Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 Year in Review

Well, it's that time again, time to review what happened in 2005. (Here's my summary of 2004).

Miles walked: 1,808.7
Time spend walking: 16 days, 17h 20m 57s. I spent about 4.6% of my year walking!
Average pace: 13:24/mile

Number of races: 10 (if you count Three Days of Syllamo as three races)
Shortest race: Three Days of Syllamo: Day 1 (20k)
Longest race: Ultracentric 24 Hour (100.24 miles)
Fastest pace: 10:13/mile (Lake Benbrook Half Marathon)
Slowest pace: 18:33/mile (Laurel Highlands 70.5 Mile Ultra)
DNFs: 0
DNSs: 1 (White Rock Half Marathon, day after Sunmart)
Pacing: 60 miles at Heartland 100

I walked fewer miles than last year (probably because I did too much racing late in the year and had to reduce my training mileage). I also did fewer races than last year (because for most of last year I was doing 5k, 15k and half marathons).

But I feel great about this year because I now feel like I am an ultramarathoner. Last year it was all new and scary and I was still trying to see what I was capable of accomplishing. There are still many things I want to accomplish, but I feel like 2005 was the year I proved to myself that I could be an ultramarathon walker. As I go forward into 2006 and beyond my goal will be to solidify my base and push myself toward new challenges. I'll describe those challenges in my 2006 Goals post.

Hope you all had a successful and fulfilling 2005! And Good Luck in 2006!!!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Am I back?

Ever since I started this spate of racing back in October my training has been very, very spotty. When I have trained it hasn't been very satisfactory--slow, achy, frustrating. I've trained several times after Sunmart and they've all been frustrating or disappointing--I even cut some short, which I almost never, ever do.

Well, maybe those days are behind me. I finally had a good training walk yesterday. I went out to the paved trails near my house (the other night my daughter and I saw a beaver here when we were walking our dog). I was determined to do some speed work so I did an Acceleration Tempo walk, my favorite form of speed work.

I did 6.26 miles and here were my splits:

9:50 (.26 miles)

Now for you speed demons out there this probably seems slow. And even for me these are slow (as a point of reference, my half marathon PR pace is 10:13 and my 8k PR pace is 9:49). But this is the first time I've gotten below 11:00 in a long time, so I feel like I'm finally recovering from my excessive race schedule.

My plan for the coming year will be less racing and better training.

Tomorrow I want to do 2 to 4 hours at a new trail, Arbor Hills. I'm going to shoot for four but if I start to have any pains or problems I'll scale back. I don't want to push too hard too soon.

Rocky Raccoon is only five weeks away!!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Almost Famout....From the Back

Remember in October when I paced my friends in the Heartland 100? Well we all made Ultrarunning magazine, sort of:

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At least Frances and Marla got a mention!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2005 Goals in Review

Ooops! I didn't do very well on my 2005 goals:

1. Complete the Heartland 100 Mile Endurance Run in October.
Nope. I successfully paced my friends in the Heartland 100, but I didn't feel I was ready so I never registered.

2. Get a bicycle and do some cross training.
Nope, but I got some money for Christmas and have already started shopping for a bike, so I will accomplish this one (a year late).

3. Stick with an exercise routine--primarily just situps and pushups, but I want to stick with it to improve my strength and reduce my gut.
Nope. It's hard to stick with my walking training, much less add in additional time and effort.

4. Lose about 10-15 more pounds (about 5 of those pounds were added this month!).
Nope. I've gained about 12-14 pounds compared to my lowest weight, so I really failed here.

Oh well, I had a great year in many other ways so I'm not too worried about this. Soon I'll post a recap of 2005 and goals for 2006.

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and is ready for an exciting 2006!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

New PR at Sunmart!

Yesterday I completed the Sunmart Texas Trails 50 Mile Endurance Run (walk). This was my second Sunmart, and it was a great day!
This race reminded me why I do ultras. Except for the pain, it was a great experience from beginning to end.

