Friday, September 4, 2009

Down Time

In light of all my post-Waldo aches and pains, I've decided that some down time is in order. Although I'm thrilled that my sport medicine doc said he didn't "think" I had any sort of stress fracture in the left leg, a little break from running seems not only prudent but appealing. Saturday will mark two weeks of zero running. Plan to give the legs at least another two weeks off before starting back up. So far, only minor irritability and feelings of lardassishness. I'm sure the next couple of weeks won't be quite as easy. In the meantime, I'll do a little riding, a little walking, lots of hip & shin strengthening exercises, a little more blogging (maybe), and somewhat less eating. Any other suggestions for maintaining some small level of fitness would be welcome.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Waldo Photos

Mt. Hood from the plane. We're not in Houston anymore.

The Best Western Oakridge. View from the room doesn't exactly suck.

The Waldo Course Profile. If you aren't going up, you're going down.

The Mt. Ray Trail. Sweet cruiser singletrack (assuming your legs aren't trashed).

Speaking of trashed legs....

Charlton Lake. Very inviting.

Coming into the Charlton Lake Aid Station. I'm the one without the smile.

Misty and Me at Road 4290. Funny, I can't recall smiling the whole time I was there.

Sign approaching The Twins aid station, where I found sympathy without bleeding.

At The Twins AS. Fitting wardrobe for such a masochistic exercise.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where's Waldo 100K

Each of the entrants to this year’s Where’s Waldo 100K received a white bandana silkscreened with a full-color map & elevation profile of the course. It turned out to be an amazingly useful bit of swag. I tied it around the shoulder strap of my hydration pack and would refer to it at least a dozen times over the course of the day. It wasn’t that I was lost (the course was impeccably marked), it’s just that I liked knowing where I was and what was coming up. It also served as a handy “white flag of surrender” (hat tip to Sarah Palin) at mile 44.7 – the end of my race. These ultras are hard nuts to crack sometimes. One day it might be nutrition problems that drag you down. Another day it might be hydration. On this day, the nutrition and hydration were both dialed in. The heat training throughout this hellish summer definitely paid dividends. But in the end, my body was simply done in by the climbing and descending, something for which I was not adequately trained. And so as I staggered in to The Twins aid station for the second time that day, I did the one thing I’m exceedingly talented at in ultras: I quit. How did it come to that? Well, this is that story. . . .

Where’s Waldo takes place in the Cascade Mountains of central Oregon, about an hour’s drive east of Eugene. The scenery is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Lush beyond belief. Steep mountains. Dense forest. Pristine, cerulean lakes. Just wow. With my trusty crew, Chris and Misty, we arrived in Portland late Friday morning, immediately picked up the Pontaic G6 (with a "NeverLost" GPS feature that was always about two minutes behind) and headed south to Eugene, then east to Oakridge (pop. 3300), our base for the weekend. After a brief rest at the hotel, we headed out the race site at the Will-am-ette ("Willamette, dammit") Pass Resort (elev. 5120 ft.) for packet pick up and a quick look around. The plan was to grab dinner at the Lodge, where they offered a $10 pasta buffet, but the behind-the-counter kitchen scene didn’t exactly inspire confidence, so we headed back to Oakridge for some perfectly acceptable pizza (followed by a little DQ softserve, of course). Back to the hotel for a little last-minute organizing and then off to bed super early. Did I mention that I had signed up for the 3:00 a.m. start?

Shortly after 1:00 a.m., the alarm goes off and I immediately make my way to the coffeemaker, knowing that if coffee isn’t ingested within 10 minutes, I might find myself back in bed. Chris and Misty (bless them) tap lightly at my door around 2:15, and we’re off into the cool darkness, heading back to the Lodge. The plan is for the crew to head back to Oakridge for a little more sleep and some breakfast, before meeting me at the Mt. Ray aid station (mile 20) around 7:45 or so. After that, the plan was to meet up at Charlton Lake (mile 32), where Misty would join me for the next 12 miles or so. At the Twins aid station (mile 44.7), Chris would replace Misty and join me for the final 17 miles.

After a quick restroom break at the Lodge (actual clean restrooms – nice touch), I mill about with the other 3:00 starters (maybe 40 of us altogether), until we’re called outside to the start line. It’s gorgeous outside (low/mid-40s), but after a summer where a humid 78 is considered “pleasant,” it feels downright chilly, so I start the run with a light GoLite jacket and gloves. The rest of my gear includes a short-sleeved tech t-shirt, my soft ball cap, Nathan hydration pack, compression sleeves on the calves, gaiters, Wrightsocks, and (feeling daring) my New Balance MT790’s. At 3:00 a.m., co-RD Curt Ringstad says “go,” and we’re off.

