Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We Have a Winner: Softflask Gel Carrier and Fall Marathon Care Package

We have a winner!!! The winner of the Softflask gel flask 

and fall marathon care package is Rick Rogacki!! Rick, I will 

message you for details on getting it to you. Congratulations 

and good luck running the Detroit Marathon -- his very first! 

(Maybe we can talk him into a guest race report...) 

If you haven't read the Softflask review, check it out: Gear 

Review: Softflask Gel Carrier.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Race Report: Dances with Dirt Hell 50k

The Quest for the Belt Buckle Comes to an End!

Yesterday I did the final of my four 50ks in the Bloodied, Boned, Bruised, and Burned series and got my coveted belt buckle. Each of the four 50ks was an adventure in its own right, from the injury and disaster at GreenSwamp, to the shoe-sucking mud at Gnaw Bone, to the hills and views at Devil’sLake, and the final run at Hell was no different.  

Let me sum up the race in brief:
Falls: 4
Off course: 2 times
Stream Crossings: 4 (including one .25 mile stretch of wading)
Stops to remove rocks from shoes (picked up in streams): 2
Head bumped on tree: 1 (you really only need to do this once per race)

As you might guess from these numbers, this was not my fastest 50k.

The Hell race is my “home” course, and I have done several runs in this area although not this specific course. I love the trails around Hell, and I was really looking forward to this one. However, since my marathon last month at Leading Ladies, I have not felt on my game, have not been training well, and have had a few minor annoying health problems that made me not as confident for this race as I had hoped to be. Still I felt pretty sure I could finish and get the buckle, and I knew that it would be fun (in the warped way that 50ks are) no matter what.

The turn to cooler weather in the last week or so also had me worried. I knew that the course could be a bear if there was a lot of rain, and I know how much I personally HATE cold weather. I don’t mind running in the rain – I just like a warm, tropical rain. When the forecast called for low 50s and scattered showers for the morning, I was a little concerned but knew it could have been a lot worse.

Race morning went without a hitch. The start time was 6:15 am, which is still dark. I did not have a running headlamp (I prefer to sleep when it is dark and run in the daylight), so I purchased a cheap one for $5.99 at the hardware store. It seemed plenty light enough when I tested it at home, but was not really as strong as I would have hoped for in terms of lighting the trail.  In this race the 50k and 50 Mile runners start together, with the relays following an hour or so later. There were probably around 250 of us brave and/or crazy souls milling around at the start.

Randy (race director and Head Goat) who is  the devious mind behind this foolishness of all the Dances with Dirt races, said “Go!” and we were off like a giant, glowing centipede, snaking through the campground and out onto the trails.  As I said, my light was bright enough to light the trail, but not really light enough to see well, so I was pretty tentative through the first few miles. Luckily, there were enough runners, packed tightly enough together, that through this early part of the race I almost always had enough light to be able to see.

I say “almost” because during this section I fell: three times. They were just your basic “caught my toe on a root” type of fall, but given my past experience with the ruptured spleen incident, every fall is a scary experience. Thankfully I had the good sense to get my hands out in front of me on all of these and no real damage was done, except to my pride of course.

Sunrise was beautiful! I had been aware of the increasing daylight as we were passing through a wooded section. As we approached the top of a ridge, I could see baby blue sky. As I popped out of the trees at the top, I got a better view of the magnificent pinks, oranges, and reds that were painted across the sky. It was the best part of the morning.

I thought that once the sun came up I would feel better, but I was wrong. Somewhere around mile eight, I started to feel bad. My legs started to hurt (already!!), and I just didn’t feel right. I have to tell you that it is no good to feel bad only an hour and forty-five minutes into a six and a half hour run. For a few miles, for the first time I felt a little afraid that I would not be able to finish – I felt that bad. I also got off course once in this section. I was following a group of runners (always a bad move) rather than watching the trail markers myself. That type of laziness is never a good idea. Luckily one of the leaders of the little group realized the mistake, and we got back on course quickly.

I tried to keep myself focused and motivated. I started trying to figure out what could be wrong. I was due for an electrolyte tablet at that point, so took the first of those although I really didn’t think that was the problem. The morning had been cool, and I had been sipping the electrolyte drink in my pack. I was also pretty sure that it wasn’t dehydration. That left nutrition.  Maybe that was it. I pulled out my Softflask and took some gel. I also decided that I would make sure to get some Gatorade in at the next aid station.

