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 (, 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 (  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

Disaster in Perspective and Finishing in Your Age Group- DWD Gnawbone 50k

I cried because I had little sleep because of a backed up toilet and what I think was a rabid deer, until I met a man who had driven 10 hours and slept in his car with his family to run this race….

That being said, the other lesson I learned was that sticking to a plan actually worked.  First, on training: I knew there would be hills and I knew it wouldn’t be as bad as Louisville, but my hill and strength sessions seems to have paid off.  Even the steep hills (the worst coming later in the race) didn’t have me gasping for air or pausing every few steps like fish at the Eiffel Tower (metaphors aren’t my strong point).  But enough about me, here’s my report.

IMG_1828We started at 6:15 am in what I’ve always known as “blue-dark”.  Just light enough to see the person in front of you, not so much every root and rock.  After my DNF, I was determined to be prepared:

  • Sleep? Check (kind of).  The family came down and we stayed in a “cabin” rather than camping.  However, we had to move rooms due to a rodent incident and then the toilet backed up in the second room.  The net result was about 5 hours of sleep (about 4 ½ more than the last race, so I was loving it!)
  • Water/Fueling? Check.  I would only drink water, eat at the aid stations and drop an S-Cap an hour (it was pretty cool outside, so I didn’t need to overdose on sodium).   I also used the Camelbak Octane XCT (NFI) with a 3 liter bladder so I would only have to stop when I wanted to.  I also carried a few waffles in case I got caught starving between two aid stations.
  • Drop bags? Check.  We had the opportunity to have two drop bags, one at 10 miles and one at 20.  Since it was going to be wet and muddy, I had a pair of socks and shoes in the 10 mile bag and the same in the 20.  My Hokas were in the 20 mile bag just in case I felt I would need the extra cushioning to help me through the last 10 miles.

So, back to the start.

Leg 1- 3.8 mi- “I’ve Been Slimed” My plan was to take the first hill (mud and 500 feet of elevation gain) slowly.  I planned 20 min miles, I did 14 ½. The mud was pretty bad, but having run the ½ marathon here in 2011, I knew what to expect.  From there, I finished off the first 4 miles in just under an hour. Ahead of my schedule, but not killing myself.  The aid station had bananas, so I picked up my first meal of the day.

IMG_1829Legs 2-5 14.1 mi- Various ups and downs, some nice views as we ran around a lake.  Walked the hills when they got a bit too steep, ran the downs.  My plan was to be at a little over 4 hours through 18 miles.  By the 18th mile, I was at 4 hours, 13 mins.  It was like I planned it! I will admit that about mile 15, I started focusing on the drop bag at mile 20.  I had passed up the 10 mile drop bag because my feet weren’t too wet, but a few dunkers and some rocks had me fantasizing about the Hokas.  It became the vision pulling me forward to mile 20.  Little did I know that sometimes dreams can become nightmares…IMG_1831

The last 3.4 miles to the aid station is called “Devil’s Daughter”.  A lot of water, mud and muck with a  few hills thrown in.  IMG_1830It’s evident in my times (16, 14 and 20 min miles) that running was not an option because of the terrain and having to pick your way through the fun.  Because I felt good, though, and had pace myself I did something I’ve never done- passed people.  It was a strange feeling, and one I hope to repeat! IMG_1832

I hit the aid station/drop bag point, changed into the Hokas and bounded off with dry feet and renewed cushioning.  Mile 22 slightly changed that perspective.  The leg is called “Stairway to Heaven” for a reason.  There are two hills, one short, one longer, both “fun”.  The first hill is a hands and knees, grab what you can, pray you don’t slide, uphill struggle.  It’s only about 200-250 feet, but it was slick and I passed some people as they slid by me (I was going up, they were on their way back down).  The shoes I had changed out of had much better grip than the Hokas, but there was no going back.  Handhold by handhold, I scaled the hill.

