Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston thoughts

Shannon and I spent Monday morning watching the Boston Marathon on Universal Sports and tracking about 20 of our friends out there running.

Congrats to all the finishers. Godiva had a good showing with the mens masters team taking 6th place.

The announcers of the race said some interesting things. I remember two things in particular.
  1. Compared to most other marathons, the Boston hills are "The Rocky Mountains".
  2. The runners are slower at the start in Hopkington because it is a higher elevation and the "air is thinner up there"
Speaking of mountains, I would also like to congratulate Aqua Josh for his 3:43 and 1st in his age group at the Blue Ridge Marathon.

To put his achievement in perspective, I will leave you with a profile comparison of Blue Ridge and Boston:

Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 MST 12 Miler

And they're off!
Poor Ronnie got his head stuck in
a gate and missed the race.

Race:  Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12-Mile Challenge.

Shannon's pictures, of course:

Other Race Reports:

This race is on the trails that trace the many fingers of Falls Lake, which now make up part of the Mountains to Sea trail.

Personally, there is something special about these trails. So before the usual race report, allow me to take this sappy digression...

Trail Love
When I first found these trails ten years ago, I was in a bad place.
Both figuratively (miserable) and literally (Youngsville, NC).
Running provided a slight relief, but I was limited by a persistent case of "runner's knee". I drove out here seeking a softer surface, but I found much more.

9 foot tall Harold Hill is a tower of positive vibes
There was something about these winding and rolling trails that made me forget about time and distance. They pulled me forward, past my previous limits of 3 miles and 30 minutes.

I charged up the short hills and then flew down the other side barely in control, trying to maintain momentum around the switchbacks and up the next hill.

When I ran on the roads my thoughts would drift to my job, or my marriage, or how much my knees hurt.
But not here. This required a complete focus on every root and rock and where my next three steps would be. Otherwise I would be face first into a tree.

I would push as hard as I could, because the faster I went, the more focused I became. My heart raced and adrenaline pumped. My nagging past and future was overwhelmed by the present, and I was just alive in the moment.
It was here, for the first time in my life, that I found a place of peace and pure joy.
Rooty, but not too rocky
Ten Years Gone
So ten years and many miles later, life is a hell of a lot better.
Mostly because now I have Shannon as an antidote to my usual dour disposition.

However, this past month the running hasn't been going well. Hard races in Uwharrie and the Umstead Marathon pushed me past the breaking point, and I have been struggling to recover.

My knee issues have resurfaced with a vengeance, so bad that I dread bending down to pick something off the floor. There have been several times in the past few weeks that two miles into a run I have stopped and walked home.

I have been racing pretty much non-stop the past 3 years, and obviously it is time to take a few months off.

However, before this sudden onset of decrepitude, we had signed up for a full spring schedule of races, including this one. And while my body needed a rest, my mood desperately needed a good run.

Shuttles to the start ran like clockwork, and we had plenty of time to catch up with a whole mess of Godiva friends.

Normally I wouldn't warm up much for such a long race, but I was worried that sudden movement might cause my legs to snap in half. So I took a few jogs down to the lake and back, slowly working out the rust and stiffness.

Race director Kim rang the cowbell and the front of the pack sprinted around the road loop in a hurry to get onto the trail.  The pack thinned out very quickly, and I found myself behind a group of very thoughtful trail runners.
"Log!", I would hear from the front, and passed down the line "Log!",  "Log!",  "Log!".
"Stump!", "Stump!", "Stump!"
The course was very well marked, with every stump and tripping hazard marked with orange paint.
Thanks, volunteers!

New kid in town Kilgore Blowfish
(aka David Roche) sets another course record
After about a mile or two, I found myself breathing really hard tying to stay with the pack. So I backed off on the uphills and most of them vanished out of sight.
That left me following a guy in a blue shirt until about mile 4.

Despite the heavy storms the night before the trail was in great condition, with almost no mud. The many short bridges were slick however, and the blue shirt guy lost his footing and hit the dirt really hard.

He was OK, but shaken up a little, so I went on ahead.

Alone, Talking to Myself
This left me running alone. With no one else to focus on, my legs immediately commanded my attention.
"Ping! Crunch!", my left knee said.
"Ow! Fuck!", I replied.
My left hamstring and calf was tightening up and creaking like a rope about to snap. I tried to stretch my stride out a little.

I dropped down into a tiny, but deep gully.
"Pop! Clunk!", my right knee said.
"Shut up!"

Kim (above) and Jason at Bull City Running put on another fantastic race. 
Amy Scott, who came in
5th place in the Umstead Marathon,
 scores a full pint glass for
 second in her age group here. 
In the Moment
With the sharp pangs of pain, the prudent thing to do would be to back off and take it easy, lest I hurt myself further.
But in that moment, I didn't care about the next day or next month. Just like ten years ago, I needed a good run.

