The Nanny Goat rocks.

Yeah, so it’s not a particularly clever title, but I feel like the race and our approach was interesting enough.

Upon moving to CA in 2015, I fell in with a pretty tough running crew.  These dudes like to run really long distances and drink really long numbers of beers.  But these aren’t things they do consecutively, but things they do simultaneously.  So we’ve all heard about the hashers and most runners at some point will have a story or two about singing, drinking, getting lost, bragging about rugby greatness and general hooligan-ness in that direction.  But let me tell you that the Harriers have nothing on this new crew.

So the Nanny Goat is a pretty normal race (as far as races for crazy people go).  It takes place on a mile-ish track around a farm in dusty, hot Riverside.  There are lots of different distances / times, but I signed up for the 24 hour race.  I had very low expectations due to a lack of training, motivation and, well we’ll get to the third point in just a moment.  But I was pretty psyched when I arrived at the race bright and early with cool and clear weather in store for the day.  Hadn’t done a big distance in a while but was pretty excited to see what I could do.

One of the interesting things as we kicked off the race was the carnival-like atmosphere.  While there were very talented runners in attendance, there were many, many runners who were clearly there to have fun and enjoy the day.  Lots of crazy get ups and several people even drinking beers early in the morning and with 24 hours of racing ahead.  The goons I was running with were not just members of this group, but their leaders.

Everybody was in pink.  Our leader was not just in pink, but a pink tutu.  Lots of cowboy hats.  Hollering and singing.   Oh, did I mention the beer?

My group has a unique approach to scoring this race.  You get one point per mile.  That’s pretty normal.  Less standard, however, is the 2 points per beer consumed during the race.  There was much discussion about the best strategy to “win” given the disparate rewards of running vs. drinking.  But, if no military strategy survives first contact with the enemy, I’d say that no running strategy survives contact with the first Budweiser.

My plan was pretty simple and mostly well executed.  1.  Run really slowly.  2. Drink one beer per hour.  I figure this way I’ll have the juice to run for the long haul, plus I’d get my points for the beers without getting drunk.  And I’d have to say this worked really well.  Throughout the day I ran and walked well ahead of a 15 minute pace and consumed about a bear an hour.  12 hours in I had done more than 50 miles and consumed 12 beers.  But then I got cocky (or maybe drunk).  After about 10 PM I started feeling really good and was possibly egged on by a bad-decision driving buzz.  I felt so good that I started hauling ass.  Hauling ass at this point meant like 12 minute miles, but still, it felt fast to me.  Thus by about 2 I ran out of juice and decided that it was more important to get a bit of rest and live to fight another day than to slog out another seemingly endless 6 hours.

I did however manage to wake up bright and early, do one victory lap with my buddy Mark and one final celebration beer.  Final count:  75 miles, 15 beers and one beautiful victory.  Until next year Nanny Goat.

 

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Let’s take all of the fun out of it:  Metabolic Efficiency Training

Fundamentally I have two core tenets about my running:  1) it should be fun and 2) it should allow me to eat double bacon cheeseburgers as often as I want.  Given these basic precepts, it is a bit bizarre that I’ve decided to pursue Metabolic Efficiency in an attempt to improve performance.

Running reward

The reason to run

Quick background for those new to the blog:  I’ve run 10+ marathons and more recently have transitioned to ultras, including a 100k a few months ago.  I’ve decided to train for a 100 miler with a goal of a ~24 hour finish – very challenging but not a reach based on existing training and performance.

Oh, and more background – I read too much and overthink everything.

So as I wandered down the wormhole of google: ultra training plans I came upon the concept of Metabolic Efficiency Training (MET).  Before we go any further let’s just acknowledge that I am not a doctor, scientist or even a particularly smart person.  I’ll recount what I’ve learned to the best of my ability, but go read some informative articles or listen to some good podcasts if you want to get all learned and detailed.

