Tag Archives: 100K

Let Go of Expectations, Embrace the Adventure

THE BIG 100K is tomorrow! Training and tapering are over, and it’s time to do the deed. I’ve tested the course, my watch and headlamp are charged, and I’ve packed plenty of salted caramel Gu. No need to stress about anything; in fact, to stress about an event named “Run Woodstock” would be missing the point altogether.

So, naturally, I’m a little stressed.

Not about anything related to the course, the conditions, or anyone’s expectations of me. Instead, I’m fretting a little about living up to my own expectations. I expect to finish, and to have a decent finishing time, too. But what if, after all this time and preparation, I can’t do it after all?

No worries, man! Chill out and run!

No worries, man! Chill out and run!

As my (awesome) regular readers know, I came up short in my first 100K attempt last year. But I learned from it and made adjustments, and this year I feel much more prepared. And with a 28-hour window (we share the 100-miler clock) I can take my time and focus on finishing rather than hitting cutoff limits. Still, there’s that nagging self-wondering if I can really pull it off.

A couple of things have helped.

An article on the AirFareWatchdog site I read this week was very timely. It points out that when traveling, things often happen that are out of your control, and may affect where you go and when you get there. The article quotes author Anne Lamott, who said, Expectations are premeditated disappointments.

Gotta admit that’s profound, man. If we expect everything to go smoothly, or (heaven forbid) need everything to go smoothly, any deviation will be annoying at best. Even when we mentally prepare for changes or setbacks, we can get terribly frustrated when things don’t go our way.

The AirFareWatchdog article has this advice: Your experience has a higher likelihood of being one-of-a-kind and transformational if you let things happen. This is something Americans are often not very good at accepting but there’s a peace in letting go.

My great-uncle Albert shows us the value of this advice years ago. He traveled the world each summer, and in 1996 my wife and I were privileged to accompany him on a trip to England. He paid all expenses and we took care of his luggage and drove him around.

With no GPS back then, and the oddities of English roads, I naturally made some wrong turns. We always seemed to be heading toward South Wales, which became the joke of the trip. Albert waved off my apologies. “It’s all part of the adventure,” he said.

And then just earlier today, I dropped in at a talk on tips for running a marathon. Most of the advice I’d heard before, but one comment stood out – the need to “switch the brain off” when running a race. If there’s one thing that knocks a runner out of a race, or makes him fail to attain his goal, it’s the negative self-talk when things get tough.

There’s a physiological reason for this, we were told. The brain lives on glucose, and when supplies run low through hard physical effort, it attempts to slow the body down, long before the body is actually in danger of permanent damage. Elite athletes have learned to push past the pain and ignore the negative messages. I can run “on autopilot” for some time, but if I ever want to get to the holy grail – the 100 miler – I will have to improve here as well. So this race will be a good test.

Do I have to run this race? Nope. If I choose not to run it, or drop out partway, I will only be disappointing myself. In the end, any running race is a test of oneself. I can fret about what might happen, or I can let go of my expectations and just run. Which is what I plan to do. Part of the adventure!

Running On: Lessons from My Ultra DNF

Runners are funny people. They encourage the efforts of others, and when someone crashes and burns, they always know the right thing to say. Except when it comes to their own performance – then that stuff goes right out the window.

So it came as no surprise to me that everyone – 100% – of people who knew about my DNF at Run Woodstock supported my decision to stop. Some were even grateful. And everyone had something encouraging to say. So how did that make me feel? I think the meme below expresses how runners I know feel about such things.

Meme-FailingNotFailure

That out of the way, I feel better now. And besides, there’s another ultra this Saturday – the Dances with Dirt 50K in Hell, which, being its 20th anniversary, promises to be a lulu (check out the course description here). So instead of moping, I’ve been looking at what went wrong and what I can learn from it. And I’ll want to try the 100K again someday, too.

After some self-analysis, discussions with Coach Marie and a bit of WAGging (*) I’ve identified three main areas for improvement. If any ultrarunners are reading this, you’re welcome to chime in with your own stories and lessons learned. And if any readers are considering an ultra, I hope what’s written here won’t scare you away. An ultra is a blast. Really. I mean it.

So here we are:

The Physical – Aye, There’s the Rub

The biggest contributor to my early exit was the heat exhaustion. I’ve since read that even minor dehydration can play havoc with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. I was drinking a lot of fluids, but also sweating so much in that wet heat that it may not have been enough.

