Tag Archives: Body Specs

Veterans Memorial 150: How Did This Happen?

I RAN 150 MILES FOR THIS HERE DOUGHNUT.

I’d just run the Veterans Memorial 150 from Ludington to Bay City, and the iconic Cops & Doughnuts is a sponsor of the race. So naturally I had to stop in and thank them for their support. I bought a bunch of their ginormous cookies, but I got this doughnut for free.

How come? It’s my trophy.

Because I. Won. The. Freaking. Race.

First overall.

VM150 2018 results

Click the image if you’d like to see the full results.

151 miles in 40 hours, 6 minutes, over two days of brutal heat that dropped half the field on Saturday, and many of the rest on Sunday. Ten runners made it to the one hundred-mile mark, and only four (including yours truly) went the entire distance.

I had other “firsts” too. It was my first race over one hundred miles, and the first race where I had a crew and pacers. And yet somehow, some way, it all came together. I’m still finding it hard to believe.

As there’s a lot to share about my experience, I’ll dedicate several posts to it. In this first post, I’ll tell you why I chose the race, trained for it, and planned it. Next, I’ll recap the race itself. Then I’ll talk about the factors essential to my finishing, and winning – what steps I took to prepare, how I dealt with foot issues, and how I handled the heat. And I’ll ask my crew and pacers to chime in with their thoughts and experiences, too.

So here we go!

What’s the VM150, and why did I sign up?

The Veterans Memorial Honor Run is a 150-mile jaunt from Ludington to Bay City – Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. Taking place over the Memorial Day weekend, it is also a fundraiser for Victory Gym, a nonprofit that offers free membership to veterans and first responders, and supports people dealing with PTSD and its effects.

Exercise has been shown to help alleviate PTSD symptoms, and the gym was founded by a veteran who discovered its benefits and wanted to help others. Both the unusual distance and the wonderful cause attracted me to the race, and not too long after I found out about it, I took a deep breath and signed up.

The Course: Lake Michigan to Lake Huron

For such a long race, the general directions were quite simple:

  1. Go to Ludington Pier, face east, and start running.
  2. Stop running at Bay City State Park.

For a really cool animation of traveling the course created by a fellow race finisher, click the image of the video.

Over half the race (81 miles from Baldwin to Midland) takes place along the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail. It’s very difficult to get lost on this stretch, although I nearly succeeded once. The final 23 miles out of Midland are on open roads, so I drove it a few weeks before to get familiar with that stretch, as I figured I’d be running it in the dark.

How to Train for a 150-Miler, Summary Edition

My training followed the same basic plan as for my 100-milers the past two years; strength train and run all winter, and warm up to the distance with spring ultras.

The fine folks at Body Specs did their part, pushing me hard three days per week. They worked my entire body, with a special focus on the muscles that support running – glutes, hamstrings, and core. I did a ton of squats, lunges, crunches, and resistance training.

My spring ultras were the Land Between the Lakes 50 (a PR!), the Dogwood 12 Hour (54.5 miles, 3rd place finish), and Trail Marathon Weekend (the “No Wimps” half + full marathon). In between ultras, I recovered, and never ran more than 35 miles per week.

Unorthodox? Yep. But I’d successfully used this routine for my 100 mile races, so I knew it would prepare me physically. But mentally, running 5-6 days per week would have been tedious and non-motivating. With no sponsors and nothing to prove except to myself, I wanted to enjoy the journey to the big event. Otherwise, what was the point?

Recruiting Crew and Pacers: Otherwise Rational People Agree to Support This Crazy Adventure

Last year’s Lighthouse 100 taught me the value of a crew. I ran that race unsupported in 95-degree heat, with aid stations ten miles apart. The result was a bonk and near-DNF until I was rescued by another runner’s crew. The VM150 aid stations also average about ten miles apart, so a crew of my own would be essential.

My wife volunteered for the job, as did my good friends Dave and Sue. As they’d never crewed before or witnessed an ultra in progress, I gave them plenty of warning and time to change their minds. I advised them that CREW stood for, “Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting” and the race would consume their entire weekend, when by all rights they should be sitting comfortably at our campground with cold drinks. They stuck to their guns, and I accepted with a mix of gratitude and concern. I would need to give them a lot of information and instruction for things to go well.

