Monday, July 12, 2021

Race Report-Dawn to Dusk 15.5 Hour Endurance Run 2021

 ORN: 17.3 miles, 5:05:27, 17:36/mile; 42nd of 49 overall


Seldom have I had such a total failure at a race but this one just went very poorly.  My own poor planning  amplified the impact of heavy rain.   Here's the story...please learn from my mistakes!

Gory (and muddy) details: 

The Dawn-to-Dusk 15.5 Hour Endurance Run  has been a fixture of the ultra community around Green Bay, Wisconsin for ten years now.  I only discovered it in mid May when a schedule change closed off one race weekend for me while opening up a chance to run on June 26.   

As its name implies, the race extends from dawn to dusk and it is set annually near the summer solstice.   In northern Wisconsin, there is a lot of daylight at mid summer!   I was game and signed up, fully intending to see if I could last all day.   I came up short in a 12 hour race in April...I wanted to get back on that horse.   

The drive north, in retrospect, may have portended a poor weekend.   Three hours into it, in deep traffic getting around Chicago, I discovered I had left my wallet at home.   No Drivers License, no credit cards, no cash.   Oy.   I called my patient and loving wife, who immediately located my wallet on our dresser and she drove north to meet me halfway to Chicago.   I turned around, drove south again through the still-heavy traffic.  I gave her a hug and, wallet firmly in hand, drove again through the (now later on Friday) Chicago car crunch.    What should have been a six hour drive took nearly ten and it was a bit frazzly.   

I had booked a room in the nearby town of Manitowoc, Wisconsin and checked in fairly late.  The place was undergoing some renovation, so it was dusty and had lots of "loose edges".   I slept ok but the 5:08am gun time meant I was up at 3:30am to get some food digested and drive the 25 minutes to the start.   

The best move of the day was scoring a perfect parking spot...with heavy rain forecasted, I didn't want to leave my gear out doors.   Thanks to a helpful volunteer in the pre-dawn darkness, I parked just next to the running path, making it simple to adjust equipment after each lap.  Only later did I realize I didn't bring the right gear.

The organizers have their act together.   We started right on time...even with the heavy cloud cover and light drizzle, we had enough light to make out the trail and off went our merry little band of 50 or so 15-hour runners.   The course was a delightful and varied 3.5 mile meandering loop through the woods of a private camp.   There was some up and down, with a couple of steep portions.   Much was on a "Jeep Track" with the last 3/4 mile shifting onto single track.   I completely enjoyed the first two laps.     

As I headed out on the third lap, however, the light drizzle shifted to Real Rain.  Not a downpour but steady rain.   I noticed the wheel tracks in the route getting mushier and the lower spots filling with water.   The single track was getting slick. 

After lap 3, I did something "new on race day"...yeah, I know you're not supposed to do that.   But it was raining so I shifted from my visor to my "Tilley Hat

You've seen these...I have one too.   But I've never run in it.   I decided to try it, as it sheds water better than a visor or baseball cap.  Amazingly, it worked great while.   Not something you'll ever see in a running store...but it worked for me on this day.  I'll likely use it again. 

Unfortunately, on lap 4, the hat was the only thing working for me.   The footing was getting muddier and slicker.  The combination of the runners and the steady rain was chewing up what footing we had.  My enjoyment was waning. 

The fifth lap just got sloppier.   Many inclines were difficult to move up, it was so slick.   About 2/3 of the way around, I lost my footing and landed flat on my back in a large puddle.   As so often happens in the trail running community, two fellow runners were there in a flash to give me a hand up and check on me.   So grateful.   My right knee torqued a bit in the fall but mostly it was only my pride that was hurt.  I got my wits about me and kept going.   Yet, on the single-track that finished the loop, there were sections on which I could barely stand, let alone walk, let alone run.   

By the end of that lap, seeing it had taken me over 5 hours to cover a mere 17 miles, I decided to hang it up and head home.  The rain had settled in for the day and I quit. 

I didn't carry my phone around the course but did ask a volunteer to take my photo after I let the organizers know I was done.   Here's the front of me, Tilley Hat and all...

