Chasing 42

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JFK 50 Mile Race Report

I’ve always been an eager student of history. The world is a strange and fascinating place, and there are more stories out there to explore than can be held in a single lifetime. That’s a large part of why “America’s Ultramarathon” has intrigued me for so many years. I first learned of the JFK 50 shortly after starting to run, long before I really had any grasp of the idea of an ultramarathon. I was fascinated by President Kennedy’s call to action of sorts, and the challenge of meeting the same physical requirements that President Roosevelt had held military officers to at the turn of the 20th century. Although numerous 50 mile races popped up following Kennedy’s call to action in 1961, the JFK 50 Mile race is still the only 50-mile footrace continuously held each year. The storied history has seen many great champions, and the military roots have remained strong and influential throughout it’s now 53 years.

JFK-1

With the pull of history in the back of my mind, the race became the first thing I registered for when the epicurean and I decided to move to Delaware for a new life adventure. I’ve had a rather busy fall race season, but have been looking forward to this longer than anything else, and I can say without a doubt that the experience did not disappoint. I drove west to Hagerstown, MD on Friday for packet pick-up and to check into my hotel room. I was flying solo, so I went for the cheapest room I could find, which proved to have considerable drawbacks but I made the most of it. I set everything out on Friday night to make the early morning wake-up call that much smoother, and actually got to bed at a decent hour, which is typically not my forte.

JFK-2

A 7AM race start meant waking up at 5AM to get ready, eat a light breakfast, and drive the 15 minutes to the start in Boonsboro, MD with enough time for a final “system cleansing”. I had hoped to make it to the pre-race meeting at 6:20, but ended up waiting in line for said cleansing a bit longer than expected. However, I still had just enough time to warm up in the high school, and then walk down to the starting line a few minutes before the gun went off. It was a brisk 27 degrees when the race started, so I was happy to have remembered arm warmers and gloves, along with my Buff for my head and neck (seriously, such a versatile piece of equipment!).

It was a chilly start!

It was a chilly start!

I knew from studying the elevation chart and reading the course description that I was in for some climbing in the initial miles, but that really hadn’t quite sunk in. However, it only took about a half mile to realize that we were heading straight up. The first 2.5 miles were on the road out-of-town, before meeting up with the Appalachian Trail for a quick mile and then onto a fire road for two more miles. In those first 5.5 miles, we gained over 1,700 feet of elevation, which my quads could definitely feel. I managed to hold myself back a bit more than usual, however, so I was feeling good when we stepped onto the AT again at mile 5.5. This was the first race in quite a while that I had succeeded in not going out too hard, and recognizing that brought a smile to my face.

The next 10 miles or so were all along the AT, and luckily along a good portion of the trail that I was familiar with after my hiking adventure in October. Knowing what was coming didn’t make the trail any less challenging, however. Additionally, running along the rocky, rooty section was far more challenging than hiking, and I was definitely as focused as I have ever been during a run. It was still early enough in the race that the pack had not completely thinned out, and I tucked into a pack of runners the entire way, which meant I had much less room to stop or slow down much. Luckily, I’m fairly certain that the past 6 months of increased trail running in Delaware definitely paid off, and I moved along really well. I never once lost control of my footing, and only slightly slid a few times despite the leaf-covered ground hiding the roots and roots underneath.

I knew the last section of switchbacks was coming because I had hiked down them several weeks ago, but they still gave me momentary pause as I began the speedy downhill assault. Dropping over 1,000 feet in such a short period of time, all while running as hard as I could, was quite the exhilarating experience, and I loved every moment of it. When I reached the final few stone steps, it was clear to me why so many people talked about yelling joyfully after making their way down unscathed. This area was also a major meeting point for spectators and crew members, neither of which I had waiting for me, so I kept rolling along the trail towards the C & O Canal towpath.

Hmmmm...I wonder which section was along the AT?

Hmmmm…I wonder which section was along the AT?

In retrospect, I wish someone had been waiting for me, because I would have benefited from trading out my Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s for a much lighter pair of Hokas for the long, flat towpath section. However, this was not an option, and the Altras were still holding up beautifully and comfortably, as they had done countless times before. The towpath section stretched for just over a marathon (26.3 miles), and was a beautifully flat, crushed gravel trail. This meant I could zone out a bit more and just let the miles tick off. I had planned on making up a bit of lost time on the towpath, but I still managed to run the AT section a bit harder than I had planned, so my legs (especially my quads!) didn’t have quite the pep in them that I thought they would.

