Running Around the Track

Heart Rate Monitor training on the track is not exactly the most exciting 5 miles I’ve spent in training.  As I run around the track I settle into a zone, listening to my iPod music to make the time go by a little faster.  I feel as if I’m moving incredibly slow as I constantly monitor my heart rate on my Garmin watch.  There’s a few other people there at the track running and at least one is doing some speed work.  I want to yell out to them, “I can really run much faster too.  My coach is making me run this slow.”  Really I think to myself, I’m a long distance runner and these people probably think I’m some old person trying to keep a New Year’s resolution to get in shape.  This is going to be a long 5 mile run, slow and then slower still.

I’m at the school track just down the road from my house.  My girls both went to school here several years back, and my teenage son is currently a freshmen at the High School.  As I run past the stands and look up into them, I think back to the time when as a parent I stood in them for every football game and watched every time the band marched on that very field.  I would have never imagined back then as I watched from that vantage point that I would one day be down running on that track.  I was running circles around a field that held memories and history for me and my family.

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 The football team back then had a good run for a couple of the best seasons in the school’s history.  I knew many of the kids on the field and their parents.  Had watched some of them grow up from elementary age.  Those young teens have all since grown up to be awesome young men and women.  The name of the football field was now “Lutzie Field.”  During a couple of those years I was in the stands watching the games, Philip Lutzenkirchen along with several other players were constantly making  the big plays.  Lutz was in the same grade as my oldest daughter and they graduated together before he went on to play college ball and then Pro ball briefly, before his tragic death in a car accident. “Live like Lutz, Love like Lutz and Learn from Lutz” reflected the Lutzie 43 Foundation motto.  Who would have guessed back then that this young man might have an impact on my life years later.  I think about him as I run my slow pace around the track.  I think about the band that marched on the field, and my daughter who marched for 4 years in that band.  The Tradition Continues is still the bands motto and that legacy that was left there encouraged me as I ran. 

I’m here running this track because my coach has sent me here for my HR training test.  I’m then reminded of my own training and the race I’m focusing on that is in my own home town, where I spent my teenage years.  The track running, in slow circles is a bit boring.  Then I think of something I heard my coach say, “The further you run, the stronger you get.” I begin to feel like I could just keep running like that forever.  Time’s up. Wow, that was a fast 5 miles with lots of memories!  Maybe this Heart Rate training won’t be so bad after all.

Getting Personal

Running 100 mile races is becoming increasingly popular among trail runners and many of them are selling out early.  Several of the larger, more well-known races have gone to a lottery system to gain entry into them.  The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race is one of those lottery races, and was the very first 100 mile race.  It began back in 1955 as a trail race for horses.  In 1975, the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, California, proving that a runner could indeed traverse the rugged 100 miles in one day.

Many ultra runners have long obsessed over a coveted spot in the Western States race, myself included. Before being allowed to enter your name into the lottery process, Western States requires potential participants to complete a qualifying race.  Each consecutive year that you enter the lottery, you get double the number of tickets, but if you fail to qualify and enter in one year, you are forced to start from the beginning again the next time you enter. There are also a few slots open for the faster elite runners to race their way into Western States by winning one of a few events offering “golden tickets” to its top two male and female finishers.  With less than 300 names being drawn each year from several thousand applicants, the middle-of-the-pack runner like myself faces very slim odds of being chosen.

THE CROWN JEWELS

So what is this obsession all about? Why do we hold such a passion for this race? With an ever growing number of 100 mile races to run, what is the appeal of Western States?

Western States is considered to be one of the toughest 100 mile races, with an elevation gain of more than 18,000 feet. Runners get to experience some of the most majestic and beautiful high country trails, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold American River, and the historic trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.  It remains one of the undisputed crown jewels of human endurance events.

Another part of the allure of Western States is the idea of stepping up to the starting line with many of the top athletes in the sport.  These athletes have inspired us.  We’ve listened to them on podcasts and read about them in articles.  Just the thought of toeing the same starting line as us, if only for a short glimpse of them at the start causes our hearts to race.  This course has seen some of the sport’s most stirring and legendary competitions.  It continues to spur the spirit of runners of all abilities, from all walks of life.  The starting line of Western States represents racing legends of the past as well as the future, all sharing the same trails that lie ahead.

