Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Why Do You Run?"

A ferocious yawp from the Rehoboth Marathon, turned into a sublime, hilarious, perhaps fitting rendering by Joel Shilliday.

It's a fair question, particularly if it comes up that you run long distances at obscene hours of the morning, even in cold weather. Why? It was posed most recently at work, when I didn't have a chance to answer. So here's a shot:

I run to avoid a mid-life crisis. I run for perspective that only comes on the other side, or inside a space created by several miles, a floating stride (when it does) and distance from daily responsibilities. I run for both a sense of peace and turmoil created by self-inflicted pain that is earned and somehow cleansing.

I run because we are what we do with our lives and how we act and I choose not to be someone who sits on their ass in front of a screen all the time in a flatscreen reality. I run to connect places on foot, in sight, smells, sounds, and experience that deepens my connection to the world when I next drive by that same spot.

I run to experience life on my own terms, if only for a little while at the beginning of a day. I run early in the morning because I have to if I want to run and because I like how it distinguishes me from those sleeping in, and shows me a part of a town, a road, a trail, the landscape, that I'd have never seen otherwise. I run early for sunrises at Tuckahoe, or to see what the sun sees as it just begins to peak over the horizon.

I run for stories. I run for camaraderie and shared experiences. I run because you know someone differently after you've run 10 or 20 miles with them than you could ever have known them otherwise. I run to be different and at the same time to have a shared bond with those who run.

I run because there are some things that I use (and other people use) to define myself and I enjoy the label of being a runner, with whatever that means. I run, at times, to cross a finish line and know that I have accomplished something through will, effort, fun, lows and highs, that is one of those things that can't be handed to you.

I run to be outside. To feel or crunch the snow. To catch sight of a heron, fox, deer, turtle, eagle, in their element. I run trails because it feels like where I should be. I run because I get something from it that feels both equal to and bigger than what I put into it.

I run because at some point, when we look at the sum (or product) of our life experience--family, relationships, love known or unknown, education, jobs, accomplishments, travel, books read, photos taken, beers/coffee drunk--running helps inform all these things and is something I want in mine.

Why do you run?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

3:52:49...With a Little Help From My Friends...

Nearing the half-way point at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon on Saturday, November 22.


I've said many times that I'd rather run in really cold weather than in extreme heat. In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware this past Saturday, I got my wish. 27 degrees at the start and gusts to 20 mph made what to wear an instant question for all of our Rise Up Runners in town for the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon.

This is a fairly myopic report. If you want to get a good sense and photos for how the race and weekend went for everyone, hope over to the RUR blog and have a look-see. As we've established in the goals post below, my quest on Saturday, aside from having fun, was a sub 4-hour marathon.

My pace was a steady, survival stride, clipping just under 9:00 minutes per mile. Because I'm an idiot--a stubborn one at that--there was never a question that I'd wear anything other than shorts :) I also made the call to wear a Nathan vest without the bladder, so that I could carry gels, Clif Shot Blocks, and S-Caps in an accessible place.

Dominic, James, Joel, Lori, and I all started in a pack, though Dominic distanced himself pretty quickly en route to a 3:29 and change marathon debut. Lori and James were in and out for the first 10 miles, where Joel Shilliday and I ran together and discussed everything from sweet Beach bungalows to the five greatest films of all time, to the fact that the "BRIDGE FREEZES FIRST" and that marshalls along the course were weary of black ice.

I made a point to eat a gel or shot blocks every half hour and take an S-Cap every 40 minutes or so. I had NUUN in my hand-held water bottle, and picked up and drank a cup of half-frozen water at every aid station.

I had two things going for me for pacing and conversation: 1) Joel had announced his goal was to run a sub 2:00 half-marathon. I knew that would fit in perfectly with my goal, so running with Joel worked well until he decided to stretch it out over the last three miles. I knew I had 16 miles to go, so I let him go up ahead a bit. 2) My other secret weapon was Lori Callahan, who is a Honda Accord (or Civic in Lori's case) of consistently quick (3:40 - 3:50) marathons. Chances were, running with Lori would bring me in under goal.

Double-fisting at the half-marathon point on the course, while RUR James Woodring slaps a high-five to Lori Callahan.

Lori caught up at the half-marathon mark, as a slew of other RURs - James Woodring, Mike Keene, and just-finishing Joel were all around to cheer us on and get Keene running his second leg after Joel.

The next 4-5 miles were wwwiiinnnddy, around Cape Henlopen, and back up a straight away taking us back to Rehoboth proper. Lori and I kept a steady pace into a wicked headwind, and I was plenty glad to turn a corner and crank relatively wind free for miles 18 or so on. If memory serves, miles 19 - 22, coming back on to the stellar dirt and gravel Breakwater Trail were among the fastest of the race.

Along about mile 23, I started to hit a rough patch. Not a wall, mind you, but everything became a bit more labored. I told Lori to do her thing and focused in on my own stride, a low arm-swing, keeping running, and picturing a flow, fluid run without leg cramps setting in.

This focus on form and stride was only interrupted as I hit mile markers and checked my watch. I hit mile marker 24 at 3:32, and figured I had a pretty good shot and staying under goal.

I made a point to never walk during the race, keeping forward momentum and mojo, which carried me past mile 25, and turned us back on to the boardwalk for the finish.

As runners approached the inflatable arch that marked the finish line, my stride picked up and I caught Mike Keene and Dominic waiting and cheering at the finish. A space-blanket wrapped Keene held out a paw for a high five and I slapped it and unleashed a howl, to the amusement of spectators at the line. I stopped my watch coming under the chute at 3:52:49. Official finishing times here.

Keene throws a paw up for a high five as Dominic (blue hat) takes it all in as the last of the RURs crossed the line.

The Rehoboth Marathon was the first complete race I have run at the marathon distance, without issue or falling apart. I finally dialed in on food, nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes. If I'm smart, it will give me something to build on as I try to creep the time down a bit lower.

I've got some trail 50Ks on the radar screen for next year. I'm flirting with a second 50-miler at some point (not necessarily next year). But I'm encouraged to keep a road marathon on the calendar, especially since most of our running around here takes place on roads. And to be honest, with the course, amenities, easy travel, and RUR participants, the second Seashore Marathon wouldn't be a bad one to keep on the list!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

GGGOOOOOOAAAALLLLL(S)??


Is there a more famous "goal" photo in the world at this point than Brandi Chastain's? Wait, were we talking about a different kind of goal? ;)

Saturday is the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon. It will probably be the last race I run in 2008, unless we find a good 10 mile trail race to tack on in December. Either way, it will be my last marathon/plus race of the year. And it will be my first road marathon of the year.

Anyone who knows Rehoboth, and Delaware in general, knows that it's pretty well akin to Maryland's Eastern Shore: flat and surrounded by water. Unlike the mountainous trail races which I/we love to run in, the RBSM is held on the kind of terrain we do our normal road runs on. This makes it a reasonable race to set goals for and push myself to see what I can do.

My past marathons have had a number of caveats--my first marathon distance run, not enough training or preparation, getting sick just before a race, and then a hilly trail marathon. A few of them have brought on leg cramping issues. So I've not run a road marathon where I've been able to get my time where I think it should be.

