Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

In Defense of Nice Things

I originally titled this post “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and then saved it in my drafts folder so I could return to it when I was ready to document my thoughts. However, the more I thought, the more my approach to the topic changed. I began to consider the realities of “nice things” and this topic in general, and I now find myself convinced that the reality is a far cry from the popular headlines. You’re no doubt wondering what “topic” I’m referring to, however, so I should probably back up.

Such natural beauty!

Such natural beauty!

This post was sparked by recent reports that Grand Canyon officials would be reconsidering access policies to the national park when they release an updated back country management plan this fall to deal with overcrowding issues. Now, I’ve had a R2R2R run on my running bucket list for quite a while, and love reading reports from other ultra runners who have made the journey. I’ve spent time obsessing over routes, tips, gear suggestions, and timeline recommendations. I’m pretty sure I could attempt the run tomorrow if I actually had the time and money to get to the Grand Canyon tomorrow! Thus, this news obviously made me perk up and pay closer attention to the discussion.

It sounds like the number of hikers and runners descending on the national park has been steadily increasing, and the current infrastructure just can’t handle the numbers. This is not surprising since most of the structures were built over 100 years ago. The park rangers are hearing more complaints about the increasing numbers, and are being forced to address problems resulting from visitors who aren’t adequately prepared and suffer any number of ailments or predicaments as a result. There has also been an increase in trash left around the park, which also creates more work for rangers and other park staff. These problems are no doubt exemplified by various problematic scenarios involving large groups of unprepared visitors that visit the Grand Canyon as a park of tour packages.

Plenty of land to explore.

Plenty of land to explore.

Now, it goes without saying that poorly prepared, inconsiderate, or otherwise destructive visitors should not be acceptable, regardless of their intent. However, let me bring to the forefront a few points worth mentioning.

1. The line between “runner” and “hiker” is clearly very murky, so it’s hard to say you are running, fast-packing, or hiking in the park.

2. There will always be outliers. There will always be sensationalized stories of situations involving individuals who do not represent the majority of participants in any given activity. Runners are all too familiar with the random rude folks in an otherwise open, caring and supportive community.

3. Attempting a R2R2R run doesn’t just happen. Even the most experienced trail and ultra-runners take time to plan out details, just like they would for any other race.

4. If you are attempting a R2R2R run, chances are you’ve run a few ultra and trail events before! I’d venture to guess that very rarely does a recreational runner just wake up one day and decide that want to traverse the Grand Canyon twice, over 42 miles.

5. Trail and ultra-running is built-in part on the principle of “leave no trace”. The same is true of committed hikers and fast-packers. We know how important it is to be good stewards of the land we have the privilege of exploring on foot, and we want to keep it as pristine and beautiful as the moment we ran through it. (if you are rolling your eyes or shaking your head in any way, please see #2)

Recently, however, it seems that there has been a particular “backlash” against runners (broadly defined). Articles are popping up everywhere complaining about behavior or generalized (read: stereotyped) personality traits that happen to describe some runners. I’m really not sure what is motivating people to decide runners are worthy of their scorn and the time to chastise, especially considering all of the other complete stupidity that exists around the world on a daily basis. I could suggest that there is an element of self-loathing involved, linked to the obesity epidemic that our country is currently experiencing, but I’d probably get chastised for that. Thus, I’ll refrain.

I should add that the Grand Canyon is just the next in a line of national parks that are limiting access to runners and others. I followed the Badwater 135 very closely this past week and was amazed by the endurance and athleticism of everyone who toed the line this year (side note: I WILL toe that line some day). This year’s race was especially interesting because the course was altered due to the moratorium placed on special event permits by Death Valley National Park’s new superintendent. There was quite a stir when the announcement was made, and the race director has taken everything in stride and should be commended for his continued service to the running community! The race went off beautifully, but the new route has certainly changed the history of the race.

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

All of this is to say that I completely understand and support the movement to protect our natural resources and update national park policies to reflect changing trends in community behavior. Many of our natural resources are dwindling and our national parks, along with the wildlife and plant-life, are constantly being threatened. Not only do many of the shelters and other facilities located at many of our parks need to be updated, but people visiting these areas need to take the time to educate themselves on proper etiquette and behavior so we can maintain the beauty that defines these spaces. Limiting access and eliminating events may ultimately prove necessary for the continued preservation of these spaces. However, for the time being, I would hope that committed and passionate runners would not be excluded from the experiences one can only have in these spaces. We are a considerate, responsible, and thoughtful bunch. Embarking on these various experiences is simply the final step in a series of unique and personal commitments. As runners, we understand the responsibility to be stewards of the land, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Every time we hit the trail, clear a path, and explore the natural beauty around us, we prove that we do deserve these nice things. We truly appreciate them.

