I have another race this weekend so I would like to finish writing this before that, don’t want to get too behind. It’s been so much fun this year to have POSITIVE stuff to write about, and often. Last weekend I didn’t run a race myself. I had the honor of crewing for an ultrarunning legend at the Graveyard 100 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Valmir Nunes is a former world record holder (6:18 for 100k), the current course record holder at the Badwater Ultramarathon, has run the 5th fastest time ever (3rd fastest person) at the Spartathlon, and the third fastest time at the Strolling Jim 40 among his many major ultra accomplishments. So, like I said, he’s a living legend. Brandon Wilson, the RD of Graveyard, contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I would be available and willing to crew for Valmir at this year’s race. I jumped at the chance. How often in life do you get to be around the best in the world at the thing you love to do? It’s kinda like getting the chance to throw BP to Derek Jeter or run lines with Bryan Cranston. That’s part of what I love about ultrarunning. I CAN do something like this, CAN get this close to someone who would certainly be in anyone’s Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.
Anyway, Friday we ended up having a “snow day” although I guess it would more accurately be called a “freezingish rain so kids don’t come to school but it’s still a teacher work day.” I headed to the Outer Banks in the early afternoon, driving through rain and high winds and generally miserable weather. The forecast said Saturday would be really nice but it was hard to believe given what I was dealing with on the drive out. I got to Kitty Hawk well after everyone else had packed up and headed north to Corolla for the night. Had a delicious burger and some beers at the Outer Banks Brewing Station and then headed to the Inn at Corolla Light for the night. It was a really nice inn and I wished I had gotten there sooner to enjoy the surroundings but I didn’t so I settled in to bed and got a few hours sleep.
3:15 am came quickly. I stirred, packed all the things I had brought in from the car, dressed, and headed down to grab some breakfast. On my way down I saw Jack Cabral outside the door to his and Valmir’s room so I introduced myself and went inside. There I briefly met Jack (who would be the other guy crewing for Valmir — as well as the English-Portuguese translator) and Valmir. We exchanged hellos and briefly went over some logistics and then I made my way to my car, loaded it up, grabbed some hard boiled eggs for breakfast and headed over to the start which was about a mile away.
The energy there was electric and made me sorta wish I were running myself. Almost. Valmir showed up and checked in and then started to jog around to warm up I guess. I talked some with Jack, figuring out logistics of what the day would entail and also of getting my car to the second aid station/beach house where I would be staying Saturday night. Right around 5 am the race started and Valmir was off. The race itself promised to be a good one, with many top caliber ultrarunners toeing the line. Aside from Valmir, Joe Fejes, Jonathan Savage, Olivier Leblond, and Connie Gardner were all running. I was going to get a front row seat to the action! Jack and I drove to the ~10 mile mark of the course and parked. It would be about 77 minutes before Valmir came through. After that, he wanted us to meet him every 3 miles along the route. Graveyard is unique in that it is basically just running south along one road from the northern end of the Outer Banks in Corolla to the end of Hatteras Island, probably a little more than 100 mile away. Jack and I chatted in the truck, getting to know each other — he’s an marine and a generally awesome bad ass, a humble one at that — while staying warm and waiting for Valmir. He taught me some basic Portuguese that would be relevant for the day, like ‘what do you want?’ and ‘you good?’ (te bon?). Valmir came by in first without anyone else in sight. We handed him what he wanted — Coca! Agua! (Coca Cola and water) and he was quickly on his way.
We drove three miles up the road, parked, and waited. I could stop it here and that would pretty accurately depict how my day went. Stop, wait for Valmir, hand him some Coca Cola and some water, get back in the car/truck, head down the road, park, wait, repeat. It was chilly early on but the sun was out and it promised to warm up some. So it went for quite a while. Valmir was like a machine, clicking off miles pretty consistently in the low 8s, high 7s. Meeting us, grabbing his Coke and water and continuing on. I’m pretty sure the only times he wasn’t running were the brief pit stops at the truck. It felt a lot like a NASCAR race, getting Valmir in and out as fast as possible. As we neared Kitty Hawk, Olivier and Joe had begun to catch up to him and the three of them were well clear of the rest of the field.
For the next dozen or so miles, the three men would trade positions but basically run pretty close to one another. At some point in the 30-40 mile range I saw Joe hunched over dry heaving, and Valmir needed to change his clothes because I think he was getting a little overheated too. It seemed like the three of them were pushing a little harder than the increasingly hot conditions were really allowing for and they were paying for it in varying degrees (purely conjecture on my part). At some point around here Valmir took something more than Coke and water — some Fanta and some kind of mix that was primarily just a ton of sodium in his water bottle with some flavoring. The stretch through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, etc is just mile after mile of beach house, breakfast restaurant, surf shop, etc. It was boring enough to drive past it all, I cannot imagine running it, being able to see so far ahead without really feeling like you’re making any progress. Oh, but the worst was yet to come!
The next stretch was just sand dunes and road. The only break was a 4 mile long bridge right around the halfway mark. We continued to supply Valmir with enough Coke to give most children diabetes every three miles and somewhere in here it became every two miles instead. At this point Olivier had jumped out to a decent but not insurmountable lead and Joe had fallen back a bit, which was sad because 1- Joe is awesome and 2- Kelly, his crew, is also awesome and was fun to see her at the same stops we were making and chat some before heading on down the road.
