Running Hot

I run hot.  I generate a lot of body heat when I run.  I sweat the soonest and I sweat the most.  I much prefer running in cool or even downright cold temperatures to hot temperatures. Unfortunately, most ultra marathons are held during the summer months and heat is almost always a factor.

My A race for the summer was the Howl at the Moon 8 Hour timed race outside my hometown of Danville, IL. I previously ran this race in 2012 and 2013. In both cases I ran my fastest times for the 50 mile distance (7:50 and 7:24, respectively). I have improved in many ways since I last ran this race, so I had high hopes for the event this year. I focused all of my effort on it, without any plan B. I hoped to hit 50 miles under 7 hours, which would put me on pace for 56+ miles in 8 hours, which would give me a shot at the win.

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The heat I could mostly train for by running midday under the blazing high desert sun. I couldn’t really train for the humidity, and the humidity in central Illinois in August can be brutal. But the elevation is much lower, so that could potentially cancel out any ill effects of the humidity.

We arrived in Illinois a couple days early. Melissa and I did a short test run and it was ridiculously humid. We hoped for the best on race day, while preparing for the worst. We woke up on race day and the humidity was unreal. I sat in a chair at 7 AM and sweat was dripping off my forehead. The one redeeming factor was that the sky was completely overcast and gray, with the sun nowhere in sight. So it definitely could have been worse.

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I started out with the lead pack. In years past these guys have taken off at 7 minute pace and pulled away early. This year the pace was a much more pedestrian 8:15/mile. This was exactly how fast I was hoping to run for the entire race, so starting off at a nice steady pace was great for me.

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Photo by some member of The Buffalo?

An hour and a half into the race the clouds broke and the sun came out. It was going to be a long hot next six and a half hours. By two hours in I had sweat so much that my shoes made sloshing sounds with every step I took. Six more hours of this bullshit.

I continued to run at a fairly steady pace, while a couple guys from the lead pack sped up and a couple slowed down. I quickly lost track of how many people were ahead of me, and by later in the race people were moving at such wildly different paces there was really no way to tell how many 3.29 mile laps they had run.

By 30 miles the heat was taking a huge toll on me and my pace tanked. The only thing that kept be going was the fistfuls of ice I shoved into my hat and the bandana around my neck each lap. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever sweat this much in my life. I had to drink so much water to stay hydrated that my stomach was just sloshing and sloshing the last few hours.

This was not my day. I was way slower than my A goal of 50 miles in 7 hours. I was way slower than my B goal of beating my previous best performance at this race of 53.64 miles in 8 hours. It was a real struggle just to match my 2012 performance of 50.35 miles. I had just enough time to squeak past that and I finished with 50.85 miles. So it wasn’t my worst ever, but it was a far cry from what I hoped to do… from what I believed I was capable of doing.

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My shoes were so wet the insoles kept sliding around

We all have bad days and disappointing races. My racing record is quite spotty (particularly since moving to Colorado). But I usually bounce back pretty quickly and move on to the next thing. This race, though, put me in a pretty bad place. It left me with all kinds of doubt about what I was actually capable of. It left me wondering whether I even wanted to race again given that I might not ever improve. Maybe I should just focus on adventures in the mountains and leave the racing to the youngsters.

I continued running, a bit aimlessly, for a few weeks before I snapped out of it. August gave way to September. I focused my effort on my favorite local race, the Black Squirrel Half Marathon. Little did I know what autumn had in store for me. That I would go from borderline despair to racing beyond my wildest expectation. But I’ll leave that for another post.

Chasing Moons

Back in July Melissa and her friend Angela wanted to do the Chase the Moon 12-hour night run in order to prepare for the Javelina Jundred later in the fall. They decided maybe it would be better to enter the 3-person relay division and I volunteered to round out the team. On a busy Friday afternoon we braved the Denver traffic in the RV to make it to the suburb of Highlands Ranch a bit earlier than the 7 PM start. I parked right along the course so we would be able to stop by the RV between the 10.6 mile loops. Angela met us there after driving across the Rockies from the western slope. We surprised her with delicious vegan food from Native Foods Cafe.

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Team Ultraordinary (photo by Melissa)

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It was still light out as Angela ran the first lap. She didn’t know whether she wanted to do one lap or two, so I had to be ready to take off after her first lap, just in case. About the time I started getting ready Will locked himself into the RV bathroom. We tried explaining to him how to unlock the door, but he just couldn’t do it. With all three of us in full-on panic mode I began frantically searching hundreds of pages of RV manuals trying to figure out how to unlock the door from the outside. After a very tense 10 minutes we eventually figured it out. I finished getting ready, walked outside, and before long Angela showed up… sooner than expected.

She had a good run and decided to stop after one lap, so I was off, planning to run two laps before handing it off to Melissa (who specifically wanted to run in the middle of the night). The course was very clearly designed for mountain bikers. It was very, very winding and quite lumpy. There was really nowhere where you could get up to speed with all the turns and small hills. On the bright side the weather was fairly cool, so I was still able to keep the pace moderately high.

