Mythical Pursuits- Bigfoot 100k race report

“What I meant is that however much they appeared to hate the experience, and despite being under no pressure to repeat it—”

“Other than pressure from their equally cretinous peers.”

“—they nevertheless chose to, because however awful it might have seemed at the time, they feel that they gained something positive from it.”

“Oh? And what would that be? That they lived through it despite their stupidity in undertaking this totally unnecessary traumatic experience in the first place? What one should gain from an unpleasant experience should be the determination not to repeat it. Or at least the inclination.”

“They feel they have tested themselves—”.

“And found themselves to be mad. Does that count as a positive result?”

—-Look to Windward, Iain Banks

And so it was, I found myself on a school bus at 5:00 AM, heading in the wrong direction towards the start of one of the hardest races I’ve run. This was the second running of the Bigfoot 100k (they also do a 200 mile and 120 mile version, neither of which tempt me at this point) and I and about 120 other runners were about to attempt a 68.8 mile traverse of the Cascades, partially circumnavigating Mt. Saint Helens.

To say it was wet would be an understatement.

To say it was windy would be incomplete.

To say it was difficult would be reductive.

To say it was beautiful and wonderful would be therefore puzzling, but it was.

I had trained more for this race than I had in the past few years and I still nearly stopped after 30 miles. It was the most beautiful 30 miles I had ever run. The forests, the ash fields, the lakes: all unbelievable. The exposed heights, the wind and the rain, in addition to the 15-20% downhill grades that seemed to never end, however, started to get in my head.

img_1599Start to Norway Pass (Miles 0-11, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,287/2,691) 

The rain gave way to fog in places, making the trees, both alive and dead, stand out surreally in the early morning light. I was overdressed, so sweating a bit, but not overly uncomfortable, and the occasional wind gusts kept me from shedding too much. The plan was to keep my HR down in the 130’s, eat and drink according to hunger and thirst, and finish the section with an average 15 min mile or so. The trees were magnificent and the hills, while steep, were manageable. There were a few occasions where the drop to one side or other of the trail was a bit harrowing, and I started to question how I was going to navigate in the dark without falling off a cliff. Finished the 11 miles in 2:55, so closer to 16 than 15 min miles, but close enough.

Norway Pass to Coldwater Lake (Miles 12-29, Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,682/4,834) 

I didn’t spend too much time in the aid station, as I had enough calories and had my filter in case I ran out of water. I also knew there were some hills coming… In fact, the first mile out of the aid station, we climbed 712 ft (avg 14% grade), then 374, then 556, then 500, then an average of 400 ft per mile for the next 3 miles. I made sure I took time to appreciate the surroundings, enjoyed the beautiful views of the lakes and mountains and was feeling pretty good. Then came the downhill. Trying to run as much as possible, I planted wrong and wrenched my knee around mile 17. I hobbled for a bit, adjusted my stride and got going again. Then came the ankles, first one then the other. I was not having fun on this section of the race. I was falling behind my initial hoped-for pace and starting to think “I can’t do this for another 40+ miles”. The demons started to creep into my head…

Coldwater Lake to Johnson Ridge (Miles 29-35.6, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,287/612) 

At the Coldwater Lake Aid station, as planned, my beautiful wife was waiting for me. I had come up with all the reasons why I was going to drop, but it took just a few words of encouragement (she may have said “man up”), and the magical talisman that is a McDonald’s cheeseburger to get me going. We agreed that I would do this next leg and then make a call. Shortly after starting I ran into two runners from Montana, Jesse and Sarah, and we agreed to stick together and finish the race. A fairly benign section of the race, the fog started to roll in and it was full dark by the time we hit Johnson ridge. The wind was up as well, and we got a bit warmer, ate a bit and then headed out into the whiteout.

Johnson Ridge to Windy Pass (Miles 35.6-42.8, Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,189/1,244) 

Windy Pass earned its name. During this entire section, although there wasn’t a lot of up and down, relatively speaking, we dealt with blinding fog, 40 mph winds and constant downpour. We had to ford several swollen streams, jumping where we could, sucking it up and wading knee deep where we couldn’t. We picked up and dropped other groups during this slog, and finally made the aid station. Tired, cold and exhausted, we were about 13 ½ hours in, but this was not the place to drop out of the race. Windy Pass required a two and a half mile hike just to get from the aid station to any kind of vehicle. The volunteers there had braved wind and rain to be out there for us and we gratefully accepted soup and a short rest of the legs. We strapped back up and headed out once more into the night.

