Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Mendon Ponds 50K

Just a Decision

I always thought that my first DNF would come with some drama. Surely it would come in a big race, a goal race, and would only come after a lot of agonizing, and after pushing myself to the absolute limit of what I could do. Certainly it wouldn't happen in a 'little' 50K that I'd already finished three times before!

Well, ultrarunning continues to be a learning experience.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 CanLake 50M

Try Try Again

Here we go again! Power-hiking the first major climb up to Coye Rd.
(Photo credit - Natalie Werner)
Last year's CanLake 50-miler sold me on the race for as long as I'm able to do it. Unless you are absolutely opposed to running on roads there is, in my opinion, no way to dislike this race. If you read my report from last year you know just what a gorgeous scenic experience it is. This year was just as beautiful, with the turning fall foliage and the sweeping lake country vistas - and the weather was even better! Temperatures at the start were somewhere near 40F and the high for the day was predicted to be in the mid-50's. Light wind and only a slight chance of rain were in the forecast.

Conditions were perfect.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vol State Vignettes

The 2014 Last Annual Vol State Road Race

(Photo credit - Jan Redmond Walker)
"a run like this is not just a race
it can be (is) a life changing experience.
vol state is a journey thru personal hell
you WILL be discouraged.
you WILL feel self doubt.
you WILL want to quit.
but if you persevere.
if you dog it out, step by step.
you will find in yourself a strength you never knew existed."

Lazarus Lake, Race Director, the Last Annual Vol State Road Race

How do you distill an experience like the Vol State down to something readable, to something comprehensible? How do you convey to the interested reader who has not run the race what the experience is like? In the end that effort must fail, because no one who has not done it can understand how truly awful it is, how long, hard, painful and hence - ultimately - uplifting, empowering, glorious... it actually is.

I could write a nuts-and-bolts account of what happened to my daughter Kim and me as we experienced the 2014 Last Annual Vol State Road Race. 'First we went here, then we went there. This is what we did and this is what we ate.' That would tell you something, but it would not explain the Vol State.

Let me try instead to just tell some stories...

- Chapter 1: "Dad? It's a really long way from where we left the van."
- Chapter 2: Sunshine
- Chapter 3: Abi
- Chapter 4: Creatures of the Night
- Chapter 5: Going Feral
- Chapter 6: The Problem of Pain
- Chapter 7: Road Angels
- Chapter 8: The Long March
- Chapter 9: Roadkill
- Chapter 10: A New Day
- Chapter 11: Diane
- Chapter 12: Despair Cannot be Scheduled
- Chapter 13: Bad Dog!
- Chapter 14: The 'McHenri Nation'
- Chapter 15: "How y'all doin'?"
- Chapter 16: Pampered Cheaters (or "Love Diane!")
- Chapter 17: Doubt vs. Destiny
- Chapter 18: Destiny
- Chapter 19: Denouement

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear Runnerfolk, We've Been Sold a Bill of Goods!

Hello there, my blog-reading public! This post marks the beginning of what might become a new regular feature of this blog. As I develop as a runner and as I consume and digest more knowledge and opinion about the sport of long-distance running (and ultrarunning in particular) and as an engineer and an analyzer, I find myself coming to a number of strong opinions on various topics related to training and running.

Also, having recently joined Facebook and begun collecting a good number of friends in various running communities, I find myself increasingly tempted to jump into conversations of those friends (or friends of those friends) with this 'sage wisdom' with which three years of training for and running ultras has endowed me. In other words, I'm tempted to be a real jerk!

In an attempt to save me from that fate, I am launching "Dear Runnerfolk" here on my blog as a place for me to vent some of these opinions without pushing them. Anyone interested can come and read my rants here. No one uninterested will be forced to read around them or be offended by them in a conversation they're otherwise happy with!

Ain't I a considerate guy?

Well, with that as an explanation for what's to come, lets jump into this inaugural post!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014 3 Days at the Fair - Afterthoughts

This is Part 4 of a 'three-part' report. :)

Here are Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

In this final post I want to do three things:

  1. Fill in some 'color' I feel is lacking in my personal narrative to the point of painting an inaccurate picture of the true character of the race.
  2. Talk about what recovery from a 72-hour was like for me - something a multi-day noob reading this report might be interested in reading about.
  3. Summarize the important things I think I learned doing this race.
If none of these topics appeals to you, you should probably not read on!

2014 3 Days at the Fair 72-hours - Day 3

This is Part 3 of a three-part report. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Day 3

We set up my stuff at a new location - the covered pavilion of a Rotary or Kiwanis club building right on the corner of the final turn. It was a nice spot, again with picnic tables to spread my things out on - and situated just before timing.

I spent the first hour or more getting ready to get back on course - most of that time carefully taping my feet. I chose to go with the kinesio tape. I taped the balls of both feet. That was the finicky part of the job because I had to trim the tape carefully to cover the foot pad without getting up into the creases of my toes where it might rub and cause a problem. I also taped one big toe, and applied several strips of tape across the bottom of each foot wherever the skin felt really tender.

I think I worked on another iced coffee eye-opener while I did this.

After taping was done I very carefully put on clean, dry socks, and then stepped into the flip-flops. Finally I was ready to give this a try and I walked stiffly and gingerly away, taking the long way around the aid station building as Rick had instructed the previous night, to re-enter the course just behind the timing gate and begin mile 98.

2014 3 Days at the Fair 72-hours - Day 2

This is Part 2 of a three-part report. Here are Part 1 and Part 3.

