Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mud, Trails, Friends

4am, alarm, the window is open and I can hear that familiar sound of slow, steady rain. Wow, the forecasters actually got it right this time. The trails were dry, but not after this all-night rain. Question: if it were the morning of the Buckeye Trail 50K on July 19th and it was raining, wouldn't you still get up and go? Absolutely! This day was no different and by the looks of things a few hours later, many others thought the same thing. By the time I hit the road to meet my running buds at the Boston Store, the rain was tapering off and ended by the time we hit the trails. 3 hours later the sun was out. From 6 - 6:30, Melissa, Brett and I got in a few extra miles before the 6:30 group showed up (see pic above) then we headed to Brandywine Falls. We knew the water crossing would be a wet crossing today with all the rain and we were right. Shoes were totally immersed but thanks to SmartWool, no worries! Once we got back to the Boston Store, we headed to Pine Lane. Yea, this is the winter BT50K course. On the way out there, we passed 3 or 4 running groups. I honestly have never seen so many folks on the trails outside of an actual event. It was great to see so many out today. Yes, the trails were muddy but you know how green everything gets after a rain? It was gorgeous, then the sun starting shining through the leaves. Man, I love those trails! All-in-all, 16 miles racked up in 2hrs, 50min. Pretty happy since this wrapped up my recovery week from the Buffalo Marathon last Sunday. I had taken Monday off, did 4.5 on Tuesday, Wednesday/Thursday off, 7.5 on Friday, then the 16 today. The pic to the right is Bob and me after the run. Bob is also running Burning River this August...his first 100-miler.

Now it's time to grab some grub. I just got done spending the last 7 hours mulching...and getting a pretty good sunburn on my back.

Oh yea, I'm very near registering for the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run in Lynchburg, VA on Saturday, November 1st. That's 3 months after Burning River and one month after the Akron Marathon. If you'd like to carpool and share a room down there, let me know. From what I hear, this is one of the best ultras in the eastern United States....now in it's 26th year.

Have a great June and as always, Happy Trails!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Buffalo Marathon and Memorial Day

Marathon #21 is in the books. A PR, however, still remains 8 years old from the 2000 Richmond Marathon. That's a monkey I can't seem to get off my back. Finishing time: 3hrs, 44min, 43sec. (The PR I'm referring to is 3hrs, 21min, 58sec) I actually went through the 1/2 marathon dead on 1:40 which was the plan. The goal was to target 7:35 - 7:40 pace and pick it up in the 2nd half. Well, that didn't happen. You know how some days you're just dealt a bad hand? This was one of those days. Don't get me wrong...I'm thankful for another marathon finish with a respectable time...but why at 15 miles did things turn south for me is beyond me. I did nothing different this time around but at mile 15?!?!?!? I can't make any real excuses, either. It was a gorgeous day: 50F for the start, clear skies, sun shining and upper 60s at the finish. I guess the pounding sun can speed up dehydration which is what I suspect happened. Another thing...those pesky sore spots from the Green Jewel 100K three weeks ago crept back in on me. I guess 3 weeks wasn't quite enough time, although I felt recovered.

