Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2016 Black Hills 100

I would like to say the Black Hills 100 and me get along.  That would be a lie.  This was my second time trying the race, and was the second time I DNF'ed.

The first time was two years ago, when we were graced with a deluge of rain the previous night and race morning.  The soul-sucking mud absolutely destroyed my capability of lifting my legs.  And I made the mistake of not including a jacket in my overnight drop bag.

This year, the course was bone dry.  But in lieu of the mud, we were blessed with 38C (100F) temperatures.  In the shade.  We were seldom running in shade.  There was a fair contingent of Manitobans running the 100 this year: Sue, Brad, Stacy, and Shaunda.

It started off easily enough.  It was already hot at the start (which was inexplicably moved to 10am), but my heat management plan was working pretty well.  At Alkali Creek, the first aid station, I figured I wouldn't need 4 water bottles and gave my spare to Brad's awesome crew, Jen.  That was mistake #1.

After Alkali Creek, the trail starts to go uphill.  This means it takes a lot more time to cover the same distance.  I got to Bulldog aid station just as my water ran out.  Oops.  The next section to Elk Creek was even longer, hotter, and with very little shade at the top of the hills.  I ran out of water an hour before the aid station.

When I arrived in Elk Creek, I was severely dehydrated.  I got to work immediately to fix that.  I downed two water bottles worth of water immediately, and took two salt pills.  After packing ice in anything that could find, I headed out.  Slowly.  The headache I had told me the run was no longer going to be fun.  I made it to Crooked Tree alright, and started passing other people who were suffering from the heat.  I gave away the last of my salt tabs and hoped good karma would come my way.

When I got to Dalton Creek, it looked like a graveyard.  There were bodies everywhere.  I didn't want to get sucked into the negative vibes, so I quickly changed my shirt and refilled my gels and salt.  I got out of the aid station so quick, I forgot to fill my hat up with ice.  Again, oops.  It was going to get dark, so I figured it would cool down.  It didn't.  At least, not yet.

I met up with Jen again at Nemo aid station.  She was surprised to see me, as she didn't see me at Dalton Lake.  She also said I was looking good considering it was Africa Hot out.  I know that was a lie.  After a quick sit-down to organize my vest for the next section of overnight running, I was off on my least-favourite section of trail.  Just as I got to the trailhead, I realized I forgot my handheld and had to go back to Nemo.  So I ran an extra 1 mile for the hell of it.  Again, oops.

I detest the section from Nemo to Pilot Knob.  It's not the longest section of trail, and it doesn't have the worst footing.  In fact, it's fairly runnable.  What I don't like is how repetitive it is.  It's as if whoever designed the trail made it out of lego bricks of the same repeating pattern:  Long slow uphill for 60 feet, followed by short downhill for 2.  Again and again.  Forever.  Never ends.  And then when it finally does end, the footing is too technical for night running, and you have to walk the downhill part.  But as with all things in ultrarunning, the end does eventually come.

The section from Pilot Knob to the Silver City turnaround is probably my favourite section of the trail.  It starts off with a section of incredibly runnable single-track for about a mile.  Then after it crosses the highway you start going up.  Way up.  And then you hit what I like to call "Ridiculous Hill" which has a steeper grade than all the other previous hills, and is where I lost my ability to climb hills the last time I ran BH100.  This time though, my legs were still feeling good.  I mean, my joints hurt, but my muscles were responding well.  After Ridiculous Hill, it's the long drop to Silver City.

I was still hot getting into the Silver City aid station around 1am, and opted to leave my jacket behind as I didn't want to carry any extra weight.  Similar to Dalton Lake, there was carnage strewn about.  I dropped last time here, and wasn't prepared to do it again.  I got out of there as quickly as I could.  About halfway back up Ridiculous Hill, the wind shifted and it got cold.  Very cold.  I was wishing I had brought my jacket with me.  I started to shiver.  Running couldn't warm me up.  When I got to Pilot Knob, I was hurting.  The light was starting to come up, and it was starting to warm up a bit.  But I was still shivering.  The wonderful volunteers there wrapped me in a thick blanket, and threw me in the trailer to try and warm me up, but I just couldn't stop shivering.  Eventually, I timed out trying to get warm.  My race was over.

