2 Weeks from now…

2 Weeks from now…

2 weeks from this moment right… now we’ll be 7 hours and 39 minutes into our first 50 mile run at Rocky Raccoon 50. It won’t be the longest time we’ve run although hopefully it’ll be the longest distance we’ll have run.

We’ve taken this last few days after our 2nd 50K off to recover although we both did a bit of work right before this post. Bunny did some trail work and I did hill repeats and some road work. It’s obvious to me from the hills that I’m not 100% recovered from the 50K but that’s not unexpected and it’s why there is such a thing as a taper period before a long race.

We’re still playing fine tuning with our plans for the race although mostly I think of something and find out that Bunny has already thought of it and made plans. Case in point today I decided it might not be a bad idea to have some small cans of sugared, caffeined, soda in our drop bags just in case the AS’s don’t have or have run out by the time we swing through. I text her and of course she already thought of that and has already bought them.

So having a Uber Planner for a running partner is a giant bonus towards our success on our journey toward our ultimate goals.

Speaking of ultimate goals this week I’ve decided that my target goal right now is a sub 24 hour 100 mile race. For me that’s going to require a perfection of training, hydration, nutrition, weather, course and a fair bit of luck. And of course some crew help.

For whatever reason Rabbit has proclaimed she will crew for me. She’s an very experience ultra runner and experienced at managing a crew and running a crew so making sure she’s there will go a long way toward letting me reach that goal. Having her waiting in the AS’s and Bunny on the trail makes me think I have a fair chance of accomplishing that goal.


Spring Energy fuel results

We successfully used Spring Energy gels and drink mix to finish our 2nd 50K in good shape nutrition and hydration wise.

We both had a plan based on the fuels we had, while similar wasn’t exact. At the high level nutrition consisted of primarily Long Haul and Canaberry with the occasional Hill Aide, Power Boost and McRaecovery. This was supplimented with a little candied ginger, a Skratch bar and granola bar for me, some Miur gels and Justin’s PB for Bunny.

I find I don’t care for the Hill Aide much, it’s not gag worthy but it’s also not something I’ll look forward to but the quicker energy and caffeine boost was appreciated. The other Spring energy flavors aren’t bad. They’re about on order of baby food in terms of enticing’ness. Just a little bland and short on flavor for an adult palette.

But over the course of the 50K the one gel every 30(ish) minutes and one bottle of water kept my energy levels stable and even keeled for the entire race. My aches and pains were the primary reason I was glad to see the race end, not hitting up against a wall of lack of energy.

They’re certainly not cheap, standing out as pricey amongst running nutrition but there are a number of coupons available that will knock up to 20% off the price bringing them more in line with other gels or at least less egregiously overpriced.

Preparing for a ‘Real’ Ultra

Having successfully finished two 50k races now I can officially call myself an Ultra Marathoner. Unlike some I feel that the additional 4.868 miles of a 50k over a marathon counts as an Ultra. It’s like doing a Marathon plus a 5k race and then some.  It counts. Period.  The reason I think so it that personally it takes more effort and planning to crank out 31+ miles over marathon. No it is not the same effort as a 50 mile, but it is still requires a little more fuel and hydration, extra time on legs and most importantly the mental strength to go just one more 5k and even more so to go beyond that.  That’s my take on it anyway and frankly I don’t give a rats rear if you’re an elite 50 miler who doesn’t think a 50k qualifies as an Ultra, because it does so there. :p

That said I am not going to lie, I am more than a little terrified to face my first ‘real’ ultra 50 mile race. This weekend’s Go Longer 50k in the subfreezing temperatures and winds reminded me just how horrible the pain can be during a race and at the end of 31 miles; now add on top of that another 19 miles and I am frankly challenged to wrap my mind around how I’m going to be able to do that.  Saturday was a real struggle for me. I hurt, a lot, mainly because of the cold. My head was in a bad place due to fear of some unknowns and the cold wind just made me feel absolutely miserable. It was my turn to be down and need support and that is exactly what I got. Trex was more than upbeat and cheerful the whole way and helped me not to sink too far into the doldrums. I am grateful.

