Monday, June 21, 2010

2010 Keyes Peak Trail Marathon

June 19, 2010
Florence, WI

Imagine winning a long distance trail race held within minutes of your home town while your parents are there to see you at the finish line on Father's Day weekend; it is almost a story too good to be true, especially when you live a thousand miles away. So when Laura and I had the opportunity to work remotely from Kingsford, Michigan (where my parents live) for six weeks this summer, I immediately scrapped my plans to run the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race in lieu of the Keyes Peak Trail Marathon. This inaugural event was the idea of Race Director Jeff Crumbaugh of Great Lakes Endurance and local resident Ryan Jacobson of Wild Rivers Adventure Company.  It wasn't the fastest or most scenic or best competition, but it was the first marathon in my hometown and a must do on Father's Day weekend.

Standing at the starting line looking around at the small field, it was easy to pick out the competition. There were a few guys that looked the part and the local area Montrail Rep (Peter Witucki) was standing next to me, as it was a Montrail sponsored event. He looked very fit and I was nervous that he was going to dust me in the first mile. The day I lose the prerace jitters and nervousness is the day I will stop racing. Starting at the base of Keyes Peak Ski Hill at 7:02am, Jeff shouted "Runners to your marks... Go!" and we were off.

The start of this race was brutal as within the first minute we ran up a soft sand covered snowmobile trail that climbed up the backside of the ski hill. I did not look back once but as we neared the split of the first mile and 200' of climb, it was just Peter and myself running stride for stride on each side of the trail. He was pushing the pace and not wanting to drop back, I stuck with it at 7:30 pace which was much faster than I wanted to start out.

The next mile and a half we reclaimed all of the climb with a winding and fast down slope as the pace dropped to 6:30 or faster. As the course would bend left or right, we would take the tangents and duck behind each other, otherwise it was side by side running with no one within earshot. At the 2.5 mile mark, we turned left onto Lake Emily Drive which was a paved road. I had been running on the left side of the road so Peter dropped back behind me to take the tangent. I had no intention of picking up the pace on the road, but it just came naturally, given the recent road racing that I had been doing. I kept the pace around a low six minute mile for the next mile coming into the mile 3.4 aid station. I was carrying the required 20 ounce bottle that was still full so I ran through the aid station shaking off any fluids. Based on the clapping from the aid workers, I could tell that Peter was less than 10 seconds behind me.

For the next 4 miles I tried to run with even effort which turned out to be about 6:40 pace, given the general rolling nature of the terrain. The miles were flying by quickly as I remember feeling great as I neared the 8 mile mark on County Road N. I was glancing at my Garmin GPS occasionally but only at the average pace and my mile splits; I was not looking at my overall time whatsoever, just focusing on the moment and going with how I felt. I was running a little scared, not knowing what type of lead I had, but refused to look behind me. I was in the lead and I was not about to take my foot off the gas.

My hand bottle was a little low and not knowing where I would find aid again, I had planned for a quick fill up. As with all Great Lakes Endurance races, they require a hand bottle and fill it up with water pitchers, thus eliminating cups. So after crossing and paralleling CTH N for a short distance, I came to the aid station just before the bridge that crossed the "oxbow" on the Pine River. The "oxbow" derives its name from the shape that the bend of the river makes just west of the highway.

I was polite but direct with the volunteers. I said "water" and "please pour it quickly." People who don't work races want to not spill a drop or get it on you, while I am thinking about minimizing time spent there and that stopping is breaking my rhythm. I hope that I did not offend anyone with this demeanor but I was a man on a mission.

Jeff had mentioned in the prerace briefing that leaving every aid station was a hill climb. This was very true after the second aid station, as the course climbed back out of the river valley as to cross the highway again. It was the first time that I walked, but it was just a few steps of power walking to get me to the top of the short but very steep climb. Not far after that, I crossed County Road N again and made my way onto a grassy section of the course. My 9th mile split was 7:20 as the trail had some tall grass and was much different terrain than the first hour. I split the first 10 miles in 1:10:20 which was just over 7 minute pace which I knew, but still was not looking at the overall duration I had been running.

