Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Perry Lake 50K: Do You Like Apples?

In many ways, this race was completely an afterthought. I had envisioned taking a solid month off of any serious running following the Free State 100K. Seeing as how that was the biggest race I've ever done in my life, my concerns were regarding burning myself out physically and mentally. Like a good boy, I didn't run once the week following that race, I saw my massage therapist, and I was keeping up with my yoga.

Like a good boy. Following "the plan".

But then again...

It was an absolutely beautiful day. The trails at Shawnee Mission Park were finally open! How could I resist? Seriously...how?
Heaven

8 miles of Red Loop convinced me that perhaps I was recovering faster than I thought I would. Later that week, I ran again...just a 5 mile out-and-back in downtown KC. My legs...honestly...if you had told me that a little over a week ago I had run 62 miles, I'd have called you a liar. My legs felt brand-spanking new.

And that night at work...11 days post-Free State...I signed up for my 5th ultramarathon of the year, which was 11 days away. I had run the Perry Lake trails before. I had checked out finish times from the previous year. They seemed fast. I wondered if I'd be able to manage a sub-6...maybe a few minutes faster and I could reclaim the coveted 50K LWR that I had lost to my brother back in March. Or I could just have a fun day out on the trails.

What really struck me the most going into this race was my mindset regarding the distance. "It's just another 50K". I remember the point in my life when I was shocked to discover half marathons were not a big deal anymore. I could churn out 13.1 miles on pretty much any given day, regardless of training. Now I had officially become a casual ultramarathoner.

I've also noticed that I've been essentially flowing from one ultra to another this year. After putting in solid mileage in January, I've basically maintained by simultaneously recovering from one race and tapering into the next. I haven't done a long training run since January, because every race I've done counts as my long run. In my mind, at least. I'm not injured, and as long as I stay that way, I don't see any reason why I couldn't continue this for the time being.

Right...THE RACE! I RAN A RACE! Let's talk about that...

I was extremely excited for Perry Lake because for the very first time in my running career, I was going to try and push the pace on an ultra distance race. Prior to this, I had taken very conservative and calculated approaches to my pacing, but I decided that I really have nothing to prove to myself at this point. I've PR'd two 50Ks already this year, so if I blew up, I'd at least get an opportunity to fully experience a threshold.

Free State taught me some lessons regarding hydration, so I was going to focus on less water and more salt. Especially since it was going to be a bit hotter for this race. In addition to pushing pace, I was also going to attempt to spend as little time at aid stations as possible. Not because I desperately need those precious minutes, but because looking at my Garmin readouts from Free State, my "moving time" and my "total time" showed a discrepancy of two entire hours. That's 2 hours of standing, squatting, eating, drinking...and a decided lack of what ultramarathoners call "relentless forward progress". I'm not really ashamed, per se...it was my first 100K...but I could definitely do better. Even if it was just as small as taking food and walking while I ate it.

Having such loose goals and expectations left me feeling very relaxed and content on race morning. I stayed in Lawrence the night before, and even had a few beers out with friends before turning in for the night. The weather was perfect...a bit chilly in the morning, but expected to warm up some. The trails were utterly immaculate with exactly one muddy spot on the entire course.

Surrounded by friendly faces and positive attitudes, we gathered beforehand to exchange stories and a few laughs before we lined up to start. I think I ONCE AGAIN told the story of running my first 50K....at WyCo....2 weeks after my first Ironman....and as my first trail race. It's not really much of a story...just that I did it, and how ill-advised that series of life decisions was.
Storytime with Danny
Soon enough we lined up with the half marathoners, got the usual brief but charming pre-race speech from Bad Ben, and then the horn blew.

Striding off down the hill and onto the trail, I had the original intention of taking the first few miles easy before gradually pushing the pace. In classic style, I didn't do that. I decided to go for a feeling instead of a specific pace, and I decided to run with a "moderate sense of urgency", and that's as well as I can describe it. Not in a hurry, but definitely going somewhere. 

The first few miles went smoothly enough, though I was in a big conga line of runners. I was really enjoying their pace, but after a few miles I noticed that the people up front were running trail stupid. "Trail stupid" is a term I thought I had just invented, but when I tried to explain it to a fellow runner in the days following the race, they immediately knew exactly what I meant. No word-smithing points for me today. These "trail stupid" runners had a fantastic pace, but they were running the uphills and WALKING the technical descents. Um, that's not how this is supposed to work. You walk the uphills and make up the time by bombing the downhills in full berzerker mode. After a few miles of this, my frustration won the debate and I passed 6-7 people all in one go. I noticed that they were mostly half-marathoners, and it seemed odd that I'd been keeping pace with them. And I left them in the dust after the first big downhill. 