The towpath miles were ultimately more of a blur than anything else. I moved along pretty well for the duration of the segment, and made sure to take walk breaks every so often to make sure I had some energy left in my legs for the final 8.2 mile stretch. The biggest motivational aspect by far proved to be the aid stations along the way. This was without a doubt the best supported race I’ve ever run, and each aid station (and they were about every 2 miles!) continued to outdo the one before. Between Star Wars, Christmas, and a myriad of other themes, the volunteers really went out of their way to make everyone feel welcomed and supported. By the time I had made it onto the towpath, the pack had spread out considerably more, so I saw far fewer runners along the way. It was a treat to know there was an aid station every 2 miles that I could zero in on when I was pushing myself from one point to the next, and it made the long section that much more enjoyable.

It's never too early for Santa, right?

It’s never too early for Santa, right?

That being said, I was still fairly bored with the towpath by the end, and very excited to leave it at the 41.8 mile mark, and hop onto the road for the final section. Those final miles were rather hilly and rolling, but the beautiful landscape made it easier to forget. Aside from some random aches and pains every once in a while, my legs were feeling good and I was excited to know I was so close to the finish. Reaching the final aid station brought a huge smile to my face, and I picked up the pace a bit, knowing I only had 2 miles to go. As I entered town, I could hear the announcers at the finish line, and that gave me the final push I needed to eek out a final kick to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 8:45:35, ultimately good for 129/794 overall, and knew I had earned the medal that was placed around my neck.

After lingering at the finish line for a bit to watch a few others come in, I made my way into the nearby school to wash up and get some food. As I sat for a bit and people-watched, I was reminded of just how much I love this community. This race definitely lived up to my expectations and exceeded them in many regards. I was certainly tired when I boarded the shuttle bus to take me back to the start and my car, but I was surprised by how much energy I still had. I knew others were still out there, and I sent them my extra energy to power them towards the finish. I probably could have stayed the night, but it was only a 2.5 hour drive, and I was much more interested in getting home and sleeping in my own bed. The drive back was a breeze, and the hot shower and hot soup (and cold beer) were a wonderful treat when I got home that night. History takes place around us every day, and many events often go unnoticed or forgotten. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of history on Saturday, November 21st, 2015, for the 53rd Annual JFK 50.

JFK-5

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A Quadzilla Report: Destination White House

It’s all been building up to this final day, so hold onto your seats and prepare for a bumpy landing! The first three days of our time with the Race Across the USA were hot, humid, and tiring, but we were feeling good and enjoying life. We’d logged even more miles than we had planned, and our legs had seemingly adapted to the daily mileage because we were recovering without too much strain. We headed home from dinner with the core team members and other runners after celebrating the end of the journey the following day, and we settled in for a good nights sleep before our final day’s trek.

June 2- Day Four

We woke up a bit earlier the next more and got ready, unsure of the traffic situation now that we were so close to D.C., and wanting to make sure we arrived at the starting point in plenty of time. Luckily, the morning went smoothly, and we arrived around 6:20AM, which gave us time to get a bit more shut-eye and take care of other business, if you will. After the heat of the last three days, the cooler temps, wind, and light rain were a welcome relief. It was clear that everyone was quite tired as 7:00AM came around, but the excitement of finishing more than made up for it. On top of that, I was looking forward to running on a long stretch of paved trails after 3 days of winding country roads and minimal shoulders.

Ready for the last day!

Ready for the last day!

We took off promptly at 7AM, and made our way down the other side of the rather steep hill we had climbed at the finish yesterday, and the busy road meant being that much more attentive to traffic as we headed towards D.C. during rush-hour. We spent about 4 miles dodging traffic before finally hopping onto the Mt. Vernon Trail. The open trail, free of cars, was a breath of fresh air, and we picked up our pace a bit. I fully anticipated slowing down over the course of the four days, but legs seemed just as fresh and springy on day 4 as they did on day 1, and I was thankful for the intense training I had put in this year to make this possible. Granted, Stefan barely trained at all and still managed the same miles, so I suppose it’s all relative 🙂

After a mile or so on the trail, we were moving along nicely and I was feeling great. Then it happened. I had managed to stay vertical for three days and countless uneven roads, but the asphalt trail jumped up and bit me. I went down hard at full speed and rolled/slid to a stop several feet further along on the trail. Stefan and one of the other runners that had joined us stopped to help me up and make sure I was ok. I was more stunned than anything as I took stock of the damage. In true runner fashion, first I checked my gear and then i checked myself. I had collected a huge gouge in my knee, a nice hole in the palm of my hand, and some quality scrapes on my shoulder. I pulled out a wet wipe and wiped away as much dirt as I could, and tried to stop the significant bleeding a bit. Nothing hurt all that much, but that no doubt had more to do with the adrenaline pumping through my body than anything else. The first aid station was only a mile or so away and I knew they had a more substantial first aid kit, so I picked myself up and we kept moving forward.