The miles from 10 to 15, while good running, were not that great for me. The name of this leg of the race is “This Sucks, Less?” but for me it sucked in the full measure. I was struggling the whole time. I fell again in this section. I am pretty sure that I fell into a huge bunch of poison ivy. (I will let you know in a day or so.) I also bumped my head on a tree. Yes, I did see the tree and knew it was a low branch, but I looked down to check my footing (so I wouldn’t fall again) and hit my head – hard. I almost cried it hurt so bad.

The one good thing that happened in this section of the course was that I ran into a “friend” from the earlier DWD at Green Swamp. He was struggling that day too. I think his name is John (from Indiana), and he is also 50 and was also going for the belt buckle as his project for the year. I had not seen him at Devil’s Lake and was so happy to see him and find out that he was still on track for his buckle as well!!

Finally, after I left the aid station to head out to one of the tougher sections of the course, including the Stripper Pole slide and Dirt Ladder climbs, I started to feel better. As much as I normally hate the climbs, they did not bother me too much. I was relieved to finally be feeling better. There was a lot of mud on the course at this point, and going up the hills was a slimy mess, but by then I was doing it with a smile again.

With the major climbs behind me, I started to look forward to the stream crossings. I did not know what to expect in terms of how deep they would be. It turned out that the first three were not too bad. The water was about knee deep in the first one and shin and ankle deep in the next two. It also was not as cold as I feared it might be. That just left the crossing of the River Styx into Hell proper.

This section of the course goes straight up the middle of the stream for about a quarter mile or a little more. It started out about ankle deep, but it kept getting deeper as we went. The last 50 yards or so, the water was waist deep on me. It was also pretty cold. Not to worry, I could see the way out up ahead. There at the top of the hill stood Satan, in full robed glory, yelling “Welcome to Hell. We have been waiting for you!”  I told him how delighted I was to see him there and then sat down on a bench to dump a considerable number of rocks out of my shoes before continuing on through Hell proper and the aid station there. By this time I was at mile 22.5. I don’t usually eat solid food until after mile 25 of a 50k, but I was feeling hungry and so grabbed a cup of trail mix, something I know from past experience works well for me in an ultra.

The first few miles out of Hell were difficult again. I had hoped the cool water would help my achy legs, but it did not. In fact, it seemed to tighten the muscles and ligaments around my knees. It was almost like starting over again.  I felt like I had to warm up. The problem was that although it had been sunny earlier, the sky by this time had started to darken. My wet clothes were cold, and I was a little worried about getting chilled and was relieved that there were only about 8 miles to go. In this section, I also got off course for the second time. This one was all my fault. I just ran right past a turn. It was well marked. I was just zoned out temporarily. Just as I was starting to realize that I had not seen a marker for a while, two guys came back toward me saying we were off course, so we backtracked until we found the trail again.

By the time I hit the last aid station at Silver Lake, mile 25, I was again starting to feel better. I looked for some trail mix, but they were out. I grabbed a cup of peanut M&Ms instead, started to chew, and had one of those “you aren’t swallowing this” moments. It came out of nowhere. I spit the M&Ms into the trash (Eeeewww – sorry volunteers that had to witness that) and headed out onto the trail. Thankfully I still had some gel left and squeezed a big glob of it out of the Softflask to get me through to the end.

About a mile out of the aid station, I started to feel good. I was still cold, and it had started to drizzle, but I hit the point where it feels better to keep running than it does to walk. I fell in behind a pair of guys that had passed me and tried to hang on. For a while it seemed like they would pull away, but then I just kept feeling better and better. Finally, at a spot where they stopped to walk, I decided to pass them.

That started a stretch of about four miles in which I kept passing people. I was amazed because I had spent the better part of the day, especially in those miles where I was feeling bad, being passed by everyone and their pet monkey. It felt good to be passing people. It kept raining harder and harder, and I started to get cold again, but I didn’t care because I was passing people and it was less than five miles to the finish!  If only I had felt this good earlier in the day.

I try not to look at my watch too much in ultras, and I am trying to have the attitude of “expectancy rather than expectations,” as Scott Simpson, the writer and musician who ran the writing workshop at Leading Ladies, had suggested. However, somewhere along here I looked at my watch and thought that maybe I could at least get in under 7 hours. I had already figured out that this was going to be my second worst of the four 50ks, but I was still hanging on to a thread of hope that I might get in under 7. I did not have any way to figure it out for sure, though, because I had been off course, so my Garmin may or may not have been anywhere near accurate. I just did the best I could and hoped for the best.  

