Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mug Shot

Shannon commissioned this "running down" mug for me. It was created by Michael Mahan who creates the Uwharrie Mountain run awards every year.

It is a perfect rendition of my own personal Uwharrie 40 experience. But also reflects how I feel most mornings.

It holds about 4 cups of coffee, which should help me transition to looking more this:

2012 Uwharrie Awards
Photo courtesy of Michael Mahan

Friday, May 25, 2012

2012 NCRC Umstead Half Marathon

Saturday night at a party, people asked us if we had any races coming up.
The answer was: "Why yes, in the morning we have the 14th Annual North Carolina Roadrunners Club Invitational Half-Marathon".
But actually saying that was just too exhausting so I just said "No."

I'm not sure what the "Invitational" part of the race refereed to, but we were not invited; we had to sign up .
But the ONLY reason we signed up for this race is that the course practically runs right through our living room. It would just be too awkward not to be running it with all those people running by.

Sunday morning we already had our bibs, so we slept in and then left our house at 6:45 am for the 7:00 am start time.

Jogging to the start a half mile away was somewhat of a problem though, as I struggled to shake of my early morning arthritic paralysis. I barely managed to warm up and catch Shannon at the start with a minute to spare.

Two female runners react to the sights
 and smells of shirtless douchebags
With a whistle, the pack was off, almost immediately descending down a steep, paved section of Old Reedy Creek Road.
At first it was fun, and I managed to keep up with the lead pack. But the drop continued to get steeper, and I began to REALLY miss the thick cushioning of my old running shoes.
With the Merrell trail gloves, I have not yet mastered the skill of a controlled descent, and it was absolutely KILLING my knees. So I had two options:
  1. Stop and shuffle very slowly down the hill. Walk, really.
  2. Go for an un-controlled descent.
In the rush of the moment, I chose option 2.
Even though it was the first mile of a 13 mile race, I red-lined it like it was 100 meter dash.
With feet flailing and slapping the pavement, I flew by the lead pack, most of them skinny kids wearing UNC singlets. It felt like I broke several bones in my feet, but for a minute, I was in second place.

That ended quickly as I hit the bottom of the hill and started up the long ascent into Umstead park.
My 13 mph sprint turned into a 10 min mile slog and a long stream of runners began passing me, wondering why I was in front of them..
One guy ran by, and seeing how hard I was struggling up the incline, became confused, "Uh, are you running the race?"

Several more people passed, one of which, I swear, was an 8 year old boy.
I could live with that. But next I heard, "Hey, Anthony", as one my arch rivals ran by...

Dan threatens me with a banana peel but I defend myself with a gift card 

Rival: Dan The Man
Dan was one of the people who inspired me to switch to minimal shoes after I saw him run the Umstead 100 last year in Vibrams.
But he didn't just finish, he crushed it, completing his first 100 miler in 17:30 on minimal training. That performance ranks 56 out 1502 on the all time Umstead list.
Throw in a 2:55 City of Oaks marathon and 17:21 5K, and that's a resume that I can only dream of.

Clearly, he is the stronger runner. But our rivalry has come out backwards, as I have managed to always catch Dan when he is under-trained and having a bad day .

In each of the last 5 races we have done, I have passed him in the second half. In the philosopher's Way last year, I made an asshole move and squeaked by at the very end to edge him by 6 seconds. I think I might be pissing him off.

Rivalry Stats
Total Races vs7
Record vs (W-L)5-2
Greatest Victory2011 Uwharrie 40 (-57:17)
Worst Defeat2008 City Of Oaks  (+30:03)
Next Race?
Current StatusAnnoying Winner

"I'm sure we will be seeing a lot of each other today", Dan predicted as he passed me there at mile 1.

My vision started to get hazy

Same Old Thing
Sure enough, I caught up to and passed Dan on the next downhill, and he passed me going back up. But neither of us could catch the 8 year old kid just ahead.

After mile 4, the soleus on both of my legs were getting so tight they felt like they might snap. From what I hear, this is a standard feature of minimal shoes.

If it had been convenient, I would have dropped out, because it seemed impossible that my soleus would hold out another 9 miles. But being on the far side of Umstead convinced me to try to continue.
So the rest of the way I was constantly adjusting my stride, with my legs teetering right on the edge of seizing up.

