Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Nutrition, Part 2: Race Nutrition (Reporter Style!)

A few weeks ago (ok months, give me a break!), I gave you Your Perfect Nutrition Plan for daily living and promised a Part 2 relating to race day nutrition. I know you have been as eager as a 13 year old girl waiting for Justin Beiber to come to town (or in our house, Taylor Swift), but the wait is finally over! And just for kicks (mostly mine), I am breaking it down reporter style: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of race day Nutrition, particularly as it relates to ultras.

WHO needs to eat during a race?

The average person has enough stored glycogen to last for about 90 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise. Well trained individuals may be able to go longer than this due to increased metabolic efficiency. However, the higher one’s intensity, the greater the demands the body has for glucose, such that at race paces you’ll bonk a lot quicker than you would if you were just going out for an easy run. So anyone racing longer than an hour should consider taking in some calories during the race and I would definitely recommend some race nutrition for anyone going longer than 90 minutes.

WHAT should you eat?

There are dozens of sports nutrition companies trying to convince you that their product has the ideal mix of nutrients to fuel you to your best ever performance. Certainly, these companies have put a lot of research into their formulas and if they have been around for a few years, you can feel pretty confident that they have a good product. However, it doesn’t matter how perfect the product is if you won’t eat it! I am a firm believer that the best thing to eat during a race is something that you know you WILL eat. For example, I pretty much know that I have about a four gel per day max. After that - gag fest! If you can’t eat a gel, but you can eat jelly beans all day, eat jelly beans and don’t despair that you aren’t eating a true sports nutrition product. Certainly, your body is burning a lot of glucose while running, so you want to choose carbohydrate rich foods, but the junk food aisle of your supermarket can make for great running fuel, too (and is usually much cheaper). I ran a world record fueled almost entirely by orange soda. And when I was having stomach issues at Run Rabbit Run due to the altitude, soda and a box of Red Vines got me through the final 60 miles! I really think WHAT you eat is not that important, as long as you actually DO keep eating. I often find that even when my stomach is OK, I still just don’t want to eat, or that some foods make me gag. Having new food options can help; listen to your body and eat what you are craving. And for gagging, you can find things that dissolve if you chew them like gum (pretzels, saltines, animal crackers, etc. can all be eaten without truly swallowing if you chew long enough).

WHEN should you eat?

Before a big race I have a standard pre-race breakfast: two packs of instant oatmeal (maple and brown sugar), a banana, a bottle of sports drink, and an Ensure (chocolate, please!). It’s about 700 calories and almost all carbs. I have a pretty strong stomach, so I can eat 2 hours before a race and be fine, though  know a lot of people prefer three hours ahead. During a hundred miler, I’ll start eating 20 minutes in and try to keep eating every 20 minutes from there on out, aiming for about 200 calories/hour. I think constant small boluses are easier on the stomach than trying to cram in a whole bunch of calories at once.

WHERE should you eat?

Most trail races have at least some variation in terrain and certain types of terrain are more conducive to eating than others. When I first started running ultras, I used to try to eat on the uphills because the slower pace made it easier to fumble with packs and wrappers without tripping. But now that I am racing harder, I find it is easier on my stomach and my breathing if I eat during times of lower heart rate, so I usually eat on downhills or smooth flat sections. Technical trail running does not come naturally to me, so I don’t eat as much when the trail gets rough, because I need all of my concentration for my footing. As you might expect, aid stations are great places to eat, but not just because of the food availability. Even in those few seconds when you are waiting for your bottle to be filled, your heart rate will come down making it easier to digest food. For this reason, I often will finish off whatever I have on me right before I get to the aid station and then use the aid station to resupply for the next section.

WHY should you eat during long races?

Ok, the simple answer: running burns a lot of calories and you need fuel to keep your muscles functioning.

