Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “trail running”

Daily Chase: Vol. 3

The weekend is upon us, and with it, the wonderful Saturday morning long run to kick things off right! I’m still a bit in shock over the fact that it’s January, and I’m running in shorts, but I’m certainly not complaining.

Chasing 42 Log: 20160109

Run: 26.4 miles. I was out the door by 5:15 this morning and ran some quality miles by the light of my headlamp before meeting up with the DRC folks to hit the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park. The trails are still in great condition, and the leaf cover from the fall has cleared away just enough to offer soft footing without getting in the way. The more time I spend on the trails, the more refreshed I am, without fail. I love it!

Thought: Today’s topic is brought to you by running gear everywhere. It’s a fitting topic as the Outdoor Retailer Convention is taking place at the moment too! Within about 10 minutes of beginning my run this morning, the bite valve on my hydration bladder began to leak. I stopped to fiddle with it, try and tighten or lock it, or otherwise diagnose the problem. Unfortunately, I had very little success. I was able to slow the dripping for a bit, but I still ended up with a giant wet spot at the end of the morning. Luckily, temps were in the 40’s so it wasn’t too bad, but this certainly isn’t a problem I want to deal with when it starts to get colder! What sorts of gear failures have you had while out for a run? Do you have any MacGyver-esque stories about fixes on the fly? I’d love to hear them! I hope everyone has a great day and keep #chasing42!

Maryland H.E.A.T. 50K Race Recap

Our east coast move has been a bit of a whirlwind and my head still hasn’t entirely stopped spinning. There has been quite a bit of “new” in our lives in the past three months, and that including plenty of new running locations and opportunities for me! I held off on setting my fall race schedule until we moved out here and am just now getting things squared away. This meant that I haven’t had anything coming up, which has been a bit of a struggle. I always feel better when I am focusing my training on a particular race, and I’ve been itching to get back to race almost from the moment I arrived in Delaware. So, last week, on a bit of a whim, I signed up for a 50K trail race in Maryland. The MD H.E.A.T. (High Endurance Adventure Test) race was held on August 8th at Patapsco State Park, just outside Baltimore. This meant it was easily within driving range, and I could head down the morning of the race and avoid any need for sleeping accommodations. The epicurean, along with Looper, decided to join me and we made an adventure of it. The result was an immensely challenging and satisfying day!

There’s really only one reason I will ever set my alarm for 3:30AM, and that’s for a race day wake-up. Google told us it would be a 75 minute drive, and the race started at 7AM, so we wanted to be on the road by 5:30 to ensure we had a decent buffer for any directional miscues. I made sure to organize my clothes, shoes, and pack the night before to make the morning as easy as possible, but the alarm was still a painful siren call that I found myself compelled to answer. Looper, our Vizsla, loves the outdoors so we brought her along for the ride. Luckily, she is a wonderful traveler and relatively comfortable in new environments. The race bused folks into the park from a nearby park-and-ride due to the limited amount of parking available on site. We had received permission to drive directly to the park because we had Looper with us, but ended up driving to the park-and-ride first. I arrived at packet pickup around 6:50, which gave me just enough time to pin my bib on, take care of business, and rush to the starting line. This event was technically more of a “run” than a “race”, as they weren’t giving out awards or keeping track of age groups. They offered a 25K and a 50K, with both groups traversing the same 16-mile loop. The 25K didn’t begin until 9AM, so the considerably smaller group of 50K runners (approximately 50) had a solid two hours on the trail before the additional 300 folks started their own trek.

Waiting at the start for the go.

Waiting at the start for the go.

Since the 25K was the main race, the aid stations weren’t going to be fully staffed and set up until the 9AM start. Thus, we had to have enough hydration and nutrition for the first 8 miles with no aid stations to resupply. The park itself runs along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, and encompasses over 16,000 acres. the route took us along beautiful single track, with the occasional access road and paved trail used to connect various points along the way. I mentioned in an earlier post that my legs are still becoming accustomed to the hilly terrain surrounding me, and this race served as my first real test.

Welcome to the east coast hills!

Welcome to the east coast hills!

