Saturday, February 26, 2011

Race Recap: Iron Horse Endurance Run 100-Miler

Go With the Birds
I had to admit that things weren't looking too good for my first 100-mile ultra.  Two months ago during the Thunder Road Marathon I received a stress fracture in my left heel bone (calcaneus). Six weeks of crutches and wearing a boot left me with precious little time to ramp up for the 100-miler.  I managed to put in a handful of six-mile runs, one eleven-miler, and one twenty.

And as running buddy David Moore and I headed south toward Palatka, FL for the Iron Horse Endurance Run I was feeling like crap.  Some sort of head cold/sinusitis had me coughing every two minutes and blowing snot every other two, and this had been going on for a week.  Things were looking iffy for me.

So I changed my goal.  Originally I had toyed with the idea of a sub-twenty hour finish.  Expectations slid downward to doing it in under 24 hours to just finishing the damn thing.  One good thing was that runners could change their race distance during the run and not be penalized.  For example, even though I signed up for the 100-miler I could run it as a 50-mile or 100k (62 miles) participant provided I covered that amount of ground.

Flop House
David and I checked into a nearby hotel and wandered over to the host hotel for packet pickup and race instructions from Race Director Chris Rodatz.  We covetously eyeballed the belt buckles that would be given to finishers.  After the meeting David and I beelined to the local Chili's restaurant, seemingly the only "fine" restaurant in Palatka.  Apparently Chili's is the happening place, as people were standing outside waiting for open tables.  None of them looked like runners, though several looked as if they needed to start.  So we landed at Golden Corral, hit the buffet, and went back to the hotel to unpack and crash for the evening.

The Jungle
The Iron Horse course is situated upon an abandoned railway going east and west parallel to Highway 100.  The 100-mile route consisted of four out-and-backs, with the start/finish line about 1.75 miles from the western end.  The terrain was predictably flat and covered with a variety of surfaces, including soft pine needles, rough gravel, and three trestles.

David Moore at the start.

Me at the start sporting my DART shirt.
After some last-minute instructions and an invocation we were off.  As befitting an ultra, there were less than 130 runners for all three events, 57 of whom were attempting the 100-miler.  David and I had laid out our supplies near the start, knowing that we would pass by several times and could pick up necessities along the run.  On a related side note, I wore a pair of Asics Pulse I'd been wearing for mowing the grass the past two years, as I wanted some cushioning for my heel - didn't want to spring for new shoes.

David listening to last minute instructions.
The first 25-mile lap went by quickly.  David and I ran together and we were feeling good and clipping off an eleven min/mile pace, which was a little too fast but we wanted to bank some time in case it got hot later on.  The aid stations were about four to five miles apart and were well equipped with tasty treats.  I decided to try to save my gels and stick with what the stations had to offer.  I settled on bananas and peanut butter sandwiches.

Typical course section.

Longest of the three trestles.  Walking was mandatory.
On the second lap things changed.  Specifically it got very warm very fast, and humid.  Whereas three days prior I had been running at home wearing two long-sleeved shirts, hat, and gloves, I was now down to shoes, socks, and shorts.  At each aid station I would stuff a few ice cubes under my hat in an effort to cool off.  Our pace was slowing down to thirteen min/mile.  The temperature reached eighty and it felt like every bit of it.  What little urine I could conjure was as dark as iced tea - not a good sign.  And then it got worse.  Starting at mile 42 I found myself leaning backward and to the left while running and walking.  Didn't feel any pain or anything, just a pronounced list to the port side.  Even the aid station workers noticed and asked if I was all right.  Very weird (After discussing with Laurie she felt that my equilibrium was being affected by my sinusitis). My pace was reduced to running nine tenths of a mile and walking one  tenth.  Tired of the standard aid station fare of carbs, I grabbed a bratwurst and ate it, thereby improving my spirits dramatically.

David replenishing his electrolytes.

