Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catching Up With the Running Farmer

I see a couple of weeks has passed since my last musing. The thought crossed my mind to post an update on what has been going on in my world. Certainly the season is changing here from Fall to Winter. All of the fantastic foliage that made trail running a real adventure has gone away. Now all of those leaves are on the trail covering the rocks and roots. One must exercise a bit of extra caution when out and about these days. And the changing of the season brings about more changes other than running. 

Like many of you Thanksgiving was spent with family. For us that meant a trip down to Texas. And a chance to run in a couple of new locations for me. Due to our late departure on Wednesday evening we only got as far as Durant, Oklahoma (around midnight) before pulling over for the night. So Thursday morning I braved the breezy, chilly drizzle to run my very own 8 mile Turkey Trot. From the hotel I found my way to the Northeast Oklahoma State University campus, home of the Savage Storm. Of course campus was all but deserted for the long weekend break. After running around the empty grounds I found Durant High School, home of Lion Pride, and ran some hilly roads there. Then it was on to Dixon Durant Park for a go around the trail before heading back to the hotel. About a half mile out from the Holiday Inn Express I could see that I was gonna be about a quarter mile short of the full 8 miles. Instead of rounding the distance off I turned into the Lowe's parking lot next to the hotel for a lap. Good thing I did as I found a $5 bill just sitting there on the ground. It pays to run. And, honest to goodness, it happened again yesterday. I needed another .5 to get my 6 miles in after running with a buddy and decided to run around some soccer fields across the road from the BV trails. I found a $1 bill this time. It pays to run. The day after Thanksgiving I ran a 6 mile tempo with my niece from Houston. She is a freshman in high school and runs cross country. In her first year of competition she placed top 5 in the district meet and qualified for the regional meet. If she elects to keep running I suspect she will be a big name on the local high school scene. On Saturday I ran solo for 12 miles on the back roads around Corsicana, Texas near my parents home. At one point, while passing in front of the Allison Ranch, a lone coyote took notice of me. The little guy perked up and paced me for maybe 50 yards. He must have been curious, reminded of the scene from one of my favorite movies, Dances With Wolves. Only it was a coyote and not a wolf and I'm not Kevin Costner. Although we are fraternity brothers. Seriously, Delta Chi. However, I don't remember that other guy in the photo above???

With the changing of the seasons new sense of urgency is upon us to complete the fort we are building for the kids out in the woods behind the house. My son's birthday is today and he has a sleepover planned for this weekend and wants to use the fort. This means braving the chilly air and finishing the front wall, installing a front door and steps before Saturday evening. With the forecast for freezing temps and the possibility of precipitation I fully anticipate it becoming an inside sleepover. Nonetheless, I will finish things up and at least get it weather tight before Winter fully settles in around here. I'll keep a couple of tents handy on Saturday that can be set up in the game room if they do indeed decided it is too chilly for outside sleeping. 

Along with the fort comes projects on the farm as Fall fades and Winter rolls around. We have 16 new chicks, pullets now actually, that will require some extra attention during the cold weather. A temporary coop has been arranged for them to provide shelter. And soon we will have to cull out the extra roosters and sell them off. By the Spring we should have close to two dozen layers cranking out the free range eggs we collect and sell. During the Winter egg production will likely fall to about half of what we normally get from the hens. There is firewood to collect for the stove and supplies and equipment that must be moved into storage. There are also inside projects of the "honey do" variety. Yesterday I put an insulating blanket on the water heater. Today I will check a couple of spots up in the attic that likely need an extra layer of insulation to help keep the cold air out. Should be interesting to see how difficult it could be to reach those second floor corners. 

As for running, I have committed to training for the Rocky Raccoon 50 (RR50) down in Huntsville, TX. next February. This will be my first "real" ultra. The Rocky is a longstanding event and I fully expect a great adventure. So far there are two other fellas from these parts registered along with me, Mike Rush and David Newman. Hopefully we can recruit a couple more before registration closes. What this means is plenty of miles that need to be covered over the winter. My plan is a mix of training schedules but will basically consist of 55-65 miles weekly. Doubles or back to back long runs on the weekends will be the focus building up to something like a 30/20 double to ring in 2012 on New Years weekend. During the week I will do one "hot" or tempo run in the 6-7 mile range as part of a longer mid week middle distance run. The other days will be recovery runs in the 6 mile range at easy pace. Speed sessions will be put on hold until March and the approach of the Bentonville Running Festival. I am fortunate to have some veteran ultra runners I can seek advice from and I have already. There are just a couple of details in my race strategy that I need to experiment with during training and I'll have that part nailed down. My diet needs to get back on track as does a more regular sleep pattern. My circadian rhythm has been trashed by attempting to watch previously recorded movies so I can clean up my DVR. To help with the training I have made a few purchases to make the cold weather running more enjoyable. A Brooks jacket, a pair of Salomon tights, Pearl Izumi compression shorts and awaiting my new Saucony Peregrine trail shoes. All that remains is a good pair of gloves once the weather truly turns cold. A little new gear always gets me stoked. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Examination of a DNF

