Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc - August 28-30, 2015

It was the best of races, it was the worst of races.  I am very pleased to have finished the 2015 UTMB, billed as the premier 100 mile trail race in the world.  With 30,000 feet of ascent and 30,000 feet of descent spread across 25 major climbs and descents,  and 100+ miles of running spread across 3 countries in the Alps, I believe it.  I am happy with the final result, but I feel like I have left unfinished business.

I've never had serious stomach issues while racing.  I've been very proud to say in the past that I have an iron stomach that has served me well as I have watched close friends waylaid through hours of discomfort and wave upon wave of vomiting.  I can eat pretty much anything and everything provided at aid stations.  As a result, I've never had to put too much thought into food and drink choices when planning my race nutrition - just calorie count.  If it looked good, I ate it or drank it, and that has always worked.  Looking back now, I made two very poor choices in the hours leading up to this race.  One, I drank lots of Coke Zero instead of my normal cup of coffee and plenty of Gatorade.  Two, I had Sandra mix my Tailwind at full strength after I had been diluting it by 50% while training all summer.  I don't think my stomach was prepared for the intensity of full strength, already bloated from too much soda.  The two combined to create a gut bomb that heavily influenced my race.

Heeding Michelle Matys' advice, Sandra and I arrived at the starting corral two hours before race time.  I worked very hard to stay calm amidst the ever increasing hoopla and the grandeur of the surrounding Alps, sitting there quietly drinking my soda, and chatting with Andrew from Great Britain who was giving me course tips.  I had placed myself in the corral somewhere around 300 runners back out of 2300 starters.  Michelle had warned me Europeans tend to start the race fast.  I spent the first five miles of low rolling hills holding back and enjoying the strong crowd support that continued well out of Chamonix. I noticed here very early on my stomach was uncomfortable and I was sweating profusely, even with temperatures in the mid 80's.  


Next came a four mile, 2,400 ft climb up Le Delevret.  I could tell within 5 minutes something was very wrong.  I was breathing too hard, panting even, with my heart rate going through the roof on a climb that I should have handled easily after 6 weeks of training in Utah. Sweat was pouring off me at an alarming rate.  I was more than a little concerned that my training had been all for naught and I was ill prepared.  I was increasingly agitated as so many others charged up the hill past me.  Finally I reached the peak and I focused on the 2,500 foot plummet down the other side, soon to be distracted by the sharp pains in my abdomen.  By mile 13 at Saint Gervais, I could tell I was dehydrated and low on sugar.  I spent the next six miles unable to eat or drink due to abdominal discomfort.  I continued to be passed left and right, and my state of mind deteriorated rapidly.  This CAN'T be happening!  I worked too hard this year to be ready.  9 weeks of miserable dieting to lose 24 lbs., 6 weeks away from home to train (not saying Utah wasn't a blast, but that length of time away took a toll on the whole family), months of planning, all to waste?


I saw Sandra for the first time at Les Contamines, mile 19.5.  I was washed out, bonked twice over and vacillating between tears and panic over my poor race start.  By now it was dark, the air cooling, so Sandra helped me change into warm clothes.  I spent well over 30 minutes in the aid station trying to recover and didn't know until much later how close my race came to ending right here.  Sandra told me later, just after I left the aid station, they called 10 minutes to cut off.  Soon after les Contamines, I was roughly 2,200nd out of 2,300 runners as I gave up at least another 100 spots mostly walking, unable to get the mass in my stomach to go away.  As the trail passed through a park, I even sat on a bench, hung my head, and decided whether to continue.  Then, finally, the ship was righted.


At mile 22.5 (I remember the spot very well), out of nowhere, I was overcome with projectile vomiting - all fluids and no solids, with the taste predominantly of Tailwind and Coke.  I quickly tried to resume trotting, making it all of ten feet before spraying the bushes again.  There it was!  The pressure was gone, relief was instant. I felt completely normal within seconds, and moments later, I was running.  Within a half mile, the trail turned upwards for the biggest climb of the race, 4,000+ feet to Croix du bonhomme.  I realized quickly I was climbing well again.  The bloating in my stomach must have put pressure on my lungs and heart making it difficult to breath and causing the other issues.  This for me became the real start of MY Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.


