Tag Archives: race

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.

*********************************

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.

*********************************

“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.

*********************************

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.

*********************************

“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.

*********************************

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!

Event Cancelled Due to Good Weather

I GOT THE UNFORTUNATE NEWS THIS AFTERNOON. My event this weekend has been cancelled.

Due to good weather.

frozen-watters-cancelled

Here was the promo for the “Frozen Watters” event planned for Feb. 25:

In the spirit of our Muddy Watters Trail Series, this race will cover lots of trails, stairs, hills, two track and bushwhacking routes for between 3-4 miles’ish. There will be exercise stops. Pray for snow because sledding down a dirt hill sucks! … Mandatory Gear? A disc to sled on – seriously. Not some big ass sled. You’re going to have to carry it for the entire race!

So I bought a disc sled (BTW, $27.99 seems like a lot to pay for a curved piece of plastic) and hoped for the best. Which, in a sense, happened, and in another sense, did not.

If you’ve been following the weather here in southeastern Michigan, you know that both our big dumpings of snow this winter have vanished completely. While there was sufficient snow in Grand Rapids for the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge, and in Traverse City for the Bigfoot Snowshoe Race, there was no such luck here.

Not all that long ago. . .

Not all that long ago. . .

So why not just have a trail race on Saturday instead of a snow race? The problem, according to the race director, is that the trails are so wet, we would put ruts in them that would subsequently freeze over and cause trouble all summer. So it’s a scrub. But I’ll be able to apply the race fee to one of their other races, so we’ll see.

And it’s not like I haven’t appreciated the sunshine and warm temperatures. I’ve been able to run in shorts several times already, although I do that anyway if it’s above freezing. But yesterday’s 8-miler was the ultimate.

february-sunny-day-run

What is that big yellow ball up there?

As you can see, I’m in shorts and a single shortsleeve shirt. But I also felt the need to wear sunglasses and – sunscreen! That’s a February first. It was a great run. Saw lots of cyclists out there, too.

So Saturday will be my regular long run with PR Run Club. Just as well, since the race would have been only about 4 miles and I need to keep my volume up. While short races right now are a fun diversion, my main goal is to be ready for the big ones coming up – Boston and Trail Marathons in April, Dirty German in May, and Lighthouse in June. That’s 204.4 miles of race in eight weeks. Since I did much the same thing last year, I know it can be done. I’d just like to finish in better condition this time. I have plans for the second half of the year!

And speaking of “other plans” – I’ve just received word from my friend on the Wet Coast (pun intended) that the date of my “covert event” has been set for June 24. I’ll spill the beans later, but if you can’t wait for it, a little research should give you the answer.

Next event: the Pi Day Race – 3.14 miles – on (of course) March 14!

How to Survive an Ultramarathon: One Runner’s Strategy

Today was the kind I dream about all winter – where you can just slip on a few clothes and onto the bike for a quick 12-mile evening ride. My post-Voyageur recovery is going so well, it’s hard to keep from overdoing it. But my next event – the Crim 10 miler – is just two weeks away, followed by Run Woodstock and my biggest race of the year. Plenty of sweat ahead!

Speaking of copious sweating, my revised strategy for the Voyageur did the trick, as I finished it without any of the nausea or disorientation I felt at my last two 50+ mile attempts. Following are the main changes I made.

First, here’s an idea of what a trail ultrarunner “goes to battle with” as one of my friends puts it. Some goes into my drop bag, along with extra clothes, but most of this I wear or carry.

Gear for Voyageur Trail Ultra

Gear-wise, I used triathlon shorts to minimize chafing, and compression calf sleeves (left of shoes), which save my legs from thorny bushes. The long-overdue change was adding a cap, which kept the sun off my head and could secure a wet towel or ice while running. It also has some UPF (sunblock) built in. I got this one at REI; it’s pricey ($25), but I will never run a summer race without one again.

logo_scaps_300I also believe a salt-water imbalance contributed to my earlier problems. Salted potatoes at the aid stations help, but time and amount are irregular. Salt tablets at regular intervals were the answer. After some research I estimated that two S-Caps (642 mg of sodium) per hour of running would meet my needs. I did supplement with ice-cold Powerade later in the race; it just tasted too damn good.

