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

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…

Lessons Learned from the Swamp

I ran the Dances With Dirt (DWD) Green Swamp 50 mile trail run this past weekend, and I was claimed by the swamp at 39.93 miles.  I still had about 12 miles to go thanks to a wrong turn earlier in the day, but I was done mentally, which convinced me that I was done physically (before I fell in the swamp, was bitten or eaten by something, or decided that wrasslin’ gators was a good idea).  So what happened?

Basically, a lot of things, but in my analysis, like the butterfly effect, it all stems from one bad (in hindsight) decision I made that started a chain of events.  Some call it communing with nature, going primitive, sleeping under the stars, camping.  Whatever label you place on it, if you’re not experienced (looking in the mirror), I found it’s not a good idea to have your first experience be at a race site before you’re attempting a 50 miler that you’ve never run before.  It all started innocently enough…

IMG_1710I had everything set up and ready to go in a matter of minutes.  Got to meet two of my neighbors, who were down to run the marathon and 50k respectively.  I had forgotten my sleeping bag, so got a ridiculously inexpensive 45 degree one from a local sports store (it was only supposed to get down to 50 that night and I assumed that the bag, plus my socks and fleece would carry me through the night).  Grabbed some dinner at a local Italian place and got ready to settle in for the night.

Lesson 1: Now, camping at a race start is not like a campground.  You’re pretty close together, and although we had settled in fairly early, not everyone else had.  It wasn’t loud, nor was anyone being inconsiderate, I just didn’t realize how much noise there was “in nature”.  Oh, and then it started to get cold.  I think I finally got an hour or so of sleep and woke up freezing.  Either I have a low cold tolerance (highly possible), the weather forecast was wrong, my sleeping bag’s rating wasn’t thoroughly checked before it left Shanghai, or a combination of the three.  My feet, even taped and with socks on, quickly lost feeling and my face soon followed.  Getting up to go to the port-a-john every few hours probably didn’t help, and all in all, I think I got about two hours of sleep.  No problem, right?  I’ve dealt with sleep issues on long runs before!  The difference, though was that on both of those runs I had a crew there to make decisions for me.

As the race directors started to set up at 4:30 the next morning, I decided to go ahead and get up and pack the tent.  First and only smart decision I made.

IMG_1713 The race started in the dark at 5:30.  It was still about 50 deg, so started with the fleece.  The first loop was 5 miles and after that we’re back at the start and drop bags, so I dropped both the fleece and my light there around X:XX.  During that first hour, I was leading a small group, so didn’t stick to my 4:2 pace, didn’t drink water and took no electrolytes.  Lesson 2: Stick with the plan you made when rested and thinking clearly…

Heading out into the next 20 mile loop, I was again with a group and reluctant to settle into my pace.  I had some ridiculous notion that I was upholding a reputation and kept running.  I had started drinking after the second hour (I had a coke and a banana at the start, so I might have been on schedule), but had completely forgotten about my electrolyte pills.  I was on a pace for a 9 hour finish, much to fast for my inexperienced, slow self.

Through the sand, through the mangrove swamps we moved on.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I was backing off on the pace, bringing it more in line with my original plan, but getting tired and I missed some very obvious “wrong way” signs coming out of the “traffic jam” aid station at 24 miles and added another mile or so before being turned around by runners doing the half marathon.  It was also warming up, but I felt OK as I came back to the start, ending the first half.  I tweeted my progress and my hope to finish the second half in 6 hours (completing the first half in just over 5).  I was hurting, so had planned to take some ibuprofen, forgot, got about half a mile away and reasoned that I’d be back in 4 1/2 miles so no problem.

Actually, the second loop was run in reverse, so the 20 mile loop was first, followed by the 5.  Once I realized that, I really started to doubt my ability to finish.  Lesson 3: Pay attention…

So, my pace continued to slow, and I was appearing to hit the deeper sand more often, struggling to keep any kind of reasonable pace.  At mile 30, I was really slowing down, taking much more frequent walk breaks, and down to just under a 15 minute mile.  Mentally, I started into a zone I’d like to call “I’m stopping for them, not me”.  I started thinking about my drive back to my sister’s and how tired I’d be if I kept going.  How I’d miss a planned dinner with them on my last night.  How I might not make it up for my flight, denying my wife and sons the opportunity to see me as soon as possible on Sunday.  In other words, it would be selfish not to stop.  Then, I got passed by a turtle…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That wasn’t so bad in and of itself, but when he started giving me a hard time, I knew I was in trouble.

When he broke into the Harlem Shake, I started looking forward to the next aid station and getting off the course…

Luckily, it was manned (it wasn’t on the first loop) and one of the great volunteers (in my haze, I’ve forgotten his name, but he was a snowbird from Michigan) drove me for what seemed like an hour back to the start. (Did I mention how great they all were?)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, I need sleep. I need to stick with the plan and not get wrapped up in the race. I need  to pay attention.  I need to plan a race so I’m not worrying about being selfish.  And, most importantly, I need to stay away from turtles.

In perspective, a 40 mile DNF (did not finish) isn’t the end of the world.  I’m in one piece and working towards the 2014 mile goal for the year.  Maybe now, I’m a bit wiser too. (yeah right).  Next race is in May- 50k in Indiana…Time to pick myself up and get moving again!

Run until it’s DONE!- New challenge for 2013-14

As most of you know, we’re nearly there in fully funding the new school for SouthSide!  Thanks to your generosity, we’re going ahead with groundbreaking THIS THURSDAY!  To celebrate how close we are (and hopefully get us across the finish line), I’m taking up a new challenge for 2013/14, and I hope you’ll join me!

We’re calling it Run until it’s DONE!, and the challenge is as follows.  Starting at groundbreaking (Feb 28) and for the next 12 months, I will run 2,014 miles in a combination of races and training.  We’ll finish up when we open the doors next year!

To put that in perspective:

  • It’s about a 1/2 marathon for every child we can accommodate in the new school, or
  • It’s a marathon every week (plus another 10 miles or so), and
  • I’ll burn about 260,000 calories (that’s 788 cheeseburgers!) :)

“How can I get involved?” I hear you say.  We’re working on that right now, but rest assured, whatever you’re motivated to do- run, donate, help out at SouthSide, we can accomodate it!  Full details on support coming soon!

So, I’m starting Thursday, and I’ll post my progress every week.  I’ll use my GPS watch to track progress, so you’ll be able to follow along.  We’re going to races around the country, so it should be a bit of an adventure!  I’ll post my races as I sign up for them, I hope to have all of them, and my training mapped out on the site in the next few days.

We’ll also bring you stories about the great kids at SouthSide you’re helping every month.  This is my inspiration, and I hope by sharing some of their stories, you’ll find a reason to be inspired, or just smile.

Finally, I’d ask that you spread the word!  Every time I talk to someone about the kids or the great work the staff and board does at SouthSide, a little inspiration grows.  Help us plant that seed.

See you on the road!

The idiot

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