Elated, I pushed the accelerator to the floor and went flat out, charging up the mountain.  I pounded my hiking poles into the ground with vigor, focusing not on the trail but on the runners immediately ahead of me and how long I was going to allow myself before passing them.  All the anger at my poor start was channeled into passing everyone in sight.  Soon the trail narrowed to something wider than single track but not enough to make passing easy.  I had to be patient through long stretches of deep, narrow channels awaiting my next chance to pass.  Frequently, my impatience got the better of me and I took numerous chances, dancing precariously along the edges of bluffs, anxious to pick up the pace.  

I realized how hard I had been working when I reached the top of the pass near 8,000 feet, with temperatures in the mid 30's and 20+ mile per hour winds blowing through, yet drenched in sweat and overheated.  But I did not let up on the 2,800 foot downhill to Les Chapieux that followed.  I threw my feet out in front of me, hopping over rocks, and darting around runners along narrow ledges with abandon.   By now, I had resigned myself to a restricted diet of what I was sure I could keep down without discomfort.  Up until about mile 80, that was water, Coke , and orange slices.  Tailwind was out of the question.  The mere thought of it made me nauseous.  Gels made me gag.  Energy bars got caught in my throat.  None of the food in the aid stations looked appealing besides oranges.  I focused heavily on water and salt intake knowing I had to be down 10-15 lbs. from the start of the race.  I went one stretch of over 9 hours without peeing.  The lack of calories and fluids over the first 25 hours of running took its toll later in the race.


UTMB is all about climbing and descending.  There are no flats. The third major climb was 2,800 feet up to Col de la Seigne.  I hope to go back here in the light someday, because in the dark it was spectacular.  The first couple of miles on gravel road at the bottom, I spent running everything less than 10 degrees in elevation change and speed-walking past other runners on the steeper stuff.  By now, I was in my normal running routine other than being in major calorie deficit.  I was now able to better appreciate the scenery around me.  The full moon was up and the light shone brightly off the snow pack and glacial ice of the surrounding heights.  Near the top, I looked back and saw a chain of hundreds of headlamps snaking their way up the trail.  I almost screamed in (premature) triumph knowing that over the prior two climbs, I had passed nearly every runner those twinkling lights represented.  I turned back down the trail,  recharged and looking to stay in the passing lane.


Soon dawn arrived and the lights rose on spectacular vistas.  For my money, the Italian side of Mont Blanc is even more amazing than the French (and that's saying something).  Thousands of feet above us, massive glaciers hundreds of feet thick, hung near the peaks melting in the summer sun creating waterfalls that cascaded thousands of feet down the mountain face and thundered across the valley to us miles away.  This was a frequent scene from numerous points along the race, I am not sure I have ever seen anything quite as majestic.  Through one stretch, a helicopter was following my little group, shooting video.  I  got fired up from the attention, jumped up on the edge of the trail, and took some rather silly risks to pass the slower runners in front of me, and run freely down the hill.  I can't say I was teetering along a cliff, but the slope was steep enough, I think if I had slipped, it would have been quite some time before I stopped rolling.


The final descent into Courmayeur was brutally steep and I came trotting in at mile 49 a little washed out. This was the next crewed aid station, and Sandra was awaiting me with everything I needed.  I was cognizant that by falling behind early and working so hard to pass so many runners, I had expended far too much energy without even reaching the halfway point. I took some extra time in the aid station again, getting down extra calories, including a small bowl of penne.  I changed into lighter clothes for the heat of the day, kissed Sandra goodbye until Switzerland, and was back on my way, focused on passing the runner immediately ahead of me.


