Monday, March 30, 2009

2009 McKay Hollow Madness

2009 McKay Hollow Madness Trail Half Marathon
Huntsville, AL
March 28, 2009
Official Results

The Plan

Over the past year, for each time I've gone into a race, it has been with a plan that I've actually taken the time to write down on the day before. Writing it down, means that I have taken the time to think it through, analyzed the course, the competition, the weather and many other factors. Going through these lengths makes all of it real and then it is all up to execution.

I usually don't share these plans but in this case I thought that I would, although you probably could figure it out pretty easily if you know me.

In a race like McKay Hollow, you have to realize that you are not racing the clock. This may be a half marathon, but the trail and conditions dictate that you are racing the competition and not looking to set any personal records. You have to get past this concept, which for some can be a very difficult thing to do.

Taking a step closer, you have to figure out who you are specifically competing against. For me in this race, I was stacked up against some pretty stout trail runners from DeWayne Satterfield to Dink Taylor to Marty Clarke to a few unknown names with talent. Beyond that, was David Riddle; David has just started running trails, but he is in another league above anyone else, so despite his inexperience he would most likely dominate the field.

After understanding your competition, you need to play to your strengths. For me, I needed to fly on the flats, remain close on the downhills and hammer the climbs. It is not enough to play to your strengths, but you need to factor in your competition. I knew that I needed to go out hard and set the tone early and show that I was committed to a fast race. In addition, I knew that I needed to create a gap on the field, knowing that I am just an adequate downhill runner. With DeWayne in the field, I had to have built a lead up that I could carry through the first climb without having to do it from behind. So my plan was the run the first mile in six low.

After that, I would try to climb faster than the rest and then capitalize on my fitness to recover quickly and get right back into race pace. As long as I didn't lose too much time on the long downhills then I should be all right over the major climbs and descents all the way through the base of Death Trail. Then it would be decision time as to my position in the field as to how hard I would have to push up the hill. I thought that I might be able to make up as much as three to five minutes in the last mile with the hill work that I have been doing since last fall. I had run the Death trail in late January on a training run, covering the 0.64 miles and 655' of climb in 9:08. This had given me confidence that I could hammer this climb with tired legs. Yet that was just the base to top, not including the true lowest point at the base of the Mountain after the 2nd to last water crossing.

So that was my plan.

The Execution

The conditions had gone from bad to miserable in the days leading up to the race, as it had rained several inches, which was falling on already saturated ground. The only good news is that being at the front of the pack, we would at least be running on the best the trails had to offer, without many people in front of us. It was raining at the start, so my warm up was limited to a lap around the parking lot.

I stayed true to the plan right from the start. As the gun was shot off at 6:59am, we ran out of the parking lot and onto Nolen at a fast clip. Greg Reynolds stayed with me to the corner, but I continued to push and ran out front. I could hear the other runners talking behind me, but I was in the zone and the race was on for me. I knew that it was only a matter of time for David to be 'warm' and close the gap and pass. It took until we were on the Cabin road and he glided by. This was expected, as I was not competing against him; that would be the last I would see of him for nearly two hours. I jumped over the rock at the gate and clocked the first mile in 6:16.

Heading down Old Bankhead and onto the Sinks trail meant a significant drop of 300' on technical switchbacks. This meant that DeWayne would most likely close the gap so I would have to run with near reckless abandon to stay ahead. It didn't take long for him to get closer and closer until he was right behind me crossing over Mountain Mist. I tried my best to fly on the downs, staying just ahead as we ran out toward Panther Knob. The second mile was lapped at 7:01.

As I made the turn up toward Super Cuts, I relished in the fact that I was finally running the first hill climb and could pad the distance a little. I seemed to struggle a little on the climb, which worried me a little, but I knew that others were struggling all the same. I jumped the rocks, walked through the crevasse and scaled the rock face to the top of the bluff. I could hear other runners from the east side of the Bluff, but it was impossible to tell how far behind they were. I was able to recover quickly from the climb and start running hard again, even though the climb was not over until heading back down toward Three Benches. Mile three was 8:32.

Passing through the first aid station, I asked George (DeWitt) if he had heard the loud tree crash in the Sinks. He said that there had been a few come down, which showed the ferocity of the wind. I climbed back out steadily and back up to Mountain Mist. The first three quarters of this mile was climbing again, back up 300' to nearly the top rim before leveling off. I was feeling pretty good, but I knew that DeWayne and maybe others, were lingering around nearby. They had many years of experience running this section during Mountain Mist in the early miles. The technical rocks are not as tough as Rail Road Bed, but they can make footing tricky, especially with the wet conditions. Running into the Southern headwinds maybe this one of the more difficult portions of the entire course. I was still able to run 8:09 and 7:37 for miles four and five, which took us to the base of Warpath Ridge.

