Thursday, November 7, 2013

Done With Running

I'm sick of running. Sick of the monotony. Sick of the training. Sick of the fatigue. I'm ready for a break. I mean, there are only so many trail races I can run and so many reports I can write before the whole enterprise becomes a tedious exercise (ha! a pun!) in masturbatory self promotion. You're tired of this whole mess too, right? Right?!

OK, I admit it - I'm not done with running, but running seems to be done with me. I'm hurt. Injured. Wounded. Decrepit. And currently, out of action. The left foot had the last laugh following my most recent marathon. Unfortunately it was the sort of evil laugh a sadistic executioner might use upon discovering that his beloved beheading ax was duller than the butter knife he included with your final meal - a meal of bread with no butter.

What's wrong with my foot you ask? Well, sit back and let me tell you all about it.

I. Don't. Know.

Yeah, that about sums it up. I have no f'n clue what's wrong. What seemed to be plantar fasciitis has morphed through several different stage of painful, indistinct suckitude. Doctor Google tells me it is a combination of plantar fasciitis, post tibial tendonosis, and heel fat pad atrophy, served with a demi-glace of calcaneal stress fracture. My running bud, Randy, says my foot has been infested by tiny, evil gnomes. I think Randy has better odds of being right.

So, I'm off to the doctor, again, for x-rays and probably an MRI. With my luck, the evil foot gnomes have been hammering tiny iron nails into my foot bones, which will all come exploding out of my foot like so much reverse shrapnel when the MRI cranks up. I can only hope it takes out a few of those little bastards at the same time.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Success Through Failure - Medoc Trail Marathon

"I'm giving up on running. I'm OUT! Running sucks. Running injured sucks even more! And having a wheel fall off during the last 6 miles of a marathon is just miserable. I'm tired of this whole lifestyle. Too much training. Too much pain. I could be sitting at home, drinking a nice cold pale ale and enjoying life. Instead, I'm cursing every painful footstep just trying to get to the finish line."

I think every runner has lived through that sort of mental train wreck in one race or another, and I'm no exception. It's exactly what I was thinking in the last 6 miles of the Medoc Trail Marathon this year. But before I get too far into the Freudian analysis of my self destruction, I want to talk about the race itself.

The Race
Aside from the great course, excellent aid stations, and superior race swag, what makes the race truly exceptional are the people. Medoc is magic, and the magic ingredient is the people who make it possible.

This is my third year of running the Medoc Trail Marathon, and honestly, the race just gets better and better each year. I just can't say enough good things about the guys who organize the race and the volunteers who spend their day in the remote woods of Medoc Mountain State Park cheering on the runners and serving up gallons of Gatorade and other goodies. You people are simply awesome! I wish I could do something greater than simply saying "Thank you!"

I've said this before, but if you are thinking about your first trail marathon, or even your first marathon, do yourself a favor and sign up for Medoc. It's special. You won't regret it.

That Headsweats hat is from 2 years ago
(still my favorite finisher prize ever), but the shirt
medal and cap (awesome!) are this year's
marathon goodies.

My Race
OK, on to the deconstruction of my self destruction. Even with my gimpy, plantar fasciitis riddled foot, I thought I had the conditioning to finally pull off the elusive sub 4 hour trail marathon. In fact, I was sure of this, which was probably why I failed. Never make assumptions with anything related to running. Unless you want to make yourself look like an ass.

My foot has been steadily improving. I made it through the Salem Lake Trail 30K with no long term damage (even though the race itself was painful, I still maintained a sub 9 minute pace), and my fitness seemed better this year than in years past. But Medoc, and my foot, had other plans for me.

The first couple of laps (miles 1-17) went according to plan. I passed the a halfway point in exactly 2 hours, feeling pretty darned good. The foot felt tight, but overall was behaving itself and I felt comfortable with my pace. By the time I made it back to the start finish area (mile 18-ish), I had started to feel the first rumblings of pain in my foot and the 9 minute per mile single track effort was starting to really take a toll (I told my friend Ryan, who had finished the 10 miler and met me at the aid station, that I wished I were done). But I expected to be in this mental state around mile 18. Miles 18-26.2 wind through demon fighting country. You've got to be prepared to fight those mental demons. This being my 6th trail marathon, I assumed I had the right weapons for that battle.

The Lap of Failure
I'm good at modifying my race goals on the fly. Years of practice I guess. So, when I made it to the top of Medoc Mountain and arrived at the aid station outside the window of a possible 4 hour marathon, I quickly switched my goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon to simply beating my previous marathon PR (set last year at Medoc) of 4:18. I had plenty of time to make that goal and was still feeling pretty good physically, although my lack of 20+ mile training runs was starting to chip away at the foundations of my mental fortitude. With a bit of encouragement from Frank Lilley (one of the race organizers helping to run the aid station. See!? Awesome people!), I headed down off the mountain, confident in achieving a new marathon PR.

Unfortunately, my foot had other ideas. Ideas like "not running anymore" and "sending level 10 pain signals to my brain". Less than a mile from the top of Medoc Mountain, I was reduced to a hobbling shuffle. Pounding down the mountain at 8 minute pace had apparently pushed my foot to the breaking point. After 20 miles, my foot was DONE. Cooked. Smashed. Destroyed. And very, very angry at me for putting it through such an ordeal. So, for the last 6 miles of the race, it had its revenge. It sent wave after wave of high intensity pain signals into my fatigued brain anytime my pace crept below 13 minutes per mile.

Oh, I tried to compensate. I ran on my forefoot to take the pressure off my left heel. This resulted in a totally cramped calf around mile 23. I tried using my right leg to maintain the pace, but my right hamstrings just laughed at me and promptly took a cramp break around mile 24. Eventually, my entire lower body was just one giant convulsing cramp. I was an angry, cramping rock in a steady stream of other runners as they flowed past on their way to the finish.

Finishing And Friends Make Everything Better
Limping to the finish, I had the total mental break down (the opening of this post). I've never hated anything more than running in my entire life in those last few minutes. I crossed the finish line well outside my PR, and far, far away from my sub 4 hour goal. I crossed angry and miserable. But within seconds, I was surrounded by smiling friends. By other runners who had both good days and bad days out on the trail. And that camaraderie, that trail runner communal friendship, totally washed away my bad attitude. The failure had somehow reminded me of why I love trail running so much. The people.

