Tag Archives: Run Woodstock

Kettle Moraine: 100-Miler Ahead!

Earlier this week I called the Victoria-on-Main B&B in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and asked the owner about rooms for the weekend of June 3-5.

“I’ve got a room for Friday night, and one for Sunday,” he said, “but I don’t have a room for you on Saturday night.”

“That’s perfect,” I told him, and booked the room for those days.

Confused Cat Meme

Howzat? Well, I finally went and did what I’d been planning and working toward for the past four years: I signed up for the Kettle Moraine Trail 100 on June 4-5 – my first 100-mile attempt.

Me Signed Up for Kettle Moraine 2016

It starts at 6:00 a.m. Saturday, and if all goes well I will cross the finish line as the sun comes up on Sunday morning. Hence no need for a Saturday night stay. The response to my call fit so well I took it as a sign; the universe intends me to be there.

And God Said meme

Okay, so why on earth would I do this to myself? My trail-running readers will understand, so my answer is for those of you with more a rational outlook on what makes life meaningful.

My first 50K at Run Woodstock 2012 was just one of those “turning 50” challenges I’d set for myself, and I had no idea what to expect. The farthest I’d run on a trail until then was 5 miles. I arrived late to the start so I got lost immediately, then slogged up and down the trail for six hours, covered in mud from the all-night rain, watching the 100-milers shuffle along like zombies. The moment I crossed the finish line I knew I was hooked. Forget road marathons; this was really living.

But what to do next? Well, a 50K was two laps of the Woodstock course, and a 50-miler was three laps – just one more. How hard could that be?

Much harder, actually, but that's another story.

Much harder, actually, but that’s another story.

And so began the pattern. My first 50-miler was in 2013 and first successful 100K last year, and I have twelve total ultras to date. Up ahead looms will likely be the top of the mountain for me; the 100-miler. There are more punishing events like the 24-hour and 48-hour endurance runs, and the Badwater and Spartathlon are each well over 100 miles, but much like the marathon is the king of the road races, the 100-miler rules the trail ultras.

But am I ready?

Sigmund Freud meme

Well, I’ve trained hard all winter with this goal in mind, and the results so far have been spectacular. Every race since January has been a PR for me, and at Trail Marathon last month I just missed a top 10 finish. So far, so good.

But the best test will be the “dress rehearsal” at the Glacier Ridge Trail 50 on May 14. Last year I fell apart at the 35-mile mark and gave up (DNF) at mile 40. I’m running it again for three reasons – to purge the DNF, to test my physical and mental readiness for Kettle Moraine, and because even with the bad result, I really enjoyed the course and the way it was run.

This year I’m hoping not only to finish Glacier Ridge, but to do so in a reasonable time (12 hours or less), and with something left in the tank. If I can pull that off, it will be a good sign that I’m ready for the big one.

And if not? Well, I paid the money, so I’m going. And with a room secured only for Friday and Sunday nights, I have extra incentive to stick it out on Saturday!

(More to come, including how one trains for an event like this. Stay tuned!)

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Run Woodstock Part Deux: Shutting the Brain Off

Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical. – Yogi Berra

Training for my first marathon four years ago, I ran 16 miles along the back roads from Honor, Michigan to Beulah and Benzonia, then back. It was a pretty route, but by mile 13 I was sick and tired of running it. Not physically exhausted, but mentally.

Three miles still to go, the little voice in my head said. That’s practically forever.

There was no shortcut back to my car, so I had to stick it out. It helped that I’d strategically parked at an ice cream shop. But I was pretty discouraged. In two months I have to run this and ten more, the voice said. Given this run, how am I gonna do that?

Shirt-Running Sucks - 2

The answer was to do more long runs to get the mind used to that distance. And after making some basic adjustments, such as conceptually breaking up long runs into manageable segments, I had no more trouble with self-doubts.

First 2 miles in. Just 30 more of those to go!

First 2 miles in. Just 30 more of those to go!

With that level of mental discipline I got through my first marathon, first 50K ultra in 2012, and first 50-miler in 2013, so I figured I would be okay for the 100K in 2014. Instead, I hit several mental challenges that I was unable to overcome:

Empty Tank of PatienceDistance stretching. Four miles (the distances between aid stations at Woodstock) are short hops on the road, but on singletrack that same distance seems doubled. Distances also stretch out in the dark, so trail running at night called for a full tank of patience. Instead, it was one of the first things I ran short on.

The worst was the section leading to the second aid station. During my second loop it seemed like I would never get there. When I finally did, all I could think about was having to do it twice more. My attitude had soured, and I was no longer having fun – a bad sign on an ultra run.

I thought so!

I thought so!

Pain management. Sore feet and chafing got worse as the night wore on. By the third loop the Body Glide wasn’t working and I was constantly adjusting my shorts, without much relief. More pain came from tripping on roots and rocks, and from branches in the trail that stung my ankles. I dealt with this increasing discomfort by getting more and more frustrated.

