Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lookout Mountain 50 Race Report-

The road ahead was grey and it fused into blue skies. It was a cold day but beautiful for December. Interstate 65 carried us away towards Chattanooga. My mind was blank and unfettered. I felt strong and focused and most importantly I was at peace and accepted the reality I lived in. I was on my way to run 50 miles on Lookout Mountain.

For the first time in months I was free of myself and the pressure I always feed from within. I said, "What will be will be." It doesn't necessarily matter which avenue I am on, which arena I've entered, I tend to always push 100% and nothing is ever good enough. This can be detrimental as was evidenced in my recent performance at the Tunnel Hill 100 mile run last month. (TH100) I cared so much that balance in life was askew. You can't go 100% all the time. You can't micromanage every variable and expect fatigue to not set in.You have to allow time to decompress. I'm a father, I'm a husband, I'm a coach, I'm an athlete, I'm a nurse, I'm a Race Director, I'm a wannabe musician, etc. I don't want to let anyone down in the pursuits I choose to make my passions. I want to make the absolute most of my potential in the endeavors I choose to focus on. I want to be the best I can be. I'm small time in the grand scheme of things. Others are capable of much more than I, so dammit, I want to at least make the absolute most of my limited potential. Constantly seeking improvement can become overwhelming as my mind never stops.

Every day I see some incredibly strong people around me. These people inspire me. I believe each of us is born with a certain amount of potential. I don't believe we all handle stresses in life the same. I do believe we can constantly grow and improve if we are honest with ourselves about our attitudes and emotions and accept the reality around us. The races I direct are small but I care greatly about my runners enjoying themselves and having a great experience. I care deeply about the runners I coach. I get involved in their lives and try to give my all to help them in their pursuits in sharing what I've learned. I'm proud of my hard work and the coaching business I've built and the races I direct.

My points are as follows... I get wrapped up in my own world of goals and drive and motivation. Sometimes this affects my recovery. I think too much. I wanted to set a personal record at  TH100 and in turn I ran 100 mile training weeks back to back to back and ran my ass off. I ate regimented meals and tried to control every aspect of training and life, but it left me fatigued on race day. I had an OK race, but NOT great like I wanted.

This was a wake up call during Tunnel Hill as I watched my time goal slip out of reach. I needed to back off and let life come to me. I had to stop attacking my goals and let them simply happen. I had to have faith in myself. I needed to chill the hell out. People told me, "You ran a great race! You were 2nd place!" but I know this wasn't true. I have met my potential before and this was not it. I don't care about placement. Placement is for people who care what others think. I care about what I think. I'm not out to impress. I'm out to help others and learn how to advance our human performance in endurance sports. I'd rather run 5th against stiff competition than win a race against a soft field. There's no room for pride if you truly care about meeting your maximum potential! I'm secure in my life outside of running. I don't think we can truly meet our potential in running until we are secure in ourselves and where we fit into the bigger picture.

Sometimes I need a gentle reminder of the above statements, and TH100 was it. I cared too much. I could have ran ninety minutes faster. I'm honest with my performances. I pat myself on the back when I deserve it and I'm critical when I should be.

I ate like a champ the month after TH100 leading into Lookout Mountain. I didn't worry about controlling every variable. I ate about 500 more calories per day than I normally do. I gave up control. I didn't worry about gaining weight. I didn't run much either. I cut my training volume down to a third of what I usually do. This would worry some people but as mentioned, I had faith. I had to recover. I've seen too many people not allow recovery because they had no faith and it's led to DNF's or finishing at a mere fraction of their potential.

I chose sleep often over running during this month of recovery.

Race day held positive vibes. I felt like I was back in full force. Ready to meet my potential and land some strong blows to the course, as well as take some blows.

I wasn't looking forward to time off after the race. I felt strong and free.

Even with the added daily calories, I only gained about 3 pounds after Tunnel Hill, and it was all muscle mass. Body fat stayed below 5%.

At the starting line temps were chilly and it was dark. I noticed a friend, Harvey Lewis, (winner of the infamous Badwater 135,) and we exchanged greetings. I was glad to also say hi to Brian Pickett yet I was sad he wasn't running!

Harvey bolted off the starting like it was a 10k race, not a 50 mile race. I was in the mood to push myself. I came to dig deep into oblivion and felt ready to do so. On a weaker day I would have paced myself better but I felt capable of recovering from the insane early pace in the opening miles. I let Harvey gain a little ground but he came back to me soon enough.

By the time we hit the first aid station at mile 5 Harvey had slowed enough for me to pass him and I took over second/ third place with a guy from GA. I enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for the beauty of the overlooks on the course.

