Saturday, June 23, 2012

Race review: Old Dominion 100

I trained poorly and competed poorly and reaped what I'd sown, dropping at 74.95 miles from exhaustion.

Duh, no. Of 54 starters, 26 finished under 24:00 and another 13 made the final 28-hour cutoff.


I thought I was ready to run 100 miles (run, walk, whichever). Starting from the fairgrounds at 4 a.m., I jogged out easily through town. I started with a headlamp but took it off after a couple miles and "borrowed" others' lights until it started to get light after an hour. I tagged along with several others as we hiked up the many switchbacks on Woodstock Tower Road.

The vocal captain of that group was a gentleman named Dave Snipes. He had finished the previous 7 OD100s and earned 4 buckles along the way. All the way up the mountain he shared course knowledge and strategy tips. I hope to have many lessons later in this review, but the first one is a biggie: If you have never finished any 100-mile race and you meet up early with a guy who's done this exact race 7 times (not to mention a truckload of others) and has a range of finish times about where you're aiming, you stay close enough to count the threads on his shirt as long as you possibly can. (Sniper would finish 19th and collect yet another buckle.)

But no, I went ahead and walked a little faster, figuring I couldn't take it too easily on that 3-ish-mile-long, 1100-foot-tall climb up the hill. I had no plans to run up any hills, so I would have to run the flats and downhills and not lollygag on the way up. I refilled my handheld at the 2nd aid station at mile 7 -- everyone blows past the first one at 3 -- turned left and headed down the hill.

Unlike the route up the mountain, the trip down is a long straightaway with no switchbacks, with more gravel than the paved road up. I got a better look at said gravel when I stumbled and fell hard. Yes, just 8 miles into a 100-mile race I told myself I must finish, I had shredded my lower right leg, right hip, and to a lesser degree, my palms. Fortunately I rolled onto my back midway through the skid and saved some additional skin at the expense of my pack (more on this later). It definitely hurt, but I shook it off after a minute or so and headed on down the hill.

I fought through the pebbles in my shoes until the next aid station at 10. I was running alongside Dan Uhlir, who was attempting his first 100 (he would crush the thing to come in 6th). If he hadn't been there I would have missed the turn to the first 4-mile section of single-track, even though the folks at the aid station just told me the turn was 100 feet down the road. I moseyed along until a group of four caught up to me; I followed their lead as they pulled me through the woods.

Coming off the trail we were back onto a gravel road, and would continue on roads for the next 18 miles. I stopped at the first major aid station at 19 to coat some emerging heel and toe blisters with Aquaphor and try again to shake the pebbles out of my right shoe. I had forgotten all about the fall as no one made any mention of the massive road burn on my leg. I was thinking more about how great all the cloud cover was. For a while it even seemed like it might rain (after a forecast saying it absolutely would not).

Leaving the next aid station, several runners passed me in rapid succession. One of the women happily remarked that the race was now one-fourth complete. I bit my tongue. A little further up the road, I followed a couple other runners in making a right turn where the course went straight. I thought I saw a course marker across the street, but I let myself think, "These guys have probably done this before, and they're probably following those two girls that ran by, so I'll trust them." After about half a mile, the two guys slowed to a stop, and I shouted to them the thought I'd been thinking for several minutes: "This isn't right!" I showed them my printed directions that said we were supposed to cross a road that we were running on at the moment. We headed back for the course, thankful the damage had been limited.

Even with that mishap, I got into the Four Points aid station at 32 making great time, continuing to hold a pace for a 22:30 finishing time (I wasn't thinking in these terms but more that I had 90 minutes in the bank for a sub-24 finish, time I would need as the course got tougher later). I dropped off my pack, knowing I'd be back in 15 miles. A volunteer told me the upcoming section -- the first major section of difficult trail -- would be slow and hot and maybe I should think about losing the long-sleeved shirt for something cooler. All I had in the bag was another long-sleeve, as I'd decided I preferred keeping the sun off of my arms over staying a small bit cooler. Off I went.

It was slow. It was hot. It was muddy in places. I almost got passed by some dude who was just out there hiking with his dog, not even part of the race. I did get passed by a couple of runners... well, I got passed by a number of folks in this section, but in particular these two guys that ran past as one was acknowledging to the other that this was his least favorite section of the course because the air just did not move through the hollow at all. I tried not to think about it, but when I finally got to the other side and the volunteer at the aid station remarked that my legs would feel so much better now getting back on the gravel road, I couldn't have agreed more.

I got back to Four Points, changed my shirt and socks, lubed my blisters up some more (switching from Drymax socks to Wrightsocks also seemed to help quite a bit) and exchanged greetings with Tim Hardy, my lone dailymile connection who was also in the race. We would leapfrog each other several times throughout the afternoon.

