A Cold Run on the Beach – Psycho Wyco 50K 2014 @skorarunning @skratchlabs

I ran the aptly named Psycho Wyco 50K this weekend at Wyandotte County Lake Park in Kansas City, Kansas. “Aptly named?” I offer this comment from a friend to a picture I posted to Facebook: “You are crazy.” No exclamation point, just a declaration. Hard to argue.

This was my first ultramarathon and my first Psycho Wyco. While I’d previously paced a 26.2+ distance, this was my first timed race entry for an ultra. I probably would have apologized more for calling this 50k an ultra (it is) having not run a 50m or 100m yet, but this was one tough 50k. I had some lofty goals for this race that were crushed by the weather. I can run this 10 mile trail loop in about 1:30 in decent conditions. I ran it in 1:37 in December’s Alternate Chili run, and that was with a slight amount of snow/ice on the ground. For the 50K, that’s three laps. I had aspirations of breaking the 5:00 mark. Spoiler alert: not even close. I was pleased with my overall place, 12th.

We had an ice storm the weekend before the race, followed by close to a foot of snow on the Tuesday before. The temps stayed arctic after that too. Very little melting. Yesterday, a local weatherman observed that we had gone 252 hours since we were last above freezing!

I did my typical low-residue diet the Friday before the race. That is, no fiber. Eggs, meat, carbs (I usually try to avoid refined sugars, but not pre-race), cheese, cream, etc. Worked like a charm. No porta-potty stops! My son had a soccer academy skills clinic on Friday night, and as I was messing around on Twitter during his practice, I saw Dr. Jordan Metzel @drjordanmetzl tweet that he was coming into town for Psycho Wyco with @RWGearGuy (Runner’s World Editor Jeff Dengate) and @JamieMetzl. I let Dr. Metzel know I appreciated his advice (he’s a triathlete and MD who regularly contributes to Runner’s World) and especially his excellent Iron Strength workout. I didn’t get a chance to meet Dr. Metzel at the race, but Jeff and I finished within 30 seconds of each other and traded congratulations at the finish line.

The night before, I re-screwed my Skora Forms (the screw heads were looking a bit worn after heavy use in recent weeks), assembled my gear, and hit the sack. I woke up around six and had some eggs, a double espresso with cream, and about 20 oz of this:

http://www.skratchlabs.com/collections/drinks/products/apple-cinnamon-exercise-hydration-mix-limited-edition-holiday-flavor

Hot hydration? You bet. If it’s hot out, you want a cold sports drink right? It’s delicious – actually flavored with apples and cinnamon!

Then it was off to the race. Great logistics. Close-in parking at start/finish line is limited, so a shuttle runs from a remote lot. It gave me a chance to do some final gearing up. I changed out of my Skora Cores and into my screwed Forms. The Form is my go-to trail shoe. Minimalist with just enough sole to keep you from getting beat to death on the rocks. I also slathered my face and hands with Alba Unpetroleum jelly (I had already covered my feet with it). Temperatures were just under 20F at race start, and only warmed into the mid-20s during the race, so I decided on a light-weight headband, a cold weather compression shirt, lightweight windbreaker running jacket, running tights, shorts, and toe-socks. I went with some glommits on my hands – rag wool – just picked them up the night before. I figured wool would stay warm better if I got them wet from putting a hand down in the snow, and they worked great.

Conditions were daunting as we waded out into the snow in the starting field. I had already mentally prepared myself for a slower and longer day than I had previously hoped for. Justin, a fellow runner I had met at my kids’ school a few months back (I introduced myself after noticing his Boston Marathon jacket) diffused any tension by coming up and saying hi before the start. We ran together for quite a bit of the first lap.

The trail wasn’t as chewed up during the first lap as it was on the second two. To put a finer point on it, the snow never packed. Ok, there was a stretch on a ridge where I thought I heard snow packing under my feet for a few seconds. Since it was so cold, the snow pretty much remained the consistency of sand the whole time. Hence, the title of this post. During the second and third loops, it really looked like sand for long stretches where the dirt had mixed in a bit.  The trail did clear a little bit in some places with all the traffic moving through, but I thought other spots actually become more difficult from getting all churned up.

