Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Charlotte 10-Miler Recap: Truly Running Reckless

10 miles had always been something of a cursed distance for me.  Before last weekend's Charlotte 10-miler, I had registered for three 10-mile races and had to DNS all of them, either due to scheduling or inclement weather cancellations.  The first time I ever attempted to run 10 miles in a training run five years ago, I became sidelined with my first ever running injury.  From then on, even when I trained for my first marathon many months later, I would avoid the 10-mile distance.  I would run 8 or 12 miles, but not 10.  I needed to break the curse, and this year's Charlotte 10-miler was my chance. 
When I registered for the race, I figured it would be good, long workout.  However, after having some better-than-expected finishes at the half marathon and 10k distances, and some promising mid-week speed workouts, I came upon race day feeling fast and competitive.  At first, I set an arbitrary goal of 65 minutes.  Then, after checking with the McMillan Pace Calculator and using my recent race times, I found that 64:40-65:00 was right in my expected range.
The weather was what I like to call "trans-freezing (below freezing at the start; above freezing by the end)."  I historically race well in those temperatures, so I was content.  After warming up, I stripped down to a thin singlet and arm sleeves while most of the field wore tights and long-sleeved tops.  I knew I wouldn't feel the cold after a few minutes.  Many familiar faces were at the event.  Running the 4-miler were Sketchers Performance Rep Chris Lamperski, Charlotte area Running/Triathlon Coach Kelly Fillnow, and fellow DARTer Tara Owens.  Fellow 10-milers included morning running pals Hope and Michelle (mPod), Roberta Villnef (who is always a threat to win a masters or grand masters award), Chris Joakim, John Richards, Charlotte's most famous "wrunner (writer-runner)" Theoden Janes, Richard Hefner, early morning training buddy Kristy-Ann Joyce, female elite Meg Hovis, and fellow Reckless Running brand ambassador Bobby Aswell.  I love races with friends!
The race kicked off and I immediately fell into a smooth rhythm.  I glanced at my pace, willing myself to slow down to a mid-6s pace as the front-runners strung out ahead of me.  A long hill in the first mile helped to regulate the pace and thin out the herd a bit.  I counted heads; I was 13th or 14th once the positions had settled.  As always, I was shooting for  top-10 finishing spot (and maybe an age group award), but there was a lot of race left, and I usually make my moves late, as long as I don't do anything stupid early on.
I reached the first mile marker at 6:28, which was about as fast as I wanted to go for the whole race.  I was behind the then first place female (named Jessica), when Meg Hovis passed me with a fixed gaze on her.  "Go get'er, Meg," I urged.  Not long after, Will Isenhour (another common Charlotte racer) passed me but stayed in arm's reach.  Jessica, Meg, Will, and I formed a tacit pace group that would feed off each other for the majority of the race.  When we hit the second mile marker at 12:48, a 6:20 split, I could tell we were only going to get faster.
The next couple of miles were on the flat, arboreal McAlpine Creek Greenway.  The hard-packed dirt was a great surface on which to run, and trading places with the other three runners like a pack of Tour de France cyclists kept me running ever faster than I had planned.  When we emerged from the greenway and did a lollipop loop around a residential section, we got to see most of the field coming out from whence we came.  It was only then that I realized just how many people were running this race.  I later found out it was close to 700 runners.  I saw Chris J., Hope and mPod, Roberta, and several other folks cheering me on as I chased Meg, Jessica, and Will back down into the next, long section of greenway.
I passed the mile 5 marker at 31:40ish, which was faster than my 8k PR.  I was still feeling smooth and fast, but I couldn't help but think that the pace was a bit reckless.  Our group gobbled up a few other runners on the greenway, and each pass gave me a jolt of confidence that no doubt edged my pace faster each time.  Jessica and Will were still with us, but they were starting to lag behind.  Meg was determined to hold on to her 1st place female spot, so she kept the pace up.  I stayed on her shoulder so we could continue to work together.  We breezed through the 6th mile marker in 38 minutes and the 7th in under 44:30.  Generally, it's a good day when I race a 10k in under 40 minutes, and I had just done so by quite a lot in the middle of a 10 mile race.  After the 7th mile at sub-6:20 pace, I decided that there was no use slowing down.  I would just have to continue the reckless pace until I either blew up or finished the race.
"I'm going to push it for 8 miles and then just try to survive," Meg joked.  She was alluding to the infamous hill in the 9th mile, which gains 100 feet of elevation in under 800 meters.  When we got to the base of the hill, I pulled ahead.  As Meg drifted back, I shouted back to encourage her.  The climb sucked.  I resisted looking at my watch.  Each time I turned onto a different block, I was hoping to see the top of the hill, but no, it just kept going up.  For the first time in the race, I was having a hard time maintaining a rhythm.
After I reached the top of the hill, there was one straight, fast mile left.  It took me a minute to find my turnover again, but when I did, I let it out in a long, 1600 meter kick.  I could hear Meg's footfalls faintly behind me.  I wasn't competing with Meg directly, but I didn't want to get chicked in the last mile either.  I ran my last mile in under 6 minutes (which was aided by a very gradual downhill), and when the finish line came into view, I found another gear and ran the last 200 meters in about 35 seconds.  I watched the LED gun clock go from 1:02:59 to 1:03:00 seconds before I finished.  My official time was 1:03:06.  I had beaten my goal by nearly two minutes!  Lamperski was there to congratulate me and take my picture after I finished.  I was 8th overall and 2nd in my age group; right about where I was shooting to be.
Me after a fast finish and a very happily destroyed goal.

