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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Glacier Ridge 50-Miler

Last year I was a bit overzealous... even for me. I had signed up for far too many races and the result was a hot start and a cold finish. By mid-Summer I was burnt out, drained of enthusiasm and unmotivated. After what was the highlight of my running career when I finished the 77-mile Laurel Ultra after years of chasing down the dream, I took a nose dive. I didn't even bother to show up for 4 races I had signed up to run and the remainder that I did attend, were either disappointing DNF's or sub-par performances that became some of my slowest times for their respective distances.

I hadn't realized it until last month that I had not completed an ultramarathon since Laurel and the one marathon I had run was my worst race to date. This year I wanted things to be different, more intentional, more calculated, and I expected better results.

My first challenge of the year was Glacier Ridge, a 50-miler just down the street from my parent's house, a newer race in just it's second running. I had heard good things from the inaugural class whose only complaint was an obscene amount of mud, which could only be blamed on that old harlot, Mother Nature. I was excited to finally run a 50-miler not named the Masochist and have a real good shot at crushing my PR which came during my first attempt at the distance back in 2009.

The challenge and the benefit of running races in Pennsylvania both stem from the fact that I was born and raised in the Keystone State. To my benefit I know the terrain well, have been to a fair amount of the parks where races take place and I get to stop at Sheetz on the way to and from. However, anytime I cross the PA/OH border it becomes a logistical balancing act between catching up with friends/family and getting prepared for what I came to do... run a race.

With Glacier Ridge Mikayla and I covertly stopped by to see some friends before heading to the pre-race dinner and briefing the night prior, where we received our fill of the standard fare of spaghetti, bread, and water. Though it would have been nice to stay in Indiana (Of the Pennsylvania variety) a bit longer on race-eve, it just wouldn't have been the type of low key rest I needed.

A Runner's Pre-race Paradise.
After the dinner/briefing, we headed to my parents house where we were staying just a short drive from Moraine State Park to visit and give my parents the low down on the next days activities that they might finally witness me in action. A night of restless sleep led to 4am step off time, much to the dismay of Mikayla who despises my need to be hours early for every race I run. At the starting line I was afforded the always pleasant run in with Rick Freeman, the race director from Laurel, who was helping out with check-in. After a few cups of coffee and a bagel, it was time to roll.

I was in the middle of the pack at the start, with a short road section to tackle, which we were told was intentionally incorporated to space runners out from the get go. I wasn't paying much attention to the other runners, I was just getting a nice comfortable heart rate built up, mostly to stay warm in the chilly dawn air. Once we entered the woods I had found a comfortable stride and could see a pack of four runners just slightly ahead of me. All I knew at this point about placement was that there were runners ahead and runners behind. I knew what my first goal was and it was to narrow the gap between myself and the pack. Within 20 minutes I was part of the pack, three guys out front and one very impatient man behind me who insisted on running every incline. I was tempted to follow him every time but thought better of it assuming he was green and would burn out, besides we were both hitting the heels of the pack and were likely to both pass, albeit with completely different strategies. Ten more minutes and it was time for us both to make our move and we passed the leading three. The gap widened quickly on the trail and I had estimated I was averaging right around 10-minutes a mile. A long climb seperated all of us and I was alone in the woods, hammering away at the path. A series of climbs pushed me out of eye sight of the still intact group runners but on every descent I was gaining ground on the hill crazy guy.

By All Means... Run On Ahead... I'm Walking This One

Working toward the first aid station was a long flat section and I finally caught my prey, he the better climber, I (at the time anyways) the faster pure runner. As we approached the station I caught glimpse of two runners in the distance, one in red and the other in blue. They hit the aid station probably less than two minutes ahead of me when I was coming off the hill. I had no plans of stopping, fully stocked on water and not quite in need of calories just yet. As I came through, the volunteers loudly cheered, which gave me a little prideful boost in speed so long as they could see me. As I was tearing across the road to get back onto the trail, a thought entered my head. The cheers. I have run many ultras and been through dozens of aid stations during them... the people are always great, always helpful, always nice... but their enthusiasm was a bit much. It was appreciated for certain, but I wondered why.