I was holding a solid pace for the next several miles and simply could not believe how fantastic my legs felt. I was pushing the pace... but I wasn't breathing hard, I wasn't struggling, my footwork was on-point, my form was smooth, and I was overcome with the sense that I was just gliding over the terrain. 

Effortless flow
You know how there are some days when you just don't have legs? This was not one of those days. Today, I had The Legs Of A Golden GOD! Or at least that's what I kept telling myself...perhaps hoping it would remain true for a few more hours.

I rolled in and out of the first aid station, staffed by Bryan West and some other fine folks. I grabbed what I needed and wasted no time in heading back down the trail, with a banana and some orange slices in hand. I snacked on them as I ran, and honestly felt somewhat silly that I hadn't thought to do that before. 

After I left my original conga line behind, with a few exceptions, I ran the rest of the 1st loop and a good chunk of the 2nd loop completely by myself. I did yo-yo a few times with a half marathoner from Colorado and we did chat briefly during one of these passes. He was impressed with my pace and even called me a "beast". I soon found out that he had never run trails before. This resulted in me smoking him on technical sections and him smoking me on hills. It was a fun back-and-forth before I ultimately passed him for good and didn't see him again. Nice guy though! 

Aside from that, I spent a very large portion of this race completely by myself. If you read my 100K race report, you'll remember on that particular day, the solitude was poisonous and debilitating. I got into my head and let my doubts, insecurities, and negative emotions get the best of me. It was hell until I could redirect my thoughts with the help of another friendly racer. 

Today was a demonstration of the power of positive thought and what a huge difference a few weeks can make. Both literally and figuratively, there was not a single cloud in my sky. It was a beautiful day, and I was filled with nothing but good vibes and happy thoughts. 

I knew I was trouncing the first loop, but only had a general sense that I was doing so. Garmin mileage is notoriously squirrely, so I took the splits with a grain of salt(or perhaps an S-cap or two). I came through the 2nd manned aid station at mile 13(staffed by some questionably French Frenchmen), grabbed food, notably french toast(get it?), and set off to tackle the final 2 mile loop which would bring me back to this aid station and to my halfway point. Having not really focused much on my watch, I didn't really think about time expectations until I finished this 2 miles. Coming back into the aid station, I hit my drop bag, restocked on chews, grabbed some Nutella/PB wraps, and got a refill on my hydration pack. As I began my 2nd loop, it finally occurred to me that I was halfway done...a reliable mileage marker....15.5 miles....time elapsed?

2:26

....um....

....the what?

2:26....sub-fucking 5 hour pace. 

Um, this can NOT be possible. Not fucking possible. How the....I can't even....WHAT?

Granted, I knew I would likely not maintain that pace for the 2nd lap...but the fact remained that I had run sub-5 hour pace for half of my race and, as of yet, had not destroyed my legs. I was still moving.

...and I was a full HALF HOUR faster than I imagined I could possibly be at this point...that's some solid wiggle room for a new PR or....dare I suggest....a reclaimed LWR! Recent Gallup polls have suggested that my brother Chris does indeed like apples. 

Within the first mile of my 2nd loop, I experienced the first of two difficulties that I would face all day. My hydration plan seemed to be working beautifully up to this point and things were going great until this moment. I stopped to relieve myself and I had an awful flashback to Ironman Florida...only a few drips came out...but the uncomfortable urge remained. Oh shit...here we go again. For a little backstory, I spent a good hour of my run in Florida with this painful urge to urinate, but no urine to back it up. It definitely slowed me down between the frequent stops at the john and feeling miserable. I seriously did NOT want to go through that again.

Instead of panicking, I realized that I would need to start taking in more water to alleviate this issue. I guess I'm still fine tuning the hydration strategy. It was a nice Goldilocks moment for me as I realized that last race I drank too much, and this time I didn't drink enough. But I know at some point I'll get it dialed in and I'll have that race where my fluid intake will be just right.

Anyways, I won't dwell much more, aside from to say that the discomfort lasted a little while longer and I had a few more stops along the way to attempt to relieve the sensation, but it eventually faded and I was right back to rocking my way down the trail. 

