Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year in Review: 2009

Oh, the irony. As another year wraps up, I sit here in a sports medicine clinic, waiting to see Dr. Nilesh Shah. Dr. Shah is a local runner and probably the #1 go-to person for local runners when they are injured or suspect injury. I have been resilient and injury free for so long and have never set foot in such a place so with the successes and life-changing events that I want to remember in 2009, it’s ironic that it is here that I find myself 1 day before the crystals fall in Times Square. Perhaps by the time I end this final post of the year, I will have spoken and been diagnosed by Dr. Shah and can fill you in. For now, I just want to float back about 12 months and recap a simply amazing year and a year I would have NEVER predicted a year ago.

As I crossed over from 2008 to 2009, I had but one primary goal…to run and finish my first 100-mile endurance run. With a failed attempt in August 2008 and my impatience of not wanting to wait 365 days for my second shot, I picked a 100-miler in the kettles of southern Wisconsin, the Kettle Moraine 100. I decided that all training I did leading up to this event on June 6, 2009 would have to coincide with this goal race, otherwise, it wasn’t to be done. Early in the year, I ran the final installment of the Winter Buckeye Trail 50K. It never did get above 22F that day and trailside, the snow was 8-12” at all times. I was also sick as a dog and was coughing and sneezing violently, even up to the race start and continuing post-race. During the race, I ran hard and thanks to the 20 or so sheet metal screws in my trail shoes, I placed 5th overall in one my fastest 50K trail races ever. Through the winter, I trained a lot on trails and maintained about a 50-70 mile average per week. I even got to run/hike a bit on the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia as I took a break from my 2 weeks of active duty with the Navy. Starting in early April, I began the ramp-up to the Kettle with back-to-back training days where I first ran 20 miles on a Friday followed by 15-20 more on Saturday morning. Eventually, I got up to 30 mile / 30 mile days and an incredible recovery rate. I was recovering practically overnight with minimal soreness. I also ran the inaugural Fools 50K just after April Fools Day in a respectable 5hrs, 23min. Pretty happy with that time especially since I ran much of the day before.

Later that month, specifically on April 15th, the day before my 36th birthday, I got this crazy idea of "The weather looks good tomorrow. I should run 36 miles on my 36th birthday!" I got to work, requested the day off, then planned out my route. On April 16th, I got my girls on the school bus, then set out from my home on a 36 mile route that included Brimfield, Kent, Ravenna, and Rootstown. I stopped at various spots along the way, took pictures with friends and family, and still made it back home before the girls were done with school for the day. I actually ran a decent pace considering it was just for fun as I passed the marathon point at 26.2 miles right at 4 hours as I passed through Ravenna. That day was soooo much fun and I see a repeat of something similar in the years to come.
Here's my report from the run. This is one of my favorite pics from the run. Around mile 33, I stopped at my youngest brother's house (who was at work at the time) and my niece and nephew had made up a sign welcoming me and wishing me Happy 36th Birthday! That was so awesome. Thank you!

North of Chicago, it was quite a drive but little didn't I know what a haul it would be AFTER the race. Getting into Wisconsin, I loved the area immediately as well as the people in the area. Come race morning (which I remember vividly still now), I began my journey to my first 100-mile finish. In the over 230 blogs posts that I have written and the many race reports, I still believe it is my best. As you know, your “first time” regardless of what it is, only happens once. Finishing the Kettle Moraine 100 was truly a life-changing event and seeing that finish line created such a rush of emotion that I felt from head to toe that I can’t imagine ever forgetting it. I can still see that bold red finish line banner through the pines on Sunday morning and the tear that dripped down my cheek. Solo. Alone. Just me and the trail. It was, as the saying goes…priceless. I finished in 25hrs, 39min. Part 1 of race report. Part 2 of race report.

After the Kettle and bringing home my little baby kettle (my finishers award), I took some time off but probably only about 3 weeks until I ramped up the mileage again since big goal #2 was just around the corner, my chance at redemption at my 2nd attempt at the Burning River 100. You see…2008 ended not-so-good at Burning River. I sprained my ankle pretty badly at Mile 38 on the now-closed Carriage Trail. The pain became unbearable by the time I got to the Boston Store aid station and I dropped out at Mile 55. I still remember sitting in Marjie’s car and my youngest daughter asking me: “Did you quit, Daddy?” That question still pierces me today. At the Boston Store, the podiatrist confirmed my decision to drop and wrapped my ankle up and hanging my head low, I headed on home as many of my friends continued on to the finish.

