Nov 21

2017 Autumn Leaves 50 Miler (by Rychen)

The annual Autumn Leaves 50k/50mile put on by the Oregon Road Runners Club is a great race for anyone looking to try their hand at an ultra distance for the first time or for someone like me, who looks forward to it year after year because of how easy they make it to want to come back. The course consists of a 10k loop, run five and eight times, respectively. It’s a very clean course, on well-maintained bike paths through the beautiful color-changing trees of the mid-Willamette Valley and along the Willamette River. There’s a turnaround about three miles out, but on the way back in the course veers off onto a single trail for the final 1.25 miles of the loop. This was my sixth time running the 50 miler in the last seven years, and after 48 loops around the course, its still interesting and beautiful and a great run.

I was out there this year to support a buddy of mine, who was running the 50k (his first ultra). I took the early start at 6am with a goal of getting through the first lap in an hour so that when he started at 7am, we could run together for as long as possible, like we do on many Saturday mornings. Because I’m a numbers nerd, I know my lap splits for every lap of every year, and my first two laps each year are always in the 64-66 minute range. So when I hit the end of the first loop at 56 minutes, I was both excited and a little nervous, wondering if I had gone out too fast with so many miles left. I made a stop in the port-a-potty, but the 50k race was still two minutes from starting, I was feeling good, and I didn’t want to stand around and get cold. I gave my buddy a waive, told him he’d catch up to me, and took off again. He never caught up (that’s no knock on him, he ran a great race and finished his first ultra strong, that’s just the kind of day it was for me).

Lap 2 was more of the same. I felt great, I ran toward a perfect sunrise over the river, hit the aid station at mile 1.4 of the loop (also at mile 4.75 on the way back in) for a brief cup of tri-berry Nuun (my favorite) and finished Lap 2 in 58 minutes.

At mile two of Lap 3 I was passed by a guy and gal running the 50k. I didn’t think much of it but a minute or so later I had the thought to catch up and run with them. I knew I would probably spend a good amount of the day running by myself, so the opportunity to run with others sounded like a good idea. To do that though, I had to make up the 40-yard gap they had on me. This was either going to be really good or it was going to be the reason for a crash later on in the day, I wasn’t sure which. They were running at a pretty good clip but when we got to the hill prior to the turnaround, the guy dropped back and walked while the gal powered up the hill. I followed her step for step. We cruised back in and I finished Lap 3 in 55 minutes. What?!?

Lap 4 I started to feel the first signs of fatigue and ran a conservative (well, for this day anyway, not compared to any other year) 60 minute lap, putting me at 3:50 for the first 25 miles. Did not see that coming. More than that, as Lap 5 got underway, I hit the 26.2 mark right at four hours, something I’ve never been able to do in an actual marathon. Satisfying, but still a long 24 miles to go on this day. I finished Lap 5 in 67 minutes and geared up for what historically has been the most difficult lap of the race, Lap 6.

Prior to the race I had budgeted walk breaks at various landmarks around the course in increasingly frequency. Usually just one minute, but in later laps I budgeted two or three minutes at the aid stations. I really was feeling good though and cut my aid station and walk times down to a minimum, 20-30 seconds at most. I just kept telling myself, “you can’t stay here, get moving!” There are very distinct landmarks around the course, the aid station, a bridge, the hill/turnaround, the bridge, the aid station, and then back to the start line. For 50 miles I managed the course 8-12 minutes at a time. I knew where the next landmark was, I knew about how long it would take me to get there, and I knew I could run for just nine minutes to the bridge, for instance, where I could catch a quick breather, before running nine more minutes to the hill. I managed to stay in the present and run, as I mentioned, in 8-12 minute sections all day. That, combined with the brief walk breaks, made a huge difference (you can waste a lot of time walking over 50 miles if you’re not disciplined about it. The worst feeling every is getting to the end, looking at your time, and realize you spent more than and hour or so just walking when you probably didn’t need to! It all just adds up).

By the start of Lap 7 I knew if I could just run two laps of 83 minutes or better that I would match my PR set in 2013 (when Steve beat me by 3 minutes in his first ultra!). Just don’t crash, I kept thinking. 12 minutes to the aid station. Nine minutes to the bridge, nine minutes to the hill, turnaround and run down the hill….Don’t stand here, grab some food and eat it while you’re moving….

