Javelina Jundred 2017 – Chasing The Moon

Sunrise

Spirits are up early in the race.

This is a very long report that combines the months leading up to the race and the race itself, if you want to skip ahead to the race details, you can scroll down to the section labeled The Race.

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Training
At the end of June I needed to make plans for a qualifying race for Western States.  I intended to enter the Ultra Trail Mexico 100km race in Huasca—the same race I signed up for last year but didn’t end up running due to a surgical procedure I had prior to the race (not running related).  Yet when I went to enter the race it was already full.  Now I was a bit panicked since I needed to have enough time to train for a race.  The only time frame that seemed reasonable was October since the first week of November was the cutoff for all qualifying races for Western states.  As I scoured the list of approved races, I didn’t see many options that were feasible in terms of cost of travel, distance from home, and time frame.  I planned on running a 100km race since I only had 3 months to train but the only one that really seemed to fit was the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  Fear set in because 3 months or more accurately 14 to 15 weeks of training did not seem like it was sufficient to prepare for a 100 miler.  I took the plunge thinking that even under trained, I only needed to finish the race within 30 hours.  Considering I finished the Keys 100 in 20:28, I could walk a good portion of this race and still finish in time.

Prerace

3am and ready to go.

My running had been pretty focused from January through May but as May finished and June rolled around, travel and life events started eating into my regular training.  To prepare for this race, I looked at my training log for the Keys 100 and set up a detailed plan that steadily ramped up my weekly distance as well as my long runs.  The plan focused on three 4 week training blocks that would ramp up for 3 weeks and decline in the 4th week.  

About to Start

Waiting for the start.

Everything went to plan for the first three weeks until a fateful Sunday on July 16th.  I was running 20km on a mainly flat trail in the mountains near my home but at 9.5km, the trail drops dramatically by around 100m.  I descended just fine, turned around at the 10km mark, and ascended back up the incline.  Just as I was reaching the top of the hill I felt a sharp pain in a straight line up my left medial gastrocnemius muscle (inner upper calf).  As soon as it happened I knew something was seriously wrong.  I had never had such acute pain while running before.  The issue now was that I was 10km from my car in a remote part of this forest mountain trail.  I figured out a way to use a modified stride to run back but I had to be very careful not to put too much pressure on my left calf.  When I got back to the house, the pain did not subside and just touching the muscle hurt tremendously.  

Squirrel Nut Butter

Anyone see a squirrel?

The next morning I needed to travel for work.  Luckily I was traveling to Merida, Mexico a city where I used to live.  I contacted the physiotherapist I knew and the clinic was able to see me that day.  They examined me and immediately recommended I get an MRI.  Being the obsessed person I am, I had investigated throughout the day on Monday and had a hunch that I had a grade 1 or 2 tear of my medial gastrocnemius—most likely a grade 2.  My MRI revealed that I did have a grade 2 tear which meant I couldn’t run for 4-6 weeks.  I was very worried now.  How the heck was I supposed to prepare for a 100 miler on a condensed schedule already that will now cut another 4-6 weeks of running?

Motivation

One of the many posters Karina made.

After some contemplation, I decided I couldn’t fight reality and would concentrate on what I could control.  I did some research on power/speed walking, read some articles, and watched some YouTube videos.  My decision, after verifying with the physiotherapist, was to practice power walking during the weeks without running.  When I got back to Mexico City and met with an orthopedic doctor, she confirmed no running for 6 weeks and I had to go to 3 sessions per week for those 6 weeks of rehabilitation.  Quite a setback indeed but I was determined to follow the doctor’s instructions and not screw things up by rushing back.

On the trail

Staying focused.

Over the next 6 weeks, I never missed a rehabilitation session, did my stretching and prescribed exercises at home, and power walked 5-6 days per week.  I ended up walking 70-90 km per week during this time.  A funny thing happened as I continued to walk so much, my efficiency steadily improved to the point that I was able to walk at a speed equal to a slow run/jog.  This made me happy because I felt like in a serendipitous way, I gained a new skill set that could help me tremendously in a 100 mile ultra—the ability to walk much faster than most.  I remember at the Keys 100, my walking was a key to my success because I passed many other runners late who were also walking but much slower.  Beyond that, I knew it was good to focus on the positive and not dwell on the things that I couldn’t control.

Crew

Best crew ever.

Come September, I was given the green light to do 30 minutes of running to test out the calf.  The first test run was a bit scary and it felt weird running again because I had a lot of trepidation that the injury would return.  Luckily it did not.  I reported back to the clinic that all went well and I proceeded over the next two weeks to transition from the majority of the time power walking to the majority of the time running.  As a result of this injury, I did alter my my stride slightly on uphills.  Normally when I ran uphill my heels wouldn’t touch the ground but now I went slower allowing my heels to completely touch the ground to reduce pressure on my calves.  

Little Hot

A little hot out there.

As a side note, I tried to figure out how I injured myself.  The best I can gather is that in early June I went out for a 30km run and woke up the next day with pain in the back of my knee.  It seems the pain was a case of tendinitis on the tendon that attaches to the top of the calf muscle I injured.  I thought it healed because I monitored it closely and after 4 weeks it seemed to have gone away.  However, the day before I injured myself, I did a hard run in the mountains—3.5 hours with tons of elevation gain.  The next day when I went out for the the 20km run where I injured myself I noticed the tendinitis pain return a bit.  I suppose that I needed more rest after that hard mountain run and my calf was simply too tight.  When I went up the hill the calf just gave out and tore.

tarahumara.jpg

Karina with some Tarahumara.

