Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peace, Love, and 50miles of Heaven in Hell

Im going to start this with the intention of brevity, so there may be a few people who make it through this arduous race report.

Deciding to register for the 50mile race at woodstock was tough, especially since I had just experienced the ultimate runner's high after the North Country Trail 50.  NCT was a perfect race weekend-good friends, family, perfect weather, and a solid race resulting in a bullseye for my time goal of 8 hours. The long,overly dramatic race report can be read here on my blog as well.
I had qualms about signing up for the race because I was worried that doing the same distance 3 weeks apart would result in dissappointment at the best, injury or burnout at the worst. Upon registering online, I felt a sense of discomfort that was unfamiliar. I knew I should be playing it safe, focusing on 5k/10k distance, lifting some weights regain the 20lbs I'd lost since spring, and getting focused on swimming season. As I recently learned in a holistic health class, feeling physical discomfort upon making a tough decision is usually a sign of that decision being "kharmicallly inappropriate"(Holistic health, though I'd consider myself a fan and student of it, is referred to by many as "hippie-ology," touchy-feely, etc.). I was running short on funding and long on bills, but for some reason, there I sat, credit card in hand at the inviting "Run Woodstock" webpage.
I was so worried about the decision that I omitted my registration from conversations with Abbey and Alex, my close friends and training partners. The decision to run my second 50 ever 3 weeks from my first was seeming poorer and poorer.
Training between NCT and Woodstock went fairly well, with a scattering of hard tempo efforts with Alex(Note: Alex tempo=My eyes are about to explode), some good mid-distance runs with Gazelle Sports' Wednesday night group, and some good trail runs with Jeremiah,  Jason, Shelly and Mark. In case you can't tell by my name dropping, I have a pretty good support network. I peaked with a 91mile week that was punctuated by a double combo of 14and16 miles. The following 2 weeks were relatively easy and of unsatisfactory mileage. I wasn't too worried about cramming in training miles for fitness sake, but for sanity. Life outside of running took its toll and mileage dropped, and so did my spirits to a much lesser degree.
The week leading up to Woodstock consisted of very little running. I ran almost daily, but sometimes barely over a mile. These runs were not scheduled training runs, but runs with my group of middle school kids that I coach. The two runs of any quality were a great 9 miler with the Gazelle Group and a nice 5 miler with Alex, Abbey, and Shy the day before the race.
As I sat in class waiting to be done for the day and head out of town, I get a disturbing text. It was from my friend Ryan about another friend of ours. Apparently, Stevie had a mild heart attack while working at his job. He as two kids and a wife. I was immediately sickened by the news and was really shaken up. Rather than meeting Shelly, Jason, and Mark to depart for the race, I had to go home to make sure my friend was ok. A small price to pay for stopping to make sure my friend was alright and maybe lift his spirits. I hope it did.
Sam and I then headed for Novi...and then realized that we didn't know how to get there. My GPS car charger had quit working...I forgot about that until I had to use it again. We had to text Shelly to get directions to the place we were staying, and ask my crew to pick up my race packet.
After a nice ride with Sam we finally arrived at Ken's apartment. Ken is a mutual friend of ours that was so incredibly gracious that he offered us the use of his apartment, which was only about 30 minutes from the start line of the race. Upon our arrival, we ate pizza and wings, and drank some beer. The ultimate prerace meal that has yet to let me down.  I was also suprised when my crew even had matching "J Crew" shirts! I was officially legit.We laughed a lot and caught up with each other before discussing race logistics. It was then that I realized that I had no actual nutrition or hydration strategy. I went with my default plan: 1 bottle of water and 2 GUs berween aid stations for the entire race. I wanted redbull on standby just in case of a low, but other than that, no plan B. The logistics discussion was obviously quite brief. I would drop my empty bottle, and someone would hand me a fresh one with 2 GUs stuffed in the Nathan Handheld pocket. Easy in, easy out with no actual stopping the entire time. Time for bed.
Sam and I attempting to smile at 4am











standing around as the race is about to start





4am came really early. The race started at 6am, so we had time to get showers(seperately, to clarify), eat some leftover pizza, and drink some water. We headed out the door about 4:50, only 20 minutes behind schedule. Right on time. Thanks to the GPS, we arrived with enough time for me to change into my shorts, Mark filled my bottle with water, and then I stood there with about 3 minutes before the start. Good thing there isn't much of a "warm up protocol" for a 50miler.We saw our friend Todd. He and his wife Candy were our campsite mates last year at woodstock. We've commuicated briefly online and I looked forward to seeing them this year. I took my usual spot near the back of the pack and chatted for a few minutes. Its always hard to tell whether idle chat is welcome. I was excited to run the beautiful trails, so I just jabbered incessantly. Others remained very calm and stoic. Were they nervous and in need of some loosening up? Were they in the zone and in need of reflection before starting such a grand adventure? Were they on the verge of strangling me for my constant talking? I guess I'll never know, but hopefully I didn't step on any toes.


standing around as the race is about to start
We were given simple instructions: follow the pink flags. The 50mile race may have had the easiest course to read in the whole festival. Constatnt markings, confidence flags, and other banners were there to keep us on course as we wandered through the woods. A couple of people commented on their footwear, I stood there sheepishly as I stood there in the NB minimus, a shoe that hasn't been released yet. A couple people were talking about the value of trail gaiters. I wasnt even wearing socks. We stood around chatting for a few more seconds, then all of a sudden I heard it... "GO!"


I joined the shuffle and wandered past Sam, Shelly, Jason, and Mark. They smiled and wished me well as I wandered up the first hill and into the woods. It wouldn't be light out for almost 2 hours, so I jogged along in the cold, dark woods with what I assumed was the lead group. We had already made a few turns that were marked by pink flags. This section of the course had a few downed trees or logs laying across it. We hopped over them as we meandered through the woods. My terribly inaccurate GPS watch beeped off the first mile. I was substantially slower than my goal race pace, so I decided to kick it up a notch and attempt to get into my groove. I climbed and bombed a couple small hills, and they felt relatively easy, even on my cold legs. From the best of my recollection, this is where I pulled away from the pack. I thought, "they must know something I don't. I'll regret this" I always tell myself to run well when I feel well, so I continued on while the adrenaline was still in my system. I was hopping over the roots and rocks in the trail, trying to bend over to see the ground with more detail. I fiddled with my headlamp a few times to direct the light at a more downward angle. My vision is less than stellar as-is, so to run by a light that is far from the ground is not as easy as it could be. Im still grateful-Jason came through and loaned me his headlamp. It worked very well.


The next short section was a straight, flat path that connected us to another trail system. It was less than 1 mile, but I told myself to make good use of it. My rationale was to cover more ground while the ground was flat, and use quick, short steps in the trails to recover from the fast "road efforts." My pace read in the low 7:00min/mile range. I immediately thought I had messed up by running this fast so early in the race, but had to trust my body. I've been doing long runs all year, and listening to my body is a skill I'd like to think I've sharpened a bit. It wasn't long until I ducked into another trail and was making a small climb. The trails aren't the most technical I've ever run, but the roots, rocks, and debris certainly kept me on my toes. The ground was also very hard, almost like a very dry clay. I saw banners up ahead, and made the appropriate turns to head down the course. A couple downhills later, I was already rolling into the first aid station. Sam and Jason were there to hand me a full bottle with 2 GUs in it. It was then that I realized that I had barely consumed half of my water, and only 1 gel. It had only been about 38 minutes, so I guess that isn't so bad. My general strategy was 1 bottle and 2 gels between each AS. I'd have to remember to eat and drink more from now on. It was great having Sam and Jason there. I never even had to stop at the AS, I just rolled right through and checked in, then took off, hardly breaking stride.