The next section was an out and back... run to the next aid station via the left fork, run back to the one I just came from and then turn around and take the right fork for a second out and back. This part was flat and only mildly technical, almost too much so. I knew my speed had thus far been a bit ambitious so I geared down slightly, knowing that an open run would only leave me out of gas for later. For almost the entire section I was completely alone, waiting for the front runners to come tearing up the trail past me the other way, but they never came. When I reached the turn around I saw the red shirted guy stopping to eat, he was a much older gentleman than myself, which calmed my worries of being too far out front... the out and back was a lollipop of sorts, perhaps the roundabout was longer than I thought... after all I didn't look at a course map before stepping off.

I quickly refilled my bottle leaving the aid station before red and with blue in plain view. He was hauling ass though and I knew if he were to keep his pace for the time being and I were to catch him at some point it would be by gnawing away for hours, not minutes. I kept my stride not wanting to take the bait just yet.

I continued on, revisiting all the trail I had just ran from the other direction. It was a good while before I started seeing other runners coming towards me, that road section to start did as promised, it was a wide open trail and pack runners were few and far between.

At what I estimate was mile 18 I came upon a nice section lined with pine trees which littered the trail with roots. I was going at a good clip without a care in the world and certainly zoned in on my surroundings. That's when it happened. My low to the ground, barely lifting the legs, cruise control stride failed me. My right toe dipped about a half inch too low and caught a root.

In the thousands of miles of running I have done over the years, all the trails, the weather conditions, ice, mud, hills and everything else you can think of, I have fallen just once to the ground. Sure, I have had my share of trips and slips, but I have always, save once, been able to throw my weight in such a way to stop from hitting the ground. But alas, this was a day of fate.

The root caught me just right, at the peak of my left leg flying forward with a good amount of force my right leg ripped me backwards and I did a very convincing split second impression of Superman. I was launched quickly in a horizontal position off of the trail and came to a nice soft landing on a group of jagged rocks.

Mine, and pretty much anyone's reaction to falling is to immediately get up, this action which my brain did indeed send a signal to do, didn't come to fruition, instead I felt intense pain shoot through both of my legs. Okay... no bouncing up like a cat, lets try just standing up. Nope.  Neither leg would move the way I commanded it to, the only result was ridiculous pain. Having run as much as I have, I've had some pretty serious pain in my legs, but this was tops. I was instantly terrified that somehow I broke a leg, or even both legs from the fall. I rolled to my back, not sure what to expect when I looked down. When I did, to my great surprise and relief, there was minimal blood, lots of leaves and dirt, and no protruding bones. Immediate concern was washed away but my legs were both locked, completely straight, unable to bend at the knee or ankle. Mother Nature just gave me one hell of a charley horse.

Being unable to stand, I drug myself to a tree and pulled myself up. Once standing I leaned over to put my hands on my quads, massaging and slowly letting my weight bend my knees till I could easily reach my calves and began working on them. All said, I lost 15-20 minutes from this whole business of debauchery and sabotage. Red shirt passed me... followed by hill climbing dude... followed by the pack that I once was a part of... followed by a random runner or two I had not previously seen on the course.

When I started out again I was alone, no one in sight ahead or behind. My stride was nothing like it had been, the fall and subsequent muscle issue made it feel like I had run twice the distance I had actually covered, my only hope was that the kinks would work out and I would be able to return to form. I ran in a good amount of pain all the way back to the aid station, ate as much salty food as I could stomach, refilled my bottle, and headed out for the right fork. The pain was still persistent and I was slow going. I knew that there were at least eight runners ahead of me and I assumed at the time that there was still more. No one passed me on the short trail section until I came upon a gravel road that skirted the lake. The road impact exaggerated the pain in my legs and I was reduced to alternating walking and running. That's when I started to get passed every couple of minutes. Though I was disheartened I knew I was still on track for a PR if I could keep running more than I was walking. The road wasn't helping my cause at all. It seemed to wind on forever, each turn hoping that there was a trail head was only more road.

