Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile - Steph

The back story
A long, long time ago, Ben signed up for the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile with the intention of treating it as a prep/practice run for Western States later this year. Registration closed out quickly, and I like to tag along to races and do a shorter distance version "just to see" ... and kill time. Unfortunately, registration closed out months ago.

The trip & pre-race
The entire trip to Houston was almost a game-time decision, since Ben's knee had been bothering him for a few weeks. Fast-forward to our arrival in Texas. We made it down, narrowly escaped some snowy Indiana weather, and went to pick up Ben's race packet at the Huntsville State Park lodge. Walking through the door, I noticed a lonely table in the back of the space with a sign marked "Late Registration," and a stack of 2013 Rocky Raccoon paper entry forms next to it. Sure enough, they were allowing late registration to this filled-and-closed-out event! Cash or check only. Add one quick run (ok, not literally) to nearby town of Huntsville, TX, and we had enough cash to pay for me to sneak into the 50 miler the next day. Score*!

*Bonus: My assigned bib number was 884--- Obvious sign that it was going to be a good one.

The great part about heading to Houston for the weekend is that I got to see some of my favorite people!!!! We met up with Dave & Katie (who I have not seen in, oh, 3 long years) and had dinner at Maggiano's in Houston. This was a great idea, which turned into a potentially horrible idea after I chose to eat a whole plate of fried calamari and tons of linguine with clam sauce. (Darn you, bottomless Maggiano's entrees!) Nothing bad happened, but in hindsight that could have been the worst move ever. Food was good - and totally worth it for the company!! Unfortunately, we got to dinner so late, it was 11pm by the time we made the 45 minute drive back to Conroe (where we stayed). Ben spent the next 45 minutes packing his drop bag and making sure everything was ready to go. It was midnight by the time we went to sleep- so late, especially with an impending 5am wake-up!!

Race morning
We woke our butts up before the crack of dawn and made it to the park by 5:45am for the 6am 100 mile start time. I watched Ben take off into the darkness with his headlamp on, and although I lost him in the crowd, I watched the beginning of the 100 mile. Slowest race start ever! It was actually entertaining how slow it was. I tweeted a few things, took some photos, and checked out the start area after every one of the 100 milers had gone through.

I headed back to the car and tried to figure out what to wear. It was something like 48 degrees outside, which - I'm embarrassed to say - is still chilly enough for me to wear a long-sleeved shirt (and a short sleeved shirt, and my down jacket. True story). I fussed around with my shorts, shirts, put my Flip Belt on and filled it with Hammer gels, and tried to figure out how I'd stow my phone. After a while, I settled on my pink Indiana Running Company shirt and saucony tight shorts. Flip Belt, Garmin 610, and New Balance 1010.

I realized sometime after Ben's race start that I was, in fact, allowed to have a "drop bag" at the turnaround point (which was also the start line, though not one at the far part of the course). I threw pretty much everything I'd brought with me into a drawstring bag and called it my drop bag, you know -- just in case. I just had to label it with my race number and set it in the right area.

Back and forth - I took my water bottle to the start/turnaround area and filled it up. I stopped at the portajon. I went back to the car and fussed around again. It was kind of reminiscent of the I'm-a-lost-and lonely-puppy feeling I had during my first half iron distance triathlon! Finally, I decided to down a Vespa and take some multivitamins for the day. ....and here was my first mistake: the vitamins (6 of them) got stuck in my throat and I had to drink almost the entire bottle of water to wash them down and get rid of that uncomfortable feeling. I knew I was taking a risk with the Vespa -- not only was it the full-strength (not Junior) version, but it was the concentrated version in the tiny packets. I've had stomach issues before with Vespa, and I'm prone to stomach issues on a normal day anyway. And then, I realized that I had completely forgotten to eat breakfast in the rush to get to the park and get running. By this time, it was way too late to scarf something down, but it also wasn't a race-ending factor because I know I could rely on the closely-spaced aid stations. I sure loooooove to gamble on nutrition when it comes to racing!

Race Start
My race start seemed just as anti-climactic as Ben's did. It was slow, and I tucked in at the side-back of the pack of 50 milers behind the start line. Now, since I'm new to ultra running and trail running, I've always questioned my starting pace, because I always feel like I'm passing people. When this happens, it makes me wonder if the people who I've freshly passed are thinking, "Ha! Look at that jerk! She's going out like this is a 5k and is totally gonna pay for that later!" (a comment which, in a less exaggerated form, I overheard someone saying about me miles later on the trail)

So we started, the airhorn went off, and we walked for at least another 100 yards. Once we got to running, I continually passed people, and passed people, and passed people -- some who were starting off at a walk (which is totally ok!). If I were to do this race again, I would probably choose to start near the front of the pack so that I'm not getting in anyone's way or sitting on anyone's butt early on. Again - I'm not sure if this is normal, but I decided to run comfortably, I felt like I was going out at a conservative but sustainable pace, and I just thought it'd be smart to run how I felt without outside influences (for faster or slower).

Course Map

Course consisted of three 16.67-mile loops. Very flat (compared to other ultras), and no water crossings. 3 aid stations on each loop, each covered twice as the course doubles back on itself.

Loop 1 (Mile 0 - 16.67)
Disclaimer: I'm about to be an over-sharer. You've been warned.

It hit me partway into mile 1:   I. Have. To. Pee.
Thinking I was all smooth by foregoing the portajons at the first aid station, I figured I'd avoid restroom congestion -- just like in road races - by hitting the next one up at mile 6. (Aid stations were placed roughly 3 miles apart, which makes this a somewhat attractive race if you're mentally preparing to simply run from station to station.) WELL, that didn't happen. And FINALLY there was an aid station at ~mile 11. Honestly, the discomfort was getting so terrible that making it to this bank of portajohns was as triumphant a victory as finishing the entire race. I'm just saying... it was bad.

Early on, I appreciated the scenery and terrain (read: not covered with snow). This is a good trail!

