Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Ultra Run

An Unofficial Ultra Run
By Paul

Today was an exercise in the purist form of ultra running.  Eight friends gathered with a common idea, a common goal.  With the support of awesome families and two other friends, ultra runners themselves, the eight set out to accomplish their goal.  With a single step an idea became reality in pursuit.  No race entry fees.  No need for permits.  No worries.

Some instigation, a little planning and in about four months an idea was given an opportunity to blossom.  We would run from Dallas to Fort Worth.  Our start Dealey Plaza and our finish line Sundance Square in Fort Worth Texas.

We would follow a route of 41 miles in length.  A route developed with feedback from the group.  With good intentions of promptness, we all arrived a bit late at a parking lot near the start site of Dealey Plaza in Dallas, TX.    An intended start time of 6 AM led to an eventual group start at 6:21 AM sunrise. Hamlin, Joshua, Reece, Jeremy, Chad, Jacob, Matthew and Paul, myself, started on our way.

From the grassy knoll, we began our journey west.  With the sun at our backs we head out down main street past Lew Sterrett Justice Center.  We ran across the original bridge bridging the gap in Dallas and down to the west/south side of the Trinity River basin just outside downtown Dallas.  This was a great way to start the day.  It led us all the way to Irving where we exited the levees and picked up access to the southern end of the Campion Trail, one of Irving's jewels.

Campion provided us our first encounter with our unsolicited support Libby.  To have unsolicited support for a run like this is great.  To have what Libby would provide us through the course of the day was stout.  Stout, our word to describe all things amazing, awesome, and other wise epic and unforgettable on this fine Texas day.  With her mobile ultra runners buffet she enhanced an already festive and beaming troop.  "Enjoy the next 3/4 miles," read a park sign, two park signs in fact.

I think they said that because they knew what the next mile would be like; a mile down a back road river bottom road next to a municipal waste facility.  Despite the odoriferous scent wafting on the steady breeze many smiles and waves carried us down the road.  A mere single driver opted not to wave back or budge as many blinked by with complimenting waves as we acknowledged their kindness for accommodating our presence on this tiny road with no shoulder and drivers heading into the rising sun.  Yes, super safe.  Not really.  But hey how smart are we?  I mean, we are talking about a group determined to run from one major city to another covering over forty miles on a pretty warm Texas day.

Just prior to reaching Lone Star Park and the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie Libby greeted us again as we noted a rather unique piece of engineering in the parking lot.  We enjoyed snacks and refilled water to satisfaction.  Somewhere a road vanished and we turned left on Beltline.  This lead to a passing car with the horn of an eighteen wheeler.  It seemed the horn blast was strong enough to dislodge internal matter.  We validated this when we came upon Race Trac.  Joshua and Jacob headed in for facilities and water refills.  The rest of us carried on in a pedestrian manner along the course.

After much discussion and a photo op at the Palace of Wax we still had not enjoyed the company of Joshua and Jacob's return.  Forward we ran until arriving a mile or two down the road where Libby waited for our arrival.  As we began our already natural exchange Jacob and Joshua appeared at the base of the hill below the school parking lot that was our temporary aid station.  We reconvened and heard the irreverent recollections of the wayward two returning from the Race Trac gas station.  Continuing up the hill we had the pleasure of Josh's wife Lesli.  She shared some kind words with us before we continued up our hill and she to join Libby.

A few miles later and many less than desirable industrial buildings we opened the door to McDonald's outside Six Flags.  This compact bustling haven for those in need of a quick calorie bomb provided a wonderfully guiltless restroom immediately through the front door.  We all made our way in in turn.  Eventually crossing the freeway we dashingly navigated our way to the Six Flags Entrance sign and median.  A photo or two later, a couple of minutes off of our feet and an inappropriate lube application or two later we forged onward.

We made our way to the next encounter with our mobile support, now including Lesli.  Efficiently we moved passed the home of the Texas Rangers a home school book fair and the home of the Dallas Cowboys.  As we clipped through central Arlington a fast food establishment was assaulted and the group fractured in two.  Leading the way, Reece Hamlin Chad Matthew and Paul took step after step with purpose and ease nearing the marathon distance and arriving to the finest support crew just past the entrance to Randol Mill park in Arlington.  Our group now solidly split, we looked anxiously and curiously back on the path we had just run looking for a sign of the remainder of our pack.  We took our time and again grazed drank and replenished resources for the voyage to satisfaction.

Without sight of our friends we moved along the road of pursuit.  A tempting pool, healthy downhill, and a few somewhat shady miles later we entered a suburban portion of east Fort Worth.  The terrain was beginning to evolve as we entered the second half of our venture.  Our oasis appeared near the top of a house lined street.  We attained an update on our partners in crime drank grazed joked and headed up the hill.  Some interesting miles later we found ourselves working our way up the hill KTVT 11 calls home with Chad leading the charge.  We then zig-zagged our way through a charming neighborhood.  This provided us our final encounter with our support for the day.  We were all certainly feeling the effects of the miles and the increasing heat.  With the knowledge group two was moving forward steadily and our destination within grasp we moved out with tiring legs.  An excellent resident and true Aggie, dressed in Cowboy boots tall A&M socks and shorts, was tending to his garden around a lamp post on the far corner of his corner lot atop a hill with a brilliant view of downtown Fort Worth and the Trinity river.  We were all stoked by the view here and had a friendly conversation with our friend in passing.  He did us the favor of taking a picture and assured us he would let our friends know we send the word to hurry-up in good humor.

