Friday, May 20, 2011

MTD race report 2011

Here we go, late as usual. Everyone else's are up already, but I can't help myself.

Days leading up to the race:

Running had taken a back seat to life in the weeks prior to the race. As some of you know, I was stricken a bit ill immediately after a road trip/mountain running adventure with Jason Robillard. Three weeks after the trip were filled with lots of sleeping and fairly little exercise. Once I did creep back into running, however, I found myself feeling stronger than ever. My short runs were faster(substantially-nearly a minute/mile at a given intensity) and my longer runs felt stronger. I kept the mileage low because I didn't want to lose the feeling of running being fun again. Not wanting to allow the remnant sickness to get the best of me, I ran sparsely and let the motivation and mileage come to me. There's one excuse eliminated.

Lots of fun was had in the non running world in the weeks before the 12 hour. I graduated from Western Michigan with my BS in Exercise Science, which meant two things: I consumed quite a bit of alcohol during finals week, and I consumed a lot of alcohol after finals week. Knowing that it was goodbye for me and some of my closest friends in Kalamazoo, we made sure to get lots of quality time in, mostly in the form of late nights and good conversation....and this is how my race reports get long - I get sidetracked.

The weeks of tapering went well, but was a bit more abrupt than planned. I ran a couple of runs in the double digits, a few runs at desired race pace, and did some hiking and biking to keep me occupied.

The Road Trip

The best part of this adventure, as with last year, may have been the road trip. Jason, Shelly, and our friend John loaded up at the Robillard's (after I showed up 40 minutes late with a list of excuses) and headed east. We stopped along the way for food, drinks, and laughs. The hilarity that ensued would further reinforce that we are all idiots, so I'll spare it. I soon found out that John is my twin brother... or should I say twin Bro? Our group of vagabonds stayed in a hotel in Cleveland...or Toledo or whatever, then made a break for New York the following morning. Jason contracted some sort of virus from one of his spawn, so I was good friend and told him to get the hell away from me every time he collapsed in my direction. Some BRU intern I am, yes? The road trip was incredibly fun, but a bit sad as well. I've grown to love my gypsy family that I travel with, and to know that I won't be seeing them for a while was nearly enough to make this vagabond get the vapors. We all picked up various types of alcohol for various parts of the next day. I was planning on using Pabst Blue Ribbon as race fuel. My last long run with beer was an overwhelming success(36 miles at sub 8 pace), so I wanted to use what worked. We then went to Chili's for some food and hit the bed. Of course, John and I had some shenaniganning to do first, mostly in the form of prank calling friends while playing ridiculous youtube videos.

The Event
As nonchalantly as I try to pass myself off, I get pre-race jitters. The vast majority of those jitters are excitement. I was happy to actually get on the course, see some runners from last year, and see what progress, if any, I had made. MTD is a bit of a landmark for me. It marked the first year that I consistently trained for running specific ultra events. Our crew laid out our gear in our EZ up tent, then we picked up our packets and did the pre race "should I stretch? warm up? pee?" awkward dance toward the finish line. Not a moment too soon, up strolls my friend and virtual training partner, Rebecca. I was excited to see her. We met last year at the same event and had fun running together for much of the latter half. Our crew from MI took a quick photo and the race started in true ultra fashion- rather uneventfully(we all knew what we were in for, so we just smiled)

Our crew from MI actually made up a large portion of the field. I ended up very proud of them all. I think Stewart is mocking me in this photo.
 I'm terrible with names, but as it turns out, I had a rabbit for the first 50k of the race. I was following a fellow who was running nearly 7:00minutes/mile for the first few laps. I gave chase, knowing that my excitement early on may as well be embraced, not resisted. I had faith that I would find my pace and settle into a groove. I let the mystery man go, thinking that a)he was a far better runner I, or b) he was running too fast for both of us. Turns out(these are rumors, correct my hearsay if necessary) that he's a damned good marathon/50k guy who was having some back issues, so he was playing it by ear, then decided to drop.  I also had a pacer for the early hours of the race. Peter, a guy about my age, ran with me for quite some time. He's quite an accomplished runner, especially at shorter events. It was great to talk about collegiate running with someone who also has a passion for ultras. Swapping stories and talking made the first few hours cruise by. I'm thankful he was there.

