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What the hell was I thinking (or, some thoughts on the eve of my first 24 hour race)

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. 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!

July 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm 3 comments

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!

July 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm 3 comments

3 Days at the Fair race report

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!

May 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm 16 comments

Something that resembles a recap of some runnings I did recently

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 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!

May 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm 3 comments

Weekly recap (one worth recapping)

As the title says, last week was a week that feels worth a recap. And one with significantly less bitching and whining and all that nonsense.

Mon – off, still tired from Sunday
Tue – 13 miles, 1:47, around Cary, down Harrison and then along Maynard for a while, just exploring
Wed – 10 miles total, ~73 minutes, 2.5 solo (19 min) and then 7.5 (54 min) with the Fullsteam run group (mostly Zane, Matt, per usual)
Thu – 9 miles, 72 minutes, Umstead bridle trail to Loblolly
Fri – 23 miles, 3:16, Duke XC loop, five 4 mile loops + one 3 mile loop at the end, water after each loop
Sat – 17 miles, 2:22, Umstead, included one course loop (1:43ish) + an extension on the Lake Crabtree singletrack
Sun – 18 miles, 2:34, Umstead, basically the same run as Saturday with different extension (on bridle path instead)

Total – 90 miles, ~12:20

So yeah, this started to actually feel like I was training again, at least by the end of the week. Which is funny because it’s really all relative.  In 2010, 80 miles was the most I ran in any given week. Now ten extra miles feels like I’m starting to approach normal again. Progress. It was a nice feeling to be able to run with my friends at what felt like a normal effort at Wednesday’s run. And Friday to Sunday, running 58 miles and feeling pretty good at the end on Sunday, was a really encouraging sign. My legs actually feel better than they have been, the worrying aches have been replaced with general and expected levels of soreness.

I was in a pretty good mental place for most of Sunday’s run too, thinking about the coming weeks. As of last Saturday, I’m twelve weeks out from the Philly 24 hour race. Twelve weeks out from Umstead was a week before the 100k. I was nowhere near the sort of shape I’m in now, even if I DO feel heavy and slow — I felt much moreso then. Somewhere in the middle of the Turkey Creek section on Sunday some sort of switch flipped back into the “ON” position in my head. Recovery from Umstead was over, time to stop babying myself and being overly cautious (by my standards). Time to put my head back down and starting grinding. Twelve weeks. That’s ten weeks of A LOT of work and then two weeks to get fresh and ready. This was the last week I’ll be south of 100 miles until July. I’m actually excited to get back into the grind, to give myself less free time to waste doing stuff I will later regret or at least be annoyed with myself for attempting.

If I were the type to come up with names for things and actually write out a training schedule that I’d post on my wall with all sorts of motivational words like “Perseverance” and “Dedication” and pictures of serious looking animals or of Pre to keep me focused (which I am decidedly not), this would be the time to do it. Instead I’ll let Katie’s poster of Trogdor (and the overwhelming desire not to suck) do that for me.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

April 24, 2012 at 10:13 am 1 comment

What the hell have I been doing?

That is a question I have asked myself many times the past 2+ weeks. It has been an interesting stretch since Umstead. I know I meant to write some other thoughts and general reflections from that race, and I still intend to. But I probably won’t if I’m being honest with myself. Or I will, but they won’t be particularly relevant anymore. I’m not going to bother doing an in depth recap of the last 2+ weeks since the race because, well, that would be worthless. I ran some. 30ish miles the first week, 50ish miles last week. There were more days where I didn’t run than those where I did, or so it felt. Some of the runs felt surprisingly alright, some of them felt downright miserable. My left big toe tendon made its presence known again briefly. I still have random intermittent aches and pains. I guess, in general, I feel like I ran 100 miles in one day.

So if I wasn’t running as much, what else was I doing in order to optimally recover? Of course there was the beer. I deemed my performance worthy of cracking open the Dogfish Head Bitch’s Brew I’ve had since October. And then cracking open beer after beer after beer, virtually depleting my fairly impressive fridge supply. There were some drugs, most of them legal. There was not enough sleep, not even close. I was on spring break last week and spent the early part of it acting like it was 2007 and I was still a stupid undergrad (not implying that ALL undergrads are stupid, just that undergrad Mark circa 2006-07 was a fucking moron more often than not). I spent the second half of the week sort of attempting to recover from the beginning. And also sort of attempting to get back into some sort of regular running thing. My first run last week was 9 miles on Thursday afternoon. I hadn’t run since Saturday. That Saturday, I had felt a familiar and troubling pain on the top of my left foot. And, like the previous time late last year/early this year, I went through the cycle of freaking out that I’d given myself a stress fracture, realizing that was a dumb thing to think, further realizing it was a tendon issue, and being grumpy about it. Fortunately, just like last time, it magically went away on it’s own as the week progressed. Thursday’s run was uncomfortable but by Sunday it was a non-issue. I did my best to cram some running into the end of the week, spending my weekend at Umstead (15 on the bridle trails Saturday, 20 on the single track Sunday). I haven’t felt as bad during a run as I did Sunday afternoon in the last hourish when I was severely dehydrated, my feet hurt, and I was tired.

