Sunday, November 29, 2009

Uwharrie incidental marathon

From right to left, Bubbles (aka Mickey Fongzales), me (in my embarrassingly short shorts brown corduroys), Steve (Shannon's dad), and Shannon (Skittles). We are all wearing red or orange, hoping not to be mistaken for deer during hunting season. Skittles, Bubbles, and I are training for our first ultra, the Uwharrie 40 mile race in February.

On Saturday we headed down to Uwharrie National Pile of Rocks for another training run on the trail, with these goals:
  • Practice eating solid food and drinking copious amounts of fluid while running
  • Get used to running on a pile of rocks
  • Learn the subtle differences between the white paint on the trees and the white blotches of lichen.
  • Run for 5 hours
Despite getting up very early we didn't make it to the park until 11am, partly due to some bad directions (an inadvertent google maps "drag the dot" led us to a dirt road and a bizarre church with gargoyles. Seriously) .
We parked at the 109 entrance, which is about the mid-way point of the Uwharrie trail. The plan was to do an out-and-back to the north and another to the south, 2 and half hours each.

Before running we first had to pose for 37 pictures. The timer on Shannon's camera was set to about 3 seconds so there were a lot of pictures of her back, after she hit the button and tried to run back for a group shot.
Next I tried to give a crash course to Skittles and Bubbles on using the "course" feature on their Garmin Forerunners. I had uploaded the Uwarrie trail into the watch, hoping it would prevent them from getting seriously lost. This would turn out to be ironic.

So it was almost noon when we finally headed out into the forest. It was an absolutely perfect day for running, about 55 degrees but felt much warmer in the sun.

Lesson #1: Double Blazes mean turn
Within a half mile I had already lost the trail. I back-tracked, and discovered that I had missed the "double blaze" mark on a tree which indicated a turn.
I continued on until it was time to turn around, and which point my watch said I had done 6.5 miles. This was about an 11 minute mile, which sounds slow for road running or any normal trail. But for Uwharrie, with all the rocks and leaves and getting lost, I was actually quite happy with it. As I headed back to the car I realized that if I continued at that pace for the full 5 hours I would run 26 miles. This seemed absolutely crazy, but I guess that's what ultra running is all about.

Lesson #2: It is hunting season until January
I got back to the car to refill and refuel for a few minutes. Bubbles and Shannon got back around the same time, and we all survived the first half unscathed. I then headed south on the trail, where I soon ran by a camouflaged tent. There was a guy in a ski mask peering out at me through a window. This seemed really weird until I realized it was a hunting blind, and guy in the mask was sitting in there waiting for something to come by so he could shoot at it.
This freaked me out a little. I knew there were hunters in the forest, but I didn't expect them to have their guns aimed directly at the main hiking trail.
I then saw his buddy up in tree. I feigned ignorance.
"Is it still hunting season?", I asked him.
"For another month and a half!", he sounded peeved that I was disrupting his ambush.
"Oh sorry. Good Luck.", I said to the man with the rifle in a tree.
"Well, I ain't going to get anything now!" Uh oh. I had pissed off the hunters.

Lesson #3: Double Blazes sometimes mean go straight
I continued south, keeping watch for the rocks under my feet, the white blazes on the trees and the white men with guns in the trees. Several times I came across the double white blaze, but found that the trail didn't turn but continued straight.
I then got to a muddy area, which was followed by wide shallow stream which I managed to cross by stepping on rocks. Soon after I crossed another narrow stream where the trail seemed to vanish. There was a double blaze on a tree, but I could not find any trail or blazes to the left right or even straight ahead. It was 3:30pm and time to turn around anyway so, I headed back.

Lesson #4: Forget technology. Trust your instincts
I reset the GPS course in my watch and headed back to the car. I crossed back over the narrow stream, and soon after the watch said I was "off course". This confused me until I got to the wide shallow stream I had crossed earlier, and then I knew the watch was wrong. For some reason it said I was heading due south, even though I was heading north back to the car. Every time I have tried the GPS course guidance, it has been less than worthless; in fact it actually got me lost in the Triple Lakes Trail Half.
"You piece of shit." I then got to the muddy area, which reassured me I was going the right way. "This thing is worthless"
About a mile later, though, things didn't look so familiar...