The full bladder must've affected my ability to see tree roots, because I fell. Like, a lot. I fell so much that I lost count before the end of the first loop! There was even a stretch of a mile, around mile 9, where I tripped and fell 3 times. The third time I kind of laid there and had to chuckle a bit before getting up. Was this an indication that it was going to be a long day?! Fortunately, the majority of the terrain was mostly fine dirt (like sand) and dried pine needles, so at least I was falling (specifically, unable to tuck and roll, but just skidding along awkwardly post-fall) on a soft-ish surface. Unfortunately, I kept falling on the same spot on my knee.

Just after DamNation, near the middle of the loop, I passed Ben coming from the other direction and we high-fived. It gave me a little speed boost to see him! I'm telling you... it's all attitude -- good attitude, good running.

Some miles in, I started seeing 50 Mile runners coming back toward me - and then I started getting concerned that I was possibly going the wrong way. ...I never actually saw a course map, so I didn't know where I was and  asked a few guys I was about to pass which event they were in. I panicked a little when they replied, "The hundred." Seeing my alarm, they told me that they believed the 100 and 50 courses converged and ran together for a while at the point where we were. Relief. Except the fact that all of those runners were heading back already indicated to me that I was really far behind them! The guys shouted something like, "Or maybe you're really far ahead!" ...but that made no sense at the time.

After that wonderful, fantastic, life-saving portajohn stop, I felt relieved, but didn't really feel any better. I had this air bubble-water slosh going on in my stomach, which started to become kind of uncomfortable in the miles following. It's always something!! I hoped that I could run through it or "run it away," seeing as not-continuing wasn't really a choice. It went away probably 4 miles later.

Since my race start was at 7am, it took me a little over 2.5 hours to finish the first 16.67 mile loop. Even halfway through the loop, I remember still feeling pretty chilly. Not to the point that I wished I had a jacket or a long-sleeved shirt, but only to the degree that I consciously thought about how I didn't feel like I'd warmed up much. The sun was just coming up and it was getting brighter out. I was really thankful I didn't need to start the race with a headlamp like the 100 milers did! (Otherwise we could've chalked up more trips and falls)

I reached the start line - the turnaround point - and stopped for a few minutes to grab some more food and water. Skipping breakfast before the start made me fearful that nutrition could be my downfall, so I did everything that I could to make sure I had enough gas in the tank by eating something substantial/digestible at every aid station.

Every single one of the volunteers at this race are SO FRIENDLY and HELPFUL. I felt completely fine, still relatively fresh, coming into the turnaround corral, but I was met with a gang of aid station volunteers who tried to do everything they possibly could to ensure I had everything I needed and was comfortable. It only took about 3 seconds of hesitating/standing still inside the tent for someone to ask, "What do you need? What can I get you? I'll get it for you!" The same thing happened less than 20 feet away when I went toward the drop bag area to get my other gel... A volunteer immediately flew over to me and tried to help me avoid something as simple as bending over or searching for my stuff. He retrieved my bag and even helped me open it! Very impressive.

Eats: I skipped the Mile 3 aid station altogether, and took a cup of water and a banana at the mile 6 aid station to call it breakfast. Somewhere along the way I also downed a gel that I'd brought from home a small cup of heed. At the turnaround, I grabbed a 1/4 of a PB&J. I knew I can stomach that, and I knew it'd be of good substance so I wouldn't feel hungry. Lots of water. One small cup of Gatorade.

Loop 2 (Miles 16.67 - 32.34ish)
More stomach slosh, more falls were the theme of Lap 2. Eventually I got through the stomach slosh, but I did have my worst fall of the day (which wasn't really all that bad) that resulted in some scrapes and bruises on my knees. On this lap, I realized that I fell in almost the exact same spot as I'd fallen on the first loop... chuckling again, I snow-angeled in the dirt before I got up. You know, keep things interesting.

This is the lap where I started getting kind of bored. The crowd had thinned out, and I was still passing people every few minutes, my mind just started to wander. I made it through the first loop without music, and  I felt like I was ok enough to make it without for the rest of the run - plus, I didn't want to mess with the ear buds. I must've been listening to some of these songs the night before, because I literally had TWO songs playing in my head the entire length of the race: 1) I Just Wanna Live - Good Charlotte; 2) Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects.

Mostly, this part stayed on Loop Repeat... in my head:
I rock a law suit when I'm goin' to court
A white suit when I'm getting divorced
A black suit at the funeral home
And my birthday suit when I'm home alone
Talking on the phone
Got an interview with the Rolling Stone
They're saying, "Now you're rich, now you're famous"
Fake *** girls all know your name and
Lifestyles of the rich and the famous
Your first hit aren't you ashamed
Of the life, of the life, of the life
We're living

I just want to live I just want to live
Don't really care about the things that they say 
Don't really care about what happens to me
I just want to live

I mean, at least it was a good-ish song for running.

Not long into Loop 2, I started feeling like I was slowing down. It worried me a little, so I took another gel, and within about 5 minutes I started feeling better. I discovered partway into loop 2 that all of the aid stations had Hammer gel - Montana Huckleberry, my favorite! - for everyone to take too... so I started hoarding gels  any time I could get my hands on some to make sure I'd never crash.

By this time, I also discovered that the PB&J I had was not only delicious, but that it made me feel full without feeling sick to my stomach or giving me a sidestitch! I started grabbing 2, then 3, then 4 quarters of cut-up PB&J sandwiches at each aid station. It took me probably ~1-2 minutes at each aid station before I downed the food I had in my hands and would take off running again.

Back to boredom. I got so bored during one of my loops that I pulled out my phone and made a vlog (video blog) for later. Apparently at the time the trail was notable and cool, but don't let the terrain you see in the video fool you into believing that's what the rest of the trail looks like. No sir! Roots. Everywhere. For some reason I felt like this back stretch reminded me of the Clear Creek Trail... except not-paved, with pine needles, different vegetation, and uphill. So maybe it wasn't like the CCT at all, but darn it- I thought so at the time! Please excuse any signs of crazy. Also note that the view of the trail started going down... and down... and down... and I tried to make sure not to trip on anything! Why do I sound so out of breath?!

Warning: don't watch if you get motion sick!

