Monday, November 14, 2011

First run since Pinhoti

Ran 4 miles easy today around Wash Park. My legs felt good, in general, but something in the neuro-muscular process felt off. My stride didn't feel as smooth as I would have liked. But I guess being only a week removed from 100 miles I shouldn't complain.

No real soreness or pain. My left big toe still hurts a bit. But running on flat trails doesn't seem to make it worse. Felt good to get out there again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pinhoti 100 race report, part III

I arrived at mile 55, just as night set in, around 6 pm. It was there that I would pick up my pacer, my old high school running buddy Mike McCarthy. Mike's a strong personality, and I was hoping his energy would give me a boost for a while. I tended to the blisters in my feet, put on a few layers, and headed out back on the course. Mike was in a fun mood, and he was feeling it, so we moved uphill onto a dirt road for a few miles, and I started to feel better again as well. I was running the ups and the downs, making good time, and by the time we hit mile 60, I knew that I had about 11 hours to run the last 40 miles, if I wanted to get under 24. I knew that the singletrack sections would be slow in the dark, but if I could muster 16 minute miles on those sections, I could get it done. Easier said than done.

I ate an egg over easy and was back on the trail. Around mile 63, I asked Mike to take out the course directions. I had a vague memory that we were supposed to turn back onto the trail about two miles after the aid station, and we were closer to three miles past it. Sure enough, we had missed the turn off. One more extra bonus mile. 15 minutes lost. Oof.

We headed back onto the Pinhoti trail, and immediately again, I smashed my left toe into a rock. It was sheer agony. Hunched over, I drew some deep breaths, and decided that sub-24 just wasn't going to happen. I just couldn't take 20 more miles of smashing my feet into rocks. Pushing the pace on this trail was only going to lead to incrementally more severe agony with my feet. I could push through the muscle fatigue, but this pain was different. It was structural, and getting worse by the minute. I could still jog the easy uphills, but I would have to walk all downs with any grade from here on out. Anything else would jeopardize my ability to finish at all.

Shortly thereafter, Mike twisted his ankle and began to doubt whether he would be able to continue. We were a right pair. Every five minutes one of us would kick something or bump into a tree or step into a hole and let out a yelp. Over and over again. It would have been funny if it weren't so damned painful.

We arrived at the 68 Aid Station in a foul mood. Monica stayed super positive, told me I was doing great, even though it wasn't really true (white lies), and ran to the car a half-dozen times to get everything we needed. We put on a few layers, and told her it would be a long while before we would see her again at Aid Station 85 (the next one with crew access).

Mike decided to continue on, and we limped out together back on to the Pinhoti, which by now we had dubbed "the Devil's trail." I had developed a full appreciation for East Coast trails. No serious hills, but holy crap are they gnarly.

The next six miles were uneventful. Lots of walking. Nice and easy. We prepped ourselves for the big climb up Pinnacle -- about 900 feet in a mile. But when we got there, it wasn't bad at all. We actually kind of enjoyed it. The uphill was easy on the feet and we made good time, pushing a 19-minute mile to the summit, despite the grade -- which allowed us to pass three or four runners. At the top, we ate the best egg sandwiches we'd had in our life, chatted with volunteers, and then headed back out for more miles of walking through the single track.

At this point, I was kicking rocks even while walking. Just before the mile 79 aid, I smashed my left toe into a rock and then just spiked my water bottle into the ground like it was a football. I was so fucking sick of kicking rocks. I wanted the trail to be over. Mike said nothing, but just picked up my water bottle and reminded me how close we were to the next aid. It hurt. Like nothing I had ever felt in my life. But we were getting closer.

At the 79 aid, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Crazy winds were bashing into the tent, and they had a heater set up. For the first time at an aid, I decided to sit without any particular need for doing so. It felt good. We sat there, drank coke, ate oranges, and chatted with the wonderful volunteers (everyone, and I mean everyone, was super friendly). There's something about one group of people totally stripping themselves down to the core, and another group people engaging in acts of total unselfishness to assist them, that makes for great company and heartwarming memories. It's what makes the sport so spectacular. It's hard to express the gratitude you feel for the generosity that surrounds you, but it's a wonderful thing, and I'll never forget it.

