Thursday, November 20, 2014

Race Report: Door County Fall 50 Mile Road Race

ORN:  October 25, 2014:  50 miles, 10:10:29, 12:13/mile, R/W 3/1 thru 35, then 1/1 for final 15.

Completing The Door County Fall 50 mile race was a true highlight of my current era of running, now 10+ years long.  I could never have imagined such a thing in the first place;  to have then actually enjoyed both the training and the race itself is beyond comprehension. The support my wife, Gretchen, before the race and on race day was immeasurable.

Gory Details:

How on earth do you describe a 50 mile race??  I don't really know, so I'll try to simply break it into the main chunks and a postscript.  I have a bunch of pix as well...hope this makes some sense.

Planning the Training

In January, I privately set a goal to run this 50 mile race in late October. I didn't tell anyone but my wife, probably for fear of failure. Nevertheless, I set several intermediate milestones to determine if I could be prepared for such a task. First was a 39 mile run in July, followed by a double marathon weekend in September.  Amazingly to me, I prepared for both of these toll gates through the summer and cleared them both.  Could I really run 50 miles?

I picked this 50 mile race rather than others because it presented a unique combination of three favorable factors. First, it came at the right time of the year, the end of a fall racing season. Second, I was very familiar with the course. Our family has vacationed in Door County for over 30 years now. Our children know it as well as we do. Third, it was a road 50 miler. This seemed "easier" then a trail 50 miler. And so it was on.

Planning the Run

How do you plan a run that is farther than you have ever run before?  You try to make intelligent extrapolations, based on your own experience and what you can learn from others.  

Background:  Door County is a peninsula jutting from the main part of Wisconsin into Lake Michigan, shown here in red.

door-county.png (559×599)

Zooming in, the course followed along the western shore of Door County, along the beautiful Green Bay (yes, that's the body of water for which the Packers are famous).

dc_peninsula_map[1].jpg (350×375)

My goal was simple; finish and enjoy the experience...nothing more.  After much pondering and experimenting with pace on my double marathon weekend, I settled on being happy with 12 minute miles for the entire length, meaning I'd run for ten hours flat.  To get to this, I would adopt a run 3 minute, walk 1 minute strategy.  Further, I'd hold the run pace to 10:45/mile on my Garmin.  

The organizers provided a detailed course description and I merged my plan with their course info onto a two-sided laminated chart which became my best friend on race day. 

On the front, I listed the 10 aid stations, with both the leg and cumulative distances.  I knew each of these spots from vacationing so long in Door County...the chart was very helpful to help me know all day just where I was.  

On the flip side, I listed my expected times into each aid station for this 12 minute pace.  Thus, I could know if I was ahead or behind of my target all day.  Further, I added a brief reminder to myself of the plan, plus a clear statement is was OK to walk up the four major hill climbs along the course route. 

I also made a copy of this for my wife, which let her know when to pop into the various aid stations and to know when she might expect me.  That proved very useful.  

Planning the Food

One of the biggest "ahaas" of my entire training process was just how crucial food is in a race of this length.  Whereas I can navigate a marathon by paying attention to hydration and taking several gels, spending 10 hours running requires a steady intake of digestible, quality calories.  I captured the details in this blog post.  

A few days before we drove to Door, therefore, I prepared at home.  First, I made up a big bowl of boiled potatoes.  Easy to do...about 20 minutes in salted, boiling water made these little gems all set.  I also prepared some gel in the small Coke bottles shown.  (nice unintended side effect here:  photos of our kids on the counter who also enjoy Door County, even as adults....but I digress)

In addition, our grand-kids were over just before we left and AJ jumped in to help me bake a batch of double chocolate chip cookies for the race.  

I let him lick the bowl but I got to lick the spoon :-)

Once in Door County, I put 3-4 chunks of potato in 9 baggies, wrapped up about 30 pretzel sticks into individual bundles with kitchen wrap, sealed up cookies individually and laid them all out.   

I then bundled an assortment of these carbo-gems into each of 9 bags, labeled with my name and bib number to take to packet pick up.

The race organizers did a terrific job welcoming us solo runners.  At packet pick up, they had 9 carts, clearly labeled, where we could place anything we wanted at each of the Aid Stations.   It all worked.  And the food was ready.  

Executing the Plan

The preparations finished, it was time to head to Wisconsin.  We made a 5 day mini vacation out of this trip. We drove to Door County on Thursday, enjoying the beautiful familiar surroundings. Late Friday afternoon we drove the last 15 miles of a course with which I was less familiar, ending up in Sturgeon Bay for packet pickup. The race was well organized and packet pickup was a dream. We stopped off at a restaurant offering a pasta special, enjoyed the food and listened to a less than spectacular lounge singer....yeeesh, Billy Joel would be ashamed to have heard it, oh my.