What waited for me next was at mile 24.  The “Stairway to Heaven” itself.  A staircase that seemed to go on forever, but in reality a 400 foot high hill that someone thoughtfully built a staircase into. 17 minutes and 43 seconds later, I was through that nightmare and into the 2nd to last aid station.

I then settled into horse trails (behind a few horses churning up the mud even more) and was caught by the guy from the beginning of my report.  We kept a decent pace and chatted through the last 5 miles, slipping here and there, descending the extremely muddy ski slope near the end and then wading in a waste deep stream while his daughter paced us for the last mile.

Ski Slope Hill- Muddier than it looks!

Ski Slope Hill- Muddier than it looks!

He had come down from Michigan the night before, slept in the car with his family, they had run the 10k and they were going back later that day.  People I know call me crazy, but there’s always someone out there that will outdo you!  Our great conversation kept my mind off of the last 5 miles, and I finished with a PR at 7:26:52.  The time was good enough to finish in my age group, but not in the top 5. 🙂

Overall, very happy and it got my head back into things after the DNF.  Dances With Dirt is a great organization.  Aid stations were stocked and friendly and apart from the accommodations the night before, a great time was had by all.

War Eagle 50k in less than 3 weeks!

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

I’m Baaaack! Dogwood Canyon 50k Race Report

Yes, it’s been a while, and for that I apologize. I’ve been recovering and trying to figure out what to do next. Thanks to all of you, we’re now only $420,000 from realizing our goal of raising $3.5 million! Stay Inspired!

Anyway, ran my first race since Badwater, and it woke me up. In the future, I expect to continue to find inspiring stories, but will also give my reviews of gear I’m using. Enjoy!

Dogwood Canyon

The day started off well, and then went downhill from there.  Actually, it went uphill, then downhill, then uphill about 16 times.With 5400 feet of elevation gain in a 50k, this wasn’t a walk in the park, and definitely not one that you should try to run without first doing a lot of hill training (he says with perfect clarity of hindsight).

Having run it last year (and DNFing on a lame excuse of being “tight” after 19 miles), you’d think I’d be better prepared, but either because I’d already come through “harder” ultras during the year, or because I was lazy, I wasn’t.  The first climb happens at about mile 1.5 and you hit a 20% incline that goes for the next 2/10 of a mile (put that on your treadmill).  A bit of rest at the top, then back down to the riverbed (which you’ve already waded through two or three times and will be given the opportunity to wash your shoes and socks in a further 10 times before the day is over.

Next comes the “relatively” flat bit, which meanders along the riverbed, and through the river a few more times until you hit the second “fun” climb at about 3 ½ miles.  This one is only a 12-15% climb for the next ½ a mile or so.  This continues on for a bit, up and down, until you’ve climbed about 16 hills (I think I mentioned that already) and you are (or at least I was) making it a few steps, resting, going a few more and resting like an old wind-up toy with a broken  spring. I think the biggest difference between these hills and others I’ve run is that they were jeep tracks, so straight up and down as opposed to the switchbacks I’ve run on before.  Not really runnable (the down hills were definitely “fallable”, a technique I tried by bombing down a few early on) and they really took their toll.

So, to the enjoyable parts: Volunteers and fellow racers were great!  Every aid station (about 4-6 miles apart) was fully stocked and staffed by helpful, friendly people.  The weather turned warmer as the day went on (I was out there a long time), and I was even able to get a nice cold water down the back treatment that kept me going!  I was near the end of the group of 55 that finished the race (I don’t like peer pressure) but was still greeted by a great cheer that went up from the volunteers that were roused out of their slumber to cheer me on (OK it wasn’t that long, but I can’t imagine the stamina required to sit there and wait as long as they did).  Weather and scenery were also high points.  You can see some of the natural beauty from the pictures, and while it did get into the high 70’s, running in shade most of the time and a breeze part of the time really made it comfortable.  Oh, and about mile 16, I had to wander through some horses (I’m pretty sure they were there).