Dewayne had closed the gap again on the winding downhill switchbacks before the intersection, and now I hoped to just hold him off until the second aid station on the top of O'Shaughnessy. The climb from 1350' to 1575' happens in a little less than 1/3 of a mile. I walked part of the climb in the steep sections, mostly to save some energy for later in the race, but also because DeWayne had fallen back and I had the opportunity to do it without much risk. As I crested the climb and ran past the aid station, the temperature had changed and now running with the wind at my back, I became too warm to run with a shirt on. I pulled it off in mid stride and dropped it at Rest Shelter. I didn't look back, but I think that maybe DeWayne stopped for fluids or maybe just took some on the way by, as he was not carrying a bottle. I had been carrying Gatorade Endurance, which is perfect fuel for me on this type of race.

I started down Rest Shelter Hill with DeWayne very close and before the second bench, he caught up and ran past me. He commented on the weather and wanting the rain to come back. He also joked that we was strong on the downhills but I would most likely catch him on the climbs. Neither one of us was running 100% healthy. For DeWayne, he had run Oak Mountain one week prior and then Mountain Mist 7 weeks before that. For me, it was Mountain Mist 50k, Black Warrior 50k and then Delano 50k two weeks before McKay. I was mostly recovered, but we would see if his words would hold true and if I could catch him on the climbs. I could see someone in the near distance behind him, but did not recognize the gray/green shirt. This guy could be the x-factor depending on how strong he was on the climbs, which I wouldn't know until later in the race. This mile was the toughest for me, as it started and ended at 1350' with a climb in the middle and I ended up running an 8:23.

At the bottom of Rest Shelter was probably the muddiest section of the course. Feet were long since dry and although I ran right through the middle of every puddle, I did so gingerly as to make sure the mud didn't suck my shoes off my feet! I had tied them tightly, but once they got wet they loosened slightly. I tried to make up as much time as possible on the Hollow Flats, cranking up the intensity a little and ran 7:46. This put me a little more than half way and through seven miles I was at 53:45 and I was averaging 7:40 pace with two more major climbs yet to go. The next mile was just sort of there, nothing special. I think the split was a little slow just because of the water crossings and how this trail winds back and forth. I had also taken just a few Gel Blasts in this mile, so fidgeting with my aid packet probably took my focus off the trail. The split was 8:01.

McKay Hollow truly turns into Madness in the last 5+ miles which starts with a 6/10 mile climb up Natural Well. I had practiced this climb so many times, even late in training runs to simulate the fatigue in my legs, so this was just like another training run. I only walked a few times on the more technical water crossings, but otherwise powered up the hill steadily. When reaching the false summit of the actual Natural Well, I passed the Hemsi guys who mentioned that 'the other guy' had just gone through. Somehow I had closed the gap on DeWayne in the short climb. I didn't see him until we rounded the corner on the washed out road, but I was gaining fast. Once we reached the top and hit the plateau, I picked up the pace until I caught him and run in his footsteps. I had run this climbing mile, including a 500' ascent, in 10:19 and made up significant time.

I was now feeling great and had new motivation, but also recognized that DeWayne was about to hammer down Arrowhead. Per my race plan, I needed to disregard personal safety and try to stay with him, or at least not lose too much before it flattened out again. Of course by half way down, he was out of sight and began to pad the lead again. So despite having caught him just minutes before I was back to wondering if I too would be caught by the guy behind me as I went slowly down the hill. So even though I ran to the cistern from the top in 7:13, DeWayne probably added a minute on me through this section.

The next two miles I focused on just staying relaxed and running as hard as I could without breaking down. There is but one uphill on this section, coming back up Big Cat Hill, which I ran very slowly, even walking the top back to Arrowhead trail. This mostly rolls up and down, and was moderately muddy back through the last aid station/intersection before heading into the deep Hollow again. I was also trying to conserve as much energy as possible for the last hill climb. If I had any chance at second place, I would have to make my surge up Death Trail. My splits through here were 7:57 and 7:46.

After making the last water crossing, I would have about 1.3 miles to the top and around 800' to climb. I couldn't hear or see DeWayne, but I knew he was above me somewhere. Based on my projected time of 1:40 for David, I was guessing that he would be crossing the finish line at any time.

