Monday, December 10, 2012

Hay in the Barn

This coming Saturday will be a big step forward for me in my slow recovery from the stress fracture. On that morning I will be on the top of a mountain in Chattanooga, TN toeing the line for the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Race put on by Rock Creek Outfitters. I'll have some good company as a few other NWA Goats will be making the trek as well. This will be the most challenging course I have tackled to date for an ultra. Athens Big Fork is a tougher course but that is a marathon distance race. Butterfield Trail at Devils Den is tougher too but only 16 miles in length. This is basically a 23 mile loop down and back up the mountain and then a second, separate 27 mile loop down and up the other side. Throw in some water crossings, spectacular scenery and 6,400 ft of vertical and it will be a challenging day. I am using this not so much as a focus race but more of an adventure. And on that notion I should share that this will be the first time that I will be posting via Twitter and Facebook my race progress. The plan is for all of us NWA Goats to give some updates during the race. My goal is a finish time under 11 hours. That would allow me an average pace of 13+ minutes per mile. I plan on going out very mellow (as much as 8 miles of downhill will allow) and enjoying a day out on the trails with at least 300 other runners. My focus race is still RR50 with a goal of going sub 9 hours there. The big question is which Goat will go sub 8 minute pace on the downhill and trash his quads leading to a miserable back half?

After a final tough training run this past Sunday a buddy mentioned "the hay is in the barn". For those of you uninitiated to the Southern vernacular that means what done is done and there is nothing more that a person can do to prepare for something. Now we wait and see.

The thought occurred to me... what is it that I have in the barn anyway? I decided to analyze. I went from two months of no running (post fracture) to cycling, to walking/hiking, to jogging and by late Spring I was running again. In March I cycled a little over 100 miles. There was no running. In April I rode 200+ miles and got in about 20 miles of running (120 in 2011). In May it was nearly 200 miles on two wheels and 45 miles of running (155 in 2011). Then I started back in earnest with 180 miles running in June (130 in 2011) and 190 in July (135 in 2011). I purposefully cut back in the heat of August and logged 130 miles (150 in 2011). I managed 155 miles in September (150 in 2011), 175 in October (140 in 2011) and 200+ in November (185 in 2011). 

As my mileage has gone up my average pace per mile has slowly improved. I began incorporating some "speed" work into my training. It started with strides (10-20 seconds) at 10k-5k pace during shorter runs. I also threw in some tempo runs of 6-10 miles once a week or so. And twice during the last two months I have included a week in which everything I did was fast (at least for me). During those weeks I would cut back about 30% on my total mileage but run every mile with intensity. For me that meant half marathon pace or better if on the road and sub 10 minute miles on the trails. And as always, I make an effort to finish all of my training runs with some kick over the closing mile or two.

That training block has included some monster runs in the Grand Tetons, some PRs at half mary, 25k and 50k distances, a memorable trek along the Ozark Highlands Trail, a return to Lake Wedington and plenty of good times with some good folks. Looking at the numbers I can see the work that has been done. What I like most is the consistency I have been able to get over the last few months. More than anything I believe that will pay off. Now it is taper week and my question is does 50 miles last week count as a proper taper? And that makes me feel pretty good about where things are at currently. Saturday should be interesting. I expect some highs and lows, plenty of smiles and some good stories. Hope your training is going well and that you are healthy and strong. 


Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkins, Turtle Heads & Pickle Juice My Pumpkin Holler Race Report

For months I have been making baby steps forward in my recovery from a couple of injuries. And it has been that long since my last ultra. February and Rocky Raccoon to be exact. The comeback was intentionally slow and methodical. With plenty of work put in over the summer to begin building my base back up and a number of good runs and tune up races during training it was time for a big step forward. It was time to "get off the pot". In the last week I ponied up and put my name in the hat for the Pumpkin Holler 50k. This is the second year for this event near Tahlequah, OK. on the J. T. Nickel Preserve. Race day once again included the 50k, 100k and 100 mile options and this year a 25k was thrown into the mix.

The Bridge from Camp Eagle over the Illinois River to the Nickel Preserve (photo property of TATUR)

I really didn't have much of a taper. I did cut my mileage a bit over the last week but kept the intensity the same. And to complicate matters I started fencing lessons with my son the week before which included about 40 minutes of plyometrics (squats and lunges) three nights before the race. On Friday I actually found myself getting nervous. The idea was to use this much more as a long training run and not a focus race. But I have problems accepting that theory. I always have. I guess I'm too competitive. I had to remind myself that my longest training runs had been 16, 17, 20 and 22 miles and those were weeks ago. I also planned on incorporating a 25/5 plan of run/walk that I intend to use at Lookout Mountain.

The course is run mostly on rocky, dirt roads with a short asphalt section in the middle. There are plenty of rolling hills and a few bigger ones along the way. Fellow NWA Goat, David RTR Newman, was along for a go at the Holler. Always good company. Both of us were using this as training for the Lookout Mountain 50 miler due in December. So in the predawn darkness we found ourselves driving the back roads over to Oklahoma. I was fueled up well with a cup of oatmeal, some organic yogurt (with Udo's Oil) and a piece of toast with an egg and a smear of hummus. We arrived at Camp Eagle to join hundreds of others for a day of fun (and some cursing too) with friends, both old and new. Race day forecast was a low in the upper 30s and a high of 80 degrees. That last number had me worried. Thinking about it in my head, the smart thing to do would have been to go out very mellow and then if things felt good at the halfway point, turn it up a notch and see what happens.

A typical stretch of Pumpkin Holler (photo property of TATUR)
It was damn chilly as we removed layers and made final preparations. The sun peeked over the horizon just before the Trail Zombie began the race by smashing a pumpkin on the ground. And with that we were off and down the road. Three runners made a quick dash across the Illinois River and were out of sight in short order. I found myself in a rather large group settled in behind the leaders. It appeared that some folks were moving faster than they wanted in an attempt to warm up. I just wanted to find a more or less comfortable pace and keep it there. Since I despise having too much clothing while running I went with a singlet and shorts only. No gloves, long sleeves, jacket, trash bag, tights or what have you. And for the first few miles I was cold. I did have a pair of arm sleeves I was using. Much less for any protection from the cold but instead to have somewhere to carry my gel flasks since I like to have my hands free. And I don't like fuel belts either. I carried a 20 oz water bottle, 2 x 5 oz EFS Liquid Shots from First Endurance and a Vespa. That's it. No extra gels, electrolyte tablets or other fuel sources.

I skipped my first walk since I was still warming up. About 30 minutes down the road I was nestled in between two groups by myself when I heard footsteps behind me. Like right behind me. It was David. He normally doesn't run this pace so I had to ask. 

"What the hell are you doing?"
"Dude, I'm freaking cold. I'm gonna pay for this pace later on."

So we kept each other company until the first aid station. My plan was to be in and out quickly. No messing around, I want to make it a habit of being efficient. I already knew what I wanted there, water only in the bottle and if fresh fruit was on the table, grab a little. No cookies, PB&J, candy or chips. My plan worked. I was through the aid station in short order and passed a handful of folks that were slower making the transition. That pattern would last all day with one exception. I kept my Garmin on auto-pause and was only stopped for about 8 minutes total on the day. Not too bad. Over the next hour I slowly reeled runners in and passed them on the course or at aid stations. Several miles into the race there was a short out and back section. At the turn I was able to see that I was indeed in the top ten overall. I simply had to maintain it for 3+ more hours. I told myself, just kept moving steadily forward and don't waste time. From there on I would try to keep count of the runners around me. For midpack folks like me a chance at cracking the top ten doesn't come along every day. I wanted to do it. So much for a long training run. True story, Thursday night before the race I was driving home and saw a magnificent bluish shooting star in the western sky. I wished for a top ten finish.

Watch your step here (photo property of TATUR)

Shortly after that out and back the course turned into the wind and wound along mostly exposed road. The sun was in full effect and the temp was quickly rising along with it. I knew being steady on this long stretch would be important. By now the leaders were long gone and the group of us behind them found ourselves getting more and more stretched out. A guy in a green shirt and I had been within spitting distance of each other all morning so I introduced myself. His name is Matt and he lives near Tulsa. He had run the race last year and told me about a spectacular blow up due to going out too fast. He was determined not to make the same mistake this year. I suggested we keep each other honest for a while. So we did.

That's about right

I eventually pulled away as we hit one of the big hills. I got up it faster and true to fashion let my feet go coming down the other side. I picked up plenty of positions doing that throughout the day. I've been practicing my downhill speed all summer which was previously a liability for me. About two hours into the race and between aid stations I found a need for a pit stop. And not the easy water the dirt kind either. Mine would require "accessories" if you know what I mean. The leaves were too small around here. Does the term "turtle head" mean anything to you?