Andrea Risi had told me I would never be alone in this race (2,300 runners is a lot for a trail race), and there would be very little talking; and I found both to be true.  I can't blame the language barrier, since 45% of the runners are French and they should not have an issue conversing.  But it was eerily quiet, even when running in a pack of 20, 30, or even 40 runners almost no one said a word.  The only sound was that of dozens of walking sticks scraping on rock and dirt; and the distant thunder of glacier-fed waterfalls.  I had headphones with me, but never put them on, content to listen to the running water, birdsong, and remain lost in my own thoughts.


The Swiss countryside was enchanting, and there was the frequent sound of cowbells as herds of cattle moved below us.  At one point, I saw a runner 50 yards ahead of us, waylaid by a cow on the narrow trail ahead of him.  He tried to shoo it away, but the cow did not wish to run downhill, as it was very steep.  Finally, the cow moved off the trail and 15 feet uphill and the runner passed on by.  The cow immediately looked to move back down the hill onto the trail, and I raced ahead to get by it.  The cow saw me, and stayed slightly uphill, but began running parallel to me, thinking to get ahead and then down.  I picked up the pace, and was soon laughing aloud as I raced Bessie down the trail, my hiking poles clicking rapidly, and her bell ringing wildly.  After outlasting her in the brief sprint, I was even more bemused to look back a minute later to see several runners standing in place as she now blocked the trail behind me.


The final 30 miles of the race feature 4 climbs of 2,500+ feet each that are just stupid hard that late in a race.  I can't begin to describe how hard these climbs were on jellied legs, with little energy left.  I was dizzy most of the time now, and had resorted to eating Swedish Fish during the climbs to keep my head (mostly) clear.  There were multiple, miles long stretches of climbing that was more rock scramble than run or hike.  Step after step was up 1-2 vertical feet at a time.  In places, I resorted to holding the poles in one hand, and using the other to pull myself up on the rocks.  I saw Sandra 3 times through the end, at Champex, Trient, and Vallorcine; each time, I was increasingly tired and cranky, but increasingly confident, I was going to get this done.   Each time, she fed me, refilled my camelbak, made sure I was warm enough, said the right things, and pushed me back out of the tent.  It is worth noting, Sandra was posting race updates on my Facebook account throughout the race and reading the feedback to me each time I saw her.  You cannot underestimate the positive energy I took from hearing from good friends 5,000 miles away.


By now, I had been running for well over 30 hours, and awake for over 40.  I never felt exceptionally sleep-related tired, and never visually hallucinated; but my mind played weird tricks on me.  On the final climb, I was convinced, I was climbing to save the valor of Utah.  Why, I have no idea.  But when two guys speaking French went by me, I got very angry at myself, I was somehow letting the USA down.  Dammit, I am an American! I am supposed to finish this hill first, and I would surge forward again.  Repeatedly, I told myself I was not thinking straight, there was nothing here but a hill to climb.  And then moments later, "Long Live Utah!"  


Finally I came into the last aid station at La Flegere.  I had a 2,700 foot descent into Chamonix to make in just under 5 miles.  Holy crap, I was here!  I am going to finish!  I left the aid station elated, ready to pound down the final stretch.  Only to find the trail was cruelly rocky, the footing tricky, and for me, nearly unrunnable on uncertain legs.  I slowed to a trot, and soon a fast walk; no longer caring how quickly I finished.  I gritted my teeth in anger as an occasional runner passed by, navigating the terrain far better than me.  My mind continued to play tricks on me, as I imagined the pattern of rocks represented the key to the puzzle of working with one of my clients.  ENOUGH!  It is time to go.  I started back into a trot, and then a run.  I had not come all this way to limp to the finish line.  Now I didn't give a shit if I fell, I ran with reckless abandon, dancing my way through the rocks.  I reined back in every runner who had passed me before flying by with everything I had.  With 2 miles to go, the switchbacks and rocks ended.  The descent was still steep, but with a comparitively smooth, mostly straight trail, I was able to completely let the clutch out.  My next mile was under 8 minutes, and I tried to press even harder.  The trail wound through back streets and finally dumped out on a path along the river.  Spectators were 2-3 deep through town and the cheering grew louder.  The sense of elation at this point was overwhelming.  My lungs burned, and I told myself to slow down before I fell.  There was no one ahead remaining to catch, and certainly, there sure as hell no one going to overtake me from behind.  But as I saw the central square approach, I pumped my arms harder and poured everything I had left into the final turns and through the finish.  


