Digging Deep

Saturday was the big day. My “A” race for the summer, Howl at the Moon, an 8 Hour ultramarathon, took place just outside of my hometown of Danville, IL. Most races have a fixed distance and the fastest competitor wins. This is a timed race with a fixed duration and the competitor who covers the greatest distance wins. My wife Melissa and I registered for Howl immediately after the University City 10K and we’ve both been looking forward to it for months.

Bags packed

My training went well. I knew full well that temperatures regularly soared into the 90’s at Howl. So I trained for hours in the 100’s. I acclimated to the heat so much better than any previous summer it was almost a shame we had unseasonably cool weather on race day (60˚F at the start, low 80’s at the end). Almost a shame.

I didn’t sleep the night before the race. And by that I don’t mean “I didn’t sleep well,” I mean “I didn’t sleep at all.” The combination of a crying and kicking toddler, frequent trips to the bathroom, and good old fashioned nerves really did a number on me. My alarm went off before I had fallen asleep. Fuck it, let’s go run for 8 hours.

The course is a 3.29 mile loop with 3 aid stations. Each loop was about 40% grass trail, 40% gravel road, and 20% asphalt road. There was no rugged single-track trail. It was so cool and I was so fresh I opted to run the first lap without my water bottle… or food… or anything else. I wore shoes, socks, shorts, visor and carried nothing. After numerous long training runs carrying my phone, headphones, and all the food and water I could ingest, it was incredibly liberating to start the race with the bare essentials on a cool breezy morning.

I started very easy and just concentrated on relaxing into a comfortable pace. I’m going to be out here all day, I would think to myself. 8:30 for the first mile. Not absolutely fast, though perhaps a bit on the fast side for such a long run. Soon after the first mile I caught up with Don & Tim, two friends I used to run with in Champaign-Urbana. They’re both highly experienced, each a perennial top finisher in this race. I decided to stick with them for a while. Towards the end of the first lap we reached a short, somewhat steep hill (the only uphill section on the course). Many ultrarunners swear by walking up hills. I had been debating what to do about this, but since I was with two very experienced runners I decided to cue off them. They both walked, and therefore so did I.

At the end of the first lap I stopped at my tent to pick up my water bottle and take an electrolyte pill. I checked in at the scorer’s table and set off on lap number two. Don took a bit more time between laps than me and Tim took a bit less. I caught back up with Tim and ran the second lap with him before becoming separated again. Around this time I also met Travis Redden from the STL area. We recognized each other’s names from the SLUG email list, but we’d never met before. It was good to chat with him, but before long I was alone again, just enjoying the run.

5 laps in I saw Melissa for the first time. She was running with Eric, a friend we used to run with in Champaign-Urbana. They were just finishing their 4th lap.

I felt fantastic for the first 25 miles. Running was easy. I was probably still going a bit too fast, but the way I felt I’m not sure I would have saved any energy by slowing. I strolled past the marathon mark at 3h45m, the fastest marathon split I’ve ever had in an ultra, and this was to be my longest race yet. Just after the marathon point I caught up with two more friends from Champaign-Urbana. This was strange, I hadn’t seen them yet. And with good reason. They decided to sleep in and they were on their first lap. I was starting to labor a bit, but I kept the pace high for a little while longer while I chatted with them. I passed the 50K point around 4h25m. To put that in perspective, my last 50K race (on an admittedly much more difficult course) took 7h55m.

After 10 laps I knew something had to change. I wasn’t dead yet, but I was going downhill rapidly. My pace was just too fast and I still had too much time to go. I stopped at my tent for a full 5-6 minutes. I applied a fresh coat of sunscreen, I drank, I ate, I grabbed an ice-filled bandana to put around my neck to help me cool down. Finally, I grabbed my phone and headphones and started listening to music (for the first time ever in a race). I was in race mode up until that point, but if I was going to survive I needed to completely reset. The music (Jonathan Coulton) kept me relaxed and put a smile on my face. I slowed way down from 8:30 pace to 9:45 pace. I started over and pretended I was just stepping out the door to do a long training run.

Howl at the Moon

Coming into this race I had no idea how far I could go. I thought I would get 40 miles for sure and I would be quite happy to get 45 miles. My super secret goal was 50 miles. I knew that would be a tall order. 50 miles in 8 hours is one of those magic separating lines in running, like a 5 minute mile or a 3 hour marathon or a 24 hour 100 mile. Sure, elite runners will go much faster, but these lines separate great runners from good runners. I wasn’t cocky enough to count on accomplishing such an audacious goal on my first attempt, but I didn’t discount the possibility either.

The miles continued to pass. The running was no longer easy. I kept waiting to bonk or to cramp up, but those maladies never came. I was staying on top of my electrolyte pills to avoid the cramping and I was eating well at the aid stations to keep my energy up (surprisingly, grapes were my food of choice at the aid stations). Once I slowed down to my long training run pace I thought my chance to make it to 50 miles was gone. But I kept doing the math in my head and with each lap that passed it seemed more and more plausible. As long as I didn’t slow down. And that was the struggle. I was exhausted and the truly difficult part was was the mental aspect of forcing myself to keep running in that state. I could have stopped at any point. I could have walked. But the closer I got to my pie-in-the-sky goal of 50 miles, the more I wanted it… the more I could taste it… and the deeper I was able to dig to keep going.