Start to Mt. Ray (mile 0 to mile 20.5). This section of the course sports a nice initial climb of around 1200 feet right off the bat. We ran for maybe 100 feet and hooked an immediate left up the ski hill. The climbing was more or less continuous, but at a pretty good grade – the 1200 feet was probably covered in 2 miles or less. During this section, I concentrated on sticking with folks because I was unfamiliar with the course, it was pitch-dark, and I really didn’t want to make a wrong turn early on. I fell into a sustainable (i.e., slow) climbing pace and after 35 minutes or so, the pitch became increasingly gentle, then flat. In no time, I found myself heading into a long, very runable downhill stretch into the Gold Lake aid station (mile 7.4). For the first half of this downhill, I remained in a pack that was moving very conservatively. My legs were definitely ready to run and the trail was oh-so-sweet singletrack, but I played it safe and stuck with the group for a bit. After a couple miles though, I got tired of holding back and broke free, something I probably should have done sooner. Much of the final 2.5 miles into Gold Lake I ran alone. At one point I stopped to pee, turned off the flashlight, and was overwhelmed with the darkness and silence enveloping me. Amazing stuff. Shortly before Gold Lake, you pop out onto a gravel road. I soon came up on a runner slightly ahead of me and without saying a word to each other, we both clicked off our lights and looked up into a clear, magnificent sky bursting with stars. As if on cue, we both said “wow.” There was really nothing else to say. At Gold Lake, I grabbed a couple of PB&J quarters, some GU2O, some water, and headed out quickly across a fire road and up the Mt. Fuji trail.

The first couple of miles or so of the trail climb pretty steeply, taking you from roughly 4700 feet to nearly 6000 feet. The trail wasn’t very technical however, and the 790’s were proving to be wonderful climbing shoes. Descending, well, that was another matter. But we’ll get to that shortly. Pretty soon, the first suggestion of dawn could be seen to the east. Not enough to shut off the flashlight, but I could tell it was coming. I was glad too, because around this point, I really started having the urge to see what was around me. I could definitely hear what was around me though – what must have been enormous swarms of mosquitos. Their buzzing was nearly deafening at times. Fortunately, as long as you kept moving, they didn’t pose much problem. Stop, however, and they were on you in a heartbeat. Excellent motivation to keep moving! The trail flattened for a bit, allowing some running, before turning uphill once again. Soon enough, I pulled into the Mt. Fuji aid station (miles 12.4 and 14.9). Grabbed a cup of GUO2, asked to be sprayed head-to-toe in DEET, and immediately pulled out with a small group of about 6 other runners to tackle the final ~700 feet to the Fuji summit. At this point, the trail became increasingly rocky, narrow and technical. My lungs were burning and my legs were tired, but I was really looking forward to making the summit because I had been told the view was spectacular. From time to time, we’d stop and move over to allow the downhill runners right of way (this section was out & back), and I began to realize that the coming downhill might be some of the trickiest running of the day so far. Just when the climb had taken nearly everything out of me, we rounded a rocky corner and . . . “Holy crap!” Finally at the summit, in the early morning glow, seemingly all of central Oregon spilled out around me in an achingly-beautiful 360-degree panorama. Still trying to catch my breath, co-RD Craig Thornley gave us all a high-five, before sending us back on our way down. On a course with a bounty of fantastic views, this is the one that will stick in my memory. Magnificent stuff.

