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Mohican Trail 100 Race Report

I was very fortunate to have great friends along as crew and pacers! Rachel Groves has ran several ultras and is training for her first 100 in the fall. She paced me from mile 50-75. Mike Ekbundit is a veteran at ultra endurance events, including two 100’s. Mike paced me from mile 75-100. Katie was the crew chief for the entire day. There were 3-4 crew access spots on each loop that I got to see these guys. I could not image completing this event without these three people! Ultras really are a team sport! I owe them so much!

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Finish Line with Mike and Rachel

 

The final weeks leading up to the Mohican Trail 100 went as planned with no unforeseen issues. Training, diet, sleep, recovery, and taper had all went as planned. Getting to the starting line healthy was the priority and I did just that.

The race morning alarm went off at 2:30am in preparation for the 5:00am start. I had a light bagel for breakfast and packed the car with enough crew gear and supplies to outfit at least three runners..haha…. After a quick trip to the restroom, we headed out on our 30 minute drive to the race venue.

The morning temps were in the low 50’s and the air was crisp. In typical trail race fashion, there was little hoopla at the start. 250 runners and crew with headlights burning in the dark, awaiting the start signal. I felt great and ready to get underway. I was not overly nervous. I knew it would be a long day and tried to conserve as much energy as possible (which meant staying calm at the start). I purposely positioned myself in the middle of the starting pack to force me to keep my pace in control during the first few singletrack miles. And we were off!

Lap 1 –

The first lap was pretty uneventful by design. I simply wanted to take in the scenery and learn the course a bit. After about an hour of running the sun came up and the sounds of the forest came alive. The course had a lot of character. Much of the trails and terrain were similar to Jefferson Memorial Forest, where I spent a majority of my time training. There were also unique sections, such as a gorge which we basically had to walk, climb through, that had a hand-over-hand root wall climb to get back on top of the ridge. My heart rate, nutrition, and hydration execution was all on track. 25 miles complete!

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Hand-Over-Hand Root Climb

 

Lap 2-

For this lap I put in my I-pod and tried to zone out for most of the lap. The temperatures and sun were in full effect by now, so keeping myself cool was the priority (temps 85-90 degrees). The field was pretty spread out by this point, so long periods of time would go by without seeing other runners. I was not fully aware of it at the time, but in hindsight I was not doing a good job of keeping up with hydration and electrolytes during this lap. While I thought I was drinking plenty, I was not peeing near frequently enough. Also, my heart rate on this lap had escalated to the higher end of my target zone. Partially due to the heat and dehydration. My elevated heart rate forced me to slow down to keep things in check.

Towards the end of the second lap, I began to have my first bout of negativity. I was getting hot, my neck and shoulders were starting to hurt (from a previous strain), and negative thoughts were starting to creep into my head. On top of this, I had started to get twinges in my calves, on the verge of cramping. I continued eating and drinking on schedule and knew that once I got back to the start/finish area that I would see my crew and things would get better. 50 miles complete!

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Crew station – Picking up Rachel for Lap 3

 

Lap 3 –

After 50+ miles of running by myself, I was ready for some fun conversation with Rachel. We headed out on lap 3 and I immediately was having a difficult time with calf and groin cramps, especially when going uphill. I never had any debilitating lock-ups, but was on the verge many times during the first half of this lap. I increased my water and electrolyte intake and the symptoms had subsided by the second half.

For the first time all day, it was getting very hard to stomach forcing down gels. A couple times I felt nauseous, but never did vomit. My crew had gotten really tough with me on drinking more this lap. I was behind on hydration from the second lap and needed to catch up. Rachel did a great job of forcing me to drink more often. Our pace had slowed on this lap, but I still felt like we were moving good. Still doing more running than hiking at this point during the day was a bonus.

I had a blast running with Rachel! She sparked some great conversations that kept my mind occupied. Towards the end of the lap, the sun had set and we needed the headlamps. This made the trail feel new again and we were in good spirits all the way back in. The miles seemed to fly by on this lap and I owed it all to Rachel! She forced me to eat and drink on schedule and we had FUN! Could not ask for a better lap. 75 miles complete!

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Rachel and I entering an aid station

 

Lap 4-

I picked up Mike and we headed out on the final lap. By this point, the temperatures were back into the 50-60’s and I was a bit chilled being wet. I had changed into a dry shirt which felt great. I was still riding the high from the third lap, but that did not last long. After about an hour into this loop, I could tell my state of mind was changing rapidly. Legs and body was still in tact, but my head was starting to wonder. Around mile 80, I felt a painful blister developing on my foot. At the crew station I sat down and they addressed my feet and changed socks. This was the first time I had sat down or had any type of equipment change all day. It was at this crew point I became aware my head was doing some funky stuff. Trying to talk to multiple people amongst the crew station chaos (there was really no chaos haha) was a chore.

