Tuesday, April 3, 2018

2018 Georgia Death Race - Separating Night And Day

The trees and the rocks and the trail had to wonder what the big deal was. They'd seen this a thousand times over the centuries of watching guard on Duncan Ridge. But for us runners on that ridge who noticed, something otherwordly and unbelievable was taking place. No, not that silly little Georgia Death Race we were participating in. But something far more epic. Something none expected. Something that would likely stick with us for the rest of our lives.


Climbing along Duncan Ridge
The 2018 Georgia Death Race was all set to begin just south of the Georgia / North Carolina border at Vogel State Park at 5AM. Runners had arrived at the finish line the night before for a pre-race meeting full of little tips and tidbits about the race. When my crew (the indefatigable Nick Stump and Eddy Souza) and I arrived at the pre-race meeting, I was stunned. Stunned by the hills that gave way to quite high peaks as we drove closer and closer. Stunned by the view out of Amicalola Lodge windows. Stunned by the size of the race event relative to other ultramarathons I'd participated in. This was no small affair with a bunch of local runners, but loaded with hundreds of seriously fit looking runners all clothed in race t-shirts and hats from some of the most famous and gnarly races I'd heard of. I was utterly intimidated and we weren't even toeing the starting line yet. I hadn't climbed a single foot of the 16,000 feet of climbing that lay ahead, but was already fairly convinced that I was out of my league.

As race morning arrived, I'd slept very little. I never sleep well before a race I give a damn about, and was not surprised. Problem was, I hadn't slept well the night before since we had to be on the road so early driving from South Florida to northern Georgia. And I hadn't slept well the night before that either after my son arrived into our bedroom feeling ill. Even so, my energy was high. This was going to be an adventure, maybe the adventure, that I had been looking for since I began pursuing endurance events 3 years prior.


We arrived at Vogel State Park about 30 minutes before the race was set to begin. The air was cold, really cold for a South Floridian. Despite being dressed like I was prepared to run the Iditarod, I still shivered violently in the 30 degree temperature. I checked in with the race team and picked up the railroad spike I would have to carry with me for the next 74ish miles.

The full blue moon was crystal clear in the cool, crisp air. It was bright enough to light the way without need of a headlamp. Runners gathered and quickly tried to clear their bladders and bowels one last time, then made way to the start line for final words from the race director, Sean Blanton. Nervous pacing and chatter among runners, final words of encouragement from crew standing nearby, a moonlight rendition of "Happy Birthday" sung by 260 runners to the race director and then we were off.

And immediately into a climb. We ran up a nice gentle incline along a paved road, which eventually turned into a not-so-well maintained paved road and, finally, single track trail shortly thereafter. As we headed onto the single track, Sean yelled a reminder to us that we should be walking as everyone had blazed out at far too fast a pace. The trail rose into the night between the trees crossing small creeks, generally narrow enough to jump over. We continued to climb in a solid row of runners unable (or unwilling) to pass or be passed. There was some small chatter among runners, but it was eerily quiet for an ultramarathon as everyone focused on getting a sense of the trail and persistent effort required to rise into the mountains. The moon accompanied us along our journey, coming into view and then leaving it again as we followed the contours of this first bump in our path.

Twenty minutes later, the first small climb was done and we began our single-file descent down the trail. The pace quickly picked up, and I had my second realization that I was out of my element. The climbing had been comfortable, easy even. I had trained well for it. But descending downhill on a steep trail covered in roots and rocks, that was an entirely different story. It was tough and scary. One poor foot placement and I imagined myself falling face first into one of the sharp rocks littering the trail. Fortunately, this first descent was short and over quickly, well before real doubt had crept into my mind.


The big climb had arrived. Only three miles into the race and barely warmed up, and it was time for us to fight our way up nearly 2,500 feet and the highest peak we'd reach all day. This was the climb I had lost sleep over in the weeks leading up to the race. It was the big ugly one on the elevation profile provided by the race. It was long, sustained and sometimes steep.

And after about an hour and a half of head down climbing and consistent effort in the dark, we were at the top. I had climbed strong, really strong, for someone coming from the flat lands and the effort felt very sustainable. We were no longer a single file line of 260 runners. The field had been ripped apart by the climb. I was on my own with no runners or headlights in sight behind me and a small group of runners just a turn ahead of me. Sunlight was filtering through the trees, but sunrise was still a long way off.

