Monday, March 21, 2016

Weekly Training Thoughts - Feelin' Great!

March 14th-20th - Due to some unexpected planning I must get done, this post will be a bit abbreviated. No in-depth thoughts on each sport, just some high level thoughts on my training week in general. The big take-away...I'm feeling great with my training!

Running has really been clicking for me. It seems the month away from running was just what the body called for. I just feel stronger, faster and more efficient than prior to the break. In fact, the running has gone so well since I resumed in March, that I completed my second fastest half-marathon ever on my long run Saturday. The only time I ran faster, I was 23 years old. And I felt very comfortable the entire time and, in a race situation, would have been quite a bit faster. Perhaps 10-15 minutes faster. (An important interjection here. My "faster" is still very, very slow relative to fast people.) After so much time running slow and preparing for ultra-marathons, I'm learning I sort of enjoy running a bit less slow.

I did have just a touch of IT band pain Sunday on my recovery run. It was a small relapse on what has been an otherwise smooth recovery from the pain that stopped me at Skydive Ultra. I'm hoping it's just a matter of a little too much, too quickly; and that a small pull back will put me back on the path to full recovery.

Swimming was also a success this week. I reached the longest single swim I plan to complete as I prepare for Swim Miami at 8,000 yards on Sunday. I'm not fast. I'm not super-efficient. But I can keep things moving along for an extended period of time now. I could have swam another 2,000 yards relatively comfortably. I was also able to test my nutrition plan: Tailwind to drink and a tablespoon of almond butter at ~2 miles and ~4 miles. That seemed to work well. I plan to swim two more 8,000 yard sets before race day.

On top of being able to swim the distance, I also felt really good swimming this week in general. So much so that at one point during the week, I actually posted the following on Facebook:


That comment is a huge deal for me. I have never, ever felt like I belonged in the water before. I still don't swim well, but something's changed just a bit. I can feel the catch (sometimes.) I can feel the pull (occasionally.) I can feel good body positions (from time to time.) Until the past week, these concepts were just words without any real understanding. But this week, I felt them on several occasions. I could play with them a little. I can pull a bit harder or let water flow past my arm instead. I can feel my feet sink or pull them up above the water. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But sometimes.

As for the bike, I've decided to give up for now. At least until after Swim Miami. Six days of swimming and six days of running just aren't leaving me with time to get on the bike. Plus I wonder if the lack of bike training is at least partially involved in the improved running?

That's it for the week. Next week's training thoughts might be a bit light, also. I expect to have less time for either running or swimming this week. Perhaps I'll change things up and consider it a recovery week.

Whatever you training looks like, keep moving!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Weekly Training Thoughts - The Long Swim Gets LOOONG

March 7th-13th... Another week of completely unimportant and mostly irrelevant training is in the books, and I have more thoughts to put to paper...or whatever you want to call this medium. I ran across a thought this week about training and racing and why I do all this work and spend all this time training when I'm just some schlub who's never going to be fast and never going to gain anything material out of it all.

My profession, my work feeds my stomach. But training and racing feeds my soul. After family, nothing is more rewarding and more fulfilling than hitting the trail or going for a swim. It drains me and it fills me at the same time. Heck, I don't even need the racing. The training is enough to fill the soul. The racing just offers some delicious icing, and motivation for training to be a bit more focused.

Training feeds my soul.

On to the week. There are two big observations on training this week, one running and one swimming, and one bit of exciting news...at least for me.

Running...Six Days A Week

My new running plan has me running six days per week. This is more regularly than I've ever run before, which generally included running four (sometimes five) days per week. Six days means lower volume, but more frequently. And I seem to be responding well to this. My three recovery runs per week really seem to help keep things loose and not too sore allowing me to push harder on the two high intensity days and one long day per week. So far, I'm a fan even while contemplating skipping today's recovery run due to a sore knee.

Speaking of that knee, it's not 100% yet. The long run seems to be the issue. I had no problems with the knee during my two speed workouts. And the knee was fine on my recovery runs. But after my long run Saturday morning, the knee became uncomfortable again. A couple minutes of pigeon stretch, and it felt good as new. But still, not 100%.

