Monday, December 8, 2014

Rocky 50K in Philadelphia

Rebecca telling everyone to quiet down because people are sleeping

Sure, it was only two weeks since my 50 mile at JFK, but I wasn't about to pass up a free, local ultra. In college I'd never pass up an opportunity for free food (okay, I'm technically still in college and I still don't pass up such opportunities). Anyway, now that I run a lot, I'm never going to pass up the opportunity for a free race. But this was so much more than a free race. It was a community event for a good cause, a chance to meet a bunch of fellow crazy Philadelphians, a fun way to see more of my new city, an opportunity to take part in a budding Philly institution (this was the Rocky 50k's second year), etc. 

As you might surmise from the name, this run is named after Rocky Balboa from the Rocky series, and it traces his absurd route from the training montage in Rocky II, in which the Italian Stallion is seen running from his home in South Philly, along railroad tracks in North Philly, back through the Italian Market in South Philly, back in Northeast Philly, out west, in Old City, etc., finally ending with a rush up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. See below.

Last year a writer for Philadelphia magazine traced the route on a map, and the awesome local Rebecca Schaefer decided to put the run on for real last December. It was apparently successful, and so it was back for Round Two this year. After some legal scuffles with MGM, that is.

About a hundred of us met in South Philly near Rocky's "home" before 7 a.m., and at the count of three we were off. Almost right away a fellow sandal-runner I'd met briefly during the Steamtown Marathon caught up with me, and we chatted for most of the first half, along with some of his friends from Pineland Striders, a South Jersey running club. This aspect of the run proved to be the best: The whole time I was around at least one other person, which made the whole absurd thing a lot more enjoyable, especially when my foot was hurting to the point where I contemplated dropping out and, of course, when it started pouring from mile 20 to the finish.

Passing Geno's. I'm on the right. Photo by Everett Scull
A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

The fire hazard is real.
The route took us all over the place. Past Geno's famous cheesesteak joint, past the flaming barrel in the Italian Market, all over North Philly (twice), through Fairmount Park, including the cemetery where Adrian's fictional gravestone is, through Center City and Old City and up the Ben Franklin Parkway to the museum. All along the way, there was a nice mix of people who knew what we were up to and people who were wondering what the hell we were up to, which got us cheers and jeers and question marks.

A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

Anyway, two new friends and I kept it together for the final 10 miles or so and brought it in to the top of the museum steps. I had to dig for some perseverance during the final miles, but it was such a rush finishing, as usual. Once we stopped running it was super cold, though (given the rain), and then I had to bike home, which was funny. I guess I finished around five-and-a-half hours, which isn't half bad given I was taking it super easy and we had to deal with the heavy rain and lots of stoplights. First road ultra in the books!

I was overjoyed to be part of such an awesome new tradition... The whole thing brought my appreciation of Philadelphia to another level. Can't wait for next year!
A video posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

Monday, November 24, 2014

Four Years of Running Progress

This month marks my fourth anniversary of running. It was back in November 2010 that I ran my first 5K at the behest of my mother, who got most of our family to run around the Milwaukee County Zoo. Back in those days I couldn't run a 5K without taking a walking break, and it was only a few months before that that I ever ran more than a mile at once. We've come a long way, baby.

I put together the chart below to see my progress at various distances over the years. Phew!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Second 50-Mile Run

Yesterday I faced the 50-mile distance again. "Face" isn't quite the right word; I was super excited for it. There wasn't a hint of nervousness... Most of all I was grateful for the opportunity (and luxury!) of spending the whole day outside doing something I love to do. (Of course, the "love" part of it comes in waves...)

The weather was perfect: The day started out a bit chilly (okay, quite chilly... my toes were numb while I was waiting to start), but immediately once we got started, I felt great. The temperature slowly climbed up to the mid-40s, and it was sunny or partly cloudy the whole way. Couldn't have hoped for better weather!

