Monday, June 2, 2014

Nanny Goat Ultra: Lessons Learned

After running 61 kilometers (38 miles) for my birthday last January I decided that I would like to run an ultra marathon race. A local one if possible and the Nanny Goat 12/24hour 100mile race in May fit the bill. It is a one-mile loop course on a horse ranch dotted with lots of orange trees and other assorted trees like Eucalyptus along Victoria Avenue.

I did not sign up right away as I was intimidated by the prospect but did start training as if I were going to run it. I started ramping up my distance and working into doing back-to-back long runs on the weekend. It was hard at first running at the slower pace but I did finally adapt to it. The toughest part for me was when the weather started getting warmer. I found it hard to be out on training runs of 4 hours or more in the hotter weather but I knew that there was a great possibility that I would be running in those very conditions during a 24-hour race.

In the Goat Pen just before the race!

 I found that I really struggled after the 3.5 to 4 hour mark on warm days but did not link this with a lack of salt. I simply thought I was not acclimated to the warmer climate as yet and just needed to run in the heat more. I did find that dry heat with a 20-degree dew point or lower did not bother me nearly as much as say a 50 or 60-degree dew point day with overcast and relatively low temps in the 70’s. While above 60 degrees is not really ideal for running anyway there was a huge difference between running at 70 degrees with a 40-degree dew point and bright sunshine and 70 degrees with a 65-degree dew point and overcast. For me the difference was astounding. I have come to believe that heavy sweaters have the most trouble with higher dew points than average to low sweaters.

I found that I needed to take in 50 ounces or more of fluids an hour to try and stay fully hydrated in this kind of weather as opposed to only about half that in 50 degrees and a 40-degree or lower dew point. This is apparently why I did not have that much trouble running 38 miles in 7 hours and 20 minutes back in January starting at 4:30am. I was hoping with the extra training to be able to do close to the same at Nanny Goat in the 24-hour race.

My last two long training runs of 27 miles were an omen of things to come. The first one was actually planned as 27 but I really fell off during the last 7 miles. The next one a week later was planned as 30 miles but my ankle and heel were killing me by mile 17. I also wasn’t feeling so great at that point but kept on running. By mile 26 I was really struggling and my left heel and ankle were really getting tight and sore. I decided that if I could get my wife to pick me up at the 27-mile mark, with an easy access to the trail for the road, that I would take her up on it. Truth be told, if I weren’t feeling so badly other wise from dead legs and stomach problems I probably would have gutted it out even with the heel and ankle problem.

That was three weeks out from the race and I did not run again for 5 days do to my heel and ankle being sore. Then next few weeks I did not get in nearly enough running. I know I was tapering but with the little running I did it was a super taper. This was mostly due to the weather combined with my heel and ankle problems not healing as quickly as I would like.

The day of the race came and most were relieved to see that the morning would be mostly overcast. I on the other hand was not excited about that at all as along with the 60+ degree starting temperature and overcast was a 60-65 degree dew point. When the dew point and the temperature are almost the same it means that the humidity is pretty close to 100%. Also when I am able to stand around in my running clothes feeling perfectly comfortable before a race it does not bode well for me. Those were the exact conditions that occurred.

Other than some initial intestinal problems and maybe drinking a little too much during the first 2 hours of the race I managed to stay fairly comfortable for the first 5 hours albeit at a much slower pace than I had hoped for. Somewhere between 4 and 5 hours I started having stomach problems and preferred water over my Perpetuem sports drink. I was taking electrolyte capsules every hour but between the capsules and what my drink provided I was only taking in about 450mg per hour of sodium. Because of my sweat rate and the fact that I leave a lot of salt on my skin it would appear that I should have been taking in close to 3 times that amount of sodium.