Here’s a picture fairly soon after the start. I was moving as fast as possible, but I can’t disagree if you think I look like I’m walking (or if I have an “are we there yet” look on my face):

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The next set of photos come from a really fun part of the trail – the “Triangle” – a single-track section with lots of switchbacks (other parts of the course are on a slightly wider “bridle trail” – btw the horses were smart enough to stay home). I actually enjoyed it the most the first time through when there was more snow:

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The first loop was also the most fun because there were still so many people running together. Most trail racers are pretty cool about yielding the trail if you want to pass, especially under these conditions. I passed and was passed, all without any hurt feelings.

The first time through, the biggest shock was how difficult it was to get up to the top of Dam Hill and onto the road up to the aid station. I slid back down twice before crawling onto the road. By the way, the course had excellent aid stations throughout – stocked with plenty of necessities and staffed by super-friendly and enthusiastic people, including my friend Darin Schneidewind – who I paced for the last 35 of the OT100 last November! For my part, I pretty much stuck to the sports drink and the gels. The Dam aid station had hot broth the last time through – that was GREAT! I had started asking for “something hot” as I finished the first loop, and people would give me coffee out of their thermos without hesitation. Just great.

Here’s a few shots from the Fester’s Wander section and coming down a big hill. This was probably the most treacherous hill on the course that day, which is why I again look like I am walking. I could see the skid marks of those who had gone before me. And maybe some blood. On the second lap I was running with a guy named Kevin, and we joked that we kept leapfrogging each other. He would fly down the hills and pass me, and I would crank up them and pass him back. So here’s that section:

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Easy does it!

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I didn’t ask the photographer to focus on my Skora Forms, but this is a nice pic of the shoes.

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Chasing up a hill!

Now for my two favorite pictures. It can be really hard to describe to people the pure joy I feel when running. I’m so thankful that I have the ability to do what I love. These two are worth at least a thousand words each:

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I finished the first loop in 2:00:40.7, hoping as I came through the start/finish line that the course had gotten packed down a bit for the second loop. I didn’t find it to be any easier the second time through, and I couldn’t manage to pick up my pace any, falling off to 2:10:24.4. Perhaps if I had set a fallback goal ahead of time atm6 hours and figured out that pace I might have pushed harder, but as it was I was just enjoying the day as much as possible and not really looking at my watch. I knew I was going to be slower than I hoped. It was tough going, but I wasn’t really able to move quickly and productively enough that I was ever challenging my cardio except on the ups.

Perhaps the most exhilarating moment of the race was coming through the start/finish line at the end of the second lap. There were still a lot of people hanging around at that point waiting for people to come in from the 10 mile and 20 mile distances. I got some nice crowd support once they realized I was headed out for a third and final lap! That lap was pretty lonely, although I did come across a few racers. One guy was chatting with his significant other on a cell phone while keeping up a pretty good pace. Impressive! He described the snow as having the consistency of sugar. Agree. Another, Will, caught me in the last few miles. Making excuses for myself, I had developed one of those mysterious side stitches and just couldn’t knead it out. Will and I ran together for a while, but I knew he had me to the finish. Several of us finished pretty close to each other, and I did manage to gut it out and stay ahead of a few guys on my tail.

Not surprisingly, my last lap was the slowest, at 2:17:45.1. My total time was 6:28:50.2. At least I set the bar low for my first timed 50k ultra! Nowhere to go but up.

I’ll be back. Psycho Wyco was a blast, and I sure don’t like a course to get the better of me. Here’s the finish, with apologies to Ryan Hall:

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Pacing at the OT100 in Skora Form: Intro to Ultramarathoning #RUNREAL

I paced the last 35.2 miles of the Ozark Trail 100 Ultramarathon this weekend. Darin Schneidewind, the guy I paced, came in 3rd! I take absolutely zero credit for his podium, but I had a great time coming along for the ride.

