Sunday, November 23, 2014

Revival with CCR

Camp Chestnut Ridge Trail Runs is one of those small, local races that I have grown to love so much over the past few years. It's a race packed with good cheer, good people, great food, great trails, and an awesome atmosphere. And yet in its fifth year, it is still sort of a well kept secret among the local trail running community. It shouldn't be a secret at all. It's a gem of a little race.

I've been trying to get to CCR Trail Runs for the past 2 years. Both previous years were derailed with illness or injury. This year, I finally managed to make it to the starting line in decent health, having perhaps bitten off a bit more than I could chew with an 8 mile race registration. Having just run a 5 mile trail race the previous weekend which felt like a Goldilocks distance, I didn't quite have the confidence that I could sustain good form for 8+ miles of single track. But when it comes to races, what I lack in confidence I more than make up for with stupidity. Never underestimate the power of stupidity.

Bad Moon Rising
Of course, the night before the race I felt the distinct sinus pressure that tells me I am about to fall off the cliff of good health onto the jagged rocks of sinusitis. Harnessing the power of stupidity, I shot some saline up my nostrils, took some pain meds and went to bed chanting the "I am NOT sick" mantra.

The next morning, I woke up feeling pretty good. Stupid good, even.

Down on the Corner
One excellent benefit of this year's race that other runners with small children will appreciate is childcare. As in FREE childcare, provided by the race. This race benefits a kids camp, so this is a very shrewd move on the part of the race organizers. Knowing that my 8 and 10 year old would at least be monitored by an adult during the race and that my wife and I wouldn't have to arrange for a sitter was a very big deal. Childcare alone might even bring us back for the race in coming years, but that's not where the race goodness ended, by any means.

Arriving at the race, which is a really easy 20 minute drive from southern Durham, parking was a breeze. Checking in, we were given the normal race shirt, but also a very nice pair of custom running socks! I love gear swag like this from races.



Oh, but the socks were nothing compared to the food spread at the start-finish area. For a small race, the goodies were excellent and reminded me of the food at an ultra marathon, rather than a small 4 or 8 mile trail race.

Very good coffee.


Look at that spread!

Rolling
Enough about the amenities, how was the actual race? Glad you asked. The course is a mixture of technical single track and broad bridle trail. Both the 4 mile race and the 8 mile race (which simply adds on to the 4 mile race) seemed to be about 80% single track and 20% bridle trail. This was a great mixture for the fast folks, as the bridle trails provided a half dozen or so sections to hit full stride, offering a nice break from the slower single track. For a turtle like me, it was good to hit some stretches where I didn't have to concentrate so hard on foot placement.

The 4 milers and 8 milers all start together, so there were a lot of fast 4 milers out front (and passing me constantly), but once I started the second 4 mile loops, it was nice and quiet. In fact, I only saw about 3 people during the entire second half, but that's fine with me. I like a peaceful run.

"I will smash that camera" says 431.
Beautiful bridle trails.
Some tough single track, even with the
leaf cover blown off.

8 milers get to run around this lake twice. Gorgeous both times.


Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Luckily, I'm heading back into good times, even if my running isn't "good" just yet. I'm just glad there are still a few happy little local race surprises out there. Races like these remind of those Summer days when it rains while the sun is shining - a pleasant, refreshing surprise.

I've seen bad times and bad races. CCR Trail Races are neither. Do yourself a favor and check out this race next year.



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ravens and Writing Desks

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" asked the Mad Hatter in the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Much like the Mad Hatter, I have no idea. Why that question floated through my mind as I stumbled down the trail during the Raven Rock Trail Races is an even greater mystery since I haven't read Carroll's books since I was child.

I'm not one to totally zone out during a trail run. My mind percolates with insanities and inanities, which spontaneously bubble to the forefront of my consciousness as I struggle to traverse the rocky, rooty ground during a trail run. That may be the reason I still stumble and fall so much, even after all these years of trail running. That, or the fact that trail running is just ridiculously difficult. Still, the pertinent part of the Mad Hatter's question remains: Why?

Why run trails, even after knee surgery number 6? Why run trails, even after spending nearly a year recovering from plantar fasciitis? Like the Mad Hatter, "I haven't the slightest idea."

Raven Rock Trail Races
I have wanted to run Raven Rock for several years, but it always seemed to fall on a weekend with a conflict. This year, as part of my Cackalack Attack adventure, I set everything else aside and finally made it down to the sand hills area for the race.

