Saturday, August 2, 2014

RothrockTrail Challenge: Blood, Sweat, and Finisher's Stitches

     I look forward to the Rothrock Trail Challenge each June, arguably one of the most technically challenging trail races in Central PA. It's a great litmus test in my training progression as I prepare for the week of insanity when I will be enduring the 26-28 mile Bald Eagle Megatransect at the end of September, followed by a max effort at the Oil Creek 100K the following weekend. The location outside of State College, PA, is filled with rocks, roots, and ledges, but despite the technical nature and elevation gains, it is among my favorite events. This year, I had hoped my training would lead to dramatically improved times indicating I was farther along in my preparation for the season than last year.    
I entered the race with a specific training mindset - I did not care to necessarily set a personal best, but rather I wanted to maintain a consistent, steady pace from start to finish. Specifically, I wanted to find a pace I could endure without walk breaks or without bonking and struggling to complete the last 4 miles in some sort of death slog. I wanted to feel as though I could keep going by the time I crossed the finish line. I guess what I was hoping was that I could maintain a strong effort over the entire distance with no ebbs or low points.  And if I could shave off a little time from last year's finish, then that would be a bonus.
   So what happened? I shaved ten minutes off my previous time and also shaved a few fibers off my patellar tendon when I came barreling down the gravel road toward the finish line. I had essentially broken into a max effort pace from the end of the trail all the way to the gravel road, and with the finish line in sight, I was stretching out and pushing hard. I had made it! I accomplished my goal. I ran a very tough, technical course without stumbling, falling, or bonking and maintained a very disciplined, steady, and strong pace. I was feeling great!
   40 yards from the finish line, it happened.

   I remember pushing myself hard and looking up at the clock at the finish line. At exactly the moment I recognized that I might have improved my time over last year, my left foot snagged on a rhododendron root sticking up among the small rocks on the gravel roadway.  There was no time to break the fall; I had just kicked into a finishing sprint (well, to any observers that's what I thought I was doing, anyway) when the foot caught, and I went face forward with my right knee taking the full impact of the fall. I managed to roll, did a quick assessment to see if anything was broken, couldn't really feel anything, responded with something stupid when a few onlookers asked if I was ok, and hobbled across the finish line.
   I'm not sure if it was the fall or effort the last few miles or a combination of both, but when I crossed the finish line, I was primed to hurl. I also felt the blood dripping down my leg, and when I looked down, I ascertained that a few of the cuts could be rather serious.
   Fortunately, great guy and Wicked Genius of the Megatransect David Hunter was on site. Dave is like part of my trail running family and a guy who embodies the sheer joy of running out in the woods and over boulders and into rattlesnakes. He took a look at the knee and helped me get my bearings. For some reason I suddenly felt very wiped out and I toyed with the idea of losing consciousness. Not sure why, but I had suddenly become very dizzy and somewhat disoriented. I grabbed some drink and a little food while Dave assessed the knee, cleaned it out, and recommended a visit to the local ER.
   I'm not sure what was more embarrassing - wiping out so close to the finish after picking my way through the entire race without falling, or the fact that despite my improvement in race time, I didn't move up significantly in position.
   Ultimately, I accomplished my goal and in retrospect, I could have pushed harder in spots along the course and could have probably shaved more time off my finish. But that wasn't necessarily my goal. I do think the overall competition was much faster this year but I still have much work to do before October.
   I ended up with a rather painful bone contusion on my tibia and did kiss the patellar tendon with the sharp edge of a rock, but no long term damage is expected. I ended up with 9 stitches which I'm more proud of than my finisher's medal.
I just wish it would have happened anywhere but on the easiest segment to the finish!
   As a side note, the most painful aspect of the injury was not on the kneecap where most of the stitches are, but on the bony protrusion of my tibia. Even now as I compose this blog almost 2 months after the fact, the tibia at that point is more than double its normal size. Range of motion is fine but after a long day of running it can be very tender. It's very manageable, but I admit I cringe at the prospect of falling and hitting that same area again.