The RD credited me with my first Ultra. Technically, he’s correct. The definition of an Ultra is any race distance longer than a marathon. It doesn’t count if you keep running to get to the chocolate milk at a marathon though, since it’s not part of the race course. A 50K (31 miles) would count, although 50 mile and 100 mile events are what really qualify in my book. Side note: I just saw an announcement for the Tahoe 200 next fall. Yep, that’s 200 miles. 100 hour time limit. For those who feel like they’ve got a little left in the tank after 100 miles.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of my impressions of the race and what I learned:

  1. Running for over 7 hours in the dark was really fun!
  2. Make sure you have lots of batteries and decent gear. See #1.
  3. The Ozark Trail is really pretty, but less so in the dark.
  4. It’s rare to see other runners on the course after 70 miles. Less than 50 runners were left at that point in the race. Amazingly, 4 runners finished within 10 minutes of each other – that was the spread from 2nd to 5th.
  5. Counterintuitively, it’s easier to follow the trail at night.
  6. You’re going to fall down. It hurts. Get used to it.
  7. Your pace is slower than a road marathon, but it’s no walk in the park. The vast majority is running, but there is some walking – if you can call a brisk hike up a steep hill walking.
  8. It helps mentally to break the run down into the smaller manageable increments between aid stations. Those “manageable increments” are still over an hour each.
  9. I’ll have to multiply what I did by 3 to run a true 100 mile Ultra.
  10. The people at the aid stations are truly excellent folks. Not a lot of spectators out there. No cheering crowds at the finish either, if that’s your thing.
  11. Ultras aren’t really a photo event. Nobody’s hiding in the bushes at mile 83. Or at the finish for that matter that I could tell.
  12. Cool fact: you can’t sleep after an Ultra since your heart rate stays up after being up for so long (didn’t affect me, but I didn’t run all of it).

For mind-numbing detail about Ultra-outfitting and my race report, read on!

Gear: I give myself an “D-” on this one. I was a victim of my own cheapness. I had two cheap headlamps and a serviceable handheld flashlight. The cheap headlamps were too bouncy to wear. I knew this ahead of time – I was going to use them as backup handhelds. I stuffed one in my pocket and left the other with Julie in case I needed to swap out. I had one set of batteries in the flashlight and a spare set with me. The first set ran out part of the way through a segment and I had to switch to my backup headlamp. The flashlight threw great light on the trail when it was working. The headlamp did not – way too dim. I got my spare batteries in the handheld at the next aid station and was good to go again. However, in the next segment disaster struck. I fell and crushed my flashlight AND my headlamp. Not to mention deeply bruising my palm. The flashlight was working intermittently, so it wasn’t the bulb. The headlamp came apart, and a battery flew out. I couldn’t find it and didn’t want to spend any more time looking. Darin had a spare battery, but I couldn’t get the thing going again. Fortunately he had a working headlamp and flashlight, so he gave me his headlamp for the duration. I’m very lucky both of our lights worked to the end, since I was out of options. I did put some new batteries in my flashlight at the penultimate aid station, but I didn’t want to distract Darin by trying to give him his headlamp back and then have to ask for it again if the flashlight wasn’t really working. The only thing I got right with my gear was my Garmin(s). I wore my 2-year-old refurbished (under warranty) Forerunner 405. I was fairly certain it wouldn’t make it to the finish. As it was, it didn’t start chirping low battery until the last segment. Fortunately, I had my wife’s Garmin Forerunner 10 with me too, and I had it rolling before my primary shut down. Hers isn’t as accurate as mine – thanks to my recent addition of a foot pod, but at least it was good enough to give us some idea of elapsed mileage. I reset my Garmin at each aid station so I could let Darin know how much mileage was left in each segment. He was wearing one of those humongous O.G. Garmins – the GPS equivalent of a bag phone, but favored by many for its long battery life. His lasted for 90 miles, which would have been around 16+ hours. Mine only went for about 33 miles and 7 hours. Lessons learned: buy decent gear; have a backup; bring plenty of batteries.