"Where in the hell is that next aid station?"

More Pumpkin Holler real estate (photo property of TATUR)

At mile 17 it appeared. And there wass Edward in his tie-dye shirt ready to help. Not with the turtle head issue but my water bottle. I passed my bottle to him and headed straight for the port-o-pot. Thanks for the help Edward, much appreciated. Back to the other issue, I think it was triplets. And for the record cheap toilet paper and sweaty butts do not mix well. I had no idea how many folks may have passed during my unplanned and extended break. It felt like I was in there for 10 minutes. I had heard runners coming through. I had no idea what the count was now. I sprinted to the table and grabbed a cup of soda and some banana. I saw some yellow fluid in a cup and saw Gatorade bottles. Gatorade sounded kinda good. I'll take that. Gulp! Uh oh, what the *@#$ was that? The gag reflex instantly kicked in but not before some of the pungent liquid made it's way down my gullet. The remainder ended up on the ground after being forcefully rejected. The nice lady manning the table looked disgusted. Pickle juice? Who the #!@% drinks that crap? Friendly suggestion, maybe we shouldn't have the pickle juice right next to the Gatorade?

No, it doesn't

Leaving the aid station I knew my hopes of going sub 5 hour were slim to non existent as the pickle juice and turtle head incident had sucked some life force from my soul. The next several miles which included the 4 miles of pavement were uneventful for the most part. The asphalt is a chance to make up some time but I didn't have it in me today. I finally caught up with the guy who had been in front of me for an hour at the table rock aid station. He looked beat. I picked his brain and asked the volunteers about the next couple of runners in front of us. It sounded as though I was in good shape for a top ten but I wanted to stay in front of this cat here just to make sure. I knew there were plenty of hills in the next stretch. Again, I told myself to keep steady and move forward. But I was starting to fight some demons. My feet and legs were beginning to ache and my stomach was going south. Not a surprise given the unseasonable temperature for the day. I could feel the first twinges of acid reflux kicking in. If I moved too fast my guts would tighten up. I moved well for a couple of more miles before the wheels began to wobble. Miles 24-29 were quite ugly. My pace really slowed down and my 25/5 plan which I had pretty much stuck to all day at times felt more like a  5/5 plan. Physically I was not 100% and mentally I was having issues as well.

I finally decided during mile 28 that perhaps an extended walk would help settle things down and allow some time to muster reserves for a push to the finish. I committed to it and began to walk with a purpose. I gave myself 8 minutes to work it out. Five minutes into it the guy from the last aid station passed me. I stuck to my 8 minute break. I watched him as he passed me and moved down the road. He was moving pretty good. Would I have enough to catch him once I began running again? Making up 2 minutes in two miles seemed like a tough task. My time was up and I began running again, the pace seemed OK. The guy in front of me was within sight. In my mind I attached the hook to him and began to reel him in. But it seemed too slow. Then he broke. He stopped running and began a slow walk. That was all I needed. I could smell the barn and picked it up. I made up the gap quickly and slapped him on the back as I passed. I tried to encourage him to pick it up, that we were almost done. He couldn't find the mojo in the moment though. I managed another 9 minute split as I crossed the river again and wound through the camp ground to the finish. As I approached I heard the voice of fellow NWA Goat, Shannon McFarland, over the PA giving me a shout out. I finished strong but wasn't sure about a top 10 yet.

Pumpkin Holler 50k elevation chart (Garmin 305)

It's always good to hear a familiar voice during a race. Jody McFarland gave me a couple of shouts during the race as she drove by along the course. At my first ultra nobody was more jacked up for my finish than Shannon was. Two weeks ago I paced him a short while during his podium finish at the Arkansas Traveler 100. High fives from him and RD Stormy Phillips as I crossed the finish line. After a quick check I found I finished in 9th place overall and a 30+ minute PR for the 50k distance. I have to be happy with that despite any mistakes I may have made. And just 10 minutes later David rolled in to claim 12th and 1st Old Guy. Get this, he PR'd by well over a full hour. He didn't have to pay the piper on this day. He's crafty. Stellar effort bro and I couldn't be more happy for my running buddy.

TATUR, as always, knows how to do ultra races. Thanks to Stormy, TZ, Brian, Edward and all the volunteers. Thanks to Camp Eagle for opening the facilities to us. The showers on site were very nice to have even if the water smelt like rotten eggs. All in all it was a good day. I have a solid feel for where I am at now and how much more work is needed for Lookout Mountain and a WS100 qualifier. Not that I would run WS100. I'm not stupid. 

By the numbers:
Time 5:21:27
9th place overall and 6th male
31.25 miles (Garmi 305)
Brooks Defyance 3 (road shoes)
2 Vespa
10 oz EFS Liquid Shot
1 turtle head
2 pieces of toilet paper stuck in my keester
.25 seconds, the amount of time to reject the pickle juice
3, the number of times we witnessed the yellow lab head pop above the river bank
1 dead possum

For more information on this race and all things TATUR visit their website here.

*Note: Immediately following my finish I downed a serving of Ultragen from First Endurance. It packs 320 calories and 20g of protein. I then made quick work of another protein drink that had 25g and about 300 calories. I am surprised at how good I felt the next day considering the effort I put in at the race. I had used Ultragen a few times while running in the Tetons this summer with good results there too. At this point I am sold on the stuff. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Arkansas Traveler Pacing Report

"I just got a text from Jody. She says Shannon just left the aid station at mile 32 and is still in first place."

Last week I was asked to pace a fellow NWA Goat at the Arkansas Traveler 100. I have never paced anyone before and his commitment to run 100 miles is a big deal. I must admit that there was hesitation on my part. What if I screwed things up somehow? I had already read Tim Long's series on how to be a pacer but doubts were there. Shannon and I have run together before and we know each other pretty well. On one hand that is all the more reason not to foul things up and on the other hand all the more reason to help him out. Shannon really encouraged me in my training for my first ultra and nobody was more excited to see me slog out a finish there than he was. It was time to give back. 

A rough outline of the details was worked out over lunch one day with a group of Goats. After cussing and discussing the plan I was ready to pick him up at the Powerline aid station (mile 48) and stay with him through the turnaround and back to Powerline (mile 68) and hand him off to his last pacer, David. He estimated he would arrive at Powerline between 3:00 and 4:00 that afternoon. We decided that if I arrived an hour early that would allow wiggle room and plenty of time to prepare on site. It's a 3 hour drive to the race course from Bentonville so an 11:00am departure was set. I was to meet David at his house and we would caravan down to Lake Sylvia together since I had to leave as soon as I was finished. 

At 11:00am sharp I rolled into his driveway. We were visiting for a minute when he got the text message. We already knew that Shannon was in first overall and moving a little faster than expected but a quick calculation of the math and we knew we had to boogie. To complicate matters I had to get gas as I my truck was running on fumes. And I was to pick up a Rush Running team jersey from a buddy to wear on the course. David offered to pick up the jersey (thanks Ryan, I'll get it washed, dried, folded and back soon) while I gassed up the F150 and we would catch up with one another on the interstate. After $75 in 87 octane I hit the road southbound. We weren't allowing any grass to grow under our feet. For those of you local, we made the stretch from Walton and Central to the Lake Fort Smith exit off I540 in 60 minutes. Jody continued to give us updates on Shannon's progress.

We continued the frantic push towards Williams Junction until we made the turn off of Hwy 9 and I realized that we would not catch him at Powerline. Fail #1. We dropped David's car off at the finish and he jumped in with me. We found a large tent up the hill from the finish and asked for directions to the next aid station. The old timer inside had a large detailed map of the forest service roads. It looked like the normal route would have taken us over 20 more miles of muddy, rocky roads. David figured out a short cut that eliminated a few miles but involved rougher roads. Let's go. I'm pretty sure there were a few rooster tails made along the route. 

The Copperhead Road aid station (mile 52) finally appeared ahead of us and I quickly found a parking spot along the road (in the ditch) and rushed to get ready. Jody was waiting there and seemed happy to see us. We had not been able to communicate with her about missing at Powerline due to no phone signal. I was advised that Shannon was about 5 minutes out. Shoes on, gels packed, bottle filled, packet of organic baby food consumed and port-o-potty visited. Shannon rumbled into the turn, refilled his bottle, grabbed a handful of potatoes and off we went down the muddy road. No wasted time. 

