"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 Autumn Leaves 50 Mile Recap: "It's Awesome, Baby!"

Part 1: Autumn Leaves 50 miler at Champoeg State Park: 10hours 19minutes 21seconds
(Pictures to come as they become available)

Let me start by saying that it didn't feel like I was out there for 10+ hours. I can't explain it, but at the end of lap 7 (of 8), I commented to my buddy who paced me the last two laps that I really hadn't felt like it had been 8 1/2 hours, or basically two marathons. In fact, the whole day -- the time spent, how my legs and body felt, even how the miles felt, didn't seem all that different from a marathon. I've spent the time since finishing trying to get my head around why and have come up with a few possible reasons, but nothing concrete. I'll mention a few of them as I get through my race recap. Also, I have to give credit to all of the amazing runners that were there. So many of them completed this race in 7 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours...just amazing. They are inspirations to me.

Lap 1 - Miles 0-6.25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 20/1
Projected Time: 1:01
Actual Time: 1:08

It was an extremely foggy morning, especially being as close to the Willamette River as we were. This made it a little bit difficult to see as we started out at 6am, but because we all (most) had headlamps on, it wasn't a huge deal. The first 5 miles of the loop was on a nicely paved bike path that presented no problems such as pot holes, roots or rough pavement. It was easy to find space to run in after just a few hundred yards and I settled into a nice groove at about a 10:30 pace.

The first pass through the aid station came at 1.4 miles and then it was a run through the forest area (still on paved path) up to the turnaround just short of 3.1. The last 100 yards or so before the turnaround was a pretty good incline and after running it the first lap I decided it wasn't worth it and that I would walk it in later laps. It was such a short distance that the difference between running and walking it pace-wise really was negligible in the big picture.

The second pass through the aid station came at 4.75 miles and at 5 miles we split off from the bike path and onto the dirt trail for about 1.25 miles. In the dark this was a very difficult section to run. In some areas the actual trail was only 6" wide with uneven grass clumps on both sides. Some areas were through the trees, which presented their own problems. Because it was so dark we were instructed to follow the green glow sticks that were placed every so often along the way. Between looking for the glow sticks, trying to stay on the trail and continuing to keep up a good pace I was a little slow to react when the runner in front of me yelled "root!" What roo---? oh, that root. The one I just tripped over and face-planted because of (and as I later discovered, cut my leg because of). A good wake up call if nothing else.

The final .2 miles of the lap were back through the parking lot we had started in and up to the start/finish area where we crossed the mat, went around the cone, attended to the aid station and our drop bags and then set out for lap #2.

I was about 7 minutes slower than my projected time, but didn't care too much. I was running at a comfortable pace and that was more important, especially early on. I also discovered that my car was parked literally on the course (in that last .2 miles of the lap) which was nice as I stored some of my stuff there as well.

Lap 2 - Miles 6.25-12.5
Run/Walk ratio goal: 20/1
Projected Time: 1:01
Actual Time: 1:07

By the time lap 2 began it was starting to get light. Still extremely foggy, but light enough that I turned my headlamp off by the time I reached the aid station. I continued on at the pace I had been running and continued to take my walk break every 20 minutes.

One of the most important things I settled into on lap 2 was the mind set of taking this thing one lap at a time. I didn't worry about how many miles I had left or even how many laps were left. Nor did I look to see how many miles I had gone (I turned that setting off on my watch). I didn't even care what my time had been on previous laps. My only concern was the lap I was on, nothing else.

I finished lap 2 in 1:07, again a few minutes slower than projected, but I felt great and wasn't straining or struggling at all.

Lap 3 - Miles 12.5-18.75
Run/Walk ratio goal: 10/1
Projected Time: 1:09
Actual Time: 1:09

By lap three I felt like I knew the course well and could easily break it into smaller sections: the 1 mile marker, the aid station at 1.4, the bridge at 2.3, the turnaround at 3.1, the bridge again just before 4, the aid station at 4.75, the trail at 5 and the end of the lap at 6.25. That was my life for the final six laps. Just get to the next landmark.

