Friday, December 14, 2012

Hundo Stairstep Week (Or: My 100 training schedule, sortof)

      So this running blog started out as personal diary of sorts for me and almost nobody read it except my late Aunt Nancy and my mother. Slowly, a few other relatives started reading it and life went along just fine. Then I started down this ultramarathoning (specifically the 100 miler, known as a ‘Hundo’) path and I seemed be quite successful. More and more people started asking me for advice on what I did since it was working, and so this blog is now my test bed for my specific training advice. While my race entries give a hint as to the work I do in between races, I thought it time to start explaining in a little more detail what I do day to day to achieve the success I have have found.

     I have no silver bullet for hundo training, and many people who train for hundos do so in a very different way than I do. I also know many people who have DNF’d hundos by following some other method of training. As with any training schedule or advice, I subscribe to the ‘to each his own’ theory. I will simply say that as of this writing I have completed seven hundos with exactly zero DNF’s. What you are about to read is the core training piece of what helped go from a career personal worst (PW) 100 mile time of 21:02 in January of 2012 to a personal record (PR) of 15:27 in August of 2012. Feel free to take or leave it, but I promise, if you can do this workout. your chances of finishing a hundo go way up.

     First, we need some motivation. The DNF is the worst thing to happen to a distance runner, not for only the immediate dejection of the resultant race but because of the more permanent damage: the memory of a DNF and how great it felt. I talk more about DNF’s and its negative connotation elsewhere, but at this point just trust me, DNF’ing is a bad thing. Recovering from one is really tough, so lets just avoid it in the first place, m’kay?

     There are two basic reasons that people DNF. The first involves something tragic that happens race day such as breaking an ankle. Urinating blood is also a good reason to stop. These DNF’s do not count (in my mind) as the ‘bad’ kind as they lie outside of your control. The other reason DNFs occur is because of lack of preparation. Leg cramps, exhaustion, and upset digestive system are three of the most common reasons people bail in a hundo, and all three are completely preventable in my opinion. It simply requires better training and this 1-week training schedule will help because it will prepare you physically and more important mentally for the journey that is a 100 mile race.

     Let me give you the punchline first. This is called the Hundo Stairstep Week or HSW, for short and it is a simple 7 day script for daily mileage, 0 - 30 - 0 - 35 - 0 - 45+ - 0. That’s it. Now go do it.

     Ok, if your jaw just hit the floor because the thought of doing 110 miles in a 5 day stretch scares you, then I assume you will have a hard time doing 100 miles in under 30 hours. If you are wanting to run a 100 mile race, marathons should be very easy to you at this point and doing a 30 mile run should not even make you flinch. This is not something you do 4 months before the race nor is it something you do every other week for 3 months. You must have a solid 60-70/week base before you pull this off and doing it only one time 4 weeks before the race will make a notable difference. As with any hard workout, the more often you do it the better. I can’t handle it much more often than every 3 weeks myself.

     Many people in preparation of ultra events will do the ‘back-to-back long day’ workout where they do a 20ish mile day followed immediately by a 30ish mile day. I think these are a great idea, but still too short. The crux of the HSW is the 6th day, the long day. But before that, we must get through days 1 through 5.

   Day 1: Rest. Don’t run. How hard can that be? Well, this week is gonna be long, and days off are when you get the rest (pun intended) of your life in order. Most of us have personal lives, family, and work that takes up time. On the 0 mile days (1,3,5, and 7) is when your ‘real life’ takes precedence. You might be carbo loading and planning for the running days, but rest days are when you run (more puns!) your errands. You make dinner for your family, you get caught up on work. You are getting rid of any excuse you might have to cut your actual workouts short. Run days should be as clear as possible. I am happily married and have 3 kids and not a one of them complains about how I don’t spend enough time with them because I am out running. I take good time management skills of course.

   Day 2: The 30 miler. This short day is meant to just be another long run. You carbo load, take your electrolytes and fuel during runs, and do it gently and relaxed. You should use run as a test case for new things, beit clothing, location, pace, or whatever. This is the best day to try completely new things. These can also be specific types of long training runs such as carb-depleted runs or sleep-depleted runs. You want to pay very close attention to problems as they come up, including (especially) mental ones. Did you get mentally tired at mile 20? What did you say to yourself to get through it? Leg cramps at mile 15? Did you take anything for them or did you just try to gut it out? Did that work for you? When you get home, write what you learned down or you will forget it.

  Day 3: Rest. See day 1. Remember, your family wants to see you too. See a lot of them today.

  Day 4: The 35 miler. This one will be a little tougher as you will not have recovered completely from your 30 miler just two days beforehand but that is a good thing. When you hit mile 20 you will be darn tired, but you have been thinking about this workout for a while. you have the route planned out, got your ‘aid stations’ system set, etc. You have little excuse but to ‘finish the darn workout’. Nobody said anything about fast. This is not a speed session, this is a time-on-feet exercise. Listen to a book-on-tape. Run a new scenic route. Embrace the difficulty by focusing on the benefits you are reaping. As with day 2, you need to be focusing on problems that arise but more importantly the solutions you implemented. Did they work or fail? If they failed, why did they fail? This is training where you work out these issues. No crew member in the world will know as much about your body and its issues than you do. Listen to the good and the bad. Do not ignore the bad news, or it shall be your undoing.

   Day 5: Rest. You might want to get a lot of sleep. Maybe spend the evening sitting on the couch relaxing with a loved one. You are going to need it.

   Day 6: The real long run of 45+ miles. This is obviously the most crucial part of the whole week and everything is focused on this day. I look at the day 6 workout as I would a serious race of marathon(ish) distance. This includes what you do the night before (what to eat, when to go to bed, etc.) when you get up and what you do immediately upon waking (shower, eat, poop…) Your clothes were picked out, route already planned, and fuel ready to go the night before. You are preparing your mind for the task ahead. Mental preparation and focus here is vitally important. . On day 6, you are doing nothing new. You are using proven techniques for clothes, fuel, routes, everything. You want to make your running conditions as perfect as possible because you are going to be out for a long time. Line up running partners to help you for part of the work out, stagger them if you have more than one. Load your .mp3 player with your best motivational tunes. This is your ‘race’ day of the week.
The first HSW you do will be tough, but each subsequent one will be easier. The distance for day 6 is 45+ which mean you want to do at least 45 miles, as it won’t start being hard until mile 30ish. Be open to going longer. I have had many a day 6 where I was planning on doing 50ish and ended up doing over 60, a decision that was made at about mile 47. The speed of your day 6 workout is the last of your worries. You are just trying to get through the day. Survive it, and don’t cut it short unless you have a really good reason. Your body will give you plenty of excuses to stop, many of which you will think are completely legit at the time. Your stomach might get upset. Your legs might cramp. When they do, solve the darn problem. Or more importantly ask yourself this simple question “Well, if this happened now in my run, it stands to reason it would happen in a similar place in the 100 mile race. What are you gonna do then?” Whatever your mind tells you, do that here, in training. Build up the confidence that you can run on a slightly sore muscle or upset stomach, or mentally exhausted.

    Day 7: Rest. Hard. You deserved it. You should not be so beaten up that you can’t walk up stairs for days, but your legs should be rough. It will take you a few days, but that is ok. After your 100 mile race, you’ll be pooped then too. The first time you do any new workout is the hardest time. Each subsequent workout of the same ilk will be easier. The first time you do a HSW it will hurt, but so did you first marathon. So did you first 15 miler. You’ll get over it. the more you sweat in training the less you bleed in battle.

  Answers to anticipated questions:
Where does my ‘base’ have to be before I try this workout? I think this would kill me.
Ideally you should be able to be doing 60-70 mile weeks comfortably before trying this. Work up to it if that help you mentally. Do a 0-20-0-25-0-35-0 week to test out the challenge.

I have small kids and a FT job, how can I find the time?
Great question. I have a solution for people in just such predicaments. In fact, you will get even better Hundo training than us people who can do our runs during the day.

What is I fall and sprain my ankle?
Stop. Call in the cavalry. There is a fine line between tough and stupid. Touch, even caress that line, but never, ever cross it. Blood in urine? Stop, no matter how good everything else feels.

I can do 100 miles a week, but only if I run 15ish miles per day. Isn’t that enough?
I will answer your question with a question. A friend comes to you who is training for a marathon. They tell you that they run (dutifully) 6 miles every day. Thats over 40 miles every week. They ask you if they can run a marathon on only that training. What do you tell them?

Do I really have to do 0 mile-days? How about some cross training?
I rarely take days completely off myself. I might do some light cross training or a long walk to work out kinks. Just be light.

Is it ok to walk during my ‘runs’?
Power-walking? Heck yeah. You need practice walking anyways as you are going to be doing that in your Hundo. Don’t worry, everyone does. That (along with why skipping and lying on your back every once in awhile is a good thing) is another blog entry.
I welcome your comments, but at my facebook page. Feel free to ask any questions!
This concept copyright Dec 2012 by Mark E. Ott. Feel free to re-post and give credit, but don’t steal it, that’s just un-cool.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Indiana Trail 33.3 FA Results (Or: Course Familiarization is a Good Idea)

1/9 overall (but it doesn’t really count)

      In April of 2013, I will be running the inaugural Indiana Trail 100 (aka, the IT100) in Albion, IN. The race director for that race is trying really hard to pull of a great race and has been having several training runs on the course. He decided to have a 50K(+) Fat Ass race the day after Thanksgiving and invited people to come down and do two loops of the 16.6 mile course. Next spring, we will do the loop 6 times for a total of 100 miles, but this time it was just twice around for a cool 33.3 miles. Had it been be, I would have called it the Indiana Trail Vinyl Race. If you have ever owned a record player, you should get that joke.