How do you turn a total failure of a race into a success? Simple, look at it through a different lens. The goals we make for ourselves aren't the measure of happiness, or success, at the end of a race. What matters is friends, and fellowship. Simple connections with your fellow humans. That's success. And by that measure, I won Medoc this year.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Salem Twitch Trials - Salem Lake 30K Trail Race

Running while recovering from an injury is like running on the edge of a knife. One false step, one little slip, and you risk total evisceration. You must delicately balance the training with the slow recovery from injury. Not too fast. Not too much.

Training for a big race while injured is like running on the edge of a knife with paper plates strapped to your feet. You can pull it off, but it requires ninja like concentration and dexterity.

Racing a big race while injured is like throwing your naked body off a rooftop into a dumpster full of samurai swords. While being sprayed with alcohol from a firehose. It just can't end well.

I knew when the alarm went off at 4:45AM that running the Salem Lake 30K Trail Race would be stupid. My PF riddled foot was already throbbing and I hadn't taken my first step. So, I turned off the alarm and told the beautiful wife that I couldn't run. I think we were both relieved. My foot is a mess and her mileage has been way down recently (life with small kids preempts running very often in our house).

Fifteen minutes later, I was out of bed and scrambling to get ready for the race. No reason to start being smart about running at this point. Besides, being smart about my running would probably mean never running again.

Twitch Trials
The beautiful wife and I have had a series of showdowns over the past year or so, with her getting closer and closer to finally ending my winning streak. Luckily, we both agreed that this race would be a training run for the upcoming Medoc Trail Marathon, so the pressure was off.

Due to terrible parking logistics and a race site packet pickup that was located somewhere other than the start/finish area (really, Salem Trail Race organizers? Really?!), we missed the race start by over 2 minutes. Well, I wasn't stressed about missing the start. This was only a training run. Or so I thought.

Within the first mile, I knew I had been totally tricked by the beautiful wife. She pulled ahead of me and began passing dozens of people running a pace I knew I couldn't maintain for 10 miles, much less 18.6 miles. I hung on for dear life trying to stay on her shoulder. I managed to stay with her for about 11 miles before my PF battered left foot had had enough and I had to let her go. She was totally out of sight within a couple of minutes. My winning streak had come to a sad, injured end.

I thought someone had hidden a red hot knife inside my shoe. Each step felt as if the knife were slowly, painfully, cutting the heel off my foot. I arrived at the turn off for the 7mile race, which was a short cut back to the start/finish line of the 30K race and had to make the decision - quit or continue. I slowed to near crawling speed to give myself a few extra moments to consider the decision, and noticed that my foot didn't hurt. Maybe I could finish the last 7 miles of my run, only at a much slower pace. I lumbered on, running near the edge of debilitating foot pain.

I ran the next few miles at what felt like walking speeds, but slowly, imperceptibly, my pace increased. I was passed by about a dozen people and could never even see the beautiful wife on any long stretch of open trail. By the time I passed the 3 miles to go marker, I had regained a good bit of speed. Somehow, I had managed to find a running style that didn't aggravate my foot. Unfortunately, this involved using my "good" leg in a kind of super aggressive limp-run. And my right hamstrings were screaming at me for the abuse.

Passing the 2 miles to go marker I thought I saw the beautiful wife through the trees on the trail on the opposite side of a particularly long finger of the lake. I couldn't be sure though, but it gave me a bit of hope that I could perhaps keep the streak alive one more race. I pushed a bit harder.

After passing the 1 mile to go marker, I rounded a turn onto a long straightaway and was sure that the person just disappearing around the far bend was my wife. She had slowed down to a sane pace in the last third of the race, but was still moving well. I had a shot at catching her! I went all in with an over striding, foot pounding, spit spewing, curse filled sprint trying to catch her.

I closed the gap to less than 100 meters, but I was running out of trail very quickly. I passed a spectator who cheered me on, telling me the finish was right around the corner. Time to enter the puke zone! I threw everything I had left into an ugly, slow motion impression of a 90 year old Usain Bolt.

I caught the beautiful wife within 50 feet of the finish line, smugly putting my hand on her shoulder and chirping "Hey honey!"

At first, she was surprised and happy to see me. "Oh, hey sweetie!" she said. Then the look on her face changed to anger and she said "Oh no you don't!"

She sprinted hard the last 40 feet.

I couldn't catch her.

I lost.

By 2 f'n seconds!

Well, the streak is over, but I can't say I'm that unhappy about it. Actually, it's kind of nice to be done with the pressure. I failed the twitch trial, but was fairly beaten, and by quite a beautiful, fast, little witch.
Post race beer heals my
wounded pride.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Killing My Plantar Fasciitis Beast

[This seems to be my most popular post, so I'll try to keep it updated as I learn more techniques for battling and defeating the monster. Happy running! -Scott]

So, you have plantar fasciitis (PF). Me too. Sucks doesn't it? In fact, I would say it's one of the most evil injuries that can afflict a runner. Pulled muscles heal in a month or two. Tendinitis can be managed while continuing to train. Even broken bones heal in 8 to 16 weeks.

Plantar fasciitis can last for many months. Or years. Or forever. It's evil. Pure evil.

I've had PF before, in my right foot. I tried all sorts of remedies and therapies but not much worked. Some things would help, but only temporarily. The PF always returned. Over the course of a year, I eventually worked out a seemingly effective treatment strategy.

Note: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be one. I'm just another knuckle-head runner with a blog. This recovery regimen worked for me, but don't blame me if it doesn't work for you. Your mileage may vary. Take with water before bedtime. Do not operate heavy equipment under the influence of this therapy. May cause hair loss and extreme boredom. Do not attempt these therapies if you do not have PF or if you have no feet. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, the FBI, or the CIA. The NSA denies the very existence of PF.

