Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Across The Years 48 Hour Race: Three-peat!!!

Seriously. Why would anybody want to run the same 1.05 mile loop for 48 hours, without stopping? To be perfectly honest, I don't have a great answer to that question, but I keep coming back to the Across The Years 48 hour race, nonetheless. Weird, right? 

Some people might say they do it to push their physical limits. Others may suggest that they enjoy the mental challenge. But honestly, I think I do it because it's almost impossible to get lost. 

This is my third year running the ATY 48 Hour, and I had won the race in both my previous appearances. I'd be lying if I said another win hadn't crossed my mind, but like we always say "A finish is a win in ultra running". But it's not. Not at all.

Chatting With Patrick Sweeney at the Start Line

My plan was to run hard for 20 or 30 miles, then throttle back and coast for the next several hours. It was very cool out at 9:000 AM for the race start, so this would be my best chance to get some quick miles in before the sun started to become a problem.

The Start
Photo Courtesy of Aravaipa Running

Jumped to a Bit of a Lead Right Away

This is where I would give a lap-by-lap account of the race, but in consideration of brevity, let's summarize.

By the second lap, I was catching the back of the field, and by the 7th lap, I had passed everybody at least once.

Because of the duration of these races, runners tend to start out very slow in an effort to conserve energy. I won't lie, I probably look a bit foolish by running that fast, but it's my race to ruin. I'm sure more than a few eyebrows were raised, and there may have been a death pool going around to bet on how long I'd last.

The 50k mark came early and I kept pounding away, racking up the miles.

The afternoon was warm, which is my achilles heel. I spent a ton of time trying to stay cool and hydrated. Maintaining a decent pace until sundown was essential. If I could survive until nightfall, I would definitely have a good first day of running.

I hit the 50 mile mark in 7 hours and 54 minutes, slightly ahead of my planned pace.

50 Miles

At the 50 mile mark, I decided to take a 15 minute break to have a beer, rest my legs and consult with my crew.

Consulting With my Newest Crew Member

As the sun set, it got cold, FAST! For three consecutive loops, I stopped and added layers in an effort to stay warm.

As odd as it may sound, Arizona cold is much colder than Utah cold. It's actually far more humid than it is at home and that humidity makes a big difference in how the night temps feel.

A lot of runners stop for sleep during the night and the course gets thinned out dramatically. I never stop to sleep because I hate to give up the ground I've gained during the day. At one point during the night, there were probably only 8-10 runners hobbling around the course. It's quiet, with people trapped in their own minds, thinking dark, painful thoughts.

I have some ability to turn my brain off and set my body to autopilot. People think that I must be having long winded conversations with myself, or thinking up all sorts cool plans and life goals. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think of nothing. My brain just shuts down. It's only task is to monitor the critical needs of my body so we can keep moving.

I hit the 100 mile mark at 18 hours and 14 minutes, which was just after 3:00 AM.

After that, I began to fade quickly.

As I slowed down, my body temp dropped, making it feel even colder. I tried to keep moving as quickly as possible so I could build body heat, but it was a losing battle. I was now wearing every piece of clothing I brought and considered begging additional layers from other runners. It was bad.

I wanted desperately for the sun to crest over the Eastern sky and knock the chill out of my bones.

125 Miles

As the first 24 hours came to an end, I had logged 125 miles. The sun was up, the air was warm, and all was well with the world again.

Day 2 is always way different than day 1, for obvious reasons. Now that I had a great base of miles, I needed to decide on a goal and a plan for ending my race.

This is my third 48 hour race, but I've never actually ran for 48 full hours. I've only ran for as long as I needed to, to reach whatever goals I had set in place.

In 2013, I wanted to break 200 miles and win the race. I did that in 201 miles and 41 hours.

In 2014, I wanted to beat my mileage from the previous year, and win the race. I did that with 202 miles and 43 hours.

In 2015, I just wanted to win the race, and it looked like that could be done in a lot less than 200 miles. So that was my goal going into the second day of running.

Jo got busy tracking all the other runners while I did the math in my head for the exact time that I could pull the plug and secure the win.

I REALLY didn't want to run through another frigid night.

Other runners had started the 48 hour race in the days prior to my start time. I had started on the last possible day, so while I was leading the pack that had started with me, I was still chasing the other runners that had already finished their races.

I know…it's kind of complicated.

