Signs and Omens- Bacon and Olives at the Howl at the Moon 8 hr

“Good afternoon folks. We’re about 40 miles outside of St. Louis, beginning our descent. Please put tray tables in the upright and locked position…” It’s Friday and I’m flying home from Boston.  I’m set to run in the Howl at the Moon 8 hour endurance run on Saturday and I think I was just given a sign as to how many miles I should attempt.  40 miles in 8 hours, average 12 minute miles? I should be able to do that…

In my quest for 2014 miles for the kids of SouthSide Early Childhood Center (http://southside-ecc.org), I’ve embarked on an ambitious plan that requires me to keep to a fairly strict running regimen.  I’ve fallen a bit behind so 40 on this run will get me over 700 and closer to being on track.  The run is a timed run around a 3.29 mile loop through a park in Danville, IL.  Don’t be confused by the title, the run is during the day and if it’s anything like other timed races I’ve run, should be a lot of fun. Billing itself as “The largest timed ultra in the United States”, there are almost 300 runners that will be toeing the line tomorrow morning.  First, though, I have to get there.

I quickly jump home, pick up my gear, kiss the wife and kids and head back out. I decide to “Jeep-camp” at the race start, using an inflatable mattress in the back of the jeep, as I’ll get there too late to set up a tent. (Those of you who read about the camping disaster in Florida may be wondering why I’m trying something similar.  Let’s just say I wasn’t going to let it beat me.  Plus this is different, I’m in my Jeep, I have a warmer sleeping bag, etc.…)

The ride up was uneventful and I found a spot about 10:30pm.  Mattress already inflated, I hopped in the back, set the alarm and went to sleep (sort of).  It took me about 30 min to fall asleep and then I was up at 5:20, never to return to the land of slumber.  (But, compared to last time, a resounding success)

Time to get ready.

I had my cooler (with ice water), salt pills and food.  All, except for the salt pills, were backups.  Being in this race for the first time, I didn’t know what nutritional support expect.  I shouldn’t have worried.

I dragged my cooler to what I can only describe as “pit row” IMG_2075.  A lot of people had pavilions set up both for them to rest in and for their adoring fans.  Immediately, a group asked if I wanted to use their tent as shade.  They were working one of the aid stations and had set up near the start.  It’s that kind of camaraderie that you don’t see everywhere and it’s one of the reasons I really like the ultra community. Thus set up, I eagerly awaited the start.

I knew at least two runners from the SLUGs (St. Louis Ultrarunners Group) would be there and at the start, immediately met up with Rob Raquet-Schofield and Jen Eichelberger (they finished 3rd and 7th overall respectively, and I always find it’s good to know real runners).  I stayed with Rob for about ½ a lap and I somehow kept up with Jen for the first two laps (6.58 mi).  I checked my watch and we were averaging about 8:45 miles, so a bit faster than I should have been going (I decided to see if starting fast then tapering quickly would work).  I switched to run/walk and Jen disappeared into the distance…  The next few laps were uneventful, but it was getting hotter.  I resolved to eat at every aid station (at least a little bit) and was sticking with 20 ounces of water as I knew it would get warmer  The first aid station had bacon and the “top of the hill” aid station had green olives, which I quickly learned should be eaten in moderation, but I figured the sodium would help. So, I began a routine of water, bacon, olives.  Unfortunately, too much of all three.

By about the 6th lap (around 20 miles in) my stomach had slowed me down.  Not bad, just a very full feeling I couldn’t shake.  My heart rate also wouldn’t come down as much as I’d like during my walk breaks, so I laid off the bacon and cut back on the water. Another few laps of moderation, both in pace and culinary indulgence, and I was feeling better.  I picked the pace back up, but I had lost too much time to really hit the 40 mile mark.  Rob and Jen had kindly shouted words of encouragement as they lapped me (on their way to podium finishes) and I had some great conversations with runners of various abilities and experiences.  One guy I spoke with had run over 90,000 miles, another had climbed most of the 14,000 ft peaks in Colorado.  I was wearing my SouthSide 1inspiredidiot shirt and that stimulated conversation from time to time as well.  As I had hit my rhythm, I really enjoyed the run.

With about 30 minutes to go, I finished my 11th lap.  The race organizers, to allow everyone to get in as many miles as possible in the 8 hours, start a ¼ mile out and ¼ mile back loop during the last 30 minutes of the race.  I finished my final loop at the perfect time and headed out for the out and backs.  I completed 4 loops for another two miles, finishing with 38.19 miles, enough for 9th in my age group and 57th overall. That worked out to about a 12:35 minute per mile average pace, so not far off my original goal.  As for the announcement being a sign?  Maybe..

If you look back, what the pilot said was “…40 miles…put tray tables in the upright and locked position…” Clearly meaning that if I wanted to get 40 miles in, I had to stop eating as much (I have trouble snacking on planes). I didn’t listen or interpret the words correctly.  What I did learn, though was:

  1. Pace- I have to stop thinking that I can sprint at the beginning and still finish strong. Patience and Persistence need to be my motto.
  2. Watering/Fueling- First, I can’t drink/fuel too much in anticipation or try to follow a regime designed for Death Valley.  I need to start slowly and then respond as my body demands.  Second, even though bacon and olives are awesome, like everything else, they should be eaten in moderation.
  3. Isolation- I usually train with music and have mostly run with it too.  This marks the second full race I’ve done without music.  I missed it during some parts, but overall enjoyed the conversations and environment a lot more.
  4. Gear- You can find shoes/a system that won’t cause blisters.  What has finally seemed to work for me is: Body Glide in between the toes, DryMax Socks and Altra Torins (NFI in anything)
  5. Signs and Omens- understand the ENTIRE message.  Or, just reinterpret it after the fact…

Regardless, I’m working my way through these 2014 miles for a greater purpose- to help the kids and families at SouthSide Early Childhood Center.  If you get a chance, take a look at their site (http://southside-ecc.org).  If you get two chances, come down and see how they’re helping the kids now and where our new school will be.  If you get three chances, help us help them by donating!  If you need a sign, here you go…IMG_2077

Disaster in Perspective and Finishing in Your Age Group- DWD Gnawbone 50k

I cried because I had little sleep because of a backed up toilet and what I think was a rabid deer, until I met a man who had driven 10 hours and slept in his car with his family to run this race….