Bonking. When inadequate hydration and electrolyte management caught up with me, I didn’t have the focus to work through the nausea and correct the imbalances, and allow myself to recover. Despite having plenty of time to rest and still finish the race, I dropped out at the 56K mark, done in by a combination of things, but above all, insufficient mental discipline.

Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

Yeah, those tabs pretty much covered it.

Over the subsequent year I fixed the bonking problem, but as Woodstock 2015 approached I still worried that I needed a way to handle the mental challenge of those loops in the dark. Help came from an unexpected and last-minute source.

The night before the race I went to a local runner’s clinic on handling long runs. Most of the advice I’d heard before, but one comment stood out: the need to shut the brain off.

Not completely, naturally; a trail run requires being alert to the course and your physical condition at all times. What needs shutting off is the mental chatter – the continuous stream of trivial thoughts, especially the negative self talk and worries. So I would work on getting into a “zone” – a disciplined, quiet mind, at peace with itself and living entirely in the moment. Here’s how I applied it.

One flag at a time.

How do you finish 100K? One flag at a time.

– I created a mantra for myself: Focus on the trail in front of you. The milestones will come. Every time I began to fret about how much distance I had left, I silently repeated this mantra and I would settle back into the zone.

– During the stretches when the aid station seemed light-years away, I would remind myself, It’s really not that far. It just seems longer. I even used it when I passed a runner on that interminable second segment. “Man, they must have moved the aid station,” he said. I assured him out loud what I’d been telling myself silently.

– When I tripped over roots or rocks I told myself firmly that it was over and in the past. Then I’d forget about it. If that didn’t work I would stop and walk until I returned to the zone. Running is a happy activity for me; I would not run angry.

– When pain came in my feet, legs, or shoulder, I did not fight it. I acknowledged it was there, embraced it as part of the experience, and let it go.

– Staying hydrated and salted kept me on an even keel. I had no nausea or swings of equilibrium to deal with. But just in case, I was prepared this time to deal with it. As I overheard one pacer telling his runner, “You’re not having a bad race. You’re having a bad moment. You will get through it.”

marathon-sticker

The results exceeded my highest expectations. I stayed in a steady, positive mental state throughout the race. And one week later I’m still on that high. Maybe I should do this more often?

Make More Mistakes

Woodstock 100K: The Thrill of Victory, and the Agony of De Feet

MY FIRST EVER 100K FINISH!

I finished in the dark, so my starting line photo will have to do!

I finished in the dark, so my starting line photo will have to do!

Run Woodstock, “a weekend of peace, love, music and running,” has become my favorite annual event. Despite some brutal conditions over the years, including swamp-like trails, thunderstorms, and falling trees, it’s always a laid-back and joyful atmosphere. Out on the trails the runners encourage each other throughout, and the campers cheer on the runners as they finish each stage.

Approaching Finish Line 2

Woodstock 2013 - camp

The course is a roughly 16-mile loop through the Pinckney trails, with some dirt roads, and four aid stations. The 50K race is two loops, 50 miles three, 100K four, and 100 miles six. Severe chafing, 90+ degree heat, and dehydration did me in at the 56K mark last year, but with July’s success at the sweltering Voyageur Trail 50, I felt ready to stuff that DNF into the compost heap of history. (*)

This year the trails were nearly perfect, the temperature was in the sixties, and the threatened rain held off. We were off at 4 p.m. Friday. My main goal was just to finish, but I set a stretch goal of under 14 hours so I could watch the start of the 50K and 50 mile races at 6 a.m. Saturday. To give myself the best shot, I chose a strategy that went against a couple of the classic adages of ultrarunning:

Adage #1: Start out slow. If you think you’re starting out too slowly, slow down some more.

Pace too fast 2

Not this time. The loops in the dark would be slower anyway, so  I wanted to get in as much distance as I could before sunset in 4 hours. Also, starting in the back would stick me in a conga line on the singletrack for awhile. So I went to the front and got in those first few miles at my own pace. I finished the first 50K in 6 hours, giving me some cushion for the 14-hour goal.

Adage #2: Carry extra food and water. Also some extra gear if needed.

With a cool evening, and well-stocked aid stations only four miles apart, I eschewed (**) my backpack and relied on one handheld water bottle, with salt tablets in my belt pouch. I kept a Clif bar in my other hand for eating on the trail. I had a moment of regret when it started raining on loop 2 with my rain shell in the pack 12 miles away. But Nature was merciful and the rain lasted only 15 minutes.

On the other hand, I've been wet before!

On the other hand, I’ve been wet before!

Some critical rules I did NOT break:

Adage #3: When running in the dark, carry more than one light. I had a fully charged headlamp, but partway through my final loop it began to fail. I had another one at the aid station just 4 miles away, but getting there would take nearly an hour. So I switched to the small flashlight I carried with me and got there safely.