My workouts went great. The best example of this is my long run Saturday. I'm still keeping this long run relatively short (1 hour 35 minutes this time), but decided to really try running with more pace than I have before. While not fast, the run was fast for me. I never felt like I was working too hard, but completed 11.3 miles at an average pace of 8:23 minutes per mile and targeted two extra bridge crossings along the way. I could have held that pace for quite a bit longer and was overall very pleased. And that was indicative of pretty much the entire week.
 

Biking

What's there to report here other than it was a total failure on the bike. I got on the trainer for 1 hour on Monday, then never touched the bike again. I thought about riding Thursday, but didn't feel like it. I considered riding Sunday, but didn't want to battle the daylight savings switch. I just didn't ride. Not good...not good.

Swimming

I felt off all week on my swimming...slow, lethargic, sinky. Just not a good week in the pool. That said, I met all my goals for the week. Right around 20,000 yards (18,575 officially on Garmin Connect, but that doesn't include kick sets nor about 500 yards I lost while trying to figure out my new watch...more on that below!) And, most importantly, I finished my 7,000 yard pull endurance set on Sunday and found a pair of googles comfortable enough to wear for the length of a 10K swim! I was slow on the 7,000 yard swim, but really focused on staying long and efficient, and didn't worry about pace much.

The googles, Aqua Sphere Vista's, are so damn comfortable relative to other goggles. They feel silly large on the face. Fortunately, I have no problem with looking silly. They did, however, slowly leak a little water in. I think this only occurs when pushing off the wall and not during swimming, and is so slow I only had to clear the goggles every 1,500 yards or so. But still a minor annoyance in what would otherwise be a perfect long-distance swimming goggle for me. I think they'll do the trick for Swim Miami 10K, especially if the leak does only occur when pushing off. There'll be none of that in Miami!

Overall, I'm satisfied with the week of swimming. Finishing the 7,000 yards comfortably means I'm right on track for the race. I still think the low energy and lethargy have to do with higher swim volume plus the reintroduction of fairly intense running. I'll just keep pushing through.

Something Fun!

I'm extremely judicious about spending money on fitness equipment...a tough task in the triathlon world. Almost everything I own is used or heavily discounted. But I decided to splurge for my birthday and bought myself a new fitness GPS watch, a Garmin epix. It was, of course, heavily discounted at REI. And I've been having lots of problems with my Garmin 910XT lately including bad elevation readings, odd yardage on open water swims and battery charging difficulties. Nothing dramatic,  but annoyances. The 910XT will become my permanent bike computer, and the Garmin epix my full-time watch as a daily wear watch, an activity tracker and fitness device.

So far, I'm loving it. I haven't had occasion to head out to the Everglades and run using the built-in navigation. But soon. In addition to real navigation, the watch has excellent battery life...hopefully enough to get me through my next 100 mile ultramarathon. It feels more rugged than the 910XT, and has a variety of other upgrades. Of course, it's a total splurge and I could have been totally fine without it. But what the heck!

That's another week of training. Overall, things look to be on track both for Swim Miami and Daytona 100. Swim Miami is going to be a huge challenge for me. The distance still sounds daunting. The amount of time spent laying face first in the water is overwhelming. Even finding someone to toss me a water bottle every lap is going to be a challenge. But I think it will all come together.

Whatever you're training looks like, keep moving!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Weekly Training Thoughts - A Ragged Return to Running

It's time to write my first weekly training thoughts post. I'm wondering how to approach this. Matter-of-factly, with statistics and hard numbers on my training? A stream-of-conscience bit just rambling on with musing about last week's training? Perhaps something humorous, having a good laugh at how seriously I take my training while being a mediocre performer. I think that works...self-deprecation and all. I may suck at humor, but at least it'll be fun to write!

March 1st-6th... The past week of training really had one focus, reintroducing running. Since my spectacularly failed attempt to run 100 miles at Skydive Ultra, I hadn't really run at all. Just a few short test walks and runs in February to see if my knee was going to laugh in my face or was feeling a bit better. February had been a month to rest the running spirit. March is to bring running back, and this was the first week of doing so.

A Ragged Return to Running


I ran five days during this first week of March. Two really, really super silly easy recovery runs of 30 minutes. There's really not much to say about those runs other than I ran 'em when scheduled. Two runs with intensity. One long (and I use that word with a chuckle) run.