NOTE:    I'd like to point out at this time my distinction between trail and road... dirt roads are still roads, gravel roads are still roads... if you are running on anything that I can drive on, it's a road. Overall I liked the course, but I found the aforementioned section to be a bit misleading. We were told the only roads were a crossing and the first short bit before the woods... granted the long and winding road I described probably wasn't as long as it seemed and to some it might be considered a "trail", but it was still way more road than I want in a trail race.

The road section ended and took me to a muddy jeep trail (jeeps trails aren't roads, but I prefer single track). I was in an increasing amount of pain, cramping up here and there, more frequently than I was initially after the fall. This section was a true out and back, no loop to speak of, so when I saw blue shirt, followed by hill climber, followed by red shirt I knew why they were cheering for me at the first aid station... I had spent the first 18 miles in the top 5, at one time being in second place. My heart sunk. I knew I was in a good spot, but not that good. The fall's injury was much more than physical now. I felt great before the fall, confident, full of energy. Could I have kept up the pace I was running? Maybe, but probably not. If I could estimate, I think I could have kept it to where they were now, somewhere on the low end between 30 and 40 miles. I decided to set my watch, see how far behind I had fallen, how long it would take me to get back to the point they passed me coming the other way. My mind was motivated but my legs were still stiff. I couldn't go much faster than I already was. In what seemed like forever I finally reached the aid station, ate some food, and then went a few miles further to retrieve a page from a telephone book to prove I had gone out. This section had some pretty steep hills, which in my condition I struggled mightily with. I reached the book, got the page, and ran back to the aid station just in time for the rain to start.

The rain was a problem. I was wearing a singlet and arm warmers. The weather was supposed to stay around 60 degrees and the rain was supposed to come later, after I expected to be finished, not with 20 miles to go. I trudged along, doing as best I could. Runners were catching me left and right. When I got back to the spot where the leaders passed me I looked down at my wrist... more than an hour ahead, much more probably now that I have kept slowing down and I'm sure they continued to surge. Many runners had passed me at this point but I had started counting. I was just outside of the top 20, but at the rate I was being passed, I wouldn't be there for long.

My armpits began chafing. My tape had fallen off, so my nipples were bleeding. It was too cold to take any of the clothes off that were causing the discomfort and the rain was persistent. What had started out as a sure shot of one of my best races was now a heaping pile of garbage. I was falling off a cliff in my mind, knowing that a good finish was out of reach, I resorted to walking, too despondent to convince myself to run.

When I reached the last aid station before the finish, I had just 10 more miles to go. My mind refused to let me run and then the math in my head told me if I walked I would still make it but I would be a long ways off from a time I would be proud of. I sat there in a lawn chair, sucking down lukewarm soup, pondering what to do. I decided to continue on.

I walked up the massive hill that much earlier I had flown down, trying to visualize the remaining distance I had to go until I reached the end. One I got to the top I tried running, stopped after just seconds and stood there. I was cold, wobbly legged, tired, and completely unmotivated. Screw this. I was done. I turned around and walked back down to the aid station. Having just seen me, they asked if I was okay. I said I was lightheaded. Which was true enough to justify to them at least my reasons for quitting but to me it was a lie, I knew that it was not the real reason I was quitting.

A teenage son of one of the aid station volunteers offered to drive me back to the start/finish and I accepted. It was a short drive, a distance that I could have, and most certainly SHOULD have ran. My parents for the 3rd time showed up to a race and for the 3rd time weren't able to see me finish.

If my Mom never gets the chance to see me finish a race, I know myself well enough that I will probably never stop regretting it. The 50-mile distance continues to be that which I struggle with most, failing at as many attempts as I have been successful and never achieving a time that is indicative of my ability.

History might be written, but the future is not. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Nothin's Easy 50K

They say everything's bigger in Texas and if my training since moving to San Antonio is the measure, I'd say that's true. This year, in contrast to the last, has been very low key for me... only a handful of races compared to the dozen from 2011. I had hoped moving to Texas would mean I would have more opportunities and increased motivation for training and racing, but I really wasn't sure that would actually be the case until I actually got down here. After all...  between school, impending fatherhood, and the Wounded Warrior Project's TRACK program, I'm a pretty busy guy. As it has turned out, Texas has been nothing short of an electrifying jolt to my running. It seems that I discover a new park with new trails every few weeks, I have more people that are willing to put in miles with me, and the weather makes it easy to want to be outside kicking the dirt. With my training becoming more consistent and of a better quality than ever before I started looking for races around my new residence. I couldn't do all this trail running and training just for the sake of a single road marathon.