Some tangents and a dusty road later we discovered FWMBA "parking lot" and trail head off of E 1st.  With some mild skepticism we headed off the road and onto the very welcome single track trail.  You could tell this trail was only sculpted by and used for mountain bikes from the slopes and design.  This did not detract from the embrace we offered it, though the humidity could have been far more desirable.  In the woods sturdily into the trail we came upon a large length of tree trunk fashioned into a bench.  We took advantage of this shade laden lush surrounding and surreal seating opportunity to enjoy an impromptu snack and drink.  A split in the trail led to a moment of truth.  After some logic and map referencing we chose wisely.  The trail carried us on along the base of hills running parallel to I-30 but unseen from the freeway and it unseen to us.  The trail led to a grassy field and the final yards of concrete where the Fort Worth Trinity River Trail ends east of downtown.  As a Fort Worth policeman backed his truck into a field of high grass behind a large construction vehicle we trekked onward to make our return to the roads.

Crossing I-30 I enjoyed a moment as I watched the traffic whiz by below.  My haste and turn south away from the evident downtown just previously in our view led to an inquiry as to my cognitive state.  Reassuringly we moved on to a right turn onto Lancaster toward downtown.  If you have never been to Fort Worth Lancaster in this area is one of those places you definitely do not go at night if it's not your area and you rarely go to it in the day unless you are perhaps volunteering at a facility or in need of said services.  We strategically walked ran and viewed our surroundings as the road seemed to never end.  This one mile stretch seemed like ten.  With members of the 100+ homeless and in need sharing opinions and advice as we passed we maintained a healthy cadence.  Let's just say we were told we were crazy for running down this road by one of the residence and it wasn't because of the traffic.  Another expressed her astonishment at the site she was beholding.  With positive vibes for the well-being of our soon to follow troop we scooted on to downtown Fort Worth.  

An opportunity to view a facility where an epic film and epic film star shot a famous scene should never be passed.  So we crossed the road and entered the Fort Worth Water Gardens.  What a visually and audibly stunning piece of art.  Some water and a hula-hoop challenge later we regained our focus.  The last ten blocks clicked by briskly.

We arrived at our destination around nine hours after embarking from our starting point 41 miles away.  Certainly not an unbeatable time but perhaps the most enjoyable time that will ever be had over this course and the distance regardless of setting.  After some congratulatory exchanges and a rest on the ledge of a snazzy cafe we parted with Chad.  

The Flying Saucer, on 3rd not 4th, would serve host to our post run hydration and nutrition needs.  The place was hopping when we arrived in our running attire and I in my split shorts and sunburn.  As the rush declined our service excelled and we enjoyed the meal before us while recalling the journey and peeking around occasionally for the remainder of our group.  Not too long later the three J's arrived to join us.  Congratulations again shared we carried on in our jubilation.  From the "x" to "Da Spot" & "Soul Food" we recalled the day.  Not even heavy traffic could damper our spirits as we concluded the tasks to complete our journey.

This is ultra running.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Riding The Winds


Thank you to all of our Veterans to whom this race honors.  Thank you to all of our current active duty military.  Thank you to Cindy Melder, Race Director, for putting on a great event that exemplified trail running and filled the giant shoes left by Tom Crull.  Thank you to all of the volunteers, Michael Melder, Cindy's Father, all the aid station volunteers, the chefs, and everyone who lent a hand in marking the trail, cleaning up the mess, and handling all the unseen aspects of the event to make our trail running experience memorable.  Thank you to my family for coming out and supporting me and tolerating my growing obsession.  Thank you to my coach Jeremy Day.
In 1996, I think it was, I was introduced to the Northshore trail at Lake Grapevine on the recommendation of my club track coach.  Ever since then I have come back to it for runs ranging from peaceful long runs to challenging dashes through the woods, rocks, and roots.  My first participation in the Rumble's events would not come when it began in 1997 shortly after my introduction to the trail.  My first participation in the Rumble would come ten years later in 2006.  I ran the 15k and came out of the woods and on to the rocky shore line in route to a 1:05 1st OA finish.  After the race I remember watching 50K runners coming through the start area only to head back out again.  I was intrigued.  Though I had not wrapped my head around being able to run for that length of time part of me wanted to find out, just not anytime soon.  I would run the 15K every year following or volunteer.  Though I was on hand for 2011 I did not participate due to illness.
With my desire to run the 50k well steeped over the past five years, my anticipation was about as high as it gets.  The latter portion of the week leading up to the race could not go by quickly enough.  In addition to simply being eager to run, I was also a bit on the worried side.  Was I recovered from Palo Duro just three weeks ago?  Did I enjoy my vacation too much?  Was I getting sick?   
Friday I had everything ready to go for the race by late afternoon.  Beer was coolered and hydration bottles were correctly prepared unlike Palo Duro a few weeks ago.  My running attire was neatly stacked on the dresser with casual wear too.  The car was loaded with the essentials.  All I need do now was eat, sleep, and wake up on time. 
Dinner was served before 6pm.  Slumber swept over me by 8pm.  As is my "ritual" pre race lately, I fell asleep to Unbreakable.  That movie moves me and inspires me to push the envelope.  I am a trail running geek without shame.
The alarm went off a couple of minutes after I woke up just before 4:15am.  I had been waking up about every hour since around midnight.  Eager and ready for the events arrival.  I made it out the door a shower and a couple of Eggo's with honey later just before 5am. 
Cruising down the desolate freeway to The Black Keys and Tool, I was entering the gate to Rockledge Park by 5:20am.  My reward was a primo parking spot in the paved lot near the start line.  Only volunteers and a few other overly pro-active runners were on-hand.  With the passing of around 30 minutes, the traffic picked up and the trail runners to be were blowing into the park steadily riding on the winds of anticipation.
After anxiously milling about in preparation, dawn was greeting us.  I made my way to place my drop bag and greeted a number of friends and familiar faces.  More than a familiar face, my Father greeted me just prior to the race announcements.  My Dad started running this race a few years ago and he too fell in love with it for the people and atmosphere.  He was pleasant and excited to be there for the 15k.  He kept asking me how I was and the only response I could conjure was "ready to run".  We listened to the race info dealt out by RD Cindy.  Then enjoyed and sang softly to the instrumental National Anthem played.
photo by Mark Olateju.  Great to see you!


