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…

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!


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

Here we go!

Ok, posting from the road today. Just completed two days of 5-6 mile runs as I start to get ready for the next challenge- 50 miles at the DWD Green Swamp race in March. Yesterday was on some nice farm roads in rural Texas and today was nearly 7 miles with my lovely wife on a technical, but fun trail.

My goal is to do 20-40 miles per week, with one long weekend (back to back 20s) a month. I’m also going to incorporate strength training based on something called CrossFit Endurance. Never tried, but I’ll see how it goes, and let you know my progress. The race is going to be flat, so my hill work would be minimal. However, you know I’m not stopping at one race in March, so, if I’m lucky, I’ll be running the Double Chubb (50k) a month later. That means, strength training, hill training, all fun and games. I’ll be testing out some equipment along the way, so I’ll intersperse training with reviews. So, there’s the “idiot” part.

For the inspired part, I was sent this story back in August, and was remiss in not posting it. It’s a great story about a cyclist named George Swain who had a serious accident in 2010 and has recovered and is back full force. The story is here. Enjoy!

The idiot


Perspective on Challenges

This guy runs into the desert….

I did my first and only Death Valley training run this weekend, and I gained a bit of perspective. Here’s what I learned: With the temperature at 118 degrees, when you step out of your car, you don’t feel the heat as much as bathe in it.  Then the wind starts and the heat rolls over you like a boiling wave and you know if you don’t pay attention, something is going to go terribly wrong.  So, you wear the appropriate clothing, with little regard for fashion as evidenced here, wet it down, take a drink of water, put a full cup of ice in your hat and set off down the road.  A mile later, you meet your crew, and do it all again.  At certain intervals, you suck down a carbohydrate gel pack or take a salt tablet, but that’s pretty much it, mile after mile.  We started the training run at noon, so a month from now, with a 6 am start, it should be a bit cooler in the beginning (only about 110), but the wave will be waiting for us later that afternoon.

18 miles and four hours later, I was feeling the heat and started to wonder about the challenge I had taken on.  Was it too difficult?  Am I too much of an idiot?  Is that lizard laughing at me?  After the third question, I knew it was time to take a break.  I sat down in the car, ate some ice, drank a bit more, and generally cooled down.  My coach had seen this before and knew what to do, and in about 15 minutes, I was up and running again, and finished another 4 miles.  On the second day, during my second 9 mile, 4000 foot climb of the day, my coach drove by (slowly, I was walking at the time) and said: “Why don’t you try to run a bit?”  I bit back my first response, and simply asked “Why?”  (I was making OK time, and not trying to set a record). “How do you know where your limits are if you don’t test them?” he answered.  So, I started running for 20 breaths and then walking for 20 breaths up an 8 degree incline. Yes, the 20 breaths running was a shorter distance, but I did something that I hadn’t even thought was possible at that point of the training.

Those 15 minutes and 4 miles on day one and the 3 miles I ran/walked on day two answered a lot of questions for me (unfortunately not the one about the lizard).  I can make this.  It will be difficult, but with the right support, we’ll be successful.  I don’t have to draw the parallels to our kids and their parents’ struggles for you, because I think you can consider your own challenges and make the connection.  At the end of the day, the end isn’t even what’s important.  What’s important is that after taking on a challenge and breaking through a barrier, you get better and things improve.  Maybe they improve for you, maybe (and hopefully in this case) they’ll improve for others as well.

How was your week?

Now with the run only about 5 weeks away, my preparation is as much about heat training as it is mileage.  Luckily, it’s getting hot here in St. Louis.  A question I get more and more is: How are you training for a run like this?  Do you have to run a million miles a week? Not quite…

While I don’t do the same thing every week, this past week is as close to “typical” as I’ll get.  Going forward, the mileage will probably taper off a bit (although I’m going out to Death Valley this coming weekend to run different sections for a total of 40-50 miles) as we get closer, and I’ll focus on just being in a heated environment to round out my training.  So far this year, I’ve run over 860 miles, and knock on wood, my body is still holding up!

Sunday- Double duty today because I had to go out of town for a conference. So, I ran 8 miles in the morning with no heat load (basically running like everyone else out there).  I was lucky that the hotel I was staying in had a dry sauna, so I spent an hour in a 150 degree sauna.  I took breaks (to go out and get water) totaling 1 min 30 sec, so stayed in the extra 1:30 at the end to get a full 60 in the heat.  Oh, and I read a few articles and did 100 crunches while I was in there (you’d be surprised how boring sitting in a sauna for an hour can be).

Monday- Usually it’s a “rest” day, and the conference was sponsoring a 2 mile fun run, so I did that and not much else.

Tuesday- A more serious day than Mondays in general.  My goal was to do 10 miles with a “medium” heat load (basically a long sleeve running shirt and sweatpants inside).  I gave myself credit for the 2 miles from the previous day, so did 8, but was sweating quite a bit, so felt like I had done what I needed to do.  The only problem was that the conference started at 7:30 eastern time, so to get it done I had to get up about 3:30 local time.  I’ve seen 5 hour, but do they sell 15 hour energy?