During September I modified my training plan to reduce my weekly distance (100-120km per week vice 130-160km as previously planned).  I had a handful of 3-5 hour runs programmed with one huge training run of 74km to give me a feel of where my fitness was for the 100 miler.  All the running went well leading up to the race.  I made sure not to push too hard.  The first long run of 3 hours was humbling because I hit the wall only after 2 hours and slogged the last hour.  Yet as the weeks progressed I noticed my strength returning.  I did my 74km run 5 weeks out from the Javelina Jundred to give myself enough time to fully recover.  That run went quite well which gave me confidence that I’d at least be able to run a good portion of the 100 miler.  I didn’t start tapering quite as early like I did for the the Keys 100.  Instead I ran my full training load until two weeks before the race.  The week before the race, I reduced the distance by 20%.  The week of the race I did runs of 9, 8, and 5km.  I had two reasons for not doing a 3-4 week taper.  First, I couldn’t afford to back off since I already lost 6 weeks of running.  Second, I felt like the taper period lasted too long the first time and that it really wasn’t necessary to back off so much.

Supplies

Where’d that magic potion go?

Another side effect from the injury was to reset my race expectations.  Originally I wanted to beat my 20:28 time making a sub 20 my A goal.  My B goal was sub 24.  My C goal was to simply finish under 30 to make sure I qualified for the Western States lottery.

Off and Running

Keeping the eye on the prize.

Race Preparation 
I am a detailed oriented person.  In preparation for my first 100 miler I made spreadsheet that was a checklist of all supplies, gear, activities, and race day things I needed to do.  I modified it a bit based upon things I had learned in the subsequent two years but it was more or less the same.  That definitely made packing and prep much easier.  I also made timing sheets — one small one that I’d carry with me during the race to help me know what I needed to do at various sections of the race and one double sided chart to give to my wife as my crew with my plan A and plan B so she’d have an idea where and when I’d be throughout the race.  I’m not quite sure why, but as I made these timing sheets, I decided to alter my plan A to shoot for an 18 hour race and plan B for a 19 hour race.  As I’m writing this report now, I don’t really know what possessed me to not only forget about my post injury revised plan A/B but shoot for even better times than my pre injury plan A/B.  I simply told my wife that I may as well shoot for the stars and give myself a huge challenge rather than just sit back and semi-give up before the race even started.  It’s crazy, I know, since I never had come close to an 18 hour pace in such long distances.

Desert

Arizona desert.

Pre Race Days
We arrived to Phoenix on Thursday with the race start on Saturday.  As we went to pick up our luggage at the airport, I turned to my wife and said, “Now’s the moment of truth” referring to our suitcases.  As I grabbed our first suitcase I glanced at my phone that had a message stating 1 of 2 suitcases arrived.  OH NO!  The other suitcase was still in Los Angeles and that, of course, was my suitcase with all my gear, supplies, clothes, etc.  I was not a happy camper.  We proceeded to make our claim and then pray to the Aztec gods that it would show up that night at the hotel.  Otherwise Friday would be a crazy day of running around Phoenix trying to buy everything I needed.

Race Expo

The famous saguaro cactus.

When I awoke Friday morning, I immediately went to the front desk of the hotel and luckily the suitcase arrived!  Whew–now I could concentrate on getting checked into the race and relax the best I could.  Once I started seeing other runners at the hotel, however, I started to have a bit of panic and feelings of not belonging.  All the other runners seemed to be super fit, focused, and practically pros whereas I felt a bit like a fraud and out of place.  This has happened to me at all 3 of the races I’ve been in.  I think it’s partly due to the fact that I run 98% of the time by myself and partly due to the fact my self-image still has an ingrained concept of myself from 10 years ago when I was 70lbs/30kgs heavier and at my unhealthiest point in my life.  

Supplies

What else do I need?

My wife and I went to the race expo, picked up my bib and goodies.  We browsed around, bought a few items, and stopped at the massage both.  I figured this might be a good opportunity for me to calm my pre-race jitters.  I bought a 15 minute massage for my wife and me.  As soon as the lady started on my back/shoulders I could feel that I was extremely stressed out.  This 15 minute massage changed everything for me.  After it was over, I relaxed for the first time since arriving to Arizona and my mood calmed as well.

The rest of the day was filled with small preparation errands as well as simple light foods (veggies/fruits/tofu).  That night we had dinner at the hotel and I tried to get to sleep as soon as possible (9pm).  I set the alarm for 3am but with nerves I ended up waking up for a couple bathroom breaks and by 2:15am, I was up for good.

lap 4

Got to stay positive

Race Day
I got all my gear on and packed up the supplies.  I drank a simple vegetable protein shake with some turmeric as well as a chia gel for some calories to start the day.  I’ve found in the past that I do not want a lot of food in my stomach from the day before nor from breakfast.  I train week after week with a pretty empty stomach so my strategy is to do the same thing as in my training and consume the calories I need while running.  I had one cup of coffee and tried to do all the bathroom business I could to avoid any “issues” while in the race.  Right before leaving the hotel I took some Imodium to ensure I wouldn’t be looking for a nearby cactus due to intestinal issues.

Once we arrived to the starting area around 5am, we staged my two drop bags–one at the start and one that would be at the halfway point of the loop at the aid station named Jackass Junction.  We went over the race plan one more time, took some pictures, said some jokes, and awaited the start.  In comparison to the Keys 100, I was surprisingly calm with barely any nerves at all.  In fact, I was really ready to get the show on the road.  I ran a quick loop around the start area about 15 minutes before the start to loosen the legs up.  After that I stood near the start line to try to avoid being caught behind hundreds of runners in the beginning of the race.  I read that the first 1-2km of the trail are pretty narrow and if you are in the middle to back the pace will be practically walking.  I did not want that to happen because I had a different strategy to go out faster than my first 100 miler where I held back quite a bit.

The Race
At 6am 535 runners departed from the start chute.  The beginning area wraps around the camp sites, main aid station, and eventually spits you out on the actual trail.  I think I was in the group of the first 40 people.  In my first 100 miler, I used my heart rate as my limiter as to how fast I would run.  I tried to keep it in the 140s and due to that fact I ran at a pace that was quite a bit slower than I wanted.  In this race and because of the experience I have gained over the two years since, I decided to pay attention to my heart rate but also use my perceived exertion and my breathing rate to dictate how fast I would go.  I figured that I could sustain long stretches keeping my heart rate in the 150s.  After about 2-3km, the group of runners started opening up and the trail had a lot more space.  I took this opportunity to pick up the pace.