First year Race Director Cindy Melder gathered the 50k runners at the gnarly tree by the park road to start the race.  She led us in the traditional pre race trail runner pledge.  You know, keep your eyes on the trail.  If you look up expect to go down.  It really is a great way to set a positive tone to the race before everyone hurries or shuffles off.  Then she sent us on our way down the road to the trail head with a verbal command that ended in "run!"
I had looked around me prior to the start and noted some fit and eager bodies.  In addition to respecting and preparing to compete against friends Nick Polito and Josh Witte I knew their were clearly some folks there interested in going for it.  The start confirmed that as around ten of my fellow runners took off fast.  I mean fast!  Compared to Palo Duro this was the start of a 400m track race.  My first thought was jeez these guys are crazy.  My next thought was "shit, I have to at least stay close to them and see how soon they calm down."  Josh was close behind me as we charged down the hill which would follow the park road and lead to the trail head about 3/4 of a mile away.  A young man named Michael led the pack.  Josh and I sat around 8th and 9th as we made our way onto the trail and along the sloped rocky trail that is the first .4 miles or so of actually trail at the Rumble.
The lead group separated quickly with me inhaling their dust an unknown distance behind.  After a 7:30 first mile I settled in to a more patient pace.  Still wanting to run intelligent yet competitively I found myself clicking away between 8:00 and 9:00 pace.  About three miles in my legs were tired.  "Hmmm, I guess I'm not recovered from Palo Duro," I thought.  This was only my second 50k but it is around my seventh marathon plus distance and well into the teens for races over 13 miles whether trail or road.  You have moments in runs where you feel bad, good, and somewhere in between.  The moments like this typically come at least a few miles later in a race.  They can be over come and they typically pass.  To say I was not concerned though would be dishonest.  I spent the next few miles trying to ignore the negative thoughts spilling through my head.  It would take about seven miles to accomplish that.
The first aid station, about 5 miles, came and went without much note other than great volunteers ready to help and very pleasant.  The second aid station, about 9 miles, also came and went with the same description.  Just beyond the 2nd aid station you begin running a portion of the trail and race that is two-way single track.  I knew I would find out how well I was holding up in position through here.  To my surprise I was not too far out of touch.  Not far before the turn around I began seeing the leaders.  As they passed I counted my way to discover I was sitting in eighth place.  I was in good position and this helped my motivation and mental state.  Unfortunately, it was not going to magically replace my legs.  At this point I had decided to ignore how my legs felt and just go for it.  This was the 50k that made me want to run a 50k.  With five years in the making, I was not going to give up so readily.  I was prepared to lay what I had in me on the line early and suffer the consequences later.  I figured if I can stay close maybe , just maybe, they will crack before me.  Besides I knew this trail like the back of my hand and would bet my lines were straighter and more efficient than anyone in front of me.
Rejuvenated and inspired I made the turn-around and headed back toward the start, ten miles away.  I made it to the 3rd aid station, same as #2, refilled my bottle with a fresh mix of Roctane brew, and headed out with controlled hunger to steadily pursue those ahead of me.  Seeing a runner leave the aid station just ahead of me here helped drive my pursuit.
Through the woods, winding, twisting, climbing, falling, running, thinking, I forged on.  Around 2:30:00 into the race I hit the fourth aid station at Murrell park, same as #1 about 16 miles now, again a runner left just as I arrived.  The familiar faces here really helped me out.  I still felt pretty good and was staying fairly positive despite the repression of reality and the state of my legs.  I think I looked about how I felt here.  What do you think?
photo by Deborah Sexton.  Thanks for your support!

