Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sportsmanship in Ultrarunning

As the sport of ultrarunning and trail running continues to grow at a rate that some consider alarming, it's time we take a moment to go over sportsmanship.  What does it mean? How can we strengthen the sport we love by practicing better sportsmanship?

First, what is sportsmanship?  I like Wikipedia's definition. (Yes, I used Wikipedia, sue me.)

"Sportsmanship is an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors."

Okay, so let's break this down piece by piece.  

"an aspiration or ethos"

Aspiration is defined as "a hope or ambition of achieving something."  I think we all, as participants in this activity and lifestyle, wish for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship.  

Ethos is defined as the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations. Ultrarunning is definitely a culture and a community.  The sense of community in the world of ultrarunning is so great and so welcoming that I think it's one of the main reasons why the sport continues to grow the way that it is. 

"will be enjoyed for its own sake"
Yes, of course, we are all out here because we enjoy it.  Sometimes we don't enjoy the suffering in the moment, but we usually cherish the memory of pushing through the suffering and feeling proud and strong.  

"with proper consideration for fairness and ethics"
Obviously, we need to play fair.  Playing fair usually just means following the rules. Most races have rules, and even those that don't have rules explicitly explained, I think it's usually safe to assume that we all know the rules and will abide by them.    What are some of the basic rules of ultrarunning?

1.  Be respectful to your opponents.  Don't push or shove.  Just run.  If someone is running faster than you and wants to pass, let them pass.  Pretty basic rules of civility apply here.

2.  Follow the marked course (and on foot!).   Don't jump in a car and skip 30% of a race because you want an award and you want to brag to your friends (if applicable).  What's the point?  Not only will you lose respect of all your fellow runners, but any self respect you have will likely dwindle to zero after that classless act.  

3.  Only accept aid where it's allowed.   Don't stash goodies along the course.  Pretty standard.

4.  Don't bandit a race.  I'm so tired of all the arguments about how running as a bandit is okay.  It is absolutely NOT okay.  There are so many reasons why that I don't even want to waste too much time going over them, but now because I'm so fired up about the subject, I better cover a few.  
  • it's a huge liability.  Race directors are responsible for the safety and whereabouts of the runners.  Running as a bandit creates new concerns that may lead to the race losing its permit or insurance.  
  • you're using resources that others paid for.  "waahhh but I won't take food from the aid stations".  It doesn't matter your intentions.  If you're running as a bandit and you suffer a major injury, do you honestly believe the race medical staff will not treat you? They will.  And you're using resources.  You're also using the trail and the course.  Land management is a serious business, and a large amount of money and resources are used to determine how many people a trail or a plot of land can handle before it has a negative effect on the environment or sustainability of the area.  
  • it's simply not fair.  Why should you be allowed to run a race without paying while others have perhaps not only paid for their race, but also may have entered through a lottery drawing which required a prerequisite race that they also paid for?
  • bandits are losers, plain and simple.  You want to run but you didn't get in the race?  Be a pacer. 
5. Don't use illegal performance enhancing drugs.  I don't want to beat a dead-horse, but as the sport grows and more sponsorship money and prize money becomes available, people WILL cheat.  We all want to be naive and pretend it doesn't happen in our sport, but numerous European ultrarunners have already tested positive.  Using performance enhancing drugs is a lot like finding a dead deer on the side of the road, cutting off its head, and mounting its antlers so you can tell people that you shot it.    If that's something you're into, you really should consider some deep reflection on the meaning of your life and lay out some basic goals so you can determine your true worth.  Unfortunately, regular testing will become a reality for the front runners at the larger events, and this will only drive up the cost of entry.  

Respect is a big one.  Let's first take a look at every aspect involved in ultrarunning, and ask "how can we respect those aspects of the sport?"

1.   Yourself.  You must respect yourself.  This means taking care of yourself.  Train properly, eat properly, sleep properly.  Find a balance in your life where you can maintain everything that is important to you.  Know your limits.  Take a break now and then.  

2.  Friends.  We often think of ultrarunning as an individual sport, but it's far from that for most people.  Our friends support us and encourage us.  They help us prepare for a race, push us in our training, keep us accountable, and help crew and pace.  Respect your friends.  Make time for them, and reciprocate all the good that they do for you.    

3.  Family.  This one is huge.  Too many people are so focused on their training and so absorbed that they often neglect the role of their family and loved ones.  Ultrarunning can be a very healthy and joyous activity, but it can just as easily become an obsession.  I am in no way saying that a runner should not be committed to his or her training.  It is very important to be committed to your training when preparing for a long distance event.  This is not something people can jump off the couch and do.  However, there must be balance.  There must be an appreciation for the role that the family plays in the runners success and ability to train.  We must make time for those we love, and for those who love us.  And finally, respect their hobbies and passions as they respect yours. 