Calm The Beast
First, I had to get my PF beast to calm down and stop thrashing about it's cage. Here's what I did.
  1. Stop running. Don't panic! It wasn't a long break. I gave my foot about 2 weeks to recover from the inflammatory injury cycle (i.e. running) that I had been putting it through.
  2. No, really, stop running. Yeah, you saw me out there, limping along. OK, I'll head back to step 1.
  3. Reduce the inflammation. This is tricky. Inflammation is required in the body's feedback loop of healing, so I didn't want to eliminate it entirely. But I wanted to reduce the pain and inflammation enough to begin the actual recovery exercises. I didn't go on a 2400mg per day regimen of ibuprofen in an attempt to be pain free. That wasn't the goal. Actually, I just avoid NSAIDs like ibuprofen entirely when possible, mostly because I value my colon (don't ask). Topical anti-inflammatory creams worked, but I had to use a lot since the skin on my feet was fairly thick.
Herd The Beast
Second, I began herding the beast towards the slaughter house. I followed these steps on a daily basis until I was pain free.
  1. Deep massage. If you've had PF for a while, you probably have a nice little build up of scar tissue. I sure did. Deep massage using my thumb helped break up the scar tissue and started realigning the collagen fibers of the fascia. Think of the injury site as a pile of collagen fiber spaghetti with scar tissue meatballs. Deep massage started breaking up the meatballs and aligning the spaghetti strands. I massaged from my heel towards to my toes, just because that was easier. Warning: In the beginning this hurt! You will likely feel (and possibly hear!) crunchy areas along the fascia as you run your thumb along the tissue. However, the pain will become more tolerable after a few sessions, and the crunchy bits should slowly disappear. Another more advanced massage technique I tried was rolling a hard ball under my foot, back and forth across the plantar fascia (from heel to toe and toe to heel). I used a pool cue ball, but a golf ball or something similar would probably work just as well. This provided both massage and stretching of the plantar fascia. And speaking of stretching...
  2. Gentle stretching. There are several ways to gently stretch the plantar fascia, but I had a favorite. I sat in a chair and crossed my afflicted leg on top of the other leg. I placed the ankle of my crossed leg on top of my knee, allowing the foot with PF to hang slightly to the side. I held my heel in the palm of one hand and wrapped my other hand over my toes and around the ball of my foot. Then I pulled the ball of my foot towards the knee while bracing the heel with my other hand. When I did it correctly, I felt a gentle stretch in the arch of my foot. Go here for another description and to see the source of this picture. 

  3. Ice Is for Drinks. A lot of people will tell you to ice the fascia as part of recovery, but I disagree with this approach. Icing can indeed help to reduce the inflammation early in the recovery process, but it won't help you heal the damage, unless it is coupled with heat. That's right, heat is what you need! Increasing blood flow will help with healing and nothing beats the cooling and heating technique for increasing blood flow. My technique is to use a frozen water bottle (plastic) as a sort of roller. Roll it under your foot until you have achieved a nice cold foot (wear a sock to prevent frostbite!), then switch to heat. I used a heating pad for the warming stage, but rolling with a bottle of hot water would work just as well. Alternate the cooling and heating as often as you can throughout the day.
  4. Strengthen the feet. Believe it or not there are muscles in your feet, and they can be strengthened. My favorite strengthening exercise was the foot "scrunch". I did this while sitting (easier) or standing (harder). The idea is to scrunch the foot by pulling the toes and ball of the foot towards the heel using only the muscles of the feet. I started in a seated position with my foot flat on a towel which was lying on the floor. I then attempted to scrunch up the towel using only the scrunching motion of my foot. Once I was able to do that proficiently, I wore a sock and performed the same foot scrunch while standing on a smooth floor (no towel required since I had learned the proper form from the sitting scrunches). Three sets of 10 scrunches a couple times a day really helped me after a week or two.
  5. Wear a boot or a sock. I was very reluctant to wear a boot at night. I didn't think I needed something so drastic. But the boot seems to help the fascia heal in a more neutral position, so I eventually got a boot and wore it to bed every night. I regretted not doing it sooner because my foot felt much better almost immediately once I started wearing the boot. Don't worry, I didn't wear it forever. Every few weeks, I would sleep without it for a few days. Each morning I would see if I could take a pain free step out of the bed. Once I had a pain free week without wearing the boot, it went into the closet. If you can't stand the boot, give the strassburg sock a shot. It's much easier to sleep while wearing the sock and it keeps your foot in same position, with the added benefit of putting a slight stretch on the fascia

Kill The Beast
OK, it's been pretty standard protocol up to this point. Now we get to the hard parts, and some would say the controversial parts - lifestyle changes. Yeah, sorry, but the only way I was able to truly kill the PF beast was to change some aspects of the way I live and exercise.
  1. No arch support. Yeah, seems counter intuitive, but believe me, I wasn't doing my plantar fascia any favors by perpetually propping it up on top of arch supports. Using arch support, my plantar fascia would heal, and I was even been able to run again, but it never became strong and PF resistant (PF came back regularly). The only way to ensure development of a strong, healthy plantar fascia was by actually using it as intended (as part of the spring complex in my foot's arch).
  2. Run barefoot. I wanted strong feet, so I sucked it up and ran barefoot. I don't care if you think it's hippy trippy dippy crap. It worked for me! I'm not saying I ran exclusively barefoot. I just added some barefoot running (or even walking, but preferably running) to my normal training. I ran barefoot once every week or so, not more than a mile or two. It didn't take much barefooting since I was gaining foot strength by running without arch support, but it did seem to be necessary to get back to 100% foot health, at least for me.
  3. Stand up. Aside from the other health benefits of getting off your arse, standing is good for the feet and legs. I started using a standing desk at work and spent most days on my feet. I would stand and balance on each foot for several minutes at a time during the day. If I got tired, I sat down, but I tried to spend more time standing than sitting. Sitting is nearly as evil as PF.
  4. Roll the calf muscles. Yes, really. Tight calf muscles (or muscles with painful spots/knots) put persistent pressure on my achilles tendon, which put persistent pressure on my plantar fascia. I bought a foam roller and went after the tight spots in my calf muscles. If you are a masochist, you will really enjoy a "fun" session of rolling out the knots in your calf muscles.
  5. Get Stronger! Not that I'm calling you a weakling, but you likely have PF because something in your rear chain of running muscles wasn't balanced, or you increased intensity too quickly and your strength levels were insufficient. Either problem would result in what I (and many others) would call "calf running", where your calf muscles and feet are overloaded because your hamstrings and glutes are on vacation or are overwhelmed. So, hit the weights! Yeah, I know, you're a runner, not a weight lifter. But you are now an injured runner, so just get in there and work on strengthening your hamstrings and especially your glutes. My favorite weight lift for rear chain strengthening is something called the "good morning squat". 
My right foot has been PF free for a couple of years now. I expect to kill the beast in my left foot in short order.

