Monday, November 29, 2010

A good running song

I listened to this song over and over again during Cactus Rose 100:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Running for a Cause: Lisa Smith-Batchen's Journey Across America (Part 3)

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. The flow of the cool water around her legs transported her away, far away, from Rockville, Maryland. The throbbing in her feet and calves gradually melted. She closed her eyes and she was home. Her husband and two daughters were standing in the hallway of their house in Idaho. Gabriella and Anabella ran to her with beaming faces as she knelt down and held out her arms to receive them. “I’ve missed you” she whispered. “We missed you, too, mommy,” they said as they buried their faces in her embrace. Jay came over and wrapped his arms around his family. She could have stayed this way forever. Right here. A perfect, happy moment.

When Lisa Smith-Batchen opened her eyes she was still standing in the creek. I have promises to keep. She stood still and listened to the sounds of the woods around her. There came the music of the gently babbling stream and, in the distance, the drawn-out, high-pitched call of a female Wood Duck. The wind stood still and Lisa listened to her own breathing. The day was now over, and it all came flooding back to her: you just ran another 50 miles. Suddenly, the pain returned full-throttle. “God,” she called out, and she plopped down listlessly. Miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

The water was filthy, but she didn't care. It was a sweltering afternoon – quite unbearable, really. Her shirt clung to her body as the heat radiated across her salt-caked skin. But that wasn’t really what was getting her down at the moment. She was lost. She had already run 600 miles, and although she was done for today, Lisa had somehow missed the trail head to get back to the RV camper. She heard one of her crew say that they must have gone off course by about two miles. Two extra miles seemed like an insurmountable distance at the moment.

Looking down, she could see the wavering outline of her blue Crocs in the yellow-brown water. People had asked her why she ran in Crocs. To be honest, they were just really comfortable. She put an insole in them, wore two or three pairs of socks for padding and she was good to go. Comfy, indeed. But, right now, she might as well have been running in high heels, her feet hurt so much. She closed her eyes again and sat perfectly still in the muddy creek.

“You okay?” Mike Evan’s voice fell muffled on her ears. Her loyal friend, affectionately called Spud by the rest of the crew, stood watching from the rocky bank. Lisa could hardly bring herself to answer. Am I okay? Probably not, Mike. It was hard to see the silver lining. Things just weren't clicking. She wasn't getting into the groove of it. On top of that, it seemed Marshall had been wrong.

Her good friend, Marshall Ulrich, the Endurance King himself, had said she would need to be patient, that the first ten states would be especially tough. On the eleventh day, he informed her, she would fall into the routine of the journey and things would start to get easier. He should know; in 2008, at age 57, he completed his 3,000 mile run across America in just 52.5 days, breaking two transcontinental speed records. Marshall knew that at some point the body learns to adapt to what you put it through. When you run 50 miles a day, everyday, like Lisa was doing, your body needs time to process the abuse you are subjecting it to. Eleven days. That was the magic number. What the hell was the problem then? She hung her head in despair.

Maybe the training wasn’t enough. Lisa had built her entire training regimen around the eleven-day principle. To prepare for the project, all Lisa did was walk around her hometown of Driggs. She threw in some weekly workouts to strengthen her core, but she hardly did any running. Knowing that her body would eventually get used to running such a high daily mileage, she did not want to get into endurance-level shape prior to the start of her journey, only to be overtrained midway through and suffer some kind of overuse injury. Better to start off in good shape, but not in great shape, and gradually get fitter as the run progressed. In theory, she should have been in top physical form by now.

Did I mess up by not training harder?
Lisa tossed that thought right out the window. She knew it wasn’t true. In reality, walking and core exercises were just the tip of the iceberg. Her whole life had been preparing her for this run. It honestly felt like she had spent her entire athletic career training for this. Thinking back to all the tears, all the sweat and blood of all her previous athletic endeavors, she realized a simple truth that filled her with a tremendous sense of courage: no matter what happened, she was and always would be Lisa Smith-Batchen. An obvious fact, sure. But there was profound comfort in it; in difficult situations, it helps to remind yourself who you are. Lisa knew what she was capable of. She was a person who loved deeply and was loved. Her power was within.

Yes, this was tough. And, yes, she was going to some dark places, emotionally. However, she had traveled across the barren landscape of dark human emotion before and she knew what to expect. Things would get better. Marshall was right. Patience is crucial. Persistence is key.

