Friday, January 4, 2013

12 Ways to Live a Better Life

Jason over at Barefoot Running University has posted his responses to a fantastic article by Cornell gerontologist, Karl A. Pillemer, which recently appeared in the Washington Post, "12 Ways to Live a Better Life." The article, based on his book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, incorporates data from interviews with over 1000 people over the age of 65 to impart their time earned wisdom to us. 

May we live better in light to their advice!

  1. Marry someone you like. I married my best friend and fall in love with her more deeply with every day.
  2. Act now if you need your body for the next 100 years. Check! This is what this blog is all about. I've lost 50 pounds in the past year, and Rachel and I just started the Whole 30 (my second time through). I have to confess, though, that I do not lift enough heavy things, and ultrarunning itself lends itself to overtraining and chronic cardio, which can be quite unhealthy. To that end, I've started a functional fitness program through Kemme Fitness and am adjusting my training plans to listen to my body, not race as many ultras each year, and so on.
  3. Stay connected. I'm working on this one and enjoying the greater connectedness, to wife, friends, and family. I will also be volunteering at some races in the near future to maintain friendships that I've forged on the trails.
  4. Be able to look everyone in the eye. I am trying to live transparently, rather than hiding behind a facade. Wearing masks is so common, but I'm trying to own my feelings and express them in appropriate contexts—especially to Rachel. 
  5. Say yes to opportunities. This is sometimes really hard for me. While I really love change (really), I find it hard to stick my neck out there and "go for it" on taking trips or putting that task on hold to go have spontaneous fun.
  6. Send flowers to the living. I fail at this completely. I communicate my love for others readily, just not through flowers.
  7. Travel more. See #5. I'd love to travel more with Rachel, go on running trips, and other vacations (Europe, Asia, etc), but find it really hard to "get away." Also, I'm a grad student and money is at a premium.
  8. With adult children, YOU usually need to compromise. N/A just yet.
  9. Share time with your children. N/A just yet.
  10. Find freedom. I really want to cultivate this is my work life. When I get a job a school (pay attention, future employers!), I'm really only interested in a job that lets me be myself intellectually and theologically without exceptions. This is a major issue in my field at the moment; I really can't compromise on this. I also find immense freedom in running and the solitude it brings. Nothing beats being on the trail for hours with no other company than the wildlife. Oddly, I've also found this in running barefoot or in primal footwear (huaraches and mocassins). Completely apart from that running book, there is something primal and spiritual about running (especially on trails) with barely anything on your feet.
  11. Take advantage of the time you have. I am really trying to embrace this concept in my daily life; I'm trying to "number my days." More on this as it develops.
  12. Wasting time worrying about growing old. Sounds good. I'm only 29 (for a few more months), so this one hasn't really bothered me just yet.
Here's a video promo of the book, which I just ordered on Amazon:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Training Update and New Goals

It's been awhile since I logged in to give an update on my training. Ever since Palo Duro, I've been nursing a calf strain of some sort on my left leg—specifically on the proximal fibular head. I took plenty of time off from exercise that strained the area, but it flares up every once in awhile—particularly when I run with shoes that cut down on proprioception.

Following some advice I got from Patton over at the Natural Running Store, I've been incorporating a good deal of barefoot (6-10 miles per week). By "barefoot," I mean totally unshod—or in Invisible Shoes, particularly on trails. I've got a pair of Vibram El-X's on the way (arriving tomorrow), which should help those efforts. They look ridiculous (toe shoes), but they will protect my feet from glass and stickers while not inhibiting natural movement.

Having spent a LOT of time barefoot since October (the majority of the time, actually), I have come to really appreciate going unshod—not because of the Tarahumara, or because of "the book," or because it's so popular with some runners—but rather I enjoy myself the most when my running is at its purest form.

I have found myself, in the past, far too hampered with technology and gear. As I look back on my running in 2012, I think that a lot (probably most) of the nagging injuries came from problems in my running form. For me, those problems came from wearing shoes that allowed me to run in unnatural ways (slower cadence, footstrike far in front, more of a heel strike, etc). Kicking off the shoes fixes those problems—at least for me—almost instantly. So, I'm becoming convinced from personal experience what I've heard from many others: you should run in the very least amount of shoe that you can get away with right now. Of course, the barefoot also is great.

Not only have I been working on my form—and barefooting, but I've also been working on my strength. I've benefited a ton from the Runner's Strength WOD's over at Kinetic Running and am gearing up to start a functional fitness program (think CrossFit without all the hype) from Pete Kemme. Strength is so neglected amongst us ultrarunners, but, if you look at the guys who are really crushing it, with the exception of folks like Tony K and Kilian, they are all jacked! Hal, Timmy, Max, Sage. I assume the same is true for the ladies. As part of this strength work, I've also started adding Tabata routines for stuff like sprints and squat jumps. Only four minutes and I've destroyed my legs. The next day I'm literally as worked over as I would be from an easy 10 mile run.

