Monday, May 2, 2016

Fellowship of the rocks: TNF ECS Bear Mountain 50 mile, April 30th, 2016

It ain’t trickin if you got it.
~Lil Wayne

Andy’s right foot came down on another rock, firm and steady, and he skipped forward.  I’d been following his smooth stride for 7 hours, for, quite literally, 70,000 steps.  My goal was simple; match Andy's steps.  Earlier in the day I told him that I’d given myself a lobotomy for the race, that my only plan was to follow his plan.  I’d given up the control and the decision making, given up the pacing duties and all the choices about effort.  Andy said that his goal was to get me back to Bear Mountain in under 9 hours.  His job was to lead.  My job was to follow, keep pace, and be a good companion.

A year ago in the 2015 Bear Mountain 50 miler I’d done none of these things.  I’d gone out that day to race alone.  I’d run recklessly, melted down, and relied on competitors with nothing to offer in return.  Even my recovery in the last few miles, the one thing I could be proud of, was streaked through with shades of self-flagellation.  All through the months that followed a singular thought burned in the undercurrent of my mind; I have serious unfinished business with this race.

In more rational moments that undercurrent would form itself into the loose outline of a plan.  All I wanted was to come back to Bear Mountain and race well.  I didn't care about time or place, I just wanted to put forth an effort that I could be proud of.  That sort of goal is the antithesis of a corporate SMART objective, but it is exactly the kind of goal that can lead to actual success.  It is the kind of goal that focuses on the process over of the outcome, on the controllable variables toward the aspiration instead of the aspiration itself. 

As a process, racing well for 50 miles essentially boils down to putting in a hard but conservative effort for the first 40 miles, then running yourself into the ground for the last 10.  The first 40 are about staying sustainably uncomfortable, right at the edge but not quite over it.  The last 10 are about taking every risk your body can absorb, building the pain to an intolerable level, sprinting to the finish, and collapsing.  If you choose to walk during the race, you’ve fallen short.  If you’re able to walk afterward, you’ve left something on the table as well.[i] 

In that process it’s easy to think that the hard part is the last 10 miles of intense effort, but it’s not.  The hard part is being honest with yourself for the first 40 miles.  The hard part is running on the razor’s edge between being, as Scott Douglass would say, an idiot and a wimp.  The hard part is making all the tiny choices between giving in to ego and giving in to weakness.  This is the part that I’d failed in 2015.  This was the part I’d given to Andy for today.

And it worked beautifully.  We kept calm and relaxed in the dark through the early rush to Anthony Wayne.  We stayed strong and steady over the broken terrain of the Long Path.  We talked about everything and anything and kept positive and happy.  We held back when others were foolishly aggressive.  We kept pushing when others succumbed to the pain.  On the long descent from Tiorati I saw runners ahead and told Andy “I smell blood”, but he replied “Keep it cool, Jaws.”  After that, as a joke, I sang the Jaws theme every time we approached a competitor – dnn nunt, dnn nunt, dnn nunt dnn nunt DNN NUNT DNN NUNT!  But Andy kept me in check.  By the time we reached the downhill back to Anthony Wayne we were flying, whooping and yelling “DYNAMITE” and “THIS IS AWESOME”. 

But now, after 7 hours of running with my friend, the plan was finally breaking down.  Steve joined us at Anthony Wayne for wisdom and guidance and moral support, but for the first time all day Andy slowed.  It was finally time to give in to temptation, to become the hunter, but his steady stride was faltering.  The ultra is a brutal thing.[ii]  I stayed with him for a few minutes.  Then I thanked him for leading me all day, and I told him what an incredible human being he is.  He was the superior athlete, and he’d keep me sane for so long, but now it was time for me to push hard.  Now I wanted blood.

