A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Massanutten - No Finish, But An Interesting Idea To Try

But, but, but, I thought your toe was healed...

LOL, no, it wasn't, and it played right into the course's hands too.

This is going to be an interesting write-up, because I have a lot of things that I am mulling about after pulling out of the race at mile 19.

First off, it seems like toes don't heal very quickly. Yes, I had the ability of running on a bad toe last week, and it was acceptable, but the flare-ups should have told me that the toe wasn't fully healed yet. Generally, broken bones usually take about 6 weeks to heal.

Combine that with a relentless, rocky course and I had problems right from the start. Big ones.

Even before the race it affected my decision in which shoes to wear. Before the race, I had bought a New Balance minimalist pair of shoes for the trail 5 weeks before. Finding the shoe to be bothersome to my injured toe, I was forced to opt for the regular clumsy conventional shoes to protect that toe. I knew that this decision would come with a high risk of inverting an ankle, but it was the only pair that my feet felt comfortable in.

Wearing these shoes, right from the start of the trail section, I knew I was going to have problems. We hit the trail at about 4:45AM, when it was still dark, and I had trouble finding the best footing through the rocky sections. As a result, I was constantly landing hard on my bad toe. Well, the toe kind of decided after a little abuse that it had enough.

I can understand. If somebody keeps punching me in the head, I'd start getting upset also.

After a while the toe started to throb. This started to cause me to compensate by not rolling off that toe. Instead, I was rolling more toward the outside, where the smaller toes were. 

With the clumsy conventional shoes and the wrongful rolling of my foot, I must have twisted my right ankle at least 4 times on the trail.

Secondly, at about mile 15, coming down a hill, I smacked my toe against a rock, hard. Seeing stars, I almost fell off the trail and hobbled to a halt waiting for the pain to go away.

The last 4 miles were rough walking. Coming to an aid station, I knew I had to cut my losses and end it there before I really got hurt. It's a tough decision to make that early in the race, but I saw the writing on the wall and decided to call it a day.

Taking my socks off, I immediately saw my toe bent in toward the rest of the toes. The nurse at the aid station also saw this and suggested I go see a doctor to see whether it needs to be reset. 

Oh, well. Time to call a doctor tomorrow.

My history with rocky courses was always a weakness; I tended to painfully roll my ankles a lot on the trails.

That is, until I started to wear minimalist XC-flats.

I have to safely say that even on the rockiest trails, I have NEVER rolled my ankles in XC-flats. Ever. I think the thinner sole allows it to be more flexible around uneven surfaces. This provides for more stability on very uneven areas.

But the problem with XC-flats is that with the lack of cushioning my feet tend to tire after about 30 miles on trails.

In a 100 mile race, that might be a bit of a problem.

There actually might be a possible solution to that, however. I noticed some people actually using trekking poles with their runs, and they were actually phenominal in traversing rocky sections.

I used a trekking pole for the Appalachian Trail and it turned out to be a great aid in getting through technical sections of the trail, so I have some experience in using them.

Looking for more information on the internet today, I came up with this gem of a video on Youtube. This guy is just amazing at using his trekking poles while running, so it might be something to look into.

Mind that I would only be using trekking poles for extremely rocky courses like Massanutten and would never use them for more runnable courses like Vermont.



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thoughts - May 12 - Massanutten Baby! Final Strategy

Finally! My strategy for Massanutten is below. Hopefully I can rely on this strategy for the entire race. If I go into "survival mode" a bit early, well, I'm going to have to improvise on the spot. But at least this strategy looks good on paper!

Three Phases Of The Hundred Mile Course

To summarize, the 60/30/10 formula worked at the Vermont 100. I will be sticking to that formula again.

The "60" refers to the first 60 miles of the race. This is the race where I am at my strongest. It is daytime, at regular waking hours, and a good crowd is cheering runners on at each aid station.

Sixty miles is a good psychological number because I am more than halfway through the race when this phase ends.

The "30" refers to the next 30 miles of the race. This will be from 60 to 90 miles. This will be the "survival mode" and will probably be the toughest part of the race. These miles will be mostly done at night, at cool temperatures. Sleep deprivation is a major factor of this phase and, except for those willing volunteers at the aid stations, there is nobody on the course cheering people on. It is lonely, cold, and very exhausting to even move after a long day of running. 

It is also very difficult to navigate the rocky trails at night with only a small portion of the trail lit up from my headlamp.

The "10" refers to the last 10 miles of the race. This will be the "will to finish" portion, because if I manage to get to mile 90 of the race, I will drag myself to the finish, even if I have to use my teeth for propulsion.

The last 10 miles of this race will most likely be during the morning of the next day, so the sun will serve as a pick-me-up and should rouse myself from the stupor that I would probably be in for most of the night.

Drop Bags

Three drop bags in total, all placed in key sections of the course where one phase changes into another.