So 2009 was the year to crush this event and get my buckle and be done with it. I did just that and for the first time in my life, I learned what it was like to “sleep run” which is what I was doing between miles 90 and 95. Kellie T., my pacer, would turn around and look at me as we were heading south on the Towpath towards Memorial Parkway and I’d have my eyes shut and I’d be weaving around like a drunk driver…er…drunk runner. I could not wake up even though I had taken in 3 Starbucks Doubleshots and caffeine-infused ShotBloks over the span of the race. Eventually, I emerged onto the final stretch in Cuyahoga Falls, took both of my girls in hand and crossed that finish line in 27hrs, 11min.
Finishing Burning River was a huge accomplishment and it felt like I finally proved to people that I really can do this thing. I proved it to myself, for sure. There were a few people who came up to me in the weeks afterward and questioned me doing two 100-milers within 8 weeks of each other and weren’t too sure if I could do it. Well, I did it and dangit, I felt pretty darn good!

Immediately after Burning River, my family and I escaped to southern Ohio into the Hocking Hills area and rented out a cabin where not even a cell signal could be received. We spent a few days just hiking the many trails down there and spending a lot of time beneath the foliage that was so heavy down there…a fair amount of time in the hot tub, too. I wrote my Burning River report while down there and you can read it for yourself
here. That report sealed Burning River for me…for good. While I will support that race for years and years to come, I do not ever intend on running it again. I won’t say never because…well, I said I’d never run a 100 miles. If you are considering a 100-miler, though, I still recommend it, but you’d better train well and expect a lot of warm, humid temps on that first weekend in August. As I approached the Boston Store this year around mile 56, it was 87F.

After vacationing in Hocking Hills, and a good time at local fairs and apple orchards as fall silently approached, something else was weighing heavily on my mind: the inaugural running of the Oil Creek 100 Mile Endurance Run in Titusville, PA. Titusville is the undisputed birthplace of the oil industry located a short 2 hours from me in northwest Pennsylvania. I had been watching Tom Jennings, race director, build and craft an excellent event over the past year. He was constantly posting Facebook updates about everything and I really wanted to be a part of it. He offered a 50K, 50 mile, and the 100 mile. Prior to Burning River, Marjie said “no way!” to another 100-miler this year. However, after her faithful volunteering experience at Burning River, she fully supported me if I would decide to do Oil Creek. I was already signed up for the 5th running of the YUT-C 50K threes prior and the Akron Marathon two weeks prior to Oil Creek, though. Hmmmm….do them all! So I signed up…for 100-miler #3 in my life and 3rd in 2009.

About a month after Burning River, I ran a 5 mile race in Akron on Labor Day, called the Labor of Love Run which I run every year. In a not-very-smart way, I raced it and raced it hard. I hadn’t been doing speedwork at all in 2009, but instead had been focusing on long trail runs. I was also only 4 weeks removed from my last 100-miler. Well, I think I caused a little damage that day to my iliopsoas and adductor muscles in my left leg. Actually, I can’t say that it was just that event but probably a combination of the 100-milers, lack of enough rest after Burning River, and racing hard when I wasn’t conditioned to do so. A few weeks later, I ran the YUT-C 50K, cutting a whoppin’ hour off my personal record on that course, then ran the Akron Marathon one week later. That didn’t go so well and looking back today, that race was a mistake. I wasn’t keeping the big picture in mind and ran it just because I wanted to be in a race where so many friends were running and a race that is so much fun each year. My left leg muscles acted up and the last 5-10 miles were not so much fun. After that, I totally shut it down until Oil Creek with very minimal running. The goal was to rebuild and rest as much as humanly possible in 14 days.