All of the energy I had stored by holding back earlier paid off as I put my head down and focused on good form and tried to keep my breathing controlled without gasping. I didn't feel great, but I was also climbing one of the toughest, technical hills on the mountain at the end of a difficult rest, so that was to be expected. About half way up the climb, I caught a glimpse of DeWayne; all of a sudden I had new life. I knew that there was plenty of time to close the gap, but I wanted to do it quickly. Within a minute I had pushed hard and caught him and then went by. He joked with me that he needed a downhill finish (his strength). He also shouted out something positive... I am not sure what he it was but it had something my climbing ability. Ironically, after passing him, the trail was fairly technical for a few yards and I had to walk just a few steps. But once making the half way point (two trees that are close together and the trail passes between them and is commonly referred to as the spot on the climb where you can run to the top) I found another gear, swung my arms to provide additional knee lift and focused on the final execution of my plan.

As I made came to the top, with one final switch back to go, I could see the people at the top of the water falls and I knew that it was almost over. Normally people would ease up a little and take it easy coming in, but I pushed even harder across the top of the waterfalls, through the stream and to the finish. The sound of the applause and cheering from the crowd and volunteers who had braved the cold and wet weather all morning had lifted me up and carried me through the finish, figuratively.

The Results

The results of the this race were better than I had expected. Even though I had a good race plan and executed it well, so many things had to come together in order for me to finish as I did, with a time of 1:51:51 and in second place. This was about a minute faster than my 2008 time, which was on a much easier course, with conditions that were a hundred times better. David had beaten me by more than 11 minutes (nearly a minute a mile faster) which is a testament of his abilities, but as I said, I was competing with the rest of the field and not him. When DeWayne came in, he noted that if we could combine his downhill running ability with my uphill skills, we would be unbeatable... what a package that would be! I laughed quite a bit at this.

When I finished, my Dad said that I was talking with him like I just stepped out of the car and had walked over to the pavilion. I wasn't gasping for air or tired looking at all, having recovered quickly once I stopped. For a few minutes after the race and before DeWayne finished, I was floating on clouds having turned in one of my better race performances in quite some time and having done it while my Mom and Dad where there to watch.

The day only got better from there as I had a chance to go for a cool down run with Marty, Greg and Luke Hobbs as well as watch many other friends climb the final summit to the end. I took pictures of finishers as they came through and gave out high fives to a few also. It really made me feel good to be there at the end, supporting the runners who had just done something amazing on such an impossible course with less than stellar conditions. I was really impressed with some of the performances out there, from Greg running his first trail race, to young Ben Purinton, to Alan Teed and the Grissom boys to Tim Pitz who had been training hard for this race to Eric Patterson who is coming on strong.

I just wish that we could run this race every weekend!

Friday, March 27, 2009

2009 McKay Hollow Madness Trail Half Marathon - Night Before

2009 McKay Hollow Madness Trail Half Marathon

I love the night before a big race. It is an amazing rush of nervousness and excitement all wrapped up inside me and I can barely contain it. I've done all of my pre-race preparation, including thinking about my race plan, reviewing the course map and started to develop mental imagery that I will focus on during the race. I am sure that you are at home doing the exact same thing right now, to varying degrees of intensity.

This is the very reason why the night before the night before is so important for rest; I will try to sleep, but I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. I can't wait until tomorrow because I am rested, recovered and ready to fly on the flats, drop the hammer on the downhills and shine on the climbs.

Get some good rest and let the fires burn tomorrow on the trails. Get aggressive, push harder than you normally do. After all, what do you have to lose? Maybe this is the day that you have that break-through performance that makes you wonder what you are capable of. Treat this like it's your day and you own the course and the competition. The world is yours for the taking. Will you capture this moment or let it slip away? You know what I will do.

"Feet fail me not cause maybe the only opportunity that I got."

Saturday, March 21, 2009


My Gratitude to You

I just wanted to extend my heartfelt gratitude to those of you who have gone out of your way over the past few weeks to comment on my blog. Writing a blog is sort of like being on the radio... you think that someone is listening, but you never know if it is just you and the airwaves! You certainly don't have to read my blog, but I really appreciate it.

I try my best to share my experiences with everyone, because I feel very fortunate to be running, traveling to far away places (mostly work related trips) for great adventures and competing in races. From those of you who are runners to the non-runners, I try to capture everything from the thoughts that go through my head to the pain that runs through my legs a times and put it into words to share with you.

One of the comments I heard this week that stood out for me, came from a recreational runner after reading my Delano 50k blog (who by the way I didn't even know followed my blog) who said, "You really made me feel like I could run an ultra marathon." I appreciated this comment because it meant that this person was able to identify with me and what I was going through on that day. I really do try to be accessible and though it takes time to compose post race blogs, it is all worth it when you send me an email, or better yet, mention in person that you enjoyed something that I wrote.

