Friday, May 23, 2014

Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour Race and 103 Miles

The Black Mountain Monster is an annual trail running event held in May at Montreat College in Black Mountain NC. It is a family-oriented gathering where you run as much or as little for the time duration you choose- 6, 12 or 24 hours. The race starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and stops at 10 a.m. Sunday, which is great because it allows you to drive in and setup camp the day of the race. If your plans are to run the full 24 hours, it is nice to have 4 hours of sunlight to finish the race the next day.

Anne and I drove up to Black Mountain Friday evening and ate at a local pizza place called Fresh. They cook their pizzas in a brick oven and offer gluten free dishes at a reasonable price. We stayed at a friend’s cabin in Old Fort, which is just down the road from Black Mountain.

Pre 24 Hour Race

Saturday came early and I began my preparation by taping each toe and bottom area of my feet. I spent close to 45 minutes getting them ready for the battle ahead. In the past, blisters have made my long races even more difficult. My friend Kathi Russo let me borrow a book called “Fixing Your Feet.” The book goes into detail as to how to how to prepare and care for your feet during ultra races. I followed the directions for taping, lubricating, and wearing the right socks based on where the problem areas are on my feet. This was the first long race where I walked away without a blister or black toenail. As a reference, I ended up losing 3 toenails after the Boston Marathon last month. My problem areas are with my toes so I brought 2 new pairs of Injinji (5 toe) socks to the race. I wore the Skechers Ultra model. It has a wide toe box and plenty of cushioning even for a 100 miles. The Ultra model has an aggressive tread pattern and not once did I slip and slide on varied terrain on the course. I wore a pair of gaiters over the tops of my shoes to keep the dirt, rocks, and sticks out of my shoe. Not once did I have to take off my shoes to remove any foreign objects.


When we arrived at the race / camp site- Caleb, Stu and Shane had already setup the canopy over our own aid station where we had two 8ft tables on which to set our food and fuel supplies. It is important to have everything at waist level during the race as bending down to pick up something off the ground is too painful to consider. Being this was my first 24-hour race, I brought more than I could ever consume but wanted to err on the safe side. The weather at the start was cool with a slight breeze. The weather could not have been better. The slight drizzle that started at 5am Sunday morning did not have an effect on anyone’s performance.

Caleb Steedley, Martin, Stu Stepp & Shane Vanhoose

The atmosphere was relaxed as families are setting up camp while the kids were playing in the creeks. One racer brought his dog to accompany him for 6 hours. Everyone is cheering each other on and helping in any way. At road races, the competition is with the other runners and how you place compared to them. At Ultra races (unless you are an elite runner), you are only competing with yourself and how far can you go before you stop.

I had some goals for the race in order of importance: A: Be moving at 24 hours, B: Not sit down other than to change clothes, C: Run 100 miles & D: Place in the top 3 for distance. I also wanted to find out how many hours I could run before I started walking up the hills.

The only goal I thought was even possible was to be moving (walking) at 24 hours. The other goals were just plain crazy thinking since I had never run longer than 9 hours (54 miles), only 10% of my running is on trails, and had not run more than 6 hours in the dark in training for the race.

The 3.1 mile trail consisted of a ton of turns, 4 good sized hills, many roots that tried to grab my feet as the race progressed and ½ mile section of greenway payment that featured a severe downhill. The trail was well marked with arrows on the ground and each root was painted white to help you focus and not fall because of them. Each time you completed the loop; you ran by your own aid station to refuel, showed your bib number to the scorer, and took off again. The race aid station featured fruits, drinks, broth, pizza, and every other food group you could imagine. There was a mini aid station at the halfway point deep in the woods. I made it a point to ask the scorer not to tell me how many miles I had run or number of loops. My goal was to be moving at the end and not quit. I did not want the number of miles I had already run to play into whether or not I continued when I entered the “pain cave.”


