Thursday, November 19, 2009

Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim to Rim Run

After all the planning, and talk, and stories by the Grand Canyon double-cross veterans, it was actually happening. I was running down the steep switch backs of South Kaibab trail by the light of my headlamp in the frigid dark, two hours before dawn, laden with water and food for the day's run, stepping around rocks and donkey crap, wondering how many thousand feet was the drop-off just a misstep away...I was living a dream.

Jeff, Steve, Howard, Matt, Wayne

Dave, me, Jeff

I woke at 2:55 AM, after short and restless sleep in our room at the Maswik Lodge on the South Rim. Jeff and I, a couple of 53 year old runners about to do our first double-crossing, were sharing a room. The night before, I laid-out the clothes and gear I would need. I got dressed, filled my water bottles (one with water, the other with Perpeteum), loaded the pockets in my aquifer with four Clif Bars, a PowerBar, a couple of peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, and three ziplock bags Perpeteum. While Jeff and I were getting ready, our buddies Matt and Dave were doing the same in their room next door. At a little before 4:00, we got in the car, met up with some others from our group, and drove the couple of miles to the South Kaibab trail head.

The group included mostly runners from Cleveland Southeast Runners Club, with a few other friends, met at the trail head (elevation 7260 feet). We took a few minutes to use of the portable toilets, put on our backpack/aquifers, and adjust our headlamps, before we took our first steps on the trail at 4:08. It took less than a minute to realize I was missing the oxygen-rich air of my lowland home (elevation 650 feet.) Jeff, Matt, Dave, and I were planning to run roughly the same pace so we decided to stay together and let the others do whatever they wanted. What followed was two hours of downhill, quad-trashing switch-backs on narrow trails until we finally reached a short tunnel through the rock that led to the footbridge over the Colorado.

Jeff, me, Matt

Steve had gone out fast, distancing himself from the group early. By the time we reached the river, he was already out of sight. The trail flattened after the river, and about a mile later, we were at Phantom Ranch (elevation 2546 feet), our first stop and opportunity to get water.

Phantom Ranch

The ranch was still and dark when we arrived. A few campers who had spent the night there were just beginning to stir, preparing for their days hiking. We topped off our bottles and aquifers, took off some of our cold weather gear, and were off for Bright Angel canyon. It would be another 8 winding, rolling miles to the next opportunity for water at the pumphouse about a mile past the Cottonwood Campground, which was already closed for the season.

Our group of four became five as we picked-up Howard at the ranch. He had come down via Bright Angel trail, which meets with South Kaibab at Phantom Ranch. Within fifteen minutes of leaving the ranch, the sun was beginning to crest the walls of the canyon. We ran along the North Kaibab trail through Bright Angel Canyon. Before it was light enough to see Bright Angel Creek, we could hear the water rushing over the rocks. As the sun rose over the south rim, we were shown an eerie and beautiful, steep, rocky, winding canyon. Every bend revealed a new, stunning view. I nearly lost my footing several times, trying to take it all in while running. I learned to pick safer stretches of trail when I wanted to look around.

Bright Angel Creek

The stretch along the Kaibab trail north of the Colorado was the most pleasant part of the run. My legs were feeling OK (the effects of the hours of downhill would not be evident to me until we were on the way up the north rim.) The five of us keep a good pace was we ran the rolling hills through the rocky canyon.
North Kaibab, approaching the pumphouse

Somewhere along this stretch, Dave decided to back-off the pace. He had told us he was OK, and wanted us to keep our pace. We wouldn't see him again until we crossed paths on the way back.
We reached the abandoned Cottonwood campground, and about a mile later, the pumphouse where there was fresh water. We topped-off our containers. Depending on conditions and what pace we would be able to keep, we knew that it would be about four hours or more until we got back to this water. This also marked the gradual beginning of the ascent to the top of the north rim.

Roaring Springs Falls

The next few hour was a steady, not overly steep climb from the pumphouse to Roaring Springs waterfall, that cascades 100 feet down the canyon wall to the Bright Angel creek. From here, the climbs became more steep.

Kaibab Trail, north of Roaring Springs

Over the next three miles to Supai Tunnel, the trail rises from 5220 to 6800 feet. We ran what was reasonably 'runnable' and walked the steeper segments. The views in the part of the canyon were even more dramatic and spectacular. The trail hugs the canyon walls, following the tight bends and undulations, rising all the way. We made it through Supai, a short narrow tunnel cut through the cliff wall, and our pace was noticeably slowing. The elevation, hours of climbing, and weakened quads from the hours of steep downhill descent to start our day, were having a cumulative effect.

