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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Habanero Hundred

The Race Sauron Would've Dropped

The Race Where You Might Consider Eating a Few Habanero Peppers Instead of Running a 7.2-Mile Lap

Call the race whatever you like, but it was hot. And humid. And rocky. And full of biting flies. And hot and humid too. I don't know where the idea came from, but once I heard about the race, I was all in and looking forward to the insane challenge. Living in Houston has exposed me to all the previously mentioned race conditions (minus the rockiness). I figured I had done my homework and was ready for the test:
  1. I ran all summer between 3-4 pm when it seemed to be the hottest.
  2. I carried water with me (the camel who now carries water) and wondered how I used to race 100's without carrying any water or how I even ran 10 miles in the summer with no water.
  3. I found some running shorts (Nike Dri-Fit) at Ross that left me unchaffed even without any lube and while still running up to 20 miles.
  4. I recently got some Feetures socks that fit so snuggly that I never needed to double layer socks anymore on long runs.
  5. I forced myself to at least once a week run up to 18 miles at once just to prepare myself for the death march.
So now for the final exam. The course was set up with an aid station at the start/finish line and then another at 3.5 miles. Each loop was 7.2 miles and I had 14 loops to complete my fun little test. The first lap was done before I knew what had even happened. For the first two laps, I drained my water bottle by the time I reached the next aid station. I told Amy that I would definitely need to switch from my Nathan waist pack (which only held about 18 oz (0.5 L)) to my Nathan vest (which held 2 L plus had spots for two water bottles on the front). I still felt pretty good after finishing the second lap, but was very glad to get the vest and extra water bottle to douse my head. While I now accuse my previous two laps of 'not enough water intake,' I started gulping down water on my third lap. Despite thinking that I might be taking in more than my body could handle, it tasted sooo good that I couldn't stop guzzling it down. By the time I hit the next aid station, my pack was empty. And when I finished that lap, it was empty again. I was already feeling back to normal and then was told that my weight was spot on (and it remained the same every lap until the end of lap 9). My new decision: drink a shit ton* of water for the rest of the race. This was the one difference between this race and any other 100-miler I had ran before. And since I was feeling pretty good (I kept pace at about 1:30-2 hours per lap), I figured I had this race all figured out and squared away.

*A shit ton is approximately a gallon of water for every 7 miles of running

I finished my 9th lap (64 miles) in just under 14 hours. The heat and humidity had taken their tolls on me and some change came over me at that point. My weight was down a bit (3 lbs), so I knew I had to drink more. I then felt like taking a nap, but when I laid down, my feet, calves, and thighs would alternate cramping up and I never got any sleep. Julie Koepke ended up passing me as I lay down. I started to shiver (despite the 80 degree temp) after a half hour rest and decided I just needed to get up and out on another lap. My legs no longer hurt. And by this, I mean the cramping fight disappeared and was replaced by the typical aches of having run over 50 miles in less than desirable conditions.

My 10th lap was the turning point. A little after I left the start/finish, I remembered that I hadn't reapplied a thick coating of Trail Toes (great anti-chaffing cream) along my thighs and everything within a hand's length above there. Since I was walking so much more, my arms kept rubbing against my vest/water pack, and they were starting to hurt. So every couple seconds I had to remind myself to keep my arms out because every couple seconds I'd forget to do that and they'd rub some more. The cycle seemed endless. I decided that my chaffing had hurt long enough. If this aid station didn't have any Trail Toes, I was just going to drop out right there and walk the cozy road back to the start. And as luck goes, upon arriving I was told, in answer to my question, "Oh yes. We have a bunch. Here ya go." So I slathered a bunch of it all over, covering every inch of skin under my shorts. It did help. My mind was off one problem and onto another.

During the second half of this lap, I started calculating how long my next four laps should take. "If I'm walking 3 mph, then 7 miles will take 2 hours 20 minutes. I have 4 laps, so that's 2, 4, 6, 8 hours plus 20, 40, 60, 80 minutes. That's 9.5 hours of just walking and assuming that I'd be walking that pace the whole time. It will be about 5 am or so when I finish this lap. That puts me finishing 100 miles at ... 5+9=14 which means 2 ... at the earliest 2:30 and as late as 4 pm. And all I'm going to get is a buckle, a LOT more chaffing, more delirious, and possibly another hospital trip like after Rocky Raccoon (which would also give me a very angry wife). I was certain that I was going to call it quits. But I've never DNF'ed before. I was rather prideful knowing that I've never thrown in the towel to any race. Maybe I should just keep going. Maybe I could catch up to Julie and we could 'keep each other sane' for 20 miles. But school starts tomorrow and I probably shouldn't take off the first day (I'm a high school science teacher). But.... But.... But.... The debate seemed to continue forever.

I ran into Julie about a quarter mile from the start/finish as I finished 10 and she started 11. We both knew of each other but had never actually met, and it was rather fun to stop for a few minutes, in the middle of a race, and just talk to each other. I could tell we were both in the same state, with the exception that she was going to keep walking and I was done walking. It was a delightful moment in time, especially since I was just a few minutes’ walking distance from the start/finish.
As I finished lap 10, the calculations won. It wasn't worth it to me if I couldn't run anymore. I don't know how so many people can continue walking almost entire 100-mile races. I have always been amazed by them and think that they, not I, are the tough ones when it comes to racing ultras.

