Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still recovering

The weather has turned cold and rainy, so I headed to an overly crowded gym after work. I hopped on the treadmill for a 4 mile run. I eased into it, but quickly switch to 1/4 mile repeats, alternating between an 8.5-9.5 mph pace on the high end and 6 mph on the low end. I struggled with the my breath. My legs seem fine, but I can tell that my internal systems are not recovered. I'll take it easy tomorrow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Feeling incredibly well

My recovery could not be better for 24 hours out. My legs are fine, my hips seem fine, and my energy seems fine. My feet are a little sore, and I am still suffering from a bit of...well...chaifing. It is to be expected.

My run went well. On the treadmill because of rain, I ran 4 miles in just over 34 minutes. I steadily increased the pace throughout, just to get an opportunity to strech out the legs.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

41 Down, 11 to go: Heartland 100

I generally consider myself to be a confident person. I like to think that I work hard at achieving my goals, and when it is time to actually achieve a goal, I am usually confident that have put in the work necessary to do what it is I need to do. And I am generally confident that I have the drive and the will to achieve those goals. That I believe is the real key.

With running, my story is no different. With all humility, I think I have been fairly successful in my relatively short running career in achieving my goals. Part of this success is attributable to setting realistic goals. Some days my goal may be “just to finish” while other days my goal might be to break 3:30 hours for a marathon or even set a P.R. Fortunately, I’ve never had to drop from a running race. I attribute this largely to my drive.

Today I expected to be different. For the first time in my memory, I entered today thinking that I probably would not finish. While I knew I was physically able to finish (I had completed the Lean Horse 100 only six weeks prior), I just didn’t know if I had the drive to finish. I was beat down mentally from Lean Horse and from all the long runs I have completed this year. This feeling was new for me. But although I was not coming in confident, I did have a good attitude that no matter what I wouldn’t be a failure even if I didn’t finish.

With that backdrop, I set out to run my 3rd career 100 mile Ultramarathon. The Heartland 100 takes place in the Flint Hills of Kansas. This had been my first 100 miler exactly one year ago.

I woke up around 3:00, got dressed and grabbed a quick breakfast of a cliff bar and Gatorade. Laura (my training partner and fellow participant setting out to complete her first 100 mile ultramarathon) picked me up around 4:00 a.m. We headed to the start area in Cassoday nearly 45 miles away. We arrived around 5:00 and had nearly an hour to kill. We hung out and chatted with other runners. We both were clearly nervous.

At 6:00 a.m., we were off into the pure darkness (the sun wouldn’t rise for another 45 minutes to an hour). The first few miles went as expected. We maintained around a 10:30 pace during the first five miles. Around every two miles, we took a one minute walk break. This worked well over those flat five miles. Around mile five we began hitting a few easy hills. At any significant climb, we walked. Any downhills, we ran. We did our best to run all the flats. The miles of running two straight miles were long gone.

The first manned aid station came at Battle Creek between eight and nine miles out. Laura and I quickly refilled our bottles and I grabbed a banana and a couple of pretzels. We headed out, straight into what I believe is the hilliest section of the entire course.

Miles 8-17 are tough, but early in the race they are kinda fun.

I continued eating and drinking. Forecast called for 80+ temperatures and 20+ mph winds. It was already getting hot, but with the winds, it felt strangely cold.

At the Mile 17 (Lapland), we saw Jennifer (my wife and my crew) for the first time. She provided us some much needed drinks and me a quick PB&J sandwich. We continued on. So far so good.

We met up with Jennifer again at the Teterville Aid station at mile 25. We were 25 miles in and feeling good. I dropped off the long sleeve shirt and grabbed refills on bottles and drinks.

We continued on towards mile 31 and the Texaco Hill Aid station. Although Texaco Hill is technically accessible by car, few crews try to go there as it is nearly impossible to get from Teterville to the Texaco Hill and to the following aid station in the time it takes the runner to cover the same distance. So as much as we wanted to see Jennifer, we would have to utilize the supplies at the aid station (the aid stations are great) and head on out to Jennifer at mile 36.

The temperatures and the wind continued to increase. Our pace slowed, but we continued covering each mile at just over 12 minute miles.

