Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hixon 50k: A Great Race in a Great Trail System

               My final race of the year was the Hixon 50k in the LaCrosse, WI region, October 30, Hixon Woods. First, let me just say that fall in Wisconsin is already pretty amazing. Add the bluffs along the Mississippi river and you've got breathtaking views. This, of course, means climbing on race day. Climb, we did. There were a lot more "creepers" in this race. Creepers are what I call the long, slow uphill climbs that you may or may not notice depending on grade, but still take a toll on the legs later in the race. The good news is that I was conditioned and ready and they didn't hit me as hard as in previous races. I had a lot of late kick. Then there were the climbs that were bordering on 45°+ grade. I shit you not. The last mile and a half of the loop ( the race was a double loop) started out with some creeping, then you hit the set of switchbacks that wound you up a side of a bluff. It'll slow you down significantly. The ground went from straight up mud to choppy and craggy limestone, some grass, and some sharp rocky areas. Of course there were roots, and small stumps, all things that could send you flying down the side of a bluff and fuck up your whole day. I tripped a few times but recovery was on my side this time. (It's not if you trip, but when). Mostly canopy coverage with a little opening when we cut through a valley road midway up the bluff, and a very short portion of shoulder to an adjoining portion of trail system that led us right back to the bush.
               I need to mention that this was the second year for this race. That means this race is still in its infancy, and yet this race was amazingly well organized with very few if any ticks or hiccups that I could detect. Everything was clearly marked, aid stations were organized, volunteers were awesome, and the organizers were extremely helpful. Bluff Running Company of LaCrosse needs to be commended and I look forward to staying in touch. I am generally prepared for some clusterfuckery with new races. It's only natural and nobody's fault, typically. Organizing a race isn't for wimps. When it comes out like a seasoned pro is running it, that is something I take notice of, and frankly, how a race gets a demand. This year's 400 racer capacity topped out. That was between the 25k and 50k, the majority running the shorter distance. But.....it sold out its second year. This will be a Midwestern race of note in a short period of time. Right now it's mostly locals, but somebody should warn them that this is the kind of race that gets a write-up in UltraRunning Magazine or Trail Runner. Then, the rest is history. People come from all over, and rightly so. A well run race should be respected and honored.
               So, how did I do? My strategy was simple and typical. Run just slower than felt natural, maybe even a little on the awkward side. I do this because I want to run just like everybody else does. The adrenaline is going. IT'S RACE DAY! Yay! I've been really good at meditating from the time I get up on race day. This helps immensely. I put my mind in a place where the people around me almost don't exist for the first part of the race. I do this so I don't get sucked into that vortex of coming out too quick as a lot of people do. I'm still susceptible, even now. Another reason I do this is to put my mind in a sacred place to feel everything about the race and to be very in tune to what is going on with my body. If you are religious, it is not unlike what you do before church, synagogue, masque, etc. This I would do for the first 8 or so miles. Then I lock into a relaxing groove that feels pretty effortless and relax my shoulders and arms, take an inventory of any trouble spots. This makes my ascents feel less draining. Some of my inclines I typically walk at a good clip. However, this time I felt no need and only slowed a little while maintaining tempo. It paid off big. Once I got through the first loop I opened up the thrusters. I ran fresh and renewed. I had a lot left in the auxiliary and ripped the downhills and climbed heavy as well. This is where I made the most out of my climbing ability. Where most people were slowing down I only lost :29/mile on my first to second half splits. I passed about 12 or so people and nobody passed me. The two that did I later caught again and left in the dust. The only thing that finally slowed me down was the second ascent up the side off that bluff. I ran into that final 1.5 miles still rocking until I got to the high pitch stuff. It took me an extra minute or so but I was okay with it. I was fairly confident nobody was tagging me. Then one guy passed me on the 45° grade stuff near the top.  Good for him. I was beat......then I caught him and passed him at the top and kicked in the afterburners. I ran the 50k in 6:03:06, which destroyed me previous PR and this might be a tougher course, certainly as tough as Dances With Dirt.
               As far as my dropbag, I didn't need it much and turned over very quickly at aid stations. I don't think I was at any one for over a minute. Most times it was a refill of my bottle and haul ass back off into the woods. I changed my socks at halfway. I kept the same shoes, same clothes. I only ate my Huma gels every 45 minutes and that was enough. I ate well the night before and that paid off as I didn't need any fruit or potatoes. This also helped me out a ton getting in and out of stations. So fast that I think it may have stunned some of the aid station volunteers, a simple "Yes, please." and "Thank you guys so much for doing this." They might ask me how I was doing, and I'd give them a thumbs up before running back into the trees. I didn't have time to chitchat. Just a smile, and a nod, and a thank you.
               This year, overall, was great. I feel pretty amazing at 41. I'm quite certain I am in better shape now than when I was 25. I accomplished a ton, including my first 100 miler at Kettle 100. I ran an ultra every month for five months, totaling 3 50k, a 50 miler, and a 100 miler. This race was my icing on the cake. It felt fantastic to close out the year on top. I finished 6th in my age group, 35th overall. Now, to put together next year's calendar. First race of the year, most likely being Ice Age 50......

