Yamacraw 50k

More like 52.6k, amiright?

Yes, I’m right. It was 32.7 miles, instead of 31. But who’s counting? (I was)

Let’s see how much of this I remember…

The race.

It was cold when we rolled out of our tent at 4:30 a.m. The sky was insane with stars, which made it a little easier to stay out of the relative warmth of the tent.

Two hours later, I was standing in line to get shuttled to the start line with more than 130 other 50k runners. We all stood huddled in the wind, waiting to start running. Finally, the race director asked, “Are you guys ready?” (resounding yes) “All right! Ready? Set! GO!” And we ran off into the woods where I would spend the next 7 hours, 51 minutes, and 9 seconds pursuing a finish line 32.7 miles away.

Our course traveled through the deep ravines in Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. At first, we dove downhill for a while, crossed streams left and right, and blazed through some rollers along Lick Creek. Then, suddenly, we were climbing out of the ravine to an aid station at the top of the world (or so it seemed – it was a big climb).

After some potatoes and PB&J, we eventually flew back down into the ravine for an outstanding 9 miles of gentle rollers. This was a beautiful stretch that included running under and slightly behind Yahoo Falls, one of the most ridiculously picturesque places I’ve run through. It’s what someone would build in their backyard if they wanted to seem outdoorsy. Only I guess quite a bit bigger.

After the pretty uneventful rollers, we crossed hip-deep Rock Creek and started climbing again. And by climbing, I mean, we went straight up for 700 years.

The trifecta.

Throughout the race, I had been generating a great amount of friction on my body in various places. I had some pretty uncomfortable chafing going on and blisters forming in a few spots on my feet.

Then, when I started climbing one of the steepest gravel roads I’ve ever seen, a muscle in my left quad cramped, arresting my ascent. While I massaged the cramp out, I thought it probably couldn’t get worse than this. It didn’t, so that’s nice.

Blisters, chafing, and nursing a cramp, I kept moving up the road and back into the woods. After a while, I came into a clearing at the top of a tall hill. In the east, serene mountains shrouded in shades of blue rolled along the horizon. This was what I came here to be a part of. The incredible beauty of nature will never get old, and will never cease to clear my mind’s cache.

I focused one last time on each member of my BCC trifecta:
– Blisters: They won’t go away. They may get worse.
– Chafing: It won’t go away. It will definitely get worse.
– Cramp: It’ll be a matter of time before my leg cramps back up.

I put all these inconveniences in the “this is a race” compartment in my mind, so they would just became a part of the race. Like the trail I followed and the trees around it, the BCC would be with me until the end. May as well be at peace with it.

The final stretch.Bridge

I make it a point to not ask anyone how many more miles there are until the end. To me, it doesn’t matter. They won’t take the finish line away; it’ll always be there, and I’ll get to it eventually. Why bother with those kinds of details? It may be farther away than I expect, and that could be hard to handle.

Other runners don’t feel the same way, and I unfortunately overheard someone say “You only have 5 miles to go!” and I couldn’t get it out of my head. My brain wanted to count down every time a mile ticked off. “Only four miles now! Just three left!”

When I got down to one remaining mile, I started looking for signs. I knew that the finish line was a really long bridge across the Big South Fork Cumberland River (see above). So when I thought I should be getting close, everything in the woods started looking like bridge stuff.

“Is that a cable holding up a bridge?” Nope. Grapevine.
“Is that wood on a bridge?” Nope. Just regular wood in the woods.

Then I heard Ashley whistling at me. She whistles to get my attention in the woods, and it’s very effective. I scanned the forest for her, and couldn’t see her. For more minutes than I’m proud of, I convinced myself that Ashley had come into the woods to finish the race with me. She hadn’t. It was a bird. And Ashley had already run her own 20k and was resting at the finish line. Not long after that, I saw the bridge in the distance. It was very far away.

Finally, a real person was on the trail and informed me that I only had 300 meters to go! I don’t know how far 300 meters is! But I picked up the pace and ran it out. Sure enough, I turned right, and there was a giant bridge stretching out in front of me. I started across and passed an older couple who were out sightseeing.

“How are you doing?” asked the man.
“Thanks,” I responded.

After I went through a little hut in the middle of the bridge, a cluster of people at the finish line started cheering for me. Cheering like I was finishing first; cheering like they had never seen anyone so amazing running across a bridge. My throat closed up and I nearly cried right there. A photographer was snapping pictures the whole time, and Ashley was there taking pictures, too. The race director shook my hand and with a huge smile said, “Congratulations, man, you are so awesome!” and his wife put a giant medal around my neck. I didn’t finish first. I finished 76th, but my heart thought I finished first. I couldn’t even look at my medal for a few minutes without getting choked up. These races can make your emotions paper thin.

Finish

#runstreak

On Friday night before the race, we were getting settled into the tent when I realized I hadn’t done my run for the day. I had intended to run 2 miles before we left town, and I just forgot. It was nearly 9:00 at night, and I was ready to get in bed. The wind outside was roaring and temperatures were falling quickly. I decided the run streak was over. I was too frustrated, and I didn’t really feel like going out into the pitch black, middle of nowhere campsite (where you have to store food safely away from bears) to run anywhere.runstreak_edited

Buuuut, Ashley convinced me otherwise. She said this isn’t how the streak should end. It should end when I’m ready, not when I just forget and get frustrated. So, I put on my shoes and shorts and headed out into the wind and dark. I’m still running every day, though they’re not much more than the requisite 1 mile this week. 107 days and counting!