I have several friends in southern Michigan who are planning on running the IT100 next year as well and they also wanted to come down for course familiarization. We decided to make a big fun road trip for five of us.
So with the race a pleasant two hour drive from my house, and a 9 am start, friends Catherine, Ryan, Andrew and Mark all met at my house a little before 6 am Friday morning fresh with ‘turkey hangovers’ and headed out. The drive down was fun as we talked about running almost the whole way, often giving details about our bowel movement history associated with trail running. We all decided that marathoners almost never discuss such topics, but it is an amazingly common topic amongst ultramarathoners. I have no idea why, but it probably has to do with our general quirkiness.

We arrived about an hour before race start and did our usual pre-race stuff. We chatted with other runners, laughed about the weather, prepped out feet and places we chafe, and even took a group photo. One of the most fun things was that several runners who I didn’t know but knew me came up and started chatting. That pretty much never happens. I guess I am starting to get some ‘street cred’ in the ultrarunning community which is something I never really thought I would ever get. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, I must admit.

While this was a FA race, it had all the trappings of a real (albeit small) trail race. It was chipped time to test the entire system (including timing mats at all the aid stations for splits) and the aid stations were totally legit with many standard choices of food. At the start/finish point there was lots of food as well as some free samples of a blister guard product. This was by far the most awesome free race I have ever participated in.
The race took off right at 9 am and the wind was howling already 15-20 mph with the temperature in the mid 30’s. We were told that once in the woods, the wind was not too bad. They people were wrong as it was very windy for about 75% of the run, maybe more.

I was in the front very early but was passed within the first mile or so by 4 people who were only planning on doing 1 loop. I would eventually pass them all at about mile 13 as they stayed near each other at a good clip. I slowed down a little that first loop, so that means they slowed down more than I. Nobody was looking for fast times, just out for a good run, so no great shakes there.

The course was absolutely beautiful. The scenery reminded me of Flying Monkey and the course itself reminded me of Burning River. A zillion little ups and downs and lots of small turns but every once in awhile you had a long straight section where you could actually pick up some speed. This is NOT a PR course, for sure.

When I got to the start/finish line after 1 loop I went to my drop bag that was prepared as if I was running a Hundo complete with chia seeds and individual jello/fruit cups. For whatever reason, I was in the mood for cookies and sure enough, that was the only solid food I would eat all race. I never eat cookies at ultras. They seemed to sit well in my stomach this time, so I was happy.

15-20 mph winds, mid 30’s for temperature and light snow on the second loop made for a not-too-pleasant race conditions which is why many people decided to drop after only one loop. There were 34 starters and 25 of those stopped after one time around the horn. The nine of us who finished both loops was composed of 4 of the 5 crew that I came with from Michigan. Andrew has been having knee issues and never planned on doing both loops anyways. I would find him sleeping in the ‘team’ van when I finished my second loop. The second loop was a little tougher as the weather got worse, not better. The temperature was actually dropping and the light snow falling was, while beautiful, depressing from a runners standpoint. I felt 5 degrees colder just seeing that white stuff fly around me.

While I ran this as a race, it was also a test of sorts. I like my training runs to have some element of race-specific training and while running the actual IT100 race course for familiarization was my primary goal, I also came into this race kinda tired and beat up. I had run a total of 100 miles in the 6 days leading up to this event, including a sub 40 min -barefoot- 10K the day before. That race had my feet beaten up pretty good and left my ankle sore.

I have had a sore ankle for a few weeks now and refuse to drop training mileage to allow it to heal and when I started this race, it was sore from step #1. I taped it pretty good and put some tape over the sore parts of my feet to prevent things getting worse, and sure enough, my ankle never got worse even after 30+ miles of trail running. I call that a small victory.

There were a total of 3 aid stations along the 16.6 mile loop and one aid station was a double-duty aid station, at the mile 4ish and mile 13ish point. As I came up to this mile 4/13 aid station as a mile 13 aid station (second loop), Mark and Catherine were coming up to the same aid station as their mile 4 (second loop) aid station. I got to chat with them for a few moments and while they looked tired and beaten down, I knew they would finish just fine.

Being only about 3 miles from the finish, I finally turned on some techno and picked up my pace as I knew I had plenty of energy left. I rolled into the finish line a hair until 4:45, which I thought was pretty good considering the toughness of the course. After some tortilla chips and a cold beer and conversation with another runner and the timing guy, I had to get out of the wind as my body was starting to get REALLY cold.

Instead of heading home with the rest of the crew, my lovely wife met me at the finish line and we made it a nice romantic weekend together staying at a local bed & breakfast for the remainder of the weekend. It was a great ending to a good running weekend.
I did not follow my normal food routine for ultras, I came in beaten down after a solid week of running, had a tough race the day before, but I still managed two loops in under 5 hours. While I will not make any predictions or cocky statements about the 100 on this course next year, I will say I hope to do well here. Too bad I have to wait until April.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

2012 YMCA 10K Results (Or: Barefoot!!)

39:15 (5/76 overall)

While you might think that this is just another boring race report of my local Thanksgiving morning 10K race, you would be wrong. Yes, it was my local Thanksgiving day 10K race (along with 5K run and 5K walk events) but I would be doing this one without wearing shoes.
A few months ago I started the slow transition to the minimalist/barefoot philosophy. While I ran my first ever marathon in a minimalist shoe (Merrell Road Glove) a little over a month ago, this race was my first time racing without any protection on my feet, and on asphalt no less. Even barefoot running ‘purists’ warn that while humans ran barefoot for eons with little problem, our cave-person ancestors were not running on asphalt.

Before I signed up for the race I needed to decide if I was going to run the 5K or the 10K, entries fees being the same price, a mere $20. I knew I was going to run it barefoot so I thought I should maybe beg off and just do the 5K, especially since I was going to be doing a tough 33.3 mile trail race the next day in minimalist shoes.

As I was trying to decide which race to do, I mentioned the idea to my 12 year daughter and she said to me “If you’re gonna do something crazy, go all out, Dad”. So with that little conversation, I decided to go for the 10K race. It seems only my mother would have told me to do the 5K. Actually, my mother would have told me to not do it barefoot at all. When I told her later I was going to run is sans-shoes, she gave me that 73 year old mother heavy sigh over the phone. So predictable she is sometimes…

When I showed up to pick-up my race packet race morning I found out it was a chip-timed race. Ya know, one of those things you string through your shoelace? Yeah, I didn’t have one of those, so I ended up taping the chip to the side of my ankle. A position I later found out was not optimal. (read: it didn’t work)

The reigning 10K winner (2 years running, actually) was local phenom Joel Medina. Not only is Joel a great runner and a former student of mine, but he is also a really nice guy and a person I am proud to say is a good friend. We ran the 3.1 mile loop with another local running legend, David Swarts. Actually, David is a race walker and completes at the national level winning all sorts of awards including several national championships. Great guys that I am glad to know and so of course our warm up run was fun as we talked about our training amongst other running related banter.

I ran the warm up in my VFF’s but tried very hard to watch the road to make note of any areas I should be careful of come race time when I had nothing on my feet. Asphalt is pretty crappy to run barefoot on, but with rocks, potholes and broken glass it can really suck. Luckily I saw no major areas of concerns, though all the turns seemed to have quite a fair share of small pebbles which are annoying. I would end up taking them all very wide and gentle.
As race start got close, the air temperature was in the mid 40’s, but the asphalt was probably closer to mid 30’s. My feet never got numb or even that cold except when standing around before and just after the race. While waiting for start, I found my lovely wife and chatted with her while as I stood around in my homemade huaraches ( while people stared at them. About a minute before the gun I took them off and gave them to Misty as I would see her a few times during the race. She would hold onto them just in case something went wrong (if I stepped on a piece of glass for example) and I needed to put coverings on my feet.

The balls of my feet was very tender before the race so I put a strip of duct tape on them to give them just a hair of protection, but that was it. My only real goal was to finish still barefoot and not hurt myself. If I finished under 45 minutes, that would be even better. I certainly did not think I would break 40 minutes. You have to remember, I never train for races anywhere near this distance. I still think of marathons as ‘sprint’ races.

When the gun went off, I just tried to get into a comfortable stride, knowing that every step was going to be a little uncomfortable. About a half mile into the race, I realized how easy it was feeling and decided right then that I might as well try to ‘race’, meaning put some real effort into the run. My bare feet didn’t seem to be actually slowing me down so I bore down and took off. I need more practice with the faster leg turnover and I certainly never want to run this fast in training, so why not?

My daughter was staying at her mom’s house the night before which was only a block away from the racecourse, so she decided to come out and see me run. That is always a great motivator. She is a really good cheerleader, actually. It was her fault I was having to run 2 loops, so she should be out there suffering in the cold, anyways. :)

As I came through the first loop in the low 19’s, I was welcomed with a lot of cheering. Many people had seen my bare feet before the start, but now they were excited as the barefoot guy was near the front of the pack. About halfway through my second loop I came upon the 5K walkers so I had to do a lot of slaloming which was tough because of the ground and how I didn’t want to run in potholes. Some people were kind and sortof gave the 10K runners an open column to run by, but others who were walking in large groups which took up most of the road. I have heard many a marathoner complain of similar instances in larger races. No offense, but just because you got your entire family to join you for the walk, doesn’t mean you can take over the entire width of the course.

