Countdown

Fewer than nine months away I’m scheduled to run my first 100. I’ll say it first here—I’m less than optimistic. After a Fall filled with races from 5k > 50k I should be more optimistic. Perhaps a couple of the races provided the first clues. Sluggish, slow even. After a bit of time off it’s been a grind regaining any sort of rhythm, cadence, pace, what-have-you.

A bit of weight gain I have been unable to shake combined with fairly consistent searing pain in one knee have messed with my psyche. A fruitless (to date) search for some type of coaching guidance has me concerned I’ll need to be my own. A coach I am not.

IMG_0604Going for me? I’ve convinced myself I can train for this thing in six months giving me January to slowly (and slowly) build up miles to see how things shake out. I’m not a fan of putting goals, progress and plans to print—generally leads to my feeling I’m setting myself up for a fail. In this case I think I’ll need to. Put them to print, not fail, that is.

I stayed up too late last night. I ate too much. I drank too much. I got up too early today. I ate and drank (water) too little (so far) today. It starts tomorrow.

 

Grinding Gobblers

Pre-Pre Race

It once was routine to make the time for a somewhat detailed summary of any running (and sometimes cycling) event longer than about twenty miles. Likely because, for me anyway, events were completed as part of a group; often one that traveled together for the weekend. Moving away from the corporate environment meant losing the cohesion, and traveling, component of my group. As a result events have felt more isolated. Intuitively it seems I’d ramp up self-reporting if nothing else than to keep a record given the lack of others to help keep the memories.

Shortly after moving to the D.C. area in 2013 I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon. As it took place only eight months after a knee scope and seven months after moving to the area I set no goals. In fact my theme throughout the run was to stop and take a photo of every mile marker–which I believe I did. I also stopped around mile 21 to chat with Amy and Samantha and grabbed a beer around mile 22. What a great event–top 3-4 of all I’ve completed. In 2014 I signed up for the Kansas City Marathon; again shortly after moving to town. I was miserable most of the run. It took place less than a month after a grinding 50 mile trail run and right after moving out of our apartment into our house. Marathoning was so far down my list of priorities I had fewer than five or six enjoyable miles all morning.

It’s been so long since I’ve turned a BQ–probably closing in on five years now. In that time I’ve had the two knee operations, moved three times, lost four dogs and turned toward trail races. Foot speed has drifted about as far down the list as it can. I’d like to think I can do it one more time. After the 2015 version of the Gobbler Grind I’m not so sure. I set all sorts of goals when I  signed up a few months ago. A, B, B.1, B.2, C, C.1, and on. I hit only one. First time for that.

Pre-Race

We had company for the weekend—a 1/2 participant and he was all in. Fully costumed in his finest Thanksgiving outfit—-preparing it took all the edge off any night-before-jitters. That and a couple drinks.

Pre-Race Costume Prep
Pre-Race Costume Prep

Early weekend mornings are the only time I ever enjoy driving into the heart of Overland Park. I’ve become spoiled with our good roads and minimal traffic in our neighborhoods. We pulled into the lot a full 50 minutes before the start—packet pickup took all of ten of those minutes. Back in the warm car to change and sit. And sit. With fifteen minutes to start I thought it best to take a swing by the kybos and get to the start. After ten I realized I wasn’t going to make the start so I spied a tree-line which served the need; arriving at the start with just under two minutes to spare.

1000+ of us–combined 1/2 and full–lined up to begin an endless maze. Scroll down a few clicks to fully appreciate the curviness of the course. Smartly the first couple clicks were around the Corporate Woods office park. Even that small bit involved several tight corners and sweeping turns. Nothing, however, compared to what we’d face the final 23.5 miles.

Coming off four races—-three trail, one road–ranging from 5k to 50k–in the prior seven weeks I knew my legs would be somewhat fatigued. I wasn’t sure how much—this marked the first time I’d ever attempted a road marathon immediately following trail races. This also marked my second road marathon without completing speed-work or event specific long runs.

