Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Races: The Delaware Trail Marathon Report

Amongst the crowd, just after the start at the Delaware Trail Marathon, one of four races during the Triple Crown trail race series. Photo by Joel Shilliday.

In any race of 26.2 miles or longer, my goal is to finish and enjoy as much of the race as I can. Having said that, the marathon is not my best race. Yet. It may never be, but I think I'll keep plugging away at it. And if my marathon endeavors can be mostly on trails, so much the better.

One of us will be updating the Rise Up Runners blog with photos and a more holistic look at the day--Joel was a masterful photographer, waiter, fastpacker, you name it, and ran a smoking 10K on a difficult course; Mike Keene ran the "Triple Crown," which consists of a half-marathon, a 10K, and a 5K, consecutively. He has a great race report on his blog; and you'll hear a bit here about fellow trail marathoner Landy Cook--so this post is dialed in pretty closely on the marathon.

The Delaware Trail Dawgs have a running playground of a course that may be the envy of the Mid-Atlantic states. Hilly (REALLY hilly if you train on Maryland's Eastern Shore), wooded, great singletrack, creek crossings, and open meadows--a diverse terrain for running. The marathon course is two loops of the 13.1 mile half-marathon course.

The trail marathon started at 7:35 a.m., 5 minutes after the half-marathon. We tramped across a field, before turning downhill, then winding through the woods on twisting singletrack. I am a runner who is compelled by gravity--I run falling fast down the downhills and quickly through wooded singletrack, while struggling on the steep uphill climbs.

A 5-minute lag in start times, meant that many marathoners would catch and intermingle with slower half-marathoners pretty quickly. That was the case, and I got stuck behind people throughout the first part of the course. This could well have been a blessing, as it made me hold back and pace myself.

Crossing the White Clay Creek was a high point of the race--a high point we hit 4 times, each more refreshing than the last. The "other" side of the creek had some superb singletrack, which finally emerged to a long, gravel, and dirt climb. Uncharacteristically, I ran the climb, pushing past a number of runners, until we emerged onto a winding, sunny meadow trail. On the first lap, I enjoyed the meadow, since it got us away from climbing.

The meadow marked the far point of the loop, and on the way back to the creek, I found myself feeling great and passing people consistently, particularly on the more technical sections. As I approached the creek to cross back over, I caught up to Landy, who I ran with pretty well from the second to the third crossing, when I was feeling fresh and motivated.

We hit the half-marathon mark at 2:08, without ever pushing the pace, and feeling reasonably well. Landy had been recovering from the flu for the past week, and was questioning racing at all until Friday. As we hit the halfway point, a conversation worth noting:

M: "You know, this would be a great day, finish a half-marathon, enjoy the cookout, and I'd feel great going home, cut the grass, work in the yard, whatever."

L: "Yeah, that would be the common sense approach, wouldn't it? Then again, long distance running and common sense don't generally go together, do they?"

I ran at a consistent pace up until crossing the creek for the third time. At that point, my nutritional sins from the first lap caught up with me. I had only eaten two gels and been drinking water, and taking S-Caps for sodium. I simply wasn't taking in the calories I needed for the second half of the race. I stopped to re-tie my shoes on the far side of the creek, and Landy pushed ahead, "I'm gonna keep moving, and I'll let you catch up to me." That was the last I saw of him until the finish line.

My tank hit bottom empty, and when I stumbled out to the next aid station, I loaded up on boiled, sliced potatoes and M&Ms. I struggled with low-t0-no energy and debilitating leg cramps for the rest of the second lap, strategically running where I could, and power-walking when my legs were too cramped to run, or I came to a steep uphill. Some of my best and fastest stretches or lap 1 were my toughest stretches of lap 2.

That said, I was running a trail race, and was having a blast. I tried to stock up at aid stations and shuffle along in between. With a couple miles left to go, you could hear the crowd at the finish, without being able to gauge how close you were. But pushing up the final hill and turning the corner to the grassy finish, my legs came back and allowed for a reasonable hundred yard dash, past a trifecta of smiling and cheering Rise Up Runner comrades, for a finish time of 5:02 and change. My slowest marathon, but on undoubtedly the toughest marathon course I have run, and certainly the most fun.

The final stretch of field to the finish line, with renewed energy and legs. Thanks to Joel Shilliday for the photo.

I have some work to do on the nutritional end, to get stronger on the second half of a marathon. I'm not so much worried about time as running a complete race. I'll have one or two more marathon chances this year, so stay tuned.

