Cure for a DNF: Water, Shade, and Perspective

One week after the Glacier Ridge 50-miler DNF and feeling much better. Ran Saturday morning with PR Fitness, holding it to 8 miles per Coach’s direction (OK, 8.3 miles, but she wasn’t looking). About halfway out it began to rain. Some people grumbled, but I loved every minute of it. Man, could I have used some of that last week!

This would have been good, too! (From last year's Kona race.)

This would have been good, too! (From last year’s Kona race.)

Not finishing was a bummer, but it’s okay. I’d signed up to find out how ready I was to retry the 100K. By mile 40 I’d learned that I wasn’t, and the main reasons why. Going on would have been a miserable slog with nothing else to learn. And as a bonus, the whole thing was put into perspective very quickly. See below.

My biggest lesson was how much I’d underrated hydration. I’d gotten into the (bad) habit of not drinking anything before a race, because I hate standing in line at the porta-potties right before the gun. I can get away with this for short races, and up to 50K on the trail. Beyond that and the lack of water catches up with me.

I now drink at least 8 ounces of water when I wake up, and will on race days, regardless of the consequences. I also need to drink a lot more during the race, and start drinking earlier, especially on hot days.

My backpack has pockets for two bottles. I just need to use them both. The camera can go elsewhere.

My backpack has pockets for two bottles. I need to use both for that purpose. The camera can go elsewhere.

And I need to protect my head from direct sunlight. I hadn’t counted on such a long stretch of open road and trail late in the race. I should have put a baseball cap in my backpack just in case. I will from now on.

On the plus side, I recovered quickly. Just three days later I ran with the Tuesday night group, stretching a planned two miles to three. Yesterday I felt good enough for my usual 12 miles but didn’t push it. The Dexter-Ann Arbor half is in two weeks, so there’s no sense in doing too much too fast. After that, I’m looking at another 50-miler in late June or early July.

And from the Count Your Blessings news desk: Last week after I accepted the strong hints at the aid station and turned in my chip, I got a ride back to the start from a race staffer named Dan. We got to chatting and I asked if he also ran ultramarathons. “I used to,” he said. “But I can’t anymore.”

A few years ago Dan’s heart became enlarged due to a leaky valve. Surgery corrected the problem but his heart didn’t return to normal size as hoped. Now, he says, running even a short distance leaves him out of breath.

“I was devastated,” he said. “Running was my stress relief. My meditation. I had to come up with an entirely new way of coping with things.” He has, but it was clear how much he missed being able to run.

All that evening I did my best to feel sorry for myself, but the magic just wasn’t there.

For a wicked take on why self-pity is “dangerously comfortable” see this article on Cracked.com.

Note to self: he carried two water bottles. He finished.

Note to self: he carried two water bottles. He finished.

And I want to thank J.R., who ran with me for many miles, and who helped me out when I was sitting on that log at mile 36. He gave up a chance at a faster finish to walk with me to the aid station. His encouragement was a big reason why I was able to get there, and I made sure the race staff knew it. See you next year, my friend.

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Next up: Chatting up the ladies at the Hightail to Ale 5K. (Key to success: be one of the people handing out free beer.) Details to follow!

Melted at the Glacier Ridge

I slowly walked over to the aid station checkout desk. The nice lady there looked up at me. “What do you think, Jeff?” she asked.

“Well, I’m stupid enough to try,” I said.

I was hoping for a laugh. Instead I got a look of motherly concern that made my heart sink. “You have no color in your face,” she said.

I was at mile 40 and ten hours in. Only ten miles to go, and I had time to walk to the finish. But even that wouldn’t be easy. I was in trouble – and it was my own damn fault.

Glacier Ridge - first mileThe Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra takes place at Moraine State Park near Pittsburgh, in rolling farm country. Normally held in April, the organizers were getting tired of cold temps and ankle-deep mud. So this year they moved it to May, hoping for warmer and drier conditions.  Be careful what you wish for was never more true. The temperature at the 6:30 a.m. start was already in the mid-sixties and would reach 90 that afternoon.

The race staff had bought lots of ice and hired extra EMT units, and told us to be careful out there. I planned to run it nice and easy, in around 11-12 hours. That wouldn’t earn any awards, but I was there to prep for an upcoming 100K, not win anything. Let the ego go, I told myself. Just finish.

Ready to rock! Little did I know...

Ready to rock! Little did I know…

It was a small event, just a few hundred runners taking part in their choice of a 30K, 50K, or 50-mile individual or relay. Everyone was in good spirits as we took off, chatting about their longer races coming up later this summer.

The first half of the race was awesome. My new trail shoes were performing well, the woods were filled with white and purple wildflowers, and I felt terrific. Despite two face plants (&#%@$ roots), I cruised into the Route 528 aid station at mile 21 right on pace and after a bite to eat and a water bottle refill, I headed out into the Swamp Run section.

