Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Western States 2014: One Great Big Fake Orgasm

For the past ten days I have been digesting. Digesting everything in this year's Western States experience. Oh, and also digesting just about everything in our pantry - man have I been hungry!!

I don't expect a whole lot of sympathy for a 19:10 4th place finish at Western States, but after running an 18:37 in a lot higher temps, I think it is fair to say my race didn't go as I had hoped. I openly stated that my goal was 18:11. It may have been aggressive to aim for a time that would be the 5th fastest women's time on the course, but I am not one to set "soft" goals or say things like "I just want to finish" when everyone knows that is a load of crap. I am not afraid to set goals that I may not attain, yet, at the same time, I really felt I had that time in me. Last year's run felt very conservative both in the beginning and at the end and the cooler temps should've made a big difference. And I was fitter, stronger, and leaner for this year's race.

But things were off from the get go. Last year, I felt like I floated up to the escarpment. This year, it seemed like I was working too hard from the beginning. My legs just didn't have the usual ready-to-go feeling after coming off a big taper. In the high country, I had the pleasure of running with Kaci and Larissa, but I wasn't comfortable. That's big trouble to be uncomfortable less than ten miles in to a 100 mile run! I knew I had to run my own race and backed off a bit to let Kaci and Larissa get ahead, but when I got to Duncan Canyon (mile 24) in 4:12, I was not a happy camper! Even when I took 29 hours to finish WS, I got there in 4:09. Last year, I was there in 4:09 and I felt like I was out for a walk in the park.

"I am running 20 hour pace!" I whined to my crew. Fortunately, Dennis is Mr. Optimism and he was like, "three minutes, big deal, you can make that up, sunshine, rainbows, flying pink ponies." Fortunately, my head was SO on task and I ticked off everything I needed at the aid station- chug a soda, new bottles, hand held with ice, sunscreen, sunglasses, Vaseline, Chapstick and a few sponges of water on the neck- and I was out of there pronto.

I love, love, love Duncan Canyon, the climb to Robinson Flat and Little Bald Mountain. Along with Volcano Canyon, this is my favorite part of the course. I had a strong split here last year, and ran the exact same time this year and was still only three minutes off last year's time. My legs still felt weak on the climbing, but I seemed to be chugging along ok. Hmmm, maybe this wasn't too bad after all. Again, I felt calmer than ever at the AS and got everything taken care of according to game plan. I chugged up Little Bald Mountain, but then my legs were just hurting on the downhills and the flat roads were pathetic. My gait was stiff, my legs were sore, and still I was breathing so dang hard even on the downhills. Tropical John Medinger was about a half mile out of Dusty Corners, but I was so embarrassed by how I was running that I don't even think I looked at him. And when I saw my crew, the tears just started.
Robinson Flat - looking better than I feel (ph: Ally Speirs)
But even through the tears I never really gave in to the pity party and I never had any thoughts except how to fix this. "I need a soda, two Endurolytes and a Naproxen." I don't take a lot of salt tablets (zero at WS last year) and I know NSAID's are risky, but I also know that I needed to do something. And it seemed to work; by the time I hit the Pucker Point trail I was feeling much better. During a better stretch, I cruised up on Emily Harrison. She said her legs hurt and she was just done. I told her my legs felt like shit from mile 16 to 38 but I was doing better now and her situation could turn, too. But while I was feeling good, I decided to mosey!

At Last Chance I got a nice "car wash" from the awesome volunteers before heading off to the canyons. Craig Thornley was there and again, I was ashamed that I wasn't running up to expectations. But I seemed to be doing ok on the downhills and decided to push through the canyons. I know I still wanted to make up time. Crossing the North fork of the American River was awesome! I am not sure I want Swinging Bridge repaired after that! I felt refreshed and ready for the climb. Even on my best days, the climb to Devil's Thumb is a hike. I seemed to be moving ok, but again, I just felt so tired and I was breathing so hard. Joe Uhan was at the top offering sage advice and race updates. It was good to see a friendly face, because I needed all the perking up I could get.

