Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is It Still A Runner's Journey?

I don't really know that I want to be called a runner anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love running, and I probably always will. But that tag just feels so limiting now. I've pretty much been a runner first and foremost for quite a few years. Running is what I always wanted to do, and I'd choose running over anything else. I don't feel that way now. I still want to run, but I also want to climb, I want to CrossFit, I want to surf, I want to hike, I want to swim, I want to SUP, I want to do it all. I want to try everything and I want to see every place.

I feel like when I say I'm a runner I am limiting the possibilities. How much do you run? How many miles do you run? How many marathons and ultras can you run in a year? These are the questions I get asked, and these are the questions I ask myself when I place myself in the box of being a runner. These are goals I've always pursued, and these are the goals that have consistently left me unfulfilled. These goals don't challenge me anymore. How many miles can I run? Who cares? Again, I love running. I love marathons. I love ultras. But I no longer want that to define me. I want those things to be something that I do rather than who I am. Nope. I don't want to be defined as a runner, a marathoner, an ultramarathoner anymore. I want to be more. I want my challenges to be larger, scarier, more diverse. I want my world to be bigger.

I want to expand my world rather than limit it. I only want to run one or two marathons and/or ultras a year going forward. I want my time back to attack other things. I want to take part in the CrossFit Games Open, and a CrossFit competition this year. I want to spend time hiking and backpacking. I want to climb. I want to really learn to surf. I want to do a tri (it's been 2 1/2 years since my last one). I want to challenge myself with a GoRuck event. These are all things I won't have time or energy for if I focus on running only.

Maybe this post has no real point, but here it is anyway. Reading it back, it's mostly senseless rambling, but that's my brain right now. There are so many things I want to do and so many different directions I want to go. I just don't really know what 2016 will hold, and that is my favorite thing about 2016 so far. If you suffered through reading this, cheers! Where are your dreams taking you? How do you like to define yourself?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Odd Journey That Was 2015...

My last workout of 2015
Where do I even start with this one? I guess the best place to start is to say that I'm grateful for 2015. It was my worst year for fitness since I started in 2009, but I think it was exactly what I needed. I've known for several years that I need to change the way I god about my fitness and my health goals, but I just never could do it. 2015 proved to be the time that everything came to a head and as I leave this weird year for 2016, I am left with little choice but to make those changes finally. Sometimes you have to give up before you can start over.

Running the Miss. Blues Marathon 1/10/15
Things started out quite well. I had completed the Pensacola Marathon in November of 2014 and was finishing up my training for my first back-2-back marathon weekend in January of this year. (Race report here) I felt great, I was running pretty strong, I was relatively confident. I was still pretty overweight, and still not strength training or cross-training like I knew I should, but I was about to run two marathons in two states in two days. How bad of shape could I be in? I successfully completed those two marathons, and did them in better times than I had expected. I completed the Mississippi Blues Marathon in 5:23:06, and the First Light Marathon in 5:36:24, for a combined time of 10:59:30. Obviously not spectacular, but given that this was my first back-2-back weekend and my average marathons are right around 5 hours, I was surprised I did so well. And I was proud that I bounced back to only lose 13 minutes from the first race to the second. Obviously my training had produced the endurance I was shooting for, and that's something I was very proud of. It's still rather amazing to me that I ran two marathons in one weekend. It's definitely not something I ever really thought I was capable of.

The Blackwater Trail Challenge 50k
Coming off the ridiculous cold (17° at the start) of the Mississippi Blues Marathon, no surprise I got sick. I missed a little training, but still felt good going into the Blackwater 50k a little more than a month after my back-2-back marathons. (Race report here) I did okay, but not great. Man, looking at this picture it's easy to see the problem. I could run far, but it's crazy how out of shape I am/was. But it was a great race, a beautiful course, lots of friends, and lots of fun. I'm glad I ran it, and I look forward to getting into better shape so I can run it again, maybe in 2017.

Equinox 50 Mile/50k
Then came my biggest challenge of the year. My first 50 miler... or so I thought. It was a train wreck. (Race report here) It was effectively the end of my year. It rained the entire time, sometimes quite heavily, and the trail was muddy and often under several inches of water to trudge through. I'd like to blame that rain for my terrible day, but that would be dishonest. It was a factor, no doubt, but I was the problem that day. I was excited going into the race, but I woke up that morning uninterested and wanting to go back to sleep instead. I got started okay, but just a few miles in I knew it wasn't my day and I wasn't going to finish the 50 miles. It was a LOOOOONG day trudging through, feeling like hell, not having any fun. As I walked (yes, mostly walked with a little running) I thought about how out of shape I am. I thought about how I know I can and should do better. I thought about why I failed that day. I know I can complete a 50 miler, and I still plan to get there some day, but I know that things must SERIOUSLY change before I set such a goal again. I ended up completing the 50k in a ridiculous almost 10 1/2 hours, but in my head it's a DNF. It was most certainly a failure, and it was most certainly my own creation. It was a tipping point that had probably been coming for a couple of years. I knew I was at a point that I had to change, because I certainly didn't want to have a day like that EVER again.

Kristy & I at the Pensacola Blue Wahoos opening day
Honestly, though, as bad as that day was I left confident in my ability to complete a 50 miler. I KNEW I could do it. I just knew I needed to get back to being focused on fitness overall rather than running only. But the immediate focus was going to be on resting and recovering. I'd been training for quite a while, so it was time to take it easy. I did a little running, but not much. I did a little weight lifting, but REALLY not much. I mostly just tried to enjoy life. The problem was, I was getting even more out of shape and it started to show in my mentality.

