Sunday, June 29, 2008

the experiment is over

I only made it to the 1st day of summer. I’ve not done as well in adapting to & surviving the heat as I had planned, so I’ve decided to change my approach to keeping fit during the hot season.

First of all, taking a cue from Mike, I’ve decided to go on a diet, a restricted carb type for a few months. My goal is 15 pounds -- I’m hoping the weight loss will be from fat, not muscle. Losing weight can help in so many running goals & help with problems like my back. This is now my top priority -- losing this weight, I would move from the “obese” to the “overweight” category, still 24 pounds above “normal”.

Running races is not in the plan on such a diet though. I will attempt to jog in the early morning hours this summer in hopes of retaining muscle tone & to help with the weight loss.

I’ve also resolved to head to the gym & work with the back/torso/ab machines in hopes of helping the back problem. I’ve always heard the saying, “once you mess up your back, it’s never the same” – I agree totally as I didn’t take the best of care of my back in my early years. I won’t be able to eliminate the problem, but it can only help.

I think starting back in the fall this year won’t be as difficult as in previous years as I did continue running more than a month later than usual this year. Plus, I think I feel I’m more determined this time. It will still require a lot of training to build the endurance side back, regardless.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mo life or death

Before I get into a very long description with some deep thoughts about my first Mohican 100 attempt, I first of all want to give the biggest THANK YOU (& then some) to Josh Dillingham for packing me out of the wilderness & back to civilization at about 2 or 3 am Sunday morning after I had become "immobilized”. The technical trail was narrow & it took a superhuman effort & a lot of heart. I cannot express how grateful I really am. Thanks also to Kim & Luc for sacrificing their time & effort to seek help. For real, had Josh, Kim & Luc not come along when they did, I would not be writing this today.

A real hero:

I decided Thursday night to enter my first Mohican race Saturday morning. I was gambling in trusting the weather forecast of upper 70’s for the high temps – it was going to be difficult enough to finish with those temps. So I packed my drop bags & left Friday for the 5 hour drive to Loudonville, OH. I made it in time for late sign-up & packet pickup, I may have been the last one to sign up – I was 137th on the list.

The start was in the dark at 5 am, so most people had lights. It was clear & cool (upper 50’s) – great running weather. Almost immediately though, I broke out in a sweat like a dripping faucet – I think my body had not fully gotten over my last race on Saturday that I ran to the point of (heat) exhaustion. Most of the 1st 10 miles was gravel or paved road that was very hilly. It was the most road running I had done in many years & it felt like I was doing a road marathon. I wanted to keep a steady, measured pace, but it was impossible to figure how fast I was going with all the hills. By the end of the 10 miles, I had of time of around 2:03. It was much faster than anticipated. Considering all the walking on the many uphills and considering that I ran under control & not fast at all downhill, I can’t figure out how I averaged about 12 minute miles – it just doesn’t add up. I was so glad to get off the hard surface & onto single track trail – it felt like a night & day difference.

The organizers had set up a drop bag delivery service for all the aid stations but 2 & it made it easy to make personal adjustments continually thru the race. The legs were anywhere from 3-7 miles, but each section was definitely not equal in ease/difficulty. This led to an old lesson (carry more fluids). After leaving the Covered Bridge, a top notch aid station, I headed for the 1st segment of the orange loop. This leg would turn out to be the most difficult for me the entire day. It had warmed up & I consumed all my drink quickly long before the next aid station (Hickory Ridge). No drop bags here & they did not have Gatorade (the only station that didn’t have it), so I drank Heed & Coke & water. The Coke tasted good at the time so I filled up with 20 oz of it & left on the 2nd segment of the orange trail. It continued to warm up & in a very short time I was out of drink again. I was thirsty & I had at least 5 miles to go. I was soon so thirsty that it consumed my every thought. I saw a camping area off in the distance with some people & I thought maybe there was water there. I also saw a port-o-let so I made up an excuse I needed a stop & made a detour over to the camping area keeping an eye out for a spigot – no luck. I backed out on asking someone for a drink. Making it back onto the trail, I could hear car traffic in the distance so I knew I was getting close to Highway 3 & the Grist Mill aid station. Coming out onto the highway, the course was out in the sun – this was tough. Dragging into the aid station I sat down at the 5 gallon cooler of Gatorade & emptied what was in it – for some reason they didn’t refill it while I was there. I wanted to eat, but everything was too dry & I couldn’t get it down. After about 15 minutes of drinking everything in sight, I realized I had drunk at least 60 oz! This was not good as my stomach was the size of a watermelon & my thirst was still not totally quenched. So I dragged myself back out of the station & into the sun again with 20 oz more in hand. Soon after, my stomach became less full & everything started sloshing around. This made for some cramping & I was reduced to walking holding my side. This was hard to take as a lot of the trail along the river was flat & easy & a good place to make up some time. After a mile or so the trail became technical & I didn’t feel so bad about walking. As the cramping subsided, I was back to drinking as I was still thirsty – small sips at first, but it was hot & I eventually drank all of it before making it back to the Covered Bridge.

