Monday, May 30, 2011

Hot. Hot. Hot.

Attention Old Dominioners: hope you’re ready to race across the sun.  According to, the forecast in Woodstock, Virginia- start and finish to the Old Dominion 100- for this Saturday, June 4th, has taken a turn for the worse.  A few days ago the same website forecast a high in the mid 80s, which would have produced hot race day conditions under the best of circumstances.  Now the forecast calls for a high of 94 with 58% humidity.  If this forecast proves accurate conditions at Old Dominion will feel like racing on the sun.
The last time I ran Old Dominion, which was the only time I have run Old Dominion and my first 100, was in 2008.  Temperatures reached the high 90s in the shade, coupled with a higher humidity percentage than what is forecast for Saturday.  The day had proved to be the second hottest day of the year for the area.  Late in the night after the race, at the hotel, I remember getting up from bed to use the bathroom.  I entered the bathroom, flipped on the light, closed the door, and began to sway in place.  White flashing spots swirled in my vision.  Then everything went black.  The next thing I knew I was on the floor, looking up at the ceiling.  Immediately, I performed a quick mental systems diagnostic and body scan.  Did I hit my head?  Arms?  Legs?  How long was I out?  What the hell happened?
Turns out I had fainted, likely for only a second or two.  Or for however long it took my body to fell like timber, crashing to the cold tile, Holiday Inn Express bathroom floor, somehow in the process miraculously failing to bump the ol’ noggin on one of the many hard-surfaced, pointy-cornered goodies awaiting any fainter in a standard-issue outfitted bathroom.   The shock I put my body through the previous day, all day, was simply too much.  The heat and humidity- not to mention the 100 miles- had taxed my system greatly.  In short, my system finally rebelled with a deafening ‘F U, Neal’.  And, without warning, decided it was time for me to get up close and personal with two-star hotel bathroom floor tile.  Eventually I stood back up, snickered in relief and shuffled back to bed.  Fortunately, everything was ok.
Fainting that night, in the bathroom at the hotel, is not one of my better memories.  But, overall, as I have testified here, on this very blog, the 2008 Old Dominion is a great memory and always will be.  Heat and all.  Looking back, it is defining memory, a turning point in my life.  I’ve figured many things out since that day, since that night, in terms of how my mind and body perform under tremendous physical stress, and in harsh conditions, how to fuel/hydrate properly, etc.  My stomach never acts up.  I’ve yet to throw up once in training or during a race.  Problem is, no matter how much I’ve learned or experienced, or how tough my stomach is, mid 90 degree temperatures with humidity and exposed sun create hellish conditions when running 100 miles over mountain roads and trails.  The good news is the conditions, whatever they turn out to be, will also make finishing, and the memories that begin soaking in shortly after, that much sweeter.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A deep field at the Old Dominion 100

The men and women’s field at this year’s Old Dominion 100 on June 4th is unlike any other the race has seen in years and years.  Maybe ever?  Here is what [I think] I know about the field.  It’s going to be close at the front for sure! 
Registered gals who will make OD a race:
Sabrina Moran (last year’s champion)
Connie Gardner
Registered guys who will make OD a race:
Harland Peele
Sean Andrish
Keith Knipling
Eric Grossman
Jon Allen
Karsten Brown
Jon Loewus-Deitch
Little ol me

“Maybes” that could make OD something more:
Aaron Schwartzbard
Brian Schmidt
Jeremy Ramsey
Jason Lantz

If everyone named above toes the line it is safe to say that Old Dominion will produce some very fast times, a few runners may finish in daylight and the race directors had best be ready to part with a large sum of expensive silver hardware.  Sean and Keith tell me they’re not racing this one hard but they run pretty fast even when they run slow.  I don’t personally know the ladies listed above but I have heard from reliable sources they’re registered.  The guys’ names listed above are friends and that is how I know which guys are showing up and who is considering running.  I don’t know Eric G. (or Karsten) but I know what his blog says; it says he is running.  Who else am I missing?
The Old Dominion entrants list is not published and I have not seen it; therefore, I imagine in addition to the names listed above there are likely other fast runners that I do not know about who are registered for the race.  I hope so.   I also hope that this blog post finds its way on to the computer screens of other runners- fast, slow or in the middle, men and women- who are on the fence about running Old Dominion and to whom I say see you in Woodstock!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts on MMT