Our training runs with the Rise Up Runners have put my tempo pace at 8:00 minutes per mile, or the low 8's for a good stretch. My long runs, 20+ have been at about 9:00 minute pace. At Dominic's persistence, we've thrown some Yasso 800's in for speed (though not enough!) and my last 20 mile run came in my leg of the Vermont 50-miler in late September. A couple of 13-15 milers since.

I try to go into every long distance race with the attitude that if I finish and have a good time, then that's enough. And it is. Getting out there and finishing a 26.2-mile race is an accomplishment. Enjoy the process and savor the finish. But setting goals in my running keeps me honest and getting out there.

So what I am after, if all goes well, this time is a sub 4:00 hour marathon. I think the training is there, and the proper pacing leading up. Hydration/nutrition to avoid cramping, and somehow fighting off the cracks in the mental/psychological wall are going to be the key. I like to think I could rock a 3:45 or so if I run the race I can. But we'll see.

In any case, we've got a great crew of our Rise Up Runners going. Dominic, Lori, and I are running the full marathon. Joel and Keene are signed up as a relay team (each running a half-marathon), as are James Woodring and Katherine Binder. Hard to get more motivation and inspiration than running with all these folks!

Saturday is a couple days away. We'll see what the weather holds, what race day holds, and hopefully all look to enjoy ourselves and pre-burn off some Thanksgiving dinner calories!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2009 Race/Run Wish List

I can recall about this time of year--late October/early November--growing up, a couple large tomes would come in the mail. When the Sears and JC Penny Christmas catalogs arrived, my sister and I would snag them immediately, and lay down with pens circling dozens of Star Wars figures, bikes (different items in Susie's case, not limited to Strawberry Shortcake dolls), what-have-you, that would officially kick off the "wish list" for the upcoming season.

I miss the wish lists. And not to be completely cut-off from childhood (since I rarely feel like I am anyway :), I thought I'd throw out a trail running/racing wish list for 2009. Something to think about, drool over, get feedback on, and figure out how to train for.

In this case, it's not a pie-in-the-sky wish list. Like the childhood lists, it represents [races] that seem doable, driveable, in the realm of possibility. It would be fun to throw some of the way cool west coast races on there (I would LOVE to run the Big Sur Trail Marathon some time!), but I know that isn't likely to materialize this year.

I am starting/building the list around three staples: one per season, spring, summer, fall. I hope to throw another couple races on the docket, something early in the year and later, but this is a great foundation.

It is also open to interpretation and suggestions. The racing experience, for me, is enhanced by having others along to share it, participate in it, enjoy it. If my Rise Up Runner peeps have some different wish-list races of their own, throw them out there in the comments. Let's get a discussion going!

And the thought process comes on the heels of talking with Landy Cook, who has been working his way back from a torn meniscus this summer, with surgery in early September. He's been biking and swimming, and eyeing a return to running. Thinking about racing and running, he says he doesn't want to enter races just to enter races, rather to do races he REALLY wants to do, either for the course, the people, or the "soul" of the race. I wholeheartedly concur.

So here are my three staples. Three trail races, each between 30 and 35 miles. One in Maryland, one in Pennsylvania, one in Virginia--none of which I've run before, but each of which I have heard great things about. And for those interested in the races, but not quite the distance, the PA and VA races offer 18 and 13.1 mile options.

HAT Run - March 21, 2009, 50K (31 Miles). The Hinte Anderson Trail (HAT) 50K is a spring classic. Run in and around the Susquehanna State Park, it attracts runners from all up and down the east coast and was the subject of a big feature article in Trail Runner magazine, looking at the race's history, runners, and the course. It's a venerable and fun trail ultra, which provides great incentive for long, winter trail runs :). The race fills up every year, so early registration is key.

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge - June 20, 2009, 34 Miles. I wanted to do this for 2008, but couldn't make it happen. It's in Pittsburgh, PA, home of friends and family for us. It is conceived as a "challenge"--a full day "hike," which is frequented by trail and ultra runner as well as plenty of long distance hikers. The Rachel Carson Trail doesn't believe in switchbacks, so the trails go straight up and over mountains, making it tough beyond simply challenging. The balance of that is that it is low-key, with people taking it easy and pushing themselves to cover the distance in a day. I love the concept of hiking/running a trail from end-to-end vs. an arbitrary start and finish. I am a fan of the location and the excuse to visit friends and family. And there is an 18-mile shorter option, if Joel doesn't feel like training for the full 34 ;)

Great Eastern Endurance Run - last weekend in September, 50K (31 Miles). 2008 was the year of heading north to Vermont. 2009 could be the year to head south to Charlottesville, Virginia, one of the trail running meccas of the Mid-Atlantic. The Charlottesville Running Company and Bad to the Bone races holds some top notch races on the trails and roads around Wahoo country throughout the year. The GEER has three options: 100K, 50K, half-marathon. I'm thinking 50K because I am not yet at the point of picturing a 62 mile outing. But there is time for it to grow on me, perhaps (yikes, did I just write that?). Charlottesville is a great, fun town, could be a great weekend destination, a la Vermont, with lots for folks to do. And as to the course, go to the site and check out some of the many, many photos, that go along with this one...


So there is the beginning of my trail running/racing wish list for 2009. What do you think? What's missing? Anything to add in January/early February or November/December? Any takers for road trips? Put your thinking/wishing caps on. And now, there's plenty more adventures and races still to come in 2008!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Predictability vs. Spontaneity


Predictability is the sun rising every morning. Spontaneity is waking up and driving (or running) to somewhere you've never sat before to watch it come up.

Predictability is going to work 5+ days a week. Spontaneity is not knowing exactly what any particular day will hold and being open to possibilities. Spontaneity, for me, is also the conversations I have with our 3-year-0ld daughter on the way to daycare.

Predictability is getting up to run in the mornings, often on the "da corner" of Aurora and Idlewild in Easton. Spontaneity is 48-hour notice to do the Trans Tred Avon Challenge, or running to Rise Up Coffee, or 3:30 a.m. 20-milers.

My life and my running seem to require both predictability and spontaneity. Being able to predict things (correctly, let's say!) is comforting and reassuring. Spontaneous adventures, conversations, moments, decisions is life-affirming. It spins things around.

I like knowing I am going to get up and run a few mornings a week. I like not knowing who is going to meet up, what we are going to talk about, or how the run will go. It's also sweet when we can mix things up and do something different without much planning or notice.

That's the view from the brim of the coffee cup at the moment. Happy Friday and weekend running.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

(How the Hell Did I Wind Up as the) Anchor Man

After a tag from Michael "Wood Frog" Keene, Valliant begins the final 19.8 miles of the Vermont 50-mile relay from Dugdale's aid station.

I was supposed to run the middle section. Until some re-routing switched leg distances, and the final leg went from 16 miles to nearly 20. I had logged the most miles, I tend to run like a madman on the downhills, which were most plentiful on the last leg, and so I ended up running the anchor leg of this beast.

If you want to boost your runner's ego (at least at first), run the final leg of a relay, where most of the runners are running the full 50 miles themselves and already have 30 miles of brutal hills on their legs. It's a bit unfair. And as your passing runners on the trail, and they are out of breath, shaking their heads at your fresh legs and spring in your step, and congratulating you on doing such a great job, you can only reply, "Nah, I'm just running the relay...you've gone A LOT farther than I have."