And here's the back with the evidence of my kersplash in the puddle.  

As you'd expect, my shoes were very muddy, though they eventually cleaned up

Each finisher did receive a nice coffee mug.  

I was rattled, though, despite the good cheer and encouragement of the volunteers.   I changed into dry clothes, walked to the cookout table and had a tasty burger while chatting with one of the RDs.  The drive home was as woolly as the drive up, with heavy ran all the way, causing gridlocked Chicago traffic.  Another nine hours in the car and I was pretty well "done" by the time I got home around 10pm on Saturday night.  

The real lessons of this race only became evident later.

The teaching started as I reviewed the race results a couple of days later.   While I thought in the moment that many other runners were struggling, I saw I placed 42nd of 49.  In the same conditions, most just kept slogging it out.   I was impressed and amazed and reflective.   Why did I bail out when others kept chugging along, despite the tough footing?  I had "toughed it out" in other trail races ... so why not this day?   

I finally realized why. 

I was not mentally prepared ahead of time for tough conditions.   This is because, in my mind, northern Wisconsin is a place of bliss, happiness and marvelous summer weather.   We've vacationed in Door County, Wisconsin for decades and summertime is perfect there.   So, I drove north looking forward to a nice day in the woods, never imagining even the possibility of bad conditions. 

As a result, I didn't take any of the gear that might have helped in rain and mud, even though I saw this was in the forecast.    My fellow runners planned better for such a day. 

So, I've made two changes to help me in future situations.    

First, I made a new race-packing checklist for trail races.   Equipment for a trail event is often different from a road race but I have never made this distinction.  In particular, I need to have my screw shoes on hand for muddy races.   

Second, I noticed at least one fellow runner grab a set of trekking poles from his car as the rain increased.   I've never used trekking poles but in this event, they would have been of huge benefit to maintain balance and progress on slick surfaces.   So, I ordered a basic set of poles and have taken them on a seven mile trail run already. 

It took me 4 miles or so to get the hang of the poles but once I did I could see they really helped.   Surprisingly, Strava told me I ran this particular bit of local trail faster than I ever have before.   I'll keep working with them. 

So, the race itself went poorly and driving through Chicago is seldom pleasant.   But there were some good learnings, even in this.   Not the least of which was finding this recipe for making a tiny, individual chocolate cake in a coffee mug.   A dollop of vanilla ice cream on top...I'm good with that.   

Thanks for reading.   



Thursday, June 17, 2021

Race Report--Sandhills Marathon 2021

 ORN:   26.2 miles, 5:41:05, 13:02/mile; 25th of 32 overall


You've heard the old saying about that great vacation you had: "Yeah, you can never go back."   It's often not the same the second time.   Such was the Sandhills Marathon on June 5, 2021.   I first ran this race in 2018 and, as I wrote at the time, it was a phenomenal experience, indeed in the top 5 of my lifetime marathons.   Weather and the course changed dramatically this year however and so did the experience.   Nevertheless, it was terrific to run in my home state and have much time to be alone.   

Gory (and hot) details:

The 2021 edition of the Sandhills Marathon became an anchor point of the first post-Covid, post-retirement road trip for my wife and me.   We drove 2,800 miles in nine days making a giant counter-clockwise loop from Indiana to Minneapolis through South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, southern Illinois and back home.  It was a fabulous trip and the two of us totally enjoyed the time together and all the scenery in the west.  

We spent two days at Badlands National Park near the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Amazing and beautiful.   We did a good bit of hiking.   How about this landscape?

I shot a video along that hike...enjoy 90 seconds of prairie solitude.  

From the Badlands, we took a spontaneous detour to Rushville, Nebraska to visit a baseball field where, in 1970, my American Legion baseball team won the Nebraska state championship.   That's a story in was a thrill for me to visit the same ball park again.   I was the catcher on that team.   Here I am behind home plate now.

And here's our team photo in front of the same grandstand after winning the state championship in August, 1970.   I'm the fourth guy from the left on the back row. 

It was a treat. 

