Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Daytona 100 "Race" Report

Well, this is a report about a race. But I didn't race in it. Instead, I jumped to the other side of the aid station and volunteered at the inaugural Dayton 100 ultramarathon. And I learned so much. And I left so afraid. And I'm completely in awe of the spirit, resilience, strength and determination shown by so many of the people who raced. These are my thoughts about all those things, and about where I might go with this blog in the future.


43 Hours Later
I learned volunteering at an ultramarathon is really, REALLY hard. My role at the race was as on-course support rolling along with the middle of the pack on their 100 mile journey, offering assistance where need, making sure unmanned coolers had ice and water, providing assistance to aid stations that needed it, keeping an eye on runners. Doesn't sound too difficult until you realize these duties needed to be provided from 8AM Saturday until race close at noon on Sunday, at times covering 50 miles. It ain't no easy task

I had the good fortune of being involved in a very organized race. The race director, Dave Krupski, is a very experienced ultramarathoner and brought that experience to the race. Aid station extraordinaire, Susan Anger, organized all of us volunteers and kept the train rolling down the track from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach. I had the good fortune of having my brother-in-law, Kris Kramer, agree to join me and help. He was a godsend and I would have jumped ship had he not been along.

Sleep deprivation was a constant battle. I made the unwise decision to sleep in my car the night before the race (we arrived to Altantic Beach very late and a hotel room just didn't seem to make sense for three hours of sleep, at best) and there was very little sleep to an unseasonable hot night...a theme for later in the race. So, Friday night I slept perhaps an hour, my brother-in-law maybe an hour longer. Then the race began and there weren't many moments to rest. We got to hop in a bed in Dayton for two hours Sunday morning, and both of us grabbed some short naps along the way. But all in all, we slept perhaps five hours over a 48 hour period. Sleep deprivation is an interesting thing. Everything became hysterical from the mundane observation that a bathroom was clean to the absurd like the litany of drunks wandering around and fighting in Daytona at midnight.

And it wasn't just Kris and me who suffered and scarified. There were dozens of other volunteers who put in equal or more effort than we did to keep runners going, to keep people safe and to make the event great.

Suffice it to say that I learned how much effort sacrifice volunteers put in at races. I learned that I will more resolutely go out of my way to thank each volunteer, to shake their hands and to make sure they know they're appreciated and their sacrifice is recognized.


I'm signed up for my first shot at a 100 mile ultramarathon at Skydive Ultra in January. Frankly, I'm pretty convinced I won't finish. I'm afraid of what it takes to finish having watched so many runners suffer and continue for hours and hours at Daytona.  I'm afraid of the pain. I'm a baby. I've never had to suffer severely during any previous race. Heck, I've barely dealt with pain in those races! I cannot imagine enduring hours upon hours of misery. I'm afraid. We'll see how it goes in January, but I'm afraid

Spirit, Resilience, Strength, Determination

This was the biggie. I was blown away by the spirit of the racers, the spirit of volunteers and the spirit of crews. This was simply humans being human without the bullshit; wanting to help one another to reach a silly and yet important goal. Whether it was a foot rub for a runner who was suffering from sore feet, or a bottle of water being shared from one runner's crew to another, or just a hug when a runner felt low; the humanity and connection among all of us was so clearly on display.  And, yes, there were moments when that spirit was broken when a runner couldn't continue and had to bow out. But in those moments, others came to pick them up and make sure they were ok and get them out of the sun to a safe place. It was so encouraging in a world where we're bombarded with all the terrible humans do.

The resilience and strength and determination of runners to continue in the face of dramatic pain, of harsh conditions (near record highs, no relief from the sun, horrible humidity), of blistered toes and upset stomachs, of hallucinations, of sheer exhaustion was absolutely incredible. As I said above, I don't have these things. I'm certain I'll fail at my 100 mile attempt. I've been able to rely on modest genetic gifts and not had to suffer in this way. And I am absolutely in awe of those who can suffer in so, and who choose that suffering in order to be reward with the gifts on the other side. I want to know what makes these people function, how they make the decision to continue when every instinct and every indicator says stop. How do they continue when the mere act of standing brings tears to their eyes...and there were many tears shed at Daytona 100. I don't understand it, and it's fascinating to me.

