Saturday, February 27, 2010

Green Hope 5K

[Photos taken by Shannon Johnstone. More pictures of the race here.]

"We have to be smart and just take it easy and rest these next two weeks before the Marathon", Shannon was saying, "No more racing."
"Absolutely.", I said. And then about 1 minute later "There's is a flat 5K in Cary with a downhill finish this Saturday."
"OH! Lets do it!"

So we signed up for the Green Hope 5K, hoping for a stellar, personal record setting time.
I had just run my fastest time ever in the Torch 5K last Saturday, and that was a pretty hilly course. So now with the promise of this fast course, I had gone past over-confidence and into delusion.

I saw that Paul P. was doing the race (Paul is a super fast runner, as well as a major smart ass), and I posted some smack talk on his facebook page, thinking I might be able to keep up with him.

"Uh oh. Is that your name I see on the green hope 5k list? Today could be the day I pass you old man. If I do, don't feel bad. There's always the geezer pleezer"
When the race started, all the young high school kids took off at like a 5 minute mile, but I let them go, sticking to a conservative pace. But even with that, I was completely out of gas after the first mile. The last half mile was downhill, finishing on the track at the Green Hope High School, which would have been very nice if I had the energy to take advantage of it, but instead I slowed down. When I entered the track, Paul was already on the other side approaching the finish. Damn.

Shannon finished soon after, posting a good time, despite not getting in much running since Uwharrie. She did get this great picture of this guy finishing:

After the race, Shannon was delighted to discover that they were serving pancakes. So we hung out, ate pancakes, and talked to local running super star Jennifer Curtin.
Then we saw my nemesis Paul, standing above us on the bleachers, "Hey! Next time you should wait and post the smack talk after the race!"

Yes. Next time...

Godiva Geezer Pleezer

This past Sunday, Shannon and I ran the Godiva Geezer Pleezer 4 miler, along with Shannon's friend Becca.

"OH NO! There's no memory card in my camera!", Shannon cried when we got there.
I had taken it out and forgot to replace it. "I am so sorry". I felt really bad, because Shannon feels that if there are no pictures of a race, then it didn't really happen.

The Geezer Pleezer is a race that adds a really fun twist to balance the field. Some runners are given a head start, based on their age and gender. For example, a 56 year old woman gets a 9 minute head start on the guys 18-35. Me being a 39 year old guy, I got a 45 second head start on them.

The race clock began counting down from 14:45 as 80 year old Bob De Maine started off. Batches of younger and younger runners took off in waves after him, until the clock was 0:45 before the "start" when I took off.

I was feeling really good, and managed to pass some of the people who had started before me, saying hi along the way. The course is mostly on slightly rolling roads not closed to traffic, but there really wasn't too many cars out there. I snuck up behind Shannon and pinched her butt as I went by.

Geezer Pleezer was a lot of fun, I think all races should be like this. I highly recommend it.

The best part was hanging out afterward and catching up with all our Godiva friends.
Dr. Ken gave Shannon a free check up, examining the trail love on her leg she got in Uwharrie. "Really you can't feel anything right there? Hmmm. Could be leprosy. Did you fall on an armidillo?"

We had to take off a little early because Becca had a long drive back to Virginia.

It was so nice out, sunny mid 60's that I just had to go out and run again. So despite doing 2 races already that weekend I went out for a long run Sunday afternoon. That was a huge mistake, because since then I have been beaten and broken. I took 4 days off this week and I am still not recovered. Not a good sign for Umstead Marathon next Saturday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Torch 5K: I need new shoes

Shannon and I ran the "Law Enforcement Torch Run 5k" this past Saturday.

Despite wearing my gaudy red and orange Brooks Launch shoes, I failed to win (see Red Shoe Theory). Even though I ran my fastest 5K ever, I finished in a distant 14th place.

The reason is that there were lots of people there in Red Shoes. In fact, I saw at least 4 other pairs of the exact same shoes that I have, including the ones pictured left, worn by Wayne Crews.

So these Launch shoes have become downright plebeian, and will no longer impress anyone. According to the Theory, I need to find shoes even more gaudy, brighter, and ridiculous.