So if I have learned anything from this journey it is to trust my training, stick to the plan (as best I can), lean on your partner if needed, and remember that with every distance the accomplishment is going past the wall, and the wall comes when it comes.

So that’s all there is to it. Right? I mean really it’s just tackling a little less than two marathons back to back. Right? As if one marathon isn’t hard enough?!!! Why am I doing this? (((Begin Panic Attack)))

…..  10 minutes later  (((End Panic Attack)))

Okay with that over and done with I can resume my plans to pack and prep for Rocky. I have exactly one day off every year, today, MLK Day, when my kids are in school, the spouse is at work, and it’s an observed company holiday for me. So after I write this post I will make the most of my time and pack and plan for my race. I actually enjoy packing and prepping for a race, so it will be nice to do it without constant interruption. But before I start packing I am reviewing what I learned from this weekend, revising my To-Do and packing lists, and making notes to ensure I prep and pack having gained more insight. So here’s a list of things I learned from this weekend:

I learned that I can’t eat nearly as much food as I planned, but that having it sorted in go bags was brilliant and saved time. Some tweak need to be made to how label/number by bag sets.

I learned that a combo of Spring Energy fuel with some Huma and PB, Hot Chocolate and Hot Broth sprinkled in does a body good.

I also learned that subfreezing temps slows me way down at the aid stations because my whole body is stiff and my hands are shaking and ridged. Let’s hope it’s not this bad at Rocky.

I learned I should have remembered to use handwarmers on my exposed bottles to prevent freezing. If it hadn’t been below freezing and the straws on my bottles hadn’t frozen I could have saved more time in and out of rest stops.

I learned I need to have rubber gloves or a dry change of gloves so I can more quickly refill my bottles without having to expose my fingers in extreme cold temps.

I learned I am going to have to use the volunteers at the aid stations and need to have an efficient method for handing off my bottles and drink mixes so that the required communication and time are minimal. For this I plan to separate my food and drink mixes and I plan to rotate 4 bottles in my pack and have pre-filled bottles in my drop bag. Two full and two empty so I can easily add mix to empty bottles and just hand those to be refilled. I actually had this setup ready for this weekend but I failed to execute my plan due to a few issues. First I still had water in my front bottles when I arrived at the car aid stations. So rather than swap them I opted to refill them. Two I struggled with getting to my empty bottles stored in the back because the rear storage in my Nathan Vapor Krar 12L is nearly inaccessible without taking the damn thing off or having Trex help me retrieve stuff. I find this to be dangerous on trails as I am likely to trip doing this, especially in the dark. Which is the reason I just bought a Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set. I lucked out and it was on sale today so it should arrive just in time for the trip.

I learned that sticking to Trex’s well planned out pacing workouts does the trick, except for when one of us decides to break pace and “reel-in” some other runners with whom we were not technically competing since they weren’t even doing the same distance as us.

I learned that Altra Men’s Paradigms sort of fit my feet. Remind me to rant about shoe sizing in a later post.

And most of all I learned that I am very very lucky, fortunate, and grateful to have a wingman like Trex by my side.

Go Short, Go Long, Go Very Long Race Report

Yesterday we did our last long run before our debut at Rocky Raccoon 50 mile in 3 weeks. We really couldn’t have picked a worse day to have a race. The weather on Friday was 50-60 and no wind, the weather today is clear and no wind although cold. The weather on Saturday was 20’s with 20mph winds gusting to 40mph.

I won’t lie the headwind was real and when we had to cut across it it was worse. A 3/4 angle 40mph gusting in the face as we determined is just more horrible than it bashing you straight on in the face.

The race got off without any issues, we started out doing our planned Rocky pacing which over time proved to be just a little slow for our legs. About 5-8 miles in we ended up going about 30 seconds per mile faster than we’re shooting for for Rocky. This continued over the course of the entire 31 miles.