Windy Pass to Blue Lake (Miles 42.8-56.8, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,818/3,732) 

On a ranking of difficult sections, this was either first or second. 14 miles took us over 5 hours to complete. Sounding like a broken record- wind, rain, fog, swollen rivers, and climbing and descending on what felt like 1-2 foot wide paths with drops into oblivion on one side. We scrambled over ash dunes, down gullies and up what felt like knife-thin ridges. We each tried to buoy the other’s spirits with the occasional joke or comment, and somehow made it to blue lake. The price had been paid, however, and despite resting at Blue Lake for over an hour, Sarah was in no shape to continue. Jesse called it too, and I headed out with two others to finish the final 12. It was sad to leave them because I knew I wouldn’t have made it that far without them.

Blue Lake to Finish (Miles 56.8 to 68.8, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,614/3,172) 

Last 12 miles, piece of cake, right? Yes, except for the boulder fields at miles 62 and 63, oh and before that, you know the 2,614 feet of climbing? Yes, you’ll be doing most of that immediately… As the sky lightened, we climbed. After the climb, more bone-jarring descent and then we were amidst the boulder fields. Jumping from rain slicked rock to rain slicked rock for a half to three quarters of a mile is a challenge even when you’re not tired. The fear of breaking an ankle or my leg, however, served to keep me awake and alert and although the going was slow, Peggy and Riley (who had marked parts of the course earlier in the week and knew the boulder fields well), showed me routes that got us across. A bit more up, a bit more down, and then we were flat sailing for the last 2 or so miles to the finish.

26.5 hours. The longest I’ve run a race since Badwater four years ago. Arguably the hardest race I’ve run since then as well. Beautiful, demanding, exhilarating, and frustrating all at once. Great race, great volunteers, great people out there. I would not have made it without Sandra virtually kicking my butt and reminding me that I had trained for this (thanks Nick at lucky13coaching) and I needed to just keep going. I was tested, and the result was positive. (meaning, yes, I am mad)

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FKT(P)- Badwater Cape Fear Race Report

12873640_10154082024639165_2031030979_o copyIt’s a few days before the race, and I’m sitting at home nervous. 51 miles on the beach? What was I thinking? It started off as a good idea between two friends. David Kalal and I were going to run 50k in what looked like a really interesting race- Badwater Cape Fear. My ego had pushed me into the 51 miler, and I’d somehow convinced David and another friend, Fraser Koroluk to jump up to 51 miles as well. I was now seriously questioning why the heck I had done that.

David and I had just finished running the Fed Apple 50 K about a month previous. We had both been using a coach to train using heart rate to determine pace. On an icy hilly course the result for me was less than spectacular. My time was OK, but I expected to do better. It didn’t help that David did crush it beating me by over an hour. I was determined not to get bitten by an hour, but I didn’t know what to expect, running on sand. There was no way I could train on the sand even looked into building a sandbox to run in but that was impractical. On top of that, I was having doubts about being able to run a large portion of the race in my Luna sandals like I had planned. As I read through the course description, and rethought my race plans for the 17th time, A new thought entered my head: why are you taking this so seriously? This is supposed to be fun! So let’s have some fun: Who doesn’t want to be a pirate? (Apart from Jerry Seinfeld)

IMG_0649 Gathered with other (non pirate) runners for a late(ish) 7:45 start, we gathered around old baldy. Swatting away biting flies, we waited for the start. The first 12 miles would be on the roads of the island, with a mile long trek on a trail near the end. The breeze was up, so despite the warming air, it was a pleasant run. I maintained a pace that kept my HR below 140, occasionally waving at spectators and having conversations with my fellow runners.