Perhaps something battery powered, with red strobe lights and sirens. Maybe a scrolling marque that circles around them: "STAND BACK! I AM REALLY FAST! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO KEEP UP WITH ME!"

Anyone seen any shoes like that?

Barefoot Josh had this absolutely perfect suggestion. Nobody will mess with me if I am at the starting line wearing these. Now I wonder if they have them in a size 12...

My Little Pony? Come on! Been there, done that.

High tops? With my matching pink short shorts? Two words describe this.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Runner's Knee Cured - part 3

In Part #1, I declared myself cured from 20+ years of "Runner's Knee".
In Part #2, I enumerated the my long and painfully stupid search for the cure.

Now, I will reveal what the ridiculously simple two word cure is. Drum roll please...

small steps

That's it. I take small steps when I run. In other words, I shortened my stride.

NOT the cause of the problem
Here is a short list of the "sports medicine experts" mis-diagnoses:
  • flat feet
  • tight hamstrings
  • improper tracking kneecaps
  • overpronation
  • bad "Q-angle"
  • weak quads
  • tightness of the "lateral retinaculum"
All complete bullshit.

The cause of the problem
The root cause was that I:

  • over-strided and landed on my heels when I ran
This is actually a very common mistake, particularly among recreational runners like me who never ran cross-country or track. In retrospect it seems so obvious, and why the "experts" didn't think of it is mind boggling.

Now, I am sure that some smart ass barefoot runner will tell me "if you had ditched your shoes and ran barefoot, you would have solved that problem."
And unfortunately he would be right. The damned cushioned shoes that I thought would alleviate the problem were actually allowing it and even encouraging it.
I wish I would have tried barefoot, a long time ago. Instead...

How I found the solution
By accident.

I had given up searching for a cure to my Runner's Knee, and resigned myself to a lifetime of pain, stretching and ice bags. That is until last month when I realized my Runner's Knee was gone.

I had to look back to figure out what changes I had made to understand the cure:

My accidental cure for Runner's Knee

More Trail Running2005-$230,000Smaller steps
In 2005, I searched for, and bought a new house. The #1 criteria was that I had to be able to run out my front door and into Umstead park.
Since then, I do about half my miles on single track trails.
I had thought that trails were easier on my knees because of the softer surface. WRONG. It is because the roots and rocks forced me to take smaller steps. Trying to stay balanced on the uneven trail taught me to land with my foot directly beneath me instead of on my heel in front of me.
Biking2006-$(Embarrassed to admit)Smaller steps
I started biking in 2006 when I quit running for a year, and have since been using it to supplement my running.

I started to noticing that the more I biked, the more I could run. When running fast down a hill, my feet would spin in small circles instead of bounding down with long strides. The pedaling trained my legs to take smaller steps.

The PowerCranks might have had something to do with it (but my experience with PowerCranks requires it's own epic blog post, complete with tragedy, humiliation, and the triumph of human will).
No stretching 2009-$0Smaller steps
I used to stretch my hamstrings before, after, and sometimes in the middle of a run. Everyone told me that tight hamstrings were bad, and that I had to stretch.

But over the last few years I have stretched less and less, and my knees and hamstrings felt better and better. I now do zero stretching and can run more miles, at a faster pace, than I ever have before.

My hamstrings are very tight now, and I can barely touch my knees let alone my toes. The result is a much shorter, quicker stride... smaller steps.
Less shoe2009-$89Smaller steps
While my Red Shoes are far from minimalist, they are much less than what I had been wearing.
These are quite different than the orthotics and motion control shoes that the "experts" had prescribed. They are light weight and very flexible. There is no stiff "support" or "motion control" features, and I can easily fold them in half.

After I took out the cushioned insert, it feels like I am standing flat on the ground instead of on a wedge like all my other shoes. It feels much easier to move my feet fast, and they seem to encourage smaller steps.

My next pair of shoes will be even less, and maybe barefoot soon.

Well, that's my Runner's Knee story. The whole thing has left me disillusioned and even angry with the whole "Sports medicine" and running shoe establishment.

The fact that an orthopedic surgeon was ready to cut ligaments in my knee to solve my poor running form sounds like something straight out of the dark ages of medicine.
And the only thing hamstring stretching ever did was give me horrible hamstring pain.

