Saturday, February 25, 2012

Countdown to Umstead Marathon...

Only 53 weeks until the Umstead Marathon!
I hope to actually be healthy and well trained by then.

The one next week I am sitting out. It was not an easy decision to make, because Umstead Marathon is my absolute favorite race. Shannon and I have run it 6 times (out of 8). If I only did one race a year, that would be it.

But my desire for wooden animal plaques and awesome pint glasses has been eclipsed by a desire to be healthy. So no more running-myself-into-the-ground race reports for while.

But I am not going to be missing Umstead, because I will be there volunteering. I'll be on one of those mobile-aid-station bicycles, doling out water, Gu, salt, and taunting insults. It might actually be more fun than running it.

My bike has lots of storage space, so if anybody has any special items you would like me to stock, let me know. See ya all out there!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2012 Uwharrie Mountain Run - part 3

From kicking a rock.
Actually from kick three rocks.
... Continued from Part # 2

After the running much of the first 20 in solitary, the way back turned into a party, as I swam upstream into all the 20 and 40 milers coming in. Here is a list of friends I ran into who have their own race reports:

  • A smiling David Roche who had made the 20 mile race exciting by adding in a few extra miles
  • Scott, in his bedroom slippers
  • Ryan, channeling Braveheart
  • Andrew, who gave me a shout out
  • Sean, who was moving so much faster than last year I was surprised to see him
  • Karen, shedding the "9-hour monkey" and setting a 43 minute PR
  • Ultra Brad, who refuses to make excuses and whine like I do.

When I saw the first 40 mile woman coming in, I looked at my watch to get the time, so I could tell Shannon when I saw her. But as soon as I took my eyes off the trail, my right foot kicked a rock so hard it felt like my knee cap was going to pop off. I shook it off, but my toe was stinging pretty good.

The frogs serenading the runners 

Around mile 22, my hip flexors were getting sore, and it was getting harder to lift my legs up.
I relaxed and took my time in that narrow rocky section, navigating with all the people coming in the other direction, thankful for a break.

Descending the steep hill at 24 (The mile 16 climb) was punishing and revealed how beat up my legs were. Knees, quads, and hips were almost spent.  Normally, this is how I feel at the end of marathon, but here I still had 16 miles to go.

This was worrisome, but doing some rough math, I figured that a 11:30 pace the rest of the way would still get me organ donor. "11:30!", I thought, "How hard can that be?"

Turns out really hard. Trying to climb a hill without fully functioning hips is quite a challenge. My power-walks became shuffle-walks, and the pain increased with every mile. My body was speaking to me:

BODY: "Stop. You have pushed me as far as I can go. I am breaking down."
ME:  "You are right, this is stupid. I'll give up sub 7:00, and just walk it in"

But then my watch chimed in:

WATCH:  "Your average pace is still a 10:05! Well under the 10:30 you need. You got this, you can do it!"
ME: "Wow, you're right. I guess there is still a chance, if I can just run a little..."
BODY: "No, you idiot. Quit looking at your watch-"
WATCH: "10:05, ahead of schedule! Keep going!"

And on the next downhill I could run again.

Only one word for these people:

I crossed the log around mile 30 and was surprised to be actually running.
With all my my other muscles near failure, I found that my calves still functioned so I was trying to run just using those. But that didn't last long, as they quickly started to cramp up.

Climbing that atrocious pile of giant rocks at mile 31, I watched my overall average pace slowly erode 10:06...10:11...10:18.

Finally I got to the mile 32 aid station, which brought a sense of comfort, because that is where we usually park for our training runs. The volunteers were extremely encouraging, and I left feeling hopeful again.

Thankfully, it was my "bad" knee I landed on.
The swelling actually made it feel better.
The next few miles were very run-able, so I had to take full advantage of it.
Since it was a down-hill, I didn't halve to lift my legs much, just swing one in front of the other.
I was feeling a sharp pain in my right toe, and I wondered if my toenail was coming off or something.
But that could wait till later, because I was really moving. My pace for the mile was crazy...

