Saturday, April 26, 2014

Indiana Trail 100: April 26th, 2014 "Buckle UP!"

I would like to rewind the clock to last summer when I attempted Burning River 100 in late July and I came up short.  I was proud that I made it 74 miles but disappointed that a pain in my foot slowed me down and not making a cutoff prevented me from finishing, although the pain was so bad that even if I made the cutoff I probably would not of continued anyway.  The biggest reason for the disappointment is that I dedicated 6 months of my life to training for the event.  Countless hours driving to and running on the trails and also running around our neighborhood, all so I could achieve my newest life goal and get a 100 mile finisher buckle.  In the later miles of Burning River I kept thinking that maybe I am just not cut out for doing 100 miles but I was caught up in the moment.  Two days after my emotions settled down I was already plotting to find another 100 mile race to jump into.  I knew I needed a few months to rest and recover from Burning River so I thought I could begin training in late fall for a spring race.  Indiana Trail 100 is in late April and a relatively flat course with a little over 5,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the 100 miles so I thought it would be perfect.

I signed up for the race and I went out to one of the organized training runs in October last year to preview the course.  The course is at Chain-O-Lakes State Park in Albion, IN and is a 16.7 mile trail loop that you run around 6 times to complete the 100 miles.  The guys that put this race on (Mike Pfefferkorn, Jerry Diehl, Tom Landis, and Don Lindley along with several others) are extremely dedicated to the community, trail running, and the parks.  They donate most, if not all, of the proceeds from the event to Chain-O-Lakes State Park.  They are out there every weekend doing training runs, maintaining the existing trails and also helping to create new trails.  The Indiana Trail 100 facebook page shows evidence of how dedicated they really are.  They hold training runs every week throughout the year.  They offer advice and even set up aid stations at many of the training runs.  They do all of this for free out of their love of the sport and their community.  This is very refreshing to see because with the ever increasing popularity of ultrarunning there are many businesses trying to capitalize by putting on races for profit which completely goes against the community driven values of trail ultrarunning.  After running the trail, meeting these guys, and learning what they represent I was super excited that I signed up for this event. 

Going into my training I kept in mind the valuable lessons I learned from my attempt at Burning River and I planned on putting that knowledge to use for Indiana.  I changed my shoes in hopes that pain in the arch of my foot would not return in the later stages of the race.  I went a step up from my Altra Superiors to the Altra Lone Peak 1.5's.  I did this because the Lone Peaks have a bit more cushion which I thought would be valuable to preventing foot pain late in the race.  I know this goes against everything I have said about the benefits of minimalist shoes for the last four years but after a lot of experimenting I have found what works for me.  Minimalist shoes taught me proper form and are great for shorter distances but they do not provide the extra cushion I need for the longer distances of ultra marathons and Altra shoes are the best of both worlds.  They have a big toe box which lets the toes spread out rather then getting sandwiched in the front of the shoe.  Altra's are also zero drop which means they are flat from heel to toe.  This help to keep good form because it does not promote heel striking like a raised heel would.  So in a sense they are minimalist shoes with cushion.  Sounds weird but, hey, when in Rome.

Another lesson I learned is that I was over trained going into Burning River.  My plan for that race had me doing three hard weeks and then one rest week at lower mileage and this four week pattern was repeated all the way through the 26 weeks of training.  The hard weeks got harder as the training went on and I was pretty burnt out going into the race.  I wanted to try a new training plan and I found a 24 week plan from the book Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell.  The per week mileage goes up throughout the plan but you are not continually doing three hard weeks at a time.  The mileage varies from week to week and it spreads it out nicely.  I thought this would help me prevent burnout and also get a lot of miles in.  The week day runs of Bryon's plan were longer then the weekday runs of the 26 week plan from before.  The weekend runs were generally not as long which was the best part about it.  Anyway, the reason I switched my shoes and training plan is this: the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  I was mentally happy about my changes and was optimistic they would provide me with positive results.

