Monday, May 18, 2015

2015 Dirty Dog 15K Trail Race Video

Shannon and I took our pack back to the The Dirty Dog 15K Trail Run in Kanawha State Forest, Charleston, West Virginia.

We ran this back in 2013 [report here], and it was immediately our favorite race.

This year I wore my visor-cam to capture the joy of dogs racing off leash through the forest.
[Note: Video may show advertisement you have click off. Sorry, but this is the cost of using the wonderful song "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper]

2015 Dirty Dog Video

This year, all five of us managed to stick to together and run as pack. We were not used to the very rough gravel roads, so we had to walk those sections. Also, it was hot and humid, so we took frequent water breaks.

But we had an absolute blast running the single track with other humans and canines, and this remains our favorite race.

Big thanks to the Todd family and the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners for putting on this uniquely fantastic event.

Here is a link to Shannon's photos.

Dirty Tired Dog

Thursday, March 5, 2015

¡Viva la RevoluciĆ³n!

Although the 2015 Umstead Marathon has been canceled, the mascot speculation continues, as we still do not know what the critter is for this year's defunct race.

It is tradition among Umstead runners to try to guess what the mascot will be. But on this blog we also argue for what the mascot should be.

Unfortunately the Umstead Conclave is a very secretive group and actively avoids choosing mascots that are obvious, or ones the public is clamoring for. While this does provide surprise mascots such as the "horned devil caterpillar" of 2014, it also discriminates against such worthy candidates such as the common black rat snake or the coyote.

Last year, this horrible mascot injustice sparked the great Possum Revolution.
Our short-lived, but successful coup managed to install the Possum as a co-mascot for 2014 race.

Our small band of rebels then formed our own secret society, the:

Revolutionary Umstead Mascot Possum Society (R.U.M.P.S.)
Leading the Crusade to end Umstead Mascot Injustice

With RUMPS, the revolution lives on, and we will continue our struggle to bring the people their mascots. So let us consider just some of the worthwhile candidates, considering  both questions: Will it be? Should it be?.

There were many suggestions such as: javelina, mountain beaver, whales, Bigfoot, etc. But we will just stick with things that are in Umstead. Everybody knows that bigfoot is in Uwharrie.

Candidate: Beaver
Suggested By: Shannon
Chance it will be: 5%
Why it should be: Every time you were out running, and saw someone wearing the shirt, you could call out: "NICE BEAVER"
RUMPS score: 55
Candidate: Running Cedar
Suggested By: Jeff Wald, Steph Jefferies
Chance it will be: 1%
Why it should be: Has "Running" right in the name, it is everywhere in the park. A plant is due!
RUMPS score: 65

Candidate: Crayfish
Suggested By: Bill Harris
Chance it will be: 1%
Why it should be: Crustacean long overdue. Unique, and damn scary looking.
RUMPS score: 70
Candidate: Black Snake
Suggested By: Jay Spadie
Chance it will be: 2%
Why it should be: Most common snake in the park. IT IS NOT A COPPERHEAD. Would look awesome on a shirt and pint glass.
RUMPS score: 45

While these are all worthy candidates, there is one that is long overdue, and yet perfect for this year's dead race... to be revealed Saturday...

Candidate:  2015 RUMPS Mascot
Suggested By: The Revolution
Chance it will be: 100%
Why it will be: We already have the shirts printed...
RUMPS score: 100

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Umstead Marathon- THANK YOU!

Photo by Harold Hill
As you have all heard by now the Umstead Marathon has been canceled for 2015.
At first we were heartbroken. For Shannon and I, it's more than a race. It is THE event of the year.

But it's like when you break a finishers pint. It's sad at first, but then you realize you haven't lost the experience or the friends behind it.

Thank You Volunteers!
Photo by Dennis Geiser
The cancellation just makes us realize how much we appreciate this race and all the people behind it that make it happen. Thank you for twelve great years, and looking forward to many more.

Thank You Conclave!
Photo by Dennis Geiser

Thank You Godiva!
Photo by Dennis Geiser
Hard Climb Hill
And really the Umstead Marathon is just an excuse to run and hang out friends. And that will continue on Sunday at Hard Climb Hill.

