Friday, March 11, 2011

3/7/11: 53 miles of rain, mud and laughter! Or, a test of how to stay positive for 12 hours of very non-positive surroundings!

(FYI, I am putting the closing touches on a book I have been writing for 2 years that will include a lot of what is put in this blog, stay tuned for when it is done if this stuff interests you at all!  Also, this is a “short” version of the chapter in the book and warning here, it is pretty long – feel free to skim to the end for lessons learned, no need to do an ultra trying to read this!)

Overall Training Program!

18 week program:  11/1/10 to 3/5/11

Average week training:  450 minutes of running, or about 37.5 miles

Total training time:  7550 minutes or about 630 miles (1/2 the distance to NY from Atlanta)!

Body changes from last Ultra (Pine Mountain 40 miler – Dec, 2009):  Lost 13lbs (from 210 down to 197lbs) and approx.  14% of total body fat – from 15% down to 12.9%)

2 weeks before race: no NSAID’s (ibuprofen, etc.), no simple sugar except in training runs, no alcohol, plenty of sleep.

Race:  53 miles, 12 hours and 2 minutes, rained for about 9 hours, about 10,000 calories burned.

What I ate during race:

1 bottle water and 2 e-caps (salt) every hour – no sports drinks at all
Approx 300 calories per hour (only about 5 gels total, the rest was a mix of peanut butter and honey or nutella and banana on white bread sandwiches, pretzels, bananas, peanut m&m’s, fig newtons, 3 regular Red Bulls (amazing) one at 20m, one at 33m and one at 40m and in the last 10 miles, one potato with salt and 2 cups of hot chicken soup with Ra men noodles (absolutely heavenly in the cold rain at mile 44!)

The “day”

After some anxiety earlier in the week from some achy knees and very flat, dead feeling legs (always, always happens during my taper but it never ceases to worry me) my body and mind came around nicely by the end of the week.  I worked ½ day on Friday and tried to take in as much salty and low fiber food as possible as early as possible (note to self and others: A large Arbys roast beef and fries has 3300 mgs of sodium, wow)!   Basically, I for 2 days before I ate the way most of the US eats:  High salt, high fat, simple carbs, little or no fiber – amazing people can live like this.  The only difference is that I was drinking about a gallon of water per day!   My family was heading out of town for the night (my wife was “standing in” for me on a cub scout trip to sleep over at the Tennessee Aquarium) and would meet me at the race about mid-way so I had the house to myself, which was actually pretty nice given that I am a bit crazy the day before these things.  Felt very relaxed and calm after packing all my stuff in the car and settling down to rest my legs for the night – read Dean Karnasez (sp?) new book “Run” and it put everything I was about to do in complete perspective, if he could get through what he has done with a positive attitude, tomorrow would be nothing!  Actually fell asleep right away at 8:45pm and slept through the night – no nightmares of forgetting everything and not being able to run.  Up at 3:30am to the sound of light rain (fantastic!) and feeling good.  Said some calm prayers to have a good day, stay in the moment and be open to whatever God had in store for me this day.  Downstairs right away to eat my first meal (wanted to get in most of my calories pre-race about 2-3 hours before the start):  Peanut Butter, Nutella and banana sandwich on white bread (not my normal breakfast to say the least) and a cup of coffee.  Hot shower to loosen up and then 2nd breakfast:  Shake:

-          2 bananas
-          1 scoop vanilla protein powder
-          2 tbs peanut butter
-          Splenda
-          Ice
-          Water
-          1 tbs Chia seeds
-          1 Imodium (not in shake, lol) – if you run long you know why this is added to morning ritual!

With about 1000 calories in me and feeling a bit sick (imagine taking all that in before 4am) I was ready (nutritionally, that is).  Feeling sick is a good sign for me as it means I took in enough and would not be tempted to “nervous eat” anymore before the start, just sip on water and low calorie electrolyte drink (Gatorade G2 works well). 

A good friend picked me up so I would not have to drive home after (this is very, very important after an Ultra, even if it is only 45 minutes)!  It was nice to have someone to talk to and, as I was starting to get nervous, nice to have a distraction from thinking about the race (and how wonderful the trails would be as it was still raining and was projected to rain all day!)  We left at 4;45am for a 6:30am start. 