I must mention my bib, with 61* being the best bib number I've ever had.  Why??   Three reasons:

  1. I turned 61 two weeks before the cool to have your age as your bib!! 
  2. 61 is a prime number...the engineer in me loves having a prime bib number.
  3. Baseball.  I added the asterisk with a Sharpie, making my bib 61*.  This is a nod to my other favorite sport and the famous story of Roger Maris who hit 61 home runs in 1961 to break Babe Ruth's record.  But many did not recognize the record, since he did it in 162 games, whereas The Bambino did it in 156 games.  Thus the asterisk, a snub which haunted Maris to his death in 1985.   My humble bib was thus a small salute to and memory of a player most have long forgotten.  But I remember that home run chase well from 1961.  
Geeky, I know...just smile with me, it's all pretty harmless.

Race morning, Saturday October 25, dawned with temperatures in the upper forties and a modestly brisk wind from the west. Gretchen drove me to the start line at Gills Rock, a tiny village at the very northern tip of Door County and we awaited the 7 a.m. start for the solo runners. It was daunting to finally arrive at the start of a goal race. It was even more daunting to stand in the pre-dawn light realizing I was going to be running for the next 10 plus hours! But off we went, right on time;  Gretchen was standing at the start line, I gave her a kiss and the day was on.

Those of you who know me and my preoccupation with running in exactly the right combination of layers may wonder what I decided to wear.  Much thought and examination of weather reports fed into what seemed an "obvious" decision.  Tights were never an option...I was always going to wear shorts.  For the torso, I ultimately decided on two short-sleeved tech shirts (my Marathon Maniac shirt on top), with removable arm warmers and gloves.  I added my lightweight balaclava, tucked it into my shirts and used it to keep my neck warm early.  One race-time decision remained, I wear a full cap or a visor?  In the car, at the starting line, I settled on the visor.

It all worked.  Here I am at the AS #2, mile 11.5 in Sister Bay, a couple hours into the race.  All the gear is on and I'm still smiling.

Around mile 14, I pulled the balaclava.  By mile 18, I peeled the arm warmers, tying all the gear into my water belt.  The gloves went on and off for most of the race, depending on wind direction and pace.  But it all worked...I was neither cold nor hot for the duration of the race....ah, the joys of overthinking these things.

The first 7 hours of the race were a pure joy, mostly about settling into a groove and enjoying the race.  It was so much fun to run through familiar areas.  Jogging through the little village of Ellison Bay, snaking by the fabulous homes along Green Bay, laughing with breakfast patrons at Al Johnson's in Sister Bay, wishing Wilsons had been open for ice cream in Ephraim....all marvelous stuff.

And the was spectacular, even this late in the fall.  Here's mile 16 in Penninsula State Park.

The rhythm of the day was the 3/1, walk the hills, take a salt tab at the top of each hour, eat something every 20 minutes.  It was wonderful how all the nested loops of habits fit together like a good set of Russian Dolls.

The middle miles wound along the coast and we were steadily treated with views like this of Green Bay.

The organizers did a terrific job of laying out the course.  I was oh-so-grateful for how they handled each of the aid stations.  I wish I had a good photo of the total AS layout but I don't.  In short, though, they had two tents at each, one exclusively for the solo runners.  Even though we were less than 10% of the total field for the day, they really made this effort.  In each tent was water, Gatorade, banana, salty stuff, cookies, chairs, first aid gear plus the all-important drop bags each solo runner had prepared.  I quickly found the "pit stop" approach to each AS, zipping in, refilling my two 10oz water bottles, finding my bag, stuffing the potatoes, pretzles and other goodies into my pockets, grabbing a banana and some cookies and getting back on the road in a minute or so, eating the banana and recalibrating with a new load of fuel.

Coming out of Fish Creek, we climbed up to this section and moved through the marathon distance, nicely marked.  I hit it at exactly 5 hours...I was very pleased.  The race was cruising along wonderfully at this point.

Mathematically, my projected 12:00/mile pace was easy to work simply meant I needed to cover 5 miles each hour.  Put another way, I hit my watch at each 5 mile marker, looking to see if I was over or under one hour.  My early splits through mile 35 looked like this:

Miles 1-5        56:29
Miles 6-10      54:56
Miles 11-15     58:17
Miles 16-20    57:34
Miles 21-25     58:59
Miles 26-30     60:30
Miles 31-35     61:32

And then drama began.

On the four-mile, flat run from Egg Harbor to Murphy Park, AS #7, I started feeling twinges on the outside of my left knee.  What's that, I wondered.  I shifted from the left side of the road to the right, hoping a change in camber might help, which it did a little but not enough to relieve the sense a challenge was looming.  I reloaded at the AS, but soon after came the steepest of the four big hill climbs of the day at mile 38.

It became evident that I did not have an injury but rather a recurrence of IT Band inflammation, a common overuse injury I've had from time to time.  It was disappointing;  I knew it wasn't serious but I also knew the only way to accommodate it was to slow down.  This meant the consistency I had been enjoying was likely to deteriorate.