Gobble-Gobble

Right at the gun I found my goal pacer–3:30; 8:00 minutes per mile.  He was tucked between three 1:45 1/2 pacers. That seemed reasonable to me. I’d soon find out differently. Between miles 1 and 2 I could hear rather loud music behind me. It closed in quickly until it was in front of me—a young gal had a full-on bluetooth speaker facing outward from her running belt. Both she and her tunes were a distraction–she knew as much and wore it well. I must be getting old and am clearly out of the loop. I’d never seen such a thing–it was loud enough to overpower my earbud yet not loud enough to overpower her voice. We’d quickly learn this was Abby from Omaha—she had a goal of running her 32nd marathon by her 32nd birthday–November 15th or 16th. She knew of our pacer and he of her. Their one-upmanship helped pass the time for a mile or so. I was torn between remaining right off their shoulders or drifting back a bit to reengage with my earbud. I did like her music.

Temperatures were perfect at the start and projected to remain that way throughout. All the bodies and sun beginning to peer through the trees onto the office plaza asphalt quickly raised it a few degrees at surface level. Just before the second mile a gal running the 1/2 was struggling with her phone, water bottle and earbuds while attempting to remove her jacket. I slid next to her, first grabbing her phone then her water bottle. We chatted a bit as she continued and jacket tied around her waist I started handing back her gear. She both smiled and articulated her thanks as she turned up another gear; the last I saw of her was her shiny gold skirt bouncing into a quicker crowd.

Just before mile three our mass turned a corner and squeezed onto the Indian Creek trail. Both events onto the trail. We attempted to run 3-4-5 wide; shoulder to shoulder. Quite uncomfortable at minimum. My heart rate spiked—my pace quickened. One of my dozen mistakes on the day. Shortly after the first water station on the trail–between three and four–I tripped up one of a pair of young gals as we all fought for a couple inches of space to weave back from the station, onto the heart of the trail and raise an elbow just enough to take a drink. Shocked she was the only one who went down. Turning both events onto the trail before we spread out a bit more was a recipe for a messy first few miles. I swung back around grabby the gal’s arm springing her to her feet and back with her partner; somehow avoiding mass chaos in the process.

Overly concerned about my time I bumped up the pace until I could again hear Abby’s rear (facing music). By mile 4-5 I began drifting ahead of the 3:30 group; enough to lose Abby’s music and begin dropping under 8:00/min pace. We were down to 2-3-4 wide on the trail and the curves somehow continued;  wasting energy.  Shortly after mile six we began a four mile stretch on the road; at least half of which saw my heart rate maximum for the day. During this time I engaged both the 3:30 and 3:28 pacers; again a first. I engaged so much I tipped my hat to a couple of my goals for the day–yet again firsts. We split from the 1/2 group during this stretch and jumped back on Indian Creek trail at the 10 mile mark.

By this time I was beginning to feel this would not be my day. While I’d managed to scramble and get slightly under 8:00/min pace it was not painless. Eleven miles in and the 3:30 group started pulling a few seconds ahead. Twelve miles in and it was several seconds. A little before the half we hit another trail ramp and road crossing and it took effort. Somewhere between 13 and 14 I intentionally dropped the pace to get my HR back down (it dropped 12 BPM) and it felt good.  Too good.

Guest - Post 1/2 Treat
Guest – Post 1/2 Treat

I spent the next 4-5 miles with an average HR about 12 BPM lower than the first 13 miles and it continued to feel right. Unfortunately that resulted in a loss of about three minutes and I had no gas to reel it back in. By mile 14 I found myself running solo which continued to the end. Passing a couple and getting passed by several my pace climbed even as elevation dropped–albeit only a few feet per mile save mile 20 which rose 90 feet. At 20 I just wanted it to be over. My mind drifting, sweat ceased and my earbud had been silent for miles. Just let it be over. I spent the remaining 10k calculating other race times, long-run needs, upcoming possible events and whether or not the other three in my group would really still be waiting for me at the finish.

Post 

To say I won’t do it again is false; I will. To say I’ll make the time to complete road-marathon specific training again is likely also false. I’ve learned to enjoy trail running too much to give it up for the time it’d take. Sub 4:00 with no event specific training—-I’ll simply need to reluctantly accept it.

AniMal

On Being a Newbie

It’s said kids are resilient. I’d serve as a decent case study. Between birth and 18 I moved around in the neighborhood of I suppose a dozen times. Mostly within a radius of 100 miles. Not Army brat or kid-of-a-coach numbers but respectable. Even more impressive to the case study point is that my moves were always a byproduct of being in a working-class dysfunctional, troubled family.

