Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ronda del Cims Preview


Once again I feel like the time has slipped away from me. After my last race at Grayson Highlands I felt like I had plenty of time to finish preparing for Ronda del Cims in Andorra. I had visions of all I felt I should do to be ready and, like always, I end up doing only a fraction of it. Either way, the race is almost here and it will turn out however it turns out. I feel a little unprepared but I care much less about that than I usually do. This race is going to be ridiculously hard, perhaps the most difficult race yet, but I'm going into it relaxed and without expectations.

My current assessment of my fitness
The Principality of Andorra is a micro-nation nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. Ronda del Cims is one of several race distances offered and the longest solo version. It follows the border around the entire country, which covers around 170 km (105 miles) and has over 80k feet of elevation change. The course is mountainous and technical which makes it one of the select few races to be a Hardrock 100 qualifier. The altitude is not as severe as Hardrock but will still be a factor for a Midwesterner like me.

It took no more than a couple messages from Scott and I was signing up for this race. The pictures and videos were breathtaking. I have since heard nothing but good things about this race. Despite vowing to do fewer races this year, here I was signing up for another one. The fact that it was in Europe made it even crazier. The opportunity was there so I am taking it.

Right now, I feel like I have a different attitude and outlook compared to previous races. I know it is going to be very hard. I know it will be beautiful and memorable if I finish or not. Maybe I am maturing in this silly hobby and not taking race results as seriously as I once did. I'm never going to win or place high but I still want to feel like I ran as well as I could. I've come to a place where truly enjoying the overall experience is most important. I'm learning more and more that having the experience is the most important part.

The weeks since my last race have been filled with events that have helped finally reach this new outlook. I had been moving in this direction already. Celebrity suicides brought mental health issues out as a topic of discussion and contemplation. I have watched as many of my running friends grieved the loss of a young lady from our ultra community, who I didn't know but wish I had. The sudden traffic death of a former co-worker who had survived cancer and whom I had just spent some time reminiscing a few short weeks prior. All these things have made trivial things seem even more trivial to me. It has also made time with friends and family much more meaningful.

This past week was Western States week, which is probably the biggest week of the year for ultrarunning. Everyone is watching and following the race. For some reason, it seems that every year this week brings out the best and worst in the community. There are lots of positive things that happen related to that race. Tons of encouragement and relating of inspiring stories. There are those with criticisms of the race or the hype around it, much of which is valid. However, it also seems to bring out petty grudges and jealousies. I've been noticing more and more of that recently around ultra social media which is disappointing. I choose to just run when and where I want to and not worry about the other garbage.

I've said it, and many others have as well, so I'm not really breaking any ground here. It's just running. It is something I do that has provided an outlet. Right now, it is providing me an opportunity to run around some weird European country left over from middle ages. I can go into with an expectation to perform to some unrealistic standard I expect of myself or what I believe others expect, when in the end, I'll be the one with the memories and a my finishing time won't matter to anyone, including me.

Anyway, my training has been mediocre. It should still be enough to get through this run. I'm counting on experience to get me through the worst parts. As always, if I just keep moving forward and try to keep the attitude positive, I'll do just fine. In the end, the race is just a small part of the whole package. It is a reminder that whatever we are facing at the moment is just one thing that will pass onto the next thing, good or bad.




Thursday, June 7, 2018

Pacing at Lighthouse 100


The starting point


While creating my schedule for this year, I had considered running a 100 miler in late May or June as a step towards Ronda del Cims and Bigfoot 200. The one that seemed to fit in well was the Lighthouse 100. The timing was decent and the location in northern Michigan was convenient. I was close to running it but decided I should concentrate on specific training for my upcoming races and avoid possible burn out. However, the opportunity came up to be a pacer and I couldn't pass it up.

All this time in ultrarunning and I have finally had the pacer experience. I have seen plenty of fellow runners with their pacers late in races and occasionally have been jealous. I've never had a pacer and this was the first time I have paced. It turned out to be an excellent experience.



Perfect day for a run

The Lighthouse 100 is in its 2nd year. This year the course was reversed from the inaugural year, running from the tip of Old Mission peninsula, down through Traverse City and on to the city of Petoskey, basically following along the coast of Lake Michigan. The whole course is almost exclusively on paved roads with some stretches of paved bike path. The weather was perfect for this type of race. There were aid stations spaced about 10 miles apart with some water drops in between for runners without crews. This was also the first time I had experienced a race with this type of road crewing, where the crews would just move a 2 or 3 miles ahead, along the road and meet their runner.