I bought two things for my next effort. First, a forehead thermometer. I can carry it in my pocket or running backpack so if I feel that way again, I can check to see if my core temperature is safe or too high. The other is some chemical cold packs to bring down my temperature if ice is not available, or I’m between aid stations.

Thermometer and Cold Packs

Chafing is another regular problem I have during ultras. Despite applying Body Glide and Vaseline, by my third loop my thighs were raw where my soaked, sweaty shorts rubbed on them. There were also a couple of “hot spots” in my underwear, and I don’t mean the good kind.

Gold Bond Friction DefenseMy coach told me about Gold Bond Friction Defense, a Body Glide-like product that also contains aloe for soothing the skin. I’m going to try it on Saturday.

Finally, there was blistering. From my other ultras I know where the trouble spots on my feet are, and I made sure to tape them carefully. That worked, but blisters are apparently more clever than I thought, and I got a couple where I didn’t tape. On the other hand, rubbing Body Glide all over my feet each loop helped keep them dry and comfortable. With mud and river crossings on the Saturday course, I will be continuing that practice.

Mental Lessons – Lord, Give me Patience – NOW

It’s fairly indisputable that any run of 30-plus miles qualifies as a long run. A 100K (62 miles) might even qualify as a very long run. Not surprisingly, long runs take a long time to complete. Any successful ultraunner, therefore, possesses at least a modicum of patience and mental discipline. But the longer the run, the more is needed, and at some point, most people hit a limit. I think I hit mine.

My plan for mentally managing the 100K was to break it up into manageable segments, like with last year’s 50-miler. Each loop had four, marked by the aid stations, all about four miles apart. But while similar in distance, they were very different in feel. The first leg and third segments were okay, but for some reason the second and fourth legs seemed to stretch on and on.

View from my headlamp during Run Woodstock 2012.

View from my headlamp during Run Woodstock 2012. The bright spot is the next trail marking flag. Or a ghost. I forget which.

On a trail in the dark, distances stretch and the inner clock I’ve relied on to estimate my pace and distance simply doesn’t work. Even known landmarks and milestones seem to take longer to reach. I began to get frustrated and began to tell myself how much worse it would be the next time around. That part of me was quite relieved when I quit.

The key to solving this, I think, is some formal mental training. My coach suggested restoration-style yoga, which includes a focus on meditation. I’m looking into this and will keep you posted.

Attitude – A Different Animal

Perhaps my biggest miscalculation was treating a 100K race like an extended 50K, instead of the very different type of race it is. Setting aside the maxim that for a long ultra, “if you think you’re starting too slowly, go slower still,” I ran at what seemed to be a comfortable pace – my 50K pace. No doubt that plus the heat caught up with me.

Pace too fast 2

Yum, yum!

Yum, yum!

I had the same “50K” attitude toward nutrition – being sure to drink and have salt at the aid stations, but otherwise winging it. For a 100K, I think I’ll have to approach it more systematically, to know more exactly what I need at what time. There are some general guidelines to apply on replenishing electrolytes and how many calories I should replace, what percentage should be simple sugars vs. complex carbs, how much protein, and how much water is needed to process it all. More to come there, too.

So for Saturday’s race, I can apply some lessons already. And I won’t have to worry about heat issues – it’s a morning race and will be much cooler. Should be a good time!

=================

(*) WAG = Wild-Ass Guess. Not to be confused with SWAG – Scientific Wild-Ass Guess – for which, as I understand, you need a Ph.D.

The Not-Quite-100K: Run Woodstock Recap

I ran an ultramarathon at Run Woodstock last week. It just wasn’t the one I signed up for.

Run Woodstock - start area

Yes, yours truly experienced his first DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race. After looking forward all summer to my first 100K trail race, I succumbed to the elements and called it off at 56K.

No wonder it's called the "Hallucination 100K" - we haven't even started and I'm already hallucinating.

No wonder it’s called the “Hallucination 100K” – we haven’t even started and I’m already hallucinating.

I’m a bit bummed out, naturally, but more surprised than anything. I’d signed up for 12 miles farther than I’ve ever done at one time, but I felt ready. Given my successes with multiple 50Ks this year (all strong finishes) and first triathlons (finished upright) I anticipated no trouble. It was just a case of banging out the miles, slow and steady. But it was not to be.