I stopped really wanting to run or work out, so I just didn't. In fact, even with having run two marathons and two 50k, 2015 was by far my lowest total running mileage year since I started in late 2009. Less miles than my first full year as a runner. Just half the miles of the year that I couldn't run for 8 weeks with a stress fracture. I just wasn't motivated to run and I didn't care. The further I was getting from the failed 50 mile attempt, the more I was getting myself down about it. The less happy I was with myself and the more disappointed I was in allowing myself to get so out of shape that I failed so miserably.

Team RWB Regional Hiking Clinic in FDR St. Park, GA
One upside to this lack of running and working out was that I discovered a passion for something I had only passingly considered before. I became a big fan of hiking, and I even went on a couple camping/hiking trips. I even attended the Team RWB Southeast Regional Hiking Clinic, which was amazing and I made lots of new friends. I bought a nice TETON Sports backpack, and some gear. I hope to get some newer, nicer, lighter tent and sleeping bags, but I definitely now have the desire to spend time out walking and camping. It's like a whole new world opened up to me, which probably wouldn't have had I successfully completed the 50 miler.

Kristy & I at the Royals vs Rays game in Tampa on 8/28
Of course, there is life outside of being a runner/athlete too, so let me get to some of that for a bit and get back to my fitness in a little bit. In late August, Kristy and I went on a trip that is one of the best I've been on in years. We started out by Heading down to Tampa to visit our good friend Nidia and catch a couple baseball games while the Royals were in town playing the Rays at Tropicana Field. We had a blast visiting with Nidia, and having left KC, it was great to see the Royals live again. It didn't hurt that they were in first place in the entire American League at the time!! Having been a fan for about 32 years, most of which were terrible, It was fun to see them doing so well. But more on that later....

Kristy & I with the actual
Atlantis Orbiter
After a couple of days in Tampa, Kristy and I headed over to Cape Canaveral for a few days visiting the Kennedy Space Center. I am a HUGE space nerd, so this was like a dream come true for me. Kristy has always been amazed by the shuttles, but never quite as interested in space as I am. This trip got her much more interested, though. We got to see so many amazing things that it's hard to even list them, or even pick a particular picture to include. We saw the actual retired space shuttle orbiter Atlantis, the capsule from the Apollo 14 mission that landed on the Moon, an actual left over Saturn V rocket (not used after the program was ended earlier than planned), The actual control room from which the Apollo missions were launched, the actual Gemini 9 capsule, a memorial to the crews lost on the tragic Challenger and Columbia disasters, met astronaut Clayton Anderson (serviced the Hubble several times), and countless other amazing artifacts. I learned so much, and seeing the passion the NASA people have for their current mission and plans was inspiring. It's going to be amazing to see all the things NASA is working on as they come into reality, and the crazy technologies that will come out of those explorations. I felt like a little kid running around amazed by all of these things we were seeing. What an awesome place. I could spend a week there and not see everything. Unfortunately, weather scrubbed the rocket launched planned while we were there, so I guess we'll have to go back and see one another time.

Let's get back to the Royals for a moment. I've been a Royals fan since we moved to Kansas City in '83, and I'm just old enough to remember the 1985 World Series Championship. I also remember the utter failure we've been ever since. Not a single playoff game from the final game 7 of the '85 World Series until making a wild card last year in 2014. We made it all the way to the World Series against the Giants, only to come up 90 ft short in 7 games to take the loss. After 29 years without playoffs, it was hard to be optimistic that we'd make another wild run like that just one year later. No, we'd had our chance and lost.

Well, in 2015 we ended the year with 95 wins, which was good for the best record in the American League and second best in team history. In 2014, we absolutes rolled through the playoffs, winning the wild card game, sweeping the ALDS, and sweeping the ALCS, before taking the World Series loss. We squeaked by some rough spots to beat the Astros in the ALDS 3 games to 2. We then had another hard fight getting by the Blue Jays 4 games to 2 to win our second consecutive American League Pennant. It would have been hard to pick who would win when we went up against the Mets in the World Series. Two very evenly matched teams. It sounds like we beat them pretty soundly going 4 games to 1, but it was a hard fought battle from the start. Game 1 was a 14 inning affair that tied the major league record for longest game in World Series history. We came back in the 8th inning or later several times to steal wins. In game 5, we were losing and many fans seemed down and out, accepting that the Royals would lose and come back to KC to hopefully take the series at home. But the Royals staged another thrilling come from behind victory that took 12 innings and left me in tears. I was up almost the entire night watching coverage and crying. I was 8 years old again watching my favorite hold that trophy high. I hope we continue to be a competitive team moving forward. This has been a fun, thrilling two year ride so far.

WOD With Warriors at Anthem CrossFit
Okay, back to fitness. On November 11th, me and many others from our Team RWB chapter took part in the WOD With Warriors event at Anthem CrossFit. I had tried CrossFit once in 2014, and I didn't enjoy it, so when we had the Spring WOD With Warriors I opted to help with the food rather than take part in the workout. For whatever reason, when the November event was coming around, I decided to join in the workout this time and see if I'd like it more this time. It was an amazing workout, and a lot of fun. There are so many inspiring people and great coaches at Anthem. After that, I got to thinking about how I need to get back to better strength training and more intensity. I kept trying to do my old weight lifting plans, but never got back to the intensity level I want/need. I started to think that maybe CrossFit would be a good solution.