Because of this, I already knew that the first place man was at 154 miles, and done running. I only needed to hit 155 to win, assuming nobody else could catch me when I stopped.

But here's the kicker…the overall leader was a woman at 170 miles.

I was torn about this. I was tired of running and wanted to quit early, but was I going to be satisfied with the overall male win, or did I need the overall race win?

After some internal debate, my goal was defined at 171 miles for the overall win.

Deep into the second day, I was still running pretty well, while most people were walking. My desire to hit 171 miles before it got Arctic again was fueling my body to keep moving quickly. But there was no chance I would hit that mark before the sun set for the day.

As the sun faded on day two, I was only 13 miles from securing the overall lead. Like the night before, the temps plummeted instantly.

By this point, I was 158 miles and 33 hours into a steady run. Everything from my hairline down, hurt like hell.

I kept turning circles…

At 8:30 PM, 35.5 hours into the race, I took the overall lead with 171 miles. I took a few more minutes to analyze some split times for the runners chasing me, just to make sure I couldn't be caught, then I pulled the plug.

The minute I stopped running, I started to shiver uncontrollably. I hurried to my truck, turned on the heater and passed out.

I woke up before midnight so Jo and I could ring in the new year with the rest of the runners. I had a beer, shook a few hands, then headed back to the truck and onto the hotel room, where I passed out again.

Receiving my 3rd Winners Trophy for the ATY 48

2015 was a tough year, mixed with plenty of ups and downs. On the good side, I took four overall race wins and set two course records. But on the other hand, I DNF'd almost everything else, and did so in spectacular fashion. I'm hoping to perform much better in 2016.

I want to thank Hammer Nutrition for fueling me to another win and Topo Athletic for providing me with the best running shoes on the market. And of course, I need to thank my bride for all the crazy things she agrees to do so I can live my dream.

And a special thanks to Jamil Coury and his race staff. They're the gold standard in race management and I love being at their events.

Next up…St. Croix Scenic 50 Miler. Because I need to get out of this snow! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2015 Cajun Coyote 100: Louisiana Swamp Stompin'

It's been about 6 weeks since I've done this blog thing, so let's see how it goes.

2015 has been a tumultuous running season. I've ranted a bit about how awful things have been, and that's not really fair. In fact, it's mostly just me being a big crybaby. The fact is, it's been a great year. I've traveled to a lot of amazing locations where I was able to run, and in a few cases, vomit and become delirious. Brazil comes to mind right away.

I won more races and set more course records this year than any other year. And I've also dropped from a record number of races. Those two facts may have a lot to do with each other. And as humans, we all tend to remember the bad times far longer than the good times. Thus...the general sense that it's been a terrible season.

The truth is, I have a lot to be very thankful for.

As the year winds down, I was eager to return to Ville Platte, Louisiana, to run the Cajun Coyote 100. I've run this race before and I love all the great people associated with it.

More than anything, I wanted to have a good run. A good race would also be nice, but I was far more focused on having a solid run that would help me build my confidence after a few tough races. I removed all the peripheral annoyances that tend to add stress to my running leading up to this race and I just focused on keeping things fun and easy. Not always as easy as it sounds.

This race is made up from five, 20 mile loops through the Chicot State Park. Some people hate loops, but I usually enjoy them. They say course knowledge makes a big difference in a race. After seeing the same 20 mile loop a few times, it's hard to become any more knowledgeable.

The weather was perfect! Mid 30's for the low and mid 60's for the high. Humidity would be tolerable. I was ready to go. 

Pre-Race Briefing

At 6:35 AM. we were off.

My plan was pretty simple. I was going to hang back in the pack, somewhere around 5th place, and coast through the first 20 miles. So obviously, I locked onto the heels of the leader and immediately abandoned my plan.

Ed Melancon was leading and he looked fit. Ed won the race in 2014 and I figured he would lead a lot of the race, if not all of it. I wasn't in perfect 100 mile condition, so chasing Ed was mostly for entertainment.

After the first mile, I let a runner pass me, dropping to 3rd place. I followed the two men up front and watched the early miles of the race play out. I felt like Ed was already being protective of the lead. I dropped back 50 yards behind them and kept an eye of things, wondering if they would make it a fight to the death. Because honestly, for me to advance, one of them was going to need to die. I didn't feel like running any harder than I already was.

