Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 San-Lee Trail Half Marathon

Several thousand runners packed into the corrals
We had signed up for this race without knowing anything about it.
But a trail half is my favorite kind of race, and we will unfortunately be missing Owls Roost Rumble this year, so why not?

But after we had registered, I saw the course map:

Second Thoughts
Holy crap.
Looks like hyper active toddler went to town with a box of crayons.
Looks like someone barfed up a bowl of spaghetti and bag of skittles.

The entire human nervous system isn't that complicated.

With my track record, I was sure I would miss a turn and become lost in there for days.
I tried to talk Shannon out of it the morning of the race, but she was persistent.

Great Course
It turned out I was very wrong.
It was actually a fabulous course, located in San-Lee Park in Sanford. The race was put on by local bike shop Storm Endurance Sports, and they did an amazing job marking the course with the tape, signs and arrows all along the entire 13.1 miles.

I am usually not a fan of excessive mountain bike switchbacks, but this was a fun roller coaster of trail that had a lot of character and variety. Lots of twists and turns, some fast smooth descents, some rocky sections, some big boulders, and some thigh high, quad busting moguls.

At the word "GO", the 30 or so runners took off surprisingly fast, leaving me in the dust as my crotchety old legs protested the sudden movement.

It was a short jaunt around a building and across a bridge and the lead pack funneled into the single track trail. It was a little bit chaotic there so I surged ahead and settled in behind the guy in the lead, who was wearing a cycling jersey and headphones.

The Umstead Marathon was only two weeks before, and I had done a 5K and Godiva Hard Climb hill last weekend, so this race was clearly over-doing it.
So I had planned for it to be just a relaxed "easy" run... oh, who am I kidding.

I was in second place, and was able to hang with headphone guy for the first few miles. The pace felt about my limit for a half marathon, so I decided to just follow him and see what happened.
Following someone on a trail feels somewhat easier, as you don't have to waste brain power navigating the twists and turns on your own.

Photo by Howard Rhyne

Behind me in third place lurked a guy I dubbed "Ultra Runner Dude". He ran shirtless, carried two handhelds, and wore New Balance Minimus Trail Zeros. He was straight from the cover of Ultra Running magazine and I knew he would be trouble.

Awesome volunteers.
It was getting hot, so I also stripped down to shirtless douche-bag mode. At the first aid station around mile 4, I stopped to drink and dump water on my head, falling to third place.

As I caught back up to them around mile 5, Ultra Dude finally made his move and zipped by Headphone guy. I followed, putting the two SDBs in the lead.

Photo by Howard Rhyne

Ultra Dude laid the hammer down. We went from half marathon pace to a track workout pace, bombing down some switchbacks. I let out a "Whooop!" and he let out a "Yee Haw!".

It was an all-out effort, but I was able to hang with him for a bit, until we hit a really nasty technical section. The trail was nothing but a quarter mile long line of bowling ball sized rocks.
I pride myself at my trail running ability, and I think it makes up for what I lack in actual speed.
But this guy absolutely schooled me on those rocks. He just floated over them without slowing down at all.
As I tip-toed carefully through them he ran out of sight.

Photo by Shannon

Pit Stop
Suddenly, the trail became much harder with no one to follow. Once I cleared the rocks, I just made a mad dash to try to catch up to him. I laughed at how dumb it was to push that hard with 6 miles still to go, but I have never even been close to the front in a half marathon before. I had to go for it.

I managed to catch him, and at the next aid station he stopped to fill up a bottle.
"Give him a cup of water first", he asked the volunteer, pointing to me. It was a very gracious and honorable gesture on his part.
A real sportsman would have returned the favor and waited for him to fill up his bottle. But a real sportsman would have no chance of winning.
So I just gulped the water and took off as fast as I could.

Shannon runs and shoots again
Holy Crap
I was terrified. I was in the lead of a trail half marathon! With the likes of David Roche and Duncan Hoge around, I will probably never get that chance again.

So I ran scared. I saw Ultra Dude on every switchback, just seconds behind me. I was absolutely exhausted, so I made up for it by being reckless. The course became a race track, with wide high banked curves I zoomed around and steep descents I crashed down, pummeling my trail glove clad feet to hamburger. But still, there he was.

I managed to stumble through the last mile and cross the finish just 40 seconds ahead of him, in 1:36:56.

