Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mt. Hood PCT 50-Miler

Oreos are my new favorite ultra food. I'll get to that in a bit.

At the suggestion of Trail Nerd extraordinaire Bad Ben Holmes myself and four other Nerds headed out to Portland, Oregon for the The Mt. Hood PCT (Pacific Coast Trail) 50-Miler on July 25th, 2008. This was Ben's third year running the race, the rest of us were noobies to this one.

My trip started, and remained, an exercise in sleep deprivation. I flew out of KC on Friday, originally planning on leaving at 11am, catching a connection in Atlanta and making it into Portland around 7pm. Because I'm a super-duper frequent flyer on Delta I get to change my flights for free on the day of travel. So, my plan was to catch an earlier flight out of KC on Friday in order to catch an earlier connection to Portland in Atlanta. I didn't feel like getting to Mt. Hood in the dark but when I originally got the ticket the flights I had were the best option (award ticket...).

So, the bright thing for me to do would have been to get a good nights sleep on Thursday night, making sure I was fresh for my long day of traveling on Friday (it's a 6 hour flight from ATL-PDX). Did I do that? Pfft. No. See, Step Brothers came out on Friday and my friend Erin is a die-hard Will Ferrell fan. This means she wanted to see it at 12:01 am on Friday. I tagged along. Of course, the movie which didn't end until 2am. So, I got home sometime around 2:45. Hmm. If I was going to make the 7:10 I had to be up and lively by 4:30ish. I still had laundry to do and, true to form, hadn't packed yet. No sleep, here I come.

I somehow managed to get my laundry done and my packing done fairly quickly - with enough time for a 1 hour power nap. Midway through the nap a nice little thunderstorm hit. Generally no big deal, right? Right... Apparently I have a leak in my room. I woke up about halfway through my "nap" to the sound of water hitting the carpet. Gaarrgh! I didn't make the 7:10. I got back on my original flight.

Flights are generally inconsequential. My Atlanta to Portland one was not. I was hoping to catch some sleep on this one since it was so long and the seats were much more conducive to sleeping than my first flight. Shortly after boarding I realized that would probably be a pipe dream. This family got on with their four young kids, probably ranging from 3-8 years old. Something about them told me they didn't do a good job controlling the kids, I'm not sure what it was, I just had a feeling. One of the boys sat in the seat in front of me.

Almost immediately the kid took an interest in seeing how annoying he could be to me and everyone nearby. He was quite successful. His favorite thing to do to me was to recline his seat back and look at me to see my reaction. His dad was sitting next to him and kept telling him not to do it but he kept at it. Sigh.

The only good thing about the flight was the dinner they served us. The stewardess asked me whether I wanted the chicken or the fettucini. Uhh, that's a tough one, carb loading - sweet! It was actually a really good meal. Delta generally does a good job with that I must say.

I made it to Portland, so did that kid, although it was close a few times. I got my rental car and started the 97 mile drive to Mt. Hood.

By the time I got there it was pretty dark. I managed to find my campsite with no directions. I also found the race start, which was only about seventeen and a half feet from my campsite. Quite convenient. I parked the car, got the headlamp on, and got my tent pitched. (I wonder if I'll ever get to a point where saying that doesn't make me laugh...I sure hope not.) I crawled in and proceeded to try to get a few hours of sleep. It was about ten o'clock when I first laid down. I couldn't sleep. WTF? Sigh.

I got up and walked around a bit, meandering out to the road to explore a bit. The stars immediately caught my eye. It was amazing. There were so many. I hadn't seen stars like that since my trip to Yellowstone six years ago. I was totally absorbed in the view. I could faintly see the dusty arm of the Milky Way, the obvious constellations, and many more things I had no clue what they were but wished I knew. I could have sat out on that road all night.

I finally got tired and headed back to the tent. It had gotten quite chilly and I was glad I had some extra layers of clothing to keep me warm. I found a comfy position and finally fell asleep.

I had set my alarm for 5:15. I woke up at 4:30. Hmm. Tried to go back to sleep, no dice. So, I figured I'd head over to the race start to see what was going on. I got all my stuff packed in the car and moved my car out of the campsite. I strolled up to the race start, got my packet, and watched the folks who had opted for the 5:30 start begin to stumble to the start line. This race lets you choose if you want the 5:30 or 6:30 start, the idea being that if you need more time to complete the race you've got extra daylight to do it with if you choose the 5:30.

The 5:30 starters

Fellow Trail Nerds Gary and Bobbi had opted for the 5:30 start. Gary's wife was there also. We chatted for a bit, took some pictures, etc. Not long after the race director sent the 5:30 folks off and I was left to change into my running gear and to see how many bagels I could stomach over the next hour. I made a horrible mistake at this point. When putting my stuff on I forgot to apply copious amounts of vaseline to my groin. I would pay for this, horribly, for pretty much the entire race.

Around 6 I saw Ben and his son Matt pull up. Within about five seconds of getting out of the car Ben hooked me up with a brand new Trail Nerds sleeveless shirt to run in. It was wonderful. Unfortunately, I wanted to run in my Run Across Kansas shirt, since I had to start promoting that run. Plus, I don't do so well with a sleeveless shirt and a camelback. Chafing generally occurs.