The first 8 miles of the loop were without a doubt the most difficult, and I became aware very quickly of the elevation gain this race had in store for me. After a fairly calm first mile, several decent hills greeted me over the next few miles as we made our way up and down the river valley, crisscrossing a hilly power line clearing, and navigating switchbacks. We crossed several streams, and the quick splash felt wonderful on a morning where the temps were already in the 70’s and the humidity was approaching 90%. “HEAT” was certainly an appropriate name for the race! It was clear pretty early on that this flatlander wasn’t in Iowa anymore, and my quads were yelling at me for the deception. However, the copious elevation gain I’d been logging over the past few months seemed to have paid off, as I was navigating the highly technical trail pretty well and embracing the climbs. After several sizable climbs, I thought I was well acquainted with the trail and ready to tackle anything that came my way. Then I reached the Grist Mill Trail turn.

Seriously?!

Seriously?!

Around 5.8 miles in, the course took a sharp 90 degree right turn and I ran smack into a rock face. It took me a moment to look up and see the course markers to realize that we were supposed to go up! The 47% grade meant climbing with my hands as much as my feet, and grabbing onto tree roots to pull myself forward. After 100 feet or so, the trail leveled out just enough to stand up again, and I looked up in search of a summit that wasn’t there. The trail seemed to disappear into the woods, and the dense tree canopy nicely shaded the way. This would prove to be the toughest climb of the race, and one of the tougher climbs I’ve tackled in any race, although I’m sure I have more of them ahead of me! At one point, the trail opened up just enough to the left for a scenic outlook and a beautiful view of the valley below. If I had enough oxygen in my brain, I would have snapped a picture but I had to settle for a few of the hill itself. After finally reaching the summit, the trail leveled out and slowly began a calm descent over the course of the next mile, before we eventually ran into a paved bike trail along the river. We took the bike trail for about a mile, and my feet yearned for the rocky, rooty single-track  instead of the smooth asphalt that was guiding me along. We crossed the river on a swinging bridge, and the mile 8 aid station was waiting for us when we got to the other side. I could not have been more happy to see those volunteers!

The roads just don't compare!

The roads just don’t compare!

This was the first race I had run that offered Tailwind at the aid stations, which was a wonderful surprise and convenient supplement to my own supply. I lingered for a few minutes before thanking everyone and heading back out on the course. Almost immediately, the trail made its way up another steep incline but I was feeling much more refreshed after my pit stop and I tackled this hill which considerable ease. After reaching the top, the next 6 miles were relatively easy compared to the first half of the race. The trail continued to offer plenty of rolling hills, stream crossings, and technical switchbacks, but my legs had adapted and I tackled the miles quite comfortably. With less than a mile left, the trail ran straight into a 30 foot stone wall. I initially looked straight up and sighed at the thought of having to scale the enormous wall, which was serving as some sort of barrier along the river. However, I eventually noticed the 8 foot connecting wall situated at a 90 degree angle, and headed over to scale it. Going up was fairly easy, but going back down the other side was a bit more treacherous and I wondered what it would feel like on the second loop. I landed safely on the ground, picked the trail back up, and headed for the clearing and the start/finish area. I finished the first loop a bit faster than I had intended (shocking, I know!) but I was feeling really good. I stopped to chat with the epicurean, rehydrate, and take in some more nutrition, and then I headed back out on the second and final loop.

Heading back out for loop 2!

Heading back out for loop 2!

I knew what awaited me as I ventured out on the second loop, and was encouraged by the fact that I would encounter aid stations every 4 miles for this second loop. My legs were doing an excellent job of reminding me of the first loop as I tackled the early hills on the second loop. My pace slowed some, but I expected that and welcomed it, knowing I had more than enough time in the bank. I was partially dreading and partially looking forward to the Grist Mill climb as I moved along, so everything up until that point seemed more like an opening act before the main attraction. My legs were much more tired the second time around, and I’m sure the climb took me longer, but I relished in the accomplishment, one foot in front of the other. By the time I reached the paved bike path, the popular state park was much busier, and I found myself avoiding walkers, runners, bikers, and other folks wandering down by the river. I was that much more excited when I reached the swinging bridge because I knew I only had 8 miles left and they were quite manageable. A minute or so after I arrived at the mile 8 aid station, another guy came in and promptly called it quits. I tried to talk him out of his DNF and offered to run with him for a bit but he was done. I made sure to maintain my positive attitude as I embarked on the large climb just past the aid station.

Looper enjoyed the river almost as much as I did!

Looper enjoyed the river almost as much as I did!

