Sunday, April 24, 2011

Training Week 15 Recap (61 days to go)

Here's a quick recap on the week ending April 17th...yes, I fell behind again!

Monday: 1.05 miles. Recovery run post-half marathon PR...

Tuesday: 8.27 miles. Hit the track for an 8x800 workout. Splits were solid...2:44, 2:40, 2:40, 2:31 (I drew an audience for this one-the mid-distance coach for Clayton HS), 2:39, 2:41, 2:42, 2:42. Very happy with this workout.

Wednesday: 10.12 miles.

Thursday: 6.12 miles.

Friday: 1.05 miles. Other than the day Nora was born, this was the first day of the 15 weeks I've been training with my coach that I didn't do his planned workout. He had an easy 5 on the calendar. I woke up and just didn't have any "go" in my legs. I figured the race the next day was more important than 4 miles, so I took the dog on a quick loop in the neighborhood. I don't regret that.

Saturday: 31.0 miles. Double Chubb 50k. Follow the link here to read about it.

Sunday: 3.00 miles. The best part about these miles was that I ran them in Boston, mostly along the Charles River! It felt good to be back in Beantown.

Total Week 15: 60.61 miles.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Find your love at the Boston Marathon (63 days to go!)

Two of my friends are getting married this weekend. Unlike the rest of us, who met our spouses in class, or on a blind date, or at the local coffee shop, or maybe on eHarmony, John and Ashley met at the Boston Marathon. Take that, Bill Rodgers and your four Boston wins!

A lot of our mutual running friends, myself included, are not able to make it to Louisville this weekend to celebrate with them, and they weren't able to make it to Boston last weekend to hang with all of us in the place their paths first crossed, but that doesn't mean that we aren't all thinking about them this weekend.

Among many common interests, they share a love of running, and a taste for good beer. For that reason, I'll raise a glass in celebration of their love and wish them many miles of love, laughter, and happiness together.

To John and Ashley, two fine runners, two great friends, two hearts meant to be one.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

May God be with you and bless you:
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings.
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.

May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Double Chubb Race Report (65 days to go!)

The weekly recap can wait...I want to share my epic weekend of running! It'll require two posts, though, because I simply do not have enough energy after four early mornings of running and travel to write about both races in the same sitting. Here's part one from Double Chubb. Part two from Boston on Monday is still to come.

It started on Saturday morning with the Saint Louis Ultrarunners Group's annual Double Chubb 50k. This race was named one of Runner's World's "Don't Miss" trail races for the St. Louis metro area, and it didn't disappoint. After a huge rainstorm on Friday, we expected muddy trails, and while it could have been muddier, it didn't disappoint.

It was a cloudy, windy, chilly morning when I arrived at the starting line in West Tyson Park. Approximately 150 other runners milled around with me, waiting for the start of the two different races. The course was an out-and-back along the Chubb Trail, and the 25k runners did one loop, while the 50k crew did two. With little fanfare (a signature of a lot of ultras), we were off, heading up a steep paved road to the trail head.

The first 3-4 miles of the trail are fairly technical, with single track trail filled with roots and rocks. There is also a fair amount of elevation gain and loss. Before race day, I'd run this trail one time about a year earlier, and I remember thinking then that it was among the hardest runs I had ever had.

I fell in with a bunch of runners for a while, but made a pass and fell into position as the fourth place runner for both races combined by the time we emerged from the steep, rocky decline into the muddy flats of the Meramec River. The two lead runners, one from each race, were long out of sight, so I ran with a 25k competitor around a 7:00/mile pace along this flat portion of the course. After a while, we started another climb to the turnaround point, where I was pleased to see two of my running buddies, Tony and John, volunteering in the wind tunnel that was this aid station.

Ultimately, there isn't much else to report from the race. I continued at a fairly consistent pace, running each quarter of the race in approximately an hour, give or take 2-3 minutes.

The only time I fell out of my position as the 2nd place 50k runner was early in the first mile of the second out-and-back, when I inserted my signature wrong turn and headed down the wrong trail after a hiker I assumed (wrongly, obviously) was a fellow competitor. I lost two or three minutes trying to figure out where the course was, as it was a switchback hiding behind a rock. The 3rd place runner came by, and I headed back out in the right direction with him.

