16 May 2011

Ice Age 50 Mile Race Report

"When does registration open for next year for Ice Age?"

Photo: John Zinzow / Around 8 miles into it

That was my first question for Race Director, Jeff Mallach after I crossed the finish line.  He probably thought I was joking but I wasn't.  A large portion of my run was filled with thoughts of how much I was enjoying the trail, the volunteers, and the varying landscape.  The woods are mythical, thick forest with a cool, silky mist that softens the edges of your vision.  It made the physical pain seem detached and isolated.

I flew into Chicago Thursday and was surprised how nice the hotel room was that McDavid got for me during my stay.  I'm used to being thankful for no blood stains on the carpet in most places where I stay, so the touches of an expensive room were highly appreciated.

Friday morning Mike from McDavid picked me up for a tour of McDavid and a photo shoot (yes, I was embarrassed and smirked when they told me about this).  McDavid hand makes much of their gear in their factory, which is part of their administrative building.  They've been doing it this way for 30 years and it was refreshing to see Americans employed and handling the gear.  They do outsource some of the pieces but, as you can see from the photos, they keep much of it in-house.

McDavid Headquarters in Chicago
Claus (blue shirt) oversees the production of Hexpads
Claus showing me how they adhere the hexpads to the fabric

After the tour, we did the photo shoot indoors with me showing off a bunch of compression clothing.  Then we went out to a local trail and took more photos, all to be used in ads and brochures (hope my bulging arm muscles don't scare potential customers).

Tony Cesario picked me up from McDavid and we made the drive to WI and packet pickup.  I was to stay with Christine Crawford (one of the best women ultrarunners in the country).  She was volunteering at packet pickup, so I had to wait around the restaurant where it was held until she was finished.  Afterwards, Jeff (Race Director) was buying dinner for some of the volunteers and I glommed on.  We went around the table of ten people with introductions and a short story from each.  It turns out that the table was graced with folks who have been ultrarunning for over 30 years and former race directors and major players in the sport.  Glenn Wargolet, the co-founder of the Ice Age event (way back in 1982) had hilarious stories about the first years and all the stories started with, "We were sitting in a bar…"  Others there were John Cornell, Don Ayer, Don Weyer, Jeff Mallach, Christine and a couple others.  Truly humbling (and entertaining) to be hanging out with these folks.  I didn't get to bed until 11pm but it was more than worth it.

Christine dropped us at the start.  She wasn't running due to injury, so was helping out around the race.  It was chilly, damp, and overcast but comfortable, so I opted to wear shorts, short sleeves, arm warmers, calf sleeves, and thin gloves.  I was comfortable without changing the ensemble throughout the race.

The course starts with a loop around a Nordic ski trail that's 10.5 miles.  Then we head out for roughly a 10 mile out and back in one direction on the Ice Age trail and then back by the Nordic loop and 10 miles out and back in the other direction on the trail.  So, I was able to see the guys up front and behind twice in the race.  As I said, the trail is incredible with constant ups and downs, pine needle cushioned footing through the forests, various lake-side trails, meadows, everything.  It's rare that I can say I enjoyed every minute of a race but, even during my rough patch between mile 25-32, I was appreciating the day.

Anyway, we got started and Zach Gingrich, Shaun Pope, and Lon Freeman sprinted off the front like we were running a one mile race.  I settled in behind Glen Redpath and some other guy.  We stayed quick but steady through the first loop with me hitting aid station 3 at the end of the loop in 1:15, which was a little hot of a pace but felt good with the rich oxygen of sea level and the cool temps.  Several folks I talked to said it was a tougher than usual day this year because of the high humidity but I didn't really notice it.  Once on the Ice Age trail, I dropped into my familiar spot of no-man's land, behind (well behind) the leaders and a good bit in front of the main group.  I probably ran alone until around mile 39 where the women's leader came up behind me.  Even though May is intended to be a tough set of races to prepare me for the 100s, I wasn't thrilled with getting passed.  Sandi (a 22 year old who will no doubt be turning heads this year) and I leap frogged and ran together for the last 10 miles.  I was running at about 80% of capacity and knew I could run harder if needed but I was hurting from hyper extending (jamming) my ankle (the one with a metal plate and six screws, no less) earlier, so I wanted to preserve my body as much as possible.  I told Sandi I wasn't terribly competitive that day and wasn't too concerned with placings.  With 1.5 miles to the finish I picked up the pace and realized Sandi didn't come with me.  I yelled back for her to "Dig in.  Let's go!" but she didn't have another gear and finished a minute behind me.  I finished in 7th in 7:29.  With Lon, Glenn, Zach, and, ironically, Sandi's boyfriend, Shaun Pope in front of me, I felt pretty content with my effort.

