Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Full race report to come.  In the meantime, here's an image from the 2014 Leadville Trail 100 Run that says it all:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;"

The title of this post comes from Shakespeare's Henry V and has been popping up in my brain every time I think about my third attempt to finish the Leadville Trail 100.


I officially started my taper today.  I'm done. The die is cast, and there is nothing left for me to do but stay healthy and acclimate to the altitude as much as I can.  To that end, as I write this I am wearing an oxygen mask, hooked to my Hypoxico altitude compressor, as I will for much of the week.  I have a couple of runs left this week before I depart this Saturday to drive to Leadville from Raleigh, where I will spend a week camping at the Sugar Loafin' Campground before the race.  My good friend and long time training partner, Tim, has agreed to road trip out to Colorado with me and split the 25+ hour drive.  He'll spend a day or two there before flying back to North Carolina.  It's hard to find friends that loyal.  Thanks, man.

I will spend the week leading up to the race breathing thin air, drinking lots of water, and keeping my feet up.  Then towards the end of the week, my crew will arrive - Karl on Thursday, followed by Wendy (my faithful, long suffering wife) and Paige, her best friend since middle school.  I have played sherpa for Wendy and Paige's multiple Ironman races, so they have agreed to come and help out in Leadville.  Karl has agreed because he's a lunatic, just like me. My kids will be back at home with their grandparents cheering for me.  All in all, I am supported by some amazing friends and family.  This attempt would not even be possible without them.

On Saturday the 16th, I'll toe the line and see if I have what it takes to finish this bastard.  The first year I was unprepared and had no idea what I was getting into.  The second year I had run the miles, but it wasn't my year for a variety of reasons, both training and performance-wise.  I have no idea what this year will hold for me.

People keep asking me if I'm ready and how I feel. I honestly don't know. I know I'm more fit and healthier than I have been in over 20 years.  I am able to run more efficiently at a lower heart rate, thanks to my amazing coach.  I have done lots of strength training and cross training in addition to all my running.  I am healthy and injury free (knock wood), but I still don't know if any of that will be enough.  I vacillate from one moment to the next throughout the day.

Here's what it boils down to -  I know I'm as ready as I can be, but I respect the difficulty of the race and don't want to take anything for granted.  As soon as I get overly confident, I know I'll get kicked in the teeth.  As I discussed in my race report from last year's DNF, I have learned not to fear failure.  I really, really don't want to fail this year, but I'm not as afraid of it as I have been.  If I do fail, I'm hoping for a spectacular failure.

I haven't decided whether I'll be posting again before the race. It all depends on how I'm feeling and if I feel compelled to share something.  So, if you don't hear from me again, wish me luck and send me all the positive energy you can muster on the 16th.  I promise a full report as soon as I'm able to type.

Thanks to everyone for reading.  I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Tennyson, which I think sums up my approach to this year's race nicely.


"Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Medoc Meltdown

This weekend is my last big training push before I start my taper for Leadville in two weeks.  My plan called for an easy 10-mile run on Friday, an easy 35-mile run on Saturday, and an easy 26-mile run on Sunday.  I use the word "easy" in reference to heart rate; running that many miles in three days is never easy.

My wife had been planning on going to her 25th high school reunion this weekend.  My plan was to either stay close to the house or run the 35-miler on the treadmill.  Due to an insane work schedule, she had to cancel her trip. Then at the last minute her Saturday opened up.  At about the same time, I got an email from Karl saying he was was planning on running the Medoc Meltdown on Saturday, which is a 50+K fat ass run in Medoc State Park.  Because Wendy had already canceled her trip, she told me to go run with Karl.  Not being a complete moron, I immediately recognized that 34ish miles on the trail with other people was way better than 35 on the treadmill.  A few text messages and I was all set.

I met Karl at his place at 5:30am on Saturday, and we headed to Medoc State Park for the run.  It consists of 4 loops of single track trail - each one about 8.6 miles for a total of 34.4 miles.  It was happy and laid back, as most trail ultras are and especially fat ass ultras.  (For those who don't know, a fat ass is an unsupported race where each runner is responsible for all of his or her needs; there are no aid stations, no support, and no whining.)  We arrived, got signed up, heard the race briefing, and were unceremoniously sent off into the woods.

Moments before the start.
I planned on treating this as a training run and following my training plan to the letter.  This meant run for four minutes, walk for one minute, and keep my heart rate in zone 2.  This was Karl's first ultra and he was going to see what he could do.  We started off together for the first 4 minutes until my watch beeped.  Upon hearing the chime I dutifully stopped to walk and bid him good luck as he ran down the trail ahead of me.  For the next several intervals, I would almost catch him and my watch would beep.  Eventually, I lost sight of him as he widened his lead.

The course is very runable, but does have a fair amount of up and down and more than enough roots and rocks to keep your attention focused on your feet.  I plodded along, at times flying downhill in an attempt to keep my heart rate up, at other times walking along, enjoying the day.  It was an unseasonably cool day for August in North Carolina.  However the humidity was making its presence known.  It had rained hard the night before, and rain clouds hung overhead, threatening rain all day.  Before long I was sopping wet.

At the end of each lap every runner had to swing by the picnic shelter and check in before heading back out.  I had this down to a science.  I refilled my two bottles, dumped my trash, grabbed my nutrition, and headed out as quickly as I could.  I had no idea where I was or how I was doing in comparison with other runners.  I lapped a couple of people on the later laps, so I knew I wasn't last.  As I finished my third lap and was heading out for my fourth, I saw Karl as he was running into the shelter behind me.

