Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Checking In

It's been a few weeks since I've blogged and I thought it was time to check in and put some thoughts down.

The heel is better than a it was few weeks ago for the Summer Solstice 6 Hour Run. I started using a can of green beans to roll my foot over - and after denting a few cans upgraded to a wooden rolling pen. I didn't realize how sore the bottoms of my feet were until I started doing this. Now that I've been able to manage the heel pain - my right calf has been extremely sore. I can mostly run without pain after the first few steps - but it's the feeling of it just not being right that's bothersome. I haven't had many aches and pains in a while - so I'm probably do a few tweaks - and I've admittedly been doing more mileage than usual mid-summer with "two a days".

It's amazing how the heat really zaps the energy out of you. I really haven't had many runs in anything less than 100+ weather since May. I'm typically a fairly good hot weather runner - but I'm already feeling somewhat fatigued and ready for it to cool off some.

Today I was able to order my new ASR 8's that I've been waiting for since I first saw them in May. Since part of my injuries lately have been too many miles on worn out shoes - I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on them and taking them for a spin. Next month there's another shoe called the ASR GTX that's made with waterproof Gore-Tex and I am pumped about that shoe also. Add to that some new Adrenalines for putzing around town and I'll have a small shoe store in my closet, soon!

This month I have a couple of races - El Scorcho Cinco 50K and the Speedgoat 50K. El Scorcho is one of my favorite races - here in Ft Worth - the trails that I'm familiar with - friends and family out running and cheering - what more could I ask for? Having only a few weeks between races I'm not 100% sure I'm going to leave it all out on the trails for El Scorcho - need to save a little in the tank for a much tougher Speedgoat - but when I get wrapped up in the energy and excitement who knows what will happen!

Today I launched my website for Christian Athletic Apparel called "Exercise Your Faith."  The whole process began when I was looking for a simple shirt with a cross to run in. I searched the internet and local stores and couldn't find anything - so rather than resign to the fact that it just didn't exist and I was out of luck - I decided to create what I was looking for. After a few months of logo design, web design, and battling through uncertainties - I finally have a product that I'm proud of and looking forward to wearing. Check out my designs!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Solstice 6 Hour Run

Last night I ran in the Summer Solstice 6 Hour (SS6H) Run in Abilene, Texas. This is my second time to run in the event - and I just love this race. Well organized, super friendly volunteers, a great aid station and awesome shirts and hats - what else could you ask for? The course is a 1 mile loop that you do over, and over and over. Now, before you start grumbling about how boring that is I'll confess that I was right there with you before I had participated in a timed event. I didn't "get it" or understand why anyone would run around in circles for hours on end - it just didn't make sense. After the Summer Solstice 6 Hour last year I was hooked and have really enjoyed other timed races (Run From the Ducks, Run Like the Wind).

Last year the SS6H race greeted us with hot weather - oh boy was it hot and with an 8pm start we still had sun for our first hour or so. This year I was happy to see that the start had been pushed back to 9pm - no sun - which would surely mean cooler temps, right? WRONG! At 9pm the wind was blowing and the temp was still over 100 which gave you the feeling that you were standing looking face first into a hair dryer. Rather than lap counters, this year we had chips to count our laps - so I strapped on my chip - listened to the pre-race comments and lined up at the start with a larger crowd than last year.

My goal this time around was to keep a steady, even pace throughout. You know, that's always easier said than done  :)  I took off and kept what I thought was a relatively conservative pace - but after the first few laps and looking at the start/finish clock I realized I was clipping along fairly quickly for someone that's typically a tortoise. Nevertheless - I running - I wanted to see how long I could keep a relatively quick pace. The heat and low humidity were definitely a factor - on the stretches that we ran into the wind I would feel my mouth completely dry out. I drank as much water as I thought my body could process, took a good number of S Caps and gels, and hunkered down for a long night.

The toughest stretch for me was somewhere around mile 17 for about 1.5 hours. I could still run - but I just didn't have the ability to turn my legs over quickly enough to keep up with my previous pace. I slowed down a little and really focused on eating and drinking and sure enough - a little later I had my legs back and was able to knock off a good last hour for a 2nd place 36 mile finish.

What do I like about timed races?

1) Even though you might not have long conversations with other runners, you're really out there battling the elements and the course with them. You almost feel like you know them just by association!
2) Every timed race I've done has been a mile loop. No getting lost!
3) I like setting up near the course so I have access to additional supplies (a new hat, more body glide, etc)
4) If you have a crew - you see them often which is always a boost! (and lots of photo ops!)

If you're looking to give a timed race a shot - consider this race (either the 3hr or 6hr). Not only do the proceeds go to benefit a great organiation (Autism) - but the race is a ton of fun and fits nicely into a somewhat scarce June race calendar in TX.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jemez 50 Race Report

It's been a few weeks since I ran the Jemez 50 - but the experience is still etched in my mind. With more races looming upon the horizon it's time to put down my thoughts - reflect on the experience - and focus my attention on the next goal.

Last year I toed the start line for the 50 miler - and dropped midway at the Pipeline Aid Station to the 50K. Being my first mountain trail run I really didn't know what to expect - would the elevation get to me? Would my legs hold up with all of the climbing and descending? Would I hold it together mentally? Perhaps I was naive - even though I hadn't really done any hill training - I thought my time in the gym would be enough to really get me through. Boy was I wrong. I ended up walking most of the 2nd half of the 50K - but rather than feeling completed defeated by the experience - I was motivated to return again and conquer the course. I needed redemption.

Getting to the starting line wasn't nearly as dramatic as it was last year when the car started smoking in the parking lot of the hotel. Instead I was at the posse shack in plenty of time - already a ton of runners huddled together on a low 40 degree morning. I decided to wear a jacket for the first part of the race and was glad I did. After training in 90 degree temps in TX, 40 degrees was cold! We took off at 5am with headlamps that quickly reflected all of the dust that the front runners had already kicked up. The first 5 miles of the course are fairly un-eventful. Sometimes you're in a single file line - other times you have enough room to really stretch out the legs and pick up the pace. This section is relatively flat and give a middle to back of the pack runner on a mountain course an opportunity to get a lead on the cut off (close to 37 miles, 12 hours).

