Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mighty Mighty...

Mitochondria!  It sounds like a declarative expletive of some sort.  Holy guacamole Batman!

This fall I competed in 2 100-mile trail runs, 2 50-mile runs, and 2 50-k events over an 8-week period.  My legs felt great, however my stomach was a mess in 3 of these events and severely prohibited me from maximizing my results on those days.   Leading up to this fall I was running 120-150 miles per week.  My fitness has never been better.  

Here is my theory.  As my fitness level increased, I got to a point where I could run relatively fast and steady without going anaerobic over the 50-100 mile distances.  My legs have completely adapted to this additional workload.  24 hours after completing the Arkansas Traveler 100 I was back out for some gentle recovery miles with no problems.  This has created a whole new set of challenges for me to overcome.  Nutrition and hydration.  You start talking about this with Ultrarunners or other endurance athletes and you will get a wide and varied range of theories about what works for them.  This increased fitness level has allowed me to push my body to new levels and  create strains on my digestive system, etc that I have never experienced before.

The above pic is me minutes after finishing the Wild Hare 50K in Warda last month.  My legs felt amazing on this day.  I ran almost half of the race in 3rd place and felt confident my legs would allow me to stay with or try and chase down anyone who passed me late in the day.  This was going to be a break-through day for me.  A top 5 finish amongst some pretty good runners on a fast course.  GI distress would have something else to say about this.  I ended up finishing in 15th and was reduced to walking much of the last 7-8 miles.  I spent most of that night hanging off a log outside my tent wishing I could vomit one more time.  

I believe it is time to get fairly scientific in my approach to nutrition.  This led me in a general direction to start investigating Vegan/Vegetarian diets.  I tend to take things to the extreme,(Yes, it is true)  so I have been very strongly considering full-on Vegan with no dairy or eggs.  Efficiency is ultimately the goal.  Eat the most power packed foods in the least amount of calories required and you can maintain a strong, lean race weight and minimize the potential for GI distress.  As I have been combing the WWW the last few days a friend of mine tossed out this nugget:  Metabolic Efficiency.  This takes things down to a cellular level where the power plant of our cells, Mitochondria, make it all happen.  Here is a link where I started researching this.

On the website I found this testimonial.  It sounded vaguely familiar to my efforts this past fall:

Late 30s, ultra-endurance runner who completed the Leadman series (marathon, 50 mile mountain bike race, 50 mile running race, 100 mile mountain bike race, 10k running race, 100 mile running race) in a 7 week period at elevations greater than 10,000 feet.  

For comparisons, he completed the Leadville 100 mile running race in 2005 and consumed approximately 260 calories per hour for his 29 hour and 36 minute race.  In 2009, after 6 months of teaching his body how to become more metabolically efficient, he consumed 133 calories per hour for a 28 hour and 10 minute effort.  He reduced his hourly calorie need by 50% through employing the concepts of metabolic efficiency.

Interestingly, he did not have any GI distress until he consumed a sports drink laden with simple sugar 
(big mistake).

133 calories an hour!  Amazing.  We have all heard the data about how our bodies can only process 250-300 calories an hour.  We also know how important it is to take in calories consistently for these 24+ hour events/efforts.  This testimonial really got my attention.  It is not hard to visualize all the systems of your body firing on all cylinders in the most efficient manner knowing that you have tuned the engine to run in its most optimal state.  It makes complete sense that such a finely-tuned, powerful machine will require very specific high octane fuel to perform properly.  Conversely, I can also see how I have been gunking up the works of this complex system with a very haphazard approach to fuel/nutrition that is very inconsistent and all over the map.

So where do I go from here?  I am going to gain as much knowledge as I can about metabolic efficiency as I can and the foods that create this optimum state.  I am fairly confident that this will lead me to embrace a very clean diet that closely resembles Vegan/Vegetarian principles.  If upon getting the facts for myself I will be incorporating some non-plant-based foods in my diet so be it.  I was not considering becoming Vegan because it was trendy of I had a strong ethical inclination about animal cruelty issues many Vegans share, although my eyes have been opened in many ways regarding this.  I want to honor my body by providing it with the cleanest, healthiest foods possible.  Doesn't everyone?  Ok, that is a can of worms I will not open up here.  

This all starts on Monday after Christmas.  Until then....bring on the cake balls!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Arkansas Traveler Race Report

2010 Arkansas Traveler 100

It seems to get more difficult to drag these race reports out of me after these 100-milers and other boondoggles I get myself into.  I know it always gives me a great vehicle for personal reflection on all aspects of the event, my preparation, my effort, and the ultimate end result.

When I started the Arkansas Traveler 100 trail race a few weeks ago I was more prepared for this race than any other I have done to-date.  I had the perspective of glorious failures of the past as well as the redemptive vibe of my successes.  From a training and mileage stand-point I have never been in better shape in my life.  Prior to the taper, I logged 450 miles in 4 weeks leading up to the event.  This included a great 56-mile overnight run at Erwin Park.  I have also been very fortunate this past year to remain almost completely injury-free.  If I take more than a day off everything seems to start to get a little stiff.  As long as I am getting in my 16-24 miles a day everything stays very loose and supple.    I completely attribute this to adopting a more natural running form with a proper fore-foot strike.  I will not get on my soap box here, but if you ever want to pull up a chair and talk feet, form, etc for about 6 hours give me a shout!

All of the heat training I did leading up to my adventure at the Badwater 135 this past July in Death Valley also seems to be paying dividends.  In the weeks leading up to last week’s race the area temperatures here in Dallas gave way to some very refreshing Fall weather.  It was invigorating.  My tempo runs during the week were getting done all in sub 8:00 minute times with a few under 7:00.  The beautiful part was how effortless it was.  I could complete these very brisk runs with a fluid running form and never break through my aerobic threshold.  There is no short cut to this type of fitness.  Consistency and persistency are the only way.  All those runs in 110 degree heat and runs under the cover of darkness while the rest of the world slept were the difference makers.

One of my favorite parts of going to one of these out of town races is loading up with some great running friends and road tripping.  The Trail Freaks were reunited once again for this one.  While we did not get to do much training together leading up to this event, it did not take long for us to be cracking on each other and enjoying ourselves as we headed for the Ouachita National Forest on a perfect fall day.

This is the first Ultra we have done that we decided to tent camp near the starting location.  Hotels were not very convenient to this location.  The weather was perfect and this may be contributing to my feeling right now that I will NEVER stay in a hotel again when going to the mountains or anywhere else to run 100 miles in the woods.  It just seems sacrilegious to buffer yourself from the very elements you seek to embrace while running free through the forest.    Perhaps I would feel different if it rained all weekend, but I hope not!  We shall see.

Check-in, weigh-in, and a pretty good pasta dinner provided by the local fire department and I was ready to go chill under the canopy of shimmering leaves in the late afternoon sun for a little cat nap.  Normally, much of this time would have been spent driving to and from the hotel, race headquarters, last minute food, etc.  It was very calming to be able to stretch out and just breathe in and out as the last part of the day quietly slipped away.

