Friday, October 23, 2015

DPRT 50 Miler Recap

Ever since I was reborn as a runner 4 years ago I've been on a mission to improve and better myself. The distances raced, the volume of miles, etc. have all gradually increased. I'm even racing with a greater frequency. Some would call me crazy, but I love it.  After a string of 6 marathons in 6 months spanning October to March I decided the next challenge would need to happen and that was an ultra.

I chose to run the DPRT 50 Mile event since I had some familiarity with the trails and the timing was pretty good for spacing my races out and likelihood of good weather. I fielded a lot of questions about why I jumped straight into a 50 miler rather than stepping up to a 50K first. I just thought why not? I put in a enough mileage this summer to not be too worried about finishing. I just had to deal with still recovering from being sick.

The race was to take place on Saturday, October 17th. I briefly contemplated going to the office on that Friday and then staying at the host hotel since that would be super convenient. Instead I opted to do my usual work from home and would just get up early to head up to Vernon Hills. I'm glad I did this since I know I would of forgotten something vital had I not. Although to be fair I barely used anything I brought with me, more on that later.

I didn't get nervous for the run until the day before. I think the enormity of it finally set in. I calmed myself by going around and gathering everything I need so it would be ready in the morning.
-Maniac shirt
-Under Armour shorts
-Brooks socks
-Maniac buff
-Roadrunner arm warmers
-Nike sprint gloves
-Cheap sunglasses
-Mizuno Inspire 11 shoes
-Nathan HPL 20 hydration vest
-Accel Gel (chocolate flavored)
-Honeystinger Waffles
-Simply Balanced Fruit Strips

I was up at 4AM and got myself together and then drove to Half Day Forest Preserve. Luckily the 50 mile runners were permitted to park near the start of the race while the other distances had to take a shuttle from a remote lot. It was cold out, just about 33 degrees. I had all my layers on as I made my way over to check in and pick up my packet. I used the facilities and then headed back to the car to stay warm and prep for the next 30 minutes. About 15 minutes before the start I headed back to the start area. All the runners were huddled around several fire pits and we received our instructions for the race. The race started in 3 waves a couple minutes apart to help keep the trail from clogging.

I was off in the 2nd wave. The early going was trying to find an appropriate pace. Eventually another marathon maniac came up beside me and we chatted a bit as we did an out and back south for the first 3.2 miles. These early miles felt easy, but I knew not to over do it. The one thing I didn't do was drink enough. With as cold as it was I definitely wasn't perspiring as much, but didn't realize the rigors that lay ahead. I finally parted ways with the other Maniac at an aid station 7 or 8 miles in. The aid stations were spaced pretty far apart, but were well stocked compared to most races. I kept doing shots of M&Ms since they would portion them out in little cups. There would also be things like pretzels, chips, trail mix, oreos, coke, mt dew, water, gatorade, pb&j, grilled cheese, and pickles. I was definitely overwhelmed and didn't know what to really do at my first few aid stops.

I continued to churn out miles at a pace I thought I could maintain. It was slower than what I had trained at all summer so I thought I was good to go. I didn't factor in the fatigue from the marathon 2 weeks prior, or the lingering illness in my system. As the miles ticked off I soon began to get excited for the prospect of Mo joining me around mile 15. I was sad when I came to the aid station around mile 15 and hadn't seen her. I checked my phone for messages and had none. I trekked on. Eventually I did find Mo waiting for me just past mile 16 and she was ready to jump in. The boost of energy and morale support was definitely welcome.

The miles kept climbing and Mo kept talking. We kept on pace and I was feeling good through the supposed first wall at mile 18. It wasn't until around mile 23 that I felt the first signs of fatigue. The other error I had made was a lack of walking intervals to keep the legs fresh. They were now being added albeit a little too late. I also started to feel the effects of not hydrating as well as I should have. Starting with 22 I began to wonder when we'd start seeing the lead runners heading the other way. We didn't wind up seeing them until much later. At the turnaround we realized I was probably in the top 20 given the lack of runners we saw going the other way.  I took my time at the turnaround, using the facilities, fueling, and trying to hydrate. I re-joined Mo and we walked for a bit so that my stomach could try and absorb all it had taken in.