Bandaged up and ready to go!

Bandaged up and ready to go!

We showed up to the aid station, and they knew I had gone down, so they were ready. I stopped for a few minutes to clean my wounds a bit more and bandage myself up (I guess that EMT training is still paying off, eh?), and I was back out on the trail in less than 5 minutes. All I could really do was laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and recognize that it was going to make for a great story. Stefan and I continued to tick off the miles on the beautiful wooded trail, and we found ourselves having to intentionally slow down because we were moving faster than we figured we should be with another 18 miles to go. Nonetheless, the cool weather, mist, and excitement of the last day meant we were moving along at a good clip, and the miles were rolling by as we made our way closer and closer to the National Mall.

We stopped briefly at several different points to take pictures and simply enjoy being out there, and marvel at how lucky we were to be able to do something like this in the first place. After Jamile had dropped us off, she went and parked the truck downtown and road her bike backwards to meet us on the trail. She caught up to us around mile 16 and I showed off my impressive wounds when she rode up to meet us. I was still feeling a good amount of pain because I hadn’t been able to apply any Neosporin but running served as the perfect distraction and I seemed fine as long as I kept moving.

Running along the Mt. Vernon Trail.

Running along the Mt. Vernon Trail.

It was wonderfully refreshing to have the Potomac River to our right, guiding us towards the White House. Once we reached Reagan international Airport, D.C. began to come into view, and it became harder and harder not to stare off into the distance, but my desire to be distracted was balanced out by the reminder of the bloody holes in my knee and hand 🙂 You can bet I was keeping an eye on my footing!

Not a bad view for the end of 4 days of racing...

Not a bad view for the end of 4 days of racing…

We finally reached the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and crossed over, heading towards the Lincoln Memorial. We stopped for a few quick photos, and then continued down the National Mall towards the National WWII Memorial, and then the Washington Monument. The rain and cooler temps had kept many of the tourists away, so the mall wasn’t nearly as crowded as we had expected, which was wonderful. We passed the Smithsonian Castle and headed for the Capital, and then hung a left to head up Pennsylvania Avenue for the final approach. I suppose it was this final stretch when it finally began to sink in that we were going to do this, and we both got even more excited. The final stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue flew by as we neared completion amidst so much history. It was very fitting that we would end our journey, and all of the core runners would end a so much more amazing journey, in front of the White House. We made the turn for Lafayette Square and could see the group off in the distance. We picked up our pace a bit and were all smiles as we crossed the final finish line. We had done it- 4 days, 120 miles, some spilled blood, and more memories than I could count. A few of the other runners had already finished, and we all congratulated each other, and then we sat down. It felt rather good to sit down (even if it did mean I could feel my injuries in a much more pronounced manner).

RAUSA 3.2

Finished!

Finished!

One of Stefan and Jamile’s friends works at the White House, and he came out to meet us and congratulate us. He even brought with him White House coins for each of us, which was a wonderful and unique gift. It served as our medal for the day, as the RAUSA belt buckles would not arrive until later in the summer. After hanging out for a bit, we walked to a delicious burrito restaurant for some lunch. From there, we headed back to the truck. Jamile had parked at a military base (since Stefan works at the Pentagon) next to Arlington National Cemetery. Stefan and I decided it would be a good idea to run the few miles from the restaurant to Arlington National Cemetery since we clearly hadn’t run enough yet. My legs were definitely much stiffer than they had been, in part because it was almost chilly outside with the rain, but I warmed up as we went on, and it did get us there that much faster.