As hoped, the last 10 miles were the easy part, all reckless effort and intense pain but no need for self-control.  To borrow from Lil Wayne, many of the runners in front of me were trickin – they didn’t have it.  I did.  I overtook Nick, then Ryan, then the Shirtless Wonder, then women’s leader Heather Hoescht.  She’d passed us on the road at mile 33, but now she was struggling with the technical descents.  I yelled as I approached “You’re not gonna win this race walking downhill!” ala Dusty Olson.  I’m sure it wasn’t the nicest thing to say, but after she’d finished – and won – she assured me it was exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.  I caught more runners, fought my way over Timp Pass, chased down Pole Guy, and entered the chaos of the overlapping 50K, marathon, and marathon relay courses.  Suddenly there were runners everywhere, going all different directions.  I struggled to keep pace on the uphills, screaming out loud “come on, legs, COME ON, LEGS!” then flew by everyone on the descents.  Downhill running is a skill to be learned, and very few runners have learned it.  I came to the finish line in 8:43:52, a 15 minute 50 mile PR and 45 minutes faster than my previous debacle here.  I walked through the tents to the open grass with my family, then collapsed on the ground, sobbing.  I wasn’t hurt, or sad, or angry, or anything negative – it was just part of the plan.  If you really give everything you have in a race, you’re body and mind will let you have it afterward.  They were letting me have it now.

A few minutes later Andy crossed the line too.  I jumped up and whooped, cheering him across.  We collected ourselves and celebrated the day’s work.  We saw Tim Olson walking through the crowd.  I ran to grab my little guy, our icebreaker for meeting Tim.  Jacob has been in awe of Tim ever since the North Face Curiosity video came out, and he’s fond of telling me things like “I hope Timmy Olson wins and you come in second.”  He told Tim “You’re my favorite runner!” and we chatted and got a picture.  We talked about training through the winter and running on the rocks, then Jacob and Tim exploded some high knuckles.  It was an awesome highlight to an awesome day.

Postscript:  lessons learned
It’s incredibly valuable to run with a friend, particularly when that friend is a strong and consistent runner who’s willing to maintain a pace just faster than you’d be able to sustain on your own.  Andy is exactly that kind of runner for me. Following Andy I was able to turn my mind off and just run, not to mention enjoy the day.  This made me a stronger and faster racer and a much happier runner.

Running Andy’s pace also gave me a wildly unexpected set of data for my evolving understanding of effort and sustainability.  Given my experiences of the last year I’d been planning to run from the start to the second pass through Anthony Wayne with a heart rate target of 140 – 150 (for me that’s roughly zone 2 or MAF to MAF+10).   Following Andy’s pace kept me between 150 and 165 for the first 7 hours.  Even having done that I was able to push hard over the last 100 minutes and chase down quite a few competitors.  I think wisdom would have kept me out of the 160’s, but the data say that 150 – 160 is a reasonable target for an 8 – 10 hour event, which encompasses most 50 mile and 100 K races.  Working backward, I should be able to run the majority of most 50 K races in the high 150’s and low 160’s, much the same target I would use for a marathon. 

Of course the early part of a race should be a slightly lower heart rate, since the body isn’t yet fatigued, and the late miles should be at higher heart rate as a finishing kick.  But if we take the data above as a guide for the middle 80% of a race and put it in table form, we get the following:

Example race
Heart rate (me)
Heart rate zone (everyone)
16 – 30 hours
100 mile, 24 hour
135 – 145
Zone 1/2 aka MAF-5 to MAF+5 aka easy
6 – 12  hours
50 mile, 100K, 12 hour
150 – 160
Zone 3, MAF+10 to +20, light to moderate tempo
3 – 6 hours
50K, marathon
155 – 165
Zone 3/4, MAF+15 to +25, hard tempo to just below lactate threshold
1 – 2 hours
Half marathon
165 – 175
Zone 4/5, MAF+25 to +35, threshold
Less than 1 hour
5K, 10K
Zone 5a/5b (I don’t race these, so take this with a grain of salt!)

Any coaches out there, I’d love to get your take on this.  The basis for my personal targets and zone translations are the heart rate data from this race, the 2016 ECSDC 50K, and the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 mile (all public on strava), my MAF of 142, and my lactate threshold estimate of 170 based on a Friel-style 30 min time trial.

Obligatory pre-race flat Eric

Following Andy through Anthony Wayne, mile 41.

Done!  And still sporting those shit-eating grins!

Chillin’ with little man’s favorite runner (All pics thanks to Steven Pack).

[i] By “walk” in this case I mean consciously moving much more slowly than you could.  Trail races routinely present terrain or footing where walking (termed “power hiking” by the ashamed) is the fastest method for traversing the ground.
[ii] One of my favorite phrases, borrowed from Scott Jurek’s book ‘Eat and Run’.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

B racing: TNF ECS DC 50K, April 9th, 2016

Last weekend I ran the 50K North Face Endurance Challenge race in Algonkian park outside Washington, DC.  I’m not going to wax philosophically about anything here, but I am going to record a few thoughts for consideration later.

