Hunter Gatherer Survival Run- Fuego y Agua

For months, I’ve been trying to explain what this race is all about: 31 miles, No aid stations (carry your own food and filter and sterilize your water), oh, and you have to “do things” to complete the race. “Like what?”- Well, to start, you have to make your own shoes, you’ve got to make a bow, fletch arrows and then actually hit something with it, you’ve got to make a fire with a bow drill, you know, “things”. Still no comprehension as to why someone would put themselves willingly through this… To say “for the challenge” doesn’t quite describe it. For me, it comes down to the one thing that I’ve looked for since I started ultrarunning: Can I do it?

The short answer is: I didn’t. I “failed” (more on why I would use that word later) when I was timed out of the race after 14 1/2 hours, having completed a little over half the course. The thing about this race, though, is that because I learned so much and kept going despite the silly mistakes I made, it was an accomplishment. That, and the facts that:

  1. Out of about 18 starters, only 3 finished the race (a 300% improvement over last year)
  2. Sections of the course were designed by Barkley and Tour De Giants finisher Nick Hollon
  3. The archery section was designed by Tom Norwood, an excellent archer and lunatic
  4. I learned a ton just training for this race. I now know how to use a survival knife, do a flemish twist, create fire by rubbing sticks together, carve a bow (even with wood from Lowes), make and use a sling and build a deadfall trap.
  5. I lasted for 14 1/2 hours, completed every challenge up to that point and still had legs, even if I didn’t have any time left.
  6. And finally, met a bunch of warriors that can endure more than most people could.
Last Outpost...

Last Outpost…

So, here’s how it went down…

Friday (4pm)- Packet Pick up

Nervous anticipation as we wait for Race Director Josue Stephens. For his race in Nicaragua, he started the race a day early at packet pick up. Last year in this race you had to carry a log up a hill to get your bib. What’s in store for us?

55962448-JGP_6558Turns out, we are being divided up into teams, each person has to build a travois, use them to carry rocks up a ¾ mile hill, fill a six foot diameter circle, then build a cairn in the next 2 ½ hours. The team with the tallest cairn doesn’t have to sleep outside the night before the race. Yikes. 55962447-JGP_6742I end up on team red and we set to work. Hauling a number of rocks up the hill, you quickly find the flaws in your building skills. After the first few rounds, we decide to pair up and get big rocks up the hill on the few decently constructed travois; every few hundred feet, handing off the travois to a “buddy” and getting a few minutes rest. The technique pays off as we hall a number of large flat stones that allows us to build a slightly higher cairn than the white team. We head down for dinner. This is going to be an interesting race…55962446-JGP_6966

(Note: all times are approximate except the start. Even though I had a watch on, I was more focused on pushing on)

Saturday (4am)- Pack and Sandals

The race is a combination of running (31 miles, not counting yesterday’s fun) and skills. First order of the day- make a pack out of paracord and fabric that will hold your approved items (at the bottom of the page on the link) and your food (did I mention there were no aid stations and that you had to filter and sterilize your water?). That done, next you had to make the sandals you were going to run in out of raw materials from Luna Sandals, (NFI) using only your survival knife and a punch. I managed to make a mistake on both of the first two skills that cost me time. First, my pack was ok, but at one point I didn’t cinch it up quite right and something fell out. Luckily, I noticed it quickly, but the memory of that drop haunted me later. IMG_3749Second, I had planned on lacing my sandals in a 5-hole pattern that would keep my feet stable in the shoe. At the last minute based on overheard conversations from veterans about chafing, I abandoned that idea and went with a 3-hole traditional pattern. Stupid.

Having completed this first set of tasks in about 45 minutes or so, I headed out on a short 2 ½ mile out and back, through a river and up a hill. The water and terrain showed the flaws in my sandal design, so as I re-entered the start/finish area, I changed my sandals to a 5-hole pattern. Better fit, but in my haste I made the holes a bit too high up, so they rubbed my pinkie toes raw. I could live with the pain and adjust by taping my toes, but the bigger mistake happened when I unpacked, then repacked my pack, leaving out a Ziploc bag with my medical kit and a number of the items I would need to complete the challenges. I didn’t realize I had simply left them there and by the time I realized they were gone (about 3 hours into the race), I thought they had simply dropped out somewhere on the trail (see haunted by a memory above).

9am- Fruitless Search Completed

Having backtracked from the checkpoint a few miles and two hours later, I had given up the search and was back at the checkpoint.   I thought my race was over.

