Posted by: Steven Hammer | September 13, 2010

Speed, man.

So, the 15k training has been quite a departure from the ultra training. That’s pretty obvious, I suppose…

I’m finding that I haven’t lost speed as much as I feared, that going back to 5k-half marathon paces actually feels really good and natural. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m perhaps better suited to these middle distances. I’ll still be back to the ultras, though.

I did my long run yesterday, and discovered a common problem. I couldn’t stay at conversational pace. Instead, I was closer to a pace between my marathon and half marathon race pace. After running such long miles, I’m just not afraid of 7 anymore! This has been a problem for me, historically, which is fine except that it sometimes leads to injury and extra days off down the road…So I guess it’s not really fine at all.

New training focus: Hills. And since we don’t really have any here in the parking lot we call Fargo, I’ve resigned to a weekly, gulp, treadmill session. I’m doing mile repeats at a reasonably steep grade. I don’t like the gym, but it’s a hell of a workout and I learned at Lean Horse that failing to run hills in workouts results in failing to run hills in races and suffering. So far, so good.

Good luck to many friends doing fall races, from 5k to 50 milers… Love fall racing!!!

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Posted by: Steven Hammer | September 2, 2010

All this energy, nowhere to go…

Hey friends,

Still in recovery phase, although I’m feeling really good. My left foot and hip are only a little sore. No pain though, which makes me conclude that I haven’t sustained any serious injuries. Then again, I haven’t tried to run yet.

I’m finding myself with lots of energy, though, and no real outlet. I want to start running again!! I’ve decided that I’ll likely run a 15k at the end of October, which should give me enough time to work on speed again. I’m really anxious to get going, but I’ll probably wait until Monday to ease back out onto the roads.

I think I’m coming to the emotional peak of the whole ultramarathon experience, too. I mean to say that I’ve hit my peak of feeling euphoric and am now left thinking, “what do I have to look forward to? Will any races be fulfilling now? Life seems less intense, less real, less fulfilling now….” But I’ve also read that this is quite normal, particularly after one’s first ultra. (Perhaps this is one reason why so many people keep doing them…)

I think a new goal will be good, though. I’m excited to race short distances again, and feel the suffering and challenge of shorter distances. And…everything will feel relatively short and fast now…

Fall is here, which is my favorite running weather. It’s cooling down, leaves are starting to appear on the ground. It’s really quite beautiful.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 31, 2010

The big day.

I’m not sure a blog post can really encapsulate my experience on Saturday at Lean Horse. In fact I’ve been avoiding writing about it, fearful that I’ll subtract something from the depth and profound nature of the race. Ok, enough drama. I’ll just report the best I can.

The day before was fine. I drove to Hot Springs to do the pre-race meeting and meal. I chatted with a few guys, one from Wisconsin, one from Minneapolis. Veterans of ultras. They were friendly and gave me some good advice. Some of which I heeded the next day, some of which I forgot or neglected…

Race day. I didn’t sleep much the night before. I’m always afraid of sleeping in on race days. I was up almost every hour checking the clock until 4 am came and my alarm rang. I got ready, got some breakfast and coffee for the road, and left for the race. It was about an hour drive from where I stayed. I arrived to the start/finish line, sat around nervously, and we were finally summoned to the line to begin what would end up a long, long, day.

The course begins running through town, then to Argyle road. Argyle road is long, winding, and very hilly. In fact, this road was the majority of the 50-mile race course. I was running just behind two guys who were apparently friends for several miles. I finally decided to run beside them, introduce myself, and join their “team.” They are from Arkansas, though neither of them are “from” Arkansas as they reported. Shannon and Tom. We became fast friends and found that we were trying to run very similar paces. It felt good to join others, to work together.

Things were smooth. We reached the turn-around point in about 4 hours, maybe 4 and a half. Tom was starting to fade a little bit, but we stuck together. We stopped at the 26 mile aid station to eat, drink, and rest for a bit. I felt good, ate, talked with Erin, and waited to get things rolling again.

We started again, and Tom continued to fade. Shannon and I decided to go on, with Tom’s blessing. We were running a 9-minute pace, which felt great. Then things–bad things–began to happen around mile 30 or 32. First, my left hip. Then my left anterior-something (tendon on top of my ankle). They began as pestering pains, then worsened quickly. I was also starting to get pretty nauseated and fatigued. I mistakenly thought these feelings were like a marathon wall: just tough it out for a mile or two and it’ll go away. It didn’t go away.

