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Potawatomi 200

My first 200 mile attempt I failed. I traveled all day and didn’t get enough sleep the night before the race. I was miserable and quit at 100 miles. But after a 19 hour break, I got back in and tried to sprint the last 100 just to stay ahead of the cutoff. I bit the dust at mile 168. Last time I checked, Viaduct Trail in Pennsylvania didn’t have the 200 mile option anymore. But Potawatomi did. However, instead of a 79 hour cutoff, it was 64. This year there was no chance I was going to be able to sneak in a 12 hour nap…

2014 Potawatomi - bad ankle

2014 Potawatomi – bad ankle

I’ve dnf’d a few races and when I do I have a subtle uneasiness that sits with me. That feeling grew last year when I attempted another 200 – at Potawatomi – and failed again. My training was light and my ankle couldn’t hold up to the hills as a result of it. I stopped at 140 miles while Melissa ran brilliantly to finish her 150 mile race. My excitement to see her finish overshadowed any disappointment. I knew I didn’t put in enough training so I got the itch to really try. Meaning plan it, train for it, and show up prepared to really see if I could do it. If I really tried, I think the uneasiness would go away, whether I crossed the finish line or not.

I am not uneasy anymore.

 

 

 

After a back injury in December and not running for a few months, my training plan this year started something like this:

Tuesday – Rich McCaleb has a bib available for the Frozen Otter. Melissa petitions him to transfer the bib to me. All parties accept.

Wednesday – 8 mile run

Thursday – 6 mile run

Friday – massage

Saturday – 64 miles (walked the last 7 miles)

2014 Frozen Otter

2014 Frozen Otter

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a rough start but the “couch to Otter in 4 days or less” plan worked. I wrote a training plan for the next 3 months and the first month was building a base with strength training. I did plenty of cross training like cycling and swimming, and made sure my diet was clean. The next 5 weeks were building aggressively and the last 3 weeks were taper. I had a day of speed intervals, a day of hill intervals, 2 days I lifted weights, midweek long run, and back to backs on the weekends. I peaked at 100 miles and felt strong.

Did I mention that while I was training, Melissa was about to have our baby? When she hit 40 weeks, we were getting nervous that I might have to put off my race until next year. Baby Emilia was born April 1st so I got to enjoy our beautiful baby for 9 days before the race started. As I gazed at her time and time again that first week, I vowed to show her that anything is possible if you really try. I want to be a father that tries, all the time, at everything I do.

Nick

Nick

And while all this is going on, my thoughts are with my sister and her family. Just after my Potawatomi attempt last year, my nephew Nick passed away suddenly. We were all so sad and I could only think that after all my days of excess, I should have been the one to go, not Nick. And I wished I could have taken my sister’s pain away. I resolved to finish this race in memory of him.

Our plan was to leave for the race Thursday morning, pick up an RV on the way, and set it up early enough to get a few hours of sleep before the race, which happened to start at midnight. I didn’t want to do what I did at Viaduct Trail. I planned on two 45 minute naps. Maybe at 100 miles and at 150 miles. I needed to be well rested in order to run that night, the next day, and part of the next night before my first nap. Helping me to carry out my immaculate plan was Melissa, Jack our dog, and baby Emilia. Her sister Marlene and boyfriend Delfino were coming Friday to help Melissa with the baby and crew me. I felt that I needed attentive crew rather than pacers for success.

The plan started falling apart before we even got there. The RV rental company was going to change our trailer plug but had trouble with it which set us back a few hours. By the time we got to Potawatomi, it was almost sunset. As we started to set up the RV, we could not get the electric to work on it. It turns out they forgot to install the battery. That cost a couple more hours. It was about 10:30 when I was ready to lie down. I figured an hour was better than nothing, but all I did was stare at the ceiling wondering if starting the race with no sleep would be critical to finishing or not.

 

The Race

I gave Melissa and Emilia a kiss before I left the trailer just before midnight. I made a few bottles and had my nutrition laid out on the table. The first 12 hours were self-supported so I would be coming to the trailer after every loop until the 150 mile start at noon on Friday. We had a canopy but it was too windy to set up. I wanted to keep my loops under 3 hours including breaks and come in under 60 hours. If something went wrong, I had 4 extra hours to work with and still make the 64 hour cutoff. The 10 mile loop is hilly (1600 ft elevation gain) with 2 water crossings and a steep climb called Golf Hill. It has a rope which I heard becomes handy when it rains and is muddy and slick. Brian Gaines and Tiffany Dore were also attempting 200 as well as Ryan Dexter. I didn’t know the other 6 racers.

The first few laps were going fine. I lead for 2 laps and then Ryan blew past me on the 3rd loop. He gained 1.5 miles on me that loop. Part of that might be because my headlamp died about 3 miles into the loop. I knew the trails there well enough to navigate in the dark but Golf Hill was tough in the pitch black. Its a miracle I didn’t fall or even trip. I was only taking in calories at the trailer between loops with the exception of my bottles of CarboPro, so I was starting to loose energy after a couple laps. I had never used it before but Melissa said it was good so wanted to try it out. I drank an Ensure every lap with a tablespoon of olive oil in it. Then I would try to get a little bit of something solid in me before heading back out. After the 5th loop the 3 aid stations on the course were open.

With no sleep going into the race, I seemed to be able to hold the pace I wanted. Until mile 70. I was having trouble staying awake as it turned to night. I fiercely wanted to hold off on sleeping until about 4 a.m. I figured I would get to 100 around that time. If I went to bed too early, I might need a 3rd nap later. I also didn’t want to face going out into the cold night at 3 a.m. after napping in a warm car. I would rather it be light out. I pushed through those last couple laps and at times falling asleep while running. I would find myself running off the trail and snap out of it, go back to the trail and start running again before falling asleep again. This happened the last few miles. The hallucinations were a step up from what I’ve experienced before. These were in Technicolor as opposed to just seeing something move out of the corner of my eye, or see shapes that resemble random animals or monsters. I was dreaming while running. It’s hard to explain properly. When I got to 100 miles at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning, I had been awake for nearly 48 hours. We decided my naps should be 1.5 hours so I started again just after 6 a.m.

raw feet

raw feet

When I changed my socks my feet were raw. Running with wet feet was taking its toll. After a couple loops on Saturday, I ran into Kamil. I didn’t realize he had come down with another friend, Randy, to help him complete his first 50 mile trail run. We ran together for 2 loops before they finished their 50 and left.