Luckily, there was no issue with me continuing.  I realized I may not be able to do some of the challenges now, but I still had items I could use, so I headed out.  The next challenge was only a few miles away.  On route, I had to pick up my travois from the night before and carry it down to a section of cliffs.  Here, hidden in the nooks and crannies were arrow shafts- I needed four.  After about 30 minutes of searching in the cliffs, I found the four arrow shafts I needed (thanks to Corinne and Nick for the leeway as there were only four shafts left spread out over the entire cliff).

I had part of a cheeseburger, drank some Tailwind (NFI) and headed back up into the hills to Eagle Cave.  Now, one of the reasons I had decided I could do this run was that I was ensured that the cave from 2013 was not on the list of things we had to do.  Oh, well…

11am- The Hole

Technically a cave, the opening is a 2×2 foot hole in the ground. Tight places and I are not friends I was not looking forward to this. We had to find 3 arrowheads with different colored dots on them. We didn’t have to find 4 arrowheads because when putting the white dot arrows out, three copperheads made their presence known and the bag was abandoned. 7 hours in, I get in the hole, find I’ve caught Angela (the only female competitor in the race), and she’s been crawling around in there for a while, still missing her 3rd arrowhead. I quickly find two, then start crawling back to look in an area she hadn’t explored. I get back there and realize I’ve found the bag of white arrowheads. OK, didn’t they say something about copperheads back here? Time to go… Luckily, on my way back I spotted the third arrowhead I needed, accidentally gave away their position to Angela (giving aid to a fellow survival run is grounds for disqualification) and we both got out of there quickly. Time in the hole: about 15 minutes.

The next section was a “self-navigation” over about a mile or two, bushwhacking the whole time (aka no trails).   I got turned around and by the time I got to the next checkpoint, Angela had beaten me there (even though she left after me).

12 noon- Fletching

An item on our list was four large feathers (which, as I live in a city and don’t have regular winged vertebrate access, I had to buy online) and artificial sinew. I had the feathers, but had lost the sinew (see above). Luckily, we only had to turn in the feathers, and there was sinew provided for us to fletch our arrows. Fletched all four and headed out to the archery range, about 4-5 miles of trails and bushwhacking away.IMG_3761

Next stop: make a bow and shoot it.

2:00 (ish)- Bow Time

Making a survival bow out of a Juniper branch is difficult, but easier than trying to make one out of the 1×2 I tried to carve with my survival knife at home. When I arrived, there were a few runners there finishing up their bows and I felt good that I had (kind of) caught back up.   It still took a while and I had to find a different branch halfway through the construction as the first branch turned out to be unsuitable. Once that was carved, stringing the bow consisted of making a Flemish twist with the string and then stringing the bow. I had the twist down, but couldn’t get the bowstring to stay taught. We then could practice with our bow as much as we wanted, but then had four chances to climb about 10-15 feet into a tree and shoot a “bear” about 15 yds away. After about 8 practice shots, I had hit nothing. It was getting close to 3:30 and I knew I was up against time, so I decided to give it a go, resigned that this might be my first missed challenge. Climbed the tree, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, pulled the string back as far as I could and let it fly…right through the heart. Well, 1/1000 of an inch into the bear at about where the heart was, but it stuck, surprising myself, the guy in charge of the checkpoint and the bear. BearI jumped out of the tree and picked up my bow and arrows (which I had to carry with me for the rest of the race).

Got the symbols for the challenges I had completed to that point, stamped them into my copper disk with my survival knife (chisel and nail having been lost with the bag) and stamped out my first word: F-A-I-L. To explain, the disk had four sections. By completing all the challenges in a section, you get a word. Do all the challenges and finish the race and they spell out I DID NOT FAIL. They build up over the race and you only get the NOT if you complete everything. One word down and it was only just before 4 o’clock. :)

Before leaving on the next leg (about 6 miles), I was told that I had to be through the next two checkpoints by 7:30 pm. I remembered the next section of running as being particularly brutal with a lot of bushwhacking, ridiculously rocky and cactus-y. On top of that, there was very little shade and while it wasn’t hot for Texas, it was pretty warm. Angela had just finished her bow making and so we agreed to head out together. 12 hours into any race, having someone to talk to distracts you from what I like to call “the demons”. Those voices that try to convince you to stop, remind you constantly of what hurts, and generally exist to beat you down. We ran, hiked and bushwhacked for 2 hours to cover that 6 mile stretch. (did I mention the terrain was pretty brutal?)

6:00pm- Bow and Sling

Rolling into what would be our final checkpoint, the last two skills were to shoot a target placed uphill from your position (by the way, once you made something you had to carry it. Carrying a bow and four precariously fletched arrows through all the bushwhacking made it even more fun and we found more than a few remnants of previous runners’ demise as we picked up the odd feather or arrow that had been claimed by the unfriendly vegetation.)

