Friday, October 3, 2014

Race Report: 12-HR ATR

The 12-Hour Adventure Trail Run, put on by Athletic Equation, was my second foray into the American ultra scene. Like the first, this one took place on the beautiful forest trails of Virginia, this time in Prince William Forest Park.

The course was made up of a 6.5-mile loop, which you repeated until you run out of time or desire, whichever came first. After about a mile or so of delightful singletrack, there was a loop of about 4 miles which runners could run either clockwise or counterclockwise. Elevation gain was about 600ft per loop, which made the course fairly runnable...maybe too much so, as I would find out.

I arrived to the park the evening before and set up my tent in one of the park's campgrounds. After an average night's sleep, I got up at 4:15am to eat my pre-race breakfast. I think I had two bananas, an apple and a cheese stick. I packed up the tent and was over by the start line by about 5:30am. I had plenty of time to get registered, pin my number on my shorts, and get my drop bag set up before the 6:15am 6:23am start.

Going into the race, I had a goal of doing 8 laps, which would have equalled 52 miles. I knew it would be a stretch. Even if I fell short of that goal, I thought that 7 laps would surely be doable. Almost easy. In fact, I think I would have been slightly embarrassed if I had "only" done 6 laps, and if I "only" did 5 laps, well hmm, maybe I wouldn't even be writing this blog post. Such is the male ego, right? So anyway...I knew the math. I needed to average 90 minutes for each lap in order to complete 8 laps. Let the race begin.

The first lap felt a bit slow. I think most people were going out slow, which is good, right? And I was still waking up. I ended up clocking 1:25 for my first lap. Not too bad, more or less on target. I wandered through the aid station seeing what all was available, being indecisive, and by the time I made it out for lap 2 I had taken 6 minutes! Not acceptable. I was fully alert and alive by this point and was running very well on my second lap. Maybe too well. At one point in that lap, I said to myself, "Dude, you are KILLING it!" And right behind that was the realization that you should not be killing a 12-hour race when you're only in your 2nd hour. But I didn't care. I felt good, running felt good, let the chips fall where they may. I finished my second lap in 1:24, and that included the 6-minute aid station stop. This time I only paused about 2 or 3 minutes at the aid station. The volunteers were great. I handed my bottle off with my drink request, got my drop bag stuff (gu, drink mix), grabbed some food and off I went. My third lap was similar to the second, and I finished that one in 1:26 (including the rest).

I couldn't believe it. I had just run almost 20 miles without even really noticing it. I barely was aware of the time passing, of the miles rolling over on my odometer. Bam, 19.5 miles. Incredible.

Then it started getting tough. Somewhere in that fourth lap, I stopped running the uphills. Now the uphills on this course aren't too bad, except for the final ascent at the end of each loop. Most of the hills are runnable, and in the first three laps I did run them. But as I hit the fourth lap, I took my foot off the gas and started conserving my energy. I was feeling it at last. In fact, this was the lowest point of my race mentally. I was pretty sure that 8 laps was quickly going out the window, and I wasn't even sure that I wanted to run 5 laps. But I quickly put that thought out of my head and told myself that when I got to the start/finish, that I was just going to get my food and drinks and get right back out on the course before I could even think twice about it. So I finished the fourth lap, as expected, in 1:34.

In the fourth lap, I stopped running the uphills. In the fifth lap, I stopped running much of the flats. But while I didn't have a lot of drive to run, I was power hiking like a pro. Seriously, I was cruising at a pretty decent walking pace. I suppose I must have been glycogen-depleted, so walking (burning just fat) was all I had left. But emotionally, I had rebounded nicely and was in great spirits. I finished the fifth lap in 1:50. I probably took a little longer at the aid station, maybe 5 or 6 minutes, before heading out for number 6. My sixth lap was much like the fifth, walking about the same amount, and I finished that lap in 1:56.

Of course they position race photographers at the top of very steep hills

Looking at my watch, I had about two and a half hours to finish a seventh lap, so even if I walked the entire thing, I probably would have time to do it. So I took a nice leisurely rest at the aid station. I sat down and chatted. I put on some undershorts to help with a chafing issue. I took off my shoes to get some dirt out and saw that I had holes in my socks, so I changed my socks. I enjoyed myself! Finally I got back on the trail with renewed energy, and I easily knocked out the last lap in 2:08 (including the 15-minute rest stop). I completed the 7 laps in 11:44.

