Friday, February 18, 2011

Snot Pots and Humidity

Seems like I never get sick unless I have a race coming up. Sure enough, I woke up Monday with congestion and a wicked cough. I was told that using a neti pot might help. For the uninitiated, a neti pot (I've been referring to it as my "snot pot") is essentially a small tea pot that you stick in one nostril, allowing the solution to drain out the other nostril, along with all the snot you have inside your nose. Sounds fun, right? It seems to be working. In addition, I have been taking an immune booster called "Kick Ass Immune Booster". I think they should re-name it "Tastes Like Ass Immune Booster". Maybe it will work.

In addition to my cold, the weather has warmed up (been around 80 the past few days), and with it the humidity has set in. I already despise running in high humidity, but it is made much worse when compounded with my sickness. Should be fun trying to breathe on Sunday at the marathon.

I ran my last easy run this morning (6 miles) and will take tomorrow off (from running) to work the Austin Marathon Expo for Brooks. I have always been a fan of Brooks shoes, and the past several years I have had the pleasure of being a part of their ID (Inspire Daily) team, and more recently their PACE team. It should be fun to be a part of their team at the Expo and help out. I just hope my head and chest clear up before the race on Sunday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ideal Conditions

I should have known I was going to have a good run yesterday. It all started on Saturday, when I spent the afternoon in Austin at REI and Hula Hut. 65 and sunny is pretty ideal for a day in Austin (really there is no bad day there). Fast forward to yesterday. I stopped at Valero on my way to Government Canyon, where I was meeting Liza for the first part of my 18 mile “tempo” run. I grab my customary pre-run coffee, and the guy at the counter just looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about it. This one’s on me.” Free anything is good, and free coffee is really good! I arrived at GC a few minutes early, thinking I would get ready and fill out the necessary paperwork before the ranger arrived to open the gate. Suddenly a truck drove up, and a man got out and started unlocking the gate. I looked at my clock – 6:55AM. This must be a mistake. Everyone knows that Government Canyon NEVER opens early. Sure enough, he waved us on through. Free coffee, gates opening early…this was shaping up to be a good day.

Liza could only run for an hour, so we headed off under a cool, clear sky towards Far Reaches. Up Far reaches and down Sendero Balcones, then back to the car. We did this (nearly 7 mile section) in exactly one hour, which is fast for me, especially since I had another 11 miles to go. I bid Liza farewell and headed back out, not too excited about trying to maintain my “fast” pace. I decided to run JJR and go up Wildcat Canyon. At the top, I ran Sendero Balcones the opposite direction and linked up with Twin Oaks, a really fun trail to run down. At the junction with JJR, I took a right and headed up and over the Overlook Trail, stopping to admire the beautiful morning and look down on the trail I had just run. Back down Overlook to JJR for a 2 mile stretch back to the car, then a mile cooldown in the front country. I looked at my watch when I had finished – 2:45 total for 18 miles. For me, this was one of my best runs at GC (maybe anywhere). The cool weather and having Liza push me (I’m sure it felt slow to her) at the start really helped. I was dreading this run from the moment I awoke, but I was really glad I did it.

One track day this week and a few easy runs, then the Austin Marathon on Sunday. As if running a road marathon isn’t bad enough (I much prefer trails), the forecast is calling for warm/humid temperatures and showers. Great. Can’t wait.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sports Bras and GI Issues - My Day At Rocky Raccoon

I spent this past weekend in Huntsville State Park, home of the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile trail race (there’s a 50 mile version too). The race consists of 5x20 mile loops. Those of you who know me know that I will probably never run this race because: #1 – it has more than 2 loops….I’m not a multiple loop guy, #2 – there are no mountains to look at…100 miles is going to hurt, so at least give me some mountain views to take my mind off the pain. Anyway, I was there to help pace my friends Liza Howard and Anabel Pearson. Along the way I even told another friend that I would pace her as well (yikes).

Part I - Liza

Kelli Newlon was pacing Liza from mile 60-80, so we met up with Eliot (Liza’s husband) and Amanda McIntosh (Liza’s coach) to help crew and to stargaze at all the big name runners who had shown up. I even got into full stalker mode and took lots of pictures as they came though the aid stations. It was amazing to watch these guys make running 100 miles look so effortless. Liza won this race last year, and her goal for 2011 was to win – and set the course record! No pressure for her, or for her pacers.

Liza was under course record pace through mile 43, but she didn’t look like herself. Everyone has low spots in an ultra, but she looked particularly uncomfortable., more so than I am used to seeing her. We saw her again at mile 56, and she didn’t look any better. Side note here….As we were hanging out at the Park Road Aid Station waiting for Liza, we had the privilege of watching the top men cruise through, making it look easy. Ian Sharman came blazing through (he would go on to win in course record time, running a 7:30 pace for 100 miles!!!), followed by Zach Gingerich, then Anton Krupicka and Hal Koerner, with Karl Meltzer not far behind. My favorite (by far), was seeing Scott Jurek. I had briefly met Scott a few years prior at the White River 50 miler, where he was working an aid station. He might be THE nicest guy in all of ultra running. When he came into Park Road, you would have thought the Beatles had arrived. One woman screamed so loud I thought she was hurt. After taking a picture with Scott, she proclaimed, “my life is now complete”. He stayed around for at least 10-15 minutes, chatting with volunteers and taking numerous pictures. Here is arguably the greatest American ultra runner of our generation (look at his entire career), and he is taking time out of his race to mingle with his fans. What a class act.

