Monday, October 31, 2011

Run Ichabod, Run! - Pumpkin Run

My oldest son, Ryan, has been running in the Mini Milers youth program for a couple of seasons. He's getting faster and gaining endurance by the month. He recently ran 5.4 miles, just to prove to me he could do it. My goal is to stay faster than him for at least another year. By the way, he's seven. And I'm... old.

Each season the Mini Milers have a target race towards the end of their schedule. This Fall, it was the 4K Pumpkin Run. The goal for the Mini Milers was to beat their training run of the previous month on the same course. My goal was to beat as many little kids as I could, especially my own kid (Yes, I'm accepting nominations for parent of the year).

The Race
The Pumpkin Run is a actually a fun event! We arrived at the YMCA in Chapel Hill, parked quickly and easily, and then had our race bibs and shirts in a matter of minutes. A couple of minutes after that, we were on a transport bus headed to the trails where the race would be held. Turns out, the YMCA is just down the street from the race site, so we were off the bus again in under 5 minutes. I'm not sure why they didn't just have the race headquarters set up near the actual trail. Still, it was easy enough.

After a short walk down the dirt road, we arrived at the race start/finish line. I noticed that there were 3 starting corral areas. The race announcer informed us that there would be 3 waves - competitive adults, competitive kids, and casual runners. Each wave would be separated by 1 minute gaps at the start. I didn't feel bad about the 1 minute advantage I would have over the prepubescent hoard. I actually thought I might be able to beat most of the kids with that sort of advantage. Oh, how wrong I was...

I really needed a horse in this race...
Run Ichabod, Run!
Standing among all the local fasties (people like Marc Jeuland, who only beat me by AN HOUR at the Owl's Roost Rumble trail half marathon last year... sheesh!) I felt very out of place. But I had kids to stomp! Speedsters who had come out to lay down sub 13 minute times at least wouldn't be in my way on the trail (or even in sight really). So, I kept my cool and tried not to ask for autographs.

The gun went off, and I stumbled across the starting line heading up a long, but low incline. I tried to find a pace on the other side of uncomfortable, just shy of painful, to try to put some distance between me and the goblin mob that would soon be chasing me. By the time we reached the mid point of the incline, I heard the gun go off for the second wave. That couldn't be a minute separation! Felt more like 30 seconds. Panic time...

As we cleared the top of the first incline, I couldn't even see the speedsters in my wave. They were long gone. Good riddance. More oxygen for me and the other turtles. And I was in desperate need of oxygen! The panic had done real damage. I had gone out too fast. And to make matters worse, my shoe became untied. I toyed with the idea of ignoring it, but then my shoe almost flew off my foot as I hopped over a root, so I decided to pull over and re-tie. This was when the first little goblin blew past me. He looked to be about 10 years old, and he was flying! I quickly rejoined the race, but when I couldn't catch the kid, I decided to slow down and recover for a minute or so. Recovery in this case meant not puking.

It's just one kid, I thought to myself. I can hold off the rest!

A minute later, a stream of little imps was flowing past me. One, then two, then five at once! I was drowning in a veritable ocean of little ogres!

Time to adjust my race goals. I'm pretty good at changing goals, or at least adding new goals, during races. It's an excellent way to compensate for my innate lack of running talent.

New Goals
I wouldn't be beating the kids. Heck I probably wouldn't be beating my own 7 year old son. I had blasted out too quickly, on an up hill start and had blown up. My new goal was to recover and finish in under 20 minutes. And not to puke. Losing to kids is one thing. Losing to kids while puking is simply unacceptable.

I passed the first mile marker at around the 7:40 mark. Not too bad considering I'm a turtle and I was about to puke a few minutes before. I picked up a small group of people who seemed to be running a decent pace and tried to stick with them. After a few easy stretches of trail, I recovered and finally got my breathing under control again.

Since I was feeling good once again, I broke away from my little group on the steepest downhill section of the course. I've actually gained a bit of downhill skill in the past few months, so it felt good to actually do something right for a change.

I passed the 2 mile mark in 15 minutes flat. That couldn't be right I thought. I was getting faster?! I had a great shot at a sub 20 minute time now, even if I blew up again, which was very likely, since I decided to go all out for the last 800 meters.

Winner! (in my own mind)
I was passing people now. Lots of people. I heard the finish line cheers from across the last stretch of trail. I had lost complete control of my breathing again, and was about to lose my lunch as well, but suddenly, there was the finish line, tucked around the last sharp turn on the trail. I held onto my cookies and clomped across the line.

18:15 at 7:20min/mile pace. If anyone who was at the race reads this and was wondering who the kook was that was dancing around celebrating a totally mediocre 4K time at the finish line. That was me. I'm not proud. I celebrate when I can.