Coming up one of the connector roads to a trail system
 Immediately after the Grace AS, I was on another connector road. I got a little lost on this one, and had to stop and think about where I was, then look up the road that forked. I could see a runner up in the distance up a hill on the dirt road. I ran up to them to make sure I was on the right track. The runner I approached was the woman who would go on to win the womens 100mile race. She looked amazing, considering she had the majority of a 100mile race behind her. She encouraged me as I passed, and I told her how great she was looking. I hit another pace that was faster than my short road runs. I saw a sign that read "Ultra" with an arrow pointing right, so I followed it. 1 minute or so, and I was climbing one of the first major hills for the course. It was covered in the plastic mesh used to prevent erosion, which made the climb more difficult. Soft sand encased in flimsy plastic makes for an interesting hill. The hill soon subsided and I was back into a good rythym of climbing and descending repeatedly. I ran one of the more technical sections of the course, with lots of singletrack, erosion, and roots. Some of the hills had a bit of a trench thing going on, so I had to emlpoy a strategy of pushing off of the embankments to jump back and forth over the eroded trenches as I climbed. It was rather enjoyable engaging the more lateral muscles, giving the hip flexors a bit of a break. The roots were kind of large on this section, but a little ingenuity helped me find the path of least resistance on the way up. Mountain biking and dirtbike riding has taught me to find the part of the root that is the lowest, and aim for that. The less I have to pick my feet up, the better. Hooray for my laziness! Feeling my feet molding around thesmooth, fist-sized rocks was amazing. The trails were still going by quickly, so I just kept rolling along.
I Reached the second aid station. I drained an entire bottle this time, but only consumed one of my GUs. Progress, but I still needed to focus on getting more calories in while my body was still under control.  As I rolled through the aid station, I tossed my bottle on the ground, picked up my other one, and stole a kiss from Sam. I was riding one of the highs that make me love running, and I was so happy that Sam had gotten involved in my crazy misadventures. I sped off into the next section of trail.
This was another hilly section. A couple of these short, steep ascents were dubbed "walkers." after some experimentation, I found that powerfully walking up, then speeding back down was more time efficient than a shuffle follwed by recovery. I find this especially effective on short climbs like the ones all over this particular course. After a few more miles, I was back on the connector road to the other network of trails. This was the only part of the course where I got a little firghtened by my pace. I don't entirely trust my Garmin, but as I felt like I was running just a little too quickly, I glanced down just in time to see my watch beep and notify me of my latest mile split. 6:30. stupid. Running that fast this early is foolhardy at best, dangerous at worst. I backed it off a little, but found comfort in a low 7 minute range. It wasn't long before I was back at Grace AS. I did the usual routine without stopping, and hardly slowing down. A few miles later, and I had completed my first lap. I think it was around 2:25. I checked into the main aid station, and grabbed a single pretzel and a fig newton. I ran up the hill with Jason. He told me to keep doing what I was doing and asked me if I would need anything at the next AS. I told him to keep the GU and water coming and maybe have some lube ready. 1 quick stop in the porta-jon and I was off. The course was much more beautiful in the light of day. There were some logs and things I didn't remember the first time around, but it was easier to navigate the second time around. I hit the bike path much sooner than on the last lap. I had a layout of the course now, I decided that my second lap would be a negative split. I forged ahead on the flat sections, deciding again to rest on the technical trail sections and keep my steps nice and light. I hopped back into the woods and kept going, upping the cadence and taking small steps. I was really enjoying running with speed and feeling like the trail was working with me, not against me.

Coming into Grace Aid Station

The rest of the loop was almost a carbon copy of the first, only the pace was pushed just a little bit more. Other runners from other races were starting to populate sections of the course. It was nice to see them and talk to them as I passed by. One guy blew by me as if I were standing still. Im not sure which race he was running, but I felt like I was moving. He flew by and was instantly gone on a technical section of trail. I was impressed and scared at the same time. "Is this dude running the 50? If so, I can kiss a W goodbye." I shrugged it off and continued on the trail. I could hear the band playing at the finish line. I had completed another lap! I looked at my watch, and it had been less than 5 hours, so I completed my goal of having a negative split for the lap. This is where the race started to get fun.

I picked up my 1st Pacer. Jason was still getting ready, so I forged on without him. He caught me in the first quarter mile or so, so I didn't have to go long without him. He asked how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling well, but starting to fatigue. He asked "do you want to know where everyone else is?" I replied, "no, Im good...well...ok...tell me." he told me I had a 9 minute lead on second place. I really was in first! I told jason I wanted to rest up on the first half of this lap, then run hard the last 8. Running with Jason made me feel more at ease, like we were on one of our fun training runs.
Fast forward to the next AS- I ran my "rest" section faster than I had in my last 2 laps, continuing the trend of 7ish min/miles on the short road section. and maintaining it for as long as I could into the trails. At the next AS, Jason traded places with Mark. Mark was now my pacer. We chatted a bit, and then started joking around as we normally do. Mark's sense of humour was very welcome on this 4 mile stretch. If I were to consider any part of this race to be my "low point," it would be this section of the race. I was happy to have Mark there. We pulled into the next AS, and Jason was ready to resume pacing duties. We picked up the pace once more, and I followed. I wasn't complaining, but I was hurting. Any pace felt uncomfortable, so I just gutted out a rough section of fairly technical trails with mud and swamp grass.

Getting schooled by Mark, flying down the gravel in his VFF Treks.


8 miles to go- definitely tired
 
My two great pacers keeping me in line in the final miles

 Back to Grace aid station. 4 miles to go. Mark came to greet us, and had some good news. He asked around and found out that it was legal to have 2 pacers. I was excited, so I said, "hop in this conga line then!" I dropped my bottle after taking another drink, then told Sam that I was going hard these last 4. I left the heavy water bottle behind and started my charge. Jason asked what I wanted for a pace. I said, "give me a minute to get warm, then give it hell and see if I can keep up!" He obliged. Jason is fast, whether he'd admit it or not. Mark followed, hot on my heels, saying generally encouraging and inappropriate things. I have great friends. We passed a small group of racers, one of which was a friend from our Runner's World Online Forum. "Jason?" he said. Jason replied, "Thats me!"  "Dogsnameisleroy from the forums! Which one of you is jscott87?" I said hi, and told him how great he looked. He was in great spirits and looke healthy. We had to get going, so we forged on. I walked a couple hills, then forged on to make up the time from my slight pace lagging. We were really starting to cruise, then Jason asked me a tough question. "You ready to start that kick of yours? We have 1 mile left." I said, "sure, lets do it." 2 more corners, and we were on the last hill before the Hell Creek Ranch. I ran in, rounded the curve of the gravel trail and kicked it into gear. "Give it hell, man!" Jason said as he and mark broke away to let me finish. I saw the finish. I had passed it 2 times already, and I actually got to cross it this time. I was too afraid to look behind me. I just ran. My legs opened up and I felt my feet covering ground with each step. Just in time to step on the blue mat. I was done.

