Ultramarathon Race Report with Gary

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He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
Muhammad Ali

The word courage comes from the old French word corage meaning what is in your heart. It has taken on a modern meaning of bravery or toughness, but its older meaning points to something more richer. That our courage sometimes is not brave, but very emotional, but its always a strong faith in our direction.

I took three runners up to the mountains on Sunday to run 33 miles in Big Bear at the Holcomb Valley Trail Run. 33 difficult miles in the mountains with 7200 feet elevation gain in altitude on challenging terrain that would be exhausting to hike let along run.

Beach Runners Sandy and Sindy both trained with us during the winter and ran the Catalina Marathon for their first marathon. This was an impressive athletic accomplishment because the Catalina Marathon is one of the hardest marathons in the United States: 18/26 miles are uphill with 4100 feet elevation gain. Both these strong women found that they loved running on the natural surfaces of trails.

So when I threw out the idea of training for an ultramarathon, these were the only two Beach Runners who had the courage to attempt something this difficult. Training would mean a significant commitment of trail running for hours and hours every weekend. And power yoga. And our secret nutrition plans.

We ended up spending many weekends together up in the hills of Palos Verdes. We even climbed a mountain (San Jacinto).

And in this time, we became really good friends. I now consider these two remarkable women two of my closest friends.

Coaching is still a learning process for me, and I did what I could to develop training routines, motivational messages, and nutritional guidelines. All the while these two with beautiful beginners minds, followed along to all my training suggestions with strong determination and discipline.
I signed Steve up for the ultramarathon despite his wishes. I knew deep down inside Steve needed a new challenge. He has overcome so much this year by self healing his back injury. Steve has a ton of courage, and has been doing lots of trail running and power yoga this year also, and with a 4:32 at Catalina, I figured he had the ability to do this ultra with no specific training due to his ChiRunning skills.

Overall, my fitness was excellent. I am in the best running shape of my life. My endurance base is off the charts. I’m strong from Power Yoga and hard trail running. Ate extremely well the week before the race. But unfortunately, did not get enough rest.

The five days leading up to the race I did a hard trail run, power yoga, hatha yoga with my teacher, and trained Beach Runners including two yoga sessions. I cannot stress this enough to take it easy the week before race day. I didn’t follow this advice and it affected my race.

The Race

The race started with a five and a half mile climb to a mountain pass. Steve forged ahead of me suggesting I run with him. But I was torn. A dilemna I’ve been thinking about for days now. With me was Sandy, who I had done so many training sessions with, who I had done so much coaching. I reflected back to my prayers that morning with God and my prayer had finished with asking God for the opportunity to help another finish this ultramarathon rather than asking for a fast performance from myself.

Those of you that know me know how important that is for me to help others finish.

The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.
Robert Cushing

So I chose to run with Sandy for a while. Enjoying her efficient pace on a very difficult, rocky, mountainous, and high altitude course, I took my time and conserved my energy. Steve was ahead somewhere and I figured he was taking it easy also. My plan was to run with Sandy to the high point of the course at mile 8 then run hard on the down hills and catch Steve.

I left Sandy at mile 8 after wishing her good luck and began running hard for the next 6 miles. When I passed mile 14, I began slowing down, bogging and couldn’t figure out why.

Then another runner, Lorraine came up behind me, and asked, “How are you doing?”
“Feeling a little tired.”

“Do you have a Goo? You need to eat right away. In fact, you should have been eating this whole course.”

I sucked down my only Goo, and began eating my Garden of Life bar. The fact was, I hadn’t been eating much for the first two hours of the run. Just nibbling at the rest stations. That was insufficient calories for the difficulty of the race I was doing. I needed to be eating every 30 minutes. I thought I could eat every hour. But not on a course this difficult.

So I bonked. Yes it does even happen to coaches. After eating my Goo and Garden of Life bar, I felt a little better and had the energy for a very challenging and rocky downhill section to mile 20. It took 100% concentration to not trip on all the rocks. I almost tripped numerous times, and the one time I did let my mind drift, I ate it, landed on my knee and rolled into a bush. Nothing too serious, brushed myself off, and kept running.

Miles 20-23 were a steep steep fireroad, and so I walked most of it. Lorraine who was faster than me on the uphills, caught up to me and we chatted. I was so amazed on that course that day because everyone I spoke to was the most incredible athlete. Lorraine had done over 70 ultramarathons and had qualified for Boston like 20 times in a row. This is one reason I like doing hard races, because I get to meet amazing athletes who motivate me to accomplish more than what I’m doing.

