Breaking

My new philosophy for 2014 is to NOT break. Be it in running or life. Looking back I definitely notice a trend in races that I perform well and horribly bad at. It all boils down to mental tenacity. That inner struggle at mile 22 of a marathon or 62  of an ultra where you’re nearly at your limit and you start doubting your ability to finish. At this point you either break and call it quit or push through and finish strong.

To be honest I’ve broke a lot more than I would like to admit. I’ve only pushed through 3 times in my racing history. Everyone one of those races, it wasn’t the training that made the difference. It was the mental resiliency to push through in spite of the external factors i.e. pain, cramps etc. This year I would like to make a conscious effort to push through both in training and races. Hopefully this will catch on in my other endeavors.

The Kindness of Strangers – My 2013 Vermont 100 Story

I could not have done it alone. I would like to sincerely express my utmost gratitude to my old and new friends for their kindness in helping me finish my 2nd attempt of the Vermont 100 mile foot race. In no particular order they are Gary, Bruce, Hafiz, Chris, Will, Patricia, Keith, Grace, and John. I am also grateful for the support of everyone at home. My MCRRC friends, VHTRC, Team Gaylord and The TMF crew. Special thanks goes out to Hafiz, Chris, Keith, Will and John. They made me feel like I had 3 crews working with me. Without their help I am sure I would not have finish.

Mile 48

Mile 48

Vermont 100 2013

Vermont 100 2013 at mile 15 & 30

 

 

Hopes & Dreams
Having DNFed last year at mile 62 I was extremely motivated so I started training in early January by running 10 miles per weekdays and at least one 20 miler on the weekend. This effort paid off beautifully as I achieve PRs in all distance from 5K to 50 miler. Everything was going according to plan until I ran the Capon Valley 50K in West Virginia. This was by far the hilliest race I’ve ever seen. Although I placed well but that came at a price. My Achilles got tweaked. I followed that up with a DNF at the Northface 50 Miler. Suddenly it dawned on me that if I am not careful and take care of this problem right NOW I might not even make it to the start line of Vermont. The ONE & ONLY race that matter.

I took a week off from running to contain and minimize the inflammation on my Achilles. As a last hurrah to cram for Vermont I did 2 of the runs from VHTRC’s July 4th weekend trifecta. I survived Browntown and Jeremy’s run. It was all trails on the AT. I gained a lot of confidence on these runs and had a blast with team Gaylord. The miles flew by as we joke and cajoled each other over the majestic landscapes of the AT.

The training runs went so well that I even thought about running a sub 24 :)

No Bueno Playa
I realize that at any point during the race my Achilles will likely gave out so I started with high hopes and opt to make adjustments as necessary. The course was extremely muddy compare to last year as the area was hit with rain for over a month and it only let up a week or so before race day. Before the start runners were treated to an amazing firework show. The clear backdrop of Vermont’s non polluted sky really made the fireworks popped. 4AM came and we were off. I settled into my pace and ran with 3 guys that found a similar rhythm. Buck, a first timer and Dane & Mike who finished in 25 hours last year. All 3 went on to a great finish. I enjoyed the brief miles that we shared on the course.

Sure enough around mile 31 near the Stage Road handler/aid station my Achilles gave out. The totality of the hills, muds and humidity was too much for me to handle. The Achilles getting inflamed was another straw on my already heavy hydration vest :)

I went to a dark place and for a while it seemed like all hope was lost. My 2nd attempt will end at mile 31. How am I ever going to cover the last 69 miles with a bum Achilles ? I sat down and pondered my fate. Seeing the worst in every scenarios. A few minutes passed by and Bruce caught up to me. I told him about my Achilles. He saw the desperation in my eyes and in a gallant effort to instill some fight back in me he grabbed my shoulders, shook me and told me that “You are A TMF. You can DO THIS. Walk if you have to. DON’T QUIT!” He then took off his hat and showed me a quote embroidered under the brim. “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”

I’ve seen the quote before and if I am ever going to get this monkey off my back I need to heed its message and forge on. I took a few more minutes to recompose myself and get out of the chair. I couldn’t run the hills anymore so I resorted to power hiking all the inclines and run the downhills and flats. Since it was painful to put any stress on my right Achilles I found myself compensating and shifting my weight to my left leg. I end up running/slogging the rest of the race this way.

