For those who have visited this blog in the past, I have a new website, Good Sense Running, which now serves as my primary website.
The site contains information on my running and writing, and it is where I will continue to publish the blog, The Struggle Against Distance And Time. If you would like to continue reading my blog posts, head over to Good Sense Running!
This blog is effectively obsolete and will most likely be taken down by the end of the year.
Competitors who demand improvement of themselves—who go to great lengths to perform at a higher level—often have a characteristic that is most likely both virtuous and vicious, benign and malignant: they are always dissatisfied. Max King recently set a new 100K American record en route to winning the world championships. Although he is surely happy with being crowned a world champion, my guess is that he thinks he could have gone faster—even given the dismal conditions of the race.
|Setting up the night before the race|
And that is all I can think about now in reflecting on my performance at the 2014 JFK 50 Mile: I could have, and indeed should have, gone faster. When I crossed the finish line in 6:01:30—a new personal best by nearly nine minutes—I let out a guttural scream that probably sounded frightening. I had finished in 3rd place, hardly more than a minute behind second and slightly less than five minutes behind first place. My outward cry was surely one of relief, with the knowledge that I no longer had to will myself another step, but, even more so, it was a cry of dissatisfaction. I had aspirations then, and have dreamed since, of winning that race; in recent days, I have spent hours analyzing the race, turning over almost every mile in my head, wondering how and why I didn’t run the last dozen miles at even a slightly faster pace.
Then I step back and try to allow myself the pleasure of satisfaction: I finished the race, for one thing, and on the podium, for another, and in a personal best time, to boot. I kept running when I thought my body couldn’t, I ran the 36th-fastest time in the history of the course, which has been completed by some 22,000 individuals over the last 52 years, and only 29 other people have completed the course faster than I in that time. I ran the course faster than many folks ever have, including the likes of 100K national champion and 12-hour world record holder, the very talented Zach Bitter. In short, I did quite well.
|Enduring around mile 38|
Alas, though I try to be satisfied, dissatisfaction creeps back in. So I plan to be back to this race next year and I will try to improve in the ways that I think I am capable. Nevertheless, as has been the case with every race I have ever finished, with the exception of a single marathon, I imagine that I will, if I am lucky enough, reflect similarly on my 2015 performance at the race. I can only hope that next time my retrospective improvements are more minimal, and my time is faster still. I am left to wonder if I will ever look back on a race in complete satisfaction; I suppose that only time will tell.
mile 2.6 17:43
mile 15.5 1:58:39 (1:40:56)
mile 41.8 5:00:54 (3:02:15)
mile 50.2 6:01:30 (1:00:36)
Socks: Darn Tough Vermont, Team Micro Crew Ultralight
Shades: Smith Optics, Approach Max
Shoes: Salomon, Sense Pro
slice of bread & peanut butter
6 x GU Salted Watermelon
5 x Clif Shot Mocha
Sundry chips & coke
1 Raw Revolution, Spirulina Dream
1 Raw Revolution, Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt
Thanks are always in order. This particular time, beyond the volunteers, aid station workers, and all others who made the race possible, thanks especially to RD Mike Spinnler for his hard work, to Andy Mason for his hospitality, to Jacky and her parents for crewing, and to sponsors Darn Tough Vermont, Raw Revolution, Smith Optics, and SMS Audio!
As he did last year at the Rock N’ Roll USA Marathon and at TNFEC-DC 50 Mile, Michael Wardian again finished one spot ahead of me at the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 Mile this year. This time, however, he bested me far more dominantly, crossing the line nearly 24 minutes faster in 5:46:34. The 24-minute sized gap was largely created from mile 20—at the start of the day’s biggest climb of 1,330’—to mile 35, a stretch during which I averaged nearly nine minutes per mile, didn’t know if I would finish, and couldn’t manage more than a shuffle on down hills. Nine days before the race, I made the retrospectively clear mistake of bombing down Snowbowl Road in Flagstaff with Brian Tinder at 5:13 per mile pace for about six and half miles. I had never run that fast for that many miles and I was pretty wrecked for several days thereafter—and for many days more under the surface. The opening climb (3.2 miles, 850’ of climbing) on the course is followed by about eight miles of down hill and flat running and just a few miles into that stretch my quads began to whimper. It felt as though I was going for a run the day after a hard down hill workout. So the majority of the race was really a grind in which I was battling to maintain pace and keep form.
Ultimately things turned around near mile 35 thanks to continuous fueling with gels and electrolyte water. My legs never fully came back but they did so enough that I was able to manage around 7:10 pace per mile over the final 15 miles. In doing so I went from fourth place to third around mile 40 and then from third to second just after mile 45. First place didn’t seem to be in the cards on the day but had my legs not faltered I believe it would have been a much closer battle to the tape. In any case, despite such a significant setback I PR’d at the 50-mile distance by 10.5 minutes. It’s rather surprising, though perhaps promising, that I did so since I lost such significant time on the course due to muscle ailments. That gives me hope that a markedly faster PR is in store down the road.
But it would be worth discussing something more important than the race itself.