I walked up the very steep hill, reflecting on just what to do and settled on the obvious plan for the remaining 12 or so miles.  Once at the top, I shifted to a run 1 minute/ walk 1 minute plan and shifted my mental outlook to accept this.  It was easier to switch my watch than to switch my brain, but the mind came to accept I had to do something to accommodate the pain.

My gait clearly altered, I just kept moving.  Gretchen had looped around and was waiting for me at AS #8 at Carlsville and Bluffledge Road, mile 41.  She saw me before I saw her and immediately knew something was amiss.  It was great to see her and let her know the problem was addressable, I was not hurting myself even though I hurt a lot and I'd be OK.  She accepted that and snapped a photo of me in the solo tent at the AS, as if to assure her self I could still smile.  Hey, I said, it's my knee that hurts, not my mouth!!

Less than 9 miles to go, she walked me out of the AS and off I shuffled.  The most painful part of the entire course was soon after this, as a steep downhill to the coast presented and, for the life of me, I could not run a single step down the hill; even walking hurt like crazy.  I made it to the bottom and resumed the R1/W1.  My split for miles 36-40 slipped to 69:34.  It felt worse than that at the time, but I clearly was slowed.

Nothing slowed about the scenery, though, which truly helped.  Here's a shot near mile 45.

It was in these final 10 miles I experienced something more wonderful than I've ever experienced in a road race.  With many of the relay teams (who started in staggered starts up to 3 hours after I started) catching and passing me, nearly all of them offered warm encouragement.  All of us wore a bib on our back, indicating which race division in which we competed.  I think these relay runners, more than the spectators, grasped just how far the 50 mile course was.  And runner after runner encourged me with "Way to go, solo guy!"  "I wish I could do what you are doing!"  "Hang in there, you are looking great!" (you know how we lie to each other in such settings!) It was the most positive, encouraging, uplifting thing I've ever seen in my years of running.  In many ways, it got me through the pain of the final 3 hours of my running, saying to myself there is NO WAY I could give up with all these folks' admiration.

We approached Sturgeon Bay on a main road and the rural, coastal scenes gave way to more homes and activity.  Miles 41-45 picked up a bit as I grasped just how to handle the discomfort, improving to 65:42.

My knee was still hurt like crazy but the new rhythm seemed to help; I focused on the basics of good posture and keeping moving.  The mile signs were so welcome, as 46, 47, 48 all passed.  Mile 49 was at the base of a large and well-manicured the dark humor that sometimes enters distance races, several of us had a dandy laugh at the "coincidence".  

At last I could see the city park which held the finish line.  I took one final walk break before going into the park, had a laugh and a high five with a volunteer about just how far this was from Gills Rock and turned, running, into the park with about a half mile to go.  

It was a fabulous finish. 

It happened nicely that I was by myself as I ran into the park.  Many relay team participants were awaiting their final member, yet as I came into the final 150m of the course, they spotted my bib as a solo runner.  Once again, cheering, encouragement, high fives erupted.  It was almost embarrasing...I was hardly winning anything, yet the acknowledgement of fellow runners was both genuine and moving.  I couldn't quit smiling and laughing.  With about 50m to go, they announced my name, mentioned I was from West Lafayette, Indiana, to which some astute observer yelled out "Go Purdue!"...great to hear my alma mater saluted!

At this point, there was no one I wanted to see more than Gretchen.  I scanned the crowd at the finish line and there she was, at the barrier at the finish line.  She had seen me before I saw her, again, and when I finally spotted her I could tell she was sobbing with happiness, hands over her face, absolutely thrilled.  I'm sure she was also glad to simply see me vertical, smiling and running better than the hobbled hubby she had seen earlier.  Yet she also recognized this was a big accomplishment and shared the joy fully with me.  It was fantastic.  

I stopped right at the finish line and had a huge, long embrace with my wonderful wife.  She cried and I laughed, both of us amazed and happy the event had concluded well.  In a wonderful bit of perception and sensitivity, the volunteer who was handing out medals simply stood aside while we hugged, calmly waiting until we were done.  Then, she walked up quietly and said to Gretchen "Would you like to present him his medal?"  Perfectly done...thanks to the person whom I don't know!!  It was a special moment.  

I'm sorry we have no photos of the finish; it was so special and emotional, pictures simply didn't occur to either of us.  

At that point, I had two objectives.  The first was to locate a bag of ice for my ITB.  The medical tent at the finish line was happy to oblige...they were great, I explained what happened, what I needed, they did a good "sanity check" and, amazingly, concluded I was indeed sane despite wearing a Marathon Manic shirt.  They gave me the ice pack and wished me well.  

The second objective was to get out of the wind and sit down.  Gretchen and I walked the quarter mile or so to our car, holding hands, smiling and chatting like teenagers, both thrilled to be together, sharing such an event.  It was good as well to finally get into a dry shirt, into the car, out of the wind, ice on my IT Band and head back to the condo we had rented in Ephraim.  The race was over, successfully.  

Final Statistics

The numbers are kind of a hoot.  Miles 45-50 went through in 67:12, with my final time being 10 hours, 10 minutes, 29 seconds.  After all of this, only 10 minutes over my objective.  I was thrilled.

