Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 - A Runner's Year in Review

11/21/2014

Amazing.  I turned 40 in 2014!  That is damn old!

It was a BIG year for me with some major highs and lows.  Just wanted to recap the year of the goals accomplished and some missed.  If nothing else, it was a whole lot of fun.


The year kicked off with the Avalon 50M where I did some climbing, watched a sunrise, and met a few cool Canadians.

Then I had some fun with friends in TN (State#28)



 
 
States 29 and 30 were DE and NJ with Jaeson
 

 
 
Then I was humbled at Nanny Goat 2014 where I completed 50M and watched as wifey completed her first ultra relay.



 
Then I traveled to the land of the strange and ran 5 marathons in 5 states (States 31-35) in five days MI, IN, IL, IA, and WI.  The Mainly Series taught me a lot about toughing sh!t out when things go bad.  I met some amazing runners and those who helped me through that painful day 5.  Special thank you Deb, Lisa, Karen, Greg, and Katie for lifting my spirits up when I thought it was not possible.
 
 
These five races subsequently led to a short sabbatical.  About a month of doctors offices, physical therapy, and very little running meant a lot of frustration but ultimately some rest for the first time in a while. 

They day the doctor cleared me, I signed up for a 100M race.  But before then, I ran a local marathon with the fine folks at A Better World Running to support a friend.

 
Lean Horse 100 in SD was my redemption race and State number 36.
 
 
Finally, I had a wonderful time in DC meeting friends old and new...  completing State number 37 (VA) at the Marine Corps Marathon.
 
 
 



 

 
Not a huge year by the standards of many of my crazy friends.  But I am fairly happy with:
 
  • 50 miler x 2
  • 100 miler x 1 (PR 24:55)
  • Marathons x 10
 
Things that were missed:
 
  • No PRs at the marathon distance.  Looks like the old legs are fading at the shorter distances :(
  • Chimera...  perhaps it was a good thing.  Not sure if I was ready for the beast. 
  • Running 3,000 miles in 2014.  As of today, I am at 2,399 for the year.  The body didn't have what it takes for the mileage.
It was a good year.  I am going to take what was accomplished and missed and learn from it.  I hope to continue to grow as a runner and as a person.  I am most thankful for the support from my wife and all my running friends across the country.  Also wanted to thank my friends at SinFree Sugar for their support of me and a healthy SinFree lifestyle.  Looking forward to a even more epic year of running in 2015!
 
one race, one mile, one step at a time
 
Jeff
 
 
 

 
 
 




Monday, August 25, 2014

Run at Redemption - Lean Horse 100 2014

8/25/2014


Lean Horse 100 Ultra




The woods stay the same, but what you see is a reflection of your mind.

South Dakota marks my 36th State of this journey of marathons (or greater) across the 50 states.  There were a few reasons I chose this race and distance besides what my wife believe is my proclivity for punishment.  Besides well timing and my fair physical conditioning, I had some unfinished business with the 100 mile distance.  After being literally destroyed at the 2013 Nanny Goat 100, then dropping down to the 50 miler at the Nanny 2014, I had something to prove to myself.  Did I get lucky in 2013?  Was it a fluke?  My confidence was a bit shaken and I needed to prove to myself that I can.

My friend, Joshua Holmes, told me about Lean Horse 100 sometime earlier this year.  "LH is a fast trail, I call it a track...my most favorite surface ever to run on."  Joshua is a super strong and experienced ultra runner who I bother often and trust for advice.  I also see him as sort of a drug dealer of ultra running...instead of slinging crack, he dishes out bigger and badder ultra races for the running addicts.

I was convinced this would be my 36th State after some further research.  99% of the race course is run on the Mickelson Trail on crushed limestone and gravel.  The course is an out-and-back on the trail built on what would have been rail from the gold rush era.  It includes breathtaking rail bridges and tunnels and is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and wildlife of all kinds.  On my run, I would experience the beauty that is South Dakota as well as traveled a bit back in time in history.




I faced one problem before I would commit to this adventure.  I was badly injured after early June when I ran five marathons in five days in the Heartland Series.  For the first time in years I was forced to rest for a few weeks.  Those tough few weeks in June may have been a blessing as my legs finally had a chance to really rest.  By July I was finally cleared by my doctor and what do you know, I went out and signed up for the 100 miler the same day.