Add to this that I'm venturing out on a more intuitive training plan. I'm ditching a rigid approach for one that pays the closest attention to what my body is telling me.

So big changes are afoot...once my leg heals.

What does this mean for me in the coming year?

I'm dropping from Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. I'd LOVE to do it, but I just can't shake the feeling that it's a bad idea. Basically, if I run a 50 miler in early February I will likely re-injure my leg. I would be worth it if Rocky were an "A" race for me, but it's not. I just no longer have an answer to the "Why?" question for Rocky. So, I'll still go to Huntsville this year, but not to race. I'll volunteer and maybe pace some of the hundo runners. It should be a big party and one that I don't want to miss.

If I'm not running Rocky, what am I doing this year? Great question. I'm not sure. But here are some possibilities...

Cross Timbers 50 miler (Feb 16) : 
Toughest N Texas (March 16): 
Grasslands 50 miler (March 23) :
Hells Hills 50K or 50 miler (April 6) : 

And then,...

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Miler (July 14):

I'm looking for an answer to the "Why?" question right now. Once I get my strength up and my form down, then I'll be looking to PR at the 50 mile distance, but until then, I'm more than content to train. Truth be told, I really do enjoy training for the sake of training. Racing is incidental; at least at this point in my running career.

Lastly, I've got a lot on my plate this Spring since I'm taking preliminary exams for my PhD at Baylor in late April—early May. So, I need to manage my stress, which will include keeping my running moderate (for an ultrarunner, anyway).

That should do it for now. 

Happy trails!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Got Tailwind? Tailwind Nutrition Review

Got Tailwind? I'm an ultrarunner and Tailwind Nutrition is a drink mix fuel for people like me (and you, since you're here). I run for hours and hours and hours and a time. Accordingly, I need a product that simplifies nutrition. If you get behind nutritionally or get dehydrated in an ultra, you had better prepare for an epic sufferfest, if you can't turn things around quick.

The Basics of Tailwind Nutrition
It was in an effort to avoid the almighty bonk that I sought out Tailwind Nutrition. Tailwind offers a mighty punch of nutrition that promises to be "All you need, all day. Really." The product was designed by Jeff Vierling, an ultra-endurance athlete himself, in an effort to make a product that will taste good AND sustain you all day. In other words, for Tailwind, taste and nutrition should not be mutually exclusive. Three things make Tailwind Nutrition unique among the myriad of options you could choose from. First, it has loads of sodium and potassium (see below). While these levels dwarf other sports drinks, according to Tailwind, the product is designed to match the electrolyte levels found in sweat. Makes sense. You're replacing what you are losing, in proportion, if not in volume. Second, when so many folks are touting the benefits of long-chain carbohydrate sources, Tailwind has opted for straight dextrose. Nothing complex here, folks. Just simple sugar. The idea is that scientific evidence has yet to demonstrate consistently the performance benefits of complex over simple sugars as fuel.
Photo Credit: Tailwind Nutrition

The result of the electrolyte and simple sugar is the third unique factor: it has a really delightful, if surprising, flavor that is more savory than sweet. I'm told that it reminds several folks of the original Gatorade compound...that is, before they turned it into a syrupy, sugary mess.

Before I get to how Tailwind performed in my own experiments (n=1), I need to include a word about the level of customer support. I have never experienced anything like Tailwind Nutrition from another product manufacturer. What, good reader, do I mean? I'll give you an example (or two). This is company is small. Really small. The result is that they become your friend and take a genuine interest in your training and your progress. When I deviated from the recommended dosage of Tailwind in the Palo Duro 50 miler in October (and bonked hard as a result), they took the initiative to contact me and help me zero in on what went wrong, what I did right, and how I might best move forward in race management, daily nutrition, etc. I asked tough questions of the physiological benefits and biochemical mechanisms of the product... and got real answers from Jeff himself. It's this sort of thing that makes lifelong customers. And this is sorely missing from the big companies. It's also the reason that these companies are losing to the real winners like Tailwind Nutrition. But I digress... So, what do I actually think of Tailwind Nutrition? I thought you'd never ask!

Tailwind is RIDICULOUSLY simple to use. I'm mean a monkey could use it. It mixes into your ~20 oz bottle (or whatever size), so all you do is drink whenever you ordinarily would. That's it. All day. In ultra events, it's great to not have to think too much (Did I take a gel or not? And what about salt? How long has it been since I popped an S-Cap?). And with Tailwind you can really go on autopilot and rest assured that you've got all you need all day. Just keep the bottle(s) full. That's it.