I had forgot my stopwatch in my car, so I did not have my run time, but the race clock (zeroed to the start of the 5K race ~3 min after I left) read about 36:15 as I crossed the finish line. I had looked a few moments before I actually crossed so it was certainly not exact. No problem, I had a chip on my ankle, right?
When results come out, there is nothing listed. Not only was I nowhere to be found, Joel wasn’t listed even under the 10K results and he won the race. Again. Turns out they were having horrible issues with the timing system with people’s time being put down for the wrong race and such. My timing problem was because the orientation on my ankle (on the side) made it such that the timing mat never saw me. After some detective work and photographic evidence provided by my lovely wife, it was determined my time was close to 39:15. No prize money or records broken, so I was ok with a small error bar on my time. It was way faster than I had expected to run, so who was I to complain.

My feet did quite well and were just really tender afterwards. After some parting goodbyes to friends, I headed home to a hot shower, lotion on my feet, and a wonderful turkey dinner with my lovely wife. Truly a most thankful day!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mental Weakness, Overcome

I am not a good racer, and never really have been. When I was in High School, I always ran stupidly and at the first sign of pain or discomfort, I would back off. When I started running again in my early 30’s after more than a decade of sedentary life, my mental toughness was even below the low level I had when I was younger.

When I ran my first marathon, I trained hard and did quite well, breaking 3 hours. I trained some more and eventually got my PR down to 2:49 and thought I could get even better. But every time I would shoot for a PR, something would happen between my ears. At mile 15 my leg might start to cramp. At mile 17 I might felt tired. At mile 21 my ankle started giving me grief. In all cases, I would back off and roll in with race time closer to 3:10 rather than 2:50. I stopped telling people I was shooting for a sub 2:55 at races because I was tired of coming up with excuses as to why I failed in those goals, which was happening all the time it seemed.

I have read zillions of articles and books talking about how to get through such issues, using mantras like ‘keep moving’, thinking about how Chuck Norris never ran a marathon, focusing on just getting to the next tree on the trail. Not one of those thing ever worked for me. No matter what I tried, my mind could never be fooled. I could not ‘block out’ anything. The more I tried to block out the pain in my calf, the more my calf hurt and made me want to quit outright.

I have never DNF’d a race in my life (with one small exception, a 50 mile race where I dropped to the 50K distance but I was really really sick so I should have not even started) because if I know that if I DNF once, especially in a Hundo. it will be tragic for my running career. Now obviously, if I fall and break an ankle in a race, I am gonna drop out, I am not that dumb. What I mean is a race where my body is able to finish, but my mind tricks me into stopping.

Nobody’s body wants to run a 100 mile race, and we have to overcome the body rebelling everytime we attempt that distance. When you stop because of stomach issues, cramps, tiredness, you are giving into your brain telling you what it always tells you after a long duration of physical exertion. Please stop, it’s time for a break.

Why is a DNF so bad? Well, for me it is because I know how my mind works. Let’s say I am at mile 75 of a 100 mile race and I have been running for well over 10 hours and my body is beaten down and tired. My mind is also tired, trying to stay focused. I come to an aid station and sit down. This is what my brain has been telling me to do for hours. Sit down, take a nap, have a nice bowl of soup and curl up with a good book. Just stop, it’s been a long day already. Blah blah blah. As I sit, my legs and body cramp up and any pain I was suffering gets worse. My body protests more and next thing you know I choose to not continue.
My body instantly is happy as it knows it gets to go into recovery mode. I eat lots of delicious food and don’t have to worry about expending any energy anytime soon. Yes, I am disappointed about not finishing the 100 mile race, but lots of people DNF, right?. My friends will give me words like ‘You’re in inspiration for just trying!’ or ‘You did more than I could ever do!’ or equally reassuring words to blunt the magnitude of my failure.

Fast forward to the next Hundo. Sure enough, at mile 75, my body will again be tired, my body sore. This happens at this point of every Hundo, and I know that. But now, my brain, who remember is trying to get me to stop, has some new ammunition. “Remember that last race? You felt really bad at this same point? You stopped then, why not stop now? Remember how great it felt to sit in that chair and relax?”

That memory of giving up will come back into focus and it will be very hard memory to refute. Remember, I am a mental weakling when it comes to racing and I know it. If I had the memory of a previous DNF I would have to fight that very hard at the end of every Hundo I ever do. I could not handle that and I would wilt more often than not. That is why I absolutely must do everything in my power to never DNF.

The closest I ever came was the 2012 Winter Beast of Burden in Lockport, NY. I had run this race the year previous and finished 2nd overall so I was prepared for the cold, snow, and dark that is the hallmark traits of this race. My second time around was not so good, but it started out great.

I passed the 50 mile mark at 7:41, a mere 3 minutes out of 2nd place. Then the sun went down and my brain decided to go to sleep, literally. While I won’t go into detail here as to what happened, I just want to mention what happened at mile 75. I had walked most of miles 50-75 and it was horribly dejecting. I was dead tired and it was already very late, past 11:30pm. I came into the mile 75 aid station which was warm, and had friendly aid stations workers, unlike outside the tent which was well below freezing, snowing, and windy. I knew I had to get out of there quick or I was going to DNF, like many before me already had. I sat and changed my shoes and had a bit to eat. After only about 2 minutes I got up to make my way back into the snow and as I stood, I almost passed out, I was that weak. I knew not to tell anyone because they might try really hard to convince me of stopping. I decided to quietly sit for just 2 more minutes resting and then I got up very slowly, turned off my brain, and went back out into the cold wind. Every ounce of my soul and body wanted to quit, but I was on auto-pilot now. I just had to get back out on that trail and start moving again and let muscle memory do the work. Don’t think, because if you do, you will stop. I am mentally weak when it comes to racing, so I removed the weak link, I stopped thinking about how I felt and just moved. I finished the race in over 21 hours, my worst ever 100 mile time, but I learned a whole lot, especially about how to mentally train.

‘Train as your fight’ is a familiar mantra, stolen from military leaders. Basically it comes down to prepping everything you can before a race such that there are no surprises on race day. Most of the preparation is obvious and long known. What your stomach can handle during hot days. What clothes you should be wearing depending on the conditions. What shoes to wear and how often to change them. What to carry with you and what to have access to in your drop bags. That’s all important and I had figured out all that stuff a while ago but I knew I needed to work the hard parts. Training differently made my weaknesses (little mental toughness) less tragic. Play to your strengths, and minimize or nullify your weaknesses, that is the key to success. I am sure someone famous said that at some point in history. They say that ultrarunning is 10% physical and 90% mental. I successfully changed those figures to my advantage not because I wanted to or because I like training hard. I changed the system because I had too.

In 2012, I managed to focus my training and built my body up such that on race day, I could turn my brain off and use it only as a notepad for doing no more than thinking about what I had to do at the next aid station. There were no feelings going on in my head at all, which meant there was never any mental discussion of DNF’ing whatsoever. Sure, I hurt and was tired, but nobody was listening to my body complaining. It was more like a hard-nosed and heartless coach that when you complain they say “Whatever. Get back out there and try harder!”

After my personal disaster that was a 21:02 at the Beast of Burden, I came back and did a 16:59 and 15:27 to round out my 100 milers for 2012, in both cases without trying that hard, meaning I had more to give in both cases. It seems my methods actually work. I have high hopes for my 2013 season, but I promise, I am not thinking about it too much,.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

2012 Lakefront Marathon Results (Or: Pacing is Fun!)

3:44:52 (right on schedule!)
FiniThis was my 5th official race as a pacer and this was as enjoyable as the others. I get to help people achieve their goals, I work on my own even pacing, (something everyone needs practice with) and I also got a great weekend with Misty. This was also the first marathon I have ever run in minimalist shoes, and so it marked the beginning of a new era in my running career.

The race being in Milwaukee on a Sunday morning meant Misty and I left Michigan Saturday morning, timing it such that we would have a few hours free in Wisconsin before I had to be at the race expo. With our packed lunches we were free to do ‘whatever’ and after some discussion, we decided this year (last year we went to the art museum) that we would go to the Miller-Coors brewery and take the tour of one of the oldest breweries in the country. They had a slick video and well scripted tour guide that emphasized all the good things about the history of the company and didn’t mention some of the dark sides. No great surprise in that.

After a few glasses of free beer, Misty dropped me off at the expo while she went to the Mayfair mall. My job was as usual for expos, talking to runners about what the job of the pacing crew was, how to run the race smart, what to do the last 18 hours before the gun, etc. With a good crew of fellow pacers and lots of runner questions, my 2 hour time shift went by fast. The expo itself was small and relatively unexciting, but for me that seemingly describes every expo.
Free Beer!

With the race starting at 7:30 am, the pacers were on the bus by 6 am for the drive to the start line at Grafton High School, mere miles away from where my father grew up. It was gonna be cold and since I was going to be running slower than my normal pace, I loaded up on clothes complete with a -pair- of gloves. I say that because somewhere between the high school and the gun I lost one of my gloves. They were cheap throw-away kids size knit ones you can get for $1 so I wasn’t sad, but annoyed as somewhere during last minute costume changes and running off to empty my bladder multiple times during the last 20 minutes I lost one of them. At about mile 5, one of the runners in my pack asked me if I wanted a glove. She was wearing these bright green kids size knit gloves and said that she was going to ditch them anyways so I took one of them. I ran the rest of the race with one black glove and one lime green glove. Only Misty seemed to notice at the end of the race.
With over 2000 finishers, there was quite the crowd at the starting line, including about 100 people who began the race following me and my 3:45 sign. The weather was just this side of perfect with a light breeze at our back, partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 40s all day long. To give you an idea of how perfect the race conditions were, the Chicago Marathon was held the same day a few hours south of us and a course record was set. Beautiful.