Typically I try to minimize the amount of days away from the family when I travel for running.  Typically for a Sunday marathon, I would travel out Sat, run Sun morning, then return immediately after the run on Sun afternoon.  Well, running an ultra gets a little challenging.  I had to ask my wonderful wife for a special hall pass for Lean Horse.  In theory, I could have traveled out Friday, ran the race Sat-Sun, then flew home Sun afternoon.  The issue is that plan would put a lot of pressure on me to finish the race well so not to miss a Sun flight.  Also, I had concerns about my ability to drive (or function for that mater) immediately following a sleepless 24-30 hour 100 mile race.  A special hall pass was granted for a Monday return.  Did I mention my wife is wonderful?


"Eat a sandwich, love, your marathon widow" A nice find in my bag when I left for LH100


Custer is a small town about 30 minutes south of Mount Rushmore and is the start and end of the Lean Horse 100.  The logistics consists of a short 1.25 hour drive from Rapid City to Custer on the open highways surrounded by the smell of pine and rolling hills.  I don't know why the sky always seems more blue and vivid when I am in a new experience.  A side tour on Friday to Rushmore was worth the $11 parking fee at the monument.  In the town of Custer, the hotels, restaurants are literally 5 minutes from race packet pickup and the race start.  Its a neat, friendly, self-containing little town with a lot of charm.  It would be a great place for the outdoors loving family and history buffs.


I arrived in Custer on Friday afternoon as planned and met the race director, Royce Wuertzer, who I've been in communications with since July at the packet pick-up at the Custer YMCA.  Shook my hand and when I said my name he immediately recalled we had exchanged emails.  There is something very special about smaller marathons and ultra races.  The community that they built is vastly different from those of big city marathons.  At small marathons and ultras, I meet exceedingly interesting people, amazing athletes, and sometime make new lifelong friends.  I need to praise Royce, the LH team, and volunteers for a top notch job organizing and supporting the runners.  The personal attention from pre-race, at every aid station, and post race was AMAZING.  I hope I don't wear that word out before the end of this blog post.


Receiving my buckle and AG award post race with LH100 RD Royce Wuertzer 


An early dinner at a surprisingly fantastic brewery (without beer) called "Bitter Elma's" included an outstanding pasta and ginger ale.  I vowed to return on Sunday for a pint of some amazing on-location brewed IPA.  Oh yeah, it would come true.  Then off to bed at about 7:00PM before a 4:00AM wake-up call.

5:30AM, most runners had gathered at the start and I met a few runners who Joshua had introduced to me on-line prior to the race.  We exchanged pleasantries and encouragement but the tension was as noticeable as the slight chill in the air in the Custer High School football stadium where we awaited our start.  59 were about to embark on the 100 mile journey with a 30 hour limit.  Together with the 50 mile and 50K runners we were off at 6:00 dusk prompt into the smoky hills of Mickelson trail.


Pre-Race LH100 2014

As the race started I reminded myself why I was there, how I am going to do it, and most importantly to enjoy the journey.  I've learned something at every race I've run regardless of the distance and I would apply what I knew at each mile, each section, and each obstacle during the race.  I ran the first quarter of the race at an easy and controlled pace of about 12:00/mile.  I met Mike the school teach and cross-country coach, "red/white/blue" Ann (who I later watched finish an emotional 100 in the final hour of cut-off), and "marathon maniac" Jill in these early morning miles while exchanging stories about running.  The heavy over-cast was more than I could have asked for.  Looked like we missed the predicted storm.


early morning miles
Crazy Horse Monument in distance

I've never been exceptionally good at fueling at ultras.  Gels and sports drink work for my muscles but not my stomach.  In the first half of this race I alternated between gels and solid food provided at the aid stations, each roughly 5 miles apart.  As predicted, my stomach started cramping after the 25 mile mark.  I can think of nothing worse than running with the worry that I may poop my pants.  The positive was that after the 25 mile marker, the field thinned significantly.  While I ran mostly alone from miles 25 forward I felt VERY uncomfortable in 4 attempts at doing my business (slightly) off the trail.  For one, sometimes there were just no space to pull off and I was never good at identifying poisonous plants.  Also, periodically a mountain biker would show up unexpectedly and quickly.  At last the stomach settled down after about mile 35.

