Sometimes the race isn’t about you, but in those times it can be the most rewarding.
A year ago I spent the third weekend in May working the finish line of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-mile run. I spent it with friends I had made in the pervious six months, watching runners complete a hard and difficult race.
That Sunday, I can clearly remember standing in the field by the finish, staring at the mountains, listening to the crowd cheering runners to the end, and crossing a mental finish line of my own.
It was the moment I knew I was alright with my marriage ending.
This year, I returned to crew and pace a good friend who badly needed a win of his own.
Once or twice a week I am going to post an update that covers both my training and how it is affecting my life. Similar to a television or comic book series, the entire thing will culminate with a confrontation with the “Big Bad” that is lurking in the background throughout the entire series.
At some point in the last few years I swore off road marathons. They are just not my style and I hate feeling like I have to sprint 26.2 miles. But last week, I registered for the Run Crazy Horse Marathon in South Dakota. The only reason I signed up is for a picture.
When I was nine years old I moved from Alabama to California to live with my dad, who I call Oldman. It was during that transition that the Oldman first introduced me to running. At first he was teaching me good health habits and then he was encouraging me through track and cross country. He has always told me to run with heart and would often just point to his chest as I ran by.
When I was 14 years old, we were in a car accident that broke two of his ribs, punctured his lung, and put a metal rod in his leg. The following year he ran his first and only marathon. It was a display of the heart he always told me to run with.
According to Word Press my last post was October 8, 2012, almost one year ago. By that date you’d think that consistency has not been my thing. But it’s has. My last post was about getting rhythm. And I have found my rhythm. The first time I began a run streak I made it about 216 days before a stress fracture in my foot sent me to the pool for 8 weeks. This was incredibly frustrating. I had just finished my first 50 miler and felt like superman. Going from running 50 miles in one day to not being able to run and starting back from scratch was a mental letdown. So on September 18, 2012, I restarted my streak and dedicated myself to having an amazing year of running in 2013.
Today marks my 365th consecutive day of running at least one mile a day. Every day for the last year, I have made a point of putting on running shorts and shoes and getting out for at least one mile be it in rain, shine, hangover, morning, night, on a cruise, at my bachelor’s party, the day of my wedding, on my honeymoon, or at Jamboree in the Hills. My friends and family have given me odd looks and the drunks at the Jamboree in the Hills gave me even stranger looks, but I did it.
I know that I have a problem with consistency. If I take a day off it will quickly turn into 5 or more (or if I don’t make a blog post one week, it turns into a year). Over this last year I have taken running and turned it into brushing my teeth. I wake up and don’t have to ask “if” I will run today. Instead I ask “how far will I run today?” Changing that mental question actually makes maintaining the run streak pretty easy. Actually, running has become such a normal part of my routine that I have to remind myself how allowing ten minutes a day on my feet really means to me.
Running is my freedom. It’s my form of expression. There is stress at work, at home, planning a wedding, getting a new dog and I find relief in taking at least ten minutes day for myself. Run it fast or run it slow, it’s time for me. And while that may seem selfish it’s really isn’t. Taking that little bit of alone time each day puts me a in a better mood. I can better manage stressful situations and quite honestly I like people more after I run. And on my bad days, my wife likes me more after I run.
I have also put in over 1500 miles this year and completed in more races that ever. I have ran in the Seneca 50k, Terrapin Mountain 50k, Leatherwood Mountains 50 miler, 30 plus mile long runs have become the normal, and next month I will attempt my first 100 miler at the Grindstone 100. Over the course of training I have dropped over 20 pounds and feel like I am in the best shape of my life (30 year old me can beat the hell out of 20 year old me). I have also met some great people who share the same obsession with running.
Running helps me be who I am. It allows me to be more comfortable in my own skin. The run streak will not stop at day 365. I will continue to take the time to run at least a mile a day and give myself that time. Hopefully, after Grindstone I will still be able to hobble out a mile.
As far as this blog goes, there should be a little more consistency in the future.
I will start with the biggest news first. While enjoying a Sunday hangover, I signed up for the Leatherwood Mountain Ultra Marathon which is set for April 20, 2013. According to the website:
“Race course will take place over varied terrain in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Much of the race will be on single track trail, but will have a mix of asphalt, gravel, and jeep trail roads. Tree foliage should be close to peak at this time, so much of the race will be shaded when on trail. If you have experience running in the Blue Ridge Mountains you’ll know that the trail could change from one day to the next. One day could be dry, the next could be muddy.”