After a workout at my new-found home, Anthem CrossFit
I went back almost a week later on 11/16 for a regular class to see what I thought. I figured best case scenario I'd start going once a week. Well, it was a brutal workout that took every drop of energy I had. We also had a great coach that helped me, encouraged me, and pushed me pretty hard. Yeah, I was hooked. Two weeks later, the first week of December, I went to the week long On-Ramp program, and have been going 4-5 days a week all month. I've already seen some improvement, and I haven't had this much fun working out in years. Finally, I found something to help relight my fitness fire. I never would have guessed CrossFit would be something I'd get into, much less be the thing that got me excited to be healthy again.

My Real Appeal starter kit
Now I look forward to 2016. My goals are about fitness and attitude, rather than my usual mileage or race goals. I want to be fit again, and I want to get back to being a positive, proactive person. To that end, I've joined a program now being offered through my work. It is a year-long well being program that is provided for free. We have a coach, and we have weekly meeting to talk about different fitness/health topics, challenges we face, victories we achieve, etc. I think having this accountability and help for a full year will help me not only get back in shape, but actually stay in shape this time.

Pete, Ian, me, and Ashley at the
WOB run on 12/23
I've also decided to run the Gulf Coast Half Marathon on 4/10/16, and the Double Bridge 15k on 2/13/16. I think training for these will help get my running back to a more consistent level, and get me to work on speed again. I know I will get back into great shape by managing what I eat again (with the help of the Real Appeal program), CrossFit, and half marathon training. This will set me up well to train for the 2016 Pensacola Marathon, which I deferred my 2015 entry for. I do not want to run another marathon without being in shape. I've been running pretty strong considering all the time off, and CrossFit is definitely working me very hard, so I am quite confident. Many people will tell me it is the wrong approach, but in 2015 I am getting back to "working out too much" like I used to when I was fast, strong, confident, and happy. I plan to run 4 days a week, CrossFit 4-5 days a week, hike once a week, and whatever else comes along to add to that. I'm excited to push myself again. I love that at the end of my workouts I am completely spent and have given 100% every time. It's fun, and I truly love the feeling of complete exhaustion. Time to focus on fitness rather than just running.

One of the most exciting things heading into 2016 is that I have stepped up to the challenge of becoming the Chapter Captain for the Pensacola Team RWB Chapter. Any of you that know me, know that I am a firm believer in this organization. I've been with Team RWB since late 2012, and was on the leadership team of the Pensacola chapter since we first became official in the Fall of 2014. Our current Chapter Captain has decided to step down to pursue some personal opportunities after having started this chapter, so I accepted the opportunity to step up. I love this team, I believe in our mission, and I believe that I can help us continue to grow and connect with more veterans.

Trivia night at Beef O'Brady's with Team RWB 12/29
2016 is going to be a fun, challenging year in many ways. 2015 was a roller coaster that reminded me that I need to get back to caring more for myself. It felt like a disaster of a year, but looking back now I see that I did have some good accomplishments, I did have lots of fun experiences, and I learned lessons that will help me move forward and become happier and healthier than I have ever been. I started working on my 2016 goals in mid-November of this year, so I'm ready to get this thing going. Happy New Year to all of you!! I wish you nothing but happiness and health as we start another orbit around our local star.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My first ever time being asked to write a guest post...

My friend Adam of Hiking The Trail asked me to write a guest post recentlyand it was posted yesterday. I thought I would share it with you all. His site is a great resource for someone like me just getting started in this whole backpacking things, and he personally has been a big help. Even if you don't read my post, take a moment to check out the page and site, and give it a "Like" if you enjoy hiking and/or backpacking. Here is a link to my post:

A marathon runner turned trail runner learns to slow down – Guest Post

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I don't even know what to title this post.

How many times have I written a post on this blog about needing change or lacking motivation? I'm here in that place again. I'm back here wondering what to change to get back my love of running. Don't get me wrong; I still love running. But do I love training? I love races. I've gotten to the point that I'm not all that interested in the miles between races. I feel like I've been there and done that. I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything anymore. A run is a run, and some miles are some miles. But what was the point? Let's say I get home on a Saturday morning/afternoon after a long, tough 20 miler. Great. I covered a lot of miles, which many people really can't do, but why did I do it? I keep setting new race goals and signing up for things, but is that really the point of all this? I put in hundreds of miles between races, and most of them by myself. Is the point just to get ready for the next race?

I used to love training. Training is supposed to be hard work, but it's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be the journey and the race is merely a destination. Right now that's just not how I feel. Training has become this giant pain-in-the-ass thing I have to do so I can run a race. Hours on end that just aren't fun to me anymore. I still love the races, but the training time has become something I dread. I don't feel like I'm seeing anything I haven't seen, or accomplishing anything I haven't accomplished. I barely even notice the things on my run anymore. I do a run on a beautiful trail, yet I see none of the trail but the ground in front of my feet. Running those training miles used to be my passion, now it's my chore. It just doesn't reach me the way it used to.

The thing is, I used to love those training runs. I used to find myself in them and lose myself in them. They were my favorite part of every day, and the very reason I looked forward to the weekend. Not anymore. Now it is something I force myself to do after work. Why? Sure, I'm a runner. Sure, I still love to run. But if I am not finding that same passion that used to, why don't I change course? Maybe I've grown to attached to defining myself as a runner, a marathoner, and an ultra marathoner. Of course, I do know you can redefine yourself at any moment you choose. I changed from a lazy couch potato to a marathoner in relatively short time. So why have I become so glued to being a runner that I'm unwilling to explore other possibilities when the passion isn't there anymore?

Over the last few years I have thought about things I want to do, but never do them because I'm too busy trying to get back my passion for running. Sometimes it comes back for a few months, but generally it's been a struggle. So why do I put off these new possibilities? After my most recent race in March, I decided to take some time off to recover and figured the passion for running would come back. Well, it's almost four months later now and I might actually want to run less now than I have in a long time. I even set some big goals to try to get it back, but I really can't seem to grasp onto those goals. Running further or running faster no long capture my interest like they once did. It's time I recognize that and reflect on what it means. Well, I've done that reflection and the realization was that I need to start exploring other things.