Regarding the marathon: We headed up on Saturday (about a 3.5 hr drive) for the expo which closed early at 4pm (kinda early, eh?) followed by the FREE pasta party. Pretty decent pasta served with meatballs, a good salad, and some bread. They were even serving beer which really shocked me. That's a big no-no before a race so I wish they wouldn't even offer it. I was surprised to see how many runners were indulging. Back to the expo..small, cramped, and the air conditioning must have been broken. It was a tiny little room with a few charity tables, other regional marathon tables, and the rest of the cramped space was taken up by the Runner's Roost retailer selling running gear. The goody bag did have a New Balance tech tee, though...a pleasant surprise. Race morning brought with it sunny skies and 50F...beautiful. We stayed about 5 blocks from the start. The starting line had a one-of-a-kind configuration. The marathon and 1/2 marathon were a block apart...directly opposite of each other and seperated by a city parking lot. The announcements could be heard on both sides but ultimately, the goal was to ease congestion at the start which it did. Pretty cool idea for whoever came up with idea. At Mile 1, both fields joined each other. The course is flat and fast. There were a few bridges to cross in the first 11 miles then no hills to speak of the rest of the race. At the half-marathon point, you pass back through downtown and head to the more residential (and nice) part of town. (Sounds like the Cleveland Marathon, eh?) Throughout the race, the water stops were very good. Finally, a race that advertises stops every 2 miles and delivers dead-on. Typically, they're not exact, but here they were. Great for me as I took a ShotBlok every 2 miles. Gatorade and water were the fluids and were announced as we entered the stations...and the volunteers had a smile on their faces...very nice! Jump ahead to the final miles. One big negative to Cleveland is how you see the city (where the finish line is) so early but it seems an eternity until you actually finish. Mentally, I can't stand that! At Buffalo, I'm in the 25th mile and I'm still in the residential area but I know the race finished downtown. I turn the corner into downtown which also is the Mile 25 marker. The entire 26th mile is downhill and straight. At the very end, is what I refer to as the "Mini-Washington Monument." You can see it a mile away and it is surrounded by a round-a-bout. The 26 mile point is at the 3 o'clock position. What an awesome way to come to the finish. Focus on the monument, use the downhill, and rock out the end of the marathon. As you circle the monument and hit Mile 26, it's 2 brief turns to the finish to the finish line, adjacent to the Convention Center. Inside the Convention Center awaits some breads, yogurt, sodas, deep dish pizza, and free beer. Comfy chairs and tables just to chill out and relax. GREAT finish line! All-in-all, it was a great trip and a well-executed marathon. Small enough to not get lost but large enough to never be running alone. Marjie and her friend, Amy, also completed their first half-marathon. They've been walking our neighborhood for months getting ready for it.

Next up?: No marathon on the near horizon...all focus shifts to the trails and the August 2/3 Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run.


Memorial Day 2008: Being back in the Navy compelled me to get back out there in the community and give a bit of representation for not just the Navy but for the Armed Forces. I contacted the local Giant Eagle grocery store who makes up a great patriotic float each year and asked if I could accompany them. Who would have thought we'd have sunny skies when at 8am it was thunder and pouring rain. The picture on the right is of Shawn and myself. Shawn recently returned from Iraq and will certainly be heading off again sometime. He serves in the Army Reserve. The other is of myself and the girls at the cemetary after the Memorial Day ceremony.

Have a great Memorial Day and as always, HAPPY TRAILS!!!

Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ...
--David Blaikie

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Take a Moment to Let It Soak In

(copied blog entry from the VR Training website)

Deep Thoughts....

My running "life" began 11 years ago while in Virginia Beach with the Navy. Reflecting back, the running community that welcomed me, encouraged me, and saw me through thick and thin was a key instrument in providing the framework for a running "life" I so embrace today. Even though I moved out of Virginia in 2001, I still consider them some of my very best friends...for life.

That move from Virginia took my family to Colorado Springs...a view of Pikes Peak out my living room window and Saturday morning runs aboard the Barr Trail heading to Pikes Peak...absolutely breathtaking. However, with Colorado on top of the heap with regards to "fittest state in the country," the running community left MUCH to be desired. Still today, as Vince will attest, it lacks community and a quality hub to connect everyone, such as a locally run specialty running shop. Yea, they have one, but it's nothing like what exists in Virginia Beach (ie: http://www.runningetc.com/) or Vertical Runner here in Hudson. Key ingredients are heavy involvement in the community, not just the "running" community, but the community in which the store calls "home." It also must put the good of people and doing what's best for them above making the highest profit. Sure, profit is crucial otherwise the store would cease to exist, but it's not the drive...it's not the passion that keeps it alive. Truly serving others as they would want to be treated and helping them reach their goals must be the cornerstone upon which all else is built.

OK, so here I am...11 years into my running "career." Who would have thought I'd find such a "community" as I have here in northeast Ohio. Ask someone who isn't in it, whether they live here or anywhere else in the country, they'd probably not believe it. We have at our disposal miles and miles of gorgeous protected land...Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland Metroparks, Summit Parks...to name a few. Even I had no idea how much was here until I ran...well, I "slogged"...through the rainy Green Jewel 100K a few weeks back...and I was taken through a tour of what the Cleveland Metroparks has to offer. I thought I "knew it all" since I'm familiar with the CVNP.