I felt I should take an inventory of sorts and began asking him questions about the race so far. 
"How do you feel?"
"What are you eating"
"How is your hydration going?"
"Any blisters, chaffing or hot spots?"
"Tell me about your pace."
All systems were go according to Shannon. He said he felt solid, no complaints and that he couldn't believe he was in the lead. No low points, no real aches or pains. He mentioned something about being out of his mind and the planets aligning just right. I knew he had gone out fast. He knew he had gone out fast. Too fast? Who knows. Time would perhaps tell. The conditions were good, cool and cloudy. A nice sized group had run together in the lead pack through the second aid station at Browns Creek about mile 12 before Shannon went off the front to take sole possession of the lead. So at this point he had been running alone for 40 miles. We had no idea how much of a lead he had. Now I was faced with a decision that I did not share with Shannon. Do I try to slow him down a bit with the purpose of saving something for the final push to the finish in the dark through Rocky Gap or do we just roll with it and see how long this ride can lasts?

While training for my first ultra Shannon and I did a couple of runs together out at Hobbs. I recalled him telling me to "take what the trail gives you". That thought struck me as I mulled the situation over in my mind. I realized at this point that the finish would be tough for him, he likely had gone out too fast for too long. But there was a chance for him to do something really special if the planets stayed aligned for him. So I just chatted with him some more to try and feel him out, to see where his mind was at in all of this. As the banter bounced back and forth I knew what to do. The strategy would be to gently push him and see what happens. At the turnaround we would have a better idea of how things stood. All of this took place during the 5.5 mile stretch from Copperhead Road to the Turnaround. As we reached the turn I pulled ahead and filled his bottle for him. He grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich. Again, in and out quickly. About a minute out on the return leg we knew it was gonna be tight. 

Robert "PoDog" Vogler was moving towards us. And moving well. In September he completed the Grand Slam and is the defending champ at the Traveler. The dude definitely has some skins on the wall. What happened when we got within shouting distance was unexpected. PoDog starting pumping his fists in the air and became Shannon's biggest cheerleader. The guy was genuinely stoked that Shannon was ahead of him. How cool is that? Memorable. But I knew having the PoDog right behind you with 43 miles to go was a tough pickle to chew. Just keep moving forward. Within a couple of miles he pulled up within sight of us and simply stayed there. That's when I told my runner that no matter what happens he needed to run his own race. We knew that first place was unlikely at this point. We had also passed the runner in third place and he looked to be moving along well enough too. We had about 10 minutes on him by my calculations. That was the one I was worried about. Just keep moving steadily forward. 

As we approached the top of the hill for the return to Copperhead Road PoDog jetted up to us. Again he cheered Shannon and congratulated him on recently getting married. We did the same for his Grand Slam this year. After that PoDog made a comment about it being a great day for a run out in the woods and shot off like a bullet. The battle would now be for second place and I wanted my buddy to get it. Again, quickly through the aid station and on to the next. I did notice Shannon slowing a bit through this section. I tried to pull him up some hills, just gently pushing the pace. A few times he responded and moved steadily and a couple of times he stayed back. I sensed he was beginning to feel the pain. I tried to pull a Jedi mind trick to get him pumped up as we got close to the next aid station. 

"Do you think you can get second place today?"
"I am getting second place."

Now that's an answer you wanna hear. About a mile from Powerline he gained a second wind of sorts and moved quite well down the hill, our fastest pace of the day. This was encouraging. As we skidded into the tents I found David and did my best to relay all the information I had gained while Jody helped crew for Shannon and get him ready to push on to Lake Sylvia. I was worried that as darkness fell, the miles accumulated and the course got back to the technical singletrack that Shannon might have a tough go of it and slow down. If they could just keep moving steadily I felt he would be hard to catch. As it turns out Thomas Chapin caught them at the Rocky Gap aid station (mile 87). Shannon fought hard to take some time back by Pumpkin Patch (mile 94) but in the end there wasn't enough left in the tank for a comeback. From what David tells me there simply wasn't anything left to give. Shannon left it all out there. I have little doubt about that. Bummed. 

As I get older (and hopefully wiser) I appreciate more and more the opportunity to recognize the achievements of those close to me. Even better is an opportunity to play some sort of role in making special things happen. I had that chance in July with my buddy Hugo at the Inca Runners Ultrarunning Camp at Grand Teton. I was fortunate to have another chance at the Traveler. I'm very proud of the performance Shannon had. It is the culmination of lots of hard work, early mornings and sacrifice. I consider myself fortunate to have been asked to pace and it is an experience that I will not forget. Congrats to PoDog for a tremendous run and another victory at the Traveler. Kudos to Thomas for his effort in nailing down a solid second place finish. As for Ewe Turn, nice work my friend. If you have a go at it again next year I would consider it an honor to pace you one more time. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Scoop October 1 - 7

Rest day as I required recovery from a weekend of traveling, microbrew consumption, a bevy of kids sporting events and my 25th high school reunion.

Blowing Springs
11 miles ~ 1,000' vertical
1h45m @ 10:12 pace
A regular Tuesday morning run with The G-Unit but the dude was feeling it today. He made me work some. Good to see a running buddy on the mend find a new gear.

6 miles ~ No vertical
47m33s @ 8:39 pace
Just wanted to blow some cobwebs off with another road effort. I plan on incorporating some road grinds into my training as I ramp up the weekly mileage totals. I find this allows my body a break from the demands of the trail and helps me feel fresher as the mileage builds. Plus I was short on discretionary time today. I dropped my wife's car at the dealer for service and ran to a lunch meeting with fellow NWA Goats. It was a kick off for our guys running the Arkansas Traveler 100 the following weekend. 

Crystal Bridges 
8 miles ~ 600' vertical
1h16m @ 10:13 pace
Ran around the museum trails and a bit on Slaughter Pen near Cub and NE A Street. The plan was to cover some smoother trail at a slightly casual pace since I was now pacing at the Traveler in two days. 

More rest, saving the pegs and glycogen for the Traveler tomorrow.

Ouachita National Forest - Lake Winona Area
16 miles ~ 1,200' vertical
2h50m @ 10:39 pace
The plan was to drive down and meet my runner at the midway point and pace him for 20 miles. Only he decided to run completely out of his mind and blow through that aid station more than an hour ahead of schedule and in first place overall. We caught up at the next stop and moved steadily from mile 54 through 70. Arkansas stud PoDog Vogler made the pass for the lead at mile 62 but I delivered my boy safely back into Powerline in a solid second position. Read more about the adventure in my blog. 

Blowing Springs
11 miles ~ 1,000' vertical
1h55m @ 11:00 pace
I looked at this as a chance for a weekend double of sorts and kept things at a relaxed pace, just wanted to stay easy and move forward. It was a late night Saturday returning from Central Arkansas and I was a bit tired. Good way to end a good week. 

50 miles ~ 3,800' vertical
8h36m @ 10:21 pace
It has been a while since my last 50 mile week. Pumpkin Holler 50k is in two weeks and I feel ready to put in a solid performance there. After that I begin a focused increased in training for Lookout Mountain in December. Physically I feel good, nothing out of sorts, just a couple of normal aches here and there. I have slacked off on my diet (a bad thing) but at least I realize that and can make the needed adjustments. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Weekly Scoop Sept 24-30

Monday 9/24
Rest day

Tuesday 9/25
Blowing Springs 10 miles
10:39 pace ~1,000' vertical
Total time 1h47m
Two laps of the big loop in opposite directions

Wednesday 9/26
Bark Park Lake BV Loop 7 miles
8:29 pace ~ Negligible vertical
Total time 59m
Dusted off the old road pegs, cool, overcast morning and I was low on time so I went kinda fast, felt great. From the Bentonville Bark Park to Lake BV, two laps and return. 

Thursday 9/27
Blowing Springs 8 miles
10:39 pace ~ 850' vertical
Total time 1h25m
Big loop and then the inside track in return. 

Friday 9/28
North Bentonville Trail 3 miles
7:39 pace ~ No vertical
Total time 22m
Really short on time, had a plane to catch in Branson at lunchtime. Fast splits. 

Saturday 9/29
Dupage Co. Main Stem Trail 8 miles
8:22 pace ~ <250' vertical
Total time 1h7m
Busy suburban multi-use trail full of folks making final preps for the Chicago Marathon. Really crisp, sunny morning, negative split the final 3 miles @ 8:05, 7:55 and 7:35. 

