Sunday, January 7, 2018

Here Comes The Sun (do do do do)

There are two things that bug the bejesus out of me while trail running. The first is seeing trash on the trail (or anywhere for that matter). Ask my kids what their new punishment is. The other is as follows:

While finishing the last 20 miles of my race, I had to bring out my light so I could see since the sun decided to go down before I could finish. My current location on the course contained two-way traffic. Over and over, as a fellow runner came toward me, this was my view (unless they had a pacer, then double the lights). Now, as fun as looking into the sun and then attempting to keep running while blind for a few seconds may sound, I really hate it. This caused me to reflect back to my early days of running ultras and the lights I used. My first headlamp was about $10, used one AA battery, had two itty bitty LED lights, and (now that I look at the output) I swear was only good for reading a book while not moving at all. I don't know how I could see the trail as I ran through rooty forests or up and down crazy rocky hills with that tiny little candle on my forehead. Fast-forward a couple years and I bought a brighter one which worked much better until it got too temperamental to be trusted anymore.

Zephyr Fire 300 (link to product)
What I currently use isn't a headlamp. It's a hand torch (flashlight) from Nathan (click for link to product). I have never liked having anything in my hands while I run. My hands are happiest when they're empty. So I was a little hesitant to get the hand torch. However, as you can see, it has a little wristlet doohickey that allows you to hold it without needing to really grasp it. (It's also great for when you trip over roots so you don't lose your light.) The light is already angled downwards. This allows you to see all that you need and allows oncoming traffic to not be blinded. I've used it through most of the night before, even though the webpage claims only 6 hours on low.

Now, I'm not saying you need this particular light. But please remember that when your mini sun on your forehead is fooling the squirrels into thinking it's morning, every oncoming runner you encounter is getting blinded because your light isn't angled properly. Please be courteous to your fellow trail nerds.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Wildflower Race Recap OR How to not end up walking at the end of an ultramarathon

So I ran Wildflower this last weekend and I told myself it’s just a 50k and it’ll be over before I know it. But the other part of my brain told me that since it’s shorter, I’ll have to run faster. And I hate running fast. And before you think that, the terms ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ are all relative. Your fast is someone else’s slow and vice versa. And your slow at the beginning of a race may be lightning fast at the end of your race.

How to run right (according to me)
Let me preface this all with what a gold shiny friend once said about me: “He has been known to make mistakes...from time to time.”

I’m too cheap to get a Garmin or Suunto or whatever. I learned to run by listening to my body. It might sound like I’m some Zen man or whatever, but it’s the only way I know how to describe it. And I use this to help me with my long 50-100 milers. Maybe the same concept works with shorter runs. I don’t know. Try it out. So here’s what I’ve learned that works great for me.

If you go too fast for too long, your muscles will die out before you’re mentally ready to quit. So you have to slow down at the beginning. It’s a little annoying because you feel so fresh and you just want to go at the pace you feel comfortable with. But believe me, ‘future you’ is gonna open a can in about three hours down the trails. And it won’t be pretty. Lots of people will be ahead of you and the competitive devil inside you will try to convince you to speed up. But for most of us, we’re not out here trying to win. We’ve all got various reasons for why we torture ourselves (as others consider it). You need to keep your body’s work output lower than what it can produce from your “energy reservoirs” and the awesome aid station all-you-can-eat buffets. Otherwise you’re using up energy faster than you can produce it, ‘future you’ becomes ‘present you,’ and then Pandora’s Box is opened.

How do I know when I’m going to fast? Again, I never even look at the watch I carry. It’s strictly used to keep track of overall time when I finish my run. You could use a heart rate monitor and do whatever calculations keep you below your max heart rate. But that’s a lot of work. I feel that heart rate is closely connected with breathing rate. All I need to do is listen to my breathing rate and that doesn’t cost me a fancy anything. If I’m breathing hard and fast, my heart is beating too fast, and I’m running too fast. And ‘future me’ tells me to slow down. My favorite pace is what I call ‘conversation pace.’ I’m pretty sure I got this from the Bible*. It states that if you’re running too fast to hold a long conversation with someone, you’re running too fast (for a long endurance run).

