Friday, May 25, 2012

Get Real

Got my 'more cowbell' on recently and spectated at a Sprint Tri to support a friend.  The folks I was with are all about running, and biking, and swimming, and all things racing.  Someone mentioned the 50k I ran recently, and after a lot of nice, supportive comments, this was the last one I heard:

"Nice job.  Now you should run a REAL ultra."


OK.  Here's where I'll be November 3rd going after the 50 mile mark.

Time to turn the training dial up to 11.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Crushing Disappointment of One Second

One second per mile that is.

Over the course of a marathon.  26 sad little seconds in total.

Had I just run 1 second per mile faster.  One less water stop.  One less leg cramp.  One less something to get back that precious second.
Despite a jacked-up stomach and a crampy right quad I was generally happy with my 3:45:25 finish in the MCM last fall.  I figured that would be the end of that experience and I’d be on to bigger, better, longer things.  I already had the thought of ultramarathons dancing around in my head.  One race in particular intrigued me, the JFK 50-miler.  The military connection, 50th anniversary of the race, close enough to my in-laws that we wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel.  Nice combo of trail and flat path.  It just seemed like the perfect first 50-miler.

As the months went by and it looked like I would survive the training, and most likely the race, for my first 50k, I decided that the JFK50 was the race for me.  Registration is done entirely by mail in three waves of applicants, and the qualifying times for the waves are based on a finish time in a marathon, 50k, or 50-mile race.  This is a very popular ultra, even more so this year with the 50th anniversary angle.  Based on some internet research (which is never wrong …) I knew it would fill up in the first wave.  When the time for the first wave (A-Standard) came out, I knew I was in trouble.  Men’s marathon … 3:45:00.  Those double-zeros stared out at me with their beady little eyes, saying “close buddy … but not good enough”.

I sent a note to the race director, hoping it would be like the old Boston qualifying standards where seconds didn’t count, but no such luck.  I was knocked to the B-Standard wave, and would have to wait 10 days after registration opened before I could send in my form.  I kinda knew the race was lost for me at that point, but I planned to send in my registration anyhow and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, on Saturday morning the JFK50 website was updated with a message saying the general field, and the 250-person waiting list, are completely full, and registration has ended.  Since this was just 2 days after I was allowed to mail in my forms, my JFK50 plans are over.  One second per mile, 26 seconds over the course of a marathon, and my simple plan becomes much less simple.

To say I’m disappointed would be a huge understatement.  I had accepted this as a high probability as soon as I saw the qualifying times, so I’m not hugely surprised by this, but I had tried to remain optimistic that it would work out.  Now it’s back to the drawing board to figure out what my running will look like for the rest of the year.  I’d still like to see if I’m up for the challenge of 50 miles, but my options are somewhat limited within a reasonable driving distance.  We have a lot going on this Fall, so it’s going to be a hard sell to add the expense of a trip and hotel for a destination ultra.  I could possibly train heavily for a Fall marathon and take my revenge on those 26 seconds and go after a PR.  Maybe train for a shorter triathlon since I’ve got the bike and access to a pool, but I’d like to wait on triathlons as a possibility until 2013.

Regardless, I gave myself about a day to feel sorry for myself, and now I’m starting to formulate a plan.  Also got out for my first post-50k run on Saturday, and other than some tightness in my right knee everything felt pretty good.  I may have escaped the doctor after all.

What to do??? ... What to do?

Friday, May 11, 2012

OBX Ultramarathon Recap - Revenge of the Soft Sand

Great weather, great setting, great volunteers, great small group of participants, great race director, great T-shirt, great finisher ‘medal’, great experience.

And yet, I find myself conflicted as to whether I would recommend this race to someone without making sure they know what they are getting into.  I suppose that’s true of most any distance race.  Running a distance race on a beach is challenging.  Running a distance race on the beaches of the Outer Banks is a mental and physical rollercoaster.  Soft sand makes for a very interesting day of running.  However, when this is what you’re looking at around an hour into the race, even soft sand doesn’t seem so bad.

The race started at 5AM, and despite waking up just after 2AM, I still managed to roll into the parking lot with only 15 minutes to spare before the start.  Made a quick trip to the bathroom – yes, a real bathroom with running water and everything … huge plus for this race, and got to the starting line with 7 minutes to spare.  Temperatures were already in the 60s, but there was scattered fog and it felt pretty good for running.  A couple quick pictures of the 27 folks that made it to the start, and we were off.

