Monday, June 29, 2009

Back over 70

My main concern with running the Bighorn Trail 50K last weekend was how it would affect the following week of training. The whole point of a training run is that you can still bounce back and resume training where you left off and not have to take an easy week to recover. This was especially important to me this time since I've got the Missoula Marathon coming up on July 12th and wanted to get in one good mileage week before doing a mini-taper for that.

Although my legs felt pretty good the day of the 50K (even afterwards), Sunday morning was a different story. I was definitely feeling the effects of 31 miles of trail running, specifically in my quads, thanks to the monster downhill. Monday didn't feel much better. No pain, just really stiff and sore. I had planned on taking those two days off anyhow, so no worries there. I was worried about how Tuesday and the rest of the week would go, but it turns out everything worked out just fine:

Monday - Rest

Tuesday - 6 miles. Very slow.

Wednesday - 9 miles. Slightly faster.

Thursday - 9 miles. Exact same pace as Wednesday.

Friday - 5 miles. A little faster.

Saturday - 18.2 miles. On the Eagle Cliff trails, which are primarily used by cross country skiers in the winter. I discovered that in the summer they are primarily used by cattle. Between smelling fresh cow pies, getting lost on the not-so-well marked trail system and just not feeling all that great, it was a rough day. I had originally planned to be out for up to 4 hours, but when I finally made it back to my truck to replenish my bottles after just over 3 hours, I had had enough.

Sunday - 23.66 miles. Wasn't sure how this was going to go after Saturday's tough run, but my legs felt really good. I once again used a 20 minute to 4 minute walk to run ratio, which worked out well. I also ran a couple of loops rather than a long out and back, which gave me the opportunity to replenish my water bottles. This proved to be a good thing since the temp was in the lower 80s by the time I got done. The last couple of miles were a little more of a struggle...I think my electrolytes were getting low and I didn't have any Gatorade or salt tabs on hand to combat that, but otherwise it went very well.

Total - 70.86 miles

So, I crested the 70 mile mark (just barely) for the first time since sometime before Boston. Just in time to taper, too. Missoula is only 13 days away and I've got my hometown 10K to run on the 4th. I still have no idea what to expect in Missoula....I'll just have to see what Mother Nature and my legs give me on that day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. For example, up until Wednesday afternoon of this week, I had no clue that I would be running a 50K on Saturday. Seems like kind of a weird thing to just sneak up on ya, huh? It’s not like the local 5K where you can just decide the morning of the race to go ahead and do it. A 50K is a little more involved; something you would generally want to plan for. Well, here’s how it happened.

I knew that once Boston was over, I wanted to set my sights on running my first 50 miler. I ran the Lean Horse 50K in Hot Springs, SD, at the southern edge of the Black Hills, back in August of 2007. I knew after that that a 50 miler was probably in my future and Lean Horse seemed like as good a place as any to do it. But, the whole Boston thing (both qualifying for and then training for) got in the way in 2008. I knew that after April 20, 2009, I would be free and clear to obsess about something, anything, else. The 2009 Lean Horse Half Hundred became my primary post-Boston goal. As I was considering how to prepare myself for such an adventure, the idea of running a 50K as a tune-up came to mind. The most logical choice for that was the Big Horn Trail 50K, in the Big Horn Mountains near Sheridan, WY, on June 20th. I spent a good part of the winter trying to decide if I really wanted to commit to Big Horn or not. After waffling back and forth several times, I finally decided to do it, went to the online registration site and… had filled up the day before. Idiot! Thinking I might still be able to sneak in, I filled out a paper registration and mailed it that day, feigning innocence about the race being closed. Over the next 5 months or so, my credit card was never charged nor did my name show up on the confirmed entrants list on the race website, so I accepted the fact that I had waited too long to make up my damn mind and that Big Horn would have to wait for another year.

Fast forward to the afternoon of Wednesday, June 16th. I’m sitting at my desk, busy as a beaver (or something like that) and I get a phone call on my cell. I glance at the caller ID and see the Wyoming area code (yes, THE area code…..around here there’s just one for each state). I don’t really know anyone with a Wyoming number, but I answer it out of curiosity. It’s a lady with the Big Horn Trail races, wondering if I would like to be kept on the waiting list. Waiting list? There’s a waiting list? My mind spinning, I say “yes” and she says they’ll call me back when they figure out who’s out and who’s in. Immediately, a million thoughts assault my brain. Where will I stay? When will I go? What does the course look like? Am I trained for this??? As I’m furiously prowling the internet (which qualifies as limited personal use of government equipment, in case you’re wondering) for race and lodging information, my phone rings again and again flashes a “307” number. I answer and it’s a different lady who now says they have a spot for me if I want it. I don’t know, do I? Before the angel on one shoulder can come up with a good reason not to do it, the devil on the other shoulder says “yes” and suddenly my weekend plans have changed just slightly.

