Monday, April 30, 2012

50k Race Report: The Trail Marathon

As I imagine it, the Poto is a trail that feeds on the blood of those that run and ride its spine. It is a monster that must be fed. And I’ve given up my share of vino through MTB crashes and cartoonish stumbles over gnarly roots and rocks. But not today.

Today I bounded over the rocks, catapulted myself off the roots, and took the serpentine trails for a nearly perfect run. I fueled perfectly, paced perfectly, and aside from one wrong turn that added a mile and might have cost me a chance at 3rd place overall, I beat that sumbeetch Poto trail to the teeth. What I know is that today, for just one day, I smote the monster that has taken my lungs, my legs, and my spirit on previous adventures.

For the last week before the race, I’ve been totally calm about this 50k, recognizing that I was still recovering from my first 50 miler two weeks ago, and I wouldn’t be in top form. Also, I’m doing a hard 50 miler two weeks from now called Gnaw Bone, so I should be prepping for that. I decided that I’d do the race completely for fun and forget what place I got, whether I got a PR or set a good time or whatever. And then I had a couple short runs, on Friday and Saturday, that were “super smashing”, as my Scottish co-worker says.

Which leads to the night before the race, when I started getting nervous. It noodled into my head that I wanted to do well at the race and still have big fun. How do I balance the two? Can I still laugh and make jokes with other racers, bounce off rocks, play air drums, and go for a good time. Well, yeah, of course I can!

That morning, I woke up with the cutest note from my wife, Alaina, in my bag of gear. It reminded me that the most important thing today is that I love running, and if I just focused on that, I’d have a great race. Best wife ever, can we agree?

After a 20 minute drive to the race site -- love local races! -- I went around and met up with almost 10 people I knew from training runs and races. For me, that’s unheard of, since at tri’s I know 2 people at most. I’ve started to feel like part of a community in a way that I never felt doing triathlons. Maybe it’s my attitude, but I think it’s the laid-back atmosphere of the ultra community and a general desire at these events to hear and share stories with other like-minded people. A celebration of running, just because it’s awesome.

The lake had this mystical steam rising into the 29 degree air as we lined up at the start. I inched toward the front, but since marathon and 50k runners were seeded together, I didn’t get too far up, ceding that area to the marathoners. Aaaaand, go!

My plan was to hit 8:30/mi steadily for the entire race, focus on taking enough fluids and live off GUs for carbs. The course is 2 loops of 13.1, followed by a 5 mile loop. There were around 20 people ahead of me from the gun, and I had no idea who was marathon or 50k, because it really didn’t matter. If my plan to run steady and fairly easy worked, then I’d either reel them in late in the race when they faded, or I wouldn’t.

After passing almost no one and only being passed by a couple guys for the first 4 miles, I tapped out a steady rhythm and shot off a few boulders along the way to keep the sticks limber. I power hiked the steep as ascents and went conservatively downhill. And then around mile 8, I actually caught a group of three guys, one of whom was fading off the back pretty hard. So I hung off the coattails of these two guys talking about ultra races they’d done and their schedules coming up.

I listened contentedly to their stories and really enjoyed the company. When one guy fell off the pace to run with his buddy, it was me and this guy from the RUT group, Mark ‘Doc’ Ott. I introduced myself and we shared a bit about our lives before getting into how we got started in ultras, and what we do for a living, and where we like to run. Mark is only a few years old than me, but his ultra and marathon experience is 10x as deep as mine. He’s a sub 2:50 marathoner, and a few weeks ago he won a 100 mile race in Philly. I enjoyed hearing his tips and mistakes, where he feels he is now and where he’d like to be.

At the 13.1 point, aka the start/finish area, I swapped out my depleted GU brew bottle for water, which I wanted to use the rest of the race. My legs were feeling really strong, so I took the first chance of the race, and let them loose up the first climb. Yep, turbo boosters are ready to fire, but I must not flip that switch until the last 5 miles. Instead, I steadily pulled away from Mark and this Canadian guy who’d caught back up, and I settled into a pace that felt pretty easy. I didn’t check my Garmin until mile 17, when I was startled to see 7:44/mi on the watch. Where the hell was this coming from?

