Friday, December 28, 2012

The importance of bad runs

The illusive "terrible run" is not as uncommon as I would like. Sunday was the epitome of a terrible terrible run. Sometime's I know what went wrong and sometime's I don't. In this case, I have no idea why everything broke down the way it did. Well, that may not be entirely true. I didn't fuel right. I had done runs like that before where I go out with less than I should have so that I train my body to run more efficiently on less and tap into my fat reserves sooner. Usually, I just bonk earlier, get though it and by the end I'm tired but nothing is actually painful.

Not the case on Sunday. My 27 mile run ended up being a 20 mile run, one mile shuffle, and a 6 mile hike/death march. It was an out and back course I set for myself and on the way back I came to a field and took a break. The day had started out very cold and windy and overcast. Just an overall grey day, perhaps that helped with my misery. By halfway through the run, the weather hadn't changed any except the clouds had dissipated. When I reached the field on my way back I didn't want to run anymore. I didn't want to walk anymore. I've had times where I've felt rough on runs but I'm not sure I have ever felt this bad. My feet felt like they were being beaten by mallets even if I walked. My legs wouldn't function at all in any sort of forward motion.

I just found a grassy spot away from any prickers and I lay down and stared at the clouds. It was warmer being level with the ground. I found solace from the wind among the tall grasses. I wasn't far from the trail but just looking up, I could have been anywhere. The sky was as blue as it had ever been and it reminded me of the bluebird days in Colorado right after a massive snow storm when everyone is in a good spirits and there's more than enough powder to go around. Staring up, even though wind is invisible, the effects of it are quite perceptible. Stray leaves danced around, following the drafts and truly riding the brisk breeze. I stared silently and so intently, I swore I could see the streams of air flowing. Planes littered the sky, largely due to my proximity to Dulles airport. And their contrails told stories of where they had been and the places they were going. It seemed like everything was moving quickly by air travel, the leaves, airplanes and stray objects of the woods. Except for me.

I was dry by this time. It had been awhile since I had stopped sweating. Though, I'm still not sure whether it was due to dehydration or the lack of quick moving. Probably a bit of both actually. After a little while, I'm not entirely sure how long, I decided I had had enough of everything flying around my motionless hollowed out corpse and I figured I should probably get up before I got too cold. As I got up, my imprint in the grass stayed like an inviting bed, and all comfort left me. The last miles were going to be hard. I knew that but I decided not to care about anything except making it back to the car. It was a classic run-turned-hike and I had come to the conclusion that I should just enjoy it as a hike instead of be disappointed that it wasn't a run.

My mentality changed everything. I had been discouraged because I was doing so horribly but once I didn't care, it was great. I was able to see parts of the Bull Run-Occoquan trail that I hadn't before or at least not in a long time. I realized that you can see parts of the trail that you can't in the summer from farther away. Hiking is also a very important part of long distance running. If you're in the mountains, sometimes the fastest "runner" out there is the one that can power-hike the fastest. It saves energy, and is often more efficient on the super steep stuff. Though there may not be anything on the Bull Run Trail that is close to the mountains, a little hiking practice never hurts.

The wind didn't ease up so I was still quite chilly because I was dressed to run but overall it turned into a beneficial day based solely on how I perceived what I was 'supposed to be doing' out there. Perception is what I took away from this not-quite-as-horrible-as-I-thought "run."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Recovery week

Recovery from a race is not something I'm too keen on. That might be because I'm usually amped up for one reason or another after a race. I either did horribly at the race and I'm angry with myself for not training for it and I start hammering it soon after and it takes me forever to recover. OR I do well at the race and I'm stoked to see what I can do if I keep training. This may very well work for some people, Karl Meltzer for example. Then again, I am not Karl Meltzer.

This time, after Hellgate, I decided to take it easy. I took a couple of days off, went to the Wednesday night fun run at Potomac River Running (which has been a habit for quite some time and we've got a good group of people), did a little light running of my own and caught up on some things that I'd been neglecting. On this past Saturday Katie and I went to visit Great Falls. It's pretty sweet and I'd only been twice before. Once in 5th grade when I was doing a project on "locks" (you can see that published in the library of congress...just kidding), and once a couple years ago to work an aid station for The North Face 50 mile race. Both cases, we didn't do a whole lot of exploring and so I was glad we were able to go back.