From here to the finish was really a mental blur for me. The best way I can describe it was an out-of-body experience. My mind was loopy, I had lost all sense of time and awareness, and I was just randomly babbling to anyone who would listen. I remember asking Mike if it was time for another gel?…. Nope, only been 1 minute since your last gel….. Eat now? No, only been 1 minute since you last asked…..Gel now?…. No, still have 15 more minutes, etc, etc…. Mike led the way and I focused on his feet and we moved along. Despite not thinking clearly, I was have FUN in my own head. It was like a really happy drunk feeling as we moved along. That said, if I would not have been with a pacer, I would have been in bad shape trying to eat, hydrate, and stay the course on my own.

My quads and feet stabilizer muscles were extremely sore with about 10 miles to go. Each step downhill (and over rocks and roots) was getting more painful. Hiking was the norm from here on in, very few sections were runnable for me at this time. At no time did I ever want to quit, or even “take a break” for that matter. We kept moving forward all a big thanks to Mike! The sun came up and we removed the headlamps around mile 95. The sunlight gave a boost of energy and we moved towards the finish line with excitement!

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Mike and I headed to the finish!

 

Seeing the finish line, the crowd, and my crew, I lost it emotionally. It was such a great sight to see! Katie ran the last quarter of mile with me to the finish line!

Results-

Finish time 25:32. 29th place overall out of 249 starters. I could not have asked for a better experience for my first 100 miler! Extremely pleased with the results.

I kept this race report a pretty high level overview. If anyone has specific questions, feel free to contact me. I enjoy sharing my experiences 🙂

Dances With Dirt 50K Race Report

DWD Race Report

Photos by Indiana Trail Running Facebook

This was my first time running Dances With Dirt (DWD) Gnaw Bone 50K, but I was very familiar with the reputation this course and promotor had for being tough. I have mountain biked a majority of the race venue before, so I had a good understanding of what I was up against. I had a lot of confidence going into the race I would be well prepared for the steep conditions, as I have done a majority of my training in the hilly Jefferson Memorial Forest (JMF).

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Like most nights before a race, I did not sleep well at the hotel. I was up at 3:00am excited to get underway. The temperature outside was in the mid-40’s and the rain was pouring! The forecast showed the rain moving out early morning, but the temperature was only expected to get into the low-50’s.

After some light breakfast and coffee, I arrived at the start area to watch my friend Maddy start the 50 mile race. The 50 mile race started 30 minutes before the 50K race. I also dropped off my drop bag, which I would access at mile 21.

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Start – Maddy in pink

By this time the rain had nearly stopped and it was just light enough not to need a headlamp for the 50K start. In my vest I carried one water bottle (which I would refill at the aid stations) and enough nutrition to carry me to mile 21.

Instructions from Coach Troy were pretty simple for this race — save enough to push hardest the last 10 miles and have fun. I knew I needed to be disciplined and not get caught up in “racing the competition” early on to be successful.

The race started promptly at 6:15am and we were off! The first mile or so was on a gravel road to help thin out the heard before we hit the trails. I headed into the woods in roughly 5th position. Once on the trail, the next 2-3 miles were up a steep, muddy, horse trail, with ankle deep shoe sucking mud. This section was very difficult to run, so I started hiking the hill almost immediately. Even hiking, my heart rate was very high. I was passed by about 3 guys who were running. I knew based on my walking heart rate, that these guys were burning precious matches trying to run. It is a bit hard on the ego to be passed this early in the race, but I kept reminding myself to be smart and patient.

Eventually we got off of the horse trail and onto the mountain bike single track trail. The mountain bike trails were in very good condition and very runnable. I felt right at home on these trails – Very much resembled Jefferson Forest. I continued to keep my heart rate at the low end of my spectrum and log miles. Another cool thing was that I was starting to pass some of the 50 mile runners who started 30 minutes before my race. It was fun to make encouraging small talk with these runners along the way. I feel this helped to keep me motivated all race. I had caught up to Maddy mid-race and we enjoyed a short conversation. I was glad to see she was moving along well and in good spirits. She also informed me that she believed only 2-3 50K runners had passed her. She mentioned the leader (singlet guy) was flying. I knew I had passed several 50K runners along the way, but I honestly did not think I was up that far. The miles clicked off and I continued hitting my fueling and hydration targets.

 

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One of the multiple creek crossing

Just before the mile 21 aid station I had caught up to another 50K runner form Kentucky (I’ll call him Kentucky) and we ran into the aid station together. I accessed my drop bag and refilled my vest with more nutrition to get me through the last 10 miles of the race. Kentucky did not stop and got a jump start on me out of the station. This is the point of the race Coach wanted me to push hard! I was feeling great, so I turned up the gas. Kentucky and I continued to play leapfrog for the next 3-4 miles. I had the advantage on the uphills, but I could not shake him.   Eventually we caught and passed a 50K runner that I remembered from the start. He was someone I had earmarked as a “fast guy”. It was at this point I believed Kentucky and I were in a race for second place. I had been pushing hard for the last few miles, but I had not shown my full hand yet. I did not want to make a move to soon and risk blowing up.