Back to the question of “Am I trained for this?” Well, it depends, I guess. I was probably just as ready as I was for my first 50K, but not as ready as I might’ve been if I had known about this, say, more than 3 days before the race. Like I said, I had originally penciled this race into my training schedule and have been slowly working my way into ultra training ever since Boston. I say “slowly” because my post-Boston recovery took a little longer than I expected and because I also tapered for and ran a half marathon PR at Deadwood-Mickelson two weeks ago. So, just as my weekly mileage was getting back up near 60 and I was starting to develop my back to back weekend long runs, I tapered for and recovered from Deadwood-Mickelson and then last week started building the mileage, and long runs, back up. Since Boston, I’ve only really run three runs that I would consider long mileage wise: a 17 miler (on trails), a 23 miler and just this past Sunday, a 22.8 miler (which was preceded by a 13 miler the day before). But, I’ve done a few other runs that were long time-wise (2.5 hours+) but where I didn’t get as much distance because they were on fairly rugged trails. As the name “Big Horn Trail Run” implies, most of it is run on trails, so my training seemed somewhat appropriate. If I were to train specifically for a 50K, I probably wouldn’t run 22+ miles six days before the race, but in the spirit of using Big Horn as a training run, I wasn’t too worried about that. I did fret about how much I should run in the last couple of days between finding out I was going to run and actually running. I ended up taking Thursday off completely, thanks in large part to the fact that the race personnel had called me just after I’d gotten done playing basketball for an hour at lunchtime, the result of which was that I had knot in my left calf and what felt like a sprained little toe (pinky toe?) on my right foot (if only they had called BEFORE lunch). I did go out for a very easy 5 on Friday morning, which is basically my regular pre-marathon routine.

As for the logistics, I found that it was actually very easy to find a hotel room in Sheridan. I went cheap and booked a room at the Motel 6. The race itself is headquartered in Sheridan and that’s where we had to go to check in, but it actually finishes about 20 miles northwest in the tiny town of Dayton. The start line for the 50K is 40 miles (driving distance) further west in the Big Horn Mountains. This meant I would have to drive from Sheridan to Dayton in the morning and then catch one of the busses to the start. The morning drive would be a minor inconvenience, but considering that lodging and dining options were severely limited in Dayton, it seemed like the best plan.

Sheridan itself is about 200 miles from my location in South Dakota, which equates to a little under 3 hours of driving at South Dakota/Wyoming interstate speeds. I left Belle Fourche just after lunch on Friday and made it to Sheridan in plenty of time to check in and drop off my drop bag. I half expected to get there and have them look at me like I was stupid and say “you’re not signed up.” But, everything was in order. I hit up Dominoes (bread bowl pasta) for dinner and Wal Mart for some last minute supplies and breakfast items and then it was back to my luxurious accommodations to watch some TV and veg out for the rest of the evening.

The Big Horn Trail Run is actually quite a big event in terms of the amount of stuff going on at once. They have 100 mile, 50 mile, 50K and 30K races. The 100 milers start on Friday and everyone else starts on Saturday, with the start times of the Saturday races staggered by 2 hours. There are three separate start lines (50K and 30K share one) but all four races finish at the same location (Scott Park in Dayton). The whole schedule is rather masterfully laid out so that the majority of the runners finish within a specific time window on Saturday, allowing spectators to see runners from the various distances finish. The 50K started at 8:00, but I had to be in Dayton by 6:00 to catch the bus to the start line. Let me tell ya, it takes a school bus a lllllloooonnnnngggg time to drive 40 miles on mountain roads. It was on that bus ride up the mountain that it started to dawn on my just what was in store. We went a long ways up. Of course, we wouldn’t run back down the highway, but we would have to get back off of these mountains in some way, shape or form.

Like I said, the 30K and 50K share a start line. In order to get the necessary mileage (or kilometerage, I guess) the 50K starts off with a 20K loop that heads west away from Dayton for awhile before looping around and joining the 50/100 mile course and then going back east past the start line and along the 30K course to Dayton. The elevation at the start is 7,650 feet. I live at just over 3,000 feet, so I knew this would probably be a factor. The course tops out at 8,100 feet during that 20K loop. Of course, since it’s a trail run in the mountains there are some hills to contend with, but overall the 50K (and, more so, the 30K) are downhill, with the finish line in Scott Park sitting at 4,150 feet. For the mathematically impaired, that’s 3,950 feet of elevation loss from the high point to the low point. Can’t you just feel your quads burning?

I killed some time chatting with some other runners from the Black Hills area (there were a lot of us) and before I knew it, it was time to start. Some lady yelled for us to line up behind her because she was the start line. Okay. With a descending 10 count, we were off.

