Thoughts on fitness, health, good nutrition ... and running.

Welcome to Bald Man Running, a blog launched by Frank Murphy on January 1, 2015.

Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro"). I will continue to add articles as I find them, polish them up and import them.

In March, 2013 I was selected as a contestant for the sixth season of Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner. Through this amazing program, I learned about good nutrition, sound exercise and accountability. By October, I would lose over 88 pounds (almost 37% of my original weight)! One of the many things I acquired through FWSW was a love for running. You can retrace my weight loss journey and discover how I became a runner by reading those entries labeled "fwsw" ...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Event Report: 2017 Dawg Gone Long Run 50k

Event Report: 2017 Dawg Gone Long Run 50k
Caesar Creek State Park (Waynesville, OH)

This is the third event in the Ohio River Road Runners Club (ORRRC) "No Way 200k" ultramarathon series. Information about the entire series can be found at: http://orrrc.org/club-events-and-series/200k-no-way-trail-series.

As another ORRRC race, much about the other ORRRC events applies here as well. It’s a nice, inexpensive race. The volunteers do a fine job. The field is small (typically 100-ish or so runners), and everybody had a great attitude. This is a good event.

Unlike the other events in this series, DGLR featured two options: a 50k and a 50 miler. I chose the 50k. If you start the 50 miler, but do not finish, you don't get finisher’s credit, even if you pass 50k. I briefly considered the longer race, but my goal is to finish the series and I didn’t want to jeopardize that.

Packet pickup is “day of” only and starts an hour before the race. The 6:30 a.m. start is earlier than the other races in this series, and is much appreciated. This was likely because they needed to accommodate the 50 mile option.

I think they allow 50k runners the same amount of time to finish (cut-off of 13 hours), so if you’re looking for a first ultra with a generous cut-off time, this is one to consider.

The Weather
The day before the race it rained for about 12 hours. Fortunately, there was no rain on the day of the race, but it created a slick, mud-slathered course. Temperature-wise, race day was fairly comfortable. I was careful to maintain proper hydration.

The Course
The course is roughly a 16.5 mile loop. 50 milers run it three times and 50k runners do it twice. Notice that two-thirds of 50 miles is actually over 33 miles. Whenever you run a race like this (50mi and 50k share a course), the 50k course is usually longer than 50k. I was told the actual length of the loop was 16.3 miles, which means the 50 miler was a bit short.

The area around the start/finish line is paved. It helps to wear hybrid shoes that won’t hurt on hard surfaces. Overall, about 3-4 miles of the course is paved, which isn’t too bad. In some of the paved areas, you can run on a soft shoulder, which I did.

The loop is nearly split in half by the primary aid station. The first half of the loop was fairly easy terrain. While there was a lot of mud from the previous day's storms, it was generally flat and easy enough to navigate. I was able to run for extended periods of time.

There were a few wooden bridges, which were extra slick, so that warranted extra caution. One bridge had washed out, so there was an unplanned creek crossing, but it wasn’t too bad. For the most part, you could keep your feet dry if that was important to you.

The second half of the loop was a lot of rolling terrain. It was never very steep, but it was also never very flat. With the mud and my own timidity, it was extremely slow going. I had the stamina and energy to run, but wound up walking a lot between miles 10-15 simply because I never felt like I could safely build up momentum.

This was really frustrating. I’ve had to walk long stretches during other ultras, and I’m okay with that. It’s usually because I’m tired and trying to regroup. In this case, I was itching to run, but couldn’t.

The mud was the worst kind, in my opinion. It was a slimy thin layer that coated an otherwise hard trail surface. That made the path extra slick, which is far scarier to me than trying to slog through an ankle deep mud bog. I was afraid of a foot slipping out from under me and pulling a groin muscle, or falling hard on the trail and rolling down a hill, or worse.

Most of the course was single track. In many places, the grass on either side of the single track was really high (as in “armpit high”). I was warned about this by someone during the prior 50k in the series, so I decided to wear leggings instead of shorts. I’m glad that I did this. Getting this kind of insider information is a bonus benefit to doing a series of races.

One thing I noticed many times over was the sheer volume of natural debris on the trail: fallen trees, rocks, etc. I overheard several local runners say things like “remember when this tree fell across the path a few years ago?” Sometimes it’s hard to climb over big tree trunks, especially when you’re 28 miles into the race.

As a person who runs regularly at Chain O Lakes State Park (Albion, IN), I’m used to trails that are maintained year round by dedicated volunteers. I realize this is the exception and not the rule.

By the time I had finished the first loop, I had come to the conclusion that this was a stupid race. I hated the course. It wasn’t fun. I’ve ran courses with more hills, flooding, etc., but this course was probably the most difficult I’d ever attempted because of the patience required in dealing with the mud. Starting the second loop, I was low in spirit and dreading what was to come after passing the manned aid station. I was certain that I would become even more miserable.

I remember saying to myself that the course was “not unrelentless” (which I know is a triple negative … and I was feeling triply negative at the time, so it’s completely appropriate and accurate).