Weekly Totals:
36 miles in 5h41m, faster pace than normal with all the paved/flat miles and not much vertical. Have 3 weeks until PH50k and things are coming together nicely. No Sunday run or long run this week due to travel. That and an excess of beer from the Lake Bluff Brewing Co. on Saturday at my LFHS Class of 1987 reunion. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Weekly Scoop Sept 17-23

Off day but I did a 20 minute core routine

Blowing Springs 5.25 miles @ 10:31 pace
55m total time and 500' of vertical gain

Red Dirt Roads 3.5 miles @ 8:54 pace
31m total time and several short hill strides thrown in

Blowing Springs 5.7 miles @ 10:18 pace
59m total time and 600' vertical gain

Off day, just rested up

Hobbs State Park Pigeon Roost Trail
17.5 miles @ 10:51 pace
2h58m total time and 1,900' vertical gain

Blowing Springs 7.5 miles @ 11:20 pace
1h25m total time and 500' vertical gain

Weekly totals:
40 miles @ 10:30 pace
7h05m total time and 3,700' ft vertical gain

I backed off the pace a bit on the hill strides mid week, hitting 10k pace instead of the 5k pace I did last week. Why? I don't foresee using 5k speed for any ultras. Gotta keep the big picture in mind. Saturday was a great run, a good confidence booster. I fueled with 3 gels and water only during a 3 hour run and my energy level was steady throughout. I did feel some fatigue creep in the last couple of miles but I had put in a tough effort so I wasn't surprised at that. I did have a Vespa before the run and a pretty good breakfast. I have been trying to eat more healthy fats (EFAs) like Udo's Oil and coconut oil. That morning I had a yogurt w/ Udo's and a slice of whole grain bread w/ coconut oil on it. The point is to determine if the increased consumption of EFAs will provide a steady energy source for long runs and help with recovery. I also employed a 25/5 run/walk ratio on the Saturday run. First time I have tried that. I wanted to see how incorporating some regular walk breaks would influence my overall pace and how I felt during and after the run. I have to admit that I like it. My overall pace stayed right in the wheelhouse and I was able to really run much of the course. In fact, I flew down most of the downhill sections. My legs felt OK the next day and I attribute that to two things, the walking and the Ultragen. I continue to be impressed with the difference the Ultragen makes in decreasing the muscle soreness after long runs. My legs may have felt OK but my glutes were another story. I walked with a purpose on my breaks Saturday and used muscles I'm not usually working. I kept the walking pace quick even on the uphill sections. So far I continue to give a thumbs up to Ultragen and ProBars (raw, vegan friendly whole food bars) and I like the new run/walk ratio. I know I will have to use that at Lookout Mountain in December.
The PF tenderness all but went away quickly. No more issues. The shin continues to have a slight twinge in it at times. I continue to regularly stretch, roll and stick any spots that need attention. I also started doing little sessions of footwork to strengthen my feet and lower leg stabilizers. The sort of stuff that ballet dancers do. It's easy and can be done while watching a movie. Hopefully this will help out. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weekly Scoop Sept 9-15

Not that anyone out there is truly interested in what my training is like but it helps me to put it down. That way I get a better perspective of things.

Monday 9/10
Off day. I did a core strength routine for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday 9/11
An important day for me. A day that led me back into public service for several years following the attacks in NYC. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. So I ran 9.11 miles at a 9:11 pace. Nice.

Wednesday 9/12
Off day and another core workout.

Thursday 9/13
5 miles at Blowing Springs with 500 ft of vertical at 10:30 pace.

Friday 9/14
Off day, went for a short walk with the family after dinner.

Saturday 9/15
Hobbs State Park, GOAT run, 24 miles at a casual pace in the steady rain. Total time on the move came in at 4 hours and 59 minutes. Right at 1,800 ft of vertical gain. Ran Little Clifty, Dutton Hollow and Bashore Ridge and then Clifty again in reverse.

Sunday 9/16
5.5 mile easy, recovery run around Elm Tree Elementary neighborhood.

43.5 miles
8 hours 8 minutes
11:16 pace

After ramping things up over the previous 4 weeks the goal this week was to back off a bit. I decided to reduce mileage by about 15% from the previous week, take an extra off day and slow my pace overall. My legs feel pretty good following the long run Saturday. The lingering shin tenderness is all but gone. I have spent time daily stretching out my calves and foam rolling throughout the week. I did have a touch of PF ache sneak in during the long run and I jumped all over it that night with ice and will keep a close eye on it over the next several days. Maybe that tight shin isn't gone after all? Could the new shoes (Patagonia Tsali 2.0) be a little too flexible? Should I pick up a new pair of inserts? 

On the long run Saturday I continued with my "More is Less" experiment for my hydrating and fueling. I made sure to have a decent breakfast. I had a big piece of locally made whole grain toast with peanut butter spread on it, some yogurt with Udo's Oil mixed in and a banana and a glass of water. I downed a Vespa Junior before the run and a couple of antacids (a first for me). During I consumed a gel about every 45 minutes. I also went through a 1/2 pack of Chomps. Other than that, it was strictly water, no Sustain or S! Caps. About 60 oz of H2O total by my calculations. My energy level was noticeably steady with zero GI issues. Was it the antacids, the cooler temps (mid 60s) or the relaxed pace? Maybe some of each I suspect. Immediately after finishing I drank a bottle of Ultragen that included a scoop of greens powder. That afternoon, evening and the next day I experienced very little in the way of soreness, muscle fatigue or low energy. The experiment will continue. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When Less is More

If you have followed my blog at all then you know that I have been on a journey to find out how far I can go in terms of "running with less". It started after reading Born to Run and like countless others I, too, wanted to run like a Raramuri. Minus the flowing skirt. I never saw myself struggling to into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers much less running in sandals or barefoot but I liked the concept. Long story short, since I already wrote in detail about this, I wanted to find how little of a shoe I could comfortably run long distances with. After a slow and methodical trail I found the Pure Grit by Brooks was a tad over the line for me. Now that I am recovered from my stress fracture what's next? Well, I read about Waterlogged by Dr. Noakes and Joe Uhan's experience at WS100 this year (read the article from iRunFar) and became interested in the fueling aspect of doing with less. I believe the human body is capable of amazing things. From phenomenal feats of strength and endurance to an unbelievable ability to heal itself. At this point in my running I know I can run 50 miles. The question then becomes not can I run 50 miles but can I do it without electrolyte supplements, a case of gels and a handful of fermented Japanese wasp saliva? And not merely cover the distance but do it relatively easily. 
So I began to experiment and devour any material I could find about the topic. Things like the different fueling systems used by the body or what to eat before different types of runs to maximize performance. My water bottles are now filled with plain water, I drink to thirst (not XX number of ounces every XX number of minutes) and I no longer carry electrolyte capsules with me on long runs. Guess what? No cramps. Not that I ever really had an issue with them but it was a question for me. Now I have an answer. Can I complete a 4 hour run with only a handful of gels? I'm still working on that one. My usual strategy had me slurping a gel every 30 minutes and some sort of solid food about every hour. What about a gel every 20 minutes or 45 minutes? Things seem to go well for me up to about 3 hours and then the stomach has taken issue with the gel only approach. That was with Gu brand gels, my longtime gel of choice. My energy level seems to be more or less there but I have experienced some pretty wicked acid reflux and fought the urge to purge a few times. Some solids seem to help, I prefer Powershots to Chomps simply due to ease of use. But the point is to get through long, tough runs on gels only. The one gel that shows some promise for a gel only approach to long runs is EFS Liquid Shot from First Endurance. I was exposed to them at the Inca Runner Camp in July up in the Tetons. Great taste (I have tried vanilla and kona), available in 5 oz flask so no little packets to open with sweaty hands (and reusable w/ the 32oz refills), no wrappers to stash and it seems to sit well in the ol' GI tract. The biggest issue I have is with finding an easy and practical way to carry the flask. I would like to find an armband type carrier to keep my hands free. I'm just trying to determine if I can find the right combination. Maybe it can work or maybe it won't. Time will tell. 
Why even try you ask? At some point a given distance becomes a known factor and perhaps some of the allure fades away. So if one is striving to improve upon that known mark there are few options. I could go longer but the 100 mile distance has yet to call upon me. I have not been struck by that arrow. What about going faster? That is definitely on the table. I could make a go at it on a tougher course, say, with more elevation. That challenge is on the radar as well. But the call I hear now is to do it with less. The way I see it, if I can eliminate 3 Vespas, 6 Stinger Waffles, 10 Gu gels and 12 S! Caps on my next 50 miler that has to be, what, like $40 plus bucks in savings. Over a few races that's enough for my UltrAspire pack or Hokas. 
The real challenge is in doing the same, or even better, with less. Training my body to become more efficient. To do this I will have to eat better when not running. And that's a good thing. It will require making my body stronger and that, too, is a good thing. In the end isn't that what runners are all about? The challenge. Whatever it is, whatever form it takes, that thing that causes you to wake up in the morning and lace the shoes up when you could stay in bed. I needed a new motivator and this was it. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Inca Runners Ultra Running Camp

This summer I had the opportunity of a lifetime fall into my lap. Hugo Mendez of Inca Runners asked me if I would be interested in serving as the cook for the Inca Runners Ultra Running Camp. I'm not a professional chef. In fact, far from it. Back in college I slung grub as a prep cook at a couple of local joints. Like most runners I like to eat and I do enjoy creating in the kitchen. But serving as many as a dozen or more runners three squares a day? I'm used to cooking for a family of four that includes two kids. The request was not without some intimidation. What if I sucked? You see, Hugo is my friend too. And this was his first running camp. We had talked about the camp through the months as he planned and organized it. I knew how much work had gone into putting it together. The last thing I wanted to do was something to jeopardize it being anything but a resounding success. I could hear the whispers... 