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I Need v. What I Want

               So. How did North Face Endurance Challenge go? Not perfectly, in the general sense, but in the grand scheme, things happened as they must, and that is perfect. I ran the Gore-Tex 50 with a chest cold. I finished an hour behind my projected time, had I been in full health. I skipped the half marathon the next day due to foot complications. I have never been much good at having good judgement for knowing when to say when. This is why I am thankful and grateful for this race, and beyond that, the entire season. I finished my first hundred miler, I had to drop from a 50 mile to a 50k, I got lost for the first time on a course, and I had my first ever DNS. All of these things were within the scope of good, sound judgement. This year was filed with teaching moments, pride busters, and the building blocks of mental fortitude. It has been precisely what I need to move forward in this kooky sport of ultra running. When I am present and remain in the moment, this fact presents itself quite vividly. No PRs, but all personal growth.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

New Chapter

               I have relocated to Milwaukee, I have the same job with new clients in a new region, so I thought it only fitting that I go toe to toe with a brand new race. I added the High Cliff 50k to my list this year. It is a brand new race, in an area I've never run, and a distance I've never shot specifically for. I am feeling pretty good. I need to up my greens intake, up some carbs, more fruit. Maybe some better rest. Life is a little stressful, but very good stress. I'll start my fall semester at UW Milwaukee the beginning of next month. So add new school to the list. My social network is limited, but I have been diligent about that, so I'm not too worried. My body is running like a well oiled machine, and I am just listening to what it tells me. Taper time, as the race is next Saturday, a week and a couple days. No camping this time since the camping is long since sold out. Hotel it is. Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dances With Dirt Continues to Vex Me

               So I threw my hat in for Dances With Dirt 50 at Devil's Lake this year. It was on July 9, 2016. It  was the first time in 3 years. I had to drop down in 2013 due to some complications. This year, my body was not cooperating. GI distress. I got to 25 miles and decided to drop down to 50k. I was in enough pain and discomfort that I was afraid of going negative-calories if I upchucked. I started to continue the 50 mile and then decided that it was not worth the physical risk. I witnessed a guy have his system shut down on him when I got the finish and knew I made the right decision. I couldn't run for long after 25 and even though I had 7 1/2 hours to finish I would've needed all of them and I wouldn't have been running. I had run in me, but my internals were fucked. So very frustrating. I made a couple of stupid mistakes that I know better than to make, but I moved on the 5th, which means I was not rested. I did not have time to boil potatoes or cook bacon, so I improvised with canned potatoes and beef jerky. They did not agree and I paid the price. My rule has always been "Don't try new shit on race day." I broke the rules. It bit me. Can't cheat the system. Learn from me. Never cheat what you know.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

After The Storm.....

