Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RIP RunAmocs

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. As good as the RunAmocs are, they can only take so much abuse. In the end, they were no match for my lack of trail running skill. I finally tripped hard enough on a hidden root to tear a hole in the  toe of my right moccasin. No, this wasn't the first time I've tripped (more like the 100th), so this had to be an especially nasty root.

It happened on my favorite trail in Umstead State Park of course. I should have known better than to run on Company Mill Trail before all the Fall leaf litter had been trampled down and washed off the trail.

I can't really complain. My RunAmocs have served me very well this year. I logged over 500 miles of running on this pair, with at least that much walking. So, 1000+ miles is pretty good for a pair of shoes. Although, I think I could have hit 2000 if I weren't so damn clumsy.
I'm lucky I didn't tear my toe nail off
when this happened.

For now, I'm still running in them, but the hole continues to expand. I may try to patch the hole somehow, but regardless, I've already decided to buy another pair exactly like the current pair. Same style. Same sole. Same soul.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lord of the Ringangles

I hate lifting weights. Hate it. But I do like to incorporate some gym work with my running.

I'm a small guy, and I'm older, so pressing 50 pound dumbells is about the limit of my heavy work these days. Although in the "beef" days of my 20's, I managed to press 230 on the machine (no free weights in the work gym aside from 50 pound dumbells). I also managed to tear a few things in my sternum pressing that much weight, so that was my injury high water mark. Hey, how can you know your limits unless you push to injury?

Even though I hate lifting, I've always loved to climb (at one time I was a decent rock climber), so whenever I'm in the gym, I usually drift towards the pull up bar. Pull ups are great for biceps, shoulders, chest and back, so I can get a good upper workout with just a few simple pull up exercises. I can even hang and do leg lifts to work my core.

So, I had this bright idea to install a set of rings in the garage for rainy day work outs. As a side benefit, I can also hang a straight bar for easier pull ups, and even a swing for my kids. Luckily I have a bunch of duplicate hardware from the giant play set I built for my kids two years ago.

For reference, those are 4 inch lag screws. I think
I could hang an elephant from that ring bracket.
My garage has a big, beefy engineered beam running along the center line. I decided to mount my brackets to the beam using some big lag screws.

Nothing like removing drywall, drilling holes, and bolting a
bracket to a beam while balancing on the top step of my ladder.
Bracket one installed. Bracket two measured, and marked.
Ready to cut drywall and mount.

Brackets mounted and chains hung.

Totally adjustable and adaptable.

I just finished two sets of 10 pull ups. I can barely type. I'm sure I'll be doing the iron cross in a couple of weeks. US Olympic trials, here I come!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monadnock Madness - Pilot Mountain Challenge 5K

See the steeper left side? We ran up that
and then around the "Knob". 
From wikipedia: A monadnock, or an inselberg is an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge or small mountain that rise abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plane.

The key word there is "abruptly", especially for Pilot Mountain.

I spent a good portion of my childhood living within sight of Pilot. I've hiked there probably a hundred times. I've rock climbed there several times, and was nearly killed on my last climbing trip (another blog post for another day). But in all this time, I've never, ever thought about running there.

The trails are steep, and when they go beyond steep, as they often do, they switch to staircases. Lots of staircases.

So, when Iris posted a teaser link about a 5K race up Pilot Mountain on the 12athon Facebook page, I had to sign up. I love down home nostalgic pain.

Escape to Pilot Mountain
Being a good husband, it was my sworn duty to convince my wife, Sherri, to share in the anticipated madness. We were up at 5:00AM, yanking the kids out of bed and shoving them into the cold, pre-dawn air for the short ride to the sitter's house. The kids just roll with it - another day with Dad's craziness is just another day. A few hours later, we pulled into the camp ground at the base of the mountain where the race would begin.

It was cold. Not exactly bone chilling, but somewhere in the 30's. Too cold for me, but at least survivable. I parked the car on the side of the road, and promptly got it stuck in the mud. Oh yeah, it rained almost an inch the night before. Sigh... After spinning the wheels for a few minutes, I managed to rock the car out of the mud hole and found a drier, rockier parking spot further up the hill. Should have driven the Subaru.

12athoner Invasion
Seven or eight 12athoners showed for the race (great meeting everyone!). This is amazing considering the 12athon has yet to actually begin (January 12, 2012 is the first real 12athon run. Sign up for fabulous prizes people!). Organizer Iris must be goading world champion.