Would I go back to Black Hills 100?  I don't know.  The race is a pretty old-school laid-back affair, which is a huge plus in my books.  But the random weather and huge hills just don't work for me.  At least, not yet.  I would need to get to a completely different fitness level before I head back.

Sue, Brad, and Stacy finished in style.  Sue came in 2nd place.  But even more impressive was Stacy's 3rd place finish in her first 100 mile race!  The Manitoba women really represented!

I'm resetting the clock now.  I'm putting the last two races behind me.  I have Superior to contend with now.  This race is in a way easier than Black Hills, as it has a 38 hour cutoff, has hills similar to what I can train on (albeit larger), and it's more recent in my memory as to what to do in it.  Not to mention, I've finished it once so I can finish it again.  And if I can shave a few hours off last year's time, I would be one happy man.

Friday, June 10, 2016

2016 Kettle Moraine 100

Kettle Moraine 100 was my second stop in my pursuit of Gnarly Bandit glory.  The race consists of two out & back sections:  One of them 62 miles long, and the other 38.  There is a 7.5 mile section of trail that both out & backs share in common, so you end up running the same bit for 30% of the race.

I had a long drive ahead of me to get to La Grange, Wisconsin.  According to Google Maps, it's about 11.5 hours away.  Ouch.  To get a head start, I hit the road after work on Thursday and made it to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  Being the dirtbag I am, I slept in the back of my truck under the soothing glow of a Walmart parking lot light.  Morning came, and I got my cross-border shopping done early (Cherry Coke Zero!) before making the final push to La Grange.

I got to the race check-in just after it opened.  They unfortunately didn't have any extra-small shirts, and gave me a small instead.  I guess I'll have to wait a few extra years for it to fit Bean.  Afterwards, I drove down to the LaGrange General Store to buy my 6-pack of beer using my Ultrabucks from my race kit.  Wait a minute...  I didn't get any Ultrabucks in my race kit this year?  Doh!  I guess I'll just have to pay for the beer out-of-pocket.

I always forget something when I run ultras, and this year I forgot BodyGlide.  There was absolutely no way I was going to run without it, so my next stop was the shopping mall in Janesville, where Google Maps promised me there was a running store called Finish Line.    I got there, and it was a "running store" that sold basketball shoes and football jerseys.  Nothing resembling BodyGlide to be found.  Thankfully, there was a Dick's Sporting Goods at the other end of the mall and had an ample supply of lube.

Not wanting a repeat of last year's Feast-For-One incident(s), I elected to eat at Olive Garden instead of Famous Dave's.  After much coaxing, I managed to ingest the Tour of Italy.  It was a lot of food, but I figured I'd burn all the calories in the first few hours.  It was about my bedtime, and I spent the night in a place slightly-higher-class than last year.  But not by much.

The next morning, I lined up at the starting line.  My race strategy was to go even slower than last year.  To take my time through the meadows in both directions, as the weather was fairly humid.  I was almost DFL crossing the start timing mat, and eased into a gentle trot.  This year the course was modified slightly in two spots:  The first was approximately 1.5 miles was cut off at the start, and I would have to skip past some of the ridiculous up & down hills that the Nordic Loop is famous for.  The second modification was that the Highway ZZ aid station was moved, and there was no longer a short out & back to access it.  I suspect the latter modification was because every year runners miss the aid station and end up in Scuppernong wonderring what happened.

I was ticking off the miles at an easy clip and found myself near the back of the pack.  No worries, as I knew I had lots left in the tank to speed up overnight and catch a lot of runners.  Just before Emma Carlin (mile 14) aid station, I met up with Brian Kutz who was running his first 100 miler.  I gave him some advice and got him to slow down a bit, as he wanted to to move fast through the meadows.  We ran/walked through the humid open sections and got to the Scuppernong (mile 31) turnaround in 7:07.  This was far slower than my last year's time, and faster than my first attempt's.  The difference was that I still had a lot of oomph left in the legs this year, and it was significantly more humid than last year (albeit a cooler temperature).