The basic idea is this:

Your body can store ~2,000 calories in carbohydrates in your liver and muscles.  The typical human has around 80,000 calories in fat.  Your body loves to burn carbs and has a really hard time burning fat.  Given the choice, and especially during harder efforts (e.g., anaerobic) you will go through those 2,000 carb calories very quickly.  Since your body is not very good at burning fat, you tend to bonk when you run out of carbs and maintain a hard effort.

During a marathon you can expect to burn ~3,000 calories.  The prevailing paradigm is to stuff yourself full of carbs in order to top up your 2,000 calorie carb. storage and make it through the race.  Carb-load, eat bars before the race, drink Gatorade and eat GUs during the run.  So much of our attention around races is focused on getting enough carbs to get through the day.  Now imagine a 100 miler where you are likely to burn 10,000+ calories.  Since it’s impossible to get this many carbs into your body, one strategy is to train your body to burn fat instead of carbs.

Hence, Metabolic Efficiency Training.

There are two aspects to the training, the first and more complicated of which being the diet.  The goal of the diet is to avoid producing insulin, which causes your body to burn carbs.  This basically means that you have to follow a diabetic’s diet, eating only foods low on the glycemic index.  So all starches have to go, but especially processed starches.  No rice, pasta, bread, potatoes.  Most fruits are out.  No milk (though for some reason cheese is okay).  No sugar.  After a few weeks you can roll this back a bit and start eating whole grains so long as they are accompanied by fat (think whole grain corn tortillas dipped in guacamole).

Nope

Nope

So while this is not technically a low carb diet, it will obviously reduce your carb intake pretty dramatically.  And that’s where training modification comes in.  In order to train your body to burn fat instead of carbs, you have to reduce the intensity of training.  You want to stay in the fat burning zone, which means lots of slow miles.

Dr. Phil Maffetone, the guru of this approach, has created the 180 Formula to determine how quickly you can run while staying in your fat burning zone.  The basic formula is 180 – your age + a number assigned based on your fitness level.  When I plug in the numbers I get 149.  That means that I have to do all of my training slowly enough so that my heart rate never gets above 149.

With my cool new running watch and heart rate monitor I’m tracking this very closely and…have found out that it’s very hard for me to run at all with a heart rate below 149.  I’m used to doing a pretty easy 8 minute pace on my runs, but am now running slower than 9 minute miles in order to stay in the sweet spot.  This makes running a bit of a chore.  It takes a lot longer and feels a lot less fun.

However, all is not lost.  Running hard and getting your heart rate really high trains your body to extend the amount of time you can run anaerobically.  Conversely, running aerobically over long periods increases the speed at which you can run aerobically.  That means that over time I’ll be able to increase my pace and maintain a low heart rate.  So maybe I’m doing 9:30 miles at a 149 heart rate today, but tomorrow I’ll be at 9:00 minute miles with the same heart rate.

When you think about it, this approach makes sense.  During an ultra you spend the great majority of the race in the aerobic zone.  So why are we spending so much time with anaerobic training?  It makes sense that the goal of our training should be about increasing our ability to burn fat, stay in our aerobic zone and log lots and lots of slow miles.  As my fitness improves I’ll be able to increase my aerobic pace and thus, over time, log lots and lots of less slow miles.

The good news is that you don’t have to do this forever.  After building a base, your body will learn to burn more fat and you can slowly work more starches, etc. in to your diet without undoing all of your good work.  You can also incorporate more speed and strength training into your workouts while still burning mostly fat.

My current plan is to build a base for two months using the MET training method.  After that I’ll do training more specific to my actual race, including lots of hills, strength training and some speed work.

Not me

Not me

Wow, that was a long-winded explanation.  True, but it’s a hard concept and if I’m going to dedicate months to this training technique, writing about it for a few hundred words doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

In my next post I’ll give you an update on how the MET method is working.

The world’s best races – as arbitrarily selected by me

On the comedown from last week’s Razorback Endurance Race, I’ve find myself obsessively planning the next big run. Given the reduced mileage during recovery what else would one do?

This is always a fun process for me, starting with the aspirational (yeah, Badwater seems like a good idea) and finally settling on something that actually meshes with my geography, timing and capabilities.

