Friday, March 31, 2017

New habits

One of my colleagues at UT-Austin, Dr. Pratik Mhatre, recently published a blog post on Maximizing Mental Agility.  He included a bit about habits, which is a topic I've been thinking about recently.  I'd like to start healthier habits in my eating, exercise, and use of time.

As Pratik notes, "Two things primarily create a habit:

  • Repetition i.e. you just have to do something over and over again to get it to stick.
  • Consistent Mapping i.e. deliberately thinking about your actions on how you want things to be."
I think it's most useful to focus on doing one thing really well, versus doing a bunch of things poorly, so even though I've jotted down about ten new habits I'd like to start, I want to restrain myself and only try to institute one at a time, and give it enough time and repetition to make it actually stick.

In terms of ultrarunning races, I already have several habits -- some good (e.g., reflecting and writing in my journal about how I'm feeling about an upcoming race), and some bad (e.g., not addressing issues such as chafing right away, before they become bigger problems).  One new habit I'd like to start is going back to my lists of what went well/what didn't from a previous race, to make sure I'm learning from my mistakes and not repeating them over and over again in subsequent races.  With a race coming up tomorrow, this seems like a perfect opportunity to begin establishing this habit.

I'll be running the Hell's Hills 50M tomorrow, and I'm not excited about it at all.  I've been having knee pain that's brought my 6-mile training run attempts to a screeching halt lately.  I suffered through a 50M race a couple weeks ago that I should never have entered, as I was drained and over-raced.  But I've committed to this race, and I want to bring points to my team, so I'm going to start and do my best.  At the very least, I can make the race useful by practicing my new good habit.  

So what did I learn from my previous race that I can bring to tomorrow's race?  1) Grasslands was a sandier course than I expected.  I really benefited from wearing gaiters.  The Austin area got a lot of rain earlier this week, and the RD's email said there will be stream crossings.  That could mean mud in my shoes, so I'll pack and wear gaiters tomorrow, too.  2) Perseverance pays off.  At Grasslands, I was moving terribly slow, but I kept moving, and ended up with a 3rd-place finish.  I know that when I start walking, my knee feels fine, so I can definitely finish tomorrow's race, even if it means walking.  I just need to remember, Relentless Forward Progress, and not give up.  3) The 2Toms Sport Shield wipes I used worked great, so I'll be sure to pack some in my vest and use them before and during the race.

"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."  -- Will Durant

Ironically, in practicing this new good habit, I've also fed a bad habit, which is reading my work emails and then going off through a rabbit hole . . . Okay, back to work!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tinajas 100k Highlights

Last weekend, Joe and I got to experience the inaugural Tinajas 100k/50k at Colorado Bend State Park.  That park is the home of one of the Capt'n Karl's summer night races, which are my all-time faves.  The great part about Tinajas is that the 31-mile loops cover many areas of the park we never get to see during the Capt'n Karl's races, and in the daylight, which is key to really enjoying the scenery. ;)
Gorman Falls
Since I can't think of any really good stories from the race, this won't be a super-riveting blog post.  But part of the reason it didn't produce great stories is that everything went pretty smoothly and I never really had any low points.  Whatever made it go so smoothly, I want to bottle up and do again in future ultras.  What follows is my attempt to document what went well, in the hopes it can be replicated.

