Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 Race to Sustainability 6k Trail Run

Last night I was having horrible nightmares.
It must have been from watching the incredibly frenetic and bizarre London Olympic opening ceremonies last night .
In the dream, I was a child in a bed, surrounded by these terrifying monsters swarming around me. And there were these creepy giant puppets towing over me too. I was screaming:
"What in the hell does this have to do with the Olympics ?! What in the hell does this have to do with an international sporting competition?! What is wrong with you people?!?!"

I woke up feeling very old.

I woke up in sweat, and crawled out of bed. I was feeling very old.
I still have not fully recovered from The Scream half marathon 2 weeks ago, but I had to start training for the Iron Mountain 30 miler we have in 5 weeks.
My feet were sore and beat up. My left hamstring was really sore and swollen.

A hospital bed and nurses would be a good choice
My options for the day:
  1. Joining Shannon and others in Umstead to do a FAUST, which is 28 miles of single track. 
  2. Do the 50 mile Cup N' Cone bike ride 
  3. Do the Race to Sustainability 6k Trail Run
  4. Spend the day in bed, and try to recover
Despite the nightmarish opening ceremony, the Olympics inspired me to chose the 6k trail race. That, and the fact that 6k is less than 4 miles. 

I drove to Chapel hill where 70+ people gathered in a field in Carolina North Forest. It was hot and steamy.

Lining up at the start
The race started and three young, skinny, fast looking guys took off. 
I had a great race on these trails back in the Philosopher's Way 15K, so I decided to try to hang with them.
The first half mile was on a gravel road, and I was really struggling to keep up.
Me passing the young guys
When we hit the single track, they slowed a little, and I was able to catch my breath. The four of us in a line wound our way through the tight switchbacks for about a mile. 
I think the heat was getting to the kid in the lead because he was really slowing down.
When there was room, I passed one... two... and finally the lead guy.

My head was on fire
I pushed as hard as I could to get some space, but the heat was getting to me too. My head ached, and it felt like it was baking in an oven. I tried to focus on the orange tape on the trees that marked the course, but I started to hallucinate.

I started imaging that I was being chased by a giant skeleton puppet in a black cloak. I ran faster.

Finally I found the finish line. I was first! Unbelievable!

Post race activities
Afterwards they had fresh fruit and shrimp and grits. 
For a race that promoted "Sustainability", the award was somewhat unusual.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Scream Half Marathon

Josh and I are identical in every way,
except one of us actually knows how to box.
Photo by Scott's camera
Hat to Hat
This was it. This was the big showdown with my arch-rival Barefoot Josh.
For background, see the rival post here.

When we last left off, I was on the sidelines of my favorite race, the Umstead Marathon, sobbing uncontrollably because I couldn't run it.
Josh ran by, on his way to winning an incredibly awesome bat plaque, and tossed his disgusting sweaty hat at me. "Here, make yourself useful and hold on to my disgusting sweaty hat you pathetic looser! Ha ha ha!".

At that moment, I chose to dedicate myself to kicking his ass at the The Scream! half marathon.
[Cue the sweeping dramatic music. Begin intense training montage]. I trained. I ran up and down steps in a heavy grey jogging suit... dragged around logs in the forest... punched slabs of beef... drank pitchers of raw eggs...

Finally, it was race day.

Here is how we stack up:

Tale of the Tape*

Recent Marathon PR2:58:474:36:31
Recent Half PR1:25:521:26:54
Recent 5K PR17:3819:23
Recent Weekly Mileage2030
SAT Score (Math/Verbal)610/680740/580
*Note: Only some of this is completely made up

I was very worried about his recent 17:38 5K.  However, I was fairly confident if any multiple choice math questions came up.

The eight residents of "The Running-Down Endurance Flop House".
In the morning, ready for the 2400 foot decent into pain.

I got up, made a pot of coffee, and drank the entire thing.
This inspired three trips to the bathroom. The past few days I had been loading up on pickled beets and I really needed to unload them. 

For breakfast, I downed 450 calories of watered down gu (three eGel packets). I have learned the hard way that if I intend to run fast, I cannot have a single shred of solid food in me. Not even banana. 

