Apr 23

Keep the pace just in case all the magic dies

Double Chubb 50K

My two most important running objectives for spring 2014 were the Land Between the Lakes 50 mile trail race six weeks ago and the Double Chubb 50K trail race this past weekend. I couldn’t identify either as more important than the other. On one hand I felt I was due for a good 50 mile performance, while on the other hand Chubb is the closest trail ultra to my home (on a trail I run frequently) and I’ve never made it in before (due to the fact that the registration fills up so quickly).

I’ve been running well this spring. I ran a 50 mile PR at LBL. Two weeks later I ran a 5K PR. Two weeks later I unexpectedly ran a marathon PR. Two weeks later I hoped to hit the quadfecta and run strong at Chubb. If things went well I would likely run a 50K PR and have a shot at a high overall finish. After all, the past two times I’ve followed a 50 mile race with a 50K a short time later I ended up winning the 50K.

White tails

Descent

Unhappy hiker

The snowflakes start falling and I start to float

I ran the Chubb Trail several times over the past six months–more than any other local trail. I ran it when it was snowy, icy, and/or muddy. About half the trail is flat, while the other half is either straight uphill or downhill. The most notable feature of the trail is the rocky 400 foot hill on the West Tyson end. It takes strength to run up and agility to run down. I ran every step of it more than a dozen times over the winter and early spring.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

The forecast was wet and cool, then wet and warm, then dry and warm. I would have preferred wet and cool. Race day was the warmest day I have run so far this year, which usually doesn’t bode well for performance. Everyone seemed a bit shy at the starting line so I had a front row spot. Once the race started I immediately began running uphill watching to see who would take the lead.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

There were two guys at the front and I think they were both in the 25K, so I wasn’t concerned. Nobody else started very fast so I hit the single track 3rd. I eased into the first few miles, but everyone else eased in more, so I was alone early. #2 on the trail appeared to twist an ankle and was stopped on the side of the trail. Now there was only one guy ahead.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

I ran up and over the big hill comfortably, but still under 9:00/mile pace on the uphill. I passed up the first aid station as I still had plenty of fluids (Tailwind) and food. On the flat section of the trail down by the river another 25K runner caught up to me and we ran (relatively fast) together for several miles. As we approached the first turnaround of the two out-and-back lap course the leader passed us coming back. It was about a minute before we reached the turnaround. The guy I ran with asked me if the leader was in the 25K or the 50K, which I thought was a silly question at the time. Surely he’s in the 25K.

On the second length (of four) back towards the start/finish area I decided I was running too fast and backed off while the 25K runner continued on. I had actually realized much earlier that I was running way too fast, but I guess I was just hoping for the best. The second pass at the big hill (this time from the opposite direction) was a bit harder, but still around 9:00/mile up the hill.

As I passed the start/finish area at the halfway point one of the volunteers shouted to me, “he has 4:20 on you.” Wait, what? Who? What the… The first runner was in my race after all, and he had a hefty lead.

Every voice in my head shouted yes and no

I slowed down a lot on the third length of the course, partially due to fatigue, partially to being a bit down about the surprise I was so far out of the lead. I alternated between pushing the pace in the hope of eventually catching up, and slowing down as I lost focus. As I came within a mile of the turnaround I started looking out for the leader coming back toward me. Eventually he did, but it was much closer to the turnaround than I expected–2 minutes, so he had a ~4 minute lead. I had slowed significantly, yet I didn’t lose any more time (and possibly gained a few seconds). This changes everything.

I was able to refocus on the task at hand. Of course, there was still the small matter of the 8 miles and 2 big hills ahead of me. Also, there were chasers at 8, 10, and 12 minutes behind me, some of whom I was expecting to run a more even pace. My legs felt like bricks. I ticked off the miles, buoyed by each person I passed that was heading toward me. They all made comments like, “He’s only 3 minutes ahead,” “You’re only 2 minutes behind,” “I just passed the leader about a minute ago,” etc. I wanted so badly to slow down, but I also didn’t want to come so close to the win only to give up with a few miles to go.

Then came the big hill. The hill I ran at least a dozen times over the winter. The hill I cruised up earlier in the race. I was reduced to a walk on the steepest sections. About halfway up I passed Cousin Don who gave me the best news I’d heard all day, “He’s not very far ahead of you.” Then he added, “And he looks pretty beat up.” (After the race Don told me I also looked beat up at that point, but thankfully he didn’t mention it at the time). I slowly crested the big hill (after nearly 13:00 for the uphill mile), then I picked up speed on the downhill.

This is love, this is war

After a few switchbacks I actually saw the leader from behind for the first time in 28 miles. I sped up more. I closed the gap in a matter of seconds. I made the pass 29 miles into the race, right as he stopped to stretch out his calf. He mentioned he was really suffering badly from muscle cramps. I asked him if he needed any salt (which helps with cramps on hot days like this). “Yeah, if you have any,” he responded. I stopped long enough to dump a few S!CAPS out of my waterproof pill holder into his hand. Then I took off down the trail, hoping he wouldn’t start chasing (he didn’t).

