The Devil’s in the Details- Devil’s Lake 50k Race Report

As I dive deeper into ultrarunning and running in general, my propensity to try new things just to see if they work can have positive (substituting music for conversation helped me PR in Arkansas) and negative (camping in FL helped me convince myself to DNF) effects on my races.  So, as I was preparing for the DWD Devil’s Lake 50k in Baraboo, Wisconsin, I decided to experiment again.  This time, it was with fueling.

First, a little bit about me:  I like to eat.  I enjoy food and while I’ve been lucky enough not to have to battle real weight or health issues because of it, I can sometimes obsess over it.  When I run long distances, I also like to eat.  It gives me a break and a lift, and especially at races, I find it interesting what makes it to the aid station table (baked potatoes, raw potatoes, chips, pretzels, gummi bears, peanut butter Oreos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, beer, etc.).  What I can’t stomach are the gels, which I attribute to my jaunt in the desert last year, in which I was eating them for 20 hours straight and had a few issues.  Let me be really clear, gels are now in the same category as apple schnapps.  High School Graduation put me off apple schnapps permanently, and I’m as violently opposed to gels.

So, usually I carry a few waffles or other food on me, but because the aid stations are so close and so well stocked at DWD events, I decided to try handheld bottle only and then eat and refill the bottle at the aid stations.  There was also a voice in the back of my mind that came from reading about others and how they fuel that suggested that I might not really have to eat at all over a 7(ish) hour timeframe, because others don’t feel the need to. Remind me to stop listening to voices…

Beautiful DawnThe dawn broke brilliantly as we waited in a field below a ski slope at the Devil’s Head resort.  Since the first few sections were supposed to be fairly hilly, my plan was to start near the back and take it easy.  Pick up the pace a bit on the downhills and flats, and generally run about 7 hours and some change and have a fun day.  The area we were running in was carved out by an ice age glacier, so I was looking forward to the scenery.  The horn went off at 5:30 (50k and 50m starting together) and about 300 (check) runners took off into the woods.

The first 2.75 miles were uphill (600ft by my watch, 960 according to the race documents) and then you descend about the same as we did the first 5 mile loop.  My plan was to do that in an average of 15 min miles and at this point, I was feeling good and ahead (maybe too far) of that plan.  Mile 6 had a 420ft hill and mile 7 had a 280ft hill, but I finished the first 10 miles in 2:10 about 2 min/mile ahead of my plan (even running the last mile in a 9:40)  We had climbed about 1600ft, and it was about at this point that I started entertaining thoughts of jumping up to the 50 miler.  Silly thoughts like that have no place in my racing…

The next four miles were mostly downhill as we approached the lake and I maintained steady 11 min miles.  So far I had passed through about 4 aid stations, two that had food, but that voice in my head kept my eating to the odd potato. Then we were climbing the bluffs by the lake.

Carved by glaciers with pavers

Carved by glaciers with pavers

When I was moving, my pace was good (13-14 min miles), but the breathtaking scenery caused me to pull over from time to time and take some pics. IMG_1999

Primitive Aid Station

Primitive Aid Station

The sun was starting to come out and it was starting to get warmer, and mile 20 (across a warm field with shoulder-high grass )brought us into the “bug pit” aid station (and then a 1.3 mile out and back brought us back there), so at about mile 21, I had a chance to change my socks and eat.  I accomplished one (socks), but not the other.

At this point, I wasn’t on pace for a PR, but I was doing pretty well by my standards.  IMG_2001The picture-taking had cost some time, but I had done 20 miles in 4 ½ hours and was ahead of plan, so I headed back out across the field.

Back to the hills!

Back to the hills!

It had definitely gotten warmer (the high crept up to 82), but I was now running with someone and the great discussions kept my mind off the distance.  We ran the next mile faster than my average, and then started climbing.  She was much stronger than I was and climbed the 433ft of mile 23 much better than I did. On the descent, I started to get a bit hungry, and miles 24 and 25 saw me sitting down for a few minutes on a bench and generally trying to remember where the next aid station was (and hoping it had some food).  My minimal fueling strategy was not working out so well.

