Friday, October 12, 2018

The Humid Grindstone

Pregame


I won’t lie, it’s been a bit of an off year for me. The first half of the year I was building up my fitness and 50K – 50M race times were improving, despite prioritizing flat running over vert. By early summer, I thought solid training could produce a 19:30 at Grindstone with favorable race conditions. Then I had a disastrous outing at the Ethan Allen 24 Hour – I’ll spare you the details, but if you’re ever looking to try qualifying for the USATF 24 Hour team, I’d advise against running around a black track in the middle of July. After that, I caught a cold and had awful congestion for a month that had me severely limit training. I crammed in a few long, steep runs after July but couldn’t put together anything resembling a solid training block. And anytime I ran outside, my body had a lot of trouble with the heat and humidity. I'd be going into Grindstone very undertrained. But … at least I wasn’t overworking my legs … that’s gotta count for something, right?!

So fast-forward to Thursday, October 4th. 24 hours before Grindstone. I check the local forecast and it’s saying a high of 71 and mostly cloudy. Overnight temps on the high side, but not terrible. No heat, no humidity! Phewww!

Apparently forecasts aren’t always accurate.

By the time I arrived at Camp Shenandoah, it felt warm. And then it started to feel sticky. And then the sun poked through the clouds. And it felt warmer. And it felt stickier. And a little part of me died inside.


It Begins -- Miles 0 - 37


I started at a comfortable pace in the 80+ heat, linking up with Neal Gorman for a few early miles. It was warm, and humid, and as the sun set the fog rolled in. As a result, the pace was slower than last year, and more closely resembled The Rainy Year (2016). I told myself it was smart to be calm on the climbs and cautious descending in the fog, where visibility was often only a couple of feet.
As any betting man could predict, I linked up with John Andersen for a chunk of the early miles. I stayed up on my hydration (which required downing a good bit more liquids than usual) and took in a healthy amount of gels and candy bars, and taste-tested the potato offerings at every aid station. But somewhere near the top of Hankey Mountain (maybe Mile 25-ish), I started getting queasy feelings in my stomach and my body started to feel … off. It wasn’t worth it to go all gung-ho up Hankey like I did last year, not with this humidity. It felt like my body was having trouble sucking down the muggy air while running uphill. I spent a few miles in a bit of a slump, but was certain it would pass.


Damn it! -- Miles 37 - 65


I downed some calories at North River Gap 1 (Mile 37) and had high hopes for a comfortably hard climb along Chestnut Ridge to Little Bald conversing with John. I collected a cupful of tater tots to snack on along the way. I was excited! Then … I tripped and flung the spuds into the mud and dirt. John hopped by, laughing and soaking up the schadenfreude as I dejectedly muttered to myself and tried salvaging a few of the tots. Then long haired dude (Mike Cooper) came up, passed, and linked up with John. I tried to pick up steam again to catch back up, while simultaneously trying to chew the last of my dirt tots. I suddenly felt uncomfortably nauseous and began gagging. I slowed to a crawl and spent what felt like 5 minutes chewing those damn tater tots, trying to build up the courage to swallow. Finally, they went down. But John and long haired dude were out of sight. I was drained, and lacked the will to summon a hard hike or jog to reconnect. Instead, I told myself I needed to be patient, hike calmly, and work on getting rid of the nausea. I made a point to not run anything resembling an incline. Another dude (Travis Zipfel) caught me – apparently I’d leapfrogged him at the aid station – and we briefly discussed how he was just recovering from similar feelings of queasiness and nausea  … then he bounded off into the foggy distance like a friggin gazelle.

I spent the next 3 hours alone climbing up Little Bald and running along the foggy jeep trails towards the turnaround. I even managed to not feel like death while jogging up some of the dirt road climb to Reddish Knob. After the tater tot debacle, I was reluctant to take in solid food, and was left forcing myself to choke down gels with giant gulps of water. I nearly gagged every time, but I was still getting those calories in.

Neal Gorman caught back up with me and we ran into the Turnaround together, coming in at 10:30, exactly what I’d run 2 years ago in the rain, but well behind last year’s pace. Neal and I were 6 and 7. John was maybe 10 minutes up, and 3 more guys were only a few minutes ahead of that. I figured if I could shake the multi-hour funk, I could still secure a respectable time, and maybe even break back into the Top 5. I took it easy with Neal for a couple miles after the Turnaround, but he was clearly itching to go chase down the other runners and my body didn’t feel up to the task. When I started going back downhill on the dirt road, my stride just would not open up. Any time I tried pushing the pace to make the most of the free downhill miles, my breathing would get erratic and my whole body would instantly feel fatigued. Just as I was overcoming the stomach issues, the soul-sucking humidity was digging its claws into me for good.


Ugh! -- Miles 65 - 88


I labored my way back down to North River Gap 2 (Mile 65). On the handful of inclines and flat sections of trails, I struggled every time I tried jogging. I was considerably slower than I hoped for, and despite the lackluster pace, I was feeling depleted. My wife and John’s wife, Michelle, tried pumping me up and convincing me to go chase down John, but when they said he had “just left” they were stretching the truth. I knew he had to be at least 25 or 30 minutes up on me at that point. And with Neal and the other dudes looking solid at the Turnaround, I was certain I couldn’t make the leap from 7th to 5th place.

I took my time at the aid station loading up on calories as best I could. And I gave everyone there a helluva show when my wife tried to help take off my shoe and inadvertently squeezed right down on a newly damaged toenail – my involuntary scream was a head-turner! I finally headed out to face the rest of the course … walking my tired ass down the short stretch of blacktop that would begin my most hated section of the entire course – the “run” up to Lookout Mountain. I transitioned to survival mode and planned to hike every incline to save my energy for the downhills and final miles. This could get ugly!

After close to a decade of walking, I finally emerged from the woods and happened upon the Lookout Mountain aid station. They had my potatoes ready to go for me, but by that point I’d lost all interest in solid foods. I took some time to down ginger ale and chat everyone up, but before I left, some other dude rolled into the aid station with his pacer. My body didn’t have the urgency or energy to race, but I figured I should at least fake an attempt at being competitive, so I lumbered on down the trail.

The sweet descent into Dowells Draft (Mile 81) was inviting and enjoyable. But it was also getting friggin hot out, and I still couldn’t convince my legs to open up or increase the cadence like I wanted. So I kept bleeding time. At the aid station, I was pampered by my wife, daughter, Michelle, and Frank Gonzalez. Was Horton there? I don’t know … I can’t recall any biting sarcasm or overeager words of encouragement. They finally kicked me out, beleaguered and fearful of how much The Crawford Climb was going to suck.