Lesson #5: My instincts are full of crap
It was starting to get dark and cold. I was completely out of water. Is this the way I came? Maybe that wasn't the same wide stream I had crossed earlier. I stopped and stared at the Forerunner. Was it correct? Did I set this thing up right? Is it malfunctioning?
Suddenly I realized the seriousness of my situation. If I was going south, I had no idea if I would get to a major road before dark. It was hard enough to follow the trail in the daylight, in the dark it would impossible. So I decided to trust the thing on my wrist and turned around again.

Lesson #6: Bring a light
"WHO WATCHES OVER YOU..." I knew I had to run past those hunters again, and now that it was getting dark I was worried they might mistake me for a deer. So I tried to make as much noise as I could. "...SAY I'M THE ONLY BEE IN YOUR BONNET..."
On the other hand, they may shoot me for singing They Might Be Giants. What would hunters approve of?
Hmmm. They wouldn't like botching the National Anthem.

Lesson #7: Trail love makes it complete
Finally I saw Bubbles and Shannon on the trail, who had come looking for me after I was a half hour late getting back. Bubbles gave me a bottle of water which I drained, and then kept on running. I finally made it back to car, just as the sun was setting. After 28 miles and 5 and half hours I was delirious, and happy.
We ate some food, and then got some beer out of the cooler and had a toast to great day.
Bubbles showed me the Trail Love she got. After running 5 hours she tripped and fell a few hundred yards from the car.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Inside-Out Turkey Trot 8K

There were over 50,000 people at this mornings Inside-Out Turkey Trot 8K in Cary
Morning Pain Check
7am on Thanksgiving morning, time for an ache and pain check:
  • knees? aching
  • quads? sore
  • hamstrings? throbbing
  • Oooh! A new pain! Some muscle or tendon that I didn't even know I had, on the outside of the leg above the ankle

Start line
Race Addicts [Un]Anonymous
The reason my legs are battered is the 2 races over the weekend, Raven Rock and the Misery run. Even though the Misery Run was supposed to be a non-competitive fun run, I still ran it as hard as I could, trying and failing to keep up with Jason Figge.
And of course, because it's Thanksgiving, we MUST do a Turkey Trot this morning! 3 races in 6 days seems excessive; it's certainly not good for our health. So why do we race so much? In my case, I think it's some unresolved childhood issue, like being picked last for the team in gym class. Anyway, it's off to the races again!

A great finish line photo of Heiko Rath.
Yet another race
So we headed over to the Inside-Out Turkey Trot 8K in Cary. It was a very cool and foggy morning. After a little warm up the legs felt better. We lined up with a friend whose name I won't mention because he was playing hooky from work. I ran the first couple miles with him, but was so out of breath I could barely talk. I was wearing my red shoes with the minimal cushioning, but my feet and legs felt great, but I just couldn't get enough air into my lungs. This was my first 8K and I found it to be about 60% more painful than a 5K.
I was amazed and happy that I managed beat my goal time despite feeling so crappy this morning.

My neighbor, Guy
We ran a cool down, which we obsessively had to make exactly one mile so we could count it in our running log. Then we hung out and talked with people for a while .

Of course, Shannon took her camera with her, and the fog made for some great pictures, which are here

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Misery Run 2009

You get three trips through the mud puddle..
This was the first year that Shannon and I have done "The Misery Run" put on by The Godiva Track Club.
For the bargain price of $5, you run around a farm, splash through mud puddles, jump hay bales, and run through ankle deep manure.
I thought it was a lot of fun.
"No! Not fun!", Shannon disagreed.
She did take her camera with her as she ran and got some good pictures, which are here.
There is also an article in the newspaper about it in the Chapel Hill News.

Caris Hill demonstrates how to hurdle a hay bale
Karen looks way too happy during The Misery Run
The course was laid out to illustrate a runner curled up in the fetal position.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Red Shoes at Raven Rock 2009

Age group awards are unique winter running hats, sporting the race logo.

