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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Leadville Trail Marathon - DFL > DNF > DNS



First of all a few definitions to make sure everyone understands the title:

Leadville: A city in Colorado that sits at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
Trail: A path, generally smaller and less maintained than a road. Sometimes just wide enough for one person to walk.


Marathon: 26.2 mile running event.
"Trail Marathon": A marathon run completely or largely on trails.
DNF: Did Not Finish. A title awarded to a competitor that fails to finish an event. Generally the biggest stigma associated with this is self-inflicted.
DFL: Dead Freakin Last. A title awarded to the last finisher of a race. Again, the biggest stigma associated with this is self-inflicted as there has to be one in every race.
DNS: Did Not Start. When a competitor registers for a race and then fails to make it to the starting line. Frequently this is due to an injury before the race and accordingly should not carry any stigma.

Starting Line:
Parking was easier than almost any other race I've done. There was no bag/gear drop, but I left my stuff in the gym where the last minute registration was being done (also where the dinner after the race was to be held). Chatted with a few people while waiting for the starting gun.

First Miles:
First 4 miles were basically uphill - ugh. Heart rate was a bit elevated, but I expected that. I even expected my lungs to complain a bit, which they did. The complaining was silenced largely by the incredibly beautiful scenery as the forest gave way to incredible views. At miles 6-10, I did some mental math and figured if I kept the same average pace, I would be able to finish within the 8.5 hour limit with a comfortable margin.

From about mile 4 to 7 was a loop around a mountain. There were some ups and downs and we climbed to about 12,000 ft. For a little extra fun, we had a couple hundred feet of snow to cross, but the race team had been up earlier in the week and had carved a functional pass and the bright sun had melted enough snow that there was a layer of slush on the top that helped footing a bit.

Middle Miles:
After that loop, we went down what seemed like forever and felt great (forgetting for the moment that the course was an out-and-back and what goes down must come back up). I shouted some encouragement to the first marathoners to pass us on their way back already. I made some good time (even dropped below 9 min/mile for a few stretches) and was feeling pretty good until I got to the aid station at the bottom. This is where we met back up with the Half Marathoners for the climb to Mosquito Pass.

The first part of the climb was pretty tame and fairly level, but definitely uphill. I heard a saying today that the secret to Trail Running is to "Run the flats and downhills and walk the uphills" which made sense and I tried to follow it. I did have to stop to catch my breath pretty frequently though. I later heard a clarification to that secret and that is the addition of the word "briskly" to the end. I didn't manage brisk very often and even sat down to catch my breath when I needed to. I figured better safe than sorry.

About Halfway:
As I approached the halfway mark, I did some more mental math and started to get worried that this race might mark my first DFL. In spite of that, I was not able to muster any extra speed as the terrain go rough enough that even in my Durango 4x4 I would have had my hands full and probably would not have made the last mile. By the time I got to the top at 13.1 miles, my time was 4:45. I knew much of the road back was downhill (including the last 4 miles), so a negative split was likely, but I didn't think I could make up that much time to finish in less than 8.5 hours. I had almost resigned myself to a DNF until I asked a guy with a Marathon Maniac shirt "Are we looking at a DNF?" and he said "No way! Plenty of time left."

The views continued to be amazing as this shot from 13000 ft shows just before the turn-around.

Finishing:
The first part of the downhill from the turn-around was almost as hard as going up, due to the loose rock and steep grade. In spite of that, I had to stop less often and was able to move a bit faster. Things seemed to be going better and my mental math starting looking hopeful for "just-before-the-cutoff" finish. I made the mile 16 aid station with 10 minutes to spare which motivated me to keep my pace up (as well as freak me out, I hadn't realized I was that close to getting pulled from the course). I felt better, at least till about mile 18, when my legs started to join my lungs in complaining and begging to stop. I decided if there was a cutoff at the next aid station and I was within 5 minutes of it, I would accept my DNF and get a ride to the finish.

I made it to the aid station with 7 minutes left so I started the next leg (3 miles) after a handful of m&m's and a few pretzels and a cup of coke. Trail races apparently have AWESOME aid stations, almost as good as the aid stations at Ironman races.

This is the leg with the snow crossing, only we were doing it backwards. That actually made the snow crossing easier as we just sat down and slid down. We were hot enough that cold in our shorts and legs felt great. Besides, it was faster and fun!