Unfortunately I did not make it. My finishing time was 7:02:06, which was about a minute per mile slower than the pace I had hoped to run. The rain was coming down hard at the finish, which cut down on the finishing festivities, which was kind of a disappointment. Jerry is such a trooper! He had been waiting (and worrying) out there in the rain for about 45 minutes because he did not want to miss my finish.

I was overjoyed to find that I had placed 5th in my age group, especially because the age group awards for this one were the coveted Dances with Dirt chairs. I also got my belt buckle. I wanted to wait for my friend John and congratulate him on the belt buckle, but it was freezing and raining and I hurt. I opted for a quick picture and a warm car instead. (John, if you are reading this – Congratulations!!!).

So, my quest for the series buckle comes to an end. It was definitely a fun experience. I wanted this year to be one of new experiences and new challenges, and the series definitely helped with that, both in the races themselves and in the trail marathons I used to train for them. To tell the truth, though, I am a little burned out. I have one more 50k to do to finish up for the year (in Pennsylvania in two weeks), but then I am going to take a break from the long ones for a while…

Maybe… Of course, there is always that 6 hour race at Bad Apple… 

Related Posts:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Race Report: Pacing at Capital City River Run Half Marathon

This past weekend I had one of the most fun times I have ever had at a race. I was a pacer for the 10:30 group at the Capital City River Run Half Marathon in Lansing, Michigan. For those of you who don't know me personally, this is my "hometown" race now. It starts in downtown Lansing, not too far from the capital runs through part of downtown, across the campus of Michigan State University and then onto the Lansing River Trail, then snakes back to downtown for the finish.

About 2/3 of the race, the parts through MSU and the River Trail, are on my regular running routes, so the  course if very familiar. It is also one of the major runs for my Playmakers running club, as can be clearly seen by the number of red shirts in the crowd.

I have never been an official pacer before, and I have to say that it is an absolute blast!! I was picked up as a substitute because one of the regular pacers for my group, Hollie, was injured. I soon found out that the other pacer for the group, Nancy, was also not going to make it so by happy chance one of my favorite running buds, Dee, got to pace with me! Pacers for this race wear costumes, which totally sealed the deal (both for Dee and me). I mean who doesn't love a good run in a costume?? We decided to be police officers, mostly because we both had the necessary accouterments on hand, except for a few essentials like whistles and fishnet stockings, which were quickly purchased.

Race morning was beautiful: cool, clear, and sunny. The entire experience was a blast. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I am going to save all kinds of space and just play the video so you can see for yourself: (I originally had this set to "Born to Run," but there is that little copyright issue, so you have some blues instead.)

More than anything else, what this day reminded me of is what a really, really great group of runners I get to hang with here in Lansing!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall Marathon Giveaway: SoftFlask and Gu Care Package

It has been a while since we have had a giveaway, but I thought it might be fun to give away a fall marathon care package for all of you preparing for those fall marathons, half marathons, ultras, or other races. 

For a chance to win this marathon care package, which includes one 5 oz SoftFlask, 3 Gu gels, 2 Gu Brews, and 2 Gu Chomps, just follow these two simple steps: 

1. "Like" the Hydrapak Facebook page

2. Either comment in the space below or on the Through a Running Lens Facebook page (find the post with the picture of the care package, and in the comments section) telling me your favorite flavor of energy gel. 

Remember, you must both "Like" the Hydrapak page and post in the comment section here or on the Through a Running Lens Blog page. One entry per person. Contest ends Friday, September 21, 2012.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Gear Review: Soft Flask Gel Carrier

As I mentioned in my earlier post on changing the wrist band on my Garmin, I am a firm believer in the statement "it's the little things that make a difference." I have found that in running the littlest things can become major annoyances, and the longer the run, the more annoying those things can be.

One of those little things which really annoys me is when my hands get sticky during a race or long run. I HATE that! It seems no matter how hard I try to be careful when using packets of gel, eventually I will mess up and get it on my fingers, or my shorts, or my top, or my hair... You get the idea. Besides that, there is always the question of what to do with the empty packets, especially on training runs or trail runs.

Like many runners with the same problem, I switched to a regular plastic gel flask. That went a long way toward solving my sticky finger problem, but with most of the flasks I tried, gel still seemed to get on things from the nozzle. Plus this new delivery method brought its own problem, as I discovered this past winter: it's super hard to get the gel out of the flask when the weather is cold.