I don’t know where I intended to go with all this, I wrote some of it a day ago. The point, I guess, is that I haven’t been doing a whole lot of running, and I HAVE been doing a whole lot of livewrong, as Johnny would put it. I haven’t bothered to weigh myself but I’d imagine I packed on at least a few pounds during my binge. I feel pretty heavy and slow when I’ve been out running most days, especially last week. I took Monday off this week because I needed to recharge a little. Of course, I then stayed up til 2am watching the NHL playoffs and then a redbox movie. I know a lot of people, smart people who I respect, have told me not to be so hard on myself, both in general and specifically right now. Something about how I ran 100 miles and ran it reasonably well and that was only two (now two and a half) weeks ago and so OF COURSE I should still feel meh at the best and downright awful at the worst. I got a fortune cookie last night that wasn’t much of a fortune but it was pretty accurate anyway. It said something like, “You relentlessly seek perfection” or something like that. I am the world’s worst perfectionist. I haven’t exactly been living like I care about perfection (or even mediocrity for that matter), but I do. I DID care how I did at Umstead. I DO care about how I’m going to run at the races I have coming up in the next few months. And maybe, probably, I am being a bit too hard on myself when I look at the last two weeks and think that mostly I was just a lazy waste of oxygen. Maybe it was a good thing that I spent a lot of time not running or doing much of anything exercise related. The thing is, I don’t even think I’m particularly disappointed with the running aspect of everything. I accept that I wasn’t and shouldn’t have been able to just jump back into the 120+ miles/week grind. That’s fine. I guess what I’m disappointed in is how I DID choose to spend a good chunk of the last two weeks. Instead of sleeping a lot and resting and relaxing and recovering, I pushed myself more toward feeling burned out and exhausted than most of my big February weeks. And doing stupid crap that also made me go through a lot of money that I don’t really have to waste. Like I said above, I was acting and living like I was a senior in college again and that didn’t turn out so well then. Blah blah blah don’t be so hard on yourself, seriously, you’re just annoying everyone with your ridiculous self-loathing drivel. This isn’t Livejournal.

This whole entry is starting to feel much more like a personal blog than a training-focused one so I guess I should just stop. I’m not as miserable as this probably comes off. Well, sometimes I am. But there is some sunshine — THIS week has been some better. Tuesday I ran relatively pain free. Last night I was back at the Fullsteam run and cruising around Durham with some friends and feeling pretty strong and comfortable (despite the 7:20s we were clicking off, a good minute/mile faster than I’d probably run on my own). I’m resisting the urge to just run until it gets dark after work like I’ll be doing in a few weeks. I’m planning some actual long runs this weekend and feeling excited about it. My social life may be getting eversoslightly less cloudy and less lonely. I should probably stop whining so much. Heh. We’ll see. I’ve got a trail calling me right now and I wanna be done before Community starts.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

April 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm 2 comments

The end of the week (and potentially a rant about mud and other muck)

Last time I wrote, I had just the one run in the books for last week (albeit a solid one). I ended up with a decent week.

Thu – 5 miles, 42:30 around my cousins’ neighborhood, super buggy, kind of muggy
Fri – 9 miles, let’s say 69 minutes on the greenway to Umstead and back, legs felt so good I had to really reign it in, even did five 30s strides in the last mile
Sat – am: 3 miles slow with a co-worker at the Great Human Race in Durham//pm: 13 miles, 1:48, up the greenway to Umstead, got caught in a thunderstorm
Sun –  15 miles, 2:02 at Umstead from Old Reedy Creek, same run as Wednesday but slower course loop (1:41ish), legs felt really freaking good, threw in a pick-up or two when I felt like it

Total for week — 60 miles, about 8 hours

The week before I ran Stone Cat, I ran 64 miles. Of course, back then 64 miles was not nearly as drastic a taper as it is now. And I just looked back through my log at the actual runs I did. I had a pretty crappy race at Stone Cat and I know there are a lot of factors that go into the success or failure on any given day but maybe I could learn something from the end game last year. For one thing I was running hard a lot. I remember thinking that I was supposed to taper off volume, not intensity. But I think I ratcheted UP the intensity instead, which may have been why I was so shot after only 25 miles in the race. Who knows. All I know is that this time, I barely feel like I ran at all last week.