The climb from about 5,200 to 6,200 feet from miles 45-50 was mentally draining as the sky cleared and sun beamed harshly after mile 40.  "Just keep moving" was the voice in my head as my running mentor Richard "Shifu" Yiap had repeated to me many times.  So I ran where I could and walked (fast) when I needed.  Even during the tough stretches, I was able to manage some 15-16 min miles.  The game plan was to take no significant breaks before mile 50 and I mostly stuck to it.  Some things I'd have to "earn" by getting to the half way point.  A 15-20 minute break at mile 50 along with fresh clothing, shoes was rejuvenating.  Really enjoyed my first larger meal of instant ramen, a cup of coffee, and also earned the right to music at 50.  Time out of turnaround station, roughly 11 hours, 40 minutes.




With some hip-hop in my ear, new cloths, and a meal in my belly, I felt great... and moved faster...  for a short lived 4-5 miles.  For me, feeling good is a bigger problem than feeling bad.  When I feel good, stupid ideas of unrealistic and unnecessary goals begins to creep in.  "what if I ran sub 24?" "what if I can pass that runner in front?" "how do I keep that runner behind?"  These are the trappings that puts unnecessary pressure on me mentally and destroys me physically.

By the time I reached the next station, I was drained.  For a brief moment, and the only time during this race, I thought "I can't do this."  When that thought appears in the mind of (this) a runner, it is like chink in the armor that leads to a floodgate of negative thoughts. "you are not made for this" "see how stupid you look now" "you still have 45 miles to go!"...  I sat and stewed at the aid station of mile 55.

"stick to the plan," "there is no hurry" said ShiFu's voice.  I swear! like a montage from the movie Kung Fu Panda.  We had run countless times at lunch prior to the race and those were the words he said over and over.  So I ate, filled my water bottles, and hit the trail again "not in a hurry" and just focused on keeping on moving.  Whenever the idea going faster would creep in, I would say out loud to myself "there is no hurry, just keep moving."  Thank goodness there were nobody around to see this maniac talking to himself.

Mickelson Trail SD 30 minutes before night fall

Soon the night fell.  The majestic mountains changed hues from green to sage and sky from blue to red then deep purple.  By 8PM Sat night, 14 hours of running, there was just a twilight in the sky to the west.  Then complete darkness.  With a crescent moon, there was not a light besides the millions of stars in the sky.  I wish I had the time or frame of mind to stop and enjoy the stars.  I felt incredibly small...smaller than a dust moving under the star studded sky.  But while small, I was not drifting...I was moving with a purpose.

Running through the night in these woods was an incredible, soul changing first-time experience for me.  The woods stay the same, but what you see is a reflection of your mind.  From station to station I ran, no crew, no pacers, just me, the Mickelson Trail, the darkness, the stars, and too much time inside my head.  I saw eyes staring back from the darkness and heard large animals imaginary and real.  I heard wind that sounded like cries and shadows that looked like hands reaching onto the trail.  I ran scared, pridefully, lonely, angry, sad, and finally peacefully.  I just focused on one thing.  Keep moving. (I saw and heard a lot of imaginary things that night.  funniest had to be smelling BBQ pork sausages before mile 80 but NOWHERE near an aid station or signs of human life.  Its funny b/c I said out loud "its not real")

From 70 and beyond I ran sufficiently and felt stronger as I went.  I walked when needed and ate when hungry at every station.  The cheese quesadilla at the Mystic station was so good it made me want to cry.  After Mystic I passed my first runner in the night fall.  It scared the shit out of me.  In the distance I saw a floating light but moving from side to side.  I am not sure why this guy decided that waving his hand held flashlight was the best way to survey the trail but I thought I was going to be abducted by aliens.  As I got closer and closer I finally realized that it was a fellow runner.  I gave some words of encouragement and made sure he was okay. "my strategy is to alternate between walking and walking" he said.  Made me chuckle.


@ mile 85 aid station.  amazing tomato soup, Campbell style

As I forged forward, those gentle downhills on the way out seem to have turned into aggressive climbs on the way back.  "just keep moving" I said.  I hope the wild animals enjoyed my rendition of some New Edition and even some Eminem because I know most humans would not.  But it kept me moving.  As I moved, I came across more moving lights ahead as I passed more than a dozen runners after mile 80.   I was surprised at how many runners were struggling in these final miles.  I was more surprised at how good I felt.  I felt so good that I began running more and more.  With the end in sight I let go of fear of breaking down and ran it fast.