Between the Murrell aid and the turn to start the second loop at the start/finish I picked up Michael.  Michael, you will recall, had charged out and led the race early.  He was in the lead at the single track earlier too when I got a picture of where I stood.  he linked up to me and we ran and worked our way through the next few miles.  My fatigue began to show when about half way through this stretch my left leg said screw this and seized up.  I retorted by cursing and yelling loudly in discomfort without warning.  Hopefully Michael was not too shocked by this outburst.  I told him it would pass and after a brief walk I ran it into submission.  We came upon a familiar steep climb and he asked if I wanted to sprint it.  My immediate reply was "I'll hike in the straightest line available.  Maybe I will run it when we are back here again on the next loop."  We hiked and found our run again when the trail leveled out just above.
Onward!  Coming out of the woods and onto the rocky slope to the end of the trail and on to the road was like stepping into a wind tunnel.  As if keeping good footing was not hard enough the wind added that much more of a challenge to the experience.  On to the road and down into the loose gravel of the shore below Jackson Pavilion where the race finishes, I ran with as good of form as possible to the supporting family friends and volunteers awaiting me.  The wind was so strong that it was blowing dirt into the cups of water on the aid station table.  I grabbed one cup and downed.  Then grabbed another and dumped it on my head and opted for the jug of water and  the flat coke in my drop cooler.  My family gave me kind words and I tried to efficiently get what I needed and head out.  In my haste I dropped one of my two seven grain pancakes in the dirt.  I grabbed the remaining pancake and headed out eating, sipping, and pursuing the three runners who were in the aid and out just ahead of me.  Opportunity, was at hand if I could will my legs to life.  I would not be winning but I could move up into the top five if I could force the issue upon my body. 
After a couple of miles of feebly attempting to make up some status in the standings, I succumbed to negativity and fatigue.  Now the fatigue was mental as well as physical.  I was exhausted.  I began running to this curve and that tree.  Trying to constantly convince and remind myself that the more I ran the sooner I would be done with this death march.  I was done though, despite my best emotional tactics to re motivate myself.  I would run six steps and out of no where walk.  I would try to remind myself to at least walk with purpose.  Bikes were flying by me at this point now pretty often.  Every time, even when they were courteous it would make me feel defeated.  To be honest I envied them.  I wanted to take one of their bikes and ride home.  Some were so courteous they laid their bike down slowing up out of respect for the race and my participation.  Others were plugged in, headphones on, inconsiderate jerks to put it nicely.  We won't get off topic though...
Somewhere about a mile out from the turn around on the second loop the lead lady cruised by me.  We exchanged encouraging words and we, she more than I, continued on our way.  I wearily wandered down the trail to the Murrell aid station. 
The aid station volunteers at Murrell greeted me with encouragement.  They did exactly what they are there for, lie to me about how great I look and asking what I needed.  I told them I needed two new legs and to be at the finish.  They responded by filling my bottle and building up my esteem.  I thank you guys for that!  I also saw Lesli Witte here on her trip back on the first loop.  She was on her way to completing her first 50k!  After chatting and laughing with the aid station crew, I headed down the trail re inspired yet again.  I found energy and motivation going into the final miles of the run thanks to them.  The next five miles or so would turn out to be the best miles of the race for me, though definitely not the fastest.  This segment I passed many of the 50k runners still wrapping up their first loop and a few of the 30k runners who were finishing.  Everyone was pleasant and the words exchanged in passing helped all move forward.  One gentleman commented that he wished he were where I was in the race.  I told him we were probably in the same place mentally.  These moments in a run are the ones I enjoy the most.  When the body breaks through and the mind frees itself and you simply run, steadily alert yet detached moving as one through nature.  In these moments I am at peace. 
There is a healthy climb about a mile from the shore or rock ledge that switches back and climbs up a bit before leveling off in the woods into a meandering section of trail.  As I was beginning to work up this I remembered a Facebook post from Nick Polito to the effect of , " I think I'm in about 5:30 shape for Rockledge."  I glanced at my watch and thought, "huh, I should be finishing in around 5:30 at this rate."  No sooner than that did Nick come running up the hill passing me.  "Damn," I thought, "now I have to run."  No one with a friendly competitive bone would let an acquaintance blow by the less than two miles from the finish without making them earn their race within the race.  So I latched on to Nick and found what little drive I had left.  With me not far behind we were on the rockledge together before we knew it.  He was trying to lose me, I'm pretty sure, and I was trying to crack him.  We hit the road and Nick pulled away. 
I could see my daughter Claire swinging on the playground.  Beyond that I could see the steps leading to the finish.  I had made it.  I could care less about catching Nick.  Claire jumped off the swing and ran over to me, running with me briefly.  My wife was just below her on the shore and cheered me on as well as got me back on course.  I decided the race would not be complete without a few extra feet and running through a patch of brambles.  I found the base of the stairs and attempted to sprint up the stairs but then, out of no where as Jay would observe, a demon lept out and grabbed my ass!  Yep, a cramp as I headed up the final steps.  I power hiked hands on knees up the stairs and cast the demon off  feet before the finish.  In a daze I dramatically kept running almost all the way up to the parking lot trying to out run the demon.  I'm sure I looked like a drunk leaving the bar at 2:15am on a Friday bent over and walking all over the place.  Everything I had was on the course behind me, all 31 miles in 5:17:16 of it.  Wife and daughter by my side and finisher's medal around my neck, I gathered my head and told the concerned EMT personnel who stalked me that I was OK. 
The post race was highlighted for me by the simple company of my wife and daughter.  Having them there meant the world to me.  The compliment to that was enjoying the company of friends Josh, Phil, Nick, David, Bridget, Cindy and all who I know I have not mentioned.  I hung out drank great beer and talked running, life, politics, and more with friends for around three hours.  I am thankful for days like this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Canyon Calls - I Answer

Palo Duro Canyon awaits
 It would be easy to fill this race report with splits, gear info, and the typical summary one would expect.  I will do that.  Before I do some background, inspiration, stupidity, and fun should be offered up as an appetizer.  It may be found through-out the piece as well.

Last March I had the privilege of taking on the Race Director role for the Grasslands Trail Runs.  That weekend changed me.  I saw people I know evolve and challenge themselves over the course of the day.  Their experience was both a physical and mental challenge.  I had run marathons before but never beyond.  I saw participants on the verge of tears yet still forging on.  I knew that day I wanted to experience "that".  To go "there" and see how far the envelope could bend.  The same weekend I watched Unbreakable for the first time.  No.  This is not the Samuel L Jackson character, comic book movie.  Unbreakable is the documentary about the Western States 100 in 2010 when some slightly above average guys all happened to toe the line with the same goal.  What is that?  You say you have not seen it.  Please do take a moment and watch it.  Like any sane running enthusiast, I went home and registered for three 50k's and a 50 miler, all of course with my wife's blessing.  I was not insane, therefore, I did not register for a 100 miler.  Palo Duro, which came with sparkling recommendation, was to be the first to arrive on the calendar.


Fast-forward to August, I had found a coach (Jeremy Day) who melted seamlessly with my rambunctious consistency and seemed to be destined for me.  We discovered we are both from within miles of the same area of Arlington.  He at this point had guided me through my first four months of training which was characterized by his love for scripting back-to-back long runs into my schedule.  Motivated by the happenings in March and the unexpected passing of my brother-in-law as well as other personal factors I logged the best four months of training I have in, well, probably ever.  Then life happened.  I only ran thirteen days in August.  In September things were no better.  Only seven days had log entries for running.  I was distracted, tired, and stressed.  Not to mention it is stupid hot come August in Texas and I guess I had just had enough.

