Tag Archives: Pekin Illinois

I am now officially a special kind of idiot

9 Apr

Ten years ago, I took up marathoning as a physical challenge. This year, as I celebrated my 50th birthday, I wanted to take that challenge to another level. And thus was born the idiotic idea of running a 50-mile race in my 50th year.

Buckle and QuoteActually, everyone around me thought it was idiotic. I thought it was pretty cool. I liked the symmetry of the thing. And since, at heart, I’m a stubborn guy, I stuck with my idea.

That stubbornness paid off when, after 15 1/2 hours on the trails on Saturday, I completed the Potawatomi Trail Run 50 in Pekin, Ill. (The race features 100- and 150-mile runs, too, but I’m not that crazy.) The race takes place in McNaughton Park, a large forest preserve on the edge of town, and features a 10-mile loop that I would have to complete 5 times.

It was an amazing experience — definitely one of the most memorable events I’ve participated in. It started before the sun came up, and for me, it didn’t end until 2 hours after sunset.

Barb and I pose before taking off on another lap. I've completed 30 miles at this point, and Barb is getting ready to pace me for her first lap.

Barb and I pose before taking off on another lap. I’ve completed 30 miles at this point, and Barb is getting ready to pace me for her first lap.

Along the way, I met a lot of neat people, runners and volunteers alike. And the support I received from friends and family made the difference in my completing the event. I got texts and messages from all kinds of people before, during and after the run. Knowing I had so many people pulling for me made it that much easier to finish the race.

But I couldn’t have finished the race without the love and support of my wife, Barb. She planned on doing one lap with me — probably starting with mile 30. But she ended up doing two loops, and in the dark of night, her gentle encouragement and first-hand support was invaluable.

I am admittedly a neophyte at ultras, so take the following lessons with a grain of salt, but here are a few lessons I learned at my first ultra:

  • Traditional road marathons and ultramarathons are so different that it’s hard to even compare the two. I’m sure some trail runs don’t have as many hills as this one, but I think many do. And the extreme ups and downs on the trails first strain your hamstrings and then shred your quads. And I’ve never stepped around roots, balance-beamed over a log or arrested my descent on a nearby tree during a road race.
  • There are standouts in every sport. When I first took up marathoning, I was awed by the runners who could pound out 4:45 miles over and over again. I still am. At this weekend’s race, I watched another breed of outstanding athlete. I saw runners churn out 150 miles over the span of 48 hours, pausing for little more than one brief cat nap. (Mad props to Spencer Swearingen of Morton, Ill., the son of my colleague in Carthage, Joy Swearingen.) And I watched some young studs finish the 50-miler in just over 8 hours, 17 minutes.

See this post for pre-race insights on the park and the trail.

  • There’s a different vibe to the participants, the spectators and the organizers. I get the feeling that trail ultras attract the outdoorsy crowd. The parking lot was filled with Subarus and the finish chute was lined by tents — by necessity. Admittedly, this was a relatively small race, but most everyone seemed extremely friendly; slower runners would concede the trail to faster runners, and I never failed to hear a “Good job” from any of them. It just had a very collegial feel — except for the one bitchy runner who wanted everyone off “her” balance-beam log NOW. Oh, well, there’s one in every crowd.
  • Blisters truly are the enemy. In the couple of dozen road races I’ve done, I’ve never had a serious problem with blisters. I battled a half dozen on Saturday. From my research, I knew blisters could/would be a problem. I taped my heels beforehand because I had gotten some blisters on training runs, and my heels stayed good the entire run. But I developed blisters on the ends of several toes and one on the ball of my right foot.
  • A headlight that’s fine for the roads may not be up to snuff on the trails. I do many of my training runs in the dark, and I’ve got a couple of headlights I use for those. But it’s twice as dark in the forest after the sun goes down, and it only gets worse when it starts raining. (Yes, we endured a few sprinkles, a 10-minute downpour and a whole lot of lightning.)
  • Chicken soup is not only good for the soul; it’s good for the ultrarunner. Although the race featured a smorgasbord of foods – boiled potatoes, potato chips, GORP, licorice, Gummi worms, bacon, PB&J sandwiches, energy gels, oranges and on and on – nothing sounded very good after 30 miles. But a slightly warm Campbell’s chicken noodle soup hit the spot, and I ate a couple cups of that at the aid stations every 5 miles or so. The sodium and the broth proved to be a perfect elixir. I’m trying to figure out how I can adapt this to my road races.
  • You can’t be held to any promises made on the trail. Barb did two laps with me, and somewhere in the middle of those she extracted a promise that I would never again do another race this long or this crazy. And I kind of agreed. But I was thinking today, if I had just done a little bit more hill training…

Click on any photo below to launch the photo gallery.

