Sunday, August 16, 2015

TARC Summer Classic 2015

Yesterday I ran the TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) Summer Classic in Medfield, MA for the second time. It's a 50K trail race on some very rooty and somewhat technical terrain. There as really very few sections where you can just cruise for a bit, making it a different experience from the Vermont 50. It's also the race where I started my now 1yr old career in Ultra running.

I set out with three goals as usual, but at least the first goal was somewhat different.
1) Don't fall as much or as hard as last year.
2) Try to keep the loop times more even, i.e. go out much much slower.
3) Beat last year's time, and hopefully break 5:30.

I was very calm yesterday. No issues getting to the course. I knew what I wanted to setup for drop supplies in the start/finish area. No thinking would be required, which is as it should be on race day. It was upper 60s at the start of the race, around 7:15am. I knew it would get warmer during the day, quite a bit warmer.
channeling my inner Angela Hopkins
I was successful in starting much more slowly than last year. I spent quite a bit of time thinking that perhaps I had started too slowly, only to remind myself that it is extremely rare that someone ever, truly starts too slowly. These are races of attrition, not won by top end speed but rather by slowing down the least. I spent the first lap just trying to move calmly and steadily with an emphasis on preserving my quads, something I didn't do so well last year. I was pretty far back but eventually people started coming back to me. The course has quite a few places where you overlap with runners going the other direction, so you can get a sense of where you are in the field. About 50min in I was already 10min back of a group of 4 leaders, and there were quite a few people in between. Some people would surely crack, but I didn't think enough to improve on my overall place.

*Running tip: Why we have goals
 Overall place was not in my goal list. If it's not on your goal list push it out of your mind! There's a temptation to get caught up in things that, when you were sitting calmly at home, were not deemed to be important, like placing.*

Despite my positioning I felt I was moving well. Had one stumble but no falls (yet), and felt like I do on my training runs. Time to trust myself and just keep doing what I do. We weren't even 10miles into a 31mile race. Around the end of lap one, 11 miles in, I started seeing a few runners ahead. We'd be in the start finish area together. I was curious to get a location on one runner in particular, a man in head to toe white with red Salomon gear. He had this style where he walked even somewhat shallow climbs, but crushed technical downhills at (to me) terrify speed. It was like watching a mountain biker. Anyway, my approach was almost the exact opposite so I was curious to see how he was doing. On the first lap he had put some real time into me.

Lap 2 was uneventful other than working my way into "no man's land", which is to say I seldom saw any more runners, until the last 1/4mile of the lap. I recall thinking, "Okay ten miles to go to reel them... F--- ME!!" I had lost concentration for just one moment and hit the ground hard scraping up my knee and cramping. But I got right back up, so that's a good thing! And I was out of sight of the finish line people so I didn't suffer the public humiliation! Seriously that's what I was thinking. I wasn't really hurt but just felt stupid. Rookie mistake. I went back to reminding myself that I caught people by running my race, not by TRYING to catch them.
eyes on the prize big guy, or stupid happens

With almost 2 hours of running left, that 1/4mile would be fairly easy to overcome. So I hit the finish area, went to my drop spot, and went to refill my hydration bladder...only to find it was only 1/2 empty. What was I thinking? I know I thought I was drinking too quickly, but apparently the opposite was true. This was my first race with a hydration bladder as opposed to water bottles and I still haven't worked out a great system for monitoring consumption. Bottles are easy, especially my clear ones. You just look. The pack you seem to have to judge by weight. I found that's hard to do when you're tired.

The temperature was now hitting 90+ degrees, and the air was not moving...not even a little. I'm experienced enough to know a hydration deficit like I put myself in was going to be a problem on the final lap. You can't just chug a bunch because by this point your body isn't absorbing anything nearly as well as it was at the beginning of the day.
Is it hot enough for you?
*Running tip: Take Your Medicine
I've never found anything positive coming out of denying the truth of a situation. Better to acknowledge the mistake and adjust your plans accordingly, otherwise something even worse tends to happen.

