Tag Archives: preparation

Ten Years of Racing!: A Celebration, and a Lesson Learned

Last Saturday’s Holiday Hustle in Dexter – a fun and otherwise ordinary end-of-season 5K – was memorable for me. Ten years ago, the 2008 Holiday Hustle was my first-ever official race.

That’s right! A dedicated non-runner until my mid-forties, I’d begun with just a few short runs here and there to supplement bike rides and Aikido training. Then, finding out about the Holiday Hustle just a few miles from my house, I said what the hell and signed up.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Last Saturday I joined the crowd in the starting queue with over a hundred races to my name, from 5Ks to marathons and beyond, including two 100-milers and my (current) longest distance of 150 miles, accomplished last June at the Veterans Memorial. Had anyone predicted this back then, I’d have laughed and said they definitely had the wrong guy. Well, you know what they say about truth and fiction.

So there was definitely something to celebrate and enjoy about this year’s race, and I did, although like any 5K I run, it was a sufferfest for all 3.1 miles. I finished in just under 21 minutes, and claimed second in my age group. On paper, a good solid result, especially because I went right back to work heading up the event’s Zero Waste team. No sense going all out and killing myself over this race, right?

“Santa, I want a worm composting bin for Christmas!”

Except that’s not how I felt.

I wasn’t expecting a PR (personal record) because I’ve trained this year mostly for ultramarathons, and not for short races. And given I set a PR for the 50-mile distance, and got two podium finishes, including a win, I have zero complaints about that.

Third at the Dogwood 12-Hour race in March

1st at the Veterans Memorial 150 in June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But at any race, competitive runners (at any level) should give themselves the best chance to do well, whatever that means that day. And I didn’t do that at the Holiday Hustle.

How so? First, I didn’t warm up thoroughly, contenting myself with a quick half-mile jog followed by a few strides. To best prepare my body to run hard on a cold day, I should have run at least a mile easy, coupled with dynamic stretches to get fully loose. And I should have lined up much closer to the start than I did, because I knew I’d be weaving around other runners for the first half mile otherwise.

Why did I sabotage my chance at my best effort? I’m really not sure. Perhaps subconsciously I wanted to give myself an “out” if I didn’t run up to my expectations. Which, as I well know after all these races, doesn’t work anyway. Compounding a poor run with poor preparation, or lackadaisical attitude,  doesn’t help. So much better to think, “I didn’t meet my goal, but I gave it my best shot. And that’s all I can ask!”

I can’t do anything to change the result, of course. All I can do is change my attitude going forward. Even a fun holiday race is still a race, and there’s part of me that wants to do it well. So – chalk up a lesson learned. And, Lord willing, there will be plenty more chances to apply it. Ten years is just the start of what I hope are many, many more years of running adventures. And I’ll be sure to share them with you right here. Thanks, as always, for reading!

 

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Veterans Memorial 150, Part 2: Saturday

My ultras this year have followed a pattern; feel stiff and low on energy the day before, sleep well, and wake up feeling fine on race morning. And so it proved with the Veterans Memorial. I got to the starting line Saturday morning fired up and eager to run.

The race officially began at 8 a.m. but Kurt, the race director, gave the “masters category” (50 and older) an option to start at 7:00. An extra hour of cooler temps? No brainer! “Be there at 6:30 for a required safety briefing,” Kurt emailed me.

I dutifully arrived on time and picked up my race bib. Only one other person would start early, a nice lady named Ruth, who left just after 7. I made some gear adjustments and was ready around 7:15. Kurt told me I could start. “What about the safety briefing?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah, safety briefing!” he said. “You are responsible for your own safety, look both ways when you cross a street, watch for traffic, and a headlamp is recommended at night.” Got it! No ten-page disclaimer needed. This is ultrarunning. You’re expected to know the risks involved. I turned to face the rising sun and headed down Ludington Avenue. On the sidewalk. Safer that way.

At the start, ready to begin the adventure!

How I Approached the Race

I split the race into three 50-mile stages, because “thirds” is how ultras seem to work for me. I feel great for the first third, things get interesting in the second, and the final third is struggle, recovery, and (usually) strong finish. I set up crew stops at the aid stations roughly ten miles apart, and additional ones in between. With these in place, I could focus on a few miles at a time instead of how much total running was left.

