Tag Archives: ultramarathon

Veterans Memorial: A Long Run for a Good Cause (and would you help?)

IT ALL HAPPENS THIS WEEKEND.

My big race for 2018, the Veterans Memorial, is just a few days away. Starting Saturday in Ludington, it ends Monday in Bay City, a 150-mile route from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. My fellow uber-nuts ultrarunners and I have 52 hours to complete it.

This is my first event of more than 100 miles. I have no idea how the final 50 will go, but you can bet I’m going to give it my best. I’ll have a great crew and pacers to support me, and I’ve trained for it all winter and spring, which included two 50-milers and a “trail marathon and a half” weekend. I’m as ready as I know how to be!

If you’d like to follow my progress, I’ve been told that runner updates will be posted on the Veterans Memorial 150 – VM150 Facebook page. Or, if I feel up to it, I will (oh, God) tweet updates. See handle @RunBikeThrow.

But this post isn’t just about me and my crazy running goals. I want to tell you about the fantastic nonprofit the race is fundraising for, and hopefully persuade you to help them out.

In addition to a real test of physical and mental endurance, the VM150 is raising money for Victory Gym, a veteran-owned nonprofit geared to serving military personnel and first responders. Veteran Mike Emory founded Victory Gym to provide a healthy outlet for those suffering the effects of PTSD, after he discovered how exercise helped him. Before I ran the race I wanted to see the place for myself, so today I went there.

I walked in and explained I was running this weekend, and was quickly introduced to Mike Troutt, their Chief Operations Officer. He will be part of the aid station support team for the race. “Just look for the RV or a big black Harley,” he told me.

Mike’s shirt says, “When life knocks you down, calmly get up, smile, and say, ‘You hit like a bitch.'” I’d say that motto fits him well.

Mike is a 17-year Army veteran, who also spent several years as a smoke jumper, and as part of the disaster response NGO Team Rubicon. Now retired, he spends 80 to 100 hours per week working at Victory Gym. His dedication to helping others, and his passion for the gym and its mission, was evident from the moment I met him.

Victory Gym offers a lot of benefits to veterans and first responders; free membership, a place to hang out with fellow vets, and regular support group meetings for those dealing with the effects of PTSD. Mike admitted to struggling with PTSD himself, and choked up a bit when describing how the gym has helped him and others.

The lounge provides a place for vets to hang out and share stories. On the back wall is a memorial to deceased veterans.

The gym is open every day starting at 7 a.m. While its focus is on veterans and first responders, membership is open to anyone, and Mike said about 40 percent of their members are civilians, who pay $15.00 per month. They also let local youth exercise there in exchange for chores, such as mowing the grass.

But the gym itself is just part of what they do. Part of their building is going to be a wood shop for people who like to work with their hands but aren’t big fans of working out. And they hold regular PTSD support group meetings.

With so little revenue from membership fees, Victory Gym relies heavily on donations of money and equipment. If you’re sufficiently moved by this post to help out, please go to the race website, www.vm150.com, and select the “Gear & Donate” link. You can buy shirts, donate directly, or “buy miles” for a runner. My name (Jeff Jackson) is on the lower pulldown list. All proceeds will go directly to the gym.

Well, I guess all that’s left to say is to wish me luck. But I’m looking forward to this weekend. Should be quite the adventure! If I survive it, I promise you’ll hear all about it in this space.

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Once More Around the Block, and The Best Pacer Ever: 12 Hours at Dogwood

I clambered up a long, steady rise out of the trees onto a wide field of grass and sand. Up ahead I would cross a road and descend back onto the woods for the final part of the loop. The sky was dimming and a cold breeze had started up

“You’re doing GREAT!” a woman’s voice shouted.

I looked around but saw no one. Was I hearing things? I was over eleven hours into the Dogwood 12-Hour race, and the way I was feeling right then, anything was possible. I was giving all I had to get through this final loop and hold onto third place.

Then someone burst out of the trees behind me. . .

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

The Dogwood is in the category of races measured by a fixed time, rather than a fixed distance. The most well-known is the 24-hour race, but there are shorter and faster varieties including 48 hours and even 72 hours.