The Falls are an interesting place because while there are trails that meander around the park, the real fun is on the rock scrambles. And of course, Katie couldn't stay off the rocks, so I followed suit. So much for a nice easy hike...

Rock scramble, cliffs...what's the difference?                                  Katie getting her scramble on.

The required long-arm-picture in which none of the actual Falls are present. 

Sunday I got very antsy and needed a good run longer than 6 miles. I was good all week and didn't push it hard or run even remotely fast. So Sunday, I indulged. I was going down to Fredericksburg to help my friend Mitch with some of his trees and wanted to hit the old Fredericksburg Quarry trails beforehand. The trail leaves the parking lot and is a flat gravel road for awhile then you start the loop when you turn left up the hill. Basically, the first half is spent running up and down the hill and the second half running along the flat trail along the river back to the start of the loop. 

I decided to go for a double loop and the run went much better than expected aside from the sloppy conditions thanks to the recent rain. I was able to run hard all day even though I was clearly not a hundred percent after last week. Overall, good day, good run, good week. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hellgate 100k 11:41:30 5th place

Well, this is Hellgate. I got this elevation chart from someone, I don't remember where but I like it. So whoever made it, good job. Not sure what the yellow dots are on the course though, they don't seem to match up with every aid station. 

It's an interesting race and I'm more than happy I came back this year for it. I'm even more happy that this year I trained a little bit for it as opposed to thinking "eh, it's just a 100k." This race is the brain child of course masterminds Dr. David Horton and Clark Zealand. And what an awful disgusting child this thing turned out to be. And while it is a nasty course (in every sense of the word), I loved every second of it...well, almost every second.

This year was the 10th year of the race. And after finishing it for the first time, I humbly take my hat off to the gruesome group of masochists who have finished that race for their 10th finish.

That being said, this year there were also quite a few fast guys expected to do well. Eric Grossman, the previous course record holder was going to be racing and, according to Horton, trying to break 11 hours. Which is unreal for this course. With Eric in the race, along with several local (and not so local speed demons such as Alister Gardner, and Troy Shellhamer) and previous winners and top 3 races like Frank Gonzalez, Darryl Smith and Chris Reed, and Keith Knipling it was going to be a fast year...especially with the unseasonably warm temperatures.

The race starts at 12:01 am on December 8th. And just like I expected, about 15-20 guys bolted from the start. Normally I would've tried to keep up with them, but that day, I just relaxed and wanted to run the way I wanted to run. I just stayed in my own head, didn't count people in front of me, didn't worry about a thing. I just breathed. Because it was dark, my world was a small section of woods. There were no visual distractions. I smelled dead leaves and damp ground. On the :30 minute mark, I smelled apple cinnamon before I took a quick gulp of apple cinnamon Hammer Gel. Before I knew it we had arrived at the first aid station and began the first ~3 mile climb up the gravel road to the second aid station.

A sizable pack ran up ahead and they were charging. I let them go and made myself a part of the 10 ft diameter bubble that I could see. I smelled more dead leaves and the occasional breeze that smelled unseasonably sweet. Another :30 minutes, and more apple cinnamon. I kept running up the first climb not paying attention to anything in particular. Just running and smelling. Up the switchbacks I could glance and see the pack up ahead still 10 or so deep with a few stragglers off the back who maybe had been a little ambitious to try to stay up with Grossman and the others. Behind me there was a long string of LED lights bobbing along, some slower than others: walking. I never let myself feel uncomfortable. I glanced up and saw the millions of stars. I don't get that in Fairfax.

Before I could ask, where's the aid station, I had arrived. I saw my friend, Tara who was crewing for me, switched my gel flask, and hand bottle and kept running. Less than 10 seconds. She had only crewed for one other person, but she was very efficient. From there, I started running down a single track rocky trail. I was in heaven. I quickly caught up to two people as we entered the cloud. The clouds seemed to be caught in the valleys because as we ran down, it got progressively foggier. The visibility was under 15 feet, then again, it wasn't much more than that anyway. I still never let myself get uncomfortable, and never stopped running.

