Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pineland Farms Trail Challenge Race Report - 50 Miler

I don’t get to write many race reports, so I’ll try to do this one the right way. I usually never make it through reading other reports because they get into grueling detail. I can’t stay focused that long . Anyway, I teach my students to provide an “executive summary” of their reports, so here are the highlights and then I’ll pump in some detail for those interested:


Pineland Farms is an awesome, well-organized race(s). My hat is off to the folks that organize it. This is by far, the best organized race I have experienced. They have 4 races going at the same time and manage to pull it off with apparent ease. Great job! Did I use the word “organized” enough times.
Dawn ran her first ultramarathon despite never having run a race longer than a half marathon. This was also her first trail race. The woman is “tough as nails”. I’m so happy for her.
My education as a runner continued. Despite knowing better, I made some mistakes and learned.
I bagged a sweet 50 mile training run and met some good people and strong runners.
I faced a few personal tests this past week and passed.
I finished 4th overall (see results here) and brought home the sweetest award (first in age group) I have ever seen at any race. Just call me “Yard Man” from now on.

Apologies for the pic as it does not do it justice. These were hand-made...more on that later.

There’s lots more to tell, if you have the time to read:

OK, the plan was to use this race as a training run and data point for VT100. I think there were only about 80 people or so registered for the 50 mile race, since this was the first year Pineland Farms offered a 50 miler and many were doing the 50K. I knew there would be a couple strong runners, but I also felt good about my chances to finish near the top. Of course, I didn’t realize Leigh Schmitt would be running with us. Did I say “with us”? I think I saw his back for about the first 50 yards and then he was gone. The man is a mutant. Ah, but I get ahead of myself.

My race started at 6AM and Dawn’s was at 8AM, so she dropped me off and went back to the hotel to pack up and get ready. After she drove off, I realized I left my Garmin Forerunner 305 in the car. Oh well, I guess I running this race “old school”.

I saw Daniel Larson at the starting line and just had to say hello. Daniel was the only person to pass me in the VT100 two years ago. Unfortunately, it was around the 93 mile mark (just a guess – before that last manned aid station). Anyway, the memory was burned in my mind forever. In that race, he finished 8th and I was 10th overall.

After the usual pre-race briefing, we were off and running. A half dozen or so people jumped out at the start and I tucked in behind. I introduced myself to Jamie and we briefly complimented eachother on our blogs. I moved up a bit, but felt the pace was a bit fast. I started chatting with the eventual women’s winner (I think) from Vermont, and found out she trains a bit with Jack Pilla. Jack, she offered, was running The Vermont City Marathon on this day.

Anyway, she had a good pace going and I was just along for the ride as I was still not warmed up. The hills were small, but frequent. It was awkward to walk them, but I forced myself as I knew it would help conserve energy. She never walked one hill while I was running with her. I just don’t get it.

The race started with a short 3.5 mile loop and then three 15.5 mile loops. It is rolling terrain that varies between double track in the woods to open hay fields. The fields are cut down for the race, but footing was still difficult on the first lap. It did get easier as more people trampled the grass down a bit and things dried out. About 1 hour in, I started feeling more comfortable. I had been keeping an eye on Dan and another guy (Ron) who were running in 3rd and 4th place overall. I could see them chatting away and thought it would be more pleasant to run with them than by myself, so I started to pick it up a bit.

Dan saw me coming and started picking up the pace. This was not what I had planned. Around the 14 mile mark of the first lap, I finally caught up with them. We passed the starting point and I quickly grabbed a full water bottle. Ron dropped back to change his shirt, so I ran with Daniel. We ran the next 3 miles together and then I went ahead when he stopped at an aid station. There were aid stations every 3-4 miles, and I saw no reason to stop as I had plenty of hammergel and water.

I came through the end of the first loop in 3rd place and feeling great. I knew the pace as quick, but I saw no reason to panic (yet). After a couple more miles, I stopped to water some plants and Daniel passed me up. I caught up to him at the next aid station and passed him again. We hit the 25 mile mark somewhere in the 3:25 range (just a guess at this point). After another couple miles, I passed the second place runner and was in all my glory. I was running in 2nd place. How often does that happen?

