Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week in Review - 3-9 April, and Bull Run Run 50-Mile Race Report

Comin' atcha now with that blah blah blah:

3 April 2011: 8 quasi-slow Canton/Fells/Fed Hill miles (60 minutes) in the morning, and a faster reprise (9 miles, 60 minutes) in the evening.

4 April 2011: 1 stupid mile, in about 10 minutes, in bare feet around Patterson Park, carrying my dress shoes, with my keys and phone in my pockets, post-Sara's-recital, keeping the streak alive.

5 April 2011: About 9 miles (65 minutes) at TNT, including the following workout: 4x(600m hard, 200m jog rest, 400m hard, 200m jog rest, 200m hard, 200m jog rest). First run in Asics Pirahna SP 3s, 4.6-oz miracles which can be summed up with two words: SO FAST. Oh yeah, workout times: (2:02, 77, 37), (2:12, 81, 37), (2:08, 83, 44), (2:08, 81, 37). (Yes, note the trend of the first set being fast, then getting slower, then getting faster again - I really think I have a mental block about the track sometimes, but that's a topic for another post.)

6 April 2011: 16 miles (conservatively; 1 hour, 53 minutes), in part with the Wednesday night Canton Square crew, and in part on my own, running at dusk in dangerous places like East Monument Street, and being called a black boy's "n-word." Street cred, yo.

7 April 2011: Orioles magic, as they come back from 2-0, 4-2, and 5-4 to defeat the Detroit Tigers 9-5. Went there, saw it, bought a 40-dollar "on-field" official home team hat. Oh, and because my running streak needs to stay alive, 2 miles (15 minutes) around Patterson Park just before midnight, just beating the buzzer.

8 April 2011: Pre-furlough(-that-never-came) madness at work, combined with pre-Bull-Run-Run traffic that make a 2 hour drive take a little over 3 hours (thanks DC-area highways on a Friday at around 6), so this was another stupid mile (10 minutes), around the Hemlock Overlook camp.

9 April 2011: 54 miles; Bull Run Run 50-Mile in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds, 10th overall, plus a mile and a half warmup (10 minutes) and a mile and a half warmdown (10 minutes), and later, a mile just because, well, you'll see in my totals . . .

Total Time: 812 minutes (not a very round number)
Total distance: 100 miles (a round number)

Before I get to the (probably epically too-long) race report, you'll notice that this was the week of stupid mileage. Lots of elsewhere-in-my-life activity happened that precluded some of the running that I had planned. On the other hand, I knew I had a 50-mile chunk coming in on Saturday, so ironically, even though this was officially my highest-mileage week in 2011, it was also, in some ways, my "easiest" week in 2011, relative to my recent activity. It was also a lot of fun, running stupid short distances at stupid times. Definitely not something to do as serious training runs all the time, but maybe something to incorporate now and then, because just running randomly for about 10 minutes is a different (and often surprisingly fun) way of doing business.

Okay, now for the race report:

I'm going to try to simplify and shorten as much as possible here, because in a way, Bull Run was a very simple race for me this year. Okay, fine, my goal for the race was a bit ambiguous and complicated:

1. Run at least as fast, or faster than last year (most likely meaning a time between 7 and 8 hours), but feel much stronger doing it.

2. Win prizes.

3. Have fun.

As such, coming into the race, with the help of the illustrious David Alan Snipes, I put together an all-male "team" to compete for the "fastest male team" prize (fleece blankets). The team was Matt Bugin (at Dave's recommendation), John Cassilly (Matt's running buddy), Jack Pilla (who won Vermont in 2009, in just over 16 hours, and who Sara, who was working the finish line aid station then, thought was me, because him and I look similar, although he is 52), and me. We were all looking to run in the 7-8 hour range, so I felt that our team would be pretty competitive, even with the "WUS" teams, which are typically stacked with the fastest runners, in the mix. This was all in keeping with goals 2 and 3 above (particularly the team's name, "Equipo de Deportes," or, in English, "Sports Team," the best I could come up with three hours before team registration closed).

The drive to the race was not fun, as it took nearly 3 hours, but fortunately, even though I showed up half an hour after dinner ended, I was still able to pick up my packet and eat leftovers in the lodge, while I caught the end of the pre-race briefing, and met with my teammates for the first time. None of us actually knew each other, other than online (except for Matt and John), so it was a little awkward and first, but being the non-psycho version of ultrarunners, we were all cool, and Jack's wife (who runs, but is still recovering from surgery, so was crewing for Jack during the race) was also cool, so I knew that everything would be cool. (Cool.) Jack and I retired to our respective cars early for sleep, and Matt and John slept in the cabins (although Matt got fed up with somebody's snoring in the middle of the night, and moved all of his stuff out to his car and slept there instead).

