Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 Laurel Highland Ultra Race Recap

On Friday I left my house just before noon. The weather was in the 80's and humid on the way to Johnstown. I has been following the weather all week long and was excited to see that the forecast was calling for temperatures in the high 70's or low 80's with a slight chance of rain. I hoped the low chance of rain meant low humidity. I spoke with Jason (a terrific friend who volunteered to crew for my dad and I this year) and my Dad along the way. They encountered rain showers non-stop from Ohio to Johnstown. I didn't take that as a good sign. I arrived at the Holiday Inn about 30 minutes before Jason and my Dad. I laid down on one of the beds and feel right asleep.

One Jason and my Dad arrived we started pulling all of our gear together and finalizing crewing plans. In order to avoid my blister issues from 2010 I planned on changing my socks at almost every aid station. To make it easier for Jason I bagged my shirts and sock separately and labelled them. I also bagged up my gels, granola bars, etc. for him. Jason then went through his pack and showed us what he brought. He had a back pack with pretty much everything you could possibly need during an ultra. I have to say that just knowing I had a veritable hospital at my disposal really put my mind at ease. We also talked about aid station strategy. Last year I spent at least an hour or two sitting in aid stations. I wanted to avoid that this year. I asked Jason to make sure he limited the amount of time I spent in each station.
After pulling together our gear we headed to the pre-race spaghetti dinner. The room didn't seem as full as the year before but it was still full. My Dad and I picked up our race numbers and t-shirts and found a place for the three of us to sit. Looking around I saw a number of familiar faces. There was one guy at my table that looked familiar but I couldn't place his face. It wasn't until after dinner that I remembered that he had dropped out with me and ridden around with the race director the year before. I also saw a number of other familiar faces... Mostly people that I had spoken with on the trail. People at our table weren't too talkative so Jason, Dad and Iostly talked amongst ourselves. After eating dinner the RD started briefing us on the run. There were two updates I found interesting. First, they added a water station around mile 38. This was very exciting because quite a few people ran out of water due to the detour the prior year. Second, construction has begun on the bridge over I70 so this may be the last year this is a 77 mile race.  After the announcements another gentlemen verbally talked everyone through the course.  He emphasized multiple times how clean the trail was and that he had never seen it in better shape.  Shortly after the race overview there was a brief Q&A session and then everyone started to mingle and head out.  We stayed around for a few minutes but soon left for the hotel.

We decided ahead of time that we would all turn in early.  We had to wake up at 3:30 in order to be ready and drive to the starting point by 5:30.  We closed the blinds in the room to try to block out the sun and laid down at 7:30 PM.  In theory it sounds like sleeping from 7:30 to 3:30 would be perfect... 8 hours of sleep.  Shoot, I'm lucky if I get six hours of sleep most nights.  As I laid in bed my mind was absolutely racing.  I kept going over the course in my mind, double checking what I had brought, thinking about what I needed to do etc.  As it turns out I didn't fall asleep until around midnight and then I woke up at 2 AM and didn't really sleep again.  I'm pretty sure I drifted in and out a bit but it was a light sleep and I didn't feel at all rested.  Not the kind of start to the day that I was looking for.

Jason drove us to the starting point.  Along the way we had some interesting conversations.  I think we were all pretty wired.  I know I was ready to start the race.  We arrived at the starting point and there was only one other truck but soon the race director and other runners started to arrive.  My Dad and I spent the ride to the start drinking water and Gatorade.  I went through three Gatorades and a few bottles of water by around 5 AM.  Between 5 AM and 5:30 I think I "relieved" myself about 15 times.  Part of it was nerves.  Part of it was just from drinking so much liquid.  As we got closer and closer to 5:30 I got more and more nervous.  Last year I wasn't nervous at all however; this year I knew exactly what I had signed up for.  All morning long I was super impatient... I just wanted the race to start.  Jason, Dad and I wandered around looking at other runners, taking a few pictures, and making sure we were ready to go.  Soon enough the race director announced that we were about to begin.

Last year I started at the back of the pack.  This year I knew I was running faster and I didn't want to get stuck when we hit the single track trail.  I took a spot in the front third of the pack.  Looking at the guys around me I felt a little out classed.  They looked like real runners (I still don't really see myself as a 'runner')... maybe a better description is that they looked like competitive runners.  I was still a bit nervous but decided to stick with my plan.  A very nice prayer was said asking that we be given the wings of eagles and then the race began.  The first half mile was great.  I knew that it was some of the only flat smooth area of the race so I made a conscious effort to run at a slightly faster pace than normal.  Soon I arrived at the trail and the real race began.

The course had seen quite a bit of rain in the week prior to the race.  The first 11.6 miles consist mainly of steep ups and downs.  Due to the rain the trails had turned into small streams.  As a result most of us had to run along the sides of the trail to avoid getting our feet absolutely soaked.  Despite my best efforts, there was just too much water and mud.  Before too long I could feel the water soaking through my shoes.  This section of the trail is very rocky and, as a result of the rain, made it very slippery.  There were a number of areas where I had to slow waaay down so I didn't roll my ankle.  Prior to the race I hadn't really planning on running the hills in this section however; once the day arrived I found a nice rhythm and was able to run most of them.  There were quite a few that were just too steep to run but in general I felt really good.  Along the way I met a gentleman named Stuart who I spent a few miles talking to.  He has run a number or ultras and completed the Leadville 100 a few times.  It was nice talking to him because it made the time pass so much quicker.  Somewhere around the eight mile mark we hit a big hill and I slowed down a bit while he picked up the pace.  That was the last I saw of him.  I checked the results and was happy to see that he finished in around 17 hours.  Great job Stuart!  After running 2:38 I arrived at the first aid station.  My pace for this section was about 13:37.  As I ran approached it I saw Jason on the trail taking pictures.  I jogged into the aid station feeling great.  I finished off three of my four 10 oz water bottles, sat down and began drinking a Gatorade.  Jason told me the first place runners were about an hour ahead of me.  I wasn't really worried about the first place runners but it was nice to know.  I was moving great, feeling great, and felt much stronger than I had in the prior year.  After four minutes I grabbed a granola bar and headed out on the trail.

