Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Day on the Road

The day begins at 5:20am. I get out of bed, surprised to be moving. I'm stiff but feel much better than when my head hit the pillow. I go to the bathroom, brush my teeth. I make my way to the coffee maker and do what needs to be done. I toast a bagel while munching on a banana. I'm waking up my legs, moving them around, stretching them lightly. The bagel pops out of the toaster. I spread some peanut butter on it.

I stand over my Bible, reading the three verses I have been rehearsing to myself. Hebrews 12:1-3. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…"

The coffee's ready. I pour it into a to-go mug. One scoop of sugar. Some creamer. I drink as fast as I can in between bites. I zip up my my suitcase. Use the bathroom. When Lia's is ready, I roll the suitcases to the car. She's making her coffee in the kitchen.

We say our good-bye's to our hosts for the night. And we are gone by 6:00am.

Lia drives. She's not a great mountain driver. And she's still half asleep. I'm antsy to get to the starting line. But keep my mouth shut. Opening it is counter productive. I finish eating and drinking. I find the profile maps for today's run and jot down notes for Lia.

We pull into yesterday's end point. Open the car door. Open the trunk and lather up on Vasoline. Sunscreen. Finish the water I've been nursing. Loosen up. Get the blood flowing. Stretch. Find a tree. Ask Lia about her plan. She's going to watch the sunrise and journal. Then go for a hike once there's enough light. I kiss her and walk out to the road.

Take a deep breath and go.

The mornings are my favorite. Just me and the road. Today there's a small breeze, but right now I'm sheltered in the trees.

I start out singing. Today, it's Morning Has Broken - a song I learned from Cat Stevens. Miles crawl by. It's all uphill these first 10 or so. But gradual, so I can run. It feels good to be moving.

Milepost 306 - Almonds and Gatorade

I start with almonds because they pack the most punch. And they also sit longer in my stomach. They don't taste as good later in the day. The sweet Gatorade is a fine counteractive to the lightly salted nuts. I dump them in my pocket and trickle them in my mouth three at a time. Alternating swigs until both are gone.

I'm making good time. I pee on the side of the road.

I have a person I'm run for each day. Sometimes I talk to them. Usually when I'm about to do something I know is going to hurt…

I read a sign that says No Pedestrians on the Viaduct. 

I run right through. I imagine the park ranger pulling me over. I smile at the quizzical look I imagine on his face. 

I'm dazzled by the views. 

Milepost 299 - Gu and Water

I do Gu's on downhills. It's the only food I feel comfortable eating on the run. I'm on a long down hill now. My right knee and left ankle hurt. It's not fun knowing there is a mile more of punishment awaiting me.

Milepost 294 - Snickers and Water

A driver asks me if I'm the running guy. I smile. "I guess I am," I say.

No matter what the elevation change, I try to stay above a 4mph pace. This requires running every tern minutes or so. Even on uphills like this one. 5 miles up to Doughton Park. I know from there a long downhill awaits.

Downhills present other problems, namely pain.

Milepost 290 - We meet up - I eat a tortilla and peanut butter and honey sandwich. Chug a Gatorade. I reapply a healthy amount of Vasoline. Lather on sunscreen.

I stretch. Try not to sit down for too long. Stay as loose as I can. Put a Gu in my pocket. Kiss Lia and go.

Milepost 286 - Pretzels and Gatorade

The last seven miles have mostly been downhill. I've made decent time. My knee kills. I'm almost glad the uphills are approaching.

There is this razor thin line I've been balancing on. Go too fast and you might not be able to run tomorrow - run too slow and you won't finish the goal for the day. In terms of numbers - I generally stay between 4-6mph. If it's a gentle downhill, I might stretch out my legs. I ran sub sevens in Asheville. Felt so good to actually run. But for the most part I stick to the plan.

The harder threshold is the 4mph. By now, I can't walk 4mph. I can walk a solid 3.5, but not 4. Not on these uphills. So I'll walk 12 minutes and jog 3. Walk 10 and jog 5…depending on the terrain.

I don't remember these roads in Blowing Rock being so steep!

Milepost 282 - Water

I've got one more push until I see Lia. A surprise friend is awaiting me. She won't tell me who it is.

Milepost 278

James and I chat awhile. Chug a water. Eat some potato chips and honey mustard pretzels. Drink some more water. Vasoline reapplication. Go to the bathroom.

Say good-bye to friends. Kiss Lia.

Milepost 272 - Gu and Water

Up and down. Up and down. Try to stay above 4mph. I average 5.5mph the last ten miles. Faster than planned. I'm feeling good. Cross over 421.

Milepost 268 - Snickers and Gatorade.

The crux for the day. Big time uphill. Lia has left me my trekking poles. Don't know how much they help. But they do have a positive placebo effect.

Milepost 264 - Almonds and Water.

Keep on trucking.

Milepost 260 - Jumping Off Rocks Overlook. Day is complete.