Tailwind also tastes SO good. And it only gets better as the miles and hours tick by. It really tastes better at 5 hours than at 1 hour—and that's saying something because it's a perfect blend of savory and sweet from the first sip. It comes in Mandarin Orange, Berry, Lemon, and Naked. The lattermost still has the savory-sweet taste but without the added (organic flavoring). You can mix and match to your heart's content—which is a fun component in the whole process of planning your fueling. It also allows you to change things up considerably in those late hours of a 50 mile or 100 mile race where "nothing" tastes good. That said, plenty of people report that Tailwind never gets to that point.

Anyone who has followed the discussion surrounding Tim Noakes' book Waterlogged (see iRunFar's brillant summary and interview articles here and here) knows that there is considerable discussion on whether or not we actually need sodium during endurance events, even for 24 hour efforts. In fact, Noakes mentions a study that demonstrates that blood sodium actually goes up in athletes that run purely on sugar and water. That said, he also acknowledges what we ultrarunners (and Noakes' himself is an ultrarunner as well) have long known... many of us feel better with sodium. There may be a physiological reason for this, as well. This is not the place to get bogged down in the details (and I'm not qualified to address this), but what's important to realize is regardless of a your view on whether we "need" sodium in ultras to keep us from bonking, Tailwind has got your back. I can attest to feeling like I could run forever, even at the end of a 15 mile tempo run (which for me is a long tempo run).

In sum, this is a highly customizable nutrition bomb in your water bottle. Simple enough to go on autopilot, and complex enough to cover your nutritional needs all day long.

Possible Shortcomings
The only potential shortcoming that I find in this product is one that is shared by every drink mix: it requires significant planning for proper use in ultra trail events. You need to know how long it will take you to go through your bottle(s) before race day and have your crew keep you fully loaded with individual sized, pre-measured baggies of Tailwind so you can keep that bottle full. Don't be afraid to dump the last four ounces or so as you come into an aid station. If you stop drinking or run out, your toast. But, like I said, this is nothing specific to Tailwind. It comes with the drink mix territory.

What is the Ideal Product for you?
It just may be. But you'll never know if you don't try it. If you are a fan of drink mixes, you really MUST try Tailwind. It's that good. They even have a "Tailwind Challenge" package. Buy enough Tailwind to train with it and dial in your system. Once you get to race day, if your race collapses because of Tailwind, they will refund your race entry fee. Period. If you are a gels and water sort of athlete, you should still give Tailwind a shot. The flavor beats gels every time. Personally, gels don't upset my stomach at all (I'm one of the fortunate few, I suppose). But I rarely enjoy the taste. With Tailwind, every sip is a pleasure. Really.

Tailwind Nutrition is a great product from an unbelievable company. Give their product a shot and, the chances are, you won't be sorry. Unlike the bigger companies, you can even get specific feedback from the product designer, president, and ultra-endurance athlete, Jeff Vierling, as well as his wife Jenny. The service is unparalleled amongst the competition. And, with the proper planning, the performance benefits of Tailwind might just be without parallel, as well.

Dislclaimer: Some (but not all) of the Tailwind I used for this review was provided gratis by the good folks at Tailwind Nutrition.

Monday, October 22, 2012

2012 Palo Duro 50M Trail Run

You can tell an awful lot about a person by their shoes. — Forrest Gump's Mama

Well, here are my shoes.

And this is their story.

The Build Up

Thursday evening, Rachel (my lovely wife and crew chief extraordinaire) and I, left Waco for Dallas to get some sleep before flying out in the morning. Both of our families are there and were available to both play host (my mom) and chauffeur (Rachel's mom). That night a couple of dogs were barking incessantly and neither of us got much sleep. It was rough. We woke up and headed to DFW airport and arrived in Amarillo by about 1pm, got settled in, and picked up my race packet at 5pm, where there was a free pasta dinner, a lengthy briefing on the Palo Duro Canyon, the trails, etc. It was good to see familiar faces there and we were able to find our dear friends Jason and Jenny Ballard right away. Good times.

The sleep didn't get any better the night before the race. Pre-race jitters had me more than a bit wired as the reality of 50 miles soaked in. At the briefing, they explained that the forecast for the city of Canyon was not representative of the Palo Duro Canyon itself. It gets way hotter (and colder) there. Yikes. We haven't had much extreme weather lately, so despite the fact that I ran through the summer in Waco, TX, I was less than confident about dealing with temps in the 90s. Little did I know that the temps in canyon would top out at 108 (not a typo).

