Still not quite sure what that was…

Around 9:30 Saturday night, after completing my 60th mile, I learned that I was in first place for the men.

…and then I just stopped.

Woods Ferry 24-hour, …or not.

Li’l Weezy talked me into heading to rural, and I mean RURAL, South Carolina for a 24-hour event in the Sumter National Forest between Union and Chester, SC.

Christian Griffith and Wayne Downey at Woods Ferry
photo: Me and Li’l Weezy banking 20 miles.

The goal was for Weezy to get in some good time on his feet for 24-hours in preparation for the Pinhoti 100 – his first 100-miler. And, my goal was simply to stay on my feet with absolutely no mileage goals what-so-ever. So many people have been there to support me, so I thought I could do double-duty here with the “Weasel from Winder.”

I’m not trying to hate, and I’m from SC, so I’m not even going to get started on the little town of Union, the fact that there is not a single quality motel within 50 miles, nor its lack of even one single healthy place to eat, nor the excessive amount of personally irresponsible residents.

I know it sounds like I’m being very critical, but that’s not it – it really saddens me to see 300+ lb people, eating fried chicken and apple turnovers, ankles and wrists swollen from diabetes. It’s very depressing. Makes you want to help. Grab them and say wake up! educate yourself because you are dying. …and worse, your killing your kids.

Is there even gonna be a race?

Just before dark, we ventured to the start/finish at Woods Ferry Recreation Center inside the forest, and upon arrival listened to all the camping runners worry about the possibility of getting shut down.

The pavilion area where runners were to start/finish each loop had already been setup with a Hammer Nutrition banner and all the aid supplies and food, but apparently this was against the rules of the park. The ranger wanted all the food and supplies removed by dark . Plus, if it wasn’t removed by someone, most likely the animals would be “removing it” throughout the night.

I don’t know what the deal was. I heard musings of “no permit” and “canceled race” and “what if this, and what if that”, and it was all making me a bit uncomfortable. My early experiences in Union were already pretty weird, the race scene was looking weird and on top of all that, I was very, very sleepy.

We went to bed feeling very uneasy that night.

Smooth as silk

I don’t know if anyone removed anything, or what ended up happening, but packet pickup was mellow, the RD chipper, and come 7:30 a.m. everyone hit the trails for 24 hours of trail running.

…however, this would be unlike any 24-hour I’ve ever seen.

Aren’t timed events supposed to be flat?

Granted if you know Terri Hayes, the race director, you know she is always one to shake things up a little.

Woods Ferry was no exception.

If you’re not familiar with the 24-hour (timed event) format, this quote from suite 101 sums ‘em up well:

Most 24-hour races are “run as you please.” Runners run, walk, rest, or even sleep completely at will. Runners may also stop if they are completely exhausted or have reached their goal. All that counts in the race results is the total distance the runner covers. There is no penalty for stopping in less than 24 hours.

This format is a popular way to give runners the opportunity to experiment with different nutrition, hydration and other race-day strategies as typically, these races are low-key in nature and usually held on a short flat course containing somewhere between less-than-a-mile and 1.5 miles.

Not this race.

Purple to Blue to Yellow, and back

The Woods Ferry 24-hour consisted of a one mile approach trail, blazed purple, that carried runners to a sort of figure 8 loop connecting two interconnecting trail segments of ~4.5 miles each, making the entire loop 10 miles long.

Get all that? Here’s how it broke down:

After the yellow loop, we had to redo the up-n-down sections of the blue-blazed trail before returning to the purple loop which took us back to camp.

That was one loop.

I sure would love to know the total elevation change of one loop. I’d guess 2000 feet of climbing and the same descending.

That’s a lot for a 24-hour loop race.

Quick recap

Although the course was much more challenging than I had expected, I really enjoyed running out there. It was a beautiful, sunny day crawling into the 80′s but never really got too hot.

I ran with Li’l Weezy for about 3.5 loops before he started to have a few foot problems and wanted me to push ahead. In a normal ultramarathon, this would be a given, but I was sorta out there for him, so I wasn’t sure what to do.