Coming in to finish, about 40 yards to go.
 


coming in hot for a landing

I ran to Sam and gave her a great big sweaty hug. I was so happy! A legitimate win. My first win ever in any distance of race. I hugged Shelly, my crew chief and great source of motivation. Mark and Jason, my two pacers were there to greet me, and I was so thankful that I couldn't even say anything. I just hugged them both. I talked to a race official, who said she would go get my belt buckle. I was confused. I thought only 100milers got buckles. Apparently I was alittle ahead of schedule and they didn't expect me in so early. The checked to make sure that I checked into the aid stations, and told me that I was the overall winner. I collected my prize, which was a sweet hippie lava lamp. Sam grabbed me some food while I peeled off my shoes and put on my hoodie and my jeans. I was cooling off quickly and shivering quite a bit.

We hung out for the rest of the day. My friend and training partner, Ryan Hansard, had driven across the state after running his half marathon PR in Grand Haven to watch me finish. He was late, or I was early. Depends on how you look at it. Todd, our friend and campsite mate from last year, ran the half marathon and was camping out enjoying the day with us as we watched others finish and enjoyed the music. We sat there and drank the afternoon away. My crew still catered to me as I sat there like a bump on a log, laughing at some of the pictures taken throughout the day. I'm not the most photogenic person in the world, but at least I make some funny faces. There were plenty of shenanigans that I would later be filled in on, some of them documented with photos. 
Spending the rest of the day goofing around


I think my relative success in this race had more to do with mindset than talent. I was focused the entire time, not worried about where others were and fixated on feeling "right." I wasn't overly focused on pace. At NCT, I wanted to hit 8 hours, and I ran 8 hours and 30seconds. I think putting that number in my head limited my potential for that particular day. At Woodstock, I went into it just hoping to run strong. Without my crew, the day may have been a disaster. If you ever get the chance to be part of a crew, I would recommend it. I've done it before, and its a really intense and enjoyable experience.

End Babble sequence.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weekly review 9/19-9/26

I don't have a ton of time at the moment-lots of catching up on things to do after the weekend. It had its ups and downs, but this week was about as intense as my life has been in a long time. School has been busy, as have the extracirricular activites. Several meetings for student organizations, coaching cross country, and doing some extra work in the research lab cut into my running time, but it turned out to be for the best in terms of tapering. I enjoy every one of these activities, so I guess it's win/win no matter how you look at it.
I enjoyed another week living at school, getting more and more comfortable with the grind of classes and tentative career building. I've had some laughs with my housemates, who are all great people and lots of fun to be around(maybe too much fun?).

One downside to the week was a scare that I recently had with one of my best friends, one I've known since the age of 4. He suffered a heart attack and spent the weekend in ICU getting blood tranfusions. He is stable and is expected to make a full recovery, but not without scaring the hell out of his family and friends. This was a tremendous scare for me. As I seem to coast through life, I often fail to realize just how precious it is and how we need to truly appreciate every day. I often say that I do, but after a horrible event such as this, air and water just taste that much sweeter. I guess I should thank him for the wakeup call.

Since this blog is typically centered around my obsession with running, I guess it's my duty to inform that I've finally earned my first win in a race of any distance. The North Country race may have been a fluke created by circumstance, but this race was a legitimate W for the resume. I ran the Woodstock 50 miler in Pinckney, MI, crewed by Jason and Shelly Robillard, Mark Robillard, and my girlfriend Samantha. It was an exremely well-organized event and I was able to pull off a decent performance. I set a 57 minute PR from 3 weeks ago and learned a great deal about how to run 50 miles with some degree of proficiency. My official time was 7:03:22. I thought that maybe the course was drastically easier than my last 50, but the second place time was 8:14:xx, an equally solid time for a 50miler. I somehow managed to negative split each of the 3 16.6mile loops and keep moving on the uphills. I need to edit this, Im sounding like a pretentious ass clown. There were a couple road sections that connected 2 trail systems together, so that allowed for some easy running. A few times, I looked down at my Garmin to see that I was running at a sub-7 pace frequently on these road sections. Someone get me some benadryl for my epically swollen head. I feel like a douche, but I'm really excited about how this race turned out.

I'll have a race report, complete with Mark and Shelly's pictures, up as soon as I can. I'll be honest, I don't really remember much of the race. All I know is that Im excited to do more adventure type runs in the off season and I don't really want to eat any GU for a little while(I drained a 24pack in 7hours). I just hope my crew knows how much I apreciate everything they did.

The week ended with a really enjoyable, quiet ride back to the West side of the state with Samantha, and a great bike ride with my family near Lake Michigan. We ate together at a local resteraunt, and were pleasantly suprised by an awesome band having a sunday afternoon jam while we ate. A great cap to a life-affirming weekend. I must be doing something right(but not even close to everything).

Heres the breakdown for the week(note: cross country team=middle schoolers I coach- running/walking is just to monitor workouts/lead drills)
Monday
1 mile with cross country team
Tuesday
2ish miles with cross country team
Wednesday
2ishmiles with cross country team
9 miles with Gazelle group
Thursday
Nada
Friday
5miles with Alex, Abbey and Shy- nice shakeout on campus
Saturday
Woodstock 50miler- 7:03:22
Sunday
No running, but I did manage a couple hour bike ride with family.
Total
68miles

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zensah Leg Sleeves: A Review

Compression technology is a new trend in running and sports in general. It's been around for a while, but the science behind compression gear is a good compliment to ultra-endurance exercise and/or minimalist running. In comes Zensah, a company producing seamless compression apparel for athletes. Zensah produces calf/shin sleeves, thigh sleeves, compression shorts, arm sleeves, sports bras, and compression socks. According to representatives at Zensah, The special patterns and materials that are unique to the compression sleeves result in:
  • Increased delivery of oxygenated blood to the lower legs
  • Support and stability of lower leg muscles- Tibialis Anterior(Shin) and Gastrocnemius/Soleus(Calf muscles)
  • Decreased recovery time

My interest in compression apparel stems from my interest in ultrarunning and minimalist shoe running. I had heard the claims that compression gear reduces recovery time, increases performance during exercise, and reduces inflammation. The exercise science nerd in me had to experiment on myself. The product that interested me most was the leg sleeve. As a person who transitioned to minimal footwear and barefoot running, I endured a noticeable amount of calf pain. Though I feel that pain is a natural and powerful tool that teaches us to run easily, there is no reason that a product can't alleviate pain during the adjustment period. I rarely have pain in my lower legs anymore. The only exceptions are when mileaage gets higher, and when I run excessive hills. The people at Zensah were kind enough to send me a pair of the compression sleeves to test out.

I have to be honest. I have been treated well by adopting a minimalist approach to running and training. This has made me a bit of a skeptic about anything that could be purchased to "enhance performance." Shedding running shoes, heart rate monitors, cumbersome hydration packs, and moisture-wicking materials has helped me enjoy running more and consequently increase speed and volume. Compression gear has always seemed like the kind of thing that works "in theory." Since many athletes I look up to have employed them in their training and racing regimens, I just had to give them a try.