The race itself had 143 starters and 119 finishers.  I finished 103rd of the 119, and I learned the next day I was the only finisher in my age group!  So, I was both first and dead last in my AG!!  I contacted the race organizers later, since I had left the race site so quickly and they were very gracious to mail me my AG medal.

Or should I say "Medals".
The big medal in the middle was my race AG medal.  But on the right is a special medal.  The Fall 50 was the official USA Track and Field  50 Mile Road National Championship Race.  And, thus, the age group winners also got a medal noting this fact.  What a hoot!!  Me, getting a national medal just because I happened to finish a small race with nobody else my age!!!  

Hey, it's a keeper!!!  


Running is nothing if it is not about setting goals that make sense to you and then seeing just how you might achieve it.  This race was a goal for me for this year.  Having a marvelous marriage is my lifetime goal.  To achieve the one and enhance the other all at the same time, is even better.  

I hope you've enjoyed this account, even though long.  Thanks for listening.  

And, as always, persevere. 


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Race Report: A Weekend Double: US Air Force Marathon, Fox Valley Marathon, Sept 20-21, 2014

Air Force Marathon:  4:52:51, 11:10/mile, R/W 3/1
Fox Valley Marathon:  4:46:52, 10:57/mile, R/W 3/1

It's amazing I ever ran one marathon, so much more so I'd ever complete 50.  Yet, it happened, as Air Force was my 50th and the next day I ran my 51st marathon at Fox Valley.  It was a marvelous two days of running, with no walls, no pain, a plan that worked and sheer joy throughout.  I'm very blessed, indeed.

Why a double?

An obvious question.  Isn't one marathon enough, Joe?? my more rational friends ask.  Well, yes, it's very fine.  Yet, for me, a process geek and a goal-oriented guy, the aim was not to do a double.  The aim is to enjoy the upcoming 50 mile Fall 50 in Door County, Wisconsin on Saturday October 25.  I set this target on January 1, 2014 and the double weekend was second of two crucial toll gates I needed to clear to be set for a 50 mile road race (I described the first one here ).

US Air Force Marathon, Saturday, September 20, 2014

This is the second time I've run the Air Force Marathon on the huge Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and represented an opportunity for redemption of sort.  In my report of that 2008 effort, the sad story of a bad bonk unfolds.  It taught me a lot and I've been keen to, someday, "get back on the horse" and see if I could be smarter.

I drove to Dayton, Ohio on Friday afternoon, fought the traffic to get in and out of packet pick up, slept in simple setting and was up at oh-dark-thirty to get to the race site.  Traffic and layout and race size is such that getting in and out is difficult.  I was parked at 5:12am for the 7:30am start and still had a one-mile walk to the start line.

The day dawned mild, with no wind and temps in the upper 50s, yet promised to warm.  I wore a special shirt in this military setting.  I'm so grateful for the six years our oldest son David served in the Army, with two trips to Iraq and one to South Korea.  He inspired our youngest son Matt who is in the Army now, back from one trip to Afghanistan and looking like he might be in for a while.

I really appreciated the kind greetings I received all day about this meant a lot.  

The race got started on time and the day unfolded.  I saw and talked with quite a few friends.  Early chats with Jen Savage and Elaine Green were fun.  During mile 1, I ran with Eddie "The Barefoot Bandito" Vega for a while.  Eddie ran the Circular Logic Marathon (I'm the RD for that event) last year and runs barefoot to raise money for shoes for kids in the Philippines.  He's an amazing guy.  Around mile 8, I ran quite a while with Michael Hoyt.  It's fascinating how, at races not even near my home, you still meet familiar faces.  

The plan for both weekend marathons was to test the pace, hydration and fuel plan for the upcoming 50 miler.  Since there were no drop bags for this race, I simplified my fuel plan.  After taking nothing for the first hour, I then ate every 20 minutes, alternating between my homemade gel in my waist pack and pretzel rods, below.  I packaged these in kitchen wrap and they fit perfectly in the pockets of my Race Ready shorts.  

I used a run 3 minutes/walk 1 minute sequence from beginning to end.  The run sequence was usually around a 10:15/mile pace and my aggregate miles were all in the 10:45 to 11:00 range.  This system just seems to work for me and I enjoyed the run.  

I hit the half marathon mark at 2:24:33, well ahead of my target time of 2:36.  During the second half of the race, I ran into long time running pal Mark Janowsky, who had completed two 100 mile races since we last saw each other in July in Milwaukee.  He gave me much good advice about my "mere" 50 miler!! 

The organizers did a great job.  Most water stops had some "theme".   The best one, IMHO, was the Alien Invader stop, handled by folks from the Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center.  Hey, if anyone would know about aliens, it would be these guys, right???  They got into it and it was fun.  

While much of the course was open, there was a beautiful section between miles 18-20, an old road with full canopy of trees.  This was a visual treat and a welcome break from the growing warmth of the day.  

