Chasing 42

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Race Report: Run for the Roses 5K/10K

One of the best parts of the fall season (in addition to cooler weather, hoodies, bonfires, apple cider, and comfort food) is the large number of local races taking place. In the Ames/Des Moines area, I could easily run a race every Saturday and Sunday for weeks on end. Unfortunately, my bank account can’t necessarily support this, but it’s fun to be able to support local groups, causes, and often friends organizing the races. The Run for the Roses is just such an event, and an annual Ames tradition, with this year’s race being the 28th annual. I don’t typically plan ahead much for smaller races, and have a tendency to sign up at the last-minute, and this race was no different. There were so many friends running the 5K, 10K, or both that it seems like a no-brainer, so I signed up a few days prior to the October 5th event (albeit, too late to get the discount given to our running group!).

My training has been a bit seat of my pants since completing the Mark Twain 100 and recovering. I know I have the Des Moines Marathon and the Route 66 Marathon coming up, but training for those is really just a matter of maintaining my fitness after my legs were recovered. I was happily surprised that the recovery period after the MT100 was quite short, and I was out running again three days later with only minimal stiffness. I had to smile knowing that my training had obviously paid off in that regard.

The race itself was on Sunday morning, but I still managed to go out for my normal Saturday morning run and logged 25 miles. I decided to run to the start of the race on Sunday morning, which would add about four and a half miles to my day and get me near where I wanted to be when coupled with the 5K and 10K. My intent all along was to run both races comfortably and treat them as training runs with a lot more friends. I haven’t really felt like I’ve had a lot of speed in my legs lately, but have mainly chalked it up to logging more miles than ever before. Thus, I had no expectations other than to have fun, and run with a great group of friends. The 5K started at 9AM, and I got there about 20 minutes early to pick up my packet and pin on my bib. I lined up with a couple of friends who are far more speedy than I, and figured I’d try to hang with them for a mile or so, and then taunt them as they went whizzing by me. I shouldn’t have underestimated my competitive spirit quite so much.

The final stretch of the 5K w/ Eric (in a tutu) hot on my heels! (photo credit: Tim Fencl)

The final stretch of the 5K w/ Eric in a tutu hot on my heels! (photo credit: Tim Fencl)

The gun went off, and I took off fast, but was still fairly comfortable. After almost a mile, I wondered why my two friends hadn’t passed me. I yelled back at them and told them to stop sandbagging and pick up the pace. That’s when Ben pointed out that we were running a 6;40 pace. I was quite shocked by this, and definitely didn’t feel like I was moving that fast. I briefly considered slowing down, but my internal competitive nature got the best of me and I decided to see what I could do.l I kept pushing and was able to maintain about a 6:45 pace through the first two miles, despite quite a few rolling hills. The course runs along a trail for the last mile or so, and both Eric and Ben were close on my heels the whole way. I naively thought for a moment I might be able to hold them off, but soon realized they had more speed in them then they had kicked out. Ben passed me as we were flying down a curving hill. I continued to hold off Eric, but I slowed a bit coming up a short, steep hill near the finish, and he passed me with a slap to the ass about 100 feet from the finish. I had no intention of going out as fast as I had, no aspirations of finishing as strong as I had, and certainly didn’t expect a PR. However, I finished in 21:21 (20/378, Garmin Time 21:07, no chips), which was in fact a PR!

I was a bit surprised and all smiles as I downed a bottle of water and started chatting with Eric, Ben, and others. However, I felt like I had put it all out there for the 5K and I still had to run the 10K. I told myself I would take it easy, and that I had already accomplished more than I expected. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, I had left in the tank. The number of 10K runners was significantly less, but it was still a decent crowd (over 1,100 participants for the two races). After about 30 minutes to catch my breath and rehydrate, we lined up to do it all over again. I went out considerably slower, but still felt comfortable with a 7:30 pace. Ben took off ahead of us relatively quickly, but Eric and I stuck together longer. We ran into another friend who was out for a run of his own, and he hopped in and began pacing us. I stayed with the two of them through the halfway point, but fell back after a 7:49 mile. However, I managed to push hard those last three miles, and I kept the two of them in sight the entire way. I was hurting a lot more towards the end of the 10K, but realized that I had a chance at a PR yet again, so I kept pushing. I crossed the finish line in 47:33, which was good enough for 20th out of 71, and another PR! My hands fell to my knees and I kept the same goofy grin I’d had on my face since the start of the 5K.


