Monday, August 8, 2011

Weekend Warrior...

 There was an old beer slogan that said, "The weekend was made for Michelob", and similarly I had a few people ask me today if I was drunk when they found out how many miles I ran this weekend and what I was doing it for.  I have to admit, I am fairly well acclimated to the looks I get when people catch me in a spot where I have to admit that I am hobbling because of what I decided to choose to do over the weekend, and then, of course, the questions of why, and the amazed reply that they don't even like to drive that far in their car.  The fact is, I wouldn't do it, if I didn't love it, or have a really good reason to be doing it.
Follow the feet!

Fortunately, I got to spend the weekend enjoying my insane pursuit of finishing a 50 miler with ultra-marathoners, and fellow members of The Ultra Gang, Wild Bill and Breakheart Dan.

Upon a last minute email on Friday, I was able to recruit both Dan and Bill to help me along on what was to be about three hours on the trails at ultra marathon pace.  We met in Ipswich and headed out for some miles in Willowdale State Forest, choosing to run the Bay Circuit Trail out toward the Hood Pond section of Willowdale and Cleveland Farm State Forest.

Even camels will take a drink or two!
It became quite apparent that the pleasantly warm temps would be nothing compared to the increasing humidity.  It was certainly not a hot day, but the humidity was up enough that sips from hydration packs and water bottles was mandatory.  In fact, Dan ran out of fluid about two hours in, and I thought I was over-doing it with 85 ounces in my hydration pack, but sucked it dry just about the time we were finishing the run.  Dan and I were both convinced that Bill must be part camel, as he only had about 60 ounces of fluid with him, and as we stretched out afterward Bill found he barely drank half of his supply!

Dan doing his best to smile amid the conditions.
Humidity aside, it was great to spend the morning on the trails with a couple great friends.  Lots of laughs, and I totally appreciated some of the training nuggets that both Dan and Bill were willing to share.  In total we covered about 15 miles in a little over three hours, and it was exactly the pace I was hoping to do for my long run this weekend.  The only downside was that the humidity left me feeling wiped out for the rest of the day and didn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in the big picture of my training and racing goals.  All things considered, next weekend I get to spend more time on feet on the trails with Dan, Bill, and many others from T.U.G. at the TARC 12 Hour Ultra, and should have plenty of opportunities to learn more from my experienced ultra friends.

Sunday rolled around with lots of rain and more humidity, and I was happily thinking about how much I was going to enjoy my rest day.  Then something happened.

I had been reading some advice on 50 miler training in Ultra Running Magazine, and part of the article explained that it was important to learn how to run on tired and taxed legs.  The original idea was to do a couple hours of running and walking on the roads, and then I resolved that I was training for a TRAIL race, and should make the mileage happen on trails.  Unfortunately for my tired legs the closest trails are at the Prospect Hill section of the Bay Circuit trail, which features a hill about a fifth of a mile long, which provides about 150 ft. of elevation gain per ascent.  Not much compared to other locations, but all of the above, plus lots of rocks and roots is enough to destroy lots of muscle groups.

No, I am not having fun, yet.
I used a 4 min. run / 2 min. walk strategy getting over to the hill, and then spent the better part of 75 minutes going up and down the hill.

I am not sure exact what the grade is on this hill, but it seems damn steep.  Plus the bottom section is fairly runnable, but the middle and later two-thirds of the hill show how lightly traveled this section of the Bay Circuit Trail really is.  I actually stopped my watch and did some impromptu trail maintenance on a couple of sections where the grass was nearly knee high.  I figured it would be helpful when descending the tricky terrain.

For the second straight day the air was saturated with juice, and the vast greenery between the trees in this section of woods was laced with mist, and the quiet trail was a little spooky in an Arnold - Predator - kind of way.  I was on the look out for red dots, and no exaggeration, once down the hill I slipped and fell on my backside, and a squirrel in an adjacent tree fell from a limb to the forest floor and scattered back up the tree.

I got up and went along my merry way, because just like Jessie Ventura, "I ain't got time to bleed".

In total, I got about 2,000 feet of elevation gain on this run, and added a few miles after the hills to get a nice even 10 miles in about 2 hours, and 15 minutes.

All things considered, I was happy to have accumulated 25 miles and about 5 1/2 hours of time on feet over the course of the weekend.  It was all at a relaxed pace, but I did get the added challenge of some hill climbing on tired legs.  It hurts today, and was probably not a great idea the week before a race, but I am sure after a few days of recovery I'll be ready to roll this weekend at TARC Summer.

Hokas are coming this week, and I hope to log a few miles in them before trying them out over the long haul at TARC.

Happy Trails! 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!!!

Perhaps I am just at the age that I do not have enough experience to have seen trends come and go, and maybe I am just the right age that the shoe companies target when the newest fad comes out, but after looking into my newly organized gear closet at our new place, I realize I have a ton of different shoes!

I am starting to realize that shoes are really like relationships we have in our lives.  Some pairs are simply bliss, while others are fraught with pain, discomfort and bitterness.