Then comes the Cleveland Marathon last weekend. I didn't even run it, but I was there and what a showing it was. My only goal was to snap photos of VR tech tees and I couldn't believe how many folks I knew. One after another, there YOU were! Then came the 25 mile mark where I saw happiness, sadness, pain, and just plain 'ol elation for being 1 mile to the finish! For some, they were finishing their first marathon, their 20th, or reaching a seemingly unreachable goal...like Aaron qualifying for Boston (now THAT was a heck of an inspiration!).

Take a moment to step back and soak it all in...a running community that accepts all, regardless of ability, talent, or experience. Elite ultra-runners to someone who runs 3 miles and wants to run a marathon...you're welcome here! Thank you to all of you and thanks to Vince & Steve for opening a store and infusing their passion into the local community. Don't ever take this for granted...it's not the "norm" and you may not ever find it again should you move away. (ie: I almost moved to San Antonio, TX and when I asked about "group runs" at the local running shop, they thought I was speaking Greek!)

Set goals, achieve them, live a healthy lifestyle, and just get out there! Join us at the Fall VR Training Kickoff Meeting THIS Wedneday at the Hudson Libary @ 7pm!

Happy Trails!

Nick Billock
Running the Race Set Before Me

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Green Jewel 100K in Pictures

Thanks to Greg for getting me the pics from the Green Jewel 100K a few weeks ago. Even more, thanks to Missy for being a real big supporter that day and being at every single stop (plus an additional one at mile 58) lending her smiles and encouragement....and of course, snapping all of these pictures.

Before I get to the pics, I have to mention an article I read today in "Marathon & Beyond." If you don't get this, I'm not sure where to send you since I don't think it's sold anywhere locally. M&B isn't your typical "magazine" and you'd mistake it for a book at first glance as it is normally about 1/2" thick and the size of an average book...and published 6 times per year. Much more "editorial" style and less one-page articles. Many of our running-writing greats (ie: Joe Henderson, Hal Higdon, Don Kardong, etc.) write monthly. They also do an in-depth review of a marathon once per issue...they recently covered the Akron Marathon. Anyway, if you ever want to subscribe, visit them via the http://www.marathonguide.com/ website (link near bottom of main page) and that's the cheapest subscription price available...I believe it's $32.95/year. I highly recommend this magazine. I believe it is an often-overlooked publication for those passionate about our sport.

Anyway, the article is by Dr. Jason Karp and it goes over "Training to Combat Marathon Fatigue." Really great information from a scientific/real world perspective. If you are the type who loves higher and higher weekly mileage (which I'm creeping into!), this article will JUSTIFY it! The article is not published online so I can't link you to it but you can read the intro to it at http://www.marathonandbeyond.com/.

Now for the pictures. I've done my best to put them in sequential order with the aid stations. Thanks again to to Greg and Missy! The pics are small so they load fast on your screen but you can click on any photo to view it full-screen. (full review of the event in an earlier blog down below the pics)

Rocky River, OH @ the Marina near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River (aka: the Burning River): May 3, 2008, 5:08am START
Greg Dykes (aka: my running partner for the day) at the start

Approaching the 15 mile Wallace Lake Aid Station: 7:30am

Wallace Lake Aid Station photo shoot

50K (31.2 miles) Halfway Point, Oak Grove, 10:30am

Mile 42, Egbert Picnic Area Aid Station, 1pm

Mile 49, Harper Road Aid Station, 2:40pm


Mile 53, Polo Field Aid Station, 3:45pm
Joe Jurczyk (on right), co-race director, took care of one of these 3 rolling aid stations out of the back of his SUV...water, Heed, pretzels, PB&J...thanks, Joe! (Vince & Suzanne, too!)

Steps before the finish...final hill before arriving at the Finish Line

Nick & Greg...finishing together in 13 hours, 9min
100K (62.4 miles)

Heck ya, we're smilin'!!! We'd been running since 5am...and now it's dinner time!



Sunday, May 11, 2008

Green Jewel 100K Report/Review

While out my back window at home I see the temporary cross that marks the spot where Bailey lies, out my front door inside one of our pine bushes is 4 baby House Sparrows...just hatched within the last day. "Mama" Sparrow flies over our house to the feeder in the back and then back up front to her babies. She "stepped" aside for a moment while I snapped this picture. I just missed a shot of all 4 of them with their mouths open wide waiting for food. Anyway, pretty cool, eh?

