Sunday, December 13, 2015
It had been a while since I "Raced" a half marathon. 2011 to be exact. The 2011 Tobacco Road Half Marathon was my official return to running after a lengthy hiatus and a 3 year infatuation with road cycling. I ran that half marathon in March of 2011, then jumped right into trail and ultra running after that.
So,out of the blue I signed up for the Race 13.1 in Durham. Never known for my strong scheduling abilities, this race came a week after the Epic 24 hour run in which I ran 52.7 miles over 17 hours. Not exactly a taper. Then throw a 12 mile training run with a client in on Wednesday before the half, and you have a recipe for struggle.
These thoughts swirled through my head as I stood with my friend Dene and the 2 hour pace group at the start. My large goal was to run sub 2 hours. My back up goal was to PR, besting my time of 2:05 back in 2011.I really had no idea how this race would go for me. It could either be a huge sucess or utter disaster!
It was unusually warm for December with temps near 50 degrees at the 8am start. After several years of running ultras with maybe 200 people at the start line, this race was a bit of a culture shock with several thousand folks lurking at the starting corral.
Then we took off. It was not the "casual" ultra start I am used to either! These folks were hauling ass from the get go. I stuck with the pacer as we wound our way out of the mall parking lot and into the streets of Durham. By mile two I was in a comfortable spot, right in with the 2 hour group. Dene has snuck ahead of me already and was running strong. I was just hoping this comfortable feeling would last me for 13.1 miles. By mile three I gotten up ahead of the two hour group and was cruising along. I did not wear a watch or have a phone. It was actually nice just listening to my body and not be obsessed with splits. I did not have my hand held with me either, so I made sure to grab a quick drink from each water stop as I went.
Then there was the hills. Lots of them. Not overly steep or long, but relentless nonetheless. And they just kept on coming. And they would slowly start sucking the life from my legs as the race went on. I passed through the 10K mark. In hindsight I would say that I ran a great 10K, only it was a 13.1 mile race. If my body had a check engine light, it probably would have came on around mile 7 or 8.
The struggle was getting real, and the hills were beginning to win. I took some comfort from seeing the vacant, grim look of other runners as we came through out and back sections. I was now soaked with sweat from my head to my toes. While rounding a corner only to see another large hill in front of us, the gentleman alongside me uttered "F*%k me!" More fitting words could not have been spoken.
At mile ten I was smote as the 2 hour pace group caught and passed me. My hope of a sub two hour finish disappeared just like the 2:00 sign as it descended the hill in front of me. I was walking the hills now, panting like a dog with my hands on my hips. I would try to run hard on the flats and downhills and power hike half way up the hills and then run over the top. I began to fear that I would be overtaken by the 2:15 pace group at this rate, and miss my chance of a PR as well.
Finally, the mall loomed in the distance before me! I could hear the faint sound of that finish line music. My pace at this point could only be described as a "rhythmic stagger" as I entered the parking lot toward the finish. Crossing the line I was pleasantly surprised to see I had finished in 2:04, (2:03:43 chip time) grabbing a PR despite blowing up on the second half of the race!
The good: Hats off to the Race 13.1 people. This was a super organized and well run event.
Shout out to my friend Dene, who crushed the half in 1:58!
The Bad: Not being smart enough to stick with the pace group. Okay and maybe all those damn hills and the warm weather!
A song that was stuck in my head during the race from a band I have rediscovered recently. Alter Bridge!
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
I'll keep this short. I mean seriously, running a 5K loop for hours on end does not exactly make for compelling writing! That being said, One Epic Run is one of my favorite 24 hour events. This past Saturday's race was my third year in a row coming back to Croft State Park in Spartanburg, SC to celebrate my penchant for Catholic levels of suffering. And to also get some awesome trail running in with a lot of my ultra buddies!
My younger, more adventurous friends camped out the night before the race at the park. I opted for the Super8 in Spartanburg. I believe my stay there was much more interesting than any campsite could have been. The first incident occurred around 8:30pm. We had gotten back from dinner and I was lying in bed watching TV. I heard the sound of someone at my door, and then with the swipe of a card, the door opened and in walked a rather startled traveler who was surprised to see someone already occupying the room! He apologized and quickly exited. 30 seconds later the phone in my room rang. The breathless, mortified front desk clerk spent the next several minute apologizing profusely, stating she had assigned the person a different room number, but made the key card for my room. I said not to worry about it. It was actually quite humorous. What was not humorous was their horrific selection of cable channels to watch!
I drifted off to sleep around 9:30pm, which was probably a good thing. Around 1 am or so, I awoke to the sound of a Hispanic gentleman talking rather loudly on his cell phone in the hallway. At first I thought someone was watching Univision with the volume turned up, but upon further review,I discovered it was my amigo in the hall. He finally hung up, and I drifted back off to sleep.