After some much needed naps, A/C, and letting my emotions of my first DNF wear off, I now feel like I made the right choice. I am alive and as healthy as ever. I still completed over 100k and was only beaten to that distance by some of the relay teams. And I learned a few things for next year (because I ain't about to let this devil race best me again.)
  1. I need to start the race with the hydration vest. Not getting those 4-6 liters of water over the first two laps set me back in a race that doesn't allow much room for mistakes.
  2. I need to go slower. This is always my recommendation for anyone trying to run 100 miles (or any race that feels long to you). I knew my pace for 100's, but I didn't do a good enough job at taking into consideration the effect the heat and humidity would have on me over the super long haul.
  3. I need to carry some Trail Toes with me in my vest or waist pack. Usually, I'm so excited at getting to the next aid station that I often tend to forget about everything I need once I get there. And I remember after I'm 5 minutes out and too far to want to turn back. If only there were some checklist I could carry and edit on the run.
  4. I need to change out of wet clothes more often. Maybe this is more of a thing here since it's humid and sweat likes to not evaporate.
  5. Eat some more solid food at the beginning of the race. As the race goes on, I tend to hate eating most anything but fruits and Gels. Everything else sits in my mouth for so long and annoys me.
Habanero Hundred 100-miler 2016: I SHALL RETURN!

P.S. - Thanks for the great humility lesson this year

P.P.S. - If it wasn't for my Nathan hydration vest, I never would have made it as far as I did.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Brazos Bend 50

Brazos Bend 50
25 April 2015

I Guess I Am Human After All

I get excited for every race that I do. They’re like opening presents; you can’t wait to open them, but at the same time, you don’t know if you’re gonna like what you see once they’re open. This race was just like that. There was a lot to live up to after last year’s race: I was third overall and finished in six hours forty minutes and felt great almost the entire time. It’s hard to have another perfect race. And I haven’t felt quite so superhuman ever since Rocky Raccoon 50.

Mel and I finishing lap 2
Last year’s 50-miler was when I ran with some random people at the beginning and Melinda Coen just happened to be in that group. We started this year’s race together as well. One of my favorite things about ultra running is talking with people. Shorter races are so fast-paced that it’s kinda hard to talk to people other than to say “On your left!” before you pass them. But ultras are laid back and slow, which almost encourages talking. Conversation pace—If you can’t hold a conversation while running, you’re running too fast. It’s my favorite way to run. And even though Mel and I didn’t talk the whole time, just having someone next to you is such a boost. When you (or they) are feeling like stopping/walking/giving up, they’re right there, not verbalizing anything to you to keep going, but because they’re still going, you feel like you probably can too. I’m pretty sure we shared a number of those back and forth during the race.

There was plenty of rain in the forecast, but I was hoping that the rain gods would realize that we had a race and then push the rain back to Sunday. It drizzled a bit over the first eight miles. Nothing much. I complained that my socks were already soaked (the trails were still dry at this point) and I considered changing them after this first of three laps. The rain gods must have heard me and laughed at what was in store for us runners. We hit the turnaround (11.5 miles) and a little bit later the rain started. And then it got really dark. And then the wind picked up and the clouds opened and it poured on us for about twenty minutes or so. There were a few times I thought I’d start freezing if the wind stayed like that. I heard that it hailed on others, though I was under tree cover while this storm passed over. The rain slowly died off, but the trails were definitely not the same. A lot of what was dry the first time around was puddles for the rest of the race. One section was really muddy, but small baby steps seemed to do the trick in traversing it.

We came across lap one in about 2:18, and I felt ok. Not too good. And not looking forward to two more laps. After a few more miles we saw fellow teammates Jeff Ball and Tracie Akerhielm. They were only doing the 50k, and we 50-milers had an extra two-mile loop that they didn’t have. So we would see them again as they were coming back heading toward the finish. I told Mel that if we had also only signed up for a 50k, then we’d be about an hour away from finishing too. She wondered why she had to be so “bullheaded and always sign up for the longest race.” I laughed because I knew exactly what she was talking about. I’d feel like I was less of a person if I didn’t max out every race. And this is not to say that I look down on those that do the shorter races. I think it’s awesome to see so many people out on the trails instead of sitting around at home watching TV. But I just can’t do less than whatever the longest race is. And when a new local ultra comes up, I have to sign up for it, even if it means that I run 512 race miles in three and a half months. I’ll have to see where I’m at for the bombardment this October will bring (a 100k, a 24-hour timed race, a 100-miler, and another 100-miler).

The second lap wasn’t much better than the first. I still didn’t feel good, but I was able to push along (or splash along) with my teammate. Knowing that you have another 17-mile loop to complete seems rather daunting at this point in a race. It’s best to break it up into much smaller distances. About a mile or two into the last lap, I started feeling much better. I cheered on Mel and everyone else I saw. I told Mel that saying all the silly things to people just brings my spirits up so much. And then I want to cheer on the next guy and the next. And then I realized that cheering others on is really just selfish because, although it may seem like you’re being nice, you’re truly just trying to make yourself feel better so you can finish the blasted race. After another mile, Mel and I said our good-byes and good lucks.