 I also saw a lot of interesting shirts in this race.  The funny ones I had not seen before included "This sure seems like a lot of work for a free banana" and "Humpty Dumpty had issues with walls too".   The most substantial one I saw, though, was this one.  It captured my rationale for running, just as it did for its owner.  This guy's daughter made the shirt for him...I may well make one for myself.  

The temperature rose and was in the upper 70s by the final six miles.  It was this stretch where I bonked badly in 2008 and those memories flowed as we covered the same turf this time.  Amazingly, I felt fine this time and powered through miles 22 to the finish with lowered splits each mile.  The hydration and fueling plan worked. 

The last half mile of this course is a wonderful U shaped trip next to the USAF Museum, lined with a very enthusiastic crowd in the shadow of many famous planes of our nation.  I pulled out a small US flag I had with me and got a lot of positive feedback for that plus my shirt.  The end was a thrill, thinking both of my sons and the personal accomplishment of my 50th marathon.  The emotion all came together as I hit the finish line, as you can see in this official race photo which I purchased to commemorate the event.   

I received my medal from a 2-star general who himself had two sons in the Army...we had a most enjoyable chat as two Dads who have a personal investment in our nation's military. 

The race over, I started working my way back to my car knowing my day was far from over.  I ran into running buddy AJ Hacker, who had smoked the race in 3:36 and was already showered.  He snapped a mug shot for me, as we talked about the ups and downs of racing.
My finish time was officially 4:52:51.  As a set up for my 50 miler, I was very pleased with this.  Amazingly, I was 1442nd of 2908 overall...I was surprised this time would get me into the top half.  Even more amazingly, I was 21st of 79 in my AG.  

It was a good day.  Yet the adventure was not even half over yet.  


Our home in West Lafayette, Indiana is conveniently midway between Dayton, Ohio and the far western Chicago suburbs where the Fox Valley race happens.  I drove the three hours home, legs feeling good despite the car ride.  The hot shower was nice, a short meal with my wonderful (and oh-so supportive) wife was terrific, being off the road as a brief thunderstorm blew through was fortuitous and I was back on the road again.  Three more hours driving to St. Charles, Illinois, picking up my race bib from a local running friend who had been to the expo on my behalf (Thanks, Steve!), finding my motel and, to no surprise, I fell asleep very quickly at 10pm.  

Fox Valley Marathon, Sunday, September 21, 2014

The alarm went off at 5am again yet logistics were a lot simpler for this smaller marathon.  My motel was less than a mile from the start/finish line and I was able to park for free on the second deck of a garage which overlooked the start area...a complete contrast to the traffic and long walks of the previous day's race.  

The race was well organized and started right on time at 7:30.  Interestingly, though, it took me nearly 20 minutes to get across the start line as the organizers had a very simple and effective wave start process.  This was wonderfully done and vital.

The true star of the Fox Valley race was the course.  We spent all day on walking / running paths on either side of the Fox River which flows southward through the far western suburbs of Chicago.  Man, it was beautiful.  The image below shows a typical view; fully 3/4 of the course looked like this.  Thus, the wave start let the field stretch out and I was able to run comfortably, without crowding all day long.  

And I repeated the pattern from the previous day, as preparation for the 50 miler.  Run/walk in a 3/1 pattern, salt tabs once an hour, plenty of water, eating something every 20 minutes; lather, rinse, repeat.  

Did I mention the course was beautiful?? 

And that the trail was canopied and pleasant??  Oh, yes, I think I did.  

The day was just fun on the lovely course.  I hit the halfway mark in 2:25:49 and the miles kept clicking by.  There were a few moderate, minor inclines, but nothing major; in fact, the slight rolls helped create changes for leg angles which helped the cause.  

The overthinker that I am, I've been pondering these weekend races all year.  In particular, I knew the final 10 miles of the second marathon would prove the real test of my preparation for the 50 miler.  So, when I hit mile 16, I began noting closely how I felt.  Amazingly, I felt fine, so kept motoring.  At mile 18, I wondered if anything bad would go down...not yet.  Mile 20 came and went...I still felt fine.  Just before Mile 22 was a park where many family had gathered to cheer.  One young boy had a soccer ball and I motioned to him to toss it at my feet...he and I knocked the ball back and forth, to his Dad's delight and my psyche.  Yeah, I guess I'm doing OK. 

I realized I could open things up at this point holding anything back now.  My splits for the final miles were:

Mile 23   11:01
Mile 24   10:14
Mile 25    9:59
Mile 26    9:47
Mile 26.2   8:26 pace

Yes, descending splits.  I was grinning ear to ear for the final 3 miles, realizing the adventure was working well.  It's hard to describe but the energy kept flowing.

As we came to the final left turn, leaving a clear 250m path over a bridge to the finish line, I caught up again with fellow Marathon Maniac Jerry Olsen, with whom I had talked quite a bit during the race.  I said, "Hey, let's finish together."  He liked the idea and said "Let's link our hands at the finish!"  And we faster and faster, nearly sprinting, feeling good, relishing the moment, thrilled to have his 25th and my 51st marathon in the bag.  We were both as happy as it looks in this official finish photo.  