In the last ten miles I ran down more and more of those glowing lights ahead.  Some were unrelenting as they realized my approach.  It became a game of chase in the darkness.  I'd see a light ahead surge away then get closer as I pushed.  As I passed I'd aways encourage with "way to grind it out" or "great work, you are doing great."

Miles 90 to 96 was the final climb before 4.4 mile descend back to the finish line.  I worked hard up these hills and awaited for the second sunrise.  It was beautiful.  I felt a rush of emotions as I got to the top of mile 96.  The station at 96 was the only one I passed altogether without stopping.  I just wanted to finish.  On my way down from Crazy Horse to Custer I saw deers roaming the fields, birds in the ponds, and the fields coming back to life.  I should be dead tired but I never felt so alive.  I ran down those last few miles at 12 min/mile splits and kept moving.  Looking at my watch I saw that I would finish under 25 hours.  Nearly 3 hours under my previous 100 mile finish.


second sunrise
Was this really happening?  Maybe I'd wake up and have to run Lean Horse for real now.  I pushed and kept looking for the final turn off the trail as my watch showed that 25th hour expiring.  Finally it appeared in the near distance.  If not for a well placed sign, I wouldn't recognize the turn out that I had crossed more than a day prior.  With a left turn I had returned to Custer High's stadium.  With one very long final lap around the field I crossed the finish at 24:55.  There was Royce and two time keepers who gave the best fanfare three people can give.  This time around there were no cowbells, no family and friends, and no tears.  There was just me and a finish I can be proud of.

The first buckle was no fluke.  I am an (pedestrian but) ultra runner.


Buckle, AG Award, and "bitter elm's" IPA


Four hours later after a shower, meal and quick nap, I returned to a packed Custer High Stadium to watch and cheer for the final hour 100 mile finishes (an incredible 50/59 would finish).  For my friends who have never witnessed an ultra marathon, I encourage you do the same one day in the future.  Because if you want to witness the spirit of the human will, thats where you'll find it.  As the last runner crossed the finish just under 30 hours and nearly collapsing after (but not before stopping his garmin!), I couldn't help to feel the deep happiness for them and within myself.

one race, one mile, one step at a time,

Jeff

special thanks to Joshua Holmes, Ethan Matyas, ShiFu Richard Yiap (not on social media) and of course Aud Liu for your support for making LH100 a reality

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nanny Goat 2014 - Finding Peace and Reward in Failure

5/24/-5/25-2014

"Im done" I said as I crossed the threshold at the barn for the 50th time.
Those were not the words I expected to utter and this isn't the blog entry I expected to write today. 

The 2014 Nanny Goat 12/24/100 ultra two days ago was my 40th lifetime marathon+ race and also my first DNF, drop down, or whatever you may want to call it.  It was a humbling experience.  It was also no less rewarding than when I was fortunate enough to buckle in 2013.


goats in the pen
 
2014 medal
 
This year's NG100 was about #wifey (Diva) and her awesome teammates Vinay (Tall) and Stacey (Blonde), Team TBD - Tall, Blonde, and Diva running their first relay 100 miler raising money for the Semper Fi Fund for injured Marines. 

 
Semper Fi Fund (with Andrea post race)


The three of them crewed and paced me at the 2013 Nanny Goat and caught the bug.  I am so proud of all of them for the training and dedication they put in to get ready for their individual 34 mile commitment.  It had been many years since wifey's last marathon and her work ethic leading up to the event was unbelievable...  In many ways her renewed interest in running has brought us closer together...


wifey powering through the barn
 
 
Team TBD raised over $1,100 for the Semper Fi Fund and completed the 100 miler under 20 hours.  It was a fantastic effort and a joy to watch all three of them soaking in the ultra experience.  Wifey is already talking about next year...  oh boy, I don't know what I've created here :)
 
Team TBD 100 mile relay finishers!

 
This year's NG100 was another step in my growth as an ultra runner.  Before the race, I made sure that it was known that this year was not a year about me or my run.  But secretly, I thought that it would be very cool to get that black buckle.  I am in the best physical shape of my life.  I've put in more miles this year than ever and I am as "running fit" as I've ever been. 
 
