Tag Archives: endurance

This is Not About Pickles

I HAVE THESE URGES, YOU SEE.

They started years ago when I began regular fitness training, and especially once I started running races. They are what get me out of bed and onto the road on a winter morning, into the gym on a hot afternoon, or on the bike for a “quick 25 miles” at the end of a long day. Anyone into fitness activities can relate, I think.

Yet as beneficial for my body and my mental discipline as these urges are, sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass.

This past weekend I was on my feet a lot, managing the Zero Waste program for two morning races; Running Between the Vines on Saturday, then Swim to the Moon on Sunday. Both days I was at the venue by 5:30 a.m. and in more or less constant motion well into the afternoon checking stations, hauling collected compost and recyclables, and performing emergency sorting on unlabeled bins that well-meaning people had set out without my knowledge. (I’m not bitter about that. Really, I’m not.)

There are some advantages to working events like this!

But I survived, and all went well. This is what I train for, right? Running long races, and working long races. And sometimes both, as with last April when I ran the Trail Marathon and then worked the waste stations.

So what had me feeling oddly guilty on Sunday evening, when the work was done and I could put my feet up for a bit?

I didn’t get a run in.

And that had me feeling inadequate.

I get it, okay? I know it’s silly to feel this way. And it’s not like I slacked off. This morning my body felt just as fatigued as if I’d done a long run the day before. I actually looked forward to today’s afternoon workout, cuz I knew the heat and humidity would get my sore and creaky body warm and loose again.

Oh yeah, that hits the spot!

And so it proved; those thirty minutes of brutality worked out the kinks and soreness, and I’m back to feeling pretty good again. So I’ll plan on getting in a good run tomorrow.

Yet the drive to stick to my regular training schedule, and not miss a run or workout for any reason, is hard to turn off. Perhaps it’s fear that drives it. Not a fear that I’ll lose fitness, but that I’ll lose the desire to remain fit.

And that would suck.

See? Even potatoes can get off the couch!

I know life comes with no guarantees about lifespan or health. But I can give myself the best shot at a long, healthy life by eating right, getting enough sleep, and by staying active and fit. I want to have a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Plus, for whatever reason, I enjoy the activity; the ultramarathons, the long bike rides, and the ability to work all day keeping stuff out of landfills. This, too, contributes to my quality of life. And I have some goals yet to achieve too, like a six-minute mile, a half marathon in under 90 minutes, and plenty of races of all kinds that look intriguing.

And so I’ll put up with the urges.

Because they’re for my own good.

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And since you’ve read this far, you deserve this link to one of the classic jokes about urges: The Pickle Factory. Enjoy!

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Recovery: Fast, Slow, and Hungry

Now that the Lighthouse 100 is in the books, people ask me two questions. The first, naturally enough, is: how does one recover from a 100-mile race?

Group start photo from the website. Oh so young, fresh, and naive!

The TL;DR answer: Carefully.

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. (Feel free to Like this post and move on…J)

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Now for those of you who’d like a little detail – in short, recovery hasn’t been what I expected.

Last year after the Kettle Moraine 100 I was sore for about a week. With Lighthouse I was mostly pain-free in two days. Within a week I was taking short bike rides and even getting in some light work at the gym. This was really surprising as it was a road ultra, and usually road races take me longer to recover than the same distance on trails.

But under the surface reality was lurking. Two weeks after Lighthouse the summer Aikido session started, and I left class that evening pumped up and feeling good. That was easy! When I woke up the next morning I wondered what truck had run me over. And while I’m back to running, and enjoying it, even an easy run takes more out of me than usual. On the bike, all it takes is a hill or two to remind me not to push it.

Yeah, it’s like that.

Even after I feel recovered from an extreme endurance event, it takes more time to really be fully recovered. For a 50K it takes me 2-3 weeks, and for a 50-miler 3-4 weeks, so a 100-miler should take about 6-8 weeks. That means late July at the earliest to resume full training. So Body Specs sessions are maintenance rather than strength-building, and all running is “fun running” until August.

My appetite has been the other surprise. The evening of my Kettle finish last year, I went to a sports bar and polished off a massive cheeseburger and fries, and went back to normal eating quickly after that. This year I had virtually no appetite for nearly a week. Even the pastries I normally lust after weren’t appealing.

I’ll start here with one of everything.

These problems have corrected themselves, to where everything looks good at any time and I’m eating something every couple of hours. I’m not even back to my pre-race weight yet, so I’m letting myself indulge as long as my main diet is the good stuff.

Since I’m used to more rigorous training, part of me can’t help feeling a little guilty about this easy running and constant eating. Well, tough. Both physically and mentally it’s doing me good. Many elite athletes don’t train at all during their off-season. They rest a lot, eat a lot, and enjoy life (imagine that!), knowing they’ll snap back into shape when they resume training.