Shortly after the 3rd aid station I came across someone I knew was much faster and thought maybe I should slow down, but didn't feel like I was pushing, so I didn't slow down. I smelled more dead leaves and smelled cold water. I heard the stream/creek running next to the road we were all running up and was happy we didn't have to get our feet wet this year if we didn't have to. My friend Darryl caught up after a quick bathroom break and we had a rather enjoyable time running up the road. I smelled a campfire about 5 minutes before we arrived at the 3rd aid station, Camping gap. Soon after, I left Darryl and kept running. I didn't know what was going on, but I didn't feel like I was putting very much effort into this race so far.

They moved the third aid station up a little bit lengthening the already long section going to Headforemost Mountain. I ate some potatoes with salt at the aid station thinking it would be good to get something besides gel in my stomach, but soon after the aid station, I lost them. No harm no foul, I kept running. I never expected the next aid station to come, I just kept going and kept going, in and out of the clouds. Every now and then a sweet smelling warm breeze would arrive and I'd pull up the sleeves on my Smartwool baselayer and be quite comfortable. Then, I'd descend another mountain, get cool, smell more dead leaves, enter another cloud, pull the sleeves down and still be very comfortable.

Every now and then, I'd take a physical inventory of all my systems. Feet, comfy and issue free like normal, knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck, head, how's my form, how's my heart rate, am I tired, is it time to eat, when's the last time I took a sip of something?  Everything checked out, so on I ran.

Headforemost mountain passed, and I caught someone else. While running down a grassy fire road soon after passing my friend Frank, I stopped briefly to irrigate the side of the mountain. I got very confused for a second and forgot whether I was running down or up at the time. So I started running up. It was only a minute or two until Frank came barreling down the trail in normal "Frank the Tank" fashion. "Patrick, what're you doing? Everything okay?" After he assured me he was going the right way, I followed suit and descended into Jennings Creek.

Jennings Creek past, and I turned down warm eggs, sausage, and bacon. I kept running. The climb up to Little Cove mountain last year was quite literally a death march. My vision was blurry, my legs would barely walk, and I was more focused on not passing out so I could just get to the aid station to drop out properly rather than having some random car scrape me off the road or having the next racer drag me up to the top.

Little Cove Mountain came soon after smelling the camp fire and unlike last year, it was dark and I didn't feel like I was going to die; nor did I want to. This was the first time I let Tara and Brian tell me what place I was in. 4th. Grossman and Shellhamer were 15 minutes up, and I didn't honestly think I could catch them, but to know that they were only 15 minutes up at mile 34 or 37 (I'm not sure anyone actually knows) felt pretty good. With fresh batteries I headed into the next rocky section.

About 40 minutes after Little Cove, the sun came up. I was up on a ridge and it was all I could do to not stop and just stare at the scenery and beauty that was unveiling itself minute by minute. I could see the neighboring peaks and ridges but no valleys. They were shrouded in a very inviting-looking pillow of clouds. The sun cast a shadow on the ridges accentuating their steep inclines and the ruggedness to this region of Virginia was undeniable at this point. I missed this last year.

I was taking glances, wishing I had iguana eyes so I could focus on the trail and the scenery at the same time. Then I slammed the ground hard. Oh, it felt magical not to be running even if just for a second. I took a deep breath and thought for a minute if I could just take a quick little nap. Then I remembered it was a race and got up and kept running.

Then came the rocks. I've run on rocks before. These rocks were different; they were sharp and pointy. I've run on sharp and pointy rocks before. But these rocks were different; they weren't attached to the ground and rolled when I stepped on them. I've run on sharp and pointy rocks that rolled when I stepped on them. But these rocks were covered in about a foot and a half of leaves that hid the sharp and pointy rocks that rolled when you stepped on them so even if you knew what you were doing, running this section sober would be no different than going down it blind folded after doing several shots of moonshine. It wasn't a question of if you'd turn an ankle and strain a knee, it was whether or not you'd break an ankle and tear every ligament in your knees. David Horton is a horrible horrible man!

