After almost a 14 month break, I am back. Susan and I just signed up for the Marine Corps 17.75 K that is occurring this upcoming March. I have been away from racing events for far too long and it is time to jump back in. With my MBA program under control and a recent adoption of 2 kittens I feel ready to get back into the racing event mindset. I look forward to breaking my PR for this course and distance (it has been close to 3 years since I last ran this course).
My long term goal since getting into the ultra-running community has been to run in one of the UTMB events in Switzerland through the Alps. The past two years I have been using the same points to enter the lottery for the OCC, but both times I have not been lucky. However, third time is the charm with UTMB where if you fail the lottery twice you are guaranteed a spot IF you accrue the necessary points. It was bad timing because most of points expired and I only had 3 from running the 2018 North Face 50K in Massachusetts. With less than 6 months to achieve a total of 5 points, I was on the lookout for a run that could allow me to make the threshold and thus run Switzerland.
My first try was at the Vermont 50 miler this past September. Long story short, I wasn't even able to start the race. My training has been thrown off with some personal life goals, such as moving apartments and applying to graduate school. I was able to travel to Vermont though, and it would have been a fun run, but with my lack of training it really wouldn't have been good. As a result I looked around and found the Mines of Spain 100 in Dubuque, Iowa. This race appealed to me precisely because one of my co-workers is from Dubuque and I have only heard good things. After reviewing the course map of the 100K I thought that this could be the run that could get me to Switzerland as well as finally visit Iowa.
This was the first running of the Mines of Spain and the entire event was amazing. Great scenery, course and trail upkeep, and of course awesome race staff/organizers as well as fellow runners. For me, this was my first 100K and anything over 50 miles was going to be a PR distance and time wise. With a 23 hour cutoff I had plenty of time to run the 3 loops and time at the end to take a nap.
The first loop was great, I was feeling amazing and paced with other runners around 13 minutes per mile. About 3/4 through we all encountered a giant part of the course that literally got flooded and we had to wade through almost hip deep water for about 250 feet. This being my first 100K it was a nice reprieve to cool of my feet. The first loop I finished in about 6 hours.
The second loops fared about the same as the first, relatively good but the runners have severely spread out with the faster ones probably on their way to completing their second loop as I was starting my first. I kept my chin up and ventured off and completed the second loop in just over 6 hours.
As I came into the finish of my second loop, the sun fell and the moon rose. It was nearly pitch black. Lucky I had my headlamp but for some reason it was malfunctioning so the illumination was low and it was hard for me to see. This slowed me down and started to get me concerned about another 6+ hours in the dark with a malfunctioning device. Before starting my third loop I was luckily enough to borrow a working headlamp from the race organizer which I am eternally grateful for. I wasn't even sure if I would be able to keep running.
As I went out for my third loop, the first mile felt great but then it went downhill. Literally and figuratively. At this point I have never run past 12+ hours. Exhaustion. Feet hurt, big toe numb due to hitting the toe box, and lower back starting to act up. I slowed down, began to collect myself, and called Susan to get some mental and moral support. She ran me through some good exercised to relax my feet, hips, and quads, as well as some mental support of just keeping one foot in front of the other. After some time conversing on the side of the trail, I went back out and continued on. Between that phone call and the first aid station, about 5 miles later, I felt amazing. I had a second wind. However, with the darkness and scarcity of runners on the trail it began to be a bit eire on the trail doing the first loop to aid station 2. With no pacer, limited visibility, and trying to make time, it made it extremely more challenging to run than during the daylight. I was not prepared.
As I got halfway through the loop to aid station 2 I started to fade. The exhaustion was getting to me and it was something I had not trained for. A big failure on my part. As I continued on to aid station 2, I noticed that I was no longer running but walking, and had a hard time moving forward due to my feet starting to ache, as well as my lower back and shoulder starting to act up. This is usually fine on its own, but the combination with exhaustion and the darkness added an element which I was unprepared for.
Getting closer to aid station 2, it was getting harder to walk forward and keep going with myself getting hot flashes sometimes as well as my hips giving me more limited mobility along with the darkness giving me limited visibility. During this time, some runners passed me and I passed on word for them to inform the aid station. Fortunately a race volunteer came out as I got closer and helped me walk it in.