I would also need pacers. I figured by late Sunday I would be pretty tired, and running the final miles on open roads in the dark was not an attractive prospect solo. If nothing else, a pacer would keep me pointed in the right direction and save me from becoming a traffic hazard. My running coach Paul and his wife Colleen offered their services, as did my friend Charlie from Body Specs.

So I had a team. Now what I needed was . . .

My Liege, I Have a Plan (click for reference)

First and foremost, I needed a schedule, so my crew could plan their stops and my pacers knew where to find me. I created a spreadsheet detailing my expected arrival and departure times at each aid station. At 50 and 100 miles I put in an extended break to rest, stretch, and change clothing and gear as needed.

I’d finished Lighthouse in 24 hours despite my near bonk, so I figured I could cover the first 100 miles at VM150 in the same time. This could be done with 11-minute miles for the first 50, and 13-15 minute miles from there to 100. I figured I’d be walking most of the final 50, which put my total race time around 45 hours, finishing near dawn on Monday morning.

I thought this was a conservative schedule, but I found I would arrive at many of the aid stations before they were scheduled to open! Not a problem since I had a crew, but curious. Wouldn’t many other runners be in the same situation?

Gear and Equipment

Next I created a packing list for clothes and gear, first-aid and personal care equipment, and food and drink. I packed them into separate and easily identifiable boxes so an item I needed could be found quickly.

Dave and Sue offered their custom van for the crew vehicle, which had plenty of room for all my supplies, plus a bed if I needed to lie down, and even a toilet. In terms of an ultra, this was real luxury. And no need to pack drop bags and guess which aid stations to send them to!

You can see my complete packing list below.

What to Wear? What to Wear?

With warm weather forecasted, the basics were easy. Shorts, shirt, compression underwear to prevent chafing, and lightweight socks. I packed spares of each, along with a light rain cover and a jacket. A light-colored cap was a necessity, as was a hand towel to dry myself or soak in ice water to stay cool.

For shoes I used my Saucony Kinvara 9s, with my Saucony Ride ISO and New Balance for backups. As a sock change can refresh sore feet, I packed six pairs. A basic belt held my phone and a Gu, and I used a handheld water bottle. With a crew close at hand, I could save the weight of extra food and fluids I would otherwise have to carry.

Food and Drink: The Ultra Diet

Here’s how you select food and drink for an ultra: Go to the grocery store and pull stuff off the shelves at random. Once home, sort out the items with fiber or any nutritional value whatever. Throw those away. Pack what remains.

A typical ultrarunner will burn between 400-600 calories per hour during a race, but can only replace about half that. Too much food, or heavy food, will stick in the gut and cause much unpleasantness.

Humans have tens of thousands of calories in fat stores, so there’s no danger of actual starvation. The trick is to prevent the body going into calorie conservation mode. Easy to digest foods with lots of carbs work best for most runners, with a small amount of protein and fats to help prevent muscle breakdown.

I stuck with the tried and true for me: PB&J on white bread, pretzels and pickles for salt, bananas and red grapes, and cookies and M&Ms for obvious reasons. Clif bars and chewy granola bars were handy items to “grab and go” and Gu packets give me a quick shot of energy if I’m not feeling up to eating at the time.

Water was my main drink. I used S-Cap tablets for electrolytes, supplementing with Gatorade. I also included iced tea, and Vernors, which provides sugar and settles my stomach.

Finally, ice would be key. It promised to be a warm weekend, so I’d need a lot to stay cool. Plus during any ultra I like my drinks to be ice-cold. Warm Gatorade in particular is no fun to drink.

The Night Before

We loaded up the van and drove to Beverly Ludington Friday evening. For a pre-race dinner I like something simple but not greasy. This time I had a grilled chicken sandwich and chips, which pleasantly filled me. I didn’t feel the need to “carbo load” as the course wouldn’t be strenuous and I’d have a crew nearby.

To our pleasant surprise, our motel had a beautiful Buddhist-style garden and koi pond, perfect for settling the mind and getting into the moment. I felt a sense of release very much like the start of my first marathon. All the training and preparation was done, and the stage was set. All that remained was to show up Saturday morning and run.

Up next: How did the race go? What went according to plan, and what didn’t? And what did some other runners see on the trail that first night? “Bear” with me to find out!

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The Workout of a Lifetime: Would Picasso Have Been Proud?