The course was challenging in so many ways. The first two miles were uphill country roads, and then we entered the Appalachian Trail and went uphill some more. The biggest climbs happened in the first five miles, but the next ten miles had some solid ups and downs. Since the rest of the course was flatter, I wasn't sure how I should pace myself: Do I go out really easy and pick up speed on the easier terrain? What happens if I poop out or cramp up—will I wish I went fast while I could? I decided to just follow my breath, doing my usual four-steps-in-four-steps-out, nose only. I told myself I'd allow mouth-breathing after mile 25, but in the end I didn't really need to at all. I think I paced it pretty perfectly.

The Appalachian Trail was crazy. It was entirely obscured by dead leaves, and here and there you could see the rocks jutting out from beneath. It took a lot of focus to choose my steps, but it was a lot of fun for the first 10 miles or so. After that it was a bit mentally taxing, but at least it wasn't boring. The first three hours just whizzed by. Toward the end of the trail segment the rocks got crazier, and the final half-mile or so was switchback trail going down the side of a cliff that was virtually entirely made of rocks. Trying to keep going fast while stepping prudently while not flying off the edge of the cliff was exhilarating. And I didn't fall once! I was proud of myself for that, especially because I saw plenty of other people take dives, and I also got an unfair share of heckling for wearing sandals. Yes, heckling: Usually people make amused comments, but people at JFK50 tended toward the rude side, which was surprising. But joke's on them, because it turns out sandals are the perfect footwear for treacherous trail running ;).

End of the Appalachian Trail portion. Photo by Joseph Stretanski on Facebook.

After the trail was the Canal Towpath. Somehow I was woefully misinformed in thinking this was a three-mile portion of the race, but it turned out that it was 26.3 miles. Lol. The towpath is about 10 feet wide and runs perfectly flat on a ridge between the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Potomac River. At first it was a nice break from the crazy focus required on the Appalachian Trail, but it quickly became monotonous. It all looked exactly the same, so it was sort of like running on a weird twilight zone treadmill or something. Luckily I had some captive conversational partners to pass the time with. I met a guy from the D.C. area who was running his first 50 and we talked from about mile 20 to 27 and then we ran into each other again after mile 42, and we finished together. I met another Luna Sandals wearer, and a handful of other people whose conversations punctuated the crunch crunch crunch of the dead leaves that coated the path. I hit the marathon mark around 4:30, which was a good sign for a sub-9-hour finish.

Near the start of the endless towpath. Photo by Stalina Gibson on Facebook.

Somewhere along the towpath. Photo by PA Sports Lens

Finally at mile 42 we pulled off the towpath and onto the country roads. This was nice because it broke up the monotony, but it was not nice because it meant hills. Normally I like hills, but after already having run 42 miles they bring mixed feelings. So I walked up the big ones. I probably would have walked a lot more, in fact, if I hadn't re-run into my D.C. friend, since I am super lazy and really good at talking myself into walking. But I'm so glad we kept each other in check, because it meant finishing faster.

Eventually I finished in 8:48:43, averaging about 10:30/mile. I finished 163/789. I was so happy! My previous (first) 50 mile did not go well; I cramped up halfway through and had to hobble onward, finishing in 10:30, so this was nearly 2 hours better.
A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

All in all, this performance was almost perfect, I guess. My pace was sustainable (and I think I did that part well, since I kept seeing the same people throughout the entire 50 miles). I didn't have any stomach cramping (I made a conscious effort to eat slightly more than I felt I should, which still wasn't terribly much... I'm discovering Coke and M&M's work well for me). My muscles didn't cramp up at all either. And though there were plenty of struggles, the struggles were merely mental. Well, not "merely." Mental struggles are the worst. I felt tired after about mile 10, and just slogged on for the next 40 miles. I constantly wondered whether I started out too fast and if I would make it. I briefly entertained the idea of dropping out at an aid station because I was too tired to keep going (and also it would mean, presumably, unlimited access to cookies and Coke). But somehow I put those thoughts away long enough to dupe myself into finishing, and I'm so glad for that. I didn't have any let-me-die-already or I'm-never-running-again feelings on this one, so maybe that means I didn't push it hard enough. Whatever... What I wanted at this race was to beat my previous time and to finish feeling good, and I achieved that. Knowing that I can finish a 50-mile feeling good is tremendously important, and I think it's an important milestone into fine-tuning my performance in future outings.