You buy shoes new, and they are fresh and clean and full of promise.  I am not one for foot fetishes, but there is something sexy about a new pair of shoes!

There seems to always be a honeymoon period with the shoe, where everything feels great, you and your new mate are clicking and just effortlessly rattling off the miles.  Then there is the middle of the relationship where things just keep going on like they always have...or the problems begin to arise, and then there is an end, where the old friend is retired after miles of reliable service, or a short and prompt divorce occurs and the relationship is mercifully over.

I am thinking about all this now because for as many shoes as I have been through over the last few years of resuming my life as a runner, I have yet to find that 'reliable' shoe.  I am not sure if it is because of the types of running I do, or is a product of the fads I have bought into, but at this point I am standing here looking for a shoe that will be able to handle lots of miles and function on both the trails and the roads... is that too much to ask?

I don't even think I am asking for suggestions here, I am just lamenting that I have found myself really happy with certain shoes for certain situations, but I am increasingly finding less and less in my bank account for footwear, and just need something reliable and versatile.  Does that exist?  Or am I like that tradesman that feels like he needs a work bench that includes every tool for every job, when I hammer and some duct tape will do just fine!

Just like old girlfriends, I don't want to sit here rating all the old shoe relationships I have had, because it is easy to romanticize about the old days and the shoes that just always worked for me when I was a speed demon in college... I seriously switched my brand trainers and racers ONCE throughout college!

I have found great options for certain situations lately, but haven't found THAT shoe.  I have been thinking about minimalist / barefoot running, and see both sides of the story on that front, but definitely feel like, for me, I need cushioning for the mileage I plan on logging in preparation for a 50 miler this Fall.

Enter my new 'mail order bride'...

I am going to try a pair of Hoka Stinson B / Combo XT's.  It is a big risk and I will have the return box ready at hand, but for what I am seeking - versatility(roads and trails) and high mileage - it is a chance I am willing to take. 

More on show reviews later, though, because thankfully I have been injury free for multiple months now, and have been using many different brands / models, and have LOTS of thoughts and opinions on footwear with my accumulated years of experience.

Hoppy trails!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Marathon Training Plan? What Marathon Training Plan?

I was reading a profile of an ultra-marathoner in Ultrarunning Magazine a couple of months ago, where the athlete mentioned that she would compensate for the inability to race in a number of official races by creating her own events.  She would set a distance and select a course and have at it.  As she mused, she won quite a few of those events, because, after all, she was the only runner in the race!

Taking a page out of this runner’s book, I was recently thinking about doing a long run over the last couple of weeks, and this past weekend, decided to create my own event.

I had been thinking about my progress as an ultra runner a lot lately because my goal for this Fall, as well as my 100 mile aspirations for 2012.  I have been trying to get advice from a lot of people that have done a 100, or really any event beyond my personal accomplishments, which at this point is roughly 32.5 miles, and 6 ½ hours of time on feet.  Most of the advice has been grouped around the thought that one needs to pay their dues before they take on the immense challenge of a 50 or a 100 mile run.  This is definitely something I can appreciate, because ever since I started my journey back to running from weight gain and sedentary life, everything has been about paying my dues for each distance.

There were 10 mile runs a few years back where I needed to walk early and often.  Where I would force myself to run at a certain pace, and cover the distance, often times I would end up hurt having stress my body too much.  Then there was the half marathon distance run I did during the middle of the winter because I wanted to see if I really could do it.  A run where the final 2 to 2.5 miles were marked with lots of walking and lots of pain.  That was also a moment where I created a ‘fake’ event to push myself beyond ‘normal’.  That was a run where I sat in immense pain, thinking the marathon was impossible.  Then there have been more recent training runs where I have been absolutely crushed by distances from 15 to 20 miles.  Then, of course, there was my experience with the TARC Spring Classic this past April, where I accomplished my goal of finishing a 50k, but was haunted with the thought that 50 miles was so far away from my current fitness and capabilities.

The silver lining to all of the above is that now I can go out and run 10 or 13.1 miles without having to stop and walk, and consider them distances I can run at any time.  A definite mark of progress!  I can’t help but think that the other distances will follow suit in due time.

With all this in mind, I have been thinking about the marathon distance a lot lately.  One of my ultra running friends mentioned her progression was to run a bunch of marathons, and then a bunch of 50ks, then a bunch of 50 milers, and now she’s up to a couple 100ks, with her trajectory, no doubt, for a 100 miler.  To date I have completed five races where the distance was marathon or greater, and I have operated under the impression that one stays away from ‘marathon’ distance when training for like distances.  Over the last couple of weekends I have been thinking that I want to break free of that thought.  Enter my training Saturday evening.

I decided to head out prepared for 3 to 4 hours on my feet, with all the intentions of incorporating walking breaks, and running at much more relaxed pace.  I left with about 85 ounce of fluid in my Platypus hydration pack, a couple gels, a PB&J sandwich, and a couple packages of Peanut Butter crackers.  It was still warm and sunny, and I know that is usually my Achilles heel when it comes to conditions, but I was out there to go slow, after all!  My decision was to run south out of Rowley, through downtown Ipswich, and on to Essex, MA.  I knew I could get a good three hours on this route, which I had never done before.  I also knew of a couple areas where I could duck in and add a couple trail miles to break the monotony of the road miles.