At mile 12, right before the beach, I changed out of my shoes and into my sandals. David and I had essentially run together and Fraser was ahead of us, heading out as we were heading in. I restocked my tailwind, filled my bottle and was out and onto the sand for the first 20 mile out and back. The tide was low, so we were running on mostly packed sand. There were slight rises where the tide had carved out hills and gullies, but it was essentially flat. There was also a slight incline, so your seaward side was slightly lower- noticeable, but not uncomfortable. Yet.

The challenge of running on the beach for 10 miles in one direction is twofold: 1- you’re running on the beach, and 2- it’s 10 miles. The sand is unpredictable, and so somewhat like on a trail, you have to be aware where you’re putting your feet. After a while you can begin to “read” the sand and see where the runners that came before you (and there were quite a few) made good and bad stride decisions. The distance is also a challenge because you can see for a long way, but you really can’t see that well. You have a vague sense that what’s in the distance is getting closer, but aid station mirages seemed to appear and disappear with frustrating regularity.

17812_10154130599419165_7525645772931193135_n copyChallenges aside, we were making pretty good time and so far, my heart rate had stayed down. It was warming up, though, and for some reason my pirate costume was responding. While David was feeling the heat, I felt ok. That’s not to say that I didn’t have issues. For one, my flowing locks were a pain in the ass when I was running downwind. The breeze was up, so for 10 miles on the way back, I was constantly spitting “hair” out of my mouth. It was a distraction, but not a pleasant one…

We hit the 50k mark in pretty good time. If I had stopped, it would have been my second fastest 50k and I would have come in 5th. David succumbed to the heat and so I was left to chase Fraser and the elusive FKTP. I also made a decision to change back into my shoes. My reasoning was that the tide was coming in and although I wasn’t having issues with rubbing (due in large part to my sweet sock and sandal fashion statement), the sandals in deep sand would act like mini shovels as I ran. Buried treasure was the furthest thing from my mind and I don’t generally like to up the difficulty level if I can help it. I put the earphones in, tuned to my Sea Shanties playlist, and headed out.

The last 20 miles: this was the race. There were a few people in front of me and I started to focus on catching as many as I could. One of my mental strategies in the last 20 miles is that if I pass someone, they stay passed. I got out of the aid station at mile 31 with 44 people ahead of me. I caught 11 of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not blazing. It still took me 5 ½ hours to go 20 miles, but the tide was coming in and we ran the last 15 miles in a combination of deep sand and knee high surf. The wind had changed direction, so now the 10 miles out was with a tailwind. Fine, except for that “hair-in-the-mouth” thing, which was getting pretty old.

“Ran” may even be a generous term. On the way back, my stomach had started to act up: food had no appeal. My strategy was down to a run/walk pattern: run 100-200 steps and then walk until I felt better. The pattern of running and resting lent some normalcy to the end of the run. That and the fact that someone I had passed much earlier in the race was gaining on me. I really didn’t want to get passed.

As I rounded the final point at Cape Fear, with less than a mile to go, I felt the presence of that final runner gaining on me. Head down, I stepped on the gas and managed a lightning quick 12:46 pace for the final mile. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to hold him off (The runner, Jeff Gleason, later said he thought he was going to catch me until he saw me “take off”, so I guess it’s all relative).

As I came across the finish, the enormity of the accomplishment started to settle on me….FKT(P)….Fastest Known Time (by a Pirate) is not a record I achieved on my own. I have to thank David and Fraser for their inspiration, my coach, Nick Holland for his instruction and motivation, and Johnny Brock’s in St. Louis for the pirate costume. It really does take a team to surmount the obstacles required to post a fastest known time. I’m honored and proud to hold the record (at least until some other idiot decides to wear a pirate costume)

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Joint 18th Place- Timing out at Moab’s Alpine to Slickrock 50

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Breathe in…Breathe out…Check the pulse oximeter- 80%- simulating an altitude above 15,000 feet…Vision tunneling a bit…Check the watch- 3 more minutes to go…

Intermittent Hypoxic Exposure (IHE) was the method I chose to help me adjust from Saint Louis (465 feet above sea level) to the mountains of Utah (race start at 6,500 feet, climbing to 10,500 a few times). Rather than spend hundreds of dollars on an altitude sleeping tent (which my wife veto’d even before seeing the price), I decided to build my own. It was deceptively simple and, following the instructions from fellrnr.com, I ordered the parts and built it.