I waited until a few miles into the race with the crowd spaced out a bit before I gave my standard pacer briefing to my runners. How we were going to run even pace all day long, how we deal with water stations and tell them the incentive that if they make it to mile 18, they get to hear the one really funny jokes I know.
pacerAs we passed each mile marker, I would check the elapsed time against the pace chart and determine how many seconds difference between the two. Negative numbers meant we were under our projected time, positive meant we were over. For the first 13 miles, theat number fluctuated between -5 and +8. That is pretty much as even pace as you can get.

At the half-marathon mark I still had a solid crew of 15 people, including several people who were gunning for Boston qualifying (BQ) times as well as personal record (PR) times. In the end, there would be 2 BQ’s and 3 PR set by my runners, a better track (ha!) record than my previous paced marathoners.

Being my first marathon in minimalist shoes (Merrell Road Gloves) I was a little concerned. I had been making the transition the way you are supposed to, taking my time over many weeks transitioning between normal running shoes and minimalist so I was confident. The only thing that hurt was the bottoms of my feet which just got sore. Everything else known to give issues to people making this transition (sore calves, arches, etc) was no big deal, so I was happy with only sore souls. That sounds like a country song lyric to me…

I was doing just fine keeping even pace until a long downhill section at mile 23 which caused me to speed up a little more than I had wanted to. My crew took off in front of me as they were running a more natural race pace, meaning they sped up on the downhill. At the bottom I adjusted my pace a little to get back into my time window, wanting to cross the finish line in the 15 second space between 3:44:45 and 3:45:00. During my ‘gentle’ running of miles 24-26, a few people who had been running with me earlier and dropped back before the hill caught up with me and even passed me, which as a pacer, is a great thing. You actually want to see people you have been running with all day pull ahead of you.
I crossed the finish line right on schedule, 8 seconds under the time on my sign. While none of my runners were right next to me, a few of those who finished before me stayed to thank me, which was just totally cool.

The post race operation was wonderful, a bag of food, a huge finishers medal and some more free beer (I love Milwaukee) along with hundreds of happy finishers faces all around made for a great moment. Seeing my lovely wife waving at me with her happy smile made it even better.

We had a pleasant walk back to the hotel and after a quick shower, we headed back home after yet another wonderful weekend. A free marathon and kid-free weekend with my wife, umm yeah, I’ll take it anytime you offer it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ultra training for busy parents (Or: How I run >100 miles/week and still have weekends free)

Being a good parent requires sacrifice. Taking kids to school, doctors appointments, soccer games, and the water park all take time and energy. Playing with your kids, going to the beach on the weekends, throwing a ball in the backyard are even more important activities that cut into time we could spend on the trails, preparing for that next ultra. While most people can train for a marathon running on 40 miles a week, most ultra runners need much more than that, and hence more time spent away from our families. Parents who are ultra runners have an especially hard time because we feel guilty being gone for 5-6 hours on a Saturday when your kids want to be with you on the beach.

As runners, we also try very hard to replicate race conditions in training. We test our shoes, clothes, run hills, test out foods to be eaten, and on and on. For longer ultras (100 milers) one critical race condition is almost impossible to ‘practice’; that being, the pure exhaustion near the end of the race when you seemingly have no motivation or energy to keep going. Even a 40 miler in training won’t help you much for that end game exhaustion.

I recently married my second wife and now have 3 kids whose time I enjoy very much, but I wanted to be able to get to 100+ miles/week consistently without taking away any time with my family, and came up with a workout that solves all of these problems.

The workout has three pieces and is meant to be done during a normal workday when spouses are at work and kids at school. The leaving your weekends free for fun and relaxation.

Phase 1: Wake up at 3am and take some time to wake up. Have a cup of coffee, small breakfast, or your standard pre-long run fuel. Grab your running gear and set off for a 16-20 mile run near your home. You will be out in the dark on roads with drivers not expecting runners that early so you need to be careful. Time it such that you are home before your kids wake up.

Phase 2: Now that you have had a good workout getting endorphins flowing, you start your normal day. Send the kids off to school, go to work, and keep moving. When you get home don’t relax or take a nap but rather spend quality time with your family. The key is to become (and remain) tired. Put the kids to bed and then stay up maybe cleaning the basement, organizing your running clothes, whatever. Just don’t stop moving.

Phase 3: At midnight or so, grab your running gear and head out and do another 16-20 miler. By far the hardest part of this entire workout is the start of this second run for the day. This is what the rest of the day has been focused on. Get out there and start running. After a few miles, you wake back up and make it through.

At first look, you might think that this workout will kill you. Remember that first 15 mile run you ever did? Remember how awful you felt afterward? After a few such runs, they become easy. This workout is similar in that each time is easier than the last time. Your body will adapt quickly to this crazy plan.

This is meant to be your long run for the week and if you do it on a weekday, your weekends can now be spend more with your family than alone on the trails. With a little planning and sacrifice of your time, you can get weekly long ultra training run done without your family having to lose their time with you. Weekends can go back to being family time, sleeping in, playing on the beach. Something all parents wish they could do more of.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

2012 Summer Beast of Burden 100 Results (Or: Birthday, PR, and ER)

(2/XY overall)
Double Buckle!Well, this is a story of two acts, a joyous drama that crescendos then drops to a horrible low point where, for a brief time I truly consider that I might just have run my last ultra, ever. This one could make a good movie, actually.

Let us go quickly back to the Winter Beast of Burden (hereafter known as BoB) back in January of 2012. It was my worst 100 mile race with a time just over 21 hours. I had made several mistakes including not consuming any caffeine, not using my headlight much and listening to the wrong things on my mp3 player.
So in April of 2012, I had an opportunity to redeem myself at the Philly 100 race. I started out a little slower and fixed the obvious mistakes I made at BoB and ran a 16:59, good enough for a win. After that race, I knew that I could really start to make a mark in the ultrarunning world if I trained a little smarter. My sights were firmly set on the next race, the Summer Beast of Burden, which just happened to be on my 40th birthday.

I spent the summer pioneering (I think, for I have never heard of anyone else doing it) a new 100 mile training strategy. There are plenty of people who training for ultras running by running 100-120 miles per week usually consisting of 10-15 miles each day with longer 25-35 mile runs on the weekends. What I wanted to do was try to mimic race conditions a little better, getting my body used to the slog of 100 mile races. So, in the peak of my training, 1 weeks mileage record might look like this: 26 - 0 - 29 - 0 - 35 - 0 - 50. The theory went that my body had gotten used to 26 mile runs after a zillion marathons so doing a 15 miler was not doing me much good training for a 100 mile race. Understand, these long days were never fast (4 hour marathon pace or so) and I mimicked race conditions as much as possible including run fuel and such. Train as you fight, they say. The more your sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. Pick your motto.

I have known for a long time that I am not that tough mentally as a racer and I am the first one to ‘sluff off’ in a race when the going gets tough. The idea here, was that I train hard and then when I get to the starting line, I shut my brain ‘off’ and let muscle memory and my body do the work. This concept was first tested at the Philly 100 and that test went quite well,so why not push it?

One day I was doing my really long run for the week (50 miles) and I was feeling good and noticed that I still had some time before I had to go get my kids from school, so I decided to extend my run to 62 miles. Again, this was a gentle pace with a healthy amount of walking involved, but still, it was a 100k ‘training run’. I have always been blessed with few injuries and I was smart in my training, taking precautions and listening to my body, but I was always willing to push it to the limit, but never going past that limit. I was feeling great going into this race, about as good as I could have.

My 100 miler taper is usually 3 week long with weekly mileages of 75, 40, and 15 leading up to the race. Tapers are always tough for me, especially when I am consistently doing 110-120 miles leading up to it as I end up feeling bloated, fat and slow as the race nears. This race was no different, but I knew that was ‘standard’ so was not too concerned.

<insert ominous music here> Eight days before the race, I went out for my last long 14 mile run and I stepped off to pee and I happen to get some poison ivy on me. No problem, right? A couple of days later I head to my doctor (it was getting pretty bad) and because he wants me to recover from it soon, I get a shot of some steroid, some prednisone pills and some steroid cream. Not enough to give me an advantage mind you, but enough to tamp down the poison ivy (not completely, however) Does anyone mention possible side effects? Nope. <fade out ominous music>
The FallsMisty and I take off Thursday after her workday ended and we crash for the evening in London, Ontario, a little over halfway to Lockport, NY, where the race is located. We decided to make it sortof a honeymoon weekend since the kids were all with their ‘other’ parents. Friday morning we head for the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, reliving our third date a little over three years ago. We had a great time there, a pleasant lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, then on to Buffalo to see the latest Jason Bourne flick. It was totally relaxing, and I was feeling great. I was amazingly calm considering how focused I have been the last few months on this race. While on the Canadian side, we stopped at Guinness Book of World Records Museum. Did you know that if you have a World Record, you get in for free? It’s true.

