Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of the World As We Know It - Winter Solstice Run

"You ran on the final solstice?!" demanded the shimmering shape of Bolon Yokte, the Mayan god of destructive creation.

"I wouldn't so much call it a run. More like a fast stumble through the woods..." I began. I was a bit confused about where I was, and why exactly I was lying face down in the dirt.

"Silence!" snapped Bolon Yokte. Looking disgusted, he sat on a nearby log and began tapping his nine feet impatiently on the dusty ground.

"You are an impertinent mortal. I must contemplate your fate." The last couple of words seemed to trail off as Boln Yokte's body shimmered in the darkness, slowly transforming to a shapeless, glowing fog.

The glowing fog bulged and expanded wildly, a time lapse Summer thunderhead in miniature. I shook my head to clear my seemingly blurry vision, only to have the imposing figure of Zeus emerge from the chaotic mists.

"I once knew a mortal like you, determined to outwit fate and to cheat death itself" boomed Zeus. "I would punish you as I did Sisyphus, but I see you have already chosen to punish yourself. Run little man. Run!"

So it was that I found myself lying face down in the dirt, having fallen only a few steps beyond the trailhead. I had planned this run to celebrate the Winter solstice, my favorite holiday of the year. To me, the solstice marks the true start of the new year. The days slowly get longer and the hope of Spring begins to replace the cool embrace of Fall and Winter in my mind. The solstice is the promise of new beginnings.

In the coming year, I promised myself I would be a better and smarter runner. I would have fewer goals and stop placing so much importance on measurable "improvement". I would run to enjoy friendships, to embrace nature, and to achieve more inner peace. I would cheat failure by simply slowing down.

Who knew irony would taste like trail dirt?

I'm not a law breaker by nature. Well, I don't break laws I think serve the greater good. My sense of duty for upholding the social contract puts too large a burden on my conscience. But I'm also a bit of a libertarian at heart. I figure if you aren't doing anything to hurt anyone else, you should be allowed to do it. So, I spun my decision to join Ryan on a planned illegal midnight run through "East Mud" park as a sort of civil disobedience. I was hurting no one and simply pursuing my own happiness.

Never one to shy away from a social run, I invited every runner I knew to join me and Ryan, expecting no one to actually show up. And that would have been fine, but I was pleased when a couple of others (Jay and Aline) showed up to join us. Of course, having more runners along to help drag my broken carcass out of the woods is always good.

This was my first night run of any sort, which was partially why I had agreed to run. I figured the practice would be invaluable if things fell apart during my planned adventure in the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run, and I somehow found myself walking to the finish after nightfall. Eating dirt in the first few steps of the single track portion of the run was a good lesson. Pay attention. Be mindful.

The remainder of the run was uneventful. Our little group marked the end of the solstice with shots of cheap cinnamon liquor smuggled in by Jay. We ran under the light of the half moon for many miles sharing some quiet laughs and easy conversations along the way. Simply a gorgeous run, and one I vow to experience again.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Umstead Crazy 8's Death March

Ultramarathon runners, don't take this the wrong way, but you people are all f'n insane! As if 26.2 miles isn't enough pain and suffering (and glory) for even the moderately insane among us, you maniacs have to double down on that, or nearly quadruple down in the case of the 100 mile events. If running a marathon is the gambling equivalent of going "all in", you lunatics throw all your chips onto the table along with your watches, credit cards, mobile phones, and any clothing you happen to be wearing. And then you jump on the table and dance naked to music that only you can hear, all the while waiting for the dealer to play the winning card.

But just like Vegas, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose (DNF). The true difference is that win or lose, an ultramarathon is always a glorious human adventure.

Uwharrie Training
Already being insane, I decided to attempt joining the other patients in the ultramarathon insane asylum by signing up for the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run. Of course this means that I have to stop saying "I'll never..." since I've consistently proven myself wrong. "I'll never run a half marathon!" I've run a half dozen of them now. "I'll never run a marathon!" I've run 4 of them now. "I'll never, ever, ever run an ultramarathon!" Sigh.

So, recently I found myself organizing a training run in Umstead in an attempt to somehow get my body ready for the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run. I created a calendar event on Facebook and invited all my nutty running friends to come out and share a lap (or two, or three) with me on the Company Mill and Sycamore trail figure 8 route (about 9.5 miles of hilly, technical single track).