I reached the bottom and began the final trail section, the Chinkapin loop, a trail whose only purpose is to make life hard. It doesn’t go anywhere, just straight up a 200 foot hill, then straight back down. It’s a final slap in the face after a long hard day on the hills in the heat. The finish line is at the bottom. I couldn’t muster a smile until after I crossed the finish line. 3 minutes later the 2nd finisher crossed the line.

Don’t ever give up.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

I finished in 4:02 (7:48/mile), by far the fastest 50K I’ve run (on a not-exactly-fast course). I wanted to run under 4 hours, but considering how bad I felt by the end of the race I’m just glad I finished. I made a serious error by starting too fast (surprise!). On top of that I could feel the cumulative fatigue of my previous spring races in my legs, particularly the marathon 2 weeks prior. But now that it’s over, I feel pretty good about how things went.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

That’s going to be my last foot race for a little while. I think I’m ready for a break. In the span of 43 days I set PRs for 50 miles, 5K, marathon, and 50K. I’ve never had a streak like that before, and in all likelihood, I never will again. I’ve tried to enjoy it while it lasted.

These are beautiful times.

Apr 09

Go Superman!

My next A race is the Double Chubb 50K, which is 10 days away. Last week I was still training pretty heavily. On Sunday I did 16.5 miles on the Chubb trail at roughly race pace, which left me sore for a few days. Monday I ran 10 miles. Tuesday I ran 10 miles. Wednesday I ran 10 miles, half of which was fast hill repeats. Thursday I was presented with an opportunity to run in the GO! Saint Louis Marathon that weekend.

Most marathon training plans suggest running about 20 miles in the week before the race. I did 51, so I wasn’t particularly well rested. It will be a good training run, I thought, a C race. Plus it will be a good opportunity to run in my Mr. Incredible costume, which should be fun with thousands of participants and thousands more spectators. The fun started on the train going to the race when a woman asked if she could take a photo of me to show her son.

I lined up just behind the 7:15 pace group. I was planning to run faster than that, but I certainly wanted to start conservatively. I wasn’t exactly prepared for what would happen once the race started. A quarter mile in I was running about 6:30 pace (well behind the 7:15 pace group) and I was getting swarmed on all sides as everyone was blowing past me. What the hell is going on? Do all these hundreds of people passing me not realize how fast they’re going? This is going to end badly.

I stuck with the conservative plan, reaching the first mile in 6:52. The 7:15 pace group was 20 seconds ahead of me instead of 20 seconds behind me. The second mile (downhill) was 6:41. The third mile (uphill) was 6:55. The fourth mile (downhill) was 6:33. These splits weren’t very even, but that’s what happens when there are hills (and there were hills). By now I’ve passed tons of the fast starters and I’m back ahead of the silly 7:15 pace group.

These early miles had the first out-and-back section, where thousands of slower runners first saw my costume and did a lot of cheering for me. There were also early aid stations where young volunteers in particular were very excited to see me. This was just a taste of what was to come.

I was confident I could average 6:50 pace throughout the entire race. If things go really well I may even be able to do 6:40. Miles 6-8 were Holy Hill, a two mile stretch with three big rolling hills in a row. When did Saint Louis get so hilly?

Marathon elevation

6:47, 6:40, 6:41, 6:38, 6:33. Okay, so I may have gotten a bit excited on the big hills. My heart rate jumped up a bit. Let’s try to calm down. There are lots of spectators through midtown and everybody’s cheering for me. Every young child who sees me gets excited. I’m giving them high fives. Every college student near SLU (who would have been a child 10 years ago when The Incredibles was released) loved it.

Before long the half marathon runners split off from the marathon runners and turned toward the finish line while we continued out toward Forest Park, where I run several times per week. Now this was my turf. The field thinned out considerably. I ran around the same three guys for the next 8 miles or so, all within 15 seconds of each other. As I caught up to one guy he looked over at me and said, “Oh, that explains a lot. I was wondering why everybody was calling me Mr. Incredible.”

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1:28 at the half marathon. This is easy. Well, it’s supposed to be easy at that point. Coming out of Forest Park came the biggest hill of the race. Fortunately, this hill is right by my house and I run up it almost every day, so I was prepared. It was warming up a bit from the 39˚F start so I took my headband off and stashed it near my house so I could pick it up after the race.

More rolling hills through downtown Clayton. Then we hit a stretch of the course I’d never seen before as we headed up to Delmar. More rolling hills on Delmar, then a nice gradual downhill through The Loop.

I passed a few people I’d been chasing for miles as either they slowed down or I sped up. I pulled up beside one guy as we passed a spectator who shouted out, “I like your outfit!” The other runner and I looked at each other. I said to him, “I think she’s talking to you.”

Next I passed Jenny, who had as many people cheering for her as I did. Jenny went on to win the race, finishing 1 minute behind me.