"Yeah, the camp was cool but the food sucked." 
"Who does that guy think he is?" 
"Black beans in a brownie? Moron!"
Could I pull it off and help make it work? And did I mention it would be held at Grand Teton and that Krissy Moehl and Luke Nelson and Bryce Thatcher would be there? And that a fine group of strangers would put down their hard earned money to be there?

No pressure. 

The sponsor table, thank you Patagonia, First Endurance, Flora/Udo's Oil and UltrAspire

I called my brother in law for advice. Martin is not only a stud athlete but an absolute whiz in the kitchen and possesses some serious skills in my opinion. And he has an ability to digest things in his mind that I sometimes lack. He's the kinda guy that could open up your fridge, browse your pantry and regardless of the pickings, serve up a 4 star meal that would make your eyes roll back into your head. In short, he can make you feel like a retard. I was kinda hoping he would insist on going in my place. He didn't. With Martin's help a game plan was set and I found myself accepting the offer. He then joked with my luck there would probably be someone that was a gluten-free, sodium restricted, vegetarian. 

This was our playground

Creating a menu plan was a bit tricky. I know what I like to eat but will a bunch of hungry strangers feel the same? Will there be any vegetarians or vegans? There is one. Damn. Love ya Clive! Oh, there's a budget to stick to also. I need to cut my food expense by 30% now? You get the idea. For someone who has never done this it required some thinking. Eventually a menu plan was set and I was now only half scared. As the weeks went by I used my family as a testing ground for the recipes. Kids are great because they don't pretend to like something if it doesn't taste good. They simply say things like "That's gross dad" or "Eewww". And if it is tasty they don't say anything at all. They just leave a "happy" plate for me to wash up. That was the goal, happy plates. 

Mandatory meeting the day before camp

Travel plans were made, the menu refined and I was ready to head to Boulder to meet Hugo. The next day we would make the 8 hour drive to Jackson (elevation 6,200). But not before sneaking in an hour trail run near the Boulder Reservoir (5 miles 500 ft vertical 50 minutes). For the record there is a whole lot of nothing in the drive between Boulder and Jackson. Except a big statue of Abraham Lincoln. Weird. That evening Hugo and I held a mandatory planning meeting at the Snake River Brewery. The next morning we hit the trails above town on the Elk Refuge for an hour "constitutional". Two and a half miles up and back (5 miles 1,100 ft vertical 1 hour) .On the way up we passed a couple that looked to be in their 70s out for a hike on the trail. That was inspiring. Breakfast smoothies, showers and then the short drive over to the camp base where we unloaded supplies and made room for a visit to the grocery store. Buying food for twelve is a workout in itself. Prepping the meals solo was, at times, hard work. Who knew one could get a good burn in the forearms by shredding carrots and zucchini by hand for sweet breads? Thank god my wife forces me to watch The Food Network so much. Amazing what you can pick up there. 

Hurricane Pass (photo by J. Mollosky)

I won't bore you with all the meals in detail. I will say that my goal was to keep things simple, fresh, tasty and healthful. Meals ran the gamut from burgers to fish tacos to asparagus and mushroom pasta. There was always plenty of fresh salad and desserts (at Krissy's request). The most requested recipe was for the black bean brownies. Seriously, it was. If the serving bowls came back empty I took that as a good sign. I have to say that throughout the week there were countless offers to assist in prepping meals and cleaning up afterwards. I owe a debt of gratitude to all of the fellow runners for their help in getting meals served and their patience when things were slower than expected. On the night before the big run we had, I think, 17 mouths to feed. After I finished and the food had been served, I just sat quietly and watched. It was a good feeling to see everyone smiling and not throwing up. I guess I was OK there. 

Jay the Gentleman (Photo by C. Miskin)

On Saturday I was able to get out for the run through Phillips Canyon. As expected, I was a back of the packer. I neither had the base needed (coming off the injury) nor the lungs (being a flat lander). It was my longest run since February and it showed. The climbs were a challenge and the final descent was pretty ugly as I got fatigued and the temperature warmed. I took a few minutes at the last stream crossing to cool off. But I got it done. 17 miles, 3,500 ft vertical and 3.5 hours. I was hurting. Jim offered up his services and took to my sore muscles using his magic stick with a vengeance. I wasn't sure if I should shake his hand or poke him in the eye. Sometimes it hurts to feel better. Thanks Jim. 

Alpine Meadow at Alaska Basin (Photo by C. Miskin)

There were to be two runs daily. A longer run in the morning used as a workout and shorter evening runs to serve as mini clinics by the coaches. The clinics would cover things like uphill and downhill technique or core workouts. After every run Krissy or Luke would take time to explain some aspect of trail/ultra running. One day it was eating for recovery and another day it was a round table discussion on gear. One of the highlights of the camp was the circumnavigation run of Grand Teton. Mountain ecstasy for some and agony for others. It was the only other run I would make at the camp. I knew that 34 miles was out of the question for me as things stand. I opted to join the group about 10 miles in from the start at Jenny Lake along the way to Death Canyon. The day would find me climbing high mountain passes, traversing scree falls and boulders, crossing snow fields, running along mountain streams and waterfalls (and drinking the cold, clear water), through fields of wild flowers, getting lost (thanks Luke) and passing beautiful alpine lakes. And I ran out of film about 3 hours into the run. I was moving along pretty good until the final climb when I got hot and the stomach went south. The final 10k was rather tough for me. One of the campers, Jay, took pity on me and stayed on my hip until I reached the banks of Jenny Lake. Jay had spent the first half of the run helping another camper climb to the top. Now he encouraged me to fuel and hydrate and to keep moving. Thank you Jay. We walked when I needed to and jogged along when I could. I have an entirely new appreciation for covering long distances at elevation that include big climbs and descents. Before I was impressed. Now I am in awe. For the day I covered 24 miles, 7,000 ft of vertical and just over 6 hours. Three passes exceeding 10,000 ft. I climbed through Death Canyon, over Buck Mtn Pass, through the Alaska Basin, over Static Peak Divide and Hurricane Pass and back down to Jenny Lake. I was totally and completely worked over. The group eventually met up at Jenny Lake and a good soak in the cold water was is order. After that we headed over to Teton Village for dinner. Thankfully I did not have to prepare a meal  that evening. It was all I could do to chew my food. I was totally spent. 

Photo by C. Miskin

The next morning folks would be packing up to head back home. Email addresses would be exchanged. Handshakes and hugs were passed around. And we had made it through the camp without any major screw ups. Although running out of gas for the grill on grilled fish taco day came close. The coaches, Krissy Moehl and Luke Nelson could not have been more helpful. They provided insight and direction every step of the way. From Day 1 they each offered themselves up as open books to all of us. And if that wasn't enough they brought top notch sponsors on board for the camp. Patagonia, First Endurance, Udo's Oil & Flora and UltrAspire. Campers received a free pair of Patagonia trail shoes (I love my Tsali 2.0), numerous samples of First Endurance products (I found I really like EFS Liquid Shot), we had a case of Udo's Oil and Flora chocolates (made with Udo's Oil these chocolates are fantastic) and a free UltrAspire handheld bottle. In addition, we had the chance to demo the line of belts and packs from UltrAspire. In the past I have used CamelBak and Salomon brand packs. Hands down the UltrAspire was more comfortable and practical. UltrAspire guru and Grand Teton record holder Bryce Thatcher made an appearance the night before our big run. His lovely wife and 3 great kids joined him. After breaking bread together Bryce discussed his background in the outdoors and his 29 year old FKT (fastest known time) for the ascent/descent of Grand Teton (3h06m  >6,000 ft vertical and about 15 miles). His record, that stood for such a long time, would be broken not once but twice in the following month. First by Kilian Jornet (2h54m) and 10 days later by Andy Anderson (2h53m). The Thatcher boys even helped clean dishes after dinner. Without being asked to do so. Good kids. Meeting Fred and Betsy was cool too. 