After the first aid station there is a substantial climb up to the 2nd aid station. The trail goes up a mountain that burned during the fire - and when you look up you see runners all over the mountain. The trip up the mountain this time was significantly easier than last year - I'm not sure if it was conditioning or cooler temps - but I'll claim I'm just a better runner! Once on top of the mountain there is a nice downhill section (somewhat steep) with a lot of switchbacks - I was in a small group of 3 or 4 runners and had some great conversation which was a ton of fun. We kept this up down the mountain and then up through a narrow canyon to the 3rd aid station at the bottom of Caballo.

Caballo base to Caballo top is 1700 - 1800 feet elevation gain in just a couple of miles. These long up and downhill sections are something that you just can't simulate when you live in an area such as Texas. For me, the way up was a slow hike - sometimes with hands on hips with the really steep sections that got me winded - occassionally having to yield the right of way to faster runners that were already heading back down the same trail (boy were they flying). When the steep wooded trail finally opens up to a grassy mountain top with amazing views the effort to get up there is definitely worth it. The - turn around and head back down the same way you came - offering encouragement to those that are still heading up.

After you reach Caballo base for a 2nd time there's another climb up to the Pipeline aid station. Last year this is where I officially folded mentally. For some reason I was expecting a flat section since I had just did a lot of vertical up/down with Caballo - but nope - there's another climb. Even though it's still relatively early - this portion has some exposed spots that are in the sun and it's hot and steep. It's another slow go - but once you finally reach the top you have a nice flatish section til Pipeline Aid Station.

At Pipeline Aid Station I was able to gain access to my drop back - which was more like a security blanket with pretty much everything and anything I could possibly need. I dropped the jacket in exchange for some sleeves - snagged a new hat and some food an extra handheld water bottle and I was off again.

Dropping into the caldera/Valle Grande was every bit as steep as I had read and expected. When I finally made it to the bottom - my shoes were full of black dirt as was the mouthpiece of my handheld water bottle - yah not the greatest to get a mouthful of grit! The reward however was a nice jeep road with some gentle rollers and an opportunity to finally make up some time which I really hadn't done much of since the first 5 miles of the course. I ran most of this section til the aid station around mile 21 - refilled the water bottles for the long 8 mile stretch to the next aid station - and followed the flags through an off-road/trail section through the grass. I could see a group of runners about 1/2 mile ahead slowly heading up the mountain and I could tell by their pace that it was relatively steep. Bummer!

I expected this off road section to really be tough to navigate from what I had read - but I found the clumps of grass to not be that big of an issue. Maybe it's because I was walking  :)   So - the flags headed uphill and towards the trees - and not long after the trees we hit a scree field with large rocks. The flags went up and over the rocks - some which was a little unsteady and shifted when you would step - and continued to head up-mountain after the scree field. And we climbed - and climbed - and climbed. I remember asking Joe from Austin who was about 100 yards behind me "are we near the top?!" - and my spirits sank when he said "not even close." He was right - can't blame the guy for being honest! We kept going and going and going - a few false summits where I thought "surely this is the top?" - and then finally we made it. Whew! By this time Joe had caught up to me and told me there was a sweet downhill section coming up. The first 1/2 mile was steep with another scree field to traverse - but then he was right - AWESOME downhill section. I flew - made great time - felt amazing - whizzed past some people that were walking - and finally rolled into the Pajarito Aid Station feeling good and with my spirits up.

I probably spent longer in the aid station than I should have - but I needed to catch my breath and refocus mentally. I knew I'd have to push ahead the next 8 miles to get to the cutoff in 12 hours - and I've learned that a few extra minutes at an aid station can yield good results if the time is spent wisely. Potatoe soup hit the spot and was a few minutes spent wisely  :)  Leaving the aid station there was a short downhill section and then the trail started to climb. It was another canyon - some of it exposed and in the sun - warm. I started wondering how long the sunny, warm climb was going to last - but it wasn't too bad. It was uphill but it wasn't steep - and so I power walked and made great time. I passed a few more people - and actually ran some of it til we made it to the aid station at the ski area.

I snagged some goodies at the aid station - cheese and tortilla and ginger chews. Yah! Then started the slow climb up the mountain. Yes, this climb is another hand on the hips - steep - go on forever kinda climb. I could never really tell where on the mountain I was - sometimes we would be winding up through the trees - other times we would traverse a ski run. We finally made it to what I thought was the top - oh no just a false summit - and then we finally hit the top - oh wait another false summit - haven't we played this game before?? You really do keep climbing and climbing - always thinking that you've reached the top. Finally once you're at the top it's time to come down. The first few downs are pretty steep - then there's some gradual slope - and then you get to the actual ski run that you run straight down and it's crazy. Reading other race reports I didn't think there was a trail of any kind - I thought you were just runnning down the grassy slopes - but there's actually a trail. I am NOT a good downhill runner so I took it slow and steady but I knew I was ok with the cutoff since I had about 20 minutes to make it down.

Boy was I ever glad to make the cutoff. To me, this was pretty much finishing the race. I knew the rest of the course from last year - a gentle up back to the Pipeline Station - a steep short uphill and then downhill all the way to the finish. Simple enough. I ran/walked the uneventful section to the Pipeline Aid Station where I sat down and refueld. I grabbed my headlamp, ate a little bit, dropped my hydration pack for a waist belt - and I was off.

