Sunday, November 06, 2011

Redman Triathlon 2011

September 24, 2011. Lake Hefner, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Weather Nearly perfect. Warm but never too hot. Wind was nearly non-existent until partway through the bike but never horrible. Humidity low.
Distance This was a full-distance triathlon, meaning a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). It is the very same distance as an Ironman. The word Ironman is trademarked by an organization (WTC) who puts on the Ironman Races,  so unless you are doing one of their races, you can’t technically call it an Ironman, even though it’s the exact same distance. So people call them a “full-distance” triathlon. But anyone who finishes still tends to be called an Ironman.
So I’m an Ironman.
Result 13:32:03. Swim 1:33:07, T1 5:06, Bike 7:05:45, T2 3:42, Run 4:42:42. 6th of 14 in the 50-54 male age group. (Two of the 14 did not finish.) This was far better than I really felt I could do. So it was a great day!!

Winter/Spring/Summer Training
The training for this lasted about one year. Although actually I should go back five years ago, in 2006, when I moved to Burlington, Iowa for a job. Until then I had spent about five years running, but doing no swimming or cycling. I had purchased a used Trek road bike (mid 90's model) for $150 a couple of years earlier, but had never ridden more than about ten miles on it. The other thing that happened was that I was tending to get injured running, with typical problems like plantar fasciitis and IT band issues. I was hurting myself, it seemed, by running too often. My body didn't seem to thrive on running six days per week. The final piece of the puzzle came in the form of Team BEAST, the triathlon club in Burlington. There is no running club there, and Team BEAST is the place to go if you like to run. I owe a lot to Team BEAST. Great bunch of folks.
Since I was in a triathlon club, and since I needed to implement some cross-training to avoid injury, it was natural to start cycling more with the members. And I got some informal swim lessons as well. Enough to get me started. I've never struggled so much with any physical activity in my life as swimming, and still feel quite awkwards, often, when swimming. But I guess I've come a long way. Since the Summer of 2007 I have done triathlons, short ones at first and building up to longer ones. I didn't use a wetsuit or use bike shoes or aerobars until 2009 or 2010 (forget which), and didn't get a new bike until 2011. Even my new bike is not a tri-bike. It's a Specialized Roubaix carbon-frame road bike. It's a nice bike!
In 2008 I moved to Iowa City and thus left Team BEAST, but continued to do triathlons. 2010 was a poor year. My main problem was cramping. Especially in one particular race, the "Pigman Long" race. This is a half-ironman. I did this in 2008, 2009, and 2010. All three years I had major cramping issues with my calves and my inner quad muscles. Usually I'd cramp right in the swim, more on the bike, and run in near-agony. The 2010 Pigman Long was my worst race of any sort, ever. While in 2008 and 2009 I finished in around 6 hours, I took nearly 7 in 2010. I cramped hard in the swim. Then on the bike I cramped so badly I had to dismount and try to stretch. Upon starting up again, someone creamed me from behind. We both went down in a tangled bruised mess (disabling my rear brakes in the process). I gingerly biked the rest of the way, then started the run and at about mile 1, I cramped so badly in the inner quads that I laid on the ground for probably a good 15 minutes. One volunteer suggested I quit, which I should have. I basically walked the majority of the run, taking about 3 hours to do it. 

I didn't know what the problem was, but deep down I suspected I was just racing too hard (which in retrospect is likely partly correct). I therefore had this logical insight: In a half-ironman, I go too hard and cramp. So I should do a FULL ironman which will make me slow down, and I won't cramp. Did I say this was logical?

I did do one smart thing. I hired a triathlon coach by the name of John Hunsaker out of Burlington. One of the Team BEAST guys. He's an excellent triathlete and a certified USAT coach. He put me on a winter build-up program which I began in probably October-ish of 2010.

Seven days per week: 
Monday Swim
Tuesday Bike
Wednesday Run

Thursday Bike
Friday Swim
Saturday Long Bike
Sunday Long Run

I followed this routine religiously until race day. Furthermore, he put me on a program of core work and stretching, which I did roughly five days per week on average. (I'm not giving out all the details. Hire John if you want that.)

Over the next ~ten months, I worked out seven days per week, and missed very few workouts.  For example, I see that in Jan 2011 I missed two days. Two in February.  Zero in March (yes I worked out 31 of 31 days). One in April. And so on like this up to race day. Granted in a number of cases my only workout was the core/stretching. Or maybe a weak 30 min bike ride. In fact I did a poor job of doing the long bike rides all winter. I also rarely did the full swim workout he wanted me to do. On top of this, I was nursing a weird foot injury that crept up on me over the Summer. Somehow I injured my plantar plate. This is the same plantar ligament one hurts in plantar fasciitis, but I hurt it at the other end, under the second toe of my right foot. I could not push off. In November of 2010 I did a marathon and finished in 4:43:03, my slowest by over thirty minutes, because of my foot. (Compare to the fact that at Redman I finished in 4:42:42, done on two runs per week, and after biking 112 miles.) For a full month in February I wore a boot and could not run, and was barely running much the months before that or the month after. I did aquajogging instead, or an extra bike, or something. This has been very very very slow to heal. As I write this (Nov 2011), it still isn't totally healed. In a sense, it was good to be training for a triathlon since I only had to run twice per week. So, point being, for the first many months I did a good job of showing up for the workouts, but my volume was rarely what Coach John wanted. (The good thing about that is if I ever actually DO put in that volume, I should improve!)

I found it interesting that John never prescribed brick workouts (bike, then run) which are popular with triathletes. Turns out they don't seem necessary. Having said that, I did do three triathlons in preparation for Redman. The Galena sprint triathlon in May, the Lake Geode Challenge (olympic distance) triathlon in July, and the Pigman Long (4th try!) again in August. Each of these races is a bit longer than the one before. So these races were my "brick" workouts and places where I could assess my fitness and check on the cramping.