 

At this point I am at 140 miles and am calculating what time I need to finish the last lap before my 150 mile split. I wanted to redeem my 150 mile time from a couple of years back and maybe beat Melissa’s 150 time from last year. Melissa’s time was 45 hours and in order to have a chance at a 60 hour finish I would need to finish 150 in 45 hours or less. I finished in just under 45 hours and decided to take my second nap at 170 miles – just 2 more laps. Again, I wanted to sleep during the darkest, coldest part of the night so I would start when the sun is coming up. However, those last 2 laps before my nap were exceptionally difficult. My feet at this point had deteriorated to the point of raw flesh and I was falling asleep while running again.

At 160 it was around midnight Saturday night. I felt that was the time I decided whether I was going to finish or not. I told Melissa that I wasn’t sure I could go on. The pain in my feet were so painful I didn’t think I could go one more lap. I needed to finish 170 by 4:30 in order to sleep for 1.5 hours and have 10 hours to finish the last 30. I believed that not finishing by 4:30 Sunday morning would mean defeat once again. I needed the sleep and I needed 9-10 hours to finish the last 3 laps. Melissa suggested getting a pacer for the next lap and Scott Laudick was at the right place at the right time. He agreed to go with me even though we warned him it would be 3 or 4 hours. He accepted without hesitation so we bundled up to accommodate the slow pace. During the first mile there is a loop in the field before going back by the start/finish area then heading into the woods. During this loop I realized what I really needed was to re-engage and run this lap just like I had the last 16 times. I needed to fight, the way I wished Nick had fought for his life. Pain became secondary to the goal once again and I asked Scott if he could take my extra layers of clothing back to my crew area. This would ensure that I would continue to run and commit 100% to finishing this lap, and the race. I had my focus back so I headed into that lap without Scott. But the focus was only good while I was awake to act on it. About halfway through the loop I started falling asleep and dreaming while running. I kept running off trail into the woods before waking up. About 6.5 miles into the lap I stopped and tried to calculate how much time I had left to get back in time. I fell asleep there standing up for about 15 minutes. If I didn’t find a way to stay awake I wasn’t going to make it so I started talking to myself as I ran. It worked! By keeping a conversation going with myself I was able to not doze off for the rest of the lap. I got back about 4:40 and immediately went to sleep.

 

After every lap, Melissa, Marlene and/or Delfino were there to take care of me. They helped dial in my nutrition and take care of all the details that were essential to continue. They put me to sleep, woke me up and gave me my bottles all day and all night for as long as I needed them to. I never felt they wanted me to quit in order for them to get relief from crewing. They were as committed as I was every step of the way to finish no matter how difficult it became. They woke me up just after 6 am Sunday morning to help me through the last 3 laps. At this point I know that 60 hours won’t happen but I would be very happy with a finish under the 64 hour cutoff. I felt that because I forced myself to finish 170 the night before, and got a good nap in, the pressure was off. The hardest part of the race, the part that made me question whether I had what it took or not, I got through in the middle of the night. The last day was to be relaxed and enjoyed. But I still needed to keep focused because one mistake could mean the difference between finishing or not. I was having issues with my right knee off and on throughout the race so I was hoping it would hold out for 30 more miles.

Lap 18: No problems

Lap 19: Still no problems

Lap 20: Knee stops working at mile 196

 

Going into my last lap, my family arrived to see me finish and share the victory so I knew they were waiting for me at the finish. Melissa and crew, after 3 days of relentless support, were there as well as all my ultrarunning friends, including Alfredo. He made the extra effort to come down to see the finishers at a time when mobility was difficult. But with a running community that is always willing to help each other out at any time of the day or night, we can do more together than what we can do alone. I hobbled as fast as I could the last 4 miles and came in 47 minutes under cutoff. It was a very tight margin considering I pushed the pace at all times, knowing there was no room for any significant errors. We celebrated, took pictures and felt successful from our massive effort. Except for lack of sleep going into the race, we did many things very well. My nutrition worked great. I used the entire container of CarboPro, somewhere close to 6,000 calories. I took in about 7,000 calories from the Ensure, 2,000 calories from olive oil and maybe another 1,000 calories from peanut butter. The aid station food was maybe another 2,000 calories for a total of approximately 18,000 calories. My training worked very well too. I would have preferred another month of training but maximized every workout. After the race, I was interviewed by Scott Kummer and Cory Feign for the podcast “Ten Junk Miles.”  From the time I woke Thursday morning until the end of the race 80 hours later, I slept 3 hours. Finish time 63 hours 13 minutes.

 

Alfredo

Alfredo

My awesome crew! Delfino, Melissa and Marlene

My awesome crew! Delfino, Melissa and Marlene

 

 

 

 

Ten Junk Miles interview

Ten Junk Miles interview

Completing this race would not be possible without the following people:

Rich and Eric Skocaj – Knowing I wanted to finish a 200 miler and not finishing last year’s unofficial attempt, they made an official race this year. This is my favorite race course and they are the best race directors out there.

Marlene and Delfino – With nothing in it for them, they crewed me selflessly all the way.

Melissa – She wanted this as much as I did. She bought me shoes, took on extra responsibility during my heavy training, and even gave up her socks during the race when mine weren’t working. She was there from start to finish whether I was going to finish or not. Oh, and she birthed our daughter too…

I would also like to thank the race volunteers. They got me through many tough spots and are so humble. And thanks to Kamil and my family for coming to see me. And finally Nick, Allyson and family. Allyson gave me a letter to read upon completion of the race. I waited a couple of days to read it and one part has really stuck with me. She believes Nick knew they loved him. I hope Melissa and I can say that about Emilia when she gets older.

 

finish results

finish results

Heaven's Gate aid station volunteers

Heaven’s Gate aid station volunteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are my Facebook posts during the race as well as a video that shows what was going on in Italy last September/October…

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 11

Day 12

Day 15

Day 16

Day 27

Day 30

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ As you can see I struggled throughout the entire 30 days. I am fortunate to have raced with the best ultra-triathletes in the world. The volunteers were terrific, they had their own obstacles to overcome to help all the athletes. I learned a lot and am looking forward to racing with these athletes again in the near future. Here is a video by Judy showing the race and is the trailer to the upcoming movie, “Beyond the Breaking Point.”

