Friday, April 26, 2013

Running on Salt

Well, this one should be short.
Have you ever pushed yourself to the limit of what you think you can do physically?
Most people have no idea what they are capable of.  They haven't pushed themselves to their limit.  Limits obviously differ for everyone.  Our limits are different at different times.  Training, mindset, perseverance, all play a role in how far we can go.  As far as running goes, for some people their limit is a 5K, they can't fathom running a 10K, let alone a marathon.  For a lot of runners, the marathon is the ultimate goal.
I used to work with an Engineer that ran in the US Olympic Marathon Trials.  He was fast, very fast.  His speed made my "speed" seem positively pedestrian, and it is.
After he found out I ran my first 100 mile race, the guy was in awe of me doing something like that.  He was floored.  His comment was "I can't imagine running one step beyond 26.2".
Well, I found out today what my limit was for today.  Last week I wrote about my experience running the Zion 100.  To recap, I had an absolute blast.  Probably the most fun I've ever had running 100 miles.  I ran within myself, didn't push, and felt great the entire time.
The week after I ran Zion, I did no running at all.  I got a massage, ate, and sat on my butt.  Recovery time.
By Wednesday, I felt good to go.  No residual soreness, the legs felt ready to have a go at another 100 mile race.  Two in two weeks, back to backs, one right after the other.  I knew of a couple others that had recently done the same thing.  They were my age, if they could do it, by golly, so could I.  I had announced to a lot of people my intention.  Maybe I shouldn't have.  Oh well.
But Thursday I had a bombshell dropped on me.  I lost my job.  Yep, unemployed.  It's not the first time this has happened, but it's still a shock to the system.  BTW, anyone looking for a good Manufacturing or Process Engineer?  I'm your guy.  Lean, Safety, Product Compliance, Quality, I can do it all.
Needless to say, Thursday night was not a good night for sleep.  Not only that, but all of the sudden, my head wasn't in the game.  I seriously thought about just bagging the race and staying home.  But all I would have done is fret and worry.  Instead, I finally got up early and headed out to Wendover, UT for the race.  I figured that a good long run would allow me to think, sort things out, maybe even come to some conclusions on what to do next with my life.
Race day was gorgeous.  Not a cloud in the sky, temps around 40 at the start warming up to the low 70's.  Perfect (for me) running weather.
I toed the line at at 7am, we (all 46 of us) took off across the salt flats.  Keep in mind, the first 13 miles of the race were on six feet of salt.  Flat as your tabletop surface, hard, interesting.  You could look around at the nearby mountains without worrying about taking a header on a rock.
I chatted with a few friends during this time, but after awhile, the field spread out and I was by myself.  Time to think.  And I did, but not too hard.  I was here to have another good time running 100 miles.  And I did......for awhile......for about six hours.
My running was easy, much easier than last year when I ran the same race.  Roughly a 10 minute pace for the first 22 miles and the third aid station.  Yeah, that's a lot of non-stop running if you're planning on completing a 100.  No climbing up hills, just flat running.
Things went great for those first 22 miles.  Indeed, they went great for the first 30 miles.  I was running easy, trying to keep my pace down.
Didn't matter, my running came to a grinding halt at about 30 miles.  I ended up walking a mile to the next aid station.  My legs hurt.  I felt like I had already run about 70 miles on them and I still had 70 miles to go.  My  toes hurt.  I bruised them at Zion, and they weren't healed.  Toenails were hitting the underside of the shoe uppers and it hurt.  I had to curl them to keep them from doing that.
Up to this point, I had been having fun.  I was well hydrated, well fed (think grilled cheese with bacon at one aid station).  My mood was good, it was a great day.
When I got to the aid station at 31 miles, I sat down to think and evaluate my options.  I was looking at a very, very remote 20 miles coming up.  If I dropped at the aid station out there, I wasn't getting back until the next day.
My legs and toes were telling me I had reached my limit for today.  That was it, there was no more.  Could I have walked?  Sure, but it wouldn't have been fun, and I do this stuff because it's fun, not because I have to.
So I made the fairly easy decision to drop.  I was still in a good mood, I still felt good except that my legs and toes were very sore and tired.  I actually enjoyed sitting in the sun while waiting for a ride back to the start.
After I got back, I drove into town and pigged out at McDonald's.  Yeah, I like to do that sometimes.  The food is always consistently mediocre, but that's fine. 
So, what's your limit?  Has it changed over the years?
Sorry there's no race pictures.  I didn't take any this year.  If you want to see what the course looks like, check out my last year's race report here.  It hasn't changed any from last year.
However, here's a picture of my two grandchildren because they're so stinkin cute.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Zion 100, jello shots, and thoughts of Boston