The two intensity runs were kind of a new thing for me, speed work. The first run was a 45 minute fartlek run on Tuesday. No structure, just faster and slower as it felt right. I was even able to push myself on a final sprint to that territory where the day's lunch becomes a bit unsettled in the stomach...a highlight of any intense workout! I really had fun with this run! I might hate it this week when I do it at 4:30AM instead of in the afternoon. The second intensity run was 45 minutes of tempo build on Thursday morning. Now, I'm not fast. When I say tempo, this is a lot of people's long run or even recovery pace. But it's fast for me. And it was the third day of running after a month off...my legs weren't super happy. Overall though, the intensity runs were a fun new addition. I may even enjoy them in a few months.

The long run...well, an hour and a half isn't really long, is it? But it's my long run at this point as I rebuild as if from scratch. I did, however, run faster than I was running long runs in the past. As I get closer to Daytona 100, and these runs become much longer, I'll become more specific and slow it down. For now, shorter and faster rules.

There were two additional items of note this week for my running. First, new shoes. My beloved Asics Gel Hyperspeed 6 have been discontinued (a runner's worst nightmare), so I'm on the hunt for new shoes. For now, I'm running in a pair of Nike Zoom Streak LT2's and will be adding a maximalist shoe soon for long stuff. I'm not sold on the Streaks. The biggest issue, the platform seems REALLY narrow and I often felt like I might just tip over to the side. They're light and well-cushioned, but that narrowness is a bit disconcerting. Evidently,  I really like a wide sole...this shoe is not that! I'll probably order a pair of Asics Gel Hyperspeed 7's soon to see how the update feels. The shoe hunt is on.

The second item is the status of my left knee, the killer of my Skydive Ultra 100, the occasional bane of my running existence. The knee wasn't perfect this week, but it wasn't bad. I'm quite sure the issue is IT band syndrome and nothing more (nor less) severe. It felt good for my first couple runs. The Thursday intensity run, I actually cut a few minutes short as I passed home due to a touch of discomfort in the knee. And the final half hour of my Saturday long run also included some discomfort. However, nothing that is concerning at this point. My final Sunday recovery run actually seemed to resolve a bunch of the discomfort in the knee. Fingers crossed that I'm on the road to knee nirvana. If I keep my knee happy, I should arrive at Daytona 100 ready to crush a solid middle of the pack finish!

I'm running again, and that's the big take away! Not much mileage (24 miles on the week), but almost exactly the amount of time I had planned. I'm running by time in 2016, not mileage.

And finally, on the running front, I'm officially registered for Daytona 100. This thing is real now!

Swimming


As was the case in February, swimming remains a big focus in March as I prepare for the 10K swim at Swim Miami. But for this week, I was taking a bit of a swimming rest after more than doubling my biggest swimming month in February.

Swimming didn't go great this past week. Every workout felt flat and slow. Lots of leg cramps. Overall, just not a good week of swimming. I suspect the addition of running and some intense running is the culprit. I'll adjust, eventually.

Overall, about 11,000 yards of swimming. Still a good week for me, but not my new 20,000 per week target.

Oh, and I seem to have a raging and recurring case of swimmer's ear. Ear plugs may be in my future. I wonder how I'll hear the Master's swim coach call out the swim sets and paces?

Biking


I didn't touch the bike last week. Not once...well, once to move my bike out of the way in the apartment. I can't figure it out, but biking is just the sport I enjoy the least and by quite a margin. Maybe it's all the equipment. Maybe it's the time necessary. Maybe it's feeling vulnerable to cars out on the road. Probably it's lack of comfort in the saddle, which is a symptom of not enough riding. Oh...how to resolve that. I'm not comfortable, so I don't ride. But I need to ride more to get comfortable.

I was fine not riding this week. With running back in the mix, I was prepared to let other stuff wane for a week. But, it's time to get back to biking, even if it's just short stints on the training.

So that's the week. Not really all that much to report other than the running bit. I'm so happy to be running again. Fast or not, it's really my zen place. Whether the run is at 4AM or late in the evening, it's so easy for me to just relax into the rhythm of the steps and figure out solutions to all the world's problems. Only trouble is, I never remember those solutions at the end of the run!

Whatever you're training looks like, keep moving!


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

February Training Thoughts

I'm going to try something new on my little corner of the internet here. I'm going to use this space as my own personal training journal, and will try to keep up with an entry every Monday reviewing the past week's training as I prepare for the Swim Miami 10K, Daytona 100 Ultramarathon and the big goal, Ultraman Florida in 2018. This is sure to interest nobody, so I'll be writing in a way that is meant for me. Feel free to follow along, if you so desire.