I told Shannon to go. I hit a big, big wall, and found it hard to run on my left foot. He went on to hold pace and finish under 10 hours. Had a great race. I was pretty slow after that point. I don’t remember a lot between 35 and 39 miles. I know that it got hot. About 94, no cloud cover. I know I ran out of water. I know I wasn’t walking straight and thought I was going to pass out. I started doubting that I’d get to the 39 mile aid station, and considered dropping out of the race when I did get there.

I found that station. Tom was there. He’d passed me a few miles back and I said that I was in trouble. He looked pretty good when I arrived there. I was toast. The aid workers asked what I needed and I didn’t know. I was having a hard time putting thoughts together and just remember saying, “I don’t know. I need to lay down now. I don’t know.” Tom wished me luck and headed off. I really thought I was done. I didn’t want to eat or drink. I watched people come in and leave for some time. I saw a man there who was waiting for a ride; he had dropped out.

After some time (an hour?) I started to get hungry again, and I asked for a sandwich. Then some chips and crackers, then a popsicle. Then some mountain dew and more water. I didn’t know what to do. Do I listen to my body and drop out? Do I tough it out? I really felt torn. It was 7 miles until the next station.

I remembered advice from one of the veterans the night before at dinner: “You can always quit at the next aid station. Quit there.” I thought about all the hours I’d worked. All the people I told. I got up and said, “F*#* it. I’m going to try.” The aid workers asked if I was ok and made sure I had enough food and water to get through 7 miles. I started walking.

A mile and a half later I felt worse than when I got to the 39 mile station. I hurt, felt sick, and morale was zero. I was done. A woman had passed me a mile ago, and that was the last person I’d seen. I was alone on a gravel road. Hurt and alone and I felt awful. I wept and wept. I didn’t have doubts anymore, I knew I couldn’t finish. I decided that I’d flag down the next vehicle and drop out. I sat on a piece of plywood that sat on a  cattle guard and cried again. Then I walked again. I’ve never felt worse, at least not that I can remember.

A few minutes later–maybe an hour, for all I know–I tried to run again and it hurt less. I ran down a hill. Not very fast, but I made ground on that woman ahead of me. Then I walked up a hill, then ran down a hill. I caught her after awhile, amazed that I did it. Frankly, I just needed to talk with someone, to be with someone. I was so lonely. I said “hi, how’s it going?” She was having a tough day too. So we walked together for awhile and just talked. Her name is Lori from Ohio. She’s a nurse. Her husband was doing the 100-miler. They’ve done many ultras.

We talked, probably just to get through some hills. We’d try running once in awhile, but we both hurt so badly that it never lasted long. We’d each say, “Go ahead if you’re feeling better…” but the other would reply something like, “No, I’m no good. I need to walk too.” We talked about running, jobs, our families. But it didn’t feel like awful small talk. It was great. We were passing time and, slowly, passing miles. We knew that the next station must be close. We reached it and knew that we were only 4 miles left. I couldn’t quit then, even though 4 miles felt like another 50. We filled up, got some food, and walked. Everything hurt the farther we walked. I had to stop several times. Walking was making me sick, my foot hurt more and more. It got really, really slow. I could tell Lori felt better, and told her to go if she wanted, but I knew she wasn’t leaving me. She just kept telling me stories about races she’s done (she’s done several 100-milers as well). Some stories barely registered, but they kept me going.

We got into Hot Springs, walked through most of the town, and eventually finished. I tried jogging in but couldn’t. We crossed the line and I went to lay down in the grass. Erin was there to greet me, and so were Shannon and Tom. They’d finished, showered, and come back to see me finish. That meant so much. I was elated and exhausted. My body was finished. It took a long time to get up without my legs seizing in cramps. Eventually I parted ways with my new friends. I drove back to Rapid City and mostly just cried. Not sure why.

I’m back now, back to life. I can’t really write what I learned or gained out there I guess, without spouting off some cliches like, “I overcame limits…” I learned some things though, and they’re stuck in me. I found connection with people out there, I found connection with myself, and I learned about pain and loneliness. I guess you can learn a lot in 11 hours and 27 minutes.

I’ve said lately that I’m done with ultras for awhile. Well, I can’t do that. I’m planning for next year. I have to.

So that’s it for now. I’m going to rest, maybe do some local 5ks later this fall and winter. But for now, just get some rest and recovery.

Thanks for being really supportive friends. That might be the best lesson I learned out there. I really do need people. I need help, because we all do, because it gets tiring sometimes. And it doesn’t take much to help, just some stories and waiting around for people to finish a long day means so much. But there I am getting sappy again.

Hope you’re well, friends.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 24, 2010

Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin…

Yes, I quoted House of Pain.