In any case, I am now enjoying running a lot more than I ever have. I only wish I could go back 20 years, slap myself up the side of the head and say:

Small steps.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Runner's Knee Cured - part 2

As I was saying in Part #1, my 20 year bout of "Runner's Knee" has been cured by a simple and obvious two-word solution.

But in order to fully appreciate the two word punchline, I must tell the joke first.

Below is a recounting of my 20+ year epic quest, enumerating the time, pain and money I have spent searching for a cure.

In search of a cure for Runner's Knee...

All the things I tried that did NOT work

Low mileage 1988-2001$0 Pain and sadness
Most of my life I was limited to running 3 miles, about 3 times a week. Any more than that hurt my knees too much, and never could I run two days in a row.
Cushioned shoes 1991-2009$1500+More pain
"Running causes impact forces of 1000 times your body weight with each step! Equivalent to a Hummer falling from outer space!". I was convinced that my knee problems were due to this unavoidable pounding that running puts on your legs. So I kept searching for ever softer, thicker shoes to cushion the blow. Didn't help.
TRUE Treadmill with S.O.F.T. suspension2001$4000Crippled
Based on the price only, this just had to work! Plus it said "SOFT" right on it, it couldn't possibly hurt my knees! After it was delivered I ran 6 miles on it, 3 days in a row. After the 3rd day, my knees had swollen up and I could barely walk.
CHO straps2002$50Cursing
This supposedly stabilizes the kneecap and keeps it tracking "correctly" These things would fall down every every two minutes, and i would have to stop running and readjust them. So I guess they way they worked was by keeping you from running very far.
Motion Control Shoes 2003$120OW!
I have flat feet. The "wet paper bag test" revealed two amorphous round blobs for my foot prints.
"You are an overpronater. That causes Runner's Knee", said the running store salesman as he sold me "motion control" shoes. When I tried to run in them, they felt like bricks strapped to my feet.
Clunk, "OW!", Clunk, "OW!"
Instead of my usual delayed, obtuse knee pain, this was sharp and immediate. I put these on the shelf after 5 miles.
Magnets2005$25Secured shopping list to fridge
OK, I didn't actually try magnets. But Shannon had a knee wrap that had an ice bag and magnets in it, and she said I should try it.
"Magnets? To cure knee pain? How stupid and unscientific that is!", I scoffed, reaching down to pull up my CHO straps.
POSE method2005$0Confusion
I had heard that this "POSE method" was a running cure-all. Makes you injury free, faster, smarter, better looking, etc. Something about landing on your forefoot instead of your heel, which no one on earth had ever done until this"Dr. Nicholas Romanov" discovered it in his crazy running lab.
Landing on my forefoot seemed simple enough, and I didn't understand why I would need to pay for books, videos, and classes to do it. So I tried it on my own for a few days.
Unfortunately, the result was that I was sprinting down the street and never made more than 100 yards. So I gave up. I figured if "POSE" really was a panacea then wouldn't more people be doing it?
Stretching2005Intense painStopped running for a year
I was next told that my runner's knee was caused by my tight hamstrings, so I stretched my them constantly and forcefully. Eventually I was flexible enough to put my palms on the floor. Convinced that this meant I was cured, I ran the Salem Lake 30K, bounding along with my new elongated stride.
Afterwards, however, both my knees filled with fluid, swelling like balloons. My hamstrings were so painfully inflamed I could not sit down. Thinking that I had done some permanent damage, I quit running, and sought medical attention...
Sports Medicine2005-2006$1000More pain and suffering
Went into Cary Orthopedic "sports medicine specialists". Surely, they would have the answers. The orthopedic surgeon evaluated me, and I swear, laughed out-loud when he saw how inflexible my hamstrings still were. I was diagnosed with "Bilateral Patellofemoral Syndrome"(or "Knee pain"), caused by weak quads and tight hamstrings. Prescribed physical therapy guided by a trained professional, I did copious amounts of leg strengthening and stretching exercises.
Resting2005-2006IncalculableGot worse
I quit running for an entire year while doing physical therapy. Despite all the stretching and strengthening, my knees never got any better and in fact seemed to get worse. And so did my hamstring pain. Both ached horribly just from sitting in chair. I was now convinced there was something horribly wrong with my knees, and I went back to the professionals...
Custom made orthotics2006$400Anger
The wizards at Cary Orthopedic made me some orthotics, custom molded to my feet. I was so happy, and couldn't wait for a run. I slapped them in and took off down the street... and stopped after 100 yards.
"The orthotics are so thick that my heels are coming out of my shoes. What do I do?", I asked the therapist. He scratched his head, "Gee, I never heard that before."
I had to buy yet another pair of shoes that would fit the orthotics. I tried again. It was bizarre to run in the orthotics. They immobilized my feet, preventing any motion, like running with my feet in casts.
Clunk, "OW!", Clunk, "OW!"
After 5 runs in them I put them with the motion control shoes, cho straps, and "body ball" which were piled on top of the treadmill.
Lateral release surgery2006$?Very close call
Desperate to start running again, I went back to the orthopedic surgeon. He said my "Q-angle" was off, and that my kneecap did not track properly. There was a surgery called "lateral release" which would cut a ligament to fix the problem. I went home to think about it, then came back a few days later to start the process. After stuck in the waiting room for 2 hours I got pissed and left. What a lucky break that turned out to be!
Second opinion2006$500Hallelujah
Went to another orthopedic surgeon to get a second opinion on the surgery, and he took an MRI of both knees. "There is nothing wrong with your knees. If you can stand the pain, go ahead and run."
Ice Bags2007$300Cold knees
I started running again, more than ever before. I still didn't know why my knees hurt, but if it wasn't causing permanent damage, I didn't really care. So I bought about a dozen fancy expensive cold packs and iced my knees all day, everyday. I even had some at work and wore them in my cubicle. I resigned myself to doing this for the rest of my life.
Bulk Ibuprofen 2007$15Horrible Auto-immune disease?
I also took handfuls of "Vitamin I" to keep the swelling down. Around this time I starting having some other strange, unexplained health problems (I won't bore you with details), which might have been due to long term use of the little brown pills. I don't touch this stuff anymore.