These are just a few things that compel the average runner like myself to run a qualifying race so we can throw our names into the lottery, hoping beyond hope that we will be one of the lucky ones whose name is drawn.  2015 was my first year in the lottery when I qualified after completing the Georgia Death Race 68 miler in under 21 hours.  When my single ticket entry didn’t get me a spot, I hired a coach, signed up for and finished the Pinhoti 100, giving me a second ticket for my entry in the 2016 lottery.  I want the chance to experience a small piece of this famous race that has captured my heart and soul.  Dreams do come true, and this is the dream that inspires me, the average ultra runner, as I wait to see if this will be my year to step up to the starting line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Published January  2017

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Running the Race

Post-race blues are common among runners, but there are steps you can take to help avoid these lows

If you’ve been running long enough you have probably experienced it before.  We plan for months, train long and hard for our goal event, often running a few other races along the way.  The big race has come and gone, but now what?  Whether or not our race was the success we wanted and planned for, it’s over and we are left to sort out our post-race feelings.

These feelings include feeling sluggish, unmotivated, bloated, tired, and sometimes even depressed.  Whatever the outcome of your event, we can all go through these post-race lows.  So how do we recover from them? Does the runners’ high that people talk about always follow with a runners low?

After long ultra races there is usually a recovery period for most runners.  Some literally take several weeks or even months off from most running to allow their body time to recover, and to catch up on personal things that have gone neglected during the long months of training.  Post-race blues can quickly creep up on someone during this time of recovery, so it’s good to take steps to avoid these lows. I’ve found a few things that help during this time.

End of a Chapter

Write a race report: ultra runners like to write and share race reports, usually within a few days or weeks following a race.  They share details about the course, how their race went, what they did right or wrong, and summarize their race experience.   Others might just write out a list of things that went right or wrong as they make notes on how they can improve in their next event.  These reports can be shared on the internet, then read by other runners.  The positive feedback received when sharing these reports can provide encouragement and support, as well as prolong that feeling of accomplishment.  The process of writing a report will also help you to close the chapter on one race and allow you to move on to the next adventure.

Do other outdoor activities: enjoying other activities that keep us moving but allow our bodies to recover is another great idea.  Doing so with friends and family members makes it more enjoyable after months of having little time with them.  Cross training activities like biking, hiking, kayaking, or exploring trails and new places are great alternatives to running during your recovery.  You can also try slower running or walking that allows you to look around and see things you might normally miss while training.

New Adventures

Set another goal: ultra runners love to immediately sign up for the next race once they have completed their goal race.  Many will go to UltraSignUp.com within the first 24 hours of finishing a race to find the next exciting challenge, even as they try to stay off their feet and regain their strength.  It seems crazy that when our body is still feeling the pain it has just endured, our mind can quickly push that aside in search of the next adventure and goal.  When our eyes focus on the next race, it helps us plan a smart recovery, make our next training schedule, and keep the lows from settling in.

Volunteer: find some race volunteer opportunities.  Race directors are often looking for volunteers and helpers for events.  By volunteering, we find meaningful reward in helping others and giving back to the racing community that we enjoy.  We can help other runners by crewing and pacing for them, or satisfaction in seeing others reach their goals.

It’s important to remember we all get them to some degree, recognize them for what they are, they might appear for a while but will eventually go away as time moves on and we refocus.

Published December 2016

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Join The Family

Taking your running to the next level is tough, but you’ll never feel alone along the way

All sports seem to have a certain camaraderie that goes with them.  Often teammates share a love for their sport or seem to be part of a brotherhood.  In ultra running, the community that runners share seems to go much deeper, way beyond sharing a love for the sport.  There’s an immediate connection with others and you just know “these are my people.”  There seems to be a draw for many runners when they decide to cross over to the ultra distances and experience the community that awaits them.

So what is it about this ultra running community? I’ve found in my experience some unique things that make up the bond in this group of runners.