The course continued to climb slowly from the "oxbow" at mile 8 all the way until mile 13. While a subtle climb, it was taking its toll on me and despite putting forth even effort, my pace was showing the strain of the climb. My next three splits were around 7:25 pace so my overall pace was slipping slightly. I took some HEED at the mile 11 aid station which was a mistake. I love Subtle Strawberry HEED, but the Orange flavor when mixed with Honey Stinger Gold gels is like mixing milk with coke and shaking it up in your stomach; I really did want to throw it up.

The course dropped down to the mile 14 aid station where I dumped my bottle and refreshed it with water.  I had decided to switch to water and then take S! Caps for any electrolyte needs and resort to just Stinger gels for energy.  Leaving the aid station was a hill climb longer and steeper than at mile 8 and despite trying to look strong in the lead and run the entire hill, by the top I was walking.  I was starting to feel some of the pressure of being in the lead and it was jumping on my back like a grizzly bear.  The course would continue to climb along LaSalle Falls Road as I headed west with the sun at my back toward Jultra Lake.  Somehow I managed to hold onto sub 8 minute pace as I had to mix in several walk breaks on the hills.

The footing was not technical whatsoever, but the soft sand at times made it difficult to push off on the up hills.  I was sporting the newest inov-8 roclite 295's and they were the perfect shoe for this easy terrain and I felt very light on my feet.  The lugs were spaced just right to not pick up rocks on the gravel roads and as we sloshed through some puddles, they were able to dry quickly and not weigh me down.

I had split the first 18 miles in 2:11 flat which I thought was pretty decent at 7:15 pace.  I had not run this fast for this long in any race dating back to my last road marathon in December.  Since then I had either been doing long ultras at a slower pace or short distance speed races at a faster pace.  I felt very good about where I was at, thinking that it would take between a 3:10 and 3:20 to win on this day.

Approaching the mile 18 aid station, I had been thinking about how I would traverse the river.  Jeff had mentioned that there was a "swim" option and a "run" option to cross the river, but that the "run" option was further downstream.  So as I arrived and saw the signs marking the directions I asked the volunteer which route was shorter.  He said the "swim" so I leapt over the bank and plunged into the water.  It was only a matter of seconds before I realized that the water was full of rapids and was well over my head.  As the picture shows, I started to swim but the current of the two rivers that joined just upstream was too much and I couldn't make it straight across to the other side.  I went from a full swim to a doggie paddle and then to a backstroke as I floated downstream to the far end of the river where the rope crossing mounted to a tree.  According to Jeff, the volunteers at the river crossing said I looked "strong and confident" and "enjoyed the water."  I was just happy to have survived the crossing without having to spend too much energy.  I would later hear that they also called back to Jeff letting him know that the race leader chose the swim option, while the others chose the rope crossing that was only waist deep.  I guess I was so into the moment that I never thought twice and just wanted the shortest option.

Leaving the north side aid station, I took a refresh of water in my bottle and a cookie.  It took one bite to realize it was raisin and I donated the cookie to the fine animals of the forest.  I am pretty sure they like oatmeal raisin cookies more than me.  I was trying to forget what Jeff said about the climb that followed each aid station but was rudely reminded with a trail and road climb leaving the river.  It was only a 150' climb over less than 3/4 of a mile, but I was utterly exhausted from trying to swim across the river.  I began to regret the decision immediately but took solace in that I could not hear anyone cheering for Pete at the river crossing, so I had estimated that he trailed by 2-3 minutes.

Hitting the bend of Highway 101 and making a hard right back to the east, I think I saw a kid on a bicycle and said hello, but this could be one of those mirages that you make up to ease the distance when your mind is wandering during the later stages of a race.  I was starting to struggle, which was evident by the nearly two miles I spent on Ironwood Drive to mile 21 as I started to doubt my abilities with every footfall.  I was turning around to look behind me every minute and began to make excuses to myself on why I lost the race; almost as if it had happened already.  This was the low point of the race.