We drove back to St. Louis straight away (my wife shaming me by crushing the 25k and then having enough time to read 3 books, catch up on 3 years worth of neglected letter writing and compose a sonnet), and my quads are still singing.  If you want a challenge, this one will test you.

I ran in Hoka Mafate 2’s (review coming) and had ZERO issues (no blisters even though my feet were wet about 75% of the time).  Slight rubbing on the heel, but that was it.

Photos and videos

Sorry it’s taken a while to get these off the camera, but here is a collection of images and videos (careful of the one where I’m performing my own surgery) from the run.  

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More to come and keep those inspirational stories coming!!

Recap of the Run- Final Day!

3:45 AM  July 5  We’re at the Portal again, ready to go up.  There are a few other groups who have come out for the day to climb the mountain.  They all look to be a little fresher than we are.  That being said, the sleep overnight was wonderful.  I was finally able to relax (without hallucinating) and give myself permission to go to sleep.  This part is “gravy” and should be a nice hike.  For some reason, I’m discounting the fact that we’re going to climb over 6000 feet in 11 miles (what was that about yesterday being the “toughest climb?”) and have to deal with altitude for the first time.  By going to 14,500 feet, we’ll be on top of the highest peak in the lower 48 states, but we just came through 135 miles in scorching temperatures.  How hard can this be? 🙂

Because it’s dark, we start with headlamps.  Although we don’t see any bears, the evidence of bear occupation is everywhere.  Hopefully, we’re making enough noise, they’re more scared of us than we are of them, and we don’t accidentally get between a mother and her cubs, because the old adage about not having to outrun the bear isn’t going to protect me…I’m not going to be able to outrun anyone.  (I’ve also forgotten about the “bear bell” my wife bought me as a joke for Christmas. I don’t know if it works as a deterrent or a dinner bell, but it once again proves that she’s always thinking and I’m always forgetting things).

We’re crossing a series of logs over a stream as the sun starts to come up (a significant point regarding how long we’ve been going that I completely forget on the way back down).

Sunrise in the mountains is amazing and we make the halfway point, a base camp camping area at about 8 AM.

Step 1 up the switchback

Then the “100 switchbacks” begin.

Still going up!

You can just see me…

We think about counting them, but then decide that might not be very productive and stick to watching our footing. The drop-offs on each side are getting steeper, and my paralyzing fear of heights is not helping things.  Scott isn’t feeling 100%, so he tells the three of us to go ahead and he’ll meet us back at the bottom.  We press on, with the air getting thinner, the temperature dropping and the previous 140 miles starting to catch up with us.  Near the top, I stumble and reluctantly agree to let David take my pack.  He’s already carried a lot of my water up for me, in addition to his own, and he’s been asking for it for the past mile or so, but I’m reluctant to add to his burden.  The stumble, while not near an edge and nowhere near dangerous, reminds me that I need to keep relying on my crew if we’re going to make it.  We take rest breaks more frequently now and I pick my way to the top, through snow in some places, with their help.

Finally, at 12:15 PM, 81 hours from our starting time, we’re at the summit!  It’s a great feeling and I marvel at what it took to get to this point. We take pictures, talk to the others basking in the sun, eat and rest for about 45 minutes.  Time to go back down.  I confidently predict that we’ll be down in 4 ½ hours. It’s downhill right?  Rookie mistake.

While it’s true that going down is easier than coming up, we can now see some of the drops from a very different angle (read: not a good angle).  It takes me some time to inch my way down certain sections.  The good news is that when we do get away from the “one misstep and we will learn if man can fly” sections, it does go more quickly.  The bad news is that after a few hours of landing on my dominant right leg, my knee is screaming at me.  On top of that, we have a problem.  We’re just about out of water and we still have a way to go.  Remember when Scott had to turn back?  Well, he had the water purification system that we’d need because you just can’t carry that much water with you.  We forgot to get it from him and now we were potentially in trouble.  We get to the switchbacks leading down to the base camp, hoping that someone there will be able to help us, instead we run into Scott!  He realized the same thing and had been slowly making his way up to us.  We stop at a stream, fill our water bottles, and start down again.

