Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More good reading

I was at Half Price Books today and I stumbled upon C. Craig Burns' "Constant Forward Motion: The Running of the Lymphoma Ultra Series." There aren't a whole lot of books out there about ultrarunning, and I thought I had read most of the books on the subject. I had never heard of this one. I started reading some of it and it is absolutely compelling. It is the autobiographical account of a man who was diagnosed with cancer and took up ultrarunning. It is a story of faith and courage. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but when I do, I will write about it on here. If you have the chance, seek out this read. Isn't it amazing how inspirational stories are all around us?

Monday, July 26, 2010

My First Ultramarathon

I found this race report of the Warda Cardiac Ultra from EnduranceBuzz.com. This was my first ultra run, a 50 miler! I had just finished my first marathon in San Antonio a week before. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I remember I didn't have a headlamp or any kind of light, so I stuck close to the runners in front of me for all of the night running. Oh, innocent times. I also remember that it was super muddy and wet and that I kept falling down in the muddy downhill parts. I didn't like the idea of peeing on the trail, out in the open. So, I would hold it until I got the the start line on each loop and I used the restroom that was there (my sense of propriety didn't last long. After about a marathon, I decided to pee on the trails). Also, notice in the pictures below, I was wearing like a blue plastic parka thing. Why the hell was I trying to stay dry? That thing was super hot, anyway. All things considered, it was a very fun little race. I got emotional at the end. Here is the race report:

Busy weekend of ultrarunning in the region on one of those events was the Warda Cardiac trail run taking place 40 or so miles east of Austin Texas.

The event had a distance for nearly everyone; 50 mile, 50 km, and 25 km. 58 athletes braved what appeared to be a challenging day due to the rain.

Often I try to breakdown the results for you but this time I have a special treat. Race Director, Joe Prusaitis (Tejas Trails), who puts on a handful of high quality dirt events in our region and is a bad-ass trail runner in his own right, was kind enough to allow me to publish his report from the event which will provide an even greater perspective on the race experience.



Joe’s Report

This story started with the rain and ended with the mud. When I
marked the course on Friday, it rained off and on most of the day,
and the course was certainly messy, but not all that bad, and maybe a
little bit fun.

The course is a 7.5 mile loop, and adjustments where made for the
amount of loops and add ons for the distances of 50 miles, 31 miles,
and 15.5 miles. It started with a twisted up tangle of trails that
switched back and forth, then a few small fields, and then the bluff
that the trail descends & climbs a few times with a tight S-turn
switchback mid-descent, and one creek crossing. Mostly, its pretty
fast and easy. The mud changed all that.

The rain on Friday continued all night and into race morning, so that
the 6am 50 milers on their first shortened 5 mile loop, skipped the
bluff section until loop two. The 50km runners starting at 7am merged
with the 50 milers such that the two groups discovered the bluffs at
about the same time. When the 25km joined in at 8am, it was still
raining. The temperature locked in between 50 and 60 the entire day,
so, it was really a beautiful day, but word started coming in that
the creek was getting pretty high and the climbs up the bluff had
become so slick with mud as to be almost impassable. People were
either going around it, or they were crawling up. We took ropes out
and tied off on roots and trees so as to provide something to hold
onto. It helped, but the climb was still pretty messy. The S-turn
descent could only be taken at a fast run or a butt slide, and this
followed hard after the v-cut mud climb that was a pig pen mud slop
that was slow but manageable. The creek was running high and fast,
but perfectly placed to wash away all the mud from the previous

Francisco Garza led the 50 miler from the start, with Chad Armstrong
10 mins back for 27 miles, and then Chad withdrew from the race,
leaving a huge gap between him and the rest of the field. Francisco
certainly dealt with the mud better than most, finishing in 8:18:09
in some very tough conditions. George Hitzfeld seemed to enjoy the
conditions more than some, thanking me many times for the perfect
conditions for him. He came in a strong 2nd in 9:16:23. Claude Hicks
was 3rd in 10:04:41. Jennifer Evans won the women’s race in 10:40:54
and was 4th overall. Parvaneh Moeyedi was 2nd in 11:05:45, with
Barbara Hitzfeld 3rd in 12:01:40. There were 14 starters with 12

The ladies took the 50km by storm, with Sheila Van Cuyk of New Mexico
running away with the overall win in 5:08:48, with Tracy Holland 2nd
overall in 5:30:49. Brett Basham was 3rd overall and 1st male in
5:49:33. Richelle Lopez and Susan Farago came together for 4th and
5th overall to top of the women’s winners in 6:11:30. 2nd & 3rd male
winners were Steven Monte and Jerry Holbrook who came in together in
6:17:59. There were 20 starters and 19 finishers.