Ah yes, and less than 5 minutes after I took this video, I took a wrong turn and repeated a 2-2.5 mile section that I had *just* completed! It didn't destroy me mentally, but it was frustrating and I didn't know how much ground/time/distance I had lost... it was hard to know how much I had repeated. Of course, then I had to re-pass all of the same people I'd run by a little bit earlier. When I got to the turn and realized I'd gone the wrong way somehow, I exclaimed, "I'm so confused! I was just here 2 seconds ago!" to which another runner wittily replied, "I hope they don't charge you extra money for those bonus miles." It kind of made me laugh. (Had this conversation happened more loop later, I might have smacked him in the face. Truly crazy things happen when you're tired.)

A half mile from the time I took this photo, I checked my phone to see that Ben had tweeted that his knee wasn't doing so well after the first 20 mile loop. I wasn't sure how severe it was, but was kind of worried... and at the same time, had no clue what was going on with his run. There was really nothing I could do at the moment but continue running.

Here's a photo from near DamNation, one that I ended up seeing twice on that loop because of my mistake. Pretty.... this was the only area without tree cover (full out sun) during the race.

Despite all of this, I was running relatively fast on this loop and still feeling pretty good. Legs felt a little more beat up, but for good reason. I was still keeping pace, and besides aid stations, hadn't stopped to walk at all. Some of my miles went down as fast as 8:30s, and others were closer to 10 minutes. Either way, I felt strong, though less conservative than my start, and tried not to get into the mindset that I had to make up the time I'd lost from my repeating loop. I saw Ben about 2 miles from the finish of Loop 2, and he looked significantly more tired (while wearing his t-shirt as an infinity scarf around his neck), but he high-fived me and I think he said, "Love" as we passed. The stretch between the last aid station to the turnaround seemed to take forever. I specifically didn't ask anybody, nor did I want to know how long it was. I did remember that the race photographers were camped out near some water, and once I reached them it wasn't too long before the loop was over. ...kind of like the equivalent of running tree to tree, landmark to landmark. Little victories.

Somewhere near the turnaround point, I was getting antsy to reach it. I crossed a road and asked a spectator, "how far until the turnaround?" and he replied that it was about a half mile. Wrong - it was more like 3/4 of a mile.... every little bit counts!

That's all that was notable on this lap. It was definitely getting warmer outside, and by the time I reached the turnaround point, it was something like 12:30pm. At the turnaround, I had to gather up some will and motivation to head out for one more loop, and knowing I'd be done after the next lap was what got me to go  back out again.

Eats: The usual PB&J at every aid station (increasingly more with each one) and 2 or 3 gels taken between aid stations. I drank tons of water since the temperature was rising and I was starting to sweat. Downed 2 Endurolytes capsules at the turnaround.

Loop 3 (Miles 33ish to 50+)
I always felt more refreshed and mentally in a better place after each aid station, and even more after heading out from the turnaround. I changed to a cooler tank top and left for my last loop feeling positive and excited in the fact that I'd be done the next time I was back!

I kept experience some intermittent tired (s)lows, which I solved easily with an energy gel once I realized I had reached that point (and my pace reflected it); one of the key giveaways that I was getting to the low were the moments in which I would get weary of telling people "good job," "nice work," "looking good!" as I passed them. [Not going to lie: I'd change it up so my comment didn't seem like an insincere "good job." haha.] Sometimes it came off as a mumble, and sometimes it was accompanied with a thumbs up, but I tried for every single person. Attitude! I mean, I'm convinced I have run some of the best races & times in my life purely because I was smiling. I remember getting a boost of confidence (and a reminder to check my running form) when someone I passed or who passed me oncoming commented, "You look really fresh!" so I'll have to remember that. Another friendly person I scooted around on the back stretch (where I took the video on the second loop) responded to my "Strong work!" comment with, "You're my hero! (Pressure's on!)" I hope I can have the power to say something as little as that to someone, in a future race, that'll give him/her a little help - a little boost. :)

Somewhere on this loop, I remember hearing a person tell a girl in front of me, "You're sixth right now," which led me to believe I was doing ok in the race! I passed her eventually, but with so many people on the course and two different race distances, it was impossible to tell who was running what. By this time, I'm sure people were also on different laps.

I finally got to DamNation again, and I did not make the same mistake twice! It was truly hot out by the time I got to the full-sun section, and I had to tell myself that I'd wanted to get sun while we were here, and boy was I getting it! It wasn't blazing hot, just uncomfortable enough that I was glad to be in the woods for the other 98% of the run.
What in DamNation...

You might think that my earlier video was a little cray, but it's not. Not compared to what I'm about to tell you. As Jeff described in his 24-hour race, in a long run, your mind can take you to a dark place. I was running on my own, and hadn't seen anyone in at least a mile. I started thinking about Todd and Ted, and about how we 'boop!' Ted on the head. Then I thought about how soft they both are. "Fuzzy..." slipped out of my mouth and I cheesed like a kindergartener on picture day. While I was running. By myself. At the time,  I had an inkling that what just happened was kind of out of the ordinary, but now that I'm in a normal state of mind... that's completely NUTS! So I don't know if I actually reached that dark place, but I can tell you my brain was kind of cracking up on me. Temporarily. I think. I'm all better now!

No falls on this loop! I had a few close calls, but nothing significant, if I remember right.I saw a girl bite it pretty hard as she was coming off and down from a bridge, and that made me scared enough to pick up my feet. As I got toward the middle/end of this loop, I felt my energy levels dip down and would down another gel and feel ok again - rinse and repeat.

If you know me well, you know my brain doesn't work so well when I run (nay, it turns off...). I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until early in the third lap that I figured out this was some kind of a lollipop-shaped course and that I had actually been visiting each aid station twice on a lap. And then I finally figured out that all of the 50-Milers that I'd seen running at me, oncoming, were likely behind me as I was headed back and they were heading out. I'm totally slow - this discovery took me a while.
I take pictures when I get bored

As I reached the second aid station and just past mile 40, I really started feeling anxious to be done. In my head, I told myself, "I've run 10 miles on a day I feel like crap, so I can surely do it now." I even flashed back to a class that I've been attending at Vibe Yoga (TNT with Kelly!), realizing that I've been able to "do ten reps... and then when you're tired, do 10 more!", and willed myself to channel that (mental/physical) strength to get to the finish. When I was feeling blah, I thought, "They [the people I'm catching up to] feel just as tired/achy as I do, keep going!" My IT band felt a bit tight, I'd been stubbing my toes at the fronts of my shoes from each fall, and I felt a slight twinge on the inside of my right leg. But mostly, my legs were just tired and not used to so much pounding! I started thinking thoughts like, "I never want to do this ever again!" and "I will never ever ever do 100," and "I wonder how much less my legs would ache if I'd been wearing Hokas?"