RPXD0007Hit the target on the third try (of only four allowed, so just barely) and then looked around for material to make my sling. My missing bag contained most of the material I needed, so I improvised and found someone else’s dropped sling and completed the challenge. By then it was 6:30 and we needed to go another 4 difficult miles, start a fire, boil water in a cup made out of cactus and then make tea with medicinal herbs we needed to identify in the next hour. We weren’t going to make and called it there.

We ended up 12th and 13th, outlasting 6 of the 18 runners that had started the race. A further 6 made it to the next checkpoint and only 3 finished the race. I felt good and had completed everything put in front of me. Still probably wouldn’t have finished the entire race (leaving the next checkpoint, you had to carry a 20 pound rock for 2 (I think) miles, build a deadfall trap with it, then run some more before getting in the freezing cold river for a 1.25 mile “swim” upstream.

We were driven back to the start.  I ate some jerky, watched the first and second place guys come in and then crashed hard.

Everyone out there was an incredible athlete, both physically and mentally, and it was humbling to participate and learn from them. As I said at the beginning, I learned a lot.  I like the dual nature of the challenge this type of race gives and will do it again if I can find the time to train properly.  Next year sees the race moving to California, so I need to go practice my fire making….Success will be in getting further the next time…

RPXD0001

the idiot

PS- Big thanks to Jeff Genova for the great pics and to RD Josue and everyone else who made this happen!

Mark Twain 50- We are all Mad…

“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained” – Mark Twain

So it was, standing in the perfect dark just before 6 am with over 100 others, the cool of a 45 degree morning causing every manner of clothing combination to be applied, that I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why I run long distances. It can be summed up by calling it a type of madness, one that can drive you to do seemingly irrational things in the quest for (peace? satisfaction? exhilaration? pain? all of the above?). There are degrees to the madness (some today are running 100 miles, others like myself, “only a half”) but it’s only apparent from within. From the outside, we should all be committed.

After months of training in weather not even remotely resembling this, we took off. Luckily, the change of weather was in our favor. For now, we basked in the coolness.

The Mark Twain Race is held in the Mark Twain National Forest near Potosi, MO. It’s a 25 mile loop with about 2,500 feet of gain for each loop. The hills are runnable/walkable without them being “hands on knees” or crawlable (and I’ve run a few of those courses) and there are some good runnable stretches (most notably between the second and third aid stations-miles 9 through 15 on each loop). I ran it twice, some ran it four times. Here’s a link to my garmin data:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/590492604

The plan for the race was to do the first half in about 5 to 5 ½ hours and then make adjustments at the halfway point. My goal was not to go out blazing or push myself to the point of pain, but run according to Wu Wei- Without Effort. I had my Fuego y Agua Survival Run in a few weeks and didn’t want to take myself out of that race before it began. I had also decided to run in my Altra Olympus’ (NFI) for the same reason. I would normally be running in Luna Sandals (NFI- actually, that goes for every brand I mention, I don’t benefit monetarily or otherwise from any of it) but with the start temperature projected to be about 45 degrees, running on numb feet was not something I wanted to do. Also, we had run the course about a month before and there were places where it was too rocky for my wimpy feet, so I went with cushioning.

“Camping” the night before (putting down the seats in the jeep and sleeping on an air mattress in the back) was something I was getting better at, and I woke up fairly refreshed in the cold dark of pre-dawn. Start time was 6 am and we all had headlamps on to start (insert video). The first few miles were S-L-O-W as over 100 people (50 and 100 milers started together) wound their way in the dark on single track in the woods. It started to open up about mile 3 and I was able to (kind of) get my pace going. About 5 miles in, we hit the first aid station. A slight pause there, and then I got out as quickly as possible to stay ahead of the packs of runners. I was using Tailwind for the first time in my water bottles, combining hydration with fueling, and that, plus the cool temps meant I didn’t dally in too many aid stations for too long. In true MT style, though, all were staffed with incredible volunteers and had both the usual food you’d see, plus each team made something special (pancakes, soup, burritos, sandwiches) so I could have just run without anything and been well cared for!

The next four miles had some climb, but nothing too bad, and I hit the second aid station at about mile 9, still slower than I’d like to, but picking up pace. I had the great fortune to run with a number of people at various times and the conversations with Shane from Georgia, Shalini- doing her 1st hundred, and Lee- who I swapped jokes with for 3 miles and who tripped on exactly the same tiny root with the same foot both times I was running with him at the 18 mile mark (and again at mile 43) helped the miles flow by.