I was surprised to see some unmarked junctions along the course and this lit a fire under my ass. Last year some ambiguous course marking at this race caused most of the top 10 runners to go off course several miles. Luckily I've run this race enough times to know where the 10K course veers from the 50 mi and so we followed the 50 mi markings and not the 10K course. I notified race management at the next aid station and I heard they fixed the markings promptly.

The climb back up to Covenant College was not lonely. I had good company in the form of Josh Cline. Josh is a runner from FL who was staying in Chattanooga for a while after the race to focus on rock climbing for a bit. I enjoyed his company as we chatted about some running and training philosophies as well as jobs, climbing, etc.

I saw Stephanie at Covenant College, mile 22 and had a quick exchange of food and fluid. I was feeling great and yelled, "I'm chopping cabbage!" (A reference to a rap song which was the theme of the weekend...It's about rising up after getting knocked down, self empowerment, etc. Hahaha "REBIRF MUDDUH!") to which she replied, "DON'T FORGET THE OLIVES!"

Heading out onto the power-line stretch of the course I became angered again at the lack of markings at one very important junction. This is where many runners were lost last year and so I was surprised it wasn't marked. I was in third place running with second place just ahead. Second place decided to run on ahead and I stopped. I ran back to the chase pack behind us to verify we were all accounted for and going the right way. I lost about 10 minutes in this debacle but I quickly gained ground after getting back on course with the others and sealed my third placement along the way. (On the run back I noticed flags had been put up at these junctions.)

I forced calories down regularly in the form of gels and water.

Nearing mile 45 I caught the runner in second place gent, Derek. I had been getting splits on him from runners and spectators. I had closed a 14 minute gap over the past 10 miles and caught him on a climb where his crew awaited him. He didn't realize I was right behind him and I heard him ask, "Where is third place?!" to which they replied, "Right there!" Derek's crew are all phenomenal runners in their own right.

I was pretty confident that I had just captured second placement since I closed such a large gap to him. I knew I had fueled well and I could even speed up the last five miles but upon seeing me, Derek, was off like a rocket. I made haste to chase him down and I was running well, but damn! Derek was gone!

I was happy to be chasing second as opposed to defending third. It meant I felt strong and would at least probably retain my podium spot in third.

The closing miles I didn't see Derek anymore. He had a great closing!

I crossed the line in third place which was my "A" goal for the day. I've won this race in the past and placed second and third as well. I knew I was greatly fatigued coming off of a huge year but through allowing recovery and rest I was able to finally get my legs back and have a race I was REALLY elated with!

I couldn't be happier. This was racing at my potential. I had gained some muscle and felt good the whole day.

Crossing the line in first place and absolutely crushing the course that day was Nathan Holland. Nathan was fourth last year. I passed him with about a quarter mile to go and stole third. This year was HIS. He was out front the whole day! What a deserving guy. He's very nice and clearly worked HARD over the year. He ran an incredibly impressive time.

There were a slew of young guys out there that are going to take the sport to a whole new level.

Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers that make the race possible.

So there it was...2014 all wrapped up. I stood elated on the podium!

I allowed recovery and in turn, by playing my cards right I had one last strong race of the year. I couldn't have been happier with the day and my performance.

Here is a rundown of 2014:

Jan- The Pistol 100 mi- 6th Place

February- Lovin' the Hills- 3rd Place

March- Land Between the Lakes 3rd Place

April- Blind Pig 100 Mile- 2nd Place

May- Otter Creek Night Run 35 mi- 1st Place

June- Hawthorn Half Day Run- 1st Overall- Course RECORD- 81.5 miles

August- Burning River 100 mi 1st Overall

August- Iron Mountain 50 Mi- 2nd Overall

October- Bourbon Chase Ultra Div- 1st Overall- Course Record

November Tunnel Hill 100 Mi- 2nd Overall

December Lookout Mountain 50 Mi. 3rd Overall

As for 2015...we'll see what it holds. First and foremost, I need to recover! Then it's on to the big dance at Western States 100.

There are no formulas for success. This seems like its all science but it takes an artist to interpret the subjective data from the objective. Sometimes you need to push and strain in training, and other times you need to back off. I've finished over 50 ultra distance races now and met some amazing people. This sport gets more rewarding each year and I learn more about myself with each finish line crossing.

Had to have some fun in Nashville en route! I found a keeper!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mind Over Matter- Not exactly the case for the doggedly determined athlete. (a very basic explanation of over-training)

"The legs were there but the mind just wasn't in it."

"My lungs just weren't there today."

"I just couldn't push as hard as I wanted."

"I just wasn't tough enough."

People say this kind of stuff all the time to justify poor race performance and although I'm not trivializing the importance of attitude and mental strength in the sport, I would like to STRONGLY stress the mind and body are one in the same.

