Shoot for the moon!

If you’ve been around the Internet these last few years, you’ve likely noticed the following inspirational quote:

shoot_for_the_moon

I suppose this could put you on some type of trajectory. But, really, how terrifying would it be to completely miss your target of the moon, and just end up somehow floating “among the stars,” which are unfathomably and increasingly distant from one another?

I will never be content simply landing near my target.

I plan a lot and work hard to make my dreams come true, whether running or otherwise. I won’t throw my rocket toward the moon without knowing exactly how much power it will take to get there. If I fire one and miss the moon – then I’m coming back and trying again. I want that moon, dammit.

I’m currently 500 miles into training to “shoot the moon” in the form of a 50 mile trail run. It’s a big, hairy, audacious goal. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to make sure that when that rocket launches on November 12, I’ll hit the moon right where I’m aiming.

So, I say – don’t be content with missing your target. If you miss, then it means get back to the drawing board. It means the challenge of trying to achieve your dreams isn’t over. It doesn’t mean you’re not strong enough or good enough. I means you’re going to be stronger and better soon.

DCIM102GOPRO
My dog is the most inspirational dog.

What do you do?

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My last post was quite a while ago, and it oddly enough foretold a lot of what I was about to experience. Sorry in advance, this one’s not going to be much about running or fitness.

Four months in a nutshell!

Several months ago, I applied for a job that, if I’m honest, was the absolute dream job. I’m not currently looking for a new job, but when I became aware of this one, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I sent in my resume and got a phone interview, which was thrilling enough. After the interview, I took a copy writing test so they could gauge my writing voice and see if I could fit with what they were looking for. Then two weeks went by. Those two weeks were torture. I couldn’t stop thinking about the job and whether they had moved on or just hadn’t gotten to me yet. Then, I went for a run in the woods and the whole idea of following pink flags and searching for my direction (that I wrote about last time) opened up in my head. I slowly accepted that this job was not for me. It was a trail that I wasn’t supposed to go down. I had told a few people about the situation, so I updated them saying that it was a no-go, and I would likely not hear anything again. Ashley and I planned a vacation to Colorado to head off to the mountains and renew.

Then I got the phone call, “You’ve been selected for an in-person interview…” Ooookay. Suddenly everything was moving really quickly. I was going to fly to Utah (!) at the end of the week, have lunch and a half-day interview with a bunch of different people, then fly back home the next day. I bought a new suit.

Then came three more torturous weeks while I waited to hear back from them. Then, finally: “You were a great candidate, but…” Darn, darn, darn, darny, darn!

At first, I was fine. And generally I’m okay with it. But every once in a while, I get really sad. I thought this was a done deal, and we were ready to pick up and move into the mountains of Utah. Now I’m readjusting to staying in the flat, humid, wet Southern Indiana. What I thought was going to be my dream job in a dream location turned out to be just a ruse.

So, for a few months, I was running along a trail that had both pink and blue flags. The pink ones turned left and went up a hill, and the blue ones went right and stayed flat. I really wanted to turn right, but my course is marked out with pink flags. I’ll follow them, but I’m not super thrilled to be climbing this hill right now.

So…what…

Well now I just dig back into life as I know it. We have some projects we’re working on at our house, and there is the ever-present training. I’ve been training for a while to run my first 50-miler at an event in my town, but now that event has been postponed. It’s not the end of the world – just kinda like gearing up for a big sneeze only to have it disappear. I’ll just readjust and get ready for the next sneeze, which is going to happen in November. I’ll tell everyone all about it soon! I am excited for it.

tunnel
You heard it here first, folks: Running 50 miles is just like sneezing!

The intersection of trails and faith.

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Most of the time, I run on trails I’m very familiar with. Within an hour of my house, there are four trail systems that I have spent a lot of time learning. During the week, I run at either Audubon or Angel Mounds. For longer runs on the weekends, I run Harmonie and Lincoln State Park. No matter the distance, I know what to expect when I get out there.

Knowing the trails and what to expect makes trail running a lot easier and makes me feel a lot more confident when I hit the trails for a training run.

But every once in a while, I toe the starting line for a trail race that winds through woods and trails that I’ve never seen . I might turn a corner at some point and fly down a hill that I’ve never gone down before. It would make sense in this case to slow down, maybe even hike down that hill to avoid a misstep on unfamiliar terrain – but I don’t. I live for those downhills during a race. I’m not nervous because I’ve spent many days and hours running as fast as I can down hills back home. Training my mind to look a few steps ahead, training my feet to know how to land or jump over roots or fallen trees at a moment’s notice without even thinking twice.

This starts to feel like my life as a Christian – and how I have to practice faith to have stronger faith.

I’m very comfortable running on trails, especially when they’re my home trails – and that makes sense. But sometimes, running on trails gets really…special.