I’m 20 miles into the race and it still feels easy. “Go Superman!”, I hear someone shouting at me. I look over and it’s a nun standing on the sidewalk. It brings a grin to my face, so I’ll forgive the mistake. Next I pass through the final marathon relay exchange point. It’s packed with 600 people and they’re all cheering for me. And I’m egging them on.

Miles 21 (6:35) and 22 (6:34) I notice it’s no longer easy. I still maintain a strong pace. Then came mile 23 (6:58) with the first hills in 5 miles and it suddenly became hard. Well, that’s to be expected. This mirrors what happened in the marathon I ran last spring. In that case I completely collapsed and slowed way down. Let’s try to avoid a repeat.

Mile 24 was relatively flat and I got back down to 6:40. Mile 25 had some more uphill sections and I was back up to 7:00. Hold it together. I was running beside thousands of half marathon participants at this point. Lots of them cheered me on and I kept moving. There’s a fairly brutal hill in mile 26 but I pushed hard and cranked out a 6:42, and I kept speeding up all the way to the finish line. The spectator support in the last mile was fantastic.

About ⅔ of the spectators who cheered for me throughout the race recognized me as Mr. Incredible. Most of the rest just cheered for the superhero. Other names I heard were Incredible Man (close), Dash (close enough), Superman (less close), and Batman (not close at all).

I finished in 2:56:19 (6:41 pace), meaning I ran even splits (1:28, 1:28) in a marathon for the second time ever. It was the fastest marathon I’ve ever run, and to be completely honest, it was the easiest marathon I’ve ever run (the next easiest marathon I’ve run was the other one where I ran even splits). The first 20 miles were a warmup. Then I had 2 moderately difficult miles and 4 very difficult miles. Basically it was like running a 10K, except I’m far more sore afterward.

Speaking of which, I can definitely tell something has changed either in my form or in my musculature over the past 6-12 months. I used to have a lot of soreness in my quads, a little in my hamstrings, and none in my calves after long races. More recently I have a lot of soreness in my hamstrings and calves, and just a little in my quads. I’m using different muscles. I haven’t quite figured out what to make of that yet.

Here’s a quick comparison of this marathon to the last one. At mile 15 I was only 19 seconds ahead of last year’s time, but by the finish I was over 6 minutes ahead. Incidentally, I just realized that I wore the exact same pair of shoes in these two races (with several hundred miles in between them).

Frisco Railroad Run 2013 GO! St. Louis Marathon 2014
Time Split HR Time Split HR
Mile 1 00:06:57 06:57 142 00:06:52 06:52 137
Mile 2 00:13:51 06:53 148 00:13:33 06:41 148
Mile 3 00:20:41 06:50 151 00:20:29 06:55 152
Mile 4 00:27:34 06:53 152 00:27:02 06:33 148
Mile 5 00:34:28 06:53 155 00:33:50 06:47 151
Mile 6 00:41:15 06:47 157 00:40:31 06:40 156
Mile 7 00:48:07 06:51 158 00:47:13 06:41 157
Mile 8 00:54:49 06:42 159 00:53:51 06:38 160
Mile 9 01:01:23 06:34 161 01:00:25 06:33 157
Mile 10 01:07:58 06:34 164 01:07:05 06:39 160
Mile 11 01:14:30 06:32 163 01:13:44 06:39 157
Mile 12 01:20:59 06:29 161 01:20:33 06:49 163
Mile 13 01:27:29 06:29 161 01:27:03 06:30 160
Mile 14 01:34:04 06:35 169 01:33:42 06:39 164
Mile 15 01:40:46 06:41 169 01:40:27 06:45 167
Mile 16 01:47:30 06:43 167 01:47:09 06:41 166
Mile 17 01:54:10 06:40 167 01:53:42 06:32 166
Mile 18 02:00:58 06:47 166 02:00:12 06:30 167
Mile 19 02:07:53 06:55 164 02:06:56 06:44 166
Mile 20 02:14:43 06:50 167 02:13:31 06:34 165
Mile 21 02:21:49 07:05 165 02:20:07 06:35 167
Mile 22 02:28:58 07:08 164 02:26:42 06:34 167
Mile 23 02:36:29 07:30 165 02:33:41 06:59 167
Mile 24 02:44:00 07:31 164 02:40:22 06:40 167
Mile 25 02:52:02 08:02 162 02:47:22 07:00 168
Mile 26 03:00:10 08:08 162 02:54:05 06:42 169

I think I have a bit of room for improvement even at my current fitness level. With more rest and a flatter course I could probably push 2:50. Who knows whether I could have run faster without the costume… I don’t intent to find out. This experience convinced me that I will probably never want to run another road marathon in plain clothes again.