Me at mile 25

I was falling into a brain fog and I was really forcing myself to take in any nutrition at all. My urine output and color was fine yet I was feeling extremely hot even when I was just sitting for the 20 minutes rest I took at about 6.5 hours into the race. I was walking as much or more than I was running by that time. This was my first time having gone that long of a time in these weather conditions and while I could get away with it in a 4-5 hour marathon I was not getting away with it here.

In hind sight I wish I would have known that it was a salt problem and I would have sat or walked slowly for an hour or two while I built my blood sodium levels back up. I, however, was not thinking clearly and was in such distress that I could not imagine keeping this up for another 16 hours or more.

At just a little under 8 hours I decided to sit a while and see if rest would revive me again but after about 30 minutes or more of sitting and trying to drink I felt it was best to stop and live to fight another day.

I had made it 30 miles in just less than 8 hours and yet 4 months earlier I had run 38 miles in just 7 hours 20 minutes and did not feel at all bad at the end. In fact I was able to give a 200-yard sprint at the end of that long run. Here I was all spent and 8 miles short of my longest run and that wasn’t even a race.

It took until noon the next day before my brain fog lifted. I weighed exactly the same when I got home as I weighed when I left home that morning. I, however, could not eat a full meal all evening. I could only manage small snacks here and there. I really did not want breakfast the next morning but forced myself. By noon my demeanor was returning to normal but my legs still felt like lead and I was extremely sore. This all leads me to believe that I was in the early stages of hyponatremia from my blood sodium levels being to low. I did have some of the classic symptoms, although I was not cramping, but not everyone does.

I am anxious to test out my hypothesis of too little sodium, but the experience has left me with a feeling of anxiety about doing another long run in the heat. I am sure that will wear off soon and I will be able to test out my theory as there is plenty of summer left, although we don’t often get 65 degree dew points during the summer months in the inland Southern California area.

I hope my story can help someone else diagnose a problem they are having doing long runs in the heat and or high humidity and solve it before they have a disappointing result in a race because of it.

Happy Trails,

Russ Barber

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My 38 Mile (61K) Birthday Celebration Run

Well it has been way to long since my last blog post so it is high time I write about one of the most epic runs I have done to date. I have always wondered what it would be like to run an ultra distance and decided that this year I would give it a try and run 61K for my 61rst birthday. I turned 61 on January 14 this of this year and ran the distance on January 18th. You can view my Garmin Connect stats of the route here:

I planned out a relatively flat, nearly 10K course that I could run in the city of Redlands, CA. It was pretty well lit so I would not have to wear a headlamp. I would be able to refill my bottles with fluids with a minimum of disruption from the run and perhaps even run a bit with a few friend from the Redlands Runegades if I timed it right.

I was a bit apprehensive about the run but I had increased my weekly mileage to an average of 50 a week up from about 35, and had been doing back to back long runs on the weekends. This gave me a little more confidence but still it was unknown territory for me and I would be running the vast majority of the run all by myself.

I started the run a few minutes past 4am on a Saturday morning. The weather was nice and cool which was definitely in my favor, as I don’t do heat well. It is kind of weird running at 4am with almost no traffic and hardly ever seeing a soul the first two hours of the run. There were a couple of places that lighting was not all that good and I had to make sure I lifted my feet a little higher than normal at these sections.

I had decided that I would try and bank a little time by running the first 10K at my normal long run pace and heart rate (HR), which is about a 140-143HR. The first lap went well averaging a little less than a 9min pace. The next lap I decided to try and drop my HR down to about 130 but that lasted for only the first mile as it was hard to make myself run so much slower than I was used to and overall I was only about 3-4 beats a minute slower on average for the second lap.

I met up with some of the Runegades on lap 3 and we ran together for about 2 miles before they split off going a different direction. It was nice to interact with them and it gave me a lift to my spirits even though I was definitely not in any real distress at that point in my run. It was a little easier by this time to run at the lower HR and slower pace and I was feeling great the whole way. I guess I had over hydrated the day before as I had gone to the bathroom more than I was used to on a long run by now. The cooler weather was also making it hard for me to drink as much as I had wanted to and most of my nutrition was in my fluids.