I decided to just hold onto the granola bar for awhile.  I wasn't really hungry but knew that I needed to eat something.  I ran until I hit the first small hill and started munching on the granola bar.  It was one of the hard granola bars that comes with two in a pack.  I knew I had problems last year so I took small bites and was drinking lots of liquid.  After one bar I couldn't eat any more.  My stomach started to rebel against me and I started feeling nauseous.  I threw the second bar into the woods and started running again.  I was able to run for awhile but then I got sicker and sicker.  I tried to drink but that just seemed to make it worse.  I soon found myself going from a job to a walk.  There is a huge hill about a mile before the first checkpoint.  The hill just about killed me in 2010 but this year, other than my stomach, I felt pretty good heading up the hill.  As I was reaching the top I saw my Dad come running around the trail.  He looked up and, in a voice my brothers would recognize, yelled Spencer! (sounded more like Spenca).  He looked strong as he jogged along.  One I crested the hill I started walking again and soon he caught up to me.  We talked for a bit and I mentioned I was feeling sick.  We ran together and then I needed to walk again and he pulled ahead of me.  I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of beating me that bad so I started running again and ran right behind him as we went into the aid station.  My pace for this section was 15:12.  By this point my shirt was absolutely soaked as were my socks.  Jason handed me a bag with clean socks and a towel and I started changing them.  Apparently I wasn't looking about as bad as I felt.  I explained that my stomach wasn't feeling too good and Jason gave me some ginger chews and salt tabs.  I think I was in desperate need of both of them.  I tried to drink some more but just felt too crappy.  My Dad left the station and I followed about six minutes later.  Jason did everything I hoped he would... he was encouraging and helped me get up and keep moving.  As I left he handed me two more salt tabs and another ginger chew for later.

As it turns out my Dad had to answer natures call and I caught up to him about a mile or two outside of the checkpoint.  It was only about six miles to the next check point however, it consisted of a lot of ups and downs.  My Dad and I spent most of that time running together and talking.  This was actually the slowest portion of the course for both of us.  Trail is full of rocks and is, in my opinion, not really runnable.  There are large section that appear to be soft and grassy but there are jagged rocks sticking up from the ground just waiting to twist an ankle.  We ran through the seven springs resort area and my Dad pulled away from me again however; about two miles later I caught up with him again and we ran together.  We ended up running into the next aid station at exactly the same time.  This was a weird aid station because crew members were not allowed here.  The aid station volunteers had decorated the trail with Hawaiian party party signs which made me smile.  I was feeling a bit better and took a salt tab and drank 20 oz of Gatorade.  Dad and I then left the aid station.  There was an area where crew members were allowed to meet their runners about a mile or two down the road. My average time for this section was around 17:49.  Upon arrival I was actually feeling pretty good.  I sat down and tried to drink as much as I could.  My stomach was still upset but I think the ginger Jason had given me really helped.  After drinking as much as I could and resting for six minutes I got up and started running.

Miles 28 to 32 were great.  I was feeling much better.  I was running the flats and down hills and walking up the hills at a decent pace.  I was moving slower than at the beginning of the day but feeling pretty good.  As I passed the 50k finish line I once again started asking myself why I signed up for the 77 mile run instead of the 50k but I soldiered on.  As I approached the next check point I started feeling sick again.  I tried to drink but it just made me feel worse.  By this point my Dad had pulled ahead of me and had about a half mile lead.  My split for this section was 14:11.  Not fast but not too bad all things considered.  I saw my Dad at the checkpoint.  He was still looking pretty good.  He didn't seem to be having any stomach issues and looked strong.  I sat at the aid station and tried to drink as much as possible... it wasn't much.  As it turns out I spent almost 20 minutes in this aid station.  I remember changing my socks but I sure don't remember sitting around for 19 minutes.  The time flew by.  Jason, again my savior, gave me more salt tabs, words of encouragement, and got me moving.