But as I was clicking through the Internets I got so excited about so many races that I figured I’d pass along some of my personal dream runs. Note: This list is pretty stupid. It is totally lacking in insight (you already know about all of these and you also already know that they are awesome) and rigor (I picked randomly and my list will change tomorrow). Still, it’s fun to think through some of the coolest runs you can possibly do.  (Most pictures courtesy of The Internet)

  • 4 Deserts race series – This is too crazy to even contemplate. As highlighted in the awesome Desert Runners (free on Netflix!) the insane freaks who run these races do 150 miles over 5 days in some of the most challenging terrain in the world. The sheer accomplishment is mindboggling but this isn’t for normal people. This is for true masochists who want to spend thousands of dollars to torture themselves in new and bizarre ways. Still…

    "The Final Desert"

    “The Final Desert”

  • Western States – So I’ll obviously never get to run Western States, nor should I be allowed to. This is where the most hard core runners in the US get together to decide who’s really the best. I’m obsessed with this race mainly because it’s where modern trail ultra running was invented in an amazing story highlighting inspiration, perseverance and idiocy. If you don’t know the account of how a cross-country horse race became the World Series of endurance running, read up

    Western States

    Western States

  • Berlin Marathon – So this is a pretty plain vanilla big city European marathon. So why am I so desperate to run it? Well, Berlin is freaking awesome. Location, history, architecture and people make this a great place to spend some time. As importantly, the race takes place during Oktoberfest, making a 10 day trip with a marathon, hiking in the German alps and drinking aggressively in Munich a totally reasonable thing to do. A thing I must do…

    Berlin

    Berlin

  • Relays – I’ve written about the Bourbon Challenge elsewhere, but there are so many options on this one. The Ragnar series seems pretty good. Hood to Coast has the most street cred here, having basically invented the category 34 years ago. An awesome race with top flight runners, this just seems like a great way to spend the day running and commiserating with a bunch of friends

    Hood to Coast

    Hood to Coast

  • NYC marathon – I love the race, if not the organizers. They’ve done a bunch of dumb things over the years, obviously culminating in the Hurricane Sandy nonsense. Having said that, the race itself is great, largely because of the incredible crowd support and spirit. It’s hard as hell to get in via the lottery, but if you’re willing to raise money or run the stupid NYRR series of races designed to line the organization’s pockets, then the race is a fit reward for your efforts.

    Runners and supporters celebrate NYC marathon finish

    Runners and supporters celebrate NYC marathon finish

  • City2Surf – If you happen to be in Australia in August, this 8.7 mile run from downtown Sydney to the beach at Bondi is a great way to spend the day. I love these events that attract massive local support and 80,000 runners line up every year. Since only a very few are taking this race particularly seriously, it feels like a street party as much as a racecity2s
  • Leadville – As detailed in Born to Run and countless articles. While the altitude and elevation changes make this race absolutely brutal, it’s the tight cutoff times that really distinguish it. Most of us can finish an ultra and, given enough time, even one of the true monsters. But finishing Leadville means finishing fast. Wearing one of these belt buckles around really means something. Some of the hardcore out there are saying that Leadville is no longer what it was but that doesn’t mean it’s not still an amazing race and a huge achievement

    Leadville

    Leadville

  • Comrades marathon – It’s pretty bold to call yourself, “The World’s Greatest Ultra Marathon” but who am I to argue? 18,000 people sign up every year to run 56 miles in South Africa. That is so much larger than the biggest US ultras that it boggles the mind. Another cool flourish is that the course switches direction each year so you get to choose if you want to run the uphill or downhill version based on what year you sign upOkhalamba ADP - Comrades Race Day
  • Badwater – They call themselves the world’s hardest footrace and that sounds about right. Extreme temperatures in Death Valley and an extreme climb towards the end of the race (also, they don’t pussyfoot around with 100 miles – this is 135) make this pretty crazy. Running on the Sun highlights the insane dedication that goes into competing in something like this

