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I am running for something like 17-18 hours tomorrow, on a 1.5ish mile loop around a lake in Rockingham, NC. Katie is here to make sure things don’t end like they did in Philadelphia. According to her I have to run enough to make it worth her trip from Boston. We went to the diner tonight to finish preparations for the tomorrow.
15 minutes later…
Ugh, this is a running-mostly blog. Thus I am cringing at that title, for obvious reasons. But fact remains, I have been decidedly quiet for the past few months and there’s no really good reason why. I ran that 24 hour race I just finally talked about. Before that, the very last day of June I ran the Finger Lakes 50k and broke the course record in a second place effort. It was a pretty good day. The beginning of June I ran 29:0? for 8k in Durham.
I’m going in the wrong direction here. AFTER the race I did pretty much nothing. Literally nothing for over a week. Well, that’s not entirely true. I sat on my ass in my parents’ house and ate whatever the hell I felt like whenever the hell I felt like it (which was often). I watched Breaking Bad from season 1-4 and then every Sunday I was watching the new season. Best show ever. I stayed up way later than I should have eating at least one big bowl of ice cream every single night (occasionally two). By the time I got back to Durham, I was 15 pounds heavier than when I left. And considering that even when I did start running again, it was listless and sluggish and short, I was also very out of shape. Shortly after getting back to NC, I ran the Continental Divide Trail 10k. It was also the USATF trail 10k national championships and it was a freakin bear. Bull City Track Club cleaned up, with the overall winner (David Roche) and a slew of fast guys coming in shortly after. I pulled up the rear for the team, mostly just pleased I wasn’t DFL or just dead.
In the ensuing month, things have gone progressively better. I have managed to shed about ten pounds, through mostly just not going through a quart of ice cream every three days. I’ve run more consistently. I’ve also developed something of a social life. SHOCKING! In doing so, my mileage build-up for the past month has been kept in check. Because I’ve had non-running things taking up some of my free time, I haven’t been able to just go out and run 18-22 miles every single day. Which is good. Instead, I’ve added 5-10 miles each week. It’s slower than I would go if totally left to my own devices. But it’s hard to argue with results. I feel like I’m getting fitter, I’m lighter, and my legs feel better than they have in months. No nagging, troubling pains or aches that won’t seem to go away. Cause for cautious optimism.
And so I am actually kind of excited for this weekend. Saturday I’m heading down to Rockingham to run the Hinson Lake 24 hour. Of course, the race starts at 8 am and I have to work from 9a-12p. This is not as bad as it seems. I realized sometime in August that there was absolutely no way I could possibly be ready to race for 24 hours in an attempt to do what I failed to do in Philadelphia. It would inevitably end in disaster. With a more sane (in a relative sense) long-term view of things, missing the first few hours of the race was a blessing. I probably won’t get down there until around 2pm, leaving me no more than 18 hours to run. I don’t think running even THAT long is a good idea currently. But I already paid and crew chief extraordinaire Katie is coming. And so is Shuriah, who doesn’t really run but seems genuinely interested in the insane running I do. We’ll go down there and the primary goal will be to enjoy ourselves immensely. I will of course run, and run a lot. How much exactly I have no idea. It depends on how I feel and how fun the party surrounding the race is. Ideally, I’d like at least 60-80 miles on the weekend. But I also want to come out of the weekend needing minimal time to recuperate and continue ramping things up in training.
Last week I officially registered for the 2013 Umstead 100 miler. I’m also doing the Umstead marathon again. I think it’s a very safe thing to say that I have never had a month as good as this March. And it will be exciting to attempt a repeat at the double Umstead races again next year. The more important of the two obviously being the 100 miler, I now have something like 28 weeks left before the race. And I have goals, BIG goals, that I am not afraid of, that will fuel the next 6+ months. I am right where I want to be — with plenty of time to put in the work and get myself to a place where when the next big race finally comes, and Umstead IS my next big race, I will be ready.
A little over a week ago (July 14th-15th), I ran that 24 hour race in Philly. As I had previously mentioned, I had been looking forward to the 20in24 Lone Ranger for a long while. And now it’s over and I’m writing a recap of it…
The first time I sat down to write my race report, it was Wednesday night after the race. I managed to type out a sentence or two (barely intelligible) and pass out. Then I just didn’t feel like it. And it’s not that I don’t feel like talking about what an epic failure everything was, because I certainly don’t mind talking about how much I suck. I just haven’t had the desire to sit down and write anything about anything. Or do much of anything else for that matter, short of sit on my ass and watch tv. But now I’m sitting in a Hyundai service waiting area with no definite end in sight, I’ve already finished the crossword and crypotquote, so what else am I gonna do?
This report shouldn’t be as long as other races, despite taking significantly longer than any other race I’ve ever done. There’s not a whole lot to say really. Saturday morning I woke up after a decent but not great night’s sleep. A 10am start allows for a relatively leisurely morning of prep. My parents and I got breakfast at the hotel, I went to the bathroom, I got my stuff together, we drove the half mile over to Lloyd Hall, and with about an hour or so to go before the race I found Johnny and his friends already set up a few feet from the start/finish area. There wasn’t much to do before the start except wait and that’s mostly what I did. I found Serge and talked to him for a bit about the race and whatnot. I said hi to Christian and Megan. More bathroom trips, setting up some of the coolers and stuff, the usual. My aunt and uncle were there for the start too and I said hi to them. With about five minutes to go I made my way over to the start and we listened to the national anthem. I lined up next to Serge a few rows from the front so as not to get sucked into a fast pace by all the relay runners who wouldn’t be running for an entire day. And then, just like that, we were off.