4.  Runners.  Our fellow runners need respect as well.  It's so easy to be self-centered these days. Yes, you may have poured your heart and soul into training for a race, and you deserve to do well, right? Guess what.  A few hundred other runners might have trained just as hard, or maybe even harder. They may have trained through more adversity and more life stresses.  So be aware that you're not the only one out there, and your race is just one of many taking place on that day.  Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments, but appreciate and show gratitude for your fellow runners.  

Another way to respect your fellow runners is to offer your services of crewing and pacing.  Crewing and pacing is a very rewarding and educational experience.  I'm sure many of us have had certain crew members or pacers that have been instrumental in the completion of our race.  Why not be one yourself?  Be the pacer that inspires someone to finish their first 100-miler.  Be the crew member that makes sure the runner is eating enough to keep going when the going is tough.  Partaking in these roles is extremely fun, and a great way to experience a race that you might not otherwise get a chance to experience.  

5.  Volunteers.  Volunteers are the heart of the race.  Sure, that sounds cliche, but it's absolutely true.  Without volunteers, the race would not exist.  They "keep the blood flowing".  Granted there's plenty of self-supported fat-ass events out there where runners might just follow pre-marked trail blazes, but that's the exception.  There is so much involved with organizing and staging a race that many people are unaware of.  Those who have directed or worked as a volunteer of a race or helped planned a race know about the hundreds of hours of preparation that go into planning such an event.  

So how can you respect the volunteers?  A few ways. Firstly, thank them. Appreciate them. Treat them as though they are a blessing, because they truly are. Some aid station volunteers act like personal servants for the runners, but they should never be treated as such.  Thank them again as you're leaving.  Secondly, check yourself.  We all get tired and cranky 80 miles into a race.  If an aid station volunteer can't find your drop bag, don't flip out. No one is perfect. These are not paid individuals. They are doing the best they can, and a little patience will make their day and your own day much more enjoyable. Third, don't pack ridiculous drop bags. You don't need an eighty-pound Rubbermaid tote for your seven different pairs of arm warmers.
And finally, BE A VOLUNTEER!  I can't stress this enough.  Every single runner that races should volunteer for AT LEAST one event every year.  That is definitely not asking for too much.  It's an easy, enjoyable, and very fulfilling way to give back to the sport we love.  Additionally, volunteering is an excellent learning experience and provides a whole new perspective (especially in the later miles of a long ultra!)

6.  Race Director.  Race directors work their asses off to make sure a race goes smoothly.  Thank them. If they set a rule, abide by it.  There's usually a very good reason for it.   Do not send them angry emails about how your favorite race should be a qualifier for theirs, and how even though you finished after the cutoff you still deserve a buckle.  Much of it is common sense, but we just have to remember to be respectful, and to treat everyone as though we ourselves want to be treated.  Imagine if you poured hours and hours into planning a race.  The race was seen by nearly everyone as a huge success, but there's that one guy who's complaining about something ridiculous, like how the Sprite had too much carbonation.  Don't be that guy.  Be the OTHER guy, the one who gives a firm handshake and says "that was a great event, I really enjoyed it. Thanks for organizing it, I'll be sure to recommend it to all my friends."

7.  The Land.  Last, but definitely not least  The land.  Where do I begin?  Okay, let's start with the obvious.  Don't litter.  PERIOD.  This may not be obvious to some.  There has been a huge influx of trail runners that are transitioning from the road.  Some big city marathons allow trash to be left on the road for a cleanup crew. (Not all road races allow this either, so check the rules or with the race director) Even on those road races, I myself still carry the trash with me until I see a trash can.  That way I know for sure it is where it's supposed to be, and not laying in the weeds off the side of the road for the next 800 years.  But on the trails, no matter which trail you are on, littering is STRICTLY A NO-NO.   DO NOT LITTER.  This should be pretty clear to most, but at every race I still see far too much trash on the trail.  If it's occasional, then I think we can give most runners the benefit of the doubt that it was not intentional.  Maybe the trash fell out of someone's pocket when they were retrieving something else.  I get it.  That kind of thing happens.  However, when the trash is consistent, it becomes a serious problem and quite the irritant.  It's pretty simple.  If you carry it in... carry it out.  There's no reason not to.  An empty gel pack weighs far less than a full gel pack.  Oh, it's sticky?  I don't care!  Sticky or not, that garbage is not going to decompose.  Carry it out.  And if you see trash, pick it up.
A extremely irritating trend that I often see at races is for people to set their trash next to course markings.  A course marking or a sign is NOT a trash can!  Even if twenty other people set their trash next to a course marking, you should not set your trash there.  If they all jumped off a bridge, would you jump off the bridge?  Carry it in, carry it out.  Not only is this practicing basic respect for our land and our environment, and an effort to keep nature natural and beautiful, but it's also to maintain the future of our sport.  Many races only happen because of permission from landowners and permits from the state to use the trails.  If the trail starts to become a mess, and we don't leave it cleaner than we found it, then pretty soon the races we all love to run will no longer be an option.
(For more about litter on the run, check out this article from UltraRunning Magazine and WSER.)