I pushed ahead, but it didn’t feel right.

I felt really good through 50 miles. I ran well, walked some hills in the later loops, and gained some additional confidence at that distance. In fact, Abi Meadows found me on the last mile of 50 miles, and we ran into the campground together at a strong pace.

But during the sixth loop, I found myself walking a lot.

I just don’t like that anymore. I know there are different camps in ultrarunning and walking is an accepted strategy, but for me and where I’m at with my training, I’m trying to walk less and less. I come to ultras to RUN, and I’m cool with walking severe inclines, but I want to run as much as I can – I believe it is the only way I’m going to continue to improve.

By the time I finished the sixth loop (60 miles), I learned I was in 2nd place overall, and first place male – all I had to do was continue for another 10 hours and I could win my first ultra race.

Around 10:30 p.m., I started the seventh loop, but found myself just walking the entire mile to the start of the blue trail.

Why do that?

  1. My buddy who I came with had already stopped at 50 and was just waiting on me.
  2. I was tired.
  3. I had achieved enough miles for it to be good training.
  4. I have an incredibly challenging race schedule coming up this summer.
  5. I will get absolutely NOTHING out of walking for 10 more hours.

So, I simply turned around and walked back to camp.

Giving up the potential win (who cares anyway?) but putting an official 100K in the training bank.

I was happy with my decision. It felt like the right thing to do.

Gear

I ran the entire 62 miles in the Asics Piranha II racing flat. A 4.4 ounce racing flat that has replaced the New Balance 152 in my “flats” arsenal. I truly believe lighter socks and lighter shoes are the key to blister prevention – at least for me. Not one single blister or foot problem at all.

I carried nothing but water and Scaps.

Nutritionally, I took a Vespa every ~2.5 hours, added some BCAAs twice, and ate real food at aid stations. For whatever reason, I did not feel like using gels.

Personal Change in Ultrarunning philosophy

It’s been building all year, but this weekend really solidified for me that my approach to the sport is changing.

I am continuing to get more and more serious with regards to my running performance. I want to be able increase the amount of time I run during races, and this includes hills. I learned that depending on fatigue level, I ran 25 to 45 minutes faster, over the 10 mile course, when I ran hills as opposed to walking them. Over the life of a 50 or 100-mile race, that’s a big chunk of time.

The key is both being able to run more, but also being able to recover from those efforts faster, and continue with a solid pace on easier sections throughout the rest of the race.

I simply want to get faster. Both in ultras and the shorter stuff. No limits.

The training continues with my eyes firmly on a sub-24 hour at the Keys 100-miler.

One month away…

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Comments

@Rob:

” (~miles 62 to ~mid to late 80s) you’ll start smelling the barn and then all bets are off”

————–

Like when I saw your aid station at mile 85 as a staggered in at the Pinhoti 100. {wink} Thanks again for all the advice. Hopefully others found it useful as well

Good Luck Christian. It seems absurdly easy at first, which is why I like to just start the race out w/o a fixed schedule; get in a good 20-25 miles and then start using it. Work off the cobwebs and pre-race energy a bit. You’ll see it will get more and more difficult in the later stages. That 10 minute “run” section starts to take forever and the 2 minute walk break seems like only 30 seconds! But if you stick with it and don’t cheat on the running part you’ll have a strong finish. Once you’re through the doldrums (~miles 62 to ~mid to late 80s) you’ll start smelling the barn and then all bets are off, just go for it and try and finish strong.

@rob: thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve decided to give this a try in training and consider something similar for the Keys

Yeah, it’s just “guidelines” really. No need to be so strict, though sometimes it’s nice to have and a good challenge to keep to it. Really helped keep me focused late at night, in the dark, with nobody around to push me. The only thing that kept me grounded in reality was that watch beeping! Seriously, if you just try and eyeball it, especially late, it’s easy to either make a mistake (no big deal really) or to let that 2 minute walk break turn into 10,15,20+ minutes! Believe me, it can happen! The point is, it’s a good idea to change up your muscle groups to give one sort of a break, thus the run walk schedule. 10-2 just seems like a good figure and isn’t too hard to implement. YMMV of course. When I do Lean Horse this Fall, I’m going to use a similar schedule though the 10 minutes on may be at a bit swifter pace than I’ve attempted in the past… We’ll see how it goes.