When I reached 7 miles to go, I considered that Paynetown could be as long as 7 miles (it's so not, but anything to get through), and again, I've finished that distance on days I felt horrible. Same with 6 - a big campus loop. Easier than Paynetown on this flat course! I hit the last aid station and refueled, asking some other runners how much farther the turnaround/finish would be. 4.4 miles! And then they flew by me effortlessly (which was really impressive, since they were running 100). I could hang on for 4.4.... at that point, my remaining distance came to be measured in campus loops. My Garmin had been beeping at me for a few miles, and finally died around mile 44/45. 4 miles = a short campus loop, and then 3 miles seemed to be the home stretch as 3 miles is the shortest and quickest of the campus loops. My attitude that the 3-mile campus loop is short and simple should definitely carry over the finishing the last 3 miles. At 2 miles, I looked for the photographers near the lake, and when I didn't see them, was questioning how far was left. Once I hit the 2 bridges in a row, I knew I was getting closer... and strange enough, my legs felt refreshed.

Eats: a handful of dry, dry goldfish. There's something about continuously eating sugary-sweet stuff while running that is really not appealing/appetizing to me. Probably 3-4 gels, about 4 PB&J quarters, and tons of water. Oh- and lots of Cheetos!

I made it to the road crossing where I'd asked the spectator earlier how far was left, signaling that I was less than a mile to go. I found it in my legs to take off and go like a middle school cross country runner who's just caught a glimpse of the finish line. I rounded the corner, saw my finish line, and sprang to the end of 50 (plus) miles.

Here's the finish line, with some pretty awesome spectators!

My chip didn't have my name associated with it, but when I was hunted down by one of the event managers/race timers, we got that straightened out quickly and efficiently. Then, they put an award in my hand - 3rd place overall female! - and gave me my finisher medal. They were even nice enough to look up when they last logged Ben's chip, and what distance that was.

How fun are these awards??

I hobbled over to the car and laid in the backseat for a few minutes, texting and posting twitter updates on Ben, and then changed shoes. Ben actually called me on his phone while I was laying there, saying that he'd just finished 60 and was wondering where I was. He was to the point where his knee (or compensation for it) was really bothering him and wasn't sure if he wanted to continue. There was no way he could be running again, though, since walking hurt terribly. I joined him for the next few miles as he decided to go to 100k, and walk at least to the first aid station on the loop. I grabbed m&ms, cheez-its, Cheetos, gummy bears, and all sorts of goodies in a bowl to take on our walk. (Earned!!)

We made it to 100k on the walk back to the turnaround via the roads. The aid station couldn't process drop-outs, so we had to make it to the start/finish/turnaround to do this. Ben was totally ok with this given the circumstances, and I know he took a lot lessons from this race and experience, even if it didn't end with a finish. Injury considered, no regrets!

Here's us on the road headed back - tired as ever. Ben hit 100k on this walk and I hit ~55 miles for the day.

End scene!

For you time- and split-loving people, here you go...

Weighing in on the Rocky Raccoon 50 and 100 Mile

I've never experienced any other events to compare this to, but here's why I liked the RR100/50:

  • Well marked course (I was just distracted and took a wrong turn!). The trails that are incorrect are actually flagged off and signage placed so that you know you're not going the right way.
  • Great volunteers and aid stations - one was fiesta-themed, the volunteers were ALL extremely helpful and cheerful
  • There were lots of people on the course, but no so many that it was overly crowded. Having a big field meant, to me, that I could use them to pull me along regardless of the distance I was running. Or, running from person to person.
  • Course is flat with some rollers. If you train in Bloomington, it's cake. (That's not to say that the hills seem to get bigger and bigger with each lap...)
  • Weather was nice. Starting temp was around 50 degrees, and the high on the day was 72. Sun! Low humidity (~50%) in Texas in the winter.
  • You're usually running no more than 3-4 miles between aid stations, which is a mentally easier task compared to the setup you get in other ultras.
  • This is one of the few ultra courses, as I overheard someone say, that doesn't take place on a mountain.
  • The 50 mile starts at dawn, and assuming you run relatively fast enough, you could finish before it gets dark. Running in the dark can get creepy, and carrying a headlamp can get annoying.
  • 50 Milers have just 1 less hour to complete the race (29 hours) as 100 milers. That comes out to a >30-minute mile.
Having completed this race, the + and - of my experience... things I need to remember for next time.

Things that went well:
  • Went out conservatively and comfortably.
  • Stayed positive, came out still liking running
  • Ran the entire 50 miles (besides stopping at aid stations), no walk stops.
  • Chose shoes that I could keep on the entire race
  • Was pretty quick at the aid stations
  • Gel and food "kicked in" at the right times, didn't crash
  • No injury (kinda)! I've been working on strength training and form, but had some nagging twinges of plantar fasciitis and some foot irritation.
  • When I go in with no expectations, I always surprise myself.
  • Figured out how to maintain nutrition and its importance.
  • No blisters!
  • Heart rate training - with all the slow running I did, I built a pretty good aerobic base, which I think helped me get through this run and still gain speed at shorter (mile) distances.

To improve next time (next time?!)

  • I really should've eaten breakfast.
  • Drank WAY too much water before the race.
  • Ate too much fried food the night before. Solution: Buy or pre-select dinner plans.
  • Didn't get as much sleep as I wanted. Solution: Go to sleep earlier.
  • Any longer and I might've had some overuse injury issues - the twinge in my lower shin could've progressed to become worse.
  • Any longer and I might've had some shoe issues - my big toe was feeling cut up every time I fell, possibly from debris and sand in my shoe.

Garmin data - minus a few miles. Garmin battery died at mile 44.
Strava - fun side effect: winning the Strava February half marathon challenge!
RR100 info/Tejas Trails - race info for signing up next year
RR100 and RR50 results (2013) - results are not posted on the Tejas Trails site yet but searchable here (2/5/13)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ironman Louisville 2012 - Chris

Ironman Louisville 2012 Race Report

26 August 2012

Disclaimer – Race report is very long, rather boringly detailed, has a lot of pictures of me in it and will contain graphic descriptions of bodily functions, non-PC observations and cheesy Star Wars references.

