Saturday, January 30, 2016

Riddlebox 50K 2015

The wet cold gravel crunched below the soles of my moccasins. The wind bit at my exposed face and throat. I was headed uphill, lowering my head to shield my face from the sub-freezing temperatures that were thrown at me by a mighty headwind.
I've been in need of some warmth for what seemed to be an eternity...

In need of extra clothing!!!! Even before the race!
...It turned out I was only in the parking lot of the Calico Skies Winery, where the Riddlebox 50K would be held today. I had left my car a mere 48 seconds ago and was wondering about my decision to sign up for an outdoor ultramarathon in South Dakota in December. Several Fat Bike racers where next to me unloading their equipment. I've been intrigued by the fat bikes for a good year now and will likely get a hold of one somehow in the future. A colleague of mine, Eduardo, owns one and has offered it to me for a test ride. I will take him up on it soon and possibly (likely, I mean, they are awesome!) develop a love for yet another sport.
However, these guys seemed better prepared clothing wise than I was. Granted they would be traveling at a higher speed and thus experience a higher velocity induced cold (sounds smart, doesn't it?) than me, but what's this difference between 12 degrees or 5? At some point everything goes numb.

I entered the winery and almost (!) immediately stopped my internal complaining. This was a low-key event to top off a great year in running for me and really just wanted to get another 50K into my results book. For a long time, I've been chasing this elusive feeling of redlining during a race, yet feeling as if you're floating at a seemingly unsustainable pace. That, is to date the best way that I have found to describe the phenomenon that is called the "Runner's High". You forget all pain, and are just moving along, effortlessly, disregarding the previous discomfort and exhaustion levels. Do not make big decisions in this state of mind! It may take a while to pay off :).
Of course, I had my race goals. I always had and always will have a personal goal. I targeted a sub 4hour 31.2 mile (50km) race for the first time in my life. Just this year I improved my 50K PR from 5:07 (last year's Riddlebox) to 4:35h during the Sandhills 50K in North Dakota. Meaning, I thought that my training was good enough for a 36 min PR. Ambitious. I had recently PR'd at the half marathon and marathon distances, so I knew it's possible, but everything would need to click today. The relaxing realization was that if I didn't, I may just not write about it :).

Additionally, it helps to have a B-goal and a C-goal, and depending on your commitment level (D through H goals).

A goal: Sub 4 hours
B goal: PR (sub 4:35h)
C goal: Pace below 8min/mile

It was a small field and we joked around while trying to stay warm at the starting line. The signal was given and off we went. My friend Jill went off with determination and took the overall lead, letting everyone know she means business today. I followed her and we chatted through the early rolling hills. After a few minutes of dialog we both put our heads down and went after our goals that day. Having researched the course, I knew I had some more smaller hills coming and wanted to get through them without expanding too much energy, while simultaneously beginning to gap the remainder of the field. See, I didn't write it down as a goal, but I really wanted to win this one after placing 2nd the year before. However, I would've been happy placing last as long as I got a new PR.

luckily this guy wasn't in the race. I wouldn't have had a shot!

Early on, we encountered a handful of turns at which you were able to look back and see the remaining runners. Usually I use that to my advantage in a chase situation. I hadn't led a field before other than one 5K in the summer. I reversed the situation and tried to estimate the lead I had on the rest of the runners. By looking at my watch while taking a turn, I kept looking back to time the point at which they would hit that same turn. This way I could gauge over a few miles if I was making any progress or not.

Multiple times in the next few miles I remembered the same stage of the race last year, only that I was running behind and not ahead. Looking back (not time wise, but actually over my shoulder, I could see a familiar figure emerging. Ed, in his running kilt was moving smoothly and looked strong.

Good doggy. Please don't bite. I'll run faster because of you
I passed a small farm with a seemingly rabid dog who chased me down the gravel road for a good quarter mile. The same dog helped me measure my distance to Ed once more, as I simply waited until I could hear that all too familiar bark by now and I knew I was slowly getting away. I ran through the first aid station and greeted the people there. I can imagine running in these conditions. I cannot imagine attending to some crazies like us in the same conditions. It takes a special grit to do that. My hat is off to the volunteers. Before the race I gave my wife a map of the race and gave her 3 points of possible with estimated times. I'm happy to say that I had the 5.47 mile mark on the spot at 9:42am exactly. This was extremely encouraging in my pursuits that day.