As expected, the downhill is tricky business. I find myself caught between a desire to let the legs run and make up for the slow time thusfar and a desire to, well, not kill myself. So I run until the momentum carries me beyond my comfort zone and I pull back for minute. Let loose, pull back. Let loose, pull back. That’s the rhythm of my descent back to the Fuji aid station. Oh yeah, did I mention that not two minutes into that descent I come upon Erik Skaggs (the eventual winner in 9 hours and change) and the other front-runners nearing the summit. They started two hours after me. They caught me by mile 14. Mutants. (For an idea of the toll such an effort can exact, check out this story: Back at the Fuji aid station, I grabbed a couple of PB&J wraps, more GUO2, and continued my descent toward the Mt. Ray aid station, nearly five miles away and 1500 vertical feet down. Had the 1500 feet of drop been spread more or less evenly over the next 5 miles, it would have been a delightful section. It wasn’t. Heading out of the Fuji aid station, the trail fell away hard and fast, about 500 feet in less than a mile, and my lower legs were starting to feel the pounding. Shortly thereafter, the trail split to the left and rolled gently for another couple of miles, offering a nice break in the descent. But as I rounded a corner, totally unexpectedly the descent resumed, this time at a ridiculous pitch. I let the legs turn over as fast as I could, but I was having trouble controlling my speed and my quads were being pummeled. Moreover, my 790’s, which had been so light and responsive on the uphills and flats, were no match for my lack of finesse and a 165-pound frame bearing down on them. My footplants felt sloppy and unsure. This continued for at least a quarter mile and made for some of the most insane running I did all day. The pitch eased a bit and the last 1.5 miles was actually a blast. Then, about a half-mile away from the Mt. Ray aid station, I felt a sharp pain on the inside of my calf about 3 inches above my left ankle. Son of a bi%$&!! Something stung me, but I’m not sure what. Must have pissed off some bee. Wouldn’t be an issue if they’d just stay off the trail! The pain would persist off and on the rest of the day and the swelling wouldn’t die down until later in the week.

Mt. Ray to Charlton Lake (mile 20.5 to mile 32):

As I pulled into the Mt. Ray aid station, I was very happy to see Chris and Misty, cheering my arrival and ready to provide aid. First thing I did was ask for my Asics Gel Attacks. I shed my jacket, grabbed a little food, got another shot of DEET to keep the beasties away, took a minute to sit, and then bid my crew farewell. My mood was okay at this point. I was a little more beat up than I would have hoped after covering only 1/3 of the course, and there was a long 6.5 mile stretch to the next aid station at The Twins, but the map and elevation profile suggested that the 1200-foot climb up to The Twins aid station wasn’t too severe. Further, after The Twins, there was only about another 500 feet of climbing before a 3.5 mile downhill stretch into Charlton Lake, where my crew would meet me next. In a nutshell, this was a long, long section. The ball of my left foot was hurting terribly when I climbed, a victim of landing square on a root coming down off Fuji earlier. My shin was achy. My legs were tired. And I was falling into a bad place by allowing myself to think about the enormity of the entire course rather than just focusing on getting to the next aid station. By the time I rolled into The Twins aid station at mile 27.1, all I wanted to do was quit. In fact, I had already decided I would do just that at Charlton Lake (where Chris and Misty and the car were waiting). The wonderful volunteers at The Twins sat me down, waited on me hand and foot, and offered lots of suggestions to ease my suffering. Like the seasoned volunteers they were, none of the suggestions was to quit. Also, the fact that they were all dressed like some odd cross between punk rockers and vampires helped lighten my mood as I headed out to tackle the final 500 feet of climb and the final 3.5 or so downhill miles into Charlton. As so often happens in these things, I started to think that instead of quitting, maybe I’d keep going a bit after Charlton Lake and see what happened. After all, Misty was set to keep me company, and I didn’t want to disappoint. I felt like crap, my ability to climb was shot, and my downhill legs were fading, but there was still a little left in the tank. May as well use every bit of it and get my money’s worth. So after an interminable last 3 miles, I finally spied the deep blue waters of Charlton Lake through the trees and in no time was at the aid station.

Charlton Lake to The Twins (mile 32 to mile 44.7):

Chris and Misty were once again there to take care of me. I ate. I drank. I sat for a bit. I complained. But I didn’t quit. After maybe 5 minutes, I pulled myself up and followed Misty down the trail. I told Chris to try to make it to the next aid station at Road 4290 (mile 37.2) because I might not be able to make it beyond that. He promised he’d try (the road is sketchy and access wasn’t easy) & that was good enough for me. After walking the first few minutes out of the Charlton Lake aid station, Misty prodded me into running a bit – short bursts at first and then a little longer. We still walked the uphills, but we managed to keep moving fairly well, especially considering how wasted I was feeling. Much of this section is gentle downhill and we made pretty decent time, but this part of the course also ran through newly-planted forest and was very exposed. Coming from Houston, it didn’t remotely approach being “hot,” but the direct sun and the moderate altitude made conditions a little more challenging. By the time we made it to Road 4290, I was thoroughly worked, both physically and mentally. Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t quit right there, particularly since the next section was long (7.5 miles) and uphill (1700 feet or so), knowledge that weighed on me heavily as I staggered out. From that point on, it was a death march. Misty kept moving out ahead in a mostly-fruitless effort to get me to perk up, but I was completely cooked. The climbing was painfully slow, the flats were no more than a shuffle (at best), and worst of all the few short descents revealed that my downhill legs were utterly fried. It was this last issue that basically ended my race. To finish in under 18 hours, I would have needed to maintain a little more than 3 miles an hour from The Twins #2 (mile 44.7) to the finish. With the most difficult climb of the course still to come, I knew it would be necessary to make up time on the downhill sections. Without being able to run downhill, it would be a fool’s errand (even more so than entering the race in the first place!). And so as I sat in the chair at The Twins a second time, I announced that I was done. As one aid station volunteer pointed out, this was the place to quit because it was only a 1.5 mile hike out to the road. After The Twins all the way to the finish, there was really no good way out – the course was that isolated.