My big race for the summer was to be Howl at the Moon 8-hour in August, three weeks after this race. So I wasn’t going to destroy myself here, but I did want to get an idea exactly where my fitness was at that point. Things were looking good.

I finished my first loop, picked up some food at the RV, and went back out for another loop. This loop was in the opposite direction, which was fairly disorienting in the dark. I slowed a bit, but not a whole lot. I averaged 8:14/mile for the first two loops. Upon finishing, Melissa went out for her first of two planned laps. I changed into some dry clothes in the RV, ate food, drank fluids, and tried to get some sleep, setting my alarm for when I thought Melissa might be coming through.

I don’t recall at this point whether I saw her or not (I’m thinking not), but I eventually did see her lap time on the live results tracking website, so that gave me an idea when to expect her after the second loop. She would be done at that point, and Angela was done too. But there would still be time on the clock… and this is a race… so I decided I would go back out for more. I again set an alarm and tried to sleep. I probably got an hour or so.

Melissa was surprised to see me waiting for her in front the the RV when she finished her second loop. I think she thought I was done. I headed back out. It didn’t feel good. It must have been 4 or 5 AM by this point, I had very little sleep, and I already had 21.2 miles at a decent pace in my legs. This lap would definitely be slower. Midway through the lap I started to feel a little more warmed up and I increased the pace a bit.

By the time I finished my third loop there wasn’t enough time to cover another 10.6 miles, but there was a shorter 3.5 mile loop available. So I did one of those. I was moving quicker now. I think I did that loop 28 minutes or so. I reached the start/finish area with 41 minutes to go until 7 AM, but… they didn’t let me start another loop because the cutoff to start the last loop was 6:15 AM. I missed it by 4 minutes. And despite the fact I could have easily finished another loop in the remaining time our race was over. I ran my last 14.1 miles at a slower, but still respectable 8:56/mile.

Our total of 65.3 miles was good enough for us to win the COED 3 PERSON division. There were only 3 teams in that division, but a win is a win.

I was quite pleased with 35-ish miles at 8:30 pace without destroying myself. This bodes well for my big race at Howl at the Moon where I hoped to run at a slightly faster pace for 20 miles farther on a faster course at lower elevation. Sure, the weather wouldn’t be as nice, but how bad could it be? Stay tuned.

Howelsen Hill

One week after a race + camping weekend in early June we decided to do it again. I convinced my friend Stephen to race the Howelsen Hill 8 mile trail run in Steamboat Springs with me.

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As we approached Steamboat that Friday evening I discovered that my Plan A campground was not yet open for the season (there were still a few piles of snow on the ground at 10,000 feet in mid-June). We drove on through Steamboat to find my Plan B campground was already full for the night. Plan C it was then, parking on the side of a dirt road in Routt National Forest. Unfortunately, several cars passed throughout the night and kicked up a bunch of dust we then had to breath while trying to fall asleep. It wasn’t ideal, but I’ve slept in worse conditions.

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Photo by Melissa

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We arrived nice and early to the race, hooked up with Stephen, and we ran a short warmup. There was a 4 mile race and an 8 mile race starting together, and you didn’t know until mile 2.5 who was in which race. I started in the lead pack and settled into 6th place or so, while Stephen was in 2nd. We managed to stay together for the first couple miles as the course meandered uphill. Nothing too steep yet.

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Things spread out a bit in the third mile as I lost sight of Stephen and at least one person turned off for the shorter race. These were very clearly heavily used mountain bike trails: smoothed out, twisty, lumpy, flowy. I stayed on the heels of the guy in front of me until we reached a very steep, rocky stretch (“Little Moab”) and he pulled away from me.

This was the high point of the course and it was entirely downhill from there. With only a couple miles remaining it became clear the downhill would be much steeper than the up. I ran fast, but not fast enough. A couple of guys caught up to me pretty quickly. I sped up and held them off for a bit, but I just couldn’t go fast enough down this hill. I ran a 5:36 mile and still got passed by 3 people. I kept it together, didn’t lose any more places, and finished 8th (the reason I didn’t lose any more places was that 3rd-8th finished within 1 minute of each other then there was a 4 minute gap back to 9th). Stephen finished 2nd.

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Will cheers on Stephen at the finish. Photo by Melissa.

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Photo by Melissa


After the race we retraced our path from the previous weekend and drove to State Forest State Park for camping, only this time it would be more fun because we were joined by Stephen and his girlfriend Stephanie, and by another friend Aaron along with his wife Erin and their two children. The kids played and played and played. We had s’mores. We named the stars.

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Photo by Stephen

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In the morning Aaron and I went on an epic run in the Medicine Bow mountains, making what was probably the first Hidden Valley traverse of the season (the snow at 11,000 feet was very deep still). While we ran, more friends Nick and Dana with their two kids came to the campground. Will was having the time of his life.

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