Monday, August 10, 2009

Who Needs Training?

Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Run is over and I survived. In fact, I did pretty well. I ran 40.98 miles and that was good enough to grab 18th place (tie) out of 256 starters! It was a seriously hot & humid day. Throw in lots of sun and little shade on the course, and you have a recipe for over heating and dehydration. Lots of runners stopped early and several needed medical attention. The last couple hours looked like a death march. People slowly walking, kind of wobbly, with their heads down and very little talking. It was somber. No hooting and hollering...just a few, barely distinguishable, grunts of encouragement spoken as one runner slowly passed another.

This was my 9th Howl and it was my hardest. The weather sucked. I wanted to drop out around the 6 hour mark. My stomach was rebelling and I couldn't eat or drink much. Switched to pure water and salt pills and mostly walking. After about 45 minutes I felt a bit better and started to jog-walk and eat a few pretzels with sips of Gatorade. With an hour left, I picked up the pace and was determined to break 40 miles. During the last 30 minutes, you are forced to run short 1/4 mile out & backs (1/2 mile total) instead of full 3.29 mile regular course loops. I managed to get 3 out & backs (1.5 miles) added to my 12 full loops for a grand total of 40.98 miles. I was pleased.

Leading up to this event, I was injured and under-trained. Over the last 8 weeks, my longest run was 10 miles. My average weekly miles was 23 (that includes walking). That's not good ultra training! And our summer had been fairly cool so there was no chance to acclimate to the weekend heat. Not a good way to start an 8-hour ultra. At least my knee was healed and I was healthy. No summer colds, no nagging injuries, just a healthy, but under-trained guy trying to get in some miles. I had several goals in mind for the 8 hours:

1. Remain injury-free
2. Break 50K
3. Beat Janak Patel (Buffalo friend "Glow Stick")
4. Break 40 miles
5. Break 43 miles (my average for Howl over the last 8 runs)

I achieved 4 of my 5 goals! Of course, several were pretty easy. To remain injury free I could have walked the whole thing and still probably broken 50K. I basically had this first goal in my mind as an excuse in case my knee started hurting again. It didn't, so I kept chugging along.

A mileage goal of 50K (31 miles) is pretty easy. The worst I've done at Howl in the past was 37 miles. Fifty kilometers is a nice achievement and a good long run in the heat. Something to be proud of no matter what the conditions or your current training. It would be a good jump start to my current inadequate marathon training program (trying for the Redwoods Marathon on October 18 with my brother).

Beating Janak would not be a given. He's a tough old dude! Even at the age of 61, he can put in some excellent training runs and he is very precise in his training and racing--monitoring everything with his fancy heart rate monitor. Janak ran 38.19 miles last year at Howl. I wasn't sure I'd be able to get that many miles. I'd try. I hate the heat, but I seem to persevere a bit better than other runners. I think I'm just stubborn. When it got hotter and hotter, I knew everyone was suffering...but I also knew I could hang in there and keep accumulating miles. If my knee held up. Fortunately, the knee was fine and I kept plodding along in the heat. Janak had a good run and managed 34.40 miles this year. BUT I BEAT HIM! Of course, he wasn't racing me. I guess it's not much of an achievement to say you "beat" someone that wasn't even racing you. I'll take it. Even if he is 18 years older. I have no shame.

As the day wore on, I wasn't sure I'd get 40 miles. I knew 43 was out of the equation. Forty miles seemed possible. I started doing the math in my head...can I do 8 more miles in 2 hours? Can I get 2 loops and a couple out & backs? My running was faltering and my walking was really slow. This was going to be close! I told myself not to stop long at the aid stations, don't sit in a chair, don't change shoes, don't eat much. Lot's of "don'ts." What can I do? Crank up the iPod, douse myself with water, and run down all the hills (any small incline counted as a hill). I figured if I ran the downhill sections and walked everything else I could hit 40 miles. I was right. Music helped a lot. So did the water splashed on my head and ice tucked under my hat. Occasionally I'd hit a slower song (Joss Stone doesn't cut it at this point) and I'd just shuffle to the next song (AC/DC hits the spot!). When I had the right combination of rock/metal and a downhill section, I was blazing (seemed like 6:00 pace, but was probably more like 9:00). With 12 minutes to go and 40.48 miles under my belt, I walked the last out & back and finished with 2 minutes to spare (guess that last 1/2 mile was at 20 minute pace). I was done. My average heart rate for the whole 8 hours was 144. I didn't track splits like I intended, but it helped to monitor my HR as the day got hotter. Holding back in the first couple hours helped me keep going as the day got hotter.