This should be 50 miles of challenging fun. I am excited about hitting up trails in a different part of the country. Another huge benefit to this race will be that my fiancé, Sara, won’t have to just stand around waiting for me. A 10 mile trail race is also being offered. Instead of staying in a hotel, there are awesome cabins for us to stay in and a decent looking restaurant to party in after the race. I have to give a shout out to Co-Race Director Tim Worden for answering a few of my questions and pointing me towards the Leatherwood Mountain Facebook page. Additional information can be found there or at the races official site http://lwmtnultrarun.com/ and @LWMtnUltraRun on Twitter. Tim is also a great follow on twitter @trailruntim. If you end up signing up, let me know and we will have pre/post race beer.
On to my training. The last few weeks I have attempted to refocus. This has included rebuilding my miles and starting P90X.
I know that I work significantly better when I do something everyday. It’s about establishing a rhythm and continuing it once I have hit my full stride. I started P90X three weeks ago. At first I was only planning on doing the weight lifting tapes. My assumption was that I do enough cardio while running that I did not need those other tapes.
I was wrong. I do not have the self discipline to only work out three days. A planned work out for Tuesday quickly becomes a “well it’s Saturday, I will start next week”. I had to change my way of thinking. I had to establish a rhythm.
I am now on day 7 of P90X. The only tape I have skipped is the Yoga X tape. I have attempted it before, I do not have the patience.
My running has also hit full swing. I finished the recovery program and I started a Hal Higdon marathon program to rebuild my base. I will modify the program slightly and increase my Friday and Saturday runs. I am a big fan of the back to back long runs when training for an ultra. Once I hit 18 mile long runs, I will diverge from the program all together and begin building toward the 50 miler in April.
The highlight of the last few weeks has really been being on the trails again. There is nothing in the world like being out on a trail on a crisp fall morning and I missed the hell out of it. So far I have stayed close to home running the St. Mary’s Lake trail. It’s an easy 7.5 mile loop but it’s a lot of fun to run.
To date I have had no issues with getting in miles and my foot seems to be fully healed. I ran 26 miles last week and have been pushing my pace on my shorter miles. Between the P90X and daily runs (yes the running streak is back) I have reclaimed my rhythm. My run streak is currently on day 23.
In order to remind myself to keep up my daily habits, I have used my iPhone. The operating systems has a program called Reminders. I have set daily reminders for running, P90X, and planking. It’s just a measure to guilt myself out of being lazy and placing a check in the box is a little satisfying.
With everyone running fall races I am also insanely jealous of what I have seen people accomplish. I have been following a fellow runner, Michael (@RIPTAR_Running) for a few months. In June he completed the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k on the same day that I completed the 50 miler. Unlike me he avoided a late summer injury and set high fall goals. He recently placed an amazing 18th at the UROC 100k. I followed his progress online and I am ridiculously impressed by his performance and envious of the belt buckle he received at the finish.
Anyone who is looking to start a running program, I mentioned Hal Higdon earlier. I highly recommend any of his programs no matter what level you are currently at. His plans can be found at http://www.halhigdon.com. To everyone who is challenging themselves, you are awesome keep it up.
The day of the race, I woke up at 3:30 am for the 5:30 start. I got up, put clothes on, and went down to the kitchen. My breakfast that morning was the left over spaghetti I had during dinner the night before. I tried to not think about what my day would hold and just act as though I was preparing for a weekly long run. After eating, I went upstairs and woke my fiancé, Sara, up. The plan was for Sara to drop me off, hang out for the start of the race, and then go back home and get ready for the day. She would then meet me at Great Falls aid station. After she was ready, I grabbed my drop bag (gear the race will pre-position for you at an aid station) and headed for Algonkian State Park.
Sara picked on me for how much stuff I packed into my running bag. I normally am the most unprepared person in the world. One year, I made it all the way to the starting line for the Marine Corps Marathon before I realized I didn’t have my bib. Luckily someone in my family was able to get it to me before the start of the race.
My drop bag for the North Face Endurance Challenge included: extra running shoes, three packs of Nuun, two pairs of sock, two pairs of running shorts, extra headphones, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a pack of batteries, bandaids, and a ton of safety pins. I really did not want to leave anything to chance.
At the starting line everyone gathered in tight. The big concern was the amount of rain we had the night before. The field we were standing in was thoroughly saturated. The day before it had rained over an inch and I was actually concerned the race might be canceled as it had been the previous time I signed up for the North Face.