So the opportunity for me to be involved was in the form of a Facebook post asking for a pacer nearby. Usually I would not respond to such a request but I decided to step out of my comfort zone and go ahead and give it a try. The runner has much ultra experience, which gave me a chance to learn. Also, she is a multiple finisher of a race that has some interest to me. How could I pass this up?

It was strange watching the race start and not be in the pack disappearing up the road. We made a couple stops in the first 9 or 10 miles, which wound through the vineyards and orchards of the Old Mission Peninsula. At this point I jumped in to start my pacing duties, which I would be sharing with one other. There was no real plan as to how we would go about this but ended up just running until we felt like we needed a break and then would switch off. This race had no restriction on when a pacer could join in, which is commonly around 50 miles, give or take. This meant I would get plenty of miles in.

I was nervous about being able to be a good pacer. I wasn't sure if I was fit enough to keep up or interesting enough to keep a runner company for many hours. The alternate pacer was just coming off a recent illness and was not at 100% which would increase my miles a little further. He did a decent number of miles despite not feeling well.

There were many stories told, many about races or people we've met at races. I mostly listened and tried to absorb the knowledge. The talking kept my mind off all the running. The pace was consistent. We would reach the crew vehicle every half an hour or so which made the going seem very easy. Watching her and her husband, who was the crew chief, work at the stops was an education. The organization and efficiency was amazing. They had a system developed over many years that worked very well.

Running through the sunny afternoon, I began to realize how quickly the miles seemed to be passing by. We were into the late 60s and early 70s by the time the sun set. The pace slowed but the relentless focus was still there. The day was not too hot but the sun going down allowed temperatures to become even more comfortable for running.

Eventually the miles are whittled down to single digits remaining. We passed through a couple towns, getting strange looks from the locals wondering who these weird runners with headlamps on were. The final section was nearly all a paved path which was much less stressful than running on the side of a busy road. We began to anticipate the finish around every corner and finally there it was.

I ended up running about 60 miles and felt good. My runner finished with her second best 100 mile time ever so I felt good to have, perhaps, helped make that happen. It was strange to run so much and not be a "finisher" in the race but being able to help someone else reach a goal was very satisfying.

The whole pacing experience was very good. There was much to learn from watching the race from this perspective. The mental approach and attitude I was able to observe hold valuable lessons to apply to my own running. Hopefully I can apply these very quickly as I have two big races coming up shortly. I will be looking for chances to pace again. It seems I have been missing out on a fun part of this whole ultrarunning thing. Maybe I'll even consider having a pacer myself in a race some day.









Saturday, May 26, 2018

Breaking News



A few posts ago I hinted at some pending exciting news to come. Well, today is the day to report on that. I'm very excited about this journey ahead for myself and the others I know who are taking part. At the same time I am humbled by the task in front of me.

Last year, I completed the Order of Hrimthurs, which was the hardest thing I had ever done. It included the life changing 160 miles of Tuscobia, the legendary and iconic Arrowhead 135 and, finally, Actif Epica which I appreciate more as time passes. When I started running ultras 6 short years ago, those were all races that were unreachable and impossible to imagine starting, let alone finishing. The lesson learned is that by taking a chance, you find out you can do much more than you think.

Early last month I decided to take another chance on something that long seemed an unattainable dream. After going back and forth as to whether I was ready or capable, I submitted an application to what had become a bucket list race for me. Yesterday I received this...





I've only known about this race since I started running ultras so to say this was a lifelong dream would be vastly overstating it. I have had a fascination with Alaska since I was 8 or 9 years old. It was a place of mystery, freedom and adventure. I've always wanted to go and now I will have the chance.

My previous races qualified me to enter the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350. I will have 10 days to make the 350 mile journey from near Anchorage to McGrath, along the Iditarod Trail in February 2019. And now I am officially on the roster.

I have plenty on my plate to keep me focused this year but as of now, everything is work towards ITI 2019. There is a ton of work and research in the months ahead but this will be an adventure to remember. Stay tuned!

http://www.iditarodtrailinvitational.com/

PS: Congratulations to fellow Hrimthurs, Paul Schlagel and Jeff Rock for also getting in. Knowing they will be there will make this experience even better. 

