As an ultrarunner it is difficult to find the time of year to allow my body to rest and recover. The physical and mental demands of hard training and racing add up quickly on us all. Team sports give an athlete a natural flow of when to train, compete, and recover, but individual sports force the athlete to pick-n-choose competitions throughout the full 12-month calendar year. The end result almost always leaves me feeling a little like I will miss out on a competitive or fun race or that I will loose my edge by taking a rest period. I have learned from experience though that it is always better to ere on the side of caution. I know that is why I have been able to stay injury free for the majority of my running career.
After completing three 100-mile races, intermixed with about a half a dozen other ultra distance events, within a 12-month period, I knew it was time to take a rest. However, I still found the need to fulfill sponsorship agreements with Eagle Endurance and have some fun in a few more local races. Looking back now at November through January, I would say I found the best way to scale back on events, but still recover, have fun, and compete. Here is a quick recap of what took place in those three months and a look forward at what is going to be an exciting 2015…
Mad Marsh 50K – November 22nd
Taking place on my 31st birthday, it made perfect sense to run the 31.5-miles of this Lowcountry Ultras race. Nicole came along as my crew and Denali (our dog) ended up having an adventure of her own. The issue for me going into the race was that it was just three weeks after giving everything I had to reach a sub-24 hour finish at Pinhoti 100. My body had recovered better than after Pinhoti in 2013 and I had done more running in the last three weeks than expected. However, I knew I was not 100% and I had not run any workouts of any significant distance. At any rate, I started the morning in good spirits and ready to have some fun! After all, it was my birthday, and I didn’t want to come out of the race feeling exhausted for the rest of the day.
Mad Marsh 50K took place on an old golf course in Lady’s Island, SC and consisted of completing seven laps around a 4.5 mile loop. I had run the summer version of this race, the Bad Marsh Night 50K, so I knew it was flat and fast. I made it through the first four laps (18-miles) averaging around an 8:45 mile pace. However, lap five and six proved to be the point where the lingering fatigue of Pinhoti would finally set in. Around mile 24, my legs became extremely heavy and I fell back to a 9:30-10:00 pace. This is also the lap where Denali got away from Nicole and ended up about 1.5-miles into the loop trying to track after me. Nicole was finally able to catch up with her and it was all laughable after the race was over.
Approaching the start of the final lap, my ability to run was all but done and I walk/jogged the last 4.5 miles in a little less than an hour. I was not deflated by having to do so much walking to finish out the race. In fact, walking gave me more time to reflect upon my accomplishments of the last year and think forward to what I wanted to accomplish in 2015. My finish time was 5:15:42, still good enough for 16th place overall. After the race, Nicole and I enjoyed lunch at Firehouse Subs and listened to Ohio State beat Indiana 45-27 on the radio on the drive home. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and hanging around the house. It was a great birthday with friends, family, and the sport I love!
Last Chance 50K – December 13th
Just three weeks after Mad Marsh 50K, I found myself back out on the race course at the final race of the year for both myself and my local sponsor, Eagle Endurance. This was the third year of the Last Chance 50K, but this year it would take place on a new course. In 2013, the park service accidentally issued permits for both the race and the opening day of a hunting season within the same section of the Francis Marion National Forest. Taking place now on the Awendaw Passage near Buck Hall Recreation Area, the course would consist of a 5.25-mile out-n-back section of trail run a total of three times. I had run this trail in the past both in training and at the Almost 9-Miler. The more technical terrain and the number of friendly faces on the trail would both motivate me and help to offset the repetitiveness of the course.
As we gathered for the start in 30 degree temperatures, cold by South Carolina standards, I chatted with friends about our year of racing and upcoming holiday plans. The race got underway and three runners shot off the front right away. I found myself running comfortably behind the lead packs pace with a friend, Stephan Looney, and one other runner. About 2.5 miles into the out-n-back course there was a right turn where we headed out past an abandoned hunting house and down a dirt road to a turnaround point. We followed the same course back to the first junction, then made another right to continue down the original trail out to the 5.25-mile turnaround station. With about a half mile to go before the turnaround aid station the lead runner came past us followed by about a dozen other runners. This group of runners had somehow managed to miss the turn back at mile 2.5 and now found themselves on the verge of a DNF.
On the return trip to the start/finish area, I was feeling really good and kept finding myself speeding up. I forced myself to hold back a little bit to conserve energy for the later stages of the race. As I reached the start/finish, mile 10.5, many of the runners that had missed the turn had decided to make up for the mistake by running the loop past the abandoned house twice. I said a quick hello to Nicole, grabbed a handful of cookies and oranges, and took off back down the trail for the second loop. A couple miles into the second lap, I had moved up to third place with one runner following close behind. I decided I needed to try to drop him and pushed the pace down under 8:00-minutes per mile.