Just before the aid station was the river crossing. I was looking forward to it as my feet were hot too & I knew I had dry socks & shoes waiting for me on the other side. It wasn’t easy though as the glare from the sun made it so you couldn’t see the large, very slick rocks beneath the water surface. The fellow in front of me tripped & almost went completely under.

At the Covered Bridge station, it looked like Grand Central. Josh, who was volunteering all day & was going to do some pacing at night, was zipping up & down the length of the large aid station tending to all the runners needs – in fact, all the volunteers running around made me tired just watching. The chairs at the aid station were really nice – the volunteers bringing your drop bag to your feet while you sat there was even nicer. I forced some food down this time to fill in my stomach as an anti-sloshing measure. The chairs were out in the sun though, so after drinking all I dared, I was eager to get back on the trail.

I headed out on the Purple loop for the 1st & only time. This trail started as curvy & twisting with a lot of roots & fallen trees & had a near vertical climb from a gorge area. I saw a trickle of water coming off the cliff there & I thought it might be Lyons Falls. Climbing out from the gorge, the trail led up to the dam & then about a half mile of paved road with a hot sun shining down. Getting back on an old forest road for a while, the trail suddenly dropped off into a steep gorge. At the bottom I could see a fellow sitting in a chair taking pictures of runners as they navigated the climb down the rocks. Also there was a small stream showering down off the cliff, so then I figured THIS must be the real Lyons Falls. I stood under the water – it was cold, but very nice on the hot head! It was also noticeably cooler in this scenic gorge – this area was the definite highlight of the course to me. Reality set in & I reluctantly headed back out of the gorge & back to the Covered Bridge.

With threatening skies above, I kept the stop short this time & headed out on the bike/horse (Red) trail. A couple miles in & it began to get real dark & the wind started ripping thru the trees. As the storm front went thru, the temp quickly dropped 10 degrees. Boy, did the rain & cool breeze feel great! I got a second wind & picked up my pace on the fairly easy trail. I was cruisin’ – this was fun -- I felt I was running the fastest of the entire race the last half of this leg. I even ran some uphills. This section had a couple creek crossings though & I was unable to get by them without getting my feet wet. For the most part, I had kept my feet dry at stream crossings up to then (river didn’t count as I had dry shoes waiting). I tend to get blisters easy when my feet get wet and this race day would not be an exception.

Coming back into the Rock Point aid station at 52.2 miles, it was still raining. I had not shaken the thirst problem so I drank about 30 oz. This seemed to quench my thirst finally. I was also feeling good that I was 1 hour 45 minutes below the cutoff time & that I had over 16 hours to complete the last half of the course. I thought finishing in less than 29 hours was a definite possibility the way I felt.

How things can change quickly – so many ups & downs – it’s a long race. After the Fire Tower aid station & coming back to the Covered Bridge at 63 miles, I started to feel blisters forming on my feet. The rain had stopped & it was getting dark. I felt some pain in my lower back (kidneys?). I wasn’t real tired, but it sure felt good to sit down anyway & to chat & enjoy the bustling Covered Bridge station in action.