Let me tell you, for mid November in NC, it was freezing! My car registered 26F when I left for the race. After a leisurely hour long ride, it had crept up to a balmy 31F as I pulled into the parking field by Raven Rock State Park. Not that 31F is extremely cold, but 3 days before the race it was over 70F. It seems Winter had been turned on with a flick of the Canada switch. (Note to Canada: keep your arctic air to yourself, hoser!).

Brrrr......!!


Warning to anyone considering Raven Rock Trail Races for the first time: the parking area is a LONG walk (0.65 miles by some folks measurements) to the registration and check-in area. Don't cut your arrival time too close! Luckily, I'm a habitually early arriver, so I had plenty of time to make the journey to check-in and then hang out with the usual suspects from Raleigh-Durham who had made the trip down for the race.

All the way to the end of this road, then
right and down another long stretch to
the start-finish area.


Kudos to the race organizers for having both hot coffee and hot water for cocoa mix at the start-finish aid station. I took advantage of the hot beverage after the race once my sweaty race gear turned into a salty, stinky, chill suit. Actually, the main start-finish aid station was really quite nice, with a good mixture of snacks, including donuts, breakfast trail mix, and the usual assortment of bananas, pretzels, and the like. A food truck even showed up with various options (sorry, I didn't have my wallet, so skipped it totally).

More like an ultra marathon aid station.


Golf Balls, Leaf Blowers and Luxury Trails
The trail itself (at least the 5 mile section I ran) was fairly technical. Lots of roots, and a long section with golf ball sized rocks, which made running downhill seem even more out of control that usual for me. I've always jokingly complained at other races that the organizers should have blown all the leaves off the trail before the race. Well damned if the Raven Rock organizers hadn't done that! Not that it made the race any less difficult (there were plenty of roots and rocks to contend with), but it was sort of like luxury trail running. I felt like trail running royalty! Well, at least like the royal court jester of trail running anyway.

Luxury, I tell you!


The 5 mile race starts going downhill, and continues going downhill with only a few upward bumps, for a couple of miles. Then there is a decent ascent followed by an indecent decent before arriving at the Cape Fear River. Which is where I made my only mistake of the race: I missed the turn. Unfortunately, I was following several other people who also missed the turn. Only when we had entered a non-luxury, leaf covered trail did I begin to question our route. By that time, I heard several other trail runners yelling from the luxury trail, calling us all back (aren't trail runners great people?!). All in all, I'd say we lost only a few minutes and a handful of positions in the race before we made our way back.

Wrong way!

Right way!

The last couple of miles of the race is uphill, following Camel Creek for a while, then crossing it and heading up a 0.75 mile meat grinder of a hill to the finish. It's been a long while since I thought my heart would burst from my chest and flop away into the underbrush, but I got to experience that pleasure again on the way up that hill.

Beautiful day.

Great trail.

Once you cross this bridge, it's heart attack hill time.

Just before the finish. Blow your nose,
wipe your face, and finish with pride.

There is just enough flat ground near the top to get your heart under control and your snotty face cleaned up for a respectable sprint across the finish line. All in all, my finish was pretty good. I ran the entire course and finished in a respectable 52 minutes. Very few fast people showed up for the 5 miler this year, so I managed to sneak in at 25th position out of 122 starters. Not too shabby, for me anyway.

The Riddle
No, I still don't know why a raven is like a writing desk. I also don't know why I continue to stagger to the starting line of trail races on gorgeous, frigid NC mornings when I could be home tucked into my oh so warm and comfy bed. It's certainly not because I enjoy the near freezing heart attacks that seem to be guaranteed at every race. Well, maybe just a little.

Legs? Is that the answer to the riddle?



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Miserable Failures


As a runner, I'm a miserable failure. I'm slow, I'm injury prone, and I never know when to back off. And no, this isn't some sort of pity party. Those are just the facts of my running life, and I'm perfectly fine with that reality. Well, as fine as I can be given my self loathing nature (You suck, Der Scott! You're right, Der Scott, I do. Wanna go for a run on our bum knee? Hell yeah! Let's do it!).
I'm pretty sure this wouldn't keep me from running.

On the other hand, I LOVE to run trails. I can be slow on trails and never consider it a shortcoming. Moving slowly through the forest on even the roughest trail is as close as I can come to a religious experience. I know that sounds a bit kooky, but it's honest. However, what I love most about trail running is the trail running community. I've stopped counting the number of interesting, intelligent, impressive people I've met through trail running. If the trail running community is a slice of humanity, it's the best slice I've experienced. (For what it's worth, jury duty served up the worse slice).