Race Day 
Moments before the Start. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton.

At the start line it is somewhere around 38º, and it is a chore in and of itself just to stay (relatively) warm. Since it's in the canyon, it's still pitch dark at 7am and I can feel my toes and fingers beginning to lose there feeling. Let's get the show on the road already. My game plan was to head out briskly, but not too quickly, to get in front of the run-walkers before the trails narrow into single track for about 2 miles. At that point, I'd back off things and try to average around a 12 min mile for the rest of the race. Be patient. Fifty miles is a long way to run.

Loops 1-2 (Miles 0 to 25)

The race begins and we are off. I quickly position myself in the second pack (or near it) and settle into a relaxed pace. It feels good to finally get moving and I'm in good spirits about the day ahead. As the trail narrows to single track, I'm feeling good about placement. I'm right where I want to be. I take my first sip of Tailwind. Nice and savory. (For this race, I decided to go with 300 calorie bottles of Tailwind and see how things shaped up. It's got loads of electrolytes and dextrose, and I wanted to see how my body handled it during really long grunts.)

As the sun begins to come up I see the canyon for the very first time. It's incredible and I have to fight to keep my eyes on the trail. As someone else has said already, it's like running in a painting. While the course is marked really well (for the most part), I manage to take a wrong turn as we spread out a bit. Nothing too bad, I'm back on track in about 10 seconds.

Rachel and Jenny are stationed at the Lighthouse aid station, which we run through at approx mile 4.5 and then again at mile 10 of each loop. This way, both Jason and I can get much needed supplies and crewing magic twice on the course. Plus, seeing your lovely spouse every few miles does wonders for morale.

I come through Lighthouse and drop my headlamp, never breaking stride. I feel good and everything is going smoothly. With the most challenging section of the first loop behind me, I settle into cruise mode for what will be a net downhill section from miles 6-12. Feeling fresh in the cold air, my bottle of Tailwind is lastly longer than it should be, but I am trying to listen to my body rather than drink on a schedule. The rest of Loop 1 is uneventful though definitely beautiful. I come in through the Start/Finish at about 2:17 (about 13 minutes ahead of schedule). I am moving too quickly, but it's cool out, so I just slow down a bit for next loop to make up the difference in effort.

Out on Loop 2 the canyon is starting to heat up, but nothing terrible (mid 70s), and I'm feeling good nutritionally. Filling and mixing a bottle of Tailwind at aid stations is proving more difficult than I had thought it would be. My initial concern would be the time lost by getting out a pre-packed baggy and emptying its contents into an empty bottle, filling the bottle, then moving on. As it turned out, this is easier than I thought. What I hadn't thought about is the issue of logistics when it comes to calorie consumption, water intake, and maintaining a stable concentration of Tailwind in my bottle. Trails are a bit more unpredictable than roads and the aid stations are spread apart in a ways that are not usually very consistent. So trying to figure out when to fill my bottle and when to run through it became difficult (and even more so the more fatigued I got). Back to the actual race. Loop 2 was relatively uneventful, though mentally I started thinking things like, Man, I'm tired and I'm only 15 (or 16 or 18 or 23) miles in. I've got a LONG WAY TO GO. That can be tough to handle. Out on the course, Rachel gives me my ice bandana (which you should buy immediately after reading this post). I instantly feel more pep in my step as I am now running with what is effectively a giant ice pack on both carotid arteries, making it very difficult to get too overheated.

I came into the Start/Finish area at about 5 hours flat, giving me a split of about 2:43 or so. I was officially exactly on pace to finish in 10 hours, which was my best-case-scenario goal.

Loop 3 (Miles 25-37.5)
Something happens when I start Loop 3 (or maybe the finish loop 2). I am starting to seriously flag. I'm not certain how much Tailwind I had consumed so far because of the logistics, but it is something like 600 calories (maybe more?). I'm tired. It's hard to think. As I begin Loop 3, I just don't feel like running and I'm demoralized that I'm only now half way there. The way I'm feeling reminds me of Pandora where I blew up and spiraled out of control, finally DNF'ing at mile 24 after missing a cutoff (and nearly collapsing on the trails). I'm starting to get a bit scared that that is what is awaiting me. It's getting really hot out here. Is it worth all the suffering? Rocky will be in February and won't be nearly as hot. I'll get redemption there. By the time I stumble into the Lighthouse aid station at mile 29, I'm ready to drop. I feel terrible and the high concentration of Tailwind in my bottle has left my mouth feeling terrible. Had I mixed a less concentrated batch it would have been different, but I am getting dehydrated and the bottle is far too concentrated. I am craving water. Badly.