I started trail running more than road running several years ago because I wanted to be part of nature and experience the natural world. But when I run, I focus on the destination rather than than where I am. I also feel as I get older a stronger desire to spend time disconnected. Cell phones, Facebook, the internet, modern life. I love all of it, don't get me wrong. But sometimes don't you just want to disconnect for a few days and get away from it? I know I do. Well, for about two and a half or three years now I have talked about taking up backpacking and hiking. The more time goes by, the more I think about it. It sounds like a dream to me. Disconnecting and spending days out in nature walking, carrying everything you need with you, sleeping in a tent under the stars. It sounds hard. It sounds amazing. It sounds perfect.

I'm a man that sits behind a desk making Excel reports for a living. I dream of stepping away from this desk all day every day. I want to be in the world and see the world. I want to experience things. I have limited opportunities to get away and get out in the woods, but I rush through it because in running you are supposed to be faster. Instead I want to take my time and living the adventure. I don't know if this new desire to start backpacking will pan out, or if I'll love it as much as I expect. But I want to find out. I want to try a journey I've never tried before. Here's to the next step...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Time for a change, and change is good.

Over the last several years, I have completed many marathons and many ultras. I start this post with that statement so that I am not misunderstood. I am VERY proud of what I've accomplished. When I started working out and doing the Couch-2-5k plan in November of 2009, I never dreamed I could run a marathon, much less 11 official marathons, 7 official ultras, 2 unofficial marathons, and 3 unofficial ultras since my very first marathon in March of 2011. These are things I never dreamed I could do in just 4 years.

All that said, I am not happy with where I am right now with my running, or my fitness in general. When I started, I did more strength training than running. That was the case up until I had a stress fracture in my foot shortly after my first marathon. I was not able to workout, much less run, for 8 weeks. I missed running more than anything. Ever since then, my focus has always been running. I still strength train, but usually not that hard and definitely not that often. I have just wanted to run all the miles I could, so I never made time for anything else. Run, run, run, run, maybe lift some light weights, run, run.... you get the idea.

My training plans always center on running and I say I'll lift weights, but I don't. I just don't leave enough time in my training plans to get in my scheduled miles AND strength training. As a result, I have gotten fatter and slower. Even worse, I keep running marathons & ultras while I struggle more & more to finish them. I sit around wondering why I cannot get better or lose weight, but deep down I've always known the answer. You can't lose weight or get stronger if all you do is cardio and you don't eat appropriately. When all I do is run, I have a hard time watching what I eat, whereas when I strength train, eating better comes more naturally. I don't know why.

With all of that in mind, I started contemplating how I can go about making the needed changes. When I am training for marathons & ultras constantly, I feel like I can't sacrifice the miles to make time for strength training. So what do I do? I started thinking, what if I kept my weekend long, slow runs, but change my mid-week runs? Normally during the week I am hitting 4-10 mile runs depending on what I'm training for, and they are almost always slow, easy effort runs. So what if I change that? What if I cut them to, say, 3-4 mile runs with much higher intensity (interval and tempo runs)? That would allow me the time I need to get in serious strength training and maybe it would get some speed back by doing higher intensity. Interesting.

But is this a viable plan? Can I marathon/ultra train this way and be successful? I really don't know. So, if you don't know the answer, what do you do? You seek the advice of experts. I'm lucky enough to have several friends that are experienced trainers and coaches, so I sought their advice. I told them all my thinking and asked what they thought of the plan I suggested above. They all were very supportive of it and gave me some further tips on how to go about it. I am truly lucky to have so many friends that not only have great experience, but also care enough about the success of others to be willing to offer advice and answer questions.

So that's the new plan. Lower mid-week mileage, higher mid-week intensity, strength training set in the schedule, and long, slow weekend runs. Oh, and of course rest days, I'll get yelled at if I don't include rest days! Three weeks from the writing of this post, I will start my training for my upcoming Fall/Winter races, so I am writing my training plan according to this new concept. I also started strength/core training this week so that my body is used to it when I start building my mileage again. I'm excited about this new strategy and I look forward to seeing if it works, but I'm very positive about it. I believe using this strategy for this upcoming race season will help me get lighter, stronger, and improve my endurance. If that all holds true and I have stronger performances this year, then next year I can look to hold that and work more on increasing my speed as well. But that's a topic I'll hold off on until I see how this works out for my Fall/Winter races. Wish me luck, and good luck to all of you with whatever you are working on currently!!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring Equinox 50k Race Report (Dropped from 50 Mile)

Kristy & me ready to head to Mississippi
It was supposed to be my first 50 miler, but it definitely did not go my way from the start. Sometimes that's the way it goes. I normally try to not wait too long after a race to get my report done, but it just took this long to sort things out and think about how to put my thoughts into words. Although it didn't work out, it was a good event, an interesting journey, and a change to learn. I fully intend to take the lessons learned from this race and use them to continue moving forward, accomplish my first 50 miler, and beyond.

