Thursday, April 28, 2011

What's Up, Doc?



I like carrots. 

I find them tasty. Especially with hummus. Yet they are not always my first choice when looking for a snack. Something else may seem more appealing at the time, even when all I need are a few carrots to feel satisfied.

However, a carrot is not always a carrot.  Sometimes it is more than a simply snack.  On occasion a carrot is more that a mere garden vegetable.  A carrot becomes more when that carrot is...

An Ultra Marathon.

My carrot is the next ultra.  Turning this exercise fad, this passing fancy, this wild-eyed pursuit into a lifestyle is my ultimate goal.  Along with the titles husband, son, father, and friend, I want to be known as an ultra runner.  Not for reasons of ego or excess, but as a statement of what I am.  So that people will know I do not make commitments lightly.  That I follow through.  That I pursue to the last.  That I do not give up.

For the uninitiated, endurance training is a selfish endeavor.  Participation in endurance events is an expensive pastime.  Unfortunately time and money are held in excess here.  If you know then you know.

However, the carrot that is ultra running will give me an extra push when work sucks and the life gets tough.  Giving my best efforts personally and professionally will make toeing the starting line so much sweeter.  I will tackle the tough days with the same tenacity I found on the trail, to endure, to overcome, to persevere.

***Race Schedule Update - My next race will be the Cactus Rose 100mi in Bandera, Texas this fall.  The humbling aspect of selecting this race this early is that I received an anonymous donation toward travel expenses.  I am still shocked.  Finishing that course would be the best thank you I can bestow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! Almost. Maybe. Part 15

*I forgot to post this the week before Lumberjack.  I decided to post it now rather than delete it.*

The Round-up.  Last bits to sweep up.  I know I promised no more.  Sue me.

Sleep deprivation training

I decided that to prepare to be awake for more than twenty four hours I should stay awake for more than twenty four hours.  I didn't run in that time.  I'll say I was very excited at the prospect of running 10-15 miles when I got home after a long day on Saturday.  This would have been at the 39 hour mark but Mother Nature stepped in.  No training runs in lightning and heavy rains.  At least that's what my wife says.

Preparing "to quit"

While thinking about completing a one hundred mile ultra marathon I have thought about what obstacles will prevent me from finishing.  Injury.  Exhaustion.  Discouragement.  What I have not yet considered is a support mechanism for overcoming these obstacles.  Medical staff will determine the injury issue IF I should get hurt badly enough.  Exhaustion will win out if I collapse.  Discouragement will be the bugaboo.

For a example of how a rational person would prepare for this check out this post.  How to quit/not quit is definitely something that flew below my radar.  At least in compiling my race preparation check list.  I'll be thinking about this a lot this week.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! - Chapter Four/Final Thoughts and Reflections

Are you sure? called the time keeper.

Yeah I responded.  I've got nothing left.

I completed my run at the Lumberjack at four o'clock Sunday morning.

Next stop was the campfire.  The night left me chilled to the core.  There were five or seven figures assembled around the fire, sharing stories and awaiting returning runners.  I reckon the anguish was apparent upon my face. They welcomed me into the circle, ushered me into an empty lawn chair.

100k is incredible one stranger offered.

You did great another said.

As if sensing my grief yet another said Let it out.  Say what ever needs to be said.

Then, looking up, I saw Debbie walking toward me.  She wrapped me in a motherly embrace.  Actually it was the sort of embrace I would expect if Andria were with me.  Warm.  Comforting.  Supportive.  Almost at the instant our eyes met I began to sob.  More than anyone she understood what that moment meant to me.

Jodi asked if I needed anything, food or otherwise.  All I required was my phone.  I had to call home.

It was 7 o'clock in South Carolina so Andria answered quickly.  Terri's new car has heated seats so I was able to warm up quickly once under a sleeping bag.  We had a good conversation.

By 445am I had stripped away all the clothes from the trail and crawled into my sleeping bag to get away from the world.  At this point I noticed just how stiff my right ankle had become.  I could not get comfortable but I managed to sleep.

Suddenly I was awake.  The sun was up and rain was falling on the tent.  Thank you Washington state.  Your weather is wonderful.  Time to start this day after three hours of sleep.  I felt much better, even though I was moving slowly.  Fortunately the fire was burning and the coffee was hot.

Let me say a few words about ultra runners.  Once you are in the community you are family.  They were quick to console and congratulate me.  They accepted me as a member of the community, even if I did not meet my goal.  And they were quick to supply any needs I had at the time.  I have yet to experience anything like this at any other distance race.  It is but one reason I am hooked on ultras.

And there are no beers or burgers like post ultra beers and burgers.  Holy shit they were good.

Final thoughts on my first ultra...
  • Embrace the epic - if you dare not to be better than you are, you never will be.  The day I decided to run a marathon was a fork in the path of my life.  While I am yet to be the man I hope to become, I am not the same man that lived without purpose.
  • Who needs shoes? - What more can I say?  I love my Vibrams.  You are looking at Vibrams 5 Fingers Treksports on the left and Treks on the right.  And yes, they are quite muddy.  With all the running, walking and foul conditions, I only suffered one mind blister and none major issues to my feet.  I did feel rocks and roots but that was to be expected.