One of the best parts of Howl at the Moon is the post-race celebration. They have free food and beer all night. I used the outdoor shower, changed clothes, and called it a day. My stomach was still queasy and I had a heat rash on my legs. I just wanted to go home. So I skipped all the food and alcohol and piled into my car and drove home. It was the right choice. The real shower at home felt great. The left-over vegetarian soup and burritos hit the spot. Lounging in bed watching the LA Galaxy & New England Revolution game (MLS soccer) was a perfect end to the day. And Sunday saw me walking in my five finger shoes and catching a couple more good soccer games--Chelsea beating Manchester United in the FA Community Shield in the morning, then DC United getting slaughtered by Real Madrid in the afternoon. It was a good weekend.

My updated Howl at the Moon statistics:
Total Races: 9
Low: 37.81 miles (2000)
High: 47.06 miles (2006, 2008)
Total Miles: 392.18
Average Miles: 43.58
Best Placing: 12th (2005)
Worst Placing: 44th (2000)

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Howl at the Moon event. I'll be back. It'll be my 10th. I'll break 400 "lifetime" Howl miles and start my trek toward 500 miles. I still dream of hitting 50 miles in 8 hours. If they'd just move this race to the fall so I could TRAIN in the summer heat and RUN in the cool fall weather...

Training is over rated. Who needs it? I had no long runs and no heat training leading up to this year's Howl. I did just fine. Imagine if I was really trained...I could win this thing! Yeah, right. Hope to see lots of familiar faces at next year's Howl at the Moon. It's a fantastic race.


Jerry Davison said...

I got sand in my shoes on the first lap and was too dumb to stop, clean my feet and socks and continue. Instead, I plodded on and got the worst blisters between the balls of my feet and big toe imaginable. I'm trying to walk on the outside of my left foot today. That kept me from getting my goal of 10 laps. After 8 laps I called it a day, took an outdoor shower and drove home 2 hours before I got too sleepy. I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Great report Chris. Way to tough it out and get the respectable mileage you did. Awesome!

Maybe next year you should come on up to Bartlett and train for Howl at the Sunburn Six :-).

Chris Ⓥ said...

Sorry to hear about your blisters. I wonder if trail gaitors would have helped keep stuff out? There is a surprising amount of dust, dirt, and sand on that course. Live and'll change socks & clean up those feet next time! Hope to see you at some fall races.

If you move the race a little farther away from Howl, I'll do it! Sounded like a great first year event. Spoke to Donna Creditor at Howl about it and she thought it was wonderful. Of course, you had a GREAT weekend for it. Howl got the heat!

Jim said...

Nice report and Howl performance! Makes me wish I still lived in IL.... Might do the Rhode Island 6-hr this fall (first ultra in RI!) and use similar strategies. Nicely done!

And when you run enough ultras, THEY comprise your training plan!

Chris Ⓥ said...

Good point. I've done a lot of ultras lately and those probably have me on a consistent endurance level. Maybe the knee injury gave me some needed rest and recuperation. Good luck on that RI ultra!

Heidi E. Carpenter said...

Great job! Glad the knee is better.

Anonymous said...

You looked strong when I saw you run by... Great run and nice race report!

janak said...

Chris, Great report but the wrong target! You could have picked a more challenging target:-). But I am flattered.
I used to use Wes Seitz as an inspiration until he got grounded. I have used Jim Herman for pacing and as an inspiration. But in both cases I had no desire beat them.

At the Howl, my average heart rate was 137 bpm. I did 6 laps in 3:45 and then decided to do no more than four additional laps. I took it very easy rest of the afternoon. Took longer breaks but didn't substitute lot of walking in place of running.

About 10-12 years ago when I started running, it was for health and fitness. Last 3-4 years, I am trying to test my limits. Somewhere in there I have crossed the maximum health benefits point and moved in to endurance testing with much lower benefits. For all I know, Howl could have been a net negative health benefit! But it is my right brain that makes me sign up for Howl. So again next year, it will be the same! Right brain rules.

Anonymous said...

Wow-how nice Chris! Those were some *brutal* conditions out there Saturday (I was in the A/C watching a movie, thank you very much...God I *hate* the heat!!!!) and for you to get that kind of mileage is really something. Congrats & glad the knee is healed.

(For future reference, you might want to simply go to the Drive-up from now on at MickeyD's so you don't have to sit at one of their tables). :>)

Connie :)

Chris Ⓥ said...

You and I can battle it out again next year at Howl! I probably should pick someone in my own age division to compete with...I'll keep an eye out for soemone I can beat in the master age group.

I hear ya on the thru from now on!

donna c said...

Good seeing you at the Howl Chris!! I can't believe I got hardware. I only ran one more mile than last year and didn't get any last year.....I guess it was the heat and the excellent training run at Sunburn 6 the weekend prior!!!!!