This was the final piece of 8 months of consistent training, which is the first piece of the puzzle of where things went wrong for me. I started my training July 21, '14 when I started training for the Pensacola Marathon, then continued on from there to train for the Mississippi Blues/First Light Marathons double weekend. My original plan was to do the Blackwater 50k after that (which I did), then take some time off training (which I did not). I have a tendency to burn out mentally and physically if I don't take a break from training for too long. Well, after pacing Will at the Cajun Coyote 100 in December, then the back-2-back marathons went so well I decided to go ahead and carry the momentum into the Equinox 50 Mile. I knew I was rolling the dice on burning out, but I was feeling good and wanted to keep going. All the way up to the day before the race I felt good. I was excited for my hard work to pay off. In those 8 months I had run two marathons, one 50k race, and one 50k training run. In total, I had run 1,017.01 miles in that training.

Sunset through the trees of Homochitto National Forest
I felt confident and ready to go went race week finally arrived. The race was on Saturday, March 21, so on Friday my wife, Kristy, and I headed out for Homochitto National Forest in Mississippi. First we went to the hotel we were staying at about 35 min away in Natchez, MS and got dinner at a very good place called Biscuits & Blues. After dinner we headed over to the park for packet pickup. It was really great to get to see some of the friends I had made while pacing/crewing for Will at the Cajun Coyote 100 (both events are put on by Forge Racing). They are a good, fun group of people.

After pickup, we headed back to our hotel where I got all of my stuff organized and ready and we went to bed a little early. It was going to be an early morning and a long day, so I wanted to get some good rest. I did sleep well, but the morning alarm was my first sign of how the day would unfold. It's good to wake up excited, nervous, or even anxious for a race. I woke up ambivolant about the race and really just wanted to turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. That's a bad sign. Had I finally burnt out? I couldn't know at the time, I just knew I'd paid for the race and driven several hours to get there, so I might as well run it. Yeah, that is really how I felt race morning.

The forecast a few days before the race
We got out to the park while it was still very dark. In fact, it would be an hour or so into the race before the sun would be up. It wasn't raining yet. The key word: YET. The forecast said "periods of rain later in the day." Yeah, my ass. It started raining not too far into the race and basically never stopped. There were a few brief times that is stopped, but it was mostly a constant presence. There would be periods of very light rain, then periods of very heavy rain. But the rain was pretty much always there. Now, normally I love running in the rain, so the fact that I'm complaining about it tells you something of how my day went. The ground was often mudding and slick, and the leaves that covered much of the ground were very slick.

Don't worry, it was much worse than it looks here
There are small wooden bridges scattered throughout the trail, which had turned very slick. I don't know about any of the other runners, but I had slipped and fallen on them several times. About 7 miles into the race I slipped on one and fell backward, landing hard on my elbows. I'd cut up my left elbow pretty badly and my right hand and elbow a little, but not too bad. I had already pretty well given up any chance of doing well at the race, and I was already wonder if I could (or even wanted to) complete the full 50 miles. Now I was in a bit of pain and bleeding. I kept moving, though.

Me, Kristen, and Kristy at the 13.7 mile aid station
I finally arrived at the 13.7 mile aid station in about 3 hours and 50 min. I knew my day was done and the 50 miles wasn't going to happen. I did want to fight through and finish the 50k, but I was starting to move so slow and was so out of energy that I expected to be pulled before I made it that far. When I got to the station, Kristen and Kristy were working and Jeff (the race director) was just getting ready to leave. It was pretty obvious that I was really struggling so they asked me what was going on. I told them that it definitely wasn't my day and there was no way I would be able to finish the 50. I told them I would pretty much be walking the rest of the way and said I'd do my best to complete 50k in time for Jeff to not pull me off course. I also asked Kristy to help me clean up my arm, which she did. I hung out at the station for about 10 minutes before finally heading out. I really wanted to just drop out there, but decided to keep walking instead.

Little did I know when I left that station, but it would be another 5 hours before I would see another person. As I walked, I thought about the day and all that was going wrong. Sure, the weather was bad and making things harder. Sure, the course was crazy hilly and making things harder. But the way I felt when I woke up and the way I'd felt all morning told me that neither of those factors really mattered. I would not have done well on this day even in perfect conditions. I was definitely burnt out and in desperate need of a break from training and racing. I was disappointed in myself for not listening to my instincts.

The good news is that the race was on a very nice trail. So during my hours and hours of walking alone, I at least had pretty scenary to enjoy. The rain continued to stop and start, stop and start, and so on. At one point, the rain was starting to pick up more and I reached an unmanned aid station on a road. I stopped there thinking maybe someone would come along to check on the supplies or something, or maybe another runner would come along. I was quite worried that I had gotten off course since none of the leaders were passing me.

I took this picture to document how happy I was when
the rain really picked up during the last section
After a couple minutes, Ed (whom I had met at Cajun) and another runner came along. They asked if I was okay and if they could do anything to help me. This is what I love about trail and ultra running. Even with just a handful of miles left in a very tough 50 milers, these guys were asking if they could help me. I asked them if they know where there would be another manned aid station since I hadn't seen one in 5 hours. They told me that the finish line was just about 3 or 4 miles away assuming I was dropping to the 50k. Then they headed out, and I headed out behind them. Then it happened. What was a fairly heavy, steady rain turned into the heaviest downpour of the day.

The trail was under water, splashing with every step, and soaking my feet. I kept trudging through just reminding myself that it was almost over. Those were some very difficult miles. Finally, I made it back to the finish line having completed the 50k rather than the 50 mile. It had taken me 10:25:05. (Link to Garmin data) I spent some time collecting my thoughts, sitting down, and talking with some other runners and my friends from Forge while I waited for Kristy to show up. She had gone to try to help a girl that had apparently gotten off course. I was told lots of people got off course, but I still can't figure out how. I thought the course was well marked and I had no trouble following it. The only reason I ever wondered about whether or not I was on course was because of not being passed by any runners for so long.