Time passed.  I found motivation and decided it was do or die time.  Palo Duro was three weeks away.  I may not be able to salvage training for it but I can get back on the horse and ride.  I started running with focus again on September 30th with the goal to run 33 days straight for my 33rd birthday.  Today will be day 24.  I will be running shortly after this....  No hot wings and 44 oz's of Sierra Nevada tonight...
I drove to the race from my home in north Frisco.  The trek was about six hours.  I highly recommend hwy 86 just north of Childress.  The speed limit is high and they don't mind if you go a bit over.  The roads are a blast to drive plus you get to go through part of a smaller canyon, Caprock Canyon, which builds the excitement as you are within 100 miles of Palo Duro.
Spoiled and indecisive as I am, I had hotel and campsite reservations simultaneously.  I used my camp-site to get in a quick easy three mile run and pre-view of the trail upon arrival around 1:30pm.  The section I ran was just north of the aid station at the Lighthouse trail head.  It was flat and shady.  I though to myself, "there is no way all 31 miles will be this nice tomorrow." That of course would hold true.
After the short run and a preview of the terrain I made for town to meet Gates and Janet.  They would be my roommates for Friday - Sunday.  They were excellent company and experienced Palo runners.  We hit up the packet pick-up and saw our friend and race promoter Karen Roberts.  Many other familiar faces dotted the large room where the pasta dinner was being consumed ravenously by so many to be trail runners.  Mark Olateju, Bryan Thurman, Brian Galen, and Tim Steele were just a few I saw among the crowd.  We opted to appease Gates' preference for pancakes as a pre-race dinner.  Fortunately we found the diamond in the rough with the Ranch House Cafe.  This place was absolutely amazingly freaking awesome!  With their whole menu available all day breakfast was served at 5:30pm that Friday evening.  And the, the pancakes...  Just go try them for yourself.  They fueled me just fine...
"Woke up. Got out of bed. Drag the comb across my head.  Found my way down stairs and drank a cup.  Then looking up I noticed I was late..."  No we weren't late.  In fact quite the opposite.  We arrived at the park entrance to Palo Duro at no later than 5:15am.  We were the fifth car in line.  Who gets there that early?  Wait my friend and fellow Run On employee Dawnn!  She was the first car at the gate. 
It was dark.  The stars lit the sky and oddly enough, it was pretty darn chilly.  The gate opened at 5:50am and we made are way down into the canyon, winding around the park roads until we reached the event site.  We parked in the first row deep in a grass field just feet from the trail head and next to a lone cedar tree.  Prime parking is apparently available for free as long as you get up at 4am...
We set-up near the drop bag area on Gates' recommendation.  Again his experience was a benefit.  We went through our pre-race rituals and jitters.  To some Black Keys I prepped my race gear one last time and decided to go with just the singlet and no toss away shirt for the start.  I also chose to leave my handheld bottles until after the first loop of six was behind me.
7AM - I had taken my place at the front of the 50 mile and 50k crowd.  After some pre-race direction from the starter, abruptly, to the sound of an air horn, WE WERE OFF!!!
Apprehensively, I was right up front.  We wound around a short asphalt road past the drop-bag area and on to the trail.  A few fast folks flew by.  I had no desire to go with them.  I led a group of what I think was about four, Martin Guthrie included, through the dark and winding trail to the light of my Petzl headlamp. 
The air was cool and crisp. My legs felt fluid.  My mind was a stirred mess but starting to relax and calculate the days effort.  Despite not knowing the trail at all other than it had rocks like my trails at home, I ran confidently and comfortably in the dark terrain.  I even turned off my headlamp at times and ran to the starlight before dawn crept in heavily.  I love the exhilaration of running under the night sky.
We hit the first aid station around three miles in.  I stopped to take a gel and got both critical looks and comments.  I blew them off and reassured myself I was doing what I should to ensure my success for my race.  Within a half-mile I was right back at the front of the group I had been with.
The first six mile loop was behind me in 51:00.  With my headlamp and singlet already off, I ducked into the drop area and released the two mentioned items to hold my seat for me.  Grabbing my ready 20 oz amphipod handheld with GU Roctane Brew mixed and ready I continued down the trail.  I was racing.  Late in that first loop I had noted and made the following decisions:
  1. I was running at the front of the race.
  2. I was comfortable.
  3. I wanted to put as many comfortable and quick miles behind me before it got hot.
  4. I would run hard now and possibly suffer later.  Better than having run easy now only to still suffer later.
  5. I would cross the finish line.  If I cramped or hurt, I would, no matter what, at least walk.  If I could walk I would run, unless it was an uphill that required hiking at that time.
With my mind made up, it was just a matter of diligence and focus.   Moving forward, I paid close attention to how much I drank and how long I waited between drinking and eating.  I also made sure I didn't get too carried away with the pace.  In addition to any other consumption, I made myself drink three cups of water at every aid station no matter what.  I did not hike or walk at all on the first small loop or the first long loop of 12.5 miles.  Sticking to my improvised race plan, fueled by a steady intake of GU Roctane gel and brew along with an awe inspiring course the second loop and the first 18.5 miles were behind me now in 2:35:46.  I had even taken time out on the lighthouse trail portion of the course to stop and take in the view as the sun was rising.  Thank you Clive for telling me to do that.  I do listen!  Just sometimes though... I also startled a young lady as I came down a decent.  I hope she is ok.  Her friends were with her and helped her up quickly.  Please know I felt bad.  I hope you had a good run.

Coming through the main aid and start/finish to begin the last loop I had no idea if I was in first, third, or tenth.  No one in the area was really informant on that matter.  It was ok.  I was still running a great race and having a blast.  I dropped my spent handheld and opened the cooler pulling the next one out of the freezer bag.  Things seemed to be going great.  By this time I was running alone.  I had not seen Martin since the aid station nine miles in and really no one else had been running with me since then.  I was passing 50 milers and 50k runners on their first big loop now.  The temps were also heating up rapidly. 