It was a very cold morning in November 2010 and I was huddled indoors half an hour before the start of the Indianapolis Monumental Half-Marathon, talking to an elderly gentleman about how it was my first half-marathon. He then said, “Oh yeah, that’s how you start off. First a half-marathon, then a marathon then a half-ironman and finally an ironman.” I chuckled at that time, thinking to myself this guy is crazy and I will probably never do an ironman. Heck, I have never even done a triathlon.

Fast forward six months later to May 2011, when I did my first sprint triathlon on the shores of Lake Monroe in Bloomington and where I encountered my first near-death experience that is open-water swimming. I was hooked. Fifteen months later, I am starting my first full iron-distance triathlon. It’s funny how life works.


I was not very nervous in the days leading up to the race. Actually, I think everyone else was more excited and nervous for me than I was for myself. I think there was only one point, on Thursday night before the race, where I woke up at 3am and suddenly thought to myself that I may not finish. I proceed to banish that thought as much as possible from my mind. I think the key to not feeling nervous is to be well-prepared, have confidence in your race plan and have control of everything you can control. Like Yoda says, “Luke, believe in your training.” I have trained more than 6 months for this race and I believed I was pretty well prepared to finish it. As with every race, I had decided on my A, B and C goals – A = sub-13 hours, B = sub-14.30 hours and C = Finish.

Pre-Race Morning

Waking up at 3.30am sucks no matter what, even more so when the rowdy group (of non-triathletes/racers) in the room next door decides to pre-game at midnight, waking me up and keeping me up till 2am. Tim, Carrie, Noelle, Brian and I proceed to walk over to Transition at 4.30am to setup our bikes and get in line for body marking and the swim start. In line for swim start, I tried to lie down on the grass and get some shut-eye as we will be there for at least a good hour or more. At 6.45am, we got to see the pros start, which is always a pretty cool sight and then at 7am, the cannon went off and it was our turn!

The trek to IMKY 2012 swim start. (Photo credit:

My Ironpeeps on the beautiful morning of IMKY 2012

The swim start at IMKY is unique amongst all IMs in that it is a time-trial start where participants individually run down a pier and jump off it into the water. It makes the swim leg a lot more tolerable than wave or mass starts. I saw my friend Rick, who was volunteering at the swim start, gave him a quick bro hug, ran down the pier and jumped in! 140.6 miles to go…

Rick Hullinger volunteering at swim start! (Photo credit:

Tim Fercik getting psyched for some swimming! (Photo credit:

This was definitely the best open water swim I have had to date. I am always nervous about the swim leg as it is my weakest event and things usually go wrong. I did not have my usual early-on, brief panic attack that I always have during open-water swim legs. Instead, I noticed that I was passing people, which was definitely not the norm and that gave me a great boost of confidence as everything felt good. I focused on finding my own open area of water to swim in as we all made our way to the turnaround buoy at the end of Towhead Island. I stopped once briefly to tread water and to defog my goggles but that offered me a good chance to chill out and survey the course as I swear those buoys went on for eons.

I was happy to round the turnaround buoy and the 1/3 mark of the course as I was still feeling pretty strong and like I had enough energy for the rest of it. I was also very fortunate that, for once, I did not go way off-course like I usually do! Even when I intentionally tried to swim a little wide from the buoys to avoid the crowds of people, when I looked up to sight, I would be pointed almost directly at the next buoy. Halfway through, I was absolutely starving. I was very tempted to look at my watch but I resisted and continued swimming. I continued to pass people and be passed by people but I was fortunate to be able to create my own circle of Neoh for most of the time where people weren’t trying to swim over me or slap my feet downwards. I even managed to draft off a few people for the first time in an open water swim, even if it was just for a few minutes.

Swim leg at IMKY 2012. Beautiful morning! (Photo credit:

The highlight of my swim would have to be swimming under the two bridges, admiring the construction underside, which one could never do unless you were swimming under it. The other highlight would be when I started being able to draft off a shapely girl with lovely legs for at least a good few hundred meters. 2.4 miles of OWS can be very boring, mind-numbing/tiring and nerve-wrecking so I welcome any opportunity to think of interesting things. – 1:32:01 (2:22min/100m – fastest 100m OWS split so far)

Out of the swim! Notice the lack of my RoadID on my right wrist.

Transition 1 – 10:16

The first surprise of the day was when I found out that my RoadID had been ripped off my right wrist during the swim. Oopsie! No idea how that happened but, given the amount of body contact during the swim, I was not too surprised. It took me longer to get through transition than I thought. All that compression wear is really hard to get onto a wet body. I got my bike and was ready to ride!

Let's ride!

My main goal on the bike was to save energy and prep for the run so I took it easy and was aiming to keep my cadence around 90-95 for all 112 miles. I was constantly being dropped and hopscotching with various groups and people but it was sort of fun as I started to see the same people again and again as we went about our ride. There was one guy in particular who hopscotched with me almost the whole way and we got a good camaraderie going, joking about our random stops and how we got to stop passing each other like that. My confidence was high going into this ride because I just had a great swim, I had done this course before and I felt like I had a good amount of energy left.

Mile 0-20 – I was starving and thirsty from the swim so I immediately ate a gel once I settled in and gulped down almost half the bottle of Perform. That made me feel better so I just settled in for a long ride. Passed Meaghan right around the mile 20 mark. Funny guy zooming down the hill on the opposite lane went, “Na na na na na.” Our whole bike pack laughed.

Still happy along River Road!

Mile 21-60 – Hot, like feels like mid-90’s hot and also a bit humid. My right glute and hamstring were feeling tight as they have been ever since I got back from my TMB trip almost 2 months ago. I forgot a bit about my electrolyte intake during the third hour but took in some extra endurolyte tablets afterwards to try and make up for it. Stretching my quads started to make my hamstrings cramp so I eased up on that a bit.

