Monday, January 23, 2012

Walking into Mordor - Uwharrie Mountain Run Preview

That's not an elevation profile. It's a
picture of the teeth that gnaw on your
legs as you run through Uwharrie.
One does not simply walk into Uwharrie. You crawl in. You scramble in on all fours like some demented trail-running version of Gollum, scrabbling breathlessly over the bones of broken mountains seemingly as old as the Earth itself. Only "my precious" isn't the One Ring - it's the ring with your car key. You cherish that ring and all the comfortable, warm, modern, pleather-seated goodness that it represents. Lose it and you lose any chance of a final escape.

Ok, I'm being slightly dramatic. But truthfully, only slightly. Uwharrie Mountain Trail is the toughest, hilliest, most gnarly stretch of boulders, rocks, roots, and streams that I've ever attempted to "run". I signed up for the 20 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run thinking it would be a great stepping stone race towards my ultimate goal of redeeming myself at the Umstead Marathon. What an idiot. After previewing the middle portion of the "trail" with a bunch of other local (and one traveling) lunatics, I can say that Uwharrie is nothing like Umstead. Twenty miles in Uwharrie is like thirty miles on Umstead single track trail, and that's not even considering the stream crossings. If Uwharrie is Mordor, then Umstead barely rates as the Shire. Unfortunately, I only resemble a hobbit because of my hairy feet and love of beer. I don't think I have the guts (or the legs) to bust into Mordor.

What's the difference you ask? Rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Uwharrie's single track trail never lets you relax. Each step is a potential ankle explosion. What looks likes easy, flat, leaf covered trail is really only leaf covered rocks, roots, and holes. What doesn't look like easy, flat, leaf covered trail is simply rocks, roots, and even more holes. If you have bad ankles, stay out of Uwharrie.

Scared yet? I know I am. But, I'm also super excited to actually run the race. Not because I want my ankles to explode (they probably will), or because I think it will catapult me to some astonishing Umstead finish (on the contrary, I think this race will almost certainly ruin my Umstead Marathon redemption attempt). Why then? Why bother risking all the training I've invested for my "A" race at Umstead, on a run at Uwharrie where I'll be lucky to finish uninjured.

It's difficult to say exactly, but after running through a good chunk of Uwharrie, I can see why people come back for the abuse over and over. Uwharrie is hauntingly beautiful!

There's a primitive, ancient quietness that draws you in, even as Uwharrie's stony trails beat your body senseless. The long, steep inclines that suck the life from your very bones, reward you with glimpses of distant, mysterious ridges once you reach the summits.

The icy streams that fill your shoes with wet, freezing grit, also gush through some of the most beautiful sections of the forest.

Where's the trail on the other side of the stream?
Damn if I can see it. Ryan McCarty (pictured here)
and I stuck together and *almost* managed
not to get lost.
There's a trail here. Somewhere...

Uwharrie is wonderful. And awful. And exciting. And scary. And I can't wait...

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Get My Kicks From Elves

My second pair of Soft Star RunAmocs have arrived! I am pleased to announce that they look and feel exactly like my previous pair, even though the soles on this pair appear to be slightly more narrow. In other words, I love 'em!

I had forgotten how good the red leather looked when my original pair was new. After 581 miles (!!) of running the red leather on my original pair had become much darker.

Breaking Rocinante
I really don't need to test or "break in" the new pair since I know exactly how they will perform, but I'm going to anyway. And as with most things related to my running, I plan to completely and utterly over do it.

I'm going to "break them in" during a 3 hour preview of the steep, gnarly, rocky Uhwarrie Mountain Run course. I'll be running the 20 mile race in a couple of weeks and this will give me the opportunity to preview some of the course and decide if I can use the RunAmocs on race day. I've heard from lots of people who have run this particular race that the trail is an absolute beast. I can't wait.

Branding the Steed
On my previous pair of RunAmocs, I added some really nice NC State University embroidered patches. They held up very well, considering the absolute torture they endured during trail running. I was going to do that again, but then thought "Why not something new?" But what?

What do you think? If you have an idea, feel free to add a comment to this post.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Who's In Charge? - Little River Trail Run

Who's in charge? At any level, from the metaphysical to the mundane, this is a killer question. Given the mindless nature of the drivel on my little corner of the interwebs, you could probably guess that the question is very much on the mundane end of the spectrum. And you would be right of course! Who's in charge - of my running?

This has been a tough week physically for me. I'm training for the Umstead marathon, participating in the 12athon, and running other trail races for fun. A 21 mile run in hilly Umstead was followed by a killer swim laps session (I have triathlon fantasies of course!), which was followed by 5 miles of speed work (mile repeats), which was followed by a 12+ mile bonktastic run for the 12athon. So, stepping up to the line for a 10 mile trail race with nearly 40 miles of running on the books for the week would seem, to put it mildly, unwise for a mediocre middle aged runner with a crappy knee. Obviously, wisdom isn't in charge of my running.