The final 8 miles flew by pretty quickly, even if I wasn’t moving as fast as the first time around. I had judged my hydration and nutrition well, and my body was feeling good even if my legs were a tad bit tired. Over the next few miles, I began to pass folks running the 25K race, and I did my best to encourage them to keep going. I stopped a few times to offer assistance to folks, but kept myself moving forward. Relentless forward progress was key! The wall climb at the end proved to be much easier than I thought it would be, but I was a bit disoriented when I got to the other side until someone pointed out the exit onto the clearing to me. I emerged from the beautiful, shaded park and ran through the finish line to the sound of ringing cowbells (have I mentioned how much I despise them?), and I had a delightfully exhausted smile on my face. I collected some food at the finish area and headed over to sit down and decompress with the epicurean and Looper. In total, I gained over 5800 feet of elevation, which, considering the distance, made this the hilliest race I’ve run to date. When you throw in the highly technical trails, it became a fantastic test not only of my trail running abilities, but of my hill work as well. My quads were sore, but I was feeling great. It may have been a wicked early morning, but this impromptu race turned into a wonderful mini-getaway. It will no doubt be the first of many in our new east coast home!

Not a bad view on the way home either!

Not a bad view on the way home either!

Winterthur: It’s a Magical Place!

Not only did I question whether or not Delaware was an actual state prior to moving here, but I certainly would have never heard of Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library if it wasn’t for the beautiful epicurean’s career field and her new amazing position at said library. You learn very fast when moving to Northern Delaware that the name Dupont carries quite a bit of weight in these parts! The Dupont family had a significant influence economically, socially, and politically in the area, as evidenced by the Dupont plant right down the round, and the plethora of streets, parks, and schools named after various members of the Dupont family. One such member of the Dupont family was Henry Francis Dupont. Unlike many of his other more industry-oriented family members, H.F.’s interests were more focused on horticulture and decorative arts.

A playful note in the Enchanted Woods!

A playful note in the Enchanted Woods!

Gates near the reflecting pool (and former family pool).

Grates near the reflecting pool (and former family pool).

More specifically, he became fascinated with antique American decorative arts and soon amassed the single largest collection of American antiques in the world. Even before his interest in antiques took hold, his green thumb guided many of his life decisions. He honed his craft, and on the grounds of his estate, created an amazing, sprawling, multi-dimensional naturalistic garden and landscaping masterpiece. That estate was Winterthur, named after the town in Switzerland where the family originated. Henry Francis donated the main mansion and estate as a museum in 1951 and continued to live in a smaller building on the estate until his passing in 1969. His legacy can be seen in vivid color as you explore the 60 acres of naturalistic gardens and the remainder of the massive nearly 1000 acre estate. Visitors travel from around the world to explore the massive collection of decorative arts, conduct research in the library collection, and explore the beautiful grounds.

Winterthur 3

The entire estate is incredibly visitor friendly, and accessible, regardless of your background knowledge of antiques or horticulture. Miles and miles of trails traverse the estate and allow for seemingly endless exploration. Very early on in my time in Delaware, I made it a point to explore Winterthur on foot, as I was there almost daily. Although the trails, both paved and unpaved, are intended to allow greater access to the grounds, they also present a unique opportunity for an early morning or later afternoon run of unprecedented beauty. There is something in bloom at any given time, and the diversity of plant and animal life creates a truly special environment.

It's hard not to stop and photograph everything!

It’s hard not to stop and photograph everything!

I’ve now been in Delaware for a little over two months, and have spent countless hours on the trails throughout the estate. It’s incredibly easy to get lost in the beauty around you and I always seem to find something new and unique with each additional run on the grounds. The estate happens to be right next to Brandywine Creek State Park as well (look for more in a future post), and it’s even an easy run home if I don’t feel like driving. As with the rest of the region, there is no shortage of hills, but the well-maintained trails simply can’t be beat and there are even several cafes on site in case you want a bite to eat when you are done. There is no question that I am lucky to have access to such an incredibly resource, and I am looking forward to many more runs and explorations to come! #chasing42

The diverse landscapes are simply incredible!

The diverse landscapes are simply incredible!

Did I mention the goats and flock of specially bred sheep?!

Oh, and did I mention the goats and flock of specially bred sheep?!

