Mark Twain 50- We are all Mad…

“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained” – Mark Twain

So it was, standing in the perfect dark just before 6 am with over 100 others, the cool of a 45 degree morning causing every manner of clothing combination to be applied, that I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why I run long distances. It can be summed up by calling it a type of madness, one that can drive you to do seemingly irrational things in the quest for (peace? satisfaction? exhilaration? pain? all of the above?). There are degrees to the madness (some today are running 100 miles, others like myself, “only a half”) but it’s only apparent from within. From the outside, we should all be committed.

After months of training in weather not even remotely resembling this, we took off. Luckily, the change of weather was in our favor. For now, we basked in the coolness.

The Mark Twain Race is held in the Mark Twain National Forest near Potosi, MO. It’s a 25 mile loop with about 2,500 feet of gain for each loop. The hills are runnable/walkable without them being “hands on knees” or crawlable (and I’ve run a few of those courses) and there are some good runnable stretches (most notably between the second and third aid stations-miles 9 through 15 on each loop). I ran it twice, some ran it four times. Here’s a link to my garmin data:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/590492604

The plan for the race was to do the first half in about 5 to 5 ½ hours and then make adjustments at the halfway point. My goal was not to go out blazing or push myself to the point of pain, but run according to Wu Wei- Without Effort. I had my Fuego y Agua Survival Run in a few weeks and didn’t want to take myself out of that race before it began. I had also decided to run in my Altra Olympus’ (NFI) for the same reason. I would normally be running in Luna Sandals (NFI- actually, that goes for every brand I mention, I don’t benefit monetarily or otherwise from any of it) but with the start temperature projected to be about 45 degrees, running on numb feet was not something I wanted to do. Also, we had run the course about a month before and there were places where it was too rocky for my wimpy feet, so I went with cushioning.

“Camping” the night before (putting down the seats in the jeep and sleeping on an air mattress in the back) was something I was getting better at, and I woke up fairly refreshed in the cold dark of pre-dawn. Start time was 6 am and we all had headlamps on to start (insert video). The first few miles were S-L-O-W as over 100 people (50 and 100 milers started together) wound their way in the dark on single track in the woods. It started to open up about mile 3 and I was able to (kind of) get my pace going. About 5 miles in, we hit the first aid station. A slight pause there, and then I got out as quickly as possible to stay ahead of the packs of runners. I was using Tailwind for the first time in my water bottles, combining hydration with fueling, and that, plus the cool temps meant I didn’t dally in too many aid stations for too long. In true MT style, though, all were staffed with incredible volunteers and had both the usual food you’d see, plus each team made something special (pancakes, soup, burritos, sandwiches) so I could have just run without anything and been well cared for!

The next four miles had some climb, but nothing too bad, and I hit the second aid station at about mile 9, still slower than I’d like to, but picking up pace. I had the great fortune to run with a number of people at various times and the conversations with Shane from Georgia, Shalini- doing her 1st hundred, and Lee- who I swapped jokes with for 3 miles and who tripped on exactly the same tiny root with the same foot both times I was running with him at the 18 mile mark (and again at mile 43) helped the miles flow by.

Coming out of this aid station, we had our one creek crossing and I managed to dunk one foot in. However, I was dry within a mile and never had issues. I used Run Goo on my feet under my socks and for the first time (I think ever) had no blisters. Coming out of that aid station, there was a bit of climbing (about 200 ft in the next mile), but then you could really fly (relatively speaking). I started to get closer to my goal of 5-5 ½ hrs and rolled into the 3rd aid station at mile 15 feeling good.  