Apr 04

March 2014

A long, slow journey

Ten years ago this March I tore the cartilage in my left knee while I was running. I don’t remember the exact circumstances surrounding the injury. My knee simply started hurting during the run and (unlike most pains that surface during a run) it never seemed to stop. There was a dull ache that was always there, but it turned into a very sharp pain the instant I shifted from a walk to a trot. I tried (in vain) to continue running once a week or so for the next few months, but that was just delaying the inevitable. Eventually I had surgery, a long recovery, and even then I still couldn’t run without intense pain.

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At the time of my injury I had run nearly every day for the previous ten years. It was the thing I loved doing more than anything else. Yet there I was, faced with the likelihood that I would never run again. It was very difficult for me emotionally, but I made my peace with it, and I moved on. My consolation was that I could still ride my bike without pain. If you’ve ever looked at my running and cycling mileage logs before in these posts and wondered what the hell happened in 2005-2007, well, now you know.

One day in late 2007 I decided out of the blue to attempt running again. I had no expectation I would actually be able to, but I had to find out. I made it a mile without pain before deciding not to push my luck and stopping there.

That that was one of the best miles of my life.

It wasn’t until I had completely lost hope that I finally rested enough for my body to begin to recover. It’s been a long, slow journey from that single mile in 2007 to recent years where I typically run 10 or so miles 5-6 times per week (and occasionally race 50 or more). My 20 year old self wouldn’t have had the patience for it. Sure, I’ve had a few minor injuries along the way, but I’ve thankfully avoided major problems. As time marches on I continue to get stronger and faster. But it’s always in the back of my mind, the feeling that each run I go on could be my last. And that’s precisely why I savor them all.

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

― Aristotle


Running

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March felt like a light month, with a week of tapering before LBL and a week of recovery after. I somehow managed to make up for that with a lot of miles in the 2nd half of the month. The six highest mileage months I’ve recorded have all been in the past nine months.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 192.03 Mile 19 10.1068 Mile
February 227.4 Mile 19 11.9684 Mile
March 192.96 Mile 17 11.3506 Mile
Total 612.39 Mile 55 11.1344 Mile

Running 2014 3


Cycling

Ugh. At least I got a race in, even if that one race did account for the majority of my miles last month.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 64.74 Mile 4 16.185 Mile
February 15.9 Mile 1 15.9 Mile
March 51.18 Mile 2 25.59 Mile
Total 131.82 Mile 7 18.8314 Mile

Cycling 2014 3


Walking & Hiking

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 27.72 Mile 11 2.52 Mile
February 26.8 Mile 11 2.43636 Mile
March 32.72 Mile 11 2.97455 Mile
Total 87.24 Mile 33 2.64364 Mile

Walking 2014 3

Mar 31

Carondelicious

The day after the Take Steps for Kids 5K I did my first bike race of the year, the Carondelicious Crit. The race itself wasn’t notable for me (aside from the fact that I started and finished a bike race). The windy conditions weren’t particularly well suited for a rider of my size/shape/strength.

I took a long pull on the front to bring back a breakaway about half way through the 50 minute race. Then again with two laps to go I hit the front trying to bring back another solo breakaway. My teammate Mike took over with one lap to go as I got swallowed up by the pack. We couldn’t quite close the gap. The silver lining was that our teammate Reid made a move at the end and stayed clear of the pack to finish 2nd place. So the hard work put in by Mike and me turned out to be pretty useful (even if I dropped back to 35th place by the end).

Mar 31

No Capes!

Every Super has a secret identity; I don’t know a single one who doesn’t. I mean, who wants the pressure of being super all the time?

-Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr

I’ve seen plenty of costumed runners slogging it out in big road marathons. I became intrigued when I read about ultrarunning legends Ian Sharmin and Mike Wardian battling each other for the world record of “fastest marathon in superhero costume” (they’ve both run sub-2:40 in costume, but have since been surpassed). I’m clearly not in their league, but I do have a four year old son who is really into superheroes. He dresses up as a different superhero everyday. And he gets pretty darn excited when I dress up too.

Nothing says “I’m not taking this race seriously” like wearing a costume. Except I have this thing (mental illness?) where I kind of take every race seriously. Hmm. Over the winter I put together my own Mr. Incredible costume, but rather than using Halloween-caliber goods I used actual running clothes. The goal was to look the part while still being able to run fast. The mask was a little iffy, but the rest was pretty solid.

I’ve run the Take Steps for Kids 5K on the Washington University campus the past two years and finished 2nd place both times. With no speed work again this year, and coming fresh off a 50 mile trail race, I was not super prepared for a road 5K. But it worked out well for me last year, and I’m in better shape now.

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As I warmed up (in costume) between home and the race I got plenty of looks and comments from neighbors, motorists, and college students on campus. Once the race started, though, I was all business. I used my usual strategy of tucking into the back of the lead pack. After a mile or so one runner had pulled sufficiently far off the front I felt I couldn’t wait any longer so I made a big push to bridge up to the lone leader (it’s weird how running race strategy is becoming more like bike race strategy for me).