And there it was.  The task accomplished.  My first ever double marathon weekend.  Feeling fine throughout.  I'm still amazed.  

I walked through the finish area, grabbed some food and just tried to absorb what this all meant.  Jolted from my thoughts, who should I see, but the ubiquitous Dave Mari, who had run the half marathon.  What better than a selfie with the photo king himself??  That was a hoot!!!

Jerry and I met up again and had a chance as well to relive the whole was successful for Jerry, as he nailed a negative split and felt strong to the end.  Maniacs, indeed.   It was a treat to meet and then finish with Jerry.  

My finishing time was officially 4:46:52, a full six minutes faster than the previous day's marathon at Air Force.  That was largely due to the barely got to 60 during the race and was cloudy throughout.  Yet the field was more competitive, as I was merely 675th of 995 finishers and only 12th of 17  in my AG.   Fox Valley is a solid race that attracts quality runners.  


There are the numbers and then there are the thoughts.

The splits of half marathons for the weekend are particularly interesting to me...I did four, if you will, over the weekend:  2:24:33, 2:28:18, 2:25:45, 2:21:08.  Consistent and improving.  In particular, a negative split by over 4 minutes on the second marathon astounds me.  I guess, the weekend was a double negative split, if there is such a thing.

I've had a couple of weeks to think about this as of this writing.   I am so grateful to have been given the gift of good health and a supportive wife to be able to run.  I'm grateful for all the lessons I've learned which have morphed into a coherent strategy for running a long ways, regularly.  I can't imagine I'd ever finish 50 marathons...that boggles the mind.  Yet, here I am and it just doesn't seem to be such a big deal.

So, the year is taking shape.  I feel set for the 50 mile road test on October 25.  Stay tuned...we'll see if I can really run for 10 hours straight.

And, as always, persevere.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Race Report: Labor Day Weekend Trifecta; Parlor City Trot HM, Boomshakalaka HM, Blueberry Stomp 15K

Aug 30, 7:30am: Parlor City Trot HM, 1:58:15, 9:02/mile, all run
Aug 30, 7:00pm: Boomshakalaka HM, 2:23:00, 10:55/mile, run, then 4/1
Sept 1, 9:00am:  Blueberry Stomp 15K, 1:23:29, 8:59/mile, run


It all fell into place...three races in three days.  I enjoyed the weekend a lot, piled on 35.6 miles of racing and continued to get set for fall running.

Why Three Races: 

The answer is simple...this was an efficient way to get set for a major target race.  For a couple of years, I've wanted to take on the Door County Fall 50, a 50-mile Wisconsin ultramarathon on October 25 in an area where we've vacationed for 30+ years.  I haven't told many about this target, as I just didn't know if I could get ready for a 50 miler.  But my training through the summer has gone well, so I signed up.

As a final prep for the 50 miler, I'm going to do my first ever marathon double weekend, running the Air Force Marathon on Saturday, Sept 20 and the Fox Valley Marathon on Sunday, Sept 21.  Looking at the calendar, Labor Day weekend was exactly three weeks ahead of the double.  All 3 of these races were convenient to my home..could I call them collectively my long run for the double??  I decided I would.

The Races:

Parlor City Trot Half Marathon, Bluffton, Indiana, 7:30am Saturday

This is a gem of a race which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.  Amazingly, I had never heard of it and what a was wonderful.  There were a couple hundred runners and we were treated to a fabulous course on hard-surface bike trails through the Ouabache State Park just outside Bluffton, near Fort Wayne.  I loved the course.

My aim for each of the races was to run at a 9:00/mile pace.  Early on in this one, I fell in with Greg and Gail who were at that pace and we ran almost the entire race together.  The miles clicked by, steady and solid, despite the temperatures in the low 70s but high humidity.  The overcast skies kept the sun away and I finished under 2 hours at 1:58:15, a 9:02 pace.

A treat:  packet pickup was at a municipal gym and, post race, we could use the showers there for free.  It was terrific to get a hot shower after being soaked with sweat...the two hour drive home was much more pleasant as a result.

A fun bit of realism as well.  The award ceremony took place not long after I finished and, with a small field, 5 year age groups and awards for the top two in each AG, I thought this might be my chance to win an award.  As my high school math teacher was fond of saying "If you make the pond small enough, any of you can be a big fish."   Alas, the second place man in the 60-64 AG ran a 1:47, so I was at least 10 minutes shy of a big-fish moment.  I was fine and headed home.

Results:  93 of 192 overall, 4 of 7 in AG

Intermission--Saturday afternoon

Usually, when I get home from a race, it's back to the regular routine.  Not this day...I had to handle my nutrition and other activities knowing I was back on the road at 5pm for the 7pm race in Indy!  I did end up watching a wonderful Chelsea vs Everton soccer match from England, got my hair cut and got a new battery in my race-day watch.  Then, load up and head for Indy, only an hour away.