So happy to be done, I'm clapping

All in all, I am happy with the results. I achieved a personal best for distance (45.5 miles) and placed fairly well overall (40th out of 101 runners). And the race direction and volunteer support was outstanding. A good day out on the trails. I would do it again!

After-Action Report:
  • hydration: Sufficient. I carried a small (12oz) bottle to help me not drink too much. It was just right. I also used a generic energy drink mix on each lap that had caffeine, guarana, taurine and ginseng. I don't know if it worked or not, but it was cheap, it tasted good and it gave me some variety.
  • food: Hmm. I only really had an appetite for fruit. When the bananas ran out, I went to apples. PBJs for the first lap or two, but after that, just fruit. I may have been completely depleted of glycogen the last couple/few laps (which is why I could power hike but not run), but I can go forever on fat.
  • gu: It was meant to supplement my aid station food during my laps, but after the second lap I just couldn't stomach it and stopped carrying it.
  • lube: I was very disappointed with SkinGlide (by BodyGlide). The tube doesn't last long at all, and I wasn't terribly happy with its performance (not major chafing, but more than there should've been). I will go back to Sportslick, which has never let me down.
  • shoes: I wore my very beaten-in Brooks Cascadia 8s that have 500 miles on them. They are definitely on their last legs. Nubs almost worn to nothing, but I knew these trails were only mildly technical so they did the trick. I'm so happy to have a brand new pair to take back to Malaysia.
  • salt: I kept a SaltStick in my pocket at all times in case of cramping, and only needed to take one once, in the first few hours of the race. I think I took another later in the race, but it was just mental. I don't think I needed it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Race Report: Eastern Divide Ultra

The Land of 1000 Chipmunks

So a lot has happened since my last post. Ran the Borneo International Marathon, took two more MAF tests, and ran the Klimbambangan 15km Trail Run. Too late for retroposting those now. Movin' on.

Last Sunday I ran the Eastern Divide Ultra in southwest Virginia. It's a point-to-point course that measures slightly under 50km, with about 6500 feet of elevation gain. I knew that this would be a night-and-day different kind of race than my previous 50km. In my last one, the time limit to finish was 15 hours. In this one, you had to hit the 22-mile mark in under 6 hours. Oh my. I have to admit I was a bit intimidated by this, and hitting that goal was really my only real target for the day.

I spent the night in a cheap motel about 20 minutes away. The morning of the race I was up at 5am, ate my light breakfast and took care of that most important business. I parked at the finish (Mountain Lake Lodge) and boarded the bus that shuttled us to the start line. The crew at the start was well-organized and efficient, and in no time I had my race packet, bib number and ziploc for my drop bag.

The race briefing was short and low-key, as was the start, which occurred promptly at 7:30am. The jackrabbits took off for the summit of Butt Mountain, while some of us power-hiked it. The mild incline looked runnable, but at the start of a 50km trail race, I wasn't going to take any chances. Nice and easy, I hit the first aid station (4 miles) in about an hour. Not bad for a 2000-foot ascent. Bacon and beer were among the other offerings at AS1. I didn't want to take many chances this early, so just a half-slice of bacon for me, please. :)

I suppose you can't write a race report of Eastern Divide without mentioning the Cascade Falls at the two-mile mark. I stopped for about 15 seconds, savored the view, and moved on. I did try to make smelling the roses a big part of my race. The race course was gorgeous.

After topping Butt Mountain, we had about 5 miles of easy fire roads to AS2, which is around 9 miles. I think I was at about 2hr 15min at this point. You know, I read about the large amount of fire/forest roads on this course, and I wasn't all that excited about it, since obviously single track is better, right? Well lemme tell ya, I'd run on these roads any day. Because on either side, there was beautiful forest and ferns just right there. All around you. One of the guys I ran with for some of the run complained a lot about the roads, but seriously, if you just look up, you forget.

I loved AS3 (about 16 miles, approximately 3hr 15min) because they had music blasting. That was a nice pick-me-up because the next three or four miles to the top of Wind Rock were brutal. Just constant uphill. Constant. But I just tried to keep my focus on the beauty, enjoying the run, and it was all good. At AS4 we had access to our drop bags. I didn't know what I would need to pack for a fully-stocked run, but the Payday I had in there did the trick. I didn't touch anything else.