Yep, this was part of the course. Reminds me of the almond-shell hills in McFarland, USA.

Yep, this was part of the course. Reminds me of the almond-shell hills in McFarland, USA.

This 19-mile leg had long stretches of gravel road and double-wide snowmobile track. It was a nice respite from the rocks and roots of the first part, but open to the sun, which now beat down full overhead. When I began to feel its effects around mile 26 I wasn’t too worried – the aid station wasn’t far away. Except it was.

The Swamp Run aid station was 8 miles from Route 528, three miles farther than I had thought, and in the heat I ran short on water. I’d made a big mistake by not grabbing my second water bottle. I slowed down and finally reached the station, where the nurse there sat me down and put cold wet towels on my neck. I ate cold melon, took salt, and drank lots of water. I went on to the turnaround point, rested some more back at the aid station, and began the return feeling better. But it didn’t last; the damage had been done.

Halfway back to Route 528 (around mile 36) I knew I was in trouble. I went from slow jog to walk but was still breathing hard, and wetting down my face and head was no longer helping. This was bad – and I was at least an hour away from the aid station. Finally I did something I’ve never done in a race; I stopped, sat down on a log, and waited. After a few minutes a group behind me came up and I joined them. Everyone was suffering from the heat and we were all grateful to see the cars and hear the voices that meant we’d reached Route 528.

I sat with fluids and a large bag of ice for about half an hour, hoping I could recover enough to attempt the final ten miles. The volunteers manning the station were wonderful, making sure I had whatever I needed and checking on me frequently. All that time I debated what to do. Finally I thought I was well enough to try the finish. Until the nice lady gave me that concerned look.

So I went to the EMT technician, who looked me over and took my vitals. “It’s your call,” she said. “But you’re gray in the face, and you’re not sweating as much as I’d like you to.”

“We can give you a ride back to the start,” the checkout lady suggested, hope in her voice. “The truck’s leaving right now.”

As a final check I used the porta-potty. What came out wasn’t much, even with all my drinking, and it looked like a strong cup of tea. That clinched it. I removed the timing strap from my ankle and handed it over. It was the hardest thing I’d done all day, but the relieved expressions told me I’d done the right thing.

So I called it a day at 40 miles. My only goal had been to finish, and I hadn’t even done that. But it occurred to me that I had accomplished one thing. Ego? An attempt to finish would have soothed it. But stopping – that was truly letting it go.

.  .  .

Thanks again, buddy. (J.R. after finishing)

Thanks again, buddy. (J.R. after finishing)

Up next: What I learned, and a couple of stories from people I met on the trail. I also specifically want to thank Dan and J.R. for their help during the race. Details next time.

Running to Remember, and Save Lives

Happy Birthday Eli strollerLast week was Eli’s Run, an event hosted by PR Fitness coaches Marie and her husband Rob to remember and honor their son Eli, who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder in utero and unfortunately did not survive. As dedicated runners they decided on an annual race to celebrate his memory and raise funds to support lifesaving research for premature babies.

There were two events that evening at Gallup Park – a kid’s race of about a quarter mile, followed by a 5K for us bigger kids, with pizza afterward. And all the proceeds went to the March of Dimes to support their Prematurity campaign.

Here are some photos from the event. Rob and Marie may look a bit tired (for very good reasons, the best being their new baby daughter) but there were lots of happy faces. And what a great way to get kids fired up about running!

The little kids take off! Note the teddy bear race shirts.

The little kids take off! Note the teddy bear race shirts.

Charge to the finish.

Charge to the finish.

Ready to start the 5K. Marie is holding the clipboard. (She's happy. Really.)

Ready to start the 5K. Marie is holding the clipboard. (She’s happy. Really.)

Flying down the trail.

Flying down the trail.

Yep, we had all ages represented here!

Yep, we had all ages represented here!

And such professional service at the water stop.

And such professional service at the water stop.

Rob with Kacey June. (He's happy. Really.)

Rob with Kacey June. (He’s happy. Really.)

Hanging out post-race with Ironman Tracy and her family.

Hanging out post-race with Ironman Tracy (left) and her family.

Feeling Restless – At Last!

Hooray for energy!

This morning I ran seven miles with PR Fitness and went to the farmer’s market to pick out some plants for the back deck. I then spent the afternoon inside, preparing for an exam tomorrow. It was where I belonged, but I spent much time looking through the window at a beautiful day, fretting that I wasn’t out there doing something useful – like more running.

For some of you, the above will only confirm your opinion that there is no hope for me. But to me, this is a good sign.

Fired up at last year's Dances with Dirt - Hell 50K. That's the feeling I love!