Hydration was about 20 ounces of water (one full bottle) per hour. Much more than that and it just sits in my stomach. A “fluids check” about every 12 miles showed that while I was getting dehydrated, it was manageable. And needing to do it was another good sign.

Crossing the Jay Cooke Swinging Bridge.

Crossing the Jay Cooke Swinging Bridge.

For food, I avoided the aid station offerings except for cold grapes and pickles, and relied on the energy bars and Gu in my pack. I did this to keep my stomach settled with familiar foods and to make use of complex carbs rather than simple sugars (candy and soda). One Clif Builder bar is around 300 calories (about what my body can process per hour while running) and also provides some protein to help prevent muscle breakdown.

Voyageur - Aid Station

While the results were everything I’d hoped for, there are still a few issues to deal with before I run the 100K next month. Feet, for one – I changed socks and shoes at the 25-mile mark and retaped my toes, but still had some blistering and pain at the end. More taping should help, and perhaps some Body Glide, but I welcome any other suggestions.

Taping for an Ultra

Mentally, I expect some challenges too. Not only is the 100K my longest distance attempt yet, most of it will be in the dark. I don’t run with music or radio, so it will be a long time (I estimate around 14 hours) of me alone with my thoughts. Fortunately, the aid stations are lively and the other runners are great.

So there you have my recipe for a successful 50-mile trail run. That, plus lots and lots of training. Fortunately, most of that is enjoyable, especially on an evening like tonight!

How Not to Taper

“We have to go light today,” I told Mark, my Body Specs trainer, on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been feeling sore all week, and I have a long trail run Saturday morning.”

Monday’s workout, while not like the previous two weeks (shall we say, “Bru-tall”), had still been fairly intense, and I was not up for another one like that. Besides, I’m in the taper period before my July 25 race.

“What did you do after Monday’s session?” he asked.

Well, the usual – Aikido Monday night, then a Tuesday evening run with PR Fitness that had somehow or other turned into a tempo run. On hills. On Wednesday I’d volunteered at the Pterodactyl Triathlon, which hadn’t involved anything strenuous, but I’d been on my feet for over five hours doing this and that.

Mark looked at me. “So what you’re telling me is that you didn’t take a day off on your own taper week.” He shook his head. “I’d be sore, too!”

Guilty as charged, sir.

In my relatively short marathon and ultramarathon career, I’ve found the taper period to be, at times, more difficult than the training. Not in exertion, but the lack thereof. It takes discipline to cut back, to not run as far or as hard, before a race.

Pace too fast 2

What makes taking it easy so hard?

I know the reasons for tapering. Rest and recovery are needed to be at peak form before a race. And gains from strength training, or long running, take about three weeks to be manifested. So hard training the two weeks before a race provides zero benefit and could easily mess me up. Overworked muscles and injury, for example.

And there’s the ol’ competitive nature to deal with. Like with Tuesday’s run. I’d planned to go easy, but the group started off fast and I didn’t feel like being left in the dust. Then we hit the uphill repeats, and what was I supposed to do? Let people pass me?

Never met a hill I didn't want to charge up. (Channeling T.R.?)

Never met a hill I didn’t want to charge up. (Channeling T.R.?)

Ah, the ego. Despite ten years of Aikido it remains stubbornly unconquered. Or, as we say in my profession, “always further opportunities for improvement.”

Fortunately, I have another week to get my act together. Saturday’s 16-miler will be a dress rehearsal for the Voyageur Trail Ultra, with a fully stocked drop bag and trail backpack. I will also be trying out a revised strategy for hydration (carry more water, drink more water), electrolytes (salt tablets), and heat protection (a cap with UV blocker). Then everything short and easy next week.

And I promised myself to take it easy until Saturday morning. (With the exception of a stretching clinic yesterday evening. It was brief. And Skip from Body Specs was teaching it. How could he be mad at me for going?)