When I head into the woods for 31 miles in unfamiliar territory, I can’t depend on my knowledge to keep me from getting lost. I have to look for signs to guide me in the right direction. The night and weeks before the start of a race, the director and volunteers have gone through the course and marked everything with colored flags or big signs to help the runners know which way to go. For Gnaw Bone, I followed little pink flags. There were also blue, red, and white out there. Sometimes they were on my course, but I only had eyes for the pink ones because they were for me. If I followed the blue flags, I’d probably finish sooner, but it wouldn’t be my race that I finished. Sometimes the pink flags went up a hill, which didn’t seem like much fun – but that’s the hill I came to run, so I went with the pink flags.

Sometimes, life takes me down a path I’m not familiar with. When I head that direction, I do so knowing God has laid out a path for me to walk, and only He knows where it goes. I’m only there to run the race. Sometimes I’d prefer to run flat instead of up a hill, but the pink flags He set out for me go up the hill. If I go on the flat trail, I’ll get lost. If I follow the pink flags, I’ll get to the finish line. Sometimes the other trail looks like more fun, but that’s someone else’s path to run.

Even though I don’t know the woods I’ll be running in for my race, I’m not completely unprepared when I get there. For many races, there have been people who have run it before – and we runners like to brag. I can find course descriptions and race reports for nearly every run I’ve done. If those aren’t available, I can usually read about the trails in the area or a course description from the race website. I’ll have a pretty good, if a little vague, idea of what to expect when I start the race. Of course my experience will be unique to me, but there are a few things I know for sure. There will be hills – and they’ll likely be harder than I expect. There will be other runners to share my time with. There will be a finish line.

The Bible is a pretty valuable resource. While the stories in it are old, the Bible’s advice on learning to trust God and seek His will is timeless. The world is also filled with people who have had experiences similar to mine. With their help, advice, and support, I’ll feel a tiny bit more confident when I start down an unfamiliar path.

I used to think life is a race. You come speeding through the start line and don’t stop until you cross the finish line. But life isn’t a race – because life isn’t always hard. Life is more like a series of races. You train for the races, line up when it’s your turn, and do your absolute best no matter which way the pink flags go. When they go up a hill and the blue flags go left and finish, follow the pink ones because that’s your race. Sometimes your race really sucks, and you’d really prefer to be anywhere else, and that’s okay. Eventually, this race will be over, and it’ll be time to rest and get ready for the next one.

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Can’t? – or won’t.

Hey, so, I haven’t updated in a month.

Mainly because not much has been going on. After Yamacraw, I was between training. I really enjoyed three or four weeks of running outside of a training plan. I still ran every day, but I didn’t have any set mileage, so I just did what I felt like. But, that playground style of exercise has ended. I just started a new training plan for my first 50 miler. More on that later!

It has been raining a lot here lately. This makes trail running a bit difficult. As a trail runner, staying off the trails because they’re muddy is really frustrating. I’ve missed two (TWO!) Transcendent Tuesday trails runs because of rain. Now I’m doing a training plan, and the first long run was intended to be done on the race course, which is a trail. Not only is it a trail, but it’s a notoriously muddy trail. Any little bit of rain leaves standing water and terribly sloppy conditions.

With the all-day rain we’ve been having for the last several weeks, I decided my first long run of the plan would be done on the road. Sad, frustrating, but acceptable.

But then I remembered last weekend.

Gnaw

Last weekend, Ashley and I volunteered at an aid station for the Dances with Dirt trail races at Gnaw Bone. Our station was at an intersection where all distances went through twice. Once four miles into the race, and then again five miles before the finish line. We gave water and food to runners doing 13.1 , 26.2, 50k, and 50 mile distances(including a couple friends doing their first trail half).

All the rain we’ve been having made a wreck of the trails, and about 1,000 sets of feet churned them into miles-long mud pits.

As the runners reached my aid station at mile four, I couldn’t see their shoes, and their legs were caked with mud. They had just climbed up four miles of muddy trail and continued through to get back on the trails before returning to my station.

Some of the runners were in good spirits, enjoying the new challenge of running in these conditions. Some people were broken down, sore, and tired. Whether they stayed at the aid station for a few minutes to rest and recover, or whether they downed a quick cup of water and sped back down the trail – they all kept going.

Can’t? – or won’t.

With a head full of last week’s incredible runners, I went out to Angel Mounds yesterday and slogged through the mud for 10 miles. It was filthy, but I got it done, and I’m proud I didn’t give up on that detail of the run. It was actually pretty enjoyable.

It’s one of those times that the lessons I learn or the determination I cultivate as a runner can carry over into my “real” life. That one I live where I don’t smell like a yeti. There are many times when I don’t do something because I can’t. But I think, in most cases, it’s really only because I won’t.