For some details on the race (map, logistics, etc.) see my report from last year. The race goodies were pretty much the same, same hotel, same course, etc. After picking up my packet we went to visit my new two month old cousin and have dinner, then drove to our hotel in Huntsville.

I slept well and the next morning my wife and daughter drove me to the race at around 6:15. I had them drop me off (they went back to the hotel and to sleep) and I wandered around getting pysched up for the race and visiting with friends. Joe Prusaitis of the Hill Country Trail Runners had offered to let NTTR members drop their bags in their tent so I looked for their tent and found a place to drop my bag. In the tent I ran into Jennifer who was running her first 50k that day and who had a great race.

I ran into my walking friends from the marathon walkers Yahoo! group that I had dinner with last year. They are a great bunch of friendly, hard walking women and it was great to see them again. They were all doing the 50k. I was chatting with them when I realized it was almost time to start so I headed over to the start area. After the National Anthem the race began and we were off. I quickly dropped to almost last place, but that never bothers me. I need time to warm up, plus I'm slower on the flat pavement at the start of the race than most runners. I usually catch people on the trails and the hills.

After about 1/4 mile I saw a familiar face on the side of the trail. My good friend Frances, who I met at last year's Sunmart, was looking for me and gave me a big hug and some encouragement. She was also doing the 50k and appears to have had a great day judging from the results.

After that it was into the woods. The Sunmart trail is great--very scenic and wooded, at times straight and easy, at times twisty and rooty. This year there were only two muddy patches and after the first or second loop someone had placed a temporary wooden sidewalk and hay over them so we could keep our feet relatively dry and clean.

There are three features that I like a lot about Sunmart:
1. It's a loop course. Normally I don't like loops, but it's nice to see people several times on the loops. You get to know your comrades in this effort.

2. There is a long out-and-back after about 1.2 miles that is 1.2 miles out and another 1.2 back. It's a little boring, but again you get to see people, make temporary friends, commiserate, encourage, etc.

3. There is a portion of the trail at the start/finish area that is shared by incoming runners and outbound runners, so again you get to see people ahead of you who have finished their loops and offer them words of encouragement.

During loop one I found all the hidden pains that hadn't fully recovered from Ultracentric. My left ankle started hurting but it wasn't sharp or severe, it didn't affect my pace or form and it didn't seem to be getting any worse. But my hips were really hurting, and it was getting worse. I kept pushing the pace and tried not to worry about it. When I'm having pain I try to "draw in" from the pain: I imagine myself as smaller than my physical body and not really attached; I'm just sort of floating around in there. So I tried to ignore the pain and keep the pace.

I ate and drank well at all the aid stations and periodically sipped on my bottle. I took an electrolyte caplet every hour but after two loops I noticed some swelling so I stopped. I tried to switch between sweet and salty foods so I wouldn't get sick to my stomach; I didn't have any nausea problems at all that day.

I finished loop 1 in 2:42, exactly the same as last year and a 12:57 pace. I was very happy with that. I stopped at my bag to drop off my gloves and then headed back out. I continued to keep moving at a pretty quick pace. The cutoff for loop 3 is 3:30, and I can't take that cutoff for granted. Although the overall race allows a pace of 14:24, I had to maintain a pace of 13:36 to make the cutoff. I knew I had to push myself hard for three loops and then, if necessary, I would have 3:30 or more to complete the last loop so I could take it easy.

My hips were really screaming at me during the second loop. I promised my body some Advil after the second loop if it got me where I needed to be. I gradually got to know my fellow racers (I started thinking of us as the "Flashlight Finishers" because the back-of-the-packers would finish in the dark). I finished the second loop in 2:48, giving me three hours to finish loop three. As long as I didn't have any crises I should be able to make it. My concern was my hips.

