Sunday, October 21, 2012

Race review: Heartland 100

I finished my first 100-mile race on my third attempt, getting back to where I started after 23 hours, 12 minutes, 36 seconds.

DID YOU READ WHAT I JUST WROTE? Yes, I won by finishing. Coming in under 24 hours was a sweet bonus. Officially I was 22nd out of 89 starters. There were 61 finishers, 27 of whom went under 24:00.


After my DNF at Old Dominion in June, I returned home to stew. I was mopey in the immediate aftermath, but after a few days a feeling of revenge set in, and by the following weekend I had registered for Heartland. I decided that after posting 2 DNFs in 100s, I would keep this one to myself (and somewhat incredibly, other than my wife only 1 other person found out I was running). If I finished, it'd be a great surprise for everyone. If I didn't, well, then it never happened.

I pulled into the little town of Cassoday, Kansas just a few minutes before the start of Friday afternoon's pre-race briefing. There was a threat of severe weather looming ahead the next day, although race officials were optimistic that we would miss the worst of it. I treated myself to a hearty spread of brisket, potato salad and various other sides before driving back to the hotel in El Dorado, 20 miles away (Cassoday has no hotels).

I slept better than I thought I would and headed out the door at 4:30. The race started at 6:00 under clouds but no rain. Only needing light for an hour or so, I had packed my headlamp for Matfield Green (mile 42.5/57.5) and would start with just a flashlight, dropping it at the first aid station (Battle Creek, 8.2). I consulted the 24-hour pace chart in my pocket; I was way ahead, but this was by design because I used even splits, allowing me to "bank" time for the inevitable late-night death march.

The next section provided a good 4 miles of somewhat sharply rolling hills, wet enough from the previous day's rain to make for really sticky mud that glommed onto my shoes at the least opportune times (such as on one particular downhill when it seemed as though the sudden addition of weight to my feet would send me tumbling). Shortly after that, the first round of storms moved in, earlier than I was expecting. My pace quickened. Given that I'd be running through the prairie, I had read about lightning strikes and determined that of the two outcomes of being hit, survival was probably the lesser preferred. I wasn't feeling lucky.

At the Lapland aid station (16.8), I asked for a weather update. They told me it would be bad for another half hour. Sure enough, about a mile out of the aid station, just as I was nearing the top of a significant hill, the count between the flash and the boom narrowed to 2 beats. Funtime was over. I made it to a tree alongside the road and crouched down (I think there was a power line there also, so I shouldn't have been the most attractive object to lightning). I let about 5 minutes go by without any more close calls, then got up and continued.

I got to the Teterville Road aid station (25) in 4:12, putting me even further ahead of schedule. This was a good thing, because just after that aid station was another pretty long stretch of squishy mud. With the course being just straightforward out-and-back, I'd be seeing everything again, probably in worse shape if it kept raining. Slopping through mud in the dark, I'd better have some extra time to work with.

At Texaco Hill (31.2) I changed socks for the first time. My feet were in decent shape -- they clearly looked as though they'd been wet for hours, but there was no maceration and I didn't have any real hot spots. I coated all the areas I usually have trouble with lube and slipped on a nice dry pair of socks... which stayed dry for what seemed like mere moments. The rain would continue to come in waves for a few more hours. In between, the wind would whip along strong enough to pretty much dry me back off.

My first stop at Matfield Green was the point where I needed to decide whether I'd be back before it got dark or I'd need to take my headlamp with me. My pace chart was pretty much destroyed by now (note to self: next time, laminate it!) but I knew without looking that I had plenty of time, since I was still adding to my cushion. I hit the turnaround in a rather astounding 9:19, more than 45 minutes faster than I'd run 50 miles before.

Going sub-24 now seemed like a slam dunk, but I kept my focus solely on getting from aid station to aid station. There was still plenty of time for something catastrophic to happen, and I was being told the worst weather of the day was still to come.

Feeling a hot spot develop on my right foot, I changed socks again at Matfield Green. Leaving the aid station, my stomach sank as the middle of my right arch now felt completely raw. I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary when I was slathering on more Aquaphor, but this felt really bad. I pushed ahead -- and to my surprise, the feeling went away. Of all the bizarre explanations, it seemed that the Feetures socks I had been wearing had left their signature support pattern etched into the bottom of my foot. When I switched back into Ijinjis, the foot felt raw until the skin smoothed itself back out. (Definitely a useful piece of data for future planning.)

On the way back through the Ridgeline aid station (63.5), I got the good news: The awful storm that had been pointed right at us had veered away and we should be in the clear the rest of the way. By the time I got back to Texaco Hill (68.8), my headlamp was on and I was walking much more than I was running, but I was still in pretty good spirits. I was even happier to realize that I'd kind of forgotten where I was, and the long muddy stretch I was expecting was already behind me (and not all that muddy anymore) when I turned for the next aid station.