Raven Rock Rumble 10 Miler Race Report
This was the 3rd year in a row that Shannon and I have run the Raven Rock 10 miler. Off n' Running always puts on a great race and this was no exception.
Last year Shannon took 2nd in her age group and got a really nice winter running hat. I was 5th in my age group, and very jealous. My goal this year was to get one of those hats.

The always happy Aline and I walk to the start.

Red Shoes: Less is more?
This was the 3rd time I have worn my Red Shoes to a race, but this time I was trying them at a trail race, and without the cushioned inserts (see previous post) . Would the "Red Shoe Theory" apply to a 10 mile trail race? Would I break my foot again? Would I have to run slower and more carefully without a "Ballistic Rock Shield"?

Elevation Profile
I know that no one actually reads my blog, but end up here searching for elevation profiles. So here ya go. The elevation profile from the Raven Rock 10 miler, comparing it to a road race. It's not too bad except the dip at mile 4 and the hill at the end.

Raven Rock Rumble 10 miler elevation profile. Compared to Anna's Angels 10 miler.

Matthew Gilbert and Family. .
First Race EverBefore the race I was waiting in line for the bathroom, when a guy came up to me.
"Hey, I read your blog". His name was Matt, I think he recognized the red shoes.
"Wow! That's great! How did you find it?", I asked. Was it featured in Runners World? Is it a hot topic around the water cooler?
Matt said, "I was searching for elevation profiles."
Turns out it was Matt's first race ever. Most people start with a 5K. He was pretty brave to pick a hilly 10 mile race for his first one.

The fast-guy clique before the race: Neil Jacobs, Paul Potorti, and John Haws
At the start, I lined up behind Paul Potorti, the winner of last years race. I figured he would win again. After a countdown the pack took off down a road, and after a quick turn we were single file down the trail.
The first 2 miles are mostly downhill and we were really flying. The first 3 guys were already out of sight, and I was in a pack following Paul. My watch said we were doing a 6:45 pace, which meant I was going out way too fast.
"Hey, Paul your holding us up!", this of course was a joke. Paul wins most of the races he runs, and there was no way I should ever be in front of him. Only after the race did I find out he had a bad case of bronchitis, and could barely breathe.

Heiko Rath shows off his Uwharrie gear.

Fish Traps
Around mile 4 is the infamous "Fish Traps" trail out-and back, which is the big dip in the profile above. My Red shoes were feeling great and I was just spinning them like crazy going down the hill. I almost bit it though, on a section of sheer slippery rocks. After the turn around, I passed Paul going back up the hill. I felt bad for him because I knew he must have been really sick if I was passing him.
I pushed it really hard back up the steps and at the top I thought my heart was going explode.

Second Half
At the half way point, the 10 mile course runs right through the finish line to follow the 5 miler course. I ran this mostly alone, which was good because I was grunting and groaning out loud a lot. The trail was smooth and free of foot piercing rocks so it was not a good test for the Red Shoes. There were a few tiny stream crossing, but nothing really technical.
I passed a few of the 5 milers, and towards the end I passed Tim Gautreau, another really fast guy who was having a bad day. Later, he told me that he had done a half Iron man two weeks ago, which might explain his fatigue at the end.

Tim Gautreau shows off his blisters.
Finish Line?For the 3rd year in a row, they had to change the 10 mile course.
2007 (10.6 miles): Running alone on the trail, I got to mile marker 10 in the middle of woods, with no finish line is sight. "Am I done?"
2008 (9.6 miles): Finish line came a mile sooner than I expected.
2009 (10.2 miles): I figured that I was in 3rd or 4th place, so I started pushing hard at the end trying to hold onto it, but I didn't know how long that last mile might be.
"On... your... left..", I wheezed as I passed some more of the 5 milers going up the last huge hill. Finally I hit the finish, 3½ minutes faster than last year despite the slightly longer course.

Why the F*** are you taking my picture?.

Post Race
Shannon and I both finished 2nd in our age groups, so we scored the sweet hats.
Matthew Gilbert finished 29th overall in his first race ever. Congrats Matt!
Paul Potorti finished 4th despite not breathing the whole way.