Some athletes are blessed with a dogged determination and will. They fight to the death. Performance for them is worth entering deep into the pain cave. The mind is an incredibly strong tool to overpower the body and these strong willed athletes push their bodies to forge on even when every cell screams, "Stop!"

When the body doesn't respond though they feel that they only faltered mentally, but their is indeed a physiological reason for whats happening: endocrine burnout.

Athletes with strong discipline have a tendency to push themselves hard in training. Sometimes they feel recovered physically but in reality they show up on race day fatigued. This is hormonal fatigue.

Runners get their ability to push hard from their hormones. These hormones are primarily epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, and testosterone, as well as cortisone and a myriad of others.

Read this excerpt to learn about the hormones:

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of your kidneys that are made up of two distinct parts.
  • The adrenal cortex—the outer part of the gland—produces hormones that are vital to life, such as cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
  • The adrenal medulla—the inner part of the gland—produces nonessential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
When you think of the adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands), stress might come to mind. And rightly so—the adrenal glands are arguably best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body to spring into action in a stressful situation.
But the adrenal glands contribute to your health even at times when your body isn’t under extreme stress. In fact, they release hormones that are essential for you to live.
Anatomy of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two, triangular-shaped organs that measure about 1.5 inches in height and 3 inches in length. They are located on top of each kidney. Their name directly relates to their location (ad—near or at; renes—kidneys).
Each adrenal gland is comprised of two distinct structures—the outer part of the adrenal glands is called the adrenal cortex. The inner region is known as the adrenal medulla.
Hormones of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla have very different functions. One of the main distinctions between them is that the hormones released by the adrenal cortex are necessary for life; those secreted by the adrenal medulla are not.
 Adrenal Cortex Hormones
The adrenal cortex produces two main groups of corticosteroid hormones—glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. The release of glucocorticoids is triggered by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Mineralcorticoids are mediated by signals triggered by the kidney.
 When the hypothalamus produces corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), it stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenal corticotrophic hormone (ACTH). These hormones, in turn, alert the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.
Glucocorticoids released by the adrenal cortex include:
  • Hydrocortisone: Commonly known as cortisol, it regulates how the body converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to energy. It also helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function.
  • Corticosterone: This hormone works with hydrocortisone to regulate immune response and suppress inflammatory reactions.
The principle mineralcorticoid is aldosterone, which maintains the right balance of salt and water while helping control blood pressure.
There is a third class of hormone released by the adrenal cortex, known as sex steroids or sex hormones. The adrenal cortex releases small amounts of male and female sex hormones. However, their impact is usually overshadowed by the greater amounts of hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone) released by the ovaries or testes.
Adrenal Medulla Hormones
Unlike the adrenal cortex, the adrenal medulla does not perform any vital functions. That is, you don’t need it to live. But that hardly means the adrenal medulla is useless. The hormones of the adrenal medulla are released after the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which occurs when you’re stressed. As such, the adrenal medulla helps you deal with physical and emotional stress. You can learn more by reading a SpineUniverse article about the sympathetic nervous system.
You may be familiar with the fight-or-flight response—a process initiated by the sympathetic nervous system when your body encounters a threatening (stressful) situation. The hormones of the adrenal medulla contribute to this response.
Hormones secreted by the adrenal medulla are:
  • Epinephrine: Most people know epinephrine by its other name—adrenaline. This hormone rapidly responds to stress by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the muscles and brain. It also spikes your blood sugar level by helping convert glycogen to glucose in the liver. (Glycogen is the liver’s storage form of glucose.)
  • Norepinephrine: Also known as noradrenaline, this hormone works with epinephrine in responding to stress. However, it can cause vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood vessels). This results in high blood pressure. taken from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/adrenaline-cortisol-stress-hormones_n_3112800.html

These hormones are what make up the fight or flight response. They make your heart beat faster and allow you to release fuel like fat and glycogen into your blood stream. They give athletes the ability to dig deep and really enter the pain cave in a race. Well rested and trained athletes can push themselves at 100% when these hormones are readily available.

When athletes train too much and ignore the signs of over-reaching and / or over-training these hormones become released in smaller quantities. 

The mind can't just "force" the body to perform optimally because in essence the athlete is experiencing a shortage of necessary fuel for your race. These hormones which runners usually use while racing are not there in similar quanity because the hormone system is fatigued and won't dump out the same level of hormones as it would in a non-fatigued state and therefore the runner can't dig as deeply as normal. 

For more info I suggest researching flight or fight response and stress adaptation.

You can't push at 100% all the time. The body can't differentiate life stress and training stress. Allow balance and recovery. 

Racing too frequently is a major cause of endocrine fatigue. The body needs downtime to restore hormone levels.

Good luck in your training!