An additional concern when it comes to protecting the land is the number of support crew and vehicles along the course.  I believe it's a good idea to limit your crew to one vehicle.  Some races even state it as a rule that there shall be no more than one vehicle per crew per runner along the course.  When you hundreds of runners, and a few people and vehicles for each of those runners, it becomes overwhelming for the land and for everyone involved. 

"and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors"
Sure, it's a competition. But these longer races are also a journey, a journey that we make together with all of our fellow runners.  Run hard, practice sportsmanship, continue to build camaraderie in this wonderful community, and enjoy the journey.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hill Repeats from Hell - 3rd Annual!!!

Often imitated, never duplicated, Hill Repeats from Hell is back again for its third year!

image from
Quick and dirty:
Week One (Nov 23 - Nov 29):  25 hill repeats
Week Two (Nov 30 - Dec 6):  50 hill repeats
Week Three (Dec 7 - Dec 13): 75 hill repeats
Week Four (Dec 14 - Dec 20): 100 hill repeats

IMPORTANT: That is 25, 50, 75, and 100 hills for THE ENTIRE WEEK, not each day!  For example, during Week One, you could do five per day for five days, or twenty in one day and five on another day.  Do whatever works for you!


Pick a hill that's relatively short (but not too short!). Remember, you'll want to be able to do 100 repeats in the fourth week (but obviously it should be VERY challenging).  Going outside your comfort zone is essential for growth!

Be sure to warm up before starting your hills.  Run the hills at 5k effort, or about 90% of maximum effort.  Maintain good form while going up the hill.  Eyes forward, upright posture (maybe a slight forward lean, but you should not be hunched).  Drive your arms forward and back, not side to side.  Try to maintain good form throughout each of the repeats. Dig deep!!

To recover, you can walk or slowly jog back down the hill. 


GET STARTED EARLY in the week.  Each day you put off and say "eh, I'll just do more the next day" makes it much more difficult.  And no, you cannot start on the next week's hills until you reach the start date for the next week.

IT IS ALWAYS BETTER WITH FRIENDS!  Find a hill, grab a few crazy like-minded friends, and get out there and run!  It's especially helpful to do it with friends on the cold blistery winter days that you'll likely encounter.

If you're running on trails, use a stick to keep a tally in the mud (or snow!).  It's sometimes hard to keep track after a few!

Post updates on the Facebook page!  Invite your friends! Let's encourage each other and help one another stay accountable. Additionally, if you'd like to post about other training you're doing, and successes (or failures) with your diet and nutrition, you are more than welcome!  We do this as a group to stay moving and stay strong during a time of the year when it's often too easy to slack off. 

Above all, HAVE FUN!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ultramarathons near Erie, Pennsylvania

(Currently UNDER CONSTRUCTION, as of 10/25/14!)

With the help of the internet and many Facebook friends, I have compiled the following list of ultramarathons within driving distance (250 miles) of Erie, Pennsylvania.   Who knew that we had SO MANY wonderful races within the area?!   

I have included the month when the race is typically held.  Refer to the official websites for each race for further information. 

Also, your help is needed!  If anyone would like to provide a short, 2-3 sentence description of any of these courses, feel free to post a comment or send me a message and I'll add your description.  I'll be sure to give you credit as well!  Thank you so much.

If any information is wrong or links are broken, please let me know.   


Oil Creek 100m/100k/50k - October
Titusville, PA
Distance from Erie: 45 miles

Burning River 100m/100m relay/50m - July/August
Willoughby Hills, OH
Distance from Erie: 88 miles

Mohican 100m/50m/26m - June
Loudonville, OH
Distance from Erie: 178 miles

Laurel Highlands 70m/50k - June
Ohiopyle, PA
Distance from Erie: 194 miles

Forget the PR 50k - April
Loudonville, OH
Distance from Erie: 178 miles

Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic 50k/25k - September
Youngstown, OH
Distance from Erie: 99 miles

Glacier Ridge 50m/50m relay/50k/30k - April/May
Portersville, PA
Distance from Erie: 83 miles

Bigfoot 50k/10m - December
Lore City, OH
Distance from Erie: 212 miles

Run for Regis 50k/13m - January
Peninsula, OH
Distance from Erie: 116 miles

Buckeye Trail 50k - July
Brecksville, OH
Distance from Erie: 114 miles

Buckeye Buster 50m/50k/10m - June
Lore City, OH
Distance from Erie: 212 miles

Fools 50k/25k - March/April
Peninsula, OH
Distance from Erie: 116 miles

Fuzzy Fandango 50k/25/8m/5k - October
Perrysville, OH
Distance from Erie: 177 miles

Beast of Burden 100m/50m (Winter Edition) - January
Lockport, NY
Distance from Erie: 116 miles