The first couple of miles take you North along the beach road until you literally reach the end of the road and end up on the beach in a stretch known for a population of wild horses.  Sadly we saw no horses, continued North for a little while longer, then made a turn and headed South down the beach where we would continue to head for the next 29ish miles.  It was just starting to get light at this point, and there was patchy fog on the beach with an unusual stillness to the air.  The houses in this area are out on the beach and are very large, and in the early morning light and fog they looked like something out of a movie.  Pictures didn’t quite capture the moment, but I tried anyhow while I ran.
 The beach at this point was very wide, flat, and well-packed, boosting my confidence that this wouldn’t be as difficult as I thought.  Silly, silly me.

Miles 1-14:  “The sand is my friend”

The first 2 miles were on the road, and the next 12 were on sand that was generally flat and well packed.  I was aiming to settle into around a 9:30 pace, and was generally on that pace, just a little faster.  Although a little warm, the morning couldn’t have been any nicer.  The seas were very calm, and small pods of dolphins could be seen just a few hundred yards offshore at several points during the run.  The sand makes for a little more effort when running, and really rewards a midfoot strike versus sinking your heels into the sand.  My legs felt good throughout this stretch.

We had to stop at each of the three aid stations, so I took my time at the first station around mile 8, topping off the fuel belt, getting a couple pictures taken, and even taking pictures of the volunteers, including the race director.  Life was good, and my confidence was high.  Running without a time goal is very freeing.

Race director Zach on the left - awesome guy
Miles 12 through 22 are through sections with only private beach access, so no spectators/crews were allowed in this stretch.  The last crew option was at mile 11.4.  This meant if someone was going to meet me it would be around 6:45 in the morning.  In the interest of marital harmony, rather than ask my wife, I asked my dad to meet me at this stop with some drink refills and shoes and socks in case I needed a change (we were staying with my parents for the race).  With no porto-johns allowed on the beach, this was also the last public restroom option available until around mile 23.  I may or may not have already taken care of my internal fluid levels a little earlier on the dunes, so I didn’t need the restrooms or the change of clothes.  A couple more pictures, a change of drink bottles, and I was back on my way.

The going stayed good until right around mile 14.  High tide was around 7AM.  Soon after 7AM I hit the 14 mile mark.  Right around the 14 mile mark the sand took a cruel, cruel turn towards soft.  The kind of soft where you’re battling for traction.  The kind of soft where you wonder if walking would be faster than running.  The kind of soft that makes you question your choice in races.

Miles 15-31: “Who the hell put all this sand here?”

The second half of this race was mentally and physically tough.  The sand turned soft and stayed soft from miles 14 to around 27.  After that it got a little better, but my legs were so tired that I was having to mix in some stretches of walking.  There were times when the sand got so soft that I switched to walking because it really was faster than trying to run and just drilling holes with your feet.  I knew there would be some soft sand in the back half of the race based on my run about a month ago, but this was much worse than I expected.  Through mile 15 my slowest moving pace was 9:45/mile.  After that nothing was under 10:24, with a slowest mile at 14:16.  It was frustrating and mentally taxing.  Eventually I fell in with another runner and we commiserated and tried to encourage each other.

The third aid station was at mile 24.3.  My wife and kids were waiting for me at this one, and I’ve never been so happy to see them.  I lingered as long as I could, got doused with cold water, readied myself for the push to the finish, and set off again.

Still able to smile .... who do I think I'm fooling?
My top-notch crew in action

Should have done a lot more of this
At this point the temps were in the 70s, and the sun was in full effect on the beach.  My fueling plan had held up well, so my stomach was holding strong.  I was actually feeling a little dehydrated, and could have used one more aid station.  I got in a pattern of running .9 miles, and walking .1, which helped with the tiredness and dealing with the still squishy sand.  Finally the finish was in sight, and about a quarter mile from the finish my son showed up to run in to the finish line with me.

Some unexpected and much appreciated company for the finish

Me and my boy ... good stuff
 I don’t think I went more than about 10 feet past the finish before I slammed on the brakes.  Stopping was a beautiful thing.

Put a fork in me ... I'm done
Lots more post-race pictures, a quick dip in the ocean to ‘ice’ my legs, and this one was in the books. 

