Tag Archives: training

Being Gratefully Miserable

I sat in the passenger seat of someone’s car, depressed and feeling very sorry for myself. A few minutes before, I had reluctantly handed over my timing chip and withdrawn from the 2015 Glacier Ridge 50-miler. Only ten miles remained but I was dehydrated and lightheaded. The aid station captain and medics had agreed it was a good decision.

A race staff member kindly drove me back to the start/finish area. In an effort to take my mind off myself and what had happened, I asked him if he was an ultrarunner, too.

“I used to,” he replied, “but I can’t anymore.” An enlarged heart had not responded to surgery and even short distances left him out of breath. Running had been big in his life (“my stress relief”) but it was no longer possible.

His story instantly cured my self-pity. I’d failed to finish one race, but there would be more to run. He was done for good. Talk about restoring perspective! I came away from it all the more determined to return the next year and finish the damn race. In 2016 I did just that, and have completed every race since, including two 100-milers and a 150.

2016 – a much happier ending!

I was reminded of this story when reading one of the fitness blogs I follow. A fellow athlete over fifty has developed knee problems. She continues to be active but can no longer run, and it took her some time to come to terms with that. In this post she describes the grief she felt and how she dealt with it.

This year I’m working toward improving my speed and performance at shorter races (up to the half marathon). Training can be hard and uncomfortable, and races can take place in some pretty miserable conditions.

The Winter Switchbacks a few years ago – one of the better sections.

But I can remind myself, even at those times, how fortunate I am to be able to run, and to push myself toward new goals and face new challenges. With trail ultrarunning in particular there’s a sense of adventure and shared experience (re: suffering) that brings me deep satisfaction. I guess that’s what keeps me signing up for the silly things.

When the time comes that, for whatever reason, I can no longer run, I expect that like the people in the stories above, there will be a period of adjustment. But I hope I can look back without any regrets, and be grateful for whatever comes next, and for what I can still do to make life enjoyable.

Eating and Running (and eating some more)

Last Friday I went to my friendly neighborhood healthcare facility for a routine physical exam. When I stepped on the scale as part of checking in, I got a surprise.

You see, for over a week I’ve had a nearly insatiable appetite. Everything I eat, no matter how filling or how much, transubstantiates into Chinese food. It started the moment I crossed the finish line at Trail Marathon last weekend, and has not yet let up.

Distance runners call this condition “rungry” and when we’ve got it bad, things can turn ugly. “Never get between a runner and his carbs,” someone said one day when I rather aggressively lunged for a piece of cake after a race.

When it’s really bad, we don’t even use our hands! (Actually from a Pi Day race.)

But with me, being rungry is infrequent and unpredictable. After the Potawatomi Trail 50 last month, I wasn’t all that hungry. I even had a sore mouth and throat that made eating difficult for a couple of days. (I’ve since learned it was likely due to a very dry mouth from long hours breathing hard.)

Trail Marathon Weekend, with 39.3 miles over two days, was a different animal. Chocolate chip cookie? Don’t mind if I do. Oh look, that one’s broken, gotta clean that up. And that one, too. That evening at D&D I ate my usual excessive amount, and things have continued like that since.

Okay, so what weight do I want to be? That depends on what race is coming up. For shorter distances (5K to marathons) I aim for a “race weight” of about 158 lbs. For ultras I like to be a few pounds heavier, since speed isn’t critical and they create a large caloric deficit. So for taper week before TMW (which I train for like an ultra) I tried to eat more while cutting back on exertion. Recovery week was also light on exercise, so that plus heavy appetite should have equaled some weight gain.

And yet the scale at the health center read 155 lbs. Ultra prep eating, plus a week of being “rungry” and I’m underweight! I didn’t weigh myself before TMW, so I don’t know what my pre-race weight actually was. It’s possible I was even lower, which could explain why I was low on gas the final miles on Sunday.

So what now? For one, I’ve stopped worrying about my appetite. I’ll let my body tell me how much to eat, as long as I feed it the right stuff, of course. And I think I’ll start charting my weight on a weekly basis. Not for diet control, but to see if I’m at the right weight for what I’m training for. With my focus this year shifting to getting faster at short distances, I need all the data I can get.

Gotta go. Hungry again.

You have no idea how hard this is.

Oh, and my height is down from my historical six feet to 5-11 ½. I have been drinking more coffee lately. I guess Mom was right.