I started down Pipeline Road and immediately saw the steep uphill. Ok - here we go - walk, walk, walk. Made it to the top and down the other side and actually felt pretty good. I was able to manage a decent jog at this point - and being on the gravel road it was a time to mentally relax and enjoy some mindless running. I'd been up for 14 - 15 hours and have been running for about 13 so I was wiped. I kept going and going waiting for the 3.9 mile aid station. I finally realized that I hadn't seen a flag in a while. Where the heck is the cutoff back to the trail? How long have I been running? I kept going thinking it had to be soon. Eventually I realized - I was lost! I had no idea where the trail was or how far past the trail cutoff I was. I have no idea why I kept thinking that if I just kept going I would eventually find a trail. I think it was the mental fuziness of the moment - because now being rested and lucid the logical thing would have been to turn around and go back until I found a flag. I know this. This isn't my first long run. But at the moment the only thing that sounded reasonable was to continue to go and go and go. Finally I realized there was no trail ahead of me - and the trail behind me was too far to go back and find now that the sun was starting to set. I had picked up my phone at the Pipeline Aid Station and even though I was way up on a mountain - I got cell signal! I was able to talk to someone with the race that said my best bet was to follow the gravel road all the way down the mountain until I hit pavement and someone would be there to grab me - about a 5 mile run down. So - I started running - knowing that I wasn't going to get an official finish but wanting to get the heck off of the mountain. About a mile into my run - I hear a truck pull up behind me. The aid station volunteers from Pipeline Aid Station were heading back to town! I put my hitchhiker thumb up and grabbed a ride back to town. I couldn't have been happier for the lift - even though there was some dispappointment that I didn't make it down on my own two legs.

The whole experience at Jemez was awesome despite the finish. I've found that during long races you measure success in so many different ways. Your time, your time compared to previous attempts, your nutrition and hydration, your recovery after the race, your place in the pack, etc. Though I ended up getting lost (duh!) there were a lot of victories for me. First, I was fairly steady throughout the race. Some races I have ups and downs and am all over the place - but mentally I was completely dialed in. On the steep sections - where last year I mentally caved - I was able to keep plugging away and really tackle the terrain. I remember last year after the first climb to the 2nd aid station I was ready to throw in the towel. This year I just stayed focused and kept plugging way. I also did MUCH better this year with nutrition.hydration - which is probably why I didn't have the wild ups and downs and ran a better race between the ears. Another difference is understanding that it's important to have trail comraderie - but not to the point where you start running someone elses race. Last year I met a running buddy on the course which was great - but I lost track of running my own race. I had a lot of conversations this year with people on the trail - but I didn't start running their race - and they didn't start running mine. Most importantly - I had fun. I just had a great time out on the trails. I really wanted to make the cutoff at the ski area in 12 hours - but it wasn't an obsession. If I dropped a few minutes in a section - or if it took my longer to get to an aid station than I thought - I didn't beat myself up about it.

If you haven't run the Jemez and are looking for a well organized, tough mountain trail run I highly recommend signing up. You'll have to make a decision early as the race sold out well before the race date this year. The course will challenge you - the elevation gain/loss is substantial at around 12K - but the trail itself is runnable and a ton of fun. The aid stations and volunteers as all ultras I've run are top notch. There's also a lot of info about the race (umm, this post as an example?) which I like - I enjoy reading about people's experiences and then comparing them to my own when I'm out there. Who knows - maybe I'll read one of your reports one day...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jemez 50K Prep

So - I thought I would share my pre-race prep to give you an idea of what the heck I put together when I'm running one of these races. Hopefully I'll have a good race report to write up in the next day or two!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In New Mexico and ready to roll...

So I made it to New Mexico today - left Ft Worth with muggy, warm conditions and landed in Albuquerque in a cool light rain. Made the hour drive up to Santa Fe with snow on the surrounding mountains and a dry chilly wind. The forecast shows sunshine and a high in the upper 60's on race day which should be great. Tonight looking towards the Jemez Mountains it was dark and the radar showed light rain/snow mixture. There was also snow the last few nights up there - but some responses to my facebook post indicate that the conditions should be great and that most if not all of the snow should be gone. Hope so - I'm not sure I've quite prepared for running on steep sections of snowy trail.

The legs feel good and rested - though I went up a flight of stairs and could already feel the lack of oxygen due to the altitude. I have some Tylenol ready for the dull headache which I usually get for a few days when I'm in the mountains.

The game plan for tomorrow is to drive up to Los Alamos via Bandelier Nat'l Monument - check out the Valle Grande (the race goes through part of the course) - and end up at the pasta dinner around 530pm or so. A good night sleep is in the plans - but for some reason it never quite works out that I can fall asleep once I crawl in bed - and then up at 4am Saturday to make it down to the start around 4:45am for the 5am start. Good grief that's early.

Here's a short video I took while landing in ABQ with my new Kodak Playsport video cam!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Days and Counting

It's about 10 days til the Jemez 50 mile run - and I couldn't be more excited to head west to New Mexico for a little R&R (and running!). The first 4.5 months of the year have been a blur with a tremendous amount of things going on with family, work, etc. I've logged quite a few miles and had some fairly strong races, but I haven't been as focused as I'd like to be at this point in the season. I see light at the end of the tunnel with things calming down a bit the second half of the year which will be a welcome change to the frantic pace so far in 2011.

I'm starting to think about a race strategy for Jemez and what my game plan in to get through all 50 miles. Last year, as a reminder, I fizzled at the Pipeline Aid Station (around mile 18) and pretty much waved the white flag by dropping down to the 50K and walking it in. Yah, it was incredibly hot in the long exposed sections, and the winds were gusting to 50 mph with blowing dust. The conditions certainly didn't help, but overall I didn't run a smart race which was frustrating. I had hydration issues, I partnered up with someone that was also having issues and didn't run my own race, I was a mess.

This year I'm focused on having a better race. I'm battled tested having experienced a large portion of this course last year, and enduring the Speedgoat 50K out in Utah. There's no amount of training that can substitute for experiencing the course of a race. Last year I know the section where I mentally collapsed - the climb just after Caballo up/down. For some reason I had mentally prepared for a flat, runnable section after the up/down - and when the trail started climbing up, up, up my mental toughness went down, down, down. Now I know what to expect. I'm also physically stronger than I was last year and I've done some hill training in the heat. There's no way to simulate the conditions of long climbs in thin air that you have on long mountain runs when you're in Texas - but I feel I've done the best I can with hill and gym training.

I haven't decided what I'm going to carry during the race - if I'm going to go with a handheld or a hydration pack. I've been training with a handheld - but I'm not sure it's enough with one section between aid stations being around 7 miles. The hydration pack is nice - but I pack so many things in it "just in case" along with the water that after a few hours my shoulders ache. One thing I'm considering is carrying a handheld to the Pipeline Aid Station where I can pick up a second handheld in my drop bag - carry both through the middle section where there is a greater distance between aid stations - and then dropping one off at the Pajarito Aid Station. Another option is to carry one handheld and clip a few smaller bottles on my hydration belt.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hey, I got a new toy!