Photo C. Miskin

But the thing that has stuck with me more than anything else is the vibe of the camp. I could not have imagined a diverse group of strangers coming together and clicking as well as we did. Helping one another without asking or hesitation. Meeting simply as fellow trail runners one day and parting ways five days later as kindred spirits. I realize as a whole that trail runners are a friendly tribe and we all share something in common but this was special. As I told the group Monday night it is a good thing to realize personal success but seeing somebody you care about succeed by having a vision come true is something worth embracing. I'm proud of my buddy Hugo. I consider myself fortunate to have been asked to play a role and it is a blessing to have shared it with my friend Hugo and an incredible group of runners. I will never forget the adventure with Hugo, Krissy, Luke, Kim, Becky, Maria, Jay, Clive, Cam and Jim. 

Thank you one and all. 

At the top of Hurricane Pass (Photo by K. Moehl)
Click here  for the official Inca Runners Ultra Camp Grand Teton video by Hugo M. 

Click here for a camp video by runner Cam H.

Click here for a camp video (Part 1) by runner Jim M.

Click here  for Part II by Jim M. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

OHT and Pumpkin Holler

Me (left) and Will (right) at the OHT trail head (S. McFarland)

Ozark Highlands Trail
Over the last couple of weeks I have had an opportunity to get out to a couple of spots for the first time. That's one of the aspects of trail running that I really enjoy. It's like being a kid again in many regards. Wondering what you will see over that rise in front of you or around the next turn. As the baby steps back continue and my legs slowly return I feel more comfortable venturing further out into the world again. 
First up was a section of the Ozarks Highlands Trail with fellow NWA Goats Shannon "Ewe Turn" McFarland and Will "Insert Nickname Here" Blanchard. Yeah, Will is yet to earn a proper one yet. The OHT is 165 miles of Ozark goodness stretching from Lake Ft. Smith to Woolum. There are some "new" sections extending that distance out to 218 miles but the standard course is accepted as the 165 mile "old trail". Somebody, who shall remain anonymous, had mentioned a possible go at the FKT currently held by Jenny Foster of 62 hours and 25 minutes. That's legit folks. 
So our plan was to make the short jaunt down to the new Lake Ft. Smith Park and have a go at the route over to White Rock Mountain. We met early and carpooled down. The new park is quite nice. Very different than what I remember seeing about 20 years ago while in college. Right on time we hit the trail head. I hadn't worn a full hydration pack in a long time and forgot how heavy 90 oz of water and all the fixings can be. Good news is that it only gets lighter, right? I saw it as incentive to eat and drink early and often. My plan was to down a gel every 20 minutes and see how that works for me. More on my pack and gel consumption later. The trail quickly drops close to the lake. Perhaps a little too close as we found ourselves off course and practically in the water within the first two miles. A quick uphill scamper through the brush and we were back on track. The first 12 miles were very runner friendly. Yes, it featured the usual collection of rocky Ozark trail with plenty of tree cover and lots of rolling hills. There was one good, warm up climb followed by a steep, technical downhill run before the long climb up. My legs were starting to get tired. I had settled in at the back of the pack just trying to hang in there as both Shannon and Will are younger and stronger than I am. Then we found ourselves off course again. After some recon we found the trail. This is about the time Will, while attempting to read the map and navigate the trail simultaneously, nearly impaled his "man bits" on a fallen tree limb. All I heard was a panicked scream and somebody else laughing behind me. I will save that story for him to tell. And it quickly became an adventure after that. 
Lake Ft Smith (Michael Goad)

If I had paid attention I would have noticed that the further we got from the park the less maintained the trail appeared. Well, it eventually becomes an un-maintained trail. Tall grass, bush, brush, briars and lots of downed trees. At points so thick that we were slowed to a walk. And by that I mean more or less the last 5 miles. You simply couldn't see where you were placing your feet. The briars scratched at my legs, hands and arms. And did I mention the poison ivy? Right. We ran through sections of trail thick with the stuff. Both at ankle level and growing on the trees. I could only hope that I had enough sweat on my body to wash it off. Will mentioned the ice storm a couple of years back had really damaged the canopy and allowed the underbrush to explode. Mix in the exceptional drought over the last two years that limited prescribed burns and we are left with a trail that is severely overgrown in places. The final few miles that included the climb up to the top of White Rock (elevation 2,320 ft) were not enjoyable. I was tired, hot and acting like a Diva. I put it into overdrive and powered (as best I could) to the top. I simply wanted it to be over. I wanted to sit down in the shade. At the last trail intersection I stopped and waited for Shannon and Will and we made the final push together. I haven't been as happy to see a road in quite some time.
There is a caretaker that lives at the top of the park in an old house. There is also a lodge and three small cabins (all available to rent). On the porch of this house is a little slice of heaven. Several hummingbird feeders hang in the sun. I have never witnessed a hummingbird orgy until that day. Dozens of the little rockets buzzing in and out created this pitched frenzy and yet a soothing sound. On one side of the front door is a mini freezer packed with ice and ice cream and popsicles. On the other side of the porch is a mini fridge stocked with candy bars, sodas and sports drinks. All icy cold. It is an honor system. You take something you leave a buck in the jar. Will, always the gentleman, dropped $10 in for us and we got busy. I saw a Yoo Hoo get devoured. I worked a Dr. Pepper over pretty hard myself. Then I grabbed a nearly frozen Gatorade and headed over to a trailer under some oak trees to relax. I removed my shoes, sat back and enjoyed not moving. Eventually we all found our way over to the SSS. That's the "Super Scenic Spot". The short Rim Trail around the top features a number of vista views of the surrounding valley and other Boston Mountain Range peaks. We sat and watched a lone climber work his way up a small cliff face. Not a bad way to end the run. 
The prize at the top

But wait, what is that? That tiny, almost microscopic thing on my leg. Is that a seed tick? Holy $#^%! There were hundreds of them. From my ankles up to my knees. Back to the little house I go in search of a hose. I scrubbed my legs with my dirty socks in hopes of removing as many of the tiny blood sucking critters as possible. I already new that by Tuesday my legs would likely look like a bad science experiment. Now I was positive. And they did. Still kinda do a week later. I had numerous scratches, some nice patches of poison ivy and too many chigger bites to count. I had them all around my ankles, on top of my feet, between toes, my calves, thighs, behind my knees, my waist, my junk, a few on my back and shoulders, in my armpits and even in my belly button. You hear that Ryan? 
Back to the house where a shuttle service is offered for $1 per mile (per person). We jumped in the jeep and headed back to Lake Ft. Smith. Just seconds into our return trip we saw the biggest, fattest, most angry rattlesnake in the road. Better there than on the trail I say. And apparently this was a magic jeep that allowed the driver to navigate faster on gravel roads than on asphalt. Who knew?
The hydration pack I used was the Salomon XA10+3. It functioned OK but I found it difficult to reach the pockets for fueling. The UltrAspire I got to demo in the Tetons was much more comfortable and practical. The Salomon is now for sale. The gel every 20 minutes worked OK. It seems like overkill to some extent and I found it a challenge to stay on track. I did go through one pack of Chomps in place of gels in the middle. And I only drank water, no electrolytes other than a couple of S! Caps along the way. 
In the end, this was one of those runs that allows one to take stock of things in terms of toughness. Am I able to put my head down and power through something that is uncomfortable? Check. Even if I acted like Roseann there for a bit. I got the job done. 

By the numbers: 
17.5 miles 
6,117 feet of elevation change
3,743 ascent 2,374 descent
208 chigger bites
87 hummingbirds
1 very mad 4 ft rattlesnake
1 steroid shot

Pumpkin Holler
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending an organized and supported TATUR training run at the JT Nickel Nature Preserve (aka Pumpkin Holler) outside Tahlequah. Fellow NWA Goat and good buddy, David Newman, extended the invitation. It was a short 1 hour drive to the meeting spot. This coming October will mark the second annual Pumpkin Holler 100 and an always friendly group of TATURs (led by Stormy and TZ) were headed out for some fun in the dirt. The preserve is made up of about 17,000 donated and scenic acres along the Illinois River. It is the largest privately protected area in the Ozarks. Race day will feature a 100 miler, 100k, 50k and 25k options. David is already in for the 100k while I am debating between the 50 and 100k. Likely the former and not the later yet.
The TOTs and Goats at Pumpkin Holler (S. Phillips)

