Feb 25, 2009

5 running goals in 2009: A Status Update

I wrote these goals on December 31st, but for no apparent reason I never published it on the blog:

1. Average 125 miles per month (1500 miles total)
2. Have no less than 100 miles in each month.
3. Average 23 runs per month (300 runs total.)
4. Lose 75 lbs: weigh less than 225 lbs.
5. Run a marathon or longer distance in each month.

What does it emphasize? Something that I've chronically lacked in the past: consistency. And in order to be consistent, I need to check my status often. It feels like I've been consistent, but what do the facts say?

(an unrelated image)

Thought I'd line up every pair of shoes I own right now. The results are scary.

Status check - as of February 25th:

1. Should have run 230 miles by now, only ran 205, behind by 25 miles!
2. So far so good.
3. Should have 46 runs by now, only have 24, behind by 22 runs!
4. Should have lost 10.5lbs so far, actually have lost 8. behind by 2.5lbs!
5. So far so good.

Behind in 3 items out of 5. Doh!!

I'm doing horrible in the area of total runs. This is critically important to me. I really want to get daily mileage up. I can get caught up with a few 2-a-days, but the intended habit is running 5-6 days per week.

Total miles is also behind. 1500 miles is less than 30 miles per week. average 4.1 miles per day. I should be able to get caught up with only a couple of big weeks, like this one: Already at 10 miles with 4 days to go: including sunday, a 50K.

Weight is marginally good, but I was well ahead of schedule a few weeks ago. It's hard for me. I overeat in waves, and end up yo-yoing. I'm slowly getting into the habit of eating smaller meals more often, but the inconsistency is killing me. No whining, that's just the way it is.

So, in March, I should be able to get caught up in two of those areas. The total runs area is going to take longer, but hopefully by May I'll be in good shape again.

(another unrelated image)

I got rid of some of my shoes! Yay!

Feb 19, 2009

A tale of three emails

Spent a few minutes digging these up this morning. I figured I might need to document my three consecutive denials to the NYC marathon.

Each of these emails represents a story of ecstatic hope and optimism. You see, NYC is the marathon that I remember as a kid, the marathon that people line the streets 2-3 people deep for almost the entire distance, the marathon that - to me - defines marathon running. Many people think of Boston when they think of the preeminent running race that those crazy-fit distance runners do - but as a kid growing up in queens, it was all about New York. Almost as soon as I realized I was capable of running a marathon (me?), I knew I wanted to run New York.

I've applied to NYC marathon three consecutive times, but four times in total. All four times I've sent in my application (along with the $10 application fee) almost immediately after registration opened. I've been denied all four times. Each denial brought with it a crushing sense of disappointment, and while I won't go so far as to say "despair", by 2008 I definitely got a little cynical about this whole lottery process.

Thankfully, in 2009, I won't have to deal with the disappointment. I really hoped it wouldn't come to this, but if you apply to and are denied in three consecutive years, you're guaranteed entry in the fourth year.

So. November 1, 2009 - if you're running, I'll see you there.


Feb 17, 2009

a quick running story

Joey: A self-portrait

on monday, I had a couple of hours to kill with my son joey.. so I found a high school track and I thought I'd get a quick run in. Since he's 5, he'd run a lap with me and just hang out the rest of the time. I figured maybe a mile before he got bored and asked to leave, two if I'm lucky.

"Joey, how many laps do you want me to do?"



I ran the first few laps like I was only going to do 4-6, because I knew he'd get bored..

do you know, that little effer sat down and watched me huff out 20 laps at a pace suitable for 8???

Around lap 8 or 9, 20 minutes in, I asked, "How many do you want me to do now?"


13th lap: "Still want me to do 20?"


I did slow down by lap 12, but still - those first couple of of laps took their toll!! it ended up being a really solid 5-mile run!

As a result, here's Monday's training run report: 5 track miles in 50:49. Ran hard.

Feb 10, 2009

further thoughts on rocky raccoon..