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I stayed on his heels through the end of the first loop. Going up the many steps I conceded a few feet to the leader and that gap held pretty constant for the rest of the race. It was basically a replay of last year’s race with identical pace and time gaps, just a different runner in front of me. I finished in 2nd place (for the third year in a row) in 16:47. That was about 10 seconds slower than last year’s time, but last year there was a course direction snafu that sent the leaders on a slightly different route that cut a short distance off, so I ran a bit farther this year. This was probably the fastest 5K I’ve ever run.

Could I have run faster if I wasn’t wearing the costume? I seriously doubt it.

Mar 12

I Feel Fantastic

Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile Trail Race

Four times now I’ve run 50+ miles. Two of these were 8-hour races on a relatively easy course (difficulty rating ★★☆☆☆), while the other two were 50 mile trail races on more challenging courses (difficulty rating ★★★★☆). I’ve struggled during all of them, but persevered to finish (with good results even).

I wasn’t super happy with my last 50 miler. I felt I had better fitness than for my first three 50 milers, yet I fell apart early in the race and ended up running my slowest time yet. I wanted my next race to be different. I wanted to do something special, but I didn’t know how to pull it off. It was obvious I would need to have a similar level of fitness, if not better. But fitness clearly wasn’t enough. I needed a stronger mental game if I was going to have a breakthrough performance.

Completely coincidentally, as I was training for the Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile Trail Race I listened to an episode of a podcast I enjoy, Trail Runner Nation. The guest that episode was an unlikely one, a guy named Lanny Bassham. He’s not a runner, but a former sport shooter with Olympic and World Championship gold medals. As he talked I was fascinated with just how similar the mental aspects of long distance running were to those of shooting, or golf, or any other sport. To make a long story short, I read his book, With Winning in Mind, and it provided many valuable tips to get me where I wanted to be for this race.

I trained throughout the harsh winter, in the rain and snow and ice. I trained for hours at a time, gradually increasing my pace so I finished each run strong. I trained my stomach to handle the types of foods I would need to eat during the race. I used metabolic efficiency training to teach my body to burn less sugar (which the body can only store so much of) and more fat (which even fit people have a virtually unlimited supply of). Every single run I visualized my target race.

I didn’t train so hard because I required the fitness to perform well at my race. I was pretty fit at the start of the training cycle. I trained hard because that’s what I needed to do in order to gain the confidence that would be required to perform well at my race. And the confidence is what made all the difference.


We packed up the family and headed to Grand Rivers, Kentucky. I would be racing, while Melissa and Will would be spectating and providing me with support.

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Food for the weekend. Photo by Melissa.

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My drop bag with food and spare clothes.

We ran into a number of friends from our former home of Champaign-Urbana, as well as some Saint Louians I knew. LBL is one of the biggest trail ultras in the midwest, so there were runners there from all over. The 11.3 mile trail would host four different races simultaneously: 23K (1 loop), marathon (2 loops), 60K (3 loops), and 50M (4 loops). On paper, at least, this particular trail (difficulty rating ★★★☆☆) is easier than the two previous trails on which I’ve raced 50 milers. The footing is good (not rocky, very few roots). It’s mostly flat, though there are a few decent sized hills. The trail conditions would be a factor, though, as it snowed 6″ in the week before the race and it was slowly melting away.

The 6:30 AM start was overcast and 35˚F, though the expected high was 60˚F. Rather than try to change clothes during the race I decided to dress for the warmer weather and add arm warmers and gloves that I could easily shed. This worked out pretty well, though it made for a chilly start.

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At the starting line. Photo by Melissa.

The first 2 miles were on a paved road before we hit the trail. I started quickly in order to not be held up once on the single track. My first two miles were 7:26 and 7:22, and there were about 20 people ahead of me.


Once we hit the trail I kept my GPS watch going, but I made a conscious decision not to look at it the entire rest of the race. This is fairly abnormal for me. As a data junkie my running is heavily influenced by my mile splits. But this gets back to the mental game I discussed earlier, and one of the points from that book. Focusing on the outcome (running a certain distance in a certain time) is the wrong way to go about it. Instead I wanted my focus to be on the process of running my own race at a comfortable pace, whatever that pace may be (The lost art of running by feel). I had to focus on executing the race I wanted to run, and have faith the outcome would be satisfying. After all, if I was happy with how I ran the race, how could I not be satisfied with the outcome? It sounds so simple, yet it was so difficult to buy into.


The first 11.3 mile loop was fast. The trail was covered with 1-2″ of crunchy snow (if there must be snow, this is really the best kind). As I was near the front it was still in pretty good shape for me. I gradually moved up several positions and by the end of the first loop I was the 11th or 12th runner on the trail (including participants from the three shorter events).

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The first loop was snowy. Photo by Paul Farr.

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One loop down, three to go. Photo by West Kentucky Runners Club.

