Third Annual Wildcat Ultras

When we were up in Vermont, I somehow managed to put on a couple of races. There was the Twin State 50 that kind of morphed into something else as it was decided that New Hampshire was just to risky. There was another Fat Ass that kind of failed in an attempt to raise money and sent runners on a snow covered loop during muzzle loader season.

After a couple of these, I decided to try directing a real race. Everything was setup, permits in place, sanctioning paid for, port-a-john rented, people registered, and then a job in Dublin, Georgia popped up and it was moving time. I was pretty close to canceling the event, but my brother – who was co-rd’ing with me – stepped up and made it happen. It sounded like everyone had fun and it made me glad, but not being able to be there and see it unfold was difficult.

So here I am in Georgia trying to figure out routes to run, potential loops or point to points, when I got an email from the RD of the Wildcat Ultras wondering if I had any interest in helping out with third running of the event. Of course I was interested, but there were a few people I had to talk to first. Well, one, anyway. I got her blessing and hopped on board. The dream is not dead!

So this coming Labor Day, I’ll be in Pensacola, Florida at the fine Escambia Equine Center helping to make sure everything runs smoothly as a bunch of yahoos attempt to run from a 50k to 100 miles. Not only did it get me back into rd’ing, it got me fired up to start some things in Dublin. Sure they might be a year out, but the wheels are turning.

wcu

Also, you should sign up here.

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Black Friday Blog

As much as I hate the whole Black Friday shopping thing – I’ve never actually done it… – I’m going to post this here. Links to reviews of some quality products from Orange Mud and SKORA Running. Both companies are having some sweet Black Friday deals and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your desk chair. Check it out:

Orange Mud is giving away free LED lights and 25% off with the code BKFRIDAY14

HydraQuiver Review
Vest Pack Review
Handheld Review
While I haven’t reviewed their wraps, I have had one for a while, and I’ll tell you it’s more handy than you’d think.

SKORA Running is also offering 25% off sitewide. No code needed. I haven’t written a review for the FORM, but I tell you, it’s better than all the others. True story.

PHASE
CORE
FIT

And finally, over at Dead Skunk Racing, we’re having a sale on coaching! We’ll cut all our prices in half if you sign up with us by December 1st. Great deal for two coaches.

Rain, Mud and Fog

Pre-Race

This past Saturday night, I had made the decision to travel down to Amherst, NH for the Joe English 6 Hour Twilight challenge. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the drive home. It was going to be late; I was going to be alone; I was going to be zonked. Thankfully, at the last minute, I found two local runners – one that I knew previously, and the other I met that day – who were also going. That meant I didn’t have to drive and could get to know some more local running people.

Thankfully, it didn't rain that much.

Thankfully, it didn’t rain that much.

Going down, it poured. The forecast called for rain – all night. In fact, one forecast called for a quarter of an inch of rain. That’s a lot of rain. My main concern wasn’t so much the mud, or the rain, but the temperature. Being constantly wet for six hours when it’s 50 degrees means you’re going to be cold, even if you’re running, you’ll be cold. Thankfully, the temperature didn’t drop that much and the rain only really came down for an hour or two block in the beginning.

I went into things not really having a ‘goal’. Sure, 40 miles would be nice, but training since VT100 had been poor at best. Most of it was just recovery 20-30 mile weeks with an 8.25 mile long run. My Achilles was still not 100%, but had been healing, and I was ready to ease up at a moments notice with thoughts of future races. Of course, tendonitis being what it is, it didn’t hurt until I stopped and then it started to stiffen up a bit.

The Course

The loop was a 2.62 mile loop. There was a turn around a quarter of a lap in to pick up a half loop at the end, time permitting. It wasn’t your typical single track mountain trail, but it was reminiscent of a groomed high school cross country trail. It is a horse trail and is a minimum twelve feet wide at all times. Some if it is gravel and dirt, some of it grass. Some of it is under tree cover, and some if it in open fields.

Drop bag. Easy access at all times.

Drop bag. Easy access at all times.

It started out quite nice, but as you can imagine a dirt trail with a number of runners running loops in the rain gets pretty sloppy, and it didn’t take too long before some of the steeper declines became slip and slides. By the end, even the herd paths through the grass had to be avoided.

The Race

Having never run a timed event before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my mindset went something like this: “Go out comfortable until you can’t, then just keep moving forward. There’s no distance to be covered, just time to be eaten, move forward.” And so I went out and just ran. My splits were fairly consistent for the first six laps, and then slowly started to deteriorate.