I’m not saying that I’ll always be able to find the motivation to do a chore or complete a project, or even run 10 muddy miles on a trail because that’s what my training plan says. What I am saying is that I’ll dig deeper no matter what. I’ll pick up my pen, lace up my shoes, or grab a sponge or paint scraper, and get it done. Because I’m an ultrarunner. Ain’t nothing gonna stop me.

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Yamacraw 50k

More like 52.6k, amiright?

Yes, I’m right. It was 32.7 miles, instead of 31. But who’s counting? (I was)

Let’s see how much of this I remember…

The race.

It was cold when we rolled out of our tent at 4:30 a.m. The sky was insane with stars, which made it a little easier to stay out of the relative warmth of the tent.

Two hours later, I was standing in line to get shuttled to the start line with more than 130 other 50k runners. We all stood huddled in the wind, waiting to start running. Finally, the race director asked, “Are you guys ready?” (resounding yes) “All right! Ready? Set! GO!” And we ran off into the woods where I would spend the next 7 hours, 51 minutes, and 9 seconds pursuing a finish line 32.7 miles away.

Our course traveled through the deep ravines in Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. At first, we dove downhill for a while, crossed streams left and right, and blazed through some rollers along Lick Creek. Then, suddenly, we were climbing out of the ravine to an aid station at the top of the world (or so it seemed – it was a big climb).

After some potatoes and PB&J, we eventually flew back down into the ravine for an outstanding 9 miles of gentle rollers. This was a beautiful stretch that included running under and slightly behind Yahoo Falls, one of the most ridiculously picturesque places I’ve run through. It’s what someone would build in their backyard if they wanted to seem outdoorsy. Only I guess quite a bit bigger.

After the pretty uneventful rollers, we crossed hip-deep Rock Creek and started climbing again. And by climbing, I mean, we went straight up for 700 years.

The trifecta.

Throughout the race, I had been generating a great amount of friction on my body in various places. I had some pretty uncomfortable chafing going on and blisters forming in a few spots on my feet.

Then, when I started climbing one of the steepest gravel roads I’ve ever seen, a muscle in my left quad cramped, arresting my ascent. While I massaged the cramp out, I thought it probably couldn’t get worse than this. It didn’t, so that’s nice.

Blisters, chafing, and nursing a cramp, I kept moving up the road and back into the woods. After a while, I came into a clearing at the top of a tall hill. In the east, serene mountains shrouded in shades of blue rolled along the horizon. This was what I came here to be a part of. The incredible beauty of nature will never get old, and will never cease to clear my mind’s cache.

I focused one last time on each member of my BCC trifecta:
– Blisters: They won’t go away. They may get worse.
– Chafing: It won’t go away. It will definitely get worse.
– Cramp: It’ll be a matter of time before my leg cramps back up.

I put all these inconveniences in the “this is a race” compartment in my mind, so they would just became a part of the race. Like the trail I followed and the trees around it, the BCC would be with me until the end. May as well be at peace with it.

The final stretch.Bridge

I make it a point to not ask anyone how many more miles there are until the end. To me, it doesn’t matter. They won’t take the finish line away; it’ll always be there, and I’ll get to it eventually. Why bother with those kinds of details? It may be farther away than I expect, and that could be hard to handle.

Other runners don’t feel the same way, and I unfortunately overheard someone say “You only have 5 miles to go!” and I couldn’t get it out of my head. My brain wanted to count down every time a mile ticked off. “Only four miles now! Just three left!”

When I got down to one remaining mile, I started looking for signs. I knew that the finish line was a really long bridge across the Big South Fork Cumberland River (see above). So when I thought I should be getting close, everything in the woods started looking like bridge stuff.

“Is that a cable holding up a bridge?” Nope. Grapevine.
“Is that wood on a bridge?” Nope. Just regular wood in the woods.

Then I heard Ashley whistling at me. She whistles to get my attention in the woods, and it’s very effective. I scanned the forest for her, and couldn’t see her. For more minutes than I’m proud of, I convinced myself that Ashley had come into the woods to finish the race with me. She hadn’t. It was a bird. And Ashley had already run her own 20k and was resting at the finish line. Not long after that, I saw the bridge in the distance. It was very far away.

Finally, a real person was on the trail and informed me that I only had 300 meters to go! I don’t know how far 300 meters is! But I picked up the pace and ran it out. Sure enough, I turned right, and there was a giant bridge stretching out in front of me. I started across and passed an older couple who were out sightseeing.

“How are you doing?” asked the man.
“Thanks,” I responded.