ITI350.png


Friday, May 25, 2018

Am I A Brony?



Several years ago, I learned about this crazy race down south called the Georgia Death Race. With a name like that, how could I not want to run it? It was (and still is) a very tough run through the mountains of north Georgia. In the weeks leading up to the race I was amused by the antics of race director, a guy named Sean "Run Bum" Blanton.  Then I was impressed, when due to permitting issues, he had to change the direction of the course at the last minute. Not only did he pull this off but he then, at what I am guessing was his own expense, had new race shirts made so the text matched the new course. The race and everything about it was enjoyable (except maybe a few of the long climbs but that is what I signed up for). I looked into his other races and found one in western Virginia that had as the main feature, wild mini ponies. Being a grown man that is not afraid to admit that I really wanted to see the ponies, I finally was able to sign up this year.

The Grayson Highlands 50k takes place on the trails of Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Driving in to the area, I was reminded of the topography at Georgia Death Race but maybe not as severe. The location was remote, leaving me with zero to very small pockets of minimal cell phone coverage, which was just fine with me. This allowed me to relax the evening prior with a book and get well rested.



The forecast was calling for the strong possibility of thunderstorms and rain during the race. However, that morning was overcast but the rain seemed to be holding off and the temperatures were looking good. Just before we were sent off at the start we were informed that the night before they had decided to change the course to a low, unexposed route to avoid lightning issues, but had last minute changed it back and Sean was out at that moment running to reset the course markings. This ensured that we would run the route mostly likely to encounter the ponies.

The race started at the park visitor center that basically sat at a high point in the park so this meant the start was all downhill. My first two miles flying down the road clocked in at low 8 minutes per mile, which included a stop to retie my shoe. Crazy. We made a quick turn and then the splits became more real and familiar.

The course was much more rocky and technical than I expected, however, I wasn't really concerned with how much it was slowing me down. There was some good variety in terrain which included open runable sections, technical climbs and descents, and a section along a river that required some scrambling on all fours.

I felt good most of the day considering I had run a fast (for me) marathon just two weeks prior. Compared to that, this pace felt like a crawl but I didn't care. I kept telling myself to enjoy the scenery and the day. I think I did. Mostly, I just refused to feel bad, even when I started getting tired and wanted to be done. It was, I think, a good lesson in attitude to bring to later races. The idea of preparing for these races and then just wanting them to be over is strange when you consider the logic. Being in the moment and finding the joy is the point.




I was concerned for a bit early on since I had not seen the ponies. Eventually we came upon them and it was very cool. The first small herd was mixed in with some longhorn cattle, which I heard may also be up there. It seems we crossed the highlands several times and each time came across some ponies, closer on each encounter.
Real life mini ponies!!





The final section was a long climb back up towards the visitor center that felt like it would never end. When it did, the course passed right by the the finish but we weren't done. There was still another short loop to run. Cruelty.

Almost finished thumbs up
photo credit: Appalachian Exposures

I finished in a time of 6:40 which means it took me a full 3 hours longer than the marathon 2 weeks ago. There weren't even that many extra miles as, at least according to my GPS, the race was around 28 or 29 miles, not the full 50k advertised. The climbs and technicality more than made up for those "missing" miles. Overall, I had a great time.

As always when I travel a good distance to run a race, I meet new people and get to hear about races I had not heard of. This trip was no exception. Everyone was very friendly and interesting, making the time and miles pass by easily as we talked. Of course, now I have a bunch of new races to look into and add to the growing list.


Now the days are rapidly counting down to my next adventure at Ronda del Cims in Andorra. That and more coming up in the next episodes.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Glass City Marathon Recap



The day of reckoning always arrives, creeping up slowly at first and then suddenly it is front of you, regardless of your state of preparedness. I was relaxed going into the final tapering phase, which is rare for me. I was much more confident about being able to accomplish my main goal but had plenty of remaining doubt as well. I tried to keep my plan simple. I would go out running slightly under the overall pace I needed to meet the goal time and hold it as long as possible.

The weather race morning was near perfect. The sky was mostly clear and the temperatures in the low 40s, meaning the heat would not be a factor even after the sun rose completely. I wore shorts and singlet and some cheap gloves I could pull off as I warmed up.