By mile 19 it had turned full daylight and was beginning to warm up. I forgot to mention that there was close to a 10-degree temperature difference from the higher portion of the route to the lower portion during the first 3 laps. This would change somewhat as the run went on.

I did not have any trouble with loneliness as I have done quite a lot of solo running. However after I reached the marathon distance, even though I was not racing, I began to feel just a little lonely and it seemed that time dragged on a little bit more from this point on. My legs were definitely feeling a little weary by this time but I told myself that I only had 2 more laps to go.

From this point on it was not hard at all to run at the lower HR and even on the downhill sections of the run I was not tempted to run too fast. The warmth was beginning to affect me a bit at this point but just mildly. I also said hello and waved to a few of my friends just as I started my next to last lap, which gave me a little lift to my gait.

When I got back to my truck for my last pit stop I was joined by Robin Derdowski and Jim Glick for the last lap. It was really nice to have them join me for this lap and I am sure that I averaged 30 seconds faster per mile just because they were with me. I am very appreciative to them for running this with me after they had already run about 15 miles earlier that morning.

After we got to the top of the last uphill and turned to the last quarter mile of the run I decided to see what I had left in my legs and picked up the pace surprising myself with how well I actually felt. I then broke into nearly a sprint to the end. This told me that my mind had been lying to me about how I felt and it was just trying so save me by telling my body to conserve my energy, as it had never gone this distance before.

Overall it was not as hard as I had imagined it would be and I know without a doubt that I could have finished another 12 miles for a 50 miler. However that was not my intent and I had accomplished what I had set out to do which was run my age in kilometers. My total time, with no watch stoppage, was 7hours 23 minutes and 10 seconds. Average pace: 11:39 with an average moving pace of 10:27. My average HR was 129 compared with my usual long run HR of 141.

This had inspired me to sign up for the Nanny Goat 24-hour race in Riverside, CA on May 24th. I have been trying to up my mileage again to 50+ miles per week hoping to peak at 70 miles and doing several back to back long runs with my longest hopefully being 20 and 31.

As I write this I presently have had a little setback with sciatica again but feel sure I will be back at it soon. Last weekend I ran a 17 mile trail run on the PCT and followed it with a 15 mile run the next day in the morning and a 12 mile run in the afternoon.

Follow me on my journey as I prepare to run my first ultra marathon race on May 24 and 25.

Happy Trails,

Russ Barber

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Interview With The Jester Part II

What extra training do you do to get ready for Badwater?

For Badwater I usually try to get in some extra miles in the hottest part of the day, and ramp up my weekly mileage to around 80-100 miles, if my schedule allows. Didn’t do that this year, and my finish time suffered greatly. Since I live in SoCal, the heat here is the same heat as BW’s dry heat just “a degree or two” lower. Some people will also sit in the sauna for increasing periods of time. I tried that once while training for my first BW and just got too bored, so I didn’t do it again. Luckily for me I do okay in heat, so I don’t require that much extra heat acclimation.

Did you do any practice runs with your crew this year or any year?
No. It would be nice to do that, but they’re already sacrificing the better part of a week, so I don’t want to obligate them to anything extra. Besides, my wife is now an old pro as crew chief so she’s pretty good at getting them up to speed on the fly, during the race. There’s actually not much to it. Get the water bottles prepared with my drink of choice, have a new hat with ice, have the water sprayer ready as I come by, swap the old for the new, see what I want for the next stop, get in the car, drive one mile ahead, repeat. Then do it 134 more times! Rather tedious work for the crew actually.
Do you get cranky during the race and if so do you have any antidote to tell?
Well, you’d have to check with those that have crewed for me over the past three years, but overall I think I’m a pretty easy going runner. I think the only time I get a little impatient is when I ask for something I want at the next stop, and it’s not ready. I don’t want to waste time by waiting, so I’ll tell them to have it ready for certain at the next stop. I’m sure I probably get a little short with them at that point. I think if I started to become a pain in the butt, my wife would tell me. You can’t afford to piss off your crew by being a jerk, because they could just drive away and leave your sorry butt to cook out there.