Moving

Keep on keepin’ on.

Another side note: My strategy was to break the race up into quarters or 40km each.  In each quarter of the race, I had an average pace goal.  Each 40km would progressively slow so I built that into my pacing goals.  The course itself is a loop which we repeat 5 times with the first loop having a slightly longer extra part built in.  Loop one is 35.9km/22.3mi and loops two through five are 31.3km/19.45mi.  It has a total elevation gain of 2409m/7900ft.  You essentially are on an aggregate incline to the far point of the loop and downhill coming back to the front.  The tricky part is that some of the inclines are imperceivable but you notice your pace reducing.  After each loop you reverse course and go back the way you came.  It’s an interesting feature of the race because your are constantly passing other runners making it more social than a point to point ultra and by reversing course you are seeing everything from the opposite point of view.  That helps you from getting bored and feeling like you are just doing the same thing over and over again.

hot

It was roasting

Back to the race:  Arriving at the first aid station “Coyote Camp” I was keeping the pace that I needed.  I filled my two water bottles and got out in under 2 minutes.  I used a hydration vest for storing my supplies but decided I was going to try to avoid using the water bladder unless I really needed to.  I thought that with my two water bottles which held a ½ liter each, that it would be enough for me to get to each aid station.  That strategy turned out to be correct.  The reason I didn’t want to fill the hydration vest with water is that it adds another 5-6lbs of weight.  Over 100 miles that would require a significant increase in energy expenditure.

The next section from Coyote Camp to Jackass Junction is the longest segment between aid stations 10.4km/6.5mi.  It’s also the roughest section with several very rocky portions where you definitely have to watch your step or else you’ll take spill.  In fact I heard of one older runner who had a serious fall in that section and had to be taken to a hospital.  As I navigated this section my pace picked up a little more.  I had good conversation with another runner who ended up finishing 8th in the race.  He ran an amazingly well paced race.

skel

I hoped I wouldn’t turn into that guy.

As I arrived to Jackass Junction, I filled water bottles again, grabbed some food from my drop bag and was off again.  Crossing the timing mat, I was 35th.  On the back half the loop and with the downhills ahead, I pushed the pace some more and was running at clips of 5:10min/km to 4:55min/km.  It felt good to run at that pace.  I had slight worries that maybe it was too much but I quickly eliminated those thoughts and reminded myself that this race was a perfect opportunity to experiment and find out what I could do.  I didn’t want to feel like I was too conservative after finishing this race.  As we made our way down to Rattlesnake Ranch, I had passed several other runners.  I got in and out quickly and set off for the the end of loop one.  At this point, the sun had got to a point in the sky where the temperatures were starting to rise significantly.

I really wasn’t too concerned about the heat since I had run extremely hot and humid race before, I had lived in a very hot tropical environment for two years, and I really don’t mind the heat.  Plus in this part of the country, there was absolutely no humidity.  That would help to cool the skin since the sweat would evaporate vice just stay on your skin.  I wore a singlet along with white arm sleeves.

As I arrived to the start/finish area, I surprised my wife since I was there 18 minutes prior to my predicted time for my A goal (3:18 total time).  I handed all my gear to her so she could refill my water and supplies while I ran to the timing mat.  I got back to the aid station area where my wife was and she was so happy for me.  She showed me one of the great motivational posters she designed, gave me a big hug, took some pictures with me and sent me on my way.

Going out on loop 2 back to Rattlesnake Ranch, I quickly realized that my wife didn’t see the other water bottle I had tucked in a front pocket of my vest.  My fault completely for not showing her where it was.  The good news was that the aid station was closer this time since loop 2 had a shorter total distance.  Ultimately I ran out of water with less than 10 minutes to the aid station so no big deal indeed.

The slight uphill to the back of the course was a lot more difficult this time now that I had run over 40km.  Leaving out of Jackass Junction I had the long section with lots of rocks and wouldn’t you know it, I was checking my watch for something and BOOM–down goes Avery.  I caught the bulk of my fall with the palms of my hand but I also fell to the left hitting my hip and back.  I got up dusted myself off, checked for any serious injury or dropped supplies.  Besides some cuts on my hand and elbow I was good to go.  From there on out I was much more careful with my steps knowing that the later in the race it got, the harder it is to lift your feet.

I finished loop 2 in 3:16 for a total time of 6:34.  I had also PRd my 50k time in a race by quite a lot with a 4:50 time.  Things were looking very positive so far.

avery jj100-02

Loop 3 was the repeat of Loop 1 minus the longer final quarter.  This time it was much hotter reaching the high temperature of the low 90s F or 32-34 C.  As I was ascending the hills towards the back of the loop my speed started dropping markedly.  I ran with for a while and was passed by the overall female winner of the race Larisa Dannis.  Closer to Jackass Junction the same thing happened to me with the 2nd overall female finisher Dana Anderson.  Both of these ladies were so positive and encouraging.  They were incredible in their consistent pacing.  As I was fading a bit, they kept on going.  It reminded me of the old Energizer Bunny commercials in the 80s where they were the Energizer batteries and I was the off-brand battery.  Passing through Jackass Junction and using the aggregate downhill helped instill a little more confidence after a little less than 2 hours of a fading pace.  