Enjoyed the weekend at Woods Ferry with you fellas even though it was whacked out.

@Rob: more solid advice. I’m curious – do you think it’s necessary to be that strict? or is it just as effective “eyeballing” the watch?

Sure thing. Keep in mind YMMV. I’ve got a stop watch that does interval count downs (not necessary but makes things a bit easier). I set one to count down 10 minutes and the other at 2 minutes then set to repeat infinitely. So I run the first 20-25 miles or so at my own effort level, you can start the 10-2 earlier, but I know that I really don’t want to do it in the early miles when I’m feeling good. Anyhow when your ready, start the interval series. So for 10 minutes I’ll run at my goal pace, this could be 12 min/mile or 10 min/mile, depends. Then after 10 minutes my watch beeps and starts the two minute count down. During that 2 minutes I’ll walk, not necessarily as slow walk, but a strong walk. It’s also during this interval that I’ll take on calories if I need them or tend to whatever else that needs doing. After two minutes my watch beeps again and I’m back on the 10 minute run interval. Rinse and repeat for as long as you can.

This worked very well for me at Heartland and my last Delano 12 where I did 70 miles. Keeps my “head” in the game. It’s so easy late in a race to sort of zone out and take too long a walk break. At heartland I was able to do 10-2 through about 85 miles when I had to switch to something more like 9-3. BTW, I like the 12 minute total because it divides nicely into an hour; helps break things up.

Keep in mind this sort of strategy works best on flatter courses where the terrain isn’t as difficult. On a monster climbing course it doesn’t make much sense to be sticking to a schedule like this when it’s forcing you to run up a very steep hill, or be on your walk break on a sweet downhill…

On hilly courses, let the terrain largely dictate your schedule, however don’t necessarily be locked into the “walk every hill” strategy. I advise to keep the walking breaks to a minimum and try and run the “flatter” parts of the climbs or even to try to break it up by switch backs if that’s possible i.e. try and run one switch back and walk the next two. Just change it up. I was surprised how well this even worked at Hardrock where there is nothing but monster climbs, but I was still able to run some of the climbs and not just walk everything… Good luck!

@Rob: can you elaborate on the 10-2 strategy?

It’s not a question of running vs. walking in races, most of the time the terrain will dictate that; but a question of overall effort level. A smart approach is to try and maintain the same effort throughout, so on flatter terrain you’re running and your heart rate is a certain rate. On an uphill it’s okay to walk, but you maintain the same effort, same heart rate. The perceived effort is the same but you’re walking instead of running.

On a flatter event like this Keys 100, I’d seriously recommend keeping to a run-walk schedule throughout (or at least after the first 25 miles). I used a 10-2 run-walk schedule at Heartland 100 this past fall that worked very well for me (20:21). Years ago I applied a similar strategy at the Old Dominion 100 and ran sub 18hours… It’s all about maintaining a certain effort level.

Like Josh said though, doing some faster running in your training program will help tremendously for achieving your ultra marathon time goals. Good luck!

@Bill: thank you for the advice. I’m glad that I’m not scared to say what I feel because whether I’m right or wrong or confused or whatever, there’s always those more experienced there to set me straight. I truly appreciate the guidance from Spyder to Don to you and everyone in between.

Christian, I agree on the walking to a point. The key to running a fast hundred is be able to run a good pace when running and walk fast when walking. Kevin Setnes, who I worked with to do a sub 24 at Vermont told me that you want to be able run at your training pace for the entire run when running. I ran a 22:41:xx at Vermont and walked most every hill but when running a I was motoring at a 8-10 min/mile pace depending on terrain.

For training I suggest two to three 10-15 milers per week. Mix in some hilly tempo run two to three times per week. When I was doing them I was pushing the pace at 5K-10k effort for 2-4 miles. A typical run would be to warm up for 2-3 miles, tempo for 2-4 miles followed by a warm down at whatever I could manage. When doing my long training runs I looked for the most gnarly trail I could find and pushed all the climbs whether walking or running. Also, don’t forget to REST!