Coming out of this aid station, we had our one creek crossing and I managed to dunk one foot in. However, I was dry within a mile and never had issues. I used Run Goo on my feet under my socks and for the first time (I think ever) had no blisters. Coming out of that aid station, there was a bit of climbing (about 200 ft in the next mile), but then you could really fly (relatively speaking). I started to get closer to my goal of 5-5 ½ hrs and rolled into the 3rd aid station at mile 15 feeling good.  

Into the final aid station at mile 20, I hung out for a bit and spoke with some of the volunteers, then it was a nice easy run back to the start/finish. Right before the end, I caught up with Shalini, and we ran the last few miles into the start/finish area together. First lap done in 5:34, so close to what I wanted to do. I then messed around with my drop bag and it was Shalini shouting at me to get going that got me motoring out of there. I had spent about 7-8 minutes in the area, so knew we needed to move. I felt really good at this point, so good that I started worrying I was missing something. Oh well, back out into the wild…

Lap two started much more quickly. Running on and off with Shalini and other runners, I soon started passing people. Again, feeling really good but wondering if it was all going to come crashing down at some point. I made it into the first two aid stations more quickly than the first loop (no conga lines this time and it was light out). For some reason the 4 miles between aid station 1 and 2 seemed long, so I decided to pull out the Ipod and listen to the Ricky Gervais podcast I had downloaded. The thought was that music can distract me, but to be truly distracted, I’d rather be laughing hysterically. It worked because the next 6 miles between aid stations 2 and 3 (miles 34 to 40) went by in a flash. At the beginning, I thought this would be the crucial part of my race: Where I would start to feel doubts creep in, I’d start hurting and would entertain thoughts best left unthought. Never happened.

I caught Lee again at our usual place and as he prepared himself to trip on the root, we passed two runners. Once past them, they started to keep pace with us and I started to get nervous. We were about 7 miles from the finish- I don’t like to get passed in the last 10 miles if I can help it, so I decided to push it. I sped up, leaving Lee to his unerring pace and caught up with another 100 miler. I ran with her for a while and then started to hear the two other runners behind us. My quads were starting to tighten up and I still had over 5 miles to go. This could get ugly…

As we ran into a descent, I decided I had two choices: keep running steadily (but slowly) and hope my quads didn’t lock up, or let them run free and risk tripping on a root or rock (Not sure if I was getting my feet up as high as I could, so tripping was more than a possibility).  I decided to risk it and picked up the pace.  What felt like flying was really 12(ish) minute miles, but I was nearing the end, so that’s what I had.  I caught 3 more runners about 3/4 of a mile from the finish line and inched past them to finish 10th overall in 11:13.  As close to an even split as I’ve ever run and only 3 1/2 hours behind the winner. :)

Overall, a great course and great support!  The runners on the course really helped pass the time and the aid station volunteers were the best I’ve ever experienced.

Next is the survival run.  Madness is growing…

Just look what you did!

On July 12, SouthSide Early Childhood Center will have it’s official ribbon cutting!

Whether you supported the runs, came to the gala, volunteered at the school, or simply gave of your time or money, give yourself a self-five:tumblr_m8qtfucGiD1r31dt0o4_400Because IT HAPPENED!

The new school is amazing (see pics below) and I wanted to thank everyone that has helped us get there. Instead of the 1950’s era cinderblock school, the kids have a bright new place to learn and play!

It's Massive!

It’s Massive!

 

Here’s the front entrance, showing secure entry, and admin offices above!

 

Welcome!

Welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

Once past the front doors, there’s a bright and open reception area, with secure doors leading to the classrooms.

Infant Room!

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s one of the classrooms for our infants!  (We have children from 6 weeks old to 5 years old in our classrooms).  This is just one example of the great space and light we now have for our children.

 

 

And, when they get hungry, not only do we have an incredible kitchen…

Wow!

Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we also have a kid’s kitchen where they can learn to prepare meals, and then pass them through to the chef to cook!

Future Iron Chefs?

Future Iron Chefs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of our new space, we’re also able to increase the diversity of our students by bringing in a small number of full pay students.  We are staying true to our mission of nurturing, educating and inspiring our children, and bringing in economic diversity helps them even more!

I hope you have the time to come down and see the new school for yourself. Check out their site at http://southside-ecc.org/ if you want to arrange a tour.  I was only able to give you a small glimpse, and as you know, the real magic is done by our outstanding teachers and staff.  Come see them in action!

I also hope you continue to gain inspiration from this journey we’ve been on. The kids are the start and finish.  They continue to struggle, but will have to struggle less because of great places like SouthSide.  You made this happen through your dedication, time and money and for that I can’t thank you enough. I started this by drawing inspiration from the children, but found so many more sources along the way.