After a few visits to Government Canyon State Natural Area, one of my favorite parks in San Antonio so far, I discovered that there was to be a race held there... the inaugural Nothin's Easy 50K. Government Canyon is a beautiful park and it's HUGE. Over 40 miles of technical trail, zig-zagging through cacti, dry creek beds, and over more rocks than you'll find in a quarry. With about two months to train I was completely sold on the race.

Carefully Conducting Reconnaissance

With Mikayla only getting more pregnant and me not knowing any other runners in San Antonio, I began pitching the race to a few of my fellow wounded warriors, hoping to grow some friendships and introduce someone new to ultrarunning. Trying to convince anyone to do anything is a tough business, but when it comes to getting people to sign up for a 30+ mile run that for all they know could kill them... well that's almost an impossible business. There is however a special breed of people... inherently adventurous, having deep rooted masochistic tendencies, and being a little bit psycho. I found one such man among my peers, and though having never even run a marathon, he agreed to train and race with me.

My first run with anyone who I'm not completely sure of in regards to ability, is always a bit cautious. There's a lot that can get lost in translation between talking about something and actually doing it. What I think is long, fast, or hard is not something objective or universal. I avoided interrogating Gabe to see where he was at, he looked fit, was not completely unfamiliar with running, and I was fairly certain 45 minutes of trail running would show us both what we were getting into without too much damage.

The first run started off okay, I led the way... just around 2-miles, flat to a sharp descent before coming to a decision. Go right and have a fast, flat, conservatively technical run or go left with steep climbs, ankle breaking terrain, and a short but very accurate view of what trail running can be like? I asked, I explained, he said, "It's up to you." Up to me? Of course we went left. I instantly regretted exposing my rookie trail runner to this kind of punishment. What looked at first like the promise of a good training partner now looked more like I just inadvertently swayed him out of ever running again. Whoops. When we got back to the cars I was surprised and grateful that he was still on board and was now aware of just how much he needed to dive into this training.

We decided that we were going to train together every Tuesday and Thursday for a mid-distance run, and then doing long runs on Saturday on the actual course. Over the following two months out from that first 45-minute run that broke Gabe off, I saw him work up his endurance to being able to run for hours on end at distances upwards of 20-miles. Perhaps not as fast as me or as experienced, but I now had a training partner without fear of the training that it takes to run an ultra distance. We ran in flood conditions, we ran in 100 degree heat, we attacked the hills of Friedrich Wilderness, explored that maze of trails at OP Schnabel, did repeats of technical trails at Eisenhower Park, and saw all there was in store for us at Government Canyon. I had never trained so specifically for a race or so hard and Gabe had more than enough training that I had no doubt he would kill his first 50K.

Our consistency fell off the last few weeks leading up to the actual race, but I chalked it up as tapering, however unintentional. Gabe, as expected for a rookie, had low expectations and high anxiety going into the race. His goal was to finish and for his first, that's exactly what it should have been. For me, I had never dropped from anything less than 50 miles, so I wasn't nervous about finishing but rather bettering my PR and holding onto the hope of breaking 5 hours and subsequently keeping my pace under 10-min miles.

The conditions were perfect for me to reach my goals. I knew the course, I had the nutrition, I had the training, the weather predictions were perfect. On top of all of that I had my experience, this being my 6th 50K in the 4-years I have been running.

 Saturday morning I was up early, ate a light breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, pounded some water, and taped my nipples. I was ready to rock and roll! Gabe, Mikayla, and I headed to the park listening to Bon Iver and going over last minute details. Once we arrived at the park we were glad to run into our friend Orlando who I had met a month or so prior and Gabe and I had both done some training with.

