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.