We got to the last aid station which meant 4 miles to go with about 40 min to go. 10 min miles is within my reach, most of the time. This was ALL downhill, so I should have been able to do it, but the trail for part of this stretch was pretty uneven and my hips were starting to complain about all the downhill running. All excuses -- the truth is, I hit the wall pretty hard and slowed down a lot.

I kept watching the time slip away. When I realized I was still 2 miles away and there were only 10 min before the 8.5 hour clock ran out. Even with fresh legs and level or downhill ground with a tailwind, 5 min miles are not in my playbook and I decided to take it easy the last 2 miles.

A couple Marathon Maniacs (including the guy that said "No problem" at the turn-around) caught up with me and I got to know Mario and Carol as well as more about the social side of MM. I said I had resigned myself to accepting a DNF and that I would be proud to have it on this course. He said that some race directors leave the clock running for anyone that made the last cut-off point, so we might be ok. He also added that even if we did not get an official finish, we still covered one of the toughest marathon courses in the US and no one could take that away from us.

I crossed the finish line with the clock still running in 8:50 and they gave me a medal, so I guess I finished. A Finish Line NEVER looked so good.  I'll check the web site in a few days to see if I can wear the badge DFL or just reallllly close to DFL. 



Update 07-05-2011:

Well, the final results are up for the race.  Looks like I get my first DNF.  Not sure anything other than more time at altitude and maybe a few more weeks of training would have allowed me to finish faster, so I feel ok with that.  I still finished the course, even if I am not an "official finisher".
 Update 07-14-2011:
They updated the results and added a group of us that made the cutoff times as official finishers, so I guess my DNF will happen some other time.  YAY!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ragnar 2011 - Race Report

This is long over due and I'm sure I will not be able to do this race justice, but here are some rambling musings.

I had not done a race in over a year when I saw a message from my friend Kim saying she was putting together a team for a 200 mile relay race called Ragnar Relay Del Sol.  It was several months away and I thought it would be a good tool to motivate me to keep up my recently restarted running.  Kim was very clear that this was a run for fun team and that it didn't matter how fast (or slow) we were.

The plan to get my running motivation worked and I had several very good months of gradually increasing miles and faster paces. By the time race week was getting close, I decided to run another short race the weekend before Ragnar.  The Lost Dutchman 8k was a fun race and shorter than any of my legs would be for Ragnar so I wasn't worried about this hurting my ability for Ragnar.  I had a great race and was glad to be racing again.

The way this event works is that each team has 12 runners (or 6 for the ultra teams).  Each runner takes turns running a leg of the course. When the 12th runner is done, the 1st runner goes next until all runners have run their 3 legs.  Each leg is of varying difficulty and distance, runners can be assigned to the position with legs that best matches their ability and strength.  The total distance for my 3 legs was 21 miles, which is the longest leg selection.  This made sense since I have multiple marathons and an Ironman race under my belt, the longer distance legs suited me fine, even with my relatively long layoff since my last race. 

Typically, the runners are split up in 2 vans, with the first six in van #1 and the other six in van #2. The only time both vans are in the same place is at the so called "major" exchanges, the transfer from runner 6 to runner 7 and from runner 12 to runner 1.  Thursday before the race, we got together to decorate van #1 (van #2 members had a later start so they would decorate their van on Friday after we were already running.).



We had fun decorating the van and getting to know some of the other members of our team a bit better. What felt like just a few hours later, we met at the finish line to load up in van #1 before heading up to Wickenburg and the start line of the race.  We got checked in and started to get excited about the start of the race. 


From Ragnar 2011

Kim (our #1 runner) got us off to a great start and even ran the first stretch of her first leg wearing the costume.  All the start-line excitement was there, but only one of us got to start running.  I had to wait for about 2 hours before my first chance to run at about 11:30am. 

All that pent up energy and excitement made it harder than usual to control my pace for the opening miles of my first leg.  Combine that with the fact that my first leg was a net downhill and started on a slight downhill and my first 2 miles were way faster than I had planned.  It took a lot of effort to try and hold close to my goal pace the remaining 5+ miles as the road leveled out. I stayed pretty close to my goal pace overall, but was dragging by the time I got to the next exchange point.

When our 6 runners had each finished our first legs, we drove to the area where the next major exchange was to take place and stopped at an Olive Garden for some dinner. 