"Holy shit!"  I thought.  He's done.  I looked at my watch we were four hours and thirty minutes into the race.  That meant he had run close to an 8:30 pace for the entire 50K.  Amazing, especially on this course.  I was super excited for him.  Then I began to get upset.  Here I am at what's supposed to be the peak of my training and fitness for Leadville, and people had crushed me on this course.  I was pretty sure there were people right around Karl, so I expected several people had already finished or were about to.  I didn't expect to be at the front, but I also didn't think I would be beaten by 90 minutes.  Self doubt began to creep into my thoughts.  I'm not ready.  I haven't trained enough.  I'll never finish.  I just don't have the genetic ability to finish Leadville.  These thoughts ran over and over through my head as I ran the last lap.  I continued to pass people and even lap a few.  As I ran past two women, they asked which lap I was on, and I told them my fourth.  They seemed really impressed and told me I was looking strong and good luck.  I was annoyed.  Surely they had already been passed by all the people who were ahead of me.  Didn't they know that lots of people had already finished and been waiting around for hours?  Grrrrrrr.  I hated myself.

I finally broke free of the woods and ran up to the picnic shelter.  I was bummed that I had been so soundly beaten but pleased that I ran even splits for all four laps and finished in just under six hours still feeling fresh.  I ran up to the shelter and gave the director my number, all the time looking around for Karl so I could congratulate him. The race director repeated my name, consulted his clip board and said in a slightly surprised tone, "You're done.  You're our first male finisher and second overall."

Wait, what?  First male finisher.  That couldn't be right.  What about all those other people?  What about Karl?  Turns out I had passed everyone either on the course or during pit stops at the shelter.  I had passed Karl about three fourths of the way through lap 3, when he stopped at the shelter for a minute.  As I sat down and took off my shoes to assess the damage from six hours of wet trail running (see the pictures below), the second male came in, followed shortly after by Karl, who finished third.  The woman who finished first overall was in a hurry because she had to get to Richmond because she was a bridesmaid in a wedding that afternoon.  I was impressed by her dedication, although I would have been more impressed if it was her wedding.

The amazing thing is that my training appears to be paying off.  I wasn't trashed, sore, or spent.  My legs felt fine, and I still had plenty of energy.  We hung around for a while congratulating finishers as they came in before heading back to our families in Raleigh.  Turns out that when Karl saw me starting my fourth lap he thought I was having a bad day and was just starting my third lap.  It was only after running for 20 or 30 minutes and not catching me that he realized what had happened.  We're both idiots.  No offense, Karl.

It was a great run on a fun course with awesome people.  Thanks to Karl for coming up with the idea and saving me from six hours on a treadmill, and congratulations on completing your first official ultra marathon.  It's a slippery slope from here.

Now for another 26 tomorrow.

Still stunned at my results but loving my new race bling.



I knew I felt a hot spot on the side of my foot.  

I guess there was one on that toe as well.  



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mt. Mitchell Double Ascent

Several weeks ago a friend of mine (Karl) asked me if I was planning on doing any big climbs in preparation for Leadville this year.  While I had thought about it, I hadn't gotten around to actually planning anything and probably wouldn't have.

Karl suggested we drive to Black Mountain and run to the top of Mt. Mitchell.  Twice.  There is a trail that runs from the Black Mountain Campground to the top of Mt. Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.  The trail is approximately 5.5 miles long with a low point of 2,995 feet and a peak of 6,684, for a total elevation gain of 3,689 feet.  On top of that, it is a pretty technical trail.  Naturally, I said yes.  Who wouldn't want to do that?  Besides, it was a great way to simulate the double crossing of Hope Pass between miles 40 and 60 of Leadville.  Well, as good a way as us east coasters are going to get.

So at 4am we left Raleigh for the 4-ish hour drive to the Black Mountain Campground.  We arrived shortly after 8am, got our gear together, made a pit stop, and headed for the trail head.  The campground office, store, and restrooms are conveniently located between the parking lot and the trail, which made the morning much more pleasant.

We started off at a light jog, and very soon the trail pitched up.  Like a couple of morons, we kept running for the first little while in a gross overestimation of our abilities.  Very quickly it became apparent that this "run" was going to be a power hike to the top.  We slowed our pace to a brisk walk, which was as fast as we could manage with the incline and the roots and rocks that were omnipresent.

As we were getting an early start, we kept rounding corners and finding patches of young hippies and hipsters camping just off the trail in campsites of varying complexity and sophistication.  Many of them were just beginning to stir and seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see them.

As we climbed higher we encountered fewer hippie nests until we were very alone on the mountain.  We got extremely lucky with the weather.  We chose July 5th for our adventure, not because of the holiday, but because that was when it fit with my training schedule.  Normally July in North Carolina is hot.  Hot and steamy.  Stupid hot.  Not today.  It never got out of the 60s and at times became downright chilly.  This was right up my alley as I function much better in colder weather.

The trail is marked by blue blazes, which should be easy enough to follow, but we managed to miss a turn on the way up and added another half mile to our first trip.  This was a minus, plus, minus situation.  The first minus was the extra half mile.  The plus was that the gradient was a little more gradual.  The second minus was that the trail was WAY more overgrown than the more direct route, and at times I joked that I felt like I was running the Barkley.  (Side note:  I am VERY aware that climbing Mt. Mitchell on a marked trail is no comparison to Barkley.  I'm not a moron.)

Eventually we met back up with the blue trail.  Fortunately, Karl had studied the route and knew about the split and that it would rejoin, so we didn't have to back track.  I was in no way prepared and was relying completely on his knowledge.  He will be crewing and pacing for me in Leadville next month so I figured it would be a good opportunity to put my trust in him.  That and I'm lazy and disorganized.

We made it to the top in about two hours.  We posed for a picture and explained to some tourists what we were doing, which made them feel lazy and us feel superior.



After that we hit the rest rooms, refilled our bottles, and headed back down.  I was excited to go down because I knew it would be a rest from a cardio point of view.  We ran when we could but had to hike most of it because of all the rocks and roots.  I didn't want to risk a fall and an injury that could sideline my training.  The trip down seemed to go much faster than the trip up, but in reality was only about 10 to 15 minutes faster.

