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Chuckanut 50K – March 16, 2013

BETTER THAN NOT BEING ABLE TO

Wow, this event was bigger than I thought! I parked in the annexed field surrounded of freshly mowed tall grass, and knew the parking lot must have resembled a can of sardines from an aerial view. The field’s new driveways or throughways were beginning to look more like a BMX track, as the muddy tire tracks started to showing up more and more. Everywhere you looked, the runners and spectators hop-scotched their way over the muddy water. I found myself leaping over the puddles of rainwater too, in hopes of keeping my feet dry for as long as possible. It didn’t occur to me that my feet would inevitably get soaked that day, but if you’re like me it’s instinctive to go around.
After registering and getting my bib pinned on, I was feeling the familiar tightness in my chest as the anxiety of the daunting Chuckanut 50K race settled in. 50K means there was 31.5 miles of course for over 350 entrants to run. Approximately ten minutes before the race started, the weight of all my anxiety sank in on me. I knew I needed to make a quick trip to the row of portable facilities/Porta Potties before the race began, and of course, there was a short line waiting for me to stand in – the chain of shame.
As I returned from the Porta Potties, I could only hope that holding my chin up would recapture a little of my dignity. But I had no time for that as the starting signal sounded and I had to high step it to the back of the pack. The race was underway! You would never guess that it was an ultra marathon race judging by the sprinting pace that these world class runners in the front started out with.
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A large part of my strategy for this race was to be the last runner to cross the starting line. I did not want the faster pack of runners to start me off with a pace that would be too fast and would prevent me from finishing. I read another ultra-marathon runner’s blog, and he suggested not starting out any faster of a pace than what you expected to finish the course with. I was hoping to finish with approximately thirteen minutes per mile pace, so that was my target starting pace.
As I crossed over the starting line in last place, I pushed the start button on my Garmin wristwatch to start the timer, and continued my walking. I wanted to walk for about three minutes of the initial course, but I ended up spending more like five or six minutes walking instead due to the congested narrow trail full of others also walking the first part of the course. The narrow walking path created a huge bottleneck for more than 350 runners who were trying to start the race.
Once the first mile was behind me, I was able to comfortably fall into my interval running pace. I did eight minutes of slow running and then I dropped down to three minutes of a very slow jog. I judged that in doing this, I was able to run and recover each mile. This is not a normal approach for 50K runners, and I noticed that I was the only one using it. I’d pass a couple groups of runners and then on my jog, the groups would pass by me. This cycle of leap frog continued for seven miles, until we reached Aid Station #1. Water and refreshments were in bounty at the station. This point was just a little over 7 miles into the 50K distance. The sleeping Chuckanut Mountain was up next for the runners.
I felt that I successfully ran the opening part of the race. I wanted to avoid the’ too fast too early’ syndrome that trips up so many rookies. Based on the hour and nineteen minutes showing on my wristwatch, I had successfully ‘paced’ myself to avoid this incarcerating snare.
After a climb to Fragrance Lake, there’s a friendly trail that eventually drops down to Cleator Road. Here’s where the next group of volunteers are stationed to assist the ultra-runners. I commented to one of the volunteers, that “I was six minutes ahead of my schedule.” The volunteer replied, “Well you have time for a nap!” Hmmm, False!
When a distance runner stops for refreshments at the aid stations, they will typically find lots of available water, nutrition packets, and electrolyte products, but I found it surprising to find soup and crackers, candy bars and 2 liter bottles of Coca-Cola. I think I’ve served less food at my Super bowl parties! One of the volunteers took it to task to encourage us runners to continue on down the trail after a minute or two at the station. I guess too many runners thought it was an all-you-can-eat buffet.
As I resumed the course, I found myself on a gravel road that headed up the mountain at a pretty steep grade. I found myself singing Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” What started out as a slow jog up the hill eventually grinded down to a power hike alongside the others who were already walking up the hill. After awhile, I decided to start a very slow jog to see if I could move ahead with my standings in the pack.
After grinding out several miles, I came upon Aid Station #3, but I didn’t want to bother stopping for any of the refreshments. I was still feeling full from the breakfast cookie that I ate during one of my power hike sessions. This point on the course marked the top of the mountain. I had topped the highest point of the Chuckanut 50K course at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Ahead were seven or eight miles of up-and-down switch backing the trail into thick forest. One experienced runner referred to this section as the technical part of the course. I thanked myself for spending a few weeks training on this section. I had learned some tricks where I was able to catch up to a group of runners that weren’t as prepared. After following them for a while, I was able to pass several runners at a wide spot. (A month after this race, I analyzed my race weakness and found this was a part of the trail that I needed to focus training on for the future.)
