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.