    Badwater

    Badwater

  • Jersey marathon – no, not that Jersey. Mainly on the list because the Marathon Globetrotters (of which I am proudly a provisional member) are having their annual meeting there this year and I’m trying to convince Awesome Wife Kelly that it’s totally worth flying for a day to run a race on a tiny island we hadn’t previously known existed. There’s a chance

    Not THAT Jersey

    Not THAT Jersey

  • Razorback Endurance Run – Okay, only because I just ran it. But still, pretty freaking awesome

    Razorback sunset

    Razorback sunset

The Razorback Endurance Race: Amazing race – but no pigs

As I’d mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve been ramping up for the Razorback Endurance Race (by ramping up, I mean doing one long run after my last marathon and then extending my taper into the race. So actually, what’s the opposite of ramping up?). And as I’d hinted at in the dramatic, climactic cliff-hanger at the end of my last blog post, I decided to up my distance from 50 miles to 100k. There were various reasons for this and I’ll quick hit them now:

Pros for 100k vs. 50 miles

  • I mean, it’s only another 10 miles. Who can’t run another 10 miles?
  • I’d already run 52.5 at last year’s 24 hour run for Cancer. Why do another ultra that covers less mileage than what I did last year? Onward and upward people
  • Running 100k let’s you talk in metric. Talking in metric makes you sound like a serious person
  • The belt buckle

    The Belt Buckle

    Chicks dig belt buckles with angry looking pigs

Cons for 100k vs. 50 miles

  • While running 10 additional miles seem like a reasonable thing to do, it’s unequivocally the last 10 miles you’re adding, not the first ten miles. As such, these will be the 10 hardest miles, almost certainly harder than any miles I’d run in my entire life
  • Awesome Wife Kelly gets really bored sitting around at races all day. And given the weather forecast, she gets cold and wet too
  • I’d started negotiations with AWK at 50k. I’d upped to 50 miles. Upping again to 100k feels a bit mean. Then again, she is Awesome and she gets over these things

So there we have it, 100k it is.

The course from above

The Razorback Endurance Race course from above

Joining Kelly and me were my folks, Maralyn and Jerold, and Kelly’s mother, Jean. I couldn’t pick a better troop to sit around bored all day while I ran in a circle. Okay, kidding aside: knowing that people cared enough to drive great distances, spend hard earned money and waste a weekend sitting around and watching me gimp around a track is an incredible motivator. Obviously I can’t wimp out and disappoint these good people. Mom, Dad, Jean and AWK you made much more of a difference than you know.

The family/crew

The family/crew

As I outlined previously, this is a pretty cool race. Race Director Tracy is a ball of exuberance and her (and that of her awesome volunteers) radical dedication and infectious excitement rub off on all of the participants. This race is unique in that it offers all distances as well as multiple track options – from 13 miles through 72 hours on a paved 2 miler or a hilly ~5 mile trail. About

Dark and stormy is better in drinks than in races

Dark and stormy is better in drinks than in races

100 hardy souls participated and the varying speeds (I mean folks at the tail end of a 72 hour race don’t run/walk, but hobble/crawl) and multiple, but intersecting paths meant that you overlap with everybody in the race at some point.

On one level this was a pretty straightforward race for me. I wasn’t as prepared as I’d like to be, so I started out pretty conservative, running 10 minute miles, then went to the 10 on 2 off run/walk at 10/15 pace and gradually upped the walking over the course of the day. I had some peaks and valleys, but felt pretty good overall, hit my stride after mile 30, came down a bit during a two hour rain storm, then caught a second wind and finished miles 46-62 pretty strong.

IMG_0897

Ultrarunners are very fond of saying “it’s all mental” in 50 different ways.

  • “It’s not how tough you are physically but how tough you are mentally.”
  • “Your mind will quit before your body quits.”
  • “Don’t let your brain convince your body to give in.”

This makes sense on some abstract level. Kind of like it makes sense that Antarctica is cold. I have some vague idea of it, but I’ve never actually had frostbite. I knew that mental toughness was important, but I’ve never really dealt with that. In marathons I run as hard as I can until my muscles wear out and I can’t physically keep up the pace. That’s not mental, that’s physical. Ultras are different, as I learned at Razorback.

