Category: Training


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado!

Colorado!

It’s 4:30 am and I’m heading to Colorado with my buddy, Kamil and 2 of his friends. I’ve only had 2 hours of sleep in the past 48 but feel wide awake as I’m staring at the full moon directly in front of us. It seems like a beacon, telling us, “this is the way.” I’ve finally arrived at my biggest training week for the Triple Iron Triathlon, which is only 4 weeks away. We plan on having the largest volume of training this week at a base altitude of 9000′. The lack of sleep and unorthodox training seems natural at this point.

Last night I pulled an all-nighter at the health club on the spin bike for 3 hours before heading to the city with Kamil and Robin to swim in Lake Michigan. When we arrived, the 5′ choppy waves were there to discourage us from trespassing. I’ve had scary swims before because of inexperience but this was the first time I was scared to go in because of dangerous conditions. Nevertheless, we pulled our wetsuits on and walked out in the dark churning water. It was only 5:30 but the lights along the bike path revealed the strength of the waves every 50 feet. All 3 of us looked at each other knowing the battle we were about to engage in. Kamil and I were planning 7 miles but knew the conditions wouldn’t allow us to do that within the time allotted. We both had to go to work after the swim. Robin was going to swim a couple of hours before heading to work too.

So in we went! It was difficult to sight with the large waves because not only were they blocking my sight, but I wasn’t sure what direction I would end up facing after going down the backside of the waves. Half the time I was catching air off the waves, the other half I was stroking almost entirely under water. Every now and then I would have to skip taking a breath when my face didn’t surface. Relaxing in the midst of the chaos was challenging also, but necessary because conserving energy is important. That energy is best used to pull yourself through the walls of water. After a while we couldn’t find Robin. We thought he was with us but its easy to lose sight in the maze of waves. We went to our nutrition bag tied to one if the rescue ladders and the waves had beat it up pretty good. The bag was ripping and nearly lost in the water. So we got out and ran along the shore searching for Robin, only to find out he was safe back at the beach. We quickly devised a backup plan to go eat breakfast and talk about the high seas adventure we had just survived.

After that, getting through work was next on the list. Finished around 6:30 and headed home to pack. I got picked up around midnight and we’ve been heading west ever since. I’m sure the training will be crazy and I’m pretty sure it will seem normal to us by now. With only 1 tough week remaining, anything goes!

The Perfect Taper

Tapering for a race (reducing the intensity of training) can be different for many athletes. It depends on the person, the race, their training up to the taper, and preference to what gives them confidence going into a race. With such large parameters in taper style, the only perfect taper is individually based on experience. What works for one may not work for another. And what works for one race may not work for another race.

How long should I taper?

How long?

Most tapers for endurance events such as marathons, ultramarathons and full triathlons are 2 to 3 weeks. I know of a few ultramarathoners that taper less or not at all. I think it depends largely on the training plan leading into the taper. I typically train 5 to 6 months for an endurance event using periodization. Periodization is where I push my physical limits for 2 weeks and then have a fall back week where I allow my body to recover. Without adequate recovery, my training continues to break down my muscle without the opportunity to rebuild. This will send me into overtraining. NOT GOOD! Overtraining leads to injury and burnout, both of which are difficult to come back from. The longer I train, the longer I need to taper.

 How should I taper?

Easing back on intensity and distance is key. I also add in an extra rest day per week. At the beginning of a 3 week taper, I make sure that each training session is such that, I can fully recover from it by 1 week before the race. This is a gradual taper and I generally don’t feel much different the 3rd week out. Fatigue will follow for about 5 to 7 days. The 2nd week out I will begin to notice increased energy and I continue to reduce the training load. The final week is where I cut way back. It takes 2 weeks for any physiological changes to occur from training so intense training during this final week will have no effect on your race day performance except to tire you out. The final week I just “keep the engine running.” If you have a running race, swimming and biking are good forms of cross training and recovery if done at low intensity.

Does my food intake change?

Carbo-load

I usually take in the same amount of calories until the final week of taper. My metabolism stays high enough to keep my weight the same. I cut back on protein near the end of the taper but keep the carbs going. This allows my body to load up on carbs and restore the glycogen stores in my muscles and liver. It is important to continue refueling after every training session, even if you only train for an hour. Proper hydration is also very important. It allows your body to continue flushing out toxins while you are getting fully recovered for the big race.

 What else should I be doing?

Time for a nap!

Sleep! I try to take naps and sleep in if possible. If I still feel fatigued 10 days or so into my taper, I take extra rest days. However, I try not to take more then 2 days off in a row. A deep tissue massage 1 week before the race is terrific! It boosts recovery and my energy levels. I also keep my general training schedule. In other words, I keep my long runs on the same day, recovery swims on the same day, etc. The last few weeks I visualize myself during the race and crossing the finish line. I imagine the race being difficult and then overcoming that and finishing strong. I also make sure any final preparations with gear, nutrition or logistics are worked out. Feeling prepared goes a long way towards feeling confident in a race. If it’s a triathlon I shave my legs and that’s a sign that I am race ready. Anything you can do to feel race ready is a plus.

Am I fully recovered?

A full recovery takes longer than just our muscles repairing themselves. On a cellular level our body has damage to repair as well as glycogen to restore. While we may feel recovered, endurance events can take up to 5 weeks to fully recover from. If I have a race 3 or 4 weeks before another race, that may not be enough time to fully recover depending on how long and how much effort the first race took. I can adjust my effort in the first race and I can also adjust my taper. I also try to monitor my recovery throughout my training so that each training session doesn’t get compromised by a previous session. My training schedules are somewhat flexible and being conscious of my body’s state is important to successfully getting to the start line without injury and burnout.

Tapering is an art and a science. It requires me to listen to my body, try new things, learn other people’s techniques and follow my instincts. What is your perfect taper?

 
Photo credits:
renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net