I welcomed the chance to begin taking a walk break every 10 minutes during this lap and finished right on target, at 1:09.

Lap 4 - Miles 18.75-25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:15
Actual Time: 1:07

Lap 4 was the best I felt all day. Early in the lap I would take my walk break every 8 minutes, but didn't feel like I needed the full two minutes of recovery so I would cut it short at just one minute. During the running portions I felt great and really tried to stretch my strides a little bit to challenge myself while remaining comfortable.

Normally during a marathon this is where I do a number of things, including bonking, cease sweating, and walking for long, long stretches. Not on this lap though, and not on this day. I broke into an almost sprint pace as I hit the parking lot for the final .2 miles (it wouldn't be the last time I would sprint to the a lap) and finished in 1:07, eight full minutes under my projected time.

Lap 5 - Miles 25-31.25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:14

My biggest fear, if you want to call it that, was laps five and six. This was uncharted waters for me and I had no idea how my body would react or respond to what I would ask it to do during these laps. I used some of my projected aid station time between laps 4 and 5 to stop at my car and start lathering up my legs with an icy-hot gel. While there I struck up a conversation with an elderly couple parked next to me. They were there to cheer on a family member and assured me they would be there all day, cheering for me to. It was nice to have a little adopted family there for support. They cheered for me every time I ran by as if I was one of their own and offered encouragement whenever I stopped at the car. It's one of the little things that made the day possible.

I owe a big thanks to my friend C, who sent me copies of her late-90's Jock Jams/Jock Rock collection. You remember those songs, don't you? Many of the songs are still played on stadiums today during timeouts and player introductions, but who can forget Will Smith, Coolio and the Backstreet Boys all jamming? And if you can have Dick Vitale yelling "America, are you serious? It is showtime baby!" in your ear as you pass the 26 mile mark, how can you not be pumped up? (Inconsequential note, I passed 26.2 at around 4:50, but didn't bother to stop to celebrate or make much not of it...that wasn't the goal today).

At the aid station in lap 5 I met up with a girl also running her first 50 miler. We had passed each other numerous times on the turnarounds and at the aid stations already and made chit chat as we left the aid station. I asked if she was following any sort of run/walk pattern and she said not really, so I told her what my lap plan was. We each had our music going, but it was helpful to have someone to run with to be accountable to. For instance, at the end of my running segment, I would tell her I was going to walk for one minute (or two). At one minute (or two), if I didn't look like I was starting to run again, she'd say let's go and get moving again. Occasionally I had to make sure she got moving again also. We ran the rest of the lap together and then lap 6 as well. Again, a small thing that made the day possible. Had I been left to run those uncharted miles by myself, maybe I get lazy and walk more than I should have.

Finished the lap in 1:14, another 7 minutes off of my projected time.

Lap 6 - Miles 31.25-37.5
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:19

Much the same during this lap. Get to the next landmark, take the walk breaks, continue to refuel (more on refueling in a minute). My buddy drove up next to me about a mile into this lap to let me know he was there and would be waiting for me at the end of the lap. This was a shot of much needed adrenaline that served me well the remainder of the lap. 1:18, another 2 minutes off of projected time.

Lap 7 - Miles 37.5-43.75
Run/Walk ratio goal: 5/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:26

Definitely a slower lap. As far as I can remember I didn't walk any more than the 5/2 projected ratio, but my walk pace was probably slower than the 16 minute pace I was using in my calculation. I felt like my running pace was pretty consistent throughout the entire day though, including these final laps. My buddy K, was a great support and had brought all sorts of stuff that he thought I might have needed, including a leg roller and a sub sandwich, which I wasn't in the mood for, but appreciated a lot nonetheless. More than anything, his enthusiasm for what we (the girl I was running with stayed with us for lap 7) were doing was enough to keep me going strong. A 1:26 lap, 5 minutes slower than projected, but I made the cutoff to start the final lap! Hooray! (It wasn't close, I was almost 90 minutes ahead of the cutoff, but at the start of the day I wasn't sure). More than that, I kicked it into high gear the final 1/2 mile and ran a low 7-minute pace in the final stretch and felt awesome (mile 44 for those keeping track).