Of course, this is where the wheels started coming off. It was getting warmer out and I was starting to fade. The big problem wasn’t the heat, it was my nutrition and stomach. I have a tough time eating at these events, so I try to compensate with gels and powders. Bad move once again. My ultramentor, Jim Campiformio, says you need to eat solid food. I agree, but nothing other than pretzels appeals to me. So, I start eating pretzels. My stomach was starting to revolt from the Perpetuem. In addition, my left Quadricep/Extender muscle area was starting to ache badly. I had strained that muscle on Wednesday, but thought it would be OK for the race. Argh! I took some Ibuprofen with hopes it would help. Thankfully, it did.

In the meantime, Daniel past me, and I knew I was in trouble. Ugh! I was moving slower now. Ron caught me at the end of lap 2 (34.5 mile mark), and he knew I was not doing well. I noticed that I had a full water bottle and he wasn’t carrying anything. Smart man. The aid stations were so close, you could run it like a road race. I thought about dropping my stuff, but kept it on for training purposes. In retrospect, I wish I would have used his technique. I think the weight makes a big difference.

Anyway, my main problem at that point was lack of energy. I was toast, and just wanted to drop. I contemplated dropping out, and I have never dropped out of a race. I was really down. I decided that I needed to just try to enjoy the last lap regardless of what happened. To do this, I needed to use my head and get comfortable. My fitness was fine, but I needed fuel. In desperation, I started eating oranges. This helped a lot at VT100, and it helped now as well. I don’t know how or why, but it works wonders for me. Note to crew: bring lots of oranges to VT100.

By the way, more props to the race organizers. They have the best stocked aid stations I have seen at a trail race. Great job! Now, if I could just eat boiled potatoes without gagging.

At this point, I really didn’t have a chance at Ron or Daniel (unless they faded), but caught glimpses of them now and then. I was feeling stronger with every mile as the oranges were taking effect. The quad started tightening up again, so another Vitamin I (as Dawn refers to Ibuprofen) was required. A sub 7:30 finish was still a possibility, so I really cranked it with 5.5 miles to go. I flew on the flats and downhills, but struggled on the slightest uphills. Amazing! I had been running really strong on much bigger hills in my training.

With 1 mile to go, I knew sub 7:30 was in the bag and just pressed on to hold on to 4th place.

I crossed the finish line and Dawn was standing right there right in front of me. Wow! How did she know? As it turns out, Dawn had just finished her 50K about 1 minute before I crossed the line. Talk about great timing! She looked happy to have finished her first ultra, and I was really happy for her.

I saw Daniel and realized that he finished 3rd behind Ron. Daniel was about 8 minutes ahead of me at 7:18, and Ron passed him in the last 5 miles somewhere.

I was happy to be finished. I was glad to have re-grouped and finished reasonably strong. I was glad to see Dawn accomplish her goal. There were so many reasons to be thankful.

There was more consolation. The finisher cowbell, tech shirt, and beer glass are awesome, and Inov-8 threw in some shwag gaiters as well. Nice.

Since the top 3 picked up Overall awards, I found out that I was guaranteed an age group award. Nice! I always feel weird about getting an age group award if the guys ahead of me are in the same age group, but this time I was OK with it. Leigh Schmitt and Ron are both in my age group, but are still 3-4 years younger than me. As for Daniel, he’s still a baby at 32.

As I mentioned above, the awards were amazing. Hand-made with wood framing cut from an old barn door and a plaster form of an Inov-8 shoe tread. The age group plaques were Lawn Boy, Yard Man, and John Deere. I picked up Yard Man. I usually don’t display my awards, but I will make an exception for this one. It’s a beauty!

Many thanks to the folks that put on the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge. They run a great event and I highly recommend it to anyone. Hope to see you all there next year!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Art of the Taper

Ahhhh, there are few things I enjoy more than tapering for a race. It's a time to let the body recover, a time to catch up on other things, a time to plan, and a time to reflect. It's a chance to say, "You did it"...even before the race happens. You survived the training, and now you are ready.