Due to the cold not everyone showed up we’re guessing and of those that showed up it’s possible a few decided not to go back out on the second lap. In the end only 32 people crossed the finish line the second time to clock in the full 50K.

Support was typical for a street race held by FleetFeet but again the cold cut the number of volunteers down to the barest of bare minimums for lap 1. We’d like to offer our most heartfelt thank you for the few brave souls who came out to support the runners, you’re always appreciated from the bottom of ours and every runners hearts.

3 or 4 miles from the end of lap 2 we started to see groups of 25K runners ahead even with the 8 minute resupply we did from our own car based aid station and some 2 and 3 minute potty breaks. At this point my competitive streak, not very wide but sometimes pointy, kicked in and we kicked the pace up by a couple of minutes per mile and skipped our breaks to reel the runners ahead one by one, group by group. Not the wisest of things to do on a training run but it proved we were capable of doing it and pushed us a bit which with the 3 week taper coming up should in the end make us stronger for Rocky.

For lap 2 it got pretty lonely out there with all but 1 of the aid stations deserted when we came through with no one in sight or possibly trying to warm up in their cars. But there was water and some pretzels and granola bars at each one when we needed them. A trail ultra with fresh cooked bacon and quesadillas it was not but it also doesn’t cost as much as a trail ultra so one can’t complain too much.

Our pacing and plan showed its value as we continued to reel in a few 50K’ers catching up and passing another 5 or 6 who’d started out good but burned out by mile 20-25. In fairness the cold and wind was just miserable. We know of at least one person who seems to have dropped around 40k, at least they didn’t have a finish time.

Tim, the owner of the local FleetFeets, was there along with a helper till the bitterly cold end to greet Bunny and myself as we crossed the finish line for lap 2 completing our second 50K. Even announcing us over the PA system even though there was literally no one else around to hear it. He gave us our medals and as it turned out we placed in our age groups so we got a race logo’d coffee cup as well.

Finishing long distance races with little fanfare and zero crowds or cheering is something we’re used to and will always have waiting for us. We’re never going to be in the front pack where the excitement is. But we run for us (and the medals) not for having a crowd of strangers applauding our showing up at the end of a race. 🙂

Overall it was a good race/run. We cut almost an hour and a half off our 50k PR and half an hour off our trail marathon PR. We proved to ourselves our race plan works. We determined that Spring Energy fuels work for us without any bad side effects and that our fueling and hydration plan worked.

Now just to do it again + 19 miles at Rocky on Feb 9th 2019.

Pacing

One thing I’ve had major issues with so far in marathon and longer distances is pacing. My ass writes checks my legs can’t cash basically. Each run over 20 miles my resource problem has been my legs. If it’s not blowing out my quads then it’s my calves going to Crampington and more worrisome with the 50K it was my knees.

Because of the foot problems I’ve been having it’s throwing off my gait which is stressing my other joints like my knees. At least I hope that’s what it is. They’ve been slow to recover for sure.

TLDR;

Anyway one of the things I’ve been trying to work on is coming up with pacing that will let us finish 50 miles in some reasonable pretense of being healthy at the end of it.

Once I ‘go long’ I invariably go out too fast which kills me in the end game. So I’m trying to be a little smarter about it.

We finished a 30K run two weekends back and it wasn’t too bad. We hit every run and walk segment at the pace I was shooting for. I’m not sure I had another 50k in me at that pace though. Okay let’s be honest I’m pretty sure I didn’t have another 50K in me.

Last weekend we did a 40K and I was good up till mile 22 or so and then fell over a bit but we were hitting the runs faster than I plan on doing a 50 mile. I was kind of wanting to see how it went.

I’ve taken the last 4 days off with some gym work only. The tendons behind my knees continue to bother me and be a worry for going long.

