Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Marathon Two Weeks After a 100

Since exhausting my collegiate athletic eligibility and shifting my focus to ultra trail related competition, I haven't raced often or fast.  If you look over my race results and race schedule you'll never see a bunch of races, especially not in close proximity.  I feel content with finding a few focus races for the year and spending large chunks of time training and gearing up for those races.  So it was out of the ordinary when I was toeing the line at the Columbus Marathon just two weeks after completing the Grindstone 100.  Not only would this race be in close proximity to my last race, but it would also be a shorter and faster race than what I have ran in many years.  I had run one marathon previous to this years Columbus and it was in 2011 at the NAIA National Championship - since then it has been mostly trail ultras in terms of competition.  I went from low-key trail ultras to the pavement in the big city - this would be different!

      -Strava data (Garmin Forerunner 310xt)

I'm not entirely sure why I decided to run the marathon in such short recovery time after the Grindstone 100.  I guess it had to do with my internal desire to find out how much I can handle or how far I can push myself.  I knew it would be a grind from the start - but I wanted to face that feeling of straight up sore, dead legs.  I knew I wouldn't set my personal best marathon time, but it was not about running the fastest I could for 26.2 miles.  This was an experiment, much of what running is for many people.

In the two weeks between Grindstone and Columbus, I ran a total of 18 miles, mostly just short jaunts to loosen my legs.  Fitness wasn't an issue - weeks upon weeks of long runs in the months prior meant that I would have the fitness to run 26.2 miles.  This two week period was a matter of recovering and getting my body to be as healthy and fresh as possible.  After a 100 mile race, I will typically do the same thing, except without another hard effort at the end of that recovery period.  My muscles and core structure were feeling pretty good in the days after Grindstone.  With the course being a mix of technical uphills and downhills, I was never using the same muscle for a prolonged time.  I think this made recovery easier than my previous 100's because I was able to spread out the usage in my legs.  The only hot spot was my right hip muscles which permeated through my upper leg muscles - once I was sure I had that cleared up I was set to go ahead and run the marathon.

Race morning was quite the difference at the marathon compared to the ultras I've been accustomed too.  Instead of rolling out of my tent to a quiet early morning in the forest, with a couple hundred racers getting ready, I pulled into downtown Columbus with 18,000 other runners, music blaring on the streets, fireworks, and the whole shebang.  I felt out of place and nervous - not nervous from pre-race jitters but nervous about being in the huge crowd.  Luckily I was able to get into the elite corral and miss a lot of the hustle, but I was still sort of buzzed from the hype around me.

I won't go into much of how the race played out except for a short synopsis.  I started out feeling surprisingly fresh and smooth - this might have been from the adrenaline pumping from the festivities at the starting line.  I made it through 10 miles feeling strong and in 9th place.  I went through the half marathon in 10th place at around 1:16:30.  This was fast and not too far off my PR, but I wanted to ride every ounce of good feeling that I could get.  The second half of the race presented me the grind that I knew was coming.  It hurt - for 13.1 more miles I felt the shock of every step I took two weeks ago at Grindstone reverberate through my legs.  My pace slowed from 5:40's in the first half to 6:00's to 6:30's and I was passed by 13 people.
In the last mile, feeling rough!
The race went exactly how expected - it was a grind.  I ended up finishing in 24th place in 2:39:54.  The second half was about 7 minutes slower than the first.  Even though it was such a grind and even though I was in so much discomfort, it was strangely fun and satisfying pushing through that feeling.  Each mile was a small test with separate goals and I was able to tough out some low moments.  Even though I was out of my comfort zone and running through an unfamiliar setting, it was a fun and fulfilling event.

