Monday, February 28, 2011

20-26 February: Week in Review, and Club Challenge 10-Mile Report

Okay, dates, times, distances:

20 February: 10 miles (74 minutes), Canton/Fells/etc.
21 February: 4 miles (29 minutes), Canton/Fells/etc.
22 February: 6 miles (42 minutes), including a "tempo" Patterson Park loop
23 February: 3 miles (25 minutes), APG
24 February: 8 miles (56 minutes), Canton/Fells/etc.
25 February: 2.5 miles, Campus Hills speed loop, 3.5 miles, treadmill hill program (51 minutes total)
26 February: 6 miles in the morning (40 minutes), 5 miles in the afternoon (35 minutes), all Canton/Fells

Total Time: 352 minutes
Total Distance: 48 miles

Definitely a decrease in mileage from the past couple of weeks, but considering that I didn't have a 30-ish mile run thrown in there, still decent volume, and overall, an appropriate draw-down, considering that the runs on the 24th through the 26th felt awful.

And speaking of which, Club Challenge . . .

The Club Challenge 10-Mile Race, hosted by the Howard County Striders, is a race that I've made a point of doing for the past few years, since it's the major Falls Road Running team race of the year. That's the fun part. Everything else about the race - the brutally hilly course, the end-of-February-when-nobody-is-totally-in-shape-yet, the distance (which is too long to be run outright "fast," but too short to just rely on endurance) - is, well, challenging. Every year, I wind up questioning my sanity around Mile 4 of this race, and every year I wind up finishing anyway, and totally forgetting how bad I felt the next day. That said, this post will not fully convey how bad it felt, since I've already partially forgotten that, but rest assured, it was worse than however this sounds.

Since this is a "relatively" short race, a relatively short summary is in order: I started out at just over 6 minutes for the first mile, hit the second mile in around 12:20, the third mile in around 19:20, and after that, the hills started coming and really did me in. The first couple were okay, but after that, I have never felt such blinding, excruciating pain in my quads when climbing a hill. The pain gradually disappeared on the flats and downhills, but of course, after a few miles on that course, there is never enough of either to regain any sort of rhythm. I ended up finishing in 1:06:37, which is 12 seconds faster than what I ran last year, but 1:48 slower than my fastest time at that race (although I think that may have been run the year that the course was 0.15 miles short).

So, in a way, not really much different from last year, which leaves me wondering how to feel about my performance. It was a strange race, because the limiting factor was not my aerobic fitness, but the fact that past the third mile, my quads felt like they might explode at any second. Other than my quads, I felt fairly strong, so it may just be that insufficient recovery from my weight room sessions was the culprit. By comparison, last year, I had done a 20-mile run the day before the race, and was incubating some kind of cold, hence my mediocre performance. That said, last year, I think that I performed closer to my theoretical capacity at that point. Even if I had been less sick and tired on race day last year, I don't think I could have gone that much faster. This year, had I not come in on a "bad" day, I think I would have had a faster time in me.

All water under the bridge at this point, but it does point to increased volume and sharper, more aggressive speedwork as the way to build from here (surprise, surprise). The diet and core exercises and all that seem to be working at the moment, so no need to mess with any of them. Hopefully, a better test of where I am will come this Saturday, at the Seneca Greenway Trail 50K.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

13-19 February: Week in Review, MMT 100 Preview

Okay, I didn't mean to clear the crowded theatre, but apparently, this stupid website really, REALLY wants me to, since no matter how many times I try to post this picture from this weekend's MMT Training Run at the END of this entry (the count is at about 5 now), it stubbornly inserts it at the BEGINNING, and adds three extra spaces after each paragraph for good measure. If this is some easy problem to solve, and you're laughing at me right now for not being able to fix this, then at least I've managed to entertain. (And wherever it winds up, or whatever horrific website it probably links to now, since who knows what else this website insists on insidiously breaking, it's still a cool picture.)
But if you're still reading . . . the business:

13 February: 10 miles (73 minutes), Canton/Fells/etc.

14 February: 6 miles (45 minutes), Patterson Park

15 February: Butcher's Hill reps (4, in 2:52, 2:51, 2:54, 2:56), 9 miles (60 minutes)

16 February: 3 miles (23 minutes), APG

17 February: 7 treadmill miles (10:00/mile, 10% grade), +1 mile warmup/warmdown (77 minutes total)

18 February: 6 miles in the morning (45 minutes), 9 miles in the evening (65 minutes), Patterson Park

19 February: 32-ish miles, MMT 100 Training Run #2 (6 hours, 42 minutes)

Total Time: 790 minutes
Total Distance: 83-ish miles

So, in summary, slight mileage bump-up, good distance, good intensity. Overall, a good week.