I tried to run “B” races a few times last summer with mostly disastrous results for the A races that followed.  I just couldn’t help getting stupid and competitive and overrunning the B races, leaving myself with way too much recovery time when I should have been training.  With the Bear Mountain 50 mile on tap in a few weeks, I very much wanted to run the DC 50K as a real B race, specifically to stick to the goal of running it as prep for Bear Mountain.  I didn’t have a terribly rigorous plan for accomplishing that goal, but essentially I wanted to stick to 50 mile race pace/effort at least up to the marathon mark, practice nutrition and aid station efficiency, let loose and have some fun over the last few miles, and not hurt myself.  The smooth, mostly flat course profile and support from being close to my sister’s family would be a perfect format with one huge caveat; the flats along the Potomac are ideal soil for generating mud bogs even on dry years, and it was dumping rain the week before the race.  Early forecasts had it raining all day on race day and even dropping snow.  Ugg, so much for easy.

Luckily the forecasts turned out to be a bit too dire.  It was certainly cold and wet at the start, and we did see a few snowflakes in the air around halfway, but the rain had mostly died down before the 50K start at 7 AM (but pity the 50 milers who ran the first 90 minutes in rain and darkness!).  The mud, on the other hand, more than lived up to its billing.  The runner conversation along the route basically went as a combination of ‘muddy enough for ya?’ and ‘this sucks’ and ‘I wish I were wearing football cleats/ice skates/snow shoes/cross country skis’ (no one could quite decide what would work.  I voted for a canoe).  The result was a 4:45 finish (12th place though) despite pushing into 50K pace a bit earlier than planned.

Regardless, a few things I’m proud of:
1) Pacing.  The heart rate profile reads like a textbook:  About 10 miles of zone 1, another 10 of zone 2, a good chunk of zone 3 on the return, a few miles of zone 4 closing, and a zone 5 finishing kick.  Hard to argue with that.
2) Throwing down a 6:24 split for mile 31.  And passing a few competitors in the midst of that.
3) Nutrition.  The ‘eat every 30 minutes’ paradigm (stinger honey stuff I brought, cliff shots and random bars from the aid stations) with a half bottle of tailwind a few glasses of coke in the second half kept me out of energy lows all day.  The ~200 calories per hour is a good sign for metabolic efficiency as well.
4) A few comments that made my day:  Early on in the mud another runner burst out with “you’re so graceful” as I hopped around a particularly nasty bog.  Even better, at one point in the Great Falls Park section the course dropped down a short -30o slope on wet, jagged rocks.  I looped around another runner on the berm at the top and skipped down to a “damn, that was awesome” from the race official at the bottom.  Then, from his partner up top “yeah, I was gonna tell him to be careful, but I guess…”  Easy guys.  You’re making my ego hard to carry ;)

And a few things I’ve learned (or relearned!):
1)  For Bear, stay out of the 150’s for heart rate.  Anything in the 140’s felt all-day sustainable, but the stretches in the150’s gave me the sense that I’d need to drop pace for recovery.  150’s are roughly mid-marathon effort for me, so it makes sense to keep out of them for the first 40 or so of a 50 mile.
2)  For maybe the first time in an ultra I skipped aid stations, and it worked out just fine.  It’s a good reminder that the stations are there if I need something, but the only thing I have to do on the way through is thank the volunteers.  And I can do that at full speed.
3)  No competing in the first half!  I’m not going to win anything this year, and even if I were, no one wins an ultra in the first half.  When I start conservatively and focus on sustainable effort I get to pass people all day long, and that’s pretty fun.
4)  Laura Kline is 10 minutes faster than me at 50K.  In my first ultra race at the Blues Cruise 50K in 2013 I finished 13th, about 9:30 after the women’s winner Laura Kline.  Around mile 25 last weekend I passed a woman and asked if she was leading.  She said no, that there was some super fast girl up there who she hadn’t seen all day.  I got to the finish, looked at the leader board, and who finished 10 minutes ahead of me? Laura Kline!  I’m so pacing off her if we ever start another race together.

Early on, hair's not even messy yet!

Closing kick, rarr!