On the way back, the clouds parted and the sun shone just as we got to the meadows.  Of course it would. ;)  We toughed it out and got to Emma Carlin (mile 47) in 11:53.  At this point, my back was relatively pain-free.  Everything would change as I got my night-time gear on.  When I donned my race vest, my back began to complain.  Loudly.  I suspect the weight of my chest water bottles changed the angle of my posture, and started pinching a nerve.  I hoped the pain was only temporary and kept on trucking.  I found a bit of relief by clenching my abs tight, but that was only temporary as eventually my abs tired out.

By the time I got to the Bluff aid station, I was thinking about dropping.  Then I remembered that I had a back brace in my truck at the Nordic start/finish.  There was a small chance the brace would fix all my problems.  So I grit my teeth and toughed out the 7.5 hilly miles to the 100k mark (14:20).  When I put the brace on, everything felt great.  I danced an little jig and headed out to run the last 38 miles.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before my back began to complain again.  Faced with the prospect of possibly doing some permanent nerve damage, I decided to drop.  I had the option to turn around and go back to the start and get the 100k belt buckle.  But there was no way I was getting that bitch prize again.  I kept moving forward to the Tamarack aid station and dropped (literally).

On one hand, I'm really pissed off that I had to drop from the race.  It destroyed my Gnarly Bandit attempt.  But on the other hand, I didn't drop due to being mentally weak or a lack of fitness.  It was due to injury.  The feeling of a DNF sucks.  It sucks hard.  But if I had to DNF, I prefer it being due to something out of my control.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of Netflix and ice cream to go through.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Back Pain

I was looking forward to this weekend's Kettle Moraine 100, but  about a week ago I suddenly got some back pain.  It's similar to the herniated disc I suffered when in University (about 15 years ago), but different.  It's nowhere near as intense, and believe it or not, doesn't hurt when I run.

So this gives me a dilemma.  I can travel down to KM, knowing the drive will most likely destroy what remains of my spine, and run the race; all the while hoping that nothing gets worse.  Or, I can DNS the race and let my back heal up.  If I DNS Kettle, I will most likely also DNS Black Hills, and in the process remove myself from Gnarly Bandit contention.

I'm leaning towards treating my back as gently as possible for the remainder of the week and running the race.  If I have to DNF, I have to DNF.  It won't be because I didn't try, but because my body failed me.  I can live with that.  I won't necessarily like it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

2016 Kettle Moraine 100 preview

I had a "Holy Shit!" moment this morning, when I realized Kettle was just over a week away.  Normally, I daydream about my races for weeks before the actual event.  This time around, it snuck up on me.  I think that might be because I've already participated in three races so far this year (raced two, and paced one) and have mental race fatigue.

Physically, I feel great.  Except for a lower back problem that goes away when I run, everything is working smoothly.  My coach even snuck a taper in without me noticing.  Today is my last "long" run of only 10 miles.

The weather forecast a week out is always a crapshoot, but it's looking pretty good for running.  High in the low 20s, and lows in the 12-13 range.  Small chance of rain.  Basically, very similar conditions to Kettle Moraine 100 last year.  The only thing that has me concerned is the massive amount of rain in the days leading up to the race might make parts of the trail excessively soft, or possibly even under water.