In fact, I'd love to speak with these people and write here about what drives them. I'm a supremely quiet person and not one to reach out to someone to speak, but I may just try doing so just to scratch this curiosity about these people. I'd love to learn about and share their motivation, share what they think about at that moment they want to quit, learn what drives them to give it a shot in the first place.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Charting a Path to Ultraman Florida 2018

A bit over nine months ago, I had a crazy thought. I wanted to participate in the Ultraman Florida race by the time I turn 40 years old. It was a pipe dream, a fantasy. I had just learned about Ultraman and it sounded like a bit of craziness that might be something to put out there as a totally unachievable stretch goal. Sure, I had completed a really easy half ironman race and had even completed a 50 mile ultra marathon, but those are child's play compared to Ultraman. It was a stretch to even consider.

Perhaps it's not such a stretch, after all. 

In the past nine month, the idea of participating in Ultraman has become much more realistic. In those nine months, 100 mile bike rides have become standard fare. I swam in a 5K ocean race. And, finally, I completed the Great Floridian 140.6 triathlon comfortably, if not quickly. Ultraman seems so much more achievable today than 9 months ago.

The training plan necessary to reach Ultraman by 2018 has also become very clear.


Next year will be the year of the ultramarathon for me. First, I'm going back to Skydive in January and taking my first shot at a 100 mile ultramarathon. I'm trying to squeeze training in really tight between the Great Floridian and Skydive, and know I'm taking considerable risk that I don't make it to 100 miles.

I plan to take another shot (whether I make it or not at Skydive) at 100 miles at the Daytona 100. I'll be volunteering at the inaugural Daytona 100 this year, then hope to participate in it next year. I also have thoughts of participating in the Keys 100 race, but three 100 mile races in one year is perhaps a bit much.

I also don't want to fall completely off the swimming and biking training. I'll need both for Ultraman. My swim training has been going well, so I plan to continue with the Masters group I've been swimming with. We swim Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. However, I'll allow myself to miss a session here or there, something I very rarely did while training for the Great Floridian. And I think I'll participate in an open water race like Swim Miami or the Swim for Alligator Lighthouse in 2016

Finally, to make sure I keep on track in all three sports, I plan to participate in a spring and a fall half iron triathlon. Just small, local races; but something to keep me focused on triathlon despite a heavy run focus.


A year later, I'll flip the script. The focus will be heavily on triathlon with two 140.6 mile races. Tentatively, I plan to participate in the HITS Naples Full triathlon in January 2017 and maybe Ironman Wisconsin in September 2017.

Frankly, (and as the name of this blog implies) I have a very hard time with the idea of paying for a branded Ironman race. $750 seems like an absolutely inordinate amount of money for a 13 hour activity of any type. Yes, I understand Ironman races have considerable hoopla and pomp and extremely high production value around them relative to other iron distances races. But $750!

However, if there's one Ironman race I do want to do, it's Wisconsin. As a UW-Madison alumni, completing an Ironman in Madison, finishing on Capital Square, running through campus...it sounds absolutely spectacular. This, above all other items, is a massive question mark. It's so expensive, and so expensive only a few months before the even more expensive Ultraman I would hope to participate in.

Toss one or two 50 mile ultramarathons and an open water swim into 2017, and the training plan is pretty well formed.


2018 would be the big year, the year for Ultraman Florida. And, almost as if delivered by providence, assuming the Ultraman race organizer follows previous scheduling, the race would take place during my 40th birthday!

Having written it out, it all seems pretty damn daunting. There's not much rest and down time in there, and 2017 would be a massive year with two full ironman training builds. Very honestly, I don't think I've ever tried planning something over two years out. And this is something to almost certainly have bumps along the way in the form of injuries and fatigue and other life priorities, races getting cancelled or dates moved, the entire endeavor becoming too expensive and soon and so forth.

