Monday, March 15, 2010

Delano Day 100

WARNING: This report is entirely too long, too boring, and too incoherent to be of any interest, but, if you have the urge to delve into it (along with a decent amount of free time and an appreciation of eccentric activities), here it is for your perusal:

A few months ago, I had an idea. I have run the Delano Park 12 Hour Run, twice as an individual and once as a relay team member, but this year I wanted to make it something more, both in terms of running and as something a bit more worth while. I was going to start running twelve hours before the official start of the race, thereby making it a 24 hour run, and to make such silliness worth the while, I took pledges from donors who wanted to sponsor me on a per mile basis to raise money for NTSAD, the same organization for which a group ran across the state of Alabama this past summer. The race directors for the Delano 12 both ran the full way across AL, and one of the directors, Eric Schotz, has a son, Elliott, who is afflicted with Tay Sachs Disease. Having such a worthwhile cause provided some much needed motivation throughout the late night/early morning hours of solo running, the latter miles of painful slogging, and many miles of pounding in training. A few miles into my run, Eliza Schotz, Eric’s wife, brought Elliott out for a few minutes, and seeing the reason for the run drove the point home that it was time to get down to business.

I arrived at Delano Park about 15 minutes before I needed to start, got my aid station ready (consisting of a table, a couple water bottles, bananas, and pb&j), and nervously chatted with the small crowd that had assembled to watch me start. Promptly at 6pm (by the RD’s watch), the Delano Day was underway with me anticlimactically trotting away from the start/finish line.

1 mile: 8:55

The first mile or two went by relatively uneventfully, albeit far too quickly, and slowly, the little group that came out to watch the start thinned out (some had to go to a prerace dinner and packet pickup before getting a good night’s sleep before their own race – the Delano 12 – in the morning). Soon, we were down to just a couple people at the park with me, which was great to have, as I had expected to be alone for quite a bit of the night.

As the daylight faded into night, Fred Trouse, a good friend from Auburn who served as a pacer for me during both runnings of the Pinhoti 100, began running with me. Fred is always a pleasure to have along for a run, given his rather wide range of past experiences that have left him knowledgeable in so many areas. This, coupled with the fact that he is an overly kind, intuitive, and selfless pacer, makes him a sublime pacer. In any case, Fred and I circled the 1-mile loop time and time again.

Since this event was in my hometown of Decatur, AL, my family could come to watch the madness. My Illustrious Father, Darling Little Sister, and, of course, Inimitable Mother, were all on hand for the start, and took different shifts to hang out at the park. Whereas my Illustrious Father has been to both successful 100’s and the one failed attempt to watch the carnage, Darling Little Sister and Inimitable Mother haven’t had the joy of observing such stunts. That being the case, my Inimitable Mother took the first shift and watched Fred and me plug away the first few miles.

As I settled into my natural pace, several people came by the park to say hi and see how everything was going, often stopping by after picking up their race packets and eating the prerace pasta supper. One such visitor, Spurgeon Hendrick, a fellow Pinhoti veteran and all around good guy, happens to be sponsored by the Moon Pie company, and when he stopped by to check on me, he left a few moon pies along with some new flavored versions of the moon pie. I know; I was spoiled.

At one point, Fred and I were treated with a couple of kids running with us. Mrs. Burgreen, my high school freshman history teacher, came out for an hour or so to help cheer me on and brought along her children. It’s not often that I feel old during these events, as I’m often one of the youngest participants, but seeing Mrs. Burgreen’s three kids, all of whom ran a little, and two of whom ran a couple laps as fast or faster than me, almost made me feel like an adult, because Mrs. Burgreen was pregnant with the first one when I was in her class a decade ago. Regardless, it was nice to see Mrs. Burgreen; she always seems to have a smile on her face and encouraging words on her lips, and I’m glad she and her progeny came out.

Marathon: 4:11

At some point, another local bunch of ultrarunners, the Fagerman’s, came out for a few laps. They were some of the lucky participants of the Run From the Ranger 50k last December, and it was nice to have the company while Fred took a little break.

50k: 5:09

Late in the evening, yet another Pinhoti alumnus, Philip Sustar, showed up with his family and another runner or two and set up their tent for the race the next morning. I initially assumed that they were simply going to set up the tent and then go find a hotel for the night. I was incorrect. Philip ran quite a few miles with me throughout the night, made sure I always had what I needed, offered up his tent and supplies to me, and even helped me change my shoes and socks after 62 miles. Because of helping me, I don’t think Philip even got 3 hours of sleep Friday night, and he still managed to get up and run 52 miles during the race Saturday morning (all the while checking on me whenever we crossed paths).