Miraculously, I managed to run the entire mile-plus of creek bottom before The Crawford Climb. The past 2 years I had finished much faster, but my legs were also close to the point of failure when I got to this rather benign stretch of trail, so it was rewarding to be able to cover that short section of the course without feeling like a shell of a human being. I kept myself accountable and calmly hiked the entire brutal climb. A couple times I shuffled to a jog just to convince myself that my body couldn’t handle it, and sure enough, within a few strides I’d feel like my lungs were being ripped out of my chest and I was getting punched in the gut … so … hooray hiking! After I crested the climb, I wanted to bomb the downhill into Dry Branch (Mile 88), but, again, I just could not get my stride to open up.


Lazy -- Miles 88 - 96


At Dry Branch I parked my lazy ass into a chair and snacked on some cookies and bitched about how I can’t get out of this low gear and how it's so hot out and how I hate humidity and running and life. Shannon Howell came careening into the aid station, clearly on course record pace (how? HOW?!) … and just like that, I’d been chick’d. And I couldn’t have cared less. I eventually got up and mosey’d my way on down the trail … Shannon was well out of sight.

Just like Crawford, I took my sweet time climbing Elliott’s backside. I love grinding up this final climb, laying it all out there, nearly dying when you slip on the loose rocks, trying to squeeze fits of rage between painful gulps of air. But this time around was super chill. Humidity was the winner on the day, no sense in denying it. I couldn’t pick up my feet to run that stretch of trail if my life depended on it … but hiking it felt fan-freakin-tastic!

I got to the gravel road at the top of the climb and began to brace myself for a rough final 90 minutes to the finish line. I wanted to push it, squeeze everything I could out of my legs and body, freefall down to the final aid station like I usually do. But, again, my legs wouldn’t open up. I still made half-decent time, but it wasn’t anything to write home about.


Too Little, Too Late -- Miles 96 - 102


After the last aid station, I calmly walk-jogged for a bit. And when the final mile or so of climbing came, I jogged. It was a laughable jog and I was panting like a dog. I finally ran up a decent sized hill for the first time in nearly 10 hours. As the trail turned flat, and then downhill, my legs started to pick up steam and finally open up. With 1.5 miles to go, I rapidly came upon both Shannon and long haired dude. I slowed for a second to tell Shannon she was rocking it and to let her know that I wasn’t trying to be some douchy male, dead-set on running down a woman because getting chick’d would be more emotionally painful than the physical pain of running 100 miles. And then, somehow, I laid down the hammer. Firmly in 6th place, I cruised toward the finish line, and happily collapsed.

The day had drug on for nearly 2 hours longer than I would’ve liked, and my body felt utterly demolished. The humidity murdered my soul -- its tattered remains are still on the course somewhere, so if you come across it, please dispose of it properly for me. If not for the humidity, I might've run 60 to 80 minutes faster and snagged 5th place ... but there's no way in hell I would've caught John or Neal. In my 3 prior finishes, I was always able to call upon my legs to do what I wanted them to do – climb harder, pick up the pace, bomb the downhill. That wasn’t the case at all this time around. For nearly 70 miles my body ignored my requests, and yet, I was still able to grind it out and cross the finish line well under 24 hours. It wasn’t my fastest Grindstone, but it was certainly the most rewarding.


Fun Facts

  • Michael Owen's winning time was slower than my 5th place time last year
  • Lookout Mountain and Little Bald Aid Stations tied for The Best Potatoes! Franks potatoes at Dowell's Draft were The Losers (undercooked). North River Gap gets kudos for the originality of the tater tots, but they don't take the win because of the painful associated memories.
  • Temps at the start and finish were in the 80s, the low temps in the valley were 67, and humidity was over 90% all night long. Ick!
  • Since I could never figure out how to get my legs to work, my major muscle groups felt fine 2 days out. Feet, calves, achilles, ribs, triceps, shoulders ... not so much.
  • I planned on eating boatloads of candy bars, fig bars, and granola bars ... I had 1 granola bar and 1 Twix, all before 5 hours elapsed ... so much for that plan!
  • Let me introduce you to THE ONE AND ONLY SONG stuck in my head for 22+ hours...



Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Disordered Eating



A recent article by David Roche in Trail Runner Magazine highlights an issue that is all too often ignored: male athletes and disordered eating. In the spirit of being open, I wanted to take a moment to share my history with disordered eating, which, like the author's, would most appropriately be described as "subclinical".

A combination of running and wrestling in high school kick-started a history of disordered eating for me. I was "little" but somewhat muscular when I joined the wrestling team as a sophomore. My natural weight in the 115-120lb range was too low for the 112lb weight class so I forced myself all the way down to 103. I have very distinct memories of this endeavor: sweatsuits and layers upon layers of sweat-saturated clothes, measuring out meals of plain yogurt by the 1/2cup, eating a muffin top for breakfast and being genuinely excited at the prospect of getting to eat the rest of the muffin for dinner. The race to lose nearly 15% of my body weight, and then maintain, was exhausting; but I also found the required focus and determination to be rewarding in its own twisted way.

After 2 years of wrestling, my weight returned to normal, but a seed was planted in my brain. That seed has produced a disordered way of thinking that grows and withers from time to time, but is never truly eradicated. Scales, calorie-counting, estimating calories expended through exercise, hyper-awareness of a singular number that magically defines my health and happiness, looking in the mirror and seeing only fat deposits ... it all started becoming a common part of my daily life.

By college I had grown a little, and so my natural weight ranged from roughly 123 to 130. I'm not sure how or why exactly it began, but I started judiciously logging my macronutrients in a spreadsheet. And then came absurdity. I convinced myself that healthy eating meant 1200 calories a day. Sometimes I was over, but that was always the goal. The quality of the food was generally unimportant. And occasionally, "for fun", I'd try to go stretches where I'd consume less than 10g of fat per day (a serving of peanut butter is around 16g). This was all while going to the gym routinely -- lifting weights, running, etc. Unsurprisingly, during this period I never got stronger or faster.

I examined myself in the mirror: "I don't look skinny", "my ribs should be more prominent". I'd hit the stationary bike at the rec center, head down in silent focus, trying to burn off the calories I'd taken in. In a couple of months I was back down to the low-110s. After running a couple marathons -- without proper training -- I distinctly remember thinking "I could be faster if I were 107" ... never mind the fact that with adherence to a proper training program I could've been 30lbs overweight and still performed better. And why 107?! I was definitely on course for clinical disordered eating, and occasionally flashed signs of exercise bulimia.