 

http://youtu.be/VW2kcSaU-lE

My 2013 racing season had 4 big events. In the spring I did the Tampa Bay Double Ironman and Potawatomi 150, in the summer I ran across Illinois and in the fall I raced in Italy attempting the most consecutive Ironmans in 30 days. It has been the biggest year so far in terms of racing.

Double Iron Start

Double Iron Start

 I signed up for the Double Iron to make sure I didn’t get too fat and lazy over the winter. Plus, having a big race early in the year is a nice platform to jump start the year.

I did the necessary training but didn’t give a lot of thought to my nutrition. That cost me dearly during the race and ended up taking 2 naps for a 27:49 finish for 6th place.

Mile 130

Mile 130

Potawatomi 150 was almost a disaster when a group of us went out fast for the first 50 miles. I took my first sleep at 60 miles because of going out too fast. I ended up taking 2 more naps in the 48 hours of that race. I’ve become accustomed to napping during races and am going to try this year to get minimal to no sleep during Potawatomi. I’d like to see how many more miles past 150 I can get in before the 52 hour cutoff this year.

The run across Illinois was to raise money for a Chicago-based charity called Chicago Run. That charity’s mission is to implement programs in schools to get our children more active. The 410 mile staged run took us a week and was truly an incredible experience. Starting in Kentucky, a group of 4 of us ran north towards the Wisconsin border. After a few days and a mechanical malfunction with our crew car, 2 of us were left, Shan Riggs and me. The main crew/pacers were Scott Kummer, Scott Smoron, Tony Cesario, Brian and Kelly Gaines, Karen Shearer, Jennifer Leslie, Tony Weyers, Joy Avery, Alfredo Pedro, Evelyn Santos, Joe and Joeliezer Ventura, Julie Bane, Tina Pascolla, Hersh Ajgaonkar, James and Cindy Faford, Kamil Suran and others I’m sure I forgot. The temps were hot and when the rain stopped after the first 4 days, I was overheating and developed a strange colored bruise on my leg.

Run Across Illinois

Run Across Illinois

A couple days later my knee started swelling up and running was no longer an option for the last 25 miles. Getting to the border was brutal that last day, walking in the sun. Kamil and I started hitting each other with a stick. After feeling the same pain for 7 days, it was nice to feel something different, even if it was a different sort of pain in a different part of the body. I also needed the comic relief that only hitting your friend with a stick can bring. I could not have gotten across the state without all of the crew and pacers.

Finish in Wisconsin

Finish in Wisconsin

Finally, the record attempt in Italy was to see how many consecutive Ironmans we could do over a period of 30 days. 20 of us attempted this race and remarkably, 8 men finished all 30 days. Kamil and I both dropped in the first week. While he came back a few days later and did the last 20 days, I struggled and sporadically did a couple here and a couple there for a total of 13.

Bike crash

Bike crash

Most of my purpose for finishing the other 3 events earlier in the year, was to create a mindset for finishing the Italy race, however, every day of racing became increasingly difficult for me. I don’t think I was spiritually fit enough to endure the stress of those 30 days of racing. Karma isn’t usually convenient. On top of relationship issues and moving just before the race, the stress of racing felt compounded, with plenty of time spent in my own head to think about how I ended up where I was and what direction my life was going.

Italy Run with Kamil

Italy Run with Kamil

I always seem to get the question, “Why do you do these ultra races? Why ?” That is always a question I ask myself during these events as it gets difficult to continue. And as a result, I become accustomed to asking myself that about life. Why do I work here, live here, eat this, have these hobbies, etc. Some people say they learn more from their dnf’s than from their finishes, but in my case I learned more from the run across Illinois. Sometime between days 5 and 6 in the run across Illinois, I began hearing things.

Overheating

Overheating

The insects were telling me I couldn’t finish and the birds were telling me I could. I mentally broke down at that point and I began asking myself the why question, not just about running but about life as well. I realized that asking that question was vital to becoming a better person and living an authentic life, something I needed at that point and still do. Recently, those questions have resurfaced. It’s cool that I can do ultras and persevere through tough times, but can I do that in the rest of my life? If I can run across Illinois with courage, integrity and grace, do I live the rest of my life that way? I look back and see my life’s decisions over the past few years and how far off track I’ve gotten from what I would consider an authentic, courageous life. That is not the life I want.

It’s easy to be vague about the specifics, but a couple of years ago I made a monumental mistake and hid that from the people around me. When that happens, we tend to hide and protect the mistake in order to save face. Only after being honest is the veil pulled away and the situation can be seen and evaluated for what it really is – not what we’ve been falsely portraying it to be.

 So my answer to why is actually the question itself. Asking the right question gives perspective that can be the beginning of positive change. Hindsight is 20/20 but only if I look. And just like an ultra, succeeding requires making good decisions.

After not finishing Kettle 100, I decided I needed to sign up for another 100 mile race right away before concentrating on my triple iron triathlon training. It had to happen in the next couple of weeks so I chose The Mohican in Loudonville, Ohio. The description stated 15k of elevation with a 32 hour cutoff – much hillier than Kettle. Finishing this one would give me the confidence I needed for the triple later in the year. The course consists of 4 loops. The first 2 loops are the same at 26.9 miles each and the last 2 loops are the same at 23.3 miles each. The first 2 loops have an extra 3.6 mile section that averages 235 ft/mile. Much steeper than the overall course average of 149 ft/mile. The Mohican is 2 weeks after Kettle and I figured since I only got to about mile 55 at Kettle, I would be recovered enough. On Thursday night before leaving for Ohio on Friday, I got a call from Judy telling me that a friend of mine, Frank Vavra, had died that week. I’ve known Frank for about 25 years, he was one of my first foremen at work when I started to learn electric. He had died on Monday and no one could get hold of me to tell me of his wake on Friday. Fortunately, we found out and decided to stop by the next day on our way to Ohio. We arrived before the official wake at Frank and Pat’s (his wife) house early Friday morning. Frank had a number of complications that he had been dealing with for many years such as hepatitis and Lyme. His liver had shut down and his intestinal lining had ruptured. Frank was a unique individual – he was so animated and passionate about everything that once you’ve met him, you would never forget him. This reaffirmed my necessity to live each moment with passion and drive, something I needed to apply to my race the next day.