Sherri expressing the misery of being married
to me. Iris commiserating. Bob, wisely keeping
his mouth shut.
I have goals for every race. Some are soft, some are hard, but all are usually nonsense. This race was no different.

  1. Run the race. Seriously. I've been on the Grindstone Trail, and simply not walking would be a stratospheric goal.
  2. Finish in under 40 minutes. Seriously. I know, it's only a 5K, but this is a kick-ass 5K! I wanted to get to the finish while they still had hot chili and Krispy Kreme donuts.
  3. Don't fall off the mountain. Seriously, it's possible.
Grinding up Grindstone
I need to pay more attention to the time. We walked out to the starting area, and while I was busy looking at Iris' spiffy new NB WT110 trail shoes (not yet released to the peons of the running world), the race started. I had wanted to be closer to the front. Not that I'm fast, but I figured I should at least be in front of the runners wearing the Santa hats. I think we were standing around the 100th position in the pack when the race started.

As a result, I spent the first 1.5 miles passing people, simply to get to the spot in the pack where my pace should have placed me to begin with. I suck at racing.

I stole this from Josh's race report. Thanks, Josh!
As you can see from this contraband race course profile, the hard stuff starts around mile 1.6 and continues to about mile 2.2. I can't tell you how extremely difficult this section was in mere words, so I'll use pictures too. The trail was a seemingly never ending series of steep switchbacks, littered with rock and timber staircases (hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of steps). 
Stupid steep.
To give you an idea of the terrain, this is the trail that rock climbers go down to access the Pilot Mountain climbing area.
This is just plain wrong. Runners going up. Rock climbers going down.
I'll say it again - stupid steep.
Needless to say, but Goal 1 (not walking) died an agonizing death on Grindstone Trail. I buried it in an unmarked grave next to a rotting log around mile 2 of the race. Rest in peace little buddy...

Jomeokee Jubilee
Having "successfully" slogged my way up Grindstone, I entered the final mile of the race on Jomeokee Trail. Don't tell anyone, but this is one of the best (and my favorite) trails in all of North Carolina. It's staggeringly beautiful - when you have the time to actually enjoy it. 

Other parts of the Sauratown Mountain Range in the distance.

I found my third wind on Jomeokee Trail and started to fly (my second wind was buried on Grindstone Trail along with Goal 1). I passed a lot of people, even though I was snapping pictures and trying to enjoy the trail and the views. Somehow, Jomeokee brought out the best in my running. I forgot about the agony of Grindstone and simply flew around The Knob. I think I smiled constantly during the entire final mile.

How many finishing lines have a
view like this?!
Challenge Completed
I sprinted across the line in a PPR (Pilot Personal Record) of 36 minutes in 44th position (out of 141). Goal number 3 - smashed! 

I also never fell off the mountain, so Goal number 2 achieved!

The chili was hot and fantastically delicious. I had two full bowls. And 4 Krispy Kreme donuts. And an irritable bowel for the rest of the day. But, it was worth it! Just like the rest of this crazy race. 

I'll be back next year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Diabolic Dozen - 12athon 10 Mile Challenge Run

Leave it to me to take things to the extreme. Not only did I dream up some of the kooky bonus challenges of the Stet That Run's Virtual 12athon Challenge, I subjected myself to several of them in the very first event.

My original thought was to simply run the 10 miles of this particular event and do the Diabolic Dozen bonus challenge (eat 12 deviled eggs during the run). Pretty good bonus points (12) for that one. But, I'm greedy. I'm also a glutton for punishment, so I started thinking about ways to combine more challenges into the run.

I like beer, so why not throw in the Running Under the Influence challenge. I could even double down with the "two fister" level (drink two beers over the 10 miles). 12 more bonus points for me!

But did I stop there? Oh no. I eventually planned to run and perform a total of SIX bonus challenges during the 10 miles.

The Challenges

  1. Diabolic Dozen - Eat 14 deviled eggs - 14 is the devils dozen, didn't you know that? 12 points
  2. RUI - Double Fister - Drink two Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales. 12 points
  3. Naturalist - I would wear my RunAmoc shoes. 4 points
  4. Galloway - I would walk/run the 10 miles. 4 points
  5. Woodsy Owl - I would run the 10 miles on a trail. 4 points
  6. Sisyphus - I would run a trail loop less than 1/4 mile in length - over 40 times! 8 points

Total points: 10 (for the run itself) + 42 (bonus challenge points) + 4.2 (10% bonus for combining challenges) = 56.2 points, woo hoo!!!!