Cliff hugging portion of North Kaibab trail

The closer we got to the north rim, the more I was feeling the effects of the elevation. I was struggling to keep any kind of reasonable pace. I felt a slight headache, and my footing was less sure. A light snow began to fall, and the amazing views were so stunning that they kept me from dwelling on how I was suffering.

Clouds conceal the North Rim

Less than a mile from the rim, we stopped at Coconino Overlook to take some photos. I felt so drained, I just wanted to sit. I managed to rouse myself for the following photo. Thankfully, you cannot see just how bad I must have looked by this point in the run.

Me at Coconino Overlook

The remaining push to get to the rim took about all I had. My lightheadedness and the snow falling, made the scene ethereal.

Almost at the top

The trail suddenly opened to a snowy plateau. The North Rim. What a relief to reach this point. I checked my watch. 10:55 AM. Well ahead of schedule, which felt great. We were at the half-way point (technically not quite since we were going to take the longer Bright Angel trail back up the south rim.)

On the North Rim (the 'almost' halfway point)

The plan was to take a little break, eat and drink, then start down, but it was just too cold for that. I ate half of one of my peanut butter and raisin sandwich, then decided to wrap it up and head back down a few thousand feet where it would be warmer.

Despite my achy quads, the downhill was still much easier to handle than the uphill was, at these elevations. I started to feel better very soon. We kept a good pace until we reached Supai Tunnel again, then stopped to finish the lunch we had started on the rim. It was a little past that point that the trail crossed a footbridge, and provided us with a great photo opportunity.

Matt, Jeff, and me

Going back down the Kaibab trail heading south presented an entirely new set of dramatic views.

Looking south up Bright Angel Canyon

I felt reinvigorated by the downhill running, and increased oxygen levels as we descended. We passed some of other members of our group as they were heading up the north rim. First Mark G., then Dave K., then Connie G. and Jenn S. (Mark, Connie, and Jenn had started a couple of hours after us.) Mark took the following photo of Matt, Jeff, and I as we crossed paths.

Jeff, Matt, and me

We cruised into the pumphouse, refilled our water bottles and aquifers, and grabbed another bite of food, and were on our way. Not too much past that, we caught Steve. He ran with us for a while, and we kept a good pace, retracing our path through the rocky canyon approaching Phantom Ranch.

Steve, me, Jeff, Matt (Howard took this photo)

Eventually, Steve fell off the pace and we were back down to our foursome. We arrived at Phantom Ranch, around 3:00 PM, I think. I forgot to check my watch. This would turn out to be a longer than expected stop. We sat, ate, topped-off our water, and used the restrooms.

We took Bright Angel trail out of Phantom Ranch. The distance to the South Rim is approximately 9.2 miles. Within minutes of leaving Phantom Ranch, we crossed the footbridge across the Colorado.

Bright Angel Trail Bridge over the Colorado

Jeff and me

From there, the trail, though not particularly steep, is very sandy and soft, making it difficult to run. Mark G. caught us here and ran with us for a while.

Looking back north toward the Colorado on Bright Angel Trail

Eventually, the trail starts heading up the toward Indian Garden, which is almost exactly half way between Phantom Ranch and the South Rim. Once the footing was more solid, we started picking up the pace again. We were more than 11 hours into the run, and I was really feeling tired during the climbs. I developed a burning sensation in a tendon in my left leg, behind my knee. My quads were overworked and were asking, "'How much longer?" I knew I had hours to go, and I had to hold it all together.

Mark on Bright Angel Trail, heading toward the South Rim

The first objective was to get to Indian Garden. We could stop there to get water if necessary. The idea of a little break was enough to keep me moving. The sun was getting low, which added to my motivation to get out. I did not want to run in the dark any more than necessary.

The South Rim, from north of Indian Garden

Me and Jeff, mocking the warning sign.

As we approached Indian Garden, we cam across a sign warning against trying to go to the river and back in a single day. I believe our double-crossing was about four times that distance. We had to take a picture, but I am not sure if we were mocking the sign or it was mocking us. At Indian Gardens, we got a little water and moved on quickly. From this point forward, the uphill became more even difficult. Switch-back after switch-back, with my legs now very tired and aching,, and pain in my tendon stretching into my calf.