  • Falling short is NOT failure - The goal was one hundred miles.  I stopped at 63 miles.  But I did not fail.  Condolences are not necessary.  100k is still an ultra marathon and is twice the distance I ever covered at any one time.  I shall be forever proud of my effort.  While I did not run the entire distance I covered the distance.  Twenty-five miles were at a solid steady pace.  The final thirty-eight miles were at a walking pace, sometimes quick, sometimes slow.  Without any shortcuts.  I lasted longer than I had any right to.
  • Knowing when enough is enough - A local runner friend named Julie asked recently, in front of my wife, if I would know when enough was enough.  I took the question to mean ultras in general, as in how long would I continue this silliness.  She actually wanted to know it I would blindly push through a potential dangerous or life threatening situation for the sake of a hunk of metal.  All I could say was that I hoped I would know.  Guess I passed that test.  I announced my decision to withdraw from the race before speaking with anyone else for one reason.  Only I knew truly how I felt.  Some people drop due to fatigue.  Hunger causes some people to drop.  Injury is also a major factor.  I made the decision and was prepared to live with it.  There was no need for a conference.
  • Never doing this again to When/where will I do this again - This conversation did go through my head.  I said to myself that I was stupid for attempting such a ridiculous task.  My abilities were vastly inferior to other runners on the course that day.  Hell, that night.  No shame in getting chicked when the chick's in the midst of kicking ass.  Of course by Sunday night when we were back in Portland and I was alone in the the hotel room I had but one thought - I am so going to do this again!  I want to succeed.
  • Importance of crew, pacer, general support in ultra running - There is no understating or undervaluing these people.  You need the support of family or close friends.  They may think you are crazy, but they better not be negative.  The Monday before I flew to Portland I suffered a major crisis of confidence.  Andria pulled me out of it.  For her faith in me I am forever humbled.  Likewise a good steady pacer is vital.  I did not run with a pacer but I saw people run with pacers.  Pacers are people able to shed personal glory and recognition, for the sole purpose of delivering you in one piece to the finish line.  And lastly, most ultra runners will not realize the goal of finishing without an alert crew.  Thick skin, quick reflexes and resourcefulness are all traits for a crew member.  And they must be willing to doctor blistered feet, wipe away your vomit and cheerfully accept whatever cussing you deliver through the delirium.  Because like the mother in childbirth, ultra runners should not be held responsible for anything said during the run, especially when hallucinating.
  • Reasons for going to the Lumberjack.  Reasons for going now. - My reasons for running this race deserve a separate chapter.  My reasons for running this race now deserve the same.  But its time to wrap this puppy up and put it to bed.
I went to Port Gamble because someone I did not know asked me to do so.  Debbie did not really know me but felt comfortable enough.  Russ McGarry of 3 Non Joggers welcomed me into his home Monday night.  We joked that I was a stalker, but Russ said that when I said I was an ultra runner he took that as a sign of my earnestness.  My sincerity.  My trustworthiness.  It seems normal then that I would accept Debbie's invitation to travel alone, three thousand miles from home, to run one hundred miles in a forest.  It was trust freely given, but it was trust easily earned.  I told her but I will state again that I can never thank her enough for the faith Debbie displayed in me.  I could go on but I think I've embarrassed myself enough.

Some weeks back during my last group run with the North Myrtle Beach Running Group I met a big-time Canadian coach with heavy marathon experience.  As we talked about my upcoming race he asked if I wanted speed or endurance.  Only for the rare breed it is nearly impossible to maintain both.  There may still be a few minutes or seconds to cut from my marathon time.  What I realized in training, or confirmed on those trails along the banks of Puget Sound, is that I want to run long.  If I get to the finish quickly I would be cool, but it's about the journey not the destination.  What a sweet journey it is.  I also realized on those trails that I am for all intents and purposes done with road marathons.  There are still roadies to run, they no longer hold the same fascination.  Save for one...

Lastly, I chose to run an ultra now.  2012 appeared to be the year.  The idea was that I would need time to get ready.  The problem is that I am in a constant state of getting ready.  Getting done should be the goal.  Thus when the invitation came I could not hesitate.  I needed that deadline.  I needed that race day on the calendar, with a schedule to make and travel arrangements to secure.  My getting ready would become getting done.  The outcome became secondary.  Unimportant really.  Sure, it was still important in my head.  My heart had other ideas.  Maybe that is why the anguish of not completing the one hundred miles is less painful now, for it was truly more about the journey than the destination.  

Two weeks prior to Lumberjack Andria had asked why.  There was no easy answer readily available.  I had the idea but not the words.  When those words finally formed in my head and I was able to explain my need to do this now her entire outlook on the event changed.  She went from overly concerned and skeptical to fully invested in my confidence.  She became my enthusiasm.  My determination.

My final statement is that ultra running is not for everyone.  We all have our limits in life.  There are obstacles we choose not to extend beyond.  My ultra was for going beyond 26.2 and beyond physical and emotional limitations.  I succeeded on both accounts.  Hopefully this series opened your mind to new possibilities.  To new opportunities.  Not just in running but in life.  Find what pushes you through barriers and beyond the comfort of your current condition.  Discover your passion and what strengthens you.

I feel as though I am leaving so much out.  There may be an infinite number of words, thoughts and emotions to express the full scope of this weekend.  I have enough to trigger memories and fill the gaps.  This blog is my way of not forgetting.

Thank you for sharing in the memories.





Previous installments - Chapter One/Arrival & Departure
                                      Chapter Two/Chasing the Lumberjack
                                      Chapter Three/The End is Here
                                      Perfect Ending to the Ultra Weekend

Additional perspective on the weekend from our crew member, Teri.
And a bit more from the lady that invited your's truly on the adventure of a lifetime, Debbie.

I Am an Ultrarunner! - Chapter Three/The End is Here

The clock said 10:45 pm as I strode out of camp for the fifth time.  Little did I know what lay on the trail ahead.  Had someone asked me if I were prepared for what unfolded on this loop I would have said no, but would have charged ahead anyway.  This is what I came for as Scott Jurek is known to say.  Pain was to be expected.  The physical is brutal, whether one chases a PR in a road 5k or is on a quest for a Boston Qualifier in a marathon.