The road out of Four Points made a left turn and started climbing... up, and up, and up, for 3 miles without a break. I crossed the 50-mile mark at 11 hours on the dot, having given back a large chunk of my cushion stumbling along the trail or walking uphill. I had read an earlier report suggesting that 11 hours at the midway point was probably the cutoff for getting in under 24. So I still had hope.

At the next aid station, cheerily named Mountain Top, I asked a boy who was volunteering if this was the top of the hill. He said yes. He was wrong. I turned right and kept climbing for a couple more miles. I started thinking less about 24 hours and more about 28, the final race cutoff.

And 28 still seemed reasonable, even after getting to the next aid station, crossing the road and starting yet another climb up a merciless ATV trail. A measly 3 miles per hour would get me there. I'd been walking for several hours; I could walk for several more. Eventually all the walking made my hands swell something fierce, though I wondered whether my salt/water balance was out of whack. Having never dealt with swollen hands, I couldn't remember if the solution was less salt or more water or both.

At the next aid station someone checked me out. Blood pressure was fine (122/58). Eye & nail color were fine. Sure, I hadn't peed in 12 hours, but I'm a heavy sweater and I'm used to going long stretches without urinating (I didn't go during the entirety of my 12-hour race last September). Not that Little Fort was an official medical station anyway, but they gave me the OK to proceed.

Sure enough, not long afterward I finally went again, having had my fluid intake sufficiently jostled by some of my first actual running in many hours. Dusk was setting in. Obviously I had no chance to get to Elizabeth Furnace before dark; I was just trying to get to the next aid station at Mudhole Gap. I caught up to Tim for the third or fourth time just as we were pulling in.

The next section would end up being my last. The trek along Mudhole Gap Trail was short (less than a mile, I believe) but tedious, with 5 rocky creek crossings. The route dumped us onto a logging road that just felt interminable. Tim was right behind me. As a couple hikers coming from the other direction told us we'd turn left in 2 miles, Tim slipped past me and slowly but surely pulled away for the last time. (He was DFL.)

I hated walking on those damn rocks more than anything, but the turn onto the trail was where I finally gave up. I could deal with everything hurting if I was still making progress, but by this point I was barely moving. The incomparable Liz Bauer, who's running 30 100s this year, ran past me and shared that her feet felt like hamburger meat. It's an expression I'd heard before, but now I understood.

I moseyed into the Elizabeth Furnace aid station and told the volunteers I was out, an obvious decision that was confirmed by one of them as I stumbled simply trying to step onto the scale. I shared a ride back to the start with a couple other victims, checked out with the timer and staggered back to the hotel on the next street over.

It's taken me a while to write all this, obviously, so I've probably forgotten many of the points I wanted to make. Aside from not running with veterans and ignoring my course map, here are just some of my other mistakes:
  • No drop bags: I didn't use drop bags at Rouge-Orleans and didn't think it affected me too much, and I had stuffed far more into my pack for that race than this one. But R-O has about 900 feet of gain over 126.2 miles. OD gains 14,000 feet in 100 miles. Every single unnecessary ounce must be shed (or you can train with a weighted vest or pack).
  • Easier doesn't mean easy: Speaking of the elevation gain, I came to the ponderous conclusion that since OD falls somewhere in the middle of the scale for ups and downs among 100s, I'd find it moderately difficult. There is not a more boneheaded piece of analysis you could come up with. One hundred miles in a straight line with no gain or loss is very difficult. It gets harder from there. Maybe it's not Hardrock, but it's also not the Chicago Marathon.
  • Wrong shoes: One of the toughest calls for me was deciding what shoes to wear. The surface changes many times from paved road to gravel road to rocky singletrack and back again. Someone who finished last year's race wrote to the Ultra List that road shoes would be good enough the entire way, so I went with this. Maybe my feet are too sensitive, but I would wear something with a rock plate next time.
I'm sure with prompting I could come up with more. But there's certainly enough here that if I actually learn from them, I might be OK. I'm registered for Rocky Raccoon in February. It is not as difficult as OD, but again, see above; it's a 100-mile race. If I don't finish it (barring injury or extreme weather), that will probably be my last dalliance with this distance.

Absolutely must mention the incredible volunteer support at this event. Whether at the larger crew-access aid stations or the smaller ones that were just a couple tables set up in front of someone's house, everyone knew just what questions to ask or encouragement to offer. OK, so that kid at Mountain Top told me I was done climbing. But he also offered me the most refreshing freeze pop ever made, so he's forgiven.

I will list the official splits, though I just want to say for the record that I absolutely did not run the first 3 miles at 7:00 pace. Not even close. The watch at the start must have been faster than everyone else's.