Later Friday afternoon we headed to the unofficial pre-race meal at a small local restaurant to chat with some of the race volunteers, crew and fellow runners. As is par for such events, the conversations were fun and informative, everyone having opinions on various other ‘Hundos’ around the country. There were a few people who (as a group it seems) came up from Florida to take on the Beast. When they found out it was going to get into the 50’s in the evening, they shivered. It’s all about perspective, I guess. Fellow ultramarathoner and great friend Kai showed up a little later to and by 9 pm, the three of us were back in the hotel room for the night. Kai snores a little, but everyone seemed to get a good nights rest. So far, so good.
The race start is not until 10 am, so we slept until 6ish, taking our time rising and then headed down for a nice hot hotel breakfast of eggs, sausage, yogurt and coffee. There were at least six other runners staying at the same hotel partaking as well. More conversation, mostly now focused on how awesome a day it was going to be to run.The coffee was especially delicious to me because I had stopped all caffeine consumption 10 days out so that when I drank Mt. Dew, Red Bull and 5 hour energy drinks during the race, they would be a little more potent. And yes, that little plan worked too.

We arrived at the start line about 80 minutes before the start, check in, drop our aid station bags, relax, and chat more with other runners swapping stories. The last few minutes before ultras is always more laid back than marathons. It could be the distance, it could be the people, who knows.

With about 90 seconds left before the start, Sam the Race Director comes on the PA and tells everyone it is my 40th birthday and then yes, all the runners and crew who were there sang me ‘Happy Birthday’. That was totally cool and awesome.

While the weather was not ‘perfect’, it was pretty darn awesome in my opinion. The high was for the day was about 80 and the low in the mid 50’s. For August in New York, we were happy. Previous years it has gotten into the 90’s and got people bad. Having trained for and then crewed for Badwater this summer, I was quite happy with the conditions. What is very interesting is that the DNF rate this year was quite high, almost 40%. I had a conversation with the race director long after the race and he thought it was because people went out way too fast and when the temp hit its high rough 30% into the race, the runners began to suffer mightily.
peaceLoop 1 (0-25 miles) 3:23
So I knew I wanted to start slow but steady so I ran with front group pretty much the entire first loop. In that group was me, another accomplished ultrarunner (PR 16:40), World Class runner Valmir Nunes (Badwater course record holder) and 3 people attempting their first 100. At the Philly 100, I ran with some people slower than me just to get in my groove and it worked. It is nice to run with someone in the beginning because it makes those initial miles go by quicker. I wanted to get into my ‘rut’ of the race as soon as possible. I was glad to have these people to talk to and it was a hair faster than I wanted to go, but training had been so good and I knew that if I wanted to PR this day, I should be going this pace. Friendly banter continued until almost mile 35 before I was finally alone.

The BoB course is a 12.5-out-12.5-back x 4 course with major aid at the turn and minor aid (no crew) about halfway out. At the 12.5 mile turn I get to see my lovely crew, Mistique. She is an awesome crew member because she listens to directions, which is what you want. Give her instructions and they are done, perfectly. And did I mention that she is really cute, too? I changed shoes quick (I wore the wrong pair at the beginning), swallowed 2 electrolyte pills, 2 amino acid pills, ate a cup of fruity jello, downed a can of V8 energy and swapped out my handheld bottle for a full one. All that, and I was out of there within 90 seconds of my arrival. A well oiled machine is what we were and I felt great, but granted I was only 1/8 into the race. In my (now full) handheld was gatorade laced with carbo-pro and electrolyte powder and in the pouch was a small tortilla with almond butter spread. A new race fuel for me (tested in training of course) which was 200 calories that can be downed in 4 easy bites. I would have 5 of these by days end. Considering I can almost never keep down solid food during ultras, this was the big coup of the race, my stomach ‘accepting’ this caloric contribution.

As I rolled back to the 25 mile point (start/finish), I downed another can of V8 energy, more pills, more jello, new (filled) handheld and another tortilla. I also laid down and elevated my feet for a little while as well. I learned this trick from a friend at Badwater and it helped a lot this day. It’s a simple concept (also tested in training) where every 90-120 minutes you lie down and elevate your feet above for heart for 90 seconds. It is a good ‘reset’ of the blood in your legs and you feel a little refreshed afterward. Trust me, it works. :)

Loop 2 (25-50 miles) 3:39
Early in this loop I finally was on my own, so I pulled out my ipod for the ‘slow’ music of the day, the audio from the movie The Godfather. It took me awhile to get all the way through it as I would listen for a few minutes then stop it to chat with the aid station workers and other runners on the course. I would end up getting through The Godfather and half of The Godfather Part 2 before going to rock and roll at mile 62.5.
I finally took my first short walk break around mile 32. Knowing I would be powerwalking occasionally, I also trained for this in two ways. One is when you are walking in an ultra, keep your hands ‘above’ your waist. If you let your arms drop, you tend to walk slower. With your arms up in almost a running position, you naturally walk faster. The other trick was how to make the transition from walking to running. That (especially late in the game when you are tired) is always hard. To combat this, you don’t go straight from walking to running, you go from walking to skipping. You know, like a little girl playing in the park on a summer day. Do that for 4-5 steps then start running and you would be amazed how much easier the transition is. You look silly, but who the heck cares? Not I, obviously.

<more ominous music, but subtle> Somewhere around mile 35, I urinated for the first time. It was a little orange. I thought about it and (erroneously) that I might have taken too many electrolytes, and thought my kidneys were in overdrive so I backed off the levels I was consuming and drank more water. Lots of water. Yet I still wasn’t peeing that often. Hmm… <music fades>

I came upon mile 50 and felt just fine. My legs were all good, brain and stomach just ducky. All that good news and the fact that I had only urinated once in 7 hours just slipped my mind. Change shoes, elevate feet, red bull, pills, go.
halfway!Loop 3 (50-75 miles) 3:45
Those long training days were paying off as I had been on my feet for over 7 hours and still felt fresh. Race start was late (10am) but I was running so fast, I still had quite a bit of daylight in front of me and I didn’t grab my ‘techno’ mp3 player until the mile 62.5 turn. I was starting to get a little tired and I knew I needed the music to help me through that.

As I was headed back on loop 3, the sun reached the horizon and as I was running along the Erie Canal the mosquitoes came out something fierce. I ran through seemingly hundreds of swarms of baby mosquitoes, young enough so not biting-viable, but numerous enough that I swallowed my share of them. When I finally turned on my headlamp at about mile 69, the swarms looked like falling snow which of course reminded me of the winter BoB 100 race. I laughed out loud, no joke.

<Music>So finally at mile 68 it was time to urinate again and I was a little afraid it would still be orange. I got red. Umm.. What I should have done was stop. Right there. DNF. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. What I did do was keep running and keep my red urine a secret. My kidneys felt fine all day and I am dumb fool, so I only stop when I feel pain. I am running well under PR pace and my legs feel great, so why stop? <back to happy background music>

I roll into the mile 75 turn now grabbing single servings applesauce packets instead of tortillas. Those packets were great and my stomach loved the taste of them, even after the jello wasn’t sitting that well anymore.

Loop 4 (75-100 miles) 4:25
At this point, I knew I had 5.5 hours to do the last 25 miles and get a PR and I was feeling great. I knew it might be awhile before I had such good race conditions. By this time I was doing 30 min run/5 min walk cycles and still maintaining a good clip. Almost every soul (except seriously elite ultrarunners) slow at 100 mile races, but this slow deceleration was great from my personal background. Put another way, I was doing great.

At the last turn, mile 87.5, I was rough. I felt terrible, but not because my kidneys (they felt fine, seriously) just beaten down and tired. Well, I felt like you should feel after 87.5 miles of running. I grabbed some more apple sauce, drank some red bull, downed my last pills and one more cup of jello/fruit, said thank you to the wonderful aid station workers since it was my last time seeing them, and I was out the door. Just hold it together. I managed 25 min running before my next walk break, a small victory in and of itself.

PR 'tat'I hit the mile 93.5 aid station and saw some good friends who came up from the Cleveland area to help out. They were congratulating me on my birthday (congratulations I was receiving all day) and they asked me if I wanted a beer and I said ‘sure’. They were surprised the guy in second place was willing to have one this close to the finish. I only drank about 2/3 of it and then headed out for the last hard miles. The last miles of races are always tough, but what was awesome is that I felt this way only after 90+ miles, not after 50. I was having a really hard time keeping my run time longer than my walk breaks but still managed, barely. I had decided at about mile 85 I was cool with a 15:45 finish time, but as the last half loop was drawing to a close and sub 15:30 was possible, I dug deep in my soul and picked up the pace. Official time: 15:27:56. A new 100 mile PR by an hour and 5 minutes. I felt like I normally do at such a time, tired but very happy. I drank a little water and a cup of chicken broth and there was lots of congrats all around including with the winner, Valmir Nunes and RD Sam (whom deserves awesome kudos for running a great race) The race director personally wrote (with pen) my new time in the appropriate spot on my leg tattoo. I felt great and was glad to sit down and relax. I was making fine (slow) conversation, and if you didn’t know any better, you would think everything was good, considering. I knew I wanted to hang out for a bit to eat here so I could sleep better. I never sleep well right after a Hundo as my body is working overtime to rebuild my muscles. Hopefully with plenty of fresh fuel it might be easier for me to sleep.