Darkness was due to hit about 7:30.  Another benefit to not being in a hotel is that there is no TV or other creature comforts to distract you.  Just the rapidly cooling, crisp evening air and a symphony of crickets and other chirping critters that lulled me to sleep.  I have no doubt that sleeping in the great outdoors allowed me to get the best pre-race night’s sleep I have ever gotten.  The correctly chosen sleeping bag and a proper air mattress did not hurt either.  4:30 am comes quickly and we begin to stir about to be ready for our 6:00 start time.

Race headquarters is at Camp Ouachita.  There is a very nice lodge there that offered one last respite of comfort and warmth before a very long day and night on the very rocky trails.  Race numbers are issued.  Old friends say hello.  Most just mill about quietly with their own thoughts and expectations for what this epic day will offer them. 

Race strategy:  I did quite a bit of research on this trail, course profile, past year’s results, etc.  The RD had posted some great data to dissect.  They had split times for every runner through each of the 23 aid stations from last year’s event.  I carefully matched up the paces runners were posting to the elevation of the course.  I very conservatively mapped out my strategy for running a race that would ensure I would finish no matter what if anything unforeseen happened, but would allow me to really go for it and have a grand day if the stars aligned. 

The starting gun went off in the darkness and around 100 sturdy souls began to move forward into the darkness.  A brief jaunt down a hill on a blacktop round and my feet are finally in the dirt.  Overall, there are aid stations roughly every 3-5 miles along the course.  I have a copy of my pace chart on the back of my race number.  I plotted a very conservative start for the first few sections.  In the early going I am hitting all my marks right on time and feel very relaxed and content to finally be running on race day.

At mile 8 we hit the Ouachita Trail section.  This is the most technical, rocky, single-track on the entire course.  I am thankful for three things.  1.  Daylight has broken and I can run this section without the use of a headlamp.  2.  We are running this section with fresh legs.  The technical nature of this section would be much more difficult on legs with 80+ miles on them.  3.  We will not run this section on the way back on said tired legs!  Do not get me wrong.  I love single-track and this trail has all the great elements.  I am feeling pretty warm on this section with the elevation changes that are kicking in and I allow myself to cut loose a little bit.  I cruise into the first major aid station at mile 17 exactly 30 seconds ahead of my chart.

Now with 23 aid stations over the length of the course you can loose waaaaaay too much time if you do not have a well thought out plan for what you want to accomplish as you come into each aid station.  Know what you need/want.  Get it and take it down the trail with you as you head out and keep moving!  This is one part of my strategy that I executed flawlessly all day and night.  Some aid stations I was in and out in less than 45 seconds.  Basically, how fast can a volunteer top off my two hand-held water bottles?  Some were faster than others.  All were fabulous!  Yes, the rugged trail runner with the beard that gets mistaken for Sasquatch or a pirate used the word fabulous!  These volunteers give up their entire weekend to be there for the runners.  Most are experienced runners themselves.  Others were not, but just as enthusiastic with their support and assistance. 

The next major section to the Lake Winona aid station would be at almost 32 miles into the out and back course.  Things were relatively uneventful during this section as I continued to settle in and was hitting all of my time splits and getting in and out of the aid stations very quickly.  There is usually a point in a 100-mile race where the early adrenaline of the day is gone, the pack has spread out and at times you are left running solo.  This is usually also the point where you get “in the zone”.  This is where you hit your rhythm and your body responds to the ebb and flow of the demands of the course and you feel like you could run literally FOREVER.  This is a beautiful feeling.  It was just me and the trail and the mountain.  At about mile 25 I asked someone how many people had already come through the aid station.  The guy checked his clip board and looked up and told me:  “9”.  I was in 10th place and feeling great!  Still working my conservative plan and running well within myself.  I guess I had not noticed that I had clipped by quite a few people during the last sections.  The race was on!

In the 8 miles to the next major aid station me and 1 other runner trade positions.  There is a long way to go, but I did come into the next aid station in 9th place now.  Slowly (well hopefully not too slowly), but surely maybe I could continue to pick a runner off here and there.  Sometimes the only sign I see on the course that someone is moving forward ahead of me is the tell-tale dribble trail of urine of a male runner who has mastered the act of nictration while on the run.  If you have never seen this it looks like a kid was walking down the trail randomly spraying a water gun.  This technique saved me at least 20-30 minutes over the course of the day.

If you have read any of my other blog posts you have heard me say how in a 100-mile race your fortunes can change many times over.  So far on this day everything has been pointing up for me.  All good things must come to an end.  The culprit is my usual nemesis:  My stomach.  I immediately begin upping my consumption of ginger ale and I add a steady diet of a few Tums tabs at each aid station.  I lose time and a few positions over the next 10 miles.  My pace is slowed by my surly stomach, a very rocky trail, and the first ascent of Smith Mountain. 

While my stomach is on the way to recovery my spirit is still soaring.  I am on the highest part of the course, on a beautiful trail running solo, and the leaves appear to be changing color right before my eyes.  As I run along the ridgeline of the mountain the sapphire blue sky of the late afternoon opens up above me.  Out of nowhere, a very large hawk begins cruising the air currents atop the ridge a mere 20 feet above my head.  He has his nose pointed into the wind and is moving along the treetops at a pace that seems to be leading me down the trail.  Another great omen on a great day.  I descend Smith Mountain into the Powerline aid station with increased intestinal fortitude and a renewed enthusiasm.  The ebb has flowed and my fortunes are looking up again. 

The time of day is about 4:00 pm now.  I have been running almost 10 hours and I have covered almost 50 miles.  I use this opportunity to change into my compression tights.  The body feels like it could use a bit of a lift.  2XU full compression does not disappoint.  I leave Powerline ready to take on the night only slightly behind schedule although I have given back some positions on the trail.  This next section has much more descent than I had calculated and it is the smoothest part of the entire course.  I turn the dogs loose and start turning some sub-9:00 minute miles over the 8 miles to the turnaround point.  I make up most of the time I lost and come into the turnaround less than 10 minutes off pace.  Suddenly I could care less about what place I am in.  Nighttime is approaching quickly and I feel pretty solid right now.

Less than a mile on the way back to Powerline I see Melissa approaching the turnaround.  She looks great and is motoring.  We give shouts of encouragement to each other and I have no doubt I will be seeing her in my rearview very soon.  Melissa is in 2nd place amongst females!  She is only 30 minutes behind the women’s leader, but Melissa is moving waaaaay faster than she is.  Sure enough in a few minutes she motors by in a completely different gear than me.  “On, on!” I encourage her.  I have no doubt she will catch the leader it is just a matter of when and can she keep herself together.  Remember that part about fortunes changing. 