Lap Time Pace
1 20:55 7:59
2 21:15 8:06
3 20:24 7:47
4 20:34 7:50
5 20:33 7:50
6 20:35 7:51
7 21:19 8:08
8 21:10 8:04
9 22:17 8:30
10 23:02 8:47
11 24:04 9:11
12 24:26 9:19
13 26:56 10:16
14 27:31 10:30
15 28:02 10:41
15.5 10:54 8:19

Things started to fall off around the tenth lap – about three hours in, just before I hit the marathon mark. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but there are a variety of things that I can and will blame. Starting with the thing out of my control:

The Weather

Two things here – firstly the course was getting sloppy and shoes were getting wet. Gravel had entered shoes at this point and was getting uncomfy. The rain and mud made things an uncertainty so running down the hills took a bit of precaution. Secondly, the fog. Sometime in there the fog became super dense and there was a bit of a mist. If you’ve ever driven in the fog you know that the reflection off the fog can reduce your visibility pretty good. Well, the same holds true for runners. I’d be willing to guess – no exaggeration – that visibility was 20-30 feet for a while, at points even less. There was no cruising, lots of slowing down around turns to make sure you were following the flags.

Decided to go with my FIT. Excellent choice.

Decided to go with my FIT. Excellent choice.

And now for the real reasons:

Food

Being the genius that I am, I left packing until the last minute. In doing so, I managed to forget my sweet potato mix at home which meant, I had no food. Around two hours in, I realized I needed to start eating and grabbed a couple of Nilla Waffers off of the aid station. The next lap in, I realized I couldn’t make it on cookies and grabbed a couple of Cliff Gels. Over the next hour, I consumed the gels and started to feel kind of gross. Not crampy or anything to really stop me from running, but my guts just weren’t happy. I asked one of the volunteers for a burger and they kindly obliged, so I ran the last 2.5 hours of the race with my Orange Mud Handheld in one hand and a burger in the other. Not an ideal source of calories, but it worked – to some degree.

Mindset

I was awake for the start, but as the day wore on, waking up at 6:00 AM was finally catching up to me. My body felt okay, but mentally I started to drift. I lost track of laps and just kept going forwards and that was good enough. My legs were feeling fine, but my back was sore and the head lamp and fog was really starting to give me some tunnel vision. I won’t say I threw in the towel, but I wasn’t really hell bent on pushing it either. If you look at the pace of my last half lap, you’ll see that I had plenty of gas left in the tank and probably should have been pushing a bit harder. Had I shaved a couple of minutes off my last two laps, I might have been able to eek out a full 16 laps instead of 15.5.

In the end, I can blame it on some extraneous variables, but it was really the head that broke on this one.

The Final Hour

Coming into the final hour I had lost count of laps and asked on the way in how many laps I was on. They told me and off I went. While I’m not the world’s greatest mathematician, I quickly tried to do some mental gymnastics to figure out how many laps I needed to hit that magical 40 number. No matter how many times I did it, I feel tragically short. There was no way I was going to hit 40 so what was the point in pushing on? (Not my everyday mindset, but the mindset I was in at that given moment.) As I ran I slowed down and tried to think about how many laps I could get done in the allotted time. There was no way I could do three, so I slowed down and planned on doing 2.5. In the end, I probably could have picked the pace up a bit and nipped three laps. I guess this is where a crew of some sort might come in handy. It’s hard to think sometimes…

Coming into the barn off my final full lap, I looked at my watch and saw I had sixteen minutes left. Through out the race I used the 1/4 turn around as a point to check my time. I’d been making it to the turn around the last two laps in around seven minutes. If I hustled, I could pick up another mile plus. I tossed my burger and handheld to the side and headed out of the barn. Knowing I was close to the end and having that deadline in front of my nose pushed me on. There was no more I had to do, when I got back, I could be done, so I pushed. I guess you could call it a kick, though kicks are generally associated with speed. There was no speed in this. I finished and was glad it was over. I wasn’t totally trashed as expected, and after chatting with my carmates, and checking the splits on my watch, I realized I had run 15.5 laps, and not 14.5. I had cracked 40, and with that I was stoked.

Pros of the Timed Event

Being my first timed event, I figured why not share what I liked and didn’t. One of the big pluses with a loop is the familiarity you can gain with said loop. After the first two or three times through, you know the tangents, you know when big hill is coming, or where the rock hiding in the grass ready to send you sprawling is waiting. It’s also quite helpful to never be far from an aid station or your stuff. It means you can carry less, and if you forget something, you don’t have to hold on long before you can get to it.

People. I’m not always a big fan of people. I like my quiet. I like my solitude, but people also give you something to chase. On a loop course, there’s always carrots, always someone in front of you ready to be hunted down. It also means that you can chat it up and meet people when you want/need and breaks up some of the monotony.

Cons of the Timed Event

In crummy weather conditions a wet loop can get beat up pretty bad.

Yeah, that’s about it. I really liked this loop.

Misc.

I’d also say that as a first year event, this thing rocked. It’s one I’ll probably do again, and one I’d suggest to others. It’s cheap. It’s an excellent setup. The people who put it on were some of the most helpful and pleasant I’ve met.