Ty Reagan started quick and stayed out front to win the 25km in
2:00:43, with Stephen Dunn 2nd in 2:06:47, and Jason Holmes was 3rd
in 2:12:29. Clair Melton won the women’s race in 2:49:24, with
Heather Olin Wright 2nd in 2:57:26, and Nancy Marks was 3rd in
2:58:26. There were 24 starters with 23 finishers.

The conditions with regard to the rain and the temperature were
ideal, but the mud on a few steep slopes and the high water creek
crossing made things much more difficult than anticipated. I am
amazed and enlightened by the attitude and the resiliency of the
runners under the circumstances. So few fell out, choosing instead to
keep going despite the difficulties. The mood was always light and
fun. It had the feel of a close knit group of friends who happened to
be playing in the mud.

Joe Prusaitis
TejasTrails. com

1 8:18:09 Francisco Garza M 44 TX
2 9:16:23 George Hitzfeld M 49 TX
3 10:04:41 Claude Hicks Jr M 53 TX
4 10:40:54 Jennifer Evans F 40 TX
5 10:46:02 Adam Korona M 35 TX
6 11:05:45 Parvaneh Moayedi F 45 TX
7 11:12:55 Steven Holehan M 44 TX
8 11:33:48 Richard Reaves M 39 TX
9 11:52:33 Gerard Martinez M 24 TX
10 11:59:09 Manton Willoughby M 23 TX
11 12:01:40 Barbara Hitzfeld F 48 TX
12 13:17:05 Brian Briggs M 44 TX
14 starters

1 5:08:48 Sheila Van Cuyk F 40 NM
2 5:30:49 Tracy Holland F 44 TX
3 5:49:33 Brett Basham M 49 TX
4 6:11:30 Richelle Lopez F 31 TX
5 6:11:30 Susan Farago F 39 TX
6 6:17:59 Steven Monte M 40 TX
7 6:17:59 Jerry Holbrook M 49 TX
8 6:27:53 Mariann Johnston F 41 NM
9 6:47:55 Joe Barry M 63 TX
10 6:52:57 Patricia Fick F 46 TX
11 7:01:39 Stephanie Davidson F 30 TX
12 7:01:39 Colin Davidson M 30 TX
13 7:01:41 Jeff Farrell M 49 TX
14 7:13:21 Natalie Duvall F 31 TX
15 7:13:58 Michael Dino M 27 TX
16 7:26:05 Sammy Voltaggio M 58 TX
17 8:08:28 Brenda Baker F 45 TX
18 8:17:10 Nadine Kurtti F 40 TX
19 8:38:53 Bruce Evans M 53 TX
20 starters

1 2:00:43 Ty Reagan M 25 TX
2 2:06:47 Stephen Dunn M 20 TX
3 2:12:29 Jason Holmes M 33 TX
4 2:19:36 Matthew Moreno M 23 TX
5 2:40:18 Dave Shaw M 45 TX
6 2:49:24 Clair Melton F 47 TX
7 2:49:24 Craig Osborn M 41 TX
8 2:57:26 Heather Olin Wright F 26 TX
9 2:58:26 Nancy Marks F 49 TX
10 3:04:45 Stephen Bush M 24 TX
11 3:05:12 Todd Eitleman M 42 TX
12 3:11:05 Sara Moore F 30 TX
13 3:13:29 Grace Moore F 25 TX
14 3:17:53 Elizabeth Crowe F 44 TX
15 3:24:12 Christopher Null M 42 TX
16 3:46:17 Alex Weisbach M 41 TX
17 3:50:34 Lee Topham M 68 TX
18 3:55:31 Warren Kastner M 48 TX
19 4:00:47 Robert Lott M 48 TX
20 4:29:25 January Cummings F 33 TX
21 4:29:25 Chauncey Williams M 28 TX
22 5:03:06 Preston Skelding M 8 TX
23 5:03:06 Jim Skelding M 39 TX
24 starters


The Tough-as-Nails Award

nails1The final finishers of an ultra distance event are some of the toughest athletes that are willing to stick with it to the best of their current ability and cross that darn finish line.