Yet, sometimes it is necessary to be flexible as well. Take the donuts for example. Starting off, Lisa had decided to keep true to her nutrition principles and eat only good, whole foods – things like avocados, tomatoes, and beans. She quickly realized that wouldn’t be enough. After adhering to her strict diet for a few states, Lisa realized she needed calorie-dense foods, high in fat and sugar, to fuel her body. At the sip of her first milkshake, she perked up immediately. When she bit into a glazed donut, it was like somebody was charging her up, like a car being filled with gas. People in each state would show up to run with Lisa, and when they saw her eating the sugary confections, word got around that she eats donuts and drinks milkshakes. Alert the press!

Soon people from all over, total strangers, were bringing her boxes and boxes of the fried goodies. Amusing as it was to be thought of by random people as some kind of donut junkie, the whole episode merely reinforced the flexibility principle: nothing is certain. Like life, running is not an exact science. The trick is to not let it throw you off. You have to take what's happening in stride, make the changes necessary, say positive, and keep going. Make lemons into lemonade, she told herself. The willingness to alter the way you are doing things, to modify your strategy when things aren’t going as planned, is such a key tenet for ultrarunners. Change is good. In fact, it's inevitable.

If things weren’t looking good right now, right at this moment, as Lisa sat in the Creek o’ Filth, she simply had to try and see things in a different light. The power was indeed within.

She thought of the children that she was running to raise money for. She thought of her family.

Get up.

She was done for the day. Another 50 miles down and she was closer now to her goal. Her dream of dreams was being actualized. Had she ever felt more alive than now?

Get up.

A joy filled her heart. Lisa couldn’t wait to get back to the RV camper and lay in her bed, down a milkshake, and get some rest. A donut sounded good. Two miles was nothing.

Get up.

She knew eventually would get up from the water and walk back to the RV. Her crew stood around, ready to tend to her needs. A few minutes passed. The sounds of nature floated all around her. She was at peace.

Slowly, quietly, Lisa rose to her feet.

This article is part of a series that will be published on a monthly basis. Stay tuned for more of Lisa's incredible story! Click here if you missed Part 1 and Part 2 of Lisa's story.

Knee Braces Galore!

Sometime after Cactus Rose 100, I developed the dreaded runner's knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome. Characterized by pain around the knee joint, especially when I run, and a grinding sensation when I bend the knee, I've had to take some time off and look into remedies for this particular running injury. Aside from icing (to reduce swelling), using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), like Advil, strengthening exercises to strengthen thigh muscles, and taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for joint support, I have investigated the world of knee braces. Knee braces come in different varieties and can be quite useful in supporting the knee and taking pressure off the part of the knee joint that is affected by the injury.

Prophylactic Braces

Used mostly by athletes in contact sports like basketball, soccer, and football, this type of brace is a preventative measure, used to prevent injury to the knee. The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is skeptical. They state: "there is no credible long-term scientifically conducted study that supports using knee braces on otherwise healthy players."

Functional Braces

Functional knee braces, like their name suggests, are designed to provide support for knees recovering from prior injury, while performing normal, day-to-day functions. Please note, these braces are not designed for high-load conditions - conditions that put a high amount of compression and rotational force on the knee joint. These are the kinds of braces that are most readily and cheaply available in your local drug store.

Rehabilitative Braces

Rehabilitative braces, as you might guess, help you recover from injury by reducing the kind of movement that would slow the healing process.

Unloader/Offloader Braces

These kinds of braces are specifically designed for people with arthritis in their knees.

Here is a good video which surveys the four different kinds of knee braces:

For more information on knee braces and which kind is right for you, click here for an overview of knee braces provided by the Mayo Clinic.

Also, click here for an overview provided by

Gross picture of my feet after Cactus Rose 100

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why I Love Ultrarunners and Why I Have No Respect for Phonies (or, Why Lie About Doing Badwater?)

Humility is their greatest asset. Ultrarunners know what it is to be humbled by mother nature, by the grueling, daunting task of covering incredible distances on rugged trail. They run in the heat and in the freezing cold. They run at night, in the snow and in the rain. They have all faced defeat at some point in their running career. It is no surprise, then, that most ultrarunners are cool, down-to-earth people. They don't boast and they are not show-offs or jerks. Most aren't, anyway.

I have met some runners that could use a lesson in humility and what it means to be an athlete of genuine integrity.