These events usually take place on a short loop of road (such as one mile) or on a running track. Results are tracked by loops completed. Advantages include always having gear and refreshments close at hand, and relay team planning is simple, since each exchange takes place at the same point. Disadvantages include – well, sheer monotony – which is why I’d never run one. I like a variety of views and terrain in my ultras.

The Dogwood, however, caught my eye. I wanted an ultra around the end of March and the loop was on trail and decently long (3.4 miles). And it was in Virginia, meaning warmer weather and near where my daughter Tori lives. She even accepted my offer to pace me for a loop. Win!

I showed up at Twin Lakes State Park at 6:30 a.m. and was joined by a couple of relay teams and around 30 fellow solo runners suffering from the same condition – namely, that we find running all day something to look forward to.

I’d set a goal of 15 loops (50 miles) with an average 40 minutes per loop, which on paper would take ten hours. I would use the two remaining hours as cushion. Any extra loops would be gravy, and perhaps just enough to get into the top five.

Off we go.

We set off at 7:15, just as the sun was coming up over Godwin Lake. We ran along the shore for a bit, then up a gravel road and onto singletrack along rolling hills with a few long climbs and some fast downhills. There were a couple of stream crossings, which required nimble steps on the rocks to keep feet dry. Up to a road crossing, then back into the woods, one rooty section, then a final climb to the main park road for a downhill sprint to the finish. Quick stop at the aid station, then back out again.

I ran the first two loops with a nice chap named Alex. The morning was sunny and cool with soft, dry trail, absolutely perfect conditions for a race. My steps were light and easy, and the loops flew by. I lost track of him after that, and settled into running alone, maintaining an aggressive but sustainable pace.

Just as with the Land Between the Lakes 50, I felt terrific for the first third of the race. After five loops I was ahead of my goal pace. But I was beginning to feel subtle hints that things were going to get tougher. My legs were starting to complain on the downhills, and the bottoms of my heels were developing hot spots. I taped them more thoroughly and hoped for the best.

Finishing up an early loop.

My loop times began to slip, but I held onto the 40-minute average until loop 12, at which time I was told I was in second place! Perhaps I’d have been better off not knowing, because I struggled on loop 13, with my slowest time by far. My mind began suggesting that fifteen loops would be quite enough, thank you, regardless of any extra time. Breaking through that mental wall would take some effort, but I’d deal with that if and when I got there.

At the aid station, I met up with Alex again. Turned out he was the leader, one full loop ahead of me. He offered me his company for the next loop, and I set off with renewed energy. Unfortunately, the third-place runner (Corey) had also picked it up, and at the top of the gravel road he caught up to us. Both he and Alex were feeling stronger than I was, and on the trail they politely excused themselves and took off. Well, then, third place would have to do.

Trail runners are the best. They’ll smile and praise your effort while they blow your doors off.

Then, as I finished loop 14, there was Tori, all set to pace me for a loop. And so we ran loop 15 together. She’s a stronger hiker than a runner, but she gamely pushed through it. My one worry was that whoever was in fourth place would catch up. And about two-thirds of the way through the loop, someone ran by at a steady, deliberate speed.

Well, nuts. But what did it matter? A run with my daughter meant far more to me than a podium finish. And after this loop, with my 50 miles logged, I could quit! The clock read 10:30 as we came in. 90 minutes left, but with thoroughly fatigued legs and burning feet, I was happy to call it a race.

Just to be sure I wasn’t in podium contention, I checked with the scorer, who shook his head. “That guy who passed you is two loops behind,” he said. “You’re still in third.”

“So…I suppose I should get back out there,” I said, trying to sound upbeat about it. He agreed. “You’re looking strong!” Perhaps he was being kind, or perhaps I looked better than I felt, but he wasn’t helping me quit. Just one more, I promised myself. Just one more.

I pushed aside the physical and mental exhaustion and walked onto the sidewalk along the beach. Then, as with the previous fifteen loops, I began a slow jog. Final loop started; now just finish it.