John had me use a heart monitor in my training. He provided heart rate zones for me to use. I had to keep my heart rate below a certain point. I think this helped, in training. It taught me to slow down. And I managed to keep the cramping at bay. I think the three factors that helped were the consistent and harder training, the stretching, and forcing myself to go slower in races. Also he made me relax more in the swim. And finally he had me taking in more sports drinks than I usually did in races and training to keep up the calories and salts. There were times when I started feeling pre-cramping of sorts, but slowing down a bit kept them from happening. I also learned that on the bike and run I could simply stop and stretch the inner quads quickly and that helped too. Time lost on the stretching was worth it.
My toughest training week came three weeks before the race: A 108 mile bike ride on Saturday, a 22 mile run on Sunday, and a 2.5 mile swim on Monday. A lot of work went in to building up to that.
The race was on a Saturday. On Wednesday after work I headed South. Fortunately almost exactly halfway to Oklahoma City is Lansing, Kansas, where my old buddy Merle lives. I stayed at his house that night. I headed to Oklahoma City in the morning and arrived at my hotel in the late afternoon. I drove down to the race site to check it out and ride my bike a bit, and had dinner (Chipotle). Some of the pics I took on my bike ride:

 Lighthouse that is right on the run course.

 Oklahoma, like Texas, is in a severe drought. Look how low the water is. All of that sand (more like clay) should be under water.

 Panorama shot of lake from along the bike course.

 View from the run course.

 This is hilarious. This is all the stuff I brought for the race. Triathlons require so much!

On Friday I did a short jog, then did packet pickup and got ready for the next day. Light lunch at Schlotsky's. Dinner at Fazoli's. The swag was pretty good I thought. Some pics I got on Friday:

 Cool kids area!

 My official bike spot!

 Swag! The backpack is kinda cool. I like the hat too. The bags are drop bags for race day. At one point on the bike you could stop and get stuff out of it. Also on the run. Volunteers quickly could get your bag for you. Very useful.

 I had to put all those 224 numbers somewhere. On me, on my bike, on my helmet. The 140.6 stickers are just fun stickers. In case you don't know, 140.6 is the total miles of the day when you add up the swim, the bike, and the run.

 See? It's kinda hard to put those on by yourself. I saw a number of folks who had numbers backwards. Oops.

 Helmet ready to go.

Race Day
I think I was up at about 4:00 am. I had some oatmeal and a banana and got down to the race site. (Note: John helped me with nutrition too which is why I was eating oatmeal. However I didn't really do a good job of following John's nutritional advice. My diet is pretty bad.) We had to park about a half mile or so from transition, but I had already left my bike and lot of stuff there from the day before (yes they guard it all night), so I really just needed to organize transition, get my tires pumped, get my water bottles on the bike and that kind of stuff. And get my wet suit on. I stretched as much as I could before the swim. I saw my coach John as well as Burlington folks Cosmo and Shawn and Craig who were doing the race. Coach John's job was done. He did well. I sipped on my sports drink. About fifteen minutes before we started I took in a full shot block (worth about two Gu's). And more salts.

 Early morning. Walking past the lighthouse from my car to the start.

 Start/finish area.

 Morning transition.

Yes the sun was up by the time we started the swim at 7:15. Here is the swim course as well as the run course. We had to use the optional low water swim course.

As I mentioned at the top, the weather was quite ideal. It wasn't cold or hot before we got in. We didn't get to get in the water before the start. I didn't know that. I had to pee just before the swim. So I did what I had to do. I stood on the beach and peed in my wet suit. Kinda weird, but so far I've never been able to pee while swimming, and since I'm a bad swimmer I tend to suck in a lot of water and end up with an uncomfortably full bladder, plus I had been sipping on sports drink all morning. We did the mass start thing so there were many starting at once (186 finished). It was pretty nuts. I hung back since I'm a slow swimmer, but I didn't hang back too much so as to give myself a big disadvantage. The water felt great. All I wanted to do was to relax, to avoid cramping. Relax relax. The course was a 1.2 mile triangle that we had to do twice. I was surprised when I found people still near me at the end of the first loop (which seemed to take about a hundred years). I actually had hid a gel in my wet suit so stopped to take that before starting the second loop (yes I could stand in the water there).  I continued swimming, always thinking I might cramp, but I did good and had no problems. And when I finished, there were still people near me. I was amazed. Even more astounding was my time. In training I had taken about 2:10 to go 2.4 miles. I finished this in 1:32! I could hardly believe it.

 Coming out of the water. Get the goggles off!

 An extremely surprised and happy guy here, 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
I ran out of the water. Thanks to the drought and low lake levels, we had to run about 50 yards up to transition. The first part was in the mud and I took about three steps and went right down on my butt. For some reason this annoyed me, getting my wet suit all muddy. I made it to the top and stupidly started trying to clean off my wet suit in the little wading pool they had! Then I realized I could clean it later. The "wet suit strippers" were there. I laid on my back and put my legs up in the air and they peeled the wet suit off my legs. Funny. I had never known how they did that.
I had a decent transition (T1). No problems. Some folks went into a changing tent and completely changed into bike clothes. I wore my one-piece Hawkeye tri-suit the whole race so my T1 was faster. I got going on the bike and tried to focus on not going too fast since I had a long ride ahead of me. I sipped my sports drink and took in some energy gels and salts (and caffeine tabs). 

Here is the bike course.

