Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hellgate 100K Race Report- Dante and Virgil take on the Inferno.

In the classical definition of Hell, there is neither a space nor time continuum. In race director David Horton's envision of Hell aptly named The Hellgate 100K this holds true. Time has been described by former Hellgate runners as non-existent. His mileage data is known as "Horton Miles" for its irreverence for accuracy. "Horton Miles" are comically long. The Hellgate "100K" is actually 110K leaving the distance to once again parallel the underworld, 66.6 miles.

As a masochist, I have become familiar with the skills required to make it through various creations of what earthlings devise to simulate eternal damnation. There is an art to making it through to the other side of these carnival rides. It is easy to fall prey to the smoke and mirrors we create to fool ourselves, but with the right tools we can escape Hell. We are after all, sentient beings, bound to space and time.

In late September of this year I found myself in Dante's third level of Hell, reserved for gluttons. In Dante's Inferno, Hell is 9 layers. Gluttony is the meat in a sandwich of Lust and Greed. I was gluttonous in my racing endeavors. I ran hard all summer and ran well, but I lusted for more. Greed fed the machine after a win at Iron Mountain and gluttony prevailed as I attempted a run at UROC only 4 weeks later. I paid for my sins with humility and enlightenment was reached. I spent October running very little and recovered for the first time in 6 months. November held the most enjoyable running I had experienced in 2 seasons. The flesh and bones were renewed and healed. I had started over from scratch and felt amazing.

The week prior to Hellgate I stumbled upon some research I wasn't privy to in earlier races and began my carb loading cycle earlier and omitted fruit, (fructose). I didn't feel bloated and I was digesting the carbs well. This was a great sign which I have learned in past experience. I ran 5K worth of intervals on Monday and 2 miles of intervals on Thursday. I had faith great things were in store for Hellgate. I wanted to run even more on race week but limited myself in hopes of charging up for the 66.6 mile jaunt through the black abyss.

The 2012 edition of Hellgate was slated to commence at the standard 12:01am start time on the second Saturday in December. The race starts near midnight on Friday and I wanted to be rested, therefore I drove down on Thursday night with my crew to get rest all day on Friday. Checking in to the hotel we were greeted with the following sign posted on the lobby desk and the front door:

The first room I checked in to had no bugs, but did have dirty towels on the floor. The second room, clean towels but bugs in the bed. With little deliberation I checked out and went to a plush Holiday Inn Express for my sleeping pleasure.

The pre-race dinner was the tastiest I have ever had and the pre-run meeting was full of familiar faces to add to the communal and familial feel of Horton races. (Dr. Horton also informed us during the pre-race meeting that he was scheduled to have major heart surgery on Monday following the race. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.)

Eric Grossman walked into the meeting late which invited provocation from Horton to call out the current course record holder himself. "Hey Eric! What time are you shooting for tomorrow?! I am betting you can't break 11 hours. It's too hot this year. I think you'll hit 11 hours and 15 minutes." Eric surreptitiously avoided answering the question and with a coy smile held his stance.

This race however, is Hellgate, known for bringing out the inner demons of runners. Little did we know Eric was battling a fight within himself he had never dealt with before. He was unsure of his health this race and was in turmoil as to whether or not he should start the 10th running of Hellgate.

Magic or mayhem under black skies with blazing stars overhead; I knew it was going to be a special night. I knew Horton had undershot Eric's potential, and more importantly the potential of an all-star crew of speed-demons including:

  • Chris Reed- multiple winner who had run 11:15 in worse conditions.
  • Alister Gardner- UROC elite top 10, Virgil Crest 50 winner.
  • Jason Bryant- over 30 podium finishes in his illustrious career.
  • Darryl Smith- previous Hellgate podium finisher.
  • Frank Gonzales- 7 podium finishes in the last 2 years in Virginia races, Hellgate veteran.
  • Eric Grossman- CR Holder, Over 70 Ultra finishes, OVER 39 ULTRA WINS. WHAT?! 

At the devils hour we stood in the darkness, awaiting command from the St Peter of the underworld to start our journey. I made note of the runners I deemed my competition and pointed them out to Stephanie. I would want to know names if I requested time splits later in the race. I was pleased at the relaxed pace in the opening miles. I tucked in comfortably behind the affable Frank Gonzales. We made a little small talk and watched Alister Gardner shoot off into the night. Jason Bryant followed in quick pursuit and I eventually let Frank Gonzales pull away from me as well. It was early in the race and this time around, I wasn't racing for anyone but me. (This should be the case in most races...) I knew the pace I wanted to hold and stuck to it.

Coming into the first aid station, I knew I was doing something right, because Eric Grossman made a comment from behind me regarding the infamous river crossing. If I was running easy and was still with former winner Chris Reed who had beaten the guys up front; and with Eric Grossman course record holder, then I would just forget about everyone and run my own race like I was doing, because it was working.

The miles passed quickly, like water rolling down a rapid, up and over rocks, tumbling downstream. I surmounted climbs and descended rocky terrain with ease early in the race. Soon enough, Eric, Chris and I caught up to Frank Gonzales and our foursome ascended some of the biggest climbs of the race together.

