Sunday, December 30, 2012

Run Like the Wind - 12 Hour Race Report

Training for a 100 mile trail race means lots of long, self-supported training runs, which can be challenging to execute without significant planning … or, my preference, finding races that match your training distance and enjoy a long, catered training day.

My training plan called for a 40 mile run on December 1 or December 8, so I had the choice of running either the old Sunmart 50 miler in Huntsville or the 12 hour Run Like the Wind (RLTW).

Running Huntsville would have been great prep for Rocky (same course), but Mark (co-conspirator for Rocky 100) was only available December 8. I could have run Huntsville solo, but if you are going to run 100 miles with someone else, you better train long with them as well. Also, secretly, I really wanted to try RLTW … the .6 mile loop really appealed to my anal retentive nature and I liked that it was a format that I had never tried before.

The .6 mile loop had a lot of character, twists and turns and tree coverage so it was actually quite enjoyable. It only took 89 laps to have it fully memorized!

I have to say I was a bit unsure how to mentally tackle the 12 hours, other than to break it into smaller segments, which was still a bit overwhelming the first couple of hours. There were four races happening simultaneously – the 3, 6, 12 and 24 hour races, so for the first 3 hours the course was pretty full. There was a significant drop off at the 3 hour mark and then again to a lesser extent at the 6 hour mark. Mentally, at 6 hours, I had to stop myself from saying, “you are ONLY halfway there”. There were probably 20 of us between the 12 and 24 hour race so for the last 6 hours the course was pretty quiet. The nice thing about the short loop though, is that you still see people often.

Ultimately, we broke the race into 4 mile blocks (that’s when we stopped for food), trying to mimic the distance between aid stations at Rocky Raccoon. Ironically starting slow made my legs feel heavy, like they were missing much needed pep in my step, but I knew it was going to be a long day and that most of the people flying by me in the early laps were running much shorter races. It was a pretty warm day too and I just wasn’t feeling awesome, I was ok, but tired. I ended up taking a 5 Hour Energy around the 3 hour mark that definitely helped my mood and thankfully it didn’t make me sick (I had tried 5 Hour before, but not running).

It’s funny, the first 3 hours felt long, but when the clock actually hit 3 hours, it was a bit of “wow, already 3 hours!” The next 3 were similar. It got dark between 6 and 9 hours and the race totally changed. With the drop in temperature, Mark and I both started to feel a lot better. If there were any “bad” hours they were early in the race and then again somewhere in the 8 to 10 hour range. The last 3 hours felt like they passed the fastest with the last hour passing in a blur.

Our families who dropped in and out throughout the race were there for the last hour and a half, and that helped too. We typically walked the .6 mile after eating and my boys joined us on one of those laps and loved it. Flashlights in the dark on a foresty trail – how fun!

We passed the time by coming up with funny names for the various turns on the course and coming up with nicknames for some of the other runners – mainly the 12 and 24 hour crew.

The turns were named (in order):

-Trashcan Turn
-Trash Can 2, Electric Boogaloo (aka The Sequel)
-Orange you glad there are chairs there (aka the retreat)
-Smoke'em if you got'em
-Agility Alley
-It’s all downhill from here
-Delirious decisions
-Wrong Turn
-Toilet Turn

These names evolved over the 12 hours and two of the names came in the last hour, so it really was an all day activity.

Some of the fun nicknames for the other racers – Happy Feet (Austin who was always in a good mood), Bacon and Eggs (dude had cool skull tattoos on his triceps that were made out of bacon and eggs), Vibrams (Dat who did the race in Vibrams) and we were named by Austin the “Dynamic Duo”.

Speaking of Dynamic Duo … one big realization I walked away with was that the only thing harder than running 50 miles (and later 100), is running those miles with another person (or more specifcially the same other person). The company is great and to be clear, I wouldn’t trade it, but the flip side to that is that it is unlikely you will both feel good at the same time, bad at the same time or have to stop at the same time for things like bathroom stops. This works for us but it takes serious commitment to stick together.  Just ask Mark how he felt when I was sick in the woods earlier this summer at Reveille Ranch and he watched the majority of the field run by.

Back to RLTW, the race director, Sam, is an AMAZING cook, and he does a heck of job catering this event. We ate well every 4 miles (and obviously could have done so every .6 miles). Gourmet grilled cheese, ham and cheese, burgers, veggie burgers and the staples like PBJ and boiled potatoes … and so much more.  I seem to recall various pastas and lasagna.  Oh and delicious potato soup!

Bottom line, I highly recommend trying out this race format and I give this particular race an A+ for support! We got t-shirts (not technical, which is my preference) and medals (all finishers received the same medal) but the real gem is in the core support crew that was ready, willing and able to make sure we had everything we needed.

Oh, as for results, we ended up with just under 53.4 miles (my longest run ever!) in 12 hours, which was good enough for 2nd and 3rd place overall for the 12 hour race (in an admittedly small field)!

Another step closer to the Rocky Raccoon 100!