Update! I did indeed kill my PF, but it took longer than expected, due mainly to the fact that I had partially torn the fascia near my heel (don't run a marathon if you are already hobbling around with PF!). This required 6-8 weeks of absolutely no impact training and a boatload of patience on my part. After the healing period, it was a long slow road to recovery using the techniques described above, but I did indeed finally beat the PF. Being mindful of my feet and maintaining more balance (see Get Stronger! above) has been of very important in maintaining foot health. My foot has been great since defeating PF, and has held up just fine in 17, 20 and marathon length trail races.

If  you too have PF, best of luck to you in your quest to kill the beast! I'll be cheering you on.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How To Give Yourself Plantar Fasciitis

Ahhh, plantar fasciitis... Welcome back old friend! I've missed you so. It's been years since I gave you the boot from my right foot (Ha!), and I've wondered why you never came back. I guessed that it was the occasional barefootery in my running routine that was keeping you at bay. Or my shift to a standing desk at work. Or perhaps that we had simply outgrown each other. After all, I had moved on. I'd run several marathons and even a couple of ultra marathons with nary a whisper from you. I assumed you were now miserably married to some other runner's foot, and that was fine with me.

And then, seemingly out of thin air, you show up at my footstep. Finding the doorway to my right foot firmly locked, you slithered under the archway of my left foot and latched your red hot claws onto my heel. But how? I'm usually attuned to every whimper and creak coming from my feet and knees. Why didn't I see you coming? Could I have seen you coming?

I Should Have Seen This Coming
Well, as usual, I have only myself to blame. Want to give yourself plantar fasciitis so you can suffer with me? Here's a sure fire formula:

  • Run faster. No, really, FASTER! Take your normal training paces and knock off a good minute. Now, attack every run for the next month at your new faster pace. Pat yourself on the back and brag about your newfound speed on your favorite run tracking website. It will add some zest to your future humble pie.
  • Race in new shoes. And I mean race! Break some long standing PR's by totally flailing your body through the last mile of the race. Make sure you lose all semblance of proper form in that last mile. Slam your heels into the ground on each stride, but remember to wear shoes with absolutely no support and no cushioning. We don't want any shoe technology to perhaps save you from yourself.
  • Cross train in stupid ways. I don't just mean the normal sort of overdoing it with CrossFit or the like. Find some activity that isn't even tangentially related to running, and commit to it with idiotic zeal. Springboard diving at your local pool is a nice choice. Slam your feet onto the board and spring off your toes with all your might. Repeat this until your feet hurt so much you can barely walk away from the pool. Now, go jump on a trampoline until your knees buckle.
  • Skip recovery days. Even though your knotted calf muscles look and feel like cheap plastic shopping bags full of golf balls, and even though both achilles feel like leaky, acid-filled surgical tubing, don't you dare take a break! Recovery days are for the weak. You are a badass runner. Just look at those new, faster paces!
  • Ignore the pain. Pffft! You call that slight burning sensation in your foot "pain"? Run an ultra-marathon, then you'll know pain. Remember, you are a badass runner! Use pithy movie quotes to rationalize your stupidity. Tis but a flesh wound! You ain't got time to bleed. 
Stay tuned for my next post, where I'll tell you how to get rid of plantar fasciitis. Really.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Revenge - Raleigh 8000

Why haven't I run the Raleigh 8000 before now? The 8K is the perfect Summer time race for a distance runner like myself. It's too long for the brutal, puke-tinged efforts required for the 5K, and too short to worry about fueling or hydration. After a fun experience at the Running of the Bulls 8K earlier in the Summer, I'm really starting to love the 8000 meter race.

Not that I'm particularly gifted at the 8K discipline. Or any discipline for that matter. I'm too willing to sacrifice discipline for beer. Or food. Or rest. Or a dentist appointment. Or anything less painful than the hard, sustained efforts required for middle distance training. What was I saying before? Oh yeah, I really like the 8K distance. I'll just never be any good at it.

Regardless of my own innate inabilities, after I learned that the Raleigh 8000's primary beneficiary was the Autism Society of North Carolina, I decided that the beautiful wife and I would run the race. Being the parents of an autistic child, we try to support anything that benefits autism services. Besides, our marital rivalry seems to be drifting towards a pure 8K rivalry.

So, when I woke up the day before the Raleigh 8000 and could barely hobble to the toilet due to the what felt like a broken left heel, I didn't know if I would be running or walking the race. But I was determined to make the distance. I'll save my "Achilles arrow to the heel" story for a later self-pity post. Please come back for a visit to weep with me in the comments section. Or to tell me to just suck it up. Works either way for me.

Enough useless blog banter, on to the race!

The Race

I've been running for several years now, so it's really cool to show up at a new (for me) race and see lots of familiar faces and friends. I think I parked next to the stonking fast Umstead Trail Marathon women's champion, Lorraine Young (3:03! On trails!), but I wasn't sure, so I didn't pester her with introductions (it was indeed Lorraine and she finished as the top female with a 5:55 pace. Whoosh!). Turns out I know the race director, Michael Forrester, since he also happens to be an organizer of one of my favorite trail races, the Medoc Trail Marathon. Plus I saw about a half dozen other trail running friends before the race. Too cool!

Sold out. Full of fasties.

The course itself is a beauty, and devilishly difficult. After a steep downhill followed by a short rise on Six Forks Road, the course hits the greenway trails for a beautiful, meandering run down to the Shelly Lake dam, including transit though a very dark, cool pedestrian tunnel. The race to the dam is essentially 2+ miles of gentle down hill running. Fast! After crossing the dam, you circle around the lake and then retrace your steps back up to the finish line. If you've gone out too fast, your legs will melt down and you'll find yourself walking back up the hills. Pace yourself just right and you could end up placing in the top 3 of your age group.