The start of this race felt different in a way I’m not quite sure I can describe. Obviously there was an indeterminate amount of running ahead of me, but beyond that, the AMOUNT of running was pretty incomprehensible. Even at Umstead, running for 100 miles, I had an idea of how long it was going to take and it seemed far away but finite. 24 hours seemed like a forever away. So I tried not to think about it and just focus on the immediate. I found myself running with a group that included Serge and Johnny early on. This was intentional. I didn’t know how far I could run, but I figured I was in about as good shape as when I ran Umstead and if that were the case, I could at least hang with Serge for a long while and that would take a big mental burden of pacing myself off of me. In theory, this seemed like good idea. And it worked reasonably well for a while. There was a group of about six or seven at any given point during the first loop, including newly minted female American Record holder at 24 hours, Sabrina Moran. I recognized John Dennis just up ahead too. It was kinda cool being at this spot, this was a big race with a whole bunch of really talented ultrarunners and I was right there with them.
First lap ended a bit quicker than it ought to have. As I came through the start/finish at the end of the first 8.45 mile circuit of the Schulykill, Christian was there waiting for Serge and told me, “too fast Mark.” To which I responded, ‘I know.” It was. But it felt fine. It had been drizzling for most of the morning and it felt really good; a lot like the start of Umstead actually. The second loop was basically the same as the first, only a little slower (by design). I was drinking a handheld of coconut water each lap, and carried some honey stinger chews along with either GUs or cliff shot blocks. I also popped some ednuralytes each loop. The aid stations left some to be desired. Not in terms of volunteers – they were fantastic, enthusiastic, helpful, [insert positive superlatives ad infinitum here] – but the contents were just ok. There were the usual potato chips, pretzels, bananas, and salt packets (which WERE helpful) but then there were plastic 500mL water bottles. This was great because I definitely needed more than one handheld for the loop (and was counting on filling up as I went along). But they were the kind you had to twist the cap on and off. This started off as just a nuisance but a couple hours in and I was full-on pissed off at the water bottles, to what was certainly an irrational degree.
For most of the first three loops I ran easy and relaxed, mostly with Serge who was talking about how he wanted to run 17 loops which would give him a chance to break his course record. I was content to just come along for the ride. The first inkling I got that things might not all go according to plan was midway through the 3rd loop. I ducked behind a tree to pee and noticed that my urine was not the clear/light yellow I would expect this early in the race and having been hydrating what felt like adequately. It was very, very dark, like an almost neon yellow mixed with brown. Uh oh. That is not the color you want to see, especially less than three hours in, with the vast majority of the race still to come. I panicked briefly and downed the rest of my coconut water as I came out from behind the tree. I filled up with water and salt at the next aid station and recommitted myself to hydrating even more at every aid station henceforth. I also downed a banana and some pretzels.
Coming in at the end of the third loop, I was feeling good, just a little unnerved about the urine color still. I mentioned this to my parents as I refueled before heading out again. I don’t remember a lot about the fourth loop. Maybe this was the one where I saw what felt like dozens of Asian people on the steps of the Art Museum and by the Rocky Statue who looked like they had just left or were about to go to a wedding. Throughout the day I’d see (and dodge) all sorts of interesting characters by the statue and steps. Early on I joked that the course loop should include going up and down the steps to make it an even 8.5 miles. Hours later I remember what I had said as I passed in front of the steps and was VERY glad that wasn’t the case. Anyway, that fourth loop… it was uneventful except that I stopped to pee at the same spot again and despite my efforts, the color of my urine wasn’t any better. Double uh oh. My legs still felt pretty good, the rain may or may not have stopped at this point. I had my shirt off and I guess it was kind of humid but I wasn’t dwelling on that; just focused on clicking off the loops comfortably and (hopefully) righting this potential hydration issue. I was still pretty much running with Serge at the end of the fourth loop, and after that loop, pacers were allowed out with runners. At the start of the fifth loop, Serge and I had the company of Christian too. I can’t remember when exactly but at some point during the loop I put some distance between the two of them and myself, running mostly alone. I wasn’t really concerning myself with position just yet, I knew there were a few people ahead of me – some Japanese guy who it turns out was a former world champion or something (and upon further post-race investigation, a MULTIPLE winner of the Spartathlon!), some guy who apparently hailed from Vancouver, Washington (although initially I was told he was from New Zealand or something and planned to run 170 miles… He didn’t.), John Dennis, and maybe some other people, I wasn’t positive. I also didn’t care, it was still early and I figured if I ran what I thought I could, I’d be competitive.
Five loops down and it felt like I was just getting into the race. I could see big placards in my head moving, five down, twelve(?) to go. It might have been this loop where my parents sprayed me down with that sunblock that can go right on wet skin. It might have been earlier. It happened, that’s the point. I attempted to be sun responsible. I still got pretty dark.