I found my way to the assigned start corral and soon heard my name called out. Lewis and Brian, who had completed the Midwest Slam of Ultras with me a couple years ago,  were calling me from the close to the front of the crowd, so I moved up to join them. After listening to the anthems and speeches about the race, I took of with them.

The first few miles did not feel too bad as I tried to settle in to the pace as we circled around the University of Toledo campus. It was a strange feeling to start a race running that hard, or even just running that hard at all since I never do it. I began to think there was a possibility of pulling my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

The course ran mostly through residential neighborhood streets and on a paved path through a park. I quickly realized that running at that tempo made even the smallest change in elevation very noticeable. The "hills" that I would barely even acknowledge in a trail race now seemed to drag me down, even though a quick look at the watch showed a minimal drop in pace.

Once I reached 8 or 9 miles, I started to struggle to keep the pace up. I tried to relax and just keep moving, hoping to keep up. The mile splits were getting longer and longer. By the time I was at 11 miles I knew they would continue to drop and the "A" goal was probably out the window. This was a bit disappointing but not unexpected. I was still moving much faster than my PR race pace and that goal was down to a matter of by how much would I improve.

I reached the half way point in a time close to 1:42, which if I could repeat in the second half would mean I could reach all my goals. However, my splits were still falling even when I felt I was pushing harder. It wasn't happening today.

The second half was slow. I just settled in and let the miles click off. I was not having fun and wanted to be done. The thought of jumping on one of the relay buses back to the finish crossed my mind very briefly. When this idea formed I quickly laughed to myself. I had forgotten how much a road marathon hurt. I was feeling a little miserable but was finally uplifted by a few spectator comments about my hair late in the race. Always good for a laugh.

So I had the remaining 13 miles to think about the failure to meet my goal. It would be very simple to have beat myself up over this but I soon made the realization that my goals only really matter to me. Any pressure that was created, was created by me, on myself. Whether or not I succeed has no bearing on anyone's day. I always appreciate any and all encouragement and I'm very happy if taking part in these races inspires others to try new things. It is hard to not compare myself to others and expect that I should be able to do what everyone else seems to do effortlessly. The fact is that these thing are hard for everyone, in their own way. Trying to meet an expectation based on what others are doing, that only matters to me is fruitless and in the end is meaningless.

The cliche is that it is the journey is what matters. I know this and still have to be reminded periodically. The work I did prior to this race was intended to change my focus and try to regain my joy of running. It did this by forcing me to do difficult things that I had avoided before. I'm very sure this will help my in my training for future ultras.

The final mile felt like I was dragging an anchor. The course wound around the football stadium before finally turning onto the field and finishing at the 50 yard line. I crossed the line in 3:40, which was well over my top goal but was my best ever marathon time by 4 minutes. The first half would have been my best ever half-marathon time. I should be and I am proud of the result.

The recovery over the last week has been good. I was fairly sore for a few days. I did go out an run the following day which I normally would not do. It did help and I have run every day this week. I am ready for the next challenge.

That next challenge is the Grayson Highlands 50k down in Virginia on May 5. Only 2 weeks between races so I will not do anything crazy as far as training goes. That will have to ramp up quickly following this next race since Ronda del Cims is coming quickly. I'll be reporting back shortly to cover the next race.



Monday, April 16, 2018

On The Road Again: A Quick Glass City Marathon Preview




All the training work is done and it is almost time to run the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, my first road marathon in almost 4 years. I'm not sure what to think about my readiness. My last few speed workouts went reasonably well. I mean, I didn't feel like I was going to die. The truth will be revealed somewhere around 16 to 20 miles in. Maybe sooner. I don't know.

My plan is to set my pace slightly ahead of the goal and then just try to hold on. The overall goal is to qualify for Boston, which for me is 3:25. To actually get into next year's race will require at least a couple minutes faster than that. So the goal hierarchy goes something like this:

  1. Qualify fast enough to register for 2019 Boston  (3:23ish)
  2. Qualify (3:24:59)
  3. Marathon PR (<3:44)
  4. Finish and don't get hurt
I'd be very happy with the first 3 and perfectly fine with just a finish. Based on the training feedback, I believe a PR will be nearly certain without an injury or illness. The qualifying will be a close call and I'm sure, very taxing towards the end of the race. Those last few miles will show exactly how much that goal actually means to me. I'm looking forward to learning the answer.  