From AS4 it was a pretty quick descent to AS5, the dreaded cutoff point. But to be honest, once I hit AS1 in an hour, I knew that this would be no problem. And as it was, I hit the cutoff point at 5hr 20min. Easy peasy. And here we got back on the single track, and it was delicious. You're just running on a narrow chocolate strip curving this way and that through a blanket of lush green ferns. This was probably my favorite part of the course...until we started going up. Oh my, the hill, the hill, where the heck did that come from? And once we finally crested the hill, we had to run on the perimeter of Mountain Lake Lodge's frisbee golf course, where we finally saw that yes, the sun was out, and it was hot. But before we knew it, we were out of the sun and reached AS6. I kept my stops quite short at the aid stations as I just wanted to keep going. Just gimme some fluids and I'll be on my way!

From AS6 it was only about 4 miles to the finish, with one last aid station about 1.5mi from the end. We had some more lovely fern-covered trails, but still a significant amount of uphill. Lots of power-hiking at this point, although I was still able to run any time the incline wasn't too severe. I was worried that the finish would be on an uphill, which isn't too fun, but as it turned out, the course leveled off not too far before the finish. I saw the finish line arch through the trees and finished strong at 7:26:55, about a half hour earlier than I estimated. Afterward I had only very mild soreness and chafing and no injuries. I felt like I paced myself pretty well, giving just enough but not too much, while making sure that I finished with a smile on my face.

Race organization was top-notch, volunteers were great, medical assistance was there if you needed it, and the food and refreshments were abundant. Bananas and oranges, PBJs, peanut M&Ms, and plenty of Hammer gels and Heed. Good food at the finish, and a good atmosphere overall.

The thing that suprised me was how low I placed in the standings. I finished 55 out of 65 runners (not sure how many DNFs there were). But I think this course lends well to real runners, whereas I do better with climbing and technical trails. But speed is one thing I do plan to work on in the near future, which should help me all around.

If I ever find myself in the States this time of year again, I would DEFINITELY revisit this race. Glad to have another 50km under my belt! Now I have a few months off until the next one I've got in my sights.

With RD Kirby Walke after getting cleaned up. Great race shirt!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

MAF Test - Month 5

Last month I postulated a correlation between training volume (hours per week) and pace improvement (or regression). After a 101-mile February (almost 26 hours), I did see some improvement. This past month, I ran 133 miles (31 hours), so you'd expect for me to see even more improvement, yes? YES.

Oct 31 Nov 30 Jan 5 Jan 31 Mar 3 Apr 3
Kilometer 1 8:19 8:10 8:04 8:28 8:42 7:44
Kilometer 2 8:45 8:49 8:26 9:01 8:33 7:43
Kilometer 3 9:26 8:44 8:51 9:05 8:38 7:44
Kilometer 4 9:23 8:55 9:13 9:12 8:53 7:56
Kilometer 5 9:34 9:00 9:20 9:18 9:04 8:08
45:26 43:38 43:54 45:03 43:51 39:15
Pace (min/mi) 14:37 14:03 14:08 14:31 14:08 12:38

One more month to the Borneo International Marathon. I have no time goals, and don't plan to track my pace. I'm not even sure if I'll wear my HR monitor. I just want to have fun, run at a comfortable but purposeful pace, and if I feel I can give more in the last third, I'll go for it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

MAF Test - Month 4

The past month has been one of experimentation as I tried to figure out why I wasn't seeing great results with Maffetone, despite my belief in the system itself. As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to focus more on my diet and also try to get in at least 6 hours of running per week, as there seemed to be a correlation between hours logged and progress (or regress). I also toyed with a low-carb diet (after reading The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance) but gave it up after a week; it just seemed counter-intuitive.

Anyway, after a 101-mile month (almost 26 hours of running), I saw some improvement. Here are my stats from the beginning until today:

Sports Complex (5km) at 121-131bpm:

October 31 November 30 January 5 January 31 March 3
Kilometer 1 8:19 8:10 8:04 8:28 8:42
Kilometer 2 8:45 8:49 8:26 9:01 8:33
Kilometer 3 9:26 8:44 8:51 9:05 8:38
Kilometer 4 9:23 8:55 9:13 9:12 8:53
Kilometer 5 9:34 9:00 9:20 9:18 9:04
45:26 43:38 43:54 45:03 43:51
Pace (min/mi) 14:37 14:03 14:08 14:31 14:08

So I'm gonna stick with Maffetone for most or all of this month to see if I see more improvement next month. I have a trail race in mid-April so I may be a little bit undertrained for it in terms of hills. But I should be okay for endurance!