Introduction -
So the bombing in Boston happened last Monday, a few days before I was to run the Zion 100.  I've run Boston, back in 2004.  What was that experience like?  Well, it was my second worst marathon time ever.  I knew within a couple miles that the race would not go well for me.  At that point I decided to just enjoy the day and soak up all the hype, fun, spectators, etc.  After all, I was running the Boston Marathon.  My family came along and we did a mini vacation, toured the city, ate at fancy restaurants.  One of my friends had always told me that she would come watch if I ever ran Boston.  Her and her husband flew in to do just that.  It was a fun trip.  It was a fun race, the huge noise, half a million spectators lining the route, turning that last corner and seeing the finish line.  In the exact same spot as it was last Monday.  I crossed the finish line at Boston at about the same time as the bombs went off.  I have runner friends that ran Boston last Monday.  One of them was only 200 yards away from the bomb when it went off.  He was on the phone with his wife. It's only a race, it's not life or death.  Well, last Monday it was life or death.
My training for Zion hadn't been where I wanted it.  In January I ran outside three whole times.  The rest of the time the treadmill was my friend.  Those that know me know that when it comes to running in inclement weather, I am a weather weenie.....big time.
My mileage was behind last year's. I didn't have very many long runs in.  In fact, Moab Red Hot, a couple of 20 milers, a 24 miler, and one 30 mile run were it in the long run department.  Compounding my perceived lack of training was my hernia diagnosis.  Probably brought on by lifting a couple of tons of water at the Buffalo Run.  Well, crap, there goes my training.  Except that the doctor said I could run, running would not make it worse.  But no weight lifting, no Pilates, too much strain on the abdomen.  So, I just kept running, trying to get my mileage up, trying to get in some quality running time.  Quietly panicking at the thought of running 100 miles grossly undertrained.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that I had told all my friends that I was going to attempt back to back 100's.  Zion 100 one week, Salt Flats 100 a week later.  Yep, I got called all sorts of crazy (nothing new there).  For some odd reason I thought doing back to back's would be a good thing to do.  I kinda still do think it's a good idea.  Ask me next week what I think about that.  Then, one of my pacers comes up lame.  Now I'm down to one pacer.  Not that I need a pacer, but they are kind of handy to have around.

Prerace -
Fast forward to last Thursday afternoon.  I picked up Britta and Breein, also known as Team Bean Burrito, my crew and pacer and we headed south for Zion.  Got down there, checked in, ate dinner, and hit the hay.  And like usual, I slept like crap the night before a race.  One of these days I need to learn to take drugs before I go to bed.  Britta and Breein were staying at a friend's house and had taken my car.  I was staying at the high quality Days Inn of Hurricane, UT.  They picked me up at 5am and we headed for the start at the town park in the thriving metropolis of Virgin, UT.

Mmmmm, donuts!
With my lack of mileage, I decided I had to approach the race in a totally different manner than I normally do.  Instead of going out with a goal of hitting certain times and all, my goal for the race was to finish, regardless of time.  Secondarily, I wanted to enjoy the experience.  After all, I was running near Zion National Park.  Can we say awesome scenery?  I told Britta and Breein that under no circumstances was I to be allowed to quit, unless there were severe injuries or illnesses.
My fueling strategy also was a bit different.  After my epic failure at Wasatch last year (OD'd on caffeine, coupled with a lack of hydration and calories), I thought I would try something else.  Massive calorie intake at every aid station I had a drop bag.  Real food, not using nearly as much gels.
My mental strategy was to go out and have fun, not worry about times, just enjoy the race, the people I would meet, the friends I would see.  It's just a race, it's not life or death.  With Boston on everyone's mind, I wondered what I could do.  I decided to rummage around and find my Boston bib and wear it at Zion.  Will it help anyone? No.  Will anyone in Boston know?  Probably not.  Will it help the victims?  Doubt it.  What it did do was serve as a reminder to me what running is all about, at least for me.  For me, it's fun pure and simple.  Fun with friends, fun by myself, fun when it isn't quite so fun, and that in the grand scheme of life, it's just one part.

