Monday, November 14, 2011

Richmond Marathon

3:29 - bittersweet. I made my sub-3:30 goal by about 45 seconds, meaning I can follow through with my plan to train for and set a 13.1 PR (then 10k, 5k, etc...) but... still bittersweet... the second half was slow.

After settling in for two miles I noticed I was running right next to the 3:15 pace group, how convenient. Long story short, I essentially flipped the plan I had (a.k.a. going out slow) and ran with them. But I never have been good at going out slow, or following race plans for that matter, and the 7:15 pace felt entirely too nice, so I was content when we went through the half in 1:35, less than a minute off what I ran the actual half-marathon in last year on this course (this is significant and makes me excited about running a fast half). I stopped at mile 16 for 30 seconds, and ultimately couldn't make up that gap with the pacers.

-Begin Downward Spiral-

The next four miles actually weren't that bad, but this is technically where it started. Throughout the whole course there were a TON of hokie fans, and this was kind of nice considering it was during the first part of the race where I was running by myself (or still with the pacer group, just 2 minutes behind -_- ). Over this past summer I really got used to races where you don't see another human being for miles or even hours at a time, so this was a nice change. Anyway, miles 20-23 were the worst for me, mostly due to a very weak/damaged feeling left calf. Not sure what was up with that.. but after coming up a little hill out of 24, I saw the 3:30 pacer, and decided I really had to go for it. About 100 meters after picking up the pace (and feeling much better), sure enough my left calf cramped up, or more locked up like it did in my 50 miler, and I had to stop to work it out. This persisted after two failed attempts at running with the cramp. Finally I got it going again and was moving along at a good clip, when all of a sudden my right toes all locked up. This feels remarkably like trying to hold a nail with your toes while sprinting. I did not stop to work this out like I did with the cramp, I just slowed down a little and tried unflexing my toes. Eventually they unlocked and I was able to go pretty hard for the last mile and a half. Both of those things happened in the last 50 miler at around 2 miles to the finish as well and it bothers me... I think the only way to fix it through training is simply to log more miles (which has been hard due to 16 credits of engineering classes and 3 credits of elective classes I am taking this semester).

I came up with a plan a few races ago, to attempt to PR at every long distance I could. I have decided this to be from the 100 mile to 800 meters (I consider 800 meters the "bridge" from short distance running to distance running). I can always come back to visit a PR at the marathon distance (perhaps this summer at North Face), so a 3:29 will have to do. But now I need to work on the half, and I would like to run around 1:15. Next semester should have a lighter workload, so I will be able to up the mpw and do a few extra speed workouts. It's going to be a good winter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Iron Mountain 50 Mile Race

Place: Damascus, VA
Time: 7:00am, Saturday, September 3rd, 2011
Placed: 18 / 39 (includes DNFers)
Timed: 11:32:41
Course: Out and back, supposedly ended up being a little over 51 miles, with 8000 feet of elevation gain. Started in Damascus, VA at 2000', hovered between 4000'-4500' of wooded ridgeline for the majority of the run. Aid stations every 4-7 miles.
Preparation: Similar to the 50k, not much. Ran about 10 times in the six weeks between races.
Outcome: Wasn't an easy run, but certainly had a great time. Only short-coming of the race was being told at the second-to-last aid station that the finish was 7 miles from the last aid station, getting to the last AS, being told it was actually 9 miles, getting to the finish and finding out it ended up being a little over 8 miles. That kind of messes with your mind after 9 hours of running.
Overall: Woo!

Race: (not very detailed and slightly philosophical...)

Damascus is two hours from tech so I set the alarm for 4am for a 7am race start. Naturally I woke up at 4:47am. Naturally I was low on gas. And also naturally the first gas station I went to was in the process of having it's system rebooted meaning I had to go to a different one. But I made it to Damascus with about 3 minutes to spare, and started the run rather content because I didn't think I'd make it on time. After a mile or two of settling into a rhythm I was going to turn my ipod on but of course it wasn't working... That led to another couple miles of a "well this sucks" mentality.. but for whatever reason it started working around mile 5, and August Burns Red carried me up the first climb (half-mile, maybe 600' or so?) and to the second aid station at mile 9. 