The Tough-as-Nails award recipients:

* Brian Briggs – 50 mile.
* Bruce Evans – 50 km.
* Preston and Jim Skelding – 25 km.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels: A Runner's Poem

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels
Which give us a boost
When energy is low.

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels
Which make us perk up,
Make us run like a pro.

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels!
They work so damned good
During a long run or during a race.

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels!
They work like a charm,
And help me keep pace.

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels!
They're fun and they're tasty.
The can make you into a winner.

Ode to Vanilla Bean GU Gels
You can eat them anytime.
Hell! I'd eat 'em for dinner!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Do You Run?

There are tons of videos out there on the Internet about running. A lot of them try to portray the essence of motivation, but this is the first one I've seen that comes close to capturing the magic of the run. I've often turned to this video for inspiration. Check it out. It's worth watching!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Badwater 2010 - Crewing/Pacing for Ken Posner (Part 2)

Apparently, it's quite common for crews to argue. I've heard some real horror stories. One Badwater crew member, whom I ran into at the Vegas airport coming home, told me about a fight on his crew, in which the two people started cursing and yelling at each other. Ken told me that he heard one crew became completely dysfunctional. Another friend told me that a married couple on his crew started quarreling back and forth until finally the husband threw a water bottle at his wife, sat in the van, and then refused to do anything for the rest of the race; imagine being stuck in a van for 60 hours with two people going at it like that!

As for our crew, things never got that bad, thank God. But, there were some trying moments. The thing you have to understand about crewing is that it is a continuous, never-ending job. You really don't stop working until your runner crosses the finish line, and even then, you still have to do all that post-race fun stuff like clean up. Bottom line: it ain't no vacation. Your concern as a crew member, your only concern, is to get your runner to the finish line. It's a high-intensity job.

Lynne, Meg, and Dennis were a great crew. I'm glad I got to meet and work with them. But, at first, I was very weary. All three of them knew each other beforehand and were good friends. I picked up on that right away. I sort of felt like an outsider. I tried to make conversation and be friendly, but for some reason, I just didn't feel like I fit in. The evening before the race, as we were organizing the van, Lynne - an Australian ultrarunner - told me, in what was soon to become her signature assertive tone, "You're going to have to work very hard. We are all friends here. We don't know you. So, that's just going to make it harder on you." My first instinct was that I did not like this woman. Who the hell did she think she was, telling me I was going to have to work hard, as if I didn't know already? And why in the hell would us not knowing each other make it harder for me? What difference did it make whether or not we knew each other? We had a job to do, and I was planning to do my best no matter what. I definitely didn't like this woman.

But, you have to put those personal feelings aside when you crew at Badwater. Such sentiments are irrelevant to the task at hand and they are unproductive. So, I didn't argue. I just did what I had to do. Lynne was a lot more experienced than the rest of us anyway. In addition to being a nurse, she crewed at Badwater last year. She knew her stuff. I respected that. I listened and learned. For 38 hours - the time it took Ken to cross the finish line - Lynne would give out orders. Do this; get me that; hurry and fill this with that; stop doing that and do this. It was exhausting. She wasn't very fuzzy and warm when asking for favors either, bless her heart. I felt like I was in boot camp. Factor in sleep deprivation, a disgusting feeling of being dirty due to lack of showering, and lots and lots of heat, and I was primed to tell her off.