Sweat in my eyes. Hurting. A lot. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton

I come into the station. I swallow my pride. And tell Rachel, I think I want to drop. I just don't want to suffer today. I think I can finish, but for what? Both Rachel and Jenny are now in the unenviable position of dealing with a runner who is trying to stop. And they are both perfect. They both gave me space. Rachel assures me that she loves me and that there is no shame in calling it quits for the day. I have given a good go. I think she's getting scared too. Pandora was understandably hard on her. But, she continues, why don't I just try to turn things around and see what happens. I've got plenty of time, she explains. Why not just wait and see? [It was so important to hear these things from them. And for me to own that I wanted to quit. I think it freed me up to keep going in a paradoxical sort of way.]

Now, to turn things around. But how? I completely stopped Tailwind and moved to water and gels (my normal fueling strategy). But I'm pretty dehydrated and bonking. So I pound 3 gels and drink a bottle. I'm in this aid station for about 15-20 minutes total (I think). But am I starting to feel much much better. Some endorphins kick in too. So, I head out to see what might happen. Within minutes, I can tell that I'll be finishing this race. I'm now running much more than I am walking (and really only walking the short climbs) and even catching some folks in between aid stations, which is always a boost to the confidence.

By now, the thermometer out on the course reads 105º (YIKES), but the bandana is keeping me cool, I'm taking in gels every 15-20 minutes, and I'm drinking plenty of water. I'm even peeing out on the trails, despite the heat! Wahoo! (It's the small things in life when you're running an ultra.) Here I am coming into and through the Mile 35 Lighthouse aid station. I'm a different person!

Rallying at Mile 35. Rally courtesy of Rachel and Jenny. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton
More rallying. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton

Even more rallying. Just look at the smile! Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton

I come through my third loop about 8h 20m for a split of roughly 3:20. Not bad considering the major bonk and time it took to turn things around! But now I want to hold things around 3 hours.

Loop 4 (Miles 37.5 to 50)
I am not out of the woods just yet. I've still got 12.5 miles to go, but now I know it's in the bag. I head out feeling refreshed and (relatively) strong. I do a lot of power hiking in miles 37.5 to 41 of that last loop. Not because my energy level demands it, but because my IT band does. For the past 10 miles or so, I've had IT band related knee pain. Nothing like that to slow you up just a bit. I come into Lighthouse and use "the stick" on my calf (I was tired and's obvious now that it was/is my IT band). Nature calls; I answer. I'm back out on the course to wrap this mother up.

Calf? Silly Mike. It's your IT band, doofus! Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton
The back half of Loop 4 was a mix of "running" and power hiking, hanging on to try to finish strong. As I come back through Lighthouse, I am happy to be greeted by Jason, who only recently finished the race. It means so much to see him there, and he reminds me to take one gel there at the aid station (even before I leave) before I make the last 2.5 miles really count. Wisdom. I am not thinking clearly at this point and really need to be told what to do. I refill my water, pound a gel, and then set out to finish this adventure.

I cross the finish line in 11:35:25 (unofficial) and am greeted by Rachel, Jason, Jenny, and a host of other friends, as well. I am blown away that I did it and am glad to finally sit down.

Running 50 miles is a really humbling thing. As Jason was saying after the race, it is a lot like experiencing your entire life in the course of one day with all the ups & downs, victories & defeats, joys & sorrows—all between one sunrise and sunset.

There were a lot of DNFs out there, probably because it seems that this was the hottest running of the PD50 ever (that was the word around the Start/Finish area). If it weren't for Rachel, and Jenny too, I wouldn't have finished. They made such a difference. What an adventure!

Me and Rachel. Photo Credit: Somebody at the race. :)
Jason, Me, Rachel, and Jenny. Photo Credit: Somebody at the race. :)
I couldn't have dreamed of a better group of people to run with. It was a tough day out there (to say the very least) and it was therefore all the sweeter to have finished.

Next up for me? Lots of rest/recovery. Then some focused speed work, strength training, and a strong showing at the Rocky Raccoon 50 (hopefully!).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rough Creek 40 Miler Race Report

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the [ultra] I dwell.
—Thich Nhat Hanh, adapted via Timothy Olsen

I didn't learn of this gem of a saying until after my debut in the ultra racing world, but it fits. On Sept 15, I ran 40 miles. On trails. At one time. I finished in 9:39:08. It was glorious. 