At mile 50 or so, FPRO leaders Bree Wee and Jackie Arendt passed me. I gave Jackie a shout out and got a thumbs-up in return. The highlight of my day came at mile 56. As our pack were zooming down a hill and I was going to the front up the other side,I heard a shout from the back. I moved over and looked backwards and all the other FPROs were right behind me with Nina Kraft (3x Kona podium finisher) at the head of the bike train! I kept pace with them for about a few seconds before they proceeded to drop me pretty hard. It was an absolutely incredible sight seeing all of them ride by just a few feet from me. That’s one of the reasons I love this sport. There are few other sports where I can compete on the same course at the same time with all these pros and be inspired by their efforts.

Someone filling up at an aid station in the background. It was hot out there!

Mile 61-80 – The beginning of the second loop was hot but not unbearable for me. I made sure to keep hydrating and eating salt tablets (not enough though, on hindsight. I’ll get back to that later.) Things started getting hairy when, around the mile 65 aid station, the two bikes right in front of me smacked into each other pretty hard. I saw both bikes get airborne and I had to swerve to the other side of the road to avoid the rider sprawled on the road. I looked back and was relieved to see both of them get up so I think they were okay. I was starting to see a lot more people on the side of the road, fixing flats or just resting. I saw ambulances at least 4 times on the course. I later found out that someone had actually thrown tacks onto the course causing quite a few people to flat (one guy flatted 3x) but I got lucky. It started to get cooler though…

Mile 81-112 – It got cloudy and cooler but with that came a pretty strong headwind as we all head back into town on this slightly downhill section. During the few practice rides I did here, on this stretch I have been able to average 20-23mph, even after 100miles of riding. This time, I saw the whole pack I was with riding relatively slowly and I looked down at my speedo to see us averaging only about 17-19mph. We were all pretty tired at this point, my butt was aching and this blasted headwind was just sapping our energy.

Heading back into town. Note the glistening skin of the rider behind me.

I was happy to be off my bike but not to the point that I wanted to sell it though! That rolling course with 3000ft of elevation gain is never easy but I thought my conservative strategy worked as I got off the bike feeling pretty alright. – 6:37:10 (Afterwards, I had discovered that somehow, somewhere, my race number had been ripped off my bike as, when Jeremy went to pick up my bike for me, it was not at its original spot and was at a bike rack labeled "Missing Number". O.o Very odd...)

Transition 2 – 7:39

I put on my socks and shoes and I felt ready to run. After stopping by the exit table to slather on some sunscreen, I got out of T2 feeling pretty good.


When I ran out of transition, I did a quick time check. It was 3.40pm. With 8 hours and 20minutes to spare, I knew I had plenty of time to finish this marathon. I started off at a conservative 9min/mile pace and tried to hold it for awhile and then the wheels just unexpectedly came right off at mile 2.5. At mile 2.5, both my inner lower quads as well as my core started cramping pretty badly all at the same time so much so that I was immediately slowed to a walk/shuffle. At this point, I started to take in chicken broth and Perform – anything with salt and hydration to stave off the cramps.

Still feeling good for the first mile, heading back down the Second Street bridge.

The rest of the marathon was just a blur of shuffling and walking, getting from mile marker to mile marker, aid station to aid station, cone to cone. Where’s that blasted turnaround point!?!? I swear someone kept moving it further and further. I would talk to random people who were all in roughly the same state at this point, some better than others. I had stopped being able to sweat at this point as my digestive system had shut down and had almost stopped being able to processing much food or liquids. I could only cool off by grabbing wet sponges and wiping myself down, tasting the salty ice water as it mixed with the sweat on my face as I squeezed the sponges over my head. It was carnage out there. I saw people lying on the grass by the side of the road and ambulances a few times on the course.

(Warning! Graphic sentences ahead!) I stopped at a potty stop about halfway through the marathon and, to my dismay, my urine had turned to the color of ginger ale when only about 2 hours before, when I had gone at the last bike aid-station, it was absolutely clear like water. That was a pretty clear sign that, despite me trying to drink as much as I felt I could take, my body was not absorbing it as quickly as I hoped, if any at all. At one point, I seriously contemplated forcing myself to vomit to reset my system but I decided that that would be a very bad idea. I basically tried eating a combination of little bit of various things at every aid station stop to see if anything would work but nothing really helped.

The only brief respites I had during the run was seeing my friends on the course as it was a double out-and-back loop so I got to see Meaghan, Tim and Carrie a few times coming the other way and say hi to them. Many thanks have to go to Michael and Kelly Rimler for making it out there with awesome signs and support. Kelly even ran a little bit with me and we chatted which was good to get my mind off the cramps.

Michael Rimler with his awesome sign. So awesome that, in my dazed state, i actually laughed and did a double take to see who made that sign! and it could only be one person... :)

The half way point is cruel as it passes within a hundred meters of the finish line as you make the turn to start the second loop, heading out of town. I was tearing up as I rounded the corner away from the finish line, thinking about the words, “You are an Ironman!” Onto the second loop…

Starting the second loop of the run course

What was going through my head for most of the run? Math, as I tried to evaluate and reevaluate my goals, speed and how my body was feeling as I aimed to get to the next mile marker, next aid station or even just the next cone. My Garmin had died after mile 15 so I was pretty speed-blind, going off of feel. At that point, I was trying everything I knew to inspire me to keep going. My tried-and-true bank of IM and Salomon running songs weren’t working for me when my legs could not keep up with the tempo. Visualizations were taking too much mental concentration, as my mind was too preoccupied with keeping the rest of my body moving forward. Oddly enough, I never really once thought about quitting or that I won’t finish. Finally, at mile 24, my stomach finally started feeling like a stomach again, instead of a rock with seizures and I was able to pick up the pace a little.

Hurting as I run down the finish chute.

Coming into the finish line, it was already starting to be pretty dark and all I could see were the lights of Fourth Street Live but I was pretty much dead to it all. I was in a group with two others as we sprinted to the finish. I slowed down to give myself some distance as I wanted to try and absorb what I could of it which was not much as I was just so exhausted at this point. Crossing the finish line was (in Ben Bartley’s words, so aptly put) surreal. All I could see was the bright light in my eyes but there was no feeling of elation or exhaustion. It really hadn’t sunk in yet and really wouldn’t for a few days. I just wanted to sit down, eat food and drink something, not move, take a shower… - 5:14:31

Crossing the finish line in 13:41

Total time of 13 hours 41 minutes 37 seconds – 140.6 miles.