At one point, she asked me to fetch her something. "Give me that thing," she snapped. I turned around every which way, furiously looking for what she was talking about it. "There!" She pointed. Where? I looked around. "Look where I am pointing," she said. "You need to learn to look where people are pointing when they ask you for something." I handed her what she wanted, shamefaced. A little later on, as we were going up the mountain, she asked me where the binder was. We had this binder that contained all our paperwork, including a map of the course. She wanted the map. She was in the passenger seat up front and the binder was right in front of her on the dashboard. I was in the back of the van. I pointed with my hand. "It's right there," I said. She turned this way and that, looking for the binder. Oh, dear reader, how time stood still! How desperately I wanted to tell her, "LOOK WHERE I AM POINTING! YOU NEED TO LEARN TO LOOK WHERE PEOPLE ARE POINTING WHEN THEY ASK YOU FOR SOMETHING!" Inside, I was screaming. How I yearned for this moment to finally shove her own bitchiness right back in her face! I didn't.

"It's on the dashboard," I said.

I told Meg about it later. She said I should have done it. But, the way I figure it, no good could have come of that. Aside from allowing me to let off some steam, it really would have been pointless. Lynne didn't mean to be a pain. Her primary concern was getting Ken to the finish line, just as it should have been. If she wasn't all warm and fuzzy when she asked you to pass her the water bottle, it was only because her mind was focused on the task at hand, not on being nice. Outside of the racing context, she was such an easy-going, funny person. She is a joy.

If there is one thing this whole experience has taught me, it's to be humble. Standing in the middle of the desert, towering sand dunes shimmering gold in the distance, you can't help but feel a tremendous sense of awe and humility. Look, I don't know everything. I am always open to learning new things. There are people who are infinitely more knowledgeable about this sport than I am. I want to learn from them. Open-mindedness is essential, not just in ultrarunning, but in life. You have to be open-minded. You have to be willing to listen to other opinions. Doubt is a virtue. It really is.

I went up to Lynne after Ken finished the race and I thanked her. I told her that I really enjoyed crewing with her and that she taught me so much. It was true. I really think I am a better runner today because of my experience at Badwater. And when I finally do this race myself, I will have that knowledge to draw upon. I would not have wanted to crew with anyone else.

When Ken crossed the finish line, I asked him how he felt. He looked a little perplexed at the question. He said he didn't know how he felt. "I can't tell you how I feel right now," he said. "I can tell you how it feels to train for 18 months for something, but I can't tell you how I feel right now." It was all a blur to him. He was so overwhelmed by the experience that he hadn't registered the scope of what he had just accomplished. He hadn't processed all the images. He needed time. I am kind of in the same boat. I don't know what to make of it all just yet. Badwater has been - and still is - my number one goal. For two years, I have constantly thought about this race. There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about it. Truly. The race means so much to me. It is hard for me to explain why. Now, that I have been to Death Valley and have seen the race take place first-hand, I can honestly say I am even more determined to run it.

I don't know what went on in Ken's head as he ran the "toughest footrace on the planet." I can only guess. What was it like to cross the finish line? What did he feel? I think it's different for each runner. Badwater means something different to everyone involved. And that is a beautiful thing. Each runner embarks on his own unique journey. Each runner learns his own set of lessons. Being a crew member this year afforded me my own journey and my own set of lessons. The other day I got an email from Ken, thanking me for being a part of his crew. I am the one who owes him the thanks. Not only is he an incredible athlete who accomplished something few people would even dare to attempt, but he was also kind enough to allow me the opportunity to participate in this extraordinary adventure. I am forever grateful. I can't wait to return to the magical landscape of Death Valley, the eerie and enchanted world of breathtaking natural beauty. The desert has captured my heart.

But, until I return, I will work on learning to look where people point when they ask me to hand them something!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Badwater 2010 - Crewing/Pacing for Ken Posner (Part 1)

All you can hear is your own breathing when you're in Death Valley, the most desolate place on the planet. That and your footsteps. You're running. You've been running for - how long has it been now? A few hours? Seems like an eternity. This stretch of road goes on forever. The pounding of your feet on the blacktop triggers undulating pain through your body. It's hot. One hundred and thirty degrees to be precise. The sweat on your skin evaporates the moment it's released from your pores. Suddenly, the world starts to get louder. A deafening roar in your ears. The wind whips your face like the sulfurous breath of some ancient monster that's been locked up deep down in the core of the earth. The monster is unleashed now. It knows your fears. Your heart beats faster. Why are you doing this? Better not to ask. Just put one foot in front of the other.