Me & race director Jeff at packet pickup
Eventually Kristy & I headed out to get the hotel to clean up before going to get dinner. I am grateful to the Forge Racing folks for a good event on a nice trail, I just wish I hadn't been so burnt out and could have done better. But such is the way ultra running goes sometimes. Some days are just not your days. I hope to return to this race next year to redeem myself. As for going forward, the plan was to take some time off, then start training in July for the Cajun Cayote 100k in December as my first of that distance. I still want that to be the case. I want to see how things go during my non-training time and will see how I feel when the time comes. I will be at Cajun whether I do the 100k or not. There is also a 20 mile and/or I could pace in the 100 miler again. I'll decide later in the summer whether I want to shoot for the 100k or not.

After getting dinner, we went back to our hotel to catch a good night's sleep. The next morning we got some breakfast at the hotel lobby, then headed out. We were just a couple hours from New Orleans, so we decided to head there to have lunch in the French Quarter before heading home to Pensacola. Neither Kristy nor I had ever been to New Orleans (well, I had at 6 months old, but that hardly counts), and we have been planning to go on a trip there, so we figured this was a good opportunity to stop in for a quick visit that might help up in planning a real trip there. Besides, who can say no to taking a chance to get real Cajun food.

It was a beautiful city and we really enjoyed our short visit to the French Quarter. We ate at the Gumbo Shop, which was AMAZING! If you ever get the chance, I recommend it. We took a little time to walk around, but eventually had to get back on the road to get home. It was a very tough race, but a great weekend. I look forward to my next adventure with Forge Racing and making it far more successful than this one.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

2015 Blackwater Trail Challenge 50k Race Report

Me & my friend Laurel, who worked the turn-around aid station
It's been a couple weeks since the Blackwater Trail Challenge 50k, so I apologize for getting to this report a little later than I normally do. As usual, of course, this won't just be the story of the race itself, but of all the stuff leading immediately up to it. Let me start by saying that this particular 50k was less of a race for me and more of a long training run. I am currently training for my first 50 miler, which will take place 4 weeks to the day after the Blackwater 50k (Spring Equinox 50 Mile). I really have been training since 7/21, when I started training for the Pensacola Marathon in November, which flowed right into training for my first back-2-back marathons in January, which flowed right into training for the 50 mile. So I've done 3 marathons during that time and I wanted to do a 50k as well. So, that said, I wasn't planning to put a lot of focus on time during this race, just having fun and covering the distance. And hopefully learning some things along the way.

Kristy, me, Sarah, and Brandon at P'cola Beach
The events leading up to this race started a week before on 2/14 when Kristy & my friends from Kansas City, Brandon & Sarah, came down for a long weekend visit. I got in some running while they were here and even did a 5 mile hike with them. We also went out and ate a lot of seafood. We did a lot of touring around town, Brandon & I toured the National Naval Aviation Museum (which is a place I love to visit), and Brandon even did some Jiu Jitsu training at a local dojo. They were the two people we hung out with the most, at least while not running, so it was very nice to see them again and spend some time hanging out.

The Team RWB crew & Brendan at the WOB run 2/18
They left on Monday, and then on Tuesday our friend and fellow KC Trail Nerd, Brendan came in to town. He would be running the 50k as well, but for him it would be his first ultra. It's nice to have had Janee' here for her first marathon in November, and now Brendan here for his first ultra. We also spent some time touring the town, and eating seafood. I even took another tour of the National Naval Aviation Museum with him, although you just can't go to that place too many times. Every time I go I learn something new and see something I've never seen before.

Finally, it was the night before the race. I made pasta & vodka sauce for the three of us, which has somewhat become a tradition whenever I run a race that I don't travel for. I got all my gear together and we hung out for a while before getting to bed fairly early. Brendan & I were running the 50k, while Kristy and several of our Team RWB friends would be manning the turn-around aid station, so we all had an early morning and long day ahead of us. It was a nice dinner and a nice time hanging out with a friend we hadn't seen in quite a while.

I was using this race to work out a few things I would need for the much longer 50 mile distance, so this race took a little more prep than a 50k normally would for me. My Garmins only last about 6 1/2 - 7 hours, so I would need to charge it during the 50 mile. I've always just taken a second watch to switch to during 50k, but for the 50 I wanted to just use one. I had been told you can charge them on the go and they will continue to run, so I got a couple small portable chargers I could carry. I also got the batteries for my new camera fully charged since I planned to take a lot of photos. For my nutrition, this would be my first 50k powered by Tailwind Nutrition. I've been mixing it at 300 cal per 24 oz water bottle, and this is the first way I've ever found that I can actually get in some calories while running. I made 2 bottles to take with me at the start, and made 2 more to send with Kristy to keep in a cooler for me to switch out when I got to the turn-around aid station. Ready to go... time for bed.

Amy, Megan, and me before the race. They both ran with
me during the P'cola Marathon and were running their first
50k at Blackwater
We got up and got out to the start area at Blackwater State Park fairly early so I would get a chance to see some friends before we got started. We are still relatively new to the area, but I'm glad I've had the opportunity to make lots of new friends in what is a very wonderful running community. I met up with my buddy Jamie Knight, some of my friends from the Running Wild running groups, some friends from the Northwest Florida Trail Running group, a couple Marathon Maniacs, and my Team RWB crew before they headed out to their aid station. It was a beautiful morning, and I loved spending time with friends before, during, and after the event.