I was talking with Sara trying to contain my nerves when they made the announcement to head for the starting line. I turned on my light as Dean Karnazes gave a pep talk. The runners were awesome. There was so much energy as people bounced and stretched. Then the race started.
The course had us start by running around a field, by a golf course, onto something like a fire road, then down onto single track. The trail would take us 14 miles to Great Falls State Park. At Great Falls we would take 3 loops, which on the last loop I would be able to pick up my pacer, Josh.
About 2 miles into the race, I almost started laughing as I went waist deep into a stream that was over flowing from the day before’s rainfall. Not 20 minutes before there had been a huge pile up of runners as we encountered an extra soggy bit of field and everyone had made efforts to go around. Now there was no choice but to wade into the cold deep stream
The other runners were awesome. I spent the majority of the first 14 miles getting to know some of the others who ran my pace. There were runners who had finished the Umstead 100 (which is on my bucket list), runners who had done over 20 ultras, and ones like me who were out for their first 50 miler. It was awesome to be around a group of people who had put themselves through the same hours of training I had. Who knew what it was like to run at all times of night just to get a few extra miles in. They were just an overwhelmingly positive group of people.
Through the first few aid stations, I avoided food. I did however drink some Gu Brew, an electrolyte supplement. I normally would have had Nuun, my electrolyte drink of choice, but the aid station did not have any set out.
As the sun came up, I was able to see how beautiful the Algonkian trail was. It runs next to the river and has some breathtaking views as you roll along through the hills. The trail’s condition itself definitely slowed the runners though. With every foot strike, my feet would dig into the mud about an inch and then slip out from under me slightly. It took a great amount of effort to not fall and a much slower pace. Every half mile or so, we would run through ankle deep water.
By the time we made it to Great Falls, I was in great spirits and running with an awesome group of people. When I made it to the aid station, I was excited to see Sara and stopped for a moment to tell her how great things were going. After a small catch up, I put some Gu Brew into my hand held and headed back off through the trail.
Great Falls is an awesome park with a variety of trail types. The race routed us through a significant portion of the park with varying terrain and a few significant inclines. This included a breathtaking view of the falls on a part of the trail where one wrong step would send you a few hundred feet off a cliff, and into the falls. The course had the 50 milers, taking 3 loops at Great Falls.
It was during my second loop that I started having real difficulty. I was mentally off. My pace was falling. I was having more difficulty than I had previously had in any race. Gu Brew? I am not 100% sure that’s what caused my issues, but it was the only new factor which I could point to. As I made my way to the aid station where Sara and Josh were waiting for me, I was at mile 28 and I was shot.
Sara was concerned for me. I walked to my bag, grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and started stretching. I said hi to her and Josh and just preceded with my normal stretching routine. My intent was to act like I was just starting my run for the day. Josh and I have been on 100s of runs together, I was trying to tell myself this was just the start of a normal run for him and I. I also stopped drinking Gu Brew and started drinking just water.
Having Josh really helped me through that period of the race. He provided some humor and trash talk. Enough trash talk that I began threatening to throw him off the cliffs. And we actually had a guy run with us for a while to see if I would really do it. He also allowed me to walk him through what I had been doing fuel wise and come up with a game plan for how I could get back on track.
By mile 35, we were on our way out of Great Falls and I was feeling myself again. I think leaving Great Falls was the point when I really thought I could finish the race.
The quality of the trail was significantly worse than it was on the way into Great Falls. In addition to the 50 milers, a 50K, and a marathon were being run on the overly wet trails. The footing was just horrible. I have been running with Josh for years, he is one of those guys who trips every 20 yards. I have no idea how I didn’t end up having to carry him out.
The longest gap between aid stations is on the Algonkian trail. On the course map I think it said it was 6 miles, but according to my GPS it was 8 miles. This created a little concern. Not only was I significantly fatigued at this point, but I was low on water. Josh didn’t carry any water on him, and so we shared my bottle.
When we reached the aid station, I pigged out on skittles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. By now I had learned to request Nuun from the awesome staff that was working the stations. My legs were more than killing me, but I had run 45 miles. Worst case, I could walk it in from that aid station and would make the cut off.
Josh and I didn’t walk it in though. We ran. Slowly but we ran. As we came out of the woods, we were greeted by little kids who had run the kids running Challenge. I congratulated every one of them I passed. I love seeing kids encouraged to be active and it inspired me to pick the pace up a little.
