Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Prose and Pacing

My wife told me I need more creative prose. My PhD advisor told me to be more direct. Ah, the life of the man caught in the middle. It’s funny how life becomes so segmented…

I logged a lot of solo miles this week – all except Thursday’s mile repeats with Steve (and I’ll complain about that later) and ten miles with Star on Sunday. I’ve spent so many miles with others lately that I had forgotten how much I enjoy being alone on the trails with my thoughts. I also realized how lousy I am at pacing…and I realized this extends beyond running.

I took Monday off to recover a bit from the Grindstone training weekend. Tuesday I wanted to get up to High Banks, but due to time constraints settled for a run on the bike trail, which is just a stones throw from where I park each morning. This was intended to be a nice and easy 8-miler, but every time the Garmin beeped I had logged a mile 15 seconds faster than the previous. I even tried to slow down, but somehow kept speeding up. I even stopped and did a bunch of push-ups and sit-ups to tire myself out, but when I started running again I was still speeding up. Like I said, I’m really bad at pacing.

Wednesday I left the lab a bit early and hit the treadmill to hike 3.5 miles at a 15% incline. Following this I entered into the weight room for the first time in forever. It felt strangely familiar and comforting…the floor to ceiling mirrors, the smell of iron, the guys with bulging arms, the scrawny kid looking completely out of place...oh wait, that’s just me looking in the mirror, a puny version of my former weight-room frequenting self, pounding away on the leg press and leg curl machines. After sufficiently fatiguing my quads, I looked at the bench-press and thought about trying to rip off a few sets, then thought better of embarrassing myself, so I exited the gym and did something I feel confident in – I ran.

Thursday I met Steve at Antrim for mile-repeats. We ran a warm-up lap, stretched a bit, and then headed out for our first mile. The idea was to run 6:45’s, but with me pacing this first lap we came in at 6:10…like I said, I’m really bad at pacing. Steve led the next three laps and we came in within about 8 seconds of 6:45’s each time. Maybe this is what makes him a good drummer – that ability to tune out distractions and stay consistent (distractions mostly being my panting and whining). And this is when I realized how much I enjoy running with others. This is when I realized how important it was to have people in my life. Because sometimes we need those consistent personalities to keep us in check when we want to dash ahead or fall behind.

So I’ve been trying to listen to my body more recently. I eat when hungry, sleep when tired, wake without alarms, etc. But this too has made me realize how lousy I am at pacing. The life of a grad student is, well, not a great life. The life of a grad student in the sciences is, well, kind of like running 100 miles. You work and struggle and mentally sweat to find that discovery that will propel your career forward and you experience the highs and lows that come with it. One day, what you thought was your big discovery is trashed and returned to you in a red massacre by the brilliant minds you seek approval from. The lows are very low. So you work even harder and finally, the e-mail comes: “Congratulations! Your article is acceptable for publication!” And oh how sweet are the highs. But my real point in all of this is that piling up 80-hr weeks only to be followed by a summer of burnout and a strong desire to sleep and think about anything but science seems to somehow be related to bad pacing. This seems to happen too much. Although the coolness of fall has been in the air as of late, and I’m hoping with it comes a change in my motivation – and perhaps my ability to pace. But alas, I digress… Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about running.

After unsuccessfully trying to put together a group run at Mohican on Saturday morning, Katie decided to join me on my journey with the plan of hiking while I ran. I attacked the orange loop (100-mile direction) and soon found myself flying along, thoroughly enjoying pushing my limits and the solitude of it all. I soon met up with Katie along the river and we hiked a mile or so together before I took off for the car at Covered Bridge to refill my aid. I had drained my bottles a few miles out and was promptly in the midst of a severe bonk. I stumbled onto the purple loop and struggled quite a bit until I had rehydrated and consumed enough calories. After getting my legs back I passed through CB and took off up towards the Fire Tower. I again passed Katie as she was on the return trip from the Fire Tower. Let me just say how impressed I am that she hiked 14 miles at Mohican in about 4 hrs. When I mentioned this was on pace to beat the cutoff at the Forget the PR 50k she promptly shot down my idea…but the seed has been planted =). I wound up with about 25 miles and was completely exhausted at the conclusion. If only I had paced myself… It was fun lounging around the house Saturday afternoon with both Katie and I feeling the satisfaction of a draining workout. Life is better together.