Stay Inspired!

IMG_3356

The Idiot

Skechers Go Run Ultra Initial Review

Just took a pair of the Skechers GRU on a quick 1 mile treadmill test. I’ll do more over the weekend, but here’s my initial reaction:

Fluffy

But good fluffy. I felt they were extremely soft and think they will be interesting to take out on a groomed trail (tomorrow) and more of a technical trail (Sunday). The insert (some call it a sock liner) was something I took out after the first 1/2 mile, and it made a big difference. The claim is that the drop is 8mm with the insert and 4 without. I’m used to running in zero drop, so 8mm felt like I was in high heels. 4 mm was still noticeable, but bearable for the entire 1/2 mile I ran in them.

IMG_3271Looking at it compared to my other regulars (Luna Mono and Altra Olympus):

  1. The tread is the most aggressive, which I like, especially after slipping around in the mud in my Mono’s last weekend.
  2. It’s narrower than the other two, though and hopefully on my longer run on Sunday I’ll find out if this is going to be a problem. Taking the insert out also opened up the toe box, so it may not be an issue.
  3. It has a drop (it’s been so long since I’ve run with one, I’ll be interested to see how my legs react)
  4. The weight is dead in between the two.  My Mono’s weigh 5 oz, the Skechers weigh 9.1 (as I’ll run in them) and the Olympus checks in at 13.5 oz.
  5. It feels, as noted before, “fluffy”. We’ll see if that’s a good or bad thing on the rocks.

Technical Comparisons:

GRU- 4 mm drop, 23/27 mm stack height (fore/heel), 9.1oz

Altra Olympus- 0 mm drop, 32 mm stack height, 13.5oz

Luna Mono- 0 mm drop, 11 mm stack height, 5.0 oz

Medium Distance Update:

So, took them out this morning on a combination of groomed trail and asphalt path in Forest Park, then just for fun, took them up and down Art Hill a few times

IMG_3272

Overall, they performed well.  Fairly light, strong grip going up the hill and although I knew I was running on rocks on the trail, I didn’t feel every one.  Often runners talk about having “ground feel” when running, especially when rating minimalist shoes.  I’ve found that while I occasionally do like to feel the ground, I prefer “ground awareness”, especially on long distance runs.  “Ground Feel” tends to translate into “Sore Feet” for me, and I prefer to minimize pain (enough of it occurs in other areas- falling, cramping, etc.) if I can.  The testing will continue tomorrow as I take them out onto some “real trails” on the Lewis and Clark Trail with some good climbs, creek crossings, some mud (it’s been raining a bit) and a bit more distance.

To be continued…

After 13.5 in mixed terrain (mud, a little bit of technical/rock, a few hills, but mostly single track) I have one word:

Brilliant

The shoes performed really well, carving through the rocks (aware without beware), confidently climbing in mud with nary a slip!

Fellow SLUG Mark on the rocks

Fellow SLUG Mark on the rocks

The shoes lost a bit of their shine in the mud, but the deep lugs and generous spacing between them meant the mud only stayed on the tops of the shoesIMG_3301

Not the bottom!IMG_3302

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, 13.5 isn’t a marathon or an ultra, so it still remains to be seen if they cause other long distance/time problems, but I didn’t feel or see any hotspots, and without the sock liner (as I mentioned above) there was plenty of room for my feet.  My foot did move a bit in them on the downhill, but that’s probably because I prefer to lace them looser.  I may not do an ultra in them until December, but until then, if you’re looking for a light, roomy, grippy trail shoe, this just might be it!

The Idiot

Zen and the Art of Mountain Running- Nirvana Big Bear 50k Race Report

IMG_3012The howling of the wolves was our starting gun, the rattle of the diamondbacks our cowbells. Nineteen intrepid souls began their looping journey in the semi-dark shadow of Crafts Peak near Big Bear, California. Some had ambitions of completing a 100 mile expedition, my goals were more modest- complete 31 and still have enough strength in my legs to work the gas pedal that would propel my car back to Las Vegas.

It was 37 degrees at the start, but warmed quickly, and soon I was down to shorts and a t-shirt. Early on, my toes were a bit numb in my sandals and I had another pair of shoes stashed at the start just in case the course was more technical than I could handle in my flip-flops. Turned out, that wasn’t going to be an issue.

IMG_3024Starting at about 6,500 ft was a new experience for me, and the first hill reminded me of the difficulties of running at altitude (well, at least more altitude than I was used to). The first two miles took nearly 30 minutes as I adjusted, and the pack drifted away from me.  As this was the Nirvana Big Bear race, I tried to place my mind in a present state and breathe.  After the second or third hill, I tried to focus on getting my heart rate under 200 and making it to the end.