THE STORY GOES that Pablo Picasso was approached in a café one day by a woman who asked if he would do a drawing on her napkin. He agreed, made a quick sketch on it and said, “The cost will be 20,000 francs,” or some such enormous amount (some versions say $1 million).

“That much!” the lady exclaimed. “But it only took you five minutes!”

“No, my dear,” he replied. “It took me forty years.”

True or not, the story illustrates the lifetime of effort and experience it takes to be able to do something of quality while making it look easy.

Today’s workout at Body Specs brought Picasso’s napkin to mind. While hardly a work of art, completing it required drawing upon what I’ve learned and experienced since I began serious physical training fifteen years ago.

My workouts are assigned and supervised by trainers aware of my goals, and while the sessions range in intensity, occasionally one becomes a real test of what I thought were my limits. So it proved this afternoon.

This is from another session, but you get the idea.

Basically, I was given what the trainers call “supersets” consisting of a set of exercises performed in order, then “doubled” (repeated). For example, station 1 was monkey chin-ups, followed by ab exercises, followed by pushups. Repeat the three, then move on to station 2. I had a circuit of three stations in all, each with a set of doubled exercises. And I was to complete three full circuits.

After my first circuit I was spent. By the end of the second I needed to sit and rest after each exercise. My heart was pounding. I had nothing left. And I still had one to go.

Sure, I could have quit. All I needed to do was tell the trainers, “I’m done,” and head to the shower. It wasn’t a race, just a training session. And yet it had become, for me, more than that.

Because, for whatever reason, I’m an ultrarunner. And I’ve committed to the most aggressive race season ever, with the first race (50 miles) next month. Completing an ultramarathon requires mental and emotional discipline in addition to physical fitness. Patience, persistence, and dogged determination are needed to accept the continual discomfort and push through the inevitable low points. The mental muscles must be exercised, or they will fail you in a race as surely as undertrained legs.

So as I began the third circuit I called upon some principles I’ve learned and applied over the years.

  • From Aikido: breath control. Replace fast, shallow breathing with deep, slower breaths. This also relaxes the body. I did this after each exercise, establishing control before starting the next one.
  • From Aikido and ultrarunning: focus on where you are, not how much you have left. Do each rep with the best form you can. Then do another. “Remember,” Sensei said, “you can always do one more.”
  • From ultrarunning: pace. Take the time you need to complete the exercise. Don’t go too fast to show off. No one cares.

And, finally, I’d been here before, two-thirds through an extreme challenge, physically and emotionally spent, and ready to quit. Namely, the 65-mile mark at last year’s Lighthouse 100 (you can read my recap here). And somehow I’d found the strength to go on, and finish.

I slowly ground my way through the final circuit. One station, one exercise, one rep, at a time. My 30-minute session lasted well over an hour, and my muscles were shaking, but I completed it. Test passed. Until next time, of course.

So how did I reward myself? Like any health-conscious fitness nut would do:

Okay, it was really just the ice cream. (Peppermint Bark Moose Tracks, my new go-to treat.)

I also had a glass of tart cherry juice with my (healthy and nutritious) dinner. It’s supposed to help ease sore muscles. We’ll see if I can get out of bed in the morning. I hope so, cuz I should get a run in.

Publisher’s note: This post is available for sale for $1,000,000.00. Or best offer.

Lifestyle Makeover, Part 1: Pillow Talk

Note to readers: My wife is at home for several weeks following major abdominal surgery. The good news is she’s expected to make a full recovery. And we’re using this time to make some overdue upgrades to our house and our lifestyles. In this and upcoming posts I’ll share these changes with you.

One thing my wife and I have had in common the last couple of years: several times a week we get into bed together and moan.

OMG, I thought parents didn’t do that stuff.

No, it has nothing to do with that. This mutual moaning is generally followed by the question, “What did Skip do to you today?”

For we well know what resulted in our conditions, namely our visits to this place:

Photo from Body Specs Facebook page, Halloween workout 2017

This is Body Specs (a.k.a. Tower of London, Ann Arbor wing) where we surrender ourselves to head trainer Skip Bunton and his able crew of assistant tormentors. While the workouts differ in focus and intensity, they get those muscles working, dammit. And so, when in the evening one or both of us takes a little longer to stand up, or just crashes on the bed with a groan, we get it.

At this point you’d be forgiven for asking why we do this sort of thing not only voluntarily, but pay for it as well.

