Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First try of the season

Last weekend was the High Cliff Triathlon. I was a bit nervous about my training as the sheer number of training hours/miles has not been up to expectations. I was excited none-the-less for my first triathlon of the season as up until then I had only competed in running races. The morning is always a bit hectic because I am not so good with time management and have a hard time getting going in the early morning. Anna and I got to the start and parking was a nightmare as usual so by the time we got to transition we were rushing to set up our spots, get our timing chips and warm up before the start of the race. We got everything done and wet suited up as we headed down to the lake. I didn't get a chance to warm up in the water before they cleared the beach for the start so I crossed my fingers and waited for the gun.
Each year I forget how shallow the swim is and once the race started it was more of a run for the first few hundred yards. After about 200 yards the water was waist deep and we could finally start the swim. This was a blessing and a curse because as we got to deeper water the waves grew larger and it became difficult to spot the markers. I lost the first group just after the first turn and ended up leading the second group of swimmers back to the finish. I had hoped to stay on the heels of the lead pack so I wouldn't have to spot but refused to wait for other swimmers in the second group not knowing their swimming strength. I exited the water in 22min. about 1 min behind the lead group.
I headed out on the bike and because I was unsure of my cycling fitness decided to start easy but it is hard to do when going fast on the bike is what you're used to. I tried to keep my heart rate low and just stay calm. It worked well and I felt comfortable up until mile 40 where my fitness level definitely came into play. I had to push a little bit harder than I wanted the last few miles of the bike as we turned into a strong head wind the last 7 miles. My speed slowed a lot but I tried to tell myself to not go into the red zone and save me legs for the run. I ended up going 2:32 on the bike which I was happy with for my fitness level.
After a quick T2 I headed out for the grueling 1/4 mile climb to start the run. I slogged my way up the hill with heavy legs banking on them felling fresh at the top. It was not quite the case and it took an extra 1-2 miles to work the bike ride out. I also took a caffinated Power Gel at mile 3 and from then on I was moving. The sun grew hotter as the run went on but I was feeling fresh and hydrated and my speed increased with each mile. I was very happy to see that my run fitness was good and I pulled out a 1:40 half split. Not to bad considering my first few miles were slow up the hill and with a bathroom break. My total time was 4:38 and I was 34th overall. A good race. Anna ended up have a terrific race for her first half ironman ever. She had a strong, swim and bike and got 2nd overall with a 4:47 total time. An impressive race for her.

MC 200 (a lesson on the importance of sleep)

A few weeks ago I had to choose between two races on the same day. One race was the Norski duathlon, a very fun sprint duathlon that I won last year and wanted very badly to go back and defend my title. The other race was the Madison to Chicago 200 (MC 200) mile relay running race. Seeing as I was offered to run with the Movin' Shoes running team with a group of friends and my running fitness is far greater than previous years I opted to try a new race and go with the long run : ) Normally this race is for 12 person teams. Our team consisted of only 6 people and was coed. Before the race our team captain had asked us all run our legs at 7 minute pace or faster. Our legs for the relay were 28, 30, 30, 36, 40 and 40 miles in length. Anna and I chose the two 30 mile legs because we had a half ironman the following weekend and thought it wise to run some of the shorter legs. Race day conditions were tough with temps in upper 80's and humidity was through the roof. I had decided to wear my racing flats because my 30 mile legs was split into 6 smaller legs ranging from 3-7 miles. I grabbed my Hyperthin Drymax socks to ensure that my feet would stay fresh over the course of 24 hours but brought along a few other pairs in case of rain or blisters. Our race started great aka: fast. I opened up the race with the first leg and in my excitement I took the first mile out in 6:04. "A bit quick," I thought so I eased back into a comfortable pace and clocked an average of 6:44 for the first leg. Right away my stomach turned on me. I can't quite say what it is about running, but my stomach and I never agree during races. I grabbed some Pepto Bismol and toughed it out though it made for a few "uneasy" moments.
Everyone on the team was excited and took their first legs out quicker than expected and before we knew it we had a sizable lead on our predicted time. The heat was starting to wear people down but we knew that the weather would shift in our favor as the sun set so we kept up the pressure with hopes we could run just as fast at night but with less energy. An important note about long relay races like this is that this was not just a test of your running skills but also a test of your navigation skills. For the most part we were great about hopping between transition areas where the runners handed off the baton but as fatigue set in and darkness fell on rural WI the navigating became more difficult and a few times we were late to meet our runner and ended up loosing about 10 minutes throughout the whole course.
At some time in the middle of the night I heard my name being yelled from across the parking lot. I looked over and saw an old friend Doug. I hadn't seen him in over a year and a half and was even unaware he was running the relay. It turns out his team had started a few hours before ours and we had made up over 3 hours in the first half of the race. This was his first time running this type of race and he had gotten a large blister that was making his race quite unpleasant. I reached into my bag and handed him an extra pair of my Drymax socks. After the race I got a nice note from Doug.