It took a memory of a friend who passed away last year at this time to shake me out this valley.  It was just 12 months early that Dave LaVarnway, my Dad's best friend, had suddenly passed away, leaving behind his wife, daughter and loads of people who cared about him.  I started to think about the sorrow and hard times that his family has been through in those last 365 days and how my current pain could not even be compared to that.  If they could have made it through this as well as they have, I could get my act together, but aside the pain in my calves and make a strong push to the finish.  The course turned to the left on a technical two-rut grassy road for the next two miles and I was in the zone with my new mantra.  The split times for these miles was not overly fast, but Dave was running with me and gave me the lift I needed.  Well he wasn't much of a runner and would give me a hard time about running, but that was his way about things and I enjoyed dealing with his crap!  It was how he showed you that he liked you.

I passed through the last aid station at mile 24 with just two short miles to go.  The course hit the 26 mile mark at the top of the ski hill and would wind back down for two tenths of a mile to the finish.  The last problem of the day to solve was to preserve enough energy for the final climb up the backside of the ski hill.  I was expecting some sort of monster climb to the peak, but the climb was spread out over the last two miles and when I saw a sign that read "scenic overlook" I knew that I was close.  I took a quick peek behind me and started to run along the top ridge and down toward the finish.  I imagined that the volunteers at mile 24 had called ahead to let the people at the lodge know that I was coming in shortly as I could hear the voices long before they ever saw me.  Coming down the last 1/4 mile I gave a few fist pumps with my bottle in the air in celebration.  Somehow I had pulled it off; I had won the race!

I had thought all day about what winning the race would feel like; I was mentally picturing the win, as I had done so many times before, only to finish second or worse.  I had won a dozen or so races in my career, but this won felt different, as it was my first marathon victory.  I crossed the line, and with a brief motion, pointed to the sky as a way to say thanks to Dave for pulling me along when I was ready to quit. 
My time was 3:19:55.

 Thanks to my wife Laura and my parents for being there to see the finish.  Thanks to the volunteers and the race coordinators for bringing this race to the local area.

After a crippling walk down to Keyes Lake for a chilly swim, I cleaned up and put on some clean inov-8 team gear.  Surprisingly, when I got back I was asked to give an interview for the local newspaper, The Daily News.  Just as I had visualized the win, picturing myself crossing the line in first, I had thought about what I would say.  It didn't come out like I had planned, but it never does.  I got a chance to thank the race director, the volunteers and mention my dad, but I kept my inspiration to myself as that was between me and the course.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

2010 Alabama A&M 10km

2010 Alabama A and M 10km

The Alabama A and M 10k is a race that I love to hate. The conditions are so extremely brutal that the race delivers the ultimate beat down and leaves you with nothing left, yet that is part of the lure to compete. The temperatures typically are in the low 80's, the humidity is high, the sun is blaring down on you and the two hill climbs in the final two miles are humbling to any runner. While this race does not draw the same crowds as Cotton Row, many prefer the low key nature and appeal of this event.

I have done moderately well in the race over the last couple of years, finishing 4th in 2009 and 6th in 2008 and had hoped for similar results this year. I had a good day at Cotton Row by by standards and I was fairly well rested coming off of a week of vacation where we just hiked every day in the US and Canadian Rockies.

Official Race Results

This picture is a great synopsis of how I felt in the second half of this race.

From the start, I tried to run even effort and not go out too fast as I had done in 2009. I knew that the I had to put some time in the bank for the second half of the race, but if I spent too much energy on the flats, I wouldn't be able to grind it out on the hilly half. Josh Whitehead left the pack early on, leaving a small group of us to run together. While not looking around much, I think it was Trip Richart, Donald Bowman, Emily Hardin and Jon Elmore that had split apart from the pack by the 1/2 mile mark. I did not know Trip before the race and with the way he was staying with the pack I thought that he might make things interesting for top 3 placement. We went through the first mile in 5:41 and I was still feeling pretty good.

