Saturday, March 28, 2009

2009 Raleigh Rocks Half Marathon

For some reason I feel compelled to post about every race, so he is the obligatory Raleigh Rocks Half marathon 2009 post.

7:40 AM
"Eight dollars?!", I asked the women holding out here hand. I was running late so I had turned into the first parking garage I had come to. "Eight dollars?!", I knew this was absolutely ridiculous, and that there probably was a free parking spot around the block, but I didn't want to be late for the race that I had already invested $65 in. So I paid the woman, giving her a squinting glare that asked "how can you live with yourself?", and she replied with smug grin that said "sucker!".

7:43 AM
As I was running out of the garage, guy in a pickup truck (I swear this really happened) drove by with his head out the window, "Eight dollars??!! AHH HAAA HAAA HAA!!!". Thanks for rubbing it in, buddy.

7:46 AM
I jogged for a few blocks until I found the runners streaming out of the Sheraton Hotel with the their bags. I went in, fighting my way upstream through the crowds up stairs, escalators, down hallways. They had strategically placed the bib and chip pickup for 2000 runners in a small conference room on the 4th floor. There was still a long line that went out of the room and down the hallway.

7:50 AM
Most of the people were running the 5K which started later, so I squeezed my way down the hall to the tables and got my bib. Then into another even more crowded room and got my chip.

7:55 AM
As I battled my way out of there I looked out the window and saw the long lines at the porta johns out on the street and realized I had to pee really bad.

7:56 AM
Miraculously, I found an empty bathroom in the hotel.

8:00 AM
Made it to the start with a few seconds to spare.

As for the race, the bands along the course were good but sparse, and seemed to bring attention to the long ugly empty spaces between. It was nice to run on the greenway by the art museum and across the pedestrian bridge over 440. As for me, I did a 1:29:30 which was very hard and several people passed me at the end.

The thing most memorable was at the finish line, there was a line of tables of half bananas, bagels, orange wedges, etc. All the yuppie runners from Cary in their short running shorts and tank tops (including me) crowded among the tables, but there in the middle of them was the lead singer of the band that played at the finish line. He was kind of a cartoonish unintentional parody of a hard rock band singer. Black leather jacket with spikes and chains, ripped jeans, long crazy hair sticking up at odd angles, has not showered or shaved in a few weeks kind of look. He gave me a great big grin and nodded as he stuffed down orange wedges and bagels between sets.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dog Days 5K run

March 22, 2009

Shannon and I have a lot of free time, so we will run a race for just about any reason.

We did the “Joggin for yer noggin 5k” on Saturday because it was in Crabtree park, which is very close to my house, and because my neighbor Guy was doing it as well.
We also signed up for the “Dog Days 5K” on Sunday, because, well, it had the word “Dogs” in it. So here we were running the second 5K this weekend.

This race is held by the NCSU Vet students on some property next to the vet school. It is a very relaxed, low key event, with only 35 people running it this year. But despite being very casual there were bib numbers and timing chips. We were not actually allowed to run with dogs in the 5k so we left our pack of dogs back at the Cary Shelter for Unwanted Animals (my house)

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, sunny, mid 70s. At the start we ran into Mandy’s friend Josh. Mandy wasn’t running because she was still injured; some lunatics had encouraged her to run the Umstead Marathon on a bad ankle and limited training (sorry). Josh was days away from being shipped off to Iraq or possibly Afghanistan, which seemed kind of surreal, and I wasn’t sure what to say to him. “Have fun” seemed inappropriate.

“Where is the start line?” somebody asked.
The student coordinating the race shrugged, “I don’t know. How about this crack in the pavement?” We shuffled up to the crack.
“Ok. Go.” it took a few seconds for us to realize the race had just started, and then we sprinted off down a dirt road. Unlike the 5k the day before where most of the participants were parents strolling along with their coffee and 6 year old children, this race was mostly 20-something students. Two guys sprinted off well ahead and I tried to keep up with them, feeling the soreness in my legs from the day before. The guy in second place had on some fancy cross county spikes that clicked on the gravel. We turned off onto a short trail through the woods, and after a couple of short hills I managed to pass “spikes” and got within a few yards of the leader as we came out onto a pasture.