As the clock approached 6 hours, I became focused on one of my secondary goals, which was to run as close to a 7 hour 50mile time as possible. I powered through the last hour with a little help from my mp3 player and some caffeine. I wanted to do this to prove that my last victory, the Woodstock 50mile, wasn't a fluke. If I could come close to a 7 hour time on this paved loop, then I could finally prove to myself that my success at Woodstock was legit.

feeling good, closing in on a 7 hour(ish) 50mile.

The clock hit 7, and I was faced with the wrath of my stupidity. I was completely drained of energy. My calves and soleii were incredibly fatigued. My chest felt heavy. I was shivering. I walked a lap, planning on starting a shuffle next time I crossed the mat. I met up with Jason at our tent, talking to him for a couple seconds. Against his advice(why should I listen to him? He's only run 3 100 milers, wrote a book on running, and taught me everything I know about how to be a good ultra runner.), I decided to take a knee for a moment. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled out in the mud, getting rained on, shivering and shirtless. I told Jason to only let me lay there for 10 minutes, then it was decision time. Should I just give up, accepting that I may simply be a 50miler? Maybe I should focus on 50s for a couple years, then push the distance barrier later on. I am young after all. Even with 50 miles on today, I'll still have a good mileage week on, prepping me for Boulder.

This self-talk went on in my head for what felt like an eternity, then I remembered a conversation I had with Samantha a couple days earlier. I tolder her that this race wasn't going to be about running, but more about building the mental strength I desired for myself. Running is the one thing that nobody can tell me I have easy. The factor keeping me from improving my running is mental endurance. I'm not typically a fan of the warrior mentality(ie, "if it hurts, you're doing it right) with life or sports, but I know that if I want to get better at running long, I have to make friends with the despair that comes from exhaustion. This race was the perfect venue for that. I thought of my training partners at home. Running's a bit of a self-serving thing, but I'm a member of a small team back at WMU, and I needed to put the effort in for the crew of great runners that compose our club. They've supported me a great deal, and this was the only way I could repay them. It was time for the real work to start.

Sitting down during an ultra is a bad idea.

I got up after Jimmy V snapped a photo of me face down in the mud. Ryan Hansard let me get some of his RedBull stash and I ate a sandwich. I started shuffling just as Angie came around. She and I have been facebook friends and user's of the Runner's World Forum for quite a while, but this was the first time that I got to meet her in person. She asked if I needed some motivation. I said yes. Her reply was something to the tune of "Get your lazy %^&ing ass moving then." I'm a fairly trainable male when it comes to talk like that from the fairer sex, so I picked up my heavy feet and followed along. We took a few laps together, talking about our favorite books, her latest adventures, and life in general as I built up some momentum. I was off and running, feeling fresh and back on pace.

The smile is gone, but body keeps moving.
 I noticed I hadn't seen Rebecca in a little bit. We were likely running the similar pace on opposite ends of the loop, so I figured I might as well try to catch her, giving us both someone to babble to in the last hours. We ran together intermittently, but not as inseperably as last year. One guy said to us, "Didn't I spend the day watching you two running around together last year?"

The rest of the 12 hours felt like a typical day at my old job. Work hard, and there's 2 hours left. Slack off, and there's two hours left. I distracted myself with my thoughts at times, and focused heavily at times. Noticing that I was the main HammerGel Consumer at the aid stations, I had to try some of the nastier flavors as I drained the supply(I prefer GU, but the Hammer flavors were pretty palatable as well. (I tend to fall into the "sugar is sugar" camp when it comes to nutrition). Mountain Dew had become my friend, as did loads of water. I was relieved when the clock finally hit 11 hours.

I had big plans for the final hour. Aided by angsty music from my youth, I was going to alternate between harder laps and easy laps, both of which would be spent running. This happened roughly one time, then I just put it on cruise. I happened to meet up with Rebecca again, and asked her if she'd like to finish the race together. She obliged, provided that I don't go too fast. I didn't have the humility to tell her that it was a complete non-issue. I was only hanging on by a thread, so having her there was a blessing. She's gone beyond the 12 hour barrier, and even done a 24. My longest runs are MTD one self supported 14 hour run a year ago. We trotted around for the last 30 minutes, thinking about all that had changed in the past year, as well as what had not. My arrogant "I don't plan on getting tired" approach hadn't wavered much in the past year, but it did rub off on her a little bit. Her smart, conservative approach didn't change, but I did manage a few moments of good decision making this time around. We knew our places on the dry erase boards were not likely to change, so we just kept breaking the silence by saying, "I can't believe its almost over. I don't remember it hurting this badly last year."