So this week I opened the box and there they were - brand new, shiny, begging to be worn... moon shoes! I mean, Hoka One Ones! About a year ago I read about Hoka One Ones, a polar response to the minimalist running craze that's taken over with Vibrams and barefoot running. I typically don't get caught up in trends of any sort - let alone running shoes since I've been a tried and true Brooks loyalist for many years. Nevertheless, something about the shoe intrigued me. More cushion, less wear and tear on the body, and funky looking to boot? Ok - tell me more. When I was in Utah last year for the Speedgoat 50K I was able to sneak into the Wasatch Running Company and slip a pair on and bounce up and down the sidewalk in awe. Wow - these things felt cool! Unfortunately the popularity of the shoe and the few US vendors that were carrying them resulted in no sizes above an 11 (I'm a size 11.5 in Brooks). Bummer! The store promised they would be getting some larger sizes in - but I hated to drop $180 on shoes that I wasn't sure would fit - and the hassle of mailing them back and forth just didn't make sense. At the time.  :)

Apparently I had a mid-life running crisis because about a month ago because I got the itch to try some new things with my running. This is counterintuitive to my typical behavior because I believe in the "not broken don't fix" rule. I'm not sure I wanted to change anything with my running as much as I wanted to augment my current running. I haven't been running with a watch of any type for over a year - so I thought I might want to pick up the Garmin 310XT. $400 bucks with the heart rate monitor though? Mmmmh. Then I thought I'd buy a running camera so I could document all of the cool races that I'm fortunate to participate in. I found the GoPro Hero which from web postings appears to take phenomenal photos and video. Ok - this is encouraging. The price seemed right - somewhere around $300 for the one I wanted - but I started thinking about having to lug that thing around during races. Is it too bulky? Does it really have the fisheye effect that some of the postings claim which makes the crystal clear picture a bit distorted? Was my trainer Monte accurate when he said if I ran while filming it would be so unsteady that I would be sick when I watched it on the big screen? Mmmmh. Time to revisit those Hoka One Ones!

As a Brooks advocate and sponsored athlete I am not able to wear Hokas during any of my races - but thought buying a pair as a toy and bouncing around would be fun and a fun change. The shoe itself looks a little goofy and bulky - but it's surprisingly light and no heavier than my Brooks ASR 7's.

So - I laced them up today and thought I'd try them on the trails. First, I did about six miles on flat gravel up and down the Trinity River. The shoes felt fantastic - it really felt like I was swinging my legs back and forth on an eliptical with no impact - just amazing. I intentionally cruised over rocks and sticks - pretty much anything that I could find just to see if I could feel objects through the shoe - and for the most part anything small you roll over without notice. With the exception of a few places where the shoe rubbed (new shoe syndrome) the performance was flawless and a run ride. Hoka's mantra "Time to Fly" was accurate - I flew.

So - they were good on the flats - what about rocky trails? I took off to Sansom Park to run hill repeats on a fairly steep, rocky trail which I thought would be a great proving ground. Again, rocks and branches that were on the trail were no match for the moon boot. I was able to cruise right over them with no problems at all. Up and down the steep hill - the rocks were also not a problem in terms of being able to feel them through the shoe. What was a problem though was the overall stability of the shoe and not really being able to "feel" the trail. With stability - I felt there were some problems with the lateral movement - and felt my ankles rolling multiple times from side to side - this could be because of the height of the shoe . This is something that someone might get used to if this was their everyday trail shoe. The other problem was not being able to really "feel" the trail - it's fun to roll over rocks and branches and bounce around all over the place - but I felt a little out of control by not being able to really feel the trail at all - and wonder how I would like the shoe on a long, tough mountain trail run?

The hesitations I had with the stability in no way took away from the complete blast that I had trying out this shoe. It's crazy to consider a shoe a toy - but for me this is a toy that I'll take out every now and then and play with up and down the trails for a change of pace. Ultimately I cannot part with my Brooks ASR's - and am already looking forward to the Brooks ASR 8's coming out this summer along with the Brooks ASR with Gore-Tex. Cool! Of course I'll order both (and probably multiple pairs of both) as soon as they are available.  :)  If you're looking for a shoe that will double as a toy - I'd say check out the Hoka One One. At least keep an eye out for it at your local running store even though few places carry them. I remember when Vibrams were hard find....

Here's a shout out to my friends Peter and Laura that endured heat and humidity and ran hill repeats with me today!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hog's Hunt 50K

Another Huntsville State Park race in the books. I've run Hog's Hunt 50K for three years now and I keep returning again and again. I love Huntsville State Park - the organization of the various races that are run there - the volunteers. It's also close enough where I can get to the race in a few hours drive but just far enough where I don't run the trails unless there's a race - so it's familiar - yet unfamiliar territory. I like the change of scenery.

This time I didn't have a crew go with me so I went solo. I stopped along the way for work - then met a friend at Gattiland Pizza in College Station (my fav) and made it to Huntsville around 8pm. In years past I've had way, wayyyy too much gear that I shuffle through. Since I rarely use any of it - and my huge bag sits at the start/finish untouched I thought I'd go lite this year and save myself from having to lug things around. So - my gear was a shirt, compression shorts and shorts to put over, some gels, a headlamp, shoes, toe socks, a couple of hats, sunglasses, IPOD, hydration belt (to hold IPOD and gels), insulated handheld, headphones, clothes to change into afterwards, sandals - wait - did I say I packed lite this time?  ;-)

I was up at 445am and headed out towards Huntsville State Park shortly after 5am. The weather was spectacular - somewhere around 50 and no wind - a huge difference from the super windy conditions from Friday. I made the dark drive towards the lodge where the start/finish is - I was there before most but there was already a good crowd in the parking lot. Oh yes - runners with all of their gear - instant friends - though I don't know any of them I enjoy their company. I picked up my race packet - number 71 - a cool tech shirt - and a chip so race organizes wouldn't have to keep up with numbers and time - I was ready to go. I put up my folding chair around the start/finish- my "lite" bag so I could re-supply at the mid-way point - put on the headlamp and I was ready to go.