What I find lacking in the shorter distances - yes, 26.2 miles is now short for me - is time to experience and deal with emotional challenges.  The marathon field can sweep you to the finish so long as you stay on your feet.  Running with hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands has that effect.  Hell, my BQ in February was due in part to the 3h10m pacer practically crawling up my back over the final 2/10 of a mile.

I did not have the luxury of a pacer yet.  Still on my own.  Lars, my pacer stopped by after my third loop to check on my times.  I felt the night would be fine but knew he would be necessary to cover the final twenty-five miles.  So the plan was to text him a time to show up for the final two loops.  Before Loop Five I sent a message asking that he show up a seven o'clock to begin number six.  Seemed reasonable enough given that my knee was looser.  Unfortunately that loose easy feeling would not last.  

In fact any chance at feeling good evaporated in the night before I escaped the glow of the campfire.

From the first true step into this loop my right knee felt worse that before.  I find that any attempt to describe the pain in the joint is sadly insufficient.  While I speculated about the nature of the injury earlier in the day, I was not completely aware of what it was - ITB.  

Iliotibial Band Syndrome.

Fuck.  Me.  

Hard.

I have experienced knee pain before.  This was an entirely different kind of hell.  The mud was not a bother.  The cold was not a problem.  The very fact that I was still on the course was the issue.  Any downgrade was excruciating.

I shall apologize now to any and all ITB sufferers for my April Fools Day joke.  Very poor decision.  Bad karma.  Rotten mojo.

I knew I was screwed when the first aid station was not reached in less than 90 minutes.  Of course it was nearing midnight and I needed to be careful, but I had sufficient light from my headlamp.  I just could not make steady headway with the knee.  It took two hours to reach aid station #1.  

By the time I reached the point that I assumed was halfway I was three hours into the loop.  It is obvious that I am on a six hour trip.  The wheels are officially off.  My mind begins to reel.

The problem with being alone is I have no one to distract me.  No calming voice to talk me down from the ledge.  No one to say it will be OK.  Even the iPod has lost its appeal.  I was entering a very low place.

So the pain of the knee was causing me to stop dead every few minutes.  I didn't know how to stretch the ITB so I just kept walking.  Stopped went the pain got too much and started again once it subsided.  It was in the final three hours that I really broke down.

I chose this race for numerous reasons, some of which I'll go into later.  All of which seemed extremely valid prior to leaving for Portland.  They all remained valid once I was on the trail.  But only one reason kept me moving.

My wife.

Without Andria this trip would not have been possible.  Without her a great many things would not be possible.  Life without her is one of my greatest fears.  The emotional dam burst when I played out the call home.  The knee would make one hundred miles impossible.  Stopping short would be a failure.  In my mind at least.  Not getting that buckle would make this trip a waste of time.  Anything less than one hundred miles would be a colossal waste of money.  Everything had been built up in my mind to get that trophy.  It would validate everything.  Even if you don't understand what the buckle represents you know the buckle means something B-I-G.  Now I would have to explain to Andria why I had to quit.

To quit...

Something I am all too familiar with...

Quitting is one reason I went to Port Gamble.  To learn how not to quit...

Every time the thought of talking with Andria entered my head I doubled over in pain.  Imagine the worst stomach cramps possible.  However this pain was not physical.  Sure, the knee continuously reminded me it still connected two leg bones together (the first person to point out my error in anatomy will get a personalized Fuck You via FedEx overnight shipping) and continued to be overwhelming.  But the emotional pain was something else entirely.  I always stopped quickly though, fearful that another runner would appear from the darkness and crash my little party.

I'll say now that other than at the two aid stations I never saw another soul from the moment I left camp till I returned.  That is a long time to be alone in emotional misery.  Granted, Aron Ralston was in a much deeper situation when he cut his arm off, but dammit, this is my moment.

Combine the physical pain of the knee and the emotional anguish in my mind with the absolute dreadful nature of the loop's back half.  The gravel jeep road winded on and on after the second aid station.  There were not many landmarks so I could never gauge how far I had to go, other than rough guesstimates based on time.

I did find a distraction in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.  The race - this was no longer a race but rather an ordeal meant to be endured - had scattered before me and needed to be pieced together if I were to get out whole.  Time to assess everything:
  • My knee was shot.  The thought of repeating three more loops in my condition made me want to vomit.  Thankfully I did not.
  • I was running out of time.  If the fifth loop were to take five to six hours then I would blow past the mandatory cut off and be unable to finish the 100 miles, regardless of my physical condition.  My current pace projected out to six hours for the loop.  I would come in around 400am.  With stops for rest after each loop I would require another eighteen hours to earn the buckle.  From four o'clock I would have only fourteen hours till the cut off.  I might successfully beg for an extra hour... or two.  But four or more hours would be unreasonable.
  • This loop would give me one hundred kilometers for the weekend.  Roughly sixty-three miles.  No further loops would mean anything in the context of recognition by the race organizers.
  • I was freezing.  The forecast called for clearing skies by dawn, which would certainly warm me up, but the drop in temperature only made the joint pain worse.
A decision had to be made and lived with.  It actually was pretty rational in the end.  One can say I quit at Mile 57.  I simply had to walk another six miles through swampy and hilly trails to tell someone.

Being rational did not make the final few hours any easier.  In fact it became more difficult.  I just wanted out. I was ready to be done.  But I still wanted to go so much further.  Slowly I picked my way through the final single track.  While still on the gravel road I turned around thinking I had missed the turn in the darkness.  Fatigue did set in over the final hour.  I was peeing constantly.  It was the only thing keeping me awake really.