For you movie aficionados, this is the ‘false ending’ to the story. The movie script here would have this note: “Music is light and happy, then transitions to low rumble and ominous as camera slowly zooms in on Mark’s face as his expression turns from happy to concern to uncomfortable”

After about 10 minutes sitting there, I started feeling nauseous. Valmir the Great (who speaks broken english) tells me I should go out, put my finger down my throat and puke it up (he does this all by hand gestures, funny stuff) and everyone agrees that’s a great idea so I go out and do just that. Chicken broth and water up come. Valmir comes out with a blanket, and in broken english is asking me how I am doing, and covering me up with a blanket,. The temperature is in the lows 50’s, but I just stopped vigorous exercise so I was a little cold. A kind soul, Karin, who is friends with the official race folk (RD and head volunteers) decided to come down, hang out and help where she could. She has coaching experience and she came over to see how I was doing. She could tell by my low pulse (and me lying down in a bad way) that I needed fluids, quick. I sipped some small amount, then lied back down. Up a few minutes later, small drink, down. I barely moved in almost an hour and my pulse was still weak. Karin stayed with me the whole time, monitoring me and making sure I did not pass out as that would have been bad. Then I did bent over and tossed the water I had been barely holding down for the last hour. With little discussion, it was decided that I was off to the local hospital to get an IV. For those who know me, you will know how serious the situation was because I did not put up a fight at all. The hospital was close enough that Misty drove me the 2 miles and I was admitted into the ER just over an hour after I finished the race.
It took about 20 min of questions, paperwork, before I finally got an IV in me. They took some blood samples and I rested there, trying very hard not to pass out. I was trying to keep the mood light, even saying “there’s no place like home” to keep me awake. The ER nurse didn’t seem to have a sense of humor at all. Misty was very concerned but being calm knowing that her freaking out at all would make me worse. I love her so dearly.

After a few hours, Misty was out in her car sleeping (she had been up all day/night just like me) and the ER doctor came in and gave me the bad news. My heart enzymes were very elevated and they were afraid I might have also suffered a heart attack as the elevated enzymes indicate both kidney problems (I knew that one) and a possible heart attack. Did I mention that about 35 miles into the race my chest got tight and I thought little of it? He tells me they are going to fill out the paperwork and I would be headed to Buffalo (30 min away) to a cardiac specialist who is on call 24/7. While I am waiting for that (I was told it will be about an hour trip) and Misty not being there I went where my brain goes in such conditions, worst case. Quick. Here I am assuming I did have a heart attack and possible renal failure. I just turned 40. My ultra future was put in serious jeopardy. My cardiac doctor will probably tell me that I should stick to short races (like marathons). I begin to think that I just earned my last 100 mile tattoo. I would have a visual reminder everyday of something that once gave me great joy then ended suddenly, and not the way I wanted. Emotional train wreck was what I was becoming. I have gone from one of the best moments of my entire life (40th birthday and a HUGE hundo PR) to one of the lowest points I have ever been (You’re effectively done doing ultras) in about 3 hours. Considering the vast difference between this high and this low, my emotional state is understandable. Because I have my phone and I am not in the best place mentally, I decide to post my anguish on facebook. I am not quite sure why, I just did. Maybe I just needed to tell someone. Note to self, don’t ER and facebook at the same time. Wait until you know what is going on…

I finally call up Misty, wake her up and tell her to come in so I can give her the update. Through sobs, I explain what I have learned and the ‘worst case scenario’ of each component of the diagnosis, as it presently stands. Saying it outloud was almost worse.

The first good sign is when at 5 am, the ER doc tells me that I am NOT going to Buffalo after all and that the cardiac guy is coming on Monday at 9am (28 hours in the future), here at the hospital and I am going to be admitted to the ICU for ‘observation’. Gotta love the scientific method. As I come to find out, there is a easy way to test which cause (kidney problems or heart attack) caused the elevated enzymes. Load the guy up with IV fluid (6L, maybe?) let it settle and then test again. If the levels start heading towards normal, it was the kidneys only. If they remain high, it was the heart and still possibly kidneys. It’s a logic puzzle, you see.
I am moved to the ICU at about 6 am get more blood drawn, and meet the new kind folk there. At about 9 am, a sweet older polish woman (my doctor of the moment) comes to tell me about the newest batch of tests. I quiz her hard so I understand all of the information she is giving me. The levels did drop greatly towards normal between test 1 and test 2 and she says with high confidence that I will be ‘just fine’ in a day or so.

I ask her straight up if I had had a cardiac ‘event and she says that she is 90% sure that no, I was fine there. She asks me questions about why my kidneys might have been screwed up. She asked me if I drank the night before the race. I told her I did, and I usually do to help me sleep (true). She said ‘that might have contributed to it’. She then said steroids could also have caused the rhabdomyolysis, my official diagnosis. I admit that I have been on steroids to combat a nasty case of poison ivy I got last week. Her eyes light up, she points at me and says “Well, there ya go”. I ask ‘So this is a one time incident, no harm done, just a bad set of circumstances”? She said yes. I say “So as long as I keep a better eye on my pee and if it gets red, stop right there and seek medical attention I should not fear the long term effects of this event?” She says “Exactly”. If I wasn’t married, and her not 65, I would have jumped up and kissed her.

I still have to hang out for another 24 hours for them to observe me, just to be absolutely sure, but my mood is vastly better. Now I have to spend the rest of the day undoing the facebook hullabaloo I started. I was in a bad way, but not nearly as bad as first expected. I got to enjoy some hospital food which wasn’t that bad and I tell ya, IV drips are a good recovery ‘drink’.

Thirty minutes after the race officially ended (about 4:30 pm) Sam the Race Director himself shows up to see how I am doing, telling the ICU people he is my brother. He really is a nice guy and we have a good conversation about my day, the race in general, and conditions that led to me being in the ER which, it turns out were similar to something happened to him after an ultra. Twice. He also pointed out that if every finisher came over to the ER and had the same blood test done as I did, most would have similar elevated enzymes levels due the stress that was put on the heart. ER doctors have very little experience with ultrarunners, as generally we are freaky healthy and do not come to ER’s. What a great learning experience, for everyone.
I spent Sunday night in the hospital, sleeping quite hard which was no surprise. I was hoping to get out early, but feared I would be down the totem pole of priority as I got moved out of ICU into a ‘normal’ room at 2:30 am Monday as they needed the space. The doctor came in a little after 8 am to give me the latest. He was the third doctor I had talked to since I came in at 1:30 am the previous day and he was by far the most knowledgeable of the medical condition from which I suffered from. He did not know when he first came in that I had even run a 100 mile race and as soon as I told him, he rolled his eyes and said “Well that explains everything”. It was (almost) comical. He told me that my latest set of blood enzyme tests were still elevated but going in the right direction and that I could go home if I promised to follow up with my doctor back home. It took a little over an hour for all the paperwork to be filled out and needles yanked from my body and Misty and I finally got on the road and headed back to Michigan, getting home about 5 pm Monday.
Wow, what a weekend. While this is an educational weekend for sure, it was also exciting and eventful. I felt mortal, which is a good thing. I love running.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 Cascade Falls FA Marathon Results

1/13 Overall

So I have run more than a handful of ‘Fat Ass’ races where there is no entry fee, shirt, or finishers medal. They are fun, so I decided to finally organize my own. It was everything I ever wanted in my own race, well sortof :)

My friend Catherine (local ultrarunner) and I decide to hold a FA marathon at Cascades Falls in Jackson. There is a nice 1.8 mile paved loops but I thought that was a little too short, so I opned it up to also include running around the ‘other side’ of the park that made the loop just under 3 miles. 9 times around and you get a marathon. No muss, no fuss.

So we could get some runners, we posted the race information on facebook and the marathon maniacs webpage. With only a little more than a 1 month warning, we got a total of 17 people showing up on race day, but that was more than I had expected, so it was all good. While there were 4 non-finishers, none of those 4 were planning on running the whole marathon anyways. In other words, everyone ran as far as they were planning on running this day.

Since there is no entry fee, I supplied gatorade and water, thats it. The rest of the food (chips, brownies, fruit snacks, etc) was supplied by the fellow runners who made the FA potluck another good spread. This is one of the many reason why I like FA races, the food is always diverse and delish.

We all started together and I started out with my running friend Mark and his friend Rob. They were planning on doing 6 loops and wanted to do it fairly fast so I decided to run those 6 loops with them in a low 7 min pace. It was so nice to run a quick marathon. I have been doing so much ultra training at 8:15-8:30 pace I wasn’t sure I could run so quick. Shaking off rust is a good way of describing what I was doing.

After Mark and Rob stopped I was on my own so I grabbed my .mp3 player and turned on the techno to keep me moving. I slowed a little bit, but still managed the fastest marathon I have run since last November. I used to run local 5K’s and claimed it as ‘speed work’ for my marathon training. Now, low 3 hr marathons are my speed training for ultra marathons, I guess.

My lovely and wonderful wife was the official ‘lap counter’ for the first 3 hours while I was running. Once I finished I relieved her from that responsibility and checked off everyone as they came through their last few loops. She is so kind and while not a runner, she will help me out whenever she can. She did a great job and I truly appreciate all her help.

Everyone who came out seemed to have a great time and there was much talk of starting a ‘regularly scheduled’ FA race at the park. I had dreams of having a once-a-month FA race of various distances (5K one month, half marathon another month, etc) But who knows.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 Badwater 135 Crew Report

This is one of the most memorable running experiences of my life, and I wasn’t even racing in it. It all started 2 years ago when I broke the World’s Record for Fastest Marathon while Dribbling a Basketball. The guy whose record I broke (Jerry K) later went on to set the Fastest Marathon while Dribbling -Two- Basketballs. Soon after that we became friends, though he lives near Los Angeles. Time passes and about 3 months ago I get an email from him telling me he is on a Badwater crew and they need one more person. He correctly assumes it is on my bucket list, and after a short conversation with my lovely, wonderful, understanding wife, I am on the crew.
The crew!
I had a few months to prepare for the heat of the race, as I knew I would be pacing our runner during the heat and my daughter gave me strict instructions, don’t die. So, during a few summer marathons here in the midwest when the temperatures were in the 80-90’s, I ran the Kalamazoo and Med City marathons while wearing several layers of winter running clothes. As I write this after the Badwater fact, I realize that was very good training. One huge difference is that it is way more humid in MI than CA. As long as you drink (lots!) the heat of Death Valley isn’t that bad.