After a few miles, I ran back to the front and chatted with the leaders for a few minutes before telling them I was going to drop to 5th place. Which is exactly what I did. For about 3 minutes. The pace felt wrong so I went back up to 3rd.

After several more miles, I had lost sight of the leaders, and the noise of runners from behind had faded.

I didn't know it at the time, but I would be running alone like this until I picked up my pacer at mile 60. The only people I saw were race volunteers.

Coming to Aid at Mile 16

My beautiful bride was working the aid station at mile 16. I handed her my pack, and headed out to finish the last 4 miles of my first lap. Jo took my pack to the next aid station, where she would have it replenished and ready to go for the next 20 mile loop.

This was repeated for almost all of the race, as Jo worked both aid stations the entire time I ran the 100 miles. She's tireless.

Coasting in at 20 Miles

When people think of Louisiana trail running, they assume it's dead flat. They would be wrong. This isn't a mountain race, but it has a ton of steep hills to navigate, especially in the first half of the loop. I was already dreading the thought of starting the next loop, but I headed right back out without wasting any time at the aid station.

Running all by myself on the second loop made it hard to keep focus. My mind kept drifting off, like it often does in long races, and I would suddenly find myself trotting along at a 12 minute pace, thinking about something mundane like lily pads. Seriously though...I don't understand them.

Coming Into Mile 36

Again, Jo took my pack and we went our own, separate routes back to the start/finish line.

Mile 40

When I finished my second loop, my pacer, Burke Jones, was waiting to see me. I had to finish my 3rd loop before he could join in on the fun, but I took a few minutes to update him on the first 40 miles.

Burke paced me to my first 100 mile win and we get along well on the trail. He knows how to handle me as well as any pacer I've ever had, and I was looking forward to running with him.

Giving Burke a Status Update

Taking Instruction From a Damn Good Crew

In previous years, we were allowed to run the 3rd loop in reverse, but this year, we had to maintain the same direction for all 5 loops. It may sound silly, but switching directions really makes a big difference and keeps things interesting. Begrudgingly, I headed out for my 3rd loop, which incidentally, looked exactly like the first two. 

My left knee had begun to act up. It felt swollen and painful, but I kept running and tried to ignore it. I had taken a bad fall while running in Florida a few weeks earlier and it became evident that my knee hadn't completely healed.

By the way...I'm still all by myself out there. And it was getting dark. Where the hell was everybody?!?!

Coming in at Mile 56

When I got to the aid station at mile 56, I remarked about how quickly the sun was setting. It was only around 5:00 PM and I expected another hour of daylight. I didn't have a headlamp with me, but I only had 4 miles to go before I could get my night running gear. I figured if it got dark before I got there, I could use the flashlight on my iPhone to make my way into the mile 60 aid station.

I handed Jo my pack and then hurried off down the trail.

Just Making Out With a Hottie Real Quick

Within a half mile, it was dark. That's when I realized I had just handed my iPhone to my wife...because it was in my pack. LOVELY!

I spent the next 3 miles, stumbling through the dark.

Interesting Fact: The swamp gets pretty lively when the sun sets. That's all I have to say about that.

I eventually made it to the Mile 60 aid station, which was never a sure thing. I grabbed my fresh pack, a headlamp and a light jacket before heading out with Burke.

I gave Burke another update. It went like this:

1. My left knee is killing me
2. We'll be walking a lot of the hilliest front section
3. I'm pretty sure swamp monsters are real

Burke and I made every reasonable effort to run with deliberation. We mostly failed. Every time we got a good pace going, one of us would kick a root and nearly kill ourselves. But it was mostly me and almost always with the big toe on my left foot. It was funny the first 10 or 12 times, but it started to get old after that. And very painful.

Somewhere around mile 67 and again at mile 70, we were jumped by wild and random armadillos. After a few tense moments, we were able to stare them down, which is really our only defense against armadillos. I really, really dislike armadillos. They have no place in this modern world.

At mile 72, Burke was attacked by a bird, which is strange on so many levels. It evidently dropped from the night sky and bit him. For real. I was there to witness his terror.

By the time we finished the 4th loop, we were battle worn and ready to get this thing over with.

My left knee was really killing me and my left quad was swollen and screaming.

Taking Some Meds For Pain

The last loop was going to suck.

As expected, the final loop was fairly miserable. Burke and I had developed a new rule. We only ran on trail surfaces that we completely trusted. We were both battered from tripping and I was pretty sure my big toe was just rattling around in my shoe at this point, totally detached.

