Monday, August 25, 2008

A day in the sun

Thank you all!
First of all I would like to thank my family and every single one of you who showed up on a hot late August day when most people are away on vacation! Thank you for all the emails as well. I heard all too familiar Lyme disease stories from people who joined me for a few laps. People from neighboring towns had come out to support me. It was a very gratifying feeling. It only reinforced my mission with Time For Lyme that we are doing the right thing in supporting research. We raised $542! Many small creeks eventually turns into a river as they say.

Why ultras?
One of the biggest allures of ultra challenges for me is the uncertainty of completion. Ultras tees up an attractive challenge that you prepare for the best possible way both physically and mentally. Drawing experience from every little mistake is vital for improvement. You also get to learn a lot about yourself and how your body works. Sometimes you succeed sometimes you don't. Last Saturday was a learning experience from many different perspectives.

24 hour run purpose
The run was to serve two purposes, first to spread Lyme awareness, connecting with people. And many fantastic people showed up on a hot summer day! Trail running would have made this much more difficult. Second the training would serve as an aerobic and mental preparation for what's to come later this fall. It would not of course include elevation change training.

Preparation - "finish strong" approach
I am not a top athlete, I consider myself a "middle of the pack" type of guy. I like to challenge myself and I do not get too wrapped up in competing with others. The reason why I like ultra challenges is because of the journey, the preparation to the destination. I also like to read up on training as much as possible and also experiment with my own theories. My family tree have a few inventors and entrepreneurs and I guess I have gotten a bit of that bug as well. For my 200 mile attempt in October I'll be running in more darkness than daylight. I knew that I would have to gradually and also in a controlled manner stress my system to a completely new level in order to handle extreme fatigue both mentally and physically. Simply put I had to train in those types of situations. The old running adage "finish strong" was key for my approach. Since a lot of ultras involve a considerable amount of walking, that is unless you are the elite, with being up all day working and finish the evening with a run, I thought that this approach would work well as a "finish strong" concept. Important was to focus on recovery thereafter. I tried to find running articles and empirical training studies about consistent night training but there were none. Another beneficial thing with running at night would be that 3 of the family's light sleepers would not be woken up since they would be in their REM sleep at that time. If I would go for an early morning run (which I have tried) I would wake the whole house up at 3:30-4:00am. So it was a good approach from both a training as well as a family perspective. I am curious to see how it all pans out. It might fail or it might work.

Going into this I had done the mileage to tackle the challenge. My legs were primed and my mind felt strong. I channeled all my lonely night runs when most people are sleeping in their warm and cosy beds and the occasional driver passing by slowing down to shout either "can I help you?- ahh great job keep it up" or "are you freaking nuts it's 3:30am!!!". I knew I could handle 24 hours since I had consistently trained for this since January. My long training runs, ranging from 4 to +7 hours, always started on a Saturday night having been up for 15-16 hours doing all kinds of things such as family outings, lawn care and other house chores etc. The longest run would end up just after 6:00am on Sunday mornings. This meant that I had been up for 20-23+ hours straight which was followed by a three hour Sunday morning nap. I would thereafter spend the entire day on Sunday with the family and surprisingly not feeling all too tired until it would really hit me hard at 08:00-08:30pm. I would then tuck myself in at the same time as the kids. I would then sleep 10-11 hours. During the weekdays I would start my run at 10:30pm and go for anywhere between 1-3 hours followed by 6-7 hours of sleep. With this whole training routine more or less every Saturday and weekdays since January gave me confidence that I could handle a 24 hour run. But as they say "Talk is cheap!" and it was time to show up. The only thing that was an unknown was that I had only 8 daylight runs since January and that I would run in quite a bit of sunlight!

The Saturday before I ran a 11 mile race at Silvermine to get a little intensity up. But I tried to hold myself back, it was after all taper time. I felt good about my race. I was ready for the challenge on Saturday and could not wait for it to come.

Many people had asked me how I was going to keep track of the laps since I had no one to keep track of my lap counting. I did not expect anyone to spend 24 hours out there with me seeing me going around in circles. So my plan was to have rubber bands in groups of 50 attached to a light carabiner in one hand and a lap counter in the other. At the end of each lap I would discard a rubber band into a wooden box and click my lap counter in the other hand. At the end of the day I would count the number of rubber bands in the box and compare it to the counter and go with the lower number as a conservative approach. The system worked pretty well. I was off by one lap and chose the lesser amount for conservative measures. The rubber bands kept me busy during the lap as well. My routine was as I approached the last turn of each lap I isolated one rubber band from the rest and as I approach the white wooden box at each lap I would drop one in and click the lap counter with the other. Believe me you need to keep yourself busy with something when going round and round on a track.