A few takeaways from running a Marathon two weeks after a 100 Miler:
  • Road marathons are cool and I'd like to do more than I have in the past, but I will be sticking to trail ultras for the majority of my races.
    • I'd like to take a good shot at training seriously for a fast marathon someday and getting a solid PR, and then be done with competing seriously in marathons.
  • I am not Mike Wardian.  Mike can recover like non other and I think it is incredible how he can run such fast times in marathons so short after ultras.
  • Being uncomfortable is just temporary.  This is a mantra that I've repeated in ultra's lately and it found its way to my mind in this marathon.  Knowing this helps me get through the low moments and push harder.
  • To run successful ultras, even in mountains, there is a need for speed.  I'm not saying mountain ultra runners need to be pounding out road marathons, but running fast regularly during training adds a lot of strength to the well.   
  • As a ultra runner, it is okay to do something different.  I have sworn against road marathons too long - it is okay to do something other than run trails :) especially if it helps your training.  
With Bobbi, who ran the half, after I finished the marathon. 
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 Grindstone 100 Mile Race Report

3rd place - 19:32:26
    -Strava data (Garmin Forerunner 310xt)

The Grindstone 100 was slated to be the key focus race for my 2014 schedule.  Once not qualifying for Western States via the lottery, and narrowly missing a chance with a 4th place at Ice Age, I directed my focus toward finding and training for a fall 100 miler.  I needed another Western States qualifying race in order to enter the 2015 lottery, and after being inspired from spectating this years Hardrock 100, Grindstone was a perfect fit to meet those two requirements.  Plus, Dr. Horton was quite convincing when urging me to register for Grinstone as we stood and chatted in Silverton.  So it was, I had from mid-July until the first Saturday of October to train and prepare for my first mountainous 100 mile run, not to mention my first ultra that would be ran primarily in the dark.

I knew I had a really solid base from many weeks of 100 miles or more plus a steady stream of fast workouts from the spring.  I also got a fair amount of running at elevation during a 5 week trip through Wyoming, Oregon, California, and Colorado.  The trip West gave me some good time going up big mountains such as the Nolan's route up Mt. Elbert, the Classic Keyhole Route up Longs Peak, and bits and pieces of the Hardrock 100 course.  In the 11 weeks between being out West and Grindstone, I just hoped to build on my fitness with more long runs, sprinkled with some fast tempo runs, while hopefully maintaining some mountain fitness.

While I never reached the mileage I wanted in those 11 weeks leading up to Grindstone, I did feel confident in getting 7 runs of at least 3 hours or longer including two 50k+  runs where I gained a significant amount of elevation, even for Ohio.  Still, motivation was lacking on many days and I found too many excuses to skip runs.  This worried me slightly as I've never had trouble getting out the door for runs.  Normal runs were hard to get motivated for - the only days I was truly excited were days that I ran long, did a hard workout, or planned to meet with people for trail runs.  I told someone before Grindstone that I would either be undertrained or really fresh for the race...

Other sources of apprehension were present as well.  First, I am from Ohio so getting a lot of elevation is not easy to come by.  Grindstone has over 23,000' of elevation gain, plus the same amount of elevation loss.  How would my quads hold up to that amount of downhill running?  Running through the night was slightly worrisome as well.  I've ran a fair amount of longer runs with my headlamp but not on these types of trails.  I knew the Grindstone course was technical and rocky, coupling that with my already less than stellar downhill running ability, and the dark - it had me thinking I would be really slow through these sections.
Received the 4 seed - behind Neal (1), Jeff (2), and Brian (3).
Race Day
When Friday rolled around all the apprehensions washed away and I anxiously awaited the 6:00 pm start time.  After the pre-race briefing from RD Clark Zealand we all had another 4-5 hours to wait for the start.  The topic of the day seemed to be what the weather was going to be like for the start and through the night.  There was a good chance of rain and the hours leading up to the start saw just that.  It was different having a late afternoon start rather than the typical 5-6 am start of most 100 milers.  Camp Shenandoah seemed to be more calm with less rushing around as normal but the rain was still coming down.  After trying to get some rest I started to gather my gear and headed over to the start area.  I kissed my wife goodbye and just like that nearly 250 runners headed off for a long adventure in the forest.  