To dive into things a bit deeper, oxidation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins produces energy (remember ATP from Bio 101?) that can be used to contract muscle fibers. Muscle glycogen is mobilized and oxidized quickly, whereas fats are mobilized and oxidized slowly. Both ultimately produce the same amount of energy, but it takes a lot longer to make that energy with fats. Only carbohydrates can be mobilized and oxidized fast enough to produce enough energy to sustain high intensity exercise. But we only have about 1500 calories worth of energy stored as muscle glycogen - definitely not enough to fuel an entire ultramarathon. Once the muscle glycogen is gone, the body has to rely on oxidation of fat for energy (protein contributes minimally). Since fatty oxidation is slower, the pace we can maintain when only using fat drops. This is “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” Note that when you do bonk, though, you still have plenty of energy to keep you moving forward, you just have to do so at a slower pace. If you slow down enough to match energy use with energy production, this switch to fat use isn’t uncomfortable. The problem is that most people who sign up for a race are trying to push themselves to some extent, even if they aren’t trying to win, and that “bonk” pace may be a slow walking pace - not what most people want to do in a race situation. But trying to maintain a pace without enough energy is very uncomfortable and you won’t get very far!

That’s where race day nutrition comes in! By eating high carbohydrate foods, we are giving our bodies more glucose to utilize for energy production. One other note: endurance training will increase your ability to mobilize and oxidize fatty acids for use, thus reducing the rate at which you burn through your muscle glycogen. Some athletes employ a low carb diet hoping to enhance this effect (not getting into that subject here!). However, we still need carbohydrates to run at the highest intensity for extended periods of time. This is why you’ll still see all the low carb athletes eating lots of carbs during races. Bottom line: efficient fat metabolism may slow the depletion of muscle glycogen, but in long races at high intensity, carbohydrate intake is still needed to keep the engine running.

HOW do you eat during races?

This past summer I crewed at three major mountain 100’s and had the opportunity to see how many different runners were doing throughout the day, and I would say GI issues were the most common problem runners faced during theses races. I saw someone vomit as early as 20 miles in and many more complained of stomach issues before they even hit the marathon mark, many of these runners stating that they never have GI issues in training, even when running 30 miles or more. So why are stomach issues so much worse on race day?

In order for the GI tract to process food, there needs to be a good blood supply to the GI tract, both to bring it the energy it needs to process the food and to whisk away all the newly absorbed nutrients. When you exercise, your muscles demand more blood and your GI tract gets less, so the GI tract works less efficiently. And while you may have no problems eating in training, there are
often many factors on race day that are quite different than your normal training routine such as anxiety, running intensity, heat, humidity, and altitude, all of which can further detract blood from the GI tract. However, my personal opinion is that many people go into a "Food Frenzy Panic Mode" on race day and this is a major cause of race day GI distress.

Ok, so what do I mean? Basically there are two possible race day eating catastrophes that lie on completely opposite ends of the spectrum: Don’t eat enough and you will bonk; Eat too much and you will have stomach distress. If you have stomach distress during a race, it doesn’t matter what quantity of food and liquid you have actually eaten, it is too much for your stomach to process at that point. If you aren’t having stomach issues, bonking is a relatively quick fix: ingest a bunch of sugary foods and in a relatively quick time your energy levels will return. People bonk and rebound all the time in races. It isn’t ideal; but it usually isn’t race ending. Stomach issues are the much bigger evil: if you are vomiting, you lose fuel and liquids but you have no way to replace them as long as your stomach keeps expelling what you put in. This can be a deal breaker.

And yet, it seems to me that many people start ultras trying to eat and drink as much as their stomach can hold. I am not sure if this is a fear of the distance: “I need to eat and drink a lot if I am going to make it to the finish,” or if this is a fear of future stomach issues: “I know I am going to feel bad late in the race, so I better eat as much as I can now.” I think a lot of people try to focus on getting in the maximum number of calories per hour, especially early in a race. Often this means they take in a lot more calories in the first hours of a race then they would in training. But the goal of taking in the maximum number of calories per hour comes with a high risk of over-fueling and setting the stomach off, particularly as I think the amount the stomach can process decreases as a race goes on (due to dehydration, damage to stomach lining, etc.), such that this early feeding frenzy can actually be the cause of stomach issues and the reason people get stomach problems earlier in races than they do in training.