(Ian Sharman coming into Park Road aid station - mile 56)

(Anton Krupicka - mile 56)

(Hal Koerner - mile 56)

(Karl Meltzer - Park Road aid station)

(Scott Jurek with his fans)

(Eliot crewing for Liza at Park Road - mile 56)

Back to the real reason I was there- to pace Liza and Anabel. Kelli and I drove to the start/finish area so Liza could pick up Kelli on her 4th loop. After a quick re-fill of key items (gels, water, Immodium), Liza and Kelli were off. I rode with Eliot to see them at the Nature Center aid station (mile 63), where Liza still seemed to be struggling. After she passed through, I headed back to the start/finish area to rest up and change before my pacing duties began. I met up and hung out with David Brown, who had run a great race and taken 3rd overall in the 50 miler. Soon the men’s leaders were passing by, headed out for their final 20 mile loop. At this point, Ian Sharman had a 30 minute lead over Tony and Hal, and he seemed to be getting stronger as the race progressed.

(Ian Sharman heading out for his final loop and a course record - with a 30 minute lead)

(Hal Koerner at mile 80)

(Scott Jurek - he dropped after a 60 mile "training run")

I changed into my running clothes and waited for Liza to come in. When Amanda and Eliot returned, I knew Liza would be coming through soon. Amanda and I discussed what needed to be done in terms of pacing. We both agreed that the course record was probably out of reach, but that Liza could still beat her time from last year and win the race as 1st female. All I had to do was keep her moving and running at a decently quick (think quick after having run 80 miles) pace. No pressure at all!!! I loaded up my pockets with everything I needed, plus some things I thought might come in handy (ginger, Liza’s iPod, etc). I looked (and felt) like a bear storing up for the winter because my pockets were so full.

(Liza finishing her 3rd loop)

Liza came through, changed out her water bottle, grabbed a few gels, put on some warm clothes, and off we went. I asked her how she was feeling, and I got a muffled grunt in return. She told me that she wasn’t concerned about the course record any longer, but that she really wanted to set a PR. I told her to follow me and promised we would get her in under 15:45. About 15 minutes into the loop, Liza asked for a gel, which she somehow choked down. The look on her face told me she wasn’t thrilled about this, but I was pleasantly surprised that she was still eating. Thus began an odd stretch of pacing for me. Around this point, Liza told me that her sports bra was rubbing and that she had an odd request. She asked if I could rip it for her and proceeded to pull up the back of her shirt. Yep, this is a first for me. Chris never asked me to rip any articles of clothing (thank goodness) at Cactus Rose. The problem was, I couldn’t rip it (I found out later that Kelli had been able to partially tear it earlier, which only made me feel worse and questioning my strength training). Soon after, Liza stopped running and seemed on the verge of tears behind me. I asked if she was okay, and she replied that she just needed a hug. Yet another first for me (no hugs from Chris). Before we made it to the Nature Center aid station, I heard a grunt, followed by a thump behind me. Liza had fallen, muttering that she was “a disaster right now”. Luckily for us, we were soon at the aid station, where I asked for scissors (to cut her sports bra). No scissors, but Eliot had a pocketknife, which I took with me.

I knew we needed to run (roughly) a 12 minute/mile pace on this loop to break last year’s time, and at this point were around 12:20 and fading fast. I was beginning to think that I was going to fail as a pacer and not be able to push Liza like she wanted me to. Another mile of running and Liza stopped, asking me to slice her sports bra with Eliot’s knife. This seemed to help, and quickly we were off again. I could tell that Liza was really struggling (can you blame her – she had pushed HARD for 85 miles) and that it was going to take a superhuman effort on her part to keep moving as fast as we needed to go. I kept telling her that she was doing great and that we could make it if she could just keep this pace up. Pacing can be tricky, because you know the runner wants to make a certain goal and wants to be pushed, but in the heat (and exhaustion) of the moment, the runner just wants to be done. All time goals seem to go out the window.

Passing through DamnNation aid station for the first time (we would be back in just over 6 miles), Liza asked me to get her a cup of Coke. The aid station was busy, and it took longer than normal to get a Coke, so when I turned around to hand it to Liza, she was gone! I caught a faint glimpse of her headlamp in the distance, so off I went, running as fast as I could while trying not to spill the cup of Coke I help in my hand. All of this in the dark, on trails covered in roots. Awesome. I eventually caught up to her, managing to only spill about half the cup. She seemed to be moving better now, asking me to let her know how many miles we had left at each passing mile.