The time resting helped but I knew that I had some big hills as well as the bonus road section coming up.  Once again I met up with my Dad about two miles down the road... nature called to him and I met him as he was coming back to the trail.  Once again he and I leap frogged each other as we ran the trail.  There were quite a few people hiking this section of the trail.  At one point we ran into a group of scouts.  I asked the scout master how much further until the road and he indicated it was only about a mile ahead.  That made me feel better and I picked up the pace.  I soon realized that he had lied.  What ever happened to a scout is trustworthy?  Needless to say I was pretty upset.  A little piece of advice to anyone reading this.  If someone is running and wants to know how much further it is to a certain landmark etc.... BE HONEST!  After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the detour and turned onto the gravel road.  I had planned on running this section of the race but my stomach was acting up again and I was having a hard time drinking.  As we jogged along we came up to another runner who was walking.  He had some serious blister issues on his feet and was really struggling.  He and I walked for quite awhile and then he started to run a bit.  Then I ran a bit.  After awhile I came across the water station they had set up.  I sat down and decided that I was going to force myself to drink and eat... maybe all I needed to do was get something in me.  I took a salt tab, drank about 20 oz of water and 20 oz of Gatorade.  They had bananas at the aid station and it didn't make me sick to look at it so I decided to eat some.  I ate about half of it and felt pretty good.  I was actually getting a little excited.  Maybe I could do this.  I got up, still felt great, and started running.  About 50 yards down the road I threw everything up.  The banana, the water, the Gatorade... everything.  Not good.  I ran for awhile longer and drank some of my water.  About a minute later I threw that up.  I tried Gatorade.... about a minute later that was gone too.  I knew that I was in pretty big trouble.  I was already a bit dehydrated and this wasn't going to help.  About this time I hit the paved road and it started to rain a little.  The one up side to throwing up was that I felt great.  I felt so good that I decided to run the paved road... hills and all.  I ended up running most of it but did walk the hills.  Once I arrived at the gravel road again everything came crashing down.  I started walking... then I started walking slower... then I started feeling nauseated... then I started feeling a bit dizzy.  I was well aware that all of these things were not good.  During this section of I ended up getting passed by about ten or twelve people.  No one really looked to be in good shape.  Pretty much everyone was walking with a little bit of jogging mixed in.  I must of looked horrible because everyone asked me if I was okay.  They were very kind and offered me water etc. but I told them I had plenty of what I needed.  I just couldn't keep it down.  One group of guys discovered that I hadn't eaten since the morning and they were amazed.  Even the thought of food made me sick... they were telling me that they would be totally happy pounding down a cheese burger or pizza.  When I was about a mile and a half from the 46 mile aid station my Dad came jogging up from behind me.  He wanted to know when I had passed him.  I told him that I didn't remember passing him... he must have taken a wrong turn.  He was looking pretty good but his feet were sore and I think he was getting pretty worn out.  As we walked we both decided that we would drop at the aid station.  At one point I felt so crappy I told my Dad to go ahead and send Jason back with the truck to pick me up.  I thought better of it and kept on going.  We arrived at the aid station and, as it turns out, Jason wasn't there.  Apparently the direction for this aid station were poor and, despite driving all over the place, none of the crews could find it.  My Dad and I sat down and I started drinking ginger ale.  One of the volunteers was a doctor and she talked with me for awhile.  She confirmed what I had been thinking... I had heat exhaustion.  I continued to drink ginger ale but after sitting for a few minutes I started shaking uncontrollably.  I wasn't too worried but my Dad was.  They brought a plastic tarp over and wrapped me up.  We were able to call the next check point and they located Jason.  Before too long he arrived and we headed back to the hotel.

My Dad and I arrived at mile 46 around 6:30.  The cutoff for mile 52 was 9 PM.  We had an hour and a half to go six miles (at the time we thought it was eight miles).  Our pace on the road was about 18 minutes.  That included a lot of walking.  If I thought that I could have even done a slow jog I would have kept going.  As it stood, I was just too sick to keep going.  I think that my Dad could have made it but he was hurting as well.  He never changed his socks during the race and his feet were pretty beat up.  He repeatedly kicked rocks with the same foot during the run.  Later that night when he took off his shoe it was obvious that he was going to lose the toe nail... it was barely hanging on.

I am very happy with my performance overall.  In general I am happy with my pace when I was able to run... especially the first 11.6 miles.  13 minute miles is much faster then I had hoped for such a rocking and hilly section of the course.  I am also happy that I figured out the blister problem that I had the year before... this year I changed my socks at check points and I had zero blisters.  I am also super proud of my Dad.  He more almost doubled his distance from the prior year and did a great job of powering through the race.  I am very disappointed at myself for yet another Did Not Finish (DNF).  During the ride back we discussed looking for a shorter race.  I think that I would like to find a 50k to run and maybe even a 50 miler before I do the Laurel again.  It's beaten me two times.  I'll be taking  a break from the trail for a year or two.  In the mean time I plan on doing some research and trying to figure out how to deal with my stomach issues.  I am absolutely amazed by the runners that can just eat as they run.  I get sick just thinking about it.

In closing... I want to give a HUGE thank you to Jason who crewed for my Dad and I.  I think that he feels like he failed us but nothing could be further from the truth.  The fact that I was able to go so far feeling so crappy is a testament to his help.  Thank you Jason you were and are awesome!

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's been a long time.... what have I been doing?

Okay, so I have been absent from this blog for quite a while.  I don't really have an excuse... I have just been busy and each time I thought about writing something I decided that I had better things to do.  However, I have been running quite a bit over the last year.  After my DNF in 2010 I decided that there were a few things I needed to change.
1.  If I was going to wear shoes then I needed to train in them.
2.  I needed to find a different method to carry my water etc.  The back pack was just too much
3.  I needed to keep my running going and try to increase both distance and speed.

Through all of last summer and the fall I continued to run in vibrams.  I felt great and wasn't having any problems.  However, each time I ran I knew that I wouldn't be able to use them on the Laurel Highland Trail.  The solution to my problem came around December.  We were visiting friends in Ohio and one of them suggested I try the New Balance MT101's.  He showed me his pair and I was immediately draw to them.  They are very light, the heal is very low, and they have a 'rock stop' sole to help on trails.  After trying on a pair both my Dad and I bought them.  After wearing out my first pair I have since bought a second pair.  They are terrific shoes and I highly recommend them if you want something that is a step up from the vibrams.  The only down side is that both my Dad and I wore a pair of shoes out in less than four months.  When I say we wore them out, I mean there was zero rubber left on the bottom.  They looked like racing slicks. 

Right after the Laurel I started looking for a new way to haul my water.  I looked at everything I could find and went to a number of stores and tried them on.  I decided that I wanted to have something that carried two water bottles.  One for water and one for a sports drink.  After searching for a few months I finally ran across the Katoa by New Direction.  It holds two 20 oz. bottles, has two side pockets for gels, and a nice pocket in the back big enough for my phone, wallet, trail bars, etc.  The only down side to the pack was that it buckled in the front.  I didn't mind it on short 6 - 12 mile runs but I found that as I increase mileage to 20 or more the constant pressure of the water bottles bouncing on my back would cause the buckle to hit my stomach.  By the end of a 3 or 4 hour run my stomach would be a little sore.  My Dad bought a Nathan's fuel belt with four 10 oz containers.  Each time I spoke with him he told me how much he loved it.  I ended up borrowing one from a friend and agreed with him.  They are very nice... having the smaller bottles balanced in the front and back seem to really help.  However, I still think it can be improved.  I wore the Nathans on the Laurel run (more on that in the race recap) but may try to make my own fuel belt.  I have a few ideas of what I want.  Now I just need to get the sewing machine out and get to work.

