Tag Archives: racing

THE FRANKLINS 200… AGAIN??

Bits and pieces as I remember two weeks after the fact.

My friends Dustin, Erin, and Ed ran the inaugural Franklins 200 last year. We ran together for a bit at the start, but eventually we all ran our own race. Dustin crushed it, taking a 6 hour nap and still beating me by like 5 hours. Erin and I finished within a few hours of each other. Sadly Ed DNFed around 120 miles. It was a freaking hard race and I could not imagine wanting to do this again. And yet here we are.

It might have been because we wanted to support Rob the race director. He is quite a character and asked for our feedback after the race. We gave him quite a bit of input and suggestions. Rob wanted to make it right. So he gave us a decent discount, and we, being the goombas that we are, signed up for the race again.

I guess it snows in El Paso?

The night before was the usual mild panic drop bag preparations and then trying to fall asleep. When the alarm went off at four am, we found out that we had gotten a couple inches of snow! We get to the start and everyone is bundled up. And yet Dustin is wearing shorts! I convince him to put on his rain pants. That probably lasted an hour because the next time I see him, he’s back in shorts.

We take a few photos, do the countdown, and the race starts. There’s a good bit of snow on the ground, but nothing crazy. The usual race start excitement wears off pretty quickly as the realization sinks in that I am going to be out here for a long fucking time. Worse, the field of runners is considerably smaller. Last year saw 35 starters, this year only 16. Even including the 8 runners in the 200K, there were only 24 people spread out on a 38 mile loop. We were in for a heavy dose of loneliness.

None of us -Dustin Erin, and I- had trained very well. Even though I finished last year, I was nervous about something happening and not being able to finish. My mindset going into the race was not a confident one and the inevitable first DNF was looming large. But I figured if there was a race to DNF at, a tortuous 200 seemed like an acceptable one.

I started out sort of running with Erin and Dena. It wasn’t really intentional, but we were going a similar pace and it was nice to have compan. I would scoot past them, slow down and they’d catch up. I was too much in my own head to talk much and eventually I lost them.

PHOTO CREDIT: LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY

The first 20 miles was a mental mindfuck of wanting to quit so bad. Why the hell am I doing this? AGAIN?? Freaking five loops! UGH! Eventually, my body felt okay running. Then my reptile brain settled in and grudgingly accepted what was expected of it.

The laps with the snow were visually sustaining. The Franklins are usually pretty boring to my eyes, but covered in snow, they seemed majestic. (Snow makes everything look cool.) The windblown snow on the bushes at the peak were really neat. As the days went by, the snow melted slowly. It was the perfect snow cone-y texture and consistency and as per my usual, I ate quite a bit of snow.

One of the highlights of the first lap was the sunset. As I was running, I could see the shadows on the hills around me. If I got to the end of this ridge, I would be able to see the sun. There wasn’t much time before the sun would set so I booked it and got to see the sun set.

On the second lap, I got into Bowen AS and it was dark, maybe 3 AM. I’m 70 miles in after 24 hours. I’m the only runner in the AS so I chat with the two volunteers and then try to rest. I laid down on one of the cots, using all four of the crappy felt blankets available, two under me and two on top. It was cold and the wind was blowing like the tent like crazy. There was a metal pole holding down some tent flaps that was banging against other metal. Once again, (like last year) the AS tent seemed like it could collapse any minute from the wind. Not conducive to sleep at all.

Another runner came in and I overhear that she wants to sleep / lay down. Obviously, I have to surrender some blankets. Sleep is impossible anyway; I get up and they take two blankets for her. I get off the cot and sit in a chair, pulling up the lone space heater. New girl joins me and we share the heater. Her name is Julie. We talk and have a pretty good conversation. We were both tired and waiting for the boost that comes with sunrise.

As we talked, we wondered about the other runners. I think both Jessica and Erin had dropped by this point due to rhabdo. We inquired if anyone else had dropped and where was Dustin? Turns out Dustin was asleep in a vehicle and had been for quite awhile. Keeping up with Trevor and Jessica must have been mega taxing. I chose not to go mess with him; I wanted to sneak ahead of him.