Downhill start. Whoosh!

Onto the beautiful greenway trails.

Through a very dark and wet tunnel.

Across the earthen dam of Shelly Lake.

Across Shelly Lake on the boardwalk.

Back through the wicked cool tunnel.

Gut busting uphill finish.
Just an awesome course! Do yourself a favor and run this race.

The Rivalry

The beautiful wife and I have our own unique ways of approaching our running rivalry. I stress about the rivalry before every race, while the wife denies the very existence of the rivalry. But that mind game doesn't work on me. I know she knows. Wait, maybe the denial is a ploy just to get me to know that she knows. But that means she knows that I know that she knows. Chicken! Egg?! <my head explodes here>

Unfortunately for the rivalry, we were both not in the best of health the weeks prior to this race. The wife slipped a disc in her lower back doing yard work. Those of you who have back problems will understand. For those of you who have never experienced the joy of a disc problem, imagine someone hammering a red hot iron plate across your lower back with dull, rusty nails. Then imagine that your legs only work at 50% capacity because most of the nerves controlling them are too busy firing nuclear pain signals into your addled brain. Now, multiply that by 10. Perfect.

My own "arrow to the heel" problems I'm reserving for a later post in the continued hope that my stupidity will help others. Or at least amuse others.

So, we both tacitly agreed to call off the rivalry for the Raleigh 8000 and just run the race together in honor of our son.

The Revenge

Little did I know that my wife's back had mostly recovered and that she was in surprisingly good form. While I spent the race scampering around taking pictures, she cranked out mile after mile of 7:45-8:30 pace. And even though I refused to let her pass me on the last big hill, she had the last laugh, placing 3rd in her age group and winning a beautiful pint glass! My prize was being unable to walk without limping for the rest of the afternoon. Oh, how I covet my wife's pint glass award.

Image blatantly stolen from my
my friend Ash's race report from
two years back.

Well, the free post-race beer courtesy of sponsor Sawmill Tap Room took away some of the pain, but I won't be fooled again.

"Oh, you'll be fooled again. Definitely."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Drinking Game - C.R.A.P. Fest

I know you're wondering, what's the C.R.A.P. ? Let's just get that out of the way before I get to my tale of drinking while running. C.R.A.P is an acronym for Countdown Run And Picnic. The full, official title of the event is "Jimbo's East Coast Countdown Run And Picnic", but in it's second year, it has lovingly become shortened by most participants to "The C.R.A.P. Fest." Jimbo" is Jim Plant, a local ultra runner who has moved to the West coast since he originally organized the event last year. This year the race was organized by Tim Preble, another local ultra runner. Tim did a great job with the event this year.

Why have an event with a name like C.R.A.P Fest? It's an ultra runner thing I think. Keeps the riffraff out. Only diehard ultra running nutjobs would be willing to suffer though an event with a name like that. I don't consider myself an ultra runner, but fortunately, I love crazy running events, so when I saw one of my Facebook friends comment on the event, I busted in and asked if I could participate. Ultra runners being some of the coolest, nicest folks on the planet, welcomed me to the event.

How C.R.A.P Works 
The race is devilishly simple. Repeatedly run a 1.6 mile trail loop in an ever decreasing window of time. To start you are given 37 minutes to finish the loop. The equivalent of an easy stroll around the trail. After 37 minutes, the next loop run begins (usually counted down with sadistic glee by race organizer Tim). This time you have 36 minutes to finish the loop. And so on, and so forth, until you can either run no further, or you miss the group start of the next countdown loop. Like this:

Jimbo is either mad, or an evil genius. Maybe both. My kind of guy! I really want to meet Jimbo if he ever comes back to the East coast.

How C.R.A.P. Feels
On a normal day in North Carolina, in August, you would sit on your front porch sipping something cold and refreshing. In my case, a chilly pale ale would do the trick. They don't call these the dog days of Summer for no reason around here. Just getting out of your chair to retrieve another tasty, cool beverage can result in sweat stains on your favorite shirt. Now, imagine running to the store, which is nearly a mile away, to retrieve your favorite beverage. Now imagine doing that over and over and over and over... After 5 hours of this, I was thinking good god, just shoot me!

250 yards of sweltering sun. I started calling this section The Oven.
That's the giant Jordan Lake earthen dam in the distance.

Tyler Peek's strategy was to go fast.
Every. Single. Lap. 

Don't get me wrong, I had a great time at the race! These small FA ultra events draw some really cool people. I had a good time chatting with different people on the loop repeats and in between loops at the shared aid table. Speaking of the shared aid table, don't be an idiot like me and show up for the race with no fuel and a single 20oz handheld full of water. You will utterly self destruct with such foolishness. Thanks to the kindness of the more seasoned ultra runners who brought shared snacks, and especially thanks to the race organizer ,Tim, who brought at least 30 gallons of cold water, I managed not to die during the race. Even with drinking 20oz of water after each loop, I was still peeing apple juice after 3 hours. Totally brutal day on the trail for sure.

Smart runners showed up with more
than just a 20oz handheld full
of water. 

I would have died without this stuff on the
shared aid table!

Crapping Out of the C.R.A.P Fest
The great thing about this race is that the strategy and execution is entirely up to you. Run hard and fast and take long breaks between the loops early in the day, or take your time and try to just maintain a continuous momentum. This being my first attempt at the race, I tried both strategies at different points in the race. Early on, I ran way too fast (19-21 minute loops). In the middle I walked more (22-24 minute loops). My last lap was my slowest at 28 minutes, when I crapped out at 17.6 miles. Looking back on it, I think I totally reversed the proper strategy. That's just about right for me.

Was it hard? Hell yes it was! Was it fun? More than you can imagine. Would I do it again? I'm already planning my return to next year's C.R.A.P. Fest.

A couple of other race reports can be found here, and here (second place overall!).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hallucinogenic Weight Loss - Medoc Meltdown 50K

Wanna lose some weight? Wanna lose some weight and totally roast your brain? Wanna have an awesome time? If you answered yes to any of these questions, follow me to the Medoc Meltdown 50K Fat Ass event next year, because the free hallucinations at Medoc are done for this year.

