Monday, February 5, 2018

Sean O'Brien 100km Race Report

Race Report: Sean O'Brien 100k is one tough course that was made even tougher by the SoCal hot weather (high of 86F). My training for this race wasn't optimal - the smoke from Thomas fire in December forced me to curtail my mileage for several weeks. In addition to the fires, my hamstrings went through some "turbulent times" through out the training cycle, which started at the end of October after the Ventura Marathon. The good thing is that I know exactly what I need to do to keep my hamstring issues under control (lots of lunges, squats, and core work).

Sadie really wanted to run this race with me!
Climb, climb, climb!
Heating up out there.

The GOOD: In spite of this being my slowest 100km race ever, I am happy about many things that went well. My nutrition was super solid the whole day. I made a concerted effort to eat real food at every aid station (lesson learned from NOT doing that at AC100 in August). Real food supplemented with simple carbs (sports drink and chews/gels) kept my brain in the game all day long and I was able to keep a positive mindset all day in spite of the legs not being super cooperative. Heat: while it was hot for February, I felt that I was able to manage it well with the ice bandana and even though the exposed climbs in the middle of race were pretty miserable, the heat never got me to a point where the digestive system turned off. Hydration went well and I was able to keep the fluids running through me all day long. FEET: in spite of a stream crossing at mile 2, I had zero hot spots all day long (low humidity helped dry them out fairly quickly). Hamstrings: my hamstrings stayed healthy all day (thanks to a steady diet of lunges during the month January).
Sunset and heading downhill to the finish!

The BAD: I totally underestimated the difficulty of this course, especially the first 50k (over 8k feet of climbing in 1st 50k!). Given what I knew about my training leading up to the race, I should have ran the first 50km much more conservatively. Oops! This course will chew you up and spit you out if you aren't conservative early on, especially on a hot day. The final good thing about this race was that I got my 2019 Western States 100 qualifier out of the way!

The UGLY: At around mile 27 my left calf started cramping on me. This was the first sign that I had gone out too fast. The only time I cramp is when I go out too fast! Fortunately, I was prepared for cramps and took my HotShot anti-cramp juice and was able to keep the cramps at bay the rest of the day.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Happy HURT 100 Race Report - 13th Place

The 2016 edition of the Hawaii Ultra Running Team 100 Mile Endurance run was held January 16-17. As my first 100 mile race, I was a bit fearful of the unknown beyond 62 miles and 14 hours. I didn't know how the body or the mind would hold up as I continued beyond the "knowns" of the 100km distance. I'll take you through my race by going over the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thankfully, there was mostly happy goodness for the entire 100 miles.

The Good

-Training. Combining a solid strength regime with a moderate amount of mileage and ample hills was key to a successful HURT. Just getting this 41-year old body to the starting line healthy can be a challenge when you are pushing yourself hard in training. The twice weekly DumBell Fitness workouts helped give me the resilience to train hard without injury. Additionally, being able to train on the HURT course definitely helped!

-Positive Mindset. I get serious joy out of running on trails and being around others who share my passion. It is hard to explain, but I had this feeling of inner peace during the entire race. I tried to keep a smile on my face as much as possible, especially at times when I was feeling whipped. I tried to focus on the tasks at hand and not get ahead of myself by thinking overwhelming thoughts about how many miles were left. My focus was always near-term and involved thoughts along the lines of not tripping and falling, getting to the top of a climb, staying hydrated and fueled, or making it to the next aid station to efficiently and quickly take care of whatever needs I had at that point in the race. I went into this race knowing that I had one of the best training cycles of my life and felt incredibly prepared for this challenge. I wasn't going to let negative thoughts get in the way of race day success. I did have some very fleeting self-doubt early in the race, but it did not last long (see "The Bad" section below).

-Race Plan. My basic race plan was to not go out too hard and to run as even as possible. The primary goal was to just finish the race and get my first 100 mile belt buckle. Even though I was able to run the course during training, I never ran more than 25 miles on the course during any given training session. So gauging what kind of finish time was in the realm of the possible for me was hard to do. I wrote down pacing plans for finish times between 27 and 30 hours. I know from experience that if you get too fixated on a set finish time for a race course and distance you've never run, it can get you into trouble. I mostly tried, and I think succeeded, in running by level of effort or "feel."