While the race has been canceled, the mascot speculation has not.
So look for a Mascotology post tomorrow!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2015 Umstead Mascotolgy Part 2 - Mascot Race

Mascots from the first eleven Umstead Marathons line up to race
(Note: not an actual photo)

Damn Damp Damper
As I write this, freezing rain is coming down on top of the 6 inches of snow left over from last week, which covered the 3 inches of ice we got days before that. The forecast is for more rain all week.

By Saturday, Umstead will be a giant mud pit, and there is talk of canceling the race. That puts a huge damper on things. Umstead Marathon is our favorite race, anytime, anywhere. I would rather have all the other races this year canceled than miss Umstead. And this year, we have celebrity runners traveling 2620 miles just to run these 26.2.

Let's cross our fingers and hope things work out.

The Great Mascot Race
The critters in Umstead don't mind a little snow, ice, rain, and mud. Well, maybe they do, but they don't require dry parking lots. So their race will go ahead as planned.

In past years, our Mascotology analysis focussed on scientific taxonomy, Park Presence, Running Relevance, Silhouettability, Logotimidation, Inevitability, etc. This year we will look at the mascots ability to run a marathon.

So we are lining up all eleven mascots from the previous years and seeing who comes out on top.
Because of the weather, we will not have aid stations at this race. To compensate, we have extended the cutoff time to 48 hours.

The fish decided not to run. His Achilles Tendonitis has been acting up lately,
and he hasn't been able to get in any decent training.

As expected the rabbit, who always has trouble pacing himself, takes off like... a rabbit.
The fly and the turkey vulture follow close behind. The possum, the horned devil, and the turtle lumber after them.

The bat and the squirrel, who have been up partying all night, fall asleep in the lodge.

Duck and Frog
The duck, who was too nervous to eat breakfast and spent the whole morning in the porto-potty, is really hungry. Before they can even make it out of Camp Lapihio he tries to eat the frog.

An artists rendition of the struggle.
Imagine that's a duck.
Hey! This could be a good motivational poster for a marathon.

The frog had trained really hard for this, and is not about to give up. So he starts choking the duck.
He ends up stuck in the ducks throat, and they are both carted off by the EMTs to be separated.
DNF for both frog and duck.

Shannon was upset that the frog and the duck were fighting.
So I have to add here that the frog and duck end up as best friends and have a book written about them.

Front of the Pack
Disqualified for leaving the course...
and also for murder.

On Reedy Creek around mile 10, the fly is feeling a little hungry. Some poor human just jogging in the park passes in the opposite direction, and she cannot resist making a meal out of him. So she turns around and follows him, joined by hundreds more flies who swarm around him. The poor jogger, screaming and swatting himself in the face and neck, gets halfway to Cary before he drops dead from blood loss. The fly is disqualified.

Jogger in Umstead Park Eaten Alive by Flies

The Turkey Vulture smells the dying runner from miles away. There is the odor of weakness and death, but also just a hint of Fruity Pebbles. The vulture cannot resist and circles back to for a taste .

The turkey vulture drops out to spend the day feasting on a rotting engineer
Back at the first aid station the Horned Devil is pulled from the course and disqualified.
Turns out he was a not an official mascot, and was running with a fake copy of the possum's bib.

Meanwhile back at the cabin, the flying squirrel the wakes up, drinks some coffee and heads out. Leaping from tree to tree, he quickly catches up and passes the turtle, the possum, and Heiko.

Wait! What is Heiko doing here? Well it's not surprising, he's at at every race.
He could have won this thing, but unfortunately he gets distracted by an old hashing trail
and gets lost looking for a beer break.

Poor rabbit has to drop
Rabbit Fever
The rabbit, who is in the lead, starts to feel really ill and drops out at mile 20. He is taken to the hospital where is given a battery of tests.

"Turns out you have tularemia," says the doctor.
"Tularemia? What the hell is that?", asks the rabbit.
"Rabbit Fever.", replies the doctor, "you haven't been bitten by any ticks lately have you?"
"No, I don't think... OH NO"

The tick latches onto the rabbit at the start of the race hoping to ride him to the finish, 
but ends up putting them both in the hospital.