Near the end of the first loop I caught up with a guy I know from Saint Louis (Tommy) and we ran the next several miles together, chatting about races, jobs, and desirable locations to live. What had been nice crunchy snow on the first loop was now muddy on the second loop. At 1½ loops I refilled my pockets with food from my drop bag (which for some reason was placed surprisingly far away from the trail) before continuing on ahead of Tommy.

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Arriving at the aid station after 1½ loops. Photo by Melissa.

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I heard Will cheering each time I approached the aid station. Photo by Melissa.

The mud got more intense on the second half of the loop. At the end of the second loop (when I had nearly finished the marathon distance) I briefly realized how far I had run, but I quickly refocused on the task at hand. I found it much easier to break the race up into four loops. Knowing that I only had two loops remaining was much easier to handle than thinking I still had 25 miles to go.

On the third loop the trail went from bad to worse. Everything was muddy, and there was now a lot of standing water on the trail. Given that most of the water was fresh snow melt at around 33˚F, my feet got cold, and even went numb a few times during some of the longer sections. Check out these great photos of the mud here on Flickr (which I can’t repost here for copyright reasons).

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The trail was pretty soupy by the third loop. Photo by Seth Byers Photography.

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Muddy legs. Photo by Melissa.

After 2½ loops the leader of the women’s race passed me. We were going about the same pace so I followed her for several miles. She asked if I was in the 50 mile race and I said yes. She responded, “Me too. That fourth loop is going to be an epic suck.” I didn’t see how the trail could get any worse.

She was running the uphill sections faster than me and she frequently pulled ahead of me, while I often ran the downhill sections faster and caught back up. While this was by no means a hilly course, there are some hills. They’re not even 100 ft high, and they are shallow enough to be runnable, but steep enough to hurt when you do run them.

Back in 2009 I ran the LBL 23K race. I was a strong runner then (I finished 6th place), but I was reduced to walking up a few of the hills in that one-loop race. This year, confident and stronger than ever, I had decided I was going to run every hill, every loop. By the third loop it was a struggle. But as I was following this woman up the hills I would briefly consider walking before looking up to see her running. Each time I thought to myself, if the person ahead of me isn’t walking, what excuse could I possibly have to walk? And then I kept running.

Eventually I slowed a bit and she pulled away from me. The fourth loop actually wasn’t any worse than the third loop. I had been lapping a steady stream of runners since about the 1½ loop point. By the fourth loop nearly all of the runners from the 23K and marathon races were gone, so the lapped runners were fewer and farther between. On top of that the previously frigid standing water the covered much of the trail was beginning to warm up a bit and was now simply chilly, not cold enough to numb my feet.

At 3½ loops I saw Melissa and Will for the last time at that aid station. Melissa asked me how I felt, and before she could finish I blurted out I feel fantastic. Okay, so maybe that was a bit of hyperbole. In absolute terms I didn’t really feel fantastic, I had just run 43 miles fairly hard. In relative terms, I felt better than I ever had before at mile 43. Of course I felt fantastic. If I didn’t believe that how else was I going to make it to the finish line?

I feel fantastic and I’ve never felt as good as how I do right now except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day when I felt the way that I do right now.

–Jonathan Coulton

In each of my previous 50 mile races I went through a rough patch where I felt terrible and I slowed down drastically. In my most recent 50 mile race it began uncharacteristically early (mile 22!). That wasn’t going to happen this time. I was going to get through this feeling great. Why? Because I wanted to with every fiber of my being. How? By convincing myself that was the only possible outcome, focusing on the process of running the race I wanted to run, and working to get the job done. The hardest part was convincing myself this would happen, but that happened long before the race began.

I finished the fourth loop, ran a 1.2 mile out and back on the road before heading back into town to the finish line. During the out and back I saw one person ahead of me (the women’s winner) and nobody behind me, so the gaps were large. I had no idea what position I was in all day. As I passed the last aid station one volunteer told me I as in 5th place and another told me I was 4th male. Both were right.

I didn’t slow down, because I feel fantastic. I sped up and got back under 8 minute per mile pace. Once I hit the road back into town I relented and looked at my watch for the first time in 7 hours. 7h28m it said. This was a good run. But I already knew that.

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The finish line. Photo by Melissa.

I crossed the finish line in 7h39m, over an hour faster than my previous best 50 mile trail race. It was a wee bit slower than my first 50 miles at Howl at the Moon last summer (7h24m), but that was on an easy course in ideal conditions. This course was more narrow, technical, hilly, muddy, snowy, watery. I’d handicap this course at least 40 seconds per mile slower compared to that one. This was a far better race.

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Fourth place male.

The first thing I want after finishing a 50 miler is to sit down, and this was no exception. Once you cross the finish line and your brain is no longer saying shut up legs, you begin to realize what a world of pain you’re in. I hobbled back to the car, inhaled a container of BBQ Pringles, then headed back to the hotel for a hot shower.