As I approached the turnaround aid station the second time, around mile 15.75, I was all alone. The second place runner, Brett Welborn, was still at the station, but getting ready to take off. I decided to make it a quick in and out at the aid station and the two of us left together. At this point in the race, I was confident in being able to maintain an 8:45 pace average for the whole race. It had also finally warmed up enough on the day that I took my lightweight jacket off and left it at the aid station.
Reaching the start/finish area the final time, I had put about a minute on Brett, but I had to stop to go to the restroom. I figured even if I made it a quick stop, I was going to drop back from second to third, but would be able to catch back up over the last 10.25 miles. The first place runner was way out there in the lead, so it was at least guaranteed that I would finish in the top five overall. Unfortunately, three miles into the last loop, I started running low on energy. Coming into the final aid station, I had dropped back to fourth place and decided to take just a few extra seconds to compose myself before heading out on the home-stretch. I held onto fourth place until mile 29, when what seemed like out of nowhere, I was passed. About the same time, I had realized that the course was running significantly longer than 31.5 miles. The longer distance combined with getting passed so close to the end deflated my spirits for the next five or so minutes and I found myself struggling to keep an even pace. I finally said to myself, the heck with it, and took off at a hard effort just get the day over with.
I ended up crossing the line with race time of 4:51:37 and fifth place overall. Since the course was long by almost two miles my actual 50K time was closer to 4:41:00. This was just under a 9:00 minute per mile, so very close to what I felt that I could hold at the start of the day. Believe it or not, this was also my fastest officially recorded 50K time. My second fastest 50K time was just three weeks before at Mad Marsh 50K. Almost all the 50K races that I have participated in have either been within in training for something longer or during a point of low training volume like both these races were this year. In 2015, as I focus more on speed and strength, I hope to see this 50K time come down significantly.
Three Months of Strength and Speed
With Pinhoti 100 out of the way back on November 1st, I only logged another 88 miles of training in the month, and 32 of that was at the Mad Marsh 50K. The last week of November I got back to running my normal 30-40 miles per week and started working more on going at a quicker pace. Now that I had developed the confidence and nutrition to go the long distances, I am determined to get faster at it. This means focusing in on runs of 15-miles or less in distance and keeping my pace faster than 7:30 per mile. Once per month, I plan to log one run over 25 miles to keep the muscle memory going of what it takes to go longer. This long run was the Last Chance 50K in December and pacing the 4:30 group at the Charleston Marathon in January. I also have added two days per week of strength training back into my routine for the first time in over six months.
When the Charlie Post Classic 15K came around on January 10th, I was not only feeling recovered, but stronger and faster as well. It showed at the race, as I ran pretty close to a perfect 6:45 pace the whole way for a finish time of 1:03:23. A week later, I enjoyed running with Stephan Looney and the masses of people at the Charleston Marathon. We were assigned the 4:30 pace group, which was not a hard effort except for the fact that the course ended up almost 0.2-mile long. The lead vehicle had taken a wrong turn around mile 2 and we spent the rest of the day guessing if we were on pace or not. Since the pace groups all fell apart as the race progressed into the later stages, Stephan and I separated slightly in the last four miles. We had each picked up a few runners that were going after different time goals. After times were adjusted the week after the race for the extra distance, I came in a couple minutes ahead of 4:30 and Stephan ended up pretty much dead on pace. It was a fun day, but we both agreed that it was better to stick to the ultramarathon world and stay off the hard road surface when racing long.
Ready for 2015
That brings us to now, just three days before the Delirium 24-hour Endurance Run, and the start of the 2015 ultra racing season. This year, I will start Delirium healthy and not on a strong dose of hydrocodone like I was in 2014. I have not been putting in mega miles, but I have been focused on my speed and strength. I know that I can still run long and I am hoping for some high miles at the end of the 24-hours. Obviously the first goal is to reach 100-miles, which barring a horrible day is almost guaranteed considering the course is flat and I can receive aid every 1.695 miles if necessary. Just how many miles can I run? Well, we shall see soon enough!
The two main races in 2015 are the Quest for the Crest 50K on May 31st and the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 on July 18th. The Quest for the Crest 50K takes place in the mountains of North Carolina and it is a US SkyRunning Series race for 2015. The course features six 6000 foot peaks and a total of 23,000 feet of elevation change. It will be a significant challenge early in the year and great training for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, which stays above 8000 feet above sea level the entire way. Other races on the calendar include, Peyton’s Wild & Wacky 5K Ultra, Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50-Miler, and the Hell Hole 100K all in the first half of the year. My training will remain very similar to what it has been the last few months with one 25+ mile run per month, a bunch of 5-15 mile runs at faster than 7:30 pace, and consistent strength work every week. I am confident that this focus more on strength and speed will propel me up, over, and through the multiple challenges that I am sure to encounter in 2015.