Ken Posner kept running. Coming out of the infernal heat of Death Valley, he vomited. But, he kept going. The muscles in his legs begged for mercy. But, he still kept going. After a day and a half, he was still on his feet, still charging forward. We tried to motivate him in any way we could think of. Being a crew member for a Badwater runner is no easy task. You have to be ready for anything. We stayed by his side, working out of the van, handing him everything from Chef Boyardee brand Beef Ravioli to Gatorade to Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch Clif Bars. From the instant he toed the start line, 38 hours earlier, to this very moment, as we waited for him to cross the finish on the mountain, we remained alert. What if he got blisters? What would we do? What if his legs gave out from under him and he collapsed? We had to be ready to spring to action.

We stood at the the finish line, waiting to see Ken come around the corner. The atmosphere was tense and exhilarating. It was only after a few minutes that we realized how chilly it was up here on the mountain. The air was fresh and scented with pine. A stream flowed nearby through the tall coniferous trees. It was hard to believe that just two days ago, life was relatively normal: I had been boarding a plane to Las Vegas.

To be sure, I had read about the heat of Death Valley. A rising dry heat unlike anything on earth. I was warned. But, nothing could have prepared me for it. I knew I was in for trouble the moment I stepped out of McCarran International. It was hot like my hometown of San Antonio, but the air was free of moisture. Your sinuses dried up almost instantly. You had to blink your eyes a few times to moisten them. And the road was so hot. The heat that radiated off the blacktop was my first warning sign of what was to come.

I met Ken for the first time. My initial impression of him was that he was a very down-to-earth guy. I have been fascinated with Badwater and it's entrants for some time now, but this was the first time I had actually met a competitor. He was humble and easy-going, not at all what I expected, truth be told. Badwater is such an extreme race; there is an inherent drama to the whole event. I just assumed all the runners would be dramatic, too. Real hard asses. But, here was Ken Posner, a relatively soft-spoken man, gracious and nice.

I met the rest of his outstanding crew: Meg, the martial artist, Dennis, triathlon coach and superb athlete, and Lynne, the seasoned ultrarunner and most experienced of us four. Together, we drove towards an unknown, but imminent future. But, not without coffee.

At Starbucks, we got to know each other. What was the hardest race you've ever done? The question went around. I knew my answer right away; my hardest race was also my first ultra race. My first 50 miler. After more than 40 miles of running, I felt like I was dying. But, even more than the physical pain, I felt so emotionally fragile. Defeated. I literally sat in the mud - it was a wet and muddy run - and contemplated quitting. After about five minutes of pouting, I got up and hauled ass to the finish line. I like to think of it as one of my finest hours. I was alone out there on the trails. No one could see me or hear me. I'm sure all ultrarunners have had to call upon the hidden strength within them to continue on, despite the overwhelming sensation of feeling defeated by the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of distance. Ken was about to have to call on his hidden reserves of strength many times over the next two days. We had to be ready to support his efforts.

Now caffeinated, we drove to Furnace Creek. We didn't run the A/C because 1) we didn't want to overheat the van and 2) we figured we might as well get used to being hot. Along the way, we stopped to take pictures of a road sign that warned of extreme heat. Driving into Death Valley was like landing on some distant planet, one without rules, where salt cakes the basin floor, where birds fall dead out of the sky and an egg can cook to perfection on the road blacktop. What kind of people would sign up to run in a place like this?

They are people, just like you and me. But, they have explored the limits of their endurance in ways we have not. They have trained their bodies to withstand tremendous pain. And more importantly, they have disciplined their minds to face off against the psychological hardships to come. Gathered in a sweaty little gym in Furnace Creek, these outstanding athletes would soon take on the Mojave Desert and the hottest place on earth. The atmosphere in that crowded gym buzzed with excitement. Here were all the superstars: Marshall Ulrich, Jamie Donaldson, Pam Reed, Jorge Pacheco, Marco Farinazzo, Amy Palmiero-Winters, Nickademus Hollon, Jack Denness, Dan Jensen, Anita Fromm and all the others. Ken sat among them. Bib number 66.