The first drop bag will be at Habron Gap (53 miles). The drop bag will be my Camelbak. Inside the Camelbak will be an older headlamp, a short sleeve singlet, a long sleeve running shirt, a pair of running sandals, some Bag Balm, socks, Band Aids, and some toilet paper. Although I'm hoping to reach the next aid station (camp Roosevelt) at 63 miles before dark, it would be good to have all that I need in case I arrive at this aid station slower than usual. Plus, the Camelbak will probably be needed for the tough 9.5 mile stretch between this aid station and the next.

The second drop bag will be at 63 miles (Camp Roosevelt). This drop bag will have a couple of pairs of shoes and socks should I decide to change to a different pair. My newer headlamp will also be here for the long night's run. If I needed to use the older headlamp at mile 53, I'll be switching to the newer one here. I will also pack a thicker long-sleeve running shirt in case the weather turns real cool.

The third drop bag will be at the Gap Creek Aid Station (at miles 68.7 and at mile 95.5). Since I have access to this bag twice, I will have stuff from both night running plus running for the next day. Bag Balm, Band Aids, and fresh socks will also be included in this bag. A thick running jacket will be packed here in case I do get cold (which is a strong possibility). I will also carry a short sleeve singlet for mile 95.5, most likely in daylight when the temperatures start to rise again. I will also have another pair of running sandals available, just in case.

I will also carry a 4th "drop bag" from the starting line. This bag will be deposited at Aid Station 2 when I drop off my first headlamp after dawn breaks.

There will be absolutely no food in the bags. My ultra training history shows that about 90% of food that I place in these bags go untouched. The aid stations will have what I need for nutrition and hydration.

Clothes for the Start

Basic singlet, running shorts, running shoes with some cushioning, a water bottle carrier that goes in my hand, and a fuel belt with Bag Balm, toilet paper, and some Band Aids will be worn for the start. I aim to travel lightly for the first 53 miles of the race. The extra gear will be needed during the night-time hours. But until then, I want to stay light.

Race Strategy

My first goal is to make Camp Roosevelt (Mile 63) by daylight. If I can do that, I eliminate traversing a tough 9.5 mile stretch of trail between Habron Gap and Camp Roosevelt at night. With that done, I would have a great shot at finishing this race, no matter how I might feel during the overnight run. This is the reason why I want to be a little aggressive during the first 60 miles.

Even then, if I don't make it to Camp Roosevelt by nightfall, I do have the equipment at Habron Gap (Mile 53) to traverse that section by night, including cooler weather clothes and an older headlamp.

For the next 30 mile section, the strategy, like in Vermont is to "keep moving". In Vermont, I knew that my legs were going to stiffen up if I stopped, so I prevented that from happening by spending only 3-4 minutes at an aid station, then walking away quickly. Even the act of walking will prevent my legs from stiffening up. In Vermont, the only time I had to stop for an extended period of time (treating the blisters on my feet and changing socks), it was a good 10 minutes of walking very gingerly before my legs started to stiffen up. If I can minimize those episodes, then I can get myself through this phase very quickly.

For the last 10 miles, it's just willpower baby! Grit my teeth, put one foot in front of the other, and think about crossing that finish line, because it would now be within reach!

Well, wish me luck! This will be my last post before the race, so expect a (hopefully good) race report on the race next week.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thoughts - May 5 - The Pros of Actually Racing the 100 Mile Distance

I'm in the process of finalizing my strategy for the Massanutten 100 race coming up in a little over a week.

Now believe me, in all my years of racing the 100 mile ultra distance is the most difficult to finish. Especially when most of it is on single track trails.

So it might seem logical to play it safe here, bide my time, and the hurting should be kept to a minimal, right?

Well, no.

One thing I always hear from those who regularly do 100 mile ultras is that the hurting is always inevitable. It doesn't matter how slow one goes; it will hurt just the same.

And I'm never one to shy away from taking risks.

So this week, instead of a "playing it safe" scenario, I have decided to take a little bit more risk with this race. There are several powerful reasons for this:

1) The race is primarily over rough single-track trails. Over the past decade I have come to find out that I am more inefficient running too slowly over rocky trails. It feels unnatural and can increase the chances of sustaining an injury. As an example, most of the time, I turned my ankle taking it too easy on the trails. My more natural stride comes out when I go at a bit of a faster rate of speed. I am actually more efficient at that pace and would minimize myself from injuries.

2) I really would like to try to race this distance. I know that most runners who enter the race are just trying to survive and just get to the finish line, but it still is a race. How would I fare if I go in with a mentality to strive for a fast time on this course? That is one question that cannot be answered by "playing it safe". How would I ever know my true potential if I don't take some risks at this distance?