I’ve done enough training runs on this trail to know that if I’m not careful, it can make the pain machine from Princess Bride look like a soothing massage. But my legs and lungs felt great, so I decided to sit on this pace and get through the 2nd hardest stretch of this trail, from miles 18 - 22. The miles kept ticking by and I thought of Alaina’s note to me again. You love running trails, be there now. I told the woods how much I love that woman, and they continued to smile on me.

The hardest section of this trail is undoubtedly the last 3 miles before the start/finish area, aka miles 23 - 26 on this loop. It features the longest climb of the course, with several steep sections along the way. The quads and calves were finally starting to get roughed up, but if I could hang on here with petrol in the tank, I could let it rip and open up the stride on the last lap. I’d ticked the pace down to 7:41/mi and felt great. Too bad I was so focused on finishing that I forgot to pay attention to the flags.

I flipped the boosters on the last lap, a 5 mile loop on a totally different section of trail than the 13.1 loops. These flags were yellow, so I tracked them up to the parking lot, where they disappeared, but came back on the other side of the lot. Then they went through a short trail, and up to a dirt road. Now I always cross this road and continue onto the trail on the other side when I run here in training, so I did just that today, not realizing that the flags turned down the road to the Crooked Lake trail. I was hauling with everything I had left, thinking about how well I knew this section of trail and how great I felt today. But it all came crashing down at the map post where there were no flags. I realized I’d gone the wrong way for ~1/2 mile and I was going to lose a mile getting back to the yellow flags. Ok, what do I do? GO HARDER. Make up time, catch the people I’d already passed and pass them again. And that’s what I did.

That last loop was white lightning and fury. I saw my coworker and her husband hiking the trail along this stretch, and they gave me a huge unexpected boost of mojo, shouting “Go Banana!” which has become the go-to encouragement for me.

I buried myself in my chest up that terrible climb from miles 28-30 and totally killed it. I averaged 7:21/mi for the last (now) 6 miles, and came in at 4:11:59, a ~10 minute PR, for 4th place Overall and 1st place in my Age Group. I was 6+ minutes behind the 3rd place guy, so who knows if I could’ve caught him, but in the end it doesn’t really matter.  I ran 32.2 miles in 4:11:59 or 7:50/mi, but my mistake brought me down to 8:08/mi which is still WAY better than I thought I'd run.  In fact,  I ran my best ultra so far, paced it perfectly, and fueled exactly right. Great day on the trails!

After standing in the ice bath that is Crooked Lake, chatting with the 2nd and 3rd place finishers, I celebrated with a Two Hearted IPA from Bell’s Brewery, and then watched and congratulated the other finishers as they came across the line on this brilliantly sunny Spring day. Trails rule.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Catching up with Lady Soul

Every few months I pick one legendary artist or band with a long catalog and deep history, and I try to listen through their entire catalog in chronological order.  The bigger the name, the easier their records are to find in the library's collection, so over the last few years I've had good luck with Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, The Byrds, etc.  I try to let this happen organically, as some music has a way of making sense at certain times in my life and not at all at others.

This month, on a run at the Poto, I listened to a Sound Opinions podcast that dissected Aretha Franklin's 1972 gospel recording, Amazing Grace.  The hosts, out of Chicago and D.C., had a guest on who wrote a book on this album for the 33 1/3 book series.  I'd never heard this Franklin recording, but loved hearing smart people who have done their historical and critical research -- and of course love the music -- speak eloquently about the songs and then play clips of them.  Lady Soul is now on heavy rotation in my ears, though I think I'll take on her 1960s Atlantic recordings only.

As for the actual running this week, I've been in a frame of mind that favored auditory response over  visual and sensory.  I've wanted to be part of the moment in the woods of my favorite hilly trails: Bird Hills, Kuebler, Cedar Bend, Argo, but couldn't really impress the moment into my memory the way I usually do.  It was like going to an art museum.  I was looking at a Cezanne, saying to myself, 'man, that's gorgeous look at his use of color, perspective, and brush stroke', but all the while being so caught up in my own personal thoughts that I never actually found myself on a French hillside.