New neighbors, new friends, new classrooms, even new parental structures peppered the first decade of my life. I survived, perhaps even thrived? What I do know is the first ten years paved the way for the past twenty-five which has covered countless cities, towns, suburbs and neighborhoods spanning seven states.

Remaining solidly working-middle-class I’ve had limited opportunity to be a world traveler or a take-a-month-off backpacker. My opportunities have included dozens and dozens (and dozens) of long weekend trips within a drivable range of each new residence experiencing places I’d never have selected if I lived hundreds of miles away. Other opportunities include meeting new people at every turn; some who make recurring appearances as time moves forward.

Today I met another group at yet another Saturday morning running group meeting spot. This is the smallest of the last few groups (eight); a couple said it was due to the weekend, a couple said it was due to a run of out-of-town transfers over the past 12-18 months. That first round of handshakes and exchanges is always the most uncomfortable. After that it’s the all too familiar routine of sweat and stories. Apparently neither were terribly off-putting to my new group as it was almost assumed I’d join them for rounds of coffee immediately following. Hoping as much I’d brought a full change of clothes along with a big post-run drink so I’d be relatively smell-free and coherent after being put through my paces.

I like most of the challenges of being the new guy. Not all; but most. I’d like to think through the years of miles I’ve left each group with just a little more than I’ve taken from them. Here’s to fast-forwarding six months when the next guy comes along to take my place.

Lawrence Hawks Trail Runs


Pre-start Check-in and Breakfast

 

  • Debbie Palmer–massage therapist who may or may not perform more than massages
  • Clinton Park  IRONMAN 70.3
  • Locations to ditch clothes as it warmed up
  • Foul language appropriateness
  • Small patches of cacti around a runner’s home
  • Verifying pacer’s locations for final laps of the 100
  • Most of Kelly’s body and her bodily functions
  • Couples having sex around the trails of Cunningham Lake in Omaha
  • Another park around 2 and 29 Highways known for trail exposure as above 

All topics in the first twelve miles of this past weekend’s Lawrence Trail Hawks races. After an in-depth dialogue of scenes during some of this groups’ recent runs I’ll admit I was mildly aroused—new for me on a run like this. It’s one reason I find trail runs so inviting the slower I get. Shuffling along slow enough to carry on full conversations with your competitors, also your companions, for many hours to come. Here’s how many hours exactly for this year’s Lawrence Hawk 50: 

Lap 1:   5Hrs 20 minutes*
Lap 2:  5Hrs  40 minutes
Final = 11:00 Hrs
 
*Mile splits ranged from 10:24 to 17:47 until my phone battery ran out after recording 39.5 miles which in actuality was closer to 44-45 miles.
Rough estimate~~by the end of the first 25 mile lap my inexpensive app using a phone GPS had me around 2.5miles short. Undoubtedly due to several switchbacks and dense woods interrupting a solid signal. Plus the cheap app part.   
 

In typical trail run fashion the crew of volunteers and staff put on a display of friendly beyond belief. Campfire, hot cooked breakfast, crazy overstocked aid-stations, limited frills focusing on what everyone came to do: run and finish. Speaking of finishing…

Despite getting to the start nearly a full hour before start-time I somehow still managed to be at the very end of the group (50s and 100’s started together) after fumbling to pin on my number in the dark. Completely preventable had I just spent a few dollars for a hotel or cabin and attended packet pick-up and instructions the night before. This is the story of two races—two completely different races held on the same day on the same course.

Coming off the Leadville Trail Marathon almost exactly three months earlier, two 1/2-way cross country road trips, a relocation and weeks of hotel and apartment living over the previous thirteen weeks I figured a few hours running through the woods would be relatively easy.   The folks in Lawrence, KS did a nice job of proving otherwise. Easy was about the only thing missing from the day.