Magically, the head-on collision was avoided. But the troubling thing about it all is that I have no idea how I changed course. There's nothing specific that happened to keep me from going down the rabbit hole. No epiphany, nothing. Over the course of a couple months I just stopped worrying about weighing less.

... Except, that's not really the end of it, because it never really goes away. To this day, nearly two decades after I was measuring out 1/2cups of yogurt, I still think about my weight and the calorie counts of the food I eat on a daily basis. All. Day. Long. Every serving of food I consume, I'm secretly adding up how much it costs, and whether or not I deserve it. I'm looking in the mirror and, like David Roche, "I'm pretty sure I see something different than what other people see."

By all accounts, I'm healthy and fit. I average 200+ miles of running every month. And there's not a doctor in the world who'd say I was overweight. And yet, nearly every day I think, I wish, I know that I could afford to lose, at the very least, just a few more pounds. I'm comfortably around 135 to 140 now, and I find my body tends to throw out red flags when I drift much below that ... but in college I was the same height and 10lbs lighter ... and in high school I was 20lbs lighter and could run the 800m faster than I can now ... and Eliud Kipchoge is 5'6" and 115lbs and he's the world's greatest marathoner ... so I should definitely go on a diet and lose at least 10lbs right now!

It's all bullshit. Somehow, my mind is able to recognize this disordered logic, and that keeps real problems at bay. For that, I'm lucky, and grateful. I hope to go on, for the remainder of my life, maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle and supporting myself with good eating habits (and the occasional cookie dough splurges). But I know, too, that there will always be guilt, the feelings of inadequacy, and quick-fire caloric math before, during, and after nearly every ounce of food I consume.

Most days it's not a big deal. Other days it can feel a bit exhausting. But there are plenty of other folks out there dealing with much, much worse. Hopefully more open discussions about disordered eating can remove the stigma, let others know that they're not alone, and that it's okay to seek out help.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

You Can't Always Get What You Want


On May 19th, I went to 3 Days at the Fair with one objective: cover enough miles in 24 hours to effectively guarantee a spot on the USA 24 Hour National Team. If I did that, I’d be able to compete at the biannual World Championships held in Austria in 2019. For the 2017 team, 153 miles was enough to secure a spot on the 6-person roster. Assessing my fitness and comparing against other successful 24 hour runners, I put together a plan for 158 miles, something I felt I could achieve on a problem-free day. That 153 to 158 window gave me about 5 miles of slack for a couple things to go wrong. That could accommodate a 50 minute deviation from my race plan; something that extreme has never happened before – I take pride in my planning for races at 100K and beyond. So yeah, I was feeling pretty good about my chances.

The Plan:

It's not all left turns!

The course is a flat loop, exactly 1 mile in length. That meant for this race I didn’t have to worry about sorting out proper aid station splits and accounting for vertical gain/loss. I knew from a couple races in the previous year that I could run 50 miles on rolling, runnable trails at 8:20 – 8:30 average and not feel completely spent. I figured that pace was a good place to start, and then plan to gradually get slower as time went on. I don’t like planning to slow down, but I wanted to be mindful of the fact that I typically train for mountain running which varies the way muscles are activated, as opposed to sustained flat running which uses the same muscle mechanics mile after mile – I know how to prepare for blown quads in a mountain race, but I had no idea what would happen to my muscles after hours of flat pavement.



Here was my plan:
Hours
Miles / Pace
Simpler Pace Goals
0 – 4
28+ (8:20 – 8:30)
8:20
4 – 8
28 (8:35)
8:40
8 – 12
27 (8:54)
9:00
12 – 16
26 (9:15)
9:20
16 – 20
25 (9:36)
9:40
20 - 24
24 (10:00)
10:00
24 hours
158 miles





Basically, break the day into 4-hour bins and plan to get slower by about 20sec/mile every 4 hours. I also planned to stop at my personal aid station every 10 miles for up to 2 minutes. That, plus maybe 1 gear/shoe change, would put me right at 155 miles.

The Race:


As the race approached, it became clear that I’d be running in the rain for a good chunk of time. If it were a normal race where all competitors had to deal with the same issues, it’d be no big deal. But I was racing the clock, and competing against efforts posted by other runners at other races with likely better weather. I was concerned, but found it hard to believe that bad weather would cost me upwards of 5 miles in 24 hours. 1 – 3 miles was more likely. So not a deal breaker by any stretch, it just meant not a lot of other things could go wrong.

The race started at 9am and … well …

… At this point I would normally dive into an enthralling, captivating, action-packed play-by-play of my race. But I’m gonna take a little different route this time around.


SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t hit my mark. I didn’t even run for 24 hours. I ran 100 miles in under 16 hours, and then called it quits.


Here’s a graph of my splits:

 
Clearly, something went wrong and I gave up. So let’s walk through the issues that led to my failure!

Weather:


The first 3 hours saw persistent rain with temps in the mid-40s and the occasional 10mph winds. It wasn’t that bad; I actually would’ve enjoyed this weather on the trails.  I knew the rain would pick up after 3 hours, so I had already planned to stop at some point and put on a dry top and warmer rain jacket. I covered my first 28 miles in about 3:55, on perfect pace. I’d been running the last hour soaking wet and decided it was time to dry off. The process took longer than I would have liked, just to put on a new shirt and jacket. But no harm, no foul. I got right back to running.

The real problem the rain presented concerned my feet. Early on, I was obsessed with hitting the best lines, and ran through puddles frequently. More puddles, wetter socks and shoes, and more dirt and grime on my feet. I abandoned that tactic after about 2 hours. It may sound stupid to be talking about puddles and how they can throw a wrench in your race, but going around them probably cost me a couple seconds each lap, too. Anyways, the bigger issue was that after 8 hours I knew my feet needed some fresh socks and shoes. The 3-hour downpour from hours 4 to 7 had subsided and a long stretch of limited rain awaited me. I ran through Mile 50 just over 7 hours, feeling great and still hitting my planned splits perfectly. But getting new shoes took FOREVER! My feet were sopping wet and there was dirt and sand stuck in between my toes. There was no point throwing new socks and shoes over dirty, wet feet, so I had to diligently clean and dry them first. And just like that, 8 minutes disappeared! 8 MINUTES! Ugh!

Since I was still feeling fresh and had just nailed my 50 Mile split, I wasn’t concerned.

Time eaten up by weather in the first 8 hours: 10 minutes


(The Bridge! The rain made for this slippery, inefficient turn all day long. Courtesy of Emmy Stocker.)