So what happened? I’d written in a previous post that I knew there would be limits on what I’d be able to accomplish, but that I hadn’t found them yet. Found one! And it wasn’t a bit fun, although I sure learned a lot from it. Here’s a recap.

The Start – Friday, 4:00 p.m.

Race day started out better than expected. Instead of the predicted rain at race start, it was sunny and 92 degrees. “Congratulations,” we heard as we stood in the starting queue. “Today is officially the hottest day of 2014 so far.” Standing around in shorts and tech shirt, it wasn’t so bad. Once we started running, however, the effects were felt quickly.

I don't think Randy's had that much hair since 1969.

I don’t think Randy’s had that much hair since 1969.

I knew what to do – don’t start too fast, take salt at the aid stations, and above all, stay hydrated. And I did, drinking more than I’ve ever done in an ultra. And yet I sweated so much it’s possible it wasn’t enough. I was grateful for the extra gear I’d packed. Even if it didn’t rain, ditching sweat-soaked clothes for dry ones would be welcome.

The Storm – Friday, 7:30 p.m.

The severe weather sirens sounded near the end of my first loop. The predicted storms had missed us so far, but now one was headed right for us. I’d been anxious to complete the loop before dark anyway, so here was some extra motivation to pick it up a bit. I made it back to base camp in the nick of time.

As I sat in the gear tent changing into dry socks, the surge hit us – intense wind gusts that lifted up the tent walls all around us, causing considerable oohs and aaahs.

That tent wall is supposed to be touching the ground, you see.

That tent wall is supposed to be touching the ground.

“Go on! You’re safe in the woods!” someone yelled to a runner hesitating on the start of his next loop. (Boy, was he wrong – see below.) But as another gust threatened to blow us to Hell – literally – I decided to sit it out. Ten minutes and a 20-degree temperature drop later, I headed out on my second loop.

I’d taken a rain jacket with me, and as a drizzle turned into a steady rain, I put it on. This kept me dry and warm at the time, but turned out to be a bad decision, as I kept sweating under it. Instead, I should have taken off my shirt to keep cool.

Yeah, me too!

Yeah, me too!

It was dark now, but the trail was well marked with fluorescent flags and I had no trouble staying on course. But in the dark, the distances seemed to stretch out even more than usual on a trail, the first half especially. Instead of working to stay calm and patient, I got annoyed and began to dread repeating the loop twice more. But I met up with a small group in the final segment and finished the second loop feeling good. Just another 50K to go!

The Bonk – Saturday, 12:30 a.m.

The trouble started as I took off my shoes to dry my feet and put on fresh socks. When I put my soaked, muddy shoes back on and stood up, they were too tight. Either they’d shrunk, or my feet had swelled, or both. That was okay – I had my Hokas in the gear bag, so I put them on – and they were tight, too. But as they were dry, I figured they would stretch enough, and out I went for the third loop.

I was feeling a little unwell and walked quite a bit of the first two miles. When we hit the gravel trail, I began jogging and felt better, passing and chatting with a few other runners. As we returned to the woods, I returned to walking. Something was going wrong with me in a hurry. It felt much like the second half of the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon – growing nausea and flushed in the head. I was overheated.

Just get to Gracie’s, (the aid station) I told myself. There you can get some ice and rest. A couple of runners passed me and asked how I was doing. “Hanging in there,” I told them. Then, out of nowhere, the thought came, persistent and insistent. Get to Gracie’s and tell them you’re done.

WTF? Where did that come from? Never before, in any race, had I ever even thought about dropping out. Nor was this a mental debate. I would be done. Period. Still, I resisted a bit.

Oh, that smarts.

I thought it was funny when I took it…

When I got to Gracie’s, I sat and applied ice to my neck for a while. But I did not improve. If anything, I felt worse. So I went over to the staff and told them I was done. They gave me a ride back to camp. “No worries,” the race director said when I told him what had happened. “You live to run another day.”

The Recovery – Saturday, 1:30 a.m.

I sat in the first aid station with ice, and after a half hour or so I felt better. Vital signs were okay, although I realize now they never took my temperature, so I don’t really know if I had heat exhaustion. Maybe if I’d just waited longer at Gracie’s I could have continued. On the other hand, passing out on the trail at night would have been a bad thing. So no real regrets.

And just in case I might have begun feeling sorry for myself…

Also in the first aid area was a young woman wrapped in a blanket and looking miserable. She’d been on the trail during the storm surge – and a tree had fallen on her. No serious harm, fortunately, but she was out – and she’d signed up for the 100-miler.