Yet, despite all that, it seems far more likely and reasonable than it did 9 months ago. It seems almost doable instead of pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

Ultraman, plan for me to be there February 2018.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Great Floridian Triathlon 140.6 Weekend Surprise

I have not written for a while. I've been preoccupied. I knew training for an iron distance triathlon would be time consuming, I just didn't realize quite how significant that time consumption would be. Today I finally have a little time on my hands again, so I'm writing.

This Saturday, October 24th, I participated in the 25th running of the Great Floridian Triathlon, a 140.6 mile iron distance triathlon. No, it's not an Ironman. That's a trademarked brand. But it was the same length as an Ironman and evidently considered one of the more difficulty iron distance triathlons in the United States. Why? Because in ultra-flat Florida, where generally heat is the big determiner of difficulty, the Great Floridian bike course is covered in hills. Nothing very tall, of course. But relentless up and down with some quite steep climbs (Sugarloaf and Hospital Hill, in particular) and barely a flat section to be found. It's relentless, especially for us south Florida people who consider a bridge to be a climb.

I had signed up for the Great Floridian last November shortly after finishing the MiamiMan Half Iron Triathlon. The Great Floridian was offering a tremendous deal, $250 registration fee, and I figured I'd risk that amount of money for a shot at a full iron distance triathlon. Who doesn't want to finish an ironman (lowercase "l"), right? Once I finished Skydive Ultra in January, training has focused almost exclusively on the Great Floridian and race day arrived damn quickly. A week before the race, I pulled all my training numbers out of Strava to see what my preparation looked like:

  • Swimming 270,221 yards (~153 miles) - the work I'm most proud of as it moved me from a bona fide back of the pack non-swimmer last November at Miami Man Half Iron Triathlon to a solid middle of the pack sorta-swimmer this time
  • Biking 3,084 miles - probably not enough
  • Running 1,067 miles - a few more miles might have been good, but not too bad

I had no idea if these numbers were where they should be or not. I hadn't followed a specific training plan and sorta winged it by developing certain training habits. Monday, Wednesday, Friday was swimming with a Master's swim group. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday were running days. Tuesday and Sunday were biking days. And then I'd toss an extra bike or run where they felt convenient, and began swimming five days per week a couple months before race day. I simply followed the habits formed and added volume to my training. Would it be enough? Who knew?

Back to the Race

October 24th was race day. My kids and I headed to Clermont, FL the Thursday before the race and my wife followed Friday. Thursday we drove up, signed in and attended the athlete pasta dinner. Friday I spent about 20 minutes swimming at the practice open water swim session and checked my bike into transition. Then it was back to our hotel in Orlando to pack transition bags and special needs bags, and let the kids play at the hotel water park until my wife arrived. She arrived, we ate dinner, and we headed to bed. 

Incredibly, I slept. I slept from about 9:45PM to 4:59AM, one minute before my alarm was to go off. I popped out of bed quite surprised I had slept so well since I usually can't sleep at all before a race. I ate a quick breakfast of a honey and butter sandwich and my first cup of coffee in over a month (weening off of coffee then adding caffeine back in on race day seems to work for me) in my brand new awesome Great Floridian mug before I hopped in the car and headed to the race. I also managed two (no shame in triathlon, right?) bowel movements before leaving the hotel, a huge race day bonus!

I arrived at the race location with what felt like plenty of time. However, after what felt like a few minutes of checking over my bike, handing in my gear bags and another potty visit; it was announced the race was wetsuit legal and we should be heading to the beach for the swim start. Oddly, no nerves despite the frenetic pace and massive race I was about to begin.

Swim (1:15:35)

When I signed up for the race, the swim scared me the most. At MiamiMan, I was nearly the last person out of the water and really did not enjoy the swim at all. In fact, I hated it. However, I had put in quite a bit of yardage trying to become a better swimmer and had attended as many Boca Raton Triathletes open water swim sessions as possible. My swimming was much improved, but I really had no idea how that would play out on race day.