After leaving Pat’s and heading to Ohio, I got a call from Kamil. He reminded me that he was coming to pace me for my 4th loop. I had vaguely recalled him mentioning something like that but no definite plans were made until hearing him tell me to “be ready for him on the last loop.” I was very happy to hear that he was coming – he’s a good friend and training partner and has finished a couple of hundreds himself.

Pre-race

We got to Loudonville in the afternoon, I picked up my race packet, and we got in line for the pre-race dinner before the course talk started. Unfortunately, the pasta was taking a long time to cook, so we ended up waiting for about an hour in line. I nervously shoveled the food down while heading to the course talk. We were late and there was standing room only. It’s easy to get freaked out when everything isn’t just right, going into a big race. I’ve been to enough course talks to know that most of the time there isn’t any information that is too terribly important, so I relaxed and contemplated my plan for the next day. My plan was to stay hydrated and keep my heart rate low. These are the 2 things I failed at just weeks before at Kettle 100. If I didn’t achieve success at the Mohican, I would forgo any further attempts at 100 miles until the following year since my training had to turn more triathlon specific immediately following this race. And I thought about Frank…

Loop 1

Start of 100 mile race

This race had a 5 a.m. start so it was quite dark when we started. I decided at the last minute to not wear my headlamp since it would get light out soon and I didn’t want to carry it for the entire loop in case Judy couldn’t find me for some reason. So I handed my headlamp to her just before the start. She was filming this race so she would try to follow me throughout the day and meet me after every loop at the start/finish area. Within a quarter mile we headed into the woods on single-track and the usual bunching up was happening. Some of the 50 milers were getting impatient but I was fine going whatever pace the congo line dictated. Luckily, there was enough light from everyone else’s headlamps to light the path because it was quite technical in spots. After the first couple of aid stations, it got light out and the traffic lessened. I started peeing right away which was a good sign that I had enough fluids going in. As the sun came out we were shaded by the trees. It was so beautiful there that it made running effortless. I was consumed by the beauty and my only concern was watching my hear-rate. I was keeping it between 127 – 130. Occasionally it would go higher, but I quickly adjusted my pace when that happened. The trees kept the temperature reasonable in the woods, but they also held in the humidity which was getting bad early on. I was drenched and kept drinking as much as possible.

Humid race day

A couple of hours into the loop, we came to a small waterfall and followed the riverbed for a bit until reaching a point where the trail went up a steep section with huge roots coming out of the ground. We had to climb the large roots like a staircase to get out of the riverbed and continue back on single-track. Most of the uphills were steep and significant in length, while the downhills were generally easy. However, near the end of the loop, an incredible hill loomed out and intimidated all of us. Steep and never-ending, I went up to find that it went up again – and again. I dreaded that hill during every loop, but I also knew that the end of each loop wasn’t much further after each climb. I finished the first loop in just under 7 hours. My average pace with rest stops was 15:19. I felt very comfortable with no fatigue.

Beautiful single-track

Loop 2

While at the start/finish area after loop 1, Debbie, a friend of mine and Judy’s showed up. She lived a couple of hours away and came out to show her support and see what goes on at these races. I got some extra calories with Muscle Milk, some energy with Monster, hung out for maybe 10 minutes and then headed back out for another loop. I was mostly using the HEED that the course was providing to keep hydrated and electrolytes up. I was also taking gels throughout, in addition to the food at the rest stops. During this loop, the hottest part of the day came and the humidity stayed very high. That combination along with the steep, technical terrain was killing a lot of people. I started to see racers sitting on the side of the trail and the look of exhaustion on their faces. I was watching my heart rate like a hawk and incessantly drinking, knowing that I couldn’t let Kamil down. He was coming all the way from Illinois to pace me so I needed to stay in control of my pace and energy levels. Looking back on it, this was probably the most crucial part of my race. I climbed the root staircase and then later, the big hill near the end of the loop again. My small flashlight got me through the last few miles as it turned to evening. Debbie cheered me in before taking off. My 16:28 pace was only slightly slower than my first loop since this includes my long stop at the start/finish area. After nearly 54 miles I still felt good. I had made it through the hottest part of the day, although the humidity was refusing to drop.

Loop 3

I decided to change some of my clothes after 2 loops and again, drink Muscle Milk and a Monster to help with calories and energy for the next loop. I was ready to don my headlamp but we couldn’t find it anywhere. I figured my flashlight would have to do. By this time a lot of 100 milers were dropping from the humidity. Two pacers sitting by me told me that the racers that they were pacing had just dropped. They asked if I was going back out and I said yes, definitely. Amanda and Marc asked if I would like them to pace me for the third loop. I said sure, so we headed out into the night. These next 2 loops are only 23.3 miles so it cuts off the hilly section of roots by the riverbed. We were making good progress until mile 63. My tibia muscle next to my shin bone seized up on me, probably from the hyper-extension of my ankle while running downhill. It was in a big knot and I couldn’t run on it. I tried stretching and upping my fluids to no avail. Maybe I was low on electrolytes so I opened a couple of Endurolytes into my mouth and washed it down. That didn’t work either. Nor did massage. After a few miles of walking and stopping occasionally to administer another solution, I was getting worried that my running race was over and I would have to walk. With over 30 miles to go, walking did not seem possible. A little frustrated and down, I continued to try and keep a positive attitude. Amanda and Marc suggested I try Advil. We asked some other runners for some and they obliged. A mile or two later, my knotted muscle released and I was able to start running again. What a relief! For the rest of the loop I was exuberant over my ability to continue my quest. Occasionally, someone would ask who Frank was. I had some duct tape on my CamelBack with the words written with a Sharpie: “Rest in Peace Frank Vavra.” I would explain he was a friend of mine that had just passed away that week. Usually there was a reverent silence that followed. Nothing else needed to be said. And I was glad to honor him this way.