The 50K was two loops of 15.5 miles each. Mentally - I like two loops - I can my mind around two loops even if they are 15.5 miles each. Shortly after 6am we were off. Unlike previous years where we've run the paved first mile til it veers off on the trail - this year started on the trail. Typically I love running in the dark with my headlamp - but for some reason I was really having a hard time seeing. I felt uneasy - like I was going to trip - like my leadlamp wasn't bright enough. I think I need more practice - been a while since I've run at night - I wasn't as comfy as I needed to be. Nevertheless I kept up with the pack - I was about 1/3 of the way back - the effort was, well, effortless - and despite being a little uncomfy in the dark I whipped through the first part of the trail in relative ease. Starting around mile 2.5 the trail empties onto a jeep road that is straight with some rollers every now and then. The long, straight section allows you to scope out the rest of the runners and see where you are. This is also a section that is relatively root-free where you can stretch out the legs and really pick up the pace. There's a good 2 - 3 miles of jeep road before you head back onto some nice single track. The first loop was relatively uneventful and I breezed into the start/finish in 2:33.

Pulling out of the start/finish on the 2nd loop I felt incredibly strong. The first section I had run in the dark a couple of hours earlier - it was nice to catch a glimpse of the trail in daylight. Woops, don't take your eyes off of the trail too long with this many roots without having a faceplant right into the ground. First the first five miles of loop 2 I really thought I was flying - just hammering the trail - not feeling fatigued at all. Past the long stretch of jeep road around mile 5 or so I started feeling the first tiny hints of fatigue. It was starting to warm up a bit - definitely still comfortable but warming up - and it was around that time where I typically have to become more mentally engaged and battle through the 20 mile mark. My legs still felt good - running all of the ups which was a good sign - keeping hydrated and eating gels I had stuffed in my waistpack. One thing I noticed after the jeep road and onto the single track was that I saw no other runners. I wasn't getting passed - but I also wasn't catching up and passing anyone. This went on for miles - no other runners - just day hikers probably wondering what the heck was going on with the folks with race bibs.

In my mind I really felt like I had a chance to run a negative split - I didn't have a watch so I had to go strictly off of how I felt and my perceived pace. With a mile to go I thought I'd pick up the pace and really hammer it home - which I did to a 5:15 finish - NOT a negative split and a little slower on the 2nd loop than I expected considering how good I felt through most of the race. My time last year was 5:26 so I shaved off a little over 10 minutes from last year which was great. What was encouraging was not only the time - but the relative ease that I ran. The whole day was smooth - just like clockwork through the aid stations which might be more a testament to how awesome the volunteers were than my actual skill at getting in and out quickly.

My typical 50K runs over the last few years consisted of running the first 20+ miles - and then hanging on and suffering through the final 10 or so miles. The last six months or so I've finally started shifting away from fading the last 1/3 of the course to keeping a more steady pace from start to finish. Part of this is increased experience as an endurance runner - I'm just better at longer distances than I was a year or more ago. Another component is focusing more on nutrition and hydration. As a new ultramarathoner I spent most of my mental energy battling and trying to overcome tired legs and a body that wanted to stop. When I hit a low point, I would implode and suffer til the end. With increased experience I've started to use my mental energy to think about the race - to keep my body dialed in to being property fueled and hydrated. I'm also better at listening to my body - rather than fold when my body starts barking at me - I listen to the barks and start figuring out how to get my mojo back. As an ultramarathoner I think this is a huge transition  - or at least it was for me - because in many ways I would lose the physical battle as a result of losing the mental battle. By running a smarter race between the ears I've not only improved my times significantly - but I've also had a ton more fun during my races because I can actually enjoy my time out on the trails. I've also been able to tackle a lot tougher courses that demand that you run a smart race or risk failure.

I never pass up an opportunity to run Huntsville when the schedule allows. Whether it's Rocky, Hog's Hunt, Texas Trails - all of the races are directed well and have awesome volunteers. Over the last few years I've run in the heat and humidity, the snow and the cold, and fortunately this year dry and cool. Though you never know what the weather conditions are going to be, you can always guarantee a great experience from start to finish.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Grasslands 50

Grasslands 50 was my first attempt at a 50 mile race two years ago. I remember this course - long stretches of sand - lots of open space with an abundance of sun - the typical March winds whipping. I remember stopping at mile 41 and change thinking that I couldn't take another step and getting my first DNF. Over the last two years I've run multiple 50 mile races - and further - but I really needed to come back to Grasslands and conquer the course. I wanted to do this last year - but decided that blowing wind/snow/ice was more than I wanted to handle. This year it was time to take another stab at it.

Even though Decatur is only about 45 miles from Ft Worth - I thought I'd drive up there night before. I'm always scattered on race morning - and eliminating a hour plus drive at 5am seemed a good idea. The hotel was busy - apparently motorbike races - but fortunately the hotel was quiet. Unfortunately though I didn't sleep well. Tossing - turning - never getting comfy. I'm way past being nervous before 50k races - this was just one of those nights where I just didn't sleep well. The last time I looked at the clock it was about 3am. A couple of hours later I was up and getting ready - red eyed and yawning - not a good way to start the day!

Not getting good sleep the night before doesn't help your chances of completing a race - but it certainly doesn't have as big of an effect as you might think. Once you're up, moving around, and the adrenaline is flowing the fact that you should for all intents and purposes being a walking zombie fade into the background. It's race day - you have more important things to worry about than being sleepy.

The drive out to the LBJ Grasslands is only about 15 minutes from Decatur down a dark and windy road. This year when we turned off of the main drag and onto the gravel road we were immediately faced with a cloud of dust from the car ahead of us. We really weren't following that closely - but it was so dry and dusty that it was like driving through a thick fog. I was hoping that there would have been some rain during the week to wet things down - but with no such luck I knew it was going to be a nice dusty run with winds forecasted to pick up.

7am rolled around and we were ready to go. The sun wasn't quite up yet but there was enough light to see without a headlamp so I ditched the light - grabbed my handheld water bottle and was off. The first portion of the run is an out and back and quickly gets you acquainted with the sand that you have to endure off and on for most of the race. Since the course is mostly single track the first part of the race is spent in a single file line running everyone elses pace - which for me was probably a tad faster than I needed to go - but it felt good since it was cool and the legs were fresh.