The best part about JFK 50 Mile was the volunteers! The aid stations were plentiful (just frequent enough, in my opinion), and the volunteers were helpful and ebullient. There were always the old standbys you could count on (water, Coke, M&M's), and then enough variety here and there to mix it up (hot soup, potatoes, homemade cookies). It was always a treat hitting an aid station (literally).

Course highlights: Beautiful trail. Volunteers!

Course lowlights: Having people right on my butt on the single-track was stressful! It kept me on edge, even though they didn't really want to pass. I also found myself in close proximity for most of the race to this manic middle-aged woman who shouted and screeched the whole time about random stuff, which was annoying...

Right now I can't conceive of running 100 miles, but I guess we'll see what happens when I give that a go in March. Right now I'm thinking I like marathons best of all and 50 Miles are alright by me, but I'm skeptical of 100s. But we'll see! After all, my first marathon experience was objectively horrible, but I've been coming back for more and more.

PS: I discovered after I got home that I got my first blood blister! Nothing serious... just a little "growth" on the middle toe of my left foot.

Monday, October 13, 2014

25-Minute Marathon PR for my 25th Birthday

A day later, I still can't believe it.

I still remember clearly the long, seemingly endless struggle to finish a marathon in under four hours. The disappointment that always shaded the should-be joyous accomplishment of finishing a marathon. Of finishing my first marathon—then my second, third, fourth. And, of course, I still remember the first 17 years of my life, when I couldn't manage to run a mile, and the few years after that when all I could run was a mile.

The four-hour wall crumbled for me last October when I ran a 3:45 marathon. That was a 28-minute marathon PR for me. I did another marathon a few weeks later, which left me injured for several weeks (oops). After that, I did a winter trail marathon, a winter 50K (my first ultra) and then my first 50 mile, so it's been a while since I took the opportunity to have a go at a road marathon.

Going into the race, I vaguely figured I was in even better shape than I was last October, so I should have no trouble beating my 3:45 time. And yet, there was something in my mind suggesting that 3:45 could have been a fluke... After all, I'd only done it once, and my eight-marathon average finishing time was 4:30. Looking back at my training also made me a bit skeptical of myself: My pace during my long runs averaged 9:30/mile or so, on a good day (though I made a point of running them at a casual, relaxed pace), and my easy runs often dipped slower than 10:00/mile. In order to beat my marathon PR, I'd have to exceed about 8:30/mile on average. It seemed like a tall order.

There were a couple redeeming aspects of my training, though, that gave me hope that I could quash my 3:45 PR: I did speedwork twice a week—usually an interval session and a tempo session every week. And I was doing very high (for me) mileage, averaging 70 miles a week for the past few months. My tapering for this marathon took me down to 50 miles a week, which about a year ago was my mileage on peak week. Finally, this summer I ran two road 5Ks that resulted in two big PRs: First, I ran 20:30, then I ran 19:48—achieving my longstanding goal of beating 20 minutes. Later in the summer I ran a neighborhood half marathon where I made a point to run casually and not exert myself in the first 8 or 9 miles, and I finished in 1:45—nearly beating the PR that I had worked so hard to earn last year, almost hurling in the final mile.

So I made my way up to Scranton for the Steamtown Marathon, slept in a smoky motel room and sat on the bus to the starting line. Talking to a few people pre-race (people love approaching me to talk about the sandals...), the majority of the advice was to run conservatively the first half, which was mostly downhill, to save up for the second half, which had some climbs. I think this advice (which was mirrored in countless emails from the race director) caused a lot of people to go way too slow on the downhills. Thinking back, I remember passing a lot of people on the long downhill stretches (some were a few miles long), and then in the final three miles of the race I also passed a lot of people—and only one person passed me, and that was in the final half-mile.

Still, I heeded the wisdom of not going out too fast, and I made sure that for the first half of the run I would only breath through my nose, and make every inhalation last at least four steps—same with every exhalation. This is my way of keeping my heart rate (and, by proxy, pace) in check without having to use a watch or anything. Another innovation I practiced during this race was to not look at my watch for the first half, and then only after mile 20.