The leg sleeves arrived at my door while I was away for the weekend. When I returned on Sunday, there they were, in their electric blue glory. The color was awesome, so the cool factor had to be good for at least some speed, right? I immediately slipped them on and enjoyed the fit as it was snug and comfortable. Im usually the type of person who goes into a claustrophobic fit when wearing anything tight. This was a huge plus for the design, as I hate the feeling of  compression tights and shirts. The smaller garments are much easier to wear and don't feel as restricting.


Before the Woodstock 50miler
Did thy help me win? Im too afraid to take them off to find out!
 I had already run 16 miles that morning, but I felt good, so I headed out for a few more. I ended up running 14 miles at a good pace. This is probably because my run earlier in the day felt easy, and I recovered in the car on the way back to school. The sleeves were worn on the second run, and they felt good. I can't say that they made me run faster or easier, but I can say that the compression could be felt on my legs. I felt faster in them, just as one does when wearing new gear. I decided that I may as well run 14miles to give me  91 for the week and 30 for the day. The sleeves made my legs feel solid on the run, and I used them afterward for recovery. The next morning would be the test; I was especially interested in the sleeves as a recovery tool after high mileage and tough hills.

I woke up the next morning, and I was pretty impressed with the way I felt after a 30 mile day. My calves felt fresh and I was actually able to go down stairs immediately after getting out of bed. To be fair, I must also point out that my quads, knees, and hips felt good too. Could this have been an outlier week of smart, high-volume training? Could the sleeves have given me superpowers? I'm thinking that it had to be something in between. Its always hard to tell if the "placebo effect" has taken place, or if the compression sleeves indeed do help with performance. Bottom line- I ran 30miles in one day, and was able to run easily the next day. I had no calf pain. The last time I ran 30 miles as a training run, I overexerted myself and was unable to run the following day.

Another noteable test was done a few days later. I had been wearing the sleeves on my runs, and even wearing them for recovery to class and wherever else(side note-the nonrunning world is not quite ready for men wearing electric blue knee-highs). I decided to wear them to bed one night after a 16 mile training run. The day after any run of considerable distance, I usually must take a hot shower or slowly, painfully get moving to alleviate the soreness in my feer and ankles. I woke up in the Zensahs, and was able to spryly get out of bed. It was glorious.

I've been wearing the sleeves for the majority of my runs, and have enjoyed wearing them. The science is logical, and the testimonials are convincing. For me, the feeling of wearing them is almost intangible. I like the way they feel on my legs when I run, and I find them comfortable during recovery. Trying them is really the only way to appreciate the way the Zensah sleeves fit and feel. There's quite a bit to be said for feeling fast, and the sleeves help with that too. If you're like me and are often skeptical about things that seem "too good,. to be true," then I would advise you to open your mind up just a little and try these things out. At the very least, they're cool looking and will keep your lower legs warm. At the best, you will experience some faster recovery and some snug support for achy calves.

Shelly and I decided to do a little swap before the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Running in the sleeves with the sub-3:00 group at the Grand Rapids Marathon

Ill have pictures up soon, but they can be seen here at http://www.zensah.com/

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekly review 9/13-9/20

This week of training went pretty well, even though scheduling, social life, and general lack of focus impeded things a bit. My inconsistency was well represented in the past few weeks, but I suppose it works for me. I tend to lose focus in the two weeks prior to an ultra. If I look at my weeks since North Country, there actually is a descent curve to my mileage leading into the Peace, Love, and 50 Miles race. This is mostly because high mileage weeks are essentially useless to me if they've worn me out. I try to focus on skill-based training in the week before taper week, which can include hills, form work, and some doubles/triples to practice the "tired legs" feeling at the end of a race. My rather limited training ability has my mileage limited to what I can stand. If I can improve my mileage threshold next year, I should be in pretty good shape for ultrarunning.
I managed a couple good workouts this week, including a fartlek workout(speedplay) that helped me get used to speeding up when tired. Since even a hilly city isn't a great approximation of trail running, I at least try to incorporate the physiological stumuli, which comes in the form of varying heart rate. Roads and Sidewalks allow me to get too steady, which is great for road running, but can be troublesome on a course like the Woodstock 50 that is without flat spots or even terrain.
Overall, the week was good to me. I had fun and felt more productive than last week. Getting into "school mode" has been a bit more difficult than previous years. This may be attributed to me being a true senior this year, with only a few courses for my minor left between my B.S. in exercise science and a minor in biology. I find myself at a crossroads as usual. I want to be a professional in the medical community, but I also want to see where running takes me. A professional running job would be great, but something more along the lines of product testing or recreational therapy would be a more practical and likely goal. Banking on my limited running talent seems like a foolhardy endeavor. We all know that guy-the one who trains like a pro, but clearly has modest talent and no modesty. I suppose I could just stay the course and use my studies to advance my career. The running will pay off on its own, whether its just for the sake of personal fulfillment or sometihng more. Im not dillusional, but a guy can dream. To ponder the possibilities doesn't make a person foolish, its actually the opposite. Here's how a rather sub-par week breaks down:
Monday
AM-nothing- overslept and rested from the previous 30 mile day. Not a great start to the week
PM-4 easy with Abbey
Tuesday
AM-9 - 3 warmup, 4 fartlek, 2 cooldown
PM- 3-  Warmup and 2.4 with xc team chased them down once for some tempo
Wednesday
AM- 4 easy with Alex
PM-3 easy with cc team with a couple hill repeats tossed in there
PM-10 with Gazelle wednesday night group
33
Thursday
2 With cc team
Friday
AM-9-downtown loop
PM- 6ish with Jason and Shelly
Saturday
ZERO- ankle felt less than solid after a tweak during a descent, so I opted to catch up on schoolwork and watch the football game. Possibly overindulged pre/during/post/post-post game. Rest felt good on the body, if you can call that rest.
Sunday
AM-16 Alex and I did Abbey's long run with her. Nice out/back on the rural outskirts of Kalamazoo. Bonus tempo-ish mile to catch Abbey and Alex after some house key confusion.
66 miles