Shortly before 11PM, with a mile to go before dropping, I sat down on this bench, exhausted, with my head in my hands, just wanting it all to be over. I shot this photo earlier in the day, thinking about this particular bridge - it used to be a part of the course until this year. Hardly even noticed the bench at the time.

"What was wrong with the 50 mile distance? I liked the 50-mile distance! You start in the morning, you're done at night! 100 miles, on the other hand - well, that's just stupid!!" - me

That sounds a lot like something an emotionally and physically distressed person would say in the middle of a death march in the wee hours of the morning. If it happened to me under those circumstances, I probably would attribute it to the physical circumstances and at least try to intellectually blow it off.

But that not how it happened.

I said that while I still felt fine physically.

At around mile 52. 8PM.

It wasn't something that had been brewing all day long, either. I was having fun, right up until that point.

The thing that gets me in retrospect, and which threw off my mental game at the time, is that thought occurred to me in the same way an "ah ha!" moment occurs when I'm trying to solve a programming problem, or tinkering with a gadget, or just thinking about life in general.

I'm sure you've had these "ah ha!" moments. They're rarely, if ever, wrong.

5 days later, it's an interesting thing to think about.

"If you can't learn anything from losing, don't lose." - Unknown

The fact that my wife and kid were not there was a huge emotional drain on me. Really. I thought about them often, and - to be honest - what occurred to me immediately after the mile52thought was, "I wish I were home with Alex and Joe." I sung happy birthday to Joe while on the trail at Rocky. I said I have no regrets in this race - that's not true. I regret not being there for his fifth birthday.

If I ever do attempt a 100-miler again, they're definitely coming with me.

"It's the quitting that really is hard." - Gene Thibeault

The one nagging thought about completing a 100-miler is the mystique surrounding it. There's a quality to 100s that no other distance has. Even if it sucks and I hate every moment of it - I still want to experience this, once. The belt buckle. The second sunrise. The two weeks of recovery. Needing help walking after you finish the run. You know, maybe this 100-mile business just isn't for me - but how could I know that unless I actually finish a 100-mile race?(mile 52 epiphanies notwithstanding.)

People keep saying the second half of a 100 is all mental. I always thought I knew this, of course, but maybe I didn't after all. Is this - indifference when I was feeling fine physically - what they were talking about?

"Steven, when you cross that finish line, it's all worth it." -Andrew, on Sunday Morning

Finally, I. just. didn't. respect. the. distance. Physically, or mentally. The last 5 miles definitely indicated that I physically wasn't prepared to complete the 100-mile distance because there was no way I could have made it under the 30-hour cutoff. But there's a mental component to the distance as well - and maybe I'm just not ready.

If it turns out that 100s aren't for me, my long-term race goals are a little different, aren't they? I will say this: If I ever do register for a 100 again, it will be with a lot more reflection on my physical and mental state. I want to be ready, because DNFing at any race is not a pleasant idea, even if it's the right thing to do, as it was at Rocky.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Perhaps I'll post more thoughts about this experience in the future.

Once last note: I love opinions by all, but I especially love the opinions of experienced 100-milers. Thanks for all the comments you've made on this blog, in the past and in the future.

Race Report: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile

This is going to be a "facts-only" post. Later on, I want to write a separate, more philosophically-oriented post. Also, thanks to Jeff and Linda for some of the photos in this report.

Race Result: DNF
(Dropped at mile 60, at about 17:30)


Bags packed in Suffern

Mini-Airplane at Newburgh/Stewart airport. No leg-room

After leaving work at noon and heading for the airpot, I arrived at a hotel in Willis, TX after midnight on Thursday night. Woke up at 4:30 AM and couldn't fall back asleep. Had breakfast at the hotel.

Texas-shaped Waffles

Drove down to Huntsville State Park, the site of the race. At 8am on Friday morning, a few people were around setting up, but there really wasn't much going on.

Decided to spend the morning in Hunstville and check out the town. Hunstville is a prison-town, there are three separate state prisons in the area, and also the state's execution chamber. The Texas Prison museum is also here, and their star exhibit is "old sparky", the electric chair used in Texas prior to lethal injection.