The course was stunning. As a point-to-point race in hilly northeastern Pennsylvania, it was pretty rural. And at this time of year, the foliage was gorgeous. The course took us through a few towns with lots of interesting architecture in their centers, and there were plenty of cheering spectators along the way. (Which meant shouts of, "Flip flops!?")

The course was so beautiful! Such autumn! Forgive the awful photo; I didn't want to stop. But you get the idea.

I was nervous coming into the half. I knew I was trying not to push it, and I felt relaxed. If I was going to beat my 3:45 marathon, I needed to hit the halfway mark around 1:52. What would I do if I got to the half and I was way behind? My problem turned out to be the opposite: I got to the half at 1:39, which was better than my previous half marathon PR. Now I was a bit nervous: What if I couldn't keep it up?

The next several miles whizzed by. Literally, I guess, because I was going faster than I thought I had any business going. I decided to keep up my conservative breathing routine till mile 15, when I would allow myself to take only three steps per inhalation. Around mile 18, I allowed myself the occasional mouth-breath. I knew I was almost done, but the final six miles of a marathon can be brutal if you didn't save up gas.

When I hit 20 miles, I was astounded. My time then was 2:33, meaning I could take 12 minutes per mile for the rest of the race and still beat my 3:45 PR. (If I did my math right in my semi-crazed state.) That was very comforting. And now that that was in the bag, I decided to be a bit more ambitious: I only had 6 miles left, and I was feeling good. Since I knew I'd beat my PR, I was the king of the world. The question was how much further behind me the next guy in line would be. So I decided to ramp it up and see what happened. The idea popped into my head that I might be able to finish in 3:20, which would put me at 25 minutes better than my previous PR. Considering it was my 25th birthday, I couldn't resist.


I started inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth, consciously increasing my turnover. I felt a few twinges in my calf muscles, which really scared me—should I back off? When the twinges came I did back off for a few minutes, but then I forgot about it and my speed crept back up. In the end, I had no cramping or pains or anything to speak of. In the final miles, I made a game of reeling in the runners ahead of me. I passed so many people! I kind of felt bad (but kind of not) for all the people who were struggling up the hills, because I was just cruising. I was on Cloud 99999999 and nothing could have been better.


I finished in 3:20:35, making my 25-minute PR. I gathered up some food from the post-race feast (it was seriously plentiful) and went to lie down in the grass. What a great birthday present.

Time to sit in the grass for a while after a great marathon.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Best Supplement for Fast Recovery from Running Injuries and Overtraining

Along my running journey, I've had my fair share of injuries. Back when I was training for my first marathon (when the farthest I had ever run was 5 miles and I was pushing my body to new extremes every week), my knees started flaring up, my calf muscles ached and I experienced regular plantar fasciitis. Looking back, it's a wonder I kept up with the training... I made friends with ice packs and ace bandages, I started rolling around on tennis balls, and I took ibuprofen to ease the pain. More than anything, I just got used to the fact that running was going to be painful.

Fast forward two years, when running is mostly pain-free. Sure, a big part of that is having a better training base by now. I still get a strain or tweak every now and then... For example, my two October marathons left me unable to run for a month and a half. I no longer resort to drugs like ibuprofen to help (especially during runs) because they can be harmful for distance athletes... so what's a runner to do?

I have since found a solution to help speed recovery: a blend of powerful natural anti-inflammatories: turmeric, ginger, yucca root, licorice root, agar and black pepper. Simple, yes, but surprisingly effective.

Sure, you can buy most of these as spices and mix it up into some sort of concoction and drink it up, but that's a lot of trouble... And you better make sure you're getting quality ingredients, because the typical spices you find at your grocery store are not only irradiated (lowering their nutritional quality), but they also may be invisibly moldy and have been sitting around a while. I make sure the herbs I used are fresh and organic, meaning they'll be the most effective for what I need them to do. And I take them in capsules for easy consumption.

If you want to get in on the action, check out Get Back Up. It's the only product of its kind, and you can buy it online right now. It's all-natural, made with organic ingredients, and offers an effective blend of the herbs I mentioned above in easy-to-swallow capsules. It's the product I use personally, and I recommend it to anyone who takes running seriously or who really hates being injured.