Switch-backs on Bright Angel Trail

We were loosing the light, so I took a minute to get my headlamp from my pack and put it on. The wind picked-up and the temperature dropped. There was no more fun in this run. Now, it was all work and pain. No more scenery watching. Just plodding along, slower and slower. Matt and Jeff were now a couple of switch-backs ahead. Finally, around halfway between Indian Garden and the top of the rim, the combination of exhaustion and elevation got to me. I bonked. I recognized the signs. I had no energy. I was not thinking clearly. I was wobbly and unsteady. I knew it was a dangerous to be in that condition on a trail where a fall could be fatal. I stopped, sat down, and assessed my situation. I decided I needed to eat. I took the rest of my Hammer gel, about 3 ounces. I drank some Perpeteum, about 6 ounces. I gave myself five minutes to regain my energy. Then I got up and continued.

Now it was a death march. Running was out of the question. I was walking, and not fast, up the eternal switch-backs. I estimated that I had about another mile and a half to the top. The tendon behind my knee in my left leg were extremely painful. I had one thought...keep moving. Eventually, I saw the lights of the hotel on the rim. They were distant, but it gave me encouragement. The wind and cold were cutting through me, but I knew I was close. I stayed focused on moving forward at the fastest pace I could. Then, I saw the sign pointing to the trail head. When I finally put my feet on the top of the rim, the rush of total relief was unbelievable.

I tried to figure out how to get back to our lodge, but I was disoriented. Having started at a different trail head, I was not sure of the way back now. I walked toward the lights which I knew were the El Tovar, found some people mulling around, and asked for help. They pointed me toward what they thought was the right direction, but after walking for about ten minutes, I realized I was going the wrong direction. I walked back, eventually spotted a few familiar landmarks, and found my way to the hotel.

More than a half-hour after reaching the rim, I finally found my room. I dropped my pack and water bottled, and climbed into the shower. I started with the water luke warm, and gradually increased it to steamy hot. I didn't come out until I brought my core temperature back up to normal. By then, Jeff who had been waiting for me at the top of the trail but somehow missed me, was back in the room. We went down to the cafeteria, met up with a few others from the group, got a meal and a beer or two, and reveled in the accomplishment.

Dave, Howard, Mike, me, Jeff (back), Mark (front), Matt, Jenn, Steve

Special thanks to Matt Shaheen for taking almost all of the photos.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Akron Marathon Race Report

I went into the Akron Road Runner Marathon with high hopes. I had more time to recover prior to this race than any other this year since Boston in April. I was averaging less than a month between marathons and ultras since then, but I had 7 weeks after the Burning River 100 miler to get ready for Akron. I felt like my body had recovered well, and I got some good training done. I knew I had not been able to do as many long runs and tempo run as I would have liked, but that's knit-picking...I felt good overall.

I had not run Akron before, and I did not know much about the course except that there are hills. I made it a point of asking everyone who had run both Cleveland and Akron how much slower their times were in Akron. The answers ranged from 2 to 7 minutes. Tossing the outliers left me with a rough 4 minutes slower. In retrospect, what happened next was more the result of optimism than mathematics, but I calculated that I could go for a 2:55:30 finish in Akron. Now, I ran Cleveland in 2:56:55, and adding 3 minutes for the tougher Akron course, should have yielded a 3:00 time. BUT...I though I was so much improved since the end of May that I could not only make up that three minutes, but take another minute and a half or so off. I think I chose that target because the course record for Grand Masters is 2:56:34, set by Tony Harbert last year. I knew Tony was running the course again this year, so I thought I had better try to beat his time by at least a minute.

The morning of the race, I picked up my friend Coach Glen at 5:15 AM, and made it to Akron with about an hour to warm up and get ready for the race. I met up with the super-fast SERC women Barb, Laura, Nicole, and Elizabeth, and we all chatted about the race while we warmed-up and stretched. I did some slow running, and some stride-outs, but could not seem to get loose at all. When I heard the 5 minute warning over the PA. I made my way to the start. I wished good luck to Kurt M., Rich O., Lloyd T., Vince R., and a few other familiar faces, then found a spot in front of the 3:00 hour pace group.

As I awaited the start, I continued to try to get loose. It just wasn't happening. The horn sounded and we began running. Not far from the start, I encountered Nicole, and we ran together for a while. I was hoping that having someone to talk to might help me settle in and find my stride, but no such thing happened. I was very conscious of being uncomfortable and struggling, even though we were holding a reasonable pace, averaging 6:18 and 6:21 for miles 1 and 2. Faster than my goal pace of 6:42, but not unexpected with the adrenaline of the start, and the fact that the major hills were later in the race. Somewhere around 3 miles or so, Nicole and I got separated, and I did not see her again. She went on take first place among the women in the half-marathon. I told you about those fast SERC women.