As we made our way west on Chase, I took the lead of our pack and Donald and Trip went with me. I tried to through in a few surges to shake Trip, while knowing that Donald would most likely get the best of me with his current conditioning. On each surge, both Donald and Trip would cover the distance. By the time we hit the cone turn around on Mooresmill, Josh easily had a minute on us (in the first mile and a half). Coming off of the turn, I chose to let Donald lead and pace off of him for awhile. Unluckily I was unable to stay with him and despite going through the second mile in an even 5:41, Donald was pulling away.

I grabbed some water at the aid station and with a quick gulp and douse on the back of the neck, I continued to chase Donald. He stayed in sight as we now ran west on Chase, crossing the railroad tracks and started the climb toward the campus loop that we would repeat twice. I crested the top of the hill near the aid station, clocking a 6:06 third mile, putting my three mile split at 17:28.

The fourth mile is one of the fastest miles in any local road race as it drops about 75' from the top of Chase to the south entrance of the campus. I tried to increase my leg turn over but I was still a little fatigued off of the slight climb from the tail end of the last mile. I was able to split a 5:58 bringing my time to 23:26 through 4 miles. That would be the last fast mile of the race for me as I was starting to wear down in the heat and the hills were about to start.

As we started the climb up Morrison Circle, Jon Elmore, who had covered the distance between us in the last mile, passed me as I started to walk on the hill climb. Jon has been running some great 10k's lately and looked strong and light as we trotted up the hill and left me behind. I took about 20 steps of walking before the top of the hill where I started to jog again. Jon quickly put 50 meters on me before we came back through the starting area. I was just trying to hold it all together, including the sick-to-my-stomach feeling of racing at this intensity.

As we crested the incline after the starting line, I was starting to feel a little better and covered the distance that Jon had on me and just as we got to the eastern edge of campus, I was just meters back. The loop here is a hard right with a 150 degree turn. Jon kept going straight for a few steps out to the triangle around the police car and I yelled for him to turn so he would not run the course long. I had hugged the corner tight and took back 3rd place, though Jon hung strong into the aid station. I wouldn't find out until later that Jon was just as sick as I was and the course was taking his toll on him as well. Coming over the top of the hill and starting to weave in and out of people on their first loop, I split the 5th mile in 6:46. Now I was just trying to hang on and told myself that I just had to run strong for another 8 minutes or so.

Making the turn for the second time into campus, I tried to sneak a peak to my right to see where Jon was but I couldn't spot him. I thought that I saw Emily, but couldn't be sure and Trip could be sneaking up on me too, yet I wanted to hang onto 3rd so I dug deep running toward the hill. Passing by team mate Katie Maehlmann who was out cheering on her husband Rick and taking pictures, I approached the hill, but was reduced to a walk again by the middle of the climb. Just as the previous loop, I started to run again by the top and picked up the pace. By the 6 mile mark, which I clocked in 6:32, I was feeling strong again.

Making the final turn, I did look behind to make sure that I was not going to get passed in the last section, I stepped up the pace a little. I didn't see anyone close, but I did see the clock and realized that I could push a little and still come in with a respectable sub 38 despite not really having much all day. I saw the clock as I crossed the line and it read 37:59. A far cry from my best on this course but given the conditions, I was glad that I survived yet another Alabama A and M beat down.

Congrats to Josh Whitehead who ran a very fast time and just had a fun time with his gas station sun glasses. Also to the Nike Fleet Feet Racing team who placed twice in the top 3 overall (Donald Bowman and myself) and 7 of the top 10. We also took top of the top 3 female places (Candace Jacobs and Kathy Youngren). Together we all suffered, but together we all overcame the adversity and difficulty of this course.

Here are the top 25 finishers.