Imagine my surprise when I got into the sucky part of the course, yet it looked totally different to me. It had started drying out in several places and I was able to run more often. I had plenty of gas in my tank and it felt really good to really run again. There was still a fair amount of mud, but the course condition had noticeably improved.

By the time I finished the second loop, I was in much better spirits and the race didn’t seem quite so dumb anymore. Overall, this is a good race, and while I moved much slower than I had planned, I left with a good feeling. I had safely completed the challenge and was injury-free.

Aid Stations
Full service aid stations were at the start/finish line and about halfway into the loop. Two unmanned aid stations (with coolers containing water and Tailwind) were situated in between the full service stations. Fare was limited, but adequate: PBJ, chips, pretzels, some fruit, etc. I’ve experienced both better and worse at other ultra events.

You could leave a drop bag at the start/finish (which I did) and/or have a bag taken to the loop’s halfway point (which I did not do). I like having options with drop bags, even I don’t always use them.

I can say I’m not a huge fan of unmanned stations. When I got to the first station (about mile 4), the coolers looked like they hadn’t been filled yet. I was near the back of the pack, so this likely meant that nobody got aid from that stop.

Also, the unmanned stations did not have any cups until late in the day. I carried a water bottle, which was easy enough to refill at the coolers; however, getting Tailwind was another matter. I wound up on my hands and knees, squirting Tailwind directly into my mouth. It was needlessly awkward. Towards the end of the day, paper cups were available, so race officials addressed this concern mid-race. I like that kind of responsiveness.

I realize the logistical concerns that necessitate having aid stations unmanned. I’m sympathetic. I do think they’re better than nothing. Still, I’m still not a fan.

Post-race fare was pizza. Yawn. If that’s your thing, then you’re happy. I wound up getting something to eat afterwards on the drive home.

No shirt! Crazy, I know. You do get a “Dawg Gone” branded buff with your registration packet, and finishers receive a modest medal that looks like dog tags (but is not actual dog tags). This is the first race of the series that gives you a medal, so I was pleased to get that. I’m very happy with the bling.

Unforgettable Moment
Around mile 15, there was a steep downhill section with wooden steps layered into the hillside. Without even really thinking, I started down those slick steps at too fast of a pace. Sure enough, a foot slipped out from under me, and I started barreling down the hill completely out of control. My arms were flailing wildly, and there was nothing to grab. Neither could I see a safe place to fall. My life was repeatedly flashing before my eyes … well, not my whole life, just the part where I fell and broke my foot last year, I was genuinely terrified.

Do what you will with this paragraph… what happened next is something I’ll never forget. I could swear that someone steadied me. I could feel a hand in each armpit steering me through the last twenty feet of that terrifying free fall. I arrived at the bottom of the hill on two feet … and my heart rate at 300 bpm. If you’ve got an explanation for what I experienced, that’s fine. I’m convinced I was a split second from serious injury before a supernatural intervention. I can easily give God credit for this one. I’m very thankful.

Overall, I’m glad I did this race. It’s one step close to completing the No Way 200k series. It was also my tenth ultra finish (11th ultra start), so it was nice to hit a significant milestone at the finish line.

One race left in the No Way 200k series … watch out, Germantown 50k! I’m coming...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Event Report: 2017 Another Dam 50k

Event Report: Another Dam 50k
Englewood Metropark (Englewood, OH)

Yet another dam event report? Yep. Even if nobody reads it, I'll still write another dam event report.
This is the second event in the Ohio River Road Runners Club (ORRRC) "No Way 200k" ultramarathon series. Information about the entire series can be found at: http://orrrc.org/club-events-and-series/200k-no-way-trail-series.

To learn more about the first event in this series, see my blog entry at http://www.baldmanrunning.com/2017/05/event-report-2017-tie-dye-50k.html.

If I complete four of the races in this series, I win a special award (which appears to be jacket). I probably would not have signed up for another dam 50k if it wasn't part of the series. I love multi-event swag.

ORRRC puts on inexpensive events without sacrificing too much quality. Like the other events in this series, the registration fee was less than $50. I didn't get the "Early Bird" rate, but I think it was about $25.

Also, field size is limited to about 100 runners (as was Tie Dye). I'm glad that I didn't have to wait on another dam waiting list to get in to this event. If you want to run these events, sign up early. It's not a bad idea to start checking the ORRRC website in January/February if you want to run ORRRC events.

Tie Dye was 14 days prior to this event, so I was either in recovery mode or taper mode leading up to this event. I'm not sure which.

I did another dam carb load meal two days before the event. Fazoli's. I was underwhelmed. Why do I go there? I'm not sure any more.

I drove down the day before. I left Fort Wayne around 6:00 p.m. and ate my dinner on the drive to Dayton. On the evening before a race, I usually eat a PBJ, a piece of fruit and some Veggie Straws. I got to another dam hotel around 9:00 p.m. It was very inexpensive... and kind of scary. I was fortunate to get to sleep quickly and I woke up the next morning without any problems. I had packed my own breakfast (oatmeal), which I cooked using the in-room microwave. No fuss, no hassles.