At this point, when the great vibes from the start of the race kind of wear off, that semi-familiar realization "now i have a 20 mile run, then a 20 mile run, then a couple more miles" really hits home. And eventually, at some point in the race when music turns to white noise, water becomes more than simply a luxury, food turns to ash, and your body starts shutting down one bit at a time, you start feeling the same way as every non-runner does about covering 50 miles in half a day. But many, many miles before this point comes, the mind tries to rationalize the distance in several different ways, each of which is worse than the last: "so I have to do what I just did again, then again, then again, then again, then it's only five more miles!" ; "well I've been out here for an hour and a half, only 10 or 11 hours to go, hmm that's like 30 episodes of the office" ; "so I've finished 9, which means the next aid station is 6 miles away, then from there it's only a marathon and three 5k's". This attempt at rationalization gets progressively worse and worse until you realize you've only killed a minute or two with thought. With most distances, thinking about how much you have left to do early in the run just sucks. But it makes it that much better when all of a sudden you realize you only have a lap to go in a 3200, or a mile left in a 50, and it really brings out the best in a person, that feeling forces you to leave it all out on the course. And that's what I find so appealing about longer distances: of course it's no fun to go slow, but if nothing else, going the distance and crossing the finish line after dozens of miles is a feeling that ultimately does rationalize what was at some point, quite irrational. 

That said, I am taking a break from ultrarunning for a little while. I finished two 50m and one 50k this summer, but... the way I see it, I will still be capable of setting 50m, and hopefully 100m PR's for the next 15 to 20+ years, but I probably will only be able to set marathon (and below) PR's for the next 10 years at best (age steals speed long before it steals endurance). I'm running the Richmond Marathon in November, and if I meet my goal (sub 3:30), I'll try to set a new half PR. If i meet that goal I'll try to set a new 10k, 5k, and mile PR, etc, you get the picture. I never gave the mile a good chance (ran 4:59 at age 15, haven't run a timed competitive mile since). So the super-long-term game plan is to PR at every distance before settling down with marathons and ultramarathons, but it is just that, a plan. For the next six or so weeks, Tom and I are trying to stick to a weekly schedule of at least a workout, easy run, long run, and pandapas run, so that's the short-term plan for now. I'm also doing this because I think it would be incredibly difficult to simultaneously train for say, a 10k, and a 50 mile race. But I have never run a road marathon, or a flat marathon, so I'm curious as to what I can do. And quite frankly, I miss being fast. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rosaryville 50k Trail Run

Place: Rosaryville State Park, Maryland
Time: 7:00am, Sunday, July 17th, 2011
Placed: 31 / 71
Timed: 5:51:17
Course: Open and paved half mile out, followed by 3 x 10 mile trail loops and the same half mile back. Loops were 95% wooded with no massive elevation changes, but trail was rolling for the majority of the loop. There were runners of the 10k, 10m, and 25k distance, but they never really came into play during the 50k race as we started 30 minutes before them. High for the day was 92F, with humidity in the 60%-70% range. 
Preparation: Almost none. 50-miler 6 weeks prior, half a dozen scattered runs in said time.
Outcome: Hovered between 14th and 20th place for the first 20 or so miles, ran into inevitable foot pain and stomach issues a few miles into the last loop (obviously due to lack of training). Pain after the race lasted about 3 days, much better compared to the 2 weeks for the 50-miler, but much of this can of course be contributed to the shorter distance I had to run.
Overall: Excellent no-frills race (there were finisher's medals). Inexpensive entry fee for a 50k, some of the best volunteers you could ask for, fun trail, etc.

