Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pride

I had my proudest moment as a runner this past weekend and it had nothing to do with my running performance.

Every year at the end of April my local running club puts on the Pike’s Peak 10k. They close down the Rockville Pike and several thousand people run down the fast, flat course. Because it is fast, and has a pretty good purse, it draws some very fast runners (East Africans and other sub-30 minute runners). There is also a huge festival with pizza, bagels, doughnuts, music, kids’ games and fun runs. I have run this race every years since I started running and had already paid the entry fee, so when I woke up on Sunday with a head cold I decided to just suck it up and do the best I could. I ran from our house to the start (about 5 or 6 miles), did some light stretching and lined-up for the race. I felt horrible from the start and had a real hard time breathing with my congested sinuses. I knew the 5:15 pace was too fast, so I slowed down and pushed through. I ended up running in about 35 minutes flat, which looks better than how I felt.

Afterwards, I met Anne and the boys at the Festival, where Logan had signed up to do the kid’s run. We had quite a bit of time to wait and Gavin (the 2 year-old) started getting cranky, so we walked across the street to the brand new Rockville Whole Foods. I could spend all day at Whole Foods. After some shopping and “samples” tasting, Logan and I headed back to the Festival to get ready for his run. He had the choice of running the 50 meter sprint or the 1K. Wanting to be like dad, he chose the longer distance. This meant we had about 30 minutes to wait while they did “heats” for the 50 meter runners. Logan, in true Ultrarunner fashion, took this opportunity to down a slice of Potomac Pizza!

After polishing off some pizza, Logan went through a string of active stretching (or close to it), which I am assuming he learned from watching me get ready for a race. We lined up at the start with a bunch of other 4-8 year-old's and a good mix of parents, who would serve as pacers and ensure that the kids don’t run over each other. They started the race and we were off. I ran next to Logan as he sprinted through the crowd. I tried offering some advice: “save some energy for the final kick” but I don’t think he really understood or cared. He was simply running and having fun. We reached the turn around and his little face was bright red. I asked if he was OK and needed to slow down and he said “no, this is fun.”  As we approached the finish line he went into an all-out-sprint and gave me a big “high-five” as he crossed the finish line in just over 6 minutes (not too bad for a 4 year-old). Afterward, he had me grab another slice of pizza, but this one he would eat later because he was too exhausted:)

Seeing my son run made me very proud. It was very exciting to run with him and see the look on his face as he crossed the finish line. He didn’t care about splits, heart rate, or pacing. He simply enjoyed running. There is something very wholesome about it, and it reminded me of why I started running to begin with. It is very freeing and one of the most natural things we can do. Just go outside, run and enjoy it. It is not that I do not enjoy competition, and I am interested in all the stats and science that comes with the sport. However, when you strip everything out, I am just the little kid out there with a beat-red face - running, living in the moment and enjoying life. That is what my son reminded me of and it was special to see that spirit in him – that is what I would call my proudest moment as a runner!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Potawatomi - DNF

My bad luck in 100 mile races continued last weekend. After taking a nasty fall at Bel Monte two weeks earlier my knees were still slightly bruised and sore, but my muscles felt good so I figured I would be OK. I took it fairly easy the week before the race; trying to ensure that I was as healed as possible. There was also a lot of outside stress heading into the race (looming government shutdown, term papers due, etc.), and I was looking forward to not thinking about this for a good 20 hours or so out on the trails. 

The race started out at 6 AM, just after a thunderstorm swept through adding some fresh mud to a course that is known for mud. The first 10-mile loop was quite sloppy and it was hard to avoid a "butt-slide" on several of the 13 hills on the course. I found the mud here much different than the mud out east. This was actually clay and instead of sticking and sucking you feet in, you slipped and slid around (doing whatever you could to remain upright). The first loop was a little fast at around 1:30 and the top three runners in the 100 miler where all within a couple minutes of each other. I decided to slow down a little on the second loop and it was rather enjoyable. The sun had come out and the early morning mist was rising as the temperatures started heating up. 

I finished loop 2 closer to the 1:40 mark, and Anne and the boys had arrived to brighten my mood. I downed a bottle of Ensure and headed back out, still feeling pretty good at this point and running in second place - just a few minutes off the lead. About half-way through this loop I hit a really down point. I started feeling pain in my knee and had a hard time being positive. I came in after the third loop in around 1:40 again and told Anne how crappy I was feeling. She quickly made me eat as much food as I could stomach, and feeling a little better, I went back out for loop 4.