"Do not attempt to touch Old Sparky"

About the only other thing to do in Hunstville is visit Sam Houston's grave.

Met up with fellow ultrarunner Andrew Edwards from Birmingham for lunch. At his suggestion, we visited a place in a 72-year old downtown Huntsville restaurant called Cafe Texan for "The best chicken-fried steak you ever had." It did not disappoint.

If you ever find yourself driving by Hunstville, definitely stop here

This chicken-fried steak was unbelievably good

Hunstville also has a 67-foot tall statue of Sam Houston along the side of the highway.

You can see it as you come over a hill,4 miles away

Ok, enough of the tourist stuff. We're here for a race, right?

At 2pm I stopped at the race and checked in. Got my race bib and timing chip. Went back to the hotel room and laid everything out.

Obligatory laid out gear photo

I then went back to huntsville state park for the pre-race briefing.

Race Director Joe giving his talk

The audience

After the talk, we left our drop bags for Dam Road aid station (Miles 6 and 12 on each loop) and that was that. I did not attend the pre-race dinner, but wish I had.

The starting line, the afternoon before (tents had not been set up yet)

Saturday Morning

Shoes and gaitors in the hotel room

Merely 6 hours after going to bed, I was unable to sleep again past about 3:00am, so I got dressed and headed down to the race start, arriving well before 5. I was one of the first runners there.

Me and Lora Mantelman

Lap 1

I didn't hear a starting gun go off. People just started running. It seemed anti-climactic for a 100-mile race. Doesn't matter. I took the picture above and started walking.

My plan was to walk to the first aid station, just to get the butterflies out. It was really good to let the pack go out ahead of me - it was dark, the moon had already set, and I was not in the mood to get in a tight pack on the trails.

The course was nice, but hillier than expected. My initial plan of running 10/ walking 5 was not compatible with the idea of walking uphills and jogging down. I tried to do both for a while, but it was pretty futile. I just took it easy and enjoyed the scenery.

Finished lap 1 in about 4:50, ahead of my 5 hours-per-lap plan. It was a long lap though, and frankly, I felt like I had just run 20 miles.

Lap 2

For the first half of lap 2, I made a concentrated effort to stay ahead of 15 minutes per mile. That meant jogging all the downhills (which was easy but still took a bit of a toll) and walking the uphills kind of hard. I still felt fine, but I was starting to get kind of tired. Overall, I still felt fine was lapped by the top to runners right after I passed the marathon point (26.2 miles), and they looked great. However by the 50K point I started to sense my heart rate being rather high. Legs felt fine, I could still move fast, but I was breathing harder than I wanted.

It was about this time I caught up to Andrew (who I had lunch with the day before) and he informed me he was dropping at mile 40. It was a hot day and it was hitting him hard. I walked with him for about a mile to the next aid station, after which he told me to go on. It was nice to chat with him for a while though, and I was sorry to see him drop.

Around mile 35 a volunteer marking the course with glow sticks walked with me for a bit. asked how I was doing and I told him - he then asked about the usual stuff - amd I getting enough electrolytes, food and drink - which I was. It was just my heart rate that was high. After we parted company, I decided to take off my water belt. I was bothering me a bit, and I felt a little better after that. Then, I ran into Lora at the Park Road aid station. She was on her second 16.7 mile lap of the 50 and had all the time in the world, so she wasn't moving fast at all. I decided to walk with her for a bit, and after about a half-hour of moving at her pace I felt 100% better. I literally didn't have a pain in my body. I felt completely fresh and spirits were very very high.

I left Lora when we got back onto single track and headed back to the start/finish - which is where I saw Jeff and Linda, who came down from Dallas to cheer me on and pace me in the last 40!!

Look up "Pure awesomeness" in the dictionary, and you'll find this picture.

If my spirits were high before, I really got excited when I saw them. This was definitely my high-point of the race, because I had just run 40 miles and felt completely fresh and awesome.

I switched to my Nathan pack at this point, ditching the waist-belt bottle holder. Plus, I was all-smiles

Lap 2 took about 5:10. Right on schedule.

