Tag Archives: 50 miles

Gut Check at the Potawatomi 50

My first (and possibly only) ultramarathon of 2019 is done. I can’t say I enjoyed every mile, or even most of them. Yet I’m grateful for the experience. Lemme tell ya why.

I’ve run 22 ultras now, and every one has been memorable, whether for a competitive time (Veterans Memorial, Dogwood), extreme heat (Lighthouse) or cold (Yankee Springs), challenging terrain (Voyageur) or the surreal (Burning Man). Last Saturday’s 50-miler at the Potawatomi Trail Races combined sticky mud, hard climbs, and physical discomfort into a thirteen-plus hour sufferfest.

My shoes after the event.

It was worth it.

The race website quotes a runner as saying, “…they took all the hills [in Illinois] and put them ALL into one spot and called it McNaughton Park.” Having driven across Illinois, then run in the park, I can confirm this is true.

With 1,600 feet of elevation gain per ten-mile loop, I climbed nearly as much in 50 miles as I did at the Kettle Moraine 100. The uphills are sudden and steep, including one with rope assist. Yet they are exceeded in quad-shattering ferocity by the downhills, aptly described as, “elevator shafts.”

Two friends, John and Kurt, were responsible for my presence there. Kurt was attempting the 150-miler (15 loops), while John would try the 200, a 20-loop exercise in torture which awards a belt buckle too big to wear. This I wanted to witness. I settled on Saturday’s 50-miler as my limit after an inconsistent winter of training, but I was there to see them off at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Kurt (left) and John, just before race start on Thursday.

On Friday I volunteered at the base camp aid station, ran a few miles to keep loose, and went to bed early. I headed down the muddy path at 6:00 Saturday morning fired up and feeling good.

One mile in. Welcome to nine more miles of this!

The first loop, messy, slippery, and still a bit dark, was quite fun. I completed it in two hours flat, which I was very pleased with. No PR here, but even with a shoe change or two I expected to finish in around 11 hours. That plan went south starting late in the second loop.

Runners climbing one of the signature hills in the park.

A burning sensation appeared in my lower abdomen, almost like needing to pee, except I didn’t. This had happened at the Lighthouse 100, which I’d blamed on an unfamiliar electrolyte drink. I’d stuck with familiar food and drink this time, but here was that pain again, and getting worse.

Not wanting to quit, I pressed on and began experimenting. I tried drinking less, then a lot. I consumed more salt. I tried eating and not eating. After loop three I sat for a while. Nothing made any difference whatever. Even ginger ale and a Tums had zero effect. The day was pleasant and the trail was drying out nicely, but the constant pain was ruining any chance of enjoyment.

I made it through lap four (40 miles) and collapsed into a chair next to the timer. “Ready for your victory lap, Jeff?” he asked. No, I was not. In fact, I felt a tingling in my hands and flush in my face that signaled a bonk coming on. I got to my feet, walked to a nearby grassy patch and lay down for a nap. Plenty of time for one. Heck, with race cutoff over 24 hours away, I could even leave, recover, sleep, and finish the next day. I dozed for about twenty minutes with the afternoon sun warm on my face and body.

When I got up, a miracle had occurred. The abdominal pain had vanished, and I was full of energy. Victory lap on! I walked the first mile just to be sure all was well, then ran the rest of it comfortably. With competitive pressure gone, and feeling well again, I was able to fully enjoy those final miles. I finished just as it was getting dark. At 13-plus hours it was my slowest 50, but I was satisfied. And grateful.

So what made the experience worthwhile? I learned I could push through a long period of discomfort. That I can use a bad situation to learn more about myself and what I’m capable of.

Also, two things stood out about how my body performed. Though my quads were screaming from the downhills, they held up, and everything else – glutes, hamstrings, calves, even knees – felt fine throughout. And on a steep, muddy trail, I didn’t fall once. I give full credit to the trainers at Body Specs for their attention to whole-body training and stability work. All those one-legged squats and work on the wobble boards paid off. Thanks, Skip and crew!

This will pay off…this WILL pay off…

And how did my friends doing the crazy miles make out? Mixed results. John’s attempt at 200 ended after five loops and a rainy, miserable night. He was understandably bummed, but is already looking forward to his next challenge. Kurt finished his 150 miles at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, one of three to complete that distance. And four runners actually completed the full 200. Outstanding work, guys. I am in awe.