RAUSA 3.1

We arrived at the Cemetery and slowed to a respectful walk as we entered. This was my first time visiting and it was a humbling experience to say the least. The magnitude of meaning housed within the confined of those grounds was almost overwhelming and I felt honored to have experienced it. We arrived in time to witness the changing of the guard, which is a simultaneously somber and inspiring sight to behold. I was struck by the attention to detail and dedication that goes into maintaining the clockwork precision involved in the process, and could feel the respect emanating from the site and the servicemen entrusted with its care. We then made our way back to the car, and back to the house to clean up. I got everything packed, and Stefan and Jamile dropped me off at Union Station for the short train ride back to Wilmington. It’s amazing how much life you can pack into such a short period of time, and thankful doesn’t begin to describe my thoughts on the experience as a whole. It was certainly one of the highlights of my running career and my life as a whole, so thank you for coming along with me and indulging in my sometimes over-descriptive attempt at capturing such an amazing experience! #chasing42 #chasing42reports #RAUSA

A Quadzilla Report: Part Deux

As you may recall, day one was in the books and we had yet to utter anything to the effect of “what did we get ourselves into” so we were in good shape! We managed to find a delicious Japanese restaurant and sushi bar for dinner on the evening of day one, and we went to bed well fed and ready to tackle the next day.

May 31- Day Two

We began the second day where we left off on the first day, with our official chalk line on the road to mark our “start”. As you recall, we finished up the day before in a nicely shaded park, so we began in that same wooded area. The brief bit of shade was nice, and the temps hadn’t yet climbed all that high, but the humidity was already out in full force so we knew we were going to be in for another steamy day. The day’s route took us through Fredericksburg, across the Rappahannock River, and back out along lightly traveled country roads, ending just north of a small town called Tacketts Mill.

RAUSA-2.5

As luck would have it, Stefan and I began day two running with another amazing member of the core team of runners. Rob Young actually began running a marathon a day or more prior to the start of the Race Across the USA, and was running this event as part of a set of larger goals. He was attempting to set a world record for the most marathons run in a year, and was doing it all to raise money and awareness for vulnerable children. He would go on to win the overall Race Across the USA, and ultimately run 370 marathons in the span of 365 days. On this particular day, Stefan and I had a nice leisurely chat with him about his running experiences, his background in various other sports, including professional cycling, and his plans to break future world records as well. It was clear within 5 minutes just how passionate he is for the sport and the level of commitment and dedication he has to what he is doing, and it was amazing to be a part of that with him. We stuck with him for 5 or 6 miles before we once again realized we were going faster than planned, and we made the decision to pull back and slow our pace. It would appear that we learned our lesson, as it didn’t take us 18 miles to slow down this time around!

RAUSA-2.2

For the most part, the rest of the day involved a nice pleasant run through the country in semi-rural Virginia. Once again, the temps rose and our sweat levels increased, but Jamile was right there to offer us the additional ice and water that we needed to keep moving forward and enjoying the opportunity to be out there running a second marathon in as many days. There was no shortage of hills, and we ended the day with over 2,700 feet of elevation gain and a hair over a marathon in distance. Overall, it was a great day and we even managed to splurge on slurpees when we were done, which obviously made it all worth it!

RAUSA-2.6

RAUSA-2.8

June 1- Day Three

Good morning!”

Good morning, ready to go run another marathon?”

Nah, why don’t we shoot for closer to a 50K? You know, to challenge ourselves! 🙂 ”

“Ok, sounds like a plan. Now hurry up and get your shoes on!”

Our legs were feeling really good after the past two days. We had been rolling them out pretty consistently, and even doing a bit of icing to be on the safe side. That, combined with some good refueling, left us in good shape for the longest of the four days. The day’s route, and the second to the last day of the entire event, was set at a bit over 33 miles. There’s probably a joke in there somewhere considering the timing of this distance, but everyone was tired enough when we started and even more tired when we finished that we no doubt missed it.

RAUSA-2.9

The theme for the entire day was heat and hills, and there were copious amounts of both as the miles ticked by and the sun got higher in the sky. However, the first 18 miles or so flew by pretty quickly and we were both rather surprised at how smoothly the morning had been going, and how well our legs were still holding up. We were moving at a good clip, enjoying the views, and even stopping to take pictures along the way. This was probably the first time that I felt like I could simply keep going indefinitely, and it was a pretty amazing feeling. I’ve indicated before that I’d love to attempt my own trans-continental run at some point in the future, and it was encouraging to get just a small glimmer of the possibility while tackling this experience.