A 75-minute Lap 7 and all I needed to match my PR was a 90-minute final lap. Just don’t do anything stupid. Keep moving, don’t go too fast. I still felt surprisingly good, all things considered. In the past my knees have been shot by this point in the race, but though I was tired and sore all over, nothing was debilitating. I just kept moving. As I hit the final aid station on the way back in, I knew I was going to do it. I had 1.25 miles left, about 15 minutes through the trees on the trail. As I emerged and ran through the finish line the clock read 8:38:47…a 17-minute PR!

I made a it a few more feet before falling to my knees and with my head in my hands, wept. It’s been a difficult few months for me as I’ve battled to overcome depression. You can read about it HERE, and watch my post-race video HERE.

If someone had asked me to write down what I thought my best possible time would be on my best day, I maybe would have written 8:50. Going in, my long runs had been a couple of 15 milers and a 17 miler. I knew I would finish, I just didn’t know if it would be nine hours? 10? So to see how the day progressed, and to come in at 8:38…man, I’m getting a little misty-eyed just thinking about it again. In short, I ran my perfect race. My perfect run.

Onto the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon in February. (Come join me there! Promo code “SaturdayMarathons10” saves you some money on the registration!)

Finish Line! Look at that clock!!

Speeding along (trying to keep up) in Lap 3

Perfect sunrise

Feb 27

I decided to quit running one year ago

On February 27th, 2016 I walked to the starting line of the Phoenix Marathon (now the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon) feeling as good as I ever had before a marathon. I hadn’t run one in nearly 20 months and I was motivated, healthy, rested and ready to go. I had hired a coach the previous November to put a training plan together specifically for this race and I had the confidence of knowing I had followed the plan.

But despite feeling so confident in my preparations it just wasn’t my day. At some point in the later miles I seriously questioned why I was even there and why I continued to do this. My wife had given birth to our fourth child a month earlier, and though I was at the race with her blessing, I felt like I should have been at home rather than running a stupid race multiple states away.

My stream of Facebook posts immediately after the race generated numerous text messages from friends and family making sure I was alright. Others tried to remind me that I had just finished a marathon and what an incredible achievement that was. Finishing wasn’t my goal though. I had done that 17 times already. Sitting there on a curb listening to all the happy finishers around me, many of them ringing the “PR bell” that was set up a short distance away, I just wanted to get on an airplane, fly home, throw my running gear away and be done with it all.

One year, two more marathons and a 50-miler later, obviously that didn’t happen. The only thing that changed was realizing that I do actually love to run but just can’t dedicate the time necessary to reach the goals I had set 5-7 years ago, when my life circumstances were different.

So as I lined up that same starting line at Usery Pass outside of Phoenix on Saturday, 363 days removed from the disaster that was last year’s race, with just six-weeks worth of “training” under my belt (three runs/week, and a long run of 15 miles), I had zero expectations. I had spent a couple of great days visiting family and friends and the race was just the dessert on the week. I was determined to think positively no matter what, to start slow, be consistent, eat early and often, stay hydrated and see what happened.

I love the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon. It has everything you want as a runner: a beautiful course, plenty of aid stations that are well-stocked, well placed and feel like a party, a great finish line (a plate of Kneaders french toast is…incredible), community and spectator support, swag, sunshine, fireworks and all sorts of other little details that you notice along the way. There’s no wonder why this race sells out 10,000+ spots every year (between the 10k/half/full).

I had a great run. I still didn’t reach my “goal,” but I ran my perfect race and gave everything I had for 22 miles before finally succumbing to the lack of training. But I had fun doing it.

And that’s enough to keep me running for another year.

Aug 03

BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Marathon: Your 2017 Winter Marathon (or should be)

Its August. Summer is in full swing and the Fall marathon season is nearly upon us. I hope that your training is going well and that you are feeling confident for your upcoming races.

But it’s August. And that means is time to start thinking about a Winter 2017 marathon, which is a short four to six months away (even if it seems the heat you are enduring these days may never end). It means the very best races are starting to fill up. Prices are starting to increase. And training plans are coming together.

Let me make a simple suggestion: Make a date in Phoenix, AZ the last weekend in February and sign up for the BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Marathon, to be held February 25th, 2017.

It’s a no-brainer, really.

Full disclosure: I’ve been selected as a 2017 Race Ambassador. Basically what that means is that I can offer a discount of $10 on your half/full race registration by using the discount code “Rychen10” (and you can save a few more bucks by posting to Facebook after you’ve registered).