The race began with a mass swim start. I seeded myself approximately in the middle of the pack, and we were off! I LOVED THE MELEE OF THE MASS START! My fondest memory of the entire race other than finishing were the first 10 minutes of banging and shoving in the water. After that, it was a beautiful swim. Water temperature was just right for wetsuits. We got to watch the sunrise over the Clermont hills. I wished I had worn my dark goggles, but other than that and some issues swimming straight, it was a great swim. 

I came out 60th of 257 starters, a huge improvement from eleven months prior!

Transition 1 (8:46)

Nothing eventful here. The race was set up nicely with cots to lay back on for wetsuit strippers to pull the wetsuit off. I popped on a pair of DeSoto 400 Mile Shorts over my trisuit, grabbed my baggie full of nutritional items, a moment to toss on some sunscreen and socks and shoes and I was out of the changing tent to my bike and helmet.

Bike (6:53:16)

The Great Floridian is all about the bike course. It's brutal. It's relentless. I was completely humbled by the bike course, and it shows in my bike split. The course was three laps of the same route. This was the first year in which the race featured all big climbs on every loop: three times up Hospital Hill, The Wall, The Buckhill gauntlet and Sugarloaf Mountain, Florida's highest point. In years past, most of those climbs were only featured once.

I had intended to really take it easy on the first lap and settle in. Instead, I went out way too hard and I finished in roughly two hours and hammered the climbs. I kept reminding myself to take it easy and slow down, but continued to fail to do so throughout the lap. It was still morning and the air was cool and still, so it never felt too hard. But my heart rate was often far higher than I was planning for. At the end of the lap, I stopped briefly at Waterfront park to grab two new bottles of Tailwind from Special Needs, then headed back out. 

On the second lap I tried dialing the ride back, but things started to fall apart. First, I dropped my sunglasses on Hospital Hill and had to stop 2/3 of the way up. What a joy to get the bike moving mid climb! Then I was hit with the wind and heat as the day progressed. Heat was expected, wind not so much. While having a pity party with myself about the misery of this bike course, I passed another competitor who only had one leg. ONE FREAKING LEG! The negative talk stopped immediately and I was completely inspired by this other competitor. Then everything seemed to be on track until the fifth climb on Buckhill when I felt the twinge of a cramp in my quads. Nothing serious, but an odd sensations as I hadn't experienced cramping issues even once during training. From Buckhill it was a 3 mile relatively easy ride to Sugarloaf. About 3/4 of the way up Sugarloaf, the cramping fired up again and much more significantly this time. I pushed on for another 50 feet or so, but feared my muscles would cramp fully and destroy the rest of the day. I unclipped and pushed my bike up the final yards of the climb. Shameful, perhaps. But it felt like the right decision. After Sugarloaf, it was a ride back into Waterfront Park. I passed one unfortunate other biker with a split tire, and sent the support truck to him when I passed them a few miles later. 

Another bottle switch at Special Needs at Waterfront Park, a downed miniature can of Coca Cola, a quick stop at a portapotty, and I was out for my third lap. The third lap was similar to the second. Same cramping issues on the two same climbs, same heat and wind to contend with, but otherwise uneventful. The aid stations on the bike course were great. Volunteers were super helpful. The stations were well stocked with water, ice, bananas, gatorade, Coca Cola and other miscellaneous items. I had been concerned as some previous race participant reviews indicated low supplies. I didn't experience any shortages.

Laps two and three were slow, but I had finished the horrendous bike ride in 98th position. My nutrition plan had been well executed having finished six bottles of Tailwind and a Trader Joe's stroopwafel every half hour. An Endurolyte Extreme per hour seems to always work well for me and did on this day, as well.

I was right about my training. More biking volume would have been helpful.