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekly review- 9/5-9/12

This week was pretty good to me with regard to running and life in general. I found some employment, enjoyed the company of my roommates, and got slowly got back into the swing of full time classes. Great weather, good times with friends. My first week not seeing Samantha was a little rough, but Saturday's never more than 5 days away. I didn't quite get the mileage I wanted, but the quality was better than usual in terms of workouts. It was intended to be a "transition week" between recovering and one last hard week before Woodstock. It may end up being the harder week as school, an new internship, and a coaching cross-country hill have to jump up on my priority list.
One thing that has been brought to my attention is the perceptions of others. Clearly, running is a huge part of my life. I run a bit, spend a substantial amount of time socializing with runners, relate a great deal of my exercise science classwork to running, and now have to jobs that involve running. I also spend a bit of time writing about it on this blog, which is more or less just a purge valve for leftover thoughts. I've been told that being wrapped up in running has taken control of my life. My love of running is often seen as unhealthy. I think this is a negative and superficial way to look it. It all comes down to priority. What many people think are reasonable views do not necessarily overlap with what others value. Maybe really I am running away from something, but it hasn't run me down yet.
Monday
AM- 11 miles at Owassippe(1:40)
PM- 4 miles on campus(0:32)
Tuesday
PM- 10 miles to Klienstock(1:20)
Wednesday
AM- 4 miles aboretum loop(0:29)
PM- 6 miles with Gazelle group(0:43)
Thursday
PM-5 miles barefoot to-from IM fields 5 minute tempo ish intervals, some rest periods(1:00)
Friday
AM- 10 miles with Alex. 3mile hard tempo, nearly blacked out. suprisingly quick recovery after regaining full consciousness.(1:20)
PM- 11 mile midnight run with Jeremiah at Yankee Springs. Too weak to do 11 more, the original plan(2:00).
Saturday
Nada y mas nada.  slept in, enjoyed watching a soccer game in the rain with my mom, and celebrated Ryan's birthday with a campfire and some spirits.
Sunday
AM-16 miles (2:30) Adventure run on the North Country Trail with Mark, Rick, and Ken(accompanied by Shadow, a black lab). Great run on a beautiful trail. Im always amazed my Autumn here. Serene and breathtaking. Learned new acronym: OGP-Old Guy Pace.
PM-14 miles (1:40) Started out with 4miles barefoot with Sara and Colin. Nice loop around our house. For claiming not to be good runners, they sure could have fooled me. We dropped Sara off at the house, and Colin and I headed out of town for farm country. Colin did another 3 with me, then turned around for a solid 9 for the day. Company on a sunday run was a welcome suprise. I was immediately met by solitude and hills. A good combination for this mess of a runner I've found myself to be.
Total
91 miles
13ish hours?

Monday, September 6, 2010

North Country Weekend: A report

This may end up being long, so bear with me.

I guess I’ll start with a little background. My last actual ultra was the Mind the Ducks 12 hour, directed by Shelly Viggiano in Rochester NY. Mark , Jason, Shelly and I headed there to kick off what would be a great summer of running. My race report from that can be read at the Runner’s World Forum, and Jason’s 5-installment report of the race can be read here. To save some time, I’ll just recap and say that I managed 64 miles and had a good time. This was the last time I ran over 50 miles in an actual race(note complete lack of sun exposure). Also pictured is 24 hour specialist Rebecca Schaefer.
This kind of planted the seed to run the 50 at North Country, since the distance had already been covered. The difference was that instead of 64 miles in 12 hours on a very well-supported, paved, ½ mile loop, it would be 50 miles over unknown terrain in the Manistee National Forest.

My original plan was to run either the 50mile or newly added 100k at the Woodstock races in Pinckney, Michigan at the end of September. But after some coaxing and bribing from my friend and training partner, Mark, I was registered for the 50 at North Country. Mark was even kind enough to float me a loan for the registration fee before the race filled up. He's not only a role model of mine as a runner, but as a person.

About 1 month before the race, I figured our travel group for the North Country Races was complete. A whole group of us would be meeting to camp, eat, drink, and swap stories and jokes. I would be joining a large group of friends, some close, some that I had only met online or only through hearing crazy stories. Food, lodging, and good times would be provided, which was far more than I had anticipated. Before hearing of this, my plan was to sleep in my car at the nearest legal(or hidden) spot to the race start. Minimalism has its limits, and a nice tent beats my stuffy old Subaru that surely would still have muddy trail shoes and my mountain bike tire in it. The nearer the weekend drew, the more excited we all became. As one could infer from my previous blog posts, I was less than impressed with my own training, but was looking forward to a fun weekend regardless. As long as my knee held up for the majority of the race, I’d call it a success.
Due to some circumstances and an open marathon entry, I had the great opportunity to invite my friend and training partner, Alex Poulsen. He hadn’t run a marathon, but had been trail running with me all summer and was steadily building his long run with his speed. As an accomplished cross country runner, he’s proven himself at every distance from the track to the half-marathon. Alex and I, along with some other runners(all better than I) compose what is left of Western Michigan University’s track and cross country program(we have track and xc for women, just not men. I won‘t complain; I‘d never make the cut). We have helped each other through tough workouts and coaxed each other into piling on miles over the summer. Alex would be racing his first marathon on some pretty tech trails, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he’d be bringing home some hardwear. His long runs are tempo runs for me… when I can keep up. Part of that is the way our brains are wired. A larger part is that he is actually a secret government funded humanoid running machine(citation needed). More on his race later.

After Mark’s planning and my avoidance of planning, we finally decided that He, Shelly, Jason, Andy, and Ryan would meet at my house. I’m on a short summer break, so I’m away from school for a few weeks. They would pick up Alex and I at my house, since it was relatively close to the highway. We all met right on time…if this were two time zones away. The only reason I was on time is because the meeting was at my house. I have a feeling that was part of the plan - odds were not as good that I would come up missing or show up late. We took some pictures and my parents actually got to meet the group of barefoot gypsies I often travel with. I talk about them so much, I guess its only fitting that they put names to the faces. After that, my parents asked if they would be able to see me finish. I told them that I would be done anywhere from 8 hours to 15 hours after 7:30am.

We rolled out of my house and hit my dusty washboard road toward the highway. Two exits later, we decided to get some food and gas. This is how we travel. We’re not good sitters, and we talk too much to be in separate cars for too long. A not-so-quick stop at Arby’s, some gas, and we were off…for another 20 minutes or so. We had to stop at the final store before heading away from modern civilization. The Meijer in Ludington was our final stop for last-minute vices. We stopped off for some wine and I bought some Red Bull. Shelly and Jason bought some wine. Ryan suddenly exclaims, “We can play Slap the Bag!” He likes it when I quote him in my blog, and given his last minute decision to run a marathon on (the last half in socks!), he deserves at least that much.
Side note: I don’t necessarily condone the repeated use of energy drinks, especially without excessive testing in small doses. I have found Red Bull to work well for me after using it for workouts. The buzz lasts a couple hours and seems to bust me out of funks. The notorious energy drink “crash” doesn’t really seem to happen during long runs, as energy gets depleted anyway. Accompanied with more complex carbs like Hammer Gel and some sort of solid food like pretzels or other aid station fare, it works pretty well for me. What works for me may not work well for another person, so caution and experimentation is really important.
So that final stop, we were off and driving again, with about 30 minutes until reaching our destination. Rick and Julie were kind enough to not only supply us with food and water, but a place to stay. They made a head count and set up their camper, a tent, and a makeshift shower. The field next to Julie’s parents was mowed for us to have room to camp and enjoy the fire.

We unloaded our gear and drove 1.2 miles down the road for packet pick up at the start line. We waited in line, joked around, and said generally inappropriate things to pass the time while we waited in line. We got to check out the start/finish area and gaze down the trail to catch a glimpse at what was in store for tomorrow. Alex and I couldn’t take it. We had to run it. We had our running shorts on and tossed our swag bags in Mark’s car. We decided to do just a quick out and back, then jog back to the campsite. We checked out a mile or so of the trail, and hit the road. Rick passed us in his car on the way back and asked, “you guys need a ride?” We declined and said we were trying to shake out the stiffness from the car ride. He told us we would regret it in the morning. Rick’s got a good sense of humor, so he joked with us a bit and sped off. We grabbed a beer on the way in and joined the festivities.