Race Report: 2014 Midnight Madness 15K

I’m rather convinced that Mother Nature is really cranky with Iowa this year. There’s really no other way to explain the horribly cold, windy, and long winter, which has been followed by a ridiculously rainy, windy, and hot spring/summer. Ok, so perhaps global warming might have something to do with it…you know, if you believe in that sort of thing. Personally, I think I’ll stick with Mother Nature. Whatever the cause, I’ve done my best to adjust my running to meet the whims of the weather. This past weekend was yet another exercise in weather patience and flexibility, with a few races thrown in to keep things interesting!

As I’ve mentioned previously, Midnight Madness was my first 5K race and thus holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve run it every year since I started running, and I continued the tradition again this year, along with the 10K race afterwards. However, don’t let me get ahead of myself. First, I need to back up and begin in the morning. I had a long training run planned for the morning, and I was intent on completing it regardless of the evening race. When my alarm when off at 4AM, I was already half-awake because of the thunderstorm that was currently occupying the area. Now, I love to run in the rain as much as the next person, but I’m not so much a fan of dodging lightning bolts. In light of Adam Campbell’s lightning encounter at the Hardrock 100 this past weekend, I’m glad I decided to reset my alarm! I woke up again around 6, the rain had moved on, and I was out the door by 6:30 to meet the group at 7AM for our weekly Saturday long run. I was able to get in a solid 10 miles with everyone, and it was a great start to the weekend as always. I waved goodbye to everyone and continued on for the additional miles I needed. It was a smooth, uneventful morning run, even if I did get a bit of a later start than I had planned. I still managed a solid 27 miles, and was back before noon for a late lunch and the all important coffee boost.

Kilian Jornet- 2014 Hardrock 100 Men's Winner- 22:41- AMAZING! (Photo Credit: irunfar.com)

Kilian Jornet- 2014 Hardrock 100 Men’s Winner- 22:41- AMAZING! (Photo Credit: irunfar.com)

I had enough time to relax for a bit, and then the epicurean and I headed down to packet pick-up to volunteer for a few hours. The best part about local races is that you are a part of the community,  and they become as much social gatherings as events. We had a blast welcoming other runners to Ames, talking with friends about their goals for the evening, and making plans to get together after the race for the block party to follow. It was also great to see so many first-time runners and be able to explain how things worked and share in their excitement as they prepared for their first 5K. In some ways, volunteering made me wish I could work full-time organizing races and talking to other runners about strategy, goals, and gear. I’d say that sounds like a great way to spend my days, wouldn’t you?

We headed back after our shift ended, caught most of the Brazil/Netherlands game, and made a quick dinner. The epicurean decided to bring Looper down to spectate along with some of our other friends, so we walked down a bit early so they could take up their position along the course. I made my way over to the starting area prior to the 5K start at 7:30, and mingled about with everyone. I was so busy talking, even after we lined up, that I almost didn’t realize the race had started until the gun went off and surprised me. I took off with no expectations after my long morning run, much like last year, but knew I’d still push myself and see what I had in the tank. There’s just something about being surrounded by other runners that never gets old and never ceases to make me go faster and push harder than I intended. I hit the first mile in 7:01, and was feeling pretty good but I knew I couldn’t hang onto that pace, as much as I wanted to try. After the first mile, I stopped looking at my watch all together and just let myself run and enjoy the rush. I had a huge grin on my face and couldn’t have been happier. Sure, my legs were a bit sore and I was breathing hard, but the more adrenaline I have pumping through my body, the more alive I feel.

 

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

I crossed the finish line in 22:58 (7:23 average), which was good enough for 16th (out of 56) in age group. I’ve certainly run faster in unofficial 5K distances, but this was, ironically enough, still a PR for me :) One of the best things about increased endurance is a faster recovery, and I was breathing normally within minutes and enjoying welcoming in other friends and chatting about the race. After a bit, I headed back towards the starting line to get ready for the 10, which was set to start at 8:30. I had plenty of time to relax and hang out, and had already told myself I was going to take it easy for these last 6.2 miles. As in most cases, this was easier said than done.

