Sunday, June 22, 2014

Reflect, Renew and Refocus

Running an ultra will take a toll on your body as well as your mind.  Following an ultra it is customary for me to take at least one if not two weeks completely off.  I listen to my body, I know my body and having asked it to cover an ultra distance I reward it with time off.  In the last two weeks, I have been dissecting Kettle and looking for answers to so many questions.  Miles 50-62 I questioned every aspect of why I run ultras, told myself I would never run another ultra again...ever again, found another runner who felt the same way (we walked in the final miles together) and wallowed in the fact my dream of the Midwest Slam ended before it even began. However, time heals running wounds and I made no decisions or took any actions during these past two weeks.   I have slept, stayed off my feet as much as possible and gave in to any food craving that hit me.  Only for two weeks! The third week is active recovery meaning time in the pool or on the bike.  The fourth week I start running and by that time my lower body is ready to go and I can pick up my training schedule as if I was in the second month of training for a marathon.  
As you can guess I am NOT giving up on running ultras but I did take a closer look at the rest of my season and made some sensible changes.  The Mohican 100 and Burning River 100 are off the schedule.  The Hallucination 100 in early September and Chimera 100 in mid November are on the schedule.  This allows me to properly train for running on a technical single track trail. I am excited because a few of my inner circle buddies have said they will join me for those races.  I will have a crew and some pacers and that's a HUGE asset and lift for me from my Kettle experience.  The Hallucination is a 16.6 mile loop that will allow me to adjust each loop and I'll know where to press and where to relax through the course.  A cool detail to that race is it starts on Friday afternoon so when you finish you can join the party that goes on all weekend.
Chimera...well Chimera I have a score to settle with you.  Last year I wiped out on a granite slab at mile 15 and by mile 85 I had to declare DNF.  I know the course, I know how to train for it and I WILL finish it this year.  
It's off to the pool tomorrow and roll the bicycle on the trainer.  I am refocused on my training and my races towards the end of the season.  I know it is a realistic goal and two 100 mile finishes will look really good on my application for Badwater for next year.  We all have plans that go awry and in my case the lemonade was pretty sour.  I let it sit for awhile, thought about what I wanted and how to get it and in the end I have a better plan.  Just remember in the end everything always works out and if it hasn't ?  It's not the end.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kettle 100 miles .... 100k

When life offers you lemons and you make lemonade, it's a drink but it's still sour.  
Packing up on Friday night, I went over my checklist of what I needed, where and when I would need it.  Drove to my two best friend's house about an hour away leaving me 45 minutes from the race site.  Tossed and turned as we all do the night before a race but I was happy when 3:30 am rolled around and I could start prepping for the day.  
I arrived at the race start/finish area and found a prime spot to park and I knew that would be beneficial once I completed the 62 mile loop before heading out on the 40 mile second loop.
I saw my ultra friends, Darren Fortney and Rolando Cruz both of whom are accomplished runners in speed and distance.  I packed, checked and double checked my drop bag for the 31 mile aid station and set up my "pit stop" when I returned to the start/finish line.  
One last visit to the bathroom, a prayer by the car, a thorough dusting of OFF, a speech by the RD and we were off.
Plan 1 - go out towards the back of the pack, start slow, let my legs warm up and just do a diagnostic check of myself.  All systems seemed to be cooperating and I thought I would start with a 12:00/mile pace and see how I felt.  It was warm.  The last look at my weather app said it was 78 degrees at 6:00am.  No wind and high humidity meant no PRs today just slow and steady.  Up and down early over rolling hills and technical running over roots and rocks meant rolling ankles, blisters and black toenails.  I made it to the 15 mile aid station in 3 hours, I thought good.  Good pace, drank some Heed, ate watermelon, oranges and 1/4 of a PB&J, took some m&ms for a quick sugar boost.  I ran with one handheld water bottle which was half ice and it felt good to hold and spray over my head from time to time.  Something wasn't right, I felt heavy, my stomach was sloshing and I could feel the "salty crust" on my face.  