OK. That's about everything I tried that didn't work.
I'll finish up with what did work in the third and final installment
(Most of the photos above were stolen from the Internet, without permission from anyone.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Todays workout - new PR!

Automotive plyometrics
Lateral steering wheel twists: Left x 8 , Right x 6.
Brake Pedal Lunges x 10
Isometric Gas Pedal presses X 10
Shoulders a little sore.
Might have pulled something during U-Turn

Heart Rate 179 bpm average. Hit 190 when some moron on his cell phone cut me off.

Did 8.9 mi/00:07:58, set new PR! My first drive to work at a sub minute/mile pace!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Runner's Knee Cured - part 1

I have been running for over 20 years, during which I have suffered from a chronic case of Chondromalacia patella, or "Runner's knee"
That is until today, because I am declaring myself cured.

Symptoms of "Runner's knee":
1. Aching, throbbing pain directly underneath the kneecap
2. Hurts when you first start running, then goes away somewhat as you warm up
3. Painful when sitting for long periods.
4. Never seems to go away, no mater what you do

Here is the basis for declaring myself cured:
  • Just a couple years ago it would take lot of ice bags, stretching and ibuprofen to run 100 miles in a month.
  • Last month I ran over 200 miles, followed by a 37 mile trail race, without any knee pain, ice bags, stretching or ibuprofen.
If you suffer from this, you may be asking "HOW?! What did you do? What's the secret?"
The answer for me was so utterly simple that I am embarrassed to admit it. The amount of time, money and pain that I have squandered seeking such a simple answer qualifies me as a moron of the highest (or lowest) degree. But I am not alone in my stupidity, as I join the ranks of:
  • podiatrists
  • physical therapists
  • "sports medicine" specialists
  • orthopedic surgeons
All of whom have attempted and failed to cure my knee pain. And lets not forget the source of the bad advice and wrong information that I blindly followed:
  • Runner's World
  • Shoe companies
  • Running store "experts"

Before I reveal the simple, two word answer of what worked for me I must make the standard disclaimer: accept this "cure" as anecdotal evidence only.