Judging by my times for miles 3 through 13, you'd think I was in a nice groove for the first half of the race. I was slightly under my target pace, averaging 6:38 for that stretch. The numbers don't tell enough of the story. I was forcing the pace, trying to shake off whatever funk I was in. I was convinced that it was in my head, and if I just pushed the pace to where I needed to be, I would settle in. In one regard this worked, that is, I did maintain the pace, but at a cost that I wouldn't understand until much later. My breathing was uneven, and I even felt slightly dizzy at times. Not unheard of but usually reserved for much later in the race. The second half was looming and I was not feeling good about it.

In miles 14 through 17, I stated to slow noticeably, averaged 6:49 pace. It did not help that the first few miles of this section were on the towpath, which is made of a soft, crushed limestone surface, not the ideal surface for running fast. I was relieved to get off of the towpath surface, but unfortunately that led into the hills.
As you can see on the elevation profile above, miles 18 through 24 are basically uphill. I averaged 6:54 through this part of the course, and I was struggling to hold on to that pace. The hills seemed endless. I was losing speed on my turn-over and shrinking my stride. No doubt I was paying for my efforts to push an uncomfortable pace through the first half of the race. By the time I got to the top of Heart Rate Hill, I was well aware that I had fallen too far off the pace. I tried to regain my stride as we went through the Stan Hywet grounds, but the hills continued for another couple of miles.

Finally at mile 24, we turned onto Market Street and headed back into town on a downhill grade. I ran the next two miles in 6:40 and 6:55 respectively, not fast enough to make up for all the lost time through the hills. Just before the 40k marker, the first of a series of calf cramps hit. I stopped and stretched until it ended, then started running again, but from that point on, if I tried to run any faster than about a 7:00 pace, my calf would immediately cramp. My choices were to slow down enough to eliminate the cramps, or pick up the pace and stop every hundred yards for a cramp. I chose C. Try to hold a reasonable pace, run through the milder cramps, stop and stretch when a bad one hit.

It was at this point that I saw Tony Harbert for the first time since the start. He passed me at a pace I thought I might be able to hold. I started to pick it up reel him in, but almost immediately a cramp grabbed my calf and I had to stop and stretch it out. Not to much farther, Steve H. was waiting for me, cheering me on and running beside me for a while. I was completely frustrated that I could not pick up the pace. I don't remember much of what I said, but thanks for being there and listening, Steve.

The finish couldn't come soon enough, and when I finally entered Canal Park, I was surprised to see the stands full of people. I saw the finish line and the clock said 2:58:15. By the time I crossed the field to the finish, it was 2:58:29. As soon as I crossed, I heard Sue calling my name. She was in the stands near not too far away, but they would not let her on the field. I walked over and gave her a kiss. Then, I saw Tony with a couple of guys helping him stay on his feet. I went over to see if he was alright, and he immediately recognized me. We hugged, and I told him he ran one hell of a race. He is one very tough man. He ran that last mile with everything he had.

I hung out in the dugout for a while, got a light massage, some food and drink, then left to go find Sue. We saw some of the other SERC runners finish, including Barb B. and Rich O., who both came in under 3:30. We hung out with the SERC crew for a while, then headed home where I had my first beer in more than a week.

This was the most frustrating marathon I have run. I never felt like my running was smooth. I never settled into a groove. I felt a step slow, and like I was not getting enough oxygen. On the positive side, I struggled through it all and managed a 2:58 on a hilly course. My task now: dive into the research and try to find the answer to this cramping problem. I loaded up with potassium, magnesium, and calcium for days before the race. I took Endurolytes and S-caps regularly throughout the race. I was very careful to stay hydrated. None of that prevented the cramps. I am convinced it has nothing little or maybe nothing at all to do with loss of salts, or minerals, maybe not even hydration.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just a few days until...

The Akron Road Runner Marathon is just few days away as I write, and I have already started to taper. Down to just 60 mile last week, and nothing too challenging. No racing or pacing. About the most aggressive running I did was the Tuesday speed work at the track. After the mandatory 2.5 mile warm-up and 6 x 100 stride-outs, I did my 3 x 1 mile repeats at 5:28, 5:34, and 5:31. Pleased but not satisfied. I could have run the second mile faster, but let myself follow the pace of another runner instead of paying attention to my own pace. Saturday's 13.5 mile run through the woods was good. Steve G took us on section of trail which I have not run before. Always good to see some new scenery. See the map below.

