Sunday, December 30, 2007

"A Marvelous Reason to Run"

Easton runner Don Marvel and his granddaughter Carlie, before Carlie gets into costume for a December 2 production of Brigadoon at Easton High School. Don is running P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Arizona to raise funds as a way to say thank you for Carlie's recovery from leukemia.

Don Marvel is an inspiring individual. His legs and will have done things most humans will never be able to do. But his latest effort is largely a matter of heart. I wrote an article for the Star Democrat, which ran on the front page of today's sports page. I have posted the text of the article below, reprinted with permission. Special thanks to Will Chapman, Assitant Sports Editor there, for pushing to get the article in in a timely manner.

A Marvel-ous Reason to Run
Special to The Sunday Star
December 30, 2007

Few people have run from Easton to Salisbury without stopping. Easton's Don Marvel has made that run a few times.

An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a 26.2-mile marathon. Marvel is an ultra-running legend, winning or finishing in the top two in races of 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), 100 miles, and 24-hour running events. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marvel's name sat at or near the top of ultra-marathons across the country.

Most people can't comprehend running 50 or 100 miles. Marvel made headlines by covering them with amazing speed. In 1980, he placed second overall in the New York 100-Miler in a time of 13 hours, 36 minutes, 35 seconds. At the time, it was the fifth fastest time ever run by an American in a 100-mile race.

Marvel won the timed Columbia 24-hour run back-to-back years in 1981-82. The goal is to see how many miles you can run in a 24-hour period. In the 1982 race, he ran 124 miles, coming back to win the race after amassing 100 miles two hours behind the front-runner. In 1981 the race was less contentious, with Marvel running 132 miles for the win in South Carolina.

In 1982, Marvel ran the 60 miles between Philadelphia and Atlantic City faster than anyone else, taking the win and setting the course record in 7:28:09. In 1978, he got lost on the JFK 50-mile course, running an extra mile out of the way, and still placed sixth overall. Marvel's best finish at the JFK the nation's largest and oldest ultra-marathon, held around Hagerstown was third overall in 1981, with a time of 6:22:04.

1981 was a banner year for Marvel. He logged 6,752 miles for the year. If you ran from New York City to Los Angeles, and then back to New York, you would have covered 5,650 miles. Don was ranked sixth in the All-Time U.S. 100-mile rankings that year.

If you ask him what motivated him to run these harrowing distances, Marvel replies that his marathon personal record of 2:39 was too slow to be competitive. Why not just keep running?

These days, Marvel's runs are considerably shorter, competing in races from 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in length to half-marathons of 13.1 miles. But his reason to run is perhaps even more important than the drive that pushed him to run incredible distances.

For Carlie

Don's granddaughter, Carlie Marvel, is an eighth-grade student at Easton Middle School. She is a singer and an actress, most recently playing "The Widow Ainsley Beaton" in the EMS production of Brigadoon. She plays goalie in field hockey and plays softball. She will be attending Easton High in the fall of 2008.

Carlie is the daughter of Chris (Don's son) and Caryn Marvel. She has two older sisters, Courtnie, a senior at Easton High, Caroline, a sophomore, and a younger sister, Cecily.

In the fall of 2005 and winter of 2006, Carlie's softball pitching arm was getting sore in practices. The soreness continued, so she got it checked out. The diagnosis was unthinkable: chronic myelogenous leukemia. Carlie had fractured her arm. As the result of the cancer she was missing about half the bone marrow in her arm, making it susceptible to injury.

Carlie needed a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, her younger sister, Cecily, was found to be a perfect bone marrow match for her. While she prepared for the surgery, Carlie was put on a drug called Gleevec, which held the cancer in check.

The transplant was done in June 2006. For the next five weeks, Carlie couldn't eat and had trouble keeping food down. But she kept a positive attitude and focused on what was ahead.

"I wanted to get back to school," says Carlie. "I would just sit in the hospital, bored."

Part of school she thought about was the upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz. "I actually started rehearsing before I could return to school," she says.

She was back to school by November and playing an Ozzian in the play. Like the rest of the cast and crew, she was sad to see the show end.

Carlie's leukemia story is a happy one. Her treatment and recovery had some fortunate factors: her sister being a perfect bone marrow match and undergoing a successful transplant, and having Gleevec available to arrest the disease in the meantime. All of her tests since her treatment have shown Carlie to be leukemia free.

Gleevec and Team-in-Training

The drug Gleevec, which was instrumental in Carlie's treatment, almost didn't exist. The researchers who developed the drug ran out of funding. It was a grant they received from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Team In Training" (TNT) program, which enabled them to continue their work and bring Gleevec to market.

Team In Training is a national training program that brings aspiring athletes and mentor/coaches together to help them accomplish their endurance sports goals, while also raising money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. According to its website, TNT was founded in 1988 when Bruce Cleland from Rye, N.Y., created a team to train and run in the New York City Marathon, raising funds in honor of Cleland's daughter, Georgia, who was a leukemia survivor. Cleland's team of 38 runners raised $322,000.

Twenty years later, more than 30,000 athletes runners, walkers, cyclists and triathletes will compete in events throughout the world to raise funds for the society. For 2008, one of those athletes is Don Marvel.

Don will run P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 13, 2008. His reason to run, and his connection to TNT, couldn't be more personal.

"Needless to say, our family feels blessed," says Don. "When a family has been given the gift we have, no contribution seems large enough. I want to do this race to show how grateful I am that Carlie's life was saved."

An Atypical Athlete

Don Marvel is not the standard profile for TNT athletes, many of whom are training to finish their first or longest race. Don's running these days, however, is not without its own challenges.

At 65, and since being diagnosed with heart disease, Don's finishing times have "slowed" to a half-marathon time of just under two hours, and a 5K time of 25 minutes. Slow is relative, as Marvel routinely wins his age group at local races by handy margins. His doctor does not support him running beyond the half-marathon distance.

If the effects of heart disease hadn't challenged him enough, a training injury to his ankle has had Marvel logging miles on his bike more than running during the last month. Still, he is unwavering in his goal.

"I will go to Arizona and finish the race," he says. "I won't run it as fast as I would like to, and I might have to walk some, but I will finish."

We would do well to believe him. This from a man who once ran 132 miles in a 24-hour race. He knows how to will himself across a finish line when his body is uncertain.

Don's athletic accomplishments and his will to compete do not completely overshadow his prowess as a fundraiser for TNT. He has an incredible, personal story to tell. And he has the tenacity that has allowed him to run distances unthinkable to most people. His original stated fundraising goal was $5,000. After eclipsing that mark a few months ago, Don has set a new goal of $10,000. To date, he has raised $9,490.

"I never thought I'd focus so much on fundraising," says Marvel. "But it has become a real challenge, and I spend a lot of time working to raise money for the race and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society."

So how's he doing? According to Damian Magarelli, the Campaign Director and Eastern Shore coordinator for TNT, "Don is the top fundraiser for the Maryland chapter TNT program this season."

A (New) Reason To Run

The intensity and singularity of purpose that Don Marvel has brought to both running and now raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have not wavered through injury or age. Marvel knows his injuries will pass and he still looks forward to runs on Easton's Rails-to-Trails path, which he can pick up from his home.

He also has his new reason to run embodied in his granddaughter, Carlie, and her health, her singing, acting and athletic ability. So what does Carlie think about her grandfather running for her?

"I feel really grateful," says Carlie. "In part because I know first-hand that they really use the money that is donated."

By all counts, a marvelous reason to run.

Getting Involved

On Jan. 13, Don will compete in P.F. Chang's Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Arizona. There are opportunities to get involved with Don's personal journey before then. To make a donation to Don's TNT campaign for Carlie, you can visit his website at Checks made payable to "The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society" can also be sent directly to Marvel at 606 Wayside Avenue, Easton, MD 21601. The deadline for donations is Jan. 3.