Professional amateur runner. Closed session. Do not attempt.

You see, around age 50 the body begins deciding that if you’re not actively using a muscle, you don’t really need it. As for some bizarre reason I enjoy running and cycling long distances, I need my muscles, thank you very much. But running alone doesn’t do the job; my lower body needs some amount of training under load, and my upper body and core need to stay strong and toned. In other posts I’ve shared photos of some particularly moan-inducing maneuvers. Here’s one of my favorites.

Extension pushups, anyone?

My wife doesn’t share my obsession with running (yet), but she works at a desk all day and has a long commute. She’d been wanting to get into better shape, but wasn’t sure that she could handle the kinds of workouts I’m subjected to.

Finally I persuaded her to talk with Skip, who assured her she’d receive training appropriate to her fitness level and personal goals. While she now shares the post-workout experience with me, she’s glad she signed up. Regularly scheduled workouts with a trainer are her guarantee that she will exercise.

And her training has had an additional unanticipated benefit; when we found out she needed surgery, she worked hard to be in the best possible shape for it. She’s convinced that it’s contributed to her steady, uncomplicated recovery.

Her surgery has put her training on hold for several weeks, but she’s walking every day as recommended to improve blood flow and speed recovery. And she’s looking forward to resuming regular sessions. For we’re making plans to do more activities together, and those will require both of us to be in good shape.

Up next: Changing what fuels us.

Can We Talk?

I went to Body Specs earlier this week for my regular 12:30 session. “I need to stop at 12:45 today,” I said. “I have a meeting.”

So Skip gave me a set that I finished right at 12:45. “You should just tell us ahead of time,” he said after I’d changed. “We can get you in earlier that way.”

I’d just assumed I’d have a short session instead. But he was right; with advance notice I’d have been able to get in my full session. Besides, it was common courtesy.

The next day after my workout, my wife called. “Did you tell Skip I needed to talk to him at my session today?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “but Skip left early today. So you’ll have to wait until next time.”

“I wish you’d told me,” she said. She’d been caught in traffic and wouldn’t make her session on time, and was worried she’d lose her opportunity to consult with Skip. He wasn’t there anyway, but she hadn’t known.

Well, what goes around comes around. This afternoon I was setting up for Run Woodstock and noticed the recycling rolloffs I’d ordered hadn’t arrived. So I called the disposal company to check where they were. “The delivery was changed to Friday morning,” I was told.

It wasn’t the fault of the rep I’d worked with; he’d put “delivery Thursday” in the work order. The operations manager had changed the delivery day and time, probably to accommodate his other delivery commitments.

“I need to know these things,” I said, and confirmed they had my contact information on file. The rep agreed I should have been called.

What do you suppose is going on? It’s easier than ever to reach out and touch someone (any of my readers old enough to remember that slogan?). Today I called a co-worker in Costa Rica and five minutes later we were working through a shared document on our screens, each of us taking control when needed. Thousands of miles distance and two hours time difference? No big deal – standard practice.

And communication is increasing rapidly worldwide. Yet while use of social media and email are growing, mobile voice usage (i.e. phone calls) has been dropping since 2013. I’m as guilty as anyone else of this. As an introvert I’m more comfortable with exchanging emails, where I can take my time and compose messages carefully. Personal interactions like face-to-face meetings and phone calls are mentally draining.

Check out some interesting stats and graphics at this blog regarding how communication is growing, but voice communication is falling. (Image is from the blog.)

But nonverbal communication is by no means foolproof. There are times I’ve sent a business email and heard about it later because it was misinterpreted. “That should’ve been a phone call,” my boss will say. “Your tone of voice and manner of delivery would have made your meaning clear.” In part because of this I’m more tolerant of emails I receive that seem less than polite.

(Check out this article: 14 words and phrases you should not use in emails.)

I’m sure there’s some heavy duty, government-funded research going on that will reveal the enormous social damage being caused by Twitter and Snapchat, and how uncontrolled flame wars between spouses are spiking divorce rates. While I may not be able to preserve the American family all by myself, at least I can be better about calling people when needed.

And yet…as my wife and I drove home from a weekend up north, her phone rang. It was our daughter in Richmond and her wife. As much as we enjoy hearing from them, being a parent there’s always that little concern about an unexpected call from a faraway kid. But no worries this time. “I just called to say hey,” she said.

So there’s hope for the world after all.