1 Josh Whitehead - 33:31
2 Donald Bowman - 36:33
3 Eric Charette - 37:59
4 Emily Hardin - 38:19
5 Jon Elmore - 38:59
6 Trip Richert - 39:33
7 Robert Youngren - 39:41
8 Candace Jacobs - 39:55
9 Gregory Reynolds - 41:20
10 Joe Francica - 41:22
11 Dewayne Satterfield - 41:31
12 Randy McFarland - 41:36
13 Blake Thompson - 41:39
14 Barry Ege - 42:15
15 Edward Blankenship - 42:25
16 Keith Buell - 42:37
17 Kathy Youngren - 42:52
18 Brett Wilks - 43:08
19 Jeff Hager - 43:10
20 Steve Rice - 43:18
21 Nathan Graham - 43:49
22 Rick Maehlmann - 44:36
23 Vito Pulkis - 44:48
24 Mark Speer - 46:01
25 Jason Mitchell - 46:33

Here are the race details from my Garmin

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer Plans

This summer Laura and I have the opportunity to work remotely from Kingsford, MI where my parents live. Most of my job is preparation for software demonstrations that I give to power companies, which involves travel so it doesn't really matter where I live.  The possibility of spending six weeks with my parents is pretty awesome and will be the longest I have seen them since before I left for college 16 years ago.

Along with this extended family time, it also opened my eyes to something that has been on my (running) bucket list for a long time; running 100 miles from Kingsford to Green Bay, WI.  I was born in Green Bay and shortly thereafter moved with my family to Upper Michigan.  When I was little I remember driving to Green Bay and counting the telephone poles along the way.  I also wondered, long before I was a runner, if it would be possible to walk (or run) the entire way.  I would later in life move back to Green Bay for a few years, completing the circle, before our move to Huntsville, Alabama.

Well after considering this adventure for while recently, I decided that it really was impractical as much of it is now 4-lane divided highway with a 65 mph speed limit.  While there are alternate routes between the cities, it would add considerable distance and then it loses the original luster.  Plus the route is entirely paved road, which is not my favorite for ultra-distance running. 

While still looking for something significant to do this summer, I remember an old railroad bed that was turned into a rails-to-trails that we used to run on when I lived in Green Bay.  The Mountain-Bay Trail actually extends from Green Bay on the eastern end to Wausau, Wisconin on former Chicago and Northwestern right-of-way.  The 83 mile trail is named as such based on the two geological features it connects - Rib Mountain in Marathon County and Green Bay in Brown County.  My first job out of college in 1999 was working in Wausau, and together with Laura, we called Marathon County home for about a year.  So in reality, the Wausau to Green Bay route has as much, if not more, significance than the Kingsford to Green Bay route. 

From the website, the Mountain-Bay Trail was developed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and parks departments of Marathon, Shawano and Brown County, and is currently maintained through the generous contributions and volunteer efforts of the Friends of the Mountain-Bay Trail of the three counties through which the trail passes: Marathon, Shawano and Brown.

I have done some checking and it sounds like there have been a few hikers that have covered the entire trail of several days but that no one has attempted to run the entire trail at one time, let alone in a single day which would be my primary goal.  The trail has a net elevation drop from west to east of 600'. So I am heavily considering this run while I am home this summer in an effort to set the fastest known time on the trail, as well has bring attention to other rails-to-trails efforts.

The dates are yet to be determined but I am leaning toward mid to late July. As with any FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempt, certain common sense guidelines will be observed, as noted by Buzz Burrell on Peter Bakwin's FKT website.
  • Announce your intentions in advance. Like a true gentleman, pay your respects to those who came before you, and tell them what you intend to attempt and when.
  • Be an open book. Invite anyone to come and watch or, better yet, participate. This makes your effort more fun and any result more believable.
  • Record your event. Write down everything immediately upon completion. Memory doesn't count.
So for now I am just pondering the idea and the logistics.  Once I make up my mind to do it, I will declare my intent on the FKT website.  If I do decide to run the trail, it will be a solo effort.  I learned some valuable lessons during the Pinhoti Trail FKT with Rob Yougren (although a mulit-day effort) about trying to run long distance for time with another runner.  It is very tough to do something like this with another runner as it is inevitable that you feel good (or bad) at the same time and in the end you will ultimately separate.  I will quote fellow inov-8 team mate Jonathan Basham who was told this by Andrew Thompson, "You must be your own man."  I feel like I need to do this on my own.  I certainly will entertain the concept of pacers for the last few hours and will have a support crew along the way, but plan to attempt the FKT solo.