If you have ever thought about running or walking a half-marathon or marathon, or competing in an endurance event such as a triathlon or 100-mile century ride, and are interested in training with Team In Training, you can visit their Maryland website at

TNT will be recruiting participants at an information meeting scheduled at the Talbot County Library in Easton on Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. and also at the Queen Anne's County Library in Kent Island on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m.

And there is information on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on their website at

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 Redux

Mikes Valliant (Tucks) and Keene (Wood Frog) outside Madison Springs Hut, the final morning of the great Whites adventure.

Mike Keene has befriended a sizable buck. He reported his antlered amigo after his last run at Tuckahoe State Park. On December 26, we went for a 10-mile jaunt through Tuckahoe, and came across a good-sized buck at the same section of trail. Whatever Keene is carrying in his Nathan belt, he isn't sharing it with me.

Our run was a great final trail run for 2007. Like an interval run in places, pushing the pace early, and then a final sprint across the bridge (Keene took the sprint, bastard!). I will try to hit the roads a time or two more before the end of the year, but that is likely my last trail run for the year.

And since it is the end of the year, this is that time in the real world, as well as the blogosphere, where folks recap the top moments of the year coming to an end. So why should a discourage such a fine tradition? Here are some of the highlights from the Valliant 2007 running journal:

10-milers - Annapolis, Chestertown, and Cherry Pit. The highlight here is a 10-mile PR for me at the Cherry Pit 10-miler on April 1, a time of 1:20 and change. I held back during the entire race waiting for it to get tough, and wound up almost sprinting the entire last mile. A smarter run would have pushed me into the teens, but there is always 2008!

Bay Hundred to Baltimore - we certainly out-did the marathon in terms of distance this year, and I had already finished the Baltimore Marathon two years ago, BUT... the story here was running with Keene, Pierre Bernasse, and Jim Richardson, and all finishing, with Jim running his first marathon at age 60. This race was also a turning point for me, coming back from being sick, in deciding that I was going to give JFK a shot.

Bridge-to-Bridge - within 6-7 months of Bill Frost and Bradley Hower running the idea by me, we held a race. A half-marathon and 5K, to be exact, with 60 runners in the half and 40 in the 5K, to keep numbers round. It was a blast to help measure and determine the course, to help promote, sign folks in, and congratulate finishers. It was also a blast to set a half-marathon PR of 1:51, on 2 hours of sleep the night before the race! And one of the most memorable aspects of the race, was test-running the measured course with Keene, on April 7, in sideways snow and freezing rain. It was an absolute blast. The experience surrounding the race was exceptional.

Holiday Lake 50K++ - running and finishing our first "ultra." And meeting ultra-legend David Horton in the process. The race started in the dark in 12 degree weather in Appomattox, Virginia. Fantastic scenery, camaraderie, the sound of the ice on the lake melting as the race went on, and the feeling of finishing, despite leg cramps and dark moments on the second/backwards loop of the course. I decided in late 2006 that I wanted to finish an ultra in 2007.

The White Mountains - fastpacking up Tuckerman's Ravine in New Hampshire's White Mountains was a life-changing experience. The Appalachian Mountain Club's huts were as welcoming as any 5-star hotel. Ridge walking, trail running on the AT, meeting a thru-hiker, who turned up again in St. Michaels, rekindling a love for soup, and learning first-hand the difference between miles and mountain miles.

Daughter Anna's first 1-mile race - At 5-years-old, Anna finished her first race, distance: 1 mile. Ava and I accompanied her, riding in and pushing the jogging stroller, and offering coaching and cheering. Anna had a tough time in a couple of places (mostly boredom, I think), but each time Olivia, Eleanora, and Mike Keene would pass by and cheer her on, and she'd pick it back up. I have yet to find a feeling that wells up quite the way hearing our daughter tell our friends and family, "I ran a race today and it was a whole mile!"

JFK 50-miler - the report is still pretty recent on here. After crossing the finish line, before heading into the school to get fed and showered, I almost broke down in tears, for having finished, and for what it all meant to me, after running for more than 11 hours. After a poor fall in terms of running and running health, this was an unparalleled experience and a life accomplishment.

That's my list. This has also been a year of getting to know and know better, running folks. Running with a training partner, the aforementioned Wood Frog, has helped motivate and push me to go for new adventures. Meeting and running with Pierre, Jim, Don Marvel, Stephen Bardsley, David MacKendrick, Nancy Toby, Ron Bowman, Jon Fox, Kevin Baum, to name a very few. Certainly feels like we are creating a running community. And along with personal goals for the year, that would be something to see grow and thrive in 2008!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Not Too Seriously...

A recent strip of "Pearls Before Swine," by Stephen Pastis. As busy as we get, you can't beat getting brought back to humor, by something like this. You can read daily "Pearls" of wisdom online. Reprinted by permission of Stephen Pastis.

I've been writing, interviewing, and looking at ideas and nominations for the 2008 race calendar. My goal for the coming year, is to dial in on the 10-mile and half-marathon distances, looking for as many opportunities as I can find to make said races trail runs. Here are some good ones I've come across:

03/22 Chesapeake Ride & Tie, 10M, 15M, 25M, Fair Hill, MD (trail). Beautiful course! A friend has mountain biked out there. Emailing the race director, this is generally a 2-person team trail run and trail horse ride, intermittently. She was really excited to have a trail runners only division, providing a measured, marked course, race timing, etc. This year's runners would be the FIRST to compete as straight-up runners.

04/12 Adkins Arboretum Arbor Day 10K, Ridgely, MD (trail). Gotta support the local trail race. Ran it two years ago, when it was a 3.5-mile course. Adkins and Tuckahoe trails. Looking to create a Triple Crown of this, Bridge-to-Bridge half, and Oxford Day 10K.

05/04 EX2 Off-Road Marathon and Half-Marathon, Prince William Forest Park, VA (trail). These guys put on great races. Their Vasque Backyard Burn spring and fall series in 07 all sold out. Great trails, well run race.

05/24 Chestertown Tea Party 10-Miler, Chestertown, MD (road). This would be the third consecutive year. The heat always makes this a challenging race. Sweet beer truck waiting right at the finish line.

08/17 Half Wit Trail Run Half Marathon, Reading, PA (trail). This is the race I really want to do this year. I might try to make this the top tier run on the schedule. We'll see how it shakes out. Sounds like a challenging run and a great group of folks.

09/19 Chesapeake Ride & Tie 3-Day Festival, 10M, 15M, 20M, 30M, 40M, Fair Hill, MD (trail). Fall series, just like spring, but with more options. We'll see how spring goes. I might even stretch this one out to 20 miles.

10/11 Baltimore Half-Marathon, Baltimore, MD (road). Over the last 3 years, I have rotated between full, half, and full marathons. 2007 was a full year, 2008 makes a half. Such a great race, great course, running through the heart of the city, finishing between Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium. Hilly course, as far as Maryland goes.

11/09 Outer Banks Half-Marathon, Outer Banks, NC (road). This is going to have to be an either-or with Baltimore. Since they started this race two years ago, I have thought how cool it would be to get a group together, take a weekend road trip, rent a house, and throw a half-marathon in as the excuse/centerpiece of the trip.

So that's eight that I've come across, many in Trail Runner magazine's 2008 race calendar. Love to hear what other races folks are considering. In all likelihood, I will narrow this list to six. And I am going to continue to look for a good Pittsburgh race--either something like the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon or a sweet trail run up there, since we have family and friends that could represent places to crash.

When I have more time and focus, I would like to return to a 50K and a 50-mile race. I have recently heard that David Horton's Promise Land 50K is his most beautiful course, and much hillier than the Holiday Lake we did in February. The HAT Run 50K in MD sounds great. And either a return to JFK, or to the Mountain Masochist 50-miler isn't out of the question. But we are talking in a couple years. The 2008 mantra is to run fast, run free, run wild, run fun.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"More to Life:" a JFK 50-Miler Report

Mikes Keene and Valliant at the pre-race meeting at the Boonsboro High School Gymnasium just prior to the start of the 45th annual JFK 50-mile race.