Here is a high-speed video of the Akron Marathon course. There is a brief commercial at the beginning, but the rest of the video is commercial free.


If you want to track my progress as I run the Akron Marathon, here is a link where you can register for automatic updates to be sent as e-mail or text.

Akron Marathon Runner Updates

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last Full Week of Training for Akron Marathon

The is my second consecutive 80 mile week. First time I've done that since pre-Boston. Seems from April until now I have been either recovering or tapering, with little time between races. The next two weeks will have lower mileage as I begin to taper.

The week started with a complete change of pace from my routine Monday recovery runs. Since it was a holiday, I ran a really pleasant 12 miler with my SERC buddies on the trails. That is an ideal way to start the week. (I need to take more Mondays off.) Tuesday's track workout was an abbreviated version, mostly because I was still feeling the effects of the race on Saturday. I did my usual warm-up miles and 6 x 100 stride-outs, but then decided to go with 800 repeats rather than 1600's. Although they were 1/2 miles, did not mean I ran them 1/2 as hard. The times were 2:33, 2:29, and a very painful and desperate 2:42.

On Wednesday, I ran an 8.5 mile route from work, through Independence, down the big hill into the valley on Rockside to the two path, south to Pleasant Valley, then up the big hill out of the valley.
On Thursday, I ran 14.5 miles between Alexander Road and Boston Store and back. It was a beautiful night, and I kept a good pace, probably around 7:30, but I did not have my Garmin so there are no stats. I enjoyed the unplanned on-course nutrition provided by swarms of little flying gnats. I swallowed a few dozen or more. That's only one of the benefits of being a mouth-breathing runner. Friday was an easy six miles. I did not even try to push, just running comfortably.

On Saturday, I had planned to do a 10 miler with 5 miles at faster than marathon pace, but an e-mail from a friend changed my plan. He asked if I would be able to pace for the Buckeye Half-Marathon on Sunday. I adjusted my plan and decided 13 miles at a little slower than marathon pace on Sunday would serve as 10 miles with five at faster than marathon pace on Saturday. Probably not actually equivalent, but I was trying to help out. So on Saturday, I ran trails with the Lock 29 group, about 12.5 miles. On Sunday morning, I met up with the Buckeye Half-marathon race director, got my pacing shirt and pretty yellow balloon, put in a few warm-up miles, and then headed to the starting line. I led the 1:35 pace group. It turned out to be a fun day. We had a good group, all of whom finished under 1:35. Here is a photo from around mile 6. Looks like I am about to take flight. And yes, I carried the balloon for the whole race.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Training Week Review - North Coast Challenge Race Report

With three weeks remaining until the Akron Marathon, I managed my best training week since pre-Boston this Spring. I started the week with a double on Monday, 6 miles at lunch and 6 miles in the evening, both at recovery pace. Track Tuesday was very encouraging. Instead of my usual 3 x 1 mile repeats, I alternated miles and half miles. They went like this:
- 1600 @ 5:27
- 800 @ 2:28
- 1600 @ 5:29
- 800 @ 2:39
Wednesday I ran a 9 miler at lunch in Independence. I found a new path, leading from the cemetery at Brecksville and Rockside down into the valley. I ran a 14 mile out and back on Thursday evening, on the tow path between Frazee House and the Boston store. I wasn't feeling quite right but I wasn't sure exactly why. I woke up Friday with a sore throat and no voice. I didn't feel as bad otherwise, so I did a 6 mile run at lunch. Saturday morning still with throat issues, I met-up with Barb and Glenn in Beachwood and we rode together to the North Coast Challenge in Westlake. (Thanks for driving, Barb!) With a couple of miles of warm-up and cool-down, plus the 5.75 after I got home from the race, the total for the day was 12.75. I ran with the SERC group on Sunday, 17.5 miles for a total of a little over 80 for the week.