Greg Burger was also there and he lined up for the 6:30 start with us. We got some last minute instructions from Olga, the RD, which included some pointers for not getting lost on the trail because there's some parts where it's not marked so well. I was wondering "well, why don't you mark it better?". I'll complain about that later.

The run starts out on pavement, probably just short of a half mile of it, before turning onto the PCT. The trail is mostly single-track so running next to a buddy is pretty difficult. I fell in behind a lady who was keeping a nice pace and I could hear Ben chatting it up a few folks behind me with Greg nearby. With all the folks on the trail there was a lot of dust being kicked up and I could taste it, which kind of sucked, but wasn't anything a few swigs of water couldn't take care of.

About two minutes after getting onto the trail I noticed that I was already chafing in my groin. That's never happened to me so early on a run. Thinking that this could present a problem I started hating myself for not putting vaseline on before the start. It wasn't bad, so I just put up with it.

Crater Lake is the first aid station, about 6 miles from the start. The scenery leading up to it was just amazing. We spent some time running along Timothy Lake, which was this immense body of water surrounded by tall pines. The trail was nearly perfect, somewhat technical, but not too much, and offered a nice soft dirt layer for us to run on.

The Crater Lake aid station was interesting. To get there we had to run along these wooden planks which covered a marsh of sorts. It was a little tough when you'd encounter a runner headed in the opposite direction as one of you had to kind of step off the planks for the other to pass. I found them quite enjoyable for the bounce factor. If you hit them just right you got a nice little bounce off of the planks. That's totally something my dad would have yelled at me for when I was younger.

Many things about a Camelback suck, especially how much of a pain in the arse it is to refill it. It takes too long to open it up, open the bladder, and get it filled. Plus you have to take the dumb thing off, which is kind of a pain. I really need to either start running with just water bottles or see if a Nathan pack is easier to use. This is my excuse for how much time I spent at most of the aid stations - Ben was generally in and out before I could even get my Camelback off. It was kind of depressing.

I caught back up with Ben and Noah, a teacher from California who we had saved from a confusing section of trail shortly before Crater Lake aid station. The three of us ran together for most of the next leg, to the next aid station which was only about 3.2 miles from Crater Lake. I don't think this one had a name. It was just a canopy on a dirt road staffed by some friendly volunteers. Nothing looked appetizing at this aid station but I knew I had to eat, so I ate as many potatoes as I could and got going again.

Bad Ben's good side

I can't remember anything particularly exciting about the section of trail between aid station #2 and the Thong aid station (yes, it was called the Thong aid station). There was a pretty slow and steady uphill climb but nothing that wasn't too runnable.

We got to the Thong aid station, greeted along the trail by thongs hanging from trees and signs. There were thongs everywhere! I loved it. The folks there were really nice and all seemed to be having a good time. I ate what I could, got more water, and got going.

After leaving the Thong aid station you're greeted by some long switchbacks which will take you up to a pass then down to the fourth aid station. These were pretty brutal for me and I'm not sure why. I hadn't been running real hard, but my legs were feeling very sore. It was kind of confusing and a bit demoralizing. Add to that the chafing I was dealing with. Man, it was painful. There's really no good way to describe it, it just burned, horribly, with every step. I had some vaseline with me and I applied it, but it didn't help. It just burned.

I kept up with Ben as best I could, Greg took off ahead of us. I was struggling to get to the top of the pass. My calves had cramped up pretty bad and I was starting to feel sick. It wasn't a pukey sick feeling, it was that I'm-getting-a-cold sick feeling. My throat hurt a bit and my nose was running. Great. I was totally blaming that kid from the flight for it too. Little bastard.

We got to the fourth aid station, me somehow keeping up with Ben. I took a little extra time here, getting more food in me and just relaxing a bit. I knew that I had a pretty nasty climb ahead of me...I had no idea how nasty it would be though. Ben took off ahead of me and I ended up in a group which included Greg and some other folks - including a nice guy from Minnesota who gave me a great piece of advice for the race: "It's a 2/3 1/3 race, you put 2/3 of the effort into getting to Timberline (the 25 mile turnaround) and 1/3 of your effort into getting back to the start". I had no idea how true that would be.

Just to re-iterate my situation at this point. I'm at mile 20-ish, my groin is on fire, I feel sick, my legs are just generally sore, my calves are cramped, and I've got a 5 mile, 2,500 foot climb ahead of me. I was also a disaster mentally.

I lost the group I was running with because I couldn't keep running with them. I had to walk the uphills, and the entire dammed leg was uphill. My calves were killing me. I had taken some extra s-caps at the last aid station to try to deal with the cramping but it wasn't helping. I couldn't figure out why. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I just had to keep going. There were some stretches of the trail here that were covered by snow, which was kind of cool. The scenery was great, of course. If only I wasn't not even halfway through a run I would have been having a wonderful friggin time.