I am only making claims about my case of "Runner's Knee". Maybe the above "experts" are right about everybody else, and you should follow their 15th century torturous treatment plans that are backed by the same amount of scientific evidence as blood-letting, fire cupping, and drilling holes in people heads to let the daemons out...

Oops. Have to go to work. Continued in part #2

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Uwharrie race report

The Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 miler was the longest race Shannon and I have ever attempted, on the hardest trail we have ever run on.
So it deserves the longest, hardest blog post ever. My apologies in advance.

Here is a list of other, much shorter, better Uwarrie race reports:
Frank Lilley, Brad Smythe, Mohammed "Sultan" Idlibi, Tim Gautreau, Sean Butler

Pictures that Shannon and I both took are here. Feel free to use them as you like, and let us know if you would like any full resolution images.

Four weeks before
"You're doing Uwharrie? You doing the twenty?"
I was standing at the starting line of the Godiva Eno Equalizer, chatting with some guys there.
"No, I'm doing the forty", I said, thinking I would impress them.
"The forty! You're doing the forty?" Doug Hensel laughed and pointed at me, "He's doing the forty! AH HA HA HA!"
The other guys laughed and shook their heads in pity, like I had just given my bank account info to someone in Nigeria.
”AH HA HA HA! He signed up for the forty!"

Three Weeks before
Shannon and I go for our last long training run in Uwharrie. After 6 ½ hours of moving very slowly, we are defeated. We cannot imagine taking another step, let alone going for another 3 or 4 hours.

One week before
5 inches of snow fall, and sticks around all week. Shannon and I obsessively check the weather forecast.

Four days before
We receive an email from the race directors:
Inclement weather, including freezing rain and snow has been forecasted for Uwharrie this week. If the US Forest Service deems the road and trail conditions unsafe for runners and volunteers, we may be forced to cancel the race. If this happens, the decision will be made 24-hours before the race begins
We go from worrying about running the race to worrying about not running it.

Three days before
My Red Shoes that I had done all my training in fall apart. In my frantic search to find new ones I end up at Bull City Running Co. in Durham. Coincidently, the owners of Bull City are also the race directors of the Uwharrie Mountain run. As Kim sold me my new pair of Red Shoes, she told me the race would not be canceled and would go ahead as planned.
The night before
Torrential rain hits central North Carolina, causing flooding.
We begin packing our bags for the next day, as if we were preparing to hike across Nepal and scale Mount Everest. Bubbles packs her car with everything she owns, including her diploma and rowing machine, and comes over to our house.
We each pack three sets of clothes, one to run in, one for the drop bag at the turn around, and warm dry clothes for afterward. We pack food, drinks, cameras, GPS watches, head lamps, etc., etc.
We don't know what to expect. Waist deep streams? Ankle deep mud? Will we be out there 9, 10, 12 hours?
Nervous, with nothing left to do, I go out to the garage and run my new Red Shoes across the table saw some more. Then I start packing the car. Our 85 pound dog Dudley knows we are going somewhere and sneaks into the garage, hoping to come with us.

Race Day
2:35 am I can't sleep, so I get up to get dressed. Bubbles is already up. I eat large bowl of oatmeal, and then wake up Shannon. When Bubbles opens the door to the garage, Dudley, who was out in the garage all night, bursts through the door and runs her over, inverting her kneecap. "OW OW OW OW", she cries, crippled on the floor.
"Oh my god! I'm so sorry!", I say. Not to Bubbles, but to poor Dudley as who was locked in the garage all night.

4:00 am We manage to leave on time. It's about 35 degrees out, and the rain has finally stopped.

4:45 am
Time for the requisite pre-race-jitters bathroom stop at a gas station

5:50 am
We pull into the church parking lot, a few miles from the start. There is an nice, warm building open for people to wait for the shuttle. We each use the bath bathroom yet again to expel our churning nervousness. We grab our backpacks and catch the shuttle to the start with Ronnie and Karen.