Last chance "car wash" with a very excited Craig Thornley. ;) (ph. Allen Lucas)
Again, the downhill to Deadwood felt good and I pushed a bit harder. 18:11 was out the window, but maybe I could sneak under last year's time?? On the way down, I passed Kaci and she looked terrible! I tried to offer her salt, gels, even an asthma inhaler but she just kept telling me to go. I am so impressed with her for sticking with it and finishing a strong 6th place!
Me at Michigan Bluff: "My uphill legs are shit!"
Ken (Denise Bourassa's awesome S/O): No problem, there's only downhill left.
Me: I think my downhill legs are shit, too!
The hike to Michigan Bluff sucked. My legs felt so weak and they were starting to ache again. On the logging roads after Michigan Bluff, I walked more than twice as much as what I walked last year, but I still managed to catch up with Natalie Mauclair when we hit the downhill. I didn't think she looked very good, but she was right behind me when I took a dip in Volcano Canyon. And despite running nearly every step out of the canyon and every step of Bath Road, she came into Forest Hill right behind me and left before me.
Kisses from the kids at Forest Hill (ph:April Smith)
I stayed right behind her for the next three miles, but it was too much. I had to let her go. My chugger pace was all I could do if I wanted to make it to the finish. By the river, we were 50 minutes up on Nikki and Kaci and I knew I wouldn't be giving chase for a podium spot. It looked like my F4 was petty well sealed up. I still feel like I gave my best effort, but my legs just weren't there and by this point even the downhills were painful. The miles actually went by fairly quickly, but I was losing all kinds of time. A slow, painful shuffle was all I could muster. I was sure my quads were shot. And yet, at the finish I had a burst of energy. I actually had the fastest women's time from Robie to the finish, so somewhere, deep down, the legs had some spark.
Leaving Green Gate. I dropped my pacer! Ok, he is just at the AS still. (ph. Rob Goyen)
Finishing was bittersweet. It was great to have my family there and to run around the track again with Megan, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. The funny thing is, I was totally prepared to not win. I know less than half of the WS winners ever repeat and the repeat stats are even worse on the women's side. I feel completely honored and still amazed that I even won once, and I know there is a very short list of people with their names on the Robie Cup. But I wasn't prepared to not run at my best. That was a very hard pill to swallow. In fact it has taken me almost the entirety of the past nine days. I spent the first week pissed and really angry at myself. The only explanation I could come up with was that I went in tired. I felt like a rock star all through Beacon Rock, but the week after that race I was sore and the taper never brought back the pep. Did I blow my WS chasing a CR at a silly 25k?? Three weeks out seemed like plenty of time to recover, but based on how things went, I guess racing on tired legs was just too much. The thought made me so angry at myself. And then my CPK came back at a measly 3,900. My quads weren't shot; was I really just being a big wimp?? Arrgh!

It's blurry, but if you look carefully, both feet are off the ground in my finishing "kick". ;) (ph. Rob Goyen)
But I am slowly letting it go and looking at the positive. I told my pacer Dennis that this year, I wanted to leave everything out on the course, no taking it easy the last 20 miles. I had pain in my chest the last 20 miles and I kept on running. I was pretty sure it was heart burn, but I was working so hard, a little piece of me actually wondered if I was having a heart attack! No heart attack, but after the race, I puked a stomach full of partially digested blood twice. It wasn't the time I wanted, but I am certain I gave everything I had on that particular day. Heck, the effort felt like a 100 mile tempo run! I am also pretty impressed that I ran that fast given how bad I felt all day and just how off my climbing was, which is normally my strong suit. I think I ran the downs to the canyons better than last year, and that makes me feel good. I think the game plan and strategy from last year is what kept me going as well as I did. And my head was rock solid and in the game the whole time. It wasn't the run I wanted, but at the same time, I don't feel like last year was a "fluke"; I feel like I know how I need to run this race. Despite being an hour off my goal time, I am actually more confident that I have that time in me somewhere. I only hope I can find it in the future.

One mile into the race, I saw Gary Gellin just up ahead of me. We had done a bit of trash talking before the race and I thought I would say hi. He greeted me back and added, "Are you practicing your fake orgasm or something? You are breathing way too hard this early in the race!" I backed off a bit because he was right; I was working hard from mile one of the race. At the time I thought his comment was just a funny joke, but now it seems like a metaphor for the whole race: I went through all the right motions, I was hot, sweaty and breathing hard, but in the end I didn't get what I was looking for and I left completely unsatisfied.