The total time for loop 3 was 3:44 which meant I ran 27 minutes slower than loop 2.  I had lost all the extra time I banked early in the race and was slightly behind my A goal now.  Starting loop 4 meant Karina, my super wife, crew, cheering section, and overall hero, was going to run with me to the first aid station at Rattlesnake Ranch.  As we headed out, I noticed I was in some definite trouble in terms of flexibility and pain in my legs.  I had a very hard time opening up my stride and there was some mounting pain near my kneecaps.  The best I could figure was that my quads were tightening up severely.  I also had a little bit of pain in my hip to groin area when I had to take any steeper inclined steps with my right leg.  Karina pulled out every trick in the book to cheer me up–from jokes, to videos from my daughters, to even tickling me, she was a real trooper.  We arrived to the aid station and I knew I was hosed for my A goal and I let her know.  My pace couldn’t even reach anything faster than 7min/km and according to my pacing charts, I needed to run around a 6:30min/km.  The problem was that I simply couldn’t muster any quicker turnover in my feet nor the strength to move faster.  I felt like I was stuck in first gear.  This happened to me in the second half of the Keys 100 when all I could do was alternate running and walking until I reached the end.  The upshot of this day was that I was strong enough to barely have to walk.

When I reached Jackass junction for the 4th time, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, dejected, and slightly disoriented.  The fatigue from the day really sunk in, the disappointment of fading so quickly from my A and possibly B goal was bothering me, and I just wanted to run faster.  I got out of there and headed back down the trail through the rocky section once more.  At this point it was dark and I was using my waist lamp.  I definitely was very careful not to eat it again on the rocks.  Because this was a washing-machine style race I was passing runners going the other way, going my way, and being passed as well.  I could tell for the most part who was who but the closer I got back to the start/finish line, the less accurate my assumptions were.  It felt as if I faded very far back in the race.  At 8:34pm I arrived at the start/finish line for the 4th time.  It took me 4:15 to complete that loop and 32 minutes more than loop 3.  I was not happy.

aid station

Now was the time of reckoning.  Karina was about to run another segment with me after she did all the crewing and aid station work I needed.  She could see I was in distress and offered me some ibuprofen for the second time.  I didn’t mention it earlier in this report but prior to lap 4 she offered me some but I generally avoid all pain medication, especially when running/racing.  She had been spending time with the crew and wife of another runner I met.  Apparently the wife of this runner had a medical background and explained that I was having quite a bit of inflammation and that a single dose of ibuprofen was not going to cause the damage I was so worried about.  I had heard many horror stories of runners with kidney failure in races because of ibuprofen and I did not want that to happen to me.  However, as a good runner should do, I listened to my crew since she was much more sane and capable of thinking than I was.  I consumed the ibuprofen with some water and we were off.

Wouldn’t you know that after about 20 minutes of running, I started feeling better.  I felt a little lighter on my feet, I was cracking jokes, smiling, and just felt like things were improving.  We rolled into Coyote Camp and Christmas music was playing.  It was awesome.  I grabbed some supplies, kissed my lovely wife goodbye and headed off into the wilderness feeling renewed.  For the first time I decided to listen to some music to distract me.  Using DJ mixes I had, I queued one up that really made me feel good in the past and the next thing I know I’m singing out loud as I went up the gradual hill to the back half of the loop.  As the kilometers clicked off, my speed kept increasing.  The only glitch I hit was when my waist lamp was losing juice.  I didn’t realize that it only had around a 4-5 hour battery life at full power.  The tricky part was that in order to change batteries I had to remove the other one.  It had a screw cap but with a tricky pin insert you had to align with the lamp tube.  Once I turned off the lamp it was quite dark.  I slid the battery into the tube and tried to screw the cap back on but it wouldn’t turn on.  UGH!  No panicking yet…What to do??  Using my logic, I figured that if I tilted the tube forward putting the small hole, where the pin was to align, closest to the ground, I could use gravity to help align the pin in the cap.  I took a deep breath, screwed it on, hit power and voila–LET THERE BE LIGHT!

refill

I hit Jackass Junction just as happy as could be.  I encouraged several runners sitting there to keep pushing.  I was giving pats on the backs and high fives.  What was going on with me I thought?  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Grabbing my final supplies out of my drop bag, I passed the timing belt and headed down the back half of the trail for the final time.

Now things were really getting fun.  I felt a certain momentum building from within.  Little by little I continued to push the pace.  I passed several runners who were in front of me but were reduced to walking.  I understood exactly what they were going through from being there myself in other races but for some reason it wasn’t me in this race.  They call this reeling people in and passing the carnage.  Rattlesnake Ranch was visible in the distance but the trail was quite winding so it took longer to get there than the crow flies.

I stayed barely a minute at the aid station only filling up on water.  Looking back, I still had a full bottle of water in my vest so I didn’t need to stop there at all.  It was only 6.5km to the finish line.  Now is where I wanted to drop the hammer as the elites say. I upped my pace as best I could and I felt like I was flying.  I continued to pass people coming and going and rarely saw anybody running.  After about 15-20 minutes I could see the glow of the lights of the finish line.  I could smell the end of the race. I also looked over a large hill and saw the moon was still up.  Prior to the race, I told my wife that I would race the moon meaning I wanted to finish before the moon set (around 1am I think).  I called it my quest to Chase the Moon.  In my happiness of the moment I had a conversation with that moon to explain who won the race between him and me.  Mind you I was actually talking out loud…but who cares…I do some strange things late in races to entertain myself.

avery jj100-04

Finally I approached the start/finish camp.  The first thing I did was look for me wife.  She was nowhere to be found so I tried my best to sprint around the chute leading up to the finish line.  I was passing people all over the place and probably looked like a lunatic running so hard.  Yet a funny thing happened, it seemed to charge up the crowd and everyone was cheering loud for me.  Then I did what I dreamed for months, I crossed the finish line—at 12:12am!  Final time 18 hours and 12 minutes.  The final lap took me 3:37 meaning I ran it 38 minutes faster than loop 4 and 6 minutes faster than loop 3.  Amazing!  I had no idea I had that capability inside of me.  It surprised me more than anyone.