Here's my personal protocol: If I ever feel a twinge of pain coming on, I take 2 to 3 capsules after my run (or right away if I'm not running at the time). If it's really bad I'll take another 2 to 3 that evening. It's always best to take them with food—particularly a fat source—because the herbs need to bind to lipids to be used by the body. Usually that squelches whatever injury was beginning to sprout, but if there are still symptoms the next day, I'll continue that protocol until they're gone. If it's a big monster of an injury, I'll take up to 6 capsules in a day.

I've also started preemptively supplementing with these herbs around tough workouts and races. I'll follow the protocol outlined above for the few days leading up to a marathon, or just on the day of a really key workout. And then after a really big effort, I'll take a few capsules. So that's my secret to recovery from running injuries, if you can call it a secret.

I've had great success with this herbal blend, and I've been fine-tuning it over the last several months. Since I've been following the protocol outlined above, I haven't had any injuries that stopped me from running—that's huge for me. I ran my first 50 mile this spring and was back running long the next weekend. It's great stuff.

Check it out!

Monday, May 12, 2014

50 Miles

It sure was a beautiful day, but I kind of wanted to die.

Every so often I like to reflect on my current affairs: "If someone told me a year or two ago that I'd be doing this today, what would I say?" Living in Warsaw and later in Madrid... writing a master's thesis about capital letters... walking around an island in Wales for a week... living at home for a year after getting home from abroad (see?—it's not always glamorous). I have a habit of finding myself in unexpected places.

Me at mile 9. Don't get mistaken by the easy-looking terrain... after this 9-mile loop that all changed.

Here's a peek of the single-track trail. Sure looks nice. It wasn't all this casual, though; most of it was endless hills and turns.

This weekend I had another one of those moments. I was running my first 50-mile race, a distance that not so long ago was truly unfathomable.

The first 30 or so miles were a cakewalk. I guess that's how it is when you have so long to go. My favorite part was this old guy bouncing around and shouting about how wonderful life was and how he felt like a little kid again and I thought that was really cool. I remember wondering to myself if it would ever get difficult—I pictured myself at the finish line remarking at how much easier it was than my first marathon—and then it occurred to me that maybe if it wasn't truly difficult, it wouldn't have been worth it.

And then I got my wish. Around mile 30, my legs started cramping up. First it was just a little spasm on my inner right thigh that eased up with a bit of walking. Then it was the left. A few miles later it was everything. By mile 35 I couldn't really run except for 30-second intervals every few minutes, leaving me to power-walk-slash-hobble for the remainder of the course. And then it got worse: Some parts of the course were so steep that even walking induced cramps, and a few times I was almost immobilized for stretches of a few seconds. And amidst all this my stomach was fighting its own battles, and I felt vaguely like I'd be throwing up in the next hour (though I never did). But I kept going, because I don't know why. It just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

I carried on. Around mile 49 my legs got a little happier and I was able to run through the finish. I finished in 10:37:56, so I made the 12-hour cutoff and got my awesome belt buckle. Through all the 30s and 40s I felt like such a failure. I had planned on finishing in 9 hours (conservatively!), and somehow I managed to screw it up. But then, once I finished, I felt really good. Like really good.

Me after the finish, still standing

Finisher's belt buckle

To learn from anything, you need to analyze what went wrong. As usual, there were countless challenges  for me in this race.

  • It was a hot day, peaking in the high 70s, whereas it'd been in the 40s and lower for weeks (though it did start out beautifully in the 40s and 50s). I guess I should have been taking some salt tablets along the run (I didn't until like mile 35 when an aid station guy suggested it). I think those helped ease up the cramping. 
  • It was a tough course, and it was back-loaded: The first 9-mile loop was on easy ski trails, the next 26-mile segment was on rolling single-track, and the final out-and-back had the highest climbs and most treacherous turns of all. 
  • Maybe my training was on the minimal side (I had a couple 70-mile weeks, but no run since my February 50k that was over 24 miles). 
  • I still haven't mastered ultra-nutrition; I tend to do fasted training runs and I just haven't focused on in-race nutrition enough. 
  • I think pacing might have come into play; since the easiest part was at the beginning, I figured I should take it a little faster while still trying to keep a realistic pace given the remaining distance. All said, I started out around 9:30/mile, which was probably simply too fast. By the marathon mark I was around 10:30, and I fell apart shortly thereafter. (Granted, I'm not convinced the cramping was entirely due to speed.) 
  • And of course it was my first 50... going up a distance is always something of a crapshoot. 