Initial Reflections on Delaware

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Wilmington for two months now! The summer has truly flown by, and now that I’m caught up on my final Iowa escapades and the amazing experience that was the Race Across the USA, I can return to my regularly scheduled programming. It’s been a simultaneously relaxed and eventful transition, complete with all of the chaos of setting up a new home and figuring out the world around us. We’ve slowly begun to carve out a home for ourselves, figure out how to meet our regular needs, and begin to navigate a completely new part of the country and new stage in our lives. The epicurean’s new position at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Gardens has been a wonderful transition and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen her more happy day in and day out. I completed my summer teaching responsibilities online at Iowa State, and have now officially left that position and am on the hunt for a new professional adventure (if you have any leads, I’d be happy to forward my resume 🙂 ).

DE-1

Amidst the unsettled nature of hitting reset on the life button, I’ve found time to continue my training in a way and have learned quite a bit about my new running home along the way. There are many new trails, hikes, races, and running friends to look forward to, and I’m certainly excited for the new running opportunities that living on the East Coast presents. It’s been a profoundly different and challenging experience to run so many miles without my Vardo partners in crime, and I still miss them terribly. When I first undertook the challenge of running, it was the friends surrounding me that kept me going, got me out the door, and motivated me on a daily basis. Throughout my growth as a runner, my biggest joy has been the relationships I’ve built and the opportunities to witness others accomplish their own running goals and grow closer to them with each passing mile. It’s strange, then, to find myself in a new area of the country where I know no one and am now running more solo miles than I’ve ever run before. I often find myself, out of habit, thinking about who I would share any new discovery, route, or trail with and then realizing that Facebook is truly only a shadow of life, always shifting as the earth turns each day and the sun rises and sets. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to discover some pretty exciting locations and opportunities in my short time in Delaware and I’m optimistic about what the future will bring. So, let me give you the Cliff’s notes version of what still feels like an extended vacation!

Heat & Humidity

Technically speaking, we aren’t that much further south so I didn’t expect the summer weather to be all that much different. I should have known better. It was in the 90’s the day I drove up in May, and it has been consistently hot all summer with little sign of relief until fall. I’ve never been a huge fan of the heat, and it’s always taken me what seems like far too long to acclimate, but it’s been an entirely new challenge in Wilmington. In addition to the heat, the humidity is rather atrocious. I’m used to a few days of high humidity every once in a while, but I seem to be bathing in a dog’s mouth every time I step foot outside. It doesn’t matter if I’m beginning a Saturday morning run at 6AM, or heading out for a short afternoon run. My body has been struggling to cope, and it’s definitely left me more exhausted than normal. I realized just how bad the humidity was a few days ago when it dropped to around 40%. Despite temps that hovered around 90 degrees, my run felt almost effortless by comparison. It really does make quite the difference!

DE-2

Hello, hills! 

It’s no secret that Iowa is a pretty darn flat state. I’ve spent my entire running life in Iowa, which meant I was far from accustomed to any sort of variable terrain. It wasn’t uncommon for me to log 25 or 30 miles and see a grand total of 300 feet of elevation gain. Delaware, however, is a different story all together! My legs are now, after two months, beginning to adjust to the fact that every single run I go on here is the equivalent of a hill workout in Iowa. I’m not sure there is a single stretch of flat land anywhere to be seen, and I’ve been racking up the elevation gain! The result is a new-found confidence with a wider variety of races, and the realization that I might be able to tackle some of my mountain-running bucket list items after all.

DE-3

Trails, my old friends

Since my first ultra and first trail race several years ago, I’ve been hooked. There is just something incredible about hitting the trails for a run and losing yourself in the miles that I can’t seem to replicate on the road. Unfortunately, living where we did in Iowa meant very limited access to trails and spending most of my time on the road. The landscape around Wilmington is a totally different experience! There is a wonderfully high concentration of state parks within running distance of our house, and even more access simply by hopping in the car for a few minutes. We bought a state park pass, naturally, and I’ve already had the opportunity to hit the trails in 5 different parks. It is a strange feeling to have such incredible access to so many legit trails, complete with switchbacks, stream crossings, and relentless hills. I’ve been in trail heaven!

DE-4

A New Running Community

I’ve made it crystal clear how important it is to me to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who share my passion for running. So much of my motivation comes from the efforts of those around me, so it was quite hard to leave such a tight-knit community behind. Luckily, I’ve begun to connect with other runners in the area, with the hopes of cutting back on my far too regular solo runs! I took it as a great sign that our next door neighbor is also a runner, and I even had the chance to run with her and a friend the first Saturday I was here. Since then, I’ve found the Delaware Running Club, and have run with them on numerous group trail runs. I even had the chance to participate in the Festival of Miles, which was my first official track race and led to my new mile PR of 6:08. Obviously I need to get it under 6:00 now! It’s a large group full of wonderful people with diverse running and life backgrounds, and I’m really enjoying getting to know folks!