At Teterville Road (75) I started to encounter the 50 milers who were turning around and heading back. They were pretty easily sailing past me, since they were toward the lead of their race, but it was still good to have a little more human contact as we approached midnight. At Lapland (83.2) I finally changed out of my sleeveless top into a compression base layer and long-sleeve tech shirt. The wind, which I had expected to die down after sundown, was just relentless and quite possibly even stronger than it had been during the day. But I had a jacket waiting for me at Battle Creek (91.8) to get me through the final stretch, so I was well prepared.

Someone at Lapland asked if this was my first 100 as I sat down to inhale some hot ramen. I said it would be the first I would finish, and they gave their enthusiastic agreement. I had 6 hours to cover 16.8 miles and get in under 24 hours. Really, I was thinking I had 4 hours to get in under 22. But my energy was really fading and my muscles were not holding up. I just trudged ahead toward the finish.

At Battle Creek I sat down for more ramen and to put on my jacket. But wait... no jacket. No, I had in fact packed it for Lapland and completely ignored it while I was changing shirts. I was chattering pretty hard and the hot broth wasn't doing it for me. One of the volunteers went to her car and brought me a spare windshirt and gloves, and I was on my way for the final march to the finish. I waved 22 hours good-bye, and 23 as well, but I didn't care about any of that as I made the last right turn back onto the blacktop and strolled proudly across the finish line.

Just some random thoughts that will hopefully be useful to someone who wants to run this:

  • Tony Clark and Kyle Amos, the race directors, had a pre-race motivational message that really struck a chord with me. They're positive guys, but there's a strong anti-whiner undercurrent that resonates with me. I don't know about Kyle, but Tony is a former Marine who has seen enough to be less than interested in your sob story about dropping out of a footrace because you couldn't take any more. I don't take a crew, I don't have pacers, I don't run for Jesus or Santa or some friend or family member who died too soon; I am out there solely to see what I'm capable of. And I know that as with running any other distance, you get out of this exactly what you put into it, and that's the attitude Tony and Kyle convey. If you do the work, they are your biggest fans. Respecting the distance and developing the mental strength to get through the low points were a couple of difficult assignments Old Dominion dealt me. I think I did my homework.
  • There's a certain genius to the course design, specifically with regard to crew access (for those who happen to take one). Crews are not allowed at Battle Creek, so Lapland is the last place to get support. Barring something freakish, if you leave Lapland, you're going to finish the race, since the only other option is to give up at Battle Creek and catch a ride back to the start with an aid station worker -- who won't be leaving until the last runner passes and the aid station is broken down. If you're going to wait several hours for that to happen, you might as well keep going.
  • Actually, something freakish did happen in that at least one runner missed the first turn after Lapland and did not finish. I'm not sure how this happened since all turns were quite well marked (and you saw them earlier in the day). The only point of real concern for me was on the way back, after the Texaco Hill aid station. There's a kind of shortcut from one road to another across a field that isn't much more than a mowed swath with a couple of tire tracks. I found the turn, marked by glowsticks, but couldn't find the path and ended up wandering in the tall grass for a couple minutes. Other than that, you really can't get lost.
  • You can see the course up to the first aid station on Google Street View. The pictures were actually taken during this race in 2007 (check out the street view for 37.999676,-96.514362; the aid station tents are a little more durable this time around).
  • I wore trail shoes with rock plates and gaiters. Depending on your cushioning, you might get away with road shoes -- the course is 99.5% gravel/dirt road -- but there are some sections in the middle that are pretty nasty rocky (these are the Flint Hills after all). Gaiters, though, are not really optional. Without them you will absolutely get all manner of annoying pebbles in your shoes.
  • I have got to figure out a better nutrition plan. As with my other long races, I started strong, keeping a steady stream of calories flowing in (250-300 per hour). I tried mixing up Honey Stinger waffles, Gus and various chomps so I was getting different flavors and textures and not getting sick of any one thing. But as with my other long races, I reached a point where I just didn't want to eat anything else. I have to think my epic slowdown can't be blamed entirely on fatigue; I have to keep pumping calories in even when I don't want them. Maybe I need to mix in some candy bars; if I can't manage a Snickers bar no matter what kind of state I'm in, there's something wrong with me. Or maybe I need to turn to liquids late in races. I don't feel like taking "real" food at aid stations is the answer because none of it sounds appetizing to me in the context of running; I don't want to head back out with a full stomach of solid food.