One person comes to mind whose name I will not print here. To be fair, he is not really an ultrarunner; he is a triathlete. I met him last year in the sauna at Texas Tech University. When I spotted the Ironman tattoo on his leg, I struck up a conversation with him by asking him about it. He told me he is a professional athlete, having graduated a few years ago from Tech. He certainly looked like he could have been a pro: he was definitely ripped. He told me all about his training and his athletic career. He told me how he ran a 2:20 marathon, about how he went to triathlons in Kona.

I could tell he was relishing in giving me the highlights of his sports accomplishments. I was definitely impressed. Wanting to have something to say so as not to seem completely unintelligent about endurance sports, I threw in that I was an aspiring ultrarunner.

And then he said it. Three words. Three words that nearly made me fall to my knees in praise: "I did Badwater."

"Holy shit," I exclaimed.

For over a year, I had obsessed about Badwater relentlessly. I had already marked it as my ultrarunning dream, my goal race of all time. I've researched Badwater left and right. I know an awful lot about that race, if I may say so myself.

Thus, it sort of surprised me that I had never heard of this guy sitting smugly before me, half naked, in the sauna. I knew former Lubbockite, Shanna Armstrong, had done the race in 2008. But now, here was this guy, another Lubbockite, who was claiming to have run the "toughest footrace on the planet." And I didn't know of him?! Dear Lord! Here was an athletic god before my very eyes. Immediately, I pressed him for more information.

"What 100 milers did you use to qualify," I asked him. "I am good friends with the race director," he said in response. "You know Chris Kostman," I asked. I think he must have been surprised I knew his name because he changed the topic.

As he told me about his experience in Death Valley, the sauna started to fill up with other people. They too got drawn into his story. He talked about how he hallucinated. He said he saw little elves running along beside him on the blacktop. The whole sauna was enthralled with this guy. We ate it up.

As he left, I told him he was "my fucking hero."

Well, turns out it was all a lie. He never did Badwater. Rather, I found out he served as a crew member for a 2008 racer. My question is: why lie about something like that? What do you get out of it?

For me - and I would imagine for most ultrarunners - completing ultras is something you do for personal satisfaction. You run them because you enjoy it and you get a deep sense of personal satisfaction from finishing them. I would never tell anyone that I've run a race I haven't. There is no glory in that. Seriously, what did this guy get out of telling us all he did Badwater? Bragging rights? If that's the case, he would do well to learn the value of being humble. Only in humility can one discover true glory.

Unfortunately, this guy's problems go a lot deeper than just being a boastful, arrogant person. He is a liar. There is nothing dignified in what he did. It is shameful and goes against all my principles as person of honesty and integrity. I have no respect for people like him.

Nonetheless, this incident has helped me identify why I love athletes. Real athletes. Their accomplishments are not fabricated. They don't need to lie about their feats. Aside from being humble, they are honorable. I value that. We all should.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Analyzing a Marathoner's Stride

In this piece by the New Yorker, Jennifer Kahn follows Alberto Salazar as he tries to alter Dathan Ritzenhein's stride to make him a faster marathoner. In this video, we see an analysis of Ritzenhein's stride.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Metabolic Factors Limiting Performance in Marathon Runners" by Benjamin I. Rapoport

A new scientific article by Benjamin I. Rapoport of Harvard Medical School and MIT, titled "Metabolic Factors Limiting Performance in Marathon Runners" is making quite a splash, as evidenced by an article in ScienceNews. The purpose of the article is stated in its abstract:
The analytic approach presented here is used to estimate the distance at which runners will exhaust their glycogen stores as a function of running intensity. In so doing it also provides a basis for guidelines ensuring the safety and optimizing the performance of endurance runners, both by setting personally appropriate paces and by prescribing midrace fueling requirements for avoiding ‘the wall.’
Click here to read the piece.

Furthermore, ultrarunner Gregory Crowther provides an insightful critique of the article on his blog, My Track Record. Click here for his analysis.