Heading into the 1st part of the orange trail for the 2nd time, it was cool & dark & I was in better condition hydration-wise. As on the 1st time on this leg, I felt it was a difficult section. By the Hickory Ridge station at 68.8 miles, I was still over an hour ahead of the cutoff time but my feet were starting to hurt & I still had some lower back pain. I was not thirsty this time at all, so it led me to believe maybe the pain was kidney pain. As I sat in the chair, the volunteers started to quiz me -- I think mostly to see how I was doing & if I was giving coherent answers to their questions. I must’ve been looking pretty bad, but passed the test. A couple that I had seen off & on much of the race came in & left before I was able to get out of the chair. It was almost 7 miles to the next aid station at the Grist Mill -- it was mostly single track trail with a road section at the end. About a mile or so into the segment I passed the couple who I had seen at the aid station. I was making good progress, but then my lower back really started hurting – I didn’t know if I had went over a fallen tree the wrong way, my kidneys were failing or what it was, but I knew this was bad news. I had hurt my back last summer moving furniture & this seemed similar. But I do have a horseshoe kidney & based on where the pain was, that’s what I felt was giving me the problem. So I was reduced to walking & my thoughts of finishing the race were quickly fading. After a while the walking came to be a walk/stop cycle. A runner passed me & then the couple from before passed – these people I believed to be the last runners on the course since I was now probably getting close to the cutoff time. I continued to get slower & slower & each mile seemed to take forever. With all the time elapsed, my water bottle was empty. I had over a mile of trail left to the highway when I started to have flashes of extremely sharp pain that shot thru the body whenever I took a step over a few inches high. This definitely felt like a pinched nerve, similar to a volleyball injury to my back many years ago. So I was reduced to shuffling along with baby steps. I wanted to lie down & rest the back, but everything was wet & with the cool temps, I would be shivering in a few minutes. The shuffling seemed to work so I kept it up until I came to a fallen tree with long bike ramps – whoa! It was then I no longer worried about not finishing, I had serious doubts about getting out of the woods alive! My life was flashing before me – so this was primal fear & it was for real. This ignited what adrenaline I had left & with much difficulty, I crawled over the ramps/tree – it would not be the last one. I found then if I bent over that relieved some pressure, so my cycle became shuffle/stop/bend over with occasional crawls. This continued as I plotted my next move – at this point I was becoming desperate. From my last time on this segment, I thought there was going to be at least one big hill left, so something was going to have to change. I thought if I took a 90 degree turn from the glow in the sky & noise (of the highway/city) it would lead me to the river & a shorter, straight route out of the woods, but that first required trail blazing thru unknown forest. I also remembered the 1st time on this segment that there was a “short loop” sign nearing the end of the trail portion, probably cutting off most of the last mile – should I take that & risk getting off the race course, getting lost or not being found (IF someone came looking for me?). I thought seriously again about the risk of lying down & taking all pressure off my back – I would surely feel better, but what if I couldn’t get back up? What was my next cycle going to be – crawl/stop/crawl? And then? I was flooded by many, many other thoughts, as one could imagine.

To my surprise, appearing out of the blackness of the night, I saw 3 small bright lights off to my left & going down a hill. They were going pretty fast so I thought they were mountain bikers (in the early morning hours? Ha!). I yelled “HELP”, “HELP” & frantically waved my light, but there was no response & the moving lights quickly disappeared further off to my left. What a sinking feeling . . .

What a tremendous relief it was to see the lights popping up over a hill right behind me!! I could hardly believe someone else was still running on the course – a most pleasant & welcome surprise. And of all people, it was Josh, who I had talked to all day at the Covered Bridge aid station, and Kim & Luc. Josh then volunteered to stay behind with me & Kim & Luc continued on to the Grist Mill aid station to get some help. THANK YOU Kim & Luc! I am so sorry for disrupting everyone’s plans. Josh, with a great superhuman effort got me back to civilization. As I could hear sirens & see flashing lights as we neared the end of the trail, I saw Ryan, the RD, coming to assist also – THANK YOU Ryan!

I couldn’t believe all the people at the parking lot – the rescue squad & the ambulance crew & other people all waiting to help! All I wanted to do was to lie down. For some reason, the rescue squad put me on a carrying board (a little late, Josh had already rescued me) and strapped me down everywhere, head & all. As soon as they got done the people from the ambulance came over & said I needed to be on their stretcher! So I was unstrapped from everything & transferred over.

