Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile 2012

This is the fouth time I have run the Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile race.  It is the first ever ultra I ran back in 2006, a race I won in 2010, and as the only ultra in Chicago I feel like it is our home race to defend.  Because of these factors, unlike most ultras, I tend to treat this race as a race to try to compete and win, rather than a personal challenge to overcome the distance. 

The race is four 12.5 mile out and back segments along the lakefront, very flat and other than being a bit windy it was great weather, around 40 at the start and into the mid to upper 40's through the day. 

At the start, I took off quickly to see who would come with me and right away there were three of us that pulled away a bit from the group.  I was in lead for the first 6 miles, then was passed by someone I didn't recognize, and he quickly pulled away.  I was happy with the speed of the first lap of 1hr and 27 minutes.

I started the second lap in second place with first place pulling out of sight.  I was not too worried however, because I had a feeling he was out running himself, and we had a long way to go.  This turned out to be true, after the turnaround at mile 18.75 he was nowhere to be seen.  I am not sure if he dropped or just stopped for a while but it was the last time I noticed him, so I was back in first place 1/3 of the way through the race, thinking maybe I could go the rest of the way uncontested.  No such luck, after only a couple of miles in the lead, I was passed by Alex Leon.  Alex looked very comfortable and very fit and I thought "uh oh".  I ended the 2nd lap at the 3 hour mark, happy with the time, but a quarter mile behind Alex.

During the third lap the pain started to settle in.  In was really great to have the physical and psychological support of Bridget and the dozens of New Leaf Ultra Runners who were volunteering at the main aid station.  Despite all the encouragement, I was slowing down and Alex disappeared into the distance.  I finished the third lap with a dissapointing time around 4 hours and 47 minutes, about a minute a mile slower than my previous laps.

Starting the 4th lap, I resigned myself to second place.  I was well behind first, well ahead of third, and frankly I was exhausted and in a huge amount of pain.  My goal was to do my best to maintain my pace, and I was going to be happy with the results.

Suddenly, with 7 miles to go I saw Alex a quarter mile in the distance.  Out loud I groaned and said: "Oh Shit", because I knew that I had chance to catch him, but it was going to be hard as hell.  Then I said my mantra to myself: "You didn't sign up for this thing because it was going to be easy.", and vowed to give it my all.

With 5 miles to go I had closed the distance and decided that I needed to pass him with authority and get as much distance as possible to make him think I had plenty left in the tank, with the hope that he would give up the chase, because I didn't have anything left in the tank at all.  I passed running under a 7 minute mile pace.

As soon as I passed Alex I saw Bridget and Sabine, who had been coming my way from the New Leaf aid station.  I am glad that they did because I desperately needed fuel and I couldnt slow down for the aid stations or I would never get back to speed again.  Because of her help I was able to get a few gulps without slowing down.

With four miles to go I had opened up a decent lead but the wheels were starting to come off.  My legs were on fire, which was expected, but the real problem was cramping and the loss of what I will call "mental control".  I would get light headed and kinda lose where I was for a minute, then snap back to reality.  Inside my head I was screaming at myself to "wake up!" and "focus!" and "hold it damnit!".  At the same time I was cramping, it started in my calves, then my hamstrings, but also my stomach and abs, shoulders, neck, tongue, face and even eventually my forehead.  I didn't even know that was possible, a cramp in my forehead. 

My head and body kept tilting to one side as I got light headed then I would force myself back straight, desperately trying to keep a reasonable stride so Alex would not be aware of my travails.  The cramping tounge made it difficult to swallow, and combined with the minor head cold I had, made for a slobbery mess.  It couldn't have been pretty.

After what seemed like a lifetime I was finally able to start smelling the finish line about a mile away.  For the first time I chanced a look behind me to see how far back Alex was.  I didn't see him and the thought: "I've got it", ran through my head.  At the thought of "I've got it" a surge of adrenaline rushed through my body.  Usually, a surge of adrenaline at the end of a race is a good thing, helping propel me to the finish line.  However, my heart rate was already racing and I was already lightheaded, so as soon as I thought "I've got it", I veered off the path and nearly fell over.

I took several stumbling steps forward, completely out of my head, trying to force myself straight and to relax and get my heart rate under control without completely stopping.  After a few seconds, I was running again, although much slower.

With a quarter mile to go I could hear Bridget and other people screaming at the finish line.  The race ends with a very short up hill and at the bottom I nearly came to a complete halt because I took one walking step and almost fell over.  I ran up the hill hunched over, leaning to the side.  With 5 yards to go I collapsed to the ground as people screamed "NO!!" and continued across the finish half crawling, half rolling on the ground in 6 hours and 33 minutes.

After getting across the finish I dragged myself to the side and started a terrible cramping fit which much have looked bad based on the looks on the faces of race management.  A minute later, Alex finished.

Now that was a race!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keys 100

Bridget and I ran the Florida Keys 100 May 19th and 20th running from Key Largo to Key West.  It was epic! 

This blog post is going to be a bit different than my previous race reports.  First off, there are a lot more pictures.  Bridget and I both took pics along the way.  WARNING: The pictures get more gruesome as they go on. 