We walked about 1.5 miles and had a number of people pass us. Mo was a real trooper. It was supposed to be her long run and here she was walking with me instead. We finally got to the point where I was feeling a bit better and we did intervals of jogging and running. The pace was much slower this time around. By the time I hit the 50K mark I told Mo that my legs felt the same as they typically do the day after a marathon. This wasn't going to be easy to finish. We kept going at this while walking any incline and then enjoying any little downhill. Finally we were back to where Mo parked and I was on my own again. Not long after I got a low battery warning from my watch. I was at mile 37.5 so I turned my GPS off so I could at least have a watch for the rest of the race. I'd have to gauge distance by the aid stations and memory.

I actually picked up the pace for a bit. I was getting a 2nd wind and feeling strong again. The grilled cheese and pickle that I ate most definitely helped. This lasted for a couple miles until my hydration pack ran dry. I had an offer to get it filled at the previous aid station, but had not realized how low it was so I passed. Here I was without knowing how far the next aid station was and bone dry. I chose to start walking to prevent any problems. I started to panic as the aid station seemed further than it should have been. I eventually figured out that the sign marking that the station was a mile away was missing. I refilled my hydration pack and definitely downed some additional water and coke. The station actually had some hidden beer that another runner asked for, but didn't seem all that appealing at the moment. I walked and sipped for awhile more. We now had single digit miles remaining until the finish line.

A lot of the last 10 miles were a bit of a blur. I remember a guy passing me and then seeing a skunk run across the trail right in front of him and about 20 yards from me. I kept trading places with the guy for awhile before passing him for good with 1.5 miles to go. I did some jogging, but most the last 6 miles were closer to power walking with what little I had left in my legs. I must have drank more than enough to re-hydrate because I started to have to pee like every 10 minutes. I'd duck off to the side of the trail when no one was around and go. I was almost caught once, but was quickly able to play it off like I was using a tree to stretch. Another stop I heard some rustling in the trees near me. I look up and I'm staring eye to eye with a deer. It's eyes were completely fixed on me. Oddest moment peeing ever. A bit later I saw a rabbit darting through the woods so either I was turning into Alice or the Bambi trifecta was now complete.

I could sense the end getting close. I could even smell the cookout happening and hear some of the music and cheers as runners came in. I was highly encouraged to finish strong and somehow found what I had left and jogged into the finish. I crossed in 10:09:27 which was much higher than my optimistic 8-9 hour goal, but it didn't matter anymore. I got a handshake and a belt buckle.

I didn't think I'd be all that hungry, but I took my burger anyways, along with gatorade and a bag of fritos. It tasted so good after being on my feet for so long. The other maniac finished about 18 minutes after me and joined me to share the experience and talk about various races. Soon I cooled down and began shaking. I took that as the sign to head home so I did. I managed to catch the awesome end to the MSU vs UofM game in the car and probably looked crazy screaming in traffic, or not, it is Chicago.

The rest of this week has been spent recovering. I don't think I've ever felt this beat up and sore, but I did bounce back pretty quickly. I was running pretty normally again by Wednesday, albeit still much slower than normal. I still have another week to recover before my next marathon at the Milwaukee Running Festival on 11/1.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Volunteering at the Chicago Marathon

  I know I'm pretty crazy when it comes to running, but I wasn't crazy enough to schedule marathons on back to back weekends followed by a 50 miler so this year the intention was to sit out the Chicago Marathon. I realized I didn't entirely want to be on the sidelines so I figured I'd volunteer. Rather than work at aid station I decided I want to be in the thick of things at the start. I signed up to be an info person in the start area.

I was up at 2:30AM so I could get down to Grant Park for my 4:15AM check in. I got down there in the nick of time and followed the masses through the dark where I got my credentials and then was hooked up with a jacket and hat.They had some light snacks for us and then we met up with our coordinator for our assignments. I was going to be in Butler field. We grouped up and were placed all around the area by Buckingham Fountain and along Jackson. We would be directing runners with questions. We only had a 5 minute overview and given a map. Good thing I was familiar with everything so that was all I needed.

At 5:30AM the runners started streaming in. The most common question was for gear check. It was funny seeing a lot of runners just blow past us with only the VIP tents behind us and asking those guys where gear check was. I'm wearing a vest that says "Ask Me" and those guys were big burly bouncer types. Go figure. I guess if you're so focused you lose sight of other things.

The time flew by pretty quickly. Luckily my insight as a prior participant was a help. I knew the front corrals had port-a-potties in them so I started directing runners that way once it got later. Some people were hoping I had some magic hidden restrooms I could point out. Sorry, there's only so many. Once it was 10 minutes until the wave 1 corrals closed it turned into total chaos. People were running every which way. I don't get why after all this training and planning that you rush the last minute details.