What? You thought I was out in that cold air?
Wisdom be damned! I'm running Little River!
I ran Little River last year (I did my very first blog post about that race. Ahh memories....) and had a great time. Well, a great time other than the falling down part (there was snow!). And other than the incredible pain in my bum knee because of that fall, even though I blamed that pain on a knife wielding Sasquatch. I couldn't blame running! Running is pure goodness!

Like last year, it was cold. Last year 27F. This year 25F. But beautiful otherwise. I know that sounds bitterly cold, and it is, but only for the first mile or so of running. Then it's actually quite pleasant, in a masochistic sort of way.

After the previous week of running, I toned down my goals quite a bit. Usually I'll have two or more real measurable goals (metrics) for a race along with a bunch of softer goals. This time...

  • Finish. Yeah, that's it. Finish. Can you tell I'm a little tired?
  • Finish in 1:30 or better. I didn't think this was even in the neighborhood of possible, based on how tired I was feeling. But, aim high as they say...
  • Win something in the prize drawings after the race. Hey, it's the only "win" I'll ever get in a race, so don't roll your eyes like that... Not every one can be as fast as Cat Daddy Man or his old(er) alter ego, Chief Runs Down A Lot.
  • Touch base with some of the trail running folks I've met over the past  year.
  • Avoid the Sasquatch and his swiss army knife...
Who's in Charge?
Wandering out to the race start line, I was wondering exactly how this run might go. I wanted it to go well of course, but lately it seems like very little is in my direct control when it comes to running. Oh, I train hard and mentally prepare for races, but things seldom work the way I imagine they should. Today I decided I would use the old "who wants it more" approach. You know, that old sports metaphor about the winner being the one who simply wanted it more. Well, I can want with the best of them. I may even be a world class wanter! So, I would give "wanting" a try today.

The race started and I took off from the rear third of the pack. Having raced this course before, I knew the first couple of miles were an easy downhill to the river. So I let it rip! 

And nothing happened. 

My legs simply refused. No amount of wanting could force them to turn over any faster.

Ok, plan 1 out the window. Time for plan 2 - relax! Sometimes relaxing can give you speed that you wouldn't normally get by pushing hard. So, I relaxed and flowed down the trail to the river. I didn't run any faster, but it was definitely more enjoyable. But I wanted to go faster! Oh, wait, the wanting plan didn't pan out. Relax more! Remember, you run for fun...

By mile 4 I knew relaxing wasn't giving me any real speed. Time for a new plan. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a new plan (thinking on the run isn't a skill I possess), so I had to revert to Plan Want. But I added something extra in the form of  demands. I would Want and Demand my body to go faster. I not only wanted to go faster, I demanded that my legs move me faster. Move it legs! I'm in charge!

And nothing happened.

Mile 7 and I was becoming frustrated with my running. It was as if some invisible rope were attached to my waist, which when I reached a speed just below my goal pace, would yank me backwards. At this point, I was well out of my target window for the one hard goal that I wanted to achieve - finish in under 1:30. So, I simply stopped trying to achieve any goal, and concentrated on enjoying the run. I bantered with some of the other runners in my little group. I enjoyed the views of the beautiful North Carolina Wintertime forest. I just ran. 

And something happened.

I started passing people. One, then two more, then several more. I tried not to think about it. At mile 7 I was almost 10 minutes off my goal time, so there was no way I could make up that time in less than 3 miles. I just continued to run for joy.

Non-answers for Ridiculous Questions
As I crossed the line, I stopped my watch. It read 1:33. Not quite my goal, but I have no complaints. I ran the final 3 miles at a faster pace then the preceding 7. I feel good about that. 

As for my other goals, I did win a $5 discount on the purchase of a Sports Kilt. I wonder if wearing a kilt will make me faster? Doesn't matter. I'm a winner (of a $5 discount on a Sports Kilt)!

So, who's in charge of my running, you ask? I don't know, but it's definitely not me. And honestly, I really don't think it matters.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The 12athon is Bonkers - January 12athon Run

Do as I say, not as I do. Don't run 21 miles on Saturday, followed by 5 miles of hard speed work on Tuesday, followed by 12 miles for the 12athon on Thursday. It won't work. Well, it might "work", but you will pay my friend.

I thought I could pull off a 12athon run without too much trouble. I thought I could mosey out to Umstead and run my favorite hilly trail at an easy-breezy, leisurely pace after the previous hard training sessions. As usual, I thought wrong.

I should have known this wasn't going to work when I woke up achy and tired that morning, but I'm too stubborn to listen to my own body (who's in charge here, anyway?!).

My body said "Do Not Run Today".

My brain said "Screw you meat! I'm in charge! We're running! Gray matter for the win!!!!"

My body responded "Sigh... Ever heard of learning from your past mistakes?"

My brain said "Ooooh, look! New posts on Facebook!"

So it was that lunchtime saw me in Umstead heading out for a 12+ mile run. It started poorly and got worse from there. My legs felt dead. My heartrate was too high, even at very slow paces. Nothing was working. But I endeavored to persevere. I'm in charge. Move it meat!

The first thing you pass on this route is
a graveyard. Foreshadowing anyone?