As I reflect on Where’s Waldo, I don’t feel too much disappointment. It’s a tough mother of a race – tougher than I expected. I knew going in that finishing was going to be a real challenge with my lack of hill training and off and on shin issues over the summer. Sure, I would have loved to cross the finish line (and get one of those super-sweet Sporthill finishers hats), but I made it 44.7 miles (46.2 if you count the hike out) with wheels that were on the verge of completely falling off over the last 20 miles – much credit here has to go to my fantastic pacer/crew, Misty and Chris. No way I would have made it that far without their help. Other than about two dozen mosquito bites, a bee sting, and a sore shin, I seem to have made it through okay. No falls. No turned ankles. We grabbed burgers and beer back at the Lodge, watched some finishers make it in, and made our way back into Oakridge and the hotel. After a much-needed shower, I was in bed and asleep before 8:00. I was, in a word, beat.

The next day brought a leisurely drive back to Portland and our 12:25 a.m. redeye, via some phenomenal Willamette Valley wineries – Pinot to die for. But that’s a story for another time. A whirlwind weekend to be sure, but a ton of fun. For anyone looking for a challenging, gorgeous, meticulously-organized summer ultra, Where’s Waldo can’t be beat. First-rate in absolutely every way. I’ll definitely be back next year for some unfinished business.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

In Love

The new kicks make me happy. Super-light, low-profile, all-around cool. Not sure they'll work for Waldo, but I'm willing to give 'em a try.

Monday, July 20, 2009

El Scorcho 50K

Ten 3.1-mile hard, flat loops through a city park. At midnight. In July. As RD / race-creator, Ryan V. reminded me a number of times, "you get what you paid for." Given that my entry was comp-ed, truer words were never spoken. Seriously, though, El Scorcho gave me plenty. A chance to get outta town for a bit. A chance to visit with some nice (and equally crazy) folks. A chance to log 31 miles and pocket some nice swag for doing so. All good.

Got up to Fort Worth around 3:30 or so and met Ryan at his lovely new casa. He was kind enough to drive me to the Fort Worth Running Co. for packet pick-up (nice shirts!) and then off to Mellow Mushroom for an early pre-race dinner. Also got a quick tour of the course (there's the crushed-limestone path, there's the basketball court, there's the concrete path, don't trip on the miniature RR tracks...) and a very useful primer on where to park. Made it back to the hotel by 6:30 and was in bed by 7:00 for a couple of hours of fitful napping. Although I've run into and even through the night before, I've never started a race at midnight, and I had no idea how my body would react.

Made it to Trinty Park and the start line by 11:15-ish. Grabbed my timing chip and ran into Jay from HTREX (hope your race went well!). Saw Lynnor briefly, but not a lot of other familiar faces. I suspect a majority of the runners were local road runners (judging by the number of cups and other trash strewn across nearly the entire course - ugh). At midnight, Ryan and crew gathered the 50K-ers (25K started 10 minutes later) and sent us on our way.

Not knowing how dark parts of the course would be, I started with my little Petzl e+LITE, but after a loop I realized that there was enough light and the footing was good enough that I'd be fine without a light. During the early loops, I ended up running with John Sharp, a guy I'd run into at a number of races but never had the pleasure of talking with. John made the first 4-5 loops go by almost painlessly. Just a week removed from a hugely-impressive 82 miles at Hardrock, it was fascinating to hear John talk so passionately about that amazing race. At some point around loop 5, John said he was feeling a bit tired (wonder why) and he dropped back a bit.

Don't recall anything about loop #6 except that I think it was around this time I ran into Shelly Grahmann. At the end of loop #6, I was definitely beginning to feel the miles and the heat (a very warm but dry start to the race, but increasing humidity throughout night) and for some reason decided to grab an Oreo. Mistake. My stomach wanted nothing to do with it and I spent a good chunk of the loop walking and hoping not to vomit. All from a single Oreo. Shelly had pulled well ahead by this time, and when I made it back around for the start of loop #8, I was feeling a bit better but had made peace with the notion that I'd be running the last 9+ miles alone. My mood was also boosted by the presence of Coke (with ice!) at the aid table. How I love Coke late in races.