Stephanie was calculated at the aid stations, and we found a common scenario unfolding. Several runners would escape me and then I would catch them at the Aid Stations. I had Stephanie to toss a bottle so I needn't ever stop or slow.

In Dante's Inferno, he has a guide to take him through Hell, without whom, his journey would have been quite different. I assume Stephanie's flawless crewing, acting as my "Virgil", gained me several minutes by the end of the race.

Nearing mile 20, after running with Chris Reed and chatting about families back home, I noticed a headlamp pointed at me. A runner was walking back up what seemed to be an eternal descent I had been running down. It was Jason Bryant. I asked if he was OK and little did I know by his calm demeanor that he was walking backwards to the previous aid station to DNF. This put me in 2nd place with Alister out in front. Chris and Eric were third and fourth respectively.

Closing out this section Eric began feeling strong, and passed Chris somewhere. After not seeing crew for 13 miles, I grabbed a quick bottle from Stephanie at the aid station. Eric and I made haste up a nasty climb in 2nd and 3rd place. Chris and his headlamp were no where in sight for the remainder of the race. The climb Eric and I were attacking was long and steady. Instead of tucking in to Eric and letting him lead I tried to run shoulder to shoulder, proving mentally I didn't need him as a crutch. I wanted him to see I was as strong as he'd ever seen me mentally as well as physically. I'd been in front of him for the first third during the climbs and although I assumed he was beginning his move, I was there to spar. Nonetheless, he slowly pulled away. I had to run my own race. I let him go but he didn't get far.

As we entered the middle third of the race, the climbs abate somewhat and the terrain smooths out. There are less rocks. Mentally you can't think about the miles still looming ahead. I assume that is part of the mental game of making it through Hell. Make it through by living in moment, lest you become angst ridden contemplating the task ahead. Running parallels life in this regard. Make it to the next aid station, live in the moment and be in the present. Just take it one step at a time and awe inspiring feats are possibly.

A large milestone of the race was hitting the Little Cove Mountain aid station where I thought daylight would present itself. I reached it in darkness and as tradition would have it, I caught Eric at the aid station. I've read that many consider the aid station at Little Cove Mountain the "half-way" point of the race. It's actually close to 38 miles into the run. The views off to the east were panoramic, the blue light of morning highlighting Virginia ridgelines across the mountains. Light eclipsed the blackness of the abyss.

The light of day meant an ever increasing ability to practice mindfulness in my running and live in the moment, not fearing the remaining miles. Eric was not too far ahead of me, and I was still enjoying the run. A torn adductor muscle in my groin had yet to nag me any more than in the opening miles. I knew my body would hold strong. The draw of the finish line provided focus and drive that my depleted energy levels and fatiguing muscles were lacking at that point.  I held my core strong and ran as I had been doing for over seven hours. The rocky section I had heard so much about didn't cause strife. I moved fluidly and smoothly, not stressing about speed that the rocks were impeding.

Climbing up to Bearwallow Gap the grade is seemingly constant for miles as the trail slowly rises the contour line of the mountain to the aid station. Rounding bends in the mountain I could see Eric's white shirt and it fueled me. I dug a little deeper and raised my energy expenditure ever so slightly to begin the long process of closing the void which existed between us. I didn't want to catch him and then be tired from the effort, so I climbed steadily. Coming into the 8th aid station at the top of the climb, I caught Eric! This was a large victory for me. There was only 13 miles left and only one more aid station.

Leaving the Bearwallow Gap aid station the course descends an incredibly long fire road. I caught Eric after several minutes of descending and we once again were shoulder to shoulder. I had looked at my watch and I knew with strong efforts, determination, and luck, we could break his old course record. I truly and whole heatedly wanted Eric to break his old course record. As I approached and ran side by side, he looked over to acknowledge my presence and I had a giant grin on my face and I held out a fist for him to "fist-bump". I yelled at him, "Let's do this! You're gonna get your record!"

Like I said, I wanted Eric to break his course record. I wanted him to have the best race possible. The paradigm exists in that I also wanted to beat him. This fist-bump of camaraderie also "could" have served the purpose to show Eric how great I was feeling and that I was making my move. Unless he was feeling ready for a surge, I'd be on my merry little way. Had he been feeling spent, nothing is more demoralizing than a giant grin and encouragement. lucky for me, I didn't have to fake it, I really did want Eric to push hard and have the race of his life.

We ran shoulder to shoulder to the bottom of our descent and I took the lead for the climb. My nutrition had been flawless all day, and I reminisced to every time over the previous year Eric and I had been within meters of each other in the final miles of a race. He had warned me to not let him get in front of me for the final climb, because he would surely beat me on it. As a Hellgate virgin I heeded his advice and was hoping to escape him on this last stretch of trail en route to the final aid station.

The stretch of trail leading to aid station nine is called "the forever section". I assaulted every climb and tried to outrun Eric but he was latched on to my heels. I bombed down rocky descents. I could tell I had a mild advantage on the technical descents. This was, until, I fell and hit hard. I managed to not get shaken up too badly and I continued on in front.