We were now getting closer to the outskirts of D.C. so we were in more populated areas, and were able to take refuge on some sidewalks along busier roads, which was nice. We managed to find some of the biggest hills we had yet to encounter. It had also been more than a day since we had gotten off course, so we were due for a bit of creative route adjustment, and we found it near some road construction. We knew the construction was coming and thought we had the directions correct but we made the mistake of stopping to ask a construction worker, who sent us in the completely wrong direction, and we tacked on about a mile before we found our way back to the course. For some reason, this extra distance, combined with the heat and no doubt a bit of dehydration, hit me really hard and I hit a very hard wall. We only had 5 or 6 miles left, but I was hating life. Luckily, Stefan offered me a flavor of honey stinger gel that I hadn’t had before. For whatever reason, the new flavor rejuvenated me and I was back on track for the remainder of the day. We finished the day by cresting the biggest hill we had yet to find, and the sight of everyone up at the top waiting for us was a welcome relief after 34 miles!

RAUSA-2.7

Once we finished for the day, we actually headed back to Alexandria and Stefan & Jamile’s house, where we would stay the final night since we were so close. We got cleaned up and then hopped in the car to head over to the Pentagon for a tour. As it happens, Stefan works for the National Guard, at the Pentagon, so I had the privilege of receiving a personal tour of this icon fixture of American politics and military influence around the world. It was fascinating to learn more about the history behind the building’s construction, as well as the overall layout and the various offices and personnel housed within those 5 walls. Seeing the 9/11 Memorial was particularly sobering, and an important reminder of how all of the pieces of life fit together.

RAUSA-2.4

After the tour, we headed to another D.C. neighborhood to join the rest of the RAUSA team for a celebratory dinner in honor of the final official race the following day. It was an opportunity to get to know folks a bit better and enjoy a nice meal and fuel up for the final run to D.C. and along the National Mall. It was hard to believe that we had already conquered three days and were now gearing up for our final marathon and we were equal parts excited and tired. Luckily, there was rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast for the last day, so we were excited to end on a more comfortable note.

Stay tuned next time for the exciting conclusion of Stefan and Adam’s Quadzilla adventures! #chasing42 #chasing42reports

A Quadzilla Report: The Race Across Virginia

I hopped in the car and headed out east the Monday after an amazing Market to Market weekend, with 1700 miles separating myself and the critters from the epicurean. I managed to tackle the trip in two days of “quality” time in the car, and we arrived at our new home on the afternoon of May 12th. Mind you, this was a home that we purchased despite my not seeing it in person, as I was unable to travel out with the epicurean to house shop. Luckily, I trust her completely, and she found us a wonderful new home! There was a flurry of unpacking and organizing over the next week (don’t worry…it’s still happening, but more to come on that in a later post), but I managed to stick to my training schedule pretty well and do some initial exploring of the area. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t in the flat lands of Iowa anymore, and the combination of hills and humidity meant I was in for a period of adjustment. So, despite only having been in our new home for a couple of weeks, I decided to register for a significant running challenge in a part of the country I had spent very little time. That’s what everyone does, right?

In all fairness, I had actually registered for this series of races before we made the decision to move, and the move just made the opportunity that much easier to take advantage of and enjoy. Late last year, I read about a group of runners who were planning on embarking on a trans-continental run from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., beginning in January. I was immediately intrigued, and my interest grew substantially when I found out that the race would be happening in conjunction with a research project to study the long-term impact of running on endurance athletes. The combination of running and research was right up my ally and I quickly explored how I could possibly get involved. In addition to the initial group of 11 core team members, the group was providing the opportunity for runners to join them throughout the country, either for an entire state, a 4-day experience, or a single day. The route involved running roughly a marathon every day consistently, with various rest days as the team crossed into a new state. In total, it meant that the core team members would be running for 140 days and would cover 3,080 miles in total.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 9.48.19 AM

The thought of some day completing my own run across the U.S. has been on my mind for some time, but I’m clearly not at the point in my life where that is a possibility. The team took a southern route, so driving from Iowa wasn’t really an option, and flying didn’t seem necessarily financially responsible when lodging and transportation to each of the starting points was factored in. However, the last 4 days of the race involved running across Virginia and finishing on the White House lawn (or across from it, technically). Luckily, we happen to have two very good friends who live in the D.C. area who also happen to love running, and it didn’t take much work to convince Stefan and Jamile to join me on this adventure.  What’s more, they graciously agreed to pick me up at the airport and organize our transportation. Stefan and I would tackle 4 straight marathons, and Jamile would join us as an amazing support crew, and we’d spend the rest of the time relaxing throughout Virginia when we weren’t running. It was wonderful to see two familiar faces after arriving in Delaware, and I was excited to visit with them and share the adventure!