Winter training run
My training plan went into full swing around mid November.  I liked the idea of doing the heart of my training during the winter months.  I tend to feel better running in the cold and after the holidays we don't have a lot of weekend plans that would conflict with my long runs.  Trail running in the winter is great because the mountain bikers are mostly hibernating and there are no deer flies or mosquitoes.  For the most part us trail runners have the amusement park to ourselves in the winter.  It is cool when there are no leaves on the trees because with increased visibility you can see the scenic surrounding terrain in the woods. I was surprised at how cold it was during those late fall weeks when I began my training.  Little did I know we were headed into one of the harshest winters in recorded history.  I was able to do a hand full of long trail runs before the polar vortex took the rug out from underneath my plan.  As the winter went on the snow kept piling up and the temps kept dropping.  I tried to run my local Michigan trails a few times but they were virtually impassible due to the snow and ice being so deep and uneven.  I ended up with rolled ankles and it took super long to navigate the single track trails but it did teach me patience and how to mentally deal with tough conditions, which running 100 miles is a tough condition all of it's own.  In Ohio I was able to finish two fun trail races which proved to be extremely valuable to my training:  Run For Regis in February and the FPR Race Directors Race in March.

Most of my long training runs were on the snow covered roads of our neighborhood.  I don't think I seen the pavement all winter long on our residential streets.  Over 7 feet of snow had fallen and accumulated throughout winter.  I even had to join my local gym to run on the *gulp* dreadmill when the snow was too deep or the temps dropped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don't have a problem running in 10 degree temps but the wind was usually blowing hard and lead to wind chill temps of 20 or 30 degrees below zero.  I was on a run one cold evening and the liquid in my eye balls froze which was my final push to join the gym.  I did not miss very many miles in my training plan and I did not feel the extreme burnout that I had with my previous 100 mile training even though the total mileage of both plans was similar.  I was once again in great shape and leaner then I have been since high school.  I put in the hard work and battled through an epic winter, now it was time to see if I have what it takes to finish a 100 mile endurance run.

My awesome parents really came through and brought their camper to the state park.  We were planning on tent camping but having an indoor place to lay out all my stuff and feel organized proved it's weight in gold.  After checking in we ate dinner in the camper then it was time to lay down and attempt to get some sleep.  I passed out around 11:00 PM but awoke with anxiety around 2:00 AM.  I knew I had a few hours before I had to be up but I could not go back to sleep.  I did doze off for about a half hour before my alarm started yelling at me.  So I had a little over three hours of sleep and I was about to be up for at least another 30 hours.  I was very amped for the race so I had no problem jumping out of bed and getting ready for my challenge ahead.  A few concerns before the race were lack of sleep and my stomach was sort of bothering me all week leading up to the race.  I thought my stomach problem may be a part of all the phantom pains that pop up in the two weeks leading up to a big event which are mostly mental. 

Ready to roll!
One thing I did not have to worry about was support because I had a great crew for this race.  Jessica (crew chief plus pacer for final loop), my parents, and my sister along with her husband were there to help me get this thing done.  My friend Nick was going to drive like a bat out of hell from Columbus to Albion after he got off work Saturday evening to get there in time to pace me through the 5th loop which goes through the middle of the night.  My friend Fletcher even made a surprise appearance getting to the park in the middle of the night!  I really am lucky that so many great people were coming together to help me out.  There was perfect spots for crew access at the starting area parking lot and also at the half way point of the 16.7 mile trail loop so I knew I would see my crew twice on each lap.  I had a lot of supplies that I would need in my car which was made it easy to grab and go.  The volunteers and aid stations at this event were top notch as well so I would not have to worry about needing anything during the event.   