Just as we started to feel comfortable, Shawn, a guy we had been leapfrogging back and forth with all day long, announced his departure, "Well," he said, "This race isn't gonna finish itself." A clever line, to be sure, and one that struck me with its simplicity. I knew that I was going to finish the race, but there were moments that you'd almost forget that you still had to run another 21 miles to do it. And with that, Mike and I followed him down the trail. Once we hit the Pinhoti, we never saw him again (he finished about 15 minutes ahead of me).

From mile 83 to 85, we had our last section of technical singletrack. Mike and I were walking at a leisurely pace, because if we tried anything faster, my toes would have been in agony, and I simply couldn't take any more of it. At right around mile 84, out of sheer exhaustion, I dropped my water bottle. Mike looked around to see if it was another incident of me smashing my bottle into the ground out of frustration. "It's ok, man, I'm not mad." I told him. "I just dropped it." We laughed for the first time in a while. We felt what might have been lakefront winds next to us, but it was so dark, we couldn't tell if there was a lake there. We enjoyed the stars and the night. Each moment was fun again.

When we got to mile 85, I felt as if I had already finished the race. I joked with the aid station volunteers. I observed that my left toe had gone from purple at mile 40, to black at mile 55, to a pussy, marble-esque white color at mile 85. I ate a half of a piece of cold domino's pizza. The volunteers were good about shooing me out of the aid station.

And with that, I began to run. Not jogging or trotting, but running. From miles 85 to 95, I ran seven of the ten fastest miles I ran all day. I was done with the singletrack and feeling like a new man. We passed another half dozen runners. I was exhausted from not sleeping for two days, but besides that, I felt like I had just started. And in a sense, I had, because it's not like I had done much running from 68-85.

At mile 95, Monica joined me for the home stretch. We enjoyed the sun coming up over the local dam and then a smooth, non-rocky stretch of singletrack for the next couple of miles. We made it out onto a local road for the final push into Sylacauga High School. The road stretched on forever, and again, exhaustion set in. I took a few quick walking breaks, but for the most part, I was still running 10-12 minute miles, even uphill. Monica talked and I occasionally chimed in. We ran past my old elementary school -- Indian Valley -- on the right. And then, in the distance, we saw the lights of the local stadium, Legion Field. I gave Monica a hug, picked up the pace a little bit, and just soaked it all in. Before I knew it I had made my half-lap around the track, and I was laying down on the grass, with a beer in one hand and a belt buckle in the other.

I finished the last fifteen miles in 2:50, which was the fastest 15 miles I ran all day (and night and day before).


Well, I didn't quite run the time that I wanted, but I had every bit the experience I wanted, and then some. I know that I ran the best race I could have given my fitness, the conditions, and all the things that happened to me that day. I would like to think that I can run a 100 miles much faster than 25:27, and perhaps one day I will. But on Saturday and Sunday I accomplished a life-long dream: running 100 miles in one fell swoop. That's plenty accomplishment enough for now.

Last note to this long post: I am eternally grateful to my crew -- the patient, kind, and beautiful Ms. Monica Gutierrez and the totally impatient, intense, and impetuous Mr. Mike McCarthy. I probably couldn't have done this without you, but even if I somehow had, it wouldn't have been anywhere near the experience. I had so much fun all weekend, even when it hurt, and I look forward to doing it all again in the near future. Yes, Mike, you are going to run a 100 miler of your own one of these days. And I'm going to be there to see you do it.

Pinhoti 100 race report, part II

We started up a brief incline on a jeep road about a hundred yards. I knew that we would be joining the singletrack on the Pinhoti trail, so I decided to quicken my step a bit to give myself position on the trail. I hit the trail head in about tenth place, and immediately the trail began to warn of impending danger. It was still dark out, and dodging the rocks and roots meant you had to be very quick on your feet. There was a layer of dew/frost on top of a layer of leaves, leaving little to no traction on the trail. There were already a handful of fallen trees just in the first few miles. And the trail was constantly going up and down -- nothing serious, mind you, but enough to knock you off a consistent stride. We were heading uphill over the first stretch. And my mind was racing. Really, 100 miles of this? Oh, boy.

I hit the first mile in just under 13 minutes, about two minutes slower than I had expected. Running in Colorado on trails, I had calculated that I could run 11-minute miles on a moderately hilly trail and keep my heart rate below 130 for the first 10 miles and below 140 for the second ten (if this were a marathon, my pace would be well under 7 minute miles). So around 11-minute miles early was my goal pace. Unfortunately, with the rocks, roots, and undulations of the Pinhoti, my pace was much slower. I knew that sub-21, my dream goal, was totally unrealistic. Even 24 hours would be ambitious if it was going to be like this the whole time. Oh, well. I re-set my expectations and focused my energy on running a pace I could sustain all day. No point in worrying about anything else.