But Ambassadorship or not, Phoenix is on my calendar every year. And you should seriously consider putting it on yours as well. It has everything you expect from a big-time race without the big corporate-run, cookie-cutter, cattle-herding feel of some other races, as it’s locally owned, supported and operated.

There’s the huge expo, the swag, the fireworks display before the starting gun, an early start time, the gradual downhill course through orange and grapefruit tree-lined streets full of community support, the morning sunrise, plenty of well-stocked aid stations exactly where you expect them to be, the multiple pace teams, a unique heavy-duty medal, the free 1k kids race, the huge finish line festival and of course…the PR bell.

All in all, it’s a party, you’re invited, and you should be there with us in February.

Don’t wait! The next price increase date is September 11th and this race sells out every year. Get registered now! (And be sure to use the discount code “Rychen10)

Jan 19

4 Steps to Running thru Adversity (and Life)

It was just above freezing, the rain was coming down and the wind was whipping the few remaining tree leaves through the streets. Despite this less-than-ideal weather, for nearly an hour I was out running in my shorts and t-shirt. An acquaintance who drove by me that day later asked, “Aren’t you cold?”

Honestly, I was. Or I had been. Until I decided I wasn’t going to focus on the cold anymore. It got me thinking about what happened on that run and how it was a template for adversity I may face in my life. Pretty simply, it was four steps I had gone through in those cold, rainy miles.

  1. Acknowledge it. Yes I’m cold. There’s no point in lying to myself about it. But what if tomorrow I’m too hot? What if in Mile 19 of the marathon my stomach hurts? Or I get a blister? Or I just want to quit? What if I’m not able to maintain the pace I had trained so hard and long for? There are countless things that can go wrong over 26.2 miles. And there are just as many things that can (and probably will) hurt. Perhaps some will try to block everything out, grit their teeth, let out a primal scream and continue on. Fine. But there are other ways to deal with adversity.
  2. Embrace it. Rather than pout or shrink, embrace this obstacle and recognize it as a learning, growing or strengthening experience. Yes, it’s cold. And I’m cold. But is it hurting me? (No). Am I still running? (Yes). Can I continue? (Yes). If this is the case, then why not turn what was initially thought of as adversity into motivation. Heck yeah it’s cold– but I’m out here anyway, putting in the miles, putting in the time, putting in the effort, working towards my goal. And nothing will get in my way of that. Certainly not being wet and cold for a bit.
  3. Push through it. At some point, I no longer felt the cold or the rain or the wind. I had already acknowledged it and decided it wasn’t going to affect me and now it was time to move forward. Emboldened, my pace quickened. I laughed as a semi-truck passed me (going the opposite direction) and a wall of wind and water spray barrelled into me as I ran on the sidewalk. I was not going to be beaten or slowed by the elements.
  4. Be better for it. I finished my run and I felt great. It was just one run and only a few miles in a long process, but a lesson was learned. Limits were pushed back just a bit more. Confidence increased.

These lessons are no different for trials or obstacles in our lives. We can choose to lie to ourselves and try to bury our feelings of disappointment, struggle, and pain. Or we can acknowledge that there is adversity of some kind in front of us — whether it has been self-imposed or not it makes no difference — and begin the process of overcoming it.

By embracing what we are going through we stop looking to the past and begin looking to the future. We can’t change the past but we can choose to become better and stronger because of it. Is it keeping us down or are we choosing to let it keep us down? What are we going to do to get up off the mat, put one foot in front of the other and start moving again?

Ultimately, as we push forward we begin to learn things about ourselves that can and should convince us that we are strong and that we can choose how we will respond to adversity. Bolstered by this blossoming confidence and with continued effort we will, at some point, be able to look back at the person we were and the trials we faced. It is then that we will see how far we’ve come and that we know how to handle future obstacles on our journey.

Nov 02

Autumn Leaves 50 mile Race Report

Hadn’t raced in a year. Woefully undertrained. Coming off a weekend on the road with very little sleep while crewing/pacing Steve in his 100-miler. Sounds like a great time to run a 50-miler of my own. Did I mention the undertrained part? My “training” consisted of essentially starting from scratch in June, running 5-6 mile runs a couple days a week and throwing in 15 miler in September and another in October. I could write it out in its entirety on a napkin. But I love the Autumn Leaves 50mi/50k race. And so four days after watching Steve do his thing, and three days before the starting gun went off at Autumn Leaves, I signed up.