Several new people were at the tent. We met Micah from the east coast, who was looking to conquer the 50mile distance. Judging by his solid training and level-headedness, he was going to do it smoothly and be really successful. He and another guy named Johnny had both been dabbling in “natural running” and were doing some training in Vibram Fivefingers. Of course, we were able to talk quite a bit about training and life in general.
After hearing a great deal about him, I got to meet Rick’s son Jesse. He explained that he was “out of shape” and just looking to have fun and run a good marathon. We had quire a bit more in common than our name and had some laughs. After some more talking, I realized that his “out of shape” includes times I could only run after getting bitten by a radioactive spider.
We ate our food, which was delicious pasta prepared be Julie and the rest of the family. It was then time to hydrate. I wish water came in glass bottles and aluminum cans, because there were 7 or 8 empty ones next to my chair after a couple hours time. My tendency to self-sabotage had been in full swing. “oh damn, I’d better have some water” I said to myself as I tried to maintain a normal walking gate to the cooler. I realized that I had stolen Chris’ chair, a sweet zero-gravity chair, as he is squatting on the ground in his crappy beach chair. He was gracious and kind enough to insist I keep using it.
Lots of laughing took place, we talked running, swapped old race stories, and let everyone in on some of our inside jokes from old trips. Some inside jokes are funny after the fact, others are totally un-funny. We all decided to hit the sheets about the same time. Which was about 11:00 or so. I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping well, so I was in no hurry to get to bed. I never sleep well before a race, and have even PR’ed for 5k distance after an all night Relay for Life walk at school. I had slept fairly well all week, so I figured I would just get what sleep I could and hope for the best. Allergies took their toll, as did the anxiety and alcohol as I tried to sleep in the tent. I felt as if I was waking everyone up with my noise. My constant tossing and turning on the tent floor sounded like a crumpling bag of potato chips, so I had to be careful not to wake anyone.
Finally, the sun started to peak up over the treeline as I heard, “You joggas ready to run?” Jason, as usual, was up and ready to go. He told Alex and I that he would wake us about 20 minutes before they left for the start line. That was about 15 more minutes than I needed, so there I sat, in the tent, making one half-assed attempt to relax and count my breaths before the bustle of the prerace environment got me all giddy and happy to take off. Alex, Jason, Shelly, Andy and I hopped in the car and I pinned my number onto my shorts. Time to join the herd for the big stampede! The Canadian and United States national anthems were played, as both countries were represented that day. Ryan exposed his techy, nerdy side by pointing out feedback and poor sound quality.

We waited around, standing anxiously. I filled my water bottle and talked to a few familiar people. I saw my friend Phil Stapert, one of my ultra running role models who, whether he knows or not, has taught me a great deal about our sport. As the 50 was getting ready to start, I wished our marathoners good luck and safety. Alex was looking confident as usual. I wished him well and told him to give me a verbal shit storm if he saw me walking. Shelly looked calm and collected, and for good reason. She knew she had the marathon distance in the bag and was running her second one in a month! Her progress in the last year is nothing short of amazing. Mark is always in good spirits. He gave me a hug and wished me well. I told him to stay strong and have a good time. Telling Mark to run strong and have fun is like telling a rock to sit still.

Ryan was registered for the half marathon. He put in a solid 10-11 mile run on a section of the North Country Trail in Hesperia about 2 weeks before the race. He looked good afterward and the 13.1 would have been in the bag…so he switched to the full marathon the night before the race. A ballsy, rediculous move that made no sense- classic Ryan. We wished each other well, and Jason and I reluctantly walked over the 50 mile start.

The runners all gathered in the parking lot. I had no idea where the actual start was. I took my usual spot in the back/middle of the pack, where all the fun folks reside. The sense of genuine excitement for one another is best there, so I never saw any start line. I heard a faint, “GO!” over the loudspeaker and we were off. It was a bit of an anti-climactic start, but I wasn’t really paying attention either. I wasn’t totally awake yet.
I started my shuffle, then realized we were really moving. I was in the middle of the pack, running an 8 minute pace on pacement. I told Jason, “This course isn’t hard, its even paved!” To get the full 50 miles, they RD must have had to add a short out and back in the parking lot. Jason replied “yeah, we’ll be done in no time running this pace!”

We cruised past the start line again and got to be applauded by those who would be racing the marathon or the half marathon. The race was quite crowded as we shuffled into the singletrack, meandering through the scenery for about a mile. I made passes whenever I could. I would ask people if they minded if I snuck around them at the next available spot, and they all gladly made concessions for me. The sportsmanship at races always impresses me, which builds my love of the sport. We finally got to a climb that felt like a little over a 1/2 mile of steady elevation gain. The trail was a mountain bike trail, so rather than a steep, technical climb, we were treated to a long, sweeping climb that encompassed a gully. It was a breathtaking scene as I could feel my heart rate rise with the climb. Next thing I knew, we were taking off downhill again.

This is where I met "Ohio" and Chris(I really hope I got the names right).They were accomplished runners who were going for approximately the same goal as I was. We decided to team up and tackle the 8 hour finish together for a while. There was a moment when we were dipping below 8 minute mile pace on the incredibly smooth descents, and were able to use the momentum to power up the climbs. At approximately mile 6, we reached one spot on the course that branched. The options were to go straight or take a hard right. The race director told us that no stakes means to stay the course, so my first thought was to continue going straight. There happened to be a small directory for hikers on this particular corner, so Ohio and I slowed down to look at it. Just as we decided to take the left, Laura(who would lead the women) confirmed that we were going the right way. She had run the course before, so she was certainly an asset. I got separated from my new friends at that last aid station.

I found out that there was NO Gu on the course, so I my only choice was to cram the solid, unportable food in my mouth at the aid stations and use a 50/50 mix of Gatorade in my water bottle. The Gu had never been distributed to the aid stations-a major oversight on the race staff's part-so I had to use this makeshift fueling strategy all day. My original plan was 2 gel packets per hour, and some solid food at aid stations. This would keep me light and eliminate the need to carry anything but water all day.

I ran with Laura for about 8 miles of the easier part of the loop. The was a very talented runner; her pace was almost perfect and she was really consistent. We chatted a bit, and I used the opportunity to pick her brain a little about ultras. She had a one man support crew at the aid stations, and watching how fluid they were made me think about having a crew for my next ultra, she barely even slowed down when I had to stop completely. The adrenaline rush of aid stations spurred me on to catch her again, but its so much more efficient to stay smooth.

We entered a new trail, and immediately after an aid station, we were met with a pretty long, winding climb. Every time we made a hairpin corner, we were met with another section of hill to climb! When I move out west, I'm going to get my ass kicked at mountain running. Im used to a constant barrage of small climbs, not sustained climbing. The most long climbs I do are at a tiny local ski area on my route home from school when I visit my parents. It was then that we were finally able to make our descent. I began stutter stepping behind Laura, and realized that my legs were still fresh enough to bomb the downhills. I just used my inner moutain biker to glide over the roots and rocks, going as fast as gravity would let me go. My quads weren't even hurting, so I let it fly. I passed Laura and told her I was going to let gravity do its thing. She laughed and I told her to scrape me up off the trail when I crashed.