I left the finish area and headed back to where my drop bag was–still no wife.  Looking towards the trailhead area, I spotted her waiting at the gates with the crowd looking for me to come in.  We apparently missed each other as I came around the chute.  She went from the finish line to the trailhead as I went through the chute to the finish line.  After hugs and kisses, we headed to the finish line again to take pictures together to capture the happy moment forever.

Looking back on this race makes me very happy.  I learned that I now have the capacity to run almost all of a 100 miler and have the ability after 90 miles to pick up my pace to levels I ran in miles 20-40.  Listening to your crew is an important lesson as well.  In my mind I hit my A goal and 18:12 for 100 miles for a guy who 10 years ago couldn’t run a mile and was extremely overweight is something I’m very proud of.  I think 5 or 6 of the top finishers are pro runners and 12th place among 535 starters is not too shabby.  

Done

Done and done!

The other interesting thing about this whole adventure was the fact that I had to take 6 weeks off from running in the middle of my training.  I returned to running with less than 8 weeks until the race.  I’m still trying to distill what that meant.  The best I can guess is that the power-walking helped my base fitness, the lower volume weeks kept me from overtraining, and when I came back from running I was very focused on trying to maximize my training days while making sure to build in true rest days around my long training runs.

Success

We did it!

So that’s my long winded report…for those that stuck with it until the end, you have a taste of the patience it takes to run an ultra.  I want to give a big thanks to Justin and Candice for giving my wife a slice of your popup tent during the race.  Another big thanks goes to my family for putting up with my craziness and for supporting me.  My friends were very encouraging leading up to and during the race.  The race director, staff, and volunteers were awesome.  Yet the biggest thanks has to go to my wife, crew, running mate, best friend, and superhero Karina.  None of this ever happens without her.  She has a special gift of bringing the best out of me despite my crazy ways and stubbornness.

Buckle

Sub 24 hour buckle.

Lap 1 – 35.9km/22.3mi – 3:18 – 5:33min/km – 24th place
Lap 2 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:18 – 6:17min/km – 23rd place
Lap 3 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:43 – 7:09min/km – 19th place
Lap 4 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 4:15 – 8:11min/km – 18th place
Lap 5 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:37 – 6:58min/km – 12th place
Total – 161.1km/100.1mi – 18:12 – 6:47min/km 10:55min/mi – 12th place

Race Accomplishments:
100 mile PR – 18:12
100 km PR – 10:48
50 mi PR – 8:23
50 km PR – 4:47

 

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Five Years a Runner

keysLeave it to me to forget the anniversary marking five years as a dedicated runner–June 1, 2017.  If you know me or have read some of my backstory on this blog, you’ll know that this whole thing started back in June 2012 when I challenged myself to 30 days of running.  I never could run more than 2 or 3 days in a week without injuring myself prior to this challenge.  Short version is that I researched run streakers and websites about getting into running regularly.  I needed to run slow as possible (lose the ego) and keep the distance low.  I’m good at following a plan and after a month, I was hooked.

Over the past five years, I have had incredible experiences, highs, lows, and have learned a lot about myself and abilities–not just on an athletic level.  I have met plenty of incredibly nice and wonderful people.  From running 5-10km at a time to finishing 8th at the Keys 100 miler in 2015, it seems as if I have packed a lifetime of experience on the roads and trails in just five years.

It has not been easy and I think there has been at least four separate times where my training has gotten off kilter or out of focus but I never quit.  Today I am with a renewed focus and know that I will continue to put one foot in front of the other for as long as my body permits.  I am a better person because of running.  It grounds me, makes me happier, gives me a stronger sense of confidence while providing me the ability to roll with the ups and downs in life.  It is cliché but one truly experiences life in a day when running ultra distances.

Finally, I am grateful that my wife and daughters support me and my crazy passion for a sport that such a small percentage of the world participates.  Next on the horizon: an even stronger five years to come.

43 for 43

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Since becoming a dedicated runner, I’ve tried incorporating a long run around my age.  Back in 2014, I ran 39 miles for my 4 country run starting in Belgium, traversing Luxembourg, touching briefly into France, and ending in Germany.  This year, I set out to complete 42 km for my 42nd birthday but ended up doing 43 km.  I justified the “43” since technically your birthday is the first day of the next year and the birthday means you have completed that many years.  It is all semantics, I know.

WARNING: This is more of a stream of consciousness type post.  While I would like all my articles to be top notch, I figured that I will sacrifice quality at this point to try to build the routine of daily writing.  Hopefully, over time they will improve.

43kI set out on this run to just enjoy it.  I had no preconceived notions of total time, pace, or expectations other than reflection.  My GPS watch was set only to show me my cadence (for those non-runners, that calculates the amount of steps I take per minute).  Too often I find myself in the never ending loop of checking my watch for my speed, how far I have gone, or how far I have to go.  If I am in a particularly low moment in a run, it can actually make the run drag even longer if I keep looking at the kilometers tick by.

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After seeing my daughters off to school, I took off with good lineup of music in the playlist and a smile on my face.  My journey was to take me all around the western part of Mexico City.  The “fun” part of running in this section is that is quite hilly.  For the most part you are either going up or down.

