Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snowdrop 55 - 2017


My plan was to hold off on running a 48 hour race until I felt like I had a handle on the 24 hour, but Kevin Kline enticed me to commit to Snowdrop back in November. Luckily (and not so luckily) I managed to run a nearly perfect 24 race at the Desert Solstice. The not so good part was that I beat my body up worse than ever before and only had 3 weeks to recover before Snowdrop. I knew I wasn't 100 percent going in, but I really thought I was close enough to give Joe Fejes and Bob Hearn a run for their money.

Since this race took place over New Years weekend, we made a family trip out of it and visited friends in southern Texas. This meant a full week of no running/rest. Unfortunately I didn't sleep quite as well as I could have during the week.

Brenda, the girls, and I got to Missouri City Thursday evening. After dropping the family off at the hotel, Bob and I headed across town to a presentation on the mental aspects of sports. The next day, I had a blast with the family at the Houston aquarium. Then we had just enough time to drop off race supplies and walk the course before heading back to the hotel for the “elite meet ‘n greet”. Joe, Bob, dr. Lovy and I got to answer questions thrown at us by Kevin and the audience. They made a really big deal out of us three “elites”. My girls thought I was quite the celebrity and I have to say I rather enjoyed being treated like such royalty.

The next morning, we let the girls sleep in while Brenda drove me to the race start. The sky was barely starting to lighten when the mayor cut the tape and jumped out of the way just in time for the runners to take off.

I surprisingly started out near the front and ahead of Joe and Bob, though Joe soon caught up and started to build a real lead. Rumor had it that he and Bob were going to be vying for the 48 hour age group record but it was clear Joe wanted that 100 mile award. He built up a lead of at least 6 laps when he finally started to slow down, giving me the opportunity to catch up. By the time 100 miles got close, Joe fell behind, but Bob was steadily gaining on me. I did manage to hold on, but only by a couple of laps.

The reality was that my body started showing signs of failing pretty early on. Only a couple of hours in, the inside of my right ankle started to bother me, enough that I was genuinely worried about real damage. I eventually headed into the medical tent where they made things feel better, but not good enough. What I really needed was a change of direction, but that wasn’t going to come for some time. To give my ankle a bit of a change in the meantime, I decided to switch shoes. That definitely helped, but I was constantly worried about long-term damage to the connective tissue. Eventually, the pain diminished and now, a week later, it seems to be just fine.

The ankle was only one of the many issues that surfaced. Certain portions of my quads started to ache, much earlier than should have been the case. My abdominal muscles tightened up, despite the relatively moderate effort. And worst of all, the soles of my feet started to feel sore. Since I was well hydrated, I took the gamble with some aleeve, but that only helped partially. By the second day, I couldn’t go more than 5 or 6 laps without having to sit to take the weight off the feet. Running felt good for short periods, but then I would suddenly feel exhausted and even walking was a struggle.

Additionally, I was sleepy. Way more sleepy than I should have been the first night. I almost never have issues missing a single night of sleep. This time, it was tough. Not long after I hit the 100 mile mark, I decided to go down for a “nap”. The 90 minute nap turned into 4 hours and I had to really push myself to get up.

In the end, I logged 151 miles and called it quits right before midnight - New Year’s. I enjoyed the warmth of the food tent and celebrated with a few glasses of champagne, along with a can of hard cider. Then off I went to take another 4 hour nap.

Honestly, the only thing that got me out of my warm sleeping bag on that icy morning was that I felt obligated to cheer Bob on as he broke the 48 hour American age group record. He had 210 miles in by midnight so I was expecting great things. I was a little annoyed to find out that he was already back at the hotel. His legs were apparently so bad that he needed help getting out of bed the next morning and a wheelchair to get through the airport. I guess that partially excuses him for not continuing to run for my entertainment.

Form a purely running perspective, Snowdrop was a big flop, though I wasn’t upset with myself as I did nothing wrong, other than not allowing enough time to recover. In that respect, it was a good learning experience. I honestly felt bad about not running well enough or long enough. On the bright side, since I wasn’t running on the 3rd day, I really got to know a number of the participants and cheer many on as they pushed themselves to amazing accomplishments. Joe and Kelley Fejes won the overall titles, but it was all of the personal accomplishments that I got to witness that really touched me. Teenagers running 50-100 miles, so many people pushing themselves to walk/run 100+ miles. That is what I love about this sport. Being side by side, not just with world class runners, but more importantly, with everyday people who push themselves to unimaginable accomplishments. You can watch arrogant millionaire athletes on your TV screens or as ants running around way down on the field from the nose-bleed bleachers. I’m inspired by the participants who push themselves for the love of the sport and a great cause, without the money, fame, or recognition.