"nice job on the relay man and thanks for the sox...helped a ton!"

Around 8am I ran my last leg. With no more running left I decided to try and and leave it all on the course. Each leg I ran I would try and count the number of teams I passed. I started out with a few minute deficit on the surrounding teams and once again I took off way too fast. I looked at my watch and was shocked to see my pace was 4:55/mile. Whoopsie! I slowed down a bit and tried to keep it close to 6:20. In the end I only held 6:29 for my last 5.4 miles. I was so happy to be done since I had been awake the last 24 hours. I changed to some dry clothes and was surprised my feet were doing great. No blisters!!! I had even kept the same socks on the whole race so I was pleased with how my Drymax socks worked out. Now I could finally take a nap while the rest of the team finished up their last legs. We got 3 legs from the finish and a huge thunder storm rolled in. The officials decided to suspend the race until the storm passed so we were forced to wait in our van for over an hour while the storm passed by. I barely noticed the storm as I sawed logs in the backseat. After the storm passed they gathered the waiting teams and we continued our journey to down town Chicago. The last few running legs were very poorly marked and our team was having a hard time making their way to the finish but finally as we waited by the finish line we saw our final runner, Zach, making his way up the path and we all ran into the finish shoot together. We were handed our finish medals and two pizzas for our efforts. Our average speed for the 205 miles of running was 6:50/mile so we were very happy with our efforts. The sheer number of Powerbars and Power Gels consumed was huge so I was ecstatic to get some real food in my stomach.
We had been promised showers at the finish, however this was not the case. We were all very tired and just wanted to get home to shower and sleep. Nate, the owner of the van, said he would drive back to Madison and everyone decided to stay awake and help him do the same, but when the time came I couldn't do it. I was out like a light and apparently so we everyone else. I was awoken when we stopped in Janesville WI. Nate had stayed awake for the drive but was drowsing off and needed a break. A quick stop for hamburgers and we were back on the road, more awake than before and eager to get home. An hour later we were back home showered and ready for a nap. This race was very fun and a great workout but left me with a great knowledge of the importance of sleep.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mad City 100km

It has taken me a while to get this posted but I had a little extra time on my hands now that I'm nursing my blisters from the Monona 20km. So here goes a little recap on my first 100km experience.
Race day morning came early. The nice thing was the the Mad City 100km takes place at the UW Arboretum. I live very near the Arboretum because I love to run the trails, so I had planned on biking to the race start with my bike trailer hauling all my race gear. I woke up with plenty of time to eat breakfast and get to the race but upon waking up my stomach was not feeling very good. I spent most of my morning on the toilet and ended up having to sprint to the race to make it in time. I got to the start about one minute before the gun went off. I got my stuff together quick and was ready to go at the start but my stomach was still giving me some issues and halfway through my first lap I had to make a break for the woods. I ended up loosing a little time and decided to pick up the pace in order to catch up with the runners I was hoping to stick with. The next 4 laps were similar in form where I had to make bathroom breaks once per lap. After 5 laps I had lost sight of the faster runners and was feeling a bit sluggish. I could feel a little bonk setting in so I slowed my pace a bit (adding more walking breaks) to take in more calories and hopefully feel better towards the end of the race. Laps 6 and 7 slowly got better and my last three laps felt good (well as good as you can after running 7 10km laps). With all the running on pavement I was sure glad I had my extra cushy Drymax running socks. My feet felt great but my legs were another story. I wadded out into Lake Wingra for a quick "ice bath" and then biked home to clean up. All in all I was happy with the race. Even with the G.I. issues I still ended up 8th place male and 15th overall. I set a new 50km PR of 4: 25 and a new 50mile PR of 7:35. I now have an idea of how to pace for 100km and can't wait to take on this race next year.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rocky Raccoon 100 (a look into the mind of the crazy)