A bit later, I made sure to include my other signature trail running move, a good fall, into the mix about a half mile from the turnaround point. I'm not sure how it happened, but I can report that I still have a band-aid on my right shoulder. In fact, I managed to bloody my knee, thigh, elbow, shoulder, and pinky finger. Go figure--the pinky bled the worst on the trail, and I greeted the aid station with a shout for some first-aid as I approached. The winds had grown so cold that my buddy John struggled to get a band-aid open due to his fingers being frozen. I was back on the trail, mended and that much tougher looking, within 1-2 minutes. The run in the other direction told me that I was securely in 2nd place, but I kept at my paces anyway. When I reached the final climb just a few hundred meters from the finish line, I knew I didn't have any juice left in my legs to run up it. That meant I'd have to forget about a sub-4 hour finish.

I was pleased, though, with my 2nd place finish in 4 hours 44 seconds.

This was about 4 1/2 minutes behind fellow Western States entrant Ben Creehan. Ben is probably the best ultrarunner in Missouri, and anyone who thinks for a moment that I stood a chance to win this race if I hadn't gotten lost or fallen just needs to look at his course record from 2010 to realize that he didn't run this one as fast as possible. It was great chatting with Ben at the finish line, and I look forward to seeing him on the trails for May's Berryman Trail 50 miler as we both start fine-tuning for WS100. Before I left for home, I hung out with Travis and Tommy, two runners who have done a lot to explain the intracacies of the 100 mile distance to me. Travis finished in 4th place for the 50k, while Tommy manned an aid station less than one week after winning the Potawatomi 100 mile race in Illinois. I thank both of them for their willingness to help me out as I learn more and more about ultrarunning.

My afternoon was spent celebrating my first ultra belt buckle with Nora, who made sure to don her Western States In Training outfit so she'd have a common bond with her daddy.

A good day? I'd say so.

Giving credit where it is due: Thanks to SLUG Shannon Drohan for the action shots from the race!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Big weekend ahead! (70 days to go!)

I woke up to a thunderstorm this morning. The plan, according to my coach, was five easy miles, but the pouring rain and distant rumbling of the clouds made me hit snooze a dozen times and decide to make this what is known by the acronym 'USRD'-unscheduled rest day. I haven't actually taken a rest day from running since mid-August 2009, so I still tied up my laces and got a quick mile in before heading to work. The daily running streak remains alive, and my legs kicked some of their cobwebs before I ask them to do some big things this weekend.

Tomorrow is the Double Chubb 50k trail run. The two loop course has a variety of terrain, and today's rainstorm, along with the rain we're expecting overnight tonight, nearly guarantees a sloppy good time. The nice thing about this race is that it's only about a 20 minute drive from home. I've been given the green light to race tomorrow in an effort to gauge my fitness level, and I won't lie: I've got high hopes that the legs respond. The field is typically pretty strong, so I'll focus on me and not other runners...until the last few miles, of course!

Sunday morning I'll head to the airport for an impromptu trip to Boston for the 115th running of the Boston Marathon. I registered for this race back in September and decided not to run it when I was accepted into Western States in December. That lasted until Tuesday, when I booked a flight to my all-time favorite race. I have run two personal records at Boston, but this year nearly guarantees that I'll run a personal worst marathon time since only 48 hours will have passed since Chubb. The highlight of the day will be the opportunity to run with so many of my running friends from across the country and even the world--friends from Vermont, Wisconsin, Baltimore, California, Ohio, the Caymans, Canada, and Great Britain, just to name a few of their origins. We only see each other a couple times each year at best, so that post-race toast to another 26.2 miles in the books will be bittersweet since our next reunion is still to be determined.

Special thanks to my friends Lisa and Adam for putting blurbs about my Western States journey raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project in the most recent edition of Notre Dame magazine. To my fellow alums visiting the blog after reading those notes, welcome! Please feel free to contact me to say hello, and I invite you to look back at the training, charity, and race information I have posted since December. The blog documents my training for the Western States Endurance Run, but the true purpose behind this all-my running the race, the daily grind of training, even this blog-is to raise at least $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, a charitable organization that serves the needs of wounded veterans in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. If you are able to give, know that your donation will go to a great cause...and that you have my gratitude.