After I went through a little hut in the middle of the bridge, a cluster of people at the finish line started cheering for me. Cheering like I was finishing first; cheering like they had never seen anyone so amazing running across a bridge. My throat closed up and I nearly cried right there. A photographer was snapping pictures the whole time, and Ashley was there taking pictures, too. The race director shook my hand and with a huge smile said, “Congratulations, man, you are so awesome!” and his wife put a giant medal around my neck. I didn’t finish first. I finished 76th, but my heart thought I finished first. I couldn’t even look at my medal for a few minutes without getting choked up. These races can make your emotions paper thin.

Finish

#runstreak

On Friday night before the race, we were getting settled into the tent when I realized I hadn’t done my run for the day. I had intended to run 2 miles before we left town, and I just forgot. It was nearly 9:00 at night, and I was ready to get in bed. The wind outside was roaring and temperatures were falling quickly. I decided the run streak was over. I was too frustrated, and I didn’t really feel like going out into the pitch black, middle of nowhere campsite (where you have to store food safely away from bears) to run anywhere.runstreak_edited

Buuuut, Ashley convinced me otherwise. She said this isn’t how the streak should end. It should end when I’m ready, not when I just forget and get frustrated. So, I put on my shoes and shorts and headed out into the wind and dark. I’m still running every day, though they’re not much more than the requisite 1 mile this week. 107 days and counting!

 

Chafing: The gift that keeps on giving.

The chafing I had accrued during this race was the worst I’ve had and is definitely the most uncomfortable aftermath of any of the races I’ve done. However, and this is important if you have had chafing or plan to chafe ever, we have this magic ointment (thanks to our friend, Patti, who introduced it to us):

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Buy it. Get chafed as bad as you can. Use it. Return here and thank me.

The season begins!

There are only a few days to go until I run my first race of 2016: Yamacraw 50k. I’m really excited to hit the trails of Big South Fork in Stearns, Kentucky.

I have been remiss in keeping this blog updated – and I’ve avoided the inevitable post that says “Boy have I not been updating much.” Kind of a stalemate. Perhaps the first step is to admit that I’ve been lazy?

While I have not been talking about what I’ve been up to, I have been up to a lot. Specifically a lot of running.

My run streak, which began inadvertently on December 29, 2015, and officially on January 1, 2016, is going remarkably strong. When I hit the publish button for this post, I had 94 straight days of running behind me. It has been a wonderful accountability tool.

“You could skip today’s run. The weather isn’t ideal,” says the lazy athlete on my left shoulder.

“Yes, but then your run streak would be over. Don’t want that, do you?” asks the ultrarunner on my right shoulder.

Lace up shoes; pound the pavement. 94 days and counting.

Smashrun

IMG_20160324_161158Since I use a Garmin watch (see below!), I primarily use Garmin Connect to upload and track my runs. However, I discovered Smashrun through a fellow blogger, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Smashrun caught on pretty quickly that I was doing a run streak and started counting the days for me. Not only that, but there are all sorts of badges you can get when you upload your runs there. Check it out! It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve found the badges oddly motivational. They also send a weekly running report (like the one on the left), which is kinda cool.

New gear!

I have two new pieces of running gear! Usually gear comes one at a time because it ain’t cheap. But, one thing was free.

SPIbelt!
I’ve been interested in SPIbelts for a while. There are other brands out there (like Flip Belt), but SPIbelt was the only one (that I know of) giving them away for free on Leap day. SPI stands for “small personal item,” and I have taken that to mean potatoes (see below). Before the belt even arrived, I was already calling it my tater sack.

SPIbelt is a belt with a small pocket that you can put stuff in. They’re designed not to bounce around or be uncomfortable, which I can attest is the case for my particular belt (a black, standard SPIbelt). I crammed two potatoes’ worth of roasted potato wedges in my belt and went for a 22-mile run, and I barely noticed it was there. The heat from my body actually kept the taters pleasantly warm. Just kidding. That’s kinda weird.

Garmin!
I knew that the battery life of my old 410 was not going to cut it for ultramarathons, especially anything that takes longer than eight hours to complete. So I did some research and found a new one. I’m now the proud owner of a Garmin 230, which is so fancy and pretty, I can hardly handle it. Also it boasts a 16-hr battery life and loads of other features and data that give me heart palpitations.

  • Internal cadence sensor. I don’t know how it works, but it’s great to see my cadence. I muffinsshould be between 170-180, and I’m typically averaging 176. Yay fastfeet!
  • Smart notifications. This means I’m a little easier to get a hold of while I’m out running. Ashley has promised not to text me unless it’s important or motivational. (example right)
  • Live tracking. Ashley (or anyone who I invite to the party) can track me on my run. This is especially nice when I’m running 22 miles on generally not-runner-friendly roads. I haven’t tested this on the trails yet, but that’ll be next!