Dry Fork to Dry Fork
The first 20K loop took us from the Dry Fork aid station, up a big damn hill, back down the big damn hill to the Cow Camp aid station and then along a four wheel drive road back up to Dry Fork. Immediately after the start we were all walking/power hiking. The better part of the first two miles was spent doing this. Finally, we topped out and one could reasonably run, although there were some more ascents that called for more power walking along the ridgeline. I noticed a fairly annoying headache along this stretch and contributed it to the fact that I hadn’t had any coffee that morning and my caffeine addicted body was pissed about it. Luckily, I had an espresso Hammer Gel in my pack, so I took that and it seemed to help. After 3 or 4 miles, we started our descent, which featured mostly single track trail with some cross country running (fortunately, the course was well flagged in these sections). This was the first part of the course where I really started having fun….running down single track through dense timber and open meadows. I finally started to feel like I was actually running a race instead of power hiking one. I hit the Cow Camp station feeling good, got my bottles topped off with Heed and water and was off. I made it about a quarter of a mile down the road before I realized I had neglected to check in and out of Cow Camp. Oops. Well, I sure as hell wasn’t going to turn back and do it so I soldiered on. The stretch from Cow Camp to Dry Fork is a net uphill since we had actually lost more elevation coming down that first hill than we had gained going up. This section was mostly rolling. At one point, we crested a hill and could see Dry Fork a couple miles away and a lot of feet up. Damn. The last stretch leading to Dry Fork was another killer uphill. More power hiking. Upon shuffling into Dry Fork, I made very sure to check in and told the guy taking numbers that I didn’t think I had checked in at Cow Camp. He didn’t seem all that concerned, but at least I had done my civic duty and admitted my idiocy. In the aid station, I once again topped off my bottles. Along the way, I had been fueling exclusively with Heed, Hammer Gel and Endurolytes up to that point. A lady at the station offered me salted potatoes, which sounded pretty good, so I accepted. She proceeded to load up a dish full of potatoes, potato chips and pretzels. I thanked her, checked out of the station and was off again.

Dry Fork to Upper Sheep Creek
Upon leaving Dry Fork for the second time, we again got to go up, but this time on a different route. The course followed a gravel road for a good mile plus, all of which was uphill. This at least gave me a chance to scarf down my food as I hiked. I was kind of concerned with the amount of walking that was going on, though. While I didn’t necessarily have a hard and fast time goal in mind, I was kinda sorta hoping to break 6 hours. It had taken me 2.5 hours to cover the first 20K loop, which does not bode well for a sub-6 finish, especially when you spend the first 2K or so of the final 30K walking. Eventually, the course abandoned the road and we were back on mostly downhill single track. Once again, I was able to get into a solid running groove. This was by far the loneliest section of the course. From Dry Fork to Upper Sheep Creek I neither passed anyone nor had anyone pass me. In fact, for a majority of the time I couldn’t even see anyone in either direction. Approximately 5 miles of lonely running later, I wandered into the Upper Sheep Creek station. More Heed, more water and a handful of trail mix and I was out.

Upper Sheep Creek to Lower Sheep Creek
Immediately after leaving Upper Sheep Creek, I started catching up with the tail end of the 30K pack, who had started from Dry Fork two hours after the 50K runners. Also immediately after Upper Sheep Creek was a section of trail referred to as “The Haul”. I was running along, crossed the creek and looked up and saw the trail going basically straight up a really steep, really long hill. Good Lord, where’s the ski lift?? Well, nothing to do but get started, so up I went, passing multitudes of 30Kers in the process. Finally, I topped out, walked a little longer to get my heart rate down and then resumed running. Of course, what goes up must go down and the trail going down the other side was nearly as steep as the uphill side. This doesn’t necessarily make for fast or comfortable running. In fact, it was quite uncomfortable and not fast at all. I was trying my hardest to reduce the abuse my quads were taking, but it was tough on steep, rocky, single track trail. And, the downhill portion was much, much longer than the uphill had been. We were beginning our descent back to Dayton in earnest now. Another 5 miles later and I arrive at Lower Sheep Creek. Most of that five miles had been steep downhill, but my legs still felt pretty good. I really don’t remember much about this aid station. I think it was just top off the bottles and go.

Lower Sheep Creek to Tongue River
After Lower Sheep Creek, we entered the Tongue River canyon. This was an awesome section of trail. The canyon is very steep and very narrow and the Tongue River is fairly bloated with spring runoff this time of year, making for some awesome scenery. The trail was still going downhill, but much more gradually and it was very runnable. Approximately 25 miles into the day and I’m starting to feel really good. That is, until my left leg revolted. I was cruising along the trail, running at a fairly decent clip and suddenly it was like someone had stabbed me in the thigh. It was a muscle I’ve never had a cramp in before. Not my quad, not my hamstring, but some other muscle on the inside of my thigh between the two. I don’t know what it’s called for real, so I just think of it as my quadstring. Whatever the hell it’s called, it didn’t feel good at all. I tried to walking for a bit, but that didn’t help at all…I could barely even walk with it knotted up. Finally, I sat my butt down on a big rock and started rubbing it out. After a bit, I resumed walking and it felt better so I decided to try running again, cautiously. It didn’t seize back up and before I knew it, I was cruising along again pain free. The next aid station was only a couple miles away and marked the end of the trail running for the day. The Tongue River station is also the 26.2 mile point of the 50K course. I had largely been ignoring both the mileage and time on my Garmin ever since the end of the first 20K loop, but I did glance at my time here and saw that I was just under 5 hours and had just under 5 miles left to go. Providing my quadstrings didn’t have any more nasty surprises in store that seemed very doable. At the Tongue River station, I again just topped off my bottles and went. As I held my water bottle out to the dude with the big jug and said “water please” he just looked at me like I was dumb and then asked “you want water?” I looked at him like he was dumb and said “yeah”. Then I looked at my bottle and realized the lid was still on. He couldn’t very well take it off since it took both of his hands to prop up the huge jug he was dispensing water with. I guess we established who was dumb at that point in the day.