My race recap from this last weekend’s Wildflower 50k at Bastrop SP
There were five 10k loops. My times were 55 minutes, 53, 56, 59, and 61. Consistency goes along with paying attention to your breathing. I know I could’ve ran a much faster first and probably second lap, but then my other laps would’ve been incredibly slower. I have found that consistent pace with a jog is better than a fast run followed by slow walking. I found a pace that felt slow enough that I’d be able to hold it throughout the race. I was by myself for a lot of the time- sometimes this can be difficult because there isn’t anyone to encourage you, but it can also be good as you won’t get sucked into someone else’s race pace. I vaguely remember stopping at the aid stations to refill water, pick up some pbj’s and gels, get a sponge of ice water over my head, and then be on my way. But I know that the volunteers helped get me back out on the course a lot faster than I could’ve done on my own. Huge thanks to all of them.

Gear Used
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak NEO- I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll say it again. I don’t think this was the purpose in the design for the shoe, but there were plenty of sandy spots on the course and after finishing the race and removing my shoes, I had NO SAND at all in my shoes. Just sayin’.
Water: Nathan Peak waist pak- The aid station was only 3-3.5 miles away and the insulated 18 oz bottle was plenty large enough to keep me hydrated and keep the water colder for longer.
Gear Bag: Victory Sportdesign Kodiak- I love the moveable dividers on the inside. I also like to put another one of my Victory bags (the Bear III) inside of the Kodiak for even more organization.

*The Bible being referenced here is “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall.

Brazos Bend 50- April 2017

I had just tied my shoes and was finishing up my breakfast which consisted of a small handful of granola from Katie Graff, when all of a sudden I heard Rob Goyen counting down "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!" and I thought to myself, "Well, I should probably put my drop bag by the aid station and start this race." It's one thing I love about ultra running- there is an overall hurry but a minute or two lost here and there don't really make much of a difference.

The weather was beautiful for a long run, but I knew it wasn't gonna stay that way and was ready for the upcoming heat. I had my Nathan 4L water pack which has two 18 ounce water bottles in front and I put a 2L empty bladder in the back in case I started going through water too quickly.

I took pbj's at the first several aid stations so I could have some real food for fuel before I switched to gels. And this is about all I ate throughout the whole race- I was promised a certain ice cream truck was gonna stop by but I must have missed him.

I ran the race by myself the whole time. Usually I like to find people to talk to and run with for awhile, but I didn't do that this time. I got to spend the morning entertaining myself.

The race has an out-and-back section with a turnaround at 4 miles before the finish. This is my least favorite part as it seems to get longer and longer each next time you run it. On my first of three laps I counted runners ahead of me. I was in 13th place. I didn't know what to expect, but decided to go about this one like every other race: find a nice sustainable pace and maintain it til I finish. I think it's the best way to run ultras. It's not easy as you have to run slow when you have plenty of energy. But the tradeoff is that at the end, you'll still be jogging instead of walking. And walking sucks (at least to me). It takes a lot of patience to know that there are people ahead of you and that you could easily pick up the pace and catch them. But I've done this enough times to know that patience pays off. Eventually. It just took a couple hours til they slowed down and I passed them.

By my third and final lap, there were runners from other distances on the course and I had a hard time knowing exactly which place I was in. So I stopped worrying about it and just kept running. But the goofy me saw two opportunities to have even more fun than just running 50 miles. With about 100 meters to finish my second lap, I saw Bhakti Chavda up ahead. I got close to her and them with about three steps to the finish I jumped between her and her friend and said "I beat ya Bhakti." I still had another lap to complete and didn't dint at the aid station long enough to let her yell at me for scaring her.

The other opportunity for fun presented itself on the dreaded forever-long out-and-back section. I had seen another friend, Lisa Decker, a number of times on the course. This time I got her. I snuck up on her as best as my I've-already-ran-43-miles legs could and I jumped and grabbed her shoulders. We laughed and hugged it out. I might owe her some Fireball now.