This is a trail at night with no headlamp. Good luck!

This is a trail at night with no headlamp. Good luck!

Adage #4: Stay on top of hydration, salt, and sugar. As at the Voyageur, I made sure I took in 600-800 mg of salt every hour. At first I relied on S-Caps, but as the temperature dropped I switched to chicken soup at the aid stations. Mmm-mm-good! For food, I carried Clif Bars and supplemented with bananas and grapes at the aid stations. I broke the “don’t try new foods during a race” rule slightly; the grilled cheese sandwiches looked too darn good. (And they were.)

The result was a finish in 13:46:27, winning my age group and finishing 9th overall!

This isn't me, but this was how I crossed the finish line!

This isn’t me, but this was how I crossed the finish line!

Physically, I felt much better than I could have expected. My legs stayed strong the entire race, allowing me to run smooth and steady. No stomach or other digestive issues, and no nausea or dizziness like last year. Not even any serious chafing – the tri shorts came through again!

Only one small disappointment to go with the big high of triumph. Sometime during the third loop I mashed some toes on my left foot from kicking a hidden rock. The pain subsided, but came back after the finish and was bad enough I went to urgent care for X rays. Nothing broken (yay!) but I won’t be jumping rope for a while.

And, finally, I know that some of you are asking the question: What about . . .?

Sign-Natural Run

Alas, not this year. In addition to my suffering toes, it was cold and damp out, making it unlikely I would enjoy even a short frolic through the woods in the altogether. Maybe next year!

Next up: Handling the “mental side” of the race was at least as important to finishing the race as the physical side, as negative self-talk, the tedium of long solo stretches in the dark, and nagging pain all contributed to last year’s DNF. I’ll describe how I dealt with those issues this year.

======================

(*) As a more environmentally conscious Trotsky would have said.

(**) “Eschew” and “titillating” are two of my favorite words. Ain’t English grand?

Let Go of Expectations, Embrace the Adventure

THE BIG 100K is tomorrow! Training and tapering are over, and it’s time to do the deed. I’ve tested the course, my watch and headlamp are charged, and I’ve packed plenty of salted caramel Gu. No need to stress about anything; in fact, to stress about an event named “Run Woodstock” would be missing the point altogether.

So, naturally, I’m a little stressed.

Not about anything related to the course, the conditions, or anyone’s expectations of me. Instead, I’m fretting a little about living up to my own expectations. I expect to finish, and to have a decent finishing time, too. But what if, after all this time and preparation, I can’t do it after all?

No worries, man! Chill out and run!

No worries, man! Chill out and run!

As my (awesome) regular readers know, I came up short in my first 100K attempt last year. But I learned from it and made adjustments, and this year I feel much more prepared. And with a 28-hour window (we share the 100-miler clock) I can take my time and focus on finishing rather than hitting cutoff limits. Still, there’s that nagging self-wondering if I can really pull it off.

A couple of things have helped.

An article on the AirFareWatchdog site I read this week was very timely. It points out that when traveling, things often happen that are out of your control, and may affect where you go and when you get there. The article quotes author Anne Lamott, who said, Expectations are premeditated disappointments.

Gotta admit that’s profound, man. If we expect everything to go smoothly, or (heaven forbid) need everything to go smoothly, any deviation will be annoying at best. Even when we mentally prepare for changes or setbacks, we can get terribly frustrated when things don’t go our way.

The AirFareWatchdog article has this advice: Your experience has a higher likelihood of being one-of-a-kind and transformational if you let things happen. This is something Americans are often not very good at accepting but there’s a peace in letting go.

My great-uncle Albert shows us the value of this advice years ago. He traveled the world each summer, and in 1996 my wife and I were privileged to accompany him on a trip to England. He paid all expenses and we took care of his luggage and drove him around.

With no GPS back then, and the oddities of English roads, I naturally made some wrong turns. We always seemed to be heading toward South Wales, which became the joke of the trip. Albert waved off my apologies. “It’s all part of the adventure,” he said.

And then just earlier today, I dropped in at a talk on tips for running a marathon. Most of the advice I’d heard before, but one comment stood out – the need to “switch the brain off” when running a race. If there’s one thing that knocks a runner out of a race, or makes him fail to attain his goal, it’s the negative self-talk when things get tough.

There’s a physiological reason for this, we were told. The brain lives on glucose, and when supplies run low through hard physical effort, it attempts to slow the body down, long before the body is actually in danger of permanent damage. Elite athletes have learned to push past the pain and ignore the negative messages. I can run “on autopilot” for some time, but if I ever want to get to the holy grail – the 100 miler – I will have to improve here as well. So this race will be a good test.

Do I have to run this race? Nope. If I choose not to run it, or drop out partway, I will only be disappointing myself. In the end, any running race is a test of oneself. I can fret about what might happen, or I can let go of my expectations and just run. Which is what I plan to do. Part of the adventure!