Coming down the second hill of the loop the pain in my knee started becoming intense. The pain was right on the bone, where I had hit it on a rock at Bel Monte. The rest of this loop consisted of a struggle to find a way to run that didn't cause pain. It had also climbed to about 80 degrees - a very warm spring day in the Midwest.  I had slowed a bit and the third place runner had caught up to me. As I came to the end of the loop, I had a noticeable limp in my gait. Anne immediately asked what was wrong. We discussed what to do for a few minutes. My muscles still felt good, my time was good, but my knee was hurting bad and I would be running "funny" for the next 60 miles, which is an invitation for injury. The choice became head out and risk an injury and possible DNF later or stop now and make sure I heal up properly (I was not thinking that clearly at this time, so any logic thoughts a credited to my caring wife, who knows me better than I know myself). 

A couple minutes later I informed the race director that I would be dropping. His initial reaction was "you are in the top three and only a few minutes back," but then when I showed him my swollen knee he understood. I then laid down in the grass for awhile; emotionally upset for DNFing and trying to convince myself that I have to take the "ups" with the "downs" in this sport. We then went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day letting the kids play outside and enjoy the wonderful weather. 

Lessons learned: Take care of your body. Pushing the limits is necessary in ultra running, but everyone does have limits. Running a 100 miler two weeks after a 50 may not have been a smart idea to begin with, but trying to run it after an injury (even if not exactly running related) is borderline stupid. Now I need to heed my own advice and ensure that I am fully healthy and prepared to run MMT next month. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bel Monte 50 Miler - The Art of Falling

This past weekend I ran in the Bel Monte 50 Miler in Sherando Lake, VA. It is known as a rather difficult course with a lot of climbing and a good mix of trail from very rocky/technical to runnable jeep roads. I decided to run this race last minute, as the timing of this race did not fit very well into my schedule, but I really wanted to get some time out in the mountains to help prepare for MMT in May. My legs were a little tired from the heavy training/racing I have been doing, but I still felt pretty good.

On race morning, Anne and the boys drove me to the start and then went back to the hotel to get some additional rest. As we waited for the race to start I found Brad, who was running and would win the 50K, at the front of the start line. I knew that one really fast runner, Mark Lundblad, would be running and also found out that another very good runner, Brian Rusiecki from Massachusetts was running. My plan was to start conservatively and if I felt good start pushing later in the race; finish in under 8 hours and hopefully compete with Mark and Brian. This plan would not pan out...

As we started out into the early morning twilight, I was running with a group of runners behind Mark and Brian that included Brad and Amy Lane, Brian's girlfriend who is also a very accomplished runner and would win the women's 50k. Within the first mile I took my first fall. It wasn't that bad and I was able to crack a joke about it and keep moving. This was my first race wearing Montrail's Rouge Racers, which provide more comfort than my normal MT 101s, they do not allow me feel the ground the same way, so I think I had not yet adapted to running in this shoe. Everything was going well through our first climb up Bald Mountain. I was still running with Brad, the sun was coming up and I was only a couple minutes behind the leaders. As we began descending Bald Mountain we hit a very rocky section of a pseudo jeep road. This is where I would fall a second time and it would not be as pleasant as the first. I hit both my knees on the rocks and then rolled several feet down the trail. I popped up and kept moving; deciding to assess things as I moved along. I had several cuts and quite a bit of knee pain. I decided to calm down, slow down and just keep moving to get through it.

I felt really bad for about the next 2+ hours. There was a very good runnable section of the course and I was able to run, but my knee was not letting me get into a good rhythm and I was moving much slower than I would like. One thing I have learned is that if you just keep moving, no matter how slow, things eventually do get better. As I was climbing Bald Mountain the second time I saw Mark and Brian coming back down and looking strong, running neck and neck. At this point I was at least 30 minutes back and knew that with my banged up knee there was no way I was going to be able to gain any ground.

Coming down Bald Mountain I started feeling better and was running along and just enjoying the beautiful course. At this point, I had quite trying to push myself and just focus on enjoying the day. As I came in to an aid station around mile 37 the volunteers told me how good I looked and I was only about 15 minutes back from the guy in 3rd. However, I had to climb Bald again and knew I would have to hike as my knee was throbbing at this point. Despite the pain the rest of the run was rather enjoyable and I was able to really take in the scenery and the views, which you don't appreciate as much when you are racing.

I made it to the finish line in a little over 8 and half hours. Slower than I had wanted to run, but still considered a good time on this course. My muscles felt pretty good after the race, but my knees, back and elbow were pretty beat up. I had multiple bruises and cuts and it took a few days for my knees to start feeling "normal" again. It was a good experience though. Last year I am not sure I could have dealt with the adversity and the extremely low points I went through in this race and I am glad that I stuck it out. I feel much better prepared from a mental standpoint for running 100 miles.

One final note - Bel Monte is a great race. The course is challenging and very scenic, and Gill and Francesca keep things well organized. Gill was on the course throughout the day and was there to shake your hand at the finish line. The aid stations were fully stocked and the volunteers were attentive and supportive. I may come back to run UROC (they are putting it on in September); it looks like it is going to be one of the most competitive races of the year.