Tongue River to Home Stretch
After Tongue River we were off the trail and onto a gravel road that would take us all the way back into Dayton. I’d heard about this road as being the worst stretch of the course because it’s hot and boring. It actually didn’t turn out being as bad as I’d feared. For one, the road starts out in the canyon for the first couple of miles, so it’s still shaded. For another, this is where I finally got a chance to stretch my legs and RUN. As I was cruising along, I glanced at the avg. lap pace on my Garmin and I was suddenly laying down 8:30 mile pace after more than a marathon of rugged running. WTF!!?? Oh well, nothing to do but go with it, I guess. There’s no saving it for later, after all. Just as I was about to catch up with a guy I know who was running the 30K, it happened again. My quadstring, this time in my right leg, cramped hardcore. I walked/hobbled for a bit before finding an electrical junction box to sit on and rub it out. More walking, then shuffling and then running again and I was back up to speed. I caught up with the guy again and charged ahead. It was only another couple of miles to the Home Stretch station, where I didn’t even bother to top off my bottles. I hadn’t had a chance to drink much since Tongue River and we only had a couple of miles left. I just checked in and was gone.

Home Stretch to the Finish
After leaving Home Stretch I noticed a guy in an Alaska biking jersey ahead who I knew was in the 50K. I had been passing tons of 30K runners and a few 100 milers, but hadn’t passed any 50K runners for a long time. I was still cruising at 8:30ish pace, so breezed past the Alaska guy. I knew there was one more 50Ker up ahead not too far because he and I had traded positions a few times already and he had last pulled ahead at Lower Sheep Creek. As I was wondering how far ahead he might be, I realized that the guy running about 20 yards ahead of me was the guy I was looking for. I cruised past him too and had about a mile to go. Then I felt it again. First it had been my left quadstring, then my right, now my left was getting pissed off again. NO!!! I just passed two 50Kers, I’m not gonna lose those positions again! I did some brisk walking to try and calm it down, which actually helped this time. I didn’t dare walk too long though, so I resumed running and the quadstring obliged. Before I knew it, I was being ushered around the final few turns by some volunteers and was back in Scott Park. The final stretch took us around the park’s bike path. Here I was, 30.9 miles into a 50K and feeling AWESOME. I kicked it in to some cheers from the assembled crowd and was done.

Final Time: 5:46:52
Overall Place: 10th out of 140
Sex Place: 7th (the top two overall in the 50K were women, both of whom broke the women’s course record)
AG Place: 5th out of 23 (the top ten was stacked with dudes in their 30s)

The friendly finish line volunteers immediately gave me my reward for running 50 kilometers. No medals at this race, but instead we got a nice long sleeve Saucony running shirt with the race logo and “50K Finisher” on the breast (we also got a short sleeve running shirt in our race packet). I immediately walked down the bank to the Tongue River and stepped right in, shoes and all. The water was insanely, heart stopping cold. It felt awesome. After soaking my sore ankles and calves ( I was too chicken to go all out and get the quadstrings submersed) I sloshed my way back to my truck, changed my shirt, ditched my wet shoes and socks and grabbed some sandals before heading back to the park for the post race picnic. I hung out there for awhile, ate a burger and a lot of watermelon, and watched for people I knew coming across the finish line. I looked on jealously as they gave out AG awards. The “trophies” were these really cool big river rocks with the race logo etched into them. If only I had been in any AG besides the one I am in…. The only negative thing about the whole day was the drop bag situation. I had left one at Dry Fork with dry shoes and socks because I had been told it would be wet and muddy. Turns out, it wasn’t that bad and I didn’t even need the drop bag. But, I did end up having to hang out at the park until past 7:00 waiting for the drop bags to be delivered (I finished just before 2:00).

So, wow, I don’t even know how to sum this whole thing up, but I’ll try anyhow (this novel has gotta end somewhere, after all). This is an incredible race and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful course anywhere. When I was brave enough to take my eyes off the three feet of trail in front of my feet, I was awestruck. Besides the drop bag thing, the organization was top notch. And, it didn’t hurt that I just had an awesome day on the trails. Never have I felt that good that late into a race. I never really felt all that bad the entire day. I kept expecting the blowup to come, but it never did. I’ve only run one other 50K and I ran that one almost exactly one hour faster than this one, but this course was much more of a “true” ultra course; this one was magnitudes of difficulty higher and I cruised through it. The whole point of this slightly unexpected adventure was to get myself ready to run a 50 miler in August. This is by far the longest I’ve ever been on my feet in one stretch and I still felt relatively fine at the end of it. So, in that regard, it was about as successful as can be. Yesterday’s experience did exactly what it was supposed to; give me confidence that I can indeed run 50 miles. I think I like this ultra thing. I think I like it a lot.

I'll close with this. Words can't do this course justice. So, instead, here's a link to a photojournal put together by a lady who ran the 50 miler last year and took 60+ photos along the way. Awesome stuff.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I swear that I didn't plan this one. I'm just as surprised as anyone. Honestly.