  • I’ve run 20+ miles probably 30-40 times in my life. I’ve never run 20 miles more slowly than I ran them on Saturday. Just a month ago I’d run 20 miles at a ~7:45 pace, so I know I’m in shape. Yet after just 22 ~12 minute miles atRazorback I was worn out, in pain, nauseous and a bit lost. There was absolutely zero physical reason for this and the only way I can explain it is that my mind was thinking about 62 miles and messing with my body. The platitudes came home. A few high caffeine Gus and some spirited cheers from my fan club helped me get through it and mile 22 proved to be the nadir of the race. At mile 60 I was running stronger and feeling better than I had just 4 hours into the race. If that’s not a mental situation I don’t know what is

    Costume change with rain incoming

    Costume change with rain incoming

  • We all play mind games in races, trying to psyche ourselves out and find the energy/edge to push harder. Looped races provide an opportunity for a great one of these: every loop you see people laboring and struggling and you feel a bit better about yourself and your troubles (even if you feel guilty about this source of motivation / energy). Sure, I’m hurting, but that guy is really messed up. Don’t get me wrong, you’re cheering for the guy and want him to succeed, but it also makes you feel a little bit less terrible about your own predicament. This is a very dangerous mentality atRazorback. Several times I started to feel pretty good about myself in a relative sense, only to catch up with somesad looking person, chat with him and find out he’s in the 72 hour category. So yeah, I do look better than him. But then again, he had been running for 48 hours before I even got into the game. All things considered, I didn’t really look that much better than him…

    The sun sets on the Razorback Endurance Race

    The sun sets on the Razorback Endurance Race

  • There was so much experience and running wisdom running on that course. I randomly chatted up somehard core looking dude about halfway through the race and got the best piece of running advice I have ever received, “This sport is all about how you recover”. Wow, that’s true. At one point or another every ultra runner is going to hit a low. If things just got inexorably worse, nobody would be able to make it through these things. Because you’re running slow and can rest as needed, your performance, energy and attitude go in waves. At mile 22 I thought I was going to throw up. On-coming rain at mile 44 drove me to a low where I thought I’d be walking or crawling the remaining miles. By mile 50 I was cruising at about a 50/50 run walk that I maintained for the next 12 miles. I finished strong, feeling great and convinced I could crank out a bunch more miles without too much issue. It’s not about how good you feel at any given point. You will crash and it’s all about how you recover. Thank you anonymous stranger for pointing that out

    Hooverville

    Hooverville

So there you go, those are the highlights. Before I sign off from this blog post (and if you’re still reading…) let me share a couple of other thoughts:

  • My folks are the best. Jean too. Thanks for coming, thanks for the enthusiasm. It meant a lot to me and to AWK
  • I didn’t even mention AWK in the prior paragraph because she’s set the bar so high it’s just damn hard to surpass it. And yet she always does
  • It was really fun to say outlandish things to my non-running parents like “Only one more marathon to go, I’ve got this in the bag.” I think they suspected all along that it was simple bravado, but it felt kind of cool at the time.
  • Why is mid-run pizza the best food in the world? I don’t mean the best thing you can eat at the time. I mean that if I had to weigh the Dominoes pizza I had at mile 30 against the fanciest, most expensive meal I’ve ever had, the Dominoes wins every damn time. That pizza was donated by a former runner who couldn’t participate. Thank you for your thought and effort, it was appreciated
  • THERE WERE NO DAMN PIGS. The race was called the Razorback Endurance Race after feral pigs that root around the area. There are pigs on the shirt. The medal is in the shape of a pig. I had been promised (well, no, not technically promised) feral pigs and I got no pigs. This was upsetting to me and crushing to AWK (the cows helped ease some of the pain though)

    image001

    We had to steal this photo from someone else because there were no damn pigs!

  • I can’t emphasize this enough – the Razorback organizers and volunteers were absolutely top notch. Logistics were seamless, there was tons of great food and their enthusiasm and good cheer was contagious. If you ever get the chance to do one of Tracy’s races do it

    Tracy!