In my opinion, one should aim to get by on the minimal amount possible (or just above), rather than trying to consume the maximum amount possible. It has been said that you can't put time in the bank for ultras; the same philosophy applies to eating: don't try to put calories in the bank for later in the race. Erring on the side of too few calories has easy to recognize warning signs and is easy to fix. Erring on the side of eating too much early on can be a lot harder to fix. That being said, if you do get into stomach troubles, STOP EATING! If you feel bloated, “sloshy”, nauseated (or are vomiting), it’s because your stomach is behind in processing. Try taking a few electrolyte caps to help process liquids, and then CHILL! Your stomach needs time to process what’s already in it. Adding more food/liquid will only make the situation worse. Ironically, vomiting can help tremendously because it immediately clears the backlog. If you have a stomach full of calories and liquid, you don’t need to worry about bonking/dehydration for the short term as your body is still absorbing these things. If your stomach is in a pretty bad place, I’d recommend going a whole hour without ingesting anything and then start adding back slowly. If you do vomit, avoid the second wave of "Feeding Panic": “OMG, I just threw up everything I ate so now I need to make up for lost calories!” Start back slowly, and aim for a lower hourly intake than you started with. Also, consider switching foods: sodas tend to be good for wonky stomachs, gels have a lot of calories for a very small volume (good if you are very bloated but still able to keep things down), a different drink mix may work better for you late in a race, etc. If you continuously have GI problems, you should reconsider your over-all fueling plan. Don't keep doing the same thing expecting different results.

Training with lower calorie intake can help you get comfortable with what your minimal requirements are. If you do get too low and bonk, think of it as good practice on what to do for race day and see how you can rebound from this situation. Hopefully, with this kind of training, you can have the confidence to avoid the "Food Frenzy Panic Mode" on race day.

Hopefully the "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How" of race day nutrition will help you get through your next big race!
"Screw gels - I am going straight for the Red Vines!"

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ultra Mother-Daughter Bonding

Ok, so lots of people gave me feedback on the utility of the Buff. I especially like the ice-in-the-Buff idea. Whatever you like to get you out the door and enjoying nature is good by me (I am still not saying I’ll wear one!). But am I wrong, or do Buffs seem to be fairly specific to trail runners?? Anyway, enough fooling around; on to more serious things...like running numerous 1 mile laps around a lake with my daughter. You can find her version of the story here.

The weekend of March15-16 I had the pleasure of participating in the Pacific Rim 24 hour run. But this wasn't just another race for me - this was an ultra I got to run with my nine year old daughter Megan! And it was my 50th ultra to boot!

The race is more like a strange cult running event that seems to draw many of the same participants year after year and comes complete with its own whacky leader in RD Fred "Wildman" Willet.  A lot of people remembered Megan from last year when she did 27 miles. In fact, at this race Megan is the super star and I am an ultra-nobody! At one point I was running a lap without Megan and mentioned I was there with my daughter and my companion asked, “Oh, are you the mom?” I love it; yes, I am the Mom!

The race gives sweatshirts out to anyone completing at least 50k, but Fred must've had a soft spot for Megan last year, because he gave her one for completing her first ultra-marathon at 27 miles. But right at race start he made it really clear that she wasn't going to get off so easy this year as pretty much the first thing he said to her was: "You're not a rookie anymore, so if you want the sweatshirt, you have to do the full 50k!" No problem - that was Megan's goal all along. My goal was just to be with Megan, but I was hoping I could sneak in a few extra laps to get a 50 mile weekend.
#50 - For 50K!
Though we were basically duplicating everything we did last year, things seemed a lot different. First off was the weather - Saturday was beautiful compared to last year's horrible storms. It made it a lot easier to be out in the park. But the real difference was Megan. She still had the same fierce determination, but she seemed so much more mature this year. Sure she did about a hundred cartwheels during the race, but she just seemed less silly. Last year, I made a feeble attempt to tell her about Sacajawea (since we were running around Lake Sacajawea); this year she told me the entire history of Lewis and Clark and how Sacajawea was taken from her tribe as a baby and raised by another tribe. She told me how Clark helped deliver Sacajawea's son, John Baptiste, and later Clark helped raise the boy. She said Sacajawea was married to a fur trapper, but she didn't remember his name, but it was something like "Frenchie-French-Frenchman" and she laughed at her joke (actually Toussaint Charbanneau, which is pretty much the same as "Frenchie-French-Frenchman" if you ask me). And she matter-of-factly told me all about Lewis committing suicide three years after the trip. I grew up in California and grade school history was all about the gold rush not Lewis and Clark so I wasn’t just running with my daughter but learning all kinds of history. I have to admit, I wasn’t always the best student. I constantly made jokes about Uranus when we past the plaque of Neptune that showed directions to Uranus (the park has plaques of the planets around the perimeter, but Uranus wasn’t on the course. Good thing because we don’t want to see Uranus while we are running an ultra! -hahaha!) And when Megan told me Lewis had a black Newfoundland dog named “Seaman” that liked to hunt beaver...well, I just about lost it! Is it bad that my nine year old is more mature than me?? (Well, she is very mature for her age...)
There was one sidewalk section. Apparently this means you should cartwheels.
Megan’s approach to the race was very different this year as well. Last year she ran and rested based on when she got tired or when it rained, but this year she had plans, and strategies. I swear I had no input when she said she wanted to do 32 miles so that she could beat all the people that stopped at 50k and she told me I had to do 51 miles both to match my bib number (#51!) and to beat all the people who stopped at 50 miles. That one extra lap bumped me from 9th female to 6th!

