Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mountain Masochist: Consistency

I was waiting until more photos from MMTR made their way online before I posted this, but that still hasn't happened.  Please send me any you have!

3 year and 21 ultras later and I know what kind of runner I am. I like to hunt, to chase. I like to follow from behind and then pick people off as I go. It's a boost every time you pass someone. I'm not used to being "fast." My first ultra, a flat 50 mile, took me almost 12 hours. I've learned to suffer well the past 3 years.

MMTR is an interesting race.  The course rewards preparation and planning and punishes you if you don't.  To race the course, you have to hit the climb from miles 22-29 hard, survive the loop, and then finish strong.  Trying to hammer on a long sustained climb like that, that early in 50-mile still seems very risky to me, but that is the advice Eric gave me so I did it anyway.  That climb comes after 22 VERY fast and rolling but runnable miles.  You can't start too slow or you'll lose time on the "easy" half of the course.  Start too fast and you won't have anything left for the "hard" half coming after the climb.  So running MMTR goes like this: start hard-ish, then run hard, then run harder until you finish.

Hour 1: 7.12 miles
Hour 2: 14.25 miles
Hour 3: 21.75 miles
Hour 4: 28 miles
Hour 5: 34.5 miles
Hour 6: 39.8 miles (the loop)
Hour 7: 45 miles (the hellacious last single track)
39 minutes: last 5 miles

I did not realize just how consistent those first few hours were until looking back as my splits on Movescount.  I can't start ultras much faster than I do, but apparently I don't slow down too much.  Looking at the file, I faltered on the loop.  My pace coming down Mount Pleasant in that leafy mess was 13'59" per mile.

I definitely cannot complain; only analyze. I had a 17 minute 50-mile PR on a slower course than my last PR from two months ago, which itself was already a 62-minute PR.  Breakthroughs on breakthroughs.  I hope I keep it rolling into the Crooked Road 24-hour on November 23-24, my last race this year.

The narrative:
I'll say this: my foot hurt quite a bit on every downhill from about mile 7 onward. Two days later and I'm still not sure what was/is wrong with it.  Now that aside...I cruised pretty easy all the way to the reservoir, thought to myself, "time for the fun," took my first of many caffeinated gels and motored to the top of Buck Mountain.  I passed Sam Dangc, Frank the tank, and Jordan Whitlock running together in the 3 miles between the Long Mountain aid station and the top of Buck Mountain.  Talking to Jordan Whitlock after the race, he told me he thought I was just out for a run when I passed them here because I looked so fresh.  When I paused to fill my water at the aid station at the top of Buck Mountain, mile 29, the very familiar worker told me that 6th place was just a minute ahead. I blurted out "Oh shit." I was actually a little shocked.  This was the first time someone had told me my place all day long and I never expected to be in 7th place at MMTR, let alone this early into the race. I caught up to 6th not long after Buck Mountain and kept rolling up down and up to the loop, making use of the climbs to take some of the force off my foot.

Time to survive the loop. I was becoming a bit of a bumbling idiot at this point, mainly from having trouble getting down gels.  A quick bottle swap with my flawless crew of Rudy and Wyatt, and I was off. I did pretty well until the Mt. Pleasant turnaround,  then had to fight all the rest of the way around the loop.  I got lucky and slowing so much through here let me actually get two full gels down, providing the sugar to get me through the next hour at least.  I came out of the loop in a stupor.  I was out of it and walked straight into the gate leading to the aid station I left over an hour ago.
A cup of rocket fuel (or maybe it was mountain dew) sent me on my way. Liquid calories are liquid gold late in a race. I hoped I could still force down a gel or two in the remaining twelve miles. 

My crew drove past me along this stretch which was a nice boost and got me moving a little quicker to mile 42 where I would see them again.  I was actually saddened when I heard I wouldn't see them again after that to the finish, knowing how slow the next 4 trail miles would be.  I grunted a long, pleased to hike some on the short but steep uber leafy climbs, which allowed me to get down my last calories of the race.  I hit the top after the sketchy camper ( if you've run MMTR you know what I'm referring to).  With a deep sigh of relief I leaned forward to start the descent to the finish, hoping for the best with my foot and lack of calories.

Things worked out that I had enough ground on 7th to coast that last descent without any worry.  I was thrilled to cross the finish line and even more excited for a quesadilla on the couches.  Mountain Masochist is a very special race.  Lots of aid to encourage traveling light is coupled with a course that either rewards proper preparation or beats you into the ground for not respecting it.  I hope I can keep coming back to this one for years to come.

The Virginia Tech Ultrarunning Team got 4 guys in the top-16, two of whom were running their first 50 Miler.  These guys are going to do big things the next few years; I look forward to following their progress after I'm gone.