I grabbed a cup of water and waited for my speedy spawn to come flying across the line. And in a few more minutes, there he was, sprinting it out against some other 7 year old imp.

Back at the YMCA, we both had a slice of pumpkin pie and shared a cup of sugary, hot coffee - the best pie and coffee I've ever had, mostly because I shared it with my son.

Ryan made his goal by beating his previous time by almost 2 minutes. I couldn't be prouder of him.

I, on the other hand, got stomped by a bunch of kids in a 4K trail race. But I loved every minute of it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

2012 Running Stupidity - Race Calendar

I've been so busy, I completely forgot to post a race schedule for this Fall/Winter/Spring. I've already completed the first race of the season, but still I have no race calendar posted. As usual, I'm not winning and am somewhere near the back of the pack in the whole "post your race calendar" event. Not that I expect anyone to really care about my "race" calendar, but I thought it would be a nice way to organize and track the races I plan to "experience".  So, before I sarcastically quote any other random words, let's get to the races.

  1. October 15, 2011, Medoc Trail Marathon - Done. Loved it. Will do it again. Race report.
  2. October 29, 2011, Pumpkin Run (4K) - Running this one with my son, Ryan. Done. Race report
  3. November 13, 2011, Misery Run (5M) - Hay bales, mud and poop! What's not to love... Done. Loved it! Race report.
  4. December 3, 2011, Run at the Rock (14M) - Ran the 7 mile race last season and loved it. Returning for the long version. Done. Had a great time! Race report.
  5. December 11, 2011, Couch Mountain (5M) - How hard could running up a mountain with the name "Couch" possibly be? Also, there's a picnic afterwards. Who doesn't like picnics?! Done. Had a great time with my son. Race report.
  6. December 17, 2011, Pilot Mountain 5K Challenge - Up the mountain and around the knob. Where's my inhaler? Done. Brutal, but fun! Race report.
  7. January 1, 2012, New Year's Day Run (5M) - Happy New Year! We'll see how hangovers and cross country running work together... Done. Hangovers? No. The flu? Yes. Race report.
  8. January 14, 2012, Little River Trail Race (10M) - Ran the 7K last season. Going for the 10 miler this time. More is better, right? Done. Ran OK, but had fun. Race report.
  9. January 15, 2012, Eno Equalizer (4M) - Eno River State Park run. I've hiked there, but never run on the trails. At least there won't be any ticks or snakes to worry about. MISSED. Too beat up from the Little River Trail Race.
  10. February 4, 2012, Uwharrie Mountain Run (20M) - Supposed to be a very, tough race, but looking forward to giving it a go. Hoping to see Sasquatch out there. Done. Tough run! Race report
  11. February 12, 2012, Geezer Pleezer (?M) - Going to be a tough day since I have to put 12 total miles in somehow as part of the Virtual 12athon Challenge. Done (barely). Race report. I crashed physically after this race. The sad details are here.
  12. March 3, 2012, Umstead Trail Marathon - I have unfinished business with this race... I'm just not sure if it owes me, or I owe it. Either way, I'm thinking I will be the one paying. Done. Didn't make my time goal, but I'm pretty happy with the race. Race report.
  13. March 17, 2012, Hanging Rock Trail Race (12K) - I've hiked this loop before. It's brutal. Should be an "interesting" run. Done. Raced this one with my better half. Race report.
  14. March 18, 2012, Hard Hill Climb (10M) - Final race of the Godiva Winter Series. Depending on how Hanging Rock goes, I may drop back to either the 3 or 7 mile version of this race. Who am I kidding. I'll be lucky to pull off the 3 mile. Done. My son, Ryan, and I earned the shirt!
  15. April 1, 2012, Mountains To Sea Trail Challenge (?M) - Probably run the 12 miler again, but they have a 50K (31M) option for 2012. Hmm, if I'm healthy and running well, first ultra maybe. I'm sure it will all go swimmingly. MISSED. Volunteered at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run instead. Great experience!
  16. April 28, 2012, Owl's Roost Rumble Trail Half Marathon - Heading back for another slow attempt at the roots and lumber. Great race last season with one of the best shirts by far. Hopefully coming in under 2 hours this year? Done. Achieved my sub-2 hour goal!
  17. May 5, 2012, New River Marathon - My lovely wife, Sherri's first marathon. I'll be running it with her, and going for my own Boston Qualifying time (not!!!). MISSED. Not ready and Sherri was injured. 
  18. July 14, 2012, The Scream Half Marathon - All down hill, "easy". Done. Had a great time pacing my wife down the mountain, but I really stank at pacing.
In addition to these, I will be participating in the Virtual 12athon Challenge, a cool, year-long event put together by Stet That Run. So, mix in a 12 mile run on the 12th of each month during the year. I also plan to work in as many of the challenges as I can stand.