As we neared the next aid station, Valmir began to show signs that he was having a tough day, primarily by telling us it was kind of a tough day for him. Still, he was solidly in second and only a mile or two back of first, We continued with our every two miles stops. You’d think driving and crewing for someone for 100 miles would get boring and tedious but the fact that Valmir ran so consistently all day made for very little down time and a lot of excitement. I give all the runners credit for getting through this section with their sanity (mostly) in tact; it was just long stretches of open road and sand dunes on either side and nothing else to let you know you’ve made any progress.
Valmir tunred off of Rte 12 to go out and back to the Cape Hatteras light house, the last aid station, and saw Olivier going the opposite direction. Valmir was running a bit stronger, despite being nearly 3 miles back and that seemed to perk him up. We kept on him, pushing him, and getting him going without much stopping. At some point he had also eaten a power bar which was pretty much the only solid food he had all day. I was mostly just a cheerleader and cup hander at this point; he’d come in, take a sip, and be on his way. It was kind of amazing to watch really. He was clearly pretty tired and yet he seemed to find some extra inner strength and picked it up in an attempt to catch the leader over the final half marathon of the course. All we could do was hand off Cokes and waters and cheer every 1.8 miles now.
Leaving the lighthouse area, we encountered more barren, desolate, lonely road, but the end was fast approaching. At this point, after we handed off to Valmir, we sped up ahead to get an approximation of how far back he was before heading back to the next rendezvous point. The lead was shrinking, first from 3 miles to a little over 2, and finally to about 1.3 miles at its smallest. Alas, at the point there was only about 3 miles to go for Valmir, and about 1.5 for Olivier. Valmir was going to finish in second but it was still going to be a helluva time. He hit another rough patch with a few miles to go but toughed it out. We were waiting at the finish as he came in, running as he had the whole race. 15 hours, 1 minute after the start he crossed the finish line in second place. I high-fived Jack on a job well done. It wasn’t his best day, but despite feeling kinda rough at time, Valmir still managed to run a pretty quick 100 miles and finish in second by about 13 minutes. Overall, I’d deem that a successful day.
I stuck around to congratulate my runner and thanked Brandon for all he did to put the race on. Valmir’s daughter and her husband took him with them and Jack and I drove back to Nag’s Head where the beach house was located. I said goodbye to Jack and went inside to watch the end of UNC-Duke, go for my own brief run, and crash out on the couch. I only ran 5 miles that day but I was quite exhausted.
I have crewed for people before, most notably/exhaustingly when I crewed Dave at Hellgate. THAT was quite an experience, one that still sticks out in my mind as fun, difficult, and awesome. This was not quite as physically challenging but there was some stress to not screw anything up for a guy who was clearly a contender for the win. It was fun and interesting to be on this side of things. Even though I’ve done similar, this seemed different. I have more appreciation for my mom and my brother who drove around Long Island on Christmas Eve 2011 while I ran 46 miles from Jones Beach to Oyster Bay and then back to my house in Wantagh, stopping every few miles to give me something to drink and/or eat. I also am amazed by Mr, Nunes, like I said, I’m pretty sure the only time he stopped running was when he briefly stopped at the truck to quickly down a Coke and water and whatever else he needed (usually nothing). Impressive does not begin to describe it. Olivier and Joe also ran incredible races for 1st and 3rd respectively. I don’t know if I will ever do the Graveyard 100 myself, there is A LOT of sad, lonely running for the front runners, but I can recognize an extremely well-run race when I see it. Brandon, the Wilson family, and all involved put on a top notch race.
Thank you to Brandon for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to running more of your races in the future (hopefully at 100% so I can actually be competitive in them for a change). Thank you to Jack for being a great crew teammate and entertaining companion for the 15+ hours we shared on the road. Obrigado to Valmir for allowing me to help him, for being an amazing runner with no quit in him and pushing through when things got difficult. What a wonderful experience, truly. I feel very fortunate to have played a small part in the race up front and look forward to seeing Valmir again in the fall at Croatan 24.
Now to get ready for tomorrow. Ray K’s South Carolina 24 hour race (I’ll be running 50k and helping out after. Some big numbers are definitely going to be put up thought!). Mark, out.
Another race report! This one hopefully a bit more timely. (ed. note: I had written out a pretty long (of course) report and WordPress decided it didn’t like it and deleted it. GrumpyMark is going to write a super quick one now and whatever, grrr)
The Umstead marathon holds a special place in my heart. Two years ago I was a fledgling ultrarunner who was trying to do everything I could to get ready for the Umstead 100 and was offered an opportunity to run the marathon. I figured at the time that I was going to do a long run in the park anyway so I might as well have some fun with it. I ended up winning it and setting a big (still-standing) PR, running just over 3 hours. That run gave me the confidence I needed to do so well in the 100 miler a month later. Last year was the opposite story. In the three months leading up to the marathon, I ran a total of less than 120 miles. I showed up to the race having JUST got over a knee and hamstring issue (the issue being that when I ran, it felt like fire knives were stabbing me in those places), I was fat, and totally out of shape. I gutted out an almost personal worst and somehow managed to run just fast enough to ‘get wood’ (the cool little wooden trophy given to the top-15 in each gender). I am pretty sure that was the least fun I have ever had in a race, ever. The fact that I did so poorly with a big bullseye in the form of Bib #1 on my chest definitely didn’t help matters.