That being said, the other lesson I learned was that sticking to a plan actually worked.  First, on training: I knew there would be hills and I knew it wouldn’t be as bad as Louisville, but my hill and strength sessions seems to have paid off.  Even the steep hills (the worst coming later in the race) didn’t have me gasping for air or pausing every few steps like fish at the Eiffel Tower (metaphors aren’t my strong point).  But enough about me, here’s my report.

IMG_1828We started at 6:15 am in what I’ve always known as “blue-dark”.  Just light enough to see the person in front of you, not so much every root and rock.  After my DNF, I was determined to be prepared:

  • Sleep? Check (kind of).  The family came down and we stayed in a “cabin” rather than camping.  However, we had to move rooms due to a rodent incident and then the toilet backed up in the second room.  The net result was about 5 hours of sleep (about 4 ½ more than the last race, so I was loving it!)
  • Water/Fueling? Check.  I would only drink water, eat at the aid stations and drop an S-Cap an hour (it was pretty cool outside, so I didn’t need to overdose on sodium).   I also used the Camelbak Octane XCT (NFI) with a 3 liter bladder so I would only have to stop when I wanted to.  I also carried a few waffles in case I got caught starving between two aid stations.
  • Drop bags? Check.  We had the opportunity to have two drop bags, one at 10 miles and one at 20.  Since it was going to be wet and muddy, I had a pair of socks and shoes in the 10 mile bag and the same in the 20.  My Hokas were in the 20 mile bag just in case I felt I would need the extra cushioning to help me through the last 10 miles.

So, back to the start.

Leg 1- 3.8 mi- “I’ve Been Slimed” My plan was to take the first hill (mud and 500 feet of elevation gain) slowly.  I planned 20 min miles, I did 14 ½. The mud was pretty bad, but having run the ½ marathon here in 2011, I knew what to expect.  From there, I finished off the first 4 miles in just under an hour. Ahead of my schedule, but not killing myself.  The aid station had bananas, so I picked up my first meal of the day.

IMG_1829Legs 2-5 14.1 mi- Various ups and downs, some nice views as we ran around a lake.  Walked the hills when they got a bit too steep, ran the downs.  My plan was to be at a little over 4 hours through 18 miles.  By the 18th mile, I was at 4 hours, 13 mins.  It was like I planned it! I will admit that about mile 15, I started focusing on the drop bag at mile 20.  I had passed up the 10 mile drop bag because my feet weren’t too wet, but a few dunkers and some rocks had me fantasizing about the Hokas.  It became the vision pulling me forward to mile 20.  Little did I know that sometimes dreams can become nightmares…IMG_1831

The last 3.4 miles to the aid station is called “Devil’s Daughter”.  A lot of water, mud and muck with a  few hills thrown in.  IMG_1830It’s evident in my times (16, 14 and 20 min miles) that running was not an option because of the terrain and having to pick your way through the fun.  Because I felt good, though, and had pace myself I did something I’ve never done- passed people.  It was a strange feeling, and one I hope to repeat! IMG_1832

I hit the aid station/drop bag point, changed into the Hokas and bounded off with dry feet and renewed cushioning.  Mile 22 slightly changed that perspective.  The leg is called “Stairway to Heaven” for a reason.  There are two hills, one short, one longer, both “fun”.  The first hill is a hands and knees, grab what you can, pray you don’t slide, uphill struggle.  It’s only about 200-250 feet, but it was slick and I passed some people as they slid by me (I was going up, they were on their way back down).  The shoes I had changed out of had much better grip than the Hokas, but there was no going back.  Handhold by handhold, I scaled the hill.

What waited for me next was at mile 24.  The “Stairway to Heaven” itself.  A staircase that seemed to go on forever, but in reality a 400 foot high hill that someone thoughtfully built a staircase into. 17 minutes and 43 seconds later, I was through that nightmare and into the 2nd to last aid station.

I then settled into horse trails (behind a few horses churning up the mud even more) and was caught by the guy from the beginning of my report.  We kept a decent pace and chatted through the last 5 miles, slipping here and there, descending the extremely muddy ski slope near the end and then wading in a waste deep stream while his daughter paced us for the last mile.

Ski Slope Hill- Muddier than it looks!

Ski Slope Hill- Muddier than it looks!

He had come down from Michigan the night before, slept in the car with his family, they had run the 10k and they were going back later that day.  People I know call me crazy, but there’s always someone out there that will outdo you!  Our great conversation kept my mind off of the last 5 miles, and I finished with a PR at 7:26:52.  The time was good enough to finish in my age group, but not in the top 5. :)

Overall, very happy and it got my head back into things after the DNF.  Dances With Dirt is a great organization.  Aid stations were stocked and friendly and apart from the accommodations the night before, a great time was had by all.

War Eagle 50k in less than 3 weeks!

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