Margaritaville
The name burns in my memory since July 20, 2012. This was the spot where I was defeated. I left Vermont with my head hung in shame and vowed that I would return to make things right. I told myself to at least make it a step further this year if my Achilles refuse to to cooperate.

I made it to Margaritaville around 8:30PM I had been dealing with a nasty chafe the previous 4-5 miles. I immediately asked for vaseline or bodyglide. Luckily Chris had bodyglide in his car. Will (Patricia’s crew) and Chris (Bruce’s crew) tended to my ever need and made it so much easier for me to get what I need and go. I had something to prove this time around. After downing my 2 mandatory coconut juice I got out of the chair and made my way out. Patricia caught up to me a few minutes later. Will had her in and out in under 2 minutes. I planned on running with her to camp 10 bear at mile 70 to pick up our pacer but had to turn back because I was still chafing.

It was already pitch black by now. Luckily I took Gary’s advice and bought a handheld Fenix PD35 flashlight. This thing came packed with 850 lumens so the trails was pretty well lit for me. Although the battery did deteriorate a bit and I had to make do with the 2nd brightest setting. I slogged my way to the next aid station, Brown School house at mile 65.5 I was still chafing so I sat and reapplied more vaseline. The hot noodle soup really hit the spot and after some friendly bantering I forged on.

I was alone at this point. I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. This was the toughest stretch as the trails were muddy, rocky and uneven. It was easy to roll your ankle if you can’t see where your next step will be. This 4.5 mile stretch took me almost 3 hours. As I slogged my way through the night I knew redemption was near. I just need to get myself to mile 70 and let Gary take over.

Gary
I was matched up with Gary through the runner-pacer matchup service offer by the race committee. From our first emails correspondence I knew I could trust Gary. He was very knowledgeable and asked what my goals and aspirations were for the race and how my training has been going. He also suggested I get a handheld flashlight and asked if he could bring me anything. I took his advice and purchased the handheld and also took him up on his offer. It was a rather odd request but I asked if he could bring me a chipotle sub from Subway. It would be my biggest motivation to make it to mile 70.

I was completely honest with him and told him about my nagging Achilles injury. Like any runner would, he looked up my previous race results and was confident that he could take me in under 24 hours if I do my part and get to camp 10 bear between 6-7PM on Saturday.

The thing about 100 milers is that any concept you have of time will be dramatically wrong. I intended to make it to mile 70 at 7PM. I didn’t show up until 12AM Sunday morning. I was FIVE HOURS OFF! I would’ve accepted it if he picked up another runner and left already. I wasn’t realistic about my goal and didn’t keep up my end of the bargain so I don’t expect him to wait around for me.

To my surprise, when I finally made it to camp 10 bear Gary was still there. He immediately went to work. He asked if I wanted my sub. Hell yea I did. I sat down and devoured it while he took crap out of my vest to lighten the load. Apparently I was carrying way too much stuff and he doesn’t know how I made it this far.

I told him I pretty much power-hiked up all the hills and can only run the flats and downhills. He put a makeshift heel lift in my right shoe and ask if it was comfortable. It will help alleviate the tension on my Achilles.This little contraption end up saving my race as I felt no discomfort in my Achilles in the last 30 miles.

With my vest lighten and the chipotle sub devoured we headed out on our adventure. He had a job to do and he was gonna get me to the finish line. We had about 10 hours to cover 30 miles and with the way I am moving it was cutting it really close unless I run at night.

I knew I was in good hands when we set off to conquer the last 30 miles because as he was running ahead, he used his headlamp to illuminate his sight and had his handheld flashlight pointed back to help me see the trails better. I was so happy I could finally see so I started to run. We made good time and he got me to pass a lot of runners. I came into camp 10 bear in 288th place and I finished in 195th place.