The Course
Since I wanted to combine the Woodsy Owl and Sisyphus bonus challenges, I had a tough time finding a workable trail loop. Luckily there is a very short nature trail in the woods next to my neighborhood which I measured at 0.24 miles.

Running this loop 42 times would give me a total of 10.08 miles. Perfect.

I had to jump over this log 42 times.
Should have brought my saw...

The Run
Rather than a texty sort of report, I'll just give you the videos I took before, during, and after the run. The fifth and final video below is a compilation of clips taken during most of the run. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bump Ahead - Godiva Couch Mountain Run

There's a mountain in Durham, NC? Apparently so. Even more ridiculous, there's a Godiva Winter Series run which goes up and down that mountain. Sign me up!

I'm having a lot of fun with the Godiva Winter Series runs, and so is my son, Ryan. After our muddy, pooptastic adventure at the Godiva Misery Run, Ryan has been looking forward to the next few runs in the series. He's especially excited about the possibility of winning more chocolate, and possibly even a cool shirt at the end of the series. Personally, I'm just happy to be running trails with my son. Of course, I want the shirt too.

I love my running swag.

Handicapping Myself
Running with a 7 year old is strange. Kids are bursty runners. A half mile at 8 minute pace is followed by a short walk. Repeat this for 5 miles and you have a juvenile fartlek.

I hate fartleks, and I especially hate walking. So, I had this brilliant idea to do a long run in Umstead the day before the Couch Mountain Run, to sort of soften myself up a bit. I thought that maybe I would "enjoy" the short walk breaks if I were completely beaten down. Well, 16 miles of single track and bridal trail in Umstead certainly did the trick. Umstead's gift of seven blisters for my feet weren't nearly as bad as the pain in my glutes. Who would have thought that my arse was so involved in my trail running...

Since I couldn't get my feet into my Altra Instincts (OUCH!), I decided to wear my Vivobarefoot Neos - a nice roomy home for my new family of blisters. However, Neos are not trail shoes - no padding, no rock plate, no grip. On the steep, rocky, rooty, leaf covered hills of the Couch Mountain Run, I think I would have fared just as well with a couple of paper plates strapped to my feet. Live and learn (or don't, as is the case for me).

Campfires, Cross Country, and Cookouts
I've only been to two races, including this one, which featured a fire at race headquarters. At the Umstead Marathon, there was a cozy fireplace in the camp lodge next to the start/finish line. At Couch Mountain, there was a fire pit next to the start/finish area where many of the racers huddled for warmth. Personally, I think all Winter races should feature a fire of some sort. And free beer. And donuts. And transportation home for broken down runners. If I ever organize a race, it will have all of these necessities.

Lining up for the race start, I wondered whether my battered glutes could keep me upright, and whether or not I could keep up with Ryan. Of course, I told my son that I was going to destroy him in the last mile of the race. Ryan doesn't actually need this sort of motivation since I don't normally "let" him win anything when competing against me. He's pretty hungry for a win against Dad. But, it's fun to get him all pumped up, and I think it helps him in the latter parts of these long (for a seven year old) runs.

Godiva had a great turn out for an ankle busting run on the trails of Duke Forest, especially on such a chilly December morning. It's good to be surrounded by other trail running lunatics. There is comfort in the madness of crowds.
The horn sounded and we took off. I continue to be amazed at the speed and skill of some of the Godiva trail runners. Within minutes the field was spread along the road far ahead of me. It's almost like some of the Godivans actually know what they are doing. I may have to look into this whole practice and training thing. As long as it doesn't impact my beer drinking.

The fasties are already over the hill and out of sight.

The shoe portion of my handicapping scheme was working brilliantly. Neos, gravel, and photography on the run are a perfect combination to allow orthopedic surgeons to comfortably maintain their second homes - in the Caribbean. But no co-pays this time, Doc! I think the balls of my feet are only bruised. Hopefully...

In the first mile Ryan informed me that he was going to "let my feet fly down the hills". I told him that was fine and that I would catch up with him on the up hill sections. True to form, Ryan flew down every hill.

But, I would reel him in whenever the trail tipped upwards. This worked great. I could run my own pace (slowly, painfully) and keep an eye on him at the same time, just in case.