Julie and I left together as the sun came out. It was a great mental boost being able to see the trail and having someone to run with. Julie told me about her experience doing the Triple Crown, her and Jessica’s training for the PCT FKT attempt, and other interesting things.

We had just come down the ridge of switchbacks and dropped onto the road to West AS and I was thinking about Dustin. “I wonder how long he’ll sleep?” And LITERALLY as I finished that thought, I turned, looked back and there he was. I could not believe it.

I’m happy and surprised to see him and equally annoyed that he caught up. When he woke up and found out that we’d passed him, I guess he wanted to catch up. He told us he had already run to the ridge we just descended and THEN RAN BACK TO BOWEN AID STATION and slept because – not for inability but for seemingly logical reasons – he had mentally quit last night. But he hadn’t actually told anyone he’d quit.

It’s nuts that he did about 9 bonus miles + whatever vert, slept for like 5 hours and still managed to catch up to us. Dude’s a freak.

Photo credit: Let’s Wander Photography Funny story. Jesse the photographer was showing us photos and told Dustin that he got a good one of him that made it look like he was actually running.

It was great that Dustin had joined us, however now as we commiserated, both of us wanted to quit. We talked about it and there were some pretty sound reasons for throwing in the towel. But I did not want to DNF for a lame reason because I knew we would regret it.

We got to West AS, Dustin and I breezed through while Julie took a bit longer. Dustin was still in race mode and we basically left Julie. There was no way I could keep up with Dustin’s pace, and I felt bad that we didn’t communicate to Julie that we were leaving, so I fell back and waited for her. She and I had a similar chill pace that I was happy to keep. She caught up and we made our way to the Start/Finish.

When we finally got there, who else should be waiting for us? I guess Dustin didn’t want to run alone, so he waited for us. And from that point, mile 90 or so, we actually verbalized our plan that the three of us would run the next 110 miles and finish the race together.

PHOTO CREDIT LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY
PHOTO CREDIT LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY

Rob and the volunteers noticed that the three of us were running together and referred to us as the “Three Pack” when really he should have been referring to us as the “Bib Buddies”. I have to say that it is way more fun running with your friends than “racing”. The conversation / distraction is well worth the slower pace.

The last three laps Dustin and Julie got along famously. Both of them have outgoing genial personalities and they hit it off. I was happy to just listen in and occasionally chime in with my two cents. As the miles added up, I spoke less as my reptile brain went further into survival mode.

Some of the good things that happened: Rob had been getting us some great food. Burgers, BBQ, Chic-Fil-A, pizza, real breakfast foods, etc. Although my lips got “salt burned” from too many burgers. And I did again suffer one of the worst cups of ramen ever – lukewarm and with barely any flavor. But overall, Rob really took care of us in the food department. Huge improvement from last year.

After getting a night of sleep, Erin made the best of her DNF and joined Kyra in crewing for us. She seemed happier not running and instead taking care of us. (She is a natural caregiver.) The best was when Erin and Kyra woke us up with Starbucks. I’m not really a Starbucks guy but it was better than the AS coffee. Pretty sure that if Erin hadn’t been at Pavillion, Julie would have had to quit or we would have left her there.

PHOTO CREDIT: LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY

The weather got slightly warmer each day. The third day was perfect running weather. The last day was a smidge warm. Last year it was so cold that it was extremely difficult leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag and getting up to run. This year wasn’t nearly as bad, almost painless.

Because I felt like I was carrying them way more than actually using them, I decided to NOT use trekking poles after the first lap and it was totally fine. I did not miss them one bit. I ate very little the last 20 or so miles and felt surprisingly fine. I was fully expecting to bonk, but it never came. This was awesome because I was so sick of gels by that point.

Weird note that I did NOT poop at all the first day. Normally I poop practically five minutes into a run, so this was a little alarming.