We were still running in 3rd place, as I had been since mile 3, and I kinda thought it would be a nice place to finish. I passively started to monitor the trail behind us, looking for oncoming headlamps. Not like I was paranoid or anything, I was playing it cool. I just didn't really want to be passed at mile 99 and suddenly slip off the podium after holding my spot all day.

The 5th loop was a stark contrast from the 4th. Nothing attacked us at all. Aside from a couple of maniacal deer, we didn't see anything.

We were moving ridiculously slow, but I really didn't care. I felt pretty secure in 3rd place and finishing 20 minutes earlier wasn't going to make any sort of difference.

Burke and I crossed the finish line in 21:55, and I think it's fair to say that we were pretty happy to be done.
Super Tired, and More Than a Little Worried About my Toe

I was very pleased with how well my fueling went. I relied almost exclusively on Hammer Gels and Endurolyte Fizz Tabs for the entire race and they never failed me!

I also got a chance to put my new Topo Athletic MT-2's to a real test. I loved the older version and it looks like the new model will be a huge success too. Aside from ripping my toe off, my feet came out looking great.

I'm pretty sure I'm not done racing for the year, but if my next race doesn't go well, I'm not going to write about it. I'll just pretend my year ended on this high note.

Thanks for reading! I hope to see many of you very soon, out on the trails!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race: Turning Circles on the Prairie

I got into endurance sports through some experimentation with triathlons and quickly realized that I was never going to fit into that scene. Then I moved onto road marathons, which I found to be equally bland and riddled with an unnecessary sense of competition and elitism.

Then I stumbled across trail running, which led to ultra running, which lead to mountain running. And this new passion is what inspired our move to Utah.

Unlike my brief stint in triathlon and marathon running, I've been reluctant to let go of mountain running and I probably never will. But I'll never be a great mountain runner. I'm a "good" mountain runner...maybe even solid, but I'll never be great. And that's OK.

But I can turn circles for hours...even days, and find some success. I know, it's not the sexiest version of ultra running, but it can be a lot of fun if you give it a chance.

I have a connection with Manitoba, Canada and have been trying to insert myself into their trail running scene this year. The Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race was the perfect race at the perfect time of year, so off to Canada we go!

Lemming Loop is one of the trail races put on by Trail Run Manitoba. A great group of people and an amazing RD with a dedicated staff of awesome volunteers. This race is held near downtown Winnipeg on a 2.05 mile trail loop, consisting of native prairie and hardwood forest. It's a great little trail and I had a blast turning circles on it.

In My "Business Attire" Before the Start

To add a level of difficulty, the 24 hour race started on Friday, at 5:00 PM. Late day starts add waking hours to an already LONG event, so exhaustion can become a bigger issue later in the race. Which it did.
Waiting to Start

My strategy was to take the lead right away, create a gap between me and the rest of the field, then focus on maintaining that gap for the rest of the race. Or something reasonably similar...either way, winning was always the plan.

Up Front at the Start

I felt great from the beginning and ran by feel, letting my legs fly. My breathing was steady and my heart rate was low, so I pushed a speedy pace through that first lap, finishing with a pretty sizable gap.

By the second lap, I was passing the back of the field.

By the fifth lap, I had passed the entire field. I was digging deep to keep building my gap.

While I was being deliberately competitive and extremely aggressive, I was having a blast. The trail is a tight single track in most places, and it makes tight turns and winds quickly through the hardwoods. This makes for a slow course for a timed race, but it's exciting to fly through the woods on those trails. I was pushing a burly pace and smiling like an idiot the whole way.

I had to believe that a lot of the other runners expected me to crash and burn early, and I would be lying if that same thought hadn't crossed my mind. But my body was taking all I gave it, so I kept pushing that pace, waiting for signs to back off.

It would be a long while before that happened.

I've written this before, but Canadians, especially from that part of Canada, are some of the nicest people in the world. In the US, trail runners are very kind and generous during races, but it's taken to the next level with this bunch. Supportive and positive comments were flying around that course much faster than I was. It was hard not to feel great while running with these people.

As the only American in the race, I was a little worried that I wouldn't be well received, but those thoughts were quickly banished as soon as the race started. I felt very welcomed and that feeling grew as the laps ticked by.

I kept my fueling simple. I was grabbing a Hammer gel every 2 or 3 laps, while watching my electrolytes. If something looked appealing on the aid station table, I ate it and pushed on.

