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.