The Fog
I can't remember how long it rained - I guess I didn't pay much attention too it because there were other things more important to focus on, namely the fog.  I settled into the back of a pack of 10 or so runners at the start.  I knew there were a handful of guys that I wanted to keep an eye on who I knew would run a smart and solid race.  Josh Finger was way out in front and shortly after punching in at Elliott's Knob (mile 10)  I settled into the back of a pack of 4 that included Jeff Browning, Brian Rusieki, and Neal Gorman.  We were still chasing Josh, but I could tell this was the correct place to be at this point.  Even at this stage in the race I knew the eventual winner would come from this group.

What was more challenging than the rain was the fog brought by the warm moist land and cooler air.  Our headlamps had a hard time cutting through the water crystals floating through the air, and instead reflected around the dense cloud surrounding us.  At this point, I was happy to have three guys to run with, as it increased visibility slightly.  With the unstable rocky trail below us, we had to focus more than normal on the footing.  Although it slowed us, I skated through this section without rolling over an ankle or tripping, which is good considering my lack of training on rocky downhill and the fog.  At some point during this foggy downhill section before the Dowells Draft aid station (22 miles) Jeff was fourth in line and he asked to get around us.  He was clearly feeling comfortable on the downhill and it would be the last that I saw of him the remainder of the race.  I would have liked to say that I was able to catch back up to him late in the race and actually contended, but he gained the entire way.  Props to Jeff for a great race, the win, and the completion his 30th 100 mile!

Getting Tough
Things started to spread out heading into Dowells Draft and then the Lookout Mountain aid station (30 miles).  Sometime in this section Jordan Chang caught up to Brian and I and we all basically ran in and out of Dowells Draft together along with Neal.  Positions started to juggle around a bit and I moved ahead of Josh after his early lead.  I was in second alone for a time being but Jordan once again caught up to me and we ran into the North River Gap (35.5 miles) together.  The last section seemed to be going well for me, and I was already a third of the way through.

Coming out of North River Gap was when things started to get rough for the first time.  Even though I had left Jordan walking up the long climb to Little Bald Knob, I was beginning to feel a low point - my perception of time was getting off, and I kept wanting the next aid station to be there.  What seemed like forever, took even longer and the 7.8 miles between North River Gap and Little Bald Knob dampened my spirits.  When I finally rolled into the aid station I was still in 2nd place but I was expecting to see lights behind me any moment.  After spending no more than one minute at the previous 5 aid stations, I took about 4-5 minutes getting some real sustenance in my body and I needed it desperately!  The aid station workers here were great, as they tried to encourage me to get moving - they also had pierogi's, which was the best ultra food that I could have imagined at that point!  As I was getting ready to leave the aid station, another light came down the trail and I didn't wait around to see who it was.
That big climb right there at 35 miles is where things got rough for me, and again at 65.
After Little Bald things didn't get much better for a while.  I was able to resume running along the flat grassy road after the long uphill walk, but it was a slow run.  Once turning off the grassy road onto the gravel road heading to Reddish Knob (49 miles) that headlamp caught up to me and it was Jordan once again.  This was the second time he had caught me and it shows how consistent his race was.  We chatted for a while and power-hiked at a quick clip up the gravel road before Brian rolled along.  After running through the dark alone for a long time, having a couple companions was uplifting and I was happy to be running, as Brian was rolling along good at this point.  Brian and I ran up to the Reddish Knob punch location, but couldn't find the punch.  We didn't search long and headed back down the paved road together all the way to the turnaround point.  We saw Jeff coming the opposite direction and was informed later that he had a good 35 minutes on us!

It was nice to see my wife at the turn-around.  I put my head on her shoulder and told her that I was just ready for this to be over.  Although I had no intentions of even thinking about dropping out, I was tired, ready for daylight, and in need of a moral boost.  I didn't spend too much time here (~2.5 minutes), but Brian left with his pacer and I headed out along a minute or two after him.  Much like Jeff, I never saw Brian again after the turn-around, and he secured 2nd place easily.