 

Chafing: The gift that keeps on giving.

The chafing I had accrued during this race was the worst I’ve had and is definitely the most uncomfortable aftermath of any of the races I’ve done. However, and this is important if you have had chafing or plan to chafe ever, we have this magic ointment (thanks to our friend, Patti, who introduced it to us):

chafemiracle_edited

Buy it. Get chafed as bad as you can. Use it. Return here and thank me.

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The season begins!

There are only a few days to go until I run my first race of 2016: Yamacraw 50k. I’m really excited to hit the trails of Big South Fork in Stearns, Kentucky.

I have been remiss in keeping this blog updated – and I’ve avoided the inevitable post that says “Boy have I not been updating much.” Kind of a stalemate. Perhaps the first step is to admit that I’ve been lazy?

While I have not been talking about what I’ve been up to, I have been up to a lot. Specifically a lot of running.

My run streak, which began inadvertently on December 29, 2015, and officially on January 1, 2016, is going remarkably strong. When I hit the publish button for this post, I had 94 straight days of running behind me. It has been a wonderful accountability tool.

“You could skip today’s run. The weather isn’t ideal,” says the lazy athlete on my left shoulder.

“Yes, but then your run streak would be over. Don’t want that, do you?” asks the ultrarunner on my right shoulder.

Lace up shoes; pound the pavement. 94 days and counting.

Smashrun

IMG_20160324_161158Since I use a Garmin watch (see below!), I primarily use Garmin Connect to upload and track my runs. However, I discovered Smashrun through a fellow blogger, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Smashrun caught on pretty quickly that I was doing a run streak and started counting the days for me. Not only that, but there are all sorts of badges you can get when you upload your runs there. Check it out! It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve found the badges oddly motivational. They also send a weekly running report (like the one on the left), which is kinda cool.

New gear!

I have two new pieces of running gear! Usually gear comes one at a time because it ain’t cheap. But, one thing was free.

SPIbelt!
I’ve been interested in SPIbelts for a while. There are other brands out there (like Flip Belt), but SPIbelt was the only one (that I know of) giving them away for free on Leap day. SPI stands for “small personal item,” and I have taken that to mean potatoes (see below). Before the belt even arrived, I was already calling it my tater sack.

SPIbelt is a belt with a small pocket that you can put stuff in. They’re designed not to bounce around or be uncomfortable, which I can attest is the case for my particular belt (a black, standard SPIbelt). I crammed two potatoes’ worth of roasted potato wedges in my belt and went for a 22-mile run, and I barely noticed it was there. The heat from my body actually kept the taters pleasantly warm. Just kidding. That’s kinda weird.

Garmin!
I knew that the battery life of my old 410 was not going to cut it for ultramarathons, especially anything that takes longer than eight hours to complete. So I did some research and found a new one. I’m now the proud owner of a Garmin 230, which is so fancy and pretty, I can hardly handle it. Also it boasts a 16-hr battery life and loads of other features and data that give me heart palpitations.

  • Internal cadence sensor. I don’t know how it works, but it’s great to see my cadence. I muffinsshould be between 170-180, and I’m typically averaging 176. Yay fastfeet!
  • Smart notifications. This means I’m a little easier to get a hold of while I’m out running. Ashley has promised not to text me unless it’s important or motivational. (example right)
  • Live tracking. Ashley (or anyone who I invite to the party) can track me on my run. This is especially nice when I’m running 22 miles on generally not-runner-friendly roads. I haven’t tested this on the trails yet, but that’ll be next!

There are other things like V02 Max and recovery advisor, but I need to learn more about how to use that information before I get too excited about it.

New nutrition! (NEWtrition?)

There were a few weeks when I finished a trail run completely drained of energy. After a few runs with this experience, I started thinking I need to up my calorie intake while out on long runs. My first successful foray into calorie intake on the run included eating dates. Usually one date every 45 minutes. I also will drink a bottle of Skratch. This is how that breaks down caloriewise:

  • 1 Date: 23 calories
  • 16 oz Skratch: 80 calories
  • 18-mile trail run: ~2,132 calories
  • I would need to eat 92 dates to match that calorie burn. Not gonna happen.

So I’ve started bringing roasted sweet potato wedges on my long runs. It has made a huge difference. I eat two potatoes plus the Skratch, and it has kept me from bonking, and helps me feel like I can keep moving after my run is over, rather than laying down in the back of the car with a towel over my eyes.

Plus I get to eat potatoes while I’m running. Potatoes are delicious.

I rang the bell.

Last Saturday, I ran my second 50k! It was in Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns, Tennessee. If you have the chance, you should visit. It’s beautiful, and the people who work there are wonderful.

The executive summary is that the main issues that plagued my run at Gnaw Bone (GI and IT – all my problems are acronyms) didn’t factor in this race. Probably this benefit is part of what led me to finish Bell Ringer in 6:59:46 (official time). This is significantly faster than my first ultra, which I finished in 8:12:26.

But wait, there’s more!