At mile 36 (Ridgeline), we found Jennifer. Laura needed to change shoes and socks, and to treat the early stages of a blister. I used that time to relax and eat a sandwich and refill my bottles. After about five minutes, we moved on.

At mile 43 (Matfield Green Aid Station), Laura and I split ways. This was by plan. She had her own pacers planning on running with her for the last 57 miles, while I had plans for pacers from the last 43 miles. While our paces were similar enough for the first 30 or 40 miles, we knew that we better be able to each run our own paces thereafter.

I was feeling very good at mile 43 and was able to move quickly through the aid station after Jennifer provided fluids and food. I even grabbed a third water bottle with the heat (largely to pour over my head if I began to overheat). I applied some much needed sunscreen (did I mention it was 80 degrees and sunny?). Laura, unfortunately, was hitting the first of many inevitable walls. She was getting overheated, hungry and tired. Her feet were causing her some problems, and she needed a little bit longer break. I knew she would break through it, but neither she nor I knew how long she and her first pacer might be at that aid station. So I left on my own from 43 just after 2:00 p.m.

The next 7 miles were a struggle for me. It was getting warmer and warmer. I was having difficulties eating, although I was doing a reasonable job of taking in fluids. I hit the 50 mile aid station (Lone Tree) at 4:10 p.m. There I took some time to drink some 7-Up and eat a Gu.

The half-way point was a significant victory for me. I had run for 10+ hours and was feeling pretty good. I was right on pace for a sub 24-hour finish, and right in line with my time last year. I was feeling good, and I had regained the confidence that I could finish today’s race.

I began the journey back. Unfortunately, 49.5 miles from the start is a very long and steep down hill. Going in to the aid station at mile 50, that makes for a nice easy downhill before the break. But on the way out, it takes nearly 5 minutes just to climb your way out of the valley. I struggled up, but by the top I was ready to run. And who did I see but Laura. She was looking awesome and running well! Thankfully, she had broken through the mile 43 lows. She couldn’t be more than 10 minutes behind me! I was really excited for her, which gave me much needed boost (you can’t help but have a vested interest in your running partner for nearly all your training and the first 43 miles of the race).

This boost was unfortunately short lived. While the heat of the day was on the decline, the 8+ hours of direct sunlight and heat had taken a toll on me. My stomach was struggling to digest. Nothing sounded good, either to eat or drink. I struggled to make it up and down the hills. I was hitting a serious low on the day. My energy was gone.

I struggled back to Matfield Green at mile 57. Jennifer and Laura’s crew were all waiting. As was my first pacer, Mike. Upon seeing everyone, I said “This ultrarunning deal sucks. Who signed me up for this?” I didn’t mean it, and in all honesty, seeing friends kept my spirits high. I joked with those around me. But I also didn’t hide that I was feeling low because of the heat. I downright felt ill. I didn’t want any more Gu, so I nibbled on some crackers and had some Ginger Ale.

Mike and I headed out. I began slowly, but soon picked up the pace. By this time I had been out there for nearly 12 hours. I was tired and hungry. I definitely enjoyed the company. We had only 6 miles to go before hitting Ridge Line. We hit mile 36 just as the sun set. I was right around 13 hours in. I grabbed a quick bottle of Coke and a Vanilla Gu (great combination).

Mike and I made a fairly quick stop out of Ridgeline, and he and I headed back out for another 11 miles. Mike would be with me through Texaco Hill and all the way to mile 75 and Teterville. At Texaco Hill, the aid station was a tent that provided us some nice relief from the cold winds. I drank some coffee and ate chicken-noodle soup. I drank more Ginger Ale and ate saltines to help settle my stomach. I still felt ill.

Mike and I soon charged on. We would have 7 tough miles without any aid before hitting the 75 mile mark and my crew. I struggled for the first few miles, but soon picked up the pace. I covered those miles in fairly good time.

Sooner than expected (which was a rarity, see below), we hit Teterville Road. Within a few minutes on Teterville Road, we would hit the Teterville Aid Station and mile 75. Awaiting me at Teterville was Jennifer and my next two pacers, Brad and Danny. Laura’s crew was also there. The news was that Laura was only 20 minutes behind me leaving Ridgeline 11 miles back. She was doing awesome!