The good weather continued on the bike ride. It can be very windy in Oklahoma but that wasn't the case on race day. The ride (like the swim) is a loop (actually an out-and-back) done twice. In this case 56 miles each. There were aid stations about every 10 miles. About 5 miles into the ride I passed Cosmo (one of my Burlington buddies). When that happened I actually yelled, "Oh shit that shouldn't happen!" because I know Cosmo is a bit stronger on the bike and that meant I was going too fast. I instantly slowed and a few minutes later Cosmo went by and I never saw him again until the run. I'm actually grateful I saw him and slowed down. Speaking of Cosmo, he had given me a tip just a week before the race. He said he started out in his small ring (easier gears) for the first part of the race because that forces him to go slower at first. I did that too, and in fact never went into my big ring! This is interesting since virtually all of my training is in my big ring. In retrospect maybe I overdid it, going so slow, but I think it was worth it for my first ironman. Before I knew it, I saw John coming back. He was flying! Turns out he had the fastest bike split of any racer! Amazing. (Note: there was a half-iron race going on as well so I saw many bikes on the first loop.) Shawn, who is fast on the bike as well, was behind John a ways but way ahead of me.
The bike course was not particularly beautiful or anything, but I'm not focusing on my surroundings much anyway so that's okay. There were some poor road conditions here and there. Lots of potholes. Enough that a little cussing was called for. But nothing too horrible and they helped keep me alert. As I learned from my previous races, I stopped around miles 28, 56, and 84, stretched each inner quad about 20 seconds, and got back on my bike. It seemed I could actually feel the loosening upon doing this. I think it also makes me re-focus on taking it easy as well. Although I had used my heart monitor in training, I can't say I did in the race. I just went by feel. So for me the heart monitor is a nifty training tool and that's all. Others use it very seriously in the race, I think.
The one and only logistical mistake I made the whole race is that I meant to put a Clif Bar on the bike and I forgot (it was sitting at transition). Luckily there were granola bars at the bike aid stations and I nibbled on a couple of these during the bike. Near the turn around (back at transition) we were allowed a drop bag. I stopped to exchange bottles and got going again. I drank two bottles of sport drink per loop (Cytomax or Ultra from Succeed), plus Gatorade they provided and some more water. I took in an energy gel each hour as well as Endurolytes, Succeed salt caps, and 1/4th of a 200 mg caffeine tablet. Sometimes a bit of potassium and magnesium and calcium as well (from tablets). I stopped once to go pee and slather on some more chamois butter (stuff you put in your suit to keep your butt from getting so sore). On lap two I certainly was feeling it more in the legs, but I was doing okay. It was during this second loop that the only weather-related nuisance happened. The wind did pick up some, and unfortunately it was in my face a good portion of the last 28 miles. This part was tough. My legs were hurting just from the constant pushing. Although the wind wasn't too strong, it was pushing the wrong way at the wrong time, and it meant I couldn't coast for even a second or two on the way back. Just constant pushing. And although the course could not be called hilly, it's not totally flat and thus there was some uphills on tired legs. My butt hurt as well as my upper body and neck from tholding the cycling position. I was very glad to get to the finish. It took me 7:05. This wasn't particularly fast and I think could be improved upon. On the other hand, I did not trash my legs on the bike. (I'm betting many did.) I had energy to run. So while my bike split was a bit slow, I gained it back on the run. And even more amazingly, I began my run at under 9 hours! I had hoped to be starting at 10 hours so I was over a full hour ahead of schedule. 

Hey thumbs up!
A bit about my race goals. I always have three goals for major races. First the "I'll take it" goal which isn't great but at least it's something. In this case, that was to just finish the race in under 17 hours, which is the time limit for most ironmans. My second "day goes as my training indicates" goal was 16 hours, via a 2 hour swim, 8 hour bike, and 6 hour run, roughly. My "miracle" (if everything goes awesomely well) goal was 14 hours (say, 2 hour swim, 7 hour bike, 5 hour run).
The bike-to-run transition (T2) also went fairly swiftly. Again, no changing clothes like some did. The run course is perfectly flat, and it's four out-and-backs of about 6.5 miles each. What's nice about this is that there are folks cheering you on pretty much all the time. Again I started slowly. I saw my buddies running. I knew John was way ahead and indeed only saw him a couple of times before he finished. There were lots of aid stations. Maybe more than one per mile on average, which was nice. I began by doing a 26 minute run, then 4 minute walk. This is what I did in training for my long runs (I used the 4 minute walk to refuel.) Naturally my legs were pretty weak and tight, but nothing horrible. My foot was in a tiny bit of pain but no problem at all. I kept taking in energy gels as much as possible, and salts and sports drinks at the tables. (At least one energy gel every hour.) I also found a table with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, one of my very favorite foods during long efforts, and had some of those. I avoided the real junk food like M&M's, knowing I could eat all that I wanted when I finished. Actually I did take in a bit of coke, which just seemed like it would be good. But I regretted it. It didn't sit right in my stomach.

While the four out and backs meant lots of aid stations and people cheering, it can be a bit daunting when you're hurting on the second and third ones, knowing you still have more to go. About mile 15 I switched over to a 15 min run, 5 min walk. I was starting to hurt pretty good in the legs. Just getting weak. I assumed that eventually I'd have to resort to at least a 10 min walk, 10 min run, but I actually managed to hold onto the 15/5 to the end, which was nice. I never got nauseous, which can be a big problem, but I did get to the point where sucking down another gel seemed really unappealing, so had I had to go much longer things could have become a problem. Near the end of the third lap the sun was going down, leading to a BEAUTIFUL sunset!! Red/orange sky over the water. Wow. Finally on the last lap it was completely dark, and volunteers on bikes handed out glowing necklaces to put on so we could see other runners. There were some patches where it was a bit hard to see where we were running (a headlamp might have helped) but it was okay. Below are two pictures of this great sunset, sent to me by Jim Glickert. (You'll meet him below.) He didn't think these did the sunset justice. He's right. It was amazing. But this gives a nice idea. Imagine much deeper and richer colors though.

Finally, with about a mile or so to go, I considered walking it in, but went ahead and ran about the last 3/4 mile. I suppose I could have bested 13:30, but I was so happy with where I was that I didn't care. I crossed the line at 13:32:03. This was thirty minutes faster than what I thought I could do on a perfect day. Only once before have I beaten a "miracle" goal time by so much, at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile race (blog post somewhere below). Furthermore, my 6th of 14 was better than I do in most triathlons, where I'm lucky to be in the upper half of my age group. This seems to confirm the fact that while I'm not fast, I have some endurance.



Afterwards I got a finisher's shirt. I stumbled around awhile, tried to eat a bit of this and that. I didn't managed to catch up with all my friends. I imagine I could have if I had put in a better effort but I was wiped out. It was a great day.