Distance and Speed
This was the big one.  I did have blister issues last year but that's easily solved by just changing socks on a regular basis and training in the same shoes that I wear on the run.  I needed to increase my overall speed.  After recovering from the Laurel I started mixing in some shorter, faster runs into my training schedule.  A few weeks before the Laurel I was ran two 3 mile runs at a 7:30 min pace.  This isn't really fast at all but it is a significant improvement for me.  As I increased my pace on shorter runs I found that I was able to increase my pace on longer runs as well.  My average pace on 15+ mile runs was about 9:30 min.  Again, not blazing fast by any standard but a very respectable time for me. 

After getting all these things in place I decided I was ready to do the Laurel again and registered with my Dad for the 77 mile run.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Laurel Highland Ultra Race Recap

The Laurel Highland Ultra ("LHU") is a 77 mile trail run through the beautiful Appalachian mountains of western PA.  The race has been continually run for the last 31 years.  It is usually a 70.5 mile run but due to a bridge closing a 6.5 mile detour was added to the run (more on this later).

The adventure started on Thursday night.  Around 7 PM I put the kids to bed and my wife went to her friends house to make some hair bows.  The run allows two drop bags.  The first is at mile 44 and the second is at mile 64.  I spent the evening getting my hydration pack and drop bags prepared.  As weird as this may sound, I probably spent a good 2.5 hours getting things ready and making sure I knew where each aid station and check point was on the course. After pulling everything together I was concerned that I had WAY too much stuff but on the other hand the eagle scout in me was saying, "Be prepared.  It's better to have a little too much and not need it than not have enough and suffer."  As it turns out I did pack WAY WAY too much.  Here is a list of what I packet in each bag.

Hydration Pack
Water bladder (of course)
Mole skin and small scissors
12 Gu packets (I packed twelve because I usually take one every hour and determined that it would take me about 12 hours to get to the first drop bag)
6 Cliff Bars (one to each every other hour)
Extra pair of socks
Body Glide

Drop Bag 1 & 2

Shirt (long and short sleeved)
Gu packets
Cliff Bars
Pop Tarts
Gold Bond Medicated powder
Shot Blocks
Head lamp and hand held flash light (first bag only)
Extra batteries

I finished packing around 9:30 and went to bed.  My father, who entered with me, arrived around 11:00 AM on Friday.  I loaded my stuff into the car and we were off.  The LHU is a point to point race.  I opted to get a hotel at the finish line in Johnstown, PA which was also the location for the pre-race briefing and dinner.  Along the way my Dad and I discussed the hills, running strategy, hydration, food intake, etc.  However, we had been talking about this race at least three times a week for the past six months so we were really just saying the same things we had said to each other a million times before.  After an hour or so my Dad fell asleep and I listened to my latest audio book.  We stopped for lunch at a truck stop.  I had french toast with bacon and sausage.  My Dad opted for the salad bar.  We arrived in Johnstown about 3:30 and checked into the hotel.  About two hours into the drive I realized that I forgotten my watch.  I left my Dad in the hotel and went to the strip mall across the street from the hotel.  Instead of heading straight into Wal-Mart I decided to check out Ross first just in case they had some cheap watches.  As it turns out they had a five dollar digital watch that was exactly what I needed.  To sweeten the deal it even had The Ohio State logo (my alma matter) on it.  I went back to the room and I had my Dad start adding his stuff to my drop bags.  We decided a while before the race that it would be easier to just share bags than have our own.  As he was filling the bags he realized that the cover of his head lamp had come off.  We looked all over but could not find the missing pieces.  The pre-race dinner was at 5:30 so went ahead and stopped by Wal-Mart on our way to the dinner and he picked up a new one.  It wasn't as nice as his old one but it would work in a pinch.

We arrived at the pre-race dinner at the Pasta Shoppe just after 5:30.  There was a short line of people checking in and probably twenty people seated around the room.  We checked in and the lady at the table indicated that she though it was neat that we were a father son team doing the race together.  Looking around the room I was a bit intimidated.  I saw at least one guy wearing a Leadville 100 shirt and a number of people wearing various belt buckles from Western States and other ultras.  After checking in we were handed a bag with our bib (I had #88 and my Dad had #87), an ultra running maganzine, and a very nice long sleeved athletic shirt.  We then took a seat at a table with a couple from Pittsburgh.  I guess I had totally forgotten that there was a 50k and 77 mile race because it wasn't until they started about making the 10 hour cut off time that I realized they were doing the 50k and not the full 77.  We had a great conversation and around 6:00 PM the race director, Rick Freeman, announced that we could start getting our food from the buffet line.  After getting a large helping of some really great salad, pasta, and bread we sat down to listen to the instructions.  Rick didn't announce anything new.  Mainly just reiterated everything that had been on the web site.... drop bag locations, pacers for the finish, the detour etc.  Shortly after starting the announcements a second guy sat down with us.  He is a native to the area and said that he ran the race two years earlier.  As we talked to him he gave me what turned out to be the absolute best advice of the nice.  He told me to remember to take off my wedding ring so that I wouldn't have problems when my hands swelled up.  I have done a number of four or five hour runs and never had much of an issue with swelling but I decided that he probably knew more than I did.  After the announcements my Dad and I drove to the finish line.  This was not just the finish but also when we would be parking in the morning and taking the bus to the starting line.  After that, we headed back to the hotel and tried to sleep.