I managed to pass Eric on the final climb of UROC two years prior, and during the Tour De Virginia this summer, I managed to finish strong and gain time on him several times in the last 10 miles of a race if I was feeling energized. I knew it wasn't impossible to hold my own on that final climb, but I had already blown my reserves trying to escape him during the forever section.

We entered aid station 9 together and I was honored to once again be with the grand master himself, Eric Grossman. We were 6 miles from the finish. Eric and I grabbed a caffeinated sip of mountain dew. We both yelled that we would prefer Coke, but took the Mountain Dew in lieu.

I refused to quit even as he slipped out of my grasp. I watched him climbing strong and I swore to not walk. The good thing about racing for maximum potential and NOT for placement is that even though I could have walked the climb and still finished 3rd, I wanted my best possible performance. This was for ME. Every cell ached and pleaded for me to walk, but I ran every step up the final climb. The pace was pitiful, but I dug as deep as I could. I couldn't even see Eric.

The final 3 miles are heaven, all smooth and downhill. I felt victorious. Eric had escaped me, but once again, the battle provided a performance I was proud of.

Canadian Alister Gardner finished in 10:52, winning and setting a new course record. Eric broke his old course record of 11:03 which stood since 2006. His final time was 10:57. The ever-witty Grossman proclaimed he "has the American course record!" I finished in 11:07, rounding out the top 3 podium.

Hellgate what?!
Here are answers to questions you might have about Hellgate and my experience. (AKA- stuff I couldn’t squeeze into this report.)
Shoes- Montrail Mountain Masochists
Socks- Swiftwick Vibe One
Shorts- 2xu Compression
Headlamp- Black Diamond Sprinter/ Tikka XPII
Nutrition- Gels/ Blocks/ Water

Training- I was tapped out on hill work prior to Hellgate, so I actually focused on core strength prior to hellgate and did a ton of threshold and speedwork on the road. I only ran trails once weekly and felt stronger than ever on the climbs as a result of finding balance in training and doing road and speed work.

Many thanks to Advanced Orthopaedics for their constant attention to detail and helping to balance me out!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Explore Fatigue: The Hard Core

The following is a copy of Eric Grossman's Hellgate 100K report.

I invite you to read this well crafted literary piece.

(Just click on the link that says Explore Fatigue directly below.)

I am at work today and hope to have my analysis of the event posted this week.

Troy Shellhamer

Explore Fatigue: The Hard Core: Squishiness has proven a persistently annoying aspect of life on earth. Sure it made sense when all of us were buoyed in that great wet w...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ruminations on Pushing the Limits and Improving Performance. The 2012 Year-End Review.

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt

They say the best way to learn something is to teach it. Perhaps that is why I like to summarize race reports in a blog post. Its the best way for me to reiterate to myself what I've learned along the way.

The 2012 racing year was quite an undertaking full of personal records and many successes. It wasn't without a few snags and obstacles along the way including my first bout of Plantar Fasciitis in May and 2 heartbreaking DNF's at the end of the season, one due to burnout and the other due to undertraining after the birth of my daughter.

Last year I spent the summer months from May to August hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and came into fall of 2011 with the biggest aerobic engine I've possessed. I was fresh physically from several months of no running, and the legs were mechanically strong from carrying a loaded pack for over 25 miles per day for thousands of miles. I got in a lot of miles throughout winter and spring and managed to keep the intensity up as well, getting in quality speedwork for the first time in my career which lended itself to an incredible spring season;
  • An epic battle and PR at Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50K in February.
  • A 50 mile PR of 6:25 on trails at Land Between the Lakes 50 Miler in March.
  • A 15:26 100 mile PR at Umstead later in March.
  • A 2:44 marathon PR on a hilly Derby course in April followed by a win at the Backside Trail Marathon the following day. 

Craig Dooley's money shot at February's Lovin' The Hills which my sock sponsor, Swiftwick has on their homepage now! Chasing Grossman on the final climb to my 2nd place finish. A highlight of the year.

The day it all caught up to me. Half- Iron Tri in Taylorsville. Plantar Fasciitis demanded attention after a fast spring.
Not surprising, in May my body was ready for a break, and during a Half-Ironman distance triathlon my Plantar Fascia screamed in protest and I knew it was time to back off the speedwork for the year and cut my mileage down. This was a blessing in disguise as it introduced me to my PT whom has addressed various areas of functional imbalance like weakness on my left side in the hamstring and glutes. 

Fun times during my "off-season", pacing Traci Falbo to an Overall Win at the Hawthorne 12 hour Run, beating all the guys and setting a new course record. Beast!

In June I focused on PT and crosstrained a lot although I had planned on running the highest weekly mileage of my year to prepare for an undertaking of confounding proportions. In July Eric Grossman, Rebekah Trittipoe, Anne Lundblad, Rob French and Myself attempted the Tour De Virginia. This 600 mile stage race covered the Appalachian Trail through Virginia over a 2 week span. We averaged over 40  miles per day and climbed nearly 10k' daily. The recovery, crosstraining, and PT must have worked for me, because on July 14th Eric, Anne, and I were successful in our attempts. It took me 140 hours total. Temps were between 104-108 degrees every day during the first week. The race definitely pushed all of our limits but every day was beautiful. Each morning involved pushing past the threshold of the of the unknown and possible. Each stage was intoxicating and consuming in all the right ways. The experience was nothing short of euphoric.

