Moved by the Spirit- Spirit of the Osage 50k report

(Note: this race was held on 10/20.  Apologies for the late report)

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Not the farm, but an interesting country church

In the beautiful hills of Missouri, about halfway between St Louis and Kansas City, lies Osage County.  There are no stoplights in the entire county, and the land is dotted with farms.  Just off Highway HH, the hills rise to a peak at the home of race directors David and Victoria White.
This is where we started and ended our jaunt- three loops (and a short out and back) on a combination of paved and gravel roads.  As they lived at the highest point, each loop was capped by a mile long climb that brought you into the waiting arms of the aid station.  The temptation was to linger, but with the countryside beckoning, and knowing that a return trip would only take a few more hours, you left with that great feeling of one more lap in the books.

My strategy from the start was to stay at the back and stay disciplined.  The only elevation profile I could find said that there was about 1200 feet of gain for the entire distance.  That turned out to be per loop (note: always pay attention), so 3600 for the entire 31 mile distance!

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Not game ending, but not exactly what I was prepared for. I took the camera out on the first loop to get some shots, knowing I could drop it for the next two (and knowing that my desire to take pictures is inversely related to the distance I’d already covered).  I also was experimenting running in Luna (NFI) sandals and had “real shoes” ready at the end of loop aid station just in case. Loop 1 started well and I was able to chat with a few people and finally caught up with Chris Tallman about halfway through the loop. He had stopped to take a picture of a fairly uninterested bull and we decided to run the rest of the race together, swapping stories and enjoying the run. IMG_2326 Loop 1, about 11 miles, we finished in just over 2 hours and with the next two loops being shorter, we thought around a 6 hour finish was doable.  The Lunas were holding up well, so I dropped the camera and we started loop 2.

On loop 2 we started to catch and pass a few people.  In a 3 loop race, in my opinion, the second loop is the hardest mentally.  The early race euphoria has worn off, you’re seeing the same scenery for the second time (no matter how beautiful) and you know you are going to have to do it again when you’re done.  Having someone to run with helps as the conversation usually makes the miles go by largely unnoticed. That was loop two and as we hit the bottom of the last hill, I had an unexpected visit from John Cash (working aid stations after completing the 20k) saying I had an urgent phone call.  OK, so into his truck and back to the start line, I was on the phone for a good 40 minutes, but thankful that everything was resolved and was able to get back to the run.  I caught a ride back to the bottom of the hill and started again.  One note, I did wimp out and change into shoes while on the phone, so now I was ready to do the last lap plus a mile.

On my way up the hill, I ran into Justin Handy, a good friend and fellow SLUG.  I had spoken to a few people during the race that had told me this was their first ultra and I told Justin how unusual I thought that was.  He surprised me by telling me that this was his first as well (we had run a number of long training runs together, so I assumed he was a veteran)!  Ok, that 40 minute call served two purposes and one was to put me right where I was so I could run with Justin.  On the last loop we took turns motivating each other to run, run faster or walk faster.  Made it up the last hill and into the finish!  I was really glad I could be there for his first ultra and we devoured a few brats, some chili and a few beverages and enjoyed the great spread put on by Dave and Victoria.  All in all, a great day, a big change from my race two weeks earlier, but once again, a chance to run and talk with some great people.  The camaraderie is the biggest difference between these runs and the 10,000+ marathons, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  On to Nashville two weeks later for (what I assume) is going to be the flattest ultra I’ve ever run!

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Ain’t no Fuego like a Texas Fuego!

IMG_2305_edited-1Legends tell of a place deep in the heart of Texas where fire and water join the hills to try to destroy all who enter.  The sun burns, the water is undrinkable and the buzzards circle.  We entered this place willingly, and (thankfully) it spit us out whole…

The first annual Fuego y Agua (US) was held at Camp Eagle near Rocksprings Texas. The race offered four levels of challenge (50 and 100k “run only” and 50 and 100k survival runs <details here>).  I chose the easiest, and it still was one of the longest 50k’s I’ve ever “run”.  I finished in 9:51, which was good enough for 6th overall in the 50k run (out of 13 runners, one of whom dropped out (DNF)).  In the 50k survival category, 10 of the 23 DNF’d and only 1 person did all the challenges and finished the 50k (in 16 hrs, 22 min).  No one finished the 100k in either event.  To say race director Josue Stephens had created a challenge is an understatement.

The survivalists started at 4:30 AM and the runners at 5:30. The reason they started early was they had to make the running sandals they were going to run in.  IMG_2210Materials were provided by Luna (NFI) and armed with a knife, a sheet of rubber and some strapping, they went to work.  The day before they had to carry a log (weight commensurate with their own weight) up a hill to get their race bib.  Crazy.