The notable aspects of this race:

  • no walking
  • no blisters
  • no chafing
  • no bonking
  • no cramps
  • no falls
  • no bathroom breaks

I did get sunburned, despite the cloudy 35˚F start. I also had the misfortune of getting Hammer Gel stuck in my mustache that, for all I know, may still be in there.

I ate/drank roughly:


Rob’s difficulty ratings:

  • ★☆☆☆☆: paved roads
  • ★★☆☆☆: grass, gravel/dirt roads, easy double-track
  • ★★★☆☆: moderate single-track, few hills
  • ★★★★☆: technical single-track, moderate hills
  • ★★★★★: technical single-track, mountains
Mar 01

February 2014

Running

My mysterious only-hurts-when-not-running knee issue continues, but it didn’t stop me from doing a bit of running last month. I did several long progression runs (gradually increasing the pace over several hours), including a 28 miler last weekend where the last 14 miles were the fastest I had ever covered that particular trail before. Earlier that week I had done a strong two loops (22.6 miles) around the LBL Canal Loop Trail, where I’ll be running a 50 mile race next weekend. Things are looking good. The only prediction I’ll state publicly is that I plan to run significantly faster than my last (slightly disappointing) 50 miler.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 192.03 Mile 19 10.1068 Mile
February 227.4 Mile 19 11.9684 Mile
Total 419.43 Mile 38 11.0376 Mile

Running 2014 2


Cycling

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 64.74 Mile 4 16.185 Mile
February 15.9 Mile 1 15.9 Mile
Total 80.64 Mile 5 16.128 Mile

Cycling 2014 2


Walking & Hiking

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 27.72 Mile 11 2.52 Mile
February 26.8 Mile 11 2.43636 Mile
Total 54.52 Mile 22 2.47818 Mile

Walking 2014 2


Cross Country Skiing

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 6.85 Mile 2 3.425 Mile
February 4.24 Mile 1 4.24 Mile
Total 11.09 Mile 3 3.69667 Mile

Skiing 2014 2


Stairmaster

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 11.85 Mile 2 5.925 Mile
February 12.54 Mile 2 6.27 Mile
Total 24.39 Mile 4 6.0975 Mile

Stairmaster 2014 2

Feb 05

The best laid plans of mice and men something something

It rained all day Saturday just in time to freeze into an icy mess for Sunday morning’s Nippy Niner trail race. The 22˚F weather felt okay when I left the house, but when I arrived at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers a short while later the blustery wind was howling across the flat, wide open prairie.

Confluence

I was hoping to debut my new race costume at this 9 mile event, but the extreme cold briefly caused me to reconsider. My four year old son Will is really into super heroes and we all really like The Incredibles, so I wanted to race in my new Mr. Incredible outfit. I decided to stick with the plan, though the effect was somewhat lost by the fact that I had to wear an additional jacket to keep warm at the start of the race (I took it off by the end).

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Walking to the starting line I saw a runner who looked really fast (sometimes you can just tell). Well, he shot off the front immediately. I eased into it before giving chase. The early miles were on gravel roads with the wind at our back. I wasn’t too surprised to see 5:48 at the first mile. I started to pull back a little bit of ground in the second mile, ticking off a 5:37. In the third mile we turned into a stiff headwind. Then we traded the moderately icy gravel road for a completely iced over asphalt path. We all slowed considerably.

After a mile or so of that we turned onto the “trail.” This wasn’t like any trail I’d ever run before. The former trail was destroyed by flooding last year, and apparently the replacement trail had just been completed the day before the race. To say it was rough wouldn’t be doing it justice. It was a fairly wide swath of trees that had been cleared, with lots of ruts and stumps still in the ground. Most of the length of the trail was constant up and downs of 3-4 feet at a time. Having to constantly adjust my foot placement to avoid breaking an ankle, I simply could not find any rhythm.

River's Edge Trail
This photo really doesn’t do justice to the tough, lumpy, uneven trail.

I took a wrong turn before quickly getting back on course. Still in 2nd place I passed the lead mountain bike, who was finding the rough trail even more difficult than the runners were. It was then I took another wrong turn and went quite a bit out of my way. Once I realized I was way off course I turned back and once again passed the mountain bike (who presumably was quite confused). Right then the 3rd place runner caught up to me and we ran together for the rest of the race.

We came out of the woods at an aid station. I asked the volunteers which direction to go and they (eventually) shouted “right.” We went right. We ran down the icy asphalt path for a while before nearly reaching the finish line when I realized we were off course again. If we continued this direction we would reach the finish line coming from the west, but I remember from the course map on the website that we were supposed to finish from the east. We discussed the situation and debated various options before realizing that the race was over for both of us. We had run a hard 9 miles and turning back would require several more miles even if we could find the correct route.

We reached the finish line and explained what happened, assuming we would both be scored as DQ or DNF. Whatever. It was then that we saw the leader cross the finish line coming from correct direction. So at least he didn’t get lost.

I went back out to run a few more miles easy when I saw a steady stream of 20-30 runners all going the same way we had gone. This is going to be interesting. I’ve never been at a race where this many people went this far off course. At this point I was really curious A) how they would score the race and B) where the hell did everyone miss the turn?