Gut:


TRIGGER WARNING: I’m gonna talk about pooping

My first 100 Mile race in 2015 was, by all accounts, a success. But I had to jump off the trail a half-dozen times in the final third of the race to go scratching in the woods. I likely gave up 20 minutes because of an upset stomach.

After that, I started taking Imodium before all long races. In the 18 or so hours before a race, I will take the recommended daily maximum. Roughly 20 to 40 miles into a longer race, enough pressure will build and I’ll need to poop, at which point I’ll generally take another 1 or 2 doses. That usually keeps my gut in check for the rest of the race. The process has become routine and predictable.

So I did the same thing before this race. And starting at roughly Mile 16, I felt the urge to poop. A little early, but whatever. Only, when I eventually tried to go, nothing happened. As time went on, the pressure and pain in my lower abdomen kept increasing, but I still couldn’t go. I periodically tried going to the bathroom in the hopes I could finally clear out my gut. When all was said and done, I tried pooping 6 times, and could never go. Instead, I wasted at least 10 minutes and kept getting more and more frustrated.

So what happened? Well, my initial urges to poop in a long ultra are typically coincident with a long downhill stretch of running. Bounding down a mountain shakes up my system and even though I dose up on Imodium, I can still count on enough downhill running to force me to go scratch in the woods. Only, 3DATF was perfectly flat, so no stomach jostling. I basically overdosed on Imodium because I didn’t account for how flat running might affect my stomach differently than mountain running.

Time eaten up by unsuccessful bathroom visits: 10 minutes

(Race schwag was a Marmot PreCip jacket. Serendipity! Photo courtesy of Yoshiko Jo.)

Nutrition/Hydration:


My nutrition plan was the same as always:
  • Bottles of Tailwind at a 200cal/20oz concentration, drinking around 16oz/hour
  • 100cal Huma gel every hour
  • random fruits, fig bars, PBJs, and potatoes to supplement whenever I had hunger pangs or low energy
Also, I’d have apple juice, ginger ale, tea, and chocolate milk lying around if I had a hankering. For the most part, the plan worked. I never felt that nutrition or hydration was an insurmountable problem.

I’d planned to swing by my table every 3-4 miles and grab a bottle. I pictured it like those road marathon races – effortlessly swinging by a table and grabbing my bottle. It was gonna be awesome!
With my table setup, the reality was that I had to put my table about 5 feet off the course, and the rain turned that 5' stretch into a muddy, slippery hell. Coming into and out of my aid station probably cost me 5 seconds each time. It adds up, but mile-by-mile it wasn’t noticeable, so I’m not going to claim this had anything to do with me giving up. Still frustrating though.

The rain kept me cool and I quickly realized I needed much less liquids than planned, which meant I had to supplement my calorie intake with more solids from the get-go. This probably contributed to my gut problems a little bit.

(My Aid Station, before the mud took over.)

Peeing:


I talked about pooping, so why not peeing?!

I overhydrated pretty quickly and felt the urge to pee entirely too often during the race. Normally I don’t pee much in the first 8+ of a race, but for 3DATF I struggled to make it 6-10 mile stretches before stopping. I did a good job adjusting my liquid intake accordingly, but the urges to pee never subsided. Usually, by the end of most 100 Mile races I’m reduced to peeing every 10-15 minutes for only a few seconds at a time because my bladder won’t stop feeling painfully full. On a trail, it’s irritating but not a big deal as it maybe slows me down by 1-2 minutes overall … maybe. But at 3DATF I either had to jump off course to hit up the restroom, or run completely off a good line to hit up a nearby tree. Each time I did that was a solid 10 seconds of unnecessary running. Again, it adds up, but it’s not noticeable in the splits so I won’t say it had any impact on my failure.

The Nail in the Coffin:


Like I said earlier, at 50 Miles I was doing great. I lost some time with a shoe change, but I never thought I wouldn’t be able to clear 155 miles.

As I started Mile 60, all was good. Legs were fine, nutrition was fine, and I was mentally in the game. A few minutes later, things got scary. I have no idea what happened, and I can’t figure any way to chalk it up to anything other than a random fluke of bad luck, but I felt like I got hit by a ton of bricks and immediately felt woozy and dizzy. I started uncontrollably weaving along the course. My legs felt dead – my muscles weren’t sore, it just seemed like my legs were incapable of moving. I looked at my watch and thought to make it to 62 miles so I could claim 100K in under 9 hours, but as I passed by my tent I knew I had to stop immediately.

It felt like I was suffering from vertigo, while drunk and tired.

I sat down, told myself I had plenty of time, and I just needed to take a break, down some food, and relax for a few minutes. Don’t press on until this gets sorted out first. I probably took in 800 calories – cookies, potatoes, fruit, Starbucks Frappuccino, PBJ, you name it – in under 10 minutes. I felt kind of silly. I kept picturing those old, beleaguered souls in pictures at Hardrock, etc., camped out in an aid station chair, looking totally wrecked and showing absolutely no pressing urge to start running again. BUT, sitting down and resting felt like it was just what I needed. After about 17 minutes, I hopped up and was on my way again.

For the next 10 miles my pace was exactly what I wanted and my legs felt great. The gut issue was still present, but felt manageable still. However, I kept getting distinct shifts in perceived effort. All of my miles were roughly the same pace, but one would feel like a breeze and the next would feel like I was racing a marathon, the next a breeze again, … At 70 miles I felt like I needed to stop again, hoping that would get the weird effort swings under control.

A little more than 10 minutes later and I was ready to run again. Only, I knew that I’d effectively bled 40 minutes in a mere 20 miles. Nearly all of my planned slack had disappeared.

158 miles, out the window. 155 miles, extremely unlikely. 153 miles? Only if I could right this ship, and fast.

The next 2 miles still didn’t feel quite right, so did a risk assessment and decided to abandon my goal of qualifying for Team USA.

Since my muscles still felt fine, I wanted to continue on to 100 miles, but without any rush. I passed by Pete Kostelnick, who was walking at the time, and decided that slowing to walk with him for a while was the perfect way to force myself to quit. From then on out, my woozy/dizzy spell never came back and my perceived effort slowly stabilized with the help of some more excessive rest breaks.

Who knows, if I had a crew maybe I would’ve been coaxed into pushing through, having a much shorter rest break, walking instead of sitting in a chair, whatever. But out there by myself, experiencing something I couldn’t explain that came out of nowhere, it rattled me and I opted to play it safe and not put my body on the line for something that had an increasingly small chance of working out.

Time eaten up by whatever the hell that was: 17+ minutes for one break, 30 minutes before throwing in the towel.

PostScript / Fun Fact: Dizziness is a symptom of Imodium overdose...