Slow and steady wins the race?
Nope. This is no fable, buddy. 
The turtle does set a PR though, with 34:12:39

Wheels fall off at the bottom of Cedar Ridge.

The flying squirrel is doing really well until he hits Cedar Ridge, where he bonks really bad. He shouldn't feel bad, though, this happens to almost everyone. 
Around mile 22, the possum waddles past the squirrel, "Good job!", she says, feeling a little bad for him, and then powers up the hill.

Her secret?
She had her pouch filled with 8 packs of Espresso Love Gu!

The possum passes the Squirrel on Cedar Ridge

Around 7 pm the bat wakes up, and flies the course in 1:49.
But Umstead is old school, there is no chip timing.
So she comes in 3rd place.

Possum Wins in 11:05:29!
(But are you really surprised?)

2015 Umstead Mascot Race Results*
PlaceYearNameGenderClock Time
22005Flying squirrelM11:34:55
DNF- Mile 202010HareM
DNF- Mile 202011TickF
DNF- Mile 152008Turkey vultureM
DNF- Mile 12012DuckM
DNF- Mile 12009FrogM
DQ - Murder2004Horse FlyF
DQ - Bandit2014Horned DevilF
*All participants were awarded plaques. Except the possum, who got a stuffed animal.

NEXT- Evaluating the picks for the 2015 Mascot
(... and hoping there is a race in 2015)

Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 Umstead Mascotology Part 1

Volunteers like Susie make the Umstead Marathon the best party of the year

The 12th Umstead Marathon is only a week away!

Which means it is time for our annual Mascotology post.

Since Mascotology is the only reason anyone ever reads this blog, I plan to milk it for all it's worth.

I am stretching it out into an epic five-part series:

1. Today -        Intro
2. Sunday -      Past mascot analysis
3. Tuesday -     Handicapping the peoples' picks
4. Wednesday- R.U.M.P.S.
5. Thursday-    The 2015 mascot revealed! (That's right, a day early!)

Beginners Guide
For those unfamiliar with the race, every year there is a different animal "mascot".
The mascot adorns the website, the shirts, and the finishers pint glasses for that year's race.
Also, the top 15 male and female finishers receive a handmade wooden plaque in the shape of that animal. The mascot is chosen by a bizarre and shadowy ritual known as the Umstead Conclave. (See here for details).
The choice is kept in absolute secrecy until Friday, the day before race. But we here at Running-Down are Umstead Mascotology experts and read the tell-tale signs to accurately predict what the mascot will be.

From the Umstead Website
 Pint glasses displaying the mascot for each year

If you have not been following along (where have you been?) here is brief synopsis of past Mascotology:

YearMascot Should have beenPredictionActualPrognosticator
2010DeerOpossum (see post)Hare?
2011PossumDeer (see post)TickJosh
2012PossumBat (see post)BatRunning-Down!
2013PossumPossum (see post)Duck?
2014PossumPossum (see post)Horned Devil Possum The Possum Revolution!

To submit your own picks for this years' mascot, please visit the Running Down Facebook Page or for you non-facebookers, leave a comment below.

NEXT: The Great Mascot Race

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Running Song of the Week

This song was stuck in my head as I attempted run over the rocks of Uwharrie, stumbling, trying to lift my feet, jump left, jump right, jump up, jump down, left, right, stumble, trip...

How'd I arrive in a place like this?
Red right hand as the alligator kiss
My head turns white but my face is green
But my feet are still goin' if you know what I mean
Satan....said dance!
He says to me to shake around
And don't stop till you hit the ground... 
And I know that it's not
How you thought it would be
No trail,  no running,
just dancing dancing dancing...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Uwharrie 2015 - suffering IS optional

Beat Some Sense Into Me
In 2013 we volunteered at the Uwharrie 40 finish line. I  was incredibly jealous and impressed by all the people actually running through the finish line with smiles on their faces.
I had never been able to do this. I am always reduced to a grumpy limp by the end after stupidly trying to run it fast. Last year I dropped out half way.