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Essentially it’s a rebreather, where you filter your breath through a CO2 scrubber, and work to get the air your breathing in line with what you would experience if you were living at altitude. There are training programs that can be found on the site as well, and since I don’t do things halfway, I went straight for the “Extreme” regimen.

  • 15 days, 1 hour per day consisting of 6 minutes using the contraption, 4 minutes breathing regular air
  • Then 6 days on, same hour as above, followed by 10 days rest in a pattern until the race
  • All the while, slowly lowering spO2 (increasing simulated altitude)

There are various studies on the effectiveness (or lack of) on both elite and non-elite athletes. Most of the studies focused on the improvement in performance at lower altitudes from training or living at higher altitude. I was less interested in that and more in being acclimatized to the altitude so I didn’t pass out in the first 30 minutes. I made it 6 hours with what I would consider a reasonable heart rate given the steepness of the terrain (see below), so I’m going to call my experiment of one a success.

That being said, as you probably guessed from the title, I still timed out of the race (35 racers started, 17 finished, hence the joint 18th place). I put it down to two things: hill training (or lack of) and strategy (again, lack of).

Hill Training

Near my house, I have a few roughly 50-100 foot hills to train on. I did hill repeats in a 30lb weighted vest on them. I did hill work on my treadmill. I ran two Spartan obstacle course races back-to-back.

IMG_5763Not enough.

The first climb in the slowly brightening dark started immediately and didn’t stop until we had climbed 3,400 feet in the first 5 ½ miles through big rocks, loose rocks and roots. Not my grassy hill. Not my tranquil stroll on my treadmill.

The next 11 miles “rolled”:

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Down 1,200 feet in the next 2 miles

IMG_5762Up 600 in the next ¾ of a mile


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And then up and down over the next 8 miles…

Strategy

My legs weren’t shot, but I wasn’t moving quickly. I thought, however, based on the race briefing and my Garmin, that I was on track to make the 5:45 cutoff with (not a lot, but some) time to spare. On the briefing, the aid station and cutoff were supposed to be at 15.7 miles. I didn’t get lost and can only assume my Garmin got it wrong. The aid station was at 16.7 miles and the extra mile took me 25 minutes to navigate. I missed the cut-off by 20 minutes.

So, cutting it WAY to close was a strategic mistake. Taking any distance in a trail run as gospel was also a rookie mistake that I shouldn’t have made. Too many things affect distance on the trail. I also had brought trekking poles but didn’t pull them out until I was struggling up a particularly fun hill during the 5th mile. It made things easier (mentally if not physically) and I may have gained a few minutes if I’d thought to bring them out earlier.

Here’s the link to my Garmin profile:  https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/829435785

So, live and learn. I may not be back next year, but I will be back. Next challenge is to apply what I’ve learned to the SRT Run/Hike. A 74 mile, self-supported race I’ll be running on September 18th and 19th.

In the meantime, run free!

The Idiot

“ālea iacta est”- First Foray into OCR- Rubicon Race Report

The die was truly cast as I lined up with my fellow racers at the historic Credit Island Park in Davenport, IA.  The site is famous for one of the most westernmost battles in the War of 1812, starting at 8 am with “three shots from the sixteen pounder”.

Luckily, no one was manning the turret

Luckily, no one was manning the turret

At 8am, five of us (myself, Ron and his two sons, Nick and Anthony, and Alex a local racer) made do with a countdown from the race director Chad Hopkins and we headed for the first of 13 obstacles over a 5k course.