After a short briefing and photo op the groups were set and ready to roll. In the photo above Edward is on the left looking at the ground, David is back row (right) in orange sleeveless shirt, that is me next to him (shirtless but rocking the Rush Running cap) and the Trail Zombie is in front of me in the black shirt.
TZ would lead a group on a 6 mile jaunt while Stormy and Edward would support those of use opting for the longer 20 mile loop. The course is mostly maintained dirt roads (very little traffic) with a couple miles of asphalt towards the middle. We would be covering about half the race course loop before turning back on the road that bisects the preserve to return to the Nature Center. I took my hand helds and my plan was a gel every 20 minutes and water. I did have a small supply of electrolyte capsules. The first 6 miles went by easy enough (mostly a gentle descent) and by then we had seen the support truck twice. They had various trail grub in a tub, plenty of water to pass out and good tunes. Right at the 10k mark we hit truck and the asphalt. Edward commented something about "a fella could really make up some time on this 3 mile section of road during the race if he wanted to" or something to that effect. The seed was planted. Why not? After topping off the hand helds I dropped down to half marathon pace. The road section is rolling hills and, naturally, quite runnable. As I hit the dirt again at the table rock stream crossing the truck was set up and waiting. Somewhere along that 3 miles of road I entered race mode. I treated this stop as a race day aid station, quickly filling my bottles and heading out without little banter. I found myself now in the lead. Training run? Naw. Let's see what these ol' legs have in them today. Maybe show those young whippersnappers a thing or two. 
Shortly after leaving there the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. The dirt roads quickly turned to running creeks but it felt great. I was ticking off some solid splits before the turn back to the Center but two guys were right behind me. I thought if they wanna catch me they're gonna have to work for it. I just wanted to stay steady on my pace, push the climbs and let my feet go on the descents. By the time I hit the turn at mile 15 I didn't see anybody behind me. And my legs we hurting. I made the turn and scanned the road behind me for any signs of life. Nothing. I knew a hill was coming up but didn't know how long or steep it was. Something told me to respect it though. I slowed the pace just a touch to collect my mojo. The hill looked long and rather steep. Like a slightly larger and more technical version of Crystal Bridges. Since I couldn't see the top I went into power hike mode. I began covering the tangents to reduce distance and the chance of anybody trying to catch me the chance of getting a peek and any incentive. Pathetic how I turned a training run into my own personal race. That's how my mind works though. I wanted to test myself. To push the envelope and be able to take inventory of my mental and physical conditioning. 
I got to the top and felt OK. It was quite scenic up top and the truck had just passed me again. Did that mean someone was catching me? Either way I knew that I would have one last chance to top off the bottles. The toughest part of the hill was about a half a mile long before it began to level out and I started moving more quickly again. By the time I met Stormy and Edward at the truck the sun broke out, the breeze died and I began to feel spent. My stomach, was had slowly headed South was now on an Express. I began to fight the urge to purge. 5k left, just up a small rise, a section of flat road and then the descent to the Center. It would be a tough go for me until I hit the far side of the hill. More glances over my shoulder. As soon as I caught a glimpse of that green metal roof I knew I was good to go. I cruised in to finish my run with a solid time. I sought shelter in the shade and promptly got off my feet. I was hot. Damn hot. And I had dumped my bottles before the final two miles. Bad move as I now had no water. About 15 minutes later another runner made it in, followed by another and then a sag wagon and so forth. I got back up and out to the driveway to cheer on the other finishers.
Someone was nice enough to offer up some Tums for me. That and some cool water helped. As did changing out of the wet shorts, socks and shoes. No blisters, chaffing or even hotspots. I had taken the time before suiting up to liberally apply a coating of Slather by Skin Strong to my feet and toes. It worked. As did the Belaga socks. I had also made a good choice by running sans shirt to avoid the inevitable bloody man-nipple on a humid, warm day. I had kept up with the 20 minute gel routine but it was tough the last hour. I'm not sure if that is gonna work for me. Perhaps if I took in some more "regular" offerings in the first hour or two that might help keep the GI track happier towards the end. And I'm gonna try some antacids before starting too. I'll experiment with that. After getting to my cooler I downed an 8 oz protein shake and again fought the urge to barf. I lost. But only by a little. It was one of those burps with a little vomit mixed in. Before I realized it, simply by reaction, I had swallowed it back down. David just spit his "vurp" out on the ground. He had a sour stomach too. Maybe it was the high humidity and warm temps? I ran in a pair of older Brooks Defyance road shoes. Trail shoes are definitely an option for running out here. Nothing technical or even rocky out here. The race course does not include the hill we ran. It continues around the Preserve before hitting the Nature Center from the other side. 
A big shout out to Stormy, Edward and TZ for taking time out of their lives to support a band of ruffians out in the middle of nowhere running around in the rain and mud. For more info on the upcoming TATUR Pumpkin Holler races click here.It could be quite beautiful that time of year for a run in the woods. 
By the numbers:
20 miles
2,331 feet of elevation change
1,177 feet of vertical gain
1,154 feet of descent
12 TATURS and 2 Goats
8 gels
3 inches of rain
2 peacocks
1 very mangy coyote

Monday, August 6, 2012

Full mOOn Race Report

David, Jody, Aaron (Tatur) and me

About 3 weeks ago, on more or less an impulse, I found myself traveling towards Little Rock with a couple of other NWA Goats to take on the Full mOOn 25/50k at Lake Sylvia. The event is organized by the Arkansas Ultra Running Association (AURA) and is the initial race in the Ultra Trail Series for the 2012-13 season. Only the 50k is part of the seasonal series. Joining me on the trip was David and Jody, all of us opting for the 25k distance. The trip down from Bentonville was uneventful for the most part. That is until I elected to eat a Clif bar a couple of hours before the start. A tooth had been bothering me for  few days leading up to the race and I managed to crack down on a nut with that same sore tooth. At that moment I think my skull partially cracked. An intense, throbbing pain began to consume my being. I was afraid of a long night now.
Approaching the race site Jody and David were hungry so we stopped at a Subway for some grub. Jody, as expected, chose the veggie option. David, on the other hand, went all in with a tuna sub and extra mayo. I felt moved to comment and suggest an alternative but my friend is a grown man. Remember this...
We had asked around about the course and were more or less told to expect a couple of miles of climbing and then some rolling hills on the out and back course. Sounds reasonable. Remember this too...
We arrived in plenty of time to gather our gear, get sorted and signed in for the race. Except for me. I left my shoes in Bentonville. All I had was my flip flops. As luck would have it, at the moment I realized this, I had just started chatting with Tim Harrington. I met Tim at Rocky Raccoon this year as a buddy paced him for his first 100 miler. Tim was not running but there to crew and cheer for friends. And he had extra trail shoes. I picked the Masochist by Montrail, they felt pretty good. First time in a pair and before I forget, I like them. 
This is a "fat ass" style run so now swag bags or registration forms. Just a donation into the can, sign a waiver, get your bib and you're good to go. And that's what we did. Two aid stations, one manned one not. As the director gave her pre-race speech (none of which I could hear) I ran into a local stud runner, Rodney. He asked if anyone had told me about Big Bertha. What? It's the big ass hill you climb to the turn around, about 2 miles long. Great. 
The gun sounds at 8pm and I go out at a pretty good clip. The climb begins about a 1/2 mile into the gravel road course. And pretty much doesn't stop for a good two miles. Then rolling hills and then Big Bertha. By now my headlamp is on and I merely try to maintain an even effort. I began passing folks about two miles into the course and steadily picked off more as the climbing continued. I did have to walk a short distance twice as I exceeded the red line. Still trying to get my climbing legs back. I managed to reach the turnaround in about 1h12m and in pretty good shape. Ready to turn and burn. A quick refill of the bottles and it was go time. I wanted to start the descent at a moderately brisk pace and pick it up from there if there was any octane in the tank. There was. At mile 12 I was feeling pretty good and dropped the hammer (relatively speaking). If I could make out a light in front of me I focused on it until I overtook that runner. That kept me motivated. With a mil left my quads were beginning to talk back to me. By the time I finished I'm pretty sure I left all that I had out there. That's a good feeling. 

Time: 2h13m34s (25k PR)
Place: 16th male and 20th overall
Out: 8:58, 9:19, 9:00, 9:52, 8:53, 9:16, 8:58, 5:16
In: 5:16, 9:01, 8:36, 9:28, 7:45, 8:10, 7:26, 7:00
Elevation: 1,844 ft vertical gain

I was pretty pleased with my results. Especially given that there were a handful of real stud runners out there including Leah Thorvilson and some members of the UCA XC team. The foot held up fine and I'm beginning to worry about it less and less as time goes by. The shin did OK, I did experience some tenderness after the race but attributed that to the fast finish. Jody and David ran their own races and finished strong as well. Now remember that Tuna sandwich? Yeah, it did an Alien imitation and had poor David twisted inside out shortly after he finished. Even in the dark I could see him turn a funny shade of green and break out in a cold sweat. It took a while for him to get his mojo back before we could leave. It was along drive back. I didn't get home until 4am and was beat tired. But a good tired. There is little else that beats a good run with good folks. It was great to see Tim (thank you again for the whips!), The Sasse brothers and their teammates from UCA and the boys from TATUR that came over from Tulsa. 