IMG_3058The course itself was a series of three loops, the first two (of 1.5 and .5 a mile respectively) brought us up to just under 7,000 ft twice and then the 8 mile loop pushed us to the top at around 7,300 ft, then threw us into a series of hills before chasing us down the mountain and back to the finish.  Total elevation gain was about 4,800 ft per Garmin. Two well stocked and excellently volunteered aid stations were set up so that you actually hit them three times (miles 5, 8, and the start/finish).  This was the initial running of the NBB, and RD John Wog put on a fantastic race!

IMG_3091Because of the short loops at the start, I had the chance to glimpse a few other runners, but with only 19 on a 10 mile stretch, I didn’t expect to have much sense of where everyone was.  I am competitive, but generally not a competitor in these races, but I do occasionally gain purpose from knowing someone is just in front or just behind me. My first indicator that something different was happening at this race came as I rolled into the first aid station.  I had caught up to and was running with one of the 50 milers, and as we came to the table, the volunteer checking us off said to me: “You’re in third place!”  Awesome! I love being in front only 5 miles into a race! (he typed sarcastically) Something must be wrong. I don’t think I’m going too fast.  Maybe the wolves are actually out on the course (which, by the way, it turns out that there are wolves in Big Bear, but they’re at a sanctuary 20 miles away, maybe I heard coyotes…) We loped out of the aid station to complete a 3+ mile loop, and didn’t pass anyone. As we sauntered back through the checkpoint, I confirmed that I was actually in 3rd, and began the descent to the start.  I forgot to mention that I was holding my iPhone on a stick, trying to get a time-lapse of the first loop of the course.  That didn’t really work, but it did allow me to get a few good shots without really stopping.

As I made the transition, I passed a guy who looked like he was running the 50k, but I wasn’t sure.  “How can you look at someone and tell what they’re running?”, I hear you ask.  Let’s just say I was one with the mountain at this point, and because when I asked him what distance he was running, he said “50k”. Hypothesis confirmed.

Ok, now I’m technically in second place and we still have 20 miles to go.  Based on my past race experience, that’s not going to hold unless I do something different.  Time to channel my inner coyote and run like the wind on a becalmed sea.  I actually did the second loop in almost exactly the same time as the first loop (around 2:05) but because there were very few times you had long straightaways, I had no idea how much distance I had put on #2 or how far in front the leader was.  It was getting warmer and my heightened senses told me the leader was close…and that I would need a shower.

IMG_3133I bombed the downhill at a 12 minute pace J and came roaring into the start/finish to begin my final loop.  Another runner was there and as we left together we started chatting. He was running sleep-deprived from a 5 day old newborn and wasn’t sure what distance he had signed up for.  In addition he had kicked a boulder, so was struggling a bit on the downhills.  I had to stop to adjust my straps as my homemade lacing system was starting to rub, and by the time I was done he was way up ahead of me. It took me a while to catch up to him and we stayed close for a while before his injury started to slow him down even more.  I moved forward with the odd sense that something had just happened.

Leading a race is never something I had done and it was a bit terrifying.  Confirmation that I was now in the lead came at the midway aid station, so with 5 miles to go, I needed to step it up.  Rooting around in my head, I found the coyote again and woke him up, thundering out of the aid station and stupidly running a 10 minute mile that left my quads shaking.  I caught Ed the Jester (he was only 3 loops into his eventual 100 mile odyssey), talked to him for a bit and learned we both knew some of the same people, then power hiked the last hill into the final checkpoint, leaving only a little over a mile left to the finish.  I saw Doug (the eventual 3rd place finisher) hitting the aid station as I was going by the other way, so I knew I had a little over 3 miles on him, but didn’t know where Dustin, the sleep deprived, injured new father was.  The coyote was licking his paws, so I hobbled my best into the finish area, only to be reminded that I had completed 30 miles, not 31, so I needed to do two ½ mile loops to complete the distance.  A guide was provided and he assured me that we had no more hills to climb, so we set off at a respectable pace and finished in 6:38.  As it was, Dustin was about 30 minutes behind me and Doug was 11 minutes behind him. First place felt good! Maybe I should start looking for sponsors?IMG_3187

According to Wikipedia, Nirvana literally means “blown out”, and in the Buddhist context nirvana refers to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished. I’m embarrassed to report that I didn’t achieve Nirvana.  My mind is still all over the place, this race did not extinguish my desire to run, I do have an aversion to pain, and am still deluded.  I did almost blow out a quad, though, so maybe I’m close… :)IMG_3195

Note: Still Working on my American Odyssey Relay race report from the week before.  Trying to get other’s perspective, otherwise you’ll only hear about 1/12 of the race!