3) The faster pace will give me a chance to manage myself better through some true crises. This is a huge reason. I would have to be in a very heightened sense of awareness to prevent an onset of a crisis, manage crises when they do arrive, and recover well from those crises when they finally abate. It would be a great learning experience to see what mistakes I make and how to try to avoid those mistakes in future 100 milers.

4) I like to take a shot and go under 24 hours in the Leadville 100 race in August. Whatever might transpire at Massanutten can be a bit of a learning experience for Leadville.

Leadville 100

5) Even if I do not finish the race, at least I knew I gave it a good shot. Improving oneself is never without risks. To stay in ones "comfort zone" is to stay stagnant and never really improving much...and learning more about oneself in the process. To "live on the edge" is to really get a chance to see what one is made of. Sure, there is a greater possibility of a DNF, but it also gives one the possibility to realize his/her true potential. In this case, maybe I will have the race of my life. I would never get that possibility by playing it safe.

Now that you know the reasons for me taking the extra risk, I will lay out my plans for tackling this difficult course in the next blog entry.

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I will be volunteering at the Anthony Wayne Aid Station of the North Face Endurance Challenge station this Saturday. And the next week is my big race. After Massanutten, I'll be right back to planning group runs (and rides also for triathletes) on selected weekends.

I wish all of you luck on your respective races this weekends. If you are going to the North Face Endurance Challenge on Saturday, it's always easy to spot me. I'm the one with the Tilley hat on. Take a pause and say hi!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts - May 2 - High Rock Challenge and More Trail Races To Look Forward To

If you take a look at the schedule on the right, Massanutten is the only thing you see there.

Schedule -------------> ------------> ------------> ----------->

That's because that race is dominating my every thoughts at this time.

After the race though, I would like to continue leading some of the group trail runs in the Greenbelt. Some planning is in the works and I'll be happy to do it.

Trust me, I will be filling that schedule up *a lot*. You see, I have another 100 mile race in Leadville (video) coming up and I'm looking to finish in under 24 hours in that race.

That means running lots of miles. Which means a lot more time in the Greenbelt. Which means more opportunity for group runs.

I will be posting a nice write-up of the High Rock Challenge tomorrow here. I'll make sure there are a lot of pictures from the race included with the write-up.

Here's one:

I will like to congratulate all those who "challenged the Challenge" and finished. I hope you had a lot of fun out there.

The results of the High Rock Challenge are here, by the way.

As for other area trail races, we do have the Ladder 5 coming up and a NYARA 25k (15.5 mile) trail race in the late fall. The Super Spartan will be here too, and there is the Tough Mudder that will be in Englishtown, NJ.

Also, some possible trips to other areas include some trail runs from the NJ Trail Series and the Reading area races in Pennsylvania (Pretzel City Sports).

So that gives us some great excuses to continue running on the trails here. I will send out word later this week about what options might exist and to add to this schedule on the right.

Again, if you're interested in continuing the group trail runs, let me know. I can be reached at ironpete@ironpete.com.

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The saga with my bad toe continues...

It's not all bad. I just had my first run in a little over a week (5 miles). I just left the watch at home and concentrated on seeing whether it was feasible to run at all.

This was a road run. I'll try the trails later on.

Putting on the shoes, I knew the affected area was still slightly swollen; it was a bit crowded in the right shoe.

Once I started to run, I was OK. The newer techniques that I utilize (POSE, Chi Running) help a lot in this area. These techniques minimize the "toe off" portion of the running stride, so instead of pushing off from my toes, which would have been quite painful, I just lift the foot off the ground and let my forward lean do all the work.

The run went quite well. There is a downside though, and one I have to pay attention to. Landing on uneven areas, especially when the toe gets pushed upward, was quite painful. There was one area where my toes landed on a metal plate in the road and I was literally seeing stars.

On the road, it's not much of an issue. But I'm running on trails, where every step is uneven.

It makes for a very interesting situation when I get back on the trails again by the end of this week.

Overall I give the run a B minus. I can definitely run again, and so I'm grateful for that.

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Saturday May 7 is the North Face Endurance Challenge (50 mile, 50k, and relays). I will be stationed at the Anthony Wayne rest stop. I'm also looking to drag more volunteers into my station here. If anyone would like to come on down and help out, let me know. My email is ironpete@ironpete.com. There are three shifts available, an early morning shift, a late morning shift, and an afternoon shift. If interested, let me know ASAP. Thanks.

Secondly, the RD for the Vermont 100 contacted me and is looking for anyone who would want to pace some runners in the race for the last 30 miles. Although you will be most likely walking a lot of the distance, the prerequisite for pacer is that you will be confident in traversing the distance. If you can, it is a fun way to see first hand what a 100 mile race feels like. This was my first ever exposure to the 100 mile distance and I will never forget it!

Anyway, I told the RD that I will only go up there if I had other people to share expenses with who will want to do it with me. So let me know if you're interested. Again, the email is ironpete@ironpete.com.