Coach John had a great day, finishing 8th overall in a time of 10:33:20 Not only that, but he had the fastest bike split on the course (5:07:20). I told you he was good, didn't I?

I should mention Jim Glickert. Leading up to the race I ran across a series of race reports he had written about Redman. I read them and emailed him, thanking him for them because they gave me some good information. We went back and forth a few times. We met up on the bike and of course a few times on the run. He's a really nice guy. In fact here's what he did in the race report for this one.

Cool, huh! What a nice guy. I gotta say I felt a bit like a jerk after the race, since I had written to him just hoping I could do it in 16 hours. But really this was an unusual finish for me, as mentioned above. Check out Jim's full report (GoJim's blog). By the way, in it he mentioned that it got up to 88 degrees by late afternoon and sure it was a bit hot and sweaty, but it wasn't much of an issue after training in the very humid and hot Iowa summers. (Although do you see the white on the front of my singlet? That's salt which soaked through.) Funny thing: for some reason they took no official race pics of me while running (for most folks there are a lot). So Jim captured my only run pic! Here's Jim crossing the finish.

Another fun fact: For whatever reason, people LOVED my Hawkeye racing singlet. Not only were there a few Hawkeyes fans, but even those who weren't just seemed to like it. All during the run I'd hear, "Go Hawkeye Guy!" or something similar. It was really fun. Great folks come to races to cheer you on. This brings up another group of folks as well: the volunteers. They were awesome. Long day for them but they were always friendly, positive, and very helpful. They'd come right up to me holding drinks in case I wanted one. They were constantly asking what I wanted. Really great!

Plenty of folks, like John, finished when it was light out. I finished in the dark. Then again, my finish was about average. Many more were to come in after me. This is the last hundred yards to the finish line.

Check this out.

Transition Cats! These kittens were in transition in the morning, and still there in the evening! No idea where they came from. They had to avoid a lot of traffic all day.

Below are the other Burlington guys. Everyone did great!



 Coach John, ponytail flapping in the wind.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hawkeye 50K & 25K, December 11, 2010

First, I NEVER seem to get this blog post finished. I'm going to publish it even as I keep tweaking it. It is still full of mistakes.

Second, here are a bunch of pictures from the race!

Third, this is incredibly LONG and DULL. It's written more for those interested in what it takes to put on a race. A race report is in there too. Actually two of them. Go to the bottom to see a copy of the race report that was submitted to Ultrarunning Magazine.

Okay, here we go:

The Hawkeye 50K & 25K is a race that I conceived of and directed on December 11, 2010. I thought I'd try to write up some about this. There's a lot to say, I think.

First, why? Well, a few reasons.

1) I like running and although I've only done a few ultra races (anything over 26.2 miles), there was a need for more ultras in the state of Iowa. In face I really only knew of two of them, the Cornbelt 24 Hour Run (Quad Cities, Spring time) and the Equalizer 6, 12, and 24 Hour Run (Des Moines, Fall). Other ultras have existed but haven't continued. Although I don't really know many runners, my gut feeling was that there were plenty of ultrarunners in Iowa and that another race would be highly welcomed. As I was organizing this race another ultra came into being, the Wildcat 50K in November near Muscatine. Being about a month before mine, that was a nice addition for runners in Eastern Iowa. Many runners did both races, I believe.

2) It was a major mental challenge. I really tend to NOT like to have any job directing others. I have too much social anxiety for that. So it was a kind of face-the-demons challenge for me. I wondered if I could get over it by taking on this race. I'll let you know now though: I somewhat failed. The aspect of it all that I worried about the most was organizing help and volunteers, and getting sponsors. And lo and behold, I truly did not have enough volunteers on race day and the ones I had were not given good instructions by me. Others wanted to help and I simply didn't even respond well so they didn't show up. Luckily though, the help I did get was INCREDIBLE. People stepped up FOR me and just did all kinds of things, which I'll go over later.

3) It sounded like fun to design a race course and to do things like make t-shirts and have prizes and to see a vision come to life. This definitely turned out to be true. Very true. Hard work, but fun.

4) It was an event to raise awareness and some money to benefit the fight against Lupus. My girlfriend Deb has Lupus and we try to do what we can to conquer the disease. This seemed like one good way to do it. As far as I know, this is the only race to benefit Lupus ever.

That's Deb, at the spillway which is part of the course.

The race is a 25K (15.5 mile) loop around Lake Macbride, about 10 miles north of Iowa City, Iowa. I had of course run out there a number of times and it all seemed like a good place for a race. I conceived of the idea of the race well over a year before it finally happened, and it went through a lot of changes. I repeatedly ran the area trying to figure out the best course. There were a few major variables to consider.

1) When to have the race? Weather obviously played a role but in truth ultrarunners will run in any weather. However I had planned for the race to go over a spillway that is too high much of the year. All but in the late Fall and Winter. In October and November, there are many good long races in Iowa and nearby, so I wanted to avoid that time if possible. Plus I thought it would be nice to schedule the race after November so that most everyone who ran a Fall marathon would be done with that, and could use their training to jump right into a 50K. On the other hand, running in January and February would be truly cold, especially with a water crossing that could still be ankle high. So that left December. Originally the race was scheduled for December 4, but my daughter had a show that weekend so it was moved to December 11. :-)

2) Where to put the start/finish? Well since the race was in December (average high in the mid 30's on Dec 11), it was deemed best to have a building to go into. That left a few places to consider, but two were closed in December. That left just one place, a small social center in the Macbride Nature Recreation Area on the South side of the lake.

The Social Center. Race Headquarters.

3) Aid stations. I knew that running around the lake could be made into a 25K (15.5 mi) course. I wanted an aid station at the start/finish, and then one about every 5 miles, for a total of three aid stations. Each aid station should have a bathroom and cars must be able to get to it. Fortunately the city of Solon was about 5 miles from the start, and about 5 miles after that is Lake Macbride. Both had places to put an aid station.