Back to the race. I felt awesome the whole time. No down times. And that helped me run the entire time. I never stopped except to pick up my pbj's and refill water bottles. Proper pacing is the key to success.

I used an ice bandana on my neck through the last two laps. I filled up my 2L water bladder with 12 miles left. It was nice not having 4 pounds of water on my back for most of the race.

I saw Luis Murillo coming back from the turn around, just a few minutes ahead of me. I never caught up to him, but was glad that I was almost done. I came into the last aid station and gave Rachel Adamson her last sweaty hug and thanked the volunteers for being there for us. My middle son Drew was waiting for me to race me to the finish with 100 meters left. He beat me. And then I was told that I was 3rd place. I really didn't expect that and had long since lost count of my place. I finished a few minutes behind my TROT teammate Luis Murillo for the second race in a row. I didn't beat my time from my first time out here, but it wasn't a bad time. I finished in 7 hours 15 minutes (8:42 pace). I was able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon talking with friends and hanging out (another great part of trail racing).

Four things I learned about the alligators in the park: don't feed them; don't approach them; don't annoy them; don't molest them. I'd have to agree with the last one.

Shoes: Altra Torin 2.5
Water needs: Nathan 4L Krar vest
Gear bag: Victory Sportdesign Kodiak

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Since 2011, I have raced in several 100-mile races. And with the exception of one that has foiled me twice, I feel I have done fairly well while racing. For a few reasons, I did not compete in this year's Rocky Raccoon 100. It was a very hard decision to make as I have raced it very successfully over the last six years. A friend of mine decided that he was going to run his first 100-miler at Rocky. He completed the Habanero 100 (100k) for his first ultra. And since I was not going to be racing, I felt that I should ask if he wouldn't mind if I helped crew and pace him for the last forty miles. I never dreamed of how much this would affect me.

His first two laps were what I expected. The third was much slower. As I waited for him for two and a half hours, the lazy part of me wanted him to have already decided to quit because I was getting tired and wanted to go to sleep. He came by and I happened to see him. I quickly got up and ran over to him. He was very upbeat and ready to go out. My sleep would have to be put on hold for a while.

I have never paced anybody so I could only guess how I should handle this. I know how I like to be paced, but I did not know if the same would apply for him. We talked about various things, joked around, and avoided root snakes. For the most part, I stayed about 10-15 paces ahead of him. It felt weird, but my thoughts were that he would see me start to run and then he would just follow. I could be his voice in his head (I am the good angel of course) urging him on. It worked very well. We worried a little bit about making the cut-off times, but it all worked out and he finished.

But that is not what I really wanted to talk about. I was thinking about why I race 100-milers and love them so much. They remind me about life. Some parts suck or cause you pain and you just have to get through them. Sometimes you are on the top of the world and nothing can stop you. You get a reward for persevering to the end. There are countless people, most of whom you do not know and will never see again, that are part of your life for a little while and you get to share your life with them before they disappear, sometimes forever. No matter how great or seemingly insignificant you are, there are tons of people pulling for you to be successful. You are never alone. The amount of time that you are out there varies for everyone. To be successful, you need to learn from your mistakes and hopefully share that knowledge with others. Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare, your plans fall apart and you need a Plan B or C. Sometimes you fail, so you try again and again until you figure it out. I'm sure that I can add more if I ponder it during my next race.

I am so fortunate to be a part of Team TROT and the other running families that my family has met. Never in my life did I ever expect to have so many wonderful friends that I can consider family. I cannot imagine a life without running. It is truly a necessity in life.

Monday, February 1, 2016

How Can I Possibly Train for an Ultra if I Have a Family?

Spending time with my family has never detracted from my running. Or is it that even with the few thousand miles I log each year, running has never stolen my family time? However you put it, my family is part of my running and vice versa. I have been running ultras since 2011. At that time, we had two kids and the oldest was almost four years old. However, this was not when the ‘crazy’ long runs started. I had been logging long runs on the weekends for over a year by this time. At the time, this was training for birthday runs since I had no idea the ultra world even existed. With two young kids, I wanted them to be a part of my runs and to raise them seeing how fun running could be. Actually, I wanted my wife to have a few hours to herself while I was off ‘playing.’ We had previously purchased a double jogging stroller and if it knew how many miles that I was going to expose it to, it would have convinced its former owners not to sell it on Craigslist. I wore through one set of tires and ended up putting about 2600 miles on the stroller overall.