For this first entry. I'm going to write down my thoughts for the entire month of February. It makes sense to look at the entire month because it comes off my failure at Skydive Ultra 100 at the end of January, and an entire month of heavy swimming focus with virtually no running and just a little time on the bike. So, let's look at February beginning with the swimming.

February Swimming


February was the biggest month of swimming in my life. I didn't have a real yardage target going into the month, but did want to try swimming every day of the month. I swam 27 of 29 days in February. My pool was closed on February 1st for chlorination treatment, so I'm comfortable missing that day. February 4th I also missed as I was stuck at the office for an unexpected late meeting. This miss hurts more. Overall, I'm quite happy with my February swim streak, however.

Total swim yardage measured by my Garmin for the month was 71,320 (or roughly 40.5 miles,) which does not include kick yardage and some drills amounting to perhaps another 10,000 yards over the month. That's about 40,000 more yards than my prior largest month in September 2015 as I finalized my Great Floridian Triathlon training. The finally three weeks of the month, I settled into about 20,000 yards per week which feels like a heavy, yet manageable, swim load for me.


I was able to sneak in one open water swim session on the final Friday of February with Boca Raton Triathletes. It's always a great time out there, and this one was particularly interesting as our swimming beach happened to also be the set for the filming of the new Baywatch movie. I even think I caught a glimpse of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson filming an action scene running down the Boca Inlet jetty.
On the set of Baywatch. These are not actual lifeguard stands, but movie props.

How did I feel about all the yardage? Well, not surprisingly, there were many moments of fatigue in my shoulders and arms by the second week. There was one Masters swimming session when this became most apparent. We were swimming 150 yard pull sets. I'd feel great for 100 yards, and then it would feel like someone pulled the keys out of the ignition and I could just barely coast the final 50 yards. Just no power left at all.

That said, I feel like this massive (for me) amount of swimming has been tremendously beneficial. I spent several days working on balance in the water and body position, and think that has improved a bit. My swim fitness is definitely better. And, perhaps most importantly, I've had several "ah ha" moments over the past couple weeks when I finally felt like I understood what the catch and pull was supposed to feel like. They were brief moments, generally no more than 100-200 yards. But I think it's a significant sign that something is starting to connect.

February's swim training culminated with a 5,000 yard pull endurance swim on February 28th. I felt comfortable and smooth throughout despite fatigue and finished in 1:21:19. It was a nice, steady swim with only 20 seconds difference between the fast and slowest 1,000 yard "laps." Now, to double that distance in the next 40 days.

For March, I intend on trying to maintain the 20,000 yards per week target, but doing so in 5 days of swimming  per week instead of 7 days. The first week of March, I'm resting a bit from the swim as I reintroduce running into my schedule. But by the second week, I hope to be back at 20,000 yards.

February Running


February was all about rest and recovery for running. I ran the Ancient Oaks 100 Mile Ultramarathon in mid-December. I tried to run the 100 miler at Skydive Ultra at the end of January...a big, fat fail. February was to include very little running, a bit of walking and mostly just letting sore joints and ligaments heal.

I succeeded in my goal. I didn't walk or run for the first two weeks. On February 14th, I completed my first measured walk at pace. Then I ran four times easily for 30 minutes between the 14th and the 29th. Nothing intense. Nothing of length. Just real easy recovery runs.

As I head into March, I plan to try an entirely new running plan. I'm going to run more frequently, six days per week, but for shorter distances. And I'm going to do something new for me, speed work. The plan is three bona fide recovery runs per week, two runs with intensity (Tuesday Fartleks, Thursday tempo), and one sorta long run. I'll do this for a few months until I want my training to become more specific and long in preparation for Daytona 100.

February Biking


I haven't been biking since the Great Floridian. Maybe 10 hours total in the saddle in the past four months. February's goal was to reestablish a habit of biking, nothing more. I kind of succeeded.

I have formed a good habit of jumping on the bike trainer every Tuesday and Thursday after my kids finish their swim team training and before they head to bed. These have been short and easy sessions, 30 minutes to an hour, with the sole purpose of getting back on the bike. I wasn't perfect about hitting these sessions in February, but did do them much more often than not. I plan to continue this into March.