Beast of Burden 100m/50m (Summer Edition) - August
Lockport, NY
Distance from Erie:  116 miles

Allegheny Front Trail Run 50k/20k - July
Philipsburg, PA  (one 'l', not two)
Distance from Erie: 195 miles

Buzzard Day 100k/50k/25k - March
Hinckley, OH
Distance from Erie: 122 miles

Outrun 24hr - May
Kirtland, OH
Distance from Erie: 81 miles

North Coast 24hr - September
Cleveland, OH
Distance from Erie: 102 miles

Presque Isle Endurance Classic 12hr - October
Erie, PA
Distance from Erie: 5 miles

Marshall Mangler 50k/25k/5m - November
Hampton Township, PA
Distance from Erie: 121 miles

JC Stone 50k - March
Allison Park, PA
Distance from Erie: 117 miles

Baker Trail UltraChallenge 50m - August
Brookville, PA
Distance from Erie: 130 miles
*Course takes place on one of three sections of the 135-mile Baker Trail, and changes each year.  Distance from Erie and starting location subject to change.  Check website for further details.

Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k - April
Hyner, PA
Distance from Erie: 187 miles

Hell Hath No Hurry 50m/50k/30k/10k - June
Pittsburgh, PA
Distance from Erie: 128 miles

Megatransect Challenge 26m - October
Lock Haven, PA
Distance from Erie: 236 miles

Monday, October 13, 2014

What a Beating! - 2014 Oil Creek 100 Mile Race Report
Last year I DNF'ed at Oil Creek, so this year I needed redemption.  Because of last year's DNF, my primary goal this year was to finish.  My plan was to stay at a conservative pace that would allow me to feel comfortable going into my third loop. 

Training leading up to the race was so-so, as it usually is with me due to my overall lack of discipline and hectic schedule.  Regardless, I had some decent runs the months prior to the race, and I felt relatively confident going into the race.  Unlike last year, I started this year's race with a "finish at all costs" mentality (which I also had in 2012). 

The first 80 miles went by without a hitch.  I was eating about 200-300 calories at every aid station and a gel every 45 minutes between aid stations.  Later in the race I tried to increase my water intake as I noticed I was urinating less frequently.  Quick side note.. I no longer blindly take endurolytes or S-caps, and I determine my appropriate water intake first by thirst and then by frequency/color of urination.  It might sound weird, but I think it's really the only thing that works for me.  Finding that perfect balance of fluid and electrolytes is so delicate and so personal that I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all approach.  So if I were urinating more frequently and it was clear every time, I would have increased my electrolyte (primarily salt) intake. 

Anyways, everything was going well.  Oil Creek is three 31-mile loops followed by a 7-mile "coming home" loop.  I like to think that the mental barrier for this race is the completion of the second loop and start of the third loop.  Once I'm past mile 62, it's "just one more loop", and then, as I like to think of it, the "celebratory seven mile fun run!". 

Second time through AS2

Sometime around the end of the second loop and beginning of the third loop I met some new friends Judy and Lesa (and later, Lesa's pacer Jocelyn) out on the course and ran with them for awhile as they were keeping a consistent yet reasonable pace.  My goal was to reevaluate how I felt halfway through the third loop.  If I felt good, maybe I could pick it up a bit.  However, about halfway through the third loop is when I started to feel a little bit tired.  The night before the race I got three hours of sleep.  Thursday night I slept pretty well, but the rest of the week prior I was getting between 4-5 hours of sleep per night, so I knew I was not as rested as I should have been. 

Legs were getting a little bit achy, and my mind and body was just starting to feel tired and lack energy.  I was getting plenty of calories and water.  It got to the point near the end of the third loop where I was literally falling asleep anytime I was walking.  It was very hard to keep my eyes open.  I had a Starbucks double shot, a 5-hr energy, some chocolate-covered espresso beans, and even a few 200-mg caffeine pills.  (another sidenote.. I probably consume way too much caffeine on a regular basis so it has less of an effect on me).  The only thing that seemed to work even slightly was the espresso beans, and after awhile I couldn't bear to eat anymore.  Coming into toward AS4 at the end of the third loop was difficult, and the downward spiral I was in accelerated quite rapidly.  By the time I reached the aid station, I felt like absolute garbage.  I never felt that bad before in a race.  Actually, it was probably the worst I ever felt at any time in my life.  It was also getting very cold by that point which I'm sure didn't help matters much. 

I decided to do something that I would have never considered doing previously, and something that I would have probably discouraged anyone else from doing during a race.  I took a nap.  I told my girlfriend and amazing crew Allison (check out her blog!) my plan, and she seemed very concerned, but thought maybe it was worth a shot.  So after I changed my clothes, put on some tights and a few more warm layers, I laid down on the hard gym floor, covered with a blanket, and asked Allison to wake me up in thirty minutes.  Thirty minutes later, I asked her for another ten minutes.  Ten minutes later, she came to wake me up.  I stood up, still felt pretty bad, and was seriously considering taking a DNF.  However, between Allison, and my friends Rob and Steve (and I think my other friend Rob was there as well), they would not let me even consider DNFing at mile 93.  I sat down, put on another layer of clothing, and ate two cups of hot Ramen noodle soup.