I’m going to alter my plan for Rocky as a result to have a longer recovery every 3 runs instead of 5 runs. It shouldn’t cut our overall pace significantly but I think it’ll help push the crash and burn point further out.

Rocky Raccoon 50 2019 Route

Using the heat map function and some freehand pathing I re-created the Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile route for 2019 in Garmin’s route app.

Rocky 50

You can find it over here. It’s not 100% accurate to the published route, at least I only have 24.86 miles and the actual route is measured at a hair over 50 miles for 2 laps. So I’m a quarter short give or take over 50 miles.

But it should be ‘good enough’ for following or just looking at the vertical. Per Google elevation data there’s only 900′ of vertical per lap. Which is practically flat. We did 25 miles this last weekend with 1800 total vertical and while it was rollers none of it was badly sloped.

One of the things I realized when I was charting this is that when given the option to turn, always turn left and when you can’t turn left go straight. This only applies to the T junction with the out and back to Gate that you don’t do on the way back. So if you consider Farside as the turn around then the route is somewhat shorter on the way back than the way out. So that’s a plus I think.

We’re down to 4 Weeks (plus a day) before we load up the truck and head down to see if we can finish a 50 miler in less than the time allotted.

For this honestly my current target goal is 14 hours for various reasons. I think it’s pessimistic I’d like to do it in under 12 but I’d rather be short than long of my goal.

Spring Fueling

Although it’s kind of late in the game we’re trying out Spring energy fuel/food as one source of fueling for our first 50 mile race. It was highly recommended by Ginger Runner and overall he and I tend to like the same things. We have the same opinion on the shoes we have in common, the hydration vests etc.

I know the age old wisdom don’t change anything pre-race but we’re 6 weeks out and we have time to test this option out and make sure it agrees with us physically and mentally.

Spring energy gels are ‘real food’ and not just an assortment of sugars. Now I, so far with 2500 miles under my belt and in my belly, get along with pretty much anything. I’ve not done extremes like cake icing and Coke but I’ve tried a vast assortment of fuels out there from Gu’s pure sugar to cheese Quesadillas real food and none of them had disagreed with me in terms of digestion. There are a number that I don’t care for in terms of flavor or texture but I’ve eaten them all without a problem. I’ve also consumed loads of ‘real’ food on long runs and races without any problems.

Spring gels fall into the “let’s take real food and turn it into baby food” in a lot of ways. The primary ingredients are basmati rice, bananas and then some variety of add ons such as coconut oil, coconut water, fruits, peanut butter, honey, chia seeds, citrus and so on.

They have a system for fueling. Pretty much all other fuels I’m aware of in gel format and frankly most of the bar types like Picky and RX are the same basic blends but different flavors. And for some, the ones based on date puree the flavors are so close together for me because they’re all very ‘datey’ that they might as well be the same.

Spring has 5 types of fuel each in one flavor and one drink mix to supplement those. Each type is aimed at one type of output. Pre-race or when you need a boost, long slow burn, caffeine laced for a bit of pep up, recovery etc.

It’s certainly an interesting approach. Flavor wise they’re okay to me. The most popular one, Canaberry so named after Sage Canaday and Strawberries isn’t super fruity to me. It tastes like what it is, pureed rice and banana with some natural sweeteners and a hint of strawberry.

I think because they’re kind of bland they may agree with most but I doubt few will actively look forward to them? There’s not going to be a “Yay! It’s been 30 minutes time for another of those delicious yummy gels.” for me at least.

One thing with the Spring fuels though is IMO you really have to make sure you’re consuming enough electrolytes. Their system is balanced and includes their drink mix (which is a peculiar blend of flavors, I’m not yet sure if I like it or I can tolerate it). If you just use the fuels and you’re not ingesting electrolytes some other way then you’re risking getting out of whack on basics.

I plan on using their hydration but I’ll be rotating it with Ultima (Lemondate and Pomegranate) and PediaLyte (Orange) as I like those flavors and feel the mixing things up will help over 50 miles.