The ride to & from the hospital & the whole hospital experience is a story in itself. To keep it short, the blood tests showed my kidney(s) were OK, I was slightly dehydrated and my liver had some elevated enzymes. The ER doctor gave me fluids, surmised I had a pinched nerve & released me -- no X-rays were taken though. I also met & got to know Thomas who was also there from the race.

Right now my feet are still hurting from being swollen. I have the same looking large blister on both my feet – just to side of the ball of the foot extending to between the 1st & second toe – I’ve never had anything like it before. I still have some lower back pain if I happen to turn the wrong way. My back problem raises some doubt now as to finishing any race in the future – I really don’t know what brought it on.

More of my own Q&A’s:

Would I do this race again? Other than the usual concern over hi-temps this time of year, new concerns would be my back & figuring how to run long distances with wet feet over hilly technical trails without foot problems – maybe more shoe changes. Really it’s too soon to think about it.

Do I question my decision to run this race so soon after another race? No

Would I have run this race if I knew ahead of time what was going to happen? Of course not.

Did I have any fun? Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery – one of the most beautiful forests I’ve seen & it also had an unusually large number of singing birds & many deer; the Lyons Falls area was very nice. The trails were both challenging & enjoyable. I had fun meeting & chatting with Josh Dillingham, Brian Gaines, Rosie Evans & Thomas.

Anything I’d like to be different in the race? An option for less gravel & paved road sections. Notes on the website stating that there will be a sweep of the course very early Sunday morning and that there is no taxi transport available from the hospital to Loudonville or vice versa, on weekends.

Things I liked best about the race? A well organized event, a very scenic area, challenging trails, nice chair arrangements with plenty of volunteers at the aid stations, a large number of runners that can share ultra experiences all gathered in one place.

What are my plans now? Let’s see, I have a DNS, a DFL and a DNF my last 3 races. How about a DNR next?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

silly thoughts?

Recovery from my wilting performance last Saturday has been slow – no workouts since. The cool temps this morning though, has me wishing Mohican Trail had this weather & that the event was scheduled for next week -- unfortunately the race starts this Saturday. For some reason, I can’t seem to get away from my thoughts of entering! As of today, normal weather is expected for the event with a forecast of upper 70's for Saturday. High temps/humidity is a main concern & always a deciding factor with my heat intolerance. Of course, being properly prepared is the other big concern. So I ask myself these questions:

Would I still have thoughts of starting if the expected high temps are changed to the low 80's? No, temps are already borderline.

Should I be concerned about the late entry fee? No, trail running is what I like to do and cost doesn’t determine whether I race or not at anytime.

Would I be "embarrassed" if I had a poor showing, like a DNF? No, my DFL last race didn’t hurt & I can handle it anyway, it's not like it hasn't happened before.

Wouldn’t it be better to wait till next year? Yes & no, I could train & taper properly next year, but then again I could be fully prepared at that time & find out in the last week that temps would be in the 80’s & then out of the question. The temps could be above normal the next several years -- who knows – I’m not that lucky anyway.

Should I consider pacing someone instead? Yes, I have looked into that option but I have no experience and I’m not familiar with the course or the race event area. According to the website, the pacing would have to start at night – I would have no idea where I was. I would like to try it one day, but I don’t think now is the time.

Would I benefit from running the course & gaining familiarity for future attempts? Yes, even though training runs would accomplish the same thing, I enjoy the race day experience.

Have I talked myself into starting? Maybe.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

2008 Indian-Celina Challenge

It’s official, my first DFL. It wasn’t even close, I left all competitors far ahead !! I did accomplish my goal though, which was to finish the marathon, so I am happy about one thing. The combination of high humidity & the hilly course, along with a couple issues did me in.