I'm tired just reading all of this. However, if  you have suggestions for other cool trail races, please leave a comment. None of this is final. Heck, I may not make it past the first race, so this whole calendar may be nothing more than wishful thinking, destined for a big, fat, FAIL. But, I'm going to have fun trying!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Prime Of Life - A Birthday Ode to Company Mill Trail

Normally, I try not to celebrate birthdays, at least not in any specific way. The whole "it's my birthday and I deserve to be treated like royalty!" attitude grates on my nerves. Birthdays should be a reminder of how lucky we are to be here, not an excuse to abuse ourselves (or others) or to act like self absorbed asses.  Instead, a birthday should be a time of self reflection. A time of thankfulness. A celebration of our connection with life itself.

So every year on my birthday, I try my hardest to soak in all the beautiful parts of my life and to truly appreciate them. Like everyone else, I get overwhelmed with the minutiae of the daily grind, and on most days I fail to appreciate anything. So birthdays are a perfect time to reset the narcissism of daily life and refocus on thankfulness. This post is about my appreciation of what trail running has given me during the past year. Here in the prime of my life, I offer up an Ode To Company Mill Trail.

It's difficult to express the peace that comes with a run on a trail. Worries melt away with the flow of steps. Stress unknots as the miles gently unwind my tangled mind. Company Mill Trail is a peaceful reminder of what the land once was, and an escape from the reality of my modern life.

Over time I have come to terms with both the beauty and the harshness of Company Mill. Its unforgiving, yet beautiful, quartz stones have taught me to float and relax as I run. The difficulty of the run has been superseded by the lessons of beauty and humility the trail has taught me.

Yet, for all the times Company Mill Trail has forced my focus to the immediate reality of the harsh stones beneath my feet, it has also offered up brief moments of sublime beauty.

Thank you Company Mill Trail. Thanks for the challenge. Thanks for the peace. Thanks for allowing me to learn to run again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A RunAmoc Rundown Run Amok

Shiny and new, with added NC State
embroidered patches. I named them Rocinante.
After 9 months, I believe I have collected enough data to draw some conclusions from my nutty RunAmoc experiment. Originally, the experiment was just a crazy notion that I could probably wear nothing but RunAmocs for the entire Summer, but with a marathon on my race schedule, it soon took on a life of its own. The more I wore the RunAmocs, the more I was determined to wear them all the time. Why? Because that's just the way I am about some things - stubborn to the point of stupidity.

For example, I make it a point to continue wearing shorts throughout the Fall when everyone else switches to long pants. Actually, I make it a point to wear my shorts all the way through the holidays to new year's day, before switching over to pants. Not the same pair of shorts mind you. That would be crazy. Just shorts in general.

I hate Winter, so wearing shorts is my way of thumbing my nose at the annoying 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. Stupid tilt. And don't get me started on day light savings time and how I refuse to adjust my watch. These things must be addressed! Did I mention that my middle name is Quixote (and not Sisyphus!).

Where were we? Oh yeah, shoes. As you have probably guessed by now, this is the update to my original review of the RunAmoc of 9 months ago. On to the review, Sancho!

Comfy as padded walls!
Having paddle shaped feet means that not many shoes fit very well. There are several shoes that I can tolerate, and even some that I quite like, but nothing allows the natural feel and unencumbered function of my foot during running like the RunAmoc. Well, except for barefoot running. But this is a RunAmoc review!

I'm not sure if the RunAmocs fit better than when I first purchased them, or if my brain has simply melded with their feel over the course of the last 9 months. I don't care either way. I really love the way they fit my foot and how they feel when I wear them.

Overall rating: Still awesome!

I based my original high rating of protection on how the RunAmoc handled some of the toughest single track I run on a regular basis in Umstead State Park. After 9 months, and a lot of significant sole wear, I am still able to cruise over the sharpest quartz gravel with no pain and no injuries. In fact, I've discovered a really excellent side effect of the RunAmocs for trail running. Since they are so low to the ground, and so flexible, I rarely turn my ankles on unexpected rocks or roots. My foot simply wraps around the rock or root instead of tilting hard to the side as it does in a stiffer shoe. However, you need a strong, flexible foot to pull this off without problems. Luckily, my feet have really strengthened in the past couple of years with all the barefoot and minimalist running I've been enjoying.

Overall rating: I feel safe.