En route Tour De Virginia- A 600 mile stage race on the Appalachian Trail. Anne Lundblad, Myself, Eric Grossman.

Done! I couldn't have run with a better group of characters. Possibly the highlight of the decade, the time of my life. 
Following the TDV, I only waited 6 short weeks to undertake my first ultra to capitalize on the aerobic gains experienced from the Tour De Virginia. I won the Iron Mountain 50 Miler on September 1st. I hadn't done speed work since April but my climbing legs were strong from the Tour and I bested my time from the previous year by 10 minutes. I ran what I would consider one of my strongest races. It was also my first negative split 50.

Winning is good, but beating friends is even better! Proud to finally get a win against some fast guys who've spanked me in the past!
My focus race for the year was the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in late September in which I DNF'd because I was fried, mentally and physically. Part of the reason I focused on building road speed early in my year was for a hopeful podium finish at UROC and a bite of the $20,000 prize purse. I was not disappointed greatly to DNF because I was proud to make the right choice so quickly, and bail at mile 8 of the race, enabling my recovery in the following weeks. 
Sitting on the UROC Elite panel. The biggest production of the year.

What should also be mentioned is the birth of my daughter was supposed to be 10 days after UROC. Pushing hard at UROC would have prevented me for being there in full force for my wife and family. Mentally I tend to be wasted for a week or two after a big race. Kara ended up going into labor early and I am proud to stay I was more supportive and patient than my usual self during her 34 hour labor. I was right there the whole time and treated it like the biggest ultra of my life, (and I won as a pacer.) I was incredibly impressed with her strength and attitude an it helped encourage me to be as supportive and present as possible as we welcomed our daughter into this blue spinning planet.

A different kind of "pacing" during Kara's 34 hour labor. Grace I've never known before, being patient and supportive, encouraged by her non-stop positive attitude and inability to complain once.

Denali Ann Shellhamer was born on October 5, 2012.

I have always been of the persuasion that you can't undertrain for a race. Fitness is not lost as much as people believe on the short term. It takes a long time to lose endurance. During the month of October I focused on Kara and Denali, and put running on the back burner during Denali's first few weeks of life with us. I trained when I could, but only got in about 20-30 miles per week during the first half of October and capped my mileage at 45 the last week of October when Kara's parents came to help with Denali.

I guess I truly put my faith in the fitness base I had developed over the year. I went into the Pinhoti 100 on November 5th fully recovered and mentally recharged. I had only run an average of 20-30 miles per week for  6 weeks and my goal was to just enjoy Pinhoti and run 100 miles on a beautiful course. I still wanted a top 5 spot and wanted a 19 hour time which would be a one hour forty minute improvement over 2 years ago. I guess when you're competing at the top level of the sport, small losses in fitness equal drastic drops in comparative ability, because I DNF'd Pinhoti at mile 70 after the heat shut me down. I had been running top 10 most of the day and gaining but after 15 hours my energy levels dropped to zero and I couldn't eat or drink. Even though I was running incredibly conservative, I just didn't have 100 miles in me that day after the low mileage the previous 6 weeks. The good news is that I was fresh mentally and ready to run again the day after Pinhoti. Since I had the opportunity to recover over the previous month my legs felt better than they had in months and my motivation was through the roof even the week after running a mountainous 70.

Now it's back to square one. There is no one formula to success. I pushed myself past the breaking point this year, and was smart enough to know when to call it quits and recover at UROC. Now I am doing that once again. I had planned on running the Bandera 100K in January and now I am altering my schedule for the following year to once again build up my base and work on speed. I'm scratching Bandera and the Montrail Ultra Cup races to avoid that plateau that many runners hit when sticking to the same thing too long.

It's time to start anew. I cant ride on the coat-tails of the previous year anymore like I've been doing since August. Just like after a very successful 2011 spring season when I went out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and build my base, again I now must start fresh and begin realigning reality with ideals.

I'll continue to work on functional strength and be proactive about hip strength and equal hamstring strength and see my PT. Once again I am going to be doing  800m repeats for VO2 improvement and threshold work for another spring marathon PR and improve my 50 mile and 100 mile times like I did last year. I will build and peak and push myself as far as I am capable, and then when the bottom drops out, I will recover.

No matter how many bulls I ride in this rodeo, there is always learning to be realised and improvements to be made. Each year requires recovery and you can't function at 100% all the time. The year has been an amazing and rewarding one. My overriding goal in this sport is to be doing it for decades to come. This year saw progress towards that goal in addressing strength through PT.

Pushing past the limits of what I thought was possible was a theme of the year. I ran the Backside Marathon one day after a 2:44 Derby Marathon PR and won. It was a success to me just to run well, regardless of the win. I wasn't scared of injury or failing during the Tour De Virginia even though training the month prior wasn't what I wanted it to be. Nonetheless, I pushed the limits and succeeded in something I didn't know I was capable of. It was something that had never been done before. I raced the race of my life at Iron Mountain only a month after the TDV and will never forget it even though I figured the TDV would have left me weak and in need of recovery. Then the bottom dropped out, and I needed to recover for UROC and went into Pinhoti refreshed and recharged but not in peak form.