After dinner, we headed over to the exchange point where we took a nap while we waited for our other van and their last runner to make it so our first runner could start running again.  I also was lucky and had a friend drop off my Girl Scout cookie order (Thanks Mrs Frankie!).  Our other runner came in around 9:30pm and we started our second shift.

While we were supporting our first runner at night, we saw someone that several of us knew and cheered him on as well even as he passed our runner. (his team was one of the more competitive ones) One of our teammates said it looked like he was going the wrong way, but in the dark, we weren't sure and couldn't see where he went.  When we got to the next transition, we alerted his teammates that he might have gotten lost.  The HAM communication volunteer contacted one of the mobile units who started coordinating a search based around where we had last seen him.  Meanwhile, our runner came in and our second runner took off.  We waited for about 5 min and were starting to wonder if they were going to find our friend when he came in.  He said he ended up going about 2 miles out of his way before he realized he was off course and backtracking.

My next leg started at about 11:30pm.  This was going to be my most challenging (but shortest) leg. I am usually sound asleep by that time, so staying awake was going to be one challenge.  Another would be running in the dark since I rarely do that.  Even more fun was that part of this leg was a non-support leg that had some off-road and trail sections.  As if that was not enough, there was some uphill for the last section of the leg.  The non-support section means that my teammates could not pull over and give me water or encouragement so this leg was more like a solo training run which is less fun than a race.  I made it to transition, had a snack and laid down in the van and dozed on-and-off for the rest of the night after apologizing in advance to my teammates for my lack of cheering for the next couple hours.

The next major exchange where our van started running again was right around sunrise.  That major exchange had a free massage (donations accepted for charity).  I took advantage of the massage and my legs felt a lot better and really was feeling ready for my last run.

My last leg started around 11:30am, almost 24 hours after my first leg.  It was a little uphill (1/4 mil) and the rest of the about 7 miles was downhill.  I found my pace early in to the downhill and was running with a guy from an ultra team.  Ultra teams are usually pretty competitive folks, so I was happy to be keeping up with him. Turns out his team had lost a runner to injury early in the race and were picking up the remaining legs so they were all getting more than they had bargained for.  We held a steady 9:xx mpm pace and a couple miles to the exchange he said he was slowing down since he still had a few more legs to run and wished me luck.  I turned up the speed and felt like I was flying down the hill.  When I handed off the wrist strap to our next runner, I knew that I had not left anything in the tank and I had given it my all for that leg.

After the next major exchange, we split up with one of our runners getting a ride home from his wife and we dropped another one off at his house while the other 4 of us went to our team captains house for some pizza and beer while waiting for van #2 to close out the race.  We washed the van and took turns getting cleaned up and went over to the finish line to wait for our team so we could cross the finish line together. 

We got our finishers medals and stickers and then had our picture taken next to the Ragnar Van before standing around laughing about how much fun that had been.  Now some people are talking about doing this again next year as an ultra team and others are talking about doing another relay event somewhere different.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

2010 Year in Review

During my run this morning, I was thinking about how much my life has changed over the past year.  In January 2010, I was married, though the marriage was dying and had just finished with probably the worst Christmas season I can ever recall, (with few bright spots).  My fitness had dropped off from my Ironman race in 2008 to a total running mileage for January of barely over 30 miles and I couldn't run for more than a half a mile without taking a walk break.  I only rode my bike once and hadn't been swimming (which I love doing) in several months.

So what will 2011 bring?

By October of last year, my divorce was finalized and I had started running more consistently.  Now, after a good Christmas season I am in my fourth month of steadily improving running (already have almost as many miles by the 9th as I did all of Jan last year). I am registered for a relay race in Feb and planning several other races during the year.  I would like to get a new marathon PR (Personal Record) and break the 4 hour barrier this year.  Las Vegas marathon is in December and is a very fast and flat course. It would not add any new states to my "marathon in every state" quest, but it might be worth it if I manage another goal to get closer to the Boston Qualifying time.

I have spent some time during the last part of 2010 working on getting my financial and physical house in order.  Working on (and living on) a budget is not fun, but is necessary and better than the alternative.  Dr visits are a good thing to catch possible problems before they are serious.  Watching my sodium intake today is better than medication (or worse) later. 


I started dating again late last year and met some nice girls (or ladies or women what IS the right word?) one of whom has started to become pretty special and we have been seeing a lot more of each other.  We are still not sure where this relationship will lead, but we are sure enjoying getting to know each other better. 

So far, 2011 promises to be an exciting and fun-filled year.  Stay tuned.