Lap 3

They say that if you feel good during a 100, don't worry - it won't last long. That held true and it wasn't at the first aid station before I started feeling tired again. I suspect it was the rolling hills that were getting to me, and I backed off the pace a bit.

Some time after mile 46 aid station, it got dark during a 6-mile stretch with no aid. This 6-mile section got very long on the third lap, and I definitely felt a bit of despair here - I lost interest in the race. By mile 50, I honestly didn't care anymore whether I finished or not, I knew I didn't want to stay out there though. I wanted very much to be home with Alex and Joe. I relayed that thought to a couple of volunteers at mile 52, and both tried very much to encourage me but didn't really raise my spirits at all.

As an aside, I was at mile 55 when Andy-Jones Wilkins and Larry (his pacer) passed me like I wasn't moving. They were winning, on their final lap, and had literally just realized a few minutes before passing me, that the second-place person was only about 5 minutes behind. He really picked up the pace and went on to win the race.

Larry (left) and AJW, right after they finished. Race Director Joe is on the right.

By the time I got to the mile 55.5 aid station, I was in a bit of pain. I betrayed my own rule and sat down to eat something, while a volunteer coached me just as they had in the last aid. The gist of it was "don't think of going 45 miles, just think about getting to the next aid station", but the distances between them seemed to be getting really really long. I got up and started walking to the next aid station, which was the start/finish - and this is where the wheels really came off.

I found myself in a death march and seriously considered cutting the course back to the finish and dropping without even finishing the lap. That was a decision that I would have regretted and decided against it. But it took a good 2 hours to travel that last 4.5 miles back to the start/finish by way of the actual course and by then, I was a complete mess.

At this point, there were three things working against me:
1.) Indifference
2.) Lots of pain, extreme fatigue, intense desire to sit down.
3.) Most importantly - the cutoff. It had somehow become 11:30pm, and that last lap took close to 8 hours. If I were to be allowed to go out on lap 5, I'd have to complete lap 4 by 6am- which at the pace I was going, just wasn't happening. I knew I couldn't finish even if I continued.

So I dropped.

And as soon as I dropped, I got really cold.

I felt bad because Jeff was all dressed to go out with me. I kind of wanted to go with him, just to get a run in. But it just wasn't happening. 5 minutes after sitting down I started feeling pain shooting up and down my legs and it was really intense.

The three of us sat and chatted for a good ninety minutes. I had a great time just hanging out with them. But eventually, my eyes started to shut and I said I better get back to my hotel, cuz I needed some sleep. I managed to make the 20 minute drive back to the hotel without incident - Jeff and Linda were looking at a 3-hour drive back to Dallas! They assured me that they'd be fine, so we parted ways.

The day after

Andrew and I on Sunday morning.

Once again, I was unable to sleep past 7am on Sunday Morning. This was all time that I had planned to be running - and was going to sleep Sunday afternoon and fly home Monday. The time that I had budgeted for sleep after the race.. turned out to be a waste. After going back to the start/finish and hanging out there for most of the morning, I found myself driving around Conroe, TX looking for something to do (didn't have much luck) - tried to take a nap without success, wandered through a few stores. Went to a bad movie. Honestly, the only thing to do - and the one thing that I would really like to have done - was go for a trail run at Huntsville State Park. Doh.

A great place to spend a day.

It was a boring day, but it allowed me a lot of time to reflect on the race result and what I could have done differently. The answer - will be in the next post.

Feb 4, 2009

Rocky Raccoon 100 - pre race thoughts

Read my updates from this weekend's 100-mile race here: http://www.twitter.com/stevetursi!

My JFK 50 mile race medal

At the JFK 50, when I was feeling the fatigue you'd expect after mile 25 or so, I repeatedly tried to picture where I'd be mentally if the race were 100 miles long, not 50. It didn't help. At the time, the distance just seemed inconceivable. And honestly, that's pretty consistent with everything I've read regarding 100-mile ultra runs. Even experienced 100-mile veterans can't seem to wrap their heads around the task ahead of them prior to their big races. Mostly, they just resolve with themselves that they're going to be out there a long time, start, and before they know it, they're done.

