19 November 2011

Grand Ridge Marathon trail run

I learned a lot today and had a few things that I already knew reinforced today.

  • Increasing your running distance from 20 to 26 miles is hard. Especially when there is 4200+ feet of elevation gain involved.
  • Eating only gel for over four hours will mess with your guts.
  • Courses that are loops which you repeat are not as fun as one big loop or one out-and-back.
  • Singletrack is called that for a reason. When you try to stuff tons of people going both directions on it things get interesting.
  • Merino wool is a damn nice fabric for running.
  • As laid back as the running community seems compared to bicycle racing, people will still do anything to gain an edge.
  • If you want to do an event, make sure you actually register.
  • Nipples are not the only thing you can chafe while running.

I was nervous. No denying it. I fell asleep fine but then woke at 3. Tossing and turning did not help so eventually I got out of bed at 4. Rats.

This was my big goal. In years past running in the fall was merely a distraction to keep my mind fresh for cycling come winter and spring but late this summer I had two accidents while racing mountain bikes that put an abrupt end to my riding. As I recuperated I discovered that first walking and then running did not aggravate my injuries nearly as much as sitting in a saddle so I decided to switch focus and see how far I could take running for a change. To that end I practically stopped riding except for the commute to and from work and instead kept increasing my mileage on foot. Especially on the trail. Last fall I learned the hard way that when you ramp up your distance too fast (and you don't have the proper shoes) injuries abound. Plus, I think trail running is just about 100 million times more fun than pounding out the miles on some (straight, flat, boring) road. By the time I had my second mountain biking accident I had already increased my distance to running 13 miles so I checked the calendar, saw a marathon that was two months out and decided to go for it.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and I have completed my third 20 mile run ever. The first one sucked, the second one was a race where I went out too hard but got lucky but managed to hold on and the third one actually felt good. Was I apprehensive about stretching 20-mile fitness into 26? YES.

Let's get started then.

I picked up Justin A (who was trying to squeeze in one last race before his new baby is born) and we headed out. Justin was going to run the 50 km event and I kind of half heartedly joked that he might finish ahead of me. Turns out I did beat him. BY 20 SECONDS. Sheesh.

I gotta say that I really like events put on by 4th Dimension Racing. I did three of their mountain bike races this summer, this trail run and I plan to enter a Duathlon or two this winter. The food is good, the aid stations are frequent, the results are super prompt, registration and sign-in is well run, Roger is a very nice guy; what more could you want? Nothing, these guys have it dialed.

We went to get our numbers and for some reason my name was not on the sign-in sheet. That's strange… this race has been on my calendar for two months! But the folks at sign-in were very nice and believed me when I said I had registered and let me write my name in as a day-off registrant even though it was technically sold out. Then it was back to the van to prep and warm up.

Several years ago when I first started running I had heard all the nipple jokes and back in the day I even experienced some chafing myself. I'm not sure what happened but ever since I switched to mostly trail running (maybe I'm wearing different clothes now too?) this has luckily not been a problem. When I picked Justin up he made some nipple tape comment and in the van I see him applying cream to his feet. My sister had just completed her first ever 50 mile running event and said that she and her friends used lanolin on their feet and it worked great so obviously reducing the friction is something ultra runners know a lot about. I asked him for some and did likewise. Turns out some runners also apply the cream 'down there' and I'm thinking whoa… what a good idea. If there's one place you don't want to chafe that's probably it.

I have never really warmed up for a longer run. My tendency is to go out much too fast and then either explode or hang on by the skin of my teeth. Neither is much fun. In cycling I only warm up when I think the start will be fast and I want to keep up so the last thing I wanted to do was 1) make it easier for me to start fast or 2) expend precious calories that I would need four hours from now. Then I said fuck it and went for a jog anyway.

The forecast four days ago was for cold and sleet. That changed yesterday to just cold and mostly clear. Picking up our number it did not feel nearly as frigid as I imagined it would be and after our warm up I was confident that tights would not be required. Good thing too because I hate them! I have yet to find some that don't sag and bag. I did bring a thin hat and thin gloves just to be safe and off to the start we went.

ASIDE - one huge difference between running events, especially smaller ones like this race, and a bicycle race is you do NOT need to hover around the start and stage yourself massively early while you totally cool down and practically negate the benefits of your warm up. We showed up about 10 minutes prior to the start, still had time to hit the head one last time, listen to the instructions and then walked right up to the front row.

3, 2, 1, GO.