My only chance for running 24 hours was to not go out too fast and burn out early. I made a commitment to anyone that would listen that I would not allow my heart rate to get over 130 beats per minute for the first 12 hours. My normal aerobic heart rate is 140 to 150 beats per minute. If I fueled correctly, use salt tabs and ate as much solid food as possible, I thought I would have a 50% chance of lasting until the end.

The start was relaxed as the race director thanked everyone for coming and the sponsors. He started the race by saying, “OK go” and everyone started with a slow jog. The first 6 hours, I was always near somebody as the 6, 12 and 24 hour runners started together. I ran 2 loops with Stu and Caleb and noticed my heart rate was climbing on the hills above 140 so I backed off and let them go knowing I had a long night ahead of me. Each time I passed a runner, we would speak and talk about what they wanted to accomplish. Every person had their own reason as to why they would come out and walk/run for 6 hours of more. Many of the participants did not have the lean bodies of runners but somehow found a way to keep moving. I really believe mental strength has more to do with finishing Ultras and then physical ability. Watching 70-year-old men & women completing 65+ miles in 24 hours inspired me. One of my favorite sayings I saw on the back of a running team’s (Runners from Hell) shirts was “Suck it up buttercup.” Ultra runners are not good crowds to complain to if you want sympathy. I visited with some of my Dailymile buddies- Chas W & Sean B.

Before the start, I had mixed up my drinks and got my food ready so I could come by our aid station and pick up what I needed and keep moving. Shane did a great job of refilling my bottles and keeping them on ice for me during the race. Each time I came through, I would grab an ice-cold bandana and tie it around my neck to lower my temperature. One of the time killers I wanted to avoid was spending too much time at the aid station. I was generally in and out within a minute so I was able to stay in a mental zone. One of the many things I observed about myself is how quiet I was as the day continued. I would still give everyone a thumb-up and a smile each time I passed someone. I felt like I had a job to do and needed to put all my energy into completing it. When others would pace me for a lap, I would thank them but not engage in much more talking. I had so many thoughts going through my head and having a hard time concentrating, the best I could do was to keep moving forward. I wore my Garmin watch and only looked at the heart rate and settled into 130 hr zone for the first 11 hours. At 9pm, I took off the watch and ran by feel the rest of the way. I continued to run until 1am when I walked my first hill. I found out that I can run 15 hours without stopping if I fuel correctly and did not let my heart rate surge. I ran without a shirt all afternoon and into the night. At 1am, I put on a short sleeve shirt as the temperatures were in the mid 40’s.

Around 2am, all but a few runners were sleeping. I did not see another runner until 5:30am. My stomach started to give me trouble at 3am so I started eating ginger chews. The ginger helped to settle my stomach and I was able to get my momentum back. Everyone I had spoken with who had completed a 100-mile race told me there would be a bad period during the race and it would be only temporary. I had intentionally not put on any music so I could have that to look forward to when the run got harder. At 4am, I was wiped out but still moving while walking the up and down hills. The down hills are so much tougher for me since I had to break my fall so I did not tumble over. I really slowed down to a 15-16 minute mile pace at this point. The only drink I could keep down was flat coke.
When I completed another loop at 5am, the scorer looked at me and asked what my goal was and I told him a 100. He looked at my miles and said at your current pace, you are not going to make it to 100. He replied, “You will end up at 97 miles.” I would have to average a 12-minute mile pace for the next 4 hours to have a chance. I hung my head and thought about all the people who were texting, calling and praying for me. It would have sucked to tell them I ended up 3 miles short of my goal. Three lousy miles over 24 hours.