About two miles in, I slipped and fell for the first time, and a handful of folks passed by me. This was the first of about a dozen falls in the first 15 miles. I had envisioned a smooth trail covered by leaves, and so had decided to wear a pair of marathon road racing flats, the Adizero Adios. This was a terrible choice. The trail constantly ducked in and out of river beds and on the sides of hills where the only thing separating you from a 30-foot ledge was the two feet of trail. I needed grip and I wasn't getting it. More frustration.

Meanwhile, runners were blowing past me in packs. I felt that most of them were going out too hard, but it was still tough to see myself slipping back in position so far. By the time I hit the second aid station at mile 13, where I would meet Monica for the first time, I'd estimate I got passed by 40-50 runners. Half the frickin' field was ahead of me. Ugh!

I was concerned, but I tried to maintain a good head. I probably ate 1200-1500 calories in the first three hours, and I knew that I was pacing myself better than most. I'd see most of them again, or so I hoped.

We crossed some road after mile 13, and headed back onto the Pinhoti. I changed shoes into some Montrail Rogue Racers, and they felt a little better. I slipped and fell one last time, and then took a little detour. I have a tendency to get lost (thus, the title of the blog), and so this was a little concerning. Oh, well. I figured since I was off the trail, it might not be a bad time to pinch a grumpy in the woods. I did that, felt much better. And then retraced my steps. Sure enough, about 300 yards back, there were flags pointing up a hill that I'd missed. Classic.

I settled into a cruisey pace, began to chat with some nice fellow from Knoxville, Tennessee, and just decided to enjoy the beautiful day. I ran a couple of easy miles with the guy from Tennessee, and I noticed that my Heart Rate was below where I wanted to be. And so I picked up the pace a little. This was the point where people stopped passing me, and I started passing everyone else. Between this point and mile 40, I probably passed 2/3 of the people who had passed me earlier. I wasn't going any faster, but I was maintaining a constant pace. It definitely gave me an energy boost to see I was picking people up. Things were looking up.

The Problem Begins

Anyone who's ever run with me (or spent more than two hours around me) knows that I have some clumsy tendencies. My nickname freshman and sophomore year of high school was "fence" because of an unfortunate incident with some wind pants and a ten-foot tall chain-link fence. In trail running, this means that I frequently kick rocks and I often take diggers. Saturday was no exception.

In the first 35 miles, I stumbled and fell a bunch of times, but they were innocuous. I got some scrapes and mud, but nothing that would impact my day. Then, at 35, while running up Mt. Cheaha, I kicked the living shit out of a big rock with my left toe. I let loose the first of many, many screams. It hurt like a sonofabitch. But I figured there wasn't much I could do but walk for a bit and let it go numb. A few minutes later I was running again and feeling good. I crested the top of Mt. Cheaha, met up with my crew, and I was in good spirits. I was still well under pace to hit my second goal of sub-24. I might salvage a decent time out of the day after all.

Another pit stop and then down the "Blue Hell," a half mile stretch of trail that descends 1000 feet down to Cheaha lake. My left toe wanted nothing to do with it. I was hugging trees and crawling down using my hands the whole way. I could barely walk. I had decided to leave the hand held for a nathan pack on that stretch, and it might have been the only thing that got me through. I needed free hands to keep the pressures off my left foot.

Eventually, I got the bottom, and made my way around the lake. We ran around the lake on a local road, and I threw in my first sub-10 minute mile of the day. I was feeling great. Maybe these 100 milers aren't so bad after all?

Hit the next aid at 45 and back onto the trail, and here's when it started to get bad. I realized I could no longer run downhill on the technical stretches because my toe was too swollen and painful. You need your toes to break, and my toe felt, well, broken. So I started running downhills in kind of an awkward, sideways motion. At first this worked great, but after a few miles, I noticed that the sides of my feet were blistering up (I never, ever get blisters). By now, my form was all over the place, and the frequency of rock kicks started to increase. Each time I kicked a rock with my left foot it was sheer agony, growing exponentially worse with each subsequent kick. Soon the right foot joined in the pain party. If someone had a swear jar next to me during this stretch, I could have bought a subway franchise with the proceeds. I made it through 50 miles in under 11 hours, but the situation with my feet was deteriorating rapidly.