For what is ostensibly a "race," none of the runners in the JFK 50-mile race seem to be in any sort of hurry. At least not if you run where I do in the race. The opposite really: everyone is chatting, encouraging each other, laughing. It's more like a group run. But that's probably what deciding you are going to try to run 50 miles will do to you.

For those who are less narratively-inclined, there were three Eastern Shore boys that we know ran on Saturday. All three finished:

Stephen Bardsley - 9:35
Mike Keene - 10:35
Mike Valliant - 11:28

If you are interested in scoping the official results, you can check em out on the JFK website. Interesting how we each finished an hour apart from each other, though I have to say that it was in direct proportion to how prepared each of us was. Bardsley trained like a madman. Keene has unbridled energy and seems to bound between strides. And in this particular case, I was not trained well for the challenge, having been sick, then short on time.

It didn't make the most sense for me to try to run on Saturday. But maybe the best way to describe the reason I did is to steal a quote from the back of the shirts a certain team wore: "the JFK 50 miler - there is more to life than logic and common sense."

I had a sense that if I took my time and focused on my mantra for the day--"conservation is key"--that I had a shot at finishing. And crossing the line under the 12-hour cutoff time was my only goal for the day.

The race is a run in three parts: 15-ish miles leading up to and on the Appalachian Trail, 26.4 miles on the C&O Canal Towpath, and then a little more than 8 miles on the road, winding up and down hills to the finish. Anyone who knows me and running, already knows that the single-track and switchbacks on the AT were the highlight of the race for me.

I cruised on the rolling stretches, passing a good number of folks, then zagged ahead of a group I was with on a set of serious switchbacks. I ended up hitting the C&O in a little under 3 hours and 30 minutes.

The canal towpath is scenic, flat, and dirt. Given how long you are on it, it can feel like a revolving loop--that you are running over the same stretch of some alternate reality. Though completely untechnical, and having no hills, this was the hardest part of the race, for mental /psychological reasons.

A few key factors went in to me finishing at all: 1) taking Succeed "S" (electrolyte) caps, which kept my legs cramp-free for 50 miles, 2) a decision to shun Gatorade for water and get calories and carbs from gel, bananas, pretzels, and food along the way, and 3) the advice of JFK veterans on the Annapolis Trail Runners group to tackle the towpath in an 8 minutes running, 2 minutes walking cadence, or some variation thereof.

As soon as I got on the towpath, I started following my watch and rocking the 8-2 split. My 8s were not fast, but I will tell you that 8 minutes seems to last a lot longer than 2. Knowing that I had a scheduled time to walk, and then get going again, kept me occupied and moving forward with a plan. It allowed me to keep moving forward, by design.

That stretch of the canal path was one of the most difficult combinations of mental and physical determination that I have ever been through. I wouldn't call it fun, per se. But what brought it close to being fun, was the STELLAR aid stations, volunteers, crews, fans, etc. who are there cheering, feeding, encouraging everyone. A memorable hand-written sign at one station said, "Never underestimate the power of a large group of stupid people." Another, advice from a wife/crew to her husband running the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles), "You aren't puking, nothing is broken, so get going!"

The emotional lift I got when we turned off the C&O canal, and stepped back into reality on the road was surreal. With 7 miles to go in the race, I had more energy and better legs than I did with 7 to go in the Baltimore Marathon. I was cruising by people--largely in the dark at this time--giddy, slaphappy, and digging it all. I pushed a little hard, and neglected an aid station, and with 2.5 miles to go, I started feeling light-headed and stumbling a little.

I thought about those people who pass out or collapse within sight of the finish line, and how much that would suck to have happen after running 47.5 miles. So I throttled back and walked the next mile, while sucking down a gel, and some M&Ms at the next aid station. I put back enough in the tank to shuffle downhill and across the flats to come in to the final quarter-mile and be able to run the end and cruise into the finisher chute in 11:28:47.

I found Keene in the locker room and from there, through the bus ride back to Mike's truck, through the entire ride home to the Shore, swapped race stories; folks we ran with; low points and highlights; the overall experience. I will have substantially more to say about what I take away from the JFK at a later date here.

It all comes back to the shirt. Logic and common sense would have had me sitting home (where I am thrilled to be right now!), waiting until I was better trained; or bagging the notion of running 50 miles. Instead I have cultivated, explored, and expanded those parts of the soul and the body, where logic sits quietly, in awe, and enjoys, not having to think.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Acknowledging the Herons

Spotting a heron on Papermill Pond is an unspoken conversation with both Nature and the running gods--it dials me in to the world and often helps psychologically create, or further, a good run. Photo by Robert Grieser, courtesy of CBMM.

I would consider bringing a heron along with me to Hagerstown on Saturday, if it was practical. My friends on Papermill Pond along both St. Michaels and Oxford Roads, scoping a heron often gives me a mental lift and kick-in-the-running-shorts during a long morning run. They've been good for running and for a two-way smile with Creation, a grinning glimpse possible only by putting the time in outside.

There are games, signals, and mental marks all along my frequent routes for runs. This past Friday, on an 8-mile out-and-back up Oxford Road, I passed geese pitching in; startled some whitetail deer across from Waverly Road, and (figuratively) tipped my hat to a heron stationed on the shoreline. It was one of those "why I run" moments, which frequently occur during early morning runs.

Yet, the head-shaking moment came passing the YMCA, both coming and going, with folks plodding along on the treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationery bikes, and stairmasters. I am sure there is something enjoyable about shooshing along to Headline News first thing in the morning, much the same way as a hamster supremely digs the wheel he runs on in his cage. The key difference I see between the two--the treadmiller and the hamster--is that the hamster is making the best of the surroundings he's dealt. The treadmiller chooses his/her wheel.

I don't mean to bust on the cardio-moles here. This is my own, leaning askew perspective--a mindset developed from running outside in a variety of temperatures, seasons, and times of day. I will hop on a stairmaster or treadmill in a pinch and enjoy the workout, but I would rather run in 20 degree weather outside for the adventure of it.

Did someone say adventure? The calendar says that the JFK 50-miler is this Saturday, November 17 with a 7 a.m. start. Training and health have been makeshift, as has been well-documented in past entries, but feel like they have been moving slowly in the right direction. I ran my 8-miler on Friday in 1:13:32, at a sustainable pace, for negative splits, with a good pace for the last 2 or so miles. That puts the pace at a hair over 9-minute miles without really dropping the hammer.

Conditioning, nutrition, equipment, weather on the tangible side; momentum, determination, Aries-like stubbornness on the intangible, will be telling factors for Saturday.

Funny, somehow I have already moved my running outlook to the other side of the race, appreciating runs of any distance; savoring the setting; running just to run, not as part of a training plan, but as a way of life, a way of being; and acknowledging the herons.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Running in the Woods

July, October--what's the difference really when you get to go run in the woods?

Much on the mind these days...Monday, October 29, met Stephen Bardsley and Mike Keene for a longish Tuckahoe run, which ended up at 2:56:51 for me (which includes clock running during an 11-minute refueling break at the end of about 10 miles, reached in 1:51), and 5-10 minutes less for the speedier Bardsley and Wood Frog. Must have been a 15-ish mile run when all was done, perhaps farther. It was great to be running in the woods, catching up and talking shop about the JFK-50 miler. It was an encouraging run for me, 1) in that in many stretches I could just run like a kid, smile on face, and feet on terrain, and 2) my legs actually got tired before my breath gave out, which is REALLY encouraging after recent runs. Bardsley and Keene, in my mind, are poised for great first-time finishes at JFK. I am hoping to rock the under-12-hour finish, given my conditioning and training as of now.

Much on the mind these days...Nov. 3 was a new day for American marathon running with Ryan Hall dominating--as in pulling away from an elite field of American marathoners by running a 4:35 mile at like mile 18--the field, to win the Olympic Marathon trials in NYC, in only his second marathon race. He is also the guy who set the new American half-marathon record by running the half in 59 minutes and change. However, what should have been a straight-up celebration, ends up a sad day for running as 28-year-old Ryan Shay, one of the best of the Americans, dies suddenly at mile 5-and-a-half.

