Sunday, October 31, 2010

Copenhagen 6 Hour - Report

This race is really well-organized, by some of the nicest people I have met in Danish running. I would recommend it to anyone thinking about venturing into the ultra distances.

The only minor complaint is that they have a marathon at the same time. I'm not sure why they do this; I think the two races combined capped at 150 runners, with just 30 or so runners going for the marathon. I wonder if they couldn't just have filled the race with 6-hour runners.

At the start, it's confusing that you don't know who's in the marathon and who's in the 6-hour race. I was just going to run my own race but, on the other hand, it's impossible not to look around to see how you are doing. I started slowly, trying to use the first couple of laps to warm up. After two laps, I steadily moved up through the field, always playing this little game in my mind to see if I was going too fast: whenever I was passing someone, I tried to stay behind them, and if I started to feel like I had to consciously slow down, I would pass. My game plan was to never run slower than "cruising pace", and I was sticking with this plan.

At a point, maybe around 40 minutes in, I found a guy, whose pace matched mine. We would yo-yo a little, especially around the aid station, but we ran together until two hours. This was Charlie George, who, despite his name, is Danish and runs for Hellas in Roskilde. We exchanged resumes, his including a 1:17 half marathon this spring, which at 51 earned him the M50 national championship for that distance. Incidentally, he beat our teammate, Per, in that race. He had never run an ultra before.

We talked about pacing, and we obviously had similar strategies: if it feels good, don't slow down. We got through 20K in 1:30 and kept this pace till 2 hours. I mentioned that we were exactly on 50-mile pace, and there was no way in the world that I could run 50 miles in 6 hours. He concurred, but on we ran.

Then at two hours, my plan called for walking breaks. I was starting to feel sore, but not sore to a point where I would usually consider taking walking breaks. It was hard to let my companion drift away, and it felt like the race was moving on without me. From two to four hours, I walked 4-5 minutes every two laps. This was brisk walking, of course, but it felt miserable as 15-20 runners would pass me during every walking break.

But here's the thing: once I started running again, I would quickly re-pass the people, who had passed me. My cruising pace was holding up nicely. I was watching one guy in particular, who I had just lapped before the walking breaks began. For the entire two hours (from 2 to 4 hours), I passed and was re-passed by this same guy, which I took to mean that I holding my place decently in the pack.

A 4 hours, I turned on my iPod. I kept using the walking breaks up until 5 hours, but they were a little less regimented. The music made me really emotional. I had looked forward to this moment, hoping to rekindle the tearful runner's high from the Brocken Marathon three weeks ago. The recipe calls for exhaustion and good music but, I have realized, an important ingredient is that I have to go low on calories and, just before I bonk, eat a lot. And it came: that wonderful, drugged sense of floating effortlessly. Most people walked intermittently at this point, looking dead tired. The lake and the fall colors in the sun looked so peaceful. It sounds sappy, but it felt like everyone was running together.

My well-orchestrated high lasted 10-15 minutes. I had saved my music and gone low on calories for this, so I was hoping for a little more. But it was well worth it.

Then the race began to suck. I was starting to cramp, which always seems to be my limiting factor. I was nauseated and just sick of running. One thing that got me going a little was that Charlie George lapped me; immediately afterwards, he stopped to get something to eat and drink and looked pretty dead. I sensed that I would be able to pass him if I kept my current pace.

The last half hour, I was joined by Helle, of mountaineering and cancer-survivorship research fame. This was wonderful, and I now realize why pacing in ultras is such a big deal. We stopped taking walking breaks, except waling up a little hill. Thanks, Helle!

At the very end, we got passed by Jakob Lindberg, and this was the only time I got passed the entire race, outside my walking breaks! Jakob notwithstanding, I think this fact made all the difference. Even as I was slowing down, I continued to feel fast, because whenever I ran, I kept passing other runners.

I ended up running just over 73K, which is more than I was hoping for. It's a minor breakthrough, as I see it. And this just three weeks after Brocken, which was another good race.

I ended up passing Charlie and opened a 1K gap on him, but otherwise I kept my place through the last few hours. I didn't know what that place was, but it turned out to be 5th. The winner, Ole Stougaard, ran over 80K and told me after the race that it was his first ultra. He is a retired elite triathlete, who "runs to stay in shape". Dang. A 50 miler in less that 6 hours in his first ultra...

The weird thing about these short-lap races is that you see the same people over and over again. But the ones you don't see are the ones who run your pace. Kim Hammerich, who runs on the national ultra team, stayed ahead of me, but on the same lap, the entire race! I saw him at the start, and then forgot he was even in the race. In the end, he was 900 meters ahead of me I asked Kim why he wasn't farther ahead of me; it turns out he ran a 100K last weekend, and is running another 100K next week.