Turned out to be a great day. The Red Shoes worked great, so I will try them at Run At the Rock next. Though it seems the "Red Shoe Theory" does not apply to trail races, which is to be expected. Shannon took a lot more pictures, which are here.

Next up: The Misery Run.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trail Shoes: Less is more?

A year ago I was flying down Company Mill trail in Umstead and stepped on a sharp rock. It went right through my soft running shoes into the middle of the ball of my foot. It was like an electric shock, emanating from my foot through my entire body. The last time I had that sensation was when I broke my arm. I limped home.
I think I broke my third metatarsal, because it hurt for months after, even just standing or walking. I added an extra foam insert to my shoes and that seemed to help.
But even now it feels like there is a small bump there, like a bone spur or something, and when I am barefoot it hurts to walk on it.

Trail Shoes
So this past summer I went shopping for trail shoes. I tried on a pair of Brooks Cascadia, supposedly designed by trail running god Scott Jurek. On the bottom of the shoe, right around the ball of the foot was stamped "Ballistic Rock Shield". Sold! Exactly what I needed.

I took them out for a test on the rocky Company Mill trail. The thick cushioning did insulate my feet from the trail, but that didn't feel quite right. They felt unstable; with each step my foot sloshed from side to side, front to back. Leg turnover felt slower and harder because of the soft footing, kind of like running in sand. But hey, these shoes are designed for trail running. Who I am to question shoe experts? Or Scott Jurek?

Triple Lakes Trail Half Marathon
Back in October I ran the Triple Lakes half in my new Cascadias. Trying to "firm up" the feel of the shoes, I tightened the laces up very tight. So much so, that my instep felt bruised afterward.
But it didn't help, my feet still "sloshed" on top of the thick cushioning. During the race, I was following a guy who had the exact same shoes, and he suddenly stopped.
"Are you all right?", I asked.
"Have to retie my shoes. Damn things are giving me blisters on my heels!"
So somebody else was having issues too.

Later, I read a race report at Barefoot Josh's blog. Josh had run the same race, but in aqua socks (thin rubber slippers). I couldn't believe it. Here I am with my fancy $100 "Ballistic Rock Shield" high-tech trail shoes, and he's running in $6 Walmart slippers?

No Shoes?
Around the same time I read the "Born to Run" book. Like Barefoot Josh, the book advocates barefoot and minimal running. For my entire running life, I believed that the more cushioning in a shoe the better. But now I am convinced that actually the opposite is true. It seems so obvious now.
The barefoot advocates suggest that runners ditch their shoes and just jump right into barefoot running. However, I figured that I should at least be able to walk barefoot before I try to run, and because of my injury from last year that has been progressing slowly.

Red Shoes
I also have a pair of bright red "Brooks Launch" shoes. These are advertised as lightweight trainers/racing shoes. I bought them to run 5K road races in because I thought they would make me faster. They didn't (see the "Red Shoe Theory"). While the shoes are light, they are not comfortable and feel like running on big Styrofoam bricks.

So a few weeks ago I thought I would try the less is more approach. I removed the "sock liner" inserts, which are a half inch of thick foam. I then tried them on, and they felt thin, flat and hard; not good at all. But when I took them out for a run on the single track trail, I was amazed. With the Cascadias, I run over the trail, suspended precariously on thick unstable soles. But with these thin red shoes, I run on the trail, making firm contact, and able to move my feet much faster.

What about the rock?
What about the rock that broke my foot last year? Don't I need the "Ballistic Rock Shield"?
As Barefoot Josh explains, the rock doesn't hurt you if you don't put all your weight on it.
I had to change the way I run. Instead of leaping down the trail in long strides, I now take a lot of quick, little steps. Each step is tentative, and non-committal. If I step on a rock, trip on a root, or roll my ankle, I don't commit, and don't put my weight on it. I relax the leg, and bend at the knee and wait until the other foot comes down. At least that's my theory, and it kind of sounds like a lot of bullshit.