I crossed the finish line and collapsed into a chair immediately.  Sandra was by my side in seconds.  Victory!  I was hours away from my goal time, but this was a total victory.  I have been lucky enough to latch onto the greatest sport 8 years ago and have had tremendous fun along the way.  I've enjoyed some great races, some bad races, I've experienced tremendous highs and lows.  But here I had faced my worst adversity in a race yet, extraordinarily early on the course, and pushed through 90 more miles to post a respectable finish.  I have Good/Better/Best goals for every race.  Good in any hundred miler, especially this one, is to finish. Better is reflective of where I think my training and ability stack up against the course. For UTMB I thought that would be 35 hours.  Best is the goal if all the stars align, everything feels great, and I run lights out.  I came to Chamonix hoping to go sub 30.  38:44 is a far cry from 30, even 35 hours.  But for me, this was an overwhelming success.  I will treasure the comeback evident in the race tracker below for a long time.  I went from somewhere around 2,200nd ( out of 2,300 starters) at vomit time to 550th by the finish, passing runners every remaining Ieg.  I will take that.


As I said, this was the best of races and the worst of races.  I made some silly pre-race choices, for which I paid dearly.  I experienced one of my lowest racing moments at the nadir.  But I beat myself up enough out on the course over this.  It ended up being my best race ever.  I pushed through and finished 111 brutal miles (UTMB can call it 105 if they like, my GPS readings added up to 111, and I measured leg after leg longer than they represented) on the premier 100+ mile trail course in the world in phenomenally beautiful country.  This goes in the books as a W.  But also unfinished business.  I think I can challenge sub 30 here, and I want another shot.   The twins graduate high school next year and summer 2016 is largely spoken for.  But Sandra and I have already started planning the qualifiers for 2017.  I've got 756 days to prepare.  I will be ready.


Utah Training - Summer 2015

I spent 6 weeks out west, mostly in Utah training for Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc this summer. A quick recap of the trip:
States Visited: 7 (Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Idaho & New York)
Races Completed: 5 (Capitol Reef, Speedgoat, Tushars, El Vaquero Loco, Skyline Mountain)
Miles Driven: 3,900
Miles Run: 470
Elevation Change Aggregate: 159,000 feet
Weight Lost: 22 lbs.
Parks & Forests visited: (11)
• Wasatch Mountain State Park
• Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest
• Capitol Reef National Park
• Death Valley National Park
• Zion National Park
• Grand Teton National Park
• Inyo National Forest
• John Muir Wilderness
• Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
• Fishlake National Forest
• Bridger-Teton National Forest
Regardless of the outcome in Chamonix next week, this summer was one of, if not the greatest adventures of my life thus far. But I sure hope it helps.
I ran the Capitol Reef 50K the day after I got to Utah...

and had an encounter with a bull moose on day 4.
Week 2, I ran high up in the Uinta Mountains...

where I saw mountain goats,

and climbed Mt. Bald.

The next day, I climbed Mt Timpanagos...
and then descended it at breakneck speed with a couple of Olympic cross country skiers.
Patrick Bene flew in week 3 and we ran Karl Metzler's insanely difficult Speedgoat 50K.

The next day, we drove south and climbed Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

We continued driving south and ran Red Rocks Canyon near Las Vegas.

Finally, we continued south to run in Badwater Basin in Death Valley...
and then crewed Amy Costa as she gave her all (and then some) at the Badwater 135.

After the race we went high in the Sierras in the John Muir Wilderness...
And wrapped up our 9 day running extravaganza by running the Tushars Marathon in southwest Utah... 

where I climbed another mountain.
 The week after Patrick left, I ran the El Vaquero Loco 50K in Wyoming...


and continued north to run in the Grand Tetons on Sunday.

 The following week, I finished up my race circuit by running the Skyline Mountain 50K in the northern Wasatch Mountains where I finished 9th...

and took one really nice spill.