Scenery & Orientation

The most shocking thing for me out here, even more than the hills and humidity, has been the overwhelming beauty of this area. I’ve lost track of the number of times I found myself stopping in the middle of a run to simply take in all of the beauty around me. It’s common to find a random historic marker, the remains of an old mill, or the remnants of a luxury amusement park from the turn of the 20th century (more on that in a future post!). The lush, green forests, rolling hills, and streams everywhere make each run something special. Unfortunately, stopping to gawk at the beauty of the area isn’t very good for my already tenuous sense of direction. When I left Ames, I could tell you how to get anywhere on foot, and how far it was within a tenth of a mile. I knew that area like the back of my hand. I’ve now found myself in an area where grids and city planning were an afterthought (Delaware is the first state, after all), and the winding roads mean I often don’t know north from south. I’ve begrudgingly started carrying my phone with me on most runs, and have needed to pull it out on several occasions to see just how turned around I really am. On one particularly ominous evening, I left my phone (and water and nutrition) at home for what I had intended to be an easy 6-mile run out and back. However, my curiosity got the best of me and one wrong turn led to another. Before I knew it, I had basically made my way to the PA border, and I had logged 18 dehydrated miles before I finally got home. Epic fail! I’m hoping that won’t become a regular occurrence 🙂

DE-5

Running @ Winterthur

One of my favorite places to run thus far is actually a place I find myself every single day (and jealous of the fact that the epicurean takes her lunch breaks on the grounds!). I wrote about Winterthur back in December when we traveled out so the epicurean to visit, and I was mesmerized then. However, the gardens truly shine in the spring and summer, with something new in bloom practically every week. There are countless paved and single-track trails meandering around the 1000 acre estate, and I truly feel as though I’m in another world, whether I’m out there running or curling up with a good book as I listen to the birds sing. I’ll be sure to highlight the beauty of this place in a future post, but few words can truly do it justice, especially for this Midwestern flatlander!

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So there you have it…it’s been a hilly two months, if you will, in more ways than one but we are finally beginning to settle in and get to work on making Wilmington our home for many years to come!

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.

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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

Trail and Ultra-Running Hygiene Thoughts

I just got out of the shower. This might not seem like a profound statement, most likely because it isn’t. However, it did get me to thinking about hygiene. More specifically, I began to think about the unique aspects of hygiene found among trail and ultra-runners. We are, of course, a different breed in many ways, and we embrace that as part of our cultural and sport identity. I know we comment on many of these aspects in our daily conversation. In many instances, we interact with enough other trail and ultrarunners that these conversations become normal, even if they aren’t necessarily. It’s after you are talking with a non-runner about peeing on the side of a trail 4 hours into a run that you realize just how special we really are in this, and many other ways.

With that introduction, I thought it would be fun to start the list of unique, outrageous, or otherwise outside of the norm hygiene practices that we so happily embrace when out on the trails…and perhaps the office as well. Whether we should or not is always open for debate (as long as you agree with me, of course)!

1. It’s probably appropriate to start with the subject of showering. My most recent shower was my second of the day. It’s not a coincidence that I had just completed my second run of the day. I’ve found myself measuring my need for a shower based more on frequency of runs than repetition of days. This could be good or bad. I haven’t had any complaints yet, and I still clean up quite well.

I do clean up pretty well :) It helps to have the perfect motivation!

I do clean up pretty well 🙂 It helps to have the perfect motivation!

2. Am I the only one that’s reaching for deodorant and accidentally grabbed the Body Glide instead? Vice-versa? I’m pretty sure I use them both in equal amounts!

adidas_002

3. Cologne/Perfume- I’m going for a run this afternoon…why would I spray that on? This is where I give all of you body-spray loving runners the stink-eye. Don’t bring that stuff into the woods with you!

4. Although many different activities necessitate additional laundry, I feel like it becomes even more of a love/hate relationship with trail and ultra-running. Although I probably wash running clothes twice as much as all other clothing, I also look for anti-microbial performance fabrics so I can stretch out the usefulness of my running clothing further. In addition, we all have the bag of dirty clothes from a previous race that never quite made it to the washing machine…or was at least delayed considerably. It’s time to go check the backseat of your car now!