I really wanted Gretchen to see the Nebraska Sandhills ( image collection ) such is its beauty and uniqueness.   Like the Grand Canyon and other massive places of natural beauty, you have to see it in person to grasp it.   She grasped it, getting what I had been talking about. 

On the day before the race, we were drove all over the area, took a hike to an abandoned fire tower built in the '30s by the Civilian Conservation Corp and generally bask in the stark beauty of the place.

To the race....

Pre-race, the organizers sent out very little information.  One cryptic bit, however, gave me pause about the actual course...that's basic race information, describing the route and its surface.   Yet it wasn't clear and appeared to be a different course from the one I had run three years ago.   Further, from some photos, it appeared to be a gravel.     Five days before the race, the RD answered a question I posted on FB about the route, confirming the route was different from 2018.   The surface question remained unanswered until my wife and I drove it to see for ourselves.   It was, in fact, asphalt.   Yet, that remained a question mark for me up until the day before the marathon.   

With only 35-ish marathoners and maybe 45 half-marathoners in the event in this emptiest part of a sparsely populated state (the Sandhills contain 4 of the 10 least-populated counties in the USA), race check the night before was simple.   The start line was a 50 mile drive from the nearest hotel, so the 6:00am gun required a 4:45am departure which required a 3:45am alarm!   I awoke on race morning, slipped out of the room to let G sleep and encountered four other sleepy runners noshing on toast in the hotel lobby.  I had arranged a ride with a fellow runner and we had a nice chat on the drive in the dark.   

We assembled in the small parking lot that was race HQ.   Yes, this is the entire marathon field!!  No loudspeaker required...the RD just spoke loudly.   

At 6:00am, just before sunrise, we were off.  

And, less than a mile into the run, I was by myself, the sky just starting to brighten. A fellow runner took this picture and I happened to be in it...pretty sure she was trying to capture the sunrise scene though :-) .   

This was the narrow road on which we spent the race.   It was every bit this empty and amazing. 

The 6am temperature was around 70F but we knew it would go up sharply as the morning progressed.   I was comfortable through the first nine miles, mostly by myself, though I chatted briefly with the three or four other runners with whom I leap frogged all day.   The course was generally flat, with only a couple of rises, very much unlike the course I had run three years go, which had two massive inclines.   

By my mile 11, though, we were past 8am local time and I could feel the temperature rising.   I had started at a 3/1 run/walk, but then dropped it to a 2/1.   I hit the halfway turnaround at 2:23...not great but knowing how hot it was and was going to get, I was OK with it.  I still had gas in the tank.   

The field was long since stretched out...this shows what it did look like when runners were still within sight of one another. 

An unfortunate thing happened after the turnaround, which took me a mile or two to fully grasp.   The course angled generally southwest doing out.  We had a small "headwind" running out which was helpful for cooling purposes.   Turning around, though, those small breaths of wind were at our back: the effect was running with very little movement of air.   Coupled with the rising temperatures, it was getting very warm.   Around mile 19, I backed the run/walk to a 1/ a minute, walk a minute.  

Nevertheless, I continued to bask in the amazing scenery of the Sandhills...empty of people, full of cattle, wide open to all horizons.   Moving through it on foot, slowly, only made the effect more striking.  

Around mile 18, the cattle looked like they might have a better deal than the runners as they headed for the water at the windmill. 

The organizers did a very good job for hydration support for such a small field of runners in this remote location.   At every other mile marker, they dropped a large cooler packed with ice and 8 oz bottles of water and Gatorade.   I carried my 20 oz water bottle and reloaded at each cooler.  Cramming ice in my handheld bottle helped a lot just by simply keeping one hand cool.  I popped a salt tablet each hour.   I was never concerned about dehydration and had no symptoms of it nor any cramping.   

It was just hot.   

By 10am, it was really getting warm.   Mental math told me I'd be over 5 hours before I finished.   By 10:30 am, 4 hours and 30 minutes into the marathon, I was only to mile 21 and the 1/1 run/walk was just too hard to keep going.   I came to grips with that and chose to keep good health front and center and walk most of the time.   As I felt my heart rate fall, I would pick out a post or a rock and run for maybe 50m before walking again.   And so I did for the remainder of the event.  