For big guys like us (I think I am about your size only much older) mileage is king. Increase (or keep) your weekly milage up into the 60-70 range or higher.

Good luck.

Bill

@Rob & Josh: yea, people tend to take it wrong when I write these things about obesity, but it’s such a fixable problem for 98% of people experiencing it, so it’s just frustrating – the whole package. And yea, Josh, I’ll be talking some smack to Laz alright…

Christian – as always, great to read on your experiences and insights. A big “second the motion” to the 300lb diabetes-laden characters in SC; it is a constant education process with my boys to make mostly healthy eating choices, and ignore what what their fatty friends are snacking on. Not that I won’t eat fried chicken and ice cream, but maybe 1-2 a year (typically w/i a week after huge race; because, ya know, that’s what success should taste like).

And I’ll concur on training faster, running more, etc. This past year I concentrated on 10k speed, walking a lot less during the 30-40-50mi training runs (steep hills, and about 5min per hour just to take a break). Those training tweaks, and some others were part of the plan. The results….well, they speak for themselves!

Good luck at The Jim, always a good time up there. Be sure to talk smack to Laz when he walking one of the hills!

Josh

Great insight and commentary as usual. You couldnt be more spot-on with respects to parts of South carolina too (regarding the unhealthy lifestyles). I was in Columbia this weekend and had very similar thoughts more than once when I was out and about (that is: wake up and see what you’re doing to yourself). Best of luck on your upcoming 100!

@Rob – thanks – good advice. I’m obviously not expressing myself the right way since I am full agreement with walking some sections of a race, AND certainly in hundos.

Christian, if you try and run until you HAVE to walk you’ll be too trashed to make any swift progress after that point. If you work in fast walking early on as part of a general race strategy it will pay off in the longer events, trust me. FWIW the approach you’re taking will definitely pay off for races 50 miles or less, however probably not the best strategy for the hundreds where you really do need to walk frequently. Good luck at the Keys 100.

@Jon: thanks dood, I’m laser-focused on Keys right now. Lotsa road training and working on slimming down. I want that sub-24.

@Howie: interestingly, if I’m shredded from Western States, I could see myself trying to walk almost the entire Hardrock event. It’s not my marquee event this go ’round, I just want a taste. This year it’s all about Western States.

@Charles: Good ol’ Weezy. We love us some Winder country boy, don’t we?

@Paige: Thanks Paige. I know a lot of people feel differently about the walking. It’s mostly just a phase I’m going through where I want to increase my running, increase my speed, and reduce my finish times.

@Jason: Dood, I see you’re battlin’ me good on the weight loss challenge. Bring it!!!!

Timed races that choose to have hills should be against the law (it is certainly against the last bit of sanity ultrarunning has in general.)

You got a month to tear the Keys a new one. Get to it!

Christian,

If you get into Hardrock, you better be prepared to walk a lot!!! Wha ha ha ha…

62 strong miles and being there to support our buddy Weezy – sounds like a good weekend Christian…keep that focus for the Keys dude!

Wow, that does sound like a strange experience. But, you came out of it with some good miles under your feet, you walked away at the right time for the right reasons, and you didn’t let the ego call the shots. Good on you! Though, I feel differently about the whole walking thing :) Of course, that’s mostly due to how slow I already am, and sometimes walking is sadly faster than my ultra shuffle, lol! Good luck in your continued training!!

Well done keeping up the lead pace for that first 50, Christian. With your “run more” outlook, I think that you’ll shred Keys 100.

@Sarah – I meant for my current training goals now. I was fatigued and I felt no reason to compound the fatigue with Strolling Jim and Keys 100 coming up all within a month from now. 62 miles, feeling strong, is better for me (IMHO) than adding more walking miles, and thus compounding the abuse to my legs for, again, no mileage goals.

“I will get absolutely NOTHING out of walking for 10 more hours.”

You couldn’t be more wrong!!

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