So I'm terrible at running, but I love it.  If you've read any of my posts here, you already knew that. What's new then? Well, after 9 months and one knee surgery I "raced" again, at the perfect comeback event - The Misery Run.



Wonderful Misery
This was my third year racing the Misery Run (race report from 2011). It's the granddaddy of "mudder" and "obstacle" events in this area, with 2014 being its 19th year. It's also the purest of these sorts of events. Where most events have devolved into bad-ass-warrior-spartan-crotchfit extravaganzas sporting smoke machines, blaring rock music and machine gun crossfire, the Misery Run maintains the simple purity of a cross country race "with flavor".  It's the perfect mix of trails, fields, logs, hay bales, and "mud" puddles. It's family friendly, and seriously competitive at the same time. And chock full of cool, interesting people!



If you are local, do yourself a favor and check it out. In fact for pure cross country fun, check out the entire Carolina Godiva Winter Series. You won't find better race value for your $5. And no, I did NOT omit a zero in that price.

And the best part: kids under 12 run for FREE!



Miserable Comebacks
Alex, the apple from my tree.
How did it go? Miserably, but in a good way. I'm still a bit frightened to run on trails after the recent surgery. My plantar fasciitis (partial rupture) from October of last year is also still hanging around in my left foot like a drunk brother-in-law after a wild New Year's party. Not much of a bother, unless it wakes up screaming and threatening to kill me with a busted beer bottle.

This year, I ran most of a lap with my youngest son, Alex, while my oldest son Ryan and his school buddy, Jonathan, scampered through the woods ahead of us. I tried to let go of the worry and just relax and laugh with the kids. For the most part, everything went very well. The surgery knee didn't bark very much, but did clear its throat a time or two during mysterious foot landings. The PF stayed mostly in a beer coma. The freezing, anthrax-laced cow pasture puddle crossings may have helped with that as well.



Want to experience something magical? Run with kids. It doesn't even matter if they are YOUR kids, just try it. Kids will level you, but in a good way. They run for fun the way I truly desire to run for fun. Unfortunately, most of the kid has been beaten out of me by life, so I find it difficult to experience the pure joy that they get for free. But that doesn't keep me from trying.

Spray me with a hose, will you?!

Take that!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Cackalack Attack

First things first, let's clear up some slang rules. If you are a native of North Carolina, you have undoubtedly heard the slang words "cackalacky" and "cackalack" thrown about when referring to our beautiful home state. More than likely, alcohol was involved when these slang words were slurred. That alcohol was possibly distilled on someone's back porch, and could easily substitute for high powered paint thinner.

So, back to the slang words. I declare the following as the official and final rules of usage: cackalack is to be used only for North Carolina; cackalacky is to be used only for South Carolina. This may upset some folks. Some may even vehemently disagree. Sorry, you are wrong. My rules. Deal with it.

If you are finished spitting and raging at your screen because you disagree with my rules, let's get to the point of this post - Cackalack Attack. I've run a good number of races in Cackalack, my favorites usually in state parks. In fact, of my top 3 favorite races, 2 are in state parks - Medoc Trail Marathon in Medoc Mountain State Park, and Umstead Trail Marathon in Umstead State Park. Since I'm the sort of idiot who chases stupid challenges, I've decided that I will run every single race that takes place in a state park in Cackalack.

The Cackalack Attack should keep me occupied for a few years. There are 41 state parks (or recreation areas or preserves) in Cackalack. I'm not sure how many of them host a race.


Out of those 41, here are the ones where I've already run a race:
  • Umstead State Park - Umstead Trail Marathon
  • Medoc Mountain State Park - Medoc Trail Marathon
  • Eno River State Park - Eno River Run
  • Pilot Mountain State Park - Pilot Mountain 5K
  • Hanging Rock State Park - Top of the Mountain To Ya!
  • Falls Lake - MST 12 Miler and MST 50K
I'll update this post as I find races to assign to the parks, but if you know of any, please leave a comment. And if you want to join me in the Cackalack Attack, I'm up for carpooling and sharing post race beers. But you'll have to put up with my injury moaning and whining. Sorry, all good things come with a price. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Like A Rolling Stone

One a hot Friday afternoon, less than a mile into my run, I finally cracked. My knee was killing me, like being jabbed with a knife each time my foot fell. I stopped under the shade of a pine tree and made the decision to call my surgeon as soon as I could limp back from the miserable run.