I told at least three dozen people that I was going to take next year off from Western States, "no matter what." It turns out I was prepared to lose, but not to have a bad race and I am not ready to go out on a bad note. I'll be back at WS next year for another shot, wearing my F4 proudly. And after that, I'll take a year off Western States, no matter what...maybe. ;)

Thank you, Mac and Dennis for being my super team. Thanks Mom and Dad for watching the kids and coming out to the race with them (BTW we'll be visiting the last week of June again next year). And thank you to La Sportiva, Ultimate Direction and Injinji for you support.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


I've sort of been missing in action in the blog-world as of late - action being the key word! Man, has it been a busy month! But it is taper time now, so I got to sleep in till 5:15 this week!! It may sound early, but it is an hour later than most days.

Of course the last month has been filled with lots of training, but the real shock to the schedule was the kids baseball and softball. These sports have about three fold the time commitment of soccer, plus this is the first time we have had two kids playing, and Mac was a coach for Liam's team. It was a real shock to the family schedule! But it was fun watching them play and both kids improved a lot. We also managed to get in a trip to the Channel Islands National Park to celebrate my dad's 70th over Memorial Day weekend.
Play Ball!

Grandpa turns 70 on Santa Cruz Island with Megan and cousins Luke and Brooke

I don't usually do "training log posts" but my last peak week gives an idea of what life was like for training. And maybe you'll understand why I haven't been blogging! Also, because people often ask me how I balance work, family, and running. Balance??? That sounds so calm and pleasant! It's more like juggling chainsaws! Basically, just make sure your don't mishandle one so badly that you cut off your hand, otherwise, I figure whatever technique gets you by is just fine. Instant macaroni and late night runs on the treadmill may not be glamorous but they get the job done!

Week of June 1 - June 8: Last Peak Week for Western States

Monday - 5 am: Track (12.5M). 4x1200m (4:26, 4:21, 4:18, 4:21); 2400m tempo (9:19); 4x200 (0:40). My first interval is always my slowest, no matter what we do. I am an ultra-runner: slow to warm up! 4:18 is faster than I did any 1200's last year, but I was upset I couldn't hold it. 40 second 200's are pretty much the slowest 200's I have ever done, but I was coming off a little calf tweak from the week before and didn't want to push it.

4:00 pm - gym: SQUATS!! Back squats working up to 7 x 95#; 30 kettle bell swings; 45 thrusters at 45#, plus some mobility, hip stretches and the "lizard lunge".

5:00 pm - Home in time to pickup Megan for her softball game. Mac took Liam to music and they both came to the game after. Home at 8:15. Scramble to get everyone in bed including myself!

Tuesday - 4:30am start; easy 16 miles

pm - No kids activities! Easy 3.5 miles on the TM after kids in bed

Wednesday - 5am: Downhills on Crestview Road (0.5M @10% grade); 4 repeats of hammer the down and hike back up, with an extended cool down to 13M

pm- gym: Deadlifts!: working up to 8x155#; then alternating 10 deadlifts@105# with 10 lunges (45#); some stretching and a little upper body work (don't worry - I am still a T-rex!) Home by 5:30 so Liam and Coach Mac could get to baseball practice and I could stay home with Megan.
Did some prowler pushes, too! These are great for the hammies!

Thursday: (25M) My day off work (yeah, I work, too! But I am fortunate to only work 4 days a week with Thursdays off most weeks). Left home at 5:00 am to drive down to McDonald Forest. Met one friend for 7 miles, and to another trailhead to meet another friend for a ten mile loop and then headed back the direct way to my car. My Garmin said 24.92 miles when I got there, so of course I ran up the road for 0.08 miles just to make it read an even 25.00. Yes, I know it is stupid, but I can't help myself! Easy pace with some good climbing. 4:22

pm- take Megan to practice; watch Liam's game, pick Megan up, see the end of Liam's game and once again scramble to get everyone to bed!

Friday: 5:30 am: 10M with 20 minutes of tempo (3.2M); first day of heat training: 30 minutes sauna and People magazine! I mean, I couldn't miss Kanye and Kim's wedding coverage now, could I?? (I swear I only read this stuff when I am heat training!).

pm- Mac took Megan to music; Liam and I goofed around the house.