Packet Pickup
They don't offer pre-race packet pickup, so you need to get there early; however the park didn't open until 7:00 a.m., so if you get there too early, you just sit there and wait.

The race started at 8:00 a.m. I wish it could have started an hour (or two) earlier. Before the race was over, temperatures would soar into the 90s and there was little cloud cover on significant parts of the course. An earlier start may be beyond the control of the race director, and if so, I understand; however, a couple of hours earlier would have allowed us to avoid another dam couple hours of heat.

At packet pickup, you get another dam bib and a cotton t-shirt with the event logo. It's not like I needed another dam shirt, but I'll wear it. I like the slightly naughty sound of the event name (perhaps you've noticed).

Pre-race announcements were short, sweet and to the point. Another dam race director actually started the race about 3 minutes early, which just might be unprecedented in the annals of trail races.

The Course
The course is a loop that is almost 8 miles long, which you run four times for a total of 31.7 miles. Several people finished with slightly less than that distance on their GPS devices, but the race director was repeatedly adamant that the course length was precisely 31.7 miles. I finished with just slightly less than 31 miles, but I do know my Garmin dropped signal a few times. I'll take his word for it.

The course is kind of shaped like a warped barbell. You run a mini-loop on the west side of the park for a few miles, cross the dam to the east side of the park to run a few more miles, then go back across the dam again to complete the eight mile loop. This means that the name of the event is misleading. There's no "another" dam... it's just the same dam over and over again. Without shade. It's about 6.5 total miles of running back and forth across that dam (eight times in total). Without shade (yes, I repeated that on purpose).

When you're not running on the dam, you get a decent amount of shade on a well-groomed course. It's quite pretty, and the weather of the prior week was cooperative (no heavy rainfall to muck up the course). The course is not very technical and there are no real hills to wear you out. I did find that the sunlight cast a lot of interesting shadows on the ground which resembled roots and other obstacles. I've not experienced much of this phenomenon, so it was mildly disorienting. I survived.

Course markings were more than adequate. I'm thankful that I didn't wind up making another dam excursion into the great unknown. Any races where I don't get lost multiple times is doing something right.

There is a partial aid station at the start/finish (water and Gatorade only). This is where you can leave a drop bag if you'd like. There is another dam aid station about 2.5 miles into the loop, which you'll hit again about 3 miles later. This is a full-service stop with liquids and food. You're never more than 3 miles from an aid station the entire day.

As far as fare goes, it's adequate. Pretzels, PBJ, fruit, chips, etc. If you're used to running with the IT crowd, you're spoiled (it's not as good as IT runners get during a training run), but it's sufficient. Overall, I'm not a big fan of the "liquids only" stops, but I understand the reasons to do it that way.

Post-race food is pizza, which is fine, I guess. I'm not a big pizza fan, and by the time I finish, it's cold pizza. I wound up getting another dam post-race meal at a nearby Waffle House (which included a little extra attitude from the waitress).

I don't think I wore the right shoes. I chose Salomon Sense Pro shoes, which I have worn in several ultra races. They're great when the ground is a little muddy or otherwise soft, but this was a lot of hard terrain. Perhaps a quarter of the race is on paved or gravel roads, which is a lot of time spent "off trail." By the end of the race, the soles of both feet were significantly more sore than they usually are after a comparable race. I imagine this is what it feels like to run a road marathon in minimalist shoes. Unpleasant.

In retrospect, I probably would have been better off to wear a pair of more heavily cushioned road shoes. Traction wouldn't have been a problem, and I could have avoided some sole-searing post-race discomfort. I need to find a pair of trail shoes that are more suited for this kind of surface.

I wore a belt with a pouch (for my phone) and a holster (for a water bottle). As I neared the end of the third loop, I dropped my water bottle and it broke. I am always breaking water bottles, but this was a bigger bummer because the water bottle is customized for the belt. Fortunately, I had a hand held in the drop bag. I felt pretty smart for bringing a backup.

Finisher Bling
Finishers get a tech shirt. It's different from the shirt you get at packet pickup. As far as bling goes, I was a little disappointed. Give me a coffee cup or a beanie or a medal or a coupon to a running store... but another dam shirt? I've got a ton of race shirts!

Having said that, it's a nice shirt. I'll wind up wearing it more frequently than I do most race shirts. It's the perfect shade of neon yellow to go along with my banana man tights. So, one day soon, you just might see me on the trail in my tight yellow tights while wearing another dam yellow shirt. Feel free to say hi!

The aid station volunteers were quite nice, and the course marshals were a hoot (perhaps the highlight of the event, as far as I'm concerned). I appreciated their encouragement and kindness. Most races brag about having great volunteers, and I think ORRRC is safe to add another dam notch in their belt in this department.