Transition 2 (10:31)

I returned to Waterfront Park where the bike valets grabbed my bike and helmet, and I was on to get changed for the marathon. I had brought a DeSoto Skincooler shirt in the event of a hot, sunny day and decided to toss that on over my trisuit, a decision that would bite me later on. Again, an uneventful transition. I didn't rush, but also tried not to linger too long. I took my time to tie my shoes well.

Run (4:25:43)

The run went great. If anything, I took it too easy and was concerned with a blow up that never would never come. I simply didn't know how my body would react having never run a marathon and never completed an ironman. 

I came out of transition feeling very good. The heat was still pretty stiff with not much shade on the course. However, having spent the summer running in Florida, I was quite acclimated to the conditions. And the wind, so frustrating on the bike, offered cooling benefit on the run. 

The run course was set up to be very spectator friendly. It was a three lap course out of Waterfront Park, first 4+ miles to the east along the lake and then 4+ miles to the west along the lake making up a lap. The east section was about half covered in shade, the west almost entirely in the sun. The entire course was quite scenic and a great place to spend a few hours running.

Lap one went well. The heat was bothersome and I grew tired of Tailwind nutrition. I ran with a handheld bottle premixed, and was carrying extra Tailwind to mix up bottles along the way. However, after finishing my first bottle, I decided to switch to water in the bottle and then live off the course... Coca-Cola and Gatorade Endurance. Near the end of lap one, I stopped for my second potty break of the race and realized I had made one time-consuming error. In order to pee, I had to fully remove my sunshirt and then pull down my trisuit. Sounds easy, but removing a skin tight, sweat soaked sunshirt loaded with nutrition in the pockets is no easy task! The whole process took about 10 minutes. However, I realized I could simply run with the shirt on and the shoulder straps of the trisuit pulled off. Problem solved should I need to stop again.

Lap two went better. The sun started to set and the heat dropped immediately. My pace picked up a tick at a similar heart rate. I reach the half marathon mark and was feeling great! I was going to finish, and do so possibly without a death march! I alternated Coke and Gatorade at each aid station which seemed to keep my energy high.

As I came across the line to start lap three, I saw my wife for the first time. I told her I'd be wrapping up in about an hour and, if she brought the kids to the entrance to the finish chute, they could run with me. 15 minutes later, I realized my math skills were not functioning well and it would be closer to an hour and a half before I got back to the finish. Fortunately, on the way back to the west and final out and back, I saw my wife and kids and let her know. On the third lap, I also experienced my only difficulty during the run, just the idea of a cramp in my right groin. I was worried it would get worse, but it never did. 

The third lap went even better than the second. My pace picked up even more and I realized I had left time on the table. My original plan called for a run/walk schedule of 25 minutes running and 5 minutes walking. It's how I trained and always works well, allowing for me to take in nutrition and rest a bit. I modified this to a 27 run/3 walk schedule the day before the race. But on the final lap, I dropped the walk entirely and simply ran. I estimated I could have run a good 15 minutes or more quicker. 

There was now a short section on the east end of the course completely in the dark. The permanent path lights were not functioning and the lights put out by the race also seemed to have failed. I loved running in the dark with only the light of the near full moon to guide the way, but have a feeling many people were quite unhappy about it. This was perhaps a quarter mile section. The west path was lit up the entire way, and I was running at a good clip for this final 4+ mile section, roughly 8:30 minute miles. I didn't expect to be getting stronger as the marathon went on. But it was a wonderful feeling.

Finally, I came up to the finishing chute and my wife and kids were waiting. My daughter joined me to run down the chute. My son refused, sure that he would get into trouble. A minute or so later, my daughter and I crossed the finish line together and it was awesome! 

Finish time: 12:53:49

I had told my wife beforehand that I thought I'd be done in 12 hours if things went beyond perfect and 14 hours if things went to hell. Right down the middle feels like just the right finish! The bike was exceedingly slow, but the swim had gone much better than my 1:30 goal time and the run went great making up some of that time on the bike. My finishing time isn't fast, but it also isn't slow. And it means I met each of my goals: 1) don't drown, 2) finish, 3) in under 14 hours. Success!