Is Ramen magic or something?  Maybe it's the MSG.  Maybe I needed salt? Maybe it was the support of my awesome friends sitting at the table with me, providing me words of encouragement.  I don't know what happened, but within a minutes I felt immensely better.  Allison suggested that I asked Steve to pace me for the last seven miles, so that's exactly what I did, and he agreed.  Despite how much better I felt after eating the soup, I still expected to be walking most if not all of those seven miles, so I told Steve to make sure he was bundled up!  From the time I came into AS4 to the time I left was approximately one hour. 

I had a sip of some pretty bad coffee, I put on another pair of gloves, and off we went walking from AS4 into the darkness.  I started running slowly, trying to warm up my leg muscles.  About halfway down the paved bike trail prior to the trail-head we were running at a slow but reasonable pace.  I felt overdressed and warm, so I shed a couple layers near the beginning of the trail.  Once we were on the actual trail-trail, we were moving at a pretty good pace, all things considered.  We walked the ups, ran easy on the flats and downs.  Soon we approached a woman with a bear bell.  The sound of a bear bell drives me absolutely nuts.  Ironically, Steve was thinking the same thing, and we picked up the pace considerably.  We ran a strong pace to the point in section one where we turn off onto the side trail to head down toward the Boughton Acid Works and the swinging bridge.   We kept running a pretty good pace down to the bridge, crossed the bridge, and started up the Hill of Truth.  We hiked a good pace up the hill, passing a few people along the way. 

Once we were up to the top and back onto section four, Steve noticed that we were making great time, and mentioned "We'll probably get to the finish way before anyone expects us back.  You looked like a zombie when you left, they won't be expecting us for awhile".  This motivated me to run even faster, so we bombed the downhills and crushed the pace for the last mile of section four.  It felt amazing!  We passed a few more people along the way.  It reminded me of my first time running Oil Creek back in 2012, when I was pretty beat up going into the "coming-home loop", but felt great toward the end of it. 

We made it out of the woods and back onto the road.  Luckily, this time I didn't have to run the dreaded 1-mile Drake Well loop, and we headed straight for the never-ending bike path (it's really only a mile or so, but it feels never-ending) back toward the finish.  We came to the finish and my friends were outside waiting for me!  Allison knew there was a good chance I'd be back sooner than expected since she paced me on the seven-mile loop back in 2012 and knew that my legs magically come back during this time.  I crossed the finish line in 26:54, 36 minutes faster than my 2012 finish!

Steve and I at the finish

I often hear and even spread the cliche advice that it's best to expect the unexpected during a 100-mile race, and that with that many miles, there's a good chance of having issues that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.  My last 100-miler at Mohican went by as planned, with not a single issue.  Prior to that, at Western States, again, nearly no unexpected issues to deal with.  I would have never expected to have to take a forty minute nap and a regrouping of sorts at mile 93 in order to get the motivation to finish the race.  I'm also not so sure I would have finished at all without my girlfriend and friends there to encourage me, support me, and to kick my ass when needed.  Sometimes things happen during a race where, yes, you should probably stop and take a DNF.  But generally feeling like crap is often not a valid reason for dropping, and I know from experience that using it as the reason is a regrettable decision.  In such a situation, a good crew can make all the difference, and for that I am very grateful. 

Rob, Me, Steve

RD Tom presenting me with buckle (in bubble wrap) and decal

I would also like to thank Race Director Tom Jennings and all of the wonderful volunteers and sponsors of this great event!  It went flawlessly as always (at least from my perspective), and I'm sure all of us 400+ runners are extremely grateful!

Friday, September 26, 2014

100-miler Drop Bag Preparation

Okay, so my buddy asked me what he should get for his drop bags for his first 100 miler.  Instead of trying to respond in the same medium in which he used to ask the question (text message), I decided to come on here and make a post because it's a common question, especially for first time 100-mile runners.

Something I've noticed is that people like to pack everything, including the kitchen sink.  This is easy to do on your first 100 miler because the adage is "it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it".  However, if you don't have it, you don't have to waste time trying to decide if you want to use it.   I compare it to when I used to mountain bike quite a bit, and I went from a multiple-gear derailleur bike to a single speed.  It's quite liberating not having to decide what gear to be in while approaching a hill.  You just grit your teeth and go.    Sometimes I think just gritting your teeth and going is the best option, especially in ultramarathons.

Okay, so let's start with the basics.  What will you need to run 100 miles?  Well, what do you need to run 30 miles?  It's probably a lot of the same stuff, but just more of it.  And to make it easier, let's compare it to running 30 miles AT NIGHT, because you'll likely be running in the night during your 100.