Start of the race
After spending some time with friends and getting ready, it was time for Paul (Race Director and owner of Running Wild) to give some pre-race instructions and get us started. We headed across the parking lot and down a hill toward the trail. For anyone that has never been to Blackwater River State Park, it is an absolutely beautiful place. Running there is always a treat. I was excited to get to spend many hours out on the trails enjoying the park. I was also happy to have gotten a new 16 mega pixel digital camera that is light, waterproof, and shockproof for Christmas so I could get lots of pics on this great trail. Click here for my full photo album of pictures taken at the race (almost 270 pictures). As we got started, I eventually settled in running with my friend Kim from the Northwest Florida Trail Running group, just behind our other friend (and her inseparable twin) Laura. We ran and chatted together for several miles until we came to the first aid station. They decided to stop for a moment, while I wanted to go ahead and continue on, so I just hoped back on the trail and went forward on my own for a little while. I was feeling really good and getting plenty of nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes from my Tailwind.

As I continued on, I started to notice an issue with my shoes. I'd had a pair of Mizuno EVO Cursoris that I had worn over the last couple years, but they had worn out. They stopped making them shortly after I got them, so it took some work to find a new pair. Well, this new pair was rubbing the top of my foot funny. It wasn't necessarily hurting, but it was going to as the miles piled up. I needed to do something about it, but there just wasn't anything to do until I got to the next aid station so I could get a band-aid to cover and protect that spot, so I just continued on.

New friends Taylor (left) and Brittany (right) coming up
on the second aid station
Eventually, I ended up meeting a couple new friends. One very nice lady (Taylor) was also wearing an Orange Mud pack, so we talked about our packs and how we each liked them to fit. Another very nice lady (Brittany) was also with Team RWB and even had an RWB Buff, so I asked her about how/where she'd gotten it since I've wanted one for a while. It always makes me happy to make new friends during a race, and it is really my favorite thing about trail & ultra running. I have made so many friends out on trails. I ran with them until we got to the second aid station, where I finally got to stop to check on and take care of my shoe situation.

When we did get to the second aid station, Paul was there. I asked him for a band-aid, which he happily got for me and offered to help. I told him I was fine, I just needed to sit down, get my shoe off and fix whatever was going on with it. I sat down on the bumper of some one's truck and took my right shoe off. It still wasn't really hurting, so I was a little surprised to see a little blood on my sock. Glad I stopped, that would have definitely become a problem. If I already had blood just about 8 1/2-9 miles in, who knows what it would look like after 50k. I got my sock off, cleaned the spot a little and put the band-aid on. This resolved that issue for the rest of the race, so I was able to put that out of my mind. I thanked Paul and got back out on my way.

Picture taken by my buddy Jamie at
one of my favorite spots on the trail
I was back on the trail more-or-less solo, although there were a handful of people that I would pass and be passed by during the stretch from that station to the turn-around. I was just enjoying the scenery and letting the miles tick off. I was still feeling pretty strong and doing well. Finally we started to see some of the front runners on their way back (it was an out-and-back course), then go into the more technical portion of the trail. I really like the more technical section, although it is a little more effort, but much of it is along the river and I really like that kind of trail. I came upon one of my favorite spots on the trail, which kind of jets out right next to a bend in the river. The water in the river is so clear it looks like it has been filled with bottled water, and there are beautiful white sand dunes at bends, so this particular spot is very picturesque. Luckily for me, my friend Jamie was there and got a few pics of me, gave me some words of encouragement, and informed me that Brendan was looking good and doing well. I hadn't seen Brendan since the start since he is much faster than me, so I had been wondering about him. I was glad to hear all my friends that had come through before me were all doing well.

My Team RWB friends working the aid station
The further along I got, the more excited I was getting to see my Team RWB friends at the turn-around aid station. I was doing well and feeling good, but seeing my friends and my wife would give me a boost. Before I would get there, though, I would see my friend Lori (running her first ultra) and Brendan. Brendan confirmed what Jamie had said. He was looking and feeling strong and confident. I finally got to the aid station and was welcomed by friendly smiles and cheers. I grabbed some watermelon (I really love that during long runs/races), some Red Stripe, Kristy swapped out my Tailwind bottles for me, and I had a little water. I also chatted with them for a minute and we got a picture together. I also got my portable charger from Kristy, put it in the left shoulder pouch in my Orange Mud pack, hook the charger to my Garmin 610, and put the watch around that part of the pack. It sucks trying to keep it plugged in on your wrist, so I put it on my pack while it charges. As I was heading back to the trail, Laurel yelled at me to take lots of selfies, so I ran over to her and we took a goofy picture together (see the first picture at the top of the post).

Kim from the NWFL Trail Running group on her way
to the turn-around
I was very tired, but having a lot of fun, and seeing my friends really did give me a boost. I also knew I'd get to see lots of friends that were still on their way to the turn-around. Before too long, I did see Laura & Kim (together, of course), then Amy, then Megan. All were tired, but all were doing well and moving forward strong. It really made me smile and feel good to get to see so many friends. I tend to like point-to-point courses, but out-and-backs are definitely nice from the aspect of getting to see all of your friends along the way, whether they are with you, ahead of you, or behind you.

A different angle of my favorite spot I talked about earlier,
although it still doesn't capture the beauty of this spot
After I'd seen all of my friends, I hit a spot that proved to be very tough for me. My biggest trouble with ultras has always been how negative I get when it is in the latter half of the race, I'm tired, and I'm pretty much by myself. It was quite a few miles from the turn-around to an unmanned aid station, then several more before the first manned station on the way back. During that time, I saw the handful of runners that were behind me, then no one until right before the unmanned station where I saw a guy I've run with at the NWFL runs, then no one again until the manned aid station.