Some inner voice spoke to me and said, “I am not going down without a fight.” I have tried so hard to teach my Sons (Sam & Tellor) to push past the pain and always finish strong. Now was the time to put my words into action. I walked back to my aid station, put on my Boston Marathon shirt I had never worn and put on my earphones. I took off. I ran every part of the course including hills to get me back on track. I started just clicking off the loops again and the scorer would smile as I kept coming around every 36 minutes. Shane ran with me at 6am for 3 loops and motivated me to push hard which helped me believe I would hit 100-mile mark. The sun coming up gave me a jolt of energy. I also filled up with hand held bottle with hot broth and Xtend Endurance to refuel each other lap. I started passing others who were walking on the course. Everyone was cheering and giving me high fives as I came through each time.
Just Completed 100 Miles- More Miles to Run

When I hit 100 miles at a little after 9am, the scorer asked me if I was going to quit. He said I was in 2nd place. I told him my first and main goal was to be moving on the course at the end of 24 hours so I kept going even though my pace had slowed down. The race had marshals throughout the course so you could get credit for partial laps and miles. I had to run the last half mile in 5 minutes to get to the next mile marker, which gave me a total of 103 miles. The winner ran 108 miles. I got a nice medal and a gift certificate for 2nd place. Stu Stepp came in second in the 12-hour race and ran 56 miles. Caleb Steedley ran 66 miles and his wife Carla ran 40 miles to give them a team total of 106 miles. Shane Vanhoose put in 40 miles running and keeping us going at the aid station. Gina Lyerly paced us with 19 miles.

After 24 Hours
Caleb & Carla Steedley, Martin & Shane Vanhoose

Things I learned:
·         My ability to concentrate and focus diminished as the race went on. I would get to the aid station and forget what I needed to pack for the next loop. I would be back on the trail and remember I forgot my fuel, etc. The top elite runners have crews who know what to hand them each hour, which takes the thinking away from the runner. My down period came from not remembering to eat and drink previously.
·         I can accomplish more that I can believe when I focus on small goals. My only thought each loop was finishing the one I was running. I never thought about being running outside for 24 hours, total miles, or the amount of effort it would take to run 100 miles. Bite size chunks is all I can mentally handle and be effective.
·         My mental attitude had more to do with me finishing the race than my fitness level. If I am positive and trying to make the best of a tough situation, it goes by faster and is less painful. There was not a moment during the 24 hours where I took the time to complain or think about stopping. My job was to do my best and be glad in it. One trick I used during the race was to smile at each person I encountered and thank every volunteer. The smiling trick worked because when they smiled back I got a boost of energy that kept me going.
·         100 miles is not that far on a loop course. If I had fuel properly at the end, I could have either gotten in another 2 laps or gone longer than 24 hours. This race did not have the altitude and sustained climbing like some of the big boy 100-mile ultra races. This race did give me the confidence to sign up for the Uwharrie 100 miler in October.
·         I need to run more trails than I am currently doing to get ready for the next trail race. Running pace on trails are much slower as the soft ground absorbs all your energy. The terrain is never level so my hips and thighs are reminding me of my little trail training during recovery. Trails are much more fun as the view is always changing and you have to pay attention so you do not trip. The soft ground is also so much easier on your body.
·         When your body is telling you that nothing tastes good, it’s time to get in some calories (fuel). You have go against your intuition (rest, etc) in ultra races.

Gear I Used:
·         Skechers Ultra
·         Xtend Endurance Drink Mix
·         Injinji Socks
·         Vespa Gel
·         Salt Stick with Caffeine Tablets
·         Dirty Girl Ankle Gaiters

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Boston Marathon Weekend

My taper week in preparation for Boston was extremely busy at work due to my company (Camco Manufacturing) purchasing a new company and being part of the transition. The focus on business was a blessing, as I did not have time to think about the race. I did some short runs to stay fresh and for the first time I arrived at a marathon with a successful 2-week taper. In the past, I have worried about doing a little more during the 2 weeks before the race and have, in hindsight, took away from my race performance. I have always heard the saying but have not followed the advice:

“It is better to show up 90% trained than to be 1% over trained and tired”

I rode with my running buddy, Kathi Russo, from Salisbury to the airport and met my new running buddy, Diane Allen from Charlotte. This year’s race was be Kathi’s 7th and Diane’s 4th. Their job was to keep me focused and pointed in the right direction. I am so thankful they allowed me to hang out with them as the crowds were so large it was intimidating to navigate the weekend and race. In the baggage claim area at the Boston airport, I talked with one of my heroes- Caleb Masland. Caleb is a super nice guy, professional runner and coach from Boone, NC. He is one of the high profile runners with Skechers besides the winner of the Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi. The shoes I was wearing were Skechers Ultra to walk around in during the weekend; he helped designed, which is cool. You can follow Caleb and his training on DailyMile.Com or at his website:

Once we arrived and checked in, we went to the Runner’s Expo, which is humongous. Every company that has anything to do with exercise (clothing, shoes, nutrition, training, gifts, etc) is there to give out samples, advice and sell stuff. I went by the Skechers booth and said hello to the crew. I thanked them for the gear and shoes I would be wearing during the race. I received my race bib and got my race packet, which included a nifty long sleeve Boston Marathon Shirt. I purchased the orange official 2014 Jacket and noticed how many runners keep adding the other years they run the marathon to their jacket. One of the many things that got my attention was the atmosphere of being around 32,000 people who are excited about running, fitness, and life. I cannot imagine anyone coming away from this experience without being more excited about what is possible and hope I can continue to work smart with my fitness and have fun.  


We saw a bunch of people from the Charlotte area including Joe Schlereth and Kathy Lee. Joe is a hero of mine. This Boston marked his 300th marathon and 45 of his “marathons” are 100-mile ultras. Over the course of his running career, he's posted six top-10 finishes at the Western States 100-mile endurance run; 10 finishes at Western States in less than 24 hours. He won the Wasatch 100; and he completed Badwater, the approximately 135-mile run from Death Valley (the lowest point in the continental U.S.) to Mt. Whitney (the highest). In 2006, he ran over 9000 miles which is approx 170 miles a week. Kathy Lee just finished her second 100 mile race at the Umstead Race recently. An awesome achievement I hope one today to complete.


Sunday morning, I attended a race strategy with Dr. Mark Cucuzzella who consistently runs under 2:50 marathons and has won the Air Force Marathon. His comments were to be conservative in the first half and focus on maintaining energy during the work of the marathon (Miles 16 to 21) and give it all you’ve got from mile 22 to the finish. He reiterated how important is to run quietly on the down hills to save your quads for the end of the race. I know of Mark from listening to the Ultra Runner Podcast. His is a frequent contributor. Mark is also a big proponent of heart rate training to increase the speed of your aerobic base. Mark owns “2 River Treads” running store in Shepherdstown, WV. The store website is a great source of running information.


Sunday night, I was fortunate to be able to attend a dinner with Kathi that had Amby Burfoot (Editor of Runner’s World and Winner of the ’68 Boston Marathon) and Jeff Galloway (’72 Olympic Team with Prefontaine). It was a round table discussion with funny running stories.  




Once we left the Athlete Village, we lined up in our corrals based on our qualifying time. The race started once four helicopters flew over our heads heading to Boston. It only took them 4 minutes to get there where I would need 3 hours. The first 2 miles seemed like it was going straight downhill. It is hard to know how severe the decline is as all you can see are runners’ heads ahead. There were so many runners in the streets because the majority of the race is run on a 2 lane road through the small towns leading to Boston. I never had more than a foot of space on the sides or front of me for the first 9 miles. Passing others was just not possible. Every mile there is a Gatorade and water station, which takes more space from the runners on the road. Every step I had to watch and make sure I was not tripping anyone or being tripped. Usually I race with a small group because I am not with the elites and nor with the joggers so I am used to having plenty of room. I had a headache by mile 10 from concentrating every step. The race turned unseasonable warm and I noted by mile 12, I was no longer perspiring. I knew not perspiring is one of the early signs of dehydration and overheating. I removed my shirt and doused myself with water at most water stations. The crowds were so loud. It is hard to explain the intensity of volume. The fans are literally right beside the 2-lane road we were running on. They are screaming 3 feet from your head and trying to get “high fives” from all the runners. There were many great homemade signs along the course to keep my attention. I did not realize how small the little towns are we ran in and how important the race is to their community. Many of the volunteers mentioned the race was the biggest day of the year. Every business is closed for Patriots Day each year. At mile 12, I noticed the volume from the fans started getting even louder as we were coming to Wellesley College. Those girls holding signs asking for kisses can be heard from a mile away.