This year HAD to be better than that. This year has already been better than last so it would stand to reason. I initially hadn’t planned on running the race but I was fortunate to get one of Bull City Track Club’s spots again (THANKS JASON AND KIM!) so I figured I might as well try to redeem myself. The week before, the 10 mile performance gave me reason for cautious optimism that I would at least be competitive. Of course I then went and promptly re-aggravated my tight, painful left calf by pushing it too hard on a 23 miler Tuesday and then again Wednesday even more. By Thursday I was wondering if I’d be able to run at all. Friday I managed two very painful, very slow miles and then had an emergency session with John Stiner which made things feel somewhat better but definitely not nearly 100%. He also strongly advised me not to race, something my parents, who had come down to watch me do improv Thursday and go to the race Saturday, echoed. I decided I would at least go to the race and get my shirt and if I felt up to it, I would start and bail if it got real bad.
My parents, Shuriah, and I got to the race right around 8am, I got my bib and started getting ready. Saw John again and he reiterated not to be stupid and I tried to convince myself that I wouldn’t. If I were being honest with myself, which I was trying to do, the calf was still very tight and kinda hurt even just walking. I was not quite sure how this would go but I wasn’t that optimistic. I put a compression sleeve on it but didn’t really expect that to make much of a difference. About ten minutes before the start I jogged into the woods a little to go to the bathroom one last time. I could certainly FEEL the calf but it wasn’t VERY painful so I knew I could at least start.
For some reason I still lined up near the front, right next to Ronnie Weed and Matt Hirschey. I saw Wayne Crews and Lorraine Young, last year’s winners, up front again too. We got started right around 9am and for the first time in the three years I’ve run this marathon, I didn’t start and almost immediately feel like I was working hard. I actually took that first uphill out of the camp area relaxed, chatting with Ronnie and Matt and perfectly content to let quite a few runners go by. My big goal for the race was to maybe finish without setting myself back significantly. After that, I figured it would be nice to be top-15 male again and ‘get wood’ which was a cool insect this year (although not as cool as an oppossum)! As we got near the first mile turnaround on the airport overlook I counted who was ahead of me and figured I was sitting in about 11th place or so. Ok.
We were running quickly but not pressing and while I was definitely AWARE of my calf, it wasn’t hurting. Yet. We turned onto the single track and the thought occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to run ANY single track in the months leading up to the race. I honestly couldn’t remember off the top of my head the last time I did, I guess when I was helping out at that race at Eno River SP in October. My goal for the single track became ‘don’t hurt yourself worse.’ Ronnie and I were still pretty close together and Matt had pulled slightly ahead and so did Anthony. I decided to let go a little on the downhill on Graylyn and that was probably a mistake. My calf tightened up considerably and when I got back on the single track I was feeling it. Blah blah we ran up hills and down some hills and came to an aid station and I think it was around there that I may have caught Matt and gone briefly by him. I was in ~6-7th at this point and figured I was running a pace I could manage the whole way. We came out of the woods and Matt had once again gone by. I couldn’t quite see Ronnie behind me anymore but figured he was close, as were a whole bunch of other people. At mile 8, we were done with the single track and I was happy about that. Heading back up Graylyn, my calf hurt some more. At some point between then and when I got to the next aid station where Reedy Creek and Turkey Creek meet, I had to stop and stretch it out a little. I pressed my finger into the lateral head of the gastroc and tried to do a little self-active release. It worked moderately enough to get me running again.
The next interesting thing that happened was getting lei’d near halfway. That helped me remember not to take this so seriously.I hit the halfway mark in about 1:38 which was much smarter than 1:31 last year. I had had to stop a few more times to stretch and massage the calf out and around mile 12 it occurred to me that maybe I should call it quits. I figured I’d wait until I get back to Graylyn to decide one way or the other. It was an increasingly frustrating situation I was finding myself in. Aerobically, I felt great. I wasn’t taxed at all. My legs also felt really good. There was no creeping soreness, no lack of ‘pop’ but there was the calf holding me back. If I thought about, or foolishly tried to run a bit faster, it tightened and threatened to just give up altogether. So I tried to be smart. Between 12 and about 20, there were periodic stops to stretch/massage and also brief 15 second ‘walk on my heels to try to stretch my calves’ stretches. Ugh. Matt was long gone, as were the people ahead of him. I caught a brief glance back during one of my massage breaks and didn’t notice anyone coming up behind. Odd. I was running ~7-7:30 miles but didn’t think that was enough to put so much distance on anyone behind me.
Right around mile 15 we come back down to that aid station off Graylyn and I could see that I was well behind Wayne, Michael, and Lorraine. I saw Matt coming up the hill out of the aid station as I was going down. It looked like he had at least a few minutes on me. I began to see how far ahead I was from everyone behind me on my way back up. It wasn’t much. Maybe a minute or two? I was counting men to see where #15 was and how much cushion I had. It was like almost 15 or so minutes. I figured that if my calf didn’t relax, or, more likely, got worse, I might still have enough cushion to get that coveted wooden bug.
Last year I remember the Turkey Creek section on the way back sucked. There was a lot of walking, partly because I was in pain bu mostly because I was waaaaaay out of shape. That wasn’t the case this year. I took the hills, especially the downhills, conservatively because my calf didn’t like them, but I was able to move pretty consistently. It was a very weird mix of thoughts in my head. My competitive side continued to be frustrated because, hey, this is a race and I want to do well and I didn’t want to get caught and passed and I wanted to push more than I could. I was also happy that aerobically I was feeling ok still, 2 or so hours in.