The terrain along the ridge we had reached slowly rolled downward, but was not overly steep and not overly technical. It was comfortable running. I quickly reeled in the group in front of me and settled in behind them. I was not comfortable running alone in this desolate place. Eventually, we descended into the first aid station. I moved quickly through this station only 8.1 miles into the race. And that's when it happened.


As a couple other runners and myself reached the top of the next climb out of the aid station, we could see the beginning of sunrise to the east. The sun was rising above a peak well below the ridge we traversed. The valley below was now being lit up and had been filled with thick, pillowy fog. A beautiful sight.

But the real magic was to our west. The full moon had now fallen below our own ridge, but was still hanging above the next ridge over. The entire valley to the west was cloaked in the darkness of night, not a ray of sunlight reaching beyond our ridge, only lit by the strong light of the full moon.

We ran along for several minutes both simultaneously in sunrise and daylight and darkness and moonlight. We were spellbound, running along in a moment that wouldn't be believed even if someone had taken a photo. It was the line between two worlds, between night and day, between moon and sun. And we were there with it, basking in it, not quite believing it. We were at the top of the ridge, a part of the structure which separated night and day. And then the sun reached higher into the sky, light spilled into the western valley, and the spell was broken.

Who would ever forget, or believe, this experience?


The next 12 miles turned into a miasma of misery. The elevation profile had deceivingly made these miles appear to be mostly downhill with only a small bump upward here and there. The reality was far different, a series of a dozen and a half peaks climbed and descended as we continued along the ridge. None of the peaks on the ridge was overwhelming on its own, the largest having perhaps a few hundred feet of climbing. But progress was an extreme mental challenge. Just as one peak was reached and crossed, the next peak on the trail could be seen across the valley before the descent began. An endless pattern of up and down emerged.

And another pattern emerged. I continued to climb strongly and efficiently. I passed many runners on the climbs, while few passed me. The effort was high, but manageable. I wasn't huffing and puffing like others. I didn't need breaks on the way up, as many runners needed.

But on the way down, the roles were reversed. The runners I had just passed easily on the way up went flying by me on the way down. The trail had become technical and steep, with rocks and roots taunting me with their sharp edges at every step. While other runners allowed gravity to pull them down the slopes, lightly stepping from safe positions to safe position, I moved slowly and deliberately trying to remain in control. The effort to do so was massive. My legs were getting shredded. Doubts really began to creep in. How could I run another 55 miles when my legs were on fire trying to make it down just a few of these descents? How long could these endless peaks continue? Wasn't there some reasonably flat section on that elevation profile I had studied?


Eventually, I reached a couple race volunteers who pointed me down a turn off the trail to Skeenah Gap, the first aid station where my crew would be waiting. Their comment to me was another mighty surprise, "Just about 1.5 miles down to the aid station." Down?!? I hadn't noticed this in the maps. Worse yet, not only was it 1.5 miles down, but this was also an out-and-back section bringing us off the trail to a road that our crews could access. Each step down carried the weight of the knowledge that this would be a step I'd be taking back up in the very near future. The mental challenge of this knowledge was massive. The bright spot, knowing Eddy and Nick and hopefully a chair were waiting at the bottom, was the only salvation.

Headed into Skeenah Gap
Once at the aid station, it was time to take a break and assess my situation. Nick and Eddy were great getting me set up with more drink and food, asking the right question and reminding me "not to be a bitch." I had intended to change my shoes at this point from a pair of Nike Wildhorse to some Altra Escalantes. But the course was more technical than anticipated and my feet were feeling great and I didn't want to mess with a good thing.

After about five minutes, it was back onto the course and the long 1.5 mile climb out of Skeenah Gap and back onto the trail. And then, right back into the soul-crushing crossing of endless peaks. Up and down we went. Doubt grew and grew with each painful descent.


As time passed, I found myself increasingly alone. The first 22 miles I had generally spent in the company of others. It was much easier to follow someone else's feet as they picked smart lines through the terrain. But now I was fending for myself. I had to pick my own lines through the trail. I had to watch my feet and the course markings. I still felt solid during each climb, but downhills became increasingly painful and difficult.

I was finding my way to the lowest point mentally I'd experience all race. Low points are to be expected, and I was fully prepared to continue muddling through. And muddle I did. I still ran the flats and easy downhills, but the pace was slowing.

And the timing was unfortunate. The terrain was changing. The hard and steep climbs and descents were becoming more moderate with occasional switchbacks to ease the grade. Other hikers and tourists were showing up. I crossed Toccoa Hanging Bridge, something that would generally fascinate me, and barely noticed. I was grumpy and in pain and not moving well and failed to notice things were actually easier.