There is a little mishap at Powerline on my way back.  My drop bag inadvertently got dumped and my wind shirt is now missing along with all of my carefully selected caffeine products (remember this later).  The volunteers are well-meaning, but my problem remains.  It is dark now and the winds are very brisk.  Gusts over 25 mph.  I expect they will be higher as I begin to ascend Smith Mountain for the second time and cross the exposed ridgeline.  I worry about losing too much body heat during this section for a few reasons.  It is dark and my pace will be slower.  My legs now have over 65 miles on them and I will have to tread very carefully over one of the rockiest sections of the course.  The second major obstacle of the day and my mind is whirring with possible solutions.  I commandeer a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt from a by-stander.  Cotton is not my first choice but it will have to do.  To combat the wind I fashion a trash bag into a wind shirt.  Many of you have probably utilized this technique while waiting for a road race to start so you can dump it at the start and not worry about retrieving it later.  Odds are I will get pretty intimate with it for most of the next 35 miles.

Anyway, it took we much longer to type this than the actually time I spent in the aid station trying to solve these problems.  Off I go to Smith Mountain I go again where the winds whipping at 30-35 mph.  I will be really glad to be done with this section.

During the next section to mile 83 once I am off the mountain I am able to get running again pretty good and start generating some significant body heat.  Another good omen:  Bats diving in and out of my headlamp beam picking off the bugs I was attracting.  I hope the bugs were attracted to the light and not my lovely forest scent of 18 hours on the trail.  I am sure I smelled like one of those green tree air fresheners that hang from your rearview mirror. 

I always have to remind myself to pause and drink in certain moments along the way during an epic event like this.  Especially at night.  You are physically and mentally exhausted and you have to concentrate on every footfall.  You can miss so much when you get tunnel vision like that.  I stop atop the ridge along a clearing and look up to the heavens.  The Milky Way sprawls from horizon to horizon as far as I can see.  The 2 minutes I stand there I see at least 4 shooting starts.  I breathe deep, smile, and raise my arms to the blanket of stars above.  This is what really living is all about!   I feel so incredibly fully alive!  Back to business….

I did lose some significant time during this section for several reasons.  The stomach did go a little bit sideways, but not too bad.  2 big problems here.  Lack of caffeine (see debacle at Powerline) is now causing major fatigue to set in.  Most people would say that major fatigue is to be expected at this point.  This is one problem I did not want to have yet again.  The first sign of this type of major fatigue is a very serious medical condition called “fucky” vision.  Basically this means that your vision completely fades to black as you literally fall asleep while running.   I am very conscious of this happening and there is nothing I can do to stop it.  Several times I am jarred back awake as I go crashing off the trail into the underbrush.  Luckily there are no drop-offs and somehow I do not get tripped up on any rocks.  I have 2 miles until I am into the next aid station and I have to figure out how to keep myself moving. 

So here is what I came up with.  I start talking out loud to myself.  Very loud.  I am actually shouting into the darkness of the surrounding woods.  This accomplishes two things.  I have to engage my brain to speak out loud and at the same time I have to engage my brain to listen to what I am saying out loud.  Follow?  What was I saying?  I have no idea.  It probably sounded like the authentic frontier gibberish of Gabby Johnson form Blazing Saddles.  After a while I settle on repeating my favorite Thoreau quote that seems aptly appropriate in this situation: “The woods are lovely dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, And I have miles to go before I sleep! And miles to go before I sleep!”  There was no way I was going to break any promises to myself on this night.  The volunteers got a kick out of me marching into the aid station shouting Thoreau to the heavens.  They said they could hear me before they could see me.

Now another side effect of “fucky” vision is the perception that your headlamp does not work worth a shit!  Everything appears to be dimming on you.  Unfortunately for me my headlamp was actually not working worth a shit.  About a mile or so from the last aid station and my headlamp dies completely.  I am totally in the dark on a very rocky trail with 2 miles to the next stop.  I trudge forward at a snail’s pace.  It takes me almost an entire hour to cover the distance and the worst part was the cold creeping in due to my trudging along in the blackness. 

I hit another major aid station and I have about 14 miles to go.  I fashion a contractor-grade trash bag into a wind shirt again.  Actually this time it is more like an ankle-length dress which is fine by me.  At this point I am moving very slow, but I have no doubt I will finish.  Probably not under 24 hours either.  That will have to come another day (Maybe October 30th?).  I begin to see the first signs of impending daylight.  My spirits lift and at this point I am just going to enjoy the gift of each step I get to take on the trail before the conclusion of this race. 

I have not seen anyone else in a very long time.  Who should be happening along as I approached mile 97, fellow Trail Freak Suzi.  She is walking aggressively.  Faster than I am at this point.  I am more or less ambling like a casual stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon.  Knowing Suzi, she wants to F-ing get this done.  She is tough and consistent.  I am not surprised to see her.  Her pace gives me a lift and off we go to cross the finish line together.  I feel good enough to run pretty fast now, but Suzi is battling some stomach issues.  She tells me to go on without her.  “No way man!  We are finishing this mo-fo together!”  We navigate the last few turns and run down the gentle slope to the finish line at Camp Ouachita at 8:12 am on Sunday morning 26 hours and 12 minutes after we left the same place. 

It is a pretty decent time considering all the walking that occurred during the last 14 miles, the lack of caffeine, the dead headlamp, and 2 bad bouts with nausea.  The longer you run the narrower the margin for error.  A monster breakfast in the cozy lodge awaits!  I do a quick check of the standings to see how everyone came in.  Melissa won!  She was the first female with a time of 23 hours and 34 minutes beating the next female by a very slim margin of 3 minutes.  I wonder if she figured out the peeing trick?

We go back to the campsite to find a warm shower and crash for a few hours until the awards ceremony.  Showering after a 100-miler is always a love-hate situation.  The prospect of a warm shower and comfortable clothes is a delicious thought.  I’ll even say fabulous again.  The hate and even dread comes in the form of warm soapy water providing you with not so gentle reminders about where you did not re-apply body glide quite often enough.  Monkey butt.  Need I say more.  Ultrarunning peeps know of what I speak.  When the water hit my nether regions I called out in a death scream of total agony.  Much more pain at that moment than anything I felt over 100 miles on a rugged trail.  People in the parking lot were laughing at me.  I could care less. 

The first 2 hours of sleep since Friday and then we were off to the awards ceremony.  People are still finishing as we get back to the lodge.  I devour another huge serving of the pancake breakfast.  So what is the award one receives for completing a 100-mile race over rugged terrain.  A belt buckle.  Yep, that is right a belt buckle.  No it is not “fabulous”.  It is badass.  It should be described the way Samuel L. Jackson described his wallet to the stick-up guy in the diner in Pulp Fiction:  “It is the one that says bad-ass m-f’er on it”.  The buckle does not actually say that, but it does.