Another of my favorite health foods

Coconut Secret's Raw Coconut Crystals came as a revelation to me. Comparable in taste and texture to brown sugar, I think it is far superior health-wise. To make them, the company takes the sap from a coconut tree and and dries it out to remove moisture and allow for crystallization. There is a slight saturated fat content (.5g per tablespoon), so beware of that. Otherwise, it is a pretty decent product. I imagine you can make some great baked goods out of this.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to Stop the Slosh With Your Running Hydration Pack Bladder

A cool tip from worth it for all you users of the hydration pack who are annoyed with the sound of the sloshing of the water in the bladder. Just flip the bladder upside down and suck out all the remaining air. No more slosh!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cactus Rose 100 Race Report (Part 2)

I wanted to quit the first 25 miles. As I scrambled up Sky Island at mile 18, I became so overwhelmed with he prospect of putting up with this torture for 80 more miles. I felt like I was in over my head. But, I saw a sign out there. The race director, Joe, had placed little placards throughout the course. Each placard had a saying on it. The one that stuck in my mind read: "If you're going through hell... keep going." I kept repeating that to myself over and over. Ultrarunners hit a lot of mental walls during these long distance races. The key is to recognize that it will pass. Things will get better. Keep moving. Don't stop.
Getting some rest the night before the race.

It was wonderful to see all the new and familiar faces out there. The thing I love about these ultra races is the sense of solidarity you have with the other runners. Each person is going through his or her own private drama, but at the same time, you are all united in the experience. My friend Dave Carder would pass me by and I would ask him how he was doing and tell him to keep it up, that he was looking good. He is a solid runner, fast and strong! I ran stretches of the race with Steven Monte. I ran my first 100-miler with Steven last year and he is a great guy. While we were running, we talked about - Christ, what did we talk about? Talking with him really helped pass the time and lift my spirits. Then, I would see my friend Lee Irons. Lee was super fast. He would pass me up and ask me how I was doing. It made me happy to see him doing so well in the race.
Coming into the Lodge, the main aid station.

I love running in the dark. It's a lot of fun, running as a group with your flashlights and headlamps on. Adventure is in the air. You can sense the excitement. I started off the race a little faster than I anticipated, completing the first 25 mile loop in 6:30. I got a little scared when I realized how fast I had gone, so I slowed down a bit and threw in some power walking. Fortunately, the mistake didn't prove fatal. Still, I must learn to not get too excited at the beginning of these races and charge out super fast. Slow and steady is the key.
Lee Irons and I right before the race.

By the time the sun came up, things started to get really warm. Almost hot. I took off my jacket, but even that wasn't enough relief. The day was a lot hotter than I had expected. As a result, I was sweating a lot and losing a lot of salt. I was taking two Endurolytes every hour. But, I noticed as I was going uphill, my thighs were cramping up. I put up with it for a good while - maybe 10 or 15 miles. When I finally got to Equestrian, I mentioned to the volunteer at the aid station my leg troubles. Olga was her name, God bless her. She told me to take four Endurolytes, not two. She also gave me a shot of tomato juice. I did as I was instructed and sure enough, the cramping stopped.
Feeling good at mile 65.

Calorie-wise, I was taking in about 250 calories every hour. That included one bottle of Heed (the Heed powder was pre-measured in a plastic Ziplock baggie at every aid station), one GU gel, and either a piece of banana or a piece of PB&J sandwich. If I felt rundown or fatigued, I simply scarfed down a handful of M&M candies.
My drop bags served as little portable aid stations.

By the time I started my third loop, night had fallen. I came in to the Lodge to find my mom waiting for me with Doug Ratliff. I met Doug at Badwater last summer. he is a great ultrarunner and a damn nice guy. He really helped me out. After scarfing down some hot soup and putting on my jacket, I felt like a million bucks. I ran into the night.
Race day also happened to be my birthday. On Oct. 30, I turned 25. My race number, coincidentally, was 25.

The rest of the story is history. I got lost. Wasted a lot of time trying to find my way back to civilization. Ran the last five miles to the Lodge. And so on. I honestly don't feel so bad about this DNF. I felt worse after Rocky Raccoon last year. Here, I know I didn't give up. I feel that had I not gotten lost, I would have finished. Hell, I was on track for a 30 hour finish. At mile 55, my time was 15:25:03. All things considered, my pacing was good (albeit a little fast for the first loop), my fueling was spot on (aside from taking too little salt in the day), and my legs and feet felt great. My training paid off. I was doing 120 mile weeks prior to the race.

My recovery has been phenomenal. The day after the race I ran 3 miles. The next day I ran 5. I feel fit and strong, ready to tackle the 100-miler yet again, smarter and better prepared.
Clothes and gear all laid out before the race

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cactus Rose 100 Race Report (Part 1)

As I write this, I am listening to Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" - a great song by a great artist - and I am struck by a particular verse:
I got fury in my soul./Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal.
I dig it. I, too, have fury in my soul, and after this past weekend's DNF (stands for "Did Not Finish") at the Cactus Rose 100 Mile Trail Run, I am more determined than ever to become the best ultrarunner I can be.