My Performance
The time limit for this event is 9 hours. My goal was to finish another dam race in 7 hours. I finished at 7:14. My splits (per lap) were 1:26, 1:31, 2:02, 2:14.

I felt great through the first two loops. I was moving well, and the heat was manageable. However, the temperature continued to climb and that's when the mind games started.

I had a few flashback memories of my first marathon: 2014 Sunburst (South Bend, IN). It was very hot and humid that day, and I had serious dehydration issues followed by the worst muscle spasms and cramps I've ever experienced. I wound up walking the last six miles of Sunburst simply because I couldn't run anymore. It was a miserable end to an otherwise glorious experience. For a while, I doubted I would be able to make it to the finish line. I did finish, but Sunburst left its mark on me. I didn't want another dam day of serious heat-related problems, so I chose to rein it in, play it safe, and walk a little more than I had initially planned.

I did pray for some cloud cover when not in the shady woods, and I'm thankful for the occasional relief that God provided.

(Random observation alert!) I often start an ultra race thinking that I could spend some of the solitary portions of the race in prayer. For whatever reason, it never really works out that way. I just get too distracted I guess. I wonder if other ultra runners talk to God a lot while running...

When I finished the third loop at 5:00, I knew that 7:00 was off the table, which took a lot of self-imposed pressure off of me. I just enjoyed the last loop and tried to take in some of the sights that I had missed on the previous three loops (except on the dam... there's not another dam thing to see when you're on it... just get to other side). For instance, there are a few waterfalls that I had missed. I am frequently surprised by how many new things there are to see on the last loop of an ultra ...

It was a little slower than I would have liked, but I'm happy with the day. This was my seventh marathon+ race since March 2017, and only two weeks after my previous 50k. I came out injury-free. I'll take it.

Would I be willing to run it again next year? Sure, I'm willing to give it another dam shot...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Event Report: 2017 Tie Dye 50k

Event: Tie Dye 50k
John Bryan State Park (Yellow Springs, OH)

This is the first event in the Ohio River Road Runners Club (ORRRC) “No Way 200k” ultra series. Information about the entire series can be found at:


The ORRRC hosts five ultras in 2017. Everyone who runs four of the five races earns a bonus award. I am attempting to complete the first four events, and I might try for the fifth if my schedule permits. Each event is in the wider Dayton, OH area.

These events are fairly low cost. Depending on when you register, fees range from $25-$50. This is a sweet deal for an ultra. There is also a “no frills” registration, in which you pay less, but don’t get a shirt. I’m not sure if all ORRRC events do this. For those who have way too many shirts, this is an attractive option. I wish more races did this.

The weekend before this race, I participated in a three day relay from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis (Indiana Run For The Fallen). Out of 140 miles, I ran 64 miles (on the road, not trail). This race was less than a week later. I came through the relay without injury, but I was exhausted. I knew I wouldn’t be fully recovered or at my peak. I wouldn’t have registered for this event if it weren’t for the 200k series. My goal was to simply finish ahead of the nine hour cutoff.

I toyed with idea of driving to the race from Fort Wayne on the morning of the race, but I had a hotels.com coupon, so I got a cheap room not too far from the race. It cost me $8, and even then I might have overpaid for the room. I don’t need a ritzy hotel, but this place was so run down that it was depressing.

You do get a “pre-race” email from the director with last minute details and instructions. While not absolutely necessary, I always appreciate this kind of information. I’ve usually got a few pre-race jitters and this kind of stuff helps me settle down.

They call this the “Tie Dye” 50k, but they don’t really embrace the theme. While you could buy an optional tie dye shirt, there were no themed signs, costumes, etc. This is a small thing, and not a big deal to most runners, but I do know some people who sign up for events based on the promise of a bunch of fun “extracurricular” activities. For example, Run Woodstock (Hell, MI) has bands playing 60’s music, hula hoop contests, yoga sessions, and even making your own tie dye shirts. Many people choose to run Woodstock because of the theme. All of this to say … if you’re expecting something like Woodstock, you’ll be disappointed. If that stuff doesn’t matter to you, then you’ll be fine.

In the week prior to the event, there had been a lot of rain. The course was muddy and/or submerged for long sections.

It was mildly chilly at the start (7:30 am), so I started in a long sleeve tech shirt and shorts. Somewhere between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, we had a thunderstorm that contributed significantly to existing muddiness and increased water levels. The temperature and humidity also climbed steadily throughout the day.

Please note: I’m not complaining about the weather. I’m simply saying that for me the difficulty level was ramped a bit because of the weather conditions.

The Race Itself
This is a 32 mile race, which is two loops on a 16 mile course. Apparently, in years past, you could sign up for a one or two loop race. I don’t think they offered the one loop option this year.

Note: mileage estimates in this section are rough guesses.

The first five miles are on nice wide trails. There was some muddiness, but nothing too bad. I thought the course would be a breeze as I was able to motor right along. I would soon enough find out that I was very wrong.