The rest of the way down is a series of hops, followed by pain, followed by more hops, we get below the camp.  I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’re almost done, or that I know we haven’t been tracked by GPS and my wife will be worried, or the accumulation of miles, but it seems to take FOREVER.  I get to the logs and think, Yes!  Almost there!  Forgetting that it took from 3:45 AM until dawn to get up to the logs (about 3 ½ hours) and it will be about another 2 or so hours until I’m off the mountain.  Luckily, again, no bear sightings, and I walk through the Portals for the final time at 6:20 PM.  Truly done this time.  We get down to Lone Pine as quickly as possible, call my very relieved wife, eat another cheeseburger (why mess with what’s working?) and crash.

So, that’s it.  I was able to get through this journey on the inspiration from the kids, the training from my coach, the on-site support from my crew, and the great support that I experienced from both people I know and complete strangers. It has reinforced my belief that we should help each other out whenever we get the chance.

On final reflection, the great thing about a solo run is that I came in both first and last.  In other words, it doesn’t matter.  Helping these great kids is what matters. Raising the awareness of SouthSide is what matters. Everyone coming together to overcome barriers is what matters. Period.

Run Recap- Day three

July 4  We “sleep in” for 3 hours to celebrate the 4th (I’m guessing) and get started at about 6:30 AM.  The crew has had a chance to rest, and I’ve doubled the sleep I’ve had in the past few days to 6 hours.  Importantly, I can still move, my stomach feels good, my feet feel a lot better and we’re only 13 miles from the Whitney Portal, then end of the first part of the run.

As I run down the road, my thoughts go back to the kids and the parallels between their barriers and my own. What I’ve had to overcome is so small and most importantly the consequences of my failure are so minuscule compared to them, that I almost feel ridiculous even making the comparison, but it doesn’t stop me:

  • Before coming to SouthSide, many don’t know their strengths and development needs.
  • Once at SouthSide, they are assessed, and put on a customized program to help them succeed.
  • The great staff, their “support crew”, then works with them to make sure they not only make it, but succeed
  • Along the way, some will surge ahead and some will fall behind, but there’s always someone there to keep inspiring them, educating them, and encouraging them
  • The new school is really going to create a great environment

I break out of my reverie in enough time to realize I need to make a left turn on the Whitney Portal Road.  It’s a little after 7AM and time for what’s been called the toughest climb in an ultramarathon- 11 miles and over 4600 feet of gain.  Some sections have a 10 degree incline.  Average time is over 5 ½ hours to make this “final” climb.  We’ve got a little bit of work to do.

After about a mile, I’m joined again by Marcia Rasmussen!  Both she and Suzanne Kenyon pace me the first 8 miles to the switchbacks.  I’m actually using trekking poles at this stage to make sure I keep my momentum going.  Turkey wraps are still the food of the day and I eat one every hour, drinking my 22 ounces of water to wash it down.  I’m asked if I want to stop to rest, but the only thing I can think of is: “If I’m not moving, I’m not getting any closer to the finish!”  Keep moving.

Now the switchbacks.  The last 3 miles, but definitely not the most fun.  David Stores and Scott Weber become my pacers as we slooowly climb the last few miles.  I come up over the last rise, see the toilet paper finish line stretched out (note: I’ve never broken the tape at a race, but I don’t believe toilet paper is generally what is used), cross it at almost exactly 12 noon and collapse into a waiting chair.  Marcia presents me with a Badwater Solo belt buckle that she’s taken upon herself to make, and I enjoy a few minutes of strange stares from German hikers and the celebrations of my team.  We’ve come a long way and finished the 135 miles in 56 hours 49 minutes.  We had planned on 60-63 hours and can’t go up the mountain until tomorrow, so we have some down time before the next climb.  Time for a cheeseburger.  Tomorrow we go up the mountain proper….