The Delaware Trail Marathon was my first Trail Dawgs race, but certainly won't be my last. A great crowd of people, a fun race, awesome aid station volunteers. And probably the most fun, which isn't touched on in this post, is that this was the first race since the Rise Up Runners group was formed, and four of us made the trip to race. I hope this is the first of many races together. We'll see which one is next.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

Flyin' Brian Robinson moves out during the 2007 Hardrock 100 mile trail race.

There are some people whose very being seems to up the ante for endurance athletes. One of those people is "Flyin'" Brian Robinson, who lives out in California. Brian first stepped into the limelight in 2001, when he became the first person on the planet to achieve a "Calender Triple Crown." What's a calendar triple crown? Glad you asked ;) Robinson's triple crown was earned by thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail--America's three long trails--in a single calendar year. More than 7,000 miles, thought unachievable in that short a time. It actually took Brian about 10 months. Following that, there were feature articles in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and even People magazine.

Brian is one of a number of folks I have had the pleasure and opportunity of interviewing for an article set to come out in the next issue of Trail Runner magazine, scheduled to hit newsstands nationwide in early May. The article is about the sport of fastpacking (for a definition and history of the sport, you'll have to pick up the article :) and its connection to trail and ultra running, highlighting the trip that Mike Keene and I took to the White Mountains last summer.

In Brian's case, he began ultra running as a way to get and stay in shape for his fastpacking and thru-hiking. For someone who is a backpacking legend, he is an unbelievable ultra runners as well. In 2007, he finished 29th in the Western States 100, the most well-known trail 100 mile race in the country, then turned around and finished the Hardrock 100, one of the country's most difficult 100 mile races.

The thing about Brian that caught my attention as a postscript, is what he managed to do this spring in the Barkley 100. You'd have to call the Barkley the most difficult 100 mile race in the world. It probably shouldn't even be a race, and is often laughed off by those who know it and those who try to run it as lunacy. Only 6 people out of 600 have ever even finished the race. Last year, Brian made it more than 80 miles, and was the only person to do so. This year, not only did he finish, he set the course record.

If you have some time, and want to know why someone would possibly try to run a race like the Barkley, read the great story that Eli Saslow wrote for The Washington Post, as part of a series called, "Why We Compete." To check it out, click here.

Brian's talent, dedication, and vision make him an interesting case study. He changed his life priorities, "retiring" from his job as a computer software engineer to follow his backpacking and endurance sports dreams. When I asked him about what he got from being outside, and what advice he had for someone looking to push themselves in a similar way, he said:

"I love the outdoors and first started fastpacking for the expectation to see more. The more I went, the further I wanted to go. I need trail running because it keeps me connected. Sometimes I have to go visit myself out there.

"For advice, it’s a cliché to say ‘just do it,’ but my life is a pretty good example. I sacrificed a good bit to do what I am doing. I encourage people to stretch their boundaries, to do what is right to follow the path in your heart. I was a computer engineer for 17 years. I thought I was reasonably happy, until I took plan B and turned my back on my career and did what I love. For whom it’s right, do it."

I hope to continue talking to people like Brian, who inspire us to step outside our work-a-day lives, to push our comfort zones, to challenge ourselves. People whose accomplishments as well as their daily lives remind us (while we're using clichés) that perhaps we should work so that we can live, not live so that we can work. I'm all for living.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Attitude Makes the Difference"

Daily adventures--waiting to see what waits on the other side of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, after exploring and picnicing at the Oxford Park.

I just turned 36 years old and my most sought-after birthday gifts were a pair of Brooks running shoes and an Element skateboard. Readers of the 4-1-Run will not be surprised about the former. And anyone who knew me during my teenage/skate rat years will remember the 5+ years skating through Oxford and chuckle remembering the anarchistic zeal of years past.

My wife and her friends are getting good laughs and head-shaking amazement between 3 and 4 a.m. running times and me setting up rain gutters to ollie over in our driveway. To be honest though, I always figured/hoped I would grow up to be a kid. Just past 35 now and some of my favorite things to do are run through the mud, take "adventure/exploring" days with our girls, and now to see what balance I have left for skating. I look forward to the St. Michaels skatepark on my lunch breaks from work :)

There is a bumper sticker that has appeared at funny places at opportune times for me to read it. It's not quite ubiquitous, but it is on plenty of bumpers. It says, "Attitude Makes the Difference." I saw it again yesterday, as the girls and I were barefoot on the beach in Bellevue, throwing shells and looking for sea glass. Cliche for a bumper sticker, maybe, but a subtle reminder to me, to keep adventuring and exploring, and not to get bored or take things for granted, or too seriously.

The morning of my birthday, I left the house a little after 4 a.m., and ran 11.5 - 11.75 miles before going work. I enjoyed the company of running friends and came home to find our older daughter Anna had snuck down to sing happy birthday, with the "you look like a monkey" lyrics. That's a great birthday in and of itself.

