Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bear Mountain Post Race Thoughts

Hindsight being 20/20, it's always interesting to look back and see what went right and what went wrong in a race. It's actually pretty important: I don't race 50 or 100 miles very often so I need to learn everything I can for those times when I do.

When looking back, it's important to remember the goals I had going into the race. My main goal was to finish while maintaining a good routine. I knew the course was challenging and time was immaterial. I had stated a hope for a 11:30 to 12:00 finish, but I had summoned that number out of thin air.

Nutrition: That went pretty good. I was on a one gel/one waffle per hour schedule and maintained that to the bitter end although getting those waffles in became harder as time went by. I had a close call after forgetting to drink for over an hour, but my flow meter saved my bacon and I was able to recover, although not without feeling pretty crappy for a couple of hours.

Effort: I simply could not risk not finishing this race. It would have scarred me mentally in my Leadville ramp up. I have to admit that I was a bit shaken by how close to the cut-off I was at that first hard-cut-off aid station at mile 20. Still, 20 minutes at mile 20 means 50 minutes at mile 50, which means I kept gaining 1 minute per mile on the cut-off. Had I been alone, I would have gone out faster. Steve kept telling me to cool it off a bit, especially on the climbs but also on some of the flats. He's usually the one freaking out about going faster (see Mohican, Grand Canyon reports), so when he told me to slow down, I listened although I did feel like I was over-reaching. Maybe he saved my race. Maybe I could have gone faster. I doesn't matter. I finished in fairly good shape, although shocked by how tough the course was.

Feet: I thought I was beyond losing toenails, especially on a 50 miler. Boy, was I wrong. Pain, and fear of pain, became my single biggest problem in the last 15 miles. I'm not too worried for now. First, that toenail is now gone so I'm good for the summer! Second, the trails at Leadville (and Laurel, I believe) are nowhere close to that technical, so I don't believe this is going to be an issue. That being said, I need to get better at running on technical terrain. Also, in hindsight, I should have run with my new pair of Crosslites. The old ones, those I wore, were a bit shriveled from previous mud and water action and the toebox felt a bit tighter. I'm also experimenting with the Vertical Ks, which have a much roomier toebox, but are less rugged.

Hills: I mention that separately from "effort", because  I'm making a special effort to improve my hills. I've never been very good at climbing. I had considered trying to run most hills, but given the fact that I really wanted to finish, I just couldn't risk it. That being said, I power hiked up most of them at a good clip and passed tons of people. I did get passed a few times on shallower grades by people running up. Maybe I could have run those, but again, didn't want to risk it. This time. Really happy with this though.

Downhill: I believe that running downhill on technical trails is my weakest skill. I struggled to keep up with runners that I had been catching up to on flats and uphills. On the downhills, I sometimes would lose ground. Nothing I can do except practice. Again, not a big issue for Leadville.

Conclusion: Bear Mountain was a big success. I do wish I could have run faster, but doing that would have jeopardized all my other, more important, goals. I now have a solid, challenging 50 miler in the bag. This gives me some options for the Laurel Highlands 70 miler, my next race. Depending on how hot it is, I might push it a bit to see how my stomach will react. The rocks won't be as much as an issue so this will be more about my fitness than my big toe. A DNF, if it happened for the right reasons, would not be a big issue for me.

This was an amazingly tough race for a 50 miler and I can't believe that, after swearing all day that I would NEVER do it again, I already plan to do just that. That never happens.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Race Report: TNF Bear Mountain 50 Miles Race

Here we go again. It's 5am, I slept a total of maybe 4 hours last night and I'm standing with a couple of hundred crazy people, waiting for the start of the TNF Bear Mountain 50 miler. I'm a bit nervous because this is basically my first race this year, at least my first ultra, and I'm starting my season with what is supposed to be one of the hardest 50 milers in the US. I'm sure some are harder, but the next 13 hours will prove that there is at least some truth to that statement.

Headlamps are mandatory, which I like because I'm sick and tired of losers(I first wrote assholes but some of my friends don't wear headlamps when the star in in total darkness and I don't want them to be mad at me) saying they don't need a headlamp and ride my (or other normal people's) coat tail and then don't have to be stuck with the friggin head lamp for 10 miles. Who do they think they're fooling? "I can see fine", they would say after pissing all over the porta-potty seat. What are you, a fucking cat? Anyway, everyone has a lamp and that makes me happy.

Someone on the PA system tells us how much fun we're going to have and then we start moving. Within minutes, we're moving up. I'm running with Steve B., who says he's not feeling 100% and thinks my pace would be perfect for him. He's a much stronger runner than me and I take that as a compliment. We're probably about 2/3 of the way back. Very quickly, rocks start to appear. Big rocks. Lots of them. It will only get worse all day. The weather is ok. It's foggy, so very humid and warm enough that I'm comfortable starting in a t-shirt. Makes things simple, but I quickly start sweating. I feel great. I forgot to bring a watch (doh!) so I'm using my Garmin Forerunner 305 in "inside" mode to keep track of time. 