We got to the car, refilled bottles, sat for a few minutes and ate, then headed back up.  Not too far into the return trip I began to feel nauseated.  I could tell I was running out of gas and pushing too hard.  Karl was beginning to open up a gap.  He noticed it too and asked if I was okay and slowed his pace.  Here is where I learned a valuable lesson.  I dialed my pace back just a bit and made myself eat a gel and drink some water.  Sure enough, in just a few minutes, I began to feel better.  Aha!  Nutrition and hydration are important.  Who knew?  Oh, wait.  Everyone knows that.

After that, I got my second wind and began to feel really good.  In fact, I felt as though I was getting stronger as the day progressed.  We made it back to the top, this time taking about two hours for the slightly shorter, steeper trail.  We hit the snack bar, watched the tourists, posed for another picture, and headed back down the mountain.

The woman who took this one asked if we were brothers.  Nope, just a couple of morons with matching beards.
As we left the summit for the second time, I was feeling great and excited to only have 5.5 miles to go, all of it down hill.  We didn't run very much at all, but just hiked as quickly as we could.  What I discovered is that I can power hike on a rugged trail as fast or faster than I can "run" it.  We hammered down the trail, passing people that we had seen earlier in the day.  Some of them we passed as many as three times.

As we got closer and closer, I got faster and faster, feeling more and more encouraged and excited.  I also realized this was my one chance to train on a mountain before Leadville, and I wanted to push myself as much as I could.  When we were about to bottom out, the trail smoothed out and allowed for running, so I broke into a fast run for the last quarter mile or so.  It felt great to open it up.  I felt light and strong and happy.  Karl was right behind me as we reached the dirt road that led back to the camp ground and the car.

We loaded into the car as quickly as we could and headed out.  There is no cell phone service at the trail head, and we wanted to let our families know we were alive and on our way home.  We had to drive for about twenty minutes before we finally got service. 4 hours later we found ourselves back in Raleigh.  We had started at 4am, driven 4 hours, run/hiked over 22 miles in just over 8 hours with a total elevation gain of 7,378 feet and a total elevation loss of 7,378, and driven 4 hours home. It made for a long day, but an amazing adventure.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Failure, Leadville and Life

Let’s face it, nobody likes to fail.  I sure as hell don’t.  We’ve all done it and will continue to do so.  Failing is an essential part of growth and learning.  The way I see it failure is divided into two categories.  The first is honest failure.  The second is bullshit, rationalized, half-assed attempts that were bound to fail from the beginning and do indeed result in failure.  True growth and self-reflection come only from honest failure.  Sometimes when we’re scared that we’ll fail we hold back and don’t give it our all so that when we fail we can take comfort in the “fact” that if we had really tried we wouldn’t have failed.  We don’t grow and learn when we engage in this self-deception. 

For the last two years the Leadville Trail 100 Run has been an honest failure.  It has been an experience that has taught me more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.  I gave it my all and fell short. I picked myself up, redoubled my efforts, gave it my all and fell short.  Again.

When I DNF’d at Leadville last year I was far more upset than I let on.  I was humbled and embarrassed.  My overblown and extremely fragile ego was badly bruised.  As a result I never wrote a proper race report and even took down this blog for several months.  It was only with time and perspective that I have come to recognize my repeated failure to finish Leadville as the truly amazing life experience that it has turned out to be.  Had I finished without any struggle, it would have been cool but would not have meant as much.

To paraphrase Thomas Payne, “That which we achieve too easily, we esteem too lightly.” 

I am back in the heat of preparing for my third attempt at Leadville and have had a lot of time to reflect on what went wrong, both during and after the race.  So, let’s start at the beginning. 

RACE PREP

After I DNF’d in 2012 I hired Scott Weber as a coach.  He has been coaching LT100 runners for a very long time and has an intimate knowledge of the course.  I followed his plan to the letter for 50 weeks, running close to 3,000 miles.  I got stronger, faster, and lighter.  Along the way I shattered my PRs at both the marathon and 100 mile distance. My coach thought I was ready, and I tried my best to believe him.  I purchased a hypoxic system from Hypoxico and spent as much time as I could in it in the weeks leading up to the race.  I meticulously planned and organized my gear and nutrition and created spreadsheets for Wendy to use as she crewed for me.  (We decided that we wouldn’t take the kids along.  While we love them, and they are great kids, trying to crew a 100 mile race in the Rockies with two young children was a freaking nightmare.)  We planned, we strategized, we packed and finally jumped on a plane Thursday before the race.

ARRIVING IN COLORADO

We flew non-stop and arrived around 10 o’clock Thursday morning.  We picked up a rental car, grabbed some lunch, and headed west.  We stopped and spent the night in Silverthorne (Elev. 8,730 feet).  I went for an easy 3 mile run to shake things out and felt encouraged about how good I felt.  We got up extra early Friday morning to drive the rest of the way to Leadville. My plan was to get to packet pick up as early as possible and weigh in before breakfast.  I didn’t want a full belly to increase my weight since they will compare the weight taken at packet pick up to med checks throughout the race.  Runners losing more than 7% of their body weight would be pulled from the race.  I arrive and weighed in at a whopping 138lbs.  (15lbs less than the previous year.)  After that we headed to the Tennessee Pass for breakfast and a meeting with Coach Weber.  I ate lots of food and soaked up as much advice from Scott as I could.  He was very confident that I would finish because I had, as he said, “done the work.”  Somewhere in the back of my mind I don’t think I believed him. 

After breakfast we checked into our room on the third floor of the Delaware Hotel and then headed out to the pre-race briefing.  This year they had moved it from the 6th Street Gym so we ended up walking down to the school.  It was much the same as last year with speeches, warnings, laughter, cheering, excitement, and lots of very fit, super hydrated people with little access to restrooms.  Good stuff.  After the briefing we headed back to the Delaware to prep my drop bags and organize all my nutrition and gear.  In the lobby we bumped into ultra running legend Marshall Ulrich.  He was super nice and friendly and agreed to pose for a picture with me.  We chatted for a while, and I came away being really impressed with what a nice guy he was. 