I also compelled myself to join a Sunday longer group ride twice in February. Nothing super long (40 and 60 miles), but again getting back on the bike regularly. I also don't need a ton of length with no Ironman planned in 2016. I do need to keep building bike fitness and comfort as I look to Ultraman in 2018.

However, February wasn't a complete success with biking. I had hoped to start bike commuting to work once or twice per week, 20 miles each way. I haven't done it. I haven't even brought the bike I want to use for that to Tune Cycles to get it ready. I think I'd enjoy this commuting, but I'm also quite concerned about car traffic. I've just seen too many stories about people (including some I know) getting hit by cars behaving stupidly. I'm still struggling with how to proceed on this idea.
Beautiful sunrises help make the bike more bearable

But, overall, I'll take it. I'm back on the bike with some regularity. The joy for biking isn't there (perhaps a symptom of trainer riding) and it feels like a chore. Hopefully, with some more time in the saddle, that changes.

February In Review


Overall, I think February training went quite well. I'm feeling recovered from overdoing the running exploits, I'm back on the bike a little and I've made a ton of progress with swimming. Swimming the 10K at Swim Miami feels far more doable than it did a month ago. Another month of good yardage should really help out. I'll be slow, but I'll probably make it to the finish.

February was a success...on to March. More swimming, and the sweet return of running!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Anatomy of a DNF

When you're out to push your limits, eventually those limits will smack you in the face.

This weekend I participated in the Skydive Ultra 100 mile ultramarathon. I didn't finish. I didn't even get close. It was pretty much a disaster. And I should have seen it coming.

Since I completed my first 100 mile ultramarathon at Ancient Oaks six weeks ago, I had done very little training. This was intentional. I had gotten pretty beat up at Ancient Oaks and tried to take lots of time to recover. Very little running. Not much intensity. But lots of time swimming and some biking to keep up fitness.

Race Preparation


I had been running some, however. My biggest difficulty at Ancient Oaks was blisters on the balls of my feet. As I prepared for Skydive Ultra, I focused on figuring out that blister issue. I read Fixing Your Feet and spoke with blister experts. On several of my training runs, I tested taping techniques, ENGO patches and different socks. I felt good about the blister situation. I felt like I had a handle on it.

I also put in just a couple hard runs to see how recovery was going, to see how my body was feeling. These runs included some intensity, but were kept short...under seven miles. I completed a couple long-ish runs, but without intensity. While I felt some creaking joints and discomfort on some of those runs, I always came away thinking I was recovering well and ready for Skydive Ultra.

The DNF


I always knew there was a chance things wouldn't go well at Skydive. Right after Ancient Oaks, I thought about dropping out of the race. I had gotten pretty beat up during that first hundred. During the first couple weeks of recovery, I thought about moving to the 50 mile race. But eventually, I felt like I was in a place to take a shot at 100 miles and didn't seriously consider that I'd DNF.

The race began great. Skydive Ultra had a new course this year, a 7.25 mile loop. I was committed to not making the mistake I made at Ancient Oaks, going out way too fast. The first loop felt great. My pace was perfect, I felt strong, I was running right at the pace I wanted and it felt absolutely effortless. My feet felt great and taping technique seemed like it would really do well. I had zero inclination of what was about to come.

Lap two started like the first, strong and feeling great. However, about 1 mile in, my left knee began to hurt...a lot! And the pain was increasing rapidly. Within another mile, the pain was so significant that I couldn't run any longer. But I could walk. And I could walk fast, 12 to 13 minute miles. Walking was completely pain-free and, in fact, the faster and harder I walked, the better my knee felt. I began considering my options: drop out of the race since I couldn't run or keep walking and see if I can finish the race that way. I kept walking. I finished my second lap, then my third, then my fourth and the pace kept up. The knee was getting sore even when walking, but I could keep moving well.

That all ended on the fifth lap. My pace slowed and the knee became very painful even when walking very casually. A 16 minute mile, then an 18 minute mile, then a 21 minute mile; all at intensity and pain levels similar to the 13 minute miles in the previous laps. The writing was on the wall. I could keep moving, and it was fast enough to finish under the race cut-off. But it was utter misery. I took a break at the mid-loop aid station and considered dropping out there, then decided that I'd at least finish my lap. I could barely move as I began walking again until my knee loosened up. Then more 18 to 20 minute miles. I eventually arrived at the end of the loop and decided to take 30 minutes before dropping out to really consider that decision.