    Taking a photo with Tracy at the end of Razorback is like taking a photo with Bono in Ireland.

So there you go, great people, a great course and a hell of a race. Thanks everybody for making the Razorback Endurance Race 2015 such a wonderful event.

UPDATE:  In a fun, surprise twist, I actually placed second in the 100k!  Okay, so it was a very small race and many of the competitors were running the much harder trail loop (lots more elevation), but I’m looking at the big picture here.  On my tombstone it will say “2nd place finisher in the 2015 Razorback Endurance Race 100k.”  No footnotes allowed.

The Virginia 24 hour run for cancer: Great race, bad word choice

After years of considering, pondering, daydreaming and fantasizing, last year I finally decided to go big and run 100 miles. The reasons compelling me to do this are varied and worthy of being written down (at least they seem so to me) and they’ll get their due attention in another blog post. This is the story of the race itself.

For some reason, many who run great distances desire to make it as difficult as possible. They intentionally seek out altitude, heat, massive elevation changes and the threat of lions eating them along the way. I am not such a person. At my core I’m lazy – that is to say, if I’m going to run 100 miles, I’m going to do it in the easiest way possible.

IMG_0394

Lovely race morning

Enter the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. Rather than a meandering single track trail through the the most mountainous parts of hell (in August), the idea here is to circle a wide, flat 4 mile loop as many times as you can over the course of 24 hours. A typical “good” result for this type of race is to complete 100 miles in 24 hours. I’d say that for the ultrarunner, this is about the equivalent of running a 4 hour marathon – amazing for some, somewhat mundane for those who can run 150 miles in that same period. A typical 24 hour race is significantly easier than a traditional trail ultra as they are flat and, importantly, well serviced. Rather than hiding drop bags all over a mountain, Awesome Wife Kelly was looking beautiful, shouting encouragement and serving a veritable buffet of delicious food and drink every four miles. Nice.

Almost ready to go!

Almost ready to go!

Alas, they say something about the best laid schemes of mice and men. Injuries derailed training and I was forced to sit out the last month of peak training (literally, even walking was a challenge), only getting back on my feet two weeks before the race – just in time for the taper. So my PT, Awesome Wife Kelly and I had a long conversation about how to run 100 miles without training. Reluctantly I agreed with AWK that it wasn’t a good idea. 50 miles on the other hand – great idea. The PT disagreed and I haven’t spoken with him since. AWK also disagreed, but I live with her and needed her to crew the race so we remained on speaking terms. So instead of 100 in 24, we set out for 50 in 12 with no expectations and little at risk. Really, the best way to do these things. The experience proved so memorably awesomely fantastic that I figure it deserves a retrospective race recap.

Before we get started, a quick tangent. While the race (as you’re about to see) was a wonderful experience that I couldn’t recommend highly enough, the name (The Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer) is pretty bad. Presumably the run is for a cure to cancer rather than For Cancer. I mean I met George, the race director, and he seems like a really nice guy. I can’t imagine he’s raising all that cash FOR cancer. Right? A modest proposal:

  • Virginia 24 Hour Run Against Cancer
  • Virginia 24 Hour Run For a Cure
  • Virginia 24 Hour Run For a Cure For Cancer
  • Virginia 24 Hour Run to Beat The Hell out of Cancer

George, if you’re reading this, please feel free to use any of the above next year – no need to even credit me.

Author’s note: None of the prior is meant in any way to lessen how terrible cancer is. Cancer is terrible.

Start/finish/turnaround with fans and crew

Start/finish/turnaround with fans and crew

Okay, we’re back. Newport News, where the race is located, is just not an awesome town. Locals would probably point out a bunch of awesome things about NN that I never saw. I’m sure they’re right. For the tourist it’s just pretty unmemorable. We stayed at some sort of motor lodge and Awesome Wife Kelly made pasta for dinner in our dingy kitchen. Pretty boring and really hardly worth noting down even in a running blog. That’s saying something.