After dividing up all the gear and deciding what to put in which drop bag, we headed out to drop off the bags and then recon the course  and pick locations where I would meet Wendy at the aid stations.     Then dinner and back to the room for an early night.

RACE MORNING

I woke up at 3am, ate, drank water, took care of business, and got dressed.  Wendy and I headed down and loaded up the car, and I wandered over to the start line.  After a quick kiss for luck and a photograph I was off into the corral to find my place and await the shotgun blast.

START TO MAYQUEEN (0-13.5 miles)

I started close to the front and off to the right to avoid getting caught up in the crowds.  Just before 4am the national anthem was blared through the cold, dark air, we were made to promise not to quit, and a shotgun blast sent us off into the Rockies in the clear, dark night.  The first part of the run is downhill, and the trick is to stay steady and not get caught up in the excitement and run too fast.  We ran down 6th Street, turned left, then right, and headed out of town on a wide dirt road.  The dust from the other runners was so heavy in the air that the beam from my headlamp made everything look hazy.  I was eating and drinking regularly, better than the previous year anyway, and feeling pretty good.  I wanted to be farther up in the group than last year to avoid the worst of the conga line around Turquoise Lake so I made sure not to lollygag too much. 

Right about the time we finally hit the single track around the lake I felt an all too familiar urgent, hollow gurgle in my stomach.  I knew I needed to relieve myself but didn’t see a great place to step off the trail and into the woods.  I kept telling myself that I would find a good spot in a minute.  I never did, and by the time I got to May Queen the moment had passed.  I no longer had to go, but my stomach was not right either.  I had missed my window.  Take away lesson:  There is no perfect place to crap in the woods during the opening miles of a race with 1,000 people.  Don’t wait for the perfect place.  You won’t find it, and you’ll just end up miserable and screwed. 

Despite my GI issues I made it to MQ right on time for my target pace, found Wendy, swapped bottles and nutrition, and headed out.

MAY QUEEN TO FISH HATCHERY  (13.5-24)

Other than my stomach issues, I was feeling okay.  I was drinking and taking nutrition on schedule and still moving well.  I made good time along the Colorado Trail and up to Haggerman Road.  I ran most of Haggerman up to the logging road, still feeling good and starting to pass people.  Once on the logging road I began a brisk walk and ran occasionally up to the top of Sugar Loaf at just over 11,000 feet. I felt much better than in 2012 and was beginning to think I could actually finish.

The summit came sooner than expected, and I began the LONG descent down Power Line hill and finally popped out on the road, took a right, and headed down toward the next aid station at mile 24.  (They moved it from Fish Hatchery to a field about a half a mile down the road.)

As I came into the aid station my stomach was off but I was still moving well, eating, drinking, and had energy.  I was also still on pace for a 28 hour finish.  I found Wendy, who was exactly where she said she’d be.  Next to her was Coach Weber.  I ditched my long sleeve shirt, got some band aids for my nips (should have done that before I started), grabbed fuel, and headed off.

FISH HATCHERY TO HALF PIPE (Mile 24-29)

Not to sound too negative, but this is my least favorite part of the race.  Runners follow the road for a couple of miles before heading back into the woods.  While the scenery is beautiful, it is very open, which makes it seem like you aren’t moving at all.  On top of that the traffic was really terrible in and around the aid station.  Runners could barely get down the road in places because of all the crew vehicles.

In 2012 I was shot and walked most of this section of the course.  Last year I alternated a decent run/walk pace and was feeling tired but okay.  Then around mile 27 I puked.  I mean puked.  It hit me out of nowhere.  One second I was running along, the next I was bent over desperately trying to expel everything I had eaten for the last 18 months.  I shook it off and kept going, but I could tell my stomach was off.  Things were begging to head south.   I made it to Half Pipe, refilled my bottles, and kept going.  I was still ahead of the previous year's pace at this point but was working much harder than I should have been.

HALF PIPE TO TWIN LAKES (Mile 29-39)

I headed out for the 10 miles to Twin Lakes, the lowest point of the race at 9,200 feet.  Things weren't going well.  I was moving but continuing to slow down.  The last couple of miles are down hill, but my legs were shot and I was out of gas.  I finally stumbled down the steep embankment into the Twin Lakes aid station, checked in, got some soda, and found Wendy and Coach Weber.

TWIN LAKES TO HOPELESS AID STATION (Mile 39-44)

Here, I sat down for the first time.  My stomach was off, and I felt terrible.  I had fallen badly behind pace and knew things weren't looking great.  My coach told me the cold, hard truth that statistically things weren't looking good for a finish.  No shit.  I drank some pepto and headed out with fresh bottles.

It was hot, and I was hot, but I didn't realize it.  I'm from the south where we mix our heat with oppressive humidity that you have to wade through.  When you're hot in the south you are dripping with sweat and your clothes are soaked through.  I wasn't dripping, so I just assumed I wasn't that hot. WRONG.  The air is so dry that the sweat was evaporating as soon as it made an appearance.  In hind sight, that was one of my biggest problems.  I was completely dehydrated; I just didn't realize it at the time.

I power walked across the flats before the climb up Hope Pass, feeling hot and a little dizzy.  As soon as the trail sloped upwards I started puking again.  Let me tell you that a mixture of pepto bismol and perpetuem spewing violently out of your mouth is a decidedly unpleasant sensation on every level.  I ate another gel, had some more drink, and immediately puked again.  This would be a recurring theme as I climbed Hope Pass.