Got to the start and got dressed in the car as it was still a light rain, set up my little “oasis” of a chair (which I swore I wouldn’t sit in until the end), food, change of shoes and socks, etc. 

Funny story about how weird your mind works when you are nervous.  About 10 minutes from the start, for some reason I put my water bottle down (you really need this as some aid stations are 6 miles apart and in these conditions that can take over an hour) on my chair and picked up a G2 to sip on.  While in the tent listening to race instructions and talking to my friend, I put the G2 down and for some reason, forgot that I had left my water bottle at my chair.  I was totally convinced someone stole my water bottle and was running around frantically trying to find it, even asking one of the volunteers to help me and she told the race director to announce it (just to show you how wonderful other racers are, no less than 3 people offered me an extra bottle they had) – I then ran back to my bag cause I knew I had an extra and there it was – so embarrassing, I couldn’t even apologize or explain it, I just said, sort of whimpishly: “I found an extra”:  what a loser, chalk it up to nervousness!  Strange, I am feeling nervousness right now and it is 48 hours after the race!

Back to the race:  Started off in the dark and rain, feeling good.  The course was basically a 13 mile loop, back to the start/finish, then a 7 mile loop.  You did both loops 2x and then one more of the 13 mile loop to total 53 miles.    I had never done one of these that was loop course before and I wasn’t sure if I would like it (basically seeing the finish line 4x before you are done) but I actually loved it!  It was so nice to have something to look forward to, people, food, family, etc. every lap and it helped you break down the race into many different finish lines:  i.e, I will allow myself a Red Bull and Peanut M&M’s after I finish 20 miles, that kind of thing!  Anyway, back to the first lap:  this was a real lesson in how to run in this type of mud (not really sure you could call it running, I kept thinking if someone video taped us trying to get through the really deep sections and especially the steep uphills, it would look like a really long version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos”.  I am sure the front runners still looked like runners (the guy who won my race was 13 miles ahead of me, crazy) but us middle of the packers really looked bad!   

The biggest mental lesson I learned in this lap was to not allow myself anytime to be around people who were not completely positive.  Luckily, as I mentioned, 99% of people who choose to do this for “fun” are overall the nicest, happiest, most positive people I have ever met but there are a few in any crowd and given the conditions and my tendency to have some very low points in these races, I didn’t want to be around anything or anyone that would bring me down. I ran with one guy and girl who started whining about the mud, how long it would take us and how the the 7 mile loop was so much harder than the 13 (it wasn’t, by the way, it was easier) and I ran away from them within 30 seconds.  No judgement here, everyone deals with adversity differently, I just know myself better than to fall into that trap.  From then on, everyone I met and everyone I talked to was positive and having a GREAT day!  This was really the theme for the day and I was so glad for my newly found faith in the lord and how it has taught me an even deeper appreciation for the blessings I have in life:  not just the physical gift to be able to do this but the mental strength he gave me to remain positive when things get tough, as I always say, ultra marathons are a perfect metaphor for life! 

Anyway, I digress……. As I said, the first lap was tough but got it done in 2 hours, 30 minutes, not bad at all considering the conditions.  Now out to the dreaded 7 mile loop, I tried not to think about it too much and, actually, the girls prediction might have helped me as I expected way worse than it was.  The hills were tough but not as muddy as the 13 mile loop and because it was only 7 miles with one aid station it was easier to break it down into manageable segments.  This became a theme also throughout the day (again, a metaphor for life) breaking things down:  only 1 hour till next aid station, only 4.7 miles to start /finish, only have to do that killer hill 2 more times, one more time, etc.  Really helped, trust me!  Throughout the first 20 miles I felt OK, actually felt much better after 13 miles, I was not really fresh (probably due to the strange running style you had to adopt and new muscles I have never used running before) but after 20 miles I felt fantastic.  Funny, I was waiting for the low that I usually get after 3-4 hours and it never came. 

Interject an important note here, I told more people about this race than ever before and asked everyone to pray for me to stay positive and upbeat, especially during the low times.  This did 2 things for me, first of all, made me accountable to many people to not drop out when things got tough (which helped) but, more importantly, I really felt the prayers helped me stay happy and motivated during the toughest conditions I have ever raced in!

