Monday, July 25, 2016

Night Running - Candlelight 12 hour Race Report

So I ran the Candlelight 12 hour overnight race last Saturday.  This was a brand new race which sounded unique and interesting – a race which started at 7pm, and ended at 7am the next morning.  It was not too far away (3 hours), and I knew several people who planned to run it, so I signed up.  As this race was only 3 weeks before my first attempt at a 100 miler at Summer Beast of Burden on August 13th, my plan was to just run my planned training distance and then stop and volunteer for the rest of the night.  My training plan called for a 30 miler on Saturday and 20 miles on Sunday, so I decided ahead of time that rather than try to run a BTB for my last training weekend (no way was I going to run 20 miles Sunday after an overnight 30 on Saturday), I’d incorporate 15 of the planned Sunday 20 into my running week leading up to the race, and then aim for 35 at the race, making it both a bit more of a push, but also allowing the rest of Sunday after the race to just be a sleepy day.

Saturday morning felt really strange – since the run didn’t start until 7pm, I could sleep as late as I wanted too.  This was truly a novelty, since I’ve been getting up at 4:30 every Saturday for months and months to get in my long runs.  I slept until 7:11 which felt completely luxurious, and had a leisurely breakfast with my family.  I even managed to get the house cleaning done by 11. 

My plan was to meet Pat McHenry, Alan Barnes and Todd Baum in Syracuse and drive to close to the race site with them, where we planned to meet Allison Ospovitch and Tim Hardy for an early meal prior to the race.  I was in the car and a couple of miles from my house when I had the feeling that I had not, in fact, packed the shirt I planned to wear for the race.  I flew back to the house and indeed, my sleeveless running top was neatly folded in my workout room – NOT in my bag.   Not having this shirt would have been a bit of an issue since the race start was supposed to be hot hot hot.  I jumped back into the car and, now a bit short on time, pushed the pace a little to get to our meeting place on time.

I made it to our meeting place on time, and we all piled into Alan’s car, setting the route for the Olive Garden.  Allison ended up not being able to join us, so it was just me and the 4 manfolk.   When the food came, there were a few remarks about how much food it was before a race.  I felt a little bit self conscious since the meal was my idea – but figured that the other racers would do whatever they needed to do in order to be respectful of what their bodies needed.  For me, that meant putting a strict limit on how much of my dinner I actually ate, and regretfully watching as the waiter took away at least half of my delicious entrĂ©e after the meal.  Having had the experiencing of running on a completely overly full belly during my boat running stint (10 miles about 45 minutes after an extravagant 4 course cruise dinner), I knew I wanted to go into the race not hungry, but not in any way where my stomach would be talking to me either.

We arrived at the race venue at pretty much a perfect time – about 40 minutes prior to race start.  The day was still hot – at least mid 80-‘s, but the humidity wasn’t awful, and without the sun being overhead, I was optimistic that the temperature would be fine.  People were setting up tents and personal aid stations, and I said hello to a couple of folks I’ve met over the past year.  I was happy to see Dave Farrands, who has given me much shoe advice over the past year, as well as Mary Skelton DeSilva who I met at BOB and have been following on Facebook.  I was envious of Mary’s race outfit – a fabulous get-up with lots of bright colors, an adorable race skirt and a reflective skeleton on the back of her shirt. 

Todd Baum getting ready

My pal Pat

Me - just prior to race start

I didn’t have too many preparations, as there was going to be an aid station every mile or so, so pre-race was pretty stress free.  We lined up at the start a couple of minutes before the race, and just like that, the race started.

The one thing I had been a bit concerned about ahead of time was the terrain.  I’m generally a road runner, who has only recently ventured into trails.  This was a mostly grassy course on the grounds of an Equestrian center, with about ¼ mile total of actual pavement, along with several gravel sections.  The grass definitely slowed things down a bit, but I was pleased with my early pace of between 10:30 and 11 minute miles.  Since this was a training run anyway, I really didn’t need to worry about pace – but there is always a competitor lurking in the back of my mind. 