My goal for this race is to run smarter than last year, and finish in around the same time.  This means slowing down more at the start, and running more overnight.  It also means no grease-loading at Famous Dave's the night before and experiencing GI distress.  There's an Olive Garden half a mile away from my hotel, so that's my obvious choice.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ultramarathon Commandments

I present the Ultramarathon Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt not race in old socks
  2. Thou shalt not race in new shoes
  3. Thou shalt not stop for a selfie every mile
  4. Thou shalt pick up thine own trash
  5. Thou shalt pick up other people's trash
  6. Thou shalt not brag
  7. Thou shalt not drink light beer
  8. Thou shalt not drop because of vomit
  9. Thou shalt not drop because of fatigue
  10. Thou shalt smile - running is fun

Thursday, April 28, 2016

2016 Zumbro 100

After each 100 miler I've run (both of them), I said "That was the hardest thing I've ever done."  Well, I can honestly say that again.  Zumbro 100 is no joke.

I left home early on Thursday morning, and made good time.  Stopped off at the Scheel's in Fargo for some baseball gear for my son.  I figured that Americans love their baseball, and equipment should be cheaper there due to volume.  I'm not sure about the logic now, but at least I had a present for him when I got home.  Arrived at the race check-in at 6pm and got my bib.  Ate a few pulled-pork sandwiches and chatted up the locals.  It's always great seeing familiar faces at races and catching up.

I had a room in Red Wing, a 45 minute drive away, which was a bit farther than I liked but not obscene.  It was a nice motel nestled beside a railroad track and a state prison.  Fortunately there were no riots or escapes to keep me up.  Still, I had the usual pre-race jitters and only slept for 1 hour at a time.

The start time came far too fast for my liking.  The forecast called for cold weather, which was going to present its own set of challenges.  Lots of nervous energy around me, and everybody lined up about 50 metres before the starting line.  Nobody wanted to be up front!  John Storkamp gave a few encouraging words, then we were off.  Not caring about how fast I finished, so long as I finished, I elected to hug the back as best I could.  Despite starting out at a snail's pace, I still had to wait in line at the first uphill when the trail turns from a wide trail to single-track.

The race itself consists of six 16.7-mile loops, with four aid stations along the way (plus one bonus aid station at the start/finish area) to make for 29 aid stations total in the race.  One thing was certain: I wasn't going to get hungry.  Each loop has five evil hills which are steeper and/or longer than the others, and you find yourself counting them down on each loop.  There is one evil hill between each aid station, except for between AS1 and AS2 which has two evil hills (the hardest section of the course) and between AS4 to the finish line, which has none (the easiest section on the course).  The first evil hill is average as far as they come, it isn't incredibly steep but it is rather long.  In short, it would be marvelous if we were running down it.  The second evil hill is the shortest of them all, but steep.  The third is the steepest and just keeps going with a few false summits.  I consider it to the the toughest.  The fourth starts off as a long slow uphill, then gets steep near the top (up to the top of Picnic rock).  But fortunately, that's the only uphill in the entire section.  The fifth is by far the longest; the dreaded Ant Hill.  It just keeps going and doesn't stop.

I tried to stay relaxed my first loop, but still got sucked into going a bit too fast.  I finished in just under 4 hours.  Whoops!  I knew that if I kept that pace up, I would be looking at a 24-hour finish time which was just far too ridiculous a notion given my fitness level and the course's nastiness.  I was going to have to force myself to slow down.  The cool weather didn't help the cause an, but the snow squall I experienced at the top of Ant Hill did.

My second loop wasn't much better, finishing it around 4.5 hours.  This was starting to sound like a disaster.  My goal was 5 hour loops, and I was 1.5 hours ahead of pace.

My socks and shoes were starting to get a bit gungy, so I decided to switch them for my third loop.  I also remembered to grab my headlamp since odds were that I'd need it at some point before completing the loop.  As I left the start area, I joined up with Susan Donnelly and John Taylor, whom I had been leapfrogging all day.  They ran much faster than I, but my aid station stops were Formula One style in-and-outs.  I asked them if they had their headlamps, and John stopped, turned around, and ran back to the aid station (fortunately we were still really close).  Good karma.  About 1 mile into the loop, I realized something wasn't quite right with my left foot.  I glanced down and couldn't see anything.  I asked John (who had caught up at that point) if he could see anything, and he said the sock had completely disintegrated and what was left of my heel was rubbing against the shoe.  Awesome.  He mentioned that the upcoming aid station was run by TC Running, a shoe store in Minneapolis, and they might have some spare socks to give out.  Unfortunately, they didn't have any.  But they did have some miraculous duct tape that gave me the extra layer I needed and didn't rub off for the whole loop!  The night settled in and the clouds parted.  Beautiful stars in any direction you looked.  It was exactly what was needed to keep spirits high.  I finished my third loop in 5:10, which was finally on target.  Halfway through the race, and I was finally doing something right.