Some actions during a race cannot, and should not, be tolerated. There is no place in the sport of ultrarunning for people who jeopardize the sport of ultrarunning. If one’s actions during a race could lead to the termination of said race, then those actions are fairly obviously actions that should not be performed—assuming we all want to continue to run beautiful courses for long distances through the woods and mountains.
Let me be less abstract.
If the race guidelines say that you shouldn’t relieve yourself during the race anywhere except at designated bathrooms along the course, which are found every three to five miles, then you shouldn’t relieve yourself along the course. And the logic on behalf of the course guidelines is simple: the areas along the dirt roads are either privately owned, in which case you shouldn’t trespass, or the area is part of a state park, which has rules stating that patrons should use designated bathrooms. So, you shouldn’t relieve yourself on the side of the course.
Whether or not the race guidelines say not to litter, you shouldn’t litter—and that is true whether you're in a race or not. That is a fairly obvious truth about any place—not to mention a state park. So you shouldn’t drop your trash along a dirt road, during a race, in a state park. And you definitely shouldn’t throw your paper cup into the woods, while running on a dirt road, during a race, in a state park. And if you are crass enough to do one of those things, you shouldn’t say, “I didn’t know [not to do that],” when confronted about it. Because unless you have about seven screws loose, you do know and it’s cowardly to pretend otherwise.
The reason not to break race guidelines is simple: doing so could result in permits being rescinded, races being cancelled, and folks missing out on the opportunity to enjoy wonderful trails, roads, woods, mountains, or whatever. So don’t do it. Doing so is not tolerable and jeopardizes the future of races. If you are going to do it, get out of the sport.
Death is generally a terrible occurrence.
Even if the end of one’s life results in the termination of significant suffering or severe discomfort, death is rarely, if ever, welcome. When an eighty year old man is administered a final dose of morphine and drifts off into extinction—years after being diagnosed with dementia and months after he can speak or remember—the death is at most a relief and at least still terribly sad. This is because the man could have been without dementia and so could have been otherwise perfectly healthy and living a fruitful existence. Although the man wasn’t in fact in good health, he could have been—at least in today’s modern world. And this makes his death an altogether unfortunate, if not terrible thing, even though it might have been a relief.
If death is generally a terrible occurrence, then an untimely death is even more so. When a girl dies in a car crash at the young age of ten, the event is at once, and unquestionably, tragic. She should have enjoyed a healthy life for many more years. If the girl had endured months of unending suffering prior to her untimely death, it would seemingly be even more tragic. Young cancer patients who die from the disease, then, are arguably the most horrifically sad cases of all.
Death caused by cancer at a young age is unequivocally the most unbearable type of death because the young man or woman should have been healthy: the seventeen year old boy should have been driving around with his friends rather than at the hospital for treatment; the twenty one year old woman should have been strolling through campus with her friends, or out on a date, or doing any number of other things rather than methodically punching a button to administer morphine so as to mitigate the dreadful pain caused by the disease that would eventually take her life. Young people that die from cancer not only should have been healthy, but they should not have had to suffer so immensely and so plentifully. Although the final, irrevocable, and fatal overdose of drug will ultimately bring about relief, as the young person’s suffering will end for eternity, that same dosage will end his or her life and will result in a tragedy still because he or she should not have been unhealthy; he or she should have lived a much longer time with much greater pleasure to experience yet.
The consequences of a tragic death as described are immense: the mother is inconsolable and the father brought to tears; the widow is left breathless and the in-laws reeling; the friends of the deceased can only reminisce about enjoyable times with their passing mate, which brings about bouts of euphoria followed by heartbreaking sobs. Everyone, although they can feel appreciative for having known the young person and for having experienced enjoyable times with the person, is left saddened and, perhaps more so, upset. And what makes the sadness all the more insufferable is that it is directed at nothing in particular: when we lose a loved one to cancer at a young age, we are mad at the world, but the world is not responsive to our feelings and our feelings are left unnoticed. We want to blame someone or something for the tragedy, yet we have no one thing to blame. Can we blame the sky, or the earth, or the cancer cells that slowly took the life from the person we hold dear? Perhaps. But the sky nor the earth nor the cancer cells can hear our scorn or change the world for us. We are left mad with the world and there in nothing—absolutely nothing—we can do to change it. We are impotent.
Death is very probably at its cruelest when it takes the life of a brilliant, loving, gregarious young man after making him suffer immeasurably for over a year. Such a death may take place in the near future and I happen to know the affable young man who will be the recipient. This young man, at twenty-six years of age, was dealt a hand in life that he was incapable of winning with: Ewing’s sarcoma. The fact that he is such a remarkably gifted and caring individual makes his case especially difficult to swallow. It is a tragedy, on all accounts, that he has had to suffer and that, save for a miracle in every sense of the word, he will most probably not be around for much longer. He is one that should have been healthy; that should have enjoyed countless happinesses for years to come; that should have continued to positively affect the lives of those around him; that should have watched his young son grow up into a blossoming youth and into a joyous man like himself. Instead, his hand will play out as it was dealt to him. The world will be at a loss when his card game is over. Life can be quite unfair.