Sunday I wanted to get in a 20-miler, so I shot out a few quick texts to some highly talented pacers. Turns out Star (my rock star Mohican pacer) was lacing up her shoes for a 20-miler, so we met up on the bike-path, and instantly I realized how much I enjoy running with people. We discussed what pace we wanted to settle in on, and I mentioned something about staying between 8:30 and 9:00’s on account of my tough run at Mohican on Saturday. Sure enough, nearly every time the Garmin beeped we had logged another 8:40ish mile. But then it got hot, and we struggled. So after a water and popsicle break at the half-way point, I headed out solo for a few more miles before calling it quits at 16 miles and change. And as I thought about it, I concluded that running alone every once in a while is refreshing, but running with others is nearly always superior. I also realized that this applies to the broader strokes of life as well.

Sunday night Katie and I joined Steve and Leigh for Steve’s birthday celebration and had an absolutely wonderful grown-up time enjoying good food, wine, and conversation. The night ended with a special pre-screening of Leigh’s documentary on the 2010 Mohican 100. What a haunting experience to watch. Job well-done Leigh! If you haven’t seen the video, check it out at:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grindstone Training Weekend

Friday I was disappointed in how little I ran during the week.

Saturday as I climbed and descended mountains I was thankful.


Friday afternoon five of us piled into a rented SUV in Columbus, OH and drove down to George Washington National Forest in Virginia for the official Grindstone training weekend. Between Saturday and Sunday we would run the entire course in one direction (~52 miles). We arrived at Camp Shenandoah around 10pm and settled in. Michael Patton and David Peterman set up beds in the SUV, Jay Smithberger set up a tent, and Steve Zeidner and myself decided to sleep under the stars. Unfortunately a thick layer of clouds separated us from the stars and an hour into sleep rain forced us to put up the tent (this was after disturbing the SUV-sleepers three times…sorry guys).

“We are heading out in eight minutes.” What?! Alarm didn’t go off? We all scrambled to get things together for the 5:15am caravan that would take us to the opposite side of the course. Then we sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes waiting for a driver. Lovely.

The trip to the far end of the course took an hour and forty-five minutes. We drove up up and up to a small clearing on the top of a mountain where we literally stood in the middle of the clouds. After a few minutes of directions from the race director, Clark Zealand, we were off. A pack of runners took off rather quickly. It was hard not to get sucked into their pace on the gentle downhill, but I knew I would need to hold back if I was to survive the next 52 miles.

Within a few miles we reached the summit of Reddish Knob (4397 feet). This peak lies on the border of West Virginia and Virginia with spectacular views in either direction. Unfortunately standing in the middle of a cloud prevented us from seeing any of this. The day unfolded something like this: hike up a mountain, run along the ridgeline, run down a mountain, repeat. Jay kept reminding us it was only two hills the first day, which featured about 5000 feet of ascent and 7000 feet of descent. After covering the 29.1 miles, we headed back to camp, showered, and made our way towards dinner in Staunton with the rest of the runners.

After dinner we had the pleasure of sitting around listening to David Horton tell stories about running the Appalachian Trail (and setting the record), running the Pacific Crest Trail (and setting the record), and running across the USA. Horton has contributed greatly to the ultrarunning community over the past three decades. It was also fun to hear him go back and forth with Jay about training and reaching ones maximum potential.

The evening closed sitting by the pond with a Sierra Nevada in hand.