And all the while, I kept training high in the Wasatch Mountains in between races.
It was an adventure of a lifetime, and I hope had me prepared for UTMB.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Lake To Ocean 100K - June 6, 2015: On Patience And Running Angry

I cheated.  Many of my running friends know I won the Lake To Ocean 100K this past weekend, but I don't think anyone suspected that I cheated to win.  More on that later.  I am elated to win another race.  This one feels particularly good having won it twice in a row now and beating a couple of guys I think of as elite runners. In addition to an already solid lineup, in the weeks leading up to the race, I found out that JJ Johnson and Brad Lombardi would be toeing the line.  I badly wanted to defend my win from last year, but I knew a lot of things would have to go my way with those two in the race.

I came into the race with three major goals. Lake to Ocean is run on the trail of the same name, from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean.  Goal One, was to jump in the Atlantic Ocean at the finish before the sunset.  Last year I took a very shallow dive into the ocean knowing dusk is when sharks feed, and as I ran down the beach, saw multiple people setting up for shark fishing.  This year, I wanted sunlight and to linger a bit longer in the water.  Goal Two was to beat last year's time of 13:36.  Goal Three was to repeat as winner.  I thought that would take a time of sub 13 hours, and the least likely of my targeted achievements. 

The trail starts out on a couple miles of gravel road winding its way through sugar cane fields and palm tree nurseries and around a mine.  Christian Stewart and I were quickly joined at the front by Brad Lombardi who peppered Christian with questions about trail markings and soon pulled away.  I knew that might be the last time I might see him until the finish.  We were soon joined by Tim Schaum and JJ, and the 4 of us chatted away for the next several miles as we entered Dupuis Reserve.   Around mile 5, I realized I was pushing too hard too early and made a conscious decision to back off JJ & Tim who pulled ahead.  Again, I knew that might be the last time I saw them.  I was content to run with Christian right behind me, until around mile 8 I recognized I was still going way too fast.  By mile 10 I was woozy, and started taking walk breaks far too early in the race.   

I spent the next few miles trudging along solo, beating myself up for going out too hard.  Patience!  All my life, I have been impatient, and I nearly always pay a price for it.  Well I was paying for it now.  My race could be over, I am not even sure I can finish.  I trudged into the first aid station at mile 15 on Powerline Road despondent.  Susan Anger was my crew, and the night before we had spent a solid 90 minutes talking race strategy.  When she had asked about having a chair available, I said no, I rarely sat in races, I preferred to get in and out quickly.  But here, I immediately dropped into the seat and started whining.  Susan calmly gave me an ice towel, fed me Coke, offered solid food, and after a few minutes, had me back out on my way.

I walked the first couple minutes heading into JW Corbett Wildlife Management Area, trying to get my head together.  I was in 5th place, with the leaders pulling away from me.  My original 3 goals were all out the door, now I just wanted to regroup enough to finish.  "Be patient" I told myself.  Take what the day and your body will give you.   The next 7 miles to the second aid station weren't very fast, and I took a number of walk breaks.  I once again plopped down into the chair and spent several minutes bemoaning my sad state of affairs as Susan quietly got me more fluids and food, cooled me off, and sent me back out into the misery again.

This second half of JW Corbett is where the race finally began to come together for me.  I had run through this part of Corbett four times just a month before in Christian's eponymous 50 miler, so it was more familiar territory.    My head cleared and I started pushing myself better with fewer walk breaks.  I took a little time to enjoy the innumerable bromeliads and other epiphytes along what I think is the prettiest section of the race.  I caught Tim around mile 25, and we leapfrogged each other a couple times before I bore down and ran steady for several miles.  Just as I was getting really hot again, a sun shower came through for 10 minutes and that carried me all the way into the Corbett aid station at mile 31.3.  The only place I walked was the muddy section a half mile from the end which had been under two feet of water when I ran here a month before.