...9:00...yes! I can run, I am going to make it!...8:30...Woohoo!...7:30... BANG 

Since I couldn't lift my legs much, I had kicked a rock again with the same toe. Only this time it slammed into it with the full force of my body. I flew forward, my right knee crashing into another rock, and I crumpled to the ground, stunned.

I lay there for a while, curled up in fetal position, with a cold rain pelting my face.
Even with the pain alarm sirens wailing from my knee and foot, it was actually a relief to be laying down, and the trail was quite comfortable. Plus, I was afraid to get up and confront the damage.
Uwharrie was laughing at me, "Fool! Now will you quit?"

Shannon with a DNF self portrait,
with Dan in the background, also dropping out 
Being bested by Uwharrie puts me in good company.
Behind me at the mile 26 aid station, Shannon and Dan Bedard were dropping out.
Last year, Shannon was first female in Uwharrie and Dan ran a 17:30 in the Umstead 100.

But both were struggling on this day. Dan had been at the aid station for an hour, tucked into a warm sleeping bag, waiting for a ride back. Shannon sat down in a chair calling it quits for the day too.

Shannon was happy to have found a DNF buddy, finding it validating. But Dan didn't want to be the excuse for her dropping out. So they decided to both "drop back in" and finish together.

Dan somehow crawled out of a warm truck and sleeping bag, and
un-DNF'd by finishing the last 14 miles.

After a minute or so, lying on the trail, I remembered Kim's instructions: "If you fall, get up, keep going!".
Everybody falls, it's no big deal. So I got up, limped a few steps, and broke into a wobbling, delirious jog.
I stumbled into the aid station at mile 35, still propelled by that cursed thing on my wrist:

WATCH: Average 10:28 pace, you are on schedule still, you can make it!
BODY: You have got to be kidding me.
ME: Uhhnnggg.

I grabbed another PB&J sandwich and tried to eat it, but only managed to smear peanut butter all over my face and hands. I tried to run, managing to jog for short stretches. But finally, at mile 36 the legs simply no longer functioned.

I walked slowly in the rain, rubbing my arms to keep warm, and felt a sense of Déjà vu. The last 4 miles took me 80 minutes to cover. The final rocky descent was especially painful, and I had to pause with each step.

"We can see you walking!", Kim called out from the finish line, taunting me. But I could be pushed no further. 20 yards from the end, I sat and rested on a log, much to the delight of the crowd, before shuffling in at 7:35.

Shannon and Dan finish smiling

Measure of Success
While 7:35 is a great time, the success of a race cannot be measured by time and finishing place alone. You must also consider the cost when assessing how well you have done. And I paid dearly for this race.

As I cheered and watched the other runners finish behind me, I was extremely jealous of them.
Every single one sprinted to the finish line with a huge grin.
I realize now that the the goal of "Finishing with a smile on your face" is not some fallback goal.

In the Uwharrie 40 miler, it is a lofty goal that is very difficult to achieve and highly desirable.

Oh, and next year.. I am going to get that frickin' sub 7:00!

Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 Uwharrie Mountain Run - part 2

...continued from Part#1.

Beet Down
Though I had decided to go for under 7 hours again, I was still worried about how my lack of mileage would limit my endurance.
I need a quick fix that didn't involve training, and I remembered this article about how beetroot juice boosts endurance.

Unfortunately beetroot juice is a fancy "health food" item that is like $8 a bottle. But I'm no sucker. I just went to the grocery store and bought actual pickled beets for $2 a jar.

So the Wednesday before the race I ate an entire jar of pickled beets.
And another jar on Thursday.
By Friday they were getting unappetizing, so I dumped them in a blender thinking I would make my own juice.
I ended up with a glass of disgusting red mush. Choking it down was itself an amazing feat of endurance, and maybe that is how it works.

Carbo Bloating
Another strategy I pursued was inspired by this article about carbo loading. It says carbo loading really works, and recommends 10g of carbs per kg of body weight. That is 680g of carbs for me. I am not sure how much food that is, but assumed it meant "All you can possibly stuff in your face"

So besides the beets, I gorged on all the starchy stuff I could find in the house. My staple foods have a lot of fiber, so I tried avoiding those because I know how that turns out. So I ate a bunch of crap I don't usually eat. Cramming handfuls of chips in my mouth, I congratulated myself on my smart race preparation.
Driving down to Asheboro on Friday night, my stomach churned with endurance.