We had the fastest splits per aid stations in the last 30 miles. He had me operating at maximal efficiency as we had little time to waste. When we were near an aid station he asked me what I need from my drop bags and he runs ahead to get it for me. He also asked me what I will do there. I can do whatever need to be done but I CANNOT sit down. As we get to the aid stations I would drink my coconut as I was leaving. I was too tired to protest so I just slog my way onward.

At one point we made it into a game and run from 1 chem light to the next and walk to the next one. We would rinse and repeat this for a while. I was surprised that I ran a lot during the night portion. I would not have made the 30 hours cut off otherwise.

I am not proud to admit this but I was really tired and wanted to sit down. I told him I had some debris in my left shoe and I really need to get it out. We found a log for me to sit and take off my shoe and remove whatever is in there. I took my shoe/sock off and proceeded  to take my sock off and put it on again at least 3 times. Later I mentioned this to him and he was NOT fooled. He knew what was going on and figured he would be kind and gave me some breathing room. After that it was game time.

You can listen to Gary’s podcast interview of his experience pacing me @ http://elevationtrail.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/pacing-and-race-coverage/

Longest Mile EVER!
We ran through the night. The moon illuminated the back lit sky and for a while it was pure euphoria until I was jolted back to reality and realize that I had “miles to go before I could sleep.”

Dawn finally broke and I remembered the words of our late coach Mike who proclaimed that you “haven’t really lived until you’ve seen 2 sunrise in the same race.” I took some time to really let this sink in and finally understood what he meant.

We were trucking along at a good pace and with the dawn of a new day I found myself reinvigorated and ran a lot more. We finally made it to mile 99 and there was even a sign to tell us that.

1 mile to go

1 mile to go

I never thought I would make it this far so you can imagine the excitement when I saw it. We pressed on and its true what they say. The last mile is always the longest. It seemed to drag on FOREVER and there was not a single flat or downhill section. We would crest the top of one hill and BAM there’s another one to take its place.

The moment of truth finally came and I saw the finish line. I made a point to savor this moment so I did my best and ran it in for the finish.

My official time was 29:23:57.28 for an overall pace of 17:38 per mile.

vt100finish

VT100 Finish

FINISH

FINISH photo with Gary, my pacer extraordinaire!

2 of my 6 blisters

2 of my 6 blisters

Blisters & Massively Swollen left foot

Blisters & Massively Swollen left foot

Never Again!
I vowed to never put myself through such misery again but no one really ever take what a runner say seriously up to a week after his/her last race. Bruce, Patricia and I was talking and he mentioned that the lottery for Western States opens on November 9, 2013. DAMN IT!

Photos
http://northeastracephoto.smugmug.com/Running2013-1/Trail-Running/Vermont-100/30687510_mZnCvN#!i=2652920418&k=t8fPgqc
http://www.thevermontstandard.com/2013/07/photo-gallery-the-vermont-100-endurance-ride-and-run/
http://www.farnorthendurance.com/photos-from-the-2013-vermont-100/
http://photosbynanci.smugmug.com/VermontAdaptive-1/Vermont-100/Vermont-100-2013/30645172_5vVQvv
http://benkimballphotography.blogspot.com/2013/07/vermont-100-endurance-races.html


Other Interesting VT100 2013 race reports

Gary (podcast interview of my pacer regarding his VT100 pacing experience)
http://elevationtrail.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/pacing-and-race-coverage/

Jaime 
http://www.runningwithhaynes.com/2013/07/29/jaimes-vermont-100-race-report-part-3/

Jared
http://www.runningwithhaynes.com/2013/07/26/jareds-vermont-100-race-report

Ian
http://sharmanian.blogspot.com/2013/07/vermont-100-stage-two-of-grand-slam.html

Photos from the race
http://www.farnorthendurance.com/photos-from-the-2013-vermont-100/

Jason Lantz (podcast interview of winner)
http://elevationtrail.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/vermont-100-winner-jason-lantz/

Tom

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. 
Small people always do that, but the really great make you 
feel that you, too, can become great." - Mark Twain

I had the great pleasure of meeting the legendary Tom Green, a pioneer in the ultrarunning world, this past Saturday at the Farm Park Challenge at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland.