I started off by blogging on races for personal reasons, so that I could learn from my experiences and hopefully become a better runner by looking back at them over time. I also thought that this was a way to hang on to these memories for just a little while longer in case for whatever reason I was unable to run again. Now it has grown into something so much more; I really do have a passion for writing about running and knowing that people enjoy reading along, makes it worth it!

I've recently made some changes to my blog to make it easier to read and more visually appealing. Hopefully these improvements will keep you coming back to read the blog and for other features as I continue to improve the it over time. I locked up a permanent link of which redirects to the blogcast account for now, hopefully making it easier to remember how to find me.

There are many reasons why I run (and write), but it is you that keeps me going, week after week. Again, thanks guys, I appreciate it and hope that you continue to follow along.

I'll be working on the recap from the Mooresville Rocket Run soon, so until then, stay healthy and keep running!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

2009 Delano Park Ultra

2009 Delano Park Ultra Marathon
Decatur, AL
March 14, 2009
Official Results

March 14, 2009 will be forever remembered in distinct parts with a wide range of emotions from beginning to end. Leaving home well before daybreak to returning long after sunset, it is amazing how much can fit in between.

This Saturday was the 3rd running of the Decatur Park Ultra Marathon, comprised of 50k/50mi/12hr events. The race is held in Delano Park, which has a one mile gravel loop in the center of the city, where athletes running counter clockwise circles. Eric Schotz, Jon Elmore and the rest of the River City Runners Club of Decatur, AL host this great event.

With a goal race of the Boston Marathon coming up in a few weeks, but still wanting to be involved in this event, I decided to run in the 50k race. I had not logged many long runs over 20 miles this spring, so I was using this as a long training run done at race pace. Most people were registered for either the 12 hour or the 50 miler, but I wanted to be able to recover faster than the aftermath of running all day, so it seemed to work out. Of course I could rationalize just about anything when it comes to running. The real reason I wanted to run was to see if I could break four hours in a 50km; I'm not afraid to say that, now.

Early Stages

The 12 hour event got an early start in the dark at 6am, while we did not start for a full hour later. I arrived early for packet pick up and to wish those going out early well wishes. To accurately describe the conditions could be described simply as wet. It had rained steady over ht previous 24 hours and part of the gravel base course were significantly under water. In places, the water was ankle deep, while in other places, it was puddled creating no clear line to run along. Dink Taylor called the conditions 'unfavorable.' Based on this picture of Jamie Donaldson, I think you can get an idea of how bad it really was.

The forecast was for more rain, heaviest in the morning, and clearing by the afternoon. Eric Schotz's father was performing grounds crew duties by channeling off water from the course with a shovel/hoe, but it was pooling faster than he could handle. These conditions meant that wearing newer road shoes as planned changed last minute and now I would be sporting my INOV-8 Roclite 295's. I had run for several hours in them, but they were not ultra tested yet so I was a little nervous how my feet would hold up with these shoes featuring minimal support.

At the start of our race, I asked for show of hands on how many people were running the 50k (as opposed to the 50mi) and it was sparse; maybe five. That meant that I would mostly be on my own in pushing the pace and holding on as long as I could. I decided that not being properly trained or tapered, I would go out strong and put time in the bank for later. The main goal was to break four hours and I would be thrilled with any time faster than that.

So I went out hard; 6:33 in the first mile. I knew that this was too fast, so I tried to slow down. My second mile was 6:31. I knew that this was too fast, so I tried to slow down. My third mile was 6:34. I had bypassed the warm up and gone from sitting down in the truck to marathon pace within minutes and three miles into the race, I was fully committed to chasing a personal record for 50 kilometers and chasing a soft course record at the same time. I was committed. The result would either be success or failure.

It was difficult to run slow while being out there running loops and seeing my friends over and over again. I would slow a little and then see someone else, either cheering or in passing and pick up the pace again. So this was the way my first 10 miles went in the early stages. Despite trying to slow down, I went through it in 1:07:15 or at 6:43 pace. I was running strong, with good form, and building off of everyone that I passed. I would soon pay for my poor planning.

The First Wall

The weather was getting worse, then better, then worse again. It was no longer possible to stay dry. I was wet, and chilled to the bone from head to toe. The grounds crew was now working overtime on the course, but as a hundred runners continued to loop the course, it got treacherous in sections. On the out and back add-on (to make it a certified mile) grass section, the mud was strong enough to nearly pull off tightly tied shoes.