I was trying to suppress 10 different cramps, while trying to understand how he can possibly run so much. I don't even run 100 kilometers a week, during my heaviest weeks, and he runs ultras three weekends in a row. I will begin to think about being able to run again next weekend, by the time he probably wins another ultra.

The Girl did well and got 63K. Her race was insanely close, with just a few hundred meters separating 3rd to 5th. Just as I could pretend to almost beat someone on the national team, the Girl almost beat May-Britt Hansen. May-Britt was coming back from a shoulder injury and ran the race to get some miles in. After the race, the Girl did less well. She threw up several times and looked like she was about to pass out. I should mention that once we got back to the car, I cramped up so hard that she had to drive, so I wasn't faring much better.

I'm sure we'll do it again next year...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Preview: Copenhagen 6-hour Run

We did this race last year. You run around a little lake on a paved 2.2K loop. Over and over again, until you have lost track of have many loops you have done or what place you are in. I had a miserable race last year, and along with Voyageur 50 miles, it was one of the two big races that I was disappointed with.

This year, my preparation has been different. Not better, neccesarily, but very different. Last year, I had done the Transalpine with the Girl and then run a low-16s 5K (which was probably a little short) and won a somewhat competitive cross country race. This year, I ran one of the best races of my life three weeks ago at the Brocken marathon. And last month, I set PBs on all my principal training routes.

The one thing I am worried about is whether I have bounced back completely from the marathon.

A 6-hour run is hard to plan out. Last year, I started slowly with the Girl the first hour and then sped up. I probably went from 25th to 2nd place over the next two hours and came through the marathon in 3:11. I was in second place for maybe five minutes, after which came 3 hours of being passed by seemingly hundreds of runners (some individual runners passed me several times). I think I got to 65K and took 6th, although at the finish I would have guessed I took 20th. Interesting how that works.

The lesson to me was that walking/jogging isn't as slow as it seems when you are doing it. I think this year, I will start out faster. Yes, faster. I don't think starting out slower than my usual cruising pace postpones my inevitable collapse. So if I use the first few laps as a warm-up and then start cruising, I imagine that will put me near the front of the race. Now, I know that this year, the field is much stronger than last year, but my optimistic cruising pace is still pretty fast in a 6-hour race.

A big part of starting out fast is I get to see the top runners. Last year, it sucked now knowing who was where in the race.

Then comes the master-stroke of my plan: I slow down. After maybe two hours, I will start to feel fatigued and sore, and that's when I start taking frequent, long walking breaks. I plan on the middle two hours being very slow, while I sink down through the field.

But. And here's the but. Then the last two hours, hopefully, I shall walk less and run more. Or run more talk less, as the hipsters say. I plan on eating a ton at four hours, which will propel me into a tearful runner's high the last two hours. Last year, everyone was suffering at the end. If I can be that guy with lots of energy, that wouldn't be half-bad.

Or I may ust keep jogging and walking, while enjoying a tearful painfest. We shall see.

I hope to get to high 60s, low 70s, in terms of distance.

A little something for the ladies...
As I recall, as this point, I had started out in these clothes, then stripped down after one hour, but after three hours I meekly re-robed and wore this dour facial expression.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bilingual or no-lingual?

The Lorax speaks only Danish so far. Since we plan to move back to the US in two or three years, I figure he needs to completely solidify his Danish now. He will learn English soon enough and, hopefully, will end up fluent in both languages.

But, let me tell you, this bilingual thing is not as simple as one may think. First off, I botched both Natali's and my son, Andreas', chances of bilingualism 6 years ago. For the same reasons as the above, my ex-wife and I spoke only Danish to the kids. Whenever we were in the US, they spoke Danish and my ex-in laws had to learn baby Danish to keep up. Then I started residency and they started US day care for the first time - and everything changed dramatically. Within a month, they were perfectly bilingual. They spoke Danish to us and English to everyone else.

Slowly, they forgot their Danish. I showed them Danish movies and online TV, but slowly it disappeared. I read to them in Danish, but it became clear that they preferred the stories in English. I had my own translation of Dr. Seuss, but they weren't buying it.

Andreas is now completely uni-lingual and Natali, because we moved back, is bilingual.

But what does it mean? Is she really 100% proficient in both languages? No; this becomes clear as we read more difficult literature in both Danish and English. She lacks depth; not just knwoing all the words, but reading between the lines, picking up irony and appreciating grammatical intricacies. I'm not 100% sure if it's just her age, but I suspect it has to do with having to keep up with both languages.

We had a medical student rotate through our department last month. A child of Chinese immigrants, he had grown up in Denmark. He was smart, hard-working; a wonderful med student to work with. But his Danish, once he had to construct a hard, thoughtful sentence, was sorely lacking. He had no accent, but he lacked a certain depth that many people commented on. It fascinated me. I don't know if he has ever gone back to China; he probably has. I'm sure the Chinese think that his Mandarin(i'm not sure he speaks Mandarin) is sub-par, having only spoken it with his parents and other Chinese in Denmark.

