Wednesday, September 29, 2010

9/29/10 - The final chapter

48 hours. 48 hours with a 7-hour car ride in the middle. That is the small gap between where I currently sit and the start line…a very subtle line nestled in the Shenandoah Valley under the shadow of Elliot’s Knob. That first major climb up Elliot’s Knob covers 3500’ of elevation in just 4 miles. It is a steep climb with extremely poor footing. It is a climb that will occur as darkness engulfs the mountain…

It seems that I’ve fallen behind on my writing as of late (well, that’s not entirely true). I’ve got bits and pieces of clever material and partial posts that just never made it to completion. I’ll blame it on being busy, but in reality I don’t think I’m ever not busy. The last time I remember not being busy was when I was about twelve years old. So maybe it is as much a product of football season starting, which always entices me to watch at least a few games a weekend (damn you fantasy football!). Or maybe it was my recent obsession with perfecting my resume and CV as I begin to figure out where the next stage of life will be (this week the list includes San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Research Triangle Park, NC). I see the writing on the wall that I’ll have to get a real job soon…

This weekend, there is one focus – Start slow. Drink like a fish. Eat like a horse. Run like a turtle (ala Roy Heger).

Tapering is not something I do well. I get cranky. My legs get achy. I don’t sleep well. I’m impatient. My mind is not as sharp. I get distracted easily. And I take everything out on Katie. She spent hours last night preparing specific foods that I requested during the race and I had the audacity to complain about something. This was after she spent a week trying to figure out exactly what I would be craving and planned a whole menu (vegan soups, burritos, bagel-sandwiches, etc) and outlined which aid stations she would have things ready for me. She is no amateur at crewing. She knows what I need and when I need it. She knows full well I’ll most likely be an ass during the race. She knows afterwards I’ll lie on the couch and whine and complain for a week. But she takes this all in stride. Some people see love in words, or that special look or touch. This is how I see love.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the simple question every ultra-runner has been asked – “Why?” 100-milers are not fun. They are an experience. Somewhere around mile 96 of Mohican this year, as I fought off the knee-demons and foot-monsters and cut-offs, I posed that question to Star – “Why?” I asked Rob Powell this question over beers at Oktoberfest this past Saturday – “Why?” I’ve been asked many times by family, friends, complete strangers – “Why?” The honest answer is I’m not really sure. I’ve been very blessed in my short life. I’m only 26. I have friends that are only 26 and have lost parents and siblings. I have friends that are only 26 and struggle with life-altering illnesses. I’ve seen such heartache in both my immediate and extended family that it keeps me up some nights hurting for people. But somehow, in the midst of all of this, I have escaped such tragedy. Maybe I run to see how I respond to hardship (even when it happens to be self-inflicted). But I’m still not really sure. This is a question I’m going to work on this weekend…

Is the third time really a charm? Will my lucky #13 race number come through? Will I finally have a race that lacks the “epic” nature my first two have had, and I simply run well? All of these questions will be answered in just a few short days.

I am tapered.

I am rested.

I am ready.

Excerpts on the Erie Marathon

7:17, 7:20, 7:13, 7:17, 7:15. Those were my times for the first five miles of the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle. My next three miles – 7:25, 7:37, 7:55…and that was when I decided to call it a day. With 160 miles on my legs in the previous 14 days, the fatigue set in quickly, and I just didn’t have the mental toughness to keep pushing. So I settled back into 8:30 pace and enjoyed the cool breeze coming off the lake.

The Erie Marathon felt a bit more like an ultra-event than a typical road marathon. The field is small and spectators sparse. The course winds through beautiful forests and along open sand beaches. The aid stations had Hammer products. And the results are still not posted. Although this was my first marathon without a new PR (but what did I expect with all the Grindstone training?), I enjoyed myself immensely. I finished feeling some disappointment, but the minimal soreness in my legs made me realize this was probably the best outcome.