Godiva runners and volunteers, with wonderful race directors Kim and Jason far right.

Pasta Dinner
At the traditional pasta dinner in Asheboro, I topped it all off with 2 plates of pasta, a Costco wheat beer, and a cookie.
This was the first year Shannon and I attended the pre-race dinner, and it was great party. I highly recommend it if you can make it out.

Jim C. received a lifetime achievement award
 for running Uwharrie 75 years in a row. 
Noisy Night
We checked into the hotel and crashed around 10pm.
I promptly woke up at 1:00 am with a sneeze. I seemed to be allergic to something in the room, and my sinuses were going nuts. At the same time my digestive system kicked into emergency processing mode to handle mass of beets and carbs I had consumed.
I had to get up to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes In between I laid in bed tossing, turning, moaning, sneezing, burping, coughing, farting and yawning. They had given us a room with double beds, and in the other bed, Shannon couldn't sleep either.
"It's REALLY noisy over there!"

As part of a couple wearing
 matching shirts, I discarded my
last shred of dignity. 
Finally... The Start
6 hours after I had woken up, I was finally at the starting line, highly caffeinated, and bouncing with anticipation.  We were waiting for a parking glitch to get sorted out.
Shannon was next to me shivering and shaking from the cold and nervousness.
You would think that winning the race the previous year would give a person confidence, but for Shannon it only added to her raging anxiety. At the same time, she worried about competing for a place, if she could even finish at all, and this would hurt her upcoming attempt at the Umstead 100. I gave her a tight squeeze, trying to get the anxiety out.

Finally, Race director Kim gave us the go, and lead pack sprinted out onto the trail for the first of our 40 miles.

Shannon took a video of what it's like to run
through Uwharrie. 

10 Miles
The last time I had been able to run over 40 miles in a week was February of 2011.
So running 40 in a day would obviously be pushing my legs to their absolute limits. If I was going to do this, I had to run as conservatively as possible.

So my plan was to try for an even spit, completing the first half no faster than 3:25. This meant averaging no faster than a 10:15 pace. I would power-walk slowly up the hills and roll fast down the other side, letting gravity do the work. My hope was that the walk breaks would keep my legs from falling apart.

Unfortunately this plan conflicted with the other runners, who all ran a more even pace.
I would step out of their way on the uphills and then get stuck behind them going down. And there is a lot of up and down in Uwharrie.

So I ran out ahead to get some space to run. I was feeling really good, it was a beautiful morning in the forest, and my strict pacing plan was quickly forgotten. I went through the first 10 miles at a 9:18 pace, and instead of be worried, I let out a "wooohooo", and thought "This is going to be easy!".

"Uwharrie Blues"
featuring Trailhead Goofus and friend

20 Miles
At around 2 hours, I popped 3 Tylenol in anticipation of the inevitable pain to come. This is so incredibly stupid, I really didn't want to admit it. But it helps explain how I wrecked myself. Pain is the way the body communicates warning signals, and was I purposefully blocking them out.
In my car, I also put black tape over my speedometer, fuel gauge, and check engine light. Ignorance is bliss!

I continued on, feeling great. The only thing that was really sore was my wrist from holding my 20oz hand held (not a lot of upper body strength). I plowed through streams, powered up the hill at 16 and flew through the mud around 18.

I got to the turn-around and the volunteers were like a NASCAR pit crew. They got my drop bag, switch out my hand held bottles, and opened my Ensure. I chugged the Ensure and was out of there in 60 seconds.

I had completed the first half in 3:13, which is a 9:41 pace. For some reason I thought this was a good thing. I had a huge cushion with a whopping 3:47 to make it back.
I had carbo loaded, stuffed myself with pickled beets, and taken Tylenol.  What could go wrong?

