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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…
Saturday was an interesting experience. I ran part of the Hinson Lake 24 hour race. I say part because I really only ran about half of it. Katie already talked about the race in her guest post but I figure I want to get my thoughts down about it.
Going into this race, I knew it would be different than most races I’ve done. Originally, I was supposed to work until noon on Saturday which meant that I probably wouldn’t get started running until around 3pm, seven hours after the race started. From a competitive standpoint, this would be a disaster. Fortunately, I was not concerned with this. Being honest with myself, since the 24 hour disaster in Philly, I spent about a month doing squadoosh. The past few weeks have been better. About two weeks ago I finally started to feel fully recovered and sorta back to normal. Regardless, I knew that there was no way on earth I was prepared to make a strong effort at running for 24 hours. The only thing that would do would be to wreck me for another month or longer. So only having 17ish hours to run was actually an appealing idea. It took the pressure off and allowed me to treat this as a fun, supported long run weekend.
Then Saturday morning rolled around and it was raining and work got cancelled. It didn’t get cancelled officially until almost 8:30 though so I was in Durham, picking up Shuriah who was going to come down and help Katie crew for me/hang out/learn about this other Very Important part of my life, I had to make phone calls to parents as I drove down to Rockingham, and we finally arrived a little before 11. I got myself changed and ready pretty quickly and headed over to the timing tent which was on the other side of this bridge. The weather was a little muggy but coolish and the rain had pretty much stopped but the skies still looked grey. I checked in and slightly after 11 I started my first loop. Now, instead of having only 17 hours to run, I had almost 21. This made everything a bit more interesting. Potentially I could actually run a respectable distance, although with two members of the 24 hour World Championship team (Jonathan Savage and Joe Fejes), plus some other strong runners, I figured cracking the leaderboard would be an accomplishment in itself.
Originally, I had set an upper limit somewhere around 60-70 miles but now we were talking about 100-120. Somewhere in my head I knew that while it sounded good and was almost certainly achievable, it was a Bad Idea. More on that later.
I started too fast. Of course. I hadn’t run much in the week leading up. I felt pretty good. I was excited. Blah blah blah. The laps were about a mile and a half and I ran the first one right around 11 minutes. Yeah. Too fast. Because of the humidity and the fact that it wasn’t THAT cool, my Bull City track club singlet lasted about one mile into that first lap before coming off. Second lap was slightly improved but I seemed to settle into a rhythm of running right about 12 minutes per lap, which included a brief stop at the ladies who were situated at the top of the very little uphill that took you out of the woods. From there it was a short gravel stretch back to the bridge and the timing tent. I walked a little of this almost every lap, though my impulse was to GO. I must have been a bit confusing or some runners who had been out there for three hours already. All of a sudden there was this guy running around looking way more fresh than he had any business looking. Obnoxious. So I tried my best to be courteous and encouraging of anyone I went by.
Everyone else was super nice and friendly and encouraging too. At times people picked it up as I ran by and I got to run some laps or at least partial laps with a number of awesome runners. First there was Jamar who somehow recognized me and said he had been waiting for me to get down there or something. Cool. Every time I ran by him throughout the day he gave me a nice shout out. I saw Ray K a few times, of course, but sadly I never really heard any singing. Next time. Early on some former college runner ran a lap with me saying he had never run more than about 8 miles or something and wanted to run 35. I didn’t see him the rest of the day and I don’t know if he was actually in the race though. Still, a nice diversion. Bill from Raleigh ran from the far side of the lake to the start with me “to feel what it was like to run with the fast guys” or something like that. Made me chuckle to think people saw me and thought that. I got to run a few laps with Barefoot Josh, who was out there with the goal of 42 miles (31 of which he did completely sans shoes, bad ass). Josh also so nicely allowed me to borrow his headlamp in the evening when he was done running, as mine was/is a POS. There were also a number of people I recognized or kinda knew, even if it was just from the internet, like Shannon and Amy and Cheryl (who ended up almost breaking the women’s CR) and probably a bunch I’m blanking on right now, and it was cool to say hi as I went by. The best encounter for me had to be with a little kid out walking a lap with his dad. He had to be no more than two years old or so. As I went by he got really excited and I heard him say, “Daddy, that one’s a pirate!!” When I heard that I briefly stopped (mentally, not physically, the legs are kind of on autopilot) to consider — shirtless, hairy, beard, bandana… yeah, makes sense.