My biggest fan ... the feeling is mutual
The Stallman men
Still cheering for their boy ... still makes me smile
The rest of the day was a quick lunch, a post-race party with some free beers at a local brewery, the infamous fish taco dinner at Mama Kwan’s (heavenly).  And an early bedtime after just 3 hours of sleep the night before the race.

Overall this was a great experience.  The race was extremely well run, and the small size of it gave it an intimate feel that was fun and made things like the post-race party a possibility.  They tried to make everything local.  Instead of finisher medals they gave out drawings of the Currituck Lighthouse (the start of the race) by a local artist that were numbered n of 35, where n was your place in the race.  Here’s the one I got for finishing in 5th place (5:34:49).

They gave awards for the top three finishers, which were duck decoys carved by well-known local artists, along with a writeup on the decoy and the artist.  The shirts and the logo were very cool, and my shirt actually fits, which has been hit-or-miss for me in other races.

Overall I would recommend this event, but would caution that folks know what they’re getting into with the possible sand conditions.  The thing with the beaches here is the conditions could be completely different next year.  They actually could be completely different next week.  All a function of tides and storms.  These beaches are constantly moving and changing, regardless of how much the residents may try to fight it.

My legs felt surprisingly good a couple days out from the race, and the only thing with some lingering discomfort is my right knee, which doesn’t feel any worse than it did in the couple weeks leading up to the race.  Fingers crossed I may have made it through a race without a visit to my orthopedist friend.  Glad to have this one done, and looking forward to whatever may come next.

Maybe time to go even longer???

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My First Ultra .... Done

It was every bit as difficult, and every bit as rewarding as I expected.

Don't let the smile fool you ... soft sand is not my friend.

Full report to come....

Friday, May 4, 2012

Storming the Beach

Less than 24 hours until I take a shot at running beyond a marathon.  I'm excited about running the longest run I've ever done.  Excited to the point of distraction.  I'm ready to get this thing started.

Finisher's medals are nice ... everyone likes a little bling ... but I'm most looking forward to two things at the end of this journey.  Overpriced beer:

and the best fish tacos in the Outer Banks:

I'm easy to please.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Fool and his Fuel

3 short days until I hit the beach for my first 50k.  I’m feeling good about most every aspect of the race – even the weather:
The one piece where I’m still a little shaky is my fuel/hydration strategy.  Both of my last 2 marathons have been challenging from about mile 18 onwards in terms of gels, sportsdrinks, etc.  Basically, I can’t get anything more ‘down in mah belly’ as I reach the critical point of the race.  It appears to be a function of overfueling.

On race day I tend to drink a little more and take gels a little more frequently than during my training runs, since I’m usually working a bit harder and going a bit farther than I do in training.  I try to do anything I can to avoid cramps once I’m out beyond 20 miles, but apparently I’m overcompensating.

Cramping has never really been an issue for me.  I’ve never had any trouble with cramping in training runs, and my only significant race-day cramping was in the MCM in the fall, which was due in part to my inability to eat or drink anything beyond mile 17.  I created the very problem I was trying to avoid by sucking down too much gel.

This time I’m going to try following the fueling cadence that I follow during training, and hope the slightly warmer temperatures I’ll be facing (compared to training), and the slightly longer distance I’ll be facing (compared to anything I’ve ever done before) don’t slap me down.  Because 29 miles of the race are on the beach, I’ll also be using more calories than my normal road running (per the infallible source of knowledge known as the internet), so hopefully that doesn’t throw everything off.  Going to give it a shot and see what happens.  Cinco de Mayo should be exciting.

I’ve been pondering, and writing about, the possibility of straying a bit from my Asics Gel Nimbus relationship of many, many years and possibly giving Brooks a try.  Assuming my legs don’t fall off and wash out to sea on Saturday, my plan after recovery is to step up my trail running, since it’s something I enjoy more and more every time I try it.  Thus, yesterday I pulled the trigger and ordered a pair of Brooks Cascadia 7 in all their green glory:

No chance I’ll wear them before the weekend and risk making the fasciitis gods angry, but I’m really looking forward to giving them a go in a few weeks (orthopedists be damned).  I thought maybe this was the first step in a new direction in shoes, and then I saw a link to the new Gel Nimbus 14 Limited Edition…
I do likes me some yellow.  I’m such a sucker.  Must resist …. Must resist …. Must resist …