By the time we woke up and meandered down there, they were putting together their sandals and their “packs” (they had to make a pack out of a shirt or bandana, no hydration packs here).  All had finished and set off before we got the go signal, and at 5:30 we ran off into the dark of Camp Eagle to begin our odyssey.

We quickly caught the survival runners (they had that same log on their backs as they ascended and then descended a pretty steep hill (100ft straight up, then 159 down to the riverbed)). We cheered them on as they took their logs into the river for a swim while we ran along the bank and back up into the hills.  We didn’t see any of them again, and as noted before, a number of them never made it.

I was fortunate to run into two veteran runners- Tom Norwood and Francois “Flint” Bordeau and we ran together for most of the race, only parting when it became apparent that they were in much better shape than I was (around the 40k mark we decided that I should use my own two legs to run rather than have them continue to drag me on the litter they had fashioned out of oak branches).  They are the reason I was able to finish at all, much less place so well.  The combination of Tom’s running skills (he wore Luna sandals the entire time) and Flint’s East Canadian tracking skills (we avoided what we were pretty sure was a rabid wolf in the first few hours) got us through a number of interesting places on the course.

We were spared navigating the more treacherous parts of the course in the dark, but as the sky brightened, so did the metaphorically maniacal glee in our RDs eyes. While the pace could indeed pick up as we could now see, we were led into areas where men fear to tread.  Up hills, down gullies and full of bushwhacking (seemingly endless crawling over/under/through trees/bushes/rocks/cacti).  Our pace slowed considerably, but having 3 sets of eyes to find the next marker assured us we were heading in the right direction (and not towards an untimely fate) and helped us make up time.  By a few hours in, we figured we were near the middle of the pack.  We reached the first checkpoint with water and decided to take a break and fill up.  checkpointThe water was in a giant round tub fed by a well that needed to be sterilized, but not necessarily filtered. We had passed 3 runners, two of whom then re-passed us at the checkpoint.  We got of there quickly, determined to catch them again and hopefully stay ahead of them.

It took us a bit, (more ups and downs, a bit of bushwhacking), but we caught them again and they were struggling.  Hudson and Chris were both running their first ultra (Chris in Lunas), having decided to run it only a few weeks before (unbelievably). Chris had knee issues and the heat was getting to Hudson.  We stayed with them for a bit, gave them some salt pills and words of encouragement, and then headed on.  This was about 12-13 miles into the race and it was a testament to them that they not only kept going, but finished well.

So, having passed them, we descended back into the special hell that Josue designed, on our way to the halfway point (15.87 miles, 4hrs 44 min).  It was at this point that we heard the incredible.  There were only three 50k runners ahead of us!  Visions of podiums and paparazzi spurred us out of the checkpoint.

I was feeling pretty good at this stage, but I wasn’t eating enough (he now says in hindsight).  To keep us occupied, though, there were a lot of interesting things to see and do.

Including what I can only think is “forest bowling” bowl

 

 

Blooming cactus staring cactus

 

 

 

 

 

Spider avoiding spider

 

 

 

 

and of course, the one thing you always (read never) do in a 50k, rock climbing!

The ups and downs faded away, and the course now became runnable.  This initially confused us as we were sure we had missed a turn somewhere- this part actually looked like a trail!  The long day of climbing started to take its toll on me, though and as Tom and Flint hit their stride, mine hit me back.

As I mentioned before, I hadn’t been eating enough as I was trying to “listen to my body” and go by feel rather than by schedule.  It worked for about 35-40k, but what I thought was silence turned out to be willful blindness and my body had to stage an intervention to get me to listen.  At the 40k checkpoint, my water was low enough to warrant a trip to the river to refill.  Flint and Tom had waited for me (we had decided to try to finish together for a “joint” 4th place finish), but it soon became apparent that I wasn’t in nearly as good a shape as they were, and I urged them to go on.  Descending about 30-40 feet to the river’s edge, I filled my water bottle, took out my ultraviolet sterilizing pen, and….

…nothing.  (Uh-oh)

If I didn’t get the water sterilized, my race was over.  Even though we only had a few miles to go, I couldn’t run it without water.  For what seemed like 30 minutes, but was actually only about 5, I tried to get the thing to work, constantly looking over my shoulder and sure that Chris, Hudson or one of the other runners would be coming into the checkpoint at any minute.  I finally got it to light up, sterilized the water, ate some food and got out of there.  One big up hill and a bit more bushwhacking, and I stumbled into the finish, 16 minutes behind Tom and Flint.  As it turned out, the closest runner was still about an hour behind me and it was another 3 ½ hours before the final runners crossed the finish line. My GPS said we did about 4700 ft of climbing, and then laughed at me.