The haul
I woke up at 3:30am and turned on the coffee maker that was already prepared the night before. Accompanying my coffee were two pieces of toast with peanut butter and jelly. As I left the house I looked above at the beautifully starlit skies. It was going to be a perfect day I thought. As I drove over to the track fully packed the night before with quite a bit of luggage I was thinking about how much stuff I bring along for big runs. Shouldn't a pair of shorts a t-shirt and sneakers do it, just like a Kenyan? No this type of running you need to bring things that you might not expect wearing such as a long sleeve t-shirt, even a jacket that I wear during winter time as an insurance if chills might set in. All the first aid stuff, gels, food, donation cups, chalk board etc. I had borrowed my kids chalk board from home and written "Support Lyme Research" 24 hour run - Team Time For Lyme. Please Donate Thank You! :-) I was rigging this up all by myself. My good and loyal crew chief Kevin was on vacation but would check in with me intermittently via cell phone. So would my good ultra friend Pete Stringer. In hindsight the absence of having a knowledgeable crew member beside you was a mistake.

When arriving at the track it was still pitch black. There would only be a small part of the track lit up during the darkness and that was close to the entrance and where the parking was located. As I entered the track I saw to my surprise that the soccer field had been chalked and field hockey goals were put in place. OK is this good or bad, I first thought. They were not there on Thursday, I thought. Then I thought, great, the more people the better.

As I started to place my cooler and other things inside lane one at the lap count area the sprinklers went off unannounced. I immediately moved my gear over to the outside lane to await ceasing of water. This would have been great to have during the day because lane one was being watered down as well. I put all my food in one area, the wooden box to hold rubber bands for lap counting on a portable stool and a set of towels at the first turn of track.

Time to run
I finally got everything in order and at 5:05am I was ready to go. I called my ultra friend Pete Stringer from Cape Cod to tell him that I was on my way. It was time for some serious laps! it was still dark and I started out with my headlight perched on my hat. My first four hours consisted of a run to walk ratio of 25/5 meaning run 25 minutes and then walk 5 minutes. This worked out perfectly and I was slightly behind my schedule due to logistics of picking up hydration and gels and towels etc. At first the weather was nice and cool and the temps had started out in the low 60s and my Ipod was doing its thing. As the sun was rising the track would carry a white veil of fog 3 feet above the track and it was so beautiful I thought for a second that I should grab my camera but then I reminded myself that I had a mission and focus was key. The first person who showed up was an elderly lady who was getting in her morning walk at track. I am surprised at the number people using the track versus walking in the park. I guess they do know without a GPS or a pedometer how far they have traveled each time. As the sun rose it was looking to become a perfect day for the run and the cause. My hydration seemed to be on par the first 1 .5 hours where I had to go twice. Right on I thought! Once an hour was my goal and it had to be clear. But then the field started to unexpectedly fill up with teenage girls who were not field hockey players but soccer players. Someone told me it was the day for "The Gauntlet" or soccer try outs. This meant close to a hundred girls were trying to out run each other on the mile! Yikes! All of a sudden I was pushed aside to lane 2 and 3 for the next 2.5 hours (this was additional distance). I cheered the girls on and they returned cheers for my cause. One girl gave everything she had and then some, some nice vomit on the final turn in lane one.
Heading up the creek without a paddle ...
As a fantastic experience, during my laps, I was overwhelmed by the various people coming out running/walking with me, sharing their stories and frustrations with Lyme disease. It was either a relative or themselves who had had Lyme. Today we all know of someone who has had Lyme. There was the ironman Greg who came from Long Island to help out for a few hours, the mother and daughter, the young athletic physical trainer, the lady who went out of her way to buy popsicles and a bucket with ice to keep me cool, the young track star, an entire family who had had it and a few members still have it, ultra runner Rob who had run the infamous Comrades ultra marathon in South Africa (54 miles or 87km) a whopping 13 times and the list goes on. It was truly a great turnout on such a hot day.
I was making good progress on my lap schedule. I was slightly behind but within reach to restore my pace.

As the sun started to bear down on me I was getting worried that my hydration plan had been miscalculated for these types of temps. The forecast said in the low to mid 80s which I thought was fine. Time passed and I had not relieved myself for over 2.5 hours! When I finally went the color was yellow. This is the first warning sign that your hydration is not going as planned. I was taking 1 electrolyte tablet every hour on the hour but now I was starting to take them every 45-50 minutes instead plus I was drinking 24 oz every 2-3 laps! It got hot quickly much hotter than I had anticipated. Although I was wearing a sleeveless black top, shorts and compression socks in hindsight was probably not the best color for that particular day. I could not tell the temperature at the time but at a later review from the data of my watch indicated 92F at its peak! I have raced in similar temps some time ago but this felt even hotter. There was nowhere to hide. I was praying for some white clouds to give me a moment of relieving shade but they came and went very quickly. Adjacent to one end of the track there is a set of tennis courts embraced by a surrounding high fence and fabric sheltering the court from wind and acting as a contrast. Well the fence sheltered the the track from the albeit weak but immensively craved wind that day. I had not trained this year for these type of temps. I was almost a nocturnal creature. October will be a lot cooler and darker.