The Rest of the Run:


After I gave up, the rest of my run was rather enjoyable. No pressure, totally low key. I didn’t beat myself up or sulk. It was actually quite fun. I still hit the paces I had expected to hit when I ran, but I took extended breaks just for the heck of it, and chatted up some folks and walked whenever I wanted.

The final 25 miles I could tell my feet were suffering from maceration due to the wet starting conditions. That would’ve been rough to run through and try to hit 150+ miles. The rain picked back up after 13 or 14 hours, but was fun to run in with no pressure remaining to perform well.
I eventually finished my 100 miles in 15:57, and that includes the 70+ minutes of time I wasted. I had to do 101 to get a buckle, so I took my sweet time, got some tomato soup and a fresh grilled cheese sandwich, then walk-jogged that last mile. Afterward, I hung out around the main aid station, had a beer and a burger, kicked back, and relaxed. I took a shower, then headed to my car to log a few solid hours of sleep.

I woke up with maybe 2 hours left in the race, packed all of my stuff up, and then checked the standings. Somehow, with an hour left, I was still in 2nd place ... and they gave out awards to the top 3. And, there were 2 guys on their 101st lap, running together looking to overtake me. Convinced by Pete that I should go ask for my timing chip, I threw on some running gear and headed over to the timing station. The RD, Rick McNulty, happily obliged and I went off to run another 7 miles in less than an hour, ruining somebody’s day in the process!

(I'm such a jerk...)

 
Mulling it over the past few days, I’ve found no reason to regret bowing out. It’s probably for the best. The race conditions were less than ideal, my gut was oddly uncooperative, and that dizzy spell scared the crap out of me (well, I kinda wish it had…). I only ran 60 miles purposefully, so my legs aren’t in bad shape right now. Not trying to push through has probably given me back another 2 weeks of focused training. So now it’s on to a couple months of more enjoyable trail running to focus on Eastern States 100 in August … with the potential for an audible in mid-July to give this 24 Hour thing one more attempt.

Lessons Learned:


My race schedule is packed until the end of the qualifying window in December, but I might try to fit in a 24 Hour attempt one more time in July. If I do that, I’ve certainly learned a bit about what it’s going to take: 
  • Start out with less Imodium, or maybe none at all until I poop for the first time
  • Run on a track where my aid station table can be right on the course
  • Get a crew. I like doing things on my own, but with small margins for error, I need someone in my corner looking out for me as the race progresses
  • Stick with the pace plan I devised. It worked well for the first 50 miles and ignoring my excessive rest periods, it held up through 100 miles.


Additional thoughts:


  • There are few things in life as frustrating as having to zig-zag around a line of zombie-like multi-day runners multiple times every mile
  • Still not sure how my legs will handle flat racing after 100 miles
  • My quads and hamstrings weren’t sore after the run, but my achilles were stiff as hell and my ankles grew to the size of grapefruit
  • My body doesn’t feel wrecked at all, which is leading to unnecessary guilt while I indulge in my typical post-race Week of Crappy Eating



Monday, February 12, 2018

2018 ICY-8

To get the year started off right, I wanted to head back down to the ICY-8 race put on by Alex Papadopoulos at Lake Anna. While the race duration of 8 hours and roughly 50 miles is my least favorite type of ultra -- I just cannot figure out proper pacing in that type of race -- the format is one of my favorites. And the location provides a great opportunity for a weekend away in a cabin with the family, which is hard to pass up.

For those not in the know, ICY-8 is an 8 hour loop format trail race on painfully runnable trails. It comprises two separate loops that runners can choose from: an 8 mile long loop and a 4.7 mile short loop. You can run any loops you choose and in any direction you'd like, but you only get credit for whole loops. So it starts getting interesting around halfway through the race when you start paying attention to your pace and how much time remains to try and sneak in as much mileage as possible. And for those intent on pushing the limits, the fact that the short loop is actually around 0.3 miles longer than advertised -- for which you get no credit! -- further complicates things. ... And if you're curious ... yes, of course I have spreadsheets to figure out my best strategies!

I surprisingly won this race in 2016 and kind of figured I'd win it again this time around. But I just wanted to use it as a hard training run to kick-start my training to qualify for the 24 Hour Team USA. My objectives were pretty straightforward:

  1. Run a bit fast to start to tax my legs on the back end of the race
  2. Get the course record by running 56 miles -- 7 of the 8 mile loops
If I could nail 7mph on the trails in an 8 hour race, I figured that'd be a good indicator of how well I could handle that same pace during a pancake flat 24 hour race on asphalt.

Overall, the day went pretty well. The temp was in the teens to start, so I willingly satisfied the role of The Weirdo In Shorts to start the race. I took it out at a comfortable pace with an effort that was borderline unsustainable, just under 8minute miles for the first 3 hours. At one point I started deciding if I should stick with the 56 mile plan or go for broke and push it for 57.4 miles. A couple hours later I was feeling the effects of that pace and began doubting if I could even achieve 56 miles. On the penultimate loop I took a hard fall and my hamstring seized up, which took a couple of minutes to sort out. It was just enough to make me uncomfortable trying for 56 miles, so I instead walk-jogged a short loop to close out my day with 52.7 miles. I still took the win (and a voucher for a free pair of Altras!), but that was more of a consolation prize. It was a solid, hard training run that didn't leave my legs shredded and, despite not hitting my goal of 56 miles, it was a good indication that qualifying for the 24 Hour Team is well within the realm of possibility.


Here's a run-down of my race, loop-by-loop:

Loop One: The Fast Loop (0-8mi, 1:02)

I went out front immediately in an assertive yet comfortable pace. I let the miles come to me, trying to strike a balance between a maintainable pace and something closer to a 50K effort. After a few miles I fell into a groove hitting miles in the 7:30 to 8:00 range. In the last mile or two of the loop, I think I got a little excited and pushed it into the aid station a bit faster than I should have. A quick swap of bottles and I was back out in no-time.

Loop Two: The Why-Am-I-Still-Running-This-Fast Loop (8-16mi, 1:02)

68 minute loops would get me 56 miles, and I had wanted to start out with some 64 minute loops. So having come in just under 62 minutes the first time around, I made a point to dial back the effort. Or at least that's what I thought I was doing. The slight downhill grades and the flats felt completely effortless. And the next thing I knew, I had perfectly repeated the first loop's pace. I was feeling good and already had 12 minutes of slack in my game plan. But I was a little mad at myself for going another hour at a pace I knew was unsustainable.