5. Sweating takes on new meaning once you’ve been doing it for 8 or 10 hours. At a certain point, it shifts from being a nuisance to an important marker of hydration, and thus desirable. I also find myself much more annoyed when I’m particularly active on a hot day and not wearing running clothes. A cotton dress shirt just doesn’t cut it in 100% humidity.

6. Snot rockets. They’re oh so acceptable, enviable even, while out on the trail. However, you tend to get some pretty funny looks when you let one rip at the bus stop, or on your way to a meeting at work. What else am I supposed to do?

Snot-Rocket1

7. The 10-Second Rule…extended- It’s amazing how your tolerance for a little dirt and dust on your food goes up considerably once you’ve been running for several hours. The orange slices, pretzels, and candy at that aid station looks amazing, and it doesn’t matter in the least that you are the 200th person to stick your hand in that bowl!

8. Taking Care of Business…on the trail, on the run? There is so much beauty in nature worth exploring, but you best make sure you stick to the trail and don’t do too much bushwhacking. You’re never quite sure what you are going to step in, or what species it belongs to for that matter. Sadly, stepping to the side to quickly pee, or go a bit deeper and squat is considered illegal in most states unless you happen to be out on the trail. Just don’t forget the extra toilet paper in a ziplock bag, or brush up on your leaf identification skills. Special props that those unique runners that have masters the art of literally going on the run.

9. Blood, sweat, and tears are a way of life after so many hours out on the trail. Under normal circumstances, we might reach for a band-aid after the smallest paper cut. However, head out on the trail and our threshold for pain explodes. I ran square into a low hanging branch 5 miles into my very first 50K. I wiped up the massive amounts of blood with my sweat towel, put my hat back on, and kept going. It wasn’t until after I finished the race that I headed to the med tent and they told me to go to the ER to get 4 staples in my head. 🙂

10. Travel Product Priorities- Have you noticed that you started filling your toiletries kit a bit differently for trips? It’s amazing how normal personal care items are slowly pushed out by the likes of Body Glide, foot and toe lubricant, sun screen, and that special lip balm. This hygiene message demands a special shout-out to Dr. Bronner’s (the magic everything soap that leaves everything minty fresh, whether it’s your body or your dishes), and Trail Toes (keep the rubbing and blisters away no matter the distance or terrain!).

I know there are more unique hygiene practices out there, and I’d love to hear all about them. Add to the list and feel free to share any and all stories along the way!

The Pacer Chronicles: The Flight of the Squirrel

The joy of having multiple pacers is that the memories and accounts of the event all differ just enough to make these stories different. This account keeps that theory alive as Lani describes her experience at the Mark Twain 100.

“The ultra run experience is still pretty fresh. I made my debut as a pacer at the Mark Twain 100 in the middle of September. Someone used the word “intense” to describe it. I cannot think of a better word. It truly was one of the most intense and rewarding running experiences I’ve had to-date. I have hesitated to write this because I don’t want to take any undue ownership of Adam’s run, but I found it meaningful enough personally to go ahead and write down some of my thoughts about it all since he requested it.

Lani "The Flying Squirrel" made friends on the way down to MO.

Lani “The Flying Squirrel” made friends on the way down to MO.

Adam arrived for his final 25 mile loop at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning…. I had been waiting for him since midnight. Not because I expected him to be there at midnight, but just because I had been sleeping fitfully and I just really wanted to be ready when he came rolling in to the aid station where we were camping. I knew the last thing he would need is to be waiting on me. It was cold out. I was shivering in my layers inside a cozy sleeping bag and having visions of him and Carla out in the dark woods with nothing but shorts and shirts. When we met him earlier at mile 59 and he came running in with Nicole (our first crew pacer), he was not only hurting but also fighting back severe nausea and stomach cramping (something he had never experienced before) from eating half of a burrito with cheese in it that didn’t settle well with his lactose intolerant constitution. His wife/crew chief extraordinaire had given him a digestive enzyme at this point, we had all lifted him to his feet and reluctantly pushed him out of the first aid station (words from his wife/crew chief extraordinaire whispered in his ear spurring him forward) with Carla (the next-in-line of the crew pacers) to navigate the next six hours of the night. It was SO hard to watch him go knowing how bad he was hurting. I can only imagine what his wife was thinking/feeling. In those hours before midnight, I lay in my cozy sleeping bag worrying. Weird things happen when you fade in and out of consciousness. Hearing the cowbell when runners came in at various points throughout the evening (at one point in the evening, Nicole thrashed restlessly, half-awake/half-asleep, around in her sleeping bag and commanded, “Seriously! Enough with the damn cowbell ALREADY!” I mean really… we were trying to get sleep around here… those runners can find a different way to be motivated, right? Heh.) and listening to the race director masterfully help runners make their way back out on the course. “Get moving,” I would hear him demand, “You’ll warm up when you start moving. Do you have a coat? Does anyone have a coat? You need to get a coat on and get back out there. GET outta here. Move… you’ll warm up when you start moving.”