The Weekend Surprise

But the weekend wasn't done at the finish line. There was a BBQ and award ceremony for The Great Floridian Triathlon Sunday morning, but it was finally time for me to focus on family again after months of neglect to train. Sunday morning (after no sleep whatsoever), my wife and I took our kids to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Seven hours of walking may have not been the best way to begin recovery post ironman, but such is life. However, as we were sitting down for lunch at Universal Studios, I received a message from another Boca Raton Triathlon member and competitor at The Great Floridian that perhaps I should have come to the award ceremony. She sent me a photo of a 1st Place Age Group plaque and explained that the award was mine. I had placed 1st in my age group!

It's a fluke. It's silliness. It's apropos of nothing. One year of training does not a triathlete make. I certainly am not a competitive iron distance triathlete and my finishing time would have not held up in any of the other large age groups. But on this day and under these conditions, I was first place in the 35 to 39 age male age group category! 

It's pretty freaking awesome!

I have to stop typing now. I want to write a section on "lessons from my first ironman", but I think that will be reserved for another post. This is long enough, a bit like my finishing time!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Keep Pushing?

Why run farther? Why enter an ultra marathon or Ironman or Ultraman or mountain trail race? Why take on challenges that seem absurd, stupid, unreasonable, nonsensical? Why keep pushing?

I've spent a lot of time asking myself these questions as I dive deeper and deeper into endurance events. I've struggled finding an answer, at least one that felt complete. But, while watching this video, the answer struck me. I do it to live, to really live. I do it to experience what's possible and to find the spot where impossible actually begins. And I do it so hopefully my kids will choose to do the same as they grow up, in whatever manner they want.

I do it because I want to 

Experience Life and Fucking Live!

Jump out of an airplane. Run 50 miles. Train for Ironman. Climb a mountain. Learn to surf. Get into photography. Paint a flower. Dance on a desk to silly European dance music. Experience this incredible planet we live on. Discover what the body is capable of and where the real limits are. Whatever. But do something and fucking live.

That's it. That's the reason. All other justifications be damned.

Oh, I have yet to find impossible.

Side Note: I use profanity rarely and very selectively. In this case, it's the phrase that keeps coming to me. Sometimes you just can't fight the words. Sometimes using a profane word is just right. I believe that to be the case here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Early Morning Rides

I'm going to try something new on here. Instead of the long-ish posts I've been writing (or failing to write) in the past, I'm going to try writing really short posts, almost poem like posts. I'm sure they'll be miserable writing...oh well. They'll be about whatever's on my mind as I continue down my path to fitness.

For the first post, I'm writing about why go running or biking or swimming so early in the morning. Credit for many of the words below go to a fellow biker whom I was discussing this with yesterday.

Early morning rides.

The road to ourselves.

A lightning storm at sea.

While the sun prepares to rise behind.

Crackles of electricity smash into the ocean.

A flash of purple covers the sky.

Peaceful quietude.

We ride.

That's miserable. So be it. Predawn exercise allows us to experience moment so few get to see..

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Running In South Florida - It's Different

Over the past three years of exercising and running in South Florida, I've discovered that running in South Florida isn't like running in other places. The heat, sun and humidity suggest some pieces of equipment are more important than they would have been when I was living in Wisconsin. There are also some unique issue when running here. I thought it'd be fun to create a list of what I've learned to be particularly useful for running in Florida. Mostly this is just meant to be a silly list just for fun.