Clothes: My grade is A- on this. I know running gear pretty well now, as well as what works for me at different temperatures. I wore a L/S Compression Nike Pro Combat Cold Gear up top, with some Merino Wool tights on the bottom. Thin wicking socks. Liner gloves. I tied a L/S fleece around my waist in case I got cold, and had a fleece headband in the pocket just in case. I never needed either. The top was running a little hot, but not by much. I started right at dark, about 7:45pm, so falling temps, not to mention colder in the hollows. I think the air temp was probably upper 30s to very low 40s at the start. It was below freezing by the time we wrapped it up 7 1/2 hours later. I changed my shirt once. Wow, did that dry shirt feel fantastically warm and cozy after a few hours in the first one! I also changed socks once after a dunking at a water crossing. I didn’t have any problems per se with socks, although in hindsight I would have thrown a pair in a pocket so I could have changed at an earlier aid station before the crew access point where Julie gave me the dry ones. I also had a huge variety of other things to change into in my gear bag so I could have switched to a lighter L/S shirt, added a vest, gone with a S/S shirt under a fleece, etc. However, I never needed any of that. A combination of Body Glide and petroleum jelly in various strategic places prevented any chafing/bleeding nipple issues. Lesson learned: if you’re running the whole thing, take advantage of drop bags, even if it’s just socks and batteries.

Shoes: A on the shoes. My Skora Forms worked great. I had taken them for a 20 mile spin on the trails at Clinton before this, so I knew they’d do well. I had ZERO foot problems after 7 1/2 hours and 35 trail miles. I attribute that to the anatomical design of the Form, coupled with my trick of coating my feet with a thin layer of petroleum jelly before socking up. I reapplied once during the race. No blisters. No lost toenails. I have never lost a toenail in minimal shoes. Do you hear me, heel strikers? Also, there’s nothing that’s significantly absorbent on the shoe, so I didn’t pick up weight after getting them wet. They drain well and the leather upper handled the moisture well. I knew they’d be fine though, since my trial trail run in them was in the rain. I brought a spare pair of shoes (Base) just in case there was some train wreck issue with water or shoe failure, but I didn’t need them. Lesson learned: punish your shoes before a race to make sure they work they way you need them to in a worst case scenario.

Since I don’t have any race pics, here’s my Forms the day after:

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Fueling/hydration: I give myself an A here too, by virtue of having no issues whatsoever with this. I really can’t recommend one of my pre-race meals (a breakfast of Krispy Kreme donuts). However, I ate a hearty late lunch, including some delicious lobster and shrimp bisque, a salad with beets and goat cheese, some pan-fried tilapia, and steamed veggies. Oh, and some ice cream for dessert. Props to “Sybil’s” in St. James – a welcome surprise on the way to the race. It sat well and I had plenty of time for digestion before the race started. When Darin came into the tent, I pounded through a roll of Sweet Tarts. I had been pushing fluids all day until my urine was clear. I gulped down 2 cups of HEED before we started. I hate carrying fluids with me. I did fine with 2 cups of HEED at each of the next 4 stops before the finish. I wasn’t ever truly thirsty, but I may have to reconsider this strategy of aid station-only fluids if I run a full Ultra. I refueled mostly with candy bars and HEED gels. I never felt nauseous or had any other GI issues. Lessons learned: drink when you’re thirsty. Make sure you’re okay with what’s being offered at aid stations.

It’s going to be hard to reconstruct a description of the course and race from memory, especially since it was dark, but here goes.