I donned my sweats so I wouldn't get chilled and went out on a cool-down run with my phone so I could snap some pictures of my friends.  Hope and mPod finished well, Roberta and Richard won their age groups, and Bobby, Theoden, and I each got age group awards.  Kristy-Ann demolished her expectations, which is a great note to go into her peak marathon phase for her race in three weeks.  Meg finished a few seconds after me and was the 1st overall female.  Lamperski destroyed the 4-mile race in an unfathomable 21:35, which was 90 seconds ahead of the 2nd place finisher.  Kelly Fillnow won the overall women's 4-miler, and Tara Owens won her age group.
Hope and mPod were a little too perky for the last mile of the race...

Technically, this was my 10-mile race debut.  But in this 10-miler, I set unofficial PRs for 8k and 15k, and I ran my 3rd best 10k, but since there were no officially timed splits for those distances, they don't count.  I plugged my results into the McMillan Pace Calculator, and my 10-mile time rendered far faster race predictions for all other distances from 1-mile to marathon than I had done.  Therefore, when distance and pace are taken into account, this 10-mile race technically was my best race performance to date.  Curse be damned!  Sometimes it pays to Run Reckless!

You can find my Suunto GPS data here.
Fun times with mPod and Hope.

Roberta won her age group.  Doesn't she look happy?

Bobby and me.  Reckless Running represents with AG awards.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Battered, Broken, and Beaten," or "A Fun Race at Uwharrie!"

I had never run at Uwharrie before.  I once had aspirations of doing the Uwharrie Mountain Run (UMR) 40-miler, but it always seemed to fill up before I could get in (before they switched to a lottery).  However, since Umstead a couple of years ago, I've been focusing a lot more on sub-ultra distances, particularly when trails are concerned.  I figured the 20-miler would be right in my wheelhouse to provide a nice, competitive challenge.  After last weekend's UMR20, I'm officially thankful I never got into the 40.
Packet pickup.  Photo courtesy of Dave Munger

The day could not have been more perfect for a long trail race.  It had been at least a few days since the last rainfall, and the temperature at the start was slated to be right around freezing.  Dave Munger and I carpooled to Uwharrie National Forest since he was running the 8 mile option, which would start an hour after my race.  The 40-milers would have an hour head start on me.  Having only heard stories about the trails at Uwharrie, my plan was to run fairly conservatively--harder than a leisurely mountain run at Crowders Mountain State Park, but not nearly pushing the pace as much as I would at the Whitewater Center.  I had heard that a good effort for the 20-miler should yield a time fairly close to one's typical road marathon results, so I set a lofty goal of being as close to 3 hours as possible.  That goal would prove to be lofty.
The elevation chart for UMR20.  It appears to be a cartoonish exaggeration, but it feels accurate when actually rinning the course!

Since I had heard that he first mile is something of a bottleneck (understatement), I toed the line fairly close to the front so I wouldn't be caught behind too many people.  At the start, I eased into position somewhere in the top 15 or 20 runners out of about 150.  There were about 50 meters of road before hitting the trail, which went immediately straight up on rocky, technical single-track.  I had to watch every step while maintaining a steady and consistent climbing pace.  I wasn't going to win the race here; I just had to low gear it to the top of this first mountain in the first mile.  Each subsequent switchback gave way to more rocky footing and more steep climbing.  I took my first walk break about 1/2 mile into the race.  The first and second females loped past me, continuing to run all the way up the hill and out of view.  I ignored them and walked for a good 100 or so meters.  Already, I was regretting registering for this race.
When I finally got to the top, about a mile in, I was pleased to find some relatively smooth running trail.  I should stress "relatively," because so much of this entire course is rocky, rutted, or steeply rolling.  I settled into my long-haul pace and ignored the runners that were widening the gap ahead of me.  I convinced myself that I'd probably catch up to at least some of them later in the race.  The initial long climb led to the inevitable long descent, so I tried to relax and not bomb the downhills too hard like I normally would do.  There was a lot of race left, and a lot of ups and downs still to come.
That's how the race continued for a while: a hard, steep climb followed by a treacherous downhill, the occasional upward glance to spot the white blazes on the trees to make sure I was on course, and the occasional trip, toe-stub, or all-out fall.  I didn't tumble on the obtrusive rock outcroppings or the downed trees on the trail; I more often stumbled on the less technical parts due to complacency and lack of concentration.  It took a lot of focus and brain energy to stay on trail and upright for the duration of the race.
About 5 or so miles into the race, I started seeing the back of the pack for the 40-mile racing field.  I didn't envy these tough bastards.  I already was struggling with the terrain, and they had a much longer day ahead of them.  Or perhaps they were smarter for approaching these trails slowly and carefully and I was the dumbass for trying to run hard.  Nonetheless, it was heartening to start seeing other runners on the trail, and trading greetings and encouragement beats staring at an empty trail ahead of you.
A couple hours into the race, as I neared the 13 mile aid station, I came upon my friend Jason Rose, who was running the 40.  He looked very relaxed--he wasn't even breathing through his mouth yet.  I hadn't expected to catch up to Jason at this point, but I later learned that he had been fighting illness in the week prior to the race, so he was running very smartly to have been looking as good as he was.  By this time, I was seeing many 40-milers, and I was gradually advancing through the front of the 20-mile field as well, one by one.  I continued to trip and fall, and I got lost a couple of times, but luckily, I was trading positions back and forth with a more experienced UMR20 racer--also named Jason.  It made me feel better that Jason was as turned around as I was.  Being from Boone, Jason was no stranger to the elevation challenges of the course, so I doubt he walked a single step of the course.  I ran almost the whole thing too, but there was a combined total of probably about a 1/2 mile that I walked over the 20-mile course.  Jason also stopped at all the aid stations, whereas I was self-supported with my gear vest and stopped at none.  So we traded places back and forth all day, using each other as motivators.
Miles 15-16 were the real crux of the 20 mile race.  There were many stream fords throughout the course, but the largest water crossing was three fourths of the way through.  This one was 4-5 strides across, with water up to the knees.  I dashed through it and hoped for some refreshment, but instead I profanely screamed "F*** me, that's cold!"