I couldn't read him that well. I couldn't tell if he was nervous or what. I would have been nervous. But, I guess when you have spent 18 months training for something, and you have trained well, you're filled with a certain amount of tenacity. A quiet confidence. But, these kinds of extreme events always involve some element of the unknown, some element of surprise. You just can't be sure exactly what's going to happen. He must have been a little nervous.

That evening, we ate dinner and went over the game plan. Badwater is race where keeping cool is essential. Your core temperature has to be moderated. It's so easy to go out hard and blow up. Slow and steady does it. Race smart. Stay hydrated. Keep fueling. A reliable crew is essential to the runner's success. They are the magicians behind the curtains, the ones giving the runner food, drink, and medical attention. They also pace for the runner, providing that much-needed psychological support for when the going gets tough. It's a relentlessly demanding job that affords you little leisure time. From the moment the runner takes off at the start to the moment he finishes at the end, the crew is responsible for taking care of all of his needs.

That night was a restless, tossing-and-turning kind of sleep. I was too excited. Too nervous. At 6 AM, we would wake up and see firsthand why they call Badwater the "toughest footrace on the planet."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Off to Badwater

Well, this is it, folks! The day I have been waiting for! Tomorrow I leave for Death Valley to pace/crew for Ken Posner in the 33rd annual Badwater Ultramarathon. I'm packing right now. Clothes are in the dryer. I feel nervous. At 5:45 tomorrow morning, I take off from the San Antonio airport and land in Las Vegas (with a layover in Houston). From Vegas, Ken and I and the rest of the crew will drive to Death Valley for the pre-race meeting. It is difficult to believe that tomorrow I will be in one of the hottest places on Earth. I am looking forward to seeing lots of amazing athletes there! People like Jamie Donaldson, Jack Denness, Charlie Engle, Marshall Ulrich, Jorge Pacheco, Amy Palmiero-Winters, and Pam Reed. These next few days are going to be quite the adventure for these, and all the other amazing athletes who are taking part in this extraordinary event. Each will face their own personal demons as they run 135 miles through the desert, in 125 degree temperatures, in a place where the pavement of the road gets so hot that they must run on the white line to keep the soles of their shoes from melting. They will travel across one of the most forbidding deserts on the planet, in a non-stop race for the finish atop Mount Whitney, five marathon distances away from the start. Here we go...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Running with the tire

For a long time now, I have taken to running while dragging a tire behind me. I like this workout. People have asked me to take pictures of the set up I have going. The above picture captures the basic concept. All you need is rope and a tire. I cut a whole through the wall of the tire to run the rope through. Wrapping the rope around the tire won't work because the rope will cut away with the friction. It helps if you wear heavier clothing and put the rope around your waist over the clothing. That way you don't get rope burn! In the picture above, I'm wearing a winter jacket. Be aware of your form while running with the tire. Don't get too sloppy. Also, take plenty of liquids and gels with you on the runs (I like taking my hydration pack with me on these tire runs). Remember, you are burning more calories with the tire. The tire is most beneficial, I think, on hilly courses, strengthening your legs on the ups. Additionally, it lowers the chances of impact injury, obviously, because it slows you down. I try to hit a certain pace and try to maintain it for the entire workout, whether it is 5 miles or 10 miles or 15 miles. My average pace with the tire is about 10:53 min/mile. Go at a comfortable speed. Don't overexert yourself and get injured. But, feel free to experiment and have fun. Happy running!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rules of Ultrarunning, Rule #10

Know thyself. Your strengths and weaknesses. Your ambitions and limitations. This is a sport where you will eventually confront everything that's inside of you. It won't always be pretty. Prepare. Be ready. Be strong. And always start out with a sense of adventure.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Stories from around the neighborhood

I ran 10 miles dragging the tire this morning. As I was running, this guy runs along side me. I stop and he asks me how old I am. I tell him. Then he gives me a card and tells me I should consider joining the Marines. I gratefully took the card. Look at me, feeling all manly!

On another note, all the neighborhood strays have taken to following me around on my runs. They go about 4 miles with me in the heat of the day, and then drop out. But I appreciate their support! BARK!