My main goal this year is the Vermont 100, but I decided to run the Pineland Farms Trail 50 miler as a training race, tune-up for the big one. This is the first time I am using an ultra to prep for an ultra, so I'm in new territory. I debated on how much to taper for this race, since it's not my main goal. I still have 8 weeks before the big race, and my training has been very good up until this point.

Despite my best intentions for the taper, my body and subconscious seem to take over and do their own thing. Outside forces are usually to blame as well. This past week, I did not run on 2 days due to work and other personal obligations. On the weekend, I did a little more than planned because I was enjoying the company (The Goat). I was OK as the pace was easy...then we bumped into my friend, Ray. Ray was moving pretty well, so we picked it up for the last 3 miles. It felt good to stretch the legs out a bit.

I'm looking forward to meeting some of the Maine Runners this weekend, running on some different terrain, testing my fitness, and having an adventure with Dawn.

I've reviewed the material available on line, I've planned my hydration and nutrition strategy (which will probably change before the race), and I feel ready to roll.

Have I tapered enough or too much? I guess we'll find out soon ;-)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Definition of a Mile

Runners measure their effort based on distance and speed. People track how many miles and how long it takes to determine effort. These measures can be reasonably compared from one person to another when running on similar surfaces. The oval track is very consistent, but weather (and altitude) can be factors. A road runner can compare their mileage and times to another road runner with fairly decent accuracy, but elevation gains and weather can also be factors. If a course is rated hilly, you can make some mental adjustments to understand your time/perceived effort.

When it comes to trail running, however, all bets are off. One mile definitely does not equal another mile when comparing trail running efforts. Single track vs. double track is just one degree of difficulty that makes efforts drastically different. Elevation gains can be tricky as well. A 1,000 feet gained can have different effects depending on whether it is steep, incremental, etc.

The reason I bring up this topic is because I enjoy tracking my mileage, but I often wonder if it really tells the whole story. If I put in 80 miles in a week on gravel roads, is it equal to 60 miles on hard single track? I’m happy if I manage to get in 80 miles, but immediately start to wonder if I’m kidding myself. Am I getting enough vertical? Is the terrain too easy? Do I have enough time on my feet? Am I simulating race conditions?

It gets more interesting when you compare to the logs and blogs of others. Sure, I can equal the pace of Anton K on any given day, but he’s at altitude doing lots of vertical and I’m at sea level, etc., etc. I amuse myself by comparing mileage, and then I just laugh. I kid myself.

The bottom line is just to run smart and enjoy it.

This week I put in some quality runs and was feeling a bit fatigued come Saturday. I put in 6+ hour runs the past 2 weekends and felt like I needed a break. I also wanted to taper a bit for the Pineland Farms 50 miler on Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday, I put in 22 miles on moderately hilly (HA! What does that mean?) terrain at the West Hartford Reservoir. I managed 8.5 min/mile pace, but was still quite fatigued afterwards.

On Sunday, the Goat and I planned to run together. I was thinking 10 easy miles, but he wanted to do some tough single track on the Metacomet Trail. I agreed as I knew the pace would be fairly casual.

Of all the running I have done recently, this run was one of my favorites. Goat and I chatted most of the time. We had an incredible view of Heublein Tower from the trail, and explored some new territory. I learned things about my good friend that I never knew. He was a left wing on his high school hockey team and led his school in scoring in his freshman year. We’ve been friends for about 5 years and I never knew this about him. We talked about other more personal stuff, and joked and laughed about the silliest things. The weather was absolutely perfect, and I wished I had brought the camera.

The run took nearly 3 hours We only covered 13 miles, but it was an amazing 13 miles. The pace might be considered pedestrian, but the terrain was tough in spots. The Goat hasn’t been running a lot and I was happy to have a nice recovery day. I don’t need to make excuses though. I had a great run with my good friend and felt rejuvenated afterwards.

One mile does not equal another mile, and for that I am very grateful.

“May your feet dance across the pavement (or track or trail)”, as my good friend Rich says.