Then there is my brother and his wife. My sister-in-law's first language is Malay English. What they speak at home is a variant of what Danes call "Danglish", ie. a mix of Danish and English. Most Danes think of Danglish as Danish with lots of borrowed English words. Their Danglish, however, is primarily English, but they share a complete disregard for grammar and sentence structure. Especially their prepositions are off, as they juggle English and Danish. My brother, for example, doesn't ride his bike; he "rides on his bike" or "cycles".

My brother grew up speaking Danish. He went to college in the US and got married in his early 20s. Since then, he has spoken mostly English, or their variant thereof, at home. Without a doubt, he has lost depth in his Danish, both spoken and written. If he were told to speak for a half hour in complete 100% Danish, he would be in trouble.

So my brother and the medical student, are they bilingual - or no-lingual?

As I sit here pontificating in my ivory tower, I can't ignore my own situation. Admittedly, I'm a little bit like my brother; it's hard not to be. But we do try to speak 100% Danish at home; mostly for the sake of the Girl and the kids, but also for me. We have almost lived in Denmark two years now, and I still speak Danish somewhat haltingly. I have no accent, of course, but I have definite trouble constructing sentences, especially Danish colloquialisms. Yesterday, in an elevator, I got the idea for this blog post. An attending had gotten frustrated with a notoriously non-compliant patient. She is sometimes a little too nice, or docile, so it was cool to hear her speak up. I wanted to tell her that I thought it was cool to see her.. get a little riled up, see her speak with a little oomph, gusto, fanfare, temper. Halfway through the sentence, choices such as these popped up in my head, but no Danish equivalent came to mind. I used the word "fanfare", which can only be used in its literal sense in Danish, ie. the sound that horns make.

And this happens all the time, especially with patients. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there", "just to rule out something serious", "we'll keep an eye one it"; I want to say this all the time: I start a sentence and realize that there is no Danish equivalent and often end up constructing ugly linguistic orphans.

And my English is going to pot, too! The in-laws were here to visit last week, and my English was certainly imperfect. Again, it lacked depth; it lacked that ability to construct a long sentence, while thinking about the subject matter.

Alas, I am also no-lingual!

So what do I have in mind for the kids? Well, this time, I think it's going to stick for Natali, so she might come out on top of all this. For the Lorax, I know we'll keep speaking Danish at home, and we might move back to Denmark at some point. Or he and Natali may go to college here. So I have high hopes for those two.

Andreas? My 7-year old son who lives an ocean away. My parents are visiting him right now, so I've been thinking about him a lot. If he learned to speak just a little Danish, even haltingly, and without any depth, I would be happy as a clam.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October log

2: 10 miles on hills. 5 repeats at end of Green tunnel
4: 8 miles
6: 8 miles in the mountains around Goslar. Very good legs; the uphills felt effortless.
9: Brocken Marathon. 3:04. Felt great; probably my best marathon.
12: 15 miles fair slowly. The legs have rebounded impressively.
15: Perimeter trails.
17: Hills at Green Tunnel. 3 repeats. Legs a little heavy.
20: 2X5K tempos with the Girl. Legs didn't feel good at all. Ran them both around 19 minutes.
23: Green Tunnel hills. I love this run. 5 repeats at the end. The legs were a little heavy despite the light training lately.
24: 10 miles. Turned out the legs were awesome. It turned into impromptu fartleks.
26: 10 miles on the trails
28: 6 miles slowly.
30: 6-hour race. 73.1K (43 miles). A new PR. 20K in 1:30, half in 1:34, marathon in 3:15, 50K in 3:56.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brocken Pictures

The Girl cresting Brocken in howling wind and high spirits. She was still in 5th here and thought about top 3.

While top 3 never happened, she did have the best-looking legs of the field (women's field, at least). That's some toned-up shank right there.

Yours truly cresting Brocken, full of pent-up Danish rage and energy after walking the last several miles. Small children averted their eyes when they saw the facial expression of this particular bad-ass

The finish; looking you and without a care for the world. I felt this-is-what-life-is-about good.

This is my bro, who at his college-days peak ran a sub-18 5K. He is blessed and cursed with the looks, physiology and metabolism of Jan Ullrich. He also married a great cook and many an Indian curry later, he is fighting his way back into shape. He ran the 22K mountain run in well under three hours, thus posting the achievement of the day.

This picture shows Der Jan being pursued by my dad and uncle. My dad is the guy with my future hairline and my uncle is the bi-sected guy one step behind. Both my dad and uncle got lost; even though they started over an hour behind the marathoners, they somehow managed to follow the marathon course. Halfway up Brocken, they were met by crew disassembling an aid station. They accepted the light beer and soup offered to them and jogged back down the mountain.