Plan 2 - slow down to 15:00/mile pace, walk a bit to let my stomach settle and let the nutrients work into my body. Now the sun was climbing in a clear blue sky and I was headed into the part of the course that offered no shade. 
Plan 2b - without an aid station for over 5 miles and I'm in the marsh section that was humid, hot and NO breeze I decided to walk and save energy.  I figured the sun would be beating down and creating some undesirable conditions until 2:00 pm.  So walk with a purpose, jog when I could or run/walk for 2 minute intervals.  Not the best plan, as I was dehydrated (Google apple cider color when running), I was almost out of water, my stomach was doing flips and I was becoming irritable.  I made it to the next aid station and took some time to soak my head with a sponge soaked with cold water, slowly eat what I could and I turned away from the Heed and started drinking cola and ginger ale then it was off to the 31 mile aid station turnaround.
Plan 3 - I walked into Scuppernong aid station (that was the name and I can't tell you how many times I said that name in the next 31 miles back to the start/finish area.  Scuppernong, Scuppernong... Scupper King Kong Donkey Kong what I wouldn't do for a Hostess Ding Dong. 
As you can read, I wasn't in the best frame of mind or shape.  This aid station really showed me how much I rely on my crew and pacers.  I was cheered coming into the station but no one was there for me, personally there for me.  I found my own bag, started to eat a Stinger Waffle, chocolate Accel gel and mix my Gatorade with ice.  I changed my socks, blisters didn't look too bad, rubbed some Body Glide on the hot spots and covered my feet with foot powder. Returned my bag, hit the bathroom and started back.  I think I came in around 12:30 pm and thought, "okay 6 1/2 (in reality it was 7 1/2) to get out here, 7 to get back no worse than 8."
Plan 4 - Miles 30 to 35 turned out to be better points of the race.  I was refueled, had my feet feeling better and mentally I was in a positive state.  But the cumulative effect of poor nutrition and hydration started to take hold. Miles 35 to 45 were back in the hot box of the marsh and positive thoughts turned into thoughts of self doubt and "where the $%&# is the aid station?"  There were fleeting moments of running, a lot of walking (sometimes with a purpose, sometimes no purpose).  I knew I was in a heap of trouble when my math skills left me. I had planned to get back to the start/finish area by 9:00 pm, just before sunlight left the course. My headlamp and flashlight were laid out in my "pit stop" area but I needed them before then, way before then.  I was regularly stubbing my toes on rocks and roots.  Thankfully, I could catch myself before taking a "header" on the trail.  Presently I am limping around waiting for my swollen feet to return to normal and my toenails to fall off to relieve some of the sore pressure.
Plan 5 - 9:00 pm came bringing with it darkness, a light rain and a sporadic windy breeze. Here's how I worked through those changes; darkness - it's still okay because I could make out the trail and I asked to "tag" along with a runner and use their lighting the trail for as long as I could stay with them.  Rain.  It appears every ultra I choose rain will make an appearance. Ultras I have run in Florida, Arizona and California have all had rain, torrential storms.  If you choose to run an ultra and hate rain, check with me that I am NOT running.  The rain did feel good as it was a respite from the beating sun and hot temps.  When a rain front moves in that usually means wind and cooler temps, so now I am wet when the wind picks up and I am cold. WTF???
"Calm down and just work to get to the start/finish," I told myself.  Time was passing and although I couldn't see where I was walking I remembered the terrain and I knew I was close.  I could change clothes, take some time to rest and eat, regroup and assault the back 39 miles. Several runners with lights, music and bright lights in the near distance signaled a change in my race, I had made it!