Number six was… forgettable? It put me over the 50 mile mark. In my head, I was 1/3rd of the way to the best possible outcome. I was 7:20ish in to the race, meaning I had a decent cushion to get another 90 miles. About midway through the seventh loop, I came up on Johnny who was on his sixth. We ran together for a little bit. He was still looking pretty good and I wasn’t feeling too much worse than the beginning. I continued to stop every loop and pee and it still wasn’t improving much which was the only thing that was bothering me. My legs, quads especially, were getting a little sore. I began seriously considering that my stomach wasn’t absorbing what I was putting into it. I think after this loop I chugged some pepto because I was getting nauseous. Nausea is not usually an issue I deal with when running. I can bonk and I can feel like shit and I can get sore and I’m used to all that, but nausea is a sign that something is Very Wrong, because generally my stomach can handle quite a bit. Still, it wasn’t THAT hot and I didn’t feel THAT bad. There were some brief walk breaks after aid stations and stuff like that but for the most part I figured this could just be a low I would have to weather. After the 8th loop (I think, maybe it was the 9th? Who knows), Serge went on as I started off a bit slower. I wasn’t particularly surprised but I was a little disheartened. I think at some point during loop nine I caught back up to Serge but maybe I’m misremembering this. According to the lap splits, he finished it about four minutes before me. I was starting to noticeably struggle. It was beginning to get dark and would be full on dark by the end of the loop. I guess my body was finally starting to realize the consequences of running so long when the fuel wasn’t really being processed so well.
As I began the tenth loop, I began readjusting my goals for the remainder of the race. Downward. I also began walking a significantly larger portion. Mentally I was game, mentally I wanted to GO but physically my legs were beginning to betray me. I began spending a bit more time at aid stations, eating, drinking, trying to rouse myself back. About three miles in another Lone Ranger comes up on me and starts saying some encouraging things. I’m almost twelve hours into what is quickly becoming a death march and any company is more than welcome, let alone in the form of a good looking woman. We talk intermittently as she encourages me to keep going with her, slow and steady, but definitely faster than a walk. When we get to the 4ish mile aid station I sprint to the port-a-potty where I take a much needed dump. I’m slightly encouraged by this for some reason, like it’s a sign the body is still functioning alright. I’m mostly just out of it though so who knows what I was really thinking. We continue on together the rest of the loop. I learn she’s looking to run twelve loops and then stop, that she’s from Colombia and her name is Jessica. (If you ever somehow end up reading this Jessica, THANK YOU so much for sticking with me on that loop, it was exactly what I needed then).
[ed note: I am now realizing how hilariously wrong I was about this being a shorter entry than normal. My bad. But it's me after all. Are you really surprised?]
As we were coming in along boathouse row at the end of number ten, Scott met up with and ran in with us. I lingered a little longer with my crew. At this point, somehow I am still in 4th place overall. As I’m lingering, Sabrina Moran blows through the start/finish looking super strong and just keeps going. I’m now 5th and it’s not really close between me and anyone else. But I don’t really give a shit. I start walking with Scott. We walk/jog a bit of the beginning of the loop. He was attempting to be encouraging, prodding me into picking up the pace, not stopping, that sorta stuff. I was trying. I was getting increasingly frustrated with myself because I WANTED so badly to just run. To run and feel tired instead of drained and nauseous. My body felt like it was powering down. Still, I managed to jog some of the first half of the loop to the far aid station. It was there that I saw John Dennis lap me (not realizing at that point that Sekiya had passed him and gone into 1st). And then, as we got to the bridge just before the five mile mark, there comes Serge. I don’t know what happened at this point. Well, I do. I got really freakin pumped. I realized at this point, the way I was feeling, the time I was bleeding, I was not going to be a factor as far as winning the thing went. As such, Serge passing me so close to what I assumed to be the lead, I got really excited for him. The adrenaline dump was intense and immediate. Scott yelled at me to pick up the pace and stay with Serge. And somehow I did just that. I figured I had enough in the tank to catch up to Serge and tell him to go kick some ass. But then I caught up to him and I was feeling ok again. Better than ok, I was feeling great. I should have known better, really. I should have realized what was happening, internally. But I wasn’t thinking. I was 90 miles in and I was cheering on a hero of mine and then all of a sudden I was running down the path at sub-8:00 pace again. After the race Serge would tell me that at that point I looked so good that he was worried I’d go all the way around the loop and pass HIM again. Ha!
[ed note 2: I wrote all of this entry to this point on July 27-28, while things were still relatively fresh in my mind. I didn't finish and obviously didn't post it. And now it is late September and I have had a number of people ask me about this particular race so I figured I should at least finish it, although it's not particularly interesting]
I came in at the end of that loop and I stopped by my family to refuel and all that. But first I just HAD to sit. I told myself because I ran so hard and so well the last half of the loop that I could take a short break to recuperate instead of trying to rush out. And that’s what I did. I sat on this bench and ate… something. Problem was, I could feel my legs tightening up with every second. And all of a sudden, as good as I had felt the last half hour cruising along the river, I felt equally awful sitting there. Light-headed, surly, disoriented, hungry, nauseous, all of it. Mom told me I should nap for a little like Johnny had been doing. I was worried if I laid down, I would never get back up. So I strained to get up and willed myself to keep moving. My cousin PJ started walking with me away as I slowly trudged toward the art museum again. It was nice having his company. I can’t honestly remember anything we talked about, I was just really out of it. I WANTED desperately to start running again, I had this clock or something in my head keeping downcycling how much I could feasibly expect to run before the end. But I was just walking. And I don’t think I was going particularly fast. Everything felt weak and awful and like I was floating above my body. I had to keep stopping to keep from collapsing. I tried to move without stopping to the next aid station. I’m pretty sure I apologized over and over to PJ for him just walking this with me in the middle of the night.
Finally we got to the far aid station, 4ish miles in. And just like at the end of the last lap, I just wanted to sit down. I kept saying, just for a minute, just til I get some calories and drink in me. I could stop writing here, because essentially, as soon as I did that my race was over. The medical people immediately noticed me and despite my best attempts at lies, they figured out I was in bad shape. My blood pressure had plummeted, my temperature was low, I was starting to shake and things were deteriorating. So they put me on a cot with a space blanket and an IV in my arm and I just laid there and was generally pissed off about what was happening. They REALLY tried to get me to go to the hospital but I refused. I signed a waiver saying basically that if I died I wouldn’t hold them responsible for it. Dad came and got me and we drove back to the start/finish and I had a cup of soup or something and felt bad for a while as I saw other people coming through. Hope showed up with a bunch of honey stingers. It was the middle of the night, or early morning or something and I really appreciated the gesture, despite it being totally pointless at that point.