With a rain storm the night before, everything was wet, but the course did drain well. I felt like being in a moist, dense jungle in the tropics – no wind either. The 2 creeks were up so that insured everyone got their feet wet. The tall grass on top of the 2 dams, which had been bushhogged last week to about a foot high, had been cut down to a few inches with weedeaters since then – the organizers did a super job there. I also thought they did well for a 1st time event: I could clearly hear all the pre-race instructions, the course was easy to follow, the sports drink at the aid stations was not watered down (& was ice cold), the volunteers were very friendly and there were no sponsor names all over their shirt. The start was 15-20 minutes late however – one thing that I noticed because I had already wished the event would have been scheduled to start an hour earlier anyway (to beat the heat).

After the terrible experience with insects during my training run on the course the Saturday before, I tried out some “waterproof” repellent this time. Actually it was a waterproof sunscreen with a little insect repellent thrown in. The first lap went well as I encountered very few insects – it must’ve been that were so many runners in front keeping them busy &/or well fed. On the 2nd lap, there were a lot fewer runners & everyone was spread out quite a bit so the insects (mainly deer flies) did swarm. I think the repellent slowed them down though – they seemed not to bite/sting immediately, allowing a chance to swat them. No ticks or chiggers this time.

Below is a pic of a teeny tiny tick from my training run on the course last week that I discovered on my knee after I had already checked myself and had showered – not a deer tick as far as I can tell:

Not sure of my next warm/hot weather attempt. Right now I’m thinking about the 360 Minutes @ Muscatatuck, a special event put on by DINO that’s not too far of a drive from Louisville. It’s in July, a month in which I’ve only raced once ever (a 5k many years ago that I regretted). It’s mainly a relay event, starts very early and has a short loop format – allowing solo runners to easily complete whatever they wish, which suits me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

no dam 50k for me

Decided yesterday not to start AD 50K because of the expected high temps, but of course as soon as I made that decision, that made the chance for rain & a cooler race day a certainty – the story of my life.

Next race attempt: the inaugural Indian-Celina Challenge this Saturday.

I did do a training run instead of the 50k this morning on the brand new Indian-Celina Challenge (mini & marathon) course in the Hoosier National Forest, about 70 miles from here. I thought I’d do the 2 lakes loop, 12 miles, plus the 1 mile interpretative loop at the Rickenbacker house. With the starting temp at 75 and a high expected to be in the upper 80’s, I figured conditions could be the same as race day. Starting from the house, the interpretative trail was a single track path leading up to the 2 lakes loop -- not sure where the race starts & ends – the start could be at the house & take the road up to the loop. The 2 lakes loop is a double track forest road or ATV trail pretty much the entire 12 miles. The course had: a few technical sections, hardly any mud, a couple stream crossings (feet got wet), some tall grass w/bushhogged sections and a couple hills with 200+ feet of climb. I had a good start and ran up the 1st few small hills before the sweat started rolling. Then I was attacked by swarms of flies & other insects! I had sprayed on insect repellent before I started & even brought along my shirt & cap that had been sprayed in case I needed them. Putting on the cap & shirt, I really started sweating & I think the sweat washed away the repellent from my head, neck & back as they started biting/stinging there especially. It was funny, along some sections of the trail there were hardly any insects, some sections the swarms were so thick I had to keep my mouth closed. They bit me thru the shirt, thru the hair below the cap, went in my ears, nose & eyes – it was not fun. I even resorted to using a stick like a helicopter to knock them down (sometimes I could smack 2 with one swing they were so thick). I was so happy to get to the finish (in just over 3 hours). I ran & jumped in the car as the flies followed me across the parking lot & dive bombed my windows & windshield!

I’m hoping all the flies & other biting/stinging insects will be well fed from the 100 or so runners in front of me and I can run without a shirt & cap this Saturday, if not, I may just do the mini.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

summer is here

I’ve been having second thoughts about starting in Saturday’s AD 50K race in Englewood, OH. With daylight at 6 am, the race has a late start at 8. Temps are expected to reach the upper 80’s with high humidity. I had registered as I had been telling myself all spring that I wanted to keep in shape this summer & to try to adapt to the heat. No time goal other than to finish within the time limits. It’s not a mental thing as I want to run – I feel it’s only physical -- the body starts to shut down when it approaches 80. So what to do? Maybe it will rain. Maybe I won’t start. I have a couple days to decide.