Quaker Cherry Pistachio Oatmeal for breakfast.
~14 gels and some Mountain Dew during

our awesome Patagonia jersey tops
PI Ultra shorts (great pockets)
Drymax hyper-thin socks
Nike Lunaracers  (honestly the best ultra shoe I've worn)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Iron Mountain...better late than never

I wrote this after the race and apparently never posted it so it might need some editing...
After that four week block of great training, I was really stoked for Iron Mountain.  I wasn't planning to race, especially with the one week taper I did, but I wanted to run harder than what I thought was a 50 mile pace.  I wanted to test out my fitness.  That's what 50 milers are for in a 100 mile build-up right?  Well, I definitely proved to myself how hard I can run.

I took the sage wisdom of Eric Grossman, the man who knows that course better than anyone, and started easy.  A few people noted surprise that I was "only" running 8:20 miles on the 4 Creeper Trail introduction to the race. It felt right though. Turning up the climb from to the ridgeline and the Iron Mountain Trail, I turned on some Avett Brothers to mellow myself and talked with people as I passed them.  I kept myself reeled in all the way through Hurricane Gap 1 (Mile 22), passing people but hiking even a few easier grades just to keep the effort low.  In and out of Hurricane gap, downing two ibuprofen, I started rolling.  The course from her nets downhill, with some rolling along the way, for the next seven miles.  I carried the leg turnover I got on the first three mile descent across the single track Bartram Trail and all the way around to mile 29, the bottom of Rowland Falls, the biggest climb of the day.  At that aid station I did a cup of coke and a cup of mountain dew and was on my way.  Looking back, doing two cups of fluid and then immediately continuing to nip on my bottle should have been a clue to drink more.  I caught up to Jordan Chang, my friend, boss, physiotherapist, and all-around badass, along with Brian Pickett who was having a rough day.  Jordan joked that he'd been rabbiting me all day.  Apparently I was always 30 seconds to a minute back of him, though I never noticed until that climb.  I left them after I'd sucked down a gel and started running up the doubletrack into Hurricane Gap 2 (mile 33).   Brian followed my all the way up and left immediately before me.  However, a bad stomach held him back and i ran up the service road all the way to the high point of the course and started the long descent back to Damascus and the finish.  As soon as I hit the single track into Skulls Gap 2, I started flying.  I thought to myself several times "Is this seriously a 50 mile pace?"  I knew it was fast, but my system didn't feel taxed.  Skulls Gap 2 is a long aid station stop for me, grabbing gels from my drop bag and drinking a couple cups of water at the aid station.  Ann, the RD's wife, was working this aid station and told me Frank "The Tank" Gonzalez was only five minutes up.  13 miles of rolling descent to go.  Time to get going! 

I took off HARD.  And then I cramped.  My recorded pace for the last 13 was fast, but my running pace was even faster.  I likely lost 3-4 minutes into the final aid station and another 3-4 minutes from there to the finish from stopping to stretch and work out my cramps in my hamstrings.  Anytime the trail was flat I cramped.  Uphills and I could shift the work into my quads or glutes.  Downhill and my quads took the abuse.  But on those long flat sections, I cramped.  That should have been a bigger warning sign.  At the last aid station, Tammy, trail mom extraordinaire, told me I had four minutes to Frank, who was having a rough day.  Hm, maybe if he blows up.  This last stretch of trail is gnarly by any definition, and I knew Frank had never run it. I hung out enough to drink some water and get in some salty watermelon.  As soon as I climbed out of that gap though, the lightning storms came.  The trail turned into a flowing stream, through which I could not see rocks beneath my feet.  For a few sections of trail, I might as well have been running at night for how dark the sky became.  For a couple lightning strikes, I had a one second count to the thunderclap.  Exciting way to finish right? I blasted down 'mock holler'--the trail that isn't really a trail anymore and cruised into the finish for a Horton handshake. 7:56.
Horton handshake
Now for the slightly more graphic part.  Interestingly,  I did not feel spent at the finish.  I was glad to be done, but I really only felt slightly more worked than I normally do after these things.  I attributed it to the increased pace and wrote it off.  A delicious hamburger, a bottle of recovery drink, and a couple bottles of water later I felt that familiar sensation of my body coming down from the effort.  I headed to the toilets near the finish and after I few minutes of forcing it, I manage to pee a little bit what looked to be straight blood.  It wasn't that dehydrated dark-brown--it was dark red.  TIME TO GO GUYS.  I left, muttered something to the rest of the team about going to the hospital, and got in my mom's car for an evening at urgent care.  I was diagnosed (I actually think falsely) with Rhabdomyolysis. Maybe I got rhabdo with the lowest CPK value (964) I've been able to find, maybe the mere 800 mg of ibuprofen I took during the race seriously compromised my kidneys, or maybe it was something else.  Either way, a bag of saline and 5 bottles of water got things churning again, barely enough to be discharged Saturday night.  It is now the Thursday after the race, and I've run twice; and easy 4 and an easy 7.5 the past couple days.   Right now, I feel like I should feel that Tuesday after a race.  Skipping out on protein for a full day after a race is not a good muscular recovery plan, even if it was what my kidneys needed.