Oh, it was serious alright! There were training plans and race strategies! 

While many people question the sanity of running a looped course or think it might be boring, what you lack in stimulation from new scenery, you make up for with the much higher interaction with other runners and the people at the one aid station. We got to talk to many people on the course, including speedster Zach Gingerich who just came up from Portland to do a 100 mile training run...in 16:59. My daughter is a huge fan of his after all of their eating contests and how nice he was to always say hi to her or tell her what lap he was on. I have to say I am a fan for the same reason. We could never get that on a standard race course. It was great to share laps with several others, too, including Karl Jansen, who gave Megan such a good lesson on jogging slowly instead of sprinting/walking that I nearly had to sprint a full lap myself to catch them when I stopped to chat at the aid station! And by the end of the event Megan practically had her own cheering section at the aid station. Thank you to the runners and volunteers at Pac Rim for letting Megan and I be part of the cult. These last two years have truly been priceless time spent with my daughter.
My first selfie ever (yes, really!) at the finish of the race  - that's how monumental this was. And Buff fans, take this late entry into the world of selfies as proof that I take a really long time to warm up to new things!
For anybody wondering what your limits are (marathon, 50k, 50M, more???) but you have doubt holding you back, I strongly encourage you to find a timed event and get yourself out there! I think you will surprise yourself. The cost for Pac Rim was $84, which is cheaper than most marathons (and there was much better food!). If for some reason you do have to quit early, you won’t be stranded in some remote area.

Megan didn’t get to 34 miles because she has any special athletic gift; rather she has the childish naivety (and the example of crazy parents) that allowed her to believe it was possible to finish a 50k. Too often people place a mental barrier up delineating what they think they can and can’t do and it prevents them from achieving their maximum potential. I am super proud of Megan but honestly I don’t think she has extraordinary talent. Rather she is a great reminder that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they believe they can.
I was not at the race to be competitive, but I got this nice orange plaque thanks to Megan's strategizing!
One final funny note: A friend from RWB Camp Eagle named Rob left a comment on Megan's Pac Rim race report. When Megan read it, her eyes lit up and she gasped, "Mom, is it Rob Krar?!" OMG, What have I created??! (Rob, your comment is still appreciated!)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Buff - WTF?!?

We were first introduced to fabric tubes as clothing with the 80’s leg warmer rage. More recently, arm sleeves have taken over the athletic world, so much so that NBA players contesting in indoor climate controlled conditions now wear arm sleeves. Sometimes just on one arm. Oooh, now that’s cool! But even the uni-armed sleeve look is so last year, because athletes  - particularly ultrarunners - have a new fabric tube trend: The Buff.

Sure one sleeve is cool, but if he really wants to be the bomb, he needs a Buff, not a sweatband!

Now back when I was in college, running in the buff meant being naked. Of course, I also thought streaking meant running through the quad without clothes and not some obsessive-compulsive adherence to running at least one mile every day. But I date myself because that was last century. Now a buff refers to an oversized fabric loop, with numerous associated You-tube videos showing the infinite number of genius uses for such a seemingly simple design.

And yet I am left wondering, “Why the hell would ultra-runners want a Buff??” Ok, yes, if you are like some Killian Jornet freak who dances across two mile high mountain peaks where weather can change at any moment and freeze your face off, well, then, yeah, in that case, I get it. But American runners don’t just wear their buffs on high mountain peaks to ward off frost bite; they wear them at races like Way Too Cool and Western States, races you could run in the buff and not be in danger of frostbite! (Nevermind that I was hypothermic at Western States. We all know that was an anomaly and besides, no Buff would have saved me!).