The last 30 yards to the finish was pure mud. I crossed the line in 10 hours and 57 minutes. I believe that in a better set of trail conditions I could have performed significantly better, but I am damned proud of that time.
In hindsight, the race was everything I wanted it to be. I loved meeting ultra runners and how supportive everyone was. I cannot say enough or give enough thanks to the volunteers at the aid stations. Sara is awesome. She made it to so many of the aid stations and gave me so much support not just during the race but in training for the race as well. She even turned the hose on me when we got back to the house so I could go inside for dinner. I could not have picked a better pacer than Josh. It was not only my first 50 miler, it was also the longest Josh had ever run in his life. I am hoping that he now has the same sick desire I do and will do a few more ultras with me.
First, thank you for even pulling this blog up. This is day one of RunningForDays and I know it is kind of barren around here, but I will change that.
Why “RunningForDays”? Starting last November I began a daily running streak while preparing for my first 50 mile race, The North Face Endurance Challenge DC. At the height of my training I was putting in 15 miles on Friday and 25+ miles on Saturday. On my rest days I was running at least a slow mile to keep my streak alive. In between running, I was slightly obsessive. I was reading books about running, tailoring my food to benefit my running, changing my schedule to fit my running schedule, finding and following other endurance athletes on Twitter, and I drove out of the way on business trips to run strange new trails. In other words, everyday was based on training to complete the 50 mile race. It was the most fun I have ever had training and it helped me to better understand myself. Also, a huge shout out to my extremely supportive fiancé for allowing me to be this insane. So it is “RunningForDays” because thats what I felt I was doing at times. I was just running.
“RunningForDays” also fits because my end goal will probably have me running for a period over 24 hours. In the Fall of 2013, I plan on attempting my first 100 Mile ultra. I am eyeing the Pinhoti 100 Mile Trail Run (www.pinhoti100.com) for reason I’ll explain in a future post. That is if I don’t have any more set backs.
In June I completed my first ultra at the North Face. It was awesome. And I can say without a doubt that ultrarunners are the best community of athletes I have ever been around. I finished the 50 miles in just under 11 hours. I would like to think I could have done a little better if it had not been for the mud. Hitting waist deep water at 5:30 am did make the race a little more special though. My biggest and most humbling learning lesson came four weeks after the race. I had taken two weeks down time to rest then ramped my mileage up. I was on track to run more miles in the month of July than I had in any month this year. And then I got out fitted with a cute little boot and told I could not run for 6 weeks. My very first stress fracture (sadly I am sort of proud that I ran until my foot broke). The Run Streak ended at 235 days.
Being stubborn I immediately found pfitzinger.com, where Mr. Pfitzinger not only offers a deepwater jogging program but also a return to running program for those suffering from stress fractures. I have spent the last 5 weeks in the pool with an Aqua-jogger wrapped around my waste watching everyone in the neighborhood run past the pool. Know that if you have run past my pool, there is a chance I was in it staring at you. I was picking my pace up a little imaging that I could catch you, and wondering if you had any skittles in your waste pack. The whole experience has been torture and it has focused on how much this lifestyle means to me.
On August 30th, I should be cleared to run again. I will be taking my time rebuilding based one Mr. Pfitzinger’s program then gradually bringing myself back to where I was. It is going to take time and patience on my part. But I can promise you, I’ll smile every time I run past the pool.
Prior to my injury I had ambitions of running Umstead as my first attempt at 100 miles. My injury forced me to rethink my running plan for 2013. I took to the internet and Twitter in search of a 50 miler for April. What I have found is the inaugural Leatherwood Mountain Ultra Run (www.LWMtnUltraRun.com) and an extremely helpful co-RD, MR. Tim Worden. Set in the foothills of the Appalachians, it will provide me with challenging trails and also give my fiancé and I a nice little vacation. From Leatherwood till Pinhoti, I should have enough time to back my mileage down and rebuild. The point being to avoid this damned boot.
RunningForDays is going to be a weekly project that will track my training and progress towards completing my first 100 mile Ultra marathon. I will also post a few book reviews and commentaries that are running related. I used to think of myself as a bit of a writer, and I am excited at the prospect of combining two of my passions. On the way to competing my first 50 miler there were many blogs (ashwalsh.wordpress.com is a must) that I read for inspiration and to grab a few kernels of knowledge from, my hope is that this does the same for a few others. So thank you reading this far, and please stay tuned.