8 miles in and ready to ditch the fleece
I quickly got ready and woke Jess up so she could give me a ride down to the start line.  All the runners were gathering in the cool morning and the anticipation was floating through the air.  Jess gave me some positive thoughts and I was calm in the starting shoot.  The race was under way before I knew it and hundreds of headlamp lights were bouncing toward the trail head.  The pace at the beginning was a little slow due to the trail congestion that always happens at the beginning of ultras.  It did not take long to settle into a nice easy pace.  I had to remind myself that I will be on my feet for 30 hours so I might as well relax and enjoy the day instead of going out strong and burning myself out early.  I was right around a 12 minute and 30 second pace per mile and the miles seemed like they were going by quickly,  It was great to see Jess at the half way point and she got me a drink of Gatorade and off I went.  The first loop was very steady as I kept the same pace all the way through.  I seen Jess again at the start and finish area at the end of the first loop.  I grabbed a pre made bag of snacks, including grapes and peanut butter filled pretzels, to eat on the go and another drink of Gatorade and I was off.  I was really trying to limit my time spent at the aid stations because that can really drain precious minutes in a 100 mile race.

Lap one done!  Only five more to go.
I started loop two and I was running with two girls who were wearing costumes just for the fun of it on that loop.  One was dressed as a skittle and the other was dressed as a nun and they were handing out little bags of skittles to runners on the trail.  I think they were offended in a joking manner when I turned down their offer, but I try to limit refined sugar during a race.  They were cool and provided me with some laughs which helped to keep me relaxed and enjoy the day on the trails.  When I got to the 25 mile mark my parents were there with Jess and it was a great to see them.  My legs still felt fresh and I was not tired at all but my fear of stomach issues had come true.  I was not sick but everything I ate just made me uncomfortable rather then making me feel better.  I was concerned about this because keeping down calories is key to having enough energy to finish a 100 miler.  I grabbed a turkey sandwich at that point and slowly ate is as I walked and it really didn't help but I was able to eat the whole thing.  The rest of loop two seemed to go by quickly and before I knew it I was done with 34 miles.  Throughout the whole race I met many other people and had great conversations about running and life in general.  That is a great thing about ultra marathons, you meet so many interesting and cool people who are all connected with a common bond.  Most of the conversation on the trails were about the terrible flooding and cold conditions of this race from a year ago.  This year the trail was dry and in great shape, there was nothing to slow us down.  The race organizers and other volunteers had the trail in pristine shape  My overall pace for loop two was almost the same as my pace on loop one and that was great news because I was still feeling good and was slightly ahead of my plan.

24 miles in and feeling good

I started to slow down a bit on loop three and that was partly because I could not find any food that would sit right with me.  When I got to the half way point in the loop, mile 42, I remembered that I had asked my mom to make me some mashed potatoes.  I thought it was worth a chance and when I tried some they went down great.  I felt the energy from the potatoes leech into my body and I think this easily digestible carb was what my body was craving.  I felt like a new man after smashing a bunch of those mashed potatoes, thanks Mom!  I also knew there was a bunch left over so I would have plenty to get me through the race.  The second half of loop three went pretty well with my new found energy and I was back at the start finish before I knew it.  The best part about coming in off loop three is that I was at mile 50, halfway there and still feeling pretty decent!  My rock star crew leader Jess had a chair ready for me and a change of socks and shoes were also there waiting.  After switching socks and shoes I quickly threw on a fresh t-shirt and also grabbed my light fleece as I knew the temps would eventually start to drop on loop four.

Coming into mile 50, half way done
Fresh Shoes, fresh socks, fresh shirt and my fleece, ready for the second half.
Mile 54, it was to warm for the fleece

Starting loop four I was definitely getting tired and was doing a walk run walk run routine.  I was way ahead of my plan so I could afford to do a decent amount of walking.  At the halfway point on loop four, mile 58, my sister Corrie and her husband Craig were there which was awesome to see.  The emotional boost of seeing family and friends during these runs is extremely valuable and I really appreciate everyone support.  Even on facebook I later seen there was a ton of people following my progress and cheering me on which is a testament to all the great people in my life.  Before leaving the aid station Jess told me that Nick had called her and he was breaking all kinds of traffic laws to get there in time to pace me for loop five.  That put a smile on my face knowing that my friend was excited for me to finish this race and was going all out to get there in time to help me.  She said it will be close if he will get there in time but I had faith that he would be there.  This news and the excitement of how well everything was falling into place really got my momentum going for the rest of loop four.  Darkness fell and I switched on my flashlight for the last few miles of this loop.  When I came in off loop four, mile 67, my whole crew was there and Jess told me that Nick just got into the park.  I was really pleased to hear this news.  I had plenty of time to spare and I was able to refill my water and get some food while Nick got ready.