My shoes had drained of most of the moisture by the time I reached the last long hill--there would be plenty more short climbs--of the 20.  Boone Jason had warned me about this in our ongoing, mid-race banter, as had the Somewhat Legendary Ultra Runner (SLUR) Jeff McGonnell.  I settled into a low gear jog for the long climb.  After 2.5 hours of hard trail running, I knew I would not be able to run the whole hill, so I threw in some brisk hiking.  I passed and greeted SLUR Jeff about halfway up the hill.  Jeff was looking good on the climb.  He informed me that I was in 10th place and not far back from #9.  Later, I would find out from Jeff that a couple of other 20-milers behind me overheard him and started gunning for me after that tidbit so seek a top 10 spot.
I reached the top of the hill at a reasonable pace, but it took a lot out of me, even with the walking breaks.  With the worst of the race behind me, I just had to keep moving forward at a consistent pace.  That consistent pace was taking a lot more energy to maintain than it had a couple of hours prior.  I was feeling the aches and pains of overused stabilizer muscles (from the uneven terrain), bruised feet and joints (from various tumbles), and rubbery quads (from treacherously rapid descents).  I knew that the worst of the pain wouldn't arrive until the following day, so there was no point in dwelling on it presently.  I focused on my form and the trail ahead of me.  I caught a few more 20-milers in the last couple of  miles, but Jason eventually caught me and passed me, leaving me in 8th position.  I sensed the 9th place runner sometime during the last mile, and he steadily was advancing.  I didn't know who could have been behind him, and I wanted to maintain my top 10 ranking, so I surged to a pace I thought I could hold for the remainder of the last mile.
It was enough.  I finished in 8th place, 6 seconds ahead of my pursuer.  Less than a minute separated Jason (7th overall) and the first female (10th overall), so I certainly had people knocking on my door.  I was glad to hold them at bay, but I was even happier to be done!  I finished with a 3:14:03, which I think is very respectable on that terrain.  I was more tired and battered than I had been after any marathon, and after some ultras.  Katie Rose was at the finish (which was that halfway point for her husband Jason) and was able to snap a decent photo of me crossing the line.  She congratulated me and inquired about the race, but I had a hard time conversing with her without being doubled over with my hands on my knees.
An exhausted me crossing the 20-mile finish line.  Photo by Katie Rose.

I had a small collection of scrapes and bruises, and now that my body had stopped running, it didn't really want to start again.  Still, I count myself luckier than most.  Dave took a pretty bad spill in the first mile of his race (after climbing the same initial hill).  When he arrived at the 20-mile finish to pick me up, he already had changed, but he later shared a photo of his bloody knee.  Even worse, he badly pulled a glute muscle that has sidelined his running for the better part of a week.
Dave's bloody knee.  This wound proved to be relatively superficial, but the fall took an unfortunate toll for Dave.

 Jason Rose maintained his steady pace to finish the 40-miler with a smile on his face.  SLUR Jeff finished the 40 in just over 9:50, after a 15-minute loss of time due to some on-the-trail, DIY shoe surgery with a borrowed pocketknife at mile 23.  Ron Garsik, another fellow DARTer, finished the 40 in a fast 8:35--a 40 minute course PR for him.  I have profound respect for these and all of the other 40-milers.  I like to consider myself a decent, slightly competitive ultra runner, but I don't see a UMR40 attempt anytime soon for me.  UMR20 left me battered, broken, and beaten enough for one day.