About 2 miles into the run, I realized I had worn one too many shirts. I decided to ditch a shirt by hiding it in some leaves. I would pick it up on my way back.

No one will ever find it here. And that
includes me...
Six miles in, the suffer-meter pegged at maximum suckitude. Hill after hill after hill was literally sucking the life out of my legs. I was walking - up and down hills. Lots of hills like this:

Even the warning cone couldn't stand upright on this hill.
And then, the cramps started! I can't tell you how much I hate cramps. I would rather be puking into the ditch than have my hamstrings attempting to strangle my femurs like demented boa constrictors. I was cramping so bad, the trees were cramping in sympathy.

My legs felt just like this...

When I ran the Umstead Marathon last year, I bonked hard in the hills around mile 17 or so. I know the exact spot where that bonk grabbed hold of my body, because I actually stopped and sat down on the stump of a tree. I look at that stump every time I run by it in order to remind myself why I run these hills.

The Umstead Memorial Bonk Stump

Guess where I ended up on this run?

The 12athon is truly bonkers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Fear

"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain."
Dune by Frank Herbert

I've faced the fear before, when training for the Medoc Trail Marathon. The fear of injury. The fear of failure. It's no easier this time for Umstead.

Strange that having a mediocre, almost trivial, goal in a race would so easily open the doors and allow fear to slink into my mind. Stranger still that I would be unable to shake free of that fear. Then again, the investment of time and effort to achieve the goal has been anything but trivial. I suppose even a mediocre goal may become precious with enough devotion.

Maybe it's not the fear of failure. Failures may be redeemed after all. Maybe it's the fear of loss. Loss of time, the most precious gift of all. I don't know.

All I know is that I have the fear, but the fear will not have me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Too Flu and Two Flew - Godiva New Year's Day Run

I get a flu shot every year. I would get a dozen of them if I thought it would actually help. I hate the flu.

So, when the stomach flu began ravaging its way through my family like Genghis Khan storming the steppes of Eurasia, I was a bit irritated. I would have much preferred coal in my stocking for Christmas.

What does this have to do with the Godiva New Year's Day Run, you ask? Everything. And Nothing.

Six days before the New Year's Day Run, both my boys caught the bug. Very soon afterwards, my wife and I caught the bug.  Five days of tag team misery ensued.

Ryan recovered well before I did, but when Friday came and I was still feeling lousy, I had doubts about making the New Year's Day Run. Saturday came and I was feeling better, so I decided to test my legs to see if it would even be possible to run the next day. I nearly passed out after 2 miles. Of course, I should have realized that not eating for 3 days would leave me a bit woozy, but I was woozy from not eating for 3 days, so that thought never crossed my woozy mind. Woozy is such a cool word. Where were we? Oh yeah, the race.

After successfully eating a meal Saturday evening, I woke Sunday morning feeling decent. Tired, but decent. Ryan was still up for the race, and much more excited about it than me, so we headed out to Duke Forest for a 5 mile trail race on New Year's Day.

Springtime in January
My car thermometer said 67F. Crazy for January 1st, even in North Carolina, but I'm not complaining. I would trade pine trees for palm trees almost any day. Ryan and I checked in easily (Godiva races are so well organized!) and sat in the warm sun pinning on our race bibs.

Once again, the Godivans were great with Ryan. Thanks to everyone who smiled at him, talked to him, and cheered him before, during and after the race. He's a shy kid, and small things like that makes a huge difference.

It was also great meeting and talking to several folks who had nice things to say about my little blog and my photos. Thanks for the compliments! And sorry if I seemed to be at a loss for words. I always assume that only about 10 people actually read my pointless blog drivel, so when strangers introduce themselves and say they've read and enjoyed (!!??) my blog, I'm slightly shocked.

I continue to be surprised by the turnout at the Godiva Winter Series events. These Godiva races may be the best kept secret in the Triangle area, but apparently a lot of people are in the know.

Springtime in January
Didn't We Already Do The Misery Run?
The race started and we funneled into a short stretch of single track trail leading into Duke Forest. I had no idea how the run would go for either myself or Ryan. I was still feeling a bit woozy, but was determined to enjoy the run. Ryan was still coughing occasionally, but said he felt fine otherwise. I told Ryan to walk whenever he felt the need, hoping that would be often, for my sake.

It didn't take long for the field to stretch out on the single track.
True to form, Ryan pounded away at the run with his juvenile fartleks and I stumbled along with him. Neither of us was in much of a hurry, although Ryan would leave me behind on all the downhill sections. Generally, we just joked around and enjoyed the race and the company of the other Godivans on a beautiful New Year's Day in Duke Forest.

I really liked the out and back nature of this run.
After about a mile, the hills started. And they never seemed to stop. We ran when we could and walked the rest.

"We have to go back UP this hill?!"

The Cure
Sometimes the cure for feeling bad involves something that feels even worse. By the time Ryan and I closed in on the final mile of the race, I think I had shocked my body back to something resembling normal function. I was no longer exhausted from the flu. Now I was just plain exhausted - but very happy to be alive, and running once again.

Thanks, Godiva!