I obviously take the next day off and continue to eat massive quantities of food a grab sleep every chance I can.  I awake on Tuesday 48 hours after finishing the race and I feel like running.  4 miles.  Easy.  The legs feel pretty good.  There is some discomfort, but my body responds and heals with movement.  The movements today are gentle and easy.  Taking more time off would be ideal, but I get to do this all over again just 17 days from today.  I am very pleased with my recovery and the way my body responded.  In the next race I will again attempt to solve the stomach problem (Tums early and often) and proactive doses of caffeine  as well.  And there will be fresh batteries in every drop bag!

Overall I am very satisfied with my effort and my ability to overcome the adversities of the day.  As late as mile 60 I was pinging around near 10th place.  Besides, I got a really bad-ass belt buckle out of the deal!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The gift that keeps giving...

A few weeks back I mentioned that I had numerous topics for blogging that were way overdue. Yes, they are still overdue and the list grows.  So, the only way I know to bust out of this slump and get my flow going again is to just dive right back in.  I will apologize in advance if my wordsmything skills are a tad rusty and this seems to wander all over the map a bit.

Speaking of rusty...One thing that is not rusty are my legs.  I have been a running fool these past months.  After heat training for Badwater, I came back feeling stronger and fitter than I have been in my entire life.  That was what I had hoped would be the result.  The goal was to work my tail off in the heat this past summer and reap the rewards in my fall races.  The first of those races is next weekend!  Arkansas Traveler 100 in the Oauchita Mountains.  

I feel better prepared for this race than any other I have ever entered.  I was able to ramp my weekly mileage up to between 125-150 miles a week before the dreaded taper.  My body responded extremely well to these increased and persistent work loads.  A year ago I would have crumbled under these mileage totals.  I owe an entire year of injury-free and fluid running to correcting my foot strike and embracing a more natural form.  Now it seems the more I run the better my body feels.  If I take more than a day off that is the only time I feel any tightness anywhere.  My legs are sinewy and supple in a way I have never felt.  

There are harder 100-mile races out there than the AT100, but this will be no walk in the park.  Any day you set out to run 100 miles it will present numerous and untold challenges.  I am ready to roll on down the trail and adapt my effort to whatever challenges the day (and night!) might bring.  I am really approaching this run as a training run.  I plan to run completely within myself.  The primary reason for this is because 28 days later I have to do it all over again at the Cactus Rose 100 in Bandera.  This is the course that spit me out at mile 91 last year in my first 100 mile race.  I DNF'd and was in compression boots for 2-3 weeks.  I will prevail this time!

How does all of this tie into my running goals, dreams, and aspirations?  There are 2 major goals over the next few years I want to accomplish.  Number one is Badwater and number two is the Ultrarunning Grand Slam.  To get into Badwater I need some strong finishes in three 100-mile races just to have a chance to get my race application accepted.  They only take 40 rookies each year.  I am going to submit the strongest app I can and hope to gain entry for the 2011 race.  If I am not selected I will crew and pace again and try again for 2012.

The Grand Slam starts with the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  It will take the good fortune of a lottery selection for one of the limited spots to put me on this track for 2011.  If I do not get lucky I will still try to schedule the other 3 races on my calendar, especially Leadville Trail 100.  My spirit and soul continue to be called to the mountains.  2011 will be the year I find a way to train and do more races out West.  If I get to toe the starting line of Badwater, take on WS100 or any of the other Slam races I will be a happy camper.  I know eventually I will get to realize each one of these dreams many times over. 

  It is good to have dreams and aspirations, but to be fully present and connected to the run I am engaged in right now is all that really matters.  My favorite run of all time will always be “the next time I get to run”.Running has given me the gift of health, peace and enlightenment.  I keep running and it truly is the gift that keeps giving.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Be present. Get the damn earbud outta your ear!!!

"One of the interesting lessons I've learned from running extreme distances is that the more you can rely on the natural scenery around you for company - the mountains, the desert, your crew, the other runners - rather than distracting yourself from what you're doing by feeding artificial noise into your ears, the better. Instead of listening to someone else's disembodied, digitized voice, you make yourself listen to your own thoughts and reactions to what you see, and you pay attention to the other people who are with you in the present moment." 

Most of the long mileage I log these days is solo. Me and nature often at odd hours early in the morning, late at night, or in the blazing heat of the day when even the reptiles seek respite in the shade. Sometimes I do run with my iPod on occasion, not very often though. The essence of this statement by Frank McKinney captures very well why I usually do not. Some people say it helps them to get lost in the miles and pass the time. If you are too busy creating a distraction trying to get lost how can you find yourself?

Running for me is not about running away from things. It is a journey without end or destination. The next is merely a continuation of the previous and so on.

This morning was a great example of why being present was so great. The last owl of the darkness. Breaking dawn. Deer in the field. The crunch of my feet on the gravel. The steady pounding of my heart and even breath of air in my lungs as the miles slipped away effortlessly. Bliss was found.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Way overdue....

Too much time has passed since my last post.  My writing muscles have atrophied while my running ones continue to gain strength and endurance.  I will be posting 3-4 new articles over the next week or so on topics and events that I have been meaning to write about.  This should get me a little bit current with my evolution and stimulate a more regular writing practice.

Some topics:

Heat Training
Lisa Smith Batchen:  Running Hope to America
Elements of my lifestyle:  How do they fit together?  Constructing a life.
Ambitions for Running

On, on!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Missing Puzzle Piece

This weekend was another great adventure in my continued journey into the depths of trail-running ultra-marathons. Here are some thoughts and perspective while it is relatively fresh in my mind:

All week my anticipation has been building for the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile Endurance trail run in Huntsville, Texas. It has been 3 months since my first attempt to finish a 100-miler. I know I have raised my fitness level during this time. I have put in the miles on the trail, done some solid core work in the gym, and trimmed 10 pounds off my frame during this time. During these winter months I have run in the worst conditions imaginable. Pouring rain, sleet and snow, and howling northern winds. A good chunk of these miles were done in these conditions under the cover of darkness while the rest of the world was tucked warmly in their beds. With a race date of Feb 6th, you never know what conditions I might get that day. I will be ready for the worst and hope for the best.

The week leading up to a race that could last up to 30-hours requires some careful planning and strategy in a number of areas: Nutrition, Hydration, medical needs, logistics, equipment, clothing, shoes, accommodations, and many others. I spend the days leading up to my departure laying out my gear and creating lists. I am in my local running store almost every day this week for “one more thing”. At least four trips to Target for various items. I over-packed for the previous race, Cactus Rose, and I am trying to scale things back while not leaving out something critical to keep myself moving on the trail late in the race.

With the race taking place just 40 miles from College Station, I have called one of my closest friends and fraternity brother from my days at Texas A&M. I regret to say that we have not seen each other in over 15 years, but it is the kind of friendship that is easy and comfortable like not a day has passed. He has a 2700-acre hunting ranch on the Navasota River ( and has offered to put me and my running crew up in his lodge/bunkhouse. Accommodations: Check.