After we recovered a bit, we all made our way up to the middle school for made-to-order omelets and other breakfast goodies. We sat around chatting, and wondering where our times left us. The final surprise of the morning was finding out that I took third in my age group in both races! I’ve never placed in my age group in any race, so this was pleasant surprise, and I couldn’t help but crack one final smile as I picked up my two medals. I wish all Sunday morning training runs could be this much fun! As always, the race was very well run, the volunteers were fantastic, and the food was delicious. Alpha Omicron Pi & Ames Area Running Club have this race down to a science at this point, so if you are looking for a local 5K/10K with lots of energy, I highly encourage you to check out this Ames area favorite!

The Pacer Chronicles: A 180 Degree Turn

At this point, you’ve either read my account of the recent Mark Twain 100, or perhaps simply know that it happened. Shortly after the race, the epicurean and I got together with the rest of our friends that helped crew/pace to share stories and celebrate the group accomplishment. It was wonderful to hear their side of the race, and I began to realize just how much happens during an ultra that I’m simply not aware of because I’m out there running. It makes sense of course. The world certainly didn’t stop while I was out on the trail for 30 hours, and everyone wasn’t quietly sleeping in their tents. However, I think everyone who runs becomes so engrossed in the experience and eventual challenge of putting one foot in front of the other that you simply don’t have time to think about what everyone else is doing. You certainly hear tidbits, but rarely the full story on the perspectives of the crew and pacers who are so important to the ultra experience. I thought it would be fun to get those perspectives directly from my crew members. This is the first installment of Pacer Chronicles, and offers a bit of insight into all of the effort and energy that goes into supporting an ultra-runner during a 100-mile adventure.

First up is Nicole, who was lucky enough to be the first person to pace me, as soon as I finished the first 50 miles. She definitely got two sides of me very quickly!

Nicole: "Remind me why I'm sleeping in the woods again."

Nicole: “Remind me why I’m sleeping in the woods again.”

“Sometimes when I start something, I know exactly what to expect or at least have somewhat of a clear vision of what an experience will be like.   When I decided to join the pacing team for Adam’s Mark Twain 100 mile trail adventure, made up of my Speedy Streaker friends, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what to expect -silliness, craziness, feeling of relaxation, laughter, and a little bit of running.  The physical activity aspect is just an added benefit of a day with my running friends.

 But I had no concept of what was to come when we loaded into the SUV and started our journey as pacers for Adam in his 100-mile trail conquest. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments of laughter and silliness between Lani sporting her “cow costume” as described at Pancake City.  Pancakes and just Diet Coke.  Or Eric cranking the most inappropriate, hilarious music as he often warned us about the dangers of pitchforks in the woods of Missouri.   Luckily we had Carla along to safely drive us through the backwoods, curvy roads. It was probably helpful that we regularly asked for Bill’s help along the way.  Bill?  And yes, Eric, it is a 9-hour trip to Berryman, and, yes, you have given up your navigation privileges.  Enjoying unexpected new experiences are big reasons I say YES when the opportunity arises for road trips and running excursions with my friends.

Not sure anyone could have prepared me for this road trip though.  Lani had great insight in asking for advice prior to the trip.  Larry Kelly was a wealth of information of the dos and don’ts of ultras like this and provided wonderful direction and tips for success, but until you experience something like this first-hand, you don’t know how you will react.

Always an attentive crew!

Always an attentive crew!