As I made my way back to the end of the Turkey Creek section something awesome happened — I started to feel better. Maybe it was a bit of adrenaline from knowing I was only about 10k away from being done and, hey, I’ve run a bunch of 6-7 mile runs this year, no problem. Maybe it was the fact that the calf was finally getting some more blood and all the easy running and massaging had actually helped loosen it up a bit. Whatever it was, as I approached that aid station where I turn back to Reedy Creek, I was feeling the best I’d felt all race. I took this downhill a bit quicker. I didn’t think I was going to catch anyone ahead but I also was starting to feel more and more confident that I was going to successfully maintain my position. As I started working my way up corkscrew hill, I noticed a guy ahead of me that I was pretty sure was in the race. I quickly closed on him and, yep, he was. Looked like he was having a tough go of it. Pangs of last year hit me, I was there, it sucks. I kept on trucking and turned onto Cedar Ridge for the long downhill. I noticed that I had actually picked up the pace a bit this last stretch and hadn’t even slowed much going up corkscrew.
Cedar Ridge. Man. Two years ago I honestly didn’t notice how difficult it was. So late in a marathon, so long of an uphill immediately after a long downhill. That year I felt like I flew up. That’s where I caught and passed the leader and just kept building steam. Last year, it’s where I really fell apart, mentally and physically. I walked a lot of it. I got passed by a bunch of people. I sucked. This year I was braced for it to actually be hard. It was. But I was ready. I noticed I was not THAT far behind Matt anymore, maybe two minutes. I also noticed I was well ahead of the next runner. Hmmm. I made the decision as I turned to head uphill that I was going to push it, calf be damned. I was too close and had been so patient and I can survive 3 or so miles.
I put my head down and tried to find some extra bit of strength to climb back up. It was definitely significantly less unpleasant than last year but it certainly wasn’t an easy float like the first time. I think people at the aid station were telling me I looked strong, and maybe that I was pretty close to 4th place. I didn’t really understand why they said because I was definitely in 5th at best but whatever. This was the best I felt all day, by far. I was finally able to really push down on the throttle and my leg cooperated. I had plenty of energy for Cemetery Hill and at that point I had caught sight of Matt. By my estimation he was up by about exactly one minute at the top of Cemetery Hill. Part of me thought that was probably too much with not enough left to run. Then I took another estimation at a tree and it was down to 26 seconds. And I was clearly gaining. I caught up to him before the water fountains and just kept on. Making the turn off the bridle trail, it struck me I was going to finish and I was going to do it successfully and respectably. The downhill last couple hundred meters were fun again, not quite as fun as the first time but close. I rounded the bend and could see the finish. I heard mom and Shuriah screaming for me, I heard the announcer say something like, “Here comes Mark Manz, our 2012 winner” and then I was done. 3:11:44. 4th place overall, 3rd place male (apparently someone else had cramps and slowed down or something without me noticing). And while my calf was not super happy, it felt no worse than earlier in the day, maybe even a bit better. As far as I was concerned, a very successful run.
Writing this so long after the fact, I have the benefit of perspective. At the time it may have seemed a little dumb but I’ve managed to continue training, taking a needed easier week after. My calf is fine now. I will always wonder “what if” — what if my calf was not an issue. I hate making excuses, and I doubt I had another 3:00-3:01 performance in me, but maybe a 3:04-3:05. Wouldn’t have changed my placement but it would have made things more interesting. Ah well. This year was pretty good, next year will be much better.
I am behind. This has been sitting in my drafts folder on wordpress for over a week now. I have a snow day so it’s time to finish it because I have another race report to write. I don’t think I really wrote a single race report last year. Part of the fun of getting into running, for me at least, was running these races and then sharing my stories about them with whoever cared. Back when LJ Runners was more active, that usually meant quite a few people. I don’t know how many people regularly read this blog but if nothing else, I enjoy going back and reading old reports. Aside from running every single day this year, one of my resolutions was to write more. I have been struggling with that one but hopefully positive goings on in my running will help to change that.
Club Challenge is a race close to my heart. While I don’t regret for one moment moving from Baltimore to Durham a few years ago I DO miss some of the inhabitants of that area. Club Challenge is an excuse for me to visit Baltimore and hang out with Johnny basically. Also to test myself on a fairly challenging 10 mile course. In 2012, I ran 59:29 which was the beginning of a VERY good stretch of races for me that culminated with the Umstead 100. I had no dreams that I would run anywhere close to that, nor that I am in the kind of shape to have a really strong racing season this spring. I just wanted to go up and run hard and hang out and have some fun.
The drive up was smooth sailing until we got near DC (Shuriah came with me for her first trip to Baltimore, woot!) Outside of Woodbridge, VA we began to crawl for the better part of two hours. After six hours in the car, we finally made it to Fells Point where we met Johnny and his girlfriend, Betsy, for dinner. Not really caring about proper nutrition for the race, I enjoyed a giant burger and a few beers. Back at Johnny’s we spent a few hours catching up and drinking the unofficial beer of Baltimore, Natty Boh. After more of these than I’ve had in a while, I passed out on the couch. 5:30 am came early and I groggily got ready. The four of us headed down to Columbia and snagged a parking spot right near the building where packet pick up is. I didn’t get the warm up I had wanted but maybe that was for the best. The week or so leading up to Club Challenge, my left calf had been tight and kinda painful thanks to running (and slipping, and sliding, and slipping some more) on the icy mess we had gotten the previous week. I got to the start line with only a few minutes to spare. Before the race, Johnny and I had talked about expectations. He mentioned he wanted to run about 65 minutes. That sounded so fast to me. I had run a flat little 4 miler two weeks prior in 24:08, but that was 4 miles and had no real hills. I hadn’t pushed myself that fast for that long in months. Really, the entirety of 2013 was a big frigging wash and my last race that I was truly proud of was the Potomac Heritage 50k in November of 2012. Anyway, I told him, and honestly meant, that I wouldn’t be surprised, and would be quite pleased, with anything from 65-67. I figured 63 would be a PHENOMENAL day.