The next few miles were uneventful. I was alone and enjoying the quiet, singing a few songs to myself as I kept a decent pace, feeling great and smiling to myself. I glanced down at my Garmin 405, and I realized the "virtual partner" feature was activated. It was then that I remembered that Ryan and I had traded watches. My battery was not lasting as long as it previously had, so Ryan was kind enough to swap with me, since his race was shorter. Just as I was thinking that things were going pretty smoothly, I found a Gu on the trail! The small pull tab on the package was peaking out of the dirt at me. I stopped, picked it up, and stuffed it into the waistband of my shorts. It was a chocolate one- my least favorite flavor. I'm not one to refuse presents from the trail gods, so I took it with a smile and saved it for later. The trail smoothed out, and the only obstacles were a series of 3 foot tall rollers on the low spots in the course. I picked up the pace without realizing it, hitting a mid-7 pace on the flatter sections! My heart rate felt good(guestimation-I never use an HRM). Every time I hit this pace, I felt as if I was making a wager. Would I regret running this fast when I blow up, or would I be further along on the course when my inevitable fizzle occurs? Regardless, I kept relentlessly charging forward while I was on a high.

A few miles later, I had come to a few large hills. I powered up them, but they took their toll. I was fatigued, and couldn't ignore my urge to walk. I took tiny running steps up the hills. I found out after running it that the course contains an 8-9 mile stretch of energy-draining hills. I heard some rapidly coming up behind me. I thought to myself, "Is someone putting the surge on me at mile 17 in a 50 mile race? He's a better athlete than I'll ever be!" Hopping around on my left, I caught a glimpse of the blue jersey of Sam Darling, the man who would go on to win the marathon. He was blazing by me, and I thought I was moving at a good clip. Incredibly impressive. One more marathon guy passed about 10 minutes later. He asked if I saw any other marathoners. I said "you got 'em! Not too far ahead! Do a tempo 10 miler and kick his ass!" Sam was flying; I don't know if anyone on the course was going to be able to catch him. I must have run into the half marathon course, because I began having to pick my way through the racers that composed the back of the pack. For the most part, I just went off course and skirted around. Where they are in the pack or how far theyre running didn't really matter. Running is all so relative to the person doing the racing, so I did my best not to interrupt their race. I did get that chance to see Sam, a girl I met at one of the Barefoot Running University clinics in Grand Rapids. She was running the half and looking great. We traded smiles, congratulated each other, and went about our way.
I walked another hill. Of course, on my second bout of walking a hill, I heard a familiar voice yelling behind me. "Is that you walking, Jesse!?" I look back to see the glorious combo of a highlighter yellow Brooks ID singlet and a blue "Bank of Michigan" trucker hat. Alex was in third place! He blazed by in pursuit of the leading marathoners. As he passed, I felt the sting that is my running club nickname. "Hobby. Jogger," Alex calmy said with a fececious heir of contempt. I told him to run like hell and chase down the finish.

A few more miles had passed, and we finally were on a part of the course that leveled off. Chris and I had met up a while back and were talking alot on the course. I don't know if it's normal to talk so much during a race, but I was enjoying myself, so its all good. We passed a few more 13.1 racers, cheered them on, and finally rounded a corner that took us toward the start/finish line. We heard Bart Yasso himself over the loudspeaker. "We got some ultrarunners comin' in people!" We rolled in with a great deal of excitement, and I immediately saw Alex. He rushed over to ask how I was doing, and I told him I felt great. I asked his time, and he told me he ran a 3:14. I was at a loss of words. How the hell does someone run 3 minutes away from a Boston Qualifier...at their first marathon...on technical trails!?

Bart Yasso walked up and told me that Chris and I were in 1st and 2nd place. I assumed he was messing with me. I could clearly see other runners ahead of me when the race started, and hadn't seen them since. Apparently, there had been some misunderstanding with the frontrunners at the aforementioned unmarked corner. Though it felt a bit opportunistic, I felt a surge of adrenaline as I downed my first Red Bull and Grabbed another for the trail ahead. Chris was kind enough to offer me a couple gels from his own private stash, as well as a mini Clif Bar. Mr. Yasso asked me if I was carrying a pack. I told him no. He asked if I had a drop bag. I told him no. I was wearing what is best described as a mesh house shoe. To be called a true minimalist by one of the figureheads of the running world is certainly awesome. We surged down the trail and talked about how something must have gone wrong. Either way, the leaders with the guts to stay in the race would have to come take their spot from me!

I felt much more comfortable knowing where the aid stations and the more difficult sections of trail were the second time around. Chris and I talked a bit more, but got separated on the downhills. For some reason, I felt loose all day and was able to float down the downhills. I think training barefoot and in different types of minimalist footwear has taught me not to rely on footwear for solid downhill running. Utilizing the built up heel of a standard running shoe, in my experience, is similar to running down a sand dune. The absorption of the force allows for stride rate to slow and a straightened leg to hit the ground. In a shoe with no padded heel, the knee remains flexed and a light, fast stride is used to keep the body "floating" instead of repeatedly crashing. Dancing around the roots and rocks is a blast. When I'm feeling a good flow of energy on downhills, its as much fun as downing a technical section on a mountain bike or blasting down a ski slope. Rolling along with speed and feeling the wind in my sweat-soaked hair, I was at peace with my solitude. I rolled through two aid stations, chatting with the friendly volunteers as I made an effort to not completely stop moving. I had to stop to fill my bottle at every other AS, but other than that, it was two cups of gatorade and a hadful of oreos. Have I mentioned my love of oreos?

It was a couple miles past an aid station that I reunited with "Ohio." He and his wife were having a great time. They were both in good spirits. To me, Chris and Ohio epitomize ultrarunning(Not exclusively, I have many great friends that are role models not only as runners, but as people). Ohio told me earlier that he and his wife would be running the last miles together. Even with a chance to take an overall win, he still followed through on what he said. He exclaimed "I saved your spot, buddy! Get going!" He had his own specific goals in mind, and wanted to conquer a feat of endurance, and he looked like he was going to do it with ease. We talked a bit more and I was off, officially leading the race! Me, the king hobbyjogger, leading a 50 mile ultra. Absurd.

I rolled into the next AS, and nearly startled a group of volunteers. "You're our first customer!" they said as I perused the selection of treats. I grabbed my oreos and gatorade, thanked the kind folks at the table and took off down the trail again. I've learned that most food doesn't irritate my stomach on runs. I once stopped at a burger king for a double cheeseburger in the middle of a 14 mile tempo run with running club. That was certainly a test of my gluttony and my stomach, but any small amount of food typically goes by with little unpleasantness. I was temporarily blocked by a 7ish year old boy in the trail, most likely a son of one of the volunteers. I can't imagine having that kind of patience at that age. He was waving a large stick around as I passed him, and he accidently whacked me in my kneecap as I passed. I laughed it off and kept going. Kids are awesome. To think I may cease to be one some day is downright scary. I started a tough climb, and remembered where I was. I was heading into the section of tough hills, this time alone. I the hills seemed to start gradual and get steeper, so I ran as far as I could, then picked a landmark to start walking at. This worked well for me, as I was too tired to power up some of the climbs. It broke the task down into manageable pieces. If I thought even for a second that I had 19miles, 16miles, or 12 miles to go, I would immediately start thinking discouraging thoughts. Even when in the lead, motivation was fleeting.