The fourth loop is the loop which destroyed me two years ago.  I wasn't going to let that happen again.  I mostly walked it, and took my time.  I reached some really dark mental places, but knew that once the sun came up everything would be much better.  It got very cold out.  Water bottles started freezing, and some aid stations couldn't pour water out of their jugs.  Six hours later, I finished the loop up and it was still dark out.  On my first Zumbro attempt, the sun had already risen by the time I finished my fourth loop, so I knew I was ahead of where I was then.  As a bonus, nothing was hurting more than it should, and I was still moving well.  This was the highpoint of the race: I threw the monkey off my back and knew I was going to finish the full 100 miles.  As to whether it was under the time cutoff was another matter entirely.

Early in the fifth loop, the sun began to rise.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a drop bag anywhere on the course except for the start/finish area, so I had to keep it on me for the whole loop.  Coming in to AS3, Tom Weigt passed me.  I had met him back at Kettle Moraine 100 two years ago, and he graciously loaned me a water bottle as I had forgotten my race vest at home.  I am eternally grateful for his generosity.  I got to catch up a bit on the goings-on of the rest of the crew from Mankato (Scott and Shelley).  He was moving much faster than me, so he left me in his dust.  Not bad for an old man. ;)  At the aid station, I was joined by Chris Deck who was also running the 100 miler.  We clicked right away and pretty much agreed that we'd finish the race together.  It was nice to have somebody to run with and talk to.  I was incapable of doing any mental math, but he seemed to be pretty on the ball and informed me that there was no way we were going to have any problems with time cutoffs.  Loop five finished in 6:20.

I'd heard that the sixth loop was magical.  It was the last time you'd see each root, rock, tree, hill, etc.  And as you passed each one you could flick it the middle finger knowing it was gone from your life forever (until you foolishly decide to register for the race the next year).  Unfortunately, I had none of that bliss.  My right knee was starting to act up and was having trouble climbing hills.  But on the other hand, I could still bomb the downhills.  Chris was having the exact opposite problem: He could climb like nobody's business, but was taking the downhills extremely gingerly.  This made for an interesting dynamic, where once we got to an evil hill he'd drop me and I'd catch up to him on the ensuing downhill.  Somehow, we made it work.  At AS2, I told him that for me to feel safe, we'd have to really burn the section to AS3 and he agreed.  By no means was it the fastest either of us had run that day (or the previous), but it was definitely the hardest.  Once Ant Hill loomed, I knew we were good.  We had almost 3 hours to get back to the start line.  We would be able to crab-walk and make it.  We stopped running and walked it in.  Official time: 32:57.

Gnarly Bandit race #1 was in the bag.  Honestly, that was the only race that scared me.  I just remembered how much it destroyed me two years ago.  And now that it's over, the rest of the race series seems doable.

Next stop:  Kettle Moraine 100.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Looking forward to Zumbro 100

It's been a long winter.  One week from now, I'm going to be 30 minutes into my first 100 miler of the year.

Two years ago, I tried Zumbro as my first 100 and DNF'ed.  I learned a lot about myself in the process.  Mostly, I needed to improve my fitness and my pre-race organizational skills so that I didn't need to think at aid stations.  I was taken down by a combination of poor training and not knowing what I was doing at the 100 mile distance.

Fast forward two years, and with two 100 mile finishes under the belt, I'm back for revenge.  I'm familiar with the course, and much more patient when I run.  I'm not going to speed up halfway through the race just to blow up.  I walk from the start now.  I squeeze gels into my mouth from the moment the RD says "go".  Aid stations are for aid, not rest.