I've been called crazy many times for attempting long distance endurance races. There are few rare moments when "sane" people get to glimpse into the mind of the crazy to see just how they tick. "What makes a crazy person decide to run 100 miles," one might ask? And my answer to that is a divergence from the normal. I've always enjoyed running and not being very fast at it, I decided long ago that I would out last my competition rather than out sprint them. Five years ago I completed my first ultra marathon, the Rocky Raccoon 100, in Hunstville TX. Fast forward to the present and I'm still at it.
This year for my 4th attempt of the RR100, I asked a long time friend, Mike McLean, to join me for this epic race. He had been a great training/racing partner (not to mention friend) for years. Back in October when we signed up for the race I had high expectations for myself and I knew I could count on Mike for the support I needed to accomplish my goals. After month of training together and pushing each other, the big weekend had arrived. We left Madison, WI early on Friday morning and arrived in Dallas before noon. After a 2.5 hour drive we arrived in the wonderful city of Huntsville, TX. Known for it's delightful barb wire fenced spa and illustrious university, it made the perfect backdrop for an ultra marathon. We checked into our hotel and then headed to the store to pick up a few necessities (red bull, boost, batteries) that we needed for the next day. We then met up with a good friend of ours, Katrina, who luckily lived in Austin and graciously offered up her weekend to come babysit us pre/during/post race. After packing out race day bags we headed to the pre race pasta dinner to meet the other 360 "crazies." It is quite a diverse group of people you find doing races like this.
Lap 1: Race day morning came very early. I did not get much sleep the night before and was still tired when the alarm sounded at 4:15am. But, I hopped out of bed and threw on my running clothes. After a quick bite to eat we were headed to the state park where the race is held. The awesome thing about this park is the "Alligators exist in the park" sign the greets all the visitors, also adding to the cool factor of the race. We dropped off our final bag and made our way to the starting line but were caught in the back of the pack. As the starting gun fired there was a very slow lurch forward. People began to jog, walk down the trail but with so many runners the whole thing bottle necked and made it even more difficult to run. I tried to find clear openings and rushed past slower runners. I could hear the remarks as we ran by telling us to slow down. I appreciated their concern but trusted in my training that I knew what to do to reach my goal of 18 hours. The pace seemed deathly slow as we trudged through the first 3 miles at around 12-13min/mile pace. As the runners spread out and day light emerged we were able to pick up the pace quite a bit and ended up finishing our first lap in 3:21. This was a bit concerning for me as my previous best lap on this course from years past was a 3:35. But again I laid my faith in my training.
Lap 2: We started the second loop and my legs finally felt like their normal selves. When I'm out running on trails I feel like a puppy who gets let off his leash for the first time. All I want to do is run and my legs have this snappiness that is hard to explain in any other words. The pace was still fast but comfortable. Around mile 28-29 I separated from Mike as he had to use the bathroom, but around mile 32 I saw Mike running at me from the wrong direction. This caused me some distress because I wasn't sure what the problem was. As he approached I could hear him cursing his luck for missing a turn on the course that ended up adding about 4 miles to his day. This was a bummer and I hoped that Mike would be able to shake it off and continue. I knew the next few laps were critical to my race so I tried to keep my focus on the task at hand, and that was running fast. I finished my 2nd lap in 3:20. I was feeling pretty darn good at this point.
Lap 3: The sun was out in full force making it a bit hotter (not so fun) but allowing me to see excessive amount of tree roots that covered the trails. When the sun is up running is so much faster because you are able to pick your footing better so I used this to my advantage and upped the pace again hopping to cover as much distance as possible while it was light out and warm. I also had my iPod to look forward to once I got to mile 60. It is my treat to myself for running the first 60 without music. I finished lap 3 in 3:30. I had slowed a little but was still feeling strong.