Once I completed the out and back and was at the start/finish again it was time to start the first of four loops - the blue loop. The course is run similar to a clover leaf where you keep coming back to the central start/finish after each loop. The first loop is the longest at 13.5 miles - and then the loops get gradually shorter the further you get into the race (though they seem much longer as the day wears one!). Loop one was fairly non-eventful. There was cloud cover so it wasn't hot yet and the winds hadn't picked up. The sand was there - but the legs were still fresh and it was more of an annoyance than anything else.

The second loop which was the white loop and started off with the familiar long stretches of sand. I was already starting to feel a little tired - never a great thing at mile 20 and not even half way through the race - but I know not to panic because you have some ups and downs when you're running all day. A couple of miles into the loop I hit a nice downhill section with very little sand. I really felt like I was flying on this section and making great time and my spirits were back up. I knew there was a long section without an aid station but I thought with the downhill section and the time I was making that I'd be ok with my one handheld. I must not have been running as quickly as I thought - because I kept running - and running - and running. I finally started walking as there were sections of sand again. Just about when I thought the aid station should be around the corner I saw a mile marker - I was still about a mile away. I was mentally defeated - walking uphill in sand in the sun without water. I just shuffled along until I finally made it to the aid station. Fortunately they had some ice and I was able to get some water in me - the homemade potatoe soup was great - even on a hot day! Refueled and rehydrated my spirits were back up and I started running again.

I really don't remember much about the third loop - except one of the aid stations where a very nice lady started walking towards me with two glasses of water and insisted on spraying suntan lotion on me. I have no idea who she was - but she was the best! It was like having my mother out there watching out for me. Gotta love those aid station volunteers!!

I finally made it to the last loop. This is where I dropped two years ago - emotionally and physically spent. I could very easily have stopped again this time - but there was no way I was going to NOT finish again. At the aid station I sat around for about five minutes talking to my awesome crew that was busy grabbing things - filling and refilling water bottles - etc. I finally decided it was now or never so I got up and took off walking. More sand - uphill - in the sun going into the wind. Really?? Can't I catch a break?? Yes - this was going to be a long nine miles. :)  I was definitely walking the majority of the time - but managed to job some on some flats and downhills. Hit the aid station again with the potatoe soup - had another glass and it was just as great as it was the first time around. Around mile 47 I managed to catch a glimpse of someone in front of me. I'm typically fairly strong in the latter stages of a race - but with as much walking as I had done I was surprised that I had caught up with someone. Well - this was the motivation that I needed to get my legs moving. I took off running - every now and then on a straight away I'd see my victim up ahead - and I'd keep plotting along. Eventually I was able to catch up and pass him - probably around mile 48 at this point - and it sure felt good. He still looked like he was moving fairly well - so I knew I'd have to keep running if I didn't want him to pass me back up. I passed another guy that was having some stomach issues and was sitting on the side of the trail. I offered him a gel which he refused - and he said he was ok - so I kept on going. I ran the entire way back - even through some of the deep sandy sections - to finish in 10:46.

This will probably be the last time that I'll run this race - not because I'm not up for a challenge - but because I just don't find the course enjoyable. I ran it this year since I DNF'd two years ago - and am really glad that I did. When you look at the course profile it looks very flat and fast - and really elevation gain/loss is fairly minimal over the course of 50 miles. The sand though - oh the sand - it just sucks the life out of your legs. I can say with 100% certainty that I would NOT have finished this race without the awesome volunteers that were out there in the sun, sand, and wind all day. They were just spectacular. The overall organization of the race was also superb.

If you haven't run this course - I highly recommend giving it a shot because it definitely is challenging. If you've run it and want to pass at a second go - come on out with me next year and volunteer and we can help some others tackle the sand. Callie (my dog) will help us!

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's about time...

I always have good intentions of blogging and keeping up with my running - and somehow good intentions aren't enough to keep me in a consistent routine of sitting and putting my thoughts down. Part of the reason is because running is actually more fun than typing. Run more, type less. Another reason - or should I say excuse - is that other things in life seem to get in the way. Work. Business Development Ideas. Work. Travel. Work. Right now I'm in Florida traveling on a work trip - that's two of the aformentioned - I'm fairly impressed with myself that I'm finding time to sit and type.

I always have grand expectations of myself when I'm starting something new - I can be an "all in" kinda guy - and with blogging this has been no different. My intentions are to keep up to date with where my mind is mentally, recap races, talk about products that I'm using, training regimens that are working (or not working), vent about challenges and frustrations with training, etc. My ability to follow through on those intentions has been severely lacking - and so I've revised my goal. The reality is that few people really care what I eat day to day - or how far I run day to day. I know when I'm reading blogs it's typically for race reviews. What's the course like? What's the organization like? What are the obstacles you faced during the race? Have any photos so I can get a mental picture of the course? These are the types of things that I really enjoy reading about - not the day to day monotony of life - I have my own life to lead and everyone else has theirs. So my revised expectations of myself are to be consistent with writing race reports about the races I run - because I have some amazing adventures. I average about one ultra a month - so there will probably be a few pre and post race thoughts - but more than anything I'm going to review races.

So far this year I've had four races - Benbrook Half, Cowtown Ultra, Toughest in Texas 20 Mile, and Grasslands 50 Mile. Each a different experience and a different challenge. Over the next week or two I am going to write about each race and work harder to keep up with writing race reports for future runs. I have some awesome races coming up - including Jemez 50 miler - Speedgoat 50K - and Pony Express 100. So - stay tuned for some great recaps!

Happy Running.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Cowtown 2011

Cowtown is really the only road race that I run each year - and it's also one of the races that I look forward to each year. February in Texas means variable weather. In 2009 it was freezing cold and windy. In 2010 it was near perfect with cool temperatures. This year the forecast was warm, windy and humid.

This year the race was moved to the Will Rogers complex. In theory I thought this would be a really nice change from the downtown location where the start/finish has been the last few years. Not only is Will Rogers more accessible, but where previous years all races were run on Saturday - this year the 5K and 10K were run on Saturday and the half, marathon, and ultramarathon were run on Sunday.

