Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Eight days out from the 50 miler, I am starting to feel almost normal. But only almost. We ran for three hours today, which meant around 16 miles for me. Toward the end, the quads were getting very tired. Interestingly, I was doing some speedwork on the treadmill over the weekend and my speed seems almost unaffected. It actually felt better to run fast than to jog.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My first 50 mile race

This was the North Country Trail 50 near Manistee, Michigan. There is a marathon as well, so the course is two loops of 25 miles (the marathoners add on a little loop to make it 26.2).

In my previous post, I described how I finally arrived at a strategy of starting out very slowly. I didn't warm up for one single second; I walked slowly around the start area, packed some chocolate into the pockets in my shirt, filled my water bottle (handheld) and walked gingerly to the start line.

I had tapered aggressively, mostly out of necessity; there hadn't been time to run. The Girl said it best: "I haven't run hard all week; I can't wait to start the race". Of course, I was pumped when the race began, but I had told myself to go very, very slowly the first hour and a half.

And I can honestly say I was a good boy for the first hour and a half. The first half hour, I just jogged slowly and walked a lot. I basically, stuck with the pace of the group I happened to be in at first. I ate and drank, and tried to stay relaxed. At one point, maybe after a half hour, I saw the Girl not too far back. Slowly, my pace started to increase just because I was warming up. I began passing a lot of people but this was still a very relaxed pace. I talked to a bunch of people as I was passing them; at the first two aid stations, I took plenty of time to eat and drink. It didn't feel like the race had started yet.

I had told myself I would give myself an hour and a half before I could start going fast but once I got there, I somehow convinced myself to go slowly for another 15 minutes. And then when the 15 minutes were up, I figured I could get to the 4th aid station (the half marathon) before I started gong fast. All this built up this explosive energy in me; I was just waiting so impatiently to turn on myiPod and fly down the trail.

After the 13 mile mark, I ran for a little while with the eventual women's winner. She looked very solid; her husband was there at every aid station, running with her to fill up her bottle so she didn't have to stop. I thought about just sticking with her instead of this stupid plan of speeding up. We talked for a while; turns out she has been in Wisconsin for a lot of the races we have here (Ice Age, Kettle Morraine).

But I felt too good to run conservatively so I told her "I"m sure I will see you again, but my legs feel so good I have to let them loose".

And off I went. The legs were warm by now and I was moving comfortably at 6-6:30 pace. It never felt like I was pushing it. I walked a lot of hills so I could eat and drink; really, it was just two gears:crusing pace and walking.

With this, I passed a lot of people. The section from 13 to 25 miles was great. I got into a rhythm where I would surge for a while until I saw someone in front of me. Then I would catch up, but instead of passing them, I would take a bit of a breather, typically walk and drink/eat and let that person get ahead a little bit. That way I could "use" each person I passed twice for motivation. Some of the people I passed were the top marathoners (the marathon was definitely the fun run of the day), who didn't walk the hills. One guy in particular, would pass me on the hills and I would pass him on the downhills or flats. We had a fun time with that and it probably made our respective races easier.

At 25 miles, I still felt strong but the legs were starting to give out. I came through in 3:35. This was after going fast for a long time and passing a lot of people so I was curious to know where I was in the race. I was told 5th place, which was a lot higher than I had thought (and it was actually 6th place) but it also scared me a little to know that I was done catching people constantly.

The legs were really starting to hurt and I had a marathon to go. The next section was really flat and I figured I may as well go out in style. So I kept up running the 6-6:30 miles. The legs complained but the pace felt very manageable. The next two sections, despite keeping up the pace, I didn't see a single person. At the aid station, two ladies told me that all four people ahead of me looked really strong and were going as fast me, except for the guy in second place, who looked tired. What?!? This just about killed me. If these runners, who, as opposed to me, probably knew what they were doing out here, were cranking out a pace like I was, I didn't stand a chance... I mean, my legs were starting to get really stiff and painful. I thought about my options, including taking a long break at the aid station and waiting for some people behind me to pick me up a little.

It turned out these ladies didn't know what they were talking about. I decided to burn off the legs while I still could and passed two runners before the 38 mile mark. These guys were looking a lot worse than me. This time, I planned out the pass so I would fly by going a 6:30 mile. I talked to both of the guys but really didn't want any company.

And now I was hurting. With a half marathon to go, every step was a hot poker in my quads. The last 10 miles on this course are cruel. It's on a typical ski trail; steep up, steep down, steep up, steep down. Maybe a little flat section here and there. The first time around, the steep uphills were great natural breaks to drink and eat and the downhills were places to build up speed. The second time around, the uphills were still ok but the downhills were horrible. I screamed down the hills, literally, as every step hurt.

I was definitely falling apart and just wanted it to be over with. I still had a good crusing pace that I could rely on on the flats, probably going close to 7 minute miles (probably a little slower) but I walked even the slightest uphills and painfully waddled down the downhills. Once in a while I forgot whether I was going up or down and would cramp up because my body was suddenly trying to "cruise" up a hill. It wasn't pretty. With about 5 miles to go, I passed another guy, who looked pretty strong. He had obviously done a few of these before. Again, I locked into the cruising pace, and flew by him. I told him this sucked and that I was falling apart. He told me "everyone is falling apart; you're looking good". He was a nice guy.