The boys were 2 ½ years and 6 months old when I started recording that I brought them with me on my runs (though I am pretty sure I started much earlier than that). At first, they would cry, sometimes for very long stretches. But I just kept pushing them trying to ignore the awful screaming. Eventually they got used to it and I would take them out with me every weekend on two to three-hour runs. If it was cold outside, we made sure to bundle them up and cover them with blankets. When it rained, we clipped a clear plastic table cloth around the stroller. When it was dark, we had little flashy lights. They had toys to play with, sippy cups, and even some snacks when they were older.
We had also purchased a bike trailer that my wife would use to bike with me while pulling the kids behind her. I remember a time that we took a paved park trail out ten miles and then had a little family picnic before we turned around and came back home.

Once I discovered ultras, my family was right there to support me. At that time, my wife had a hard job of crewing for a rookie and taking care of two crazy boys. But I think she understood how important running was for me and was willing to help me in any way possible.

As the boys grew, pushing the stroller became more difficult, but I just figured it was my weight training since I hated going to the gym. And then we had another kid. Right from birth (well, maybe a week later) she was stuck into the double jogging stroller with her two older brothers. They would care for her while we went out running. And if you’re wondering how three kids fit in a double jogging stroller, the middle kid got the pleasure of sitting on the foot rest in the front. We both learned some good lessons.  I learned that stopping quickly was not good for him. He learned to keep his feet up off the ground or he might get run over.

These almost daily stroller outings continued for about two years. As time passed, the kids kept growing and it seemed like they were growing so quickly. It got to the point that it was really difficult for me to turn the stroller or even keep it going true (straight) as it would constantly pull to one side. Maybe the stroller wasn’t meant for carrying a 6, 4, and 2 year-old at the same time. I did a lot more solo running for the next year. Occasionally, my wife would take the boys in the bike trailer and I would push the youngest in a jogging stroller.

Then the magic happened. Our (then) 7 year-old learned how to ride a bike.  Within the next year the (then) 6 year-old learned. Then within the next year, the (then) 3 ½ year-old learned. Now the youngest is four but can ride a normal-sized kid bike just like her two older brothers. I often take all three kids throughout the neighborhoods. They learn bike safety and get to show me all their ‘tricks’ like riding with no feet or with only one hand or something else really goofy. When my wife needs to sleep in on the weekends, I like to take them a couple miles away to a nearby park. There is a paved half-mile trail around a playground and I will run three to six miles while they run around and play and say hi to me every time I pass. Then we will go back home. Sometimes my wife will come too and they will all ride bikes next to me for five miles. Then they will let me continue on while they turn around and head back to a park. I will get my miles in while they will get biking time and playground exercise. And all is well.
This may not work as easily for everyone. My wife and kids are readily supportive of my running and have no aversion to camping for a couple days while I get all sweaty and smelly. I try to make it up to my wife by taking her on dates to various musicals, writing a silly poem, or just out to dinner. I want her to know that I truly love her participation in my seemingly crazy runner’s life. The ultra runner’s life may require a lot of compromising. But try it out. It might just make you a better person. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Franklin Mountains Trail Run

Franklin Mountains Trail Run
November 2015

From the peak of North Franklin Mountains
I’ve only run one mountain race before and I was so excited when the planets aligned and I found a way to get out to El Paso to run a mountain 50k in Texas (of all places). The 760-mile drive out there was long and with two people I never met before (but got to be super good friends with by the time we got home--thanks Robyn and Brian).

 Packet pickup was interesting. A ton of people came by to hear the legend Gordy Ainsleigh, who was going to be running his first ultra in Texas. It was way cool to hear him speak even though I had no intention of actually talking to him or anything like that. Just being in his presence was pretty cool.