To all those racing this weekend, run well!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Training Week Fourteen Recap (75 days to go!)

After last week's huge weekly mileage PR, I was due for a cutback week. I also begged Andy, my coach, to let me race the Go! St. Louis half marathon (he talked me down from my pre-coach plan to run the full 26.2 miles). I was surprised when he agreed, especially since the half comes only six days before the Double Chubb 50 kilometer trail race. This will be my first half marathon since May 2009, when I set my PR of 1:20:08 at the Indy Minimarathon in Indianapolis. That was a two plus minute PR at the time, and I regret I haven't had a chance to go after it since then. I know I'm in better shape than I was two years ago, but a PR was not a given, since I am dealing with tired legs from training is is a lot more intense than my typical marathon training. Here's what I did in Week 14:

Monday: 3.26 miles. Andy's plan for Monday was "6 or off." I went for the middle ground on that one.

Tuesday: 12.03 miles. After a 30 minute warmup, I did 6 up and downs on Skinker Hill in Forest Park. The half mile intervals averaged about 3:20 on the ups (but I did drop a 2:59 on the final one) and 3:03 on the downs. I could feel it, that's for sure.

Wednesday: 10.02 miles. A nice and easy run from my office around Forest Park, with the pleasant surprise of meeting up with my friends Andrew and Leigh for a couple miles at the end! Good luck to them in Boston next weekend!

Thursday: 8.14 miles. Off the the track, where I had a 2 mile warmup before launching into my 4x1600 with 2 minutes rest. The splits were more consistent than last time at 5:44, 5:33, 5:34, and 5:37. I was pleased with this workout.

Friday: 8.15 miles. I was supposed to speed up for the middle 5 miles, and I guess my splits support that. I just wasn't fast.

Saturday: 6.06 miles. I took the dog for one mile, then got another 5 easy miles in later in the afternoon. Raceday was less than 24 hours away!

Sunday: 15.78 miles. Up at 5 am and out the door at 5:45 for the 7 am start. About 8 miles down the road, I realized I left my Garmin back home. It was just close enough, to home, and before I got on the interstate, that I decided to turn around and get it. As a result, my mom got to hear me cursing at the top of my lungs at traffic once we got downtown. Traffic was moving so well that I actually put on my LunaRacers while the car was in park on an exit ramp from the interstate.

When we finally parked six blocks from the start line, I could hear the National Anthem playing. I took off for the start, leaving the key with my mom, only to realize I still had my long sleeve shirt on. She took it from me and threw it in the trunk so I could get up to the front corral. I only got into the corral by hurdling a fence meant to stop me from getting into the corral. Oh well.

The good news for me was that the race got a late start. I also found myself standing within arm's length of runner extraordinaire Bart Yasso, the Chief Running Officer of Runners World magazine, and a great guy who I'd met a few times at races past. Before I knew it, though, the gun went off and with the smallest amount of stretching I'd ever had, we were off. Temperatures were over 70 degrees at the 7 a.m. race start, and they rose to 80 or so by the time I finished. The strong wind that kept blowing head on regardless of the direction we were running didn't help either.

My first mile was too fast, in about 5:45. I was hoping to keep a 6 flat pace. By the middle of the second mile, the groups had sorted themselves out enough that I realized I'd be running in no man's land...too slow to keep up with the guys in front of me and too fast for the group just behind me. Like so many other weekends lately, I ran alone. There just happened to be 14,000 runners on the same path.

The course has changed up since my last Go! Half in 2009. It largely followed the same streets, but the two loops that make up the course were reversed. We headed over to my former 'hood in Soulard, running through the AB campus and past a big pajama party hosted by the neighborhood (as Beth pointed out, 7 a.m. is very early for this party-hard area).

Circling back toward downtown, I saw my mom running the way I just came. I was happy to see she made it to her corral! I ran by Busch Stadium, making a left turn onto Market Street near the Ballpark Hilton...only to nearly be run over by a Hilton shuttle somehow turning off closed Market Street onto Broadway. I gave him a polite salute and tapped his passenger window, and volunteers ran over to put an end to the madness.