I waddled scared the last five miles. I think I knew that all the top guys that I had passed would have a hard time coming back but, on the other hand, a fresh person coming from behind would have a field day eating us all up. At this point, I thought I was in second place and I had been told repeatedly that the winner, Zach Miller, would be absolutely untouchable (which he was). So I didn't even think of who was ahead. I later learned that I was in third place and that one of the guys ahead of me had been interpreted by the aid stations as a bandit because he wasn't showing his number.

Anyway, I kept looking behind me to see if someone was coming. My legs hurt so badly. The cruising gear was gone; the legs were stiff. The downhills were terrible. I just wanted to finish.

At the end, with 100 yards to go, I passed a marathoner, and we both cramped up and walked for a bit. I tried to convince her to do a mock sprint and lean in for a photo finish but she didn't want to.

My time was 7:27. 3rd place. Much better than I had hoped for.

It felt like I could not have run one more mile. After 60 seconds, I was so stiff in my legs I could barely walk. There was a nice lunch buffet, from which I had a hot dog and a couple of brownies. My stomach had held up decently during the race but once the race was over I didn't get the food cravings I had anticipated.

I won't spoil the Girl's race report, in case someone reads this before hers.

Her parents had watched the Lorax and had been in a few spots around on the course. Everyone thinks it's so cool that the Girl is doing all this stuff just a few months after giving birth, but it's really only possible because of her parents. They had a long day, too, out on the trails, cheering us on and watching the Lorax.

So what are my thoughts? Did I have fun? Yes, but not in the last 10 miles. Could I have raced any smarter? I don't think I could have done much better. Physiologically, it probably doesn't make sense to suddenly turn on an iPod and start running at a much faster pace; but it made psychological sense to me and gave me a boost.

Yes, I sandbagged it like no one else... But it worked. From mile 5, probably being in 50th spot, I only passed people the rest of the day. Mentally, you can't beat that.

I ate and drank well. I had even brought a litttle plastic bag for chips and M&Ms to carry with me. I would stop all the time to munch. I drank close to a botttle of Gatorade per aid station (every 3-4 miles) and drank de-fizzed coke or water at the actual aid stations.

The North Country Trail Run? In my opinion, a great race. It's a tough course, no doubt, but in a sense the hills make it easier because you get an excuse to walk. The downhills are bad at the end, though, but I think 10 flat miles at the end would have hurt even more, just because I would feel like I had to run it all. The aid stations were plentiful and nicely stocked. I love candy and had hoped for Jelly Beans and Mike and Ikes etc. but there was only M&Ms, chips, GU, PBJs, etc. A couple of aid stations had Sports Beans but they looked too clinical and gray for me to try. I basically ate M&Ms and chips the entire second loop. I tried a few GUs, which were nasty (but may have worked).

In short, I would recommend the race to any beginner. The marathon they have at the same time is very low-key, and it's pretty easy to make out who is in the marathon and who is in the 50 miler. Having the marathoners around in the first loop is nice so there are more people to talk to.

What a day...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Final 50 mile thoughts

I'm not sure about this race; I don't know how to race it.

Part of me wants to start out at a decent pace, stay in contention, and see what I have left at the end. I feel great; I am almost certainly going to be the "fastest" guy there. Meaning I will be able to run, say, a 6:30 mile with the least effort. Of course, that doesn't matter at all once we are past 30 miles.

This option could result in an extremely shitty race so I don't think I will start out fast. I remember Chippewa 50, my only ultra so far; how I got passed by what seemed like 50 people in the last miles (in reality, I think it was 7 or 8 people but it felt like a lot more). One thing is bonking but another is bonking at the front of the race and become that guy everyone gets a boost out of passing.

The other race option is to start embarrasingly slowly. Walk a lot, talk to people, have a good time etc. Then at 10 miles, once I am warmed up, I go into cruising pace (again, those 6:30 miles) and start passing people. It would be a low-pressure race. At worst, I bonk and finish in the middle of the pack. At best, I could be hunting down the leaders from behind.

I tried running with the handheld water bottles today. They didn't feel good. My stride was off. I think I will run the first 25 miles with the bottle and then drop it for the second lap. Unless, by that time, I have gotten used to it.

The Girl is in great shape. She never did the really long training runs and her taper has been a little anorexoid (meaning she refuses to seriously taper, for fear of gaining weight). But she is ready to bust out a big one. I wouldn't be surprised if she gets a top 3 on Saturday.

And then what?

That's the end of the season for us. There is a 10K in a month we will both do but we have no more long run plans. I am still hoping to PR at the 10K (my PR is 33:29 dating back to August of 2001) but it still doesn't seem like a "target race". We'll see what else we can squeeze in before it gets cold.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I have a lot to be thankful for.