Laura (my crew) was now at the race and had already given me my second shirt, which stayed dry for about 10 minutes. I vowed to make a conscious effort to slow down and try to get into a comfortable, sustainable pace. My next five miles were run at 7:26 pace, each slowing more than the next. I was starting to feel my lack of taper and too many miles in my legs. It wasn't until this morning that I went back to see that I had put in 85 miles in the previous seven days; I should have treated this more like a target race and cut back and now I was paying for it. Again, another valuable lesson that I will take forward in my next ultra distance race.

There was a guy flying along the course at what could only be relay or 50k pace. He passed me like I was standing still. For a quick minute I tried to stay with him, but that lasted about 50 meters and I realized that I could not hold the low 6 pace that he was on. I have to admit that this was a little mentally defeating watching him run strong and realize that I was no longer winning the 50k.

I once described an ultra marathon as equal parts endurance, mental capacity and fuel/hydration. Now 15 miles into the race, I was struggling to get my fueling right, my legs were tired, and I wanted to quit. In other words I was failing at all parts of the race with well more than half way to go. Even so, I was still under seven minute miles and nearly half way through the race. I had already started to do my 'worst-case' math, or calculating how slow I could run and still hit my target of under four hours. Once I start with calculating my demise, I know that I'm in trouble. My emotions could best be described as desperation.

Pushing Through

I ran most of the next mile, but stopped for several minutes at the Fleet Feet trailer (mobile aid station) and wallowed for awhile to anyone who would listen. I logged a 9+ minute mile and was falling apart at the seems and seriously considered calling it a day. I managed to muster enough motivation for one more mile and it was back around my average pace. This lasted just one mile as I had another self deprecating mile 18 where I think I even went into the trailer and sat down. My split was 9:43 and I was a warm blanket and a venti white mocha with no whip away from dropping out. I usually go through these spells in ultra distance events, but today it hit me hard.

I think that this race was more difficult mentally because I knew that after I was done running, I would have five hours of rest before coming back to pace with Jamie Donaldson. She is a national class ultra level runner on the US 24 hour team, training for the world championships, held in Italy on May 2-3. She had come in from Colorado to run Delano as a tune up and had inquired to Eric for pacers after noon, when they became allowed. I had promised Jamie and Eric that I would take the last two hour shift which meant anywhere from 12 to 14 more miles. Jamie had been running strong all day and previously had mentioned that she may want to pick it up in the last two hours. Knowing that I did not want to let her down, I was starting to wonder if I should drop out so that I could be strong for her later.

On one lap, I had passed her and introduced myself and then on another I asked her about her strategy late. She proved her valor when after I told her I was considering a drop due to how I was feeling, she said that I should focus on my race and not worry about her. Most runners would be selfish, but she was more interested in me having a good day, than her having a pacer later in the day. This really provided some motivation for me to keep running.

In this hour, I also took in the advice of a good friend, Rob Youngren. He told me that I should just grind it out and that I might come out stronger on the other side. I took his advice as an expert and pushed on. I now had 20 miles in the books and started to wonder if I could just hold on for another hour and a half for the finish. I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My emotions had changed to being hopeful.

Turning the Corner

I had been struggling with proper fuel all day as my stomach as just not accepting the Powerbar Gel Blasts. I had moved on to experimenting with actual food on several laps. I was eating single bites out of 1/4 cut peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. For hydration, I was alternating between Nuun Kona Cola with water and Gatorade Endurance with some success. I also was supplementing with some S! Caps for salt to ward off any cramping. I think that these little mouthfuls of real food were my elixir as I really started to turn the corner and feel better.

At mile 22 I asked Laura to check with Eric and find out how slowly I could run the last nine miles and still hit my four hour goal. After coming around again, she said that it was slower than 8:30 pace. My day was getting better and better and this was just the news I needed, as I knew that I could hold that speed or better coming home.

I managed to run the next 10km at under 8 minute pace and was no longer stopping every mile looking for someone to latch onto to pull me around the course, which I had been doing for awhile. I ran a lap with Dink Taylor, with Tim Vinson, with John Nevels and a few others to keep me going. I was starting to believe that I could do it; my endurance was there, I had the fuel/hydration figured out and now I was conquering the mental demons that haunted me through the middle stages.

Despite shoes that were weighted down with water and enough mud that made the branding unrecognizable, I had gone through the marathon in 3:16 and change. This was a tremendous lift to my spirits, knowing that after a miserable stretch of time where I wanted nothing more than to walk off the course, that I still ran a nearly Boston Qualifying marathon in conditions that I would not wish upon my worse enemies.

It was about this time that I also found out that Mr. Fast Guy from New York with family in Madison, AL was not running the 50km but the 50miler. This gave me a tremendous boost, as I knew that I was leading the race and that it was mine to lose. My emotions had changed to being excited and very motivated.

