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!