Finish line of the IMKY2012 at midnight. Magical.

People have asked me what it was like and I could really sum it up in one word: humbling. It was truly a humbling experience. I have never really had a race where I had awesome highs of riding beside pros and zooming down hills and then going to extremely low lows of putting one foot in front of another. I think the most humbling experience was the part where everything could just deteriorate extremely quickly and so harshly, all in the span of one mile.

Would I do it again? Definitely, perhaps just not this year. :) I was a bit disappointed with the run portion as I definitely did not run as much as I wanted to. As I have experienced before during my first marathon, I can run through lots of pain but cramps are just debilitating as your legs turn to wood and refuse to work. I definitely need to work on my nutrition more, especially the salt intake. I should have suspected something when my first batch of water on the bike tasted like water, when, in hindsight, I should have made it taste it seawater. Timing of calorie and electrolyte intake is crucial on the bike for a good run.

The sense of achievement and the realization of what I have had accomplished is still slowly setting in as I replay and analyze the events of the day in my head as I read the stats of the day and write this race report. For example, this year’s race, for whatever reason, had an unusually high DNF rate of 14% where averages of typical IMs are in the high single digits. I don’t know if it will truly ever really set in what I had done. Maybe one day…

I have many thanks to all the friends and family who have supported me along this amazing journey. Special thanks have to go to my training partners along the way – the entire BARA family, Allison Kindig, Lindsay Koren, Katy Evert, Laura Stephen, Stephanie Reninger and fellow Ironmen Carrie Fercik-Grant, Tim Fercik, Meaghan Meyer, Noelle and Brian Desso. I am proud but yet, humbled to finally be a part of the Ironman family.
My Ironpeeps on the beautiful morning of IMKY 2012
Starting the second loop of the run course
Michael Rimler with his awesome sign. So awesome that, in my dazed state, i actually laughed and did a double take to see who made that sign! and it could only be one person... :)
Finish line of the IMKY2012 at midnight. Magical.
The trek to IMKY 2012 swim start. (Photo credit:
Rick Hullinger volunteering at swim start! (Photo credit:
Tim Fercik getting psyched for some swimming! (Photo credit:
Swim leg at IMKY 2012. Beautiful morning! (Photo credit:
Out of the swim! Notice the lack of my RoadID on my right wrist.
Let's ride!
Still happy along River Road!
Someone filling up at an aid station in the background. It was hot out there!
Heading back into town. Note the glistening skin of the rider behind me.
Still feeling good for the first mile, heading back down the Second Street bridge.
Crossing the finish line in 13:41
Hurting as I run down the finish chute.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Land Between the Lakes Ultra 50 Mile - Larry M.

Land Between Lakes, 50 Mile Race 2012

Friday 3/9/12
The day started with a little accident in the Barger driveway before we left, on an otherwise uneventful drive to Grand Rivers. This is a town of 350 and it looked like a ghost town.  We had an awesome Motel just two blocks from the finish!  The room was great with a full kitchen, front and back balconies and lots of space.  We took a drive out to the park to check out the start of the loop and one of the other Aid Stations.  I took a short 15 minute run on the trail to see how much water and mud were there from the Thursday downpour, it was good.  We had dinner at “Poky’s” Diner, Golf Car Rental, and Bait Shop (you can’t make this stuff up…). 

Saturday 3/10/12, Race Day
The Race started at 6:00, at 3:30 I downed a couple of Ensure Plus, we’re both up around 4:45 and walking to the start around 5:40, this hotel room was perfect for start and finish.  The weather was supposed to be in the mid 60’s and sunny, but the morning was a cool 33 degrees, a little cold for my taste.  The start was part way out to a Jetty in the Marina with a very impromptu start line.  At 5:50 it looked like no one was around, at 5:58 there were 700 people there out of nowhere.  So with a few minutes to start we stripped down to our shorts and shirts, there was a muffled voice on a Mega Phone and then a Gun Shot, we were off.

Start and Lap 1:
This was a Lolly Pop race course, with a 1.7 mile road run to the park where we hit the trails and ran 4 loops of about 11 miles each.  There were 5races started together, a 10K, 23K, Marathon, 60K, and 50 mile, so it was really hard not to get caught up in the rush for the front.  Brian and I planned to have at least 150-200 people in front of us before we hit the trails, because once you hit the trail it’s primarily a single tract trail and passing would be difficult.  This made the first lap quicker than either of us really wanted but with all the congestion and traffic on the trail it really couldn’t be helped.  The first lap went by fast.   After the first hour running I started on my every half hour nutrition regiment.  I took a Hammer Gel every 30 minutes, and ate something small at every Aid Station.  There were 4 Aid Stations spaced throughout the loop, they were pretty well stocked with Hammer and GU Gels, Heed, Gatorade, water and an assortment of foods and snacks (even pizza on the 3rd loop).  I would refill my 12 ounce hand -held water bottle and slam 2 cups of Heed at every station.  Coming to the end of the first loop Melissa and Tanya were there at the Aid Station Drop Area to act as our support crew, I dropped my long sleeve shirt, gloves and arm warmers, got a piece of a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich and was off.   Brian got off faster than I and I didn’t see him at all on lap 2.

Lap 2:
Amazing how much traffic dropped, it seemed that half the people were doing the 23K and turned off to go back to Grand Rivers.  This made it easier to run at the pace I chose and to slow it down a bit.  Having got rid of my long sleeve shirt I could now get to my iPod and get lost in several preloaded Grateful Dead Concerts.  I kind of zoned out on this lap and mostly ran by myself.  I kept checking my Garmin to find pace and Heart Rate through the entire run, I was hoping to stay in 130’s maybe 140’s but the hills just made this almost impossible.  This was the lap where people started tripping and falling,  A guy I had traded places with a few times passed me going into a steep dry stream crossing, caught a toe and went down hard!  He did a full body head to toe slam, I asked if he was ok, he said yes but he looked bad and I never saw him again.   As I was running this lap I noticed that my feet weren’t right.  I normally just run roads and never tie my shoes, I put them on when I buy them find a nice loose fit, tie them in double knots and never tie them again.  On these trails my feet were sliding around a lot in my shoes and I was getting several hot spots.  When I came to the end of the 2nd loop I told Melissa to have socks, Vaseline, Super Glue and Duct Tape ready for foot surgery next go round; another bite of PB&J, refill water, slam 2 cups Heed,  a port o potty break and off again.