A couple of small worries nagged at me. To fully rest my legs I’d run very few miles in May, and I hoped I hadn’t lost any conditioning. And my feet had suffered from pain and blistering during my March 50-milers. Were they tough enough to go three times that distance?

The solution to such worries is to let them go, and trust the training. I’d run all winter and raced all spring, and the fine folks at Body Specs had kept my body in tune. Feeling restless on race day was a good sign.

Stage 1: Ludington to Chase (AS 5)

Hey, This is Fun

I soon caught up with Ruth and we chatted a few minutes while we ran. Despite several abdominal surgeries and leg issues, she’d completed 124 miles in last year’s race before having to drop with a physical issue. She was hoping to complete the entire distance this year. Man, if she had the determination to go the whole way, what would be my excuse? My pace was faster than hers, so I wished her good luck and moved on.

Once out of Ludington, I followed back roads toward AS 1 in Scottville. What a relief to switch from heavy, noisy traffic to quiet, shady dirt roads. With a crew stop every few miles, there was no need to carry extra clothes or food, just a handheld water bottle. I was running easy and light, and felt terrific. For those first ten miles there was nowhere else I wanted to be, and nothing else I wanted to be doing. It was that elusive, nirvana-like state that every distance runner hopes for and relishes when it happens.

Look! Race flags! (Actually not, but it was fun to think so.)

The next leg took me into the Huron-Manistee National Forest. When I arrived at AS 2, nothing was there yet except the sign. Thank goodness for my crew! Refueled, I ran several miles deep in the woods along double-wide dirt tracks. Some runners didn’t care for this stretch, but I enjoyed it. Except for the biting flies, which have an annoying habit of following you for a long time. (Hint to runners: Always wear a cap in the woods.)

Trouble Rears Its Hot Head

The heat hit on my way to AS 3 at Bowman Lake. I was back on paved roads in full sun, with the temperature already over 80 degrees. I ran through every shady spot, but I was really looking forward to cold water and a break. Except I couldn’t find the aid station, and my phone was acting up, refusing to dial my wife’s number.

Hot and frustrated, I finally got through and she patiently directed me to the correct spot. After I cooled down and refocused, we prepared for a long afternoon in serious heat. I got slathered in sunscreen. I took a hand towel and soaked it in ice water, then tucked it under my cap. This would keep my head cool and protect my ears from the sun, too. It would prove essential to surviving the heat on both days. The next leg to Baldwin and AS 4, while not exactly comfortable, were bearable.

Chilling out at a crew stop.

Competitive Pressure

I jogged into Baldwin and the head of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, the course for the next eighty miles. A gravel path with no shade stretched into the hazy distance. I soaked my head several times with ice water and took salt tablets before leaving the aid station.

It’s not all like this…but much of the early part was. (From the Eye on Michigan website.)

As I walked toward the trail, two other runners came in. One was on the relay team, and the other, a fellow named Dean, was running solo. “I was hoping to catch up to you!” he said as we shook hands. I congratulated him and then headed down the trail.

I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised. I hadn’t expected to win the race, and was pretty pleased I’d held onto the lead this long. I checked my watch; just past mile 38. Let me lead until mile 40, I told myself, and picked up my pace a bit. It gave me something to focus on other than the long, hot trail.

When my watch read mile 40, I took a walk break and relaxed. It was a moral victory, but better than nothing! Then I dared to look behind me – and saw nobody. Surprising, but maybe he took a long break.

I’d asked my crew to change from five-mile stops to three miles due to the heat, so I had two stops before AS 5. At the second, Dean’s crew truck was also there – and there was Dean! Where did he come from? Okay, I thought as I headed back out, this is where he passes me for good. After a half mile or so, hearing no approaching footsteps, I looked back – and again, saw nobody.

I got to AS 5 at Chase and took my planned 30-minute break, stretching, foam rolling, eating, and enjoying the time off my feet and out of my shoes. We chatted with Dean’s crew, and kept an eye out for him. But by the time I got up to move on, he hadn’t arrived. We were all a bit concerned, but I had a race to run. One stage complete!

Leaving the Chase aid station. 50 miles done!