There’s a turning point midway between Aid Stations #3 and #4 on this technical part of the course that leads you back to the point where you started out. At this turning point, there are virtually two ridge trails – one that takes you north along the top of the mountain and the other that drops a little bit in elevation and brings you back south.
20.5 mile mark/Aid Station #4 was a good reality check for me. Even though I was able to stay ahead of my premeditated schedule at the previous check points, I found myself a good 12 minutes behind schedule at this station! The mountain did what it’s good at – it wore me down. Another eye opener was when I approached the station, I noticed all the volunteers were crowded behind the tables and keeping themselves under the awnings out of the rain. I was so focused on the race that I had no idea how hard it was raining! As I walked up under the awning, I was drenched by the water pouring off the sides. Yeah, my shoes were hopelessly soaked. My whole body was drenched at this point and I didn’t even care. I just wanted to make sure I refueled sufficiently to get me back to the finish line some 11 miles ahead of me. I hurriedly refilled my hydration pack, and reloaded my energy gel packs. I tried to get back on the trail as quick as possible in response to being behind.
The conditions of the trail had changed. It was no longer that meandering trail along the mountain side. The name of the trail is descriptive enough, “Chinscraper.” This trail demanded more walking, well…hiking, climbing, clawing up a very ‘soupy’ trail. Every second of the heavy rain only made the trail more slippery. Seconds turning into minutes of rain only meant that the muddy slippery trails developed little trickles of water streaming down the middle. Minutes of rain lasting for hours, transformed those water trickles into rushing streams of water, forcing most of us runners off the trail onto the rougher sides of the trails where you can find better traction.
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It is a hard thing to realize when you notice you’re walking in a race and the water is running. But, the top of the mountain that lay ahead was a huge milestone. Once I reached the summit, it meant that the rest of the course was either all downhill or level ground to run. Chinscraper was a total of 1.1 miles but it ate up over 20 minutes of my total course time. Note to self for future reference: train on this hillside more for next year’s race.
Coming down the mountain trail behind 200 or more other runners and tons of rain, left me with…WELL… mud soup. I tried to avoid the muddiest part by cutting some of the tangents on the inside corner of the trail switchbacks. This didn’t go too well for me near mile 25. Some of the runners that I had passed earlier on caught up to me after I slipped, fell and then rolled down a pretty steep slippery trail. One of the runners offered to help me up, but I kindly refused. My right calf muscle had cramped up tight during the fall. After spending a couple minutes stretching out and massaging the cramp, I pulled myself up and started stumbling down the trail again. It was not a pretty sight. I discovered later that I literally had mud everywhere.
I eventually arrived at the bottom of the mountain at the familiar Aid Station #1 again. I was now 25 minutes behind my schedule. I had intended to do my interval run/walk cycle that I started with, back to the finish line. But, being so far off my projected schedule, I surmised that I could make up some time by running all the way back at a nine-and-a-half-minute per mile running pace (again: false.) I held to a pretty good pace for four to five miles but I had neglected to hold to my nutrition and fuel plan. One and half miles out from the finish line, I experienced what ultra marathon runners call, “Bonk.” Bonking is when your body is out of glucose or sugars, and can’t produce anymore due to lack of a fuel source. Your body’s only option is to shut down. I was forced into walking. My mind told me to run, but my body would not let me. It’s a devastating feeling when you bonk. You feel disappointment and regret. You know what’s going on, but it’s too late at that point. I kept walking and felt a little better after a ways.
I took my backpack off and found my last GU gel pack buried at the bottom. I consumed it and waited a couple minutes or so, and then started with a very sluggish jog that sped up to a slow jog. Comparatively, this painful running felt like an old steam engine train using every ounce of effort to spin wheels only to grind ahead inches in its struggle. After a mile or so, I heard the music and the crowd at the finish line. That was the shot in the arm I needed to pick up the pace for a strong run across the finish line. My time was seven hours, twenty eight minutes and a few seconds. It was over. My wife and daughter were there to see me finish. Whew! Yea, I had very little energy left and looked pretty bad with mud from ear to ear, but…I still think it was better than not being able to run 50K.