Standing around the fire-pit pre-race was almost mandatory. At under 40 degrees, it was cooler in the Kansas plains in late Summer than the Colorado mountains in late Spring. Almost freezing in fact. Perfect for a long run but plenty chilly for standing around. After finishing a plate of hot food and another round of hotter coffee while chatting around the fire it was time to really get ready. Fumbling with pins in the cold I again cursed my cheapness for not staying the night before and attending packet pickup. We marched out of the cook-pot and fire-pit warmth of the shelter, piercing the darkness with dozens of headlamps pointing toward the start line.  I missed all the pre-start instructions and incorrectly figured they didn’t much matter, as I’d start solidly in the back with few aspirations of moving up. It seemed the key relevant point to remember was avoid all double-striped trails. It’d be 90 minutes before enough light made its way through the towering hickory and oak trees to see; trail markings rarely crossed my mind once we started.

Sunrise Over Clinton Lake
Sunrise Over Clinton Lake

Immediately settling in toward the back of a small group near the back of the entire field I found time to be distracted by my freezing extremities. Completing only two laps it didn’t seem to make sense to have a drop bag out on the course—since I missed the pre-race meetings I didn’t know when the on-course drop bags would be returned to the start/finish and I needed to leave shortly after finish. As a result I was rather underdressed at the start until well after the 7:30 sunrise.

We headed uphill on a 1+ mile out and back right away–it was impossible to see what the mile looked like between total darkness and the inability of dozens of headlamps to pierce the six foot tall prairie grass only inches away from our single-track trail. Chatter aplenty I kept my head down for the first time questioning my decision. Once clear of the prairie we entered the absolute darkness of the single-track through the woods, only catching brief glimpses of the sky over the next 10 miles. In some spaces we should have seen the sky, we saw only headlamps bouncing off thick fog rising above the lake mixed with the increasing glow of the sunrise.

Staring down at the light bouncing around the heels ahead I took in all the conversation, mostly babble, I could. It was early in the day, nearly two hours before the official opening of the park, remote/rural and coincided with a college football weekend in a Big 12 town. A recipe to ensure we’d have few spectators and even fewer random park visitors at any point on the trails. I held tightly behind my small group as we snaked through the woods despite moving a little quicker than I preferred. I wanted to maintain contact as long as possible knowing I’d have plenty of time to be alone.

Nearly every step took a measure of concentration. Corners, stumps, rocks, boulders, bridges and roots. An endless supply of roots. Deceptively tough, this course is better suited for mountain biking than hours of running.

Built by World's Biggest Beaver?
Built by World’s Biggest Beaver?

A nearly worst-case scenario for a slightly bow-legged, pigeon toed, weak-kneed person with poor vision. I considered taking the Hoka One One plunge a few weeks ago ala Ryan but I opted instead for the milder Altra route which worked considerably better than traditional deep treaded trail shoes. Perhaps next time.

Miles clicked off slowly; I made quick, yet thorough, use of the fuel stations. Typical ultra-trail offerings of endless bowls of sweets, sours and salties. Soda, water and Heed  lined up in cups and volunteers threw themselves at me in the hopes of filling my bottles.  Each time I rebuffed them with the explanation that it’s so boring simply staring at the trail I needed the break to focus on the process of filling the bottles. Partly true but mostly I needed to keep moving–even hands and arms–to prevent stopping too long at the stations. Stopping/breaking for me is generally the beginning of the end.

I hit the Lap 1 halfway point behind a pair running together.  I had intentionally tailed them for a while after getting around a couple small groups. She was easy on the eyes and it seemed a waste of energy to get around them.

Making quick use of the aid station I would leave them behind and unfortunately would finish the rest of the run nearly solo. I started well behind several others and couldn’t make up ground on most of them.  As near as I could tell the only people who passed me after about mile 17 were single-lappers who all started one hour after us.

Prairie Above Land's End (note event photographer)
Prairie Above Land’s End
(note event photographer)

Land’s End aid station, which served as both the ~~10 and ~~12.5 mile stations separated by a lollipop loop, provided the only break from the relentless twisting, root-cursed trail. While the brilliant sunshine, water views and glimpses of humanity were welcome I was surprisingly happy to duck back into the woods. That 2.5 mile loop was through rather thick fields, a path mowed just for us, as well as asphalt roads which would begin to reflect a fair amount of heat by the second lap. Time froze between miles 13 and the end of lap 1. Few people, more roots and rocks, a water crossing and the beginning burning sensation of raw nipples. I passed a few people and a few passed me.