Somehow I made it up and out of the tree line, not yet to Timberline lodge, but it wasn't too far off. This is a pretty "famous" part of the course for the runners. The ground turns into this very soft, very fine, sand-like dirt that is absolutely impossible to run on. It's one of those surfaces where you end up taking half a step backwards for every step you take forward. Going uphill it was completely un-runnable. It also made me hate life even more than I did earlier. My groin was still burning, I was still sick, except now I felt like I was going to puke. The most efficient way to walk up the trail at this point was to walk with your toes pointed as far out as possible in order to get the most surface area of your shoes pushing on the sand.

After a few, well, many minutes of completely hating life and wanting to quit and thinking I'd never make it up the mountain I, for a reason I'll never know, thought of Winston Churchill's famous "if you're going through hell, keep going" quote. Pretty lame, I know. But it worked for me. This was seriously hell to me and the only thing I could do was keep going through it.

After a while I saw Gary on his way back down the mountain. I hated him for having already gotten to the turnaround. I think he took my picture...I don't want to see it! I'm sure I looked like a total a-hole.

Finally I got to Timberline Lodge. I was in bad shape. I saw Ben with his son, nephew and brother. He gave me five and told me good job. Later I'd find out that he thought I looked like total hell, a good observation at that point. Knowing Matt was up there made me think about dropping and catching a ride back down with him. I wanted to save whatever skin I had left in my groin and I thought I was sick so I didn't think another 25 miles of running was such a great idea. Hmm, should I drop?

Well, I found my way over to the aid station, got my camelback filled, found my drop bag, and on a whim grabbed a handful of oatmeal raisin cookies. I found a nice secluded area to die in and sat down to change my shoes and take stock of my situation. I started to eat one of the cookies and immediately became completely enamored with these things. They were amazing. I couldn't stop eating them. I think if you would have talked to me at this point the only thing I could have managed was a "Mmmmm, cookie!". Seriously, you would have thought I was a mental patient. The only thing I focused on, thought about, or did for the next five minutes involved those cookies.

I got my shoes changed once I got my focus back and took my long-sleeve undershirt off. I also took an ibuprofen and two s-caps. And then I was off, back down the mountain. I had spent about fifteen minutes at the aid station, trying to get myself back together. My groin was still killing me, I wasn't as sore anymore, but I still felt kind of sick. All told it took me about an hour and forty-five minutes from aid station #4 to the point where I was headed back down the mountain. That's slow. Luckily forces were conspiring to get me back down much quicker than I had gotten up.

I started back down the mountain still hurting a bit. But I was feeling better. I wasn't getting my hopes up. About a quarter of a mile from the aid station is the highest point of the race. There was a guy standing there telling us that. I don't know if he was just a spectator or a volunteer or what but him telling me that did a huge number on my mental status. It felt so good to know it was all downhill from there. Shortly after that a photographer asked me about my shirt as I ran by, asking if I had run across Kansas yet. I said I hadn't, but was planning on it. He thought it was awesome and he really liked the shirt (something I heard many times in the race). All of a sudden my legs didn't hurt anymore. I didn't feel sick anymore either. Hmm. What's going on?

The sand was even fun to run in. I was taking pretty big strides, really enjoying the softness. I started picking my pace up. Wow, I felt pretty good. Then my ipod decided to join in and played Journey for me, Don't Stop Believin'. I picked it up some more. There's an exceptionally steep section of the sand which I really struggled getting up. I hit that section on the downhill and basically jumped off of it, taking a few steps to kind of control my out-of-control self. As I was coming down a lady going the other way said "wow, you make that look fun". Hell yeah it was fun. Ok, I'll try running a bit didn't hurt. Well, except my groin.

I kept going, I kept passing people, lots of people. Two guys got out of my way and said "wow, you're moving dude". Hmm, thanks guys. I looked at my Garmin...I was doing 7:20's. Whaaa? No way. I kept running and the watch was pretty consistent, 7:30, 7:15, etc. I wasn't even breathing hard. My ipod kept helping, randomly choosing some great songs with good beats to keep me going - Stronger, Top Gun Anthem, No Way They Can Stop Me Now. It was great.

I got back into the tree line, actually missing the sand since it was so fun to run down. Then the endorphins hit for the first time. Wow, they felt amazing. They started in the back of my head, as usual, engulfed my head, then moved down my back, radiating out to my limbs. Ahh. And they stayed for a while, I couldn't believe it. So, I kept my pace up, kept passing people, keeping my somewhat out of control downhill self going. I only walked twice between Timberline and aid station #4, and not for very long.

On my way into aid station #4 I kept my pace up and was greeted with a "you're flying man" from one of the volunteers. I felt great, and wanted to keep my pace going. I did another round of ibuprofen and s-caps along with more food than usual just in case. I also grabbed some Oreos, kind of on a whim since I didn't think they'd sit very well. I headed out and proceeded to eat everything I had in my hands, including those Oreos. Wow, they were tasty. They were super tasty. I started craving more Oreos.

I knew I had the Thong aid station to look forward to, and I was sure they had Oreos there. I wanted more. I walked much of the uphill after aid station #4 but ran when I could, passing even more folks. Along a flat section near the top I came across Greg, he didn't seem very talkative at that point. I asked him where Ben was and he grunted out something along the lines of "about 200 yards ahead". Hmm, thanks dude. I caught up to Ben. I think he was surprised to see me considering what I looked like at Timberline.