Downed some of that icy nectar of the gods and within minutes began to feel much happier. Started running again and less than a mile out, came up on Shelly who was taking a short walk break. We chatted a little and then began a pattern that would play out over the remainder of the race. We'd start running and since my normal pace was a little faster, I'd pull ahead. Then I'd decide to walk for a bit and since Shelly ran more (walked less), she'd catch & pass me. Inevitably, we'd come into the start/finish more or less at the same time & walk out together, nursing our wonderful Cokes. Finally, on the last loop, I was utterly sick of being out there and decided to simply run until I couldn't run anymore.

Crossing the line in 6:18 and change, I was bit woosy but pretty happy with my effort. I suppose I could have shaved 10-20 minutes off the time had I pushed a bit more throughout, but there would have been a price to pay. As it stands, it might not be my fastest 50K time, but it was a solid effort and a good way to get in 31 miles leading up to Waldo next month. Executive summary: 5 S-caps, 5 gels, one horrid little Oreo, lots of Coke, lots of water. Managed the heat pretty well, and (except for one section) no long periods without running. No blisters & only mild soreness in the legs and hips. Overall, not bad.

Finally, kudos to Ryan, Jason, and their compadres for putting on a meticulously-organized race. Great volunteers (and lots of them!), super-easy logistics (ample parking, plenty of spots to stow a drop bag or kick back), excellent swag, and Coke with ice for the 50K-ers. Couldn't ask for anything else. However, I will remember Ryan's mocking offers of beer late in the race. This will not go unpunished...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Return to Racing

This weekend's El Scorcho 50K will mark my first ultra-distance race since February's Rocky Raccoon 60 (some people chose to run the full 100 miles; I chose not to). Meant to run the Rocky Hill Ranch 50K back in April, but then it got rained (rain. n. water condensed from atmospheric vapor and falling in drops) out & my stupid shin wouldn't allow me to run the June "make-up" version. But all the parts and pieces are feeling pretty decent now, and I'm toying with the idea of actually "racing" El Scorcho, rather than simply using it as a long training run. With a forecast low temperature of 67 during the race (practically frigid), and the excitement of running with 500 other idiots, the temptation will be strong push the pace early. We'll see. In any case, it's just nice to feel excited to run an organized race again. Report to follow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Heat Index"

Honestly, is there any measure more patently absurd than the "heat index" (or "Real Feel" or whatever)? This morning I get up and, as I do every morning before I run, check the weather conditions. Gotta psych up (out) for those weekday morning runs. So this morning the actual ambient temperature at 5:20 a.m. was 82 degrees. Relative humidity was 86 percent. According the, that made for a Heat Index of 88 degrees. How absurd is that? Ask yourself this: would I rather go out and run 7 miles when the actual temperature is 88 degrees (and the humidity is, say, 30 percent, and there's a nice breeze out of the northwest at 10-12 m.p.h.) or would I rather run when the Heat Index is 88 degrees and the humidity is 86 percent and the wind is "blowing" at 3 m.p.h. from the southwest? According to the weather geniuses, the latter "feels" the same as the former, right? What I'd like to see is the creator of the "heat index" get his or her ass outside one July morning and put in 6 or 7 miles and then contemplate the inanity of their creation. Until then, I'm going to create my own index - the Suffering Index. 1-10 scale. A "1" is a crisp, dry January morning. A "10" is, well, today.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Left Shin

Doesn't like me. I'm not sure what I ever did to it to make it feel this way. I never treated it any differently than my right shin. Never showed it any less affection. In fact, I baby it. If it wants rest, I give it rest. If it wants to be massaged, I massage it. And what do I get for all that love and attention? Nothing but grief, that's what. "Enough!" No more indulgent parent. It's time for it to get its act together. So recently, instead of babying it, I've sent it off to boot camp. 30 minutes a day of hard-core shin and ankle work with the band, followed by another 20 minutes a day of wretched hip exercises with the band. Plus lots of unpleasant core exercises. Taken as a whole, these exercises suck. But the shin is going to submit. Or else. "Or else what?" you may ask. Well, as any parent knows, the answer is: "Or else" [stated in a more threatening tone].