Josh had stayed the night in the cabin with us, and was thinking about making some oatmeal for breakfast.
"Here, have some of this", I offered the box of oatmeal I had mixed with assorted nuts and dried fruit.
"Oh thanks, looks good". Yes, I thought, it's good for you... loaded with fiber!

Photo is actually from the start last year,
but what's the difference

It was wet and muggy. Josh and I were in full shirtless-douchebag mode.

I gave Shannon a good luck kiss. I turned and gave Josh a cold, crazy-eyed stare. We were off.

After a half mile of jockeying for position, I settled into a steady 6:45 pace. 
Josh said was going for a 1:20 time, which was an average 6:06 pace. Given his recent 5 min/mile workouts this seemed quite plausible.
My only hope was that with his recent low mileage, he would fade at the end, and I could catch him on the steep downhills.

Mile 2
Still on slightly rolling pavement, I was following Josh who was only 50 feet ahead.
He was going slower than expected. Maybe it was the oatmeal. Or maybe the 4000 feet of elevation was getting to him. 

I had stayed the whole week up at "altitude", and it may have helped. It's true that 4000 feet is nothing compared to the mountain races out west that go over 10,000 feet. But when you are pushing hard, even a small bump in elevation can be noticeable.

However, it didn't seem to be affecting another of my rivals, Jeff, who had beat Dudley and I at the Umstead 4 miler. He was well ahead of us, and pulling away out of sight.

Photo by Der Scott
Mile 3
This is where The Scream! really starts.
We turned onto the winding gravel forest road that starts dropping precipitously.

Earlier in the week, I had done a 4 mile training run on this road which taught me a valuable lesson:
Running on gravel in minimal shoes can really suck.
For the last 4 months I had run in nothing but my Merrell Trail Gloves or barefoot. The little bit of gravel in Umstead was never a big deal in the Gloves.

But I found that crashing down a steep 8% decline strewn with chunky gravel was incredibly painful. 
After just a few miles, my feet were chewed to hamburger, and I was no longer running but just trying to tip-toe around the rocks. 
Fortunately I had dug my trusty old Brooks Pillow Plodders out of the garage to bring just in case. I had not run in the Plodders for 9 months, but I had no choice but to run The Scream! in them. I simply would not make it in the Gloves.

The elevation profile (posting for the 3rd time)

Mile 5
I was still trailing Josh who was just ahead. We were rolling down the mountain under a 6 min/mile. 
I stared at my watch in disbelief, because this is faster than my 5K pace. I had to keep shaking my arms out, repeating my mantra "Relax, relax". The Pillow Plodder shoes felt squishy, but comfortable. It was a relief to not worry about the gravel and just coast.

We passed one... two... three guys. Finally, we caught up to and passed Jeff.  
After the mile 6 marker the course flattens out and there is a slight incline. I slowed down some, trying to let my legs recover, because I knew what was coming next. Josh started to pull away, but then the next big decent began.

Photo by Scott

Mile 8
Somewhere around the 7 mile marker the bottom drops out. The next mile averages -8.5%, but some parts are even steeper than that. I spun my feet as fast as I could trying to keep up with the hill, and quickly caught up to Josh.

We exchanges some curses and obscenities. As we cut around the switch backs, we jostled for position and there was some incidental contact. He threw a shoulder into me. I jabbed him in the ribs with my elbow. He stepped on my foot. I poked him in the eye. 

Soon, the slope became too severe for me to "run". I had 2 options:

  1. Slow down
  2. Shift into balls-out overdrive. 
It seemed a little early to be making a kick, but I had to go for it. 
I shifted into balls-out gear. 
This is the gear I usually reserve for short sections of technical trails, like plunging in and out of a gully. It isn't really running; it's better described as leaping.

I launched myself down the hill, bounding with huge strides, crashing around the switchbacks. I felt a stabbing pain in my right hamstring as it made a "PING!"sound like a snapping guitar string. I would worry about that later. 
I pulled ahead of Josh, and quickly caught up to the lead female, who we had been following.

"I hear you back there!", she called out, as I plummeted past her like an out of control freight train, huffing and puffing loudly. My tachometer was absolutely pegged. My heart was pounding so hard it felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. But before that happened, I reached the bottom of the slope.