I learned quickly during the first couple of loops the sections of the approximately 1 mile loop to be wary of.  There was a section that hat a few lurking ruts which had some ankle roll potential.  Also, probably about mile .75 or .8 of the loop was an obvious hill which had a little steep section at the top. 

This hill was a bit of a bitch
Even though there were a number of runners I knew, I ran at my own pace.  On occasion I’d find myself running close enough to someone to chat for a bit, but even when I ran with people I already knew, like Pat or Allison, we only ran together  for as long as that pace worked for both – I’d either let them go ahead because they were running faster or I’d pull ahead and go at my own pace.  I learned some time ago that I run my best races running at my own pace – and even if my “average” pace is almost exactly the same as another runner, that does NOT mean we run the same sections at the same pace.  I might be stronger on hills and they might be stronger on flats, and if we try to stay together, someone ends up struggling or going too easy.

It was astounding to me how quickly the time went by.  I’ve been putting in lots of really big mileage lately – the last couple of months featuring 45-50 mile weekends with combos of 28/15, 30/15, 30/20.  The end result of that training is not only that 30 miles is easier physically, but that it doesn’t seem as long mentally.  I had created a new running playlist, and just find myself in a perfect spiritual zone.  My music was perfect for the event; the evening was stunningly beautiful.  It was somehow magical as the sun started to go down and you started to encounter pockets of coolness on the previously warm course…    I think I was one of the earlier runners to grab my headlamp to have at the ready, and I turned it on essentially as soon as I felt I couldn’t reliably scan the ground surface for the various obstacles I knew were there.  Within 30 minutes most of the runners had their lights going – some with red or blinking lights on the back as well.  On the dark looped course, the runners looked like fireflies.  It was beautiful.

One of the things that was a big unknown for me about this race was how my body would react to night-time running.  I am an early morning runner – my body is raring to go at 5:30 am, and by 7pm it is pretty much done and shutting down.  I really don’t tend to like running after work because it feels like everything is tired, and my pace is always much slower.  Also, with my 4:30 am wake-up schedule, I’m an early bird as far as bed-time – so I’m usually in bed between 8:30 and 9.  My one 8pm night run on the boat a few weeks ago was actually good mental training for this race in that it showed me that I could successfully run in COMPLETELY different conditions than those I was comfortable with – so it was very freeing.

And so it was.  The hours slipped by stealthily.  As has happened at my last couple of ultras, the miles just added up, and I was at 5… at 10… in the teens, and then more than halfway to my goal of 35.  And I was in love…  in love with the magic of this race, of being out here in the middle of the night with other amazing people who have discovered the complete zen of the perfect ultra run; with the blinking lights, and the blazing yellow reflections of the eyes of the barn cat that was following us around and around the course.  There is such a thing as perfect happiness, and I was embedded in it.

As with my last looped course at BPAC, I knew that I’d either have to finish short of my goal or go beyond it, since your loop only counts if you do the full loop.  Of course I chose to go beyond it, so I finished my planned run having run 35.6 miles in 7 hours and 2 minutes.  At that point, looking at the leaderboard, I was first in my age group and 4th for overall mileage in the race, with a field of 80+ runners.  Stopping at that point was tough and I really felt like crying.  I wanted to keep going and to see what I could do – but having trained for the past 6 months for my upcoming 100 miler, was just not willing to risk any possible injury or overuse going into that goal race.  So stop I did – heading into the volunteer tent for my shift.

I wiped myself down with baby wipes and changed into clean dry clothes…  I loved hanging out with Ansis, Doug and Mark in the aid station.  Doug and Mark shared their ultra stories, and Ansis shared his music play list.  My job was coffee.  The other aid station volunteers were skeptical about anyone wanting coffee, but I had brought the pot based on a sense that it might be popular, and indeed as soon as we started letting the runners coming through know that we had coffee, it went pretty steadily.

I had a couple of bad moments shortly after starting my shift when a wave of cold sweat and nausea overcame me and I knew I was close to fainting.  With a bit of rest and a cookie and some coffee, the moment passed and I recovered to enjoy the next 3 hours immensely.  One of the runners I met was a relay runner named Kristen, who informed me that not only was she running the same 100 as I was, but that she had run the full 100 the previous January in the winter.  I subsequently learned that she didn’t just run it – she won the women’s division.  I look forward to running with this superstar in a few weeks!