So horrible in fact, I may or may not have been compelled to strangle him when I saw him at the next aid station. Regardless, at Bearwallow gap, I picked up Brian, my pacer and on we went. I was tired now. I hadn't done much walking up to that point but I may have walked a bit more from here on in. I still just tried to run the run-able sections and do my best on the others. The scenery continued to be breathtaking but my frustration grew as I became more tired. Every bend in the trail looked like it could lead to the aid station, at Bobblett's gap and after a long while, we did. I changed my shirt and kept moving. We only had the long section (called the "forever section") into Day Creek and then one more sizable climb, and a long descent into the finish.

The forever section lived up to its name. Though, I think I figured out why. Everything looks the same!! Everything! The only defining characteristic of this part of the race is that it's FOREVER! There's no big defining climb! There's no big defining descent, just constant up, down, up, down! But, alas, during this section Chris Reed caught me. He looked fresh. He sort of hopped along the course like a wild rabbit. It was poetry in motion. I was jealous.

Brian and I rolled into Day Creek and began the final climb. I ran what I could, hiked what I had to, but all in all I think the climb went well. It's somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3 mile climb and we did it in 32 minutes. From there, we ran down. My knee hadn't bothered me all race, but I think we may have been a little excited for the finish and started bombing the descent because my left knee started aching. It stopped as soon as I finished, and hasn't hurt since, so I think I'm in the clear.

We rolled into the finish line and the clock read 11:41:30 and I finished in 5th place. In every other year that time would've been good enough for top three, and a few years good enough for first. But there was some good competition this year.

This is the quaint finish line - Great group of people, great race, great atmosphere. Great day.

Thank you Tara and Brian for your excellent crewing!

Also, if you could say a prayer for Dr. Horton, he has bypass surgery today. Hard to believe someone with his athletic background could need it but he does.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A student of the game

I'm starting to realize how little I actually know about running.

Over my few years of running I have started to read more about everything pertaining to running. And aside from the overwhelming amount of contradictory information out there, I've come up with a central theme. "No one knows what's going on." 

I've read everything from, "how to win running 200 mile weeks" to "less is more." From, "Paleo high protein is the best," to "vegan is the healthiest," to "gluten free." And once you have your diet "in check" not all of it matches up with what you should be eating as an athlete. That seems to throw a wrench in the mix! There are arguments on continuing to do what humans have done for thousands of years and new technologies and studies that prove we should change something.  

Debates between eating only gels during a race, and pigging out on pizza at aid stations. And I haven't limited it to books either. I've researched magazines where Runner's World gives you the benefits of running with a 12-14 mm drop super cushioned shoe and reading about the shoes with 40 mm of cushioning, to Running Time's articles exploring the science behind minimalist footwear. Exploring the differences in every kind of cushioning system known! From foam to gel to springs to wave plates to rubber to fluid to air to recycled tires. I've talked to people asking what they use as hydration during a race and have witnessed heated debates over the superiority of hand bottles over packs with a bladder. Every gel pack claims it's the premier choice because of the protein ratio or because it's organic or gluten free or because it uses a special hornet extract...seriously. They extract it from hornets?? Where's Mike Rowe for that dirty job? That one costs about $70 for a pack of 12 or 20. I'd love to try it but there is no way I can afford to fuel my runs with something that costs that much. 

The information out there is dizzying. And I haven't barely scratched the surface on what each one does and how everyone has the "science behind it." (Though the science behind the 35 year China Study on the effects of animal products on your diet are very influential and largely conclusive.) I also have to admit that I'm slightly disturbed by the amount of scientific studies that take into account...well, nothing. They focus on one thing and when they find the answer they publish it and make sweeping generalizations that make no sense at all. Slap some big-name school on it, and all of a sudden, you have a reliable source? 

How is anyone supposed to wade through all of this and pick out the few things that actually work? 

My conclusion after doing all this reading/research throughout the years: 

Think for ourselves and try it all and see what works for us. We're all different, what may be the "magic potion" that works for one person, might be another persons "nature call" during a race. Easy as that I guess.

This year of racing was not quite what I'd hoped for. And quite honestly, since Grindstone in 2011, I don't feel like I've had a race I felt good about. It's easy to say, "well, I've had a lot going on, and I'm still sorting things out." But at a certain point you just have to hold yourself accountable and say, "yep, I didn't put in the work. I just haven't done all I can to run strong for this race." Though, I think now that I've done some homework, I can start over and run like myself.  

Oh yea, and powerline trails rule. Ridgeline to ridgeline.