One of the great things about trail running though, is everyone is out there for themselves, and to be out there, and they still cheer you on with a smile and words of encouragement.

My leg of the Vermont 50 was the most challenging, most scenic, and most fun terrain I have run on. From rolling hard-packed dirt roads, to tree-lined climbs, to roller-coaster downhills, and switchbacks, I was a kid running in the woods and playing in the mud. I never got bugs in my teeth, but did smile pretty much the whole way.

I ran most of the way by myself, encountering many frustrated mountain bikers, pushing their bikes up hills and moving to let unencumbered runners climb past. And the aforementioned full 50-milers, working their way forward toward the finish. In ultras and long trail runs, aid stations are always an oasis/smorgasbord, with good eats and encouragement. Along the VT 50 trail, there is also a porch/deck party going on, with rabid mountain folk cheering runners and bikers, offering water (and beer to some) and judging form. I rated a "9.4" giving a good pace up the switchback, and loud cheers and laughter for an MC Hamma-like spin on the trail right in front of the deck (even funnier since the spin almost aimed me off the trail and into the foliage!)

As we were waiting for Katherine Binder to get to Skunk Hollow to set Keene in motion, I took a picture of a guy whose whole demeanor and impressive beard caught my attention.

The easy-ambling, long striding bearded mountain runner. As it turned out, 25 or so miles later, we ran in sight of each other for a good stretch of the last several miles of the course.

Running on through the woods, through streams, and up hills, I took in the scene, trying to be an actual part of the surroundings--to breathe it all in, even while beginning to tire. I kept a good pace up, even slowly running uphill roads and climbs most were walking. I started to have a bit of cat-and-mouse going with a guy who Keene's wife Carita and I pointed out earlier in the race--the archetypal bearded mountain runner. Watching him run (generally away from me), made my running feel both easier and more clumsy. Everyone has seen those runners who seem to run effortlessly along the trails (sort of like Landy) without putting out energy.

After running up a long dirt road, I caught up to him on some winding singletrack and downhill sections. After trailing him for a bit, he said, "Just tell me if you want to pass." He was running a pace that felt good, so I hung back and traded a couple comments. He then pointed out a row of tapped maple trees, with a system of clear rubber tubing connecting each tap and dripping to a common barrel. "See that? That's American ingenuity for you." Funny thing, I wouldn't have noticed it at all, or thought about what it was if he hadn't pointed it out. Now it's one of the sharper memories from the run.

My feet felt light and downhill legs felt fresh, so I asked to pass and scooted by. I'd see him again later.

A problem I tend to have during longer distance trail runs, is that I have too much fun. I run and enjoy the course, and don't pay enough attention to nutrition or hydration. I was carrying a hand-held water bottle, which I started with with NUUN, and added a tablet here or there at an aid station with water. I ate three Honey Stinger gels during the run, and a half of a banana. But I had no S-Caps (hadn't been using them during the last parts of my training runs), didn't take in enough calories for a body that isn't acclimated to running hills, and went for too long without drinking enough, just having fun running.

I passed through three aid stations during my leg, and walked in to the last one, which meant 4.5 miles to the finish, starting to fade fast. As I walked up to the table, I saw Kate Porter, the product designer at Ibex, who told Keene about the race, and ultimately got us up there. Kate was also running the relay and had started her team's final leg 10 minutes before Keene arrived. I had closed a 10-minute gap in about 15 miles. We chatted a bit and I set out ahead, feeling a familiar, unwelcome twinge in the legs and queasy running stomach.

I kept moving across fields and down singletrack, and in about a mile or so, my calves started cramping. Occasionally I was able to talk them down and visualize oxygen and blood flowing freely through them (please!), but they would come back to me, and I'd come to a tough uphill, where having to walk actually helped me out.

Then came the mud. Two sections of shoe-losing, ankle-deep suction mud, which created 10 pound shoes coming out of every sink hole. When we hit the second, longer section of mud-hopping, I joked with another runner that I had just manged to run my shoes clean. We slipped and high stepped through the section.

With probably two miles to go, Kate caught back up to me and asked how I was doing. "Ehhh, alright, except for the wicked calf cramps!" She asked if I wanted her to stick around, but I told her I'd get through it fine and to run her race.

As we came across a field and into a last wooded stretch, race volunteers had decorated the woods with plastic skeletons and signs like "Have you ever asked why you are doing this?" Which was shortly answered by another, "Because you can!" The next sign to come across was a hand-written sign that said "1 Mile to go!"

I couldn't get my calves to let go, but could make them run brief sections, then hop-step to others. The course finishes by zig-zagging you up a mountain, slowly, through the woods, only to send you down a ski run at the Mt. Ascutney Ski Resort (that's what it's there for after all!). With a sign that said "1/2 mile to go!" we had started the sidelong descent.

It was then that the bearded mountain runner re-appeared. I hadn't seen him since the last aid station, but he came quickly by me and said, "Way to go, man. You're almost there...seriously!" (since you can hear spectators at road races telling you the same thing with 6 miles to go).

Words of encouragement, the proximity of the finish line, and downhill gravity threw me down the grassy slope, passing more cautious runners as we got to the chute and in the winding chute as well. I spotted Keene and Carita cheering, then saw Robin further down, slapped her a high five and said hey to Rob and Katherine, with a half smile, half grimace, as my calves were completely bolt knotted and each pounding step hurt like hell.


Pain is irrelevant, and even enjoyable, when (and only when, perhaps) crossing the finish line. They had hay bails at the bottom of the chute to stop any overzealous mountain bikers who came screaming down the mountain, and I was thankful I didn't need the bails myself. I hobbled out of the chute, and was congratulated and knighted with a medal by race volunteers. I grabbed two more for Mike and Katherine and waited with the volunteers for the rest of the RUR crew to cruise down.

Our finishing time was just over 9 hours, which was good enough for 3rd overall relay team out of 13 teams. Full results and splits can be found here. Of that, Katherine was roughly 2:22 for the first leg, Keene 3 hours for the second, with me at 3:38 or so for the last section, and I told Robin between 3 and 4 hours. I moved well enough before cramping to still pull that off.

The next couple hours were spent reminiscing the various legs and wonders of the course, the folks we encountered, ducking under tents to dodge spot downpours, enjoying Harpoon I.P.A., a cookout, live band, and more laid back and happy people, kids, and dogs than we could count.

So our RUR relay Vermont adventure is in the books, but still fresh on the brain and in the legs. Finishing a race of any distance, I don't generally want to think about running. But within a couple hours, I knew I'd love to come back and try some or all of it again. Awesome volunteers, organization, course, and a high energy, highly effective race director. I highly recommend making a trip to Vermont next September, whether for a relay (smart), 50K (teetering on the brink), or 50 miler (cashews). Who knows, next year, maybe we'll have two Rise Up teams!

Robin is thinking, "Uumm...yeah, he is sweaty, muddy, and kind of stinks...do I have to get that close to him?" ;)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sweet Inspiration...A Fab Five(ish)

It's easy to be inspired out on the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains. Since I can't always pick up and go, I also look to the examples of a number of inspirational folks to remind me to follow my own passion.

What's a dream worth? What about a dream in action, or rather a dream acted upon? That's where the value comes, in my book. Having a vision or a passion and working to bring it to life.