Results

Full Results

Full Results

Post-Partum: VT100 Part III

The Forethought: VT100 Part I
Delivering: VT100 Part II

I will preface this post by saying that I am a male and have not, nor will I, first handedly experience the pain and glory of childbirth. I have, however, witnessed the birth of two children and have a vague sense of the whole process. That said, I feel that preparing and executing a 100 mile race can be compared – in a sense – to childbirth. I mean no disrespect, nor do I mean to take anything from anyone who has given birth.

Disclaimer: Some of the photos found in this post are of a graphic nature and may be considered disturbing by some. While they may be photos of ordinary circumstances to ultra runners, for the non-ultra runner they may be repulsive.

We'll get to how these happened.

We’ll get to how these happened.

The After-Birth

At some point you find that you’ve signed up for a 100 mile run. Sometimes it is planned, others, it is on a dare, or a challenge from a friend. You’ll spend the next length of time preparing for your 100 mile run and eventually the day will come and you’ll begin. No matter how in shape you are or how prepared your body is, there are certain things for which you cannot prepare. And while you keep telling yourself that this will all be over when you cross the finish line you are being forgetful of the fact that there will be repercussions for the self-mutilation you are causing.

When I crossed the finish line, I slowed further, stood kind of dazed, fell in line with my wife and brother who were carrying two sleeping toddlers and wandered through the woods to the tent. It hurt, but it was manageable. The frantic voice telling me to hurry and finish had gone to sleep. I was ‘relaxed,’ if you could call it that. I took my time and wobbled over the obstacles no one but a shell of a human would find daunting. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile to the tent, but it seemed longer. I followed the glow and din of the tent and wandered inside, a weary traveler looking for nowt but a cup of broth as my party traveled onward.

After downing my broth and conversing with some of the other wayward beings in the tent, I wandered to the end of the tent to wait for my family to return. As I stood, I noticed a chair. It looked inviting; a place to rest my legs and soul. I grasped the back of the chair and tried to contort my body to sit with little success. As I tried to figure out how to let myself down without knocking it over, I realized that this was one of the worst ideas ever. Provided I could make it into the chair, how long would it be before I could get up? How much help would I need? Instead I continued to stand and watch. There was enough of a soft gleam from head lights and and head lamps to provide glimpses of the other worn passengers milling about. No words were spoken, just nods of sullen approval at the feat just accomplished.

Eventually, my brother came back for me, and as I tried to walk up the hill to the car I had to give-in and use his help. While he didn’t carry me, his shoulder was a much needed support. As we reached the car, I decided to sit shot gun – the most accessible seat, as opposed to laying down – perhaps forever – in the back. As I went to sit, I leaned back and let the seat catch my fall. My legs were either too tired to move, or they simply refused; moving my legs into the car required both hands – a task I wasn’t sure my arms were up for. Eighteen inches off the ground never seemed so far.

Home

I don’t remember much of the car ride home. It was pretty uneventful, but by the end of the twenty minute ride, I was nearly falling asleep. I could only focus on the yellow lines and random headlights for so long before the weariness took over. At some point it had been decided that climbing the stairs to my bedroom was out of the question and the couch was instead the best answer. We pulled into the driveway, and all I could think of was bed. I opened the car door and got out; I was going on my own. Sleep. I hobbled to the front of my car at which point my wife came over to help as I leaned on her shoulder.

It’s not a far walk from the car to the backdoor – maybe fifteen feet – but I was moving at a shuffle in the pitch black. My wife told my brother to go turn the lights on in the house and he left our side to go open the door and turn on the exterior lights. But it was dark, and I was exhausted. I stopped walking. My wife tried to move me forward. I refused. I could feel the hot flashes and cold sweats. My torso was hot, my face clammy. I knew this feeling quite well: I was ready to pass out. I dropped to my knees – slowly – with my wife’s help and sort of crumbled in the driveway.

I don’t remember much at this point. I know that I wasn’t completely out. My wife was freaking out at my brother to call an ambulance, and my brother was freaking out trying to find a pulse. Meanwhile, I was feeling good, unable to speak. I’d been here before. All they had to do was turn the lights on, give me someplace to go. Direction.

At some point in the commotion, my brother went inside and turned the light on. That was what I needed. I awoke from my nap and shrugged off any help to get me on my feet. Instead I crawled. I crawled on my hands and knees across the driveway and into my house. I crawled through the kitchen and up the half stair. Through the dining room and into the living room where I propped myself up on the couch, knees bent, arms folded across my knees to make a resting place for my head.

My brother helped me remove my shoes, and peeled off my shirt. Between he and my wife, the kids were brought inside and put to bed, and my feet and armpits were wiped down with baby wipes. I hoisted myself up on to the couch and laid on my stomach. My brother put some fruit snacks near my mouth and I managed to suck them up slowly like an anteater. It was a spectacle.