Pt. 1: Before the race.

Unlike before Gnaw Bone, I didn’t have much to say in the two weeks prior to this race. Last time, I had final thoughts and goals, and all sorts of heartfelt flowers and hearts. This time I didn’t. That’s because any goals I had set were thrown out the window when I started experiencing IT Band pain several weeks ago. After the initial injury, I took a few days off from running. After that, though, I had some really great runs (even covering 22 miles) with no pain at all. Then, two weeks before race day, I had a really painful 16 miler. I took a few days off and tried to run again, but couldn’t even get through six miles without having ITB pain again.

So, sparing some details, I took off from running for the last two weeks of training – opting instead for more aggressive ITB rehab, which included daily targeted exercising and foam rolling, but virtually no running. I did run twice, but no significant mileage.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my IT Band every moment of every day during those last two weeks. IT pain is very painful and impossible to run through. I ran 18 miles of my first marathon with that really terrible pain, and it broke me down, both mentally and physically. I was not interested in having that problem again. I had to decide whether to do this race or not. Obviously I went through with it, modifying my lofty goals to the following three:

  1. Finish the race with no IT injury.
  2. Finish the race in spite of IT injury.
  3. Finish the race before my watch battery dies.

I was scared. My mindset was basically “how far can I get before IT pain starts setting in?”


Pt. 2: Race day.

BeginningI couldn’t stop thinking about my IT band. So finally, I just decided thinking about it isn’t going to fix anything. I would hand it over to God, and let him take care of that part. I would just hit the trails with water and dates in my pack and my head securely attached to my shoulders.

So, at 7:00 in the morning, in 64-degree weather (unheard of even in the “south”), I was ready to go. The race director yelled, “Ready? Ok…GO!” and all 300 of us took off down the road.

The beginning of any race is always so interesting. I love watching the people around me. Some are warming up, some are standing still, some are setting their playlists – and we’ve all got our eyes on the finish line already. When we cross under the starting banner, the excitement level is high. People joke with each other. There is always, always someone, no matter how long the race, who’ll say “are we almost done? How much further?” No one likes that guy. Well, I guess I don’t know if no one likes him. I just know I certainly don’t.

Nor do I like the guy who, 3 miles into 31, says “we’re one-tenth done!” To which I respond to myself, “I gotta get away from that guy.”

We had pavement for a little while before heading into the woods where the hills, roots, and rocks took center stage for the next several hours.

At mile 8, we came out of the woods to a big aid station that was a hub of sorts. We would stop at this station three times, and it served as the final split for the 25k and 50k course. It was also a really convenient and accessible place for spectators to gather, so it was an energetic, musical, cow-bell-filled location with water, Gatorade, cookies, fruit, and my drop bag. It was also where Ashley was waiting for me.

Somewhere between mile 1 and mile 8, I tweaked my left calf muscle. So, I put some BioFreeze on there and took off back into the woods.

Leaving aid

The next part of the course was on the extensive mountain biking trails in Montgomery Bell. These were amazing. At first, we ran up some great switchbacks, which were a little challenging and congested, but after a while, the trails leveled out into four miles of “flats” where we could open up a little and really move. I was at the front of a line of four guys, and the conversations behind me were colorful. One guy dropped back after a while because he couldn’t stop falling all over the place. The other guys talked about nipple chafing (“the red 11”), plastic surgery, and the pitfalls of typing in the wrong thing on Google (it’s DicksSportingGoods.com, BTW. You gotta type in the whole thing).

Five miles later, we’re back at the big aid station. Ashley was there, ready to take care of me. I ate the most magical potato.

It’s mile 14 or so now, and the 25k runners split off onto a trail that goes about a half mile to the finish line. The 50k runners go down the road and up a hill to run 17 more miles. Up until this point, I was always either right in front of or right behind other runners. But when I split to go back into the woods, I found myself completely alone for a long time, looking for the little green flags marking the course, giving me an affirming “don’t worry, you’re not lost.”

The course went up a hill, along a ridgline, and then down to go around a lake. The trail around the lake was one of the most difficult. It was very rooty, rocky, jerkingly rolly, and all around unpredictable. It was too difficult to run it, so I walked that part, giving my legs a nice respite, sort of. It wasn’t a relaxing hike. We went around another lake that was similar to this. Aside from these instances, the course was only moderately technical. It was a very runnable 31 miles.


Part 3: Overcoming the darkness.

In the 20s, things started to get a little rough – not surprisingly. After running for more than four hours, the soreness and fatigue is hard to ignore. My tweaked left calf wasn’t letting up. It really only caused a problem when I was going uphill, so of course I compensated by pushing harder with my right leg on the hills, which made my right quad get sore. Tired, sweaty, thirsty, sore, and not sure what to do about it, I found myself walking on even the easy parts. Wondering if running these long distances is really a thing I want to do. Sound familiar? Probably. Because it happens during every long race. I’ll bullet point this section:

  • Of course I’ll keep doing these events. They’re amazing, and I love them.
  • I won’t ever walk past this fatigue and soreness, so I may as well run.
  • It’s a beautiful day, and I’m privileged to be able to spend it running in the woods – which is my absolute favorite thing to do in the whole world.

So I started running. At the next aid station, I grabbed some Chex Mix, which completely changed my world in ways you can’t even imagine.