Then I came to the gorge. For about a mile I ran along the top of a cliff (not too close to the edge … it was safe), and I could occasionally see a raging river below me. It is absolutely gorgeous along this part of the course, and I was still able to move along at a brisk pace.

Around mile six, I took some stairs to the bottom of the gorge and ran about two miles along the river bank. When the water level is normal, I suppose it’s quite a nice path, but with so much rain, there were significant portions of the trail that were completely underwater. At first, it was ankle deep, but eventually I was slogging through some portions that were up to my crotch! It was really deep and made for some very slow going. It was intimidating too.

Around mile eight, I finally exited the gorge and ducked back into the woods. I found the first full-service aid station at mile nine (there was an unmanned water jug at mile 4). This was well stocked and the volunteers were superb. They asked everyone to manually check in each time they came through the aid station, which I appreciate. I had a drop bag at this station, which came in handy. I would wind up hitting this aid station at miles 9, 13, 25 and 29.

Coming into the first stop, I decided to switch to a lighter, short sleeve shirt because it was getting hot. I managed to get my sweat-soaked shirt off, but got distracted somehow and about a half mile after leaving the aid station, I realized I had forgot to put the other shirt on. I find myself doing this too often for my own good … I intend to do something specific at the aid station, but forget to take care of it when I get there.

Leaving the aid station, I entered “The Lollipop” which is a four mile loop with a variety of terrain. Compared to the rest of the course, this was medium difficulty. I came back to the same aid station at mile 13.

The last three miles of the loop take you through a lot (and I mean *a lot*) of switchbacks on some moderately difficult terrain. The start/finish line is also a fully-stocked aid station.

I finished the first loop in four hours, and I was pleased with that considering the conditions. It had started raining really hard, and I knew my second loop would be more difficult. It was. Oh yes, it was.

The “easy” part of the loop was fine, but when I got back to the river bank, I had a much harder time finding my way. The water level was also higher and I got lost more than once. Thankfully, my Garmin allows me to see a map of my current run, and I was able to see where I had been on loop one. I was forced to rely more heavily on this map than I did the course markings.

Some course markings had been blown away in the storm or were moved by park visitors (the park is not closed to the public for this race).  I even passed a couple that told me they’d moved a course marker a little behind them (apparently, it was in their way?) and they were nice enough to tell me to bear left at the fork I would soon approach. I wonder what would have happened had they not said something…

I wound up getting lost coming out of The Lollipop again. Fortunately, I stumbled across the race director who kindly helped me get back on track.

Regarding elevation: not much. There were some hills, but that wasn’t the prominent feature of the course.

Regarding tree cover: Most of the course had significant tree cover, which was helpful when it was raining. Very little of the course was over open ground.

I signed up for the tech shirt, and it’s a nice shirt. It’s simply adorned with a pocket-sized logo on the chest, which is unique. Most races shirts have a lot of text on it (sponsors, etc). I like the spartan design of the race shirt.

Tie dye cotton shirts were available separately at the registration table. I did not buy one. You could swap your tech shirt for the tie dye one.

Instead of a race medal, I got a small ceramic pot. I’m not sure what it is called. It’s too stubby to be a flower vase. It’s kind of like a coffee mug without the handle. I don’t mind something a little different, so it’s kind of cool. If you’re a runner who wants a medal, then you’ll be disappointed.

The event staff was nice, personable and helpful. I’ve ran a few ORRRC events, and will continue to do so. They’ve struck the difficult balance between providing a nice event and staging an inexpensive event. If you’re thinking about running an ORRRC event, I can give a hearty recommendation.

I would have liked to see another aid station between the start finish and the start of the Lollipop. The unmanned aid station at mile 4.5 simply isn’t adequate. Due to pre-race communication, I knew it was unmanned, so I was prepared. I realize it’s difficult to add volunteers, equipment, etc. This is a small thing, and doesn’t keep me from enjoying or recommending this event.

My other suggestion would be to improve on the course markings a bit. I think it was adequate on loop one, but was significantly less helpful on loop two. Perhaps some signage that alerts park visitors that a race is in progress would be helpful. There were portions of the trail where I’d like to have seen a few more sanity flags. This is also a small thing, and I understand some of the factors contributing to the problems were outside of the director’s control.

Final Thoughts
My spirits were high throughout the entire race and I’m really glad that I did it. It was hard, but I was harder (you know what I mean, right?). I beat the sweeper by about 20 minutes, which was cutting it pretty close (getting lost didn’t help me much), but in the end, I did it. I’m thankful God watched over me and got me safely to the finish line without injury.

I’m actually glad the course turned out to be so soupy/poopy, because now I’ve got my very own ultra war story. I’m pretty sure that each time I talk about this race, it’ll get increasingly extreme. I suppose that by my tenth retelling, there will be schools of piranha and hordes of pirates along the way.

I can easily say this is the most challenging race I’ve ever completed, and that includes two 50 Mile events. Each ultra I’ve attempted had it’s own challenges. Trying to navigate crotch deep water trumps every other challenge I’ve faced. I came prepared to run in mud, heat, cold, etc., but I have never trained in these conditions, so much of this experience was new to me. I’m thankful that I was able to overcome new obstacles and win the day.