I’m packing for the trip. And re-packing. Mostly because I obsess and, now that I’m in tapering mode, I’m getting slightly neurotic and stir-crazy. I’m ready to go, already!

What I’ll need to bring:
Comfy, non-chafing shorts, shirt.
Hat, sunglasses.
Good socks (Injinji socks. The best.).
Footwear (going to start in my flats, switch to VFFs if necessary.).
Body glide and vaseline.
Gels, jolly ranchers.
Lotsa water.
The in-case stuff:  blister care/first aid, rain gear.

Guess that’s about it for now.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 21, 2010

One short week away

So, one week from now I should be close to finishing the race. Hopefully, anyway.

Went for a really nice 6-mile run at race pace today. Pretty hot and humid, which I don’t mind. More importantly I feel pretty good. Injury-free. Mostly pain-free. I’m finding now, however, that my body sort of cycles through pains for these long runs. My right knee will twinge/ache for half a mile, then go away, then my left ankle for a while, etc. It’s pretty odd and doesn’t seem to follow much of a pattern. I try to avoid taking them too seriously–just my body warming up or something. Anyway, I’m feeling good I think. Tapering is starting to yield feelings of recovery, etc.

So most of my anxiety/insecurity involves the details of the race. Drop bags, equipment (gaiters or no gaiters?), nutrition/hydration…and the list goes on. From what I read, half the battle with these races is avoiding mistakes in these areas. So…I’m going to use resources the best I can and see what happens. I’ve also been told that the Lean Horse race is very beginner-friendly, informative, and helpful, so I assume I’ll get by with a little help from new friends.

Ok, off to enjoy the afternoon with family, colleagues, and friends (company and department picnics galore today…).

Enjoy the day, friends.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 17, 2010

Resolving relationship problems

RUNNING: We need to talk. This isn’t going well.

ME: I know–but listen, hear me out–I know I’ve been grumpy. I’ve treated you like a pest, like a job, like a chore. I’ve drowned you out with headphones lately, sworn at you aloud out on the road, even stood you up on multiple occasions. I guess I just got burned out, tired. I’m sorry. Our big day is…oh wow, it’s only 11 days away! We can’t give up now.

RUNNING: Yes, it is close. We’ve come a long way. But you’ve got to change or this isn’t going to work.

ME: I agree. Can we make up? I’ll be better. I’ll work at this relationship and quit thinking it should just happen effortlessly. You do so much for me and I’ll remember that…

Ok, I’m a dork for that little dialogue. But lately running has felt like a dysfunctional relationship in that awful fighting-breakup-makeup stage, so this fits for me. But it’s getting so close to the 50miler that I’ve decided I need to get over whatever it is that has been ailing me. Get the relationship back on track. Find a way to reconcile.

I don’t know how, but a glance at the calendar today gave me a feeling I haven’t felt in awhile. That nervous, excited twinge in the pit of my stomach. 11 freakin’ days, man!  All tapering at this point. 11 days! This is going to be tough. And great. And painful. And exhilirating…

I hope this resurgence stays. It feels good to be excited again.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 14, 2010

A countdown begins…

Hey friends. I’m a tired blogger today.

It’s practically profanity, but I’m tired not only from running, but of running.

I read a friend’s blog, who also happens to be running the half hundred at Lean Horse in two weeks, and she seems to feel the same way. Just hitting a wall…maybe a mileage wall, maybe something else altogether. It’s so nice when other runners are honest about those feelings. There’s nothing worse than feeling crappy–alone. Company makes it feel better, or normal, or something.

In any case, there’s my confession for the week.

Everything else is pretty solid–injury-free, mostly pain/soreness-free, etc. I’m actually starting to look beyond this month’s race and thinking about what I’ll do this winter. Frankly, I need a break from running, at least for the bitter winter months. I’ve read that cross country skiing is good off-season training for the distance runner, and am looking into it. Also, snowshoeing. Like any other hobby, though, the start-up costs for equipment are a little discouraging for those of us on budgets.

Anyway, I’m really trying to find something that makes me dread North Dakota winters less. You know, like the skiers and snowmobilers who cheer when it snows while the rest of us groan… I envy them. They’ve found a way to look forward to winter. Brilliant.

So, exactly two weeks from today I’ll be running my first ultramarathon. What a journey it’s been so far. The countdown begins…

See you later, alligator.

P.S., we found out that our second baby, due Jan. 4, is a boy. Rowan Reginald is his name. Pretty beautiful stuff.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 9, 2010

Been awhile!

I don’t think I’ve written since just before peak week. I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s been awhile so I thought I should write about the training lately.