The race starts on a Monday morning (less tourist traffic on the road I guess) so I arrived on Saturday afternoon at about the same time as fellow crew member Michelle. Jerry picked us up and the three of us headed to Jerry’s house and there were the last of the 6 person crew (Sanborn, Moselle, and Steve) and our runner, Marco Mazzi. Marco is from Italy and speaks essentially zero english. I have a mental dysfunction that makes it REALLY hard for me to learn foreign languages, even just a few words. Bad connections in my brain, I guess. Our communication was pretty much pointing and grunting most of the time, but luckily the rest of the crew could communicate with him, so it wasn’t that bad. We did have our moments though, where two ultrarunners communicate volumes with a wink and a nod.

We packed up the two vans with all the food, ice and water (there was a lot) and left for Death Valley in the early afternoon, arriving in the early evening. It was 105 degrees at dusk and beautiful. I tried to enjoy the view now, as when the race was going I knew I would be focused on getting Marco to his goal and not thinking about the scenery in a few days. To save some money, all 7 of us piled into 1 hotel room with 2 queen size beds. Surprisingly, it was not THAT crunched. We were mostly strangers (well, we had exchanged a zillion emails in the previous 3 months) but all had one singular focus, getting Marco across the finish line, so it was all ok.

Sunday was a day of preparation, getting everything ready to go for race morning. It began with a 5 mile shakeout run for me and half the crew. All day long there small groups of people doing workouts near the hotel. We re-organized the vans a second time (it would be done once more race morning) and then I decided to do my one ‘serious’ training run of the trip. I have thought about doing this race in the future myself, and the best gauge of whether I am going to die it to try running in the same conditions. I knew I would get many miles in pacing Marco, but that was going to be at his pace, so I wanted one run at my pace and this was going to be it. ‘Combat Speed’ is the phrase I used. The best way to train to run in 115 degree weather in Death Valley is to run in 115 degree weather in Death Valley :)

So, while Marco and a few other members of the crew were getting Marco all checked in and attending meetings for the race, Michelle (my crew for this exercise) and I headed out on the course. I waited until ~11am when the temp had reached 112 degrees and sunny to start my workout. I headed south towards the race start.

The Badwater 135 is self-crewed race meaning each runner must supply their own aid stations, which are obviously ‘rolling’. Generally, each runner is crewed by a van loaded down with water, ice and food needed for the runner during the day and half journey. Michelle has a resume that is jaw dropping. The 2008 Badwater 135 is one small blip in her amazing career. Seriously. She has more experience than all the distance athletes I know in Michigan combined, and I know some serious distance athletes. She took off down the road about 1 mile and parked and waited for me to wander by. She seriously knows how to crew this event and I learned so much from her. She knew what to give me, what questions to ask, knew to do it quickly and say ‘Go!’ after a 15 second aid station ‘stop’ (but I was always moving).

During my 15 mile workout I stopped roughly every mile for water, gatorade, fruit cups, grapes, etc. I probably ran it too fast considering the conditions (about 8:20/mile) and thought of a bunch of ideas for my own training and crew ideas for next year if/when I run this race myself. At one point, I needed to start getting these ideas down on paper as they were accumulating and I was going to start forgetting them. After only a few miles I started telling Michelle one ‘idea’ each stop for her to write down for my notes of the trip. One of the coolest things I learned from her was the 90 second blood reset. (my term) The idea is after a while of running (~10 miles) you lie down with your feet above your heart. The blood in your legs flows down towards your heart and mixes with fresh blood. When you stand back up after 90 seconds (not long enough to stiffen) your legs feel very refreshed. I tried it after 10 miles and I was amazed what a difference it made. I came up with the idea of the crew having a joke book. Everytime I get aid, they tell me a funny joke. If I don’t do what they tell me too, they can use that as a threat (No joke until you drink your V-8, for example) Lots and lots of ideas. More would come up during the course of the race, and I wrote them all down. I learned A LOT.

Race morning came and for the first time in 3 days, Marco was happy and excited. He had been sortof subdued watching us run around frantic getting ready and we were all happy to see him in such good spirits. The entire crew went down to the start (Badwater basin, the lowest point in north America at -282 feet) and then I quickly drove the ‘night crew’ back to the hotel before Marco left at 8am.

We had 2 crews of 3 people which worked out well, a day crew (Michelle, Sanborn, and myself) and a night crew (Jerry, Moselle, and Steve) Sanborn was our translator as she was the only one who spoke italian well, Michelle was our RN, and I was the guy who wanted to pace Marco during the hottest part of the day. We were ready to rock.

As predicted, the first 90 minutes was REALLY stressful. Michelle wanted to re-organize the van so it would make more sense so she did it after the race started. I am driving and forgetting to tell Michelle (who is climbing around the back of the van while I am driving) when we are stopping and starting. Marco went out too fast and so we were trying to get him to slow down and take more electrolytes. He didn’t listen to us and he paid the penalty for such defiance, 42 miles down the road. Eventually we got into a rhythm and things calmed down a bit.

I ended up pacing Marco for about 15 miles during heat of day on day one, walking/running next to him being (essentially) his mule. I would often be carrying food, 1 bottle full of water/gatorade to fill his bottle, 1 bottle of water to pour on his head every half mile or so and a water bottle for myself. It was awkward, but I got the hang of it. The temperature topped out at 110ish that day, but it was not that bad, if you ask me. At no point during the race did I hear one of the the crew complain about being too hot. I guess we all trained for or were expecting what we were getting into.

We rolled into Stovepipe Wells (the mile 42 timing station) at about 4:45pm and we got Marco into medical. He had being getting serious muscle cramps in those last few miles.As predicted, his refusal to eat/drink electrolytes early on cost him. They did a quick blood draw and found his sodium levels very low. They gave him a drink to help, and he drank it too fast and he ended up puking, so they had to start over. Finally, after 2.5 hours, he was back on the course.

We passed Marco off to the night crew, wished them luck, and the day crew and I headed to Lone Pine, arriving at our hotel about 9:30 pm. The drive was long enough that we had ‘come down’ from the hustle and bustle of the race, but not surprisingly, none of us slept hard, us all awake and ready to go by 5:30am. As we were getting ready to head back and replace the night crew, we watched the leader roll by the Lone Pine time station. He was flying and turns out, he missed the course record by 80 seconds. There are some serious runners at this event, especially this year.

When we found Marco and crew at mile 90ish, they were VERY glad to see us as they were at the end of their rope, having been awake for a while. One day 1 when they were not ‘on’ they were still helping us and had a hard time resting, which is totally understandable. We got Marco to the mile 92 timing station about 24 hours after he had started. He had made it through the night and the sun up put him in great spirits.

Sanborn was all pumped and ready, so she paced Marco for the first few hours and I took over at about 10am and stayed with him for about 18 miles through the tough (mentally) flat wasteland that is east of Lone Pine. On day 2 Marco was much better about eating and drinking what he was supposed to. Peeing on a regular basis and still running occasionally. A few miles out of Lone Pine, Jerry took over as Marco’s pacer and would be with him almost to the very end.

Marco rolled into Lone Pine and again stopped in the medical tent (well, hotel room) but this time for his feet. After an hour, he was up and ready to roll. After some serious power-walk coaching from Michelle, he was onto the last 13 mile slog up to Whitney Portal. In that last 13 miles, there is a net 5000’ of elevation gain. The winner (ya know they guy who almost broke the course record) did this section in 2:50. So yeah, it’s a tough hill.

At Lone Pine, the night shift took over again to get Marco up the hill and the day shift relaxed for a bit before we headed up to meet them at the finish. I had some time and energy, so I did a quick 7 mile run (on my own) backwards along the course, cheering on runners as they struggled to reach Lone Pine. I got back, showered and cleaned up before we head to the top. We got to the finish line about an hour before Marco did and relaxed, enjoying the view.
Runners are only allowed one pacer at a time during the race, except for the last 400 meters, then they can have as many people as they want, which in this case was the 6 crew members who helped make it possible. We cross as one big huge group 36 hours 28 minutes and 4 seconds after he left Badwater Basin, just as the sun was drifting away. His effort was good for 39th place overall out of 89 finishers. Love and happiness abounded. Pictures, hugs, euphoria, lots of each. The emotion gets to us all as we achieved our goal and Marco looked REALLY happy to be there.
Michelle had an early flight, Jerry had to work, and I had a late flight all the next day, so the three of us take off after only a short time to recollect. It was sadly too quick a goodbye as we all wanted to hang out and chat about the race and we could have for a long time, but we had to go as we were going to be driving 4ish hours at night as it was. We got to Jerry’s Moms house (where Michelle and I are sleeping for a bit) about 1 am and crashed hard.

I finally woke up (late!) and headed to the airport about 3 hours before my flight. It gave me time to re-write my notes to myself about the race, the magnitude of the last few days finally hitting me. I was sad to leave crazy town with all these psychotic ultrarunners, but my real life was calling me home and I missed my wife and family. It was a great experience with wonderful people and I learned -SO- much from my fellow crew members. Fountains of knowledge, all of them.