Packet pick-up was on Friday - I went to pick up my folks race packets since they were doing the 5K on Saturday - and my packet for the ultra on Sunday. The expo was running behind with set-up and the volunteers told us they would be opening the doors late. I noticed a side door that was opened and managed to sneek in and have the entire expo to myself  :)  This year's expo was MUCH improved than the make-shift tent expo in a downtown parking lot of previous years. Lots of vendors - lots of room - everything running - loved it!

Saturday morning I went to cheer my folks on for the 5K. We left in plenty of time with about 45 minutes to spare. The parking situation was TERRIBLE! The road to get to one of the parking lots crossed the 10K route which was already in progress - so we sat and sat and sat for about 20 minutes. With the start of the race quickly approaching - I finally had to give my folks the boot out of the car and send them on their way so they wouldn't be late. I continued to sit and sit and sit in the car - and then finally managed to make a U turn and park about 1/2 mile away. Good thing I had on my running shoes. I took off running - actually ran the last part of the 10K race - and got to the start line just in time. Whew... :)

Somehow in the frenzy to get to the start/finish line my folks got separated. I found my mother but couldn't find my dad. I decided to walk with my mother the first half of the race - and within the first 5 minutes we found my dad!

The race on Saturday was great - and my folks finished right before the wind picked up. They really weren't walking as fast as they could have and finished in just over an hour which I thought was a great time. I walked the last part of the race with them to the finish line.

Overall the 5K race was great and my folks really enjoyed it. One complaint in addition to the parking which was a nightmare - the finish line was in a TERRIBLE location. The whole focal point of a race is the finish line. This should be the highlight of the race - the center of the activities - where all of the hoop-lah is. Instead - the finish line was way off to the side bordered by a chain link fence. When participants finished - you couldn't get to them to congratulate them because they were directed through the livestock barns. It made it really, really hard to participants afterwards with thousands of people walking around. Bad organization!

Parking for the ultra wasn't any better on Sunday morning. I ended up having a friend drop me off so I could make it to the corral in time - even though we had left in plenty of time. I was in the corral with the 3:40 marathon pace group. My goal for the ultra was 4:30 - so I figured if I could keep up with the 3:40 group I'd have a small cushion of time to complete the last five miles.

Since we were in the first corral we took off when the gun sounded marking the start of the race. The 3:40 pacer had a sign which was really helpful - even though they had supposedly put the faster runners up front - I still had a significant challenge keeping up because there were so many people running a slower pace. After about the first mile or so the crowd thinned out enough that we could pretty much keep together as a group - there were probably about 8 - 10 of us running.

The first nine miles of the race were very easy and quick - up towards the Stockyards - down Exchange - a very "Ft Worth" route heading south into downtown. Around mile 9 the course headed uphill towards the courthouse - this is when I could start to feel the legs a little bit. Uphill - a strong headwind - temperature starting to creep up - yah this was going to be a fun last 20 miles  :)   Running through downtown the course continued to head uphill - every time we would turn the corner it was more uphill - another corner - and more uphill. C'mon - let me catch a break!  I saw some friends along the course with signs - that got my spirits up a bit!

So uphill we went for a few more miles. There was still a group of about 8 or us running with the 3:40 marathon pacer until somewhere around mile 19. The pacer asked me something - I had no idea what he said since I had my headphone blaring - by the time I shut my IPOD off I realized he had asked someone else to hold the sign while he took a bio break. So - we kept on running without him - not really knowing if we were staying on pace or not. I could tell I was starting to get dehydrated and the legs just didn't want to move. I had to walk a little bit and regroup - then a jog - then a walk a little bit. Part of the problem I had were tired legs - the other problem I had was that I was tired of carrying the hydration pack. I really just wanted to stop carrying it - it was hot, restrictive, and just overall annoying me. Around mile 24 or so I saw my support crew and asked for a handheld water bottle and my belt to carry my IPOD. The belt was in another car and a friend locked her keys in the car - so no belt. Wha??? Really? Either way the hydration pack was going - so I ditched the hydration pack and ran while carrying my IPOD in hand = very annoying. I When I made it to the aid station around the marathon mark I knew we would double back through the same aid station so I ditched the IPOD.

After a few more walk/run sections I finally buckled down and ran the last few miles. I had a goal of 4:30 for the 50K and I fell just short finishing in 4:34. Overall about a 15 minute improvement from 2010 and a respectable time considering the warm temps, humidity, wind - and no IPOD the last 5 miles or so! Although I really don't like road races - Cowtown is one I'll definitely keep on my race calendar for many years to come.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is it Spring yet?

I've never been shy about admitting that I'm a fair weathered runner. I've somewhat adapted to the cold - particularly since I've invested in some good cold-weather running clothes from Brooks - and I'll still get out in the wind even though it's worse than being a rat and running the wheel at the gym. One or the other I can tolerate - though I can hardly say I "enjoy" the conditions. Today however, with temperatures in the teens, snow/sleet on the ground, and gusty winds above 50 mph, there was no way I could tough out even 100 yards. Un-fair weather. I knew the sunny 60 degree weather that we had over the weekend was only a tease of things to come in April - but I didn't know that to enjoy two nice days of early Spring would require trading it for a full week of arctic blizzard-like conditions. Needless to say - I'm huddled indoors by my electric heater staying warm with thoughts of popping in my Badwater running video as my digital fireplace.

The good thing about nasty weather is that it forces you to stay off your legs - which is a hard thing for me to do. Forced rest is a good thing - even with the nagging thought in the back of my head that I should be doing SOMETHING active. Tomorrow will be a gym day if the streets are clear enough.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No updates!

Saturday is the Benbrook half which I ran last year. In 2010 it was about 35 degrees, windy, and it had rained several days before the race. In the first mile we had to wade through ice cold water above the ankles so the race was run pretty much the whole way with wet feet. This year the forecast looks much improved - with lows around 45 and highs near 70 - perfect! We deserve a nice forecast after last year. My goal is to run at a good pace but still comfy - this is a prep race for the Cowtown Ultra where my goal is to run the 50K in 4:30. So - I'm hoping to run quick but comfy this weekend and get somewhere in the 1:45 - 1:50 range. Last year I was right at 2:00 and have never officially broken the 2 hour mark in a half marathon (slow poke)

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's been a few days...