Overall, it was a great race, very different from anything I’d ever experienced.  I made some good friends and was overawed at the limits that some people can push themselves to and still keep going.  The survival runners were inspiring and I would entertain attempting that next year, except for one challenge, the hole cave.  It’s the entrance to a bat (and other things)-filled cave that many spent an hour in.  No thanks.

Inspired? Yes Idiot? Yes, but if every mile on my quest to run 2014 for the kids at SouthSide Early Childhood Center is this entertaining, there will be an even bigger smile on my face when we open the doors to the new school!

Next run is Spirit of the Osage in two weeks (what am I thinking?)…longhorn

Shadows in the Rain

“Woke up in my clothes again this morning- don’t know exactly where I am…” After a few minutes, the world solidifies around me, and I remember-  I’m in the back of an SUV on an air mattress “camping” near the start of the Hocking Hills 60k in Ohio, it’s 5:30 am.

I had driven into the Hocking Hills, coming off of highway 33 from Columbus, as darkness crept up on me like the Bolero symphony I was inexplicably listening to on the radio (one minute, you don’t notice it, and then all of a sudden, it’s everywhere). I had made the decision to “camp” in the back of the vehicle after a dubious 1 and 1 record of camping before races.

The night passed uneventfully and I woke to a driving rain that I hoped would at least lessen if not stop entirely some time during the race. Got to the start early, checked in and then waited around with the other 30-odd runners there to attempt the 60k.  It’s a 3 loop course and there were larger numbers running the 40k, 20k, 10k and 5k races (including a 5 year old that completed the 5k, amazing!), but they were starting later than our proposed 7am start.  Since it was still quite dark, we delayed to about 7:25 and then set off into the dusky downpour.

Each loop starts in the parking lot of the Dining Lodge, winds its way up a paved road through some cabins and then, after a short slog through mud and grass, out onto highway 664 for about 2.2 miles of ups and downs.  Not a lot of shoulder, but little traffic on a Saturday morning, and the police and park rangers were out there to slow the cars down. (Only had a near miss on the final lap when a VW Beetle was not paying attention and strayed onto the shoulder).  From there, it’s up Steel Hill, the only major hill, ½ a mile long, but a couple of hundred feet straight up to the first aid station (not open yet, as we’d been warned, but there for the next two loops, thankfully).  I was using this run as a semi-training run for my Hunter-Gatherer race in Texas in two weeks, where there’d be no aid stations, so I carried everything and only took smiles and encouragement away from the aid stations.  It was still raining pretty heavily, but being in the woods provided some relief.

Out of the aid station, down the road for a mile or so, then back into the woods for a gradual, very picturesque downhill run to Rose Lake. IMG_2126This part of Ohio is unique as you are close to the hills and mountains of West Virginia and Northeast Kentucky.  There are gorges and caves and it’s a beautiful place.  I’d have more pictures, but as I think I mentioned before, it was pouring down with rain.

Out of the woods and into the Old Man’s Cave campground (where I had camped the night before) for a bit, then back into the woods as we made our way down to the gorge and the Old Man’s Cave

Old Man's Cave from above

Old Man’s Cave from above

(named after a hermit that lived there in the 19th century.  If you’re interested, a brief history is here.) Then back out onto the road for the final mile up the hill to the finish.  Just do that two more times and you’re done!

The first lap went by quickly- I ended up in a great conversation that made the miles seem inconsequential- and I finished it in 2:20 minutes.  I set off alone on the next lap (my running partner was stopping after 20k), up the road and into the rain.  The second lap saw some doubts start to creep in.  I ran mostly on my own and without music, so not only did I have time to take in the beauty of the woods, but also start to think about finishing the lap and then having to start another.  I kept reminding myself up Steel Hill- “only one more time after this”, and I almost talked myself into stopping after the second loop.  I had covered it pretty quickly (2:30) and so now had 40k finished in under 5 hours. I got away from the start and the big aid station before I could convince myself to drop.

The rain had slowed and there were some periods on the final loop where it completely stopped raining. Apart from the near miss with the Beetle, I felt better about the last loop than the second one.  I was finishing what I had set out to do and the thought kept me going.  The aid station workers at the top of Steel Hill were encouraging and as this was about 5k into the loop, I started counting down the number of 5ks I had left.  Did I mention I didn’t have my GPS? Oh, yeah…

Lacking a good packing process, I had left my GPS watch at home. Being very analytical, I was worried about not having up to date pacing and distance information, so I tried to use an app on my phone (no dice), but mostly relied on my stopwatch and an estimate of my distance, hence breaking the last loop into 5k increments.