Race Report

The North Coast Challenge was not a typical local 5 mile race, this one draws a great field of runners, mostly because of the healthy purse for the winners. I checked the website and decided to register when I saw that they even had a nice little sum for the winning Grand Master, the over 50 year old runners category.
I shared a ride to Westlake with Barb and Glenn. We had some difficulty due to a series of detours for road construction, but we got there in time to get our race packs and run our warm-ups. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and mild, with very little wind. Perfect for a race.
The announcer called for us to gather at the start, so I made my way to the area marked for 6 minute pace runners. I was planning to go for sub-6 minute miles, barely. Based on what I had seen of the past Grand Masters times at this race, I thought that would be the minimum requirement to have a shot a winning. I spotted Lloyd from Vertical Runner as we mulled around anxiously in the starting area. He said he was going for a 5:55 pace, and I said I just wanted to be under 6. I noticed another familiar looking over-fifty runner, long brown and gray hair, salt and pepper stubbly beard. He had the obvious look of a very fast runner. I sensed that this was a guy I needed to keep an eye on. The starter counted us down, and we were off.
The race started with a straight, flat mile and a quarter, and the times reflected that. I hit the first marker at 5:50, and the field had not thinned much. I was surrounded by very fast runners. I was not feeling comfortable, but then again, running at that pace shouldn't be comfortable. Turns out I had judged the long-haired man correctly. He was about 10 yards ahead of me, and running strong. In the second mile, we made a 90 degree left turn, but otherwise, it was flat and fast as well. I kept my pace, passing the clock for the second mile at 11:46, a 5:56 mile, still about 10 yards from the long-haired man...and thinking about what to do.
The third mile wound through a park, still on a road, but slightly shady. I took the opportunity to run the tangents, and wondered why some runners seemed oblivious to this. Not long-haired man...he ran it smart. Despite this, I decided to close the gap. I pulled within a yard of him, but did not pass him. Part of this was strategy, and part was that he was keeping a pace close to my limit. I had decided back at the 2 mile mark that as long as he held on to a sub-6 minute mile pace, I would just try to hang with him, until the last half-mile. Then it would be decided by who had the better kick.
When we crossed the three mile marker, the clock said 17:44, a 5:58 pace for that mile. Still under six, so I stayed with the plan. The fourth mile was a complete change of terrain. We left the road, crossed a field, and hit a stretch of meandering trail through the woods. The soft surface and twisty turns were making it harder to keep the pace, but I kept right on you-know-who's shoulder. We came out of the woods and crossed the four mile marker at 23:43, just one second under the 6 minute pace, which was surprising considering the terrain. We turned right and within about a tenth of a mile, turned right again on to the broad five lane road we had run out on in the first mile.

Long-haired man was showing no signs of fading, so I knew it was up to me to find more speed. Before I realized what I was doing, I had increased the pace and passed him, right at the 3/4 mile to go marker. I knew immediately I had made a mistake. The plan was to wait until a half mile to go , but I had already made my move. Now, I had given him the advantage of tailing me in, and possibly making his move near the finish, where I would not have time to react. Within just a few seconds, I decided the only thing to do was to pick it up even further, to try to drop him back far enough that he had not chance to hang on. My legs were telling me they were down with this plan, but my lungs were raising objections. Still, I did take it up another notch.
The only other runner close to us was a fortyish looking guy who was about 30 yards ahead. Another thought. Catch and pass that guy, and put a body between me and long-hair man. There was a psychological edge to this, and the added benefit was the young guy would give me a target to help me keep pressing the pace.
I passed the younger guy near the half-mile to go marker. Unlike long-hair, this guy reacted immediately, and he had a kick. I heard his footfalls right on my heels. I was really struggling to hold on to this pace, and he was giving no room to falter. The familiar nausea was there, reminding me of what I was doing, reminding me of what was going to happen if I continued for much longer. I was trying hard to block it out, and I finally got some help. The 100 yards to go sign. I went into full sprint mode (or whatever I could find of that elusive top gear by this point), and focused on the finish. I saw the clock say 29:30 as I ran beneath it. Younger guy was three seconds behind me. Long-haired guy was 30 seconds back. I didn't see him cross. I was obeying the commands to double over and dry heave. After a minute, I got my breath back, straightened up, and walked it off. It is amazing how bad you can feel at the end of one of these short races, and how quickly you can recover. Within just a few minutes, I was talking and congratulating long-haired man, who I found out was Terry McCluskey. Oh yeah, the guy who was in the Running Times Masters of the Year article. That long-haired guy. I lost track of the younger guy, but eventually came across him and congratulated him on a great race, and a great finish. By the way, he was younger, but only by a couple of years. I completely missed my estimate. He was 50, a Grand Master. Rich Oldrieve. A well know local runner with a long and impressive resume that includes, per my friend Glen, a 2:26 marathon. Lucky for me I decided he was a guy I needed to kick-down in the last half-mile.
I ran a cool-down mile or so with Kam, then we hung around the park waiting for the awards presentation. Kam ran a great race, just missing the Masters prize money, finishing 20 seconds behind one of the Ethopian runners. (Ethopians took first through third in the Mens open division as well. And the first place woman was also Ethopian.) My friend Barb was second Grand Masters first in her age group*. I won the men's Grand Master award, $200, and got a nice little trophy as well. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. Nope.