Lap 3:
Coming into this lap I was feeling good and not worried about finishing, like many others seemed to be .  I was really worried what my feet where going to be like so I stopped and re-tied my shoes – tight.  This was the cure- all for my hot spot issues!  That wasn’t it for my foot pains, I slammed my right foot into a rock or root straight on my second toe, I knew that toenail was a goner.  Not much later I got my toe caught on a root sticking up out of the ground like a little finger; it ripped open the toe box of my shoe, that sent me sprawling, I don’t know how I didn’t fall flat on my face.  On this lap, between the 1st and 2nd Aid Station, about mile 28, I see Brian’s orange shirt, I don’t catch up to him til about mile 30.  After that we were pretty much in sight of each other the remainder of the run.   Between the Park’s Welcome Station, Aid Station, and the 3rd Aid station the trail got really technical with a lot of elevation changes, rocks, roots, just tough running.   After the 3rd station is seemed to be a little gentler run, however after the last section a root reached out and grabbed Brian’s foot and sent him rolling.  It was a great Ninja recover, he fell, rolled and popped right back up into a run without a break in stride or pace… impressive!   After the 4th Aid Station we just settled into a good steady pace and picked up a 60K runner to the loop start.  At the end of our 3rd loop there was a guy with a clipboard to check on runners and see if they were continuing on or dropping down.  He asked if we knew what we were doing, I held up four fingers and said starting 4th he said ok and motioned us on.  Melissa had everything ready I asked for but since the hotspots were gone I didn’t want to mess with my feet and just went on.  I did grab 5 Fig Newtons on my way out, Heed, refill and I was out.

Lap 4:
This time I got out of there faster than Brian, I must have been a minute or so ahead of him, when I looked back I didn’t see him anywhere.  So, back into the iPod zone…  About the same place I caught him last lap, he caught me.  Rather than trading off back and forth we decided to work together and finish together.  The third section was the steepest and most technical; we walked the steep hills up and down.  I was fine going up but my quads were killing me going down, he was just the opposite.  They were out of Coke at the 2nd Aid station, I started Coke at the 3rd Aid Station, they had cold fresh from the bottle Coke Zero, oooh that was bad almost made me throw up!   No more of that!  I had a few Hammer Espresso Caffeine Gels; I started on those the next ½ hour till the end. 

Last Leg:
When you finish the 4th lap they slap you a bit, you don’t get to head back to town, they send you down the road the other way to make up for the difference in distance.  So instead of a little over a mile and a half you run about another 5K to the finish… and of course there are some long grinding hills, we walked one of them.  The joke last night with our wives was we would finish at a sub 7:00/mi pace; so at about a ¼ mile out we ramped it up.  I kept an eye on my Garmin to get our pace; we kept it steady at 7:00/mi and finished at 6:56/mi pace.  We finished together at:  9:33:33 stopping never felt so good!  Kudos to Brian, I think he trained and prepared better than I!

Post Run:
Back to the Hotel for a quick shower and some toenail lancing, then over to the Community Center to get some of the food they had for us.  Then off for a real dinner that we could all sit down and eat.  We landed at the Huddle Hutt for pulled pork and fries.   After dinner I out the compression sock recovery phenomenon, not sure if they help on not yet.

Sunday 3/11/12
No rush getting up and checking out of the Hotel, the local Basset Hound was walking in the rooms as we were loading up the van.  We had breakfast at the BBQ and Breakfast at the little hole in the wall across the street; then out to the Jetty for a few pictures before heading home.  Dairy Queen was advertising Blizzard specials, so we had to stop to get more calorie replacement about half way home.  Melissa and I finished off the day with Pizza and Beer out on our deck.  All in all a great weekend!  

-          IPod jams, Grateful Dead bootleg live concerts.  A little music to ease the soul, get lost in, and zone out…
-          Awesome weather!  Started cool but most of the day sunny, mid 60’s and no humidity!
-          I felt good, I never felt like I couldn’t finish or wanted to quit. 
-          Kept a good watch on Hydration and never ran out of fluids. 
-          The small palm handheld water bottle was perfect for between Aid Stations.
-          My nutrition seemed to work, I never got hungry and I don’t feel like I really hit “the wall”
-          I finished! 

-          Wrong socks, under the ankle sock are fine for Marathons and Triathlons but just collect dirt and junk.  Somehow I actually tore my sock in half.  Next time at least over the ankle.  Unlike the Tri folks the people wearing compression wear the whole sock not just the sleeve.  Another thought might be the trail gators; I did see a few of those. 
-          Not tying my shoes tight, I’d hate to see what my feet might have looked like.
-          Coke Zero, wow that made me sick to my stomach! 
-          Start and first lap too fast because all the runners, running shorter faster races… I’m sure I went out too fast.
-          16 gels and a mostly fluid diet don’t make good with your intestinal track late at night… I needed Pepto Bismo! 
-          I never trained on trails, or steep down hill grades.

2 Ensure Plus before start. (700 cals)
2 small Clif Bars and coffee just before start (200 cals)
16 Hammer Gels, one every ½ hour,  (1440 cals)
2 Cup Heed every aid station (150 cals?)
3 Bite size Veggie Wraps (50 cals?)
5 Fig Newtons (400 cals)
2 Bite sized PB&Js  (40 cals?)
A few other Aid station snacks, but none of the candy suff. ( ? cals)

Post Race:
Ensure Plus (350 cals)
Guinness (? Cals)
Big bowl of Chilli (? Cals)
Small bowl of Veggie Pasta Salad (? Cals)
Pulled Pork sandwich and fries (? Cals)
More Guinness…

Overall I’m very happy with efforts and results for the day.  I learned a lot about the world of Ultra and have a lot of room to improve.  I was kind of prepared, ignorance is bliss, but I will do several things different next time.  I would give the day a strong “B” since I have a lot of room to improve and time to drop.
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