By my estimates, I hit 50k at about 6:30 (my second best 50k time) and then began the final push for the last 10k.  I was a little worried when the second to the last aid station, about 2 or so miles out, was abandoned by the time I got there.  Cups of water were on the table, but no one in sight.  No problem, the next station was only 1.1 miles away, and I wasn’t using them anyway, but it felt like I was passing a ghost town, where the residents had left with everything but their water cups.  The next aid station was completely gone, and that’s when I began to wonder if I had missed the cutoff.

Up the hill for the last mile, I was running/walking, knowing that I would be in under 8 hours, but not sure if that was over the cutoff time.  The EMTs waved as they drove their ambulance down the road on their way out (that’s not a good sign) and park employees were starting to pick up the orange cones that warned cars of runners (strike two?).  About this time, a runner caught up to me and reminded me of the 8 hour cutoff.  She then went on to pass me and I had a short flash of competitiveness, followed by a reminder that I’m trying to be more mindful and let things go.  IMG_2129She was obviously feeling it and it actually felt good and right to let her go.  I happened to turn around not long after that brief period of enlightenment to see another run coming up the hill behind me.  Evidently, there’s a limit to my zen qualities- I wasn’t going to let two people pass me in the last mile.

I picked up the pace and finished in 7:43.  Two more runners came in after me and 5 runners that were out on the course missed the 8 hour cutoff, unfortunately.  The day started with 36 runners and only 15 completed the 60k in the pouring rain.  I ended up 13th overall and 3rd in my age group (yes, there were at least 4 people in my age group, including the overall winner).  It was a beautiful course and the volunteers that were out there did a great job.  Next stop is Texas for the Fuego y Agua 50k.  No aid stations, find your own water.  It’s going to be interesting!

Putting the Labor in Labor Day Weekend

Flatlanders 12hr race report

Round and around and around we go…The Flatlanders 6 and 12 hour timed race is held in Fenton Park and put on by the awesome pair (and fellow SLUGS) of David and Victoria White to help benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  It’s a 1.4 mile loop of pure fun, mixing shade with open areas and, as the title suggests, pretty flat (about 33 ft per loop).

63 toed the line that morning at 7:30.  It was a pleasant 75 degrees (heat wave having broken the day before), and the tents and self-aid stations were set up.  IMG_208841 would be running the 6 hour and 22 running the 12 and it was obvious from the start who the fast ones would be.  My goal was to stick with an 11-12 min per mile pace for as long as I could and see if I had any gas left in the tank later in the day.  3 hours in, about 10:30, I had run about 15 miles, so right on the 12 min pace.  The problem was, it was getting warm.  It was sunny and humid and the temperature was on its way to 90.  Some reports of the heat index put it at close to 100.  Not sure if that was true, but it felt like it!

To combat the heat, I had decided to try to cool off my pulse points.  I used 3 water scarfs (with gel beads or something in them that swell with water and stay relatively cool)- one around my neck and one on each wrist.  That plus the ice water I kept in an ice chest (and alternatively used to drink or spray myself with) seemed to do the trick.  At no point did I feel overheated or sick from the heat (of course, it could have been because I was moving so slowly!)  Regardless, after the first 15, I slowed considerably, taking more walking breaks, sitting a bit to eat and generally distracting myself with conversations with fellow runners.  There was a great group of people out there, so conversations were very interesting!

Clouds covered us from noon to about 2 and although it didn’t completely cool off, getting out of the sun was welcome.  There were sections that became “sun gauntlets”- 1/3 to ½  a mile of exposed course.  I had decided to try to “run the sun” and walk the shade.  Didn’t always work, but it was a good distraction.  In the meantime, I couldn’t help notice the number of times I was being lapped by the eventual winner of the 6 hour, Jon Cash.  I had lost count, but he turned in an impressive 45 miles in 6 hours for the second best distance ever.  I determined to at least do that many miles in twice the time.  Luckily, relief came in the form of my lovely wife and two boys! With Patrick in the stroller, Joseph and Sandra gave me a boost through a couple of miles.  Sandra, giving me encouragment and distracting me with stories, Joseph sprinting ahead and then saying “Can’t catch me!” or “come on dad!”.  I couldn’t have asked for a better mid race pick up.IMG_1387

As the day wore on, the heat continued to take its toll. My goal became to run enough to do sub 20 minute miles and a few times, even that was a struggle.  However, something clicked about mile 41 and I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and really push it.  Encouraged by a shout of “go FASTER!”.  I ran the next two miles at a 10 minute pace, surprising myself and starting to think that I might get the 50 miles I originally though was going to happen.