This was the inaugural running of the Rough Creek 40, a fantastic trail race put on by Dave Hanenburg at Endurance Buzz Adventures. The course is made up of three 13.55 miles loops featuring both insanely steep (~30% grade) sections (the Rusty Crown) and fast jeep roads. Over run either section and you'll get shredded on the other. Nice thinking, Dave! What a unique course. Here's the profile:
Courtesy of Endurance Buzz Adventures

The total elevation gain/loss was +5369.9 ft / -5370.5 ft for about 10,700 ft of elevation change (and most of that is over the course three trips to the 3.5 mile Rusty Crown. Oh boy!
The meanest incline on the Rusty Crown. Note that all three of these runners are bowing low to the Crown (the only appropriate response). Image courtesy of Suann.

Loop 1
I started Loop 1 nice and easy. I knew what was coming since I went on the recon run with Dave and some new friends the weekend prior. The Rusty Crown would be no joke (gotta respect the Crown, people). My goal was to run even splits and since this was my first 40 mile *race,* (and only really a training run) there was no sense in getting too worked up. I took the Crown in stride, if maybe a bit too fast and then relaxed through the flat remainder of the loop, coming in at 2:35:59. My nutrition was spot on, but this was a bit quicker than I had planned. My Vertical K's handled everything really well, but they were a bit soft underfoot for my taste, so I switched to my Merrell Mix Master 2's. My mom was coming to cheer me on, but, since I came in a bit too quickly, she wasn't there yet. I missed seeing her, but no worries. I'd catch her later. Rachel was working the Start/Finish aid station, which was so cool. I was so excited to see her and have her cheer me on.

Coming in after Loop 1. Ditched the second bottle then.

Loop 2
Back out on the Crown, I was regretting my shoe switch. I had not run in these shoes before (Isn't there something people say about doing that?...). The upper is great, but I'll be damned if the sock-liner didn't start bunching up beneath my toes on the descents on Rusty Crown. I had read about this, but ignored the warnings. It was really discouraging, not to mention uncomfortable, to have to keep trying to flatten out the sock-liner without taking the shoes off. I would have to run another 9 miles or so in these shoes—at which point I would rip them off and send them back. Fortunately, they were fine on the flats, but I was a bit slower there, due to the beating my feet had taken at the hands of the sock-liner (sounds so pathetic!) and another trip to the Crown. I came into the Start/Finish aid station for a second time, having run about 27.1 miles and feeling great. I got even more of an energy bump from seeing both my mom and Rachel there—cheering me on and watching me do my thing. I came in at 5:46:37 (split: ~3h 10m).

Happy after 27.1 miles. Mom in the background.
[Side note: I can't believe that, after such a long time living a sedentary life, I would come into an aid station after running 27.1 rugged miles... feel great... and still want more—a good thing since I still had another 13.55 to go!] 

Loop 3
I changed back into my Vertical K's, hit up some coconut water and ran off to finish up. I was running completely alone at this point. For those not quite familiar with ultras, this is not at all uncommon as the field tends to separate out over the distance. I was quite happy to be running alone as 99.9% of my training is done alone. It lets me slip off into a place that's difficult to articulate, perhaps into the "fully present." 

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the [ultra] I dwell.

The final trip to the Rusty Crown was a beast! I mean, really, it was tough. And the flats that were so easy the first loop were now really hurting. But, I had stayed on top of my nutrition for the entire race and was surprised to find that I was in very good spirits the entire time. I was even smiling, singing along to my tunes, and giggling. I felt in control, even amidst the pain of the pounding on my legs. With one mile left, I decided to spend whatever money I had left in the bank and so I took off. I was happy to find that I quickly dropped into a sub 9 minute pace and then sub 8. I was able to finish the last .25 mile or so at a 7:10 mile, with a grin the size of Texas, at 9:39:08 (split: ~3h 50m).

I was received by Rachel and my mom; words really can't describe the feeling. It was amazing. 

Done! And just a bit disappointed it was over.
Obviously, I couldn't have done this without the support of the awesome volunteers (including an old college friend that I had no idea would be there—Kevin Luper—so cool). Dave put on an incredible race and one that I hope is held again next year. It was an epic event.

 It was so special to run my first ultra with my mother there to cheer me on. I wish my dad could have been there. He really would have been proud to see me running farther than he preferred to drive. He has been gone for over six years now and it still seems like yesterday. I'd like to think he was watching, but even then—selfishly, I must admit—I wanted to see him see me; to experience him reveling in this enormous accomplishment. It's one of my proudest moments to date and it just wasn't the same without him there. Miss you, Dad. A lot.