Boomshakalaka Half Marathon, Indianapolis, 7:00pm Saturday

This was the inaugural effort for this HM.  The night race format was fun.  The organizers measured the 13.1 mile distance into four equal laps in a city park area, starting and finishing at the Major Taylor Velodrome, just north of downtown Indy.

I had been by this complex many times but never in was well suited.  Plus, it's just cool to say the word "velodrome" and know it's a high speed bike track.

The course came into and out of the bike track through a door along the back straightaway and then went out and essentially did one big lap around a city golf course.  It contained two modest hills (well, in Indiana, we'd call them big but not many others would name them such) and was an interesting route.

After running at a 9:00/mile pace that morning, I hoped to do the same for this night race.  During the first lap, I did (in 30 minutes flat) but it was obvious to me as I completed lap one that would not hold up for the next three.  In this race photo, you can see my consternation as I completed lap one.

Re-calibrating my expectations as I headed out for lap two, I decided to accept the fatigue I felt in the legs and the heaviness of the 78 degree, very high humidity evening.  I turned the outing into a training run, instead of a race.  I switched to a 4/1 run/walk routine and ran in a more relaxed, unpressured manner.  It took most of the second time around (some 37 minutes) to get it right in mind and body, but you can see I am more at ease when I came across half way through.  

Laps three and four were actually fun, taking 37 and 38 minutes each.  I was able to talk with a number of folks I know and just knocked off the remaining miles.   The only fly in the running ointment was a dandy case of "sour stomach" pretty much from the first lap onwards.  Not sure what caused it, but I tend to think it was a hydration issue coupled with the timing of the afternoon food.

While a 2:23:00 half marathon is not that good, it gave me a full marathon of miles for the day in a total time of 4:21:15 in very hot weather and that was fine by me.

Result:   103 of 206 overall.

Blueberry Stomp 15K, Monday, September 1, 9:00am

I've run this race three times before, unlike the other two races this weekend.  It's a hoot, as this race is part of a big civic event, which means we get to run in front of thousands of people who are lined up to see a big parade.  Two local runners rode along with me and we enjoyed the day.

We picked up our bibs, mine decidedly "round" for this race and got organized. My interest was to see just how I could run two days after doing the pair of HMs. Typically, two days after a long run is the "most-sore" day of them all.  I took a longer than normal warm up run and carefully stretched before we started.  The race started on time and off I was, racing all felt quite familiar.

The temperatures were in the upper 70s already, the humidity very high and the sky leaden and overcast.  The air was just plain heavy.  I tried to hit a 9:00/mile pace from the start.  There was some gentle roll to the course and one solid hill.  I was able to manage the ups and downs and hold the pattern.  My quickest mile was 8:37, my slowest 9:14 and the aggregate pace was 8:59/mile.  I was drenched at the finish but happy with the results and how I felt.

Result:  124 of 290 overall, 3 of 10 in Men 60-64

The Final Summary

Man, that was fun!  I really enjoyed the back to back to back races.  My legs and feet feel fine and, other than the sour stomach on Saturday night, it all worked.  Remarkably, I was in the top half of the field in each race, not something that happens all that often.  The heat bothered everyone, I guess.  Next stop is my first-ever double weekend on Sept 20-21.



The Weekend as a Whole:

Saturday, August 09, 2014

How to Eat during an Ultra Marathon: My Gastronomic Experiment at the Heatbreaker Indoor Half and Full Marathons, 2014

ORN:  July 26, 2014:
13.1 miles, 2:25:46, 11:23/mile;
then 26.2 miles, 5:17:40, 12:08/mile
Combined:  39.3 miles, 7:45:52, 11:52/mile

Summary:  The Heatbreaker Indoor Half Marathon and Marathon in Milwaukee afforded me a wonderful experiment in ultramarathoning in perfect 55F temperatures in the middle of the summer.

The Race:

The race setting itself was both simple and helpful. We ran on a 460 meter indoor track at the Pettit National Ice Center in suburban Milwaukee. A three-lane running track surrounds an Olympic-class speed skating rink.  In late January I had run the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon at the same site, so I knew the place and how it would work. Mega-thanks to the RD Chris to made it easy for me to get into this summer race.

The half marathon began 7:00am and consisted of 47 and a half laps of the track. I ran it and had about 20 minutes before the full marathon started at 10:00am, 95 full trips around the speed skating rink. Runners could choose to run either race or both, as I did. For me, however, I chose to not view the morning as two races but a single 39.3 mile ultramarathon.

As such, my plan was to run a consistent set of miles at 11:30 to 12 minute per mile pace staying with a run/walk sequence of 3 minutes run and 1 minute walk. And I was able to execute that plan. I carried the 3/1 run/walk from beginning to end and my combined pace was 11:52/mile. I was pleased.

So just how do you eat during an ultramarathon anyway?  

I'm hardly a guru.  