The good news is that my breathing was better and my head wasn't swimming like last year, so all the time in the tent from Hypoxico seemed to have helped.  It took me FOREVER to make it to Hopeless Aid station.  I was so hot and so exhausted that when I got there I sat down and immediately drank about 40 ounces of water.  I started to feel better, gathered my things, and pushed on toward the summit of Hope Pass, one half mile and 600 vertical feet away.

HOPELESS TO WINFIELD (Mile 44-50)

A few dozen yards above Hopeless I stopped and looked at my watch.  I was hours behind schedule. I was supposed to be on my way back from Winfield by now.  I knew what was going to happen.  I knew that I could make it over the summit and down to Winfield, but I also knew I wasn't going to make the cut off there.  Because Wendy was waiting for me back at Twin Lakes and there was no cell phone coverage in Winfield, I knew I'd have to thumb a ride and try to catch up with her.  I knew all of this would take hours.  If I just turned around and headed back down the mountain, I could be back in the hotel in a couple of hours.  I stood there, at 12,000 feet, with the wind whipping around me and the sun beating down on me and said out loud, "I quit."  I took about three steps back down the mountain in the direction from whence I had just come and stopped.  It was wrong.  I thought of my son.  I was not going to go home and tell him I quit.  I couldn't.  What kind of example would I be if I showed him it was okay to quit when things are hard and the outlook is bleak?  What kind of father would that make me?  Not one I wanted to be.  I knew the odds of beating the cut off were small, but I also knew that there was zero chance of a finish if I quit.

With renewed purpose, I turned around and headed up and over Hope Pass.  As I crossed the summit at 12,600 feet, I didn't even pause to take in the scenery.  I headed down the mountain as quickly as I could.  That last half mile went really well.  I was freshly hydrated and highly motivated by the thought of my son waiting at home to hear how I did.  I even made good time for the first quarter of a mile or so heading down Hope Pass.  Then I started feeling lethargic again, and I could feel my energy draining.  I was still not able to take any nutrition and was moving on an empty tank.

Long story short, I missed the cut off at Winfield again.  This time by just a few minutes.  I thumbed a ride with a fellow runner and his extremely nice family, met Wendy, and headed back to the hotel to shower and wallow in my own self pity.

AFTERMATH

I really started to think a lot about failure after I DNF'd at Leadville the first time.   It made me angry and sad and motivated and depressed and inspired me to try harder.  That’s what I did.  I tried harder. I ran farther. I did more, and I went back.  I had the same results as the year before.  My failure to finish Leadville on my second attempt unhinged me in many ways. 

Sure I was still a loving husband and father with a good job that I don’t hate, but something in me had shifted.  I began to question why I ran.  I was embarrassed by my failure.  I had told all my family and friends I was going to run this race and finish it and had given it everything I had and come up short.  I had written extensively about it on this blog and had more Facebook posts about it than I’m proud to admit.  When I failed to complete the race for a second time, it felt like a very public failure.  I was humiliated and defeated.  So much so that I couldn’t bring myself to really talk about it or write about it and even took this blog down for several months.  Even when I put it back up I wrote a halfhearted, halfassed race report that, but for a few nice pictures, isn't worth looking at. 

Almost a year of self reflection brings me back to honest failure and what one can learn from putting it all out there and falling short.  What can we learn when we believe with all our hearts that we can accomplish something and throw everything into it with everything we have and still come up short?  That failure is not anything of which to be ashamed.  That failure is beautiful.  If you let it, it will teach you more about yourself, about who you really are, than all of your success stories.

I have, with time, come to embrace and relish my two failures to complete Leadville.  Sure a buckle the first time out would have been nice, but then I would never have learned not to fear failure.  I am no longer ashamed.  I am proud of my failure because it was an honest failure at a bold attempt.  I tried to do something that most people think is insane.  (By most people, I’m referring to normal humans, not my fellow ultrarunners.)  To set lofty goals and reach for them and fail spectacularly is better by far than to eek out a mundane existence, all the while sitting at your desk and daydreaming like a modern day Walter Mitty. 

As clich├ęd as it may be, as I step ever more soundly onto the shores of  middle age, I have begun to question many of my decisions in life.  I have realized that too many of them have been made out of a fear of rejection, a fear of failure.  As I move forward my goal is to be honest with myself about what it is in life I truly want and to go after those things, even if they are scary, even if there is a better than average chance of failure.  To follow one’s dreams wherever they lead, to tilt quixotically at whatever one’s windmill may be, to put one’s self out there with everything, and to fail publicly and openly is truly liberating.  

That being said, I am not quitting my job and running away to join the circus.  I will, however, go to Leadville again this August and gallop full speed, with wreckless abandon, toward my own personal windmill.  I have sacrificed a lot over the last year to get ready for this race and will continue to do so until I can say that I have finished it or it has finished me.  My promise is to be fully honest, both with you and myself, about this journey.  No matter what the end result, I'm sure it will make for a great story. Again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Passion

I can’t explain it.  When I try I quickly find I lack the capacity to do so.  Any attempt seems woefully inadequate and futile, much like trying to describe a color to a person who has never had the gift of sight.  To some, no explanation is necessary.  There are those who are equally afflicted.  There are some who understand, who just get it.

To those poor souls who don’t understand, who have never embraced passion, nothing I can say or do can convey my feelings.  That’s the funny thing about passion - those who share it embrace it and encourage it in others, those who don’t mistakenly look at it  as obsession or insanity.  Those who don’t understand are the naysayers.  They are the ones who stand safely on the sidelines of life and criticize those audacious few who dare to follow their dreams.  To listen to them, to take their negativity to heart, is folly.  It robs the passionate ones of their life force.  It sows seeds of self doubt.  The world is full of these naysayers.  They are out there lurking, waiting to pounce, to burst the bubble of optimism.  They are there hoping to latch on and drain you of your spirit with words of doubt and limitation.  Like an emotional vampire, they feed on the life force of others. They are there to rob us of our passion so that we fit into their limited view of the world.