What went Well
  • Nutrition: Spot on. Perfect. Drank Heed in between aid stations and got some water at the stations before refilling on Heed. Took 2-3 gels per hour, plus 2-3 S-Caps in the same period. Felt stable and happy the entire time and I ran almost the entire flat section of the course.
  • Fun: Check. I really lived it up out there.
What I can Improve
  • Aid station stops. I can shave more time off of these, particularly later in the race. I easily spent a total of 20-25 minutes at the three aid stations on Loop 3. 
  • Shoes: Don't switch them unless absolutely necessary. Takes a lot of time.
  • Drop bag: Keep it simple and keep it organized. It's tough to dig through a bag after 27 miles!
  • Speed: I need to focus on hills and speedwork in my next training block (after October). I'm making big gains for where I'm at, but I'll really benefit from that focused work. I can feel that my body will really soak it up. It's time.
What's Next?
Next up? On Oct 20, I've got my first 50 miler— the Palo Duro Trail Run, which goes through the Palo Duro Canyon floor. Can't. Freaking. Wait.

Until next time... 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

41 Miles in the Sangres

I am a flat-lander, living in Waco, Texas, elevation 470 feet. But I've been looking to get out to the mountains to put myself to the test and see just what I'm really capable of. So when the opportunity to go on a low-key vacation in the Sangre de Cristo mountains came along, a trip that would afford me plenty of time to play in the mountains like a kid in a sandbox, I jumped on it.

Originally, I planned on getting acclimated to the altitude more properly (flat-lander, remember?) before shooting for my longest run to date, but after my first tune up run, which consisted of a 3 mile run with more than a 1000 ft of vert in the first mile, I knew that I would need to get into the mountains for a day soon or my legs would be shot.

Yep. That's on a closed ski slope just behind the lodge. Remember this one. It will come in handy later. I can't imagine sprinting down this in the dark... Oh, I mean I couldn't, now I know just what that's like.
So, I hit the trails in the morning with my UltraSpire Surge hydration pack (review forthcoming) and lots of perpetuem. Brought a fantastically light Pearl Izumi jacket and headlamp, just in case I was still out in the mountains past sundown. On my feet? The new Salomon S-Lab Sense (review forthcoming). Let's rock.

Miles 0-5: Finding my trail
I'm feeling great at this point, enjoying the beautiful views. It took my some time to find the Rainbow Trail (TR 1336) from the trailhead—really, it wasn't hard to find, but since I was running this completely solo, I wanted to be certain I was where I told my friends back at the lodge I'd be. But by mile 5, I had made it past the several exchanges and settled onto the main trail. All I needed to do was head north for about 15 more miles (and then come back!). One thing that did strike me was that I would be doing some serious climbing all day. For some reason, I thought the Rainbow Trail was more of a rolling trail. Definitely not. With climbs that lasted miles at a time, this was a mountain trail just like any other. Perfect, I thought. Let's see what I'm made of.

About 50% of the trail was really rocky. The Salomon Sense took it all in stride though. Great protection.
Miles 6-10: Finding my rhythm
Still feeling fresh. Hydration and nutrition were spot on and my energy levels were consistent. I was loving the ridiculous views and reveling in the fact that I was running in the mountains, breathing the clean mountain air—even if that mountain air was a bit thinner than I was used to! Oh, and the mountain water made for great impromptu ice baths at the stream crossings (which were about every 4 miles or less).
OOOOOO! Magical ice cold mountain water.
Miles 11-15: Finding my footing
At this point, all the climbing was definitely registering in my legs, but I was really loving the fact that my legs were handling it just fine, which was a great boost mentally. At this point, I also got a phone call from Jason, which was huge and he was really encouraging. He also had the great idea that I should update twitter regularly to let everyone know I how was doing. And just like that #40MilesOfTheSangres was born.

Miles 16-20: Finding my low point
I got a bit behind in my calories when my first two flasks of perpetuem ran out and I didn't feel like stopping to mix more—I wanted to refill my Surge and my flasks in one stop and I wasn't out of water. Seemed smart at the time... Anyway, my energy tanked, which led to a drop in morale. These were tough miles, but I was sort of reveling in it for one reason: unlike previous bonks in earlier runs when I had less experience, this time I knew just what to do.

Miles 21-26.2: Finding a Trail Marathon PR (6:45)
At the turn around, I grabbed some extra calories, eating my almond butter and Nutella sandwich (and craving another and another), slamming a GU Roctane gel (should have brought several more of those), and drank some fresh and freezing mountain water (don't try that one at home kids). A few S-Caps later, I knew that once my stomach started emptying, I would be back in business. And back in business I was. Despite the fact that I was running above 8,500 (and up to 10,000 ft) for the first time, I PRed at a marathon distance on trails. But since I'm an ultrarunner, of course I kept going. Why not PR at a 50K while I'm at it?