I began to make my way through that last swamp.  The downgrades hurt.  The water was cold.  The idea of stopping did not feel any better.  Then I stood at the base of the final climb.  Up and over and I would be done.  I remembered the second time I passed this way on Saturday morning.

I was with another runner, another ultra virgin.  He was largely unsupported except for one buddy at camp.  He said his friend might pace him for one loop but wasn't sure.  He had run one marathon I think and was underdressed for the day, but was willing to go as long as possible.  He even admitted he wasn't sure what to expect.  

Here's a secret, even the veterans sometimes have no clue what to expect.

I don't recall his name, so I am clueless as to how he finished.  I really hope he got that buckle, although I don't think so.  At any rate, on that second loop he was lagging behind as I neared the crest of the final hill.  As soon as I saw that camp I called back that we were back and raced in.  I never saw him again.

The climb now was extremely rough.  Aside from the knee I knew this was the end.  I still had yet to accept the finality of it all.  Still fitting the puzzle pieces together in my head.  That would take the rest of Sunday to sort out.  All I could think about was the pain of quitting.  Giving up.  Killing the dream of having the buckle handed to me.  Instead that fucking Lumberjack was handing me my ass.  On a plank.  Full of splinters.  Damn you Lumberjack.  There is no humor in these words.

When I finally crested that hill, maybe no more than a tenth of a mile away from the camp, I broke down again.  The spasmodic waves of emotion washed over me.  There were fits of fear, anxiety, terror, shame, self-loathing...  Whatever you can think of to cripple the mind at a moment like that, I experienced it.  The seconds passed by like hours to get back in camp.  I pulled off my red blinker light.  I heard Jodi call out in the stillness that she may have seen me.  So I turned off my headlamp.  I needed these last few minutes alone.

Finally I straighten up, held my head high, or as high as possible, and dragged my ass to the finish line.

As I approached the timer's table I called out:

Bib #1852...

Fifth loop completed for one hundred kilometers...

I'm done...




Previous installments - Chapter One/Arrival & Departure
                                     Chapter Two/Chasing the Lumberjack

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! - Chapter Two/Chasing the Lumberjack


We looked so happy.  And clueless... as to what the Lumberjack would throw at us. 


About to put the VFFs on.  Almost time "to work".

Loop One:  The pack of runners started out steady and strong.  A few brought dogs, thankfully on leash.  A steady rain fell but I was not too cold yet, except for my feet.  I was wearing my VFF Treksports with Injinji toe socks.  One of the organizers said not to expect to keep our feet dry.  Truer words were never spoken.

As I said in the previous post the course was a mix of gravel jeep roads and woodland single track.  There were a few spots of running water across the jeep roads, but nothing major.  The single track was a different story.  Some of it was packed and firm.  


There is a trail in there.  I swear.  But I did miss this turn by a few steps twice.

Turns were marked with reflective arrows on paper plates and pink ribbon.  Overnight glow sticks were placed around the course.


Other areas were slick and muddy and hazardous.  Then there was a whole other kind of crap.  Some portions of the trails were truly epic in the shittiness present.


This picture does not show the little up-down-up again here.  Not very big but it sucked big time later.


Sometimes the trail forked off in a different direction.  Runners had to watch for arrows and "NO!" spray painted along the single track.



This little downhill chute was the subject fierce cussing on two separate occasions later in the race.  The first time through the pack I ran with went down pretty quickly....


Till we hit this hard right turn.  A couple of people nearly ran into the tree and turn marker due to the slick surface.  No traction to make sharp cuts.  I am surprised I did not fall but three or four times.

I flew through this loop.  I expected to finish in 90 minutes but I backed off that goal when I realized how tough the course was.  The first mile featured a lot of climbing (and sliding).  We picked our way through mud pits and searched vainly for solid footing.  There were bottlenecks and moments spent waiting for fallen runners to regain footing.

Including the start/finish area there were two other aid stations at mile 5 and mile 8.5.  Local volunteers worked the tents and also asked if I needed anything.  Sometimes a smile and "looking good" were plenty.  From the pictures you may have noticed I did wear a kilt.  It is slightly small due to a measuring error (waist measurement you twisted people) and was a bit snug.  I brought the kilt anyway because I ordered it for this race.  So glad I did.  During the course of the weekend I became recognizable for the Vibrams and the kilt.  Debbie and Jodi were able to keep tabs on me at the aid stations because of my attire.

The one aspect of trail running I vastly prefer to road racing is the camaraderie with other competitors.  If the runner ahead of me sensed I was stronger they moved aside at the first opportunity and let me by.  This may have been more to keep me from accidentally kicking their heels or mowing them down, but I appreciated it.  And as I shared the trail with a group of other runners we took turns leading or trailing.  The opportunity to speak with others on the run was awesome.  Hearing about other races was cool.  One thing I realized was that for some runners these races are a reunion of sorts.  A place to catch up and rehash life since the last race. I was told to shut up once in a 10k road race.  With the distance at an ultra and the emphasis on conserving energy the chance to learn or share running info was welcome.


Braveheart assholes!

I finished the first loop in two hours and fifteen minutes.  Not too shabby.  Our crew person, Teri, was waiting to set me up for the next loop.  I sat on my ass and texted/tweeted while she filled my hip bag (some bastards would call it a "fanny pack") with food and reloaded my handhelds with banana Nuun.  All the trail photos were taken on the second loop.