So this year I was determined to run through that finish line. And I had an arsenal of secret weapons to help me achieve this goal.

Mark Manz manages to avoid Shannon sitting in the middle of the trail
taking pictures, and cruises to a second place finish in something like 6:24.
His first time running in Uwharrie, and first trail run in months.

#1 - Heart Rate Monitor

This gadget would give a completely objective measurement of my effort, keeping me from running too fast and blowing up as usual. The plan was to average 125 BPM for the first 38 miles and then kick it in. It was fool proof!

This plan failed in the first mile. The strap slowly slipped off my scrawny chest. I gave up struggling with it, and decided to let it slip to my waist.

Unfortunately, on the way down it got stuck on my belly. Which I guess was a completely objective measurement of my chest-to-belly ratio, and letting me know I needed to cut back on the beer.

It seemed like it was still reading my heart rate through my stomach, until I belched up my Ensure and it shot up to 300 BPM.

#2 - Balanced Shoes

I was desperately worried about my hip bursitis that I had been suffering from in January. It had failed me on all three long training runs after just 10 miles. So I sought professional expert medical attention, and had a diagnosis:

He said my left side had been doing too much work trying to compensate for a bad right knee.

The chiropractor/spiritual healer/dentist I had gone to said the root of the problem as a "chakra color imbalance".

The cure was to rebalance my Chakra.  I needed a calming blue shoe on the left side to relax it.
On the right side, I needed flashy yellow/orange shoe to pick up the slack.

This worked wonderfully. Both hips were equally sore.

Pain Is Inevitable; Suffering Is Optional.
Advil® is $3.99 a bottle; but generic is $2.39
#3 - Medication 

Before the race Shannon had packed four Advil. I thought, "Wow, that's a lot, but OK".
So I pocketed four Advil too and gulped them down around mile 19.
I didn't realize that four was to have extra.

All soreness in my hips, hamstrings, and knees disappeared and after the turn around I felt great!

Trailheads manning the mile 8/32 aid station

#4 - Haroldism

Coming back I was fading fast, and my calves on the verge of cramping. I needed something more than the 100 oz of HEED I had been drinking (by the way what is up with HEED? I admit it is easier on the stomach than Gatorade, by why does it have to taste like Cleveland tap water?)

At the mile 32 aid station, I asked the wise Harold "Galoot" Hill what the Haroldism of the Day was.
He paused, reflecting only for a second, then gave me this:
One who travels farthest in their mind travels lightest by foot.
And then Jenny "Lawst" gave me some electrolytes, and directed me to the trail.
And light on my feet I went, relaxed, as I journeyed deep into my mind trying to understand what he meant.

"This is where you cross! Come on through!", called Shannon,
 before he could realize he could cross 5 feet to the right without getting his feet wet.
Never trust a photographer.
#5 - Capitulation

It only took 5 attempts, but I understand how to run the Uwharrie 40 now.
Don't fight it. There are more runnable miles on the trail than I am capable of running anyway, so there is no sense trying to run the hard parts.
Slight incline? Walking that.
Pile of rocks? Walking that.
Steep decent? Walking that.

I waited until the last hill that comes around mile 38, the one that I always hobble up.
This time I was able to run up it,  tiptoe down the rock pile on the other side, and for the first time, run through the finish line smiling with my arms raised.

Co-race director Kim was taking finish line photos, "I missed you coming in. Can go back up the hill come through again?"

The rest of Shannon's photos in public facebook album here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Uwharrie: Suffering is Inevitable

My boss asked me if I was doing anything "fun" this weekend.
After I described the Uwharrie 40 mile Mountain run, he said, "well, that doesn't sound like much fun". I had to agree, which made me question why I have signed up for this 5 times.

Sure, maybe the first 10 or 15 miles are fun. And if I can finish, then sitting down at the end, eating soup and comparing bloody knees with friends is fun. But at mile 30, I cannot say it is fun.