RIP Frank

Amanda and Marc were a great team. One would be keeping pace while the other was watching my intake of fluids and food. When I finished that loop, I felt energized from the sheer joy of running with them. It was the energy I needed going into the last loop. My pace slowed to 19:27 on that loop because of the walking, but I was still in good shape. My time at the start/finish area was getting longer each time but my loop times were between 7 – 7  1/2 hours.

Final Lap

By this time it was about 3 a.m. Kamil had driven to Ohio after work and was sleeping in his car. Since he had to stop and pick up a headlamp for himself, he got me one too. After waking him and getting my last regimen of calories and caffeine, I put on the new headlamp and we headed out for 23 more miles.

3 a.m.

I had taken an unusually long break and that was probably why my muscle seized up again. Kamil suggested we try walking fast instead of running to get my muscles loosened up again. After 3 or 4 miles of this, I was having a hard time going fast since those walking muscles were primarily what I was using all day up the steep hills. I decided to give running a try even if it hurt. I was able to stay running which was good but was getting really tired. I found myself yawning uncontrollably and feeling sleepy. Kamil started giving me coke at the aid stations which took the yawning away. Without my pacers there doing some of the thinking for me, I might not have thought to take Advil or coke. The more brain-dead I became, the more valuable it was having those people with me, unselfishly helping me achieve my goal. The early morning grey started to seep into the woods and I noticed that in one part of the trail, it smelled like cucumbers. I verified this with Kamil, so I know that wasn’t a figment of my olfactory nerves. I continued to take Advil and drink coke while we counted down the number of aid stations left to the end. We were really getting into a groove and running quite well. We were passing a lot of racers for 10 – 15 miles. Eventually, the fatigue and exhaustion was starting to set in.

Struggle

At the last aid station, I was so glad to be almost done, but I didn’t have the energy to really appreciate it. My mind and my body still needed that energy for the last 4 miles. This is the point where I was looking for anything that would motivate me to just keep moving. With 3 miles to go, we passed a guy in a red shirt. Over the next mile, as my pace was slowing, Kamil pointed out that the guy we passed was catching back up to us. That was the motivation I needed to keep moving. I told Kamil that I wasn’t letting anyone pass me from here on out. That forced me to keep motivated and stay running the last 2 miles. Except for the massive hill! My last challenge to get through before finishing was this hill – almost sneering at me and saying, “I’ll let you finish, but not until you pay me first.” I paid my dues to that hill for the 4th time and knew the end was near.

50 feet from the Finish with Kamil

With 1/4 mile to go, we came around the corner and I saw Judy there with her camera filming the end of this battle, my victory over the beast. She was another one who dedicated her time and energy to help me with my goal. I certainly didn’t do this alone. Which was even more evident as I came to the last turn before heading to the finish line. Frank had gotten me to the finish line as much if not more than the others. My desire to honor his memory would only be there because of our friendship. It was the humility I needed to accomplish what I failed at 2 weeks before.

Post

I crossed the finish line nearly 29  1/2 hours later. My average heart rate was 128 and I burned between 10 and 11 thousand calories. The DNF rate was 67% most likely due to the humidity. But the one thing I take away that cannot be measured is the experience. Races are not completed alone. Life is not an individual sport. Look around and appreciate the people in your life – hopefully that is where we do not come up short.

Judy and Chuck

Watch the Video:

 

This post is a bit different than my others. It’s not about a race. It’s not about training for a race. It’s about a trip I took to Nashville recently that reminded me of something I’ve noticed before, but haven’t been able to describe very well. I’ll do my best…

Judy and I are in the process of producing a movie about a race that Kamil and I did last year. Our songwriter wrote a couple of songs for the movie and we went to Nashville to record 2 of them. Judy, me, Carol (the songwriter) and Amber (the singer) hopped in the car and headed south to meet up with another songwriter, Steve, who hooked us up with a recording studio. Steve is a guy who is passionate about writing songs and also loves 18th and 19th century american history, which I also do. I liked Steve right off the bat the first night. I liked his passion, and I liked that he followed his passion. The next day we went to the recording studio and met Jason. Jason is the music producer who is also passionate about what he does. Another singer showed up and watching the recordings unfold was a unique experience. It was people coming together and creating something beautiful! Later that night, we went to Steve’s and he performed some of his songs. Hearing a songwriter perform is like going to the well of creativity instead of getting a filtered down version of it on the radio. It has the added component of their feelings at that particular moment, which makes it so real.

To top it off, we went to the Bluebird Cafe the following night to hear other songwriters perform their songs. I recognized many of the songs and again, was floored at the reality of their creativity. I only run into this kind of thing every so often – it is rare. Which means that most people, most of the time, don’t exhibit this beauty, this reality, this creativity. The last time I came across it was about 4 years ago. A friend was singing at an open mic night when a girl, maybe all of 14 years old, got up and sang a song that brought tears to my eyes. She was so open with absolutely no reservations that it took me by surprise. That experience woke up a part of my soul that I didn’t even realize was sleeping.

That is how I want to live. No reservations. The simple reality that comes when doing what we love to do. I get some grief from friends and family that watch me put a fair amount of energy into training and racing. My wife, however, sees the joy it brings me. The creative vocations are often looked at as hobbies, or something that should be replaced with lucrative ambitions. But sometimes by accident, like during our trip 2 weeks ago, I remember how important that thing is. Whatever you call it – it’s real, it inspires, and it’s powerful!

Clinton Lake was one of those races that happened by chance. A friend couldn’t go and offered his bib to me (yes I’m one of those guys). My friend Kamil was also running so that helped me make the right decision. Up to that point I had only 2 long (kinda) runs under my belt, a half-marathon race 2 weeks earlier and a 15 miler the week before. I was however, on a steady training plan for about a month and felt I was losing my off-season fat at a good rate. I took an unusually long off-season this year. I couldn’t get motivated to sign up or start training for a few months into this year. Slowly, I’ve made a racing schedule that is quite challenging.

After the Triple Iron last year the most asked question was, “What are you going to do next?” I didn’t have an answer for many months. For me, I needed to talk to other athletes and find out what they were doing to find what was right for my racing season. I made a wish list and then over time, added some and deleted some. But there’s always room to add an unexpected race like Clinton Lake in there. They are more for training than racing, but I get cool race swag to prove I was there!