The cool temps that had been our friend in the dark was long gone.  Accordingly I increased my fluid intake and frequency for gels.  In between the lighthouse trail head aid station and two crazy sisters aid station I was evaluating my hydration scenario.  Just as I planned on downing the bottle in anticipation of refilling soon I discovered I had the wrong bottle....  I had packed two bottles with a baggy of extra Roctane powder to refill and two with extra gels.  Somehow I managed to grab the wrong bottle...  In an effort to not go south in my outlook I improvised.  Well, I have two roctane gels here, I bet if I mix that with 20 oz of water it will be kind of like roctane brew.  Right????  Not so much.  Improvised concoction prepped, I had poured a plain gel into my bottle as I came into the two crazy sisters aid station.  This was my first semi-casual aid station.  It was hot.  I didn't have my roctane brew, and oh yeah, I was about a mile away from running farther than I ever had!  I enjoyed some m&m's.  Wow how they brought me to life.  The potato chips were awesome too, except being stuck in my braces.  Though the Kahlua and Hot Damn the two sisters had looked inviting, I passed.  I did oblige their offer for some cold water on the head.  Ahhh, how refreshing that was...

From there I went, off, onto the more exposed and rockier section of the trail.  It seemed never-ending.  I was spent at this point physically and mentally.  I was audibly telling myself what to do through each section of trail.  A rocky rise would come to me in the trail and I would say "hike.hike.hike."  I would crest the rise and acknowledge the flats and tell myself ""  When the cramps started to be more than just nuisances and I would want to walk I would tell myself "you can still run.  keep running.  this will be over sooner if you run more."  The envelope was bending.  I was embracing it.  I was immersed in it and surrounded in the challenge mentally and physically.  The canyon had enveloped me and I was bending yet constantly sliding onward toward the finish.  Just a 10k, then I would be done.  Maybe I would be first I thought.  Maybe third?  I don't really care was my next thought.  I'm doing what I came hear to do.  Run, live, experience, absorb the 31 miles and all it brings with it through the trails of Palo Duro Canyon.

I could have walked and crawled my way to the finish line those last few miles and I would be just as elated with the results.  As it were, I ran and walked and clawed my way through the last six miles from two sisters through the next two aid stations; passing by my friends Elizabeth, Michael, David, and an eleven year old who I gave a tired five to as we passed. 

All I passed who were running I encouraged.  All I saw who were supporting and volunteering I thanked.  I could taste the end.  The finish was so near I could taste it in the potato chips at the second to last aid station.  I could almost feel it in my throat.  Wait that was the gag reflex from deliriously dipping the potato chips in a tub of salt.  The finish was close though, at least in distance.  Time had slowed to a crawl.  The eight minute miles were now hours behind me.  They were also still with me.  Now they were the fatigue making my muscles scream and seize.  I downed coke, m&m's, water, potato chips and gels in hopes they would transform to magical cramp eliminating particles.

Time passed with the dust my feet stirred and the yards they covered which slowly added up to miles.  Soon enough I could hear the cheers of the supporters around the finish line.  It was my third time navigating this section.  Even if it did seem like every straight away and curve was three times as long, I knew it was not.  Eventually I made the long right turn out of the woods and onto the asphalt road where I and 150 others had started the day in the dark nearly five hours earlier.  It was much brighter and far hotter now.  I made a contorted dysfunctional effort to sprint up the road and around to the finish line.  I gave that up before I turned for the home straight and settled for a solid run and a constant hope that I didn't seize up before I stopped.

I crossed what I figured was the finish line to a couple of claps and my two friends Dawnn and Janet welcoming me.  I deliriously wondered about trying to gather my head and not speak until necessary.  Were I not so spent I would have asked Dawnn what was going on sooner since she too was supposed to be running the 50k.  Shortly after, I was told I had finished second overall, official time 4:44:34, way beyond expectations.

I had set out to finish my first 50K trail run and become an official/unofficial ultra runner.  I'm stoked to say I not only did that but I crushed it.

Thank you to my family, friends, and everyone who supports my passion to run, live, and embrace the experiences that are out there waiting for us.

John & Jason - Thank you for sharing your home brew with me Sunday.  Those bacon-wrapped jalapeno-stuffed vineson and pork sausage skewers were killer!  It was a great way to refuel and recover after Saturday's race.

Montrail Mountain Masochist
Feetures Elite lite cushion socks
Brooks HVAC Split Short with gel pockets
Amphipod 20 oz handheld
Suunto Ambit
Headsweat Visor
GU Roctane Island Nectar gel
GU Roctane Brew Tropical drink mix
Body Glide
No worries
GU Recovery Brew Strawberry Watermelon
Avery Brewery - The Reverend
Mix above with good friends old and new

On the flat at Lighthouse before wrapping up my recovery run Monday.

The view looking up at Sorenson Point just a short hike from my camp-site.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

CRP 36K Race Report - Class in session

*photo provided by Mark Olateju

Welcome to my first race report!  It should only begin with a huge thank you to Dave Hanenburg, the Endurance Buzz Tribe, Cedar Ridge Preserve, all of the volunteers, to my coach and most importantly to my family for supporting me.

Approaching races as training runs is a concept which is foreign to me.  (Perhaps not foreign but one I definitely do not prefer.)  This will not be the last race with that purpose in the months to come.  If I want to accomplish the goals I have in mind I must set aside my frustration and use these events as the learning experiences they are meant to be.  With that spirit in mind, this race report is written from a frustrated perspective yet one that is attempting to seek out the knowledge to be gained from the experience had on race day out at Cedar Ridge Preserve.

Preface - Cedar Ridge Preserve is a trail I used to run frequently when living and growing up as a young runner in Arlington.  Those days are years passed.  It is a trail I have always loved.  It takes me back to childhood because the terrain recalls memories of visits to my Grandparents' home in Colorado Springs.  Though they are hardly mountains, the cedar trees and steep climbs and descents the preserve features are close enough to the character of the San Juan foothills and bluffs in the Springs area to strike up these memories for me.  It is a happy place.