The relaxed man in tights is my cousin's husband. He cruised the 22K, but was probably in marathon shape. The guy in front of him is unidentified, but judging by his overall sweatiness, his bleeding nipple and his scream, my guess is that he was amply challenged by the course. And check out the German power-lady on the left. Typical German power-lady look, camel-toe and all.

Like her husband, my cousin wasn't even halfway spent at the end of her race, the 11K. She should have done the 22K and she showed off this fact by bounding several feet in the air with each step.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

We ventured down to Harz, Germany, this weekend for the Brocken Marathon. Most readers will have read the Girl's blog and seen the killer hill (Brocken) in the middle of the race. The course climbs approximately 800 meters in 8K (2500 feet in 5 miles?), ie. a 10% incline for the cycling afficionados. However, the 8K are preceded by a few K of gentle climbing and the hill gets steeper and steeper as you go. In other words, that mountain defines the whole race. But let's begin at the start line.

I fancied myself with a shot at the top 10, possibly top 5. But, above all, I didn't want to crack on the long downhill, so I started conservatively. The part of the course that may appear flat on the elevation map is anything but. In the first 5 miles, we ascended and descended hills that would be the centerpiece of a tough Danish cross country course. Of course, as opposed to Danish cross meets, which always are better-wear-spikes technical, we ran these hills on non-technical trails - and stayed on them the whole way.

I took it easy, and counted the people ahead of me to learn that I was in 16th spot at the position-wise nadir of my race at 5 miles. Then, slowly, we started climbing more than we descended, and this separated the pretenders from the contenders. The first few miles of low-grade climbing suited me well, and I advanced up through the field, always feeling like I had a lot left in the tank.

Then the hill got so steep that it made no sense to run. At least it made no sense to me. There were little plateaus, where I ran, but I made a point of walking and eating whenever it got really steep. I was passed by 3 or 4 runners, but they were barely running faster than me. I power-hike pretty efficiently and was almost able to keep up with the runners.

At a point, with a few miles left to go to the summit, the trail turned into an East German road made out of concrete slabs. It got so steep that running looked completely silly to me. One German guy passed me and yelled "I sink your sistem is werking. I try it too" and then we walk-ran together to the top. The views up here were amazing, of course.

Even though Brocken is only 1140-some meters high, it feels like the high mountains. It was really windy, which probably isn't a rarity up there, because there were no trees. The top is occupied by an old East German weather station. Cool stuff.

Then came the downhill, and with the crazy steep uphill, I had worried that it would be too steep for me to run. I'm not a good downhiller at all. But the downhills, except for very few sections, were the crusing types. I turned my music on and floated down the mountain. I chose to run on the grassy shoulder, which seemed like a good choice for someone not used to the pounding.

Just coming over the top, I passed a couple of people. The people who had run up, were all so stiff, that I easily put a couple hundred meters on them. Again, if anyone reads this as a preview for their own race: walk the hill. A fast power-walker may lose a minute or two on a runner over the last steep miles of the hill but that time will easily be reclaimed on the way down.

And, yes, the way down went well. I floated and floated and, purely by chance, always had the next runner in view a hairpin turn or two below me. I had lost count of the place I was in and just focused on picking off runners. Suddenly we were in the last few miles and I entered what I fancied to be an all-out Solinsky beast mode. It's been a while since I tapped a good runner's high in competition; last time must have been Hells Hills in April. Yes, there were some tears. At this point, the half-marathoners had joined the course and there were lots of spectators. I felt like I was absolutely screaming down the mountain and there was a even an uphill section that I ran all-out. I am sure I had the fastest time in the race for the last 5 miles.

The last two K are steep downhill. I passed a guy, who was in the marathon, and then probably took it a little too easily. I got stuck behind a half-marathoner and then, when 400 meters to go, got re-passed by the marathoner. He wanted it more than me, I guess. Had there been a flat section, I would have been able to use my fresher legs, but it was steep and I was worried about going insanely fast. Plus I am not a very skilled downhiller, to be honest.

As it turned out, he took 5th and I took 6th. Six people get to go on the big podium to receive prizes, so it all turned out all right. But still, I should have just have surged by him, when I first passed him. I expected there to be a flat finish ,but it was downhill all the way to the line. Good advice for other runners would be to run the last two K all out.

I finished with lots left. I would have been happy if they had converted it into a 50K. My time was 3:04, which is pretty wild compared to me PR of 2:49. I actually ran the first 10K in 40:46, which is PR pace, even though it felt easy and was hilly. It makes one wonder how fast I would have gone on a flat course. Needless to say, I am very excited about this race. I've been setting PBs on my training runs, but until you see a big result in an official race, it doesn't really matter.