Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Delano Park 50 Mile

I am not Superman. I have no super human powers. I am just like the man you stood in line behind at Starbucks this morning when you got your skinny vanilla latte. We all have our own personal kryptonite and mine lies above my shoulders. Good friend Marty Clarke once told me that the only thing holding me back from achieving my running goals was my head; this weekend he was spot on correct.

For me, I can tolerate intense pain while running for distances of 50km and below; in fact I thrive on the pain, pushing the limits of it on each foot fall. When running for less than 4 or 5 hours I am able to remain focused, keep my head in the game and my eyes on the prize. I've done this several hundred times now in foot races where I have been able to execute a race plan successfully. When it comes to long, dull pain, I get weak in the knees, so to speak.

Racing 50 mile races and beyond, a feat which I have only attempted several times, my mind starts to doubt what my body knows it can do and I turn into a basket case. I was asked in the days leading into Delano Park ultra marathon, what I thought the secrets to ultra running were. I responded with a lengthy email, but it boiled down to this: "Going long is 1/3 physical + 1/3 fueling/hydration + 1/3 mental, and if any one of the three legs is not there. the stool will fall." I know what I need to do, but often as in life, knowing the right thing to do and being able to do it are two different things.

This weekend at Delano Park 50 mile I had but one goal in mind and that was to set a state age record in Alabama for 35 year old men. The time was completely achievable as I had run faster than this the year prior and I felt that I was in much better shape this year, coming off of a solid endurance base, several fast marathons and a strong sub 4:30 at Mountain Mist 50km. The first part of the equation, the physical, was there.

I thought that my fueling/hydration was adequate. I carried a hand bottle on every other lap of the 1 mile course, consuming enough fluids to keep me hydrated. I was taking PowerBar Gel Blasts and some other solid foods as the day wore on, to the point where the second part of the equation was present. I did realize later in the day that the sun was burning my arms and shoulders, which lead to dehydration - a painful lesson that I learned in the 2008 Boston Marathon as well.

Where I suffered from an epic failure was not believing that I could do it. My plan to run faster from the start to avoid the heat brought on early fatigue which contributed to me self-doubt. Even after splitting the marathon in 3:20 and the 50km in 4:05 and having a full three hours to complete the next 19 miles, my thoughts began to drive me crazy with the math that I was not going to make it. I began to walk more and more, to the point where I was running for 2 miles and then walking for 2-3 minutes. I had a great pacer with me in Anne Noble as she was very encouraging and kept me going forward. Without her help I probably would have walked off much sooner. But after a twelve minute mile 34 and realizing that I had to hold 9 minute pace or faster for the next 16 miles, to which seemed a daunting, effort, I mentally collapse and gave up.

I walked some of the next mile but but half way I had completely rationalized my failure to execute and decided that instead of walking for another few hours just to get to 50 miles and not set the state record, that I was better off to throw in the towel and live to fight another day. Dropping out of a race is one of the worst failures to a runner as you are basically admitting defeat for whatever reason. I have only done it a few times, and each time I agonize over the choice and nearly ever time I regret it later, once I am thinking clearly. But this time, through the help of some life-coaching by my girlfriend Anne, I was able to find peace with the decision and when I left the race, I left the self-disappointment there as well.

So instead of dwelling on the negative, I choose to focus on the positive and rest in the fact that I made the right call, given the factors. I will live to fight again another day and though I did not achieve my goal of setting a state age record, I realize that sometimes you don't realize all of your goals; that is why they are goals - they give you something to work toward and focus on. This was not an epic failure as would have thought in the past, but a learning experience. In order to compete at longer distance ultra marathons, I need to have complete focus and a strong mind. I also realize that my passions are running at distances of 50km and less because those are my strengths. I may never be a great distance runner but it will not be for lack of trying and now that I have a better understanding of my weaknesses I know what I need to focus on, should I decide to try this distance again.

Thanks to the great team of Eric Schotz, Jon Elmore and all of the volunteers for putting on a great event in Decatur. If you have never checked it out, 2012 is the time for either the 50 mile, the 12 hour or the relay. They really put on a fantastic race.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2011 UAH 10km

March 6th, 2011
Huntsville, Alabama

One of the races that I love to hate is the UAH Spring Road Race.
  • It is run on a Sunday afternoon
  • The weather is so unpredictable from rain/wind to the first hot day of the year
  • I am usually focused on endurance/ultra running and have done minimal speed work
  • The course is a double out and back (horse shoe) with 3 cone turn arounds
This year it was just a week before a spring goal race of mine, the Delano Park 50 miler and the day after Rob Youngren, Eric Fritz and I ran the Bushwhacker Johnston Trail marathon (26.2 miles from Monte Sano along the ridge line to the Tennessee River, often bushwhacking through virgin forest).  The weather for race day was predicted to be partly cloudy with temps in the upper 50's, but were actually high 30's with blustery winds gusting at 10-20 mph from the north.  When I got to the race I wondered what the hell I was doing there and that I had no business trying to be competitive by racing.