-Race Execution.  I really tried to take it easy early in the race and just gauge my efforts based on my breathing. I wanted to run the first two loops (40 miles) somewhere in the range of 10 to 10.5 hours. I didn't run the first 2 loops very even (4:41 and 5:24), but I hit the faster end of my target in 10:05. I knew that loops 3, 4, and 5 would be progressively slower due to darkness and fatigue. I ended up slowing down as expected with loop 3 (60 mi), 4 (80 mi), and 5 (100 mi) splits of 6:06, 6:37, and 6:17. My finish time was 29 hours and 5 minutes. I was very happy to break 30 hours on the HURT course! Here is a breakdown of my aid station-to-aid station splits:

Although, the above post-race analysis and splits are interesting and will be useful to gauge future efforts at HURT 100, I really tried not to focus on split times throughout the bulk of the race. It wasn't until mile 87, after leaving Paradise Park (Manoa) for the 5th time, that I actually started thinking about what finish time I was on track to hit. After 87 miles the math part of my brain wasn't working too well, so I asked my pacer, Sam Reed, if he thought sub-30 hours was possible. I think he said something like "it's going to be close, so we better keep moving." I asked him again at mile 93 and he pretty much said the same thing. However, the math section of my brain had re-activated itself and I realized I had 3 hours to cover the final 7 miles. I smiled and said to Sam, "I got this!" At the top of Nuuanu at Bien's Bench I told Sam I would lead the rest of the way to the finish. I ended up covering the last 7 miles of the course in just over 2 hours.

-Crew/Pacers.  I could not have asked for better crew and pacers. Tom Steidler and Sam Reed both volunteered at the Manoa Pirates of Paradise Aid Station from 0500 to 1200 and then both crewed and paced me until I finished the race. Their positive attitudes, advice, expert assistance, and company during the night loops made the race a truly enjoyable experience.

Sam Reed (l) pacing me into Manoa (Pirates of Paradise) on loop 5. (Photo Credit: Kalani Pascual).

-Ohana. The HURT Ohana (or "family") is a unique, close knit group of runners and volunteers. After being part of this family for the past 3 years, I have come to feel at home when on the trails. I knew at least 5 people at each aid station and it was like coming home to an all-you-can-eat family style buffet each time! In addition to the local friends that greeted me at the aid stations and on the trail throughout the race, I made a ton of new friends through both the participants and volunteers.

-Mental Focus. I never once felt sleepy or overly fatigued throughout the race. I think this was mainly because I was able to stay on top of nutrition throughout the whole race. Also, having my pacers on the night loops was a huge help.

This is what mental focus looks like after 67 miles. I think the crazy eyes helped ward off any nighttime demons! (Photo credit: Jen McVeay)

-No falls! I think the drier course was definitely a significant factor in staying upright during the race. During two of my training runs when the course was muddy and wet, I took 3 really good falls, so falling was something I really wanted to avoid. I think the mental focus mentioned above was critical in keeping my mind from wandering too far from the tasks at hand and when the mind wanders too much sometimes the roots and rocks will jump up and get you!

-Nutrition and Hydration. I ingested a wide variety of foods and drinks during the race. My principal on-trail nutrition consisted of Tailwind Nutrition carb/electrolyte drink, Honey Stinger Chews, Cliff Bloks, Cliff Shot gels, and Gin-Gin Spicy Apple candies. Hydration was accomplished by carrying one bottle of Tailwind and one bottle of water between aid stations. In the aid stations I ate (not all at once) watermelon, bananas, oranges, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice balls, spam musubi balls, minestrone soup broth, potato soup, miso soup, and drank coke, ginger ale, and water. In addition to the above, I also drank #ITSTHENERVE anti-cramping solution. I am a beta tester for #ITSTHENERVE and it is not commercially available yet, but it definitely works for me. I dealt with mild nausea on my last two 100km races (Quicksilver and Peacock) and I was very happy that I had no issues at HURT. I think I've finally dialed in what works for me.

-Weather. I heard many people talking about how hot and humid it was during the day, but I felt it was some of the best running weather we have had in weeks. I can see how someone coming from the mainland could think that it was hot and humid, but my "local" perspective had me commenting about how nice the weather was all day and night long (hopefully, my mainland friends didn't think I was rubbing it in!).

-Work/Family/Running Balance. I think I managed this balance well. Although, I know I was obsessed with training for this race, I feel I was able to meet all my non-running obligations without my family or my work having to sacrifice too much time.

-Results. Not only did I successfully finish this major "goal race," but I felt like I placed really well in what was one of the deepest men's field in the history of the HURT 100. It was also super inspiring to see fellow Masters runners, Jeff Browning (age 44) and Denise Bourassa (age 46), notch wins on such a tough course. Gary Robbins' second place finish at age 39 shows that he isn't letting off the accelerator either as he creeps up on the Masters category.  It definitely gives an aspiring Masters runners encouragement that we can continue to achieve success in the sport. As the the 13th runner overall and 3rd place Masters runner it gives me some hope that I still have room for growth as an ultra runner, especially at the "young" age of 41!