What I forgot was, at that point, I had been running for over 10 hours.  My legs reminded me and I slowed again to a 15-17 min pace.  I came around the bend for the last time and started the out and back sections (about .2 miles which everyone was doing).  The goal was to go back and forth in the final amount of time to get as far as you can.  After one or two out and backs, I once again decided “now or never” and ran the last .7 of a mile on what felt like a full sprint, but was actually 10:45 min pace, finishing with 47.8 miles, good enough for 9th overall. (and I just edged the 6 hour winner)

Compared to my 38.2 at Howl at the Moon 3 weeks earlier, I ran 10 more miles in 4 more hours.  It was cooler (15 deg at the start 10 deg cooler at the peak) and I think that made all the difference.  I will still continue to experiment, and have the 60k Hocking Hills Indian Run coming up on 9/21 where I’ll test out the UltrAspire SJ vest in preparation for the Hunter/Gatherer 50k in Texas on 10/5 (no aid stations).

Congrats to Tommy Doias on his 69.91 miles on the 12 hour, setting a new masters record and to all the other runners that braved the heat.  The aid station volunteers and lap counters were superb and went above and beyond, fending off bees and helping break down tarp/tents after the race!

Highly recommended race.

Signs and Omens- Bacon and Olives at the Howl at the Moon 8 hr

“Good afternoon folks. We’re about 40 miles outside of St. Louis, beginning our descent. Please put tray tables in the upright and locked position…” It’s Friday and I’m flying home from Boston.  I’m set to run in the Howl at the Moon 8 hour endurance run on Saturday and I think I was just given a sign as to how many miles I should attempt.  40 miles in 8 hours, average 12 minute miles? I should be able to do that…

In my quest for 2014 miles for the kids of SouthSide Early Childhood Center (http://southside-ecc.org), I’ve embarked on an ambitious plan that requires me to keep to a fairly strict running regimen.  I’ve fallen a bit behind so 40 on this run will get me over 700 and closer to being on track.  The run is a timed run around a 3.29 mile loop through a park in Danville, IL.  Don’t be confused by the title, the run is during the day and if it’s anything like other timed races I’ve run, should be a lot of fun. Billing itself as “The largest timed ultra in the United States”, there are almost 300 runners that will be toeing the line tomorrow morning.  First, though, I have to get there.

I quickly jump home, pick up my gear, kiss the wife and kids and head back out. I decide to “Jeep-camp” at the race start, using an inflatable mattress in the back of the jeep, as I’ll get there too late to set up a tent. (Those of you who read about the camping disaster in Florida may be wondering why I’m trying something similar.  Let’s just say I wasn’t going to let it beat me.  Plus this is different, I’m in my Jeep, I have a warmer sleeping bag, etc.…)

The ride up was uneventful and I found a spot about 10:30pm.  Mattress already inflated, I hopped in the back, set the alarm and went to sleep (sort of).  It took me about 30 min to fall asleep and then I was up at 5:20, never to return to the land of slumber.  (But, compared to last time, a resounding success)

Time to get ready.

I had my cooler (with ice water), salt pills and food.  All, except for the salt pills, were backups.  Being in this race for the first time, I didn’t know what nutritional support expect.  I shouldn’t have worried.

I dragged my cooler to what I can only describe as “pit row” IMG_2075.  A lot of people had pavilions set up both for them to rest in and for their adoring fans.  Immediately, a group asked if I wanted to use their tent as shade.  They were working one of the aid stations and had set up near the start.  It’s that kind of camaraderie that you don’t see everywhere and it’s one of the reasons I really like the ultra community. Thus set up, I eagerly awaited the start.

I knew at least two runners from the SLUGs (St. Louis Ultrarunners Group) would be there and at the start, immediately met up with Rob Raquet-Schofield and Jen Eichelberger (they finished 3rd and 7th overall respectively, and I always find it’s good to know real runners).  I stayed with Rob for about ½ a lap and I somehow kept up with Jen for the first two laps (6.58 mi).  I checked my watch and we were averaging about 8:45 miles, so a bit faster than I should have been going (I decided to see if starting fast then tapering quickly would work).  I switched to run/walk and Jen disappeared into the distance…  The next few laps were uneventful, but it was getting hotter.  I resolved to eat at every aid station (at least a little bit) and was sticking with 20 ounces of water as I knew it would get warmer  The first aid station had bacon and the “top of the hill” aid station had green olives, which I quickly learned should be eaten in moderation, but I figured the sodium would help. So, I began a routine of water, bacon, olives.  Unfortunately, too much of all three.