I had tried everything to work around the pain. I took 6 weeks off running, TWICE. I reset my mileage to zero and slowly ramped, starting with run-walk workouts of less than a mile. I tried running slower. I tried running faster. I tried running on my forefoot. I tried hopping on one foot. I tried drinking more beer. I thought about trying to drink less beer, but that was just crazy talk.

Cut Me!
Surgery sucks, especially knee surgery. Well, actually the surgery isn't that bad considering the anesthesia, but the recovery definitely sucks. On top of that, I've already had 5 knee surgeries on the left knee, so deciding to go for number 6 on the right knee felt like paying Ferrari money for a clapped out Ford. But for now, running was still worth the price, so I made the appointment.

My ortho doc is damned good. He's a sports specialist and a runner, so he "gets it". He also does about 150 arthroscopic procedures a year, so when I told him I was ready for the knife, he pulled out his phone, checked his schedule and said "I have one slot open this Thursday". I agreed. Better to just get it over with as soon as possible. Besides I didn't want any time to change my mind.

Nothing is ever simple for me with running, and I guess that goes for running related surgery as well. The surgery itself went well ("excellent" was the word used by my doc) and I was off the crutches in less than a day. Yeah, my knee was swollen like a large grapefruit and the surgical tunnels stung like bee stings, but overall the knee felt great. No more stabbing pain in the rear of my knee. I rested over the weekend, gradually regaining my mobility. But then things got complicated.

Side Effects May Vary
I went back to work after surgery on the following Monday, feeling a little tired, but generally able to sit at my desk and be semi-productive. But by lunchtime, I was feeling rotten - tired, lightheaded, and dizzy. I chalked it up to recovery from the surgery and went home early. The next couple of days, I made it about the same amount of time before fatigue and dizziness sent me home. On Thursday, sitting at my desk, the world began moving, which was strange because that totally contradicted what my eyes were seeing. In the space of an hour, I got so dizzy I had trouble walking. Then I lost control of my breathing and my chest felt constricted. I called my regular doctor in a panic and she told me to come over immediately.

An hour later, after an ECG, blood work, and various tests indicated no cardiac issues, my doctor prescribed some medicine to help with the dizziness and scheduled me for an MRI of my head.

Of course I consulted Doctor Google once I regained my sense of balance. But that asshole always tells me that I have cancer. Same thing this time. It HAD to be a brain tumor. Great, just great.

A Tumor
A couple of days later I took a nice nap in a clattering MRI machine. The next morning my doctor called with the results. "Well, the MRI of your head showed nothing" she said. Har dee har har, doc. Very funny. "No brain tumors or other abnormalities" she continued. Well, suck on that Doctor Google! "However, your left carotid artery didn't show up well on the images, so I want to schedule you for another MRI, this time with contrast to see if you have a carotid blockage". Great, just great.

A day later, I lay nervously in the same MRI machine as it clattered away, but the IV in my arm feeding ice cold contrast liquid into my veins, and my own fears rampaging through my brain, meant no napping. I knew that a carotid artery problem would be serious, and potentially very dangerous.

These new images were sent off to a couple of specialists, so I didn't hear anything for a few very stressful days. Finally, my doctor called and gave me the news. I did indeed have lower flow in my left carotid artery, but I am one of the 2% or so of people who have imbalanced carotid arteries. Turns out, my left carotid is congenitally about half the size of my right, and is missing some significant branches. So, if you ever want to kill me, slash my right carotid. Cutting the left one would be like giving me a nick while shaving.

So, two MRIs and I'm still dizzy as hell. It's not a brain tumor. It's not an arterial blockage. Time to see a neurologist. Appointment made, I wait while the world shifts and wobbles around me.

DisEase
And then my wife reminds me of something significant: ticks. I was in the mountains the week before my surgery and spent a lot of time in deer tick territory. And didn't I see a tick on my leg amongst the trail dirt after hiking through some heavy undergrowth? Oh hell, I think I might have Lyme Disease! I mention this seemingly insignificant fact to my doctor and she immediately puts me on doxycycline and drew a dozen or so vials of blood to send off to culture.

However, before I could even make it to my neurology appointment, and before any of my Lyme cultures come back from the lab, I have a severe "attack". I can barely walk, barely breath, have pain and tightness in my chest, and my hands and feet are going numb. I panic and have my wife drive me to the emergency department at Duke Hospital. My blood pressure is 20 points above normal on both ends and my resting heart rate is around 90, which is crazy since I'm normally in the 50-60 range (running for the win!). To cut a very long ER story short, they tested everything under the sun related to my heart and lungs and came up empty, discharging me after a very long night in the hospital. The ER doc was actually apologetic about not finding anything, but encouraged me to keep my neurology appointment. Great, just great.