I woke up at 4:45am on sunday morning and my dad drove us the traffic-less (even on the capital beltway) hour and a quarter to the park. On the way into the park we passed by where volunteers were setting up the second aid station (of two total) at the very end of the 10-mile loop.After a brief check-in, and 30 minutes of waiting, the word "GO" set us off through the imaginary starting line designated by the race director. Probably the most anti-climatic start to a race I've ever experienced, especially compared to the sawed-off shotgun blast from the top of a ladder that started a massive 600 runner race at one of our high school cross country courses, but there are a million ways to start a race, so we were off.

7:00am seemed a little late for a start, but do to the wooded nature ( pun intended) of the course, heat never really played a huge factor in the race. I only lost about 5 pounds, dropping to 145 from 150 which is quite average for me. We settled into several detached centipedes of about 6 or 7 runners each for the first 5 miles moving at perhaps an 8:30 or 9 minute pace. At the 5-ish mile mark, we hit a road on which we did about a half-mile total out and back that started and ended at the first aid station. The AS were five miles apart which really was the perfect distance in my opinion. Less distance between is always better but it wasn't really necessary in this case. The loop finishes up with a roller-coaster-like character, but the ups and downs were mostly small and quite manageable throughout the race. On the second half of the first loop I locked into a solid 7:30 or so pace with two other guys and after the five miles I saw my dad waiting just before the end of the trail, which was a real pick-me-up. By now I had cleared the first loop in the top 15 or so with a time in the vicinity of 80 minutes (including the first half-mile out). I spent a few minutes at the AS talking with my dad, got some water and was off.

There is really not much to say about the second loop. I slowed down a little, finishing in maybe 1:30 or so (slower because there was no extra half-mile) plus a few minutes at the AS. It was at the end of this loop that I downed a few small cups of coke, half a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich (new favorite race food), and a cube of potato dipped in salt. During the second loop I tried and failed to get down a trail mix bar; I just wasn't that hungry. Towards the end of this loop my familiar TOFP (top of foot pain) started.

I started the third loop in around 18th place, and the first two miles of it went well. However, 20 minutes in or so I was in need of a bathroom break... I made it over eleven hours in my 50m without this issue, but this time somehow ran into said issue after less than four. This really screwed with my groove, and drastically reduced my motivation to keep my pace up. The TOFP wasn't nearly as bad as the 50m, but I am sorry to say that walking breaks became a necessity. I was also kicking myself for the reckless way I that ran the first loop. Getting to the first AS didn't take a ridiculously long time: I was slingshotting with other runners back and forth. Also met a cool runner who was doing is first ultra. We talked for perhaps a mile which was great; it's fun to meet people during races. But soon he went ahead, as we still had three or four miles to go. Finishing the second half of the loop was simply miserable. I had to stop for a bathroom break one more time, and this was nothing short of infuriating. I don't think it has anything to do with how I fueled during the race...Most likely how I fueled the day before. But eventually I stepped it up and passed three people in the last mile of the race. The sunny uphill finish after an open half mile on pavement wasn't much to look forward to, but finishing sure was. 31st out of 71 was better than I thought I was at the time, and I was the second youngest runner. Too bad I don't get to run in the 19&under category anymore ;)

All in all it was a great, fun, bare-bones race, and I honestly do recommend it to anybody. It's one of the few races I've found lately that doesn't charge a year's worth of college tuition to simply race other people. And the volunteers were fantastic, efficient, and most importantly, friendly.

Ahead: Iron Mountain 50 miler is four weeks from tomorrow. I'm going back to school a little early to get some good mountain miles in for the race. My feet are all sorts of messed up and I have no idea why. It's not really a pain-pain, just discomfort at odd times (new in left achilles, right bottom of foot, both top of foot) that should not be there given all the rest they've had. I'm trying to give them some more time off now, because they are going to be the sole limiting factor in finishing that race under the cutoff (12 hours). Either way, I'm excited for a solid, tough race in the mountains.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

50 mile race report

Well I finished my first 50 mile race yesterday and thought I would write it down before forgetting the details. This is my first race report so it probably will lack any flow or structure... Anyway the race was The North Face trail 50m in D.C. We started at 5am while it was still chilly right before the sky was beginning to gray with morning. There were 239 starters and I ended up placing 157 with a time of 11:22.