"What, me worry?"
Shannon took this one of me at mile 21.
I was blissfully ignorant of what another 19 miles would be like.

"I ran the first 20,
I ran it real fast,
I look at the sky,
And I fall on my ass
Oh, Uwharrie!
I got those Uwharrie Blues..."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2012 Uwharrie Mountain Run - part 1

This is me hitting mile 36.
I was literally run over by a truck once.
[Some would say I actually ran myself over with a truck. But that is another story]. I was lucky to escape death or dismemberment, but I was in the hospital for 3 days.

So when I say that right now that I "feel like I was run over by a truck", I am speaking from experience. In some ways, the Uwharrie 40 was actually worse. The truck only broke my right arm, took a chunk out of my right thigh, and removed some skin.

But the race left every inch of my legs swollen. Knees, calves, feet, toes, hips, quads, hamstrings, soleus, shins, Achilles tendons. Everything. (Well, I guess my IT bands are OK.)

The thought of running is laughable, and walking is still difficult.
At night, I have to use my hands to lift my legs into the bed, and I think I could really use an IV drip, a bedpan and nurse.

What was I thinking?
Getting hit by a truck was an accident, but I actually chose to do this to myself.
"What were you thinking?", my sister asked me, when I told her of my condition.
All last year I kept hurting myself in one race after another, struggling with injuries, and she had to listen to me whine and complain about it.
"What is wrong with you? Why would you run some crazy ultra-marathon? "

  • Uwharrie is not just a race. It is our local epic adventure.
  • I did the race in 2010 and had a lot of fun, and felt great
  • In 2011, I came tantalizingly close to the glorious "organ donor" status, before breaking down at mile 39.
  • And, well, everybody is doing it!
I just want to belong!
Not a Good Engineer
So here was my thinking before the race.
This January I had finally recovered from all of my lingering injuries, and a 20 mile training run proved I could make it at least halfway. So the race was a "go". It was just a question of what my goal should be. Here are the choices:
  1. A relaxing day in the forest. Take a lot of walk breaks from the very start. Try to finish without any pain or trauma.
  2. Go for sub 7:00 organ donor again.
Being an engineer, I like to make my decisions based on empirical evidence. So here are some numbers, comparing my running state of being before Uwharrie 2011 and the race this year :

Pre-Uwharrie state of being20112012
Mileage previous 6 months1089596
January Miles228119
Peek mileage week8141
Little River 10 Miler1:12:341:11:33
Eno Equalizer26:0626:12
Uwharrie Result7:05????

Hmmm. Compared to last year, I was only capable of running about half as much.
However, my race times were about the same. Maybe mileage doesn't matter!
It's all about "quality" runs, not "junk mileage", right? Right!

Organ Donation, here I come!

Onward into Uwharrie... to my doom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

2012 Uwharrie Mountain Run Photos


Last Saturday I attempted the Uwharrie 40 Miler... like a bug attempts to stop a car on the freeway.
When the surgeons are done sewing my scattered pieces back together, I will do a race report.

In the meantime, in case you have not seen them already, Shannon's photos are here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tick Mob

Spontaneous Tick Mob

The Umstead Marathon Tick shirt seems to be quite popular, because I keep seeing it everywhere.
Of course, it is hard to miss, as it is bright as a laser pointer shining in your eye.

This gave me an idea. What if we all wore our tick shirts to Uwharrie on Saturday? No agenda. Just a semi-spontaneous assault of neon green ticks. Call it a "Tick Mob"

Maybe it's a dumb idea, because trail runners tend to be the individualistic type, and frown on conformity.

On the other hand, we would be quite visible out in the forest. This will help the runners following us, as well as the forest rangers who will come searching for us when we get lost.

Umstead Tick Mob
Another, even better idea is if "Tick Mob" the 2012 Umstead Marathon.

It would be a show of appreciation to the Umstead "Conclave", letting them know what a great job they do and  how much we love the Tick Shirts.

So far, it's me and Josh.

Anyone else?

For those without a Tick Shirt, you may be able to still buy them from Godiva. Usually they sell them old shirts at the race.

Recent Posts