The weather had been kind, so what could have been a sloppy mudfest (especially on the back part of the course) was actually a pleasantly runnable course. The first 7 obstacles were a series of increasingly high/difficult wooden structures, causing us to climb and crawl our way through the first half mile.  This was followed by a run of about 2+ miles, then a series of inflatable obstacles.  Yes, you read that correctly, inflatables.  IMG_5067I was EXTREMELY skeptical about going through bouncy castles for a race.  In the first place, I hadn’t trained at nearly enough birthday parties/Chuck E Cheese’s, but by the fifth lap through, when my legs were cramping because I was wedging my body into an apparatus made for six year olds, not forty-six year olds, I thought- this guy’s a genius!  My second thought was: “It would be really embarrassing if they have to use the jaws of life to cut me out of one of these things.” Let me explain:

  1. There was a technique to get through each one in the least amount of effort (sliding down the plastic/rubber with exposed skin was immediately rewarded)
  2. Depending on your size, you were squeezing through areas that could make you mildly claustrophobic
  3. After a few laps, they were dirty and slick with sweat (if it had been muddy or wet, they would have been nearly impossible)
  4. There was NO WAY you could have trained on them beforehand.  The age limit at most reputable places disqualifies the majority of obstacle course runners from actually getting on one.
  5. While you’re in them, half the time you’re thinking “Really? It’s this hard to get through a child’s toy?” and half the time you’re thinking “Wheee!”

So, back to the race, or races as I came to understand it.  Because I was in the first “elite” heat, we were racing each other for the fastest first lap.  The other four had experience with obstacle course races and , and so I had every expectation that I was a lock for 5th place.  We stayed together during the first sets of obstacles, and then during the run portion, I decided to move ahead as I felt the young guns were quick and I’m a little competitive…I was right to worry.  Continue reading

Dream Race

“I should worry about all kinds of things, but, you know what they say about stress”- Archer

IMG_4529*Note: for a shorter, yet still coherent version of this story, simply skip the sections in italics

This was it, this was the race, the experience that I wanted to have ever since plowing through Born to Run. The Copper Canyons, Caballo Blanco, if not the origins, then the tradition of running that stretched back through history. This is what got me interested in running after so many years. This is what helped me changed my form and embrace the joy of running distance. This was the dream race.

The planning for this trip happened months in advance: Fly into Chihuahua, take the train the next day to Bahuichivo, get a “ride” from there into Urique in the Copper Canyons. Have a day or so to experience the Copper Canyons, see and hopefully meet the Tarahumara, run the race and then reverse it back to Chihuahua. Simple.

When I plan, I usually try to see the worse case scenario, mentally prepare for it, and if it happens, be able to react with something thought out rather than “in the moment”. Case in point- a train strike threatened to skewer part 2 of our trip down. No problem, a ride in a van was arranged from Chihuahua to Urique roundtrip. Same price. Done.

I prepare for a race no differently, which is why I usually end up with too much food or way more water than I need to get to the next aid station. If I fail, it won’t be because of lack of planning.

I met Shalini at the airport in St. Louis, we picked up Jason, Francisco and Don at DFW and flew down to Chihuahua. David came in later that night. IMG_4451 IMG_4453We ate street tacos, Don found some beer and we settled in at our hotel. No hay problema.

As I’ve gained more running experience, two of the things I find myself doing are a form of compartmentalization and risk assessment. By compartmentalizing a run into smaller timeframes, I avoid the stress of contemplating the entire distance or time I might be out there. I try to “live in the moment”, enjoy what’s around me and keep thoughts of “you still have 30 miles to go!” at bay. At the same time, I’m constantly assessing risks: footing, temperature, aches and pains, mental state, distance left, etc., which can sometimes break down those carefully constructed walls. If I don’t get them back up in time: DNF. Luckily, this has only happened rarely.

Thursday morning, the van arrives 30 minutes late because our driver was asleep (ok, at least he won’t be over-tired for the 9 hour ride). We pile in with everyone plus two more- Carlos and the driver’s two teenagers, and head out. IMG_4466IMG_4468The sun chases us west as we take intermittent stops for local food and sights. We pass a police checkpoint with half the officers wearing balaclavas. When we ask why, it’s explained that they don’t want the cartels to know their identities. A little concerning, but it’s said so nonchalantly, it’s easy to dismiss as “you’re in Mexico, this is how things are”. About an hour later we’re passed by a truck with teens in the back carrying automatic rifles. Explanation, with a shrug, is they’re “probably cartel”. They wave, smiling to us as they go past, no big deal, not a threat to us. Put it in the worry about it later box. Like the odd part of a dream, quickly forgotten.