The time on the trail is the reason for all of this planning, but I enjoy all aspects of the entire weekend. It is the whole road-trip thing with good friends. Our day on the road to head South starts at 5:45 am Friday morning. My training partners are two extremely tough chiquitas. Do not ever bet against these two. I would say we are a pretty tight crew. They put up with my Zen-ramblings and ideas for crazy running adventures and I am their whipping boy for everything else. “Dave! I need _____!.” In generally, we mostly give each other a hard time. All kidding aside, we share the highs and lows of our times running together as well as some of the highs and lows of our life in reality off the trail. Don’t mess with them, because you will be messin’ with me too!

We hit the ranch at about 9:30 that morning. As excited as I am about the race, reuniting with my buddy Kyle is definitely a highlight of the entire weekend. Talk about a friend who always has your back. Kyle has always been the kind of friend you knew you could call if you were in a pinch at any hour and he would find a way to help you out. (More about that later.)

We get our gear unloaded and sorted out to take our drop-bags over to race registration later that afternoon. The rains have washed out Kyle’s hunting guests for the weekend so we have the entire place to ourselves: One main room with 3 sets of bunks, 3 private bedrooms, 3 separate bathrooms and a full kitchen. This beats the heck out of Motel 6. Due to our early start, we are in no rush. We actually have about an hour to kill for a power-nap before we have to get on the move again.

Next up: Let the carbo-loading begin. We get a rock-solid recommendation from our host on the best local Italian restaurant and off we go. After a hearty meal and some more laughs with the girls we head over to Huntsville. We beat the rush at registration and we are one of the first of over 350 runners to leave our drop-bags. We have some time to kill before the trail meeting so we decide go check out the start/finish over at the trail. We hear parking will be tough, so we scope things out and adjust the all important time schedule to make sure we are not in a rush tomorrow morning.

Breakfast for dinner at IHOP and we make the short cruise back to the ranch. I would like to say this little trip was uneventful, but it was not. 5 minutes from the ranch I see the flashing red and blues in my rearview mirror. I religiously use cruise control so I know there was no way I was speeding. Long story short: Following too closely=warning no ticket. Driving with an expired license=$170. Ouch.

By 9:00pm my head hits the pillow and I am out. 3:30am wake-up will come quickly. Luckily, I sleep relatively soundly for the night before a race. A hot shower to warm my muscles, race-gear on, a quick breakfast of steel-cut oats and a banana, and we are on the road to the race site. We get a great parking spot and feel in no rush to be ready when the gun goes off at 6:00am.

I put a lot of thought into my race strategy for this day over the last few weeks. The girls are shooting for a sub-24 hour time. For some reason I feel this course will allow me to go faster and I want to push things a bit. I have a spreadsheet that allows me to toy around with run-walk strategies. I come up with 20-3 to run 20. Translation: Run 20 minutes at a 10:40 pace and walk 3 minutes at a 15:00 pace and I will finish 100 miles in 20 hours. Sound simple enough. 5 laps. 4 hours per lap.

350 people is a big group to have start a trail run in the dark on single-track. For those of you in Dallas, think Central Expressway in Plano when it rains. I am not too worried about this because it will force me to ease into things a bit. I do not hear an official starting call, but the whoops and hollers of the surging mass of bobbing headlamps tell me it is game on!

A bit about this course: Generally, it is comprised of rolling hills with only a few places that reason tells you to walk up. Almost the entire trail is under the canopy of pines trees in nice, sandy soil. The obstacles on this course are the roots that like to pop up all over the place. Leaves on the trail will make it tricky even though this trail is not very technical by any standard. The race director bills the course this way: “Rocky Raccoon is built for speed and comfort.” Most people do not think that there can be anything comfortable about running 100 miles in the woods. It is definitely all relative. Cactus Rose is billed this way: “A nasty rugged trail run: No Whiners, Wimps, or Wusses. We give Bonus Points for Blood, Cuts, Scrapes, & Puke.” Trust me. This course was all that it was advertised and then some. Speed and comfort on the trail this time sound good to me and I have aspirations to match.

I hit the first aid station in 32 minutes and keep going without looking at it twice. I am 5 minutes ahead of the pace chart I have zip-tied to my race number. As the sun rises, the long line of runners thins out and I am able to work up to a nice pace. I find myself running next to a man who has come all the way to Guatemala to run this race. My Spanish is as spotty as his English, but we both speak perfect Trail. We hit it off famously. He calls me Dallas the rest of the day. Little did I know at that time how many miles I would run that day with Juan Pablo Salazar. We press the pace a bit with me leading a train of 4-5 runners with Pablo right behind me. On this first lap I am taking in the details of the terrain of a trail I have never run before. I will have 4 more laps after this to figure it out.

Along the way during this first lap, I stub my toe on one of those sneaky little roots I mentioned earlier and hit the deck hard on two different occasions. I am lucky to find a sandy landing both times without any damage. Many others this day would not be so lucky. I finish lap one in 3 hours and 28 minutes feeling strong and confident. I reload on some fuel and hydration and take off for loop two planning on pulling back the reins a bit. Pablo and I fall out of pace with each other several times, but always seem to be leaving the aid stations at about the same time. Pablo has an infectious smile and has made more friends on the trail than anyone. Almost everyone we pass knows him by name. Pablo looks at me and smiles. “Dallas! We go!” The culture of the trail is truly universal.

As I near the end of lap two my fingers feel tight and stiff. I look down at them and notice that they are swollen. In retrospect this was the first indication of things to come. Dehydration. It is a cool day so far and I have been running without a shirt. This probably kept me from realizing how much fluid I have been losing. I up my fluid intake and finish lap two in 3:58 minutes. I am now right on the pace I want to maintain for the next 60 miles. In 12 hours I could be done!

At the start/finish I put on my new 2XU compression tights over my Zoot race compression socks and pull on a shirt. It is still mid-afternoon, but the sun is starting its slow decline and the temperature is fading. The tights wrap my muscles in an extra layer of sheathing and it gives me a lift as I head out once again. I squeeze a caffeine-laced gel in my mouth. A wave of nausea flows over me and I am about to throw up. I have mostly been doing gels mixed with the typical ultra-fare provided at the aid stations. I will myself to hold it down. Looking back, I would have been better off emptying my stomach and starting over.

As lap three progresses, I continue to battle nausea. For the last 15 miles I have been pouring Tums in me at every stop. I hit an aid station looking to increase my water intake and for some neutral foods to balance my stomach out. The volunteers at the aid stations are amazing. Most are seasoned veterans of many ultras who give up their entire weekend to help you find a way to finish yours. Unfortunately for me my camelback gets topped-off with Heed, an electrolyte drink that I have never been able to stomach, instead of water. I have 6 miles to the next station and cannot afford to get further behind on my hydration during this time. I force as much of the Heed down as I can and press on.