When the gun went off for the 10K, I actually managed to hold myself back this time and went out at a relaxing pace. After the first mile, I picked things up a bit but was still very conscious about not pushing too hard. My legs actually felt much better when they were moving anyway, so it made the race that much more enjoyable. I found other runners to chat with along the way, and soaked in the environment once again. The route for both races is the same every year, with the 10K simply completing the 5K course twice. In the middle of the route is a small hill, however, that always seems to get bigger each time you run up in (in either direction). This was definitely the case each of the 6 times I ran up during the two races, but I was always able to find plenty of energy in a large group of friends waiting at the top to cheer everyone one. Looper was definitely a bit overwhelmed by all of the noise at the top of the hill, but she hung in there like a trooper and it was a great opportunity for socialization for her. Slowly but surely, we’ll make her a city dog!

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

I crested the hill for the final time and rounded one final corner for the finish line. I had a bit of a kick left so I let it go and it felt good to stride out at the end. I crossed the finish line in 53:06 (8:33 average), which was again not my fastest time by far, but still a great end to the running events of the day. I was rather pleased with the 36 miles I had logged for the day. We made our way home to drop off Looper, and then the epicurean and I headed back down to the block party. For some reason, free beer always tastes better after a race, no matter the quality. Spending the evening with great friends and making new memories doesn’t hurt, either. Ok, now that I’ve got my story down, I think I’ll go for a run. It’s a beautiful, breezy 70 degree day in Iowa today :) Go figure!

On Highs, Lows, and Pushing Through…

This past weekend, I was left with multiple occasions to reflect on a spectrum of running-related emotions and thoughts as I pounded out the miles. I may have just found myself in the midst of a microcosm of an entire training cycle, all in the span of 72 hours, and it reminded me of just how much I love lacing up my shoes on any given day.

Endurance- running-quote3

I never stopped being committed to my training, but there is something about pulling the trigger on your A race (The Mark Twain 100) that re-invigorates you and re-commits you to staying true to what you know you are capable of with hard work, dedication, and determination. I had stuck to my training plan throughout the week, and even squeezed in some unexpected speed work after the USMST defeat at the hands of Germany. I was in a good place heading into the weekend, and was looking forward to a long run to kick off my Saturday.

Friday is normally one of my built-in rest days, and I woke up content to do just that. However, around 11AM, I began to get that itch you feel when you really want to just get out and move. I fought the urge momentarily, but then gave in to my instincts and laced up my shoes. I ventured out a relatively relaxing 7-mile run that left me with plenty of opportunities to reflect on the week, prepare for a busy weekend, and enjoy the sunshine and warm (albeit humid) weather. HIGH.

Endurance- AT

After I returned, I was feeling even more jazzed about my long run the next day, and I portioned out my nutrition needs and set out my clothes and gear so the early morning would be a bit easier. The epicurean’s mom has been visiting this week, and we all had a delightful dinner, and curled up in the evening to watch American Hustle, which was much better than I expected. I was in bed at a decent hour, and running through the next day in my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

I set my alarm for 5AM, so that I could meet a friend for some early miles at 6AM, before meeting the rest of the group. I slowly rolled out of bed, checked the time, discovered it was 5:50AM and I had slept through my alarm, and promptly became rather annoyed with myself. LOW. Then I looked outside and discovered that the slight chance of rain had turned into a full-fledged thunderstorm, which certainly wasn’t a part of my morning plan. LOW.

Despite the rain, I was dragged outside to run anyway, courtesy of a few intrepid friends who are just as adventurous. The four of us met at the start of the predetermined route, waited around for a few minutes to see if anyone else was going to venture out into the rain with us (they didn’t), and we headed out. I’ve always enjoyed running in the rain once I get started, and this adventure was no different. After the initial shocked of being rather quickly drenched, we embraced the rain and had a wonderful time in the process. We stopped by a local diner to give a few friends a hard time for not joining us, then continued on along a random, rather haphazard route. We tackled trails, stomped through puddles, ran through flooded ditches, and even took a few laps around the ISU track and practiced our high-jump on the soggy mat. We made our way around town, and as we ran past a friend’s house, decided that a dip in the pool was in order. Mind you, it was still raining quite steadily, and we were soaked, so we didn’t even bother to take our shoes off and we jumped right in! HIGH.

Endurance- Born-To-Run

I made my way back home after we finished swimming, and I was all smiles. I only managed 10 miles but was quite content to come home, dry off, and avoid any blisters on my feed. In the process, I managed to put the drainage abilities of my current favorite shoes, the Montrail Fluid Flex, to the test and they performed admirably. Despite being soaked, my feet were never “squishy” and didn’t suffer any slippage. HIGH.