Down, down, down

Down, down, down

Mile 26 will look slow if you’re looking at the splits <Click Here>, but what you can’t see is me shoving about 12 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my face during that time.  I filled my water bottle with a mixture of Gatorade and water and headed out.  I think it worked, as I ran the next mile in 12:27 and passed a few surprised people who had seen me sprawled on the bench.  I caught up with a group that was taking a break a the top of a hill just before mile 28.  One of them, Andy, agreed to run with me the rest of the way and, knowing Guinness had long since left and taken their record book with them, we took it easy, swapped stories about our young kids (he had just had a baby. Well, his wife had) and cruised into the finish.

Overall a pretty enjoyable race.  There were a lot of people out there (at some point there were 10k, half marathoners, marathoners, 50k and 50m runners on the trail) and it was great to be able to give and receive encouragement from different runners throughout the day. The volunteers were great, especially at the couple of road crossings and the aid stations, and the scenery was unbelievable in places.  My hope is that I remember not to listen to that voice in my head when it’s saying obviously preposterous things.

Note: Reading back through the report, I noticed that even though I titled it “The Devil’s in the Details”, I didn’t really talk about any specific details.  The report itself is pretty detailed, but then what am I implying? Discuss…

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!

Lessons Learned from the Swamp

I ran the Dances With Dirt (DWD) Green Swamp 50 mile trail run this past weekend, and I was claimed by the swamp at 39.93 miles.  I still had about 12 miles to go thanks to a wrong turn earlier in the day, but I was done mentally, which convinced me that I was done physically (before I fell in the swamp, was bitten or eaten by something, or decided that wrasslin’ gators was a good idea).  So what happened?

Basically, a lot of things, but in my analysis, like the butterfly effect, it all stems from one bad (in hindsight) decision I made that started a chain of events.  Some call it communing with nature, going primitive, sleeping under the stars, camping.  Whatever label you place on it, if you’re not experienced (looking in the mirror), I found it’s not a good idea to have your first experience be at a race site before you’re attempting a 50 miler that you’ve never run before.  It all started innocently enough…

IMG_1710I had everything set up and ready to go in a matter of minutes.  Got to meet two of my neighbors, who were down to run the marathon and 50k respectively.  I had forgotten my sleeping bag, so got a ridiculously inexpensive 45 degree one from a local sports store (it was only supposed to get down to 50 that night and I assumed that the bag, plus my socks and fleece would carry me through the night).  Grabbed some dinner at a local Italian place and got ready to settle in for the night.

Lesson 1: Now, camping at a race start is not like a campground.  You’re pretty close together, and although we had settled in fairly early, not everyone else had.  It wasn’t loud, nor was anyone being inconsiderate, I just didn’t realize how much noise there was “in nature”.  Oh, and then it started to get cold.  I think I finally got an hour or so of sleep and woke up freezing.  Either I have a low cold tolerance (highly possible), the weather forecast was wrong, my sleeping bag’s rating wasn’t thoroughly checked before it left Shanghai, or a combination of the three.  My feet, even taped and with socks on, quickly lost feeling and my face soon followed.  Getting up to go to the port-a-john every few hours probably didn’t help, and all in all, I think I got about two hours of sleep.  No problem, right?  I’ve dealt with sleep issues on long runs before!  The difference, though was that on both of those runs I had a crew there to make decisions for me.

As the race directors started to set up at 4:30 the next morning, I decided to go ahead and get up and pack the tent.  First and only smart decision I made.