Fired up at last year’s Dances with Dirt – Hell 50K. That’s the feeling I love!

The week before the April 25-26 Trail Marathon (recap coming) I also spent a good deal of time resting, hoping that by race weekend I’d be stir crazy and ready to rock. But the fatigue that bothered me all that week didn’t entirely go away, and I started Saturday’s half marathon still feeling a bit run down. But in the second part of that race my energy came back and I finished with a strong time. And Sunday’s 50K was even better, as I finished five minutes faster than last year and defended my age group title.

Now, after another week of light activity, that restless, “gotta run” feeling has returned. Today’s run felt too short and too easy, exactly as it should have. I’m grateful my energy has returned, because at next Saturday’s 50-miler at the Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra I’m gonna need every bit of it.

Coming up – I try out some new gear, including some shoes that are so exclusive, they don’t officially exist yet. But I need my rest for the exam tomorrow, so that’s all for now.

Great Event, But Where’s All the Trash?

Last Sunday was another “first” in my adventures in running – an early morning two-hour drive to Grand Rapids and the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K.

Photo from Gazelle Girl website

So, one might wonder why a manly man like me would be part of a female-only race. Well, I was not there to take part in the race, but to pick up after it. Yes, I was on the waste collection and sorting team. A minor version of Mike Rowe doing a Dirty Job. (Being called the “Green Team” didn’t mean we got to keep our hands clean.)

What kind of stuff gets tossed out at a race? Some of just about everything. But the main categories are food waste, cups, water bottles, and Gu / energy bar wrappers. Any large event generates a lot of all of that, and the Gazelle Girl had over 3,500 runners, plus spectators.

What made the job intriguing was that last year, a grand total of one 6 lb. bag was sent to the landfill. Yep, one 6 lb. bag. Everything else was either recycled, sent to a composting service (Organicycle), or (as with the Gu wrappers) sent to Terracycle, a company that turns the scrap into other products like children’s furniture.

Gazelle Girl waste bins 2How did this happen? Good planning and lots of information. One way of limiting waste, for example, is to tell people not to bring something that’s going to end up as landfill trash. Another way is to mark very clearly what goes where, and to staff the stations, which I did briefly before moving to the lovely sorting brigade.

So how much waste actually went to the landfill this year? See below. Enough of describing what happened – I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Enjoy! And many thanks to Chelsea and the other Green Team members for helping me learn how sustainable a race can be!

No one's going to steal this waste on my watch!

No one’s going to steal this waste on my watch!

I was so good at manning the station that they moved me to sorting.

I was so good at manning the station that they moved me to sorting.

A sample compost bag. Most of the cups and lids were compostable, but we had to sort out the others for recycling.

A sample compost bag. Most of the cups and lids were compostable, but we had to sort out the others for recycling.

Even with bins all around, there was still food waste scattered everywhere. Sigh. Grow up, people.

Even with bins all around, there was still food waste scattered everywhere. Sigh. Grow up, people.

The final tally. The truck has the compost and Terracycle bags. The bins and bags are for recycling.

The final tally from the start/finish area. The truck has the compost and Terracycle bags. The bins and bags are for recycling. Aid station bags were left on-site and picked up on Monday.

And here's what went to the landfill. Yep, that's all.

And here’s what went to the landfill. Yep, that’s all.

Gearing Up – Ultras Ahead! And a Trashy Update

My first ultra of 2015 is just a week away, and it’s time to start putting things in order for the big day. Actually, the big weekend, as I’ll be doing the Running Fit Trail Marathon “No Wimps” challenge again – half marathon Saturday, 50K Sunday. No guarantees that I’ll jump into the lake again after finishing, but we’ll see.

"No Wimps, Baby!" - 2014

“No Wimps, Baby!” – 2014.

I’ve done the prep work; from now until race day it’s rest and maintain, backing off on distance just a tad and slowing the pace way down. Today, for example, I cut down my long run from 16 miles to 11, and ran easy the entire way. I’m also working in some bike rides, which keep the legs moving without overstressing the knees.

But the tricky part of ultras for me isn’t sore legs, but other factors that cause discomfort. It’s these things more than fatigue that put me at risk of not running as well as I hope to. So I will be making a couple of adjustments at the Trail Marathon. If all goes well I can carry them over to my Glacier Ridge 50 miler, and onto my next 100K attempt later this year.

Lubrication. Chafing is a big problem when I go past 50K, and was one of the things that contributed to my DNF at my 100K attempt last year. Let’s just say that no man wants to experience skin rubbed raw where mine was. Two mainstays of ultrarunners, Vaseline and Body Glide, don’t work well enough for me. Skip at Body Specs recommended Cramer’s Skin Lube, and I just ordered some. That plus compression shorts instead of regular shorts should help a lot.