For years I’ve trained and raced year-round. (Skip at Body Specs has a fancy term for this type of athlete, which I’ve forgotten.)  But since I’ve started “front-loading” races ending in a June 100-miler, July and August have become my off-season, which I am coming to like. I’ve been missing long bike rides, and now I can do them without worrying about how they fit into my training schedule. Enjoying outdoor exercise for its own sake? What a concept!

I’ll be back to regular training soon enough, though. As much as I like some time off, I also continue to enjoy competitive running, and there are events I’m looking forward to this fall and next year. Which leads to the other question people ask me: What’s next?

Well, here are a few I have in mind:

  • The Great New York Running Exposition (my target for a 2018 100-miler)
  • The Burning Man 50K (sold out in less than an hour this year)
  • Pursuit of a sub-90 minute half marathon
  • Be part of an ultra relay
  • Get back into pacing a race or two

But for now, I smile and reply, “I have no idea what’s next.” And you know, that feels really good.

Lighthouse 100 Recap, Part 1

I ran the first-ever Lighthouse 100 race last weekend. This is not really a race review, but a series of vignettes about my experience. I’ll give my thoughts on the course and race organization in Part 2. Hope you enjoy!

I sprawled in the driver’s seat of a stranger’s car, air conditioning blowing on my flushed face. Laura, the car’s owner, had given me a cold drink which I sipped while wishing the runner she was crewing for would arrive. She’d agreed to drive me to the next aid station as soon as she refilled his bottles and sent him on his way. “He’s just a few minutes away,” she’d told me.

Outside the car it was over 90 degrees in pitiless sunshine, and a 40 mph wind blew grit in the faces of the runners trudging south along Elk Lake Road.

I was at mile 65 of the inaugural Lighthouse 100 race, and, in my mind, done. Toast. Ready to call it a day.

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Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day, etc. – Oklahoma!

THAT DAY HAD BEGUN on a much more positive note.

We set off from Bayfront Park in Petoskey at 6 a.m., following the Little Traverse Wheelway to Charlevoix and southwest from there to Elk Rapids, Traverse City, and then north up the Old Mission Peninsula to the lighthouse at its tip. Seventy runners crossed the starting line, with until noon Sunday (30 hours) to finish.

The morning was cool with a light breeze and the sun eased through the overcast to light up the bay on our right. I felt great, my pace was easy and light, and everyone was upbeat and chatting about the gorgeous view. This was what I’d signed up for, and life was good.

Eventually the pack stretched out and broke up. I settled into a steady pace and passed time with other runners talking about favorite races, nutrition, the usual stuff. The laid-back attitude and camaraderie are characteristic of ultras, and among the reasons I love them.

For the first forty miles all went according to plan. My left IT band oddly flared up at mile six, but stretching at Aid Station 1 (Mile 10) resolved it. In downtown Charlevoix a bearded fellow in a Run Woodstock T-shirt cheered me on. Then onto back roads and rolling hills, with a short stretch on US-31 to Aid Station 4. I was running strong and breathing easy, on pace to finish well under my target of 24 hours.

Things went downhill from there. And not in the good way.

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“There will be times when you’ll want to quit,” Dave Krupski, the race director, had told us at the pre-race meeting the day before. “But do this first; take a long break, 15 minutes or half hour, and drink some electrolyte fluids. If at the end of that time you decide it’s not your day, then okay. But give yourself time to recover and think about it.”

Well, I’d taken that break; several of them. Given myself time. And I’d thought about it. Nope, it wasn’t my day. But it would soon be over. I just had to wait a few more minutes.

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The Road goes ever on and on, Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can. – Tolkien

The heat and full sun began its work on the US-31 stretch, and I knew there would be more to come, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve run several ultras in hot weather with no problems, and figured I had the process down. Salt tablets every hour. Icewater-soaked cloth under my white sun-reflecting cap. Ease off on pace. Got it.

Naivete, thy name is runner.

Trouble started as I turned (at last) off US-31 back onto country roads, looking forward to cold water at the 45-mile mark. The jug was missing; someone had stolen it. Why, Lord only knows, but obviously he or she had no idea how much it meant to an uncrewed runner on a hot day.

My remaining water was too warm and too little to make it to AS5 (Mile 51), but I’d passed a crew vehicle a half mile back. I retraced and it was fortunately still there. Kevin, the driver, had extra ice and water and was happy to help. Turned out I was not the only other runner he saved that day.

Now the sun began taking its toll, and a nagging stomach issue grew steadily worse. At AS5 I took an extended break to sit, cool off, and re-evaluate. I was #11 overall and it was a bit annoying to watch other runners go by, but I needed the rest and figured I’d catch up. Then a change of shoes, final fluid reload, and back into the fray.

I got to AS6 at mile 60 without trouble, although I was now doing run-walk intervals instead of the steady jog I prefer. And with no interest in food, I didn’t refuel like I should have. Bad move.

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“You are not a bad runner. You are a good runner having a bad moment.” – Pacer to runner, overheard at Run Woodstock during a 100K

I’d pictured Elk Lake Road (miles 60-67) as pretty and meandering, with lots of shade making for an easy stretch. Instead it was straight into a hot south wind, with no shade whatever. I got to mile 65 with just one thought; find that water jug.