Are you allowed pacers at any point during the race?
Yes. If you’re over 65, you can opt to have a pacer for all 135 miles, otherwise your pacer can’t join you until the first check-point, which is Furnace Creek, 17 miles into the race. This is for logistical purposes, since everyone is crowded together in each of the three wave starts (about 30-35 runners per wave), and we are running on open state highways. Once we get to the first checkpoint, we’re a few hours into the race and pretty much spread out. And to clarify, the pacers aren’t pacers, in the truest sense of the word, in that they are required to stay behind the runner, not actually “pace” them. Now what a pacer is allowed to do, which is against the rules in most other ultras, is mule for their runner. In-other-words, they can carry their runner’s water, etc.
Are you allowed to run any significant distance with other racers?
Yes, you’re allowed to run the whole race with another runner, but the problem with that is that you’re not allowed to run side-by-side, only single file, so with two runners and their two pacers there would be a congo line of four people, not the most fun way to run with another person. Again, this is strictly for safety reasons on the busy highway. One runner could theoretically set the pace for another runner, but I think that would just be too difficult to monitor, so there’s no rule against that. There is a point were we climb from Stovepipe Wells at mile 42 up to the top of Town’s Pass – 17 miles with 5,100 feet of gain – where there is usually a head wind, sometimes pretty strong, so that would be a good place to draft off of another runner. I’ve never drafted off of someone, or been drafted off of, but I guess it’s legal, and would sure save a lot of energy.
I know when I run marathons it seems that my kidneys shut down and I really don't have to eliminate during the race. It would seem that you must have to drink enough to eliminate some during the race.
Yes, some people have major kidney issues, and have even had kidney failure at BW. I’m lucky in that I’ve never had any kidney problems there, or at any other race. I’m pretty good at taking in the proper amount of fluids, which is a ton, so not a problem for me. I’ll typically go 8 to 12 hours before taking my first pee, but the color is always good – lemonade. Urine the cooler of Kool-aid (urine in the blood) or Coke (really seriously under-hydrated) is really bad and would require some immediate attention. That’s also one of the tasks of the crew, to monitor urine output – volume, color, and flow. Luckily for me I’m always coherent enough to monitor it myself and then report my findings to my crew to document. Some runners can become so disoriented and incoherent that their crew actually have to directly observe their urination output. This is why you should never be on a BW crew. It can be a pretty nasty job.
What do you eat and drink during the race?
It varies from year to year. Drink wise I will take some electrolyte drink like Gatorade, which can get old real quick, so the crew will switch up flavors every couple of hours. Sometimes I only feel like drinking water, especially if I get “gator gut” (fluids aren’t processing through and just sit in the stomach). I also like V-8, Starbucks Frap’s, Muscle Milk or some similar protein drink. Last year I got to a point where the only liquid I could stomach was Sprite, so I did about 40 miles pretty much on Sprite alone. I’m also quite religious about taking S-Caps (electrolytes and essential minerals in pill form). Food wise depends on how I’m feeling. It’s so darn hot for so much of the race that you really don’t have much of an appetite that first day. I might eat fresh juicy fruits like pineapple chunks, oranges, grapes, and watermelon. I also like Pringles chips, sliced pickles, sliced tomatoes with salt, and sliced avocado with salt. For something sweet, I’ll have pudding cups or fruit cups with the sugary syrup, and licorice. I’ve also recently started eating Payday candy bars at my ultras, so I’ll add that to my menu for BW, if I run it again.
Is there any point during the race that you considered stopping and if so how did you overcome that urge?
No, I’m real lucky that not finishing is never an option in my mind, so I’ve never even considered quitting. I suppose if I ran into some real serious issues, I might consider quitting, but that would only be if I, or Martha, felt my health could be seriously compromised if I continued on. Badwater is such a high profile race, and so many people have committed to get their runner to the finish line that the DNF (did not finish) rate at BW is actually quite low. This year I think there were 15 out of 97 that didn’t finish, and that was about double from last year (this year was hotter than normal at 125 degrees). For most 100 mile races, a 30% drop rate is actually pretty good, and 40-70% drop rate is typical on the really hard 100s. It also helps that there is an application process that tries to get 100 of the most qualified ultra runners out of the applicant pool of runners from around the world.