Saturday: Now this day was crazy! 6am: 15 miles easy. My goal was 8:15 pace or slower as I knew I needed an easy day. We slipped a little with an average of 8:07, but overall a good recovery day.

Home by 9 am - shower; pack up kids
9:30 - Leave to kids piano recital
11:15 - Tear out of the piano recital before the clapping ends to get Megan to 11:30 warm up for her 12:00 game. The regular score keeper didn't show up, so I got to pay extra close attention to this one while I kept the books. Mac and Liam left early to get to Liam's game.
2:30 - leave game, take Megan to ropes course party. Deal with a melt down because Mac didn't pack any tennis shoes for Megan and she had to wear her cleats to the party.
3:00 - Watch Liam's last game of the season (got there at the top of the third)
5:00 - The whole family celebrates Megan's softball season at the team picnic
7:30 - we arrive home looking like zombies!

Sunday: Up at 4:00a, off to Dennis and Sharon's at 4:30a and then off to the Beacon Rock 25k. 25k sounded like the perfect distance to race for a little tune-up three weeks out. With 3,700' of gain, it offered a few nice climbs and descents. With 95+ miles on the legs already for the week, I knew I'd be tired going into this one, but I still had my sights set on Amy Sproston's course record of 2:36, as I figured she probably didn't race this one all out either. I could feel the fatigue on the opening 4 mile climb, but could push through and hang with several of the lead boys (full disclosure: many were running the 50k). "Just like Bath Road," I kept telling myself. Of course, I got left in the dust on the downhill trail section, but caught a few back when the downhill hit forest road. I can do downhill, just not technical downhill; it makes me go into pansy mode. I don't like it, but I also don't like feeling like I am about to fall on my face! I should've studied the course map a bit more because I was so confused as to where I was and how we would get back to the aid station on the middle loop! Thankfully, James Varner does a great job of marking his courses, so I was only lost in my head. I got back to the aid station with 11.5 miles on my Garmin and 1:55 run time, but they said it was still 5 miles back to the start. I knew it was mostly downhill, but I was going to have to push it to get under 2:36. I gunned it down the road hard for about a mile when I caught another runner. He let me know it was only 4 miles to the finish from the aid station, so it looked like I'd get the record. But, hey, didn't I come for the quad pounding? So I kept my foot on the gas till the end for a 2:25:13 CR and 7th overall. The great after party, sunshine, and pizzas were calling my name, so my cool down consisted of changing my clothes and flopping on the grass.

Race start! I'm on the left right next to William Emerson.

Up on the clouds and we aren't even to the top yet!

Post race sunshine!

I had planned to hit the afternoon yoga class after I got home to stretch everything out, but Mac texted right as I was getting in to Salem that he and the kids were at the Rogue Valley Brewery and did I want to join them. Umm, yeah, that definitely sounded better than yoga! I did get in a little snail's pace three miler on the treadmill that night just to get the legs moving and get the junk out, before hitting the pillow hard.

All said and done, I had 114.5 miles for my biggest week ever (and one of the most stressful!). Definitely, good for the confidence and definitely good that softball, baseball, and music are over!

These past weeks mileage was way down and the gym sessions were replaced by lots of sauna time. Plus, I copied what I consider to be one on my most important workouts from last year: The skip-your-Sunday-run-and-take-a-three-hour-nap-instead workout! Trust me, it's a good one, and when I do it, I know I need it. Sometimes a day off is better than slogging through a run just to put a number in the log book. Knowing when to back off is just as important as knowing when to push a little harder and I think giving in to a nap every now and then instead of a run has helped keep me pretty healthy through all the hard training the last few years.

May is in the rearview, and with mid-June comes the onset of the Western States hype and loads of speculation. I have no idea how the day will unfold. To be honest, my track record doesn't really make me a good one to bet on: I've had two mediocre races, on abysmal race and one out of this world race at Western States. I think of myself as a consistent runner, but I have been anything but consistent at this race! That being said, I feel ready and I know I have a great race plan to rely on. Cool temps definitely favor the speedsters, so I am once again hoping for a scorcher! Hmmm, better go check weather.com and accuweather again, because I haven't done that in the last 30 minutes!