The course was 14.8 out from Algonkian Park to Great Falls Park, three 6.9-mile loops in Great Falls Park, and 14 back for a total of 49.5 miles. I went through the first 14.8 in about 2:20; I had meant to run this in 3 hours with some walk breaks to pace myself, but that fell through and I ended up sticking with a few different packs of runners and ran the whole way. After this first section I still felt excellent, contrary to what I had anticipated due to forgoing the walk breaks.

The 6.9 mile loop was fantastic; I had walked much of the loop with my dad earlier in the week so I was fully prepared for them. Each loop is exactly the same: the first mile is flat as a pancake, the next half mile is uphill, the next 1.2 to the aid station on the loop can only be described as a roller coaster. From there the 1.2 back from the aid station is on the same roller coaster, then half a mile down hill over a technical trail, and the next 2.5 is all flat. This last 2.5 mile strech was the most interesting section and I'm glad we got to run it three times. Half of it goes through the ruins of Mathildaville, a canal-town that G. Washington was in charge of in the 1790s, and the other half is literally right on top of the Virginia-side cliffs of Great Falls on the Potomac River.

The first two loops I did in about 1:30 each, including the breaks I took at the aid station between loops, meaning I went through the marathon in about 5 hours (28.4 mile checkpoint was 5:25). Up until this point the only walking I did was on the uphills of the loop. The tendon on the top of my left foot was starting to feel stressed from when I rolled my ankle, but other than that running was still effortless and I had some fun pushing the pace down some technical sections. It was strange how the second loop was much easier than the first. The third loop is when things started to hurt more.. My tendon was really starting to bother me, and the pain was moving up to my left knee on the hills. This loop took about 2 hours including the 10 or so minute break at the aid station.

The first three-ish miles back went really well, as I was able to run almost all of it, but on a half-mile packed gravel downhill, both knees and my right tendon on the top of my foot were going crazy. This is when I started my stretch of walking that would last the next 3 miles. During this stretch I probably walked 2.5 and ran .5 ... Then we rounded a corner through 7-foot tall grass and out of the woods appeared the second-to-last aid station. I had been out of water for about 30 minutes and things were started to get pretty miserable. And frankly, reaching that aid station was very disheartening. Earlier that morning when we reached the same aid station outbound, I learned it was at the 8.1 mile mark, and obviously this meant that we still had that far to go. The guy at the aid station asked me "so how was the first 42 miles" ? And that really struck home that even though we'd come that far...we still had 8 miles to go, which is even worse considering it meant at least another hour and a half of moving.

But, long story short, I got there. Around mile 47 or 48 all of a sudden nothing really hurt, I was able to run the last 2 miles around a 7 or 730 pace without stopping. The last quarter mile and eventually through the finish chute I experienced one of the most rewarding feelings of my life so far. And while I was cursing this sport during the low points of the race, when I got home afterwards I was already looking up the next ultra to do. Funny how that works.

Some notes:
- i basically did the bare minimum in terms of training, and really haven't been able to keep it up the last few weeks due to school and work but i be sure to do more than the minimum next time
- longest training run was a mountainous 22 miles 6 or so weeks out
- average miles per week was around 20 or 30
- wore a 1 dollar cotton white tee and had no problems....
- ate 1 power bar, 1 clif bar, and 3 potato chips during the race for about 450 calories
- drank about 100-120 ounces of gatorade/electrolyte replacement for more calories which really helped as solid food was hard to eat
- ran in mt101s and had no problems (lost the rest of a toenail that was mostly gone anyway, have two tiny blisters, but my toes don't hurt so i will continue to wear these)
- the day after, my ankles are incredibly sore, but quads and calves are ready to run again, shoulders are sore
- all-in-all a fantastic experience