Aretha singing "I Never Loved a Man" live in 1968

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gold Nuggets

I work with the public for the majority of my work week. Like anything else, it's a mixed bag of great people with a few rotten apples. I meet people with all the resources at their fingertips and those with no access to resources at all. I interact with the very very old and the very very young and everyone in between every day. I meet some crazy loons and some brilliant minds (and sometimes they're the same people).  And what I've started taking away from all this is that when I meet great people I should try to actually be around them from time to time.

Last night as I was driving home from work, I saw my neighbor in his driveway and so I stopped and rolled down the window. We chatted for a bit and I told him I was all excited about this Can record, Ege Bamyasi (1972), that I'd finally broken through with, so I played him a bit of a track. He said, "Hey want to check out these speakers I just built?" Well, yeah!

So I went inside and he played me three songs in this acoustically perfect arrangement, with an armchair at the center and these warm, clarion speakers. I heard "Walk on the Wild Side", Johnny Cash's version of U2's "One", and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as if the bands were playing right in that room.

Great Experience.

Then this morning on my way out to my trail run, I saw a different neighbor that I'd talked bikes with last night when I was at work, and he invited me to try riding around on this fat tire, Salsa Mukluk which was a blast, and then he showed me this sweet fixie he'd built up.

Not his Mukluk, but very similar.  HUGE tires
These little 10 minute experiences were nuggets of personal gold where cool, smart people that live in my neighborhood decided to open their craft up to me for a spell, both times because I saw them outside, so I rolled down my window and stopped to actually say hello. As much as I love my alone time running and riding in the woods, it partially helps me appreciate the people time too.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Recovery Crashes and Mucking the Run

It's been a week since my first 50 mile race at Winona Lake.  I'd predicted that the pain level and recovery time would be slightly greater than a half-Ironman but not as much as a full, and that seems about right.  The first day after the race, stairs brought knee crunching pain and my IT band was crying.  I spent most of the day in the la-z-boy with a cup of coffee, listening to the latest Bright Eyes and Wilco records, writing my race report, and reading.  Is this what retirement is like?  I sure hope so.

I took Sunday and Monday off, and on Tuesday I commuted to work on my bike.  That evening I was running trails again, nice and easy around the river.  Next morning I woke up with a bit of soreness probably from overdoing it the night before, so I ran in the evening, and this was a fantastic run on my local loop.  My legs were sprightly and ready to rock.  Lazy bugs hung in swarms over the trails and it felt like summer.  I used other runners on the trail as rabbits and caught them without redlining it.  Climbing and descending felt good and I couldn't stop smiling.  The next night at The Arb, I did more hills, but the humidity and some dehydration caught up with me on the tail end of this 8 mile run.  Still, an hour run without soreness this soon after the race was a good sign.

And then came glorious Friday, my day off since I work the weekend.  Rain threatened but didn't look likely until later afternoon, so I drove out to the Potawatomi trail in Pinckney, MI with my mountain bike and running shoes for a brick workout (a bike ride followed immediately by a run).  Next weekend I'm doing a 50k race on the Poto called the Trail Marathon, so I wanted to get some extra time on this absolute gem of an 18+ mile trail system just 20 minutes from my house.

The Poto is something I will definitely miss when me move from Michigan.  If I could run this trail every day I would.  All single track with some wider openings, gorgeous lakes surrounding, hills, rocks, roots, sand, and luscious green in spring.  Aside from the roving gangs of deerflies in the summer, it's near perfect.

Normally on a day off like this I would've run 2-3 hours on the trail, but my brain told me that was dumb since my muscles and tendons are still recovering, so I hopped on my MTB to try out my new Crank Bros Egg Beater pedals, which marks the first time I've ever ridden trails with clipless pedals.  The difference was amazing.  I had so much more power on the climbs, stability on the descents since my feet weren't bouncing all over the flat pedals, and confidence in turning.

It was a perfect day: mid-50s, light breeze, all the world before me.  I saw one group of runners and no other bikers out there and man does this place start feeling "out there" when you're alone for hours with only the squirrels, deer, birds, and a wild turkey the size of my bike for company.  It's an aloneness that I value as it invites introspection and clarity of mind.