In my last entry I mentioned my first DNF but didn't really offer any insight into what happened. I have had some inquiries from concerned buddies. So I thought I would delve in and see what I could find. Perhaps writing it out may serve some purpose for me. First off, I must say that beyond a bit of disappointment it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I went to the Turkey and TATURS 50k with pretty much one goal in mind. And that was to run a big time PR at that distance. Something in the 90 minute range, around 6 hours. I was also expecting an age group placing and even a top ten overall finish. Allow me to set the stage for you...

I was coming off of a 38 minute PR in the marathon after Twin Cities. I ran that one hard but felt afterwards that I could have gone faster. Not by much, just a little. So I knew my cardio was good to go. I picked TNT a mere four weeks after Twin Cities. In retrospect that seems pretty close together. Lesson #1, check. Note to self, you are not Superman. You are a forty-something year old guy still getting back into consistent running after taking several years off. I used a Hal Higdon "bridge" schedule I found on line as a guide to my training between events. What had started out as as bridge to the Williams 66 Marathon in Tulsa, a 7 week bridge, turned into the 4 week program after some buddies backed out of Tulsa. So what does one do to train in just 4 weeks between a marathon and a 50k? Well, pretty much 2 weeks of recovery and 2 weeks of taper. When I decided on TNT I was beginning week 3 so I had about 12 days left before the 50k. I hit the trails and did a few runs in the 6-8 mile range on some local routes. My longest run during the 4 weeks was a 13 mile road run at the end of the second week. While my trail runs were short I ran them hard and settled in on a pace that would get me my big time PR. And it felt very doable. I was confident...

Perhaps too confident. Lesson #2, check. Note to self, check your ego at the start line. Never take anything for granted. I had pounded the asphalt all summer preparing for Twin Cities and all but abandoned the trails. Specificity of training and all that. Lesson #3, check. Note to self, a few trail runs is not nearly enough, for me, to prepare for a 50k trail run, regardless of my cardio base. I didn't know the course well enough. I assumed that, being so close to home, that the terrain would be largely like it is around here. Wrong! Lesson #4, check. Note to self, know thy course and plan accordingly. This course was much more technical than I anticipated. Sure I read the description on the event website that mentioned something about being technical but, c'mon, it's Tulsa for crying out loud. For all my NWA friends, let me share something with you. If you plan on going over to a TATUR event at Turkey Mountain be prepared or this big ol' hill on the banks of the Arkansas River will kick your ass. Nice, large rocks stuck in the ground, lots of elevation change, from rollers to that steep power line road and lots of leaves to cover those rocky sections. Despite the technical nature I tried to hold my pace. Lesson #5, check. Note to self, technical terrain is more difficult to run. Thus, a slower pace is in order for a long run. I should have been willing to adapt more quickly and realize the big picture for the day. But I just finished a great marathon so how hard could it be to run a little more distance at a slower pace? I began to feel that "thing" about halfway through the race. You know, that feeling of "Oh shit! This is could be a looonng day." But I pushed on. Note to self, revisit Lesson #2. At the turnaround one of my buddies, Christian (who dominated the 10k and set a CR) asked me how I was feeling. I told him my legs were a little tired but I felt good. I lied. By that point I knew it was going to be a grind. However, in true ultra runner fashion I continued on. At the same pace, hoping to push through this low spot. After a few more miles it didn't get better. In fact it only got worse. By this point I knew I was a in trouble. I had managed to more or less keep a steady pace for 22 miles. One that would have given me that huge PR I wanted at the start despite knowing for the last several miles that I was likely writing a check I couldn't cash. And when Turkey Mountain demanded payment that check immediately bounced higher than Robert Downey Jr. on a dime bag and a can of Tiger Blood. Lesson #6, check. Note to self, allow the PRs, medals and trophies to come to you. Go out and run your race and see what happens. 