And then trail offered a bounty and I had no choice but to accept.


Before the race, I had told my crew I wanted to use a stick as a hiking aid during the race. The race rules did not allow trekking poles, but made no comment of something provided by nature. I had mostly forgotten my desire to use a hiking stick when suddenly the perfect stick lay right in the middle of the trail. The stick was smooth and devoid of bark. It was the perfect length for my height. It was dry and light, but very strong. It was perfect. And it was the beginning of a change in my mood.

I reached an aid station where I jammed calories in and found a random Red Bull sitting near the aid station. I was assured it was fine and drank it greedily. The avocado slices with salt were also magic. My energy and mood almost immediately improved as I left the aid station. A couple miles later, after a brief in-the-woods potty break, and my spirits were high. Downhills were still tremendously painful, but everything was different as I proceeded on.

Another aid station, more quick calories, and I was back on my way feeling better than I had in hours. And the trail provided a second bounty, another runner. We stuck together for the next several miles into the Winding Stairs aid station pacing one another, chit-chatting, commiserating in our suffering. The other runner had completed an Appalachian Trail through-hike in his youth and knew the area we were running well. The conversation was fascinating to me, probably boring to him. And the beauty of the trail came back into focus as we passed a mountain creek lined with rhododendrons. These were some of the easiest and quickest miles of the day and got me back to Nick and Eddy in high spirits.


Winding Stairs aid station would be the last time I got to see my crew before the finish. Eddy and Nick were again on-point getting everything ready for me, working through my pack to make sure I wasn't carrying extra weight and making certain I was all set for the longest uncrewed section of the race. They packed me up with warmer clothes and my headlamp accessible as nighttime was prepared to set in over the next few hours.

Out of Winding Stairs, the course immediately headed into the longest and easiest descent of the race. A gentle dirt road led runners down for nearly three miles until we were back on single track. This section was fast and easy, excepting a short stop I had to take when I feared I had missed a turn. This was running I was ready for!

Back on the trail, the course was beautiful and relatively easy. Still up and down, but not nearly with the intensity of earlier in the race. The climbs were moderate, the descents gentle and untechnical. I was still in tremendous pain even on these easy downhills, but my stick and I made steady progress and reached the next aid station at Jake Bull with relative ease.


We had been warned. Leaving Jack Bull put us onto perhaps the toughest section of the course. Not due to the difficulty of the trail, there was little trail to run. Not because of the steepness. But because we were about to embark on a gentle climb of over 3 miles across paved and dirt road, and the next aid station was 11 miles away and night was falling. We were warned that the climb felt endless.

And yet, I climbed well. I passed several runners on the three mile climb on the approach to Nimblewell aid station while hiking hard. About a mile and a half out of Nimblewell the climb ended, and Sean Blanton had a bit of a nasty surprise for us. For a mile or so, I could hear music and figured it was the aid station. It was too early for the aid station, but I assumed my GPS was incorrect. Unfortunately, it was a "false" aid station, a trick to mess with us runners. Just a couple people with a large speaker playing music. But they did have water, a blessing as I was running dry. Now it was time to head down again on single track into Nimblewell.

And any downhill running was over for me at that point. The long hike had left me unable to run at all. I tried and both legs nearly cramped almost immediately in the quads and groin muscles. 12 miles to go, and I'd be hiking in the rest of the way. It was dark, the trail was tricky and often water covered and I was moving slowly. It was going to be a long trudge, although not an all-out death march. I could still hike strong, just not run.


Nimblewell aid station was a true beacon in the dark replete with Christmas lights and projectors. Some wonderful vegetable soup, more salted avocado, a bunch of ginger ale (which I momentarily feared was actually Grey Goose Vodka) and I was back on the trail for the final nine miles of the race.

At Nimblewell I had been warned that I'd work my way to Amicalola Falls Park for the next six miles, then run right past the finish line (another Sean Blanton special) before heading to the 685 stairs up to the top of the waterfall, simply to turn around and run back down a trail to the finish line.

The pull of the finish line was strong. I hiked as hard as I could, alone on the dark downhill trail. Twice I was certain I had missed a turn, checked the Livetrail app to learn that I didn't, and continued on. Then, after what seemed like endless hours of quiet and loneliness with nothing but the clicking of my stick on stone, I could hear cheering. Not loud, but clear as crystal. Cheering in the middle of the night in the backwoods of the northern Georgia mountains had to mean the finish line. Then a road lay ahead and a volunteer pointed me left...onto the most technical descent of the entire race.