The Morning After

I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the morning after was not a pretty sight. I got up and hobbled around the house until I felt awake enough to take a shower – problem: shower is on the second floor. I managed my way up the stairs on all fours. I tried using the railing for support, but it wasn’t enough; this was a hand over hand ordeal.

Once in the bathroom, I had to get my legs over the side of the tub. Unlike the car ride home where I was sitting and could use both hands to lift my legs into the car, I was standing. It took some figuring, but eventually I figured out how to hold onto the toilet and get myself into the shower without falling over, but it wasn’t done yet. I had to wash my lower legs, too. I couldn’t bend over, and I couldn’t really lift my foot up. Again, it was a two handed finagle to get my foot on the edge of the tub without falling out of the tub.

Balance

As I tried to hobble around, I found that I was holding onto anything solid around me. My hand would rest against the wall, I would grab a chair or table in passing. It was a slow and labored pace, but I was moving. Surprisingly, harder than moving was standing still. What I didn’t realize – mostly because I never really thought about it – is that to hold our bodies upright, our bodies utilize a number of muscles we take for granted everyday. Those muscles of mine were so fatigued and worn out, if I leaned too far one way or another – and it wasn’t far – I’d find myself falling and trying to catch onto something solid.

So it was when I went for a walk later that afternoon, I needed to take the jogging stroller with me to keep from falling over. At first, my daughter was in the stroller, but after the slowest tenth of a mile in her life, she opted to get out and left me pushing an empty stroller. I would have been better with a cane.

The Swelling

That's my ankle. Seriously.

That’s my ankle. Seriously.

As the days wore on, the swelling eventually went down, but it took at least a week. For the first couple of days, my ankles were missing. I’ve had pitting oedema before, so I wasn’t too impressed, but when the swelling and fluid was accompanied with my blackened toe nails, it made for an interesting sight.

I could be making this up, but I think that since my toenails were falling off, and I had an open wound – an open blister – some of the fluid from my ankles seemed to be draining through the pin hole in the blister. Since the toenail was only attached at the sides and loose in the middle, I could depress the toenail and create an oozy, smelly pile of bubbles – slightly reminiscent of spittle. At first I thought it was blister fluid, but it kept coming. It was more than just blister fluid.

Tiny bubbles make me warm all over...

Tiny bubbles make me warm all over…

I suppose it could have been the start of an infection, but after a couple days of red and itchy toes that didn’t seem like healing, I started some epsom salt soaks and it seemed to dry things up pretty quickly.

The Hormones

To say that I was cranky the first couple of days after would be an understatement. I’d wager to say I was unbearable. The thing is, when you run that far or that long, your body produces a ton of hormones; when you stop running, those hormones drop to below normal. They swing. Well when they swing below normal there is nothing but grumpiness. As any good binger will tell you, a little hair of the dog is the best thing to keep that withdrawal away. Unfortunately for me, there was no little taste to be had the next day.

Running Again

I had been on a 2500 mile streak of 306 days at the end of Vermont, but sadly, that

Hows that for gaping?

Hows that for gaping?

streak came to an end the day after. I wanted to, and I even tried, but I could hardly muster a walk. I managed to get out the day after and do a mile around the block. It was slow, but it was all I could do. Each day things got progressively easier and my legs felt a little better after every run. It might be different for everyone, but it took a good two weeks before the legs were free of any soreness on an easy run. I think some of it has to do with over training, and maybe a bit of burnout, but my easy pace runs are still significantly slower. I haven’t tried anything with any pace but for a few strides or a 400 here or there, but I find it hard to believe I was ever doing 8×1600 with a minute rest as 5:48s.

Again?

After every long race, it’s what everyone says. It’s almost cliche. “I’ll never do that again. And then three days later I signed up for another.” And while I do like a good cliche now and again, I avoided the phrase. Instead, I said not for a while. Right now, I truly have little interest in doing another 100 mile run. I’d much rather a 12/24 hour event. I hope to do some longer runs again one day, but the kids need to be older.

I was aware of the time training would take, and I even was ready for a whole day to be set aside for my one event – but what I didn’t think about, was the recovery process and how long that was going to take. Not to mention the stress it put on my family when I collapsed in the driveway.

Yes, it was awesome. Yes, I feel accomplished. Yes, I feel incredibly selfish.

The Buckle

The Buckle

Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2 Review

Some months ago, before it was warm enough to wear shorts, I purchased the Orange Mud HydraQuiver. I had tried it before, so I was ready for all the love. As time went on, and I thought about doing longer runs in the warm weather, I realized I might need to carry more water with me for those runs that didn’t go by semi-potable water. For a while, I contemplated buying the Double Barrel (a HydraQuiver with two bottles), but around that same time, there was talk about the new Orange Mud Vest Pack 2. I decided to wait, and I’m glad I did.