We mostly climb for a long time. I eat a gel on the half hour and a Honey Stinger Waffle on the hour. The course is nice but you can't really look around without risking a face plant. There are big rocks, small rocks, loose rocks, little rocks sticking out and the other kinds too. I power hike up the climbs at a solid pace. Steve tells me that maybe I should cool it down a bit, so I turn it down a notch but we still tend to make up time on runners ahead of us. This means nothing at this point. I remember very little of the aid stations. I basically fill my bladder every other station and that's it. I have a potato wedge at one of them just because it's there looking at me. I drink about 300 to 400ml/hour, and my pee is nice and golden. Time flies and I'm having a great time. We do a little of Geoff Roes hating, because he said that there were no climbs longer than 3 minutes on the course. Are you fucking kidding me?

There is not a lot of flat, easy running. I don't know what our pace is but as pleased as I am with my race so far, we're not exactly setting a new land speed record. Still, we're passing people regularly so we feel good. After running for so long (over 5 hours now) and feeling so great, it's hard to believe that things will ever change. Sure I kicked a few rocks, but I still feel strong. Then we get to Skannatati aid station. All of a sudden, it seems like we're surrounded by crazy people. I guy behind us says this is the first hard cut off, at 10:47. It's around 10:30 (can't remember exactly). I'm a bit surprised, quite frankly. We've been running pretty solid and I did not expect to be so close to that cut off. Still we reload and leave. People are zooming past us for a while, scared shit-less by the cut off. It's 7 miles to the next station and I see this guy, soaked in sweat, stumble past us without any water bottles. What the fuck is he thinking? It's not Mohican or Burning River hot, but it's hot and humid enough to require drinking. This is where experience pays off, I think. We decide to change nothing. This is only mile 20. We know that the hard parts are coming. The course up until now has been challenging, but not epic. This means that what's ahead is bad and we need energy to handle it, so we look at those people pass us and shake our heads.

I'm still feeling ok but the mood has changed. That cut off thing has hung a cloud over our heads. Time flies. I'm not feeling as great as I was feeling just a short time ago. I hear Steve drink and it sounds like his bottle is empty. What? Didn't we just leave the aid station? I look at my flow meter and I've only drunk 100ml and it's probably been 90 minutes since that station. Fuck. I start to drink more, but not too much. The next couple of hours are the lowest point of the race. I have little energy. Starting to run after we have to get up a hill is a struggle. During a steep climb in this section I feel a bit light headed and I get a bit worried. Where's the fun now? What's the point of all this? Yaddi, yaddi, yadda... The usual. Slowly though, I force myself to drink and eat and I come back to life. I start pushing a bit more and it feels ok. I've been in front for a long time now. I look back and there's a small conga line riding us. I ask Steve to ask them if they want to pass and they say no. I keep going. Eventually, we make it to camp Lanowa, mile 27.7 (almost mile 29 on Steve's GPS) where our drop bags await.

I grab all my food from my drop bag and change my shirt. Even though a couple of my toes hurt, I decide against changing into my new shoes. I've never had much luck with shoe changes and this pair doesn't even have 10 miles on it so I decide to go with the devil I know. We're on our way back now. I feel fairly good, although once in a while I kick a rock and I have at least once toe on each foot that are starting to feel a bit tender. My big toe on the right side has that full feeling that tells me it's a goner. Oddly, the course keeps getting harder. I theory, we're going down now, but the uphills are either incredibly steep or covered in rocks that make climbing difficult. There's also quite a bit of mud on the trails and numerous streams to traverse. Many times, I come to a sudden stop only to have Steve crash into me asking gently "What the fuck are you doing?". "Jesus Christ", I would reply in a friendly voice, "we need to get over that motherfucking stream and I'm fucking trying to find a way that doesn't involve swimming". "Oh.", he would say. I used the word "fuck" at least 200 times during that race, mostly in the last 20 miles. We're really moving now though and really hit a solid pace. There are some fairly easy sections and my feet are happy.

We get into Anthony Wayne aid station, 10 miles to the finish, with something like 3:30 to finish, 2:30 to break 13 hours. Cake, we think. The aid stations are out of gels and Steve is bonking a bit. I offer him some of mine but he won't take it. We eat while walking out of the parking area, wondering why there would be 2 aid stations in a 10 miles stretch, and then start running. I can't remember anything until I step on the mat at Queensboro Rd, around 5 miles to the finish. I'm ready to be done now. The course is getting to me. If I never see a rock again, it will be too soon. We still think we can make 13 hours. That foolish thought won't last.