(Another) Quick aside: Poor AWK. We take a romantic long weekend vacation to, um, Newport News Virginia. She has to cook dinner in a pretty terrible hotel room. She has to sit around for 12 hours while I run in endless circles. Then she has to put up with my whining and bitching for the next several days. Then I get all the credit. Poor Awesome Wife Kelly.

AWK ready to crew the race (and sit around, a LOT)

AWK ready to crew the race (and sit around, a LOT)

We wake up at some ungodly hour the morning of the race and drive the 5 miles to the race location. It’s based in an urban park right by the freeway. As I understand it, there used to be a factory on the location and when they closed up shop, they turned the whole site into a really lovely wooded park, right alongside the freeway. Beautiful and conveniently located right near an off-ramp!

As a marathon runner who’s used to running big races, I was pretty surprised by what I found on race morning. I mean, the Paris Marathon has 30,000 runners from across the world, most of whom don’t speak English and many of whom think you’re a monster for not speaking French. You get to the starting line and you’re an anonymous figure surrounded by what might as well be fellow commuters on the subway.

Coming from that background it’s hard to describe how different and how wonderful it was to toe the line with 300 similarly dedicated ultra runners. I’d never met any of them before and I’m generally a bit of an introvert around new people, but the enthusiasm and laughter was contagious. As we stood waiting for the start I chatted with people I didn’t know and who I will never meet again as if they were old friends. There is camaraderie amongst strangers in the ultrarunning community that you don’t find in many other places.

We're off!

We’re off!

Now maybe all ultrarunners are just really nice people. Or maybe they’re bored from running so many solitary hours and consequently are just more talkative when actually surrounded by people. Maybe they’re sizing up the competition. Let me propose an alternative theory: the thought of running crazy distances over 12 or 24 hours is pretty damn scary (at least to the novices). No matter how hard you’ve trained, 1,000 things can go wrong. Blisters, dehydration, cramps, hallucinations. The stories about even the world’s best ultrarunners bonking or puking or getting lost are amazing and hilarious and terrifying. And that’s why I think ultrarunners are so outgoing and damned nice: it’s easier not to be scared to death about what lies ahead if you’re chatting amiably about your hometown and dog.

Another revelation about ultrarunning is that for the great majority of people it’s not about time. Unless you’re one of the very few people who can run these things fast, it’s just about finishing, a fact that really removes the pressure. So instead of monitoring my pace every minute to make sure I’m on track and instead of the difference between 3:18 and 3:20 being the difference between a great race and a total failure, I started on my way at a leisurely trot, focused more on the beautiful weather than on the minutiae of the race. In the first 10 minutes of a 720 minute race you can afford to be thinking about other things.

Running

Running

And what a wonderful 720 minutes it was. I started out with a run, then a run walk, then a walk run, then a walk and then something that wasn’t quite a crawl, but certainly wasn’t what you’d call a walk. It was excruciating but fun and I made it through not too much worse for the wear. The trail is pretty and peaceful (especially for a New Yorker who sees about 0 trees on an average run), the folks were friendly and the race was easy – Kelly helped refuel and came along for two really fun laps. The most boring part of writing about running is writing about running, so I’ll leave it at that.

More running

More running

About 10 hours in, Awesome Wife Kelly and I were slowly making our way when we noticed a commotion up ahead and some runners booking it around the loop. We kept on our way until we came upon a runner on the ground surrounded by park rangers and other helpful looking people. The runner was out cold and a ranger was performing CPR. After a few moments of this he’d convulse, the first responders would back off, then continue back up with the CPR as soon as his body calmed. AWK and I didn’t know what to do. It felt terrible to stand by watching and not helping. At the same time it didn’t feel right to run by when another runner was in such distress. After about 10 minutes of standing at a distance we quietly passed by with another group of runners. We didn’t say anything for several minutes, and after that we had a hard time conveying how saddened we were and how lucky we felt. It changed the mood and tenor of the race, reminding us of the real risks that accompany this type of activity. I cannot tell you how relieved and excited we were when we found out later that the runner survived and was expected to make a full recovery. Rarely have I ever been so ecstatic to hear about a stranger’s good fortune. AWK and I practically glided through the rest of the lap.