*Sorry Barb...I had it wrong. You definitely got 1st AG. I think it was a PR as well, right?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Feeling Too Good is Dangerous to My Health

A thought on the evening of Sunday, August 9th:
"It's only been a week since the 100 miler...I expected to feel much worse."
A thought on the evening of Sunday, August 16th, one week later:
"I feel much worse."
The thing with running your first 100 miler is that you also get to experience your first recovery from a 100 miler. The first week was about what I had expected, general soreness and stiffness, and a lack of energy. By the end of the week, I was beginning to loosen up and run without much pain. In my addled little mind, I decided I was mostly recovered. Hey, I observed that Mark fully recovers from a 100 miler in roughly 15 and 20 minutes, so couldn't I be ready to run hard again after a full week? So, I canned my recovery plan and went right into 'training for Akron Marathon' mode. Are you wondering how that played out for me? Here is the recap of what should have been week 2 of my recovery.

The week started inauspiciously, with a moderate 6 mile lunch time run in Independence. In anticipation of speed work on Tuesday, I concentrated on trying to open my stride which was still a bit compressed. On Tuesday, after work, I started my warm-up with a slow mile from home to the Solon High School track, and added another mile and half. Some of the regulars were not there, but I did talk with E-speed and Nicole. E asked me if I wanted to pace her at the Perfect 10 Miler on Sunday. She said she was targeting around 6:30 pace. I gave it a non-committal, "I'll see how I feel and let you know." As usual, before doing my mile repeats I ran 6 x 100 yard stride-outs. I increased my level of effort with each, starting with about a 60% and running the last at about 85%.
I toed the line for my first mile, with one goal...keeping it under 6 minutes so it would not be a total embarrassment. Wayne called out the start, and we were off. It was a very thin field, just Mark and I. I actually didn't feel bad for the first lap, my breathing was good and stride was opening up. The second lap was more difficult. My stride was good, but I was having trouble keeping the turnover. Midway through the third lap, I was thinking I would not be able to finish the mile, maybe not even the lap. I tried to concentrate on staying on my mid-foot, keeping a slight forward lean. I made it through that lap, and I don't remember much of the forth lap except that I was trying to stay as close as possible to Mark. On the backstretch, I felt the nausea creeping up my throat. I held it together, and since Mark was taking it easy we crossed the line together. 5:23.68 I kept moving, barely, hoping that the urge to throw-up would pass. It did. And I thought about what had just happened. The fastest mile I have run since in easily 30 years. Where did that come from?
We took a little longer than normal to recover from that first mile, then started the second mile. I knew within the first 100 yards that my second mile was going to be a struggle. I had used it all up in the first mile. I could not hang on to Mark, and fought hard just to hold a 2:45 after two laps. The third and fourth laps were, well, quite unpleasant. I finished with a 5:40, and believe me that could have been much worse. Again, I felt like tossing my lunch but kept moving until the nausea passed. After trying to recover for the third mile, I told Mark I was done. I did a couple of slow miles and headed home.
Wednesday was a nearly idyllic frolic in the woods. I reran a section of the BR100, starting at Alexander Road. Not as much fun as the last time I was there, but still a good run.
On Thursday, I went to the North Chagrin Reservation for the Twilight Trail 8k. The race has an unusual format. Instead of everyone starting together and sex/age group awards being given based on finishing time, the starts are staggered based on sex/age. Because of that, there are no age group awards. First through third men and women across the finish line win. There is also a two-runner team competition. I ran it in 32:32 and was the first man across the finish, so I took home the $60 prize money. Nice. E-speed and her friend Nicole won the women's team competition.

Feeling the effects of a tough track Tuesday and race Thursday, I ran a moderate paced 6.7 miles through Glen Willow after work on Friday. Saturday was a beautiful morning and I arrived a little early to run a warm-up mile or so with Wyatt before the rest of the Lock 29 group started. We did a comfortably paced 11.4 miles, then Wayne decided it had been too comfortable. He commented that, back in the day, we used to run hard for the last mile, and this group had gotten soft. Paul was the first to bite, separating from the group and picking up the pace. Then Mike R. took off and passed him. I caught Paul and said, "We have to catch him", so we really picked up the pace. The three of us covered the last mile at a 5:45 pace.