Not being afraid of failure can yield the greatest rewards, and also dish out the most humbling experiences.

I leave the year with the words of Teddy ringing in my ear:

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pinhoti 100 Race Report. (A lack of tenacity.)

Running a 100 mile ultramarathon is not a feat of the individual. Regardless of what one may think, 100 mile ultramarathons are a team sport. Whether or not runners use a crew, pacers, drop bags, etcetera, finishing a 100 mile run is an accomplishment  of an amazing team of volunteers, runners, family, and friends whom stay up day and night and even spend months in advance preparing to facilitate the 15 to 30 hour journey of 100 mile runners. I often say the reason I love the sport is because of the community that surrounds it, and it is that community which succeeds when THEY enable each runner to cross the finish line.

This past Saturday I attempted to run 100 miles on the Pinhoti trail in Southeastern Alabama. The race is a mountainous 100 mile race involving over 16,000 feet of climbing on mostly singletrack hiking trail. I have run the race before and finished strong two years ago at the event after overcoming a rough patch near the halfway point of the run. My wife was my pacer during that run and with her help I continued to run through my rough patch and eventually recovered from nausea. I  came back in to good form for the last 35 miles and ran strong finishing third. With the help of someone to run with me and help me "get my stomach back" I was successful. During my first 100 miler at Mohican I was also paced by my wife who didn't let me quit and pushed me through some rough times when I felt deathly. Even though I had broken my ankle she knew her job was to push me forward regardless. At mile 90 of my first 100 race in 2008 at Mohican she had a Physical Therapist tape my broken ankle and we walked the last 10 miles to finish. It was with the help of others I completed my goals.

The week leading up to Pinhoti I felt good things were in store. My energy levels were fully recovered and I was well rested. I felt better than I had felt in months. I had DNF'd early at the UROC 100K nearly a month prior to allow for more recovery and I was feeling strong again and ready to run long. My mileage had been low over the last month to recover and also because I was focused on being a dad as my daughter, Denali, was born exactly 4 weeks prior to the Pinhoti 100. I needed to run lower mileage to recover and it worked because I was running strong in training and feeling good. I was mentally ready to conquer the Pinhoti 100 even though the last 6 weeks held the lowest mileage I had run in over a year and a half. I was confident even with the low miles I still had a good base to work with. Given that my training had been reduced and I hadn't slept much because I was focused on Denali over the past month I knew that I had to alter my goals going into this years Pinhoti 100. I simply wanted to run a even paced methodical race in which I ran extremely conservative in the first 50 and my nutrition held strong. I wasn't concerned with a podium finish and I didn't really care about overall placement. I just wanted to run a wise race in which I didn't fall apart for a decent finish. Given what I just said, I was still aiming for a top 5 finish and a time of 19 hours, which is 1 hour 40 mins better than 2 years ago...

I barely made it to the starting line in time and without much ado in the morning I was off for my 5th 100 mile finish. I started off letting the rabbits run out in front and found myself passing people near mile 20. I was holding a top ten placement and continued to pass people most of the morning and afternoon. From miles 1 to 50 I ate perfectly and drank as scheduled but it kept getting hotter. I kept using restraint and ran slow on the climbs and ran as conservatively as possible. I tried SO hard to do everything right and stick to my plan of running a nice and strong race, not looking for a performance of a lifetime but just run a good 100 mile run. I was at ease and playing my cards right. My legs felt good and they never faltered. My energy levels however, waned throughout the day. Each mile seemed like many, and there were no highs to balance the lows. The humidity soared to nearly 100% and although the temps were only in the 80's, I had been running in 40 degree temps over the past month. My head swelled and my body was covered in salt. On the biggest climbs I ran as slowly as possible to leave gas in the tank for a strong finish.

Coming in to Adam's Gap at mile 55, I did not rest as I had two years ago. I forged on accepting a minute of walking as recovery instead of stopping and hoped to finally have a high to balance the lack of energy but it never came. Every mile I became more dizzy and I was not able to eat. I was miserable. It was all I could do just to make it to the next aid station. The prospect of running 40 more miles seemed impossible, but I could run 5 more to the next aid station.

Near mile 60 I started to try to force food down even though I was nauseous and dizzy and my energy levels still waned and lessened. My legs still felt OK but I was shot mentally. Each step was agony and I was extremely tired. I knew finishing this race would be one of the hardest things I had ever done. (With the exception of finishing that first 100 miler at Mohican in 2008 with a broken ankle.)

I mustered all the courage and stamina, and more importantly, all the positive energy I had to leave the aid station at mile 65 and ran to the next aid station at mile 69, Porter's Gap. I ran with a professional mountain bike/adventure racer who had broken his toe and I tried to use his grit as inspiration.

At mile 69 the aid station called Porter's Gap resides. Porter's Gap is a milestone because once you leave Porter's Gap you don't see your crew again until 18 miles later at Bulls Gap, which means you'd better be ready to run 18 more miles leaving Porter's Gap.