The next 13 miles were actually better than the first as it finally stopped raining for about 3 hours and I knew I would be seeing my family on the next loop through.  At this point I had adopted a strange way to climb the muddy hills, sort of a “duck walk” like you are going uphill on ski’s.  If you didn’t do this, you would fall back down the hill which was not fun, or get stuck wondering where to put your foot down next, like I said, really comical.  At this point I started getting a little over confident and picked up my pace on the down hills and was chatting with a nice guy while we rounded an easy corner and BAM, my first fall of the day.  Still not sure how I did this but I was rounding a right hand corner and I fell (hard – my ribs still ache) on my left side, probably over-compensated or something.  The physics of a falling body were not really in my over-depleted brain cells at this point so I dusted myself off and moved on.  Must have sounded bad cause the guy (in front of me) yelled, “oh sh#t, are you ok”?  I was fine, just a little dirty and banged up, glad to have the first fall out of the way and put me back in my place as far as pacing and barreling down muddy down hills!  Amazingly, something must have been happening here because I almost fell again after about ½ mile and wrenched my knee in the process.  Then I fell going up a hill (very slow) and then caught myself (going even slower) falling up another hill.  2 falls and one near miss in under 1 mile.   Fell again, kind of, during another lap – don’t really remember what happened but I know I was cleaning off my water bottle for a while so I must have hit the ground somewhere (much to the amusement of my kids).

I really cannot explain how crazy this mud was, think of the worst muddy trail you have ever walked on, hundreds of footprints filled with water, the whole trail covered with shoe-sucking mud and water, slows you down to a shuffle (worse to walk cause you sink farther down): it really was kind of fun, if you could wrap your head around what you were doing and that you chose to be out here in this!    The uphills were even worse cause you didn’t have enough forward momentum to get through it so the “duck walk” was the only way to get up.   Definitely was a new, exciting and fun experience that I can do only once in my life and feel satisfied.  My feet and legs were so muddy and so caked (they would get muddy, dry over and then get muddy again) that my wife said they looked like “elephant legs”.  You couldn’t even tell I had shoes and socks on!  The worse the trails got, the less options you had, early in the day you had the option of running straight down the “orange river” as we started calling it – never knowing how deep the river was or if your shoe would get stuck in the mud or off to the side on dryer land but on an angle so you were more likely to fall.

At the end of 33 miles I saw my family, it was very nice but kind of quick as I didn’t want to take too much time at the start / finish: you learn in these things to keep forward momentum going as much as possible, don’t even think about the finish till you are about an hour out (or in this case, thinking of cleaning up, dry clothes, warm food, a clean warm house, etc)  – they were happy to see me but a little tired and wet, not the best conditions to watch a race in, told them I would see them in 7 miles or about 1.5 – 2 hours.    This loop was uneventful except I fell one more time and let go of thinking about time goals.. Given the conditions and that is was 3 miles long, I really wanted to make it and not be stressing about getting in under some arbitrary number (i.e., 12 hours) so I just let go.  Really.  It helped a lot!  One note on time that was interesting,  even with the conditions, my marathon, 50k, and 40 mile time splits were faster than the last time I ran just those distances.  Obviously I am lighter and in much better shape and I will tell you I allowed myself to entertain what “would have been” if it was dry, but not for long, I got back to enjoying the day and what it was.

Now I could smell the finish.  One more 13 mile loop (to give you and idea of how slow going it was, when I run a road ½ marathon I can usually finish in between 1:45 and 1:50 and my PR is 1:34:50 – at this point I told my family not to expect me for 3 hours at the least)!  My family actually drove home, took naps and then came back for the finish, crazy!  Just to make it more fun, the heavens opened up and it poured, I mean really rained, for the next 3 hours straight.  At least it wasn’t too cold – at this point I was running in just shorts and a dry fit t-shirt.  I actually felt really strong at this point (it was amazing to me, after 9 hours of “running” I still could run the downhills and some flats) and was enjoying the rain. 

Note here:  I run with music 99% of the time and my ipod just wasn’t liking the rain, I maybe got 1 hour of tunes and then it just died (not before getting louder and louder until I had to rip the earphones out of my ears, I bet that looked funny) so, again, like my first ultra, I had to be content with the sound of my breathing, the sloshing of my feet and the sound of the rain, tough for me at first but great and meditative after a while.