How many of us live lives we consciously create? Do we spend our time the way we would choose if money, mortgages, etc. were not a part of the picture? More likely we make compromises--we give up some of our time towards work, to be able to spend other parts the way we want.

For me, time spent exploring a trail on the run is a connection to something that has been a part of me as long as I can remember. A sense of adventure and in being outside and being active. Writing gives me that same sense, as now does seeing our girls light up playing with them or seeing my wife laugh a belly laugh--the kind where other cares fall away. Those are moments in a day, where I am living fully.

I try to make those moments occur as frequently as I can. That's part of the reason I get up to run or to write--to be connected to my life being lived fully. It's a part of who I am. We live in a time and place though, where what or who we are is largely thought of in terms of what we do for a job. What we do to make money, or how we spend our days to earn a living. In many cases, this is where a compromise comes. We justify doing something with our time that is not exactly what we would choose, say, if we won the lottery. But by working a particular job, we are able to spend what free time we have pursuing our passions.

Marginalizing our passions can be a slippery slope. By the end of the day, we are beat, or busy, or distracted. Before you know it, you don't even realize where the time went and you hit a mid-life crisis and buy a Harley and ride across the country...;) Okay, so maybe you don't but that kind of crap-what-happened-to-my-life crisis can manifest itself in many ways.

I prefer the idea of preventative medicine/action when it comes to the mid-life crisis. The kind of action that says keep your dreams/passions close and actually make strides toward them, even if baby steps at first. Sometimes that's tough. And it's during those times, I dig looking toward/at people who are out there doing it. People who are walking the walk every day. In some cases their example provides a model. More often, and equally important, they provide inspiration. Here are a handful of folks and companies that are sweet inspiration for me--not that I want to be doing what they are doing (though in some cases, sure!), but that their example and their passion inspires me to follow mine.


Atayne - Jeremy Litchfield and Mike Hall are making clothes out of trash. Not just any clothes - performance running gear. They didn't like the way they saw things being done, or the wasteful and inferior running apparel they had to buy. So they set out to change the game. Their story is inspirational--check out their website and go to "learn" to get an inside look. The environmental example alone is stellar. But what good is the story unless their product performs? I've been wearing one of their shirts, and it does perform and more. I've worn shirts from a number of different companies, and in terms of comfort, staying dry, staying odor free, Atayne has it dialed in. If you're looking to outfit yourself for training or an upcoming race, give them a shot. You'll be glad you did, and sleep better knowing you also made a good choice for the environment. Double bonus!

Rise Up Coffee - Tim and Abby Cureton have a similar environmental ethic. They've taken something that inspires them, coffee, and approached it giving thought to ecology, economy, community, and of course quality. In the mornings, the Rise Up Coffee drive-thru stand in St. Michaels serves everyone from the superintendent of Talbot County Schools to watermen, carpenters, CEOs, and parents taking the kids to school. Tim, Matt Sevon and I share an admiration for Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's stellar corporate history and philosophy, "Let My People Go Surfing." A read through that book will help you redefine what it ought to be like to go to work. A stop through Rise Up is an inspiration and a treat. The company name is an homage to a Bob Marley song and a connection to our Rise Up Runners group.

Andrew Skurka on a cross country route through the Snaefellsnes Peninsula during his 550-mile traverse of Iceland this summer. Skurka has turned long distance backpacking into a vocation, as well as an avocation. Photo courtesy of www.andrewskurka.com.

Andrew Skurka - Imagine graduating from college and rather than finding a job in a nice cubicle somewhere, you decide to hike from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific--some 7,778 miles. Then imagine that you find sponsors, figure out a way to let the world know about your trip, and figure out a way to turn your wanderlust and perseverance into a full-time job. If this is you, your name may well be Andrew Skurka. Skurka has gone from his original pioneering journey as the first person to hike the entire Sea-to-Sea Trail across North America, to become the first to hike the Great Western Loop (6,875 miles); he's walked across Iceland; circumnavigated Yellowstone National Park; and this summer completed his first 100-mile trail run, finishing second in the tough Leadville 100-mile trail race. I interviewed Skurka for the article I did on fastpacking for Trail Runner magazine and you can't help but get inspired listening to, or reading about his adventures, knowing he has found a way to shun a conventional "career" by turning his passion and talent into a way of life.

Rob Brownlee-Tomasso - RBT is an artist, a graphic designer, a cyclist, a British car restorer, and a vegetarian, among other things. He is one of the most hilarious and unhypocritical people I've met. As frequently as he can, he rides his bike 29 miles to work (to St. Michaels from Denton) and then 29 more back home, often hammering more than 30 mph when he gets cranking. Rob's example is frequently a call to action for me. It is common to hear him say, "I rode my bike home yesterday and finished a painting last night." To which I think, damn, I should have done more with my evening or day! It was actually working with Rob and watching him do his thing cycling that pushed me to return to running more than four years ago now. He never said a word, but being around someone pushing himself the way he does, motivated me to do the same, and changed my life as much as any adult decision I've made.

I can't come up with just one person who combines writing, adventuring, and the environment the way I hope to, so I offer a medley here. People telling stories by the examples of their lives and their own adventures. One who comes quickly to mind is Amby Burfoot, long-time editor-in-chief of Runners World magazine, former Boston Marathon champion, and still senior editor and writer at RW. His book "The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life" is one of the most rewarding and inspiring quick reads out there. Ultra runner Dean Karnazes figured out how to leave his day job and turn running, adventuring, and writing about it into a full-time gig. His feats of endurance are limited more by imagination than physical boundaries--he comes up with uncanny ideas and does them. He has become the most visible and controversial ambassador to his sport, motivating hundreds of runners and would-be runners to follow his example.

Tim Cahill, is a wonderfully hilarious and thought-provoking writer, who is a founder of Outside Magazine. He was the only writer at Rolling Stone magazine who loved writing about the outdoors, and ended up taking that passion into founding one of the most recognizable outdoor magazine in the country. Bill McKibben is a conservationist, environmentalist, cultural historian, economist, and great writer. He is someone who, when you read, can change your worldview and cause you to act and approach the world differently. I've often said I'd like to have Mitch Albom's job, just based out of Baltimore instead of Detroit. Albom writes for the Detroit Free Press, does commentary on ESPN's great show, "The Sports Reporters," and then expanded his world exponentially when he wrote the runaway non-fiction bestseller, "Tuesdays With Morrie." The world is Albom's oyster.

Basecamp Communications - I've worked in PR, marketing, and communications for the past 10 years. I read and enjoy pondering branding, brand strategy, various media, and stellar PR. But the folks at Basecamp Communications figured out how to turn PR into a dream job. I first encountered them because they handle PR for Backcountry.com and have been running the whereskarl.com website for Karl Meltzer's Appalachian Trail thru-hike. These guys and girls have come from various backgrounds to focus their talents and time on promoting outdoor adventures and companies. They use PR and communications to highlight the stuff they dig and inspire people and/or call them to action. That's the way I'd like to do PR!

That's my very incomplete short list of various folks and companies that inspire me personally. When I feel like some of the things that get me the most charged are relegated to fringe status, and I think about following a passion, and if it can be done, I check back in on what some of these folks are up to and/or I think about their example. OR, maybe I go for a long trail run :)

There are plenty of other inspirational folks out there. Who are some more? Who inspires you? What are they doing? Let's add to the list.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Run For the Hills...