My mantra became “Keep going, you’re doing great. Keep going! You’re doing great! Keep going….you’re doing great.

I knew the soreness wouldn’t go away because I was not going to stop running.

I knew the fatigue wouldn’t go away because I was not going to stop running.

The dark thoughts, however, did go away – because I didn’t stop running. I kept going. I was doing great.


Pt. 4: Finish it up.

I wasn’t running fast, but I was running consistently. I ignored everything except the woods. The trees and birds were singing, and it was just the most perfect thing. If you haven’t heard the trees sing, then you simply need to spend more time in the woods.

At mile 24, I turned out onto a gravel road and ran down to meet Ashley at a creepy little aid station between an old cemetery and a little archway under some train tracks. We talked a little about how I was sore and tired, but she assured me I looked like a badass. I had another potato and some Chex Mix, and headed back down the gravel road and finally back into the woods.

After a little while, I could hear the finish line. Cheering, the big bell that finishers ring, and the announcer telling everyone how great they were doing. Then, the trail veered right, and those sounds died away. That was kinda mean. It did, though, give me a surge of adrenaline, and I was flying down the trail, which suddenly dropped down the side of the hill to the big aid station for the third and final time. The finish line, I was told, was a half mile away. I joked with them about how I already heard the finish line, but it was taken away. And she told me that was torture, “Sort of like how there’s a big staircase right at the end.” A staircase. Great!

I took off, ready to kick that staircase right in the face. The last half mile didn’t have anything I couldn’t handle. There was a big, stupid staircase, but I climbed it. After the staircase, there was a big stupid hill in the parking lot, at the top of which was the finish line. I ran up that big stupid hill with big stupid grin on my face. Ashley was cheering me on “You’re going to come in under seven hours!”

“I know, I can’t even believe it!”

I finished, and I rang the bell.

Bell

Tough days.

IMG_20151114_095644254 [73589] Even after 1,200+ miles, this running activity can still throw a wrench at me. Or, perhaps more appropriately, hide a bunch of wrenches under freshly fallen leaves.

Let me explain.

After a week of pretty stellar runs, I headed into a high-mileage weekend with great hopes. The plan was to run 17 miles on the trails on Saturday followed by an easy 11 on the roads on Sunday. I felt really confident about these runs, and I was really looking forward to them.

Saturday was an incredible day. The skies were insanely blue, which is something I’ve been missing lately. The trees in Harmonie State Park had dropped many of their leaves, so my view of the sky and of the forest beyond the leaves was nearly unfettered as I plowed through the deep piles. In general, the run was pretty great. But, under all those fallen leaves were roots and branches that I couldn’t see until my feet landed on them or inadvertently kicked them. I was constantly stabilizing or recovering from dramatically tripping. I think I fell all the way down twice, which is always frustrating. But tripping without falling is just as frustrating, really – and surprisingly painful. My legs felt really beat up after a while.

I have a friend who is studying to be a physical therapist, so she can tell me if this is all wacko, but my theory is that constantly pulling myself upright and trying to correct sudden imbalances overworked my stabilizers, which led to pain in my IT Band (UPDATE: She doesn’t think it’s wacko). This pain is something I’m unfortunately really familiar with. When that pain starts, aside from stopping running immediately, there’s no way to keep it from getting worse. I kept running and finished my 17 miles on increasingly painful legs. It’s my own fault.

I used to deal with pretty regular IT pain. It made my first marathon incredibly painful – but after many months of dogged ITBS rehab, I had it under control really well, so I don’t deal with this very often anymore. It’s really frustrating when I get that pain, and it’s that frustration and ill-placed determination that keeps me running when the IT pain starts.

Anyway, I tried to treat my legs really well on Saturday night (compression, elevation, quality foam rolling time) so that I could still go out on Sunday and get those 11 miles done. You may not be surprised that a little more than 2 miles into the run, my IT band started hurting again. I stretched and tried to manage it, but ultimately decided to cut the run short. When I got home after 4.89 miles, I could barely get up the stairs to my house.


These are tough days.

It’s so hard to come home and have to say “Today was a bad run.” It truly is. I texted a friend a little while after my run to admit I cut it short. It was a therapeutic admission. While I was stretching and rolling, I thought, “Maybe I won’t tell her. I’ll keep it to myself and let her think I did just fine.” But admitting that I had a bad run was important for me in order to move past it and get on to the next part. She responded by telling me that she cut her long run short, too – and that we need to figure out a way to encourage each other through these hard times – and she’s absolutely right. We runners can spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for the great runs and impressing one another with the long distances, but being able to admit when we had a bad run or a bad string of runs is just as important to our ability to get out there and keep impressing and inspiring one another.

Maybe the hardest part about being a runner is when I have to admit that I don’t always have it all together, and that – despite the work I do and the food I eat – sometimes it just really hurts too bad to keep running the impressive miles I aspire to. Sure, most of miles come easy, but with each success, the perceived failures bite even deeper.

But, keeping true to the ultradistance, I’m in this for the long haul. Maybe I’ll “fail” a run now and then – but, as you may have read in an inspirational picture on the Internet – failure doesn’t come from falling, it comes from not getting up.