After going up and then down Couch Mountain, we wound our way onto a couple of secondary paved roads for a mile or two. I had no idea where I was and was really surprised when I saw that we had actually left Durham County altogether.

No one told me to bring
my passport!

After a mile or so on paved road, we ran across lunch.

I tried to talk Ryan into carrying it back for the cookout, but for some strange reason he just said "Ewwwww!!!!".

Eventually, we made it back for the last mile of trail running before the finish.

When I told Ryan I thought we only had about a mile left to run, he took off like a rabbit, calling out "I'll beat you, Dad!"

I kept him in sight for about 2 minutes before the second phase of my self imposed handicapping kicked in - in the form of cramps. I hate cramps almost as much as I hate walking, but I simply had to walk for a minute. Ryan stretched out his lead, and by the time I recovered enough to run again, I could barely see him.

I tried to close down the gap, but my legs simply refused any pace faster than about a 13 minute mile. By the time we got back to the power line near the start/finish, I knew I couldn't reel him in. But I'll give it to him - for a seven year old, the kid has a great kick.

As I plodded across the finish line, Ryan was already chatting it up with several of the other Godivans. Thanks to everyone who talked to him and encouraged him, before, during, and after the race! I think that will really make a difference in building his long term interest in cross country and trail running.

More Cheeseburgers, Please
After the race, we had a burger cook out, with free beer! I think all races should end with cheeseburgers and beer. Or at least all good races...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Return To The Rock - Run At The Rock Trail Race

When I put together my race schedule for this year, I decided that I would repeat all of my favorite races from last season. Run At The Rock was a favorite for several reasons. It was my first trail race, which was memorable enough, but it was also just a fantastic experience in and of itself. It was the race where I truly fell in love with trail racing.

So, going back this year, I wanted to recapture a bit of that magic from last year, and focus on it even more. To truly appreciate it. Last year I ran hard in the 7 miler. By the end of the race I was blasted, but I had paid enough attention to at least appreciate the beauty of the trail and the overwhelming friendliness of the volunteers and the other racers. It was enough to switch me to trail racing almost completely. For that, I'm very thankful.

Well, enough pastel colored memories from me. On to the race report...

Pre-pre-race - I Like Worms
The early bird gets the worm, but this is ridiculous. I was up at 4:30AM, but not for my race. My wife Sherri was running the Mistletoe Half Marathon in Winston-Salem, which is an hour and half away from my house by car. So we were both up early, frantically loading coffee, running gear, the kids and my wife into the car for a 5:30AM departure (Sherri ran her half and did fantastic!). Once they were on their way, I managed to get my bag packed in time for my carpool with Bob Sites (See! Trail racers are awesome!) to the race.

Yeah, we were early enough to
see the sunrise.
Pre-race - Damn, It's Cold!
Ok, so I'm not acclimatized to cold yet. Bob's car thermometer said 30F when we arrived at Cedar Rock Park, but I swear it felt like 30 below. Luckily, I  was wearing shorts, insulated track pants, two shirts, gloves, AND a coat, so I somehow managed to make it to the registration table to retrieve my bib and race (sweat!)shirt without freezing solid. But just barely...
AC doing his best grifter impersonation.
Amy (see below) doesn't look convinced.
While walking down to the race registration table, who do I run into but the periodically run down AC, of the most excellent Running Down blog. He told me some shifty sob story about forgetting his wallet and desperately needing some "gas" money. Sure thing AC. I can spot you some bucks, and at very reasonable (hourly) interest rates (but don't short me, cause I know a guy with big guns who can crack your head like a walnut).

Back in the car, pinning on my bib, I made two mistakes at once. First I decided to wear both shirts and my track pants during the race. Second, and unbeknownst to me, I accidentally pinned the bib through both shirts with one of the safety pins (this becomes semi-important later, I promise).

Amy before her first official
trail race. She was probably even
happier afterwards...
Trail Running Borg - You Will Be Assimilated
Since I love trail racing so much (even though I stink at it!), I've been trying to convince my running coworkers to give it a try. I've had a couple of them tag along on Umstead Company Mill Trail runs during lunchtime, and finally suckered convinced one of them to sign up for an actual trail race. 

Amy Davis, whether she admits it or not, is one of those naturally gifted runners. The runner who can not run any serious distance for months, then run one 8 mile warm up, then run a (very) sub-2 hour half marathon race. Ridiculous! She managed to finish in 1:16. Stupid fast for her first (but hopefully not last) official trail race. Congrats, Amy!