Mile 58, still moving forward!
Nick was hurrying as fast as he could to get ready to pace me through the night.  He parked in the back and was changing his clothes right there in the parking lot.  Some guy was in the car next to him and looked over while Nick was standing there in his birthday suit!..haha..the guy just gave him an understanding nod.  It is awesome the ultra community can find humor and understanding in situations like that.  When Nick was ready he came running at me full speed and gave me a big bear hug.  He was super psyched up and this gave me new life.  I was really starting to feel like there was a great chance that I was going to finish.  We even started off the first few miles of loop five doing some slow running and power hiking.  Nick had me cracking up out there in the middle of the night.  He was also very encouraging and kept repeating how awesome I was doing.  The miles were just flying by and we got to the halfway point of loop five, mile 75, and Corrie and Craig were there waiting for us.  They were kind enough to stay up late crewing for me so Jess could get a few hours of sleep before pacing me on the last loop.  Corrie reminded me this was the furthest I have ever gone, which was another mental boost.  We had some snacks and chatted for a minute and then we were off!

The next 8 miles were the true test if I was going to be able to endure the rest of the race.  Several things happened which hurt my momentum but luckily Nick was there to help me through these issues.  Temperatures dropped quite a bit after leaving the aid station at mile 74 and since we were mostly hiking my body temperature dropped as well.  I began feeling cold, tired, and my right calf muscle was seizing up big time.  I kept having to stop every few minutes to rest and when my calf pain reached a maximum thresh hold I told Nick that it was killing me.  He knew exactly what to do.  He pulled a $40 tube of essential oil out of his running vest and let me put some of that on my calf.  It started heating up and then Nick dug his thumbs into the knot on my calf which shot the pain level up even more but that pressure plus the magic of the mineral oil actually took care of the problem!  The pain was gone and we were power hiking once again.  When we got to the mile 80 aid station I was super tired and exhausted.  The awesome volunteers got me some coffee and chicken broth which immediately gave me new life.  They also had a huge bonfire going which helped to take the chill out of my body and warm up my hands.  Nick called Jess to let her know we would be done with loop five in about an hour.  She didn't sleep much and was already getting ready to pace me through the last loop.

Fletch manning the crew vehicle, I am at mile 92 and tired!
We got done with loop five, mile 84, at around 4:15 am and to my surprise my good friend Fletcher was there!  He had family events going on all day and left at night when he could get away.  I was excited to see him and also excited to see Jess all suited up to pace me on the final loop.  I did proclaim that I was freezing and put on a heavy running sweatshirt and stocking hat.  Fletcher saved the day by telling me to go in the bathroom and run my hands under the hand dryer to warm them up.  I think I did about six cycles and then put my thin gloves back on.  Nick loaned me his thick gloves that I put over mine and it was enough to keep my hands warm.  Fletch agreed to take my car and meet us at the halfway point so Nick could get a few hours of sleep.  I couldn't believe how perfectly everything was coming together.  Now that I was all bundled up Jess and I set out to finish this thing up.  We were walking at a good pace and Jess was keeping me alert by pointing out any trip hazards and also psyching me up for the big finish.  We got to the aid station at mile 88 and I was starving.  We ate some breakfast sandwiches and I was still super cold so we waited a minute by an outdoor heater while the great volunteers were heating up some vegetable soup.