Also, on Friday, 18 February, I was accepted for Badwater 2011 - more about that in another post, but for now, suffice to say that I'm excited, and thank you to Natural Vitality Sports, my sponsor for this event.

. . .

This wouldn't be a typically verbose post if I ended it there. So for the rest of your attention span, I'm going to carry on about the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100, the greatest 100-miler I never ran (but am excited to finally be running for real this coming May). Get ready for disorganized discussion of the course, my race strategy, and maybe some other stuff that doesn't quite fit.

In the interest of qualifying myself for this mini-dissertation, I completed the Old Dominion 100-miler in 2008 (from which MMT 100 plagiarizes parts of its course), paced runners at MMT in both 2009 and 2010 (2009 was the year of the torrential overnight downpour), and ran substantial portions of the course during my attempt at The Ring in September 2010. Oh, and there was the training run this past Saturday ( For those of you who can't be bothered to click on the link, the training run covers about 30 miles in the middle of the course, which contains a mish-mash of terrain - everything from gently rolling gravel roads to rocky, technical, semi-exposed single-track, for a grand total of nearly 6,000 feet of climb (and around 5,500 feet of descent). All in all, a fair representation of the course as a whole.

The 6 hours and 42 minutes that it took me to complete this 30-ish mile section of the course doesn't sound too eye-popping. However, considering that I was running at "100-mile pace," this went very well. I ran (a conservatively estimated) about 2 miles off-course when I missed a turn onto the yellow trail heading towards Shawl Gap, and debatably took a wrong turn on the orange trail on the Veach Gap Ridge (opting for the leaf-covered, narrow, cliff-face-style exposed low road, as opposed to the wide, gentle, comfortable horse trail on the high side). Subtract about 20 minutes for shooting the breeze and having pictures of my cut-up MT100s next to somebody's giant puffy Hokas taken at the aid stations, and for taking pictures of the Shenandoah River and a fire in the valley and posting them to Facebook during the run, and add in a little bit of extra hustle assuming that I don't screw up my nutrition during the race, and I'm looking at a very comfortable 6 to 6.5 hours to finish what I would consider a very representative third of the race, a pace that would put me on track to finish between 18 and 20 hours. (Incidentally, the course record is something like 17:40).

All of which sounds outlandish for a city slicker who exhibits an occasional dislike of trails. And of course, there are a few things that could throw a wrench in the works: the weather (it's been brutally hot and unbearably cold there, all in the same race), poor nutrition, some really horrible section of trail that I forgot about, a stupid decision that causes me to get injured during the race, getting lost, probably a lot more things that I can't think of off the top of my head right now. With methodical preparation and good ol' common sense, the effects of these can be minimized, and rest assured I'll be compiling and cross-checking this list with appropriate mitigation strategies prior to race day.

But let's focus on why I think such an aggressive finishing time is achievable. First, I'm gradually coming around to the "trail running is the only kind of running" camp, although I will never give up my late-weekend-night runs around Canton, Fells, and the Inner Harbor (the drunken hecklers are too funny, and the homeless people usually say nice, encouraging things to you, when they're not shouting random racial slurs), and I refuse to grow a beard (I'm not sure that I could in the first place). In particular, I love the trails in the Massanuttens, as I've now amassed sufficient memories on them for the thought of a late-night, headlamp-guided, caffiene-addled rock stumble to get the adrenaline and endorphins flowing. In fewer words, mega-positive mental state about this race, but not the kind that's totally disconnected from reality. Yes, at times it might be miserable and hurt a lot, but for the thrill of power-hiking a steep incline, then reaching the top and barreling down a rock-strewn mountain at breakneck speeds, it's more than worth it. It's compelling enough that I now go out of my way to run on the grass in Patterson Park, or wherever else would otherwise be too "urban" to simulate trail running.