Lap 4: It was still so early and I kept telling myself that my race still relied heavily on a strong 4th lap. I had originally planned on an 18 hour finish time but seeing how well the race was going, I changed my plan to 17:45 and was calculating what times I would need to run to accomplish that goal. With only a few hours of sunlight left I hurried off to get in as much of the trail as I could in the light. I made it about 13 miles before the darkness set in. I grabbed my headlamp but was happy to know that the most challenging portion of the race (most roots and hills) was past me and I had smooth sailing for the next 7 miles. I was running like a mad man trying to maintain the same pace I had been doing all day long. I finished my 4th lap in 3:25. Right where I needed to be. I thought to myself, I only need a 4:10 last lap to break 18 hours, "this should be easy." WRONG
Lap 5 (aka death march): I had been running steady throughout the day but knew that my final lap would be slower, mainly because of running with a headlamp you can't go as fast (you need to slow down to avoid those tree roots I'd mentioned earlier). Plus add in the fact that I'd already run 80 miles at just over 10min/mile and the normal tendency is to have a slower last 20 miles of the race, but I only guessed I'd slow by 20-30 min, giving me ample time to break 18 hours. As I approached mile 83 my stomach was getting tight. I got to the aid station and asked to sit down and see if it helped me feel better. I was getting nauseous and that was the last thing I wanted. I stood up a few minutes later in order to B-line it for the woods to throw up. Know I know this lap was really going to suck. I'd started to take some Red Bull a few miles back to help stay awake but I think it may have been the source of my demise. As I headed on my legs were getting heavier and my pace was slowing. I was walking more and more which frustrated me because I could see my goal time slipping away (it is probably one of the hardest things when you finally realize you won't be able to accomplish your goal). I kept pushing forward but my whole body was shutting down. My eyes were closing on me and I was fighting to stay awake as I stumbled down the trail. Even at this point I was still passing people which made me happy but the happiness was short lived as the pain of each step kept driving it away. When I finally made it to mile 93, I was so happy because of the majority of the last 7 miles were wider, more open trails where I could utilize me speed to make up for all the walking I had done earlier in the lap. I had to remind myself that I was only a few miles away and that I needed to "leave it on the course" if I was to even get close to my goal time. I made it to the wider trail and ran like a bear was chasing me. I was passing people left and right. I had little energy left to wish my fellow athletes well so I opted for thumbs up and heavy panting. I cruised to mile 96 but was again confronted with awful stomach cramps. I tried to bury the pain for just another 40-50 min I told myself. With only 4 miles left I knew it was now of never and I started to run fast-ish. I cranked out the last 4 miles barely stopping to walk up a two steep hills. I was hungry for the finish line. I crossed the tape in 18:16 ( a new PR for me) 15th overall, out of 360. I was elated for the race to be done. My last lap was very tough and took 4:35 to complete (over 1 hour longer than my next slowest).
Katrina helped get me to the car and we headed back to the hotel to clean up and go to bed. When we arrived at the hotel I was having some G.I. issues so I was seated on the toilet and fell asleep there for about 10-15min. I awoke only because my legs were cramping. I hopped in the shower but got nauseous again and threw up all over the shower. "Oh well, could have happened in a worse location," I thought and finished my shower. The long day was over and I was finally able to get the sleep I had wanted for the past 6 hours.
So there you have it. It is hard to explain why I do what I do. I was thinking the day after the race about how much it hurt and how could I have let myself sign up for another race again. But I have a short memory for pain and when I think of how rewarding and fun it is to be part of the ultra marathon community I begin to wonder what makes others so "crazy" to not want an experience like this in their lives. In a race like this, no athlete can be successful without a great support system. I'd like to send a big thank you to Mike for his friendship and support (a better guy is hard to find), Katrina for all her friendship and hard work making my seemingly difficult day much easier, my family for their endless support, my friends who are understanding and patient with all the long hours of training and racing and my sponsors (PowerBar and CycleOps) for their support to help me achieve my goals.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disney (on ice)