See you in Squaw! Can't wait to see how the day unfolds.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Titus van Rijn - Salem, OR Edition 2014

(Thought I'd post my Titus van Rijn race report here. The event is a self-directed one hour track time trial and like all timed races the goal is to see how far you can get. This is my 5th year since 2009 and I've improved my score every year except for 2011, when I ran nine days after Miwok. I don't ever taper or rest for this, but just incorporate into my training. Over the years, the event has been a nice little test of fitness and a great workout all wrapped into one. Unfortunately, I didn't do it last year, so I can't compare this year to last, which would have been kind of fun. Anyway, here is my report and the results from the Salem contingent. For a bunch of old folks (excluding Josh and James) running around a track at 5 am on Monday morning, I think we did pretty good! There are five days left to compete for anyone who is interested!)

Salem, OR sits smack between two of the most venerable Track and Field sites in the US, with “Track Town USA” Eugene, and the hallowed Hayward Field, about 50 miles to the south and Portland, with its fabled Nike campus and the Project Oregon team, about 50 miles to the north. Salem has almost no track claim to fame, with the exception of Nick Symmonds, a Willamette University graduate. But there are a few dedicated runners who are doing their best to bring track glory to Salem, at least in the small and obscure world of the Titus van Rijn One Hour Distance Classic.

Last year Salem did not participate because our group could not find a mutually agreeable date. Things hadn’t changed much in a year: two people were gearing toward a marathon, another wanted to fit it around a 50k; there were a few vacations and other life events. Basically there was no good week that suited everyone. It was decided that interested runners could turn our usual Monday morning track session into their 1 hour time trial, so Salem’s event actually took place over three different weeks. At the conclusion of the final day, black cherry soda was awarded to all. We also upped the ante by providing “incentive beverages” (ie. beer) for those exceeding the 9.5 and 10 mile marks. I had a personal TVR best, but I missed my free beer by 21 meters. I maintain that if the incentive had been free cheesecake, I would have made it. ;) Maybe next year! -Pam

Salem, OR - South Salem High School Track, May 5 - June 2
Dan Meireis, 56 - 15450m
Brian Villarette, 39 - 13599m
Pam Smith (F), 39 - 15279m
Don Gallogly, 46 - 16675m
Josh Zielinski, 31- 16481m
Mike Tyler, 47 - 16000
Angie Smith (F), 41 - 13975m
James Dunning, 32 - 13300m

Thursday, May 8, 2014

10 Rules For Relationships With Fast Women

Last week Mac and I were featured on a popular finance blog about "Breadwinning Women" and how the situation works for us. While the traditional stereotype has the male partner earning more, in today's world approximately 25% of women earn more than their spouses. Like in finances, the athletic stereotype is that men are faster than women, too.

A few years back, Mac and I sat with Ian Sharman while enjoying burgers after the finish of the Waldo 100k. Ian asked Mac if he was a runner and Mac said yes, but emphasized that he was just a mid-packer. Ian said, "You've got to be pretty fast to keep up with your wife." It was all friendly banter, but Ian looked a little surprised when Mac told him that he doesn't even run as fast as me on my easy days.

I don't have any statistics, but I know we are not alone: there are plenty of relationships out there with "fast women": ladies who routinely outpace their male counterparts. So here are my "Rules for Relationships With Fast Women," but it can certainly go the other way, too, or apply to just a good friend.

1) Face the Facts: While the average men's times are faster than the average women's times, there is a lot of overlap in those two distribution curves. Women's world record times for most distances are only about 10% slower than the men's world records.  (Ian has good reason to know how much faster men are than women; he wrote a great blog entry about it.) So, as a guy, unless you are consistently running within 10% of the world record times, there are women out there faster than you. The farther off the men's world records you are, the more women there are capable of "chicking" you and the greater your odds are of dating one of them!

2) Stress Personal Accomplishment: Everyone has their challenges and obstacles to overcome. Running a sub-four hour marathon may be as significant to one person as running a sub-three hour marathon is to another person. For others, just being able to run a 5k is a big deal. Each runner has challenges unique to them, so focus on your own personal accomplishments rather than how you compare to others.