Loop Two:  At this point my confidence is VERY high.  Almost chronicly high.  I knew I would slow down, in fact I needed to slow down.  There was a fairly large amount of level grade or gentle slope on the gravel jeep roads.  I could run most of the course but forced myself to walk the up-hills.  The prize is finishing.  The belt buckle would not be extra shiny for a fast time.

Late in the run I stumbled and turned my knee a bit.  Nothing major, but I did have some concern on returning to the campsite.  I took another breather while Teri reloaded me with food and banana Nuun.  Thus far I had eaten peanut butter and honey sandwiches and Clif bars.

The second loop was completed in two hours and thirty minutes.  Total elapsed time was five hours and five minutes.  I started my third loop after one o'clock.

Loop Three:  OH SHIT!  The knee discomfort I came into the camp with was full blown knee pain on the way out.  It shot through the joint behind the knee cap.  The upper calf had a lot of pain across the muscle.  When I tried to run the pain stopped me cold.  Walking was now my plan.  Fortunately other runners would stop and walk with me for a few minutes.  Many reassured me that sometimes pain is temporary.  I may be able to walk through it.  Just stay calm and patient and maybe things with improve.

The real pain came during downhill movement.  Flats and uphills were fine.  But any downhills were murder.  I tried to breathe through the pain.  At one point I told myself "the pain was in my imagination.  My determination was greater than my imagination.  My determination would carry me to the buckle."  

My determination is greater than my imagination.

One thing that helped during this loop was my iPod.  I finally turned it on.  The old Nano would only have ten to fifteen hours of battery life but I counted on the distraction of music for my knee.  Did not work completely but it was good to get out of my head for a while.  The first real emotional break of the day came with the second song.  I threw a bunch of music into a playlist specifically for this race.  After starting with Heart of a Lion by Kid Cudi the shuffle kicked in So Hard by the Dixie Chicks.


This trend seems to carry on for several songs, which I cannot remember at present.  All the songs in that first half-hour seemed to speak directly to the moment and address the thoughts and emotions I expected to have that day.  So the tears I battled were emotional.  They were happy.  They were uplifting.  And the tears were gone almost as soon as they began.  The task of covering 12.5 miles as quickly as I could walk them was all I had to occupy myself, for as long as it took.

Three hours and thirty minutes later I was back in camp.  The next loop would conclude after sunset so I prepped for cooler temperatures.  I put the tights back on and changed my shoes and socks.




Damn dirty feet.

Let me plug Vibrams for a minute.  For the first three loops my feet were cold.  Then change in shoes and socks was merely for the sake of checking for blisters and chaffing.  I did not care to putting that muddy crap back on to I opted for the second pair of VFFs - brown Treks, and a set of gaiters purchased specifically for the race.  Let me just say - OMFG!!!  While the Treksports has a fairly open mesh upper, the kangaroo leather of the Treks kept a good about of water, mud and cold off my feet.  The gaiters helped tremendously as well.  The mudholes that left my chilled and wet now were merely a hindrance to time.  Only once over the final two loops were my feet cold due to the course conditions.  So glad I went with that set up later in the run.

I texted and tweeted some more while in camp.  I called home and said good night to my daughters.  I let Andria know everything was going OK.  After my food and bottles were ready I headed back out.

Loop Four:  Sweet reprieve!  The pain was gone.  Teri put some kineseo tape on my knee and I rubbed some of her horse liniment on the calf.  For this loop everything seems to quiet down.  I managed to run a few stretches.  However I recognized that this respite could be short lived so I chose to speed walk and keep any running to a minimum.

Since the course mileage is not marked on the trail I struggled to determine were I was on the course regarding my pacing.  During the first three loops I averaged one hour to the first aid station.  This was one bonus of the looped course.  Remembering the turns and crossings became vital.  By the second loop I figured out where the mid-point of the course was and felt that I was becoming comfortable with the terrain.

Because I felt better my spirits were very high.  I was resigned to walking the rest of the way.  Night fell and I only saw a handful of runners outside of the aid stations.  Got very lonely out there.  

I finished this loop in three hours and thirty minutes.  Not sure why it took as long as the last loop since I felt so good, but I decided not to obsess over it and let the miles come to me.  Because of the hour and darkness I felt it best to warm myself by the fire and chill for a while.  I was half way to the goal of one hundred miles and feeling good overall.  

Jodi suffered a pretty nasty fall and stayed in camp to rest.  Teri stepped up to keep Debbie motivated and moving.  She said Debbie and Teri should be close and that I could wait and roll back out with them once they were ready for their next loop.

Turns out that I spent an hour in camp.  I got to talking with a volunteer pacer for a little while.  He ran nine 100s last year.  Color me impressed - in permanent ink. (by the way, Debbie was taking suggestions off Twitter during the ride up on Friday for what to write on my head should I pass out during the run.)  He asked why I was waiting.  He said to get my ass back on the course ASAP.  During his times running ultras the best thing he learned above all other lessons is THE AID STATIONS ARE POISON!  Get out now.  Sitting around only makes it harder to restart the engine.  At the same time Jodi received another text that Debbie and Teri were three miles out.  At least another hour away.  Time to go.

As I prepared my gear for the fifth loop I spoke briefly with folks at the campfire.  The last words I said as I stepped into the darkness were "see ya in three hours".  I have never been more wrong.


Previous installment - Chapter One - Departure & Arrival

I Am an Ultrarunner! - Cherry on the Sundae

I had been planning my trip to Portland, OR for nearly two months when I was led to a podcast entitled 3 Non Joggers.  It is three guys in a basement, two of which run but do not jog and a mailman that neither runs nor jogs but calls running "jogging" hence 3NonJoggers.  