The next stretch took us through downtown St. Louis, through the biggest crowds, and I heard the cheers of my friends Andrew and Leigh (the same two from Wednesday's run). We made a few turns onto Olive Street, about 6 miles into the race, and I enjoyed the cold refreshment of holy water strewn on me by a (not Catholic) minister. I've run up Olive plenty of times on training runs, since my old office was on it, but never westbound in a race. I forgot how hilly it was! There were 3 or 4 huge hills, one almost a mile long, and my legs were feeling it after the hard training and the high temperatures. I kept reasoning with the part of me wanting to step off the course, that the last quarter mile split I had wasn't too bad.

Around the seventh mile, I felt my right shoe loosening. At the Mile 8 marker, it was untied. I had no choice but to step to the curb and tie it. Three runners passed me by. I later passed all three, including one in the final half mile who told me afterwards that he was impressed by the comeback, that he figured I was a goner after the shoelace incident.

Somewhere in here a guy with a loudspeaker made fun of my sweatband. Specifically, he shouted, "Go guy with a sweatband! I love the sweatband!" Yeah, me, too. It keeps my sweat out of my eyes.

I took a Gu around Mile 9, and as we headed to the turnaround out near Saint Louis University, I started counting the runners going in the opposite direction ahead of me. I was in 21st place when I hit the turnaround, and I quickly passed that group of 3 or 4 I couldn't quite hang with early on.

The route back along Market was equally hilly, and I quickly dropped in with the female leader and the shoe lace commenter as we battled the hills and headwind. They'd pass me on the downhills, and I'd work my way past them on the uphills (thanks, Greenrock Trail!). When we reached the final 1 1/2 mile stretch, no more than 2 big hills and a small uphill to the finish in front of us, I made another push uphill, passing the female leader for the final time. I urged her to latch onto me, so I could help her fight the wind to her payday, but she couldn't keep up. When I reached the crest, she was about 30 yards behind me, and she ultimately finished 30 seconds later than I did.

I kicked and kicked some more, and the hills started to take their toll. When I finally dipped down and back up across the finish line, the announcer cheering me on to a sub-1:20 finish, I felt good, in a miserable way. I finished 14th overall, 3rd in my age group, in 1:19:47. It wasn't the perfect day to race, but it was a PR...of course, it'd been two years since I'd run a half.

I was surprised when a race official grabbed me and ushered me to a VIP tent. I found a huge breakfast buffet set up there, but my stomach wasn't going to let me consume anything other than some fresh fruit and juice. I rehashed the race with the other runners for a bit before striking up a long conversation with Bart Yasso again. We talked my upcoming Western States run, the horrible weather, his admiration for the event (which is a first class event and only getting better with age), and the upcoming Boston Marathon and my friends' pre-race gathering that we had the joy of having Bart attend last year. There are few better ambassadors for the sport...thank you, Bart!

After a little cooldown run, I went back to find my mom, who ran a great race not far off her PR. She's going to rock Grandma's Marathon in June! I also picked up my awesome plaque for finishing third in my age group, pictured below. Week Fourteen was over. Total miles: 63.44 miles. Six days until my 50k!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

El Dorado Creek to Michigan Bluff (Miles 52.9 to 55.7) (72 days to go!)