An enjoyable rest left me ready to tackle a second run for the day in order to pick up the miles I still needed. I headed out on my own this time, and the sun had risen quite a bit higher by the time I ventured out around 1PM. The run was certainly a sharp contrast from that of the morning, but nonetheless enjoyable and I knocked out another 11 miles rather easily. The added heat did, however, give me pause, and I found myself wishing it was still raining. This run was a good reminder that sometimes you simply need to get out there and take care of business. There are no highs, and no lows. You simply PUSH THROUGH. You just finish.

The next day, the epicurean and I hosted friends at our house for a backyard pancake get-together. It was quite humid, and the temperature rose quickly, but it was still a delight to share the morning with so many friends. The delicious (as always) pancakes didn’t hurt either :) However, I didn’t hydrate very well, so I was already at a bit of a deficit when I headed out to run around 2PM. The 85 degree temperatures and high humidity were immediate factors and I was ready to be done after no more than half a mile into the run. However, with 10 miles to go, I PUSHED THROUGH. I made more frequent stops for water than normal, and soaked my hat in water fountains to provide a bit more cooling, but it was still quite disgusting outside! The real turning point (pun intended) came at mile 5, when I reached an intersection and could turn left to head home or right to continue my run. I thought long and hard about calling it a day and heading home, but ultimately I turned right and decided to PUSH THROUGH. I knew I had the energy left in me, and would have plenty of access to water and shade if I needed it. Ultimately, I was very glad that I kept going, and it made arriving back at home as my Garmin struck 10 miles that much sweeter.

Keeping my goals in mind...and remembering that it's not REALLY that hot.

Keeping my goals in mind…and remembering that it’s not REALLY that hot.

Endurance runs are about more than simply training and working your way up to a certain mileage. They are about more than basic athletic ability (although that certainly plays a part). In the end, when you have passed a certain point, it’s a mental game. You need to be prepared for the HIGHS and LOWS, and know that there will come a point when you have nothing left to do but PUSH THROUGH and finish. This weekend provided me with an excellent training opportunity to experience all three of these factors, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. In the end, it was a great weekend, and I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out!

June Wrap-Up

It’s amazing how fast time can seem to speed by once you are looking back, even though it can be moving infinitesimally slow when you are in the moment. You know the feeling I’m talking about, whether you are running around a track like a greyhound, or on a treadmill like a gerbil, it always seems like the clock isn’t moving until you’re done, at which point you convince yourself that it “wasn’t so bad”. The mind is a wonderful tool for positive spin when the alternative is much less desirable. The first six months of 2014 seem to have disappeared while I was busy registering for a race, and yet I can’t let myself forget the horrendous winter that wouldn’t end, which has now been replaced by monsoon season in Iowa. I wasn’t aware that there was a rainy season in the “heartland”, but I share it now for all of you. Consider yourselves warned.

June was indeed a busy month, complete with an amazing Relay Iowa experience, plenty of heat, wind, and rain, and another consistent training regime that kept me trained for any and all upcoming races or spur-of-the-moment crazy ideas that might come my way. I managed just over 200 miles in June, despite ample rest periods, and those miles put me over 1400 miles for the first half of the year. I’ve transitioned into more early morning running to avoid the heat and humidity, and ushered in some additional track work to try and give myself a speed boost for that final kick, whether it’s 10 meters or 10 miles long.

We put our artist talents to good use and painted our own gnomes...who knows where you might find them!

We put our artist talents to good use and painted our own gnomes…who knows where you might find them!

I found myself in a bit of a training gap following Relay Iowa, however. I had only registered for one race, the Route 66 Marathon, for the remainder of the year, and I needed a bit more structure on my schedule! I was shooting for a late August or early September race to set my sights on, and I did my usual extensive research before making a choice. I was very tempted by the Lean Horse 100, as I had heard really good things about the course and it is within driving distance. Unfortunately, the August 23rd date is only two days before the beginning of the fall semester at Iowa State, and I wasn’t all that excited about slowly hobbling into my first lecture after a weekend of sleep deprivation! Ultimately, I decided on the Mark Twain 100, which takes place on September 13-14 in Berryman, MO. The course consists of four 25-mile loops on mostly single track with about 10,000 feet of total elevation gain. The weather should be (fingers crossed) perfect at that time, and the epicurean and I will be able to camp near the starting line for free, along with Looper. It looks like a beautiful course, and I’m excited to push myself over the summer to prepare for it. I’ll probably run another leg of RAGBRAI this year as well, as the timing will be perfect for my schedule.