After 12 laps I switched my playlist to something more uptempo (Less than Jake) and almost immediately I was back down to 8:30 miles. I didn’t want this to come down to the wire. Aside from the aid station breaks and walking up the hill, I was able to maintain that pace for three more laps. With one lap to go I didn’t even bother stopping at my tent to refuel. I was ready to get this over with. I finished 15 laps (49.35 miles) with 15 minutes to spare. Now it was time to run as many 0.5 mile out-and-backs as I could before the time ran out. I quickly added 0.75 miles, which put me over 50. After that I completely lost the will to keep going. And in the blink of an eye I was done. I walked the last 0.25 miles back to the finish line. I still had 5 minutes left, during which time I could have run another 0.5 miles, but I didn’t have it in me. It was over. 50.35 miles. Mission accomplished.

I sat on a park bench and guzzled water. Multiple people asked if I needed help, indicating to me I didn’t look so great. I walked back over to my tent and flopped onto the ground. Melissa (who finished with an amazing 40.48 miles in her first ultra) was there chatting with friends. Rather suddenly I started to get cold and shiver. Melissa said my face was pale and my lips were turning blue. Shit. They called the medics over to our tent and they started probing me while I laid down. I was actually feeling fine (well, aside from the shivering and being really damned tired). They covered me with some ice packs and strapped an oxygen mask onto my face for a few minutes. Meanwhile, people were started to gather around the tent to get a good look. They suggested IV fluids or maybe even a trip to the hospital. I really didn’t think that was necessary, I’ve been in much worse condition before. But I knew enough that if I was really as bad off as they seemed to think I was I probably didn’t have the best judgment. After a brief debate we decided against it and before long I was sitting up, shivers gone, crisis averted. I was back to normal within minutes.

My distance was good enough to tie for 9th place with… Tim. I hadn’t seen him since the first hour, but apparently he was clipping at my heals the entire race. And just as I was calling it quits I saw him go out for one more loop, which allowed him to match my distance. Ha!

Anyway, Melissa & I both had an incredible time at the race. I’m super glad we did it. This was my first timed race, and I have to say I liked the format. Knowing I was going to be out there running all day regardless of how fast I ran helped put me into the right frame of mind. I set a goal and pushed through previously-unimagined-to-me exhaustion to reach it (though, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I would have reached 50 miles in significantly hotter weather). The only downside is now that it’s over I have to decide where to go from here.

July 2012


Tired legs

The slight knee pain that started in June effectively disappeared in July. I took it easy by only running twice per week, but I made my runs really count. With the Howl at the Moon 8-hour ultra coming up in August I did a lot of long runs. The first week of July I ran a total of 8 hours in 100˚F+ temperatures, and I didn’t back off from there.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 78.06 Mile 9 8.67333 Mile
February 75.2586 Mile 9 8.36206 Mile
March 126.15 Mile 14 9.01071 Mile
April 146.28 Mile 16 9.1425 Mile
May 166.75 Mile 18 9.26389 Mile
June 54.83 Mile 7 7.83286 Mile
July 115.76 Mile 9 12.8622 Mile
Total 763.089 Mile 82 9.30596 Mile

Running 2012 7



I didn’t ride that frequently, but I had some good quality training and racing. I did several practice crits and time trials in 95˚F-105˚F temps. I had a strong race at the New Town Triathlon. I finished 2nd in the Great Egyptian Omnium TT and 1st in the masters 30+ 4/5 crit. This may be the first month ever I’ve ridden my TT bike more frequently than my road bike.

Bike Distance # Rides Avg per Ride
Lynskey 98.13 Mile 7 14.0186 Mile
Pocket Rocket 14.5 Mile 4 3.625 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird 147.49 Mile 5 29.498 Mile
Total 260.12 Mile 16 16.2575 Mile

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 25.33 Mile 2 12.665 Mile
February 40.08 Mile 3 13.36 Mile
March 213.43 Mile 20 10.6715 Mile
April 253.27 Mile 23 11.0117 Mile
May 322.147 Mile 24 13.4228 Mile
June 282.57 Mile 13 21.7362 Mile
July 260.12 Mile 16 16.2575 Mile
Total 1396.95 Mile 101 13.8312 Mile

Cycling 2012 7


Despite a race with a decent swim performance, swimming is kind of in maintenance mode right now. I just don’t have the time to devote to really improve.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 0 0 0
February 0 0 0
March 0 0 0
April 1750. Yard 2 875. Yard
May 8050. Yard 7 1150. Yard
June 4100. Yard 3 1366.67 Yard
July 2993.61 Yard 3 997.871 Yard
Total 16893.6 Yard 15 1126.24 Yard

Swimming 2012 7

Gravois Kiwanis XC 5K

Last weekend I returned to the Gravois Kiwanis cross country 5K race at Jefferson Barracks County Park in south Saint Louis. You may recall I won this race last year. I won’t lie, I did have it in the back of my mind that I could win the race again. Despite my previous first place finish, I didn’t actually run that fast last year. And I think I’m in better shape now (even though I’m currently focusing on longer distances). So things looked good for me.

What worried me a bit last year was the large number of high school runners (which makes sense for a cross country race). The same was true this year. Though at the starting line I saw one runner who looked fast and overheard him say he was in college. Hmm.

I started a bit too slow and wound up at the back of a large pack of high schoolers (who typically start way too fast and slow down pretty quickly). I made my way around the pack only to find two runners off the front who were moving much faster. I settled into a swift pace and tried to work back up to them. Well, they continued to pull away. I had a reasonably good run and finished 3rd overall in 18:58, 40 seconds faster than last year. The college kid won and a high schooler finished 2nd. The two of them had a combined total age equal to mine.

And that was just the start. This race was two weeks out from Howl at the Moon and I needed to get one more long run in. So once I rehydrated after the race I continued running. I paused briefly for the awards ceremony, but I got going again after that. I finished the day with 20 miles. Now the taper can begin.