4:48am on Sunday, 80 miles down, 20 to go. Also, proof that my wife can wake up early! (Photo credit: Alice Pope)

-Finding the best version of me. I'm a firm believer that we create the best version of ourselves by setting big goals, putting in hard work, suffering a little (or a ton), and giving our best in pursuit of those goals, whether we achieve them or not. Doing hard things is an adventure in self-discovery. Everyone learns something, good or bad, about themselves when they put themselves out there at an endurance challenge. I definitely discovered the best version of me out there on the HURT trails.

I guess I can close my eyes now since there are no roots between me and the finish sign! (Photo credit: Augusto Decastro)

The Bad

-Going out too fast. I wanted my first two loops to be between 5 hours and 5 hours 15 minutes each. When I came through the Nature Center after the first loop in 4:41 I knew that I was way faster than intended. I decided that I would take my time in the aid station, rest a little, and put on a new pair of socks, which I had originally only planned to do if the course was wet. In hindsight, I probably should have just left the socks alone and kept moving. I'm not sure if the fast pace in the beginning made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but at the time it kind of got to me mentally.

-Beware the chair. As I sat down to remove my shoes and socks after the first loop I started to get cramps in my upper legs. This was probably my lowest point mentally in the race, but it didn't last long. It was really the only time I remember a negative thought popping into my head. That thought of "you screwed up, you went out too fast and you are already cramping after only 20 miles! Way to blow all your training by not pacing properly!" Fortunately, I was prepared for cramps should they happen. I drank 30ml of #ITSTHENERVE cramp juice 30 minutes prior to the race but the effect had apparently worn off after 20 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing/descending. I drank another 30ml bottle of the stuff and the cramps went away almost immediately. After leaving the Nature center I swore I would never sit down again until the finish line. I continued to sip on the cramp juice sporadically throughout the day and night as a preventative measure and the leg cramps never came back.

-Shoe Change. I ended up wearing my Brooks Cascadia 10s for the first 2 loops and then my Brooks Pure Grit 4s for the final 3 loops. The Cascadias aren't my lightest or most comfortable trail shoes, but they offer great all-around foot protection and have worked well for me in all trail conditions. I was thinking if I had to change out shoes because they got wet, that I would want to change from the Cascadias to the Pure Grits, which are the more comfortable and lighter of the two shoes. However knowing that it was a dry course, I should have just worn the Pure Grits from the beginning and not changed them or the socks unless I was having feet problems. This would have saved me some time at the Nature Center on the first two loops. Overall, I was happy with the performance of both pairs of shoes, but in the future I will try to keep things simpler with regards to shoe and sock changes.

-Illumination.  For the most part I was very happy with the Black Diamond Icon headlamp. After about 8 hrs of headlamp use, I noticed the light starting to dim significantly as I was coming down the most technical section of the course into the Nuuanu aid station on the 4th loop.  At Nuuanu, I pulled out my back-up headlamp (Black Diamond Storm) and used that on the way back to the Nature Center at the end of loop 4. At the Nature Center, I had Tom change out the batteries in the Icon and I was good-to-go until the sun came up, which was around the time we got into Manoa on the 5th loop. In the future I'll only count on the BD Icon working for about 7.5 hours at 75% power and either switch out lamps or change batteries at that point.

The Ugly

-Chafing. I had some minor undercarriage chafing that cropped up around mile 47. I had been using Boudreaux's Butt Paste for chafe protection below the waistline, but it appears that there was a seam in my 2XU compression shorts that just wasn't agreeing with the situation down there. I was considering changing my shorts at the Nature Center before heading out on the 4th loop, but I remembered that I was carrying some small packets of Chamois Butt'r in my pack. I pulled the packet out and took care of the chafe right away. I kept reapplying the Chamois Butt'r off and on throughout the rest of the race and was able to keep the chafing at bay.

Thank Yous

My success at this race was definitely a team effort. I am extremely grateful to be surrounded by a patient and supportive family, great training partners, and world class group of race directors and volunteers. Special thanks go out to the following:

-Training partners/Pacers/Crew: Jeff Snyder, Michael Garrison / Hawaii Running Lab, Pauline Garrison (my extra crew support at 20 miles!), Tom Steidler (Pacer #1/crew), and Sam Reed (Pacer #2/crew).

Team Pope Crew and Pacers! Sam Red (l), me, Tom Steidler (r). (Photo credit: Augusto Decastro)

Hawaii Running Lab Team celebrating  Jeff Snyder's first 100 mile finish! From left to right: me, Jeff Snyder, Michael Garrison - founder of Hawaii Running Lab, Jeff's pacer Eric Jazak. (Photo credit: Augusto Decastro)

-DumBell Fitness. Special thanks to my trainer Jennifer Lalani and DBF owner Christina Bell Landry! Without your twice weekly boot camp sessions I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to train and race like I did. I'm truly grateful for the camaraderie and especially the added benefit of on-site babysitting at your classes - it was key to eliminating any excuses for skipping class!