I didn't know what to do at that point. By the time I hit aid station 2, I was at 17-18 hours (a pace which if I kept up I wouldn't make it to the finish in time) which for anyone is a long time, let alone running for that period of time. My lower back and shoulders were making it hard for me to ambulate along with my feet telling me that we were not ready. As I sat down getting an awesome pep talk from the folks at aid station 2 I honestly didn't feel comfortable moving forward. Although I had about 5 hours left to run the last 9 miles, with the darkness, washed out trail, exhaustion, and weird muscle quirks acting up I didn't feel like it was appropriate for me to continue as I could injure myself. The exhaustion was particularly concerning for me because with the scarcity of runners I was worried that I may just fall asleep, as I was encountering some sleep deprivation with physical exertion that I didn't anticipate. It was at that point that I had to make a choice. Do I continue or do I quit?
I never quit. I have never quit anything that I put my mind to, let alone running. I finish everything I start and exceed at that. This mentality was one I have lived with for years. As I was getting a pep talk from probably the most experienced ultra-runners volunteering a the aid station I felt incredibly inadequate. Yes it was my first 100K, the longest run in both time and distance I will do, yet people adequately train and prepare. I was not ready. My equipment failed (headlamp, shoe toe box), I never trained for exhaustion (running for 12+ hours), and I had limited training mileage over the past few months. Honestly, I am surprised I made 9 miles from the finish, as the only thing I think that helped me get that far was my past experience and resume of marathon and ultra-marathon running. My body was used to it. But it was not prepared for this.
As I was considering accepting my nightmare scenario, dropping out, I realized that if I dropped that I wouldn't be going to Switzerland. It was honestly one of the hardest decisions I have ever made: finding your physical and mental limit and ACCEPTING it. Feeling uncomfortable to continue, I accepted my limit. Sacrificing short term pain for long term success works in most cases but in this case I was gambling with short term success for long term pain: a potential injury. I rolled the dice starting the race and cut my losses once I had that epiphany at aid station 2. I took the DNF.
Although I got my first DNF at this race, it probably won't be the first. Coming to terms with a decision, I am unwilling to continue due to lack of training, and ACCEPTING that it is the right decision was eye-opening. As I have never quite before on my OWN terms, as in I have only encountered true failure due to external events this was truly the first one where I had a choice. Do I continue, truck on into the last 9 miles and risk injury? Or do I accept the fact that I was unprepared and move on to the next event. I accepted the fact. I don't feel sad or upset by quitting, it was the right thing to do. The only thing I feel is embarrassment. I feel like I let down my fellow runners on the course, the race staff/volunteers, and myself for not pushing through. It was an embarrassment that I have only felt once or twice before.
The key takeaway form this event was more of a psychological success for myself. I finally found my baseline physical and mental limit. I realized it at aid station 2 and through acceptance I made my decision. Even though I was so very close to the finish, I was getting close to a potential injury. Although I live by the motto "Never Quit" from the book "Never Quit" by P.J. Jimmy Settle I did quit so I could run another day. It was completely irresponsible of me to begin the race in the first place with poor planning of training. I realized this and payed the price: my first DNF.
Many people get DNF's and I don't see it anymore as a mark of shame but rather a mark of self-reflection and self-awareness. It shows that we are human and that we do have limits, either mentally or physically. It is our duty to test those limits and if we do reach it: train, train, train. Preparation is key and how can one prepare if we don't know what to prepare for? Just do it and see what you need. Everyone is unique with varying limits. For myself, exhaustion was my limit. Thus I have formulated, along with the assistance of Susan, some strategies to train for exhaustion.
I will be focusing on 26.2 marathons for the next year but I am still gunning for Switzerland. It will always be there and if it is 2020 or 2025 until I get there to run I will be happy.
One of the nice things about the running community is that there are always events that put you on your toes. Some switch between triathlons and Iron Man competitions or between track workouts and trail workouts. The point is that if you run one event over and over again (only half-marathons), things become rather boring. This is why I ran the Endless Summer 6 Hour Run again.