Ultramarathon strategies ultimately hinge on three things it seems to me. First is pace, second is hydration and third is nutrition. The setup for the Heatbreaker allowed a perfect laboratory to experiment with all three. I discussed pace above...the rest of this is about hydration and nutrition

In a way, it is a bit ludicrous for me to write about ultramarathon nutrition. Before Heatbreaker, I've run only six ultras; two of 33.5 miles and four 50Ks.  Hardly a grizzled ultra dude.  Yet, running is nothing if it is not a learning experience.  So, this is a summary of my learning so are welcome to come along for the ride.

I read quite a bit about nutrition and hydration before running this race and wrote this summary of what I have learned. Two information sources were very helpful for me. The first was the well-known book Relentless Forward Progress. The second was this long and well written description of fellow Maniac Bob Hearn's effort at the Western States 100 mile trail race earlier this summer. I strongly recommend this online post if you are interested. Bob really thought and thought and refined his eating and hydration strategy and his write up has much detail.

Summarizing what I found, a guy my size needs to eat much more than I had ever thought necessary. Specifically, I needed to consume between 60 and 75 grams of carbohydrates each and every hour during an ultra. Figuring this out demanded a controlled experiment (I'm an engineer, remember?) and the Heatbreaker offered this opportunity.

So I developed a list of food I thought I could digest easily and investigated the respective quantities offering 25 grams of carbohydrates each. Here is the list I complied:
  • Banana      1 small
  • Raisins       1/8 cup
  • Nature Valley Granola Bar   2 bars
  • M&M s        50 pieces
  • Gu                 1 pack
  • Salty, hard Pretzles   1/3 cup
  • Pita Bread     1 slice
  • Boiled Potatoes   2 small chunks
  • Oatmeal/raisin cookie 1 cookie
  • Home made brownie 1 1" square

It was astounding to me to think of eating three entries from this list each hour.  But I decided to take the considered experience of others literally and then see what I could learn.  So, I started putting the food together the week of the race.  I boiled up potatoes (20 minutes in lightly salted boiling water, then lightly salted again in the container) and bought other supplies.  

I then packaged these various goodies and laid out a schedule of how to eat three of these packages each hour. Here's my list, with thanks to the West Allis, Wisconsin Days Inn for the note pad.

And here is everything laid out in my motel room the night before.  

Yes, I even used a sharpie to label the hour during which I wanted to eat each banana.  Such is life when you have geek-esqe tendencies......

This lap race provided a perfect opportunity to set up shop knowing I would see my bag and food every 3 minutes or so.  So, when I arrived, I found this table next to the track, as you can see here, and laid out my food and water. 

Turns out I share this table with two fellow maniacs; Mark "Mad Dog" Janowsky, whom I've known for a long time and Maniac Liz from Florida whom I met for the first time at this race. The three of us had a good chuckle about our respective approaches towards nutrition since all three of us ran both races.

Zooming in on my stuff, you can see I just laid it out chronologically, with my note pad and pen at the top. This organization made it easy to keep track of things for the nearly 8 hours I was running.

Having set, thought through and then overthougt further this strategy, I then just executed the plan. I didn't eat the first hour but then began to consume a 25g packet three times an hour. I split that into picking up a food item every 20 minutes. On top of that, I took 1 salt tablet at the top of each hour. I also tried to consume 20 ounces of water each hour. I used Diet Coke bottles with water, each labeled for a certain hour. Here I am with a water bottle during the marathon.

Joe, quit talking and tell us if it worked already!!!

OK, OK, sorry for rambling.  

Overall, I was thrilled with what I learned. It didn't seem like I was overeating, to my surprise. I had no cramps, no queasy stomach, no problems either during or after the race with this pace/food/hydration plan. Somewhat amazingly, I ran my fastest lap of the day on my final lap of the day, at a 7:50/mile pace. Here are some specific observations.

First, as the day went on, it seemed I was either getting ready to eat, eating, or finishing up eating virtually the entire race. This did wonders psychologically as it kept my mind busy and, being a process geek, gave me plenty to analyze.  Here you can see me carrying a bag of Sun Chips...they lasted several laps as did all the food I used except the boiled potatoes.

Second, I really liked the variety of food I laid out. From experience, I knew the bananas and boiled potatoes would work perfectly. I didn't know about the other foods, though. It turned out the pretzels were terrific, the oatmeal/raisin cookies were nice and the pita bread was a surprising plus. The SunChips were ok. The best of all was how well the brownies went down and sat. I think the combination of chocolate plus the chewy nature of these chocolate gems made them last and inspire.  

Third, it was very clear all the planning was worth it. The fact I did not have to think about what to grab made all the difference.

Now it is very clear that very few races will allow this level of precision. But this one did and it allowed me to learn much and the experiment was worthwhile. Certainly, in an ultramarathon where we could place drop bags, I could incorporate some of these strategies. Other races with no drop bags I can simply carrying a bottle of my homemade gel and simply take a good tug every 20 minutes just as Bob did during Western States.

So that's what I learned about eating during an ultramarathon I really welcome comments from people far more experience.

Thanks for reading.  And persevere, no matter what or how you eat!!