Turning Things Around
All I was focused on in the next section was turning things around.  I knew I had about 15 miles of either downhill or flat running where I could use my strengths.  I wasn't as concerned about catching Brian or closing the gap with Jeff as I was on making a bigger gap between me and 4th place, which was Jordan.  I was able to run pretty fast on the paved road before the Reddish Knob aid station (54 miles) and kept a consistent forward motion back into Little Bald Knob again where I refueled on Pierogi's and Ginger Ale, another welcomed ingestion.  Here though, I learned I was around 15 minutes behind Brian, which means he must have really nailed the last section.

Now I had the long section back to Dry River Gap (65.65 miles) and this time it was downhill, which was a lot better than going up.  This might have been the best section of the race for me all day.  I was able to run almost the entire time into Dry River Gap with some pretty quick sections.  When I rolled in to see my wife and crew again, my spirits were high and I was full of energy.  This must have been strange to see after being so low last time they had seen me!  I learned I was only about 8 minutes behind Brian, and that Jeff had increased his lead to 41 minutes.

I was expecting to pick up a pacer at this aid station, either Jeremy Ramsey or Micah Jackson, but they were nowhere to be found when I rolled in, so I just had to leave alone again.  I later learned that they fell asleep in their car at one of the aid stations and was barely late in catching me.  Luckily it was no harm done as I don't think it affected anything.  I did however go through a 5 minute section where I was feeling sorry for myself and wishing I had a pacer but soon realized that I just needed to get over it and run.

Sun Up, Spirit Down
After the two-thirds point the sun was about to come up but I was entering another low point.  I tried to ride the high of the last section but the uphill to Lookout Mountain (72 miles) wore on me.  I couldn't take in the beautiful views the sun glistened upon because I was staring down at the rocky terrain that slowed my power hike to a stroll.  Even after the aid station when the trial was more grassy and smooth, I walked and walked slow.  Once again I was expecting someone to come up from behind me.  Eventually the trail went down and I was able to start running again, but running now was with a new added amount of uncomfortable.  It was being accepted that this would be the feeling I had to endure the remaining 25 miles.  As I neared Dowells Draft (80 miles) my pacer, Micah, was coming up the trail.

Dowells Draft was a crucial moment in the race.  There was a lot of people here trying to help me out including my crew, Horton, Jeremy and Micah, and the aid station workers.  They were asking how my nutrition was going, which was not good at this point, and started forcing me to eat.  I was able to get a lot of solid food down here and it was needed because Adam Wilcox had just run in the aid station and left right ahead of me.  Jordan was also coming in as Adam and I ran up the trail.  I had spent maybe 6-8 minutes here and it was time to get going!
Coming into Dowells Draft at mile 80 in need of a boost.
I promise I'm not that happy to be standing next to Horton.
 Pushing Through
After leaving Dowells Draft with my pacer, I caught back up to Adam and we power-hiked at a good clip up the long rocky climb.  This seemed to take forever but all the calories I had consumed kicked in and it was fairly easy going.  I was content to tuck in behind Adam with Micah behind me.  I focused on making conscious steps and conserving energy while I could.  Once cresting the top of the hill Adam had to peel off the trail to tend to his foot, and I was back in third place.  I ran the last little downhill section to Dry Branch Gap (87.8 miles) with the mindset that Adam was right behind me still and that Jordan was probably not that far back.  I once again was able to get some good calories down (yum, tomato soup) as it was vital for my energy to make sure I did so.

I left Dry Branch Gap and made a conscious effort to push hard for a good amount of time.  Everything hurt, don't get me wrong, but I was really able to have a good push here.  I thought to myself, "if I am able to run hard for 5 minutes, I could double the gap between me and 4th place."  I had just walked up the last long climb with Adam, so I thought he might be thinking that I would walk again on this climb, so I ran as long as I could up the hill presuming he would be walking.  Although I wasn't running fast, I figured that if I was able to run ~16 minute pace, and he walked ~20 minute pace, I would gain 4 minutes in just one mile.  So that is what I did.  I cranked hard, ran when I could and walked hard when I had to for the next several miles.