The night before the race I went through my packet pickup bag and put whatever I was going to need into my race bag. I woke up around 4:30 am to make sure we got to the park by 5 am and got a close parking spot. I was just walking around by myself because that’s what I like to do before a race, and I realized that I didn’t have my ankle timing chip on. So I went back to my drop bag to get it. It wasn’t there. “Hey Rob? I’m a big dummy. I forgot my chip back at the hotel.” “Remind me when you finish. It’ll be all hectic, but we’ll make it work.” I kept wandering around ‘til we were told to move over to the starting area. I wasn’t anywhere near the front, which is fine for me. But I didn’t realize that the single track for the first few miles was unpassable single track. Cactuses (or cacti for you grammar nazis) and other pokey plants lined the trail. I was stuck behind a long and slow caterpillar line. I could pass the guy in front of me, but I’d have to do that again and again seven more times. So I just waited and crawled along with the caterpillar. The trail joined up with another and this was an ATV trail. I took advantage of the extra space and basically sprinted by everyone that was anywhere close so I wouldn’t get stuck again. Although I have come to enjoy running with someone and talking, I still really enjoy being all by myself during ultras. It’s so peaceful and I love the feeling of being alone with my thoughts for extended periods. All alone is how I spent basically the next 29 miles. I saw people, but ran alone.

At the peak. 7100 feet.
The trek up most of the mountain had a lot of switchbacks and was very runnable and I ran most of it. I had to walk as it got steeper because I was not going to spend a ton of energy when I had most of the race still ahead of me. Getting to Mundy’s Gap was great. After arriving at that aid station, I just had two miles of hard climbing to get to the top and then I was on easy street ‘til the end. The front runners started coming down as I was heading up. My lower back started to hurt, but I kept hiking up, knowing that the hard part was almost finished. Having counted the runners that passed me as I went up, I knew I was about 22nd (I lost track a few times as my mind wandered).  

Arriving at the top, I received my summit bracelet, shook Santiago’s hand, and began the fun descent. I stretched out my arms and pranced the whole way down.
Prancing downhill
Skipping back down to Mundy’s Gap, I passed about four or so people. I had such a fun time coming down. The rocks all over the path didn’t slow me down much at all; I just plowed right on down. I passed another couple and enjoyed that the downhill wasn’t over yet. But like all good things, the downhill eventually leveled out. The girl I passed a while ago (Alisha Edmiston) caught back up to me on this little hill. Once it leveled out, I passed her again. My water was getting low and I hadn’t eaten anything since before I left Mundy’s Gap to go up to the top. That was coming up on ten miles ago. I couldn’t wait to get to that next aid station. All I could think about was getting there, eating a bunch, refilling my water, pocketing some gels, and moving on. Finally it came into view. My passing buddy caught back up to me as I was leaving and then passed me again as we went up over the pass. Once I was over the pass, it was clear sailing for about four more miles. I finally caught back up to her and re-passed her again. Going up one last pass, she almost caught me again. At the top, I could see the next aid station. I just needed to go downhill--my favorite, minus the tight switchbacks.

Leaving the last aid station, the marathon was over. I had only six more miles. A few miles in I passed my new super friend Robyn on her way to volunteer at the aid station I just left. “Man! You look great!” That’s how I like to run though. I don’t consider myself a very big competitor. I like to do well, but I don’t like pushing myself. When I feel like I have to start pushing the pace into the uncomfortable, I don’t feel like I’m having as much fun, and that ruins the race.
Just a couple more miles
My key to every race is to go out at a pace that I will hold the entire time. It’s kinda hard at the beginning because you always feel great and that you’re going way too slow. But having to crawl the last half of an ultra because you spent everything in the first half is not the way I play. I had been feeling really well for the last many miles and I was fully planning on continuing this pace all the way to the finish and then sprinting downhill through the finish line. I finally saw what I figured would be the last runner I could pass before the finish. When I got up to where I last saw him though, I could see that the downhill finish turned out to be an uphill finish. Surprise! I tried pushing the rest of the way in, but no one was close to me and I didn’t really care if I saved twenty seconds because I ran instead of walking a bit.