Final shoutout to my fellow members of Three Rivers Ultra Running Team:
Mike Else and Sam Bird also ran this event (and Sam came in first by a wide margin!). Even though they finished way away of me, they stuck around until I crossed the finish line. They didn’t have to do that, but I’m thankful that they did. I sure do know some cool people!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Event Report: 2017 IT100 50 Miler

Event: IT100 50 Miler
Chain O' Lakes State Park (Albion, IN)


Spoiler alert: I FINISHED! Yep. I sure did.

Disclaimer: This report is more about my IT Journey that it is about the specific IT event. If you’d like to skip straight to the event part of this report, page down to the “Race Weekend” subheader.

The Journey Begins
My IT journey began in the summer of 2015. While training for my first 50k (Woodstock 2015), I ran a few times out at Chain O’ Lakes, and met several regulars in the IT training group (which eventually formed the core of the Ignite Ultra Team). I also ran into the Wild Bunch, a great group of people who were, like me, new to trail running. Without the help of these people, I doubt my 50k would have been so rewarding. As it turned out, my entire Woodstock weekend was glorious! The “trail bug” had bit pretty hard.

When registration for the 2016 IT100 opened, I wrestled with the idea of tackling the 50mi. The weekend I decided to go for it, I went out to COL for a run, slipped on some ice in front of the outhouse at the Rally Campground, and broke my ankle (yes, I know … I’ve mentioned this quite a few times.). I always feel obligated to say that this was not a running injury … the run was going fine. This was a potty injury. I would be sidelined for a while, but I was determined to rehab wisely and get back on the trail as soon as I would be permitted to do so.

My big post-op goal was to return to Woodstock and run my first 100k. I trained at COL throughout the summer and eventually made it back to Woodstock in September 2016. Conditions were harsh and I wound up with my first DNF. That was a bummer (which is a major understatement). I continued to struggle in several races following my less-than-desired outcome at Woodstock. I was particularly embarrassed by a poor performance as a pace team leader for the Fort4Fitness full marathon. With failures piling up like copies of unwanted Yellow Pages books on my doorstep, I struggled with many unpleasant thoughts about my future as a runner.

During November 2016, things started to turn around. I strung together a couple of solid runs (the WOOF, the Indiana Trees 10 Miler and Veterans Marathon). I started to think that perhaps I was turning a corner, so I started shopping for a redemption ultra before the end of the year. I wound up settling on the Jackson County 50mi in December. What a difficult course! While I finished near the very back of the pack, I did finish. It felt like a huge win, and I was satisfied with my effort.

Throughout this whole time, the IT continued to dominate my thoughts. I *had* to run it in 2017, but I wasn’t sure which distance. At one time or another, I waffled between the 50mi, 100k and 100mi … I just couldn’t make up my mind!

Eventually, I settled on 50mi because my Jackson County finish time was just a few minutes over 15 hours. I didn’t think it was a good idea to tackle a 100mi with a 30 hour cutoff before I could complete a 50mi under 15 hours.

I had to make a lot of changes to my training schedule. There were several scheduling conflicts, but I was able to work it out most of the time. I wound up doing a lot more in-town road miles than I would have liked to do. I definitely would have preferred to have trained more frequently at COL with the Ignite group than I was able to do, but I had to play the cards I was dealt.

The value of training on the actual event course cannot be overstated. When you add in the the rolling aid stations and volunteer maintenance crews, I can’t imagine that any other event in the country exceeds this level of year-round commitment. Not only did I get to know the terrain better, but I got to practice nutrition with items that would actually be found at the aid stations on race day. I also got to run with experienced trail runners who also know the course particularly well. I am very grateful for the dedication, selflessness and generosity I have repeatedly experienced within this amazing group of people.

Additionally, I was tremendously blessed to glean a ton of valuable information through multiple Ignite clinics and the Ignite Facebook group. This is a great group of people who are always willing to answer questions and provide encouragement. They also set amazing examples for me to follow. I have benefited so much from these relationships!

Race Weekend

For a Saturday race, I do my big carb load on Thursday. My wife and I went to Ziano’s and it was a pleasant evening for the two of us. We bumped into a couple of friends and generally had a nice, relaxed evening. I went to bed early and slept well. I This is the most important evening of pre-race preparations., and it was textbook perfect for me.

I took the afternoon off of work on Friday and went to COL early as a volunteer. I was tasked for just a couple of hours helping arrange drop bags, which was a cool way to soak up the IT experience without getting jittery. Doing something meaningful kept me distracted and excited at the same time. I know that sounds weird, but I will try to do this kind of thing at future races … if I’d just been standing around, I would have started to experience rising levels of overwhelmedness.

I had my drop bags (one for Main and one for Rally) ready to go, so I took them up on Friday as well. I was worried that I might forget stuff and then panic about not being able to tweak the bags on Saturday morning. As it turns out, I had packed them really well and there no problems.