Lap 8 - Miles 43.75-50
Run/Walk ratio goal: 5/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:21

I'm not going to lie, this lap was a struggle. My running pace stayed where it should have been, but my walking pace was getting slower and slower. Just get to the mile marker, the aid station, the bridge, the turnaround etc. At the turnaround I knew I had just a 5k left. Then I got to the aid station and knew I had just 1.5 miles left. So close, yet the trail awaited, with all its uneven terrain and I was absolutely spent. It was here that K said probably the only thing he shouldn't have all day and that was to think about my family waiting for me at the finish line. That's certainly not a punishable offense by any stretch, but at that point it was all it took for me to get emotional for the first time all day and have to hold back tears. But on we went.

The last mile is no different from any other mile, in theory. Same distance, and on this course, a stretch I had already run seven times that day. But man, those little ups and downs on the trail through the forest seemed like flights of stairs and were really hurting (going up and down).

I was talking to myself quite a bit during this final stretch and K was pumping his fists, pushing me along. Just before the 6 mile mark of the final lap, I asked myself out loud "what do you have left?" I needed to know.

And so I did what any rational person who had just run 49.75 miles would do: I broke into a sprint, breaking out of the trees, into the parking lot, past my adopted family and towards the finish line where my wife and kids were waiting. I touched 6:33/mile during this stretch and crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. My final lap was right on my projected time.

Overall I finished in 10:19:21. Slightly slower than my projected overall time, but certainly in the "I'm freaking out because I can't believe I just did that" range. I definitely want to talk about my hydration and refueling strategy and experience, but I will leave that for another post because of the length here already.

So mark it down. I'm an ultra-marathoner. It's awesome, baby!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumn Leaves 50 Mile

50 miles.

10 hours 19 minutes 35 seconds. And a smile on my face at the end.

Full recap later this week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Final Thoughts Before Running 50 Miles

Tomorrow is race day. 50 miles. And for perhaps the first time in a race I'm less concerned with my finishing time than I am with simply finishing. It's not since my very first half marathon, back in September 2009, that I have been more unsure of how a run was going to go. I've spent time working out various run/walk ratios for each lap (8 laps total), estimating how much my pace might decline in the later miles and trying to figure out how to replenish my energy stores on the go so there's something in the tank after 20 miles, and still I have zero idea what's going to happen tomorrow afternoon as I push past 25, 30, 40 miles.

I know I can run 25. No problem, especially with regular walk breaks early and often. That covers the first four laps. Two in the dark and two as the sun comes up on what should be a near-perfect morning to run.

I trust that I'll be able to handle the last two laps (miles 37.5-50). My buddy is going to run them with me and has been given cart blanche to do whatever he needs to do to keep me moving. As I told him a few days ago when I was going over my race plan with him, his one and only job is to make sure I don't quit.

That leaves laps five and six, miles 25-37.5. This is the great unknown. This is the portion of the race where I'll find out if my early-lap refueling has been effective or not. No idea what to expect here.

A few other quick thoughts:

My wife walked into the kitchen the other day and (obviously referencing tomorrow) asked what I was worth in terms of life insurance. She was joking. I think. But she seemed satisfied with the answer. Uhh...

I'm hoping to have my little sister tweeting updates throughout the day tomorrow. Check back for those. I'll put the twitter gadget at the top of this page so its easy to find.