Hills and mountains are a challenge when you train on Maryland's notoriously flat Eastern Shore. At the end of the month, Sunday, September 28, to be exact, we take our Rise Up Runner team of Mike Keene, Katherine Binder, and myself to the Vermont 50 miler, to have a go at the 3-person 50 mile relay.

Katherine takes the 12-mile lead leg, then I run the 22-mile middle leg, before passing the figurative baton to Keene for the 16-mile anchor leg. You can check out the elevation gain and losses (aka climbs and descents) clicking above. Here's a course description from the VT 50 website:

"The Vermont 50 Mile course starts at Ascutney Mountain Resort in Brownsville, VT . For the first three miles racers will follow down a gentle downhill on gravel roads. After an easy road climb the course turns onto snowmobile - ATV trails, which it follows through gentle rolling terrain for the next 3 miles. Shortly after leaving the ATV trails, the real climbing and descending starts. The course will follow ATV and jeep trails, single track and roads through the top of the highest hill in Hartland, where racers will get an incredible view of Vermont and New Hampshire. From about mile 40 to mile 46.5, racers will have a nice snowmobile trail over rolling, mostly downhill terrain, before hooking onto the cross country ski trail system at Mt. Ascutney for the last 4 miles."

In terms of distance/mileage, training is on track. This past Sunday I logged a 21+ mile run to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry and back to Easton in 3:12, followed by a 10-mile day with negative splits, ending up on about 8:00 minute mile pace for the last several miles of the run. We've even been throwing some speed work in for good measure.

Hill training though, still needs some work over the next couple weeks. We've had a decent streak of Tuckahoe State Park Sundays, even throwing in some hill repeats, and I think there is more in store there.

We certainly want to get up there and look respectable (for a bunch of flatlanders :), but the main thing is to go have fun running through the mountains. Vermont in the fall is beautiful. A new state to run trails in, and with good friends. That's what running trail races is all about.

And races keep me getting out there for long runs. Tomorrow, I'm hoping to go out and survey Tuckahoe, post-Hanna. Perhaps I should take along a life jacket! ;)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Personal "Epic"

The little-known Mason-Dixon Trail is fertile ground for an epic adventure and an upcoming article...(map from the Mason-Dixon Trail website).

Last fall, the question of the season was whether I/we could run 50 miles. The JFK 50-Miler was on the docket for Mike Keene, Stephen Bardsley, and I--the first 50-mile run for either of us, and we had something to prove, to try, to shoot for.

This year, a scheduling conflict has kept me from having a go at a tougher 50-Miler: The Mountain Masochist 50. In a sadistic way, I was looking forward to that challenge, but honestly, I don't really miss having a daunting race approaching for the fall (by daunting, I mean one that there may be some serious questions as to whether I can even finish under the cut-offs). What I do miss is having an epic adventure to get psyched for and have at.

Don't get me wrong--Keene, Katherine Binder, and I are training for a 50-mile relay, the Vermont 50, for which I somehow became the recipient of the longest, hilliest leg :)--22 miles of tough Vermont mountain climbs and descents. I don't take that lightly at all, it's pretty well a mountain marathon, in a beautiful state that I've never run in. I am very much looking forward to it. But running a 50-mile relay doesn't seem to have the same inherent questions that a solo 50-miler does.

Yet there are ultra marathons all over the world, attracting thousands of runners. And as cool as it is to see what people are accomplishing in races, I am more intrigued by those folks, and those adventures, that aren't races at all, but "personal epics," like Matt Hart mapping and completing a circumnavigation of the Tetons. Perhaps this fall, it's not a big race, but a self-chartered (charted) adventure where the real prize lies.

I have two young daughters and a wife who works. I don't have sponsors, a lofty budget, or a ton of free time to make a month, or even week long trek. We're talking a couple days, easy driving distance to start, and self-supported. Luckily, there are nearby epic playgrounds all around us. Here are a few that intrigue me for fastpacking/trail running, two days, one-overnight:

The Mason-Dixon Trail - 190-ish miles, of scenic, regional (and national) history. There are ultras held in and around this trail in the spring and summer, the terrain is varied and beautiful, and fall would be the optimal time to enjoy it. Not a lot of folks even know this trail exists (I didn't). I can tell you, whether or not this ends up as a fall trek, getting to know and write about this trail is going to be a project/goal of mine. In this case, I'm thinking just a section, not (yet) a thru-hike.

Assateague Island - 38-miles from tip-to-tip, and already slated as an open Rise Up Runners "challenge." Fall camping on Assateague is phenomenal (and much less buggy than summer!) and it would be great fun to complete another issued challenge :)

Black Forest Trail - a 42-mile loop in Pennsylvania that looks and sounds simply beautiful and challenging. Another trail I know very little about, but am drooling over the thought of two 20+ mile days and an overnight and new and storied terrain.

These are personal challenges, in three epic settings, each of which I hope to enjoy/complete/experience, say in the next year. This fall, it is a matter of time. The weekend of November 14 - 16 has presented itself as available for adventure and a great time of year to step up to one of these treks. Or maybe there is another playground...er...setting that no one has brought up yet?

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Cooler weather, changing colors, football season, and new challenges. What does this fall hold? What do you think?

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Appalachian Trail Assault Begins...

Ultra running bad-arse, "Speedgoat" Karl Meltzer will begin his Appalachian Trail Assault on August 5, as he tries to set a new supported speed record covering the trail from Maine to Georgia faster than anyone else has done it. Photo by Tommy Chandler, from whereskarl.com.

Frequent readers of The 4-1-Run may recall a post a couple months ago about two long trail record attempts this summer. As it turns out, the Speedgoat, Karl Meltzer himself, stopped through to offer his thoughts on his planned Appalachian Trail Assault. Nice to have an ultra running legend swing through and say hey!

August 5 is the big day for Karl, as he begins the madness. And the coolest part, for those of us not on the AT ourselves, is that we can follow it all, with GPS coordinates, posts, photos, etc. on whereskarl.com. Tune in and stop by. Pretty remarkable stuff.

Karl has switched his focus from winning more 100 mile trail races per year than anyone else (which he has accomplished each of the last two years), to running 47 miles or so each day for 45-ish days to step up to a truly epic challenge.

And, in addition to just following Karl, on a more local level, keep an eye and an ear out to see if the Speedgoat crosses paths with our own Wood Frog while in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Now THAT would be sweet. And Keene, if you find yourself on the trail running up there, you better take some pictures! :)

Good luck to Karl, his crew from Backcountry.com, and Matt Hart and the other runners who will be joining him along the way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The O.C. Challenge Part 2: "Too Hot (in the Hot Tub)

A view from the Ocean City inlet--the turnaround point to start heading north to the Delaware border.

With fresh legs from boardwalk running and the collective energy from the morning exercisers, reaching Ocean City's inlet was a milestone and literal turning point during the O.C. Challenge. I polished off the rest of my NUUN infused water and headed north along the road.

I stopped through the 7-11 as you come across the bridge leading you into Ocean City around 1st Street, where I grabbed a bottle of water and a Snickers Marathon bar (gotta go for the honey/almond flavor), which I ate in the shade in front of the store. Then it was onward, due north.