Why have we replaced beanies and the more sensible-sized fleece headbands with some big cloth rag that looks like a turban wrapped around the head?? I don’t get it. But maybe that’s because I have never been a fashionista, especially when it comes to running. I choose my clothes for how they fit and function not how they look. I mean, did you see me at Western States??: A light blue overly worn hat from 2002, a fluorescent green freebie bandana from my kids 100 Mile Club, and a Goodwill cotton T-shirt! At least I had on cute Lululemon shorts, but only because I won them and because Ken Sinclair and Sean Meissner have forbidden me from racing in the shorts I like to call “my dumpy blue shorts.” So, yeah, I really need help when it comes to fashion, but I have watched those You-Tube videos and I still don’t know how I would wear a Buff.

A few years ago, Western States gave out Buffs as part of the schwag. My daugher modeled it as a strapless dress a few times, before I finally used it to wipe up some juice and threw it out. Great uses for my Buff and I didn’t even get them from a video!
Megan rocks a Buff
(Buff-wearers try not to get your fabric tube in a wad, this is all in good April fool’s fun...mostly. :) If you are a Buff die-hard, please feel free to clue me in on what I am missing!)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pacific Rim One Day - Megan's Race Report

On March 15-16 Megan and I ran the Pacific Rim 24 hour race together for the second year in a row. We are a little late getting up a race report because we spent spring break in Cabo completely unplugged from the world. But we are back, and blogging as fiercely as ever, which is to say, completely sporadically. :) This is Megan's race report. 

On Saturday March 15-16 I ran Pacific Rim 24 hour race. It took place around Sacajawea lake in Longview, Washington. The course was a one mile loop around the lake. Part of the course had a bridge. I did cartwheels on the bridge almost every lap I did. The race started 9:00 Saturday and ended 9:00 Sunday. There was an aid station after every lap I did. My mom went with me. My number was 50 for my goal of doing a 50k. Mom’s number was 51 so I told her she had to do 51 miles.
Megan, on the bridge, *not* doing cartwheels

When the race started, me and mom did a slow jog for the whole 1 mile loop.Then we walked. I took a break to play on the iPad after 5 laps. Mom ran 2 more without me and then I continued. I did four more laps. At about my ninth lap altogether, I noticed some birds in the lake with a weird design of white on their face. There were signs with the names of birds around the lake so I wanted to see what the strange looking birds were named. Mom and I found out that they were called buffleheads. Mom and I used that as a joke from then on. For the rest of that lap we constantly called each other buffleheads. Also during that time I had a cookie eating contest with a guy named Zach Gingerich. I won 4-2 when they ran out of cookies! At dinner time I had a jelly bean eating contest with him. The jelly beans were served in little cups. Zach won this time, the score was 3-2. The jelly beans were too sugary for me. After that lap I took another break. That break I made friends. Their names were Joey, Nikki, Crockett, and Tass. Nikki was in the race and Joey supported. Crockett and Tass were their dogs. I got to give the dogs treats. Joey said they were all-natural gingersnap treats. Nikki ended up winning for the women with 69 miles.

Mom came back from her 2 lap run without me and then we were off. I ran 3 laps with mom and then we both went to take a break. We played 2 games of Ticket to Ride in the car. I beat mom once and she beat me once. After that I took a break every 3 laps. At the end of the day I had 30 miles! I had decided to get some sleep and do my victory lap in the morning. I went to bed in the minivan we had set up a mattress in.
All snug and warm in the minivan

Mom woke me up at 6:00 and we did 1 lap. At the end the people who were there congratulated me. I did more laps because I wanted to get 32 miles because I would beat all of the people who got a 50k. At the end I had 34 miles! Mom had 51! We both made our goals. My place was 32nd overall and Mom’s was 6th woman. She got an orange plaque. I had lots of fun.

                                                                            -Megan Smith, age 9

Megan hits the 50k mark!!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Am A Douche Grade Jogger: Weekend Water Slides and the Hillbilly Half

I didn’t want to have winter babies; I wanted to be able to have outdoor parties and barbecues to celebrate their birthdays. My first kid was all set to be born in early September, but a miscarriage messed things up so Megan didn’t arrive till late January. Liam’s due date was a more reasonable late March, but then the little booger showed up six weeks early, still in the mid of winter. That left us with two birthdays to celebrate when there aren’t a lot of options in the Pacific Northwest; certainly we wouldn’t be having any picnics or barbecues!