We had our steepest climb coming up and I made sure to not worry about pace, but make smaller steps and keep my heart rate low. We were just at the 6 mile point and I had 25+ miles to go. No need to burn all the fuel now.

Pre-race planning
I took my pace down that hill quite liberally and extended my gate and really ran by feel and enjoyment. It's a thrill running downhill while having to navigate crevasses, rocks and all other inconsistencies that the trail had to offer.

I was running up a gradual and consistent uphill for the next mile and half and knew that I could really do some damage here. If I didn't exert myself too much here, but still put forth a good effort, I could gain double the time than on a flat surface. My goal was to lose Ed by the next aid station.

We were facing a strong and cold air bearing head wind which made our endeavor even harder than it needed to be. I looked for the positive and thought through the prep I had done leading up to the race. I knew where the hills were on the re-routed race course and the weather for the day. I was headed north and the wind, as predicted, was coming toward us merciless. I skipped the next aid station for two reasons. I had plenty of fluid left until mile 20 and I knew I could gain valuable time by running through this one, anticipating that the pursuit group was going to stop for a brief moment. Also, I was now headed east and no longer had the wind to content with.

On the next bridge crossing, I almost ate gravel because I looked towards the next aid station, which was pretty special. Now, they had water, which is what we runners usually look for. But their line-up of PBR and whiskey was enticing as well. As soon as I tried to zero in on them, I forgot my footing and slid for what seemed forever (one second maybe?) on some ice. I resorted to only water (it was a race after all) and went on my way.

Every road intersection I saw in the distance I targeted as a new goal. Get there before the bikes. The Fat Bike 50K racers were unleashed an hour after us runners. I was clicking off the miles and was super excited that no one was in view. I put my head down and pushed forward. Close to the mile 20 aid station I finally heard a smooth whizzing behind me and knew the first biker had arrived. By the time I turned around, he was past me and sped away. He looked strong and I took a lot of motivation from it. A mere 10 miles from the finish and I could cap this endeavor off.

This was also the turning point and I had 7 miles to go south. That means WITH the wind. I really started throwing caution in the wind and accelerated. Even hitting a small paved road section and I was confident in my race. I hit the marathon mark at 3:20, which was my second best marathon time ever. I knew I was doing well now!

I just had to close out. I was approaching the last few miles that had a few nasty hills and I contended myself by finally running on my special "Running" playlist on my Ipod. It helped my through some twitching calves and before I knew it I was headed down the final descent seeing Christina and Leiana in the distance and a wave of emotions overcoming me. I crossed the finish line in a personal best 3:57 (goal A!) winning my first ultramarathon ever. Having my girls there made it all the more special. My main goal for getting faster is for them not having to wait so long for me :).
One of the few ultras where I actually have both feet of the ground! 

This is a great end-of-the-year race and I look forward to partaking in the years to come. Kamp, the race director, looked out for us throughout the race and really put together and nice course in the Iowa country side.

Looking forward to next year!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My week in Running (wk 1)

I'm starting 2016 fairly conservative. It's been roughly 5 weeks since I last ran hard at the Riddlebox 50K and 3 weeks since my easy pace marathon in Tennessee. Thus far, I have only run slightly over 18 miles, but I am recovering my legs and rather take a couple of runs easy in order to prep for the upcoming races.

Sat: 6.3mi in East Lansing, MI
Mon: 3.3mi (a.m. run in Madison, WI)
Tue: 0mi
Wed: 0mi
Th: 0mi
Fri: 2mi
Sat: 0mi
Sun: 7mi (finally an actual run!)