Water Street (2.98): 0:21 (T-7th; big pack)
Woodstock Gap (7.18): 1:13 (T-13th)
Boyer In (10.17): 1:38 (T-15th)
Boyer Out (14.61): 2:34 (T-17th)
770/758 (19.64): 3:27 (21st)
803/678 (22.71): 4:01 (21st)
Saint Davids Church (25.38): 4:33 (21st)
Creekside (28.52): 5:35 (T-31st; went off course)
4 Points #1 (32.55): 6:23 (32nd)
Chrisman Hollow Rd (43.13): 9:16 (36th)
4 Points #2 (47.70): 10:17 (39th)
Mountain Top (50.92): 11:15 (T-39th)
Edinburg Gap (56.57): 12:52 (44th)
Little Fort (64.25): 15:25 (44th)
Mud Hole (69.48): 16:49 (T-41st; moved up due to drops)
Elizabeth Furnace (74.95): 18:55 (43rd)


It's a 100; you get a T-shirt. Finishers get a duffel bag; sub-24 finishers get a buckle.


Too Hot to Handle 15K, July 15.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Eat this, not that

Some time back, I was introduced to Earndit, a site that offers rewards for working out. Most of these are just discounts that bring outrageously-priced gimmicky fitness-related goods in line with normal human prices, but said discounts might give you the idea to try out some products you wouldn't have otherwise considered.
I recently used some of my Earndit points to order a couple brands of nutrition bars to snack on at work, since the bars I usually snack on tend to be of the Snickers variety. One brand is Rise Bar. I ordered a few variety boxes that, in sum, contain all 12 different flavors. So far I've tasted about half of them and I've yet to find one I dislike (I pre-emptively offered my wife the Blueberry Coconut bars since I don't do blueberry).

Rise markets three different kinds of bars -- breakfast, energy and protein -- and has a whole bit about how they're very specifically formulated to be eaten at certain times of the day. For instance, the Crunchy Honey Walnut bar is presented thusly: "Honey—a quick start for hour one. Fruit—big chunks to digest slower for hour two. Nuts—sustained energy for hour three."

The likelihood of 160 calories sustaining me for 3 hours is zero. But I appreciate how these bars aren't junked up with a bunch of crap. The entire ingredient list for this flavor, for instance, is dates, walnuts, honey, raisins, crisp rice, organic amaranth, and salt. All the flavors are gluten free and most are vegan (I don't care about either of these things, but maybe you do).

Rise Bars will probably appeal to fans of simple, all-natural products like Larabar. They're available online or at Sprouts or Whole Foods so yes, you will pay more for these... unless you get them like I did.

The other brand I ordered is called Journey. These bars are also all-natural and all that business, but the angle here is that they are made only in 5 non-traditional flavors: Parmesan Romano, Coconut Curry, Pizza Marinara, Rosemary and Hickory Barbecue. It's an odd concept, but I figured what the hell, I like pizza.

These were -- well, I should say "this was" since I only ate one -- disgusting. The blend of grains comprising the bar give it a dry consistency that is made worse by the blend of spices used to give the marinara flavor. I had a hard time washing the taste out of my mouth, and that aftertaste, combined with the bar settling in my gut over time, made me feel sick to my stomach. It sat in my belly like a brick and, 5 hours after eating it, I still couldn't go for the run I wanted. Yes, I'm a little bitter that this thing cost me 8 miles.

Fortunately, Journey bars are not widely available -- only 5 widely-scattered locations in all of Texas according to their website. Or you can order them online, if you dare.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Can we focus?

I spent this weekend in Kansas City taking the running coach certification course offered by Road Runners Club of America. It's pretty much the gold standard for this sort of thing and classes fill up quickly so after just missing the Dallas class in February, I just jumped into the first one I could get to easily.

The course gave me a lot of good information about coaching runners, and combining this certification with the personal training certification I earned last month should help me market myself a little better (few running coaches are also personal trainers, and vice versa). I have a number of ideas and wish I could take a few weeks off from my real job to take care of all the behind-the-scenes work of my side gig. Alas, for now I have only a website with a "Coming Soon" message, and an unpublished Facebook page.

But beyond learning a few things about coaching, I learned a few things to incorporate into my own running. Least surprising to anyone: I need to run more. So far this year I've averaged 29 miles a week (or 33 if you adjust for 3 injury weeks). You will not find many regular marathoners with a lighter workload.

But, this year I've also finished 4 marathons and a 50K, and gone past the 100K mark twice in races I didn't finish. Two of those marathons (Miracle Match and Big Sur) are decidedly difficult and I was within 10 minutes of my PR in each -- a PR, by the way, that was good enough to qualify for Boston and was earned on not many more training miles per week last year. So will adding miles really pay off?

I suppose soon we will find out. I only have one race between now and Labor Day, so there may not be much focus to my training over the next couple months. Beyond that, the start of summer in north Texas is not really the perfect time to buckle down and get serious. But where I would normally have run 3 miles, tonight I did 5. And as time and weather allow, I'll keep looking for ways to squeeze out an extra mile here or there. If it does anything for me, I'll stick with it. If not, at least it'll be an experience I can use with my clients.