I was still smiling, despite the heat.   

Meanwhile, Gretchen checked us out of the hotel and drove to the start/finish line at a reasonable time. There was about a one-mile straight stretch leading to the finish line and with about a half mile to go, I could see her standing there, peering down the lonely road.   My fluorescent yellow shirt let her see me before I saw her.   And what a great sight to see her there.    We walked the final 150m or so together and then I ran it in.   It was good to be done.

A fellow runner who finished a little after me made a race video...he did a great job capturing the day.    Enjoy it.

A hot day in the Sandhills, alone with my thoughts and persevering to finish another marathon.  

Thanks for persevering to read this!  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Race Reports: Carmel Marathon, RUTS 12-Hour Endurance Race, April 3 & 10, 2021

Race Reports-Carmel Marathon, RUTS 12 Hour Endurance Race, April 3 & 10, 2021

These races on consecutive Saturdays formed a planned experiment and the experiment was successful in that it showed me what I wanted to know.   The question?  Just what is my current endurance limit?   

Carmel Marathon, April 3, 2021

I’ve run this race maybe eight times now in it’s 11 year history.   A flat-ish course through tony suburban streets on the north side of Indy, it was the first “real road race” I’d run in 18 months.   Weather was chilly, with increasing winds all morning straight out of the south, getting to 20mph by the end.   The atmosphere was great, though, as about 4,000 runners showed up for the combined 5K, 10K, HM and Marathon distances.  It has been a long, long time since this has happened due to Covid and the collective spirit was great.  People were very careful to wear masks pre-race and the grid was way spaced out.   More than a few folks were there to attempt a BQ ahead of the April 20 opening of Boston Marathon registration.   

I was hoping to run with the advertised 4:35 marathon pace group. Alas, that pacing person didn’t show up. So, I fell in with the 2:15 half-marathon group to try to find a groove and this worked wonderfully through 13.1...hit the halfway mat at on. Then, I was on my own.

It soon became obvious my HM pace had been too quick.  By mile 16, I was really feeling things and had to shift to a run/walk pattern and it was a slog through mile 23.  It was striking to me just how long it had been since I had run a road marathon.  I had forgotten about navigating runner traffic, getting in and out of crowded water stops and keeping my wits about me.  Amazing.

I had a treat around mile 23, though.   Work colleague and running friend Michelle had run the HM, had to stick around Indy to get her Covid vaccination later on Saturday, so she ran out to mile 23 and ran in with me.   It was a pleasant pick-me-up.   We talked at length about several work-related topics of interest and it helped to take my mind off of my poor performance.   Retrospective examination of my splits showed I ran faster too once she showed up.    These final miles were directly into the wind, adding some extra work but the final two tenths measured at a 8:50/mile pace.


Official time was 4:47:44, an aggregate pace of 10:59/mile.   I was 839th of 1061 finishers, 538th of 661

men and 10th of 18 in M65-69AG.   Not really very good results...I had hoped to be much closer to

4:40 but I didn’t run a very wise race.  

RUTS 12-Hour Endurance Race, April 10, 2021, Evansville, Indiana

Yeah, so you then ran even longer a week later?   Indeed.   That was the essence of the experiment.   On “tired legs”, how long could I run?? 

This race was a first-time event and happened to be in the town our oldest son and family now live.   So, I could spend the weekend with them and run...a nice combo.   

I ran a 12 hour race last June and enjoyed it.   I had a modified strategy based on what I learned and

I was keen to see how it would work.   A simple a run/walk sequence of run a minute,

walk a minute and see just how long I could maintain that pattern.  I gave myself permission as well

to “recover while moving” which is a fancy way of saying “walk more if you need to”.   

The course was a 1 km loop in a new city park on Evansville’s east side.   Yes, 1, round

and round we went.   I backed my car into a spot right next to the course and had all my fluids, PB&J,

oatmeal/raisin cookies, Sun Chips, nine shirts, four pairs of socks and two types of jackets stowed there.