This really just left all the little course details. In truth this took a lot of running and thinking to work out, but in the end it seemed pretty straightforward. From the Start, there is a short (~ 1/2 mile) trail portion, and then about 4 miles of road. About 3 miles of this is on a county road with cars going fairly fast, but not too often and runners could run along the side of the road. This is my least favorite part of the course but it's not bad. That gets you to the Solon aid station in a small park. At this point is a wonderful crushed gravel path along the north side of Lake Macbride for about 5-6 miles. Near the end of this is the second aid station in the park. Then comes the water crossing. First the course goes over a earth dam of about 100 yards and then the spillway which is roughly 30 yards across. More about that later. The final ~4 miles were on trails. About a mile into this the course just happens to go by the start/finish so that was a sort of bonus aid station. The trails are a combination of nice wide smooth dirt, grass, and some narrow technical stuff.

Overall the course lacks large hills, but it would be unfair to call it flat. On the road portion is one decent uphill and a couple of more smaller uphills. On the crushed gravel portion the direction is generally downhill with a few little ups and downs thrown in. Upon crossing the spillway it's almost necessary to use your hands on some rocks to get up to the trail. The trail itself has enough ups and downs that most people will end up walking some of it, and by then your legs are tired. There's no way one could categorize the course as flat and easy.

Some course pictures to give you an idea of the varied terrain (not all taken at the same time, obviously):

Of course, designing the route was only one aspect of the race. There was also organizing it. This fell under two general categories.

1) Stuff I had to get: permissions, portapotties, race insurance, food/drink, shirts, awards, etc.

2) People to help.

I had to get permission from four places: The University of Iowa who owns the Macbride Nature Recreation Area where the race started and finished (trail portion). Johnson County (road portion). City of Solon. And Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Lake Macbride Park). Each had to be done a different way and required different costs and forms. It took months although that's because I just didn't do it quickly. But it wasn't all that hard. It was kind of interesting though. The University of Iowa required the most documentation, including an "Emergency Action Plan." But they didn't charge anything, except that I reserved the Social Center through them for $75. The Iowa DNR was just an online form plus the insurance. The City of Solon didn't ask for a thing, which is amazing since we went right through their town. I wonder if they will regret this liberal attitude some day when someone sues them. And Johnson County theoretically required a minor form, but I had forgotten it until the last week and they weren't concerned. Of course we didn't have to close any roads or anything anywhere so that made it all easier. We did put cones along the sides of roads and that was no problem.

I got race insurance (required) through the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America). That was about $250. There is a flat fee plus a per runner charge. Another place to get insurance is USATF (USA Track and Field). People I talked to advocated for either RRCA or USATF. In the end I just picked one. I'm not sure which is better than which, really. But I'm happy with how it worked out with RRCA. On top of the regular race insurance, I was required to get specific insurance for the U of Iowa, DNR, and Johnson County. This was easy. I just had to contact RRCA and ask for "additional insured certificates" and they emailed them to me. No charge.

I got portapotties for the start/finish and one at each of the two outer aid stations. That cost me $360 for four portapotties. On Friday before the race I had to meet the guy out at MNRA to pay him. That took some time. They picked up the portapotties after the race without needing me.

Advertising the race was a bit time consuming but easy. I just went to every local race calendar and running club in the area and told them about my race. I also used a couple of national calendars like Never had to pay anything.

It's interesting now to think about how folks I never knew just kind of materialized. Somehow John Hackbardt (who ran the race) of Running Wall communicated with me and he took over the online registration. Sure there were other places to do this at (a lot, it turns out, some contacted ME about it) but John is nearby so it was good to use him. Basically these sites just charge a small fee per runner who signs up. Pretty easy. He did a lot of work on this.

The shirts were a major deal, and the biggest expense by far. Again someone stepped up. Another runner, in fact. Nate Canton does graphic design at a sign company (I think) and he designed the shirts. They are great. Again he did a lot of work tweaking the designs based upon my input. He knew how to communicate with the shirt printer folks (I just picked a local company) to get it done right. At the end I was so flustered I just left it to them to work out the details. I got wicking shirts for the runners and some cotton shirts for volunteers. I also got some simple knit caps for fun, as prizes. The cost for all this was over $2300. I really spent many many hours on the shirts.

Related to that were the medals. I just found a company online that looked good, and they were kind of close in Illinois. (I did a lot of work searching for "who does what" from portapotties to making medals online, that's for sure!) Yet again Nate Canton provided the design with a little input from me. And again I just ended up having him talk directly to the manufacturers. Now it turns out medals are pretty inexpensive compared to shirts. Just $450 for about 130 of them. I was happy with this company.

Another thing I needed was prizes for the winners. I thought I would just try to get donations. Wanting to avoid humans, I tried to do this by emailing companies. I emailed Scheels and Panera and it actually worked. They gave me gift certificates. Same with Running Wild in Iowa City. Although in that case I already knew the owner and he knew about my race.

Okay so already a couple of guys, John and Nate, have helped. But others did too. Again, I don't exactly know how, but others came to me willing to make the race work. Well Garrett Rettig, who actually works with me at IDT offered to help. He did all kinds of things, including finding sponsors and folks to offer prizes and goodies. He got donations from Active Endeavors, Fin and Feather, Culligan Water, and Starbucks.

I called on a couple of others I knew and they came through with free stuff. Bruce Morgan and Susie Garton are both parents of friends of my daughters (follow that?) and both happen to be massage therapists and both gave me massage gift certificates. A race director in Kansas (Ben Holmes and Sophia Wharton of Trail Nerds) provided some hats.

I contacted Hammer Nutrition (on their web site) and they have this easy form to fill out and they sent me a bunch of stuff: A gel for each runner, and some Heed electrolyte drink to use during the race. And they provided a race bag for each runner. Also I got free bibs by going to the Road ID web site and filling out another form. They also gave me some $15 gift certificates to use as prizes.

Oh, I wanted some kind of special prizes for the four overall winners (men, women, 25K & 50K). I found an ultrarunner who does running-related pottery and she made four mugs for me. Those were cool.

