Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Umstead Marathon Mascotolgy

It's that time of year again, when we provide our expert prognostication and rank the potential candidates for this year's upcoming Umstead Marathon mascot.

As you know, the mascot changes every year, and is kept secret until the day before the race. For details on how the mascot is selected see the post from last year.

2010 - Year of the Bunny
  • That year, we thought the best choice would be a deer. 
  • But we deduced that "The Conclave" was working their way through the animal kingdom and the next logical animal would be an opossum
  • This prediction did not pan out, as 2010 was the Year of the bunny.

2011 - Year of the Tick
  • Last year, we considered  opossum once again, as well as a snake and a horse. 
  • We went with Deer as our odds-on favorite due to its park presence.
  • SometimesBareFoot Josh proved to be the expert mascotologist by correctly naming the Tick to be the 2011 mascot.
Here we are approaching the ninth running of the Umstead Marathon, and we have eight mascots behind us: Horse Fly, Flying Squirrel , Turtle, Fish, Turkey Vulture, Frog, Hare, and Tick. No obvious pattern has emerged, so we are left to judge potential candidates based on the following parameters::

Park Presence - How common is the animal in the park?
Runspiration - How much does the animal inspire a person to run?
Silhouettability - How well could the animal be made into a plaque?
Logotimidation - How cool would the mascot look on a t-shirt and a pint glass?
Intangibles- Has something similar been used before? Is it representative of the Umstead Experience?

Each quality will be judged quantitatively and scored on a scale of 1-10.

I took an informal poll on facebook and got a list of 10 candidates which I will review:

Presence  In the summer? Oh yes. Not so much in the winter8
Runspiration Getting a face full of spiderweb can put a damper on a trail run.2
Silhouettability  They managed to do the legs pretty well on the tick,
but I'm not sure about another one with pipe cleaners 
Logotimidation  Could possibly usurp The Tick for coolest race shirt.
I look forward to the day I can use these phases:
"Today I'm breaking out The Spider-Shirt"
"Pour me a cold one in my Spider-Pint"
We just had an arachnid last year.2

Total Score26

Presence When you think about animals in Umstead, Deer are the first to come to mind.
In 2008, the marathon briefly came to a halt as a herd stampeded across Graylyn.  
RunspirationA deer flying through the woods is the ultimate trail runner9
Silhouettability  It would be difficult, but if they could carve the antlers it would be freaking awesome.6
Logotimidation  A majestic deer with a huge rack posing with his head turned? Or maybe leaping across the front of the shirt? Could be an instant classic.7
I was told by a member of the conclave that a deer would NEVER be the mascot because it had long been a symbol of The Uwharrie Mountain Run.
However it seems the last few years, the Uwharrie folks have abandoned this. Is it open season yet on Deer mascots? 

Total Score32

Copperhead Snake
Presence Depends on who you ask. I have seen a lot snakes in Umstead, but don't think any were copperheads.  Others will say that they are slithering through the trees a foot deep like in the Egyptian tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark6
RunspirationI have witnessed more than a few people running through Umstead screaming "COPPERHEAD!"9
SilhouettabilityThis is tricky. If it was long and stretched out it be a pretty fragile plaque. On the other hand if it was coiled up, it would kind of look like a pile of poo.. 3
LogotimidationA snake would be a pretty intimidating logo. All wrapped around the lettering? I'm sold.8
They could put any snake on the t-shirt. A common water snake or rat snake. Or even a cobra. But in NC, it would still be a copperhead. Just like all soda is "coke". 5

Total Score31

Image stupidly stolen from the LawyersUSA website.
Presence Apparently they do appear on a sign enumerating the park wildlife, but I don't think a bear has been seen in Umstead in a long time.3
RunspirationYou can't outrun a bear. Play dead.3
SilhouettabilityYes it would be easy to carve and recognize, but it would look like cheesy mountain-cabin-gift-store kitsch. 6
LogotimidationIt seems that bear imagery belongs to more  mountainous locations. Plus even if they didn't put a ranger hat on the bear, I think I would still see Smokey.3
There is already a race called "The Bear"3