               “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~ Haruki Murakami

               That seems the most logical place to start. How does one go about pouring into words what it was like to complete a 100 mile ultra marathon? I set out to settle a score with the Kettles. My first attempt at the Kettle 100 in 2013, I called it quits at 100k. I had no crew, I miscalculated my caloric intake, didn't drink enough, and started out too fast. Mentally, I was finished. This time I did more research regarding dietary shifts. I have never experienced a 100 miler so I had no frame of reference. I understood the shifts required for a 50 miler. 100 is a completely different animal. I divided the race into three sections. Carbs, proteins, and fat. Yes, fat. I watched a documentary in which a woman set out to tackle a speed record over the course of 200 miles of Appalachian Trail. Late miles she was eating bacon. I did more reading to find that in late miles it made perfect sense. Maple smoked bacon has sugar, protein, fat. After you've pushed your body to the brink, it starts hitting your fat stores. Most everything after 100k made my stomach clench. Later I tried gel, banana, even hamburger, all tightening my gut. I would put them in my mouth and not swallow to see what the taste would do. My crew member gave me some beef jerky as I was out of bacon and needed calories badly. Jerky worked. After that the only thing I could stomach to the finish was Gingins and bacon. Regarding my mental approach, I decided that they were going to have to peel me off that course. If I could take one more step, I could continue.
                I mentioned crew. I commonly go without crew. All of my 50s are solo. My first attempt was no crew. That was a learning experience. Not having someone there to help me focus on getting out of that aid station was too much of a tempting situation. You come into Nordic, there's the car. You're at 100k, you can go to the car, but turn around and you've got another handful of hours to go another 37 miles. 100s are a different animal as I said. I will never do a hundred solo. When you reach a breaking point, there is nothing like having someone in your corner. I wouldn't have made it out of the Nordic trailhead without my pacers helping me keep my head down and get prepped to get out of there ASAP. I most likely would have ducked out. Then, as I continued on, I had someone there checking in on me as I went. Seeing that familiar face was huge. After I made it to my last drop bag, I knew it was about taking another step, and another. I had my nutrition dialed in, just stay alert and keep up with my changes. I didn't get GI distress, and didn't vomit. A Gingin here, a couple strips of bacon there, some water. I just listened attentively to my body.
               I usually think about everything as I run, and I mean everything. Not this time. My head was in the race the whole time. I knew wandering thinking in this situation was my enemy. A couple mantras got me through. One was the fact that "pain doesn't kill you, it just hurts." Another was the 40% rule. There is a theory used by Special Forces that when you first want to quit, you are actually only at 40% exertion and you have more to give. My everything went into staying present. What did my body need? I was probably even a bit stiff and stoic of mind. I did occasionally take a moment to look at the stars since out there in the forest you see all of them, inhale the scent of pine I was surrounded by, listen intently to the wildlife and the breeze through the trees. I did start to see things about 9am. Dark shadows racing by. It was interesting because I wasn't hallucinating, just seeing stuff. I could disregard the visuals easily. 
               Once I crossed that line, I got a little choked up. The weight of what just happened hit me. It hit me that I traversed 100 miles in a single go of it. My crew was immeasurably valuable. I tried to make sure they knew it. When I got done I took a 2 hour nap in the car before I dared go anywhere. Then I slept for 15 hours.
               Will I do this again? Probably, next year or the following. Now that I have one under my belt, I'd like to get one under 24 hours. The support I got on this race was amazing. I felt the love. I'm so grateful for everything I have. I am not the same person I was a few days ago. How could I be?

Friday, May 27, 2016

This is Now. This is Happening.

                The moment is here. I'm quite undertrained, but I'm going forward anyway. It's going to hurt. It's going to be difficult. I'm going to be unpleasant to be around after 100k. But I'm going to drag my punk ass across that line in 30 hours or less.
               Saturday, June 4 will be my second attempt at the Kettle 100. The first go-round I miscalculated my caloric intake. I shut down at 100k. I ask myself if I could've gone on. Part of me thinks so. I don't want to have regrets. I really don't have them....except...I wonder if I could've pushed on, and at what cost? Not a regret, per se, but a lingering gnat-like thought that resembles regret. I guess I just need to go see about it.
                 This time is the first time I've got pacers and crew. I'm not going solo this time. It will help tremendously. I have never had a team in the past, a go-it-aloner. I have been better at asking for (and admitting I'm in need of) assistance. When I'm doubting myself at 62 miles, they can take over telling me to keep going. It makes it tough to keep going and easy to say when at 100k. It's the start/finish, so you come in to a checkpoint, then are forced to turn around and head back into the darkness. But...I've got this. I'll have someone joining me at 100k. I've got a plan. Stop for nothing. Relentless forward motion.