Prior to this race I had only run at the preserve once in my preparation over the past few months.  I was also "fresh" off the highest mileage week I have posted in over a year.   CRP 36K is my new longest trail race and the first race I utilized a drop bag.  The course was a 5.5mile loop run counter-clockwise twice followed by two clockwise loops.  Total climbing per Garmin 405 was 2,779', with 2,785' of complimentary descending.

Race Day - I woke at my home in Frisco at 4am to move through my race morning routine and head out.  All things went smoothly and after a short hour long drive I was watching the dust settle around the vehicle through the dim light of headlights at CRP right at 5:30am.

After a visit to the very nice rest facilities at the park, I headed over to pick up my bib and goodies.  The volunteers were all very pleasant and on top of their game.  It was nice to see so many folks on hand at that hour to help out.  Shortly after I went back and grabbed my drop bag, a rolling cooler, and found a nice spot near the edge of the drop tarp for it.  Anxious about wasting time during the race at the drop area, I had prepared four premixed 20oz handhelds with Roctane Brew.  They were placed inside two 1gallon freezer bags and set in the cooler(2bottles fit in each bag)  The bag works nicely to keep the melting ice from soaking the cloth handle of the bottles through while they stay cool.  The only downside to this system was my placing my race gu in the pouch of the handhelds.  It would provide very very thick gu's to me in the middle of the race.

AND THEY'RE OFF! - The moments leading up to the race were a fun relaxed experience.  There were many familiar faces which always enhances my day.  Home is where you find yourself among friends and family.  These moments were soon dust on the trail.  With a brief 3, 2, 1 "GO!" from Dave, we were off! 

It did not take long to remember why I was on the trail and what my goal was for the day.  I found myself comfortably running behind Jacob and Brian, two local trail runners whose ability I respect.  Brian won the 50mile at the Grasslands Run which I served as race director for this March and Jacob just concluded his most recent adventure pacing multiple runners through the challenging Hardrock 100 course in the mountains of Colorado.  After some brief light-hearted discussion amongst the three of us as to who would break the spider-webs, I informed them we had our first volunteer.  A tall capable looking runner went strongly by us and took the lead as we left the wood chips and headed into the trail.  A decision needed to be made soon as to who was going to race and who was going to run their race.  The young man in front was not interested in our casual conversation or starting the race in a similar manner.  He was gone and it seemed Jacob and Brian were going to give it a go with him or at least find out what his intent was.  My decision was confirmed after we passed the first aid station.  I was just off the lead group of Jacob, Brian, and a couple of others.  This race had been slotted as a training run and a stepping stone in my schedule and mind all along.  I had not tapered in preparation.  In fact I had just logged 60 miles in a week and 80 miles over eight days.  This was not the time to race.  It was time to run smart, be patient, and practice for the trails and races to come. 

With my decision made, I settled into a comfortable pace and ran among a group of three or four others.  I immediately began power-hiking the hills.  Thank you Clive for teaching me how to do this.  I also ran the downhills casually and tried to incorporate the hip-swivel technique I had been practicing.  Running the downhills casually was accomplished but I would say I failed at executing the hip-swivel consistently.  Downhill trail running is one of my favorite parts of trail running.  Ask anyone who's ran with me often and they will tell you how I LOVE to fly down a technical descent.  Today I was not racing though.  I was practicing.  Maybe changing how I run downhills is not something I need to make myself practice next race.

Loops one and two were very comfortable.  I finished each loop feeling more than relaxed.  My drop bag system was near perfect.(at least to my novice perception)  I had three 20oz handheld Amphipod bottles with roctane brew mixed and ready placed inside 1 gallon freezer bags inside of a cooler.  The freezer bags kept the soft cloth handles of the bottles from getting wet as the ice in the cooler melted.  The only negative were the solidifying roctane gu's I had placed in the pouch of my handhelds.  They would have been easier to consume had they been stored in an external pouch of the cooler.  I also could have saved time by taking the gu as I headed down the trail rather than while in the aid area.  This has been noted as one of the opportunities for true race day.  The convenience of grabbing a ready to go bottle and tossing the used one in the cooler is definitely a go for any race drop that allows coolers.  I can live with air temp roc brew too so it should be fine for general drop bags set-ups too.

Loop three left me feeling a bit fatigued.  It was warming up quickly to what I assume were temps arriving in the low 90's as the high for the day was set to be 104 and we had started in the mid 80's; not too mention around 17 miles had been run and plenty of good solid hills.  I was feeling more fatigue from the mistake of holding back on the downhills than anything.  We often take for granted how much energy we use trying to slow down and control ourselves going downhill; hence, why I prefer and love to fly downhill.  My quads were pissed off and starting to let me know they were angry I had not practiced my familiar flight down the rocks and roots.

Loop four went by quickly in regard to perceived time.  It was hot hot hot at this point especially in the clearings without shade.  I made a point to just keep moving forward consistently but I was really feeling fatigue in my legs from the course and from the miles of training mentioned previously.  After going through the final aid station I power hiked up the final long climbs as quickly as possible mixing in some running.  Soon I was out of the woods and onto the wood chips we had started our day on about four hours earlier.  I knew I was home and ran quickly through the final steps to the finish line.

My race was over.  Friends and trail family congratulated me and offered me their help.  I was happy to be finished, not exhausted or totally spent, but happy to have ended the days effort.

The post race food, massage, and camaraderie were pleasant.  I loved the finisher's award which was a bottle of local honey with a little wooden finisher's medal.  I am a honey fiend so this was right up my alley.  I enjoyed an ice cold Dale's Pale Ale some good conversation and the remaining cooler part of a Texas summer day and the dwindling shade. 

Today I have taken my notepad out and attempted to unbiasedly analyze and note what lessons can be applied to my next adventure on the trails.  I have reflected and found more motivation in yesterday's experience to bring me better prepared to tomorrow's endeavors.

Live well ~ Run well


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Finding the Edge - a reminder to myself

Some times our senses and our knowledge can be the biggest hurdles in preventing us from accomplishing our goals and dreams.  To accomplish the unachievable we must strategically detach our senses and deny our logic and popular opinion. 