It's been four days or so since I've had a chance to post. I've had a sick mother - and honestly tending to her and making sure she was ok was more important than blogging about running; life puts things in perspective sometimes without your consent. And - sometimes we need that reality check.

Overall I've been doing a pretty good balancing eating, running, and familial obligations. I've had two really strong upper body workouts with Monte - last Thursday and today. I've had some really nice runs, including a 10 mile trail run on Saturday which couldn't have felt better or been more enjoyable - introduced trail running to some friends! I'm feeling stronger, can see warmer weather 6 weeks away, and have started registering for races for the 2011 year - woo hoo!

Speaking of registering for races - yesterday I clicked the "register" button and forked over the cashola for the Jemez 50 mile - the one running "fail" that I had last year when I limped to the finish line of a pathetic race. I dropped midway from the 50 mile to the 50K - and even then had a pretty tough time getting through it. More than the physical challenge (and oh is it a challenge) - I really allowed myself to be mentally defeated. High winds, hot weather, bad nutrition = combo for disaster. The course swung at me and made full contact: KO! Since then I've made some good progress - both with my physical toughness but also with my mental toughness. I'm able to work through races without panicking - incredibly important in ultra-trail running with the numerous ups and downs. I'm also more aware of my nutrition and hydration earlier in the race. I'm really pumped about going back and really tackling the 50 miles this year - May 21st is circled on the calendar for the showdown.

I ordered some new running gear today - part of the Brooks Fanatics program that I'm in. Remember to always keep Brooks products in mind when you're running!

Thursday and Monday: Upper body

Wednesday: No running
Thursday: No running
Friday: 7 miles
Saturday: 10 miles trail
Sunday: 6.5 miles
Monday: 6+ miles

Friday, January 21, 2011

The last few days...

The last few days have been lousy ones. Up at the hospital a lot - an irregular schedule - cold, windy weather outside - just miserable. The good news is that I had some good mileage over the weekend and through the week - so the guilt factor of no running really hasn't come into play. Tomorrow it's supposed to be 47 with a light breeze - no excuses to not get out and enjoy. After a few days of being up at 5am-ish I acquired dark circles and bags under my eyes - not a good combo on a Monte day. Fortunately Monte had mercy and helped me work through an 80 - 90% day to end up with a more than decent upper body workout.

Tonight was the quarterly NTX Trail Runner meeting. Always a good time to be around other runners - meet some new folks - learn some things - and in tonight's case - encourage and lure some friends into the sport. Peter and Laura joined - it was nice to have them along and expose them to the craziness that we call ultrarunning. They have yet to run trails - but weather not being a factor it looks like this Saturday they're going to get out and give it a go. Oh, if the only knew what they were getting themselves into.


Scrambled eggs
2 biscuits
1 yogurt
Hashbrowns (not the ones that are deep fried!)

Turkey sandwich with pesto
Potato salad

Iced venti non-fat latte

Handful of chips
2 corn tortillas
2 chicken enchiladas with rice (didn't eat all of the sauce)

Fiber One cereal



Two egg and potatoe tacos/Taco Cabana

Grande non-fat latte

Handful of chips with taco meat (at the house - lean ground beef)
1/2 cup rice with chicken and veggies

Fiber One cereal

1 chicken breast
2 small ears of corn
Green beans
1 roll w/ butter

Chicken and rice soup

Upper body w/ Monte

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 1 of the New Year

Yes, I realize that it's January 17th and not January 1st - but in terms of being on the health bandwagon this is Day 1. Did a nice job logging food today and staying within the parameters of my meal plan. Midway through the day I saw an article on people that have lost tons of weight - and the article emphasized that all of them blogged about their food and their eating habits. Interesting read and before/after photos. Check it out:

I don't have a consider amount of weight to lose - but logging food reminds me to be more cognizant of what I put in my mouth. (worrying about what comes out of my mouth is another issue - but still important!). So - here's what I ate today:

Yoplait Yogurt Light with 1/2 scoop milled flax seed
Two whole wheat waffles w/ peanut butter and honey

4.5 oz turkey deli meat
15 wheat things (wheat)
1 jalapeno string cheese
1 light yogurt

Pre-workout snack
1 energy bar

Post workout snack
1 slim and trim chocolate Smoothie King (20oz)

Chopped bar b q chicken salad (1 tablespoon dressing)

No evening snack

I had a fairly good run today - the cobwebs are pretty much out of the legs from my 30 mile run this past weekend. I logged about 8.5 miles today - about 7.5 at a pretty good pace and then an easy last mile.

It's been a while...

So - it's been a while since I've sat and added to my blog. It's time to dust it off and get serious again - 2011 is going to be a great year. After vacationing in Mexico, the Christmas holidays, New Year's, Birthday, and other celebrations I'm back on the bandwagon starting tomorrow. Being on the bandwagon includes improving my training regiment so I'm maximizing every moment in the gym or out on the trails - but more than anything refers to my eating which has spiraled out of control the last month. Fortunately I've logged enough miles with some time off to counterbalance the chocolate covered pecans, cookies, dips, pies, etc - but I really haven't dropped the additional bodyfat that I was hoping to before the end of the year.

The race calendar is shaping up nicely with about one race a month on average. I've thrown a few new races in there that I haven't done before - but most are repeats of races that are close and that I enjoy running. Up in the air is the Speedgoat 50K - which was really my favorite run of 2010. It's in July in the mountains in Utah - and there's something about escaping the Texas heat mid-summer that really sounds appealing - so it might be one that I add to the list. We'll see. I'm also looking for an August race. Not many in TX because of the heat - so if I find one I imagine it will include some travel somewhere.

Hill's 50K (my self named training "race!")
Benbrook half marathon

Cowtown 50K

Toughest in Texas
Grasslands Trail Marathon

Hell's Hills 50 Mile

Jemez 50 Mile

Summer Solstice 6 Hour

El Scorcho 50K

Nothing Yet!

Run From the Ducks 8 Hour

Pony Express 100 Mile

Rockledge Rumble

Run Like the Wind 12 Hour