Okay, maybe that did hurt a bit.  They have a beer tent, right?
(All photos courtesy of TNF and Ultra Race Photos, LLC)

Friday, September 25, 2015

I’ll Fly Away: Run Rabbit Run 100, September 18th, 2015

Find a good rut and stick with it.
-Sandi Ashley

“Thirteen miles to the finish.”  I stared at the volunteer, frantically calculating, then burst into tears.  I was ninety-plus miles in already, and I’d been running at threshold for the past two hours, desperately trying to make up time against the possibility of missing a thirty-hour finish.  “Someone told me it was seventeen,” I sobbed, “and I just lost my shit”.  She stared back at me with that ‘maybe I need to pull this guy from the race’ look.  Through the tears I said, “No, I’m fine.  Really, I’m okay.  Thank you for being out here.  It’s just so hard.”  I ran away before she could tell me I had to stop.

There were a lot of tears shed in Colorado last week.  I’d planned the trip almost a year ago, in part to race the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile, but mostly to have a chance to spend time with my Grandmother, the last member of her generation in my family.  Instead I arrived just in time for her memorial service.  I started my eulogy by saying that I would try to tell some stories from her life, but that if I broke down, people might have to think of their own stories for a while.  They almost had to.  The other members of our family kept it together better than I did.  Beautiful stories were told, and beautiful music was played.  One piece we didn’t sing was “I’ll Fly Away”.  As my sister recounted, Grandma hated that song because they always played it at her friends’ funerals.

What I didn’t say at the service, and would only slowly come to accept, is that my Grandmother had also given me an incredible gift by her passing.  All the members of our family came together in Colorado to celebrate her life.  It gave us a chance to reconnect with each other, and it gave us time to remember who we were and how we came to be.  It meant that we were able to share our history again and, with the travel already made, it meant we could spend a few days together in the mountains.  For me, selfishly, it meant that my whole family would be with me when I needed them most.

After doing what little we could to help settle affairs in Fort Collins we drove through the mountains toward Steamboat Springs.  We stayed at the little ranch cabin Dave and Sandi and Jan had built in the 1970’s just before I was born.  It sits on an open plateau of grass and sage seventeen miles from town.  It has a huge picture window with a view all the way to the mountain.  When we first arrived the mountain was enshrouded with dark and angry-looking clouds, but the next day, as we drove to town, the storm broke.  We were greeted with first a solitary rainbow, then a pair.  They were the brightest I’d ever seen, and at one point even the space between the two seemed streaked with color.  As omens go, it was pretty hard to beat.  It seemed as if my Grandmother was giving us one last goodbye, a beautiful, joyous farewell.  It turned the page for me, leaving me to focus on the race.

At our family pre-race meeting on Thursday night we went over the course and the aid stations, the pace estimates and gear.  We covered who would meet me at each of the crew access points and what I might want there.  And we talked about focus and motivation.  Olivia took a black marker and wrote on my left forearm ‘This is what you came for’.  On my right arm ‘Not all pain is significant’, and on my hands ‘Be Somebody’ and ‘Experience Joy’, all visible reminders of how to keep my darkest thoughts at bay.

At the race start Friday morning, 8 AM, I started in the back.  The course contains four thousand feet of climbing in the first four miles.  I knew I’d be walking all of that, and I did.  I checked my watch, keeping my heart rate below my target of 132 bpm, ten beats below MAF.  At first the clouds spit sleet and rain at us, but soon the sun broke through, bathing the mountain in light, though not warmth.  The sight was incredible, green spruce and fir surrounding stands of aspen that had turned not just yellow and gold but even red.  Blue sky and gray rock and the tiny stream of brightly garmented runners climbing slowly up the face.  At the top of the gondola I met my family for the first time, exchanging quick hugs and handing off my rain jacket before hiking along.

We soon came to the Mt. Werner aid station, well above ten thousand feet, where the course levels and contours along the ridge.  I was frustrated to find that I couldn’t keep my heart rate down at anything above a slow jog on the flats, and that even the slightest climb or descent required walking.  I began to repeat what would become my mantra for the first day, a quote from Mark Allen: "Total Commitment plus Total Surrender equals Great Significance."  I hated watching others, clearly less fit, run by, but I knew the fastest way to destroy my race was to overexert my sea-level trained body at elevation.  I have a plan, I thought, and that plan will work.  Total commitment to that plan.  I was probably placing somewhere around 190th of the 211 starters, but I refused to care.