This may have been the quickest paced part of the trek. Music was cranking, energy was good and not yet sapped by the heat from above and emanating from the pavement, and I found myself counting miniature golf courses, Candy Kitchens, Dumsers Ice Cream joints, and Sunsations stores. Traffic is never dead at the beach and the breakfast crowd was out, but it wasn't the mid-day or evening throng yet.

If you've run at the beach, along Coastal Highway, you know it's as it seems--over-developed, on the grid of numbered streets, colorful, and noisy. My beach runs are generally 50 to 90 minutes, and the road comes after the beach, making me feel faster and push the pace. In this case, the conveniently numbered streets gave me a good sense for where I was on the quest, but also sapped momentum (hitting 70th Street from well south of 1st Street, only to realize you've got 76 more streets to go has its down side!).

As I reached 80th Street, I stopped through a Royal Farms store, grabbed another Snickers Marathon bar and a water that was too big to fit in my Nathan water bottle. Why? I took the remaining water and dumped it straight over my head, much to the amusement of those getting gas there and those at a nearby bus stop, who had seen me go in and out a sweaty wreck :)

I continued north at a respectable clip, though I noticed that I slowed at around 120th Street, just after passing the place we were staying. I knew I could have turned in there, having had a solid 14+ mile run and having run to the inlet and back. I also knew that wasn't the challenge I had set for myself and there was no way that was happening.

A run for the border... the Delaware state line was a welcome sight after running the length of Ocean City along Coastal Highway.

The next 26 or so blocks to Delaware were slow-going. When I hit the border, I was out of water and looked for a stand that had water in their window. It was full of people working, but no one would answer the walk-up window, so I turned and headed to the Fenwick Island beach, waterless, but not far from home, so not overly concerned (just thirsty!).

Hitting the sand again in my running shoes was tough--both physically and psychologically. My slow legs felt slower, the beach was more crowded, it was now solidly above 90 degrees, and I was overheated and thirsty. There was only one course of action as I saw it.

Back to the beach after too much time on the road. Hhhmm...is that a light at the end of the tunnel? :)

The shoes came off and I carried them in one hand with water bottle in the other the rest of the way, and I ran along the water, with the aftermath of each wave cooling my feet and body temperature and giving me a bit more energy.

Along this stretch of beach, two barefoot, fresh-legged runners passed me and said hello, and the ego in me wanted to pass them back, or at least tell them that if I hadn't already run 17 miles, I'd take em back to 116th, but that isn't too cool, and I sure didn't have the legs to back it up at that point!

I drunk-stumbled to the beach in front of our place, where I saw my cousin napping on the beach, with a line of beach chairs set up for the rest of the clan when they hit the beach. I unloaded belt, camera, ipod, shoes, shirt, hat, and ambled into the ocean, hoping I could withstand the waves. It was the most welcome dip in the ocean or probably any body of water I can recall.

The Ocean City Challenge was complete. The approach was run-about--take my time, refuel, enjoy as much as possible. The 18.29 mile distance doesn't even count as that long a run, but the considerable distance on sand and the heat combined to make it a worthy and difficult challenge. And I enjoy having circumnavigated Ocean City from beach to inlet to Delaware and back to the beach. Something I can enjoy having done as we go back on subsequent trips.

So that challenge is in the books. The beach challenge I really want to knock out though, is the Assateague Ultra. Maybe when it's cooler :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Ocean City Challenge: A Report

East coast surfers enjoy the sunrise waiting for waves in the 40-blocks of Ocean City. I'd have liked to stop and joined them, but carrying a surfboard on a long run just didn't seem like a great idea...

There are a lot of reasons to get up early and hit the beach in Ocean City. Fishing, surfing, reading, and just imbibing the sunrise seem to be among the most popular. And then there are the methodical, overdressed metal-detector brigade. I encountered all of these folks and then some on the first/beach leg of the Ocean City Challenge 18.3-mile run I outlined for myself.

After a full dance card of a week at the beach and one false start that turned into a 1.5-mile walk/run with my 6-year-old daughter Anna (on my way out to start the "challenge" on Thursday, 6/17 at 6:30 a.m., Anna came out of the bedroom and asked, "Daddy, can I go on your run with you?" I didn't figure she'd want to sign on for the whole challenge :), I embarked on my circumnavigation of Ocean City just before 6:00 a.m. on Friday, 7/18.

It was hot, the temperatures were in the 90s during a fair stretch of the run and the humidity was kicking. Starting from our place on the beach at 116th Street, there were essentially four distinct legs to the challenge: 1) running on the beach, 2) the boardwalk to the inlet, 3) Coastal Highway to Delaware, 4) the return to the beach in Delaware back to 116th Street.

I approached the challenge as a sort of runabout--I carried a camera in my waist pack, tucked some cash, credit card, and cell phone in, and carried a single Nathan hand-held water bottle. I also employed my ipod, knowing the Coastal Highway was going to be a beast. When I wanted to stop to take pictures, I stopped. When I needed to eat, or duck through a convenience store to get more water, I did. It was a no-hurry philosophy.

Da Beach Leg - Part 1

The view from the middle portion of the beach run, before the boardwalk Ferris Wheel comes into view. Please not the tire tracks--KEY for beach running in shoes!

I reminded myself (re-learned) earlier in the week that the key to running on the beach, if you have to wear shoes, is to run in the tracks of the utility vehicles they cruise along in in the evening, night, and early morning. The packed down sand in the tracks is beach running salvation. Having said that, it's hard to push for 100 blocks at much more than 10-minute miles as the sand is still loose, and my heart rate got easily elevated with the extra work to get the legs moving.

There are all kinds on the beach in the morning. From the aforementioned cast of characters, to the morning yoga practitioners, the passed out individuals and couples strewn along the sand, amateur photographers trying to capture the ocean at sunrise, and the middle-aged crew who seem to stare blankly at the ocean hoping maybe for answers or explanations to some existential issue.

After 40 blocks or so, I had found a groove, both literally in terms of packed tire tracks, and in terms of a running rhythm. What at first felt like the longest, most difficult section of the run, over time felt easier, and once I made it to the boardwalk--which begins in the 20 block--I opted to stay on the beach a little further before cruising up to the faster wood terrain.

The Boardwalk

If you make it a point to run in Ocean City, the easy wood terrain, ample sights, and high energy of the morning exercise crew, make it a great place to run. And if you hit it after 100 or so blocks of running in the sand, you'll feel REALLY fast :)

The first thing I did coming off the beach was to sit down and empty what felt like five pounds of sand out of my shoes and socks. For future reference, the smartest way to do this challenge might be to have a LIGHT hydration pack and bladder, which you can hang your shoes off of and stuff your socks in, to allow you to run the beach barefoot, which is optimal.

The boardwalk was a blast. I've never been up there so early--it is an exercise playground for young and old, round, ripped, or thin. There are bikes, 4-person bikes, runners, walkers, roller bladers. With no sand in my shoes or under them, my legs felt fast, and I picked up the pace, even cruising by a couple of the 4-person bikes. Cruising by the Kite Loft, Dumsers, the boardwalk amusement parks--all places we'd hit as a family in the evenings--during the early morning was a highlight of the run. Absolutely a recommended place to run if you find yourself in Ocean City.

