Monday, May 7, 2012

Top Ten Things I learned from the 2012 Greenland 50k

Hey, it's a new week, so I guess it's time for another race report.
Colorado Runner Events

The short-short version:
I ran the 2012 Greenland 50k and finished!  (Third time's a charm.)
7:42:16 was the time.
It was one hour and thirteen minutes faster than my 50k last week.
I finished 137th out of 138 finishers.

The long meandering version (kind of like my racing style):

I went into the race with a plan and with some doubts.  I had no idea how I would respond to another 50k  one week after this one.  I'm told this doesn't correspond to normal rest and recovery timeframes.  However, I had not finished this race in two previous tries.  Once was due to youth coaching commitments and last year was due up.  To be perfectly honest the course is not my favorite, but I had no intention of letting this go unfinished.  So I had signed up for these two races back to back and now it was time to close the deal.

My plan was to run the first two laps fairly rapidly and bank some time so that if and when the wheels came off on the second two laps I would still have time to make the eight hour cutoff.  Last year I had gotten to the final lap with less than two hours to go and gave in to the idea that I couldn't make it.  I wanted to finish the first two laps in 3:30 and that would give me time to trudge in the last two laps if necessary.

The doubts came from a number of things.  My feet were still in pretty bad shape from the extensive blisters I had from Cheyenne.  I also knew my legs were still feeling pretty lethargic after the long effort on the previous Saturday.  I had gotten a couple of runs in but I was pretty far from Downy "fresh".  I also knew it might get warm which could exacerbate the normal puking issues.

The pre-race machinations were highlighted by a great visit with Mr. and Mrs.  Happy Trails.
They are just some wonderful folks and it is always great to talk with them.  Mr. HT had some great training going into the race and I can't wait to see Mrs. HT get back to her blazing fast ways (next year's Greenland?)  Mr. HT finished the 25k in 2:00:48!  Unbelievable.  I just asked him not to pass me twice on the first lap and thankfully he didn't.

So, I ran the first lap.  I spent a big portion of the first lap talking to a runner I've talked to previously at Cheyenne and Greenland, a guy I call Firefighter Chuck.  (He works for CSFD).  We have a similar pace and he is fun to talk to about ultras and races and the local running scene.  I don't normally go in for the socializing but in this case it made the first part of the race go very quickly.  Chuck and I would wind up going back and forth several times during the race.

The first lap was 1:39, a perfect time for me.  I felt good, I was moving at a slow, but easy pace and I was trying to set myself up for a consistent finish.  I also tried Injini socks.  I needed something to try and stave off blisters and my good friend and fellow Leadville conspirator has been recommending them for some time.  These are the socks with built in toes.  Let me just say, they. were. awesome.  I'm really sorry I waited so long to try them.  My feet were pretty horrendous going into the race with barely any skin on several toes, but I didn't have a hot spot one time during the whole race.  The other big change I made was to hit S-Caps instead of Endurolytes or just food.  This is another item that the co-conspirator and Mr. HT have pushed on several occasions but I just never got around to it.  Today I was hitting them every 45-60 minutes.  On the first lap, I did not puke.

The second lap came in at 1:46.  I was pushing into this one, trying to make sure I was banking the time I would need to finish.  For me this was a perfect time.  I had planned to finish the first half in 3:30 and left the aid station at 3:27.  This was really encouraging.   I also saw the fam' and the extended clan; what an encouragement they are!  It felt nice running by and actually feeling like I wasn't yet totally defeated.  Also, on the second lap, I did not puke.