So as not to render this blog obsolete, I figured it was time for a post. Here are a few things on my mind as of lately:
Travel, as I’ve written elsewhere, is one of the most fundamentally enriching and enjoyable things (second only to running, in my book). I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of it in the past two months: Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia; Badlands, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park; Missoula, Bozeman, Whitefish, Helena, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles. All the moving around was made possible after I quit my job at the beginning of July. So instead of living in hot, humid, flat Florida, I’ve been, well, seeing some pretty unbelievable places. If you’re in a situation financially such that you can afford some time off, and you aren’t pleased with your current surroundings and undertakings, I’d say get out and hit the open road. But that’s just me. Here’s what I’ve been able to explore—and just a fraction of what is available to explore—recently (in no particular order):
|Minor league baseball in Chattanooga, TN|
|Arguably the most beautiful place in the U.S.: Glacier National Park|
|John Muir Trail (JMT) in Yosemite National Park with AK|
|Enjoying Georgia farm life|
|Closing miles on the JMT|
|Camping outside of Bozeman, MT|
|Another shot from Glacier NP|
|Fog atop the Twin Peaks in San Francisco (SF)|
|Forest Park in Portland, OR|
|Views atop Mt. Diablo outside of SF|
|My buddy, DeNuch, finishing the Headlands 50k|
|Closing stretch of the San Francisco Marathon|
|Finishing the Headlands 50k in 4th|
I’ve had two races in the past month, the San Francisco Marathon (19th, 2:46:49) and the Headlands 50k (4th, 4:10:40), both primarily for training purposes in preparation for some higher profile races this fall. Both were organized well, competitive, and boasted uncanny views. The marathon went well enough, given the lack of training beforehand. I think the 50k went about as well as it possibly could have on the day. One big reason for that was my nutrition during the race. It is said that 200-300 calories should be consumed every hour during an ultra to maintain performance and, unfortunately, I don’t think I had ever consumed 200 or more per hour prior to the Headlands 50k; I think I’ve underperformed in ultras due to that fact alone. I forced myself to take down gels every 30 minutes or so this past Saturday and this, I think, accounts for my higher than normal energy levels at the end of the race, evidenced by the fact that I went from 6th place to 4th over the last six miles. Nutrition is very important in an ultra and that fact seems truer to me now than ever. It should be a real focus for everyone running ultras, if it isn’t already. I’ll certainly be focusing on my caloric intake more meticulously going forward.
I had the opportunity to interview Traci Falbo (new American and world record holder in the 48-hour event) [link to article] and Joe “String Bean” McConaughy (new Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) FKT holder) in the last two weeks [link here when available] for iRunFar.com. There was one central commonality between the two, that I could tell, which led to their respective successes: consistency. They were both consistent as hell. In the case of Traci, she took very few breaks and ran huge stretches, without breaks, at five miles per hour—not fast, just consistent. Joe averaged four miles per hour on the PCT, which is by no means pokey, but he was up every morning at 5 a.m. and stayed on the trail at least 12 hours every day. Consistency is truly a virtue in ultras. Look at Ian Sharman, for example: he isn’t the fastest up hill, but he’ll maintain that same up hill pace on every climb for 100 miles. (In conversation, he’s said: “My 50k up hill pace is the same as my 100 mile pace.”) My conclusion: maintain a consistent pace—which will be different given the gradient, technicality of terrain, etcetera—from the start of the race until the end. In other words, run smart. Onto the next point…
“Run a smart race,” they say. Does that mean conservatively? Finishing strong? Racing to your strength? It very probably means all of the aforementioned and more, but I think one way to explain the phrase, “run a smart race,” is to focus on consistency. Run a consistent pace from the gun until the finish (which, again, doesn’t mean the same exact pace the whole race, regardless of the gradient and terrain; but instead means run the same pace on any given type of terrain/gradient throughout the race.). If you do that, then you won’t go out too fast; you will finish (relatively strong); you won’t run with an elevated heart rate for too long; you won’t run someone else’s race; you won’t start racing for a podium place in the early miles. I focused on running a smart—err, consistent—race at the Headlands 50k and was met with success. Rather than worrying about my place in the field, I focused entirely on what my current fitness would allow me to do. Of course, I may have had some soft moments mentally, and not pushed my body entirely to its physical limits, but I did well to run within myself and run strong throughout. I was power hiking climbs less than two miles into the race and I was power hiking climbs, at the same pace and perhaps faster, in the closing miles; I was running the descents faster in the closing miles than in the beginning. As such, I bounced around: I ran in 7th early; then was in 5th, bounced back to 7th, before finding my way to 6th around mile eight—where I remained for much of the race—then moved into 5th around mile 25, and finally into 4th at mile 26, where I ultimately finished. But I let my current fitness, and current strengths and weaknesses determine my pace throughout the race. It’s likely the first time I’ve done that for an entire race, and it felt right.
In short: travel lots, fuel well, and race intelligently—rather, be consistent.