IMG_1713 The race started in the dark at 5:30.  It was still about 50 deg, so started with the fleece.  The first loop was 5 miles and after that we’re back at the start and drop bags, so I dropped both the fleece and my light there around X:XX.  During that first hour, I was leading a small group, so didn’t stick to my 4:2 pace, didn’t drink water and took no electrolytes.  Lesson 2: Stick with the plan you made when rested and thinking clearly…

Heading out into the next 20 mile loop, I was again with a group and reluctant to settle into my pace.  I had some ridiculous notion that I was upholding a reputation and kept running.  I had started drinking after the second hour (I had a coke and a banana at the start, so I might have been on schedule), but had completely forgotten about my electrolyte pills.  I was on a pace for a 9 hour finish, much to fast for my inexperienced, slow self.

Through the sand, through the mangrove swamps we moved on.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I was backing off on the pace, bringing it more in line with my original plan, but getting tired and I missed some very obvious “wrong way” signs coming out of the “traffic jam” aid station at 24 miles and added another mile or so before being turned around by runners doing the half marathon.  It was also warming up, but I felt OK as I came back to the start, ending the first half.  I tweeted my progress and my hope to finish the second half in 6 hours (completing the first half in just over 5).  I was hurting, so had planned to take some ibuprofen, forgot, got about half a mile away and reasoned that I’d be back in 4 1/2 miles so no problem.

Actually, the second loop was run in reverse, so the 20 mile loop was first, followed by the 5.  Once I realized that, I really started to doubt my ability to finish.  Lesson 3: Pay attention…

So, my pace continued to slow, and I was appearing to hit the deeper sand more often, struggling to keep any kind of reasonable pace.  At mile 30, I was really slowing down, taking much more frequent walk breaks, and down to just under a 15 minute mile.  Mentally, I started into a zone I’d like to call “I’m stopping for them, not me”.  I started thinking about my drive back to my sister’s and how tired I’d be if I kept going.  How I’d miss a planned dinner with them on my last night.  How I might not make it up for my flight, denying my wife and sons the opportunity to see me as soon as possible on Sunday.  In other words, it would be selfish not to stop.  Then, I got passed by a turtle…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That wasn’t so bad in and of itself, but when he started giving me a hard time, I knew I was in trouble.

When he broke into the Harlem Shake, I started looking forward to the next aid station and getting off the course…

Luckily, it was manned (it wasn’t on the first loop) and one of the great volunteers (in my haze, I’ve forgotten his name, but he was a snowbird from Michigan) drove me for what seemed like an hour back to the start. (Did I mention how great they all were?)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, I need sleep. I need to stick with the plan and not get wrapped up in the race. I need  to pay attention.  I need to plan a race so I’m not worrying about being selfish.  And, most importantly, I need to stay away from turtles.

In perspective, a 40 mile DNF (did not finish) isn’t the end of the world.  I’m in one piece and working towards the 2014 mile goal for the year.  Maybe now, I’m a bit wiser too. (yeah right).  Next race is in May- 50k in Indiana…Time to pick myself up and get moving again!

Here we go!

Ok, posting from the road today. Just completed two days of 5-6 mile runs as I start to get ready for the next challenge- 50 miles at the DWD Green Swamp race in March. Yesterday was on some nice farm roads in rural Texas and today was nearly 7 miles with my lovely wife on a technical, but fun trail.

My goal is to do 20-40 miles per week, with one long weekend (back to back 20s) a month. I’m also going to incorporate strength training based on something called CrossFit Endurance. Never tried, but I’ll see how it goes, and let you know my progress. The race is going to be flat, so my hill work would be minimal. However, you know I’m not stopping at one race in March, so, if I’m lucky, I’ll be running the Double Chubb (50k) a month later. That means, strength training, hill training, all fun and games. I’ll be testing out some equipment along the way, so I’ll intersperse training with reviews. So, there’s the “idiot” part.

For the inspired part, I was sent this story back in August, and was remiss in not posting it. It’s a great story about a cyclist named George Swain who had a serious accident in 2010 and has recovered and is back full force. The story is here. Enjoy!

The idiot