For example, I realized how important it is to me to have a good biking and running fitness at any given time even if there's no race ahead, so that I can do something like ride at a hard effort in the woods for 2 hours and then run afterward without this effort crushing me.  Basically, so I can do this stuff for fun on a whim without a training plan.  I also realized that taking on big endurance goals like running 100 miles in Leadville is critical for me to attaining a sustained feeling of contentment.

And it was just as I had reached the hour mark and the endorphins were kicking in and I was getting this sense of elation that I had my first and only crash.  It was a thing of beauty.  I chose a bad line up a steep incline that switched back, so I didn't see the big root with the gap and though I tried mightily to jump it, I was quickly on my back, cushioned by my Ultimate Direction Wasp hydration pack, which somehow didn't explode like a water balloon all over me.

After the ride, it was just starting to sprinkle, so I tossed the bike in the back of the Element and threw on my running shoes.  I hit the Losee Lake trail, which is for hiking/running only and it's super hilly.  It features very dense woods and a shoestring trail and there was no one else out there.  As the sprinkle turned into a downpour and clouds pitched over I felt a big smile coming on.  The smell of mud came up from the ground and the birds went silent.

Running in the woods in the rain brings such a heightened state of sensation, as the cold water hits hot skin, the surface of the trail is dark and slick, and the forest air takes on a mist that is just this side of magical.  It was the perfect way to end a superb day off.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Running vs. Racing

I saw this on a Running World Forum and liked it:

Running or Racing—a comparative analysis

stop to look at the trees as they pass by.ricochet off trees as they zoom across the landscape.
worry about their flashlight batteries lasting.get to the finish line before dark.
enjoy the aid stationssometimes pass through before the aid stations are set up.
take naps in tents at aid stations.take naps as they wait at the finish line.
watch flowers opening in the morning sun.pass through in the predawn darkness.
worry about cut-off times.worry about course or age-group records.
write next-of-kin information on their wrist bandswrite split times on their wrist bands
wonder if there will be any beer at the aid stations.wonder what kind of electrolyte replacement drinks will be at the aid stations
get a hamburger as they pass through townsslap down one more bit of tofu enriched yoghurt, whey, and scampi granola
talk to local farmers as they pass byscare chickens, cows, and small children
are relieved to hear someone approaching from behindfeel the pressure of someone approaching from behind
seldom get lost as they follow those hundreds of sets of footprintsworry about course markings (color, context, intent, malcontent, bent…)
admire the view as they amble on across the landscapeare vaguely aware of something off to the right—or was it left?
know the names of the “sweep” at 17 different events in 8 counties and 3 states.drop if more than 17 minutes behind predicted time for the day.
say “Thank you.  Yes, I do believe I’ll have another brownie” just before being pushed out of the aid and say “Thank you” over her shoulder as she heads for home.
have been seen grabbing trees, cactus, and other runners to keep from careening off the course on a switchback.make it look so easy, seldom stirring up dust or even disturbing the llamas.
have out-of-body experiences as the day goes by and the finish line recedes in the afternoon sun.have been heard to wonder admiringly about how the rest of us cope with being out there so long.
sometimes curse day of race registration.follow a plan conceived months ago.
have long involved conversations with others as they pass or get passed.surface long enough for a smile and an often monosyllabic response.
have teddy bears, dragons, and other karma caretakers of the foray jangling from their fannypacks, Camel Baks,…have a hand-bottle.
have been seen in cotton t-shirts.have all that super-neato logo stuff.
slay inner dragons on good days.slay inner dragons on good days.
compete in their time, in their style, on their terms…compete in their time, in their style, on their terms…

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M Race Report

Piecing together the entire 50 miles of running is proving difficult. Here’s what I remember to hang my hat on:
  • My crew of Alaina and her Mom were the best! 
  • There are only few things I’d rather be doing at any given time than running trails through the woods.
  • I met great people and talented runners 
  • The pain in my quads and knees started early and kept digging but I kept going. 
  • I only chafed in one spot (perhaps the worst possible spot). 
  • There were several Ultrarunner and All Songs Considered podcasts that helped me keep it together late in the race. 
Ready to get this started

Did you know that in the mid-’70s, Philip Glass went to a Talking Heads show and convinced the band to attend Einstein on the Beach? And last year, a US ambassador in Iraq dedicated a ‘50s Argentinian tango song called 'El Dia Que Me Quieras' to his wife in the states and it may have been the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in my life, but I didn’t understand a single word.