The damn loop is not much fun, with some little rollers and plenty of roots to trip you up. It’s also the longest section of the course between aid stations (just over 6 miles). Liza was still moving well, but she had to stop every now and again to walk, eat a gel, or have me cut her bra (that sounds bad if you haven’t read the previous paragraphs). In just over an hour, we were back at the DamnNation aid station.

Knowing that we were less than 8 miles from the finish (and another win) seemed to energize Liza and help her push through the pain. The first 1-2 miles out of the aid station cut through the woods on singletrack , and then you pop out on a long (for Rocky) section of jeep road that seems to climb forever (again, relative to RR). I was still out in front, trying to set the pace for Liza. Every time I looked back to see if Liza was still there, I saw her right on my heels, pushing hard up the hill. I honestly was running about as hard as I could, and Liza was not backing off. 92 miles into this thing, and she was kicking my butt! I counted off the miles as we got closer to the last aid station (Park Road), and soon we could see the dim lights of the station in front of us.

Liza again asked me to get her some Coke, and Kelli took care of this as I grabbed a fresh water bottle from Eliot to give Liza. When I turned around to get the Coke, Liza was gone…again. Knowing we were almost done (and carrying 2 water bottles), I threw down the Coke and sprinted after Liza. I caught her in a couple minutes, and she was moving quickly. I jumped in front and told Liza we were 4 miles from the finish. These last 4 miles went by quickly, as Liza was now covering ground with renewed determination. We were hitting low 8 minute pace, which is amazing considering she was 98 miles into the race. As we turned the corner and saw the red glow of the finish clock, I congratulated Liza and stepped aside so she could have her rightfully deserved moment in the spotlight. She crossed the line in an amazing 15:33, a full 12 minutes faster than last year, and again as the first female.

I can’t say enough about the grit and determination Liza showed during the race. For those of us who have the privilege to run with her on a regular basis, this comes as no surprise. It still amazes me how she is able to dig deep, regardless of how bad she may feel, and somehow find the inner strength to push on. It’s truly an honor to get to run with Liza.

Part 2 – Anabel

After Liza finished and we had all chatted in the finisher’s tent, I headed off to the car to change into dry/warm clothes, for my pacing duties were not yet over. I had told another friend, Anabel, that I would help her complete her first attempt at 100 miles. The last time I had seen Anabel ,she was starting her 4th loop (mile 60) and was having serious GI issues, to the point that the words “drop” were uttered. I knew Anabel was tough and that she would not drop unless she absolutely had to. Liza had finished around 9:30, and I knew it would be at least 2 more hours before Anabel arrived, if she arrived at all. So, I sat and waited, talking to friends who were volunteering during the race, trying not to nod off and fall asleep. Around midnight, Robert Heynan peeked in and told me to get ready, that Anabel was finishing her 4th loop. She came into the tent for a re-fill of food and water. She looked much better than the last time I had seen her. I asked how she was doing, and she told me she was still having stomach issues. Knowing we would need to keep moving to finish under 24 hours and get the big buckle she wanted, we headed out into the darkness for the last 20 miles.

I was surprised to see Anabel running this far into the race, but she was able to shuffle along at a decent clip. About 2 miles in, the running stopped, as she said her legs were totally stiff (can’t imagine why!). I knew that, if we could just hike at a moderate pace, we would finish before 6AM, earning Anabel the big buckle.

I hesitate to say pacing Anabel was uneventful, but she never fell, asked for a hug, or needed me to cut off articles of clothing. Thus, my summary of this section of the race is much shorter than Liza’s (or maybe I was just too sleepy during this part to remember much). Sorry Anabel. As with Liza, I was thoroughly impressed with her mental toughness and resolve. Never once did she doubt the fact she would finish. Her spirits remained high, even when her legs felt dead. She battled stomach problems for 90 miles. As if running 100 miles isn’t hard enough, try it with severe GI issues. When Anabel crossed the line in 23:42, I was proud of her accomplishment, and glad to be done for the night.

Pacing anyone in a 100 mile race is always a challenge. Pacing friends is a challenge but also one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. It was an honor to have paced both Liza and Anabel. My legs were tired (and I only did 40 miles), but it was worth every second. For me, this is what running ultras is all about. The camaraderie, pushing one’s perceived physical and mental limits, and ultimately the relief and satisfaction of finishing all make ultra running worth its weight in gold. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my weekend.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Won the Lottery!!!

Well, I won the Wasatch lottery, meaning I will spend 30+ hours in September slogging through the beautiful Wasatch Mountains outside Salt Lake City as I run the Wasatch 100. I was also entered into the lottery for the Hardrock 100, which is THE race I really want to do. Unfortunately, I didn't get into that one. My friend Larry also got into Wasatch, so I look forward to enjoying many hours of rocky fun at Bandera this summer in preparation for the race. Should be fun.