By about the 6th lap (around 20 miles in) my stomach had slowed me down.  Not bad, just a very full feeling I couldn’t shake.  My heart rate also wouldn’t come down as much as I’d like during my walk breaks, so I laid off the bacon and cut back on the water. Another few laps of moderation, both in pace and culinary indulgence, and I was feeling better.  I picked the pace back up, but I had lost too much time to really hit the 40 mile mark.  Rob and Jen had kindly shouted words of encouragement as they lapped me (on their way to podium finishes) and I had some great conversations with runners of various abilities and experiences.  One guy I spoke with had run over 90,000 miles, another had climbed most of the 14,000 ft peaks in Colorado.  I was wearing my SouthSide 1inspiredidiot shirt and that stimulated conversation from time to time as well.  As I had hit my rhythm, I really enjoyed the run.

With about 30 minutes to go, I finished my 11th lap.  The race organizers, to allow everyone to get in as many miles as possible in the 8 hours, start a ¼ mile out and ¼ mile back loop during the last 30 minutes of the race.  I finished my final loop at the perfect time and headed out for the out and backs.  I completed 4 loops for another two miles, finishing with 38.19 miles, enough for 9th in my age group and 57th overall. That worked out to about a 12:35 minute per mile average pace, so not far off my original goal.  As for the announcement being a sign?  Maybe..

If you look back, what the pilot said was “…40 miles…put tray tables in the upright and locked position…” Clearly meaning that if I wanted to get 40 miles in, I had to stop eating as much (I have trouble snacking on planes). I didn’t listen or interpret the words correctly.  What I did learn, though was:

  1. Pace- I have to stop thinking that I can sprint at the beginning and still finish strong. Patience and Persistence need to be my motto.
  2. Watering/Fueling- First, I can’t drink/fuel too much in anticipation or try to follow a regime designed for Death Valley.  I need to start slowly and then respond as my body demands.  Second, even though bacon and olives are awesome, like everything else, they should be eaten in moderation.
  3. Isolation- I usually train with music and have mostly run with it too.  This marks the second full race I’ve done without music.  I missed it during some parts, but overall enjoyed the conversations and environment a lot more.
  4. Gear- You can find shoes/a system that won’t cause blisters.  What has finally seemed to work for me is: Body Glide in between the toes, DryMax Socks and Altra Torins (NFI in anything)
  5. Signs and Omens- understand the ENTIRE message.  Or, just reinterpret it after the fact…

Regardless, I’m working my way through these 2014 miles for a greater purpose- to help the kids and families at SouthSide Early Childhood Center.  If you get a chance, take a look at their site (http://southside-ecc.org).  If you get two chances, come down and see how they’re helping the kids now and where our new school will be.  If you get three chances, help us help them by donating!  If you need a sign, here you go…IMG_2077

The Devil’s in the Details- Devil’s Lake 50k Race Report

As I dive deeper into ultrarunning and running in general, my propensity to try new things just to see if they work can have positive (substituting music for conversation helped me PR in Arkansas) and negative (camping in FL helped me convince myself to DNF) effects on my races.  So, as I was preparing for the DWD Devil’s Lake 50k in Baraboo, Wisconsin, I decided to experiment again.  This time, it was with fueling.

First, a little bit about me:  I like to eat.  I enjoy food and while I’ve been lucky enough not to have to battle real weight or health issues because of it, I can sometimes obsess over it.  When I run long distances, I also like to eat.  It gives me a break and a lift, and especially at races, I find it interesting what makes it to the aid station table (baked potatoes, raw potatoes, chips, pretzels, gummi bears, peanut butter Oreos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, beer, etc.).  What I can’t stomach are the gels, which I attribute to my jaunt in the desert last year, in which I was eating them for 20 hours straight and had a few issues.  Let me be really clear, gels are now in the same category as apple schnapps.  High School Graduation put me off apple schnapps permanently, and I’m as violently opposed to gels.

So, usually I carry a few waffles or other food on me, but because the aid stations are so close and so well stocked at DWD events, I decided to try handheld bottle only and then eat and refill the bottle at the aid stations.  There was also a voice in the back of my mind that came from reading about others and how they fuel that suggested that I might not really have to eat at all over a 7(ish) hour timeframe, because others don’t feel the need to. Remind me to stop listening to voices…

Beautiful DawnThe dawn broke brilliantly as we waited in a field below a ski slope at the Devil’s Head resort.  Since the first few sections were supposed to be fairly hilly, my plan was to start near the back and take it easy.  Pick up the pace a bit on the downhills and flats, and generally run about 7 hours and some change and have a fun day.  The area we were running in was carved out by an ice age glacier, so I was looking forward to the scenery.  The horn went off at 5:30 (50k and 50m starting together) and about 300 (check) runners took off into the woods.