Bring it Home

I had steadily gotten stronger since the middle miles and now was a mere five laps away from the end. I could visualize the finish, which meant that I was now mentally strong again. There was little room to slow down or walk now, but with less than 40 minutes to go, I had the drive to hang on. As each lap went by, I raised my left hand in the air and verified with Eric Schotz of how many I had left. From five to four to three to two and finally to one. Somehow he was there under the pavilion, sitting at the computer each time, and was able to confirm my number.

It is a long story that started at Mountain Mist and then continued at Black Warrior, both 50k's that I have run this spring, but I have had a knack to drop a high 6 or low 7 in my last mile and do it without a shirt. In each race before this one, temperatures where in the 40's at the finish and most people figured that I was just crazy. On this rainy and cold day, running without a shirt also warranted some strange looks as I went on the bell lap. I stayed with tradition and as I went out for one more fast lap, I stripped off the shirt and dropped the hammer.

On Tuesday nights at the track, we have one rule: No matter how many intervals we are doing, the last one has to be the fastest. If not, then you have to keep going until it is. Now on this day, I didn't think that I could drop a middle six after running 30 miles, but I pushed hard to run a low 7. As I came around the long downhill stretch, I opened up my stride, picked up the pace and finished strong. I crossed the line not knowing my time, but that I was well under my four goal.

Later I would learn my time was 3:53:54. Over 31 miles, that is a 7:33 average pace. I had set the course record. I had won the 50k race and in the process, had shattered my 50k PR by 22 minutes. I'm glad I took the advice of friends and kept going. Upon finishing, my emotions had changed to exuberance!

Yet my day was far from over. It was time to switch modes from race to recovery.

The Recovery

After some well deserved chocolate milk to aid recovery I got some help from my crew to put my compression socks on and change clothes. I had less than 5 hours to recover before running again. We meddled around for an hour or so, hanging out in the trailer and cheering runners on as they ran past. I iced my left foot to reduce some of the swelling and took a few more Tylenol. That made six for the day, giving me room for two more before starting to run again. I devoured a chicken sandwhich from Chick-fil-A for nourishment and began to count down the hours.

I had serious doubts over being able to run anymore. My calves were tight and my foot was throbbing. I was trying my best to recruit people to run with Jamie in case I couldn't go. She started running with Paige Dorr after 12 and had plans to run together for 22 miles. Paige is heading to her first Boston Marathon this year, so this was her own tune up for the race. Lap after lap, Paige ran with her, smiling every second of the way. I talked with her a few times and she had agreed to take her to 27 miles, becoming an ultra marathoner on her own. That meant that I was on as scheduled.

My emotions had once again run the gamut from so much excitement at the end of the race, to true concern toward the end of the recovery that I would be able to honor my promise to Jamie.

As much as it hurt, as stiff as my legs had become and as much as my left foot throbbed with pain, I was going to keep my word and run with Jamie for as long as I could and pace with her. I knew that I would regret it if I couldn't go for two more hours, as I would be letting her down and letting me down too. I am a man of my word.

Pacing Jamie

And so at just after 4pm, Paige dropped off from her pacing, Jamie took one lap alone and then I picked her up. We proceeded to run for 200' and she had to use the restroom, her first stop of the day, and the first time I had seen her NOT running all day!

Jamie and I ran together for 6 miles in the first hour, clocking just under ten minute miles on each lap. We talked about everything under the sun, including our dogs, the weather, compression socks, sponsors, races we had run, and so on. We had a blast, sloshing through the mud and having a blast.

With about an hour to go, we hooked up with Rob Youngren for a few miles. Little did Rob know, but I had been telling Jamie stories about each of the runners that we passed, including Joey Butler, Blake Thompson, and Rob, speaking the praises of each runner. For Joey, it was his shear determination to keep going when he was clearly in pain and had never gone over 50km. For Blake it was how he conquered his first 100 miler last year. For Rob, it was about the 100+ ultra he had run before he was in his 30's. So when we got to Rob, Jamie had all kinds of questions for him on his ultra running career.

On a parallel thread, Jamie had mentioned to me in an email that if she felt good, that she may want to pick it up in the last hour. Having Rob run with us and the chatter between them, was an excellent time to gradually pick up the pace and try to run each of the last six miles at negative splits. We were nearing the overall leader, a rookie at the 12 hour distance, and I figured that if we could keep shaving tie on every lap, we could not only pass him, but pass him decisively and put the win away for Jamie.