I have many thoughts swirling in my head after this weekend’s Massanutten Mountain Trail (MMT) 100.  The thoughts generally center on my performance, thoughts about my peak training phase at the precipice of tapering before the race, thoughts on the performances of a few others and on the race itself.
Firstly, the race itself.  MMT: what can I say?  It's so great, in a it-hurts-so-good sort of way.  It’s competitive, it’s hard, it’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s local (to me), it’s cheap.  It’s everything good you would hope for and expect from a race that you rearrange and prioritize so much of your life to train for and dedicate towards.
Regarding my performance, as I have told a few people in conversation since Saturday, I’m pleased with my finish time; however, I can’t help but feel that I didn’t quite reach a slightly higher level of potential I know I had within myself on race day.  One who finishes MMT under 20 hours doesn’t have much to complain about.  Now that I am officially one of those fortunate people please bear with me as I complain for just a moment and then carry on with some sort of semblance of a race report.  MMT delivered upon to me two blows which, after the halfway point, slowed my leg turnover considerably and I have a feeling reduced my overall time by at least an hour.  The first blow was my own fault and a rookie error.  Bodyglide or Vaseline?  Prepping early Saturday morning before the race start at 4am I chose the latter and later, after running all day in sweat soaked shorts, thanks to the humidity, paid a considerable price in pain in my war against chaffing.  It is hard to imagine a simple choice, Bodyglide or Vaseline?, made several hours earlier, in the comfort of a hotel room in a small valley town by the name of Luray, Virginia as having anything but a minimal impact on an overall race performance, but please trust me when I tell you, it does.  Vaseline, I now firmly believe, breaks down and dissolves away in sweat more easily than Bodyglide.  The second blow happens a lot to runners during mountainous 100 mile races; my quads locked up.  Not much to say about that other than it happened.  For those unacquainted with the inability to walk downhill, much less run, without a jolt of pain firing like a cannon up your legs with the placement of each step and having the jolted pain surrender to the guardsmen at your quads door with nowhere to pass so it gets stored within like some sort of pain library, please trust me here, too, when I say it sucks.  Had I front loaded too many miles immediately prior to tapering?  Were my quads not conditioned enough?  These are two very distinct and opposing questions.  I can’t say that I know the answer at this point but what I can say- the good news is- is that MMT’s quad thrashing will leave me better prepared for the pounding of running down mountains later this summer.
The 4am start at MMT is new this year.  I rather like a 4am 100 mile race start.  To me, a 4am race start in the dark when I am fresh, not only provides a small nudge of motivation to get to bed earlier the day before but increases the likelihood of less night running during the evening of the race which leads to a faster time overall.  MMT’s front field spread out immediately at 4am and I found myself running with Karl Meltzer and David Frazier.  We ran together for the first four miles and then Karl took off through the night over the rocks, not long after Moreland Gap aid station, like the goat that he is.  David and I continued running together, never more than a few moments behind Karl at each aid station, and it wasn’t until Veach Gap aid station, mile 40.7, when I eventually pulled away from David on a climb.  At Habron Gap aid station, mile 53.6, I learned Karl’s lead had accelerated to 11 minutes.  From Habron I mustered the climb to Camp Roosevelt, mile 63.1, unsuccessfully trying to quench my thirst while not over drinking at the same time and having to stop and pee so much.  Reaching Camp Roosevelt I felt comfortably ahead of David but not quite ready to surrender to a best second place finish to Karl.  Jon Allen met up with me as a pacer at Camp Roosevelt and we were back on the trail after only a moment or two of me re-stocking trail rations, thanks to another round of invaluable servicing by my crew, Gaby, my Mom and my sister Joan.  Sadly, I lost more ground to Karl entering the next few aid stations, Gap Creek (mile 68.7), Visitor Center (mile 77.1) and Bird Knob (mile 80.5).  I had lost more than a few steps in my running.  It was easily noticeable and at this point it became clear: catching Karl would not be in the cards for me.  Second place, however, felt firm.  So did a sub 20 hour time.  A sub 19 hour time?  Maybe.  I tried to wake up my quads on downhill sections running into the Picnic Area aid station, mile 86.9, but I figured upon arrival, just after 8pm and though it was still light out, my opportunity for finishing under 19 hours wasn’t going to happen.  Knowing that, the fact that David and any other trailing runners were far enough behind not to pose a true threat for second, and the fact that my quads were trashed I didn’t have much pressure to go hard.  Jeremy Ramsey subbed in as my pacer at the Picnic Area and we cruised it in, in a very slow split time of three hours and 35 minutes or so for covering only 14.8 miles.
A special thanks to my support crew, Gaby, Mom and Joan, who always seem to have such a good time at these events.  Jon and Jeremy run’s with me as pacers were helpful and fun.  We laughed a lot.  I only wish there was more of my quads left for them to work with in terms of making the race more exciting, say by chasing Karl or a faster time or something like that.  Especially Jeremy since I picked him up so late in the race and my quads were worse off than when running with Jon.  I felt like a trainer holding back a thoroughbred.  He was a trooper, though.
To me, Karl’s performance at MMT was certainly strong but he likely could have gone a bit faster.  And maybe he would have had I been able to scare him into doing so.  Sorry, Karl!  Eva Pastalkova’s female course record time of 22:30 and sixth place finish overall benchmarks a new standard at MMT and she will now be forced to run with an even larger bulls-eye on her back at future races.  Congrats to Eva on such a strong performance and for her reported ear-to-ear smiles throughout her run.  David Frazier is on fire.  He finished third in a time of 21:25, and MMT was his first real 100 mile race.  My prediction is that once David truly taps into his own potential the rest of us are screwed.  It is hard to categorize Evan Cestari’s fourth place finish time of 21:32 as anything but a huge success.  There are no mountains to train on in Wisconsin, his current home.  In July Evan and his girlfriend, Rebecca, will move to Morgantown, West Virginia which means his game will likely bump up considerably.  One thing is for sure, West Virginia has mountains.  Morgantown is also close to Virginia which means Evan will be crossing the Virginia border for races, forcing us Virginia runners to further bump up our game as well.  The long and short of this is that the competitiveness of ultrarunners in our area is spiking.  I love it.
In the end, MMT serves as a confidence booster.  Since I managed to sneak away with a sub 20 hour finish time and know I had more energy to go faster, had only my quads allowed, not only will 2011’s MMT serve as another true adventure experience but a lesson in what is possible going forward.  Ultrarunning is mental.  Readers of this blog know this as fact.  Like most things, a large part of the mental focus necessary to achieve ones goals in ultrarunning comes from confidence.  Confidence in oneself, and everything that goes with it.  Confidence is the biggest producer.  The top sales guy in the company you work for.  The guy who gets it done in the 11th hour.  Confidence is the resource you fall back on when you’re out on the trail all on your own, 75+ miles into a mountain race in a land that is far away from home, distinctly unlike your normal surroundings and looks nothing like your backyard.  In the wake of MMT my confidence meter has shifted.  I am now even more excited for the next race: Old Dominion on June 4th.  Speaking of which, I am privy to very exciting news concerning the potential competitiveness of the field taking shape at Old Dominion.  More on this coming SOON in another post.