We ran together for a bit but I still had a bunch of pent-up energy and got going ahead of him. Most of the rest of the trip to the Thong aid station was downhill or generally flat so I enjoyed that. I got there and made a beeline for the Oreos. Yumm. Hmm, maybe eating just cookies wasn't a wonderful idea. I ate some potatoes, watermelon, potato chips, gummy bears, M&M's, and more Oreos.

I got going, knowing I had a relatively long climb ahead of me to the next aid station. I tried to run what I could, but had difficulty, so I did a lot of walking on the uphills. The view from here was amazing. Mt. Hood is off in the distance and there's a flat expanse below you, it's quite breathtaking. I was the only person around so I stopped for a bit to just enjoy it. It made me feel very alone, just me and nature with this imposing mountain which controlled everything around it, including, earlier, me. No other sport gives you that.

I made it to aid station #2 still in good shape, except for my groin. It was killing me, worse than I could ever have imagined it would get. If the government ever gets tired of water boarding people they should really look into inducing chafing in men. I'd have told you anything at that point to get it to stop.

The 3.2 miles between aid station #2 and Crater Lake felt longer than it should have, even though I made it pretty quickly. I was really ready for the race to be over at this point. My muscles felt great, I had energy, it was just my dammed chafing that was holding me back. Every step was an exercise in mental pain management.

I made it to Crater Lake, chatted with the volunteers, who referred to me as "Kansas", probably because of my shirt. Actually, most people were calling me that now that I think of it. I'm guessing they called most of us trail nerds "Kansas". It was a nickname I wore with pride. I ate a bit more, grabbed some...wait for it...Oreos, and got going again on the last leg of the run. Ahh, it felt so good to know that the next time I stopped would be the last.

I took some time to really enjoy the scenery on this last leg. It really was a beautiful section of trail. There was a creek (river?) which fed into Timothy Lake that we ran along, and then there was the lake itself, so vast. I kept a good pace, passing some more people along the way. Grimacing every step because of my groin. I did walk most of the uphills, but I ran some also, knowing I had the energy to complete the run. I passed a guy who was doubled over on the side of the trail. He was ok, just cramping really badly. He said he didn't need anything and I moved on. He didn't look so hot at that point. I also passed two women running with their dog. I know at least one of them was in the race, I assume the other was a pacer. The dog was awesome, running all around them, excited to be out in the woods playing. Once I passed them, after a minute or so, I felt something hit me in the back of the foot. WTF? It was that dog, it had ran up behind me and sniffed my feet. After the race I found them and told them how much I loved their dog - the lady apologized for it running up on me but I didn't mind at all. Apparently they're trying to break it of the habit of doing that to people. I think it's funny.

I kept running, knowing the finish had to be close. I ran up one last long uphill feeling like it was the last, since I remembered that the trail started with a long uphill I knew a long downhill would be the last section of trail during the race. I was right. I came up over the hill and was presented with a long downhill section. Off to my right I could see the road that led to the finish. Finally.

I turned onto the road and relished the fact I was almost done. I picked up my pace as best I could but was limited from the groin pain. The chafing was insane. I was scared to see what it had done to me.

I got to the small trail which led to the finish, motored up the hill to cowbells and cheering from the crowd, and made it across the finish. 10 hours and 12 minutes. Dang. I got a big hug from one of the RD's (Olga, I think) and a nifty running hat for finishing. Gary was there, having finished a few minutes before me (he likes to point out that he beat me even with his one hour head start).

Walking was painful, mainly due to the condition of my groin. I didn't want to move, and when I walked it was more like swinging my legs from one point to another, not really walking. I grabbed some water, a pop, and sat down near the finish, waiting for Ben and Greg to finish. I chatted with some folks at the finish (who ended up putting the idea of visiting Powell's books into my head in Portland - bad idea). About twenty minutes later Ben and Greg came up the hill, together, and finished in spectacular Trail Nerd fashion.

I found my way over to the grill for a spectacular veggie burger. It was quite tasty after such a long run. Ben's entourage showed up a few minutes later and we all moved over to a picnic table to move as little as possible and reminisce on the race. Gary and his wife fished beers out for those who wanted them, I wasn't in the mood for some reason. I stuck to water, dreading trying to walk again.

Ben and Greg finishing

A gaggle of Trail Nerds

After half an hour or so of chatting I figured it was time to get going. We took some pictures and I headed over to my car, slowly, very slowly. About the time I got my shoes off I realized I had forgotten to get my drop bag, dammit. I went ahead and got changed and proceeded to try to clean myself off with some baby wipes I had snagged from Ben. The first area I headed for was the place of the worst chafing. Yeah, that was a horrible idea. I've been in pain before. Never like this. It put me on the ground. It hurts to think about it. God. No way I was showering that night, no way. Water would just kill me.