Kamil, Erica and I headed down to Clinton late Friday night and got there around midnight. The Garmin can sometimes send you the long way and that’s what we did. No worries, it’s just a training run, right? We slept in the car and woke up 6 hours later to volunteers getting prepared for the race. Judy had plans already and couldn’t come with, so no video this time. We saw Lee, Keith Daniels and Holly Bochantin in the morning and headed to the start line just a minute or two before start time. While waiting for the start, I saw John Lopez, a buddy who seems to be at all the races I show up to. We wished each other good luck and headed off at start time. We told Lee that we were going to just “take it easy,” which really doesn’t mean anything for us. Half the time we end up running hard when we say that anyway. Clinton Lake is three 10 mile loops. It’s very hilly and there are aid stations every 5 miles. About 6 miles into the run, Kamil picked up the pace and we lost Lee (sorry). We finished about 1:47 for the first 10 miles. Not too fast. The second loop was a bit different.

The second loop had less traffic so it was more convenient to push the pace between catching other runners. The first loop felt pretty easy so we had some spring in our step and used it on this loop. We finished that loop at about 3:25 into the run, almost 10 minutes faster than the first loop. We were both feeling it by then and knew the 3rd loop was going to hurt. Of course, every race ends up that way. We see how much pain we can endure and for how long. There is a fine line that we ride throughout a race, especially the 3rd loop of this one, where we find the balancing point between being able to finish at the current pace and blowing up at a faster pace. There is a constant determination to find the pace that is faster than what is comfortable, that I can maintain. Doing this while in pain is a difficult thing to do. Your brain says to slow down – that pain is not a good thing. To override that and expand our capacity for pain to become a better athlete is the essence of endurance racing for me. We finished at 5:12 which was the same pace as the first loop.

So we finished 13th and 14th overall and only got chicked by Christine Crawford. I’m fine with that. 1st and 2nd guys in our age group got 1st and 2nd overall. So our 3rd and 4th age group got us on the podium (overall winners don’t count in age group awards). But those are just numbers. The real beauty is riding that wave, balancing the effort and finishing.

Current Race List

April 15   McHenry County Human Race 5K (run)

April 22   Earth Day 50K (run)

June 2-3   Kettle 100 (run)

July 5-8   Viaduct Trail 200 (run)

August 11   Dairyland Dare 300K (bike)

September 9   REV3 Ironman Ohio (tri)

September 27-29   Tejas 500 (bike)

October 22-November 1   Deca Ironman Mexico (tri)

Lakefront 50 Race Report

Lakefront 50 Mile Race - Chicago

Each race is unique in its own way. This race was 3 weeks after my triple iron race and proved to be a much bigger challenge than expected. I knew I wasn’t fully recovered from the triple but my muscles weren’t too bad. I figured I could get to at least 30 miles before it got difficult – 20 miles of pain isn’t so bad. So Wednesday night I signed up for Saturday’s race. The night before the race I couldn’t sleep. My mind was mentally preparing for the race during my body’s rest time. I got up around 3:15 and met up with Steve to head down to the city. We got there and picked up our race packets, got prepared and waited for the start. Joy joined us in the car to wait with us and before we knew it, it was time.

Lap 1 

I met Craig Redfearn finally (instead of Facebook) and we started the race off together at the front of the pack. One guy (Flaherty) shot off the front with another also pulling away from us. Within the first couple of miles Craig stayed at the front while I eased back into 8th. I would not see sub-8 minute miles for the rest of my race. I was feeling ok but knew this pace was too fast. At the New Leaf aid station, I was glad to see everyone and lost a place or two while jabbering with them. Brian Gaines told me to go. I quickly regained my position and got through the first loop (12.5 miles) in mostly 8 to 9 minute miles. I felt that this was a reasonable pace but I could feel the pain starting around mile 7. By the end of the first loop, I knew that the pain would only get worse and my pace would only slow. Kinda grim. So my plan was to slow down a little for the next two loops and try to push hard the last loop. Lap 1 – 1 hour 45 minutes Pace 8:24

 

Lakefront 50 Mile Race – Craig Redfearn

Lap 2

I slowed to just over 9 minute miles and tried to settle into a comfortable (relative) rhythm. I needed to use the restroom but the start/finish aid station had huge lines for the porta-potties because the 50k runners were about to start. So I found one along the path and ended up spending a good 10 minutes in there. Yes, I went earlier in the morning. Not training for the last 3 weeks has affected certain “functions”. Anyhow, when I started up again, my legs weren’t working. I dropped into 11 minute miles and it was getting worse. I thought that a few miles would get everything back in working order but it didn’t. My legs felt like concrete and the pain was getting nearly unbearable. At our trusty New Leaf aid station on my way back (out and back course), I asked for Advil and got some from Royal. He asked how many do I need and I said 4. Luckily that was what he had. My race changed after that. My pace stayed in the 11’s but by the time I got back to the start/finish (mile 25), the legs loosened up and the pain had diminished enough to be able to continue. Without the Advil, I might have given up. Lap 2 – 2 hours 20 minutes Pace 11:10

 

Lakefront 50 Mile Race - Loop 2

 

Lap 3

Joy had caught up to me at the start/finish aid station after lap 2. I knew she could run solid through the entire race – I’ve seen her do it before. So when she asked if I wanted to run with her, I figured I would not be able to stay with her. I wasn’t convinced that the pain would be gone for very long so I said I would try to catch her on the last lap. I stayed within 100 feet of Joy for the first mile (we were doing sub 10 minute miles) and then started to feel good. I picked up the pace to sub 9’s and decided to go with it. Not long before that I was close to quitting, so deciding to pick up the pace right after I started to feel good did not seem like a wise decision. However, I remember Dave Scott telling me that if you feel good during a race just go with it. When I passed Joy I said, “My heart rate is 188 and I don’t care!” I would try to use the momentum from this surge to carry me through the last 2 laps. Even though the pain began to return from pushing harder, I was able to stay in the 9’s for the rest of the lap and even dipped into the 8’s a couple of times. Lap 3 – 2 hours 2 minutes Pace 9:44