The Monkey vs The Mountain vs The Mafate

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A (somewhat serious) review of three shoes I wear/have worn: The Luna Mono, The Altra Olympus and the Hoka Mafate 2

So, I used to run in the Hoka Mafate’s, I’ve been running in the Luna Mono’s for about 6 months and just got my pair of Altra Olympus’ and I thought to myself: Has anyone reviewed/compared the 3?  A quick search showed a scattering of reviews, but none that compared all three, so I decided to take on the task for others, like me, that are looking for guidance in a sea of choices.  Arguably, all three are different in their own way, but there are a lot of similarities that make the comparisons less than ridiculous.

My conclusion is at the end of this brief review, so if you’re the impatient type, you can scroll down. ☺

First: The look

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The first thing you’ll notice when wearing any of these three shoes is that other people will tend to stare.  Both the Hokas and the Altras put you on a platform a few inches above the normal running rabble and the sheer volume of the shoes causes looks.  The Luna’s, while garnering a slightly different response, still score high on the gaping stare spectrum, especially when worn when it’s cold outside.

Next: The feel

For me, this is one of the key differentiators and the reason why I’d choose one over the others.  The Hokas have great cushioning, but my foot sits deep in the shoe.  The result is a rubbing on the side of my ankle that caused me to cut a notch out of the shoe (noticeable in the picture above).  Also, for me the shoes are a bit too narrow and for longer distances, as my foot swells, it rubs.  This is the hurdle, for me, where these shoes fall.  Raw skin and blisters should not be a part of any activity you love to do.  I will speak of them no more

The Lunas have their own special rubbing points, but I’ve found if I wear toe socks for really long runs, I have no issues at all.  The contact of the strap between the toes can be alleviated either that way or with a lubricant like Body Glide (NFI) and the buckle on the top of the foot can be dealt with the same way.  The heel strap rubbing is eliminated (in my opinion) with the addition of a tech strap, or additional straps as shown in the picture.  Once that is sorted, they are a lot of fun to run in.  Sockful or sockless, running on the road or on trail is comfortable and oddly freeing.  No worries about running through water or mud, it all just runs through.  I do get the occasional rock, but no more than wearing shoes without gaiters, and it is considerably easier to get rid of them than completely untying the shoes. Also, after a couple of runs, they mold to the shape of your foot, which makes them feel great.

The Altras, in my opinion, fixed a lot of issues I had with the Hokas.  Just as padded (in my opinion) on the bottom, MUCH wider toebox (although I haven’t run an ultra in them yet, so no idea on rubbing) and the collar around the ankle is a lot lower, so there shouldn’t be any rubbing there.  The few runs I’ve taken them on have been a lot of fun and the zen-like tread pattern works well on loose dirt/gravel.

Next: Form

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I run using the Chi method, hitting on the balls/mid foot unless my form gets sloppy.  Both the Lunas and the Altras can accommodate this style as they are zero drop (no difference between the heel height and the toe height).  As you can see from the pictures above, there is a slight difference in the amount of cushioning between the two :) , and that leads me to:

Finally: The conclusion

To recap, I wanted to love the Hokas, but they weren’t made for my spread out, swelling feet.  If you remember, I ran Death Valley in a pair of Hokas, but switched out between them and a different model of Altras.  I ended up having to cut relief holes in the Hokas to avoid re-aggravating the blisters.

The new Altra Olympus appears, at first run, to be all that was missing in the Hokas, I like the cushioning, the depth and the width.  I have two races coming up in the next few months and will run at least one of them in the Altras.  For me, if it’s too cold, or the course is ridiculously technical or long, I think they’ll be my go-to shoe.  I like minimalist, but I’m not a masochist.

The Lunas, however, are my go-to for everything else.  I love the idea of strengthening my foot muscles and running more naturally and I love how the sandals pretty quickly molded to my feet.  I have over 200 miles on my current pair, and they’re still going strong.

Basically, I run because I enjoy it.  I’m usually nowhere near a podium or a course record and I like to be able to walk and talk after a race, not collapse in a quivering heap.  I will pick one of these shoes over the other based on the type of experience I want to have (with the exception of the Hokas, did I mention that?).  If I want to bound around like a deer (or a monkey), I’ll take the Lunas, If I want to plow through a mountain, I’ll reach for Olympus.  I may have found the perfect pairs of shoes for me, at opposite ends of the spectrum, but covering it all.  I’m running in the swamps in Florida next week at the DWD Green Swamp 50k, so I’ll probably be monkey-ing around down there!