If you are not familiar with Fat Ass events (hence forward, abbreviated FA to avoid triggering the NSA terrorism profanity filters), let me try to explain them. No, there's too much. Let me sum up. FA events have no fees, no awards, no aid, and no wimps:

  • No Fees: Free! The events are totally volunteer driven, usually by your fellow awesome runners. You pay nothing and you get way more than your money's worth.
  • No Awards: What? You want some cheese with your whine? Suck it up and run!
  • No Aid: Self supported. No aid stations. What part of "free" don't you understand?
  • No Wimps: Nobody at a FA wants to listen to your bitching and moaning, unless you do it with a smile on your face. Remember, you are here because you want to be here!
By FA standards, Medoc Meltdown is top notch. Not only do they break several of the cardinal rules of FA events, but they take pride in doing so. While keeping the event free, there are still awards for the nutjobs willing to slog it out for 50K on a steamy August day in North Carolina. OK, the awards are painted rocks, but my gawd, did I want one! And am I ever jealous of the crazies that actually finished all 50K to "earn a rock". 

No aid? HA! There was water and gatorade available at the start/finish of the 8+ mile loop which was also accessible from the half way point of the loop. So, aid was available about every 4 miles. That's better than some "real" races I've run.  And I won't mention the freeze pops, cookies, Coke, potato chips, and pickles available for the runners. And I definitely won't mention the hot dogs that were sizzling on the grill. That would just be cruel for you people who thought this FA was aid free. 

No wimps? Again, HA! I attended, so that rule was shattered as soon as I ran my first step. However, I will say, this is a serious running endeavor. And by serious, I mean f'n difficult! 

Half Assed
I managed to complete 2 of the 4 laps (for about 17 miles) in just over 3 hours, and it was probably the hardest 3 hours of running that I have done. A hard ass half ass! It wasn't the horse flies. There were plenty of those diving at my head like tiny, angry, fighter jets. It wasn't the snakes. The two giant black snakes I saw laughed at me as I ran past. Not worth the venom they snorted. It was definitely the humidity. 

Humidity Hallucinations

I'm a NC native, so I'm familiar with the dog days of Summer humidity around these parts. But this was just insane. My glasses kept fogging over, and my camera totally fogged up after an hour of riding in my sweaty pocket. I swear my eyeballs fogged over too. 

By the time I finished my second lap, my shorts were dripping with sweat. Not my shirt (I didn't even bother wearing one). My shorts! And I started hallucinating during the last couple of miles. Weird, foggy shapes drifted through the trees. Trees gently swayed in a breeze that didn't exist. And talking snakes slithered across the trail in front of me. I'm pretty sure Medoc isn't the Garden of Eden, so my brain must have truly been melting down. It was so incredibly awful that I plan to go back again next year and try to complete all 4 laps.

I've spent the past 24 hours attempting to rehydrate my desiccated body with quality beer. It's not working, but I feel pretty good. I'm also trying to figure out how I'm going to run 4 loops next year to earn a rock. I figure if I can at least hallucinate that I ran 4 laps, that will be good enough. It's a FA after all.

Nothing gets between me and
my Calvins. Except sweat.
Photo courtesy of Frank Lilley.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Der Scott's Marathon Training Plan

For those of you wondering how I manage to pull off such marvelous and astounding feats of marathon mediocrity, I thought I would publish my 13 week training plan. Follow this plan and you too can run your next marathon while sick, broken down, and totally out of shape.

13 Week Marathon Training Plan

  1. Runs: 4 miles, 5 miles, 9 miles. Start slow. Procrastinate and skip your training runs. Drink extra beer to carb load for next week's training.
  2. Runs: 5 miles, 5 miles, 10 miles. Run really, really hard during the first 5 miler. Pull a calf muscle and bail on the remaining runs. Soak your sore calf (from the inside) with quality beer for recovery.
  3. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 11 miles. Limp along slowly for the 5 miler, trying not to aggravate your sore calf. Run half of the 7 miler and then stop because your calf feels like it has a knife lodged in it. Totally skip the 11 miler. Drink an entire 6 pack of beer just so you can handle the pain of using the foam roller on your cranky calf.
  4. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 12 miles. Your calf should be feeling better by now. Be sure to run extra hard during the 12 miler to make up for all the training you have skipped during the past few weeks.
  5. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 13.1 miles. Skip the 5 miler and 7 miler because you are so sore from running the 12 miler with barely any ramp in mileage that you can hardly walk. Run the half marathon race that you were smart enough to schedule as part of your training plan. Try to beat your previous best time by at least 5 minutes. Puke if you have to during the run, but just don't slow down! You are chasing a PR!
  6. Runs: 4 miles, 5 miles, 9 miles. You are basking in the glory of last week's Personal Record in the half marathon, so you skip all the runs this week. Your legs aren't working anyway, so it's a moot point. Celebrate all week by having ribs and beer for dinner every night.
  7. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 14 miles. The 5 miler feels like 10 miles, so you rationalize the 7 miler down to a 2 miler. Try out a totally new pair of shoes for the 14 miler. 
  8. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 15 miles. Skip the 5 miler because the entire sole of your left foot is one giant blister. Throw those new shoes in the trashcan. Instead of wearing socks, cover both of your blistered feet entirely in KT tape and slide them into your old reliable shoes. Limp through the 7 miler. You actually finish the 14 miler, but feel like you have been mauled by a bear. Your running form breaks down entirely during the 14 mile run because you continually try to land on the single square inch of unblistered toe skin that remains on both feet.
  9. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 16 miles. During the 5 miler, all the skin peels off the bottoms of your feet due to the blister leprosy. The 7 miler feels like you are running on hot coals. Curse loudly and colorfully during the entire 2 hours of the 7 miler. Skip the 16 miler because running just sucks!
  10. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 17 miles. Running on your toes has given you a flaming case of achilles tendonosis. Your achilles tendons feel like they may snap after each step, but you finish both the 5 miler and the 7 miler. Skip the 17 miler and do eccentric heel drops for 4 days straight in an attempt to fix your decrepit tendons. Drink beer and take lots of ibuprofen in an attempt to blast the tendon inflammation (and your colon) into submission.
  11. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 19 miles. Skip the 5 miler and the 7 miler. Only the long run is important. Call one of your fast friends to run with you during the 19 miler. Run your fastest 19 miler ever.
  12. Runs: 5 miles, 7 miles, 21 miles. Bail out of the 5 mile run after only 2 miles. Your entire body is inflamed and exhausted. Consider skipping the marathon altogether. Definitely skip the 7 miler and the 21 miler. Catch a nasty cold on the day that you would have run 21 miles.
  13. Runs: 4 miles, TAPER! Skip the 4 miler because your are still sick. Deathly ill in fact. The only runs you experience are while sitting on the toilet. Attempts at carb loading are utterly futile. Weep in sorrow because your raw throat makes your beer taste and feel like sulfuric acid.
Now, go out there and conquer that marathon!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pro Rata - The Scream Half Marathon