After the turn around, I caught Dan again. "You are going to have to get ahead, so I can pass you on graveyard.", he told me. So I did. When I got to Graveyard Hill, I was shocked to see that I was pace to beat my time from 2 years ago.
The lure of a PR was too tempting to resist and I powered up the hill, pleading with my soleus muscles, "I promise I will take the entire week off, if you can hold on for 4 more miles. I swear. Really!".

I managed to hold off Dan there, as I went by the aid station Shannon and I volunteered at last year. I got boost from some familiar faces and a cup of cold water over my head..

Shannon's photos from the race included 50 of people
and about 300 of dogs.
I pushed it hard the last couple miles down the Black Creek greenway, and saw that Dan was not far behind me at the turn around there. Going up to the finish line is a short steep hill, and I slowed to a crawl having almost nothing left.

I thought I heard Dan right on my heels, so I dug deep, summoning up what I had eaten the night before.
Barely holding the barf down, I crossed the finish line in 1:26:55, amazingly a few seconds faster than my 2010 time.

And for the 6th time in a row, I had edged out Dan. I bet he is really pissed now.

I did not completely avoid barf, however, as later I was walking around barefoot and stepped in the product of winner Ben Godfrey's finishing kick.

Shannon came in shortly after as second female overall, but failed to get many good pictures.

The rest of Shannon's photos are here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

2012 Philosopher's Way 15K

A view of the experiment from above

Physiological and Psychological Effects of 
Entrapment in a Complex Maze

2012 May 5

Department of Biology
Dept of Psychology
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The purpose of this study was to gauge the effects of forcing lab rats to repeatably run through a complex maze.

Unfortunately, due to protests by animal rights activists from the neighboring (and notably left leaning) city of Carrboro, we were forced to abandon the use of rats and mice in our laboratory maze experiments.

To avoid the ethical, legal and moral complications of using animals, the design of this research experiment was adjusted to use human subjects instead.


To accommodate the larger size of human subjects, a 750 acre maze was carved into the Carolina North Forest on the UNC Campus. To blind the research subjects to the purpose of this experiment,  the purported reason for the event was a "trail race".

176 Test Subjects.  Identity concealed to protect anonymity

This was the 5th iteration of this experiment, and for this test case 176 volunteers were recruited by the research team posing as a fictitious running group called the "Trail Heads".


Measurement #1: Exertion to physical failure

A robotic decoy, model #D.HOGE.1000 (here after referred to as the DH1000), was once again deployed as a stimulus. The  DH1000 was set to a speed of 10 mph and launched into the maze.

This induced several test subjects to attempt to follow, despite the speed being beyond what any human can sustain in the maze. These subjects all ran themselves into complete exhaustion within 8 minutes.

It was observed that subject #53 (shirtless douche bag, male), did not attempt pursue the DH1000, as he has in 2 previous trials. This demonstrates that "learning" can be achieved through repeated negative reinforcement of applied pain and suffering.

Subject #53 (nipples redacted) showing signs extreme physical stress
and erratic behavior (photo by Drew Kelley)

Measurement #2: Application of Extreme Heat and Humidity

At exactly 10 minutes into the experiment, the temperature was raised to 25 degrees C, and humidity to 90%. As expected, this induced sweating, discomfort, and illness among the test subjects.

Subject #53 began to exhibit erratic behavior, including slurred speech and a wobbling gait. When presented with cups of water, subject dumped them on his head instead of ingesting them.

Measurement #3: Effects of random and rapid changes in direction

In order for test subjects to exit the maze, they were forced to endure 800 random turns designed to confuse and disorient. Subjects showed signs of nausea, bewilderment, and depression.

Test subject #53 was observed to be weeping uncontrollably, and shouting "Is there any fricking end to this?! How do I get out of here?!"


Tricking human volunteer test subjects into a giant maze in the woods, and then observing them trying to escape can be wildly entertaining.

As in previous experiments, subject #53 was again observed to have sustained physical trauma.
To correct this, a gift certificate to Balanced Physical Therapy was promptly administered.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2011 Philosopher's Way Trail 15k


Just found this old post that never got published from last year when Shannon and I did the Philosopher's Way Trail 15K.
Still working on the race report from this year.