Rocks and boulders lined the trail. The going was exceptionally slow despite very little ground to cover. Every step was treacherous. Eventually, I reached the bottom and could see the finish line. Around a corner, and there stood Eddy alone in the dark.


As I passed Eddy, I could hear the waterfall. I asked him how far to the waterfall and Eddy responded that that it was about 200 yards on the left. I also asked what time it was. Eddy said about midnight, which meant I had an hour to go up and down and finish in under 20 hours. In about 200 yards, I crossed a road onto a paved trail. But where were the stairs? Up the trail I climbed, the waterfall crashing to my left, but still no stairs. "WHAT THE HELL, EDDY!!!!," was my only thought as the paved trail seemed to continue forever. Of course, Eddy hadn't been wrong. This paved trail was the beginning of the waterfall climb. I simply expected stairs in 200 yards.

Eventually the stairs came into view, Sean Blanton's almost final middle-finger to runners. Over 600 stairs straight up along the waterfall. It was back to hard uphill climbing and, like the rest of the race, I still felt strong climbing. I did take a moment to stop when the 700 foot tall waterfall came into full view lit up perfectly by the nearly full moon. Then it was back to climbing stairs.

The top reached, it was time to head back down to the finish line. I would finish this race facing my nemesis, going downhill. And what a downhill it was. After a short portion on the road, back onto the trail we went. Steep and difficult. I bounced from tree to tree to make sure I didn't simply roll down to my death. The noise of the finish line become louder, the lights came into view and then I could hear the creek. Sean's final gag.

As I tumbled down the trail, I could see the finish line...on the other side of a creek. The trail continued to a bridge, conveniently covered in race tape making it clear the bridge was off limits. The only way to the finish line was through the creek. Not deep, but 15 feet across with a rocky riverbed, it wasn't an exciting prospect. Then I stepped into the creek and the cold waters immediately soothed my sore feet. Through the water, up a small incline and Sean was meeting me at the finish.

Done in 19 hours, 53 minutes and 2 seconds.


Warming up after the finish
The 2018 Georgia Death Race was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done in my life. Finally, I feel I've completed a truly noteworthy event. Florida ultramarathons, while challenging and painful, never gave me that feeling. At the risk of sounding trite, this was a truly epic adventure. It was far more difficult than I had anticipated.

And there is zero chance I could have finished without my crew who gave up a weekend with families to be with me. Who drove 12 hours each way to get me there and get me home. Who stayed up all night tirelessly helping me along.

The question I've been asked is "what's next." Going into the race, I was committed to no more ultramarathons for a while. When I spoke to Eddy and Nick during the race, I said never again. On the drive home, I was certain I would never run another mountain ultra.

But it's in my blood now. The climbs. The moon and sun together. The suffering and pain. Playing guardian between night and day. The adventure. Someday, I'll do another.

After I learn how to run technical downhills.

Monday, February 20, 2017

100 Mile Ultramarathon Mental Tips

I'm going to be helping crew someone running their first 100 mile ultramarathon. As the race approaches, I've been thinking about my own 100 mile races and what might be helpful for someone to know particularly as it relates to the mental side of the 100 mile game. While I'm still a neophyte at these races, I think I've learned a few lessons along the way.