I was already losing some steam but managed to stay not far behind as we looped around the big field. Unfortunately there were no cows as Shannon had hoped. We headed back into the short trail again, and the leader seemed to run out of gas on the hills and he gave me a “thumbs up” as I passed him. I tried to say something nice in return but was out of breath. As we headed out for a second loop around the field, I couldn’t believe I was in the lead. Before Saturday I had never dreamed of actually winning a race, and now here was the possibility of winning my second race this weekend; it was crazy. I found the implausibility to be motivating, and I pushed myself as hard as I could. But my feet sank softly into the thick grass, and in the middle of the wide open field it seemed I was moving in slow motion, like some kind of bad dream. I didn’t look back for that last mile, but assumed somebody must be gaining on me. After the last turn in the parking lot I hit the finish line where they were holding up the tape to be broken. That was really cool. Maybe it was just a dinky 5k with only 35 people, but I got to break the tape.

Shannon was second female. Josh came in 7th place, refusing to let a 9 year old kid beat him, outkicking the little tyke to the finish line. Lots of people had brought their dogs for the dog wash and dog walk. We hung out and pet the pooches until they gave out awards, which were very generous for such a small race. I think I will be back next year.
Josh poses triumphantly in front of the vanquished 9 year old

Noggin' 5K: My side of the story

(Above) The world’s elite 5000m runners jostle for position at the start, trying to gain that extra edge.
The last time these runners went toe-to-toe was last August in Beijing (Below).

By now, I’m sure you have already heard of my controversial win at the “Joggin' for Your Noggin' 5K & Walk/Roll-athon”. It’s on the front page of every newspaper, and CNN, MSNBC, and ESPN are still camped out on my lawn. Everyone wants to know, how did a 38 year-old amateur runner cross the finish line first at the one of the world’s most prestigious running events?

First, let me state for the last time, unequivocally, that I did NOT take any performance enhancing drugs, or cheat in any way. Those that have claimed to witness me “blood doping” before the race are mistaken. What they probably saw was me receiving an intravenous glucose/sodium fluid boost from Dr. Gunnar Svedberg, a well known and respected scientist from Stockholm who is part of my support team. Everything I did to prepare for this race, from shaving my legs to sleeping in a hypobaric chamber was perfectly legal.
That’s me behind Oliver “Whitey”
Whitman, one of fastest runners
in Northwood Elementary 3rd grade
gym class, and a fierce competitor.
He gave me a sharp elbow when I
tried to pass him on the inside
of the turn at mile 2.

Now for my race recap. At the start, I was nervous as I eyed my competition, making note of who I needed to worry about. After evaluating the field I came up with a list the top four:

- Winston Beck, an up and coming speedster who has claimed many titles this past year. My plan was to counter his speed with my experience, and hope he made a youthful mistake like going out too fast. Winston is 12 years old.

- Guy De Burgh, a veteran runner making a resurgence on the local 5K scene. He is 53 and lives across the street from me.
- Shannon Johnstone, AKA “The Duchess of Frost”. I could tell she meant business because she left her bag of Skittles and Swedish Fish at home. She did have her camera though, and if she stopped to take pictures, I might have an edge on her.

-Some bald guy in a yellow jacket. He looked fast.

After the start whistle we took off like a shot, and I was in the middle of the lead pack. I tried to find someone to draft behind, but it wasn’t effective because the guys in front of me were all children about 3 feet tall. I tried moving left and then right, but I was boxed in, feeling like I was fighting my way through the line at the mall to see Santa Claus.

The “Joggin' for Your Noggin'" course
was carefully designed to serve
as a learning aid, illustrating
the complex digestive tract of a cow

After a few turns, I found myself surprisingly in the lead, and became concerned that I had no one else to follow. I had flash backs to the “Frozen 5K” where I had become lost in the woods and almost froze to death. After that experience, I tried to study the “Joggin' for Your Noggin” course map carefully, but just like Rubik’s Cube when I was 16, I gave up in frustration. If “Joggin' for Your Noggin” refers to fact the course is a brain teasing puzzle, then finishing merits admission to Mensa.