Lead singer for The Screaming Nipples
(name credit Scott Bassett)

Mile 9
My legs were quivering and I was gasping for air. I had just spent almost everything I had with a finishing kick, but I still had 4 miles to go. The lead female ran past me as I struggled up a slight incline.
She was keeping a steady pace so and I latched onto her, trying to just hold on. 

The road became muddy and the switchbacks more fierce. When I started sinking into the soft sand at the side of road I moved to the center and gave up trying to run the tangents. We zig-zagged down another 600 feet of elevation until it finally flattened out.

Mile 12
At the start, I thought that I had no chance of beating Josh. But here I was ahead of him with just 2 miles to go, and I was on pace for a huge PR.

It was like a dream... 
Specifically, that dream where you are trying desperately to run, but your legs don't work. You're moving in slow motion. 

After the 2300 feet of decent, I slowed to a crawl going up the slight incline. The muddy road felt like thick taffy and my feet sank into it. The lead woman was unaffected by the taffy road, somehow floating above it. She continued ahead at her same steady pace, quickly vanishing into the distance.

I looked back, expecting Josh or Jeff to be coming up behind me, but no one was in sight.
Somehow, I summoned one final push. I flung my arms out in front of me for some forward motion. 
I was moving, but my body was made of clay. I was Gumbi.

Me at mile 12

I kept looking back every few steps, plodding through the quagmire.
Finally the finish line was in sight, and I exhausted the last remaining fumes to get there.
The clock said 1:21:30.
This was absolutely unreal. On a normal course, this time is way out of my league. I guess I am better at running downhill, with cushy shoes anyway.

Photo by Bobby Aswell Jr.

I walked back to down the course, waiting for Josh to come in.
As he came by, I threw my sweaty, disgusting hat at him, "Here, take my sweaty disgusting hat!"

This time, I am the smug bastard, and he is left holding the hat.
Until next time...

Photo by Shannon

Josh has his version of events here.
Der Scott has his Scream! race report here.

The Scream 2011
The best thing about this race was that I was able to run it at all.
A year ago, I was signed up for it but had to sit it out because of my bad knee.
In 2011, I also had to sit out Uwharrie Rumble, Running of the Bulls 8K, Salem Lakes 30K, New York Marathon, etc, etc.

Doctors, MRI, cortisone injections, nothing helped. I just couldn't run consistently... until I went barefoot.
There are a lot of barefoot evangelists out there, but it was only watching Josh run farther, faster, and healthier that convinced me to try barefoot and stick with it.

Whatever the result of the Scream! was, Josh had already won. He has another convert.
Yes, I had to go back to the cushy shoes for this race, but that was an exception.
When I head out the door for a typical morning run, I won't be wearing shoes. I'm running again, and my knees feel great.

Thanks Josh!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Please, I Need You Back

I'm so sorry for what I did. Please, I want you... I need you back.
You were so good to me for 2 years, and I just dumped you. I called you fat. I called you lazy and obtuse. I blamed you for all my problems and tossed you out in the garage with the sawdust and spiderwebs.

You were right, leaving you for that pair of Montrails was a huge mistake. They were narrow and unstable, just like you said. When I finally accepted that four months ago, they went right into the garbage can, I swear. And that young, slim, trendy pair I've been running in lately? Yes, they are as shallow and unsupportive as they appear. Those Trail Gloves didn't help me at all when the going got really rough.

I'm weak and damaged. I admit now that I am not strong enough to endure the long gravel road that stretches before me. I can't face it all on my own. Please, my old trusty Brooks Pillow Plodders, you are the only ones who can help me now.
One last time? For old times' sake?

These both fit my feet perfectly.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Scream Training

My previous post showed The Scream half marathon profile, which I repeated above. While the image is stretched out and exaggerated, the numbers are accurate.

While trying to train for this race, I discovered that running down long steep grades of more than 3% is really freaking hard. And as you can see, The Scream has some long stretches of a lot more than 3%.

Roll With It
Up until now, mstrategy for running downhill was to just "roll with it". 
believed that fighting gravity just trashed your quads and wasted valuable potential energy. 
So I would just move my legs as fast as I could and not worry about pace. Didn't matter if that meant an all-out sprint in the middle of an 40 mile ultra, I would just catch my breath on the next uphill.