-Race Directors: John and PJ, Jeff Huff, and Stan Jensen. You guys know how to put on a great party! (The race was pretty great too!)

-Aid station captains and volunteers - a truly dedicated group of friends! You set the bar really high! I now have a standard by which to measure all future 100 mile aid stations!

-Travis Macy. If you haven't read The Ultra Mindset, do it now! His book reinforced many principles that I have integrated into my life over the years. It was great getting to meet you in person! Thank you Travis for sharing your book with the world and thank you for the kind words of encouragement before, during, and after the race.

-Ethan Newberry (@TheGingerRunner). I had the pleasure of finally meeting the awesome Ethan and his even awesome-er wife Kim (@MileLong_Legs) at the HURT 100. Ethan has done so much to make the sport of ultra running accessible to the "common" guy or gal through his Ginger Runner Live videocasts and through his amazing "short" movies. He was kind enough to chat with me for a bit and offer words of encouragement as I was hiking out of Paradise Park at mile 67. Thank you Ethan and Kim for hanging out with the HURT Ohana! And in case nobody told you, you are now part of the HURT Ohana!

-My neighbor, Tom Keefer, who gave Jeff Snyder and me a ride to the start at 0400 on Saturday. This was a last minute change in our transportation plan that Tom gladly accepted. We owe you big time!

-My Dad. My biggest fan. Thank you for reviewing my race plan and applying your years of ultra running experience to help me tweak my plan.

-My wife Alice and our children. These three wonderful humans are my "why." They are why I get up in the morning to go to work. They are why I do hard things. Thank you for your patience while I trained and raced and found the best version of me. I hope that our kids see that if you set big goals and are willing to put in a little hard work, that anything in life is possible. It was so uplifting to see my kids at miles 27, 40, and the finish line. I was especially surprised (dare I say shocked?) to see my non-morning person wife at the end of loop 4 at 4:48am as I rolled into the Nature Center!

Kissing the sign after 100 miles! (Photo credit: Augusto Decastro)
"We wouldn't want it to be easy!" Finish line photo with my "why." (Photo credit: Augusto Decastro)

HURT by the Numbers

100 miles
25,000 feet of climbing and 25,000 feet of descending
29 hours and 5 minutes (Strava link)
13th place overall
3rd Masters runner (40 and over)
1st Active Duty Military
53 finishers out of 125 starters (42% finish rate)


Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 10 (40 miles); Brooks Pure Grit 4 (60 miles)
Socks:  Injinji Trail Weight 2.0 (3 pairs)
Pack:  Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0 with 2-20oz bottles (100 miles)
Shorts:  2XU Compression shorts
Shirt: UnderArmour sleeveless shirt (40 miles); Peacock 100km technical shirt (60 miles)
Calf Sleeves:  2XU Compression sleeves
Hat: DumBell Fitness brimmed hat
Buff:  The Ginger Runner Train Race Beer Buff - used this on my wrist to hold my GPS charger in place and as a sweatband.
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp (primary light)
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp (secondary light)
Boudreaux's Butt Paste (used on feet and undercarriage)
Chamois Butt'r (used on undercarriage)
Body Glide stick (used all over)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

HURT 100 Training Update

In August I was fortunate to be selected to run the 2016 HURT 100 Mile Endurance Run (January 16-17). For anyone familiar with the HURT 100, you know that it is ranked by Outside Magazine as one of the top 9 toughest ultra marathons in the WORLD! Having volunteered and paced at the 2015 running of HURT, I know that I need to go into the race in the best shape of my life if I have any chance of finishing.

With four weeks to go until HURT, I am very pleased with where I'm at in my training. Here is a quick recap of my training and some of the elements that I feel are essential to my current fitness level, which hopefully will translate into a HURT 100 belt buckle in January!

1. Twice weekly DumBell Fitness strength workouts. I started doing these workouts in June and they have created a pillar of strength and agility that has allowed me to train hard and stay injury-free. I'm extremely grateful for my trainer Jennifer Lalani and DumBell Fitness owner Christina Bell Landry for the excellent program they have put together. My training partner Jeff and I always agree after every boot camp workout, "we wouldn't have done that on our own!" (Christina wrote up a great blog post on Jeff and me. Check it out here.)

2. Gradual base building. After running the Quicksilver 100k in May in a quasi-injured state, I took two weeks off and then began a gradual re-building of my mileage. This coupled with the strength workouts allowed my body to slowly adapt and prepare itself for the higher volume and intensity training that a 100 miler requires.

3. Hills, hills, and more hills. I've really tried to maximize the amount of climbing and descending in my training runs. Lately I have noticed my downhill speed increasing and feeling smoother. With 24,500 feet of elevation gain and loss over 100 miles, hill training is absolutely essential for success at the HURT 100.