We were starting the last lap and Julie had been dealing with a blister on the ball of her foot. She did some work on her feet and switched into her Olympus’. However, when we left and started climbing up the ridge, Julie was in tears she was in so much pain. I figured she was done, no way that she could continue. Understandably, she didn’t want to quit. Dustin and I talked about what we should do. It seemed cold, but we debated whether we should leave her to fend for herself.

We got to the Pavillion and fortunately, Erin was there. Julie asked Erin to drive her back to the start so she could switch back into her Timps. We all piled into Erin’s rental, went back to the start, Julie changed her shoes and Erin drove us back to the Pavillion. We unpaused our Garmins and started running from the same place. Julie’s shoe swap worked. She was able to run and we were all relieved.

Safe to say Erin’s excellent crewmanship saved Julie’s race.

We discussed how excited were were to be on the last lap. That every section we finished we would NEVER EVER have to see again for as long as we lived, because there was no way in hell we would ever run here again. So with each section we finished, we gave it the one finger salute.

The last time at Bowen we inquired about the other runners. The closest guy was Vermont. From what Jesse the photographer was saying, he was way behind us. We were thinking we would all tie for second place. But then someone was like, “Is he wearing a yellow shirt?” Jesse was sure it couldn’t be him and left the tent to see who was coming in. Sure enough, it WAS him. We were just about to leave, and this gave us a reason to hurry up. We hadn’t been racing at all, and now we sort of were.

We get going and start thinking race strategy. Dustin wants to book it, but that would mean separating. Neither Julie or I would be able to keep Dustin’s pace. And after running almost 90 miles together, it seemed a shame to split up. I suggested we stick together. Maybe Vermont wouldn’t catch us if we kept a good pace. He wasn’t some cocky jerk who we didn’t want to beat us, he was just a regular determined runner. If he did catch and pass us, good on him, he’d earned it. He might also blow up trying to catch us in the heat.

We found out from Kyra that he left the AS pretty quick. We could see him on the trail in the distance. It was crazy how he seemed to be moving slowly, but somehow covered distance crazy fast.

We stopped to take a sit break. And then Vermont appeared with pacer in tow. He passed us as we three sat in the shade along the trail. We tried to stay close. We tried to play mental games by staying close and Dustin clicked away with his poles extra loud. But Vermont was determined to be done. He dropped us, finishing almost an hour sooner.

As we got closer to the finish, Dustin reminded me that the bottom of his cooler was lined with Michelob Ultra beer. I am by no means a beer snob, but the one time I drank that beer was after a race when ANY beer tastes good, but that one did NOT taste good. Despite this, I was so looking forward to having a beer after finishing the race. Sadly, because alcohol is a no-no in the park, and we were to brain dead to figure out a way to drink it on the sly, I never did get to experience the Michelob Ultra.

We finished arm in arm just after sunset. Rob gave us our buckles. I always get emotional after a race and I shed a few tears, but fewer than last year. Finishing was super anti-climatic. But I was SO GLAD that we didn’t quit. Pretty sure Dustin was glad that he didn’t actually quit as well. And I was really happy that we had a new Bib Buddy, Julie.

While we were out there, we realized that over the course of Franklins last year and this year, the 100 miler, and the 50K, both Dustin and I had run at least 535 miles on this course. And I’m still not sure where Shaffer Shuffle is.

Speedgoat 50K

I had gotten on the course twice a few weeks prior with some success staying on course. Despite having a course map and GPS on my phone, I still managed to get off trail. The second time I was a bit more successful, but still only ran the first 9 miles. During the race, I don’t think my course preview did much for me. Part of it was just my inexperience with GPS mapping, and part of it was just not running far enough.

Knowing a course can make a huge difference in how well your race goes.

The more obvious reason is staying on course. Twice during the race I went off course. Once with two other runners and once by myself. Luckily, there were runners nearby to correct me. It is super important to be mindful that you are actively looking for the proper flagging and not just blindly following the runner in front of you. For this very reason, I prefer to run in front of people because it forces me to pay attention.

The more subtle way course knowledge affects you is how you pace yourself. How long is this hill going to last? How many more big climbs are left? how hard can I take this downhill? How many f*cking switchbacks are there before the finish? Knowing where and when to push yourself and when to hold back allows to be more judicious with your precious energy.