This leg of the challenge went by way too quickly and I soon found myself at the inlet where bayside meets oceanside and boats fish along the jetty. Energy was high and I was feeling good. My plan was to hit the 7-11 convenience store located on 1st Street or thereabouts for a water refill and some energy food. Then I knew I had to rassle the beast: Coastal Highway to Delaware. Stay tuned for the second of two installments, during which we will attempt to beat the heat and ask the question--why aren't bars open first thing in the morning?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Ocean City Challenge: A Vacation Run



This past week was a solid one for me in terms of training runs and workouts:

Sunday, 6/29 - 12.25 miles
Tuesday, 7/1 - 7.5 + miles
Wednesday, 7/2 - 25 minute swim
Thursday, 7/3 - 13+ miles

Running with a combination of folks and paces as well as solo miles has been great for variety. This week I opted to forgo a Sunday run for an early morning fishing trip with Jason Kline and some friends of ours from out of town off Tilghman Island. It was a mild, 10-rockfish morning, but it's been a while since I've been out fishing, so was glad for the change of pace and the morning on the Bay.

This morning was an 8.5 mile morning, looking for a Wednesday swim, and Thursday run of about 10-12 miles. Motivation can be tough to come by during the summer, as it's not a season of races, while it is a season of heat and humidity. To keep summer running fresh, it's about time for a "challenge." Enter Ocean City.

Next week is an annual vacation east to Ocean City for the extended Valliant/Hutchison families. During the week, I always enjoy mixing my runs so that I start on the beach, then half-way into the run, head up to the road and return via Coastal Highway. Those who know and/or have run with me know that I like to come up with running "challenges." My favorite kind of challenge involves circumnavigating some landmark, body of water, you name it. So, I pulled up MapMyRun.com and looked at Ocean City.

We stay on 120th Street. As you can see from the image above, if you start on the beach and run from 120th, down past 1st Street and to the inlet, then turn and come back up Coastal Highway, by the time you end up back at 120th, you've hit 14.51 miles. Not bad, but not quite "epic" yet in OC terms. SO, if you continue up past 144th Street and cross the state line into Delaware, then back onto the beach for a return to 120th...well, then you've run Ocean City from tip-to-tip, with a long, narrow loop. That's it! Cover all of Ocean City in a morning--a beach-road-beach 18+ mile vacation run.

So that's the OC Vacation "challenge." To pull it up as it's own page, you can click Ocean City Challenge here. Stay tuned for a report on that, among other things. Happy summer running!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Slugfest: Booty Rumble 50K race report

Let the madness begin...the start of the Team Slug Booty Rumble 50K around Killens Pond in Delaware. Derek Hills (dual citizenship with Team Slug and the Rise Up Runners) leads the charge wth RUR's Lori Callahan and Mike Valliant in the mix. Photo courtesy of Team Slug.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN...this contest will be for ten rounds with each round lasting 3.1 miles of runnable singletrack. The heat will climb to around 88 degrees and the humidity will make it seem worse. If it any time you become unconscious or your corner throws in the towel, you will probably be offered a beer, but you will not have completed the Booty Rumble 50K.

ROUNDS 1 through 5

Bob and weave...the first loop around Killens Pond we get our bearings, learn the course, as first Derek Hills leads the way, then relinquishes the lead after a re-routed trail stymies him. Beautiful course, open trail, some roots, some wooden bridges through muddy spots, running by some cabins, then by a boat ramp and a 1/4 mile of road before looping back to the check-in and aid station.

The Delaware Slugs are great people--ultra runners and ultra running enthusiasts, who have battle scars and stories from various races, and are friendly, gracious, and encouraging on the trail and at the picnic tables.

Pace seems easy, speeding up at times, and finishing each 5K loop in under 30 minutes. 10K in 55 minutes or so. Runners are spread out, but there are still a few of us running around each other. I start thinking greedy and say to Lori, "You know, if we keep this pace, we might finish in under 5 hours..."

Lori is more reasonable (and right), "And if we don't, that's okay too..."

Of the Easton/Rise Up Runner contingency, Derek has moved ahead a bit, and Lori and I zig-zag through the first three loops or so, with her quicker through the aid station, and me catching up to her on the trail. We're in the aid station at the same time after three, and I run four at a good clip to catch up, but wind up catching up to Derek, who says his legs feel like bags of cement. I'm feeling good, so I move on ahead. Turns out Lori had lingered a bit longer at the aid station to adjust gear. Finish loop 4 (20K) in under two hours. As I am leaving the aid station to start loop 5, I see her heading in.

Loop 5, still feeling strong, coming in under 2:30 for 25K. Half-way there. The shoes I am testing for Trail Runner mag have been rubbing funny, so I switch to a more trusty pair of Inov-8s I have at the aid station and my feet feel lighter. Legs feel good, stomach is intact, in the back of my mind, the 5 hour 50K is still whispering.

ROUNDS 6 & 7

Loop 6 is more of the same, though my mind begins to feel like it's in the rinse cycle--lap-happy and on auto-pilot, but still functioning and not screaming at me. Finish 30K in under 3 hours.

Loop 7 has me a little dizzy. Still running, but not strong. Man, it must be getting hot or something! Got some Shot Bloks down, but stomach isn't happy any more. Shuffle in for 35K, fallen off the pace of the previous six loops, but, hey, it's another loop in the books!

ROUND 8

1...2...3...

How'd I end up on the mat? The Killens Pond's Pondside Trail doesn't pack a wallop. It doesn't have a knockout punch. More of a glancing blow. What's going on?

Tank is empty. Stomach is on strike. Legs are not cramping, but the mind/body no longer wants to make them run. So I walk...most of the loop. I expect Lori will be coming by me this loop, and she does. She's fairing a bit better, steady, working with a 10:1 run/walk cadence. She's got momentum and pushes on ahead.

4...5...6...

Dizzier. No desire for food, stomach won't allow any. It's a casual race. Most folks were doing a few loops, or the 25K. 40K is all I've got in me today. It's a fun run...and I am relegated to walking. I'll just walk the rest of this loop and call it a day. Drink some water, chill on the picnic table, wait for my stomach to feel better. Is it really a DNF on a fun run? I'm okay with a DNF...maybe...man it's hot...I'm done. I'll just get around the loop. Pick it up to a shuffle.

I pull in to the aid station and I'm done. No will to keep moving. I sit on the picnic table, grab some ice for the back of my neck and sit down. I drink a little water.

Fella comes over who'd run a few loops. Just ran the Skyline 40 miler the weekend before. Had to powerhike the last section because of stomach issues. Had thrown up for 35 miles at the Massanutten 100-miler before dropping. Didn't want two DNFs in a row, so made himself finish Skyline. Before that had ran well at the Umsted 100, but hadn't been able to get his stomach right since.

"Just two more loops," he says. "You can just walk 'em to bring it home if you have to."

7...8...9...

I'm up. Sitting helped. The ice helped. Water for the last loop has calmed my stomach. I take an S-Cap and drop a NUUN tablet and ice in the water bottle, to make sure cramping doesn't become a factor. At some point while sitting, my legs found there way back. I'm running again leaving the aid station.

ROUNDS 9 & 10

For the second five loops walkers, campers, fishing folks have been laughing, shaking their heads seeing me go by again. Must be a sight! My legs are working again and I'm able to run. For less than another 10K now, I know my stomach will cut me some slack. A little trail weary, but passable. I finish loop 9 and tell the good folks at base camp I better do a "cool down" loop.