As I promised, I took two Advil as I left for loop three. After a while I started to feel markedly better. I was able to walk mostly pain free and started to really enjoy the race. This was probably one of my favorite times in ultrawalking. Again I got to chat with my fellow racers, aid station personnel, etc. We enjoyed sharing stories, talking about the cutoffs and the pace, and the camaraderie of doing something hard. I started saying "Good job" or "good work" or "looking strong" to everyone I saw. At one point I was getting ready to pass two slightly slower women. As I came up on the right I said, "I'm about to zip by you on the left; don't be alarmed." As I slowly crept by them one of them said, "What was that yellow blur?!" (I was wearing my yellow Ultracentric shirt) and the other said, "I have wind burn on my face!" It was a great day to be alive and out on the trails.

I exchanged places with several people and groups of people. Everyone was suffering but most were still able to joke and enjoy the experience. As I got close to the end of loop 3 I started to really push, and I ended up finishing in 2:49. Now I had 3:41 minutes to finish the last loop. I knew I could do that, even if it was death march.

As I left for loop four I gave myself the luxury of an easy walk (and two more Advil). I knew I would finish and started to think I would PR so I decided to give myself a little break. As I was walking back out I saw lots of people coming in, some finishing the race and some finishing loop three. Again there was lots of encouragement shouted around, especially to those of us heading back out for our final loop.

I chatted a little more with some of my fellow racers and again enjoyed a great loop. I can usually finish strong if I've paced myself, and I can also walk fast in the dark, so I felt I would pass some people on the last loop (like I did last year). I don't care about "beating people," but it is motivating to be able to pass people. So I was able to keep up a nice pace and pass quite a few people. I don't think anyone passed me on the last loop, but I probably passed at least ten people. At about 5:30 I had to turn on my lights. Not long after that I got to the last aid station. Only 2.8 miles to go! I shouted, "104 coming in, and I'm going home" and skipped the aid station. I took one more Advil so I could stay strong to the finish.

I started to realize I would finish ahead of plan. Unfortunately I had told my wife and daughter to be there at 6:30; I didn't think there was any way I would finish earlier than that. I was afraid they wouldn't be there when I finished and I really wanted to see them.

I picked up the pace as best as I could and started to take it home. It was really hard to see the trail in the dark since the trail and the surrounding land were almost indistinguishable. Luckily they had more glow sticks than last year so that helped. I had to slow down a little but I tried to push as hard as I could. I started to think I could beat last year's time (11:47) by 20 minutes. Finally I emerged from the woods onto the leaf-covered asphalt trail to the finish. Push, push, push. I came out of the woods and had trouble seeing the path to the finish line but found it with the help of a race volunteer. Finally I could see the race clock: 11:27 and counting, so I pushed hard and finished at 11:27:34 (chip time 11:27:04). I beat last year's time by a little over twenty minutes.

And best of all, my wife and daughter had arrived early and were cheering for me as I crossed the finish line. A volunteer clipped off my chip, I collected my medal (afghan to follow by mail) and we headed to the car and to Chili's for a big meal and a Shiner Bock. After that we made the long drive back to Dallas to a warm shower and straight into bed.

So I feel like I had a good race, and I wonder what I could have done if I hadn't just completed Ultracentric two weeks ago. Could I get to 11:00? I'm not sure if that's possible, but I might try to find out next year. I've definitely decided to take a break from racing and give my body time to recover. I've done three ultras in five weekends, and although it's been fun it's also been painful and it's totally wrecked my weekday training. I'm always tapering or recovering so my training has suffered. So I've decided to skip Bandera in January and focus on Rocky Raccoon 100 miler on February 4.

Here's an analysis of my splits compared to last year. I had the same slowest split and fastest split, but I was able to maintain a faster pace on the other two loops.

Loop 1: 2:42 (12:57 pace) Last Year: 2:42
Loop 2: 2:48 (13:26 pace) Last Year: 2:59
Loop 3: 2:49 (13:31 pace) Last Year: 3:06
Loop 4: 3:06 (14:53 pace) Last Year: 2:59

And here are this year's official results.