4. Respecting the recovery. I feel I've done a better job of adapting my training schedule on the fly to respect the increased recovery requirements of my 41-year old body. In November I had some lingering pain in my heel that cropped up during the Peacock 50k. I took several days off and was able to get back into training without much fuss. With that said, I have noticed that I'm recovering much quicker between hard bouts. I believe that's what experts call "fitness!"

5. Foam rolling as religion. In addition to Active Isolated Stretching that I do after every run, I have been using my foam roller consistently every evening before bed. The foam rolling along with a few yoga poses before bed not only helps the muscles feel better, but also helps me sleep better.

6. Having a patient wife and kids. As much as I like to think I have a good balance between family, work, and running, the reality is that there are many weekends where family comes in second place to running. I am very grateful for my supportive family. Part of my search for balance is probably why I only update this blog a few times a year! For runners like me who are trying to measure running vs. life balance here is a good metric: if you return from your morning run and your spouse and kids are still asleep you are "winning" the balancing act.

7. Strava accountability. Following other HURT 100 runners' training and being followed by like-minded runners on Strava is a tremendous help in keeping me motivated. While I'll never log as many miles or climb as many mountains as Gary Robbins, it's highly motivating to watch how elite ultra marathoners train!

8. Awesome training partners. Having training partners who have no problem meeting at 5am or 5pm on a Saturday or Sunday for 6 hours of trail running is a very good thing! I'm especially grateful for the support of Tom Steidler (pacer #1), Sam Reed (pacer #2), Jeff Snyder, and Michael Garrison (Hawaii Running Lab founder).

Me (L) and Tom Steidler (R) having fun at the Peacock 50k. (Photo by Augusto DeCastro)

Here is a macro look of my monthly training since August:

215 miles
26,890 feet climb/descent
36hrs 21mins time on feet
5 strength workouts
Races: Maunawili - 4th place; Tantalus Triple Trek - 4th place

216 miles
17,875 feet climb/descent
31 hrs 10mins time on feet
8 strength workouts

222 miles
20,737 feet climb/descent
34 hrs 44 mins time on feet
6 strength workouts
Race:  Peacock 50k - 1st place

204 miles
25,965 feet climb/descent
34 hrs 40 mins time on feet
6 strength workouts

178 miles (target is 290 miles)
17,126 feet climb/descent (target is over 30,000 feet)
27 hrs 55 min time on feet (as of 19 Dec)
6 strength workouts (4 more scheduled)
Race: Honolulu Marathon - 4:00:00 - Paced my friend Elisa (a Hawaii Running Lab runner) to a 15 min PR!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Quicksilver 100k 2015 Race Report

The race I ran this past Saturday was not the race I envisioned running when I signed up for it six months ago. However, I am pleased with finishing my second 100km run 27 minutes faster than my first and getting my 2016 Western States 100 qualifier!

Nine days before the race I managed to strain my right hamstring on what was going to be my last hilly run before really settling into taper mode. I secured plane tickets and lodging for the event back in January and I was frustrated that I was now contemplating dropping out of the race after the injury. I was also travelling with my training partners, Michael and Jeff, and didn't want to miss out on the race that we had all been working towards together. Having endured a similar injury 8 days before the 2013 Honolulu Marathon (which I ended up running in 3:18), I knew I'd probably be okay as long as I didn't try to run too fast at Quicksilver. This meant taking it super easy on the downhills.

In addition to the "taper" hamstring injury, I had a series of little injuries throughout the training work-up that started back in December. I was battling a "wonky" left hamstring early on in the base training phase. I was able to work through that injury, but it forced me to keep the run intensity lower than I wanted (i.e. no tempo runs or intervals). At the end of February I had some pain in my left heel that I thought was the beginning of achilles tendonitis, but after taking about 4 days off from running it went away and never came back. Then I had some pain in my right knee in March that had me a little wary, but that ended up going away with some ice/compression treatment and without having to cut back on mileage.  I was also running about 5 pounds heavier compared to my race day weight for the Peacock 100k. So, lots of compounding issues made for a less than ideal training period leading up to this race.

I won't go into too much detail about the course, but as you can see below, the first half of the course is where all the major climbing is. The cumulative elevation on my Garmin watch read over 8,000 feet by the time I got to the Kennedy Trail aid station the second time.
Quicksilver 100k Elevation profile and aid stations.
In spite of all the challenges leading up to race day, I am very pleased with this race. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was foggy and cool for the first 6 hours of the race. While it did heat up later in the day, it was still pretty mild compared to what I'm used to running in here on Oahu. With the strategy of taking it easy on the downhills, I thought I could hammer the uphills a little more than normal. This was not a wise strategy, as my quads started getting a little twitchy by around 20 miles. The only thing to do when the muscles start feeling this way is to slow down, which added some additional anxiety as I was already going slower than I wanted on the downhills.