How can I express all the things that are running through my mind - the anger, the pride, the joy, the sadness? I'm a bundle of emotion, all tightly bound together, with no way to exorcise the pain or get away from it. But, I'm okay with that. I don't want to avoid the agony. It's characteristic of ultrarunners, I think, to face pain and process it, embrace it and learn from it.

"Can you run 5 miles in an hour?" The question was sort of laughable. Of course I couldn't. I had been running for well over 75 miles. My quads were screaming. I could feel two big blisters on the bottoms of my feet. I just wanted to stop. But something told me not to throw in the towel. Here I was at the main aid station (nicknamed "The Lodge") which served as the start and end of each 25-mile loop. I had taken a shortcut from Boyles to The Lodge to call it quits. There was no way I was going to make it the five miles from Boyles to the Lodge in time to make the cutoff. No way. The officials at the Lodge looked at me with concern.

After being lost in the Bandera wilderness for nearly six hours, I had finally made it to Boyles. I wasn't injured and I was in fairly good spirits. But, I had spent so much time being lost, wandering aimlessly through the nasty, rugged trails of the Texas Hill Country that I now had only an hour to make it to the main aid station to meet the cutoff time to start the fourth and last loop of the race. Why did I take the shortcut back here to the main aid station to quit instead of just running the damn five miles? Was I really a quitter? Did I not have the right stuff, the stuff to finish? It was just five miles. Oh, but what a five miles! If you've ever run the trails of the State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas, you know how grueling those five miles can be.

The terrain is rocky, unforgiving, and extremely technical. There are almost no flat running sections. You are either clamoring uphill or tearing, trying not to tumble, downhill. I hear it is one of the toughest race courses in the country. Five miles in one hour? I don't think so. When I realized the certainty of my defeat, I walked the quarter-mile shortcut back to the Lodge to tell them I was going to have to quit. But, something felt wrong just giving up like that. I had worked so hard to get to this point. All my training, all my time and energy and money... I couldn't let it all go to waste. Besides, I felt pretty damn good. Aside from my legs being a little sore and my feet hurting, I was in great shape. I had to give it my best shot. I snapped.

"Drive me back to Boyles. I'm going to do the five miles," I said.

"Okay, but you have to make it back here by 7:15 a.m. to start the next loop," the race official told me.

"I understand."

I stuffed my pockets with energy gels and PB&J sandwiches and refilled my water bottles. I jumped in the passenger side of a truck that pulled up and got a ride back to Boyles. Once there, I very quickly jumped out of the truck and began ascending Boyles Bump, a grisly little 300-foot climb. Then, I shot down the side of the hill, only to encounter another hard climb, a repulsive roller called Cairn's Climb. I ran like I've never run before. I was bawling. Angry tears fell hot down my cheeks. I knew it was all in vain. No matter how hard I pushed, I knew I probably would not make it in time. But, I had to try. The sun was coming up now. The fiery red of the horizon struck me as an odd sight to behold, reinforcing a startling fact: I had been running for over 24 hours straight.

Those five miles stretched on forever. I had a lot of time to think out there. Mostly I thought of my friends and family. I thought of Steven Monte, Dave Carder, Lee Irons, and Lynnor Matheney, who were also running the race and who, I knew, were out there somewhere, in pain, like me. I thought of my dad, who, just a few weeks earlier had his leg amputated due to complications from diabetes and who wanted to be there to support me at the race so badly that he mustered the strength and courage to make the trip to Bandera just to see me run.

I thought of my mom, the strongest person I know, who has loved and supported me through all my triumphs and failings and who, I knew, would be there for me at the finish line no matter what. I thought of my sister, who brings joy to my heart even in the darkest of times. I thought of my friend Aleia, paradigm of loyalty and love.

I thought of Lisa Smith-Batchen, one of the most amazing athletes I know of, a strong and loving person, who has accomplished so much and who will always remain my greatest inspiration. I thought of Shannon Farrar-Griefer, a badass ultrarunner and beautiful woman, whose determination to endure is nothing short of amazing. I thought of Eric Clifton, an uncompromising athlete, who runs the way he wants to - fast - and will settle for nothing less than his very best in a race.

I thought of all these people. And I kept running. Always, always, moving forward...

Part 2 to be posted soon.