I have no financial interest in anything I mentioned here, but I do have friends that work for/sell both the Lunas and the Altras.  If that, in your mind, constitutes a conflict of interest, I’m really sorry I wasted your time.  My recommendation would be to go out and see what works for you. ;)

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1 Inspired Idiot

28 Miles on a Safety Pin

IMG_2402 Author’s Note: This report is late due to the ongoing dialog with major motion picture companies on the eventual film rights to this story.  As those negotiations seem to have broken down on a number of fronts, I’ve felt it important to release the story and worry about whether or not Matthew McConaughey could or couldn’t actually run this far for another day.

Running in sandals gives you a feeling unlike any I’ve ever experienced.  No material to rub your toes raw, the wind freely blows through the hairs on your toes and with the one’s I was wearing (Luna Mono’s- I have no financial interest in mentioning them, but I do know someone that works there and I did spend the better part of the Fuego y Agua getting to know and like him.  He did also teach me how to add another strap to make them conform to my feet, so that may bias my thoughts towards these sandals versus others.  Void where prohibited, etc.) there was enough padding to keep me going through the 31 paved miles of paths of Nashville and set a PR of 5:23.  But that’s only part of it.IMG_2406

The real story is of a guy named Jason from Nashville, who ran the full 50 mile version of this race in his Luna’s as his first attempt at 50 miles in only his second ultra. Not only that, his ingenious use of a safety pin from his race bib kept him from dropping out of the race 22 miles in.  Jason started, like the majority of the other 184 runners, at 7:00 am on a bright, but slightly chilly, November the 5th.  I briefly saw him at the start, noticing that he, like I, was clad in Luna’s.  IMG_2410A few early stops to take some pictures and adjust my straps (still trying to figure out the “best” fit) put me behind him, but as I ran and chatted with different people (like just about every ultra I’ve been in, the runners all have great stories and challenges and it helps the miles fly by), I started to catch up.  I saw him again as we neared the end of the first 16 mile loop (the hilly one).

IMG_2412We were flying by my standards (sub 10 minute miles) and once I found out he was running the 50 mile, it was his first, and he was way ahead of his goal pace, we agreed to stay together,  making sure we stayed quick without blowing up.  He had an earlier, thinner version of the sandals on that he had been running in for almost a year, and we swapped stories and advice (both experienced and read) as the miles rolled past.  We ran past the finish line to start the second loop and into the more isolated section of the course.  Staying mostly on the paved path, we soon veered off into a grassy section at mile 18 and dodged roots and logs for about 2 ½ miles. Pace had slowed at this point to just over 10 minutes, but we both still felt good.  We caught a few people, and then came back out onto the pavement.  I can’t remember if it was a speed bump or just a foot drag, but at about mile 22, the front of Jason’s sandal caught and he pulled the toe strap right out of the bottom of the sandal.

Over the next few minutes we tried everything- tying a knot in the strap (not enough leather), running with the strap as it was (no dice), running ½ and ½ (one foot barefoot, again a non-starter).  Jason finally got the strap to go through the hole in the bottom and sit there, but we knew it wasn’t a long term fix.  Luckily, the next aid station was only about a mile away, so we slowly shuffled there, trying to think of a fix.  Of course, if I had all my survival implements from the previous race with me, we could have come up with a complicated solution that would have involved me cutting off a toe, but unfortunately, I didn’t bring them.  As we came into the aid station, we started to think about alternatives, and the idea of using one of the safety pins on Jason’s bib surfaced.  IMG_2417IMG_2419IMG_2423After only a few more minutes, we had the solution and motored out of the aid station!

My turn around point was only another half mile up the road, but after testing it, Jason declared himself ready to go and kept on.  Meanwhile, I turned around, and continued my race for the last 6 or so miles with the usual paranoia that sets in late in the race while running alone.  Is that someone catching me? What was that noise? I only went how far since the last time I looked at my watch?? Where is the bridge?  My GPS must be messed up, I know it’s not this far!  Luckily, although I saw a group, and they did nearly catch me, I was able to gut it out and finish 4th in my age group and 12th overall.  The real question was, what happened to Jason?

I got a text from him later that day that he finished in 12:43 after bonking around mile 35, he rallied and clicked his way to the finish line.  There are a lot of inspiring stories in the ultra world on overcoming adversity.  The distance and the time combine to throw a lot of reasons to quit at you.  A first attempt at 50 miles is daunting. Having your shoe fall apart would seem to most to be reason to quit.  Having a safety pin as the only thing holding it together for 8+ hours had to be a constant mind game and I draw inspiration from Jason’s perseverance.  My hat is off to him- look for the film in the 2015 summer releases!IMG_2425

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