Hammering Down My Favorite Gel

The weather was PERFECT for running. It was too cold to stand around in shorts and a t-shirt, but just cold enough for a brisk running pace. As night started to settle in, a stiff, cold wind from the south got to be a bit tough to handle and I started adding layers.

Before the sun set, I was beginning to fade a bit, but running at night has always been a strong suit for me, so I was eager for the sun to go down.

I do about 90% of my training runs in the dark, even in the summer, and this gives me a tremendous amount of confidence in the dark. I assume most trail runners will slow a little bit at night, while I'll maintain my pace.

Ready for Night Running

I kept hammering my pace through the night and my gap continued to grow. When I was 20 miles ahead of 2nd place, I was finally at spot where I felt very optimistic about my chances to win. But I remained focused and kept churning out the laps.

While the trail isn't technical, it does demand that you watch your footing. There are potholes, drop-offs, rocks, and roots to contend with. Specifically, there are 4 little pointy, nearly invisible roots that I managed to kick on almost every lap. Even now, they haunt me...

There came a point in the night that the field seemed to thin out. I felt like I was nearly alone on the trail. As it turned out, several runners had pulled the plug and some were napping. But the runners I was competing with were still out there, pounding out the miles. The real race had started and the positions were well defined now.

Jo left for the hotel at 1:00 AM for a nap, with a promise to return at 6:00 in the morning. In her absence, I was overwhelmed by the volunteers that stepped up to crew for me. I was nearly smothered with help every time I came back through the aid station to click off another lap.

Once again, these are just great people.

When Jo returned at 6:00, I was nearly 80 miles into the run and leading by 26 miles. She fed me a hot Egg McMuffin. I was a happy man.

Even with a big lead, I wasn't comfortable with my chances of winning. We still had a lot of hours to go, and I was getting tired. Anything could happen.

My reluctance to find confidence reminded me of my first 100 mile race win. From mile 90, my pacer kept telling me that we had it sewn up. We were going to win! I kept telling him to shut up! Every mile or so, he was whispering that sweet song into my ear and I kept shooting him down. About 1/4 mile from the finish, I turned to him and said, "I'm ready to entertain the possibility that we might win this thing."

Winning a race is something a runner should never take for granted. Shit happens. I know this better than most.

As the sun came up, I was fading pretty quick, but I was maintaining my gap. That was always the plan. I expected to give some of those miles back before the end, but not yet. The miles weren't coming as easily, but they were still coming.

I hit the 100 mile mark at 16:49, which is a long way from a PR, but on that course, I think it's a great time. I took a few minutes to rest and made the decision to back off the pace and focus on managing the rest of the race in a manner to save my body, but still hit my goals.

100 Miles Down...More to Go

As I slowed my pace, my body began to stiffen up and running became even more difficult. As if my legs realized we had hit 100 miles and expected us to be done. Pain really began to set in at 106 miles. And it never got better.

I eventually broke the course record, so I took it as an excuse to be lazy for a while. I plopped on the ground and celebrated with a cold beer.

Not my Normal Beer

At 116 miles in, my stomach began to cramp and I started to feel sick. I walked a few more miles and then conferred with my crew about how to handle the situation. I had wanted to get to 200k before pulling the plug and I was just a couple laps away from it. But my stomach wasn't happy and the slower I moved, the more my body wanted to seize up.

After a long discussion, I decided I had gone far enough at 118.9 miles and I called it a day. I stopped my race at 21:30, securing the win and setting the new course record.

In all honesty, when I started to think about it, any additional miles would have been for vanity. I wasn't going to accomplish anything more than I already had, so it was really pointless to go on. I hung around to cheer for the other runners for a while, then I walked to the car and passed out.

Celebrating with Another Finisher

My 2015 race season has been an absolute roller coaster. I have 4 wins, but I also have 3 DNF's. Even with my level of experience, I have a lot to learn still, and I feel like my time is quickly dwindling.

The most important lesson I can take away from my race season is that I need to fall back a bit and take stock in why I even bother with it. I started doing this for fun, so that's what I want to focus on. I think I might have a few more wins, even if I don't take things too seriously. And if I don't win...I'm OK with that, too.

I still have plenty of racing to do this year, and my only goal is to enjoy the trails and the people I share them with. We'll see how that strategy works out.