The change up in training has provided a bit of what I was looking for when I decided to do this. It has renewed my enjoyment of running and made me appreciate it more. It has showed me that working on those things I'm not good at can be very positive. I should do more of it and will try to do just that. Hopefully this has taught me to be more aware of falling into a comfortable groove and that getting out of that groove requires hard work but it is rewarding work. I suppose this can apply to more than just running. 

I am looking to moving back to the trails and will do so very soon after this race. The work I have just done should help there but I will have to begin my focus on the mountains. A different world but I'll get to that when it is time. Until then I will make sure to enjoy the race in front of me, the best part of which may be seeing others finish their first marathon.

In the meantime, some exciting things are happening that hopefully I can share soon. In the last couple of weeks there has been so much anticipation and some tough descisions. We will see how everything turns out soon but I have again been reminded that you have to take chances and face what scares you in order make dreams come true. 





Thursday, April 5, 2018

Reasons and Randoms



Everyone has their reasons for running. Not everyone knows those reasons. I have been trying to figure out what my reasons are. I thought I knew them but maybe, like all things, they evolve and they change.
Last year I went from a high to a low. I complete the Order of the Hrimthurs feeling I could do anything and went on to fail in 3 out of 4 races. I didn't work hard to prepare. I didn't make myself suffer enough during the races to finish. 
This year I decided to change it up and set a goal that would require a different focus and approach. Instead of just racking up miles and time on my feet, I would do the dreaded speed work. I haven't run a road marathon in nearly 4 years. Easy when compared to an ultra right? It's so much shorter. However, it is different. It is intense. It is another kind of suffering that I am not accustom to. Once again the whole game is so much more mental than physical. 

I've found the races I do the worst in are the one where I was stressed for one reason or another shortly prior to race day. My best were those that I went into with no expectation or concerns. It all speaks to the role of the mind in accomplishing physical tasks. 

The speed work does not scare me a  much as it once did. It is beginning to become familiar. It is still very hard and not comfortable. The race is just over 2 weeks away an I feel pretty good about it though not 100% confident. Physically I will be ready, but I worry about other factors. 

Word salad and expressing vague thoughts. That's all any of this is. Fear of over-sharing, well maybe not exactly that, but of making others uncomfortable with what I choose to share. In the past, I would have said nothing. Selfishly, I feel better when I say it, even if it is uncomfortable. However, as you may have realized, I have come to believe that it takes a bit of discomfort for growth and improvement.

While getting more comfortable with the discomfort of speed work, personally I have been struggling with some abrupt changes at work that seem to have triggered me to seriously evaluate the choices I have made. I am coming to realize that I really don't like what I do, what I chose as a career. I am finding no satisfaction in my work. It has been making me more negative and increasingly unhappy. Well, that's not completely correct as it is much more complicated in my mind. I suppose I'm just feeling unhappy even though I truly have nothing to complain about. From all appearances, my life is in a very good place, and it is. I have wonderful family and friends, a great paying, secure job, and zero tragedy in my life. That is what makes feeling this way even more frustrating. I know there is no real reason for it but here it is, sitting with me constantly. I can't just will it or reason it away.

I have found some relief and an outlet in the structure and effort in training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Running has felt very good again for the first time in quite a while. Last year I reached a point where I found no joy in it and this showed when I made my attempt at the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. I had no drive or desire. That place within me, that I can physically feel myself reach into when I'm struggling was completely spent. For me this place is located somewhere deep in the abdomen, roughly between the belly button and the rib cage.

Remarkably, that place seems to be full again at a time when I am struggling making it through a work day. I suppose I should try to look at it as a low point in an ultra, make some decisions about how to address it and eventually things will get better.

So back to the question of why I run these races and what gets me through them. Well, it seems that it teaches me about myself and ways to deal with life issues. It gives me confidence that even when I don't feel my best, I am still able to do much more that I think I can. Also, I honestly feel like I have a need to prove to others that I can do more than they think I ever could as well. That really shouldn't matter but it does, so there.
I've also been thinking about some of the people who have told me that my running posts and blogs have inspired them to do x or y. That is probably the coolest part of any of this. I'm hoping there are few more I haven't heard from and I hope there are more to come. Overall this seems like the best reason why and it's the one I'll stick with.