I continued to investigate as I was cooling down. There were still plenty of runners out on the course. I eventually found the real course and talked to some more volunteers. I put all the pieces together and it turns out we were supposed to turn left where the aid station volunteers told us to turn right. Whoops.

I’ve been to enough road races to know that people can get pretty pissed about this sort of thing. The great thing about trail runners is that nobody seemed terribly upset by the snafu. Everyone appeared to take it in stride. I ran from that turn and followed the real course to the finish line, passing the last few runners on the way. At least I would be a finisher, even if I had gone 5 miles out of the way.

The organizers took pity on us and scored everyone based on the time they crossed the finish line, regardless of which direction they came from. The distances were pretty close (though the way we went was a little shorter, which is how we arrived there just before the winner). So I tied for 2nd place, which seemed fair. I suppose the alternative would have been 4th from last, but I think I would have been fine with that too.

I am thankful for the race organizers and all the volunteers who braved miserably cold conditions to put on a really fun event at a really interesting location on a really awful day. The best laid plans of mice and men something something.

Feb 01

January 2014

Running

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

I followed a week of no running (skiing and travel) with 8 days of 10-ish miles per day. This was my longest streak in over 10 years. Later in the month I eased up a bit. I’ve been having some nagging pain in my bad knee since the Forest Glen 50K in October… but only when I’m not running. Unfortunately, I spend far more time not running than I do running, so I need to lock that down.

Race tomorrow. Should be very cold. Fun times.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 192.03 Mile 19 10.1068 Mile
Total 192.03 Mile 19 10.1068 Mile

Running 2014 1


Cycling

For the first time(s) in a few years I managed to work up the motivation to ride my bike on the trainer in my basement. It’s strange, but I just can’t put out any power on that thing, which got me down a bit. Fortunately, I managed to sneak in one outdoor ride on a windy 39˚F day and I felt good and had good numbers. Need more.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 64.74 Mile 4 16.185 Mile
Total 64.74 Mile 4 16.185 Mile

Cycling 2014 1


Walking & Hiking

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Now that I’m no longer pushing Will to and from daycare everyday, I’m getting far less walking in than I used to. I’ve picked up some slack by walking at work. Need more.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 27.72 Mile 11 2.52 Mile
Total 27.72 Mile 11 2.52 Mile

Walking 2014 1


Cross Country Skiing

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Snow!

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 6.85 Mile 2 3.425 Mile
Total 6.85 Mile 2 3.425 Mile

Skiing 2014 1


Stairmaster

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 11.85 Mile 2 5.925 Mile
Total 11.85 Mile 2 5.925 Mile

Stairmaster 2014 1

Jan 13

The cold wind blows at precise rates when I’ve got my ice skates on

Welcome back winter once again. It’s January, so there’s not much racing going on… which is one reason the SHivering Icy Trail Run (SHITR) sounds so appealing. With no entry fee and no pressure to perform it’s a good excuse to get a good hard run in through the woods at night in probably rotten weather with no aid.

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

The temperatures warmed up and some of the snow melted, resulting in a super sloppy mess. The run was shortened from 13.1 to 10.8 miles at the last minute so we wouldn’t absolutely destroy the fragile single track trails. We stayed on double track gravel roads the whole way. It sounds easy enough, but there were a few big hills and lots of ankle deep snow-on-top-of-ice-on-top-of-water to keep things interesting.

40˚F and windy was fairly unpleasant prior to the start at sundown, but once we started moving everything was fine. At least it wasn’t 35˚F and raining like last year.

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

I started conservatively and tried to stay as close as I could to other runners. I wanted a good hard run, but I probably would have stayed with other people for several miles if I saw someone else was moving at a good strong pace. While trying to keep my pace under control I accidentally ran off the front. Once by myself I decided to just go ahead and get a good hard run in. One slippery mile gained 300 feet in elevation, and that one was around 7:50. Aside from the hills, I maintained a steady pace in the 6:40-6:50 range through the slop, gradually speeding up as the run progressed. Then I finished strong with a 6:15 final mile.

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

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Photo courtesy of Lori Vohsen

I was hot until the moment I stopped running. Then I had about 30 seconds at a comfortable temperature. Then I was freezing. It was a good sign that I wasn’t as wiped out as last year. Again, I was the first person to finish the event and was awarded a trophy.

Fastest SHITR

After changing into warm dry clothes I stuck around for a while and met people and had interesting conversations before succumbing to the cold wind and heading home.

I’ve done a handful of different fat-ass races (lightly organized, no entry fee, usually no awards), and this was by far the most organized. Race stickers, homemade finisher medals, (used) trophies, the works. Kudos to the Rock Racing people on a super fun event. Since we’re moving out of state I likely won’t be back next year to defend my two-time Fastest SHITR moniker. Alas, I may never be a fast SHITR again.