Approaching the finish

Approaching the finish

The rest of the day was uneventful. Blisters and cramps and lots of Gu, Nuun, Heed and peanut butter sandwiches. I’d never had pizza or donuts on a run before, but I happily consumed them about ¾ of the way through. I finished 52.5 miles in 11.5 hours and felt good enough that I started doing some mental math. Okay, if I run just 2 miles per hour – only 30 minute miles! – I could get to 75 miles in another 12 hours. Awesome Wife Kelly looked at me as I told her this, let me finish, then calmly but firmly told me to get my ass into the car. I clocked out, took my plaque and headed home.

Done!

Done!

Many thanks to everybody who helped put on a great Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer 2014!

Obsessive behavior – The Razorback Endurance race and a casual morning 50k

Following big races I often find myself lost amidst a deep ennui, aimless without a goal to work towards and bored with all of the extra time associated with race recovery. In such a state I found myself aimlessly flipping through Ultrarunning’s race calendar, just checking out upcoming races to see what’s going on. This, my friends, is a story of how post-run ennui mixed with race calendars can be a dangerous combination.

I clicked on the Razorback Endurance Race, mostly because it has a cool name and stayed to peruse the web-site, mostly because it has a cool logo. That’s when the lightning bolt high – I’ll be in northern California the same week this race takes place in San Martin. To Google Maps! Turns out it’s only a one hour drive…

Razorback

I did a bit more research and became increasingly intrigued. Based on the web site and Facebook page, Razorback seems like a great race with a bunch of fun people in charge and an awesome spirit. Also, some very serious runners. How do I know they’re serious? There are nine people signed up for the 72 hour race. Think about that for a moment. If you show up at 6 AM on the 28th for the start of the 24 hour race (which is, in itself a crazy thing to do), there will be nine people who have already been running for two days. Nine CRAZY people. As far as I can tell, this is the only race in the world where you get an inferiority complex for only entering the 100 miler.

As I kept reading I became intrigued. And really, what’s the difference between a marathon and a 50k? Not much, right? Imagine you’re in a very crowded marathon field and you have to do lots of weaving in and out of the crowd. Then maybe you make a wrong turn and get lost somewhere towards the end. You’ve probably done a 50k without even realizing. Right? Right? Okay, maybe not, but you get my point.

Thankfully I’m married to Awesome Wife Kelly and she quickly agrees that the best way to get over a mediocre performance in New Orleans was with a 50k in San Martin. Despite there being far fewer perks involved for her, she was in. Sometimes she earns her moniker.

And then I got to thinking. Running 50 miles slowly really isn’t so much more challenging than running a marathon for speed, is it? And aren’t I in at least as good of shape as I was the last time I ran 50?

Awesome Wife Kelly calls this re-trading. Though Awesome, Kelly is not a runner and thus doesn’t always understand these things. But at the end of the day she’s a softy and we are on for the 50 miler.

This leaves me in a bit of a jam. I’m still recovering from the New Orleans Marathon yet am theoretically supposed to be hitting peak mileage this week ahead of a taper that starts next week for a 50 miler in three weeks. Taper-race-recovery-taper with no hard training for 7 weeks seems like a bad idea, so I decided to run through soreness and hit it hard this week. And that is how I came up with the idea, late last night, to run a 50k today, 11 days after the marathon. Hit it hard, test my muscles, verify that there’s a chance I actually finish and then rest for a few weeks. Just like the instruction book says.

But truth be told, the run went really well. My left hamstring is still tight from New Orleans – really more of a “hurt” than an “injury” – and I’m obviously not in peak shape, but I managed without issue, pounding out consistent 9:30 miles over the course of 5 hours. And while my muscles tightened and cramped and my body fatigued, I finished the run with the conviction that I’m ready for Razorback. Just like that, the ennui has disappeared.

So I was just perusing the site again after registration and realized that at 100k – only 11 more miles – I can get a fancy belt buckle. Oh Kelly, can we talk about something…