As I write this, there are three weeks and six days until my next ultramarathon (the countdown widget is a “nice” reminder). I had a plan for those weeks, too. But, this weekend’s IT trouble necessitates a new plan: ITB rehab from strengthrunning.com. This is definitely not a new thing for me. I’ve done this routine so many times, I could do it in my sleep. But I haven’t done it lately. This routine focuses on hip and glute strength, improvements that will keep me from relying on my poor IT band to stabilize me on downhills and unpredictable terrain.

While it’s hard to move past the disappointment of the weekend, I have a new vision and optimism as I start the last several weeks of training before Bell Ringer. As always, there are strengths I need to cultivate in my mind and body, new habits to build on, and routine to establish. Wish me luck, and I’ll do the same for you!
IMG_20151115_091445721 [73590]

Consistent leg turnover

IMG_20150428_174847364

The Bonanza Begins

This past weekend was a magnificent running bonanza. It started off on Saturday with my fourth Chilly Hilly 5k, a trail run in Audubon State Park in Kentucky. This is one of my favorite races in one of my favorite places to run.

The first time I ran this race was in 2012, and I finished in 28:07 – a 9:04/mi pace. This is pretty impressive, considering the terrain (it’s very hilly) – and I haven’t been able to get near that pace since. In 2013 and 2014, the race took place only a few weeks after I ran a marathon, so I was in a running lull both times. I pulled out 31:48 and 31:33 respectively.

This Saturday, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Ashley and I have gone out to Audubon a lot this year, but not recently. I elected to start in very front of the second wave. This was the first time I ever started at the front of the pack. It was an odd sensation to start running immediately when the “Go!” was given. Even with smaller races like this one, there is a little time between the starting horn and when you actually start running. But not today! “Go!” “Oh…me?”

Chilly Hilly has one of the toughest starts to a race that I’ve done. I can’t think of many races that start on an uphill – but the Chilly Hilly really brings it. The very first part is a really long uphill on the road followed by two more hills before getting to the Backcountry trailhead and singletrack. My legs were feeling fresh and powerful, and I was pleased to be well in front of all but two runners in the pack by the time we got into the woods. The trailhead is also a grueling hill. I passed those two runners about halfway up. So, heading into the woods, I was at the front of my wave – and pretty happy about it.

While running this course through the spring and summer this year, I developed a specific plan of attack that I thought might help me. Since this is a pretty tough course, it’s not realistic to think that I could go all out the entire way. I would need a few places where I could dial it back and get my heart and legs back under control. For example, I knew that the hills at the beginning were hard and long, but they were followed by a long stretch of flat or downhill areas – great for recovery! I identified a few areas like this along the course, as well as some other places where I could really pull out all the stops and blaze down the trail to make up for the recovery areas. By the end of the summer, I had the course mapped out and a plan of attack dialed in. I put that plan to the test last Saturday, and it worked like a dream.

I stayed well ahead of my wave the whole race and even infiltrated the first wave by passing four or five runners. I passed two runners on my old nemesis, the Stupid Steep Staircase at the lake. I have no pictures, so you’ll just have to trust me. It’s stupid and steep.

The trails were covered in leaves and a little damp, so I took some of the downhills and sharp turns pretty cautiously. Roots and rocks were hiding within. I wasn’t going to be contending for first place or anything like that, so the glory of getting an unrecognized course PR was not worth the potential price of a broken face.

I rounded the corner into the finish line at 29:47 (9:36 pace). At 6th place in my age group and 26th overall, it was not enough to earn a medal – but it’s the best time I’ve had out there in three years, so I consider it a race well done.

Shoe Talk
I raced in my Merrell Trail Gloves. These have become my favorite go-tos for short races, road or trail. They’re light, supremely grippy on the trails, and fit like a glove – as one might imagine.


The Bonanza Continues

I had 15 miles on the schedule for this weekend. To get these miles in, I could either run the Chilly Hilly course five times after the race (blaaaaaah), or go straight home, change into dry running clothes, and hit the road. Partway through the race, I decided I would do neither and just run my 15 miles on Sunday after church.

So, when I got home in the mid-morning on Sunday, I got in my gear and hit the road. It started off a little rough. I was trying out some new bluetooth headphones that ended up not working at all, so I stopped running and switched back to my Yurbuds, which were like a breath of fresh air after trying the strange new ones. Then I had a rock in my left shoe, so I stopped running again to take off my shoe and drain it of its boulder passenger. Then the insole was slipping in my right shoe. So I stopped running AGAIN and fixed that problem. After that, though, everything was pretty smooth going. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a slight chill in the air. Perfect for a long run.

I started off pretty easy, like I usually do for long runs, and slowly, each mile got faster and faster. Not crazy fast, just incrementally so. It’s really a great sign for a long run to naturally have negative splits. At the halfway point, I really picked it up. Everything was really clicking, and it felt so great. The 15 miles flowed really well, and I was done before I knew it.

Shoe Talk
Of course I wore my trusty roadies: Altra Instinct. My feet always thank me when I pull on these green monsters. The insole sliding around is an unfortunate development. It only happens in the right shoe, and it only started after I ran in a downpour thunderstorm several weeks ago. I’ll probably put a little glue in there to hold it in place for a while. I’m not ready to give them up yet. I have 250 miles on this pair, so I’m almost due for another set, but these are holding up really well. There’s no unexpected wear on them.