At the halfway point, I was at 1:29 which was a minute slower, as I had hoped for a sub 3 hour race. Between the crowded field and being concerned about going out too fast, I did not hit my goal time for the first half, which was 1:28.

When I reached mile 16, I knew the work was getting ready to start as I noticed the bobbing heads in front of me were rising up which meant the hills were coming. The first two of the four famed hills near Newton were not steep but once you passed over the crest, you went quickly downhill which caused my quads to scream for relief. The third hill and Heart Break are gradual inclines that last for almost a half mile and are then once again steep down hills. I passed many people on the hills and felt my quads starting to cramp on the down hills. At mile 21, I passed Boston College and they had a huge sign saying “the heart break is over.” I tried to get back to marathon pace of 6:47 for the rest of the way and was not able to get back to goal pace. It was not my cardio system that held me back; it was my muscles in my legs. I had worked so hard doing squats and lunges daily with hill repeats weekly and it still was not enough. I saw the famous CITGO sign at mile 24 and knew once I passed the sign I had a mile left so I really leaned forward and was able to get back to a 6:50 pace. At mile 24, the crowds grew even more in size and volume. It seemed like the fans were 10 deep along the race route. Once I made the left onto Boylston Street, I could see the end. My pace got much faster as I ran as hard as I could to the finish line and completed my first Boston Marathon in 3:00:44.




After the race, I hobbled to my hotel with my medal and fond memories. I was a little sad to have reached my goal which I had only dreamed of 3 years ago. I have run daily with the goal being able to run in the Boston Marathon. I am hopeful Keith, Stu, Caleb and Victor will qualify this year (Lehigh Valley Marathon in early September) so I can run with them in 2015.

Gear Used:

·         NUNN- electrolyte drink mix to hydrate before and after the race

·         UCAN (Super Starch) before the start

·         VESPA (Amino Acid to promote fat burning) before the start

·         3 Espresso Hammer Gels during the race

·         Skechers Go Run 3

·         Skechers Singlet- same one Meb wore
The cost for the trip came out to around $1,100 with entry fee, airfair, hotels, expo and transportation


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Days until the Boston Marathon

One week before Boston and I am back to 100% fitness wise. 2 weeks ago my left shin has been moaning and I have been getting my cardio workouts in by doing stair stepping, rowing and elliptical for an hour a day. I have been saving my legs for running long runs on Saturday and Sunday. Ice and exercising without running has cut my recovery time down. It seems like forever since I have watched a 30-minute comedy without having an ice pack on my shins. I am at a very different mental place with regard to my goals at Boston than where I have been in past marathons. Instead of focusing so much on my goal race time, I am trying to be happy with just doing my best. As I tell my sons, as long as I can look at the mirror at the end of the day and say “I gave it my best” then that is all you can do. Getting shin splints 4 weeks before the race was not part of the script but I did my best working around it. Nobody, I repeat nobody, cares about my race time other than me. Even my running friends (who are focused on pace and time) just want me to have a good time, not get hurt and enjoy myself. I am traveling with Kathi Russo who is making her 6th straight appearance. She is an accomplished runner in Salisbury and is a running mentor to me. She is going to guide me in making sure I get to the starting line on time.