I'm doing a little more than a weeks review, because the first week wasn't a real week, plus I just forgot at the time to do this and had I not just written that, none would be the wiser.

me with my injured hip
Sat, Jan 2: Did a nice morning run in Michigan, which was only my second ever run there after my Kalamazoo Marathon last year. We went to Michigan for a wedding and after long hours in the car I was able to loosen up my legs a bit. We had driven from South Dakota to Michigan with overnight stops in Omaha, NE and Chicago, IL and somehow I pulled something in my left hip while driving. Not sure how I accomplished that, but it still bugs me today.

East Lansing, MI
I texted with my good friend Wes, who got his Masters at Michigan State University and other than a couple of killer places to eat, he suggested the trails at Hawk Island County Park. It was only a couple of miles from the hotel, so it was easy to run there and check it out. After a "proper" warm-up (I think I jumped in the air once or twice and stood awkwardly until my GPS connected). Michigan seems to be similar to South Dakota in the sense that the sidewalks tend to not get cleaned and I would have to run on the shoulder of the road. It was very sunny and I felt great getting out for my first run in the New Year!

Madison, WI (cold as &^$%)
Mon, Jan 4: On our way to Minneapolis, where I had some work for a couple of days, we drove to Madison, WI and spend the night. Before getting going the next morning, I needed to get out for a short run, as I have no idea if or when I come back to Madison and wanted to explore it just a little. My hip was bugging me a bit still and the temps were in the cellar and I had only planned around 3 miles. Therefore I didn't see much, but liked that they are a few different parks in the area, so I will have to come back for some more running.

hate waking up, but love morning runs
Fri, Jan 8: Seemed like an eternity! We spend a couple of night in Minneapolis and I didn't go for a run! Love running around the trail system in the Twin Cities, but after long work days, I decided to spend time with the family and I was too lazy to get up early to run then. I have planned on getting up early for runs about 300-400 times in the last 3 years and actually managed it about 5 times. Each time I scared my wife, because she thought I must've gotten abducted or something.
This run didn't go too far, as we had to deal with fresh snow and the trails were mid-calf deep and instead of running I was post-holing. It really is a tremendous workout, only I was not up for it that day. I used the winter spikes I got from my wife for christmas, but they already broke after that short run. They were tremendous on the icy sections, as I had fantastic grip and didn't slide at all. I cut it short by a mile and ended it with 2. Looked forward to the weekend to finally have a real run again
beyond 2 or 3 miles.

Sun, Jan 10: 7 miles! Felt like an actual run geared for racing! Had 6 EZ (easy) miles and one mile at hard pace. The paces are based on effort and not time. Due to the snow/ice and dare I mention temperatures (-8F/-22C) I went a bit slower than I would normally go, but it felt great. No wind and a lot of sun. Ran by the Dakota Nature Park in Brookings, SD. Other than in Madison, I had the right clothing and therefore the temps were no issue. Still feel my hip a bit, but I think the exercises and hot/cold therapy will pay dividends before too long. Completely loved the crunching sound of the snow beneath my feet. One of my favorite things about winter running, other than my frost beards!

That's a wrap. 'Til next week!

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 in review

My 2015 Running Year in review:

Not sure how to start this post. Should I go with stats first and then a short write-up or the other way around? Perhaps I should attempt a mixture of the two? I will try the latter.

Total Distance run:         1,343.5mi
(that’s 30,954,240 BigMacs stacked on top of each other, in case you wanted to know)
Production value. I just ate that thing.
 Doesn't look as advertised though...
No stock photo here!
Compared with the last 3 years (’12: 459.6mi /’13: 1,239.5mi/’14: 1,079mi), this was a new personal record. I did think I would’ve cracked the 1,500mi mark by now. However, I tend to only look at this at the beginning of the year and forget about it throughout. Nothing good usually comes from purely pushing for a straight up distance over the course of the year. It wouldn’t help account for injuries and put the focus more on quantity instead of quality.

Total Time run: 215h 59m
(that’s a little longer than watching all episodes of The Office (three times) or watching all of Friends 2.5 times)
Also a new record for the year, although it only surpasses 2014 by a mere 25 hours. Given that the difference is only 104 miles, I hope to soon be able to match this time goal, but by having quite a bit more miles under my belt.