My three runs this week have been 7.5 or so at Tuckahoe, 11.5, and 16-ish, making for another strong week heading into 2 weeks before the Delaware Trail Marathon.

So those are my thoughts at the moment: adventure, exploring, attitude, running, skating, fun. Tomorrow is a Tuckahoe day, which, after some good rain today, should be another Sunday of muddy hills and slippery trails. A smorgasboard, indeed!

Monday, April 7, 2008

What Were You Doing Last Year?

Official Bridge-to-Bridge course tester Mike "Wood Frog" Keene high steps it over the Knapps Narrows Bridge, on the first official course run--in the snow, wind, and rain--April 7, 2007.

There is no snow in the forecast for today on the Shore. You couldn't say that a year ago. On April 7 last year, Mike Keene and I christened the official measured Bridge-to-Bridge Half-Marathon course in sideways snow and rain in what we dubbed the "Extreme" version of the B2B. That was one of those runs that you have to be at least part-buffoon to get out of bed to make, and/but that I will never forget and would rank among the most memorable. Sometimes a smattering of idiocy can add some adventure to life.

I guess it's that same kind of idiocy that continues to pull me out of bed to make our morning Rise Up Runners runs this year. This past week may have been my highest mileage week on record. My three runs were 10 miles at Tuckahoe, 11-ish miles around Easton, and then 17.5 miles around Easton. I've already written about the Tuckahoe run. The 11-ish run saw Landy Cook and I meet Don Marvel at Idlewild at 5:00 a.m. and trounce around a number of Easton "boroughs" in the dark. Roughly 9-minute pace, and my nagging hip-flexor felt good the whole run.

On Thursday, the complete lunacy came into effect. Landy and I began our run at 3:30 a.m. That hurts to type. A star lit morning gave way to clouds, and when we met Joel Shilliday on Washington Street at 5:15ish, we were already almost 11.5 miles into our run. We fed off Joel's fresh energy and deft movie review skills :) to power us through the next 5 or so miles, before catching the very start of the sunrise while coming up Rails to Trails. I had to pull-in to get the morning festivities started in my house (waking the ladies), while Landy continued on, determined to crack 20 miles for the morning, which he did.

The long run of the year so far, was mostly run at 9-minute pace, which is encouraging for where I'm hoping to be for a potential fall road marathon. The Delaware course on April 26 will throw conventional timing/pace out the window as it's a trail marathon. My legs stayed somewhat fresh during the run, however my stomach, egged on by not having dinner the night before, due to a finger-food-menu work party, was a wreck for the second half of the run. Diagnosing how he felt and where we were as we were on the home stretch of Rails-to-Trails, Landy had the quote of the day, "my legs are a little tired, my breath is a little shorter, and my will is shot." That is one of the best summations of a long run that I have heard uttered.

A couple other things worth noting: fellow Rise Up Runner and long-time compadre and training partner Mike Keene has thrown himself headlong into cyberspace. He began his new blog, "Runners on Trails," yesterday, so be sure to check it frequently for eloquent reports and ruminations on running, adventure, traveling, and his first half-Ironman triathlon this June.

One of my next posts will take some notes and an interview I did with fastpacking, ultra-running guru Flyin' Brian Robinson while working on my article due out in the next issue of Trail Runner magazine. The occasion of a post about Brian is that he just finished, and managed to set the course record, for the Barkley 100 mile race--probably the hardest 100 miles run anywhere as a "race." Brian becomes only the 7th person to complete the course.

And finally, be sure to check the Rise Up Runners blog, for what's going on with group runs, run reports, and a great why-I-run mornings piece by Landy Cook. Some future stories coming over there, include a travel piece by Mike Keene and some photos, video, and a recap of the mud stompin' run that Joel Shilliday and I had out at Tuckahoe yesterday.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rise Up Runners, Officially

If we have a cool logo, we must be official, right? Very many thanks to Tim Cureton and the crew at Rise Up Coffee, for what looks to be a fun collaboration in spreading two often connected endeavors: endurance sports (primarily running) and good coffee.

"Rise up this mornin', smiled at the risin' sun..." --Bob Marley

If nothing else, Rise Up Runners may have the toughest, hippest logo of any running group. At least I tend to think so! We talked to Tim and Rise Up Coffee about what we were doing and what we want to do, and agreed that we can have some real fun, log some miles, drink good coffee, and help spread the word about Rise Up, all at the same time.

We've gone and started something, now we'll see where we take it, or it takes us, from here. If you want to understand or know more about Rise Up Runners, take a peak at the group's blog, bookmark it, and check back to see what's going on from a number of voices, perspectives, activities, and adventures.