When I reached Porter's Gap I faltered. I sat down. I thought about Umstead and how I would already be done if I was running 100 there. The Pinhoti 100 is not for the faint of heart. The course is challenging like no other. It's in a whole other league. Running down in to Porter's Gap several runners passed me and I became discouraged. I thought about my goal to just feel good and run strong regardless of placement and how I didn't feel good at all and I had done everything in my power to still feel good. I felt like I had failed at my goal and examined DNF'ing as an option. I discussed this with my crew who tried to persuade me to continue. I began to justify a DNF however I was not injured and so I should  have pressed on. I never should have stopped and sat at Porter's Gap, and I definitely should not have thought about if I could have made it the 18 miles to Bull's Gap to see my crew again. I should have pressed on, relentless, but I failed.

Was it pride? Was I concerned that I wouldn't be top ten if I continued on? Was it heat exhaustion and dehydration? My head was swimming and I felt nauseous, but I wouldn't have been in medical jeopardy had I continued, it just would have a been a long lonely mountainous rocky rooty slog though the forest in the dark, but so what? I don't want to admit that as those runners passed me heading into Porter's Gap I thought about sliding further down in the top ten... but I did.

DNF'ing is the greatest failure in this story.

There is nothing respectable about what I did out there. Sure, I stopped being miserable and got to go to bed by 10pm, but I let myself down and failed to serve a greater purpose of maybe motivating someone to push through hard times. The going got rough and I quit. I said out loud at Porter's Gap several times, I DON'T WANT TO QUIT, I DON'T WANT TO DNF, but I couldn't summon the energy. I could not force myself to stand up. The thought of one more step was torture mentally NOT physically.

I went many years without ever DNF'ing a race. There are definitely instances where a DNF is the smart thing to do, the RIGHT thing to do, even the respectable thing to do. UROC this year would be an example of that. I am glad I did it there but this was different at Pinhoti. I was recovered and well with nothing other than maybe a bruised ego to lose.  I can withstand any amount of physical pain, but on that night, I was weak mentally and bailed after almost 70 miles and 14 hours. I've pushed through all kinds of mental and physical adversity but I lost the battle that night. After trying everything under the sky to regain my energy levels and escape the dizziness with no success, I called it a day. I quit.


Like I said, dropping at UROC was necessary. I was fried physically and needed to recover and that happened. The lower miles which allowed my subsequent recovery left my endurance a little short heading into Pinhoti where I faltered mentally. I could have pushed a much higher pain threshold if I was running a shorter race and done well since I was recovered. I was however, running a 100 on one of the toughest 100 mile courses in the country. My lower mileage weeks over the past month were possibly catching up to me, or maybe it was the heat, I don't know. I know I could have run a strong marathon or 50 miler, but not 100, not that day. I couldn't smart my way though a 100. and just "will" all these things to happen. My legs were great but I was in the bag due whatever was zapping me, heat or whatever it was.

The good news is I'll be running again this week and I got in a good training run at Pinhoti, nearly 70 miles on technical terrain with tons of climbing.

It meant a lot to get messages from friends regarding my DNF at Pinhoti this year, but here are the facts: I quit. I failed. I inspired no one, and did no good. I am learning from it. I am moving forward. I try to learn something from every race and this one threw me for a loop. I have never been in this situation before and it got the best of me.

You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. It WON'T happen again. I won't be that weak next time.

Surround yourself with a great crew. Use a pacer. Push until you can't push any more, (barring injury), and then  push some more. When you try to quit, allow awesome crew members and pacers to grab you by the shoulders and literally shove you back out on the course. Be an example, and inspire others with tenacity, grit, and greatness. Do not be weak.

And yeah, as for me I'll heed my own advice, and use this once again as a learning opportunity; a chance to grow as a runner and mature. I'm not down, just calling it out for what it is, not scared of the truth as it stared back at me. I'll be back for more. I'll be racing Hellgate 100K in December, but now I also need to come back for vengeance on the 100 mile distance, at another mountain 100 miler, not an easy one either.

During the race I wore:

Pearl Izumi Compression Shorts with ZERO Chaffing
Montrail Mountain Masochist with ZERO foot issues.
Swiftwick Socks
Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp / Petzyl Tikka XP2 Headlamp

Upcoming Blog Post: Hoka One One Bondi B Review.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Even a Mantis Shrimp Would Rock Smith Shades. Smith Pivlock V2 / V90 Review

A few weeks ago while driving home from the Iron Mountain Trail Race I was listening to a podcast about color and how the eye and brain interpret color. The podcast went in to great detail to describe how dogs have 2 types of cones in their eyes which allow them to see shades of blue and green. Humans on the other hand, have three types of cones allowing us to see red, blue and green. A species of shrimp called the Mantis Shrimp has 12 cones, enabling it to see colors we cannot even fathom in our pallete. Alas, I digress. How does sunglass lens color affect optical clarity and definition then? We'll come back to color in a bit...

Color is a complex topic, and often times when choosing sunglasses and lenses we opt for what looks sexy off the shelf and the frame which best fits our face. There is however a method to the fun task of grabbing a great lens for your specific sport. After searching high and low, I found the Smith Pivlock series of glasses to be a stellar choice for whatever your need.  They feature interchangable lenses in multiple colors and frameless technology for unobstructed optical clarity. (This means you won't be staring at the top rim of the frames atop your lens if you are tucked low in a cycling position! The perfect aero shade!)