It’s the final countdown…

4 Apr

No more talking about my first ultramarathon. It’s time to do it. Thank god.

My crew of one — wife Barb — and I head to Pekin, Ill., on Friday afternoon to prepare for Saturday’s run in the Potawatomi Trail 50. The 50-mile race begins at 6 a.m. I hope to be done in 12-15 hours from the start.

I’ve spent much of this week in final preparations. I’ve set aside a bunch of shirts, socks and shorts. I’ve waterproofed four sets of running shoes. (The trail includes at least a couple of creek crossings.) I’ve prepared some maltodextrin-spiked water bottles. I’ve run my last couple of short, stretch-the-legs training runs. I’ve thunk and re-thunk this thing.

Time to run.

Follow me:

  • I plan to run with my iPhone and my Endomondo app running. If it works right, you can follow me live at this link.
  • The race directors have a group on Facebook that can be found at this link. There will be updates throughout the weekend. (In addition to the 50, there are 100- and 150-mile races, and a 30-mile “fun” run. Sadists.)
  • And Barb will post occasionally to either her Facebook page or my Facebook page.

I’ll let you know next week how it went.

You can wish me well in the comments below. I could use all the support I can get.

GPS drawing: 50 miler pending

28 Mar
GPS drawing of a "50"

Only 9 more days until my ^ miler.

With my long runs behind me for this training cycle, I’ve resorted to entertaining myself in other ways. Like, drawing pictures with my GPS tracker.

The drawing above is the Endomondo route tracking from Thursday night’s run on the streets of Keokuk, Iowa. I only tracked a portion of the run — about a mile and a half of what was overall a 4.3-mile run.

With only 9 days until the Potawatomi Trail 50 in Pekin, Ill., my remaining runs are all short. I ran 6 last night, and I’ll do a 10-miler this weekend, and then just a couple of 3- or 4-milers next week.

I’ve built all the endurance I can hope to build. Right now, it’s all about getting healed. My left hamstring attachment at the ischial tuberosity is hurting again; I’ve been slamming ibuprofen a couple of times a day in hopes of calming the inflammation. But at this point, I’m just going to have to deal with it on April 6. I’ve put in too much time and effort to stop now.

The long-range forecast calls for only one day of rain between now and race day — Saturday, April 6. There is still a bit of snow on the ground from this past weekend’s 10-inch snowfall, but temperatures in the 40s and 50s over the next few days should take care of that. Now, if the warmer temps will just firm up the trails.

I’ve got some packing to do, getting my extra shoes, shirts and socks ready for the race. I need to prepare my race fuel.

But most of all, I’m ready to get this show on the road trail.

♦ ♦ ♦

If you missed it earlier, this post features photos and a scouting report on the Potawatomi Trail in Pekin.

This post details a battle I’ve had with blisters.

And this post tells some of the things I’ve been trying to stay fueled on the roads.

Ultramarathon: Ready or not, here I come

12 Mar
The Mississippi River can be seen in the distance as River Road makes a bend a few miles north of Keokuk, Iowa, on a gray March 2013 day.

The Mississippi River can be seen in the distance as River Road makes a bend a few miles north of Keokuk, Iowa, on a gray March 2013 day.

When do you know you’re ready for a race? Well, not just any race. But a race that is a one giant challenge beyond anything you’ve done before.

That’s a question I wish I could answer definitively.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve run 9 marathons and 8 half-marathons. In that time, the only time I had real doubts was for my first marathon. I worried about finishing within my goal time. I worried about finishing with a minimum level of pain. But I never really doubted my ability to complete the race.

30-mile run from Keokuk, Iowa.

30-mile run from Keokuk, Iowa.

In three weeks, I’ll tackle my first ultramarathon — the Potawatomi Trail 50 in Pekin, Ill. — and I have doubts aplenty.

Today, I finished my last pre-race long run, a 30-miler. I had back-to-back runs planned for Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, I waited out the rains and got in my 10-miler. On Sunday, the rains didn’t stop until late afternoon, so there was no hope of getting in a long run. So Monday, I took a half-day of vacation. It was gray and windy (25-35 mph) and fairly cold (32), particularly considering the wind.