"You can't keep this up!" That's what I was thinking around mile 9 of The Scream Half Marathon as I hammered around yet another of the countless switchbacks snaking down the mountain. It was that time of the race. You know the one. When pain amplifies self doubt beyond reason. When doubts grow in your mind from small clouds to raging thunderheads. Like a tornado ripping through the tender, green fields of confidence in your brain, nothing is left but tattered hopes and damaged dreams.

Usually, I make some half-assed compromise with myself at this stage of a race. "Slow down just a bit, it won't make that much difference in the end," I promise myself. Or even worse, "You can't do it, just cruise in to the finish." Not today. Not after coming all the way back to The Scream just to see how fast I could run. I pushed on.

Performance Ratings
Recently I've been updating my performance ratings. Not because I'm some gifted runner (Ha! Sorry, that makes me truly laugh out loud.), but more because I'm finally coming to grips with the line between capability and self abuse. Everyone has their own line. It's the line that separates physical injury from maximum capability on the spectrum of exertion. The tricky thing about this line is that it moves from race to race, even from day to day. So, pushing to the edge of the line is always a tricky proposition. There's an element of luck involved with getting it just right. Or totally wrong. I've been on both sides.

Going into The Scream this year, I thought pushing to the edge of the line would yield a personal record in the half marathon. My best performance guess was a time somewhere in the 1:40 to 1:45 range. Of course, guesses have a way of setting expectations, so you have to be careful with this sort of thinking.

Perfect Races
If you came here for a description of The Scream itself, my apologies for the delay. The Scream is awesome! It's also hellish. After a quick couple miles of rolling paved road along the ridge line, the course dives down the mountain on a forest service gravel "road" for the next 9.5 miles. It's fun at first. The grades aren't that steep, and you have fresh legs so you can hold some pretty impressive paces without too much trouble. But the hill is just relentless. Slowly but surely it pounds your quads, glutes, and hips into so much useless hamburger. By mile 9, the hill has become Hell. And that's when the toughest section begins. My god, it's an awesome race!

Last year's profile, stolen from AC, but pretty
much the same as this year.
Like this, only it's really steeper than it looks.

Pro Rata

The definition of pro rata is "according to the calculation." I had calculated the paces I needed to maintain to achieve a personal record, but there was one small problem. The mile markers in the race were totally off. The race organizers had even warned us just prior to the start that the mile markers had been placed according to GPS and were therefore not "precise". But when I passed the first mile marker in 10:35 at what seemed like a full sprint, I knew I was in for trouble. Every mile marker that I passed resulted in an equally crazy mental pace calculation. Mile 3 calculations resulted in a 6:50 pace. Mile 8 calculations resulted in 9:00 pace. Eventually, I gave up on the calculations and just ran as hard as I could without a total physical crash.

After battling my mental demons to a stale mate around mile 9, I tried to turn off my brain and just run. For the most part, this worked, although it was difficult to know if I was keeping the same pace. Seeing the last small hill before the finish, I busted into a sprint, knowing I had less than 100 yards to the line. However, cresting the hill, I couldn't see the finish. It had been moved! I passed the spot where last year's finish had been, and saw the real finish line another 100 yards down the road. Now the guy I had just passed was breathing down my neck. And to make matters worse, he had lots of friends cheering him on to the finish. "Wooo! Go Paul!" one guy shouted. "Yeah Paul! Pass that guy in front of you! You got it!" shouted another. Crap. Time to push into the puke zone to keep "Paul" from passing me back.

It was really close, but I managed to hold off Paul and I even managed not to puke (well, maybe just a little in my mouth). But it was totally worth it. Personal Record: 1:42:09

I'll take it. And I'll see you again next year, The Scream.

The best part about the finish near the Mortimer campground,
is the ice cold stream where you can soak your feet,

because this crap hurts!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Long, Slow Road To Short And Fast

Something has happened to me since last Winter. Well, really since I started running again over 3 years ago. I've found another gear and can now run at a moderately quick pace for several miles. I'm not fast, but I'm no longer just slow either. I'm in the strange land of mediocre speed. Still totally impressed by the truly fast guys, and still completely at home with my back of the pack friends, but somehow able to jump into the nether regions between.

All of my new found middling speed suddenly appeared this Spring. I took a good chunk of time off after finishing my 50K ultra (following 2 trail marathons and a 40 mile ultra in the Fall and Winter). I felt exhausted, both mentally and physically. That seems to be my pattern every Spring after I totally overdo the Fall and Winter racing, but this year the tiredness went deep. My bones felt tired.

After a few weeks of beer, biking, and some really slow running (like 13 minutes per mile sort of slow), I started feeling better. I struggled to acclimate to the Summer heat for a few weeks, but once I adjusted, I noticed that my normal training run pace had fallen into the 8:30 pace range, 30 seconds per mile faster than my normal training pace. I started seeing some personal records fall on routes I had been running at the same pace for years. I got within 30 seconds of my 5K PR on an indoor track while running barefoot (actually was a barefoot 5K PR).

And then, parkrun happened.

Two weeks ago, I ran my first parkrun event (go here to read all about the coolness that is parkrun!) and totally destroyed my 5K PR, knocking 30 seconds off and finally recording a time below 22 minutes. I thought it had to be my awesome new Merrell Vapor Gloves that allowed me to put such a vicious beat down on my old PR (I won't be reviewing the Vapor Gloves, because Josh and Ash have already written everything you would ever need to know about them), but then I ran my hilly 10K training route the following week at 8:14 pace without the Vapors and knew something about me had definitely changed.