Gut Check at the Potawatomi 50

My first (and possibly only) ultramarathon of 2019 is done. I can’t say I enjoyed every mile, or even most of them. Yet I’m grateful for the experience. Lemme tell ya why.

I’ve run 22 ultras now, and every one has been memorable, whether for a competitive time (Veterans Memorial, Dogwood), extreme heat (Lighthouse) or cold (Yankee Springs), challenging terrain (Voyageur) or the surreal (Burning Man). Last Saturday’s 50-miler at the Potawatomi Trail Races combined sticky mud, hard climbs, and physical discomfort into a thirteen-plus hour sufferfest.

My shoes after the event.

It was worth it.

The race website quotes a runner as saying, “…they took all the hills [in Illinois] and put them ALL into one spot and called it McNaughton Park.” Having driven across Illinois, then run in the park, I can confirm this is true.

With 1,600 feet of elevation gain per ten-mile loop, I climbed nearly as much in 50 miles as I did at the Kettle Moraine 100. The uphills are sudden and steep, including one with rope assist. Yet they are exceeded in quad-shattering ferocity by the downhills, aptly described as, “elevator shafts.”

Two friends, John and Kurt, were responsible for my presence there. Kurt was attempting the 150-miler (15 loops), while John would try the 200, a 20-loop exercise in torture which awards a belt buckle too big to wear. This I wanted to witness. I settled on Saturday’s 50-miler as my limit after an inconsistent winter of training, but I was there to see them off at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Kurt (left) and John, just before race start on Thursday.

On Friday I volunteered at the base camp aid station, ran a few miles to keep loose, and went to bed early. I headed down the muddy path at 6:00 Saturday morning fired up and feeling good.

One mile in. Welcome to nine more miles of this!

The first loop, messy, slippery, and still a bit dark, was quite fun. I completed it in two hours flat, which I was very pleased with. No PR here, but even with a shoe change or two I expected to finish in around 11 hours. That plan went south starting late in the second loop.

Runners climbing one of the signature hills in the park.

A burning sensation appeared in my lower abdomen, almost like needing to pee, except I didn’t. This had happened at the Lighthouse 100, which I’d blamed on an unfamiliar electrolyte drink. I’d stuck with familiar food and drink this time, but here was that pain again, and getting worse.

Not wanting to quit, I pressed on and began experimenting. I tried drinking less, then a lot. I consumed more salt. I tried eating and not eating. After loop three I sat for a while. Nothing made any difference whatever. Even ginger ale and a Tums had zero effect. The day was pleasant and the trail was drying out nicely, but the constant pain was ruining any chance of enjoyment.

I made it through lap four (40 miles) and collapsed into a chair next to the timer. “Ready for your victory lap, Jeff?” he asked. No, I was not. In fact, I felt a tingling in my hands and flush in my face that signaled a bonk coming on. I got to my feet, walked to a nearby grassy patch and lay down for a nap. Plenty of time for one. Heck, with race cutoff over 24 hours away, I could even leave, recover, sleep, and finish the next day. I dozed for about twenty minutes with the afternoon sun warm on my face and body.

When I got up, a miracle had occurred. The abdominal pain had vanished, and I was full of energy. Victory lap on! I walked the first mile just to be sure all was well, then ran the rest of it comfortably. With competitive pressure gone, and feeling well again, I was able to fully enjoy those final miles. I finished just as it was getting dark. At 13-plus hours it was my slowest 50, but I was satisfied. And grateful.

So what made the experience worthwhile? I learned I could push through a long period of discomfort. That I can use a bad situation to learn more about myself and what I’m capable of.

Also, two things stood out about how my body performed. Though my quads were screaming from the downhills, they held up, and everything else – glutes, hamstrings, calves, even knees – felt fine throughout. And on a steep, muddy trail, I didn’t fall once. I give full credit to the trainers at Body Specs for their attention to whole-body training and stability work. All those one-legged squats and work on the wobble boards paid off. Thanks, Skip and crew!

This will pay off…this WILL pay off…

And how did my friends doing the crazy miles make out? Mixed results. John’s attempt at 200 ended after five loops and a rainy, miserable night. He was understandably bummed, but is already looking forward to his next challenge. Kurt finished his 150 miles at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, one of three to complete that distance. And four runners actually completed the full 200. Outstanding work, guys. I am in awe.