6:05 am We step out of the shuttle van into a giant mud puddle that is the start area. The race had not even begun and our feet are already wet and muddy.
This is no road race with a nice warm gymnasium to pick up your packet. This is in the middle of the forest, and it is cold, wet and very dark.
They do have a fire going that every one huddles around trying to stay warm.
I get my bib and race supplied drop bag from the registration tent, and look for a dry place to put my pack down. I am lucky that I have a head lamp to see what I am doing as I load my drop bag and get ready. "I'm sorry, sorry," Shannon says as she is shivering so bad that I have to pin on her bib for her. I hang our backpacks from a tree to stay dry, pee one last time and head over to the start line.
Bubbles is excited. Shannon is cold.
7:00 am As we line up, the race director Kim Page has last minute instructions:
  • The last 5 miles of the trail was deemed too flooded for us to run through safely, so we will be diverted to a gravel road as a detour.
  • There will be no official timing
  • If the course is deemed too unsafe, then we will be stopped at the 20 mile turn around.
I wish Bubbles and Shannon good luck, as I am planning to go at my own pace.
"GO!". And we are off.
We trudge up the first big hill
The course starts for a few yards on the road, and then takes a right onto the Uwharrie National Recreation trail, which is 20 miles long. The first mile is a steep, rocky hill that climbs over 400 feet. If anyone ran up this, they were at the front and I don't see them. Everybody else trudges up it. I stop to try to take some pictures which don't come out.

7:30 AM
After the steep first mile, it flattens out and we actually start running. The pack spreads out a bit. As the sun comes up, a light snow shower starts to fall, and it is beautiful morning. No wind, mid 30's. I am trying to take it slow and easy, because I know I have many hours to go. So I stop and fail to get pictures of the snow flakes.

7:45 AM
Less than an hour into the run I develop a bout of voluminous gas. It might be the oatmeal, or all the dried fruit I ate the night before. It starts with a sharp abdominal pain, which is quickly relieved with a "Rrrrrrrrrp" out my backside. This repeats itself every few minutes.

8:00 AM
I pass a women on the trail and we immediately hit a steep incline, climbing slowly. She is right behind me when the sharp pain comes, and then: "Rrrrrrrrp." oh no. I try to run faster to get some clearance, but it's a loud "Rrrp. Rrrp. Rrrp" with every step. In hindsight I should have stepped aside to let her go, but it just happened so fast. Besides, from what I have read about ultras, bodily malfunctions (yours and others) are a common hazard, so a few farts shouldn't bother anybody.
8:20 AM
We hit the first of the stream crossings and they are not bad at all. We plow through them, the water about mid calf. The water is ice cold, but my feet dry quickly. I had been afraid of being very wet and cold, but instead I am getting hot so I take off 2 of the 3 shirts I have on.
8:30 am
"Where's the famous cookies?", I am at the mile 8 aid station which has a huge buffet of food, including several types of cookies.
"Uwharrie cookies over here". I grab two and go. The cookies are good, kind of jumble of everything, peanut butter, oatmeal, nut, chocolate chip, etc . but they are little too dry and takes me the next 2 miles to eat them.
8:45 AM
I learned from our training runs that the Uwharrie hills are way too steep for me to run up. I wouldn't make it 4 miles, let alone 40. So my plan was this:
  • Walk up all hills
  • Jog the rare flat parts
  • Let gravity take me fast on the downhills
  • Try to average a 12:00 min/mile pace
I figured this would be a common strategy, but it turned out I was the oddball. Everyone around the midpack with me was running a pretty constant pace, powering up everything but the steepest hills.
John Ciccarello was one of these guys. I think I could write his race report for him:
"There was this asshole in this goofy tight shirt who kept passing me on the downhills, then would stop and walk on the uphills, and I would get stuck behind him. And man, he had some bad gas."
9:00 AM
We get to about mile 10, where the trail follows a steam for a while, before it crosses over a log. The 5 of us choose to walk the log instead of going through the water. I stop to take a couple pictures.

After getting across the log, the trail is very narrow and tight, and I am following a little too close to the guy in front of me. He brushes by a low hanging branch and... WHACK! It snaps back and whips me right in the eye. "OW! Mother-!" Another hazard of trail running.