The field was much lighter than I had expected, with only about 80 or so participants. I did some short strides across the parking lot before we joined the rest of our fellow runners at the trail entrance under the still dark Texas sky. The briefing began and with it confusion. The map I had studied and the routes we had run were brought into some question but we were assured that the course was well marked. Already a few minutes past the scheduled start and anxious to get to it, no one offered too much debate, we just wanted to run. I said goodbye to Mikayla, wished Gabe and Orlando luck, then moved toward the front.

So what you want to do here is take a left, but before that
you need to make two rights. Once you see the third big hill stop, jump twice,
spin counter-clockwise a half turn and then go left again. Got it? No? Well
in any case the entire route is marked with pink glitter. Make sure
you don't follow the purple glitter though or you're totally fucked.

I was a bit thankful for the late start, with every minute bringing just a little more visibility. I broke out into a pretty good clip, but wishing that I had been closer to the front to avoid the initial congestion. It wasn't more than a couple minutes before I was in the open, two runners to my immediate front, two others in the distance. My tendency around other runners is to race in the moment, which was what I felt myself doing with the two guys in front of me. With every run I go on, in racing or training, it takes me about 3-5 miles to really level out my stride and my breathing. I knew running with these guys was probably going to extend that process and I would have persisted despite that until I began to eavesdrop. Both men in front of me had never run an ultra before and it was also revealed that they had never been to the canyon and had limited experience on trails. These were not people I should be piggy backing off of and I knew it. I backed off and settled in. They spread the gap. I had a strong feeling I would see them again. Once they had ran out of my sight, I looked back and saw that for all things considered, I was running alone. I could focus now and run my own race.

The first leg of the course on the Joe Johnston Trail was wide, fairly flat, and in relation to the rest of the course, the least technical terrain I'd be seeing. My pace was good, if not, then just a bit fast as I hit Caroline's Loop. This loop is supposedly around 2 and a half miles, but for some reason it always seems much longer. It's a step up in difficulty from Joe Johnston, but I think the closed in feeling from the surrounding vegetation tricks you into believing you are going faster than reality. I knew this ahead of time and it was still early on, so it didn't dampen my spirits too much.

About half way through the loop I caught up to a woman who by appearance I knew wasn't new to this sport and at the pace she was running and knowing only a few people were ahead of me, I pegged her as the female leader. I stayed behind her for a few minutes, partially because her pace was plenty fast enough that I didn't mind going a few notches slower than what I was doing before I caught her and partially because the loop was very much single track. From being on the other side of the fence before, I knew she didn't like where I was, so I took her up on her offer to pass just towards the end of the loop. As I passed up the first aid station, at the end of the loop, I asked what place I was in and made some jokes to the volunteers. They told me I was the 4th runner through and I was only two minutes or so out of 3rd. To me this meant that the two runners I let go earlier were already slowing down, or at the very least not going any faster. Good news. I continued up Joe Johnston, which turned into Sendero Balcones, making my way towards the Protected Habitat.

As the trail curved around I was looking down at my feet, which generally is something I try not to do, but the rocks in this area are covered by grass making your footing hard to anticipate. I looked up narrowly in time to see my turn onto the Black Hills Loop. As soon as I turned I knew that runners behind me were going to miss the turn. Even having run the course before I had almost missed it. I thought about Gabe and Orlando, hoping they would remember what we had run a few weeks prior. As I worked my my way around to Cave Creek I thought I could hear runners ahead of me, which though this turned out to be noisy hikers, quickened my pace. In training runs this is precisely the point where I had run out of water and this morning was no exception, so I switched to my chia gel.

When I arrived at the aid station at the intersection I saw runners coming down from the other way. As the volunteer filled my bottle and I chowed down on some PB&J, I became nervous that somehow I had gone the wrong way. I asked the other volunteer and she told me that I was good to go and that the runners I had seen had missed their turn and that they had already seen a handful come through on the wrong trail. I let them know that it wasn't marked well and that I had almost missed it too, and then headed on out towards La Subina on my way to the Far Reaches. Just a short distance from the aid station I saw the two guys I had been running behind at the start coming down the other way. They had missed the turn, realized it and headed back to the aid station. This put me in 2nd place, albeit in a less than fair way. Less than a minute later I saw more runners ahead of me, one was Orlando. I had hoped I would see him and Gabe, but on my return loop, not now. He had missed the turn onto the Black Hills Loop, not realizing it until I told him and another runner whom he was with. They were both pretty upset over the news. The other runner kept asking me for my GPS reading from my $8 watch I got at Target. She didn't seem to understand that I didn't have GPS or my assertion that she and Orlando had missed a turn. Orlando, God bless him, realized I was getting irritated by the hold up and told me to run on, and so I did.