Loop Three: The Poop Loop (16-24mi, 1:05)

I wanted this loop to be a more manageable pace, but halfway through and I was still chugging along at closer to 50K effort. Oops! Aside from a jump into the woods, it was a fairly unmemorable hour on the trails.

Loop Four: The Hubris Loop (24-32mi, 1:05)

I started loop four in the reverse-direction to compare with the previous loops. I don't typically like this direction as much because there more low-grade uphill miles -- I'd much prefer to climb a steeper hill for a minute than run a slight grade for a mile. Towards the end I started doing some math, figuring if I could knock out this loop and the next two in about 67 minutes each, I'd have a chance at 57.4 miles instead of 56 ... which course record should I go for today?!

Loop Five: The It's All Falling Apart Loop (32-40mi, 1:12)

I finished loop four on a high. I was 18 minutes up on even splits. All I needed to do was run 3 more loops at 75 minutes each. My previous 4 were all 65 and below. This was going to be a piece of cake!

Then the struggle began.

Instead of hovering right around 8:00 miles, I was around 8:30 consistently, and putting in quite an effort to stay under 9:00. Then I finally broke 9:00 on Mile 39. My spirits were crushed! I stumbled into the Aid Station at 5:26, with a loop that was nearly 1 minute per mile slower than the previous. With hands on my knees I took a look at Alex, the RD, and vocalized my fears: I don't think I can make two more loops!

I had 2:34 to complete 2 loops and 16 miles. 77 minutes per loop. 9:30 miles. It was still doable. Alex thought it'd be easy. But I had my doubts.

Loop Six: The Wheels Come Off Loop (40-48mi, 1:18)

I pushed on. But the slightest hill felt impossible to overcome. I stopped a few times in one mile to do some stretching and find an excuse to catch my breath in the hopes that'd jump-start my legs. It didn't work. 10 minute miles ticked by.

Halfway through the loop I had already racked up three 10 minute miles. If I could book the last few miles and manage to come in under 77 minutes, I'd be good. 77 minutes. 77 minutes. Just get this damn loop over with!

Then I caught a rock (bye bye toenail!) and flew through the air. I tried getting up and my right hamstring seized. I collapsed back to the ground. I tried using the other leg, but it too started to seize up. I rolled to my back and tried getting up from that position, but was again thwarted by the right hamstring. After managing to get my upper body up, I slowly tried reaching for my toes to stretch the muscles. When they felt good and ready, I rolled into a side plank and then a regular plank position, and delicately walked my hands to my feet with my knees locked. I was up! Finally! After a bit of hanging and stretching, I hobbled on down the trail.

Tenths of a mile ticked by. The loop would never end! Every time I tried to pick up the pace I felt a sting in my hamstring. I finally finished the loop, checked the clock, and bent over in exhaustion. There was no way I'd be able to squeeze in another long loop without going to the well.

Loop Seven: The Lazy Loop (48-52.7mi, 0:55)

If you run in the reverse-direction, the first 3.3 miles of the short and long loop overlap. It gives you more time to gauge your pacing to decide if you can cram in those extra long loop miles or if you need to pack your bags and bail. So I decided to push for 3.3 miles and see if I could overcome my failing muscles. But first ... I just had to walk the short, steep climb out of the Aid Station. It felt like a walk of shame. Oh, and an 11 minute mile .. fan-freakin-tastic!

My watch beeped at 49 miles and I realized if I kept pushing I'd be able to clear 50 miles in 7 hours, something I'd never done before. At 6:59:30 my watch beeped and I immediately slowed down. 50 miles in 7 hours was enough satisfaction for the day. I was done. 52.7 miles and a short loop for me!

I killed the time over the final miles walking and chatting up a couple of folks, and then picked it back up for the final mile or so ... at which point my legs felt infinitely better already! I rolled in just under 7:40. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was pretty damn close. All things considered, it was another fun day on the trails! On to Holiday Lake 50K in 2 weeks!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Another Year, Another Hellgate!

Special …  yes, that probably is the best way to describe Hellgate.

In my three short years of ultrarunning, I’ve run roughly 20 different events. Not one of them compares to Hellgate. It loses out on “favorite race” to Grindstone – which might cause some to question my ability to effectively judge the merits of a race – but when it comes to uniqueness, Hellgate takes the cake.

There’s no one solitary thing that gives Hellgate a leg-up on other races. It has solid, but not unwieldy, climbs. None of the descents are particularly excruciating. At times it has great, sweeping views. It’s a healthy mix of gravel roads, double-track, and single-track. Just an ordinary race, right?

But then you’ve got the 12:01am start. It’s likely the last race on everyone’s calendar after a year of hard training and running. Chances of showing up sick or injured, or both, are not insignificant. The weather is drastically different from one year to the next. The course tests enough different running skills that you’re bound to confront a weakness somewhere in those 66.6 miles. The volunteers, braving the elements, are the best you’ll ever come across. The limited entry gives the race a family feel – when you drive into Camp Bethel before the race and when you run in at the end, you’re coming home. And then there’s the leaves … oh god, the leaves … the endless piles of knee-high leaves hiding untold numbers of nefarious rocks.

It’s an agglomeration of characteristics, an equal share of wonderful and awful, all working to build you up, to break you down, to impart what some might describe as self-shadenfreude, and, perhaps, to leave you with the sense that, somehow, you will have left Camp Bethel with a better awareness of who you are as a runner, as a person. Hellgate is Horton’s gift to us all. Each year we think we know what we’re getting, what will be revealed when the wrapping paper comes off – joy, suffering, a bond with others, aching muscles, those damned leaves, and an incredible atmosphere. This year, I ended up with a bit more: humility, affirmation, self-reflection, and an eagerness for next year.

Enough with the poetic ramblings … on with the race report!


***DISCLAIMER: What follows is as close to brevity as I'm ever going to get.***


Anticipating 20 degree temps and up to a foot of snow, I opted for tights. I also opted to put on too many layers, nearly replicating my clothing choices from last year’s single-digit excursion. I didn't feel warm. Did I just make a stupid mistake?!

The race started and I immediately tagged along with Matt Thompson. I know he’s a better runner than me, but the handful of times I’ve started out with him, I’ve never felt overtaxed. I’d hoped John Andersen and Chris Miller would join us, but from the get-go I could tell John was more interested in hosting a social hour to start off the day, and I knew Chris would be somewhere nearby.