And now on to my Green Jewel 100K review. I think Greg's still wrestling with his digital camera which has pics from every aid station (there were 10 of them). If he ever wins that battle, I'll post some of them. I got very few pics that day due to the constant rain after the 15 mile point.
Common Question: "Why in the world would you run 62.4 miles?! Isn't a marathon long enough?!" Answer: "Of course a marathon is long enough and was my first and still my main passion, but an ultramarathon is a test to see where my limits are. It's a completely different kind of event and test of physical and more so, of mental endurance. I toe the line of a marathon or a trail 50K to compete...mostly against myself and previous performances. I toe the line of these longer events to test even more of myself, my limitations, the effects of extended time on my feet, and also how to best fuel a finishing performance with regards to nutrition and how my body utilizes it and its effects on me physiologically. Pretty much, this past Saturday was a huge experiment, you might say."
The result? I finished in 13hrs, 9min! I found that 100K is in fact not my limit and I'm looking forward to this August's Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. (yea, I'll take the label "crazy" if you prefer!) I also found that Pure Fuel is an excellent source of race fuel and has zero adverse effects on me over the long haul. One kind of neat thing was that in the 2nd 30 miles of the event, any time I'd eat, I'd almost immediately get a chill and all the hairs on my arm would stand up on end. Why? It's because the blood rushes to participate in the digestion of the food thus giving up on maintaining body temperature for a bit. After a few miles, that always subsided. Also, from what other ultra-runners have told me, a cardinal rule is to always eat-eat-eat, drink-drink-drink, pee-pee-pee!!! If you're not going to the bathroom, that's a warning sign. Gotta drink early and often. That's different than a marathon where I drink far less and hope I don't need to stop at all during the race...which works probably 1/2 of the time. Different for the ultra as it's more about endurance and physically lasting the multiple hours on end...with hydration being a key component to that end.
I woke up early, like 1:45am EARLY, to brew my normal stovetop espresso and mill about before heading out the door for Mayfield Village...about an hour drive north and to the east of Cleveland. We met up with Joe and Vince (co-race directors) for a ride to the start WEST of Cleveland in Rocky River...a little northeast of the Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport. The start was very near the point where the Cuyahoga River empties into Lake Erie. Start was scheduled for 5am but we took off a few minutes late at 5:08am. At this point, we enter the beginning of the All Purpose Trail of the Cleveland Metroparks, AKA: the "Emerald Necklace." It's marked by a green dashed line down the middle of the pavement. It's an all purpose, asphalt-paved surface similar to the Summit Bike & Hike trail system. Click here to see it overlayed on a Google Map. You'll see why it's called a "Necklace" and also give you perspective on how far this really is. (ignore that crazy red line over Lake Erie)

The goal was to run with Greg, who had a couple of 50-milers under his belt, and go out at a 9-10 min/mile pace. One thing I knew: running at a pace much slower than my normal long run (ie: marathon training) would eventually cause pain. That's because my stride is different and different muscles are being utilized which aren't used to the extended stress. I was right and by mile 20, I felt like I'd raced a marathon...ie: like I had been running at a 7:25-7:30/min mile. Who would've thought you'd be just as much or more sore by running so much SLOWER! Weather was decent through mile 15 when the rain started. But honestly, the rain made it feel like we were running in air-conditioning. Not heavy, mid-60s, very light wind...enough to stay comfy and help fight dehydration which was critical. Much better than being 75F and sunny!

There were 10 "mobile" aid stations spaced between 5-7 miles apart. Vince and Joe (co-race directors) loaded up their SUVs and just popped the back of them open to create the stations. Hammer's Heed, water, PB&J, Pure Fuel "bites", pretzels, crackers, etc. were found at each station. Once we passed the first handful of stations and the small field started spreading out, they started "leap-frogging" each other to ensure someone was at each aid station.

Some of the areas we passed through: Rocky River, Fairview Park, Berea, the Rocky River Reservation, Strongsville, Mill Stream Run Reservation, Broadview Heights, Brecksville, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Walton Hills, Bedford Chagrin Park, Solon, Bedford Reservation, Chagrin Valley, and finished in Mayfield just south of the North Chagrin Reservation.