The third lap was the tough one.  I hit a really tough patch where I ran out of water (pack didn't get filled up all the way at the aid station) and my knee started having some shooting pains.  I knew it was just a little pre-tendonitis that comes on occasionally but it was very discouraging.  The hurricane-like winds that normally come out on the Greenland open space also picked up.  It makes you feel like you're running into a wind tunnel.  Despite the amount of time I had to finish I just felt mentally defeated.  Almost every step up or downhill was painful and I slowed to a crawl.  If the turn around had been at that point, the outcome might have been different.  However it wasn't and in the time remaining I hit another gel, popped another salt pill and started "running" (aka waddling) again.  I mentally regrouped and reverted back to my mantra from Cheyenne.  Whatever it takes.  I decided that I hadn't gone out there in the 80+ degree weather for five and a half hours just to quit.  I hadn't bombed those downhills and banked all that time just to give up.  I hadn't doused myself in endless gallons of sunscreen just to work on my tan.  I was going to start the fourth lap.  I saw Chuck moving on the fourth lap as I was finishing the third and he asked me if I was going to do it.  My response?  Whatever it takes.  2:05 for the third lap.  Additionally, on the third lap, I did not puke.

Then, I started the fourth lap.  There really is no way to describe starting the fourth lap.  Starting the fourth lap is a beautiful thing.  It means that even if I don't make the time I am going to cover the distance.  It means I pushed through all the obstacles and made it to the final stage.  It means that I did not quit.  It means that I was FINALLY going to finish the race.  Starting the fourth lap is magic.  I will also say that the Aid Station dude who supplied me a bunch of ice was clutch.  The fourth lap went quickly.  I was feeling better and getting faster as I went along.  I felt like I could have gone ten more miles.  To be honest it was a bit emotional.  I had really beat myself up after pulling out last year, and it was hard to take.  I think I must have envisioned crossing the finish line and getting that medal about a dozen different times just during the last lap.  When I finally crossed the line, I had the biggest smile on my face.  I had finally conquered this bugger.  2:15 final lap.  7:42 overall.  And I even didn't finish DFL.  (Yeah I was set for it, up to the last mile when I passed someone.)  AND, I didn't puke.  Not once during the entire race.  In nine ultra attempts, that has never happened before.

It was a beautiful day.  After managing to change into my race shirt, put on my medal, and drive home, I walked in the front door and was met by cry of glee and an enormous hug from the most beautiful woman in the world and my best friend.  It was a great ending to a great day.

Top Ten things I learned from finishing the 2012 Greenland 50k.

10. Chafing in the nether regions = not much fun.
9.  A little mental victory in one race can go a long way...
8.  Recovery time between races is overrated.
7.  Not having to stop and heave saves a lot of time.
6.  I have several bottles of Endurolytes that have recently become available, any takers?
5. S-Caps are quite lovely.
4.  I love Injini socks.
3. My family loves me whether I finish ultras or not.
2. My wife loves me whether I finish ultras or not.
1.  My God loves me whether I finish ultras or not.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Back to Back

Back to Back

AKA the Top Ten Things I Learned from Repeating as DFL at the Cheyenne Mountain 50k.

How to dance was clearly not one of them. (photo by Paul Monday)

As usual, this race report consists of the short-short version and the unnecessarily long version.

Here goes the short-short version.

I ran the Cheyenne Mountain 50k for the second time.
I finished DFL for the second straight year.
I finished five minutes and 13 seconds before the final cut off. (8:54:47)

And now for the details. I'll probably break the race report up into phases.  I think most of my ultra marathons have had similar phases that are characterized by similar feelings and thoughts.  Perhaps you can relate.

Phase 1:  Denial
I signed up for what?  When?  Is that today?  No really.  Seriously.  I paid money to go do this?
Got up early with teh wifey to go make the trek to Cheyenne Mountain State Park.  This would be teh wifey's first dance over the 26.2.  I had supreme confidence in her and her ability to have a great race.  She has a long history of loving running, winning races, and just being a very talented runner.  I have a long history with Twinkies.  I also had my usual assortment of doubts.  Could I finish?  Could I go a couple of hours without puking?  Would the pink fanny pack consume me?
Nevertheless we got there, it was a bit cold, but shaping up pretty nicely.  We met up with my Leadville buddy who was looking to smoke the course this year.  At the registration table I overheard a familiar blogger's name who I frequently stalk and introduced myself.  Then to round out the meet and greet we ran into the fabulous race director Andrea who gave us a big hug and welcome.  I informed Andrea that I was back to defend my DFL (Dead *!$%ing Last) title.  We got the pre-race briefing and lined up.  Everything was going perfectly.  Then the running started.