So her 73rd mile was 9:47. Her 74th mile was 9:33. Her 75th mile was 9:30. Her 76th mile was 9:15. In these four miles, we ran slightly faster each mile, we passed and lapped the leader and virtually assured the win for Jamie. Rob continued to run with us for these miles and it was great to have additional company.

As we crossed the starting line near the pavilion, the clock read 18:40 for time remaning, so we would have to run 9:20 pace or better in the last two laps to finish them both before the clock expired. I reset my watch so that I could keep us on pace and we took off. Jamie dropped her bottle off and we ran out hard. We settled down by the half mile mark, but still her 77th mile was 8:54.

As we took off for the final lap, all of the people who remained at the park, had gathered around the finish, waiting for her to come back around. Jamie got very focused and determined, mentioning that she was not going to talk in the last lap as we pushed hard into the finsih. I knew that we had the mile in the bag, but kept reassuring her that we would get the mile in before the clock expired. In this lap, I ran in front of her, setting a slightly faster pace to make sure that we did. I joked with her that she couldn't give up on me now, as she fell back a few seconds off the pace as we were within minutes of finishing.

Making the last corner, the emotions were riding high. For me, it was the feeling of having run more miles in a single day than I had ever run. I also had this overwhelming feeling of shear joy for Jamie, that I got the opportunity to run with her. I told her that I didn't want to get sappy, but that it was an honor and my priveledge to have worked with her in the last two hours and to have met her. We shared a high five and then as we came down the final stretch, I told her to take off and that I would slow down, so she could bask in the glory of the win.

She ran the last mile of a 12 hour race, after having run 77 previous miles, in 8 mintues and 43 seconds; her fastest lap since mile 30. She had broken the female course record and learned later that she had tied the overall course record at 78 miles.

As I crossed the line, I stopped my watch and after a few shaky steps, tried to soak it all in. Although I had finished my race 7 hours earlier, I felt like I was finishing all over again. After my first 31 miles at 7:33 pace, we logged 12 more miles in 1:57:09 or 9:46 pace. In total, that made 43 miles in 5:51:03 or at 8:10 pace for me. I have to say that I really didn't 'feel' anything at this point. I had not sunken in what had just happened, what I had just done. Despite the pain that would soon set in, I would later be eternally thankful for those who encouraged me to stay running in the morning and will never forget going back out to run with Jamie in the final two hours. How many times in your life do you get to run with a world class athlete?

Awards and Pot Pie

Back at the church, Eric, Jon & gang put together a great feast that included the most amazing pot pie I have ever had. Topped off with some superb chocolate cake and enough Sunkist to float a boat, I was stuffed. This race has a great awards atmosphere, because for the most part, it is just friends hanging out, telling tails from the day and sharing in the bond that ultra runners have when running all day.

Thanks go to the Race Directors (Eric Schotz and Jon Elmore), the River City Runners, my wife and crew (Laura), my motivators (Rob Youngren, Marty Clarke, Dink Taylor, John Nevels, Blake Thompson and so many others), all of the aid station workers people who cooked the post race meal (CostCo for that awesome pot pie) and others that I forget right now.

Here are the winners of the 12 hour and the 50k, both setting course records on this day.

Here are the awards given out for winning the 50k. I love this hat! I wore it to bed later that night.

Mushy Stuff

Looking back over this day, I still struggle to put it all into words, though I certainly have tried. With that said, I don't think that I did any of it justice. The highs and lows, the ups and downs, the mud and slop, the M&M's and the PB&J, etc. You really had to be there. Even if you were, every person went through there own range of emotions, which makes this event such a powerful experience.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

2009 UAH Spring 10K Road Race

2009 UAH Spring 10K Road Race
Huntsville, AL
March 1, 2009
Official Results

Mile 1: From the start, there was a tail wind into the horseshoe and then into the wind for the second half of the horseshoe. I went out hard, chasing Josh (Whitehead) and Matthew (Brick). With the tailwind, I looked down and I was running in the high 4's for the first 1/4 mile. I knew that I couldn't hold this pace, but I wanted to put a little breathing room behind me and make a mild statement of my intent to run fast today. Around the first corner, Jason (Reneau) caught up and ran just off my shoulder. The first mile always feels so easy in a 10k and in this case it did as we clocked a fast split.

Split: 5:31.09

Mile 2: The first six tenths of the mile was into a very strong headwind. There was a slight dip under the bridge with minor hill to follow on the way out to the cone turn around. Jason and I continued to run together, pushing as hard as we could into the wind. He didn't want the lead into the wind, which was smart. I did test the waters a few times by slowing down and he would come out and around to the side and then we would stride together again. I made a tight turn around the cone, while Jason took it wide. We could see how close Donald (Bowman) and David (Purinton) were to us. After the turn, I tried to crank up the pace, using the tail wind to my advantage as much as possible, being a tall runner, letting it hit my broad shoulders. The one time an out and back course is nice is seeing other runners again and hearing their encouraging words.