Top 12 of 2012

The end of the year for me, like many others, brings reflection.  In years past I have totaled my mileage for the year or graded myself on goals set versus progress. 

I came into 2012 without any major goals, a fact which I struggled with quite a bit, so that means no report card ... and I didn't keep track of my mileage as well as I have in the past (I seem to be getting a bit more relaxed), so my reflection of 2012 is a look back on reminders, lessons learned and pearls of wisdom I gained over the last 12 months. 

Oh, and for those of you who are new here, I did finally stumble across a few goals for 2012, including a big one which will spill into 2013.  This summer I raced several short triathlons (even placing in my AG!) in an effort to go fast and have fun while searching for a bigger goal ... which is running 100 miles at Rocky Raccoon on Feb 2/3, 2013.

Without further ado, in no particular order ...

1 - Completing a race and racing a race are very different feats. 
This one might be obvious to the rest of you.  I "knew" this already, but I really experienced it this year.  In my 100 mile preparation I have used a lot of races as training runs.  Going into a race that is really a training run means finishing the race with something left in the tank, sometimes a lot left in the tank.  This makes a huge difference in how I feel the days after the event.

I did do some racing this year, mostly short triathlons and the Chicago Half Marathon.  I PR'd the Chicago Half at 1:44:14 without a lot of speed work to prep.  I had a good mileage base because I had already started my Rocky 100 training, but the weekend of the race I played tourist walking around Chicago and the weekend before I did a 60K.  Race morning I decided to jump in with the 1:45 pace group and hold on as long as I could ... and I held on!  My legs, however, were trashed for days after the race.  Compare that to the 12 hour race I did in November where I logged 53 miles and felt absolutely fine the next day.

2 - Making time for recovery is important.
I never used to pay much attention to recovery, in fact I lamented about not having time for recovery back in 2009 when training for IMFL.  I don't know if my age is catching up to me or it is simply what I am asking my body to do, but I am finding that I need recovery.  Rest days, foam rolling, the stick, and most importantly, my NormaTec Recovery Boots.  I can say with confidence that the boots have made a HUGE difference in my training and recovery.  Check out my product review on the boots for more info.

3 - Learn to be flexible with your nutrition.
Consider this ... you spend your season dialing in your nutrition.  You have it down to a science and you are ready to execute your well researched plan on race day.  You start the race and all is going well ... but at some point become turned off by your nutrition of choice.  Now what?  Practice variety and you will be ready.  I know that I will be racing for 24 to 30 hours at Rocky so I am planning for the unexpected.  My staples will include a variety of PowerBar products (link for product review), PBJ, boiled potatoes and potato soup. 

4 - It's all in your head.
Fear.  Doubt.  Pain.  Your mind will play tricks on you if you let it, so don't let it.  In the words of Christopher Robin to Pooh, "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

I put this into practice at the Reveille Ranch 60K when I was sick to my stomach with a twisted ankle and a blister the size of a half dollar.  Check out the linked race report on my experiences of overcoming pain and adversity during a race.

5 - There's more than one way to skin the cat (no offense to the cats).
Another obvious one.  For every person training for a triathlon, marathon, ultra, there are another 10,000 people training for the same aforementioned event and they are doing it differently than you are.  Find what works for you and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.  I have to repeat this mantra when I find myself comparing my weekly mileage and race schedule to others training for Rocky.

6 - It's all perspective
Whether I am running 4 miles or 50 miles, the last 2 miles are my "victory lap".  If I set out to run 4 miles, running more than that would feel like a chore, but if I set out to run 20 it isn't a chore.  It's perspective because it's all in your head (see #4).

7 - Everyone needs a little help sometimes
Everyone starts as a rookie.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  I feel really lucky to be a part of some pretty incredible organizations like Rev3 Triathlon, Bicycle World and Fitness and more recently Tejas Trails.  I learn so much from my teammates and other athletes that I race and train with.  Social media makes it so easy to get connected to others that have the same interests and goals that you do.  Finally, to quote Dr. Seuss, "Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."

8 - Support those that support you
See #7 and #12

9 - Don't just go through the motions
I know that I am guilty of this one.  Do speed work on speed work days and hills on hill days.  Time on your feet, in the pool or saddle all matter, but pushing yourself is what makes your better, faster and stronger.

10 - Size matters
If your dreams don't scare you, they may not be big enough ... also see #4.

11 - Don't be afraid to try something new
My kids are so bad about this, I have no idea where they get it? 

Kids: Mom, that looks soooo gross. 
Me: Have you tried it? 
Kids: No.
Me: Try it! (followed by bribes or threats)
Kids: Hmmm, that is good.  I want more, please.

Once upon a time there was a girl who did all of her running on the road because she didn't think she liked running on trails (or even a dirt path).  That girl is running 100 miles on trails in just over a month.

12 - Pay it forward
I love this one.  A good reminder for all of us.  Pick up a piece of trash on the trails, give away that encouragement you got when you really needed it to someone else who needs it.  Give away a gel if someone is without, share your extra batteries, tissue ... you catch my drift!