1st 25 mi: 4:12:11 (10:05 pace)
2nd 25 mi: 5:06:49 (12:16 pace; 9:19:00/11:11 total)
3rd 25 mi: 6:16:48 (15:09 pace; 15:35:48/12:29 total)
4th 25 mi: 7:36:48 (18:16 pace; 23:12:36/13:56 total)


It's a 100; you get a shirt. If you finish in 30 hours, you get a hoodie that says FINISHER on the back. If you finish in 24 hours, your hoodie has a few extra words:

And of course, there's this:

DRC Half, Nov. 4.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Race review: Santa Fe 5K

I started strong, ran strong in the middle and finished strong for a time of 19:29, only 6 seconds slower than my PR from March 2011.

I did win; I was 1st of 35 in my age group. I was 12th of 257 men and 13th of 485 overall (I thought there would be many more runners but apparently there were either a lot of no-shows or a lot of folks running untimed).


Look, I ran a 100-miler between running this 5K and writing this race report, so please forgive me for blanking out on some of the details. I remember there were a few raindrops here and there that held off for the race but nonetheless made for a steamy evening. I ran out comfortably, knowing the only meaningful hill was coming in the first mile. Making the climb on Santa Fe Avenue I focused on using my glutes to get up the hill, which has been a point of emphasis in my recent training.

Getting up the hill I passed people, coming down the other side I passed people, and I just kept it going like that the rest of the way. As the leaders made the turnaround and headed gently back downhill to the start, I counted 15 folks in front of me. I picked off a couple and got tantalizing close to some others as the last half mile approached. But even with a group of 4 just a few seconds in front of me, I couldn't find another gear to kick past them -- I had pretty well spent everything I had to get there, leaving the tank just empty as I finished.

The post-race setup was pretty nice -- think Katy 5K on a much smaller scale. There were half a dozen food trucks with food for sale (boo) but a few vendors such as Urban Taco handing out complimentary bites. With only a couple of spotlights on hand, the festivities had to wrap up rather quickly post-race; this is something the organizers should fix for next year to make this more of an event.



Beyond the standard cotton T-shirt, a green wristband -- possibly the least useful accessory ever -- was also thrown in. The age-group awards were unique, though: these lanterns:

Heartland 100 (already done, race report forthcoming).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Race preview: Santa Fe 5K


Thursday, Oct. 11

Santa Fe 5K

This is the final leg of the three-race series that included Dash Down Greenville and Too Hot to Handle.

After last year's inaugural race drew 519 finishers, there should be twice that many this year. Where will they park? That's an excellent question and one we can all agree with.

Hard to believe given this weekend's cooldown, but it should be a shade over 80 degrees with a small chance of a thunderstorm.


The obvious comparison is the Katy 5K, which I ran in 19:50 in May. The temperature will be about the same, and the course is similar, with a meaningful hill in the early going leading to a steady downhill return trip. If I beat 19:50, I'll consider that a win.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Race review: 8-Hour Run from the Ducks

The numbers will show I had a good run, but it will take a little more narrative to convey the real breakthrough I had in this race. I was given credit for 46 laps of the 0.95-mile course, or 43.7 miles, though I have a feeling I actually completed just 45 (42.75 miles). Either way, I was right around where I hoped I'd be.

I did not win. Who actually won is a matter of great controversy that is still being sorted out (I'll get into this later). I think the official results will have me as 4th of 12, for now.


There were thunderstorms and heavy rain in the forecast, so it was actually a bit of a relief to start the race in just a steady drizzle. The course was redrawn at the last minute to direct us away from some areas of the path where rain-weighted low branches were too much of an issue (but a couple dozen other spots remained where ducking or weaving were required, adding a measure of physicality to the run).

The path was just 8 to 10 feet wide in most places, so the start was just an easy jog with the pack as there was nowhere else to go. Eventually an opening came and 4 or 5 of us moved out in front and ran together for a few miles, dropping one runner for a bathroom break (you must not be having a good day if you're stopping for the bathroom barely half an hour in).

I was not paying attention to my pace, just running comfortably with the others. After 7 laps, about an hour in, I made a planned stop to grab a couple gels -- peanut butter Gu is every bit as disgusting as I thought it would be -- and headed back out solo. From there it was just me and the mist for a while. I'd pass someone every few minutes, and at longer intervals, someone would pass me. With so many turns and changes of surface, it was easy to break the course down into very small sections, some of which I enjoyed (the dirt straightaway under the shade trees) and some of which I hated (the flagstone stretch by the pond; seriously, that has to be the worst possible flat surface to run on).