Lakefront 50 Mile Race - New Leaf aid station

Lap 4

I tried not to stay at the start/finish aid station very long. I wanted to keep riding the momentum as long as possible. When pushing hard, calories become very important. I didn’t eat enough at that aid station so by the time I got to the New Leaf aid station, I was bonking hard. I took the time to chew up a cup of peanuts for some protein and got back to it. Even though my momentum was there psychologically, my physical body was running out of energy. On the way back from the turn around, I got a knot in my right calf. It was a struggle to keep the pace and I was using other runners to keep motivated. By trying to keep position I stayed consistent with my effort. At the New Leaf aid station on the way back (last aid station – 3.6 miles from finish) my goal was to go hard and pass as many 50 mile runners as possible. I knew there were 3 or 4 within my reach. I ignored the pain in my calf and ended up passing 5 or 6. The last 2 miles I had my sights on this guy with a bright orange shirt. I was gaining ground on him but not sure if I could pass him by the finish line. With a mile to go I was probably a quarter mile behind and gaining. My 9:30 pace was everything I had for the last 3 miles. As I came up to the viaduct to cross Lake Shore Dr. to get to the finish, I knew I wasn’t going to catch him but finished within a minute. Racing helps me to push way beyond my comfort zone. I found out that the guy in the orange shirt was Scott Smoron, one of our crowd. Lap 4 – 2 hours 13 minutes Pace 10:38

Lakefront 50 Mile Race - Scott Smoron

This race was much harder than any of the other 50 milers I’ve done this year for the simple fact that I wasn’t physically 100% ready for it. But I was definitely mentally prepared to put myself through the pain in order to finish. Mental toughness can get you through a race. Without it, you won’t.

Time – 8:20 Pace 10:00 Calories 4600

Lakefront 50 Mile Race - Anastasia

Ultra Training Weekend

This is my biggest training session 3 weeks out from the triple iron triathlon. For the last week I’ve been training at high altitude in Keystone, Colorado and have flown back to Chicago late Thursday night to begin this massive training effort on Friday. We were planning on starting around 11 a.m. but got a late start around 11:45. With me is Judy, my wife, to film and our 2 trusty tri-sherpas, Amber and Mary. It started at Ohio Street Beach…

The Swim

Preparing to swim big

I was hoping for calm waters for the 5 mile swim and it was. The water was around 65 degrees so I wore a wetsuit and neoprene cap to keep warm. Since the city took out the buoys, we measured the distance along the walkway with the GPS. I settled into a rhythm and after 3 miles I was falling behind the 36 minute per mile pace I was looking for. I was a minute per mile behind so I pushed hard on mile 4 and made up a minute. I felt good being able to push without feeling like I was going to fall apart. It might be from the altitude training. I was drinking a protein / electrolyte drink and eating gels every mile. I finished up around 3 hours and 5 minutes. I quickly changed in order to get warm and prepared for a long, long bike ride.

The Bike

The plan was to ride through the city west to Oak Park and pick up the bike path, follow that up to McHenry and then ride the roads to Ottawa Lake, Wisconsin. I was going to ride past the lake and circle around to make the mileage 200. This would take all night and I would need to get to the lake in time for the 50 mile trail race that would start at 5 a.m. the next morning. Riding through the city at rush hour and not completely sure of the best way made our progress slow. I met our sherpas early to switch glasses since it was cloudy and I needed my yellow lensed glasses for better visibility. Heading west took us through Garfield Park, a really seedy part of the city. Everyone there was either selling drugs, buying drugs or doing drugs, except for me in my bike clothes on my bike and a car following me with a video camera hanging out the window. Yeah, I got some weird looks. I made it to the bike path about an hour slower than expected and planned on meeting the crew about 20 miles further in St. Charles. The bike path was gravel which slowed me down but it was direct and I didn’t have to drive in traffic. I got to the rendezvous point fairly quick – too quick since my support crew wasn’t there yet. I called to let them know exactly where to find me and my phone was just about dead from using Google Maps to get through the city. When they arrived, I ate some real food, gave them my phone to charge and headed back to the trail. Our next meeting point would be close to our place in Lake in the Hills. Soon the path would change to pavement so I gave them an aggressive meeting time. I wanted them to be there when I arrived since it was getting cold out and stopping for long periods made me cold. I turned on my lights and charged up the path to get warm again. Pushing hard warmed me up but the fast speeds created more wind chill. I was cold either way. I got to Lake in the Hills around 8:30 and my crew was there ready to take care of me. What a crew! It’s not easy to take care of someone all day and all night. Our routine was to put a blanket on me to keep me warm, fill my water bottles and feed me. At this point I changed into my long riding pants and added a long sleeve shirt. It was barely enough to keep warm. Our next stop was the end of the bike path in McHenry. Off I went into the night and when I reached Crystal Lake, I came up on 2 police officers walking the path. They stopped me and asked what I was doing on the path. I told them about my training and the race while accidentally shining my light in their eyes. They said the bike path was closed after dark but to go ahead and stay on it for the little bit I had left before switching to roads. I got to McHenry without any more run-ins and my crew was there with a really bright light. I saw it from a mile away and as I got closer it nearly blinded me. My glassed diffused the light and made it hard to see where I was going.