The big news is that I'm running the Big Horn Trail 50K tomorrow in the Big Horn Mtns. near Sheridan, WY. I had been considering using this 50K as a training run for Lean Horse for awhile. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how quickly the Big Horn races filled up and back in January when I finally decided to register for it, it had just filled up. Regardless, I sent in a paper registration but then never heard a peep about it after that, so figured that I didn't get in and would just have to try again next year. Well, this past Wednesday I got a call on my cell phone and it was a lady with the Big Horn races who wanted to know if I still wanted to be on the wait list. Wait list? A half hour later, I got another call and that time they asked me if I wanted to run. It's both exhilirating and horrifying to find out that you're running a 50K with 3 days advance notice.

So, I'm off to Sheridan later this afternoon to get checked in and will start running at 8:00 tomorrow morning. I have no idea what to expect from this race. I've only run one 50K before (Lean Horse 2007) and I finished that one in 4:46. However, due to the wide variety of courses, times mean very little when you get into the world of ultras. Big Horn is at higher elevation than Lean Horse (it tops out at 8100 feet, higher than any elevation anywhere in South Dakota). Although the course drops nearly 4000 feet from the high point to the low point (the finish line), there are of course some uphills in there and it probably rates as a tougher course overall than Lean Horse. Plus the fact that I didn't really know I was running it until a couple of days ago, so I didn't specifically prepare to run a 50K this weekend (as evidenced by the 22.8 miles I ran last Sunday, just six days before Big Horn and the fact that when they called me on Wednesday I had just gotten done playing a fairly physical game of basketball). What I'm trying to say is that this will be the epitome of a training run. I have absolutely no time goal in mind; I just hope to take what the course gives me, enjoy the scenery (which I hear is phenomenal) and have fun. Of course, I'll have a full report when I get back.

Off to Wyoming!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Race, Recover, Race, Recover

No rest for the weary this week. After the Deadwood-Mickelson half on Sunday, I took one day off and got back at er on Tuesday. I was actually pretty sore from sore as I've been after some full marathons. I definitely felt that soreness on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it went away by Thursday, just in time to race again.

Monday - Rest.

Tuesday - 6 miles. Felt really stiff and sore at first, got better toward the end.

Wednesday - 5 miles. Still stiff and sore.

Thursday - Dino Trail Race in Rapid City. This was a 4 miler on Dinosaur Hill. Although my legs didn't feel bad all day long (the race didn't start until 5:30 PM), they certainly didn't feel all that lively once I started running. I had no energy whatsoever. Ended up finishing in 37:17, 5th overall and 2nd in my division. My placement was aided by the fact that one guy who had been in front of me took a wrong turn at Albuquerque (as did several other runners) and I passed him while he was on his detour. Still, it was a good time and I maintained my 2nd place standing in the Black Hills Trail Series.

Friday - 5 miles.

Saturday - 13 miles. This was a rough one. It didn't help that I ran a really hilly course, but it helped even less that my legs were bitchin about the abuse they'd already taken this week.

Sunday - 22.8 miles. Another long run using a run/walk strategy. This time I tried out a 20 min. to 4 min. ratio (as opposed to the 25:5 I used a few weeks ago). It started out really well and I felt great right up until about 16 miles. Then, I hit a big steep hill (actually, a series of three hills). Even though I walked a good portion of it, it still took a toll and the last 6 miles were an exercise in misery. I kept telling myself it was good practice for what I'll be going through during the 50 miler, or in the late stages of a marathon, but the mental games can only go so far toward convincing yourself that your calves aren't screaming for mercy. When I got home, I noticed salt crystals (not stains, like real grains of salt) on my ipod band. So, looking back, I probably should have pre-hydrated better since it got fairly warm out. Some electrolytes along the way probably would have helped too (I had only water, no Gatorade).

Total - 55.8 miles

I've only got 4 weeks before the Missoula Marathon. I'm still not sure what my goal there is going to be (I really don't know....not like last year when I just claimed to not know but was hoping for a BQ). I do know that it'll be one extreme or the other; either a PR effort or a nice, easy long run where I get a shirt and a medal. Over the next couple of weeks I plan on ramping up my weekend back to back long runs. My taper for Missoula will be short, but that's how it was last year too and it worked out fairly well. In fact, I very well might go back to last year's log and repeat the last couple of weeks exactly. Don't fix what ain't broke, right?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Deadwood-Mickelson Half Marathon - Vanquishing my half marathon demons

In July of 2007 I ran the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon. I had only run one previous half, the 2006 edition of the same race, and my goal for the 2007 race was simply to better my time of 1:33:XX. Coming just two weeks after a tough, hot run at the inaugural Missoula Marathon, I wasn’t expecting much and would have been perfectly happy with a 1:32:XX. Well, as I took off down Spearfish Canyon I started churning out sub-7 minute miles with little effort. At first, my inclination was to hold back and not overdo it but eventually I just decided to go with it and see how long it lasted (this decision was aided by the fact that I had some punk teenager running alongside me and I didn’t want to let him beat me….he finally dropped off the pace at about mile 9). Turns out, I didn’t run a mile over 7:00 until the 10th one (a 7:01) and my slowest mile (12) was a 7:05. Not a bad race, considering my rather modest goal. But the crux of it was, I ran so much faster than I thought I was going to that I didn’t realize how close I was to breaking the 1:30 barrier until it was too late. I was in the final half mile when it finally dawned on me that I was going to be within a hair of breaking 1:30, but by that time it was too late. As I mounted one final surge toward the finish, the clock ticked away and I crossed the line in 1:30:12. It was a PR of better than 3 minutes, but ultimately left me disappointed because of a measly 13 seconds. Getting those 13 seconds immediately became one of the items on my running must-do list.