This section is the stuff nightmares are made of. They probably had prisoners from 50 states break rocks for the last 10 years and then dumped them on the fucking trail. There were rocks on the uphills, rocks on the downhills and rocks on the flats. All loose, about the size of a Kleenex box. When there's no rocks, wait ... there are ALWAYS rocks. Actually, we get to this trail that is nice and soft, EXCEPT IT'S AT A 45 DEGREES ANGLE and you have to run with a leg a foot higher than the other and your feet angled sideways. My ankles want to fucking explode. It's impossible to run on that. Then I think it starts going up. The surface is back to loose giant ankle bruiser rocks. We go up, and up, and up. All this shit is happening on a 2.5 miles section, for fuck sake. And we're not done. We go up some more and finally get to the top. We run a short distance and reach the gates of Hell itself. Hell is a downhill that looks to me like it's a mile long. It's steep. Very steep. Obviously, it's covered with rocks, with a stream meandering though the trail, for added fun. Every single one of those rocks has a picture of my big toe on it. I start to go down. I will spare you the details, but I nearly have a nervous breakdown going down. Eventually, I make it down and run on a small path which turn a bit. Then, IT STARTS ALL OVER AGAIN. Not quite as long, not quite as bad, but bad enough. Eventually I get to the real bottom and I catch up to Steve, who went down a bit faster. A short run and we're at the last aid station. It took us an ungodly amount of time to cover 2.5 miles.

Everybody tells us we're done, it's all easy from here on. "Really?". "Well... it's easier.". Fuck me!

We start down a road, eventually hit a trail. Good news: there are no rocks on that trail. Bad news: it's going straight down a giant 45 degree hill. I'm afraid that my quads are going to rip. My ass is sore. My eyes are scanning the ground desperately for hidden stubs that I bust my toes on. The trail follows a slight "S" pattern that makes fun of switchbacks, as to remind us that lesser courses would use switchbacks, but is is not that kind of race. With my toes crushed at the bottom of my toe-boxes, eye watering, I reach the bottom and dare to hope that my torture is over, that the course is ready to let me go. Steve and I agree that there an evil design, that whoever designed the course was probably drinking heavily and taking psycho-active drugs and went in a frenzy at the end, piling more and more crazy shit to crush our spirits.

For the last 15 miles, we also know with total certainty that although this race needed to be done, we will never come back to this mean, evil course. Fuck that! We now realize why our two friends who ran it last year and insisted this was a fantastic race, came up with lame-ass excuses and mysteriously couldn't come. They're just mean, not crazy.

Eventually, we do make it out of the bush. Yes there are last minute attempts to demoralize us but finally, we run through the tunnel, then the field, we see what I thought I would never see: the finish line. We finish in 13:17:13. Our other two friends, who have some kind of alien DNA finished way before us. Fuck them and the UFO they came on. Anyone who runs this course faster than 10 hours should be interrogated, and then dissected by homeland security. They are definitely not human. We all agree, even the aliens, that this course was just too crazy. Can they move their pinky?

After a good beer, a good shower, a good dinner and a bad night sleep, we start the drive back. Halfway 
home, we're discussing how much faster we're going to run this race next year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pre-race Jitters

I would be lying if I said that I'm not nervous about Saturday. All I have to do on Google now is press "B", and Google proposes "Bear Mountain NY Weather". I've been looking at the chances of rainfall for Saturday steadily climb from nearly 0% a few days ago to 70% as of 10 seconds ago. Rain sucks for two reasons: your feet get wet and it's hard to dress comfortably, especially because the temperature will climb from 10C to 24C. Taper is going ok, although I feel sluggish and tired. Well, that might be last night's beers with Chris.

I'm not sure I have a race plan. Run when I can, hike when I can't. Eat a gel on the half hour, a Honey Stinger Waffle on the hour, salt as required and drink plenty. Don't waste too much time at the aid stations. I will wear my old stinky Crosslites, since I'm not comfortable wearing the new ones after only one outing. They would probably be fine, but why risk it? Because of the course, I have no firm time goal. If you were to waterboard me and force me to make a prediction, I would probably say between 11:30 and 12:00. I pulled that number out of my ass, using a technique know as wishful thinking.

I can't say that I've been mentally stable this week. Not being able to run a 50k race prior to Bear Mountain has left me without a confidence builder. I'm going from a soul destroying 30K race in March to this. I've been looking at my training log extensively, trying to decide what makes me run well in ultras. If I'm totally honest with y'all (I've been watching Friday Night Lights), I feel like I haven't really improved since 2009, when I had most of my best races: first I broke 20 minutes on 5k in April, then my first 50 miler at Sulphur run with nice splits in 10:06, Niagara 50K run in 4:45 with perfectly even splits, and then a solid race at Creemore. After that, things went ok but not great, with maybe the exception of Susitna. I had a lot of fun, but I can't think of a race that I've been real happy with since then. Well, maybe that 15 miler in Phoenix last Winter, that was solid.

My point is that I'm a bit gun shy. I'm afraid to go too slow and not be happy with my race and I'm afraid to go too fast and blow up like I did at Sulphur in 2010. I'm pretty sure I learned something at that race though. I remember the effort level pretty clearly and I'll stay under that for sure. Doh.