I can also say, looking back, that I was likely not hydrating or fueling well enough during the run. I can also say that my diet and sleeping habits were not all that great leading up to the race. I had allowed myself to slip after Twin Cities as a sort of reward. Also, I was on my feet all day the day before at the zoo with the kids. A good time but not ideal the day before an ultra. Finally, I had a crappy hand dealt that day. Not every race is gonna be a PR. Some days it simply doesn't happen. Lesson, check. Blah, blah, blah. I really think it boils down to this: I wasn't ready for this race. I hadn't prepared correctly, I was over confident and perhaps not recovered from Twin Cities. I was greedy with my strategy and unwilling to change anything when I realized it simply wasn't my day. I am still a baby when it comes to distance running. I should be thinking of ultras as more of an event and less like a race. I'm not an elite runner. I am, on my best day, a midpack guy when it comes to distances over 13 miles. Here's a post I saw on the Ultra Runner Podcast facebook page a couple of days after my race that sums it up. The question was "What is the best piece of running/ultra advice you ever received?" Melissa Johnson (who won the Vibram beer coasters in this contest) replied:

‎"Don't be greedy." 
"With what? My time, my body, race entries?" I asked. 
The old-timer's response - "With all of it. It takes time to grow in this sport. Earn your place."

So my DNF doesn't really bother me. I went out with one goal in mind and it didn't work out. I decided, with no regrets, to call it a day rather than go through a 7 mile death march to the finish. I didn't have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I had learned my lessons. Over the last two, dreadful miles I covered they all went through my head. I knew the mistakes I had made. I am not upset about it or overly concerned of some inability to cover that distance. Next year I would like to return to Tulsa, prepared and minus the ego, and see what happens. No expectations, just a long run through the woods with a bunch of fun folks. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Turkey & TATURS Race Report

Yesterday a group of Rush Runners convened on Turkey Mountain in the pre dawn darkness to take on the TATUR (Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra Runners) sponsored Turkey & TATURS events. There were two entrants each from our group for the 10k and 25k races and three signed up for the 50k, including me. It was more or less an impromptu group effort I dubbed Team Rush/(479). Turkey Mountain is a great expanse of urban wilderness south of downtown Tulsa that runs along the west side of the Arkansas River. Miles and miles of trails are available and open to hikers, runners, bikers and walkers. The start finish line was at the back of the West Side YMCA parking lot. Not an easy place to find even for folks from Tulsa, like my cab driver. Or Drew, who got lost and showed up as the 50k racers took off down the trail. He still had to check in, get a bib and chip. More on that later...
Jenny Scott celebrating her victory like a champ.
Christian Moore with a $100 smile.

First the story of the 10k. Christian Moore and Jenny Scott boldly through down the gauntlet of announcing their intentions of not merely winning but setting course records in the process. Jenny was a bit reluctant to join us at first so the pot of enticement was sweetened. As if it is not enough to hang out with us for the day? So Drew made an offer to cover the entry fee in return for half the winning pot if she claimed victory. I added a dozen farm fresh eggs delivered weekly for the rest of the year if she won and set a new CR. She took the bait. So all Jenny did was go out and win the the women's division (beating the second place gal by 8 seconds) and in doing so set a new CR, eclipsing the existing record by just under a minute. Christian blazed to glory crushing the men's CR and his competition. Eleven minutes before the next guy crossed the line. Are you serious? And it was the first time either won a cash prize. Congrats to you both on a dominating duo. Here is the newly posted current CR times from the TATUR website:
10K Men's - 42:32 (6:51 pace)  - Christian Moore- 2011
10K Women's - 56:03 (9:02 pace) -  Jenny Scott- 2011

David enjoying the post race prize.

On to the 25k event with David Smith and Michael Harris representing the (479). Both David and Michael were out there to have fun and enjoy the adventure. Michael ran a super solid race finishing top ten overall and second in his division with a sub 3 hour effort. When I passed him going out for my second circuit he looked like he was having a good time. David Newman also ran a sub 3 hour time placing him in the top fifteen overall and fourth in his age group. David is training for a marathon next month back in Alabama and was convinced to run the 25k trail race in place of a scheduled long road run. Glad he made the trip over the Tulsa with us. 

