Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rocky Road 50 mile report and lessons learned

I decided to sign up for this because a couple of my friends were doing their first 100miler and I thought this would be a good time to see how my training was progressing. I thought it would be nice to get a 50 mile training run in at the same time as getting a shirt.

Vanessa and Robert(Shacky) said they would allow me to carpool with them - this made it easier for me to go since I had just signed up on a whim about 2 weeks before the race. I'm training for the San Diego 100miler in June so I wanted to test myself and get everything dialed in so that I'm prepared as much as I can be when June comes around. Plus, I wanted to see Vanessa and Robert(S) run 100 miles and get their first buckle - and run it barefoot and minimal as possible.

I've been training in the Laguna and Saddleback Mountains the past couple months almost on a weekly basis - getting some hard training in elevation and terrain to prepare myself as much as possible for a 100mile race. So when I signed up for the RR50miler, I wanted to get the miles on my feet - and it was a relatively easy course (compared to the mountain trails I've been running).

Rocky Road runs through a neighborhood called Coto De Caza on horse trails that are next to the road. It would be a good test on how far I've come since my last 50miler and to get my nutrition in order. I have found that endurance running is more than just running the miles - you have to figure out how to fuel yourself properly through those miles. I have been trying different things during my training runs - trying to figure out what I like to eat and drink for my fuel, and what I just can't stand during the runs. I have to figure out what I can eat the night before my run - and the morning of the race.

My mindset for this race changed dramatically as race day approached. When I signed up, I just wanted the miles, to dial in my nutrition, and the other elements that go into going out and running 50-100miles. But once the race was upon me I changed my mindset and wanted to test myself more than I originally planned. So I started to over-plan and I changed up a couple things from my training runs. As a runner, you will know - if it's working, don't change it up right before a big challenge. Well I did not heed that advice... I changed a few things up before and during my race like a big dork.

First mistake: the night before I decide to get away from my normal night-before-race dinner and go for a huge burrito(big mistake). Now those who know me know I love a big burrito and heck I've won the Silly San Diego's Burrito Run. But you're not suppose to eat one and expect to have a nice 50 mile race the next day without paying for it - and making everyone behind you pay for it. Thank goodness they had aid stations every 2.5 miles with a porta-potty at each one.

The course itself is a 7.5 mile out-and-back - every 15 miles you come back to the start/finish line and your time is clocked. The trail is hard-packed dirt with tiny pebbles on top. You also have a lot of road crossings since it's in a posh residential neighborhood. This race is set up for the beginner or first-time 50 and 100 mile runners. It does not have a lot of elevation change and the trail is not difficult... well that depends on your idea of difficult I guess. I would rather run in the mountains on some hard terrain than endure hard pack dirt with pavement every so often. Plus, add in the danger of crossing intersections with cars zipping by (and some people looking at you like you just pissed in their cheerios... because they had to wait for you to cross the street before they could proceed down the road).

Morning of race:
I go to bed late (of course) which gives me two hours of sleep before my alarm goes off, which is so delightful. Rachel decides to wake up with me since she will not be coming up to the race until after my son's track tryouts. I wake up, do my morning wake up routine exercises to get the system revving up for the day. Rachel (the awesome person she is) went and started breakfast and coffee while I got dressed and ready for the day. It's always nice to have someone there in the morning especially if it's a person you really like and lights up your day. She gives me that, so my morning started out really well, had my coffee and breakfast. I got all my things prepared the night before, my take along bag for my nutrition, changes of clothes for during and after the race so in the morning all I had to do is grab the bag and be ready.

I went out to wait in the dark for Robert,Vanessa and Rachel(not my wife) - and Rachel(my wife) came out to wait with me which I was happily surprised to have her with me while I waited. They came, I got in and we were off to challenge ourselves for the day.  I don't really remember the ride all that much because I think I might have been focused on the race. We got to the check in on time, so of course I felt good about that because one of my fears is getting to the start line late (and naked). So I was there rearing to go. I watched as my friends left at 6am for their 100 mile race. We 50ers checked in and waited around until a little after 7am for our start. During this time I met some of the other runners along with seeing some of my friends and we talked as we waited.