Lowering Perceived Effort

I wasn't in top-notch shape for this race, but several things helped lower my perceived effort, which helped keep me going pretty consistently:
  • Enjoying the beauty of nature; we had multiple stream crossings, and gorgeous overlooks.
  • Seeing friends on the out-and-backs.
  • Asking myself, "How bad do you want it?" whenever my effort was slacking.
  • Looking forward to seeing Joe at mile 31, 99% certain that he'd won the 50k, based on intel from Jacob Babich at one of the aid stations.
  • Listening to Edward's Simpsons-packed iPod Shuffle: the gift that keeps on giving!  I started listening to episodes mid-way through the first loop, and continued listening and laughing for at least four straight hours.  I'm sure I confused many fellow runners by my seemingly random laughter.  Tom Bowling heard me laugh and asked me if I was sneezing.  Most other runners who heard me probably just thought I was nuts.  The value of those episodes continued even after I stopped listening; when Joe paced me the last 7.5 miles, I recounted many of the funniest lines I'd heard and we got another round of entertainment from them.
  • Listening to music when I just couldn't take any more Simpsons.
  • Seeing Joe at the Gorman Falls aid station, around mile 44, and hearing that he was planning to run with me for the last 7.5 miles.  That really helped me break the rest of the race into manageable chunks, thinking I only had to go to Conference Center 1 and Conference Center 2 without him, and then on to Cedar Chopper, where he'd be waiting for me.  
  • Running with Joe, getting to hear about his race and the conversations he'd had with folks afterward, and laughing over classic Simpsons episodes.
"Look, Daddy!  Todd is stupid, and I'm with him.  Now Mommy's stupid!"

Tinajas, like Cactus Rose (another of my favorite races), is pretty much self-supported, meaning the aid stations have water, but no calories of any kind.  What I brought worked really well for me.  I never bonked, even though I didn't follow my usual method of keeping an eye on my watch and forcing myself to eat 100 calories every 20 minutes or so.  I just kept in mind what Jim Walmsley says, "Eat or get eaten," and tried to stuff something in my face as often as I could.

I prepared a gallon-size ziploc bag for the Gorman Falls and Conference Center 2 aid stations (so I wouldn't have to drive around picking up drop bags after the race), and had 2 sandwich-sized baggies within those.  I packed enough calories for 3 hours from the start/finish to Gorman Falls, enough for 2 hours from Gorman Falls to Conference Center 2, and enough for 2.5 hours from Conference Center 2 to the finish.  Here's what I packed:
  • Little Debbie Nutty Buddy bars
  • Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie cookies
  • a Twix bar
  • 2 Snickers bars
  • about 6 gels (I still can't stomach the thought of too many, after consuming about 80 during the Lone Star 100 a few weeks ago.)
  • a peanut butter/banana sandwich
  • a couple packs of Gu Chews
  • a pack of Honey Stinger chews
  • a box of "Hey Joe" caffeinated chocolate 

We had light rain and temps in the 50s for pretty much the entire race.  Here's what I wore:
  • Nathan Hydration Vapor Howe pack
  • Ultimate Direction women's Ultra jacket
  • arm sleeves from Cruel Jewel (I did not enjoy that race, but at least the arm sleeves are helpful!)
  • Hoka Challenger ATR (the OG model; I've had these a couple years).  With the rocky nature of the course, I wanted plenty of cushion.
  • 2 pairs of socks: injinjis and Feetures (both very thin).  I had wet feet for 14 hours, but never changed socks and never got any blisters.
  • Smartwool sports bra.  I'm not sure it matters what kind of sports bra I use; if my life were made into a movie, it could be called There Will be Chafing.
  • Garmin 910xt; I love that it lasts for an entire 100k.
  • Trail Toes tape (with tincture of benzoin underneath) -- part of my morning pre-race routine.
  • Victory Sportdesign hat -- my fave.
  • Victory Sportdesign Bear II gear bag at the start/finish
  • Lise Plantier also gave me a couple lubricant wipes from Pam Kirby and the Austin Trail Running Company.  Those were really helpful; I need to stock up on them!
The race was so enjoyable that on the drive home, I signed up for the Crazy Desert 100k this Saturday.  Recovering from a 100-miler in 3 weeks is one thing, but recovering from a 100k in one week?  It'll be an interesting experiment.  I'll report back on the results.  One key difference: instead of 50 degrees and raining, it looks like it'll be 86 degrees.  Guess I won't be needing those arm sleeves . . .
Joe and I with our beautiful rocks