Traditionally, running events such as marathons and ultra's set a "distance" goal that you must complete within a pre-determined period of time. However, the 6 hour run is a bit different. This race sets a "time" goal that you must complete as much distance as possible. In this case you had 6 hours to complete as many 3.7 mile loops as possible.
For me, heat training is not my strong suit and the day of the race was a scorcher in Annapolis Maryland. Due to some delays, we got started probably around 10am or so and ran into the heat of the day. The course was a fun figure eight loop that took us right along the bay. I was lucky enough to be running with Susan during this race as she just got back from dessert of California so had a bit more heat training which helped push me through.
These types of timed runs are fun as you have a bit more flexibility in setting a distance goal. We ended up completing 22 miles that day in the heat which now looking back on it was a good heat training run. Although we treated it more of a training run for a Saturday, we ended up taking away some awesome gear. Susan placed 1st military female, so got a very cool locally made ceramic bowl, and I placed 2nd in my age group (29 and under male), so received a similar ceramic bowl.
It was a fun run filled with high temperatures, sweat, and good company and will be running again next year.
Have you ever showed up to do something, say some sort of competition, and then right before it started someone comes up to you to discuss how this event is highly technical, challenging, and shows you video of the course before hand? Well that happened to me right before the North Face 50K outside Boston. I looked into the race and realized it would be more "challenging" but I had to do it regardless. My points for UTMB's OCC had expired and in order to enter the lottery for the 2019 year I needed to pick up some points.
I knew it was going to be tough weekend just by the way I got there. Susan was my crew and it took us about 9 hours to get from DC to Westminster, dodging traffic all the way. With the race not starting until 7am, I counted myself somewhat lucky that we only checked into the race hotel around 12:30am day of. Plenty of time for some shuteye. With the short nap we got to the starting line by the mountain where I did some basic warm ups and stretches. We ran into a guy from Connecticut who wanted to show us some pictures of the trail he took the day before when he was doing a quick jog. My eyes, fell out. I knew it the course was technical but I didn't know it was going to be "technically" barely a trail. As I learned more about the course from him, I was taking it in since I knew I was clearly in over my head in terms of training for basic trails rather than alpine style trails. Regardless, I took it in stride and it helped me mentally prepare for what was to come as I toed the start line.
Throughout the whole race, I honestly loved the trail. It was challenging with some surprises here and there and a nice 8+ mile flat dirt road around mile 22 or so. The rest of the trail was honestly spectacular. Take a fast downhill turn a corner then immediately boulder up a giant hill. The first time I thought, no big deal. The third time it happened, I was resilient. However, by the time I hit the home stretch with 3 miles to go I realized I had to backtrack up and down and up and down some pretty gnarly mountain trails. I knew what had to be done and my mind was all for it. My body on the other hand was telling me, "Dan, I know you love pushing yourself up hills but I can't run hills for 10 hours". Knowing this, I took the necessary precautions in listening to my body, stretching, and performing some triage here and there to keep me going physically. Luckily for me, I have run plenty of complex races in the past and if I didn't listen and understand how my body performs and how it adapts the race would have been much more difficult.
There were really 3 best parts of the race. 1. Having Susan there to help crew me and volunteer at the aid stations really helped me mentally knowing that there was someone who knew me and can assist me in a more one-on-one way in the middle of Massachusetts. 2. The people I met on the course were awesome, colorful, and full of humor as always. Running for long periods of time on the trails you form these close-knit short term friendships with folks and it is always amazing getting more involved with the trail running community. And 3. The views were quite amazing. The trails were simple, complex, that take you up and down close to 1,000 feet, and being able to see from the top of one mountain to see in the far distance another mountain which one of the aid stations was at, was well, quite an eye-opener.
Lastly, this was Susan's first trail-ultra marathon event that she has been to. I know that she enjoyed it and maybe she will run a 50k or 50 miler or more at some point now since she has gotten a feel for the community and everything that goes into the event. Unfortunately, she had to see me trudge along the trails and learn about all of the side-effects of the running: twisted-ankles, DNF's, other physical injuries, and some others.