In this case I knew I had to back off the pace a bit and add a few more walks or risk not making it in. In these conditions, with this sort of distance, going from upright and moving to DNF can happen really fast. So I focused on one thought, "You're going well just don't be stupid." That meant don't take chances in the technical stuff, relax, keep really focused for toe-catchers. Another fall might be a very difficult thing from which to recover. The first bout of severe cramping occurred about 2 miles into lap 3. I had just finished the long steady climb when my left hip, and subsequently my hamstrings and lower back started locking up. I was slowed to a walk. I knew they would pass but boy it hurt like hell for a couple of minutes. I changed up my cadence to something slow and exaggerated and once they started to relax just a little began running. They typically come on during the walks up hills, not during actual running, so I knew once I could get running again I should be okay. And sure enough they did go away. To use a geeky metaphor, I feel like I had to "reboot" the lower half of my body. Once the reboot was complete, I was pretty much back into my pace. I hit the aid station and asked what time it was. "11:23am" which meant I had about 7-7.5 miles left and I had only been going 4:08. Breaking 5:30 seemed reasonable, though I knew I was shedding time. My normal lap times from that point would have me coming in at around 5:20, but there was no normal left (see mistake made on lap 2). Win or lose with regards to that goal, I still had the primary goal in reach but I couldn't hit the deck anymore. I had 2 falls, well 1 1/2 because the 1st I caught myself on my hands and the legs never touched.

The last 4 miles: I caught up to a former triathlon teammate at the last aid station. I was prepping for the final push, about 4.5miles, which are technically pretty challenging. Remember what I said about trying to catch up on hydration? Well enter mistake number 2. I chugged a few cups of fluid, and some salty watermelon, and set out on the final stretch. I was burping A LOT. I didn't feel so good. And then, yes, I starting power booting. With about 4miles to go I couldn't hold anything down. It was so friggin hot, and I couldn't cool my body. But I wasn't tense. Remember that tip? Just deal with it. I actually felt much better after clearing my gut, I just knew that I'd start to become a bit disoriented as the dehyrdation kicked in. But I focused on the course, on where I was now. As I passed each mental checkpoint, I moved my head onto the next one.

*Running tip: Try focusing on chunks, not the whole race
If I matched up how I felt at any given point with how many miles were left, it would have been tough to finish. Instead, I told myself "just get to the next checkpoint, that's all."

I admit I also took a peek or two to see if people were closing on me. I knew I was slowing down. I figured this last segment was going to be about 10min slower than the first 2 times through. Would I get passed this close to the finish? I certainly wasn't going to catch all those people who I saw out ahead of me on lap one.

And so I just eased my way into the finish area and the completion of my 4th ultra-marathon, only to hear a woman at the finish line say "You are 4th. Great job." Wait, what? Where did everybody go?
coming into the final aid station

*Final running tip: You are not alone
If you are being reasonably smart about your run, but are suffering due to the weather or course, there's a good chance that everyone else is too. Keep a positive attitude and know that if you just take care of yourself, your goals might still be achieved.

I still have no idea at what point I passed everyone. My best guess is just before lap 3 when people were in the drop area. Races like this if you sit down it can be the end of your day. I stayed vertical, kept moving and in the end almost hit all my goals (2min shy of 5:30) plus some bonuses!

The tally:
2 falls
Beat last year's time by 10min
Ran very even laps until I consciously changed the plan
Finished 4th overall (only 4min behind 3rd meaning I was closing on him as well), 1st men 40-49. And being 49, I was the oldest person in the age group. No bad for an old fart!

So another adventure was over and I learned quite a bit. And for those wondering what I think about during these long runs, my family is never far from my mind. In fact I wore the shirt Dylan gave me for father's day. I had Alex's water bottle in my cooler at the drop area to keep my straight water, and other than driving in Leanna's car, she is after all an inseparable part of me, so she's always there.

Finally, I also got to meet up with a person I had not seen since May of 2014, Jenn McLaughlin, who completed her first ultra after an absurd day leading up to it. We had kept on touch on Facebook and I knew this was a huge milestone for her. Congratulations Jenn!

Next up, the Vermont 50 on September 27th.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

One year down

On the surface it might seem like my athletic approach this year is very similar to last. While it is true I am very run focused, if you go inside the numbers some notable differences appear.

1) Last year I had 117 runs totaling 1005 miles. That's an average of 8.6 miles per run. This year through the first week of August I already have 114 runs totaling 664 miles. That's 5.8 miles per run.
2) Going into my "racing" months I weigh more than I have since 2003. No six pack, more like a six pack with a coozy!
3) I feel great. I felt good last year, but man I'm happy with things right now. My energy and recovery are the best I can recall. I was good last year too but did have some illness hit me during peak training.
4) I feel quite well rounded as an athlete. I did a little open water swimming yesterday, nothing too long but more than 100yds. Hopped on my mountain bike for a few rides last week as well. Legs snapped back quickly. Butt...well something had to be unprepared, didn't it?! :)
5) No doubt it is largely result of the long periods of training (and the extra weight!), but I don't need to ingest nearly as many calories as I used to, in order to perform how I want and my gut is thanking me. Gone is the PowerBar sport drink. In is Nuun, salt tablets, Clif Shot Bloks (3 bloks per hour). Race day there will be some gel because of the higher effort/energy expenditure.
6) I eat a lot of watermelon and a decent amount of blueberries. Actually during the 6 weeks I didn't my paces slipped. Okay, full disclosure there was a lot of other stuff going on then too, but I'm back on the melon, the old stresses are behind me, and the paces are good.