Feeling good early. (Photo credit: Paul King)
The first half of this course is really tough and I found myself pretty tapped out coming into Kennedy AS the the second time. There is a very steep 3 mile section of the course known as "Dogmeat" that we climb before getting to Kennedy 2. I found myself getting a little nauseous near the end of the climb, which I think seems to happen to me when I'm breathing hard and trying to keep calories flowing into the body. I decided to take a quick little sit break at Kennedy to just gather myself and allow my stomach to calm down a bit. I drank a little ginger ale and ate some watermelon and that seemed to do the trick. I felt like I had a pretty good run down from Kennedy to Hicks 2 and I think mentally I was no longer too worried about my hamstring. My legs were feeling pretty beat up, but nothing that really kept me from running at "ultra" pace. I had a pretty good transition in and out of Hicks 2 and was on my way back to where we started at Hacienda.

Coming into the Hacienda AS at mile 39, I had a bad hot spot on my big left toe that needed attention. I was hoping to find a place to sit down, but all the volunteers had covered the chairs with their sweatshirts, so I figured they didn't want sweaty runners sitting there. I ended up balancing on one foot while I applied a blister band-aid that I was carrying in my pack. I almost started to cramp up standing on one leg, but fortunately I was able to get the band-aid, my Injinji sock and Brooks Cascadia 10 back on without issue. As ran out of the aid station I immediately felt relief from the hot spot and this gave me a nice mental boost.

The next 3 miles of the course took us up and over a very steep hill that is not very runnable either up or down the other side. This could have been much worse than it was, but luckily I had caught up to my friend Michael and his pacer Zeke. Chatting with them really took my mind off of how bad I was feeling and the fact that I still had over 20 miles to go. The next AS was at Mockingbird, which is also the finish line. I ate some snacks, refilled the water bottles, and put some ice into my bandana to keep my neck cool (the fog had burned off and it was starting to heat up a little). It was a good thing I made it out of there quickly, because they had the finish line BBQ going strong for the 50k runners and I could see volunteers and 50k runners sipping ice cold beers (IPAs, nonetheless!). Although, the temptation to hang out and call it a day was strong, I didn't fly 2,500 miles to quit while I was still way ahead of pace for a Western States 100 Qualifier!

The tailings pile climb just before mile 44. (Photo credit: Shiran Kochavi)

There were a few spots that were so steep, that it was easier to use both hands to help climb up the hill! (Photo credit: Shiran Kochavi)
A little less than 2 miles after departing Mockingbird we had to climb this intense pile of rocks (old quicksilver mine tailings). Fortunately, it was less than a quarter mile worth of climbing and scrambling, but there was no shortage of grumbling from me and my fellow runners!

The next climb to the Bull Run AS was not terribly memorable. I was in another low spot thinking about the next 20 miles rather than just thinking about getting to the aid station. When I got to Bull Run I saw Mark Tanaka (5th overall with a 2-hour PR over last year!) speeding through with 3 miles to go. It was kind of surreal watching Mark as he quickly got in and out of the AS and on his way to the finish, while I was only thinking "holy smokes I still got 16 miles to go and I don't feel very good." I tried to push the negative thoughts out of my head and reminded myself that this was my race to run and nobody elses. Time to get back out there and get it done. I told myself "heck, 16 miles during training was a short run for me - piece of cake." Other thoughts going through my head were "you could walk the rest of the way and still make it under 16 hours!"

The next section of the course had a bunch of single track and if I had the legs I would have enjoyed running it more than I did. But my desire to run was pretty much non-existent between Bull Run at 46 miles and Tina's Den AS at 52 miles. I was getting passed by quite a few runners on this stretch, including my training buddy, Michael. I was not in a good spot mentally or physically. My legs were whipped and I was still having a little nausea. At Tina's Den AS (named after one of the mountain lions that live nearby) I switched completely to ice water and this seemed to get rid of the nausea completely. I re-filled my bandana with more ice, ate some watermelon, potatoes, and pretzels and was on my way.

Smelling the finish line with only 10 miles to go, I felt like I was able to keep a steady pace going on the stretch of trail up to the Enriquita AS at mile 56. It was mostly walking, but I was feeling better after having switched to water and mentally I knew this race was in the bag. The little road down to Enriquita was downhill and kind of technical, but I was able to jog steadily down it. After a volunteer refilled one of my water bottles with ice water and grabbing a few small pieces of cantaloupe and watermelon, I was on my way back up the hill to the last aid station. The route back to Bull Run AS the second time was mostly uphill, but I was power hiking pretty well and actually passed a couple of other runners.