As a matter of habit, I skip the pre-race meals some events offer the night before a race. I would rather eat what I know rather than step into unfamiliar territory. I stuck around until the raffle was completed… no wins for me :( … and then went home, ate my dinner and unexpectedly sleep quite well. I toyed with the idea of camping at COL, because I live about 45 minutes from COL. The extra driving on race day was a small price to pay for the comfort of sleeping in my own bed. Going home for the night was a good decision.

My plan was to use a modified 16-4 run/walk interval. I set my watch to a 6-4 interval, and then I planned to ignore every other 4 minute walk. This means that I would do 16-4 then 6-4 then 16-4 then 6-4, etc. I came up with this idea the night before, and it worked beautifully. I will definitely do this again. For the most part, I was able to stick with this plan for most of the race.

I did make several exceptions to this interval plan. For instance, from the large wooden stairs to the schoolhouse is a relatively nice stretch for running, as is the stretch leading into Rally. I also made “on the fly” adjustments where I knew there were some ascents or around the aid stations. The value of knowing the course cannot be overstated. This gave me so much peace of mind!

The Course
Having been a part of the trail maintenance day a few weeks prior, I noticed several nice touches on the course I might have otherwise taken for granted. The fresh gravel in several areas was super appreciated.

The course markings are perfect. In addition to the many permanent markers, there were a ton of pink “sanity” markers (with a small patch of reflective tape, which is an incredibly thoughtful touch that I wish more races would use) along the way. There were even several special motivational signs along the way, and I’m grateful for those too. I’ve ran other events that are not nearly as well-marked. As a guy prone to getting lost (even on a course I know fairly well), I really, really, really appreciated this aspect of the race.

The Weather
There’s really not much to say about the weather. I know people like to complain the weather, but it just wasn’t a huge factor for the 50 Milers. It didn’t start raining until late morning and then it merely drizzly for a few hours, but never a concentrated downpour. I know the weather got worse when it got dark, and I’m thankful that I didn’t have to worry about that. Maybe I dodged a bullet on the weather … I’ll take it.

My biggest disappointment was that my Garmin Live Tracking feature didn’t work. This is completely beyond the control of race organizers, so I’m not complaining. I’m simply disappointed. My Garmin can be paired with my phone so my wife can get live updates throughout an event. At any given moment, she can see my distance, pace, heart rate, elevation, splits, etc. It gives her some peace of mind, which in turns gives me some peace of mind. Unfortunately, if you don’t have cell reception when you start the event, it won’t work at all for the entire event. As it turned out, I didn’t have a signal at the precise moment when the race started, so my wife couldn’t track me.

She did use the official IT event tracking feature, so she got updates at miles 10, 22, 30 and 42. This worked really flawlessly. I’m glad this was available. Additionally, whenever I pulled into an aid station, I asked a volunteer to text my wife with an update. I was able to keep her a little better updated, and that was a blessing to my wife.

Aid Stations and Volunteers
The coolest part about this is that I knew so many of the volunteers, I was merely asking friends (instead of strangers) to do me a favor. I have never race an event before where I knew so many of the volunteers! When I pulled into an aid station, volunteers addressed me by name. That was huge! I felt like such a stud when somebody like Kelly Cearbaugh, Christy Howard or Allison Brown would say that I looked strong. Being complimented by people you admire is priceless. Every time I left an aid station, I felt stronger than when I entered.

The aid station fare was diverse, but I pretty much stuck to what I knew. Race day should never be “try something new” day. Variously, I hit the Tailwind, Peanut M&Ms, PBJ, grilled cheese, Pringles, apple slices, pretzels, etc. I think I managed my nutrition just about perfectly. (TMI Alert > when I got home after the race and went pee, the color was perfect.)

Even better than the aid station was the proactive volunteers. As you approach the tent, they’re reaching for your water bottles, offering to bring your drop bag to you, etc. You get personalized attention while you are in the tent, which is amazing.

The Actual Run
Over the first ten miles, I ran with couple of different folks in spurts. It was nice chatting with people and the miles fly by when you have someone to talk to. Over the final 40 miles, I was pretty much alone for most of it. That wasn’t a bad thing, as I enjoy the solitude as well.

The worst thing about running solo is that while running I will try to make a list of things to do when I get to the next aid station. I almost always forgot to do at least one of those things. For example, I meant to take my headlamp for the last loop, but I forgot it. As it turns out, I finished in the daylight, but that could have been rather big pile of poop to be without a lamp when you need it. This kind of forgetfulness would be easier to avoid if I was with somebody. If (when?) I do a longer race, I’ll definitely need a pacer to help me in this area.