I told Susan, I wasn't running very fast, but I was running steady again.  She told me JJ and Brad had headed out a few minutes apart about 15-20 minutes ahead of me.  Christian was laying down to recover from the heat.  I headed out into Hungryland Slough rejuvenated.  I was now running in third place.  JJ and Brad were too far ahead and running too well to catch, but if I stayed steady, I could have a "podium" finish.  I remembered this section being very runnable, but last year I struggled here, first missing a turn, and then baking in the heat.  This year was much cloudier, a breeze kicked up as a thunderstorm rolled past a few miles distant, and a ran without walking a step the entire 5.5 miles to the next aid station on Beeline Highway. 

The race director, Jeff Stephens was standing with Susan and told me Brad looked like he was suffering a little, but that JJ looked like he was on a mission.  OK, maybe I can catch Brad, and finish second overall.  My spirits continued to lift.  Susan was worried I was not eating any solid food other than Swedish Fish, and only getting calories from Tailwind on the trail, and Coke at the stops.  I choked down a piece of watermelon to make her happy; but the vast array of other foods she presented all looked unpalatable.  My stomach felt bloated and in the heat, I just couldn't bear the thought of eating.  I was so excited about the thought of catching Brad, I hustled out without refilling my hat with ice.  I was a few hundred yards down the Beeline Highway before I realized it and elected not to go back.  Fortunately, the cloud cover held, and I did not pay too bad of a heat price.

As I turned off the highway and entered the Loxahatchee Slough I realized I was running a little too fast.  Patience!  There were still 25 miles to go in the race, I did not need to rush.  This section was 11 miles until I saw Susan again, I could not afford another stupid mistake.  I pushed myself to run, but also allowed myself walk breaks when needed.   This section has an almost 7 mile stretch where you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, completely alone in the world. There are many stretches like this on the Lake To Ocean Trail, but I took particular notice of it here.  It is wonderful solitude, and I felt really good as I came around a corner and saw Brad on a straightaway ahead of me.  I backed down the pace, took a walk break, and gathered myself before attempting to pass him.  Brad is super competitive, and I was prepared for a dogfight once he saw me.  But he must not have felt well at all as I was by and away from him quickly.

I knew late in this section, the trail paralleled a canal for a stretch, and if I was even 10-15 minutes behind JJ, I would see him ahead of me here.  It was a jolt to see the canal path empty as far as I could see.  OK, second place it is.  But something kept me running steady through here and all the way through Riverbend Park until I crossed under Indiantown Road.  I missed the quick left in the fence, and lost several minutes re-reading Jeff's instructions and backtracking to the trail.  Susan was at the gate with the chair, a table, food and drink, and just about everything else I could possibly want.  She asked me what I needed, and I told her I needed to know how far ahead of me JJ was.  I needed confirmation he was 20-30 minutes ahead, and I could just trudge in from here.  She said, "He just left here two minutes ago."  Me: "You are shitting me?"  Susan, "No, he just left, and he is walking"  Crap.  Now I have to run.  For the first time all day, I passed up the proffered chair and asked Susan for extra salt pills before I bolted.  16 miles to go and it was Game On.

Catching and passing JJ was actually a little anti-climatic.  He saw me coming, and we walked and chatted together for several minutes.  He said his legs were shot and he would be walking most of the rest of the way in.  Once again, I forced myself to be patient and gather myself before running steady again.  When I did, I made steady, relentless progress through Jonathon Dickinson State Park.  At mile 52, I forded thigh deep water at Hobe Grove Canal and had wet feet for the first time all day.  I know Jeff was disappointed in the lack of rain this year, but I enjoyed running most of the day with dry socks and without 10 ounces of mud and silt inside. 

I missed making a right turn while fiddling with my salt pills and came to a 4 way intersection where I could not find an orange blaze anywhere.  I ran down each of the three options a hundred yards or so without seeing a trail marking.  I started to get really angry.  How could they not mark the trail better?  Then I remember it again, patience.  Stop and think.  I looked back at the way I had entered the intersection and there were no marking there either.  Oh.  The mistake wasn't at this intersection, I had gotten off trail before ever arriving here.  I quickly backtracked until I saw orange blazes in the distance and was soon back on track.  I was a bit panicked that JJ may have made up too much ground; but in the end, this 5-6 minute mistake just cost me a new course record.