I made a quick stop at Bull Run AS and was feeling pretty good mentally because I knew I could endure 3 miles of the (mostly) downhill jog to the finish line. At about the half-way point of the race a running dialog was playing in my mind attempting to calculate a possible finish time. It started out as "I think I can break 13 hours" and ended up playing over and over again in the last 20 miles saying to myself "I'm not sure if I can break 14 hours." But when I left Bull Run I saw my watch show 12:57. I had just over an hour to run the 3 miles to the finish line and 3 hours to make the cut-off for a WS100 qualifier. While nothing is a given during an ultra, I was pretty confident I could break 14 hours. Knowing that I could still run a personal best for the 100k distance had me feeling pretty good!

I ended up coming through the finish line at 13:34, a personal best! I'm not sure I'll be able to fit this race into the schedule next year, but I would love to run it again as I think a sub-12 hour is very possible if I can just get to the starting line healthy.

Special Thanks to:
My wife and kids for enduring yet another training cycle and an away race!
My Dad who is always there to give me guidance and encouragement.
My training partners and good friends, Jeff and Michael. The early morning weekend runs were always a little easier with you guys pushing me!
Greg Lanctot, Rajeev Patel, John Brooks, the Quicksilver Running Club, and all the volunteers for putting on a terrific race!
My HURT Ohana for all the encouragement and support - MAHALO!

Gear List
2XU Shorts and calf sleeves
Zensah Thigh compression sleeve (for the hammy)
Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0 vest w/2x UD 17oz soft body bottles
Brooks Running hat
Under Armor technical shirt
iPod shuffle from
Brooks Cascadia 10 trail shoes
Injinji Trail socks
Garmin 910xt watch
Skratch Labs drink mix
Skratch Labs chews
Honey Stinger chews

Web Links
Strava Link
UltraSignup Results
Quicksilver Running Club
Ginger Runner's (Ethan Newberry) Quicksilver Race Recap
Jean Pommier's Quicksilver Race Report

Friday, February 13, 2015

HURT 100 without the HURT-ing: Volunteer & Pacer Perspective

This year I had the privilege of spending time supporting the HURT 100 here on Oahu. Last summer I entered the lottery to race it, but (luckily) I did not get selected to run the 2015 edition. I say "luckily", because it allowed me to experience the race as a volunteer, pacer, and spectator. It was truly an incredible experience to be involved with the race on so many different levels. I now have a better understanding why people are so passionate about one of the most incredibly challenging ultra marathons in the world.

There are some great blog posts and post-race interviews from the brave souls that toed the line this year, so I won't go into great detail about the course, the welcoming aloha spirit or the deep sense of "ohana" that so many of the runners/pacers/volunteers/spectators experienced. Links to several of this year's race reports and video interviews are at the bottom of this post.

Volunteer Perspective

I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Pirates of Paradise aid station, also known as the Manoa aid station. This is the first, fourth, seventh, tenth, and thirteenth aid station on the 5-lap course. I don't know if it's the "best" aid station on the HURT course, but it was definitely one of the best decorated ones, with its Pirate theme. Excited about helping my fellow ultra runners, I arrived around 4:55am on Saturday (I think there was one other eager volunteer who arrived before me). I helped set up the aid station and was put in charge of the drinks. Naturally, they put the Navy guy in charge of the grog! My shift ended around noon and I headed home to get some rest before I headed back out to pace my runner. I truly enjoyed my time helping out at the aid station and making some new friends in the process! Marian and Neal Yasuda, the Paradise aid station Captains, were phenomenal in their care of not only the runners, but the many volunteers who came out to support the race.

Pacer Perspective

Last July, me and my training partners Jeff Snyder and Michael Garrison all entered the HURT Lottery, but only Michael got in this year. It was truly a mixed blessing, as the thought of running the HURT 100 as my first 100 miler gives me some serious anxiety. After the lottery party Jeff and I were breathing sighs of relief, as we knew we would get to experience HURT as pacers and give ourselves an extra year to prepare mentally and physically before attempting the race ourselves (keeping our fingers for lots of kukui nuts this at this years lottery!).

As local runners, we are lucky to get to train on the HURT course in every condition imaginable and at any time of day or night. The three of us did a HURT loop about 3 weeks prior to the race to help us figure out how best to support Michael during his second attempt at finishing HURT. I had been coming back from a hamstring injury in November, so the training run was also a test for me to ensure that I was physically able to fulfill my pacing duties. Fortunately, my hamstring didn't mind the slow pace that the HURT course imposes!

L-R: Jeff, Michael, and Joe. Prepping Michael for his 3rd loop.