Peak week was surprisingly successful. I’ve been discouraged a few times during this training, wondering if I can even finish, but as I reached the long runs of my peak week, I found that I seem to be in great shape. I did a 5-hour run on Friday and a 4-hour run on Saturday of that week, and had enough juice during both runs to produce a relatively fast last mile or two. I’m recovering really quickly from workouts, especially long runs, and am still sans-injury. I’m going to jinx myself again…

This week was the first of the taper weeks. That is, I keep my M-F schedule of: off, 8, 4X1 repeats, 6, off. My weekend back-to-backs changed radically, though: 10k race on Saturday and 1.5 hours on Sunday. I can’t tell you how nice and short my runs feel now, and how fresh I am beginning to feel. The little aches and pains of training are starting to dissipate slowly now, and I feel more energy. This weekend I’ll do 2 hour runs on both Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully I have nothing but good news during the taper weeks ahead.

Interesting artifacts/events I’ve seen out on the road lately: A really big turkey and her young on a small path (I waited quite some time before passing as I’m a bit scared of big birds defending their young), a bald eagle perched atop a house in Moorhead, several intense games of neighborhood wiffle-ball (’tis the season), met some really fun hitchhikers drinking beer and smoking under the I-94 bike tunnel and we talked about minimalist running among other things–it was a nice break in a long and uneventful afternoon, and a sand volleyball tournament that apparently allowed kicking.

Summer in ND seems like such a contrast to winters in the way that I feel connected to other people. Out on the roads/bike paths/tracks you’re able to see other people out and active, and wave. Winters seem so antisocial, isolated. Maybe I need an outdoor winter hobby…I’ve considered cross-country skiing… Anyway, I guess it’s just nice to see people outside enjoying summer. Winters are just too long here. Now I’m just babbling:)

Hope you’re well and enjoying the hotter days of summer, friends!

Posted by: Steven Hammer | July 24, 2010

Interesting

Ok, this has nothing to do with training. Well, a little bit I guess.

When you’re out walking/running/biking/whatever, you can come across some interesting artifacts and happenings. I’ve had some particularly interesting finds lately:

A used pregnancy test. Seriously. (It was negative. Phew…)
Two young women scolding their boyfriends for threatening each other while they passed.
A couple canoeing down the red river, past a fisherman in cut off jeans. (think Tom and Huck)
A comb.
A young boy riding a bicycle that veered at me to see if I would flinch.
A teenage boy who commented, “Put on some pants!” I guess my running shorts are too revealing for his sensibilities…
Two juvenile delinquents (I can say that. I was once one.) throwing rocks against an old building.
Several small, aggressive dogs that want me dead.

I always want to remember all of these things. They’re hilarious, or sad, or puzzling. Sometimes all three. One of the benefits of all these hours out on the road I suppose.

Hope you’re well, friends.

*addition* I can’t believe I forgot this one. I saw a burning bush. Seriously–someone’s bush was literally on fire. I knocked on their door, they eventually put it out.

Posted by: Steven Hammer | July 19, 2010

Mental struggles

I’m finding myself overwhelmed and discouraged this week. For once, it has nothing to do with injuries. So what is it then? I’m not sure exactly. Part of it has to do with the amount of time I’m putting in on weekends (7-8 hours, between Sat and Sun, plus icebaths, etc.). Part of it is missing speedwork (yeah…I know…). To be honest, I feel a little guilty leaving my pregnant partner to take care of our daughter most of the weekend. I miss our afternoons together. Part of it is getting used to the kind of tired ultrarunning makes me. I don’t even open my mouth on these long runs–I don’t have to breathe hard on those long runs–but it’s that whole-body ache and fatigue. That seems harder to push through and feel accomplished at the end. For example, I love the feeling of finishing a 5-10 mile tempo run. Breathing hard, sweating, burning muscles. But now, when I finish these 3-5 hour runs at 9-10min/mile pace, I get done and think, “Meh. Glad that’s over.” I don’t mean it’s not challenging. I guess I’m not “enjoying” myself as much as usual, as much as marathon/half marathon training.

I’m a runner, and admitting this makes me feel a little bit guilty I guess. Maybe the ultra thing isn’t for me? Maybe it’s not for me at this stage of life (family, career, etc.). Maybe I’m just approaching my peak weeks and I’m feeling overwhelmed, thinking, “holy sh*#, I’m going to run 50 miles! ” Whatever it is, I’m just working through it. I’m going to finish the 50-miler and then decide where to go next.

Ok, friends, hope you’re well and still enjoying summer!

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