That's it ... those are mine.  I would love to hear a few of yours!

Monday, December 17, 2012

PowerBar Energy Blast - Product Review

Since starting my 100 miler training, the most frequent questions I get are:

1 - Why?
2 - How long will it take?
3 - How and what do you eat?

I don't have a noble answer for #1, really it is just because I want to do it.  #2, Rocky allows you up to 30 hours to finish.  Other 100 mile races have different cut offs.

Now, for #3 ...

I am a big believer that being open to variety when training and racing these distances is important.  You never know what your body will crave or worse, not desire, at any point.

For me, the backbone of my nutrition plan are a handful of my favorite PowerBar products coupled with some solid food I will enjoy along the course.  I plan to eat at regular intervals, but I never know when I will need extra fuel, so PowerBar products are in my pack and at the ready. The PowerBar Performance and Harvest Bars, Energy Gels and my favorite the PowerBar Energy Blasts in Cola flavor with 2x Caffeine are my staples.

What I love about the PowerBar Energy Blasts gels is that I can take my calories in gradually, enjoying one energy blast every 10 minutes or so.  This works great for me as small rewards for making progress and as a way to take in fewer calories if I just need something to hold me over to the next aid station.  Six Energy Blasts gel filled chews are the energy equivalent of one PowerBar Energy Gel.

Also, unlike my experience with Cliff Shot Blocks, they don't get hard, even in cold weather, so they are easy to chew and they don't hurt my jaw.  They remind me of my favorite cola gummies I used to eat when I was growing up!

What's important to me and why I use PowerBar products is they are specially formulated for athletes to provide our bodies with what we need while we are pushing ourselves.  I know that I can trust PowerBar to provide the balance of nutrition I need to perform at my optimal level.

The science behind PowerBar's Energy Blasts filled chews ...

They're formulated with PowerBar® C2MAX dual source energy blend, a 2:1 glucose to fructose blend found to deliver 20–50% more energy to muscles than glucose alone and improve endurance performance by 8%.

Key features:

- Taste great!
- Provides more energy to muscles with C2MAX
- Resealable pouch
- No preservatives or artificial flavors

PowerBar Energy Blasts gel filled chews are available with or without caffeine. My favorite, the Cola flavor contains 2X caffeine which is 50 mg per 6 pieces, 75 mg per pouch.   So, any guesses on how many individual chews I will eat over 100 miles? :)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

NormaTec Recovery Boots – Product Review

This product review is long overdue. If we are friends on FB or your follow me on twitter (@irondreams) you have heard me talk about spending lots of quality time in my NormaTec Recovery Boots. The boots have become an integral part of my training and recovery program in my preparation for the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler.

As a “weekend warrior” I have been guilty of neglecting my recovery - I even blogged about not having time for recovery in September 2009. What I have learned since then is that recovery is not just important for optimal racing performance but it is also incredibly important for injury prevention. I firmly believe that I have been able to ramp up my mileage and execute important workouts with minimal recovery time after long runs thanks to my NormaTec Recovery Boots.

The best part about the boots is that I can put them on and then just sit back and relax while they do all the hard work on my legs. I have even been known to fall asleep with them on. This may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but I know that there are others like me who know they should use TV time to stretch, foam roll, do core work, etc., but I just like to be lazy sometimes and the boots let me be lazy while engaging in serious recovery!

Bottom line, I highly recommend them.  Look for them at your next race, they often have a recovery tent where you can try out the boots after you race … and they are at all of the Rev3 races.

Finally, I am not a scientist, so I will leave the science to NormaTec, but take my word, these boots work!

The science behind NormaTec boots …

Sequential Pulse Technology is based on normal physiology, and it synergistically combines three distinctive massage techniques to speed the body’s normal recovery process.

1) Pulsing: Instead of using static compression (squeezing) to transport fluid out of the limbs, Sequential Pulse Technology uses dynamic compression (pulsing). Our patented pulsing action more effectively mimics the muscle pump of the legs and arms, greatly enhancing the movement of fluid and metabolites out of the limbs after an intense workout.

2) Gradients: Veins and lymphatic vessels have one-way valves that prevent backflow of fluid. Similarly, Sequential Pulse Technology utilizes gradient hold pressures to keep your body’s fluids from being forced down toward your feet by the pulsing action in proximal zones. Because of this enhancement, Sequential Pulse Technology can deliver maximum pressure throughout the entire limb and the effectiveness of the pulsing action is not diminished near the top of the limb.

3) Distal release: Because extended static pressure can be detrimental to the body’s normal circulatory flow, Sequential Pulse Technology releases the hold pressures once they are no longer needed to prevent backflow. By releasing the hold pressure in each zone as soon as possible, each portion of the limb gains maximal rest time without a significant pause between compression cycles.

While a healthy athlete’s body eventually will recover from an intense workout, using the Sequential Pulse Technology found only in a NormaTec Recovery System for just 20 minutes can speed recovery.