What about the race? Well, there’s not much interesting to say about it. I ran probably a bit too fast for the first 30 miles. I hit 20 laps (~30 miles) in 4:05 exactly and didn’t stop as I came through, running straight to the bathroom. At least it was solid, I thought to myself. Hopefully that means I was just done digesting my big dinner and breakfast. After the bathroom, I decided to walk a lap with Katie and Shuriah. It was nice to be able to take the mental ‘racing’ edge off by breaking things up like this. Reminded me I was not supposed to be in competitive mode. It also gave my stomach a chance to get settled.
After the walking lap, I started running again, a little more under control, and made it another 4-5 loops before making a second pit stop. I was still feeling pretty good, some minor chafing, some minor hamstring tightness, but not major red flags anywhere. And it seemed that I was doing a good job of fueling for a change. While I still wasn’t doing much solid foods, I was getting some stuff down almost every lap. That second bathroom stop was my last of the race. The pepto I took after must have worked. I started running again and I was about 5:40 into my race. This stretch of running was the most consistent of the entire race. I was kind of surprised with myself that as I started going again here, I was in a pretty good mood. I was downright chipper really. I am not a particularly chipper person in general, and in races I have a tendency to get a bit grumpy as things go on. I wouldn’t say (and Katie, Johnny, mom, dad, etc would be slightly more authoritative on the matter) that I get mean or anything but I don’t say much, I can be disagreeable about things like fueling, and I get sort of negative. None of that happened here. Instead I felt like I was almost bouncing down the trail, still making a point to acknowledge people I saw out there. When I came to the end of a loop, I wasn’t dreading it, knowing I’d be forced to consume some calories and fluids. Instead I was smiling and greeting the two lovely ladies with a smile. I know this is all true because they told me after the race.
While all this was going on, just clicking off lap after lap, most of them somewhere between 13 and 14 minutes, I was slowly inching closer to the leaderboard. Finally, it appeared I was on the same lap as 10th place on the leaderboard and was veryclose to winning the silly little game I came up with for myself. I know I hit the 50 mile mark in about 7:20ish, for what it’s worth. If I had stopped right there, I’m certain I could have woken up Sunday and pretty much gone about everything business as usual. But I didn’t. It started to get dark and I was trying to squeeze in as many laps as possible before I had to break out the headlamp. Many of these laps blur together during this part of the race, I know I was hopeful that things would cool off some after the sun went down (however the humidity never really dissipated, frown).
About 50 feet into my first lap with the headlamp, I broke the damn thing. URRRGH. I ended up running that lap with it in my hand and I could hardly see anything. Fortunately Shuriah and Katie fixed it and got it around my chest for the next few laps. And then as I mentioned before, Josh loaned me his after that as he had hit 42 miles and was done. I have to give Shuriah a particular thank you here for helping me get Josh’s light around my chest. I had the strap all rolled up and uncomfortable and she helped even it out despite the fact that I was sweating like I had just spent hours in a sauna and probably didn’t smell particularly fresh. That is first class crewing right there. I ran a few more loops and then when I got to around 10 hours I stopped to walk again. Not because I was struggling exceptionally, I just felt like a break. I had started to get a little too into my competitive mode with my name finally making it’s way onto the leaderboard and the top of that board was not TOO too far ahead anymore. I figured a walking lap would help cool my jets. Shuriah was nice enough to keep me company in the dark. It was a lovely half hour.