Russ McGarry hosts the show in his basement (I've been sworn not to reveal the secret location, but I'll hint that bums and hobos roam freely nearby...).  The guys graciously allowed me to sit in as an "audience of one" and welcomed me as a fourth non jogger.  It was a great evening and left the basement wishing I could come back next week.  

Download the show (episode #28) or click the above link for my podcasting debut.  Be warned... the show is full of witty banter and non running talk.  But the actual non jogging talk is awesome.  The primary focus of the show, beyond the dick-and-fart jokes, is ultrarunning.

Here is my photo journal of the evening.


Where the magic happens - Russ' basement.


My little perch in the back.  Ya know water opens the scotch up.


Gary the Vale's damn headphone packaging is still on the frigging Box Bros box.  Dammit Gary!


Russ and Gary discussing Gary's failed "trail gamble".


Carl the Mailman, show producer and documentarian.


Tonight's guest is Todd Janssen, race director for the Hagg Lake ultra races and the Mt. Hood 50 Miler.


The show rundown.  "The UnaRunner turns the guys into trail snacks" is noticeably absent.
  

(L - R) Russ, Carl the Mailman, me, Gary the Vale

Dudes dig me!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! - Chapter One/Departure & Arrival

Yes.  Yes I am.

If I ended this post with that statement I would disappoint a great many of you.  Truthfully I sum up the weekend with the title of this post and be satisfied.  Like after Thanksgiving dinner.  But there is a story to tell.  I have been overwhelmed by how many of you have come along for the ride, even those of you who ran in Boston on Monday.  Even in my darkest moment my thoughts to many of you individually.  Thank you for running with me in spirit.

*WARNING* This will be a detailed report.  Everything will be included. *WARNING*

Thursday morning the family broke habit and stopped for breakfast on the way school - me, Andria and the kids.  I really wanted to spend a moment with them before heading off on my adventure.  It was nice seeing them off to school with Andria for a change.  The trip to Charleston was uneventful, save for the stop for a sandwich for hitting the airport.  That morning I received a tee shirt via FedEx and immediately put it on.  When we walked in the restaurant I caught a dude in a silent chuckle and remembered the shirt.  It became the mantra for the weekend.


It was a long haul to Portland via Houston, TX.  One highlight was meeting a guy on the flight to Houston that once met Dean Karnazes and his parents at an event.  Finally limited into the hotel at 1am PT.  That would be 4am for my East Coast body clock.

Friday was a whirlwind.  Debbie texted a time and location to meet up for the ride to Port Gamble.  I had time to kill and set out to acquaint myself with Portland.  Voodoo Doughnuts - yes, the "magic" is in the hole.  Hobos - hat is sadder than a homeless dog?  Not a stray dog, but rather a dog belonging to a homeless person.  Seems so much more disheartening.  Rain - lots of rain.  

Debbie found me at the Washington Park station and off we went to Trader Joe's for last minute provisions.  Then back to Washington Park for a 4 mile hike on muddy trails (with only one pair of jeans I wore that mud home to South Carolina).  From there Debbie's husband joined us for the ride out to Terri's house.  Terri agreed (for no other apparent reason than her love for Debbie) to drive Debbie, Jodi and myself to Port Gamble and work as our crew and backup pacer.  Debbie and I both planned to go the full 100 miles, Jodi jumped up to the 100mi only three days prior to leaving for the race.

Due to Friday afternoon traffic we left Portland 90 minutes late.  Terri's sweet new car was already on its way to being trashed.  And it was overstuffed.  Debbie and I shared the backseat.  However we could only see each other if we leaned into the front headrests.  Overstuffed.

Jodi reserved a hotel room (villas were not available. something about a tiger or cougar) and we settled in after a quick stop for sushi and a beer.

Saturday morning we were awake early and hit the Twitter pretty quickly.  We were at most 15 minutes away and quickly set out.  Camp still had to be set up.


Start/finish area.  Vrrrry wet.


Yes, a bear does shit in the woods.  Unless it wanders into camp.


Found high ground on the moor.  Surrounded by swamp on all sides.


The hill which runners approach the finish line is behind the truck at the right.


The finish line.

After setting up the camp, with the help of Dre, Debbie's Canadian friend, we ambled to camp HQ for pre-race instructions.  Fifty-five runners were there for 50mi, 100k or 100mi.  Race rules allowed entrants to drop back to a shorter distance if necessary (foreshadowing).  At eight o'clock the starter lady shouted something and we were off.

The course is a 12.5 mile loop.  It is a combination of gravel service road and single track trail.  Port Gamble in on the Puget Sound west of Seattle, WA.  And it was all wet. Rain had fallen for two weeks solidly.  Slop awaited us.






Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rationalizing an irrational fear

I have a confession.  It will seem silly to many of you.  Some may understand.  Others may give me a puzzled look and say "Logan, with the fuck are you talking about?"  But it is me and what I have to deal with.

I have a fear of being awesome.  If I'm awesome then I have no excuses.  I am out of reasons for accepting failure.

When working in Columbia, SC years ago I was a supervisor.  We hired a guy, Gary, to work with me installing windows & doors in new construction housing.  He was in a halfway house for alcohol abuse and treatment.  Nice guy, real country, issues with the bottle.  His drivers license had been revoked so I picked him up & dropped him off at his place everyday.  Even took him to see his probation officer (for the DUI).

So after several months my boss & I were discussing staffing issues and talked about Gary and floated the idea of giving him more responsibility.  But he would need a DL.  Gary said there was a course required to get his DL reinstated.  My boss offered to pay for it.  Huge mistake.

Gary rarely missed worked.  Always had a valid reason or called if he missed work.  The day we offered help getting his DL back was the last time I ever saw him.