Not knowing what’s coming up can be demoralizing. After I reached the second main peak around mile 24, I mistakenly thought it was all downhill from there. But it wasn’t. There was still another major climb. I should have known since the race claimed around 12,000 feet of vertical and my Garmin was around 9,000 feet.

Let’s talk about the actual race distance. How far is it, really? Just because the race has 50K (Or whatever distance) in the name doesn’t necessarily mean that is the actual distance. It could be longer or even shorter. The Speedgoat race was a bit more than 50K, which is not surprising, since it’s a hard race anyway. I’m fine with a few extra miles, as long as I know in advance. Finding out that instead of the 3 miles you’ve been fixating on is actually 6 more miles is tough. So in the future, if the distance isn’t listed explicitly, just assume that you might very well have “bonus” miles. If you finish at the expected distance, awesome! But if your watch says you should be done and the finish is nowhere in sight, you won’t be as upset.

Finally, if you are familiar with a course, it just seems shorter. It’s like when you are driving to a place you’ve never been before. You are taking in all sorts of sensory information about the scenery around you. So getting there takes forever. But on the way back, it seems much quicker. It’s sort of the same thing with a race course. Once you become familiar with it, your brain stops taking in all the minute details and just sees big landmarks, which breaks things into bigger chunks. Now you can’t always get on the actual course, but you can look at maps, YouTube videos, and read about the course.

Some other minor things.

I’ve only been in Utah for about 2 months now, and I’ve seen at least 4 guys suffering from heat stroke, only one during the race. Not sweating, the chills, sunburn. I don’t know much about heat stroke, but I think these are three obvious symptoms. I plan to have an extra stash of salt pills and crystalized ginger (or even pepto pills) and maybe sunscreen for those unlucky souls. If you know you are going to be in the sun all day, use sunscreen and/or cover up. Hydrate properly and take electrolyte/ salt tablets.

 

Late in the race, my inner thighs started to cramp up in a major way while I was climbing a short steep hill. I had to sit down. Once during a 100K gravel ride my legs quads locked up in a similar fashion. It was nuts. I think it might have been an overuse issue combined with an electrolyte imbalance, or it might have just been too much steep climbing. Once I made it up the section, and it flattened out, I was able to run just fine. So that is an interesting mystery. In the future, I’ll go back to having two liquids with me at all times, water and some sports drink. I think that will help keep my electrolytes in balance, provide some additional calories, and avoid flavor fatigue of warm water.

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The wildflowers were amazing.

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No idea where the hell this was..

I was honestly worried about finishing. I haven’t had any runs over 20 miles in what seems like forever. And my knees were sore after 4 miles the other day, how would they handle 30? Things turned out fine, and it gives me a bit of hope heading into Bigfoot 200. A lot of this dumb sport is mental. You sign up for a race, you’re at the race waiting for the start, you start, there’s non stop mental anguish for however many hours, then you finish and drive home and think,” Holy shit the race is over.” And life goes on.

Overall, I think this was a great race. Great location, super challenging course, great schwag (although we didn’t get finisher’s medals because of a snafu, but they are available), super aid stations with choice options (it wasn’t all just candy) and great post race options (although I didn’t get to spend much time there afterwards.) So if you are considering running Speedgoat, I’d highly recommend it.

Racing Thor

In our group email forum,  one group member mentioned that he held the Strava course record for the 1/2 mile long hill climb that a bunch of us were planning to do repeats on. He offered a light-hearted challenge to beat his record. I was not a Strava user, but I’d certainly entertain an open challenge.

Last Thursday, I met up with almost the same group of people from Tuesday, – Rachel, +Stefan, +Thor. (Yes, that’s his name. He is fast, having recently run a 3 hour marathon in New Orleans. ) We did an easy mile warm up, thankfully without running into the angry driver. We stashed our bottles at the bottom of the hill and slowly began our hill repeats.