So that's the attitude as I go into this race. I've given up trying to comprehend the distance. I can sort-of wrap my brain around the time - on my feet for 30 consecutive hours doesn't sound nearly as bad as traveling 100 miles - but 30 hours doesn't sound easy nor fun. Frankly, it doesn't help. What does help is thinking about all the fun times and new experiences I'm going to have this weekend. fun times like meeting up with friends I've met at other ultras and online. New experiences like running at night. The second sunrise. It'll be wonderful!

There are no hills to deal with. The trails are completely non-technical compared to what I'm used to. And, looking at the weather forecast, it appears that there won't be any mud either. There is nothing to this race to stop me, except the distance.

On the other hand, I'll be on my feet a long time. I will experience a lot of pain and discomfort. I will come to the conclusion that I can not finish. I have spent a lot of time visualizing myself continuing in the face of those issues. They're going to be difficult to overcome. I cannot succumb to my self-pity like I did at Grand Targhee last year. They say it's all about "relentless forward motion" and they're right. As long as I don't stop, I know I can finish. The only thing that may stop me is the 80-mile cutoff at hour 24, but if I'm going that slow, it means I'm in a lot of pain and persevered anyway. I can be proud of that.

Race strategy is to walk at 15MPM (4MPH) the first half-hour. Let everyone go out in front of me. When dawn breaks, settle into a routine of jogging 12MPM (5MPH) for 10 minutes, walking 15MPM for 5 and maintain that as long as I can. If I stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, I'm pretty confident I can maintain that for at least 40 miles on flat terrain, maybe longer. When I have to, I'll switch to a 5minutes running 5 minutes walking routine. If I average 15MPM, which is my walking pace, all the way to mile 60, I will be way ahead of my optimistic finish time of 28 hours, giving myself 15 hours to walk in the last 40 miles if I have to.

Anyway, that's the plan. I understand these plans tend not to last very long in the midst of a 100-mile race. We'll see. I will say this: thinking about these things has occupied pretty much every moment of my life lately. It's pretty exhausting, mentally speaking, to be thinking about this race all day long for weeks. So no matter how it turns out, I will be glad when it's over.

I leave for Texas tomorrow afternoon, and will not be bringing my computer. I will be posting status updates during the race at http://www.twitter.com/stevetursi and see how I'm doing. These status updates get fed into facebook, so you can follow them there if you prefer.

JFK 50 Race Report Part 4 - The Finish

This race report has four parts:
Part 1 - intro | Part 2 - AT | Part 3 - towpath | Part 4 - finish

The Finish Line - see cellphone in left hand. My wife called 200 feet before the finish line! I just said, "hang on a sec..", and let her figure out what was going on.

"My doctor told me that jogging could add years to my life. I think he was right. I feel ten years older already." - Milton Berle

So at Mile 42, we were given reflective vests and directed off the towpath, onto the asphalt. We'd be on this surface for the remainder of the race. And the first thing you do is climb a rather steep hill, which actually felt good because we got off the relentlessly-flat towpath, emphasizing different leg muscles. I didn't mind the hill one bit, powerwalked it and it felt great. I was going to resume a pattern of walking up hills, running down them, but that plan didn't last very long due to odd knee pain that I've never felt before. I resolved to walk it in, and I probably wasn't moving faster than 17-18 minutes per mile. I ran when I could, but was unable to sustain it for more than a couple hundred feet at a time. The pain, not the fatigue, was keeping me from running.

I was grateful for the very strong tea that they had at the mile 44 aid station, also clearly staffed by ultrarunners who appreciated the value of caffeine at dusk..

Once it got dark, in retrospect, this section didn't seem that long. It was only 5-6 miles. However, at the time, it seemed to take forever. As is always the case with me, I just wanted the race to be over.

Random events from the last 5 miles:

* Once it got completely dark, my flashlight (Fenix L2D) started acting up. It would go out, randomly. I'd have to shut it off for a few minutes before it would come on again.

* lots of walkers passed me, but I couldn't walk very fast anymore.