Every kid would choose this over their mom. At least mine would.

So instead we headed up to the Great Wolf Lodge in the upscale metropolis of Grand Round, WA this past weekend. For those of you not familiar with the Great Wolf Lodge, it is a ginormous hotel with an indoor water park teeming with children hyped up on sugar and the excitement of donning bathing suits at a time when the outside temps hover just above freezing. And there are water slides! A weekend in a basic room is more than a monthly mortgage payment on the average American home, and yet, the hotel is booked solid every weekend, including all the fancy (and significantly more pricey) animal themed suites with miniature log cabins for the kids. But the kids wanted to go, and well, it was for their birthdays. Oh, and what a coincidence! There just happened to be a La Sportiva Mountain Cup race less than a half hour away! I am sure the kids wouldn’t mind; it is not like it was their actual birthdays. Plus, there are water slides; they’d never miss me!

So Saturday morning, I headed off to run and the kids headed off to the water park. Due to the torrential rain during and after the race, I think I ended up getting the wettest!

The race started on a gentle uphill grade and I was holding myself back to stay with the leading women. But a quarter of a mile in, the road quickly steepened and five women went flying by like I was dragging a tire! My quads were burning and I kept thinking, “Ah, man, this should be power hiking!” I did run every step, but you wouldn’t know it for how much time the front runners put on me. Starting around mile one, I was pretty much just waiting to get to the top so we could turn around and come back down.
It's much steeper than it looks!

Ironically, I think of myself as an uphill runner. If you ask me about Western States, I will tell you without a doubt in my mind, I won it on the uphills. But this race made me realize I am not really an uphill runner. There are some fast men and women out there who can eat up climbs like gravity doesn’t affect them!

About three and a half miles in, the trail came out on another road with just a gradual climb. In the next half mile I passed three guys and one gal. “This is the stuff I am good at!” I thought to myself. And then it hit me: this was “douche grade”, the not so kind name mountain runners give to the least challenging uphill grades. And honestly, I wasn’t going much faster than ultramarathon pace. Nope, I am not an uphill runner; I am a douche grade jogger!

I didn’t catch anybody on the downhill, but I only got passed once and my legs felt strong, so I was pretty happy with the latter half of the race. I held on for 5th women - nothing too spectacular but a solid effort in a race WAY outside of my comfort zone, plus some good early season quad pounding. And perhaps the best part: I still got a whole afternoon of water sliding in after the race was over!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Training Commences

I had a nice little break after Rocky Raccoon, but now it is time to get serious!! and I've got plenty of work to do. So it was back to Monday morning track work. My mile time is about 20 seconds off "normal"( 6:11 but we did run in crazy rain and wind). But the most disheartening thing was my strength - I struggled through 20 squats with the kiddos. Last year I could rip off 50, no problem! I am blaming it on my kids getting heavier!

But I have some serious motivators to get me where I need to be:

He yelled that at me while I was flopping on the ground trying to do push-ups (I made him repeat for the video) Worthless life?? Where does he come up with this stuff? Megan likes to remind me that I can't keep up with her. 

Meanwhile Megan is all set to attempt her second ultra. If you really want to do an ultra but you are afraid you aren't in shape or can't make the cut-offs, sign up for a 24 hour race. You have an entire day to get the mileage you want, which gives you plenty of time to walk whatever you need. And since most of these races are on short loops, the aid station is never far away!

Megan did 27 miles last year, but she says she wants the full 50k this year. So she started her training today, too.
She started a notebook! (Yeah, I might have one that looks just like this.)

She did the strength training with me and after dinner I found her running a mile on the treadmill. "42 R7" she says to me when I walk in. 

"What?!?" I ask her.

"It's 385 divided by 9. Liam's asking me math problems while I run." 

Ok, maybe we aren't that alike - I can't even add simple numbers like mileage between aid stations when I run! Being nerdier than me is definitely not a good thing! But it should serve her well to get to 50k.

Ok, so who else is back to training full force and what are you training for? And more importantly, do you have a notebook? Happy training. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mauled By A Raccoon

I headed down to Texas to pick up my 50th ultra finish, my ninth hundred mile finish and a shiny new belt buckle. Instead I came home with a DNF and a whopping dose of humility.