I analyzed the data from END-SURE 50k two weeks ago, and I'm fairly happy with what I saw.  The first "half" of the race was flat as a pancake, and the second "half" of the race has rolling hills.  The average racer ran the second half of the race 31% slower than the first half, while I ran it 19% slower.  Only five racers slowed down less, and of those four of them were in the top five (and thereby in amazing shape).  I'm in awe of one runner in particular whose second half time was only 6% slower.  Most of the runners around where I finished had a slowdown of 30-40%, with the notable exception of Melissa Budd and David Fielder who are amazing runners.  I know I'm going to have to run a lot slower than I did at END-SURE, but it shows that I have the mental discipline to start slow and remain steady.

Zumbro has a 34 hour cutoff, which translates to maintaining an average 20-minute mile. has a ratio of 1.13 between Zumbro and Kettle Moraine.  I ran KM in 27:10, which means I have an expected finish time of 30:42.  At the same time, there is a ratio of 0.89 between Zumbro and Superior.  Seeing as I finished Superior in 35:18, that comes out to an expected 31:25.  Splitting the difference, I foresee a 31 hour finish.  The weather out in Wabasha has supposedly been pretty good, and the 7-day forecast is showing ideal conditions similar to Superior's last fall.

Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 END-SURE 50k

I love this race.  This year was my third time running it.  The only year I've missed was the second one two years ago, and that was because I was attempting the Gnarly Bandit.

Well, fast forward to today, and I'm again attempting the Gnarly Bandit.  The difference is that this year I used the race as a measuring stick and a long training run.  It is at a great time of year, the trail is in good condition, and the aid stations are exactly where I need them.

This year's END-SURE 50k was heavily modified from last year's.  While last year was an out & back that covered the hilliest part of the trail twice and included a short section on the road, this year most closely resembled the first year's course and had absolutely no road running at all!

We were bused to the start line well ahead of the 10am start.  Fortunately, the race director was merciful and let us start early.  I let a bunch of people go ahead of me at the start, and settled into a nice steady pace.  I had the Zumbro 100 coming up in a few weeks, and wanted to be fresh for it, with no risk of injuries, so I didn't push the pace.  After a few miles, I reeled in Melissa Budd and David Fielder, two amazing runners from Winnipeg.  We would sometimes drift apart from each other, as we were each running our own race, but for the most part we ran the first half of the race together.  Having company really helps tick the miles off.

After the second aid station, the hills started.  I dropped David and Melissa, and began to do my "walk all hills and run everything else" strategy.  With my highly variable pace, it didn't make any sense to run with anybody.  Considering how well I was moving in the second half, I was surprised when I got passed by a guy who was flying up the hills.  I guess somebody else sandbagged the first half of the race more than I did!

When we came within sight of the finish line, there was one more kick to the balls left in store.  The 50k and 100k race had an extra 4 mile loop.  Unfortunately for me, I thought it was a 4km loop.  I sped up to a pace that I figured I could keep up for 5km, and tried to tick off the last bit of trail as fast as I could.  Then I noticed Melissa coming up behind me.  I wasn't going to let anybody pass me that late in the race (sorry Melissa), and having somebody breathe down my neck was just the kick I needed to push the pace a bit harder.  But I just couldn't shake her.  When we finally got to the last few hills, I took a glance behind me and noticed that the gap between us had widened.  Thank goodness!  I was redlining for far too long, and had misjudged how much race was left.  I eased up slightly and coasted in to the finish.  The 2nd last mile was my fastest of the entire race.

I crossed the finish line in 6:06.  Nowhere near my PB of last year (5:41, on a much hillier course), but I was in terrific shape.  I still had lots left in the tank and felt like I had a great training run.  I'm sure everybody else at the finish line would disagree with my assessment, as my muscles stiffened up almost immediately.

What really makes this race great is the beer-swapping and camaraderie around the camp fire afterwards.  Already looking forward to next year!