May 29-Day Zero

One of the most exciting aspects of moving to the east coast for me is the increased access to public transportation. When I lived in NYC, I loved not having to drive anyone and still have access to everything the area had to offer. Thus, I was excited to hop on a train Friday morning for the 90-minute ride to D.C. Stefan and Jamile picked me up at Union Station, and we headed back to their house in Alexandria to get packed up. Our plan was to stay at a hotel in Fredericksburg, VA for the first three nights, and then drive back to stay at their house the final night. This would position us well for fairly easy drives in the morning out to the starting lines. Since the route itself was mainly along public roads, with some trails tossed in when available, the start and finish lines were simply easy access points in the road once the required distance had been met. We made it out to the hotel, got checked in, and then went and did a bit of exploring in town. Although I lived in Virginia for several years, I had never visited the town and it was fun to walk around (with coffee in hand, of course). I had forgotten how much I loved all of the history on the east coast, and this part of Virginia is filled with it, so we had plenty to see, while also taking it easy before our first marathon in the morning.

Exploring historic Fredericksburg...

Exploring historic Fredericksburg…

May 30- Day One

We woke up extra early on Saturday morning for the first race since we were uncertain of how things would play out and we wanted to make sure we weren’t late. The “start” was an intersection out in the country where the group had finished the previous day, so we had GPS directions and found our way out there without any issues, and arrived around 6:30 for the 7:00AM start. We met with the race organizers and received our bibs, shirts, and buffs, and hung out and waited for others to arrive. There were 7 remaining core team runners that had been at it since the beginning, and we had a chance to meet everyone briefly. There were several other folks that were joining us for the remaining 4 days, and 1 other runner was half way through the full 9-day Virginia leg. I was feeling comfortable, well-rested, and excited to get things rolling. I’ve run plenty of long distances and marathons, but this was my first attempt at a Quadzilla (4 back-to-back marathons) and there were still some nerves turning over in my stomach, but I knew I had trained well for it and my body was ready to handle the stress. We could already tell the weather would be a bit more of a challenge, with warm temperatures and high humidity, but the plan was to take it slow and enjoy ourselves. I was treating this set of races like other ultras and slowing my pace while continuing to push forward.

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

We began promptly at 7AM and our small group of runners was off, heading down a lonely country road. It was the first of many peaceful country roads we would traverse over the next 4 days. I decided to play it safe and I opted for my Salmon S-Lab 12 pack so I could carry plenty of water, as well as nutrition and other emergency medical supplies. There were aid stations every 6 miles or so, but I knew the heat would lead me to want more than a handheld bottle could carry. This proved to be a smart decision and I was grateful for the extra hydration. This was actually the first time I had worn the pack, as it was a replacement for my S-Lab 5, which I was able to get replaced for free after the zippers rusted shut. I very quickly realized that the minimal added weight was unnoticeable and the extra storage capacity made this an even better pack!

Stefan and I took off at a relatively controlled pace and initially tried to stay around 9:00 min/mile. This seemed reasonable at the time, but I had neglected to factor in the hilly terrain, much like that which I had recently discovered at home. We ended up falling in with one of the core runners, and had a wonderful conversation with him over many miles. We were able to hear some of his stories from the previous few months of constant running, as well as learn more about the research project he was working on in conjunction with the event. The miles just seemed to tick by as we chatted about running research, physiology, and academia in general, along with learning more about his experiences during the event. It wasn’t until we were startled by a rather large snake in the middle of the road that we realized we had missed a turn a few miles back and gone off course. Since it was a small event and the roads weren’t closed, the course wasn’t marked so we were required to follow the directions we had been given to stick to the course. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but it does mean looking at the directions instead of leaving them in your pocket. We stopped for a photo-op with the snake, and then turned around, while also calling one of the support team members, who was nice enough to come pick us up and bring us back to the course turn we missed. We ended up adding about 3 miles to our already long day, which would come back to bite us later on.

Snakes...why does it always have to be snakes?

Snakes…why does it always have to be snakes?