There are other things like V02 Max and recovery advisor, but I need to learn more about how to use that information before I get too excited about it.

New nutrition! (NEWtrition?)

There were a few weeks when I finished a trail run completely drained of energy. After a few runs with this experience, I started thinking I need to up my calorie intake while out on long runs. My first successful foray into calorie intake on the run included eating dates. Usually one date every 45 minutes. I also will drink a bottle of Skratch. This is how that breaks down caloriewise:

  • 1 Date: 23 calories
  • 16 oz Skratch: 80 calories
  • 18-mile trail run: ~2,132 calories
  • I would need to eat 92 dates to match that calorie burn. Not gonna happen.

So I’ve started bringing roasted sweet potato wedges on my long runs. It has made a huge difference. I eat two potatoes plus the Skratch, and it has kept me from bonking, and helps me feel like I can keep moving after my run is over, rather than laying down in the back of the car with a towel over my eyes.

Plus I get to eat potatoes while I’m running. Potatoes are delicious.

Reminders

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In 2008, I started getting my health, fitness, and diet in order. Started means I took the first small step toward being healthier. But, it was a frustrating number of months before I saw any changes at all.

It’s was so disheartening to have to convince myself every day that going to the gym over my lunch break was what I wanted to do, that it was the right thing to do – only to stand on the scale or in front of a mirror in the morning and see no change.

A few years went by before I had to replace a significant amount of clothing with smaller, better fitting clothes. Over five years, I went from XL/XXL tops to L, which was incredible. Now, I generally get medium tops, which is something I never imagined I’d be able to do. My pants were size 42 and 44, and now they’re 34 and 36.

Even today, the benefits of small steps I made eight years ago become very obvious when I’m looking through my closet and think “hey, I haven’t worn this shirt in a while” only to be swamped in material from something far too large for me.

Big life changes can’t really happen overnight, and it’s not fair to yourself to expect that they can.

I still take small steps today. The training programs I undertake are built on small steps.

When Ashley and I decided we would go vegan, we didn’t throw out all our cheese and cow’s milk, buy hemp milk, and plant a garden. We worked our way through the non-vegan food we had in the house and started to find new ways to keep all the fixings on top of our pizzas without cheese. This, by the way, after a lot of small steps through being vegetarian.

Big life changes can’t really happen overnight, and it’s not fair to yourself to expect that they can. Unhealthy habits are constructed over years. When you’re priorities shift to being healthy, get ready for a long journey that will never end. The reward will be the strength of spirit that grows every day with each small step you take.

I rang the bell.

Last Saturday, I ran my second 50k! It was in Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns, Tennessee. If you have the chance, you should visit. It’s beautiful, and the people who work there are wonderful.

The executive summary is that the main issues that plagued my run at Gnaw Bone (GI and IT – all my problems are acronyms) didn’t factor in this race. Probably this benefit is part of what led me to finish Bell Ringer in 6:59:46 (official time). This is significantly faster than my first ultra, which I finished in 8:12:26.

But wait, there’s more!

Pt. 1: Before the race.

Unlike before Gnaw Bone, I didn’t have much to say in the two weeks prior to this race. Last time, I had final thoughts and goals, and all sorts of heartfelt flowers and hearts. This time I didn’t. That’s because any goals I had set were thrown out the window when I started experiencing IT Band pain several weeks ago. After the initial injury, I took a few days off from running. After that, though, I had some really great runs (even covering 22 miles) with no pain at all. Then, two weeks before race day, I had a really painful 16 miler. I took a few days off and tried to run again, but couldn’t even get through six miles without having ITB pain again.

So, sparing some details, I took off from running for the last two weeks of training – opting instead for more aggressive ITB rehab, which included daily targeted exercising and foam rolling, but virtually no running. I did run twice, but no significant mileage.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my IT Band every moment of every day during those last two weeks. IT pain is very painful and impossible to run through. I ran 18 miles of my first marathon with that really terrible pain, and it broke me down, both mentally and physically. I was not interested in having that problem again. I had to decide whether to do this race or not. Obviously I went through with it, modifying my lofty goals to the following three:

  1. Finish the race with no IT injury.
  2. Finish the race in spite of IT injury.
  3. Finish the race before my watch battery dies.

I was scared. My mindset was basically “how far can I get before IT pain starts setting in?”


Pt. 2: Race day.

BeginningI couldn’t stop thinking about my IT band. So finally, I just decided thinking about it isn’t going to fix anything. I would hand it over to God, and let him take care of that part. I would just hit the trails with water and dates in my pack and my head securely attached to my shoulders.

So, at 7:00 in the morning, in 64-degree weather (unheard of even in the “south”), I was ready to go. The race director yelled, “Ready? Ok…GO!” and all 300 of us took off down the road.