Also, I am going to pass the writing off to newly minted 100 mile badass Bridget Nord!  My race was interesting, it involved bloodshed, delerium and a sub 24 hour finish.  However, I think Bridget's day was more entertaining and epic.  I will have you hear it in her words.  Take it away Bridget!:::::

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year's One Day

Instead of partying till dawn New Year's Eve to New Year's Day and then jumping into the frozen Chicago Lake Michigan like we did last year, this year, Bridget and I decided to travel to San Francisco and run from 9:00am NYE to 9:00am New Year's Day in Coastal Trail Run's New Year's One Day.
To take advantage of being back in the bay area, we arrived a couple days early and were fortunate to get reservations at my favorite restuarant, Chez Panisse two days before the race and then we spent the whole day before the race in Napa doing the Wine Train and visiting the Grgich Winery. Several glasses of wine the day before a 24hr race is good for carb loading right?
I have run this course before although not on New Year's. The first time was in 2008, which I was fortunate enough to get my first ever win and do 130 miles. The second time was in 2009, where I stopped at the 12 hour mark with around 78 miles and an achilles injury, probably brought on by going out too fast.
The training leading up to this one went very well. In October, my office moved to a building with a gym so in addition to my nightly runs I was able to start running the almost 4 miles to and from work plus workout at lunch time. This let me run more miles at a faster pace and more overall. I had several weeks in a row of 120-160 miles. My two main goals for the race were to do well competetively and best my previous distance of 130 miles if possible.
Race day was perfect weather: low 60's and sunny during the day, high 40's at night. It was great to see a lot of friends from the area running the race and cheering us on. 9:00am hits and off we go.
Right at the start two people jumped ahead of me, moving fast, really fast. The person in first seemed to be doing seven minute miles, which seemed sorta suicidal in a 24hr race. I didn't want to make the same mistake I had made on this course previously so I was determined to take it easy and just go at my own pace. Fortunately, my easy pace was still eight to eight and a half minute miles. The extra miles at faster pace seemed to have lowered my 'taken it easy' pace. I later heard that the person who jumped out at seven minute miles was using this race to qualify for Boston, then he kept running most of the rest of the race! Although he did slow down later, I couldn't imagine trying to keep running all day after completing a hard marathon.
The course is a 1.061 mile loop at Crissy Field, which is a beautiful area in San Francisco with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay and the San Francisco skyline, over and over and over, etcetera. It's flat and ideal for getting in big miles, although it is a mental challenge with all the repetiveness of it. Fortunately, the runners and especially the volunteers were amazingly nice and helpful which definitely brightened the day during the hard spots.
I finished the first marathon in around 3 hours and 30 minutes, well ahead of my goal pace but feeling easy. Also, Bridget finished her first marathon in under 5 hours! Amazing, especially for someone who has not been doing long distance running for long and has not run an actual marathon, she just decided to be hardcore and go straight for ultras.
By midday, things were not feeling so easy anymore. Pain was setting in big time and I was doing 9-10 minute miles. Still ahead of goal pace but feeling like there was a long, long way to go. Timed events are difficult mentally compared to distance events because no matter how fast or slow, the finish line marches toward you at the same terrible pace and I was letting that fact get to me. I was also getting lapped, and by nightfall I was in 2nd place 3-4 miles behind and getting further. I was slowing down and felt like my goals were slipping away.
Then, just when I was thinking I was going to be slowing down more and more and more, something changed. First place, Chikara Omine, suddenly slowed to a crawl. Almost literally a crawl. He must have seized up terribly because he was moving like a slow motion zombie. It looked very painful. Chikara is an amazing runner, much more accomplished than myself, and while I felt his pain, seeing the chink in his armor gave me an energy boost and I was back running a good pace. Also, my friends Devon Crosby-Helms, Nathan Yanko, Brett Rivers and Larissa Polischuck all stopped by which was great to see. Brett and Larissa even ran a few laps with me, which was really helpful. Around the 14 hour mark, I took the lead.
As New Years approached, party boats started to fill up the bay. I found out that there was going to be fireworks at midnight, cool! The 6 and 12 hour races also started so that they would be ending at midnight, so there was quite a party atmosphere. Right at midnight, about 90 miles in, we stopped for a toast of champagne, which was the first time I have had champagne at an aid station, kinda nice.
After a quick 10 minute break at midnight, it was back to the work at hand, and by 100 miles in 17ish hours, it was once again a grind. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, begging for the sun to rise. The nice part was I was walking a little bit every now and then and I would get to walk with Bridget for a while, which was nice company. I was also now far ahead of 2nd place, over 10 miles. To keep myself motivated, I pretended like 2nd place was closing in so I could use the fear for energy.
Finally, the night ended. Around 7-8am I heard someone closing in on me, I had been pulling away from the whole field since before midnight so it was a bit of a surprise since I thought I was still moving at a good pace considering the distance. It was Bridget! She was still running after all this time. We ended up doing the last several laps together, ending the race with 126.3 miles for me and 80.6 miles for her. Bridget got 3rd place for the women and I was 1st place overall. Rock!
I felt pretty good at the finish, I usually roll around on the ground in pain and exhaustion after a 100+ mile race, but I was able to stand for the awards. Bridget was definitely feeling the pain though, she was nauseated and not able to stand up. Fortunately our friend Gasper Paluzi was kind enough to basically carry Bridget to his car and give us a ride to the hotel.
Off to the next adventure! I think Bridget caught the ultra bug, because in the airport on the way home she was talking about doing her first 100 miler! We have our eyes on Stay tuned!