Finally, I occasionally come across things that I either wish I would have written or had the ability to write. The following, from Jeff Edmonds at The Logic of Long Distance, is both. How do you prepare to run 50 miles? Like this...
This is how it works:

Training is doing your homework. It's not exciting. More often than not it's tedious. There is certainly no glory in it. But you stick with it, over time, and incrementally through no specific session, your body changes. Your mind becomes calloused to effort. You stop thinking of running as difficult or interesting or magical. It just becomes what you do. It becomes a habit.

Workouts too become like this. Intervals, tempos, strides, hills. You go to the track, to the bottom of a hill, and your body finds the effort. You do your homework. That's training. Repetition--building deep habits, building a runner's body and a runner's mind. You do your homework, not obsessively, just regularly. Over time you grow to realize that the most important workout that you will do is the easy hour run. That's the run that makes everything else possible. You live like a clock.

After weeks of this, you will have a month of it. After months of it, you will have a year of it.
Then, after you have done this for maybe three or four years, you will wake up one morning in a hotel room at about 4:30am and do the things you have always done. You eat some instant oatmeal. Drink some Gatorade. Put on your shorts, socks, shoes, your watch. This time, though, instead of heading out alone for a solitary hour, you will head towards a big crowd of people. A few of them will be like you: they will have a lean, hungry look around their eyes, wooden legs. You will nod in their direction. Most of the rest will be distracted, talking among their friends, smiling like they are at the mall, unaware of the great and magical event that is about to take place.

You'll find your way to a tiny little space of solitude and wait anxiously, feeling the tang of adrenaline in your legs. You'll stand there and take a deep breath, like it's your last. An anthem will play. A gun will sound.

Then you will run.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I woke up in a panic sometime around 1am Saturday morning. One week away from an attempt at 50 miles, a few hours away from my last real run before that race (two 5-mile laps around my neighborhood) and two days after my boss (also known to me as "Dad") and multiple clients walked into our office visibly sick, I awoke with an acute pain in the back of my throat. Oh no, I thought as I jumped out of bed to guzzle some water, here it comes.
And came it did: the dreaded head-cold.
For the last 48 hours I've been working through this cold. Fortunately, I think I've done enough to speed it along as quickly as possible and this morning (Monday) I feel about 80%. It also hasn't been one of those energy-sapping colds with a fever attached that takes weeks to recover from. So that's nice.
I'm no doctor. But really, it shouldn't matter here, because a doctor can't do squat for a cold anyway. Anyway, here's my last 48 hours in a nutshell:
1. Lots of rest/sleep. 9-10 hours each night, a nap during the day and generally just taking it easy. (It helps to have a supportive wife)
2. Minimal eating on day 1 and very simple foods on day 2 (fresh fruit, vegetable broth, dry whole-wheat bread). Why force the body to digest food when it could be busy fighting off the cold. I still ended up eating about 1500 calories on Saturday and around 2000 on Sunday (about 1/3 to 1/2 of what I'm usually taking in on a daily basis), but it was all food that digested quickly and didn't require much energy.
3. A piping hot epsom salt bath each day. Sweat it out, baby.
4. As much water as I can handle. All of the time.
5. No medications. Again, why try to cover up the symptoms to simply feel good in the short-term while getting in the way of the body healing itself?
Yes, I felt horrible. But only for a few hours. I progressed through each part of the cold rapidly and now, 48 hours later, have the thing beat. I won't be running much this week, maybe a few miles on Thursday, and my preparation for Saturday will be much like the last two days: lots of rest, lots of water and lots of good wholesome food. And maybe a viewing of Rocky IV.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marathon #9: St George Recap