The beginning of any race is always so interesting. I love watching the people around me. Some are warming up, some are standing still, some are setting their playlists – and we’ve all got our eyes on the finish line already. When we cross under the starting banner, the excitement level is high. People joke with each other. There is always, always someone, no matter how long the race, who’ll say “are we almost done? How much further?” No one likes that guy. Well, I guess I don’t know if no one likes him. I just know I certainly don’t.

Nor do I like the guy who, 3 miles into 31, says “we’re one-tenth done!” To which I respond to myself, “I gotta get away from that guy.”

We had pavement for a little while before heading into the woods where the hills, roots, and rocks took center stage for the next several hours.

At mile 8, we came out of the woods to a big aid station that was a hub of sorts. We would stop at this station three times, and it served as the final split for the 25k and 50k course. It was also a really convenient and accessible place for spectators to gather, so it was an energetic, musical, cow-bell-filled location with water, Gatorade, cookies, fruit, and my drop bag. It was also where Ashley was waiting for me.

Somewhere between mile 1 and mile 8, I tweaked my left calf muscle. So, I put some BioFreeze on there and took off back into the woods.

Leaving aid

The next part of the course was on the extensive mountain biking trails in Montgomery Bell. These were amazing. At first, we ran up some great switchbacks, which were a little challenging and congested, but after a while, the trails leveled out into four miles of “flats” where we could open up a little and really move. I was at the front of a line of four guys, and the conversations behind me were colorful. One guy dropped back after a while because he couldn’t stop falling all over the place. The other guys talked about nipple chafing (“the red 11”), plastic surgery, and the pitfalls of typing in the wrong thing on Google (it’s DicksSportingGoods.com, BTW. You gotta type in the whole thing).

Five miles later, we’re back at the big aid station. Ashley was there, ready to take care of me. I ate the most magical potato.

It’s mile 14 or so now, and the 25k runners split off onto a trail that goes about a half mile to the finish line. The 50k runners go down the road and up a hill to run 17 more miles. Up until this point, I was always either right in front of or right behind other runners. But when I split to go back into the woods, I found myself completely alone for a long time, looking for the little green flags marking the course, giving me an affirming “don’t worry, you’re not lost.”

The course went up a hill, along a ridgline, and then down to go around a lake. The trail around the lake was one of the most difficult. It was very rooty, rocky, jerkingly rolly, and all around unpredictable. It was too difficult to run it, so I walked that part, giving my legs a nice respite, sort of. It wasn’t a relaxing hike. We went around another lake that was similar to this. Aside from these instances, the course was only moderately technical. It was a very runnable 31 miles.


Part 3: Overcoming the darkness.

In the 20s, things started to get a little rough – not surprisingly. After running for more than four hours, the soreness and fatigue is hard to ignore. My tweaked left calf wasn’t letting up. It really only caused a problem when I was going uphill, so of course I compensated by pushing harder with my right leg on the hills, which made my right quad get sore. Tired, sweaty, thirsty, sore, and not sure what to do about it, I found myself walking on even the easy parts. Wondering if running these long distances is really a thing I want to do. Sound familiar? Probably. Because it happens during every long race. I’ll bullet point this section:

  • Of course I’ll keep doing these events. They’re amazing, and I love them.
  • I won’t ever walk past this fatigue and soreness, so I may as well run.
  • It’s a beautiful day, and I’m privileged to be able to spend it running in the woods – which is my absolute favorite thing to do in the whole world.

So I started running. At the next aid station, I grabbed some Chex Mix, which completely changed my world in ways you can’t even imagine.

My mantra became “Keep going, you’re doing great. Keep going! You’re doing great! Keep going….you’re doing great.

I knew the soreness wouldn’t go away because I was not going to stop running.

I knew the fatigue wouldn’t go away because I was not going to stop running.

The dark thoughts, however, did go away – because I didn’t stop running. I kept going. I was doing great.


Pt. 4: Finish it up.

I wasn’t running fast, but I was running consistently. I ignored everything except the woods. The trees and birds were singing, and it was just the most perfect thing. If you haven’t heard the trees sing, then you simply need to spend more time in the woods.

At mile 24, I turned out onto a gravel road and ran down to meet Ashley at a creepy little aid station between an old cemetery and a little archway under some train tracks. We talked a little about how I was sore and tired, but she assured me I looked like a badass. I had another potato and some Chex Mix, and headed back down the gravel road and finally back into the woods.

After a little while, I could hear the finish line. Cheering, the big bell that finishers ring, and the announcer telling everyone how great they were doing. Then, the trail veered right, and those sounds died away. That was kinda mean. It did, though, give me a surge of adrenaline, and I was flying down the trail, which suddenly dropped down the side of the hill to the big aid station for the third and final time. The finish line, I was told, was a half mile away. I joked with them about how I already heard the finish line, but it was taken away. And she told me that was torture, “Sort of like how there’s a big staircase right at the end.” A staircase. Great!