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T-minus 120 Hours (Chuckanut 50K Race)

Chuckanut 50K Header
It was Monday morning when I started the timer for my first 50K race at http://www.timeanddate.com/countdown. Just 5 days before the monster distance footrace challenge before me, and I wanted to share my thoughts and contemplate the 50K race experience during the intermediate of all the training I put into preparing and the actual event that takes place on March 16, 2013.

My intent is to follow-up the event with a post race blog that will allow a comparison of the before and after this undertaking. Quite frankly, I don’t want to forget the feeling of apprehension that I feel just before taking on a really big challenge. In this day, there’s few better ways than to etch your words into the stone of a free blog page on the Web.

I don’t think an hour passes without my mind going to the 8:00 am start time on Saturday’s event. I am glad that I prepared with all the trail runs on the course, including the Saturday a week before the race where I went and started my training run from the start line area. But, the apprehension creeps in and takes over my thoughts because I don’t know what the area will be like with all the participants crowding together facing towards the course ahead of us.

I imagine that most endurance runners shared my moments when they doubt themselves. I think that self-doubt is normal. Future opportunities in life just naturally raise questions that we don’t have answers, which is fertile for self-doubt. But, what I found is that if I start over with those questions from the beginning, I can give myself a positive pep talk. This allows you to adequately address the questions with the confidence of answering them with the training that you’ve put into preparing for the challenges.

The haunting question, “How will you manage the slippery slope of hydration?” I don’t want to hydrate too-little too-late.” I’ve trained over 150 miles using my CamelBak. If you sip this down starting early and don’t get behind, you’ll be fine. My plan is that I will incorporate the hydration opportunities provided along the course at the Aid Stations, since I can’t carry enough fluid for the full 50K distance or timeframe.

What about the unforgiving issue, “How to avoid the too fast too early?” I don’t want to get to 24-26 miles and realize that I’m going to “tank.” My plan is to use the interval running at approximately an 11:15/ mile pace for the Interurban trail (6.5 mi at the start & 7.0 mi at the end.) I spent several training runs honing this interval run to ensure that I don’t let the pace drop too low and at the same time be able to incorporate a very generous rest cycle in my running to avoid over exertion in the race. Mantra: “Stay with the plan!”

How will you dress for the weather conditions? Layers, layers, layers. I’ve got enough Tech mesh Running shirts that I acquired from Goodwill that I could even shed layers on the run as I pass aid stations without a care of ever seeing those shirts again.

Of all these questions and concerns that could overwhelm and raise self-doubt, the one that interests me the most is, “Will you have fun running 31.5 miles?” TSSSHA! Yea. Smiling and doing antics for the course Cameraman. Smiling and taking in the highpoint vistas from Chuckanut Mountain! Smiling as I tell myself over and over during the run: “This is what you do! 50K” I guess this is a great way to end this post, “Chuckanut Mountain, Bring it!”

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Overcoming A Runner’s Secret Fears – part 4

Here’s a continuation of my blog series of things that come up on a runner’s journey and how I deal with them:

Dread

Have you ever had that feeling as you set out on a run that you might not have enough steam to make it all the way there and back? You know what I’m talking about – running out before running all the way back. Running out of energy the last few miles and being forced to walk, instead of run, back is never the plan but it IS a real possibility if you don’t pace yourself.

I know personally that I dread those long runs where I started out too fast at the beginning only to discover towards the end of the run that I was inadequately prepared with proper hydration and/or nutrition. My advice is to start out your longer runs at a slower pace. Slower at first may yield faster at the end. Another piece of advice is to visit websites that offer ways to be properly hydrated and fueled for longer runs. One of my favorite sites is Runnersworld.com.