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz's.

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz’s.

It sounded harsh, but I realized psychologically this is what those runners needed to be able to finish. Self-motivation was near impossible at this point in their running experience. An excuse to stop would be a welcome reprieve from the aches, the tiredness, the shivering from the cold, and the gigantic mountain of the prospect of a “night in the dark woods” looming ahead of them. At one point, I sat straight up and looked at a sleepy, disoriented Nicole trying to make sense of what I was saying and asked, “Where’s Adam’s coat? His silver coat he had on this morning? We need his coat.” So it was no wonder I just got myself up and set myself in a chair around the campfire at midnight with others waiting for their runners to come in. My company was mixed. One man whose wife was running her first 100. Another couple of guys whose Dad was out on the course and were discussing ways to keep their mother from worrying and plotting how they could just get her to come out of hiding in her tent and sit around the campfire with the rest of us. A young man, experienced in 100 mile runs himself, waiting to pace a friend who was quite willing to share tips with me about what I should do for Adam through the next leg of the race. What I learned? Melissa (Adam’s wife) said it best. “Crewing for an ultra involves a LOT of waiting around and anxious speculation.”

Ready and waiting...and waiting :)

Ready and waiting…and waiting 🙂

When Adam finally rolled in at 2:30 a.m., he was tired and sat down in a chair voicing his decision to stop (this at mile 75 with one more 25 mile loop to go… and well ahead of the cut off deadline). I had been told this would happen (thank you, Larry Kelly, for a very accurate and thorough pacer overview/tutorial of what to expect) and I thought he looked good enough to continue (at least until the next first aid station where we could re-evaluate) so when he came rolling in at 2:30ish saying he was sorry and he was done, giving me a hug and asking me if I was disappointed in him… acting a bit loopy and a lot tired… well, we just sat him down in the chair… I put my gloves on his hands, someone in first aid got him some warm potato soup, I put my Relay Iowa jacket on him (as I mentioned earlier, it was COLD in MO that night and he was only wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt!), I offered him some Aleeve which he took even though he normally doesn’t, I put Carla’s (the pacer who just brought him in from mile 59) headlamp on his head, pulled him up and said, “Let’s get going, Adam… you’ll warm up if you get moving.”… he stood up and weakly/slowly/wobbly, but not unwillingly and more notably, without any verbal protest, followed me… I did my best to power him through from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m (apparently the darkest hours mentally and physically in the ultra run experience, although I’m not sure this was the case in Adam’s experience as he had a pretty challenging 16 miles with Carla just prior to my shift)…. it was a pretty long nine miles, and I’m not sure what he remembers about those dark hours but he kept up with me pretty good and I tried to push him as much as I dared… non-stop through the dark for those four long hours I was saying… look out for those roots, watch for those rocks… stay with me… stop and take a drink (when he did, he swayed in a slow circle trying to stay awake)… he was not coherent at all and completely childlike in his dependence on me. We talked about various things. Who had he met? What was his favorite ultra race, to date? What was his highest point, so far. His lowest point? Where was his favorite place to vacation? We made up a little song about “rock and roots” and laughed some. He stopped mid-trail at one point when he heard some rustling off to the side in the shadows just outside the fringes of our headlamps’ line of vision. I heard it, too, but didn’t want him using energy to worry about anything so assured him I had just tripped over a rock.