Ultracentric 24 Hour Race Report

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI was very excited about this race. I had my bags packed and my gear all picked out almost a week before the race. I felt like I was going to be successful and I was ready for the challenge. My family was out of town visiting relatives the two weeks before the race so that gave me plenty of opportunity to sleep late, relax and reserve my energy for the race.

The night before the race I slept well until about 1:30, then fitfully until about 4:30, then I went ahead and got up and read (Swimming to Antarctica, a fascinating book and a perfect choice before an ultra event). Since the race didn't start until 10:00 AM (unusual for races, especially ultras) I had the luxury of taking a shower, making a latte and eating a leisurely breakfast, then going by Starbucks for a second latte on the way to the race.

I got to the race area (Greenhill School, a private school in Addison just North of Dallas, Texas) about 9:00 and met some of my ultra friends and the other walker in the event, Ollie Nanyes. Ollie is very involved in the racewalking and ultrawalking scene. He approached the Ultracentric Race Director last year and this year about co-hosting the Centurion event, so it is largely because of Ollie that we even have Centurion events in the US right now (they are more popular in Europe and Australia). Ollie introduced me to Dave Gwyn, important figure in the Texas/Houston racewalking scene, and Scott Demaree, ultrawalker and ultrarunner who became US Centurion 60 at the 2004 Ultracentric. Dave and Scott would share judging duties.

For those of you not familiar with Centurion events, it is very simple. To be a Centurion, you must walk 100 miles in 24 hours at a judged event. Judges must establish rules in advance and must ensure that all entrants adhere to the rules. In standard racewalking there are two rules (no bent knees and no loss of contact). In ultrawalking the bent knee rule is usually not observed, and that was the case with Ultracentric. Basically, you couldn't run. You had to have one foot on the ground at all times and could not run at any time.

It was overcast and cool when I arrived at the race, and right before the time to start a light rain began to fall. I put on a long sleeve running shirt and jacket and was wearing shorts. After the race started I quickly changed into my short sleeve shirt and took off the jacket.

So the RD, Scott Eppelman, told us it was time to start and we headed out to the track. We all lined up, he yelled "Go!" and it was time to start walking.

One small thing that annoyed me was that the walkers were required to walk in lane 5. This worked well in many ways because I had solitude to focus and concentrate, which is how I like to train and race. But the problem was I had done all of my time and lap estimates based on lane 1. You might not think this was a big deal, but over the course of 100 miles it makes a big difference:

In lane 1, 100 miles is 402.336 laps
In lane 5, 100 miles is 377.062 laps

To maintain a 13:30 pace (my goal pace to allow time for breaks at the aid station, changes of clothes/gear, etc.) in lane 1, each loop needs to be 3:21.3; in lane five each loop needs to be 03:34.8.

So at first I was concerned, but once we got into the race I estimated how fast I needed to go and then stuck with my pace as much as possible.

In the early miles Ollie and I switched leads a few times, usually when one of us stopped for aid, port-a-potties, etc. After a little while I pulled ahead of Ollie and was ahead for the rest of the race.

So we went around. And around. And around. The main way I occupied myself was by calculating my splits and estimating my pace. Occasionally I would get a chance to talk to one of my friends, or one of the judges, but mostly I just walked alone in a circle. Every two hours we would change directions (they placed a little bobbing hula girl dashboard decoration on the track and you had to walk around her). Every loop I would wave at my lap counter and he/she would wave back (over the course of the 24 hours I think I had five lap counters--what a boring job! I appreciate their help). Once or twice the walking judge would ask me my laps and then go verify the official lap count, and once or twice it was wrong.

In general I felt pretty good most of the first half. I promised my body that we would have some Advil after six hours, so that was a milestone to aim for. After I hit six hours and had two Advil I felt almost like I was starting the race again. My legs felt stronger and fresh and I was able to do some nice splits. My goal was to maintain a very even pace, and I was mostly successful. I slowed down, naturally, but I wasn't all over the map in terms of lap time. In fact one of the volunteers started calling me "Metronome Marshall" because of my even pace.