Around mile 18, the heat and hills were beginning to get to us and we realized it wouldn’t be smart to try and maintain the pace we were hitting so we bid adieu to our new friend as he continued on. I was amazed that after almost 3,000 miles, he was still able to tackle the road so effortlessly, and that proved to be the case for each of the core runners. Our respect was instant, and our amazement continuous! We slowed our pace a bit, and the heat began to get to Stefan a bit so we made sure we were hydrating well, along with taking advantage of ice at the aid stations and Jamile’s wonderful personal aid stations along the way.

The end is in sight!

The end is in sight!

We decided it was in our best interest to take it easy the final 10 miles, so we enjoyed being outside (despite the intense sun!) and took in our surroundings. Near the end of the route, we were sent along a beautiful wooded trail towards a state park for the finish, and the change of scenery and surface provided some much-needed relief from the heat and gave us a chance to enjoy the experience even more. We were by ourselves for this final stretch, aside from Jamile’s timely roadside assistance and the reality that we would be doing it all over again for the following three days began to really sink in. We entered the park and were able to see the “finish line” up in the distance, and the support folks and a few other runners lingering and waiting for everyone to come in for the day. There was no ribbon or formal finish line, no inflatable arch, and no medals at the end, but it didn’t matter. Our sense of accomplishment was all the reward we needed and we were all smiles as we crossed the finish line. What should have been close to marathon distance became almost 30 miles after our detour and we couldn’t have been more happy to reach the end!

Finished!

Finished!

We lingered about for a bit chatting with folks and were able to cheer on a few other runners who weren’t too far behind us. Then we hopped back in the truck and headed back to the hotel to shower and rest a bit. I’ll never get used to just how refreshing and rejuvenating a hot shower can be after a long distance run, and I was feeling much better. The sun had taken its toll, but my legs still felt fresh, and I was sure this was a good sign for the days to come. The rest of the day was spent eating, relaxing, and hanging out. I was reminded yet again that although I love to run because it gives me a chance to push myself and test my abilities, it is ultimately more about the people I’m with, and I couldn’t have been happier to be sharing this experience with two amazing friends. We were all looking forward to the next three days and the laundry list of memories that were just over the horizon!

…to be continued 🙂 #chasing42

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.

Crazy Running Is A State of Mind

Now that I’ve caught the bug and truly found myself committed, nay, obsessed with ultra-running and the unusual, perhaps crazy races and events that are out there, the beautiful epicurean has taken to reminding me of my perceived mental instability. I’m quick to remind her that people are out there running far greater distances than I am, for longer periods of time, and in harsher conditions. She seems to think this doesn’t negate my crazy, but I’m convinced that it makes my ambitions completely justifiable. Perhaps you’ve found yourself having the same conversation with a partner or friend? Perhaps you’ve been in need of a logical comeback when your sanity was questioned after signing up for a particular race?

Well, hopefully this (by no means comprehensive) list of events will help when you are trying to talk that special someone into tagging along to crew for you or just cheer you on at the finish line. You know, when the temptation of a vacation just isn’t enough!

1. Zoe Romano is running the Tour de France route in its entirety. Yes, you heard me correctly. The 26 year-old set out from Nice on May 18th , and will be running the entire 2,000 mile course in 9 weeks. That works out to about 30 miles a day, averaging 9 minute miles! The Tour is famous for its grueling climbs, and running just adds another incredible adventure. She’s no stranger to ultra-running, and in 2011, became the first women to run across the U.S. unsupported. She pushed a stroller with all of her supplies for the 3,000 mile journey. Crazy!

2. 4 Deserts Club– This is a special group of individuals. One must successfully complete four 250-kilometer, self-supported foot races across the hottest, coldest, windiest and driest places on Earth to become a member of the 4 Deserts Club. These events are the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and The Last Desert in Antarctica. Crazy!

WHAT IS THE 4 DESERTS?

The 4 Deserts is the world’s leading rough-country endurance footrace series. A unique collection of world-class events that take place over 7 days and 250 kilometers in the largest and most forbidding deserts on the planet.
Competitors are challenged to go beyond the limits of their physical and mental endurance. Racing self-supported in the most inhospitable climates and formidable landscapes, they must carry all their own equipment and food and are only provided with drinking water and a place in a tent each night to rest.

3. Dean Karnazes probably needs no introduction, and I could spend the entire blog post using him as an example of true crazy. Who wakes up in the morning and decides they want to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days? Crazy!

4. Running the Sahara– 4 guys decided it would be a worthwhile challenge to run the equivalent of two marathons a day through the Sahara Desert, covering the entire 4,300 mile journey in 111 days. If you haven’t already watched the documentary, it is well worth the time. Crazy!