30 minutes later and only 36 miles into my race and I dropped. My first DNF.

And I should have seen it coming.

"Sore Left Knee..."


In retrospect, it was so plainly obvious I wasn't ready for this race. I simply didn't listen to my body. This is exemplified by one training run and my Strava entry for that run. 16 days before the race, I went out for a higher intensity run to see how I was feeling.

The title for my run says it all:


















There it is, plain as day. My "are you broken test" reveals a sore left knee, yet I wrote it off as nothing. That sore knee should have been the big blinking red light telling me to reconsider racing. I missed it. I probably would have missed it had it hit me in the face.

The DNF was predictable if only I had been paying attention.


What's Next


So, I've been taught an important lesson (well, actually several, but I'll save those for another day.) That lesson, listen to my body! If I go for a test run and something doesn't feel right, listen to that signal. That's the first "next" for me. I'm going to become much better at paying attention.

But what else? This DNF is going to be fire. My next 100 mile race, I'm going to really prepare instead of winging it. I've got blisters figured out. I feel good about nutrition. Next I'm going to pick a race and follow a serious periodized training plan. And I'm going to nail the darn thing. I'm thinking Daytona 100 in December might be perfect.

But first, I plan to take a couple months off running to really allow my body to heal and to learn how to swim well, finishing with a 5K or 10K swim at Swim Miami. Then it will be time to focus on nailing a 100 miler.

Until then, you'll find this sticker on the back of my car. A little reminder to keep that fire lit.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Review and 2016 Preview

2015 was a huge year from a fitness perspective for me. Perhaps not "cheap", but my goal of seeking fitness was certainly met. I pretty much met all my goals in terms of fitness during the year, and I tacked on a monster bonus achievement at the end of the year.

The 2015 race list:


I don't race much, and prefer training to racing. But I had two major goals for 2015: 1) complete my first ultramarathon, and 2) complete the Great Floridian iron distance triathlon. The first goal was met in January at Skydive Ultra. The second goal was met in October. Those two pieces alone made for a successful year, especially once I discovered I had placed in my age group at the Great Floridian Triathlon. 

2015 was a success. Perhaps not as cheaply as I would have liked, but a success. I met my goals. I actually did well in my races. I didn't experience any major injuries. I began planning for 2016, and set one major goal...complete a 100 mile ultramarathon.

Then I got invited to Ancient Oaks 100 Mile ultramarathon...4 days before the race. I went for it because why the hell not. Then I finished (in large part to the help of others!) A monster bonus achievement! It wasn't pretty. It wasn't fast. Recovering from the race has been slow. But whoda thunk I'd sneak in a 100 miler into my first real year of endurance events? WOO!

What of 2016?


Then came the let-down. I had for a couple months been building up my big goal for 2016, to finish my first 100 mile ultramarathon. I had a plan in place. I'd take my first shot at 100 miles at Skydive Ultra in January. Knowing many fail at their first attempt at 100 miles, I had planned to take a second shot in December at Daytona Ultramarathon. But now that goal, that first 100 miler, had disappeared. 

Post-race blues were magnified. I couldn't run while I recovered from the 100 mile effort (I still can't run with any intensity or length.) I was done reaching a massive goal...a journey had ended. And I no longer knew what to make of 2016. I needed to figure out what to do for 2016 and get my mind focused on that...and quickly!

I haven't quite finished formulating my 2016 fitness plans, but have a basic outline. First, the big new goal for 2016 is to run my first multi-day race. A multi-day race is a whole different beast than single day races, and I love the idea of pursuing something new. I'm considering the Race Across Georgia, but haven't made a decision yet and am hoping something more local materializes. 

In 2016, I also continue to plan to build toward racing Ultraman Florida in 2018. Toward that goal, I plan to participate in a one or two half ironman triathlons and perhaps a seriously long open water swimming event. I'm also going to go to Skydive Ultra at the end of January and give 100 miles another shot. Assuming I'm well-recovered from Ancient Oak, I'm going to take many of the lessons and make a sub 24 hour finish a real goal. That will require figuring out problems with my feet and blisters and being much more cognizant of the amount of time spent in aid stations. I estimate I spent at least 3 hours at aid stations during Ancient Oaks. Finally, I'm still considering Daytona 100 at the end of the year. I'd like to give the 100 mile distance a shot with real preparation, planning, a good taper and see what happens. However, if things go well at Skydive, I may go the opposite direction for the remainder of the year and focus on shorter distances and speed...perhaps find out what I can do in an open marathon with solid training. (I've never run a marathon.)