A Strange and Fickle Beast

Last weekend I had an opportunity to run a “fatass” trail race (up to 30 miles) reasonably near where I live. On that morning it was near freezing temperatures, raining, and I had a slightly painful knee that I’d “tweaked” somehow the previous night. Plus I had a 50-miler coming up in a week. So I passed on the fatass, stayed home, and did my taxes.

From last December’s Fatass run. I’m in the bright yellow jacket on the right. I did 21 miles because I had no excuses.

Now, those of you who aren’t ultrarunners, or who don’t know me all that well, are probably saying, “Sensible choice, what’s the issue?” The rest of you have, to a person, who I’ve told this to fully supported my decision.

Everyone except me.

Despite knowing it was the best choice, I still had some twinges of regret for at least not showing up and giving it a shot.

Why?

Because I have run ultras in the cold, and in the rain, and with a bum knee (although not yet all three at once). And enjoyed the experience each time. So I have a certain reputation of “indestructibility” that’s hard to set aside. Plus I just like being around trail runners.

This weekend is the aforementioned 50-miler at McNaughton State Park in Illinois. I arrived Thursday to see off those running the really long distances here, including my friends Kurt (150 miles) and John (200 miles). It was chilly and raining at the 4 p.m. start. The runners were geared up and ready. And no one – runners, race staff, or race director – complained about the weather.

Kurt (bib #400) and John (bib #415).

There’s very little fanfare at the start of most ultras. Runners are upbeat but quiet, grabbing a snack, conversing about other ultras, stretching, or jogging a bit to loosen up. Usually no music – that’s for pumping up people at shorter races, like marathons. And the starting “gun” is the race director saying something like, “Get outta here.”

And yet the energy is palpable, a current washing over the entire starting area. I’ve felt it every time, running or not. Watching the runners standing quietly in the queue before the start yesterday, I began twitching, and bouncing on my heels. Mind you, I was grateful not to be starting with them. But part of me was ready to jump in anyway. And had I signed up for that start time, I’d have been there, just as eager as the rest of them to get out on that trail.

They’re off! (Okay, maybe some are feeling the vibe more than others.)

My race begins early Saturday morning, and it promises to be a great day – sunny, with temperatures in the sixties. I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m only a little disappointed that it won’t be raining.

Yes, motivation is a strange beast, indeed.

Spring 2018 Races: A Season of Firsts

I’M DEEP IN IT NOW.

In my first post of 2018 I hinted about my planned races for the year. Since then I’ve discussed options with my coach, made my selections, and signed up. I’m committed for the next several months! (Many of you think I should have been committed years ago, but here we are.)

So without further ado, here are my upcoming spring races:

  1. Land Between the Lakes 50-miler: March 10

This will be my first race in Kentucky. I’m heading down there with a group of local runners who will be doing a bunch of different distances, including the only 60K race I know of. But naturally, I had to sign up for the longest option. You’ll see why below.

One challenge may well be the weather. As the race is still technically in winter, anything can happen. According to the website, last year’s race began with a “beautiful snow shower.” So as long as I pack all the running clothes and gear I own, I’ll be fine.

  1. Dogwood 12-Hour Race: March 31

This will be my first race based on time duration rather than distance. I had two motivations to choose this one. First, it will be a good test of my patience running a loop over and over. Fortunately, it will be a 3.5 mile trail loop instead of an insipid one-mile road loop, or, God forbid, a quarter-mile running track. The other reason is that it’s close to where my daughter Tori lives, and she’s planning to come out on race day and run a loop with me.

One other cool feature: the race is cupless, and runners will need to bring their own containers for hot and cold liquids. (At least I find it cool.)

  1. Trail Marathon Weekend, April 28-29: No Wimps, Baby!

This is the race that began my love affair with trail running. After several years of doing the fast & furious 5-miler, I graduated to the No Wimps challenge: the half marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon or 50K on Sunday.

2015, after the 50K finish.. two days, 44 miles, three medals!

In 2016 and 2017, as I got the Zero Waste program established, I contented myself with just the Sunday marathon. But with the program now firmly in place, I’m returning to the No Wimps for 2018. Back-to-back long runs are excellent training for – well, see below.