In faint memory I had forgotten the wise words of Katrina Judd (paraphrased) "you have to see if you REALLY want the buckle or you liked the idea of having the buckle."  I was reminded this weekend that if you are not fully committed to do whatever it takes to finish the 100 miles, it isn't likely to happen.  I can sit here today and tell you that I dropped because I didn't want to get injured for races that are coming up shortly.  I can tell you that I had major stomach issues on race day.  I can tell you I was hampered by blistered feet and on and on.  But the bottom line and honest truth is I was not tough enough in that moment in time.  I didn't have it.
 
I am disappointed but I don't regret the decision.  For one, other than torn up feet, I feel fantastic two days after the race with next to no soreness.  I ran 50 miles NSAIDs free!  While I didn't finish, the DNF didn't knock my confidence.  I know I am fit and ready to tackle similar or bigger challenges.  I've now got renewed fire in the basement to redeem myself from my first DNF...  and that's something that has been missing for a while.  But, the biggest reason I do not regret the shorten race is I got a chance to give back to Nanny Goat and the running community the way that they had helped me last year.
 
After my decision to drop I showered and cleaned up.  OF COURSE on my walk back to the barn I run into Andrea, Tony, Tracy, and Jean on the course.  Having to fess up to my drop I was met with reactions ranging from disbelieve to disappointment to sympathy.  After my walk of shame back to the barn I just wanted to hide and sleep.  But the excitement and energy inside the barn makes it difficult for me to sulk in the corner.  I ate, sat, and chatted a bit with my stall-mates.  I was excited to see wifey surpass the marathon mark and decided to pace her 30-33 miles.  I was surprised at how fresh my legs felt. 
 
When they were done, the team packed up their belongings and left the race early in the morning.  "Im going to stay to watch Jaeson's finish" I said.  My friend Jaeson flew in from Atlanta for his first 100 miler.  I met Jaeson a few years back and we've run a handful of marathons together.  When he became ready for the 100 last year we got to talking about NG and he came out seeking his first buckle.  This guy is one tough dude.  He plugged away miles after mile.  He'd stop in the stall for short breaks but was always upbeat and looked determined.
 
wifey, me and Jaeson pre-race
 
At this point I was exhausted.  I calculated Jaeson's finish time and set my alarm for an hour nap so I would wake up when he would be at about 90 miles.  I am not sure if I got any actual sleep.  But I woke up with renewed energy and a new mission.  I remember how I felt last year and the encouragement of the spectators and the support of pacers really helped me complete the race.  So I decided that I would run, walk and chat with whoever was still grinding it out on the course in the last 4-5 hours of the race.
 
Right away I saw Tony at mile 89 and he was by himself and looked worn.  He braved a smile as he entered the barn but I could tell he was struggling.  Tony had paced me last year in my final 5K.  I never forgot.  I said, "lets go Tony, I've got you."  I told him that he is a rock star and that I just wanted to bask in the glory of his finish.
 
caption this
 
Tony at mile 95




We walked for few miles and he went through the up-and-downs of what the final miles do mentally.  I made sure he ate, drank, and paced his progress.  I am so thrilled and honored to have been a part of Tony's redemption (third attempt at NG) race.  Congrats on earning that baby blue buckle buddy.

tony at 99 around every one's favorite cone
 
The finish...  look at the joy!
 




 
 
I had the pleasure of meeting Jose and pacing one of his final miles before his finish.  Thanks you for sharing your Nanny journey with me and your insight about your WS finish.  Epic stuff that is truly inspirational.

with Jose with just a few miles to go
 
There was still Jaeson working hard out there.  I managed a few more miles with him and his friends who flew out from Atlanta to see his epic race.  Again, I am honored to be a part of his journey.
 
Jaeson at mile 95
 


Jaeson and the entourage at mile 99


and the epic finish
 
 
As I look back at the 2014 NG, I think I walked away gaining more than I lost.  I learned more about myself as ultras always tend to help one do.  I also feel fulfilled in giving back in a small way to the community.  All is not lost with a DNF.  And I will be back.  Perhaps, some day.
 
one race, one mile, one step at a time,
 
Jeff