I've raced once this year, a 50k for which I was woefully under-prepared. I ran well and got a good result. That was really the catalyst for this slightly revamped approach. More repetitions, less middle distance mileage. Short and focused or long and steady. Next Saturday I hit the same 50K course on which I started my journey into Ultra last year. We'll see how it goes.




Saturday, July 18, 2015

Moving on...

It seems about every 3 or 4 years I need to move forwards, whether professionally or athletically. It is a pattern. It does repeat. I'm okay with it. Underneath it all is typically a different pattern, the challenge of whatever drew me in the first place is gone. Recall when it comes to doing nothing, I am the worst. I mean I'm really, really bad at it. 7:00am is radical sleeping in. 8:00am signifies something must be wrong. Get the idea?

So after 3+ years I'm moving forwards again, though this time around I don't feel like I'm changing jobs. More like someone else signing my paychecks and yet again needing to give the pediatrician's office a new set of insurance cards. Day to day life around the Kehm household will be different, but the goal is a net increase in quality family time. How is that? Well my current assignment was a project for 2.5years and that was fine. Nose to the grindstone, tighten the belts, b---s---,b---s---... with one common goal of getting a new system launched and a stodgy old company moving forwards towards circa Y2K class systems. ;)  Despite many delays and much angst, on which I apparently thrive, we hit the finish line January 5, 2015. The flag was up, the pictures were beamed back to Earth, and memorable speeches were made.

And then real life returned. "Oh crap someone has to keep all this running!" Building things is great, awesome really when you see them completed. Touching up nail holes, fixing crooked door frames, etc... not so glamorous. I'm very good at "at keeping the trains running" but I don't enjoy it. What I enjoy least is being on call 7x24; text messages at night, in the morning, while skiing (those were the final straw). Second to that, all the interesting work keeps getting preempted because somebody decided to do something dumb without telling anyone, and then didn't 'fess up. "Forensic troubleshooting" is a pain in the a--, and it almost always demonstrates what we all already knew was true. Just believe me when I tell you what happened and we can move on.

So in a convergence of events, which I'll attribute to fate, I had a lunch with a friend where I was challenged to read a speech from 1988 (* Even if you don't read the rest of my post, I challenge you to read this speech William Zinsser 1988 Wesleyan Speech) and I received an inquiry from another former coworker concerning my interest in a job.

I find I am greatly influenced by great writing. Hell if someone put that much time into composing this stuff, then it must be meaningful. I'm also influenced by a fear of the mediocre. So there I sat, my desires stirred by a 27yr old graduation speech, a scary but intriguing job offer, and staring at the reality that left unchecked I could easily become a 50-something yr old white guy, in a golf shirt and velcro shoes working as a SQL Server 2008 dba (no offense to the dbas out there). It was get up and move or grow moss and slowly die. "And be very wary of security as a goal. It may often look like life’s best prize. Usually it’s not." Security be damned, comfort be damned, I shall not go gently into that good night!

And in a final twist of fate, it turns out my new company has in the past sponsored a triathlon and even entered a team. All of which had me thinking, "Am I Sam Malone ("Cheers") and got this job simply to pitch for the company softball team?!"  You young-uns will have to look that one up! (They also grant a stipend for wellness activities which can be used for entry fees.)

And there you have it. You are now caught up on my life. Any questions?






Sunday, June 14, 2015

Day off

Last week was somewhat more taxing than expected: an absolutely awful commute to Boston and back, numerous other work stressors, and an unexpected medical issue with family. Nothing terrible on it's own, but the cumulative effect has me pretty beat. The physical implications were clear on yesterday's run. So today I'm skipping the planned 2+ hrs of running. It wasn't going to be fast, and physically I would be fine, but it would feel a bit like work. Thus I feel the best plan is to recharge.

So in place of typical words of wisdom, I offer the following:

I managed 4 runs in since this past week.
I'm at 463 miles on the year.
Just seeing people you know can change your heart rate.
Having a bit of a roll at the mid-section (compared to 4yrs ago) results in your FuelBelt staying put as opposed to sliding up!
Every now and then the best goal is no goal. Just be.
Professional soccer games are great with kids because they don't stop the clock. You get there, the game is constantly moving, and it pretty much ends on schedule.
Humans are not designed for sitting still.
Computerized analytics are great, but the complexity and variety processed by your senses and brain is incredible. i.e. Don't be a slave to the numbers and technology if something just doesn't add up in your head.

