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

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

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" ...

Note: Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to launching BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro").

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.