Much on the mind these days...the next day, Martin Lel and Paula Radcliffe win the NYC marathon, with Tour de France legend and now Olson twin dater Lance Armstrong rocking a 2:46 marathon, bettering his 06 time by 14 minutes or so, and Tom Cruise wife Katie Holmes runs her first marathon in 5:23. Certainly a circus of a marathon, with celebrities, elites, and the world's biggest city as a backdrop.

Much on the mind these days...a stellar weekend spent with family, which included a fantastic bonfire get-together at Wood Frog's Wittman lily pad, with all kinds and all ages. I enjoyed the time with friends and family there, and the rest of the weekend with not much of an agenda, but a lot of good time with the girls.

Much on the mind these days...a question of balance and discipline to make time for things to happen. Haven't run in a week, since Tuckahoe, am entering a planning, creative, forward-looking, forward-thinking time at work right now; Girl Scouts and gymnastics for the girls; freelance writing jobs; Historical Society board; keeping up with everyone and everything. Wished-for abundance, but tough to keep pace at times.

Much on the mind these days...thankful. Brought home by the simplicity of one foot in front of the other, either in quiet or with tunes. But brought home also by Charles Schulz and tracking down a copy of Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving, and Linus' great thoughts on Thanksgiving and the fact that America is the first country to have made a national holiday to give thanks.

Much on the mind these days...but I am going to stop on thanks. And abundance. And family. And work. And running in the woods. Like a kid.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Fence

Team Bay Hundred with Johnny U. at the Baltimore Marathon Expo, Ravens Stadium. Wood Frog fancies himself a QB...

How is it we are supposed to figure out what qualifies as the small stuff that we are not supposed to sweat? This past week, I couldn't get my health back where I wanted it to get running. Then the President of the United States decides to make an announcement at the Museum where I work, so there is a two-step backburners running for the week (at least half of the two-step was a cool excuse, though!).

Finally got a 5.5 - 6-mile run in Sunday morning, so it was nice to re-break the ice. Still can't shake the cough, but I'll take progress at this point. Post-marathon, the rational/sane brain says coast it out til the end of the year, enjoy a Backyard Burn 10-mile trail race, and settle in to 5 - 15-mile winter runs. And that sounds great. Yet there is the part of me that signs up for a race, and despite health and poor training, says it's still on the books, so get the miles in, and get ready for JFK. That would mean a couple more long runs; practice with the Succeed caps; practice the walk-run combo; work to cross JFK off the to-do list. A 5-hour marathon could translate to a 12-hour JFK, which is the time limit requirement.

It's way too easy to over think. In the meantime, I just have to run. And SLEEP (tough for me). And eat right. And train the brain. Sounds simple, but each of those steps poses it's own challenges for me right now. What I really want to do in the running department, is get back on the trails.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bay Hundred Bruisers: Baltimore Marathon Report

Four Bay Hundred Baltimorons: Mike "Tucks" Valliant, Mike "Wood Frog" Keene, Jim "Postmaster" Richardson, Pierre "Gel-in-his-hat" Bernasse, post-race, Oriole Park at Camden Yards for backdrop.

One week ago, I finished a 10-mile run, out of breath from having been sick, and was sure I couldn't have run a marathon. After one more 4-mile run during the week, I went to Baltimore on Saturday with the goal of simply finishing the marathon. I accomplished that goal. The better story is the camaraderie and accomplishment, that our group of Bay Hundred banditos came away from Baltimore with. The short story version is:

Mike Keene - 3:52:00
Pierre Bernasse - 4:17:04
Jim Richardson - 4:35:21
Mike Valliant - 4:40:18

Jim Richardson earned two significant awards: 1) best time vs. goal (he guessed about 5 hours, first official marathon), and 2) coolest bib number: #2345.

Pierre ran his second, and hilliest, marathon to date, and set a PR on a tough course.

Keene went up with the hope of breaking the 4 hour barrier. He signed up at the expo with a 3:50 pace group, and straight took care of business. Baltimore is not an easy course to set a tough time goal against. Mike went out hard and kept it going.

As for me, I feel good when I complete a marathon. I am thrilled for where I ended up Saturday vs. a week ago. And it made the race and the day to be there and have all four of us finish. A moment like that, shared, is sublime.

By way of a race report, the Baltimore Marathon was, for me, a tale of two races. There is the 18-mile race, that I ran well for--walking only at aid stations to get water or Gatorade. I ran with or ahead of the 4:15 pace group for the first 17 miles of the race. My splits for the race were (clock time, not chip time, which was about 1 minute, 15 seconds faster): 59:34 at mile 6; 1:36 at mile 10; 2:06 at half-marathon; 3:09 at mile 19; 3:36 at mile 21.

Then there was the 8.2-mile race, after the 18-mile one, that I limped through. At the half-way point, I was feeling good and on pace for a 4:10 finish. Everyone who runs Baltimore is well aware that the race begins at mile 16, after you have gone through Fells Point, and then turn uphill for miles 16 - 23. It is only truly "all downhill" when you hit the 25-mile mark.

For my compadres: I was able to catch a glimpse of Mike K. at an aid station outside Fort McHenry at mile 10, as I had just passed mile 9. Pierre came up behind me between miles 14 and 15, looking fresh, we chatted a bit, and then he trotted ahead, looking like 4 hours might be in the making. I looked up and saw Jim as I was grabbing Gatorade at the mile 17 stop. We ran together for a good part of miles 18 and 19, he went ahead, then I started catching up to him after we rounded the lake at mile 21, only to have to let him go.

Two years ago, when I was well trained, I hit the half-way mark in 1:55 and was crushed by/at mile 15, for various reasons. This year, I past the mid-mark slower, but held pace until almost mile 19. Much better in that respect. Also on the positives I should note that I really didn't have muscle cramping like I can get. I tried to drink more, and took one Succeed S-Cap every hour or so. Two other notable occurrences: 1) I picked up speed consistently on the last mile, running at a good clip through Camden Yards, and then finishing the race down the chute at a full sprint, whipping by baffled runners over the last 100 yards, and 2) I finished 3 minutes or so faster than the last time I ran Baltimore.

I have yet to run a complete race in a marathon or longer race. This year, inconsistent training, then bronchial sickness, made me work for my finish. The last two races (Holiday Lake 50K and Delaware), debilitating leg cramps stopped me to a hobble, until I could push through them, but where I had good paces going through 17 miles in the 50K and 20 miles in the marathon. And my first shot at Baltimore was a similar story to this year.

I feel like I have been in shape to run a sub-4-hour marathon, though not on Saturday. I do feel like I have unfinished business--food on the table--with the distance. But that business will go unfinished, the food will go cold, for a while. Maintaining a balance with family, work, house, etc., is too much right now with long race training. The 2008 race calendar, for me, will peak at 13.1 miles, with a goodly number of 10s thrown in for good measure.

Race times aside, Saturday was the best race experience I have had--where everyone felt such a sense of accomplishment; so much a part of a community who have done something remarkable in its own right.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Woody Sighting

Wood Frog explains the quirkiness of a a draketail workboat to our boy Woody, the AT thru-hiker, who made a detour to Bay Hundred.

Returning readers may recall that Wood Frog and I encountered a southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hiker on Crawford Path during our White Mountain adventures. Attentive returning readers may further recall that said thru-hiker, James "Woody" Woodring, had grandparents who lived in St. Michaels; had a deep-routed interest in sailing and wooden boat building; and anticipated a stop-off in Maryland.