That set the stage for a very tough Sunday. At the track on Tuesday and again at the race on Thursday, E-speed had asked if I might pace her at the Perfect 10 Miler. I said I would have to see how I felt in a few days. On Sunday morning, Wyatt and I met at Jeff's house at 6:00 AM and ran the five miles to Brush High School, where the race would start. I was surprised by the humidity and heat so early in the day, tough conditions for a race. Wyatt was registered to run, but Jeff and I were just going on as bandits, using it as a tempo run.
I talked with E's coach and he told me how he wanted me to pace her. Go out fast, 6:20 pace or lower, then back off and eventually average out at 6:30 for the ten miles, which would be a 1 hour 5 minute finish. I found her near the start, and within a few minutes we were off and running.
The first few miles were fast, 6:16 and 6:20 I believe. We backed off a little and by the half way point, we were right on the 6:30 average. After 5.5 miles, I peeled off and retraced the route for a few miles, looking for my sister-in-law Lisa who said she would be running the race. I didn't find her, and I rejoined E between the 7 and 8 mile marks. She was looking strong, and I just tried to keep her on pace for her target finish. We were passed by Tracy M. who was really running strong, but she couldn't pull away and we passed her again within a half mile or so. When we approached the stadium for the finish, I peeled off and E ran the last few hundred yards to cross the finish within seconds of her target time. Well done on a tough, hot morning.

After a little break to watch some of my other running buddies finish, Jeff, Wyatt, and I ran back to Jeff's house. That run was tough for both Wyatt and I. Jeff had been smart about his tempo run, backing off at points to give himself some rest, so he seemed fresher. I was totally tanked by the last mile, the cumulative effect of the race, plus 100 miler 2 weeks earlier, and a week in which I pretended I didn't need to back off and recover from that 100 miler. Thankfully, we were able to shower at Jeff's house, then catch up with Sue and Lisa and friends Alex and Chris for breakfast at the Original Pancake House. Great food, and lots of it, but much too long a wait for it. The rest of the day Sunday, I couldn't get the energy to do much of anything.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Burning River 100 Mile Photos - Still no race report

I apologize to anyone who might want to read a race report, but I have been hesitant to try to write one. Maybe after a little more time, I'll attempt it, but for now, at least I have these photos to share.

The start at Squires Castle in Willoughby Hills, at 5:00 AM on Saturday. The beginning of an amazing adventure.

Early in the day, running with Patrick McGlade. He told me about his plan to run across the country, 26.2 miles a day, from California to Georgia. Good Luck, Patrick! He ran a great race and ended up 5th overall.

Approaching Alexander Road Station, 31 miles into the race and my left ankle was making me regret every step. That pain started at about 12 miles and continued until about 36 miles. My lower back was starting to ache, probably because of the fuel belt which I typically do not wear.

Between Alexander and Station Bridge, approximately 34 miles. At Alexander aid station, I decided that the fuel belt had to go. I grabbed a water bottle in each hand and ditched the belt. Running without the fuel belt did reduce my back pain.

Station Bridge aid station, mile 37. I had a couple of PBJ's and refilled my water bottles with Heed. From there, it was a very hot run on the tow path where there was very little shade to the Carriage Trail loop, then back on the towpath

Creek crossing in Brecksville, around 44 miles. I was feeling OK here, having run through the ankle pain and back ache. Of course, a few miles after this came my biggest screw-up of the day. I lost the trail, and lost about 45 minutes retracing my path to try to find it.

Boston store aid station, mile 56. Sue is waiting to hear what I need, but I am just too busy shoving watermelon into my mouth to talk.

At the Pine Hollow aid station (mile 75.1) with Paul Romanic, my pacer for miles 60.6 through 81.6. It was good to see Tim McGinty here (he took this photo.) He would pace me from Merriman Road (mile 93.5) to the finish (mile 101.2). Paul did a great job, reminding me to keep trying to pick up the pace, and keeping us on the trail in the dark when it is so easy to make a wrong turn. Thanks Paul.

Crossing the finish line on a hundred miler feels approximately 4 times better than crossing the finish lines at a marathon.

Just after crossing the finish line, with my pacer for the final 10 miles, Tim McGinty. (Thanks for taking me in, Tim!)

Done, having some coffee and waiting for Chef Bill Bailey and his crew to fire up the griddles and make breakfast. Thankfully, no one took a photo of me laying on the stoop in front of a store in the plaza, looking like a homeless guy.