Race time -
So, the race started at 6am.  Beforehand, Matt had asked if several runners could carry a bunch of batons, passing it on to other runners as the race progressed.  Each baton represented either someone who had died, or was severely injured in the bombings.  I carried one.

I met Kelly and Harrison at the start.  Harrison was doing the 100K, and Kelly was headed out to do the 100 mile like me.
HUMR time with Kelly, Harrison and I
I always get a bit nervous at the start of a race.  Jitters, anxiety, whatever.
Matt said go, and we took off.  The first part of the race was about two miles down the side of the highway, then turn down a gravel road.  Not exactly trail running, but that's ok.  At about three miles, we hit some sweet single track.  Right along the Virgin river.  I mean right at the edge.  I mean if you took a wrong step, you were going to fall between 20' and 50' off the cliff into the water.  It was cool.  We did this for about six miles until the first aid station.  The sun was up above the cliffs and mesas now, the day was cool, almost cold, and I felt great.  Easy, easy running.  I hoped I wasn't going out too fast.
After the first aid station, we made our way along some jeep trails to the base of Gooseberry Mesa.  Now came the first big climb of the day, 1200' in about a mile.  No big deal, we do that all the time around here.  And it really wasn't a big deal.  I enjoyed the climb even though it was steep and technical.
At the top of the climb was Goosebump aid station (19.1 miles).  We would go through this one three times through mile 58.  Here, I started my massive calorie intake plan.  I had several doses of Ultragen in my drop bag.  Each dose is 320 calories plus water.  I think I started eating rice and bean burritos here.  More on that later.  Anyway, probably 500-600 calories went down the hatch.  I had also been doing gels during the miles in between as well.  I was still throwing down a pretty good time (at least for me) and was a bit worried that I was going too fast and that I would really suffer later.  After Goosebump, we wandered the mountain bike trails on the top of the mesa.  Some of this was right along the edge, think 500'-1000' drop offs, think stunning views, think stop if you want to look around so you don't run off the edge.  Britta and Breein didn't meet me at Goosebump the first time.  They barely made it for my second time through (31 miles).  Something about getting lost, almost getting my car stuck in sand, I don't know.  I think they just took too long for breakfast.
Team Bean Burrito Crew Chief and Head Pacer hitting the PBR's
Now I had a bunch of dirt road miles to the Grafton Mesa aid station.  Most of this was slightly downhill, so I enjoyed the easy running.  Got into Grafton and did my massive calorie intake thing again.  A couple more burritos, another dose of Ultragen, grabbed some of the pureed fruit I had to take the place of gels, and out I went.  The next section was primarily downhill, but we did have a short climb up to Eagle Crag aid.  It was here I discovered the wonderful rejuvenating powers of pickle juice.  The aid station had pickles out.  That sounded good.  I ate a couple, they were good.  The thought of the juice sounded good.  I drank it.  It tasted good.  About 10 minutes later, my stomach........felt........much.......better, and it hadn't felt bad at all.  My little sausage fingers went away.  I felt fantastic, on top of the world.
I took off for Grafton Mesa.  Here we encountered our third big climb of the day.  Here is where the wheels came slightly off.  I knew at some point I would have a low spot.  The climb up to Grafton Mesa was it.  After the climb, I walked the two miles into the aid station.  I knew that it was a dire need for calories, so I hit the rice and bean burritos and Ultragen again.  Sat for a bit eating and conversing, then took off.  Within a few minutes I was again running, uphill, towards Goosebump.
I made it to Goosebump (mile 58) at dusk.  Britta had run in with me the past few miles and they both jumped into action when I sat down.  More rice and bean burritos, pickle juice, Ultragen.  They had my feet up, shoes and socks off.  This having a crew thing is awesome.