Even though I hadn't got lost, the frustration of the other runners permeated into my psyche. I began to lose the grip on my mojo and began questioning every turn I came to despite it being well marked outside of that single turn onto the Black Hills Loop. I was alone again, not seeing anyone until the next aid station that I blew through, only slowing down to make sure I was still going the right way. I kept on keeping on, eventually running into a volunteer who was walking the course on Sendero Balcones. He gave me some affirmation... yes I was going the right way, Far Reaches was just ahead, and I was in 3rd place. I ran... wait a second... wasn't I just in 2nd place? Hmm. How could that have happened? I have three thoughts:

1. A runner who I never saw was ahead of me the whole time and I never saw him.
2. If #1 is true, then the volunteers misspoke or miscounted too.
3. A runner cut the course, probably on accident, but nonetheless was ahead of me by fortune of something else besides his legs.

Kristen Stewart took a day off from making shitty movies and cheating
on RPattz to run the Nothin's Easy 50K and cut the course.

These thoughts were in my head, but honestly I wasn't bothered by it too much. I was grateful to be in the position I was in and for the performance I was putting out. I conceded that if someone did cut the course, the volunteers would catch it anyways. I had my own race to run.

I hit Far Reaches, checking my watch for the time, being very familiar with how long it should take to get to the turn-around on the Recharge Trail. I was well within the range I predicted I would be in at this point, still confident that I could break 5 hours. As I came to the closing stretch en route to the 4th aid station I passed a runner coming the other way, presumably the 2nd place runner, with the leader having already started up Sendero Balcones. I again refilled my handheld, grabbed a handful of trail mix, and slowly retraced my steps, taking a short break to eat. When I began to see other runners coming in I hastened my refuel, not wanting to be hunted, and began running again.

The trek up Sendero Balcones was probably the most taxing section of the course, not steep, but it was still sustained elevation gain for tired legs to climb. Not long into it and well before hitting up the next aid station I was caught by the eventual 3rd place finisher. He seemed to be going at a pretty good clip, one that I could not maintain to stop him from passing. Knowing this, I stepped to the side, let him pass, and continued at my own pace. At this point I was pounding water and by the time I reached the next aid station I needed a refill. The aid station was crowded with runners coming through the other way who seemed more intent on conversing with the volunteers than running. It took what seemed like a long time, but in actuality was probably less than a minute, to discover that the aid station was completely out of water. This was pretty disconcerting considering that I was only the 3rd errr, I mean 4th place runner, especially accounting for the fact that this station was planned on being utilized twice, once on each loop and I had 80 runners behind me. I ran on, frustrated, but hoping that the next aid station would be stocked with some water.

Coming into the next station I was the only runner in sight. I hoped to make up some ground on the fast Cave Creek/Black Hills section, but first had to get some water and some information, both of which were available. As my bottle was being filled I found out that the leader was well over 20-minutes ahead of me, in other words, he wasn't going to be caught. I also found out that the volunteers shared my suspicion about the course cutting. One of the runners ahead of me had not been seen coming through their aid station on the first loop. I pressed on with the mindset that I was in the placed position of 3rd, imagining that the course cutter would eventually be DQ'ed, if not sooner, then later.

My legs grew tired as I ran and the temptation to walk came with it. I started playing my mind games, distracting myself, motivating myself, still running. I knew my pace had fallen off a bit since Sendero Balcones, but now it was as if I could actually feel the lactic acid pumping through my legs. I had reached the point where I had gone further than I had ever gone in training, probably further than anything since April when I ran the Tie-Dye 50K. I was looking down at my watch, knowing that I was falling dangerously close to a pace that might not get me under 5-hours. As I came onto Joe Johnston I knew the end was in sight, but I would have to haul ass on Caroline's Loop to reach my goal.