This week, we got a call from Woody as he was making his way from Annapolis to St. Michaels. After a tour of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (aka my place of employment), a meeting with our Boat Yard Manager Richard Scofield, a tour of Higgins Boat Yard and log canoes from Mike Keene, a sandwich from Lighty's, a tour of the Keene boat shop in Wittman, a quick boat ride aboard the draketail workboat Dora, and a feast of a dinner at the Keene residence, our pal Woody is picking back up where he left off in Harpers Ferry. He anticipates finishing the AT in December, and who knows, we might see him back in St. Michaels again after. Great to catch up and hear about his adventures in thru-hiking. If you are curious to follow along at home, you can check in at Woody's online journal.

In other news, the Baltimore Marathon is tomorrow morning, with kindly running weather in the forecast. Pierre Bernasse, Jim Richardson, Mike Keene, and I went up for the expo and packet pick-up this morning. I have no idea what tomorrow holds--hopefully something good! And to all, a good night.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Trials and Tribulations

"A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he."
--Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I have come to realize that breathing is an important part of running. Funny how that works. So when I get saddled with a bronchial infection that keeps me from taking deep breaths and sidelines me for almost two weeks leading up to a marathon, I shouldn't have expected much good from my first run back.

The training schedule called for a 10-mile run a week out from the race (never mind that I missed a 15, 8, many others). So my hope was to run it fairly easy in 90 minutes for 9-minute miles.

I got out the door at about 3:20pm or so and ran to Baileys Neck (on Oxford Road) and back. My legs felt fine and went out at their normal pace, trying to keep it slow to assess where I was after such a long layoff. I hit my 2-mile mark faster than normal, and ended up hitting the halfway point on pace in 44:10. The problem: things were going downhill fast.

My legs always felt great. But I had NO breath. My doctor mentioned this as what would happen, and I had the same experience playing old-time baseball last week. I couldn't get a full breath anywhere and was literally running out of breath. I walked for 5 minutes after the turnaround, then ran until Waverly Road, walked for a couple minutes, then ran from the "downhill" to the other side of five-corners light, walked until Rails-to-Trails, ran to Brookletts Avenue, walked to Dover Road, then ran the rest of the way home. My time in the end was 1:39:44, so just shy of 10-minute miles, with a combined 12-15 minutes of walking counting towards that total. Frustrating is not the word for having your legs work fine, but your lungs not able to keep up.

So I'm in a bit of a dilemma. If the marathon were yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to finish, at least not likely. My thoughts of a PR are long past last call. And I am back to the point of wondering whether lungs and body are in shape to even finish this Saturday. In February, I was probably in my top endurance shape, certainly 4-hour marathon or better, and pushed through the hilly Holiday Lake 50K trails.

A lackluster training regimen and ill-timed bronchial infection later, it's reckoning time with running and health trials and tribulations. I am giving myself a few days and couple more runs to see where I am for the weekend. I'll let you know.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"So Much Things to Say"

In theory, running only requires a pair of shoes, clothes, and a place to run. The reality for longer runs is that there is all kinds of nutritional guesswork and gear.

I now have two runs of +-20 miles in the books, both in the last 10-14 days. The first one anchored the only week in my training for Baltimore where I actually ran three days, which is the training regimen.

The first run was from my house to the Oxford Market and back, and was to encompass 23-ish miles. Mike Keene joined me for stellar weather, and a fantastic 11-12 mile run to Oxford. Just past Trippe Creek and Spring Road, we caught up to Talbot County's top bench-pressing runner, Jon Fox, and ran and chatted for 4-5 miles. Mike and I then saddled up to the Market, grabbed more Gatorade, water, and a sandwich. Whether the sandwich (which was tasty) or my lack of long runs was my undoing, I'm not sure. I started in with some stomach problems at probably mile 15, gutted it out with a couple walk breaks, and then completely hit a wall at roughly mile 20, or Kings Woods Road toward Easton. By this point my legs were cramping and I had accomplished everything positive that I could out of the run, and walked the remaining 3.5 miles back to my house. No pain post-run, cut the grass, fine to run the next day.

My other two runs that week were a 4.5 mile lunch run, then an 8-mile run in 68 minutes, which felt great. My next run came this past Saturday morning as Mike K., Team Claiborne charter member Jim Richardson, and I went to Wye Island for a 19.4 mile stroll.

"Super Jim" (with his trademark cape/bib) set the pace for the first 9.7 miles. There are many great things about running at Wye Island. The first is the mostly dirt roads and scenery. The second are the trails available and scenery. And a third is that you can park your vehicle such that you can pass it a number of times and refuel.

After my samich scare last long run, I opted to stick with more traditional/synthetic fuel for marathon distances. To squeeze some protein in, I tried a new drink called Accelerade, which throws carbs and protein at you. I cycled that with water, pretzels, and a Power Gel. And I drank more fluids than I normally do. Something worked, because my legs never cramped (they often do on long runs) and my energy level stayed fairly consistent.

After our first full loop, Mike, Jim, and I hit our own strides and spaced out a bit from each other, ultimately collecting ourselves at Mike's truck, a.k.a. "The Mother Ship." My 19.4-mile time ended up being 3 hours, 28 minutes, 44 seconds. I could have pushed some speed, but was content for a long SLOW distance. Post-run weather, conversation, and vittles, the latter thanks to Mike "Captain Picnic" (also Wood Frog) Keene, were excellent and rejuvenating. I got home, dug up a stump, and planted a crepe myrtle, among other things.

I have been averaging about one run per week, sometimes two, and only once the prescribed three. I am not in marathon good time shape, but could argue that I am smarter than when I ran my two other marathons. I am hoping I can ramp up a consistent string of runs, and run smart during the race, to pull off a PR (both other marathons had snags).

As for the JFK, I am not there, and don't know that I have time/drive/schedule to get there. It's a mental and psychological struggle, but I think I could let it go this year and be okay with it. One thing is for sure, you create some time to think during long runs.

Monday, September 10, 2007

When You Can

A view of the White Mountains from Osgood Trail. My camera won't do night running shots, so you get a cool, scenic photo, rather than downtown Easton at night.

Running and writing for me are both best done whenever I can, rather than waiting for the perfect time or opening in my schedule. Those times rarely show up these days.

I am supposed to be in the heavy part of marathon and JFK 50 training, but can't seem to get the miles in. There is one notable exception worth sharing.

Monday, 9/03 I was hoping to get a longish run in, and realized I had too much to do, too many obligations to make it happen. I realized this after macking down hot wings and pizza for dinner Sunday night. So I did what any runner off his or her rocker would do during marathon training: put on a reflective vest, ipod, water bottles and went for a 2 hour, 11 minute, 52 second run at 10:30 p.m.

I created an extended loop around Easton--Chapel Road to Washington Street, to Aurora Street, up to Washington Street where it connects past Dutchmans Lane, back up to Peachblossom Road, past the YMCA, turn at Thread Haven, back onto Washington Street, past the hospital, all the way back down to the V-intersection of Washington and Aurora. That's the loop, which I ran three times through before heading home. I got some odd looks from folks sitting on their porches, but really, who sits on their porch at 11:30 at night? It was a 14-ish mile run, which I greatly appreciated for all the ways it was fun and different.

My next run was a 7-mile run in 59:51 with Mike Keene up the Easton Rails-to-Trails and Oxford Road and back. And those are my only two runs since the Annapolis 10-miler. So I've got the sweet once-a-week training plan going.

Some real frustration, but with school starting back for Robin and Anna, fall events running full force at work, and other life stuff taking a front seat, it's all there has been (please see 5 - and 2-year-old daughter handbook). My next run is going to be a 22-ish mile run from home to the Oxford Market in Oxford--where they stock Gatorade for resupply--and back home. Hopefully that will answer some of the distance questions. Then I'd like to get 3-4 solid weeks before tapering for Baltimore. There may be some more night running in the forecast!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Heat Trumps Hills: the A-10 Report

Course map of the Annapolis 10-mile race, which treats runners to a stroll through downtown Annapolis, the Naval Academy, and the Old Severn River Bridge. From the Annapolis Striders website.