The rest of Shannon's pictures from 2011 are here.

Der Scott has great report of his 2011 experience here.

The Fast Guys

248 People hit the trail for the 15K

Getting up close and personal with the trail

Multi-talented Trailheads, "The Enablers", performed at the post race party.

Friday, May 4, 2012

2012 Potawatomi Trail Half Marathon

Shannon wasn't there, so no good pictures.

New and Unimproved
So after my re-invention as a new, healthy, and pain-free runner, I found myself in a sadly familiar situation:
Limping around the day before a race. This time it was the Trail Half Marathon on the Potawatomi trail in Pinckney, MI.

Despite taking the previous 4 days off, my left foot seemed to be getting worse and not better. As I walked around Grosse Pointe, an ice pick was being jabbed into my foot with every step.

It seemed that some tendon along the top was horribly inflamed, probably from running too fast and too far in my Merrell Trail gloves.

Suck It Up
"Suck it up," my sister Monique told me, "We are all going to hobble through this thing whether we like it or not." She was working on an injury of her own, this time a possible stress fracture in her femur. When it comes to running injuries she ranks among the elite.

Since I was having trouble walking, the idea of running a half marathon the next day seemed ridiculous.
But having pain before a big race seems to happen to me all the time, which makes me think it is all in my head.

So as I went to bed that night, I tried to think positive thoughts, visualizing running smoothly and easily down the trail. But this vision kept getting interrupted by nightmarish flashes of Ryan's tendon surgery.

Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions.
Driving to the race, I had a couple cognitions arguing like a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.

Angel- "You are going to hurt your foot much worse. Don't run this race. Be smart"
Devil- "Nah. You'll be fine. Don't listen to the pre-race jitters."
I can't run like Dave Roche, so I'll have to settle
for including cute dogs in my blog posts. 

But instead getting rationalized away, the conflict spiraled out of control:

Angel- "All your tendons will snap like old rubber bands!"
Devil- "In training you ran the Figure8 really fast, and you were fine!"
Angel-"You had trouble walking down the stairs this morning!"
Devil- "You are a hard core trail runner!"
Angel- "You have only been running like 20 miles a week!"
Devil- "Uh...  you ran the Figure8 that one time!"
Angel- "After 3 miles all of your foot bones will crumble to dust and you will have to carted off the trail"

Devil- "No way! You are going to WIN!"

At this point, I realized both of them were being silly and went to warm up. Oddly, the foot actually felt better running than walking, and I figured I could make it the 13 miles one way or another.
It would be my longest run since Uwharrie 3 months ago.

With a field of over 800 runners, I decided to be very optimistic and lined up near the front, with the 7-8 min mile group. My brother and sister lined up much more conservatively, farther back.

With a "GO" we took off across the grass and hit the single track in about a quarter mile.
Running fast in the Trail Gloves (a 7 min mile is fast for me) still feels really awkward and unnatural. I have to think about how to move my legs. I felt a few twinges in my foot, but I was more focused on trying to keep up with the pack.

Holy crap! Bring your climbing ropes! Oh wait. Are those 20 foot increments?

Kick Butt Hilly
This is how the website describes the course:
"Potto", is a big bad loop of hilly kick your butt wilderness single track trail.
Was this a joke? The entire elevation profile was only 100 foot high. I had to put it in perspective:

Poto vs Umstead Single Track

Poto vs. Owl's Roost Rumble

So it looked easier than Umstead single track, but maybe slightly harder than Owl's Roost Rumble.

Super Secret Goal
So going into the race, I was secretly hoping for a top 10 finish.
I would show those Michigan flat-landers how we run trails in NC! "Big bad hilly kick my butt?" Ha. After Uwharrie, this was going to seem like a moving walkway at the airport.

At about mile 2, I ran by a spectator who said, "You are 8th overall!"
Wow! If I could just hang on to the pace, I could get top 10!

The Trail Gloves felt pretty good.  The trail was non-technical, with only a few short rocky stretches. No mud, no stream crossings, few roots. Really a perfect surface for the shoe.
My foot was holding out OK. It hurt a little when taking the downhills hard, but in never really got any worse.