Monday, February 3, 2014

MAF Test - Month 3

I didn't do a great job eating right this month, but I still hoped for a better MAF Test. It was not to be! Here are my splits:

Sports Complex (5km) at 121-131bpm:

October 31 November 30 January 5 January 31
Kilometer 1 8:19 8:10 8:04 8:28
Kilometer 2 8:45 8:49 8:26 9:01
Kilometer 3 9:26 8:44 8:51 9:05
Kilometer 4 9:23 8:55 9:13 9:12
Kilometer 5 9:34 9:00 9:20 9:18
45:26 43:38 43:54 45:03
Pace (min/mi) 14:37 14:03 14:08 14:31

I was really puzzled about this. I could have expected to have stayed the same, but to regress? I really don't know.

But I have just stumbled upon the concept of Metabolic Efficiency Training (MET), which more or less uses the same aerobic training principles as Maffetone but with a greater emphasis on eating right in order to maximize burning fat as fuel. This is one area I have completely ignored. So this month I am going to be mostly free of grains (bread, rice, and noodles) and sugars, and we'll see if that has any effect. The MET people also recommend at least 6 hours a week of MET training, whereas I rarely get over 5 hours a week. In fact as I look at my training, I see a correlation. In November, I ran 22.5 hours and saw much improvement. In December I ran 19 hours and regressed. And then in January I ran just under 16 hours and regressed further. Could that be it?

All in all, I am not all that discouraged with my results (although I'd gladly take a faster pace!), because I'm running more than I ever have, with no injury or soreness. Not a bad way to spend the off-season, regardless of my improvement or lack thereof.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

MAF Test - Month 2

This was not a great month health-wise so I did not expect a great MAF test. I was not disappointed! It was about the same as last month, but a tad bit slower. But that's what I get. I took a complete week off, and it was December so I indulged in many Christmas specialties and treats. So I couldn't expect my body to reward me with increased performance after that. Anyway, here are my splits (with the first two months' data as well):

Sports Complex (5km) at 121-131bpm:

October 31 November 30 January 5
Kilometer 1 8:19 8:10 8:04
Kilometer 2 8:45 8:49 8:26
Kilometer 3 9:26 8:44 8:51
Kilometer 4 9:23 8:55 9:13
Kilometer 5 9:34 9:00 9:20
45:26 43:38 43:54
Pace (min/mi) 14:37 14:03 14:08

So yeah, that's what Maffetone would call a 'plateau' and according to him all plateaus have a cause. I've got mine nailed so lemme work on eating better this month and see how next month looks. I didn't do a trail (hill) MAF test this month because I have less time for running now that school has started for the kids, and I want to focus on MAF fitness above all else.

Monday, December 2, 2013

MAF Test - Month 1

A month ago I posted the data from my baseline Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Test, both on a flat 5km surface and a hilly less-than-5km route. In the past month, I ran a total of 22 hours and 32 minutes at an average heart rate of around 127, I'd say. My target HR range is 121-131.

[A reminder for those who are just joining us: Here is the overview of the Maffetone Method and here is the info on the MAF test.]

Without further ado, here are the latest results:

Sports Complex (5km) at 121-131bpm:

October 31 November 30
Kilometer 1 8:19 8:10
Kilometer 2 8:45 8:49
Kilometer 3 9:26 8:44
Kilometer 4 9:23 8:55
Kilometer 5 9:34 9:00
45:26 43:38
Pace (min/mi) 14:37 14:03

Quite pleased to see my pace over 30 seconds/mile faster, with zero real effort or exertion on my part. I just hit the roads and kept my HR down, and my body did the rest. Now for the trails to see how I did there:

Bukit Padang Trails (2.83 miles) at 121-131bpm:

November 1 December 1
1:03:00 54:37
22:16 min/mi 19:17 min/mi

Okay now that is just insane. An improvement of 3 minutes/mile on hill running? I'll have to wait until next month's MAF test to know if this is a fluke or not. It's possible that at the time of my first MAF test my body was still a bit mountain weary after TMBT and the Climbathon, and that after a month of low-exertion (and mostly flat) MAF training, my legs were much fresher.

Regardless, to this point I'm quite pleased with Maffetone training and look forward to another month of aerobic improvements!