3) Level the Playing Field: If you do want to be competitive with someone you know you can't race head to head, find ways to level the playing field. A few years back, Mac and I both ran the Autumn Leaves 50k with the course consisting of five 6.25 miles loops. So we had a friendly spousal bet: Could I lap Mac or could he make it through the 40km mark before I finished. It allowed for some fun trash-talking and ended up being remarkably close (I passed him with less than a kilometer to spare). Another couple I know had a bet to see who could set a marathon PR by the greatest amount of time. Two friends I know give time handicaps for certain races. There are many ways to come up with fun competitions that don't just involve running the fastest time.

4) Do workouts at the same time, but run different paces: Every Wednesday, our local running store hosts a tempo or fartlek workout based on a certain number of minutes. Everyone runs at different paces, but we all start and finish at the same time and are able to warm up and cool down together. Everyone gets a good workout, but everyone can run at a pace that is comfortable to them.

5) Use your faster friend/S.O. to get better: Alan Abs (husband of Beverly Anderson-Abs) used to joke that his New Year's resolution was to "Be a wife beater." Having someone around you who is faster can be very motivating, whether that means making you train more to get better or training with that person to make your workouts a little harder. You can also take a look at how the faster person is training and use some of those strategies yourself.

6) Enjoy Non-competitive Running Events Together: You can jog together on easy days or better yet, head out on a running adventure. Mac and I have done several long runs, such as last year's Mt. St. Helen's circumnavigation, where there was no emphasis on speed, but rather just being out in the wilderness, seeing new places, and having a good time.

7) Be part of the crew: Ultra-running takes a team! You can get very involved and be part of the team by being part of the crew. And that way you can share the accomplishments, too.

8) Be proud: If you love someone, obviously you want them to do well. If your spouse is kicking butt (including yours), be proud!

9) Don't get sucked into the "Why is (s)he faster trap?": Admit it - at some point you have wondered why somebody older, fatter, less experienced, or less trained beat you in a race? People have different genes, different training, different strengths - and sometimes they are a lot faster than they look!

10) Never Fake It!: I am talking about speed, of course! Don't ever fake your running talents or throw a race, thinking that it is somehow good for your relationship.

Bonus- Mac's rules:  I asked Mac if he had any tips for dealing with a faster spouse. His tip: "Enjoy the view," and then he jokingly added, "and maybe don't hang out with Ian Sharman!" :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Dreamy" Hal Koerner

Maybe I shouldn’t run right before going to bed. Running already consumes my mind for a large number of my waking hours, but last night, running related subjects made their way into my sub-conscious as well. It’s a pretty funny dream, so I thought I’d share. As a little background, for the last two years, I have served as a mentor at Team Red White and Blue’s Camp Eagle trail running camp in Texas in November (veterans and civilians are both welcome - you should check it out!) and last year Mac came along to volunteer, too. Liza Howard serves as the event's main organizer, and she does a wonderful job packing the days full of great running related activities and making sure everything runs smoothly.

Ok, cue the wavy TV screen that indicates we have stepped out of reality (I am pretty sure things in dreamland would be in purple type) :

It was the beginning of camp and Liza was introducing the different groups to their trail running mentors for the week. As each person was introduced, their new group would clap for them and they would go join their team.

And then Liza introduced Hal Koerner and said which group he would be with and the group went wild, hooting and hollering and just cheering like crazy. Hal had his usual big grin and kitty-wampus hat and was giving his group fist bumps, when Liza next announced me and Mac and pointed to the last group. And the room was dead silent. There was no cheering or even polite clapping and the group looked forlorn. Mac and I asked what was wrong and one lady quietly offered, “We were really hoping we were going to get Hal.”

Then Liza announced the first activity: a trivia contest with a great prize for the winning team. I got really excited and told my team I was great at trivia, and that they were going to be really glad they had me.

A picture of an animal came up on a large screen and the first question was to identify the animal. Whoever wrote down their answer first won the round. I immediately started scribbling “Siberian Tiger” on my card. Though Hal is known for his cougar collection, he was able to identify this large cat and got his sign reading “TIGER” in the air much faster than me. I tried to complain that his answer wasn’t specific enough, but the judges all agreed “tiger” was acceptable, and Hal was awarded the point.
My son can identify all 17 species of penguins, so you better believe that I am going to sub-speciate my tigers, even in my sleep. Did I also mention we are kind of a nerdy family??
The last thing I remember from my dream is somebody on my team mumbling, “They are so lucky they got Hal.”
Sure, everybody wants to be on Team Hal! (Image steal from Sarah Lavender Smith)
(End of dream sequence; ie. end of purple ink)

Rough dream crowd! Any dream psycho-analysts out there? :)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mad City Madness - 100km National Championship Race Report

(Sorry for the tardiness on this one. Blogging has been on the back burner lately, or more accurately, off the stove altogether. Why didn't anyone warn me that Little League and kids softball would eat up every spare minute of your life?!? As if I had tons of extra time to spare!)