Eventually Micah and I left the woods at Elliott's Knob (~90 miles) after a good stretch of trails.  Running down the steep gravel road from Elliott's Knob was brutal - this is why they call this Grindstone.  My quads were trashed, but luckily they weren't seizing up, so I just pushed through it.  Eventually we made it to the more flat and tame horse trails and to the last aid station at Falls Hollow (96.7 miles), where there was just 5 miles to go.  It was refreshing to see my wife and give her one last hug knowing that I was going to finish soon!

The Finish
After getting some more fuel, I was on the home stretch and it felt good!  Although I had fallen twice and tripped over a couple rocks, I was able to run the last section at a decent clip as the adrenaline of being finished was enough to power me on.  When I entered camp Shenandoah I knew I had two miles to go and I pressed hard to not leave any doubts.  The last thing I wanted was to have someone pass me the last two miles!  Mile 100 was my fastest mile of the day at 7:50!

Rounding the reservoir and coming down the driveway and into the finishing field was a welcome site.  After 19 hours and 32 minutes, 101.85 miles, and 23,000+ feet of elevation gain I finished Grindstone in 3rd place!
The feeling finishing a 100 miler is indescribable.
Final Thoughts
All in all, I couldn't be any more happy with what went down in the Central Virginia Mountains.  Even though I second-guessed myself, I was trained and ready to take this on, both physically and mentally.  I executed a solid race plan that saved my legs in the early parts so I could finish solid.  I didn't know how I would handle the 23,000' of elevation gain but it went well.  I just needed this to make me realize that hiking is okay and the most efficient way to get up a mountain.

My day was sort of like a roller coaster.  For the first 35 miles, everything was smooth.  I was feeling fresh and strong.  This was also the section with the most fog.  The next 15 miles were rough, followed by 15 solid miles, then about 15 more rough miles.  Luckily I had a solid last 20 miles to cap off the day.  I think the fog in the early parts forced people to take it easier than they normally would have, in turn making us more fresh for the last half.

Finishing Grindstone means I now have a Western States qualifier and a Hardrock qualifier.  I will enter both lotteries and be anxiously awaiting the December draw dates to see what my plans will be for next summer.  Western States is manageable, but Hardrock is a bit scary, but will do whichever one I get drawn for, and hoping I get a chance to do at least one!  I feel much more confident about doing a mountain 100 out west after finish Grindstone well.

It was great racing with such accomplished 100 milers.  At the briefing, Clark recognized those who had ran the most 100 milers.  This Grindstone I think was Gary Kniplings 70th 100 mile!  That is fantastic and inspiring.  Jeff Browning was on his 30th and AJW was over 30 - these are the folks that I admire and look up to in the ultra community.  I hope to someday be standing up when they ask who has ran over 30 100 milers.  
I'll never get tired of this feeling after a 100 miler.
A hug from my wife and a hug for the totem pole.
 Thank You
These 100 milers take a lot of effort, not just by the crazy folks who run them, but a lot of other people.  First, thanks to my wife, Bobbi, for being a great supporter in all respects, not just during the race but during countless hours of training and weeks leading up.  I could not do it without her!  To my sister for being a great co-crew with Bobbi!  You two make a great duo.  Thanks to Micah Jackson for pacing the last 20 miles - your course knowledge was great to have and your reminders to eat was crucial!  Thanks to Clark Zealand for putting on such great events, everything is smooth and now after being a race director myself, I know how much of an effort this is.  The volunteers at the camp provided great hospitality for the runners with food and facilities!  The aid station workers are super good at what they do.  They had some great hot foods like pierogi's, grilled cheese, tater tots, and tomato soup that fueled me to the end.  They constantly encouraged us and kept me moving!  Thanks to everyone who supports what I do - this was such a fun and fulfilling adventure!

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