Phase 2:  The Part Where I Try to Forget How Long This Will Take
The first part of the course goes up.  Then up some more.  I started at the end of the line and tried to enforce  my personal rule of "Never Ever Ever Pass Someone".  There really is no point.  Whenever I feel compelled to pass someone I go crazy and think I need to speed up so much that they never catch up to me.  Which of course they will and then they will pass me.  It's much easier to just avoid the soul-crushing disappointment.  It's also better not to think about the fact that you have 28-29 more miles to go.  It doesn't help.

I knew last time I had gone out way too fast.  I thought if I "started slow and got slower" I would have a chance to hit eight hours or so.  Ridiculously slow? Yes.  Committed to the strategy? Yes  At least until I hit the 5k mark in 44 minutes.  Then I freaked out.

Phase 3:  The Part Where I Forget I'm Not Really in Shape
Then I got rambunctious.  I had been rambling along nice and easy along with another lady who wound up finishing and doing very well.  However when I hit the 5k mark in that slow of a time I panicked.  I started thinking crazy thoughts.  "I've got to pick up the pace or I'll never make it."  "I'm going to collapse on the second lap, I've got to bank some time!"  "I really missed my calling as a Soul Train dancer!"  So I forgot all about my strategy and plan and started booking it along the Blackmer section of the trail.  The technical term for this reaction is, dumb.  I was bombing downhills, even sneaking in some running up hills and made great time.  And wasted a ton of energy way too early.  I finished the next 4-5 miles way too fast.  At three hours in I had my first krakatoa moment (see shouting at shoes) and knew I had just ignored my hydration strategy while being consumed with making time.  Good job, now it's time to pay for your mistakes.

Phase 4:  Have I Ever Mentioned How Much Fun it is to Have the Runs while Running?
The only thing I will say about this is that I have postulated a running maxim which in my humble opinion I find to be universally true.  You can call it the Streak Run maxim.  (OK maybe it needs a different name.) The distance a runner will go off the trail to find a "private" location to do one's business is inversely proportional to the time they have been running.  In other words by the time you hit mile twenty, you're lucky if you make it off the center of the trail.  Moving on.

Phase 5: Losing the Battle
I inevitably hit this point.  In some races I hit it multiple times.  It is that point where I am mentally defeated.  I don't want to keep trying.  I don't want to keep running.  I may even consider wearing a black belt with brown dress shoes.  I just don't care.  Even before the first 15.5 mile lap of two was completed I was ready to be done.  I didn't want to start the second lap.  I started to rationalize the excuses.  Probably due to some encouragement from a volunteer I knew from last year and from the RD when I got to the point of starting the second lap I just kept going.  I have no idea why.  But I did.  I still was rationalizing.  I thought at least I will have made it 22 or 23 miles.  That's good, right?  Better than nothing?  This puking is getting old.  The "running" is getting REAL old.  I have incredibly bad blisters already which I don't normally have.  Quitting is perfectly fine right?  If I slow down enough on this section I won't even make the 3pm cutoff, then I won't be quitting I will just be stopped.  This was my mental state when I turned the corner and saw the love of my life coming towards me on the trail.

Phase 6: Winning the War
I waddled up the trail and gave a big smile to teh wifey.  Instantly my thought process changed.  She was looking like she was struggling and I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage her and keep her moving.  I stopped thinking about myself and got to think about someone else, MUCH better.  I believe the three weeks of sickness she was still recovering from was causing real problems for her.  I'd like to think I uttered some sort of Knute Rockneyesque Gipper speech which propelled her on to the finish.  It was probably more like a grunt and a "YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!"  Needless to say she gutted through it and finished well.  It was the last time I would see her until the finish.
It was at that point that I had a bit of a mental breakthrough.  There was something about giving some encouragement that made me think differently about things.  The mantra I had discussed with teh wifey going into this race was "Whatever it takes"  Whatever it takes to finish.  And so I asked myself, what if?  What if instead of slowing down I got back to running?   What if instead of saying I can't do this, I can't make this, I said, I can?  What if instead of creamy, I mixed in a little super chunk?  I'm just saying.  I figured in my mind how much time I had before the nine hour cutoff.  I knew it was going to be tight.  I had wasted a bunch of time and every time there was an option to run or walk I would need to run.  Every time there was an option to bomb it down a hill, or wince from blisters and thrashed quads I would need to bomb.  Every time I had the option to mix in some interpretive dance in a business meeting, I would need to nail the Anton Artaud.  So I did.  Every time.  For the next five hours.