The last time I ran this distance was in March for the Marathon Before Work Challenge that Fast Corey created.  Since then, my training has been haphazard due to family obligations, random life things, but more importantly I lost focus of my fine tuned dedication I normally have.  In my mind this run was a re-confirmation to my movement forward physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In fact, it was my 14th consecutive day running.  For those that don’t know, I like the concept of run streaking to get things going in the right direction.  If there is no choice as to whether I am running or not, it makes it a done deal.  After 3 weeks, habits are formed and it becomes second nature.Back to the run…  It was a cool but humid morning.  In the beginning, I did some out and backs to pad the overall distance to the big loop I was running.  The first 30% of the run would have 70% of the elevation gain–over 1000 meters/3300 feet.  On one particular part, I took a road in which I was unfamiliar.  Much to my chagrin, I quickly found that it was much more downhill than I anticipated.  As I continued to descend, I had this feeling that I was going further and further into elevation debt because I had to back track to the overall loop.  In the end, I decided that the uphills are what I need to get my fitness back to top notch so I forced the smile back on the face and went into diesel engine mode as I came back to the loop.43k - 3Shortly after that section I reached the peak of this run.  From that point I felt more relaxed and was able to hit cruise control for a while.  An interesting challenge during this run was all of the chatter coming across my phone because of my birthday.  As a technology geek, I have my GPS watch tied to my phone which would chime/buzz every time another birthday wish would come across.  On top of that, I had a family member in the hospital who I was trying to keep tabs on via text messages.  Then there were some phone calls coming in as well.  All of this caused many stops and starts.  Rather than get frustrated (which can happen to me easily) I remembered that there was no time limit on this run and to just enjoy.  Once I let go of any ideas of how I needed to do this run, I was not bothered by the interruptions.  I definitely need to remember this frame of mind going forward.43k - 4When I run 4 hours or more, I like to carry water and some sort of food.  I used a 3 liter hydration pack for water and brought some Huma chia gels along with some mini Larabars.  I have learned that when you are training for an ultramarathon, it is not just the running that you need to train.  You need to train with your equipment and train your stomach for the food options you will use in the race.  It is much better to find out that a hydration pack or type of food causes you big problems during a practice run then to have race day emergencies or melt downs.  This run was almost perfect in terms of water and food.  My only changes would be to eat about 15% more and to restock the water in the last hour.  I ran out of water with about 30 minutes to go.  Luckily the temperature in Mexico City is quite mild so I can handle it.43k - 5Another point of focus to help enhance my enjoyment of the special day was to take photos.  I love photography but am always too caught up in the moment to stop and take photos for good memories.  Today would be different and as you can see by this post, I was able to capture much of the scenery of the run.  Now that it is completed, I am content that I forced myself to stop often for the snapshots.43k - 6When I crossed the 3 hour mark, I could feel some flagging and fatigue setting in.  My previous experience with many long runs is that I know I have the capability to keep on trucking when I feel tired.  I think I did that for about 15 hours when I ran my first 100 miler.  The tough part is when I started flagging, I was almost at the lowest elevation on this run–meaning I had about and hour of straight uphill to contend with to complete the journey.  Let the mind games begin!!43k - 7Once I hit the final major uphill, I committed to myself I would just downshift to a low gear but keep the wheels turning over.  I knew I would persevere if I just let it come to me and not worry about how long the hill was.  Just relax and go with it… At the summit I had a quick decent through a neighborhood of winding streets.  I could hear my feet slapping the ground quite violently which meant my form was deteriorating.  Eventually I made it to the final huge albeit short climb.  Slowly but surely I made it up while definitely redlining.  From that point I cruised to my make shift finish line and with that, the run was over. 43k - 8 This run instilled and reminded me of a few things:

  • Relax while running
  • Focus on the next step and the rest will work itself out
  • Keep on smiling–it makes you feel good
  • When tired, remember your form
  • I still need a lot of training for 100 miler in October
  • Life is good when you are committed to making it good

 

Challenge Accepted

challenge

It’s remarkable what a random challenge can do for one’s motivation.  Earlier this week Cory Reese of the Fast Cory blog and of the fabulous book “Nowhere Near First” issued a challenge to those that friends with him on Facebook to run a “Before Work Marathon”.  In his challenge he also declared it a popup contest over a seven day span to win a pair of Altra running shoes.  For me, the added bonus of Altra shoes is AWESOME since I pretty much run exclusively in their various models due to their amazing toe box configuration and because I find the zero drop style of the shoe very helpful for the health of my body with miles and miles I log.

Cory posted the challenge on March 14th but I really didn’t want to wait around so I quickly started plotting when I could do this.  I also figured since I don’t work on Saturday and Sunday I would honor the challenge by only doing an early morning run prior to actual work.  This is where it gets interesting:  I have a family with three young daughters who all need to get ready in the morning for school.  Part of the balancing act my wife and I do is for her to get her gym time and/or running before she goes to work every morning.  She usually gets out of the house around 5:30am.  This means I needed to get this run done and be back in the house before she would leave.  On top of that, I felt like it really didn’t honor the challenge if I just did it the night before.  In my mind, I needed to go to sleep, get up, do the marathon, clean up, and go to work.  My calculations meant I would get up at midnight and get on the road before 1am.

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About to start

I got on the road at around at 12:38am.  What was going through my mind at this point was a) this will be fun, b) I hope I don’t encounter too many drunk people/drivers, and c) how is my body going to react considering I just did a 60km run six days earlier?  The excitement of this nutty adventure propelled me quite well for the first 10km.  Learning from the end of the 60km run, I planned this route not to end on a long uphill.  So I started on a big uphill to begin the run.  Where I live in Mexico City, you either go up or you go down– there’s no flat running to be had.  After about 11km, reality quickly set in that I still had over three hours remaining on this run and it was only coming up on 2am.  I got a bit demoralized and definitely started doubting why I did this to myself.  It was almost like I fast-forwarded to the later stages of an ultramarathon.  I knew the feeling all too well and had experienced it at the 50 mile mark in my first 100 miler and also 4-5 hours into my first trail ultra.  I think I remember reading in one of Dean Karnazes’ books that he recommended as preparation for an ultra to wake up in the middle of the night and train just to get you in that state where you aren’t well rested (like in an ultra) and to acclimatize you to running in the wee hours of the night/morning before sunrise.

Once I made up another large hill and to a gentle downhill section, my energy picked up again along with my enjoyment.  I was relishing the fact that I was knocking out a good long run while most of the city was fast asleep.  I also was laughing to myself of how such a random, spontaneous thing could get me out on the streets in the middle of the night.  As my wife mentions from time to time, I do like to challenge myself with crazy things.