Thankfully I didn’t research big animals in the dark Mark Twain woods until AFTER I got home from the race. A small little white mouse skittered out onto the trail and then back to the left. We were passed a couple of times by human beings. The second time, by a man who looked at us with a long hollow, glazed over, vacant stare as he trudged by and on up the hill. Straight out of a horror movie kind of stare. At another point Adam talked about how he was so very, very tired and could just curl up over there on the side and go to sleep. “I know you could, Adam, but we just have to keep going,” I urged. At some point, I veered to the left and down into a riverbed. Thankfully, Adam was coherent enough to stop and call me on my error. It was the only time, I believe, I actually came close to getting us lost in the woods and somehow I think it wouldn’t have taken me very long in that direction to realize it. However, at this point? Every extra step? Really. Counts. Sorry, Adam. It was also at this juncture I quite distinctly heard an animal growl off to the right side of the trail and a little behind us. It is strange how your mind just pretends it isn’t really happening. That it’s just your imagination. That there really aren’t ferocious forest animals in the dark that could eat humans. How you just set your face forward and power ahead. Adam talked about how he just wanted to sit by a campfire. “Soon,” I assured him, “very soon.” And I didn’t know how true that would be. As we approached the first aid station, a chair was waiting for him in front of a very inviting, cozy campfire – a worrisome inviting, cozy campfire. I was having visions of him deciding to curl up right there and go to sleep. So he again enjoyed a warm bite of potato soup – this time in front of the fire and I’m a bit disappointed now to realize he doesn’t remember any of it. It seemed like such a welcome reprieve in an otherwise dark, cold night. As had been typical of our experience with the race support staff all race long, I was treated once more to their above-and-beyond attentiveness as they helped me change the battery in Adam’s waning headlamp and we were ready to move on out again. I knew for certain it needed to be sooner rather than later. The dark woods awaited us. A few times I remember telling him, “Adam, this is the last time! The last time you will run this trail until you come back someday.” He assured me it was the last time. EVER. There was only one other stop on the trail as my own headlamp grew dim where we were passed by a woman and her pacer. I had Adam take a hydration break while I replaced the batteries. It’s amazing what a difference a bright, as opposed to not dim, light makes.

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

And this next stretch is where the miracle started to happen. I had been told if we could keep him running until daylight, he’d be home free. I remember being amazed myself to look up and see light at the top of the trees above. I remember thinking, “Is that the moon?”, and then hearing that first bird… the hopeful morning song of the whip-poor-will calling out in the dark woods not that much unlike the one you hear in this video clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sukE9pGayRc. It was then the full realization hit that it was daylight. We had made it to daylight! I pointed up and said, “Adam, look… it’s daylight. You know what that means? Today’s the day. Today’s the day you run 100 miles!” The next few miles were a challenge as we winded back and forth through the woods, me worrying the entire time that maybe we were not on the trail, but not wanting to burden Adam with my worry by voicing it. So I looked for and inwardly and outwardly rejoiced every time we saw a pink ribbon or arrow on the ground reassuring me that indeed… we were still on the trail. Almost unexpectedly, we popped out of the forest onto the paved road we had to run on for just a little ways to the first aid station where Eric (our final pacer and the absolute perfect one to bring Adam to the finish line, I might add!) was waiting to take him on the home stretch. Emotions surfaced sharply and unexpectedly, tears welling up in my eyes, overpowering me as I realized I was running (yes, running!) alongside him (did I mention that we were running??!!) down that paved road and up to that first aid station in those early morning dawn hours, the sky filled with such beautiful light… it was an experience I can’t explain in words or ever replicate. A euphoria, a sense of re-awakening, a sense of hope and pride in his accomplishment I could never describe. And I said it out loud again. Just in case Adam hadn’t heard me the first time. “This is the DAY, Adam! This is the beautiful, amazing day you run 100 miles! We did it! No. YOU did it!”

No better way to pass the morning hours!

No better way to pass the morning hours!

The Mark Twain National Forest is pretty dark, even with the moon, in the wee hours of the morning. Cut off for this trail ultra was 32 hours. He wanted to finish in 24, but to my knowledge he’d never done a trail run like this before. I was literally picking up his leg for him and then supporting him as he would lift himself across the logs across the trail at various points. I would later find out this was largely because of a hamstring injury he sustained earlier in the race. On the last one, I actually lifted his leg across and then physically lifted/pulled him across the log myself. At certain points during the night he was fighting to stay awake. In fact, I’m quite certain he might have run while sleeping the last part of our run. I was very humbled and a lot inspired by the whole experience… it really spoke to me about the power of a good “encourager” and how important encouragement is to finishing when you don’t have the power to encourage yourself. I was glad to be able to play a small part in him achieving his big goal. He EARNED that belt buckle! So proud of him. So amazing to see “Don’t want to? Do it anyway.” in action.”

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