The first 2.75 miles were uphill (600ft by my watch, 960 according to the race documents) and then you descend about the same as we did the first 5 mile loop.  My plan was to do that in an average of 15 min miles and at this point, I was feeling good and ahead (maybe too far) of that plan.  Mile 6 had a 420ft hill and mile 7 had a 280ft hill, but I finished the first 10 miles in 2:10 about 2 min/mile ahead of my plan (even running the last mile in a 9:40)  We had climbed about 1600ft, and it was about at this point that I started entertaining thoughts of jumping up to the 50 miler.  Silly thoughts like that have no place in my racing…

The next four miles were mostly downhill as we approached the lake and I maintained steady 11 min miles.  So far I had passed through about 4 aid stations, two that had food, but that voice in my head kept my eating to the odd potato. Then we were climbing the bluffs by the lake.

Carved by glaciers with pavers

Carved by glaciers with pavers

When I was moving, my pace was good (13-14 min miles), but the breathtaking scenery caused me to pull over from time to time and take some pics. IMG_1999

Primitive Aid Station

Primitive Aid Station

The sun was starting to come out and it was starting to get warmer, and mile 20 (across a warm field with shoulder-high grass )brought us into the “bug pit” aid station (and then a 1.3 mile out and back brought us back there), so at about mile 21, I had a chance to change my socks and eat.  I accomplished one (socks), but not the other.

At this point, I wasn’t on pace for a PR, but I was doing pretty well by my standards.  IMG_2001The picture-taking had cost some time, but I had done 20 miles in 4 ½ hours and was ahead of plan, so I headed back out across the field.

Back to the hills!

Back to the hills!

It had definitely gotten warmer (the high crept up to 82), but I was now running with someone and the great discussions kept my mind off the distance.  We ran the next mile faster than my average, and then started climbing.  She was much stronger than I was and climbed the 433ft of mile 23 much better than I did. On the descent, I started to get a bit hungry, and miles 24 and 25 saw me sitting down for a few minutes on a bench and generally trying to remember where the next aid station was (and hoping it had some food).  My minimal fueling strategy was not working out so well.

Down, down, down

Down, down, down

Mile 26 will look slow if you’re looking at the splits <Click Here>, but what you can’t see is me shoving about 12 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my face during that time.  I filled my water bottle with a mixture of Gatorade and water and headed out.  I think it worked, as I ran the next mile in 12:27 and passed a few surprised people who had seen me sprawled on the bench.  I caught up with a group that was taking a break a the top of a hill just before mile 28.  One of them, Andy, agreed to run with me the rest of the way and, knowing Guinness had long since left and taken their record book with them, we took it easy, swapped stories about our young kids (he had just had a baby. Well, his wife had) and cruised into the finish.

Overall a pretty enjoyable race.  There were a lot of people out there (at some point there were 10k, half marathoners, marathoners, 50k and 50m runners on the trail) and it was great to be able to give and receive encouragement from different runners throughout the day. The volunteers were great, especially at the couple of road crossings and the aid stations, and the scenery was unbelievable in places.  My hope is that I remember not to listen to that voice in my head when it’s saying obviously preposterous things.

Note: Reading back through the report, I noticed that even though I titled it “The Devil’s in the Details”, I didn’t really talk about any specific details.  The report itself is pretty detailed, but then what am I implying? Discuss…

Is Less Better? War Eagle 50k Race Report

I woke up to the sound of birds and thunder. Checking the clock it was only 1:20 AM, still a few more hours until I had to be up. The birds, it turns out, were the noises coming from the air conditioner. The thunder was from a massive storm that would greet us all later that morning. Not knowing whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, I went back to sleep…

The War Eagle 50k near Bentonville, Arkansas started, as most do, with packet pick up the day before.

Great Shirts!

Great Shirts!

I drove down from St. Louis, checked in, met RD Jeff Genova (great guy, dedicated to the sport and his race) and asked about the presentation that was being given by Luis Escobar. Now I know what most of you are thinking and no, it’s not THAT Luis Escobar, the 7th Marquis of the Guadalquivir Marshes, he died in 1991. No, I’m referring to the famous runner (anyone who’s read “Born to Run” (not the Springsteen Autobiography) will recognize him), photographer (he’s photographed runners all over the world, including the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico) and Race Director of the Born To Run Ultra Running Extravaganza. I was excited because the book had completely changed my attitude towards running and my form and was what got me started doing ultras.