Elevation Gain: 41,663ft
I don’t really have any comparison to previous years for this stat, but it sounds interesting (given that Mt. Everest is a “puny” 29,029ft. If I may bore you for a moment, I would go into the fact that it may sound like an impressive elevation gain, but it is a mere 31ft per mile and the majority of the elevation gain came from a few select runs in some mountainous regions while I was travelling. If I took those out, my average gain would truly reflect where I live and mostly train: pancake flat eastern South Dakota.
The Burj Khalifa is somewhere around ~2700 feet. Mt. Everest is ~11x taller than that. I'm SUCH an awesome person for having climbed that much!!!
Biking: 168.7mi (11h 38m)
I had a couple of really good outings and get more comfortable for longer distances  on my bike, but actually envisioned at the beginning of last year that I may exceed my running distance. This is far
Me riding on the regular
from possible, but may be in my future. Unlikely to happen in 2016, but maybe ‘17/’18 as I get more serious about triathlons.
Swimming 4.92mi (3h 50m) Wow, this was more impressive when I left it at 8,660 yards before translating it into miles. Any swimmer friends of mine will look at this is and give this a slight smile and realize how cute this little distance is. If I am serious about any future triathlons, I will have to step up my game in this regard in 2016. It often came down to time conflicts and I chose running over swimming. There is an interesting long distance swimming event in North Dakota that has intrigued me for a good year and a half now. The length is only about 36 miles. Not 3.6, but 36. Maybe something for the more ‘distant’ future.


Prairie Striders Indoor 5K (9th)
Sandhills Ultra 50K          (5th) -PR
Kalamazoo Marathon (40th)
Dizzy Goat 12 hour (3rd) - PR
Mobridge 4th of July 5K (1st)
Sioux Falls Marathon  (16th) -PR
Jack 15 (10th) -PR
Icebox 480 (5th)  -PR      
Riddlebox 50K (1st) -PR

9 races for the year isn’t bad. Considering a couple of last minute 5Ks, thrown in, I basically raced long distance every couple of months. I bet my wife won’t believe that, as I constantly talk about potential races and she must feel I am racing every 3 weeks.
Important to me was race selection, which was based heavely on timing and how my training was coming along. It’s easy to be tempted to overrace, but I don’t think I can achieve my best times/performances if I simply throw myself into every race possible. A couple of races turned out to be PRs, but were only 1-2 weeks after other races and I am sure I could’ve done even better had I rested more prior.

6 of 9 races resulted in PRs and I got my first win at a 5K and a 50K. That in itself makes me very happy, as I am able to race both, short and long distances semi-competitively. The only sour spot on the year is that I wasn’t able to set a new 5K and 10K PR. Well, I didn’t race a 10K, so I couldn’t score that one, but I tried (-->)twice at the 5K.
The first was without the right training beforehand and was a novelty as it was held on an indoor track and I signed up for the experience and to support my running club. I jumped on the second one only a couple of weeks after my 58.5mile performance at the 12 hour race in Nebraska. I learned about the race in the paper the night before and decided to run it at a pace that wouldn’t threat injury. As it was a small town event, I was able to pull off a victory with a minute or so to spare, so I never truly got into racing mode either. Excellent excuses
J. Hopefully 2016 will bring a 5K and/or 10K somewhere along the line with my training.

I also got to knock off the following places of my 50/50 (states & countries) marathon list:

Hong Kong

I had to quit on a couple of attempts (after 13.5 miles in Arkansas and 14 miles in Illinois) due to weather, but am happy with getting these 7 (especially the countries, as they are likely harder to achieve long term).

I am now at 20/100 total and look forward to knocking off a few more in 2016.
my 2016 plans :)

In review, it was a great running year for me and it mostly came through the help of my buddy/coach Kyle who is helping my preparation by providing my training plans and advice on when to back off and when to push. I can only recommend working with him to anyone looking to improve PRs or conquer new distances (look again, 6 PRs and a couple of wins. I had never won a 5K or 50K before!)

Alright, Get Outside!