Into the final aid station at mile 20, I hung out for a bit and spoke with some of the volunteers, then it was a nice easy run back to the start/finish. Right before the end, I caught up with Shalini, and we ran the last few miles into the start/finish area together. First lap done in 5:34, so close to what I wanted to do. I then messed around with my drop bag and it was Shalini shouting at me to get going that got me motoring out of there. I had spent about 7-8 minutes in the area, so knew we needed to move. I felt really good at this point, so good that I started worrying I was missing something. Oh well, back out into the wild…

Lap two started much more quickly. Running on and off with Shalini and other runners, I soon started passing people. Again, feeling really good but wondering if it was all going to come crashing down at some point. I made it into the first two aid stations more quickly than the first loop (no conga lines this time and it was light out). For some reason the 4 miles between aid station 1 and 2 seemed long, so I decided to pull out the Ipod and listen to the Ricky Gervais podcast I had downloaded. The thought was that music can distract me, but to be truly distracted, I’d rather be laughing hysterically. It worked because the next 6 miles between aid stations 2 and 3 (miles 34 to 40) went by in a flash. At the beginning, I thought this would be the crucial part of my race: Where I would start to feel doubts creep in, I’d start hurting and would entertain thoughts best left unthought. Never happened.

I caught Lee again at our usual place and as he prepared himself to trip on the root, we passed two runners. Once past them, they started to keep pace with us and I started to get nervous. We were about 7 miles from the finish- I don’t like to get passed in the last 10 miles if I can help it, so I decided to push it. I sped up, leaving Lee to his unerring pace and caught up with another 100 miler. I ran with her for a while and then started to hear the two other runners behind us. My quads were starting to tighten up and I still had over 5 miles to go. This could get ugly…

As we ran into a descent, I decided I had two choices: keep running steadily (but slowly) and hope my quads didn’t lock up, or let them run free and risk tripping on a root or rock (Not sure if I was getting my feet up as high as I could, so tripping was more than a possibility).  I decided to risk it and picked up the pace.  What felt like flying was really 12(ish) minute miles, but I was nearing the end, so that’s what I had.  I caught 3 more runners about 3/4 of a mile from the finish line and inched past them to finish 10th overall in 11:13.  As close to an even split as I’ve ever run and only 3 1/2 hours behind the winner. :)

Overall, a great course and great support!  The runners on the course really helped pass the time and the aid station volunteers were the best I’ve ever experienced.

Next is the survival run.  Madness is growing…

Putting the Labor in Labor Day Weekend

Flatlanders 12hr race report

Round and around and around we go…The Flatlanders 6 and 12 hour timed race is held in Fenton Park and put on by the awesome pair (and fellow SLUGS) of David and Victoria White to help benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  It’s a 1.4 mile loop of pure fun, mixing shade with open areas and, as the title suggests, pretty flat (about 33 ft per loop).

63 toed the line that morning at 7:30.  It was a pleasant 75 degrees (heat wave having broken the day before), and the tents and self-aid stations were set up.  IMG_208841 would be running the 6 hour and 22 running the 12 and it was obvious from the start who the fast ones would be.  My goal was to stick with an 11-12 min per mile pace for as long as I could and see if I had any gas left in the tank later in the day.  3 hours in, about 10:30, I had run about 15 miles, so right on the 12 min pace.  The problem was, it was getting warm.  It was sunny and humid and the temperature was on its way to 90.  Some reports of the heat index put it at close to 100.  Not sure if that was true, but it felt like it!

To combat the heat, I had decided to try to cool off my pulse points.  I used 3 water scarfs (with gel beads or something in them that swell with water and stay relatively cool)- one around my neck and one on each wrist.  That plus the ice water I kept in an ice chest (and alternatively used to drink or spray myself with) seemed to do the trick.  At no point did I feel overheated or sick from the heat (of course, it could have been because I was moving so slowly!)  Regardless, after the first 15, I slowed considerably, taking more walking breaks, sitting a bit to eat and generally distracting myself with conversations with fellow runners.  There was a great group of people out there, so conversations were very interesting!