On the descent to Fish Creek Falls my body could finally begin to move without spiking my heartbeats.  I passed a few runners on the smooth early sections then danced by the crowds that had slowed on the rocks.  My East Coast technical trails were finally coming in handy.  As I skipped over the stones the song my Grandma hated filled my mind.  I began to sing softly as I ran down the trail, then more loudly – I’ll fly away, Oh Glory, I’ll fly away in the morning, when I die Hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away – and I smiled as I gathered strange looks from all the hikers who must have thought I’d lost my mind.

My brother-in-law Chad met me above the Fish Creek aid and ran me down the road through town.  We chatted about the day and the race, and he showed me a video on his phone of our family cheering for me.  The miles clicked by quickly until we met the whole crew at Olympian Hall.  I got fritos and coke and a calf massage, and I picked up a trucker hat full of ice.  I spent too much time there, but it felt good.

On the loop out to Cow Creek I stuck with my plan, repeating over and over again: Total Commitment.  Chelsea from Vancouver caught up and eventually passed me, along with a pair of Japanese runners, Kara from Steamboat, and a few others who were in no mood to chat.  It was the heat that was slowing me now, and I thanked God and my Dad for the trucker hat full of ice.  I’d learned my lesson at the HURL, and I wasn’t going to overheat again.

At Cow Creek I refilled on ice, gels, and hugs.  I hit my first real low of the race on the gentle road climb above the aid station.  I walked along, letting my body settle, fighting off the negative mentality.  Once I hit the single track I felt better, and soon my energy returned in full.  I began to see runners ahead, and for the first time I let my competitive impulses push my boundaries.  I became the hunter, picking off runners one by one and in groups.  I whistled songs aloud as I approached and passed, flaunting how relaxed I was, how far I was from oxygen debt.  I road that high all the way back to Olympian Hall, making up time against the clock.

Chad ran with me through town again, keeping with me in the gathering dark.  He asked me how I felt about having to run through the night, sunset to sunrise, and I said I was worried.  He asked me my three favorite things about running by headlamp.  I couldn’t think of any, but I could see he was doing his best to help me.  That alone was enough.

The night was hard regardless.  I passed more runners, and began to be passed by more and more of the elite “Hares”, who’d started four hours after we “Tortoises” were on the course.  In the dark the high country air was icy.  I felt tired, sleepy.  I wanted to lay down, to cover myself with the space blanket from my pack, and it was so hard to keep up any reasonable effort.  I would check my watch after what seemed like hours only to see that we’d moved less than a mile.

Back at Long Lake Jenn Shelton was tending to runners and handing out shots of whiskey to anyone who was willing.  Andy Reed caught me there.  He was moving well, but he said his stomach had turned badly.  I followed him out of the aid station, nauseous as well, and watched his headlamp disappear into the dark.  He was still at Summit Lake aid when I arrived, but he said his stomach had recovered.  He showed me a note card his wife had slipped into his drop bag: “Embrace the Pain”.  We laughed about it and about my HURL race report, about how he knew I was cooked long before I did, and we tried to help another runner whose knees and hips were betraying him.  Soon Andy disappeared down the trail again, this time for good.  I followed along slowly until my friend Karen Holland, another elite starter, caught me, then kept time with her for a few miles before my energy crashed completely.

I struggled into Dry Lake, where the love of my life met me.  I told her I wanted to quit.  We talked for a minute, and then she told me I’d passed my lucidity check.  She told me to quit my whining and get out of there, but she tempered her hard side with hugs and a hot mocha.  I left the aid station and within moments, at 2:30 AM in the freezing dark, received the most incredible jolt of energy I’ve ever felt in a race.  Her strength and warmth propelled me down the trail to the Spring Ponds turnaround, then back up to Dry Lake with Chad in tow again.  It was the most amazing feeling.