When the goal or dream is distant do not let the journey over whelm you.  Instead focus on the next step required to move toward success.  As the journey progresses enjoy the satisfaction of your progress. 

There will be challenges.  There will be set-backs.  There will be doubt.  Like time, they all will soon be in the past and the next step will be the present; then the past, and yet still the future to come.  Only with perseverance, consistency, and determination as your company will you over-come. 

Maintain balance.  Do not neglect those with whom you wish to share your dream or goal.  Success is the failure of the lonesome.  As a boy band once sang, "money can't buy me love".  Achieiving a dream or goal will not replace love or friends lost along the way.

If you are fortunate enough to achieve your goal, your dream, enjoy the moment.  It soon will pass.  Thank those who supported you and be thankful for the opportunity to pursue and achieve.

Enjoy life, smile, love, learn, share, and grow.  Find the edge of your capabilities and push that edge farther and farther than you imagined.  Remember to dream and then with a healthy passion pursue your dream.  You never know when you may take your final step.  Should it not be a step toward a dream; a step taken with friends family love and passion?

Continue moving forward toward the edge.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Day Off - The Light at The End of The Tunnel

First I have to say it's always fantastic when you sit down to do something constructive on your PC or mac and an automatic full system scan starts running and slows everything down.  Sweet!  Now that I've cancelled that maintenance for the time being allow us to continue.

This past holiday weekend I had the pleasure of working Friday through this past Wednesday.  Six days of work over the Memorial Day weekend which for many kicks off summer and all things outdoors.  Now I enjoy my job.  In fact on some levels I love it, but there are times when work is work and all jobs lose their glamour.  When you work six days straight and have extra work hours and activities each of those days the glamour dissipates as quickly as a drop of moisture on a hot Texas sidewalk in August.

Please don't misinterpret; I'm not complaining about work here.  It was a fun stretch of days. Friday and Saturday cruised by.  Sunday was brief, only seven hours logged at the shop.  I even managed to squeeze in two twelve mile runs over the weekend.  Fun, productive, and healthy!  By Monday things were starting to catch up, but I and my great staff were now subject to the conjuring of my imagination and our store's Memorial Day Block Party.  Headed down the road for a 7am arrival on Memorial Day my head was day dreaming of today, the day off.   How nice it will be to do nothing...  How nice it will be to do only what I put on my agenda for the day...  By 8am the store was hopping.  The energy was great.  We had the company of great customers, vendor reps who are more like friends than business associates, and a warm but beautiful north Texas day. 

Tuesday and Wednesday were like miles 18 - 24 of a marathon.  Never run one?  Let's just say I've never honestly felt "good" at this point in the 26 mile foot race.  They weren't bad days, just days with a list of to do's that were diligently discarded upon completion, like ticking away the steps down the trail or road.  You put them behind you as mindlessly as possible.

Miles 25 and 26 are the ones you just push through with desire because the end is so close you can taste it.  It's like standing over the grill five  minutes before the brisket gets pulled off after smoking for hours.  The flavor is on your tongue and the meat hasn't even been sliced.  The difference, my brisket was a social run and Newton Night.  An opportunity for intrigued runners to go for a run in the innovative Newton shoes which promote forefoot running followed by a conversation with the Newton rep and some Q & A.

We left sometime around 8pm; not too bad.  Onto the freeway, and up to 75mph, cruise control engaged, mind wandering...  How nice a day off will be...  Nothing to do...  Maybe I'll clean my closet.  I'll get my run in first, yes definitely run first...  I have a chiro appointment, don't forget that...  I said I'd start posting on my blog more.  I'll put that on the list too...  What will I do with nothing to do tomorrow???  Man it's nice to have a day off!

P.S.  Please do not forget that Memorial Day is meant to honor and remember all who have given there lives serving in the name of freedom and our country. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Run?

Life is filled with two types of activities; those we want to do and those we have to do or at least we've convinced ourselves of the latter. 

I run primarily because I want to, but there is a part of me that runs because I have to.  You see life is difficult and so is running.  Life is rewarding, so is running.  The more effort and consistency you put into life, generally the more you get out of it.  Again the same with running.  The theme carries on seamlessly it seems.

It would be self-centered and pitiful of me to say I have had a hard life.  I have not.  What I have had is a challenging life.  The reasons for the challenges I have faced are primarily a result of my own actions.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy running so much.  It is a self-inflicted challenge and I've been good at creating those since I spilled the better part of a bottle of Elmer's glue in a young female classmates hair in grade school.

Running has taken me many places in my young life, introduced me to many people, and taught me lessons and values.  Many of these people, places, and life lessons I'd probably not have known yet were it not for the run.  Running has pulled me out of depression.  It has carried me away from addiction.  It has given me something to focus on when the only other thing polluting my mind was the struggles of a challenging life.

This past weekend I ran 14 miles on Saturday and another 12 miles on Sunday.  Saturday's runs were enjoyable.  A passive peaceful eleven mile run to the start of  a local 5k followed by a memorable 5k run with my family and I ran every step with my son.  Those miles were both happy and easy.  Sunday I ran twelve miles on one of the hilliest and rockier trails in the Dallas area.  The run was beautiful.  I made new friends but the miles were harder, more challenging, tightness and fatigue from the prior days efforts fully set in.  Those runs were not the hardest thing I did this weekend though; that was taking my son home to his Mother and driving away.  We do this every other week so one might assume we are "used to it".  After seven years I have to say it is never easy for either of us.  I feel for him.  I hope it makes him strong.  I pray it does not create the inner-struggles for him that I found growing up.  I dream that he will find running in his life to be that part of him, that part of him that parallels life.  That thing he chooses to do.  The thing he wants to do.

Run to feel alive.  Run to stay alive.  Run because it reminds you you can do anything.