The first two laps I fell in behind the group. Someone mentioned the email challenge, but everyone seemed content to trudge onward.  (Actually the running joke was to have Thor carry everyone’s GPS.) The third lap, I’d had enough following and got out in front and went a bit harder. And then I think it was the fourth lap, I ended up racing Thor up the hill. Or, it seemed like a race, so that’s how I took it.

He took off incredibly fast. My brain says, “Forget it, you whipped.” Almost immediately, I was sucking wind and wanted to stop and walk. And then I was reminded of the time I’d been dropped exactly like this by a girl.

Know when you’re beat

But I kept running. My brain kept telling me, “Stop! This is ridiculous!” My heart replied, “Stupid brain, you shut up now.” Coming in second is perfectly acceptable, quitting is not. Keep running!

Maybe three quarters to the top, I realize  I’m actually closing in on him… and then… I catch up to him… and… I pass him! My legs feel like lead but I run the last stretch as hard as I can…. I make it to the stop light and practically collapse. Holy Crap! I caught up to him and passed him. Did not see that coming.

Thor is two or three seconds behind. He stops, says “Good job,” and gives me a high five. He is pretty nonchalant. Was he even trying?  I struggle to catch my breath as we wait for the others to summit.

I don’t know Thor  well enough to gauge his competitiveness, but if he’s like me,  he was not pleased that I managed to catch him and next time he will really be cranking up the hill next time. Which means I’ll have to do the same. This will create a feedback loop of intensity that will undoubtedly result in some great hill workouts and probably some new course records. That’s my hope, anyway.

This little race up the hill reminded me of being a kid. Pure and simple, let’s race and see who’s faster. What I realized is that Direct competition is a great way to really push yourself. It is a tool that can propel you and also allow you to gauge your efforts afterwards.

Yes, (ultra) running is mainly a competition with yourself,  but what better way to test yourself than by directly competing with someone else who is also pushing himself?

*   *   *   *Are you competitive?  What’s your take on competition?

 

Chicago Marathon Race Report

The race is finally over. As usual, some things went well, some not as well. But overall, I’m happy.

Two days before leaving for Chicago, I got a cold. Seriously?! Luckily, it passed quickly. But then the first night in town catching up with friends, I had drank too much and didn’t sleep well. The day after was rough. I tried to catch up on my sleep by going to bed earlier, and that helped.

When I went for a run the next day, I’d developed some weird foot pain on the top of my right foot. I’d never had this pain before and it just appeared out of nowhere. It would go away a little as I ran,, but it was definitely still there. Brand new mystery pain days before the race – AYFKM?

The next day I went to the expo. It was huge, loud, and crowded. I bought a few things, looked around briefly and left. The whole atmosphere was just too much for me. The day before the race, we went… apple picking. I thought I was going to run while my friends picked apples, but it was more fun than I thought it would be. Especially considering I’d never seen a real apple tree with apples ready to be picked. One word: Honeycrisp!!

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The night before, I got my gear all set up. As I attempted to pin my bib on my shirt, I wished someone would create an adhesive backed bib so we can put an end to this safety pin business. (Hmm… Business idea! No, wait. They already exist. And yet we still pin…) I applied my race tat, which was a new thing for me. I had a cup of decaf tea and went to bed around 10:30. I expected to be unable to sleep, but actually had a decent night’s sleep.

I got downtown early and had to wait a good hour+ before the start. It was a bit cool, but not bad. Lots of people were wearing just the outfit they’d be running in. Some smartly had throwaway garments to keep them warm. I had just my hoodie which I hadn’t planned on tossing, but was going to. I was glad to have brought a cheap pair of cotton gloves to keep my hands warm. That helped out a lot.

I tried to eat some Belvita crackers for breakfast. I’ve eaten them before and they are edible. They have like 35 grams of complex carbohydrates, and would definitely be better than eating nothing. I tried to make some #2 business happen before the lines started forming. I’m glad I did, because once the people started showing up, the lines were 10 people deep in no time.

As it got closer to the start time, I got into the corral. I found the 3:10 pace group and listened to the pace leader make jokes. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the corny jokes, but I scooted up further into the crowd. The corral slowly filled with more and more people until we were elbow to elbow, all breathing down each other’s necks. And then it was time. The race started!