A couple things occurred to me today, while running the 32nd annual Annapolis 10-Mile Run:

1. Heat trumps hills
2. I don't like racing very much, at least not during the race.

The day started meeting Stephen Bardsley and his son Joshua at the Stevensville Park & Ride, and cruising to Annapolis to pick up another runner, John from Gaithersburg, and go pick-up packets at the Naval Academy's Marine Corps Stadium.

A year or two ago, Runner's World voted the A-10 one of the top ten 10-mile races in the United States. This is not without reason. Running through Annapolis and the Naval Academy is a great perk. The old Severn River Bridge is a rite of passage. And the folks who live across the bridge, as if to apologize for their hilly-arse neighborhood, are out in force with extra water stops, orange slices, and encouragement. That's the upside. The downside to popularity is that over 5,000 runners sign up to enjoy Maryland's capital city.

After a successful, pain-free packet pick-up, I snagged a pack of Clif Shot-blocks from a store set-up, talked shop and expectations with Stephen and John, and then each of us made our way through the starting gauntlet to find our place in the packing order. I wouldn't see Stephen again until mile 7 or so, coming back toward me on a turnaround, and would catch John after the race.

The silver lining to today's heat: we didn't run yesterday in the 90-degree-plus sweat box. The downside: Annapolis at the end of August is hot. Period. And heat sits like a howler monkey on my shoulders during races--it weighs my shoulders down, smacks the back of my skull, and laughs while I suffer.

Ten miles is not that far a distance for me to run, even these days, at the front-end of marathon prep. But it sprawled longer than advertised today. I hit the first few mile marks in the 8 minutes and 20 seconds range, which was where I wanted to be. I opted to carry an Amphipod waist bottle pack, since I needed the extra fluids in Chestertown this past May.

Funny, small-world running story: from about miles 2 to 6, I was running just behind and around an uber-tan lady dressed in black with an Amphipod waistband, black visor, etc. Through talking to folks around her, it became apparent that she was a triathlete. When I heard her talk, I recognized her voice, did the math, and picked her out as the same lady with whom I ran about 10 miles of the Holiday Lake 50K in February--Melissa Simmens from Columbia. I was pretty sure, but opted not to pipe up, since I figured I'd drop the pace before long. Checking race times, confirmed it was her. People look different when they aren't running outside in 12 degree weather!

Anyway, I stopped at aid stations, used some of my own Gatorade, ran in a trance through most of the middle of the race, then at about mile 7.5, had to duck into the woods as nature called and let me know I would enjoy the rest of the race more with an empty bladder. Consequently, I may be one of the few A-10 runners to get wicked leg scratches from thorns during the race.

The extra pit stop was a good call--the Severn River Bridge was not a problem, and I passed a fair amount of folks in the last mile of the race, with a will that felt bent out of shape by the heat, but thankfully legs that decided to run on their own. I crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 25 minutes, and 23 seconds, corrected time, for a per mile race pace of 8:32. Official standings make that 1093 out of 4376 finishers. The good news here is that my hungover 6-year-old time was 1:26:59, so I accomplished my goal. The mixed news is that this means I won't be training for future A-10s by partying the day before the race.

Catching up with Stephen, he finished the race in 1:17:31, corrected time, for a pace of 7:45 (446 out of 4376 finishers). He was pleased with his race, and slugged down all the water he carried on a Nathan belt, as well as grabbing water at aid stations. I don't know John's last name to look him up. For full results, visit the Annapolis Striders website and click on "2007 results" under the race name.

The real race day highlight came as Stephen and his wife Lauren hosted a post A-10 cookout/pool party, complete with a moon-bounce for the kids. A great mix of kids, runners, teachers, and more than enough food, Corona and Miller Lite to put back on what we sweat out. Many thanks and mad props to the Bardsley family--the next post race, or for no reason at all, get-together will have to be in Talbot County!

A painful, hilly 10-mile race leaves me in an interesting spot for the next couple months of running. I have to take the mileage of my long runs and stretch it like salt-water taffy to get ready for the Baltimore Marathon and the JFK 50 miler. I really don't know what the hell I was thinking signing up for a 50-mile race!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Upward Mobility

I ran the Annapolis 10-miler hungover. It was my first race longer than 10K. Six years ago, motivated by friends who thought a bunch of us should give it a go. I trained well, knew what I wanted to do, then a friend had a big party the day before the race.

Those that know the A-1o course will tell you: it's hilly and hot (the race always takes place the last weekend in August). My training was all Talbot County roads, and no hills. And I didn't drink water or Gatorade when running; I knew nothing about hydration during a race. I suffered supremely the second time over the old Severn River bridge.

I still managed to finish in about 1 hour, 26 minutes. Miles 9 and 10 were brutal, but I never stopped to walk. It wasn't until marathon training that I found the advantage to a run-walk combo, particularly while drinking or eating.

So I guess my goal going into Sunday's A-1o--my first one since--is to hopefully better my old, beer-sweating, quad-burning time. We have certainly logged some hills en route to Annapolis this year--Holiday Lake, Cherry Pit, Tuckahoe, and the Whites.

Two years ago, I was training for my first marathon. I had hoped to include Annapolis as a training race (like this year), but forgot to sign up before it filled. While the race was going on, I was knocking out an 18-mile run on St. Michaels Road--the farthest I had run at the time. It was a good run. But come Baltimore, I wasn't ready for the hills and suffered through the second half of the race.

So here's to upward mobility. To running hills. To having the legs and the lungs to take on the Severn River bridge, downtown Baltimore, and the hilly AT section of the JFK. And to flat recovery runs in between!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tucks and Frog, Part III: Return to Pinkham

A view of Madison Springs Hut on the way up Mt. Madison. A group of nurses who treated Wood Frog's head-butting scar were on their way up Mt. Adams, next door.

The only thing harder on your feet than climbing mountains is descending mountains. Particularly when the descent is largely hopping from rock to rock. To avoid the day-long journey to the land below treeline, the first thing we did was summit Mt. Madison via the Osgood Trail, which is also the way of the Appalachian Trail.

I've read Bill Bryson's book A Walk in the Woods, and there are stretches of the Gulfside and Osgood Trails that left me scratching my head as to how the self-described hapless Bryson traversed the rock fields. You do indeed pass people of all shapes and sizes in the Whites.

The Wood Frog prefers to do his hopping above treeline. Since our trip, he has been back to the Whites and stayed in Lakes of the Clouds hut with his daughter Olivia. You simply can't bring him down to sea level at times (seen at left on the summit of Mt. Madison), which makes for a great hiking attitude.

The last day's descent was the foot killer for me, despite lacing the Hardrocks tight and sporting two pairs of socks. Osgood shoots over to the Madison Gulf Trail, which put us onto delicious wooded single-track with falls and stream crossings, and I bolted down the trail, in part to redeem myself for being slower on the rocky downhill early.

The stream crossings were highlighted by an awesome swinging bridge, followed by more twists and turns through the woods. We hit the Old Jackson Road (the self-same road we did our trail run after arriving at Pinkham) after 4 hours on the trail.

We both remembered the speed of the pack-less run, and somewhat remembered the trail.

"Think we can do it in under half-an-hour?" posed the Wood Frog.

"I don't know, man, we've got packs on this go-round." Note to self: if you lean downhill with a pack on your back, it is akin to a rolling boulder picking up steam. We trucked down Jackson, arriving at Pinkham Notch 25 minutes later, with nary a drop of water left between us. Total time on trail for the day was 4 hours, 25 minutes, total distance covered was 7.8 miles. Pack weigh in showed a net loss of 7-ish pounds (water and food), giving the Frog a 23-ish pound load, and Tucks 16-ish.

The three-day fastpacking odometer reads 32 miles (plus 4 trail running), a couple summits; food consumed in Lakes, Mizpah, and Madison Huts; and one of the greatest pay-by-the-minute showers known to hikers at the Pinkham Visitor Center.

That's the short version chronology of the White Mountain adventures of Tuckerman and Wood Frog, now complete online. There has been much introspection since, and several threads followed, but those will make for another tale.