What I listened to
Here are the podcasts I listened to on my long run. A nice combo of education and humor to keep my mind off the pavement.
Radiolab: Staph Retreat (about staph infections and ancient remedies)
The Memory Palace: no. 116,842 (bite size history show – this one was about the first woman to get a patent)
Ask Me Another: Gilbert Gottfried: Too Soon! (fantastic trivia game show from NPR)
Trail Talk: How to Travel and Camp Before an Ultramarathon (great tips from Rock Creek Runner!)

Then I finished it off with my Beast playlist on Spotify. I don’t remember which songs were played, but there was some Queen, Modest Mouse, Panic! At the Disco, and Muse! Basically if I like a song, I add it to that playlist. It gets a little ecclectic, but that’s what gets my feet moving.

Reflections on 1,000 miles

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Over roads, bridges, fallen trees, rivers, rocks, and trails, my trusty two feet have taken me 1,000 miles so far in 2015.

Early mornings, later-than-I’d-like evenings, crazy fast races, and mind-numbingly long, hot runs all comprise an effort I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. Not every mile was glorious. It hasn’t always been fun, especially when those miles were picked up over snow and ice, into an icy cold wind. Conversely, many of my 1,000 miles were run into an oppressive, humid heat.

Most of my runs, though, were outstanding – and when completed, I was grateful for even the tough ones. Perhaps especially the tough ones.

I can thank training for a spring ultramarathon for racking up quite a few miles. In training for Gnaw Bone, I ran my first (second and third) 100+-mile month. I also ran the entire winter, which was another new sensation. In previous years, I basically went into hibernation after my fall marathon, and gratefully didn’t step foot outside while there was snow or ice on the ground. This winter was a little different – though I did avoid some of the more inclement days by running many miles on the treadmill. Not a fan of that.

When I started writing this, I intended to do short highlights of my year of running so far (which is nowhere near over, by the way. 1,000 miles apparently is just the beginning). But as I started looking back through my blog, there really is only one run that stands out. Not because of the run, but really more for what it represents to me. So I’ma talk about that instead.

Perception of potential

I look back on Gnaw Bone with great pride, to be honest. It’s a great accomplishment, and I get to join a pretty cool group of people when I say “I’m an ultrarunner.”

What I recall most fondly from the Gnaw Bone experience isn’t even the run itself – rather, it’s the training. I know I’m a different person today – not because I ran an ultramarathon, but because I trained for one. Training required me to test myself and push my body much further than I had ever done. The dark times, both literal and figurative, regularly brought me to a place where the daily push simply had to mean more than it did in that moment. When the going got tough, I told myself so many times “This is where you build.” Knowing that it was not just my muscles I was working on, but my determination, endurance, and character.

I asked myself “What are you doing? Do you realize what you’re getting into with this?” I thought my hubris was leading me in a direction that would ultimately end in failure. But I didn’t give up. I dug deeper and learned more about my own potential.

“I’m not a runner; I’m not an athlete; I’m not at that level.”
On May 9, when I crossed the finish line to the cheers of my wife and my friends, I broke through a layer of deep-seated self-doubt that I had built up over years of giving in to fear of failure. Before, at races I would look at other runners – old, young, thin, fast – and unfairly compare myself against them. I still do that to a certain extent; it’s a hard habit to break. But, I now look at these other runners with a new perspective. When I start to feel down and doubt myself when compared to someone faster, I remind myself that I don’t know that runner’s past, goals, or training. Celebrate the run, celebrate today. Stand up straight and run strong.


Runs

Fuel experiment

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For my second 50k, I’m going to get a little more experimenty during training in pursuit of the most effective fuel strategy. My strategy for Gnaw Bone wasn’t bad, but I want to find a strategy that’s even better – yields more energy and provides optimal recovery.

I’m looking for the answers to these questions:
– What are the best ways to fuel before and during a long run?
– What is the best food for recovery?

For my first fuel experiment, I kinda dove right in.

Fruit-only day!

I decided this past Friday to eat only fruit for the entire day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks. Here’s what that looked like to the best of my recollection. I started a food log for the day, but I have no idea what happened to it. I probably deleted it. I guess that means it’s available for anyone on the Internet to see? So, if you see a weird, fruit-laden food log floating around somewhere, please forward it to me.

Friday is typically a rest day, followed by my long run on Saturday. But, this what my fruit-only day would support this Friday (through Saturday):
– Full Moon Fever Race #2 (5k trail run)
– 13-mile long run with pace progression (first thing Saturday)
– Short, moderate hike (mid-morning Saturday)

Breakfast
– Mango, pineapple smoothie with coconut water
– Strawberry banana smoothie
– A banana

Lunch
Large tray of fruit (including melons, honeydew, strawberries, and grapes)
– Several bananas
– Coconut water

Dinner
– Mixed fruit smoothie (pineapple, mangos, peaches, some other fruits I can’t recall)

Race
– Pre-race: Two medjool dates, bananas maybe? (standard pre-5k snack)
– Post-race: Another smoothie!

That’s pretty much it, as far as I can recall. I ate a lot of fruit. Oh, well, I had a cup of coffee and a lot of water. Full disclosure I guess.