I start one of the later loops. Photo courtesy of Dan’s wife, Luce( sp?).

By the clock I had plenty of time, but I still had no idea where the fourth-place runner was. So I ran it scared, at as quick a pace as I could muster. If I had to run this final lap when I’d already mentally checked out, then dammit, I needed something to show for it!

Then, more than halfway though, I heard the voice from nowhere. And as I crossed the road, ready to let it go as a mystery, someone came out of the rise and ran toward me. Fast. Smiling.

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

He was a kid, perhaps ten years old. Behind him came a woman I assumed to be his mother. Obviously her shout had been meant for him, not me. Such was my mental state that I checked them for race bibs! Seeing none, I finally relaxed and focused on just getting through the remaining mile. Loop 16 and 54.5 miles completed in 11 hours, 23 minutes. Fourth place was 14 loops. I needn’t have worried.

Podium: Me with Alex (left) and Corey (right), who are helping keep me vertical.

The bonk hit me fast and hard as soon as I’d finished. Sitting didn’t help, so I lay on the ground. Alex and Corey, bless them, looked after me and helped me stand back up at awards time. For my third-place finish I got a bottle of Tiramisu Stout. Tori and I split it. She helped, after all.

Best pacer ever!

This was a small race but really well run and a lot of fun. More people should do this one; it’s a hidden gem among ultras. Dan, the race director, is hoping to turn it into a 24-hour race in the future, which may well make it more visible and popular. I hope so.

Running 50 Miles: Be Happy, Damn It!

SOME BIG NEWS came out of PR Run Club last weekend. At least it was big news to us! Three of our runners went to the Endurance Series Challenge in Ontario to run a hot, hilly 50-miler. Here are our intrepid badasses.

Alan (center) rocked the course, finishing 3rd overall male. Farsad (right) won his age group. Paul (left) was running his first-ever 50-miler, expected to go through hell (and did), but pulled himself together and got across the finish line.

Now, guess which one is my running coach. And how I feel about his performance.

I bring this up because of something I caught myself doing again today. Hearing about their race results naturally got me thinking about my own 50-miler (the Dirty German) earlier this year. In all-day rain on a flooded course I’d finished in the top 20 and third in my age group. Cause to celebrate, right?

Well, sure! Except my finish time was an hour slower than I’d hoped for, which if I’d achieved would have put me fourth overall. If only I’d spent less time at the aid stations. If only I hadn’t been so conservative on the third loop. If only, . . .

If there’s one thing a competitive runner has to accept to remain sane, it’s that once a race is over, it’s OVER. Done. In da books. And if I’d performed as well as I could under the circumstances, I need to be satisfied with it. To feel otherwise is unfair self-punishment.

The trouble, of course, is that time and recovery are terrific at making me forget about how hard I pushed out there. Three months after the event it’s easy to look back and think, “I could have done X, Y, and Z better” without remembering why I made those decisions at the time, in the moment.

Sure, I can do 7-minute miles through that!

When I recapped the DG50 for my coach, he agreed I’d run a good, smart race which demonstrated I was ready for my 100, just as we’d intended it to do. If I run it again next year, are there things I’ll do differently? Yes, circumstances permitting.

Which really makes me appreciate how my coach handled his race. Not only was it his first 50-miler, he’s still dealing with a nagging injury that affects his ability to run long distances. He struggled, he felt the heat, and at mile 36 he fell in the mud. I’ll let him describe what happened next:

I picked myself up and observed my cracked and leaking water bottle. I saw my carefully curated ice cubes melting in the hot sun and mud. So I did what any self-respecting PR runner would do and carefully wiped the precious ice cubes off with my doo-rag, got on my feet and ran the remaining five miles to the next aid station where Molly the puppy licked me on the face and a paramedic looked at me and asked me if was okay.

“Well, I’m running 50 miles on a muddy trail designed by a sadist. What do you think?”

“You seem fine.”

And so I had to continue

And so he did. Congratulations, Paul! You gave it what you had, and you got ‘er done. That’s setting a great example in my book.

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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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.