Ultrarunner Ray Zahab has run across the farthest length of both the Saraha Desert and Death Valley...for FUN. Max King might be the best runner in the U.S. and almost no one has ever heard of him. These are a few things I learned while running 50 miles. Some might think that running this long would be boring. But as I was 2 miles from the finish line, I had the opposite thought -- why does this have to end so soon?

The trail to Leadville started last November, and Winona 50M is my second milestone on this journey. I’d run one 50k race and 2 self-supported 50k training runs from December - April, so I was feeling comfortable with the 30M distance and ready to add another 20M.

Me, Cody, and Sharon at our mini-aid station
Winona Lake, Indiana is only 3 hours drive from Ann Arbor, so we drove down the morning of the race and set up a little camping table with my tasty goodies right near the start/finish line. Morning of the race, I went around the staging area and caught up with some people I’d met in the last few months on various training adventures in my area.

A month ago, running the Poto trail by myself this Anton Krupicka-looking guy (read: fast) named Jon passed me on a climb, so I tagged along with him and chatted ultras and trails, enjoying the woods together. Race morning, I saw him and his training buddy, Jason, at their car/aid station, so we shared a few laughs about the coming thunderstorms and they shared some pacing advice for a first time 50 mile runner.

Then I met this super nice British guy, Andrew, who’d done Leadville, so we talked strategy for that beast of a race. Turns out, he’s friends this other guy I’d run with on another trail run, Steve, who was also doing this race and had also done Leadville, so he came over and caught up for a bit. Everyone was so chill and friendly and wanting to chat a bit on the morning of a race, which seemed really different than any triathlon I've done.

Showing Jon and Jason my crane technique
Onto the course. It’s a 10 mile loop of mountain biking trails that you do 5 times. My plan was to spend as little time at the start/finsh line between each loop so that I wouldn’t have time to consider stopping. Good plan.

Starting these long events is funny. No one wants to go up front. I seeded myself near Jon since he said he was starting easy. There were a couple guys and a very fast looking woman who were up front and gunning. After them, we had this little group of 8 runners strung along the trail for the first 3 miles, going really easy and talking about who we knew running today, other ultras going on in the area, and the nuances of the trail.

Jon and Jason took off after that and I joined them. The 3 of us talked about tri’s and ultras, them asking me to predict pain level comparisons, which I thought would be somewhere between a HIM and IM. In retrospect, that’s about right.

We're off!  Clock shows we started 20 minutes after the 10 mile runners

Here’s an aid station stop. 
Jon, “hey anyone need anything?” 
Us, “Nope” 
Jon, “Ok, let’s keep going”. 
Then at the next station, Jason says, “I’m gonna get some water” 
Us, “Ok, me too” 
We fill bottles and grab some GU / Heed stuff and all take off together. So here we are on these gorgeous MTB trails in the woods, all doing what we love most, and working as a group despite it being a race, because after all, it’s gonna be a loooooong day, no need to go it alone.

At around mile 8, I was starting to feel like I was pushing too hard, so I switched the Garmin, which I’d hardly looked at, over to current pace and saw 7:30s. Uhhhh, that’s why I’m feeling my legs talking. So I dropped back from them and worked down to an effort I had targeted for this distance, but kept it more consistent, more conservative on the climbs and descents, same effort on the flats.. And although I dropped back from the other guys at first, I also had them within eyeshot, but I could keep my own plan in place. I popped on Ultrarunner Podcast and immersed myself in the woods.

Sigh of relief.  1st lap complete
Lap 1: 1:20:53

Mile 10 is the start/finish, and my crew aka family was ready to change bottles for me, so I grabbed what I needed and kept on going. The RD called my name, distance and place, which felt really cool. I passed Jon and Jason at this point and took off down the trail. It felt good to move up a few places and I kept the steady pace up, but in hindsight, probably a couple minutes too fast.