What does it take to try a 50 mile race?

Running 50 miles or rather traveling 50 miles on foot in one stretch with a fixed time limit is rather daunting to some, most, all but a few? Take your pick on that answer.

My wife tells me I’m crazy each time I set a new distance goal. And I’m doing it to myself every time I come home showing my true age from some long run or back to back long runs.

And maybe you do have to be a bit crazy to keep setting these kinds of goals for yourself. Everyone has to make their own determination as to what at any given point is a major goal in their lives. Because I don’t believe 99% of us can pick ultra marathon distances as a minor goal. The sheer amount of time on feet if nothing else to train the body to be able to sustain the abuse of a 50 miler, 100k, 100 miler and beyond for most of us makes it a major investment of our available time.

And you can’t even say it’s a cheap sport. Running can be a cheap sport if you’re doing shorter more ‘normal’ distances. A few miles a few times a week to try and stay in shape. You can do that in any pair of shoes, in cotton shirts and socks without any other gear than maybe a bottle of water in the summer time.

But once you reach the point where you’re running for hours on end multiple times a week then the gear costs creep up. Shoes wear out every couple of months and the wrong shoes lead to injury.

So cheap it isn’t.

Reaching this point where I’m going to attempt my first and hopefully not last 50 mile race over the last 2 years I’ll have put in a little over 3000 miles. I’ll have logged a little over 700 hours of on my feet time. 700 hours… That’s the equivalent of running 29 days 24 hours a day. Plus a little extra. It breaks down to about an hour a day unless you count travel time and then it’s more like 1.5 hours a day. So of the past 24 months I’ve given up one full months worth.

I’ve gone through 15 pairs of shoes, granted some didn’t last long because in the end we weren’t compatible for each other for the long haul and they were delegated to every day wear or boxed up in case of a zombie apocalypse. Or just being too broke to buy new ones.

I’ll have burned roughly 500,000 calories. Half a million calories or roughly 1800 standard sized Snicker’s bars. Half a million calories sounds like a lot more than 1800 candy bars but the math is what it is.

So to sum up, for me, what does it take to try your first 50 mile race?

  • 4+ runs a week
  • 15 pairs of shoes
  • 53 races of everything from 5k’s to 50k’s
  • 700+ hours of running
  • 3000+ miles of running
  • 500,000+ calories

Seems like a lot to ‘just’ do 50 miles.

50 Mile 6 weeks out

We’re coming up on 5 weeks out now. Over the next 3 weeks we have a 40K and a 50K LSD training run and then we start tapering 3 weeks out for our Rocky Raccoon 50M.

My knees, specifically the tendons on the back of my knees are being a bit of a bother and have been off and on since our inaugural entry into Ultra territory 6 weeks ago. I’ve been using voodoo witchdoctor stuff, i.e. CBD oil as both an ingestion and a targeted lotion. Does it help? No way to know without a time machine to go back and not use it.

Will I be able to go 50 Miles in Huntsville Texas on February 9th? No way to know without a time machine to go forward to February 10th and ask myself.

Some days 50 miles doesn’t seem out of the question, other days it seems and feels pretty daunting. I know people that have done 100 miles, multiples, I even know by second runner (same thing as a second cousin which I just made up) people that have gone 200+ miles in one session.

But take for example our 30K run this last Sunday. We started off well and had some really good negative splits on the back half, hitting 9 and 10 minute miles for the latter half. To put that in perspective my best 5K time is 8:50 (ish) minute miles. (Remember I weigh around 60lbs more than the next heaviest ultra runner I’m aware of). So hitting 9’s after already having run 15 miles is for me an accomplishment.

Last night at midnight I did a 5K, Race into the New Year by Runners World in Tulsa, with an average of 9:14. I didn’t feel like I had much more to give at the time. A race at the end of the day is not the same as a race first thing in the morning.