That said, I have had some success at this race with some high finishes despite slow times, mostly due to low turnout.  In 2009, I finished 3rd overall and in 2010, I finished 4th overall, each year swapping places with Donald Bowman.  Last year I went out too hard (5:20's first mile) and was in the middle of training for Pinhoti 500km and faded quickly, dropping from 2nd to 5th in the final two miles, before surging late to regain 4th place.

2009 Results
1 Matthew Brick - 34:10
2 Josh Whitehead - 34:17
3 Eric Charette - 36:32
4 Donald Bowman - 36:59
5 Jason Reneau - 37:10

2010 Results
1 Josh Whitehead - 33:00
2 Cristian Cortes - 35:37
3 Donald Bowman - 35:52
4 Eric Charette - 36:28
5 David Purinton - 36:31

This year I decided that I would stick close to Donald Bowman, knowing that he was already in decent road racing shape and with any luck I could hold onto 5:45 pace and come in under 36 minutes.  Last year it took me until July to post a time in the 35's and with minimal speed training this season I was not hopeful.  The main competition in this race was Donald, David O'Keefe, George Heeschen and Samson Too, though Samson is capable of low 30's so it was expected that he jog to victory by most on-lookers.

Out of the gate Donald shot away and set a pace that was faster than I wanted, but I kept covering the distance of his accelerations and tucked in behind him.  As we rounded the corner and started to head west, then north, Samson had broke away and I was in a small pack of three with George and Donald.  The first mile was way too fast for me, 5:27, but I stayed with Donald as he lead the way into the stiff headwind under Holmes Avenue and began the small climb out the other side.  George had not run the course before so he was taking wide corners while Donald took the tangents and I followed.  Making the first cone turn around, Samson lead, followed by George and then our now pack of two.  Not far behind were David, Candace and Dink Taylor as we split the first two miles in 11:12, slowing to 5:45 pace in the second mile as we fought the wind.

Photo Courtesy of Gregg Gelmis

Making our way back to the start for the second cone turn around, I stayed stride for stride with Donald, tucked behind as he set a decent pace of 5:39 and we came through the 5km mark in the low 17's.  I was feeling surprisingly good for the conditions and even did a "Youngren-Spin" around the cone (reverse turn) and repeated it mid stride as Rob and Kathy (Youngren) laughed at the finish line.  The second loop of this course has eaten me alive in recent years but my head was still strong and my legs were not tiring much.

In the 4th and 5th mile I ran just off of Donald's shoulder and even pulled ahead as we went through the aid station and even through in some quick accelerations to see if I could shake Donald off, but he covered each time.  I did this a few times and then got smart and decided that I should let him do the work again into the wind and the final cone turn, and he took the lead without hesitation as we split 5:49 and 5:55.

In the final mile the pace really picked up as I thought it would on the home stretch.  We were passing the field, now thin and strung out more than the first two times, and the encouraging words of other runners really began to fuel my fire.  I started to think about how I would possibly overtake Donald as the second ticked away.  I knew that I could not wait until the final few meters and slingshot by, as he has sprinting speed and that he could react in time and would easily out stride me.  Instead, I remembered how he slowed slightly with a quarter mile to go on the first loop as the road took a slight incline to the north.  So the decision was to make my move at the 6 mile mark and have a sustained push to the finish.  It was the hope that I had enough stored in the bank from tagging along that I could power up the hill and hold off Donald to capture 3rd place.

So after splitting the 6th mile in 5:31, I took off at mile pace for a hundred meters, quickly putting a gap on Donald.  As I took off, he yelled "Go Eric."  I could tell that he didn't surge with me this time, which was a great feeling but now I was 250 meters away from the finish and I was already at top speed without another gear in my bag.  Luckily the surge had put enough distance between us as I slowed just slightly but was able to hold on for a 4 second lead on Donald and take 3rd place overall.  I attribute this race to smart tactics when I was in less than top shape and then the fact that I had the "want" to make that final push, instead of just settling for 4th place.

So in our alternating year fashion, Donald Bowman and I again traded places, this year, as in 2009, I took 3rd overall and he took 4th.  Maybe in 2012 we will break the pattern!  A special thanks to Donald for carrying us along; I think that together we were able to run faster than we would have alone.

2011 Results
1 Samson Too - 33:38
2 George Heeschen - 34:37
3 Eric Charette - 35:36
4 Donald Bowman - 35:40
5 David O'Keefe - 37:01
6 Victor Brown - 37:25
7 Dink Taylor - 37:39
8 Candace Jacobs - 37:43
9 Greg Reynolds - 38:08
10 Blake Thompson - 38:11