They say bad things happen in three's and this night was no exception. I awoke again around 3am to the sounds of slamming doors and muffled shouting.It took me a few minutes to put it together, but then I realized I had front row seats to a drunken, domestic dispute. The slamming and shouting increased, culminating in a rather operatic finale with a highly intoxicated dude wanting everyone within earshot to know that his partner was a F**king Whore! My running buddy Mo, who was in the room right next to me, called the front desk (as I'm sure many others had) and demanded they do something to shut these knuckleheads up. It must have done the trick, because in about 5 minutes all was quiet again. Ted, my other running buddy was located at the other end of the hotel and did not hear a thing. He did not escape unscathed however. He told us that around 5 am someone was knocking on a door and asking for "Garcia" right across the hall from him. Maybe it was our friend on the phone earlier?
After all this pre-race excitement, we were very grateful for a user friendly race start time of 9am. We mustered in the lobby of the hotel at 7:45 and were over at the park by 8:15 for packet pick up. It was great seeing so many friends! I immediately met up with my "Muddy Buddies" Lynne and Kelley. We had bonded through countless miles of muddy trail, both at Epic last year but also at Leatherwood Mountain 50K back in 2014.
Angela, the RD, puts on a fantastic event. I have made it a tradition to bring a fresh ground bag of Starbucks Coffee to her each year as a token of my appreciation. She stays up longer than any participant of the race!!
We set up our mini "Base Camp" right near the start/finish line and mingled before the start. One of the highlights was seeing my favorite couple from SC (Via Vermont), Heather and Geoff.
After a quick race briefing by Angela and the playing of our National Anthem, the horn sounded and we were off. I let all the alphas and youngsters get in front and haul their asses down the trail. I was in no hurry. I was mainly going to take it easy and have a good time. I had been sick with a cold earlier in the week, but the worst of it had passed so I was curious to see how my stamina would hold up later in the race.
Mo caught up with me around the second lap, and we stayed together much of the race. The basic goal was to walk the hills and run the downhills and flats. The course is a rolling 5K loop, which goes by an active firing range that can make that part of the trail seem like a Civil War reenactment. Each time you run up the hill to the large earthen berm you are greeted by the sound of small arms fire. The only thing lacking to complete the scene is a doctor in a bloody apron with a hack saw in his hand.
The first few hours were kind of a drag for me. I struggled to get into a good groove and felt okay. Not great, but okay. After putting in a few more miles I got into a great space and felt much better. Mo and I stayed together, shouting our bib numbers out as we rolled into the aid station at the start/finish each time and gorging ourselves on the "ultra buffet".
I always have to focus on remaining patient at these events. It is a far different mindset than running a "point to point" race, where you have a focus on going from point A to point B. It was good to be running with Mo, as we were able to talk and grind out the miles. Ted was a lap ahead of us, looking strong. He has just recently dipped his toe in the Ultra water and has been progressing nicely!
Before long, the sun was dropping low in the sky and it became time to don our headlamps and ease our way into the nighttime portion of the race. I love running at night. Many of the participants get to the 50K mark right before sunset and call it a day. The trail really empties out and at points you will not see another runner for quite some time. Except for my friend Jonathan. He was passing us. A lot! He kept crushing it and threw down 100 miles in 21 hours and 38 minutes! Great job dude!
Not only did the sun drop but the temperature did as well. I did my usual thing and packed WAY more clothing and gear than I would ever use. I pulled on my quarter zip fleece and grabbed a cup of coffee from the aid station as we continued our romp through the dark woods. We had met up with Ted, who said he was stopping in two laps once he got 50 miles in. Mo and I were three laps away from 50 miles ourselves, but Mo was not feeling great and said she might call it a day at 50 as well.
We got to 50 miles and Mo said she was done. I stayed out for one more lap but it was not the same without a partner in crime. My feet were beginning to hurt a bit, as I had not done too much training on trail, so I wound up calling it one lap after Mo. I guess it was around 1 am.
I was happy to get 52.7 miles in. In hindsight it would have been great to hang in for 100K, but I would have walked those last three laps and it would have taken forever. I found Mo and Ted at the car, we packed up the gear and headed out of the park and on our way home.
The drive home became a "relay" event (4 X I-85?)as we changed drivers four times. The highlight was pulling into a Starbucks in Greensboro at 5am to a slightly overwhelmed opening staff which resulted in us all getting free beverages.
A Dry course! After slogging through massive mud last year, it was a delight to scamper across dry land at this years event.
My new Pearl Izumi tights. I ran in them the whole time and they felt great!
Hot food timing (On our part) It seems we just started a new lap when both the Pizza and the veggie burgers were set out. I got one cold piece of pizza and they had already ran out of veggie burgers when I came in from a lap.
My continuously running nose! Needless to say, I left many a DNA sample along the course. More annoying than anything else.
Thanks To: The great folks and their products that keep me going. Generation UCAN,UGo Bars, Elete Electrolytes, Pro Compression Calf Sleeves, Bombas Socks, Salomon and Orange Mud Hydration