Thursday, March 10, 2016

Medoc Spring Races Has Possum

Well, we have heard back from the Umstead Conclave regarding our demands.
We had offered to return their Mile 8 in exchange for a 2017 possum mascot.

This was their response:

"We refuse to negotiate with marsupials."

So be it. They will regret this blatant possum aggression!

This is because yesterday the revolution scored a huge victory:

The rebellion has spread to the Medoc Spring Races!

This is a call to all possum revolutionaries to immediately sign up for this handicapped head start, 7.4 mile, single track trail race.

On May 7th, the legions of fighters will take to the trails flying the possum flag on our shirts!

We will never return the Umstead Marathon Mile 8. Instead we will deploy it to the battlefield at the Medoc Spring Races!

The 7.4 Mile Medoc Spring Races will now have a mile 8!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Missing Mile 8?

Attention Umstead Marathon Conclave:

We are the the Revolutionary Umstead Mascot Possum Society.
Mile 8 of the Umstead Marathon is in our possession.
It sure would be a shame if something happened to it...
because you really can't have a marathon without Mile 8.

If you finally do the right thing and make a possum the mascot for 2017, then we will see to it that Mile 8 is returned to you unharmed.

Otherwise, start planning The Umstead 25.2 Miler.

¡Viva la revoluci├│n zarig├╝eya!

Monday, March 7, 2016

2016 Umstead Marathon

I told someone recently that I wasn’t doing any races in March.
“You’re not doing Umstead Marathon?” They asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Of course I’m doing Umstead. That’s doesn’t count as a race.”

For Shannon and I, Umstead isn’t simply a race, it’s our favorite event of the year. The first Saturday in March is permanently blocked off on our calendar, and there is no need for discussion. We will be there one way or another, running it if we can.
Umstead is a family reunion.
Photo by Dennis Geiser
We simply cannot thank the organizers and volunteers enough for putting it on every year. It’s like Christmas, New Year's day and our birthdays combined. It’s a party, a family reunion, a celebration of friends and running and the overlap between the two. We use it to mark the passing of years. “What year did we get married? Let’s see The Rabbit was the mascot, so it must have been 2010.”

Unfortunately, for us, there was no excitement for it this year..
Four weeks ago our dog and my running partner, Dudley Dooright, was diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable cancer (see previous post). Helpless, we had to watch him slowly decline, being robbed of life and everything he loved to do.  Every day we had to ask him, “Is today the day?”

So it was really hard to care about anything else.
Running especially was no longer enjoyable. If I left the house to go run, he still came to the door, ready to come with me, in denial of his ravaged body. So I would try to sneak out. I would run off alone down the greenway, a knife plunged deep into in the middle of my chest.  

Still he had good moments. He could still play ball, or walk, or swim for a few minutes at a time. So we had hoped to bring him to the Umstead Marathon to spend the day. He would have loved meeting new people and hanging out in the park (as long as he didn’t see everyone run off).

But Friday before the race he wouldn’t eat his breakfast. Not even the steak we had bought him. He was struggling. We had to admit we were keeping him around for us. We called a vet who made a home visit that morning (Lap of Love)

The last ball.
I threw him one last ball, and he ran after it and caught it. Depleted, he laid in the yard and cradled it in his mouth. When the vet came over, he came up to her and wagged his tail. We put him to sleep on the back deck. I sobbed so hard my stomach cramped up and the muscles at my temples ached.  After he was gone I wrote his eulogy, which helped some.

“I don’t know if I can run”, I told Shannon that evening.
“Yeah, me neither.”
As much as we love Umstead, it was hard to muster any energy or enthusiasm. Running a trail race the day after losing my 11 year running partner seemed hollow.

But then I got the idea to dedicate the run to Dudley. As hokey as that sounds, it motivated me. “I’ll run it the way Dooright would!”, I declared. And the way he would run it would be to go out as hard and fast as he could, staying near the front until he finished or until he collapsed.

The 13th annual Umstead Marathon was “The Year of The Fox”. Just before the race, Dennis, a senior member of the conclave (race committee), showed me the beautiful fox shaped plaques to be awarded to the top 15 or each gender. When I saw them, instead of a fox, I saw a dog.