I’ve also been spending a bit more time on speed work at the ISU track to supplement my training, and I’m learning to enjoy my 200 and 400m repeats around the soft oval! It’s a nice way to mix up my schedule, and works nicely as the first of my Tuesday two-a-days. It’s also a consistent course, which means even less concentration as I go around in circles. The rain has been falling by the bucket for the last few days and there is a lot of flooding around town, so the track has the added bonus of being dry!

Luckily the berry patch isn't flooded. It's strawberry season!

Luckily the berry patch isn’t flooded. It’s strawberry season!

Other than these developments, it’s been pretty slow around here for the past few weeks. The calm of summer has definitely settled in, leaving plenty of opportunities to set my own training schedule and work around teaching and writing tasks. Have you thought about your fall race schedule now that we are entering the heat of summer? What are you training for in the coming months? Do you have an A race or are you just playing it by ear? I’d love to hear about your upcoming adventures, so commence your commenting and happy running!

Gear Review: Inov-8 Debrisoc 38

My love for trail-running has grown considerably in the last two years, to the point where I’d prefer to be out on the trails for a majority of my weekly miles. Unfortunately, my options are a bit limited in the center of Iowa, so I work with what I have and enjoy the few very nice trails that I can access without hopping in the car for too long. As I’ve spent more and more time running down all variety of single-track, rail-bed, and other outdoor terrains, the need for gaiters has increased considerably. Nothing will stop you in your tracks quicker than a few tiny rocks grinding into your heel or bouncing between your toes. The temptation is to always let them be and hope they’ll work themselves out, but I know from experience that giving them more time to grind up your feet is never smart! This need made the Inov-8 Debrisoc 38 an exciting option, as they combine CoolMax moisture-wicking socks with a built-in gaiter that will fit around any pair of shoes you throw at them. After taking them for a spin a few times, they certainly have their place in my arsenal, but probably won’t become my all-around go-to gaiter choice. Let me provide a few more details, and you can decide for yourself if the DebriSoc is right for you!

Fit

The socks offer a snug fit, without constricting my circulation in any way. The CoolMax means they aren’t going to be the thickest socks, so you probably wouldn’t be slipping them on for a winter run, unless you were planning to wear an additional pair of socks underneath. The padded heal offers some additional comfort, although I’ve noticed that most running socks seem to claim a “padded heel” and I rarely notice any significant differences. They have a flat seam toe join, so you aren’t going to pick up any blisters from the seams rubbing on your toes. This is especially important since your feet may move around a bit more in your shoes when you are out on the trails. They pull on pretty easily, but the added elastic cuff to account for the built-in gaiter means they are a bit harder to get on initially. The gaiter does add some additional snugness around the ankle, but nothing noticeable once you’ve been wearing them for a while.

DebriSoc-1

Function

The gaiter is sewn into the sock around the ankle, so  it works best to flip it up while you are putting the sock itself on. Once you have the sock on, and have put on your shoe, you can adjust the gaiter to find the right fit. The integrated stretch apron can be easily pulled down over the laces, and a small metal hook is looped under one of your laces to hold the apron in place. There is enough stretch in the apron that it seems snug and will stay in place without much worry. On each side of the gaiter portion of the DebriSoc is a velcro loop that you can open and close. You use these loops to attach a custom band around the bottom of the heel, and back up to the other side. This band is basically a heavy rubber band that you can thread through the tread of your shoe so that it works into the heel and doesn’t disrupt the tread itself. The band is heavy enough and should last for a while, and the velcro on the velcro loops keeps the band in place very well. Just don’t misplace this band (although you can order replacements pretty easily). Additional stretch material then gets pulled down over the heel to keep the gaiter in place in the back. My go-to trail-running shoe is the Altra Lone Peak 1.5, which has a built-in velcro patch on the heel for gaiters, and the DebriSocs attack nicely to this velcro area. The elastic seems fairly strong, but I can imagine that you may encounter problems with the gaiter riding up off the heel as they stretch out if you don’t have anything keeping them in place. It would be easy enough to buy some cut-to-size velcro strips to add to the gaiters, however, which would prevent sliding. In terms of their intended purpose, they do an excellent job of keeping out all types of trail debris and I was never left wondering if a rogue rock found its way into my shoe.

DebriSoc-2

Overall, the most appealing feature of the DebriSoc is the convenience of having your gaiters built into the sock. When you are heading out the door for a quick run, or packing for a race, it’s nice to have one less item to find. However, I prefer running in SmartWool socks for shorter runs, and regularly slip on knee-high compression socks for longer runs (even on the trails, where the added coverage is an additional barrier from ticks and other bugs). The socks are functional and will get the job done, but aren’t quite as comfortable and durable as I would like in an everyday sock.

