrack in the Midwest.  The Ice Age Trail is a 1000 mile Wisconsin system that is mostly singletrack, mostly hilly and mostly tranquil, and the Kettle Moraine is the best part of it.  I love this trail.  This was also the time to for me to pick up my pace to about 8:00.  There were 4 of us running this pace, and so we kept each other humming along.  After some more forest hill running, we came out onto miles of flat prairie at sunrise.  Ahhh, beautiful.  The fields were hazed with an overhanging mist, blooming with wildflowers almost to the horizon.  Time to take a deep breath and look around; gifts from God to be appreciated.  Unfortunately, this section went rather quickly due to the scenery and flat trail.  Before we knew it, it was time to get to work!  The fun was about to begin.

McMiller Hills (15 miles) – Out of Aid Station-4 we ran an out-and-back section on some rolling hills.  These hills weren’t lofty, but some were steep, and the downhills tended to be littered with loose rocks.  And the hills kept coming.  I found most runnable, though some I walked out of prudence.  In the past I tended to lose significant time in this section.  Not this year though.  My plan was to run as many of the hills as I could and keep the pace consistent at around 9:00 average pace, and I was able to do that.  Since this section was an out-and-back, we were able to see the front runners pass.  Way cool.  Ian Sharman and another front-runner flew past together.  I did give them a hoot, and Ian returned the favor.  As the runners passed, I did an unscientific count and found I was well in the top 20.  I was also on a 7 hour pace.  Yikes.  I was feeling good, and the last 10 miles of this race is where I am historically strong, so I kept the pace to see what would happen.  When I came into McMiller for the second time though, I was breathing very hard, with a high respiration.  I could not get it under control.  This happened to me at Afton last year in the heat and hills.  What the heck!  I ate a PB&J and took my second electrolyte tablet of the day (maybe I should have been taking more).  I grabbed a Gu and refilled my water bottle (maybe I should have been drinking more).  It was starting to get warm, in the low 70’s, and I did not seem to be handling that well.  And here was a first: I had to wait for a train!  Not very long, but I did enjoy the forced break in the hills.

Scuppernong Horse Trails (10 miles) – Unfortunately the hills did not stop out of McMiller.  I still was unable to catch my breath, and my heart seemed to continue its own race.  This was very frustrating because my legs felt fine.  If I could just breath I could have hammered the remainder of the hills and course.  But it was not to be, and I was losing serious time.  This portion of the race is where the 50-milers joined with 50k and relay racers.  All of a sudden, the trail was full of fresh and talkative runners.  A multi-colored trail of Lycra and smiles.  I was in no mood to talk (or smile), though I tried to be social.  I did meet Mohawk Guy, who was running the 50k at about my pace.  He had the habit of making horsey sounds with his lips on the uphills, which caused me to check my six a couple of times afraid that Seabiscuit was running up my rear.  I was also beginning to cramp up as the temperatures rose.  I never cramp.  Both calves and a quad were giving me fits.  I don’t think I handled my hydration and electrolytes well this race.  It never got above 75 degrees, but I was still feeling it.  As I was getting more discouraged with my uncontrolled respiration, I started seeing turtles.  I do that when I am really fatigued, so I did not freak out.  Weird.  Seabiscuit and I lumbered on, knowing we were almost done.

The Home Stretch (5 miles) – Once the flats started, it was time to pound out a sub 7-minute pace.  But I couldn’t.  I was left to stumble the remainder of the race, with my breathing and heart rate still not in control.  My legs were in great shape, but I could do nothing with them.  Is this a bonk?  I’m not sure what that definition is.  There were a lot of runners on the course that day, but it never seemed like too many.  I continued on with a mixture of 50-mile, 50k and relay runners.  After the final hill, were back onto the pavement of Hwy 67.  I was very glad to be done with this race so I might breath again!

I crossed the finish line in 8:27.  This was a good time compared to my previous races.  It was a PR and an age group win.  But.  I was capable of so much more.  And that is where my lies my disappointment.  I knew I had a sub-8 hr race in my legs, and possibly a top ten finish.  My respiration just would not cooperate.  I had trained harder than ever, with more mileage, stair lunges and core work, and so I expected much better results.  A friend suggested that my respiration issues were classic signs of dehydration.  I did lose almost 10 lbs on the race.  If this is my issue, then I can easily remedy it: drink more.  Duh.  I can try this at my next race: Surf the Murph in October.  See you there!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sunrise to Sunset Race Report: A Mongolian Advenure

This race report has been provided by Mary, who recently returned from a very unique adventure in the landlocked Asian country Mongolia.  She graciously offered this race report.
Why would a person go to Mongolia to run a marathon?  To a country farther away than the Great Wall in China?  Here's why I went.