I continued to trudge along in no man's land, still floating relatively easily on the downhills, and relentlessly moving forward on the ups. I made a sharp turn, and saw a glimpse of white coming after me on the trail. A real ultrarunner was coming back to reclaim his stolen spot. I immediately felt a sense of urgency as I ran a particularly long downhill section. My predator was temporarily at arm's length. I kept imagining the group of leaders barreling down the trail at me, stalking me and shouting, much like in post-apocalptic scifi movies. I was having visions of these running machines, hunting me down for sport and their spot back from the outsider. Of course, this was my crazy imagination run amuck in my solitary and hypoglycemic state. All the runners I encountered were class acts all the way. I passed through another aid station, this one having a supply of delicious, albeit stale, grilled cheese. I downed one of the delicious sandwich slices and sped off. As I left, I saw the same runner again. He was closing in again, and I remember a section of tough climbs ahead from my previous loop. It wasn't long before I heard the footsteps closing in. On one small uphill, I was finally passed. Brad Hinton had taken the lead, but wasn't flying past me. I smiled and said, "I've been saving your spot for you, its nice and broken in!" He kind of smiled and stepped ahead. I asked him how he was feeling, and he replied positively, but I don't remember exactly what he said. For the next 6 miles or so, I latched onto his pace. This man is one tough son of a bitch on the uphills! I maintained a run and glided on up some of the stuff I almost fell backward on. I walked some hills and watched him fade up to the top. Luckily, there was a down for every up. My legs were still feeling fresh! I glided and hopped down the hills over roots and logs to make up the time I lost on Brad. Without fail, he would then respond with a great climbing effort and the scales would tip again. We passed through one more aid station. The AS was on an uphill part of the course, so he naturally arrived first. The only issue with aid stations on this course was that water bottles had to be filled with cups on the tables by volunteers. At this particular aid station, it was kind of a "first come, first served" basis. Brad got his bottle filled, grabbed some Gatorade, and was off. The woman working the AS sensed the urgency of the situation, and filled my water bottle with haste. She told me "go get him!" and I was off, thinking that I could get him, but I couldn't hold him. The next section whizzed by. I picked up my hill walking pace to stay right on Brad's heels while he ran. He started bombing the downhills to match my speedy descents. The head games were starting, and we had 5 miles to go. We jumped over some logs, floated some tricky, technical descents, and continued on the route of merciless climbs. There was a yellow cooler ahead, the final aid station before the finish. It was really close, possibly less than 2 miles from the finish. Brad skipped this aid station altogher, I grabbed a cup of blue Gatorade and threw it down(this was odd, every other AS only had green). I sprinted up to catch Brad, but once again, he was simply too strong to pass.

I bided my time. I had my ace up my sleeve. Im somehow able to kick, no matter how long I've been running, there's always more. I managed a 2:40 800m in the last 5 minutes of a 12 hour race. I've somehow scraped together a 19:00 5k in the last 3.1 miles of a 34 mile race. I feel like this is bragging, but my times at short distances are pedestrian at best. I have very little talent at at running fast on roads, but a experiences have led me to feel that there is something in me that works well under extreme duress. Brad and I ran side by side on a sandy, wider trail when we saw the sign. There was a sign that directed the marathon runners to their 1.2 mile finishing loop, and the 50milers to the finish. A cold beer and food was just minutes away. There was one final, small hill before a grassy 400-600m sprint to the finish.

The hill neared as I dropped back, just off of Brad's shoulder. We climbed the loose terrain as I felt the sand spraying off of Brad's yellow Brooks Cascadias. We almost reached the top of the hill, and I made my move. I side stepped and shot up the hill. Slapping Brad on the shoulder, I said, "let's kick this thing in!" I wanted us to give each other every last drop of what we had. I wasn't going to let him win with anything less than a run for his life, and I wouldn't give him anything less either. We both took off. This pace was easily a sub- seven effort in the sand. We rounded the corner, and saw the flags that would guide us in. A sweeping right turn, and we were in front of the crowd. Those that could stand were on their feet. I could't resist. I had to smile. Here I was, running stride for stride, pushing hard and only focusing on running. Running as fast as I could. The pace picked up more-Brad had answered my surge. I replied with more-He matched it and raised it. I matched is pace as we came in. The moment was perfect. Pure and silent and complete. I heard my heart rate and could feel every breath blasting from my lungs. One blink later, and it was over. I was in the arms of friends and could hear... nothing. I looked back at the finish line, and my adversary had collapsed in the yellow scaffolding that housed the finish line. I feared for his safety and went to go help. I had waited too long, and he had already been helped up by race staff. That's probably a good thing as I was probably incapable of holding up any more than my own frail body. I went to give Brad and handshake, and we essentially collapsed into each other. We knew what we had done. We ran a race that is usually won by minutes, sometimes over an hour. We finished within FAR less than 1 second of each other. I wanted an experience that would push my limits. It was given to me, not only by a distance or a course, but by another man. The finish can be seen here:
The finish, posted by Jason

Brad was awarded first place. I won't complain. I honestly can't say who won. The only complaint that I will actually make is with regard to the possible reason that I was given second place. The leaders had gone off course. Brad rallied and ran 53 miles in the exact same time I ran 50. The problem is that this isn't my fault. If this was the real reason that I was awarded 2nd, then I was essentially penalized for taking the time to read a map. I could go on and on with my speculation and rambling, but essentially, I will sum it up as such: I did NOT have any expectations to win this race but I did have a tentative time goal. Being in 1st place and fighting hard to the exciting end helped me reach that time goal. I wanted to find a part of me that had been lost, a part that genuinely enjoys running. This is what I did this weekend. It was perfect and I wouldn't change a damn thing.




Humans were once able to be a part of their environment, not the controller of it. We were once able to fly through our world without overly structured footwear and special suits that evacuate sweat. Our bodies are all made for this. Mine and yours.

Brad(seated) and I, moments after the finish.

Sam and I a few minutes after the race. The things I do for affection.
I don't know how to rotate images

some dusty ankles and some jewelery. Lots of rehydration to follow






Friday, September 3, 2010

Weekly review: a week late

Im working on the race report for the North Country Trail 50. A few pictures and a video to add, and it's complete. I forgot to post my mileage for the "taper week" that lead up to the race. I mostly just relaxed and stretched out my sketchy knee, but had some fun times in the trails as well. I explored some trails with Sam around her house. She's getting curious enough about trails to discover the joys of running in the woods. Using your legs to take you to the next scenic view or to see whats around the next corner are the best parts. My sister, Megan, is a solid runner who hardly ever runs. She does a spectacular job, but simply lacks the routine. Watching her power up hills and nimbly dance around rocks and roots makes me realize something: If she had my unhealthy obsession with running, she would clearly be the athlete of the family. She's much more sutbborn than I am, a good trait with running as long as you know when to fold 'em. I also ran a bit the night before the race with Alex. Probably not the best thing to do, but I simply had to stretch the legs and run some of tomorrow's trails in the Manistee National Forest. The week unfolded as such: The race report will probably be posted later.

Monday
35 mile bike ride to Whitehall and back
4.5 miles easy with Sam(50:00)
Tuesday
3 miles easy(30:00)
Wednesday
3.5 mile easy with Megan (45:00)
Thursday
6miles on GVSU campus with Sam(1:00:00)
Friday
4 mile shake-out with Alex(30:00)
Totals
21 miles (3:35:00)