Clouds covered us from noon to about 2 and although it didn’t completely cool off, getting out of the sun was welcome.  There were sections that became “sun gauntlets”- 1/3 to ½  a mile of exposed course.  I had decided to try to “run the sun” and walk the shade.  Didn’t always work, but it was a good distraction.  In the meantime, I couldn’t help notice the number of times I was being lapped by the eventual winner of the 6 hour, Jon Cash.  I had lost count, but he turned in an impressive 45 miles in 6 hours for the second best distance ever.  I determined to at least do that many miles in twice the time.  Luckily, relief came in the form of my lovely wife and two boys! With Patrick in the stroller, Joseph and Sandra gave me a boost through a couple of miles.  Sandra, giving me encouragment and distracting me with stories, Joseph sprinting ahead and then saying “Can’t catch me!” or “come on dad!”.  I couldn’t have asked for a better mid race pick up.IMG_1387

As the day wore on, the heat continued to take its toll. My goal became to run enough to do sub 20 minute miles and a few times, even that was a struggle.  However, something clicked about mile 41 and I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and really push it.  Encouraged by a shout of “go FASTER!”.  I ran the next two miles at a 10 minute pace, surprising myself and starting to think that I might get the 50 miles I originally though was going to happen.

What I forgot was, at that point, I had been running for over 10 hours.  My legs reminded me and I slowed again to a 15-17 min pace.  I came around the bend for the last time and started the out and back sections (about .2 miles which everyone was doing).  The goal was to go back and forth in the final amount of time to get as far as you can.  After one or two out and backs, I once again decided “now or never” and ran the last .7 of a mile on what felt like a full sprint, but was actually 10:45 min pace, finishing with 47.8 miles, good enough for 9th overall. (and I just edged the 6 hour winner)

Compared to my 38.2 at Howl at the Moon 3 weeks earlier, I ran 10 more miles in 4 more hours.  It was cooler (15 deg at the start 10 deg cooler at the peak) and I think that made all the difference.  I will still continue to experiment, and have the 60k Hocking Hills Indian Run coming up on 9/21 where I’ll test out the UltrAspire SJ vest in preparation for the Hunter/Gatherer 50k in Texas on 10/5 (no aid stations).

Congrats to Tommy Doias on his 69.91 miles on the 12 hour, setting a new masters record and to all the other runners that braved the heat.  The aid station volunteers and lap counters were superb and went above and beyond, fending off bees and helping break down tarp/tents after the race!

Highly recommended race.

Louisville Lovin the Hills- 1st Ultra of the Year

The sea was angry that day my friend…Of course, I was in the foothills of Louisville, Kentucky, so not really relevant…

I had made the trek down from St. Louis the day before, the entire family coming to support me (or more accurately, visit the water park adjacent to our hotel).  I was now standing near the start line, a sunny 28 degree day, waiting for the “go” signal.  I was a bit nervous because I had changed my training to see if it made a difference and I was about to find out if I’d made a terrible mistake.  In my short ultra career, it had been drilled into me that miles was the training answer.  Not one to love doing the same thing over and over, I decided to switch things up in December.  I reduced my mileage (10-15 miles would be my longest single training run for a 50k), include a “speed” day and a “hills” day, and do leg strength training.  The net result was fewer hours training, more time with my family, and hopefully at least as good a result in my races.

Which brought me to Louisville and the Louisville Lovin the Hills 50k.  Originally, I had signed up for the race as a “training” run for my 50 miler in March, but it was becoming apparent that this one might be more difficult, even though it was 19 miles shorter! (Why do I underestimate these things?) The elevation profile on the site said there was 5200 feet of gain during the run, putting it on par with my Dogwood Canyon 50k I had run in October.  That one, if you remember, took me almost 9 hours, so I was in for some fun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe run started a little after 8, and I had 3 layers on top and only my shorts and compression socks below. (Note I have no financial interest (NFI) in any product I talk about on this entry) On my feet were a pair of VivoBarefoot Neo Trail shoes that I had put a sum total of 7 miles on, and an UltrAspire Kinetic hydration vest that had zero miles on it.  I had Clip2 in my bottles, experimenting with them as well.  Nobody said I was smart.  My goal was to hydrate/fuel every hour with a bottle of the Clip2 (24 ounces ~ 150 calories), supplement with food at the aid stations, and use S-Caps when needed.