He was nonchalant, sporting his favorite blue VHTRC Run Happy shirt. He didn’t think anyone would recognize him at this local event but I immediately recognized him from his mustache. I’ve read about him and his adventures on various websites including http://www.run100s.com/gs.htm

I introduced myself and asked if he was THE Tom Green. We ran together a bit and Tom graciously told me of his various races and how he got into running ultras. He too failed at his first attempt at the 100 distance but thanks to motivations from the great David Horton he persevered and finish. Not only did he finish, he went on to become the first man to complete the ultra grand slam in 1986 by running 4 100 mile races in the same year. Back then it was Old Dominion 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100. Each in increasing level of difficulty. Tom has also ran every running of the Bull Run Run 50 and the Mountain Masochist 50 miler.

I mentioned that he’s one of my hero and he humbly remarked he’s no one special, he just love to run. It’s his great humility and words of encouragement that reminded me of the above Mark Twain’s quote. He’s not even close to slowing down, he’s signed up for 4 100 mile races this year, including Vermont 100 and Western States 100. He promised to not let me quit at Vermont this year.

Tom in his element

Tom in his element

Photos I took from the Farm Park Challenge are available via Flickr @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/nguyenhai/sets/72157633440682730/

More articles about Tom
http://www.striders.net/hall-of-fame/thomas-green

http://www.irunfar.com/2012/06/the-first-grand-slammer-tom-green.html

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2007-11-21/news/0711210185_1_run-the-race-green-50-miles

http://www.irunfar.com/2012/06/the-first-grand-slammer-tom-green.html

Inspirations

If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again. – William Edward Hickson

I needed inspirations to continue my training for my 2nd attempt at the Vermont 100 so when my friend Amanda said she’s running the inaugural C&O Canal 100 miler I gladly offered to be her support crew. She didn’t need a pacer and asked if I could just meet her at the halfway point and bring along her favorite ultra food, fries & chicken tender.

We both attempted our first 100 miler distance last year and she completed the Old Dominion 100 through sheer perseverance and determination. I was not as prepared and called it quit at mile 62 of the Vermont 100.

I got to the start/half way/finish @ Camp Manidoken by 5:00PM and saw many familiar faces either volunteering or crewing for someone. I went through the usual chit chat and introduced myself to everyone there. As soon as I caught sight of the first few runners checking in at the half way point I grabbed my camera and tried to capture their expressions at that point of the race as they hiked up the treacherous mile long hill to make it back to the camp. Some were grimacing but some instantly put on a smile as soon as they saw my camera. Like me, they realized that it doesn’t matter how you feel during the race, in the end you’ll only remember how good you look in the pictures :)

Mental toughness is such a big part of ultra distances that it can either make or break your race. I saw runners that walked up the hill with their heads held high and determined to see their adventure to the very end. I also saw runners that stooped their head in defeat and decided to fight on at another race in a distant future. I can sympathize with these runners as I was in the same mindset last year. My hope this year is to learn enough to minimize the # of mistakes that will lead me that point.

I finally saw Amanda making her way to the half way point and as expected she was smiling as she hiked up that brutal hill. I quickly helped grabbed her drop  bag, gave her the fries and chicken tender. Once she refuel she was ready to go and headed out again.

I saw her again at mile 62, 71, 91 and the finish. Each time I noticed the effect the increased mileage had on her but she was constantly on the move and had a fierce look of determination to see this thing through. I need to have that look when things get rough and all I want to do is quit and put an end to the misery. When I saw her at the finish she was running up that last hill wearing a big grin on her face and hamming it up for the camera. I was very impressed with how tough she is and learned a lot from my passive experience of her 2nd 100 mile adventure. Her expression and that of every other finishers I saw as they were given the finishing medal by the race director was that of utter joy. There’s no greater feeling in the world than knowing that you conquered your fears and persevered against  that little voice in your head that want to quit. I want that feeling.

Photos that I took from the race are available on Flickr @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/nguyenhai/sets/72157633363308625/

40 minute 10K Barrier

In my 4th year with MCRRC’s Speed Development Program I finally broke through the 40 minute 10K barrier. Under the tutelage of coach Tom Brennan and motivations from my XMP buddies, Tien, Victor & Zach we put in the work each and every Tuesdays on the track. At times the workouts were so gut wrenching that I have a hard time keeping my lunch down.