Somewhere after the sun had started to come up, I felt eversoslightly better. I asked the RD if I returned to the spot where I left the course and completed my lap, would it still count. He said yes so I had dad drive me back as close as he could get. I had to walk the ~half mile (?) to the aid station, then I walked, slowly at times, very slowly the rest of the time, the remaining 4.5ish miles of the course. It was ugly and I felt much worse and still very lightheaded and out of it than I told anyone. I pretended to be feeling MUCH better and that’s why mom and dad let me continue. I was thinking how I wasn’t allowed to die here because then they’d know I lied to them. And about an hour or so after I started walking, and roughly seven and a half hours after starting my last lap, I was walking across the finish line for the 12th and final time. Officially 101.47 miles. Easily the worst performance in my burgeoning ultramarathon career and also the worst race I’ve run this year. It wasn’t until at least a day or two later that I even began to approach feeling something resembling normal (not good, just not about to die sort of normal). At least I got to see Serge win convincingly.
It wasn’t the race I expected or felt capable of running. But I knew that I couldn’t have an entire year of pretty good race results, it was a matter of time in races this long that one was not going to go so well. The good thing, I guess, is that I learned some things, and I didn’t die. Also, my family totally had a blast and my little cousin interviewed me for a school report of sorts. Let’s pretend I ended this too long report with some sort of witty, optimistic sentence about perseverance and redemption. Yeah.
As I sit here, listening to some rockin’ Gaslight Anthem and getting ready to leave for Philadelphia, I keep going back to certain moments from the past few years, over and over in my head. It’s like getting to the last chapter of a tragic novel. You can look back and see all of the crucial moments, all the forks in the road, that led up to the painful and now inevitable end to our hero’s story. You can see all the decisions made, seemingly inconsequential at the time or when taken individually, that led further down that particular dark path; the twists and turns and bits of circumstance and random happenstance that conspired against him. You can look back and see those moments or choices or whatever and retrospectively scream and wave your arms but it’s to no avail. Nothing can be done now, the die is cast. (Aside: thinking about all this, as I have for a while now, is probably why I’ve gotten so engrossed in Breaking Bad all over again, watching it from Season One straight on and eagerly anticipating the fifth season premiere Sunday night. I guess I can see a lot of similarities in Walt’s journey to his own personal darkness in my running arc, though my story has decidedly less guns and murder).
I remember back in middle school, possibly my first summer trip with the youth group to Mt. Washington. One of the trip leader’s friends had a son who was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. He met us up there and hiking the Mt. Washington section with us, regaling me with stories of lightning strikes and close encounters with bears and all that. It seemed like a superhuman and exhilarating feat.
I remember reading Dean K’s first book and thinking that this ultrarunning thing sounded kind of insane and kind of awesome. It sounded like something I might be interested in.
I remember back when I first started hanging out with Jess (or maybe even before we really were hanging out much) and she told me about how some of the guys who ran for Haverford were attempting this crazy race that had them running for 24 straight hours around the Schuylkill loop. 24 hours? Seriously? People do that?
I remember that first 50k I ran in DC and how woefully unprepared I was for it, running the entire thing with my Jansport backpack loaded up with bottle of Gatorade and an entire tub of Vaseline and a bottle of Tums. It took me five hours and I never thought anything could possibly be more difficult ever.
I remember driving up to the Finger Lakes in July of 2010, kind of on a whim, to pace Ashley for the last lap of her 50 miler. Aside from that 50k, I had never really been around the ultra atmosphere, and never like it was up there. The camaraderie, the people pushing themselves to the very edges of physical exertion (and some well overboard), the sense of accomplishment you could see on so many faces, the beer!
I remember running the BRRC half marathon on the NCR in October of 2010. It was only $2 and I figured it’d be a fun alternative long run as I prepared for the Richmond half marathon. I ended up really surprising myself. I spent the last 2-3 miles chasing a sleek figure, inching ever-so-slightly closer to him. I ended up a mere four seconds behind Serge at that race, though I’m sure he was just using it as a long run. That was the first I’d ever met him but somehow I recognized him as being Baltimore’s own ultrarunning celebrity.
I remember a little over a year ago. The BRRC picnic. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before. Talking with Serge and some other ultrarunner types about Umstead and the 20in24 Lone Ranger. I was talking to someone who had REPRESENTED THE UNITED STATES AT A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Who had been a NATIONAL CHAMPION of something. I didn’t say much, opting instead to just soak in all that these people, particularly Serge, had to offer.
All of a sudden I’m registered for a 50 mile race. So much for not running any long races and focusing on speed for a few years. To hell with that plan. I spent too much time trying to get to a point where I felt uninjured enough to do a workout, and it wasn’t like I was going to the Olympics. Or something. Ultras seemed more fun. Or something.
Then in my mind I’m in Greensboro, NC. And I’m bent over the side of a trail throwing up more red Gatorade than I ever want to see again in my life. And 5 miles later I’m winning an ultra, the first time I’d ever done that. Despite that I’m able to find a million things that I could have done much much better. Then I’m running that 50 miler three weeks later and it is not going nearly as well as I’d anticipated.