Based on Michael's goal of running HURT in 35 hours, we decided that I would start pacing him on lap 3 (mile 40) from the Nature Center and hand him off to Jeff after about 27 miles (lap 3 and a third of lap 4 - mile 67). We were expecting Michael to come into the Nature Center between 5 and 6pm, but he ended up arriving a little before 7pm. During Michael's last two attempts at 100 miles (HURT 2014 and Javelina 2014) he was forced to drop out due to severe stomach issues. When he got into the Nature center he informed us that his stomach issues (violent dry heaving) had slowed him down over during the latter parts of lap 2. With his later than expected arrival, we knew we would be bumping up against the cut-off times for the rest of the race.

As someone who has dealt with nausea during an ultra, I could sympathize with Michael's situation. But I'm also fairly up-to-date on the latest research regarding hydration during endurance events, so I thought that we could overcome the stomach issues going into the evening hours. I knew the temperatures would drop a little over night and that we may be able to "reset" the stomach since he wouldn't need to drink as much as required earlier in the day. The key was to be able to do it while still keeping him moving and still taking in enough calories.

After about an hour and a half into lap 3, Michael's stomach seemed to calm down. This was a good thing, but it probably came at the expense of him not eating enough. We got some potato soup into him at the PP AS and that seemed to sit well with him. His legs seemed to be working fine, but I could tell he was pretty spent from the last 6+ hours of stomach cramping and dry heaving. We made our way up out of Manoa and on down into Nuuanu. We made a good effort to get in and out of Nuuanu quickly and were back on our way up the hill and back down to the Nature Center.

Overall, Michael ran a great 3rd lap considering the difficulties he had earlier in that afternoon and evening. We came into the Nature Center around 2:30am (20h30min into the race). I pushed Michael pretty hard down from the pig gate at the top of the Manoa Cliff trail back to the Nature Center. I knew he would need every second if he was going to make the 36-hour time limit. We made good time, but that last push really took its toll on his energy levels.

The next leg from the Nature Center to Paradise was a slog for Michael. While his stomach seemed fine, his energy levels were super low and this affected the pace. When we got into Paradise for the pacer swap with Jeff, Michael was still in a low spot. Pauline (Michael's wife and crew chief), gave him a pep talk and pieced him back together and turned him over to Jeff to chase the cut-offs.

Run with Garrison Ohana: (L-R) Johnny, Jeff, Shelby, Katherine, Pauline, Michael, Jacque, Joe, and Sam. (Photo by Augusto DeCastro)
Jeff and Michael made an incredible effort on the rest of the 4th lap and two-thirds of the 5th lap, but he just barely missed the cut-off at Nuuanu Aid Station.

We are all very proud of how hard Michael worked to try and finish this incredibly difficult race. I was very fortunate to be part of his team and I would pace/crew again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity!


HURT 100 Race Reports, Photos, & Video
Stan Jensen's treasure trove of HURT100 data
Trail Live Interview of Michael Arnstein
Michael Arnstein's "I'm never doing this race again" Video
Trail Live Interview of Amy Sproston
Nick Hollon's Comical Banquet Interviews
Nick Hollon's Race Report
Starchy Grant's Race Report 
Candace Burt's Race Report
Ginger Runner's Post-Race Interview of Andy Pearson & Pacer Elan Lieber
Nicola Gildersleeve's Race Report
Josh Barringer's Race Report 
Brendan Gilpatrick's Race Report
Paul Encarnacion's Video Race Report
Rob Lahoe's Race Photos
Kalani Pascual's Facebook Photo Album
Augusto DeCastro's Photo Album
Laura Casner's Photo Library
Nick Xiv's Facebook Photo Library
Ken Michal's HURT Podcast
Amy Sproston's HURT Recap (F1)
Jadd Martinez's Race Report
Akabill's HURT Photos

Friday, November 21, 2014

No Pressure Training

A week ago I went for a run/hike with my command up to Koko Head crater. I probably pushed myself a little harder than I should have and as a result the effort left me pretty sore. Ignoring the fatigue and soreness (which hadn't really set in fully), I went for a run with my friend Jeff the next day. I started noticing some building tightness in my left hamstring as the run progressed. At around the 3 mile point I felt the hamstring "grab" a little and decided it was best to just walk it in and not do any further damage. This past week I've been really trying to listen to my body and ensure that I allow the hamstring to fully recover. I have attempted a few test runs this week and neither one resulted in me feeling confident enough to trust the hamstring. So I will take another week off from running.

There used to be a time when taking two weeks off from running would cause me a bit of anxiety. I've come to realize that the anxiety is completely controllable and any pressure I experience to "perform" is purely self-inflicted. A couple of weeks off to let the body heal is a small investment in my long term ability to keep on running. And if two weeks turns into four weeks, who cares? Not this guy! Should I worry about logging a few 16 min/mile pace walks on my Strava log? Nope!