At the second pass through Dry Lake we hit our one hiccup of the race.  My faster pace and the crowded shuttles meant my parents hadn’t arrived at the aid station, which meant that I didn’t have the warm clothes, bottles, and headlamp batteries I needed before I climbed back into the high country.  For a moment I sat, bewildered, as Chad frantically searched for a spot with enough cell reception to find out where everyone was.  I was freezing, stuck, and my stomach had turned sour again.  I could almost see the mental demons slithering over the frozen ground toward me, stalking me.  Then, unbidden, a quote from Nickademus Hollon’s Tour des Geants race report exploded into my brain: “I accidentally kicked a rock hard with my right foot then. The pain opened my eyes right up and I repeated to myself:  This is the best possible thing that could possibly happen to me right now.”[i]

This is the best thing that could possibly happen to me right now!  I stretched my fingers out in front of me, made fists, then relaxed.  I got a cup full of hot salted broth from the woman at the aid counter, then a second.  My stomach began to settle – the best thing that could happen right now.  Chad worked his hands over my calves, and a few of the knots began to loosen – the best thing that could possibly happen right now – then he moved me to a warming tent.  My fingers thawed, and I stopped shivering.  The best possible thing that could possibly happen to me right now!  Hollon’s statement is not true in its essence, but it can be made to be true.  My parents arrived, and the gear transition was fast and seamless.  I hugged them hard.  Those hugs were the last thing I needed before vanishing into the dark.  This is the best possible thing that could possibly happen to me right now.

I climbed back to Summit Lake as the world slowly brightened.  At altitude my energy evaporated again.  The aid station was supposed to be eighty-two miles in.  I’ve learned over many races that even at my worst, even at altitude, I can still walk consistent twenty-minute miles.  My aspirational goal of a twenty-four hour finish was long out of reach, but I still had my sights set on a sub-thirty hour buckle.  The course was supposed to be one hundred three miles, meaning the remaining twenty-one miles would take me at worst seven hours.  It was 6:58 AM.  I would just make it.  To reassure myself, I asked a volunteer how far it was to the finish.  He looked at his sheet, adding up distances from one aid to the next.  “Not far now,” he said.  “Twenty-five miles to go.”

In that moment I felt the world closing in.  I rebelled.  There’s no fucking way I’ve worked this hard to miss a thirty-hour finish!  I have to make up a fucking hour twenty over then next twenty-five.  That’s seventeen minute pace, no, 16:48.  Shit.  10,000 ft for the next 15, and the next two aids will cost you time.  Damn it.  I don’t know if I can do that.  Fuck.  Go, go, go!

The battery of my heart rate monitor had died hours earlier.  I clearly wasn’t going to make it at 132 bpm anyway.  I gave up on my plan and started pushing, hard.  I ran everything I could, and climbed as fast as I could when I couldn’t run.  My hands started to swell, and I started to see things I knew weren’t there – a coyote that was really a stump, a blue shirt that was really a flash of sky through the trees, a bizarre dragon-like creature that was really a pile of rocks.  I was loosing sodium balance, but I didn’t care.  Fine.  I’m not drinking til the end.  I can do that.

I kept it together emotionally until the return through Long Lake, eight miles later.  I’d made up half the time I thought I needed, but it had cost me.  I was hurting, badly, and I didn’t know if I could keep it up for another seventeen miles.  I checked with a volunteer again “How far until the end?”

“Thirteen miles.”

I almost fell over.  I started crying, hard, wracked by the intensity and the relief and the knowledge that I still couldn’t rest.  I tried to pretend that all this was normal and no reason for a forced DNF.  I left as fast as I could to make sure she wouldn’t pull me from the race. 

After a while a sense of normalcy, or something resembling normalcy, returned.  I stabilized my effort, walking the ups and running the downs.  I didn’t know what I should do on the flats, but there weren’t enough of them to worry about anyway.  Eventually I caught up with Karen again.  We walked together for a moment, and she said she was hurting.  I said not to worry, we’d just run the downhills together.  At the next pitch I skipped down the rocks and she called from behind “Your steps are so… dainty”.  It made me smile, and I needed that.  Karen didn’t follow, though.  She was solidly in forth place, third far ahead and fifth far behind.  No need to risk injury or overreaching.

I carried on, up to Mount Werner, where I pretended my swollen hands and visions were nothing of concern, then down the long cat track toward the finish.  Three miles from the end I found my sister.  She sent a simple text message to our family, two words.  “Got him.”

We ran most of those last three miles, pushing forward and picking off a final few competitors.  They didn’t even try to follow. As I neared the finish the announcer joked that I looked like a 5K runner, and that my tan lines matched my shorts.  I stopped just before the line to pick up my son and my niece, then carried them across.  I hugged the designated hugger, officially completing my journey, then collapsed on the grass in the shade of a card table.  I’d finished 19th overall in the tortoise division, and while 38 of the elite hares would have faster times, I even picked off a few of them.  Not to mention the 30 elite DNF’s.