At the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge Trail Marathon last year, my gel was literally moving "like molasses in January." It is pretty frustrating to be running on uneven, frozen trails, with your elbow in the air and your mouth facing the sky, trying to get a bit of gel out of the flask. Eventually I just ended up walking and taking the lid off the flask to try to get some out and into my mouth, which ultimately led to the same sticky hands problem I had been trying to avoid with the flask in the first place! 

That is why I was so excited when I was surfing the web looking for a new hydration pack and found  the Soft Flask. The Soft Flask is put out by a company, Hydrapak, that makes an E-Lite Vest  that I was interested in giving a try. While checking out their web site, I came across the Soft Flask, and it was love at first sight. I watched their promotional video and was hooked:

I had to try it, so I wrote to the company to ask if they would send one for me to review. They graciously agreed.  I was super happy when it arrived in time for me to take it on my Leading LadiesMarathon adventure 

As you can see in the video, the Soft Flask is made of a soft and flexible plastic. Although it is very supple, it also feels very durable. It works on basically the same principle as a toothpaste tube. You put the gels in and then can squeeze the tube down to dispense the gel more effectively. The top is a bite valve, similar to what one finds on a hydration pack rather than the hard pop up tops seen on most gel flasks. The bite valve also seems very well made and durable. The flasks come in two sizes, 5 oz and 8 oz., so can hold up to 5 or 8 gels, respectively. I used the small one for my marathon and loaded in 4 gel packets without any problem. The mouth is wide enough for the gel to go in easily without spilling.

My original plan was to tuck the gel flask into my race belt in the spot where I would normally tuck gel packs. Unfortunately when packing for the race, my belt was nowhere to be found. I hoped to find one at the expo, but no luck. I had no choice but to decide to carry the flask in the back zipper pocket of my running shorts. I was a little nervous about this because I had not had time for a test run with the flask. I couldn't help but wondering whether I was going to have sticky buns instead of sticky fingers!

I need not have worried. The flask did not leak -- at all -- not even after being sat on once in the bus (hey, it was 4 a.m. -- I forgot to take it out) and being pulled out of and shoved back into my pocket repeatedly during the marathon.  

When I got home, I did remember where I had put my race belt, though, and tested it out. The flask works perfectly in the gel holder section of the belt, and that will probably be how I will carry it for future marathons. For the ultras, I will use the larger flask and carry it in the pocket of my hydration vest. Because the container is flexible, it could also fit into most fanny pack pockets.

On the run the flask functioned just as it was supposed to and just as I hoped it would. The gel comes out by biting and sucking. However, I soon discovered that with thick gels you will need to suck, not just bite. The gel does not squirt out when it is thick. It is not as easy to take in as using the packets, where you can squirt them into your mouth, but it is also not as messy. The gel comes out of the mouthpiece at about the same rate as with my hard flask, except that by rolling and/or squeezing the Soft Flask, I can get the gel down and into the mouthpiece immediately.  It would be nice if the gel were thinner and came out faster, but I still think the bite valve is a superior type of nozzle when compared to the hard nozzles on other flasks. 

One complaint a few other reviewers have had is that there is no way to know exactly how much gel you are taking in. This was not a problem for me, as I never used the marks on the hard gel flask as a guide anyway. I just take a good mouthful of gel when I feel I need it. I don't measure. However if you are the type of runner for whom having that visual measurement is important, the Soft Flask may not be for you.

Cleaning the Soft Flask is easy. The top is wide enough for me to get a finger in to wipe out, and because it is flexible I can get my finger to all parts of the interior. I squirted hot water through the bite valve and it cleaned out nicely. The directions say to air dry, but I used a paper towel to dry the inside of mine. I just twisted the paper towel into a little tube, pushed it inside, and then because of the soft sides was able to get the entire inside dry.

Soft Flasks are priced slightly higher than a typical hard plastic flask, but only by a dollar or two. However, in my opinion the extra cost is well worth it. I have already thrown all my other gel flasks into the bin that I use for running gear that does not work the way I want it to. The Soft Flask is now my gel dispenser of choice. It  is one of those things that make you say, "I wonder why nobody thought of this sooner."  If you are looking for a way to carry your gel conveniently for a fall marathon this fall, you might want to give this a try.

Update 9/26/12:
I just wanted to add a little extra information here. I used the larger flask last weekend at Dances with Dirt Hell.  The large flask was perfect for the 50k, but it lead me to discover an additional tip. The gel I was using was particularly thick. I diluted it with about a tablespoon of warm water (into the flask after the gel was in). I mixed it up well by kneading the flask. This thinned the gel down just enough for it to come out more easily.