As we get closer to the Canyons, paved roads give way to intermittent dirt and gravel, which then start to give way to intermittent paved roads. The jarring and the views take our breath away.IMG_4474We stop at an overlook and get our first glimpse of Urique. Surrounded by harsh yet vibrant mountains, full of pine, oak and cactus, the mining town looks a quiet refuge next to a winding river. The descent into the canyon is heart-stopping at times. Narrow dirt roads, no shoulder, no guard rails. Just clear air and fathoms of drop. After what feels like hours we touch bottom, roll into Urique, try to figure out which hotel we’ve booked, sort it out and establish our turf. We’re in single rooms, sparse but clean accommodations, right on the main drag (aka the only drag).

We see Josue, the race director, finally get to meet the living legend Maria ‘Mariposa’, walk around town and get dinner. We see a few of the local police. They all have semiautomatics, but nothing different than we’ve already seen. Few runners are around, and we try to anticipate how full the town will be with everyone there. The Tarahumara are scheduled to start arriving tomorrow, and will camp just outside of town. The next day we’re scheduled to go out on a 10-mile out and back section of the course. We may do part of it, we may do it all. We still have a few days until the race.

At this point, you may be wondering why we got there so early. Part of it was to have some time to fully experience the Copper Canyons, but part of it, for me goes back to my planning. I didn’t know how long it would take to get there. If everything went smoothly (as it did) we’d be there early (and we were). If something happened (train strike, van break down, etc.), I wanted enough cushion built in to figure something out and still get there for the race. No need so far. And if you’re not wondering, quit reading this section and get back to the main part.

Friday morning, we dive into chorizo and huevos rancheros to fuel our run/hike (hike/run?) out to Guadalupe Coronado and the old mission church. IMG_4482 IMG_4485Bright blue sky, great group of people, it was a beautiful 10 mile out and back. Things were happening back in town and beyond, but we were enjoying the morning. We weren’t looking for them, so we weren’t seeing signs of trouble.

Now, a lot has been written about the cartels and what was happening in and around Urique. If you haven’t read it, the NY Times article is about as good as any. It affected us, but we weren’t involved in any of it. Almost like a bad accident you drive by on a highway. You’re aware of it, but no one you know was involved, so you note it, maybe say a prayer, and move on.

What we were involved in was helping how we could. That, for me, revolved around the kids’ races.

The day before the big race, the tradition is to have kids races at a 1k, 2k and 3k distance, depending on age. The morning started with “shirt and supplies” pick up where each kid received a race shirt and a bag full of school supplies from the Norawas de Raramuri organization and supplemented by what the runners themselves contributed. It was organized chaos as we handed out shirts and then got the kids ready for the run. I had brought with me a Superman costume with the thought that I would bring some levity to the run and maybe entertain a few people. With (very little) prodding, I wore it during the kids races and was rewarded by smiles, “thumbs ups” and high fives all morning.

The first race was the really little ones and I was still handing out shirts when it kicked off. So, in race parlay, that was my first DNS (Did not Start) of the day J. I made it out for the 7 and 8 year old 2k race, and after a blistering start, decided my best use would be giving encouragement to the kids that were pacing themselves. Within 200 feet of the start, one local child had blown out his sandal. He was hopping on one foot, still moving forward, while he fixed his sandal. This went on for about 100 feet or so, then he had it fixed, popped it on his foot and quickly left me behind. I caught up with another young man who was from Mexico. 11042987_1039902196023217_8239776099254088600_nHe had come down with his father (who was running the 50 mile race) and he was maintaining the steadiest pace I’ve ever seen in someone so young. The patience alone to maintain that pace while kids are sprinting and walking ahead of him amazed me. I stayed with him the rest of the way, and he ended up passing a group of about 10 kids that had employed the sprint/walk technique. The older kids race was getting ready to start, though, so I didn’t finish with him, but turned around and headed back out to the start (so, a DNF in the 2k race…)

  (Video Courtesy of Rob DeCou!) For the older kids, I knew I had no chance, so I lined up slightly in front of them for a photo opp and, as you can see in the video, my lead lasted about 3-4 steps. IMG_4587I did find myself with a young Tarahumara boy who ran for a while, but then started walking. It was obvious he wasn’t feeling well, and in my best grunting and pointing Spanish/Tarahumaran, figured out he had an upset stomach. We walked most of the 3k and as the faster runners came around to lap us, I turned around to watch the runners. I turned back and he was gone, fading into the crowd.   Didn’t finish that race either, so another DNF for the 3k. :)

On that morning, in those moments, I found the dream. The joy on the kids’ faces from picking up shirts, to getting their bags, to the run made our race somewhat irrelevant. We were witness to the simple pleasures that we often take for granted and the pure reason for running.