Sunday morning all alarms went off as planned and we hit the trailhead by about 7:00am. We immediately starting climbing, climbing, climbing. This was the first of only three hills Jay reminded us. The day was a bit clearer and we enjoyed some spectacular views from the ridgeline. We were not so lucky with our second hill – summitting Elliott Knob (4463 feet). It was blustery and cold and visibility was non-existent (see picture below). After taking a few minutes to take some pictures we headed down a long descent and off towards the last hill of the day. This second day featured about 7000 feet of ascent and 5000 feet of descent for a total of 12,000/12,000 over 52 miles in two days.

I was encouraged that each day I felt an energy boost with about five miles left and finished without feeling like I had emptied the tank. I attribute some of this to finally being fully recovered from the Mohican 100, and the rest to my consistent attention to caloric intake. Both days I took a Hammer-gel every 30 minutes and sipped diluted Perpetuem. I also had handfuls of pretzels and chips at each aid stop.

My current thoughts of Grindstone: This course demands respect and careful attention to details. I need to start conservatively and reach the halfway point without being completely trashed. I need to save my quads for the steeper descents in the second half of the race. I also need to maintain consistent calorie intake. If I execute, then I have a chance to finish.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grindstone Training - Week 2

Well here we are…week #2 of 10 complete. It is still hard to believe as I sit here typing that Grindstone is only 54 days away. It has been hard for me to stick with my “less is more” approach to training with this in the back of my mind. I need to continuously remind myself that beating my legs into the ground is not beneficial. Although when I asked Tanya Cady the best way to train for Grindstone, she said to take Katie to the hardware store, pick out a 2x4, and have her beat me over the head with it.

After pacing Steve for 37 miles last weekend I intentionally cut back the miles this week. I also want to feel fresh for the Grindstone Training Weekend coming up to maximize its benefit. The highlight of my running week was Wednesday’s run on the bike path at night. Storms were moving in and I was in the midst of some of the coolest lightning I’ve ever seen. It was also enough to make me run hard the last few miles to the car!

The low point of the week was my grocery-shopping trip to Meijer. Somewhere between the watermelons and the oranges my pinkie toe got caught on the cart and promptly broke from the force with which I was pursuing the fruit. As I lay in the fetal position on the floor muttering obscenities, my supportive wife was overcome with laughter. Thankfully the swelling has gone down significantly and I am left with just an incredibly black/blue/purple toe. It matches a few of my other toenails quite nicely.

Ohio ultra-legend Roy Heger said something to me this week that I am making my official motto for Grindstone: “Start slow, eat like a horse, drink like a fish, run like a turtle.” Proven advice from someone with something like 40 100-mile finishes. He has also passed me between miles 70 and 80 of both 100-milers I've run and both 100-milers I’ve paced.

Goals. Times. Pacing. Race strategies. These are all things runners from the 5K to the 100-miler think about. Some of these are relatively easy to define. The primary goal of any 100-miler must be to cross the finish line, for this in and of itself is not an easy task. But we must also set goals that challenge us to be better and reach higher. I’ve mulled over my goals for Grindstone these past two weeks. In many ways this race is to prove to myself that I possess the ability to tackle and complete a mountainous 100-miler (it is also a qualifier for the Hardrock 100). But beyond my personal time goals, I want to run well. And while this may seem like an ambiguous goal, I think I’ll know when and if it happens.

Mon – PT exercises (40’)
Tues – 7 miles
Wed – 90 flights of stairs, 8 mile run
Thurs – 11.6 miles on the bike (.5mi high-gear hill intervals)
Fri – 3 miles (15% treadmill incline) and 2 fast flat miles
Sat – 21 miles at Highbanks
Sun – 5 miles, PT exercises (30’), 15 miles on the bike

Total: 46 miles

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Recovery Meets Training - Week #1

I had to make a very tough decision this week. My running “mentor” is heading out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to run the Lean Horse 100 at the end of August and offered to pace me the entire 100-miles to a sub-24hr finish. While I really wanted to take him up on the offer, as I started adding up the expenses (flight, hotel, race fee, etc.) it became obvious that this would be too expensive for my current stage in life. But now that it is 5 weeks from the Mohican 100 and I am starting to get my legs back under me, it is time to put the next challenge on my calendar.