Though my feet were OK, the hills were, in fact, kicking my butt.
While they were very short, they also felt pretty steep. While powering up one slope around mile 4, I started feeling the familiar pre-cramp twinges in both calves. Uh oh. I still had 9 miles to go, which is like half of my weekly mileage.

So after mocking the hills here, I ended up having to walk up a lot of them to give my calves a break.
I got passed by 5 people, and ended up in 13th place. Happily, no tendons snapped and no bones crumbled to dust.

My sister and brother came in about 20 minutes later, having been caught in the traffic jam of 840 people on a single track trail.

Bizarrely, my foot somehow felt better after the race.
I think the problem was actually caused by tying my shoes too tight, because leaving my shoes loose seems to alleviate it. When running barefoot I feel no pain at all.

My calves however, were absolutely wrecked.  I still have a long way to go adapting to these minimal shoes. It seems my calves do a lot more work trying to run gently.

But my knees feel pretty good. Maybe the best they have ever felt after a hard race like this.
So I would have to say this race was a qualified success for minimalism.

Next Test
The next test for the Trail Gloves, my aching foot and my quivering calves will be tomorrow at the Philosophers Way 15K Trail Race.

Last year I ran a 1:07:56 in cushy shoes.

Will the Trail Gloves be like sports car tires and provide better handling around the switch backs?
Or will they over work my calves and slow me down?

The minimal experiment continues...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reinvention Complete!

The Plan
Back in February, after a year of limping around with knee pain, I decided to "start over" and reinvent myself as a runner.

I had a simple 5 part plan:
  1. Stop - Stop running races and hurting myself. 
  2. Get Healthy - Fully Recover from the beat down I received in Uwharrie, as well as the catalog of lingering aches and pains from last year.
  3. Learn to Run -  All over again, but this time barefoot. (Actual barefoot, not Barefoot®). Toss all of my cushy shoes that I have been hurting my knees with.
  4. Go Minimal - Once my legs and feet were strong enough, learn to run on trails in my Trail Gloves
  5. Train - for a trail half marathon 
This was a smart and sensible plan, though obviously quite ambitious.
A reasonable amount of time to achieve all of these goals was about 12 months.

But after looking at the calendar, I decided to shorten it up a bit.
I thought, "Meh. 10 weeks should be enough."
Then I signed up to run the Trail Half Marathon in Pinckney, MI at the end of the 10 weeks.

The 10 weeks are up. How did I do?

Well, I gave it my best shot. I ditched the cushy shoes and only ran barefoot on pavement or on single track in the Trail Gloves.

But it turns out the reinvention schedule was just a tad aggressive, and my impatience awarded me just about every type if "-ITIS" one can have from the ankle down. I have become yet another TMTS(Too Much Too Soon) casualty of the minimalist movement.

In case it's not obvious, the "Done!" declaration is a joke. I have a long, long way to go.

Here are some stats:

10 Week Training Stats
Barefoot Miles 55
Merrell Trail Glove Miles 120
Bike Miles Lots
Number of runs 2 miles or less
"Long" runs (12 miles)
Number of Races I Ran even Though I Shouldn't Have
Things that feel better
Things that feel worse
Achilles, soleus,
 calves, top of feet,
 bottom of feet,
 side of feet, toes
Times I stepped on something and said "ow"

Here are my observations on barefoot and minimalist running, so far:

The Bad
  1. Building up strength and coordination in the lower legs and feet takes a long, long time.
  2. I have an old metatarsal injury (2008) that keeps getting re-aggravated.
  3. Running on rocky terrain is harder and takes much more energy and concentration.
  4. I cannot run as fast down rocky descents as I used to with cushioning.
  5. My running speed on pavement (barefoot) is currently much slower than it used to be.
The Good

  1. On single track, I am generally faster in the Trail Gloves than I was in the cushy shoes. I set a PR for the Umstead Figure8 course.
  2. Arthritic knees are much better than last year.
  3. Barefoot feels really good (most of the time). For someone running over 20+ years in shoes, it is a revelation.

Ready Or Not....
So despite a messed up left foot, last weekend I flew up to Michigan to run the Running Fit Trail Half Marathon. It would be my longest run since Uwharrie 3 months ago.

Race report to follow...

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