I lapped Ollie a few times after about eight hours and I could tell he was struggling. His race report confirms this. Ultracentric was his goal race for the year so I could imagine his frustration and disappointment as his chance at the Centurion slipped away. But the whole time he kept at it, had encouraging words for me, and maintained the best possible attitude.

I decided to change to some more cushioned shoes at 50 miles. My feet were sore and I felt like I might have been getting a blister on the heel of one foot. So I stopped (the only time in the whole race that I sat down) and changed shoes and socks. It turned out that the blister was under the rough callouses on my heel, so there's not much you can do about that. I did go ahead and change shoes and socks, grabbed a bite to eat and then got back on the track. My 50 mile split was 11:21 (a PR for me) so I was in good shape. If I could keep up a decent pace I could make it!

I ate and drank regularly all day. I took one electrolyte cap per hour during the first 60% of the race; I ate Clif Shot Bloks (I highly recommend them) and at the aid station I ate peanut butter sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, cookies, hot potato soup, etc. It was great having an aid station every loop because I could stop by and ask if they had a grilled cheese, for example. If they didn't, they would start one and I would walk a loop and then pick up my order and eat it while walking.

Sometime after 12 hours Ollie pulled off the track and threw up. I thought that would be the end of his race but I was wrong. He did leave the track and go to the heated locker rooms to clean up and sleep. But he would be back.

During the evening and night time hours there were lots of friends and families on the track. Husbands would walk with wives (and vice versa), brothers, sisters and fathers would come out and support their runners. It was really a great atmosphere. Some people had pitched tents in the infield and would sleep there while coming out periodically to offer encouragement and support. Many of my friends struggled with this race. Although you would think a track ultra would be easier than a trail ultra, there are several things that make a track ultra very challenging:
--Mentally the track loops can be very stressful--you never make it anywhere, and every lap you can see your car, your gear, your escape

--Because there is no variation in the terrain, your body gets very fatigued of the repetitive motion. I ended up with blisters, which is somewhat unusual for me, simply because I did the exact same thing for 24 hours

--The track surface is soft but also very springy, and after a while that bounce takes its toll on your muscles

There were some awesome accomplishments. One person who had never run beyond a 50k completed 100 miles. Another good friend who had never run beyond a 50k toughed it out for 24 hours, in spite of a lot of pain and discomfort. A few people decided to do 50 miles and then call it a day (or night). As in every race there were some great accomplishments and some disappointments. But it was great to see friends and family out to support their runner. By this point I hadn't seen my wife or daughter in two weeks so I got very sad and a little lonely. I was ready to be with them again.

Back to the race. The night time was nice and cool. There were no lights on the track but there were lights on the adjacent soccer and football fields. That was nice because we had light but it wasn't bright and harsh. People came and went on the track. People took breaks, even naps, and then came back out. I'm too slow to stop so I kept moving. I know I slowed down but worked hard to maintain my racewalking form. Around and around and around I went.

Eventually the sun came up but it wasn't noticeable at first because it was grey and overcast. By this point I was very tired and I think I even took a couple of "micro-naps" on the track because I felt like I slept on my feet for brief moments.

Gradually the clouds cleared and the sun came up. Unfortunately, the wind that had been blowing all night got a lot stronger. I was really feeling tired and starting to doubt if I could keep up the pace. Turning into that wind every loop was really difficult. I had some new blisters, everything was sore and tired, and I knew I was slowing. I really wanted to finish because I knew if I didn't I would feel compelled to try again, and I really didn't want to try again. So I kept pushing as best as I could.

Then who shows up but Ollie! He was fresher and rested and ready to get in some more miles. He came up and offered me words of encouragement. I was honest with him and told him I didn't think I could make it. I'll never forget his words: "You won't have to do it alone." He got in front of me and set a great pace. I struggled to keep up with him, and that helped me keep an acceptable pace. When we turned the corner and headed into the wind Ollie would get directly in front of me and charge into the wind! It was one of the most moving moments I've experience in my racing--Ollie had no chance to become a Centurion this day but he wanted to help me make it. It was a perfect example of sportsmanship and real class.