Still just trucking along, enjoying a gorgeous day
That really was an extremely challenging stretch for me. I got more and more negative with each lonely mile that ticked by. I really felt decent and should have been moving stronger, but my mind was causing me trouble. I decided that if I was going to move this slow, at least make the time productive. I started thinking about how I could make times like this better. I have a feeling much of my time at the 50 miler will be solo, so I better find a way to stay positive and keep moving during those times. I decided it was about time I go back to something I hadn't done in years. For my next long run, I would wear headphones and listen to an audiobook. Perhaps that would better keep my mind engaged during these lonely hours. For now, though, I had no headphones, so it was all about keeping my forward progress.

Goats next to the road during the short paved section at
the manned aid station
Although I was tired, struggling a little, and lonely, I really was feeling pretty decent. Ultras are a funny thing. Sure, going well beyond a marathon distance is a physical challenge, but it is even more of a mental and emotional challenge. Your biggest fear isn't your body quitting; it is your mind quitting. Once that happens, you are done. No matter how your body feels. This was the challenge I was now fighting. I got back to the aid station where Paul had helped me earlier and he was gone. Off to the finish line like a good RD! The young man that was working the station was very kind, encouraging and helpful. He really gave me a boost. I wish I knew who it was so I could tell him thanks.

Jamie offers me what I like, just at the wrong time
I was back out on the trail with about 8 1/2 - 9 miles to go. After a while, I came to a road crossing and standing there was Jamie. He hollered at me as I was getting closer, "BEER AND MOONPIES!!" I love beer. I love MoonPies. My first thought was how awesome a MoonPie would be, but then I decided against it because I thought it would dry out my mouth a little too much. My second thought was how awesome a beer sounded, but I didn't want to stop long enough to drink it at this point. I just thanked him and declined both offers. Looking back, I should have taken the MoonPie.

I was tired, but I was kind of goofing around with this photo
I continued on. Seriously. Such a beautiful place to run. I kept thinking to myself the whole time I was out there how lucky I am to live in this awesome place and have this gorgeous park near me. I'm so glad I moved to Florida. I was tired, and I was fighting negativity, but I was feeling better and more positive than I usually do in ultras. Overall, things were going okay. Not too long after I saw Jamie at the road crossing, I came to the last manned aid station with just a few miles to go. Jamie was there as well, and as I was getting some water and stretching out, he gave me some updates on how my various friends were doing. Some were doing great, some struggling. Kind of what you'd expect in an ultra. The one thing we all had in common was relentless forward progress.

The final stretch of trail
Right after that aid station is a decent length paved uphill. Normally, this wouldn't seem like much of a hill, but with just a few miles left to go in a 50k, it seemed like going up Mt. Everest. I walked it. I wasn't so much begging to get finished as I was begging to get back into the beautiful trees. As I was heading up the road, I could hear people behind me. I kept moving and eventually Amy and three other folks passed me. She said they were doing 1 min run - 1 min walk intervals the rest of the way and she wanted me to join her. I did for a few intervals, but I was struggling too much when the run intervals had me going uphill, so I just dropped back off and would finish solo.

Coming up the final hill. Kristy was
shooting from the top, so this
is a much bigger hill than it looks
Finally, I came to the final turn to go up the road that would take me to the finish and I saw Kristy with her camera, and Brendan with his finisher's medal. I started to run up the hill, excited to get to the top to congratulate Brendan. This is a fairly steep hill. As Brendan would later say, "I can't believe that even in flat Florida, race directors still ALWAYS find a way to put a massive uphill right before the finish." It's true. Race directors are evil. I got to the top of the hill, congratulated Brendan, and made the turn to the parking lot and finish line. I was happy to be finished, and happy to get off my feet. It really was an awesome trail, a great event, and a beautiful day. I wouldn't trade it for anything. That said, I was tired! I crossed the finish, got my medal, and went over to the benches not far from the finish line to sit down. Kristy & Brendan made their way over and we talked about how he had done, how I had done, and how Kristy's aid station had gone. I was proud of Brendan. It ended up being a fairly heavy 50k, yet he had still finished in 6:59. Pretty awesome, especially for his first ultra. Lori had also finished strong and with a very good time. Our friends from the Team RWB station had left, but four folks had requested high-fives for me, so Kristy gave me all four high fives, while Brendan took pictures as evidence that the requests had been complied with.

Tired, but finished
Overall, I had finished 34.68 miles in 8:02:06 (13:54 avg pace). Click here for my Garmin data. Perfectly acceptable given what my goals for the day were. I felt like I had pretty much accomplished everything I wanted to. It was a great day, indeed. The race was well managed, and I would highly recommend it. I will most likely run it again next year. As I caught up with friends that were already done, and more finished, it was nice to hear how people had done. It was really great having about 4 or 5 friends complete their first ultras. I'm so proud of every one of them. 26.2 is hard enough, but going 5 miles beyond that (although physically not much different) is a much bigger mental challenge.

Some of the Northwest Florida Trail Running group that
either ran, or supported at the race
I had a few lessons to take away from this to move forward into my first 50 miler four weeks after this race, and my first 100k attempt this coming December. Tailwind seems to work better for me when mixed at 300 cal (3 scoops) per 24 oz of water, rather than the 2 scoops they recommend. I've never been good at eating solids or gels during runs, though, so Tailwind is great for me. I'm finally able to get in some calories, and it helps with my electrolytes at the same time. Using my camera is an excellent way to keep myself from going too fast and keeping my mind interested. I'm not sure how I even did ultras before I found the Orange Mud hydration pack. The new pair of my shoes (which the old pair had been one of my favorite shoes ever) are not even close to as good as the old ones. Bring music and/or audiobooks (which means buy an mp3 player) for long races when I am likely to spend a lot of time solo.