Garrett found a place for packet pickup in North Liberty, Red's Alehouse. We scheduled that for 4pm - 8pm on the Friday before the race.

Lisa Paulos, another runner, contacted me and suggested we meet up to go over ideas. So we did. Also Garrett and John came, along with Shane Meredith and Paul Sueppel, a couple of other locals. We met a couple of months before the race and brainstormed some ideas, which was very useful. Furthermore Paul volunteered to round up some food from New Pioneer Coop, and also offered to help mark the trails. We met up again later at the Social Center at MNRA to check it out to be sure it had enough outlets and stuff. There we met Rob Dubay who oversees it.

About a week or so before the race both Paul and I were marking, using tape that I bought online. It was pretty cheap. I was still fretting over details here and there about the course. Little things at a few places, but it worked out just fine. Paul did a lot of marking on the trails. Meanwhile I got some more goodies for the race. Team BEAST of Burlington (Iowa) loaned me a bunch of signs to use (left, right, straight ahead, caution: runners, etc). And from the Cornbelt Running Club I rented a race clock, starter's gun and megaphone. Again, cheap. Like $30.

All the above covers MOST of what was done pre-race day. Surely I've left out a number of things but it gives you some idea. It felt like never ending work for the couple of months before the race and it felt like I had no chance of getting it all done. Thank goodness for all that help.

I should mention one other helper, my girlfriend Deb. She made up some posters to educate folks about Lupus to hang inside the Social Center. She also cooked up some soup and brought other goodies to the race. She also did a lot on race day. To come to the race she drove from Ohio on Thursday evening, missing a day of work Friday, and after getting 3 hours of sleep Friday night and working a LONG day Saturday, she drove home Sunday. Amazing.

A number of runners offered to bring food. It was awesome. I'll get to that in a bit.

Packet pickup was a bit messed up, which was my fault. I had the shirts and bibs and other goodies to put into the bags. (Some other races and such sent me inserts which I had agreed to put into the bags.) I thought we could just stuff the bags as racers showed up. Garrett kept suggesting I let him do it ahead of time. I should have listened. He was actually there by himself (well with his dad) for awhile and runners were coming in and he was trying to stuff packets and get them their packet and track them all. On top of this, I didn't have enough bibs. (I originally had 100 but needed more and had asked Road ID to send more. They evidently forgot to send more, and I forgot that they forgot...) So at about 4pm Friday I went to Running Wild and thankfully Joe Dwyer had some bibs to give me! Whew. He also gave me some bags to use. Disaster avoided. I rushed them to packet pickup. But it was crazy and I wish I had gotten it all organized ahead of time.

Deb and I were up until 11:30pm getting stuff ready, including making jugs of Gatorade and Heed, getting other food ready. I could barely think at this point. I got up at 2:30am. (Yes, 3 hours of sleep.) I went out to MNRA and arrived before 3:30 and started setting out signs and such. Shane showed up at 4:00am and helped me set out lots of signs and a bunch of orange cones that he had borrowed. This was a lot of work. I also needed to still put up yellow ribbons in some places. Shane did nearly all that as I drove along. This was another dumb mistake, waiting to complete the ribbons until race day. I don't know what I was thinking on that. We got back about 6am. Lisa was there getting ready to deal with some race day packet pickup.

Okay, the spillway. There's a spillway on the course that people had to run over. One reason to do the race in December was that the water should be very low or even gone by then. It WAS gone in early November. Inexplicably it rose back up in late November! It was maybe mid-calf high at most, but rushing rather quickly. And it's about 30 yards wide. It's not just a creek. Of course it was cold water too. So my idea was to try to put some boards across the water. This failed. Again, I stupidly waited until race morning to do this. I went out at 6am. This involved walking about 200 yards with four 2 x 6's (8 to 10 feet long), including scampering down rocks with them. I tried to place them strategically but I could tell it wasn't going to work. The boards weren't wide enough nor long enough for a couple of spots. This wasted a good hour, for nothing. I got back about 7am. By then we had a little sprinkling of rain and the temp was rather nice, about 35 degrees.

I should note, the forecast was for a snowstorm/blizzard/rain/ice storm or something. The park ranger at Lake Macbride had called me Friday VERY concerned about runners on Mehaffey Bridge Rd, about cars being too near them if the road was icy. I told her that I'd try to come up with an alternate course if necessary, although the odds of being able to pull that off would have been slim. Fortunately at the race start, conditions were alright. (Not to last.)

Another chore Garrett took was parking cars, simply because I failed to find anyone else to help. Well some DID offer but I was too unorganized to tell them how to do it. So Garrett did the parking right up to race time. In fact at 8am I was calling for him and he wasn't there; he was still parking cars. He showed up about 8:05 and still ran the 25K race!

Paul had brought food, all organized, for the aid stations. He transferred that to Deb whose job it was to get it all to the aid stations. Oh, the aid stations. So we had the two outer aid stations so that they would be about every 5 miles. (One in Solon, one in Lake Macbride State Park.) I kept asking runners/anyone if they could volunteer for the aid stations, and folks came through. Friends of Paul's manned the Solon aid station the whole day. Friends of runners did the Lake Macbride aid station (crew in morning, another in afternoon). I can't say enough about these folks. They were amazing.

As far as the food we had at the aid stations. As I mentioned already, Gatorade and Heed (and water). Coke, Mt. Dew, 7 Up. And we had bread and peanut butter and jelly. We had bananas and oranges, Pringles, pretzels, M&M's. Again about all of this came from Paul Sueppel and New Pioneer Coop.