I stood up to cheer Karen across the line, and she soon took my place lying down in the grass.  I was so proud of her.  She had just crushed a course that had felled the likes of Michele Yates and Tim Olson, and finished fourth among the elite women.  It was an incredible performance.  Later we exchanged messages about where to meet up next – maybe the Georgia Death Race or the Cruel Jewel 100?  We’re both looking for UTMB points, and who could turn down another 108 mile “one hundred mile” race?

Post script: Execution vs. Plan
In the corporate world where I spend my days there is much discussion of execution vs. plan.  How did earnings compare to projected earnings?  Has cycle time been reduced as expected?  Have we come up with an appropriate metric to measure our number of metrics?  You get the idea.

For this race, though, I did have a very specific plan.  Most of it was heart rate based.  I had aspirational time goals, but the primary point was to run as fast as I could at an effort that I could sustain for one hundred miles.  I defined that effort in advance as an average heart rate of 132 bpm, 10 beats below my MAF heart rate, and I added an additional cap of 142 bpm.  Looking back over the data I violated the high end cap routinely but never for long and, amazingly, my average HR when the battery gave out at 71 miles was exactly 132.  I’m sure it was much higher over the subsequent 32 miles, but I’m okay with that.  At some point in a race you have to take risks – just don’t take them too early.  That said, in the future I’ll likely plan somewhat more aggressively regarding effort.  Based on my experience here I think I can sustain MAF – 5 for a full day, and a MAF + 5 cap is reasonable if not violated for long.

Other key points of the plan were around temperature control.  I bought my TRN trucker hat specifically for the purpose of keeping ice on my head during the heat of the day.  I taught myself to run with it on, even though I hate having anything on my head while running.  It worked.  Granted it wasn’t 97 degrees this time around, but the impact of the afternoon sun and heat was minor and mitigated instead of major and goal-crushing. 

The cold in the high country at night was a whole different ballgame.  For the early part of the night I carried a wool shirt, light rain jacket, gloves, and beanie in my UD vest, slowly putting them on as the temperature dropped.  It was enough, but carrying the vest was frustrating and likely unnecessary; I eventually dumped both bottles just to stop hearing the sloshing.  After the second Dry lake pass I added a heavier jacket and gloves, ditched the vest, and picked up my handheld again.  The heavier jacket was nice in that the pockets allowed me to stow hat, gloves, buff, and headlamp after morning rendered them unnecessary, but by midday I felt like I had the Spanish Armada tied around my waste.  As a person who naturally runs hot, I plan to carry substantially less cold gear next time around.  There is some risk with that plan, but barring disaster, fighting off cold with movement and body heat seems better than carrying too many coats.

Post post script:  Reevaluating myself as an athlete
Coming into this race I really wanted to break 24 hours.  There’s something magical about the idea and phrase “100 miles, one day”.  I raced nearly as well as I could have and ended up at 28 h 15 min – not close.  Part of that is the course in question.  The Run Rabbit Run course record (which is legit, given that Tim Olson and Rob Krar have failed to break it!) is 17:15, as compared to 14:46 for Western States and 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon.  The larger reality, though, is that I’m not the runner I wish I were, at least not this year.  If I actually want to run the times I’d like, I need to make major changes to diet, training consistency, and, most importantly, reduction of life stress.  Job-related stresses destroyed at least a month of key training this year, and I’m sure I suffered more because of that.  Add on an occasionally laissez faire approach to eating, sleeping, and running, and I’m four-ish hours off of where I want to be.  Luckily, all of those things are fixable.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Scheming, plotting, and planning: Crew instructions and gear list for the Run Rabbit Run 100

I’m a little stressed out about running 100 miles for the first time, so I’ve been planning.  Kind of.  It's a little hard to plan effectively for something you've never done before, but I'm giving it my best shot.  Below are a few of the practical considerations I’ve put together for myself and my family (aka Crew.  Thanks family!).