At that point my body has been pulverized by 6 hours of constant jarring as I drag it over jagged rocks. Extreme fatigue makes just following the trail a struggle in itself. I stand motionless for minutes, surveying the uniform blanket of leaf covered rocks and barren grey trees that stretch out endlessly in every direction, searching for some trace of a trail. Is that a white blaze? Or just a blotch of lichen?

Then comes the next steps of my cold, wet feet. My calves cramping, knees and hips aching. My quads tenderized. Only 10 miles to go, but it will be hours, and feel like an eternity.

It's like the old saying:
Pain Is Inevitable; Suffering Is... well, suffering is inevitable too.
But Signing Up Is Optional.
Uwharrie 40 miler vs. Iron Mountain 50 miler.
Guess which one is harder?

Well, I Think It's Hard
I remember reading an internet comment by some ultra runner on the other side of the country, scoffing at the elevation profile of Uwharrie. But the heights of the Uwharrie "Mountains" are not relevant to the difficulty of the trail. I have done the Iron Mountain 50 miler in VA, which dwarfs the Uwharrie 40 in elevation, but I can attest that the Uwharrie 40 is much, much harder.

It's like comparing "jumping on a trampoline" to "being beat with a baseball bat". One activity has more elevation gain, but the other is much more painful.

Obviously there are more difficult races out there. I am sure there is a 5000 mile foot race that starts in Antarctica, goes under the ocean and ends in an active volcano... and there is a lottery to get in.
But Uwharrie is more than enough for testing and exceeding my modest limits.

Not even Josh could find fun in Uwharrie
Wrong Side of The Curve
Over the past 5 years, my experience at Uwharrie have been a perfect representative sample of the state of my running ability and well being. (The word "microcosm" seems appropriate, but I think the word has been ruined by TV pundits).

  • 2010 - 6:33 - finished running fast and feeling good. (flood shortened course)
  • 2011 - 7:05 - crashed at mile 38. Took weeks to recover.
  • 2012 - 7:33 - destroyed at mile 35. Took months to recover.
  • 2013 - DNS - volunteered. Too wrecked to even sign up.
  • 2014 - DNF - vanquished by mile 20.
  • 2015 - Really? Again?
The first time I ran it, I wondered: "Will I finish?"
Then I became overconfident, and the question was: "Can I run it under 7 hours?"
Now, with some lingering hip problems, I am back to wondering "Will I finish?"

It seems Uwharrie is a barometer for my physical fitness, tracking my slow decline into decrepitude.
OR maybe instead of reflecting my decline, it is causing my decline.
Our wise friend Jim has run Uwharrie something like 87 times, and is still fast as ever. But he ONLY runs the 20 miler. At us 40 milers, he just shakes his head with pity.He has seen us come and go.

So every year I suffer more, and still come back. Why?
The rest of the year, my struggle to survive consists of challenges such as:
  • How will I stream The Daily Show from my computer to the TV?
  • How am I going to sleep after eating 4 bowls of Raisin Bran Crunch at 11pm?
  • Is that 96 roll pack of toilet paper at Costco really a good deal?
So maybe I go back to Uwharrie because of the suffering. That moment at mile 30, when I am wrecked and defeated, standing alone in the vast desolate forest, only wanting a hot meal and to lay down: it is a rare, brief escape from my modern American existence, with different challenges:
  • If I bend down to find out what is in my shoe, can I get back up?
  • That is really swelling up. Should I seek medical attention?
  • Was I supposed to cross that stream?
  • Can I make it up this hill without bending my knee?
This is a Test...
Bull City Running does an amazing job putting on this race and taking care of the runners. Well stocked aid stations are never more than a couple miles away.

But in the dead of winter, the Uwharrie trail has a raw, unforgiving feel to it. For me, setting out to run 40 miles on it is a cold, hard appraisal of my physical and mental strength.
Will 2015 continue my descent into infirmity?

I have resolved to finally, really, try to run the Umstead 100 this year; a mere 7 weeks away.
In preparation, I slogged hundreds of slow miles in November and December. I guess I will find out if it did me any good, or if it just gave me a chronic case of hip bursitis. I rested most of the past two weeks and took lots of ibuprofen. Fingers crossed.

I'll see some of you out there tomorrow.
Here's to suffering!

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