Saturday's Peacock 100k wasn't exactly the experience that I'd anticipated, but then, what race ever turns out exactly the way we expect? What makes these races so amazing and interesting are the little surprises. What makes for a successful race is how well we deal with these surprises. In some ways this was a really good race for me and the things that didn't go so well taught me some needed lessons.
The race started out with about 50 runners on an imaginary starting line at the base of the very impressive ridgeline we were about to run up in the predawn light of the Hawaiian west coast. The first mile and a half was walked by almost everyone, as we went from sea level up to 1700 feet in that distance.
Once we hit the more runnable section at the top I found myself near the back of the pack, my usual place. I'm not a particularly fast runner to begin with and HURT is full of amazingly talented ones. I fell in next to a woman I'd never met, though we quickly became running buddies over the next few miles. It probably helped that we were both running our first ultra, though we'd both been admonished for choosing this as our first.
Susan is a much more accomplished athlete than me, running the ironman (if I remember right), though she was less familiar with trails, so our experience balanced out to a mutually agreeable pace. Over my time this year on the HURT trail series there's been a couple of times that I matched paces at what I considered a 'slow' pace. A couple times I got impatient with the speed and pushed on, usually only to blow up later. So when I ran with Susan, feeling a little sluggish, I decided to stick it out with her anyway. This turned out to be a good decision, we were keeping up with my intended pacing in a way that was sustainable for the race.
About an six miles in we came across another runner who was hunched over on the side of the road. He waved us on, said he couldn't keep anything down but that he was ok. Susan, having a fine-tuned female intuition realized he was in worse shape than he was implying so we stopped to assist him.
Apparently he'd eaten something that really screwed up his stomach, he couldn't eat or drink anything without promptly throwing it back up. Susan pulled out her phone and managed to get enough signal to text back and forth with her husband (who was with some of the race directors at the starting point) for advice on getting Brent off the ridge, who reluctantly agreed that he need help. The directors told us that there wasn't any way to get to him until he made it to the first aid station at mile ten, four miles away. We told them we'd stick with him until we reached the station. He thanked us and we set out walking at a pace he could keep up. We made sure he kept drinking water and then waited with him through the inevitable breaks to throw it back up. It took about an hour and a half to make it four miles. At the aid station he collapsed in the shade of a truck and once the worker assured us they'd look after him Susan and I set off on our own.
The aid worker's parting words echoed in my head for the next few miles, 'You guys are only doing one lap, right?' You see, Susan only planned on doing one but I wanted to keep the option open to do a second, depending on how I felt after the first. I planned all my drops for two just for that case. I might not be up for it but if I was I wanted to be ready. We were so far behind the rest of the field though, it'd taken four and a half hours for the first ten miles. At that rate we were perilously close to the cutoffs. If we ran it perfectly there was still a chance though. We made good time to the next aid station around mile twenty and prepared ourselves for 'the long road'.
At that point, my confidence was pretty high that I would set out on a second loop. My legs still felt good, my feet were fine, and though we were closer to the cutoff than I'd planned we were still far enough under that I figured I could at least give it a shot.
Yeah, the long road totally disabused me of the notion. The long road is a bit of a misleading title, though it is in fact a long road it could more accurately be described as the long hill. It's four miles of various graded hill, all down to the aid station and then back up to continue the loop. Almost immediately my feet started killing me on the downhill.
I'd worn my new Cascadias for the race, I was pretty confident in my shoe-choosing abilities so that despite the fact that I hadn't taken them on a decent run yet I wore them for the race. Up until the long road I was totally confident in my choice of footwear. However, once we hit the long, very consistent and awkward decent my feet started sliding forward in the shoe. Now, this happens with any shoe but for the Cascadias it seemed more exaggerated. It might have been that little elastic bit I complained about in my review, not being firm enough to hold the foot tight, or it might have been too loose a fit for the hardcore course. Either way, by the time we made it to the bottom I had silver dollar sized blisters on the balls of my feet.
I'd put a pair of Minimus trails in my drop bag for the turnaround for just this scenario but the damage had already been done. Susan wasn't feeling too much better but it was less feet and more of leg issues for her. My legs felt pretty good after 3500 feet of elevation change but my feet were killing me.