There are some more memories like that, but they’re all much much fresher. They’re mostly from a point in time already far along the path. I suppose the last significant choice I had to make was back in September when I sat myself in front of my computer at noon and managed to register for the Umstead 100. Doing that, there was no more turning back. What choice did I have? Along the way it turned out I really enjoy running timed races. Two 12 hour races confirmed that (and also highlighted just how amazing Yiannis Kouros is).
All that to say I’ve had a lot of time lately to be particularly reflective of all the moments I experienced and choices I made that got to here. And where is here? Here is about to head out the door and drive to Philadelphia. Here is about 21 hours away from taking the first steps of what will be 24 hours of continuous running. I will BE one of those crazy people Jess told me about years ago. Here is about to run 9 hours, 43 minutes, and 35 seconds longer than I ever have in my life. Johnny will be there racing too, and he’s going to kick some ass which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the ass he’s BEEN kicking. And Serge will be there, of course. The race has never known any other champion. Amazing.
It’s all a little bit terrifying and a lot bit exciting. I thought Umstead was a pretty big deal but this is a different level. There’s going to be much more people. Us Lone Rangers, as well as single loopers, and relay teams and the colorful characters of Philadelphia. I have no idea how I’m going to do or what my race strategy or any of that nonsense will be, aside from, ‘try to run really far’ and ‘don’t die’ in that order. Of course I expect to do reasonably well but to pretend to have any real idea how it will go is silly and foolish. Above all, I want to run a smart race, be competitive, and finish completely spent (that last one probably won’t be too hard to manage).
As I get ready to do this, another thought creeps into mind. Summer of 2006. I am standing on a dock next to the boathouse closest to the Art Museum, right near where the race hubbub will be taking place this weekend. It’s nighttime. I’ve spent the entire day mostly walking around the city by myself, taking in the sights. I’ve ended up over here, with a beautiful view of the river and the houses that make up boathouse row and the museum and some of the skyline and I’m by myself just thinking. For a half hour just standing there thinking and admiring the beauty of the scene I alone was privy to. I had been in a REALLY bad place, mentally and emotionally, for weeks at that point. A lot of personal and romantic upheaval. A lot of heartbreak and heartache. And it was there, on that dock, at that moment that things stopped getting worse. Life started to feel eversoslightly more ok. I was going to be ok. It was then that my fate was sealed. Tomorrow night the lights of the houses along the river will be as bright and beautiful as they were six years ago but I will no longer be alone. The journey has been worth it.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Ramblings about races and other running, semi-running, and not-at-all-running-related nonsense from the past few weeks
I think that wins the longest title record, maybe. I haven’t really written anything here in almost two months. That recap of the 12 hour race barely counts. Before that it was a whiney ass post about how meh my training has been going. And now here comes a post jam-packed with all sorts of crap. Races! Danger! Anti-social behavior! Beer!
[Ed. note: Goddammit. I spent about two hours writing about 2,000 words on everything between the last time I updated for real for real and now. And then of course it all got bahleeted and I have no desire to re-write it all. Probably for the best. What follows is a hurried attempt at going over the more important (or at least less boring) points. As you were]
May ended, and that’s about the best thing I can say about May. It happened. I had that decent 12 hour race. Well, I had a decent 6 or 7 hours and then crashed hard, but I can’t complain about that because that was what I was trying to do. The rest of the month was decidedly eh. The goal coming out of the 12 hour was to be able to get right back into training at a fairly high level and that didn’t happen. The first week post-race I was real out of it and needed more rest than I anticipated. The second week I took more rest than I needed for no particular reason. I had a great opportunity to get some big miles in over Memorial Day weekend and just didn’t, at all. Instead I had two ok runs and a day off that I didn’t need. And that’s kind of a microcosm of the last two months. Days off that weren’t necessary, too much beer, sad attempts at a social life, pathetic and hilariously unsuccessful attempts at dating, and me being in a weird head place pretty much the whole month.
So then June happened. June was a bit like March in that I bookended it with races, but that’s kind of where the similarities end. March was easily the most successful month of my entire life, running-wise. June was only slightly better than May. I ran an 8k on the 2nd. Yes, an 8k, not an 80k. 4.97whatever miles of rolling pavement around downtown Durham. It was put on by Kim and Jason, the amazing owners of Bull City Running Company, and it was a fantastic event. I just had to run the race, my first in Durham, representing the hometown Bull City Track Club. There were A LOT of people there who I knew. The after-race party felt like a Wednesday Fullsteam gathering (and there was even free Fullsteam beer!). Oh yeah, and I ran 29:04 which was pretty much exactly what I figured I’d run considering the lack of workouts. I was able to run 34 miles after that which was probably one of the best things I did last month.
The next week, school ended and I had more time on my hands but I didn’t exactly maximize it. Instead I spent more time drinking, sitting in the recliner, watching Law & Order: SVU re-runs, more awkward socializing, and just generally feeling like I was in a funk. I did make a fun trip up to Fredericksburg to see one of my favorite people and help out at her paddling event. I spent some time relaxing up there which was nice mentally, but even then I never really felt like everything was turned off, mentally. I just can’t get out of my own way. But this is not a 13 year old girl’s diary so I’ll kind of stay away from all that, except where it directly relates to running. Or something.