After a few minutes I regained some of my composure and went drop-bag hunting. This was quite an effort since it involved walking. I found one of the RD's and asked where the drop bags where. She told me they weren't back yet, and probably wouldn't be for another couple of hours...what? Seriously? Now, I'm a pretty laid back dude, there's not a lot you can do to really get to me. This really pissed me off. Not to be mean but that was pretty ridiculous. I had left the turnaround almost 5 hours ago. I even put my drop bag in a special "bring it back" section. How in the world could they not have been brought back - and how would it be a few more hours until it showed up? I was pissed. She said they would be left at the start overnight so I could get it anytime. Super, that's real convenient for someone staying in friggin Portland.

Yeah, I could have stayed and waited, but seriously, after ten hours of running, that isn't really an option. Plus, I had to cover 97 miles to get to my hotel. I had to decide if I cared that much about what was in my bag. A pair of socks, one of my long-sleeve undershirts, and a pair of shoes. I've got about 200 miles on each of my current shoes (I have three pairs of the exact same shoe and I rotate them). During the race I was thinking about how they felt pretty bad and how I needed to replace them. Well, I decided the shoes weren't worth it. The only thing I really cared about was the shirt, but I didn't care enough to wait a couple of hours for it. I said screw it, and left. But, it still does piss me off. Sorry folks, but getting drop bags back in under five hours seems pretty simple to me.

The drive back to Portland was pretty uneventful. The sun was getting lower and I was driving right into it, which is one reason why I wanted to get going, I remembered on the drive there that when the sun was low it was directly in my rearview mirror, which wouldn't be comfortable to drive into.

I made it to my hotel, which surprisingly wasn't difficult to find, and stumbled in, past a bunch of folks sitting outside waiting for something. I was covered in dirt, was wearing flip-flops so I had super-white feet and was walking very oddly. I can only imagine what they thought of me. I probably scared them.

The nice lady who checked me in asked me what I was doing in Portland, probably to assess if I was insane or not based upon my appearance. I told her I had just ran a race near Mt. Hood. She asked if I meant on horses. Umm, no, on foot. She did think I was insane. I got the standard "I can't even run a mile" out of her. We chatted for a bit, she seemed interested in ultras. Maybe I got her to go try to run that mile again, I don't know, I hope so.

After getting to my room I sprawled out on the floor, not wanting to take a shower, or do much of anything really. I ate my subway that I had picked up on the way and watched some Sportscenter. Avoiding the inevitable shower.

Finally I willed myself into it. It had to be done. I did stand there for a few minutes, watching the water, delaying the inevitable. Finally, I stepped in. It hurt, bad. Not as bad as the baby wipe did, but it hurt. But, amazingly, after a few minutes the pain got a little less worse. I could stand it. Whew.

The rest of the night involved me sitting on my arse moving as little as possible. I passed out fairly early, probably due to the fact that I'd slept about seven hours in the past two days. I paid my sleep debt, I guarantee you that.

All-in-all I really enjoyed the race. The drop bag thing still pisses me off but I'll get over it. There were some confusing parts of the trail which could have been easily marked but weren't. I know it caused some confusion for some folks and it's only somewhat irritating because the RD's were mentioning it before the start. The volunteers at the aid stations were great - very friendly, especially the Thong aid station, I loved that one.

It was also fun to check out Portland. It’s my first time here and I really like the city. It’s a bit Emo for me so I kind of stick out, ok, I really stick out, but it’s still a fun town. The public transportation is great, I wish we had something close to similar in KC. Wishful thinking.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Off To Portland

I'm off to Portland for the Mt Hood PCT 50-miler. Everything just kind of came together the past few days and I feel like I can kinda relax. Today is the last day of summer class, the first batch of technical shirts for the run across Kansas are done, and I finished and submitted my abstract for a talk at The Gibbs Conference. Whew.

Add to that I've never been to Portland...heck, I've never even been to the Pacific Northwest. Plus, there's a fair number of Trail Nerds headed out for this event. Should be a good time. Except for that 6am flight thing...twice...dammit. (That will be after I go see Step Brothers at 12:01 tomorrow morning with some way-too-obsessed Will Ferrell fans).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lunar Trek

If you ever get the chance, do an overnight run.

I really never imagined I'd say this, but I really enjoy running at night. I'm taking like late, late night. Like 3am night. Most of my friends think I'm nuts for running ultras to start with. Add in an overnight ultra and I can tell they really start to wonder if it's intervention time.

I was a bit hesitant at first about this race, waiting until the last minute to sign up. I'm glad I did. The first annual Lunar Trek took place on July 18th in Scandia, Kansas. Where's Scandia you might ask? Here, of course. This race has a 10k, 10mi, 20mi, 30mi and 40mi option to it. I chose the 40 mile option. Word on the street is that next year there will be a 60 mile option.

My race-day preparation was poor at best. I've been doing weights twice a week lately. On the Wednesday before the race I did a pretty typical weight workout...typical except for the extra lunges with weights I added into a superset. I figured two days would be plenty of recovery time. I was wrong on that one.

The other thing was what I did Friday during the day. See, instead of sitting on my butt doing nothing physically taxing I spent the day shadowing a doctor. Now, this isn't just any doctor, this is a fellow Trail Nerd as well as someone who honestly walks faster than anyone I've ever met before. I think I spent most of the time slow-jogging just to keep up. Shadowing doesn't facilitate a lot of sitting either, so I didn't get a lot of tush-in-chair time during the day.