Okay finally maybe we can start the race? Around 7:30, the rain began to fall a bit more. But it wasn't bad. I got into my bike clothes (you'll see) and started yammering on the megaphone. People were still coming up to me, offering to help, but I was so disorganized that I couldn't really tell them what to do. Huge mistake on my part. I really screwed this up, as I mentioned in the beginning. But all I could do was answer questions and try to get ready for the start. Finally about 8:00am I was about ready. As I mentioned I was wondering where Garrett was, and while calling out for him, waiting for him, I talked to the runners. I was able to talk from a balcony at the Social Center, looking down over the runners. They were huddled up against a long garage-type building with a small overhang to stay out of the rain. This too is where they were going to leave any drop bags. I gave them an overview of the course and went on quite a bit about the spillway, telling them the best way to get across, and apologizing that they'd get wet doing so, which in the end wouldn't matter anyway due to the impending rain. About 8:05 Garrett showed up, and about 8:10 someone (Paul, I think!) yelled at me to shut the heck up and to start the race. So I did. I shot off the gun and away they went!

I should mention that John's wife and sister were doing the timing. They started the clock for me and were going to record the names of finishers. This was another gigantic screw up on my part, that I didn't have this more organized. I'll get back to that later.

Right after the start, I hopped in my car and drove out of the park to the spot where the runners turned onto Mehaffey Rd. I watched them for a moment and then drove to the first aid station to see that they were ready. They were. At this point I pulled my cross bike off the back of my car and started riding down the North Shore Trail ahead of the runners. Again, this is dumb, but I had not put ribbons on this part of the trail yet. I don't know what I was thinking, other than I wouldn't need many ribbons because this part is fairly straightforward, but I did need some. Looking back on this, I'm extremely lucky the trail wasn't covered in snow. There would have been no way for me to ride on it and I wouldn't have gotten the ribbons up and it would have been a disaster. However it did all work out in the end. But not without some panic first. I had evidently lingered too long at the first aid station and as I was riding on the trail, just a mile or so from the first aid station, a runner passed me by. (Keep in mind I had to stop periodically to tie up ribbons on trees.) It was Tom Ries and he was flying. I was amazed. I had to bike at top speed to stay ahead of him, which I did to the next aid station at Lake Macbride. I checked in with them only briefly, then continued along, stringing up ribbons. He and another runner actually passed me just before the dam that they have to cross and I had to yell at him to, "turn left and cross the dam!" I finally got the last ribbons up and realized something else: I wasn't going to make it back to the start/finish before these leaders passed it again. And I hadn't properly marked THAT part either! Holy smokes. This was the last little bit I needed to do and I just assumed I'd make it back in time, but in fact it wouldn't even be close. So I frantically called Deb and told her runners would be there in minutes and she needed to tell them to turn right onto the next trail section. Thank goodness she was there to take care of this. She must have told others there about this because as far as I know no one missed that turn.

So I biked back to my car (we're talking about 7 miles), passing all the runners. This was fun. I was cheering them on. But the rain was falling harder and I was soaked and freezing and the trail was getting in worse shape. I got back to the car and drove back to the start/finish and changed clothes and wanted to collapse then but realized that the 25K finishers would be there soon. Although amazingly I think the first folks through may have been some 50K runners. But soon the 25K male champion Nathan Hopp arrived in a time of 1:45:09. I should point out here about the timing. Thankfully John's wife Michelle and sister took care of the timing. They were amazing because they stood out in the miserable weather ALL day. I had NO system worked out so they were winging it. I should have made a nice chart of all 25K runners and all 50K runners with their gender and age group, so we could instantly see who was placing in each age group. Next time...

I had planned to get a finisher's photo of everyone. I messed this up too. Along with the shirts, my graphics man Nate made signs for me that read "25K Finisher" and "50K Finisher" for runners to pose in front of, as well as little signs to hold for the champions. I failed to line up a photographer for this. This was especially dumb because before the race, a runner's (Jordan Witmer) mom was offering to take pictures. I just was too confused to explain to her what to do, so I was trying to take the pictures. As such, I missed many runners in the end.

The awards too were messed up. I had all those gift certificates and such, and runners who placed were allowed to choose a prize, but I didn't convey this well and some didn't do so. And finally I wanted to offer some "door prizes" for the rest of the prizes, but failed to draw numbers. It's truly astounding anything went right, considering all these screw ups.

And that wasn't the end of potential problems. The weather continued to worsen. The rain was falling steadily and temperatures falling as well. Runners were literally covered in ice, since the rain was turning to ice. Their clothes would be soaked, then would freeze. Many 50K runners opted not to bother doing the second lap, reasonably so. Runners on their second lap were dropping at aid stations. Yet again, another screw up by me: I hadn't anticipated this (so many drops) and had no plan to bring so many back. I did have Deb, and our medical person Matt Dietz, available, but I hadn't really thought to tell them to be ready to get runners. Thankfully the wonderful aid station folks were bringing them back! Matt also brought one back. And so did the park ranger(s). They totally saved me. Yet another mistake: I didn't fully appreciate how to ensure that the runners were being tracked so we knew where they were. I should have made sure we knew who was heading out from any aid station, especially on lap two so the first aid station would know when they could leave, and same for the second aid station. Furthermore, I didn't really ponder how to make sure the aid stations never ran out of goodies.

I don't know how so many tough runners made it through two loops. They were freezing. Aid station workers were offering their own gloves in some cases. And Shane was at the spillway, the WHOLE day, helping runners. I failed to find him a replacement. The poor guy was out there in the rain, standing, for hours. Many runners were so grateful to him and to the aid station folks for all they did. So am I!

Around noon, the rain turned to snow. This was better than rain, but added another dimension to run in. At least the runners were so soaking wet that it really didn't matter that they had to run through the spillway.

Eventually about all the 25K runners came in, including the woman's winner Lynn Dobyns in 2:03:16. Then there was a lull before the 50K folks started coming in, with winner Scott Gall arriving in 3:34:21. After him were four more runners who finished under 4 hours. I still cannot fathom this pace, especially considering that a number of runners told stories about how muddy and difficult the hills were on the second lap. I just don't know how they could have moved so fast. They were sprinting, for 50K, with a third of it on muddy hilly trails. The first woman, Nancy Foxen, finished in 4:21:41, beating the next female by 1:25. That's one hour 25 minutes. Nancy's run might have been the performance of the day. Truly astounding.