Fortunately there was a guy on a bike leading the way, so I tried to get behind him so I wouldn’t get lost, but he kept speeding up. “Wow! You’re doing great!”, the spectators cheered. “No!” I puffed, “I’m dying trying to keep up with this guy!” I guess every one else did get lost on the course, because I crossed the finish line first with no one passing me. And that was it. Shannon crossed shortly after, setting a woman’s course record of 21:44.
I would like to the thank the “Joggin' for Your Noggin” organizers for the well organized race and generous awards, Dr. Gunnar Svedberg for my pre-race boost, and the guy on the bike for leading the way.

The top 4 finishers. Don Schoppe, Guy De Burgh, Winston Beck, and Me

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Umstead Marathon- A Bonk and Some Wood

Umstead Marathon 2008 & 2009 Race report
Panoramic of the start.
Photos by Shannon Johnstone


This was the fourth time Shannon and I have run The Umstead Marathon, and once again we had a great time. I cannot thank the Godiva folks and volunteers enough for putting on the best race there is. It starts with the goody bag with Smart Wool socks and a the best designed race shirts. Sandra Cookie has a good run down of this.
For location, Umstead is the perfect race. Held in a beautiful park, there is not an inch of concrete in sight and with a race cap of 200, there are no crowds. But unlike other trail races which can sometimes be a solitary experience, Umstead is a social event. There are lots of cheering spectators and volunteers at the aid stations, and the bridle path is wide enough to run along side and chat with people. And of course, they have the best finishers awards, the beautiful pint glasses. My only complaint is that the glass comes empty (yeah, I know, park rules).

Some photos of the 2009 race by Martin McGaha, Erin Douglas, and Shannon Johnstone

Here is a run down of my 2009 race experience. My apologies in advance for it being so long. I never did a report for last year, so I thought I would include 2008 too so that I could share my learning experience of how NOT to run a marathon.

Race strategy 2008:
Go out fast to get in front of the pack. I think I can run the single track trails pretty fast, but because of the rain, there might be a bottle neck there. I don’t want to get caught behind a lot of people moving slowly through the mud and puddles. After Company Mill and Sycamore, try to hold on to a 7:45 pace the rest of the way.
Race strategy 2009:

Ronnie Weed's race strategy involved fruity shorts
Propelling him to 4th place

Start 2008:
“No headphones are allowed”, said the announcer, at least that’s what I think he said. It was raining so hard it was like standing in a waterfall. If you held out your water bottle, it would have filled instantly. “And no baby strollers”. Any baby in stroller would need to be wearing a snorkel. Shannon was next to me, panicking because her GPS watch had no signal.
Start 2009:
It was a perfect day, just a little on the cool side as the sun was just rising over the trees. Shannon was taking pictures of course, and Mandy, Bubbles and I posed for a few shots.
Mandy, Me(ugliest race shirt ever), Bubbles, and Shannon

Mile 1, 2008:
Finally he let us go and we surge ahead through the torrent, splashing through puddles up to our ankles. After about a mile the rain tapered off, and I saw people coming back from the turn around on reedy creek. There was about 30 or 40 people ahead of me so I picked up the pace to a 7:00 minute mile, weaving in and out passing people, trying to get towards the front before we hit the Company mill single track trail.
Mile 1, 2009
At 9am we were off, and for the first mile I chatted with Mandy about her super fast 1:30 half marathon at Myrtle Beach. After the pack broke up, I settled into my own easy pace going down Reedy Creek. I had trained all year with a heart rate monitor, but I decided to ditch it that morning because I realized I had no idea what the numbers meant.
I saw people coming back from the turn around, and it looked like there were about 50 people ahead of me. I took a long deep breath, and relaxed. It didn’t matter, because I wasn’t racing them. I was only competing against myself from last year; let’s call him “Anthony ’08”.
Mile 3, 2008
I ran past the first aid station without stopping to save a few seconds and turned down Company Mill. I felt I had an advantage here, so I flew down the hills, skidding around each twist and turn. “On your left”, I called out as I raced past a woman picking her way more carefully, “Nobody can run these trails like me”, I thought to myself.
About 4 steps after that, I hit a patch of mud and went sliding down a hill uncontrollably, “whooaaaaaa”, my arms flapping helplessly in the air like some bad slapstick comedian. Finally I hit a rock and flopped face first into the trail.
My knees went numb, and for a moment I thought my day was over. But when I got up, I was more embarrassed and muddy than hurt, and instead of taking this as a hint to slow down, I starting running again at the same hard pace. I got to the uphill section where tree roots formed a natural staircase, leaned forward and pumped my arms, charging up them.
Umstead's hint to slow down