Perhaps my biggest mistake was changing shoes at mile 30. I switched to a different pair of trail shoes that I’ve had for a long time. They’re good shoes, I like them, and I’ve worn them at COL several times. However, they weren’t the best shoe for mud. These particular shoes work much better in snowy conditions. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but this could have cost me dearly. In the worst of the muddy sections, my feet kept sliding out from under me and I was afraid of pulling a groin muscle or falling badly. I was not having the same problems with my first pair of shoes, which fare much much better on muddy terrain. I wasn’t wrong to change shoes at mile 30, but I didn’t change into the right shoes. Lesson learned.

Physically, I was fine. The front of my toes were sore about half-way through the race. I suspect it was due to some swelling in my feet which made for a tighter fit in the toe box. It wasn’t too bad, but my toes were the sorest part of my body by the time I finished. That evening, after I got home and went to take a shower, I stubbed my toes getting into the shower. I saw stars. That moment hurt far worse than pain endured during the IT race.

I’ve been a huge fan of 2Toms before, and am now an even bigger fan of their products. I put it everywhere (yes, I mean *everywhere*). No chafing whatsoever.

I did get some small blisters on the heels of both feet, but I was really surprised that it wasn’t worse. I’ve got far worse blisters before, and was cringingly expecting more of that in this race. By the time I wrote this report (five days later), the blisters have completely healed.

With only one other 50mi race under my belt, I wanted to beat that 15:06 time … significantly. The big factors in favor of a quicker pace included knowing the course, significantly less total ascent, and more personal experience. Those things had to be worth something, right?

I set an initial goal of a 100 minute improvement, i.e., 13:26. To get this, I planned to run each 10 mile segment in 2:40 (which would give me a little buffer with a finish time of 2:40 x 5 = 13:20). This also meant attempting to do even splits, as my splits in Jackson County were far from even.

My first ten miles? I was about 25 minutes ahead of schedule. I was following my walk/run plan, but I simply moving faster than I anticipated. It actually felt wrong to go much slower. After 20 miles, I was about 50 minutes ahead. I saw Steve Carr at Rally (22 mi) and told him I was really worried I’d crash hard because of my quick start. We didn’t talk long, but it was helpful. I felt like I’d been through confession … “forgive me, Father Steve, for I have sinned … I have ran too fast.” I was genuinely afraid that I’d screwed up big-time by starting out too fast.

At 30 miles, I was about 55 minutes ahead of schedule. By 40 miles, I was starting to give back some of that banked time and was about 40 minutes ahead. At this point, I was still just under 14:00/mi, which had me feeling pretty good.

When I got to Rally for the last time (42 mi), I knew I had a good shot at a sub-thirteen finish. This was not even remotely on my pre-race radar. My three pre-race goals were 13:26, 14:00 and finish. I had not even dared to think I could sneak in under 13:00.

I made my final wardrobe change: putting on my bright yellow Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner shirt. I love wearing this shirt at races. It reminds me of how far I’ve come and how many things I am now capable of doing. I feel like a superhero when I put that shirt on, and I had intentionally saved it for the last segment. With my bright yellow hat and my bright yellow tights, you could tell who I was from a mile away.

I had roughly 2:25 to cover the final eight miles, but I was slowing down. My overall pace dropped to 15:24 at one point as I had covered a few miles at 18:00/mi. As I approached the last aid station (schoolhouse at 47 mi), I knew I would have to pick it up a bit if I were going under 13:00.

I wound up covering the final mile in 13:41, which was my fastest pace since mile 22. I still had a little left in the tank! Mind you, it was very, very little, but there was still something there. I finished the IT50 with a final time of 12:56:20!

In comparison with Jackson County, I was two hours and ten minutes faster (or 130 minutes). I realize these are two different courses with different challenges and different cut-off times, but I still see this as a major improvement. When comparing percentages of cut-off time, Jackson County was 91.5% of 16:30, while IT50 was 86.2% of 15:00. That’s a 5.3% improvement! I’m very happy with that!

Physically, I was exhausted, yet injury free. Other than a few minor blisters and bruises, I came out of the weekend in good shape. Mind you, I walked funny for a few days, and I felt like my quads were made of lead, but I was fine. It’s almost a week later, and I’m feeling far better than I would have thought possible. I was extremely grateful for my good health and good fortune!

For me, the race was a much needed final chapter in my recovery story. I had broke my ankle (you knew I was going to bring up it again, didn’t you?) while training at COL. Finishing the IT50 was the last thing remaining on my pre-injury “to do” list. I needed the closure that crossing the finish would give to me. This was as much a spiritual and emotional victory as it was a physical one.

I am thankful for this race in so many ways. It was the culmination of 16 months of both hard work and many unearned blessings. My family and friends supported me and prayed for me. God was good to me in so many ways. I have learned so much about myself throughout this whole journey, and it wasn’t just lessons learned during the race.

I’m not sure what’s next for me … and that’s the beauty of being challenged. I want to tackle something bigger and more challenging. What might that be? I don’t know … yet, but I look forward to figuring it out. I’ll be talking to friends, scouring the ‘net, and following the Ignite Facebook posts as I look for opportunities to dream big. This chapter of my journey is finally complete, but the story isn’t over yet.