9:20 AM
I inherited the gene for impatience from my father.
How impatient is he? He once got a ticket for tailgating.
When we asked him, "How did a cop see you tailgating somebody?"
He replied, irritated, "It was the cop. He wouldn't get out of my way." (True story)

My impatience is getting the better of me, and I am going too fast. I am at mile 13, and 16 minutes ahead of schedule. I will pay for it later.
9:25 am
Shannon is about a mile behind me, running with Sean Butler. She snaps some photos of him crossing a stream, and then she slips and falls on the rocks, landing hard on her hand and leg. She looses some skin off her hand, and the bruise on her thigh makes her limp slightly, but she keeps on running.

9:30 am
"Uh!", I am at the mile 15 aid station, and just had my first and last cup of HEED which is nasty.
The volunteers graciously fill my bottles with water and I have another PB&J, which I am starting to like.
This is where we are detoured onto a gravel road. Like everyone else, I naturally pick up the pace even more on the easy surface.

9:35 am
My legs start to hurt. Knees, hamstrings, and right hip. I am not even half way, and I am already falling apart. So I slow down, and start walking up even the slightest inclines on the gravel road. Several other 40 milers catch up and pass me, but it's OK. On the wide road I can go at my own pace and not get in anyones way. I start seeing the leaders coming back, Mark Lundblad, Ronnie Weed, Byron Backer, and Brad Smythe.

10:21 am
I get to the half-way turn around station after 18.75 miles, and I am both disappointed and relieved that the course will be less than 40. A volunteer takes my camera and gets a few shots for me. Another volunteer runs and gets my drop bag.
From my bag I get a fresh bottle of Gu, and fill my other bottle with Ensure.
I pop some pills: caffeine, acetaminophen, and electrolytes. Mmmmm. I love pills.
My Cascadia trail shoes are in the drop bag, but my Red Shoes that I'm wearing are doing great, no slipping or sliding. And there's no reason to put on dry socks or shoes because they will just get wet again. So I turn in my bag in, and start heading back to the finish. The whole stop only takes 2 minutes.

10:25 am
On the way back I see Wayne Crews coming in, leading the 20 milers.
"How much farther?", he asks
"You're almost there!", and as soon as the words leave my mouth, I cringe. I hate when people say that.

10:35 am
"Whooooohoo!", next I see Shannon, who is having way too much fun. "I'm feeling great!", she says, and I worry that she may be going too fast. We take pictures of each other, then I give her a kiss and a hug. A guy running by says, "No kissing and hugging in an ultra!"
Thinking he feels left out, I offer him a hug and kiss, with my arms stretched out "You're next!", but he declines.

11:07 am
I am off the road and back onto the single track. Suddenly I feel good again. The trail feels easier on my legs, but it probably is just the Tylenol and caffeine kicking in. There are a lot 20 milers still coming through, but they are very gracious and make way for me.

11:30 am
John Ciccarello and I are still swapping places. After 26 miles he is still maintaining a steady pace up and down the hills and I can't shake him. While trying to navigate past some 20 milers, he slips and falls, hurting his pride pretty bad. He gets back up before I can get my camera out.

12:00 pm
We cross back over the log, 10 miles from the finish. Suddenly, my digestive system starts to complain with a vengeance, so I stop and let John go ahead. This seems to always happen to me after 5 hours of running, and I know if I just ignore it, it will go away. So I just take a leak and keep running.

12:20 pm
I hear the cheering of the volunteers at the 8 mile aid station, and I get huge lift. I cross the road into the station, and see John just leaving.
"He told us to tie your shoelaces together", a volunteer says as he fills my bottles.
I fail to think of something witty, and instead just shake my fist in the air, "Why, I'll catch him yet!", and take off after John.

1:15 pm
I cannot believe how good I feel. Knowing that the finish is just 2 miles away, I stop conserving and start running hard. I pass John, and see some runners ahead and try to catch them.
With only a mile to go I pass "Sultan" Idlibi, Willow, and Bryon Backer.

1:40 pm
I am winding down the last rocky switchbacks when Bryon comes flying down the hill, and I let him by. I can hear the finish area below and all my pain and exhaustion disappears, and I sprint down the hill to the finish line. I am done running in 6:33:45.
Sultan is 5 seconds behind me.