With about 5 miles to go we hit a stretch of road which lasted for maybe a mile. I am confident in my road speed and I was almost positive he would not be able to hang with me as good as I was feeling. I pushed hard and opened up a large gap as we headed back into the woods. I continued to push hard to increase the gap. The interesting thing I find about trail running is, you can really break someone’s spirit when they cannot see you anymore. This was my goal and it worked!

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The home stretch

The last 5 miles or so, the 50K course blended in with the half and 10k courses. Again, it was fun and very motivating to be around other runners and encouraging them into the finish.

I crossed the finish line in a time of 5:07 and was informed I was the winner! What?? Yes, the early leader in the singlet had dropped out of the race. It was a great surprise and really neat wooden trophy to boot! Kentucky finished about 12 minutes behind me. We shared beers and stories as we watched the other competitors finish. One of the 50K finishers (his first) was my high school friend Tony who I had not seen in about 15 years. You never know who you may see at trail races! Maddy finished the 50 mile race as the 4th overall female!

 

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Awards – Plus free entry to 2017 race

DWD Gnaw Bone is a top notch event and course that I would highly recommend. Well organized and attended! Thanks to all the volunteers!

Next up Mohican 100!

My Journey to a 100 Mile Ultramarathon

 

 

Why I am writing this

I write this for a couple of reasons. The first is to simply document the adventure. I have done some cool stuff in the past, and afterward I wished I would have written about it during the process.

The second is to hopefully spark someone’s interest in trail and ultra running. If I can do it, anyone can do it!

 

What is an ultramarathon (ultra)?

By definition an ultra is any race over 26.2 miles (which is the marathon distance). Most are run on off-road trails, though that is not a requirement. 50km (31 Miles), 50 Miles, 100km (62 Miles), and 100 Miles are the most popular distances.

 

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Louisville Lovin the Hills 50K 2014

 

Catching the trail and ultra bug

I grew up in rural Indiana, and the woods were a big part of my childhood. Fishing with my grandpa and hiking through the woods with my dad were staples of my youth. The trails took me back to being a kid and just having fun, and I found peace and solitude running through the forest, forgetting all the training gadgets and data I had been chained to for the past several years on the road. Trail running to me was about being with nature, breathing fresh air, and being alone inside my own head.

 

Living in Louisville, KY puts me near many excellent trail systems and race promoters. There are trail races varying in distance from 4 miles to 50k all around me, and the local parks boast excellent running trails with a variety of elevation gain and terrain.

 

I laced up for my first official trail run in the fall of 2013. I had been a road runner for many years but had spent the two years prior focused specifically on racing Ironman distance triathlons. By the time the 2013 triathlon season was over, I was burnt out on pounding the pavement and staring at the white line while cycling on the roads. I needed a change of pace and scenery. I bought a pair of trail running shoes and hit the trails. Over that winter, I immersed myself in books, videos, and websites on trail and ultra running and quickly became educated on the roots of ultra running. I learned a lot about the Western States Endurance Run (first 100 mile foot race) and the Leadville 100. The Leadville and Western States races were what motivated me to want to run a 100 miler, and learning about the distances and elevations covered by runners during the races and their training were so inspiring to me. I knew immediately in those first few months of trail running that I eventually wanted to run a 100.

 

 

 

The year of the ultras

2014 was the first year of ultras for me. I took a year off from long distance triathlon and focused on trail and ultra running. I continued to be a student of the sport, reading and learning as much as I could. I set my sights on the Land Between the Lakes 50 miler, and I competed in several trail marathons and a 50k leading up to it. The entire year was a big success, and I had my first ever overall win in a running race (a 50k at that—the Cloudsplitter)!

 

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2014 Cloudsplitter 50K overall winner

 

 

The year of the 100

Though I spent last year focusing on Ironman Louisville, my 2016 ultra planning started in the early part of 2015. I always like to have races and events planned out far in the future. Step #1 for me is signing up for the race, and since many popular events can sell out 364 days in advance, it is especially critical to register for events early. Registration for the Mohican Trail 100 opened in mid-2015, and I registered immediately.

 

 

Why the Mohican Trail 100?

First and foremost I wanted to select a 100-miler that was a Western States qualifier. The Western States 100 is a prestigious ultra that requires a qualification race and lottery system to enter, and the Mohican 100 is a qualifying event. Secondly, I wanted a spring or summer race date since I much prefer running in warm weather versus the cold. Because the Mohican is in June, a majority of my training miles would be logged in above freezing temperatures. Lastly, I was concerned about location and course. The Mohican 100 is located in Ohio, putting it within driving distance for crew and pacers. Also, the course is a 4-loop course; another benefit for crew and pacer logistics, as opposed to a point-to-point race.