I laid down to go to sleep around 7:30 PM and set my alarm for 2:00 AM.  I can honestly say that I probably slept a total of two hours during that period.  My mind would not stop racing!  It is very frustrating have plenty of time to sleep and not get any.  Around 1:30 I just couldn't take it anymore and I got out of bed, showered, and got ready for the day.  At 2:00 AM I woke up my Dad (I think he slept like a log the whole night), grabbed our gear and headed to the finish line/bus pick up point.  The parking lot was pretty full when we arrived.  A number of people seemed to be dozing, or trying to doze, in their cars but others were out and talking.  I actually ran into a guy who lives near my house and who I had seen running trails.  Once we realized that we train in the same place (French Creek State Park) we realized that we had seen each other.  He also asked if I was the guy that he usually saw running in Vibrams.  I said yes and wanted to know if I was running the LHU in them as well.  I told him no... this is a good time for a slight side note...

I ran the LHU in my Mizuno's.  Now, with a blog named the Vibram experience you would think that I would run in Vibrams.  Here is my short explanation as to my reasoning.  I love my Vibrams but they aren't the right shoe to wear in all circumstances.  I believe that my Vibrams have helped me to start running with more of a natural gait.  They also make me feel more connected to what I am doing.  However, if the terrain is really rocky and I have a time limit then I prefer to have something a little more substantial on my feet.  I hiked the Laurel Highland Trail when I was younger and I remember it to be very rock and rugged in parts.  The last thing I need is to start getting tired 20 miles into the race, place my foot wrong and end up with another stress fracture.  Vibrams are great but some times you have to use your brain.... we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Around 3:20 a big yellow school bus rolled into the parking lot.  There are only three things I can say about the bus ride.  First, it was really crowded.  No extra room at all.  Second, I remember school buses being much bigger when I was a kid.  Third, I had to pee the whole bus ride (1.5 hours).  I had been trying to stay ultra hydrated had downed about a half a gallon of water and two Gatorades before we arrived at the finish.  About and hour into it I couldn't take it any longer.  I emptied gatorade bottle, got myself positioned and let it go.  Due to the small seats and relatively tight space the only position where I could pee put my head about and inch from the back of the girls head in front of me.  Once I had finished I let out and involuntary little moan because it felt so good to pee.  I think I startled the girl in front of me by doing that... if you are reading this and that person was you I am truly sorry.  I'm not a weirdo trying to sniff your hair or something I just had to pee really really bad.

Upon arriving at the start I put the drop bags in the appropriate locations, checked in, and headed to the little boys room to take care of business.  It was actually pretty funny, there was a line of about ten people to get into the boys room and no line for the ladies room.  When I was about to get into the bathroom a lady came out and said, "guys, we have lots of stalls in here and no waiting just come over and use them."  If I hadn't been so close to getting in the mens room I probably would have gone but a number of guys took her up on her offer.  It was at this point that I turned around in line and recognized the guy behind me.  About a week before the race I had been searching for info on the race and came across the blog of a gentleman from South Dakota (see his blog here).  I introduced myself and had a nice little chat with him before taking my turn in the mens room.  After that my Dad and I just wandered around looking at what was going on and taking pictures.

At 5:30 the race finally started.  My Dad and I headed to the back of the pack and took off at a nice jog.  The race heads out of a parking lot, across some train tracks and onto the start of the Laurel Highland trail.  The first nine miles are where you have the most altitude gain.  Within those nine miles there are about six miles where you have a 500 ft altitude gain in one mile.  The longest stretch is a three mile stretch with a gain of around 1200 feet.  I knew the first nine would be slow going so I decided to stick with my Dad.  However, after about a mile he told me to go on ahead and that was the last time I saw him until the end of my race.  I ended up getting in line with a few people and had some great conversations.  I met a guy from Harrisburg who was using trekking poles, another bloggers I recognized (see her blog here), and a bunch of other guys and girls.  The conversations were interesting and as it turns out I was able to make decent time on the hills averaging about 16 minutes a mile which is were I was hoping to be.  The trail itself was rugged but beautiful.  It was still cool in the morning but very humid.  We went up and down some pretty steep inclines and had a number of beautiful views for the surrounding valleys and rivers.

After mile nine there was a 500 ft descent followed by a 250 foot gain to end at the first aid station.  I cruised into the station feeling like a million bucks.  I wasn't tired, hungry, thirsty, etc.  I was doing great.  The aid station was packed to the gills with water, Gatorade, M&M's, trail mix, pb&j, vaseline (for chaffing), and a bunch of other stuff.  The aid station volunteers were awesome (I should mention that they were great at every station), they practically took my hydration pack off my back and got it refilled with water. One of the aid station volunteers said something that confirmed my suspicions that I had over packed.  He said, "Wow!  This is a really heavy pack."  I heard him and smiled.  At that point I really couldn't do anything else.  I grabbed some pb&j sandwiches, drank a glass of Gatorade, threw the pack on and went along my merry way.

The next eight miles to the first check point were great.  There were a number of 100 - 300 foot gains but some nice slow down hill areas and some absolutely stunning rock formations.  I was still feeling great.  I was running the tops and downhills and keeping a nice pace on the uphills.  Then I hit mile marker 18.  This is one area where I don't think the elevation map does it justice.  It felt so much steeper than what it shows on the map.  I don't really have words to describe it but it was rough.  I actually sat down twice going up this hill it was so steep.  The aid station was at the top which was a relief but it was tough.  I sat down while the aid volunteers refilled my pack etc.  This check point seemed to be a real turning point for many people in the race.  I probably watched five or six people drop out while I was waiting.  They would come in and just hand over their number.  No discussion.  They were just done.  It was at this point when I started feeling sick.  I looked at the table to get some food and the thought of eating anything made me want to throw up.  I was also starting to feel the heat of the day.  I'm not sure what the actual temperature was but my wife told me the van thermometer was reading 91 degrees when she was in the area later that day.  I think the head and humidity were starting to get to me... the last climb just exacerbated the problem.  Between the climb and my stomach I have to say I was seriously questioning my sanity.  However, after sitting for a few minutes I got up and felt much better.  In fact, I felt so good that I took off at with about a nine minute pace.  That, unfortunately, was a bad idea.