Results
Bear in mind, these results are based on a one-time, one-day experiment. More testing is required before I say “I’ma do this all the time,” but preliminarily, things are looking good.

First of all, I had tons of energy all day. Never felt bloated, and I did not have an afternoon crash.

Second, I PRd hard and heavy at my race.
– Previous 5k PR: 24:36 (2013)
– Last month’s FMF: 25:00
– Friday night’s FMF: 23:54!

So, I shaved a minute off last month’s time, and 32 seconds off my PR. I’ll take it! If I can take a minute off my time per month, it’s looking really good for a 20-minute 5k by the end of the year. Is this because of fruit? It certainly didn’t hurt! But I won’t pin all my hopes and dreams on a bunch of fruit just yet.

Saturday morning, I got up at 4:45 a.m. to hit the road for 13 miles. My longest run in a while, and my longest run on the road in even more of a while(?). I did pace progressions, which means I increased my pace by about 30 sec/mi every four miles, finishing at a pretty good tempo pace. It’s a challenging run, made more challenging because the last five or six miles were quite hilly.

It went perfectly! I was able to keep pace the whole time, and stayed on track to finish my third fastest half marathon distance (which includes seven half marathon races).

During my run, I ate three medjool dates. I may have had a banana before running, but I don’t remember. It was very early in the morning.


My first fruit-only day was quite a success, all things considered. I know that the next time I do it, things could go wildly different, and that would be okay. I wasn’t totally surprised by the positive results I achieved this time. I’ve used smoothies and lots of fruit as recovery for a while, and medjool dates have fueled many of my long runs. It was interesting to see how my body responded to eating only fruit before a long run, and especially before a race.

Stay tuned for more food experiments! Also, I’ll probably talk about how Ashley and I aren’t watching TV throughout the month of September.

Also, the Rugged Red is in 11 days. I may have a thing or two to say about that when it’s all over.

Excitement.

This week is the first week of training for my second 50k, and I am really excited to get started again! So, for this periodic installment to my blog (which occasionally updates weekly), I thought I would share all the things I’m excited about.

Cuz fun.


bell ringer

Bell Ringer 50k

I have three big races coming up, and instead of just listing all three of them, I thought I’d talk about this one. The Bell Ringer is in Montgomery, Tennessee, which is outside of Nashville, Tennessee – the country music capital of the known universe. There’s also a Trader Joe’s there. And an REI! I just got more excited. “Yeah, I’ll be running a 50k in December…but also going shopping!”


Untitled-1All the races!

I can’t help it. I love these events!

Last year was the first year for a night trail run series called “Full Moon Fever.” We run into the woods after dark for a flat, fast 5k. These events are put on by a relatively new event production company called 40 lb Sledgehammer, and they’re great people. They put on great events, and we love going either to watch or to participate. The FMF series is sponsored by Altra this year!

Of course the Rugged Red is coming up – and I’m so excited to get back on the trails of the Red River Gorge. It’s a beautiful, inspiring part of the country. I know the area a little better now, and I have a little memory of the course, so I think it will be to my advantage.

The Indian-Celina Challenge is another local run. It claims to be one of the hardest marathons in Indiana, and I find that pretty easy to believe. With long hills and beautiful trails, this promises to be a really challenging go for my third marathon distance.


5:00 a.m. wake up call!

“Really?”

Really.

I’ll admit, I’m not always excited at 5:00 a.m. when both alarm clocks start going off. But, when I’m out there running, the cobwebs slowly drift away, and it’s great.

I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude about waking up early, and it seems to be helping. I’ve kept the schedule for two weeks, and the benefits are outstanding. I even convinced Ashley to get up early with me, which is really nice.


Writing!

I’ve recently decided to start creatively writing with a little more structure. Finish the dozen or so stories that I’ve started, and get going on some other projects rolling around in the ol’ brain bank. I haven’t started doing this yet, but I will soon.


Bicycling!

We’ve been trying to get back on our bikes lately because we both miss it. I especially miss riding centuries, but I don’t think I’m in the right cycling condition to just jump back into one of those. We started slowly by riding our fixed-gear bikes around the neighborhood and out to coffee. Then last week, we went on a short (12-mile) ride with the Adventure Club, a local Meetup group that is a little more low-key than the cycling groups we’ve ridden with in the past. We used our mountain bikes for the easy-paced ride on the Greenway path. We’re going to ride with them again on Tuesday, and we’re really looking forward to it! This will be a longer ride out in the Kentucky countryside, so we got our road bikes out and tuned them up for this one. Let’s go ride!

New shoes (to run my victory lap)!

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Guys, I got new shoes! My feet are now proudly paired with a pair of Altra Instincts, the color of which demands to be recognized.

An aesthetic complaint I had about the Dyads that I’ve run in for many miles was that they are drab. Standard black and white…sometimes a splash of subdued blue…blah. Plus, I had to buy super double extra wide in them so my paddlefeet could fit comfortably.

Well the Instincts are just as blue as can be. And they are the shape of paddlefeet.

As I mentioned before, Altras have appealed to be because they are shaped like feet. This renders them somewhat odd to look at, and according to the guy at the store, that turns some people off. They don’t want their shoes to be weirdos.