At least five years ago a running friend told me that he had run this amazing race called the Sunrise to Sunset marathon and 100K in Mongolia ( aka MS2S ).  I checked out the website, was impressed with what the race stood for and determined that I would do it some day.  In the meantime, I managed to run a marathon in Australia and Antarctica and so decided it was time to do the last two continents I had left. Mongolia qualified as the marathon in Asia.

MS2S is more than just a race. It is a cross cultural experience in one of the most pristine parts of the world. It begins at Toilogt camp along the shores of Lake Hovsgol, one of the deepest freshwater lakes in the world, and continues into mountains surrounding the southwestern section of the lake. The run is on single track trails, many of which are used only by horses as well as gravelly roads which are not used that frequently.

The participants gather at Camp Toilogt 3-4 days before the race to acclimatize and for the race organizers (who come from Germany, Switzerland and Shanghai) to execute the event with the help of Erke, the very capable Mongolian camp manager. We stayed in "gers", which are the round movable homes, covered with felt made from sheep fur. These have been the traditional homes of the Mongolian herders/nomads for centuries. You may know the gers as yurts. That is the Russian term for gers. Each ger sleeps 3-4 people. The beds are wooden framed with a comfortable mattress. There is a stove and chimney in the middle of each ger. We were able to have 2 fires a day. The fires were started by camp staff. These fires keep the gers very warm at night-sometimes almost too warm.

To participate in the event it is mandatory to carry an emergency kit which contains rain gear, an emergency blanket, a compass, a whistle, a map of the course, a chocolate bar, an ace bandage, a flashlight or headlamp, water disinfecting tablets, a notepad/pen and 2 small plastic bags, and 1.5 litres of water.  Some of these emergency supplies were provided by the race organizers.  A couple days prior to the race the medical director gave a detailed lecture on accident/injury prevention. He informed the group that in the 14 years of the race there has never been a medical emergency. Each runner was required to fill out a very brief medical history and the medical director reviewed this with each runner as well as their current weight and blood pressure. It was essential to have an excellent prevention program since the area was so remote and there were no medical resources or emergency facilities closer than a four hour drive.

The runners and their families, which totaled about 70, were a very international group representing about 20 countries, in addition to a number of expats who were living mostly in Asian countries. Some of the runners had lots of experience running ultras, but there were a few who were running their first marathon and several also running their first ultra. This was quite a choice for a first marathon. There are many races in Asia and the 100K distance is quite standard, so that is probably one reason for the choice of this distance in addition to the marathon or 42K distance.

Since I was traveling alone I had many opportunities to get to know the runners and enjoyed my conversations with runners from Norway, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the US and a few other countries. There were runners who studied the event with extreme intensity and were familiar with all the energy drinks, supplements, compression garments as well as some of the "newbies" who had never even worn their backpack/hydration pack until the day of the race. Some runners brought their families since there were opportunities for many activities, such as horseback riding, kayaking, swimming in the freezing cold lake, fishing and mountain biking.

Some of the runners helped mark the course. The day before the race was aid station orientation. Some family members or friends had signed up to help as volunteers to assist the local Mongolians who have been helping put this event on for the visitors/runners for 14 years. It was quite interesting to observe as the camp manager and the race directors reviewed locations and supplies to go to the aid stations. It was a wonderful demonstration of foreigners working with indigenous people to put on an event in their community. It was also helpful to have some English speaking people at the aid stations in case we ran into difficulties. Since the aid stations were so far apart, they were a very welcome sight when we finally got to them.
One of the highlights of the days prior to the race was a slide show put on by one of the runners. Marc has done all but one M2MS and has also done many hundreds of miles of biking in the Gobi desert and other parts of Mongolia. His slide show could easily be a documentary on its own. The story of his biking in the Gobi desert was quite unusual. He has biked in Mongolia in the winter as well as summer, so has seen the contrast in the seasons which are quite extreme. The other activity that was unique was the music and dancing program which some of the young staff put on for us the evening before the race. Most of them were kitchen staff so we had seen them as waitresses or cooks. After they served us dinner, they changed into their clan costumes and performed a wonderful array of singing, dancing and musical instrument playing that is typical of the local area. The most unique performance was that of "throat singing" which is singing like I have never heard before. Here is a short movie of what it sounds like: LINKThis program was an excellent distraction from the pre-race nerves that some runners most likely be had.