Blistering Hot
As I was talking with these people during my laps I was getting more and more dehydrated and my left upper Achilles and calf muscle started to progressively getting more and more tense. At lap 125 my left calf cramped up hard, it felt like I had been stunned in my leg, like an buzzing electric shock. the cramp was so disruptive that I decided to stop and stretch, change shoes and change lap direction. I was hoping that walking in the other direction would cease the pain. Walking at first felt ok but every time I tried to run the pain was there and it was not the type of pain that you put aside mentally and continue to run because it was even difficult to put any weight on the forefoot since I am a forefoot striker, I could walk faster. I said to myself that ok let's walk this whole thing after all I had trained for walking as well. It was now midday and the heat was there in all of its glory and most people had hurried home to their air conditioned houses.

The few clouds that brought shade quickly disappeared. I had reapplied SPF 50 twice now. Unknowingly I had developed two sizable sun blisters behind my knee from the sun. I have read articles about sunscreens that do not let your skin breathe properly but I was pretty convinced that the sunscreen had worn off in that area.
When most people had left, one thing that was good was that I could now focus and concentrate on my walk more but the cramping started to interfere even when walking. I was not mentally tired but more frustrated by the fact I was slowing down considerably. My pace schedule was slipping fast. My lovely wife came out to walk with me for a few laps to cheer me up and I told her that I would walk the remainder due to my calf issues. She told me to hang in there. I called my friend Pete Stringer on the cell phone and informed him that I was having serious issues with my leg but I wanted to finish this. I know it was a training run but I tend to finish what I have set out to do. My walk was now an ugly sight. After some laps of agonizing mental debate, the devil and the angel perched on either side of my shoulder, of whether to continue or quit I decided that I was not going to jeopardize my 200 mile attempt in October. I was now seriously dehydrated and my calf muscle felt more torn than cramped. I later learned that I was having hyper active muscle cramps which lasted for two days. I had no soreness days after the run besides in the calf area where the cramp was. Had I continued I could have torn a muscle and it was a wise decision. Sure I have had some small cramps in my toes and even in my hamstring when sleeping in my bed but I have been fortunate not to have had any serious cramping in any endurance event until this year.

Issues but still being optimistic at 31.069 miles (50K) or 125 laps

Lessons learned
"It not the glorious victory when you learn the most but rather when you have had a stinging defeat" Unknown

The goal was to go for 24 hours and beyond 100 miles which I was determined to do. I had a well thought out pace schedule with a progressive increase of walk to run ratio. I could have decided to continue but I stopped although somewhat reluctantly when I thought it was prudent to do so. No one else made that decision for me. Knowing the difference between good and bad pain is a key element that one should possess when taking on an ultra challenge. I was starting to make less than 3 miles an hour and now the cramps started to move in on my walk as well. I walked the last 20 miles. It was a training run and I kept that in mind but the goal was to go the full 24 hours no question about it! The decision to stop was difficult and of course a big disappointment but again many lessons learned.
  • Have a crew member who will monitor you even when you feel confident that you have everything under control. This person will facilitate simple things such as refilling bottles constantly asking you questions such as have you peed, have you eaten etc.

  • Make good hydration and electrolyte adjustments - detemine your hydration range for different temps and humidity

  • Have bright clothing available for unexpected heat
  • For a future official 24 run race avoid lengthy conversations and focus on pace, hydration and nutrition.
Result 204 laps or 50.704 miles (81.6 km)
- 11 hours 44 minutes.
A good day for Lyme awareness and many important lessons learned from an ultra marathon perspective.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Time for Laps - 24 hours

Well, It's been a while since I last posted something. I have kept my focus on my training but I have had a few bumps in the road here and there but that's part of life. I have topped out at 85 miles per week and the taper has been welcomed. It's finally time to put the training to the test on this Saturday (start 5:00am) for 24 hours on the track at the New Canaan High School. Part of my training has been speed walking and it is harder than you think. Sure walking slowly is fine but try to keep a 15-16 min/mile for a longer period of time requires hard work. The strategy is have a well distributed run walk combination where you incorporate your hydration and food intake. If my plan goes as I want it to, my calorie consumption would land around 11,400 calories in 24 hours. I have put together a pace chart and tools to track laps rubber bands thrown in a bucket and a lap counter (best accounting practice), run/walk splits and calorie intake. At the track I will have a big cooler, plenty of water, gels, food, clothes, lights and other good stuff which should help me get through the hours. Let's not forget to load up some music on the Ipod. I will carry my cellphone and have access to emails if you care for sending some encouraging words along my way. Forgive me if I do not reply. If you are nearby come on out and run a few laps with me to support Lyme research. I will also sell cool Time For Lyme T-shirts (see picture of me wearing it) at the track that my sister has helped to design. Come on out and support a good cause! After the run I have some exciting news to tell you. Some real prominent sportsmen have joined me and Team Time for Lyme to support Lyme research but first things first.
One more thing I will carry an extra headlight for you if you care to join me when sun sets. Best Carl