So, in no particularly order, and under the assumption a person has done the basic work to have the requisite fitness for a 100 miles, my tips for the mental side of 100 mile ultramarathoning:
  • Decide what's negotiable and what's non-negotiable before the race begins. In the dark moments, you'll want to negotiate everything with yourself. Anything you've left as an open question will become available to negotiate away. My most recent 100 miler, I had a stated goal of finishing in under 24 hours. However, I kept a private goal of trying to get under 20 hours. Even though I was way under 20 hour pace at the time, in the first real dark moment it became very easy to negotiate my way to giving up that private goal and settling for the sub-24 hour goal.
  • Know your motivations. There are the obvious answers, but I've discovered sometimes it's the less obvious that get you to the end. My first race, I wouldn't quit although I probably should have because the person who suddenly decided to pace me when I was fading made it so clear she really didn't want me to quit. No matter how painful it got, I did not want to let her down. I was also pushed forward (as slowly as it may have been) that I was at an invitation-only race and someone else might not have been there so I could have a space. In my second race, I wish I would have remembered that the faster I finished, the sooner my crew could get rest. Had that been at the forefront of my mind, I might have finished in under 20 hours. Frankly, I've also been motivated by how cool it would be when I get to post my finish to Facebook. Silly, of course. But a driving factor nonetheless. Motivation can come from all kinds of places and in a variety of shapes and forms. When running really long, it's critical to keep these motivations in mind and find new ones along the way.
  • Form. As fatigue sets in, form deteriorates, both in running and walking. As form deteriorates, things start to hurt. As things start to hurt, form deteriorates even more and things start to hurt even, even more. It's a vicious cycle with one solution. A relentless mental focus on maintaining form. This saved me at Daytona 100. I was 65 miles in, had felt absolutely great for the first 100 kilometers and then suddenly had terrible pain in a knee. I was reduced to a snail's pace. After a few minutes, my pacer convinced me to try a short run. At first, it was a no go. But after a couple tries, I really focused on forcing good running form and the pain receded. I was running again! However, had I had that relentless focus earlier, I would likely have prevented the worst of the pain from the beginning.
  • Have a plan. Follow the plan. And plan as many things as you can: when you plan to eat, when you plan to refill nutrition bottles, when you'll take salt and reapply lubrication and changes shoes and socks. Every little detail can be planned. If you have crew, let the crew keep you on plan. It becomes remarkably simple to forget even the most basic things deep into a race. In my first 100, the person pacing me asked me how much water I'd been drinking. As I thought about it, I realized I hadn't had a sip of liquid in a very long time, perhaps hours. And be completely ready to adjust the plan on the fly. Things aren't going to go according to plan. So make the adjustments that are needed. But refer back to the plan to make sure you're not forgetting anything.
Finally, if the goal is to finish the race, making the commitment to finish no matter what is the most important of all. (Disclaimer: risking potential injury falls outside the "no matter what" commitment.) I ran across the perfect description of commitment on the Science of Ultra podcast this week: "commitment is making the choice to give up choice." Choose to finish, leaving no other alternative available.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Phantom Ponies And Bare Bums

Not everything in an ultramarathon is inspiring or spiritual or life changing. In fact, much of a race is mundane and mechanical and even easy to forget about entirely. Occasionally, there is not much more than discomfort and pain. And sometimes, there are moments that are not inspiring nor mundane and not necessarily painful, but utterly and comically absurd. This was one of those moments.

So much of the 2016 Daytona 100 Ultramarathon had gone exceedingly well to this point. Sure, there were some dark points. Yeah, I was slowing down. But, by and large, a great day.

Of course, in a 100 mile race the unexpected or overlooked seems to always happen. And I knew this particular problem might happen, but forgot to discuss it with my crew and forgot to be prepared. I had overlooked this problem despite having dealt with it in training a couple times. That evil, nasty thing nobody likes to talk about...groin chafing.

76 miles into my race and I noticed the first hint of that chafing feeling. Nothing bad, but an instant "UH OH" moment. "UH OH" because some bad bloody chafing could end my race and I wasn't carrying anything deal with it. "UH OH" because I had just left my crew who drove on ahead to the 80 mile aid station. I had packed plenty of chafing solutions, but those were somewhere off in the dark distance, in the buildings of Daytona miles ahead. "UH OH" because I wasn't thinking clearly.

Solutions began to bubble forth in my brain. The first solution, stop trying to run and walk to my crew and minimize the damage. Of course, walking is one thing. But walking to prevent thighs from rubbing another thing altogether. So I began to walk with this bizarre "I'm riding a horse" kind of gait. This horse-riding and damage-reducing walk seemed to help for a while, but slowly the discomfort increased again.

A second idea struck! Readjust my shorts so that the liner was no longer sitting on the same location! Yeah, that definitely helped as I continued to walk along while riding my invisible horse. But it required constant adjustment as my shorts slid back into their natural place. And my wonderful pacer (oh yeah, I forgot to mention I had someone running with me during this pants adjusting, horse riding moment) began to give me kinda funny looks as I continually jammed my hand down my pants.

I really need a good long term solution to get me to my crew without ending up a bloody mess and ending my race. We'd made it less than half way to my crew vehicle while moving at about 20 minutes per mile and my race goals were slipping away. And then the absurdity struck. My half-witted brain put the puzzle together. The solution was so obvious and yet so preposterous, it took a while to connect.