From there, I made way through the "Sand Dunes of Misery".  It is a series of 50-100 yard climbs and descents in deep sugar sand.  it is pure torture after having already run 59 miles in heat and brutality.  If I know Jeff Stephens, he would have re-routed the course through here even if the trail took a different path; he is a bit sadistic.  I was really suffering as I approached US 1; but soon got a lift as I approached the final aid station.  One guy (Adam?) had called Sandra at my behest at the previous aid station to give her an update.  Now he relayed to me that she said "Second place is not acceptable for the defending champ".  That gave me a good laugh, she knows how to tweak me better than anyone.  I got a lot of cheers and support from the decent sized crowd at the road crossing.  In 2014, the runners were a lot more stretched out, and the final stops were ghost towns.  This year, the top 6 runners were within an hour of each other, and we had a nice crowd of crew members.

The last aid station with 2.5 miles to go was no different than the first, or any of the ones in between.  Susan was waiting with exactly what I needed.  She wanted me to grab the hand-held filled with ice water and truck on down the road and get her a new course record.  But I told her I didn't have it (I would have had to run 8 minute miles, those were not left in my legs).  One more cup of Coke and off I went.  I passed Dawn Lisenby on the way out who told me to enjoy every step to the finish.  And I did.  Finishing an ultra is an amazingly empowering feeling.  If I can do this, I can do anything.  Winning an ultra just puts me on Cloud Nine.  I dropped my hat, watch and bottle as I passed the pavilion and sprinted down the sand and into the Atlantic with everything I had left. 

13:41.  First place overall.  Goal One, jump in the Atlantic before sunset?  Check.  Jeff helped here more than a little by moving the start time up 45 minutes from last year.  Goal Two, Beat my time from last year?  Missed it by 5 minutes, losing almost 10 to two wrong turns.  I ran the first 31.3 miles in 6:40, a 12:47 pace.  I ran the last 32.4 miles in 7:01, a 13:00 pace.  Almost an even split.  I can live with missing the time goal.  Goal 3, Two Time Defending Champion?  Check. And that is going to feel really good for a long while.  Now for the hard part to admit to everyone, I cheated. 

I ran Angry.  I don't mean I was mad all day (although I got plenty mad with myself on several occasions).   I mean I ran with Susan Anger as my crew.  I believe we all line up at the start line of an ultra with an optimal time in the works.  Some combination of our athletic skill, training and preparation (mental and physical), health, race day weather, etc. define the absolute best time we can achieve that day.  The goal of the runner on race day is to execute the race as well as possible and minimize the degradation against that optimal time.  Every trip and fall, every wrong turn, every mental lapse causes us to lose time against that optimal result.  In a self-supported race like this one, your crew can have a huge impact on that outcome.  Choosing the right crew for yourself and your personality is critical.   Getting the right food, right fluids, right care, right coaching; each and every time through an aid station makes all the difference in the world.  I lost no time in this race due to Susan; any and all errors were mine.   It almost feels like cheating having her in my corner.  Without her, I don't win.     Pending an invitation from Mr. Stephens, I plan on diving into the Atlantic in 2016 while running Angry.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Rocky Raccoon 100 - January 31, 2015

Ultramnesia.  That is the best word I can use to describe this year's Rocky Raccoon 100 which I finished in 21:08:27

I've been a little beat up the past several months.  I came out of Save The Daylight with what turned out to be peroneal tendinitis in my right foot that cost me a full month of training and added 10 lbs, mostly in my midriff.  After that I had several sub-par performances, capped off by a flu-ridden DNF after 65 miles at Ancient Oaks.  On New Year's Day I pulled something in my lower back, that lingered for weeks.  Several X-Rays and a MRI later, the orthopedist told me Wednesday before the race I have a sprained periformis muscle in my hip putting pressure on my sciatic nerve.  He gave me a cortisone shot and cleared me to race 72 hours later.