I roll into the start/finish at the end of lap three still optimistic about just about everything even though it took me 5 hours to finish this loop. I know my stretch goal of a 20-hour finish will not be realized. 24 hours is still possible and I have no doubt I can finish somehow by walking through the night if I have to. I am not eating well, but keeping chasing the Tums and eating what I can. I know that your fortunes in a race like this can change many times. Coming into the start/finish area on each loop cannot help but give you a lift. Roars of support and encouragement welcome every runner. As loud as they cheer for you on the way in, the send-off for the next lap is even greater. They let you know they appreciate the growing courage it takes to press-on yet again into the darkness.

I geared-up for the dropping temperatures that come with the darkness. Lows for the night are expected to be about 36 degrees. Throughout the day I have passed the girls on the trail. We trade high fives and offer words of encouragement. I have definitely missed sharing the trail with them on this day. Thank goodness for Pablo from Guatemala. By now all but the slowest of the 50-mile runners have finished and all that is left are the 100-milers strung out across 20 miles of trail. The eventual winner of the race lapped me when I was on my 3rd loop. He would eventually finish in 14 hours and 58 minutes. A staggering 9 minute mile pace for 100 miles! I see him on his fifth lap and he is pounding it out at exactly the same pace as he was in lap one. Amazing.

I am still battling increasing nausea. In the darkness under weary feet the tiny roots begin to catch my toes more frequently. I do not go down but have several close calls. This also slows my pace. My vision begins to get a bit “fucky” as we call it. Everything is hazy and I start to get tunnel vision. This is a sure sign of severe fatigue. Usually, I start to amp-up some caffeine in the second half of a race, but I have been unable to do so due to my stomach and hydration issues. I begin to sense that what started as some minor tactical errors are compounding themselves and putting me in a dangerous position.

At this point I have been on my feet pushing my body harder than I ever have for almost 18 hours over 73 miles of trails. I have 2 miles to the next aid station. I am reduced to walking and I can barely keep my eyes open. I stumble off the trail several times as I literally drift off to sleep while walking. I stop for a minute and lean over and place my hands on my knees. This does not help. I almost pass out and fall over right there. I force myself onward.

I see the friendly glow of the aid station through the trees around the next bend. I garner as much courage as I can to stride into the tent without looking completely broken-down. My plan was to sit in a chair for the first time all day. Just for a few minutes I would close my eyes and tell a volunteer not to let me sit longer than 30 minutes. Immediately I have 2-3 people offering to help me with anything and everything. They offer me all variety of food and drink. Hot and cold. Salty and sweet. Black coffee. Nothing sounds good.

My reduced pace over the last few miles has also allowed the cold to creep in. Now that I am sitting in a chair it hits me like a ton of bricks. A fellow runner is sitting in a chair wrapped in a blanket. Without saying a word he takes the blanket off of himself and wraps it around my shoulders. One of the thousands of acts of kindness that take place at one of these events. I did not have the mental energy to even speak, but I have a grateful heart. My teeth are chattering uncontrollably now.

A few minutes later Melissa and then Suzi come through the aid station. They both offer me words of encouragement. Suzi offers to drag me with her so I would have some company to talk to and hopefully get myself started again. I know I am in trouble and I do not want either of my friends to put their day in jeopardy. I lie and tell them I will be Ok and for them to go on.

Now I find myself at the defining moment of yet another 100-mile effort. At Cactus Rose my mind was more than willing, but my body broke-down in a way that made it impossible for me to finish before the cut-off and I would probably have done some severe damage to myself physically. This was different. I spent 31 hours straight on the trail at Cactus Rose and never felt this mentally fatigued. My mind lacked the ability to even comprehend that I am actually about to quit when I had vowed to crawl to the finish if I had to, yet here I am pulling the plug. Just like that it is over. I quit.

A brief car ride to the start/finish and I crawl into the car to wait for the girls to finish. I send all the good vibes I could muster towards these two amazing women who are fighting their way to the finish. I know we will be in no shape to drive whenever they show up, so I text Kyle to see if he can drive over to get us a little later. After a short while a phone call confirms that the friend you can always count on was climbing out of bed before dawn to come rescue us. I fall asleep knowing the girls will make a beeline to the car when they are done.

I awaken to pounding on the window. The girls made it! Melissa finished in 24:08 and Suzi in 24:23. They are the 18th and 20th women overall. I had no doubt they would do it. 20 minutes later and Kyle arrives from College Station to drive us back to the ranch. Kyle pulls around by the drop bags so I can pick-up my gear. I walk into the start/finish area under the breaking dawn. Who is the first person I see? Juan Pablo Salazar! He is standing there wrapped in a blanket and flashes me his now famous smile and says “Dallas!” We embrace like brothers. We talk Trail to each other. He asks if I finished. Sadly I have to tell him “No” and I can tell he is disappointed for me. I ask him “Y tu?” I see his hand slowly emerge from under the blanket and he opens his hand to reveal the sub-24 hour finisher’s buckle as a smile spreads across his face. I give him a big hug once again and feel proud to have gotten to spend a significant amount of time on the trail with this man this day and share a small part of his glory. I hope he remembers me as fondly as I will remember him.

After showers at the ranch and a quick brunch with Kyle’s family we head out to make our way back to Dallas. Kyle drives us back to Huntsville to retrieve his car and I get another hour to spend catching-up with him. We part ways promising to connect when he is in Dallas in a few weeks. Throughout the weekend he keeps reminding me to send him a training schedule so he can do one of these crazy events with us. Knowing Kyle he will do it. Who knew it would take trail running to reunite me with one of my oldest friends.

After 36 hours since dropping out yet again of a 100-mile race I have had some time to think about it a bit. I am not dissatisfied with my effort from the weekend. I am not happy with the outcome, but I now I pushed my body harder than I ever have before and I am proud of my efforts. Today is Monday and I just got a 2-hour massage. My muscles feel great. I could go put in a 25-mile training run right now if I had to. This tells me that I have taken my fitness level to new heights. Only a day after pushing my body to its absolute limit for 18 hours straight I am fully functional and ready to do it again. I made a few critical errors on hydration and nutrition. This is just another part of figuring out the puzzle called Ultra-marathon. The way the pieces fit together is different for every person for every race. I cannot wait to try to put the puzzle together again.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Praying for Rain!

The Rocky Raccoon 100-mile endurance run is a week away. Huntsville State park is due to have rain all week leading up to the race and during the 24-hours on the trail there will be off and on rain. Today’s inclement weather has given me a perfect opportunity to put myself outside in the elements and suffer a bit as opposed to being huddled-up by a fire with a glass of wine. That can come later. It is getting to be 3:00 in the afternoon on a Friday and the weather has been deteriorating all day. The worse the weather gets the more I get the itch to go commune with nature on my favorite local trail.

It has been raining for the better part of 2 days and the ground is already saturated. I love running this trail when it rains. There are a dozen or so stream crossings and most of the single-track turns into a running river itself. I tie-up all my loose ends on my desk after an amazing week at work. Feeling satisfied that I made the most of my time indoors this week, I feel the need to reward myself with some well deserved time in the great outdoors on a blustery winter’s day.