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I'm a Trail Runner

There's a scene in J.B. Benna's terrific movie, The Runner, documenting David Horton's record-setting 2006 journey along the entire 2700-mile Pacific Crest Trail where Horton is asked why he wasn't attempting his amazing quest in an unsupported fashion (i.e., why he was relying on friends to crew for him along the route rather than fastpacking alone). He responds without hesitation, "Because I'm not a backpacker. I'm a runner." I'm reminded of this scene whenever someone wonders why I avoid the roads like the plague these days. Sure, I live in Houston and I don't have access to endless miles of beautiful singletrack. And, yes, my meat & potato miles are flat or flatish loops around parks and a university campus. My mountains are concrete stadium steps. But it has less to do with environment than temperament. I'm not a road runner. I'm a trail runner. Why? This video (which has been cross-posted on many other sites) hints at the answer. [Note: if you aren't a fan of Coldplay's homage to U2, you might want to turn the sound down]

UltraRunning from Matt Hart on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Not The Heat . . .

As I death-staggered through the final couple of miles of my Memorial Day "run," I reflected once more on that most unpleasant of distance running subjects, the bonk. Most of us have dealt with the classic calorie-deficiency bonk before. Whether at mile 19 of a road marathon or mile 60 of a trail 100, the symptoms are pretty much the same - epic energy crash and an inability to do simple things like move forward at more than 2 m.p.h. The solution to the calorie bonk is pretty straightforward as well - get calories. In a marathon, by the time you bonk, it might be too late in the game to fully recover. But in an ultra, there's usually time for multiple cycles of bonk-rebirth.

There's another sort of bonk, however. One that many a Houstonian knows all too well: the Heat Bonk. More accurately, the Heat & Humidity Bonk. Yesterday had all the elements. Heat? Check - between 83-87 degrees for the duration of the run (not July hot, but then I'm not July heat acclimated either). Humidity? Big check. There's a reason the Memorial Park trails have names like Laos and Ho Chi Minh. Poor run management? Check. Didn't feel like I was setting a very fast pace, but that's the challenge in dealing with the heat. You have to pull back on the reigns significantly and from the get-go, because unlike the calorie bonk, it's damn near impossible to come back from the heat bonk. Once you're cooked, you might as well cash it in. After about 2 slightly too fast hours, I was cooked. Every tiny uphill became a mountain, every short stretch of shuffling felt like speed work. A 5-minute stop back at the car (complete with electrolytes, ice water, and a gel) helped only temporarily. As soon as I tried running again, it became obvious there was nothing left. 10 degrees cooler and 20% less humid and I'm sure I could have churned out another couple of hours. But it wasn't the end of April, it was the end of May. And so I staggered back to my car, a little woozy and a bit nauseated. Not exactly a confidence-builder for Rocky Hill Ranch 50K in a couple of weeks.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Born to Run

If you're looking for a great read over the holiday weekend, you can't go wrong with Christopher McDougall's wonderful new book, Born to Run. Not only is it hugely entertaining, but it might just change the way you look at the "advancements" in modern running. Two big thumbs up.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hogs Hunt 2009 Photos

Hog's Hunt 2009

A couple years back, Mariela, the fearless leader of our running group asked for volunteers to help out with an aid station at Hogs Hunt, a local 50K/25K trail run at Huntsville State Park. I had run a few trail races at that point, but I'd never volunteered in any capacity & felt it was a good time to start. What an introduction. Mariela and I arrived at the park early that morning to a spectacular thunderstorm - thunder, lightning, and a torrential downpour. Enough to scare off a number of the crossover road runners who traditionally like to give this race a try. But, of course, not the idiot trail runners, who lined up and headed down the trail through the deluge. Mariela and I managed to get things set up in time once the weather broke, and it actually turned out to be a lovely day. Also, it was great fun. Ever since then, I've tried to come back to help out Mariela and HTREX, both at Hogs Hunt and RD Paul Stone's fall counterpart "little" Rocky Raccoon.

A month or two ago Mariela asked if I'd be interested in running the aid station because she would be off conquering the Jemez 50 Mile in & around beautiful Los Alamos, NM. I agreed without hesitation. I immediately contacted my buddy Chris to see if he was interested in co-captaining the aid station. Fortunately, I think he was even more geeked about it than I was. After a mad scramble late Friday to get everything together (tables, coolers, canopy, beer, cutting board, knives, beer, extra munchies, folding chairs, beer) it was off to bed for maybe 5 hours of sleep. Up at 3:00, organize and load up, pick up Chris, and hit the park shortly after 5:30.