As I'm leaving the aid station, I see Derek coming in. "Last lap?" he asks. "Last lap." "Alright!"

Loop 10 is like 9--running, not fast, but running most of it. The road around the pond, past the public ramp is a welcome landmark, knowing it's pretty well finished. I find enough foot speed to make myself look like a runner again down the stretch to finish. Some cheers and a whole lotta smiles. 50K (31 miles) finished in 5:48. Lori is in already (and much quicker to recover), clocking in at 5:40, and not five minutes after I sat down, the cheers picked up as Derek came across the proverbial line in 5:52.

RECAP

A little unorthodox for a race report, but I'm not sure what is orthodox about running 31 miles in the middle of June :) Team Slug, Delaware welcomed us with open arms and gave us everything we needed to gitterdun' on a hot day. An exceptional (and exceptionally funny and kooky in a good, ultra running way) group of folks, who know how to have a good time.

They've got a more holistic race report, and a bunch of pictures that sum up the day in images over on the Booty Rumble 50K race page. There's also a quick shout-out of thanks and congratulations to Lori and Derek on our Rise Up Runners blog.

Mentally, the Rumble was one of the more difficult runs I've done, not for the difficulty of the course, but for the ease of stopping at the end of every loop once you get tired! For me, point-to-point, out-and-back, and even a bigger loop, make for an easier race, even with tougher terrain.

Having said that, the experience was great. The people were fantastic. And I've stretched out the soul again to see what's in some of the corners that don't get used until/unless you push yourself past where you are comfortable.

That said, when ultra running and I cross paths, I think I prefer it to be in the spring, fall, or winter. Isn't summer supposed to be for vacations? ;)

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Mixed Bag

Illumination courtesy of Tuckahoe State Park and the keen eye and lens of Joel Shilliday.

Tuckahoe State Park is closed until further notice. At least that's what I think the black flies were buzzing as they circled and dive-bombed us yesterday as we cruised the seven-mile version of our loop there.

Katherine Binder, Lori Callahan, Mike Keene, and I rolled out from the Coffee East/Diving Dog parking lot at 6:30 a.m., knowing that running conditions (i.e. ticks, poison ivy, black flies, heat) might be at a low point for the year. I have to say, thanks to the black flies primarily, Sunday was as miserable as I have seen it in three-or-so years running there. Keene correctly pointed out that the flies will soon be gone, which I do recall from a late July run last year, which is slight consolation.

Having said that, it was still a blast, and a great way to start Father's Day, for me. Our Tuckahoe Sunday was the start of a taper-ish week for me, with the Team Slug 50K Fun Run coming up this Saturday, June 21. Five or six miles Tuesday and four-ish miles Thursday is the recipe for final "Slugfest" preparation.

This past week saw some solid training runs--7.25-ish miles on Monday, 13.1 miles Wednesday, for a more detailed account of that run, check the Rise Up Runners blog, and then I set out for a faster/tempo workout on Friday, where I ran a 7-mile out-and-back route in 52:29--averaging 7:30 miles for the run. Friday's tempo run felt (and was) a faster pace starting out than my normal, longer runs, and when I would start to drift into an easier pace, I would stride into it to pick it up. I had some left in the tank, but was reasonably spent at the end, after a good push up Rails to Trails on my final two miles. At one point, I felt the automatic legs--a la Landy Cook's trail horse analogy on the home stretch and had to smile.

So the next big thing for me is to try to tackle 31 miles in the summer heat on a flat 5K trail loop in Delaware. The loop provides ample opportunities to resupply, fill water bottles, grab a few more Clif Shot Blocks, and shuffle back around. Hopefully 10 laps won't make me too dizzy :) Stay tuned for how it all goes.

And on the bigger trail and ultra running scene, we are just shy of two weeks out from the granddaddy of the 100 mile trail races: the Western States 100. If you follow trail ultras, you may already realize that the field in this year's race is phenomenal. The odds makers seem to favor Wunderkid Anton Krupicka, whose footspeed and hundred mile tenacity seem unmatched at the moment. Defending champion Hal Koerner is back in the house, perennial top 10 runner Andy Jones-Wilkins, and the blazing speed of 2007 JFK winner Michael Wardian could be factors, not to mention Karl Meltzer and a number of others. Last year, I checked in periodically during the webcast/stats of the race to see what was going on.

So there's a mixed bag of recent runs, upcoming races, and a peek at one of the big national races. Anything else to add?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Iron Frog

Mike "Wood Frog" Keene leaving the Choptank River during his transition from the swim to the bike leg of the Eagleman 70.3 triathlon.

I am not used to being a spectator at an endurance event. And to be honest, I don't much care for it--it makes me feel too much like a poseur ;) But I wouldn't have missed Mike Keene's 70.3 mile attempt in Cambridge. The Eagleman takes its participants through a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and then a 13.1 mile run, for a grand total of 70.3. They used to call that distance a half-Ironman race.

If covering that distance wasn't hard enough, Keene decided to do it on the hottest day of the year thus far. Anyone living on the Eastern Shore knows that temperatures topped 95 degrees today. People aren't even supposed to be outside mowing the lawn in that stuff!

I arrived in Cambridge later than I hoped, a little after 7 a.m., and had to park several blocks from the start--causing me to run with a backpack to make Keene's start. I got there to find his red-capped cohorts all in the water, and listened to the announcer extolling the accomplishments of race founder Fletcher Hanks (a cousin of mine), who founded the race in Oxford. As a kid, I can remember riding our bikes down to Batchelor's Point to watch the start of the swim, and then being in town to watch everyone finish.

Keene looked great coming out of the water--like he had actually trained for this race :) and I trucked from the water over to the chute where the cyclists came out on their bikes to yell at him some more.

This race is a big deal. From hundreds of volunteers, to traffic control, to vendors, to spectators, to triathlete clubs, to the athletes themselves--the scene is a whir of activity and energy.

Time went quickly (though damn hot standing around!) and the race leaders were coming in off their bikes and getting out on the run. Keene came through upbeat, hollering and smiling, and I kept my vantage point to see him come back out on the run.

That guy looks much too happy to have just swum 1.2 miles and biked 56 miles in insane heat and humidity!

After Mike took off on the run, I macked down a burger and fries and shortly, RUR official photographer Joel Shilliday was on the scene, sporting an action-hero straw hat, and we caught up and began to the countdown to Keene. In the meantime, I saw a runner in the chute, with 20 yards to go, puke neon green Gatorade onto the road, his shirt, and down his chin; we saw a couple runners reduced to almost a crawl from the heat; we saw a 77-year-old man bring it home strong; and we saw countless stoked athletes and families as they were instants away from finishing the race!

We caught Keene's hopping legs and snazzy tri-duds approaching the chute and leaned out to yell at him in the chute, and when he saw us and heard his name, his smile again went large, and he picked up the pace to bring the race home. "Wood" Frog has now been upgraded to "Iron Frog!"

Keene and Cambrige Multi-sport cohort Jim Crowley pose for posterity after finishing the Eagle Man.

I haven't been able to find an official or otherwise list of finisher times, but I can bet that Wood Frog will have a detailed posting soon on his blog. But I can tell you a couple things: 1) it was hot, 2) the scene was inspiring as was Keen's perseverance to finish, and 3) it was hot!