Understanding

If you are a distance runner, marathon or longer, you’ve probably been asked by friends and family why you do it.  Many ultra runners are even considered “crazy” by most who just can’t understand their desire or drive.  Within the community of ultra runners, there’s no need to explain why we put ourselves through such long distance runs, pain and suffering.  We don’t have to put into words our drive or motivation, we just quietly run alongside one another on the same journey.  There’s no questions to answer as to why.  Our fellow ultra runners are our safe family of acceptance and give us a sense of belonging.

Encouragement

Short distance races are all about the win, that first place trophy, while longer endurance races are about the finish.  The reward to the ultra runner is the accomplishment of completing the race. In the ultra distance races even the faster runners encourage, give high-fives and cheer on all the other runners.  When ultra runners pass on the trail they look at each other and say “good job” and offer words of encouragement no matter what pace they are moving.

It’s a supportive community where at times the slowest or last place runner has the largest crowd cheering them on as they cross the finish line.  It’s this unusual level of encouragement that greets all levels of ultra runners and truly makes you feel part of the ultra community.

Support

In ultra distances of 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles the runners get help from others.  Crew and pacers are used by runners to support them during these race.  Sometimes supportive family members help, but mostly its other ultra runners step in and help one another.  For some runners it’s a large group that helps get them to the finish line.  They often sacrifice days of their time to help one another accomplish their goals and races.  While on the course if a runner is hurt or needs even the smallest item, from a Band-Aid to food, a fellow ultra runner will stop and offer help or personal items from their own pack to aid another runner.  It’s a community that helps each other cross the finish line.

The ultra running community is a group that encourages, supports and takes care of its own.  Run a race or two and you might find yourself saying, “these are my people.”

 

Published November 2016

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Mind Over Matter

Many people would suggest Ultra Running is only 10% physical and 90% is mental.  I admit I’ve seen my share of runners who I felt hadn’t trained at all for a race and then complete it.  Yet others who seemed to have trained sufficiently, yet ended up in failing to finish.  How can this be and is it really all a mental game?  How do we win that mental game and complete our goals?

Yes, I’ve crossed that elusive finish line many times, but I’ve also tasted the dreaded DNF.  It those experiences which brought me to a few conclusions as to how I stay strong mentally.  It’s not something we can train for, but something we must pull deep from within ourselves.

Add the following tools to your bucket, and access them whenever you need to, to stay mentally strong.

Motivation

Most runners who are running a marathon distance or longer will at some point in the race begin to question why they are doing this to themselves.  Not everyone starts running because they love to run.  I might even suggest that most don’t start for that reason.

So why did you start running?  Was health your motivation?  Weight loss? Maybe a friend asked you to join them?  For some, it’s a sort of spiritual connection or alone time they seek.  We may not all have started out running with a strong love for it, but somewhere along the way if you are running ultra distances, you’ve found a reason.  So what is it for you?

Ultra runners are often misunderstood as the distance seems so extreme and sometimes unimaginable.  I like to find that place in my heart and mind that brought me to running and use it as motivation to continue.  Tuck a few of those motivational thoughts in your bucket for later in the race when you’re hurting or discouraged.

Goals

It is so important to set goals.  Most of us have set goals our entire lives and often not even thought about it.  Maybe your goal was to go to college, follow a career path, buy a house or car.  We set a goal and focus on accomplishing our objective.  Running ultra distances can be a goal.  You set your sights on a 50K, a 50 Miler, maybe a 100K or 100 Miler.  These distances can take 12 or 24 hours, often longer and you can achieve each one, after slowly building up to each distance.  So, we set goals, develop a plan and stay focused. Remembering the goal and what you want to accomplish, is always a great thing to have in the bucket.

Positive Talk

For me, this is the key to it all!  Most of us have those doubting thoughts that creep into our heads while running.  Hours and miles on your feet gives you plenty of time for your mind to start telling yourself all the negative things you’re experiencing.  The key is to “stop listening to yourself talk and start speaking to yourself.”  Make a conscious effort to tell yourself positive things and push aside the negative thoughts we all experience.