Hand crafted pot-of-gold for St. Patrick's Day
Shannon came in shortly after, winning the women's race with less effort while taking photos.
We were awarded hand crafted pots filled with chocolate gold coins, in recognition of St. Patrick's Day.

Real Winners
But Shannon and I must forfeit or wins to Heather Scheffler and Kelly Bulter.
On the way to crossing the finish line, they went down the slide.
That's a whole lot of WIN.

Many thanks to Storm Endurance Sports for putting on a great trail race.
We will be back! But next time, I am going down the slide.

Photos by Shannon

Photos from Howard Rhyne

Really awesome Video

Saturday, March 9, 2013

2013 Dog Days 5K

Old Dog
Dudley Dooright just turned 8 years old, and the years are taking their toll.
His hips sway and sag when he walks. When he gets up, his legs are stiff and there is a pronounced limp. Sometimes he will stand at the top of the stairs, hesitant to go down, because he knows it's going to hurt (lately I've been doing the same thing).

When he was young we would count the number of tennis balls we would throw for him, and we would give up when we hit 100. Nowadays, he doesn't make it past 5 before he lays down panting.

Getting too old to race?
Running Dog
Dudley was never the most athletic or graceful dog. His run is kind of a lumbering trot. Even in his youth he would overheat in 50 degree weather, and Jeffery the 3 legged dog could outlast him.

So physically he was never a great runner, but he does have the perfect instinct for it.  He absolutely loves to run more than anything else. I could give him a big juicy steak, but he would drop it to follow me out for a run.

Most dogs want to stop and sniff and pee on things, but he just wants to go forward. On a leash, he will match my pace, whatever it is, steady and constant. Sure, he will check out other dogs,  people, and squirrels as we pass, but he wont break stride. And if we are following someone, he must pass them. He just has to be in front.

Racing Dog
This makes him a great racing dog. His first was the CARA 5K in 2009, where he came in top dog, and remains the poster child on their facebook page.

Next, he and I defeated Shannon and Jeffery with the help of some dastardly tricks at the Umstead Coalition Run. He again was top dog and second place mammal, and just 28 seconds behind speedy human Jeff Hall.

Last month I saw the Dog Days 5K, which advertised: "Most races don't let you run with your dogs, this one encourages it!"
I had to sign us up. Dudley may not get many more chances to race.

Shave and a Haircut
But he needed some help if he wanted to be running out in front.
Last night I gave him a haircut to keep him cool. I filled half a big grocery bag with hair.

There could be small dog in there somewhere

I used an 8 year old electric razor that I bought from Costco for $20. It is so dull it could only cut a few hairs at a time before it started to smoke. Still I think I did a great job! I should open my own grooming business. Please contact me for an appointment.

I was actually afraid to take him out in public.
I thought I might be arrested for animal cruelty
Banned Substance?
This morning I doped him up with 8mg of Metacam to take the edge off his arthritis. In my own personal experience, masking pain with drugs so that you can run is a terrible idea that will make things worse in the long run. But our veterinarian recommended it, and this was a special occasion. I hoped there would be no drug testing at the race.

Dooright couldn't contain himself as I tried to pick up the bib and chip. Although he had only been to 2 races, I swear he knew what was going on. He mostly ignored all the other people and dogs, and kept encouraging me to just start sprinting across the field at the NC State University Club.
"Hold on... not yet..."

Although  50° was somewhat chilly for me, he was already panting. I had brought some bottles filled with ice water and sprayed him down.

"Oh, that's an... interesting... looking dog you have there", a guy came up and pet Dudley.
"Yeah. He gets really hot", I said.
"Oh", said the guy, looking disgusted at his hand, now covered in wet dog hair clippings, "That explains the why he is shaved down."

I scoped out the competition. Many of the runners were veterinary students, young and fit, and potentially very fast. There were a lot of equally fit and swift looking labs and shepherd dogs there.
Dooright, with his graying muzzle and his 85 pound bulky frame, looked out of place.

"It's OK", I whispered to him,"They aren't racing dogs"

The race started, and Dooright sprinted off at top speed, but not in the right direction.
I reeled him in and got him on the right track, and we settled in behind a young woman with a black and white bull dog, and a guy with a small Australian shepherd

The shepherd made the mistake of drifting into the path of Dooright, who was moving like a freight train at a sub 6 minute pace. Before I could pull Dudley back, he ran the smaller dog right over, like a bus running over a bicycle. The poor dog rolled onto its back, bounced into the air, and flew into the legs of his human, who tripped and stumbled. Fortunately he didn't fall.