Anything else you would like to share about your experiences doing Badwater?
Out of the 52 100 mile races I’ve done, Badwater is absolutely the most amazing ultra race of them all. I would do it every single year if they let me in (and I could afford it – it’s actually quite costly to put together a BW crew, including the entry fee of $1,000.) In spite of all the scary stories you might hear about BW, it’s actually a blast. And even though it is by far the hottest race I’ve ever ran, I wouldn’t say it’s the most difficult race I’ve ever ran. But then again, my ultra strengths are heat, street, and big miles, so it’s not as hard on my body as it is for some others. The first few times I read about BW, including Dean Karnazes ‘Ultramarathon Man’ I was totally scared off by even the thought of running it, but after talking with a few people that had done it, and getting a good number of 100 mile races under my belt, I slowly came around to where I couldn’t wait to crew, and then to run it myself. If anyone reading this is thinking about doing BW, I would definitely talk to those that have ran it, and then crew for someone. You might find that Badwater will suddenly go from the scariest race you’ve ever heard about, to the top of your bucket list. Maybe someday you’ll be running it with me, or I’ll be crewing for you. Jester on . . .


Thank you Ed for the interview!

Happy Trails,


Monday, November 11, 2013

Mission Inn Run-Half Marathon Race Report

I have been looking forward to this local race in Riverside, CA for weeks now as a test to see exactly what kind of shape I am in. I have been struggling with injuries for the last few years that keep setting me back, but for the last few months I have been able to run with near full health and it has made a big difference. In fact I have not been 100% myself since early 2004. That is a little over 9 years since I have been in my best running form. The frustration of coming back, then getting hurt (not always running injuries) has played with my psyche to the point of wondering if it is all worth it. Bottom line is, I love running and while they are nice, I don’t need PR’s to keep me going. Still there is something about wanting to perform at one’s best possible self that drives me to keep on trying.

Earlier this year I had a 7-week layoff from injury and a 3-week layoff prior to that. That is significant time off especially since they both came after a significant improvement in racing form.  For the last 2 months I have been able to really up my total weekly mileage from around 35 a week to 50 and 60 a week. I have also been doing intervals and repeats on Tuesdays and Tempo runs most Thursdays.

Two weeks ago I tweaked my right shoulder and had to curtail my running, both pace and distance. A week ago Saturday I decided to try and run a fairly hard run at HM pace for 5 miles of an 8-mile run. While running downhill, at a 6 minute pace on a steep section, I tweaked my shoulder again but continued running anyway at HM pace. After the run I knew I had hurt my shoulder even more and as a result took the next 5 days completely off. I was tapering anyway this week but I did not plan on this steep of a taper. I ran 2 miles Thursday and 4 miles Friday, taking Saturday off. Both runs my legs felt quite refreshed, but I still had some shoulder pain, however, significantly reduced.

Sunday morning race day is here: November 10, 2013, about 53 degrees and mostly sunny. Almost perfect running conditions. It would warm up about 10 degrees during the race but the dew point was so low that it did not matter much.