I distinctly recall promising myself that I'd never do another 50 (or was it that I'd never run, period?), but I'm already planning one for the fall. I really am hopeless, aren't I?

Other Things to Work On:
  • Fine-tuning 50-mile nutrition plan
  • Figuring out what drop bags are for 

  • I hit the 26.2-mile mark and I felt like I hadn't even gotten started. My watch read 4:40, meaning if that had been a marathon event, it wouldn't nearly have been my worst.
  • When 50 miles started to seem like too long a distance for me to go, when those thoughts of dropping out crossed my mind, I told myself that if I kept being such a baby I'd have to run home after the race, which would be another 50 miles. It made the first 50 miles seem a bit easier.
  • When my brain got to smart for that little trick, I told myself I'd sign up for the Kettle 100 in a few weeks and that if I couldn't even finish 50 miles then that one would be truly horrible.
  • I brought my iPod as an in-case-of-emergency device, but I didn't really need it. For a bit I thought I did, but that only lasted an hour or so. In retrospect, I think that was my lowest point in the race mentally, and I don't think it was in spite of the music, but rather because of it.
  • When it got really hard, I focused on thinking of things that I was grateful for. Even in such strange adversity, there's much to be grateful for. That helped a lot.
  • It must be easier if you have loved ones crewing for you. I didn't feel like I really needed supplies or anything, but getting to see a familiar face every now and then would have been nice. 

It's now two days after the fact, and I still feel different. This race shook me down to my core. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but I wonder if I'll ever be the same. When you get to the point where you'd honestly deny all the money in the world for the simple chance to just sit down—even for a minute!—you're not so quick to come back from that place.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to Ultrarunning

Suddenly 26.2 miles doesn't seem all that far to run. What a strange thought. Although I shouldn't pretend I didn't think about throwing in the towel yesterday as early as mile 19...

Still looking pretty chipper. This was in the first 10 miles.

My first 50k was just about as hospitable as my first trail marathon a few weeks ago—terrible, that is. We ran on snow-covered trails (with a layer of ice beneath the snow) as more snow yet continued to fall. (Fortunately it was up to 15 degrees... Just a few days prior we had -15 with bitter winds, so I'm grateful I didn't have to run 6 hours in that!) With every step I took my foot slipped a few inches back, and it was easy to get discouraged. Even so, I somehow convinced myself to carry on. (It wasn't easy. Actually, it was probably the hardest thing I've ever done.) The course consisted of five loops, and with each loop we checked in at the aid station/shelter/finish line. It would have been so easy to just stop... especially when it became clear that each loop was going to take longer than the last.

I finally finished in 6 hours and 15 minutes, coming in 31st of 78 finishers. I was glad to finish, if a bit appalled by my time. But if you take into account that the first-place finisher came in at 4:40 or so, I guess it wasn't all that bad. It also turned out that I was the youngest one there. (There were two 25-year-olds, and everyone else was older.)

What did I learn? (a.k.a. rookie mistakes... You'd think this was my first run ever.)

  • Don't do a strenuous back workout two days before a race. My lower back was tired from the start, and I was fantasizing about lying down for pretty much the entire race. (Granted, an easy fantasy to achieve.)
  • Don't eat new things on race day. I thought I'd give this herbal vitamin supplement drink thing a try, and I think it really upset my stomach.
  • Don't eat too much the day before a race. I was still pretty stuffed the morning of (I woke up before 4 a.m.), but I still wanted to eat breakfast so I shoved some more calories down the gullet. This certainly also contributed to some of the stomach upset I was experiencing.
  • Don't eat snow. I was a bit thirsty (or bored?) and there was snow everywhere, so I thought, "Why not?" It was fine the first two or three times, but my gloves quickly froze and my hands got pretty cold. Luckily I had a spare pair in the shelter that I picked up the next time I checked in.
  • Cramps aren't always a death knell. My first marathon was sabotaged by debilitating cramping around mile 15, and I've known the cramps every once in a while since then. My legs started cramping up during the 50k, and I was able to assuage them both physically and mentally so that I could keep running. Nice!