What are some ways you manage your long runs?

Pain

Running, like many sports, can be plagued with injuries, exhaustion, queasiness/nausea or other discomforting feelings no one wants to have. I’ve dealt with my share of maladies. To be honest, it hurts after I run. My legs and knees ache a lot for a day or two after my long runs. Sometimes it is difficult to walk, and especially painful when I have to climb stairs. One of my fellow running mates commented on how he becomes nauseated on his half marathon races. Frankly, compared to the comfort of my home, running has to appeal to a different part of my psyche or I just wouldn’t do it.

Overcoming these obstacles is often both emotional as well as mental. Sometimes, the success of overcoming them is part of the reward.

Facing and overcoming challenges is how we move forward, and why we have so many notable sayings and motivational quotes available to us. Some of my favorite ones include:

  • The hardest part is staying out the front door
  • Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started
  • Real athletes run others just play games
  • My feeling is that any day I am too busy to run is a day that I am too busy

Have that conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, “what might be secretly keeping me from getting out there?”

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Overcoming A Runner’s Secret Fears – part 3

More thoughts on the things that come up on a runner’s journey and how I deal with them…

Teeth and claws

A friend of mine, who is a trail runner, once passed by a mountain lion that was crouched behind a bush, living in southern California.  Hmm… so I had to ask my friend: did you regularly go for runs in a wildlife and game preserve?

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Outdoorsmen wisely remind themselves of the potential encounters with wildlife on their outings. Runners, beware of what might be sharing your route. If you are visiting an unfamiliar location, it would be worth your time to talk with the local people about the terrain you’ve chosen for your run. Trusted friends and relatives are great sources to learn from about the wildlife in their area.

***Avoid situations where you might cause wildlife to feel trapped or threatened by your presence. Most wildlife such as mountain lions can sense your presence long before you see them. So, one great suggestion I’ve heard is to be loud while in their territory, just to give them that extra edge in sensing me there. I always try whistling or talking aloud along the way in hopes that I will be able to eliminate the situation where the dangerous animals have to react out of surprise. I just want them to have plenty of time to slowly move on their way.

Maybe you’ve heard advice such as make yourself look as big as possible when you encounter a wild animal. If you are familiar with the comedian Jim Gaffigan, you might have heard his sketch on avoiding bear attacks. Jim questions who came up with the idea to lay down and play dead? The bears?

You might consider Google-ing how to avoid such attacks, especially if you live in wildlife prone area. What are some of the suggestions you’ve heard about avoiding the risk of an animal attack on your daily runs?

***Disclaimer: These cases may be more complicated than they appear. This information is in no way intended as professional advice on how to avoid animal attacks. Each encounter with animals and wildlife is different, and the application of what is contained on this blog site requires each person to carefully analyze their situation and handle those situations according to his or her own judgment. The information contained on the blog site is for general information and educational purposes only. This information is not legal advice or is not guaranteed to prevent

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Overcoming A Runner’s Secret Fears – part 2

Here’s a continuation of my blog series of things that come up on a runner’s journey and how I deal with them:

Mean Dogs

Dogs are great, but not so much when they start chasing after you as you pass their driveway on a distant country road. Five miles into one of my favorite long runs, I find myself running by a house with a really large dog that loves to chase anyone who passes by. Immediately, the dog’s loud barking fills me with intimidation; doubt about my safety and the dog comes to mind. Can I trust that this dog won’t bite me? I don’t know this dog. I’m running, so naturally a dog could interpret this as me being afraid. Why wouldn’t a ferocious dog continue the chase?

During one of my runs, I remembered a trick my father taught me when I was a young paperboy. This is one of those secrets that I believe even the Special Forces would love to learn. It’s easy, quick and very quiet. I’m about to tell you this one and it is dawning on me that I might be able to use it as material to be highly paid for special ops training. Well, since I have your attention now, here it is: ***stop walking or running. Then, turn and face the direction that the dog is approaching. While the dog is still a safe distance away (10-15 yds.), stoop down and touch your shoe, posing as though you are reaching down to pick up a rock. Make sure that you keep your watch fixed on the dog the entire time. Instinctively, domestic dogs will switch to a defensive mode. They sense danger and change to that cautious animal that is posing itself for retreat.