Around midnight, Darling Little Sister arrived to run with me for an hour or so. Unfortunately, she showed up right as I hit my one and only real crash of the run. She arrived just as I was completing 35 miles, ready to run, and the only thing I could do at the time was rest my head on the aid table, sit down, and ask for warm clothes and my first round of caffeine in a week (Mt. Dew is a lifesaver at times like these). So after around 10 minutes of recouping, I got back up and set out with Darling Little Sister for around four miles. She is always an utter joy to run alongside, and considering the somewhat unusual circumstances, it was all the more enjoyable. All too soon, though, her running shift was over, and she went home to get a well-earned good night’s sleep and roust my Inimitable Mother for her running shift. In the interim, of course, Philip and Fred filled in running with me.

Within 30 or 45 minutes, the Inimitable Mother showed up, and we plugged away a few more miles. I thoroughly enjoyed my hour with her; the best way I know to describe it is that I like running with my Mama. Before I knew it, her shift had come to an end, and she went home to roust my Illustrious Father to come out for moral support. Around the time he showed up to check in (being the experienced crew chief from my previous 100-miler excursions), Jon Elmore, one of the race directors showed up to get his mileage in for the day. Jon ran around 5 before taking up the responsibilities of co-race director as other runners began arriving for the race.

100k: 11:46

Around 15 minutes before the official start of the Delano 12, I hit the 100k mark and decided to take the opportunity to get off of my feet for a few minutes, warm up, and change socks (which proved to be a gloriously wise decision). As the race began, so did the rain. The weather throughout the night had been perfect. Upper 40’s with a slight breeze, but the Delano 12 has a reputation of bad weather to uphold, so there was an obligatory soaking rain, wind, and (later in the day) a bout of sleet/hail. Regardless, I donned a light rain shell, and managed to remain pretty comfortable for most of the day.

The first couple hours of the “official” race passed rather quickly for me, since I had the company of John Bolding, a senior runner from the Austin High School XC team. He’s picked up a bit of an interest in ultrarunning and claims that he wants to try one out after he graduates, so I gave him a little introduction to the oddity that generally accompanies this small niche of running.

Quick picture with Eliza and Elliott during a break in the rain

During the day, the miles came and went. Having all of the other racers around was nice, and since it was a loop course, we were constantly seeing each other to offer encouragement, support, and jokes. Even so, or perhaps because of this, the miles seemed to blend together throughout the day.

It was nice to see a bunch of my friends out running the race. Almost everyone I talked to had a good day of running, and I only wish I could thank everyone I saw for the unending encouragement they offered me throughout the day. I think Fred, who continued to plug away at the miles with me throughout the day, PR’d for the total distance that he covered in a day. I’m not entirely sure of his total mileage, but it had to be approaching 50 (especially considering he kept on plugging away even after I had finished, even though he wasn’t officially entered in the race; he just enjoys being out there).

In any case, after the final few miles (it seemed like the last 15 took forever), my Inimitable Mother and Darling Little Sister joined me for my last lap. With a few meters to go, we even got the privilege of pushing Elliott across the finish line.

100 Miles: 19:42:53

Chatting with Elliott at the finish

For what it’s worth, this is a 100 mile PR by 7:55:27. I suspect I’ll have a hard time PR’ing by over 7 hours again in just about any event.

Shortly after I got done, I headed into Philip and Co.’s tent to warm up, and the combination of the fact that I couldn’t move my legs and the sudden onset of sideways sleet convinced me that I was done for the day. In retrospect, maybe I should have gotten out and walked a few more miles. Oh well; call me lazy…

While I was warming (and stiffening) up, I was giving a bit of a recap to Tony Bolan. Tony is a friend from church who happens to be a local magistrate. When he heard about my little overnight adventure, he sent word to the officer in charge of patrols from the police department to concentrate patrols around Delano Park throughout the night. It was a welcome sight to see cop cars cruise by checking on things. Tony had come out during the first couple of hours to watch, he showed up around 4am to check, and then he came out again to watch me finish. I cannot reiterate enough how much all of the support I got from friends meant as I circled that loop time after time after time.

This run was perhaps the most thorough mental effort and surreal running experience I’ve ever had. The very nature of running through the night and over this many miles causes you to cover the full spectrum of physical, mental, and emotional states, and coupling that with the knowledge that I was running for a cause served to heighten the experience.