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CDMX at Night

Around the halfway point of the run, I started up a long uphill section that really sucked my energy in my 60km run.  I took a peak at my watch and noticed that I was going considerably slower than I did on that run, too.  This caused me to start getting into an internal debate regarding my speed.  Publicly, I have been repeating that I am just going by feel during these runs and that I’m not trying to push hard.  The idea being that I enjoy running every day and do not want risk injuring myself.  I’ve seen big gains in my endurance and fitness following this method.  However, the competitive side of my was thinking, “What’s up with you dude??!!  You are being lazy and taking it too easy.” The internal response was, “Don’t forget you just ran 60km only six days before.” This back and forth went on for quite a while but finally I reached a conclusion, “What does it matter?  I’m only doing this for me.  There is no race.  I feel good.  I’ve avoided injury thus far and if this is what my body wants right now then that’s what it’s going to do!!”

After all the internal dialogue, I reached a point in the run where I needed to reference the map on my phone.  I know the neighborhoods where I run very well in Mexico City but because of the length of the run and the fact that I didn’t want to be on any major roads, I needed to do some zigzagging.  A pit stop was just what the doctor ordered and I used it to also eat a little bit more, top up the water, and focus on what remained.  Visualizing the rest of the run showed me there would be three more major climbs to accomplish.  I was about to begin the first one.  Onward I pushed.

It took a good 5-6 months for me to be able to “run” the hills in Mexico City.  Since I had been living in the completely flat city of Merida for the past two years, I had to walk almost all the major hills when I arrived last summer.  Around January or February, I finally had built the strength to run the major uphills.  After knocking out one of the remaining three major climbs, I dropped down into a valley that would begin my homestretch also known as the last 12km of the adventure.

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The moon keeping company

This section was the worst of the remaining climbs including 267m of elevation gain over 8km including 179m in just 3km.  I was dreading it as it drew near but then something else popped into my head, I had never run this stretch with no walking/hiking breaks.  This would be my first attempt to run it straight.  I put my head down and envisioned my inner diesel engine.  It was rough but I did it.  When I got to the top of the tough 3km section, I felt a weird sort of excitement knowing that I finally did something I couldn’t do before.  It’s those little things that make me happy and keep me going.

After all that climbing was done, I got to enjoy about 3km of downhill and it felt great.  I did one more quick climb knowing I had it literally all downhill from there.  The joy of finishing this spontaneous challenge helped me push hard down the hill to the end of the run.  When I checked the numbers, I actually ran this section faster than I did at the beginning of the run.  Go figure that after 40km I could muster the energy to run faster than the beginning.

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Challenge completed

There it is…I am now part of the group that accepted and accomplished Cory’s challenge.  I’m quite happy that this random event popped up because it helped shake things up for me.   Some of the traps of constant training are routine and boredom.  I am always looking for ways to infuse more fun into my runs and this did it.

As a parting note and for those of you unfamiliar with Cory Reese, I highly recommend you read about him.  I do not know him personally (only through his blog, book, and Facebook) but he seems like a remarkable person.  From everything I’ve gathered, he is great father and husband, a genuine friend to everyone, a gifted photographer, and all around cool guy.  His positive, humorous outlook on life and how to make the best of it are things in which we all can use.

strava

The Art of Sharing

This past weekend I had the honor of running with a good friend of mine when he attempted his first ultra-distance — a 60km run (36 miles).  My buddy had run several marathons in the past but since we met around a year ago, I’ve been planting the seed for ultramarathons with him.  A little less than two months ago, after he finished a marathon, I challenged him to do this run with me.  I encouraged him and said that he would definitely succeed and would enjoy the experience.  He said let’s do it!

Fast forward to last Friday.  After work, I prepared my house as our aid station to pass by every 20km.  I had plenty of Hüma Chia Gels, Hammer Gels, Justin’s Nut Butters, Tailwind, Succeed Amino, Succeed S! Caps, hummus, and other snacks as well as a ton of water.  I had a blister kit, Trail Toes cream, and other aid station staples.  I mapped out three 20km loops around the city of Merida, Mexico.  I told him to bring extra shoes, socks, shirts, and anything else he might want to change during the run.

Getting ready to start.

Getting ready to start.

Around 6pm he showed up and by 6:30pm we were off and running.  My goal for the first 20km was to slow him down and keep us at a reasonable pace.  I use a heart rate monitor so I used that to judge our effort.  Luckily for us the weather cooled a bit–but don’t misunderstand me–it was still around 86-88°F/30-31°C with substantial humidity.  It was just cooler for us because of how hot Merida normally is.  Things were pretty easy going and as we passed by a little village, we actually found a dog that had run with us for around 5-6km a week earlier.  The dog recognized us and even paused to consider running again but thought better of it.  I think we wore him out the last time.  At around the 40 minute mark, I got my friend started on his eating regiment.  It was one of my goals to show him how important calorie intake will be during this adventure.  He had experienced problems around the 35-38km mark in past runs where he completely ran out of energy.  We made it back to the house a little over 2 hours later and started our refueling.

20km in the books, 40km to go.

20km in the books, 40km to go.

When we set out for lap 2, it was dark.  I knew this is where things will start to get a little rougher.  We plowed through the first 10km without problems but I noticed that oddly enough the temperature in the city was rising and the air was getting more stagnant.  This added to the challenge.  I was trying to keep tabs on my friend’s rhythm, pace, and breathing to notice any changes or struggling.  Right around the time we passed the halfway mark, I could tell things were getting tougher for the both of us.  At 35km, I had gone through my water bottle and my other bottle that had tailwind mixed with water.  I was sweating profusely and my legs had definitely lost their spring.  When I had to jump up and down on curbs and sidewalks, it was definitely more of a challenge.  Shortly thereafter, my friend let me know his knees were starting to really bother him so I suggested us do some intervals of 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking.  We used this change of pace to stop by a store and get some more water.  Funny enough, when we walked out of the store, we encountered another runner I had met a few weeks earlier who was also out for a long run that night.  It is a very cool bond runners have.