Usually when I run 30 miles at night, I know I'll need the following:

water (usually a handheld for me, but sometimes a pack)
headlamp and batteries
lubricant (body glide, aquaphor, etc)

So the above is pretty much the bare minimum, and really all that is required to run 30 miles at night.  In fact, it's all that's required to run 100 miles as well. (Unless you're Rob Krar and can finish before sundown). Okay, now when you extend the distance from 30 miles to 100 miles, some things can happen.  So let's go back to the list and expand a little bit on each item.

Many people like to wear trail shoes that are a half-size to whole size larger than what they would wear on the roads or in a casual shoe.  This gives your foot some room to breathe and if there is any swelling (due to either constant pounding or electrolyte/water imbalance), it gives your foot room to grow.   You don't necessarily need a second pair of shoes for 100 miles.   I've finished three 100's so far, and I've changed shoes on two of them.  My most recent 100, I wore the same shoes and socks for the entire race.

However, I still had a second pair available in a drop bag in case I did want it. And it was the same size as the pair I started in.  Sometimes I tell people to have a pair that is a size larger than the pair you start in.  If you're feet swell considerably, or if you get some bad blisters and you have so much tape on your toes that you need the extra room or a bigger shoe, it might be nice to have that bigger shoe.  So at some point in the future I might get a size 13 for drop bags (I run in 12.5), but for now, I'll just take my chances with what I have.  I should add that I don't normally have many foot issues.  I might get a small blister here or there, but nothing crazy like some of the stuff I've seen at ultras with other people's feet.  

Recommendation:  Pack a second pair of shoes in a drop bag, and if possible, make them a half-size larger than the shoes you start in 

If you run sockless, I don't care.  Obviously this doesn't apply to you.  Move along.  For those of you that wear socks... well, let me back up real quick.  A friend once told me that "you have to take care of your spots!  Food, Fluid, and Friction!" So I slightly modified what he said and changed it to the five F's:  "Food, Fluid, Friction, Feet, and Food". 

So your feet.  The shoe situation is handled.  Socks.  If your feet get wet, you can keep running, but if you're prone to blisters, you might want to stop and change your socks.  Sometimes it's worth changing them for that fresh-sock feeling.  It'll take three minutes to change them, but when you're traveling 100 miles on foot, it's worth it to take those extra minutes to make yourself comfortable.  Being uncomfortable can be detrimental to your mental outlook which is more than half of the battle.

Recommendation:  Pack two pairs of socks in your drop bags. (I like to lightly powder the socks in advance so they're easier to get on and help keep my feet dry)

This will encompass clothing in general, not just shorts (because sometimes you need more than just shorts).  On a hot dry day, a pair of shorts is plenty.  However, if it's very humid, the sweat that is soaked into a pair of shorts can create chafing that is downright NASTY.   Same with a shirt/singlet/bra.  (I assume it's the same for bras.. ladies, care to chime in?).  You'll likely be fine with one pair of shorts, one shirt, and one bra for the entire race, but these items are so small and light, why not pack an extra of each?

Also, it might get cold.  If you're running the Oil Creek 100, then you better be prepared for anything!   Even if it doesn't look like it will be cold, when you're tired, it's dark out, and you're in the middle of the woods by yourself 80 miles into a race and you're walking a 25 min/mile pace just barely making cutoffs, you might feel cold in weather that otherwise you would not consider cold.  Got it?   So if there's the chance of it being chilly, pack a long-sleeve shirt.   There's always the chance of rain, so pack a nylon jacket.   If there are multiple drop bag locations and you don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on multiple jackets, pack a poncho or garbage bag with holes.  Jackets don't have to be fancy.  Walmart has Russel/Starter nylon jackets for $20 that'll do just fine in keeping you relatively dry and warm on a cold wet night. 

Also, gloves and a hat/buff are good items to have as well.  Cold fingers and cold ears can ruin your day!

If there's the possibility of it being very cold, pack a pair of tights and maybe another, heavier long-sleeved shirt.   If you're very slow and there's the chance it'll be cold AND rainy, pack a pair of wind pants.  It might sound crazy, but like I said.. if you're at mile 80, it's cold and wet and you're tired and hungry and feel like absolute crap.. a pair of wind pants might mean the difference between making you feel just comfortable enough to not drop out. 

Recommendation:  One extra pair of shorts, singlet/shirt/bra.   Long sleeve shirt.  Nylon Running Jacket or Poncho. Gloves.  Hat or Buff.  Tights. 

If there's a chance it'll be very cold, an extra long-sleeved shirt, a pair of windbreaker pants, and heavier gloves. 

Obviously water will be available at the aid stations, so you'll just need a way to carry it.  How close together are the aid stations?  Will a handheld suffice?  If you're using a handheld, how will you carry your food?   These are some considerable considerations to consider.  