Stage 2: Chase to Loomis (AS 10)

There Will a Be a Brief Pause for Nostalgia

On my way to AS 6 at Hersey I passed through Reed City, and had a flashback moment where the Pere Marquette Trail intersected the White Pines Trail. At this spot in 2012, riding my bike from Ann Arbor to our campground in Empire, I’d turned north onto the White Pines, expecting an easy ride and instead getting an ordeal that, fortunately, ended with my safe arrival in Cadillac right at nightfall.

Looking down the White Pines trail. Ah, the memories!

The sun was on its way down this day too, finally. The temperature had cracked 90 degrees, so I walked quite a bit, running only in the shade or if I felt cool enough. This was not according to plan, but in an ultra, conditions dictate and the runner adapts. To use an Aikido analogy, the runner is Uke, who must fit with and follow the situation rather than direct it. So I did. After all, everyone else was running in the same conditions.

Impossible to Get Lost? Just Watch Me

On the way to Evart (AS 7) as it began to get dark, the temperature dropped and a cool breeze sprang up. Rejuvenated, I began running steadily again, enjoying the idea that I had a whole night of good running ahead.

Suddenly I heard footsteps behind me. At mile 68, someone was finally going to pass me. He was a relay runner, as impressed with my distance covered as I was with his pace. Soon he was out of sight. He wasn’t wearing a headlamp and it was getting dark fast, so I worried a bit about him. But this was a well-defined trail. No way to get lost, right?

Then the trail took an odd turn by some industrial buildings – and ended, seemingly – at a road intersection. In the light of my headlamp it looked like it might continue on the other side of the road. To my left was a paved path that also might be the trail, but there was no VM150 sign, and nothing in my turn-by-turn directions about this. After a few moments of indecision I turned left and hoped for some kind of confirmation.

The path ran parallel to the road and passed by an industrial area. There was no sign of the relay runner, or indication I was nearing Evart, or traffic, or anything else for that matter. I was all alone in God knows where.

I called my crew. They weren’t sure where I was either, but the relay crew was with them. Someone headed back along the trail to find me, and just as we worked out I was indeed on the correct path, I spotted him. We jogged into Evart together to applause and my effusive thanks.

Next up: The rest of that first night, what other runners encountered that night, and Sunday dawns wet, hot and humid. How did I, and the other runners, hold up? Read it here soon!

It Changed My Life! Or Did It?

On a recent Saturday run I caught up to someone I hadn’t met before, and to pass the time I struck  up a conversation. Turned out she’d run the Western States 100 just two weeks prior. “I messed up my leg less than two miles into the race,” she told me, “and it bothered me the rest of the way.”

“But you finished?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Eight minutes before the cutoff.”

She said this in a casual tone, as though it were no big deal. But I knew she wasn’t downplaying what she’d done. Among ultrarunners, understatement is the preferred method for discussing races. So I then asked if she believed finishing that race was a true life-changing event for her. “Yes, definitely,” she said.

I asked her that question because I’d begun to feel the same way after finishing my own hundred-miler last month. Not that I’ve become a totally different person, but I’ve acquired a definite “before Kettle” and “after Kettle” perspective; a new reference point from which to compare life’s challenges.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

For example, in the last few weeks I’ve been stuck in several long traffic jams, made worse because the air conditioning in my car is faulty. The most recent occurrence was heading up north on a two-lane highway, where a “seven-minute delay” (per cell phone app) stretched into nearly an hour. As I sat there steaming (figuratively and literally), the thought came unbidden:

You’ve run a hundred miles at a time. You can get through this, too.

This thought did not magically cure my impatience, as my wife can tell you. And yet, it did help. When one has steadily pushed through over 24 hours of continuous motion, a measly one-hour inconvenience seems rather silly to get upset about. Perhaps it even worked too well in my return from Toronto, where I endured two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic before I got off the freeway to find an alternate route.

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

In reality, though, it wasn’t the race itself that changed my life. Running it was the culmination of all the training that went into preparation for it. Crossing the finish line was just the evidence that I could accomplish something I couldn’t have done before. Champion ultrarunner and coach David Roche puts it best: By the time you get to the start line, the work is done.