The original Pivlock was introduced several years ago and has been my go-to shade for road/trail running and road/mountain biking as the interchangable lenses are bombproof thanks to the patented Pivlock technology. The temples snap securely to the lens and unlike other interchangable lenses, you don't feel like you're going to break your investment by swapping lenses. Why swap lenses in the first place you ask?

Back to color... The following chart displays how much light each lens in the Pivlock series allows in. On road runs and while road cycling, I prefer the Platinum lens on my Pivlock V2, and the Brown lens on my Pivlock V90's. Platinum and Gray lenses provide slightly less light to pass through the lens as opposed to the Brown lens. Gray and Platinum lenses also allow true color to pass through which means that even while wearing them you are seeing colors just as they appear, undistorted. Brown lenses may not always allow true color to pass through, but they do provide better contrast vision. Here's how to piece this all together; On super bright days I wear the Platinum lens. On days which aren't quite as bright I enjoy the Brown lens which provides better depth perception and contrast. My favorite lens in the line-up however, is the Ignitor lens. As a trailrunner primarily who spends about 15 hours on average per week on trails, I constantly find myself praising the Ignitor lens for its ability to provide contrast and definition to the surroundings along with aiding in depth perception. On the chart below Smith claims that the Ignitor lens doesn't alter color perception. I might disagree with that claim as when I take off the sunglasses after running for hours in the woods, everything seems green/blue immediately and washes together. When I put the shades back on, I have definition amongst colors and shapes moreso than is aparent to the naked unshaded eye.

Today I went mountain biking and on top of the protection that the large lens of the Pivlock offers my eyes while ripping down singeltrack at high speeds, I love their ability to aid in definition on technical trails while moving swiftly. All winter long, even on cloudy days I wear the Ignitor lens as it "brightens" the trail in front of me. It also provides protection from stray branches and from the cold and biting winds which cause the eyes to water on chilly windy runs.

The Pivlock series comes in two main styles; the original Pivlock V90 and the newly released Pivlock V2. Both models are made to fit small and medium faces but don't fret, if you have a big mug both models come in larger sizes under the name Pivlock V90 Max and Pivlock V2 Max. The biggest difference between the V90 and V2 is that the newer V2's offer an adjustable nose piece. The ventilation on the V90's was already pretty great. The nose piece on the new V2's add a little venting but the best feature is that the shades can be custom fit to your shnoz. I notice that the V2's and their adjustable nosepiece sit farther out on my face which could make them a better model for cycling as they seem to have more airflow. I prefer my V90's for running as they feel more secure on my face. I imagine that noth models are so secure fitting you could take a naster digger trailrunning as I've done before and not worry about the glasses flying off, or bite the road on a bike without concern of your sweet shades flying into orbit. Regarding weight, the V90's feel slightly lighter although both models are extremely light especially in relation to any other sunglass models offering multiple lens options with such vast coverage. It's all splitting hairs though, you can't go wrong with either model.

Smith lenses feature TLT, or Tapered Lens Technology, which means higher optical clarity and no distortions as the curvature of the lens tapers in the same way the human eyes cornea tapers for flawless light refraction. The Pivlock
lenses are also coated in a hydroleophobic lens coating. What this means is that the lenses repel dirt, grease, sweat, sunscreen, etc also providing scratch resistance in the process as these particles don't stick to the lens while cleaning.

To help reduce glare, Pivlock lenses contain a multitiered mirror coating. Sunglass lenses typically offer a mirror coating or Polarization. The purpose of using mirror coatings to deflect glare from the lens easing eye strain throughout the day. Polarized lenses can be troublesome in that they don't allow the wearer to see LCD screens or certain types of glass. I love jumping in the car and still being able to see through the windows and use the touch screen and radio while wearing unpolarized glasses. This isn't the case when I wear Polarized lenses. I can't see the screen and my side windows contain reflections I typically wouldn't see. Personally, mirrored is the way to go!

You needn't worry about angering the green party either with your purchase as Smith is on the forefront of eco-friendly production methods and even uses bio-based frame materials with its Evolve technology.

Locally, here in Louisville Smith shades are available at Quest Outdoors located in Shelbyville Road Plaza and also in The Summit Shopping Center. Since this is all mighty interweb however, most of you can find your nearest Smith retailer here:  SMITH STORE LOCATOR

Happy Trails, Roads and Beyond! Enjoy the view!


Monday, October 1, 2012

DNF- Smacking Me Back Into Balance.

Sunrise from Wintergreen Summit as seen from my condo.
I don't have a problem pushing myself. I have a problem backing off. This past weekend was the Ultra Race of Champions, (UROC), 100K. The race garnishes international attention and holds a $20,000 prize purse. It was a large focus of the year for me, and 8 miles into the 63 mile race, I DNF'd. It was however, a success.

The decision to quit a race doesn't come lightly. The choice to drop out of a race is especially difficult when the race was the focus of an entire year. The ability to see constant improvement as an athlete doesn't come easy. Making tough decisions based on seeing the whole picture is necessary. One must have the discipline and faith to put in easy days, and not always push hard in training.When you feel like crap, you need to back off. Training harder doesn't yield the biggest gains, its about training smarter. It's about balance. Its a tight-rope walk, and a juggling act.