Second, patience and consistency are my strengths, and I believe these are also the key to running well at MMT. In many ways, MMT can be an infuriating race, especially for the front-running types that insist on dropping sub-6 minute miles where they can early in the race. By and large, the trail sections are very rocky and technical, and require a huge amount of coordination and patience to navigate successfully. When you're playing "track meet" from the start, you're chipping away at that reserve that you're going to need when you're sleep-deprived and trying to wade through a sea of rocks at mile 93. I've seen broken-down runners in 100-milers, but the breakdowns at MMT have definitely been the worst. Burn yourself out too soon, and you'll pay dearly at the end of this one.

Third (and following closely on the heels of the second point), I proved to myself this past weekend at the training run that the kind of effort needed to run sub-20 hours at MMT should be within my limits. I finished the training run feeling as though I could do it again (and again), and ran 9 miles the next day, without any significant soreness or lingering effects of the run. All this by fast-hiking the climbs, letting momentum carry me on the downhills, and settling into a steady pace on the flats. Overall, I felt as though I had a good, consistent effort level dialed in for the duration of the run.

Taking all of that into account, my race strategy: Stay steady, let the inevitable "track meet" at the front of the pack go on without me. Comfortable 7-ish minute miles on the flats, power-hike the uphills at about 15-minute miles, roll the downhills at whatever gravity will allow, within the limits of my knees and quads. (And definitely no walking the downhills, as that is a sure way to wreck my knees and quads.) 200-ish calories per hour, mainly in the form of gels, wear the Nathan bottle belt (as I have better balance with this than I do with a bottle in my hand on the steep downhills) and the MT100s (unless I can sufficiently break in the MT101s). Enjoy the day, gradually reel in the people who went out too fast, and if I don't feel completely wrecked in the last 10 miles or so, give it everything I have left. And do something cool after the race (TBD).

In conclusion, if you were wondering why this post is entirely in red, it's because in addition to not putting my picture where I want it, this stupid website also insists on changing the font size and font color semi-randomly in various sections of this post, and, honestly, I give up. Red on black = visible. Whatever, blogger. I guess you got paid, so does it really matter?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

6 February - Week in Review, and Holiday Lake 50K Race Report

First off, for anybody that notices, I know that I already posted what I did running-wise on 6 February, but for the sake of ending this week with my race report, I'm going to switch to a Sunday-through-Saturday week for the moment (and maybe for the foreseeable future, if this turns out to be more convenient. So, the weekly summary:

6 February: 5 miles in the morning (36 minutes), 6 miles in the evening (44 minutes)
7 February: 6 miles at APG (45 minutes)
8 February: 8 miles, including a 2-mile Patterson Park loop at 6:30/mile pace (56 minutes)
9 February: 3 miles in the morning (25 minutes), 5 miles in the evening (37 minutes)
10 February: 6 miles of treadmill hill (10% grade at 10-minute-mile pace, 60 minutes)
11 February: 3 miles in the morning (26 minutes), 4 miles in the evening (30 minutes)
12 February: 33.25 miles - 2011 Holiday Lake 50K (5 hours, 22 minutes, and some seconds)

Total time: 681 minutes (and some seconds)
Total distance: 79.25 miles

Quick commentary: Back to a "reasonable" mileage jump from last week to this week, but this time, on the strength of one particularly long run. A couple of good "hard" efforts, and an interesting "long run" . . .

So now, the Holiday Lake 50K race report:

First, a bit of background. Holiday Lake was a race that I had considered running last year, until Snowpocalypse came along and wrecked those plans. This time around, the roads were clear, and it was about time I got in a "real" long run, since the longest run I've done since my stress fracture was the 15-miler that I did on roads last week. (Before that, the last long run that I did was a 20-miler sometime in late November or early December - so it's been 2+ months since my last good long effort). Given that, I didn't come into the race expecting to "race" - this was going to be an opportunity to get back on trails, be around people that I like, prove to myself that I can still finish an ultra, test the effectiveness of the past month of training, and experiment with race strategy. Holiday Lake is the first race in the Beast and Lynchburg Ultra series, and, as such, is the "easiest" race (the difficulty ramps up as the year progresses). None of the single-track is particularly technical, and the only extended uphills and downhills are fairly gradual. The downside to this type of course is that just about everybody comes in looking for a track meet/50K PR (even though the course, like most trail 50K courses, is about two miles longer than it should be).