Mile 3, 2009
It was already starting to get warm as I stopped at the aid station and drank a full cup of water and thanked the volunteers. I then turned onto Company Mill behind a few people who slowed down a little. Again, I just relaxed, and waited until there was ample room to pass. When I got the rooted staircase, I took it easy and walked up it. I was already more than 2 minutes behind “Anthony ‘08”, and falling farther behind.

Company Mill

Mile 5, 2008
“Are you OK?”, the volunteers at the next aid station where concerned about my bloody knees. “I’m OK, thanks”. I ran fast down the hill on Graylyn, and turned into Sycamore trail, which was one long mud pit. I had to really slow down and pick my way through there, anxious about falling behind the leaders.
Mile 5, 2009
It wasn’t even 10am, and I was already sweating buckets. It would eventually reach 81 degrees, which is really hot for a marathon. Successfully running long distances in the heat can be really complicated. You need to consume the correct quantity and balance of water, sugar, and salt or else you can end up cramping, puking, convulsing, spinning, sloshing, seizing and/or general bonking. Everybody needs to find their own formula, and after a lot of trial and error and more error, I think I finally found my mine when I ran the Chicago Marathon last October. Part of this formula is dumping water on my head at each water stop, which may seem overly dramatic, but you have to stick with what works. At the second aid station I took a sip of energy goo, gulped 2 cups water and dumped a third on my head. A soaking wet t-shirt can inflict third degree chafing, so I ditched my shirt, which just happened to be my Chicago Marathon shirt. I didn’t mind losing it because it was a contender for the ugliest race shirt ever, featuring a giant “Bank of America” Logo over a vomity beige Chicago skyline on a white background.
Mile 7, 2008
Coming back out onto Graylyn, I caught up to guy and struck up a conversation. “First year running Umstead?”. “Yeah”, he didn’t talk much, maybe because he was struggling, so I passed him. Looking back now, it’s more likely he was ambivalent talking to a mud covered lunatic with bloody knees.
Mile 7, 2009
I then took a pleasant jog up Sycamore, which is a very scenic trail along Sycamore Creek, then up to the next aid station on Graylyn. In the middle of my pit stop procedure of sip, gulp, gulp, and dump I realized I had just taken a cup of Gatorade from my new friend Melissa. Not wanting to dump it on my head, and already having a mouth full of water, I had to hand it back to her without saying anything. Sorry Melissa, for rejecting your cup, and not properly saying hi!

Mellissa, I don't want your stinking Gatorade

Mile 9, 2008
I cruised down Graylyn and Corkscrew, and just as I was starting to feel winded, a spectator waved to me, “Great Job! You’re in 15th place!”
I could not believe it. My goal in life was to finish in 15th place, to get a wooden plaque, and all I had to do was not let anyone pass me. Any fatigue I felt was suddenly erased, and I was propelled up the mile long hill on Reedy Creek, and down South Turkey Creek.
Mile 9, 2009
Next was a cruise down Graylyn behind a small group of people that resisted passing, then grabbing some water from a pair of adorable little kids, followed by the roll down corkscrew. On Reedy creek I saw what might have been the same guy as last year, calling out what place each runner was in. I thought I heard something like “seventeen, eighteen” to the runners in front of me, but I tried to ignore it and not think about what place I was in. Then I saw our fried Rima who had come out to cheer us on, which was very nice of her. Thanks Rima!