Phase 7:  The Part Where I Keep Asking, Why Are You Running?
It is perhaps a bit strange to dramatize the insanely slow waddling of an extreme back of the pack wannabe ultramarathoner, but then again why not?  I must have asked myself a hundred times, "WHY ARE YOU STILL RUNNING?!?  JUST STOP!"  Normally I would have stopped.  Over and over.  But I didn't.  I  wondered whether it would all be for naught.  I wondered whether I would crest the final hill only to find myself just a few minutes past nine hours with the finish line packed up again and gone like last year.  I wondered if those minutes of puking and uh, other stops would be the final margin.  Every second seemed precious.  With the help of the fabulous volunteers I sprinted through aid stations like I was in first place and running like I stole something.  I gave everything I had.  The blisters had grown their own blisters, the puking returned, but I was in this strange zone where I just lowered my head and said "Whatever it takes."  Winning these mental battles was a new feeling.  It felt good.

Phase 8: The Finish
I came up to the final set of hills and I was still worried.  Despite having done the previous loop I couldn't remember how far I had to go.  When I hit the last aid station with two miles to go I had far less time than I thought I would have.  I had just under thirty one minutes to finish the last stretch.  That sounds like a lot, but at that point in the race I was hanging on for dear life and didn't know whether two miles meant 2.0 miles or 2.9999 miles.  I went faster.  I kept cresting hills hoping for a view of the finish line to know whether this whole day of effort was going to pay off.  I just didn't know.  Those nagging voices kept suggesting that it was pointless,  all this was for naught, you are just wasting all this effort.  I took those thoughts out back behind the woodshed with a double-barrel, a shovel, and a bucket of lye and ended the conversation.  Finally I reached the last crest.  There was literally under ten minutes to go.  As I reached it, the RD was there in the sweeping vehicle? and joked, "you know if you had been running you would have gotten here a lot earlier."  I grinned.  I could see the finish.  I was going to make it.  Whatever it takes?  Oh yeah.  I pushed the pace into the finish line.  It was still set up!  (It's crazy to think your goal is to finish before the tear down is completed, but I don't care, I wanted to run through that stinkin' finish line).  I crossed the line, threw my hat in the air, kissed my wife, (she realized I had been puking all day and was somewhat disgusted), I high fived one of the volunteers who had been encouraging me all day long and then did a Kirk Gibsonesque fist pump.  Look I know celebrating a DFL is a little bit like celebrating a fluke touchdown when your team is down by 47 points,  but I didn't care.  I had made it.  I had won the mental war.  I had done whatever it took.  Then I went and puked some more.   It was beautiful.

Top Ten Things I Learned from Repeating as DFL at the Cheyenne Mountain 50k

1.  I can do this thing.
2.  It might take me a long while, but I can do this thing.
3.  I wish it didn't take me quite such a long while.
4.  Wet wipes are an ultra runner's best friend.
5.  Teh wifey is an ultramarathoner!  Woot!
6.  When your feet are covered with blisters, running feels better than walking.
7.  In order to properly secure a DFL you must pace yourself to come as close as possible to the cut-offs.  At least, that's my story.
8.  I still don't like North Talon.   I think I like that sneaky little hill on South Talon even less.
9.  Seriously.  If you are even thinking about doing an ultramarathon, why in the world wouldn't you do the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race?  It is awesome.  Great RD, great volunteers, great organization, great trails.  Go do it.  Now.
10.  Next year there will be a new DFL....