From a satellite view, the trail looks like a plate of spaghetti. Not only does it torque its way through a relatively small total acreage, but it’s relentlessly up and down, with some rocky, rootsy switchbacks, wooden bike bridges, and a sweet range of prairie and woodsy sections. It’s a sneaky trail that I could tell was going to attack like a tiger hunting in the tall grass as the miles got longer. My IT band and stability muscles were taking the brunt of working back and forth through the serpentine trails, and I quickly realized it was all about minimizing that damage early on.

I kept ahead of J2 this loop and could see that Jon had dropped Jason and was coming for me. Since I watch a lot of cycling, I could see that I split this mini-peloton apart by going out front this lap. The strategy was coming out and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by it all. Such fun and in real life! Toward the end of this lap, I could feel a hot spot developing near the arch of my foot and getting hotter, and I knew that with 30 more miles I needed to take care of it now. So at the start/finish I told Sharon I needed new socks, which she procured in record time. And as I was changing shoes, Jon caught up, went to his car, and it was him and me running together again to start the third lap.

Lap 2: 1:18:59

The other person I noticed on this lap through the start/finish is that 1st place female, Melanie, who I’d passed but with the sock change but had gotten back ahead to start the 3rd lap. So Jon and I decided that we should see if we could slowly reel her in. It took about 2 miles, but we could see her just up ahead. And as we were about to catch her, my shoe came untied and I had to stop briefly. Yet something started to change. My heart and lungs were working too hard for the effort level. And although I quickly caught back up to Melanie and Jon, I was working way too hard for mile 22. Something was clearly up with either nutrition or pacing.

I decided to hang back and pop the headphone back in and enjoy more podcasts, while I could hear them chatting with each other and I knew I should’ve been feeling that good too. But I remembered the Ten Commandments of Endurance that Marshall Ulrich wrote in Running on Empty. He said, “be kind to yourself.” And I took this as my mantra the rest of the way. Whenever I wanted to beat up on myself for not going harder or slowing down, I said those words.

Not moving so well right here
As the miles went by and the pain in my quads started becoming noticeable, I needed that mantra more, and though I tried to take down more fluids and food, my suffering was growing toward mile 28. All I wanted was to get back to fun. So I started thinking about everything that was going right. No shin pain, no soleus pain, no peroneal pain. All the little speedbumps I’ve been dealing with through these 80-90 mile weeks were gone. Just the deep down pain of pushing your body past its breaking points remained. And that was actually remarkable.

At one of the later aid stations, I passed Melanie, who was icing down her quads, and although I kept expecting her to pass me back again, she didn’t. Later I learned that she is a very accomplished marathoner, but at the time I was just knew there was a strong athlete who I was holding off, and that meant I was still doing ok.

Just before the start/finish line I took the headphone out and listened to the birds, the sound of the rain that had finally started with conviction halfway through this loop, and got back into the moment.

Lap 3: 1:22:59

I saw Alaina and her mom at the start/finish and it was a huge wave of relief. They changed out my bottles and Alaina asked if I wanted her to pace me for this lap. This was not even something I’d considered before the race, but I quickly said yes and was glad for the company. But my lungs and heart were still strained. Alaina helped me see that I needed more salt and fluids, looking at how little I’d peed and that it wasn’t my mood plummeting as it does when I haven’t eaten. So at the first aid station I had some salt potatoes and heed and gradually started feeling better.

Alaina told me the story of how she’d going biking on the roads near Winona Lake and all the things she’d seen, and I let her know I could only really listen right now until I got myself feeling better. She was a great boon for me that loop when I was slowing down so much and starting to get down on myself. She knew that this would be the hardest loop as well, breaking past the farthest distance I’d ever run at one time before and heading into unknown territory.

Along the way I’d see Jon coming back on some other point on the course and looking really strong so I’d give him a shout of encouragement and try to give him a little challenge, but I didn’t have much more than I was giving to the course at that moment.

That loop was really hard. Maybe not as hard as starting that 2nd run loop at Ironman Lake Placid, but at times it came close. I power hiked the climbs, feeling my heart want to explode with every extra effort, and then started running right away on the flats with whatever I had. I remembered something else Marshall said in his book, that if you just keep moving forward and don’t stop, you could find yourself in first. Well that wasn’t going to happen, but a good last loop was possible.