At the start/finish there were soups, courtesy of Deb and others. There were cookies and chips and candy and all kinds of goodies. There was pop and hot chocolate and coffee. And I have to give a shout out to the grilled cheese sandwich girl. One runner brought his girlfriend along who set up shop and made grilled cheese sandwiches. These were awesome! Such gooey warm goodness to go along with the soup and chili. There was plenty of food and many runners were highly complimentary of the great buffet we had. The runners and Deb did all this!

Toward the end, I was probably as mentally tired as the runners, although certainly my legs could not have been. As the runners departed, my friend Charlie and I left to get all the signs while Deb, Tiana, and Tiana's friends Ashwaria and Taylor cleaned up. The signs were often frozen to the ground and it took Charlie and I about an hour to round them all up. By the time we got back the place was pretty clean though. We loaded everything up and got everything back to the trailer. And collapsed.

As far as the race itself, I've already mentioned the stellar performances by the winners. I believe we saw some truly elite performances there, considering the conditions. Probably the race won't have such bad weather if it happens another ten times (I hope!).

I finally did, in April, make two donations with the funds we raised. $750 was donated to the Lupus Fund at the University of Iowa for use in Lupus research. Another $250 was donated to the Iowa Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America.

So, here's the report I submitted for Ultrarunning Magazine (published in the May/June 2011 issue):

Runners and Volunteers Save The Day for the Newbie RD

The inaugural Hawkeye 50K almost didn't happen. An impending ice storm worried the local park ranger who was worried about runners on part of the course that goes along a country highway. I had not planned an alternate course or weather bad enough to cause major disruption. Thankfully, tough runners and tough volunteers saved the day for a woefully unprepared race director.

The Hawkeye 50K took place about ten miles north of Iowa City and goes around Lake Macbride. It includes a start at the Lake Macbride Nature Recreation Area (owned by the University of Iowa) and begins with a short trail section, onto a park road, and fairly quickly onto the country highway. Runners are relatively close to fairly fast cars for a couple of miles - the least appealing part of the race. And they are very exposed to any cold wind as well. It was the fear of ice on this road causing skidding cars that was of major concern. Luckily we just barely dodged this problem. Barely. After turning off this road in the small city of Solon, the runners enter the beautiful North Shore Trail at Lake Macbride State Park for about five miles of crushed gravel. At this point there was a small spillway to traverse. It was predicted that in December this would be little or no water, but it was inexplicably high, and about 30 yards across. Runners were forced into fast rushing, nearly knee deep, and cold water to get across. This was no "couple of skips" through a little creek and it was certainly not for the faint of heart. The last few miles were in the woods, on trails of dirt or grass, some of it fairly technical, including jumping over or crawling under fallen trees. Although not extremely hilly overall, the course is not flat and near the end of the loop are plenty of steep up and downs to tax already worn out legs. The loop was 25K, so 50K runners did two loops.

On a good early December day, one can expect temps in the 20's and 30's and fairly dry weather. However the morning brought a light rain and about 35 degrees. About 110 runners (60 doing the 25K option) took off at about 8:10 am. As I drove over to the first aid station in Solon, I was astounded at the pace of the front runners, clearly cruising at a pace that reminded me of top runners in a road half marathon. As the race progressed, the rain fell harder, turning the trails and even the crushed gravel to mud. And the temperatures actually dropped all day long. Although the leaders passed the 25K mark (back at the start/finish) when it was still relatively dry and decent, many runners didn't reach this point until it was well below freezing. Many runners had managed to become soaked from the rain and the spillway, which then froze, leaving them in frozen stiff shells. Even frozen ponytails were in evidence. Some changed clothes but many 50K entrants had had enough: it was evident things were going to be worse on the second lap then on the first.

And that was true, although one small blessing was that the rain turned to a heavy snowfall, which is surely easier to brush off than rain. However the trails were extremely difficult to run, being so muddy. Many runners told stories of simply sliding down hills on their butts to continue, and using tree branches to pull themselves up the hills. Quite a few runners stopped part way through the second loop. Of the 50 50K runners who began, 19 dropped, usually just because they didn't have enough warm clothing to keep themselves from becoming hypothermic.

I was worried all day for the runners, and for the volunteers, but they were all amazing. The organization on my part was lacking in many areas, but the volunteers at the aid stations, who were surely often more frozen than the runners, took it upon themselves to provide runners with goodies that I didn't even think to provide: hot chocolate, blankets, hand warmers, their own gloves. They brought runners back to the start when necessary.

The runners were fabulous. Every one. There wasn't a single complaint about the mistakes made by a first-time RD. It did help that we had all kinds of hot food at the finish: much of it brought by runners and their families, including soups. One runner's friend made grilled cheese sandwiches which were a big hit.

As a mid-packer at best, I was amazed at the performances. The top few men actually ran nearly the same pace as the 25K winners, even though they had a more difficult second loop to deal with. The men's winner, Scott Gall of Cedar Falls, Iowa, finished in 3:34:21, a 6:55 pace! (The 25K winner did a 6:47 pace.) The next four men, Nate Canton, Zach Gingerich, Mark Thompson, and Tommy Ries all finished in under 4 hours.

The performance of the day may have belonged to Nancy Foxen though. Nancy, of Muscatine, Iowa had just finished in first place (overall!) at the nearby inaugural Wildcat Den 50K a few weeks earlier. Her Hawkeye 50K time of 4:21:41 was 1:25 (one hour 25 min) ahead of the next woman, Sophia Wharton. In third place, just squeaking in at under six hours, was Daphne Donald.

These top performances seem to me to qualify as elite, considering the conditions. But everyone who set foot out there did a great job and seemed happy to be there. Everyone was frozen and muddy but with smiles! It was wonderful to see folks from as far away as Brooklyn, New York and Birmingham, Alabama. But it was also impressive to see the caliber of runners from the state of Iowa, where there have been too few ultras to choose from (but now, hopefully, two new ones!).

Again, many many thanks to all my "core group" of race planners, all the volunteers, and all the runners and their families and friends. It was a great day!