I was rapidly stripping clothes as I headed to the starting line at 6 am. As the start time  approached it was already 61 degrees with 93% humidity and it felt muggy. The first couple miles I was in a nice conga line, struggling to stay smooth. Being behind many people made it hard to see and there were a lot of roots in this section. My legs just didn’t have that strong feeling, and I had one minor ankle turn. But when I hit the jeep road, I could stretch out the legs and I felt a lot better. But it was already hot and sticky and I was asking for water down my back at mile 6! I must’ve been running pretty well on the jeep road because I soon caught up to Nicole Studer, Michele Yates, Gary Gellin, Ford Smith, and Jason Fingar, all of whom had gotten out ahead of me and were running together. I think my presence fired up the competitive drive in Michele as she quickly took off and the rest of the group strung out with Nicole and I hanging in the back. I ran the rest of the loop with her and enjoyed getting to know her and having someone to chat with for a bit.

As we came back down the rooted trail to the start finish I felt really good and figured I had just needed a bit of time to warm up. 2:47 was a bit faster than the 2:50-52 I was aiming for, but I also knew it was a slower first loop than several of the women’s winners in the past couple years and Michele was already 8 minutes up on me. On the out and back, Michele looked like she was already in focus mode and Connie Gardner assured me she was going to blow up and I just needed to stay steady. I wasn’t concerned if Connie was right or not, I just knew that Michele’s pace was definitely too hot for me and I needed to stick to my plan. What I didn’t know was that my plan wasn’t right for me either! 

As soon as we hit the roots once more, I was hurting and struggling again. Much of the Rocky Raccoon course is like an M.C. Escher drawing: you have to go up and down lots of steps, but your elevation really never changes. Spending September through December training for a track race and only getting two short trail runs in January, this was incredibly hard on my legs, particularly my hip flexors, which just weren't prepared to lift a few inches higher than usual to clear all the roots (not to mention I am a low clearance shuffler to begin with!).

The enigma of RR: there's really not much climbing or descending, but there sure are a lots of steps!

But I held on and kept pace with Gary and Nicole through this section and through the Dam Nation loop. Gary was pretty cheery as he announced us going through 50k in 4:26 (8:35 pace). It was a touch faster than the 8:45 pace I was hoping to keep up through 60 miles, but in theory it didn’t seem unreasonable to me. The reality was different: “Gary, my legs really don’t feel good.”

“Yes they do. They feel great!”, he answered. My nutrition and stomach had been good but I quickly chugged a bunch more drink mix to see if that would help. It didn’t.

I stopped at Dam Nation 2 and really took my time to drink, soak myself and eat more. But by the time that minute or so was over, my legs had completely locked up, particularly my hip flexors, which felt angry and inflamed. I let Gary and Nicole go and walked a bit. I figured I would jog as slow as I could for a while and I was aghast to find my slow jog was 12:45 pace, and even that was killing me! I had three miles on the road till the next aid station and I made a couple more jog attempts but they would all end after just a few minutes with cramping and pain in my hip flexors and a bit in the hamstrings. Neal Gorman was also having a major low and we walked in to the aid station. He had an impressive comeback from the dead to finish 5th, but my day was done.
You know you are in bad shape when your crew gets so bored waiting for you, that they have to start knitting!
I don’t like to be a quitter, but I don’t regret my decision. I was honestly in more pain than I have ever been in during any ultra. Could I have gutted it out to the finish? - yes, I am absolutely certain I could have. But I exorcised that demon with my 29 hour finish as Western States in 2012. I embrace a certain amount of suffering for these events (and even thrive on it a bit), but I am not out here to torture myself for 65 miles just to prove I can. I run because I love it, but at mile 35, I didn’t love running. In fact, I didn’t even like it in the tiniest bit, and so I am ok with my decision. What’s eating at me, though, is that I let myself get to that point.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go too smoothly for me after Desert Solstice. I did a little too much running right after the race so that I could be part of our group’s annual “Elf Run” leaving goodies on all our friends doorsteps, so my legs were flat and tired for longer than usual. At Christmas my sister came out with her three kids, and some mega- GI bug that knocked me out completely for three days. I had the toe surgery, which went really smoothly and I am completely happy with it, but there was certainly some stress and a few days of missed running for that. And then MLK weekend, I got hit with another crazy GI bug that took me out for a week after losing 6 pounds in three days (via numerous bathroom trips). What was meant to be my biggest training week went from 90 planned miles to 42 actual miles, and all of them slow; I did only three speed workouts and essentially no real trail running between DS and RR. My longest run in seven weeks was 19.5 miles. But the Monday before Rocky Raccoon I had one of my fastest 6x400 sessions ever (sub 80 sec on a couple- great for me) and I grasped on to the idea that the low training meant I was well rested and ready to run. But conditions at Rocky Raccoon were less than ideal; humidity can be brutal to run through and the only other race I have done at high humidity did not go well for me, either. It is just not something we are accustomed to in Oregon.