Again, our mutual speed balanced out... to a walk. We made our way, very slowly, through the rest of the loop. At the top of the long hill the male leader passed us going the other direction, Susan and I were both blown away. He was FLYING down the hill, seven hours into the race and he had to have completed at least 45-50 miles to be at that point of the course. We made it to the next branch of the trail an hour later without seeing a second place runner.
We finished in a little over ten hours, 30.15 miles, just under the cutoff. A second loop was out of the question for me, which was a little disappointing. I mean, ideally we could have made it in under nine hours, a good cushion under the cutoff, and if I hadn't messed up my feet on the Long Hill I would definitely have at least tried another. On the other hand, my biggest goal had been to finish 30 miles as my 30th birthday was two days later, and I definitely completed that goal. I definitely had fun, definitely have some new stories to tell, and even though it wasn't 100k I can definitely live with a 50k for my first completed ultramarathon.
There will be a follow up with some of the lessons learned and more info about the race when the results are published. I'm also going to try and include a follow up on Brent and that amazing runner in first.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I have had the worst luck with my long runs over the last month.
1. Got totally lost at Peacock Flats (12 mile run instead of 20+)
2. Experimented with Powdered lubricants AND tape, bad idea (10 mile run instead of 20, and blisters)
3. Forgot my GPS and my Sunblock (8 miles instead of 30+)
4. Had to work a weekend. (3 miles around the area instead of 30+)
5. Bleach residue in my Camelbac (8 miles instead of 22, sick stomach)
And the list could go on...
I'm incredibly far behind on my miles for the month and am rapidly coming up on the longest race I've ever attempted. Luckily, my mid-range miles have been excellent. I've fit in a lot of faster, shorter runs more frequently. It's just the time-on-the-trails that I'm seriously lacking.
Last weekend it kind of 'came to head' for me, I was freaking out. I'd signed up for DailyMile, which is kind of a cool gadget to stay motivated, and I happened to look at my monthly summary. Here, I thought I was doing half-way decent on my miles and that one look totally disabused that notion. I was so down that I considered backing out of the 100k. Seriously, if I can't fit in a 30 mile training run, how the heck can I run a race twice that long? I had only completed about half the miles per week that I had scheduled in my training plan.
Mentally, I was done. It was a week before the race even started and I knew I couldn't finish it.
Then I was at Runner's HI picking up a couple things for last weekends long run (forgot the GPS and sunblock) and I had a conversation that changed my perspective. I was telling the sales guy about the twenty miles I had planned for the weekend and the 100k next weekend. He looked at me like I was nuts, "Aren't you supposed to be tapering?" he asked. That little statement snowballed down the slopes of my brain.
It wasn't missed training, it was an accidental taper!
I'd been looking at my lack of miles as "I'm totally unprepared, totally under-trained, and way over my head" when I should have been thinking "Wow, what an awesome taper! My legs feel amazing and I won't be over-trained come race day. I'll be totally rested up!"
I might not be as prepared as I wanted to be, I might not have gotten in the work outs that I wanted to, but as long as I can keep my wits about me... that is, not shooting myself in the foot before the race even starts... than I at least have a chance.
Obviously, I'm planning a very, very conservative race. I'm not under any illusions that I'm going to breeze through this thing. Honestly, I don't know that I can even finish it, but I'm going to go out there and run as smart a race as I can, do as much of it as I can, and have an incredible learning experience no matter what happens.
The 'accidental taper'. It sounds like a cheesy comedy starring Leslie Nielson. It makes me smile, which is far preferable to quaking in my shoes.
Friday, October 21, 2011
So, I've been having weird issues with my feet recently... none of my shoes ever seem to fit right. I suppose all the running I've been doing recently has caused changes. Odd though, I've heard of people's feet 'shrinking' as they run more and the muscles in their feet tighten up, but I've never heard of people's feet growing. I'm up a full size since last year and another half a size in the last four months.