Wednesday- Max heat load day.  10 miles starting at a 1% grade for mile 1, 2% for mile 2, etc. up to the halfway point and 5% at mile 5, then dropping by 1% down to mile 10.  Total elevation gain- 1320 feet.  For this, I was in my wetsuit pants, thermal top, silver pvc suit, thermal gloves and thermal hat. I got the room up to 85 degrees and got going. Gloves and hat lasted the first three miles, then I had to get rid of them. After 6 miles, i had to take off the silver top and stop the heater, but kept everything else on. After 8 miles, I turned the heater back on and put the silver pvc top back on for the last 2 miles. I took three 2-3 minute breaks during the time, but stayed in the room.  Overall, it took me 2 hours 46 minutes to do 10 miles.  Hot and slow…

That’s meant to be a smile!

Thursday- Light head load, 10 miler.  Because of time constraints, I had to break it up into a 6 mile run in the morning and 4 miles at night.  Strangely, I felt much better running today than yesterday!  So much so that I ran my fastest 6 miles ever taking just over 48 minutes for an 8:04 pace.  4 miles on the treadmill at a 9:15 pace finished the day.Friday- Sauna again.  160 degrees, no crunches, just getting through it.  Brought in a book- The Heart and the Fist.  Great story about a guy from St. Louis and his experiences before and after becoming a Navy Seal.

Saturday- 20 miles.  Half outside with no heat load, half inside with medium heat load, but a bit of a climb…Did the first 10 running through the Loop and Clayton.  Then back home for 2 miles at no incline, and then 8 miles at an 8 degree incline to simulate the climb to Father Crowley Point.  The climb starts at mile 72.3 and 1,970 feet and goes to mile 80.2 and 4,000 feet.  I ramped the heat up to 91 degrees, full nylon sweatsuit and gritted it out.  The 8 mile climb I did at an 18 min/mile average.  A combination of running and walking (oh and sweating a bit too)

Sunday- Tomorrow, I have a 10 mile run in the heat of the day.  It’s supposed to be 96 tomorrow, so no worries about getting enough heat!

So, technically that’s 8 days, but hopefully you get the idea.  It seems like a lot, but I keep reminding myself that the kids have a real struggle, mine’s manufactured.  It keeps me moving forward.

Wrap your head around this

4 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 30 minutes…How do you stay focused/motivated/sane on runs?  The short answer is: it’s different for everyone.  I have a very short attention span. I can get bored quickly, so I don’t know if that helps me or hurts me, but here’s what I do to get ready for and then actually make it through my longer runs.

Pre-run, I plan.  I’m an analyst by training, so I go through different scenarios, but I basically focus on three things: pace, nutrition and hydration.


Simple concept, difficult to execute.  Basically you have to run slow enough in the beginning so that you can still run later on (as opposed to crawling or stopping).  It is probably the most difficult thing for me to do because a number of people start off quickly and I have to discipline myself to not follow them.  Working with my coach, Scott Weber, I’ve tried to stick with a 55/45 split: completing 55% of the distance in the first half of the time and  allowing for a slowdown in the second half.  As I’ve learned in my brief experience, factors such as blisters, weather and terrain can ruin even the best laid plans. So as much as possible, I work to the average rather than being exactly on X pace every step of the way.  I’m not trying to qualify for the Olympics, so I’m allowed a bit of leeway.


Again, with the help of my coach, this has become much easier and more formulaic.  I now plan on taking in about 300 calories every hour for runs over 2 hours.  I try to eat easily digestible food (gels and fruit pouches), so that I can quickly absorb and use the calories, rather than them spending an hour or so in my stomach being broken down. No more inhaling a snickers bar at the end of a race!


Water and salt will stop you in your tracks before nutrition will.  I stick to 20-30(ish) ounces of water and 800mg-1 gram of sodium per hour – more on hot days, less on cooler runs.  Cramps or dehydration are not something I want to deal with and this formula keeps me out of trouble.

During the run, with the above worries out of my way, I can concentrate on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  I have a pretty short attention span, as I said, so in preparing for, say my 12 hour race, I didn’t focus on the 12 hours, but rather on:

  • My run/walk pattern (6 min/2 min for the first 6 hours, then 4/2 for the next 6 hours).  By doing a run/walk pattern, I can better control my pace, it breaks up the run, it reminds me when to eat or drink, and it rests my legs to allow me to go longer.  I also check my pace to make sure I’m not going too fast too early.
  • My music or podcasts.  Yes, I wear earphones, but either only in 1 ear or at a low enough level so that I can hear things around me.  I find music as a background can be motivating (try Glad to Be Alive by Cowboy Mouth), but on long runs, I put everything into the mix because 12 hours of upbeat music can really get on your nerves.  I also have started listening to podcasts, which have caused me to nearly fall over when I’ve listened to the comedy podcasts, so I may stick to interesting stories going forward…
  • Talking to other runners.  Hearing their stories and motivations is always interesting.
  • The problems of the world.  I have probably come up with and forgotten more solutions to my own and everyone else’s problems on my runs.  My only fear in recording them during the run is that they turn out to be not quite as brilliant as I half-remember them to be.
  • The kids.  All of my runs this year have been in preparation for Death Valley.  If I feel too tired or sore to go on, I remind myself of how minor an inconvenience it is compared to the barriers they have to overcome.  It got me going and helped me continue during the last two hours of the 12 hour race despite painful blisters on my toes caused by my lack of experience.

So that’s it.  Plan, then focus on other things on the run.  Enjoy the time to yourself, and if you do stumble on the solution to world peace, stop and write it down!  I’m sure the Olympic committee would understand.