Better take two

Mile 13, 2008
There was no one in sight as I pushed through the rolling hills of North Turkey Creek until, “Wooooo! Anthony!” I came around a turn and saw a huge group of people shouting my name. I was excited that I had just run into all of my close friends in the middle of the woods, until I realized that my name was on my bib. Still, I got a needed boost from the enthusiasm at this aid station. “You're in 15th place!”
Soon after, I saw the leaders coming back, Paul Potorti followed by Ironman Chris Eschbach. I exchanged waves with Chris, who I had met when I volunteered for an experiment at the Meredith Human Performance Lab.
Shannon works at Meredith and had encouraged Chris to run the marathon.
“Oh, great, that’s one more plaque I’m not getting”, I joked before the race.
“He might not get a plaque”, Shannon wasn’t impressed with Ironman races and thought he would struggle on the hills of Umstead, “I don’t think he’s ever done a trail race”.
I thought this was ridiculous. “Shannon, he runs marathons as a cool down. He directs a Human Performance Lab. He wont break a sweat” So I felt a touch of glee seeing Chris in second place, proving me right.
Mile 13, 2009
I took it easy through here, even stopping to walk up one steep hill that Bubbles calls “The BMF”. I was now about a half of mile behind “Anthony ‘08”.

Yet another hill on Turkey Creek

Mile 16, 2008
At the turn around on Graylyn I saw the people that I had passed early were not far behind, and I was running out of gas. Forgetting that I still had 10 miles to go, I pushed myself to the maximum trying to maintain the 7:45 pace, and my 15th spot. Going back down Turkey Creek, I saw Shannon coming up, “Oh my God! You’re in 15th place! You’re doing so good!” But I wasn’t.
The next hill I slowed to a crawl and a guy passed, dropping me to 16th. The only thing I had left was gravity and desperation, so I started taking the downhills as fast I could. I went careening down barely under control, in a desperate and futile attempt to hold onto that 15th spot.
Mile 16, 2009
Here it was a year later, and I saw Shannon in the same spot, coming up Turkey Creek as I was going back. “Oh my God! You’re in 12th place! You’re doing so good!”.
“Shhhhh! Don’t say that!”, I got her to stop taking pictures long enough to give her a kiss, “Good luck!”
Mile 18, 2008
Turning on to South Turkey Creek about mile 18, I had used the last drop of gas and reality finally hit me. I moved in slow motion; my body had been filled with concrete that was starting to harden. My dream of a plaque was swept away in the steady stream of runners passing me, dropping me to 17, 18, 19…. Suddenly a side cramp doubled me over. I had taken a lot of Gu, but not much water and my stomach was protesting. At the next aid station I stopped for a minute, drank, and reevaluated my goal. My marathon PR was a 3:52, and I could still beat it. I only had to finish the last 7 miles in an hour and a half. The next mile on Reedy Creek was a gentle downhill; the easiest on the whole course. But as I set out with new hope, I found my wheels had fallen off.
My quads had been pummeled into hamburger, and my left one simply no longer functioned. My quivering overworked calves finally seized up, and I couldn’t move.
Mile 18, 2009
The heat was starting to get to me, as I felt little twinges in my calves, “Oh, no”, it was the warning sign the muscles were close to cramping. At the aid station I drank a bunch of Gatorade hoping to hold off the dehydration, and they kindly refilled my bottle with it as well.
Mile 20, 2008
After stretching a bit, I managed limp forward, hunched over like Marty Feldman playing Igor in Young Frankenstein. I could jog a few yards at a time until my gut and my legs protested and forced me back to a gimpy walk. My new goal was simply reach the finish line, but I wasn’t sure I could even hobble that far.
Mile 20, 2009
It was here that I finally caught up to and passed “Anthony ‘08” as he shuffled down Reedy creek in pain. I saw Rima again; who after completing her own training run that morning was still there cheering us on.
When Shannon hit mile 20 shortly after, the heat was really getting to her, and she considered dropping out. But Rima was there to save the day, and ran with Shannon the next 4 miles.
Mile 22, 2008
“Are you OK? Can I help you?” a nice guy on a bike was very concerned about my health. He gave me a bottle of water and I downed the whole thing, “Gu?” he asked. I clutched my stomach at the thought, “No. Thanks a lot. I think I’m OK.”
Literally standing at the crossroads, I was now forced to make a choice. Go down the dreaded Cedar Ridge, or end the agony, take a DNF (did not finish) and go straight the end. The volunteers at the aid station were encouraging, “You can do it!”
“Ah, what’s another 2 or 3 miles?”, I turned and lumbered slowly down Cedar Ridge.
Mile 22, 2008
It was close to noon, and the sun was scorching as I climbed Corkscrew. I regretted taking my shirt off now, because my pasty white skin was burning. My calves were getting tighter, and the twinges had become a regular pinging like two ticking time bombs. There was nothing I could do but hope they would not explode into cramps in the next 4 miles. At the next aid station I drenched myself again, and headed down cedar ridge. When I got to the bottom and turned around, I saw that there was no one behind me. So stopped and walked slowly up the steep “Wheels Fall Off” hill, hoping to not antagonize my volatile claves.
Mile 24, 2008
Trudging up “Graveyard Hill”, a nice couple ran past, and tried to encourage me. “Come on you're doing great, come on, run with us”. I waved them on, “I wish I could.”
Mile 24, 2009
I couldn’t believe it. I kept expecting about 20 people to race by but at the top of “Graveyard Hill”, I turned to look down and still no one was behind me. It was here that I finally let myself think of getting that plaque and after the 24 mile warm up, my race finally started and I took off to the finish line.