So I decided to put the "less is more" theory to the test, and wear my cushion-less Red Shoes in the Raven Rock Rumble. Will it work? Or will I break my foot again? (to be continued)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Boston marathon is full


Wow. That was fast. Last yearTwo years ago it sold out for the first time ever, last year it sold out in mid January. This year is sold out in just 2 months.

I guess no one is going to sign up for the "Last Chance for Boston" Marathon now. That is a race that is supposed to be perfectly flat and easy, where you run a mile loop 26 times, hoping to qualify for Boston. I guess it needs to change it's date from Feb 28 to before Boston registration even opens.

Shannon and I may not run races especially fast, but we are among the elite when it comes to signing up for them. We were 4 for 4 for next year's races which are now closed:

Closed Races
Filled up in
Boston Marathon (downhill, easy 26.2 mile road race)
2 Months
Umstead Trail Marathon (rolling, moderate 26.2 trail race)
1 Week
Uwharrie Mountain Run (40 mile challenging trail race)
15 minutes
Umstead 100-mile endurance run (100 miles? Are you nuts? No. Shannon and I are only doing "the half")
5 min, 25 sec

I see a trend here. The more painful the race, the faster it fills up. If that's the case, then the "Last chance for Boston" marathon will fill up really fast. What could be more painful than running a mile loop 26 times?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Uwharrie National Recreational Trail

Ru, Dooright, and Skittles with a little "trail love" on her knee.

The Answer: Imagine a 20 mile street filled loosely with bowling balls. Cover it with blankets. Now try to run down the street on top of the blankets.

The Question: What's it like to run the "Uwharrie National Recreational Trail"? (well, in November anyway)

This was the question we were asking as we headed down to Uwharrie National Forest for a training run. Skittles, Bubbles and I are doing the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 miler in February, and we wanted to find out what we had signed up for. So the six of us piled into the car for our first "Ultra" training run. The plan was to go out 2 hours, turn around and head back.

  • Bubbles, (aka Mickey (aka Jennifer)) who had run a PR in the City of Oaks Marathon just 6 days ago.
  • Skittles (aka Shannon), signed up for her first ultra last year, not long after declaring there was no need to run any further than 26.2. "Anything more and you're just being an asshole."
  • Myself (former trail runner)
  • Ru, K-9. Bubbles's search and rescue dog. Nine years old and wears a backpack while running.
  • Duddley Dooright, K-9. A four year old giant golden retriever mix. Won the CARA 5K.
  • Jeffery, Jeffery, Jeffery. K-9. A three legged black lab mix.

The Start:
We got to the trail and started out at 11 am. Bubbles made the wise decision to only hike the trail instead of trying to run on it. The first half mile of the trail was nothing more than a very steep pile of loose rocks. Walking on it is difficult, and running seems like it would be impossible, so we didn't even try.
Adding to the difficulty of the trail was that a blanket of fresh leaves covered it, so it was hard to see all of the loose rocks hiding underneath. After the first steep mile, I started a very slow run and left Shannon and Bubbles behind. Dudley Dooright excitedly ran far ahead and Jeffery the three legged dog stayed close behind me.

The Trail:
The going was very slow. I tried to follow the white blazes on the trees, but frequently lost the trail and had to backtrack. A few times one of the dogs would disappear and I would have to stop and call for them. We crossed about 4 small streams, and I had to wait at each one for Dooright to cool off and drink. He was overheating in the 60 degree sunshine. When I was moving, it wasn't really running but more like stumbling over the hidden rocks.
Along the way we ran past a group of hunters in orange vests which was very scary. We also passed a large group of boy scouts out on the trail.
Eventually I hit the 2 hour mark, and my Garmin said I had gone 10 miles. I turned around and headed back. At this point Dooright was getting very hot and tired and falling back. Jeffery, who only has 3 legs, wasn't even tired.
Suddenly I became very thirsty and realized that I had already used up all my water and Gatorade.

