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.