When I got to the start, I couldn’t find Johnny in the mass of people, but I did find Shuriah for a quick kiss and a good luck and then we were basically off. I remembered the first mile is basically all downhill and the first half trends more downhill with the second half making up for that and running slightly slower. I just wanted to settle in to something that felt comfortably hard, like tempo pace basically. I didn’t look at my watch until the first mile. I saw some familiar faces up front, like Dan Miranda, and knew I should probably back up just a touch because I had no business being that close to the front runners. From the effort I guessed I was running right about that 6:30. Wrong. 5:40. I knew it was downhill but damn. Ok. Just take it as it comes. Don’t fight it but don’t push it. Legs felt fine, breathing wasn’t labored, all systems go. I settled in right behind a group of guys wearing Montgomery County Road Runners singlets. Aside: This race isn’t just a big early season road race, it’s called Club Challenge because all of the running clubs in the Maryland/DC area get together to test themselves, sorta XC style. I was running, as I always have, for the Baltimore Road Runners Club, of which I am still a loyal member.
The MCRR guys seemed to be running right about my pace so I keyed off of them and let my mind wander at times. The first few miles rolled and we crossed a bridge with some icy spots on it and headed into a different neighborhood. I kept checking my watch at mile intervals and noticed I was still right around 6:00 pace, even with some undulations — I was taking the downhills kind of hard and easing up a bit on the uphills, something I wanted to experiment with. In general, I was thanking myself for re-committing to doing heavy squats the past few weeks, as my quads didn’t mind the pounding one bit.
I hit the halfway in 29:43, which was pretty close to my 2012 split of around 29:30. However, unlike in 2012, I didn’t have the volume or the speed to maintain that as well and slowed some in the back half. I fought to stay near the guys who I had been running with all day. There is some winding stretches in the middle to late miles, and one moment where I had to kind of tiptoe through some ice across a greenway connecting to cul-de-sacs. All the while I maintained a pretty consistent speed. The last few miles were a bit of a grind, I was pushing when I could and just trying to hang with whomever was right in front of me. As we made the turn back onto the last street before the parking lot where the race finished I got a surge of adrenaline and picked it up. That was the only time the whole race I was really close to redlining. I could hear Shuriah yelling but couldn’t quite see her because my eyes were focused on catching the guy in front of me. I went by someone and heard spectators cheering for some guy behind me to pass me. All I wanted was to not let that happened. Last turn and it was an all-out sprint to the line. I held the guy off and just missed catching the guy in front of me. Still, I crossed in 1:00:46. Yeah, 2+ minutes faster than my “everything is awesome, this is the best day” guesstimate. I greeted Shuriah as I saw Serge Arbona cross the line about a minute later. Nothing really hurt too bad, just a little tired from the drive the day before and the effort and all that but not wrecked, which was a good sign. Only 75ish seconds slower than the year I felt invincible? Things are clearly headed in the right direction. To paraphrase John Stiner, back then I was close to peaking, right now I’m in the foothills. I like that, I don’t want to really peak until the fall. I have a lot of road ahead of me until then but it’s already a better year, racing-wise, than last year.
I swear I plan to write more about running and post less pictures of my beard in various states of frozen but it IS February and North Carolina is behaving more like the winters I am familiar with and less like the not-quite-tropical paradise I moved to in large part because I want to get away from the snow and the ice and the cold. I remember sometime in February three years ago, confined to my lousy apartment in Baltimore, the last time “snowpacalypse” was a popular made up word I thought to myself how I couldn’t stand this and had to get away. The past two winters down here have been fine, particularly my first. I remember running in t-shirt and shorts pretty much every day as I trained for Umstead. Last year felt a little colder overall but not too bad. As I type this, I’m sitting in my apartment. This is the fourth snow day we’ve had, which doesn’t take into account all the early dismissals and late openings for weather issues. I’m getting set to go run, and there are GIANT fluffy flakes floating down to earth and I would be shocked if there were school tomorrow.
I ran last night too. The snow was up past my ankle in some places and when the snow stopped, the freezing rain began. And it was windy, mostly blowing things sideways (which means directly into my face for about half my run). I don’t write this for people to tell me how bad ass I am. Mostly, I was an idiot. I drove an unnecessary amount and could have just as easily (more easily really) run my 11 miles on the treadmill at my apartment complex’s fitness center and not risked some sort of slipping-related injury. I write this to give some back story for the picture below. I could FEEL my beard freezing pretty much as soon as I started running. At one point I went to crack my neck and realized that the ENTIRE beard was frozen solid (which explains why the wind felt so weird on it an hour or so in). I ran mostly around my complex but also ventured up to the I-40 bridge to see what the highway looked like (desolate, a mess) and to see if Champps would be open for me to grab a burger when I was done running (they wouldn’t). I think I saw three cars the whole time I was running, and two people walking there dogs and looking at me like I was insane (they’re probably right). It was kind of peaceful in a way, when I wasn’t focusing on my footing, which was mostly horrible except for a few solid tire tracks. I ran for about an hour and forty-five minutes and when I walked inside I was curious to see just how frozen I looked. Apparently, the frozen beard had actually captured snow and held it to my face so it looked like I just went face first into a drift. What you can’t see from the picture is the fact that my jacket and shorts are all covered in a thick layer of ice, which I’ve definitely never experience before.