The chest strap, pocket, and shoulder pocket.

The chest strap, pocket, and shoulder pocket.

Essentially, the Vest Pack is a Double Barrel with chest straps that come down the front of your chest with straps to connect running parellel to the ground. The two shoulder pockets from the HQ are still in tact, but the chest straps also allow for two large pockets that sit lower on your chest. The VP is also designed so

Chest pocket.

Chest pocket.

that a third water bottle can be stored between the two existing water bottles, or an extra storage bag can be purchased from Orange Mud.

Like the HydraQuiver, the VP carries the water high on your shoulders, almost

Because three is better than two.

Because three is better than two.

between the shoulder blades. At first it may seem like it sits rather high and might be a bit awkward, but as far as packs go, this is by far the easiest place I’ve found to carry water. There’s no bouncing, even with the VP fully loaded with 72 ounces of liquid, there’s no smashing into your back. Instead it seems to stay glued to your back/shoulders. This also leaves your lower back open, which for me, is preferable when running in the heat.

The shoulder pockets are made of an elastic material that expands quite well. I used just the two shoulder pockets for a 50 miler, and had no problems with space. At Vermont 100, I used the shoulder pockets to stash my flashlight, keys, cell phone, and other non-essentials that might have proven to be useful. This left the chest pockets to be used for food. The shoulder pockets have an elastic band to synch the front of the pocket and then a velcro strap that covers the opening. Things falling out is of little concern. The shoulder pockets sit on top of the pack so there is no digging in; it’s hard to tell they’re even there.

Huge chest pocket.

Huge chest pocket.

The chest pockets are quite large. Large enough to stash a whole cheeseburger, or my fist. (I’ve tried both.) I also kept drink powder, and sandwich bags of sweet potato. I was never once concerned about filling the pack up. At one point, I put a cup of ice in one of the pockets, synched it off, and had ice for a couple of miles which was pretty nice. Towards the end, I also stuffed a bunch of tater tots in there which proved to be difficult when it came time to get them out – I don’t recommend it, maybe if you put them in a cup but… One of the chest pockets also holds a key clip if you’re worried that the shoulder pocket is inadequate.

Me and my boy!

Me and my boy!

The pack itself is incredibly light weight and made of a high grade medical quality mesh. It’s breathable, lets sweat wick away, and can ride on bare skin without any problems. There are three adjustable straps that run paralel to the ground that connect the chest straps/pockets to the back of the pack and also in front. The two side straps do the major adjustment for size, while the front strap makes the minor adjustments.

I’m not sure I’d use this pack for a 50 miler, or even a heavily aided 100 miler like Vermont (my VT100 expierence Part I, II, III) – for those I think the Double Barrel would be adequate – but for events that aren’t buffets, this is certainly the pack to have. You can check them online at Orangemud.com.

Like the do-dah man.

Like the do-dah man.

The Forethought: VT100 Part I

This is Part I. Part II can be found here. Part III is here.

In The Beginning

A few months ago I decided to sign up for the VT100. At the time, I hadn’t yet run my first 50 miler but with some running background, I thought it would be a good idea. April came and I ran my first 50. My legs hurt and recovery took a little longer than anticipated, but part of me was still excited for my first go at 100 miles. Soon enough, July 19th came and my first attempt at a 100 was underway.

Of the many things I remember from racing – be it true or not – is that the sleep you get two nights before a race is more important than the night before. I tried, and I think I did a fairly decent job getting in bed early and racking up a decent eight hours or so of sleep. The night before the race was a totally different story for a number of reasons.

Leading In

On Wednesday my father came out to help me put siding on our house. Over the last year we have connected two shed dormers and raised the roof line on our house; the siding was the final step. Consequently, the three days prior to the race were predominately devoted to finishing the house and not preparing for Saturday. All my final packing, planning, making food, got put on hold until Friday night. Friday itself was spent trying to register and finish the siding.

I showed up to registration, got my packet and weighed in – 156.6 pounds and a blood

The tents on Silver Hill.

The tents on Silver Hill.

pressure of 137/78 (whatever that means) – I moseyed over to register my vehicle on foot and was told that I actually needed the vehicle to register it. Oops. I figured knowing the license plate would be good enough. Wrong. Not a big deal, it just meant that I’d get home, and come back to register the car before the 4:00 PM meeting. Unfortunately, what is normally a 10 minute drive was more like 20 with all the local road closures to VT100 traffic – thank you cranky neighbors… So instead of having a few minutes before the meeting and after the siding was completed to get my stuff together, it meant I was going to do it after the meeting, which meant after dinner, which meant after my wife got home, and more than likely meant after the kids got to bed around 8:00PM.