Jess leading me down the home stretch
Jess and I got a good laugh leaving this aid station because a volunteer was trying to convince a delirious runner to keep going.  I was not laughing at the runners misfortune rather that he was so delirious he was babbling on about some crazy stuff and it had everyone rolling.  I took my soup to go and back out into the cold air we went.  It seemed like we made it to the halfway point of loop 6 pretty quick.  I was 92 miles in at this point and hungry and tired.  Fletch had the car there waiting for us and it worked out well because I had some more mash potatoes and Gatorade.  I also downed a few breakfast sandwiches at the aid station.  I thanked the volunteers and we set out to complete the mission.  The sun was up at this point which gave me a sense of revival.  When I arrived at the mile 97 aid station I had a nice feeling of relief come over me because we only had 3 miles to go!  I had some coffee to keep me energized and I warmed up by the fire for a minute before we left.  Jess and I were kind of doing a shuffle as an attempt to run.  I was beat down but just wanted it to be over.  I felt like I could actually run but I had a really bad side ache and running made it worse.  I just decided to walk the rest of the way since I had plenty of time.  When I got to the path that led up to the parking lot of the start finish area we started running.  The adrenaline blocked out all of my pain and I seen everyone that was there crewing and supporting me all standing there cheering.  It was a great feeling.  Jess led me up to the finish chute and I ran through with my arms in the air.

Victory!!  Such a relief crossing that finish line.
Twenty-seven hours and forty-six minutes after I started it was very surreal to cross that finish line.  A volunteer asked me if I wanted to trade my timing chip leg strap for a 100 mile finisher buckle.  Ummm...yes please!  The race director Mike handed me the buckle and I was able to give all of my crew individual hugs of celebration and thanks.  They all played a super important part in helping me get through this life accomplishment and I was glad I could share my joy of finishing this goal.  I want to thank Jessica most of all for supporting me and putting up with all the long hours I am out on the trail or running around our neighborhood.  She really did a great job leading my crew and also pacing me for the last loop and leading me all the way to the finish.  All the hours and hard work I put into training had paid off and it was a great feeling.  Everyone keeps asking me if I will ever do this again and the answer is yes.  I am definitely hooked on ultrarunning and it has become part of my life.  It is awesome to be involved with this community of like minded crazy fools who love trail running for hours on end.  My next race is with Joe Gatton in Pagosa Springs, CO.  We are doing the Devil Mountain 50 miler.  I love the challenge of running in the mountains and can't wait for this next adventure.

The Buckle is finally mine!

My All-Star Crew, I am so grateful!

My man Nick! Thanks for everything

It's official

The hardware

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Forget the PR Half Marathon: April 13th, 2014

A few months before Forget the PR 50K / 25K I learned that Rob was going to include more races over the weekend, including a 4 miler on Friday night and a 1/2 marathon on Sunday.  I was planning to squeeze in a few training runs that weekend in Mohican since the Indiana Trail 100 was only two weeks away.  So I decided it would work out well if I ran a 12 mile training run super early on Saturday morning before volunteering at South Park aid station and then run in the half marathon on Sunday.  This would give me my 25 miles for the weekend that my training plan called for.  I was planning on tent camping over the weekend as I always do for this event but I was worried this year as we still had super cold temps in April.  Luckily the forecast had zero percent chance of rain and low temps of 35 and high temps around 70. This was perfect camping weather!!

All set up at my favorite site 500
I arrived to Mohican Adventures on Friday evening and decided to get my camp set up and also prepare for my super early training run the next morning.  I wanted to make sure I got up early enough to get done before the 50K race started.  I didn't have to be at my volunteer post until 8:00 am on Saturday but did not want to get caught going against the grain of two hundred 50K runners on a single track trail.  After I got camp set up I had a quick beer and laid down in the tent. The air was cool and I was extremely tired which was perfect conditions for a great nights sleep.  The temps dropped down into the low 30s that night and when I woke up at 4:30 am I was super cozy in my sleeping bag and did not want to get out.  I knew I needed to do my training run though.  I also knew I did not want to wait until after volunteering to do the training run because I would want to drink some Lager Heads beer and hang out with my friends.  So once I got dressed and on the trail I was really glad I got up.  It was a cool and crisp morning for a dark run through the trails.  I seen a lot of stars for the first time in awhile.  The sun was starting to peek through the sky when I got to covered bridge and there was someone there sitting on a cooler and listening to music.  I thought it had to be a volunteer waiting for the race to start and I later learned it was someone I knew but I could not make out there face since it was still pretty dark out.