So we kick off with a great presentation by Luis, complete with stories about Micah True, Luis’s Badwater races and, of course the Tarahumara. http://www.norawas.org/ The glimpse Luis gave us was inspiring. They run, but not for medals or buckles. They run for pride and they run for bags of corn to feed their families. Near the end of the presentation, Luis, who’s been down to Copper Canyon to run with them a number of times, translated the mantra they use in preparation for the race:

Earth is my body

Wind is my breath

Water is my blood

Fire is my spirit

He urged us to simplify our running. The Tarahumara run in sandals and loose clothing. That’s it. No GPS, no watches, just feeling the run. I resolved to not wear my GPS for the race the next day and just run by feel…

Ok, that didn’t happen. I’m way too analytical and after a sobering discussion with my wife, she pointed out that I would probably lose my mind if I didn’t have it. So, I resolved to wear it, but not to look at it too much. I should be able to do that.

So after a fitful night’s sleep and a re-taping of my toes (less learned- don’t tape your toes the night before, then go to bed without your socks on. The tape edges tend to peel away in the night) I was ready to go.

IMG_1884It was pouring rain as we got to the visitor’s center and the start of the race. The parks department was incredible, opening up the center to allow us to get in out of the rain and cold. IMG_1886I was surprised by the number of people there for the 50, 25 and 10k races despite the weather, but I shouldn’t have been. As I was learning, the respect for RD Jeff Genova and his team to run a safe race meant that just about everyone who signed up showed up knowing that if Jeff said “Go”, there was nothing to worry about. Because of the lightning in the area, we delayed about 30 minutes, but then got going a little after 7. My goal was to run the 1st half in about 13 minute miles, and run the second half in 14 minute miles to knock another 30 minutes off my PR. The rain stopped after about an hour and the sun didn’t come out, so the temps stayed in the ideal range. IMG_1891In addition, the aid stations were so well stocked and thoughtfully placed (about every 3 miles- and they included the INGENIOUS Peanut Butter Oreos! (NFI)), that after 8 miles, I dropped my race vest off at the Piney Road aid station and opted to run the rest of the way with just a handheld bottle. Losing that weight really helped.

I cruised into the Piney Road aid station at mile 15 averaging 12:35 (I had only looked at my watch a few times- I felt that showed INCREDIBLE discipline), so felt good about my plan and how things had been going. I had gotten behind a woman about a mile back and we had been chatting (narrow single track gives you three choices- hang on someone’s heels, pass them when possible or get to know them). Deb (not Bev as I previously reported. I think I was suffering from trail ear) from Kansas City (as I later found out) was running this race after completing much longer distances. We were running about the same pace, had a good conversation and I asked her if it was OK if we ran together a bit more. Running trails is very different than road races. In my experience, more people talk and help each other out. We both agreed that talking kept our minds away from the demons convincing you to slow down, so on we went. Out of the rocking Pine Road aid station and on to the second half of the race. Little did I know, but the GPS was acting up and it was not recording the full distance. So, as Deb and I hit an aid station at what I thought was 21 miles, we were actually at 23 miles and moving quickly. At aid stations, and at a couple of places along the trail, we passed other runners and it was Deb’s pull that kept me moving. As we hit the last aid station, I risked a glance at the watch and couldn’t believe our time. We were on pace for sub 6 ½ hours and only had a few miles left to go! The last mile climbed 200 feet, the first 100 of which was in .2 miles (10% incline) (thanks for that Jeff), but we motored through it. Deb and I finished in 6:15 and some change and then sat down for a bit. In the ensuing raffle, I missed out on the camouflaged doormat, but managed to score a nice timex sports watch!

What began with ominous skies turned out to be my best race yet, both from a time and an experience standpoint. Luis reminded us to “run gentle” and I was able to enjoy a run with minimal gadget use (did I mention I also ran the entire time without music? that for me is tantamount to torture normally, but I found I didn’t need it). Jeff and his volunteers made it so that we could all focus on the run rather than on what we needed to carry or measure. I’ll take these lessons with me as I go forward, and who knows? If less is better, maybe running free of the gadgets may be best? I’ll have to get back to you on that. By the way, here’s the elevation profile, etc if anyone needs it going forward: URL:

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/322131126

By the way, You probably knew Bentonville is home to WalMart,IMG_1882 but did you know it was also home to the Waffle Hut?

Not big enough for a House

Not big enough for a House

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