My plan was to run at an average HR of 157 beats per minute for the whole race. I knew that it would take nearly 2 miles for my HR to ramp up and that I would mostly have to go by feel the first two miles of the race. Partway into mile two we started the only significant hill in the race. I kept watching my Garmin to make sure that I did not go too far above my target HR. It was hard to keep it below 160 on the uphill, but for the most part mission accomplished. Then came a short but very steep downhill section where I passed about 5 runners. As we turned the corner it mostly flattened out and I found myself settling into a pretty steady stride.

Just past the two-mile mark someone in a gold colored top went past me with grayish hair. A possible age group contender I thought to myself. I tried to listen to his breathing as he went by to get an idea of his effort. I couldn’t really tell for sure but I did get the impression that he was just a little labored for this short distance into the race. I let him go and continued running my own pace. As we came around the backside of Mt Rubidoux, onto the bike path and finishing mile-3, two more runners passed me that I thought could be in my age group. The first one’s breathing seemed fine but the second one did seem a little labored. Again I let them both go but asked the second one what his age group was. He either didn’t hear me or ignored me.

After about mile-6 another runner passed me who could be in my age category and I was thinking looks like I may not place like I was hoping for. Still I wanted this to be a test of my condition. By this time into the race I was running quite well and had been on my second wind since about mile-3. I was doing well at maintaining my HR, right around 157, but did occasionally dose off and fall down around 154. This only happened a few times and became apparent when I was passed by someone I didn’t think should be passing me.

Soon after the mile six marker I came up on one of the guys who I thought had been breathing a little harder than he should earlier and asked him his age group. This time he responded, “50-54. And you?” “60,” I replied as another guy running next to us laughed. Then the runner in the 50 category said, “Oh man that hurts,” to which the man who laughed replied, “I shouldn’t be laughing, as I’m only 41.”

The levity provided me with a little bit of a lift and the next time I looked at my Garmin I was at a 160 HR. Whoa!  I slowed it back down to a steady 157 HR. I was almost right on my pace as we hit mile 7 at 7:59 average pace. But my Garmin was also reporting me as having gone .07 miles farther than the mile marker, which meant that I was actually a little slower than that if the mile marker was correct.

I wanted to increase my pace but I felt I should keep on track with my plan. Soon we made the turn a round, and shortly after hit the mile 8 marker. Once again my watch read that I was at 8.08 miles. It would be mostly downhill to mile 12 from here but it would only be a very slight downhill and there was a slight breeze in my face. The breeze actually felt good as it was beginning to warm up just a little by this time. I had now passed all of the possible age groupers I had spotted earlier except for one, including the first one in the gold colored top. I was then passed by one of my friends, Tom Kenefick. I wanted to try and keep up with him but continued to maintain my HR. Every time we went under an overpass he seemed to gain a little more on me until by mile 12 he was at least a minute ahead. At mile 11 I had increased my HR closer to 160 and tried to keep it there the rest of the way.

By mile 12 I knew I was not going to reach my goals. I had two goals in mind; one of setting a new PR, which was now over 10 years old, and the other was breaking 1:45:00. Still I wanted to do my best. Soon we came to the next most significant hill, which was only about 150 to 200 yards long, but at the end of a race it seemed gigantic.

After finally hitting the top of the hill and turning the corner I again increased my HR up to about 162. I did not know if I could hold it the rest of the way but I was going to do my best. With about .4 miles left I kicked it in and pretty closely maintained about a 7:15 pace to the finish getting my HR up to 167.
I crossed the finish line and my Garmin said 13.2 miles and a time of 1:46:18. My official time was 1:46:22. I was just 34 seconds from my previous PR of 1:45:48, and that was on a course with a net downhill while this one was about a 0.0 net. I also placed 3rd in my age division. When I say my previous PR, I mean on a fairly normal course. I did have a 1:35 at Fontana in 2003 but that is about an 1800-foot drop in only 13.1 miles so I don’t count that as a PR.

I am very pleased with my result and it should translate into a Boston qualifying time at Tucson on December 8th. I need a 3:55 to qualify for Boston and feel I should have no problem getting 3:50 or better.