Sunday, November 27, 2011

Til Bonk Do Us Part

I hadn't done a good, hard, long aerobic run since before my October trail marathon. I felt like I needed one, just to maintain my marathon conditioning. Or at least that's how I rationalized my masochistic reasoning. When I mentioned that I was thinking of running 16 miles (or so) in Umstead, my wife, Sherri, said she was interested in tagging along. Her longest run to date was a half marathon, her first, a month prior. I warned her that the route was pretty tough, but she always seems to be up for a challenge (she's had two kids after all). So, after finagling some childcare for the afternoon, we set off to Umstead for a bit of running.

75 degrees on November 28. I hadn't expected that. But there was water on the loop I planned to run, so I had brought along several Nuun electrolyte tablets for the water bottle, plus a couple of Honey Stinger gels, just in case. I thought I had enough to cover the run. I was running fasted (nothing to eat since the previous evening), hoping to rely on fat burning to fuel my long run. Stupidly optimistic - that's how I roll.

Sherri, who had eaten a sensible breakfast...

Umstead is just a beautiful place to run.
Loop One - Good Fun!
We left the car and had an easy run down to Reedy Creek Lake, where we would pick up the main Reedy Creek to Turkey Creek to Graylyn Trail loop I had planned.

Turning onto Reedy Creek Trail, we started the mile long steady climb up to the Turkey Creek Trail intersection. Sherri commented on how this hill seemed to go on forever! I told her it was at least twice as long on the second pass.
Two miles in and starting Turkey Creek Trail
for the first time. This should be easy...

Turkey Creek Trail is a tough run, especially the northern section. But with fresh legs and good conversation, we had no difficulty with most of it.
I noticed that the railing was rotten after
this photo was taken. Confluence of Crabtree,
Sycamore, and Turkey Creeks in the background.
Don't say you never learned anything from this blog...

The last couple of miles are hard, no matter how fresh my legs seem, so when we emerged from Turkey Creek Trail back onto Graylyn Trail, I was pretty happy.
I thought this post was my wife for a brief moment.
Dehydration can cause hallucinations, right?

Sherri looked fresh as ever and suffered only from all of my photography antics.

I also learned something on this run. Horses wear trail shoes, just like people. And they even lose them occasionally.

Easyboot Trail Shoe.
Zero drop with big meaty rubber cleats for grip.
I can always use more grip, but as usual
with trail shoes, this one didn't fit my
exceptionally wide foot.

Look at the grip on that thing!

Loop Two - Bad News
By the time we completed the first loop, the suffering had begun - mostly for me. Lack of any food during the previous 18 hours left me with very dead legs after only 9 miles. I thought about quitting, but Sherri seemed up for another loop, so off we went down Turkey Creek Trail once again.

Not nearly as much lively conversation from me on this pass though. I was suffering, silently. Sherri, on the other hand, seemed to be in great shape. I kept asking her if she was OK, hoping she would tell me she wanted to quit and head back to the car. But she said she was doing fine, just a bit tired.

Only when we reached the northern section of Turkey Creek Trail, where Krampus hides in the steep, gut-busting hills, did she begin to show any signs of trouble. By then I was an inch away from a major bonk.

I picked up the pace in a stupid effort to simply get the loop done and get back to my car. It didn't work.
Someone please send a horse.
I will pay with this nifty horse trail shoe.
Sherri was suffering, but still on her feet - and smiling! Damn her!
Stop smiling! And carry me back to the car!

But the smile wouldn't last much longer. By mile 15, the bonk set in for Sherri as well. We both struggled to finish the loop in one piece, and somehow we managed to hobble back to Reedy Creek Lake for 16 miles in about 3 hours.
My grimace looks like a smile. Sherri's face tells the
tale for both of us.
As we crossed the Reedy Creek Lake dam heading back to the car, I said "We should go for THREE loops!"
Wait! Come back! I was only joking!!
You can't leave me, I have the car keys!

So, as of this moment, we are still married. In fact we had a good laugh about the whole thing over a dinner of Thanksgiving left-overs and a couple of glasses of wine. However, I've learned one troubling new fact today - my wife is a better runner than me after only 5 months of training. But I will never tell her that. I will blame it all on the bonk.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sweet Misery - Godiva Misery Run

All photos courtesy of Shannon Johnstone of Running Down.

Some races are special not because of the fantastic course, or the great volunteers, or the fun and friendly atmosphere, or even because you have a great time. The Godiva Track Club's Misery Run had all of that, and then some. But it was special for other reasons - reasons much more difficult to define. This was a race of firsts for me. My first race as a member of Godiva and my first race in the Godiva Winter Series.  My first race involving cow poop. My first race with my 7 year old son Ryan running by my side. The Misery Run was excellent for all of these reasons - but especially because I was able to run with my son.

Ryan and I had been looking forward to this race for weeks. Reading old race reports with pictures and even video of past races, left Ryan and I wondering exactly how many hay bales, mud puddles, and cow poop piles we would be running through. Being 7 years old, Ryan is a finely tuned potty humor machine, so he couldn't stop giggling about running through cow poop. I'm a 7 year old at heart, so I egged him on at every opportunity. My wife was not amused.

I wasn't sure of the exact length of the race, but had heard it was a loop course totaling 5.75 miles. I was a bit worried about Ryan. His longest run to date had been 5.4 miles, and that was along a flat greenway near our house. The morning of the race he seemed a little nervous as well. I told him he was free to stop after the first loop (or anytime really for that matter), and that seemed to calm his nerves.