All that said, I rolled in to the 4-H Camp around midnight and promptly fell asleep in a sleeping back in the back seat of my car for 5 fairly solid hours. Although breathing the cold air was uncomfortable, I slept soundly, and woke up feeling at least as rested as I would on a normal day (which is not as rested as I'd like to be lately, but better than usual for a race like this). In the mess hall, I ate a very light breakfast (a few slices of melon and a cup of coffee), and went about my preparations efficiently. This is about as relaxed as I'd ever been coming into a race (which is saying something, because I should have been more nervous given the distance and the number of things that, based on recent performances, could have gone wrong).

After we all stood around at the starting line in the cold for what felt like a little too long while Horton said his pre-race prayer, we set off down the half-mile section of paved road (the only section like this on the course), and it was obvious from how quickly the front of the pack went out that this was, in fact, going to be a track meet. Trail conditions were clear and fairly dry, which made the early goings faster than I would have liked; that is, if I were trying to keep up with people. As it was, I was content to let a lot of people pass me, and fall into a steady 8-ish minute mile pace, assuming that they would come back to me.

I also managed to fall into a rut and skin my knee within the first mile of trail, during the awkward period of time between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., when it's not really dark enough for a headlamp if you're careful, prompting somebody to say that that's why headlamps are good for something (smart aleck). Spoiler: I did not win "Best Blood," because I wasn't sweaty enough at that point for any of it to run down my leg very far (it clotted, or, more accurately, froze, pretty close to my kneecap). If you want to win that award, you need to sweat enough to make the blood smear in an interesting way. Sheer volume of blood might also do the trick.

Anyhow, as it turned out, although my pace was basically easy and sustainable, there were a few wrenches in the works early on. First, the temperature (somewhere in the 15-20 degree F range for the first hour or so of the race) caused the cap on my water bottle to freeze, and ice chunks to develop in the water, which made it a fine ballast for practice running with a bottle, but terrible for hydration. On top of this, the water being that cold in the bottle was freezing my hands through my gloves, although even if I hadn't been carrying the bottle, my hands probably still would have frozen through the gloves. Finally, I felt soreness in my hips and glutes, as I had lifted heavy three days in the past week (including the day before the race). This lifting-related soreness was not running soreness, but was enough to confuse my body into thinking that it was.

The good news, though, is that the hill and strength work had paid off, and I felt as though I had a lot of power climbing the hills. Also, my "hang back" strategy started to pay dividends between Aid Stations 1 and 2 (4ish-8ish miles), as all of those who got sucked in by the initial sprint-out were starting to slow.

Unfortunately, my strategy was also supported by an experimental "minimal nutrition" approach. I've noticed that in most ultras, people consume at least 200 calories per hour in simple sugars, and in most ultras, people also get sick to their stomachs. Coincidence? Maybe not. I decided to use this race as a proving ground for a low-calorie strategy. My strategy, however, involved eating nothing in the first hour (and drinking very little, due to the frozen water bottle, and inattention to the aid stations). This began to backfire at about an hour and a half (between Aid Stations 2 and 3), as I could feel my energy level dropping. With no spontaneous rebound in sight, I took two gels and hoped for the best. The best turned out to be a partial return of energy, but in the interim, a number of people passed me (a few of which I passed back before Aid Station 3). At Aid Station 3, I took half of a banana and a couple of mini-Snickers bars. A little better, but not really doing it. I was behind on my nutrition, and this showed on the way to Aid Station 4 (the turn-around point). Add to this the fact that within a mile or so of the aid station, the leaders were coming barreling back down the single-track trail for their reverse loop against the slower traffic, and this was a bit demoralizing. This called for a red sugar cookie at the turn-around.

I reached the turn-around at about 2 hours, 23 minutes - not bad, not blazing fast. On pace for under 5 hours, which, given the distance and my historical times in 50Ks that are not as much longer than they're supposed to be than this one, seemed reasonable, especially considering that even in the absence of nutritional issues, I had made no attempt to go "balls to the wall" on this race.