It was night and very dark. We were running -- well, horsey-ride walking -- in the dark along the beach away from civilization. We were alone with only the occasional passing car to see us. I was wearing a rather long shirt and a coat. When I got the liner moved off the chaffed area, things improved dramatically.

The solution? Oh yes, the solution. Absolute genius! I pulled my shorts off my ass. Pulled them straight down and walked bare-assed! No more liner rubbing against the damaged skin! No more further damage occurring! Ultramarathoning genius of Einstein-ian proportions!

Of course, I still had a couple miles to go to get to my crew vehicle where a variety of lubricants waited. And now I was walking with pants pulled of my hinder, still riding that mysterious and difficult to see stead that kept my thighs from rubbing, and my joints beginning to stiffen from too much walking and too much cooling down. And my poor pacer along for the ride.

Adding to this foolishness, we began to enter the outer limits of Daytona. Some late-night drinking establishments at first...oh, the stories the patrons must have told one another! A restaurant. A grocery store. Street lights. Some condo buildings. We were entering civilization and street lights and people, but still no crew vehicle... no relief. My rear-end (and much more!) a gust of wind away from being exposed to an ever increasing number of drunken vacationers and revelers! What a sight it would have been. Bum out, legs stiff, bizarre and stiff walking manner, delirious look on my face, a race bib pinned to my clothes in the middle of the night. And my poor pacer at my side likely trying to hide his face.

Then, FINALLY, the traffic light I knew to be the location of the 80 mile aid station came into view. My crew would be waiting. Lubricants, compression pants, new shorts, solution upon solution upon solution. Just waiting, a half mile or so ahead.

10 minutes later and the ordeal had ended. The absurdity was over. The humorous figure I was casting across all of Daytona disappeared into the ether. My tuchus was covered. The phantom pony evaporated into thin air. Only the stiff joints and muscles after for miles of awkward walking lingered. And the worst of the damage seemed to have been avoided. (I would learn in my shower the next morning how wrong I was on that last point!)

Ahhhh, the joys of running ultramarathons. I think I recognized the humor of the moment as it was occurring, but I was in no mind to appreciate it. Oh, to have been on of those barflys watching me pass by!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

10 Perfect Miles, And We Weren't Even Supposed To Be There

They weren't even a part of the course. About 10 miles, from Mickler Road until we entered the beach somewhere around South Ponte Vedra. Yet these 10 miles made it clear that ultramarathons weren't just trail runs. That running on the roads could be just as beautiful and just as connected to nature as any trail.

10 miles of intense loneliness. 10 miles of straight roads crawling over rolling beach dunes. 10 miles of bird and wildlife noises to the right and the crash of waves to the left. 10 miles of the bluest endless sky overhead.

10 miles with the ocean ever present to the east. I couldn't see that vast expanse of water. A dune covered in sea grapes blocked the view. But I could smell it. I could feel its weight. The air carried the water. And the waves, crashing and crashing and crashing. The ocean was there, only feet away.

10 miles that stick in my brain, that I remember again and again. And we weren't even supposed to be there. We were only there because nature had dictated it. Nature had washed a beach away and forced the race director to reroute the race. Nature had demanded we experienced this bit of itself, despite human's best efforts for that not to happen.

10 miles of nature preserve continually to the west. Estuaries filled with endless wildlife. Birds noisily starting their morning. The distinct bang of a shotgun as humans entered to hunt. A lizard or two, or perhaps a hundred. I dreaded knowing later in the race I would lose this preserve, and run through city. But that was hours, maybe even another day, away.

10 miles of absolute, unequivocally perfect weather. Cool air, but not cold. Perfectly sunny, but no heat from the sun. No humidity, a constant light tailwind. Later in the day, it would get a touch warm. In the evening, a few drops of rain. At night, a bit of a chill. But for those 10 miles, utter perfection.

Yes, 10 miles on asphalt. 10 miles on that seemingly endless road. But 10 miles as connected to nature as any trail could ever offer.

And it was then I really understood what I'd seen some other ultramarathoners write about or heard them talk about. That ultramarathoning isn't synonymous with trail running. That there's something special about running the roads. No, not better than trails, but not inferior either. Different and wonderful and a worthwhile pursuit.

10 perfect miles, and we weren't even supposed to be there.

(This is my first of a few stories from the 2016 Daytona 100 Ultramarathon I plan to write. I thought this might be more fun and more interesting than a formal race report. And, boy, do I wish I had gotten a photo of the rolling roads on this 10 mile stretch.)

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 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.


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.


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 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!


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?


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. 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!