Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vermont 100 Race Report

This is my coach "helping" me the night before the race.

As coach Jack was pouring another cup of Tequila for me the thought just barely entered my mind that it might not be a good idea to drink this much 8 hours before the start of my second 100 mile race of the year.  I usually completely stop or severely cut back on my drinking in the weeks leading up to a race.  What I discovered at Western States was that a few beers the night before a race helps me get a good nights sleep.  I guess I took that idea a little bit to far as I was now 4 hard ciders and two shots of Tequila deep.  Once more shot of Southern Comfort and I was guaranteed a goods night sleep.  Amy warned me.  She even tried to stop me.

Me, Ron and Joe talking shoes.

I woke up around midnight to find my air mattress had deflated and I was now on the ground.  Amy woke up and insisted that I swap with her.  After that I just could not get back to sleep.  I gave up at 2:30 and started to get ready for the 4:00 start.  I was dizzy and realized that I still had a buzz.  I'm an idiot.
Altrokas? Hokaltras?

I put on my new Altra/Hoka hybrid shoes and wondered if I was doing a smart thing.  This invention of mine involved cutting a pair of Hoka soles off their uppers and attaching them to a pair of Altra Instincts.  I will be doing a more complete blog post shortly explaining why and how I did this. They felt great, but I would shortly learn that it was a dumb decision.  I checked in and waited for the start to go off.   At exactly 4am we were off.  As I headed down the road I concentrated on not getting sucked up with the leaders.  Even so, I found myself in the lead group of about 15 or so runners.  I made sure to stay within my comfortable pace and was happy that I felt ok. 

Amy and I at the start.

In the week leading up to the race I was a mess.  My hamstrings were sore and I was completely confused about my strategy for this race.  Early in the year coach asked me what my goals were for this year.  One of my goals was to finally break 20 hours in a 100 miler.  I knew that Vermont was realistically the only place where I would have a chance to do that.  What I didn't know is how my body would hold up after running Western States only three weeks ago.

Like I did at Western States, I tucked my voice recorder into the pocket on my bottle holder.  As the race wore on I took it out and recorded my thoughts.  This race report is a combination of those recordings and the notes my crew took at the aid stations.  Speaking of crew, my crew was incredible.  The is the third time Amy and Barry have crewed me together.  They are perfect.  They work well together and always are able to get me exactly what I need at each stop.  I can't imagine doing this race without them.

Complaining to coach Jack at mile 21

The first time I saw my crew was at mile 21.1, the "Pretty House" station.  I was not in good shape.  For the preceding few miles I was feeling terrible.  My hamstrings were killing me, I had no energy and I had no strength.  It didn't seem related to my pace.  I just was beat.  Perhaps this is what it feels like to do one of these races without recovering from one three weeks ago.  Or perhaps it was the result of the squishy soles of my shoes sucking the life out of my muscles.  I had no way of knowing which it was.  The one thing that had me seriously concerned was that I was already starting to get blisters.  I was trying to figure out how I was going to deal with increasing blister pain for another 80 miles.

The doubts that were filling my mind were soul crushing.  For the first time since I made this commitment I considered quitting.  I just didn't see how I was going to keep going.  I thought about giving up on the entire "Potentially Painful Summer", giving up on writing the book, giving up on the blog.  I thought about how I was going to deal with the failure of not completing it.  Then, I decided to readjust and just simply stop worrying.  I was going through a rough patch that I didn't know if I could pull out of, but I was still moving and I decided that I would keep moving no matter what. The only way I was stopping was if I missed the cutoffs. 

Horses racing at the same time make for a great distraction

The thought of missing the cutoffs at mile 21 was ridiculous.  I had gone 21 miles in 3 hours 15 minutes.  I was by no means going slow, I was just hurting.  I decided it was time to just be in the moment and enjoy myself.

I hit the marathon mark at around 4.5 hours.  I realized that today was going to be about learning to be patient.  Something that I am not.  I still had no strength, my hamstrings were killing me, my glutes were killing me and everybody was cruising by me on the uphills.  I stated in my voice recorder that I would just see what happened and let the race come to me.  In the meantime I tried to smile and keep going.  The funny thing is that I wasn't miserable.  I was eating well, my stomach never bothered me and I was actually averaging 5 miles an hour, which just so happens to be 20 hour pace. 

Mile 30 came at 5 hours 20 minutes.  I was now finally starting to feel better.  My mood was way better and I was really running the downhills well.  At the Stage Road Aid station Amy rolled ice into my bandanna and put it around my neck.  It was getting really hot and the ice felt awesome.

My wife Amy is the best!

Mile 40 hit exactly 7 hours into the race.  My energy was "extra medium".  I took a Tylenol because I was having shooting pains in my hamstrings and the blisters were starting to really hurt.  Both my pinkie toes were blistered under the bottoms and the tips and the outside of my big toes had them too.  It was now very hot, but luckily it wasn't that humid.  I was putting ice into my hat every chance I could and I was dealing with it ok.