You'll notice that I've gone through a whole loop of what happened (the course is two loops of 16 miles and change), and mentioned very little about the course. This is because the course is not particularly memorable. There are single-track trails, gravel roads, fire roads, very short pavement sections at the beginning and at the end, and and the few road crossings. There is one deep creek crossing where your feet will get wet, and that will suck for about five minutes until your shoes drain (and if they don't drain, well, sad days for you). Running the first lap of the course clockwise puts you on east-bound trail around the time the sun is rising, so for a few minutes until the sun gets higher in the sky, you can't see anything. (This was surprisingly more fun than it sounds, because if you're lucky like me, you're in a wide open field of tall grass when this happens, and it looks surreally summery). On the return trip around the loop, there is enough light that you can actually see Holiday Lake as you run past on your way to the finish. The trail was rock-hard and rutted on the way out, and slightly muddy on the way back (as it warmed up to around 40 degrees by the 5-hour mark). And that's pretty much it. Horton has said that of all the races he puts on, this is his least favorite, and I can see why. It's a Rocky Raccoon-style 50k - good for running a fast time, not good for memorable or difficult sections.

In that spirit, the description of the reverse loop will be even more sparse than the description of my first loop. I was definitely walking more, but less due to running-related fatigue than to calorie deficit and delayed-onset muscle soreness from my weight training, which my body was still convinced was from running too fast. Because this was my first long run in a long time, all of this put me in a weird state where I had no idea what my limit was, or how much gas was left in the tank, and I had no capacity to surge with any confidence. At the same time, the remaining distance was rapidly falling into the manageable range on the return trip, and it was somewhere between Aid Station 3 and Aid Station 2 that I decided would be a good time to start running more and walking less, in preparation for a late-race surge to the finish. In fact, in spite of my random walk breaks, during which a guy who called me "Greenie" on account of my green Bull Run 50 shirt passed me, I mounted enough of a surge to pass him back, which was vaguely gratifying. I passed enough people coming in to Aid Station 1 that I finally decided to put on the afterburners from Aid Station 1 to the finish - I had reached Aid Station 1 at around 4 hours, 25 minutes, with a little over 4 miles to go, and my legs weren't sore, so a sub-5-hour time, in spite of my (by some measures) lackadasical effort, seemed within reach.

And, for the first two miles, it was. I passed at least a dozen people, including a bearded, bare-chested, MT-101-wearing Anton Krupicka wanna-be (with an awkward head bob and a slight spare tire around the middle that would not be Krupicka-approved). The last person that I passed said "catch them all!" as I was running strong, and there were four more people in front of me that were dogging it up a hill.

But with about 2 miles to go, and about 20 minutes to the 5-hour mark, it turned out that I should have stopped at the last aid station and put more gas in the tank. I felt my body become weak, I grew light-headed, and I suddenly had nothing left in my legs. I had most likely come into the race with smaller-than-usual glycogen stores due to a lack of recent long runs, and these stores were probably not full when the race started, and I wasn't doing all that much to fill them in the interim (only a haphazard 600-800 calories), and I suppose that it was bound to catch up with me. This had never happened to me before, and what was very strange was that as soon as it happened, any other pain that I had (hips, glutes, etc) disappeared, probably because this weak sensation was so dominant. Of course, being two miles from the finish, without any nutritional aid, there was nothing I could do but awkwardly stagger forward, over a section that one woman remarked would take "about 40 minutes" to walk, when one runner (who started running and passed me) wondered if walking it in might be a desirable way to end his pain. And so, the dozens of people that I had diligently passed in my last loop ("Greenie," Fake Anton, a rag-tag group of guys that decided that they would finish in "5 and a half, 6 hours, whatever") all passed me back in the last two miles, plus a few more for good measure. I didn't have the strength to muster a sprint for show on the final downhill on the paved road to the finish, and as soon as I crossed the line and shook Horton's hand, he asked me if I was alright, I said I felt terrible, he said I looked terrible (by all accounts, I was pale and disoriented), and he urged me to eat. I complied at the junk food table at the finish line, the only available food that didn't cost $11 (the $11 food, fried chicken and potatoes and maybe some green beans, was inaccessible because I didn't have $11 in cash, and I also took offense to paying $11 for what was basically KFC). Some cookies, cake donuts, M&Ms, and GU2O later, I felt sort of normal, although I can't help wondering if passing out for a few hours would have been equally or more effective than consuming about 1200 calories worth of junk food (I did feel as though passing out would have been sweet release). At any rate, while I was stuffing my face with garbage, "Greenie" (who, from the looks of his shirt, was some sort of hardcore Army Ranger), came over and called me a "stud" for valiantly passing him back earlier in the last loop, and staggering to the finish in spite of my horrid condition. So that was at least as gratifying as the Patagonia finisher shirt, which matched the plaid shirt I was wearing, so I could wear two shirts that I liked at the same time after the race. Take that, Abercrombie (except only halfway, because the plaid shirt is from your store).