Looking forward to next year's event. This time, the goal will be to complete the last few hundred yards without stumbling.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest Blog: Running Your First 100 Miler

   It goes without saying that there is a form of camaraderie among ultra runners that transcends most sports. Rare is the breed of trail runner who closely guards his secrets, seeking to crush the competition and hoard any kind of accolades to himself. No, this is a sport of brotherhood and sisterhood--a family of sorts. This is a sport made up of enthusiasts who encourage one another, push each other, and seek to support each other to excel and to reach for a dream.
   I was reminded of this recently when my brother decided to take on his first 100 Miler tin this year's upcoming Oil Creek event in 2014. While I still seek the challenge of confronting the realities of growing older while trying to shave time off my previous 100K races, my brother is determined to take that next step into insanity a realm few ever achieve, let alone even think about: his first 100 miler. While I offered to skip my race this year to pace him, he would have none of that. At first I was disappointed; we've been running together for several years now, and I wanted to be there to support him and encourage him during those darkest hours when he visits that place within his soul only he can go as he inches ever closer to finishing 100 miles. But then, I was encouraged. Encouraged because I knew that he would draw strength from knowing I was out there on the course with him, pushing myself to meet a goal and to compete. He will draw strength knowing that I will also be fighting my own battles. While we might not run together physically, we will be together in mind and spirit, inspired and encouraged by each other and the great challenges we have placed before us.
   Another trail brother who runs with us in mind and spirit is our friend, Brian Newcomer. Brian is a trail running celebrity in Central Pennsylvania, but his fame and celebrity status come not from the artificial kinds of hype found in most of today's commercialized sports; his fame stems from the size of his heart, his infectious enthusiasm, his never-say-quit spirit of encouragement and his purity of friendship. Brian is everybody's friend; everyone's trail brother. He is like a kid on Christmas morning during trail runs, sometimes to the point where one has to wonder where this guy gets all of his positive energy and perseverance. His exuberance for life and joy in the outdoors is transparent and pure; he vocalizes what we all think and embodies the true essence of trail running. We might not physically run together much, but the effects of his companionship--when we do--last long into the training season to the point where, on any given run, I might ask, "I wonder what Brian is doing today?" When Brian was preparing for his own 100 Miler last year, he would chronicle his progress on Facebook with the same enthusiastic, "life is good" exuberance--on good days and right through the inevitable rough patches in training. Brian has his own story to tell, and it's a good one. Faced with poor health, increasing weight, and a refusal to "let go" of life, Brian's story is a story of transformation. It deserves to be told, and for those who know it, he continues to be an inspiration.
   Brian doesn't blog. He should. He has much to share, great happiness to give, much support and friendship to offer, and has become a true spokesperson for grabbing life by the shoulders and shaking everything out of it he possibly can.  But until he blogs, I would like to share some advice Brian wrote to my brother when asked what to expect on his first 100 Miler. He knew Brian would be down-to-earth, honest, and a brother who wants you to do well and succeed. And this is exactly what Eric got. I present to you Brian's advice for a 100 Miler, and it's not so much filled with technical information as it is a spirit of giving, genuine concern, and transparency--which is what makes Brian so special:

First off Eric let me apologize for taking so long to get back to you.   I didn't think one or two sentences would be an appropriate answer to such an important question.   I haven't a doubt you can and will complete this task. Three things I feel it takes to do a 100 miles are, 1. Physical endurance,  2. Mental Toughness (when one of the wheels on the cart starts to wobble you gotta know how to keep it on.......I think you know all about this from doing 2 100k's and the Megatransect a few times)  3. a little bit of craziness......lets face gotta be a little crazy to want to run 100 miles! 