DebriSoc-3

So, the DebriSoc 38 may not be my new go-to gaiter solution, but they do offer an excellent option for a shorter trail run, and are really easy to grab on your way out the door for a run. At around $20, the price is right as well. You probably aren’t going to wear them more than twice without washing them, which no doubt means they will wear out faster, but they are still a nice trail-running tool to have at your disposal!

Run Report: Relay Iowa (Part 2)

I’ve participated in plenty of evening and overnight runs, so the basic premise wasn’t all that daunting. However, it had been quite a long day already, so I was rather tired when I handed off the GPS chip just into the new day. As a team, we had been running for over 12 hours at this point, and our group had the GPS chip until just after 5AM, so we had many miles yet ahead of us!

Saturday

We continued to trade-off, attempting to stick with close to hour time blocks. However, the darkness and quiet of the country roads started to play tricks with our minds. It’s amazing how creative your mind can become when you are out on the road by yourself, with nothing but the light of your headlamp to guide you. Every sound takes on new meaning, and the possibility of finding yourself on the pages of one of the worst-case scenario books becomes real. We began pairing up for some of the miles just to keep each other company and hear the sound of something other than far-off rustling and howls. I’m sure that was just the wind, right?

The wee hours of the morning passed us by in a bit of a haze, and we were rather subdued on this first overnight shift, but we kept our energy up. It was fun to occasionally pass other teams as we made our way deeper into the pack, and nice to cheer on other runners, our voices echoing out of the van into the darkness. We met the second van around 5:15AM, and wrapped up our shift, happy to pass off the GPS chip, and ready to catch a few hours of sleep. We found a local park to stop at and shower, and the warm water was offset by the insidious gnats and ticks that accosted us while we cleaned up.   We were near the middle of the state at this point, and were lucky enough to head down the road a bit and catch a few hours of sleep at a teammate’s house. The sleep wasn’t great, but we were so tired that it didn’t matter. We walked into the house silently and collapsed on the floor.

We awoke to overcast skies and much cooler temperatures than the previous day. We made a pit stop on the way out-of-town for some breakfast/lunch at a gas station, and caught up to the other van for the GPS handoff. I led off our shift again, and was still rather tired, but food helped to perk me up, and the cool weather was delightful. Our entire afternoon shift was much more energetic, in large part due to the cooler weather and random sprinkles that we seemed to be outrunning. I managed to pick up some coffee along the way as well, which my body was crying out for at this point. The rest of the afternoon went quickly as we played around with our speed a bit, and had some fun chasing down other teams along the way. As a team, we were moving at a rather good clip, and were on pace to finish in under 48 hours, which was exciting!

We passed off the chip once more, and headed into a nearby town for a shower, dinner, and a nap. A local high school opened its doors for us to shower and nap, and it was refreshing to shower in a cleaner, more contained area. The warm water woke me up a bit, and we headed to a nearby PizzaHut for a quick dinner. At that point, we were all a bit punchy and sleep-deprived, so everything was that much funnier. Dinner was a calamity of errors, and we may not have left fed well, but we had some great anecdotes to remember our time. The high school opened up their wrestling room (soft mats on the floor) for folks to nap in, and it wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but we all still managed a few hours of much-needed sleep. The alarm went off far too quickly, however, and we are once again packing up to go meet the other van for the handoff in the dark. Overnight shift #2 was upon us.

We got more and more loopy as the weekend wore on!

We got more and more loopy as the weekend wore on!

Sunday

I bought a few Starbucks frappuccinos to perk me up, and the first one did the trick as I led things off. We decided to break up this shift a bit more, so we began by carving out the runs into two-mile segments. This meant doing some speed work, which was a welcome change-of-pace (pun intended!) and we alternated quickly. I was able to get my mile times into the low 7’s, which I was quite happy with considering the miles I already had on my legs, and the sleep deprivation. We were able to pass the GPS chip to a teammate to run as the clock struck midnight and marked his birthday, which was a blast. We filled the void with jello-O shots and other proper overnight running supplements, and our energy was much higher!

I'm awake...I swear!

I’m awake…I swear!

The rest of the morning went by rather quickly. We were running 1 and 2 mile segments, stopping along the way, and dancing and cheering other teams along the road. I’m sure we woke up at least one clueless farmer with our antics in the dark, but it made for plenty of laughs and celebratory memories as we ticked off the miles. I’m not sure if it was the small amount of sleep, the cooler weather, or the knowledge that this was our last official shift, but this second overnight running segment was a blast!

The final morning awaits us...