It started off like any other race.  Adam was well-prepared, calm, organized and ready to run when he headed out at 6 a.m. on that cold, Saturday morning.  It felt like any other race morning, adrenaline running high and excited to watch a good friend tackle a personal goal. Although the emotions felt similar at the start, the next 30 hours would prove to be a roller coaster of emotions.  I‘m not going to go into the details of the run because Adam summarized the experience so succinctly, and frankly I was only on the trail for a fraction of the time, offering conversation, company and banter.  In my 9-mile stint, we discussed the usual – work, travel, Netflix, friends, life, the challenges of the race ahead and THE BURRITO (yep, that one!).  As I found, it was not so much about the topics discussed, but more about just “being,” enjoying the moment and helping a friend in a small way reach his next destination (and she did, in no small way!).  It may seem strange, but my job was not to get him to the finish line, it was to help him reach the next rest station, to refuel and keep going.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Probably the most memorable part of the experience for me was at mile 84.  When we sent Lani and Adam back onto the trail after mile 75, I was worried.  Physically and mentally it was obvious Adam was drained.  The first 75 miles were treacherous, and it seemed like a good stopping point.  Should we let him go back out?  Is he really ok to do this? What’s best?  The questions were flying through my head, but it was clear Adam was not ready to stop, and his team was not ready to let him stop.  He pushed forward.  At mile 84 when he emerged from the trail, something had changed.  Adam had found the strength to finish.  I could see it in his face.  Not sure if it was the sunrise or Lani’s random singing during those miles, but he had new-found energy and was determined.  It was clear by the look in his eyes.  He was going to finish.  I will never forget the change from mile 75 to mile 84!

 This 30-hour experience is one I will never forget and feel so fortunate to have been part of the ride. From anticipation and excitement to fear and anxiety, the race left me feeling completely inspired. The mental strength that Adam exhibited and the joy of watching six amazing people join together as a team to help a friend accomplish a feat like this, was so moving. Adam’s endurance and fight to succeed along with the determination of the crew to get him through left me feeling emotionally drained and flying high all at the same time.  The trail was challenging, but the mental trail was even tougher.  The whole experience made me proud to be a runner, inspired by what can be accomplished, motivated to experience more and blessed to have good friends to share in the journey.

Still time for fun!

Still time for fun!

 Congratulations, Adam, on your amazing accomplishment.  You are AWESOME.  I truly thank you for the experience.  Oh, and in the future, I WILL bring a headlamp, no matter what the time of day, and I encourage you to choose a location with NO bobcats or pitchforks…Until next time!”

An Ultrarunner’s (Almost) First Triathlon Adventure

I’ve been to race expos before. I’ve picked up race materials, perused the vendors’ various sales and enjoyed samples of nutrition products I’d most likely never actually purchase. I’m still a bit uncertain as to why companies seem so intent on pouring in as much sugar as possible onto their products, seemingly covering up the nutritional benefit of the other ingredients and making our bodies work for it like a polar bear clawing at the arctic ice in the dead of winter. I’d much rather the fish swim to me, upstream, flying out of the water and into my mouth like a grizzly bear catching salmon. In fact, maybe I’m on to something there. Perhaps the ideal aid station is full of volunteers with bladders full of water, ready to run alongside you while you pull the water from the flexible straw. Nah, there’s something to be said for actually resting for a few minutes in the middle of a 100 mile race, eh? Perhaps I’ll make that suggestion for my next marathon, though. Ok, I seem to have gotten off track a bit. What was I talking about, again? Oh, right, race expos.

I drove down to Des Moines last Friday to pick up my race materials for the HyVee Triathlon. Although many of my friends are fantastic triathletes, I’ve never ventured into the sport. I’ve always said I’d much rather run the full distance than break it up into other activities. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ll run 140.6 miles straight through before I finish an Ironman. More than anything, though, I’ve avoided them because I’m allergic to water. Well, perhaps I’m not allergic in the “break out in hives and go into anaphylactic shock” sense,  but more in the “this asthmatic kid never really learned how to swim all that well and now associates water with fears of drowning, sharks, jellyfish, and other biting creatures I can’t see” way. This may be an irrational fear but it’s my irrational fear and I’m quite comfortable holding onto it. Thus, when a couple (both in the “two” and “married” sense) of friends suggested we compete in the HyVee Triathlon as a relay team, I was interested. All I’d need to do is run a 10K, and I’d get to experience the race-day spectacle that is a triathlon. This was just the sort of adventure I needed to break up the race season, and satisfy my curiosity. Step 1 was then to pick up my bib before the Sunday race. Well, I guess if you want to be picky, then this was step 2 after we registered our little group, “The Team of Earthly Delights”.