Before I move us along, I should point out that the bottom of the sky fell out and it POURED. Hail, thunder & lightening, big winds and everything. As a result of the rain (and the huge drop in temperature), I was FREEZING and my hands started to get numb, making updating twitter a bit of a challenge once the rain quit. As a side note, this is why specificity in training is such an important principle. Rare is the day that I cancel a run for any weather-related reason. I have tons of experience running in the rain, including big thunderstorms. The result? When the rain came, I wasn't rattled in the least. I've there before and enjoyed the opportunity to get wet.

Miles 26.3-31.1: Finding a 50K PR (8:06)
Felt great for these miles, though the climbs were really taking their toll on my legs. Miles 29-31 consisted of a steady climb that had my leaning over with my hands on my knees grunting up the hills. But I crossed over the 50K mark about 35 minutes ahead of my first 50K (which had 5,000 ft of gain). Great boost for me mentally. Until...

Miles 31.2-35: Finding a Jacob's ladder
Miles 32 to 34 consisted of a steady climb from 8,700 feet to 9,535 feet. It felt like the proverbial Jacob's ladder, an endless set of stairs that keeps going and going with no end in sight. My legs were shredded as it was, but this climb (and the downhill that dropped about 500 ft over a mile or so) put the last nail in their coffin. So I shuffled the downs and flats and hiked the climbs. At this point, it became painfully clear that I would not be getting off the mountain before darkness enveloped me. So, I set my pack down and threw on my jacket and headlamp. I'd like to say that I was pumped, but, if I'm honest, I was terrified. One danger in particular loomed heavy in my mind: mountain lions. I told my self over and over again that, in mountain ultras runners run all night and are fine. No mountain lions for them and none for me. That seemed to help. It's funny how you can lie to yourself like that... and believe it. But it kept me from panicking, which could be just as dangerous as a lion attack in those conditions. And that was the point.

Miles 36-41: Finding a Mountain Lion (!!!)
At this point, my Garmin died (great), so I switched over to recording my run with RunMeter on my phone. Great save, Apple! I decided to take a different route back. Instead of heading back to the car at the trailhead, I would drop down the ski slope to the lodge and get the car later. I was moving so slowly that the extra 3 miles I had to go (I picked up some extra miles in there somewhere) would take WAY too long in the dark. I needed to get the heck out of there and fast. So, I made my way down the 1 mile ski slope that drops 1000 feet into the lodge. I was now using my iPhone light along with my headlamp, which was a bit dim (why didn't I change those batteries?!). As I had done during the day, I was calling out in order to let every animal around that I was there. Hindsight is a funny thing... It's good to let bears know you are there since they don't want anything to do with you. But it was dark now and there was another beast roaming the mountains, a hunter looking for prey, looking for me.

I cast my headlamp along the treeline about 75 yards across the slope and was arrested by two very large eyes, about waist high and fixed on me. It could only be one thing. I shouted at it to move along. It wasn't buying what I was selling. It remained fixed on my every move, studying me as I continued to fumble down the slope like a lame animal, a weak link, an easy kill. I knew that I was screwed if it attacked. I looked toward the lodge .25 miles away. Did I really just run 40 miles in the mountains only to be eaten alive by this cat in the black of night?! I was fully aware that I couldn't outrun this cat, but... I had two options, fight or flight. And the former wasn't much of an option. So, despite the fact that I hadn't ran a single step in the past several miles, I took off in a dead sprint. Down a 21% grade slope. In tall, wet grass. At night. I kept looking over my should expecting to see the cat in mid-flight aiming at the back of my neck. But, for whatever reason, it decided to let me live to run another day. I scrambled down an 8-9 foot ditch and back up the other side, popping out at the lodge. I ran straight to my room where I could be sure the cat wouldn't reach me.

Then I almost puked my guts out.


I was finished.

Grateful. Now where's my beer?

Distance: 41 miles.

Vertical: 8691 feet gain & 8928 feet loss

Time: 10 hours 58 minutes.

All between 8,500 and 10,000 feet. 

Not too shabby for this newbie, flat-lander.

Here's the elevation profile for the first 35 miles, before my Garmin died. You get the idea.

PostScript: Rachel and I, along with some old friends and new ones went to the town pub, which reopened the kitchen just for us. I've never had such a delicious plate of loaded nachos. And the beer was pretty great too.

Recovery: Today (the morning after) my legs are in surprisingly great shape. Very little joint pain, though walking is tricky because my quads and hip flexors are so shredded. Enjoying a nice rest day, eating, napping, and walking slowly. Ice baths are also on tap.

Glen Hansard's new song, "This Gift" seems too appropriate not to share. This run and all that happened (and didn't happen!) in it was a such an incredible gift.