That’s the longest I’ve ever run. It was my lone 30-miler. My hamstrings were tightening, my quads were aching, my feet were hurting, my pace was falling. And I wonder if I have enough long runs in me to complete the ultra.

For marathons, I’ve been able to fuel myself with gels and sports drinks and the like. But I expect to be on the trails three times longer than any marathon I’ve run, and I don’t think I can stomach the processed fuel for that amount of time. I’ve been trying lots of different food and drink in training, but toward the end of my 30-miler, my stomach was queasy and I was reluctant to take in any other fuel. I wonder how I’m going to handle my fueling needs for another 20 miles.

Fish on the road dropped by an eagle

An eagle is missing dinner.

The Potawatomi will be my first trail race. I made a trip to Pekin to see the trail a few weeks ago. Wow. They won’t be growing corn on these trails, which rise and fall like a rollercoaster. I wonder what those hills will do to my quads, and I wonder how my ankles will handle the tricky footing.

These are just a few of my unanswered questions. But if I had all the answers, if everything was a certainty, then it wouldn’t be a challenge, would it?

It’s easy to fall into a rut. An old boss of mine had a favorite phrase: The only difference between a rut and grave is the depth of the hole.

I want to continue to explore the world around me. I want to see new places, try new foods, meet new people. I want to push myself mentally and physically.

As I celebrate a landmark birthday (my 50th) this year, I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone. At the time, running a 50 at 50 sounded like a good idea. Now I wonder if I was crazy. I’ll answer that question April 6.

Scouting trip: Potawatomi Trail run

26 Jan

Click on any photo to launch the gallery.

Narrow trails, steep hills and slippery footing; sounds like fun!

I’ve spent a lot of miles on the road over the past 10 years, training for and competing in 17 marathons or half marathons.  But trail runs and ultramarathons are a whole new challenge. So if I’m going to tackle the Potawatomi Trail 50 in April, I figured I needed to reconnoiter the course.

And, boy, was it enlightening.

Here are a few of the things I learned on a short trail run on Saturday:

  1. 1,600 feet of rise is quite a bit. The race’s website said that runners will experience 1,600 feet of elevation gain during one 10-mile lap. I really had no context for that number. But after a 5-mile test run, I learned that means there are plenty of hills. There are quite a few very steep climbs on the trail, as you can see from some of the photos in the gallery above. Barb suggested I should add some workouts on the stepper into my routine, and I think that’s a pretty good idea.
  2. Trail speed and road speed are different. A review of lap times from previous years had me stumped. For the 50-mile race (they have a 100-mile and a 150-mile race, too), the fastest runner finished the first lap at about the same pace that I run a 10-mile training run. I know that I won’t be among the fastest runners, but I wasn’t quite sure how to judge those times. But after seeing the switchbacks, the steep ascents and descents, the slippery footing in what is probably some of the best trail conditions, I could understand why the times were so much slower.
  3. A single track trail will offer challenges in footing. This wasn’t a surprise, really, but today’s run put it in some perspective. There had been no recent rains or snows, and, with temperatures in the mid-20s, the trail was dry and firm. But that could easily change in early April. Plus the forest floor was covered in leaves, which were slippery as you made your way up or down steep slopes. And rocks and dried mud made for an uneven landing spot for your feet. I had debated whether I should purchase trail shoes, but after today’s run, I’m pretty sure I will.
  4. A number of steep hills means there will be a number of creeks. They were frozen or dry now. That may not be the case in April.
  5. Blisters could develop fast. Neither Barb nor I had any blisters after our 5-mile test run, but we had plenty of hot spots. Blisters probably weren’t far behind. The steep hills had our feet and toes working in ways that they don’t normally work on the roads. And in general, blisters can be a problem over an ultra. Some runners tape their feet before they even set out.

That’s a lot of learning for a simple 5-mile run.

Apparently, it was revealing for the wife and daughter, too. On the ride home, Barb asked if I really wanted my first 50-mile run to be on such a steep, winding trail. A 50-mile road run would be easier, she reasoned.

And daughter Laura, after seeing the photos of the trails, said, basically, I wasn’t very smart to tackle a challenge like this at my advanced age. (Well, some of that may be my interpretation of what she said.)

Admittedly, there is some trepidation on my part. By definition, a challenge isn’t easy. But it can certainly be fun.

♦ ♦ ♦

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Read this post for my race report on the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile run.

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