I ran in/around Matt and Frank Gonzalez for the early miles. The pace was comfortable, but I was not! Within 15 minutes I knew it was nowhere near 20 degrees … yet. I struggled to dig into my jacket and my long sleeve shirt to grab and peel off my arm warmers by Mile 3 – they were drenched in sweat. By the time we began Petite’s Climb I was stopping again to peel off my jacket and throw it in my pack. There could be snow and wind up at 3500’ where I could need it again, but at 1000’ it was just too much clothing. Once I was down to nothing but a long sleeved midweight I could feel the chill and the slight breeze perfectly modulate my body temperature. I was finally comfortable and it was time to get down to business!

I had splits for a sub-11:40 finish which I figured would require perfect trail conditions and a strong final third of the race. The slightest difficulty – snow, nutrition lapse, a rough section – and I’d have to pivot to a sub-12:00 goal. Early on, everything seemed to click. I was in the Top 5, my effort level felt manageable, and I was hitting the climbs with ease. I ran all of Petite’s and began gapping Frank as I made my way down to the Terrapin section of trail. At the bottom, I saw the trail continue on, but also a trail veer up and off to the right. I couldn’t spot any markers, so I stood around for about a minute until Frank caught up. We took a couple steps on the offshoot and saw a streamer in the distance, and we were back on our way!


(If I knew the pic would be this cool, I wouldn't have opted for a cheesy smile and thumbs up. Courtesy of Keith Knipling.)

I pulled ahead of Frank again going up the Camping Climb – those endless hours of 12% treadmill climbing were really coming in handy! Jordan Chang finally caught up and rapidly gapped me. I stopped for some quick power-hiking a couple of times, but for the most part it was run, run, run.

At the Camping Gap Aid Station I caught back up with Jordan and left ahead of him. I crested the climb and cruised along the grassy roads, frequently looking back, waiting for Jordan to catch up. Matt and Brad Revenis were well up on me, way out of sight. So I ran through the night alone in 3rd place. Near Mile 20, well into the climb up Onion Mountain I was caught by Paul Jacobs. Before we crested, I hopped off into the woods to take care of some business for a few minutes. Two more headlights streamed by. Just like that, I was in 6th place.

I finished the last few minutes of the climb, then headed down the rocky, technical Promise Land trail to the temporary Overstreet Creek Aid Station -- moved back from Headforemost because the Blue Ridge Parkway was shut down because of the storm … the storm that still hadn’t produced a single snow flake. I don’t like this stretch of trail in the daylight at the end of Promise Land, so I certainly did not enjoy it in the middle of the night.

At the Aid Station I caught up with Frank, who was one of the headlights that passed me a couple miles earlier, and quickly jumped ahead of him. As I rolled out of the station, I could hear John Andersen coming in – man is that guy chatty. I yelled that I wasn’t waiting for the two of them, but that they needed to catch up. I had imagined this race starting out with John and I running together, and hopefully trying to break each other on the climbs, so I was eager for him to catch up and start a stretch of hard, competitive running. But I felt good on the climb up Headforemost and their headlamps drifted off behind me more and more. I patiently chased a light ahead of me, no more than a minute up at times, but I never caught up.

I arrived at Headforemost, the ghost of an Aid Station, on my splits to the minute – 4:07. I was pumped! This is going to be a great day! The temps had dropped, the snow began to fall, and I was no longer concerned about ditching my tights at the next Aid Station. It was turning into a perfect night out on the trail!

Then things started to turn. A sense of nausea and a loss of appetite had been building for some time. I reached for my 4th Huma gel, gagged upon seeing that it was Chocolate, then just barely managed to gulp down an Apple Cinnamon instead. My nutrition plan was now on the verge of crumbling … and I still had over 40 miles of running left. Moreover, the newly falling snow was messing with my visibility and it was starting to give me a headache – light bounced off every snowflake and it was as if I were running through an endless parade of white confetti.

I managed to make good time on my descent into Jennings Creek while battling a whole-body fatigue trying to fight with the competing nausea and hunger pangs. My spirits were lifted when I miraculously made it through Miles 27.25 to 28 without getting lost for the first time in 3 years – the forest thins out and any hint of a trail all but disappears. But a mile later, on a rocky downhill I was startled by an owl, jerked my head around to look for a headlamp that wasn’t there, tripped on a rock, and went skidding down the trail. I tried to get up and buckled back to the ground. I gave up and laid there for at least a minute, with my head resting on a fluffy pile of leaves, waiting for John and Frank to come help me up. My knees took the brunt of it and a good deal of flexing and rubbing was needed to get back up and head down the trail. Surprisingly, I was still all alone when I worked my way back to a shuffle.


(Accurate recreation of my Jennings Creek fall.)

The final mile into Jennings Creek Aid Station, I spotted the guy in front of me and picked it up to an honest pace. Sophie Speidel and Annie Stanley helped me with my drop bag. I let them know I’d probably be puking when they saw me again in three hours, and then I was off. My pace was slow as I started the next climb while battling to down another gel.

Somewhere between Miles 30 and 40 I also became tremendously over-hydrated. I needed to down my Tailwind for calories, but it was cold enough that my body was hardly sweating and retaining too much liquid. Nearly every mile I had to stop and pee. At some point I found myself catching up with 4th place, who happened to be Nick Pedatella. I caught him over and over again, like the friggin’ Groundhog Day of running. Each time I’d catch him I’d immediately stop and pee. I can only imagine what he must have been thinking to have a competitor repeatedly catch up and back off – who the hell is this guy?!

I felt good climbing up Little Cove Mountain and ran the entire time. At one point I could see Nick making the turn to the Aid Station. I checked my watch and chugged along. 5 minutes elapsed by the time I got up there. I looked back down the mountain and didn’t see any other lights – John and Frank were at least 5 minutes back. I was in No Man’s Land.

The Aid Station was still getting set up when I arrived. I desperately needed calories and asked for potatoes. A dude handed me a whole potato, in foil, and freezing cold! Props to you, volunteer dude! The cold didn’t bother me, but I felt bad taking a whole damn potato, so I asked if we could cut it up to just take some of it. Fast forward through 2 minutes of an entire aid station digging around to pull out a pocket knife and I was back on my way with a handful of potato slices!

Still in the dark and still on my splits, I made good work of the smooth downhill before the Devil Trail. The snow continued to fall and I was overwhelmed with a sense of calm. Snow, trails, solitude … this is why I run!


(Jazz hands! Courtesy of Keith Knipling.)

My memory fails me, but if I hadn’t been catching up with Nick before, I certainly was now. Daylight came as we entered the den of thigh-high leaves that comprises the Devil Trail. I quickly found my rhythm, just like last year – slow the pace to a recovery jog effort and throw a little bounce into your step and you just might be nimble enough to make it out of the Devil Trail with only a handful of falls! Nick was a fish out of water and I blew past him.