The problem with the "roll with it" strategy is that it only works for very short descents, like the ones in the local single track trails. The acceleration of gravity is constant. So on a long decent, no matter how fast you are going, it wants you to go faster.

That is, until you hit about 100 mph when the air resistance will balance the force of gravity out. [Actually it would be a lot less than that, and if I was smart I could calculate the top speed with the angular force vectors depending on the slope, air density, "friction" of your legs, etc.]

The point is that on a long downhill more than a quarter mile my legs just can't keep up with it. So for 13 miles of downhill, I needed to learn to descend at a "moderate" pace.

Descending at a moderate pace means slowing yourself down, gracefully absorbing the downward force with your legs.

I have no doubt that big cushy shoes can absorb some of this force for you and make it easier. 
I am also sure that some barefoot zealots will argue that your feet and legs can do a better job than foam rubber, but currently mine cannot.

I find that running a steep downhill in minimal shoes is very hard (and forget about barefoot). It takes an enormous amount of quickness and coordination to gently place your foot on the ground, and there is no margin for error.
It is like having raw eggs being thrown at you, three times per second (or faster), and having to catch them without having them break.

I have seriously thought about breaking out the cushy shoes again just for The Scream. Hmmmm.

Training Plan #1: Gravescrew
To train for The Scream, I tried to find a place around here that is most like the course.
Shannon said that Corkscrew Hill in Umstead is a lot like the course.
It is gravel-ly, has a lot of twists and turns, and is relatively steep. Measuring from Cedar Ridge down to the bridge, it drops 160 feet in about 2/3 of a mile, for a -4.5% grade. 

I had planned on running repeats of this hill, but that just seemed like a lot of work and really not fun.

So instead for training I just ran out to the top of Graveyard Hill and ran from there down Corkscrew to the bridge. I call it "GraveScrew". I did repeats of one. This was about 1.4 miles with 200 feet of drop. Kind of like one tenth The Scream. It's a deci-scream.

Again, this seemed really hard to run down at a moderate pace. I would either be sprinting way too fast or plodding too slow. I think I ran it 4 times and each time was slower.

Training Plan #2: Sliding Treadmill
Next I tried propping up the back end of our treadmill.
This chunk of wood made it a -5% grade.

I tried to run on this, but I hated it. It felt impossible to relax and get a normal stride on it. I was struggling and hyperventilating when running at a 6 min/mile pace. Then I realized it was actually 6 mph, a 10 min/mile.
After that, I decided running in the 99% humidity, 90 degree heat, and swarming flies was preferable.

Shannon loved the descending treadmill and just ran a 5K PR on it, going just under 20 minutes for the first time. Now she is a good downhill runner.
Though without the rubber legs holding it in place, the treadmill slid all the way across the room.

Lula gazes down the mountain

Training Plan #3: On The Course
We took an impromptu trip out to Jonas Ridge a couple weeks ago and did a training run on the course as a preview. We did 4 miles, running from mile marker 2 to 6. It has a steady -4.3% grade.

If I am good at running downhill, I figured I should easily set a 4 mile PR as well as 5K PR.
Here is how it went:

Mile 1- 5:45 , holy crap, this is steep
Mile 2- 6:00 , holy crap, I am out of breath
Mile 3- 6:30 , holy crap my legs are shot.
Mile 4- 7:00 , holy crap, please let this be over.

My time in the Umstead 4 miler was faster, and that was before I was actually training.

So with that reality check, I had to re-access my goals:

  • Beat Josh
  • Half Marathon PR
  • Don't hurt myself

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scream Half Marathon Preview

The course mostly looks like this
Well, "The Scream" is a week away, and I am somewhat terrified.

When I signed up, I had this delusion that I was a "good" downhill runner and this race would play to my strengths. But after a few weeks of trying to train for it, I have to say this:
Whoops! I was really wrong. Not good at downhills. No sir.

Any downhill running skill I had went into the garbage can when I threw away my cushioned shoes 4 months ago. More on that in my next post.

The Course
The course is mostly on gravel roads winding through the Pisgah National Forest. It is twisty, curvy, and somewhat gravel-ly. See the photo above that Shannon took last year.