I must not start too fast, I must not start too fast, I must not start too fast…

As we pulled away from the line Justin and Chase M (Brooks Running) eased up the road, then came three others and then me. After about .5 miles of dirt road we hit the singletrack and for the first five mile loop I was still with two of the three people in front of me. One had started to ease ahead and it turns out she was 2nd overall in the 50 km. Nice work.

At the first aid station one of the guys in front of me stopped and I didn't so then I was 5th on the trail. I ran with this one guy all the way to the turn-around where we both took a nature break. He was quicker than I was and as I was standing there the guy who had stopped at the aid station passed me so now I was 6th on the trail.

And soon I was hating life.

Even after five or six miles I could tell this was not my day. Bummer too as running long is a lot easier when you feel great then when you don't. As Justin passed me going the other direction on lap one he said something like, "How's it going?" and I said something like, Pretty piss poor." Not literally but my facial expression was hiding the fact that I was suffering. I finished my nature break, put my junk back in my shorts, started to run up the trail and… had to hike. Crap.

I was not even close to being half way done and here I was hiking. This is when I first started to entertain thoughts of pulling the plug.

I managed to run all the flatter (read: less steep) sections of the long climb back up the ridge but I was off my game for sure. On all the 10-15 mile runs I have done this year I had way more energy and zip than today.

As I went up all the fast half marathon runners that had started 30 minutes behind us started to come down. The first few were screaming along but they were also easy to deal with. Later on the groups got bigger and bigger and at times I felt like I was swimming up stream. I almost took a header into the woods once trying to avoid six women that were jogging/walking/chatting and did not move over much and I ended up on some precarious, not-so-firm dirt at the edge of the trail.

To add insult to injury (salt to the wound?) as I started the descent back to the road I could feel an irritation on my left big toe. The irony was of course that this is the first time I have tried any sort of chafe-ease on my feet. :( Oh well, I tried to run gently as much as I could and not drill the descents. That was for the best anyway as coasting downhill with no brakes tends to blow my quads a bit.

Back on the .5 mile road section to the start/finish it seemed to take forever. In that 4-5 minutes of running I must have thought about quitting a dozen times. Then I got to the finish line and my brain turned off. I opened my drop bag, swapped bottles, drank my 5-Hour Energy (I think I won this in a bike race this summer and figured I might as well use it), turned around and took off. No hesitation.

Right behind me was this man. I was hiking ALL the steeper sections that I had run on lap one but so was he. Turns out we were almost exactly the same pace and he stayed anywhere from 20 to 100 feet behind me until we topped the ridge. That was nice. It served as a distraction from how bad I felt. On the descent to the turn around I put a little time into him which was too bad. He was very nice and even expressed his gratitude for running with someone the same speed at one point when we were close together.

If I hiked most of the climb back up the ridge on lap one then I hiked 99% of it this time. DAMN. I felt like an empty shell. There were still quite a few people out on the trail and so I was trying not to look too dejected when we would pass each other going in opposite directions.

Did I mention my guts yet? I really screwed the pooch with regards to nutrition on this one. I ate nothing but caffeinated gel all day and it blew. My bottle was fine but after two hours my stomach was not. We've all ben there, right? You're hungry but don't feel like eating and you know you need something because you are low on energy yet nothing you have is working.

As I hit the last aid station I decided to try some FRS. It worked really well for me on a couple of mountain bike races this summer so I figured at this point there was nothing to lose. I gulped about three paper cups of the fluorescent liquid and then some guy ran past me. without even thinking about it I dropped my cup in the trash and took off after him.

Funny really. I was so self-absorbed and focused just on getting to the line that actually racing was the last thing on my mind. But when this guy passed me something clicked into gear.

At first we were just cruising along pretty mellow. Soon I asked him if he was doing the 50 km or the marathon to which he replied that he was doing the 50. I made some comment about only being able to run a 50 in my dreams and he responded with something about it perhaps not being the best day for him to select the longer distance either.

ANOTHER ASIDE - back on my first lap when I was descending to the turn around I finally asked the guy I was with if he was doing the 50 km or the marathon. When he said 50 I was overjoyed. In spite of having a bad day and in spite of not being sure that everyone ahead of me was also doing the 50 the racer in me was very relieved. You can take Martin out of the race but you can't take the racer out of Martin? Something like that anyway.

Since I was still running on that initial shot of adrenaline of catching him I ended up passing him soon after we chatted. And then we came to a hill. I hiked. He ran. He passed me back. And then he sped up.

Several miles back I was thinking that if I had anything left I would try to roll the last descent to the road and not hold back so much just to try and absolve myself for my craptastic climbing. As we hit the last descent this guy started to pull away and try as I might I just could not keep up. Shit. I gave it one effort, another, realized it was not going to happen and then had to back off a little to avoid making a dumb mistake and most likely falling on my face.