Soon  after the corrals closed it got pretty quiet. We directed a few lost wave 2 people and started to head back towards the volunteer tent. We all gathered near the fence to watch the runners head up towards the start. Once the runners went through and the clothes were being gathered we headed back to the volunteer tent to check out. I then headed down just past mile 23 to do some spectating.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Twin Cities Marathon Recap

This past weekend I completed my 10th career marathon and 6th this year. It was supposed to be my goal fall marathon, but everything that could go wrong seemed to.

I drove up to Saint Paul from Chicago on Friday. I elected to stay near the expo and finish line. The course is a point to point starting in Minneapolis and ending at the capitol in Saint Paul. Even though I arrived in the early evening I elected to hold off on going to the expo and instead getting some food and taking it easy. I had been sick in the week leading up to the marathon and was feeling marginally better. I had barely run and was feeling pretty drained. I did some reading on my kindle and watched a bit of TV and called it an early night.

The next morning I got to the expo minutes before it opened and joined the crowd waiting to enter. Once it opened I was able to pick up my packet with minimal wait. The expo was pretty typical and I would compare it in size to that of the Shamrock Shuffle. I walked up and down the aisles, but didn't find anything to my liking. For lunch I headed to Surly Brewing to meet up with the R/iver R/unners aka my track night friends. I had a couple beers. This may have been a bad idea as I felt a little out of it by the time I left and fell asleep for a nap when I got back to the room. A got some Italian carry out for dinner and made it to bed at a reasonable time.

The next morning I got up with plenty of time to head to the race start. My stomach wasn't happy as has turned into routine now. I took care of business as much as I could and then took some immodium and headed out the door. I walked out of the hotel with a group of ladies and decided to follow them to the start. I had intended to catch the light rail over, but the ladies led me to a nearby hotel where there were free shuttles. After a short wait in the lobby we were on a bus and on our way to the start area. I arrived an hour ahead of the start and had time to use the facilities twice more before the race started. There were plenty of port-o-potties there. The start area was in the shadow of the future home of the Minnesota Vikings. Finally I dropped off my extra layers at gear check, a UPS truck, and went to my start corral.

Things were pretty informal at the start. I just walked into the corral and found a good spot to line up.There were some announcements, the national anthem and then we were off. We wound through the downtown area where we had some twist and turns early on. It felt a bit crowded in the early going. I know at some point I had stepped into a pothole a bit awkwardly. I shook it off and kept going. I felt the urge to pee more than anything. I finally stopped at a port-o-potty just before the 3 mile mark. Other than this brief delay I was running pretty much on track for where I wanted to be. My pacing was good.

The race winds around several lakes. The course isn't quite easy for those of us used to running around Chicago. There are several rollers of hills that can be taxing if not approached properly. The course was also scenic and featured pretty good crowd support. I saw some familiar sights at several spots on the course, including a couple of people dressed as yetis. By mile 8 my ankle started to ache. The step in the pothole earlier wasn't so innocent. At mile 10 I was starting to struggle as my form began to suffer and my energy wane. I wound up powering through the halfway mark in about 1:40 before deciding to drop off the pace. I knew this wasn't going to be my day and that I just needed to get through it in one piece.

Even as I slowed my pace after the halfway mark I continued to struggle more and more. I definitely wasn't over being sick as my lack of energy was evident. As I would find out later when I checked my Garmin stats, my heart rate had been elevated as well. I contemplated phoning it in and walking to the finish, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I knew the real challenge was yet to come from miles 20-23 where the course gained 200 feet. I finally took a short walk break at mile 18 and did so about every half mile from that point on. I was motivated by wanting to just get done and off my feet as well as the desire to continue my streak of sub 4 hour finishes.

The home stretch was mostly downhill and featured a giant American flag being held up from the ladders of two firetrucks. Barriers were erected on each side of the final half mile or so since there had been a previous threat from Black Lives Matters protesters who said they would obstruct the course and prevent the runners from finishing. The threat never materialized as the protests remained peaceful and I never even noticed by a majority of the runners. I finally crossed the finish in 3:55:29 meaning my second half split was around 2:15. All said it was only my 4th slowest marathon so still impressive given being sick and twisting my ankle. It was still deeply disappointing given all the hard work I put in this summer. I'm capable of a massive PR, but it will have to wait until another day.