My pace was gradually slowing through the course of the 2nd loop, but that was to be expected. I was still running faster than I ever had in an ultra. And I still felt pretty fantastic. 

I hit Bryan West's aid station once more, in and out without too much delay, and headed back out with another handful of fruit. As the miles ticked away, something really really unexpected happened.

I started passing people. Not a ton, obviously...we were spaced out well enough at this point. But every now and then, I'd see somebody up the trail, and since I apparently had the legs for it...why the hell not try and catch 'em?

The point is this. I had basically chosen a completely haphazard approach to this race...afterburners until I either finish or explode. It seemed like this "plan" would see me passing people in the early stages of the race...NOT the final 5-10 miles. But that's how it unfolded. I passed some really strong and fast looking dudes who just looked like they had nothing left in the tank. It seemed almost like I was pulling one over on the universe. Like I was getting away with something while the gods of trail running were looking the other way. This isn't really supposed to happen. I bet those dudes trained really hard...and I just kinda showed up and said, "Aw shit, let's f*ckin' wing it!"

I do remember the one exception to that pattern...it was probably with 5 or so miles to go, a friendly chap named Eric caught me. I think we yo-yo'd a few times, and chit-chatted about something or other, but I honestly couldn't tell you what. I do remember that my hydration pack went dry and I had a little miniature panic, because I couldn't figure out exactly how many miles were between us and the aid station, but at the same time, it'd seem silly to refill it with only 2 miles to go. I decided that I'd pound a few cups of fluid and ditch the pack altogether for the last mini loop before the finish.

About a half mile before we reached L'aid Statione du Fran├žais, we happened upon one of the amazing race photographers. Between Rick and Kristi Mayo and Tyson Hofsommer, I have never had so many awesome pictures of myself from one race. Big thanks to them for the amazing shots! Anyways...I was leading Eric in, and when I spotted the photographer, per accredited Dorkus Malorkus protocol, I immediately went into "think of something goofy to do" mode. My brain sorted through the typical options...Goofy face? Double thumbs-up? Mid-air heel click? Point at camera with best Blue Steel face? Flex?

All good options, no doubt. But my eyes spotted gold. A good sized log running parallel to the trail.

Bingo.

Cue the circus music.
...woah...Woah....WOAH!


















You can see Eric in the background of the 2nd shot, possibly wondering who the hell this yahoo is. Anyways...Tyson captured the moment in all its "glory"... in-focus and everything!

As I exultantly laughed at my personal triumph over the Spontaneous Optional Log Obstacle, all of a sudden, completely out of nowhere....BAM!

I bonked.

Finally...I knew it would probably happen. Fate had finally become wise to what I was up to and was finally putting an end to my ridiculous charade as a fast ultramarathoner.

But you know what? Fuck Fate. As Eric passed me, rather than sinking into endless, hopeless, bleak despair, I slammed 3 Honey Stinger chews and gritted my teeth for an impending bear fight. I was moving slow. Really slow. The legs were screaming and refused to respond. But I kept moving as well as I could. I knew I was close. Maybe a few hundred meters from France. I didn't necessarily think they could fix what was wrong with me...but it was something to shoot for.

I could hear the cheers as Eric rolled through. I was close.

I busted into the clearing. My mom and dad were standing there cheering(I knew they were planning on coming to watch me finish since they were visiting friends in Lawrence). So...I saw them. My brain acknowledged, "Those are the people who are my parents." With the hazy bonked-induced state my mind was in, that's basically all it could muster. I approached the table, called for 2 cups of Heed, slammed 3 orange slices, announced that I was ditching my empty hydration pack, and said, "See you in 2 miles!"

It wasn't until after I had finished that the realization struck me...I hadn't physically acknowledged my parents in any way, shape, or form. No "Hello", no eye contact, no anything. They would have been well within their right to disown me on the spot. But since they're the best parents on the god-damned planet, they did not. I later apologized profusely for this utter failure as an offspring, but they at least pretended to forgive me on the premise that I was "focused"...or "drunk on a nutritional deficit".

Truckin' it in to the finish
Back to that...I left the Fantastic Frenchmen(Bryan Hay, Dave Everhart, Amber Lane, and the Amazing Mel, for the record). As I pressed onward up that first hill out of the aid station, something happened. Within a minute or two, suddenly the fog cleared, the weight lifted off of my shoulders, and I was instantaneous back in business. My legs were back! I didn't know what happened, but for the sake of the positive vibe, I congratulated myself on my quick thinking back when I took that extra nutrition on board. I was less than 2 miles from destroying my PR and reclaiming the LWR by a LONG shot, and I was loving it! I charged every hill and screamed down every descent. I again passed a race photographer...seriously, I think they might have cloned themselves because they were all over this course like Wyco mud.