Rocks

Two days later, I see the neurologist. I spend a solid 30 minutes telling him the entire history (he has seen the MRI scans and nods along as I describe the findings). The last thing I say to him is "Apparently, no one can figure out what is wrong with me."

He doesn't say a word, but puts me through a battery of balance and coordination tests, some of which I ace and some of which I flub. Then he asks me a single question. "Did they intubate you during your anesthesia for the knee surgery?"

"Umm, yeah" I reply. "But it was a light anesthesia."

"That doesn't matter," the doc says, "you have rocks loose in your head."

I look at him like he has 3 heads (jokes on him, since I was only seeing double at that moment) and ask "What the hell are you talking about?"

The doc goes on to explain something called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. You can follow the link to read all about it, but it really does just boil down to "rocks loose in your head", little calcium crystals called otoconia actually, but "rocks" sounds way cooler. His guess was that during the knee surgery, as either part of intubating me or moving me around to work on my knee while my head was in an extreme decline due to the intubation, some of my "rocks" were knocked loose. "This is fairly common in "older" patients," the doc says "and you are close enough to 'older'". Smart ass doc. I like this guy.

Those rocks were rolling around in other parts of my inner ear sending bogus movement signals into into my brain. My brain being of the logical sort thought the world had gone mad and that I was about to fall off of it, so prepared me for the fall into the inky void by releasing the adrenaline hounds of war. Hence the high blood pressure, and shortened breath, and the tingly appendages, and the fight or flight panic I was feeling when I checked myself into the hospital. The human body is simply an evolutionary mess.

I asked the doc about treatment and he says it is quite simple. He shows me a set of maneuvers to perform twice a day to get the little rocks in my inner ear rolled back into position. Basically these maneuvers involve me falling over in different positions and laying very still. He assured me that I would feel better within a week. I could barely restrain my skepticism.  I had just spent a night in the f'n hospital! I had Lyme Disease! Or an undiagnosed blood clot! Or a hidden brain tumor! Loose rocks and some nutty falling over exercises were NOT the answer.

But damned if they didn't work! Within 4 days, I was feeling totally better. I had been dizzy and miserable for 5 weeks, and suddenly I felt normal again.

Epilogue
What's the point of this long, snarky medical history you ask? Well, it was to get to this point: I ran again this week, and the pain in my knee is gone! The surgery worked. And all the side effect insanity? Well, it takes more than fear for my life to stop this rolling stone. Roll on, runners. Roll on.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Selling Hens from Holes I Dug

This post will only make sense to a handful of people, and that's just fine. I've dug a hole for myself lately. Another knee surgery in the books (the seventh for those of you counting) has meant DNS's for all of my Summer and early Fall races. But I did manage to finish the Rust Hill Micro Run this weekend. I actually placed in the top 10 for my distance. How you might ask? Chickens. That's how. Specifically hens that I excavated while I dug my hole. I had planned to sell these strange hens, but thought, who would buy dirt covered chickens? Turns out, a dug hen sells quite fast.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Run While Injured


I've finally cracked the code. I don't know why I didn't discover this ages ago, but somehow I missed it. I've figured out how to run through severe injury pain, and the solution does not involve drugs or alcohol. Not that I would ever run under the influence anyway, but this new discovery promises to be the breakthrough all of us broken down runners have been seeking.

In an effort to launch Scott 3.0, I've started slowly running again. I'm limping and shuffling around a track for 30 minutes even though all the injuries of the past 8 months are an ever present source of nasty, persistent pain. My knee aches. My hip flexor flexes painfully. My achilles kills me. And my PF is blackmailing me with nasty letters made with clippings from articles in the latest Runner's World magazine. But I think I have beaten them all at their own game.

While running around the track today in the 95F heat, with the symphony of pain from my various ailments blaring their awful muzak in my sizzling brain, I fell down. Yes, I know I'm an idiot. Yes, that's sad that I fell on seemingly flat ground (I swear there was a root!). Yes, now shut up and listen because this is the important part!

I banged my knee pretty hard on the pavement, and it hurt like hell as I started running again. But lo and behold, none of my other ailments could penetrate my brain with their songs of pain. My bruised knee out-sang them all! And I ran semi-normally for the first time in as long as I can remember.

The solution, as you have surmised, is to mask pain with MORE pain. Works like a charm! So, if you see me out on the track in the next few weeks punching myself in the nuts as I run, you'll know why.