Pre Race Elite Panel
Pre Race Elite Panel
Four weeks prior to UROC I ran the race of my life at the Iron Mountain 50 Miler. In learning from past mistakes I backed off my mileage the week after the race to recover. This season was nearly a repeat of last season and I figured I should have had time to recover for UROC. In the weeks leading up to UROC though I felt like I was in a daze. Outside of running I had little joy and excitement and normal stressors in life which usually wouldn't bother me became harder to deal with. I found the long hours of my job as an Urgent Care nurse harder to deal with. I'm always cognisant of overtraining as it has been a problem in the past. I cut my mileage back as I began to feel less motivation in life, and I became apathetic. If I wasn't running, I wanted to rest or sleep. I felt like my brain wasn't working right, and there were connections that just weren't being made in my head.

Ian Sharman answers questions by AJW 
When I have a goal like UROC I can cut out most extraneous details out of my life and focus on the main goal. I have a somewhat demonic discipline/drive and although a great asset at times, it can be the cause of my downfall. In the weeks prior to UROC, my fatigue levels began to increase and so I began to cut out the parts of my life which weren't directly related to the end-goal of a stellar performance at UROC. I was still tired. I cut down my mileage, but I was still tired. In the past my running was negatively affected when I was worn out but this time my running was fine. A week prior to UROC I had my Lactate Threshold tested at the University of Louisville sports science lab, and my LT was 95% of maximum heart rate. I was running better than ever but my head was fried.

In the past when I began to overreach in training, I became stressed out but this time was different. I just cut out whatever details could cause stress, so I was at ease. Maybe I have become too good at dealing with stress? Ha ha ha... This time I was just unhappy, plain and simple. Running was the only thing that mattered. To my detriment, I failed to recognize overtraining because I was not stressed out.

Anyone who aspires to be the best at something has to learn from their mistakes.

The general lackluster enthusiasm I felt in my life outside of running was due to overtraining, plain and simple. This wasn't my first foray into overreaching and I knew the symptoms by race day. This wasn't my first rodeo!

Shortly before the start, I told my crew, Stephanie that I would need extra motivation this race. I just didn't have it in me.

I was tired.

When the gun went off I charged ahead with the fastest runners in the sport. My stomach was in knots. It had felt like that for several days, and the pace at which we ran exacerbated my GI issues. Maybe it was the curse of the Ghost peppers from several days back! Maybe it was the mucous from the sinus infection I'd been battling. The nausea I had been experiencing over the last several days grew exponentially with each mile. I thought about DNF'ing by the end first mile.

But quitting is failure right???

The same brain that pushes me to train hard and push to the limit of my capacity is directly opposed to dropping out. In many races I have experienced success by crushing the voice which screams to quit because of pain and agony, but this time was different. With experience comes the ability to differentiate.

I analyzed the variables.

I could push hard in UROC. Since I felt horrific I could maybe squelch out a top 10 finish in the best scenario but in no way was I racing at the top of my game. I felt confident I could not reach the top 5 podium spot which held the prize money. Just to hit a top 10 spot if it was possible I would be emotionally and physically destroyed for the next several weeks.  In only 10 days my first child was due to be born. In 5 weeks I was slated to race in the Pinhoti 100 which would determine my racing future for the following year. I need to podium at Pinhoti as the top several spots are given entry to the Western States 100. Western States is the focus of my following year. Would I be fit for Pinohti with all the upcoming month held?

Pushing hard at UROC would have yielded uninspired results which failed to meet potential. I would be fatigued as a result during the birth of my daughter. Seriously, where are my priorities?

Over the course of the past few weeks I had finally began to recover from my busy summer racing schedule while tapering for UROC. Pushing at UROC would put me right back at square one, so I decided to call it a day. I was shot.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but that day was hard. I knew I had done the right thing. I had a stellar year of racing and raced frequently. I didn't have it in me that day, so I had to be smart and throw in the towel.

Already I feel great and mentally I feel like I am back to my good ole self. On race day it was brutal to watch the best in the sport make the final climb. I let my pride go though, and I took the punch and moved on. UROC was a pride issue. Pinhoti however affects the rest of my year. I also just flat out didn't have it that day. Maybe it was the sinus infection, maybe it was my stomach, maybe I was shot from so much racing. It was a blessing in disguise. Regardless, I learned a little bit more about racing, training and life.

Whenever I let other spokes in my wheel of life balance out the running spoke, I become a better runner. It's all about balance. I thrive when running isn't the only focus. Don't get me wrong, I am driven to continue to excel at my sport and continue to gain speed, but I know for certain, whenever it occupies to large of a slice of the pie that is my life, my performance suffers. I need balance.

October brings energy and life. I'll welcome my daughter into the world. With my choice to DNF UROC, she will get the energy and attention she deserves. Driving my choice to DNF was the ambition that I'll have more energy to devote to her wholly as a new focus in my life along with my other passions.

It's all a learning process, and this is one more lesson I won't forget.
UROC 2013 to be held in Vail!