It all came down to April 21st 2013 at the Kaiser Permanente Pikes Peek 10K. Having ran the Bull Run Run 50 miler the the week before I was realistic with my goal and aimed for sub 40. I wasn’t sure what kind of pace I could maintain but resolved to give it my best effort. I knew I didn’t have the legs to keep up with Tien & Zach so I started with Victor, we have similar goals and he’s not going all out because he’s running the Gettysburg marathon next Sunday.

We only needed to average 6:26 per mile to make our goal. We got through mile 1 in 6:17 I felt good and settled into that pace. Mile 2 clicked off in 6:21 Before our race, Tom, our coach sent out a racing strategy for Pike’s Peek. He advised that we take the first 2 miles easy and should feel like we’re holding back a bit. The next 2 miles we should try to settle into our goal pace and for the last 2 give it all we got. The finish is a downhill sprint so its a great opportunity to make up any lost time.

We went through mile 3 in 6:20 This is when I realized that I just ran a 5K PR. This is either a really good day or its disaster up ahead. Surprisingly by this point my legs was still feeling fresh. We went through mile 4 in 6:19 Tricia volunteered at mile 4 passing out water and  cheering on runners. As I approached mile 4 I saw her smiling at me and it brought a huge grin to my face. My legs felt rejuvenated.  Mile 5 was a bit hilly and we made it out in 6:24 I realized our pace was slowing down so I made a point to pick it back up. Seeing Tricia was the exact motivation I needed to push harder and give it my all to break 40 minutes. I believe she cheered a bit louder just for me :)

I went through mile 6 in 6:15, my fastest split yet. The  great thing about Pikes Peek is that the last .2 is a straight downhill finish. When I got to the traffic light I knew the downhill was coming so I gave it all I had left and sprint it in for a fast finish. 39:06 I was ecstatic. 2 PRs in the same race and surprisingly I didn’t fade at the end like I always do for most of my races.

My training and mileage was part of the equation but it was the camaraderie with the guys on the track that motivated me to run 2 PRs at the Pikes Peek 10K. I am excited for my 5th year with SDP. Who know what 2014 will bring but I am hoping it’ll be another 10k PR :)

Pikes Peek 10K Finish

Pikes Peek 10K Finish

Official results: http://www.mcrrc.org/pikes-peek-10k-5

Garmin splits http://connect.garmin.com/activity/301126698

2013 Bull Run Run 50

The Bull Run Run 50 miler put on by VHTRC is one of my favorite spring race. Its a great tune up race for any 100 milers hopeful. I ran it for the first time last year and was thoroughly humbled by the course. The constant ups and downs of the 2nd half wreck havoc on my quads and I ended up walking the last 10 miles.

I didn’t make it into the initial lottery for this year and was placed on the waiting list @ #49 Luckily I was able to sneak in at the last moment. Training has been going well. Save for my last crash and burn session at the DC Rock n Roll marathon.

Going into the race I felt like I need to redeem from my failed marathon PR attempt. I need to prove to myself that the training is working and to make good on my promise to myself to race as I train without too many variables.

I carpooled with Bruce (a 2013 Vermont 100 hopeful) and got to park pretty close to the start as a perk for carpooling. I knew it was gonna be a good day when I saw that my # is 69

My goal for the race is to run with effort and make it hurt. That means none of my usual cheerful preppiness. I want to stay focus and push to the finish.

The first out and back to Hemlock was manageable. There weren’t too much elevation changes and I still had fresh legs. The bluebells were especially beautiful and the weather was almost ideal. My breathing was definitely labored but I tried to dial in on a correct pace. I decided not to wear my GPS watch because one, I don’t like it weighing me down and I want to see how well in tune I am with my body.

For most of the 2nd loop I was by myself. I didn’t see anyone behind me or ahead of me. Save for the runners I saw on my way back to the finish. I wasn’t very talkative and barely uttered “good job” to the few that offered their encouragement.