I think I'm gonna put flame decals on my shoes.
Performance is such a subjective measurement. My definition of high performance is probably very different and measured on a completely different scale than that of someone who can actually run fast. So, take this for what it's worth. For my pace on the trails (10 min/mile), RunAmocs perform great. If you are running at a decently fast pace (faster than me), you might not be comfortable with the looseness of the RunAmocs. In fact, on the road where I can actually run at something other than turtle-like paces (well, at least like a racing turtle), I actually choose other shoe options when speed matters. Luckily, SoftStar has a more suitable option for speedy road running.

Overall rating: Great for turtles like me.

I'm sure long term quality and durability is the reason that most people will read this review. How did they fare over the long haul? The short answer is very well.
The uppers are still basically perfect.

To date, I've logged over 415 miles of mixed road and trail running (including 2 trail marathons), and most likely the same daily wear mileage in the RunAmocs. I would guess that there is 700-800 miles of total wear on my pair. Aside from some expected sole wear (pavement is tough on the trail sole nubs) the shoes are basically intact and in good condition. I was originally worried a bit about the perforated leather uppers. They were very soft and flexible, but seemed a bit fragile. Having kicked, tripped, scraped, and dragged the shoes across every conceivable root, rock, stick and stump on the trails, I can report that I have yet to do any serious damage to the leather uppers. My own body is another story...

The heel wear is from walking.

One area that hasn't improved since my original purchase is the tendency of the red dye on my pair to bleed onto my socks when I sweat excessively, or get the shoes wet in streams. I've learned not to wear white socks with them, unless I want to end up with pink socks. Even with the dye problem, I would still choose the red color. Again, stubborn stupidity...

Overall rating: Bedroom slippers built like tanks. Can create pink socks, if you desire.

What started as a crazy idea born of my own delusional, bull-headed stubbornness, turned into something more in the end. The experiment has become a journey. I'm going to see exactly how far I can take my RunAmocs. Or they can take me...

Onwards, Sancho! Giddy-up Rocinante!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Running Redemption - Medoc Trail Marathon

Running Atonement
After blundering through my first trail marathon at Umstead in March, I had this strange feeling. Dissatisfaction wasn't the right word, although there was some of that. Not that I was unhappy either. Quite the opposite in fact. I had pulled off a running coup of sorts. I had trained for a half marathon and "ran" a full marathon. Friends, especially running friends, were very happy for me, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had somehow missed something.  I even felt a bit guilty. And then I felt guilty about feeling guilty. Of course, I felt guilty about that too. I'm good at guilt. Very, very good...

And then I felt stupid for feeling guilty in the first place. It was only running after all.

As the weeks went by, the answer to my nagging doubts finally dawned on me. I had missed the most important part of the first marathon experience - that sense of achievement and atonement for all of the hard work that comes with the finish. I had the "finish" but not the achievement. I could fix that.

Running Penance
I scanned through the various Fall race calendars and stumbled upon the Medoc Trail Marathon. The reviews for the race and the overall event were outstanding. So, four weeks after finishing Umstead, I signed up for Medoc. I knew that a mid-October marathon meant a late Summer of long runs in North Carolina. And that meant heat, pain and suffering. I loved the idea. This sort of thinking gets me into trouble all the time.

Fast forward to late August. It was noon and just over 90F. I was at mile 17 of a planned 18 mile long run. And I was hating everything about marathon training! My stomach was in knots from my fueling "experiments". My feet felt like I was running on hot coals. My hamstrings and glutes were cramping and contracting like demon possessed boa constrictors trapped in a pillow cases. Hubris? Stupidity? Take your pick. I would have admitted to either. After all, I wanted the "achievement"...

By September the sweltering North Carolina Summer finally broke. I was able to squeeze in my long runs on a few sub-tropical days and gradually, everything fell into place. I had worked out a successful 20 mile fueling strategy for my battered, gluten intolerant, 40-something colon, and I had figured out how to manage a long run aerobic effort. I even managed a couple of 21 mile runs where I was able to push for the last few miles, just to see how my body reacted. And mostly, it reacted well. I was ready.

Ryan, my race crew captain.
Running Redemption
Race week arrived and I was nervous. Well, paranoid actually. Mostly, I was nervous about my paranoia. I had done everything I set out to do in my training. There shouldn't have been anything to worry about. But, I worried nervously about my own paranoia anyway.

I had set both hard and stretch goals for the race. I would have been happy if I made all my hard goals. Ecstatic if I made even one of my stretch goals.

Hard Goals

  • Finish on the run, pushing instead of fading. Feel good about the last miles.
  • Talk to people during the race.
  • Enjoy every second of the race, even the low points. 
  • Trust in the training.