Me leaning to the left.
On the third lap David and I separated.  His leg was starting to give him trouble so he slowed it down a bit.  I decided to ease up on this 25-mile loop so I walked five minutes, ran five minutes.  At this point I began calculating my finishing time.  I decided that while I probably wasn't going to make the sub-24 hour time I was well under the 26-hour cutoff.  That was enough of an excuse for me, so I started walking more.

Race Director Chris making the rounds.

Night fell, bringing cooler temperatures.  I slipped on a long-sleeved shirt, grabbed my iPod and headlamp, and shuffled off for the final lap.  Normally I don't listen to my iPod when running but I needed something to occupy my thoughts.  Other runners were few and far between, some already finished.  Many of the 100-milers opted to switch to shorter distances.  I figured there were less than fifteen of us left on the course.

Combination Stew
Another morale booster was the aid stations, which added more substantial fare overnight.  It may have been due to my fatigued state, but the shrimp gumbo was the best I'd ever had, and the chicken noodle soup was amazing.  Things were looking up!

Before the last turnaround a heavy fog settled onto the ground and played havoc with my vision, as the headlamp amplified every drop.  I felt like I was inside an aquarium looking out.

At the next to last aid station with about eleven miles to go I came upon another runner with whom I'd been swapping places.  He was sitting in a chair.  Bad idea, I thought.  "Beware the chair" was my mantra.  I took off in a rapid walk thinking I wouldn't see him again.  A few moments later he caught up to me and asked if we could finish up together.  I said that was fine and I'd really appreciate the company but warned him that I was going to walk the entire way back.

Turned out that Trixie (yep, that's his name, and he's actually the third) was on his way to knocking out his second 100-mile race, doing the Keys last year.  Trixie was a firefighter from Talahassee who had done a stint in Iraq as part of the National Guard.  We spent the hours making small talk and reconfirming with one another that we were indeed going to make it under the 26-hour cutoff.

Big Rock Candy Mountain
At last we ambled up toward the finish line which was manned by a skeleton crew of volunteers and a few runners, including David.  It felt oddly anticlimactic until Race Director Chris shook my hand and gave me a finisher's belt buckle.  After twenty-four hours thirty-eight minutes and thirty-one seconds, sweet relief!

Neither David nor I felt like sticking around, seeing as we had an eight-hour drive back home.  We loaded up the van and headed north, taking turns driving every couple of hours while the other slept.  This part was nearly as challenging as the running.

Me seconds after crossing the finish line.

David with his 100k finisher's buckle.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine’s Day Massacre Marathon Race Recap

DARTer Bobby Aswell recently went up to Greensboro to run in the Valentine's Day Massacre Marathon and provided this terrific race recap.

Valentine’s Day Massacre Marathon

After getting shot by Cupid’s arrow on Saturday at the Cupid’s Cup 5K, where I finished in 18:29, 3rd Overall Master, I decided to take a short jaunt to Greensboro Sunday morning to get a long run in at the Valentine’s Day Massacre Marathon.  It was scheduled to be a beautiful day, and since the race doesn’t start until 10:00 am, I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to make the journey.

The event is mainly geared towards relay runners consisting of 2 or 4 person teams and is unique in that each member of the team runs 1 lap and then hands the baton and timing chip to the next runner and so forth.  Once you are done with your lap, you wait for the other members of your team to complete their laps before you take off again.  In addition to the relay, the race does allow solo runners, or ‘crazies’ as they are called, to participate.

It’s held at the Greensboro County Park and consists of 1 lap of 2.2 miles followed by 15 laps of 1.6 mile laps.  For those trying to qualify for Boston, the course is certified (and you’ll be certified crazy after running all of those laps).  Oh, I forgot to mention that you are responsible for counting your own laps though you do have a timing chip that records each lap for you.  The course is not flat as the following elevation profile indicates (profile taken from their website,

The picture doesn’t really do the hills justice as they really wear on you after about 10 laps!