What if you're carrying a pack, and the hose breaks on the bladder?  What will you do?   What if you fall on your handheld and it breaks?

Recommendation: Pack an extra handheld in your drop bag.

They'll have these for you at the aid stations.  Oh, you can't survive without Ensure or Tailwind or your organic agave chia concoction that'll probably cause you to shit yourself?  Pack it in a drop bag.

Recommendation:  Pack a few food items that have a ton of calories and is something you'll enjoy and will lift your spirits when feeling down.  If you rely on gels/clifshots/etc, pack some extras of those in case the aid stations run out.   Also, an empty ziploc bag is nice to have on you while running so you can fill it with food at the aid station. 

"Anton and Geoff just fills their bottles and goes.  It's very disturbing."

Don't be that idiot that forgot his/her headlamp or their batteries died because they're the same ones they had in there from the end of their last race.   Find out when sunrise and sunset are, and plan accordingly.   Think of the worst-case scenario as far as pace goes, and figure out where you'll be on the course at that time.  Put the headlamp in the closest drop bag.   If there's another drop bag up ahead, put batteries in it.  Know how long your headlamp's batteries last.  If your batteries last four hours and you expect to get through a 10-hr night on the same set of batteries, don't be surprised if someone hits you on the head with a tack-hammer.

Also, carry a backup light.  Things break.  My backup light is a tiny single LED keylight I carry in my pocket.  Is it optimal?  Nope.  I hope I never have to use it.  But it's enough to keep me moving until I reach my drop bag where I know I'll have another full-size backup light. 

Oh, by the way, running at night prior to race-day is recommended.  Don't make me get out the tack-hammer again!

Recommendation:  Pack a main headlamp and a backup.  Carry both.  Have extra batteries available in later drop bags.  Be aware of sunset/sunrise times. 

Lube up!!! Chafing can ruin your day!  Apply your favorite lubricant prior to the race, and reapply at regular intervals.  Chafing is like an STD: the best treatment is prevention!  I prefer Body Glide, but if chafing begins, then I'll switch to Aquaphor because Aquaphor is good for healing as well!  Most ultras will have vaseline/petroleum jelly available at the aid stations which will do just fine.

Recommendation:  Put your favorite lubricant in your drop bag. 

Extra Stuff  (consult your doctor, don't sue me, k thanks):

Tums, Ginger  - some people have stomach issues and find relief with these items. 
duct tape (good for blisters.. the safety pin on your bib works fine for popping them)
band aids (good for blisters)
Tylenol  (see below)
Caffeine (5 hr energy, caffeine pills, Redbull.  These items can be helpful.)
Electrolytes (S-Caps, Salt-stick, Endurolytes, etc)
Bug Spray  (if you have itchy mosquito bites, wiping mud on them helps provide relief)
Toilet Paper (paper towels in small ziploc bags work great)

Pain Relief... Okay, I will quickly discuss this as it is a often controversial subject.  First of all, I highly recommend NOT using any NSAID such as Naproxen (Aleve), Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or Aspirin.  The negative effects of using NSAIDs during endurance events are numerous. 
You can read about it here.   (summary: bye bye kidneys)

Tylenol, or Acetaminophen is generally found to be safer.  I haven't found a ton of research that shows Acetaminophen to be especially dangerous during endurance events.  However, as always, acetaminophen carries a high risk of overdose and should be used sparingly and with caution.  I personally pack acetaminophen and if I get bad pain during an ultra, I will use it.  This is by no means a recommendation to use it, and you should consult your doctor. 

A few other things:Your drop bags should not be ginormous. Use courtesy and common sense.  A small gym bag or backpack is fine.  Don't use giant rubbermaid containers.  Some poor volunteer has to lug those from the start to the aid stations and back.  You don't need a ton of stuff, so your bags shouldn't be all that big.   Also, if your bags are not waterproof, anything that you want to keep dry should be in a plastic bag.  Drop bags are often in exposed areas and can be rained upon.    Oh, and of course, label your drop bags.  Most races want your name, bib #, and the aid station that the drop bag is going to. 

That's about it!  Good luck, have fun, and keep it simple.  Just keep moving (nice and easy), take care of the five F's, and be sure to EAT EAT EAT!

*This entry is subject to change if I realize I forgot anything.

2014 Erie Marathon, success and failure

This is just going to be a quick update...

a few weeks ago I ran the 2014 Erie Marathon.  My goal was to run under 3:05:00, which is the time I need to qualify for Boston. 

I failed.  I missed it by 8 seconds. 


Well, first of all, it starts with training.  My training was okay, but not where it should have been.  Most of my long runs were on trails at a much slower pace.  The Specificity of Training principle always applies... and my training prepared me more for ultras than for a marathon.   I did do some speed work and some tempo runs, but again, not to the extent that I should have.  However, I think the big thing I'll need to change next time I'm focusing on a marathon is to do more long runs on the road, at a faster pace than I would on the trails (10-13 min/mile versus 8-9 min/mile).