Thinking back a year ago, I know I definitely would have taken a zero for yesterday and been mostly okay with that. This year I’ve committed myself to consistency and, as I often do especially with running, am going a bit overboard on that front, attempting to run every day of the year. So far, so good. Progress, or something like that. But again, also stupidity. Then again, running for 24 hours at a time, or for 20-30 miles intentionally in the middle of the day in summer in NC, as well as many other things that I, and many other ultrarunners, do could be defined similarly. In a way, a weird way, it’s part of the fun of it, for me at least. Anyway, it’s snowing outside and I have another run to do. In a little over a week I’ll be in Baltimore running a 10 mile race and hanging with Johnny which is exciting. Also exciting… Spring getting here so I have something other than snow beard pictures to post. Mark, out.
The last few times I’ve seen John Stiner he’s said the same thing to me. “Just keep the ball rolling.” What I take it to mean is to re-find that consistency and then… be consistent. Last year was an extreme struggle in that regard, and ultimately a total failure, the likes of which I had not experienced in quite some time. It was a frustrating, mentally difficult year where I never really found a rhythm with my training and that translated into a slew of lackluster and disappointing race results, not to mention injuries galore. Blah blah blah last year sucked. I will try my best not to keep talking about that. But it did! But this is 2014 now and it is almost the end of January and I have run every single one of these 28 days so far and have covered more miles this year than I did until April 22nd last year. Yeah. Not bad. Not quite 2012, which was easily the best year I’ve ever had (or, really the best 7ish months, but I digress) but solid. As John has told me, the ball has started rolling and I intend to keep it doing so. I dunno if I’ll get into weekly recaps, they seem so boring but on the flip side at least I’d be writing which was a goal of mine for this year — to write more. And I dunno about monthly recaps either, but they seem more likely. As it is, January is not quite over but I am sitting here and I have a snow day tomorrow so I have not much to do write now but write and I’m feeling really positive about things, which as some regular readers might know is kind of a rarity here, so why the hell not.
Yesterday I got done with school at 4 and headed over to Duke’s east campus loop. I parked near the Whole Foods and started running some time before 5. It was in the mid-to-high 50s at the time and there were a ton of people out. I quickly headed for Campus Dr and headed to the chapel. I went past the chapel and turned toward the Al Buehler XC loop, something I miss now that my school has moved locations. Twice around that with an extension on the fitness loop and it was back toward east campus with the sun setting. When I got back to east campus I realized that if I went counter clockwise for 2+ loops I would have 18 miles, the distance I started off thinking I’d do. But with 4 and change loops I’d have a little more than 21 (let’s call it 21 Manz miles). Somehow that idea won out. I really wanted to venture into the downtown Durham area to break up the monotony but somewhere in my brain I decided that loops would also help with my mental toughness so loops is what I was doing. There was something sadistically gratifying about knowing I was going to be running by my car multiple times and could stop every time if I so chose. I wanted to, that’s for sure. Around mile 16 or 17 I started feeling kinda tired, kinda drained. I purposely hadn’t taken anything to drink or eat during the run; some crap about making my body adjust to using it’s energy stores on longer runs or some such ill-advised BS. Regardless, I’d made it that far, I was going to tough it out, however dumb that was. When I hit the end of a loop at 18 miles even, I really wanted to stop. But for some reason I trudged on. I had slowed some, and at times felt like I was shuffling. I was also light-headed and weak. The last lap in particular was brutal. The wind was blowing at me with about a mile to go. I had to stop and walk briefly and that was kind of a mistake because I realized just how light-headed and woozy I was. It was bad. I thought maybe I’d black out. The temperature had also dropped considerably and my hands were frozen solid. Somehow I managed to stay upright and finish the loop and the 21 mile run. It was the longest training run I’ve completed since July. Back then, I ran 21 miles on the nice, flat ATT on a Sunday morning with company for most of it. Yesterday was a different animal and much more reminiscent of the days where I’d come home from school after running around all day and head out for 3 or so hours just because I could. I thought I might die of hypothermia after the run, spending quite a while getting readjusted to not running and almost falling asleep in my car outside Whole Foods after. But I survived and today I went on an easy 11 mile run before the “snowpacalypse” hit Durham and my legs feel just fine. Onward and upward, the ball continues to roll.
I fully intend for this year to be somewhere near as productive and positive as 2012 and so far it’s off to a good start. I’m trying to balance the fact that I feel genuinely GOOD for the first time in months and want to GO GO GO with the fact that I haven’t run all that much of late and need to have some patience building the mileage base and all that back up so my legs don’t fall off. I drunkenly signed up for the Strolling Jim 40 mile race in May, mostly because Joe Fejes, one of the ultrarunners I most admire, is running it and posted a link and I figure 40 miles hard in May will be a good stepping stone to a big summer of training and (hopefully) a BIG 24 hour race in last September. I’m probably about a year away from being where I want to be but I have to start somewhere. The ball has to START rolling before you can keep it going. I think so far this year, I’ve gotten it off to a good start. Now to keep the miles coming, and building, and that damn ball rolling.