My experiences on the US 100km team have been nothing short of amazing and it has been a privilege to be on the team these past three years (even though Worlds were cancelled last year). Worlds are my surrogate Olympics and they excite me in exactly the same way. Nothing makes me feel more patriotic than wearing ‘USA’ on my chest and representing this country in international competition. For those reasons it was a high priority for me to get back on the team for 2014. The best opportunity to qualify was at Mad City, which also serves as the USATF National Championships.

I am happy to say I not only secured an automatic team spot but I also picked up my first national championship title! Yes, I know many of the top ultra-runners were at Lake Sonoma and even more don’t care about road racing at all, so the race wasn’t super competitive, but I am still pretty excited about the title, especially since I have been second or third at a USATF national championship five times without winning! I have a little bit less enthusiasm for my overall race performance, though. To coin my own Yogi Berra-ism, my race was “90% perfect.” ;) Nine out of the ten 10k loops went great, but lap 9 was a big fat F, total failure! I think the splits sum things up quite nicely:

45:50, 45:11, 45:03, 45:50, 45:56, 46:02, 47:22, 54:30, 46:46 (some of the lap 8 time should actually be on lap 9 (explained below) so lap 8 isn’t that far off pace and lap 9 was even worse than this shows)

While there weren’t a lot of big name ultra-runners in the women’s race, I was excited because there were two fast roadies entered: super-star marathoner Camille Herron and Amy Halselth, whose one ultra was a 6:19 50 miler. There was plenty of room on the team for all three of us, so I never had to worry about losing my spot as long as I ran decently, but I thought adding some unknown (to me) runners with obviously very different strengths than mine would make the race really interesting. But Camille decided ultra-running wasn’t her priority right now and took a DNS. That left me and Amy as the main contenders.

We hit mile one in what felt like a very comfortable 7:30, but the first mile is always very comfortable! Amy said she hadn’t wanted to run faster than 8 minutes for the first mile, but she didn’t back off at all. In fact, she seemed to be hitching the pace up, little by little.

Ultra-runners frequently say things like “I just want to run my own race”. It’s a good concept: run to your own abilities and don’t get caught up with what other people are doing. I thought about dropping back a bit, but I knew I could bonk hard and still make the team. I had a little strategy pow-wow inside my head as we started lap 2: It seemed a bit fast, but still comfortable. And I didn’t really want Amy to get a big gap, because even though I didn’t have to win, I still wanted to win. And I always start so conservatively, I thought it'd be good to test myself. Besides, I figured I had experience on my side and knew how to trouble-shoot or push through rough patches. So I committed to staying with Amy and I tucked in and followed for a lap.
The early miles - keeping pace with Amy Halseth
The loop has a few rolling hills (120’ gain per loop!!) with the biggest hill around 2.5 miles from the start. On lap 3, I pulled a step ahead on the hill: excelling at douche grade can come in handy sometimes!! At the top of the hill there are two fairly tight turns that allow an easy glance behind without too much contortion. By lap 4, Amy was about 50 yards back. By loop 5 she was 100 yards back and I was feeling good that I was maintaining pace and putting a little cushion on my lead.

Just jogging around the lake a time or two...or ten
After the 50k (3:47), the cumulative miles became noticeable; the pace got a bit harder to maintain and the mile splits were slowing, but only so slightly. By the second half, the winds were really picking up and there were strong in-your-face gusts along the lake on the back half which added to the fatigue for slower splits. But I couldn’t see Amy behind me at all on the hill for laps 6,7, and 8. I figured she was close, but at the end of lap 8, I wanted to know exactly. USA team member Carolyn Smith and her sister Cindy were out to cheer and help and so I asked, “How far is the gap to second?”

“About an hour,” they answered back.

“What??! How far, really?” I needed the truth, not silly jokes!

“Really, it’s about an hour. Maybe more,” they replied.