Except I didn’t see it. Not where my watch said it should be, nor up ahead.

It was too much. I found a shady swale off the road, lay down, and put my damp cloth over my face. I lay there for a while trying to figure out how I would go on. I did not improve, and eventually I figured if I didn’t get up then, I wouldn’t get up at all. So I staggered to my feet just as another runner came up to me, asking if I was okay.

“I can’t find the water jug,” I said.

He pointed ahead. “It’s right there. Can’t you see it?” I couldn’t. We walked back to the road, and finally I spotted it just over a small rise. Once there I rinsed my face and drank, but I didn’t feel any better.

Then I saw a line of crew vehicles on the other side of the road, I chose one at random and asked the driver if I could sit in her car for a few minutes. She immediately and kindly agreed, and got me an iced cup of Coke to sip. After a few minutes she asked how I was doing.

“I think I’m done,” I said, and asked if she would drive me to AS7 where I could drop. Another 35 miles in these conditions, feeling the way I did, was just not something I could deal with. There was no shame in that. As Dave had said, sometimes it just isn’t your day.

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Get up! Get back on your feet. You’re the one they can’t beat, and you know it. – Styx

Laura’s runner arrived at last. I heard her fill his bottles, say she was proud of him. Then on he went down the road. Laura cleared the front passenger seat for me, then came around to the driver’s side.

I opened the door and stretched out my left leg. It seized up in a calf cramp, which I stretched out only to get a shin cramp. With a grimace and apology, I planted that leg on the ground at last, then the other, emerged from the car, and stood straight. For a moment we just stood there looking at each other.

“You’re going to try to keep going,” she said. She sounded impressed with a strong hint of disbelief.

She was right. Somehow I had recovered just enough to give it one more shot. No way I could run, but I could try to walk it. Heck, every other runner was walking this section of road too.

“I’ll see you at Hawley Road,” she said, indicating it on her map. “That’s two and a half miles.” She mixed some Gatorade and filled one of my bottles with it.

I thanked her, went back out onto the road, turned into that furnace-like wind, and began walking.

How far did I get? What other challenges did I have on my attempt to get through the damn race? What’s all-night running like? All will be revealed in Part 2. Please stay tuned! And thanks for reading!

Peak Experiences

The last few weeks have been peak training time for my spring marathons and ultras. And let’s just say I’m feeling it.

So what does “peak training” mean? Extra miles per week, longer “long runs,” and heavier weights and additional sets at strength training. And with hill-loving Coach Rob setting the routes, PR Fitness group runs make sure my legs and lungs get some good work in.

If you think this is a viable option for long runs, you can stop reading now. You don't get it.

For long runs? Thanks, I’ll take the snow and hills, please.

The extra physical effort is just part of the experience, however. It being late winter in Michigan (*), conditions have varied. This morning I ran 18 miles with a big, enthusiastic PR Fitness group in shorts and single top layer, bright sunshine, and clear, clean roads. It was easy to feel good out there, even with tired legs.

But just a couple of weeks ago, I ran 20 miles by myself on a cold, gray, blustery day on snowy roads. With no one to pace with or keep me motivated, it was hard to remain focused. I had problems with my shoes, I needed several biological breaks (too much coffee), and with sweaty clothes it was a struggle to stay warm.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

With five miles to go I stopped at a cafe for a snack and water and took stock. I would be on a busy road at rush hour, going uphill, and it was getting dark fast. It would have been easy, perhaps even sensible, to call a cab (**) for a warm ride home. Instead, I took a deep breath, stepped outside, and slogged out those final miles.

Good question.

Good question!

Would missing those five miles hurt my time at my upcoming marathon? Not likely. The 15 miles I’d already run were probably equal to at least 20 miles on a good day. And I might get hurt during the last stretch due to the weather and road conditions. Physically speaking, there was no reason to finish the run.

But Coach Marie understood why I did. She’s had many of those herself. “It makes you mentally stronger,” she said. And when things go wrong, or the unexpected happens, or you “hit the wall” five miles from the finish line, it’s the mental toughness that gets you across it.

Great weather and a happy body are treasured by runners when they occur, but they provide a very limited view of what we’re truly capable of. This morning’s run was wonderful, but the one two weeks ago did more for me. The miles in the snow, or rain, or mud, or 90-degree heat (with precautions, of course) tell me far more about what I’m really capable of, and give me confidence that I can accomplish my goals.

Building character.

Building character.

Not that I want one like that every week.

And “peak training” is nearly over! Soon I will begin tapering – easing back on mileage to recover and be at peak condition on race day. Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, extra rest can be as challenging as peak training, in a different way. I think I’ll find a way to get through it.

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(*) Actually, conditions are never predictable in Michigan. It’s part of the appeal of living here.

(**) I don’t really buy into this Uber thing yet. Call me old-fashioned.