Prickly Pear in Kansas?!?!
Prickly Pear in Kansas?!?!

Highlights included running across two small patches of cactus and a couple mountain bikers riding with their off-leash pups. We all stopped for a minute so I could pet the dogs—they tired of me quickly (the bikers and possibly the dogs) and wanted to keep moving on. Lowlights included a severe tongue bite while stupidly munching Pringles while running.

Lakefront Trail Section - Lap 2
Lakefront Trail Section – Lap 2

It was when I hit the first/fourth aid station I realized the voice in my rear pack dutifully announcing mile splits was incorrect—what should have been roughly 18.5 miles was registering a couple miles short. Frustrated, I figured perhaps I misread something about a loop we’d do around the start—-again cursing for not attending the pre-run meeting. Leaving the station I trudged through the final 6.5 to the Start/Lap/Finish and for the first time wished my longest training run had been longer than the 11.9M a couple weeks earlier at English Landing Park.

Nearly Empty Swimming Hole
Nearly Empty Swimming Hole

I popped out of the woods with a couple hundred meters to the end of Lap 1 to the sounds and smells that make up the best of trail runs. Fire pits, overnight tents and shelters, kids playing, cheering family members pulled me to the end of the first lap where I lowered myself to the ground by my bag and completed a full change of clothes; ready to begin my second and final lap. With fresh clothes, a full stomach and fully energized I was ready to go.Alone I headed back into the woods with new clothes, a new set of shadows, park visitors and race volunteers ready to pull us through the next and final lap. It was a new race.

As I nearly stumbled out of the woods with the familiar 200 meters left of my second lap I heard even louder cheers as volunteers radio ahead the location of all participants. They knew another 50-miler was about to finish. I turned the final corner plenty ready to be finished and planning strategy for next year. My biggest decision may be whether to again get up at 3:00a.m. and drive to the start or lock in a reservation of a park cabin that’d ensure I could show up at the very, very last minute.

Happy tales and trails,

AniMal

Love The Run You’re With

It’s that time of year again. Time for my annual contribution toward the $20B spent for the Valentine’s Day holiday. Oh yeah, I’m an active and willing participant. Sort of. I defy a few categories and have made up a couple of my own. I generally fall in the (mostly) practical gift guide–and categories-not-really-named. I use the time as an excuse to pick up clothes–the kinds Ames never picks up for herself. Lame excuse to help with her wardrobe but it’s worked for a few years. I also normally pick up a few bags of candy–not as direct gifts rather as candy-dish fillers for guests and as a treat in lunches. Again, lame but it works.

Setting our own category has grown a bit of a life of it’s own the last few years. We’ve been fortunate to live where V-Day couples runs take place–and the climate’s favorable enough to hang out for a few hours afterwards with friends. This year we chose the neighborhood run purely out of convenience.  Fall out of bed 45 minutes before the start and I still had five minutes to spare. A little above freezing with perfectly calm conditions. Perfect.

Even more perfect is the coup scored by the neighborhood Champps sports bar. More than 1000 participants in the run and by 10:00a.m. –when on a normal Sunday they’re not even open until 10:00a.m. Almost every table and barstool was filled with racers. Free flowing mimosas likely helped. Announcing event winners may have played a little part. Showing the Olympics on all 100+ TVs surely played a part. Playing bizarre music (think karaoke friendly–Jack & Diane and a couple by The Little River Band that escape me.) Karaoke. Instead of turning on the Olympics volume. That didn’t help their cause–but didn’t seem to cause anyone to leave. 350+ (stated capacity–surely more were present) * $12/per = $4200 before noon. Pretty good take for a constantly confused bar (we normally avoid it).

Not exactly the typical Valentines outing but it’s what’s worked for us the past few years. If only we can figure out what to do with the odd race-bag freebies…..

Race Goodies--Yes, That's a Red Blanket in Each Bag. Odd.
Race Goodies–Yes, That’s a Red Blanket in Each Bag. Odd.

 

And yes, any animals in the house always get something for the sweetheart holiday–this year Samantha will get this giant hoof thing–not the tiny single $3 version; we’re talking about something that looks as if the beast was chopped just above the ankle and that whole section put on ice, preserved and wrapped. It’s pretty graphic looking. She’ll love it.