Mile 26, 2008
I trotted to the finish in 3:48, and 29th place. This was still a marathon PR for me, but I didn’t really care about that. I had run a stupid race by starting out way to fast, but I learned my lesson: Relax.
Mile 26, 2009
Seeing the clock at 3:25, I raced to the finish line, hoping to come under 3:27, which was my PR. About 5 steps before the finish, my ticking calves finally went off and seized up, but it didn’t matter. I gimped across the line, and received my frog. My quest completed.

Photo by Martin McGaha


Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Haiku

Still working on my Umstead race report, hopefully will be done this weekend.

Until then, here are some pictures from the race that Shannon took:

My Haiku for today:

Escape cubicle
Me, my dogs, and a cold rain
Muddy trail, all ours

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Got Wood

Mandy, Me, Bubbles, and Shannon

Well, I said I would give a quick update on what happened, so to answer my own questions from 6am this morning.

Will Shannon's hip hold out? Yup, no problems.
Will she get a frog, her 3rd plaque? Yup, no problems. 8th place!
Will she meet her goal of 3:55? It was really hot.
Will Mandy really try to run it? Yes, against her better judgement, probably to stop our incessant badgering
How will her first marathon go? She was pretty brave to give it a shot on a bad ankle and little preparation.
Will bubbles cramp up and run the race backwards again? Or a second plaque? Cramping and a plaque! 12 place!
Will I crash and burn again? No crashing but I did burn, as in sunburn. Pasty white cubicle dwellers should not take their shirts off outside. Oh yeah, after 4 tries I finally "got wood".

Shannon and I will put up a better race report in a day or two, but right now we need some sleep.

Chasing the frog

It's 6am, morning of the 2009 Umstead Marathon, year of the frog. I have been waiting all year for this, and I guess I am a little nervous, if you measure by the number of trips to the bathroom per hour.
Shannon's saw a doctor yesterday who said it was OK to run with her hip problem, so she is running. Mandy also decided to run it, her first marathon. So it is going to be a lot of fun.
It is supposed to be great weather, 60 deg at start and 75 by 1pm. A little warm, but I like it that way. I will post again later today to answer the following questions:

Will Shannon's hip hold out? Will she get a frog, her 3rd plaque? Will she meet her goal of 3:55?
Will Mandy really try to run it? How will her first marathon go? Not much training, but she is really fast, with a 1:30 half marathon just a few weeks ago. I bet she scores a frog.
Will bubbles cramp up and run the race backwards again? Or a second plaque?
Will I crash and burn again? Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Umstead Marathon Elevation Profile

It is 2 days until The Umstead Marathon , and now that training is over and I am forced to rest, I am left with nothing to do but obsess about the the race. So this post is for my fellow running geeks who will do more analysis and strategizing for a run than was done for the Normandy Invasion.