This was now my 3rd loop on the 13 miles so I had some idea of what I was in for, although, the mind (another wonderful God-design here) has a neat way of eliminating your short term memory in these things, I would completely forget about a killer, muddy hill each lap!   To give you an idea of how messed up your memory gets, I would tell myself to do certain things on “the next uphill” – this is where I would take off or put on a jacket, drink water, eat, take salt pills, etc. and at one point I was walking uphill for at least 5 minutes trying to remember what I had said I would do and then I remembered, I had to pee like crazy !!!!!  Imagine what my SAT or GRE score would have been if you gave it to me at this point!

With about 4 miles to go, a young kid (probably about 23) was stopped on the side of the trail and asked if he could run with me (this is not uncommon, after 26.2 miles we all like company) and I said sure.  Turns out he was signed up for the 100 miler and was dropping out.  We ran together for a while but I was feeling really strong and was getting numb and it was getting dark and I didn’t have my headlamp and he was running so slow I couldn’t stay back with him, we were together until the last downhill which is only ½ mile from the finish so I am sure he made it OK, you could walk from there.  I ran great from here, walked a bit and then could see the fence that marked about 100 yards to go. 

The finish was actually anti-climactic, my family did not make it back in time and it was pouring, dark and cold so most of the spectators and crews were under shelter.  It was really strange to have trained this long and ran for this long under such tough conditions and have no one at the finish to greet me.  For some reason I was not sad, again, I am trying to accept whatever happens and comes my way in my life as God’s plan and not try to change or control it.  In a way, it was kind of appropriate, however, as most of my training was done alone, most of my race was alone and I am doing this go get closer to the Lord, which I do best alone.  It was also really strange as there were 3 races going on at once so no one knew if you were a finisher of the 50k or 50m or heading out for another lap for the 100m.  There was just one guy there who said “we’ve got a finisher here” and a couple of little kids clapped.  Perfect, so different from Ironman and so appropriate.  So it was not sad, it just was what it was (wow, I am quite the poet, maybe some of my brain really was left out on that course).   

I felt awesome, headed for the food tent and grabbed some hot pizza and a soda and finally sat down after 12 solid hours (or so, don’t know results yet)!  I realized the huge “down” I had been waiting for in the race never showed up (just 2 short emotional and physical down points that were taken care of immediately by food – again, weight, training and most importantly, all the prayers did this for me) Family showed up with dry clothes and cold beer and we sat and chatted for a bit.  Emotionally, this was the most even-keeled I had ever been in one of these events, not really sure why (might have had to do with no music, note to self, might be amping me up a bit too much in the long stuff?) – no real big lows and no real big highs.  We were all exhausted so we didn’t stay around long (my original plan was to camp out that night with my son and watch everyone finish, what was I thinking J  I felt really good about my accomplishment and thanked the lord for bringing me home safely. 

Epilogue/lessons from the journey:

  1. This race was the worst conditions I have ever run in, ever, in 33 years of racing and training!
  2. Even given number 1., what I did was nothing compared to the brave souls who attempted the 100 miler and the 17 even braver souls who ran through the rainy, cold night and finished before the 30 hour cut off. 
  3. Even given number 1. and number 2. , all of this nutty hobby pales by comparison to what our incredibly brave men and women in our armed forces go through every day.  I may have been tired, muddy and cold but I had a warm shower and bed to return to that night, they do this for days on end, in harms way, in worse conditions and sleep on the ground and in tents (if they are lucky).  There are so many people who have it so much worse and I tried to think of them, pray for them and give thanks to the lord that I am so blessed every chance I could during the 12 hours I was out there!
  4. Prayer works, period.
  5. Other people praying for you works even better, period
  6. The longer you run, hike, exercise, whatever, especially in something like this that creates a meditative state, the simpler your mind becomes.  At one point in the race, towards the end, I felt like a machine that was designed to locomote in the mud for hours on end.  No real thought to it, I just became that way.
  7. Ultra – Running events are the only place you will ever hear someone say the word “only” and “I’m running a 50k” (31.5miles, or in this case, 33 miles) in the same sentence cause the rest of use were running 50miles or 100miles!
  8. The people that finish these things are tough as nails, no matter how you slice it.  201 people signed up (total for 3 races) and 45 no showed – a very high number. 
  9. I have an incredible amount of respect for everyone that finished, especially the 100 milers! 
  10. I enjoy training alone but I really like the company of others, having a crew, seeing family, etc. at these long races:  glad I didn’t put anyone through it in this weather however!
  11. My attitude, while always pretty upbeat, is even better having done this.  I kept thinking of people who deal with so much worse, with no choice (soldiers, people in 3rd world countries, homeless people, handicapped, etc.) and I felt blessed the whole way!
  12. Running without music is good, you really get into a rhythm and flow.
  13. The people who volunteer at these things are my hero's, I want to give back and volunteer at one this year!
  14. I do not need to eat and drink as much as I always thought on the run.  1 water bottle an hour, 2 salt pills and about 300 calories an hour is all you need!  It really helped my GI issues and nutritional ups and downs
  15.  Due to the fact that this is such a crazy sport with time commitment and what it takes to succeed, I really need to get more involved in the ultra community if I want to do more of these.  Even if just to have more people around me who I don’t have to explain myself to!
  16. How long races take me doesn’t mean that much to me anymore, giving my best effort and learning something about myself matters much more!
  17. I really like running, but I am not sure I ever want to attempt 100 miles.  Not a good time to decide I know.
  18. I am looking forward to training without a huge goal (for a bit).  Running without food, not needing a water bottle, no logistics, etc.  Maybe training to run semi-fast again (i.e., 10 miler, 13.1, etc.).
  19. As much as I hate it, tapering works, period.
  20. I need to surround myself with positive, can-do people, I really love them and feel best around them – whine all you want if that works for you, no judgement, but I don’t want to be around it!
  21. We are all capable, with faith in the lord, to do so much more through him than we think we can.  Trust me on this.
  22. Pizza and mint chocolate chip ice cream are evidence of God’s eternal love for us and even better after running 53 miles!
  23. Did I mention it was a bit muddy?
  24. Did I mention prayer works?

Post race

Sunday, only got out of bed cause I was so hungry, could barely walk (had to slide down the stairs on my butt) but felt a bit better after hot shower, food and then ice bath.  Sore in normal places (Achilles, hamstrings) and some new ones:  abs, lower back, ribs (fall?), behind my knees.  Feeling of peace was overwhelming.  Interesting how things I couldn’t stop thinking about for weeks before race (weather, weight, salting food, getting adequate sleep, etc. just don’t even cross my mind now). 

Monday:  actually feeling a lot better, hard to tell cause still taking lots of Advil but I think I will recover well. Just one black toenail, couple of blisters and overall exhaustion but again, feeling of peace is wonderful.

Post Script from Monday:  Results were posted, I looked at the 100 mile results first (only 17 finished out of 56 starters, only 4 under 24 hours) and then took a break and told myself to not change my good feeling of accomplishment no matter what my result compared to others was.  Amazingly, I was 12th overall out of 73 finishers (not sure how many signed up or started, maybe about 100) and 1st in the 45-49 age group! Just goes to show you this a good sport for my strength: no real athletic ability, no real running speed, too big to be a fast runner but tons of determination and stubborn, never say die, “sticktoitiveness”!  The power of perseverance!

Removing mud:  you have no idea how hard it was to get the red Georgia clay off all of my stuff, including my feet and toenails, especially since I was too tired to do it Saturday night and waited till Sunday afternoon!

Overall:  my body held up incredibly well, amazing how my longest training run was 5 hours and I was able to run 12 hours almost continuously!

What is enough?  This is a tough sport to say you are “done” since the distances some people run are just incredible…..  In triathlon, once I did an Ironman I felt I had done it all, after that it was just to decide if you wanted to get faster at certain distances.   Won’t decide yet…….goal now is to finish this book and move on to that chapter in my life

Peace, appreciation and blessings to all who were with me on this incredible journey, until next time………

Getting the 2nd Red Bull (not Sugar Free!) at mile 33

Happy getting the 3rd Red Bull open at mile 40!

Imagine cleaning these socks!