The first section was flat to downhill, and after about 2.5 miles we hit our first serious hill.  Everyone (there were 15 mile racers on the same course) bottled up a bit there as it went to single track and we trudged up the hill.  It wasn’t the 15° incline of Dogwood, but it wasn’t easy.  Here I learned the valuable lesson that, like Derek Zoolander who couldn’t turn left, I couldn’t go right and reach one of the bottles on the vest.  Super.  Luckily, during the run a few of my compatriots felt sorry for me and either helped me get it out or get it back in after they saw me writhing around like I was trying to swat a bee off my back. (note- must work on right shoulder flexibility)  So, back in the race, I hit the first aid station at mile 5.7 in 1:10 and was feeling pretty good.  Grabbed a banana and motored out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next section was the very definition of single track.  Barely more than a foot wide, we negotiated the sides of hills that luckily weren’t greasy with mud.  My pace was still pretty good, but because of the difficulty in reaching my bottles, I had fallen off the pace in staying hydrated.  I justified it by convincing myself I wasn’t thirsty, but in hindsight probably should have had a bit more to drink.

At this point (mile 10, 2 hours into the run) my feet (that I had mostly taped) were feeling pretty good with the exception of my second toe on my left foot (that I hadn’t taped).  It was sitting next to one that I had, and decided that rubbing was a good idea. A bit of pain that would be my constant companion for the rest of the day.  My drop bag (with new socks, a stick roller to get the lactic acid out of my calves and thighs, and some ibuprofen) was at a place called Scott’s Gap.  I didn’t know how far it was, and when I asked at mile 15, was told “I think it’s at mile 22″. While this was technically correct, it was at the beginning and end of the loop known as Scott’s Gap.  Luckily, mile 19 was the beginning and mile 22(ish) was the end.  I needed the stick roller both times I hit that aid station.  To explain, I had used the 5200 feet estimate from the website as a proxy on how many more hills I had to go.  By mile 19, I was very near that number and feeling it.  I was told Scott’s Gap was a “killer”, but my watch wouldn’t lie, right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Scott’s Gap took me an hour to navigate and it was only a little more than 3 miles. (the first 1/2 mile was a 10° incline and then it got fun) It nearly killed me with what felt like a lot of elevation gain and a lot of straight up and down trails.  Luckily, two things helped me.  The first was the realization that after Scott’s Gap, I only had 9 or so miles to go (less than double digits!) and the second was a fellow runner who I had seen off and on during the race. I caught up with him after leaving the Scott’s Gap aid station for the second time. We ran together, talked, pushed each other and made it through the final 9.  He was running his first 50k and he was a 3:30 marathoner. I wouldn’t have finished as quickly (a relative term) without him.  I was slower on the ups and he was a bit slower going downhill, but we ham and egged it to the finish.  (there was a bit of nice scenery on the way)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Both my quads cramped about 150 yards from the finish, so my assessment is that I left most of it out on the course.  I finished in 7:57, nearly an hour quicker than Dogwood, and if Garmin is to be believed, Louisville had about 1000 more feet of climbing.  Regardless, a good run. Here’s the link if you really want to experience the entire experience!

Louisville Lovin the Hills by 8728753 at Garmin Connect – Details.

The volunteers were great, the runners were kind and the chili and vegan options at the end (as well as the massage therapist) were well worth it!

I’m convinced the training change was effective (although I was sore for longer after) and I’ll take the lessons learned (taping, fueling, hydration, training) and incorporate them into the next month before the 50 miler.  As mentioned on my tweet, I have a new challenge to help the kids at SouthSide Early Childhood Center, and I’ll have something out on that next week!

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