My car was already pretty full, so it was nice to run into Jaime (and his big, empty van) at the Lodge. With three sets of hands at this point, set-up goes pretty fast. Lynnor stopped by and dropped off her terrific exchange student, Feli, and shortly thereafter Mary and Denise pull up. With all this help, by 7:00 we were fully stocked and ready to roll. The 2 lead runners came blazing through at about 7:45 (the race started 10-12 minutes late, I think), and then there was a 5-10 minute lull until another group came through (including eventual chick's 50K winner, Meredith Terranova). It's just amazing how fresh all these lead runners look after pushing hard for nearly 13 miles in the Burmese-jungle-heat. Traffic sporadic until maybe 8:15 when the pace of visitors really picked up. I knew from past experience that the runners tend to come in waves and once the fast 25K-ers started mixing in with the slower 50K-ers, we were filling cups and bottles and making PB&J quarters at top speed.

A little later, Chris and I grabbed 5 gallons of water and trekked out to a back-course, unmanned water table Paul had set up about a mile before our aid station. This was our first real taste of warm-day carnage & it didn't disappoint. At least half a dozen people stopped us en route nearly begging for water because "there's no water back there." You don't say. It was indeed fortunate then that Chris and I just happened to be carrying 5 gallons of water on our stroll. When we made it to the table (now with maybe 4.5 gallons of water), it was a little disspiriting to see how many folks had not even attempted to throw their used cups in the easily-accessible garbage bag next to the table. Okay, it was more than a little disspiriting. [Note of trail running etiquette: put your f-ing garbage in the f-ing garbage bag.]

Once back at the aid station, beer-drinking and pain-watching began in earnest, as many runners staggered in as if they'd just crossed the Mojave in July. Appallingly, many of these runners (mostly 25K-ers but some 50K-ers!) weren't carrying any water bottles at all. Hello! It's a week before Memorial Day. In Texas. Might be hot, ya know. Oh well, I'm happy to report that we were prepared for such stupidity, er, oversights and loaded up with lots of ice and extra Coke & Mountain Dew. Needless to say, ice was a popular commodity. As the flow of runners slowed down, many started hanging around the aid station a bit longer before they went out to tackle the final 2.86 miles. As much as I enjoyed providing aid for the "racers" who wasted little time at the aid station, the dawdlers (with whom I share a common bond) are often very entertaining folks. A few took a seat for a few minutes but only a couple dropped.

By 1:45, our job was done and we managed to break everything down and clean up in no time. Dumped the remains of our provisions back at the Lodge with Paul and headed home, exhausted but with a definite feeling of satisfaction. If anyone is considering volunteering at a race, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Not only do you gain a valuable perspective on how much work is involved in making these things happen, but it's also a blast. More pics of The Aid Station That Was Formerly Site 174 (But Is Now Site 142, or something like that) below.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wither Spring?

Since I've lived my entire life in and around this part of Texas, this shouldn't really surprise me, but what the hell happened to Spring? You know, that season between Winter (such as it is in Texas) and our cruel, cruel Summer (bad song reference). Calendar says first week in May. Temperature says last week in June. Yesterday's late-afternoon 6-and-change around Hermann Park and Rice U was a nausea-inducing broiler of a slog. Thermometer in the car read 91. I believe it. Add to that the fumes wafting up from the rush-hour traffic around Rice and the nasty smell of a roof being tarred nearby that accompanied me for at least a mile, and it was a sucknomenal run. Note to self: running around Rice at rush hour is to be avoided. Found myself throwing in lots of little 30-second walk breaks, mostly to keep from passing out. Heat acclimation began in earnest. Gonna be a long summer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Best of Times, Worst of Times, Part I - The Worst of Times

American River 2006

Dude must have been at least 70. 75 maybe. I think he may have been using a walker. "What dude?" you may ask. The old dude who was passing me at mile 48 of the 2006 American River 50, that's who. He wasn't the only one. I'm reasonably certain I was also passed by a woman with no legs and large box turtle. It was one of the "worst of times" indeed. I was worked. Spent. I had nothing. Where did it all go wrong? Maybe it was because I let the first 26 flat, paved miles lure me into a too-fast pace. Maybe it was the next 20 miles of mud and ankle-deep water that comprised the "trail" portion of the race. Maybe my training sucked. Maybe it was all that and the fact that this particular race ends with a lovely 1000 vertical foot climb over the final 3 miles. Yep, 1000 feet, 3 miles. In retrospect, it certainly isn't the toughest climb in these sorts of races. Most of the vertical gain came in the first mile and the last 2 miles were pretty tame and on pavement. But at the time for this flatlander, it was definitely the hardest ascent I'd ever faced. And at mile 47 in only my second 50 mile race, it was an eye-opener. It was the hardest physical thing I'd ever done & I couldn't imagine feeling worse.