Split: 5:54.95

Mile 3: The first half mile was still with the wind at our backs and then through the turn back to the start. After coming around the horseshoe, there was a slight uphill back to the wellness center. Jason and I continued to run together with him just off my right shoulder. He pulled ahead a few times but I would pick up the pace and we would be tight again quickly. I swung my arms mightily up the hill into the wind. We made the cone turn around at the 5k mark at 18 minutes flat. Far from the 5:40 pace I had planned on running, until the wicked winds began to blow.

Split: 5:48.83

I took the cone turn and tried to drop Jason out of the gate, again using the tail wind as much as I could. It was very difficult to get back to top speed coming off the wind/hill, but I you don't get many chances to make a move in a short race like this. I was a little surprised that we were still together. I couldn't tell with the conditions if I was running well, if Jason was struggling or not racing full speed, or a little bit of both. The 4th mile was the same as the 1st mile; half with tail wind and half with head wind. Josh and Matthew were so far ahead (more than 60 seconds at the turn) that I couldn't really seem them anymore around the bend. I couldn't tell where Jason was, as we was no longer off my shoulder, but I had to assume that he was right on me. If I slowed at all, I knew he would capitalize and sweep past me. The second half of this mile was very difficult as the headwinds picked up. At one point it did not feel like I was moving at all.

Split: 5:58.17

The 5th mile was similar to the 2nd mile, with a slightly longer push into the headwind. I was now running alone across the western part of the UAH campus, with no protection from the wind. I struggled more than any other mile of the race, but I pushed as hard as I could. When I made the cone turn around, I noticed that it was even too cold for the course marshall, who now sat in his car until I got close. I made the turn and it felt like a weight had been lifted off my back, literally. I picked up the pace, but the split was still the slowest of the day. This was the first time since the 5k turn that I saw how close the other runners were to me. Coming off of the slow cone turn around, they seemed much closer than I had hoped.

Split: 6:17.90

The 6th mile was mostly with the wind at my back and then into the horseshoe turn again. I tried to muster whatever I had left to build the lead up on the rest of the pack. The leaders weren't going to come back to me and I didn't have enough to go get them either. I felt pretty strong coming back across the pack for the final time, again hearing words of encouragement that motivated me to run strong. After making the final corner, I wanted to look back to make sure that no one was there to sprint ahead, but I opted not to. I was running with everything that I had to begin with, so I would not have been able to withstand a strong final kick had Jason or Donald have been right with me.

Split: 5:45.08

The final 0.214 of a mile was uphill and into the wind. I was trying to keep my form into the wind, and use a strong arm swing to pull up my knees a little higher to finish strong. I was gasping for air slightly now, as I ran hard through the finish line. After taking a few steps and trying to catch my breathe, I was able to look back and see Donald, then Jason finish behind me.

Split: 1:16:38

Ironically the time of my last 0.214 of a mile in mm:ss:ms is the same as my half marathon PR in hh:mm:ss. I finished 3rd overall behind Matthew and Josh and was the top HTC open male finisher. There were 154 total runners, which was pretty good for the foul weather. My total time was 36:32.40, with an average pace of 5:47 minute/miles but the effort felt closer to 5:30.

Afterward, I had several people tell me that despite the conditions, that every time they saw me, that I looked strong. One person even mentioned that it didn't look like I was working at all. I laughed a little, because I was working pretty hard, but I have the innate ability to make it appear as if I am not; controlled breathing, good form, etc. Maybe it is a little mental edge that I have, showing the competition that I am running easy, even though inside the pistons are really firing pretty hard.

Overall I feel decent about this race. I am just now starting to hit my stride on the track and working on my speed. It should all come together in time for Boston. This race was just a week off of Black Warrior 50k too, so I am sure that I am not fully recovered from that event. This race was one about position, and not about time, and for that I am pleased.

01 Matthew Brick, 19 34:10/5:30
02 Josh Whitehead, 30 34:17/5:31
03 Eric Charette, 33 36:32/5:53
04 Donald Bowman, 41 36:59/5:58
05 Jason Reneau, 32 37:10/5:59
06 David Purinton, 41 37:27/6:02
07 Greg Reynolds, 26 38:11/6:09
08 Jon Elmore, 43 39:35/6:23
09 Candace Jacobs, 28F 39:43/6:24
10 Erik Debolt, 26 40:35/6:32