I soon realized that I really was getting dehydrated.  I kept trying to drink but every time I did I felt like I needed to throw up again.  I continued to eat a Gu every hour and that was okay but I couldn't keep anything else down.  The worst was when I started running down hill and I could feel the liquid sloshing around in my stomach... it was not pleasant.  So, I switched from a run to a fast hike.  Now, I didn't practice this on my training runs but it came easily enough.  As it turns out my fast hike speed is about 15 minutes per mile.  During this leg of the run I ran into a number of folks.  I talked to some, others were listening to their iPods and in their own world.  I will mention one guy that I ran into.  I never got his name, or if I did I have forgotten it, but he and I played leap from for the next 12 miles.  He was a little older, maybe in his 50's, and he and I had a few scattered conversations.  I'll call him running bull (until I learn his real name).  More on him later.  It was at this point that the trail started to change from rocks to more forest with tons of ferns.

Aid station #2 at mile 26 came up fast.  It was situated in a slight clearing and was again socked with everything a runner could want.  I was still feeling really queasy.  Just prior to the aid station I had finally been able to pee (for those of you keeping track that's about 26 miles without peeing).  I knew that I was in trouble due to the lack of pee but my suspicions were confirmed when it came out like yellow syrup.  Once I arrived at the second aid station I had them fill my pack while I stood around drinking cup after cup of Gatorade.  I think I probably drank a gallon.  As I left the aid station I was already feeling better but couldn't motivate myself to kick it into any gear other than my "fast hike" speed.

The next six miles contained seven hills from 100 - 500 foot gains.  This was probably the hardest stretch of the trail for me.  The Gatorade started kicking in but I still couldn't get any solid food down.  I started running down the hills again and did a little running here and there but each up hill climb go harder and harder.  I was still playing leap frog with my friend Running Bull and caught up to my new friend from South Dakota around mile 30.  I think he could tell that I was feeling lousy.  He gave me some words of encouragement and told me that I should take a rest at the aid station but not to drop out.  There was a second guy with him that told me that I would regret dropping out if I wasn't forced to.  I nodded and might have said something as they continued along. About a mile before the check point was the 50k finish line.  I found this to be a bit cruel as well.  As I ran along the trail I could hear the cheers as people finished the 50k.  When I finally got there two people on the trail told me I had to keep on going... the check point was further down the trail.  I wish they would have been more specific.  I thought they meant like 500 yards or something.  It was like another mile down the trail.

I arrived at the aid station and immediately sat down with the full intention of dropping out despite the fact that I had about 30 minutes before the cut off.  South Dakota and his friend were still there and repeated what they had said before.  While sitting there I drank glass after glass of Gatorade.  At one point I decided to just see if my Dad made the cutoff.  I asked the people at the station if he had dropped yet but no one knew.  At about 2:53 a woman arrived (let's call her Blondie... once again I am soo sorry that I don't remember people's names!) at the check point and she was definitely in a rough spot.  I got up from my chair so she could sit down.  Some of the aid workers encouraged her to keep going but one guy in the station said she could only sit there for seven minutes to rest before she had to leave to make the cutoff.  She ultimately decided to drop.  A few minutes before Blondie arrived Running Bull arrived.  I call him Running Bull because somewhere along the trail he found this huge feather and put it in the back of his cap.  I thought it was great!  Near the 3:00 PM cutoff I asked if I could stay until the cutoff to see if my Dad made it.  Running Bull looked at me and said, "what are you waiting for?"  I said, "For you to get up so we can finish this thing together!"  Wouldn't you know it he got up out of the chair and started heading over to me.  I really thought that we were going to go trotting off together but his wife stated that he was done.  She took a picture of the two of us together (which I would love to have a copy of if you read this Running Bull) and I headed down the trail.  It truly is amazing.  I probably spent 45 minutes talking to Running Bull off and on up to this point in the race but I feel like he and I have been friends forever.  I can't really describe it but I think that ultra running bond that people talk about developing in these crazy races is real and I felt a little of it with Running Bull.

Leaving the second check point was hard.  Really hard.  I was basically committing to at least a half marathon.  I attribute my ability to get up and keep going to the kind words of encouragement from South Dakota and his friend.  The next check point was 20 miles away and the next aid station was 12 miles away.  Once I hit the trail I felt good for the first mile and then ran through another patch of big up hill and down hills.  At this point my uphill speed was basically non-existent.  I would shuffle up the hills as best I could however; I got a bit of an energy boost and started running the hill tops and down hills again.  At about mile 34 I got passed by a runner which really surprised me since I left the aid station at the cut off time however, apparently Mich (okay so I remembered one person's name but that's only because he told me and I read it on his drop bag later) it the check point about the same time I hit the trail and they let him go through.  Mich and I then leap frogged the next twelve miles.

As I arrived at around mile 36 I hit the beginning of the detour.  The Laurel Highland Hiking Trail used to have a bridge that crosses the turnpike however, this year it was deemed unsafe and it was removed.  The park services added a detour that is a little over eight miles long however, it cut's out about two miles of trail so it amounts to a gain of about 6.5 miles to the race (hence the reason why all previous races were 70.5 and not 77 miles).  The detour takes you down a gravel (not dirt) road, to a paved busy road, then back to a gravel road and finally to the trail.  At the beginning of the road I ran into Blondie again.  Her friend had picked her up and they were offering encouragement to the runners (in this case Mich and me).  She was looking 100% better.  It is amazing what a little bit of rest and a cup of coke can do!  As I was talking to her another ran up and I was introduced to Chuck.  Chuck is the sweeper.  Most people probably never meet these individuals on a race.  Their job is to follow along behind the group and make sure that everyone is okay and accounted for.  In this case Chuck also offers words of encouragement, brings extra water, and food.  ...side note...