As it turns out, it would be quite awhile before I confronted my half marathon demons; almost two full years, in fact. Just as life sometimes gets in the way of running, running sometimes gets in the way of running. You see, there’s a reason why I had run only two half marathons but eleven full marathons prior to my next attempt at a sub-1:30. I really have a complex about signing up for a half marathon when there is a full offered. The reason I had run Spearfish Canyon twice was that the event included a 5K and a half, no full. I missed the 2008 race because we were in Montana on vacation that weekend. If not for that, I might still be without a half marathon on my resume. Part of the reason is that, living in South Dakota, I often have to travel to run a marathon and it just doesn’t seem like I’m getting my money’s worth if I just run the half. Another part is that for the last 4 years or so, the majority of my running goals have been marathon-related (and Boston-related, in particular). If nothing else, those 13 stupid seconds gave me a reason to run another half marathon. I just had to decide which half to run.

The logical choice would have been Spearfish Canyon again in July of 2009. It was certainly an attractive option given the scenic, fast course and the fact that I wouldn’t have to forego a full to run it. But, I decided to mix things up a little and force myself out of my half marathon comfort zone. With that in mind, I registered for the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Half Marathon. The course profile is similar to Spearfish Canyon and the course itself is maybe even more scenic. And, yes, there is a full offered, but I had already run the full last year, so I at least knew what I would be missing. I knew from that experience how fast the half course could be, which made it an attractive option for a PR attempt. Plus, after Boston I really wanted to get this sub-1:30 monkey off my back and June 7th comes before July 25th, so Deadwood it was.

Now, it might not seem like the wisest choice to pick a “trail” race for a PR attempt. But, really, Deadwood is a trail race in name only. “Trail” refers to the Mickelson Trail, a rails to trails project that traverses the Black Hills from north to south for 110 miles. The entire route is a fairly wide, well packed, crushed gravel surface with no grades exceeding 3%. No single track, large rocks, stumps, roots, or hellacious climbs to be found here. The half marathon course covers the second half of the full course, beginning near the Englewood trailhead and traveling north (downhill), ending at the trail terminus in Deadwood.

One byproduct of not running many half marathons is that I don’t really have a freakin clue how to train for one. Both of my previous efforts had basically just been wedged into marathon training and this third attempt would be no different. Well, actually it would be different. Instead of being wedged into marathon training, this half would be wedged into ultramarathon (i.e. 50 miler) training. I’ve known for a couple of years now that once I accomplished the goal of qualifying for and running Boston, I wanted to take a crack at a 50 miler. Well, with Boston in the books, I set my sights on the Lean Horse Half Hundred in August, but still wanted to get this half marathon thing checked off the list. Another case of running getting in the way of running, I guess. To put it simply, my training after Boston and leading up to Deadwood probably (okay, definitely) wasn’t ideal half marathon training what with the mostly slow paced runs, long trail runs (real trail, that is) and back to back long runs that included some walking breaks. I did throw in some marathon pace and half marathon pace miles every once in awhile and made one token attempt at speedwork (4x800) a couple of weeks before the race, but to say I was supremely confident in my ability to hold my goal pace of 6:43 miles (a 1:28:00 half) would be a big fat lie. Thirteen seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the final week leading up to Deadwood, it seemed like a damn eternity.

The race weekend ended up being more action-packed than it needed to be. First off, both of my kids and my wife got sick. My daughter had a fever and was throwing up a couple days before the race while at the same time my son had a fever and a sore throat, which turned out to be strep throat. The day before the race, my wife was laid out with some kind of stomach bug. I was like the sole survivor of a biological warfare attack. Thankfully, everyone got well enough to participate in the weekend events, and I dodged the bullet completely. On Friday, I volunteered at packet pickup for four hours before high tailing it home to watch/coach my son’s t-ball game (if you’ve never seen a bunch of 5 year olds play t-ball well, you just haven’t lived). On Saturday, it was back to Deadwood for the 5K, which my sister in law ran, and the Kid’s Marathon, which my son ran, and the 1K, which my daughter ran. If you’re not familiar with the kid’s marathon concept, it goes like this. You sign your kid up and print off a mileage tracker sheet. In the months leading up to the race, they have to run, walk, hike, etc. a total of 25 miles and then at the event (or the day before, in this case) they run/walk the final 1.2 miles to finish their “marathon” and get a medal and t-shirt for their efforts. My daughter also got a medal and a frisbee for the 1K and my sister in law ran her first ever sub-30 minute 5K. No medal for her, but she did win her age group.

To make the weekend even more interesting, Mother Nature decided to turn the clock back a couple months and give us April showers in June. The forecast for race day was low-40s and rain, with low temps overnight before the race in the 30s. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about overheating.

