Wednesday, October 28, 2015

MCM Race Report: Crowded, but with Impressive Crowd Support

The Marine Corps Marathon has a lottery and when I (and Lisa) registered for the lottery several months ago we weren't sure how difficult it would be to get into the race so we registered without considering what other races, if any, might conflict with race weekend.  (Apparently it isn't *too* difficult because everyone we knew who registered for the lottery got into the race.)  Lisa didn't have any conflicts but the MCM marathon, held on Sunday, October 25, was held five weeks after the Run Rabbit Run 100 so I wasn't sure how I would feel but I figured I would feel good enough to give it a go.  

Even though the race started at 7:55am the race instructions recommended getting to the runners village (race corral) TWO hours in advance -- we thought that was a bit excessive since it was forecast to rain in the morning -- so we arrived at the nearest metro station about 7am with, we thought, plenty of time to get through security and walk over to the start line.  Turns out we were terribly mistaken.  By the time we made it through security -- not much of a security protocol but enough to cause a bottleneck and slow the progress of thousands of runners -- the race had already started so we headed straight to the starting area and set off as soon as we crossed the starting mat (~20 minutes after the official start). 

There were 30,000+ runners in this race so running elbow-to-elbow while trying to pass but not cut-off other runners was a real challenge for the first 10 miles.  If we had shown up at the start area the recommended two hours before the start time we could have positioned ourselves in the appropriate corral and run with others at about the same pace as us but since we were late and the start had become a free-for-all, the range of paces varied dramatically.  Flagship marathons in large cities like DC are bound to be crowded but MCM is unreal, although with a large field of runners comes an atmosphere that a smaller marathon just cannot match.  

Since Lisa and I live and train in DC there wasn't much of the course that we weren't familiar with although running on the road, versus the sidewalk, was a novelty.  The blue mile -- a mile featuring the faces of fallen soldiers -- was a somber reminder of the very real costs of war.  Running this stretch definitely put what I was doing in that moment -- running a marathon?!? -- into perspective.  Aside from that (appropriately) quiet stretch of the course, the crowd support and enthusiasm were unlike anything I've experienced in a race.  It was impressive, inspiring, and distracting (in a good way).  

I crossed the finish line in 4h:17m:15s with Lisa one second behind -- I was hoping we would finish closer to four hours -- but we both felt relatively decent for much of the race and Lisa ran a marathon PR so I can't complain.  We were both happy we ran this race and would recommend it to anyone who hasn't run it before but I doubt we would do it again:  there are just too many marathons in great cities to justify running MCM again.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Run Rabbit Run 100++ Mile Race Report: Pickles, Whiskey, and a Moose

Lisa and I pre-race
This is a fun race.  Granted, running/hiking/walking 100 miles non-stop may not be "fun" per se, but the mountain town, course scenery, and festive atmosphere of this race all converge into something that is challenging (but not insurmountable), well-organized, spectator-friendly, and, above all, rewarding.

The race began on Friday, September 18th in Steamboat Springs, Colorado so Lisa and I flew into Denver on Tuesday, stayed with some friends that night then drove up to Steamboat on Wednesday afternoon.  The race briefing was on Thursday afternoon so Lisa and I mostly hung out with our friends, Lisa's dad & his girlfriend, and just laid low.  The race briefing featured all the usual warnings and disclaimers:  the race is difficult so be prepared, it gets cold at night so dress warmly, beware wildlife so don't do anything stupid in the presence of a bear or moose, and treat our volunteers and course with respect otherwise you'll never be invited back.  When the briefing finally ended (it ran a bit late) we retreated to a local restaurant in the local Holiday Inn (where the race director was also dining!) for pizza and *a* beer.  After returning to the condo I made a few last minute preparations, showered, then went to bed on the early side so I could bank some sleep since I wouldn't be getting any on Friday night.  



Looking back down into Steamboat Springs
The race start was a reasonable 8am but racers were expected at the race staging area at least 30 minutes prior for check-in.  I made one final bathroom stop, took a few photos, then wandered out to the start line to overcast skies and light drizzle.  The weather forecast called for light rain through the morning but the afternoon and all of Saturday were shaping up to be clear and beautiful (yippee!).  Like most of my races, I was a bit nervous at the start but after months of preparation, committed and careful training, and the consistent support of Lisa, I just wanted to set off.  

The first ~5 miles of the course feature approximately 3,500' of climbing with the first two miles straight up a black-diamond ski hill.  It was steep, slow, occasionally muddy, and a great way to warm up.  The spectators, however, could take the gondola to the top of the ski run so when I crested the top Lisa and the rest of my group were waiting and encouraging me with "Two miles down!  Only...oh, never mind, keep going!". The next few miles were on dirt service road where it was relatively easy to fall into a comfortable pace and allow the gravity of the task ahead to settle in, but not overwhelm.  One-hundred miles is a long way (regardless of what Karl Meltzer says) and keeping things in perspective, calming my nerves, and settling into a groove were top priorities for me at this point.     