2016 will also include spending more times with my kids on fitness. My son loves triathlon and wants to start a kids' triathlon club. I may look into this with him. He and I will definitely be running his and my first 5K together. My daughter is not a big fan of fitness, although she tolerates swimming reasonably well. I plan to explore different sports and fitness endeavors with her in 2016 to see if we can find something she enjoys more.

2016 For This Blog & Myself

In 2016, I'll continue using this blog as a space to write about my fitness endeavors. However, I'm also going to add posts here about whatever strikes me worth writing about. It could be fitness related, or completed unrelated to fitness. This space is just going to become a place for me to scratch out thoughts on whatever strikes my fancy. In fact, I've set out a few non-resolutions for 2016, more habits than resolutions, that I look to do more of in the new year. This blog will be a space to achieve some of those habits. So, I leave you and 2015 with my non-resolutions for 2016:
  1. Sleep more and eat better.
  2. Put down the phone & laptop more often, and enjoy people & nature more frequently and fully.
  3. Read books on paper (I love the convenience of ebooks, but have found I just read much less than I used to since I switched to ebooks.)
  4. Write...every day. Even if it's garbage. Just write.
  5. Reengage with my profession.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ancient Oaks 100 Ultramarathon - Lessons and Such

2015 ended with a bang for me on the fitness front. The Tuesday of race week, I received an invitation to Ancient Oaks 100 Mile Ultramarathon. Mental and physically unprepared, deep in training and untapered, no crew or pacers lined up and without equipment and nutrition nailed down, of course I accepted the invitation for my first attempt at the 100 mile distance. A completely irrational and possibly irresponsible decision.

I had heard so much about this race, about how special it was, I simply couldn't pass up the chance to run it. Plus, while I wasn't specifically trained to run 100 miles, I did still have ironman fitness and was four weeks into a 100 mile race training block. I wasn't completely unprepared.
That's a forced smile...I hurt

As I did early in the year with the DTR Endurance Challenge 50K, I'm going to write about the lessons from this race instead of a formal race report. But first, I have to send out a special thank you to a person who I credit almost 100% with my finishing. I arrived at the race with no crew and no pacer. Becky La Baron simply adopted me at around mile 48 and paced me nearly the entire way to the finish.