I stopped very briefly at the aid station to get a quick refill for the homestretch and then bolted onto the loop. I started pushing through some of the tightness in my legs and added a little pep to my step. As I hit the first slight incline my right hamstring twinged with sharp pain as if it were going to sabotage me at this late stage of the race. I slowed down to work it out. I picked up the pace again and the pain came back. I slowed again, but this pain was to stay with me to the end. I worked the loop as hard as I could, and this time the deception of it's length mattered. The loop seemed monotonous and never ending. I kept telling myself that the turn was just around the next corner, just through that opening, just past that tree line. This was, of course, all bullshit, but it got me to the end.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.
I was back on Joe Johnston, around 3 miles give or take from the finish. I stopped running, splashed some water on my face, massaging my hamstring as I walked. I looked down at my wrist... I only had about 6 or 7 minutes until I hit the 5-hour mark. I wasn't going to make it. I started running again, but the break had tightened me up even more than I already was. I began to worry about being caught and about whether or not I could still set a personal record. I had no idea how close anyone behind me was but I knew how close I would be to my existing PR, the question was whether I would be over or under. I ran on, counting down the numbered trail markers which were inexplicably spaced apart at varying distances. I began to see more and more hikers, some with children, which was a welcomed sight as I supposed that they wouldn't hike too far in with kids to worry about. When I hit marker #5 I decided to leave everything I had on the course, hamstring be damned. I picked up the pace to as fast as I could muster, each foot fall sending violence into my body. I could hear people and I could see the banner.

Done Sir, DONE!
 I crossed the finish line in 5:17:45, bettering my personal record  by just six minutes, with Mikayla (and Connor) there to congratulate me on my run.
We breed success!
 Gabe and Orlando ended up finishing together in 7:44:53, a hard fought finish and with all the sweat and pain, an all around success.
This picture wasn't from the race, but from my days as a coyote. I helped Gabe and Orlando cross the border back in '06.

Next up... Rock n' Roll San Antonio followed by my first attempt at the 100K distance in Bandera!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Race Schedule for 2012

As I learned halfway through 2011, more is not always better. I took on way too much last year. The money, the logistics, the pressure, the time, and the physical toll over a dozen marathon or longer races was too much. I accomplished a lot, but this year is all about quality, which I hope to get through disciplined training and focusing on one race at a time.

Race Schedule:

Glacier Ridge                                     50 Miles
April 14th 2012
Slippery Rock, PA

Pittsburgh Marathon                          26.2 Miles
May 6th 2012
Pittsburgh, PA

Memorial Day 100                            100 Miles
May 26th 2012
New York, NY

Laurel Ultra                                       70 Miles
June 9th 2012
Ohiopyle, PA

Burning River                                   100 Miles
July 28th 2012
Willoughby Hills, OH

Rock n Roll San Antonio                  26.2
November 11th 2012
San Antonio, TX 

Looking at this list I'd say I am probably going to end up signing up for more. I would really like a 50K or two, and if I end up moving to San Antonio in the Fall, I would like to acclimate myself to the race scene down there. Any suggestions? Post them in the comments section!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Year in Review: 2011

I had high hopes coming into 2011. I made huge strides in my training, drastically altered my diet, and loaded my race schedule. I was looking to have the best year yet in my relatively short running career, and despite some failed goals and a lackluster second half, I believe I did just that. I started off slow, building my base mileage for the first few months and trying out some new strategies. I didn't race until early Spring, giving myself plenty of time to prepare for the arduous schedule I had set for myself.

My first challenge was in March at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. I had not run any long distances in preparation, with an ill-conceived disrespect of the distance. In my mind, I thought endurance was all about the runner's mentality, speed was what training produced. While this is true to a certain extent, the logic betrayed me. I ended up running a time that I was neither ashamed of or proud of.

Just two weeks later I would be running another marathon in Xenia, Ohio... not enough time to correct myself completely, but to make progress. I was faster, but still not where I wanted to be. To be completely honest, Xenia never mattered to me, I was focused on my first ultra of the year.