I preach "always be prepared" and "train for everything" but in all honesty I was probably 80% ready for this run. I think the only thing that got me through this run was having a good crew, Susan, and also having many marathons and ultras under my belt which gave me that extra 20%. If this was my first ultra experience, I don't know what would have happened. It was moderately hot, somewhat humid, sunny, drastic elevation change with extremely technical trail portions. I was happy to finish and even happier that I only received a small blister on my toe. At least now, I know if I face significant technical terrain, I know how to better prepare myself physically.
If you are looking for a challenging ultra-race in the North Face Endurance Challenge Series, I recommend this one near Boston. It is as the name suggests, a "challenge", and myself and others overcame it.
Next one on the docket is the Vermont 50 which I hear is similar to Wachusett.
Well that was interesting. The DMV area was slammed with major winds that caused a state of emergency to be called for all of Maryland on the morning of Saturday, March 3. Sadly but most prudently, the race was cancelled around 5am that day. I was gung ho to get out on the trails that morning but looking out the window that morning I could see that as much fun as it would be, there was definitely safety hazards out there. It was as if a hurricane was barreling down on the area.
Link to weather coverage of the area: www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2018/03/05/a-mighty-wind-behind-one-of-washingtons-worst-ever-winter-wind-storms-on-march-2/?utm_term=.47e2f6e5a0de
As a reprieve, I went back to bed and slept in a few hours. After a lazy morning, I noticed that the wind had drastically died down and it appeared safe to venture out. Susan and I decided to go for a long trail run through Rock Creek Park in the early afternoon as a substitute for the cancelled run. They may have cancelled the trail run, but we were bound to get in some miles one way or another.
Our run turned into essentially a long afternoon trail run/hike. We spent hours on the trails racking up 13+ miles and good conversation. It was during this time however, that we noticed why exactly the race was cancelled. Trees were downed everywhere on the trails. Old, new, big, and small all types of trees were snapped on the trails. It would have been really unsafe idea to run during the windstorm after navigating the aftermath. Though, with the wind gone and storm over, we still approached the trail with safety in mind especially when interacting with fallen trees.
I am sad that the race was cancelled, but then again I am happy. It was such an adventure to run around on the trails during that afternoon and impromptu outing.
(Pictures and GPS to follow)
It has been close to 1 year since I last ran any sort of marathon. Waking up nauseous and dehydrated the morning of the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of last October, I made a game time decision to not toe the line. Was it the right choice? It is up for debate but I am confident in my decisions. As a result I have been itching to get back on the trails rather than the pavement and signed up for the Seneca Creek Trail Marathon.
It is only 7 days out from today and frankly, I am glad. As much fun as road races are, there is something special about the trails and running through nature that running on streets does not have. I think this run will be quite execrating and fun primarily because it is a locally run and operated event. Interestingly this run takes place on the opposite side of the river form the North Face Endurance Challenge in Sterling, VA so it will be nice to see how that is like.
Depending on how I feel and finish, I may sign up last minute for the Endurance Challenge again this year for the 50k instead of the 50 miler. I need to get back into the longer races since I need to replenish my points for UTMB. I have not gotten in during the past 2 years, and I believe that the 3rd times the charm. So we will see.
I will update with pictures and comments after my run this upcoming Saturday. Hopefully the weather is good and the the company stellar.
With my interest in longer runs these past few years, I have joked that instead of driving or flying back to Ohio from DC, I would just run. Although I was joking a the time, recently it has come to my attention that this is actually entirely possible. With the aid of trailrunproject.org I have found that at least a partial trail leads in the direction of Ohio, the C&O Canal Towpath.
The trail runs between Cumberland, MD along the border of Pennsylvania and Washington, DC for 190ish miles and is relatively flat. Should I actually do this? It is definitely farther than what I have done before, max has been 50 miles. The more I think about it, the more I think I ought to do it. The worst that can happen is I don't make it all the way to Cumberland, MD and just take a mulligan.
I think what really lit the fire for me to do this more "adventurous" run is a talk by a co-worker of mine he gave about his upcoming expedition: a 3,000 mile Atlantic crossing with 4 rowers. That, I thought, is the epitome of athletic endurance. So why not try something a little closer to home?