I guess when it comes down to it, true passion shares a great deal with obsession and insanity.  Your passion drives you.  It occupies your thoughts, your dreams, and your hopes.  It dominates you and is always there whispering in your ear, urging you ever forward.

The difference between passion and obsession is that passion is a thing of beauty and life and endless potential.  Passion has pushed human kind to the top of the world, across oceans, across continents, and into space.  Passion is love, and love allows you to appreciate the beauty of life.  Passion has achieved and will achieve things once thought impossible. 

Embrace your passion, whatever it is.  Ignore the naysayers.  They are meek and timid souls.  Every single one of the greatest experiences in my life was criticized by those around me as being foolish, rash, impulsive, or obsessive.  They were all wrong.  They will continue to be wrong.  I will follow my passion wherever it leads me.  Naysayers be damned.


I run because it is my passion.  I run because it brings me joy and tears, incredible highs, and earth shaking lows.  I run because it makes me feel alive and forces me to embrace all aspects of life, the amazing and the humbling.  I run because it forces me out of my comfort zone. After all, that’s where all the good stuff happens.  


Happy trails.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon Race Report

Any frequent readers to this BLOG know that my wife, Wendy, is also an endurance athlete. Earlier this week we took the family to Boston so she could run her her first ever Boston Marathon.  It was truly an amazing and humbling experience to watch best friend take part in such a meaningful and historic event.

Here is her race report.
Boston 2014

            It's hard to know where to begin to recap my Boston experience.  After qualifying last year in February in Myrtle Beach, the events that took place at the 2013 Boston Marathon changed everything.  It was devastating and tragic for so many, and in the months following, as I became more determined that I wanted to run in 2014, so did many others.  When I learned that I had gotten a coveted slot, I was honored.  I spent the next several months training harder than I've ever trained before.

            In early 2014, training was going well.  I raced a 15K and a half marathon, and I logged respectable times in both – PRs for me anyway.  In March, I got a new pair of running shoes (same brand/model as the ones I've been wearing for 10 years) and immediately started having pain in my left knee.  I went back to my old shoes, but for a while the pain got worse.  I had runs where I was nearly in tears, and I even skipped a few runs, which, if you know me, indicates that something is very, very wrong.  I was worried.  I was advised to roll, stretch, do some specific strengthening exercises, and wear a knee strap.  I did this religiously (every damn day) until the day I left for Boston, and as I increased mileage, the pain was gradually easing, so I knew I was on the right track.  I bought new shoes (same brand/model), and the knee kept improving.  By the time Boston rolled around, I had no knee pain at all.  Lesson learned – sometimes a pair of shoes is a total dud and will fuck you right up.  Weird but true.  Dear Adidas, I still love you and don't hold grudges.

            When race weekend arrived, I felt ready.  Ashby, the kids, and I flew to Boston on Saturday morning.  It was the first time on an airplane for both of my kids, and my first challenge was pretending I wasn't scared out of my mind.  Fun fact about me – I HATE to fly.  However, I totally played it off like I didn't believe we were about to go down in a fiery crash the entire 1.5 hours we were on the plane, so yeah, mission accomplished.  When we arrived, we checked in at the hotel and headed right out to the expo.  This was complete madness.  We took a bus and two trains and waded through mobs of people, ate a quick lunch, waded through more mobs of people, got my race packet, bought some goodies at the expo, waded through more mobs of people, met Dean Karnazes, couldn't find the exit from the expo, waded through more mobs of people, and took two trains and a bus back to the hotel. That was everything we accomplished on our first day in Boston, and I was so exhausted I felt drugged.  I began to question my endurance but instead ate dinner and fell asleep before my children, who are only 7 and 9.  Here's hoping they didn't watch anything inappropriate on hotel TV!

            The next day we toured Boston on an Upper Deck Trolley Tours bus.  We bought three-day passes, which allow the ticket holder to get on and off any of the company's tour buses along their routes all over the city.  It turned out to be money well spent, as we took advantage of the buses for sightseeing all three days (saving my legs for the race) AND used it for transportation from the race finish back to the door of our hotel.  Score!  After our day of sightseeing, I got all of my race stuff organized and went to bed at a reasonable hour, even though I knew I would be able to sleep in on race day.  Boston has an unusually late start, and my wave (wave 3 of a 4 wave start) wouldn't start until 11:00 a.m.  It was not a restful sleep, and I was wide awake long before the alarm went off.  Boston is kind of like Christmas morning for runners.  At 6:45 I ate my first small meal – a bagel and peanut butter.  Then I took a leisurely shower to relax and got ready to head out.  At 7:45, I caught the shuttle from my hotel to Boston Common, where the runners loaded onto buses to ride to the start in Hopkinton.  The whole process was extremely organized and efficient.  We were supposed to board buses between 8:00 and 8:30, and the buses pulled out shortly after 8:30. 

            We arrived in Hopkinton at the Athlete's Village around 9:30, and I walked in to find massive tents with athletes lounging around on blankets and such.  The whole place sort of hummed with nervous energy.  The outside perimeter was lined with portapotties, and the lines stretched back to where they all met in the middle.  After an hour on the bus, a bottle of diet Sunkist, and my second small meal, I definitely needed a bathroom break, so I hopped in line.  By the time that was over, it was after 10:00, and it would only be a short time before my wave and coral was called to start walking toward the start line (about .07 miles down the road).  It was already getting warm – so much so that I tossed my throwaway blanket and jacket early.  As we started toward the corals at 10:30, I had a gel and water – my last bit of nutrition before the start (I would eat 6 more during the race, one every 4 miles).  Even on the walk to the start, people in Hopkinton were out spectating along the route.  One family had a tent set up in front of their house, giving away free safety pins, Vaseline, Gatorade, sunscreen, water, etc. to any runners with last minute needs.  Waiting in the coral, my adrenaline was pumping, and my heartrate was way above normal.  I could hardly believe the moment was here, and the race was about to start.  I pinned my SPI belt to my shorts to prevent it from riding up and tucked my cell phone into the pouch in the small of my back.  I spent a long time figuring out logistics, deciding what to wear and what to carry.  I wanted to travel as light as possible.  Besides the small belt, I was carrying 4 gels in Fuelkeepers on my wrists, 1 gel in the back pocket of my top, a gel in one hand, and a small handheld water bottle in the other.  I checked to make sure everything was in place, and we were off . . .