Arriving in Titusville, PA on October 10th, I found my sleeping spot on the gym floor where I’d sleep, met up with a lot of friends at the local brewery, Blue Canoe, and enjoyed everyone’s company in the packed cafeteria the night before for the pre-race dinner and meeting. The race was sold out for all events and to see the room packed for an inaugural event was jaw-dropping. (way to go, Tom!) The next day started a journey not soon to be forgotten…one with pain, mental toughness, tears, and a bit of “trail pole dancing.” Oil Creek consists of (3) 50K loops of about 31 miles each with a "final trip home" route of about 7 miles at the end. Around mile 20, my muscular issues flared up in my upper left leg which is the reason I sit here at Dr. Shah's today. Those issues have not gone away. As someone who takes ibuprofen as a last resort, I began doing just that around mile 25. With a no-quit attitude, I made the decision to run on regardless of the pain and so I did. I saw 2 sunrises, ran under hundreds of hemlocks, met a lot of incredible volunteers in the aid stations, and did break down and cry around mile 92. Assuming you have already read the race report, you know that Marjie totally surprised me by appearing around that mile. The sun had risen for the 2nd time since I started the race and I was tore up physically and mentally. Seeing her let loose a flood of emotion as I spotted her down the asphalt bike path. I remember the tears and falling into her arms for a brief moment. Wow, that was such a "moment." She escorted me in to the final aid station before my final 7 mile trek. I finished Oil Creek in 30hrs, 49min with 1hr, 11min to spare. Hands down, the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life without a doubt. I was really thankful for the extended 32hr cutoff time for this event, otherwise, I would've been pulled from the event. I'm also thankful for Marjie's continued support of my ultra-running. It was clear that she drove out to Titusville alone because she and she alone wanted to be there for me. It meant the world to have her there with me and to have her standing at the finish line. Here's my
race report from Oil Creek. Speaking of the race report, someone at the local Titusville newspaper read it and requested permission to put it on their front page...the WHOLE front page! I shot a video only a couple of seconds long to show how awesome that was after they sent me 2 copies of the newspaper that ran 4 days after the can see it here. Post-Oil Creek, I certainly had the longest recovery of all and honestly, I don't feel like I'm done yet, nearly 3 months later. It really did whack me upside the head (and body) pretty hard but it was sooooo worth it! It was the first 100-miler that I finished and I immediately said that I'd like to go back and do it again.

I did take a lot of time off to rest and take it easy but about a month later, I laced up my trusty trail shoes and ran one final event at the inaugural Bobcat Trail Marathon in southeast Ohio. This was 26.2 miles of new trail I had never been on that felt in every way like an ultra-marathon. Superb course, superb race organization, and how many races can you wake up, sit up in the hotel bed, and look out the window at the start/finish line?! Plus, the pre-race dinner and post-race lunch were all right there at the lodge, too, at Burr Oak State Park. Vince and Brandon, co-race directors did a phenomenal job and I see many years of fun for this event in the future. I will certainly return. The relationship has developed so well between them at the state park that they have granted them permission to permanently mark the trail for the marathon. That's unheard of! Along with running my 25th marathon at Bobcat, I also turned into amateur photographer and snapped 171 photos of the event. I really got some great ones!
Here they are and here is my race report.

Wrapping up the year, I am eternally grateful. Here are some other bullet points that stand out for 2009:

- I took Marjie on her first trail run! (see pic below, taken at 'Kimba's Rock' at Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, OH) This picture was actually her 2nd trail run. About an hour later, Marjie fell and broke her left radial head (left arm just below the elbow) and has been out of work since but will return next week. She can't wait to hit the trails again!

- I really enjoy writing the monthly Western Reserve Trail Running newsletter. Subscribers now exceed 640 which are unique and I have less than 1% reject rate when I send it out. I've met a lot of people and continue to be inspired by those I interview every month. I plan on continuing this in 2010. For January, I'm featuring a trail runner who was once on the Wheaties box!

- I gave my first-ever trail running clinic for new trail runners just this month. With such an increase in e-mails over the past several months about how to run trails, where to find them, what to wear, etc., I sensed a demand for a clinic. It went very well and we concluded it with a 5 mile trail run aboard the challenging Salt Run Trail in the CVNP.

- My U.S. Navy career is moving full speed ahead as well and 2010 will be a big year in that part of my life. Promotion in late 2009 to the next rank and moving to a new high-tempo command just this month were the highlights. In 2010, I'll formally graduate the the
Supply Corps School in Athens, GA and will take on a more prominent role in leadership at my new command. As for deployments in the near future, that remains to be seen.

- I ended up with 2,265 miles for the year as compared to 2,107 for 2008. A modest increase and less than I expected considering the 3 100-milers but with the recovery time from each, it all makes sense. I don't see much increase, if any, for 2010 and I'm perfectly happy with that.

So as 2009 comes to a close, Dr. Shah has informed me of something that comes as no surprise. Back in October, my massage therapist said I had hurt my psoas muscle. Last month, my chiropractor said it was my adductor muscle. After being evaluated yesterday and three x-rays, it is both. Nothing broken or out of place, according to the x-rays, but a diagnosis of a iliopsoas and adductor muscle strain. For now, no slippery, unpredictable trail running and no hard running. Instead, nice and easy running and physical therapy starting next week including the Graston Technique as well as overall core strengthening exercises. My goal is to be back 100% by the last weekend in February when I am heading up the Oil Creek FA 50K on the Oil Creek 100 course. I want to kick off my MMT100 (Massanutten Mountain Trails 100) training that weekend. Between now and then, I need to heal and get strong. The Winter Run for Regis 50K on January 17th is a big fat "maybe" right now. We'll see how the physical therapy goes and what the therapist recommends.

All the best to you and yours for a happy, safe, and goal-reaching 2010!

Happy Trails, everyone!

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