Anyway, long story short, I've been doing a lot more shoe shopping than I'd anticipated. Which is a blessing and a curse, I hate buying larger sets of my favorite shoes but it's a great excuse to go to the running store.
With all the great reviews that the Cascadia 6 has gotten I figured I would at least try on a pair. Which led to me buying a pair.
Since you can get the technical specs from a thousand sites around the web, I'm going to concentrate on the less quantitative aspects of the shoe.
First off, out of the box they fit like they were made for me. Honestly, I put them on and was immediately sold by the fit alone. It feels snug enough around the heel and across the arch laterally so that the foot doesn't slide around, yet just loose enough in the toes that they aren't crowded.
The uppers feel like those favorite, broken-in, old sneakers you have in your closet that are so worn and comfortable you can't bring yourself to throw them away... even though they scare your significant other every time she sees them. They're light weight but seem to have plenty of protection, as any good trail running shoe should have.
The only thing that jumped out as really different with the Cascadia is some elastic attached to some of the lacing holes. There is a cut-out in the upper that the laces go through, like a little island that is attached to the rest of the shoe by a stretchy elastic webbing.
It seemed like a weird addition to me, not seeming to add much while potentially weakening the fit if the webbing gets damaged or starts to break down. However, with the over-all comfort of the shoe, maybe it is making a significant difference and only time will tell how well it holds up.
The sole is far thicker than I would normally wear. My favorites right now are the MT101 and the NB Minimus Trail, both of which are significantly more thin and flexible. When I first saw the Cascadia 6 I honestly thought it would feel like a hiking boot considering how thick and inflexible the soul was. I was thoroughly surprised when I put it on and it felt light weight and extremely comfortable.
The shoe gives up some of the 'feel' and ground response of the minimalist shoes that I love but when I have need of a shoe with a great fit and a little more protection (say an upcoming 100k?), than I have a feeling this is going to be one of my favorites.
The first step of any wear test for me is wearing the shoes around the house sock-less for a couple of hours. If I don't notice any discomfort than they're green-lighted for a run test (I instituted this practice after having to painfully walk several miles home when I took some new shoes out too far). The Cascadia passed with flying colors and I absolutely can't wait until this Saturday when I'll get to really put these shoes through the paces.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Just another quick story from work.
Friday afternoon after work I was walking with my boss towards the parking lot. We were making idle chit-chat and he asked me what I would be doing this weekend.
"I'll probably doing some running. I've got a race at the end of the month."
"What, like a 5k?" he asked.
"Uh... not quite. It's a 100k."
"Oh. How far is your leg?" he asked.
I was confused.
"How far is your leg?" he asked again, enunciating it more.
"I don't understand."
"What part of that do YOU run? It's a relay, right?"
Just thought that was a funny exchange, had to share it.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I've had a bit of a dilemma for the past two weeks with training. There is a Physical Readiness Test I have to do for work twice a year which is a fast mile and a half... and there is the upcoming Peacock 100k. All summer I've been doing long, slow trail runs for the HURT trail series, so I have been doing a lot of 10-15 minute/mile long trail runs.
For both the Peacock and for the PRT I wanted to pick up some speed work. The PRT is a fast 1.5 mile run and I need to increase my pacing for the Peacock so that when the trail is runnable I can make up some time for all of the areas that aren't.
So for the past two weeks I've been doing a lot more tempos and intervals, a lot less distance-wise. Up until today I was really worried that I was shooting myself in the foot for both of the runs, not enough speed work for the PRT and not enough time on my feet to benefit for the Peacock.
Well, this morning I smoked my PRT with a 10:50. Lets just say that was way, way better than I was expecting. And when I was done my legs and feet felt fine, which is so uplifting. This was the fastest time I think I've ever had on a PRT and I didn't even kill myself to do it.
So, I have more speed than I thought I did, now I just need to fit in as many miles as possible for the next two weeks in preparation for the 100k.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Trail running in Hawaii is awesome. The views are gorgeous, the trails range from fun-little-jaunt-in-the-woods to 10-mile trails that take four hours to "run" and you end up completely covered in mood and blood by the end. There's no poisonous plants, no snakes... pretty much the only thing that might pose a threat would be stumbling across a large boar. In short, Hawaii is paradise for trail running.