            First of all, I have to note that I had a race plan – a very good, workable race plan, given to me by my coach, whom I trust 100%, and I had every intention of following it.  Similar to the plans for the 15K and half marathon earlier in the year, the plan was to start out in a lower heartrate zone and work up – in other words, don't go out too fast, don't burn out, negative split the race, and feel pretty decent doing it. In fact, in previous races, I had given up looking at various fields on my garmin and just looked at heartrate.  The rest, I believe, falls into place, and I don't need times, paces, and distance cluttering up my mind.  But here's the thing . . . and yes, I know these words are inevitably followed by excuses, so brace yourselves . . . I failed to take into account a couple of things.  One, I am normally a very inside my own head runner.  I tune out the world around me, put my head down, and run.  And two, I have done every single one of my training runs since last fall on the treadmill.  Logistically, this is just what works in my life.  I have small children, so I need to be home and/or get my runs done before the sun comes up, AND, as sick as most people think it is, I love running on my treadmill.  But here's the catch – Boston is an insanely amazing and awe-inspiring event, and rather than being in my head (or paying close attention to the numbers on my garmin) I was taking in and appreciating every sight and sound on the course, high-fiving like a lunatic, chit-chatting with fellow runners – EXPERIENCING the race, not just running it.  In addition to that, I had no real experience adjusting my heartrate for hills. Heartrate training works so well on the treadmill because you can lock into a zone and cruise, which translates well when running a relatively flat race course.  Boston, you may have heard, is not exactly a flat course.  ALL of this lame excuse-making is to say . . . that the race plan didn't exactly fall into place.  Honestly, I did attempt to slow down when I took time to notice I was out of my zone, but I didn't do a great job, and a huge part of me just didn't care.  I was having the time of my life! 

            This is the part where I would want to give a play-by-play of what happened for the next 26.2 miles.  I wish I was one of those detail-oriented people who can take note of what's happening at every mile marker on the course, but I'm not.  Most races I don't notice much of anything except what's in my head.  Boston was different.  Spectators lined the course almost from start to finish.  While I still may not have noticed street names or neighborhoods or towns, what I did see and feel was the spirit of the people.  It's hard to explain, but it was overwhelming in a way that made me feel like my heart was going to burst – and not in the way that you feel your heart is going to burst just because you're in the midst of running 26.2 miles.  I was very much outside of my head and filled with emotion.  I am humbled and deeply grateful to have participated in such a historic race, and yet people kept thanking me for being there.  People were cheering for me and congratulating me on my accomplishment (not just during the race – all weekend), but it felt more like a gift I was receiving to be included.  In that sense, there is no race that compares, or probably will ever compare, to Boston 2014.  Bucket list race, for sure; everything I thought it would be and so much more, without a doubt. 

            Of course, there is the other sense – the technical, running/racing aspect – the nitty-gritty details of it.  In THAT sense, it was really, fucking hard.  No question, I did not help myself by not following my race plan to the letter, but I still was not prepared for those wicked downhills!  I don't mind uphill.  Heartbreak Hill did not break my heart or thrash my quads – it was the downhills that did that.  The course is net downhill.  It rolls back uphill here and there, and everyone talks a lot about Heartbreak Hill between mile 20 and 21, but the uphill generally felt like a relief to me because it called on some new and different muscles.  The downhill, on the other hand, was punishing and seemingly never-ending.  Even in the first few miles, I felt it and knew it was probably going to be problematic.  Around mile 5, I also felt the menstrual cramps kick in.  (Side note: anyone who knows me well knows this has been an issue for me for . . . just about ever.  Anyone who knows me really well knows this issue tends to kick in just in time for every big racing event in my life, including the middle of the night before my first marathon in Chicago in 2005, the night before my first iron distance tri in Wilmington in 2011, and the morning of Boston 2014.)  While unpleasant, it was the least of my cramping concerns on this day.  Around mile 12, I remember thinking that I wasn't even halfway done with the race, and my legs were just about fully done.  At the top of Heartbreak Hill, there was a giant sign that read "your heartbreak is over", but as we started to head downhill again, I was afraid it had just begun.  According to my race plan, I was supposed to take it up a notch and race the last 10K, but it was all I could do to keep my legs moving at that point. Another sign in Newton read, "Training got you to Newton.  Heart will carry you to Boston."  But it wasn't my heart; it was the heart of Boston – the crowd carried me through to the finish.  The last miles were like nothing I've ever seen, and the cheering on the last stretch on Boylston was absolutely deafening.  The last mile was one of the hardest and most inspiring miles I've ever run.  It's an odd sensation to want something to end and want it never to end so badly all at the same time.

            After crossing the finish line, the volunteers shuffled people through to pick up medals, water, etc., but every one of them made a point of thanking the runners for being there - thanking us, as they tended to our every need . . . volunteers are amazing!   I was making my way down the runners only area so I could exit and meet Ashby and the kids at our designated meeting spot.  I knew my body was spent.  It had been warmer than expected, my legs were barely functional, and I felt a little dehydrated, but I figured I would walk it off.  As I bent down to throw an empty bottle away, my calf cramped up so badly that I collapsed onto the ground and couldn't get up.  Next thing I knew, volunteers had swooped in and put me in a wheelchair, and I was heading for a medical tent.  As we turned off of Boylston, my only thought was – I'm going to get all turned around and not be able to find our meeting spot.  So I started asking for directions, sort of hoping I could just get a wheelchair ride to the corner of Boylston and Arlington.  No such luck J  But I managed to stretch out my calf after a few minutes and decided to walk away on my own rather than proceed into the medical tent.  When I spotted Ashby and the kids through the crowd, that's when I felt the tears start to come.  The emotions of the entire experience washed over me.  I truly left it all out there, and I can't think of a better place or better people to leave it with. 