There are many wonders on the planet. The pyramids, Great Wall of China.....aaaaaand Disney World. Ah yes, to be young again. This year I decided (spur of the moment-esque) to run the Disney marathon as training for my Rocky Raccoon ultra. Training had been great and I was ready for anything. That is what I thought at least. As my trip approached I was shocked to find race day temps well below freezing. Luckily for me, most of my training had been done at even colder temps as we are accustomed to in WI winters. Lots of time bundled up for outdoor runs and lots of hours spent on my CycleOps trainer. "I'm ready for this," I said to myself as I packed all my warm running clothes for the trip. Florida was great. I had an awesome time visiting a new friend, some nuns and seeing the sights around lovely Apopka ; ) Friday consisted of a nice 8 mile run to get the flight out of my legs. I tried to hold 7:30-7:40 pace and it fet very easy. Saturday was packet pickup so we headed down to Disney to register and get my gear bag. I had forgotten gloves and hoped to grab a pair at the expo. Registration went well but in my haste to check out the expo I almost left my number and timing chip at the gear bag table. Luckily they found it and paged me over the intercom "Christopher Clausen from the UK, you've left your race number at the bag table, please come pick it up." Taryn was so surprised that there was another Christopher Clausen running the race. I checked my bag to see that in fact it was me who had left the race number. After gathering my number and timing chip we heading off to find some gloves. $10!!!!!!! These had better be some great gloves I thought. I'm sure they knew that they had most athletes bend over the "starting line" at this point and they could charge whatever they wanted. Back home for a quick 3 mile run to get some zip in the legs and try out my new Saucony A-3 race flats. I felt like I could fly. Later that night as I laid out my clothes for the morning I realized that the race was at 5:40AM, not 7AM as I had thought. YIKES!!. Well, I'll get done earlier I though. 3AM came very quickly as I dressed and headed off to Disney. On the way, we decided to have a ritual dance party in the car that carried forward to the family meeting area where there was a DJ spinning some mean beats. I lined up in my coral with temps at 27 degrees. Fireworks were the starting gun, pretty sweet. 3:13:06 later I crossed the finish line. Felt good but was very cold so went home and ate and napped until 2 when I was craving an omelet. Around 3 I decided to run to the local state park and get my next 10 miles in for the day. My knees were giving me some issues but after stretching and warming up I was feeling like the machine I am, just chugging along. Totals for the weekend were 47 miles of running + 3 miles of hiking for a grand total of about 50 miles. I am now back in Madison and spending this week hitting my trainer pretty hard to let my legs heal but am planning to be back at it this weekend w/ a nice 16 miler w/ the TNT marathon team. All in all it was a great time and I can't wait to head down to Texas to take Rocky Raccoon by storm. Until next time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year (starting off on the right foot)

This upcoming year (2010) is only 3 days in but looks to be a promising one. On only day three I racked up my longest training run towards my 4th 100 mile ultra in February. Although the run was only 21 miles it was unusually tough due to the piss poor weather we experience here most Januaries. Today was partly sunny with a high around 7, that means frozen water bottles and many layers of clothes. Despite all this, my run was good and my legs feel great. I'm also looking forward to competing in my 2nd Canadian Death race. This year will be a much shorter trip than the last as I don't have 2.5 weeks vacation for this one race but my parents will once again crew for me and I have high hopes for a great finish. I'm much less excited about trainer riding now, but I know that I must if I'm going to accomplish my goals for Ironman WI this year. CycleOps is a new sponsor and I really want to race well for myself and for them. The great thing is they have many intense one hour workouts so I can get my workout in before I get board. : ) Disney marathon in only 1 week away. With the cold weather I was not able to get all (any) speed workouts in but if my race is as good as my training runs I should get close to qualifying for Boston which I've decided is worth the extra effort. So there is lots of exciting stuff to look forward to and with 26 miles under my belt so far, I think I'm starting off on the right foot.