Miwok 2007

But feel worse I did. Much worse. For example, Miwok, my first 100K finish. At alternating points in the race I felt wonderful (even giddy) and then (sometimes just minutes later) . . . utterly crappy. But that's the nature of the beast. There will be ups. There will be downs. And they will be repeated and even amplified the longer the race goes on. So what makes Miwok special? Well, Miwok was where I first experienced the uber-bonk. If you've run marathons, you've probably had your experiences with "hitting the wall." 18, 19, 20 miles in, the energy is gone. Your glycogen stores spent, the body begins to feed on itself. It's hard to run. Maybe you walk a little. It sucks. Well, this was hitting the wall on roids. Hitting it and having it fall on top of you. My pacer Chris and I had just come off a long but fun descent (about 1400 vertical feet in 2 miles or so) from Pan Toll (Mile 49.5). I'd made it through some rough patches earlier in the race and was feeling pretty good, especially considering I'd already covered over 50 miles. Once the big descent is done, you've only got maybe 3 and half miles to the next aid station (Highway 1). Not far at all. Unless, that is, you've not been taking in enough (or really any) calories over the past few hours and your body sort of, you know, runs out of fuel. When that happens, especially 52 miles into a race, the hammer comes down shockingly fast and brutally hard. One minute you're okay. The next it's a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. And I don't mean one foot in front of the other running. Or even walking. I mean just managing to move the body forward at all becomes a monumental struggle. Any small roll in the terrain is magnified tenfold. The brain, deprived of fuel, begins to struggle too - the mind goes blank. Everything is fuzzy. You are reduced to your reptilian essence. There is no multitasking. Only singular thought.

In my case that thought was . . . Coke. Make it to the aid station so I can have Coke. Get aid station for Coke. AidstationCoke. Sure, Chris would do what good pacers do and say positive things. "We're close." "You don't look too bad." "Do you realize this is that longest you've ever run? That's awesome." At least I suspect he was saying things like that. I know his lips moved. But all I knew was . . . Coke. Here's the funny part. We knew the aid station was maybe only 3 miles away. Probably less. But in my frame of mind, units of measure begin to lose relevance. They become unmoored from the tangible, the known. To me, 3 miles was a loop around Memorial Park. 3o minutes on a bad day. But this 3 miles was not that 3 miles. Seriously, this 3 miles shared not one similarity with that 3 miles. Because, you see, this 3 miles NEVER FUCKING ENDED. At some point, even Chris's positive pacer demeanor failed as he began to wonder where the fucking aid station was, to proclaim profound thoughts like "3 miles my ass." And then hours (days?) later, when I literally was on the verge of passing out on the trail, we caught sight of it. The Highway 1 Aid Station. A shining beacon on the hill. Well, really just a folding table and a couple of dudes chilling out. The volunteers (saavy ultra veterans no doubt) would not let me sit down ("beware the chair"). Instead, they treated me to multiple cups of, yes, COKE, the miracle drug. And PopTarts (frosted, with sprinkles). And then they sent us on our way.

I felt only marginally better as we walked out to tackle the final 8 miles or so, but caffeine and sugar are God's gifts and they did not let me down. Soon, I was reborn yet again. Maybe we didn't run much during those final miles, but we ran a little. I finished. Called the spouse to let her know I was alive. Ate some real food. Got some swag. Cheered for the very few runners finishing after me. All was right in the world. That is, until a few months ago and the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler. But that's a subject for it's own post. For now, I'll let the picture at the top of this post suffice: Mile 60. The end of my day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Why Not?

Here goes. Been knocking around the idea of blogging about running for a while. Mostly because I enjoy checking out other (usually far more talented) runners' blogs & figured, while I couldn't run 100 miles in 13 hours, 32 minutes, and 20 seconds like certain freakishly-talented runners (not enough hair & too many clothes holding me back), I probably could reflect on running - my own and others' - reasonably well. Not sure what I'll do with the blog now that I've got it. To be sure, a little writing about my own training and racing. Maybe some reflections about the Texas trail running / ultra scene, which is richer and more diverse than many might imagine. Post a few photos. Link to some interesting crap every now and then. No doubt work my favorite late-race-vulgarities into my posts (e.g., "this climb is craptastic" and "fucking grilled cheese"). We'll see.