I was now in no-man’s-land—where you see nobody (at least not running your race distance). I didn’t know where anyone was in front of me or behind me. So I just kept running. I had many random thoughts going through my head, and then I saw this lady in front of me, and she kept pointing at me. Then I realized she was pointing past me. “Did you see him?” And I’m thinking, ‘Who?’ So I turned around and saw the 10-foot gator sunbathing right on the side of the trail, about five feet from where I had been, and laughed to myself. Surely I’d have seen him if he was moving.

 Knowing that when I got to the next aid station would mean single digit miles to the finish was great. At the turnaround, I sponged a bunch of ice cold water over my head (it had been rather warm for this entire lap) and felt great as I left. As I came up to a certain corner, I knew that the last aid station was really close and that feeling was coming on strong. At the final aid station, I only took right-side tires (just a water fill-up) and was quickly on my way. I was feeling the best I had all day. Each next spot that I recognized was another lift (where the other trail came in, the bench, crossing the road, etc.). Finally, the windmill. This is where I’ve wanted to be for a long time. As I was about 100 meters from the finish, I saw a kid start running toward me. I was certain it was my oldest son. Come to find out, he said he was faster than me, and my wife told him to go prove it. So he ran out to me and we ran the last 100 meters to the finish.

The muddy puddles were done. Finishing time was 7:46:16; 8th overall and 5th male. Thanks to my wife and kids for the love and support. Thanks to #TROT for the camaraderie and great races. And to #TrailToes for keeping a lot of special areas from chaffing. My #UltraSpire handheld was great to have along, especially when the sun came out. #TROT buffs are great at keeping sweat out of your eyes.

Thanks for a fun race, coach

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Because in Texas, Four 100-milers Just isn’t Enough for a Grand Slam (pt 3)

From October 2014 through February 2015 (3 ½ months), I raced 512 miles in just over 100 hours. In addition to that, I ran 670 ‘training’ miles between races. I thought I’d interview myself and let you know a bit about the races, why I did it, how I got ready for it, and how you can do it too. After answering the first question, I decided not to post all of it at once. So I will periodically post new segments. Here are the next two questions.

How prepared was your body to run 100 miles when you had just run a 100 mile race 3-4 weeks earlier? 

Since I began my never-take-another-day-off running streak a couple years ago, I made sure that I would at least get out the very next day and “run” at least a mile. The running more resembled a hobble, but I still would go for a mile. The next two days were less painful, and I either completed the mile quicker or I would run 2-3 miles. By Wednesday (race was Saturday), I was just fine running my ‘short loop’ of 5 miles at a more or less normal training run pace. Thursday through Saturday I could easily run my 9+ mile loops without any problems or worries. For two full years I had proceeded in this fashion after running 100-mile races. So when I decided to run one 100-miler per month from the end of October through the end of January (including a 100k and a 50-miler), I didn’t think it’d be too difficult at all. By the following weekend I had always felt back to normal. And there would be a full 3-4 weeks between all of these races (except for the one week recovery from the final 100-miler to the 50-miler). I felt great going into each race and I don’t think that I would’ve done any better had I not ran any other races and only concentrated on that one. The only one that I didn’t feel great at the start was the 50-miler at the very end. 

What crazy race ideas do you have planned?

I’m sure I’ll do this again this coming fall/winter, unless a certain significant other can convince me otherwise. I really enjoyed the whole thing this past year. Maybe not so much in the later miles of each race, but I was always so happy and feeling like I accomplished something cool when I finished. Plus I have to see if I can do all those races and finish in under 100 hours (It took me 100 hours and 30 minutes this time.).

In 2010, before I was a crazy runner, I put my name on a message board for the TIR (Texas Independence Relay). It’s a relay race for 200 miles with teams of up to 12 runners. I had previously ran a RAGNAR race with some friends (the Texas one that only lasted one year) and had heard about the TIR. I received an email and joined an 8-man team. I didn’t know any of the team, but we all had a really fun time. But what caught my attention was that there were two runners who were going to attempt to run the entire relay race as a solo act. Again, I wasn’t crazy, yet, but I knew right there that that was cool and could see myself doing that one day. I now see myself in a position where I have quite a bit of experience running long ultras and want to know how much farther I can run and how much further I can push myself. In March of 2016 I hope to be running the TIR as a solo entrant.

I don’t know if it was from watching Forrest Gump or if I somehow came up with the idea on my own. But once it was there, I knew it would be the best summer vacation ever. I should run across the entire country. There’s no way I could afford it. Just food and renting an RV for two months would cost a fortune. Luckily I’m a teacher, so I wouldn’t need to take time off from work. That’s all I have to say about that. 

There have recently been some interesting races that have sprouted up. One in Tahoe and another in Colorado, possibly a few others. They feature 200 miles (with no loops) in some beautiful mountains. One of the only downsides is the cost just to enter the race. But it has definitely peaked my interest.