Stretch Goals

  • Manage my pace, and know my limits early in the race. I had yet to do this properly in any of my previous races.
  • Dodge every bullet ole Krampus shot in my direction by fueling properly and staying hydrated. I adopted the trail name of "Krampus" in a weak attempt at demi-god appeasement.
  • Finish in under 5 hours. None of my longer single track training runs had been at a pace that would put me below 5 hours. But I could dream...

Absolutely perfect day for a race.

For those of you who are already tired of reading this epic of mediocrity, here are the glorious race stats:

  • Trips - 5 (yes I counted, I always count. I work for a statistical analysis software company after all...)
  • Falls - Zero. I'm finally getting the hang of this trail running stuff. Now, watch me break my neck in the next race...
  • Cramps - Zero! Suck it, Krampus!! You can have your name back. I'm done with you. Please don't hurt me in my next race, Krampus!
  • Race conversations - Many! Trail runners are just very cool and friendly people.
  • Finish time - 4:49:16 at 11:03 pace

I achieved every one of my goals during the race. Every. Single. One.

The course was beautiful and comprised of a 8.x mile loop run 3 times. There was an excellent mixture of hard hills, fast flats, and fun rollers throughout the course. The few times I tripped were mostly because I was trying to absorb some of the beauty of the park. Medoc was a gorgeous place, much like Umstead. The race was very well organized and the volunteers were some of the most friendly and helpful that I've seen. I've already promised myself that I will run this race again year.

I have nothing exciting to tell you about my race itself. I started sanely, and made decent splits at each loop (1:3x, 1:3x, 1:4x) and most importantly, I was able to push hard the last 3 miles. I actually passed about ten people and had a very strong last mile. I never bonked or cramped, although it seemed like everyone around me was cramping during the last lap. Maybe Krampus was shooting at me and hitting innocent bystanders... If so, my apologies to all newly inducted members of the Krampus Running Club.

And by the way, I ran in my bedroom slippers.
I have discovered that the greatest challenge of my marathon training wasn't the brutality of the scheduled running - it was the paranoia. Towards the end of the long training cycle, I got the fear - fear of injury, fear of sickness, fear of failure.

But, I overcame my fears and my self doubts. I ran the race relaxed and happy. To paraphrase David Roche, the stonking winner of the 10 mile race at Medoc this year, running is full of highs and lows, but in the end, it's an amazing journey.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great RunAmoc Experiment - My Sanity Run Amok

After my first season of races, I made a couple of decisions. First, I would run another marathon, and this time I would be prepared, rather than stupid. Second, I would wear RunAmocs nearly exclusively. I'm not sure why I made the second decision. I just enjoyed wearing my RunAmocs so much, I wanted to see how far I could take them. Or how far they could take me.

So, I signed up for the Medoc Trail Marathon and embarked upon a long summer of slow, marathon, distance running in my RunAmocs.

Beginning in June, I started wearing my RunAmocs, almost exclusively. They were the shoe for all of my runs, but they also became my daily wear. I wore them to work. I wore them at home. I wore them bowling. I wore them to the pool. I wore them hiking. I wore them everywhere. And they never seemed to let me down. 

However, they generated a lot of curiosity wherever I went. I quickly developed a set of canned answers to the questions I heard time and again from complete strangers. 

"What are those?"

They are trail running moccasins, made by a very cool, small company in Oregon, named Soft Star.

"Those look really comfortable.." or "Don't your feet hurt without support?"

They are very comfortable. I love them. My feet feel awesome!

Aside from the many conversations with complete strangers, the experiment was going very well. My runs were progressing and my feet felt great. I ran on pavement and on single track trails in Umstead State Park. The RunAmocs worked equally well for both.

The only downside that I found to wearing RunAmocs as my exclusive running shoe, was that they were... um.. moccasins. And moccasins by nature, are loosely fitting shoes. The same reason I loved them became the reason not to wear them when running fast paces.

When it came to faster speeds, I simply couldn't make them work. They flopped and bounced around on my feet like leather bags at my (not so) screamingly fast, full speed pace of 6:30 min/mile.

With sadness, at the only race during this period, which happened to be a 5K, I reverted to my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats. No regrets though. The MWU3's are outstanding shoes for a fast pace. And besides, I PR'ed in them by about 4 minutes. Woo hoo!!!

Now, here I sit, a mere week before my targeted trail marathon. I've run nearly 400 miles in RunAmocs since I bought them back in February of this year. I've probably walked 400 miles as well. And I still love them. Best shoes I've ever purchased. Period.

I'm hoping these little moccasins can carry me through to my goal at Medoc. Wish me luck....