Total Score18

Presence They are elusive, but Shannon and I have both seen them in the park.6
RunspirationIf you can't be the deer, be the coyote chasing him!7
SilhouettabilityGood, but might be hard to distinguish from a dog. 5
LogotimidationSomething like the image above would nice change from the meek mascots we have had so far. Finally, a predator! Or they could go the Wile E Coyote route...7
Even if they are in the park, "coyote" has a more of a Southwest vibe to it. It would seem out of place on an Umstead Pint.3

Total Score28

Horse Dung

Presence Hard to miss.10
RunspirationHard to imagine something less inspiring 1
SilhouettabilityThe plaque would be easy to carve, but it might take some explaining when you show  it to people.5
LogotimidationI think this would be a very polarizing topic, between those who appreciate irony and those who do not.  Split the difference.5
Nothing says Umstead Bridle Trail like a pile of road apples.8

Total Score29


Presence I'm sure they are in there somewhere, but runners aren't likely to see them5
RunspirationMaybe if it was a 20 foot mutant crawling down the trail. Hey there are those PCB's in the lake...2
Silhouettability  Yikes2
Logotimidation  Would look too much like an ad for a seafood restaurant2
Crustacean would be a good subphylum to cross off the list, and we are due for another aquatic creature.5

Total Score16

Presence Rarely seen during the day, though I have heard of runners encountering them on the trail.7
RunspirationTheir slow, comically waddling gait hardly inspires running...
except for maybe ultra-marathoners
SilhouettabilityNot sure if the silhouette would we be easily recognizable, and the tail would be problematic. Got to give it a 3...
UNLESS... the tail was a rope!  And the plaque hung by it! Can you see that?
LogotimidationA snarling, beady-eyed Opossum with its long bare tail would be pretty bad-ass8
Come on! Marsupial is due! On the other hand, we pick this EVERY year. 8

Total Score32

I'm not going to dignify this with a response0

Total Score0

Other nominees:
  • Cicada - Might be too soon for another bug, I think.
  • Turkey - Just had Turkey Vulture in 2008
  • Beaver- Hmmmm. This seems plausible, but this post is already way too long.
  • Raccoon- This would be another good one, but maybe too much like a Squirrel 
  • Duck - Would be disappointing

Finally, the Running-Down pick for the 2012 Umstead Mascot is... 

Drum roll, please...


Presence Watch carefully at dusk.6
RunspirationAgghh! There is one stuck in your hair! Run, run!4
SilhouettabilityWould be the most coveted plaque ever.10
LogotimidationBats are just fricking cool, period.8
I can't say why but I when I look at the previous mascots,
it seems like a bat should be next. On the other hand we did already have a flying squirrel. (Though it looked more like road kill.) Too soon for another flying mammal?

Total Score33

Just barely edging out the perennial Opossum pick and the tainted Deer by a single point, the Bat comes out on top in our expert analysis.

On Friday, March 2nd, the Conclave will reveal their mascot choice.
So come back here on that day to read our gloating, told-you-so post celebrating the Year of the Bat!

UPDATE 3/4/2012
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner:

Now, the mascot for 2013 will be...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

1000 Mile Shoes

Attention Mizuno:
The following is a great advertisement for your shoes. I am expecting compensation, in cash. 

Good Mileage
Recently Shannon retired a pair of Mizuno Something-or-Other road shoes that had over 1000 miles on them.
(Shannon would like you to know it was 1017.8 miles to be exact). I had promised her that if she put a 1000 miles on them, then I would do a post honoring this achievement in frugality. So here it is.

Cost per mile$0.09
Road Races9
Trail Races14
Number of runs over 20 miles5
Number of runs under 2 miles48
Number of times I put screws in them and she got mad at me1

These shoes worked well for Shannon, meaning they didn't cause any problems. The highlight in the life of this pair was when she won (won! I still can't believe it!)  the 2011 Uwharrie 40 Miler.

It's worth noting that she had success despite using them in ways that Mizuno did not recommended.
Nothing crazy, but somewhat unconventional.