Finally, Sunday morning arrived. And it even arrived early. Although the marathon and half marathon both start at 8:00, we (being myself and my wife, who was also running the half – my sister in law would drive down with the kids later to see us finish) had to be up fairly early in order to drive the 30 miles to Deadwood and catch one of the shuttles to the start by 6:30. So, I was up at 4:30 to give myself plenty of time eat breakfast and make sure I had everything. We were out the door by 5:30 and arrived at the rodeo ground parking lot in plenty of time to catch one of the busses. As we left Belle Fourche, it started raining and rained pretty good right up until we got to Deadwood. After that, it didn’t rain again until well after the race was over.

In addition to my wife, there were several other people I knew running the half, almost all of them co-workers. In other words, there was plenty of motivation for me to maintain my office bragging rights. Incidentally, I’m only able to maintain said bragging rights because for some reason the college cross country runners who work as seasonals for us don’t tend to enter local races very often. So, although I know I’m not the fastest one in the office, I am usually the fastest one who races, for whatever that’s worth. In any case, it was good to have some familiar faces to “relax” with as we waited for 8:00 to roll around.

One negative thing about this half marathon is that it is crowded at the start. I mean, it’s good that a local race gets as many runners as Deadwood does (there were over 1,500 registered for the half this year and just under 1,300 finishers), but the half marathon in particular can be pretty damn congested at the beginning because of the relatively narrow trail it’s run on. I mean, as far as trails go it’s pretty wide, but much narrower than a more typical two-lane road….it’s kind of like running on one lane of a two-lane road. I guestimated from previous years’ results that a sub-1:30 finish would put me in the top 30-40, so I lined up fairly close to the front of the masses when the time came. This strategy might cause me to go out a little faster than planned as I got pulled along by the faster runners, but that was a chance I was willing to take, especially in a half marathon as opposed to a full, to avoid the risk of getting caught behind a bunch of slower runners. As it turns out, the strategy worked well and I was able to find running room right away and settle into my pace.

I realize now that I don’t have my splits with me, but I can just generalize now and update this later if I damn well feel like it. I’ll break the race down into approximate quarters, since that’s how it kind of played out for me.

Miles 1-4
The first mile didn’t feel all that great. I had printed out a pace band for a 1:28 finish, which is 6:43 miles. I ran the first mile dead on that pace, but it felt like I was working WAY too hard to maintain that for 12.1 more. I hoped that it was just because I needed to get warmed up and into a rhythm after standing around in 40 degree temps for an hour. At some point during the second mile, I noticed two guys running side by side about 15 yards in front of me. I wasn’t getting any closer to them and they weren’t pulling away. I figured if I was going to run the same pace as them, I may as well just tuck in behind them and let them pull me along, so I sped up and just that. Consequently, my pace sped up to the 6:30 range for the next few miles. Also, I did finally get warmed up and into a rhythm and even though the pace was faster, it didn’t feel as hard as the first mile had.

Miles 5-7
I stuck behind my two pacers right up until just past the halfway point. The course is almost all downhill, but there is about a mile stretch of gentle uphill around halfway. Along this stretch, my pacers started to slow and I ended up steaming past them, figuring they’d catch back up to me eventually (they did, but much later than I expected). After passing them, the next target in front of me was a lady who had been running about 30 yards ahead of us since the start. I thought she might be the first woman, but wasn’t sure. In any case, the uphill stretch slowed my pace to 7:02 and 7:12 for a couple of miles. The reward for the uphill was a fairly steep downhill pitch immediately afterwards, which allowed me to drop my pace back down to the 6:30s for the next couple of miles.

Miles 7-10
This was definitely the most comfortable stretch of the race for me. We had a nice downhill and I was able to fairly comfortably maintain a 6:43 or faster pace. I eventually caught up to and passed the lady in front of me, but she charged back and went back in front of me. We would repeat this process a few times before the end of the race.

Miles 10-13.1
Okay, just 5K to go and I’m pretty much right on 1:28 pace and way ahead of sub-1:30 pace. At some point I was cruising along, thinking I was going 6:40ish pace only to look down at my Garmin and see a 7:12 in the “avg. lap” window. Crap! So I sped up, passing a guy and that lady again in the process. She passed me again one more time before I finally overtook her for good in the last 2 miles. Somewhere around 1 mile to go, I heard footsteps and heavy breathing behind me (sounds like something out of a horror movie). Turns out, it was the duo I had drafted off for the first half of the race. They had obviously found a second wind and went charging past me. At that point, I didn’t have enough giddyup left to match them, so I watched them pull away. I did manage to muster enough of a kick to ensure that the lady I had been dueling with didn’t pass me again. As I hit the 13 mile mark, I thought I might have a shot at a 1:27:XX so pushed a little harder but it soon became apparent that there was too much course left and not enough clock for that. So, I cruised in, gave a fist pump to my sister and law and kids and finally banked that 13 seconds (plus some).

Final Time: 1:28:17
23rd out of 1,279 overall
3rd out of 73 in my AG
PR of 1:55

After finishing, I immediately shook hands with the dudes who had paced me and then dropped me. I made the comment that I should have just stuck with them the whole way. Turns out they are brothers and both of them were older than me, so it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I also shook hands with the lady I had dueled with and realized then that I knew who she was from other races, including a trail race last month where we raced side by side for awhile before I pulled ahead. Turns out she was the second female overall. I then tracked down my sister in law and kids and then set about finding my drop bag (I had worn shorts and a sleeveless shirt and was getting pretty damn chilly in the damp, 40 degree air). The bag pickup up was somewhat of a fiasco in that the drop bags didn’t even arrive until about 5 minutes after I finished and then the old dudes who were unloading them weren’t really organizing them very well by bib number. A bunch of cold runners ended up kind of taking over the process to speed things up. Eventually, I got my warm clothes on and went to watch some friends and my wife finish (she wasn’t feeling all that great still, but managed a 2:20 anyway).