  1. 100 miles is serious business, fitness alone won't cut it. - I'm fit. Probably as fit as I've ever been in my life. I thought that would be enough to carry me through 100 miles. And the reality is, my fitness was strong enough for the distance. I ran well for the first 50 miles, and then fell apart due to a variety of other reasons not fitness related. Poor nutritional choices, blisters (my god, the blisters!), bad pacing and no game plan, mental unpreparedness all came back to haunt me in the race. My preparation was basically to throw everything I could think of in the back of my car, every pair of running shoes and socks and clothes and food, and just keep trying stuff throughout the race. Kinda the kitchen sink approach...not a great plan. If I ever decide to run 100 miles again, I'll focus at least as much on the non-fitness things as I will on the fitness. 100 miles is serious business. Lackadaisical attitude isn't going to cut it.
  2. Racing on a whim ain't the smartest idea - So, I said above I'm fit. Sure, it's true. But I wasn't 100 mile run fit. I had raced the Great Floridian Triathlon less then two months ago, and carried that fitness with me. I was just four weeks into building for my first 100 mile attempt at Skydive Ultra at the end of January. I didn't have ultramarathon-specific fitness despite being pretty fit. Second, since I only received my invitation four days in advance of the race, I hadn't tapered. In fact, the Friday/Saturday/Sunday before the race, I had put in serious run mileage as a part of my Skydive Ultra training. So, not only not tapered, but I was actually pretty heavily fatigued going into the race. At shorter distances, general fitness might be sufficient and not being tapered might be manageable. At 100 miles, those things just accumulated to conspire against me.
  3. Going out too fast really can destroy a race. - I went to Ancient Oaks with no expectations. I didn't expect to finish, but kinda hoped I could. I didn't have any expectations for pace or finishing time. I decided to go so late that I simply arrived free of expectations. And when I began running, I found the trail to be so much fun that I hammered the pace for about three laps (~10 miles.) It was just too beautiful and fun and without expectations I could do whatever I wanted. I knew it would come back to haunt me later in the race, but didn't really know if I'd ever make it to later in the race...no expectations. Well, that 10 mile block took me about 1 hour and 40 minutes to finish. I completed the first 33 miles of the race in 7 hours. And then proceeded to slow down dramatically, requiring another almost 23 hours to finish the next 67 miles. I went from running sub 9 minute miles to crawling along at 19 minute miles. So that whole "don't go out to fast" thing...yeah, that's really a thing. Lesson learned.
  4. Motivation to continue comes from weird places - I didn't arrive at Ancient Oaks with a steely-eyed resolve to finish. I was prepared to DNF and simply view the race as a training run for Skydive Ultra. But I finished. And motivation to continue despite a strong desire to quit came from some very unlikely places. One motivation was the continued nudges from Becky. She wasn't letting me quit. Plus, by mile 80 or so, after Becky had herself put in 30+ miles pacing me to a finish, I began to feel guilty even considering quitting. She had sacrificed tremendously to help get me that far. I owed it to her to finish. Another place I drew motivation from was the race itself. Ancient Oaks is a bit unusual. The race is held on an ancient nature sanctuary and the people who run the sanctuary are very protective of it. So, the race stays small and cannot be a commercial venture. The race has no entry fee and only about 60 people get to race each year. I felt that, having accepted my invitation, I owed it to race director Mike Melton and to anyone who didn't get to participate because I accepted the invitation to finish. There were lots of other little moments of motivation (e.g. I hated the idea of quitting, finishing 2015 with a hundo would be cool, etc...) along the way, but these were the two unexpected biggies. I never expected to feel like I owed others the finish, but that sense of owing became the ultimate motivator.
  5. Fixing my feet - I have a huge problem to figure out before I ever consider race a 100 miles again, my feet. I knew going in my feet would hurt tremendously. I knew my toes would eventually be miserable, they hurt even during longish training runs, and I'd likely lose several toe nails. I did not expect to have dramatic problems with blistering. Blisters are simply never an issue for me. The race was a completely different story. My feet hurt as expected, but I never had toe issues. I won't be losing toe nails and don't even have a black toe. But the blisters...oh the blisters. The sole of my right foot had a blister about the size of a tennis ball. My left foot had a matching, albeit slightly smaller, blister. And there were another dozen or so smaller blisters covering my feet. I'm frankly stunned that I was able to finish the race with these blisters. There were points late in the race I knew there was an issue, but I decided to simply continue and not remove my shoes for a look. Had I looked, that might have been the end of my race. If I ever hope to have a better 100 mile race, I need to figure this issue out. Was it a one-off due to lack of preparation? Perhaps. It's time to go to work on it.
There were tons of smaller lessons along the way, but these were the five biggies. #1 is perhaps the least and most surprising. I expected 100 miles to be difficult, but I really had no concept of what a different beast it is compared to any other race distance. There is simply no comparison.

A Few Word on The Enchanted Forest

Me, on a tree, feeling crappy
I can't end this sort of race report without a few words on the really spectacular setting for the race. The Ancient Oaks 100 is held in The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Brevard County. The trail was a roughly 3.5 mile long mix of sand, single track trail and wooden path. And it was spectacular. The oak trees were stunningly large and old (likely the reason for the race name.) One section ran through a tunnel of 15 foot tall saw palmettos. At night, hogs could be heard rooting and snorting in the bush. It was like stepping back in time. It was truly magical at times. 

Despite what was a tremendously difficult race, I'm so glad to have gone. The race was spectacular, the people involved were incredible (thank goodness for the wonderful volunteers...heroes!), the huge contingent of spectators who came just to hang out with us were constantly motivating, and the sanctuary was stunning. Finishing the 100 miles may be the least exciting part of all the positive at this race.

I'll finish with one final lesson. It's a lesson learned at this race again, but really throughout 2015. Impossible is an excuse. 18 months ago, I would have told you with absolute certainty that it would be impossible for me to finish a 50 mile ultramarathon or an ironman-distance triathlon or a 100 mile ultramarathon. Within 11 months, I've completed all three. Yes, of course, there are genuinely impossible things. I can't turn into a shark or jump to the moon. But by and large, impossible is an excuse to not try the epic.