This is one of the appeals of ultrarunning that many others have written about; that in the end, the training is more about becoming a better person. Whether the goal is increased physical fitness, self-discipline, or even dealing with and overcoming addiction, the steady, consistent effort is what makes the end result possible.

So I suppose that means even if I hadn’t finished Kettle for some reason, I’d still be more patient and determined than I was five years ago when I began ultra training. Saying you’ve done X is just shorthand. Still, it feels really good to actually have done it.

But it hasn’t been just inner dialog. A couple weeks ago I was at Body Specs working through a particularly tough segment on a hot, humid afternoon. As I struggled to my feet I caught the eye of one of the trainers. She smiled.

“Bet you’d rather be running a hundred miles right now, huh, Jeff?” she asked.

Well, not really. But the thought was tempting.

On second thought - where's the starting line?

On second thought – where’s the starting line?

Preparing for the Invasion, Marathon-Style

The Martians invade Michigan on Saturday. This is NOT a rumor – I have evidence!

Martian spirit - 2

My strategy?

Run!

Martian Course BJ - 0896 - reduced

26.2 miles, to be exact.

Hard to believe that this will be my first road marathon in four years. I’ve run thousands of miles since 2012, at every distance from 5K to 100K, except for the marathon. Mainly because at distances over the half (13.1 miles) I much prefer trail running. So why am I running a road marathon this weekend, and with a specific goal time in mind?

Boston Marathon - Bing Images - free to share

Yes, the Boston bug finally bit me, and a finish time of under 3:40 (3 hours, 40 minutes) at Martian will qualify me for the 2017 race. My personal goal is for a 3:30 or better, which is what I think I’m capable of given my training.

The hardest part of all this, somewhat ironically, is these final few days before the race. With the training load cut way back and extra time to think about the race, I have that twitchy feeling of, “There must be something left to do!” Well, let’s check the three main components of racing readiness and see what I stand.

Physical: My body is as ready as it can be. The strength workouts, distance runs, and speedwork have done their job. Cutting back on the training load allows my body to heal and reduces the chance of an overuse injury. So this week has been about slow runs and light workouts, “keeping the edge sharp” for Saturday morning.

Tuesday night, for example, I went out with PR Fitness for a 5-6 mile run. I kept my heart rate under 145, which meant after a mile I was by myself. But instead of trying to keep up with them, I enjoyed the relaxed pace and did some gear checks (see below).

Mental: As an experienced ultrarunner, I have no worries about the distance. Rather, the challenge will be holding it together at a much faster pace than my ultras. How will I respond when things start hurting late in the race, and there’s a strong temptation to slow down? Fortunately, I have my experience at the Richmond half marathon to boost my confidence. No guarantees, but I have the motivation to run strong and push past the pain.

Logistical: Just as important to a successful race are my choices in clothing, gear, fueling and hydration, and pace (course strategy). This is where I learned the most from Tuesday night’s run. The weather was nearly identical to the forecast for race morning – sunny and chilly, with some winds. This allowed me to dress in my expected race day outfit. I learned that my layering strategy was just fine, but the wrap I was using as a hat would not suffice.

For hydration, I want to carry at least one water bottle so I can consume salt tablets and Gu when I want to, and not have to wait for an aid station or deal with those tiny cups. I originally planned to clip a bottle onto my belt but it bounced too much when full, and caused the belt to slip. So another solution was needed. I could carry the bottle (and did for most of Tuesday’s run) but that’s a strain on the arms over a long run.

Fortunately, the local running shop was close by and still open, and I settled on this little number – the “Trail Mix Plus” from Nathan.

Nathan race belt with bottles

It cinches more snugly than my other belt, and the bottles won’t jiggle. I may look like a bit of a dork wearing this, but what else is new? And if it gets me across the finish line five minutes faster, bring it on! Heck, I’d wear head-to-toe pink if it made me faster (underwear, too). And a sports bra (although I’d insist on a sub-3 hour guarantee).

So I’d say all systems are go. Or so I thought, until my daughter posted this helpful comic from The Oatmeal on how to run a marathon. Click the image for a very humorous take on the marathon from someone who’s been there.

The Oatmeal - Marathon Running - from Facebook page

Alas, it’s too late to drop what I’ve done and follow his suggestions. Maybe next time!