Boston by the numbers - my garmin registered 26.55 miles instead of 26.2 for some reason, but the splits broke out like this:
Mile 1 – 8:09
Mile 2 – 7:56
Mile 3 – 7:55
Mile 4 – 7:44
Mile 5 – 8:18
Mile 6 – 7:49
Mile 7 – 7:47
Mile 8 – 8:02
Mile 9 – 7:48
Mile 10 – 7:56
Mile 11 – 8:06
Mile 12 – 7:59
Mile 13 – 8:06
Mile 14 – 7:49
Mile 15 – 8:07
Mile 16 – 7:58
Mile 17 – 8:17
Mile 18 – 8:37
Mile 19 – 8:11
Mile 20 – 8:45
Mile 21 – 8:45
Mile 22 – 8:01
Mile 23 – 8:24
Mile 24 – 8:22
Mile 25 – 8:30
Mile 26 – 8:18
Last .2 or .55 – 7:30

Official time – 3:35:47

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Leadville Didn't Care

Short and sweet.  Leadville didn't care.  I'm 0 for 2.  DNF at mile 50.  Missed the time cutoff by six minutes.  Still a great experience.  We'll see what the future holds for another attempt.  Here are a few pics from the trip.


Twin Lakes parking lot.

The road from Fish Hatchery

Drop Bag Drop Off

Hanging out with Marshall Ulrich at the Delaware Hotel.

Race Number
Post  Race Rationalization fond on a coffee shop sign.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Into Thin Air

OK, first let me apologize to John Krakauer for ripping off the title of his book.   While it may not be the most original title for a blog post, it does seem very appropriate.  With the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 Run just over a month away, the time has come for me to begin acclimatizing to the altitude I will experience on the course.  The race starts in Leadville, CO, which is the highest town in America at 10,200 feet above sea level.  It has two major climbs to 11,000 and 12,600 feet, which have to be crossed twice.  No small task for someone who lives at 300 feet above sea level.

Leadville Trail 100 Run Elevation Profile


I rented a hypoxic tent last year as part of my preparation for Leadville, and, even though I didn't finish, I'm convinced that without it I would not  have gotten as far as I did.  (You can read my race report from the 2012 Leadville Trail 100 here.)  That belief, along with a recommendation from my coach, led me to reach out to Matt at Hypoxico to arrange delivery of another tent.  It arrived this week, and I began the process of acclimatizing myself to 10,000+ feet above sea level.

Admittedly, this process seems a bit extreme to most people.  Whenever it comes up that I'm sleeping in a hypoxic tent, I get shocked looks, laughter, head shakes, and lots and lots of questions.  Those who are serious runners or endurance athletes seem to understand, while those who feel a brisk walk to the fridge is exercise view it with mockery and sometimes thinly veiled hostility.  I'm not too worried about what those folks think.  What I worry about is being as prepared as I can be for my second attempt at Leadville next month. 

Since I DNF'd at Leadville last year I have expended considerable effort to avoid that happening again.  I've hired a coach and started running with a GPS religiously.  I've experimented with nutrition and have developed (with my coach's help) a nutrition plan where I can consistently take in 300 calories and 20 oz of fluid every hour during long events.  I've run in freezing temperatures.  I've run on beautiful days.  I've run in the dark of night.  I've run during North Carolina summer heat and humidity.  I've run until I've puked and my toenails have fallen off.  Since September 1, 2012, I have run approximately 2,400 miles.  I've spent countless dollars on nutrition, shoes, and AAA batteries for headlamps.  I've spent hundreds of hours away from my family running.  On more than one occasion I've woken up at 2 a.m. so I can get in a 30 mile run and be home before 8 am to spend time with the kids.  So, to those who say that sleeping in an altitude tent for 5 weeks is extreme, I say, "Hell yeah it is.  Everything else about this quest has been so why should this be different?"  If I was going to run Badwater I would be training in a sauna, so why shouldn't I be training and preparing for the conditions I will experience on the course?

I have read several articles and blogs discussing the use of altitude tents and whether they are just a part of training and being thoroughly prepared for an event, or whether they fall into the same category as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and are therefore cheating.  The more I read the more I realized that people seem to have very strong feelings about this issue.  I fall very squarely into the smart training school of thought.

Here's my thought process.  The idea of PEDs or blood doping involves putting a substance into your body that isn't supposed to be there.  In essence you are getting a benefit without the work.  Sure you still have to train, but PEDs allow you to train at a level that you could never accomplish naturally.  It is artificial.

Sleeping in a tent causes your body to adapt naturally, the way it would in nature if I lived at 10,000 feet. This is no different than running hills to cause your body to adapt to running hills, or running faster to get your body used to that.   I don't think anyone would say that I'm cheating if I go out and run 20 miles of hill repeats in the middle of the night.  They might say I'm nuts, but that's a discussion for a different post.

Would anyone say it was cheating if I quit my job, uprooted my family, and moved to Leadville so I could train live and train at altitude?  How about if my job and finances allowed me the flexibility to travel to Colorado a month in advance so that my body could adapt to the environment?  Of course not.  That would be stupid.  So what's the difference between sleeping in a tent and moving to Leadville?  Bottom line, it isn't feasible for me to live there.

To those who question why I would spend my hard-earned money to sleep in a hypoxic tent so I can be prepared for a race, my answer is very simple.  Why wouldn't I?