"OH! I'm so sorry!", I gasped, trying to keep up with the freight train.
"It's OK". They didn't miss a beat and kept running.

Mile 1
Even with Dooright throwing down a ridiculous pace, there was still a few people hanging with us. 
A guy running solo in a white shirt and headphones fought for the lead.
We headed through a parking lot, down a gravel road and onto a soft dirt trail.
My legs were struggling to keep up, just a week after the punishment in the Umstead Marathon. But this was Dudley's day, and I was trying to let him run it his way, out in front.

When we hit the trail, Dooright got 6 years younger, and dropped the headphones guy. We were in the lead!
Unfortunately though, he was having trouble reading the bright orange arrows marking the course.
It took some skillful maneuvering to guide him through that section. 

Mile 2
We hit the "cross country" part of the course, which was a rolling path along the boundary of a wide rectangular field. I looked back and saw the little shephard and human maybe 50 yards behind. They had recovered from being run over and were closing fast. 
I was already tired and holding us back, but made an effort to pick the pace back up along the straightaway.
Dooright responded and moved slightly ahead of me without tugging on the leash.

We finished the first loop, and at the halfway point a volunteer offered a bottle of water. 
"Yes! Thank you!", this was perfect. Dudley would be getting hot.
As we ran by a small green pond he tried to dive in and run through it. This is his usual tactic when we run by the lake. "Sorry! Not today!"
I took the cap off the bottle and started dousing him as we ran.

Mile 3
We got through the trail section quicker with Dudley remembering the way this time. 
We started catching up to people still on their first loop, and Dooright surged each time he saw a new opportunity to pass someone. 
Back in the field, I saw that we had gained ground on second place, but I was running out of gas quickly. I couldn't believe we might actually win.

A women crosses the finish line with her doberman
As we approached, they stretched out some pink tape across the finish line waiting for us.
This confused Dudley, who thought it meant it was off limits. With some coaxing I got him to break the tape, just under 20 minutes in 19:53. 

So Dudley Dooright won the race outright. Not just first dog, but first mammal! (There might have been some birds up there who beat us). I came in second place as first human.

Pretty good for an 8 year old dog, and a 42 year old guy, but slow for a winning time. If we had did the "Run for Oaks" just down the the road that same morning, we would have come in 33rd place.

Dooright cheers on the participants
Afterwards we hung out and took photos, cheered on the other folks, talked with the competition, and picked up some free stuff.

I tried not to take all the free dog treats this time
When we were heading out to leave, instead of getting in the car, Dudley wanted to do another loop of the course.
"Ug. No way. Let's go home", he might not be getting old yet, be I am.

Poster dog

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Umstead Marathon Race Report

All these people showed up and  ran,
even though the mascot was not an opossum

Big Showdown with Josh
Four months ago I challenged Josh to a big showdown in Umstead, and we both had been training hard since. I had beat him in his last 2 attempts at Umstead, and held an 8-1 record against.
However, that one loss was our last race. Who would come out on top?

His plan was to go out fast.
My plan was to take it easy until Cedar Ridge at mile 21 where I would run by him and crush his spirits.
Everybody falls apart at Cedar Ridge and I knew I would see him there.

Mile 21
And I did.
As I headed down Cedar Ridge, there was Josh struggling as expected.
Unfortunately he was headed up Cedar Ridge and was actually 3 miles ahead of me.
No problem. I figured I just needed to run the last 5 miles at a sub-3 minute pace, and victory was mine!

Forget Cedar Ridge, Mile 3 is where things start to get hard
Falling Apart
So I sprinted towards the bottom at a sub-3 pace.
After about 4 steps, my right hip gave out and I had to stop and walk. It hurt too much to run downhill.
Hmmmm. After some more calculations, I realized that I might not be able to catch him if I had to take walk breaks. Rats. So I conceded the race to Josh.
Well played, my slipper footed friend. You win this time.

But the race wasn't over yet...

Oddly enough, my wheels had, in fact, fallen off.
Big Showdown with Josh Shannon
Another of my rivals, my wife Shannon, was just ahead of me.
Near the bottom, I saw her and my Sister Monique coming back up.

