Friday, September 5, 2014

Burning Man is an Ultramarathon

Burning Man is a week long event in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  It's nearly 70,000 people and a massive collection of art, music and anything anyone is possibly interested in doing/seeing/being.  No matter what you are into, you can find it out there.  Seriously, anything can be found, google it.  So, naturally, there is an ultramarathon.   

The first crazy/amazing thing about the race is how well organized it was.  Put on by Cherie Bomb and the Pink Lightning camp, there is no registration fee, but with Burning Man's gift economy, there was STARTER medals, 2 finisher medals, an awesome race tee, fully stocked aid stations and the best post race meal I have had. 

It was a big race!  There were over 200 starters.  In a typical city of 70,000 people, odds are that less than a handful would be interested in running 50k.  There must be significant crossover between people nutty enough to make it to Burning Man and people nutty enough to run an ultra.  The competition was stiff too, even though we were all out there to party, a lot of people were putting pedal to the medal.  Burners are tough.

We started just after 5:00am in the dark lit by hundreds of roaming lit up art cars, dozens of music stages with lasers and pounding music, random fire blasts, and thousands of people and their bikes lit up like Christmas trees.  It was kind of like running through a rave if the venue was more than 5 square miles.

We ran first along Esplanade, which is a sort of Main Street, then we go out to the "Deep Playa", which is wide open desert punctuated with occasional burners, random art cars, and huge roaming sound stages like Robot Heart. I paused at a few sound stages to dance during the first of four total loops. 

Starting at 7:00 and G, to Esplanade, Left at 10:00 and around the edge and back through 2:00 and E and around again 4 total times.
Robot Heart at Dawn.

Running through the desert at dawn is truly stunning.  The rising sun shining through the alkali playa dust is dark orange and glistening. 
Coming back around on the first loop there were still tons of people out dancing and cavorting.  Once they realized there was a race going on we received some of the most enthusiastic encouragement I have ever seen.  I only took one or two shots each loop of the dozens being offered.  Sometimes the gift economy can be overwhelming. 

On laps 2 and 3 I realized that even though this is Burning Man it's still an ultramarathon and still a very long way.  I tried to keep up with the leaders on lap one but quickly realized I was outmatched.  For the rest of the race I went between 4th and 8th place, chatting with a few of my competitors, including a guy only wearing shoes and a camelback, and another guy who was running his first ever ultra just after finishing an Ironman triathlon.  Like I said, there are a lot of tough people on the playa. 

Lap 4 HURT.  My legs were screaming.  The surface of the playa in most places was concrete hard and bumpy from some rain and hail we had earlier in the week.  Where it wasn't hard as concrete it was a fine sand that got in between your toes and under toenails.  Still, I was motivated to finish as best I could, both to perform well, and also finish before it got too hot.  Hours after I made it in there were people still out there making a go in 90 degree heat and unforgiving Sun.  More hard core stuff.

About four hours and fifteen minutes after starting, I finished in 7th place.  Woo Hoo!  I loved the experience, and can't wait to go back.  Over the rest of the week there were many, many crazy sights, sounds and stories which I won't go into here. But, if you see me at the bar or out at the races I am happy to share my experience.  On to the next one.

Thank you to everyone for making all the amazing swag!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Christmas in July 24 Hour

The Christmas in July 24 Hour Race was one in a series of races including a 6hr, 12hr, 5k and 10k that started with the 24hr at 10pm July 15th.  It was a one mile loop in a scenic park in Lisle, Illinois.  The race producers went all out with the Christmas theme, there were trees and lights everywhere, giant inflatable snowmen and Santas, and tea lights lit the whole course.  Loli and I came dressed appropriately:

Ho Ho Ho
Loli was going for her very first ultra and I thought I had a good chance of a win and maybe a shot at beating my 24hr PR of 130.2 miles if the weather stayed cool like it had all week. 

It was fun to start a race at night instead of way too early like a lot of races.  The only problem was starting at night meant that we were going to have to be awake longer than if we just woke up and went straight to the race.  I tried to sleep in but failed miserably.

I went out fast, stupid fast, but wanted to have some fun in my Shanta suit before it got too hot.  I ran the first lap in 7:30, then took the suit off and slowed down to a slightly less stupid 8:00-8:30 pace.  The only person that stayed with me in the early miles was Chuck Shultz, good friend and fellow finisher in our 410 mile length of Illinois run.

It was a festive atmosphere with a couple hundred people on a one mile loop, we were all constantly passing each other.  I thought it might be getting hot once the sun came up, so I wanted to get as many miles in as possible while I could.  By the 12hr mark at 10:00am I had around 75 miles in and was in the lead.  I felt comfortable about my lead, the only person I was worried about was Heather Zeigler, who was still in striking distance.

It was also getting hot.  The week before had been cool, but it looked like we were going to have a cloudless day in the 80's and we were running on a blacktop surface.

Ah! It burnnns!!
By this time I could tell there wasn't going to be a shot at getting a PR so I switched to my hot weather gear, slowed down some and switched to my all liquid diet which is easier to digest in the heat:

Mmmm, Ensure and Jim Beam.
Meanwhile, Loli had been moving all night long as well.  I thought she would rest or even sleep through the night but she just kept going and going.  I could see the concentration on her face.  Her strategy was to count the lights and then the flowers along the course to distract from the pain.

401, 402, 40- Shit! Where was I? 1, 2, 3...
By mid-day the heat was getting to all of us.  People were starting to drop like flies, bodies littered on cots and under trees.  Loli finally had to stop and lay down on a cot and Chuck called it a day.  I kept going but was slowed to a crawl.

I thought people might catch me but if anything I was getting farther ahead.  Around 18 hours in I was miserable and far enough ahead that I decided walking might be more fun.  It was!  Mostly because Loli had risen from the dead and decided she wanted to keep going to see if she could get 100k.  100k!  2.5 times as far as she had ever been in non-ideal conditions. 