At this point, our goal had become ~90 miles and stop. I was right around 70 when I started running again. First loop was still right around 14ish but I could tell my legs were starting to tighten up. My little toe blister also began to make itself known. My medial left ankle started feeling the miles too, as it always does. In general, my feet started to feel the effects of running so far in my Green Silences. The lack of support starts taking a toll somewhere after 50 miles it seems, but I didn’t want to change them out when I was so close to being done. I knew I was rapidly approaching the upper limit of what I could do without requiring some significant recovery time afterward. 50 laps seemed like a nice logical number to stop at. As I set out on my 51st lap (because after half a day of running, counting was slightly difficult) I told the ladies I was going to run this one and then walk a lap and we’ll re-evaluate. And that’s what I did. I ran it harder than the previous couple because I knew it was the last one. I managed to finish it slightly under 13 minutes, getting back to the tent at 11:54 on my watch, having covered a little more than 77 miles.
The three of us walked another lap at this point. If there’s one thing I could use some work on in my ultra training (and there is A LOT I can use some work on!), it’s walking during races. I am slow slow slow. I can keep a decent pace when running but as soon as I go to a walk, I might very well be the slowest person out there. Other people were walking and they were zooming past us. Granted, I was feeling pretty leisurely but still. I digress. We walked a lap and I told them that I was done running and I felt zero bad about that decision. Of course then we got back to the timing tent to tell them I had finished another lap and I was probably done and saw the leaderboard. Somehow I had jumped to 4th place overall, 3 loops behind 3rd place and only 8 loops behind the two leaders, with 9 hours to go. Add to that the fact that when I was out there I still seemed to be moving quicker than anyone else and it became briefly, but mightily tempting to press on. If I’m being honest with myself, I certainly COULD have pressed on. Physically I have felt much much worse during races and mentally I was still very much engaged. Fortunately, I had some people to talk me from jumping off that cliff. Eyes on the prize and all those cliches about long term goals. With that, I headed back to our little spot and had a beer and just sat for a while talking. A little later it occurred to us that if I had done one more lap, I would have a little over 80 miles. So Shuriah and I headed back out to walk the loop one more time. Too bad the sky was cloudy, I’m sure the stars would have looked quite beautiful considering there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of civilization around. I came back to the start/finish for the last time, checked in, thanked everyone profusely, grabbed some water and headed back.
I got my upper body a massage (it had been tensing up in the last few hours) and washed myself off as best I could in the sink, talking to Jonathan who was doing the same thing. Congrats to him on going on to win despite not completely having the race he was hoping for. Seriously impressive runner. Had another beer and we headed back to the Triangle. I’ll officially get credit for 80.56 miles, but that’s whatever. More importantly, I got 77 miles of quality running in without absolutely wrecking myself. It is little secret to anyone who has talked to me about running in the past month or so what my Next Big Race is, and that race is still 27 weeks away and comes with the sort of goals that will probably need the next 27 weeks to go relatively according to plan (albeit a plan I am totally making up as I go along, but a plan nonetheless). As I sit here writing this Monday afternoon, I have already been beaten in a race by a very quick 1st grader, but the key thing is I did race him and I didn’t feel anything particularly bad while doing it.
To recap: I ran 77 miles. When I stopped, I was in 4th place despite a 3 hour handicap. I didn’t injure myself. It seems like recovery won’t take that long (I figure about or week or so to feel 100% normal). Shuriah took a bunch of notes and learned a t so that she could potentially crew by herself considering Katie will not be at every race. Everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. No one had to deal with Grumpy Mark (and I have my own hypothesis on what factors caused that, but this is long enough already). This race was a complete success.
Hi there! This is Katie, Mark’s crew chief extraordinaire. Mark gave me permission to guest post about our experience at the Hinson Lake 24 hour.
We had been planning on arriving late because Mark had to work Saturday morning and I had gotten drafted as a volunteer Fortunately his event got canceled very last minute due to rain and we got to pick up our other crew member, Shuriah, and head down hours earlier than expected. We arrived just before 11 AM, Mark grabbed a number and started running. Because of the schedule conflict and other things Mark hadn’t actually trained for a 24 hour and was planning to use this more as a long run.