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Personally, I don’t care. As soon as I started reading about how wide the toe box was, I had to try a pair. First trail shoes, and now road shoes – I’m all set! My toes have all the room they need.

Another distinction Altra holds to is that their shoes are zero drops – allowing your feet to run more naturally.

Illustrations of this drop business so I don't have to use words.
Illustrations of this drop business so I don’t have to use words.

Dyads have a 10mm drop. The Altra Olympus also has a zero drop, but maybe I didn’t notice it as much because they have a lot more cushion, or because I mainly run trails with those (cuz they be trail shoes), I don’t know. But I was shocked at how much I felt the difference zero drops make in the Instincts. Not a bad difference – just quite different. Runners with a more aggressive heel strike might have problems transitioning to zeros from 10mm, so if you’re one of them (and are considering zero drop shoes), see if you can try out these shoes before buying them. You might want to be careful when transitioning.

Another hint is to keep an eye out for sales (as if I have to even say this). According to the salesperson I talked with, “Altra keeps coming out with new version after new version, but really the main difference is different colors and design.” I got both of my Altras on discount because they aren’t the newest version. I’m not really a shoe elitist, so I likely wouldn’t notice small differences between versions anyway.


Victorious!

Aside from running, I can occasionally be found playing floor hockey with an intramural team at the university where I work. I just finished my second season, and I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it, to be honest. I’ve never been a sports person, and have never really felt the drive to win, win, win. Floor hockey has apparently changed all that. The competition feels really good (and it’s a good way to get some sprint work in!). It’s a really tough workout some nights, since I fit it in with my regular workout. Anyway, our tournament just ended, and my team is the reigning champ! We tied, but our team won in a shootout. Hurray hockey! I busted myself up pretty good. Some highlights were me falling hard on my right knee almost immediately, bowling over several opponents, and diving headfirst into the goal to avoid smashing my team’s keeper (and captain). So I have a busted knee (swollen, tender…but run worthy!), a bruised middle finger, and a sore left arm. At least I have all my teeth.

Maybe we're old. Maybe we're ragtag. But we're definitely champs!
Maybe we’re old. Maybe we’re ragtag. But we’re definitely champs!

Thought for the week: Motivation

This week, I came across a Facebook post in a group I’m in (1000 miles in 2015). The post was a call for motivation, and the range of responses was amusing.
– Think of all the people who are immobile and can’t move even if they wanted to. (Kind of a bummer…)
– It’s not work; you just get to go play outside for a few hours! (There’s unicorns out there!)
– Go for it, you got it, ra ra ra! (Go find your unicorn!)
– Fine, don’t run. But you’ll feel bad later for skipping it, and it’ll be your own fault. (Unicorns aren’t real.)
– Screw motivation. Cultivate discipline. Discipline will get you out the door whether you “feel like it” or not. (Quit being a baby.)

That last one was my favorite. It’s true that I don’t always feel motivated to run. I have to do it a lot, every week, with increasing distances and difficulty. Discipline is the only thing that’ll get you out the door on cold nights after long days. Nothing else is trustworthy. Motivation is fleeting; discipline is dependable. Go find your unicorn, whether you feel like it today or not!

Sweat

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I’ve been working harder at the gym, as I promised – and it feels great, as I expected. I’ve even been reunited with an old flame, burpees. 12 Minute Athlete has been my resource for quick, effective workout routines, which are great for lunchtime gymtime! I get about 25 minutes of quality time after factoring in the walk to and from the gym plus a shower (you’re welcome, coworkers). The routines on 12 Minute Athlete are mostly HIIT (high intensity interval training) with some AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) usually within a 12-minute timeframe (surprise!). She always says “Work HARD!” – which is really the only way to make a short work out yield the most productive results.

I even “discovered” a new workout that heats up my quads like nothing I’ve experienced, short of actual downhill running, which I don’t get much of around here. Pike jumps! These will probably be really useful for attacking long and plentiful downhills that I don’t have much experience with.


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As I write this, I have 308 miles behind me for the year, which is crazy. Last year, I ran 76.08 miles total in January, February, and March. Training for an early spring ultramarathon can really rack up the miles quickly – during some very painful months. I don’t like the cold very much, but it seems like we’re on the other side of that for the most part, here in southern Indiana. This past Saturday, I ran 17 miles under what was apparently direct, unfettered sunshine. I thought it was going to be colder than it was, so I started by running with a long-sleeve shirt, which I shed a few miles in. A few hours later, my face and shoulders were slightly burnt, and I was shamefully pleased. It could maybe not be winter soon!


A few weeks ago, we ran the Run of Luck 7k, the second race in a three-race series held locally. I needed to get five extra miles in addition to the 7k (which, according to my Garmin, is 4.37 miles). So I raced my heart out in the 7k, pulling out an 8:36 pace, which I felt pretty good about. I paused briefly after the finish line, had some water and a date, and then headed back out to run the same course, much more slowly, with an added mile on the end. I wouldn’t typically start a 10-mile run with an 8:30 pace or anything near it, but it’s hard to not race hard even though I know I need to run extra miles. I get caught up in the excitement of the starting corral and the energy of the runners around me. A few weeks from now, I’ll be running a 10k with an added 10 miles. I’d like to think I could do the 10 miles before the race and be done, but we’ll see what the day brings.