Autumn Leaves is a 6.25 mile loop with an out and back section at the halfway point. 8 laps. Three aid stations per lap, so there’s very little need to bring any of your own fuel. Lap 1 started in the dark as it does every year. I ran a nice slow pace with a group of Marathon Maniacs, but that ended at mile three when it became evident that I may hear something like “49 to go!,” “48 to go!,” “47 to go!” every mile. No way. I pulled ahead a bit when they stopped at the aid station and enjoyed the nice quiet, dark morning as I ran the trail section of the loop (the final 1.25 miles of each loop). A 65 minute first lap, right where I wanted to be.

Laps 2 and 3 were fairly uneventful. The sun came up but it was cloudy, making for perfect weather conditions in the low 50’s, though I was a little concerned about how cold my hamstrings were, especially given that I was quickly approaching mileage I hadn’t run in 14 or 15 months. But two 66 minute laps were in the books and although I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, I was happy with the pace I had been able to keep.

I learned a lot from watching Steve suffer up close the weekend before. One of the big things was the value of Hammer Endurolyte pills. I started popping them early and often and continued to do so throughout the day. Even though I was increasingly uncomfortable from this point on, I never cramped and I continued to sweat. My stomach was an issue though. No matter what I ate or drank, I couldn’t get it to calm down. My gels were making it worse, so no more of those. Nothing on the table looked at all appetizing, and the Coke that I had started drinking around 8am wasn’t doing any good either. Then I remembered Steve’s advice to me during the week to go with ginger. I pulled into the aid station near the start of Lap 4 and asked if they had any ginger ale. They did! I downed a cup of it (it was gross, I hate ginger ale) and within minutes my stomach had returned to normal.

I finished Lap 4 in 73 minutes, and at every aid station I was now grabbing a quartered turkey sandwich, orange slices, watermelon and a cup each of water, nuun, and ginger ale. But I was really hurting at this point. I knew I had blisters on multiple toes, my quad muscles were becoming tender and my ankle and hip joints were becoming increasingly sore (surprisingly, my knees were still alright). But during Laps 5 and 6 I unfortunately allowed myself to begin focusing on all that was hurting and that took me to my darkest place of the day.

I started running less and walking more, not because I didn’t want to run but because I just didn’t have the will to anymore. I knew if I could just get to the end of Lap 6 that things would get better, as I had a friend waiting to run the final two laps with me, but this only served as sufficient motivation for short stretches. I finished lap 5 in 81 minutes and Lap 6 was my slowest of the 32 laps I’ve now run on this course, at 88 minutes.

My wife had arranged for my friend Dave to come out and run the final two laps with me the previous afternoon and I’m so glad she did. Dave is a super gentle guy, but put him in a race atmosphere, even one he’s not running, and look out. The competitive juices kick in quickly. He was the perfect pacer on this day, just the right combination of understanding, encouragement and kick in the butt. We finished out Lap 7 in 78 minutes and I was still taking water/nuun/ginger ale/oranges/watermelon at every stop, but that was it. I was a little concerned about my calorie intake but more concerned that I had another 6+ miles to go and every part of my body was screaming at me to shut things down.

Just past the Start/Finish line were the drop bags and as I concluded rubbing out my legs one last time I glanced at the big clock and saw that it read 8:44:00. I could still break 10 hours but it would take a 75 minute lap. Dave told me to start running and without much sense left in me I did so. I don’t ever recall being in so much pain as I was on that last lap. My knees were now hurting badly, as was everything else below my waist and as we went up and down over a couple of rollers it was all I could do to hold back tears. But we ran. We hit the turnaround and headed for home, bypassing the final aid station. It would be close. The trail section remained and I had 15 minutes to break 10 hours.

The trail section the final few laps was a killer. Uneven terrain, up and down – just brutal on already tired and sore muscles and joints. The minutes ticked by and Dave kept pushing, even getting ahead of me by 40 or 50 yards a few times. We came off the trail and into a parking lot, which led to the final few hundred yards (uphill) to the finish line. As I crossed at 9:58:42 my wife and kids were waiting for me and I needed a few minutes to gather myself.

It’s not the fastest I’ve ever run this course (8:55 in 2013), but given the struggle that it was and remembering where I was in my fitness just four months ago, it may be the most satisfying as a personal accomplishment. This is a great race and a great course for anyone looking to push beyond the marathon distance. It has great organization, great support, there’s a 50k option as well (5 laps) and all the photos taken are free (imagine that!).