What do I still need to learn?

  • How much should I eat on the run? When I do marathons, I have a pretty good system. I have a Vespa before I start and around the half marathon mark, I typically eat part of a Clif or similar bar somewhere around the half, and I sometimes eat another small thing around mile 20. But with trail marathons I'm out there so much longer because of the slower pace, and I still haven't nailed how much or when I should be eating. This is something I'm going to focus on in training.
  • Mental game. Ultrarunning seems to take an awful long time, and it's clear that I need to work more on the mental aspect. I'm going to start taking more runs without any audio (Typically I listen to podcasts, but I generally do one run a week with nothing. I'm going to do more, longer runs this way.) I'm also going to get back to my daily meditation practice.

All in all, it was so great to once again run farther than I ever had in the past. It's something I hadn't experienced since my first marathon. And I suppose I won't again until the Ice Age 50. It does seem a bit crazy to be planning to run 20 miles more than I just did, especially when I haven't yet recovered and I'm still quite in shambles, but that's just how it goes. A seasoned ultrarunner and new friend who I talked to after the run said it well when he calmly told me, "You're ultra."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Muddy Welcome to Trail Running

What did I get myself into? About a mile into the race, I noticed a few dozen runners ahead of me, stopped. When I got closer I could see why: There was a stream, about 12 feet wide and a bit over a foot deep, and a row of stepping stones that people were waiting in line to cross single file. The line was long and I worried about losing too much time waiting, so I didn't know what to do. Do I want to get this wet, this early? Whatever—I jumped in, along with another couple of runners, and plodded across.

Soon I was glad I didn't waste time waiting back there, because as the course progressed it became clear that there'd be no way I'd make it through dry and unmuddied anyway. So I ran the next 25 miles with shoes full of water (free refills all day!), and it actually wasn't as bad as I feared. Maybe I was just distracted by all the hills (5800 feet elevation gain), slip-and-slide mud tracks and refreshing streams... The course had a four-mile out-and-back from the start and back to the finish, and a six-mile loop that we ran three times. And with each lap the mud got worse and worse; even by the second time around I wasn't running so much as plodding through muddy puddles (six inches deep for the most part). At least the weather was perfect: forties and overcast.

It was my first trail marathon, and though I'd "trained" on "trails," I was completely unprepared for this. And it sounded like everyone else was, too; even Tecumseh Trail Marathon veterans were taken aback by the conditions of the last-minute course (the traditional, point-to-point course was deemed too treacherous given the recent snowfalls, meltings and refreezes). And not to mention that my training base was a bit lacking; I couldn't run at all in November and half of December because of a calf strain (perhaps a result of my ambitious double-marathon October). Of course, I'm extremely grateful that the race, originally set for December 7, was rescheduled for January 11, because back in December I'm not sure I could have finished it. Even now, with such a sketchy training base, I wasn't sure how it'd go.

And I ran this race in shoes—the first in over a year, because I didn't think huaraches would be the best for icy conditions, especially since I don't have any good toe socks. And even though I didn't anticipate the mud, I don't think the model I have would have performed well in such conditions either... so, though my feet were cramped up and sad the whole time, I guess shoes were the best choice I could have made with what I had.

But I surprised myself: My energy was pretty even the whole time, at least until mile 22 or 23 when I had to take a walking break to bring in a strong finish, and nothing cramped up or hurt. And there was another surprise for me at the end: I placed third in my age group and got a nice little plaque.

So, it was a really nice day! First trail marathon and first time placing in my division. Hopefully this is the start of many more of both. Oh, and this (Indiana) marks the sixth state I've run a marathon in. On my way to 50 (plus D.C.).

Up next on the docket I've got: My first 50k on February 1, another 50k at the end of March, and the Ice Age 50 Mile on May 10.