Basically, my recovery time was the three and a half hour drive to Scandia on Friday night. Excellent.

I got to Scandia around 9:30pm. Found the high school and got checked in for the race. Race director John Neal did a good job of describing the course to me. He basically walked me through the entire route, hills, bridges and all. The funny part was when he was talking about some mud on the road about 5 miles into the race. "We put hay down to make it easier to run over." Mud? Ha. Pfft, I was looking forward to it.

Some fellow Trail Nerds were already there, fully decked out in their race gear. I was like, "uhh, you guys know the race doesn't start for another hour and a half, right?" They didn't seem to care. I milled around in my flip-flops for a while before starting to put my stuff together for the race.

Sometime before the race started we were treated to a wonderful rendition by Gary Henry of a poem about the moon that, for the life of me, I can't remember what it was called. Either way, it was great.

Around 11pm we all started to move to the start line. As all the Trail Nerds got together for a picture I realized that we made up about a quarter of the race participants. That's pretty good turnout! Apparently we travel in packs and intimidate others.

Shortly after 11pm we were off. I had my headlamp on but there were enough folks around with headlamps on that I didn't really need to use it. Add into that the full moon and mostly cloudless night and you had pretty spectacular night running conditions.

After about half a mile I caught up with Sophia. She was going to do the 30-mile run, meaning she would turn around at the third aid station. Her pace was a bit faster than I wanted but she hooked me with the promise of walking for 30 seconds after each mile. So, there you go. I ran with Sophia for the first 15 miles of the race. We basically kept close to a 10 minute pace the entire time.

The course was great. It was basically all dirt roads surrounded by farms. At first I didn't think there would be much to look at since it would be so remote and so dark but I was pretty surprised by the amount of scenery.

Close to mile 5 we came across the mud that John had talked about earlier. Being the generally over-arrogant runner that I am I ignored the nicely laid out hay path and just ran through the middle of the mud, not really caring about what I was stepping in. It wasn't too bad. I ended up ankle-deep a few times but nothing horrible. I don't really think the hay helped too much, it kind of ended up getting stuck to your shoes which was almost worse than just getting muddy.

Apparently running at night is deceiving to my sense of elevation change. I kept swearing that we were constantly running uphill. Not steep uphills, but gradual uphills. Sophia didn't agree with me but I didn't listen. I figured out she was right on the way back when I kept waiting for those constant downhills and they never came.

Mile 15 is when I lost my pacer and had to continue on alone. This was also one of the coolest aid stations I've ever been in. Some guy opened up his barn and put the aid station inside. There were several tractors and I jokingly asked if I could drive one. I don't think he knew I was kidding, nor was he amused. There was also some pretty 'interesting' music being played here, no genre was off-limits at this aid station.

The next five miles weren't too bad for me. I was still running pretty strong. Aid station number 4 (number 3 was mile 15, 2 was mile 10, and 1 was mile 5) is only about 3 miles from the high school where we started. That makes getting there a bit depressing as you know you're so close to the finish but you still have to turn around and run the entire course again. I changed shoes here and in doing so I took my headlamp off and put it on top of a cooler. In my rush to eat whatever I could and get going I forgot my headlamp...oops. I realized it about a quarter of a mile down the road but didn't really want to turn around to get it. It was bright enough with the moon and I hadn't had many problems seeing.

The route back is just a backtrack of everything I had just ran. The only part I wasn't looking forward to was hill 88, a very steep hill at the 10k mark going out, so about 6 miles from the finish.

After a few more miles I started really enjoying the dark. I was sans light and running partner but I was really relaxed. I turned the iPod off and just kind of took it all in. It was very quiet (except for the random rustling of the bushes which I'm sure was some ghastly animal silently stalking me as a possible meal) so the only noises I heard were my feet hitting the ground. I guess it was the lack of sensory input that I found most relaxing. There wasn't much to take in so what I could was all the more satisfying.

The roads did seem to go on forever. With not many turns the run becomes pretty tough, as you're just wanting to get to that next turn. Finally, amazingly, I made it to hill 88. I'd been running for a while and figured I should walk up the hill. Well, I kept running and saying "I'll walk after that rock", etc. Finally, I was halfway up the hill and figured I'd just run the entire thing, which I did. Thing is, right after hill 88, there's a downhill followed by another steep hill which seems almost as bad as hill 88. I ran that one too. Go figure.

I made it to the last aid station, ate what I could, chatted with the volunteers, and headed off on the last 5 miles of the run. I made it back through that mud with little difficulty and noticed that the sun was starting to come up. The skies were just starting to lighten up and the clouds that hung low in the East were beginning to glow. It was beautiful. The full moon was still up to the West, the terrain was still shadowy and colorless, and the sky was slowly turning blue. Find me another sport that gets you that.

I ran the last leg except for two short walks up hills during the last mile or so. I was sore, but I was determined to keep running.