When I first started running, I often focused on a close friend of mine who had lost her battle with cancer.  She fought a hard battle to beat cancer, and I would tell myself, “if she could fight that hard, I can do this.”  You need to find those positive talking points in your life and then begin to speak it to yourself.  If you fill your bucket with several positive things you can reference so they are always right there for you when you need them most.

Published October 2016

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Hourly Races, Looped Courses and Mix in Some Heat

I’m by no means an expert on these events but I’ll share what tidbits I’ve learned and maybe you can pick up a trick or two that might work for you.

First of all by way of definition, an hourly or timed race event is just what it sounds like.  Usually you pick an amount of time you want to run.  Most common is 12/24/48 but some will include 3 or 6 hours.  If it’s much longer than 48 hours it really becomes more of a number of days.  So you sign up for the amount of time you’d like to run, say 12 hours and you can run as far or little as you want or can in that time frame.  Typically you can’t change time frames once it starts, so you run and either stop at the end of the time you signed up for,  leave when you’re done or have reached your goal.  For example you may sign up for a 12 hour run with intent to run a marathon, you finish your marathon in 8 hours so you stop running.  But you can always stay and keep running your full 12 hours.  You are credited with whatever mileage you complete in your 12 hour time.  This can be a very good option for runners who struggle with cutoffs to achieve their lofty goals, makes for a nice way to get a long run in and reach a new distance PR.

Most hourly or timed races are on a small looped course of usually a mile or so.  Some are longer but I think around a mile is very typically.  The great advantage in my opinion to a looped course is you set up “camp” of whatever supplies you want for yourself and off you go.  Each loop (usually a mile) you are back to your base camp to get anything you might need.  These races also provide a main aid station on the loop close to where you set up your “camp”.  So it’s very easy to self support on this type of a course.  No need for crew or drop bags, the course is usually so short pacers are not needed as well and sometimes pacers aren’t allowed.  While this appeals to many runners, it may not appeal at all to others.

Here’s a list of what I might set up at my base camp:

Cooler (with ice and drinks)                                                                                                                   Camp chair                                                                                                                                                  Extra shoes, socks, variety of clothing options                                                                                     First Aid items I might need

Boom!  And there you go, all you need.

My experience with these timed events on looped courses has mostly been in the summer and in the hotter weather. I ran most of last summer (2015) in these types of events training for Habanero Hundred; a 100 mile and 100K race in Austin, Texas in August. The race start time was 12 noon in about 107 degrees.  I had to learn how to manage this kind of heat.  So here’s a few of my tips that helped me

ADAM’S HEADWEAR EXTREME OUTDOOR HAT 

This hate not only provides full covered around your neck, it has UV 45+ protection, a cool mesh liner, easy one size fits all adjustment and a neck cape with zippered pouch for ice.  Put some ice in the zippered pouch and this hat becomes a small piece of heaven in the heat and worth every penny of the $19.95 cost.HatMINT ICE WATER

Take a small ice chest and put some water and ice in it.  Add a couple of drops of Peppermint essential oil.  Now you take your bandana soak it in this ice cold mint water.  Then you tie the bandana around your neck.  It sounds simple enough, but something in the Peppermint oil is  very refreshing and cooling.  It’s a simple and easy trick to stay cool.  You can also add ice to your bandana before tying it around your neck.  Any brand of Peppermint oil works and you can find it at GNC or health food stores.

oilPOPSICLES

This requires a little more preplanning but well worth a little effort.  In the summer popsicles that come in the plastic sleeves are easy to come by at most stores (they come unfrozen but some stores sale them frozen as well).  So pick some up ahead of time and freeze them.  The morning of the race, you pack them in your ice chest and surround them by ice or ice blocks.  I find that if I stand them upright in my cooler they are easier to pull out.  The plastic tubes they come in are easy to open but hey just throw in a small pair of scissors and it’s so much easier.  Eventually they do melt but then it’s a slushy.  Something easy to grab, gives you a few calories and easy carry with you on your loop course and has a way with cooling you down from the inside.

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These are just a few ideas that work well for me.  Share your ideas.