South Park Aid Station..ready for runners!
As I ran through the trails that morning I could tell there was a lot of mud but it was mostly frozen as I passed through.  I knew that once temps heated up during the race it would be a mud fest for the runners especially along the river heading back to Mohican Adventures after leaving the covered bridge. I got back to camp right when I heard the race starting. It was perfect timing and I was able to squeeze in a shower and head over to South Park aid station to get set up.  It was colder then I thought when we were setting up the aid station. I was hot from my run and only wore shorts and a t shirt but the temps were still in the 30s. It was not long before the temps climbed into the 60s and I think it even got to 70 for the first time all spring. The runners were all in good spirits as they came through the aid station.  They were talking about how they were not use to the heat after that frigid winter!  It was a lot better weather then the 2013 Forget the PR because last year we stood at our aid station in pouring down rain and low 50s temps for the whole miserable day.

Chad Heald and myself enjoying some Lager Heads Brew
After the course sweeper came through our aid station we got it all torn down and packed up.  We were back at the start and finish line by 1:30.  We were able to drink some of the beer that the Lager Heads Brewing Company provided and also hang out with some friends and cheer on runners that were coming across the finish line.  I even got to course marshal the kids half mile race around the Mohican Adventures lake.  Basically all I had to do was stand on the other side of the lake and make sure none of the kids fell into the water.  They had so much fun running around the half mile loop and it reminds me of how I feel like a kid when I am out running on the trails.  After the races were all done and the area was secure for the night I went with Rob, his wife Johna and some other volunteers down to Trails end pizza. It was nice just relaxing and talking about the day.  To my surprise Rob bought us all dinner!  It was an unexpected and very cool thing for him to do.  Afterwards I was heading back to camp when I seen Nick who just got there! I said hi and he gave me a ride up to camp.  He invited me to hang out with some of his friends but I took a rain check because I was getting up to run the half marathon in the morning. I sat by the fire and had a beer before I passed out for the night.

Rob showing us the course markers are on the right side! I stole this pic from Kimba

I got up the next morning and was pretty tired after such a long day on Saturday.  I got ready for the race and I had some extra time so I decided to tear down my camp so I didn't have to do it after the run.  I woke Nick up to see if he wanted to run the 1/2 marathon but he said his head was killing him and he was going to sit this one out.  I made my way down to the starting line and got signed in and attached my bib number etc... I was feeling good and ready to race even though I am suppose to be taking it easy since my hundred miler was less then two weeks away.  A lot of the people doing this half marathon were on the third leg of the Trifecta.  Rob offered a special award and T shirt for those who completed the four miler Friday night, the 25K or 50K on Saturday, and the 1/2 marathon on Sunday.   Those who were in this elite group were feeling very tired from the previous two days of racing which gave me sort of an advantage.  After Rob's pre-race speech we were off!  I came out of the gate way to fast but was feeling good so I just went with it.  I was surprising myself at how good of a pace I was keeping through the trails of Mohican.  We went up Big Ass Hill, down to the fire tower and then after covered bridge it was a complete mud fest.  There were areas that had knee deep water and ankle deep mud.  I went right through the middle of it.  I even passed a few people who were trying to maneuver around these areas.  In the last few miles of the race I passed a few people.  It was a good confidence booster even though I knew they were tired from running three races that weekend.

Up up and away!  Also stole this pic from facebook.
I had a strong finish and it was a good feeling to cross the finish line.  Especially knowing the next two weeks I would be tapering and planning for my hundred miler.  I later learned that I had a time of 2 hours and 46 minutes for the 1/2 marathon.  You might not think this is a good time but it is a really tough trail course and anyone that has run at Mohican would agree.  It was good enough that I finished 26th out of 83 runners.  I am proud of that because I am usually not competitive when it comes to trail running but every now and then I feel the urge to try and have a decent finishing time.  Once again the Forget the PR weekend was an absolute blast.  I had fun camping, volunteering, hanging with some good people and especially trail running in Mohican.  In two weeks I will really see what I am made of at the Indiana Trail 100.