Now I had a mission. Getting in the top 15 was seemed beyond my current abilities. And I was supposed to be saving myself for the Umstead 100 coming up in four weeks. But dammit all. I would get a Dooright plaque, or more likely, I would collapse trying.
Pack is off.
Photo by Dennis Geiser

Before the race I pinned Dudley’s tags with my bib on my shorts. At 9:00 am the pack was off.
Dooright would have taken the lead, but he also would have collapsed at mile 5. So I had to be realistic and not run it exactly like he would have. Instead I settled into the 15th place, counting the men ahead of me several times during the first mile to be sure (not to counting the amazing Lorraine Young, of course). Despite the perfect day, the pace was surprisingly slower than usual, and I felt good and relaxed. Suddenly it seemed plausible I could take home a Dudley memorial.

Around mile 6 on the Sycamore single track I was running alone and I could hear the jingling of the tags on my leg. I imagined Dooright just behind me, or just around the next turn. We were flying on the trail together again.
The day before, the race seemed like the last thing I wanted to do. But quite the opposite, it was the most cathartic thing I could have done, and best way to honor my running partner.
photo by Cathy Stokes

Staying true to the spirit of my running soul-mate, I collapsed at mile 16. Specifically my calves started cramping up. I stopped to stretch them but it didn’t help. The guy who had been on my heels the whole day passed me, dropping me to 16th place. I tried chasing, but couldn’t. After a few steps the muscles started to spasm and threatened to seize up completely. Another guy passed me… and another. I was now in 18th place with 10 miles to go, and I could barely move.  I accepted my failure, but had hoped to collapse from exhaustion instead of simply being immobilized.

Then a miracle happened. As I stood against a tree stretching a women came by, “Do you need salt?” she asked.
“Yes! I think I do!”
“Hold out your hand”, she filled my palm with it.
“Thank you!”, I called as she disappeared over the hills of Turkey Creek. After the race I tried to find her, but never saw her again. Some suggested it was an angel in human form sent from a canine after life.

I licked the teaspoon of salt from my hand, and it was just what I needed. It allowed the 60oz of water sloshing in my stomach to diffuse down into my calves, and I started to jog tentatively. By mile 19, I was running full speed, faster than I ran the first half. I blew by the aid station at South Turkey Creek, and could see three other men in the distance straight down Reedy Creek.

With my tongue hanging out, a bit of drool flying, and tags rattling, I channeled Dooright. Down to the lake and up corkscrew. With my heart pounding at it’s maximum, and my tender quads screaming with every step, it felt so good. Not even the depths of Cedar Ridge slowed me. I passed seven guys, and was passed by one. Dudley would have been proud.

Crossing the finish, Dennis handed me my wooden fox, which will always be a dog to me.

Thank you Umstead Marathon, thank you Conclave, and thank you volunteers, for holding this annual family reunion of friends. Thanks for giving Shannon and I a way to sooth our grief through a day of running in the park. And many thanks to all of those friends who comforted us on what would have otherwise been a rough day.

Goodbye Dooright. We had 11 great years together on the trails. Your pure and unabashed love of running will always be a part of me.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Death of a Trail Runner

We had to put down our dog Dudley Dooright today. He was 11 years old. Dudley was my running partner.

You may have assumed that my running partner was my wife Shannon, the exceptional runner that she is. But Shannon and I are never in sync. I love mornings but she hates them. She has her best runs at night around the time I cannot keep my eyes open, let alone run. She might lag behind on a technical trail, but when she does 20 mile runs in Umstead I’m struggling to finish two miles on aching knees.

In fact, I have never been a social runner. The reason I started running originally was to get away from people. I discovered that running on trails alone was my happy place, the only thing that helped with frequent bouts of depression. But it wasn’t simply the endorphins produced from running.

Running on roads is just rote exercise. A procedure defined by simple equations of stride length and cadence, of VO2 Max and glycogen consumption. But running a single track trail as fast as you can is something else entirely: Intense focus on every root and rock, trying to maintain momentum around the next switchback, through the stretch of ankle deep mud, down and up a gully and then lifting your shoulder just in time to barely miss that tree. There are no thoughts of mortgages or dentist appointments or what the hell you are going to do with your life. Only thoughts of how many steps to take before you jump that log.

I got Dudley as a puppy in 2005. He was obviously a Golden Retriever, though I often refused to acknowledge this. This is because he was a reject from a breeder who dumped him in a parking lot, leaving him to die with a congenital defect. Dog breeders and the demand for “purebred” dogs is one of the main reasons the shelters are overflowing with animals who will never find a home. But I digress.

Shannon and I eventually had a pack of 4 dogs, and we would often take three of them running on the single track trail around the lake near our house (The 4th dog Lula was more into sunbathing than running). We are those obnoxious people who let their dogs run off leash, but we almost never ran into anyone else out there, and the unlikely event someone might be bothered seemed a small price to pay for the sheer happiness of three dogs.