In the third hour I started mixing in some walk breaks, and in the fourth hour I was walking up to 20 percent of the time. The drizzle had not let up at all, and by the halfway mark, the sock change I had prepared for was badly needed. I had to enlist some help from a volunteer to unhook one of my gaiters, so the stop took longer than I had hoped, about 8 minutes.

When I headed back out with a dry cap, shirt and socks, I felt better, and was back to steady running... for a short while. Passing the marathon distance, though, it was clear that I hadn't run this far in 4 months -- and definitely not with so much upper-body work. Walk breaks grew steadily longer... and then the rain started to pick up. Now I was slipping away mentally as well as physically. At 6 hours I was at 34.6 miles. I decided I would just plug along to get to 40 and call it a day.

A couple laps later, 3 shy of 40, I just had to sit down. I grabbed something to eat and sat there and dripped for 7 or 8 minutes, though it felt like longer (and I actually intended for it to be longer). When I got up, I started walking with the intent of just getting 3 more laps done. But then I noticed something: By getting my arms up and walking like I actually had somewhere to go, I was really making good time. I walked mile 39 in 14:01 and decided I would not stop at 40, which lit enough of a fire under me to walk mile 40 in 12:43(!).

Suddenly I had all this extra time on my hands -- 36 minutes left -- and now even my worn-out legs didn't feel so worn out anymore! I walked one more quick lap and now had 24 minutes to get 2 laps in. I knew some running would be needed because I'd be cutting it close, so I took off. This close to the end, I had no need to gingerly avoid the now-ankle-deep puddles to save my feet, and charged right through them. I charged by a couple folks like I was on my first lap of the day, and got back to the start in less than 8 minutes.

If I could have kept that pace up, I might've gotten yet another 2 laps in, but I was running so hard I started to feel it in my chest and pulled up to just walk off the rest of one more lap. In the end I hit the number I was going for, though when I made that goal I didn't recognize how hard it would be to reach. I was very happy with how I got there.

Last Labor Day, I ran a 12-hour race in St. Louis but sat down just after the 10-hour mark. In Austin last December, my 24-hour race came to an end in 12 1/2 hours. A selling point of timed races is that you can't DNF, but those experiences haunted me because I knew that really, I had quit. Finally, this time I got through my low point -- by figuring out how to walk, of all things -- and with the exception of a short break, kept going to the finish. This was a day I will need in the future.

Though I will remember this event for my personal breakthrough, it will probably be best remembered for uncertainty surrounding the results. Because of a scheduling conflict, the chip timer used in previous years was unavailable. So volunteers were called in count laps -- some local JROTC kids.

Having kids count laps is not a good idea, but frequently changing the lap counters is an even worse idea. I had 5 different kids counting my laps throughout the race. Often they switched without warning -- and mind you, in a lap-counted race it is always the runner's responsibility to ensure the lap is counted. There were several laps where I wasn't fully confident I had been acknowledged, but since I had my Garmin on and wasn't in contention to win, I didn't worry about it.

Well, either some lap counters did an incredibly atrocious job or something nefarious was afoot, because the guy who ran the most laps did not win. Last year's winner, Mark Henderson, was the early rest-stopper I mentioned earlier. Along with leaving him behind for that break, I passed him another 3 times in the early going as he walked and chatted with a female runner and then jogged alongside another slower runner. As the race went on, he eventually made up those laps plus a couple more.

But I never could catch the early front-runner, David Renfro. There was one very brief section where I ran by him as he picked something up from the aid station, but he quickly passed me back, and continued to pass me many times (I didn't keep a hard count but to say he passed me 10 times would not be a stretch).

As I came in to the finish, I wanted to catch my breath and congratulate David. Instead I caught him in the tail end of an argument with the race director, who just repeated, "Bye. Bye." David said, "It's no wonder you only have 13 people," and marched off. When the results were announced, David was not named at all (everyone's name and mileage is read), and Mark was announced as the winner.

I wanted to know what happened, but Tony Mathison, the race director, was clearly agitated as he concluded the ceremony. Every other race I've done where the RD was around afterward, he's chatted me up, asked about my experience, told me he'd see me next year and so on. But Tony just gave me a quick handshake and a quicker "bye", which shocked me because he had been so cordial and enthusiastic throughout the race. There could be something in the Dallas Morning News about this later this week, so keep an eye out.

1:00:18 - 7.01 mi
1:59:06 - 13.54 mi
2:59:27 - 19.51 mi
4:00:13 - 24.49 mi
4:59:05 - 29.72 mi
5:59:15 - 34.56 mi
7:00:29 - 38.10 mi
7:57:13 - 42.63 mi


You get a shirt. If you're chosen for the top 3 by gender, you get another shirt indicating such.

Santa Fe 5K, Oct. 11.