As for the 50k, well, stuff happens. OK, back to Drew. It's maybe 15 minutes before the start and he and Jenny are no where to be seen. Christian got him on the phone and Drew is somewhere in the darkness with no idea of where to go. Like I mentioned, not an easy place to find, even with GPS. So all of us 50k runners line up for the start. Drew comes tearing into the parking lot. Door flies open on the pimpalicious red Beamer and Drew pours out half dressed. As I pass him I yelled out "I'm beating Drew Conner, Muhahahha!" I'm sure that made him feel better. I felt pretty confident heading into this one. After all, I had set a significant marathon PR at Twin Cities last month and won my first race (a two miler) two weeks after that. In the four weeks in between the marathon and 50k I had managed to get some decent trail time in my training. My expectations for TATUR was a huge PR for the distance, place in my age group and possibly a top ten overall finish. I had Hugo Mendez (of Inca Runners) with me and even though we had not discussed and strategy I figured we would be good to go together for most of the race. At the Hobbs Tail Twister 50k this past summer we ran several miles together. Each pushing the other as needed, until I took off about mile 20 or so, only to have Hugo roll by as I sat at the last aid station (mile 28) crapped out. It took me almost an hour to muster enough energy and will power to get up and finish that one. I had picked out a pace time for me I thought I could hold. One that would give me that big PR, a good chance of placing in my age group and a crack at the top ten overall.  In a nutshell the course, in my opinion, was well marked. One of the TATUR members went out a couple of hours before the start, in the dark, to check all of the markings. Also, in my opinion, the course was tougher than I expected. Overall it is a great course due to the diversity of trails. Sections of very runner friendly single track, very little paved stuff, a portion of power line "road" (steep) and some pretty wicked technical sections complicated by the camouflage of recently fallen leaves. It was the technical stuff that threw me off. I found it harder to keep pace in these sections. Duh! I hit every aid station stopping for a moment, chatted with the volunteers, grabbed a couple of fig newtons or pretzels and to refill my handheld before taking off. I used a gel every hour along with a S! Cap and was taking in what I thought was enough fluid. By mile 13 I started to feel my quads and my right foot getting sore. Right under the arch. Brief visions or a grind began to invade my head. At the turnaround I'm pretty sure I entertained the thought of inquiring about switching to the 25k and calling it a day. I loaded a packet of Orbana energy drink into my handheld and began my second circuit of the 25k course (in reverse). The technical section right after the turnaround was tough for me. My legs were feeling pretty dead. I thought if I could slog through it perhaps the pendulum might swing the other way before too long. It didn't. I suffered a sweet wipe out about mile 18, banging my knee and busting my hand, but worst of all, tweaking my back. I was pissed. I pushed through to mile 22 before giving in and taking an extended walk break. I then alternated running and walking for nearly two more miles before a TATUR runner came up behind me. He stopped and chatted with me for a moment to check on me. He said the next aid station was a couple of miles away. I decided then I was done. I didn't care to begin a 10 mile death march. I found a nice, big flat rock and spread out on it flat on my back. Felt good. A few minutes later a fella came walking down the trail He was a volunteer at the next aid station. Only about a quarter mile up the trail. So I walked in with him. Sat down (yes, I know) and explained my situation. I asked for 15 minutes to sit, drink and eat before officially dropping or continuing on. After my break there was no spark so I dropped and was given a ride to the finish. Same old usual suspects, out a bit too fast pace wise, not enough fluids (pretty dehydrated), bonked from too little calories taken in, underestimating the course and perhaps overestimating my readiness. 
Drew, maybe you could have gone faster with shoes?

Hugo, the Iron Man performance of the day.

So back to the finish I went where I was able to see my wife and kids. It was so nice to have them there and get some hugs when needed. I grabbed the cooler of beer and headed over to the gang. Where was Drew? Nobody had seen him finish yet. He passed me about mile 3 or so, prancing up the hill like a deer on his way to chase down the leaders after his late start. Again I saw him a couple miles before my turnaround. He was maybe a quarter mile behind the leader and his pace looked great. While I was at the AS where I dropped I saw Drew about that same distance behind the leader coming up the power line section. That would have been about mile 27 or 28 for them. By the time I got a ride to the finish a couple of guys had already finished the 50k. Long story short, Drew took a wrong turn near the top of the power line section. About three miles into the turn he realized his mistake. Back tracked, found an aid station and ran in with another 50k runner for 7th place overall. Total distance for him was 60k in under 6 hours. Hugo was perhaps a half mile or so ahead of me before I ran into trouble. My son and I went down to the trail head to wait for Hugo to come out of the woods. As he did we cheered him on, passed out some high fives and rejoined our group. Hugo grinded out the last several miles for a PR of thirty minutes. He then swore off ever doing that course again. 

As for me, you can tell I am all tore up about my first DNF. I look at it as a bad day out on the trail. And that beats a good day sitting on your can in front of the TV. I got to hang with some cool people, run some sweet trail, have a cold beer, celebrate some CRs, get dirty and stinky, fall down, have some laughs and enjoy some time with my family. We spent Saturday at the Tulsa Zoo, the kids got to go swimming at the hotel before bedtime and again after breakfast and then had fun on the playground at the YMCA. Oh yeah, around midnight on Saturday we got to experience the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma history. 

TATUR put on a good event with fantastic volunteers. I look at them as a big group of folks that just enjoy running and sharing that gift with others. Will I seek redemption next year? Dunno. What I will do is once again file away the lessons learned into my runner's toolbox. Determine what needs to be tweaked and set about to correct those flaws. And I'll be looking for the next adventure for Team Rush/(479). Congrats to everyone and thanks for being a part of the fun.