Stay tuned for my Inca Runner Camp Grand Teton report. It will be spectacular. Putting together some pics and video for a full experience. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

War Eagle Trail Running Festival

2012 hand drawn logo by Ryan Holler

In recognition of national Trails Days the premier ultra trail event in NWA, the War Eagle Trail Running Festival, was held June 2 at Hobbs State Park Conservation Area on the shores of scenic Beaver Lake. This year the event again featured races at the 50k, 25k and 10k distances. Proceeds from the event are shared equally with the Rogers Lions Club and the Friends of Hobbs organization. It was exciting to see such an increase in the level of participation with runners coming from far and wide, both greenhorns and veterans. There were NWA Goats, Taturs, Nerds, WARriors, JRRs (or is it Runarounders?). 

Finishers medals and place awards by Becky Christiansen

The race was well supported by park staff, the Friends of Hobbs, the Lions Club and numerous volunteers. Some of the main sponsors included Rush Running, Salomon, Power Bar and Mohawk Industries, all of them throwing some swag into the prize bin for drawings. At least a dozen vouchers for free Salomon shoes were passed out, plenty of Sole brand sandals, some Ultimate Direction fuel belts and a sweet fuzzy, white rug. There was free grub too. And speaking of swag, the race shirt did not disappoint. Dark grey with black ink featuring not one, but two hand drawn designs by local runner, NWA Goat member and full time Jedi, Ryan Holler. The finishers medallions (different for each distance) were once again handmade by local artist Becky Christiansen. Members of the Lions Club manned a grill at the finish throughout the day cooking up hot dogs, Catfish John's provided a truck load of catfish, chicken and hush puppies. Maximum Performance Spine & Sports had a tent to work the kinks out post race (Steve worked magic on my sketchy calf). There were tents and chairs for relaxing in after the race as well as the excellent Visitors Center. And if you knew who to ask a cold beer was possible. I'm just sayin'...

Tom Lane & Dave Wilgus of NWA Goats both finished in the top 10

Down to business now, let's talk about the trails. The bulk of distance is covered on the two main loops at Hobbs, those being War Eagle and Little Clifty. The 50k course includes the "rabbit ears" which are made up of the Bashore Ridge and Dutton Hollow loops. There is very little hardtop in this course, I would say less than 100 yards from the start/finish in front of the Visitors Center to the trail head. There is a 1 ½ mile spur to the main trails which has a descent into the first ravine which of course means a climb on the other side of the creek. There are a couple of creek crossings but these are normally dry. You only see water in them if out running in the rain. After hitting the first section of main trail there was a short dirt road section, about ½ mile, down Townsend Ridge to the first aid station before getting back onto the trails. I missed seeing the TATUR group here this year, they were great last year. Other than that, it is all flowing single track loaded with rollers under the tall hardwood and pines. There is nothing super technical or steep but there are a couple of longer, sustained uphill and downhill sections. 

The big news last year was the weather as the mercury topped out at in the mid 90s with a blanket of humidity heavy enough to choke a mule. The heat/humidity punished many last year, especially the back of the pack runners. This year the big news was the weather. Recent rains greened up the vegetation and squashed any dust on the trails. The 0630 start had some humidity again but the temps were in the mid 60s and would only warm up to the mid 80s as the 50k race wrapped up later in the day. 

Mike Rush 1st Overall 50k (Podium Images)
Marilyn Caufield 1st female 50k (Podium Images)

On to the race action. In the 50k feature Mike Rush (Rush Running) started strong and continued to pull away from the competition throughout the course. He blistered Hobbs with a time of 4h09m30s. Mike followed this performance up with an overall win at the Mammoth Marathons (Utah and Idaho) the following weekend. He finished 3rd and 6th on consecutive days to take the overall victory out there. He looks to be in good position for a strong run at Leadville. Local goat Shannon McFarland (Rush Running) ran a big PR (as usual a strong performance from him) on is home course to take second with a time of 4h32m55s. He told me afterwards that despite running so well he simply couldn't keep sight of the leader. Jake Anderson from Westlake Village, TX rounded out the podium in the men's race in 4h39m34s. In the women’s action first time ultra runner Marilyn Caufield (Rush Running) stayed steady, despite a nasty fall, to claim 1st place and 9th overall with a time of 5h01m08s. She rolled in with blood on her chin, hand, arm, knee and what looked like an alien on her elbow. It was just enough to hold off Alison Jumper from Fayetteville, AR. with a time of 5h01m46s. Lori Enlow out of Tahlequah, OK. (also training for Leadville 100) ran a great race at 5h27m41s to take third for the females. In fact, these three gals ran well enough to claim 9th, 10th and 11th overall. Overall the top times were much faster than last year. 

Jeremy Provence 1st overall 25k (Podium Images)

In the 25k race a couple of runners threw down some sick splits to claim top honors. I’m talking 6:30/mile pace for the overall winner (Winslow, AR.) Jeremy Provence. He put down a wicked time of 1h41m03s. Not far behind was second overall Cassy Russell (Tulsa, OK) with a time of 1h44m30s. I think I could have taken them on my Kawasaki dirt bike. Local stud and NWA Goat Stephen O'Neal (Rush Running) claimed 3rd with a 1h53h53s effort. For the females, Olivia Eves (Arkansas City, KS.) won at 2h20m12s, second was Melissa Warner (Tahlequah, OK) at 2h28m52s and third was local Lynne Williams (Fayetteville, AR.) with a time of 2h33m35s. Like the 50k, the 25k times were noticeably faster this year. 

The 10k race was claimed by Craig Adams out of Bentonville in 49m54s. Ryan Bickerstaff (Palo Alto, CA.) took second at 50m24s and out of Mountainburg, AR. Tommy Griffin earned a spot on the podium by running a time of 51m37s. For the gals Corina Miller (Little Rock, AR.) was first at 1h01m00s, Leslie Johnson (Fayetteville, AR.) got second with a 1h02m50s run and third was Christina Gervasi from nearby Rogers, AR. with a time of 1h04m18s.  

As for me, I signed up on day 1 for the 50k. Needless to say, that was before I had my stress fracture diagnosed and all that entailed. I told the RD, NWA Goat and local ultra guru Jeff G-Unit Genova, the week before that I was out on the 50k. I dropped to the 25k to avoid disaster. Going in I felt anything under 2h30m would be a victory for me. My longest run since the sfx had been two weeks before at the Joplin Memorial Half (PR). My longest training run had been a measly 5 miles. But I hadn’t been on a trail since February. I knew 25k would be tough at this point. I borrowed a play from Tom "Slow" Lane (he's headed to WS100) and started fast to get some distance on the field before the first climb to avoid a traffic jam. There is little room for passing for the first few miles on the course.  I settled into a groove and kept up with a small group of runners for a few miles before realizing the pace was a bit fast for me. I was already feeling my heart rate was pushing the limit. So I stepped aside allowing a few runners to pass me and I waited until they were out of sight before starting up again. We had a good gap on the next group so I found myself alone in the woods. And that was fine. I could now run my race and not be tempted to keep a pace that would have been over the line for me at this point. Over the next 10 miles I simply tried to run a moderately hard pace. I ran the downhills hard and just tried to maintain an even effort uphill and on the flats. My ability to run uphill has been erased during my rehab. A few of the runners that had been ahead of me in that initial group fell back far enough for me to pick off before the finish. I even managed to pass up some 10k participants. In the end I finished 2h25m, beating my goal and good enough for a top 20 finish. Best of all, I didn't feel completely beat down and was able to enjoy watching the remaining runners come across the finish line. There was plenty of time to catch up with old friends I haven't seen in some time and to meet some new ones. Lots of good folks out there.

The dash to the trail head (Podium Images)

The following day my quads were trashed and stayed that way for a few days. The good news is that my foot and shin were fine. Amazing how things change. Six months ago this would have been a nice follow up run to a long 25-30 mile trail run the day before. Now it was all I could muster. Baby steps… This was the most involvement I have had in the prep for a race behind the scenes and a little dirty work after the finish line is taken down and the crowd is long gone. Although my contribution was small it made me realize how much the heavy lifters do. Thanks to Jeff, Mike and all the other volunteers and behind the scenes folks. It was a great event and I had such a good time out there. A special shout out to Christian Moore who flew in from California and Nicholas Norfolk who came in from Little Rock. These guys came all the way just to volunteer and help make the event a success. Thanks guys. It was great to watch members of the Rush Running Team do so well. They claimed 6 of the top 10 spots in the 50k, had a handful of PRs and a few competed on the trails for the first time. Congrats to one and all. I hear musings of some ideas for next year including a Friday night meet and greet as well as an aid station full of bikini clad girls.

*All race photos courtesy of Podium Images