As a last minute decision, my goal was to get in a good long run for upcoming marathons (Umstead, Tobacco Road, and Blue Ridge) and enjoy the beautiful weather!  I finished in 3:24:10 and was 2nd Overall Male.

So if you’re looking to run long around Valentine’s Day, consider this race.  It’s a great deal for solo runners costing only $35 race day including  a long-sleeve hoodie!

Thanks, Bobby, and great job!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I probably have IT Band Syndrome. Now what?

(originally published on Mungerruns)

A couple weeks back I discussed a possible injury to my knee. After investigating a little further and talking to some other runners, I'm fairly well convinced I have IT Band Friction Syndrome, or ITBFS.

But there's IT band, and there's IT band. One runner in our group, Marc Hirschfield, has been so gravely affected by IT band that he hasn't run since early January. Another, Jeremy Alsop, has been bothered by the condition for weeks, but that didn't stop him from running in a 50K ultrarunning event last weekend. I've had niggling tweaks, but not a lot of pain, and my running has hardly been affected at all. I'm setting PRs and running farther than ever. What's the difference?

It's probably just a matter of degree. According to this article, there are five grades of IT Band syndrome:
  • Grade 1: Pain does not occur during normal activity, but generalized pain is felt about 1 to 3 hours after sportspecific training has ended. Tenderness usually resolves within 24 hours without intervention.
  • Grade 2: Minimal pain is present towards the end of a training run; performance is not affected. Appropriate treatment may be necessary to prevent a Grade 3 injury.
  • Grade 3: Pain is present at an earlier onset of training, and interferes with the speed and duration of a training session. Treatment and training modification are necessary to prevent a Grade 3 injury from progressing to a Grade 4 injury.
  • Grade 4: Pain restricts training and is also noticeable during activities of daily living; the athlete can no longer continue sport-specific training. Low-impact training, such as swimming, running in a pool, and biking, can be implemented for cardiovascular fitness and aggressive musculoskeletal therapy can reduce the severity of the injury. The goal of therapy is to reduce inflammation and restore strength and flexibility of the hip and thigh musculature, allowing for the athlete to return to pain-free sport-specific training.
  • Grade 5: Pain interferes with training as well as activities of daily living. Aggressive therapy is required and surgery may be necessary.
I'm probably somewhere around Grade 2. Jeremy might be more like a Grade 3, and Marc is at least a Grade 4. I'm a little skeptical of the article I linked above, though. While it gives a good description of the condition, to my mind it's not very scientific in its analysis of the possible treatments. If you surf around the web, you'll see dozens of different stories about sure-fire treatments, many of which are mentioned in this article. It's possible that all of them are doing some good. But what really works and what represents wasted effort? For that, we need serious clinical research. 

I found one review of the clinical research on ITBFS here. Ellis, Hing, and Reid assessed all the research they could find on the topic, but only four studies were well-controlled enough to merit review. Each study looked at different approaches to treating the injury, and even in these cases, the control wasn't ideal. For the most part researchers assumed that stretching and massage should be part of the treatment, and generally just studied additional remedies beyond the basics. Few checked to see if the stretching and massage were actually doing any good. For the most part, the studies all worked the same way -- treat for a week or so, then put the runners on a treadmill and see how much pain they feel. All the studies were quite small, with a few dozen participants at most.

Here's what Ellis's team found: Anti-inflammatory medication and pain medication is good, and probably helps. A cortisone shot definitely helps in the case of acute, rapid-onset ITBFS but the evidence is less clear for chronic ITBFS. Immobilizing the knee does not help. And one study found that deep massage probably doesn't add any benefits beyond what is obtained from stretching exercises and ultrasound.

But ITBFS is complex. Does an anti-inflammatory without stretching help? How well would you do if you just rested a couple weeks with no treatment at all?