I took off, ready to kick that staircase right in the face. The last half mile didn’t have anything I couldn’t handle. There was a big, stupid staircase, but I climbed it. After the staircase, there was a big stupid hill in the parking lot, at the top of which was the finish line. I ran up that big stupid hill with big stupid grin on my face. Ashley was cheering me on “You’re going to come in under seven hours!”

“I know, I can’t even believe it!”

I finished, and I rang the bell.

Bell

Rain(running)man

This - only wetter. And colder.
This – only wetter. And colder.

Last Saturday, I got up early to run 22 miles on the road. There was rain in the forecast, and I tried to get up early enough that I would finish my run before it started coming down. Not to be outdone, the rain started before I did. It stopped long enough for me to get on the road and get about 11 miles into the run. Then, along with turning south into a bit of a headwind, I started feeling drops of cold rain on my arms. These cold drops slowly turned into a chilly drizzle, which became a moderate downpour. It wasn’t terribly pleasant. A few miles later, I was soaking wet and pretty cold.

After three hours and 46 minutes, I walked up the steps to my front door. I kicked off my shoes, which were soaked through despite my best efforts. It’s funny that even when I’m running in a steady rain, I will still avoid tromping through puddles. There wasn’t a dry spot on my body, my shoes and socks were soaked through – but I was definitely not going to run through a puddle!

I opened the door into my warm house, and Ashley was standing there with one towel on the floor and one in her hands, ready to help me dry off. There was also a towel in the bathroom, which was toasty warm for when I got done with my shower. Fresh coffee would soon be brewing, and I would be dry and warm – and off my feet.

One of the biggest, most important elements of my burgeoning ultrarunning dreams is having Ashley there – when I get home, when I get done with a race, and when I reach an aid station. I don’t have to ask her to do that – she just does, and it’s amazing.


New Foot Buddies!

Showing their age.
Showing their age.

This long run was a milestone for my Altra Instincts. I crossed over the 300-mile mark with this pair, which means I’ll be pulling out a fresh new pair of shoes very soon! I’ll finish out 2015 with my current shoes, and wait to start using the new shoes until 2016.

Altra has definitely made my running an even more enjoyable experience. (No, I’m not paid for this…I just love Altras.)

I’ve talked before about my wide feet and my search for shoes that accommodated my leg paddles. When I first started buying high quality running shoes, I was getting Brooks Dyad in 4E width! I don’t think my feet are that wide, but apparently Brooks does. Regardless of the wide shoes, my toes would still get cramped. Not after all that many miles, my big toe would start to break through the top, and after a little longer, my little toes would burst out through the sides. I went through five pairs of Dyads, and I don’t think I got 300 miles on any of them. Also, despite the 4E width, my toenails would get bruised and fall off.

I was content with losing toenails and running through the tops and sides of my Dyads – I thought this was just the way things were. But, I was considering moving almost exclusively to trail running, and no one makes trail shoes in wide. No one! I looked everywhere, read loads of (riveting) shoe reviews, and found nothing.

Then I read about Altra and its Footshape Toebox and zero drop platforms. This is where, in the infomercial of my life, the black and white changes to brilliant color, and I stop falling all over the furniture.

Why wouldn’t shoes be shaped like feet? Sure the shoes look a little clowny, but they are so incredibly comfortable. I’ve run many miles over all sorts of terrain, and there is nothing better for me and my paddle feet than Altra. I run almost exclusively in Altras now, and have no plans on changing anytime soon. As a matter of fact, they just updated their Olympus (max cushion trail shoe, and my first Altra purchase) with new soles, more aggressive lugs, and some snazzy new colors. I can’t wait to get my feet in some of those!

In the meantime, though, I’m excited to start burning through another pair of Instincts on January 1. Scroll down to see them!

Merry early Christmas to me!
Merry early Christmas to me!

 

Yep. They're exactly the same. Sweet fresh foam.
Yep. They’re exactly the same. Sweet fresh foam.

Consistent leg turnover

IMG_20150428_174847364

The Bonanza Begins

This past weekend was a magnificent running bonanza. It started off on Saturday with my fourth Chilly Hilly 5k, a trail run in Audubon State Park in Kentucky. This is one of my favorite races in one of my favorite places to run.

The first time I ran this race was in 2012, and I finished in 28:07 – a 9:04/mi pace. This is pretty impressive, considering the terrain (it’s very hilly) – and I haven’t been able to get near that pace since. In 2013 and 2014, the race took place only a few weeks after I ran a marathon, so I was in a running lull both times. I pulled out 31:48 and 31:33 respectively.