And that's about the time they turned out the lights.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My first 100 (part 1), Pinhoti 100-mile endurance race

I ran my first 100-mile race on Saturday (and Sunday) -- the Pinhoti 100 miler, the only 100 miler in Alabama. I suffered in ways that I did not expect, and I did not suffer in ways that I expected I would. I finished in 25 hours and 27 minutes, about four and a half hours slower than my "A" goal, and about an hour and a half behind my "B" goal. No matter. I finished nearly five hours in front of the main goal, which was to finish the race in 30 hours. I got my belt buckle.

As a wise man (Fifty Cent, I believe) once said, I am now in the club.

Um, why Alabama?

I wanted to do my first 100 at low altitude -- presumably one that was a little easier. So I searched a bunch of sites that published lists of 100 milers, and I noticed that there was one in Sylacauga, Alabama, a tiny little town in rural Alabama, where I just so happened to live for four years when I was a kid. The timing in November worked well for me, so I figured it was perfect.

Why 100 miles?

I've wanted to run one of these things since high school. I was pretty serious about my running in junior high and high school, and dating back from the day I first read an article in the Denver Post about the Tarahuma tearing up the Leadville 100, I knew I wanted a part of the sport. But in the intervening years, I drank a little too much beer, ate a little too much, and strayed from the straight and narrow path of serious running. About three years ago, though, one of my high school teammates, after finishing his first marathon, announced that he was going to start doing ultras. This guy always drew out the competitive juices in me. I told him there was no way he was going to run 100 before I did. At the time, this seemed pretty unlikely. I was well over 200 pounds (I'm only 5'11''), I hadn't run more than 3 miles in six months, and he had just run a solid marathon time. But on November 5, 2011, I weighed 155, had finished a training block where I averaged 60-70 miles a week, and I was ready to go. And my friend, Mike McCarthy (no relation), was still in pretty good shape himself, and he had graciously agreed to pace me during the second half of the race.


The above background is only relevant in that it shows I had spent quite a few years thinking about the distance, and the moment. I knew I wasn't going to win the race, or, absent a horrible accident involving a semi-trailer and the entire lead pack early in the race, compete for the podium. But I wanted to run well. You don't wake up every morning at the butt crack of dawn to run for 80 minutes because you want to underperform. You want to live up to your potential. And so I was nervous. Very nervous. So very nervous that I did not get one second of sleep the night before the race. I tossed and turned and fretted. I tried counting sheep. I tried meditating. I tried thinking of nothing at all. I tried counting backwards by multiples of 27 starting from 200,000 (true story). To no avail. The alarm went off at 3:15 and it only served to let me know that I would be totally and completely exhausted -- before I started my first 100-mile race. Oof.

I got up and started eating. One ensure. One power bar. A bowl of banana, honey, and almond butter (delicious -- and highly recommended). Coconut water. I downed about 1000 calories before my girlfriend Monica woke up and joined me on a trip to the starting line. The course was a point to point, starting in Heflin, Alabama, roundabouts 50 miles Northeast of Sylacauga, Alabama (there were lots of twists and turns along the course). When I got there at 5:20 am, 40 minutes from the start, there was no one there in an official capacity yet. I stepped out of the car, and I spotted course record holder and eventual winner Karl Meltzer, professional ultrarunner and famed Speedgoat, and asked him where the start was. He said I was about standing on it. Ok. Just wait for the cavalry to show. A few minutes later they did, and I signed in and started chatting with other folks. Everyone was friendly with a buzz in the air. I chatted with one kid from the area who had never run more than 15 miles in his life. Yikes. I don't believe he finished.

Without much to-do, the race director got us all lined up. He said we were already late, and he was going to make this quick. And with the words, "Get out," we were off...

First Blog Post, raison d'etre

Under Colorado Revised Statue 2011 C.R.S, 6-66-2011, it states:

Any person or entity ("thing") who runs in the mountains and pretends to be an ultramarathoner or long-distance runner or some combination thereof ("runner") must, within 90 days of said entry into status of being, publish his thoughts on the interwebs on such medium ("blog") as to allow all other ultramarathoners or long-distance runners or some combination thereof ("runner") to consider his or her running in a hypercritical or highly self-conscious fashion. Violation of this statute shall result in the ultramarathoner or long-distance runner or some combination thereof ("runner") being roughed up with impunity by low-level authority figures in the mountains or backcountry in Boulder or Lake County.