I’m not even sure if they did a countdown or not, but next thing you know, there’s a river of people in front of me, and I’m happily riding along. When you realize the thing you’ve been waiting and training for has finally begun – I love that feeling.

The crowds along the first few miles were massive and quite vocal. For the first few miles, I felt like I was being powered along just by the cheering. I was running smoothly and feeling great. My mystery pain was not bothering me at all. I tried to keep track of my pacing with my pace tat, but I found it very hard to read while running. Consequently, I never looked at it again. I decided I would just run, pace be damned.

As planned, I took my first Vanilla gel about 5 or 6 miles in. I had 3 gels on me and had planned to pick up a fourth at the aid station. I’m not sure what I was thinking, I realize now this was not nearly enough nutrition. But for the majority of the race, I was fine.

Mainly I was feeding off the crowd, watching the pavement ahead of me, trying to navigate the throngs of runners. The course was packed with people for a good portion of the race. I’d say it wasn’t until maybe the halfway point did it thin out enough to have some decent breathing room.

Early in the race, I saw a runner fall and skid on his belly because some jackass spectator tried to cross the street. Runner skids across the street and I hear “YOU MOTHERF***ER!!” I felt really bad for that guy, and was paranoid whenever I saw someone trying to cross the street.

I don’t even remember much about the course. I didn’t look around that much, all my attention was focused 10 feet in front of me. I used to live in Chicago too, so there wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t talk to anyone during the race. One guy asked me if I was the 3:10 pacer, and said he was going to stick with me even though I told him I wasn’t. And then weirdly, he must have peeled off within a few minutes. Which was fine, I wasn’t feeling conversant and don’t think I could have held a conversation if I’d wanted to.

I took another gel around mile 10 and then mile 15. I was alternating between water and Gatorade. Late in the race, the sweetness of the gels and Gatorade had overwhelmed me and I didn’t want to eat another one. And I thought I was doing fine anyway.

Then the wheels fell off. Up to Mile 23, I was averaging about 7 min miles. Mile 23, my pace dropped to 7:30, Mile 24 saw 8:09, Mile 25 8:56, and finally by Mile 26 I was crawling at 9:08. At no point during the last few miles did I look at my watch. I just tried to run. And then I’d stop. And then try to run. My hamstrings were cramping. The last mile I kept hearing spectators yelling, “It’s only one more mile!!”

Perhaps one of the worst parts was losing the pace group. Running ahead of them, then they’d catch up, and slowly pull away. I thought I’d catch a second wind, but the pacer kept getting smaller and smaller until they were gone.

I took some solace in seeing other runners stopped and walking. But that small relief was quickly displaced by the huge number of people that ran past me as I walked. And they all looked strong.  There was the slightest of hills on the stretch before the last turn. I had to walk it. Then around the corner, I saw the finish. Normally, the sight of the finish is energizing enough for a short sprint, but all I could muster was a weak jog. I crossed the finish in 3:10:39.

I missed a BQ by 39 seconds. Kind of a bummer, but I know damn well that I can do it next time.

There’s several lessons I learned.

No alcohol before a race. Save it for after the race.

Going to another city to race can be stressful in regards to availability of food. You need to be able to easily obtain and prepare the right kind of food prior to the race. I think my carbo loading was lacking in the days prior to the race.

Plan your nutrition. I think maybe I’ve been spoiled by trail aid stations that just have lots of different foods available, but Gatorade, gels and a banana don’t cut it.

Save the music for the end of the race. That’s when you need the boost that music can provide, not at the beginning.

Give your race the proper respect / Don’t overestimate your abilities. I thought I could run 26.2 miles easily. I forgot that trail running is much slower and incorporates more walking. Road running is pretty much running non-stop at a much faster pace. And that is really hard.

Final thought: Originally, I had thought about running the Wild Hare  50 Miler in November, but I may end up doing the San Antonio Marathon instead. I think alternating between road and trail races will be a good thing. And in 10 days, I have my 50 mile trail race! Time to start planning!