Based on what I see here, I will probably try to do some strengthening exercises. There's a good list of them here. I'll also do some stretching, as instructed here. For now, I'm not going to invest in a foam roller, although many people swear by them—given the lack of evidence that massage helps much, it sounds like it might be a fruitlessly painful experience. But if you're interested, here's a video explaining how to do that. I will probably continue to wear a knee brace most of the time, primarily to keep my knee warm while running. Unless things don't improve or start to get worse, that's about it. Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jeremy Alsop to Conquer "The Beast" for Cancer Research

DARTer Jeremy Alsop is ramping up for this year's Beast Series, which is a collection of ultramarathons taking place near Lynchburg, VA.  He will be doing it not only for his health and sense of accomplishment but also to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.  Below is an excerpt from Jeremy's blog.

Conquering the Beast for Cancer

Dear Family and Friends,
       What started out as a hobby for me has evolved into a passion and has transformed into a desire to help others.  I started running in college, as a means of stress relief and exercise. Once I completed my first ultra-marathon (an ultra-marathon is a running race that's longer than the standard marathon's 26.2-miles), I was hooked.  I am always asked why I would ever want to run those kinds of distances.  My favorite statement that I hear is, “You run that far?!  I don’t even like to drive that distance!” My answer is always the same. Ultra-marathons allow me to experience God’s amazing creation from a different point of view than the average person, while giving me a sense of accomplishment from pushing my body to the limit. One of my favorite quotes on running is, “Trying to explain a runner’s high to someone who doesn’t run is like trying to explain color to a blind person

       My dad lost a long battle with colon cancer in 2005.  Soon after, I vowed to live a healthier lifestyle and inspire others to do the same.  I began personal training with the hopes of equipping my clients with the tools needed to live healthier, more active lifestyles.   My goal is to change people’s mindsets from, “Tomorrow I may” to “Today I will”.  According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States.  However, it is also one of the most preventable and curable forms of cancer.  A few simple steps that can greatly reduce your risk of this deadly disease include: early detection, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a balanced diet, and remaining active.          
        I am striving to complete a very challenging series of ultra-marathons over the course of 2011 known as “The Beast Series.”  I will be running in memory of my dad, Irvin Alsop, to raise support for the American Cancer Society.  The series consists of six races in Virginia which include:  Holiday Lake 50k++ (31.1miles) on Feburary 12th,  Terrapin Mountain 50k on March 26th,  Promise Land 50k on April 23rd, Grindstone 100 mile on October 7th,  Mountain Masochist 50-mile on November 5th and Hellgate 100k on December 10th.  A few ways you could support the cause would be to donate a one-time gift, or to make a commitment to give after each race completed.  A small portion of the proceeds will go towards covering my race entry fees.  All remaining money will be donated to the American Cancer Society for Colon Cancer research to help find a cure for this disease.
        The Beast Series is one of the most challenging series of races on the east coast.  Because of the degree of difficulty, I will be running a number of other races throughout the year to prepare for the harder races in the fall and winter.  I have started a blog so you will be able to follow my training and races as I work towards this very challenging goal. The blog can be found at I will update the blog as often as possible with training and race recaps. I want to thank you in advance for all the support as we work towards furthering the efforts of the American Cancer Society.  As I embark on this journey through 2011, I want to encourage you to continue being active or make strides to become active.  Simple activities like playing tennis or going on evening walks are great activities to help your mind, body and soul.

Thank you for your support.  I wish you all a happy and healthy 2011.
Jeremy Alsop

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

Please send donations to:
Conquering the Beast for Cancer
Jeremy Alsop
131 Peterborough Drive
Mooresville, NC 28115

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Race Recap: UNCC Homecoming 5K

(Originally posted on Dave Munger's blog)

I'd been feeling like I'd been getting quite a bit faster lately, so I decided to test myself this week with a 5K race. I settled on the UNCC Homecoming 5K—after all, I am an alum (I got a Master's in English there about 7 years ago). The course turned out to be fairly challenging, with significant hills in every mile. It was a misty day, quite chilly, and it had been raining all day the previous day, so there were puddles all over the course.