I woke up at 5:15, 15 minutes later than I do on a normal workday, after having gone to bed at 9:00, hours earlier than I do on a normal workday, so I felt a lot fresher than I usually do in the morning. After a disgusting breakfast of half a sesame-seed bagel with peanut butter, 3/4ths of a muffin, and some water, I ambled down to the starting line, and got up front with the rest of our team, which, although there was no requirement to do so, packed up to run together at the start.

It became quickly obvious that Jack was going to take off and do his own thing, but Matt, John, and I stuck together in a loose pack for about the first ten miles. This brought back cross-country memories, as we traded the lead, talked trash, pushed each other through the tougher spots, and turned on the intimidation factor as we passed other runners in a group. The trail got muddier and muddier closer to the turn-around, and both Matt and I were wearing MT101s (in black), which are awful on mud, while John was wearing some sort of heavy shoe with giant lugs, so he would pass us on the muddy sections, we would curse his lugs, and then scramble to make up the distance on the dry sections.

As the trail got dryer as we neared the 16-ish mile mark (the start/finish area, and beginning of the second out-and-back), Matt and I put some distance on John, and we chatted about running philosophy, work, life, the universe, everything. Matt and I are the same age, and although Matt hasn't been running ultras for as long as I have, I found we were very similar in a lot of ways, which was really reassuring, and a huge mental boost in a race like this. I probably should have mentioned, at the start, that goals 1 and 3 were potentially in conflict, in that running on the slow end of what I thought would be doable would be an "also-ran" performance, while running on the fast end would most likely be top-ten. So, in the interest of every race being a little scary (and therefore, on some level, a growth experience), the fact that I was running very comfortably with somebody who I could really relate to was mostly easing that fear. That said, Matt has a lot more experience on trails than I do, and he finished top-10 at Holiday Lake (my first-race-of-2011 learning experience/disaster), so there was still an element of intimidation factor, particularly at any point where he would temporarily take the lead, or zoom down a hill that I was approaching more cautiously.

Our comfortable pace continued towards the marathon mark (as it turns out, Matt's entered in the Boston Marathon this year - it will be his first one - do the similarities ever end?), and it was about this time in the race that we finally started to chase people down. In these races, typically the faster guys go out hard, slow down in the middle, and then find something left at the end. Matt and I had been going at a pretty steady pace all day, and while Matt was concerned that we would never see anybody, I reassured him that if we could hold steady, we'd gradually make up ground. Sure enough, we started picking off runners in front of us, including Keith Knipling as we climbed one of the short-but-vicious back-half hills. Matt decided that he wanted to pass authoritatively, so we bombed down the hill faster than I would have liked, but I was still hanging in, so, whatever.

Then, when we got to the "Do Loop," a 3-mile circuit through leaf-covered, short, steep, zig-zagging hills, Matt fell apart. I didn't realize that I had dropped him until about halfway in, when I noticed that I was no longer hearing footsteps behind me, and I thought his calf was the problem. As it turned out later, his nutrition was the issue - not enough calories (been there, oddly enough, at Holiday Lake this year). So now I was running alone, with only the crew teams on the lake and the aid station volunteers as human life, and I was vaguely worried. I pulled back on my attack on the jack-knife hills, worried that maybe I would also burn out. After all, thanks to my unintentional taper, there was no way of knowing how much I had left in the tank - maybe I just felt good because several days this past week, I ran only a mile or two, but I didn't have enough to go 50 miles at this pace on this kind of training/rest. I recalled that we hit the marathon mark in 3:43, which would be on pace for a 7:06 50-mile - the aggressive end of my time goal. Finally, as I approached the aid station at the end of the loop, I decided to take the advice of an aid station volunteer earlier in the race, who, seeing me staring at the table with a puzzled look as I pondered which cookies to eat this time, and whether I needed to eat something saltier than that, told me that I was "thinking too hard." Bottom line was that I was feeling good, and I needed to just keep running.