After taking about a week off of running, due to some Achilles tendon pain from the hills and rocks, I resumed running with a 13-mile slow run up St. Michaels Road this past Sunday. Though therapeutic to legs unaccustomed to altitude and mountains, Route 33 needs the assistance of an i-pod to jazz it up. The soundtrack of the Whites is not something that you can download from i-tunes.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tucks and the Frog, Part II: The Longest Day

Tucks (better known as Valliant) on his way up the Dry River Trail, during the zombie day--a 13.7 mile day, which included waterfall swimming, orienteering, climbing above treeline, and brutal ridge-walking for speed against the dinner bell. Photo by Wood Frog.

On a day in the mountains, if you find yourself descending a good bit, chances are it means there is a bigger climb waiting for you. Wood Frog and I left Mizpah Hut at 9:00 a.m.--much later than advised for the day we had planned--and started our descent into the green goodness of the Dry River Wilderness Area. From the DR Cutoff, the trail is fast, and fun to run, even carrying a pack. I learned during White Week that I am not the fastest cat on the trail when "trail" means traversing rocks and steep climbs, but turn me loose on wooded single-track and it's game-on.

We flew through the woods, mindful of moose, crossed a few streams and rivers, until we could hear the Dry River Falls just off the trail. We followed a lightly blazed trail to the falls and a crystal clear (and c-c-cold!) pool at the base of the show. Swimming holes are not made any nicer, nor much colder to a couple tidal boneheads from the Bay.

A swimming hole with a view. Dry River Falls. Photo by Wood Frog.

One thing we learned about wilderness areas: wilderness declarations trump trail maintenance. Coming across a girl and her husky on my way back to the trail from the falls, she gave fair warning that the DR Trail became tough to find and follow after a major river crossing. She, dog, and boyfriend had camped nearby (no dogs allowed in huts), and had done their share of stumbling.

Even forewarned, we managed to lose the trail. A few false starts, adept map reading (NEVER hike the Whites without the White Mountain Guide book), and some sleuth work, landed us back on the trail and beginning our ascent back toward Lakes of the Clouds Hut. One more detour from forward progress came when Wood Frog lost a head-butting match, and consequently his glasses, with a head-level branch from a fallen tree. Glasses were recovered intact, and the Frog picked up the trip-winning "tough guy" mountain scar down his forehead.

It's one thing not to do much in the way of trail clearing. It is quite another for nocturnal trail elves to fell trees at exactly waist height--where you can neither go easily under or over them--across the trail every hundred yards. Despite, or because of, its untamed difficulty, the Dry River Trail is among the most rewarding to hike. Other than the dog couple, we passed no one as we pushed above tree line. The ascent was like a shedding of earthy trappings headed up into rock-ville. We arrived at Lakes 4 hours and 52 minutes after departing Mizpah, covering 6.9 miles, and spending easily more than an hour between swimming, looking for glasses, and looking for the trail. We sat down to soup and brownies at a little after 2:00 p.m, and were out the door and headed up Crawford Path toward Madison Springs Hut towards 3:00 p.m.

Wood Frog explains to White Mountain hikers how Baltimore Orioles fans like to embellish a certain line of the Star Spangled Banner. Towards the top of Dry River Trail.

One thing to note about the huts: they serve dinner at 6:00 p.m. That time is not arbitrary or negotiable. It is 6.8 miles from the Lakes hut to Madison. Damnit, man, we're going to miss dinner!

On our way up Crawford, we pass a speed-hiking mother and daughter, with whom we'd had dinner and breakfast at Pinkham Notch. We re-greeted each other and told them what we'd been doing, where we were headed, and noted that we were concerned about making it to dinner on time. Speed mom (who had come from Madison to Lakes) thought it over and decided, "No, you guys should be able to make it, no problem."

We hooked into the Westside Trail from Crawford, and the long and ROCKY Gulfside Trail from there. Despite the urgency for our dinner date, my legs are slowing down. At the same time, the Wood Frog is hopping. We are encountering any number of hikers, as Gulfside is again part of the Appalachian Trail, with many summits and springs, as well as the Mt. Washington Cog Railroad dissecting the trail. We both come to the same unspoken realization, that the Frog's legs are our dinner reservation. He hops down the trail ahead of me, stopping at the top of a ridge to check-in with a thumbs-up. I am grateful that he is in high-gear.

Wandering into the desert or the mountains, figuratively and/or literally can expand the soul. I have had these desert experiences (also known to some as "Come to Jesus" moments) in long races, where suffering and perseverance do this self-defining jitterbug of a dance. The outcomes of those dances are inked directly into the story of your being. The Gulfside Trail to Madison has its place in my story. I had tired legs; I had wet socks; I am marginally afraid of heights; and mountain miles seem to measure on a scale which renders road running times completely meaningless.

"Cairns" are piles of rocks stacked along trails in the Whites to tell you where the hell you are supposed to be going. There is something primitive and spiritual about wandering after rockpiles through the mountains, particularly when you are stumble-drunk trying to aim yourself from one to the next. The cairn builders are not nice people. Probably they were beaten up by hikers on their grade school playgrounds, and cruelly strewing cairns over mountains is their chance at revenge. If I find one of them, I'm leaving with lunch money.

Just because you stack piles of rocks in a line, doesn't make it an actual trail. If you get lost in the White Mountains, you don't have a cairn in the world. Sorry, had to say it.

As a follower of cairns, you come to realize that when you look up at the next mountain, you can always find a cairn up near the top, then trace them right back down to you. This went on for many mountains, until I looked at my watch and realized that I hadn't eaten anything since the Lakes hut, 2 hours and 45 minutes ago. I found a rock (tough to do), sat down, housed down some gorp, then got cranking again. Gorp is good.

I finally spotted Madison Hut, tucked behind a mountain, and made my way down a winding section of trail to arrive, having covered the 6.8 miles in 3 hours and 42 minutes (still well short of the recommended hiking time). As I arrived, Wood Frog hopped out to greet me and direct me to our table. He had made it in just over 3 hours, checked in, and put my name in the pot for dinner. God Bless Wood Frog and the croo at Madison. I sat down to soup, salad, chicken casserole, peas, and a kick-arse dessert of some sort. Total mileage for the day was 13.7 miles. Mountain miles, that is!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tucks and the Frog, Part IA: Interlude (before the long haul)

Mornings at Mizpah begin with song, grub, then a weather report to get you on yer way. The dude with the raisins in his hand looks hungry. Photo by Wood Frog.

Water, food, shelter/rest, and weather. Those factors dictate the rhythm of life above and below treeline in the Whites, on the AT, or any sustained outdoor adventure. Trekking through the White Mountains, hikers are lucky to have a series of full-service huts, run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). You can refuel and stockpile knowledge on each of said factors, which is what the plan was as we popped out of the woods to Mizpah Springs Hut.

The cats that man the huts are truly remarkable folks--a gauge against which I will probably measure customer service for the rest of my life. The huts are a study in conservation, self-reliance, and community. Toilets are composting, energy/refrigeration are fueled by propane tanks, supplies are hiked in and trash hiked out by the "croo." There are no napkins--that would mean more trash. Lights are out at 9:30 p.m., and you will be waking up to songs at 6:30 a.m.

We had the great fortune of having an "all-alum" croo, return to their posts from the mid-1990s, from their new roles as teachers, parents, etc. They were riotously funny, helpful, accommodating beyond belief. As we were getting ready for dinner, they announced we had an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker with us, who was working in exchange for food and bed, and who would talk about his south-bound journey after grub.

Turns out that "Woody," was the happy hiker who cruised by us on Crawford. Talking to him, he had a wonderful simplicity to his approach. He had a modest budget he was sticking to; he gave himself six months to get from Maine to Georgia, and he carried nothing he didn't absolutely need with him, including opting for no tent. He mentioned he was from Texas and that he started in Maine with a friend, who was now a day or two behind him.

