22 days from now, I'll get my shot at an event I've been training for since the beginning of the year...the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run in La Grange, WI (about an hour northwest of Chicago). Today, I essentially capped off my training and will now enter the tapering phase and eventually dwindle my mileage down to basically nothing days before the event.
This morning at 4am, I hit the trails of the CVNP from the Boston Store with Mindy. I've never got anyone up for my many 4am starts but somehow, Mindy wanted to run until 5:45am, zip home and shower, and be at work in N. Canton by 7am. She made it! We did the Pine Lane route and said our goodbyes...but not before Mindy once again ate a little bit of dirt. (she tends to do that when she runs with me...I'd get my own dirt in the not-too-distant future, though) Next up, I was to meet Vince from Vertical Runner and Kyle, a new employee at the store at 7am for an hour run before they headed up to the Cleveland Marathon Expo to team up with Saucony and man the Vertical Runner booth. Before they showed up at 7am, I ran the Brandywine Loop but instead of running the Towpath to the trail, I took the Valley Bridle to Brandywine. As I was coming down the hill past the Inn at Brandywine Falls, I caught a glimpse of a trail sign and that little glance away from the trail which was strewn about with big rocks and roots, cost me. I hit the ground hard but tried to "gracefully" barrel roll it (I just read about "how to fall" in TrailRunner magazine) before hopping back to my feet. Luckily, the water crossing was just around the corner so I washed off in the downstream water of the Brandywine Falls. Once back to the store, I met up with Vince and Kyle and we ran to the Brandywine Falls yet again and got 'em back right at 8am so they could get going. At 8:30am, I was scheduled to meet up with Jim Chaney who wanted 7 or 8 miles on the trails. Well, Marty and Wild Bill also showed up! We did one of my more favorite routes which is an exact 8 miles. We took the Valley Bridle Trail to Jaite to the Buckeye Trail entrance off of Snowville then took the BT back to the Boston Store. One big benefit (in my humble opinion) is that I got to run DOWN the rollercoaster hill just before the store...my absolute favorite downhill in all of the CVNP. Back at Boston, I said my goodbyes once again, ate some more potatoes, and thought about what to do next. In the middle of meeting everyone, I ran and stayed moving so at this point, I was at nearly 31 miles. Here's where the exclamation point comes in: I have found that running 30 miles is "easy." By easy, I mean that I can run the whole thing with a steady pace and feel fine afterwards...even wanting more very often. Doing it again the next day has also went very well. My back-to-back training runs in the preceding months have certainly done this for me. In an ultra-marathon, most runners will tell you that somewhere in the late 20s to the early-mid 30s in mileage, that a mental "funk" is nearly unavoidable. The key is to know it will happen and to know that you can push through it and all will be well again on the other side. Since I don't hit that "funk" anymore through 30 miles, I thought I'd go on out for some more miles and "find" it. With this being my last big training run, I wanted to remind my head and my body that it is real...it will happen...and I can push through it. So, I say to myself: "So where can I go to make my head scream "STOP!!!!!!!"?" Ahhh, the Mother Hill will do just fine. I named it that, by the way. It's the hill which is part of the Valley Bridle Trail that runs from near the Towpath under the Ohio Turnpike and heads up 0.60 mile besides the Turnpike...straight up, under the beating sun. It is a relentless hill that will humble the best runners. So, I head on out looking for the funk and sure enough, I found it. In fact, when I crested that hill and stood at the intersection of the Valley Bridle and the Buckeye Trail, I put my arm/head down on the sign post and just froze there. "Hello, FUNK!!!" I gathered myself and continued on through the pines and then took the Buckeye Trail back to the Boston Store. I was at 34.2 miles by the Garmin so I did a little out-n-back on the Towpath...funk still in control. About 1/2 mile from the 35 mile point, the funk said "Bye, Bye!!!" and I felt good once again and felt that I had many more miles in me. But, I decided I'd save that energy for another day...namely June 6th.
I think I'm going to pour through my calendar over the past several months and summarize my training. Once I do, I'll post it here to give an idea of where I started and where I ended up. The back-to-backs really did increase my endurance level. I started with a 20mile/15mile a few months back, gradually increased the distance over a few more, and capped it off two weeks ago with a 30/30. This weekend isn't "technically" a back-to-back but I am going to head out tomorrow morning for another 10-12 miles on the trails...call it a recovery run. Sunday, I'll be rooting fellow runners on from the sidelines at the Cleveland Marathon...it's looking like perfect weather! Mid 50s is perfect marathon weather...just bring in some clouds and that would be the icing on the cake.
I really feel good about my training. I have done the work so hopefully, I will be rewarded with my first 100 mile finish. I honestly have zero regrets. I did everything I planned to do, got in all the big mileage weekends I planned to, and rested/recovered just as I planned to do. Sitting here now (all covered in nasty salt/crud/dried mud from the trails...not yet showered!), I am incredibly thankful for training that: 1) involved no injury whatsoever, 2) did not impact my family negatively one bit, and 3) did exactly what it was supposed to do...increase my endurance and teach me how/what to eat, manage my energy levels, and manage my pace to maintain it over the long haul. What else can I ask for?
Happy Trails, everyone!