Shuriah and I set up towards the end of the loop, before the rotary building and the check in/aid station. It had the benefit of being very close to the car. For an ultra I really liked the set up here: a 1.52 mile loop around the lake, with some nice views and a mix of sand, hard pack trail, and boardwalk. The aid station was setup after a bridge and one of the lake and was also near the rotary building with indoor bathrooms.
The good part of the short loop is you see your runner often, there’s much less suspense in between visits then a longer loop or point-to-point. This could probably work against a fast runner like Mark in some cases but it ended up working out pretty well here. He stopped almost every loop for a swig of coconut water and a bite to eat. Mark has a tendency to underfuel so fueling has been one thing we’re trying to work on, but he did great here taking almost everything I offered for the first few hours. I was happy about that because it meant a lot less stress than worrying if he was eating enough and if he was going to crash.
Mark has been running shorter but faster runs lately so he went out really quickly. Much too quickly for an ultra, maybe even if you’re not doing 24 hours. We kept telling him to slow down and he said he was trying to listen but he busted out almost 32 miles in 4.5 hours (all times super approximate, I don’t keep super strict track during the event). He stopped to use the bathroom at this point and then we walked a lap while discussing strategy. At that point we agreed 90 miles would be a good upper limit.
I did enjoy the ability to walk a couple laps with him. The trail was nice in the daylight. It was perhaps a little narrow for the number of runners present, crew and what not. All places were sufficient for a runner to pass a walker provided the walker was paying attention. Which we tried! Its really just wide enough for two people in many spots so it does require some mindfulness to let the fast people pass. Also the sand was annoying at a walking pace, gaiters are a good idea for this race. It seems like it would still be good in the rain if the sand drained ok too.
At the end of the lap we walked he went out and started cruising even more, stopping to see us less. The walking lap made him feel a lot more energized. Shuriah and I passed the time very companionably. We hadn’t met previous so we got to know each other and I told her pretty much everything I know about the fine art of crewing for an ultrarunner. I’m still learning but it was probably an astounding amount of information nonetheless. She’s a non-runner so we had to cover fueling, hydration, temperature control, and how to tell when things are starting to go downhill.
We also chatted with runners coming in, offering a little encouragement but mostly laughing and joking. The entire race was very personable and this was a fun environment. I was glad to have company, so Shuriah, the runners, and Mark’s fast laps made the hours pass very quickly. We were quite fortunate that it didn’t rain the entire time we were there, although we did have a tornado watch and some distant lightening.
Around 68 miles Mark and Shuriah walked a lap, it was already dark. We had been able to see his form tightening up, after 55 miles or so it suddenly looked a lot less smooth. The second walk loop didn’t have the impact that the first did, and after some more running he walked his final two laps for a grand total of 80.56 in about 12.5 hours since we had arrived. We endorsed his decision not to press on a bit further given his form. The point of this race was to get some miles and not wreck him so bad he needed weeks to recover. Anything over 60 miles has generally resulted it a longer recovery time.
Overall it was a very enjoyable race. Mark did struggle not to get caught up in the competition and excitement of racing, but overall I think this experience will fit in very nicely for his next A race. It was nice to see him having fun at a race for once too, often as a competitive ultrarunner the last miles are a grim sort of determination. I know he really appreciate all the shout outs from you blog readers that were there too, he often gets caught up in the task and focusing so please don’t mind if he’s not super cheerful at the next race you see him at – he’ll still appreciate it and make an attempt to catch up with you after. I was proud of his performance, but then I always am.
I think I prefer a distance race to a 24 hour race, I like the whole being done when you’re done and not just counting the hours. Still, I did really enjoy this particular race and I’d be happy to crew there again.
Mark will probably post his own version of this race report later. Meanwhile, if you do ultras, tell me what your crews pack to eat while they wait on you. I get so sick of sandwiches and since I’m generally traveling to his races its whatever we can buy the night before. I also hate leaving to run and grab something so I like to pack and settle in for the duration. Any ideas?
Thanks for reading!