After two lackluster weeks, I found myself in the middle of the month, four weeks away from running 24 hours around the Schuylkill River. The last three weeks have been some better. I spent the next week running back-to-back-to-back and then back-to-back 20 milers, interrupted by a 20 mile day Thursday that was split up because 3 miles into my run I honestly thought I was going to die. I made it a point of running in the middle of the day, call it a crash course on heat acclimation. Call it really fucking stupid. Whatever it was, it seems to have finally started working. After three weeks of running mostly at midday, I seem to be slightly more okay with running in 90+ and humid conditions. Yesterday when I went out at 1, the firehouse sign said it was an even 100 degrees. Of course, I got a break and the humidity was lower than stifling. Still, I made it 12 miles on just a handheld of water with a dash of salt (and then another three after a quick re-fuel at home). Despite feeling like I’ve maybe not trained the way I ought to have been the past few weeks, looking back from a month ago to yesterday’s run I suppose I have to admit that things have improved, and even considerably so. It’s not perfect, and it could probably be better, but I am MUCH better off than I was at the beginning of last month. Last weekend’s Finger Lakes ’50k’ (which is actually more like 33 miles) hammered that home. Despite feeling kinda blah and having a less-than-stellar run around the course the day before, I managed to break the course record by ten minutes. Of course, unfortunately Jeff Powers (last year’s 50 mile winner and a really nice guy) broke it by eleven minutes. But I accomplished the primary goal of not getting injured and got a last longer hard effort in before the big race. The Finger Lakes races have become a staple of my summer the past three years and I probably ought to write a full recap of the weekend, it certainly deserves it. Suffice it for now to say it was a decent time in one of my favorite places to be. And there was good beer (thank you Katie!)
Now there is less than one week to go before the BOMF Lone Ranger 24 hour and I’m about as ready as I could hope for. Well, that’s not true, I guess I could always hope to be MORE ready, in better shape, work in progress all that. But over the past week, the daggers in my quads from all the pounding they took on the hills upstate have gone away. The calves aren’t wound super tight either. I expect in another week, with much less running and much more resting, they will arrive in Philadelphia feeling fresh and ready to be torn to shreds yet again. I have some thoughts on the upcoming race but I also will have a lot of time on my hands this coming week so I’ll save that for later.
This was kind of boring, no? Yes, probably. I could have summed this all up and saved a bunch of time by saying that yes, I’m still alive and in the past month and a half I DID spend some time running (but not as much as I ought to have), drinking some (and definitely more than I ought to have), feeling mixes of depressed, misanthropic, frustrated, meh, lethargic, off, etc etc you get the picture. But in spite of myself it seems I have done enough to get to the precipice of yet another milestone-type step, another level deeper down the rabbit hole and I’m starting to think I might just survive this one too.
Wimbledon is on and my ADHD is kicking in so this seems like a good enough place to stop.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
This past weekend I ran the 12 hour race at Three Days at the Fair. The race is one of many races held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in northwestern NJ. There are also 72, 48, 24, and 6 hour options that start as early as Thursday morning. Last year, Phil McCarthy set the American record for 48 hours at the race and it seemed like he was coming back this year to do it again. I decided to do the race for a few reasons. It was six weeks after Umstead so hypothetically I’d have enough time to recover and see what sort of shape I was in. It was held at night (9pm Saturday to 9am Sunday) and I’ve never run through the night before so I figured it would be good to get some experience with that prior to the 24 hour races I’ll be attempting later this year. And it was in NJ, which meant I culd go home for Mother’s Day weekend and my family could actually come see me run an ultra.
This won’t be as long as some of the tomes I’ve written about other similarly long races. There’s really not THAT much to say and I don’t feel like rehashing every one of the 98 laps I completed. If you’re the kind of person who likes to read the spoilers, I ran a lot. 84.06 miles to be exact. And I won. By about 21 miles. For that, I got a cool ceramic trophy thing that I had to leave at my parents house because there was no room in my bag to fly home with. I also got pretty tired. And sore.
A slightly more elaborated version of events:
Friday night I got back to LI late-ish, after working almost 10 hours. I jogged around the neighborhood with Scott and went to bed much later than planned. Saturday was weird, I didn’t really know how to prepare for running all night. So I slept as late as I could, which turned out to be about 10:30am. I figured maybe I could nap later (never happened). Getting out the door with my family is ALWAYS an adventure and this was no different. The four of us were on the road for NJ shortly after 2 and arrive around 4-4:30. It was pretty warm at the fairgrounds and I saw only a few runners trucking away. I tried to guess which ones were doing which races based on how fresh they looked. Check in, get a really sweet jacket, head to a nearby diner around 5 for my ‘last meal’ and then Walmart for some last minute supplies (pepto and Boost, both of which would come in handy later… FORESHADOWING!!!). We got back to the fairgrounds around 7 and I just relaxed, in the car, then by the race, going to the bathroom, going over my stuff, whatever to kill some time. With about a half hour to go before the start I began getting ready in earnest, changing into my race gear, going to the bathroom, A&Ding (yes, I turned it into a verb), shoes (I was wearing a brand new pair of Brooks Green Silences, not exactly the first shoe that comes to mind when thinking about running for 12 hours but I wanted to go fast for the first few hours and I knew that was a good shoe to do that in), going over the plan with my family, etc. With three minutes to go I went over to the start area where the other dozen or so 12 hour racers were assembled. One last pee and check on my laces and I got ready to go.
At 9pm sharp, we were off and running. To fully describe how the race went, and in what context I’m evaluating it after the fact, I suppose it would be helpful to know what my goals and expectations were going into it. I was less concerned about actually running the 12 hour race than I was about hitting certain intermediate distances. What I REALLY wanted to do was run a fastish 50 mile split, and hopefully hold on for 100k. After that, I was hoping I’d have about 4 hours left and I’d just relax and do whatever I could for the remaining time, enjoying myself and experiencing what it’s like to run overnight AND be pretty wrecked (as I was sure I would be after the early push). With that in mind, I bolted off the line like I was running a marathon. Within seconds I could tell I was waaaay out ahead of everyone, and I’m sure I was getting more than a few curious and WTF looks from everyone, runners and spectators alike.