Still Smiling.
Mercifully, the Sun finally started to set and it cooled a bit.  I think we might have even ran a few more miles slowly and painfully.  I think the only person who actually ran the whole day was Juan "Machine" Juarez, who ended up in 2nd place and I think a PR of 103 miles or so.

At the 23 hour mark I had had enough and called it a race at 110 miles.  First place! And one of the most interesting awards I have ever received:

Yes, that a three foot tall nutcracker.
Loli decided that it wasn't really a 24 hour race unless you went as hard as you can for 24hrs so she put in a few extra miles at the end and ended up with 66 miles.  Amazing!

Thank you everyone!  It was a good time and well organized, I probably will be back next year.  Also thank you Hersh and Nate for the pics and the memories.  See you at the races!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Indiana Trail 100

The Indiana Trail 100 was my first 100 mile race since the Florida Keys 100 in May of 2012.  In preparation for running some obstacle course races in 2014, over the winter I added 3-4 days of week of Crossfit or Spartan WOD's (Workout Of the Day) to my workout routine.  Going into the race, I was happy with my training and managed to not get injured.  Below was my basic training plan.  I wasn't able to get in every workout each week due to work and social life but most weeks was close to the below.  Maybe I need more social life.

Monday: AM: 4 mile run to work, Midday: 30-40 minutes variety of weights, PM: WOD + 8 miles

Tues: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: WOD+8-15M

Wednesday: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: 10-25M

Thursday: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: WOD+ Speed/Track

Friday: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: WOD+8-12M

Saturday: 30-60M

Sunday: Off (Sunday Funday!)

It was high volume training for sure at 80-140 miles per week, and the WOD's definitely added muscle, especially in my shoulders and around my legs.  I estimate I added 10 pounds of muscle compared to the fall.  It was enough that there are several shirts and pants in my closet that I can't fit into any more.  I was happy with this, but from a practical standpoint I didn't know if this extra weight would help or hurt my 100 mile racing.  My hope was that the extra leg strength would protect from all the pounding in the second half of the race, but the proof is in the pudding!

Our race weekend plan was to wake up at 12:30am Saturday morning, drive 3 hours to Indiana from Chicago for the 6:00am Eastern race start, run the race, chill out for a couple hours, drive 3 hours back to Chicago and somehow make it to work Monday morning.  This would not have been possible without the badass help from my crew chief and pacer, Loli.  Loli went two nights in a row with almost no sleep, drove for hours, ran almost 30 miles and was wonderful at keeping my pace and spirits up.  This is her out running when it was -16F this winter:

Isn't she beautiful?
Race day was perfect weather, 50 at the start, mid 60's during the day.  The course was 6 17ish mile loops of rolling hills, very pleasant.  I started off in the front pack of about 8 people but I was not sure who was running the 50 or 100 mile versions.  My plan was to take it relatively easy and try to land soft while keeping my pace up enough to keep the adrenaline pumping.  I didn't bring a watch or pay attention to my place during the first half of the race to keep myself from going out too hard.

The first lap went by nice and easy in 2hrs 33mins, well ahead of my goal pace of 18 hours.  The second lap also felt great, best I have felt in the first third of a 100.  The second lap I floated in around 2 hours, 34 mins. 

Feeling fine on the first loop

The 3rd lap was also going smooth and I was starting to think I was going to breeze through this thing when reality came crashing.  Somewhere around mile 40 I tripped hard going downhill, rolled off the trail and slammed my left knee into a tree.  I screamed in pain and surprise, got my bearings, and gingerly stood up to inspect the damage.  The tree got me squarely on the side of the knee.  I could barely walk for several steps and seriously thought my day was done.  I kept at it though and after a while I was able to get a limping stride going over the next 10 miles.  I finished the third lap in 2 hours and 48 minutes with a 50 mile time of 7 hours and 56 minutes.  I was well ahead of my goal time, but I was banged up and the problems were just getting started. 

Starting the 4th loop I realized I was in first place!  I had had a hunch I was leading but I wasn't sure until the 50 milers were off the course.  Loli now joined me for a few miles, which was nice, I had hardly seen anybody the first 8 hours of the race.  In addition to my knee trouble, my stomach now started to bother me.  I couldn't eat and could hardly keep water down.  I had a long pit stop in a porta potty and I lost first place, I think to John Trout.  I struggled through lap 4 in 3 hours and 2 minutes and was actually pleasantly surprised by my lap time considering how awful I felt.

Lap 5 started out as a slog but as the sun was setting and the air started to cool, I started feeling better!  I put my head down, turned my brain off and just went, zenning out as best I could.  I found that if I went faster and kept my adrenaline pumping, I felt better than if I slowed down.  So away I went.  I finished the lap in 3 hours and 11 minutes, back in first place and feeling fine.

Starting the final lap I knew I had a substantial lead, probably at least 30 minutes so my plan was to keep my head down and the pace up but not too crazy as the sun went down.  The loop was relatively uneventful except for a few face plants in the dark.  I think I fell a total of 15 times over the course of the race, I was completely filthy and beat up by the end.  I really am clumsy at these things.  Damn nature.  Loli joined me again for the last 5 miles and we came in to finish with the win in 17 hours and 42 minutes.  My first 100 mile win and 100 mile PR by more than 2.5 hours!  Hot Damn!

Except for the bang in the knee and the relatively short amount of time with GI problems, this race was comfortable from beginning to end.  The first time I have ever felt so comfortable at this long of a distance.  I thought 100's were supposed to hurt!  I guess I should have gone faster.  There is always next time I suppose.  Thank you to everyone who made it possible, I will see you out on the trails!