So instead I pushed harder. Driving up the short hills, and riding the roller coaster down and around the turns. There was no one else around and no mile markers; it almost didn't seem like a race anymore. By mile 6 the all pains melted away, and I let out a "whoooop!".

 It was just the roots, rocks, and me gasping for air. Pure joy...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Merrell Trail Glove Review

Pictured above is the Merrell Barefoot Tra...
Dammit Dudley, get out of the way!
I am a sucker for any new fad that comes along, especially when it promises to make me run faster and injury free.

So I jumped on the Barefoot Bandwagon last year and put about 100 miles in. Unfortunately, barefooting takes a lot of patience and discipline, which I have none of.

So I was estatic when I heard about the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove. Finally! Now I can simply purchase all the benefits of barefooting in an attractive package. Instant gratification!
And the $110 price tag reassures me that they must really work. So I  ordered a pair for myself, and also ordered Shannon a pair of the Pace Glove.

Initial Observations
  1. They are very thin, light, and flexible. Basically like a slipper. 
  2. The best thing about them is the very roomy toe-box. These are the first shoes I have ever tried on that actually fit my feet. I usually have to wear a size 12 to fit my wide feet, but with these I wear a 11.5
  3. These are "zero drop" shoes with no heel lift. By comparison my current Brooks Launch feel like giant cushy wedges. 

Test Drive
I've heard all the warnings about transitioning slowly to minimal shoes, so for my first run I decided to do only 7 miles instead of my usual 8.
I headed out the door, and hit the trails. Man, these shoes felt great!
I was zipping around switch-backs, floating up the hills, and nimbly tip-toeing through roots and rocks. They felt so good, I finished with an all out sprint!

The next day I could not walk.
It felt like someone had taken a meat cleaver to my calves and soleus.
So I guess I need to take this transition much more slowly. I will have to delay my review for a few months until I can actually run in them.

Expert Barefooter Reviews
In the meantime, I decided to ask three lifetime barefoot runners what they thought of the new Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove:

Dudley tests the fit

Dudley Dooright
Dudley found the wide toe box of the Trail Gloves to be a perfect fit for a tennis ball.
This is good for his favorite game of "Seek and Destroy", where he hides a ball in something, like a shoe, and then proceeds to destroy it trying to get the ball out.
Grade: A

Rotten The Cat
Rotten likes the laces
Rotton was overjoyed with the Trail Glove lacing system with the adjustable eyelets. It provided her with hours of entertainment.

She was also impressed with the breathable mesh upper, which was quite comfortable for her to sink her claws into.
Grade: A
Jorge Francisco
Jorge disapproves

Jorge can be a harsh critic, and this time was no exception.

He found that there was not enough cushioning and protection for his delicate paws, particularly over rough surfaces like coarse gravel.

Jorge regarded the construction materials to be of substandard quality and emanating an offensive odor.

Furthermore, he described the available color schemes as "repellent" and "nauseating", causing him to have to eat some grass and then vomit it back up on the Trail Gloves.
Grade: F

Monday, April 4, 2011

Umstead 100 Photos

Click here for all 402 photos of
The 2011 Umstead Endurance Run
Taken by Shannon at Tom's Ptomaine Tavern.

Let us know if you want any high resolution images. It would make Shannon very happy to give them to you.

It was volunteering at Tom's Ptomaine Tavern in 2009 that introduced Shannon and I to the bizarre and awe inspiring world of the Ultra Marathon.

We returned to the Umstead Endurance Run in 2010 as runners, but dropped out after running a measly 50 miles.

Accepting our limitations, we volunteered again this year. Shannon got pictures, or course.

Tom's Tavern has to be the greatest aid station anywhere. It almost has too much to offer, as runners are overwhelmed with choices when they come by.
Want a burger? Regular or veggie? Bun? White bread? Mustard? Ketchup? What kind of cheese you want on that?  Crap, sorry we don't have any pickles.
Soup? What kind? Pizza? Three toppings to choose from.
One runner asked for Oreo cookies. Not the regular ones, the vanilla ones. They had those.

We were there Saturday evening, filling up some water bottles but mostly just getting in the the way.
After a few hours I became exhausted, and my feet and legs were very sore. I absolutely could not continue, so we headed home at 10pm.

Frank Lilley runs in style.

For this amazing feat of volunteering we received shirts, blankets, and a kick ass duffel bag. Tom really appreciates the volunteers, even mostly useless ones like us.

We got a good nights sleep and came back to find Tom and Dorothy still there. They must have been up for 48 hours straight.

We saw the last few runners come by around 9am, hoping to make the 30 hour cut off. One woman we had last seen the night before in a cot covered in a blanket. We assumed she had dropped out, but there she was 12 hours later, about to finish 100 miles. Amazing.

Congrats to all the runners who even attempted to conquer 100 miles. As I painfully struggle through 30 mile weeks, I lack the words to describe how impressed I am with all of you.

Thanks Tom (and Dorothy), for best aid station anywhere!