I started at Hazel Creek – 68.4. This was a crewed aid station, so lots of people were there. Darin came in a little past 7:30pm or so in 4th place and this was a major stop for him – changing into night clothes, eating, shoe change. I was chomping at the bit to get going! I admit to being a little disconcerted when Darin mentioned that he had gotten off course by about a mile earlier in the day and had to retrace his steps. I tried not to show it. Later, I realized it is much easier to follow the trail at night. First, it’s packed, so if you get off it, you can feel the softer ground underfoot. Second, the trail markers have a reflective square on them that can be seen from afar. It’s really helpful. Darin and I left the aid station with the 5th place runner and his pacer close on our heels. We eventually put some distance on them and they never passed us. This stretch had some really marshy spots in it – I soaked my shoes pretty early on. We came up on the 3rd place runner in this stretch. Darin knew him by name. I appreciated the friendly exchange between the two. He asked if we wanted to come around, but Darin said not yet. He meant it too, as we took a breather and let him go out ahead again. He led us into the first (for me) aid station at Pigeon Roost (75.9). There was a gravel road – pretty much the only part of the run that wasn’t on single-track trail – for a half mile leading in. It was mostly downhill – it felt like we were flying! I worried I was pushing Darin too hard – but he knew his own mind already and told me he was going to back it off a bit as we cruised toward the aid station. I seem to remember an inflatable snowman – it was too early for hallucinations so I’m pretty sure it was really there.

The next stretch was a relatively short 5.4 miles to Berryman campground. We did it in just over an hour. This is the segment where Darin moved into 3rd place for good. It sounds stupid, but since it was dark, my favorite part was a touch of civilization – a huge swath cleared out for high power lines. It was strange to suddenly to have the sense that there was nothing around or above us. The stars were brilliant as well, made brighter by a new moon. Berryman is a crew access point, so Julie was there, along with a bunch of other people and a lot of Christmas lights! I got to switch out my socks and shirt, but Darin was quicker through here than I expected! I was still pulling my shirt on and grabbing candy bars as we headed out.

Berryman to Billy’s Branch was a long haul – 8.8 miles that took us almost 2 hours. We met another runner coming out of Berryman – it’s the only part of the race that’s an out and back. There is a short spur in and out of the campground before the trail took off to the right again. Seeing the other runner motivated Darin to push really hard during some nice flat stretches of trail. Billy’s Branch was a welcome sight – especially for Darin, he knew the folks manning it pretty well. Unfortunately for me, there’s a really tricky narrow and steep section coming into it, and I stepped off the trail onto a slope and sprained my ankle. Ironically, just a few minutes before this Darin had taken a wrong step as well and remarked about NOT spraining an ankle. If only I had been so lucky! I ran through the pain, including 3 or 4 re-tweaks on roots. Eventually it loosened up (or swelled up, or whatever your body does to keep moving if it thinks it has to) and I was running well again, albeit not totally pain-free. There was a cowbell coming into Billy’s Branch – which we used to our advantage after leaving to learn that we had about 2/3 of a mile lead on the next runner behind us. More cowbell!

Because of my ankle, the worst stretch for me was the 7 miles to Henpeck Hollow. However, we ran it at a really good pace, about a minute per mile faster than the previous segment. Darin was killer on the downhills, despite having some pain in his quads (understandable at the 90 mile mark). With my ankle, I had to push to keep up. At this point in the race, we never saw lights behind us, maintaining our lead on #4. However, we never saw #2 either. As we came into Henpeck, Darin made it clear it would be a grab and go to keep our lead to the finish. I think he might have taken on some bacon. While bacon is probably one of my top 10 favorite foods, I’m not sure if I would feel that way about it after 97 miles.

The last segment has 3 significant hills. Darin ran really strong to the first hill, which didn’t appear until a couple of miles into the last 6.5. Ironically, the only time we went off course was right before the finish. As we came into the campground we were seeing a lot of glow sticks, however, we missed a turnoff that was marked by a reflective sign above eye level on a tree – not more than half a mile from the finish. No glow sticks there… Fortunately for Darin, he had run the course before and knew something was off when we found ourselves on a paved road in the campground. I ran back to retrace, but he figured it out first and we brought it home after finding the turn.

After getting into the tent, we learned that second place hadn’t been in the barn for long – and we saw the fourth and fifth place runners come in together about 5 minutes after we did. Thank goodness we didn’t wander around the campground too much!

I came out of this race amazed at how clearheaded Darin was and how strongly he was able to run during those last 35 miles. If I venture out onto this course myself next year I hope I can keep it together that well.  I don’t know if doing the whole thing would change how I feel about it, but I had a lot of fun running in this race!