W: "I'm thinking of stopping for a week or so around Washington, D.C., to visit with my grandparents, who live in Maryland."

MV: "Sounds like a sweet plan. Where do they live in Maryland?"

W (looking doubtful): "It's just a small town on the Eastern Shore, I doubt you would know it."

MV: "Try me, you might be surprised."

W: "St. Michaels."

MV: "No sh#$!"

Turns out Woody (above, real name James Woodring. You can follow his AT adventures in his online trail journals by clicking on his name) knows and digs the Maritime Museum, and is actually more than casually interested in the boatbuilding apprentice program at CBMM. Remind me to expense the trip to the Museum--apprentice recruiting.

Dinner featured the best split-pea and ham soup known to humans; bunk arrangements featured the most musi-comical snoorer (a woman) ever heard; and breakfast was carb-a-licious, followed by a weather report, and the veteran croo pulling off a skit complete with the rare Chinese blanket folder.

It's not the Village People, it's da Croo! I am almost afraid to comment farther. Photo by Wood Frog.

So that's interlude one, and puts the number of story installments at about four now. The morning of August 1 called for great weather, and we lined up our longest day of the trip. We asked around, but didn't get the full scoop on the Dry River Trail, cutting through the Dry River Wilderness, care of the Dry River Falls, which sounded worth the roundabout route. We had no idea what we were getting into, how long a day it was going to be, or the different terrain we would encounter, and certainly not the soon-to-be compulsion to crank out fast miles for food. All that and more, in the next chapter of the Adventures of Tuckerman and Wood Frog... TO BE CONTINUED

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Adventures of Tuckerman and Wood Frog - Part I

(L-R) Mikes Valliant (Tuckerman) and Keene (Wood Frog) in search of lunch on Crawford Path after summiting Mt. Washington of the first full day of their adventure.

I take it back. I have never run hills. At least not until this past week's trip to the White Mountains. When moving forward requires your hands to be pulling you upward, along with your legs, then you are running up a hill. That's a lesson I learned. Several times.

Sunday night/Monday morning, Mike Keene and I loaded clothes, gear, water, and gorp into Keene's Expedition and drove 12 hours to Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We arrived sleep-deprived and slap-happy, checked in to the "Wood Frog" room of Pinkham's "Joe Dodge Lodge" and did what sleep-slap combo takers do: went for a 4-mile trail run.

Mike K., a Whites veteran, suggested Old Jackson Road for our run--a 2-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, that holds mostly runnable. If you are an idiot, that is, a moniker for which I am qualified. On the way up, the trail rose quickly, and consequently fell just as quickly on the return. It was a glorious run--difficult, scenic, and freeing, especially given that we ran it carrying only a single hand-held water bottle a piece. The White Mountain Guide recommends hikers give themselves two hours to walk the trail, one way. We managed the 4-mile, round-trip in 58:07. A sublime prelude to the next three days, we then dined, family style, at Pinkham for dinner and breakfast the next morning, before leaving clock and cell-phone based comforts and reality behind and below.

To fully appreciate the beauty and simplicity of trail running, I recommend throwing a 20-pound backpack onto your shoulders. We did the math and packed what clothing, gear, food, and water were deemed necessary for the next three days and two nights, knowing we would be having meals and be able to refill water at the Appalachian Mountain Club's huts. On the way up Tuckerman Ravine, pack weigh-in put Keene's at 29-ish pounds, and mine at 23-ish.

Never underestimate having a hiking partner who knows the lay of the land. After a clear sunrise, and a good weather report, Mike recommended we re-route the day to head straight up Tuckerman (known as "Tucks" to the short-of-breath) to summit Mt. Washington. Tucks was my holy-crap, world-bending, reality check-in to the mountains. We climbed past waterfalls, over bridges, up rocks, and we climbed past hikers, shelters, and a ranger station. Then the real climbing began. Bodies of weary, but stoked hikers adorned various break-worthy stretches of Tucks' higher parts. We summited into the parking lot (aka buzzkill) at the top of Mt. Washington in 3:08:55. Other hikers we met and chatted with along the way were impressed with our speed-themed summit time. Emerging from their cars, photo-op tourists looked askew at the lot of us, asking, "did you really just hike up here?"

Wood Frog working his way up the higher stretch of Tuckerman Ravine. Fielding a question from a group of hikers a couple hundred yards below, the Frog replied, "It gets much worse."

After a quick fill of the hustle atop Washington, we descended down Crawford Path to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, in search (hope) of soup. We walked and talked for a time with Katherine (whom we met on the way up), an ER nurse and mother of 20s and teen-aged kids, recently returned from hiking in Switzerland, and was backpacking the Whites solo. The off-handed consensus of the Mikes is that she may well be one of the coolest moms on the planet, and certainly an inspiration to (us and) her children.

The Lakes Hut, and the masterful Minestrone therein did not disappoint. Note for dinner parties: combine voraciously hungry dinner guests, with a panoramic view of the mountains from your dinner table, with hearty bread and vegetable-based soup, and you will have the happiest guests possible, and lifetime fans.

With sodium and carb tanks topped off, we continued down Crawford Path, ridge-walking along the tops of mountains, stopping for the occasional jopped draw (sic) from the view and photo-op of the same. En route, we were passed by a jolly, bearded, walking stick-wielding hiker, who spoke enthusiastically, and whom we would later meet at our common destination: Mizpah Springs Hut. Crawford Path is also part of the AT, and the young gent turned out to be a thru-hiker, but more on "Wandering Woody" in the next entry.

Crawford Path is a blast--runnable in stretches, scenic, and after its ridge-walking reputation, not afraid to plunge head-on into the woods to take its travelers to the AMC Hut known as Mizpah Spring. The end of the first full day of our adventure (total miles, 10.5) and the scene for the beginning of the next act...(To be continued)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This is Your Brain on the Whites...

Summer haze over the White Mountains in New Hampshire, August 1, 2006. Photo by Mike Keene.

Hills are relative. I think Einstein would agree. When your frame of reference is largely based on running Oxford Road, Tuckahoe State Park offers challenging hills. When you take off on a 72-minute trail run in western Pennsylvania's Alameda State Park, Tuckahoe begins to look Kansas-flat.

Working with some seemingly brutal hills this past Sunday, made for a fantastic, scenic trail run. As of Monday, Alameda's hills will be relegated to foothill status as Mike Keene and I arrive in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We have a 4-day, 3-night, AMC hut-to-hut fastpack planned, hopefully with some trail running thrown in for good measure.

Our plotted course includes Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Crawford Path, Mt. Washington, Gulfside Trail, Mts. Adams and Madison, Osgood Trail, and Madison Gulf Trail. Our accommodations will be made at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Mitzpah Spring Hut, and Madison Spring Hut. Keene is a White Mountain veteran, and has plotted our course based on great routes and hut availability.

Light, fast, and fun are the operating principles for the trip--not forgetting to just enjoy the experience. There are a few companies worth mentioning to say thanks for making great gear that encompasses trail running and fastpacking, and have been staples for my own trail running already. I am using a GoLite Multi-Sport pack, which is light and functional; Montrail Hardrock shoes which kept me blister-free through the Holiday Lake 50K++ and winter and spring trail running; and Ibex clothing, who pretty well has me covered from the waist-up with base and mid-layers for all conditions. I am hoping to send Ibex a report and photos after the trip.

There are any number of reasons why I am pumped for this trip. One is because I've never been to the Whites before and can't wait to savor it all. Two is to brutalize my legs a bit with rocks and mountains to help get ready for a moderately hilly Baltimore Marathon in October and the JFK 50 in November, which starts with a 14-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. Three is having a training partner and friend looney enough to languish through 5-hour training runs, a 12-degree 50K for a first ultra, one-upsmanship for entering longer trail and distance races, winter runs, and other zaniness, to finally get something slower and more low-key to enjoy. And the bonus, is to try to find a home for one or more magazine stories from the trip.

Look for a trip report on the next post here.