I cruised into Bearwallow Aid Station a few seconds ahead of Nick, perfectly on my splits at 8:10. I was again assisted by Sophie, Annie, and others. Nick left ahead of me as I spent some time at the Aid Station, gathering up tater tots and freshly made cheese quesadillas. I was way down on my calories and this did wonders for my spirits. I was ready to blast through the final 20 miles!

… Then I started up the climb out of Bearwallow...

I don’t think this climb has a name. It needs one. I’m gonna start calling it Horton’s Revenge. I always forget how long it is – 2 miles and 1000’ of climb – and how technical it can be. Instead of cruising and catching up with Nick, he climbed well out of my sight. The snow and rocks and leaves were killing me. I couldn’t get traction. I couldn’t make progress. I was grinding to a halt. Most long ultras will present at least one major challenge … this climb was mine … and I wasn’t doing a very good job of overcoming it.


(Gonna go out on a limb and guess this is right at the low point of my race. Courtesy of Keith Knipling.)

Close to the top of the climb I looked back to find John Andersen’s smirking face. If I didn’t let out an F-bomb, I was certainly thinking it. How the hell did he catch me?! I wasn’t going to just stop and let him catch up, so I drove on. I hit my stride through the ins-and-outs along the mountainside – it’s my favorite stretch of trail on the entire course ... smooth, flowing, runnable, with tremendous valley views (that is, if you're not bogged down in a cloud of snow). Things began to look up. Moreover, I had somehow dropped John entirely.

I rolled into Bobblet’s Gap Aid Station as they were still getting set up, so they had no food (potatoes) to devour. I dilly-dallied to let a volunteer help me grab some PB crackers out of my pack so I could get some calories in. As I started to leave, I saw John approaching. I checked my watch and did some math. It was 9:31. I probably lost 10+ minutes on that climb! I was trucking it to the finish at this point last year and it still took me 2:30 from Bobblet’s to Camp Bethel. I just had a terrible climb in the snow, calories were becoming a problem, hydration was a mess. If the next few miles of trail had snow, it would take a Herculean effort to break 12:00, never mind the now impossible 11:40. So I waited for John to sort himself out and then blurted out: “I’m not sure we can make it in under 12. Wanna just run in together?” He happily obliged.


(Trying to calculate my finishing time at Bobblet's Gap.)

Now let’s rewind for a sec…

Remember when I said it took me 2:30 to complete the final stretch last year? Well that’s what I thought at the time. I was too mentally defeated to pull out my time sheet from my pocket which had last year’s splits written on it. And so I made the terrible error of thinking I might not make it in under 12:00. In reality, I covered the final miles in 2:20 last year. I was literally 1 minute per mile faster through 50 miles and if I’d just maintained last year’s pace at the end, I could’ve finished in around 11:50. But my memory failed me and I messed up my math. I’m an idiot!

Anyways, back to it…

The Ultra Duo who shared literally 100+ miles in races last year was finally back together! All it took was abandoning all competitive desires and, well, kind of just giving up on life for a little while.

We jogged through the Forever Trail, walking entirely too much of the inclines. At one point, Frank came barreling through. I briefly had a mind to pick up the pace and run with him – I’d give my odds of being able to keep pace at better than 50/50 – but my spirits were broken … I’d abandoned all hope of a sub-12, and at that point a 12:01 meant the same to me as a 12:31 just so long as I didn’t slip out of the Top 10. And so, Frank disappeared into the distance and I sauntered on with John.

Jaunting into the final Aid Station, I had more than enough supplies to make it the next hour to the finish – I’d consumed maybe 10 ounces of liquid in the past 2 hours, still trying to fend off over-hydration. So I was well stocked up. But I stopped to stick with John, who wanted some soup. I don’t drink soup during races, I think it’s weird. But I asked for some because I was done caring about this race. The muscles were fine, the mind and spirit were toast. Another runner came right on through and both John and I just shrugged our shoulders and kept standing around.


¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(What's that? Somebody's passing me? Meh...)


We eventually left, and did our best to keep to our promise of walking Every. Damn. Step. of the final climb. There were a couple short spurts of jogging in there, but we were largely successful in Operation: Maximize the Laziness.

At the top of the climb, yet another runner passed us. I had slipped from 4th to 8th/9th in 17 miles. Ouch! My legs felt good so I tried to run just behind him. John wasn’t keeping up, but was doing his best to ward off any other runners coming by. I eventually took over the dude in front of me, but firmly let him know I wasn’t in the mood to drag race -- if he could keep up, there’d be no race to the line from me.

My legs turned over faster and faster. I was nearing sub-6 effort as I hopped onto the road that would take me down to the camp. In the distance I saw the guy who passed me at the final Aid Station, so I picked it up even more and quickly overtook him. My watch beeped: a 6:02 mile. I maintained the effort with surprising ease and cruised into the finish in 12:21 for 6th place and an 18 minute PR. Not bad for practically walk-jogging the final third of the race.



Hellgate demands introspection and self-examination. Am I satisfied with this year of running? Where have I improved and where have I fallen short? What weaknesses in my skillset has the course exposed? Where will I find motivation for next year and what goals shall I set for myself?

So, am I satisfied with how Hellgate went down this year? Yes. And no. ... And that’s okay.

The first 8 hours of the race I performed EXACTLY how I expected … I put myself into a position to achieve what I knew I was capable of achieving. More so than a great finishing place or a competitive race, I run to seek affirmation of my abilities, to test myself, to know myself, to gauge where I am as a runner, where I came from, and where I might soon go. And the first 47 miles of Hellgate gave me exactly that.

On the other hand, I just plain gave up at the end. I hit one snag in the race and refused to put in the effort to right the ship. Instead, I sought comfort in complacency and a companion to drag down with me. Don’t get me wrong, sharing trail miles was great, and I don’t regret it this time around … but I was in a reinforcing duo of despair, and the next time John and I cross paths I’d rather agree to gut it out and push each other to the edge of our abilities. We’re too talented to ask anything less of ourselves.

All told, I left 30 minutes on the course after Mile 53 compared with last year, to say nothing of the time lost climbing Horton’s Revenge. I should have finished under 12:00. I should have been in 3rd place, or even 2nd, at the end of the day. But I wasn’t. All because I couldn’t adapt to a little curveball and I refused to embrace and tap into what limited competitive drive I have. So next year I’ll be training harder, getting faster, and working on harnessing a more competitive spirit. If I can ho-hum my way to a 6th place finish at Hellgate, I owe it to myself and to everyone else toeing the line with me to suck it up, grit it out, and embrace a more competitive attitude.