As it turns out, it was a good thing I found it then because later that day, we were told the race was being cancelled for security reasons: basically a mass DNS. Some of the pieces from the previous days started to fall into place, but we were still a step removed.

We had arranged for our van to pick us up the next day (quickest they could get down) so the only thing we could do was wait. We spent time wandering around the town in a bit of a fog, but determined to make the most of the time we had left. We spoke with and had our pictures taken with Tarahumara legends Manuel Luna and Arnulfo (which made it like most Saturdays). We had dinner with the race director, Josue, and were starting to settle down.

Then, in the middle of dinner, the mayor of Urique announced the race was back on. He had called in the army and they would be there in the morning to ensure security. It, of course, would now be unsanctioned, as the race directors have the final say, but it did lead to a bit of confusion and while some runners chose to run the next day, we decided not to. During the night, trucks owned by soldiers and federal police started arriving in town so that by the morning, Urique was transformed. Men with automatic weapons seemed to be everywhere. It was time to leave.

We piled into the van and the car with six others and made the 9 hour journey back to Chihuahua, passing a few additional army trucks headed into the valley As we couldn’t make it out the next day, some of us ran a commemorative run in a park in Chihuahua. Finally flew out on Tuesday, home in a flash.

IMG_4509So, like a dream it was over too quickly, and like a dream, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. We were exposed to the bright and dark sides of a culture and way of life. We didn’t look death in the eye, but we saw his shadow. We did, however, help the Norawas de Raramuri help a lot of people with food vouchers, clothes and school supplies. And we got to experience, through the children, the pure joy of running.

Summiting Buford Mountain

The forecast called for ridiculous cold and high winds.  Luckily, that didn’t happen until after I got off the mountain.  I went down to Bismark, MO in preparation for Caballo Blanco Ultra in Mexico. It’s about 1 1/2 hours out of St. Louis and, hey, it’s a mountain and the 3rd highest peak in Missouri, so, why not?

First, the details: The Buford Mountain Conservation Area is a 3,824 acre piece of land that, according to legend: “was purchased by the Missouri Department of Conservation from the Nature Conservancy in 1979. The area was named after its settlement in 1812 by William Buford, who acquired the land through a Spanish Land Grant.” So, history abounds!  The trail is a 10.5 mile lollipop that has another trail that branches off it about halfway around the loop. I didn’t take it, but will probably explore next time I get down there.

GPS was little help finding the actual entrance (taking me down a dirt road that ended in a fence), but it got me in the general area.

They haven't built a pink gate that can hold me! :)

They haven’t built a pink gate that can hold me!🙂

The gates were closed, but I was able to park, run up the road about a 1/4 of a mile, and then onto the trails.  Beautiful start to the day, temperature-wise, and once on the trail, I really enjoyed it.

Up we go!

Up we go!

The trail basically goes straight up to the peak of Buford at 1740 feet! (not meters) to start, gaining 350 feet in the first mile and a half, up Screaming Calves Hill.

Eyes down, calves tight!

Eyes down, calves tight!

Nearing the second summit

Nearing the second summit

From there, you come down the other side, dodging rocks and mud, but with the occasional runnable sections, then back up to Bald Knob, for a great view!

I can see for miles...

I can see for miles…

After Bald Knob, you hit the start of the loop.  I decided to go clockwise and it became a bit more runnable as you head down the other side of BK. Then your into the flats, making the loop, a little bit of up and down.  Re”summit” BK and Buford on your way back, and then it’s 1 1/2 miles to home.

Don't follow the tunnel trail straight!

Don’t follow the tunnel trail straight!

"Mountains" looming in the distance...

“Mountains” looming in the distance…

Like the scene of a long forgotten battle...