Heading back to the bike path

They were using it to video me as I got to the car. Again, I was covered with the blanket, bottles were filled and I ate what I could. From here they were going to follow me in the car to Lake Geneva. I knew how to get there and showed them the route I was planning. Unfortunately, just down the road, the bridge was out and I decided I would go on the gravel path to Richmond and start on the roads from there. Here’s where the confusion started. I thought they were going to meet me in Richmond and follow me to Lake Geneva. They thought I was going to ride to Lake Geneva and meet them there – maybe by the the Starbucks. And I forgot to get my charged phone back from them. So…., when I got to Richmond they weren’t there. I started riding but then turned back. I found a guy who let me use his phone and called Judy. No answer. I left a message that I was heading to Lake Geneva and for them to catch up. I started riding again and made a couple of wrong turns. Highway B was Main street in one town so I missed that and had to back track. Another road was missing it’s sign so I ended up taking a different route than I told the girls. All the while I was kicking myself for not taking my phone at the last stop. I finally got to Lake Geneva around midnight and found my way to Starbucks. Not there. I asked another guy to use his phone and he obliged. This time Judy answered and they made their way to Starbucks. I got my phone from them and went through the routine again. I could see the weariness was creeping up on them. Judy had napped and Mary was going to try to get a nap in too. Amber’s an insomniac so she was good to keep driving throughout the night. I felt pretty good at this point but the longer I stopped, the harder it was to get going again. This stop was a half hour and it was hard to take the blanket off and get on the bike again. I calculated that I was about 115 miles into it. I forgot to start my Garmin in the city and my bike computer was acting up earlier in the ride but I knew from mapping out the route what the approximate mileage was. I knew I wouldn’t get in 200 miles so I thought it would be better to go straight to the race start at Ottawa Lake and if I wanted to add on at that point I could do that. So off we went to the lake. From here on out they followed me with their hazards on. This was really nice. I felt a sense of someone else out there with me instead of riding alone in the dark. And the extra light from their headlights was helping since my lights were starting to die out. At this point I started using Monster for the caffeine which helped me stay alert. They navigated using a GPS so I didn’t need to worry about that either. I could just concentrate on riding. That was great! The last 10 miles to the lake were really severe hills which normally I like but these just kept coming, one after another. We pulled into Ottawa Lake at 2:45 a.m. with around 150 miles. We checked out the race start and some volunteers were starting to set up already. I knew the girls needed some sleep so we looked for campsites to set up a tent but didn’t find any area that we could pitch a tent without getting a site. We discussed going back out but decided that it wasn’t worth heading out for another hour to hour and a half. I would need to start getting my running gear on and preparing for the run around 4:15. Plus my throat was getting sore like I was starting to get sick. So we ended up sleeping in the car for an hour.

The Run

50 Mile Run

I woke up before the alarm at 4:15 and got my running gear bag, headed to the bathrooms and changed for the race. That hour of sleep totally re-energized me and my sore throat was gone. I came back to the car, locked up my bike and we all headed to the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Trail Race. A bunch of my friends were coming to do this race and I ran into a few of them on the way to pick up my packet. I was planning on running with Brandi since we thought we would be running the same pace. Robin and her told me they talked to Dean Karnazes about meeting me and he said yes. So, the race started and off we went in the dark at 5 a.m. The first 8 miles went good but my heart rate was kind of high so I stayed back a bit and Brandi pushed on. She was running about 10 to 20 seconds per mile faster and steadily pulled away. It was really nice to have the sun come up since I had been going through the night. It really brought me hope. I pretty much stayed at a 12:30 minute mile for the first half. My energy level was good and I stayed conscious of keeping my pace and heart rate low. I wanted to make sure I would finish the race. After the 28 mile aid station, I felt like I could push harder since I wasn’t getting tired. I told my crew (tri-sherpas) that I needed a Monster at the next aid station. So I began to give it some gas. I caught up to Robin and Brandi right before the 35 mile aid station. Robin was running with her so I drank my Monster and kept pushing to see what my body would do. A couple of weeks before I ran another 50 miler and was able to push the last half hard enough to negative split by almost an hour. I started to believe I could do that again since I only had 15 miles left. I hit a flat section and was pushing an 8 minute mile where I caught up to Mark and Annastasia. At this point I noticed that even though I was running hard, my heart rate was only getting into the 140’s. Every now and then it would go higher, but for the most part it stayed low. I only had 2 aid stations left so I kept my pace high and saw Mike and Eric a little while later. They said that Joy and Julie were a little further up.

Done Running!

It took me probably another half hour to catch up to them and by this time there was only 1 aid station left. At that aid station they said there was about 4 miles left. I sped up to nearly a full sprint as the trail went downhill. I was running about a 7 to 7:30 minute mile when I passed a guy that started running with me. He asked if this was my first 50 and I said, “No, is this your first?” He said yes and mentioned that he would never run this fast if I hadn’t come along. With 1 mile left, there were some hills which were very tough to get through while sprinting and then it opened up to the road. The last half mile was on the road and I was still running in the low 7’s. I was surprised I could keep that pace and thought it was probably the result of being at high altitude for the last week. As I turned off the road to go towards the finish chute, the guy who was trailing me for the last few miles pushed past me and took the win. I crossed completely exhausted and was so happy the long effort was over. I really believed in the beginning that I could only finish at a slow pace because of the swim and bike throughout the night, but taking the risk of pushing the last 22 miles changed that and gave me the confidence that I can do well on little or no sleep. My finish time was 9:51 with a negative split of 1:09.

Afterwards

Me and Dean Karnazes

After getting some food and sitting for a while, I was feeling better and got ready to interview with Dean Karnazes. When the camera turned on, he turned the tables and said he was going to interview me. That was really cool. He asked about the triple iron triathlon that this weekend was geared toward as a training session. He was saying it was crazy but the guy just ran across America this year! I think he may fall in the same crazy category. I fell asleep on the way home and got ready for a 3 a.m. wake up call to catch an early flight back to Colorado to finish my altitude training out there. This weekend ends not only the toughest 2 week training block, but the culmination of this year’s training for the ultra triathlon that will happen in 3 short weeks. This last week I swam around 13k, biked around 400 miles and ran about 78 miles in over 53 hours. Most of this was at an altitude of 9000′. Now I have to let go, rely on whatever training I’ve done and begin my 3 week taper.

Me and the NorthFace50 gang

After yesterday’s long training we slept in. And ate. And napped. And ate again. We were planning 2 short sessions for later in the day and we put it off as long as possible. Online, we found Beat’s (another competitor from Switzerland) training log and seeing the volume of training he was doing got us on our feet. I was going to do a 2 hour recovery spin on the indoor bike trainer and Kamil was going for a 26 mile (recovery?) rollerblade. This was the first time we didn’t train together. We figured out how to turn the tv on (remember when you just had to hit the power button? (does that make me old?)) and I started spinning. Kamil left the same time. I found Universal Sports (yes!) and they had the Tour in Spain called the Vuelta, I think. These guys were going up grades as steep as 23%! The longer I rode, the more I felt like I was suffocating. Even with a low heart rate (115) I was struggling to get through those 2 hours. I decided to skip the swim and do that as my last session tomorrow before flying back to Illinois for my big weekend. Kamil got caught in the rain and warmed up in a restaurant before coming back. He was exhausted and frozen and crashed by the fire immediately.

Sleeping by the Fire

Sleeping by the Fire