Katie and I also enjoyed a wonderful weekend with Shane and Lori Sampson. Shane once again talked me into another 100, and potentially a larger adventure this summer...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

9/6/10 – Grindstone training week #7 – The “Skinny Beast Trifecta”

I know I know. I disappointed everyone (all four of you) last week by failing to post on my widely acclaimed blog. But last week was a “step down” week (~50 miles) in my training before the final push for Grindstone. So this week I’ll try to write something spectacularly entertaining to make up for it. Okay?

Well this week’s post finds me sitting in a bathtub full of icy water with my laptop teetering precariously on the edge of the tub, smelling strangely of horses, and hoping that when I emerge the soreness will have subsided from my legs (and our tub will drain properly...). This week was the best training week I’ve ever had. Period. It was a combination of speed-work early in the week, and the Skinny Beast Trifecta (aka. the triple skinny) to conclude it. The Skinny Beast Trifecta is a training technique used by Jay Smithberger where one runs three consecutive long runs as the last workouts before the tapering phase begins leading up to a 100-miler. I’ve been getting a steady dose of back-to-back long runs, so the trifecta seemed like the perfect peak to training. I also knew I’d have company Saturday at Mohican and Monday at Hocking Hills, so what better way to enjoy a holiday weekend?

Tuesday I met with Michael Patton and Steve Z. at Antrim for a BQ marathon-paced run. I wanted to see how it felt and if holding that pace this upcoming weekend at the Presque Isle Marathon in Erie, PA is a reasonable expectation. After a bit of warm-up, we heading up the trail clicking off 7:15’s. It was hot. It was really hot. But about two miles in I started getting into that groove where your body feels fluid and the pace is comfortably hard. “Passing on your left.” This was no problem at all. Lots of bikes had passed us with courteous notifications of their intentions. “PASSING ON YOUR LEFT!!” she yelled into our ears. We all seemed to chuckle a bit figuring this was someone we knew just giving us a hard time. After all, we were clearly on our side of the path. But no, someone had forgotten to attend her anger management class, and decided three sweaty runners looked like an appropriate target. When we realized she wasn’t joking (F-bombs and middle fingers tipped us off), we replied with a few creative lines. Michael responded, “why don’t you try enjoying yourself like the rest of us out here!” I think I made some sarcastic comment about whether she could see the line in the middle of the path. But nonetheless, it was the most outrageous thing I’ve seen in a while. We all looked at each other with that “did that really just happen?” expression. Then a Garmin beeped and we had logged a 6:55 mile – nothing like a bit of adrenaline to push the pace. We soon settled back into pace and finished with a 7:12/mile average. Not too shabby in 94 degree heat. But also not so sure I can hold that pace for the necessary 26.2 miles.

This brings up some inner turmoil I’ve had the past few weeks. Grindstone is my target race, no doubt. But I’d really like to run a solid marathon at Erie this weekend – but not at the expense of pushing too hard and going into Grindstone less than 100%. With my current training being geared towards ultras, my gut tells me I’d be pushing into the red zone for a Boston qualifier. I just don’t possess that natural speed. So despite the urging of those wanting me to join them in New England this spring, I’m afraid it will have to wait another year. But we shall see how the day unfolds…

Wednesday I ran a comfortable 9 miles on the “Junior Trail” that follows the bike path.

Thursday I biked to and from lab on account of the OSU football game traffic that would make leaving in the afternoon a nightmare. It always amazes me how relaxed I feel after biking in as opposed to driving. The dripping sweat is a definite downside, but cruising along next to the Olentangy River certainly has a calming effect on me.

Friday came with a decision – to run, or not to run. The holiday weekend meant I would be able to complete the Skinny Beast Trifecta on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Katie was busy, the weather was gorgeous, and I didn’t run Thursday, so I decided to head out for a few easy miles. It was one of those perfect early evening runs with a cool breeze, and before long I had clipped off nearly 12 miles at a decent pace. The legs felt great, but I decided to stop with so many miles in store over the next three days.