That night he stole a roommate's car.  Drove eighty miles one way across the state.  Came back through town then drove one hundred miles north of town to his hometown.  When he was caught and the car recovered Gary was drunk, swimming in a pond with a lady.

All of this violated his probation.  He returned to jail.  After being released a few months later he did call to apologize.  I didn't care.  My attitude was fuck him.  I needed Gary.  He shit on me.

Then I realized some time later we put to much pressure on him.  We exposed him to possibilities he was not ready to embrace.  So he sabotaged himself.  He was not ready for awesome.  I may not have put him in that stolen car or put the bottle to his lips, but I forced him out of a comfort zone.

I live the same pattern.  Without the jail visit of course.

I have found that running comes easily for me.  I've had to work for it.  It's not always easy in the moment, but over the long haul it gives back so much more then I could ever believe.

The fear is outside of running.  Real life.  Work.  Relationships.  Running one hundred scares me.  Not for the physical pain I am sure to experience.  I think I can handle the pain if I take breaks and talk myself through it.  What scares me will come after the run.  If I come through this weekend on my feet and complete the 100 I will have outrun my excuses.  Nothing will be in my way.  No more obstacles to being what I should be.

Excuses can be comforting.  We all use excuses.  I guess hitting this ultra, at this time, is my subconscious decision to deal with my reliance on excuses.

I had a curious moment last night.  Yesterday was full of anxiety.  Fear.  Dread.  Then a little thing did not happen that was a bigger deal than it should have been.  Very quickly I stepped up and resolved it.  And I had a moment of clarity.  Rather than being fearful of the pain and time and whatever else scares me about running one hundred miles I realized I am in control of my self.  I only have me to rely on (not totally, I will be part of a group - but you know what I mean).

I have to decide to drop the warm blanket of excuse.  I have to decide to be awesome.  I have to accept whatever consequences accompany that decision.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Doubt; On Climbing My Own Private Everest

Doubt is the great leveler.  Let doubt creep in and suddenly the probably becomes impossible.

Doubt crept in yesterday.  The door was left ajar by the exhaustion of the weekend.  And the excitement of doing things I had not tried previously.  And for milestones on the calendar.  One week from today I'll be in my post-ultra life.

A few months ago I bought an arm load of books to pass the time while not running.  I also am interested in writing styles.  Quite be accident I picked up two books - Into Thin Air and The Kid Who Climbed Everest - about expeditions to the "roof of the world".  Could not have been a more fitting way to build up to the Lumberjack Endurance Run.

Bear Grylls, on speaking of the South Col, the last camp before any push to Everest's summit, says that no amount of money or technology can get one to that point.  Above 26,000 feet helicopters are useless.  There are no roads so wheeled vehicles are not a consideration.  And while one needs the proper equipment to make the bid, supplemental oxygen, crampons, ice axes and the like do nothing without the will to use them.

The same goes for this coming weekend.  One could get in the car and drive one hundred miles.  But no one is handing out belt buckles for that.  Covering ground on foot by running or walking (or crawling) is the only way to achieve this goal.

This week is about battling the doubt.  I plan to run some, so I don't forget how.  Most of my packing is done.  I have to stay in the present some with the family and real life still in play - kids, school, dance.  Come Thursday and everything changes.

Thank you to everyone that has offered encouragement and support.  I appreciate your faith in my abilities.  My anxiety comes for not being able to fully express everything in my head and heart.  Sometimes I feel that because I cannot find words to flesh out these feelings I would if they are real or valid.  Non-runners don't get it.  Even short and middle distance runners look at me as if I am some sort of freak.  Experienced marathoners have questioned my sanity (I have done this as well).

My ultimate goal is not the belt buckle.  What I need to know is that when I have nothing left to give, and lay shattered and broken, I can find enough "something" keep moving.  It is either in me or not.  I have it at this moment or I don't.  There is no need to put it on the packing list for its not something I can simply forget at home on the coffee table.

I just hope I find it.  And have the fortitude to use it when I do.

You may ask "why run 100 miles?" if it is this debilitating emotional, not to mention physically.  Because I can't find what I seek in a book.  It's not on television or online.  This level of discovery is not available to me on a therapist's couch.  5k, 10k and marathons are not long enough to tear down and rebuild my spirit.

My spirit is in need of renovation.

This is why I run.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! Almost. Maybe. Part 14

Don't confuse safe with smart.

I have always played it safe.  Never smart.  That's why ultra running could be a could fit for me.  What is smart about running 50mi, 100mi, beyond 100mi?  Nothing.  Playing it safe in training, with hydration & fueling and walk breaks - that's where the smart comes in.

Your confidence in me is appreciated.

Your concern for me is warranted.

Your hopes and prayers for me are received.

As a dude said this week, all that's left to do is to 'not quit'.  He quit at the Barkley Marathons last week.  He knows when and why to quit.  But he's finished more often than he's failed (if quitting equals failure) so this dude is a trusted resource on the subject.

Based on my track record through life finishing the 100 should be easier than the not-quitting.  There is a difference.  Think about it.

Quitting is natural for me.  Not quitting is new.  At some point quitting may be smart.  Hell, it may be safe.  And it may be necessary.  One point to remember is that each step puts me closer to 'not quitting'.

***

Epilogue is Prologue - for all intents and purposes training is done.  It may not have gone the way I hoped.  I did only give myself eight weeks to prepare, but I have been running consistently at 60-70mi per week since July.  Some things did not get done, but no sense is crying about it.  The base is there.  Nothing to add to the mix this coming week but rest and organization and travel.