Like the scene of a long forgotten battle…

Total elevation gain was just about 2100 ft for the 10.5 miles.  It was about 2.5 to the loop, about 5.5 around the loop and then 2.5 back.  The trail was “eyes down” technical in a lot of places (at least for me)

Behold my leisurely pace…

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/697493320#.VN_RdXm3aag.link

And of course, a visit to Buford Mountain without eating at Lady Queene is a missed opportunity!

You're not just my Queene, you're my Lady

You’re not just my Queene, you’re my Lady

And, don’t forget the mines!

IMG_4420

All in all, a good day out.  I’ll come back to explore the “tunnel” trail and do the loop counterclockwise (which might be a tad bit more runnable in that direction).

Next stop- Urique and the Copper Canyons of Mexico to run with the Tarahumara on March 1st!

The idiot

iSport Super Slim First Look

Just got the iSport Super Slim bluetooth headphones from Monster, and on first blush, I really like them.  I’ve been a fan of the iSport Victory’s (they stay in my ear and deliver better sound than a lot of the one’s I’ve tried) for a while, so I was excited to try out the wireless one’s.

Ease of setup and use (9/10)

Out of the box, they had some charge, but I threw them on the charger in anticipation of a run the next morning.  Very simple to charge, just open up the port, connect the usb and you’re there.  Charging time says 1.5 hours from dead and I had them on there for about an hour before the light shut off, indicating they were good to go.  The only reason 1 take one point off is that because these phones do so much else (answer calls, control Siri, control music), you have to learn the buttons and commanding Siri, even when walking or stopped, was a bit of a challenge (of course, that could have partly been me out of breath)

Sound (10/10)

My first test was listening to them in bed.  Pairing with my iPhone was simple and they delivered clear sound and good outstanding bass. (The only negative at night is the bluetooth indicator blinks and is bright/annoying to your spouse if you sleep on the left side of the bed)    On the treadmill the next morning, sound through the phone was as good as wired and with the right earpiece in place, they stayed in.  I also paired them with a GOgroove Bluegate TRM transmitter hooked up to my tv about 12 feet away and experienced no lag in sound.

Fit (9/10)

Call me lazy, but if two things from the same manufacturer look exactly the same, I figure they should fit similarly.  A medium is a medium, etc.  What I found was while the in-ear-canal piece was the same between these and my victories, the “fin” is different (slightly different shape and angle).  What that meant was, for my massive ears, I needed to put the large fins in for the Super Slims.

They are slimmer than other Bluetooth, but not as slim as a wired pair, I added some shots at the end of the post so you can see the difference.  (The black headphones are a pair of JayBird BlueBud Xs that decided to go through the washing machine.  Testing the “sweatproof” vs. “waterproof” theory was interesting, and although you can hear sound out of them still (impressive), one ear is noticeably different from the other and the button functionality has somehow been rearranged and there’s no volume increase button.  Bottom line, don’t put them or any other headsets through the wash).

So, that’s about it for now, I haven’t tested the 5 1/2 hour life yet, so I’ll get back to you on that.  One of the things I experienced with the GOGroove and the JayBirds was static/dropping when I used them with my old school iPod nano in my pocket.  Not all the time, but a few times to notice.  I will check that out with the Super Slims on my next run. In the meantime, I would recommend checking them out and if you’re bored, take a look at the rest of the site!

2/11 Update:  Took it out for a run this morning.  They performed really well with the GoGroove and my old nano.  Interestingly, while running, It did drop when I turned my head to the left, looking for traffic (ipod/GoGroove in my right jacket pocket), but not when I turned my head to the right (similar to the JayBird, which tells me it’s a broadcast not a receiver issue).  Also interesting (to me, at least) was that if I covered my pocket with my hand while running, the signal dropped completely.  I tried it, though, at the end of the run while walking and had no interruption.  I’m not an engineer (apart from a mistake I made Freshman year), so no idea why it does this.  5 1/2 hour field test this weekend!

The Idiot

Side view

Side view

Fairly flush fit

Fairly flush fit

"slim" profile (kind of)

“slim” profile (kind of)

Jaybird comparison

Jaybird comparison

Jaybird from the front

Jaybird from the front