Unusual Fit
Souvenirs from the 2006 NY Marathon
When I first met Shannon, she got blisters on just about every long run she did. She had been getting blisters her whole life, and just accepted it as a fact of running.

"With the right shoes, you should never get a blister", was my opinion. Of course, everyone's foot is different, so finding the right fit takes a lot of experimenting. (The absolute perfect fit is no shoes at all, of course). Initially she was resistant to change shoes because they otherwise worked well for her.

Eventually she relented and we headed to our favorite running shop, Bull City Running. She liked the narrow width and lightness of the Mizunos, but they didn't feel quite right.

The standard sizing procedure, which leaves a half inch of room for the toes, put her in a size 7. But she preferred to have her toes crammed in there with no wiggle room, which sounds really uncomfortable. Reluctantly, they gave her a 6½.

With more experimenting, she found that removing insoles felt just right.
Number of blisters in the 1000 mile shoes: ZERO.
This includes the 40 mile ultra with soaking wet feet the entire time.

Shannon took the insoles out for a better fit and less cushioning

Most of the miles were trail or dirt, so not much wear
Trail Shoes?
Shannon was so happy to be blister free, she ran exclusively in these, even on trails, without another thought about it.
There must be dozens of brands of trail shoes out there claiming their superiority and even necessity on trails.
Shannon was unaware of this, and naively wore these for the toughest, rockiest, muddiest, trail races around here. And she did pretty well. (See the chart below)
Her ignorance of the need of trail shoes just goes to show that the shoe company marketing depts need to do a much better job.

These shoes made it well past the 300-500 mile "limit" that the shoe companies place on them.
While it is true that after so many miles the cushioning breaks down, the question is: Does it matter?

Objectively, they seemed to work pretty well for Shannon well past the 500 mile mark:

406Run at The Rock Trail (mud fest)1st age group
687Uwharrie Mountain Run  40 MilerWon (first female)
784Umstead Trail Marathon PR 3:45:39 (3rd female)
898MS Trail 12 Miler1st age group
100010 Mile Umstead runFastest to date

Shannon did admit that the 1000 mile shoes no longer felt good on pavement. I guess if you get used the cushioning, then you will miss it when it is gone. On trails, however, she said they felt fine.

Eventually the shoes started to fall apart and she had to retire these.

They had to be retired due to foot coming out

Kim at Bull City refused to take the shoes back
Response From Mizuno
After winning Uwharrie, Shannon kind of got an inflated ego (with help from me) and became envious of other runners being sponsored by La Sportiva and Montrail. So she emailed Mizuno, seeing if they would sponsor her trail running endeavors. This was the response:
Thank you for contacting Mizuno USA. We appreciate the positive feedback on our Wave Rider 13's. Your email has been forwarded to the head of our running division as he always enjoys receiving feedback on our products whether positive or negative. This only helps us to build a stronger product line. Thanks again for choosing Mizuno products.
Hmmm. Maybe she does need to switch to trail shoes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Uwharrie Training Run

Eight of us will be running Uwharrie in 2 weeks.
Ken and Josh are just nuts.
Uwharrie is a unique trail that is difficult to simulate, so a group of us who will be running the 20 and 40 miler this year headed out to the forest for a test run. Blogging celebrities Scott and Merrell-foot Josh were there, along with some other non-blogging riffraff.

Shannon took some photos that do a good job of showing what the trail is like.

Being signed up for the 40 miler, I wanted to test out my new shoes and my old knees on the rough and rocky terrain. Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to run 20 miles.

Turned out that it was not such a good idea. Let me just say that coming down the stairs this morning, I had to stop halfway and rest for a few minutes.

Josh demonstrates proper creek crossing technique.
Uwharrie is a deceptively hard trail. There is no super steep climbs or especially difficult sections that you can point to. Instead, it slowly and repeatedly pounds you into pulp, like getting beaten to death with a rubber mallet.