So what’s the “first” here? It will be the first time I’ve done the “No Wimps” combo of half marathon Saturday, then full marathon Sunday. I’ve done the half/50K combo, but not this one yet. And I’ll have the additional challenge of trying to defend my 2017 Rogucki title (1st in the marathon age 50+).

And now, the Big One. . .

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  1. Veterans Memorial 150: May 26-28

So after I finished the Lighthouse 100 last year, I promised my wife I wasn’t going to do a 200-miler. At least not anytime soon. But I didn’t say anything about 150 miles.

Actually, I didn’t even know this race existed until late last year, when someone in a Facebook running group I belong to mentioned he’d signed up for it. It’s for a good cause, and it’s in Michigan. How could I turn that down?

This will have several firsts; in addition to the distance, it will be the first race where I’ll have a crew, and the first where I’ll have pacers. God help them all.

More about this race, why I signed up, and how I’m training for it, in future posts.

But wait, there’s still more…

So much for the traditional races this year! In the second half I’ve got some really far-out stuff lined up. Stay tuned – I’ll tell you all about it coming up!

Saved by a Lighthouse and a Dirty German

When one door closes another door opens…

Alexander Graham Bell is given the credit for this piece of wisdom, though it sounds so universal I have to believe it’s actually far older. For sure I would’ve thought it went back to Buddha, or Plato, or Moses, or the like.

I’ve given this advice to my kids, and it’s always sounded good when I say it. But there are times I need it myself, to practice what I preach. What follows was my latest opportunity.

I’d been interested in the Great New York Running Exposition ever since I’d stumbled across it looking for a suitable first 100-mile race. I decided it would be a bit much for my first try, but I put it into my plan for 2017.

It’s a small race and their Facebook page said they fill up quickly, so I noted the opening day of registration (January 8) and set two reminders in my planner. I even included it in my work computer’s password, so I’d get a daily reminder.

Problem was, registration day was a Sunday. And I forgot. When I finally remembered later in the day and frantically called up the site, it was already too late. Best I could do was add my name to the wait list.

Well, rats. Nuts. Foo. Gosh dang it. Or to borrow a stronger phrase from one of my friends, “Fudge puppies.”

fudge_puppies_14x12

They really exist! You lean something new every day.

So now what?

I considered my options. I could wait to find out if a spot opens for me. It could happen; plans change. I thought about volunteering instead, to scope things out; it’s a somewhat tricky course. But in the meantime, I began looking for other 100-mile possibilities. For there is a second part to Mr. Bell’s quote:

…but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

I could have signed up for Kettle Moraine again, or Mohican, or the Indiana Trail 100, all excellent choices. But I’d set aside 2017 to do the offbeat or unusual, and those are long-established events. Initial poking around on the Internet didn’t come up with anything else promising, though

So after last Saturday’s group run, I was commiserating over coffee with one of our run club’s directors. “There’s a brand new race in northern Michigan,” she said. Why don’t you run that?”

lighthouse-100

lighthouse-100-mapWe pulled up the website. Holy party line, Batman! This is a race along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Petoskey through Traverse City, then up the Old Mission Peninsula. It’s mostly on roads or paved trails, like the New York race. It’s close to our summer campground in Empire, which cuts the travel cost and allows some of our friends there to see me start and/or finish, if they so desire. And it’s in early June, just like New York. Thanks to not getting into that one, I could enter this one!

I signed up right then and there in the coffee shop. Sorry, Big Apple, you’ve been supplanted by the cherry. Still have you on the radar for next year, though.

Now I generally “warm up” for a 100K or 100-mile race by running a 50-miler a few weeks before to assess physical readiness and do a gear check. And right in mid-May was just the ticket:

dirtygermanfinishlogoweb

Among the quirky parts of this race are beer supplied by the St. Pauli Girls (in costume) and age group awards of cuckoo clocks and German “weather houses.” Looking at the 2016 results, I’d have to really haul butt to get one, but that’s sort of beside the point.

dirty-german-agegroupaward

So just like that, two big pieces of this year’s race schedule fell into place. See? Never a doubt! Thanks, Alex.

I hope my kids read this.