Once I came over the last hill I saw two crazy people sitting in lawn chairs in the middle of the road. I was thinking "what the hell are they doing?" Then I notice they're sporting Trail Nerd t-shirts and realize it's Debbie and James. I can't say it seemed completely sane to be sitting in the middle of the road but I was sure glad to see them.

The finish was pretty anti-climatic. It consisted of John, the RD and Sophia. Sophia ran the last 20 feet with me, careful not to spill her recovery drink in the process.

I felt pretty good at the end, no real pain. I wasn't even tired, which is what I thought I'd be dealing with the most during the race. I never once got sleepy or felt exhausted. That's not what I expected.

After a quick shower we all hung out and waited for Gary to finish. I found myself sitting in the middle of the road exactly where James and Debbie had been when I came over the hill. Apparently it wasn't so dumb of an idea after all. It was also, as James pointed out, oddly, the most comfortable road I've ever sat on. Really tough to explain, it just was.

We all grabbed breakfast at the Kaffee House (I think that's what it was called). I had an excellent ham and cheese omelet, hash browns, toast, coffee, and leftover biscuits and gravy that Sophia had taken from another table's leftovers. Yummy.

I was a bit worried about the drive home. I hadn't slept and wasn't sleepy, yet. I knew it'd hit me eventually, but I wasn't sure when. About an hour into my drive I started getting REALLY sleepy. I was trying to eat espresso beans to stay awake but it wasn't helping at all. So, I pulled over at a picnic area, crawled in the back of the car, and slept for about an hour.

After waking up and a stop by Sonic for ice cream (I have no idea why I was craving ice cream at ten in the morning, but I was) I eventually made it home. I unpacked the car, took a shower, and tried to study. Yeah, that didn't last long. I ended up passing out on the couch and waking up at 5pm. Oops. Luckily it didn't screw up my sleep schedule too bad.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Run Across Kansas

For quite a few years I've wanted to do some kind of
charity fundraiser. Never have because other things in my life got in
the way; work, school, whatever other excuse I could come up with at
the time. It was quickly becoming one of those things I'd always want
to do but never actually get around to doing. With med school on the
horizon (hopefully!) I could see no way I'd get around to doing
something in the next, oh, 10 years. So, I decided it was time to
figure something out. Running seemed natural for me, although a pub
crawl would also be pretty natural. I knew I needed something most
people would think comes with a high degree of mental instability
(trail nerds excluded, of course) but that I knew I could handle. For
some reason I got the idea of running across the state. Figuring that
was dumb I dismissed it for a while, then I started seriously thinking
about what it would take. After a while it didn't seem so

So, there you go, I'm going to run across Kansas as a fundraiser for
the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. 7 days (okay, maybe 8, haven't
decided that yet), approx 55 miles per day, mostly along US-36. March
7th - 13th, 2009...heck of a way to spend my spring break. Yes, I
know 7 back-to-back 50-milers is pretty crazy.

Why'd I choose the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network? Well, I'm pretty
fortunate in that none of my family or close friends have been
affected by any specific condition that I could run for. I looked at
various other charities, talked to a few, finally decided on them.
I'm not really sure what pushed me that way, maybe meeting some folks
at the hospital who were fighting it.

My friends and family think it's a really cool idea. One of my
friends, Jeremiah (my best friend since first grade and the guy who
got me into running) thought it was so cool he has decided to run with
me, in support of another charity. Now there's two of us. I've had
several people tell me they'd run a few miles, or even an entire day
with us, which I think is exciting.

I just registered the website yesterday and threw up some text as a
placeholder until we get the site designed.

That's all for now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

2008 Shawnee Mission Park Triathlon

Against my better judgment I signed up for the Shawnee Mission Park Triathlon about a month ago. Why against my better judgment? Well, because I'm about as graceful in the water as I am smooth with the ladies - that's to say; not so good.

The long course, the one I chose, was a .6 mile swim (1000 meters), 18 mile bike ride and 4.5 mile run. The bike and the run, no problemo. The swim, big problemo.

I've been trying to train for the swim at the pool but haven't had much success. I think I need a swimming lesson or something. I just don't keep good form in the water which leads to me getting tired which ruins my form more, etc. A bad cycle. The only thing I really had going for me was that I can sidestroke for a long time, an ability I picked up several years ago when I used to go to the gym with a co-worker who also happened to be a former SEAL. See, we'd do laps in the pool, mostly sidestroke, I'd go down and back, he'd go down, hop out, do 10 push-ups, get back in, swim to the other side, do 10 more push-ups...all before I made it down and back once. Discouraging.

I got up around 4:30, ate, took my time getting ready, etc. I made it to the park about an hour before my 7:10 start. I was pretty impressed with the organization. Everything ran smoothly at the race - I got my chip easily, got body marked quickly, had a lot of time to hang out and look at the water and think about how far I had to swim. Dammit.

I found Jon shortly before I had to get to the beach for my start. He did the short course and didn't end up starting till 8:10, pretty late. We chatted for a bit, he was nice enough to reply to my fears about the swim with a reassuring "yeah, that's a really long swim". Thanks dude.