Here is my stream of thoughts as I ran yesterday:

Mile 1:  Holy crap I'm cold.
Mile 2:  Hey, this is easy! I feel good!
Mile 4: Woohoo! This fun, I love this forest!
Mile 6: OK.. Maybe I'll just slow down a little here.
Mile 11: Wow, my hip kind of hurts.
Mile 12: Man this is rocky... dammit, twisted my ankle AGAIN.
Mile 14: Ow! A fricking bolder just rolled onto THE TOP of my foot.
Mile 16: Maybe I can run a little bit here... no, still walking
Mile 17: Oh God... my knees.
Mile 18: What? Still going up?
Mile 19: Good Lord is there any end to this freaking forest? Am I even on the trail anymore?
Mile 20: Is that a car I hear? Please let that be the road. Am I hallucinating again?

"Seriously? More rocks?"

Notes To Self
But it wasn't all bad. You can learn some important things from a run like this. Seriously, here are the things I learned (or was reminded of) on this training run:

  1. Do NOT try to keep up with Bart and Dan. My heart will explode on the first hill.
  2. Be patient. I already knew to walk up the steep hills. But there are also some treacherous drops that I lack the skill to run down. So don't even try.  There are plenty of run-able stretches of trail to save my legs for.
  3. Tie my shoes tighter. Wet shoes grow in size.
  4. Secure my laces better. I always tuck my laces in and haven't had a shoe come untied in years. But the Uwharrie forest is alive. Yesterday a branch reached out from the side of the trail, grabbed the half inch of exposed lace and untied the shoe.
  5. Just run through the creeks. The most painful missteps happened when I was trying not to get my feet wet. I would roll my ankle and fall into the water anyway.
  6. Drink a little bit less. Applies both to the water during the run, and the beer afterwards.
  7. Dress warmer. Being cold makes me run too fast. 
  8. Running too fast at the start causes inevitable pain and suffering later. Pick a target pace and do not go under it.
  9. When going north on the wooden bridge, TURN LEFT. Do not go straight up the hill.
  10. Do not run in Uwharrie. Seriously, it is not good for you.

The "Tick Shirt" is rapidly becoming the most popular race shirt of all time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gear Review: Sunshine Friends Shoehorn

Runners can accumulate a lot of gear and a lot of shoes, but one very useful tool is often overlooked:
The simple shoehorn.

It can really be a time saver. Instead of spending several minutes loosening up the laces, putting your foot in, then re-tightening and tying, you can just slip your foot right in!

And if you own a pair of those very snug minimalist shoes like Vibrams then a shoehorn is an absolute must.

I own a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves that are very tight. They fit like a... like a tight mitten. I bought them last year and it's always a struggle to get them on. It never occurred to me that it could be so much easier.

But then a few months ago I was in an Asian grocery store buying a 2 pound whole dried squid, when the "Sunshine Friends Shoehorn" really caught my eye. Heck, it practically thrust itself right in my face.

I don't think I have seen one before, but it looked oddly familiar. It reminded me of something... but I couldn't quite place it. What really sold me was the tagline:
"Joyful Sunshine Friends be a Friend With Anybody in The World"
With this, I can have friends all over the world, AND slip my shoes on!  All this for the bargain price of $1.99. I had to snatch it up.

Comes with a double balled base holder,
so it is always standing at erect attention,
happily waiting to service you!

This is really a quality piece of equipment. Crafted in Korea of the finest pink plastic, the Sunshine Friends Shoehorn is confidently stiff while remaining supple and responsive.

It smoothly penetrates the tight slot between
 your heel and the back of the shoe
As far as shoehorns go, I have to give this a solid 8 out of 10.
While it is perfectly functional, there is still something a little weird about it, that can't quite put my finger on...

Available at your local running shop
or Korean grocery store

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Umstead Marathon Second Chance Registration

If you missed registration for the upcoming Umstead Marathon, you have another chance!

The will be a Second Chance Registration this Thursday, January 19th, at 8:00 am.

Check the website for details.

NOTE: Males capable off running a 3:30 or under are not permitted to register.

2012 Eno Equalizer

Handicapped start
Yesterday was the Carolina Godiva Track Club Eno Equalizer, the 5th race in the Winter Series.
This race is a team event, with a fairly simple premise: The team who has all 3 members cross the finish first wins. In other words, your team finishing time is when the 3rd team member finishes..