Little things that took time away during the race:
#1.   I had use the portapotty at about mile 15.  I just couldn't clench my cheeks any longer, it needed to be done.  So I'm thinking I ate too late the day before the race (it was around 6 or 6:30 pm when I ate).. and I probably ate too much pasta.  And maybe I drank too much coffee the morning of the race.  Oh well.  Shit happens.
#2.  Side stitches...  A couple times I got a debilitating side-stitch that forced me to slow down a bit.  Why?  Weak ab muscles?  Too little salt?  Too much sugar?  I don't know.  But I bet doing some more race-specific long runs might help me figure out the issue.
#3.  Hamstring cramp.   Right hamstring cramped up a little bit a couple times as well.  Stopped, dug my knuckles into it, drank some extra gatorade (which may have provided the necessary electrolytes for the cramp, but maybe too much sugar which caused the side stitch?). 

So, sub-par preparation combined with stupid little things ended up costing me more than 8 seconds.

The Good News:
I found out that entry into the 2015 Boston Marathon was only for those who beat their qualifying time by at least 62 seconds.   There were more applicants this year, and sometimes they make those kind of constraints to limit the field.  So I was really about 70 seconds off from being able to go to Boston.  Sure, I might have qualified, but what fun is qualifying if you don't get to run past the Citgo sign?

Other good news.. I set a personal best in the race by about 14 minutes!   I can't be too upset about that, right?  And this, again, is mostly from training that has been more focused on ultramarathons.  Long trail runs (20-40 miles) at slow pace with an occassional hard and short run thrown in for good measure. 

In conclusion.. it's not a huge deal.  I was a little disappointed that I missed the 3:05 by so few seconds, but I know that I've come a long way and I know that there's plenty of room for more improvement. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Allegheny Front Trail Run 50k

So this past weekend I ran the Allegheny Front Trail Run 50k.  It starts at the Mid-State Regional Airport near Philisburg, PA (not far from State College), and much of it is on single track of the Allegheny Front Trail, as well as some road, dirt road, and grassy trails. 

I made the trip early Saturday morning with my girlfriend Allison and my friend Rob.  Allison was just coming off an illness so wasn't sure if she was going to run, and Rob was looking for a PR and a sub-7 after his last 50k was Oil Creek where he hobbled to the finish on a bum ankle in 8+ hours.  My goal was a sub-5.  I made that a goal without knowing much about the course.  I just figured it was a good number, and would be a PR for me. 

So the race and the race organization was nothing to write home about.  A few people got lost on the course.   There were a few intersections where I myself could have easily gotten lost, but I just happened to make the correct choice on where to go, based solely on luck. 

photo by Shannon Niess

photo by Shannon Niess

We started off on the roads, probably going a little bit too fast before hitting the single track.  The two guys in front started to peel away after two or three miles, and I was hanging in the #4 spot with the #3 guy for a little bit until we came into an aid station.  I stopped for aid, he flew right through, and I didn't see him again for most of the race. 

photo by Shannon Niess

So, I ran along.  The trail is relatively fun and interesting, much of it is pretty runnable.  I walked some of the steeper hills.  Miles 17-20 were terrible.  It was a long, grassy, gradual uphill.  It wasn't so steep that I could walk, but it was tedious enough that I would run for a few minutes and then take a 10-second walk break, and repeat as necessary.  Finally I get to the top and loop around to an aid station.  It was here that I found out that the lead runner got lost.  So I leave the aid station to loop back around and go back down the long grassy hill.  Coming back down was pretty fun, and much faster obviously.  On the way down I saw Rob, and he said he wasn't feeling too good.  I probably called him a pussy as I usually do (for motivational purposes of course), and kept on going.   

Also, while I was running down that hill, a woman told me that I was in 2nd place.  So either she didn't know what she was talking about, or both #1 and #2 got off course enough for #3 to take the lead and for me to slip into the #2 spot. 

So around mile 23 or so I was feeling pretty good and I picked up my pace a little bit for a few miles.  And then around mile 27 or 28 I see the #3 guy that was in front of me way back in the beginning!  So I try to pick it up a little more and sneak by him, but as soon as he notices me behind him, he turns on the burners.  Damn!  I was hoping that he was hurting and that I'd be able to get by, but he must've been lollygagging a little bit because he definitely picked up the pace.  I tried to keep up, but he was slowly pulling away.   A little less than a mile before the finish, he went the wrong way and I went the right away, so I was in the lead for a short time only to have him blow by me again. 

So I ended up finishing in second place, 13 seconds behind the leader!   I need to work on my finishing kick.  Doh!!

Finish time was 4:52!  I got my sub-5 goal, and my buddy Rob came in under his 7 hour goal as well!  Allison stayed back and was an awesome cheerleader and photography.  It was a fun day! 

photo by Allison Jeric

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