But I am not offering these as excuses to exonerate me, because the reality is that none of these were the true cause of my demise. Plain and simple: I messed up.

I have success in running lately and success breeds confidence. But there is a fine line between confidence and self-delusion or hubris, and I stepped over that line. I convinced myself that I was capable of running a certain time at Rocky Raccoon and even though my legs felt bad from the start, I stubbornly held on to that goal and kept pushing, hoping for things to get better. I don’t think the pace I was running early on was egregiously fast and in theory I believe I should be able to do it. Indeed, Nicole was right with me through 50k and held on strong for the win. But for where I was at on that day, with that training, it was too much. I have never had any kind of psoas muscle pain or cramping and can only assume they just weren't in shape to handle that terrain or the conditions. There was certainly a common theme: many of those pushing for a faster run succumbed to the oppressive humidity with only a 58% finishing rate. Those who ran more relaxed and focused on finishing over running a specific time fared much better, and there were many impressive performances in the 17-24 hour range, with lots of runners showing how an even, conservative pace will get you to the sub-24 buckle. I tend to be a conservative runner and I pride myself on pacing, but I failed at this completely on race day. I kept running the pace I so desperately wanted to run, until I just couldn’t run anymore, and sadly that was pretty early in the day. It’s good for me to get out of my comfort zone, but it is also good for me to learn how far is too far, and Saturday I got that lesson: if it feels too hard, it is too hard and it is time to back off and let go of time goals.

Perhaps the hardest part of dropping, is explaining it to others. It kind of feels like the walk of shame in college (not that I would know about that!). Even though I was convinced I made the right call for me, the guilt and the apologetic feeling was overwhelming. To explain why I dropped felt hollow and lame. I understand why you don’t see most people right after they DNF, but I wasn’t about to the let the pride get the better of me. While no longer running, I spent another 9 hours enjoying the race as a spectator, cheering folks on, and offering a little bit of help to those who were having a better day than me. And you realize pretty quickly that you’re the only one having a pity party and you need to snap out of it because there are so many wonderful stories around you - maybe not yours today, but you can still live vicariously and be moved by the people still out running. I loved hearing crews tell runners after their 4th lap that they were well ahead of 24 hour pace. Watching guys like Steve Moore and Neal Gorman rally to strong finishes was inspiring. Roy Pirrung blew me away with his steady determination. And my favorite moment all night: when Shaheen Sattar started her final lap and her crew yelled,”Keep this up and you’ve got Western States!” So many great achievements  out there, and while I was bummed not to have one of my own, I am still glad I got to be a part of it. Plus RD Joe Prusaitis made me a honorary Texan. He said it was because I have been to Texas seven times in the last five years for running events, but I think it is because I look so good in a cowboy hat! ;)

So, now I am going to take a couple easy weeks to make sure I am healthy and completely recovered (and to make sure I don't miss any of the Olympics - I am a sucker for them!). Then it heavy duty training time. The good thing is, I know what I need to do (ie. pull out last year's WS training plan and copy it exactly). Plus, I am motivated and hungry with a little something to prove once again - and that sure worked out well last year. A DNF isn't fun, but it's not the end of the world either. The failures are great lessons and a good way to grow for the future. So while I am disappointed, I am not going to beat myself up about it. Like I said to someone Saturday, "You're not a real ultra-runner if you don't have a few shitty races!" One more positive: My big toes feel awesome! No regrets on parting ways with my toenails!
The "elite" meet and great Friday morning: Gary Gellin, me, Ian Sharman, Connie Gardner, Ryan Ghelfi, and Dave James. Or more like "Club DNF." Seriously, what did they put in those sandwhiches?!? Thank you, Ian, for brining some credibility to the group!