I certainly had a plan for the day when I woke-up this morning. I knew there was a chance of snow and I had packed all of my gear in the car this morning before heading to work. Most people watching the weather throughout the day would probably have described it as getting worse as the day progressed. From my vantage point it was only getting better!

I quickly change at the office and make some careful selections for layers. My primary concern is to not have too much clothing on. I walk outside to the car and feel the northerly winds whip across my face. I feel cold very quickly after standing there for less than a minute. From experience this tells me that I probably got the layers right. By the time I get my effort going on the trail I should have ample coverage from the elements, but still be able to toss-off excess body heat with soaking myself with sweat.

I reach the entrance to the park 20-minutes later. Not a soul in sight. Not that I ever expect to see anyone when I show up at times like this. Raining, 100+ degrees, or middle of the night. My favorite times on this 200-acre tract are the times when I have it entirely to myself. As I navigate to the trailhead I can see that I am not going to be disappointed today in any category. Every inch of trail is inches deep in water at the least or a swiftly running stream in many sections.

I tighten my shoes down extra tight before I put on my gloves. The last thing I want to do is lose a shoe in the suction of a mucky mire of mud. I squeeze down a Gu gel. My favorite flavor is “plain”. I am carrying no water today. I have been hydrating all day and I want to travel light. I plan on running pretty aggressively considering the conditions. 1 hour 30 minutes or less is my target. I have done the loop on this course under dry, fast conditions in about 65 minutes. With only a week to the race I will push it, but not take foolish chances and risk an injury.

My first steps on the trail are a bit sluggish. Immediately my feet are completely soaked to the bone. I give myself a chance to find my rhythm and after about 15 minutes I am smoothly flowing along the trail to the sound of my squishy steps. The creeks I am running along are roaring and swelling to fill their banks. The guttural groan of water amongst the fallen trees in the creek bottoms is all that can be heard.

I hit the first open section on the back of the park. The wind blasts me pretty hard and the sweat of my brow makes me feel cold all over for a moment. I was actually working up a pretty good sweat amongst the protection of the woods. It is refreshing to be in the wide open spaces. I stride it out across the native grasslands. I am trying to make up some time in these areas.

The trail dives back into the woods and plunges downhill. Water is rapidly rushing through this section and pieces of flotsam ride the current like flumes on a water ride. I pound my way right down the center of the trail where the water is the deepest. This part of the terrain is the hardest packed and offers the surest footing despite being covered by the most water. I throw caution to the wind and kick things into high gear. As usual I am living for the moment and soaking up everything this day, this moment, and this trail have to offer me. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

I hammer through a 2-mile section of twisty, technical trail with zero effort. All thoughts of the trials and tribulations that life throws a person’s way have been washed away. It is just me, the trail, and lots of water everywhere. The trail breaks into the open again at the right time that I need to get cooled off. Another great section to stride it out, focus on form, and make some time.

At one point, the trail dives down and makes a hard left around a stand of evergreen trees. As I splash around the corner I am almost on top of a young red fox. I do not know who is more startled at the moment. A flick of the tail and the fox disappears into some brush. It all happened so quickly it makes me wonder if I imagined it. I have spent hundreds of hours on this trail at all times of day and in all kinds of conditions and I have never seen a fox.

Back into the root covered, mucky part of the trails. I check my watch and see that I am right on time. The route traverses up and down a ridge along the northern side of the park. The next half-mile section of the trail is literally under half a foot of water. The frigid waters are invigorating my legs on every step.

This next section has several water crossings. Normally these can be cleared in-stride. Not today. One of the first is deep and wide. I plunge in clear to my knees and burst onto the bank on the other side and begin a slippery bear crawl up the steep bank. If I go backwards I will end-up wet from head-to-toe. With the help of a just-mature-enough sapling I haul myself to the top.

Next are a series of footbridges. The first 2 are completely under water. The trail marshals have just recently repaired these. I wonder if they will hold up to the pressure of the recent heavy rains. One last hill to navigate and my day is done. I give it all I have got running against the current rapidly flowing down the hill. I break out of the tree-line into the open amongst increasing snow flurries. I sprint the last 100-yards to my car. 1 hour 24 minutes.

I take a few minutes to peel off my sweaty layers and reflect on the day’s effort. I feel completely ready to tackle to 100 miles in Huntsville under whatever conditions the day offers. Over the last 3 months I have run in the worst the elements had to offer. I may be one of the few people to toe the line at this race next week that is actually praying for rain!

Monday, January 25, 2010

1,000 Miles From Nowhere

I am about a week late at getting this posted. I have been trying to get something up once a week. I have been writing quite a bit lately. I have a dear friend in England that I have been corresponding with and it has forced me to get into some additional writing sessions. I find the more I write the more it flows. I probably have 2 or 3 other posts worth of material, but they have not made it to finished form yet.

Last Sunday night I had a lot on my mind. The previous 3-5 days required a large commitment of mental agility and decision-making. I had to make some quick, critical decisions during this time and I could not afford to be wrong even one time. My runs last week kept me balanced and were a much needed outlet to organize my thoughts and at times completely clear my head of any thought.  I was calling on the run tonight to provide the same relief.

The order of this evening will be an easy jaunt to the gym for a quick but intense workout followed by an easy cruise home. I change clothes and head out the door to run to the gym. As I walk out the back door I notice that it is barely misting. The temp is still 70 degrees even though the sun is down. It is nice. Off comes the shirt. I love Texas winters.  It is the middle of January and I can run almost naked in the dark and work up a good sweat! I do not lose the shorts, although that could be stimulating. Let's just say the route to the gym is not conducive to streaking.

I let the music in my headphones push me down the road. "1000 Miles from Nowhere" by Dwight Yoakum is track one right out of the gate. It is a song I love to use to get moving and establish an easy rhythm. This song always reminds me to let things go and be fully present in the moment and enjoy every step of my run at that time. It is a gift of this moment that I do not take for granted. Some U2 and The Doors deliver me to the gym. 3 miles in 22 minutes and I feel bullet proof.

I did not plan on going that fast, but lately the running Gods have been smiling on me. I am lathered up in a full sweat from head to toe standing outside the gym. There is a regular stream of people trudging in and out of the gym entrance. They look like they should be coming out of a restaurant or a mall. None of them look like they did anything physical in the gym tonight. Most look like they have been frequenting the Chinese buffet on an all too regular basis. It is January. Most will give up on another year of their health before we get too deep into February.

I throw my shirt on and go inside. A quick pit stop to splash some cold water on my face and I hit the weights for an hour. Tonight is mostly core work. I am already warmed up so on my first set I am already sweating profusely. The sweat looks like rain dripping off the brim of my cap after a few minutes.