I ran the Elizabeth 8K race in Charlotte 2 weeks ago as part of a 20-mile long run and was happy with my effort. I was surprised to see 4 of the top 8 finishers were over 40 years old. I came in eighth overall with a time of 31:30 (6:20 pace per mile). I did not even place in the Masters Division. I did win my age group (45 to 50 years); who knew so many old people like me were going to attend the race.  I ran 5 miles as a warm-up so it might have hurt my race time but the point of the race was to push myself and focus on speed. I look forward to running more local 5K’s as part of long runs (20+ miles) on the weekend. There is no feeling like a 5K race when I am running out of air and have a half mile to go. Steve Prefontaine used to say about short races, “The winner today will be the one who is willing to hurt the most.”
I have started running in a new shoe named Skechers GoRun 3. The GoRun 3 cushioned shoe is light as a feather. The heel to drop ratio is 4% and can be lower if you do not use the foam insert. It has a wide toe box. I will be running in this pair in the Boston Marathon (Monday, April 21st). Runner’s World gave the GoRun 3 their Best Buy Running Shoe Award for Spring 2014. The are reasonably price for a premium running shoe at only $85 vs. $130 with other brands.



I am still jumping rope as part of my cross training and am always looking for new ways to cross train & increase my cardio base. I maxed out at 82 miles a week in preparation for Boston and am am enjoying tapering for the race.
Pacing seems to be a big challenge at Boston as most runners average 6 to 8 minutes difference between the first and second half. Mile 16 to 21 are where the hills come in and if you run much faster than your goal pace on the first 13 miles, there is a high risk of fatiguing your quads and not being able to maintain your pace when you get to the hills late in the race. I have read numerous times to run hard downhill in preparation to stress the quads so they will be strong during the first half of the race. I have been doing 3 mile hill repeats at the end of my long runs (18 miles +).  I am actually getting good and flying down the hills without breaking and slowing down. I just take a longer stride and feel like I am falling down by leaning into the slope with no extra effort like I did as a kid.
I enjoy running with my buddies who run at different paces but sometimes the pace is really slow (more than 2 minutes per mile slower than my marathon pace), so I have been thinking about how I can still run with others while keeping my heart rate in my aerobic zone (140 to 150bpm). I found a pair of 1.5lb weights in my basement that attaches to your hands and tried wearing them while running this week. I initially thought, how much is a 1.5lb weight going to affect the easy run? Wow- swinging the weights back and forth especially on the hills as I was pumping my elbows enabled my heart rate stay in the desired zone while recovery running. My chest, shoulders, and arms were letting me know by the end that they did not agree to the new fitness routine. I will continue to use them on easy recovery running days.

I just finished a good book named the “The Longest Run” by Ed Ayers. The book describes his evolution as a person and runner and uses the backdrop of the JFK 50 Mile Race held each fall. Ayers is a senior runner now and won the JFK when he was younger. The JFK 50 Mile was created after President Kennedy was concerned the U.S. citizens were getting mentally soft and not being fit. Kennedy thought all members of the armed forces should be able to walk 50 miles over 1 day. Bobby Kennedy completed the race. Eventually the race was opened to all. Some of the trail race is run on the Appalachian Trail and around the battlegrounds of the Civil War outside of DC. I enjoyed the book from the perspective of how we can continue to enjoy running for a lifetime once the days of new personal records are behind us.
Last week, I was in Vancouver BC working at a customer show and had the opportunity to run. The city is so clean and beautiful with the mountains in the background. They have a paved running/ biking trail on the water front that goes around the city. The SeaWall is over 40 miles long and I was able to run the entire trail over the weekend. I tried to stay on east coast time during the trip so I ran in the dark (4am-7am) each day and always felt completely safe. Great place to watch the sun rise.



I look forward to updating my little blog when I get back from Boston and begin getting ready for my 24 hour race in May. I am grinning just thinking about the possibilities of moving for 24 hours and finding out what lies deep inside of me. The farthest I have ever run is 54 miles so the idea of going 100 miles seem so outrageous. I look forward to doing some back-to-back 25 mile runs on Saturday and Sunday to get my body ready. At this point, I have no idea how to prepare mentally for this type of event. Every day when I am out running and feel pain, I think about what is to come and it helps to focus my mind on other things (family, work, etc).  Nine times of ten when I change what I am thinking about the pain goes away. I am intrigued by the notion of how important mental strength will be at a 24 hours loop race. It will be a learning experience as I get out of my comfort zone at the Black Mountain Monster 6, 12 and 24 hour race.