I ran Umstead last year, and I took the track from my GPS watch, and uploaded it to this website MapMyRun. This website can create an elevation profile based on the track. It uses actual elevation maps instead of the ridiculously bad recorded elevation data from the watch. The result isn't that accurate but it does give a rough idea.

Umstead Marathon Elevation profile (click for bigger picture)
Unfortunately it smooths over all of the much shorter, steeper hills, like Bubble's favorite "The BMF" or "Big Mother F%#$er" on Turkey Creek. But it does show that very little of the course is flat, and that you are either going up or down. To calculate the absolute "hilliness" of the course we apply a fast Fourier transform (FFT) to the curve and derive the coefficient of the gradient and multiply by an integral of the inclines divided by the declines over distance. The result: pretty damn hilly. To get a better idea, let's compare it to the most well known marathon, Boston, which has a reputation of being "hilly":

Boston Marathon. I think the little pimple towards
the end is the Legendary "Heart Break Hill"
Hmmm. It looks like if you dropped a marble at the start of Boston, it could roll on it's own to a 3:15 finish without much effort. OK, so Umstead is hillier than the typically wimpy city road race, but for you runners who whine about every little incline (Shannon), lets put it into perspective. Here is the Grandfather Mountain marathon held in Boone, NC:

Grandfather Mountain
The red indicates some pretty steep inclines. So Umstead is not even the hilliest marathon in NC. So what is a really hilly course? How about Pikes Peek:

Pikes Peek Marathon
They had to invent new colors just to represent this one. In case you didn't notice, all of these pictures are at a different scale which makes it hard to compare. So lets put them at the same scale:

Comparing Umstead to Boston, Grandfather Mountain, and Pikes Peek

So to every one who is running Umstead this weekend, before you start complaining when you are trudging up Cedar Ridge, think of this picture and be glad.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting some wood

Shannon has wood. This is her fish, and she also has a turkey vulture.

Currently my goal in life is to get a little wooden plaque. That is, to finish in the top 15 males in the Umstead Marathon. Other people I know have higher aspirations, or spend their time on more laudable pursuits. Shannon is a successful artist with her photography. Our friends Randy and Lori just got back from doing charity work in Nicaragua. My sister Monique was signed up to run the Umstead Marathon with me this year, but she had to drop out because she was busy saving a child’s life. Really. She helped arrange life saving surgery for a child from Honduras who was born with a congenital defect. Monique is now caring for her until she is well enough to go home, and has had to pretty much give up running until then. But of course, she already has a plaque.
Little Keydi. Sure she's cute.
But she is no chunk of wood

How did I end up with such an arbitrary and frivolous goal? I don’t know. I was going to write all this blather about how running is so important to me and bla, bla, bla. Who cares.
Basically I love running in Umstead, so much so, I bought a house close to it. Then I heard about the Umstead Marathon, which gives out pint glasses to finishers and these little wooden plaques to the top finishers of each gender. I thought, "Hey, this is a race for me!". When I ran it in 2005, I discovered that there are a lot of people who love running in Umstead Park, and that plaques are not awarded to mere mortals like myself running 9 minute miles. I then dreamed up this seemingly impossible goal of getting a plaque, something so far fetched that I could count on it for many years to come, probably as long the race is held. It just added another reason run, and something to distract me when I’m sitting in my little grey cubicle typing up TPS reports.
“I hope you don’t get a plaque”, said Monique on the phone the other day, “Because if you do. What then? You’ll no longer have a goal. It’s your White Whale”.
So I will be running it for the 4th time on Saturday, hoping for that 15th place finish and that chunk of wood. I have been training for it ever since I crashed and burned in the race last year. But I think my sister is right, and that 16th place might be better, because then I won't have come up with a more worthy aspiration that wouldn't involve running in Umstead.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Burning down the house