The biggest key to one hundred mile success in my opinion is long training days, and not just mileage but time on your feet.  You need to learn how to fuel and hydrate your body for 25 plus hours.  Your body needs to become acustom to endurance.  Otherwise your body will freak out at mile 40 or 60 and go into survival or "fight or flight" mode.  When this happens your body diverts blood away from the periphery (arm/legs) and stomach and sends it to vital organs such as the brain, heart and lungs.  Thus your stomach absorbs very little fluid from your gut and you get dehydrated even though you continue to drink.  Your gut gets sloshy and you feel bloated but at the same time feel thirsty.  If this happens to you, you must slow down or stop.  Allow your body to get back into normal mode and absorb those fluids. 

From February until the 100 miler I had done 9 training days/events of 31 miles or greater, two of those were 50 milers and two were mid 40's.  I also did a handful of marathon distances as well.  You certainly won't need to train as much as I did as you seem to have more natural abilities than I.  

Three big keys a friend of mine likes to talk about are the three "F's", friction and fluid.  I powdered and lubed at every aid station.   I don't care how tough you are, if you get a bad case of chub rub you are done.  I had no problem with chub run in the usual areas at all.  I did however develop a bad rash under my arms from sweating and swinging my arms and my lower back from my camel bak vest (I didn't use the bladder I had a bottle I put in it and some basic items). I did develop a few blisters on my feet, althought the pictures of my feet looked much worse than they really were.  I had put a lot of tape of "hot spots".  My crew did a great job! I would recommend frequent powdering, sock changes, shoe changes and taping any areas that you have problems with.  I used a great thin cloth like tape dressing material called Hypafix (you can prolly find it online) before and during the event.

One thing I think was also a big key was my ability to rest for 20 minutes and then get up and run strongly again.  I had trained this way and I feel it really paid off.   I think I paced myself pretty well. I actually beat my 100 K time from 2011 of 16' 20" when I did the 100 miler. I did the first 100 k in 16' 10", and I felt incredible until abut mile 70. Then from 75 on it was tough, although I still had some in the tank as I did the last 7.8 mile loop in 2' and 3".  I just wanted it to be over!, lol.   If I was doing it again I would prolly go a little faster while I felt good.  I truly feel no matter how fast or slow you do 60 or 70 miles, when mile 80 hits you are gonna be tired.

You need long days but not necessarily a ton of miles.  If you can only do 5 miles, due to "life", make those miles speed work and run hills.  Avoid the junk miles.  You won't necessarily run hills or do speed work on race day, but your training will make power hiking the hills easy and allow you to run those long down hills with speed and ease.  Go out and run at night with your head lamp,  instead of going to bed at 11pm some night, don the headlamp and run for a number of hours.  Remember you will most likely be running all night in the dark, some of that all alone.  Night running is a skill. Also remember you will most likely be awake for over 30 hours.  I was up from 3:30 Sat morning until 1 pm Sunday.

Most importantly, enjoy the journey........make it fun!  You are about to embark on something very, very few people would ever think of doing, let alone doing it.  It's an incredible thing, I loved all my training and the thrill of chasing such a crazy dream. Throw the clock away.......32 hours on that course is very, very ample time.  Don't let chassing cut off times be a factor.  An average pace of 3.14 MPH gets you to the finish in 32 hours.  Pre race I had written down to "worst" which involved near cut off times and another "best" which I never thought possible.   Well when I got off the trail at 6:45 am I was about 4 miles ahead of my "best" scenario. So time is not a factor for you.  Train in all kinds of weather too. Hot, cold, rainy or whatever, because on raceday you won't have a choice.  I think it paid off last year as the heat didn't kill me.

I hope this helps out Eric, please feel to ask any questions or advice.  I am also going to forward this to Dave Hunter to see if he has anything to add, as he is a wealth of knowledge.  Train hard and you will do well. A favorite quote of mine last year was......."you can't fake a 100 miles", maybe a marathon, but not a 100.   On race day I kept thinking to myself......"6 words, 6 words"  which happen to be "how bad do you want this".
I also thought about all the work I put in to be prepared for this day.......God gave me a wonderful day and I was determined to finish.......just as you will...

peace out my friend