2:00 pm
I eat a cup of the Vegetable soup and it is the most wonderful thing I have ever tasted. I ask for 3 more cups of it. I take off my shoes expecting the worst after 37.5 miles and 7 hours of mud and ice cold water. Huge holes bigger than a silver dollar have been worn into both socks. But amazingly, no blisters or black toenails. Body glide on the feet works wonders.

I talk a while with Heiko, Jim, and Caroline who ran the 20 and were so nice to stick around to see us 40 milers finish.

2:15 pm
I take a peek at the results clip board, "Holy crap! 6th place?" I could not believe it.
I guy standing next me says, "Well, try harder next time." Wise-ass.
2:30 pm
We check the runner tracking chart, which shows that Shannon had past the mile 5 aid station, but not yet arrived at the mile 2 station.
Actually she is sitting in a chair at the mile 5 station, warming herself by the fire, eating soup and drinking hot chocolate.

3:30 pm
Shannon comes down the hill to the finish.
5:03 pm
Bubbles comes down the hill. Despite being sick and not running for much of January she meets both her goals of finishing and not getting injured.

7:00 pm
After the long drive back to Cary, we stop to eat at the Korean Garden for dinner. We limp in and sit down, and the waiter asks, "What happened to you guys? You get into a fight out in the parking lot?" He brings Shannon some Band-aids and anti-biotic creme for her hand.

9:00 pm We finally make it home after a long, long day.

We would like to thank all the volunteers for braving the torrential rain on Friday, and the cold and wet conditions on Saturday for an amazing experience.

The finishers mugs are awesome. They were made by Michael Mahan. Check out the video of the making of them here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Red Shoe Panic

Before I write my Uwharrie race report I have to give a "Red Shoe" update. (Warning: running shoes can be hazardous to your health)

[Previously on running down...]
For those who have not been obsessively following the drama of my footwear, here is a review.
Back in October, I got a pair red Brooks "Launch" running shoes, mistakingly thinking they would make me faster.

In November
, I discovered that if I took out the sock liner cushion, they felt great to run in. Since then I have put over 500 miles on them without a blister, black toenail, or any other foot pain. I did all of my training for the Uwharrie 40 Mile race in them. (Note: this is not an endorsement for these shoes. They just happen to fit my feet well.)

The Red Shoes had one major flaw however. No traction. At Run At The Rock I slid all over the place in the mud while people with cleated trails shoes ran by me. It took three steps to move forward one.

And as my Ultra big day approached, rain and melting snow flooded the Uwharrie forest, threating to cancel the race. If the race did go ahead, I feared it would be 40 miles of mud, and if it was as bad as "Run at the Rock", it would take me days to cover 40 miles.

So on the Wednesday before Uwharrie, I took a practice run around the muddy trails in nearby Lake Crabtree. A half mile into it I noticed a sharp irritation on the side of my foot. I took off my shoe and found a dime sized hole in the side of the shoe! Closer inspection revealed that both of the Red Shoes were about to fall apart, literally hanging together by a thread. There was no way they would last through 40 miles of Uwharrie. Piece of crap shoes only lasted a measly 590 miles.

Panic set in. I still had dozens of other abandoned shoes on the shelf, but I rejected them for various reasons. I had to get another pair Red Shoes. I called all the shoe stores in Raleigh and Cary to find another pair. Only one place had them, but not in my size. I thought about ordering online, but they would never arrive in time.

So I expanded my search. I called Bull City Running Co. in Durham, and they had a pair! I left work early and drove over to get them. Coincidently, the owners of Bull City are also the race directors of the Uwharrie Mountain run. As Kim sold me my new pair of Red Shoes, she told me the race would not be canceled and would go ahead as planned. Jason and Kim were very friendly and helpful. (Note: this is an endorsement for Bull City Running Co. This is my new favorite running store.)

Stressing about the mud, I tried on several different trail shoes at the store. But running an ultra in unknown shoes would be madness. So I took home the new pair of Red Shoes, took them out of the box, and went out to the table saw to give them some traction.

Shannon was amused and took some pictures. I cut some extra grooves into the shoes, thinking they would add some traction, and keep me from sliding sideways.
I have no idea if it would actually help, but I did stop worrying about the mud.
Instead, I started worrying that my brand new shoes would fall apart because I cut groves into them on the table saw.

Next up: Uwharrie Race Report.

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