Life is great
After leaving Goosebump for the last time, I headed off the mesa and across the canyon.  Then a trek up Dalton Wash Road to the Guacamole Trail.  This is another mountain bike trail that twists and turns, takes you right to the edge of the mesa and brings you back.  I ran this at night....while tired.  Yeah, you could shine your headlamp to your left and see nothing but darkness, you knew that the cliff was right there.  A little bit dicey to say the least.  But Matt had the trail very well marked with little LED lights and I didn't have any problems.  Anyway, after nine miles of wandering around on that chunk of the course, I went back down Dalton Wash road and met Britta and Breein waiting in my car.  Britta was to begin pacing me from here to the finish.  They did manage to get a few hours of sleep while waiting for me.
Oh, the night time weather?  Cool, slight breeze.  I only got really cold when I was sitting at an aid station.  Incentive to keep moving.

Breein downing a Maverick hot dog in rememberance of my downing two hot dogs during Salt Flats last year.  Good thing she didn't spill mustard on my car seat.

At this point I think it was around 4am.  I still felt pretty good.  Tired, a bit sore, but not bad for 81 miles.
Britta and I took off for the Walsh aid station.  Interesting place to say the least.
Jello shots anyone?

Party time at Walsh

No, I'm not sick.  Just taking a few minute snooze

After leaving Walsh aid (84 miles) we headed for the last big climb, and the biggest one.  Flying Monkey trail.  This thing is dangerous.  Narrow, extremely technical, if you fall, you will get hurt, maybe pretty bad.  Now couple that with being tired and it being dark.  Still, I made it to the top with Britta pushing me (literally) and we headed for the last aid station, Smith Mesa.  Yay, less than a dozen miles left.
By now the sun was up, it was cold and very breezy.  Got to Smith Mesa and pretty much blew through it to do the out-and-back section.  Coming back through, I spent very little time.  I was smelling the barn.  I also knew that the remaining nine miles were pretty much all downhill....and I like downhill.  With Britta pushing me, I started running as much as I could and ended up running the vast majority off the last nine miles.  I managed to pass about 8-10 runners on the way as well.  Best of all?  I was still a happy camper.  Yep, my attitude was still good, I still felt good.  This was fun stuff.
Britta and I coming down the last few yards to the finish
Post race - 
So yeah, I managed to finish my 18th 100-mile race.  Not a stellar time by any means, 28:38 was the time.  Decidedly middle of the pack.  But I was happy with it.  Despite my perceived lack of training, I felt great the entire time.
Random pic of Savannah, my granddaughter because she's so stinking cute
Aftermath and analysis - 
Why did I feel so good?  Why am I barely sore two days after?  In hindsight I have to think that it's the cross training I've done.  Pilates twice a week, weight lifting twice a week.  The core strength and leg strength were there and that enabled me to be able to run as much of the distance as I did.  I also think that changing my fueling strategy had something to do with it.  My guess is that I downed significantly more calories during this race than I have in the past.  Real food, not just gels.  Lots of water.  I bet I went through 3-4 gallons of water during the race.
My time of 28:38 certainly wasn't speedy, but my splits were where they usually are.  My first half I did in about 12 hours.  The second half took my 16 hours.  I do know that once Britta started pacing, we made up some time.
Here it is Monday evening and I'm barely sore.  I was walking up and down stairs at work today with no issues whatsoever.  Karen even mentioned that she thought I looked better than I ever have after a 100.
Big thanks goes out to Breein and Britta of Team Bean Burrito for crewing and pacing.  They were great, they knew what to do and didn't let me quit.
Oh, the Team Bean Burrito?  Yeah, I had an affinity for rice and bean burritos during this race.  Well, everyone knows what the after effects are of eating bean burritos.  I kinda felt sorry for Britta, but not too much:-)