Somewhere between mile 30 and 40 I realized that my hands were really swollen.  I mean they looked like big sausage links!  They were actually so swollen that it was a little painful to make a fist.  I was sooooo grateful for the advice from the night before to remove my wedding ring.  It was not a pretty sight!  I've heard conflicting thoughts on this... I had too much salt, I didn't have enough, etc.  I don't know why it happens but I will pass this advice onto anyone who wants to hear it.  Remove all finger jewelry before you do one of these! (end of side note)

Since I was in dead last place Chuck stayed with me.  He encouraged me to run down hill because there was a three mile stretch of uphill.  I did my best but at this point another problem that had been growing reared it's nasty head.  Blisters.

I have been running on a regular basis for almost a year now.  I wear injinji socks with a second pair of wool socks on top.  I haven't had a problem with blisters in months however, I also hadn't experienced these kinds of hills in my training.  I started feeling hot spots in the 20 mile range but I was stupid and didn't stop to fix or check the problem.  By the time I hit the road I could feel the blister on the ball of my right foot and on both my heels.  When I finally hit the paved road I felt all of the blisters pop (not very pleasant) and I just couldn't run.  I kept up my fast hike and before too long we came across another runner (I believe his name was Todd) that was slowing down.  I passed him and Chuck stayed behind.  At the end of the paved road I ran into the race director.  He asked me how I was doing and I said, "Great!"  He then told me that the 44 mile aid station was just a couple of miles away.  I don't know exactly how far away the aid station was but it felt more like four miles... not two.  By the time I got to the aid station I had caught up to Mich and Chuck and Todd had caught up to me.  It was 6:30 PM and the cutoff time for the next check point was 9:30 PM.  I had been on the trail for 13 hours.  The next eight miles were probably the flattest of the entire race.  I sat down and thought about it long and hard.  I only had to do 8 miles in three hours to keep in the race.  However, I knew that my feet were in bad shape and that there were still 12 - 16 hills (both small and bigish) between me and the finish.  I would have to head up those hills at an absolute snails pace.  Also, it would be dark around 9:00 PM and it would probably be tough for me to do more than 3 miles an hour even if I wasn't tired with sore feet.  I put all of these things together and decided to drop out.  Was it the right decision?  It felt right at the time so I'll say yes.  Do I regret it?  A little bit.  The next morning I sat and looked at the map and told myself that I was stupid.  I could have finished however, that's being said with a full belly and a good nights sleep.  The person on the trail at mile 44 was not the same person laying in a comfy bed.
My Dad and I at the finish.  I look way too happy here to have just finished running 44 miles.

The race director gave myself and some others a ride back to the finish line where I was met by my Dad, Mom, Wife and three lovely kids.  Everyone was wearing a t-shirts that said Team Roessner on them.  They were very cute.  I found out that my Dad had fallen three times on the trail.  The first two were relatively minor but the last one left him with a cut on his forehead and rocks in his face.  His hip and knee also got banged up but he was okay.  He ended up dropping out at the aid station at mile 26.  I still think he did a terrific job.  I don't know if I would have made it that far with those kinds of injuries.  This is probably a good moment to talk about the trail.

The LHU is what many would call a very technical ultra.  By this I think they mean that it is steep and rocky.  You really have to watch your footing the entire time.  There are very few places that don't have dry rocks, wet rocks, roots, mud, etc.  It is very easy to fall or twist an ankle if you aren't paying attention.  I would recommend that people looking to enter this race for the first time visit the course at least once to see what they are getting into before the run it.  I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, just that you should know what you are getting into ahead of time.

Well that's about it.  So what did I learn?  First, I had a great time.  Despite the various aches and pains I truly enjoyed trail running all day long.  Second, I need to work on hydration and fuel consumption.  Maybe it was the head and humidity, maybe it was the distance and hills... I don't know but I don't like feeling sick for hours and not understanding why.  I'll have to start trying different approaches.  Third, I'm going to have to get my feet in better shape.  When I took my shoes off that night I found blisters on the sides of both big toes, popped blisters on both heals and a 2.5 inch blister that had popped on the ball of my right foot.  Maybe I need to just plaster my foot with moleskin... more likely is that I just need to stop being such a bone head and fix up my feet as soon as I feel a hot spot.  I also had some toe nail issues... I'm pretty sure I'll be losing both big toe nails in the next few days.  If they don't stop hurting I might just take them off myself.  Fourth, I need to significantly reduce what I carry with me.  I use a North Face hydration pack.  I love it but there are a few down sides.  Every time I drink on the run I have to suck in air and then end up swallowing it.  I then end up having a stomach ache and burping along the trail.  It also makes it difficult to have two different drinks.  I saw a number of runners with small packs that held two water bottles.  Many of them had Gatorade or some other drink mix in one and water in the other.  I also don't think I will be taking more than 1 Cliff Bar.  The aid stations have plenty of food.  The jury is still out on the Gu packets.  Fifth, I really need to figure out a way to remember people's names better!

The big question... would I do it again?  As I told Rick Freeman when he dropped me off at the finish, "I'll see you again next year!"  I will definitely do this again.  I would like to do another three or four ultras between now and then.  That might be tough with my schedule and kids but I'll try to make it work.  This was a great event and I truly look forward to doing it again!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pain vs. Injury

Okay, so I spent the last two weeks teaching some internal company training classes.  Two weeks ago I started in Dallas.  I was really looking forward to the time on the road because I wouldn't feel as guilty about spending two or more hours each night running.  Near the end of class on Monday (4/12) I found a guy who ran cross country and track in high school.  He told me that I run MUCH slower than he usually does but I thought, what the heck, I see if I can keep up with him.  I washed my Vibrams on Sunday and put them in a plastic bag a little wet.  I forgot to take them out when I arrived at the hotel so when it was time to run they were still wet.  BIG mistake (more on this later).