Nearly 100% of the course is on asphalt. The exception was a very short section on the Towpath which was crushed limestone...except for actual portions of the Towpath which were asphalt! This was a true beating on the legs. I couldn't wait to recover on the trails during my recovery. Anyway, I was doing fine "mentally" until around 32 or 33 miles in...the section on the Towpath. Mentally, I was failing here and just zoned out. Greg kept on talkin' but I just slipped away fighting the mental side saying "STOP!!!!" Luckily, this dreadful stretch of silence ended as soon as we turned uphill onto Sagamore Hills. From this point on, the mental battle never again reared it's ugly head...and thankful I was for that! The next awesome hurdle was crackin' the 40 mile point. There was something about seeing 40 miles on my Garmin and having less than a marathon left that was encouraging...no stoppin' me now! In the 50th mile, a terrential downpour started and it was also the first time I really got cold...hands were freezing. Leaving the aid station just before 50, Greg realized that his 50 mile PR was close at hand. We bolted from the aid station with a pace we hadn't yet seen this day. We passed 50 miles 1 MINUTE faster than his PR...congrats, Greg! Oh yea, seeing 50 miles on the Garmin was another cool milestone and we were excited to be nearing the double-marathon point (52.4 miles). Right around the 55-56 mile point, the rain stopped and out came the sun...the first time we saw the sun all day...it was SO awesome to feel sunshine. I'll never forget when that sun came out. As we entered the park near the finish (about 1.5 miles to the finish), we encountered a constant uphill to the finish where Joe, Vince, and Greg's girlfriend waited for us. We finished together in 13hrs, 9min. Dinner at Aladdin's followed by a hot shower and an awesome night's sleep awaited! What an AWESOME day! It was ironic how at 33 miles I was trying to figure out how to get out of the Burning River 100 Miler this August and at the finish, I couldn't wait to attempt the 100 mile distance.
I've gotta throw another big thank-you to Joe and Vince for putting on this event. It was a great experiment to test another level of endurance I had not seen before. A test of nutrition strategy, mental strategy, gear strategy...all valuable lessons for the future. To put on the event for so very few runners is a testament to their dedication to the sport and why so many veteran and new ultra-marathoners flock to their summer and winter Buckeye Trail 50Ks and the BR100.

Fueling Strategy:
Hammer's Heed in handheld finished between each aid station
1/2 Pure Fuel "Blue Blaze" Bar per hour
PB&J at each aid station
3 liters water via Nathan #020 race vest over 13 hours

Recovery Week
Well, what REALLY hurt afterwards was on both sides of my hips where that "meaty" muscle connects in at top. Those were pretty sore for a good 4 days. Other than that, the front of both feet at the ankle pivot point gave me alot of discomfort. Vince calls this "ultra ankle." Basically, the reduced stride over-stresses this area for such a long period of time. I took 3 solid days completely off, ran 6 Wednesday easy, Thursday off, another 6 around 8min pace on Friday, then had an AWESOME and easy trail run with Vince and Chef Bill yesterday. We did an easy trek from Pine Lane to Boston Store and back. Breakfast at Fisher's for my favorite Vegetable Scramble afterwards.

Next up: Buffalo Marathon in 2 weeks! #21!

Here's a quote from a book I'm reading that has absolutely nothing to do with running but I think it's so appropriate....enjoy!

"That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rest in Peace: Bailey Billock 1995-2008

I know I haven't posted my Green Jewel review, yet...but it's coming. Today was a very somber day. My American Cocker Spaniel, Bailey, has been getting more sick and has been having a lot of bleeding over the past 3 or so weeks. There have also been other issues over the past year or so as he has digressed. We spoke to several folks "in the know" and also our vet and decided to have him put to sleep. Bailey was born on October 12, 1995 and was an absolute joy to have as part of our family for nearly all of our marriage to date. He was part of a purebred litter in Virginia Beach and he was one of gentlest dogs you'd ever know. He traveled with us from Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and then home to Ohio and was always a trooper.

Even though I knew this day was coming soon, it made it no easier. I snapped this picture just before we left for the vet today as a way to remember him. I held his head in my hands and kept rubbing his ears (which was always his favorite treatment) as he went to sleep. It was quick and he gently laid down on the table. We brought him home right after that to put him to rest. Rest assured, every tear was spilled today as I said goodbye to him. I always considered him part of the family for the past 13 years. I miss you, "son"!
Bailey Billock
October 12, 1995 to May 8, 2008