There are times... (Source: http://www.nzdoctor.co.nz/in-print/2010/april-2010/21-april-2010/too-hot-to-handle.aspx)

There are times…
(Source: nzdoctor.co.nz)

Electrolytes. When I’m on the trail I sweat a lot. An awful lot. From learning the hard way I know I have to keep my salt level up. Until now I’ve been relying on salt-dipped potatoes at the aid stations, which work really well for me – but they don’t always have salt at every station. So salt tabs seem like a logical thing to bring along.

Stomach relief. So far I’ve been fortunate in that eating during an ultramarathon doesn’t bother me. But you never know. And this article explains why runners can get an upset stomach. So I will be packing a roll of antacids, just in case.

Followup: Race Trash and what’s being done about it

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

A couple of posts ago I talked about the amount of trash generated during a typical race, and the efforts made by some events to cut down on that waste. On Sunday I will be part of the “Green Team” at the Gazelle Girl half marathon in Grand Rapids – a race that last year produced one 6-lb. bag of trash. Everything else was recycled or composted. I’m going there to find out how they do this, and I’ll share what I learned with you next week.

And before I go, I want to give a big shout-out to the 21 PR Fitness runners who are going to toe the line at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Go get ’em, guys!

PR Fitness - Boston Marathon runners 2015

 

 

Good Running Form = Tired Arms?

I did a long run yesterday, and boy, are my arms tired.

Your logic escapes me, sir.

Your logic escapes me, sir.

The logic would be obvious, Mr. Spock, if you had been at the running clinic at the Ann Arbor Running Company on Wednesday. It was led by Grant Robison, a star runner at Stanford and Olympic miler in 2004. Over 20 people of all ages showed up to get tips on running with better form.

During high school, college, and his Olympic career, Grant told us, he never studied proper running form, and doubted that most of his fellow Olympians did, either. That may have contributed to his frequent injuries, one of which brought an early end to his participation in Athens.

Today Grant is a teacher for the Good Form Running program, which focuses on three key aspects of running form – posture, foot landing, and body lean. Here are the main points of each:

  • Posture – body straight, pelvis under hips, proper arm swing
  • Landing – midfoot on landing, feet under hips, cadence around 180 steps/minute
  • Lean – bend from ankles, not at waist
Here's a short video showing the main principles of Good Form Running. It's sponsored by New Balance, so there are some not-so-subtle references to the company and their shoes. But the advice is good.

Here’s a short video with Grant demonstrating the principles of Good Form Running. It’s sponsored by New Balance, so there are some not-so-subtle references to the company and their shoes. But the advice is good.

I’d heard all these principles before, and working on them has helped keep me free of serious injury (falls not included) for several years of 1000+ miles of running. But what made this clinic particularly useful to me was the easy drills Grant taught us to develop the habits of good form.

For example, to restore correct posture, all that’s needed is to “reach for the sky” and then let the arms drop. “You can’t touch the sky with a tipped pelvis,” Grant pointed out. Sure enough, it worked like a charm – and it can even be done while running.

To establish a midfoot landing habit, just try heel striking while walking, or walking in place. You can’t do it – it feels too unnatural. Practice that, then letting your feet fall naturally under you while walking. Then extend that to running.

For proper arm swing, just walk in place, letting the arms swing naturally. Then without lifting the shoulders, just bend the elbows to create a 90 degree angle. This “shortens the lever” for more efficiency when running. “Most runners don’t use their arms enough,” Grant said. “It’s hard to run fast with slow arm movement. So when you go out running next, I want you to use your arms more than your legs. Concentrate on the arm movement, and the legs will naturally follow, even when they’re tired.”

For proper lean, all we did was stand straight and let ourselves lean onto our toes. “The moment the toes curl is the proper amount of lean,” Grant said. “Then just release the toes and you’ll fall naturally into your run.”

Afterward, a few of us went out for a four-mile run to try out the things we’d learned. I tried to follow Grant’s advice to run more with my arms than my legs. A couple of times I noticed my arms were not as active as they should be and got them back into action, but other than that I didn’t notice any difference in my technique.

When I woke up Thursday morning, however, my first thought was, “Why are my biceps sore?” Well, that came from exercising them in a way I wasn’t used to – which means my arm form has been less than ideal for a long time.

On yesterday’s long run I worked on form again. Sure enough, at several times over the 16 miles I realized that I wasn’t using my arms properly. I’d let them drop or wasn’t swinging them purposefully enough. At my next race (45 miles of trail April 25-26), good form will be very important to finishing strong, and this will give me something to focus on over the next two weeks.

Bottom line, if there’s a Good Form Running clinic in your area, I recommend it. It’s free and has good advice for runners of all levels. If there isn’t one, here’s a page on their website with more helpful videos.