The final morning awaits us…

We were about as wired as possible when we met up with the other van for a final handoff, and we cheered them on as they began the last segment of our relay experience. We headed into Dubuque, the final destination, and found a Perkins restaurant to feed ourselves. I’m sure we seemed quite slap-happy to the waitress who was finishing a 12-hour shift at 5:30AM, but we definitely enjoyed a hot meal and a bottomless pot of coffee. Our post-meal energy lagged a bit, and there may have been some random napping. We hopped back in the van and tracked down the other team so we could all finish the relay together.

Iowa wildlife along the route...I'm pretty sure this cow was wide awake!

Iowa wildlife along the route…I’m pretty sure this cow was wide awake!

We found them less than 10 miles from the finish, and each of those miles were completed by multiple teammates. The length of distance and time of the relay had begun to sink in as we neared the finish, and we all found our third and forth winds. The final miles were just as hilly, if not more, than the opening miles, and we tackled them all together. At one point, I found myself flying down a steep hill, rather unable to stop, and logged my fastest mile of the entire weekend (6:37). Three of us tackled one of the final hills, thinking it was the last large incline, and were thoroughly disappointed to realize it wasn’t the last hill, but we kept pressing forward. By the end, we are alternating after 1/4 segments and moving as fast as possible. We had been alternating back and forth with a nearby team throughout most of the relay, and we were committed to maintaining our small lead on them. We arrived at the final hill, leading up to Eagle Point Park, and the finish line. This was by far the steepest hill we had encountered, so it was fitting that we needed to summit it before crossing the finish line. We pushed hard, one foot in front of the other, and gathered as a team to cross the finish line.

Team "Make It Weird"!

Team “Make It Weird”!

Other participants formed a human tunnel to welcome us across the finish line, and we were all smiles as we finished! We ended up finishing third, in a time of 46 hours and 25 minutes, and we were mighty proud of ourselves! Everyone looked dead tired in the post-race photographs, but the BBQ and time to relax at the park with all of the other participants was a welcome reward. We were presented with team pictures and key chains, courtesy of Restoring Hope, International, a nonprofit organization that benefited from the profits of the relay. The beer tasted great, and we made sure to take in the view of the Mississippi River before departing.

All smiles at the end!

All smiles at the end!

In the end, I really can’t compare this running experience to anything else I’ve done. The opportunity to see the state on foot, with its widely varied landscape and communities, was only surpassed by the time with an amazing group of friends. We began this run across Iowa as a group of friends, and we returned as a new, unique, quirky, often outrageous community. I may have managed a tad over 41 miles on foot, but I traveled much further in memories! Team “Make It Weird” has certainly carved out a unique corner of my consciousness, and that is a journey I’ll have with me forever :)

Keeping it weird!

Keeping it weird!

Run Report: Relay Iowa 2014 (Part 1)

There are some running experiences that you simply can’t sum up in a blog post, and this past weekend certainly qualifies as that. I’ve debated how to organize my thoughts and provide something resembling a summary of the Relay Iowa experience, and I’m sure I won’t entirely capture the essence of it, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Relay Iowa is very intentionally not described as a race. The director gauges anticipated finish times for teams, and then spreads us out with staggered start times so we hopefully finish around the same time, and see each other out on the course as much as possible. The “course” for this relay just happens to be the entire state of Iowa. Relay Iowa bills itself as the longest non-professional relay in the world, and comes in at a whopping 339 miles. There are a few checkpoints along the way, but ultimately teams of between 4 and 12 runners set the segments for themselves and head out on an incredible journey across the state, always moving, GPS chip in hand.

I’ve been hearing about this relay for the better part of the last year from several friends. After their experience last year, they simply couldn’t stop talking about it, and my anticipation for the weekend grew with each additional conversation, random story, or “you just have to be there” comment. In many ways, you really do need to “be there” to truly understand an event like this, so I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. The entire experience took place over a 4-day period, so I”ll attempt to break down the run by days. I should add upfront that memories tend to blur together when you are constantly running or riding in a van, operating on very little or no sleep, and alternating between consuming caffeine and “other” beverages. That unique combination of mental and physical stimuli is what sets this running experience apart from most other events (and why I’ll be happily returning to do it again next year!). Thus, I give you the antics of team Make It Weird! 