The Race
Ok, enough fooling around. Let's get to the race! As usual, I had a few goals and metrics in my head for the race. Not the normal sort of goals or metrics mind you, but my goals and metrics none the less. Hey, I'll never win my age group, so I have to chase something...

  • Meet as many of my on line trail running friends in person as possible.
  • Run a smart(er) race: Don't blow up in the first 3 miles or bonk at 12 miles.
  • Enjoy the scenery (I don't come to this park, except to race).
  • Have a great time! Trail racing is a gift!
  • Trip less than 3 times.
  • Do not fall down.
  • Puke less than 1 time.
  • Finish in under 2:20
Lap One - Relax And Enjoy The Ride
I decided that I would run the first lap without worrying about time. I just wanted to enjoy the course and snap a few pictures along the way (like Shannon, but without the talent part). 

Cedar Rock Park is really a beautiful place. Even more beautiful than I remember from my last oxygen starved loop around the place. I'm glad I lugged my camera along during the first loop to snap a few pictures.

The single track course is really fantastic. There are sections that are extremely technical (rocky, muddy, wet), but there are also sections that are simply joyous to run - flat, smooth, wide, gorgeous.

At points, I actually let out small "Woo hoo!" calls, mostly because I was having such a good time, but also because I wanted to appreciate the beauty of the place and the joy of the experience. I apologize to those who thought I was just some woo-hooing kook running through woods. Unfortunately, this is only going to get worse as I run more trail races.... 

Last year, I got a brief glance of the dam and the waterfall. This year, I actually stopped to enjoy the view. 
Come on! How could you not want to run here?!
Finishing lap 1, I was faster than last year (by 2 minutes) when I ran hard for the entire 7 mile race. I'm not sure if I'm a faster runner, or if I was simply more relaxed. Either way, I'm pleased with that improvement.
Last year in the 7 miler, 1:06. This year in the 14 miler, 1:04. 

Lap Two - Where Is Everyone?
As I had previously mentioned, I was wearing two shirts, shorts, track pants, and gloves when I started the race. Well, the gloves came off in under a mile due to sweaty hands, but I couldn't take off the pants or the second shirt until I made it back to the start/finish line. So, I sweated, a lot, during the first lap. I couldn't have been much wetter if I had fallen in the river.

As I crossed the line completing the first lap, I was super happy to be able to stop and peel out of all the extra clothing. I was soaked in sweat. I peeled off the track pants - easy enough. But when I attempted to take off my outer shirt, I discovered that I had pinned the race bib straight through to the undershirt as well. I wanted to remove the under shirt, so I stripped down to my shorts and worked on unpinning the the bib from the two shirts. All in all, I must have wasted about 2 or 3 minutes goofing off with safety pins and clothing, but eventually, I managed to get myself sorted out and took off for the second lap.

I was slower during the second lap (1:09). I'm not sure if I was more tired (likely) or if I simply had no reference  (other runners) to maintain a decent pace. Either way, I was slower. At times, I was utterly alone on the trail. No one ahead of me or behind me as far as I could see. I actually liked this. It was peaceful. Almost like a training run in Umstead. I had left the camera behind (dead battery - yeah, I'm an idiot!) in my track pants, but that's probably a good thing as I think I would have spent about half an hour taking pictures. I only saw 4 other runners during the entirety of the second lap (I passed two, and was passed by two, who I kept in sight until the very end).

Just briefly, I'll mention the volunteers at the aid stations, but only to say THANKS! You people were awesome! Thanks for cheering me on and laughing at my stupid, anaerobic jokes.

Finish - Hot Soup, Here I Come!
I finished in 2:13, much better than my desired metric, so "Woo Hoo" for me! I started reasonably and I never bonked. In the last 4 miles or so, all I could think about was that awesome hot soup in the finisher's tent. I ran across the finish line feeling really good about the race. My time was faster than I had anticipated. I never fell down. I tripped only once, somewhere around mile 11. I snapped a number of decent pictures. All in all, I really enjoyed myself.

I managed to meet a couple of on line running friends at this race. Shout outs to Dave (winner yet again!!), Andrew and Jeff ! And meeting that goal, more than any of my others, is the most satisfying.

I also discovered that I would be a terrible loan shark. I just can't let go of a dollar, especially to a grifter like AC...
"I want my two dollars! Two dollars!!!"
(photo courtesy of Shannon Johnstone)