I enjoyed running most of the 2nd half alone. It gave me a chance to mentally focus and not let my pace drop off. I kept repeating to myself. Give it your best effort. No dogging it today. Again the downhills and the rocky twist and turns did a number on my quads. I had to dial it back on the downhill and walked most of the uphills.

I paid close special attention to my nutrition during the race. I consumed moderate amount of perpetuem and took S-Caps to replenish my sodium. I always follow a sip of perpetuem with 2 sips of water to 9ffset its diuretic effect. Dehydration ruined my RnR race. I discovered that strawberries (fruits) is one of my new favorite ultra food. It taste great, good for calories and my stomache can handle it. Maybe the fruitarian is onto something after all.

Luckily ALL the aid stations were well stocked with all sort of goodies and plenty of strawberries. As I try not to spend too much time at any aid stations, I always ask for S-caps. Chug a cup or 2 of either mountain dew or coke and grabbed a handful of strawberries on the  go.

I was at a low point entering the dreaded do-loop. I tried my best to keep a steady pace and aimed for relentless forward progress. I grimaced my way from aid stations to aid stations after the do-loop. It wasn’t until the Fountain head aid station (mile 40ish) where I again saw my secret admirer who kept insisting I take my shirt off that I got a 2nd wind. She was everywhere, I saw her at the first aid station and a few more times. Her enthusiasm and playfulness definitely made the race more enjoyable. I was however too tired to comply and just smiled. I did however manage to high five her on my way out.

The 2nd wind couldn’t have come at a better time. I was really glad that my quads held it together after the beating of the do loop and the constant ups and downs on the way back. I made it to the last aid station at mile 44.9, grabbed what I needed and hurried out. I knew that I only had about 5.5 miles left so I picked up the pace and finished strong.

I was really happy to see the clock read 8:22:30ish when I sprinted to the finish line. The official time was 8:22:38 I was able to shave almost an hour off my 50 mile PR set at Stone Mill 50 in 2012. It definitely hurt but I am satisfied with the effort. I am more hopeful knowing that if I take care of my nutrition during Vermont this year and race as I train I will be able to finish.

More info about the 2013 edition of the VHTRC Bull Run Run 50 Miler can be found at http://www.vhtrc.org/brr/2013/

2013 BRR 50 Finish (photos by  Robert Fabia)

2013 BRR 50 Finish (photos by Robert Fabia)

Bluebells @ 2013 BRR 50 (photos by  Robert Fabia)

Bluebells @ 2013 BRR 50 (photos by Robert Fabia)

2012 & 2013 BRR50

2012 & 2013 BRR50 photos by Aaron Schwartzbard!

Trust your Training

Experience is the best teacher. There are no shortcuts in running. You get results based on the amount of effort you put into training. I should know this but again the lure of a quick fix was too tempting. I experienced this first hand at the DC Rock N Roll Marathon on 3/16/2013

I put in the effort and trained as best as I could. I increased mileage, did speed work and taper when I should. The day before race day the little voice in my head came up with a brilliant what if idea.  I adjusted my fueling plans to include a LOT of caffeine. 5 scoops of Hammer’s Caffe Latte Perpetuem powder to be exact.

I didn’t drink enough water to offset the amount of caffeine I was taking and end up severely dehydrated due to its diuretic effect. After mile 16 the dehydration took its toll and all my training was for naught. The last 10 miles was a death march and I somehow managed to finished.

I felt lightheaded and dizzy after the race and barely survived the metro ride home. At home I forced myself to drink and drink lots of water to re hydrate. It felt like a really bad hangover but luckily I am feeling much better now that I’ve slept it off and can eat again.

The splits from my Garmin are available @ http://connect.garmin.com/activity/285338280

Don’t be an idiot like me and save yourself the trouble of personally experiencing that level of dehydration. Race as you train and don’t fall for any last minute self-guided gimmicks no matter how convincing it sounds.

Once I am fully recover I will start training for the Bob Potts marathon on 5/26. I will take my own advice this time and race as I train.

http://daycalc.appspot.com/05/26/2013

70 days and counting!