Merida runners unite.

Merida runners unite.

After chatting with the runners for a couple minutes, we headed off for our remaining 5km to the house.  This was definitely the challenging moment of the night for my buddy.  He was experiencing that low feeling that one encounters multiple times during an ultra.  I decided my goal was to try to motivate him, cheer him up, and see him through the woods so to speak.  I assumed the role of the pacer to the racer in an ultramarathon.  We continued our 5/1 intervals and about 1.5km from the house we gutted it out to finish loop 2.

40km done but we still have 20km to go.

40km done but we still have 20km to go.

Upon reaching our aid station aka my house, my buddy dropped to the floor.  He was definitely suffering but was also trying to recuperate.  I found a Hüma Chia gel with double caffeine to boost him out of his hole.  I made him drink more water and take an S!Cap to help with electrolyte loss.  While he was laying on the ground, he asked if we could alter our final 20km and do two 10km loops.  Great idea, I thought.  This way it was mentally more paletable and he could pass by our aid station once more.   I could definitely see where going out for a 10km run is a lot easier to think about than going out for a 20km.  He eats 10km for breakfast.  After 40km and nearly 5 hours on his feet, another 10km shouldn’t be too bad.  After about 15 minutes or so, we headed out for our next loop.

Sometimes you just need to lie down.

Sometimes you just need to lie down.

Something amazing happened during our run between the 40-50km mark, my friend started to rebound.  He no longer needed intervals and was running with a rejuvenated spirit.  It was exactly what I was hoping would happen.  This is quite customary during ultra distances.  If you can just get past the dark moments, you will experience comebacks that you thought were impossible.  We ended up running about 8km and then walked for about a half of a km and then ran the remainder.  That loop was much easier than the last one.  We refueled, stretched a bit, and headed out for the last loop.

Limbering up for the final part of the run.

Limbering up for the final part of the run.

The last loop is where I started to feel some of the fatigue setting in but I wanted to stay strong for my friend.  As we wound our way though a nearby neighborhood our conversation picked up quite a bit more and I shared some of my experiences of similar runs.  We did one more walk break of about 5 minutes at the 55km mark and then pushed the effort to get home.  I started experiencing some gastrointestinal issues, I guess because of some of the experimenting with different food combinations.  Like the experts say, training runs are the time to experiment and not the race.  It was nip and tuck to see if I could make it home with out having to find an “emergency” bathroom but around 7 hours after setting out on our adventure, we made it!

We did it!  60km in the books.

We did it! 60km in the books.

The aftermath of the run was a moment of joy I had not experienced before and the reason I’m writing this post.  To hear the sense of accomplishment in my friend’s voice brought a huge smile to my face.  He kept repeating over and over, “60 kilometers, 60 kilometers”.  My best guess is that he was happy, amazed, proud, and exhausted all at the same time.  This moment was the reason why I challenged him to this run–I knew he would love it and knew he could do it.  I wanted to provide for him what I didn’t have when I first got into ultrarunning:  a person to share it with and a person to learn from.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the path I have followed to arrive to this point but it would have been a lot easier to do some of my first ultra-distance runs with an experienced person to help push me through.  That night adds to the many reasons why I love to run.

This is where we ran.

This is where we ran.

Three Years Running

3 years

Three years of dedication adds up.

Some of you know my story but most do not.  On June 1st, 2012, I decided that I was going to challenge myself to a run streak of 30 days.  It wasn’t going to be complicated.  I just needed to run 30 minutes or 5km for the entire month of June.  At the time I was still overweight and had been battling to continue my weight reduction.  Some six years prior to that I was at the most unhealthy point of my life and was tipping the scale at 225lbs (102kg).  Keep in mind I’m only 5’8″ (173cm).  During those 30 days, some sort of miracle took place–I became a runner.  The seed was planted and for the first time in my life I figured out how to run regularly without hurting myself.

During the first year of being a dedicated runner:

In my second year, I didn’t start very strong.  I had a light June and July of 2013 and found myself adrift in my training schedule as the year progressed.  By December I realized that I needed to focus on a goal of sorts.  Looking back on what made me successful in my first year, I decided to try a running streak again for the month of January.  During that streak, I set my sights on a distance farther than 50km–a run across the entire country of Luxembourg (63km/39mi).  I picked that my route to give me a distance of 39 miles.  I wanted to run 39 miles before my 39th birthday.  After 4 months of dedicated training, including some cycling, I successfully ran from Petange, Belgium to the German border next Remich, Luxembourg.  While I was very proud of that run, my second year of being a runner wasn’t as focused as I would have liked.  That gave me some real motivation for year three.

In year three, I feel like I finally was able realize some of my potential through dedicated training.  There were many new firsts and achievements that made me proud and gave me a feeling of accomplishment.  Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Ran my first race of my life – Keys 100 – 100 miles in 20:28.
  • Ran my first 100 km distance from Olney, MD to Georgetown, Washington, DC and back.
  • Ten runs of a marathon distance or more.
  • Three 50km runs in the month of December.
  • 5153 km / 3202 mi run in total.

3 years summaryAs I look back on these three years of progress, I am shocked by the numbers because it doesn’t seem like I could have done all that running.  However, the years have taught me many life lessons and one in particular–no distance is insurmountable, you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and never stop.  I am fully aware that my accomplishments pale in comparison to many runners out there but accomplishments are not the primary reason why I run.  I run because it is who I am.  I run because I feel alive.  I run because it connects me with life.

Most importantly I also know that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have ever been possible without the support and belief from my wife.  Knowing that she is there at ever step, either physically or emotionally, keeps me going.  I love you Karina!

My wife and I on a run in Heidelberg, Germany.

My wife and I on a run in Heidelberg, Germany.