An option is to go with the same movements, but to include an actual rock or object. You know just in case it comes in handy. How do you deal with aggressive dogs while you run?

***Disclaimer: These cases may be more complicated than they appear. This information is in no way intended as professional advice on how to avoid animal attacks. Each encounter with animals and wildlife is different, and the application of what is contained on this blog site requires each person to carefully analyze their situation and handle those situations according to his or her own judgment. The information contained on the blog site is for general information and educational purposes only. This information is not legal advice or is not guaranteed to prevent an attack.

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Overcoming A Runner’s Secret Fears – part 1

This is the first part of a series that I will be sharing on the things that come up on a runner’s journey and how I deal with them:

Slithery Things

My fear of large snakes along the roads and rice paddies in rural Thailand most certainly contributed to my challenges in running while I lived overseas. According to Wikipedia, Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. The word comes from the Greek word “ophis” which refers to snakes and “phobia” meaning fear.

Here are two pictures that bring up the feeling of fear and dread within me just at the sight:

So, how does a runner with this phobia cope in the farm country of northern Thailand? I lived in Chiangmai, Thailand from 2000-2005. One of the main things that helped me mentally cope with this challenge to my running was how I dealt with my fear so that it became less of a problem for me. I knew this part of the world was habitat to many dangerous snakes and reptiles. I had to eventually put my trust in the local people who took responsible for controlling the snake population. I eventually concluded that it would be best for me to run in the local communities where I knew and trusted my neighbors and could feel confident that they were diligent about removing these slithery creatures.

I can report after living in Thailand for over five years that I only encountered a Cobra in our yard one time. It was disturbing but I didn’t let it affect my lifestyle and activities outdoors or around the house. I actually found a neighbor who was willing to come over and deal with the snake. He successfully captured it and took it out to the local rice field. All that mattered to me was that it went away.

I believe as we cope and overcome our fears that we become more confident, and our fears become less threatening to us. But each of us are different, I hope you are able to overcome your phobias.

What are some of your phobias and how do you deal with them?

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Running 26.2 miles in over 80 degrees

ImageDanya Crawford – ran the Boston Marathon on April 16, 2012 with a finishing time of 3:21:00
“I don’t blog and very rarely post on Facebook but I ran a marathon today, the temperatures were in the high 80s the entire time. I feel like it would be fun to share what I learned, so for all you runners out there here are the things I did and as a result had a really good time.” – Danya
  1. Hydrate and consume more salt then usual the couple days before the marathon.
  2. Adjust your goals pick another race a few months down the road and use this one as a training run.
  3. Adjust your pace, I went just over a min slower than race pace and it felt really good.
  4. Walk through EVERY water stop and consume a little Gatorade and water. P.S when you feel like the Gatorade is going to make you vomit that’s when you need to drink it most (small sips).
  5. I took a gel about every 30 to 45min, I didn’t consume the entire gel but I feel like a little bit often is a good thing.
  6. I also took a supplement called Sport Legs an hour before and one hour into the marathon. I didn’t suffer from any cramping which has been a struggle for me in the past.
  7. Put glide all over your feet to prevent blisters (you will be dumping a lot of water over your head so your feet will be a lot wetter than normal).
  8. Don’t start day dreaming at mile 6 about how great it would be to still PR because the heat is not really affecting you and you feel great. Those guys are lying on the side of the road vomiting at mile 16 (not fun).
  9. HAVE FUN! You’re running slower than normal so this is your chance to high five the kids, have a conversation with someone, kiss a girl from Wellesley (if you’re a guy running Boston).
  10. Last but certainly not least pray your guts out that your body will be able to make the necessary adaptations for you to make it through the conditions that you are in.

From the Blogger:  Thanks Danya for sharing these awesome tips.  We appreciate your love for running and enthusiasm for our running community.  – Joe