I went into this race knowing that afterwards one of two things would happen. A. I decide never to run this race, ever. B. I decide to bust my butt and do everything I can to get into Badwater 2013.
Guess which choice I made?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Toenail Story (or: Why I have no toenails. Really.)

I started running marathons back in the summer of 2006 and for a while I had a similar problem that other people had, the dreaded black toenail. It goes black, looks gross, is uncomfortable and takes weeks to fully recover. After losing enough of them, I decided to be proactive and just get rid of them. Permanently.
Black toenails come from a variety of causes, including dropping a 50 pound box on your toe. (Long story. It was college…) If your toenail dies, basically it means it has undergone a trauma and is no longer ‘connected’ to the skin underneath, your body begins a process to build a new toenail under the old one. WIth the old one no longer in the loop, so to speak, it becomes black and remains only as a shield protecting the new one. When the new one is ready to see the world, the blackened toenail falls off, usually with little pain.

My dying toenails were coming from running my marathons relatively (to my training runs) ‘fast’. With each step, my toes were getting jammed into the toebox, the sexy term for the front of shoe. After 3ish hours of this, the toenails got so much banging around that I got blisters literally underneath the toenail and just outside of them. It was this blister that caused separation of the toenail from the rest of the toe and hence ‘killed’ the toenail.

This process can take a few weeks to recover and that whole time your nail is tender. If you press down (or kick something with it) on the nail you are putting pressure on that newish, and hence tender, burgeoning toenail. You end up trying to baby it so as to not disrupt the delicate recovery. Well, once you have had more than a few of these and you are running 1-2 marathons a month losing a toenail or two every race, you get impatient.

So, after losing maybe a dozen or so nails, I started to be a little proactive. I was experienced enough to know immediately following a race upon removing my shoes and socks which toenails, if left for 2 weeks, would blacken and fall off. What I decided to do was speed up the recovery process by further traumatizing the nail. I cut it off. Clip, clip, pull. It might take a few tries maybe even a day or so, but since there was blister under there, I could remove it soon after the race before the toenail would try, and invariably fail, to get back to where it was. Again, I knew from experience that it would try, fail, and then it would turn on the ‘make a new toenail’ operation and I was just helping out.

Now here was the beauty of the system. The blackened toenail is a covering that protects the new nail underneath whilst it grows. By completely removing that protection, the exposed area (no protection! no nail!) goes into hyper overdrive and a new, albeit weak, nail appeared quickly and after 2 days, it was not tender at all. Yes, I could go from traumatized toenail that was going to die to new toenail with no real pain in about 48 hours. That 48 hours, however, was rough.

Think of it this way. You have to go through so much pain/recovery to get your new nail. You can take your time, weeks in most cases, with it being slightly uncomfortable and tender much of that time, or you can have lots of pain for 2 days and be done. I would load it up with neosporin and wrap it in sterile bandages and walk funny for a day, and ta-da! New nail!

So now I have a method to my madness, as predicted, people think I am off my rocker doing this minor surgery on my own. One time, I was removing one of my big-toe toenails (which hurt way more than the others, but losing those was rare) my young daughter who was maybe 7 years old at the time really wanted to watch me do the removal. I knew that this one was going to hurt really bad and I said to her “Salacia, what do you do if after I do this, I fall over and look like I fell asleep?” (aka pass out) She turns her head slightly to the side and says “call 9-11?”. That still remains my favorite two sentence conversation I have ever had with my daughter.

Soon after, my soon-to-be wife finds this article about Marshall Ulrich where he talks about how he had all his toenails permanently removed because he had similar problems to mine. She reads it and thinks ‘What a crazy dude’, and then immediately forwards it to me knowing I will appreciate the article. My eyes were opened! Genius! There was just one small problem. Recovery from having all 10 nails removed at once is long (several months) and you essentially have to stop running for a least a few weeks. I can’t handle that.
The procedure is both simple and common, when done by a podiatrist. It is a common procedure for people with really bad ingrown toenails, a fact that is nice to know as my health insurance would cover all of my ‘procedures’. The procedure goes like this: local anesthetic is applied through the entire toe, which really freaking hurts, but then, when numb, they remove the nail and then apply some phenol to the area. As a chemist I know the value of phenol as a basic organic reactant (the simplest aromatic alcohol, don’t ya know) but I certainly did not learn THIS reactivity in Orgo.

Remember what happens when you just rip off a toenail without a new one underneath ready to go? Your body turns on the ‘hurry up! we need a new toenail, quick!’ operation because something that is never supposed to be ‘exposed’ now is. Well, phenol seems to block that entire physiological process. and your body does weird stuff. The recovery is several weeks (uncomfortable for a few days) because it keep trying to make a new nail and failing so it resorts to basically just scabbing it over. What you have is sortof like a scab-toenail combination. You peel that off, and another one appears, more scab like, less toenail like. After 3-4 generations of that, you have toughened skin (no scab) where you use to have a toenails growing. It is the same color as the rest of your skin and it doesn’t look that bad. You actually have to be staring at my toes for a while before you would even notice I have no toenails. Its really (now) not that gross.

So recovery for this procedure is rough, especially if the toenails you are removing were nice and healthy when you came into the podiatrist that day. Doing all 10 at once? No sir, not me. But I did the next best thing. I had a standing ‘date’ with my podiatrist. I would run races on the weekend, and by Sunday night I would know if I was going to lose any nails. If there were such death-row toenails, I would call up his office Monday morning and go in and have that one or two removed (and treated with phenol) on Monday afternoon, before the new toenail growth process got going. This process took about 12 months of racing, needles, ripping, treating, pain killing drugs until I had reduced the number of toenails I possessed down to zero. With each treatment, there is a 10% chance it will come back in some form, like a partial real nail growing back, and sure enough, one of my toes needed to be treated twice. So technically, I have had 11 toenails removed.

Since I lost my last one a few years ago, I have gotten very few blisters on my toes, possibly due to better form or better shoes but I know at least it is partially due to my toes now being nail-less. People wonder why I did it, and I always ask the follow up question ‘why do you need your toenails? You ain’t climbing trees barefoot anymore, so why not make my life easier?’ Nobody ever has a good response to that one.
Of course, if I become a barefoot runner, getting rid of my toenails was a moot point. Oh well.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

2012 Med City Marathons Results

70/427 Overall
6/32 Age
My 14th career marathon back in May 2008 was a fun experience. I was visiting friends in La Crescent, MN for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. I got little sleep that weekend, had to wake up at 4am race morning to get my packet, and then make the bus. WIth all that, I managed to win the race in under 2:55.
Flash forward to Memorial Day weekend 2012. I gave up speed a long time ago and settled more on ultra distances instead of marathons and I find myself back in La Cresent, MN. And once again, I decide to run the Med CIty marathon, but this time as a Badwater 135 training run. The weather forecast indicated the temperature would reach 90 degrees, so it was perfect for me wearing 3 layers of running clothes, hat, and gloves to mimic being -freaky- hot. Sadly, it was only 80 degrees when I crossed the finish line, but it was still a good training run.
The morning was very pleasant and overcast, with temperature in the low 60’s at the start. Within moments of the start, the sky opened up and was blue. The first 8 miles are pretty much straight east and of course I left my sunglasses in my car which was annoying.
When you are running a marathon and you want it to be an ultra marathon-feeling training run, you have to be creative. I wanted to beat myself down as much as possible so I would have to ‘work’ to finish well. As such, I didn’t do anything resembling carbo-loading the days before (in fact, I ate less than normal) I slept little the few days before the race and I consumed not a single calorie of fuel during the nearly 4 hour run, with water and electrolytes being the only thing I put down. Since it was not that hot at the beginning, I decided to work the first half of the race to try really hard to bonk as fast as possible, hoping to make the last part hard for me without glycogen and adrenaline. That meant going out with the 3:25 pace team from the beginning and hanging with them to the halfway mark. While 7:55 is not a super fast pace for me, it was in 65 degree weather with my winter running gear on.

At mile 14, temperature was now over 70 and my energy was starting to drop. I was drinking electrolytes in my hand held water bottle (refilled twice during the race) and drinking 2 cups of water at every aid station. By mile 18 I had seriously bonked and was dead tired, feeling about the same as mile 70 in a Hundo, as my ‘r
When running in hot weather your brain can do wonky things and I knew that, so I was paying very close attention to my ‘brain’ including doing simple math (“what is 6 time 9” level of difficulty) as a test of mental awareness. At mile 23 or so, I decided the math was getting just a little difficult so I downed some additional electrolyte pills and within a mile, my head was noticeably better. This was very much a training run, and yes, that was one of the important things I was testing. I love it when a plan comes together, and everything did, except the weather which did eventually hit 90, but 1.5 hours after I crossed the finish line.unning’ responded accordingly, walking about 30% of the time. Again, this technically was a marathon, but for me it was a serious ultra training run.
The post race support was awesome including a great spread of food including pulled pork sandwiches and beer. A quick shower at the local Y and then I had a quick lunch with Sommer, a good running friend who recently moved to the Twin Cities who was down to do the 20 mile training run (one of the options at this race). One of the cool things about facebook is I now have running friends all over the country, and I don’t get to see any of them as often as I wish. So when I do get the chance, it is always enjoyable.

Big ticket ‘lessons’
- Tape toes (like old times) when it is going to be hot.
- Electrolyte tabs always on you, do basic math in your head to test its function. Also, take some at first sign of muscle tightness.
- If you are going to use marathons as ultra training, enter them carbo-depleted.