  1. You gotta have great running hat - at first I thought sunglasses were the all important item, but my thinking has evolved and now I believe a great hat is more important. Mine is silly looking and giant, and I absolutely love it. A huge brim keeps virtually all sun off my face. Well ventilated so my head doesn't get extra hot. And a neck drape for sun protection in the back. Plus, even when you're moving slow, when that drape is flapping in the wind, it makes it feel like you're moving fast! My beloved running hat: Sunday Afternoon Adventure Hat
  2. Serious sunscreen is mandatory - it's sunny here, a lot. Finding a sunscreen that could last for hours while sweating excessively in heat and sunlight took some time to find. I've settled on Target up & up Kids Lotion SPF50. One application has survived for hours without even the hint of a sunburn. It's titanium dioxide based, so does not rub in. Proper application will leave you looking a bit like a ghost with a weird white sheen. Yes, it does contain some of the chemical based sunblocks in addition to the physical titanium dioxide block. I choose to protect against the known risk of skin cancer and accept the unknown risk of exposure to these chemicals. And it doesn't feel great when a bit gets in the eyes. But this stuff has been great for me. And it's cheap, too!
  3. We do have hills! - Well, not really, but you can simulate hills with a little creativity. Given all the water, roads have tons of water crossings. Water crossings require bridges. A bridge hunting run is a great way to simulate at least some elevation gain. It's easy to create a route that has you crossing a bridge every 15 minutes. Or bridge intervals can be one for more regular climbing. Other options include incline on the treadmill or this:
  4. Leaving the road? You better be prepared for sand. - Sand, it's everywhere in South Florida. Anytime you leave the pavement, sand is a possibility. Even just that bit of grassy median between the sidewalk and road can be sandy. And head off to run some trails, you're almost certain to encounter sand...muddy sand, packed sand, loose sand, sinking sand, sugar sand. Lots and lots of sand. It's a whole different ball game than pavement or even dirt trails. I've made it a habit of practicing running on sand. Any run of reasonable distance, I try to spend at least a mile or so running in the sand along the beach.
  5. Finally, running in South Florida rocks! - There are so many great and diverse places to run.
    South Beach Park A1A Boca Raton
    For the asphalt junkie, running up and down the A1A with the beach and ocean always a glance away is a great place to hang out.
    Loxahatchee Levee Sea of Grass
    Then there's always the option to spend some time running along the dirt trails in the Sea of Grass in the Everglades where you're certain to encounter an alligator or two and a wide variety of snakes. And for the hardcore trail runners, there's the opportunity to head deep into jungle-like trails where you feel like you've stepped back to a time before Florida was settled.
    Caloosahatchee Park Trails
    I'd love to hear what you've experienced and discovered and found to be particularly useful during your adventures running and exercising in South Florida. What have you discovered that makes running here a bit unique?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Four Lessons From The DTR Endurance Challenge 50K

On April 18th, 2015, I ran the DTR Endurance Challenge 50K. My second ultramarathon, and a complete different experience than my race at the Skydive Ultra. However, instead of a conventional race report, I thought it would be more interesting to write about the four big lessons I took out of this race which will include race details along the way.

Lesson 1: I Need To Run More

Going into the race, I knew I was undertrained, at least from a pure running perspective. I hadn't been able to run at all for a three week period after an odd knee issue in February and March caused by an ill-executed switch to new shoes. I had kept up aerobic fitness with plenty of swimming and biking, but the running training was lacking. Since Skydive Ultra at the end of January, I only got three long runs in prior to this race: two 14 milers and one 18 miler. And I had only one 30 mile week of training over that period. I was undertrained.

It showed up on race day. The race felt great for about 14 miles, and ok for another 4 miles. Then the wheels felt like they fell off. Lots of walking. So much discomfort. Generally, a very poor run after mile 18.

The most glaring symptom of my lack of training was having to battle a calf cramp the final six miles of the race. At Skydive, a race nearly twice as long, I only had one short moment where even the idea of a cramp entered my mind. At DTR, it was a long fight to fend off the cramp. Eventually, I switched my running form to heel strike which took pressure off the calves and allowed me to run a bit better.

But the lesson was learned... I need to run more. Biking and swimming are great; aerobic fitness wasn't an issue. And I need to do those things as I prepare for the Great Floridian Triathlon. But running long requires running long...often.

Lesson 2: Distance Is Only One Factor In Race Difficulty

So I went into this race thinking it would be hard because I was undertrained, but also thinking that the experience would be roughly 60% as difficult as my 50 mile race. I could not have been more wrong.