The Strategy

To say that I had no strategy for this race would be a lie, but to say I had any realistic idea about strategy would also be a lie. The previous 50 miler I ran was on similar roads – though no trails – and I managed to run that just under seven hours. I knew that to try and run an equally fast opening 50 would be stupid and that I should go out conservatively, but as to what conservative was, I had little idea. I knew I could run ten-minute miles for the first 50 fairly easily and probably roll through the 100k at the same pace. It sounded manageable; I was sure I would blow up, so the idea in my head was to push that out as close to the end as I could. The problem was that ten-minute miles means an 8:20 50 mile, or a 16:40 100 mile, or in other words, way too fast. Regardless, anything faster than 10:00 was not on my agenda.

One of the big dilemmas I was having concerning building a strategy was the idea of a DNF. I’ve had a couple of DNS’es thanks to over zealous race choices and a bit of a drinking problem, but I’ve never DNF’ed. Dabbling in the ultra world, I’ve come to grips that a DNF will eventually occur, but I’m not ready yet. Running my first 50 I knew I would finish. I was confident in my conditioning and ability to push through, sure 50 miles is far, but it’s not that far, even if I had to walk it in for a 15 hour finish. A hundred miles was a whole different beast. The idea of not finishing was an actual reality, especially if I went out too fast.

In the end, I ended up writing down a number of aid stations on a piece of paper with different arrival times based on pace. Ideally, I would go through the first 50 no faster than 8:20 and just hang on for as long as I could and hope that could get me back to Silver Hill of my own volition.

The Crew

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

For me, one of the most stressful things about this whole thing was organizing my one person crew. I managed to rope my brother into driving around all day and helping me out. I first planned to meet him at the Stage Road station about 30 miles in. I could estimate a ball park as to when he should plan on being there, and even estimate times for the next two or three handler stations, but after that, I had no clue. It would be a waiting game on his part. A time to kill some forced boredom. Even when I could tell him where to be and when, I had no idea what to tell him to be ready to do. I gave him a laundry basket stocked with things I might need: extra shirt, shoes, sun hat, band-aids, food, drink, even a camera if he should decide to capture a sliver of what I was attempting on some sort of digital film. In the end, I think a couple of drop bags could have replaced my crew as I didn’t use him much at all. And I’m willing to guess drop bags are probably cheaper and come with less guilt.

So It Begins

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory 'poop' bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits...).

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory ‘poop’ bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits…).

I set the alarm on my phone for 2:45AM, enough time to perk a cup of coffee, grab a quick shower and get to West Windsor by 3:30AM. Between the hourly, startled wake-ups searching for the cell phone to reinsure me I hadn’t slept past the 4:00AM start, and the cranky toddler who kept waking up proclaiming to all that she was apparently dieing of thirst, my potential 6 hours of sleep turned into something less.

The drive to the start was less than memorable and I ended up parking in the far lot and walking down Silver Hill in a strung out crowd of strangers, all moving towards the din emanating from the giant white tent below. There were like minded runners, with tired faces, emotions still asleep, chipper crew members  in their street clothes downing their coffee and laughing at inside jokes, and sleeping babies resting on mother’s shoulders, completely unaware of what their parent was about to embark upon.

Despite the headlamp induced, shadowed faces surrounding me, I recognized a few people I knew, and as we congregated 30 yards behind the starting line, the conversation turned to everything but what we were about to do. Eventually the starter began talking and everyone’s focus began to shift.

Post-Partum: VT100 Part III

A Little Self Doubt

I remember as a kid trying to build up the courage to ask a particular girl on a date. It took some time, and when I finally did gather the courage to ask, the nerves were a mess – the dry mouth, the queasy stomach, the heat. The lead up sucked, but the end result was quite pleasant. It ended quite miserably, but did lend to some decent memories. Back in January, when I signed up for the VT100, the nerves were in much the same place. I was varnishing a floor with my alarm set and the sign-up page pulled up on the lap top – no way I’d miss out on registration. It was January so needless to say, the windows were closed; perhaps some of the dizzy, hot flash, giddiness, that I was feeling had more to do with the varnish than actually signing up, but I attribute them to VT.

I already had a training plan in place and knew pretty well how every week or so should look. There were a couple of races, some long runs, and a good handful of recovery days. June was supposed to be my big month. I was looking forward to hitting my first 300 mile month and my first 100 mile week along the way. Unfortunately, as life goes, a small handful of things have come up that are looking to make June just another sub-par month.
This past Tuesday I went out for a long run just over 17 miles – it shouldn’t really be a long run at this point, but it’s the most mileage I’ve done in sometime… It was an early morning run, and it started out quite slow, as normal, but the pace never really picked up. I trudged along, cursing the hills between me and my home. I’ve run these hills countless times before, but they seemed steeper and longer as I puffed up them slowing to something slightly more than a walk as I neared their crests.  It was miserable. These runs happen. We all have off days. Having never run 100 miles before, I assume that by the last 25 miles I will be feeling worse than I do on an ‘off’ day. And it is this that gives me pause. These hills causing such problems are the same hills I would be attempting to climb nearly 90 miles into the VT100 – if I could hardly get over them 15 miles into a run, how can I possibly get over them with 90 miles on the legs (that’s assuming I actually get there)?