Watching the runners go by, and seeing that I really wasn’t all that useful in the volunteer tent, I was itching to be back out on the course.  I asked the other volunteers if they’d mind if I threw on my bib to just walk a couple of miles and stretch out my legs while tacking on miles.  None of them minded, so that’s what I did.  There were less than 2 hours left in the race, and although I’d only planned to walk a leisurely mile or 2, I ended up walking briskly for the rest of the race, tacking on another 6 miles and bringing my total mileage for the 12 hours to 41.75 or so.  Which, even with my 3 hours off, brought me in as 2nd in my age group, and 21 overall in the race. 
I call this blog Running Addiction, and for me it really is.  Days (and nights) like this get under your skin and have you wanting more.  There are some wonderful images burned into my brain from this event.  The glowing skeleton on the back of Mary's shirt.  The effortless, beautiful stride of Todd Baum, winner of the event - who was very clearly mentally in some other wonderful place - every time he passed me and I said "hi", he looked startled, like he was just breaking out of a reverie.  Dave Farrands and his steady, solid pace and encouraging words.  Cheerful and incredibly nice Mike Valone, accompanying his wife Lisa as she attempted her first 26.2  (she made it to 50K!!).  The young woman with the amazing tattoos and even more amazing muscle definition running her first ultra and looking for all the world like she's done this her whole life.  (And may I say I want her muscle definition!).  The blinking headlamps and taillamps; the sun coming up in pink and yellow streaks as I pulled off my final 6.  Pat winning in his age group; Todd winning the race.  Yes - nights like this get under your skin.

Mary and her fabulous outfit

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Musings on pain, speed, and energy

So – I believe it was in the Laurel Highlands race report that Pat McHenry posted not too long ago that energy and pain were not necessarily related – that is, one could be experiencing discomfort or pain but still have energy and keep running. 

I thought this was a really cool observation, and based on my last couple of runs wanted to throw in another observation – which is, how little speed can sometimes correlate with any or all of the following:  pain, speed, energy, and perceived effort. 

As a shorter distance runner, when I was doing something like 20-30 miles per week, once I started doing lots of races I had the idea that every run had to really maximize effort – with the exception of my long runs, and even those I felt had to be at a certain speed to be considered “good” training runs.  It was only starting last summer when I began seriously increasing my mileage that I started regularly running at the pace my body wanted to run rather than try to make each run as fast as I could make it – with the exception of perhaps 1 workout every week or 2 that was specifically speed focused. 

In general, my runs got slower.  But also, in general, my recovery got significantly better, runs were more enjoyable, and when I try for speed, I can often run faster than I previously could before I built up my base.  All good things. 

So – back to the observation.  In prep for my upcoming 100 miler deflowering, I’ve been putting in big mileage.   And lately, it has often been slow mileage.  For my boat running, if the track distance was really what it said it was, I was running 11+ minute miles when my general slow comfy speed is 10:30/10:40.    These days, any runs where my “comfortable” pace is less than 10:15 I feel are pretty damn zippy for me. 

So – the interesting part is this.  Today’s 9 mile run, my perceived effort was perhaps 2 on a scale of 1-10.  That is, I was intentionally going “slow”, as I’m feeling pretty beat up.  Pain level was probably 5-7 as I have this chronic and constant hip tightness that just was nagging and made me uncomfortable for the entire run.  Energy?  I did not feel like I had much at all.  Pace?  Average of 10:05, with a couple of miles where it was in the 9’s. 

Huh?  Low perceived effort, no energy, high pain…  and decent (for me) speed. 

I have alternatively had other runs that just feel great – no pain, lots of energy, which end up being a bit slower.

I just don’t get how they all work together.  Except – maybe all my heavy mileage and recent hill workouts have just made me faster, and perhaps I’ll go out on a day where I DO have energy and pound out a bunch of 9:30’s.

Reminds me of something one of my running pals said – which is, his fastest marathons were not his hardest marathons.  They were the fastest because those runs were easy to run fast.

Curious to hear other’s experience on how these things do and don’t tie together.