After my 80-hour shift, I went out to run and met the Girl, who was just done with yoga. We had a nice, relaxed evening, just the three of us. It's probably the first time in a few weeks that has happened.

Things are just clicking right now. It looks like the Girl will get her green card; we have both been worried about that, since we really don't have a back-up plan if we can't move. Also, she just got a research paper accepted for publication. I have gotten into exactly the fellowship I wanted (hematology at University of Copenhagen) starting exactly when I want (January 1st).

Non-runners won't understand it, but my running shape determines a lot of my happiness, sometimes more than the big-picture developments. And I am in decent shape these days. As a 33-year old, I am still kicking. While not as fast as my younger days, I am finding more and more endurance and expanding my repertoire.

I have won all the races I entered this year; except for Chippewa 50 and two triathlons, races that have been outside my usual comfort zone. It's been so much fun; I have a lot to be thankful for.

And I am married to the Girl. We work a little too much right now, but whenever we have time off together it seems like we are able to live some unforgettable experience. I am still so in love with her, as corny as it sounds.

My kids are healthy and cool. They will do great in life and they will be my pillars until I die.

It's all clicking.

But I am writing for another reason. I just ran into a nurse practitioner, whom I have always liked. We said hi and exchanged the usual pleasantries of acquaintances, while walking across the parking lot. She asked my=a about biking and I said I ride all the time these days. Then she looked at me and said "Don't forget to wear your helmet; my husband was hit by a car and has been in the ICU with a spinal cord injury for two weeks now".

What do you say to that? All the positive things in my life are great, but if I was in the ICU fighting for my life, they wouldn't matter much. That poor man and that poor woman. It's hard to imagine what they are going through.

And all the peripheral stuff just shouldn't get to me. It's just not important. It's that old piece of advice that so many every dying patient have offered me: enjoy life; it goes so fast. Smell the roses. Love and be loved. And be thankful for what you have.

Monday, September 8, 2008

September running log

Sep 2 14 miles with the Girl
Sep 6 13 miles
Sep 8 13 miles
Sep 11 miles
Sep 13 10
Sep 14 9
sep 15 8
Sep 18 5
Sep 20 50 miles
Sep 25 5 miles
Sep 26 10
Sep 29 5

Total 142

10-hour triathlon

The Girl and I did a relay-type endurance triathlon this weekend. Basivally, we would alternate sprint tris for 10 hours. Together, we came up just short of a collective Ironman.

And, wow, what a fun experience it was.

Swimming was a major break-through for me. I ended up swimming 600m four times. The first time was horrible, very much like my first triathlon. I got flustered, kicked in the head (okay, maybe the shoulder) and lost all composure. I had to stop and tread water for a long time to get back into the groove. I did 50% breast stroke and 50% crawl on that one.

But then the next three times, everything just flowed. I got into a good rhythm, arms wind-milling along, body tilting from side to side. There is a trance-like feel to rolling along in the brown, murky waters. Once, I almost "fell asleep" and actually got pretty far off course.

I passed several swimmers during those legs and only got passed once so my swimming has definitely come along well.

The biking... Well, the biking is make-or-break in triathlons. It takes three times more time than the swim and twice as long as the run. I am decent at biking but after my fourth bike leg, I was getting sore in strange places. Leaning over a tri-bar made me stiffen up more than I thought it would. The route was very flat and fast, which certainly worked against me. I am a "dancer", in that I like to stand up and pedal (most runners feel that way) so this flat, grinding course made me a little stale.

Also, on flat courses, the specialized tri bikes become more important. There were a few plate wheels and aero helmets spotted, even.

Running was great. It was all on trails so lots of changing directions and running up and down. I ended up running about a half-marathon but stayed fresh the whole time. Lots of people were breaking apart on the run. At times it felt almost like cheating, being able to practice my "specialty" during a triathlon. I was definitely the fastest runner out there but, as usual, there wasn't enough trail to catch everyone.

We got fourth in the mixed relay division. It was a close race with the third place team. All day, I was a little faster than the guy on that team and the Girl was a little slower then the woman. I would pass him on the run every time and the Girl would be passed on the bike every time. They slowly gained on us, though, and ended up beating us overall by 4 minutes. They definitely looked like triathletes more than us so we didn't feel too bad.

The Girl had as much fun as me. Like me, she held up decently on the swim. And, like me, she gave up too much time on the bike to faster people on faster bikes. Of course, she was the fastest female runner but, again, the just wasn't enough trail to make up for all the water and the road.

The most fun was probably had off the course. We had a tent set up for all our stuff and to have base to relax in between legs.

We had the Lorax and my daughter along. She was a big help, never getting whiny and always helping out with the practicalities and, most importantly, helping with the Lorax. She actually had a good time, making a lot of friends among the other kids there.

This is one crazy rainbow.

We have both been a little depressed after the race. This is common after endurance events; it doesn't help that I have 8 days of straight work, starting tomorrow, including a whopping 80-hour ER shift (seriously).

In two weeks, we do the North Country 50 mile race. In a larger perspective, I am curious to see how that race compares with the triathlon. Hopefully, it will be as much fun.