Later that day...
I'm in the shower getting ready for Jim and Carolyn's party, looking forward to hanging out with all the Godiva folks and the promised dancing, wondering if I'll be able to stay awake past 9pm, when the lights flicker and go out for a few seconds. The bathroom then almost instantly fills up with smoke and the smell of burning tires. My first thought was that Shannon was trying to cook something again, but she came upstairs "Friend? Something is on fire. I dont know where."
So the smoke was not from her attempting the "wax paper covered flame broiled salmon".
Our friend Mandy arrived just then, she was going to ride with us to the party. "Come on in, and make yourself at home. You'll have to excuse us for a moment because it seems the house is on fire."
Apparently it started when the furnace kicked on so I shut it off, and we went to investigate in, around and under the house. There was no sign any flames, and the smoke seemed to be clearing.
So Shannon put on the Talking Heads "Burning down the house", and as I was pondering calling the fire department, Mandy and her proceeded to dance on my kitchen table. I was grateful for their concern about my house.
I finally decided not to call the fire dept, because if they inspected my electrical system they might not approve of my "do-it-yourself" 220V wiring of my hot tub heat pump. Since I was unsure as the cause of the smoke, we decided not to go to the party, in case the smoke came back again.
Instead we watched the "Spirit Of the Marathon" movie and tried to talk Mandy into running the Umstead Marathon on Saturday. It would be her first Marathon, and though she is signed up, she hasn't really been training for it. "Come on. It will be fun! You don't need any training!". I thought for sure she would be motivated after seeing the movie, but somehow the footage of people collapsing into a heap before the finish line didn't inspire her.
On Sunday it got very cold in the house from the lack of heat, so we packed up the 4 dogs and headed to Shannon's house, where we discovered that her heat pump was also broken. We decided to make the best of it until we found that the Internet access was also not working, which made her house uninhabitable.
So we retreated back to my place and built a fire in the fire place and got out some space heaters, and watched "Swingers" as the snow started falling.

Dooright and Rotten huddle by the fire

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hash trash (?)

Ran my first Hash yesterday, with the Tar Heel Hashers. For those not hip to the Hashing scene, Hashing combines two of my favorite things, running and beer. Bubbles suggested I write some "Hash trash" in my blog, but I'm not sure what that means. I don't think a guy who gets drunk on 2 Miller lites should talk trash about hashers, so I'll just give a modest recounting.

Shannon was resting her bum hip, so Bubbles picked me up for a ride over there, "Oh, Man. you cant wear shorts". She sent me back in to put on long pants "Your legs will get tore up from the 'Shiggy'"
She gave me a crash course in all the Hashing lingo and nicknames, and warned me that would would be copious amounts of mud, blood and beer.
We got to the "Hare's" house, a Mr. "Sir Cumference", which refers to his girth. A bad pun will sometimes cause me physical pain, but that is a great one. Sir Cumference gave us the detailed instructions on the the trail he had laid, which he said he made very easy and without "Check Backs" because of the rain. A group of about 9 of us headed out in the cold rain. Barbara and Tom where there, as well as a few others from Godiva whose names I will not attempt misspelling. Oh and I cannot forget Bubbles' dog, "Ru", who might be the best running dog I have ever met.
We started out in a muddy field with Bubbles and Ru leading the way, following the trail of lumps of flower and white ribbons. I wasnt dressed for the weather and instinctively ran fast to stay warm. I think I was pushing the pace too much for this being a social run. We lost half the group, who were more experienced and relaxed. About half way, we waited for Halie (sp? sorry) to catch up, "I'm feeling pretty lonely back there for this being a social run". I felt pretty stupid for acting like it was a race.
Sir Cumference took it a little too easy on us, as we weaved through empty subdivisions without much mud or blood
When we got back to the house Sir Cumference had put out quite a spread of food, wine and beer and we spent a lot more time eating, drinking and laughing then we had running, which I guess is what hashing is about. We made plans for meeting up later at Jim and Carolyn's party.
THANK YOU Sir Cumference for a great time, and my first hash. I am planning on many more.

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