In conclusion . . .

The good:

- Legs not sore
- No significant blistering or foot soreness/pain (wore MT100s, sockless and cut up so they don't cut my feet up)
- Finally finished a Horton race (the "beginner" Horton race, but still a finish)
- Sweet Patagonia shirt, IN MY SIZE (unlike the cotton race t-shirt - smallest size was a Large)
- Hung out with friends
- Ran on trails
- Had fun
- Didn't puke

The bad:

- Tripped and skinned my knee, but didn't win "Best Blood"
- Hands were borderline frostbitten for about half of the race
- Misguided hydration and nutrition plan cost me at least 20 minutes at the end of the race, dozens of places, and almost my consciousness
- $11 for KFC-style post-race lunch - not a good deal (although since there is apparently not a KFC anywhere near Appomattox, VA, it's probably the best deal people can get around here)

The weird:

- Non-descript double-loop course, except for a few very brief interesting sections
- Guy pretending to be Anton
- Guy who called me "Greenie," then later, "stud"

Overall, not a bad first race for 2011. Had some laughs, learned some things, had some fun. Can't say that I'm totally satisfied with the outcome, since (as always) it was my secret hope that it would turn out that I was in better shape than I thought. Nevertheless, I'm not in worse shape than I thought, which is really more important. And now I have an appetite for the MMT 100 training run next Saturday, which is also important. And there you have it.


Monday, February 7, 2011


Today seems like a good day to finally get this blog back on track with weekly running time/mileage. If you recall, the last seven documented days were:

24 January: 6 miles (40 minutes)
25 January: 8 miles (65 minutes, hill program on the treadmill)
26 January: 3 miles in the morning (20 minutes), 4 miles in the evening (30 minutes)
27 January: 5 miles (55 minutes, treadmill hill session at 10-15% grade)
28 January: 4 miles in the morning (30 minutes), 3 miles in the evening (23 minutes)
29 January: 9 miles (63 minutes)
30 January: 6 miles in the morning (40 minutes), 6 miles in the evening (40 minutes)

For a total of:

Time: 406 minutes
Distance: 54 miles

And the last seven days (31 January - 6 February):

31 January: 3 miles in the morning (20 minutes), 5 miles in the evening (36 minutes)
1 February: 5 miles, hill repeats at Patterson Park (35 minutes), 7 miles in the evening, over snow in Patterson Park (51 minutes)
2 February: 6 miles (41 minutes)
3 Feburary: 5 miles treadmill hills, 1 mile total warm-up/warmdown (57 minutes)
4 February: 15 miles (105 minutes)
5 February: 9 miles in the morning (66 minutes), 4 miles in the evening (31 minutes)
6 February: 5 miles in the morning (36 minutes), 6 miles in the evening (44 minutes)

For a total of:

Time: 522 minutes
Distance: 71 miles

So, a couple of things. First, that's a big mileage jump, especially over the past few days, but so far, no ill effects, aside from the pain in my hip as a result of slipping and falling in the parking lot walking in to work this morning. At the same time, this might be a good week (or at least a good next few days) to dial back a bit, to prevent possible burnout. I'd like to be getting more sleep than I'm getting now, so maybe that's a good focus this week (since all the extra mileage has definitely made sleeping easier).

And, for the sake of brevity, I won't carry on about tangential topics here, but I will put this sentence here as a reminder for me to post, sometime this week, at least one of the discussions of topics of more general interest that I've been planning.