To make it more fair, each runner is given a head start, or "handicap" according to their abilities. This is the "Equalizer" part. To add an element of strategy, this time handicap can be traded among team members to help balance the times.

Professor Richard Smith, Race Director, tries desperately to explain the rules

Unfortunately, this is more complexity than most runners can grasp early on a Sunday morning, and there was some confusion on the faces of the 58 runners gathered there.

Almost no one plummeted to their death off the side of the swinging bridge
The race is about 3.7 miles, on the Cox Mountain trail in Eno River State Park.
Originally, I scoffed at the idea of something so small being a "mountain", but that was before I tried to run up it. Then I was regretting not bringing any climbing gear.

The lower elevations of Cox Mountain,
before you get to the glacier.
My team failed to get a single person across the line before the winning time of 23:21. I think we really got screwed on the handicaps.

Shannon took lots of photos which are here. Because of a high mileage week, she ended up DFL, with the timing folks wondering where she was. All captured in this video here.

Maybe the only race you will run where you pass
a sign saying "no running"
With 2 hard trail races in two days my legs were beaten to a pulp, and I desperately needed a rest.

So we immediately headed over to a nearby section of Mountains to Sea trail and ran another 8 miles.

Surprisingly, my legs don't hurt too bad today... as long as keep them perfectly still.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 Little River Trail Run

This was the 4th Little River Trail Run for Shannon and I.
See 2010 Race Report and 2011 Race Report  for Shannon's photos and stories of coldness and hotties in my pants.

Shannon's photos from today can be found here on picasa and here on facebook.

The Trail Heads love switchbacks.
The Little River 10 mile course was designed by carefully mapping
 the flight of a really pissed off bee caught in jar.

As is tradition, Little River is held on the absolute coldest day of the year. This morning was a balmy 28°F, so it looks like we are in for a mild winter.

We car pooled to the race with Chris and Jenny, shivered putting on our bibs and lined up at the start.

I had four good runs last week so I was optimistic this morning. My goal was to beat my snow enhanced slip-sliding time from last year. Race director Willow counted down, and then the pack was off down the road at a 5:30 pace. Only one person there had any business running that fast, and that was David Roche, who ended up breaking his own course record.

Every one loves elevation profiles. It is race report crack.

Up and Up
The rest of us were gassed after the first mile, and entered the trail at a more reasonable pace.
I ended up following a pack of runners including friends Dan, Sam and Tim.

In preparation for Uwharrie, I have been practicing my downhill running the last few weeks, with the belief that if I don't fight gravity, it won't punish my crackling knees.

So I was waiting for a downhill to pass the group, but the elevation profile above lies like a presidential candidate. The trail just kept going up and up. It was killing me trying to keep up with these guys on one climb after another. I swear I heard a buzzing sound coming from my chest sounding like a badly tuned weed whacker. This went on for about 6 miles.

My heart rate during the race. As you can see it reached 300 bpm, which is 167% of my max heart rate.
You can kind of tell where the tough hills were.

Finally, just seconds before I blacked out, there came a downhill and I rolled down it, surprisingly gaining ground on the group. In a road race, I know I wouldn't have been anywhere near them, but I was really happy that I was able to hang with them on the trail on a good day. I sputtered out the last few miles, unable to keep up with the eventual Masters winner.

But happily, I was able to hang on and finish a minute faster than last year, and scored an awesome jacket for first in my age group.

Kudos to the Trail Heads for thinking "outside the race shirt"
and giving out custom printed arm warmers to all entrants.

It turns out that pushing as hard as you can and maxing out your heart rate for well over an hour really starves your brain of oxygen. As I sat down to write this race report, I could not focus at all. My head was literally vibrating, and I could not think straight.