 

How would I train?

I knew the training and preparation for a 100 mile race would be significantly more difficult than training for a 50 miler. I wanted to reach my performance potential and ensure I got the most value out of my training time. To that end, I hired Troy Shellhamer to coach me through training for and racing the Mohican. Troy is a very successful ultra runner and coach who also lives in Louisville. I was familiar with Troy’s racing and coaching accomplishments, and since he has trained and raced on the same trails that I would be, I knew he would be a great choice.

 

Aside from the performance aspects, the other reason I hired a coach was to help me become a better coach myself. As most of you know, I launched my multisport & run coaching services last year (Compass Endurance Coaching). I wanted to put myself in a client’s shoes, and working with a coach would allow me to better serve my athletes, especially from a communication and customer service standpoint.

 

 

Early Season Races

The official training block for the Mohican started January 1st, and so far this year I have raced the Lovin’ the Hills 50k and the Land Between the Lakes 50 miler. Both of these races have been great confidence boosters for the Mohican. My 2016 performances in these two races well exceeded those from 2014, as I cut around an hour off my overall time in each race. I even earned some hardware, finishing as the 5th Place male at LBL 50!

 

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2016 Land Between the Lake 50 Miler

 

And not only have I gotten physically stronger this season, but I have also learned a lot about pacing and fueling on the trails. Coach Troy has taught me that with proper pacing and fueling, I can actually race a 50k and 50 miler instead of simply trying to survive these distances. This concept has been an exciting eye-opener for me this year.

 

So what next?

Running, running, and more running, while enjoying the longer days and warmer temperatures! For the last few weeks I have been averaging around 9 hours of running per week, with a majority of these miles logged on trails. 4 hour long trail runs are the norm for now, and running specificity has been key—there will not be much time cycling or swimming for me until after the Mohican. Next up I will be running in 2 more tune-up events: The Backside Trail Marathon and the Dances with Dirt 50k. I will update you on how those events and my peak weeks go in my next blog entry.

Today’s Hot Topic: Conquering the Heat

We just had our first HOT weekend of the year here in Kentucky. Temperatures were in the 40s last weekend, but this weekend they crept into the low 80s with lots of sunshine.

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Springtime greenery

 

The first heatwave of the season always takes a toll on athletes. After several months of cold training, we are ready to quickly shed the winter clothes, but unfortunately our bodies are not yet adapted to handling the new heat. Friends, colleagues, clients, and myself struggled through tough runs this weekend…Why?

Why the Struggle?

We all know your body cools itself by sweating and evaporation. When you are hot, blood is routed to the skin where it can be cooled. There is, therefore, less blood/oxygen being transferred to the working muscles, which decreases performance. Additionally, exercising in hot temperatures naturally speeds up glycogen depletion and increases lactate levels.

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Heat acclimation on Bourbon Street, NOLA – 2015

 

Heat Acclimation

Your body will automatically acclimate to the heat, as it does every summer. You will sweat sooner and increase the number of activated sweat glands. Blood volume will increase, thus more blood will be available to exercising muscles. And heart rate increase will be less than before acclimation.

Heat acclimation typically takes place over the first 5-10 runs of an hour or longer in the heat. Cardiovascular adaptations will start within the first 5 days. Sweating changes typically occur in the first 10 days.

What to do in the meantime?

Slow down! Because of the reasons mentioned above, your body has to work harder than it would in cooler weather to achieve the same output. Adjust your pace in the heat to compensate. For example, if you are used to running 9:00 minute miles at a heart rate of 140bpm in cooler weather, on a hot day you may find your heart rate escalates to 150bpm to hold the same 9:00 min pace. You will need to slow your pace to settle your heart rate back down into your preferred zone. Studies have shown that marathon performance can degrade 10% or more on 85 degree versus 55 degree race days.

Hydrate! Hydration is always important but even more so in the heat. Start your workout well hydrated, and then hydrate early and often. Understand your hourly sweat rate and drink accordingly. Supplement with electrolyte tablets or drinks as required. Proper hydration is an involved and important topic that I won’t discuss fully in this blog post, but stay tuned for a hydration-only post in the near future.

What else? I have a few other simple tips to keep in mind for making the heat transition bearable. Wear sunscreen! Not only does it protect your skin, but it helps keep your skin cooler. Dress in breathable, wicking fabrics to pull moisture from your body and aid in the evaporation process. Modify your training route to keep yourself near accessible water sources. Lastly, understand the warning signs of heat illness, and cut your workout short and take appropriate action as required to stay healthy!

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