I figured I might goad a couple of my crazier friends into coming out for a lap, but just to show how awesome the trail running community really is, about a dozen people came out to run or just to show moral support in my first attempt at a distance beyond the marathon. You people just rock! Thanks to everyone who dedicated a bit of their Saturday to my insanity. In no particular order, Jay, Karen, Aline, Brandy, Ryan, Gene, Josh, Iris, Chris, Andrew, Anthony and Shannon. A special thanks to Karen and Jay, who ran all 29 miles with me. And to Gene who kept me laughing that last 5 miles, when I needed it most.

Aline, Jay, Iris and Josh at the start.

Lap 1 - This Is Easy!
I'm not bragging, but my fitness is pretty high at the moment. I came off Medoc Mountain Marathon in mid-October with a good aerobic base and have managed to maintain that base with little effort the past couple of months. So, 10 miles in Umstead on the first lap felt very easy. I had good company on the lap (actually true of every lap) and spent a lot of time joking and laughing. I ate one fruit snack (maybe 80 calories of sugar) during the lap, and then had a couple of peanut butter cups and some blueberries when I finished the lap. I drank only about a cup of water from the water fountain. This was a totally stupid fueling strategy, as I would discover on lap 3.

Aline made a custom shirt for the event.
Aline is awesome!

Lap 2 - I'm Done, Right?
Heading out on lap 2, I was feeling great. I tried to remind myself to walk all the hills, but I was still trotting up the first part of most hills. Again, I had only one fruit snack during the loop, and then a handful of blue berries and some raisins at the end of the loop. The temperature had gone up during the loop and I was feeling very thirsty by the time I finished the loop, so I guzzled down about 20 ounces of water at the fountain. I felt done. My body definitely did not want to go out for another 9.5 mile loop. I was behind in fueling and hydration, and at this point there was no way to make it up. But, dammitall, this is what I came for! The last loop was the important one. The loop where I would train my body to keep moving through pain and exhaustion. So, out I went.

Lap 3 - I Hate Running
The final loop started hard, and got worse from there. I was behind on hydration and fueling, and my stomach was now bothering me, so there was no chance of getting out of the hole I had dug for myself. I managed to choke down about half of a fruit snack (maybe 40 sugar calories) on the loop, but it was difficult to keep from hurling that onto my shoes for the next couple of miles. As my misery levels increased, and my energy evaporated like the fog from earlier that morning, my mood went straight to the crapper. I think the only thing that prevented me from giving up about half way through that lap was the company. Having four experienced ultra runners with me in those dark moments saved me. Their banter and joking kept me moving forward, although I walked a lot (I had to walk when my stomach did flips).

The Finish
With about 2 miles to go, standing on the stone bridge on Sycamore Bridal Trail, I entered death march mode. I would finish this run, even if it killed me (I'm stubborn like that). So, I used up nearly every last bit of blood glycogen that I had left in a determined shuffle towards the end.

Dizzy, nauseous and trying not to pass out
after finishing. Photo courtesy of Shannon.

Lessons Learned
So, what did my first trip into the nether world of the ultramarathon distance teach me? Loads. I have a pretty solid feel for how to prepare for and finish the marathon. However, that knowledge seems to only partially translate to ultramarathon distance.

  1. Go slow! No, really. SLOW! Especially early in the run. If it feel effortless to run up a hill, it really isn't. Save it for later, when you will desperately need it.
  2. Speaking of hills, WALK THEM! Even the itty bitty ones early in the run. Yeah, you'll feel like a total pansy for walking up a tiny hill on fresh legs, but trust me, this will pay off later.
  3. Eat LOTS! I'm a notorious camel when it comes to running. I rarely carry water and eat very little on runs up to 20 miles. This DOES NOT work for ultramarathon distances. The time on your feet is simply too long.
  4. The first half of the run just gets you to the starting line of the real run. I think this might apply to a run of any distance, but it's a lesson I have yet to learn.

So, I feel like I was only partially successful in my first run past the marathon distance. I did finish the run, but I learned some hard lessons. Worst of all, I screwed up the fueling so badly and threw my body into such a bad tailspin, that I wasn't able to eat my BBQ ribs afterwards.

Good times afterwards. But those ribs never did get eaten.
Photo courtesy of Shannon.