Jorge and Jefferey seemed to mostly enjoy finding disgusting things out in the woods to eat, or roll in, or both. We would often have to call those two away from whatever distraction they found to keep them moving. But Dudley was different. He loved the trail like I did, and just wanted to run. It was a roller coaster ride that he didn’t want to stop. He would run up and down hills or around in circles through the trees while the rest of the pack dilly-dallied. He didn’t really care where we were going, as long is he was moving.

Around 2008, I started to invest more of my time and attention to running. When I figured out how to run more than 15 miles a week without hurting my knees, I ran as much as I could, with my favorite route an 8 miler around the lake. Since the other dogs lacked the stamina and interest, I would only take Dooright with me.

[Dudley participated in an experiment where he was presented with treats behind a long series of strange and complicated apparatus, while being given confusing instructions. The researchers were questioning his intelligence. But seeing his exasperation, he might have been questioning theirs.]
Running with Dudley took no training or instruction because Dudley and I shared the same loves; of trees whizzing by; Of dancing over roots and rocks; Of breathing so hard you’re on the edge of collapsing. We would pour everything we had to getting to the end of trail, only to turn around and head back gasping for breath.

We had a special connection that I cannot explain. Almost always he was there ten feet in front of me, setting the pace. When I couldn’t keep up, sometimes he would stop and look back at me, “What are you waiting for? Come on!”. Or he would run a wide arc through the trees to allow me to catch up.

Dudley knew the trails better than I did, and had a perfect map in his head. Often he would jump off the trail into a swamp or make a hard left and disappear over a hill. Stupidly, I would stop and call for him. But it never failed that he would reappear on the trail in front of me and give the that look, “What? Let’s go!”. On hot days, he would get tired on the way back, and struggle to keep up. So he would cheat and take short cuts to stay in front of me.

His desire to always be in front made him great at racing 5Ks. His laser like focus gave him an edge over other dogs. Of the 12 dog friendly races we entered, Dooright came out top dog in 9 of them.

Around 2012 both Dudley and I slowed down. My knees started to bother me again, and his hips got weak. When we woke in the morning, we would both hesitate before going down the stairs, knowing it was going to hurt. We still tried to hit the trail together, but he couldn’t go as far, and would be stiff and sore afterward. But it was always worth it.

Dooright was great at 5Ks. But his inability to pace himself resulted in him being defeated by the Dirty Dog 15K. Twice.

A few weeks ago, Dudley momentarily collapsed while chasing a ball. After many trips to the vet, he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The tumors in his organs would grow and burst, causing him to bleed internally. They robbed him of all his energy and he could no longer run. Even walking was a struggle.

There was no treatment available that provided any hope. So we just tried to give him as many good days as we could. On Thursday we drove Dudley and the other 2 dogs out to a local trail for a walk. Dudley jumped out of the van and trotted to the trailhead, as fast as we had seen him move in several days.

It was mid-afternoon and we had the woods to ourselves. He managed to walk a half mile, trudging slowly forward with all of his effort. But that was all he had in him, and he just stopped on the trail. We let him rest a while, and then leisurely headed back. He would walk for a hundred feet and then stop and rest. The cancer was tearing his insides up. His stomach was bloated, and is spine and hips protruded from withering muscle.

Seeing him struggle like this was terrible, and Shannon and I decided that it was finally time to let him go. As we neared the car, Dudley stopped and dug a shallow hole and laid down in the middle of the trail, in the shade of large tree.

His nose twitched left and right, detecting distant scents in the breeze blowing in his face. Occasionally his ears perked up when he saw a bird or squirrel or runner going by in the distance.

“Come on Dudley, let's go home.” I tried encouraging him to follow us to the car. But maybe for the first time ever, he didn’t seem inclined to follow me. He just looked back peacefully. I imagined him saying “I think I’ll stay here on the trail. This time, go on without me.”

I sat on a log next to him. A barrier broke inside me and the sadness of losing him poured into and mixed with the happiness of all those long afternoons of running the trails with him. I started crying, deeply. Haven’t really stopped yet as of this writing. It took us a couple days to summon the courage, but we let him go this morning.

I suppose a eulogy for a dog could be considered banal, or you might call this one maudlin. I would accept that.

After all, it’s just a dog. It’s just trails in the woods. It’s just a guy and his dog running as fast as they can to nowhere in particular. It’s just exactly that and nothing else. Pure joy.

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