5. Steve Knowlton– Plenty of folks have attempted and completed a run across the U.S., starting from a variety of locations, and ending in a variety of locations. However, few have done it faster than Steve. More significantly, he just happens to be from my hometown of Prior Lake, MN. Although I’ve never met him personally, there’s something about knowing someone from the place you grew up is doing incredible things that puts a smile on your face and motivates you even more. I’d love the chance to run with him at some point in the future. Maybe he’ll want a partner for his next big adventure?! Crazy!

6. The 3100 Mile Self-Transcendence Race–  Hey! I know, why don’t we all head to NYC and run around a 1/2 mile city block for 18 hours a day for a month or so. That should be fun, right? 🙂 Crazy!

The Self-Transcendence 3100 mile was founded by Sri Chinmoy, which grew out of his wish to create an opportunity for runners to discover the limits of their capacities and to try to go beyond them. Hence the name “Self-Transcendence” which is appellate to all the foot races that the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team hosts. Since 1985 when the group first began holding races, the focus on the ultramarathon and multiday races has grown, from the famous Ultra Trio, three races with staggered starts of 700, 1000 and 1300-mile duration that take place in September, and the spring races, which include the Self-Transcendence 6-Day race and the only annual race of its kind, the Self-Transcendence 10-Day race.

In 1996 Sri Chinmoy created this event as a 2,700-mile (4,345 km) race. At the award ceremony that year he declared that the 1997 edition would be extended to 3,100 miles (4,989 km). The race has been run at this distance every year since.

Ok, so this is by no means a comprehensive list of crazy, as I said. However, I think it does a pretty good job of putting my running goals in perspective. For the moment, we’ll ignore the fact that each of these accomplishments is something I’d LOVE to try at some point in the future! So, what does your crazy look like? Which races and running feats do you use to justify your running goals?

My (Hesitant) Running Bucket List: The Marathon des Sables

It’s cool, overcast, and drizzly today, and has been for about the last week. Last year, the temperatures were 20 degrees warmer, and the sun had already assumed its permanent position in the sky for the next 4 months. As I was running, I found myself thinking about and talking with friends about future race aspirations, training, and our plans for the coming year. I’ve been lamenting the fact that I don’t have much on my schedule until July, and the reality is that races in June and most of July really aren’t of any interest to me anyway. It’s no secret that the sun and I do not have a pleasant relationship, and just as with a black bear mother guarding her cubs, I find it best to just steer clear. Thus, I am hesitant to publicly admit my fascination with this race, which has begrudgingly made its way onto my bucket list, simply because it stands in contradiction to most of what I know about my running preferences. Yet, I’ve been following the coverage of the race on www.irunfar.com and have been reading more about the challenge, and it has sucked me in. So, you can add the Marathon des Sables to my running bucket list.

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Now, I should start off by letting you know, in case you aren’t familiar with this particular race, that it takes place in the Moroccan Sahara. I complain when the temperatures rise above 90 degrees around here, and this race, even in early April, still makes those temperatures feel downright comfortable. The 28th running of the race has just completed, and the reports from the participants are downright inspiring. Over 1000 racers begin this 7-day, 6 stage, fully self-supported race through the desert. Runners are responsible for carrying everything with them, with the exception of water (which they receive at checkpoints) and shelter, which they receive in the form of a tent to sleep in each night. Over the course of those 6 stages, racers will cover 250 km, which works out to at least a marathon each day. You can read a full preview of this year’s race here.

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Far from the Hilton but I don't think anyone cares after the days run!

Far from the Hilton but I don’t think anyone cares after the days run!

The preparation for this race will no doubt be extreme, and I’m certainly well aware of the work involved. Well, I’m aware in as much as I can be with having never actually attempted it. With most races I’ve done, the focus has been on training (mileage, speed, terrain), nutrition, and gear (minimally). With this race, not only will I need to be aware of those aspects, but I’ll need to prepare for the heat, the desert climate itself, and the fact that I’ll have a 25L pack on my back at all times during the run. Oh, and I’d be running as many miles in a week as I typically run in 3 weeks. All of this is to say that this is not a bucket list item I can quickly cross off my list without a great deal of consideration, planning, budgeting, and training. However, the amazing and unique experience promises to make all of that hard work worth it in ways I haven’t even begun to imagine!

A far cry from the corn fields of Iowa!

A far cry from the corn fields of Iowa!

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