This Saturday, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Ashley and I have gone out to Audubon a lot this year, but not recently. I elected to start in very front of the second wave. This was the first time I ever started at the front of the pack. It was an odd sensation to start running immediately when the “Go!” was given. Even with smaller races like this one, there is a little time between the starting horn and when you actually start running. But not today! “Go!” “Oh…me?”

Chilly Hilly has one of the toughest starts to a race that I’ve done. I can’t think of many races that start on an uphill – but the Chilly Hilly really brings it. The very first part is a really long uphill on the road followed by two more hills before getting to the Backcountry trailhead and singletrack. My legs were feeling fresh and powerful, and I was pleased to be well in front of all but two runners in the pack by the time we got into the woods. The trailhead is also a grueling hill. I passed those two runners about halfway up. So, heading into the woods, I was at the front of my wave – and pretty happy about it.

While running this course through the spring and summer this year, I developed a specific plan of attack that I thought might help me. Since this is a pretty tough course, it’s not realistic to think that I could go all out the entire way. I would need a few places where I could dial it back and get my heart and legs back under control. For example, I knew that the hills at the beginning were hard and long, but they were followed by a long stretch of flat or downhill areas – great for recovery! I identified a few areas like this along the course, as well as some other places where I could really pull out all the stops and blaze down the trail to make up for the recovery areas. By the end of the summer, I had the course mapped out and a plan of attack dialed in. I put that plan to the test last Saturday, and it worked like a dream.

I stayed well ahead of my wave the whole race and even infiltrated the first wave by passing four or five runners. I passed two runners on my old nemesis, the Stupid Steep Staircase at the lake. I have no pictures, so you’ll just have to trust me. It’s stupid and steep.

The trails were covered in leaves and a little damp, so I took some of the downhills and sharp turns pretty cautiously. Roots and rocks were hiding within. I wasn’t going to be contending for first place or anything like that, so the glory of getting an unrecognized course PR was not worth the potential price of a broken face.

I rounded the corner into the finish line at 29:47 (9:36 pace). At 6th place in my age group and 26th overall, it was not enough to earn a medal – but it’s the best time I’ve had out there in three years, so I consider it a race well done.

Shoe Talk
I raced in my Merrell Trail Gloves. These have become my favorite go-tos for short races, road or trail. They’re light, supremely grippy on the trails, and fit like a glove – as one might imagine.


The Bonanza Continues

I had 15 miles on the schedule for this weekend. To get these miles in, I could either run the Chilly Hilly course five times after the race (blaaaaaah), or go straight home, change into dry running clothes, and hit the road. Partway through the race, I decided I would do neither and just run my 15 miles on Sunday after church.

So, when I got home in the mid-morning on Sunday, I got in my gear and hit the road. It started off a little rough. I was trying out some new bluetooth headphones that ended up not working at all, so I stopped running and switched back to my Yurbuds, which were like a breath of fresh air after trying the strange new ones. Then I had a rock in my left shoe, so I stopped running again to take off my shoe and drain it of its boulder passenger. Then the insole was slipping in my right shoe. So I stopped running AGAIN and fixed that problem. After that, though, everything was pretty smooth going. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a slight chill in the air. Perfect for a long run.

I started off pretty easy, like I usually do for long runs, and slowly, each mile got faster and faster. Not crazy fast, just incrementally so. It’s really a great sign for a long run to naturally have negative splits. At the halfway point, I really picked it up. Everything was really clicking, and it felt so great. The 15 miles flowed really well, and I was done before I knew it.

Shoe Talk
Of course I wore my trusty roadies: Altra Instinct. My feet always thank me when I pull on these green monsters. The insole sliding around is an unfortunate development. It only happens in the right shoe, and it only started after I ran in a downpour thunderstorm several weeks ago. I’ll probably put a little glue in there to hold it in place for a while. I’m not ready to give them up yet. I have 250 miles on this pair, so I’m almost due for another set, but these are holding up really well. There’s no unexpected wear on them.

What I listened to
Here are the podcasts I listened to on my long run. A nice combo of education and humor to keep my mind off the pavement.
Radiolab: Staph Retreat (about staph infections and ancient remedies)
The Memory Palace: no. 116,842 (bite size history show – this one was about the first woman to get a patent)
Ask Me Another: Gilbert Gottfried: Too Soon! (fantastic trivia game show from NPR)
Trail Talk: How to Travel and Camp Before an Ultramarathon (great tips from Rock Creek Runner!)

Then I finished it off with my Beast playlist on Spotify. I don’t remember which songs were played, but there was some Queen, Modest Mouse, Panic! At the Disco, and Muse! Basically if I like a song, I add it to that playlist. It gets a little ecclectic, but that’s what gets my feet moving.