First round of blister repair at mile 47

Since I had given up on trying to break 20 hours I decided to change socks and fix my blisters when I rolled into Camp 10 Bear at mile 47.2.  I took a 10 minute stop here and lanced and re taped my blisters.  I drank a boost, took a Vespa and ate a turkey, cheese and avocado wrap.  I also made the decision to switch back to a standard pair of Altra Instinct shoes.  I was wondering if the Hoka Soles on my modified shoes were using up more energy than necessary.  I was pretty sure that the squishiness of the bottoms was causing unnecessary movement of my feet inside the shoe and that was causing the blisters.  I figured that the trade off of having less cushion vs. the blisters getting worse was a good choice.

Altra Instincts - Zero drop + wide toebox = awesome shoe

As soon as I left the aid station and the sting of the popped blisters numbed I realized that I had made a good choice.  My stride felt quicker, lighter and needed less energy. I still felt like I wasn't moving that quickly, but I sure did feel better about how I was moving.  At a little less than 11 hours I did a three minute stop at the Tracer Brook aid station, mile 57.  I got food and quickly headed out for the quick section to Margaritaville, which I pulled into a little over an hour later.  It was now 4:06 in the afternoon and it was starting to cool off a bit.  Now it was perfectly warm, but not hot. 

More ice in the Bandana

At Margaritaville (yes, they actually serve margaritas if you want one) I decided to take off my shirt and get rid of one of my bottles.  I also ditched the fanny pack.  From this point in the race we see our crews more often so I didn't need to carry all this crap.  For the first time in a 100 I felt stripped down and light.  This is how I run as much of my training runs as I can.  I don't know if I was just in a weird place mentally, but I felt like an animal.  I felt primal.  I felt connected to the earth that I was running on.  I was positively ecstatic to be running and in love with running for the first time that day.  Sure, my blisters were getting worse and every time I stepped on a rock it hurt, but I seemed to be able to rise above all that.  It didn't seem to matter.  It was beautiful.

I pulled into Camp 10 Bear 2 (mile 70.1) at 5:40pm.  I had my crew find medical to see if somebody could help with my blisters.  I wish I got the name of the man that helped me, because he was awesome.   Awesome in a "I'm going to cut open both of your toes, squeezes out all the fluid, put alcohol on them and squeeze them again when I tape them" sort of way.  Bottom line...it hurt like hell.  Barry didn't know if he should be taking pictures because I was in so much pain, but Amy told him to make sure that he did. 

I don't know what hurt worse.  The treating of the blisters, or putting my socks and shoes back on.  Either way, I hobbled out of there after taking 25 minutes to get fixed.  I was hoping that I could just complete the last 30 miles with as little discomfort as possible and if it took a 25 minute stop to achieve that then so be it.


By the time I got to the Spirit of 76 at mile 77 I was feeling great.  My blisters still hurt of course, but it was the type of pain that I was able to manage.  Of course, now that my blisters were under control a new foe had reared its ugly head.  Chafe.  I...hate...chafing.  For those of you that don't know what it is, let me explain it to you.  Do you know that elastic string that is inside your running shorts surrounding the liner?  If your not a runner, its just like what is in a bathing suit.  Well, on a hot day when you are sweating out all the salt that you are taking to prevent cramping, that liner gets wet.  And its wet for a long time. And it rubs.  And rubs.  And rubs.  Eventually the skin right at that point gets rubbed raw.  The worst part is you usually don't feel it until it is to late.  By that time it feels like you have razor blades in your shorts. 

Me and Jack at mile 77

Luckily at this station Amy had a towel, which I used to clean the area(s) and then used body glide to lube it up.  Amy put a tiny little body glide into the pocket in my shorts so I could deal with it on the trail.  Again, this is why having a well prepared crew is golden.  I was also chafing under my left armpit which was a new experience for me. 

Bodyglide is a Godsend

Eventually I made my way to the aid station at mile 83 before I had to turn on my headlight.  I was feeling good and dealing with the never ending climbs that they throw at you over the last 30 miles.  I realized here that the taping job done on my toes might have saved the entire race for me.  I thought about how I was gaining experience doing these races and learning so much every time.  I completely gave up on my goal of going under 20 hours, but did the math and thought that I might be able to get in under 21 hours if I kept moving at the same pace.  I was careful not to put to much pressure on myself as I didn't want to ruin this beautiful full moon night.

I got to Bills Barn, the last medical check, at 10:05pm.  I was up 2 pounds from my starting weight and mentally clear.  Since I gave up on my 20 hour goal I decided to have a leisurely stop and eat.  My crew had hot soup for me and I took a full 10 minutes here eating and taking a short rest.  Man, I didn't want to get out of that chair! 