Being a fundraising event and a running event can be quite difficult to balance, but Snowdrop excelled at both. This was truly my favorite of all the events that I have participated in. I got to meet incredible people and hear heartbreaking, as well as inspirational stories. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of it. I don’t think anyone walked (or limped) away without being touched. Even my daughters had a great time and met some memorable role models, young and old. If you’re looking for motivation, inspiration, camaraderie, this is the event.

Monday, January 8, 2018

2017 Running Year in Review

Well, most of 2017 was not that great as far as running goes. I ended 2016 with a DNF at Javelina, then had some achilles issues, and I was so burnt out on running that I backed out of Desert Solstice and announced on FaceBook that I was retiring from racing (something that I still get hassled about).

At that point, I was still first alternate for the National 24 Hour Team and that gave me just enough motivation to keep trying. So after a really low mileage November, I started logging some miles again, setting my sights on the Riverbank 24 Hour race at the end of February.

That race was pretty ugly. By about 75 miles in, I knew I was done, but hung in to complete 100. This certainly did not help my mental state, but given my stubbornness, I decided to register for the Run4Water 24 Hour race 5 weeks later. The results here were the same. I flopped big time and just hung in to complete another 100 miler.

I had now been dropped down to 3rd alternate and my morale was rock bottom. My initial reaction when I got the official news was “hell no, I’m not traveling to Belfast as an alternate”. I was looking to my wife for a bit of sane confirmation, but her reaction was “well, could we make it into a nice vacation?” Not what I was expecting. After a bit of discussion and confirming friends to take care of our daughters, we pulled the plug and decided to go.

This was one of the best decisions I made all year. The race experience was pretty awesome. I went in with no real expectations but I managed to squeeze out a 148 mile PR despite having stomach issues for the last 5 hours. Running alongside the greatest ultra runners in the world felt great, and though I knew I would never have a chance of winning, I realized that I belonged there just as much as any other runners. And, if I ever put together a perfect race, I could place at a pretty respectable level in the field. I wound up finishing 31st male and 4th US male. The rest of the time was an incredible trip around Ireland with my wife.

Coming back from Belfast, I was re-energized. I did not get into the Leadville lottery, so I paced my friend Katrin and had a blast experiencing the race from a different perspective. I didn’t have any major races planned until the North Coast 24 Hour National Championships. I probably went in a little too cocky, fell apart due to the heat and only hung in at the end so I could claim some prize money to pay for the trip.

My morale was taking a beating again so I decided rather last minute to go down to Arizona and have some fun at the Javelina Jundred, which was the start of my troubles the previous year. I really wanted to just take it easy, have a fun race, and enjoy the party atmosphere. But, as usual, my competitiveness took over. I started out a bit too fast, but unlike the previous year, I was able to keep things in control and only lost a little time on the 3rd loop. I came back pretty strong and finished in just over 18 hours, beating my previous best by almost a full hour. The 10th place finish was also a nice reward. This was just the boost I needed.

1 ½ months later, I headed back to Phoenix for the Desert Solstice. The field was intimidating and my UltraSIgnup ranking was way near the bottom, but I felt like I should be able to hang with the top runners for 24 hours. The weather initially looked perfect (60’s and cloudy) but wound up degrading to mid 70’s and cloudless. I felt fine during the heat of the day, but given how others suffered, I may have been slowed a bit also.

I started way in the back of the pack and very, very slowly made my way up. Though I suffered a bit of a low point after 50 miles, I kept a pretty consistent pace and hit 100 miles in 6th place. With a couple of runners dropping at 100 and a couple more soon after, I found myself in 3rd and slowly eating back laps from the leaders. I kept calm and didn’t take over the lead until about 21 ½ hours in. I had hopes of 155, then 153, then 151, but managed to eek out 150.275 miles. A new PR, and a win at a highly respectable race. More importantly, I was able to complete all 24 hours without any significant issues - blisters, stomach, hydration, etc.

Well, to end the year (and begin 2018), I signed up for the Snowdrop 55 hour race. I kinda promised myself I wouldn’t attempt a 48 hour until I felt like I had a handle on the 24 hour. I signed up for this one in November, knowing that I had one more chance (Desert Solstice) to figure out the 24 hour. Luckily I did.

I went into Snowdrop with only 3 weeks to recover from the 24 hour PR at Desert Solstice. I like to think I’m pretty good at recovery, but this just wasn’t enough after the harshest abuse my body has ever been subjected to. I miraculously stayed ahead of Joe Fejes and Bob Hearn and won the prize for hitting the 100 mile mark first, but I only squeezed out a total of 151 miles before I called it. Nevertheless, Snowdrop was one of my all time favorite events, ever. The runners and organizers were just awesome.

Though I only had 3 good races all year, 2017 had some pretty special highlights, including a total of 3,840 miles and 17 races (8 ultras). I’m hoping to build upon the mileage and experience to make 2018 even better.