Race Day
Orange County,NC. I think the race was
somewhere between the X and the
pirate ship.
Race day arrived and we piled into my car and headed out to find the race site. If the rest of the Godiva races are as hard to find as the Misery Run, I'm going to have to do a bit of recon beforehand. It's almost like Godiva is intentionally trying to hide the race. First you email the race directory for the secret directions. Turn left here.. right there.. then look for some guy standing near a mailbox. The only reason I found the race was because I happened to be following a car with a Godiva bumper sticker. Otherwise I might still be lost someplace in Orange County, North Cackalacky.

I parked my car in a cow pasture next to a farm house, very glad that there hadn't been any rain in the prior few days. Ryan and I signed in and had our bibs in minutes (I love small races!), so we wandered over to one of the hay bales so Ryan could practice climbing over. At about 6 feet tall, the hay bales were quite a challenge for 4 foot tall Ryan. But with a little practice, and some advice from me to jam his foot into the bale, he managed to make it over a couple of times without help.

No problem for Ryan. Me on the other hand...
Lap One - Who Put These Trees Here?!
The race started with a bit of a wait. Traffic was backed up at the first hay bale, so we waited for about 30 seconds before we scrambled across. All of my worries about Ryan and the hay bales were laid to rest when the little monkey scrambled over the top much faster than his old man. This would become a trend as the race progressed.

Once we cleared the hay bale and the adjacent cow pasture, we hit the single track through the woods. I wasn't expecting downed trees. Of course, I never seem to expect anything difficult. "Ignorance is bliss" is my overall race strategy.

Ryan giggled as he leapt over each log. I grunted with arthritic pain but urged him on with some half hearted "Woo hoos!". All I could think was "Doesn't this farmer own a chain saw?". But then I noticed that some logs had been intentionally piled across the trail. "Ahh, sadistic farmer!" I concluded. I like his thinking.

Just as we emerged from the single track, back into the cow pasture, we were forced to splash through a foot deep, muddy, poop colored (and filled?) water hole. Really?! Again, with the course sadism? I was beginning to like this farmer.

Ryan, smarter than his old man, heads for the shallow "water" near the fence. The hose
spraying ice cold water was a nice sadistic touch. Well played farmer Marquis de Sade.
Over another giant hay bale, and then another long transit around the perimeter of the farmstead on the single track through the woods (more and bigger logs across the trail!) , and we were finished with the first loop of the course.

Lap Two - Shoe Stew
The second lap was harder, mostly because my shoes were filled with some indescribable farm gunk. Mud? Sand? Poop? I spent a good portion of the lap running with this cow poo shoe stew squishing between my toes. Ryan laughed at me and said his feet felt fine.

Lap Three - Sweet Misery
About half way through lap two, Ryan announced to me that he wanted to run the entire race. I was surprised - and proud - and worried. I was running out of gas, having already run 10, 13, and 12 mile trail runs the week before the race (the final 12 miler was for the 12athon, a fun year-long event everyone should participate in next year!). The course was tough. Much tougher and more technical than I had anticipated. And I guesstimated that Ryan had been averaging about a 12 min/mile pace, and amazingly had been negatively splitting each loop. The third loop was his fastest. At times he left me behind on the single track and I struggled to catch up, but luckily I climb hills better than him, so I always managed to close the gap when we headed up. We managed to finish the lap together and entered the final cow dung challenge together.

They call it "The Volcano", but the only thing erupting from the giant pile of cow dung, was a foul odor, and the partially submerged tips of previously lost shoes. And we had to scramble through it somehow. Disgusting! And awesome! My right leg sank up to my knee on the first step. I pulled my leg from the poop vacuum and luckily my shoe stayed on. Ryan is so light, he basically floated over the stuff.

I immediately begin sinking.
Oh, crap, I think I dropped my car keys!

My neighbor Katie was running the race and had passed through previously. Her daughter was at the bottom of The Volcano yelling "Get my mom's shoe!"

Being the chivalrous type, I pulled an entombed shoe from the poop and flung it from the pile. Manure flew in several directions at once. You're welcome!

Shoe and poo flew!

I've haven't laughed that hard in quite a while.

Ryan and I escaped from The Volcano, slopped through the cattle yard, and ran through the pasture to the finish line, in a final time of 1 hour 10 minutes. I was way off from my estimate of 1:30. Ryan was flying. In fact, he was the youngest to finish the entire race and earned a nice finisher's prize - irony, thy name is chocolate bar...

The aftermath. Even with a good hose rinse, the only reason I'm keeping my shoes
is because I'll need something to wear at next year's
Misery Run.

Special. I try not to use that word too often. I don't want to cheapen it. But this was a truly special race for me. This wacky, dirty, funny little race will long hold special memories. Thanks, Godiva!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The "Woo Hoo!" Downhill Method

Me, doing it all wrong, even on
a small hill.
I've been struggling to run down hills since I switched form and began running with a mid-foot landing in minimalist shoes. Every time I attempted to run down hills, the pounding would simply destroy my knees, hips, quads, and self confidence. So, I went downhill slowly. Very, very slowly. You could walk downhill faster than I ran down hills. It was sad. But, it was easy on my old body, and that was good enough.

I had no intention of solving this problem. I was running just fine, even with the turtle paces going down the hills. But as Fall settled into my part of the world, and the trees began to blaze with oranges, reds, and yellows, I found myself very relaxed and happy while running my normal trail runs. Something about the beautiful Fall colors and the cooler air, seemed to trigger a change in my running.

I found new speed on hills I would have previously crawled down. And all I did was RELAX. Relax and move with the force of gravity. Legs at ease. Knees bent. Body leaning into the fall of the hill, instead of pulling backwards in tension - in fear.
My son, Ryan, relaxed and flying downhill.

My son, Alex, doing it the right way.

I've discovered that if I am able to yell "Woo Hoo!", and really mean it, while running downhill, then I am truly relaxed and flowing with the hill. And I fly!

(Possible next post, "How I Broke My Face Woo-Hoo'ing Down a Hill")