Afterwards, I got to enjoy some time with a bunch of running buddies, sitting around and cutting up, well pleased with the effort. A bunch of folks managed to go farther than they ever had before, which certainly an accomplishment.

Eric Gilbertson was 2nd in the 12-hour, racking up 74 miles

Most of Huntsville crowd, who did a great job as cheerleaders for me all day

I haven’t managed to total up all of the donations and pledges, but I think that somewhere around $1000 was raised for NTSAD through the run, and I’ll gladly repeat the effort if it can in any way help facilitate research or support for families and those afflicted with Tay Sachs.

A day later, muscularly, I’m not too sore, but the joints are screaming at me. Totally worth it.

Well, yet again, I warned you that it was long and boring, but somehow you’ve made it to the finish. I am fairly certain that I’ve left out or forgotten quite a bit of what happened, but such is the nature of the beast. My apologies if it was a bit long, winding, and incoherent, but that’s how the run was, too. (and I’ll post up pictures as I get them…)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mount Cheaha 50k

Short version: Fun race; I kind of used it as a training run for my Delano Day in a couple of weeks, so I didn't really push it too hard...

Not as short version:

So I went into this race with the mindset of keeping it a training run. Last year, I started the race running alongside a friend of mine, Dink Taylor, at a pretty aggressive pace, then proceeded to slow down for the entire second half. This year, with the Delano Day , my "goal event," two weeks away, I decided to treat Cheaha as a good final training run, and I therefore intentionally ran the whole race at a decidedly more comfortable, conservative pace.

The race starts in a small gravel parking lot for a trailhead, and runners are immediately funneled into a singletrack trail, so to avoid getting stuck in a conga line at the start of the race that can potentially take around 2 or 3 miles to thin out, an ambitious runner must sprint out to the front few, which I did last year. This year, in my effort to force myself to take it easy, I started in the middle of the pack and eased into the race.

The section before the first aid station has some considerable hills, which can quickly take "it" out of your legs, and quite a bit of passing occurs during this first, shall we say, introduction to the race...

The majority of the course is run along narrow, rocky, rooty, singletrack trails, which can be an adventure to traverse. The ankles take a beating as runners traverse numerous rock gardens, often with the entire trail on a slant due to its location on the side of a mountain. This, along with the fact that there probably aren't a cumulative 3 miles of flat running on the entire course, makes this race a relatively tough, slow 50k. I love it.

This year was considerably drier than last year's edition; not nearly as much mud and running water along the course. If someone wanted to keep his or her feet dry, he or she could do so, although in one or two spots, some substantial thinking (and rock jumping) might be required. I, on the other hand, think that the main stream crossing of the race, somewhere around mile 20, feels great, and plowed right through the frigid water. I was not disappointed, as the cool rush provided a nice bit of relief to my rock-beaten feet.

Whereas most of the course is along singletrack, a few miles are along some gravel and paved roads. When, a few miles after the creek crossing, we got spit out of the trail onto the gravel road that leads to the paved road, I licked my chops. Given my road racing, XC, and track background, whenever the technicality is taken out of a run and I can simply dial in a pace to hold, I can generally make up some time on most of the purely trail runners. This came in handy with the almost constant incline that the roads held, during which, it is incredibly tempting to take walking breaks periodically, especially when you take a turn, and up above the trees, you see Mount Cheaha, which you are well aware that you must climb very shortly. It's somewhat intimidating, realizing that you're legs are already trashed from running farther than a marathon and that you're taking more out of them now by running up a hill just to get to the trailhead to take you up the mountain, and then seeing the mountain and thinking "I've got to run up that?" Again, I love this sport.

Once I got past the last aid station, I began my ascent of Mt. Cheaha, and it went relatively uneventfully. Yes, it was steep. Yes, it was somewhat difficult. Yes, I was very glad to be at the top. But I expected all of those, so it was, in a strange way, kind of easy to get through.

Once I got to the top, just a few more minutes padding around the top of the mountain, and I was done. 5:38~ish (completed, of course, with the requisite flying heel click at the finish line...). Another 50k in the books. The funny part is that, even though I played around with this race and ran it with a much more relaxed attitude, I ran 10 minutes faster than last year. Funny how all that works...

I managed to put in 14 today (Sunday), and soreness is about how you would expect. 2- weeks until the big one; on to Delano....