About an hour after I finished, they posted the first results and I saw that I had finished 3rd in my AG, so I wandered over to the awards tent and got my wicked cool railroad spike award and a keychain. Then, it was off to the Cheyenne Crossing Café for a greasy burger and even greasier hand cut fries before heading home and enjoying a couple of celebratory brews (for your information, Steve, it was Guinness).

Up next? No rest for the weary. I’ve got another race in 4 days, the Dino Trail Run on Thursday night in Rapid City. It’s the second race of the Black Hills Trail Series. The dude who’s ahead of me in the division standings also ran Deadwood yesterday, so we’ll be on equal footing as far as that goes. Of course, he’s faster than me anyhow, so it probably won’t buy me anything (unless he skips out, that is). After that, the big races are the Missoula Marathon on July 12 and then the Lean Horse Half Hundred on August 22. I’m hoping to jump back into ultra training as soon as possible.

Well, that’s all folks. Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Taking it easy (kind of)

Seems like I just tapered not long ago.... Well, it's time to do some tapering again, although my mileage hasn't really gotten that high since Boston so it won't really be much of a taper, but whatever. I want to be rested for the Deadwood-Mickelson Half on June 7th, so I scaled back the mileage this week:

Monday - Rest

Tuesday - 8 miles including 4x800m intervals. Maybe not the smartest thing to do two days after running 23 miles, but I did it anyway (the story of my running life). The first couple of intervals went well, the second couple less so. By the fourth one, I was definitely feeling that 23 miler, so I called it good. I just wanted my legs to remember what it felt like to run fast.

Wednesday - 5 miles. Because I was up late the night before at The Offspring concert in Rapid City, I slept in and didn't run until after work when it was in the mid-70s (i.e. hotter than Hades, as far as I'm concerned). It went alright but then again it was a slow recovery run, so that's to be expected.

Thursday - 6.5 miles. I threw in one mile at half marathon pace and the next one at marathon pace just for kicks.

Friday - 5 miles. Just another recovery run.

Saturday - 10.2 miles.

Sunday - 9.3 miles. For this one, I had Shannon drop me off at the Crow Peak trailhead and told her to pick me up in a couple of hours (after she was done grocery shopping at Wal-Mart....a double bonus for me in that I get my run in AND avoid Wal-Mart). The Crow Peak trail takes you 3.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit, rising about 1,600 feet. There is also a 0.5 mile spur trail (1 mile total out and back) to Beaver Ridge. On the way up, I ran out to Beaver Ridge, so my total mileage to the top was about 4.5. The first half or so of the Crow Peak trail was fairly runnable, but it got markedly tougher on the second half, so some power hiking was definitely involved. All told, though, I probably ran about 90% of the uphill and got to the top with a 12:48 pace, not bad for ascending 1600 feet (actually more because of the Beaver Ridge detour). I hung out on top for maybe 5 minutes and took some pictures before beginning my descent. It felt like I was setting a blazing pace on the way down, even though it was all of about 9:30 miles. I skipped the Beaver Ridge spur on the return trip and when I got back to the parking lot Shannon wasn't there yet so I set off down Higgins Gulch Road back toward Spearfish, figuring I'd run into her (literally) at some point. A couple miles down the road, I did. Overall, a fairly slow 9.3 miles, but one helluva leg workout.

Total - 44 miles

In addition to the usual running escapades, we had an action packed weekend. It started off on Saturday morning with Caiden's last soccer game of the spring. Shannon's mom and sister were in town from Montana, and her dad, another sister and one of our friends were at the game and Caiden wanted badly to score a goal for everyone. Turns out he came damn close as he tallied 6 goals (his most ever in one game) to lead his team to 6-3 win.

After that, it was back home to make the final preparations for Chloe's birthday party. She actually turns 4 on June 2nd, but we wanted to have her party on the weekend so everyone could make it. She's a stereotypical girl, so she's totally into horses, Barbies, and princesses. She had a horse themed party (Flicka is her favorite movie). We had horse cupcakes, played pin the tail on the donkey and busted open a horse pinata.

When all that was done, we loaded into the car and headed into Spearfish to see the movie Up. Caiden says it was the funniest movie he's ever seen in his life (all 5 years of it) and Chloe liked it too and was very relieved that it had a happy ending (as if Disney Pixar movies ever end on a sad note).

On Sunday, after picking me up from my Crow Peak run, we headed to the new waterpark in Spearfish. Caiden and Chloe think it's the greatest place on earth, and they're not even tall enough to go down the waterslides yet. I'm guessing we'll be back there again this summer.

This week: more taper, Caiden's first two t-ball games, preschool graduation and his first kids marathon, and Shannon and my own half marathons. Must be summer, because suddenly there's a lot of crap going on...