Karen and I headed from my site to race HQ.
As usual, this is the only picture of Karen from the race. :(
(Photo credit - Tom Butler)

Day 2

Many people say that the worst day of a six-day race is the third day. I've sometimes speculated this was the reason that records are not kept for 72-hour races. Why would elite multi-day runners want to go through the worst day and not go on? Then I started talking to three-day runners and they, almost to a person, say that Day 2 is in fact the hardest day of a 72-hour race - and they are right.

Day 2 is when you are first really pushing past sleep deprivation. Most people have gone through one 24-hour period with minimal sleep. Not so many have done it while pushing their bodies to ultra endurance distance. Even fewer have tried to push that into a second day. It seems that there is a 'wall' of sorts to sleep deprivation that has to be pushed through, and this wall comes on Day 2.

This particular Day 2 also brought the rains.

2014 3 Days at the Fair 72-hours - Day 1

This is Part 1 of a three-part report. Here are Part 2 and Part 3.

At the start of 3 Days at the Fair.
Oh how fresh and confident looking!
Bing! My eyes popped open and suddenly I was fully awake. I was sweaty and I smelled bad, but my legs didn't hurt as much as they did when I laid down two hours earlier.

I was in a little two-person tent pitched on the grass just off a road on the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ - site of the New Jersey State Fair but, on this weekend, the venue for a running race called "3 Days at the Fair." The 'bing' marked the end of a pattern I would repeat several times during the next two days or so. I would retire to the tent, dead on my feet, barely able to move - spend twenty minutes or so shifting around trying to find a position that didn't hurt too much to go to sleep and then (once I'd found it) zonk! Out like a light, spending about an hour in a deep haze of unresolvable dreams, occasionally mingled with the voices of other runners passing by outside. After an hour, the sleep of the dead would give way to that lighter phase where you pass back and forth between half-wakefulness and full sleep, always fighting the wakeful part until... bing!

I yawned and drew my legs up, stretching them and then checking my feet for tender spots. Everything felt surprisingly good given that I had already run and walked 50 miles in the preceding 17 hours. It was still dark outside, so I had at least four hours to add to my mileage total for the first 24 hours. The race clock never stops! It was time to get going again - and I really needed to use the bathroom anyway.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug 50K

Morning over Lake Waramaug, CT.
27 April 2014
When I was putting together my race schedule for this year everything centered on Vol State and what might help me get there and succeed. The first, obvious choice for the centerpiece of training was the 72-hour at 3 Days at the Fair, starting May 15th. There I would get my first experience with multi-day racing (I've always believed in just-in-time training/preparation in ultrarunning - it works for me... sort of).

Next I started looking around for a good 'normal' race to serve as peak training for 3DATF. The Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug 50K sort of 'bubbled up' on UltraSignup and seemed just right. Almost three weeks before 3DATF, a road course - and a legendary race in its own right as a bonus. The 100K at Waramaug is the oldest continuously-held 100K race in America; this year was its 40th running.

Seemed like a chance to make my tenth ultra something special! As always happens, the race I choose merely for a 'training run' soon has goals and excitement of its own.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

And I won a towel, too...

All scenes, whether actual or created, depict authenticated facts.
(Fame and recognition to the first commenter who
correctly identifies the TV show that line is from.)

One of the great things about becoming a runner is that it seems to lead you into trying new things. Races are just the beginning. There are training routes to discover, running groups to join, volunteer opportunities. There are stretches and exercises to be learned to help keep the body in good shape so one can continue to run. There are self-massage techniques.

When those latter things fail you there are new people in other new settings for you to meet. I'd never been to a podiatrist before I started running, nor a physical therapist, nor a chiropractor, nor an orthopedist, nor a cardiologist. I'd never had acupuncture before.

One of the biggest leaps for me was when I started wondering if real massage therapy from a real massage therapist might be a good thing for me. I'm not exactly the epitome of a "man's man" (or I'd be a construction worker or maybe a truck driver instead of a 'software guy') but I certainly didn't see myself as a spa kind of guy either (let alone an 'organic spa' kind of guy). Now walking into Terra Organic Spa to let Rachel work me over seems almost as normal as walking into the grocery store.

None of this prepared me to be any less hesitant about what I did last night though.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

One more run...

It has all become so mind-numbingly perfunctory.

The drive home from work was slow as usual. Roads were getting sloppier as we went and the mix of confident and timid drivers attempting to negotiate them at rush hour meant traffic would pretty much just crawl along.

I was tired when we walked into the house. I knew I would go out for a few laps around the neighborhood loop, but I wasn't exactly looking forward to it.

One more run. In the cold. In the dark. Round and round the little cluster of houses I live in.

I got ready on auto-pilot. Up the stairs... peel off the work clothes... pull on the Smartwool long-johns and the running pants. Do I need socks? Nah. Last night's pair are downstairs with the shoes and still good for a short one. I head down... grab the Garmin... strap it on my wrist. Grab the socks and the shoes... sit down on the bottom step.

One more time through the 'shoeing ritual.' Wipe foot to remove any stuck-on grit... pull on sock... make sure it makes a good seal with the long-johns... pick up shoe... check inside for debris... pull on shoe... lace... repeat with other foot.

Pull on jacket... grab gloves. Hat and running vest are in the garage entryway. Put on running vest... put on hat. Turn on GPS, say goodbye to Karen, and head out through the garage, pulling on gloves as I go.

I pause in the middle of the driveway, carefully working the seal of the gloves with the long-john sleeves while I give the GPS time to find satellites. As usual it takes a minute, and while I wait I do what I usually do: I look up at the sky - as though I expect to see satellites, but really just because I'm outside and I can't help but look up and see what sort of sky I will run under. It is just getting dark. Thick swarms of decent-sized snowflakes are drifting down. I can feel them hit my cheeks. I breathe in deeply, and I sigh.

And a smile breaks across my face.