Friday night running around Durham in 15ish degree temperature. Ice crystals in my beard. 80% vapor from breathing, 10% condensation from sweating, 5% spit, 5% snot
2013 sucked. It was the worst in so many ways. But because this is a running blog (kinda), let’s stick with just running. Which sucked more than most things last year. It got so bad in the last few months of the year that I basically stopped keeping track of the running I did. Which is why it took me a few minutes to figure out that I’d run something like 1,234 miles last year. That’s it. In the first 13 weeks of 2012 I ran 1,181 miles. So yeah. Bad. At least it’s a cool number, right?
Let’s keep rolling with this theme — I identify myself as an ultrarunner. By most people’s definition, an ultrarunner is someone who runs more than a marathon, with the baby ultras starting at 50k, or 31.1 miles. I did not complete a single run or race over 28 miles last year. I don’t count the 41 miles I am credited for in the Croatan 24 results. I RAN 28 miles and then stopped and walked the rest over the next few hours because my left leg felt like knives were stabbing it in various places. Which is the main theme of the last few months of 2013 — knives stabbing my legs. Imaginary ones. Sometime in late August, I felt a pain in my hip that spread to my left knee. And for the next five months I battled this pain off and on with no real improvement. Fits and starts. Two failed (and retrospectively stupid) attempts at 24 hour races. One also kinda dumb half marathon pacing job in there. And nothing really positive to report until the last week or so of December when, following a treatment from John Stiner, things finally started to feel ‘not awful’.
So the last week I’ve run, and started going to the gym regularly again. Katie will be happy to hear I’ve done squats at least once a week for the past three weeks and that also seems to be helping. But let’s ditch the optimism for a few more minutes. I haven’t fully elaborated on just how monumentally bad 2013 was. The first race I ran I DNF’d. It was my first DNF ever. At the Uwharrie 40. I won’t get a chance to redeem myself this year because they went to a lottery and I didn’t get picked. But that’s probably a blessing because I’m probably less ready for it this year than last. When I think about the races I’m most proud of, or that I feel I performed best at, I think about a beer mile I did in April. Yes, a beer mile was possibly my best performance of the year. At any rate, it was the only PR I registered last year (unless we’re talking about PRs for being a shitty runner). I also didn’t do super awful at the Running of the Bulls 8k in June. It was very humid and I managed to run 29:35 which wasn’t super far off from 2012′s performance when I felt like I was in pretty good shape. Again, for an ultrarunner to point to a mile and an 8k as his best performances for the year tells one all you need to know about how bad the year was.
Let’s not forget to mention how fat I got. Yes, fat is a relative term. 165 pounds for a 5’9″ male is not fat fat and most people I’d tell that to would laugh at me or smack me. But let’s be honest — when I ran Umstead I was 150 pounds. I felt good. I felt fast. I feel like a blob. And it’s not like I put on muscle. I was basically making donations to the Y for most of the year and eating waaaaay too many frosted sugar cookies from Target. Oh, and being a lazy good-for-nothing layabout.
I’m not going to write about resolutions or specific goals for 2014. All I want is for it to be much more like 2012 and pretty much nothing like 2013. That’s all I want. Oh, and I’ll blog more. I wrote three blog posts last year according to wordpress. I believe it. I didn’t have much good to write about. Or much running-type stuff. But I want to write. I like writing. And maybe connecting with other runners. I want to FEEL like a runner, an ultrarunner again. I’ve made a bit of a start, but I am well aware of how far I still have to go just to get back to where I was, let alone where I REALLY want to go eventually.
I dunno. I sit down and think, “hey I should write something in that blog,” or, “hey, I DO want to write something in this blog,” but by the time I sit down to write, I just either don’t feel like it or it’s gone outta my head or whatever. But here I am, my sporadic entry for the month. It’s August, my favorite month for obvious reasons. And it’s the first day of it. Last month saw a number of first-in-a-long-time things happen and I hope the trend continues in August and beyond. I finally, FINALLY, felt like I was training last month and not just kinda screwing around running when it was convenient. I MADE running convenient at times (and it was still inconvenient at other times, but I made it work). I finish July healthy and better than I started it, which is about the best I could have hoped for. I’m actually pretty happy for a change so I guess that’s probably why I have less of a problem actually writing something up about it (that and the fact that I have something to write about instead of just saying, uh yeah, I’m running, some, and uh, doing other stuff, and oh yeah it’s hot. yeah).
First off, July was the first month since last September I ran more than 300 miles for the month. Yeah. Wow. Jeez. I can remember back in like 2008 or 2009 when I thought 300 this magic-like number that if I went above it would make me a ‘real’ runner or some such nonsense. Then I started taking things like that for granted early last year. And then life and injury happened. And even though I didn’t run quite as much as I’d planned, I ran consistently and put in the miles and am at a place where I can build upon that. So, yay.
I also ran more than 100 miles in a week for the first time in a while. Actually, it had been almost exactly one year since that happened, as astounding as that sounds. And it had been even longer since I put one together that didn’t have some sort of long race involved (I had to go back to mid-June for that!). It’s been a slow, arduous, frustrating process to get healthy and then be able to build and re-find the consistency and dedication to getting out there every day (or almost every day) and doing what I need. Just like with the monthly mileage, this isn’t meant to be seen as a stop and congratulate myself type thing, it’s an ‘ok, good, this step complete, let’s keep building’ type thing.