Post race is a BBQ and kegs of micro brews.  Can you say, "heaven"?  I got my finisher's belt buckle and nice award for my age group win.  This is a high class race that will permanently be on my schedule as long as I can run.  Jeff and the volunteers and other coordinators are pros.  This is far and away the best race I've done.

Warmhearted thanks to Christine, who is so much fun to spend time with and Tony Cesario for driving me to and from the race (95 miles one way!).  I really enjoyed his company.  He finished in a solid 9:24 after running a 200k two weeks ago!  Thanks to McDavid for their support, both in gear and this trip.  They actually take my personal feedback and implement it into the compression gear immediately.  Amazing company with a dedicated staff.

I was in rough shape yesterday (day after the race) but am feeling great today and am looking forward to the Mtn Bike stage race this weekend.  Next up, San Diego 100mi on June 11.

12 May 2011

Mental and Physical Blending

Durning my morning fly-over of blogs, I saw this article by Matt Fitzgerald referenced by Liza Howard on her blog.

Like most (all) writing, Matt's article is well worn.  Anton K has discussed (read: defended himself against the less accomplished runners who always want to give him advice about mileage, etc) the fact that running the long distances that he does gives him confidence in races.  People always point to a breakdown in their body during long events but in reality it's a gap in mental drive that most come to the edge of and don't have the confidence or faith to jump that gap, so they walk, worry, and otherwise give up.  Matt Carpenter's phrase "when it hurts, speed up" is simple yet poignant.  What I've noticed, in myself as well as many others, is that when we get to that point where we want to walk because it hurts/doesn't feel good, we tend to stop taking care of ourselves (fueling, hydration, etc.) and we spiral down from there.
Two polar examples are Tony at Leadville last year and Geoff at WS.  One had the mental capacity and confidence to continue taking care of himself and continue running, albeit at a slightly slower pace, until he cleared that gap and was back on track.  The other got to that point and stopped taking care of himself and, well, dissolved into a heap.
The ultimate outcome from years of training and stretching that limit of mental drive can be seen in someone like Meltzer.  He can now train physically less and maintain the results because he has trained his mind both in its capacity to handle the stress and in the way it works with his body.  When I asked him how long my long runs should be while training for hundreds, he said, "you know that running hundreds is about being stubborn".  Granted, he's not saying lie around on the sofa and just force yourself to finish well.  What I took from that conversation was that once you know how to get the body through the bad situations in a hundred (and, trust me, they are hideous), you don't have to beat the body to hell by running 50 mile training runs.
I follow the mental training that Fitzgerald talks about in the article.  On almost all but the most simplistic runs I focus on keeping that connection of how I feel and how I perceive myself as feeling (likely why I don't talk much in group run settings).  I still breakdown in races mentally and have talked myself into slowing/stopping but with each race I become more intuitive, which translates into being stronger.
I like to think of it as meshing the mental strength with physical strength so they are in tune with one another as opposed to solely building confidence.  Raw, abundance of confidence can lead to your downfall in a long race just as easily (and often quicker) than lack of confidence.  There needs to be a blend of an objective, realistic assessment, physical ability, and confidence.  With one of these missing, you won't hit your potential.

08 May 2011

Collegiate Peaks 50 Mile Race Report

8:15 and 13th overall. 9,400 feet of climb.
Felt super weak and tired from the start. Decided to settle in right away into a sustainable, consistent pace. Finished the first 25 mile lap in 3:35, changed shoes and socks and decided that I'd head back out for the second lap with the goal of preserving my body by taking it easy. My lethargy turned into dizziness and stomach cramps. The aid stations had virtually nothing edible and I had forgotten to grab more efs at the halfway point, so my last 25 miles were fueled by cheap, dry chocolate chip cookies. I got to run with brownie for a while but he was on a mission to perform well and didn't have time to wallow through the course with me. I haven't felt as badly as I did yesterday in a long time. It was good mental training. The one great thing is that I feel virtually no negative physical effects today from the race (other than some kicking sunburn) and will likely get out for a run today.

Thanks much to GZ for allowing Shaun and me to stay at his cabin; super comfy place and we managed not to burn it down before he got there.

Great to meet, see, and otherwise hang out with several folks post race. That was the best part of the day by far!