Three weeks after Xenia, I would return to South Western Ohio to see if I could break my 50K PR... the distance I had, up to that point, the least experience at. A rainy Spring forced the race to to be rerouted to a flat alternative. The new course, though not completely flooded like the original,  probably had the most mud I have ever had to deal with during a race. The conditions slowed me down, but not enough to stop me from shattering my PR by nearly 30 minutes. I had a blast running that race and it gave me confidence heading into the rest of my schedule.

The first weekend of May I was set to run another 50K, this time in much better conditions, albeit in a much more challenging terrain. It was the Capon Valley 50K in West Virginia. I was not ready for a course this difficult, plain and simple. The hills were steep, the descents were borderline un-runnable, giving a sensation of falling off a cliff face, and the rest of the features came quickly and often. This is hands down the hardest course I have ever run. I was in the best shape I have ever been in for this race and it broke me off. The trip to West Virginia for the race though,  has everything to do with the forming of my relationship with Mikayla. Great weekend, absurdly difficult race.

Just a week after Capon Valley I was going to Pittsburgh for the 3rd year straight, not sure what to expect of myself. It was the first marathon of the year that I could really say I was prepared for. My strategy for the race paid off big... in defiance of the rain, what was probably a mild case of hyponatremia, and of some late energy drop-offs, I had a new PR. While I didn't qualify for Boston, or even come close to it, I am a hell of a lot closer than I was before. Pittsburgh will always be an important race to me, it's the city I most closely associate with as being "home" and it was my very first marathon back in 2009.

Next up was the second Memorial Day effort. Just like the year before, the entire idea seemed impossible, but somehow Huffman and the others pulled it off, making it an even bigger success than last year! I didn't play as big of a role as I had hoped I could, but to even be able to run a single mile of that distance would have been an honor. Next year is going to be nuts... stand by for epic.

With Spring turning to Summer I had my biggest challenge coming up quick. The trail that started it all... the reason I run, my holy grail. I had dropped out after just a 19-mile effort in the 2010 installment of the Laurel Ultra... my first ever DNF. This year I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and there was no way I would choose to drop out. Mikayla joined me on the trip after I convinced her to run the race too. The time spent with her that weekend unregrettably shadows over a finish that I am more proud of than any before or since. I finished in 17th place with a time of 17:47:17, on a relatively unmerciful 77-mile run.

Mid-June saw me working a lot of long hours for Jon and Lauren, the trade-off was that I wasn't running a whole lot. Laurel was always such a big deal to me that I think after I finished, I didn't care as much about the rest of the year... looking at every race after June, it certainly wouldn't be hard to come to that conclusion. I did not start at Dawg Gone 50M, at Burning River 100M, at the YUTC 50K... three races in a row... two of which I was almost ensured of new PR's at and the 100-mile being my first ever attempt.

While I do regret not running some of these races, and for my lackluster performances at the races I did run, 2011 would have been a booming success to me if only it had been 6-months long. I started running again, sort of, just in time to run a terrible marathon in Columbus. I was on a PR pace till the half way point, but my head wouldn't let my legs take me any further. I finished, but with my worst time to date for that distance.

A week later I would have yet another DNS for the Marine Corps Marathon. Now I was just focusing on one last race for the year... the Bigfoot 50K. All I was looking for was a finish. Instead, I walked away with a good story and a valid reason to drop. Mikayla probably wishes she hadn't tried to run Bigfoot, but I'll quote Gretzky and say, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I'd rather fail than be timid, when it comes down to it, I think Mikayla would say the same.

So here we are... already into 2012 with only retrospectives to contribute to the year prior. So here are some stats... not all of which I am proud of, but I like numbers.

Races Attempted:    9

Races Finished:       8

Race Make-Up:      4 Marathons (Shamrock, Xenia, Pittsburgh, Columbus)

                                 2 50K's (Tie-Dye, Capon Valley)

                                 1 77-Miler (Laurel)

                                 1 8K (Shamrock)

Current PR:            8K:                Shamrock 2011         34:41

                               Marathon:        Pittsburgh 2011         3:28:24

                               50K:                Tie-Dye 2011           5:23:57

                               50M:                Masochist 2009       10:07:35

                               77M:                Laurel 2011              17:47:17