There are other things — like finally doing a 20+ mile run, something I haven’t done enough of this year or in a long while outside of a race. And just sometimes enjoying the act and not dreading how I’m going to feel. I can’t say enough good stuff about John Stiner, the monthly tune-ups I’ve gotten have certainly helped and I’m looking forward to making it bi-monthly or more as big races (and big miles) start coming. I was on a long run with Paul a few weekends ago and he mentioned that it seems I’m approaching running from a really good place, that I seem to be running for myself, for personal satisfaction and improvement instead of external reinforcement or motivation. It’s true. It’s part of why I stopped posting on Dailymile for half the year, because I didn’t want the often phony sounding praise or encouragement. And it’s why I feel I can be back there, because I still don’t seek it or need it but I DO like to keep myself accountable (and the cool graphs, of course). It’s probably another reason why I haven’t blogged much also. I just don’t find myself that interesting. My running is mine, my goals are mine and I don’t need anyone telling me they’re unrealistic and foolish OR that they’re attainable and to keep striving. Which makes me a pretty awful blogger I guess.
But I will at least write more ABOUT my boring journey and stuff. I’ve been told some people do find it interesting. And this way Mom knows what I’m up to so she doesn’t worry I’m out there killing myself (or at least knows HOW I am potentially killing myself, love you Mom!). It’s not a very well kept secret that I’m focusing on the 24 hour event this fall, out at the Croatan 24 here in NC. I have had one disastrous 24 hour race, I’ve done another that I never intended to run for the entire time. That’s 0 for 2 by my count on successful 24 hour races. One thing I’ve learned is it is certainly a different animal than even 100 miles. I didn’t almost end up in the hospital at any point during or after Umstead. And I don’t want to just get through the one in November without any IVs. I’d like to qualify for the US 24 hour world championships team. Thinking about all the amazing runners who will likely be vying for or are already guaranteed a spot, that is a BIG challenge. But just like with all of my running goals lately, the challenge is what makes it worth it.
It’s been a few months, and really there hasn’t been much in the way of a real update in many more. I ran that Uwharrie race in February. I ran most of it, 29 miles of it. And then I stopped. It was my first DNF. I didn’t write a race report. That wasn’t because I felt ashamed or embarrassed. I just didn’t feel like it. Around that time I gave up on DailyMile. Not because I didn’t want people to see I wasn’t running as much. I didn’t/don’t need to hide that. I just couldn’t take the positive/congratulatory/self-congratulatory nature of it. And if one more person wrote on one of my just every day training runs, “NICE PACE!” I was going to totally lose my shit. But I digress.
Winter sucks and I was listless and still in search of my mojo. Also, I was actually injured. Then I ran the Umstead marathon, the race I won last year. I did not win it this year. I ran almost a half hour slower and was 15th male, and I think 17th overall. Yuck. I hadn’t done any other races between then and now. I didn’t start the Umstead 100. I couldn’t even get myself out to the park. I was kind of disgusted with myself, with how out of shape and crappy I had gotten. It was pretty pathetic. There was probably a decent amount of self-pity, but with me it becomes more like self-loathing. Not a good look. So what is the point of this? Kinda dark so far, and depressing. But it gets better.
I got healthy. I started seeing John Stiner again which had/has a lot to do with that. I started working on weaknesses. I started running. And running more. And I started enjoying it more. I still am. In the past, I have often said that whenever my personal life seems to be going to shit, my running thrives. The running (along drinking) is a means to escape from the misery and general awfulness that is going on in all the other aspects of my life. Unfortunately, early on this year, the running was more the CAUSE than the solution. Being injured meant the running suffered and the horrible performances and painful runs just led to a downward spiral. Combine that with the lack of sunlight and frustrations elsewhere and it was not good. It seems that things have pulled themselves around in all aspects. Instead of running pulling me out of my funk, I pulled myself out and the running followed. In the past two or so months, things have really turned the corner. I signed a contract to be a full-fledged teacher at my school next year, which is totally awesome. I already mentioned, I started seeing Stiner again and doing some of the exercises he gave me to work on weaknesses and, no coincidence, I started feeling better and running stronger. I have an amazing girlfriend in Shuriah who is loving and supportive and helps push me to get out the door and be the best version of myself I can be. I have some good friends, I’m eating better, drinking less, losing weight blah blah blah.
I am no where close to where I need or want to be, in terms of my running, not by a long shot. I ran the Running of the Bulls 8k last weekend about half a minute slower than last year (29:35 vs 29:04) so I’m not a totally out of shape slob like I was in February. At least for now I am headed in the right direction. I don’t need a pep talk. I don’t need people to say I’ve been missed, or that they believe in me or anything encouraging and nice and rah rah. Not because I don’t care. I do. Not because I’m not an asshole. I try not to be. But I need to do things for myself. I don’t run for external validation. I used to, for sure. But I don’t anymore. It comes from within. It’s a personal quest now. I like connecting with other runners, I like the camaraderie at races. I like the atmosphere of ultras. But I need to run for me and because of me. I’ve come to realize that anything turns this into a hollow, joyless endeavor bound to end in failure and malaise.
I have a goal race for the fall — the Croatan 24 hour ultramarathon which is closeby in Kinston, NC November 9-10th. The next few months will be committed to starting that race in the absolute best shape I’ve EVER been in (which will be saying something). It will be a tough task but I am committed and determined and when I set my mind to something this intensely, I get it done. Some exciting things are on the horizon, finally looking forward to the journey again.
I am running the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 miler, thanks to the wonder owners of Bull City Running Co, Kim and Jason. It’s been over four months since my last ultra race. This should be interesting. Stay tuned…