  And I needed most of that pile.   

We started on schedule at 8am.  123 people paid registration fees for the three time frames offered

(3 hour, 6 hour and 12 hour).  Only 71 people showed up and started, 53 of whom ran the 12 hour event.  

Weather was quite the factor on this day.   It was cool and cloudy most of the day with temperatures in the mid 50s.   Being a new park with no large trees on a high spot, it caught all the steadily pounded us between 15 and 25mph all day.   It drizzled much of the morning, a light but steady moistness.   It dried off from about noon until 4pm, when we had a 20 minute heavy downpour and then the temperatures dropped into the mid 40s by the end...still windy.   The wind was relentless and became wearisome over the course of 12 hours.   

The run/walk strategy worked quite well for nine hours.   I was comfortable and kept steady mile splits of around 11:30/mile through mile 21.  Miles 22 to 37 were around 12:20/mile.   From mile 38, it was more walking than running and the pace was from 14:30 to 15:30.   I hit major distance marks, with the half-marathon in 2:38, Marathon in 5:27 and 50K in 6:34.

In the midst, it was a treat when our son, wife, her dad and all three of their kids came out to watch me run for a while mid-afternoon...they managed to arrive during the most lovely 30 minutes of weather we had all to see them and sense their real encouragement! 

Somewhere around mile 46, near the 11 hour mark, 7pm, I felt fully depleted for the first time all day.   I had really wanted to NOT stop at all but rather to keep moving for the entire 12 hours   But the wind kept pounding and so I stopped for about 15 minutes, sat in my car out of the wind and collected my thoughts.   I was pretty close to done but I really wanted to get in 48 miles.   So I got back out and mostly walked for another couple of miles and when my Garmin hit 48, I finished that lap and called it quits, at about 11 hours and 25 minutes with 48.1 miles.     In retrospect, I could have continued to walk for another 35 minutes but my mind was really done with it and I wanted to head back and see my family.     

Results showed I finished 15th out of the 53 12-hour starters.  I was very pleased with that position.   Identical, proportionally, to my finish in the 12 hour race i ran last June.The top three men ran 73.6, 66.8 and 65.7 miles respectively.   Those guys just never quit running.  The top three women ran 51.1, 49.4 and 47.1 miles.  It was impressive to be with all these amazing athletes   Only about 20 of us were still present on the course for the final hour.

The Results of the Experiment

So, class, what did we learn here?   Since January, I had been seriously toying with the idea of entering a 100 mile race this coming autumn...there are several I can get to easily.   So, I needed to see just how I would do, on tired legs, through 12 hours.   Would I feel good enough to realistically think I could repeat it again, all night, in the dark, to get 100 miles done??   I had to try.   

And the answer is, no, that’s not realistic.   And I’m fine with that.   Because the answer is also, yes, on tired legs I can go 50 miles.   And that’s nothing to sneeze at.   All useful.   Class dismissed.   

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Race Report: Groundhog Day Marathon 2021

ORN:  26.2 miles, 5:48:11, 13:17/mile; R/W 3/1; 74th of 97 finishers overall, 1st of 2 in Men 65-69.  


Groundhog Day Marathon, Feb 7, 2021

It's no surprise Grand Rapids, Michigan has heavy snow and cold temps in early February; this described conditions for this six-lap marathon.   Tough, powdery footing effectively turned it into a trail race.  What WAS surprising was that decent layers allowed it to be surprisingly comfortable and a marathon in the snow was an enjoyable long run.  

A few details

I ran this race for the first time in 2020, which turned out to be the last big race we’d have for quite some time amidst the Covid pandemic.   So, I decided to have a go again in 2021, wanting to get in some racing after so many cancellations.     Running buddy Jon and I also had our first road trip in over a year; that alone was worth the trip.  We drove up on Friday, got our bibs and slept reasonably well.  

This race commemorates not so much Punxsutawney meteorological prognostication as it does the movie by the same name.  The theme of the same thing, repeating, captured what the RD felt about running six equal-length laps for a full marathon.   For me, I thought, “Only SIX laps?  How stimulating!”   