Late night dinner at Bills Barn

The rest of the race has a LOT of steep, long climbs.  I put my head down and went to work.  As I pounded my way through the last 10 miles alone (I have stopped using a pacer so I can concentrate on my run and I love it) I really thought a lot about how fortunate I am.  I really thought about Barry and Amy crewing me.  They had been up as long as I was and their sole focus was to take care of me.  It is so humbling to have them that dedicated to my success. 

Me, Joe Holland and Amy at mile 95.5

I hit the last crew aid station, Polly's (mile 95.5) at 11:50pm where I saw my friend Joe Holland.  Joe had paced me in 2009 and was awesome.  Seeing him here was great as I had been thinking about him getting me through it the last time.  I ended up having a great conversation with a runner with an Australian accent for the last miles.  We decided together that we were going to try to make it in under 21 hours, but those last steep long hills were really slowing down our pace. 

Over the last mile or so we ran into lots of company, including two horses.  We kept see-sawing with the horses and in the last .5 mile I got a burst of energy.  I passed the two horses, accidentally spooking one of them.  I apologized as I ran by and put my head down and sprinted for the finish.  With a time of 20:52:13 I finished in 28th place. 

Whew, done!
It is 5 days later and I still can't believe that I went from feeling like I wanted to quit at mile 21 to finishing so high up.  I learned a lot out there and I can't wait to see what happens at the Leadville 100 in 4 weeks.

Thanks again to Amy, Barry, Coach Jack Pilla, Joe Carera, Blister Fixer Man and Ron A. for all the support.  Your all incredible people.

Sub 24-Hour Buckle number two for the year!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Western States recovery and Vermont 100 preview

It has been two weeks since I finished the Western States 100.  My recovery has gone very well, even though I am still tired.  The week following the race I ran only 29 miles and this week I put in 45.  My running streak is still alive.  I actually was able to start running the day after finishing the race and have been able to stay injury free enough to run every day since.  As of today my streak stands at 195 days and 2118 miles.

Since I have never run more than one 100 mile race a year I have found myself in no-mans land as far as anticipating how to handle the 3 weeks in between these races.  Coach Jack laid out a program for me that called for very easy running the first week, more miles including a few specific work outs this week, and then a very light week next week before the race.  I have no idea how ready I am. 

The last few days I have found myself looking forward to my daily run, so that's a good sign that I'm healing up.  But today I ran 16 miles and found myself very stiff and sore as early as mile 12. 

I have also been tormenting myself trying to figure out what shoes I'm going to wear at VT.  The course is 70% hard packed dirt roads which might as well be pavement.  I am torn between the fantastic fit of the Altras that I wore at WS vs. trying to use my Hoka Combi XT's with the Herman Munster protective sole.  The Altras fit way better, but they are way firm and I'm afraid of what that will do to my feet later in the race.  The Hokas are way more cushy, but they don't fit nearly as well and are very warm.

Today, in an effort to try to figure out what to do, I wore my Hokas.  If I do wear them I plan on taping my toes and feet to see if I can compensate for the less than perfect fit.  Last night I took a while and taped my feet using Kinesio tape.  Here is what they look like.

I did the two feet different ways in order to see which way would feel better.  The left foot I taped the entire toe then trimmed off the excess on top.  The right foot I used narrower tape and left the tops of the toes exposed.  I used one 2" wide strip on the bottom of my feet to see how I might prevent some of the deep blisters that I get in the folds of my feet long into a 100 mile race.  Then I put on my Drymax Trail socks and Hokas to see how it all worked together.

This all WAY overkill for a 16 mile run, but I just wanted to test ride the complete setup to see how it felt.  I also made sure to try to duplicate the course as closely as possible, so I set out on the hilly dirt back roads to simulate VT.  Here are a couple of pics.

Nice dirt roads

Weird looking Turkeys

Overall, the shoes worked well as did my taping job.  I did get a little bit of weirdness in the back of my right foot near the end.  I don't think I'm used to all that squishyness.  So, I'm torn what to do.  At this point it looks like I'll start with my tried and true Altra Instincts and then swap to the Hokas if my feet get really sore.

One of the goals that I set for myself for this year was to break 20 hours in a 100 mile race.  This was before I decided to do the Potentially Painful Summer.  I can't help but look to VT to be the only realistic place to try to accomplish this goal.  If I am healed up enough I'm going for it.  If I fall apart, then that's ok.  My next goal is to try to get a sub 24 hour buckle at each of the races.  I've done VT twice and both times got that buckle.  But I have never done it three weeks after a 100 mile race.

None of that stuff really matters when I go back to the purpose of taking on such a big challenge.  My goal is to document the process of trying to do something that you don't know if you can accomplish.  I am really looking forward to whatever next weeks adventure brings.