This race was brutal. We were treated to a record high temperature of 93 degrees during the day. Fortunately, there was occasional light cloud cover to offer at least some reprieve from the sun, but then the Florida humidity simply took its toll. The race began at 6:45 am, which meant we got about 30 minutes of running before the sun got on us. After that, it was nothing but increasing heat and sun exposure throughout the day.

The course itself held so many surprises. I knew there was some sand on the course. I had spent time beach running to prepare. I was not ready for nearly 12 miles of sand, made worse by the heat which evaporated every bit of moisture out of it leaving nothing but loose sand. The course was an out and back, and the sand wasn't too bad on the way out. On the way back, once every participant had been over it at least once, the sand became a grip-less mess. It was exhausting.

I had heard legend of the "Dunes of Heaven", a one mile stretch of rolling sand dunes beginning around mile 9. None were more than 50 feet high according to my Garmin, but they were relentless. Get to the bottom of one, and right back up the next you went. But the real surprise was that after the Dunes of Heaven, the rolling hills continued for another 5 miles to the turn around point. These hills were milder than the dunes and the trail was slightly less sandy, but the constant elevation change took me completely by surprise. I hadn't prepared. (Hey, it's Florida. Everything is flat.)

This course on this day was tough, really tough. The top finishers were a half hour off the finishing times the previous year. Sure, distance is one piece of the equation, but so are many other factors.

Lesson 3: Shut Up, Mind

Despite all the above issues, I actually didn't do too poorly in the race. While I was a full hour off the first finisher, I was less than eleven minutes behind the first place runner in my age group. Without much more effort, I could have made up eleven minutes. But much of the day, I let my mind and negative self-talk slow me down.

It's too hot. I'm just not fit enough. My stomach/foot/shoulder hurts. It's just a training run. I don't want to be here. And on and on and on it went.

However, I only had two bona fide time losses during the race. First, my calf cramp was a real fitness issue. Had the cramp truly set in, my race would have been over. So I had to manage that. But had I thought to switch running form earlier, I would have saved tons of time.

Second, I lost several minutes on a few occasions dealing with a leak in my hydration pack. This was a safety issue. I was able to slow down the leak by playing with the valve on the pack, and did take the time to make sure to do that so I wouldn't run out of water between aid stations. This cost me maybe 5 minutes total.

But mostly, those lost eleven minutes were the result of my mind slowing down what my body was capable of.

Lesson 4: I Really Love Ultra Trail Running

I felt horrible for much of the 5 hours and 29 minutes I spent racing. I was not near top form, the course and weather were absolutely demoralizing, and the bladder in my hydration pack began leaking leaving my back, butt, legs and feet soaked for hours.

I tripped on roots on four separate occasions, feeling like I could have broken a toe each time. Twice I outright fell and once tweaked my right shoulder while catching myself. For the first time ever in racing or training, I had stomach issues. Nothing severe. I was still able to eat and drink as needed. But it was uncomfortable for miles and miles.

My feet hurt, especially my left foot. I think I bruised the sole of my foot early in the race. By the end, it was nearly unbearable. In the final mile of the race, I felt what could only be a terrible blister on my large left toe. I blame the hours of water leaking from my hydration pack for that.

I was a mess, and I absolutely loved it!

Being out in nature, seeing a lightening storm off over the ocean, watching the sunrise as we ran, discovering deer moss, overcoming all the above issues to finish the race, eating whatever looked good at aid stations, the volunteers being so kind and helpful along the way; it's all such a great experience.

Frankly, I think ultra running is where I'll end up long-term. I enjoy triathlons and look forward to my first iron distance race in October, and love many parts of CrossFit. But there's something so simple and pure ultra running. Ultimately, it's just you, a pair of good shoes and clothes and nature fighting to reach the destination. It's so simple.

And it's by far the least expensive sport of those that interest me. Can't wait to run another ultramarathon soon...maybe 100K next?