So I did, and then I started passing the hundreds of people who were still on their way out. I smiled at each one of them and told them "good job" as they passed, because it's the good-person thing to do, and because I was wearing my Natural Vitality t-shirt and hat, and wanted to make my Badwater sponsor proud. (Incidentally, the cotton/hemp fabric blend for the t-shirt? Really awesome cool-ish weather running wear; who would have thought?) As I neared the 40-mile mark, I sensed that this could be where the big crash might happen, so I kept smiling and looking as strong as people were telling me I was looking, because that way, if there was pain, I wouldn't feel it. One woman asked me what it was like to be young and fast, and then told me that "it looked good on me." Other than that, no particularly memorable comments, just lots of runners showing a lot of grit in being out there for that long.

I reached the aid station 10 miles from the finish, still not having passed any runners in front of me, but a man at the aid station told me that there was a runner not too far ahead, so this spurred me on for the next 5-mile stretch. Over that stretch, I passed him, and I also passed Aaron Schwartzbard, one of the WUS runners that Matt had mentioned that he wanted us to pass, so I felt a little disappointed that Matt wasn't there to share in this kill (although it was a bit anti-climactic, because Aaron was dying and actually very politely let me pass, as I was power-walking an uphill, before I even got right up on him). I reached the last aid station, about 5 miles from the finish, still feeling pretty good, but really wanting to use the bathroom.

Here were the final gambles. I knew there were port-a-pots ahead, near the soccer field, but I didn't know how much distance I had on people behind me, or whether or not somebody would try to make a move. I also wasn't sure how much food I needed to prevent a late-race crash, a la Holiday Lake, and it would be awful to have this effort end with a 20-minute final mile (or 40-minute final two miles) and blow my race. I decided that 3 Oreos was enough food for 5 miles, and that I would play the bathroom thing by ear. As it turned out, the 3rd Oreo was either at my limit, or one too many, because I spent the last 5 miles on the verge of vomiting. I also decided that the port-a-pot, although very tempting, was something that I could handle after the 3-ish miles left to finish, and uncomfortably passed on the opportunity. I felt okay about this, because I had completed the previous 5-mile stretch in about 40 minutes, so if I could hit 40-ish minutes on this, I would be flirting with sub-7:30, and it's nice to be under a number like that. As I neared the finish line (which I knew because I remembered that the bluebells get denser about a mile from the end), I was finally relieved that the "crash" that I had expected from previous 50-mile races, had not come, and was unlikely to come at this point. On the last steep climb to the end, I passed Jack, coming down the hill after his race, who told me "no walking!" on the hill. So I muscled up the longest, steepest hill in the race as fast as I could, and as it turned out, this was a good thing - I finished in 7:28:50, 10th place (in the top-ten visor, as no prize money is involved here), an uncomfortably narrow margin ahead of the next guy, who finished just two minutes behind (and just over 7:30).

As it turned out, Jack finished in 6:49:57, 4th place, setting a new over-50-years-old course record by a huge margin, and John came in not too long after I did, in 7:37:10, good for 14th place. Then the three of us stood around and worried about Matt, who John had passed, and said that he looked bad. To our very pleasant surprise, Matt came jogging in at 8:01:02, 24th overall - not bad for his first 50-mile race. So now the waiting game began, because the all-male WUS team's fourth was supposedly a 9.5-hour 50-miler, but their fastest runner, Matt Woods, set the course record in a blazing 6:08:14. Finally, enough time elapsed that it was mathematically impossible for them to win, and we all celebrated with hamburgers, hot dogs, cookies (ew, SO MANY COOKIES), and, best of all, sitting down.

The fact that we won the team competition was especially gratifying, since the WUS team was trying to stack the competition to win the male, female, and co-ed awards. As such, they couldn't put all of their fastest guys in the male team, or else their co-ed team might be too slow. In any case, some of the race organizers vaguely resented this type of prize-engineering, so a team of four people who only vaguely knew each other, and had a collective 1 prior finish, but came together to push each other to better races, and ultimately winning, was the feel-good story of the two minutes when they were actually thinking about it. So there.

But the real bottom line in all of this (besides the fact that blankets are an awesome team victory prize, because we were all very cold) is that I felt really great for the whole race, thereby accomplishing goal #1, arguably the most important of my goals. In a way, I feel bad about my performance, because it was, by some standards, "lazy," especially considering how many people laid it all out there today at this race, and at the American River 50. On the other hand, I am still walking normally, and feel as though I didn't just run 50 miles, which is really important for training through and running well in Boston. And all of that (which wound up being really long, sorry) can be summed up in two words that are becoming staples of this blog lately: Mission Accomplished.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on an amazing job. I love to read about the experiences of ultra runners from all paces. Your recount was very inspiring.

    I also wanted to congratulate you on your running streak. I am streaking also.
    Today is day # 336.