First 15 miles (2:15):
I started out feeling a bit...how should I say this...on the verge of taking a big you know what. The funny thing is I had taken two of those already in the morning. So I was glad to see the first porta-potty at mile 2.5 rushed in did the deed - then caught back up to where I wanted to be during the run. Pretty much for the first 7.5 nothing eventful went on I was doing my usual marking my territory, but waiting until porta-potty's came along because you couldn't do that out here in this posh neighborhood... there was no where to hide. I was making good time in spite of my pit stops. The cool thing was seeing my friends and others I know running their 100 or 50 miler about twice a loop and being able to cheer them on and have them do the same. It was quite different than most the other Ultras I've done because most the time you see them once or twice and the rest of the time you're out alone on the trail. I made good time for my first 15 miles. I usually have the pit stops the first part of the race so it didn't upset me and my time was right on so I was pretty happy going into the next 15 miles.
(dragging butt)
Second 15 miles (2:47):
...and second mistake: When I started the day, I did something I hadn't done in my training runs - I filled my bottles with a couple more scoops of my liquid carb fuel than usual. I have now realized through this race and Noble that every time I do this I get severe cramps and gas. I mean like bending over pain cramps where if you move it tears your whole abdomen apart. So after I get through two bottles of my carb fuel I started getting this sharp cramp in my stomach - I was almost done with my second 15 miles when it started happening (the second 15 was pretty uneventful up until this point - I had gotten the burrito out of my system on the first 15). I should never have put more scoops in - I was wanting more liquid calories then eating calories because it is so much easier to consume liquid on long runs than eating bars or anything else for that matter. But the stuff I use does cause some discomfort if I use too much of it and (the dummy I am) I decided race day I'm going to consume more of it and cramp up in severe pain. I also took a caffeine pill, the sun was out and warming me up... and it all affected me for the worse. When I finished my 30 miles I was sick to my stomach and ended up puking three times and spending way to much time at the aid station... over 30 minutes trying to settle my stomach. A couple Ultra friends were there - John and Robert - and they really helped me through that bad patch at the aid station. I appreciate it so much because I really wanted to sit there and wallow in my puke breath and sit on a toilet. But I bucked up and started walking out of the aid station to keep moving. Thanks so much John and Robert(W) - you helped me so much with your words and the ginger.

Third 15 miles (3:47):
I lost so much time trying to recover inside the aid station, I was just happy to be moving again. I did not move all that fast because I was trying to settle my stomach still. I walked some; I did the ULTRA-SHUFFLE (dragging my heavy ass feet barely over the surface of anything in my way). This lap was going to be surviving the severe pain and overcoming everything I did wrong in my preparations and during the first part of the race. I had my legs - they were fine - but my stomach zapped any energy I had - it took everything out of my legs and my head. It went from a great meditation to a severe case of doubt and pain inside my mind. The mental part sucked worse than the pain at times because I was letting it get to me. I take things so hard and beat myself up for my mistakes. That is something I've been working on and one of the reasons I run is to fix this shit that happens inside of my head. I am becoming stronger because I fought through all those doubts and kept moving no matter the pain or the doubts. I decided I would not let this shit get me down as much as my mind wanted me.

It was great to have the support of the other runners and friends along this journey. I was so happy to see Rachel and Vanessa with big smiles as they put themselves through 100 miles. I also saw Shacky on his 45 mile loop and he looked like he was suffering so I walked with him and we talked about our issues of the day. It felt good to talk with someone else in misery because misery loves company. I'm so proud of him, he finished his 100miler fighting through his issues and getting his first buckle.  Vanessa also took home her first buckle after finishing her first 100miler - congratulations both of you, rock stars! So they also inspired me during the race if they can endure 100 miles I have got to get this 50 done no matter the pain.
 (Shacky around mile 42)
(Vanessa at mile 45)
Around mile 42 I saw my family - they drove by yelling out encouragement as I dragged my feet waiting for the pain to subside. They waited for me at the next aid station to cheer me on and give me some love. It was nice to see them out there after this last 15 miles. I got on my giddy up and made it to the end of the 3rd loop - then all I had left was the 2.5 out-and-back to make 50 miles. This time my wife found me a potato - my first real food of the race. During this 15 mile loop I had been eating chips and soda to settle my stomach - which I do not eat when I'm not racing - but it did the trick - by mile 45 I was feeling better. It felt good to eat a warm potato before heading off on the last 5 miles.