All the races are run on the same ~0.86 mile loop around part of the fairgrounds. There’s minimal elevation change (a slight incline near the start/finish and a slight decline right after, the rest is essentially flat). Most people find the prospect of running in tiny circles horrifying but I actually like it, primarily because it makes logistics simple and I didn’t need to run while holding anything. Anyway, on the first loop, I was cruising along and then I promptly got myself lost. Yes, I got lost. On a 0.86 mile, well lit loop. That’s actually probably the most impressive thing I did the entire race! I realized my folly when I looked at the Garmin and saw I had almost run a mile. With no lights or finish area or runners in sight. Whoops! Angrily I backtracked, looking for another human being or sign of where to go. Initially I couldn’t see any. Finally I saw where I had missed the turn and went the right way. I finished the first loop behind a few runners who were probably pretty surprised to see me passing them after one lap, as clearly I wasn’t going THAT fast.
There’s really not that much else to write about. For the next few hours I was cruising along right around 7:00 pace. Early on, the whole family stayed up and helped out. They’d hand me water or coconut water or a gel or whatever I asked for and pick it up on the other side of the bathrooms that we lollipopped around. It went pretty smoothly for the most part. I split about 3:15-16 for the first marathon+ and at that point I’m sure most people assumed I was an idiot who had no idea what he was doing and would blow up. Even my mom told me I was going too fast at one point. I felt pretty good, and I was moving well, and I knew it would suck later but that wasn’t the main issue. On the other hand, there IS something exhilarating and motivating about knowing that everyone is just waiting for you to explode. It’s a feeling I’ve gotten familiar with the past few months, trying to push myself to prove these hypothetical doubters wrong. It’s a racing style I know Pre would approve of. It’s some kind of fun.
Anyway, I had one bathroom trip a little before 50 miles, but I downed some Pepto and it didn’t seem to become a bigger issue like in Georgia. I think I split around 6:30 for 50 miles, a little slower than planned but it was also a little over 50 miles and I had run some bonus distance on that first lap. So, right on. A little before I got there though, I started having the familiar top of left foot, left ankle pain/soreness and that was annoying. Everything else felt pretty good but the pain was persistent without ever escalating to the point where I needed to stop. It was after 3am and I was experiencing a sort of getting tired that I don’t really think is completely attributable to running. I was getting tired like I do nowadays when sitting on the recliner watching tv at 1am on the weekends. A more full body tired. Running at night is tough. Of course, I had forgotten any 5 hour energy or other caffeine product. Oh well. I held things together pretty well through 100kish, which I hit around 8:20-8:30 (?). I think. Close enough. I had slowed but I hadn’t blown up completely. The pain in my foot/ankle had actually subsided some. People were still being very encouraging as I went by, which is a really cool aspect of races like this. Everyone is out there doing their thing and truckin away and everyone is SO encouraging and friendly and supportive. I just hope I didn’t come across as a bit of a cold jerk as all I really mustered most of the time was a thumbs up and/or a thanks. I get a little single-mindedly focused and spaced out sometimes running. Some people were actually calling out my name as I passed, which was neat, as I didn’t really recognize anyone so they either 1)knew who I was already which is cool or 2) asked about me at the start/finish. Or my mom went around telling everyone how awesome her son was, but she and my brother went to sleep in the car fairly early on so I figured that unlikely.
Dad was a freakin rockstar. He stayed up THE ENTIRE TIME, every loop having something ready for me, bearing the full brunt of my increasingly decreasing enjoyment of what I was doing and the rising level of overall surliness I was beginning to display. The last 4ish hours were… well, they happened. And that’s about all I can really say about them. I continued to move and complete laps. I had another, longer, bathroom stop and kinda cramped up a bit. I wasn’t going as fast as I had been, nor was I going as fast as I probably COULD have been, but I didn’t care. The sun came out and I was ready to be finished. I began doing some sketchy mental math to figure out the bare minimum effort I’d need to put forth to complete 80ish miles. My mom woke up and she was cheering and I felt bad that she was wasting that energy on me. Dad began asking me what I wanted on the next laps and I kept responding, “to be finished.” It wasn’t even worth a chuckle. With a little less than an hour left I told my dad I’d do two more laps to get to 80.something and then walk a lap or two and be done. That happened. And then I kinda powerwalked/jogged a lap and it wasn’t much slower than the previous few. I had about 29 minutes left and Rick, the AWESOME RD, told me three more laps. Well, balls. In my head, I didn’t really have a choice. So I picked it up a bit. And then at the end of THAT lap, two of the 72 hour runners started BOOKING! Like, FAST. And Rick told me to chase them. So I did. And wouldn’t you know it, I could still RUN. I ran the last two laps and finished with about 6:30 remaining on the clock. Mom told me to go do another and I knew that would be impossible. I was done. 84.06 miles.
I got out of my shoes and assessed the damage — swollen left ankle obviously, some blisters, some chafing, but ultimately nothing too bad. I got this really sweet ceramic trophy for winning. I met a lot of cool people at the awards and after. Sat next to Steve Tursi who also did Umstead and we talked for a bit. He was one of the ones who had been SUPER encouraging throughout the night and I told him how much I appreciated it. Melissa grabbed me before we left and we talked about how we’re doing some of the same races coming up (Finger Lakes and 20in24). It’s funny how I had JUST wrote in my last post about loneliness and meeting people at ultras and all that semi-maudlin sounding nonsense and here I go making some friends. ME! Making friends! Miracles DO happen. I’m still as socially inept and shy as I always am, but ultrarunners are a much friendlier, welcoming group than the majority of people I see in public. It does feel more and more like this is a niche I might actually be able to fit in to, at least somewhat.