Of all my runs here I've only been nervous a couple of times.
A few months ago I was getting ready to run the Maunawili trail, a 22 mile out and back. I'd just parked my car, gotten my pack on and was getting everything ready. When I say parking 'lot' I mean small stretch of gravel on the side of a rural road in the country. A very large black truck did a slow cruise past the lot. Boar-hunters. Locals packed into large trucks, with guns, and about a dozen barking dogs in the back. I didn't think too much of it at the time, they're pretty frequent sights around the trails.
I started walking to the trail head and I noticed the truck coming back. The driver called out to me.
"Hey! Where you going?" He was a late twenty-something local guy. He didn't sound angry, but there was a weird tone to his voice which kind of put me on edge. There's a lot of stories that go around about people having problems with locals, but the only guys I have ever personally known who had problems were the kind of people that tended to create problems. I'm really easy going and I'd never had any sort of issues.
"Up there," I replied and waved at the trail.
He stared at me for a moment. "Is there anyone else up there?"
I tried to hide how nervous that question suddenly made me. His stare was seriously creeping me out and the cold way he asked the question was borderline threatening. It would be like a woman answering the door in the middle of the night to find a stranger there, who then asks if there's anyone else in the house...
"I guess, there's a couple of other cars here." I was quick to point out that there were other people on the trail.
He stared at me for a minute, then slowly took his foot off the brake and the car idled down the road.
I went up the trail and started my run. Logically, I knew the guy and his buddies were probably just frustrated and trying to find a place to go hunting. If there were hikers and trail runners than there probably wouldn't be any boars around to go after. They'd probably been cruising around for hours trying to find a quiet place to set up.
But as I ran the scene kept playing over and over in my head. There was just something off about it. The vibe was wrong. Logic kept saying one thing but in the back of my mind some animal part of me was freaking out. Here I was, in the middle of nowhere, no witnesses and spotty cell coverage. If something happened to me I would probably never be found. What if on my way back I ran into the middle of a real life version of The Most Dangerous Game? Dogs, guns, creepy local guy, in the middle of the woods... there's too many pop-culture references to make here. It's like the beginning of every creepy movie ever made in the woods.
At that point I actually got out my cell phone and called up my ex. I told her it was probably nothing but to take down a description of these guys and the exchange. Basically, if I disappeared I wanted someone to look at it as more than just a lost runner.
The entire run I kept my eyes and ears pealed for any sign of them.
I never saw those guys again and obviously nothing happened to me on the way back but to this day I still get creeped out just thinking about it. I'll never look at all those boar hunters the same.
So when I was doing a practice run at Peacock flats a couple months later I was a little unnerved to find myself again in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road, that was apparently in prime boar-hunting territory.
Every half hour or so as I was running I would hear the distant roar of a massive diesel engine. I'd grab Abby, my Ex's dog and my constant running companion, and get off to the side of the small road. There were a lot of sharp, blind corners, so it seemed safer to just get out of the way when we heard them. The roar would get louder and a big truck full of guys with guns in the front and barking dogs in the back would come around the corner and cruise slowly past us. A couple of them would give us a brief wave, most of them seemed to ignore us.
Then as we were headed back we heard the now familiar sound of a truck coming. Abby was getting used to the ritual and ran over to me. We got off the road and waited.
The truck came crawling around the corner ahead of us. As it drew closer it started to slow down until it stopped even with me. Something cold settled into the bottom of my gut. One of the passengers asked something but I couldn't make it out.
"What?" I asked.
"You need any water?" He repeated. I'm sure I looked startled by the question. I felt my camelbak which was still half full.
"No, I'm good." I replied.
"Alright," he said, waved, and they pulled away.
Yes, I felt like an idiot.
Before my first encounter with the creepy hunter I'd never felt threatened in Hawaii, and nothing came of it, so I realized how stupid it was to cling to the feeling when all of the evidence was to the contrary.
So, thank you to the Good-Samaritan boar hunters for reminding me of all the reasons that I love Hawaii and it's perfect trail running.