“I’ve had the worst luck with this race,” she told me. “Last year I was at mile 98, and I got clipped by a guy on a mountain bike.”

These are Super Slammers - five 100-mile races in one year. And people call *me* crazy.

These folks are Super Slammers – five 100-mile races in one year. And people call *me* crazy.

Next, I’ll be looking more at the mistakes I made and what I can do better in my next attempt at a race over 50 miles. Report following discussion with my coach.

A Beer for Brian

IF YOU’D SEEN ME LAST NIGHT paying tribute to my cousin Brian, and avoided being struck blind, you’d have had good cause to doubt my sanity. But I was fulfilling an obligation and following some very sage advice.

Fortunately, there are no photos. But you’re welcome to use your imagination.

Brian-croppedBrian was a sweet, good-natured guy with a broad and deep sense of humor. He was fun to be around. He enjoyed life, and at 51 was far too young to leave it. But his cancer was aggressive and incurable, and he passed away two weeks ago.

His memorial service was held yesterday in Wisconsin. My wife went but my biggest race of the year was this weekend – the 100K at Run Woodstock, which would start Friday afternoon and spill over into Saturday morning. So I offered to run my race in Brian’s honor, which the family thought was a fine idea.

Run Woodstock - ready to go

Ready to rock ‘n roll! Brian’s photo is pinned to my shorts.

Except that the 100K didn’t go according to plan. I overheated and dropped out at the 56K mark for my first-ever DNF. (More on that event, and what I learned, in an upcoming post.) I called my wife to let her know, and that I felt bad about it. By not finishing, I felt like I hadn’t really honored Brian properly. She set me straight.

“Brian wouldn’t have wanted you to kill yourself over this,” she told me. “You know what he would have said? Fuck it, and go get a beer.”

The moment I heard that, I knew it was exactly what he would have said. So my revised mission was to follow that advice. And I knew just how to do it.

In addition to the races, Run Woodstock offers fun, untimed trail runs of 5K or 10K on Friday and Saturday nights. There are two options available. The first is to follow the standard course on the trails. The second takes you to a secluded part of the woods where you can run a mile loop “the natural way”. You’re allowed shoes and a headlamp, and the rest is placed on a tarp at the starting point.

Or perhaps more appropriately, a "what the Hell" activity.

Or perhaps more appropriately, a “what the Hell” activity.

So which option did I choose for Saturday night’s run? Only the Natural option offers beer. Plus it fit well with the first part of the advice.

So I followed the flags to the tarp and made the necessary wardrobe adjustments. There was a group all ready to go for their mile, so I joined them. It was a perfect evening, dry and cool, and the loop flew by quickly and easily. After the sweltering heat followed by rain Friday night, this was pure bliss.

And unlike the first time I ran the natural mile, I felt completely at ease, even when we gave two fully clothed hikers a surprise. Everyone else seemed comfortable, too. “Liberating!” I actually heard someone say. Part of this, I think, is that runners tend to be easygoing and accepting. Awkward situations are nothing new to them and they pretty much take things as they come. It’s either part of what makes them runners, or what running does to them.

I finished the loop and picked up a cup of beer. As I was getting ready to salute Brian’s memory, I overheard a nearby group of women. They were doing the Natural for the first time and were a bit uncertain about where to go on the trail. Being the compassionate and chivalrous man that I am, I offered to go with them. “Oh, yes!” they said, so I put the cup down and off we went, two guys to about six or seven women. The evening just kept getting better!

That is, until we passed a woman walking along the trail holding a baby, nursing it while she walked. All the women stopped to ooh and aah over the baby and the other guy was telling the mom how great she was for doing this. So I was now by myself.

What to do – wait, or run? My body said run, and amazingly my brain agreed, so I went with that. Turned out to be a good plan. When I returned to the starting area, there was one cup of beer – the last one – on the table. In previous years, they’d set up a bar shack with more beer, wine and other drinks, but this year they’d kept that all in the main campground. So I’d arrived just in time.

I picked up the last cup, explaining that it was needed to fulfill a sacred duty. Naked in front of God and the other naked people, I raised the cup toward the heavens. “Brian,” I said, “this one’s for you.”

If he was watching, I hope he had a good laugh.

A SFW version of my toast. RIP, dude.

A SFW version of my toast. (The button is from last night.) RIP, dude.