We left the hotel for a light three mile run.  The pace was faster than what I was used to but not crazy fast however, after about two and a half miles I was getting a bit winded and I got a cramp for the first time since I started running again.  I walked for a bit and then we started running again.  As it turns out, we got turned around and the three mile run turned into six miles.  Luckily my running partner was nice enough to slow down but around the four mile mark I started noticing that the top of my foot was a bit sore.  By the time I returned to the hotel I could tell that something was wrong.  When I got up to my room I noticed a couple of things.
1.  I had HUGE blisters on both feet on the balls of my feet and toes.  I mean blisters with blood in them.  Very ugly.
2.  After my shower I noticed that the top of my foot was sore... sore enough that it was difficult to walk.  I wasn't sure exactly what had happened but I ended up staying in that night and just going to bed.

The next day my foot was sore throughout the day but not so bad that I couldn't walk normally etc.  I thought this was a good sign because there was a really cool lake in Dallas, White Rock Lake, that I found on map my run and I thought it looked like a great run.  After class I was feeling reasonably good so I thought, well, there is a line between being injured and just being in pain.  Pain is something I have learned to deal with in the past... the trick is figuring out when you really have an injury.  I decided to go for it.  The run started off pretty well.  My foot was a bit sore but nothing major.  I ran from the hotel to the lake which was pretty uneventful... lots of sidewalks etc.  Once I arrived at the lake I was in heaven!  The path was great and there were TONS of other people walking, biking, etc.  About an hour and a half in I ate a cliff bar and kept trucking along.  About two hours in I hit the bad side of the lake.  Apparently one side is paved, well kept, and easy for people to get to.  The other side is crap... the path is really bumpy and falling apart and very few people were on it.  After about the two hour mark my foot started getting really sore.  I thought well, I can get back to the hotel in about and hour and a half if I can just muscle through it.  That just didn't happen.  The rough trail made my foot hurt even worse and I slowed from a decent (well decent for me) nine minute pace to about a twelve minute pace... then I slowed to a walk in a few areas.  I finished running around the whole lake and then decided that I didn't want to run the remaining six miles back to the hotel.  I called a taxi to come get me.  The next morning I could barely walk!  Yeah, it was bad.  I ended up limping around all day long.  After that I decided to stop running until it felt better.

Fast forward one week to Houston.  Monday afternoon rolls around and my foot is feeling pretty good.  Some slight pains every once in awhile but overall it was feeling great.  I was staying down town again and found a great six mile run around the bayou.  The best part about it was, according to the sites I looked at, there was a running path and a trail right next to it for running.  I started out slow and my foot felt fine.  So I started picking up the pace.  So far so good.  One mile, two mile, three mile... wow, feeling great.  Three and a half miles in BAM.  Foot pain returns with teeth.  I don't know exactly what I did to mess it up again.  I don't remembers stepping on anything or hitting the ground wrong.  I think that it just wasn't healed and it took three miles for it to start hurting again.  I was near my turn around point so I just decided to walk the remaining three miles to the hotel.  They were long, slow miles.  I tracked my run using MapMyRun Plus on the iPhone and discovered that my fastest mile was 7:01.  My slowest mile was 25 minutes. 

It's now Sunday and I haven't run since then.  After doing some reading and talking with a podiatrist friend of mine I think that I may have a stress fracture.  I have to pay for my medical expenses out of pocket so I'm not going to bother going in for an x-ray.  There really isn't much they can do for it anyway.  I'll just rest it for this week and most likely the coming week and see how it's doing then.  It is really frustrating because the Laurel Highland Run is just around the corner and I should be tackling my longest runs in the next two or three weeks.  It will be interesting to see how these weeks off affect my overall training.  Unless something else happens I am still planing on running the ultra.  We'll just have to wait in see.

The moral of this story.  It is important to understand the difference between pain and injury... but if you have the choice don't be an idiot like me... assume it's an injury and take it easy!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Getting the 'Funk' out of the Vibram KSO's

During the winter I found due to the colder weather, even during long runs, the KSO's didn't really smell because me feet weren't sweating.  As summer approaches many of you may start to notice that your KSO's have a certain "funky" smell about them.  If you think about it, this makes total sense.  The KSO's are basically a pair of socks with rubber glued to the bottom.  My socks smell after just one day of use and REALLY smell if I do anything that results in sweating.  So how do you get rid of the smell?

The Vibram website indicates that the KSO's should be cleaned as follows:
"Vibram FiveFingers are machine washable.  Use gentle, warm water cycle with liquid or powdered detergent.  Hang to air dry.  Make sure to keep the KSO Trek, Performa, and Moc away from direct sunlight or heat source while drying."

This works fine however, I have found that simply using detergent doesn't get the funk out.  Here is what I do to keep them clean.
1.     After going for a run, or some other sweaty activity, I wear them into the shower.  There I rinse out most of the dirt that has built up since the last washing.  I usually fill them up with water from the shower head, swish the water around and then dump them out.  It usually takes three or four times before the water looks cleanish.
2.    Drop them in the washing machine with detergent AND put in a full cup of baking soda.  I try to let the machine fill up with water and let the baking soda dissolve before throwing in my shoes.  Additionally, to avoid the knocking sound the shoes make in the washer I try to put in at least one towel.
3.    Once they are done washing I simply pull them out and let them dry.  My shoes usually come out semi dry and if I let them sit over night they are completely dry by morning.

This process does a good job of getting them clean and funk free.  In order to avoid washing them two or more times a week I have tried a number of other remedies… dumping odor eater powder, baking powder, and those odor eater balls.  They all kind of worked but not really.  My conclusion was the only true way to keep them smelling decent was washing them and airing them dry. 

I'd love to hear from other Vibram owners if they have discovered any other ways to keep them smelling clean.