To start the race you had to swim from the boat dock over to the beach, perhaps a 200 yard swim. Well, this was it, let's see how I felt. I walked down to the beach, put the goggles and swim cap on, and headed out into the water. It was a very nice 80 degrees, even at 7 in the morning. This might not be that bad.

I started out with a slow freestyle, keeping my head above water the entire time. I made it about 100 yards before I got pretty tired and switched to the sidestroke. Not a good sign. That's 1/10 the distance I was going to swim for the race. I rolled over to my back a few times just to relax on the way over there. That's the one way I'm actually fairly buoyant, as long as I keep kicking, that is.

I got to the beach without drowning and found all the other folks with similarly colored swim caps as me. They were all talking and laughing and having a generally fantastic time. They were old pros at this. I was scared.

My strategy was simple. Start slow, stay slow, swim near the buoys so I could grab onto them if I needed. I decided once I was in the water that the sidestroke was the only way I was going to finish this. Screw trying to freestyle it.

After being herded like cattle out of the water and into a swim corral we were ready to go. Right before we started the lady asked "who's a first timer?" I slowly raised my hand with a few other people. The guy behind me in the water moved in front of me before I got my hand back down. Comforting.

Shortly after, we were off. The pack moved out pretty quickly relative to me and a few other stragglers. I stayed right, did some freestyle swimming, but mostly stuck to the sidestroke. I made it from the beach back to the boatdock...barely. I was dying already and needed something to grab onto to rest. Apparently nobody figured that someone would need a rest so early and didn't put anything out to help folks. I embarrassingly swam near the dock, where people were standing, and grabbed on, taking a few seconds break. Oh well.

My goals for the swim quickly became to make it from buoy to buoy. I stuck to the sidestroke and took a rest almost every buoy for the first three or four. Then I oddly got really comfortable in the water and was able to start skipping every other buoy. I don't know what clicked, but something did. I just felt better.

Now, that doesn't mean I was swimming like I knew what I was doing. See, there's divers in the water with nice orange floaty things looking to help out folks like me. Apparently I looked or sounded like I needed help...I got asked 5 times if I wanted a rest from one of the divers. While it was really nice of them it was also a bit embarrassing.

Anyways, I kept going, sticking to my every-other buoy strategy. Perhaps halfway through the course I started to get passed from people in the heat behind me. They looked fast. Shortly after that, I started to get passed by people from the heat behind them. Super.

I kept at it. After a while I noticed there was a couple of people in my heat back with me in the water. What?!?! What are these people doing here? I thought I was the only horrible swimmer. Wow. I might actually beat some people in my heat out of the water.

And I did. I think I beat four green caps out of the water. I did not expect that at all.

I ran up the hill, dried myself off, put my bike jersey and shoes on, and was off. I was hoping to make up time on the bike considering how long the swim took.

I didn't do very bad on the bike. I got passed by a few folks but not many. I was doing most of the passing. Especially on the uphills. Apparently I can climb. No idea why or how.

My other advantage was the downhills. I don't know if people were scared of them or what but nobody was going as fast as I was down those things. I love them. I like the speed, it feels good. I also like the momentum you can carry for part of the next hill.

I ended up averaging 19.3mph on the bike course. That matches my record from the airport one day. That's personally impressive when you consider how much hillier the park is compared to the airport.

On the last lap I had some wonderful momentum going up this really bad hill. I was about to pass a guy on a mountain bike, on his left, when all of a sudden he took a hard left right into my way. The only way I could keep from hitting him was to swerve over into the running course, almost hitting a female runner. I almost fell off the bike and I did completely stop. On an uphill, a bad uphill, in a lower gear than I could easily start up again in. It kinda pissed me off, but it's not like there's a lot I could have done. I guess it would have been worse if I would have wrecked.

I finished the bike and got into my running shoes. Ah, it felt good to be on the last leg of the race. I got going and felt like I was forgetting something but I wasn't sure what. Hmm. About .25 miles into the run I looked at the person in front of me, noticed their number, and realized I had forgotten to put mine on. Dammit. I briefly considered going back then realized that was stupid. I had my number written on me in four places, and I had a timing chip on. No way anyone would care.

I guess I didn't stretch well because almost immediately the muscles on top of my shins got real tight. It made the running uncomfortable. At the second water stop I walked for a few feet just so I could do little circles in the air with my feet. I had to get those muscles loosened up. Actually, running uphill helped them, so I looked forward to that.

I didn't get passed on the run, not even by the short-course folks. Again, I did a lot of passing. Especially on the hills, that felt good.

Surprisingly I feel like I'd want to do another tri. I need to do something about my swimming, it's horrible. But, I had a lot of fun. We'll see.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lenexa Freedom Run

Well, it took 11 years, but I finally broke my 5k PR!

New: 21:08
Old: 21:30

Probably could have done better had I not gone out drinking the night before. Oops. Whatever, it was a fun run, lots of people, terrible shirt. Nothing seems to change.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Trail Nerds Are Rockstars!

Well, close.

Ben and Kyle were on a local radio program today, The Walt Bodine Show, talking about trailrunning and ultra-marathons. Pretty much the coolest thing I've ever heard on the radio.