PS: Special thanks to Josh for helping me across the parking lot at the restaurant. And for giving me the sweater off his back when I tanked at the table and began shivering uncontrollably. I owe you!

PPS: More special thanks to Shannon, who made me take a salt tab in Umstead when I finished, and then made me eat lots of salt at the restaurant. After a sucking down a beer and some salty fries, I felt nearly human again.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Ghosts That Haunt Me - Run At The Rock 2012

You would think a total race failure would be a horrible experience, and I guess for some people it might be. However, I failed, horribly I might add, to finish the 14 mile Run At The Rock, but it wasn't so bad. True, I did suffer with some bowel discomfort (it felt like I might actually give birth to red hot demon babies when I finally made it to the toilet), and quitting the race was difficult when I was 5 miles from the finish line (and toilet paper), but hey, you play the hand you are dealt. Turns out, all five of my cards were deuces. Yes, that's a poo pun. Sorry. As usual, I'm getting ahead of myself. Rewind to earlier in the morning.

I Hate My Phone
I had arranged a carpool with several local trail runners who had agreed to meet at my house around 6:45AM. So, waking up to a knock on the door at 6:47AM wasn't quite what I had expected. I jumped out of bed and grabbed my cell phone, which should have sounded an alarm 47 minutes prior, and attempted to check the time. The phone was completely dead. I hate my phone. Hate, hate, hate.

Well, the kids had heard the knocking and were now out of bed, so I scrambled like a mad man collecting gear and putting on some clothes while my wife and kids entertained the carpool folks downstairs (my wife is a saint!). Ten minutes later, and we were off.

Where Is Everybody?
Arriving at the Cedarock Park (someone please buy an R for poor Cedarock Park!), it was quiet. Too quiet. I think the race was undersold this year, which is a shame considering it is such a good race. I parked in a prime position next to the portion of the course that follows the main park road and concentrated on just keeping warm (31F at the start on my car thermometer). It was great seeing all the usual suspects (in no particular order and apologies to anyone I may have omitted, AC, Shannon, Josh, Iris, David, Gene, Jeff, Dan, Steph, Jay, Matt, etc, etc, etc), but I really wish the parking field would have been full for this race. It would be a shame to see this race fade away due to low attendance.

Goals Are For Losers
Runners make runs?
Good thing I have laser like focus on ONE goal for this Winter - surviving Uwharrie 40, otherwise I might have set some crazy, unrealistic goals and metrics for this race, and pushed my body until it hit the ditch while attempting to achieve those goals and make those metrics. But I didn't set any goals or metrics, which was really, really difficult. Usually I have some sort of overall finishing metric in mind when the race starts, and perhaps a few haphazard goals to achieve, but this time, nothing. That was both freeing and concerning, but I tried not to worry too much and just run for run.

The Race
The race started innocently enough. I lined up near the front of the pack so I could get some decent pictures of the masses as they streamed by me like a river flowing around a fat boulder. And I had a great time for the first couple of miles. I slowly drifted back through the pack, saying "Hi" or giving hell to all my faster friends as they passed me by. The happiness wouldn't last.

Shirtless(?) douche bags at the start.
(Photo courtesy of Shannon Johnstone)

Mile, Number 2
Irony is my friend. And my greatest nemesis. Around mile 2, my bowels unleashed a small spasm of discomfort which rolled around my midsection like the waves of a miserable tsunami, amplifying with each footstep. The faster I ran, the bigger the waves. "It'll pass" I thought. "Just some temporary gas or something".

But it didn't pass. Like a rogue wave, it began building higher and higher with each pounding step through the forest. By mile 5, I was reduced a constipated walk. Running was risky since I didn't have a change of clothes, and there simply wasn't enough forest foliage to ape a bear. So I walked as fast as I could directly towards the finish, and the toilets.

Thanks to Gene for walking with me a while at
my most miserable point in the race.

Beer makes everything better. Well, maybe
not an intestinal virus.
That's right, I quit. I Did Not Finish. I had signed up for 2 loops for total of 14(ish) miles, but I managed less than one loop, ending with a very long visit to the toilet. Do I feel bad about this? Only intestinally. Anyone who has been running long enough knows that DNFs are simply unavoidable if you run enough races. Sh!t happens.

And the poor toilet - it Did Not Flush.

I could have won the whole thing
with this!