I saw John again Friday night. I also took my brother who has been suffering from IT band issues. Saturday when I went running my legs felt as close to 100% as they’ve felt in a long time. Yesterday was even better. This week is all about not doing anything stupid, which should seem obvious but I know me well enough to know this is going to take a lot of mental focus. I will not be doing a whole lot of running, obviously. Just enough to keep my legs remembering what running is and so that I don’t start on Saturday and need an hour or two to shake off the rust. Like I mentioned before, I’m not nearly as anxious or nervous about it, I’m also not as keyed up. I was actually chastised yesterday on the phone with my mom for not sounding more excited and enthusiastic about it all. I’m more excited for the people coming here, really. By the time Saturday morning rolls around, I know my legs will be fresh and ready and I will run as hard as I can for 100 miles and whatever that ends up being, fantastic.

Now a rant! Friday as I was running along the airport spur at Umstead, a woman on a mountain bike passed me, then turned around and asked, “have you ever done a Tough Mudder?” At first I didn’t respond because it was so out of the blue but a quick look around revealed I was the only other human anywhere in sight. So I said no. But she wasn’t done! She replied, matter of factly, “Don’t worry, there’s one up here in October.” Then she rode off and that was the end of it. What. The. Fuck? Ummmm, thanks? Clearly, I was really concerned that I had missed my chance. I spent the next mile or so pondering whether maybe I look like the type of guy who would do a mud run. That seemed to be the theme of the weekend too. My cousin and his neighbor were doing one in Charlotte Saturday morning. And then an old friend I hadn’t seen in a few years stopped on her way from NY to SC and hung out Saturday night. We went to Bella Mia, because it’s my favorite restaurant down here and that’s where I like to take all my visitors. It came up that I was running the 100 miler in a week. My friend is an OT and so she immediately asked how my joints are holding up, and telling me horror stories about the runners she’s seen. It’s a similar conversation I’ve had with people I haven’t seen in a while or who I just met when they find out what I like to do. The whole HOW do you do that, what do you think about, do you listen to music, you’re probably going to get injured. When we picked up my brother’s friend, who is about to become a PT, the questions about the prospects of me eventually getting injured continued.

Relating back to mud runs, my friend also asked me if I had ever done a Tough Mudder. She went on to say that if running is not enough of a challenge anymore, “and it seems like it’s getting to that point,” I should try that. And it was there that I really grasped the disconnect. People seem to assume that I’ve gravitated to ultras and run so much because I want the biggest challenge. While it’s certainly accurate to say I like to push my limits and challenge myself, I am by no means bored with running. I am a runner. I am not really much of an athlete (I recently went 0 for 5 in a students vs staff basketball game at my school). I am not a Navy SEAL and don’t aspire to be. I no longer care how much I can bench press or how big my biceps are. While many people find the idea of running for nearly an entire day in the woods akin to torture, I actually LOOK FORWARD to the prospect. I am a runner. I like to  RUN, not crawl under barbed wire or leap through fire or any of that stuff. I don’t begrudge or judge anyone THEIR enjoyment of it, but to me it holds zero appeal. My friend mentioned that she had a friend who did something called the World’s Toughest Mudder which was apparently some sort of 24 hour death march in NJ in the winter where people lost toes and were hospitalized and almost no one finished. If I wanted to suffer like that, I’d find a way to enter the Barkley Marathons (which one day I think I’d like to, actually). I think part of my problem is the commercialization of those sorts of races (Tough Mudders, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, etc etc). They seem to be about cramming the maximum number of people into a space, with waves that go all day. And clusterfucks for parking. Money money money, kind of like how I feel about Rock n Roll races. I gravitate to ultras and trail races and low key local races like the BRRC puts on because the atmosphere jives with my temperament. And it’s not contrived, the trails are what they are, and usually they’re plenty tough on their own. So dear everyone, please stop asking about this. I don’t care about mud runs. I did a mud run already. It was called the Umstead Trail marathon.

Of course the other question was my opinion on Vibrams and other barefoot running things. I really should just print copies of the Hanson’s take on this I read a few years ago, it would save me some time. I’ve started just telling people I can’t wear them because I have webbed toes, but I might start making up more elaborate lies (the webbed toes thing is true though). I don’t mind talking about this subject as much as the previous one though, because I HAVE experience on both ends of the extreme and it’s at least a relevant running related discussion. As I’m writing, I realize I was pretty grouchy and got progressively grouchier as the weekend wore on. By the time we got home from the bowling alley at like 2 am Sunday morning, I was ready for everyone to leave and give me some time to be alone and not have to wear clothes in the apartment and not have to go out til much later than I want to and not have to be conversational and all that. I was probably mostly just tired.

And that’s probably enough for now. I’m gonna have a lot of time this week to think and that’s always a little dangerous. Thursday night cannot come soon enough.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

March 26, 2012 at 10:38 am 3 comments

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