Over the next couple of weeks alongside my last minute preparation for the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon, my 3rd MCM, I will be speccing out the details of this 190 mile expedition. Knowing my preferences for running weather, I will aim to start my first attempt sometime in early 2018 when it is much cooler out.
My next post will probably be a recap of the MCM at the end of this month as well some more updates regarding the C&O run.
For the past couple of weeks I have found my training plateauing. My yearly running rut was upon me. It seems like once or twice a year the emotional joy I have with running and the adrenaline rush that results from it ends up decreasing to a certain point. Instead of ignoring this feeling, I succumbed to it and refocused my attention to cooking and other activities.
However, once a runner always a runner because it is an emotional joy like no other. I became restless and did some soul searching to figure out why exactly I fell off my training line. I needed to get back in the grind and what better way to get back into something than by going all in.
My solution was simple: ignore excuses and run as much as possible as often as possible. In this way I could reset my training and get back into a rhythm. Sometimes you just need to shake up things to get back on track rather than having it settle.
So for the past couple of days I have adopted my, probably not the athlete's favorite, two-a-day run routine. These workouts tax you and are exhausting, especially when you are resetting your training. However, I am a couple days in of doing a long run at least once every 12 hours.
Though it has been only a few days so far, I have found that my emotional joy and rush are coming back rejuvenated. I think that this experience just goes to show that we all encounter ruts, things settle, and one way to get out of it is to not only realize the rut exists but to shake things up and go all in.
This is by no means advice for anyone to attempt, it works for me since my running experience informs me of doing these types of non-traditional stints.
As I was pushing hard over vacation to run and train, my drive led me to a precarious situation. The nail on my big toe was already bruised from a running injury a few months ago and this combined with my passion to waterski met at an interesting intersection. Do not try to put on a pair of water skiis as fast as you can. Or you will find out that the nail will catch the inside of the boot and "flip up". Which mine did.
I am not going to spend this post talking about the strange feelings I felt knowing that my nail was no more. No. I just wanted to write this post because, as with most of these other things I write, it is an interesting experience that runners may encounter some time during their training journey.
As much as I run, this has never happened to me so initially it was a shock. "How could this happen to me?". As the this initial feeling wore off, my next question was "Can I still run?". At the time I didn't know what the medical repercussions of running with a lost nail were so I halted my running as I didn't want to exacerbate my injury. This was about a week or so ago. I subsequently set up an appointment with a cool podiatrist that is also a runner to discuss the fate of my toe.
Turns out my toe is fine and I can still run as normal. It will just take 9+ months for the nail to grow back. I think this experience has taught me a key lesson. No matter what happens during your training, even if it is a small matter related to your health (such as my toe), and you don't quite know what to do you ought to consult an expert. For me, that expert was a podiatrist. Even though my toe was "fine" it put my mind at ease discussing the matter with an expert related to my issue.
For most people when they think of vacation they think of "relaxation" or "rejuvenation" as it is a time to get away and reset. However, my approach to relaxation is to literally rejuvenate my training, both physically and mentally, and there is no better time to do this than taking a hiatus or vacation.
When you stick to a marathon training plan you usually stick to the same routes as the distances and surroundings are familiar. Some enjoy hitting the tracks, others prefer the roads of neighborhoods. Regardless, they have the same things in common: consistency. And for runners this is a good thing to have...until you run into the training rut.
Just like when you get into a mental block at work and you have to step away and change the environment you are working in to continue on your project or in strength training when you want to "confuse" your muscles by switching up your method, the same concept applies to running. I have found that by changing the natural environment you are in, altering your mindset, and putting yourself in a relaxed state can help reset your body.
Most research suggests that it takes close to two weeks of repetition to set something as a habit. So if you are lucky enough to take close to a two week vacation you should. At the end of it you could significantly increase your chances of setting up some positive habits, not just in training but also in your lifestyle.
As for me, I try to take close to two weeks off per year in one go, always around the middle of the year. For some it may be two weeks in the winter, others may prefer a week in the spring and a week in the fall. Whichever is your preference, you ought to take that time to get away and have the ability to reset. As much as I would enjoy running non-stop in DC, I surely wouldn't mind taking runs along the beach or some unknown trails.
So go out and run somewhere new and tackle your training with a newfound vigor.