Let's start with the positives: I just finished my 6th marathon in the last seven months and my 9th in the last 16 months. The other positive was getting to spend the weekend with my good friend and his wife, who were running their first marathon. Boarding a bus in the wee hours of the morning and then spending two hours in the dark at the starting line is far more tolerable with friends and seeing them as they crossed the finish line together was awesome.
Unfortunately, weren't very many positive things going on once the race actually started. It was a rough day all the way around. One that caused me to reflect and evaluate if running marathons is something I want to continue to do.
Maintaining proper nutrition is always difficult for me when traveling. Sometimes I'll bring my blender with me and make my smoothies but not when I'm flying to a race. This leaves me concerned with getting enough calories in the hours leading up to race day. I'm apparently not disciplined enough to go to a grocery store and buy tons of fruit and keep me going, so instead I went to Olive Garden Thursday night (horrible service, slightly less than horrible food), pancakes and eggs for breakfast and the pasta dinner at the expo Friday night. I did have some bananas in my car but it was so darn hot that they were not appetizing at all. So no fruit and way too much stuff that I usually only have sparingly. Doesn't make for a quality pre-race diet.
Then there was the weather. Freaking hot. One of the lead volunteers at the finish line told me that in the 35 years of the race, this was the hottest day. Whether that's true or not I don't know, but the sun was relentless all day and there was no where to hide from it.  It's so dry there anyway (especially compared to where I live here in the Willamette Valley) that I was drinking as much as I could handle at every aid station but still felt like I had a mouthful of chalk just a few seconds later. Dehydration was an issue during the second half of the race.
Veyo. Volcano and all.
The course itself was definitely scenic. From the Veyo volcano to Snow Canyon to St. George itself it's really a very pretty course. Friends of mine (who I'll get to in a minute) and I drove the course on Friday afternoon and felt pretty good about what we would encounter the next morning. For whatever reason though, I could have sworn I was running a completely different course. All of the course maps (and even my Garmin) shows the second half being almost completely downhill. My Garmin only measured 20 feet of elevation gain in the whole second half actually. Out there on the course though, on a long, hot day, it seemed like every time I came around a turn there was an incline in front of me. And every time I got to the crest of those inclines it seems like I would look out and see another one right in front of me. I can't explain it. But it was tough.
Proper rest is also difficult on the road. I've run races in other timezones before, but for some reason this one just kicked my butt. My friends and I loaded the bus at about 4:15am (3:15am my time). Before that though, I had been awake from basically 2am on (1am my time). By the time the race started at 6:45, I had been awake for nearly five hours. Tack on 4 1/2 hours for race time and it was a really long day by the time the last few miles came around.
So I finished in 4:30:59. Certainly not my best, but not my worst either. There was no excitement at this finish line though. Mostly just disappointment. I had higher expectations for this race given the course, the way I've felt in training and how I felt when I got on the plane Thursday afternoon. I spent some time Sunday thinking whether or not I wanted to continue to do this or if it was time to look for something else to do. I spoke with my friend to see how they were feeling and offered some encouragement, reminding him that they were marathoners now and that the muscle pains would start to subside in a day or two.
On Monday morning, still feeling a little depressed, I got a call from my friend. Usually we just text back and forth, so to receive a phone call was a little bit curious to me. The first words out of his mouth were, "I can't even walk down the stairs in my house I'm so sore today, so why do I have the urge to sign up and run another one? There was an enthusiasm in his voice that was infectious.
And with that, we spent the next 15 minutes talking about what race we could do next together, narrowing it down to Ogden in May, Utah Valley in June or possibly the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll at the end of June. I got off the phone and my outlook had completely changed. I was excited to look for my next race. The enthusiasm my buddy had had on the phone, despite the soreness he felt, reminded me of the excitement I had had after other races, when I couldn't wait to sign up for the next one. It reminded me that even though we hadn't run the race as quickly as we had hoped, we had still finished a freaking marathon and that we were doing things that the majority of people will never even attempt.
There have been people and experiences at various points along this road that have kept me interested, motivated and determined. Add my friend to that list. It came at a good time too because the Autumn Leaves 50 mile ultra marathon is now only 3 1/2 weeks away. It scares the dickens out of me and is the first time since I signed up for my very first half marathon that I really don't know how it will go of if I can actually do it. But I'll be there at the starting line prepared to find out.