Monday, May 09, 2011


The guy below in green...  He looks human.  I don't know...  I have my reservations.  Guess we'll see on Saturday.  Cheers to everyone toeing the line!  See you soon.

Halloween colors.  2009 MMT post-race.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


This weekend’s end marks the completion of any developmental race-type training prep for the first half of this year.  Friday night’s 25+ technical mountain miles of long climb tempo repeats (3 x 4.25 miles w/ 2,750 ft elevation gain) followed by Saturday’s 35 miles and 9,000 feet of climbing pretty much sealed the envelope on a voluminous week of running 110 miles.  The next two weeks will consist of tapering and hopefully getting slightly more rest than usual.  Late June will officially usher in summer and with it another ramp-up phase in training, this time designed with the Leadville Trail 100 in August in mind.  Until then I will absorb and enjoy the taper-race-recovery, taper-race-recovery cycles preceding and following Massanutten and Old Dominion.
When it comes to running in general mostly I am a self-conscious type which I suppose in a way more or less motivates me to work under the agency of some sort of measurable improvement program.  To improve, as I see it, work, work and more work is the cornerstone of such a program.  I’ve worked hard to get to the point where I am now in running- because I work hard to allow myself the luxury to run the way I want- and it is pleasing to recognize that, this year, I haven’t skimped in said training one iota.  In fact, I’ve run every single day since before the New Year.  Each day’s run has been a reaffirmation to improvement, to honing the body and mind as best as possible given my age, genetic disposition, geographic location, etc.  With the exception of working through my teen and college years, saving as much money possible to fund college, at no other time in life have I deliberately given so much to one individual pursuit outside of daily priorities (family, work, education…) and, to me, therein lies poetry.
Even prior to my teen years, as a small child as far back as I can remember, I often worked with my older brothers cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking firewood from fallen or dead trees in the forest behind our home in Richmond, Virginia.  We worked together during the warm months, gathering firewood, to prepare for the cold months when the giant wood stove in our basement, the “Papa Bear”, would burn and keep our family warm.  As an aside, my siblings and I share fond memories of returning to the basement after many hours sledding in the backyard with neighborhood friends and tossing our wet snow gear around the Papa Bear.  A gobbling of lunch, a mug of hot chocolate and, perhaps, a game of Monopoly and it was soon time again for more sledding.  Thanks to the Papa Bear our snow gear was always returned warm and dry, perfect for heading back out into the cold.  Each year growing up and into my adulthood I continued gathering firewood, sometimes working with my brothers, sometimes working alone.  Not a single winter passed when the Papa Bear failed to keep us warm.  And to this day in my parents’ home, the home of my youth, thanks to the efforts of my eldest brother, the Papa Bear still burns each winter.
The early formative years of my youth is when I learned the true value of hard, physical work and, also, to enjoy it.  Currently, though my [career] work requires mostly gabbing on the phone, sitting behind a desk or a windshield I often return to my hard, physical laboring roots to prepare, build and create.  I love it; I will always love it.  Such work produces lasting satisfaction and a certain tiredness that feels warm and genuinely deserved.
So far, this year’s training has helped me to realize something poignant- I am still the same person who, as a child, helped his older brothers gather firewood for the Papa Bear.  Only now, the majority of my physical laboring hours are more focused on trail and mountain running and fitness is what I stack for the greater good of future use.  This is how I see my current state of training preparation and how it is a natural byproduct of my upbringing.  What I do now, by which I mean to say how I choose to spend my time, is very similar to time spent as a youth: working and preparing.  This is a comforting, proud feeling.  One of which, of course, I will work to preserve.