I have my trail shoes on of course. They tops are still all muddy from last night’s run. They are actually still muddy from a whole month of Saturday’s. You can barely tell what color they are. Halfway through my workout a guy starts in on the machine next to me wearing the exact same shoes I am. They are New Balance trail shoes. Grey with bright orange trim. His are brand new. At least they look like they are. I look at his shoes and then look at mine. I heard somewhere that you can tell a lot about someone by their shoes. I think about all the miles I have covered in this particular pair of shoes. 31 hours at Cactus Rose. (Picture of said shoes to the right of this column) Running all night to the start of the White Rock Marathon and completing the course. All the anonymous training miles I did under the cover of darkness in the cold and rain this winter while everyone else was snug in their beds. I smile and press on with my workout with AC/DC reverberating between my ears.

Three muscle heads are working out near me, if you call it working out! Most of the time they are standing around and talking and looking at themselves in the mirror. I do more sets than all three of them combined. They looked as bad to me as the people I saw walking out of the gym earlier who look more like underachieving mall walkers. These guys look worse actually. They look all bloated and puffy. Their skin is orange from all the fake tanning they obviously do. I am pretty sure they would be considered clinically obese by most standards.

My hour is up. It is time to pound the pavement home. I get to the front door and it is raining. Sweet! The running Gods are indeed continuing to smile on me. I get to experience the joy of a cleansing rain on the way home. One problem: My iPhone is about to get seriously wet. The case I wear in the gym is neoprene. It is raining hard enough that it would be soaked in a minute or less. Luckily there is a 7-11 on the other side of the parking lot. Off comes the shirt and I sprint across the pavement to the store. I walk in dripping wet and ask the clerk for 3-4 plastic bags. I look down and see one of those yellow cone signs that say "Caution. Wet Floor." I think to myself “Yep, your floor is very wet now that I brought in a puddle from outside with me." I secure my iPhone in several layers of plastic and blaze out the door.

The rain is coming straight down. Big, fat drops that soak me to the bone in less than 100 yards. The rain almost feels warm. I am invigorated and take off at a high pace towards home. Normally I use the run to the gym to take it very easy. These are usually recovery runs. Tonight I was called to a higher purpose. The rain is cleansing and purifying my soul. This run truly is a gift and I am grateful for every rain-drenched step. Halfway through the run The Door's "Rider's on the Storm" comes up in the rotation. I shit you not! The perfect song for the perfect moment during the night's perfect run. I have over 50 songs on this running playlist. What are the odds? It is not a fast-paced get-your-blood-pumping song, but it is the kind of song that lets you stride it out and really find your groove in a very relaxed way. I fly up a 1/2-mile hill like it is not even there.

As I crest the hill, my iPhone rolls over to "Exit" by U2. This is the first song I ever heard on a CD. One of my all-time favorite pieces by U2. It is great song when you are running in the dark in solitude in some faraway place miles from anywhere. If you are running down the side of a busy road, it will help take you to that faraway place. I am only 1/3-mile from home now, but in my mind it was 1,000 miles from nowhere and there was nowhere else I would rather be. Return trip home: 21 minutes 37 seconds of soul-cleansing rain.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What a Difference an Hour can Make

It is 8:00 at night and I am about to go to crawl into bed after having a stack of pancakes for dinner. I love breakfast for dinner. No one will blame me if I do. 3 hours sleep the night before, my mind is fried, and my emotions are all over the place. Plus, it is about 43 degrees and windy outside. Yep. I lace 'em up and head out the door. I have an 8-mile loop from the house that is a good cruise. I figure I will just lope along. Maybe even walk a bit if I feel like it. I walk outside and the wind and cool night air embrace me. An immediate smile glides across my face. Probably the first time I smiled today besides the really pretty girl I saw at Starbucks early this morning.

With my first step I have wings on my feet! I let my strides lengthen out smooth and easy, paying careful attention to stay relaxed, but keep really good form. I feel like a machine that is hitting on all cylinders. My engine is purring in the cool night air. Being a little on the chilly side, I am wearing a long sleeve shirt tonight. Immediately, I know I am going to be running hard and this shirt has to go. I slither it over my head and toss it into the bushes. I may or may not retrieve it. All I know is that I want nothing to hold me back tonight.

After about half a mile there is a pretty good downhill section. I mash the accelrator and let gravity do her thing. My stride feels so smooth and efficient like my legs are not even a part of my body. They are pistons on a machine designed for a single purpose. I am going to let it all hang out tonight. If I would have been out on a trail, there is a pretty good chance I would have ended-up butt-ass naked with nothing on but my shoes and a smile. (I have done that before, but that is for another time!)

This loop from my house has a nice gentle roll to it the first couple of miles followed by 2 long, gradual, uphill sections. I feel amazing running tonight. This is going to be epic at a time when I really need it and I am not going to let it slip through my fingers. I am amazed at how running always knows what I need to cure what is ailing me!

I tackle the first long rise like it is not even there. A light downhill gives me time to pick up the pace a little, recover, and focus on my form for a minute or two. Then I turn to the south heading for home. One long gradual uphill about a mile long. Wham! I turn right into a 20 mph headwind. No wonder I felt like I had a hand on my back when I was running north.

It is only a mile to finish the rise, get to a windbreak, and have a 3/4 mile downhill to stride it out and pick it up again. I work harder during that mile than any section of this run. Not only does my pace not fall off, I think it gets a little faster. In no time I am cruising the downhill in a smooth, relaxed fashion. I carry that relaxed state into the next 1.5 miles along the golf course, to a quick steep uphill, followed by a 1/2 mile flat to make it home. I do some micro calculations on the way to keep myself on target to finish this loop in under 1 hour. Along the golf course I grab 2 quick glass of water from a cooler. I walk maybe 5-6 strides to accomplish this and get right back up to speed.

I hammer up the steep, short hill like it is not even there and began to push my tempo up towards maximum. I dodge a few cars crossing a six-lane thoroughfare using some creative angles and turn on the home stretch. It is about 1/4-mile of straight pavement. I let my full kick loose and within 2-3 strides, I am sprinting all out. I know it is going to be close, but I also know if I waste energy or good form to look at the watch it will only slow me down. "Just run. Don't look dammit" I say outloud to no one in particular. A guy walking a dog gives me a funny look as he thought I am talkng to him. I am sure I am a sight for him to see. He is bundled up in a parka and here I am in just running shorts in a full sprint barking "Don't look!"

As I hit the imaginary tape at the stop sign where I started I push the button on my running watch. I can feel every cubic inch of my lungs swelling. My calves are hard as rocks. They feel like I have been running one, hour-long sprint. Hands on my knees, bent over, sucking the marrow out of life. I stand up right and let loose a FFFrrrreeeedddddooommm!!!!! cry from the bottom of my soul. I really let it rip. I did not care who is looking or what they mght think. I am alive and I was free!

P.S.- When I look at the watch it reads 60 minutes 3 seconds. I guess I should not have gotten that water!