* the distance between "3 miles to go" sign and the "2 miles to go" sign was almost 2 miles. This turned out to be a much bigger deal than you'd think - as it indicated that I just had a 25-minute mile split and wouldn't finish the race before the cutoff (I didn't have 50 minutes to go 2 miles).

* the last aid station, 1.5 miles from the finish, confirmed that it was in the wrong place, which mead me feel better. *much* better. (:

* After a left turn on the highway and it's downhill to an underpass of i-81. I ran this whole section, as the pain had receded a bit.

* I ran about the last quarter mile.

* 200 feet from the finish, my wife happened to call (read photo caption, above.)

* 30 seconds after crossing the finish line and getting my medal, I headed straight for the bus back to the starting line, on which I got the last available seat. This was nice, I was not interested in hanging out for 30 minutes until the next bus left.

One of the most vivid memories I have of the entire race is not the finish, but of the period after. Imagine, if you will, getting off a bus into 15 degrees, with legs completely tightened up such that I could only limp slowly. I tend to feel cold after races anyway, so with a 200-foot walk to the car, I got cold fast and started shivering more violently than I ever have in my entire life - literally. It was crazy. Once I did get in the car, it took forever for me to warm up. I got dinner at a drive-through chick-fil-a because I didn't think I could handle a walk across a parking lot at a restaurant. (My reward for running 50 miles turned out to be a chicken sandwich with two large fries, a large coke, and a large coffee. I needed caffeine and lots of it!) Within 60 minutes after finishing the race I was north of the mason-dixon line, with the heat on high, but still shivering.

If the race was a death-march, then this was a death-drive. At one station, and a worried gas station attendant wondered what the hell was wrong with this 300-lb shivering freak in her station begging for warm water dressed strangely with a medal around his neck. Yeah, I was insatiably thirsty, but I couldn't find luke-warm water anywhere (every gas station & truck stop I went to - and I went to 5 in PA - had only cold refrigerated water!) Driving was difficult, so I took 2 30-minute naps in parking spots. At one point I sat on a chair in a truck stop for 10 minutes, just staring at the floor. By now, I was probably in the Allentown area. Coffee just didn't sound appetizing, so I ended up buying a gallon of cold water. It was fine, I just needed to drink.

Finally got home about 2am and went to sleep.

Feb 1, 2009

January 2009 recap and rocky raccoon weather/light info

Sorry, no photo today


It's race week!!!

Weather forecast (From Accuweather):

Saturday, Feb 7
High: 71 °F RealFeel®: 70 °F
Partial sunshine

Saturday Night, Feb 7
Low: 55 °F RealFeel®: 52 °F
Rather cloudy

Sunday, Feb 8
High: 72 °F RealFeel®: 69 °F
Mostly cloudy with a passing shower

Sounds warm! but not too warm!! This is great news.

Sun and moon information, as provided by the US Navy.
SATURDAY 7 February 2009 (times are CST)
Moonset5:36 a.m.(race starts 6am)
Begin civil twilight6:44 a.m.(44 minutes of no moon no twilight)
Sunrise7:09 a.m.
Sun transit12:36 p.m.
Moonrise4:07 p.m.
Sunset6:04 p.m.(Sunrise in 13hrs, 5mins)
End civil twilight6:29 p.m.(AM Twilight in 12hrs, 15mins)
Moon transit11:19 p.m.
SUNDAY 8 February 2009
Moonset6:24 a.m.
Begin civil twilight6:44 a.m.(20 minutes of no moon & no twilight)
Sunrise7:09 a.m.
Sun transit12:36 p.m.(race ends at noon)

Phase of the Moon on 7 February: waxing gibbous with 95% of the Moon's visible disk illuminated.

Sounds like we'll have a nearly-full moon (yay!!) that might be obstructed by clouds (boo!!)


Weight at start of month: 299lbs
Weight at end of month: 286lbs

January2100.5 mi
February 20.5
March 49
April 70
May 1
June 23
July 51
August 88 87
September 32 67
October 40 92.81
November 26 95
December 20 3