It is almost all downhill:

Total Elevation Change: -2300 Feet
Average Grade: -3.3%

Now -3.3% isn't too bad, and I might find that run-able. But that is the average.
Here is the profile:

Compared to Umstead
Now these numbers are kind of hard grasp for those of us who live in relatively flat Eastern North Carolina.
Around here, we call Umstead State Park "hilly", and think a 3% grade is steep.

To give you Raleigh based runners some idea, here is The Scream compared to the NCRC Half Marathon that is run on the Reedy Creek bridle trail through Umstead:

Yikes. That makes Umstead look like a pancake, and The Scream a... a... I don't know, maybe a giant cranberry walnut muffin. OK, now I am scared... and hungry.

NEXT: Training for "The Scream"

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

2012 Raleigh's Finest 5K

[The rest Shannon's photos from the race are here.]

I let Shannon sign me up for yet another race, because my legs were feeling OK, and I thought I could use it as a training run for "The Scream". It was also for a good cause:

This race benefits "...the spouse and children of police officers, sheriff deputies, firemen, EMS squad members and North Carolina State Highway Patrol serving in Wake County who lose their life in the line of duty."
A great cause for sure, but it is outrageous that it is even necessary. Any half-way sane society would be paying police officers and firemen a decent wage and completely taking care of their families should something happen to them. But sane we are not.

Shoes or No Shoes?
I was having trouble deciding whether to wear shoes or not.
My 3 barefoot races so far have gone really well, though a little slower than I am capable of in shoes.
But I'll be wearing my Merrell Trail gloves for The Scream, and I need more practice running on roads in them.

When I saw that there no less than three TV news crews there, it was decided for me.
"Oh barefoot all the way!"
Finally! I will get the attention and adulation I deserve for my hard core barefoot badassery, all on the Five O'clock News!

The Anthony Twins

Another Barefooter?!!
"Hey, how are you doing!", said the 8 foot tall barefoot guy standing at the start next to me.
Crap. Another barefoot runner? Suddenly I went from barefoot-running-superman to just another schmuck with his shoes off.
"Anthony", I introduced myself.
"Yes. And you are?", he asked.
"Anthony. I'm Anthony."
"Oh, so am I!"
Crap. Another Anthony? Far from newsworthy, I'm a dime-a-dozen

It's ON
"So I guess it's the race of the barefoot Anthonys!", I said, and we were off.

The course is a simple, flat, out-and-back on Oberlin Road.
For the first half mile, the asphalt is a little rough, but it seemed a little better on the right where the car tires had worn it smooth. So I went out really fast trying to find open spot to run there.

I hit the half way turn-around at 9:22, which is exactly a 6 min/mile.
The temperature would hit 105° that day, but at the 8:30 am race start, it was a comfortable 82°. I dumped a cup of cold water on my head at the water stop, and didn't feel hot at all.

My feet and legs felt great, the best they have felt in almost 2 years. The road was smooth and flat.
Nothing could stop me from a sub-19 minute finish!

Nothing, except the fact that I am not in that kind of shape.
With a half mile to go, I was completely winded. I simply couldn't suck in enough oxygen.
There was a guy who had run the entire race next to me, who finally spoke, "How are the feet?"
"Fine", I said between gasps.
"Why did you start out so fast?", he asked, in a genuine way that made it sound like I had done it as part of a strategy.
"Because I'm an idiot who still doesn't know how to pace himself" was the right answer, but I mumbled something about finding room to run.

Completely running out of gas, I was passed by 4 people before stumbling across the finish line.
There were no TV cameras crews waiting for me.

The Good
  • I finished in 19:23, a barefoot PR!
  • I was the fastest barefooter named Anthony
  • My feet felt great
  • I would not have been any faster in shoes. 

The Bad
  • I would not have been any faster in shoes.
  • This means 19:23 is where I am at right now, well off my 18:15 PR from 2 years ago
  • It means my chances against Barefoot Josh look bleak, with his recent 17:38 5K 
  • I actually did end up on the 5 o'clock news, but not running barefoot. I was walking around looking confused, scratching my head, searching for a bathroom.

NEXT: "The Scream" Preview.

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