Since the Mohican 100-miler in June, I have been obsessed with a race through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia: the Grindstone 100 – October 1-3.

If you go to the Grindstone 100 website and browse the list of current entrants you will now find my name among the 100 or so registered runners. You will also find the following description: “Grit, endurance, and temporary loss of sanity. You might need all of these if you want to attempt Grindstone. If you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.”

I approached this week as a transition from recovery to training. After 43 miles last week, capped off by a 16-mile night run at Mohican, I decided to aim for 55 quality miles this week that would lay a foundation for the next 6 weeks of training. Even as I sit here typing there is still something scary about only 6 weeks of training (followed by a 3-week taper) to prepare me for this next adventure. I am hoping the base mileage established during the spring in preparation for Mohican will still be there, and allow me to train with specificity, yet not as much distance.

I spent the better part of an afternoon this week (while waiting to collect cells for my 6-hr time-point) reading race reports from previous Grindstone finishers. Each one mentioned the brutally steep and technical climbs followed by extreme downhill terrain. I have always been a fairly good climber, but descents are another story. So my training plan over the next 6 weeks is fairly straightforward: run up and down stairs, parking garages, and the steepest hills I can find. During this training cycle, I have decided to run 4-5 days a week to allow for proper recovery. I am afraid all the 35-50 mile training runs leading up to Mohican prevented proper recovery and I spent a lot of miles slogging along without significant gains in fitness. My training will be centered around 2 events: 1. The Grindstone training weekend, where a group of runners will run the entire course in one direction over two days; and 2. The Cheat Mountain Moonlight Madness 50-miler, a race in WV that begins at 9pm and features steep climbs mixed in with runable ridgeline. (By the way, if anyone is available the weekends of Aug 14 or 27 and would like to join me on these adventures I would love the company!).

Mon: 52 flights of stairs in each direction and a hilly 6-miler.

Tues: 61 flights of stairs and a solid 11-miler at High Banks.

Wed: Off

Thurs: 2-mile treadmill (max incline), 8-miler on the bike path, 30’ of PT exercises

Fri: Off

Sat/Sun: 37-miles pacing at the Burning River 100

Total Miles = 64

I’m going to conclude this first week’s post with some comments on the BR100. I wasn’t sure how I would feel crewing/pacing for many of the ultra-friends I train with. My emotions were mixed between a desire to be racing with them and jealousy over the ideal weather conditions. But as I sat at mile 40 waiting to see them come through, I found contentment in lending help in whatever way possible – for often times it is better to give than to receive.

I intended to begin pacing Steve Z. at mile 70 through the finish, but by mile 64 I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. Michael Patton (21:32!!) came in slightly ahead of Steve and informed us Steve’s stomach had revolted. As fate would have it, I was ready to run with him for this next part of his journey. Currently I am lacking both the inspiration and motivation for an extended “pacer report” (sorry to disappoint). What I can say is that Steve fought like a champ through 15+ bouts of extreme puking and constant nausea. Running made things worse, so we walked liked there was no tomorrow. Our goal moved from just finishing under the 30-hour cut-off, to finishing in 27:00, then 26:30, then an eventual finish time of 26:00:39. When I said “Steve, we need to do this 3.3 mile section in 1 hour,” he responded with a 51-minute section. When I said “Steve, you have 5 minutes at this aid station,” he was out in 3 minutes. Steve’s wife Leigh also played a big role in keeping us moving along from aid station to aid station.

I also must thank Star and Darris for the many pacing lessons I learned from them over my last two 100’s on the Mohican course.

My tired mind is struggling for words, so for now I will close. But a big congrats to Michael Patton, Kevin Martin, Steve Zeidner, Star Blackford, Jay Smithberger, Ron Ross, David Peterman, and the many other runners who finished this years BR100. Now I must sleep and get ready for another week of training…