After the 30K run did I have another 32 miles in me? Sheesh consider that statement. I ran 18 miles as a training run but will be running 32 MORE miles after that point in 6 weeks. That’s when it becomes rather daunting. At the end of the 30K I was feeling okay but not really a ‘let’s do another 32 miles’ kind of way.

The results of our training runs are focusing my pace plans for Rocky and as they should. I’m using the data to dial in what I think is a sustainable run / walk pattern for 50 miles.

A problem I have is the first time I go for a new distance I make the same mistakes. Set a goal time that’s only really obtainable under optimal conditions – nutrition and hyrdation perfectly on point, well rested, well motivated and in the right mental place. Go out too fast and literally, almost, crash and burn around the 2/3rd mark as a result with blown quads or calves suffering from major over-stress cramping.

I’ve mentioned it before but this time my primary goal time is 14:59:59, my secondary goal time is under 14:00:00. As long as I finish the race by coming in under the 15 hour cutoff that’s my goal.

To give us some slack I’ve calculated our personal cut off times for every aid station based on flat distance with a 14 hour finish time. This gives us an hour’s leeway. It doesn’t take into account terrain or darkness because I have no way of really knowing any of that. The best I can do is say, on average, we need to leave aid station X at X:XX o’clock in order to maintain our goal time. I know we’ll get some extra time on some splits because the terrain will be easier and I know we’ll lose some time on some because it’ll be harder or in the dark. Overall though I have a chart of times for all 14 aid stations including the start and finish.

Which is another thing, we’re not going to count miles, we’re going to count aid stations. We’re going to count up for AS’s reached on the first lap and then count down for AS’s left on the second lap. I think mentally that might be some minor boost “We’ve knocked out X of these things, go us!” early on and “We only have X more to go.” on the back half.

Another thing to look at is no matter what we finish, as long as we finish it’s a 50 mile PR for us. As long as we run more than 31.5 (ish) miles it’s a PR for distance. And as long as we run longer than 8 hours it’s a PR for time. And it’ll be the first race in Texas, not really a PR but it is a first. So that’s 3 PR’s we are likely to walk away from Rocky with.

7 Weeks and Counting

We’re 7 weeks out from our first 50mile race at Rocky Raccoon which is in Huntsville Texas just north of Houston.   So I get to go back to Texas again which is my fabled birthplace.

“He tripped and fell and kept trying to get up and falling again, that’s how he hit his head 18 times on that rock.”

7 weeks out means 4 weeks of serious training left to get in shape for our first 50 mile race.   Due to injury and to get full value for my entry fee I’m planning on using 14 hours and 59 minutes of the allotted 15 hours we have to finish.   It only seems fiscally responsible to get all the value I can out of the trip cost after all.

4 weeks from now we’re capping our training with another 50K run, the FleetFeet Go Short, Go Long, Go Longer.   Then we’ll start tapering down assuming that 50K doesn’t kill me. Or my dear RW doesn’t kill me.  I run under constant threat of death from ‘accidents’ at her hands.  She has her alibi’s all planned out and has probably practiced crying in the mirror to make sure they’re believed.   “He tripped and fell and kept trying to get up and falling again, that’s how he hit his head 18 times on that rock.”

We’re thinking of trying to make a road trip up to Robber’s Cave which is the site of a brand new 100 mile race which happens on Dec 30th.  There’s a practice run on the course of somewhere between a few and 20 miles that a local running group is going to go on and ultra runners being the people they are they’re the more the merrier type. The 20 miles lines up with our planned run for that weekend so its an option for sure.

But regardless we keep slogging on, we did 5K yesterday of hill repeats on a 50-60 degree hill and it was nice seeing the improvements we’ve made.   The last time we did this particular hill which has been awhile, after one or two ups I’d be at the walking up and running down pace.  This time I was able to sustain a faster than a walk up all the slopes for the entirety of the run and was hitting 7 minute miles on the runs down.  It’s amazing how much gravity helps the clydesdale runner speed up.  🙂