Feeling The Urge Again

A little less than two years ago, my wife and I were in Boston, walking to the marathon expo to pick up my race packet. It was a gorgeous sunny late morning, and along the Charles River people of all ages and body types were running on the path and over the bridge we crossed on our way.

I felt my body twitching, urging me to join in the fun. After a week of tapering, it wanted to run! I believe I actually began whimpering. My wife gripped my arm.

“Down, boy,” she said.

Thanks to her and the vestiges of self-restraint I had left, I saved my energy for the marathon, and even managed a negative split. (*) And that energy carried through to my other spring races, peaking with the Lighthouse 100 in June. A winter of hard training and running through cold and snow had paid off. It had been worth every bead of sweat and frosty step.

This memory came to mind because, finally, spring is poking its head up and temperatures are on the rise. And after a long, tough winter, I’m experiencing the “urge to run” once more.

Due to a nagging back issue, I’ve trained less hard in the gym this winter. And I’ve run fewer miles than usual, too. When it’s close to zero degrees outside day after day, and the roads and sidewalks remain treacherous, it’s tough to maintain motivation and consistent mileage. Thank goodness for PR Run Club. Without them, I’d have been strongly tempted to sit on the couch and bitch about the weather, rather than lace up and bitch about the weather while we climb a nice snow-covered hill.

Water stop at last Saturday’s club run. Thanks to Bin Xu for the photo!

But better weather lies ahead, and a few weeks ago Coach Paul and I established a rough plan for the year. Instead of going for a crazy-long distance target race, we’ll work on improving my speed, and trying to set new personal records (PR) at the 5K and half marathon distances. It’ll be a nice break to reset me for resuming long ultras in 2020.

That settled, I popped open the laptop and began signing up for events. Here are the ones I have so far, and why I chose them:

Potawatomi Trail Runs – early April

This event takes place at Pekin’s McNaughton Park in Illinois. The course is a ten-mile trail loop with rolling hills. Various distances are offered, from 30 miles up to 200, based on the number of loops to complete.

I chose this event because I wanted to get in at least one good spring ultra, and because a couple of my friends will be there, one attempting the 150-miler, and one for the maximum 200 miles. I decided 50 miles was enough to scratch my itch, which will leave me time to cheer on my friends and recover in time for my next event…

Trail Marathon Weekend – late April

From the “Poto” in Illinois to one in Michigan! Trail Marathon Weekend is on my list every year. It’s a beautiful trail that I never get tired of running on, and was my introduction to the “joys” of trail running.

At first I just did the Sunday five-miler, but in 2014 I upgraded to the “No Wimps” group: the half marathon on Saturday (one loop of the course), and a full marathon on Sunday (two more loops). You get a special “No Wimps” medal T-shirt and medal. Totally worth it.

Yeah, totally!

The two-day event is excellent for learning how to pace yourself. How should you run the Saturday half? Go slow and save energy for the longer run on Sunday? Or go all out for an award, and just grind it out the next day? I’ve done both, depending on my goals those particular years.

TMW also has a special place in my heart because it’s the first Zero Waste event I did with RF Events. It set the stage for what is now our fourth year working together.

Recycling makes runners happy! (“Happier”, that is.)

Sleeping Bear Half Marathon – October

We’ve camped in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area for many years, and I enjoy running and cycling on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. So when I found out there was a Sleeping Bear Marathon (and half), naturally I wanted in, but couldn’t make it work until this year. I signed up literally right after I’d chosen it, as it sells out quickly.

Not to be confused with the famous “Kick-Your-Asparagus” run in March as part of the Empire Asparagus Festival..

The course includes a climb up a rather large hill toward the finish, so I may not be able to accomplish a PR there. So my target race for that is:

Richmond Half Marathon – November

Billed as, “America’s Friendliest Marathon,” this is where I set my current half marathon PR in 2015 (1:32:43). In addition to a PR-friendly course and lots of friendly spectators, Richmond is home to my daughter Tori, So either way it will be a fine way to end the racing season. (Well, nearly, since I always run the Holiday Hustle in December.)

2015 Richmond half, finish line in sight!

That’s the race news so far. I’ll keep you posted!

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(*) “Negative split” is runner-speak for running the second half of a race faster than the first half. It’s indicative of good planning. It’s uncommon among recreational runners because the temptation is strong to run early miles too fast, when we’re feeling strong and invincible.