The last few minutes of the race were great. People were finishing up, giving their hugs, and those who had had enough were cheering the rest on. With 5ish minutes to go, we knew we had time for a victory lap. I briefly considered running a fast 800m sprint like last year, but felt pretty comfortable where I was. We picked it up a little, then finished the damned race.

Unsure of what to do after finishing, I ever-so-awkwardly gave Rebecca a hug.
I thought it might gross her out, but I then remembered her wiping some sort of
armpit discharge off my back early on. Ah, ultrarunning is an odd sport.
Photo: Shelly Robillard

The very next thing after the race was over? I had to brush my teeth. 12 hours of nothing but GU and Mountain Dew made my mouth feel horrible. Pizza and food to follow, along with some celebration with my Joggas. Everyone was amazing all day. Mark put up mega miles while still pulling pranks on us all. Rick doubled his longest run ever, hitting the 100k mark and some change. Brandon hit 100k, and he and Emily won the couple's prize. Shelly didn't meet last years mileage, but she ran nearly every step this year, a huge performance gain in my book. The strength to recognize quality over quantity is a trait I still don't possess.  Jason unfortunately was stricken with the flu, but managed to do well and keep in good spirits. It may have been a product of his mid-race trip to the beer store with John. John never ceases to impress. His longest run was "an eight miler a few years ago," and he managed to rack up mileage in the 20s. Stuart, Tony, and Matt all stayed in good spirits all day, putting up some really impressive mileage. Matt walked the ENTIRE time. The mental fortitude for that is beyond me, and my hat's off to him for it. Ryan Hansard was just short of his 50 mile goal, where he displayed two things: balls. I didn't get to talk to Vanessa or Robert, two of my other online friends from out West. They were a bit busy being absolutely insane, and I'm not talking about their tutus. They ran MTD, cut out just a little early, and headed to the Toronto Marathon the very next day. I envy their spirit.
I love trophies like this. The basic elegance of it encompasses what I hope our
 sport maintains for years to come.
Photo: Mark Robillard

No races on the horizon, but a summer of running mountains in Boulder, Colorado awaits- provided that I can heal myself up.


  1. Shoot! You promised to tell me if my balls were showing! lulz!

    You did awesome man! I'm not going to lie, the Red Bulls were mostly for you in case of an emergency, but I figured they might help me too!

    Glad I got to experience another great performance by you. And it wasn't great because you won, but just you being you.

  2. jesse, i am a firm believer that everyone who is able to, should run. old and young, fat or thin, early starters or late in lifers. we can't all be great, the reality is some people have an IT factor and while it may not be easy work, their bodies and minds are made for it. most of us don't have it, but you do. in spades. the first 7 hours was your body, the part you work hard for. the last 5 was the IT- the guts and the heart. that last hour when you were violently ripping the top of the gel packs, you look like our warrior ancestors must of on their persistence hunts: focused, honed to a fine point by pain, willing to go until either they or their prey died.
    you were a spectacle. it was awesome. now go and use your powers for good. :-)

  3. Jesse,
    The mile or so we spent together was amazing... sappy wasn't it. Either way it was a lot of fun hanging with you for the day. You didn't mention the fact that I was kicking your butt for the first hour and I felt so bad about it, I let you go on to win (the nice guy that I am). Can't wait to see you at a hundred someday. You will probably be pretty fast. Just think, only another 23 miles!

  4. Shelley, that may have been the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. Very honored. Glad Brandon came along and took me back down to earth!

  5. Nicley done! Both the actual race and the race report.

    I can´t make out what kind of shoes you´re wearing? Are those "normal" shoes?


  6. You put on an incredible performance, dude. I honestly didn't know humans could run that far - that fast. Awesome sauce.

  7. Too kind, everyone. Viktor, those shoes are the Nada, made by Somnio. They're a more "normal" shoe, but, they're flat, flexible, have no heel, and weigh only 3.5ish ounces. I absolutely loved them for this particular course. The only problem was a slight durability issue. The full review should be up soon at the barefoot running university website.

  8. are those somnio nadas that you are wearing in the race?

  9. Yep. The race was their formal review. I had never even put them on before racing in them. My feet got a little cut up, but it was raining...for 12 hours. They faired well.