And...I'm back with our course tour! The delay was not the result of a lack of donations to the Wounded Warrior Project, that's for sure! As of this writing, we've raised over $7,500. That means I'm about 20 miles behind on my course tour! Special thanks to Elizabeth St. Clair, Dan and Beth Erman, Erin Bank, and Derek and Chrissie Gipson, for their donations to the WWP that sponsor this stretch of the course tour! The eleventh stage of the race takes runners from the depths of the canyon at the El Dorado Creek aid station to the heights of the small former mining town of Michigan Bluff. Undisputedly, this is one of the hardest stretches of the race, for runners climb about 1700 feet in under three miles, just miles after they climbed up Devil's Thumb only to descend into the suffocating depths of the canyon to El Dorado Creek. I wanted to find photos of the course that make it look as difficult as it really is (or so I'm told...I won't find out until my practice run in May), but unfortunately, I couldn't find any that truly captured the burn of this stretch. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the lack of air and temperatures exceeding 100 degrees! How hard is this stretch? I recall the runner I paced in 2010, Fernando, telling me that when he reached Michigan Bluff, there were runners strewn everywhere. He felt he was okay, but the medical check, just eight miles after the one at Devil's Thumb, suggested otherwise. He was instructed to take a seat and consume fluids to get his weight up. One volunteer offered him some sort of ice cream treat, and he grinned when he described how great it tasted. Michigan Bluff is a supply drop station, so runners can expect personal items to be there for them if they planned ahead. It's also open to a runner's crew, but only by shuttle. Rumors are that the shuttles, while hardworking, can cause delays for an understaffed crew. Because nearly every review of the physical state of runners at Michigan Bluff includes words like "tired" and "beaten down," the efficiency and effectiveness of one's crew plays an important part in the race. The leaders will leave Michigan Bluff around 1:45 p.m., with 24 hour runners out of there by 5:20. While poking around the web, I found this photo of my coach, Andy Jones-Wilkins, at Michigan Bluff for the 2009 running of the WSER. There are extensive videos capturing the climb up to Michigan Bluff on Youtube, but they're long and involve multiple parts. If you're that interested, search "Michigan Bluff" on Youtube and enjoy. Thirty hour runners will depart around 8:50 p.m., and the aid station closes at 9:45 p.m., which is after sunset. For runners leaving after 8 p.m., Michigan Bluff is the first opportunity for the use of a pacer. Most runners pick up a pacer at Mile 62 in Foresthill, but the race organizers, in the interest of safety, allow runners leaving this aid station at or near dusk to utilize the services of a pacer seven miles before those ahead of them. While this is a race against each other for some, it's a race against the clock for most. Only 44.5 miles to Auburn!

Training Week Thirteen Recap (76 days to go)

Life must be busy if I can set a huge weekly mileage PR and not even share the news. And that's exactly what last week was! Here's the recap on my first ever 100 mile week...done in 7 runs. On average, that's over 14 miles per day! I was quite pleased, if just a tad bit tired.

Monday: 9.71 miles. I rearranged my schedule a bit, moving Tuesday's track session to Monday. I was still sore from the weekend, but I knocked out 5x1600s with 3 minutes rest in the low 5:40s after a couple mile warmup. I finished up with a couple mile cooldown.

Tuesday: 12.74 miles. This run got its own blog entry, since I ran it with fellow Domer Jeff Grabowsky on his run across America. It was a nice, easy, and talkative run. Jeff mentioned on his own blog that I "talked his ear off." Who, me? Couldn't be!

Wednesday: 10.13 miles. I headed back to Skinker Hill in Forest Park for half mile intervals. The 6 "up"s averaged around 3:12, while the 6 "down"s averaged about 2:52. I looked forward to the next day the entire time because it was....

Opening Day! I mean, Thursday: 12.12 miles. The best holiday on the St. Louis calendar is the Cardinals' Opening Day! Beth and I headed downtown on her first extended time away from Nora, but I made sure to get my run in that morning before celebrating the arrival of another season of baseball!

Friday: 10.12 miles. This was a nice and easy morning run. My legs were starting to feel the mileage.

Saturday: 32.21 miles. Back to the Greenrock Trail for some hardwork. The weather was perfect, starting in the mid-40s and increasing to about 60 degrees by the time I finished six hours later (official running time: 5:46:12; official time on trail, including water and food stops, shoe-tying, and bathroom breaks, not to mention a near fistfight with a mountain biker who was on a "no bike" portion of the trail: 6:10:39). I was pleased with the quality of this run, especially given the previous 10 plus days.

Sunday: 14.03 miles. It took a tad over 2 hours for me to finish this run. It didn't help that temperatures sored into the 80s, and there was a strong wind. Oh, and that tired leg thing, too. But I got it done.

Week 13 Total: 101.06 miles. Before this week, my highest weekly mileage was Week 6's 82 plus mile week, and before I started on this journey to the finish line in Auburn, my highest mileage ever was in the low the same week I ran a 50 mile race! Upon hearing this, one of my running friends commented that the human body is an amazing thing. They couldn't be more right.