Plan 6 - It might as well have been a mirage with a second serving of lemonade.  It was an aid station and when I asked a volunteer (thank you for being there), "how far to headquarters?"  "4.7 miles."  That was a dagger *&^%$@#  &^%$@#*  $^^*//*&  ran through my mind. Drank a quick cola, ginger ale and ate some m&ms and started walking.  This was the lowest of the low points for me.  It was dark, I had no light, no energy or lift in my legs and at my present pace I would be out there for another 2 hours.  2 hours!  I kept asking myself, "why do I do this?  Why do I subject my body and legs to this torture?" Sometimes with lemonade you are given a small packet of sugar.  Less than 1/2 mile out of the aid station I came upon a runner and his pacer.  Ray signed up for 100 miles but was dropping to 100k and calling it over.  His pacer, Paul was keeping him on pace and making sure he was eating and drinking something over the last 4.5 miles.  All three of us talked and walked the remaining distance.  Ray and I discussed how we would never do this again but both knew in 2 to 3 days we would be looking for the experience all over again.  As we made progress and saw the mile signs countdown the distance 3, 2 and 1 every step meant getting closer to calling it at 100k. Ray decided to run the last 100 meters, I encouraged him to do so as I was fine with walking it in.  I admitted to dropping from the 100 mile to 100k.  I was congratulated and given a buckle for finishing the 62 miles.  
That left 13 hours to cover 39 miles.  The shape I was in, there was no way I could hold 3 mph for 13 hours.  
100 k in 16:40:50.
Here are some of my post race thoughts:
I will reassess my season as the Midwest Slam is no longer attainable.
The Mohican 100 in two weeks is out.
I stupidly toed the start line when my training was not what I wanted or needed it to be.  I should have also taken the nagging injuries as another sign not to go.
No matter how many miles I log on streets or forest preserve paths nothing compares to training on the course or similar single track technical trails.
I wanted to write this blog in the matter I was feeling and thinking during the race.  So if it seems disjointed, good because that's how I felt.
6 plans meant I was constantly reworking and rethinking my race plan.  In my ultras, I am adapting to ever changing feelings, conditions and results.
Listen to your body, it is okay to "save the fight for another day."  
There are always more races.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mental Tug o' War

TAPER TANTRUM!!!  Race week is here, let the questioning begin.  Did I do enough?  Did I log enough miles? Will my nagging injury rear its ugly head?  Will I be able to finish under the time constraints?  The week heading into a race is always filled with doubts for me.  I struggle to come to terms with "trust in the process" and let the race play out.  I have had very few races where I toed the start line confident I have done all I needed to do.  I believe there really is nothing to be gained by last minute training runs trying to make up missing training sessions. Better to show up 10% under trained than 1% over trained, but trying to harness the anxiety for good thoughts and restful nights of sleep can be interesting.  This is one of the fun aspects of being an athlete, trying to channel nervous energy and questions into focused concentration and effort at the race.  
My main focus of this week will be visualizing my race and all the different scenarios that can happen.  I feel this helps me prepare for situations that can go right...and can go wrong.  My first visual is usually a mental check list of items I may need that are specific to the area I will be racing.  I do take some time to review the race's website about the course, course and weather conditions and I try to find some reviews from past participant's points of view of what to expect. The next scenario I picture is what will I load into my drop bags and how my transitions at those aid stations will go.  I want to make sure that I have my "go to" nutrition at certain points, have apparel for any weather and any incidentals that I may need.  
The biggest amount of time I will spend this week is visualizing myself in the race.  In my mind's eye, I can watch myself running in the race and picture how I feel, what I'm eating and drinking and what song I'll be singing over and over again.  I will not fool myself by thinking I'll be happy the whole race, have any issues or every planned detail will go off without a hitch.  It's actually quite the opposite, plan for the worst - hope for the best - and let the chips fall where they may.  I do visualize running on the technical, single track trail and mentally getting lost in the beauty of my surroundings.  I do remind myself to be nice and respectful to all the volunteers and to say, "thank you" entering and leaving the aid stations.  I focus on the fact that I am running, running for a long time and that time is "me" time, it is "my time."  It is a chance for me to unplug and enjoy the world around me, to not have a care in the world except to put one foot in front of the other.  
So if you happen to be running today, plan to run tomorrow or are looking at a weekend race, enjoy the run and don't worry about the time or your place or your age group...just enjoy the run and you'll win the tug o' war.