Fortunately the TrailHeads had given out some very cool custom arm warmers that boast some impressive powers:
"Reduces muscle vibration, focuses muscle power, and controls body movements."
Just what I needed!
Using compression technology for MIND CONTROL

I finally was able to pass Dan by clubbing
him in the knee with large branch
Once again, big, huge thanks to the TrailHeads and all the volunteers for a great race!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Uwharrie Quest for Clay

"Celebrating Human Spirit"
 Photo courtesy of Michael Mahan, from his post here

Getting to be that time of year again. In just 24 days runners from all over NC and beyond will make the annual pilgrimage to Uwharrie to spend the day in the woods.

In anticipation, I started googling around "the internets" and stumbled across Michael Mahan's blog, which shows him and his crew making the 600 awards for the race. The bowls, jars and medallions are hand crafted from clay dug from NC the area, so after the race you get to take home a little piece of the Uwharrie NC mountains. This is fitting, as often the Uwharrie trail will extract a piece of you.

Photo courtesy of Michael Mahan

Even if you are not into ceramics, make sure you check it out his blog. It is really interesting and photos are gorgeous.  I absolutely love the  raw simplicity of carved runner that is on this years awards.
Michael is calling the awards "jars" (for the 20 and 40 miler), but to me that's a mug, and I'll be drinking coffee out of that baby (if I am lucky enough to finish).

This will be my 3rd year doing the Uwharrie 40. The first year I really worried about finishing, the second year I was worried about going fast. But this year I am feeling much more relaxed, and really looking forward to just being out there, mile after mile of rocks, trees, streams, and more rocks. No iPhones or cars or computer screens. I know that if my legs fail me, it probably only means a relaxing walk to finish.

Some of the early prototypes
Photo courtesy of Michael Mahan, from his post here

I can't image a different finisher's award for Uwharrie. Some manufactured trinket would seem so out of place. The trail is very rough and raw, cutting through miles of untamed forest.
It isn't some well groomed trail in a state park, and it is a world away from pavement.
When you are knee deep in a ice cold stream, trying to remember the last time you saw the trail, or even another person, you can't help feeling a special connection to mother earth.

So that well crafted hunk of earth is the perfect thing to take home to remind you of that connection, and symbolizes what makes the Uwharrie Mountain Run special.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Running Photo Contest Winners

Results from our "Why We Run" running photo contest are in.

Our 7 judges reviewed the 28 submissions carefully, and each chose their favorites. There was quite a variety of opinions and several fist fights broke out. The votes were tallied and here are the winners:

3rd Place ($25)
"For the Future"
Scott Lynch

2nd Place ($50)
"Thumbs Up"
Heiko Rath
And drum roll please...

1st Place ($100)
Kimberly Sullivan
(This image literally invoked tears in one our judges)
Congrats to our winners, and many thanks to everyone who submitted. Every photo submitted had it's own merits,  and the judges found decision making process difficult. All seven judges picked a different photo as their favorite, and almost every photo had votes or positive comments.

Every entrant had their own unique mix of reasons of "Why We Run", and so did each of the judges. The same image which gets a shrug from one viewer can strike a powerful emotional response in another. For example one judge was unimpressed with "The Feeling of Flying" (photo below),  yet it resonated strongly with me. I closed my eyes and immediately felt myself flying down Company Mill trail. I tried to explain it to him, but couldn't. But the image says it perfectly to me.

Here are our honorable mentions. These were picked as favorites by judges or were otherwise notable:

Honorable Mention
"The Feeling of Flying"
Jaclyn Kolev

Honorable Mention
"Uwharrie Stream Crossing"
Frank Lilley
Honorable Mention
"Still Smiling"
Monique Turco

Honorable Mention
Samantha Mulvey
(Several judges identified strongly with her artist statement)

Most Likely to be Published in a Runner's World
Andrew Vanover

 Bloggers Favorite
"Fast Track"
Harold Hill
(Both Shannon and I thought thought this was the best image)

Thanks again to all the entrants, especially Harold Hill who demonstrated the most enthusiasm and creativity in submitting 8 different images.

We are not through with photos submitted and the stories behind them, as they will serve as content for the "Why We Run" book that Shannon and I are working on.

There will be another photo contest for 2012, but it the submission process will be different. So stay tuned, and save those great images...

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