The butterflies and excitement of anticipation that I had in January are still there. I’m still looking forward to seeing what I can muster – how far I can push myself, but a new element of fear has been introduced. I am not taking this distance casually; I know it deserves respect and a bit of caution, but the self doubt that was once non-existent has become a fixture when thinking about July 19th.  I know I’ll toe the line, but beyond that it’s something of a mystery. I haven no idea how far I can make it, how long I can hold out and keep moving forward. There will be an end, I just hope it’s a pleasant one.

Twin State 50: The Run

No one but my mother ever called me a genius, and even then, I think she was referring to my brother. Back in November I made one of those genius decisions: to go for a 50 mile run. Ultra’s – especially 50ks and 50ms aren’t really hard to come by, but I don’t like to travel and I don’t like to pay ridiculous sums so I decided to cook one up myself, throw it out there into cyber space and see what suckers I could catch. I caught a few, and we had a blast (I’ll throw up an RD’ing post later.)

I had planned the race for early April to give everyone a taste of Vermont during Mud Season. Lots of snow melt and run off, cool mornings, warm afternoons, and muddy back roads. As April 6th approached, I was a little worried my plans would be way-laid by the tortuous winter we expierenced, but as luck would have it, spring finally came. There was still snow on the ground and the course had to be rerouted to avoid a mile and a half of post-holing through a foot of snow, but spring came. The morning started at a brisk 26 degrees but once the sun came out the southern slopes started to warm nicely. Of course, that was probably only half the time I was out there as the course is built on hills. After all it is Vermont, and some of the course coincides with the VT50 and the fabled VT100, so the flats were minimal. Fortunately, the course was 80% hard pack dirt road and only 20% asphalt, so while it is technically a road ultra, it’s not.  (A link to the course; it might take a bit to load).

Going into this thing, I had some ideas of what to expect, after all, I’ve run a couple of marathons, a handful of halves and did a fair bit of talking/reading before I decided to have a go at it. Some of my expectations came to fruition and others were left a bit wanting.

tsLeg Strength

It may sound presumptuous, but I was fairly confident I could run the 50 miles in its entirety – no walking up hills – even if it was atrociously slow. The Twin State course proved this tragically wrong. I managed to make it through the first 35 without walking, but by Gap Hill (about 325 feet up over half-a-mile), I was walking. I’m not really sure how much it saved me, but I was still able to go strong on the flats – though they were few – and hobble the downhills. One thing no one tells you when you ask how to take on an ultra: The Down Hills Will Kill You. Maybe this is a rule kept secret to punish ultra virgins, but by the end, I preferred a little incline to a little decline.

Nutrition

I was also fairly confident I would blow up. Since most of my long runs this winter can’t really be termed as ‘long,’ and I neglected toying with nutrition on the run, I was sure this would be my downfall. I have been training with HoneyMaxx, and am very comfortable with how I react to it, so I knew it was my drink of choice, but food, well forget it. It was a pretty big crap shoot, but I think I crapped it pretty well. I ended up mashing a baked sweet potato with two tablespoons of coconut oil, a dollop of honey, and two tablespoons of dried ground rabbit meat (I raise rabbits). I packaged them in five sandwich bags and stuffed them in my HydraQuiver, which had plenty of room for more. I started sucking them down about 1.5 hours in, and consumed about one bag in an hour. It seemed to work, though I think I might need to find a way to boost the calories per serving for longer runs. By 45 miles I could tell I was hungry and started to want food.

Shoes

I’ve been running in my Skora Phase for a while now, but nothing close to this far. Being zero drop and having an 11mm stack – I put the insoles in for this – I wasn’t sure how my feet would feel afterwards, as I’ve heard you need more cushion for these long events. Thankfully, and as I had anticipated, this wasn’t a problem. My feet were quite comfortable in terms of my shoes.  I did, however,  get some grit in there that gave me a few raw spots, but that’s a gaiter/sock thing, and I’m not sure I really want to go that route.

The Pain

Having run a couple marathons, I was ready for some pain. My marathons have left me totally wiped. A puddle of unrecognizable humanity. My legs are fried. My upper body is tired. My brain is mush. I expected this to be no different – it was. Somewhere around 33/38 miles, my legs started getting really tired and sore. To be precise it was mostly my quads. As I took in the discomfort and took mental note of the rest of my body, I was pleasantly surprised to see I could still think remotely clear and even whistle a few bars of Dr. Hook’s Queen of the Silver Dollar – it was in my head the whole time… I’m not sure if this is normal 50 mile feeling: sore legs, but otherwise okay, or if this is my legs not being fit enough to keep up with what my brains and cardiovascular system could pull.