Gear list and crew instructions for the Run Rabbit Run 100

Side notes
  • Daylight: Sunset 7:13 pm, sunrise 6:50 am (11 h 37 min of headlamp running)
  • Temperature: Average high 71 F, average low 35 F

Start gear
  • Shoes, socks, calf sleeves, shorts (TNF), shirt (InkNBurn), arm sleeves, trucker hat (TRN)
  • Watch, heart rate monitor
  • Handheld, gels in each pocket
  • Bandaids, body glide, and sunscreen applied

Night gear 
  • New shirt (UA)
  • Vest containing

o   Two bottles
o   Wool shirt wrapped in light rain jacket
o   Ziplocked wool hat, gloves, buff
o   Space blanket
o   Ziplocked paper towels
o   Headlamp + extra battery, backup headlamp (Fully Charged.  Remember charging cables!)
o   Note: Night gear to be provided by crew on second trip through Olympian Hall (41.6 miles, est 3:30 – 5:30 PM) or second trip through Fish Creek Falls (45.6 miles, est 4:30 – 6:30 PM). 

Crew gear/provisions
  • Bag 1: New shirt (UA), new wool shirt, new shorts (Brooks), new socks, new shoes, bandaids, body glide, sunscreen, dry towels
  • Bag 2: Heavy rain jacket, tights
  • Bag 3: Dry towel, street clothes, deodorant
  • Food bag:  Fritos, Coke, stinger honey gels, pocket fuel
  • Night gear vest
  • Ice (daytime)
  • Hot mocha (nighttime) 

Contact points, time estimates, and crew responsibilities
  • Start:  8:00 AM

o   Get me there awake, fed, and geared up by 7:20 AM

  • Top of the Gondola: 8:40 AM

o   Optional, ride the gondola, cheer and spectate, just for fun
  • Fish Creek Falls 1st pass: 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM (Shuttle from Olympian Hall)

o   Optional, moral support and gel resupply
o   Optional pacing from Fish Creek Falls to Olympian Hall, just for fun

  • Olympian Hall, 1st pass: 12:00 PM – 12:30 PM

o   Sunscreen reapplication
o   Ice, Fritos, Coke, gel replacement
o   Access to Bag 1 if requested
  • Cow Creek: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

o   Optional, moral support and gel resupply
  • Olympian Hall, 2nd pass: 3:30 PM – 5:30 PM

o   Lucidity check
o   Access to Bag 1 and Bag 2
o   Exchange for night gear if late Key Decision Point.  Alternative requires Crew to take Night Gear to Fish Creek Falls immediately after I leave via shuttle from Olympian Hall
o   Optional pacing from Olympian Hall to Fish Creek Falls, just for fun
  •  Fish Creek Falls, 2nd pass: 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM (Shuttle from Olympian Hall)

o   Night Gear required if not obtained at Olympian Hall
o   Otherwise optional, moral support and gel resupply
  • Dry Lake, 1st pass: 9:00 PM – 11:00 PM  (Shuttle from Olympian Hall)

o   Lucidity check
o   Access to Bag 1 and Bag 2
o   Hot Mocha
  • Spring Creek Ponds: 10:00 PM – 12:00 AM (1 mile hike from high school)

o   Optional, maybe best to just stay at Dry Lake
o   Note:  It will be cold in the night.  Crew should bring parka, hat, gloves, etc if planning to stay at Dry Lake between 1st and 2nd pass.
  • Dry Lake, 2nd pass: 11:00 PM – 1:30 AM

o   Lucidity check
o   Access to Bag 1 and Bag 2
o   Hot Mocha
  • Finish: 7:00 AM – 11:00 AM

o   Pick me up!
o   Put me back together
o   Access to Bag 3
o   Beer.  Lots.  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  We’ll see.

Plans and considerations
  •        Goal pace: 24 hours
  •      Average Heart Rate target: 132
  •      Heart Rate cap: 142
  •      Watch plan: HR and total time only, GPS tracking off
  •      For the first 70 miles, walk the uphills – even the easy ones
  •      For the last 30 miles, pray that I can still walk the uphills – even the easy ones!
  •      Walk into and out of each aid station, but be efficient in the station
  •      Thank every volunteer I meet
  •      Thank my crew every time I see them
  •      Find runners with similar pacing.  Run with them.

  •        Left forearm:  This is what I came for
  •      Right forearm:  Because I want to run here
  •      Humility
  •      Pride
  •        In the first half, don’t be an idiot.  In the second half, don’t be a wimp.
  •      One hundred miles, one day

That’s about it.  Wish me luck!