When I crossed the finish line, I had to remind Rob that I was sans an ankle timer so that I could get an official finishing time. I talked with my other Team TROT teammates, all who had finished before me.
They all seemed beat up from the course, though. I was tired, but I had had a really fun time through most all of the course. The rockiness of the trail never really bothered me. The uphills were a little tough, but the downhills more than made up for that. The only thing that got me was the very beginning when I was caught on the single track trail behind a ton of other runners. But I had a great time during this race. Even though next year will have at least an extra 1000 feet of elevation gain, I can’t wait to come all the way to the other side of Texas to run this race.

After I finished, I ended up staying and helping hike out some of the aid station from Mundy’s Gap and it was dark by the time we were done.
Thank you for 100-mile ultras
We got back to the start/finish area and I saw a tall guy doing the I-just-ran-an-ultra walk back to a van and took a shot at shouting out ‘Is that you Gordy?’ I originally thought that just seeing him at packet pickup was going to be good enough for me. I shook his hand and thanked him for running that horse race so many years ago and helping to invent the 100-mile race. I don't know who I'd be if it wasn't for running these races. I don’t know if road running would have changed me (since I don’t do road races). But I feel like trail running is the best thing out there for whatever ailment you may have. As antisocial as I typically am, now I actually talk to people I don't know (at least at races). I love cheering people on whenever I see them along the trail. I love that my kids get to see all these crazy people that are doing something to make themselves better. I feel like I'm a better person than I used to be because I run. Other than my family, running has become the most important part of my life. Every next 100-miler is like Christmas to me. Thank you to my wonderful wife for accepting my lifestyle and supporting me in it. Thank you to Gordy Ainsleigh for providing just what every person needs in their life. Thanks to
TROT for putting on so many races all over The Great State of Texas.
Nathan hydration

Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 2.5

Hydration pack: Nathan Vapor Cloud

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Racing Season is just 2 WEEKS AWAY!

The start of racing season is quickly approaching in the Great State of Texas. In years past, it wasn’t until the end of October. But with Trail Racing Over Texas adding a few extra races into the mix, I have two weeks until the fun begins.

October 3 is Blazing 7’s. There’s a 100k, 50k, 25k, and 10k. Basically a race for everyone. I’ve never been to this place, but it sounds like it’s going to be a nice and relaxing trail to run 100k.

The next weekend is my daughter’s birthday party. Luckily for her I don’t have a race that weekend or her party might have been at an aid station. (I’m sure she would understand when she gets older.)

October 17 is Jackalope Jam. There’s a 6-hour, 12-hour, and a 24-hour timed race. The course is a 1-mile loop, and as I will be competing in the 24-hour race (despite all efforts of my wife to only run the 12-hour since I’ll be running Cactus Rose the following week), I am planning on completing well over 100 loops.

October 24 is the bastard Cactus Rose 100. And if you’ve ever run it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It may not have mountain elevation changes, but it will tear you a new one by the time you’re done, whether that’s actually finishing or you decide to drop. There's also a 50-miler (which is waaaay easier than the 100-miler) and a 4x25-mile relay. This will be my fifth time running the race and I’m looking forward to running with a friend that I recently met (Julie Koepke) at a hellacious race (Habanero Hundred) as well as some other Team TROT teammates after they finish the Hill Country RAGNAR trail race a few miles away. I’m also looking forward to finishing it as I’ll be receiving my 500-mile jacket. This also marks the beginning of my fourth Tejas 300. AND this weekend is also my wife’s birthday party. For the last five year’s she’s been kind enough to celebrate her birthday by being my crew chief all day long. I even got her to pace me for 20 miles as a date when the race was actually on her birthday. At least the kids will be at home with grandma for the weekend.

I had planned on running Big Cedar Endurance Run 100 as well. But since I would already have run almost 300 miles (not including whatever I’ll run in training), my wife helped me realize that I couldn’t run every race. I was kinda sad about it for awhile.  I really liked the course last year (minus the rain that made the course interesting, to say the least). We’ll see if we can at least stop by to help out or pace someone and then let the crazy kids trick-or-treat that night.