Miscellaneous

A lot of race recaps are really long – and I tried to avoid that, but here I am at near 800 words like the verbose bastard I am. Apologies. I’ll save all my ramblings of how gorgeous and hilly the course is, my complaints about the jack-hole RD that marked it, and the praises of the ultra community for my RD post to come later… I also managed to take one of those snappy pre-race photos of all my get up – I even wrote the post. Unfortunately, when I went to upload the picture, I buggered it up and lost it, so you’ll have to pretend you can imagine me in my white and brown cotton gloves, camouflage bandanna, orange tech-t, bright orange HydraQuiver, massively short shorts, and fluorescent orange and blue Skoras gingerly slogging downhill (or don’t, it’s probably better if you don’t).

In Short,

(You could have just skipped down here, and no one would have known the difference. Hell, you probably did you cheeky monkeys…) I managed to keep my pace fairly consistent until I started to walk a bit on the uphills. I did a bit of course maintenance mid-run because some d-bag decided to pull down my surveyor tape. I even fielded a phone call from a lost runner around mile 43. But I had a great time, and things went well. My goal at the beginning of the year was to be somewhere in the 8:00 hour range for this, and in the 7:00 range for VT50. I ended up running 6:58:16, just nipping under 7:00 on what I’m gathering is a fairly rugged course. Pretty stoked with that.

The Week Before

A couple of weeks ago, I reached the point where my training could have essentially ended. The bulk of my quality workouts were done; I had amassed a number of miles meant to give my legs a taste of the harsh reality about to beset them. Since that point, my training has eased a bit, but not entirely. The back-to-back long runs still continue, but the long tempo runs have become fartleks of shorter workbouts at the same pace.

I enjoy running. I enjoy running hard and fast, putting in workouts that leave me feeling tired and accomplished at the end. As the season progresses, the race grows closer, and the hard training comes to a close. It’s bittersweet, really. For almost 18 weeks, I’ve had my eye on a single day and as it becomes nigh, there is nothing I can do.

I don’t really take time off, or go for a full out three week taper. With my first 50 miler seven training days away, I did my last real workout last night. A hodge-podge fartlek over twelve miles. I brought some surveyor tape to help mark the course for next Sunday so while I was aiming for five minute workbouts, some had to be cut short. And so begins the waiting game. A game of maintenance. While I need to keep my legs fresh and let them get a bit of rest, it’s important not to let them forget what they need to do. And herein lies the hardest part of training: the week before. It’s a precarious balance and I must be careful not to push too hard, it’s easy to do. Your legs start to feel fresh, the normal soreness besieged from long miles starts to dissipate, you feel like you can fly, but you can’t, you mustn’t allow yourself that luxury.

It’s really an exercise in discipline, I suppose.

Creating a Plan

Perhaps I’m jumping the gun trying to plan for a 100 mile race when I still have to get a 50 done in less than two weeks, but I like to think of it as being prepared. It also affords me some facade of control within the chaos that is my life (unless you have children you are not allowed to judge that statement…).

I’m very confident in my ability to set a training schedule for a half-marathon and shorter, and while not extremely confident, I know I’ve made a decent marathon plan before. I know when to concentrate on what systems and what kind of workouts and paces I need to hit. With a 100 mile race, I haven’t a clue.

There’s a lot of beginner plans out there, for folks that want to ‘finish’ their first 100. Perhaps it’s a bit of naivety mixed with a unhealthy portion of self-assurance, but I don’t want to just ‘finish’ my first 100. I want to rock out (as much as one can rock a 100 mile race…). I’ve gotten some advice from veteran ultra guys – some insanely fast, some not so much – but one of the big things everyone harps on is the back-to-back long run. Some have also suggested running late into the night, taking a brief nap and then getting out early in the morning.

Speed work is also given some thought, but less so than the back-to-back long runs. More often than it, it’s a threshold workout or a long tempo run followed by balls out miles, or a handful of repeat 200s.

Unlike the shorter races that I have built on 5/6 week cycles moving from one system to the next (thank you Jack Daniels), many 100 mile plans are based on 3/4 week cycles of 3 weeks hard followed by a week easy. This easy week is totally foreign to me. Except for a week before a race, or some off-season base building, there are no easy weeks. I’ve yet to find a concrete answer as to what the easy week is for other than a safety-catch for overtraining, but I’m going to incorporate it.

So between Sunday/Monday back-to-back long runs, a hill or tempo workout on Wednesday, and a whole bunch of filler, it would seem that I have a plan to get me to July 19th, but for some reason it’s kicking my ass.

I know plans can’t be static, and I plan on things changing, but it would be nice if I could dial it in just a little bit more…