I again drank coffee and ate soup and saltines. I changed my socks for the first time on the day (I was really struggling with the small rocks in my shoes). Danny and I headed out.

Danny paced me 8 miles through mile 83 and the Lapland Aid Station. The story of Danny (and Brad for that matter) is fairly funny. Danny and Brad are coworkers. I had asked if they would pace me some time back. I knew neither of them were runners, but both are athletes. I knew with very minor training, they could easily pace me through an 8 or 9 mile section. And if I was really struggling, I knew each could go beyond that 8 or 9 miles. So even though Danny had done no training (none, zero, zilch), he stuck with me for 8 miles. It was tougher than he thought. Luckily, my relationship with Danny (and with Brad) is that I can joke with them about being able to outrun them after running 85+ miles. This adventure made for some great laughs for the nearly two hours that it took Danny and me to make it those eight miles.

At mile 83, I met my crew for a quick break. I ate some more soup and drank some more coffee. Brad joined me to pace me through the toughest section of the course, Lapland to Battle Creek. My running pace wasn’t quick, and my ability to run more than a few minutes at a time was lost, but what surprise Brad was my ability to quickly walk up the hills. Brad, who had trained even less than Danny, kept up good spirits, although the hills were killing his legs! Again, this made for good laughs!

For me, the extremely difficult part of this stretch was not the hills, but it was not knowing how many hills were left. Constantly I would think I was farther along the stretch than I really was. My memory was that you could see the aid station from the top of a hill. So at each hilltop, I’d look down and when I saw no aid station, I let it get to me. I admitted to Brad about mile 90 that I was mentally defeated.

Finally, it appeared. The Battle Creek Aid Station at mile 92 was a great sight. I knew I was now through the hills and within single digits of the finish. Brad and Danny were set to again switch, with Danny planning to take me on to mile 96. Brad and Danny quickly rethought the issue, and decided that Brad would keep going, so he didn’t have to tighten up before running again. I ate some soup and drank some Red Bull. Danny and I headed out.

The Mirage Aid Station appeared at mile 96. Brad and Danny switched places. I headed out quickly after eating a bit of banana. I was feeling good, and was ready to finish.

Danny and I pushed on over those last 4 miles. Again, I thought I was farther along the course that I actually was. With about 5 miles left, you can see the finish tower (a water tower with flashing lights). So you feel closer than you really are. I remembered the last two miles of the course were a right turn, followed by a left turn, followed by a right turn on to pavement and the finished. What I clearly didn’t remember was how far it was from Mile 95 to the start of those last two miles. Again, I was mentally defeated, but this
time I didn’t let it get to me. I knew I was close. I could keep going with slowing.

When I finally hit those last two miles, my pace quickened. I was excited to be finished. And I knew I would finish just under my finish time from last year. I tried to run the entire last two miles, but couldn’t. I did run much more than I walked, and walked quickly when I walked. The last ¾ mile I did manage to run the entire way.

I finished in 22:33:21. 18th place out of 81 starters. 13 minutes faster than last year.

I was surprised that I finished. Even more surprised by my finish time. And even more surprised by my attitude throughout the day. I stated I entered the day not knowing if I had the drive and the will to finish. I was proud to say that I found it somewhere between mile 50 and 57.

Laura finished in 25:46! She was the 3rd place woman. Congratulations to her.

A huge thank you to Mike, Brad and Danny, as well as to Laura’s crew who gave me an enormous amount of support. Even more thanks to Jennifer. Even at 7 months pregnant, she is the best crew person out there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

One day to go!

Well, I'm there. One last 4 mile run and all the training is behind me.

I hopped on the gym treadmill for a my 4 mile run just before lunch. While I would liked to have just coasted my way through this run, I knew that a little faster pace would really help stetch out my legs before tomorrow. So I did 1/4 mile repeats, alternating between 9-10 mph paces on the fast sections and 7.5 mph on the slow sections.

The run went surprisingly fast. And now its over. No more delays before the next 100.