Shannon whines about every little incline, so surely she would be struggling up this notorious hill.
And my hip was OK running uphill, so I pushed hard. I was flying. (Well, about a 9:45 pace, but it felt faster)

Around every turn, I kept expecting to see her. But no. I passed several guys and made it to the aid station at the top. "Your wife is just ahead of you!" they lied. She was no where in sight.
I realized that Shannon was going for an Umstead PR. Nothing motivates Shannon like numbers, and she would laying down a ferocious pace to get to the finish. I had no chance.

Not a big hill by itself.
But at mile 25 it is soul crushing

Big Showdown with Josh Shannon Monique
But I did see the pink shirt of my sister walking slowly up Graveyard Hill (or Cemetery, whatever).
My record against her is a competitive 7-8. I had a chance to tie things up.

I put my head down and plowed up the hill and over. I was gaining ground, and I saw that she was running with Shannon! Two rivals for the price of one!

But I just could not hold onto the pace they were running. When they made the turn at the fountain, I lost sight of them, which made my hip suddenly hurt like hell again. So I decided to walk it in.
"You're almost there! Come on!", some volunteers taunted me, as I walked the turn at the fountain.
I could not push past the pain anymore, "You know how far a half mile is?" I pouted.  

My sister lives near Detroit, with no hills or trails.
She still kicked my ass. Again.
Big Showdown with Josh Shannon Monique Figge
From the corner of my eye I spotted Jason Figge coming up behind me.
Not sure what my race record against him is, but I know he kicks my ass in every single track event.
I couldn't let him beat me.

Suddenly I could run again. The sight of Mile 26 had me at a full sprint. A little friendly completion can really change your mood!

As I neared the finish line, I glanced behind, and he was 30 yards behind me. I had it wrapped up.
So I let off the gas, put my arms up in victory and crossed...

I was Figged!
Arrrrggg! Jason sprinted by my outstretched arms like I was standing still, crushing me at the line by 1 second.

Big Showdown with a Marathon
My last successful marathon was Umstead 2011.

Since then I had signed up for 7 marathons and ultras. Due to a compounding cascade of injuries, they were all either DNS, DNF, or DNFR. (DNFR is Did-Not-Finish-Running, which means I injured myself during the race.)

But I finally managed to finish a marathon actually running, which is really fricking hard.

Thank you Umstead Conclave and volunteers. This is the best race on the planet (though an opussum would make it even better), and it brings much happiness to me and a couple hundred friends who enjoy the privilege of running it.

Congrats to Josh, Shannon, Monique, and Jason and everyone who was out there running.

Until next year...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2013 Umstead Marathon Mascot

This years mascot floats happily on a half pint of pale ale
- photo by Scott Lynch
Lame Duck
As you know by now, the Umstead Marathon Conclave chose the duck as this year's mascot.
Oh, sure, the duck is perfectly adequate. But it's not what the Umstead faithful had been hoping for. We wanted something special for the 10th.
We wanted the conclave to finally concede that the opossum is the rightful heir to the Umstead throne.

Many runners naively enjoyed the duck mascot.
Here, Lance Bollinger feeds it to his child.
- photo courtesy Helen Bac
Don't mess with The Conclave
Why duck?
Well, unfortunately, because of us.
Apparently The Conclave has become aware of our little handicapping operation here and are none too happy. After Josh prognosticated the tick in 2011, and I scientifically calculated the bat last year, they were enraged. They felt the mystique of their little cult had been threatened.

So they spitefully denied the opossum it's destiny. They also shut out our entire list of other qualified candidates: coyote, deer, spider, horse, snake... Snake! I mean, come on, how can you deny snake!
Apparently they were so mad, there were calls to make me the mascot, placing my decapitated head on a squirrel.
This is an absolutely brutal and ruthless regime, folks.

The People's Possum 
But the people will not be oppressed like this.
Ethan Caldwell and Megan Sullivan decided to fight this injustice, and took it upon themselves to put the Opossum in it's rightful place. They made this protest shirt, which I proudly wore:

photo by Jay Spadie
What Now?
Do we rise up and make our own shirts? Or hell, put on our own race?
Do I try to volunteer and become part of the Conclave, giving up the privilege of running The Umstead Marathon? Whoa! Let's not get all crazy now.

I guess we just have to quit our Mascotology operation, and give in to the dictatorship of The Conclave.
So no more trying to pick the mascot. But wait...

This roach crawled into Shannon's pint glass.
A sign of next year's Mascot??!!

NEXT UP: My race report.
Me chasing down Barefoot Josh...
Photo by "Moose" Marum.