Before picking anything up, I had to attend a race briefing. The amounted to a 15 minute presentation with a representative from the race telling us about the route, transitions, parking, and other logistics. All of this information was clearly posted on the website for anyone to read, but, alas, we live in a culture that doesn’t pay nearly enough attention and certainly doesn’t read what they are given. Can you tell that the academic year just began as well? It’s in the syllabus! The expo itself was very well-organized, and I breezed through packet pick-up. I found it humorous that included in the packet were numbered tattoos to apply to my body. It certainly makes sense if you are going to be swimming because you can’t exactly pin a bib to a spandex swimsuit. However, I was amused at the thought of applying them to myself, along with my bib, just for the run. There would be no question that I was #3646! I was most surprised by the amount of swag I received. It began with a very nice backpack. Interestingly enough, I’ve been searching for a suitable dedicated race bag, and this pack just happens to fit the bill nicely. The bag was even stocked with other samples, including chocolate almond milk, a full bottle of vitamin D (random, right?), a pair of Ironman brand sunglasses, a micro-hand towel, and various other coupons. I was then directed further down to pick up a high quality cycling jersey, as well as a mesh running hat. This haul was a far cry from a single tech shirt, and I certainly wasn’t complaining. I’m pretty sure this is the first race I’ve entered where I received enough swag to balance the full cost of registration!

Since I was completing the running leg, I didn’t need to worry about the logistics of a bike. My friends would venture down the next day, however, to drop the bike off. In the meantime, the logistical nightmare that is an urban triathlon with a closed cycling course was spiraling into emergency road. Recent rains in the area had created some flooding on a portion of the bike course. The HyVee Triathlon also serves as the 5150 U.S. Championships, so they attract elite athletes from all over the world and hand out a rather considerable prize purse as well. Thus, the pressure on the organizers to make sure things go smoothly is that much greater. Unfortunately, these rains meant that they would need to reroute the bike course. More importantly for us, the decision was made to switch from an Olympic distance triathlon (1500 m swim, 40K bike, 10K run) to a sprint distance triathlon (750 m swim, 20K bike, 5K run). The elite athletes would still compete in the full distance, but our race experience would be shortened considerably. Well, I should say that our actual physical activity would be shortened considerably.

This is some quality swag!

This is some quality swag!

In order to get everything ready for a triathlon experience, you need to set out your gear in a transition area before the race begins. Typically this area closes prior to the start of the race so there is no risk of people running into each other. Originally, the transition area was scheduled to be open from 4:30am to 6:30am, with our race beginning at 7:45am. They decided to keep the transition area open during the same hours, but move back the start of our race to 9:00am so that all of the elite athletes (who would start earlier) would be further along and off of the bike course. This meant that we still needed to wake up at 3:00am, leave by 4:00am, drop everything off in transition, and then wait for around 3 hours before our race would begin. This schedule meant I would most likely be beginning my 5K run around 10:30, after standing around waiting to run for 5 hours or so. Although this was far from ideal, I was committed and ready to do what needed to be done. We we racing for fun and not time, so I even considered squeezing in a marathon through downtown Des Moines before my turn came around. It would have certainly made for an interesting story, but also that I wouldn’t be on site to take in the full spectacle of the triathlon experience either.

Unfortunately, an event like this also creates logistical challenges for participants. As a team, we had our schedule figured out perfectly, and my teammates had made arrangements for childcare during the race. The timing of these plans, however, were based on a schedule that had now changed. So, the combination of a changing schedule, a shortened course (and presumably more chaotic, especially on the bike), and at least one rational mind amongst the three of us, meant that we decided not to compete. I was disappointed to have not had my first triathlon experience, but still quite happy with the opportunity to share the whole experience with two great friends (and come away with some great swag!). Although I didn’t actually race, I still got a much better sense of the logistics and chaos that goes into a triathlon. It was all a far-cry from the laid-back attitude of most ultras and ultrarunners I’ve encountered. When it rains the week before an ultra, it just means you’ll be getting muddy! If you aren’t comfortable with the full distance, then just go out there and run until you can’t. Then stop, head back to the start, and we’ll pour you a beer 🙂 Many folks in the ultra community have also tackled Ironman races, and vice-versa, and they are most certainly two distinctly different sports. There is nothing inherently good or bad about the highly organized, logistics-heavy, gear intensive nature of triathlons or the go-with-the-flow, laid-back, just run nature of ultras. They both encourage people to push their limits, and hopefully find joy in what they are doing along the way. I’ll get my triathlon experience in the future. In the meantime, I think I’ll go run 100 miles in a few weeks 🙂

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!


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.



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.


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.


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!


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!


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!

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