The race started at 4:30 AM, so wake up call was at 3:00. Breakfast was provided and we had to check in with the race director to show that we had all our emergency supplies. There was much anticipation at the start. The morning was much warmer than expected. All of us were hoping that it wouldn't rain, since we had had almost a daily shower or downpour each day before the race. The race began on a single track trail through a lovely wooded area just beyond the camp and slightly away from the lake. It was hilly enough that the mid pack runners were taking it easy and the back of the packers were walking. The race is perfectly timed because almost all runners were able to see the sun rise over the lake as we were ascending the first long climb, which is 5 KM and an ascent of over 2250 ft. This climb starts at the first aid station which is at 12 KM into the race. The hill was long and gradual and felt like it would never end. After several false summits we arrived at our turn-off from the road which was indicated by a lone horse. There was a green marker there also, but the horse was the giveaway.

The steep decent at this point was so rocky and steep that it was impossible to make up much time going downhill. Following the steep downhill there was a lengthy run along a river, which in the past has been overflowing and the trail has been very muddy. We were lucky this year as this trail was quite dry and grassy, which made the footing a little difficult, but much better than running in mud so deep you could lose your shoe (as in other years.) This area was well marked but since I was running alone, I kept thinking I must be lost because it was taking so long. I had neglected to check at which points the aid stations were!!! So finally when I arrived at the 25.5 KM point I was extremely relieved to find that I had not been lost and that this was the last real aid station. I enjoyed the potatoes, salt and other things they had for us to eat and was on my way.

The 3rd section of the course was by far the most scenic and really quite difficult; even though the climb was not as steep as the first climb; only about 1400 ft. in 4 KM, but about half the trail was a horse trail through very dense forest and the footing was not always very good. It was a little creepy being alone and one had to pay close attention to the markings because it was very easy to go off the trail. Upon arrival at the top I felt like the race was basically over, but then I noticed the extreme downhill. By now I had caught up to a few runners and they were going down the meadow trail quite gingerly. I'm sure the lead runners just flew down this section. At the bottom of the wild flower-filled hillside was the last water stop which was operated by a Mongolian father and his two sons who had come by horseback with the water and then hauled the water the last portion on a motorcycle. (the young son is in the picture with me). This was the section where I was able to get some quite lovely pictures of wild flowers which were in full bloom in the meadow section.

At this point it was only 10K to the finish and it felt like the race was over. This last section was all gravel road with lots of rocks and rolling hills. By now it had also become quite warm and humid, so this added to the challenge. But knowing that I was close to the end I picked up the pace and passed a few runners who had been ahead of me for most of the race. The finish is a short mile around the pond around which we had done some horseback riding and kayaking, so it was quite familiar. And you could see the finish line for at least a mile before getting there. However the cheering of the few spectators was very inspiring. Crossing the finish line was a rather moving experience for me, since it was the culmination of a dream which I had all those years ago. And the mother of the winning woman who is also a nurse and about my age cheered me across the finish and said I had set a good example for "old women". 

The winners of the open female division were 2 young American women who were in the Peace Corp in Mongolia. Neither had run a marathon before and both arrived at the camp the day before the race with family/friends in tow to be their cheering section. They finished the race in a respectable time of 6:16 and crossed the finish line together. The male finisher was a Mongolian who trained with a team in a town about a 4 hour drive away.

The 100K open division was a sweep by the Swiss. A course record was set by Florian, whose 26th birthday was the day of the race. It also just happened to be the Swiss nationally holiday. The women's winner, Vivienne, qualified for Boston this past May in Burlington, VT, but she had never run an ultra. She lives in Shanghai, so didn't do much hill training. She was recruited by one of the race directors and I'm sure he could tell she had the determination to finish an event like this. There were only 3 women who finished the 100K this year.

It was fun to be at the finish, in spite of the rain, which started around dinner time. There were long gaps between finishers, but especially after dusk it was fun to look for the flashlights bobbing along and speculating who the next finisher would be. The last runner finished in 18:10 with a big smile on his face. This is a little past sunset, but the rules are that if a person passes the last aid station at a certain time they are allowed to finish. This finisher was a Japanese man with an interesting story. He started running about 10 years ago when his Dr. told him he was a candidate for a heard attack. He started on a low fat diet and took up running. Within 6 months he had lost 30 lbs and was really enjoying running. He has not looked back since then and was extremely proud to finish his first 100K. He just happens to be 62 years old.

The finisher's t-shirt was cotton, which is chosen to save costs so that more of the profits from the race can be contributed to several projects in the community. But I'm sure it is the only shirt you will ever see with the Mongolian script on the back. It is one that I will always cherish because of the fond memories of all the interesting people I met and the awesome scenery along the course.