The course is in a city park along the main river of the city of Grand Rapids, conveniently named the “Grand River”.  The first two miles are quite flat, directly above the river bank.   The course then loops meanderingly over a few rises and dips for 2.4 miles back to the start/finish line.   

This is relevant since GR had had at least a foot of snow in the few days ahead of the race.  And the parks do not plow the portion of the trail along the river, preserving it for cross country ski activities.   Thus, the first two miles of each loop was running in a narrow, single-track path based on the footfalls of runners ahead of me.   This improved for about a mile and a half of the loop back to the start/finish but then got more complex again as the final portion was in a windy spot that continued to drift from the 15mph west winds that picked up as the race went on.   The entire course was thus run on 100% snow just varied a bit as to how deep and fluffy that pack was.   

The RD did a good job to allow the race to happen and still encourage social distancing. He communicated a lot with us and opened the start mats at 7:00am and allowed people to start anytime they wanted between 7 and 8am. Jon and I decided to start around the time we had daylight, 7:25am. The hardest part of the entire day was choosing to get out of the warm car into the windy, cloudy, dark 12F and start running.

Off we went, though, Jon doing the HM and me the full.   We wished each other well and took off.   

I wore my trusty "screw shoes" and was really glad I did...that extra traction helped a lot, particularly where the snow was packed.

I immediately discovered the depth and bad footing of the deep portion of the path along the river.   By a mile or so into the course, it was clear to me it would be best to regard this as a trail race, not a road race...the footing was everything we find on a trail event, as each step landed differently and you had to watch carefully to avoid doing a very cold face plant.    

So, I modified my expectations, dialed back to a 3/1 run/walk and realized the day’s objective was to finish, enjoy it and avoid injury.    Many of the portions of the wooded section were very pretty, with snow clinging to every twig. 

And that’s pretty much the way the marathon went.   Not much exciting to describe...just lap after lap.   

I was pleased to eventually get my lap times...they were consistent through the first four and at least the last two were equal, meaning I was steady from mile 18 to 26.2. 

Laps/Pace  (~4.4 miles/lap)

1   54:32, 12:29/mile

2   56:25, 12:55/mile

3   56:56, 13:02/mile

4   57:30, 13:10/mile

5    1:01:24, 14:03/mile

6    1:01:23, 14:03/mile

Much slower than a year ago but such were the conditions. "Run the best race conditions allow" still holds.  

Jon had the car well warmed up and we headed home right after I finished.   I felt fine, not having the stiffness I usually feel after sitting the car ride home from a race.  I’m not sure why, as the footing was so uneven.  But I’ll take it.   

Three running hacks were of minor note but I’ll mention here:

Cookies:  At the HUFF 50K, I noted how helpful a couple of oatmeal raisin cookies were to chow down during the event.   So, I tried that again, making a tasty bunch of large, chewy cookies to eat rather than some gel.   Winner...I ate one or two each lap and it was great fuel.   I’ll keep doing this at races where I can stash them along the way.   

Running vest;   For years, I’ve tried to get a good system for carrying water while running.   I’ve had several belt systems but I didn’t like the way they sat so heavy around my waist.   I got a running vest with a water bladder but, man, that takes a lot of energy to such the water out of the bladder and, besides, it was only water you can put in a bladder.   But, it occurred to me, I could still use the vest without the bladder and carry water in the front pockets.   Boom...worked great at Groundhog.   Made up my favorite electrolyte, put it in an 16oz soda bottle and that was all I needed...the weight was negligible on my shoulders and it was wonderful.   

The Cooler becomes a Heater:   With the lap format, I knew I could set up my own aid station.   But how to keep fluids from freezing in the upper teens?    I turned my small cooler into a “heater” by using no ice and tossing in a couple of hand warmers to raise the temp above freezing.   Worked perfectly.   

So, that’s it.  Don Kern and his crew do a great job organizing fun racing in the Grand Rapids area and we're all the better for their efforts.

Thanks for reading