Last 5 miles (:59):
I felt a lot better after seeing my family and having some real food. My stomach for the most part settled down. I took off because I did feel some heat from the runners behind me and they pushed me to keep going.

My friend Greg also helped so much the last 20 miles - he just kept encouraging me through all of my woes. There are so many awesome people out here in the world and it's good to see their smiling faces suffering right along side of you. You can't help but grow out there on the trails, pushing yourself through the miles and terrain.
(last AS before finish line)
I pushed until I got to the 2.5 mile aid station - my wife and son were there cheering me on and helping  me get in and out of the AS. On my way back I kept pushing through, knowing it was almost done, all of this crap was almost over. I ran into the finish feeling relieved it was all over and I could eat or get comfortable.
I finished with a new PR for 50milers in 9hours 47 minutes (and a top 10 finish), gotta be happy with that.
(receiving my finisher's medal)
After the run:
I got sick again at the end - I had to go and find a bush but I couldn't puke - I just felt sick and I couldn't even think about food. My wife was trying to help me as much as she could but I just didn't want to think about anything and just lie down. Eventually I did feel a little better and ate another potato. I did get dressed into warm clothes, thanks to my wife helping me while I laid on the ground. You rock Rachel and you are my rock - when everything else erodes away you're always there for me. I really wanted to stay to watch my friends achieve such a milestone of finishing their 100mile race but I wussed out and went home to recover. I was there in spirit and I did watch the website for their times. You guys are awesome I'm so proud of you for pushing through to the end.

Lessons learned:
Don't go off your game plan too much or it could cost you your race - or cause a lot of pain.
No matter what, I am going to give it my all - no matter what pains or obstacles are in my way. In my past, I would settle with giving up and crying my way into a bout of self pity.
I am stronger than I think I am most of the time - I need to start giving myself credit for my accomplishments.
Nutrition is key - get it figured out for long runs or you're not going to have a good time running those miles.
Surround myself with positive people more and more - because negative people just drag the whole thing down into a pit of darkness - somewhere I do not want to go anymore. I'm tired of being in a dark place - I enjoy the sunshine too much now.
The post-race blues suck - you should be feeling good about yourself, yet your body and mind is in recovery and it does funny things to your psyche. Running is my therapy and it does help more than any drug did in my past - legal or illegal.
I can celebrate my accomplishments without alcohol or crappy food. I enjoyed going out and buying some running gear for my celebration and it felt better the next morning.

I might not have enjoyed my time running this race but I did learn a lot about myself and the things I need to fix before my other big races this year. I did get a medal and a shirt for this training run (better than not getting anything if I would have learned these lessons out on some trail alone). That is the positive side of Paul now - I could look at this as a negative but I won't because I am new and improved. Hey, I might have dark moments but I don't dwell on them.

Thank you to all the volunteers and the RD Charlie for putting on the race and support. Thanks to all the encouraging words from all the other runners out on that trail. It was great to see all your smiling faces, well the ones that did smile. Thanks to all my running and training friends who encourage and inspire me through this thing we call life(running). Thanks Gaby for your awesome bars. Thanks to Shacky and Vanessa for your awesomeness and kindness before during and after the race - You two sweat out pure awesome! Thanks to my kids for your awesome cheers and love. Thanks to My wife for always being there for me no matter the stupid things I might do or put myself through. Thanks for believing in me when so many others doubted me. Healthy day and always believe in yourself!


  1. Thank YOU for being a big inspiration; as a runner, as a customer and most important, as a friend :)

  2. You had it from the start. I knew it!