Approaching the top of the ski run
There were fifteen aid stations although some of the stations we hit more than once and not all the aid stations provided full aid.  When I arrived at Olympian Hall (mile 20.9) just over five hours had elapsed and I felt pretty good.  Aside from an almost-fall nearly resulting in a hyper-extension of my right knee I was moving well and my hips, knees, and feet were holding up well.  When I saw Lisa I wrapped my VooDoo Band around each thigh, did a few squats, stretched a bit, ate a bunch of fruit & some dill pickles, then set out for Cow Creek.  I wasn't sure if the aid stations would have dill pickles on offer so Lisa had a jar on hand but much to my good fortune, almost every aid station had pickles available.  I was introduced to the wonders of pickle juice at the Beaverhead Endurance Run 100k in July and although I only drank straight pickle juice at one point during Run Rabbit Run, I ate some dill pickles at nearly every aid station.  Needless to say, I think I consumed more than enough sodium (and then some) to replace the salt I was losing.
Ridge-running between Olympian Hall and Cow Creek
The loop to Cow Creek then back to Olympian Hall featured some of the most beautiful and runnable single track on the course.  The sky was epic blue, it was warm but not stifling so, and there were great views to be had.  When I finally returned to Olympian Hall I again used the VooDoo Band to compress my quads to alleviate some of the soreness and fatigue settling in, chatted with Lisa and the rest of my crew, grabbed some food that was more on the substantial side (egg sandwich) then set off on the long climb back to Long Lake.  
Selfie at dusk

The race directors emphasized how cold it can get at night -- this is apparently the #1 reason for DNF'ing -- so I was a bit concerned about, first, dressing warmly enough and, two, the problems and challenges that crop up with running at night.  Somewhat to my surprise, though, I was moving well and I was in a good place mentally.  When I arrived at Long Lake around 10pm it looked and sounded like an outdoor club.  There was a fire roaring, the aid station volunteers were serving up soup and they had a few liquors on hand to really liven up the mood.  One of the aid station volunteers (Jenn Shelton?!?) offered me some Mezcal -- I declined -- but when I saw the High West Rendezvous Rye I couldn't resist.  Nothing warms the body quite like a spicy whiskey!

The next several hours were a foggy blur but I kept on.  On the return climb from Spring Creek Ponds back to Dry Lake I started to feel really tired, had trouble focusing on the terrain in front of me, and even thought I saw one of my cats lingering in the bushes as I passed by. Needless to say, I was happy to return to Dry Lake where Lisa was waiting and she would join me for the rest of the race.  


After resting for a few minutes, refueling, and steeling myself for the next 30+ miles Lisa and I set off in the pre-dawn darkness.  The next 16sh miles are a gentle and undulating uphill and although the terrain is runnable I wasn't, unfortunately, doing much running at this point.  Covering 70+ miles had taken its toll.  
Feeling a bit more energetic with the sunrise
A couple of miles from Long Lake (mile 87?) Lisa and I were trudging along some wooded double track and Lisa suddenly stopped -- she was leading -- and pointed up ahead toward a moose that seemed too large, and close, to be real.  But he was.  And he was crazy close to us.  I handed Lisa my phone -- I was too tired to bother fiddling with the camera -- and she immediately snapped a photo.  Unsure what to do (aside from not doing something stupid), we stepped off the trail to our left, the moose stepped to his left (our right), and we each went on our merry way.  It was surreal.  
Moose have a reputation for being ornery but this guy seemed like he was in a good mood
When we arrived at Long Lake (mile ~90) it was ~11:30am and the long climb was behind us.  The next aid station (Mount Werner) was ~7 miles away over rolling terrain.  While I waited for Lisa to change out of her cold-weather clothing I snacked on some fruit and took the aid station volunteer up on his offer to make me a spicy Bloody Mary with vodka (why not?).  Although I was quite pleased with how well my body had been holding up it was starting to (painfully) object.  My knees were getting creaky and I was experiencing a new pain in my left foot.  I had taken several Ibuprofen in the last 27 hours and it was unlikely more would help so I just soldiered on.  

The Mount Werner aid station featured minimal aid -- I quickly downed some Coke -- because it is the last aid station and the final ~6 miles to the finish are all downhill.  I mistakenly thought I would be able to run this stretch but the best I could muster was a clumsy shuffle.  It was a long 6.5 miles but after 1 hour and 45 minutes the finish line came into view and I ran it in with Lisa alongside.  I crossed the finish line at 3:36pm on Saturday, September 19th:  31h:36m:37s after I began, covering 102.9 (official) miles with 20,191' of ascent and 20,191' of descent.  (I wasn't wearing a GPS but one runner I chatted with told me his GPS from the previous year put the course mileage at somewhere between 107-108 miles and this year's winner also claimed his GPS pegged the distance at around 107 miles.)  Among the tortoises,of which I was one, I was 49th among 108 finishers with 178 runners starting the race.   
Run 100+ miles for a belt buckle and beer stein?  Giddyup!
Run Rabbit Run is a great race.  Organizing this race must be a mammoth undertaking and the race directors did an impressive job.  The aid station volunteers were always helpful, cheerful, and ready with tasty ultra grub (who would have thought mashed potatoes mixed with broth would taste so good?!?).  And to those who doubled as bartenders, special thanks for keeping this a sport inhabited by lunatics. 

One-hundred miles is a shit ton of miles and going the distance would have been even more difficult without the support -- both during and the months leading up to the race -- of my crew-extraordinaire and wife, Lisa.  You're the best.