Saturday I headed up to Mohican with Steve Z. for 25+ miles on the trails. I had sent out a blast e-mail to see if any other runners wanted to join us, and the only response was a feeble “maybe” from Terri L. We arrived at the covered bridge at 8:15am (a bit later than our anticipated 8am start time) and saw the Lemke-mobile sitting there vacant. What was I thinking!? Of course a “maybe” from Terri when it involves running is a definite YES! Moments later Mark L. pulled up and informed us Terri was only a little ways out, so he drove off and directed her back in our direction, and a few minutes later we all headed out. We ran from CB to Hickory Ridge and back for 11 miles. Mark met up with us again and joined us on the 9-mile trek to the Lodge and back. The four of us rolled along enjoying the great weather. At some point, Steve and I both saw a furry creature scamper up a tree. After a few days of deliberation (and lots of Google images) we have decided it was a wolverine. Pretty freaking cool, right?! First time I’ve ever seen one in the wild. On this stretch I also get the award for the worst leader. We came upon a section of trail leading towards the lodge that Terri warned us was a bit overgrown. “Eh, doesn’t look too bad,” I thought. About 100-feet in we were covered in briar scratches and those little burrs that relentlessly stick to your clothes and leg-hair (for us fellows). Poor Steve had them all over his shorts in between his legs – let your mind wander a bit (but not too much) and you’ll understand the problem with this. So after 5 minutes of picking the little buggers off us, we continued on.

Sunday I had aspirations of getting up early before church and pounding out a 20-miler. After doing some math and realizing that I would need to start by 5am, I decided this was simply out of the question. So Sunday afternoon rolled around and I scraped myself off the couch and headed to Antrim. As I was stretching, I ran into a friend from the lab next to me, and we ran a few laps around Antrim together before I headed down the trail towards campus alone. About 12 miles in I was struggling. I didn’t carry quite enough fluid, and my legs were really feeling the 37 miles from the previous two days. By the time I arrived back at Antrim, I had lost the desire to continue and called it a day at 17 miles. I now had 54 miles in the books over three days, and was wondering how I’d find the energy for a Monday morning marathon down at Hocking Hills.

Monday the Zeidner clan picked me up bright and early for the drive down to Hocking Hills. It took a while for me to emerge from my morning fog. After some brief instructions from Michael, we were off in a few packs. I had a lot of fun the first half running with different folks and enjoying lively conversation. The legs were tired and my energy level was really low though. I actually thought about calling it quits at the halfway point. Then after a quick bathroom stop…okay, this is a funny story so I’ll include it. I duck into a quiet souvenir shop to use the bathroom. I walk into the bathroom and it is equally quiet and there is no fan...great. Needless to say I got a few funny looks as I exited. Anyway, after the halfway point I began to feel better and better. I held back the urge to push the pace and enjoyed the scenery. As we moved onto the bridle trails we encountered a number of horses and lots of fresh droppings. The trails were so dry and dusty from the lack of rain that it felt like you were eating horse-crap flavored dust being kicked up by the person in front of you. Lovely, right? At about the 20-mile mark I started yo-yoing a bit and ran a few more of the hills. When we hit the 22-mile mark it was time to find out what was left in the legs. Darrin Bright and myself starting pushing the pace to try to catch Steve, who had turned it on himself a few minutes earlier. Unfortunately after a few miles we found ourselves at a cross-roads with three trails to choose from. None of them looked familiar. We even walked a little ways up each one to determine familiarity. After waiting around for about 10 minutes, we caught sight of Michael in the trees to the left of us. Apparently none of the trails were correct and we had made a wrong turn somewhere earlier. We connected back with the group and I decided to still run hard the remaining 4 miles. At this point I had totaled nearly 80 miles for the weekend and 25 that day, but I felt great. Those last 4 miles were very encouraging.

I am ready to run a good race at Grindstone. I’ve had a great training cycle these past 7 weeks and feel physically and mentally better than ever. The hay is in the barn, as they say. Now I just need to execute a quality taper and race well.

On a side note, I found out this week that I got into both Ancient Oaks 100 (Dec. 18) and Umstead 100 (Apr. 2)! So we shall see how things unfold…