That right there is my race face

Lap 4: 1:27:06

At mile 39 Alaina ran ahead to get my bottle and final gels ready, so as I came through the start/finish line for the last time before the finish, I didn’t stop at all, just ran with my empty bottle and didn’t look back. I didn’t want to even consider the possibility of stopping. Alaina caught back up to me and handed off the bottle, gave me a kiss and wished me good luck along the way.

I think the accomplishment of reaching mile 40 was almost as good as the finish. Starting that final loop, when I was back to stable on fluids, good on nutrition, and into the final loop and final 10 miles of the whole race changed everything. It took almost an hour and a half, but I was back to having fun!

I listened to this All Songs Considered episode about the mid-70s NYC music scene and another with Valentine’s Day song dedications. Anyone that knows me knows the deep love I have for music and for people who love music. I could talk and listen to music for days on end, so having these uber-smart music guys talking in my ear and introducing me some new, some favorites was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Every mile became better than the last, with my IT band pain subsiding, replaced by NEW and EXCITING pains that were different than the last 5 hours. Hooray! The rain was hard and the trails muddy and lovely. No one was behind me and the next guy was way too far ahead to catch, so I settled into the experience of finishing my first 50 miler. I took in the smells of a warm wet forest, the sound of rain through the leaves, and bone jarring effect of all these miles on my body. It was fabulous.

The last song I heard from the NPR podcast was Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which brought me straight back to watching Alaina finish the 2010 Kona Ironman and spending our amazing honeymoon in Hawaii. I was there for her then, and she was here for me now, guiding me through the darkest hours and waiting for me at the finish line. I’m sure all the rain brought out my allergies because there were wells of tears in my eyes.

At mile 48 I allowed myself to peek at the overall time, and I realized that I was very close to not only breaking 8 hours, but breaking 7 hours if I really hustled. I started taking the downhills with reckless abandon, sprinting the uphills, and locking my mind into that sheer white light/white heat that Lou Reed epitomized on the Velvet Underground song. The pain all went away as I could hear the music of the finish line and the announcer saying there was a 50 mile runner around the corner. I saw the finish, crossed the line, and let my happiness overwhelm me!

Pure happiness
4th place overall, 1st in my AG, with a total time of 6:54. Way better than I’d hoped for and even more rewarding deep in my chest.

After the finish, I met up with other runners, congratulated Jon on a stellar race, and shared stories from the trail and cheered in Jason and Melanie when they crossed the finish line. What a great day! Can’t wait until the next race!

Showing off my hardware,er finisher's medal

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lilac Memories and Rituals

The Arb lunch run.  It has become a ritual.  Growing up Catholic, rituals are ingrained deep in my psyche.  I cling to them and am repulsed by them.  I love their sense of comfort and try to break them down.  Some of my favorite composers are the minimalists like Philip Glass, who intoxicates you with repetitive melodies and rhythms, so when he breaks the cycle even in the smallest way, it sounds monumental.

My Arb run is 1 mile through UM central campus to the entrance, and then 3 miles of single track trails with tons of steep, 50-100 foot climbs.  And now that everything is blooming, I can go there every single day and experience new smells and sights.  It's practically like running in a new place each time out.  A ritual I can consistently break down.

Today I ran by some lilacs that took me on a trip back to the Lilac Festival in Rochester that I went to frequently while growing up.  The Festival was right at the end of the school year, and my friends in our high school's jazz band would play the festival, so I'd skip my last few classes and go listen to them play.  After a long Rochester winter, the Lilac Fest was the signal that summer was about to begin and school about to end.  After they played, we'd wander through Highland Park in a cloud of lilac scent, wrapped up in the chase for girlfriends and some good laughs.  It's not often I have these memories of high school, but this one came on strong during today's run.

Highland Park lilacs in bloom

In other news, today I received this email from USAT, the governing body of triathlon.  Kinda cool.


"USA Triathlon would like to take a moment to congratulate you for your outstanding performance in 2011. All American status is earned by those who: have an active annual membership; compete in three sanctioned Triathlon events, or two sanctioned Duathlon, Aquathlon, Aquabike, or Off-Road triathlon events between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011; and are within the top 5% of their age group. You have met these high standards skillfully, and have been ranked as an All American."