I have very few recollections of looking at my watch, oddly enough. If I did, it may have been out of mere curiosity. I knew I was going way faster than anything I had planned on, so I didn't really have any particular time I was shooting for or calculating splits for. All I know is that I came screaming down the hill to loud cheers and blazed past the aid station, up the final hill to the finish line.

I tried. I tried SO hard. I wanted to run the whole hill...I thought to myself, "Damn it I'm RIGHT THERE. So close to finishing...walking at any point on this hill is unaccept...shit...I'm walking".

So I ran MOST of the final hill. I topped out, made a left turn, high-fived some kids cheering from the back of a minivan, and ran it in.
Can you tell...
...that I'm happy?
I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch.

5:35

Damn.

I mean.....DAMN!

Not really sure what to think about that. But I'll try. That's a new PR by 34 minutes. That's an LWR by 23 minutes. It's bizarre to think that 3 months ago, my 50K PR stood at 7:05. Since then I've done three 50Ks, PRing each time and chopping a cumulative hour and a half off of my time. I later found out that I finished 11th out of 45 overall, and that this was also my first ultra where I didn't get "chicked". This is possibly the more amazing stat, because there are some seriously badass female runners amongst the Trail Nerds!

Let the record show, I was unaware that
there was GOOD beer at the aid station
down the hill.
After finishing, I greeted my parents properly, enjoyed a post-race beer, and reveled in wondering how I should rub it in my brother's face. That clip from Good Will Hunting seemed perfectly fit for the job.

Finishing this race in this style, given my preparation, makes me really really excited for 50K's now. I mean, not that I wasn't before, but it seems this distance has kinda replaced half-marathons as my new go-to for when I think I want a new PR.

As far as what's next, I've signed up for Hospital Hill half marathon, which I'll be running with Karli Lockard. She's running a half marathon every month this year to support her grandfather who is battling cancer. You may know her as Karli Ritter from Fox 4 Weather, but I know her as the wife of one of my best friends and as an amazing person in her own right. After Hospital Hill, I have no solid plans for the summer. I had toyed with the idea of running an ultra every month this year in lieu of doing my first 100 miler, but I've put some more thought into the century. There's a race I'm looking at in early November called the Ozark Trail 100. It looks to be a fantastic course for a first-timer, and it finishes half an hour away from Rolla, MO, where my parents live, and where I grew up! Bonus!

So with that being the plan, and the weather getting hotter, more humid, and more oppressively stifling, it might just be a perfect time for me to take some serious well-earned rest on the ol' running gears. I'll still run and race, but maybe back off on the ultras. Maybe? I won't call that "the plan" because you know damn well I won't follow it. But it's something to consider.

The only other items on my racing calendar are traveling out to Tahoe to watch my brother race Ironman Tahoe(and very likely steal my LWR at that distance while he's at it), and then fly straight up to Salt Lake City to meet up with Major Mudbabe Erin Miller to help crew and pace her for her first 100 miler at The Bear! This may or may not be a thinly veiled attempt by me to scope the course for possibly running it myself at some undecided point in the future. It also may or may not be a thinly veiled attempt by me to selfishly earn trail karma that will hopefully let the trail gods smile upon me when I attempt the distance myself. Who knows?

Well I don't really have much else to say besides my usual sign-off and then maybe some bonus pictures...

Kill the Bear! One and all!

Caught doing my "hurr durr" before the race.
My father "finishes" his first 50k.
Ignore that he forgot to run the
first 30.75 miles of it!
He's a winner in my book!





3 comments:

  1. Thanks for not mentioning my hard-core face plant that you witnessed. And thanks for pacing me for the last bit of the race. If that shiny log hadn't caught your attention, you would have led me all the way in.

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  2. As always, a great read, Danny! You maka me raff. J'adore tout le francais beaucoup! You're an ultrabeast - leaving a trail of bears in your path. Your dad did a great finish impression of you! Super awesome that they shared your finish with you! Congrats on killing your PR!!

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  3. Psst!

    If your are off facebook for good...can I have your contact info? :(

    Missing your positive influence...

    ReplyDelete