From Thursday afternoon through Tuesday night I will be on fumes.  The timezone change will assuredly mess with my mind as well as my body.  This is the first time I shall ever be west of the Rockies.  That alone will take a lot out of me.  Not to mention the whole 'running for hours and hours' thing.

Fortunately for some of you (wink nudge) I'll have limited internet access due mainly to available battery power on my mobile phone.  I do hope to communicate with any and all of you while on this great adventure.  I have dragged y'all along with me and see no reason to stop now.

Later next week I'll post my plan for udpating my progress during the Lumberjack.  It is a simple affair.  No fancy online tracking.  So if you care you will be able to follow my progress.  If not...  Why are you still reading this stupid shit if you don't care?  That's just dumb.

 - Logan


PS, There are times when people come into your life to bring new ideas or viewpoints for one to consider.  Whether to open up new possibilities or simply reflections of one's self.  Several of those persons have come into my life in the last year, each armed with great faith that I am capable of so much more than I ever would have given myself credit for.  To each of you I give thanks.  After LJ I promise to thank you directly and personally.

In preparing for my last marathon I created a dedication list with each mile given in thought to a single person or group of people that held a special place in creating "me".  Even now I realize I left some very important people off that last.  However, as I wind down my preparations for the Lumberjack there will be no list.  No miles or loops in dedication to others.  This run is about me, for me.  I will still think about all the people who have helped me reach this point in my running life.  I simple know that to finish this distance I have to run each step for me alone.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It Is a Matter of Trust

I do not like you.

As I get to know you more I like you less.

I wonder about this quite often.  The thought does not consume me, but it does push other more interesting thoughts aside from time to time.

Maybe its your boastfulness.  The way you make grand proclamations about things which you know very little.  The way you ridicule things that you care not to understand.  Shouting does not make you the victor in an argument, it only makes me less willing to even speak with you.

As I spend more time around you I realize you are a sad, lonely, incomplete little person.  Your personality is one massive defense mechanism for all the things you are not.  Unfortunately it seems you wear blinders.  And earmuffs.  If I heard myself say and saw myself do the things you do I would be mortified (more so than I am already) at how you could be so clueless.

Part of it is that your words and deeds do not match.  Hell, your words today do not match yesterday's words, or last year's.  But the deeds are always the same - empty and meaningless.

I for one am tired of holding back.  I will no longer seek your approval for it does nothing for me.  You only matter in the space that I allow you to matter.

In considering the situation, I walked right into the word that sums this up.  

Trust.

I realized I do not trust you.  I cannot trust you.  To place trust in your is a grave error in judgment on my part.  Placing trust in you jeopardizes everything I am building.  I am not the man I should be because of it.

Of course this is not your fault.  You are what you are.  The blame for the situation rests squarely on my shoulders.  I gave trust.  My fault.  My mistake.  My bad.

Someone asked "why now?"  Why not wait till I am more prepared, better equipped?

Because waiting does nothing to ensure I shall every be ready.  I have waited far too long.  Waiting is what I do best.  I can "wait" better than most people I know.  Wait and Procrastination are "kissing cousins".  But waiting is getting me nowhere.

Be not afraid of moving slowly, only of standing still - Chinese proverb

So I am forging ahead with my plan.  With any luck I shall make my way home with a new course of action and a clearly marked path to becoming the person I need to be.  The person I want to be.  The person others see in me.

I do not like you because I do not trust you.  

Before I can ever trust you I must learn to trust myself.  This is why I run.  To trust that I can.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! Almost. Maybe. Part 5

The long-lost, out-of-order, going-to-be-serious, but-not-so-much-anymore ultra runner blog post.

Speed or distance?

This is the question that plagues me today.  It is the question that drives me.  To answer this question is to chart a  course of my running life.

Do I run fast as hell and burn a path down the road?

Do I run as far as possible and race the sun/moon across the skies?

As I write/think about this I like the idea of timing my runs by the movement of celestial bodies, rather than an LED screen.

Look to the night sky and find Orion.  He is my guardian.

 - Logan

Friday, April 1, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! Almost. Maybe. Part 13

Knowing when to say "enough".

While at dinner last night after viewing My Run, the conversation turned to racing and my upcoming foray into ultra marathons.  A friend asked "when is enough going to be enough?"  At first I thought she was referring to the long-term view of racing.  How many future ultras?  Actually the question was more about the immediate.  At what point during the hundred miles would I know it was time to stop?  What are the signs telling me to get off my feet before I'm on my back?


Of course my wife was a party to this conversation.  We returned to the topic on the way home.  She is afraid I will kill myself in pursuit of this goal.  I discussed my eating plan.  I discussed my hydration plan.  The course layout will never have me more than two miles from an aid station.*  If my handhelds go dry I won't have far to go for a refill.  And the run is outside Seattle so chances are it will be raining.  Like manna from heaven.

All the advice I have been given says that the challenge is all mental.  My body will ache.  The pain is unavoidable.  I will hurt of a long time.  The trick will be in pushing the pain aside and continuing to move forward, whether I run, shuffle, walk or crawl.

So I come back to the question of when I will know if I am "finished" before the finish.  It may be a physical breakdown.  The moment could come from a mental lapse.  I hope the wall does not collapse on me, but I have to accept that the wall begins to crumble from the very first step I take.  So the true race is not to the finish line and the belt buckle trophy.  Rather the true race is time and distance against my body and endurance.

I will not pick a number and predict "I shall be satisfied if...."  It will be very in-the-moment.  I believe I will know when I know.  My hope is that the knowing will come after the finishing.  After the eighth and final loop.

 - Logan

*Twelve mile loop with aid at the Start/Finish, Mile 4 and Mile 8.