I know I mentioned it already but I just have to devote a paragraph to pointing out how ABSOLUTELY AMAZING my family was in this whole endeavor (and this is not just because I know you’re going to read this mom!). It was Mother’s Day weekend and they all drove out with me to NJ and helped me run around in circles for 12 hours overnight and brought such an enthusiasm the whole time. AND mom cooked my favorite, ravioli, Sunday evening. HER day and she cooked ME my favorite meal ‘to celebrate my victory’ or something like that. Dad, who is not a young man anymore, and who routinely goes to bed earliest of the four of us, and who is capable of falling asleep milliseconds after sitting in a chair, stayed up THE ENTIRE NIGHT. And not once looked annoyed or grumpy or anything negative. He was the biggest reason I was able to have as good a race as I did. I was SO HAPPY to have them there to see me do this, much moreso than I was about how I ran or anything like that. They’ve seen me race before, but not in a way that I feel suits me, and not in anywhere near the kind of shape I’m in now. Hopefully I can continue to put on a good show for them in the next few years, give mom something bigger to brag every single person in her phone’s contact list about. Thank you family, we may all be a bit insane but we are my favorite nonetheless.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
I have, for some reason or another, not found the motivation to write about running. Really, I haven’t had the motivation to write at all recently. For that matter, I have struggled to do much of anything at all, almost constantly desiring having my feet up on the recliner, taking a snooze, maybe a beer, that sort of thing. It’s not like I feel particularly run down, at least not physically. It’s been a mental lull for a while. And I have been somewhat embarrassed about my behavior and the way “training” has been going of late so actually writing about it has not been high on my to-do list. But I started this thing to keep myself accountable, and so that years from now I could look back and shake my head at 26 year old Mark and all his follies (presumably from an older, wiser, more responsible perspective but who am I really kidding? I’ll just be older).
So what HAVE I been doing? Well, this is where things become relative. I was running on the Company Mill trail at Umstead yesterday when it sort of hit me that I’m being an idiot in my head. Or at least, possibly a trifle too hard on myself. The past two weeks I’ve run almost exactly the same: 101 miles, and a hair under 14 hours. The setup of those weeks was pretty different. Two weeks ago, I ran pretty evenly, with my longest run being 22 miles on Saturday. I also did my first beer mile, three hours after that 22, in 7:45ish. And didn’t throw up. It was a decent showing. Last week I started things off with 28 on Monday. It was hot and I was tired and pushing things a little. I probably shouldn’t be as disappointed with 28 miles right at 8:00 on very tired legs and being pretty severely dehydrated, but I was, and still sort of am. Whatever. The rest of the week was kinda weird. I had a lot of shorter runs, some of them kind of quick, despite the heat. Then a miserable long day Saturday wherein I finished up at 10pm and looked like a raisin from the rain.
Sunday was cool but not really because of the running I did. I went to the Duke Twilight meet with a local runner lady who was quite good company, maybe more on that down the road (I hope). I saw Alan Webb and Robby Andrews run the 800 and Anthony Famiglietti run the steeple. It was pretty awesome. Kind of helped salvage another otherwise meh two weeks.
I didn’t do anything on Monday, except eat a delicious cheeseburger. Yesterday I felt like some of my mojo was coming back. 18 miles at Umstead, slow but relaxed. And I didn’t hate running. In fact, originally I was going to be happy with anything around 10, but I was enjoying myself and my legs felt good so I kept on. This weekend will be the next real test, I’ll see just how recovered I am from Umstead and/or how out of shape I’ve gotten. It’ll also be the first time my family will see me run a race since I did the National Marathon three years ago. That feels like a completely different life, and in many ways, particularly running-wise, it was. So I’m excited that they’ll see me more in my element, running an ultra. And there’s that relative thing again. When I ran that marathon, I thought I was pretty awesome because I ran 3:09 and qualified for Boston. I was averaging maybe 30 or so miles/week. I was not even close to in the sort of shape I’m in now, even on a bad day. So maybe I DO need to be a little nicer myself, or at least cut myself the slightest bit of slack.
Someone on the Ultra List posted something that resonated big time with me; about feeling some sort of running ‘blues’ and being a twenty-something ultrarunner who sacrifices a lot of their social life for the sake of training and races and all that. How there is a very palpable loneliness that comes along with this sort of lifestyle, especially when you’re new to an area. I could have written something very similar. I’ve only been down here for nine months and I’ve made some very good friends but at the end of the day, I still come home to the apartment and it’s just Puck and darkness when I open the door. And Puck is awesome but a cat is not an adequate substitute for a human being, even a really adorable cat. I’ve taken some strides to overcome my myriad social phobias and hang-ups but I still often feel some sense of something lacking, a void. There’s always that letdown following a big race. Umstead was that sort of race, so part of this I know is probably normal, and part of it is just the way I am. Work in progress. Fitness is always evolving, hopefully usually improving. Likewise, mentality takes work too. Social skills require practice. Most of this is only loosely based on ultrarunning but it all seems(seemed) relevant so I figured I’d write it down. As the Ultra List thread awared me, I’m not the only one who feels like this occasionally (or usually). So it’s on to looking ahead to the next race, and the next one after, with the hope of meeting more runners who might someday turn into friends, or at least sharing some happy exhausted time post-race with some good people and filling that void for a few hours.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!