Today, for my second parkrun, I again chopped off 30 seconds from last week's PR, finishing in 21:22. I'm stunned. Gobsmacked. Flabbergasted.

My best and only guess as to how this has happened is that all the long, slow, distance running (low heart rate, MAF style running) I've been doing over the past few years, and especially the past Winter, have finally paid off. I've gotten faster without speed work. Which is great, because I hate speed work. Speed work hurts and I'm lazy, so screw speed work. Viva la long, slow, distance!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Born To Pun - Indoor Insanity Marathon Relay

Running indoors sucks, right? I mean we all , road runner and trail runner alike, run to enjoy the great outdoors. Running indoors just has to be as soul destroying as the treadmill. What if I, a die hard trail running fanatic told you that it wasn't true? That running indoors, with good friends, was one of the most satisfying and fun things I've ever stumbled through? Shocked? Me too.

Well, it's absolutely true. I ran the Indoor Insanity Marathon Relay and had more fun than I've had in years.  Not convinced? Sit back and let me tell you about it.

Iris brought everyone some extra
running in-door-fins.
Insane In The Membrane
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I've totally lost it. I'm spewing fertilizer of the bovine variety. Well, maybe. But remember, I'm drawn to unusual experiences. That's why I ran the indoor half marathon last year (and loved it!). It's why I ran the nearly-all-downhill Scream half marathon (and loved it, and am running it again this year!). In general, that's why I run trails. I love being surrounded by insane people who run and "enjoy" ridiculous trail races in places like Uwharrie just as much as I do.

That's also why I think all my trail running friends would really love this race. That friendly camaraderie that we find in our trail races was amplified by a hundred and stuffed into 500 meters of indoor track. Not only was I running on a relay team with the beautiful wife and friends Iris (of Manic Runday) and Barefoot Josh (of errr..  Barefoot Josh), there were a load of other nutcases (Hi Woo Hoo Crew!) bringing their own brand of fun to the event.

Josh was running with porpoise. Nyuck, nyuck!
Born To Pun
Originally, I had planned to run the marathon as a solo runner (yeah, I'm that dumb), but when Iris mentioned that she wanted to race as part of a relay, the lazier 90% of my brain jumped at the opportunity to run with her and Josh one last time before they abandoned the right coast for the left (NC will be a poorer state when they move to the Pacific North West). Of course we spent most of our race planning time trying to pick a team name instead of discussing any sort of real strategy. Eventually we settled on Born To Pun, but there were a load of other contenders.

  • Team Tito
  • Lap Dogs
  • Team Meaty Ogre
  • The Brute Squad
  • Team Hop Heads
  • Team Porcelain
  • Team "Hold My Beer And Watch This Shit!"
  • Team "We Started Drinking At Breakfast"
  • Breakfast. It's What's For Beer.
  • Beer. It Does A Body Good.
  • Will Beer For Run
  • Hop To It

As you can see, everything eventually devolves to beer, the common denominator of my tribe of crazy runners. Oh, did I mention that Foothills Brewing brought draft beer for during/after the race? I told you, this race is awesome!

Lap Dogs Hop To It
Just minutes before the race started, we decided  to split the race into 5K segments. Each team member would run two 5K legs, and then finish with a final, all out, puke or die sprint lap, for a team total of 84 glorious indoor circuits. In between 5K legs, you could lie gasping on the cool concrete floor while cheering on your suffering teammates.

Sherri must color match everything, always.
I haven't done any speed work lately, mostly because I despise speed work. I hate the feeling that I might puke during a run. I hate hearing my heart hammering behind my eardrums. Mostly, I just hate the pain. It hurts me.

So, of course, I decided that I would attempt to PR on my first 5K leg. I even announced it to Josh, which I regretted during the run because I couldn't just shut it down when things got unpleasant, which in my case was about 3 laps into my 10 lap 5K. Four laps into the 5K and I considering puking into one of the conveniently placed "spit" cans. Instead, I slowed down very slightly and tried to carry my cookies to the finish. I recovered towards the end of the 5K and ran my last lap in the same time as my first lap, but the near puke in the middle of the run had cost me a PR, and by a mere 24 seconds. Thank goodness I didn't train for this thing, or I might have been slightly disappointed with a 22:39 5K. NOT! I was totally excited about that time.

Iris "those lights are bright!"

Captain Punderwear
I didn't feel like I had much left in my tiny tank for the second 5K. Maybe I should have thought about that before the whole PR attempt of the first leg, but that would have been smart. Too late for intelligent decisions at this point, so I tried to force my oxygen starved brain to figure out some way to maintain some speed. All I could come up with was "reduce weight". So, I hit the restrooms.

I still didn't feel very lightweight after some quality porcelain time, so I took off my shoes. That was a bit better, but not quite good enough. Well, my shirt was sweat soaked, and must have weighed at least 8 ounces, so I engaged Shirtless Douchebag Mode and left my shirt in a growing pool of sweat by the grandstands next to the track. I still felt heavy. Only one thing to do - lose the shorts. I pinned my bib to my Calvin Kleins and ran my last 5K as Captain Punderwear. If the weight reduction didn't help, perhaps shame could propel me to a decent finish.

And it worked! Sort of. I ran a decent second 5K leg, only 37 seconds slower than my first leg PR attempt, finishing in 23:16. A barefoot 5K PR by over 30 seconds! Near the end of the 5K, I passed someone on the track and they cheered me on with "Go Underwear Man!" Totally worth it.

Will Beer For Run
Josh finished off our 5K legs with a blistering 19 minute barefoot run. Then we all sprinted the last 500 meter lap before retiring to a makeshift pub for some quality beer and grub in a room just beside the track. We finished with an overall time of 3:18 for the marathon. Not too shabby! Especially considering how much fun we had.

Don't get me wrong, I love trail running. I feel more fulfilled and connected after a good hard trail run, than at almost any other time. Trail running ties me to the earth. It grounds me . It levels my perspective. But it's an inherently lonely experience. Running indoors, as a team, is the yin to trail running yang. It's not just about running. It's about running with your fellow humans. It's about the connection between us all. It's a beautiful, shared moment of humanity. A moment I think every runner should experience, if only once.