“Amy was right behind me.”

“Amy dropped. You’ve already lapped second place. We can get the exact split for you next time, but it’s around an hour.”

It was seemingly good news, but it robbed me of all my race day focus, tenacity and toughness. I was relieved, but the relief somehow let me acknowledge the tiredness and stop pushing it out of my mind. I stopped at the aid station and just stared at everything there, looking for some panacea for fatigue. And the Coke was calling to me like Alice in Wonderland: “Drink me!” I stood there and downed three glasses even though I know caffeine is not my friend. But I didn’t have too much longer and 9 ounces of Coke isn’t such a big deal right? After 30 seconds or so, I set off at a slow pace “Well I can just jog it in,” I thought to myself. (Since the AS was right before the start/finish mat, the AS time actually got recorded as part of lap 8, but I consider it to be part of the whole lap 9 demise).

My first mile was more than 30 seconds slower than any other mile up to that point. I realized that was a little pathetic and tried to pick it up a bit. And then the Coke had a certain effect with 2.5 miles to the next bathroom! There were a few trees here and there, but at this point the course was along a golf course and through a residential area, and, well, squatting behind a tree just didn’t seem right. And honestly, I didn't care. I settled back into jog pace till I got to the AS at mile 3.8 on the loop. No doubt I needed to stop, but I fully admit that I didn’t attend to business with any sort of haste. And then I walked the 100 or so meters back to the aid station and again stood there looking for food. At least this time I was smart enough to go for the caffeine free ginger ale! I put back three more cups of soda plus six orange quarters, again without any alacrity or particular attention to time, and I just jogged my way out.

When I got back to the start/finish, Carolyn and Cindy assured me that I did indeed have more than an hour lead. “You could just walk it in, and you’ll win.” I am not sure if all the sugar finally kicked in or if the idea of walking it in just seemed too absurd, but right then it was like my racing brain turned back on. I didn’t want to walk it in or even just jog. Part of starting fast was to test myself, and with an hour+ lead, there was no safer place to test myself. Bam - the fire was back! I chugged two cups of ginger ale and was out there, falling in right around 7:35 pace.

Certainly my legs were tired, but halfway around the lake, I felt like it would’ve been well within me to have kept that pace for lap 9, too. I finished with a 6:50 last mile “kick” - proof to myself that I could finish strong, but also further confirmation that I wasn’t totally spent. Of course, I made it no more than 100 yards from the finish line before I slumped to the ground and lay in the grass and dirt like a pig for the next half hour before getting up, so you could say there was some fatigue there!

See? I still have enough energy to start the "YMCA" dance.

Overall it was a good race. I took two weeks off after Rocky Raccoon and didn’t start training again until Feb 17. I thought it’d be a pretty good day if I could break 8:00, so 7:47 was way ahead of expectations. But Dakota Jones said in his Buffalo Stampede race report that complacency is the ultimate flaw (that kid is wise beyond his years!). I definitely feel like I suffered some complacency out there, and that disappoints me. I think having a deeper field would have helped a lot, but still it feels like it fell short of my best effort. And learning that I was only 80 seconds off the course record makes the sting a little worse. Unfortunately, I never ever had the course record on my mind, and I feel confident (in retrospect) that with a little more focus, I had it in me. I absolutely think a great effort/great race is better than a great place and this one feels like I “settled” for the win, instead of putting forth a great effort the whole time. I also know the nutrition wasn't perfect, and I don't like that either. The first six laps went really well drinking half an Ultimate Direction handheld full of Perpetuem and then dropping the bottle off at the next aid station. Unfortunately, the bottles were mixed ahead, there wasn't any ice, and I got sick of warm Perpetuem really quickly. After lap six I think I got a little behind on calories, which probably has a lot to do with why I wanted the Coke so badly and also why my head got out of it a bit. If I had known I was going to have such awesome crew, I think bringing another flavor or getting Carolyn and Cindy to add ice would have helped a lot.

So not a perfect race, but I am trying not to be too hard on myself because I am happy with my overall fitness right now and I am very glad to be joining team USA again this year. There won’t be any complacency in Qatar!
"Sure you can take my picture, as long as I don't have to stand up!" That is grass all over me,  because I was laying in it  with my legs on the car bumper about two minutes earlier!

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!"