I met fellow DARTer Mark Ippolito at the UNCC track where the race started, and we jogged a few laps before settling in at the starting line in the second row. We both had similar goals -- better than a 7-minute pace, and in a dream scenario, break 21 minutes for a 6:45 pace. We agreed to shoot for a 6:45 starting mile.

At the starting gun, everyone ran a lap around the track before heading out on the roads. Mark was about 10 yards ahead of me as we left the stadium. It seemed to me that he was running a bit faster than planned, so I wasn't worried. The first mile had rolling hills, which actually added up to a 122-foot vertical gain. Still, my Garmin logged a 6:32 mile, a little faster than planned. As usual in a race, my Garmin recorded a longer course than the actual mile markers, so I passed the official marker closer to 6:40. There was a clock at the mile marker, but it was broken. Sigh.

Mile 2 started with a quick downhill. I tried to cruise down the hill as quickly as possible and actually passed a couple of people. Then the rest of the mile was mostly uphill, and I worked on keeping good running form, with my head up, and eyes on the pavement about 5 yards ahead of me. I probably passed five or six people, but some other runners were staying close to me. Mark was still 10 to 20 yards ahead. The plan had been to run this mile in 7 minutes flat, but it was really a bigger hill than I thought it would be, a total of 140 feet of climbing, so I was happy when the Garmin gave a time of 7:13 for the mile. After combining the fast first mile and the slow second mile, I was right on my planned pace. Again, the official marker here was a little farther along, and again the timer was broken. I didn't look at my watch to see my time.

I was thinking of Mile 3 as a downhill leg, but the first third of a mile was uphill, and it wasn't a subtle climb. There was a total of 49 vertical feet of climbing in this mile. Finally we got to the downhill segment and I tried to pick up the pace. Mark was still 20 yards or so ahead, but I felt like I was slowly reeling him in. I passed a couple other runners on this section. Garmin recorded this mile as a 6:46. I don't remember passing the official Mile 3 marker. A 5K race is 3.1 miles, but my Garmin had it as 3.18, definitely within the margin of error, but still a bit frustrating, because in Garmin-land, I was on pace to run the race in 21 minutes flat. As it was, at 3.1 miles, we were running back into the stadium and still had over 100 meters to go. I was gaining on Mark, who was the only runner between me and the finish line. I heard a race volunteer say "this looks doable," so at least someone thought I could catch Mark. But as I went into an all-out sprint, Mark picked up the pace just enough to stay ahead of me as we crossed the finish line, one second apart.

My watch had me timed at 21:30 for 3.18 miles, for a 6:46 pace per mile. But officially this was a 5K race, 3.1 miles, not 3.18, so my pace was more like 6:55 per mile. This was still faster than my goal of 7-minute miles, but I didn't break 21 minutes.

Either way, 21:30 is a PR for me at the 5K distance, and the course was very hilly, so I'm quite satisfied with my finish. I'm also pleased that I was doing the passing during the final mile, instead of getting passed, as happened in my previous 5K.

The official results aren't posted yet, but I'll provide a link when they are. In the unofficial results, Mark finished 4th and I finished 5th in our age group, and we were something like 27th and 28th out of about 400 runners.

Epilogue: If you ever run a race and you're recording your progress on a Garmin, don't forget to reset your timer when you are done. Otherwise, you're likely to make the same mistake I did and accidentally press the start button while you're taking your jacket off. So my Garmin summary, which I'm posting below, looks a little goofy, with an extra ten seconds of me fumbling around with it 20 miles away from the actual race location. Also the elevation gain for the race is off because my house is at a different elevation from the race start. By my calculations, there was about 338 feet of elevation gain during the race, not 500 as the summary says.