Eventually Ollie moved on but his presence on the track was inspirational. I had slowed significantly since yesterday morning but I was still moving. Scott Demaree, one of the judges, was helping me calculate my laps and splits and I was still in good shape to get to 100. Eventually I had 15 laps left, then 10, then five, then one! I pushed as hard as I could (which I'm sure wasn't very fast) and did that last lap. During my last few laps lots of people in the tent were cheering and calling my name and encouraging me, and that really helped. I made the final lap and all I wanted to do was stop! I didn't feel much of anyting at this point, but I was proud. I pulled off to a corner of the track and Scott noted my time, 23:42. He then suggested I do another lap just in case there were any lap counting errors. So for the first time in 23 hours and 42 minutes I walked like a normal person. I happened to have my cell phone in my pack so I pulled it out and called my wife to tell her the good news. If you look at the pictures (below) you can see me on my "victory lap." After that last lap Scott noted my time and then I went and sat down. I probably should have done a few more laps in the time that was left but I was so tired I didn't see the point. So I walked to the tent and had a seat. Oh, it felt SOOOOOO good to sit down.

After a few more minutes the race was over! Some people lay down on the track, friends and family joined them, kids were running around, the sun was shining. It was a great moment. Gradually everyone made it to the tent for their gear, or to visit, or to rest. Here is a picture of Scott, Ollie and me after the race. There were no official finisher prizes for Ultracentric, but Ollie had purchased medals for the Centurions and had them engraved with "100 miles in 24 hours." He put it around my neck and congratulated me. It was a nice moment. After talking a little more, I packed up my gear and headed to the car. Ollie gave me a big hug, a race volunteer carried my stuff to the car and I headed home. I only live 15 minutes from the race but I fell asleep twice in the car, once hitting the median. I need to keep this in mind next time!

Official results haven't been published yet, but unofficially I finished 6th out of 23 starters, my best finish ever!

48 Hour
Mark Henderson TX 136.29
Paul Piplani AZ 116.71
Tim O'Rouke CA 31.10 (this guy wasn't here for the 48 hour race; his goal was to set a 50k record in his age group, and he was successful)

24 Hour
Mark Syring MN 121.01
Barbara Hitzfeld (f) TX 111.30
Fred Pollard CA 108.86
Letha Cruthirds (f) TX 101.36
Bill Rumbaugh TX 100.91
Marshall King TX 100.24 (walker)
Buddy Teaster TX 90.22
Sue Yates (f) TX 88.89
Marlin Howe MI 88.48
Shawna Brown (f) TX 80.77
Lisa Allen (f) CO 75.31
Ollie Nanyes IL 70.54 (walker)
Dave Emerson TX 69.09
Brett Mills TX 63.44
Davey Harrison TX 61.64
Tom Crull TX 57.91
Robert Jobe TX 56.42
Doug Ryan TX 50.20
Deborah Sexton (f) TX 50.20
Karen Riddle (f) TX 47.96
Michael Arredondo TX 42.50
Sam Livingston TX 40.01
Lorrie Dominguez TX 20.38

So that's my story. It lacks some of the drama of some of my trail ultras but I'm very pleased with the results. I don't have any plans to do another track ultra any time soon! I wouldn't mind to do a 12 hour some day and see what kind of mileage I could do. But I definitely prefer the trails to the track.

If you are interested in a track race I highly recommend this event. It was very well organized and very well supported. There was lots of encouragement and support and lots of great volunteers. In addition to the usual shirt and sample gels and electrolyte caps each racer received a pair of Injinji Tsocks, an "Ultracentric" glass, an "Ultracentric" pen, and a sample of a new Body Glide-type product.

Because it was a track race we passed the photographers many times, so for once there are actually some good pictures of me. I have my own page! Go here to see a bunch of pictures of me.

Go here to see some great pictures of the event. They really give you a sense of what the race was like.

Go here to see pictures of the other racers.