When I finally got to the road for that last .5 miles of every so slightly uphill road to the finish was getting ready to steel myself for the trudge to the line when I saw this same guy less than 100' in front of me. No way…

It threw me for such a loop that I actually stopped running for a few seconds.

Sometimes when you think you are blown you really are not and you can push it if you have the mental fortitude. I tried to accelerate. That three second pause had let me catch my breath; I gauged the effort (bridging gaps in bike races has taught me something at least) and tried to execute.

It was very slooooooooow motion but I was reeling him back in. No way!

At this point I knew that the reason he had sped up on the last descent was because he was absolutely not doing the 50 km distance and was indeed running the marathon. And since my calculations had been correct (meaning that everyone else besides this guy had passed me going the other direction to finish up the 50 km distance) I was currently in 2nd place!

As I closed in on him he heard me coming and started to run faster. Oh man did this hurt.

He sped up. I sped up. He sped up, I sped up. He sped up. I cracked.

It was not pretty. Something in my head snapped and suddenly I was walking again. Darn. I watched this guy run away from me and just knew that I had lost the race. After what seemed like 10 minutes (five seconds maybe?) I started to jog and managed to finish running across the line. Sure enough, this guy was chatting it up and obviously was not going out for that last five mile loop. Oh well.

I grabbed my drop bag, almost cramped up in the process and suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. There was Justin. Nice. Not only did he win but he set a course record by about three minutes. And he did not have a stellar day either. Better than mine obviously but congratulations to him are in order for sure.

Justin's wife Maggie is very pregnant. Her due date is in 10 days so even though she was cool with Justin running today he thought it wise to put his phone in his drop bag so he could check it every time he swing by the finish line. As we were walking back to the van he turns to me and says, "Uh oh…"

By the time we change (I at least got out of my shoes and shirts anyway) and are on the road Justin is calling home and it sounds like Maggie's water may have broken. Exciting! And my legs were pulverized! I swear, just pressing my foot down on the brake pedal was difficult. The whole way back as I'm sucking down my recovery drink I'm trying to rub out my quads and it is just not working.

In the end it was a false alarm and the baby will wait a few more days. A good thing most likely as minimizing stress in the delivery room can't be bad.

When I got home I could almost literally not walk. What hipped me to this fact was me almost falling on my ass when I got out of the van because my legs could not support my weight. Holy cow.

I had spoken with Roger M after the race and he mentioned that he had not seen my name on the start list. This made me start to think that perhaps the sign-in issue was not a fluke so when I finally got cleaned up I searched my email and could not find a payment receipt. Oops… Had I forgotten to register?

I quickly sent Roger a note explaining the situation and begged for leniency. To his credit he knew I had wanted to run this event and so he let me PayPal him the entry fee and made my result official. Disaster averted.

It was then that I got a nice surprise… I guess the guy that beat me was signed up for the 50 km distance and when he opted to stop after just 26 he was officially DNFing. THAT MEANT I WON. Oh happy day. Too soon does the body forget the pain you just put it through and circumstances like this only serve to assist you in putting it through another ordeal in record time. :)

Once again I feel the need to thank some people.

  • Shelley - for supporting me in what must seem at times like a slightly obsessive pursuit of being active. Did I mention she left this note in my gear bag this morning?


  • Justin - for his constant encouragement, tips and advice. And I'm not going to lie, clothing hand-me-downs rule.
  • Chase - he only met me at the start line but every time he saw me out on the trail he had encouraging words to say.

Here are all the pictures.

Sleep 5
Waking HR  
Body Weight  
Body Fat  
Breakfast 4:30 AM - 2 bananas, almond butter, apple sauce, handful of walnuts, large bottle w/3 scoops Perpetuem
5:15 AM - large bottle w/3 scoops Perpetuem
Workout Food just prior to race - shot of gel
race - 2 small bottles each w/2 scoops Perpetuem and 1 Endurolytes, 6 gels, FRS, 5-Hour Energy
Time of Day 8:30 AM
Workout Type race
Weather low 30s, dry sky, wet ground, partly cloudy
Course Grand Ridge Marathon
Results 1st overall
official results
Time 4:38:35
Distance 26.2 miles
Pace 10:38 min/mile
Equipment Brooks Cascadia
Clothing shorts, Craft short sleeve undershirt, SmartWool long sleeve Merino shirt, thin SmartWool hat, Polypropylene gloves


  1. Great report! Congrats on a fantastic race. Maybe you didn't feel spectacular, but you fought through it and got the WIN as well. Now rest up and recover!


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