Thursday, June 5th 

Our team of 12 converged around 4pm to load up our two minivans with the various supplies necessary for a weekend of running and “caloric intake”. The energy was high, and we all seemed to click incredibly well together despite not everyone knowing everyone else all that well, and in some cases, meeting for the first time. There are moments when personalities just mesh well instantly, and this group was a case study in that phenomena. We finished packing and headed out for the drive to Sioux City, IA, where the relay would be beginning the next day. We had hotel rooms reserved for the evening so we’d at least have a solid night’s rest heading into the experience. We caravanned westward, exchanging stories and offering plans for weekend antics. We weren’t in any hurry, however, so stopping at a random small-town liquor store to use the restroom and make friends with the quirky owner seemed like a logical move. A few more pit stops for drinks and dinner at various watering holes gave use a taste of the local flair along the route. Pizza, beer, and a few games of pool is the best pre-run routine I can come up with- how about you? :)

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We arrived in Sioux City and got checked into the hotel, and then headed down to the pool to test out the pool noodles that had made the journey with us. I’m sure we got some great looks from other drivers with pool noodles strapped to the top of our van. We weren’t scheduled to begin running until 11:20AM, so we were able to get plenty of sleep and still have time to get ready.

Friday, June 6th 

We woke up around 6:30 and headed down for a nice breakfast, complete with plenty of coffee. We were the last team to begin the relay, based on our anticipated pace, so we had time to putz around in the morning before heading to the starting line a few miles away. We made it to the starting line early so we could cheer on other teams as they began their journey, and we could relax a bit before the start. We had plenty of music, frisbees, and other entertainment for the weekend, and the starting area had the feel of a community picnic or block party, which was great! We took our team photo at the Sergeant Floyd Monument, and then counted down to the start. I was tapped to run the first leg through Sioux City and out into the country, which I happily accepted. I was eager to get my legs moving, and I always love the energy at the start of events. I knew I needed to make sure I didn’t go out too hard, especially because the sun was already high in the sky, and it was shaping up to be quite a warm day. I took off comfortably, and planned to run about 6 miles and then meet the van to hand off the GPS chip to the next runner. We broke down the running into 6 hour segments, since there were 6 of us in each van. This meant that the van not running could enjoy some down time, and later on, a little sleep before returning to the course.

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I headed out down the road, and almost immediately got a sense of just how hilly Sioux City can be. I had a sense that the western and eastern parts of the state would have a few more hills, and the 28,000 feet of overall elevation gain certainly wasn’t going to come from the center of the state. However, I knocked out 4 or 5 hills in the first 6 miles that were all larger than anything in Ames. The hills, combined with the midday sun, left me plenty tired and ready to pass off the chip to the next runner! Our van had the first leg until 5:20pm, and we eventually worked out a routine for running, even if we hadn’t planned it ahead of time. It worked out well to drive down the road 2 or 3 miles and check on the runner, offer water, and cheer them on. We aimed for hour-long segments during this first six-hour shift, and hit them pretty accurately for the most part. The hills of western Iowa certainly had an impact on all of us, and we were plenty tired. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and this would prove to be the hottest segment of the entire relay. We met up with the second van around 5pm, and were plenty ready to hand over the running duties to them and give ourselves a nice 6-hour break. We knocked out around 42 miles in those first 6 hours and were moving at a pretty good clip.

Afternoon antics!

Afternoon antics!

We drove up to a checkpoint town a ways down the road, and enjoyed a hot spaghetti dinner, a dip in the pool, and a shower. These simple pleasures became all the more enjoyable as the weekend wore on. After a brief rest, we decided to head to a local bar to relax for a bit before we met up with the second van for our next shift, the first of two overnight (11:20p- 5:20a) running shifts. We were tired from what had already been a long day, but not enough to bother searching for some sleep. We all knew going in that it would be a sleep-deprived weekend, and it certainly proved to be just that. However, we enjoyed our time together, played some pool, and properly “hydrated” before picking up the GPS chip at 11:20p. We met up with the other team a bit after 11pm, strapped on our reflective vests and headlamps, and the journey continued.

Ready for some nighttime running!

Ready for some nighttime running!

I’ve always been a fan of running at night. The peacefulness, lonely open roads, and cool temps are a welcome respite from the hot daytime sun and busier open roads. However, as I headed down the road in the dark, with only my headlamp to light the way, my mind quickly began to generate a variety of scenarios. I envisioned everything from wild dogs to deer to drunk  high school kids jumping out of the corn fields and attacking me. Every little sound drew my attention, and my pace quickened just a bit :) I knew the van was going to be a ways down the road, and I had to get my miles in, so all I could do was just keep pushing ahead and staying aware of my surroundings. This was easier said than done considering how tired I was already becoming, but I managed and was quite happy to see the van up ahead, and hand off the chip as Friday night bled into Saturday morning. The rest of the evening was rather long and tiring for all of us, and I’ll pick up my story there…next time!

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