Get in the car. Strip off the shoes and elevate. Bend my toes. Flex my ankles. Keep moving. The car is the worst. I am so stiff by the time we reach our next destination. I'm grumpy. I'm never grumpy. But I'm grumpy right now.

We arrive. Greet our hosts for the evening. Roll in our suitcases. Jump in the shower. Keep moving. Loosen up. Stretch. Loosen up. Stretch.

Ice my legs. Eat dinner with my feet in buckets.

Write an update. Try to move my legs, but I'm stiff, I'm sore. I want to sleep. I've got 52 more tomorrow. I hit the pillow, unsure how my legs will respond in the morning. I'm asleep in seconds.

Monday, September 01, 2014

So How Do You Train to Run Two Marathons a Day Over and Over Again?

I can hardly believe I actually have something to say on this topic. 2 Marathons a day? Are you crazy? Before this adventure I had accomplished very little that would qualify me to have an opinion on the matter. 

For several years, a few friends and I would do "the 40" a grueling one day 40 mile trek on the Appalachian Trail from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap. In Colorado I climbed Uncompagre and Wetterhorn in a day. That was like 23 miles and up and down two fourteeners. I competed in several marathons and one forty mile race. But nothing really comes close to two marathons a day through the mountains. That's insane. 

And now that I've done it, I now know how insane it is! Ha! But MAN was it fun. 

So a few of you may be wondering how I did it. How did I prepare? How did I train? How did I pull it off? Well, for the next couple blogs, I'm going to tell you. Now, this might be the right place to insert the "do not try this at home" line. I'll leave it to you. But it's worth noting that our bodies are amazing things, and they can rise up to the challenge when we ask them to. 

At the same time, be careful.

For this blog, I'll focus on the training. 

First of all, I got good shoes. I tried on a half dozen or so before I landed on these N2 Pearl Izumi's. My recommendation isn't necessary to go out right now and buy yourself some Pearls. What I would do is go to your local running store and try on a whole bunch of shoes. Every foot is different, and if you are going to be spending a lot of time on yours, find a pair that suits you. Spare no expense. 

My friend Gary Miller told me that there were two things that could keep me from finishing: feet and nutrition. So protect your feet. We'll talk nutrition in a later installment. 

As far as training, there is no replacement for the trial of miles (if you don't know what that is read "Once a Runner" by John Parker). Miles and miles and miles. 

I did I start from a solid base. In March I could have run a sub 1:30 half and probably a 3:10 marathon. I was in shape. The challenge was 469 miles. I didn't need to go fast; I needed to learn how to go long.   So I focused on one thing: ramping up the miles. 

My friend Donnie introduced me to the idea of running two-a-days. That was big. Because finding the time to run 20 all at once was not easy. Eventually, I took two-a-days to the next level and did three and four-a-days. 

In April, I went from my base of 25 miles a week to 60 miles a week. My biggest and hardest (and most painful) jump. 

In May, I went from 60 to 80+ miles a week. 

In June, we ramped it up to 100+ miles a week. 

And finally we maxed out at 120+ miles a week in July. 

I think my highest mileage week was 136 in early July. 

I tapered down to 90 then to 60 the week of the run. 

So what was a typical day? Say if it was a 20 mile day. I might do 5 in the morning. 8 for lunch. Then 7 before dinner. Or maybe I'd do a long run in the morning, like 13, then a quick 3 miler for lunch and a 4 miler after dinner. 

Speaking of dinner, that was another thing I practiced: running on a full stomach. Usually, if I eat right before I run, I want to hurl. I pretty much always cramp. It rarely ends well. But I knew if I was going to be able to run 52 miles in a day, I was going to have to learn how to eat and run at the same time. To be honest, I never mastered simultaneously eating and running. But I did learn how to load up and then go. Back to what Gary Miller told me - feet and nutrition. In his words, "if you can't keep food down, you're done." 

So I'd run right after dinner. Or I'd eat a handful of almonds and chug a Gatorade while walking then immediately go back to a jog. It sounds crazy, but it paid off on the road. I never cramped. Not once. 

What I've learned since (which I'm incorporating now) is to add in more warm up and cool down into my training. To warm up the muscles before I run. To Massage. Stretch. Massage. Stretch again after. And Ice. I did very little of this the first go around. For the second leg, I'm hoping to be a little smarter and kinder to my body.

I should add that I did a 52 mile practice day in July. 
I also did three 30 milers back to back as well.
These helped more mentally than anything. 

I was fortunate not to suffer any injury during training other than your usual soreness and stiffness. I learned a few tricks along the way, like rolling a golf ball under your foot to loosen up the plantar and the achilles. I learned ice is nice. But for the most part it was miles. Miles and miles and miles. 

All in all, training meant teaching your body to expect to run everyday. This physical expectation made the ultimate difference. At night, I'd go to bed worn out and weary. In the morning, I'd awake ready to go again. That was the success I'd say of my training. My body learned how to recover, and I learned to trust what my body was telling me. 

So how did I actually pull it off? I'll tell you in the next installment.