I wasn’t entirely sure what break out I would use for my running and walking breaks, but after the first little while, I decided 10 run, 2 walk would be fine for the time being.

The first half hour drifted by and I arrived at the Dow Brook Reservation trails, which has to be highlighted by this bridge that made me impulsively stop and take a photograph because ‘The Bard’ would have wanted me to do so, I am quite sure. 

The miles on the Dow Brook trails was nice because it offered some shade from the sun, and a nice place to dispose of some fluid, that one just cannot do on a busy state highway!

This does bring up a good point about running long on trails.  Sure there are bugs and the isolation can be a little creepy at time, but at least if you are properly hydrating, you can actively participate in the water cycle without obviously breaking a few laws.  This was something that did bother during this run, because it was warm, and I should have been drinking way more, but more on that later.

The minutes seemed to click by, and before I knew it I was through and out of downtown Ipswich, and on the road toward the Essex border.  This is a long, open stretch of pavement that clearly provide some ample body blows to me during these middle rounds of this training run.  I arrived at the Essex border in about 80 or 90 minutes, and had been doing a good job sticking with my run-walk breaks.  I also was happy that the first package of crackers went down easy and provided a nice little boost into the second hour.

From here the road seemed to go on forever, and I started to feel a little aching in my legs as I ambled by salt marshes and pasture lands, stopping by one of the few ‘shady’ spots to take a picture while I took care of some other business.  This was probably the longest section of the entire run that made the mind wander, but I had been feeling good.  Eventually the pasture lands started to blend into houses, marinas, and clam shacks… welcome to downtown Essex!

Essex was particularly hopping at this point in the evening, with lines out the doors of the famous fried clam restaurants, Woodman’s and Farnham’s.  I am not much for the fried clam, but the views across the Great Salt Marsh were enough to satisfy my hungry soul.

At about this point I was at about 2 hours, and was close to 12 miles, and decided to roll the dice.  Run another 1.1 miles, and then I’ll have to run 13.1 home for the complete marathon.  Amazingly, as I was getting ready to make the turn around I noticed I had arrived at the Essex-Gloucester border!  That was the first real reality check!

At the turn I noticed my knee soreness had abated completely, but my lower abs were a little sore, which was not a good sign.  Nevertheless, it was back past the crowds at the clam shacks, as the sun began to sink ever further toward the horizon.  As I approached the completion of the third hour I felt pretty good, deeply entrenched in the long stretch of lonely road from Essex to Ipswich.  I was coaxed to stop and take a photo as Trail Pixie subconsciously lobbied that I MUST get a creature photo or the run would not be complete!

Why the long face?
From there, there started to be less and less horsing around.  I took in a quarter of my PB&J sandwich which began as a work of art from the still life collections, only to now become something more ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ in appearance.  Fortunately it tasted great!  Just about the time I arrived back in Ipswich, I realized I was out of fluid in the Platypus with about 45 minutes left to go.  Not a good feeling, and this was about the same point that I realized I needed my head lamp because it was dark.  Talk about low points.

Running had been much less frequent, and I knew I was fully entrenched in survival mode.  I didn’t pay much attention to the watch, just ran for as long as I could, and then walked for a couple minutes.  I finally arrived at the place where I needed a drink, even a couple miles from home; I decided to stop at a convenience store with my one dollar trying to quench my thirst.  Evidently buying a drink for a dollar is no longer possible, but the kind clerk spotted me the tax and I sipped powerade as my legs screamed for an end.

I arrived home, 26.4 miles and 4 hours, 27 minutes more experienced than I had been hours before, and the next 20 to 30 minutes following the run were about as close to being a zombie as I ever want to be.  Walking was definitely an issue, as everything resembling a muscle in my lower legs was cramping.  My wife had one hand on the phone to call 9-1-1, as I assured her I was fine.

With a couple days between me and the run, I feel fantastic, and am almost positive that dehydration was the key to the amount of pain I was in following the run.

The only issue remaining today is slightly sore abs, but otherwise I feel like I could run - much different than my other ‘post marathon’ experiences.

Nevertheless, I feel like I have a lot of work to do, but today marked the opening day to sign up for the Stone Cat Trail Races, and I wasted no time to join many of the other Ultra Gang crew for the 50.  I am cautiously excited, and know I will have lots of support on the course between Gilly’s crew, and TUG.

This is definitely the next step, and it is a trip to feel like I am to the point where I can fake my way through a marathon if I had to!  That is definitely something that I should not take for granted!

Happy trails!

Run stats:
-          105 ounces of fluid, 85 powerade/water mix, 20 ounces powerade
-          2 packages of PB crackers
-          ¼ PB&J sandwich
-          S-Cap at 1 h , 45 m
-          NO gels.
-          Mostly roads, some trails
-          85 degrees, sunny, to start, 75, night, to finish.