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.