Cheers!




Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Cadence

After a day off just 2.3 slow miles with one exception: high cadence. Focus on the hips and getting the feet off the ground. 180-200 steps per minute. Relax the arms. If I feel muscle strain at all I'm doing it wrong. 

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Inspiration

I'm inspired. Well at least I'm trying to be. Between now at the TARC Summer Classic 50k, the race which marks my 1 year anniversary into the world of trail ultras, I will be penning my thoughts, those things that flow so freely one the trails, in this blog.  There will be no training plan, no calendar of workouts for someone to load into an app. Rather there will be a record of my activities, and a longer weekly post related to general thoughts. Lots of short posts with the "whats" of the training week, along with the occasional longer one explaining the "why". My hope is that readers, especially those looking to find something in themselves to reinvigorate their running, might see familiar patterns and recognizable thoughts. And as patterns emerge, perhaps the industrious ones might even try to shape their own training behaviors in a similar manner. Who knows.

So as a way to kick it off, let me share some a I've had over time, the one that led me from a burnt out triathlete back to a happy and healthy runner.

Rewiring your brain

Running well does not equal running fast. Running well is running efficiently. It's enjoying the running. It's understand that running enhances your life. I am a long time athlete, and over the years the obsession has become times, splits, heart rate, heart zones, time in zone, periodization, blocks, macrocycles, mesocycles, microcycles, leading to placing and podiums. I'm moderately talented, so these were not pipe dreams. They were and are things that really happen. And they are addictive. I've never really experienced the "yeah I got my win, so now I can slow down and enjoy things." It's a cruel master you are serving when you become strictly results oriented because you will lose. It's not an if, but a when. And as you struggle to fight that which you know is inevitable, it becomes work not play. And you get tired. And cranky. And angry. And difficult. And injured. And done.

It was not always this way. As a kid I loved to run. I couldn't drive until 16, and couldn't ride a bike until age 10, so how did I get out of my neighborhood and explore? On foot. And they were great adventures, and the reward was in the doing. Last May I did Ragnar Cape Cod with a group of strangers. It was not a fast team. But it was awesome. For the first time in decades the act of doing was all that was required for happiness. That moment set me on this current course. And the first and most important step along this course was the realization that I needed to rewire my brain. Slow down. Go as slow as possible, and then slow down some more. Stop. Walk. Take pictures.  If you're a life long competitor this is the hardest part of the transformation. It takes a very long time and it is so easy to fool yourself and backslide.  My first ultra embodied the struggle. As slowly and methodically as I had been training, once the race started I took off like a shot. It wasn't until mile 8 or so when the running gods slapped the sh-t out of me by sending me sprawling and bloody to the ground that I got the message. Slow your a-- down. Look at your feet. If you don't watch the ground you'll end up on it. It's a life analogy really. Nothing good comes out of looking too far ahead. Pay attention to where you are and live the moment. And NEVER turn around and look behind you. Never unless you are coming to a full stop on top of a mountain and simply wish to savor how far you've come.

This is how I started. I will slow down. I must slow down. I must forget speed entirely. If it comes back eventually (*spoiler alert, there have been random speed sightings recently) it is not because I am training for speed, but because I love being outside and moving and am doing so with a moderate amount of frequency and a bit of purpose.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

'Tis the season

It's winter. No really...winter. Feet of snow winter. Freezing balls off of brass monkeys winter. Winter. And you know what I like about winter? WINTER sports!!! Somewhere on the athletic development road I got seduced like many others into "specificity". Rather than just be a happy active multi-activity athlete, I felt it was more important to focus. Don't get me wrong, focus is important. But does it have to be every day of every year for one sport?  No.

For the most part I run, and just run, these days. But it's not an obsessive annual plan kind of running. It's a "I really enjoy this" kind of running, because each on is different. And because even on my peak weeks I'm only running 6-7 hours which means an extra 5-6 hours for other things, like U12 girls soccer or Little League.  I don't worry if I miss a workout. It's winter, the running off season. It's an off season that's a bit longer than 3 weeks. It means I can ski, or go ice skating with the family, if I want and not be concerned about "missed volume."

Running season is April - October with a break in the summer for beach time. Success is having fun. Yeah I'm running a marathon in February, and why not? We shouldn't avoid things because we're not at our peak.

When you're old and gray, do you want your memories of winter to be a cellar wall or being knee deep in a snow drift while a redtail hawk flies over your head?