Rescued By Dog:
Just then, luckily, I ran into Skittles (Shannon) who was very upset because she had gotten lost on her way back. She also had fallen and scraped her knee. "I hate this! I'm not doing the race". I wasn't doing well either, with my legs starting to cramp from dehydration, and we still had another hour and a half back to the car.
Ru the mountain rescue dog waits patiently for us to keep up.
Bubble's dog, Ru, had followed Shannon. He was wearing a backpack, and we discovered that it contained 2 big bottles of water! I took one and drained the entire thing, so happy to have been rescued by Ru. I realized how stupid I was not to bring enough water.

Rescue Of Dog
So the 5 of us headed back to the car moving pretty slowly. Shannon gave me the key and sent me ahead to meet Bubbles at the car. Lucky Bubbles caught me as I missed the path to the parking lot and was going down the wrong trail. I was so happy to be done, my feet and legs were battered from the rocks, and I took my shoes off to find small rocks and dirt between my toes.

Finally Shannon showed up, but without Dooright. I changed my shoes and went looking for him with 2 dog biscuits and bottle of water. I found the big 85 pound retriever standing on the trail almost a mile back. He wagged his tail a little but didn't move. We had been more worried about Ru who is almost 10 years old, and Jeffery who is missing a leg, but it was big Dooright who was defeated by the trail. He drank all the water but couldn't even finish the biscuits because he was so tired. Thankful that got him moving and we slowly walked back the car.

We made it home around 6:30, scarfed done a ton of Thai food from Yum Yum, and were in bed by 8:30.

Uwharrie National Forest fun facts!
  • purchased by the federal government in 1931 during the Great Depression
  • Started as a government works project to collect all the loose rocks in the area into a big pile.
  • Was originally named the "Uwharrie National Pile of Loose rocks"
  • After trees grew out of the rocks, was renamed to "Uwharrie National Forest"
  • Beware of hunting season: November 7–January 1
  • Can you spot the trail in this picture? (Hint: its under the rocks)
  • More pictures here

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Race Madness: A schedule of our demise

Shannon and I have gone completely nuts and signed up for a bunch of races.
In the next 6 months, I anticipate making several blog posts from the hospital.

If anyone is running one these or would like to join us, let us know.

Nov 21, 2009 Raven Rock Rumble 10 miler
A nice single track course. A feature of this race is that you never know how long it really is. One year I got to mile marker 10 and it was in the middle of the woods with no finish line is sight. Surprise!

Dec 5, 2009 Run at the Rock 14 Miler
Another great single track race.

Feb 6, 2010 Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 Miler
This one should be interesting. Fast guys who run marathons at a 6:30 pace run this in 10 min/miles.

March 6, 2010 Umstead Trail Marathon
Favorite race of all time. This will be our fifth time running it. Got wood?

March 27, 2010 Umstead 100-mile endurance run
We are actually only attempting the 50 miler. I guess you could say "we are only doing the half". After volunteering in 2008, we just had to see what it was like. Running 50 miles in a week leaves me battered and broken. So why not get it over with in one day?

April 19, 2010 boston marathon
If we are still alive at this point, this will be a nice little cool down on a flat road race.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

2009 City of Oaks Marathon pictures

Shannon and I did City of Oaks last year, and for me it was a lesson in humility.
In 2008 we were running a race (sometimes two) every weekend, thinking we didn't need any rest. It all caught up to me around mile 18 of the City of Oaks course, where it comes out of Umstead park on a long steady uphill. Then the last drops of energy drained out of me, and it felt like my veins had been filled with cement. The last few miles I was only capable of a slow walk, shuffling like Frankensteins monster, with new respect for the marathon drilled into me with every painful step.

So this year, Shannon and I decided to skip the race and volunteer. We helped out at the 30K (18.6 mile) water station, run by the Godiva Track Club. Thanks Aline for organizing it (and bringing the tent)! We showed up late, after everything was already setup. It was about 53 degrees and a steady rain, but it was fun and I'm glad I did it. As people came up the hill out of Umstead park, their faces showing fatigue and pain, I handed them water knowing exactly how they felt. It was hard for me to shout words of encouragement because I knew how hard those last 7.6 were.

Anyway, Shannon took some really good pictures. Which are here:
If anyone wants a fullsize picture please contact her via

Here are some of the favorites:

This guy was in the second place at the 30K mark, but ended up winning.