Ken Burnham was my crew again for this race, I think I will go to Rocky Raccoon annually as long as Ken and Nancy remain in Dallas.   We had a great FUR crew in town, Friday night's dinner at Oliver Garden including myself, Ken, Andy Mathews, Luis Barrios, Amy Wood (pacer), Danielle Zemola, and Noora Aldina.   

Thursday and Friday, my back felt great, the best it had felt since last year.   But Saturday morning, as I bent over the sink to brush my teeth, my back spasmed again.  We set up a tent, tables and chairs along the finishing chute (Ken's tent served as a convenient home base for the entire group), and I had trouble standing up straight as we did it.  Bending over to tie my shoes was a challenge.  I took a muscle relaxer and painkillers and was reasonably comfortable when the race started.  But it took its toll over the course of the race.

The weather was ideal, 44 degrees at the start. Luis and I ran together.  Luis has been in great shape the last several races, and had a good shot at breaking 20 hours.   I would run at least the first 20 miles with him to keep him in check.  I had visions of a sub-20 hour finish as well, but knew it was a long shot given the recent nagging injuries and remaining weight gain.  The first of five 20 mile laps went almost to perfection, we finished in 3:50.  Lap 2 followed suit, in 3:54.  We were on perfect pace for 20 hours, though I still doubted I could hold on for 3 more laps.  Luis pulled ahead of me after that, and stayed ahead until mile 69.  I passed him as he had stopped to put on a rain jacked in the evening's light drizzle and assumed he would catch me quickly.  But I only saw him briefly at the start/finish at mile 80, and then again after we finished. 

The last 40 miles were not much fun.  I had already run 20 miles solo, and now was beginning to really feel my back.  My left leg didn't feel like it was pushing off with full strength.  The tendonitis in my right foot began to act up. I forgot to re-apply lube and developed a nasty case of chaffing in my shorts.  In summary, I was miserable.  And I kept telling myself that.  For the first time, I really began to question why I was out here.  What is the point?  I've been to some great races, I've completed numerous hundreds, including this one twice before.  What the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this again?

Well that was it.  I quit.  I am done running hundreds for a while.  I will still train and go to UTMB this summer, I've worked too hard, too long to get there.  I'll still run 50Ks and 50 milers, they don't beat me up too bad.  But I am done with this hundred mile crap.  There is no point in doing this myself yet again.   I'll finish this race, and that will be it for the foreseeable future.  I ran as consistently as I could, and labored across the finish line in 21:08:27, good for 52nd place.  I was just 7 1/2 hours off of Ian Sharman's winning time, who never looked he was breathing hard any time I saw him.

Luis came in about 20 minutes behind me with a huge PR time for him.  Andy Mathews came in just over 23 hours, fighting an ugly cold the whole way.  Noora Aldina does what she does every single time, she finished, this time in 26 hours.  Even Danielle, who has not been seriously training due to injury, came across in 28 hours.   The FURs went 5 for 5 at Rocky Raccoon.

I told Ken about my semi-retirement after the race.  We discussed it on the drive back to Dallas, and also with his wife Nancy pre-Super Bowl.  Then I woke up Monday morning, rested, and not nearly as sore as I thought I would be.    The weather caused my first flight to be cancelled, and I was re-routed through Houston back to Tampa.  That gave me a lot of time to sit and think.  The pain wasn't that bad was it?  At least it doesn't seem like it was, now that I am 24 hours removed from the race.   The pain never seems as bad once the race ends.  Pushing through the moment is only a temporary inconvenience.  Surely that doesn't outweigh the satisfaction of knowing I had again done what nearly everyone outside of the ultra community doesn't think can be done.  You can't put a price on the self-confidence that builds.  I am a better husband, a better father, a better employee, a better person because running and completing these races are part of my life.  I am not giving this up.  Not ever, until health forces me to consider otherwise.  I'll lace them back up.  In fact, I plan to see everyone at Fort Clinch next month.

Ultramnesia.  There is no other explanation.