So Lorraine and I ran together for a while, swapping stories, laughing, enjoying this climb. After another rest station where I should have been eating more, I grinded out a long flat fireroad through the valley from miles 24-27.5. This fireroad seemed to go on forever and forever. I tuned into my metronome shifted into a ChiRunning 1st gear and found my focuses again. Thats the beauty of learning ChiRunning–even when you are tired, you can use your form to keep propelling yourself along.

At the last rest station, I ate one of Sandy’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and nibbled on some Pringles. And was relieved to hear that there were only 5.5 miles to go.

A little delirious, I forgot to fill the water bottles on my fuel belt. So was thirsty for the last section. After a two mile climb, the rest of the course was downhill. It was very rocky so I had to completely concentrate, but for me, like Steve and Sandy, it was the most enjoyable part of the course. Especially with this fantastic scenic view of Big Bear Lake.

I came up to the finish line to have Steve and Sindy (you’ll have to hear her story from her) cheering me on across the finish line.

I was passed by a runner the last 50 yards. I simply did not have the energy to race him. Afterwords, he said his race was slow because he had done a 100 mile bike race the day before!!!!! Yikes.

Other than him, I had passed many runners from mile 8 onwards, about 10-15 runners. And no runner had passed me other than my guardian angel Lorraine. So I run according to my plan of taking the first 8 miles easy, then running hard the remainder. That just was not enough to stay up with uber runner Steve that day.

My time: 7 hours 9 minutes. Steve came in 19 minutes ahead of me. So he had an awesome run. I am so proud of him.

About an hour after I came in, Sandy ran to the finish line smiling with tears in her eyes.

Sindy ran a courageous 21 miles but was unable to finish this day. I’ll let her tell her story. But all I want to say is that there is no failure in attempting to do anything as difficult as an ultramarathon, marathon, or half marathon. Less than 1% of the American public ever complete a marathon. So to train for an ultramarathon and run most of a very very difficult course up in the mountains earns my deepest deepest respect and admiration.

Some reflections…

Race Mindset: Not tough enough for me. I spent too much time running with Sandy trying to help her along when she didn’t need my help. I needed to let her run her own race. She was well prepared from my training program, and needed to let her go once the race started.

Also I spent too much time walking hills. Now if you are a first time marathoner or ultramarathoner, you should walk hills. But I had the fitness and the skills from ChiRunning to run many that day that I walked. Read Steve’s race report on how he ran most of the hills that I walked.

In addition, I cannot ever ever give Steve a head start. He is too good a runner to be caught from behind. Lesson learned for Baldy.

A bigger issue for me is to get more courage on race day, a competitive gear, to be able to run hard even when tired. I still need to get tougher. This is something I can work on during my training runs during the week. In fact, this last Tuesday night, I pushed myself hard up three tough PV hills and passed my training partner Matt despite my whole body being fatigued from the ultramarathon. I will need this ability to laser focus on my form even when tired for Baldy. I have the skills from ChiRunning. I have the breathing practice. I just need the mental toughness.

My ChiRunning was essential for finishing this race. I had a lot of speed on the down hills. Using my metronome and taking short strides was essential for keeping my momentum even when I bonked from lack of race day nutrition. I had no pain during the run from any part of my body, fatigue, yes, but no pain. I felt great after the run, walking around like normal. Thats the real benefit of ChiRunning: you can run a 33 mile ultramarathon in the mountains with no injuries, and no pain. As a competitor, I have to keep this in mind sometimes, what a miracle this running system is.

Overall, this was a fantastic weekend for me. I got to spend time with three people I really love. I met new friends. And I helped others finish the race by signing up Steve, and coaching Sandy and Sindy.

The course was beautiful. We saw mountains, valleys, meadows, songbirds, Big Bear Lake, with clean air, and friendly volunteers at every rest station that would even fill our water bottles. We want to think Pam and Gary Kalina for putting this race on for the 11th year in a row. Put your application in early for next year because it fills quickly.

Courage is the first of human qualities, because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
Winston Churchill

Steve, Sandy, and Sindy are such amazing examples of courage to attempt a race as difficult as this one. All three were not afraid to fail. That’s the meaning of courage for me. They trust themselves, their coaches, ChiRunning, Yoga, and God. They know in their hearts that by just coming to the starting line of a hard race is a success.

I can’t wait to go running with them again. They are wonderful inspirational people that I’m lucky enough in this life to get to run with.

God Bless you,

Gary

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The Beach Runners Ultra Team- Gary, Sindy, Steve, and Sandy

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