Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guaranteed to give you chills and get you going...

Brought to my attention by Ann Parrott, this video will send chills down your spine and motivate you to get your butt out the door and do something.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"4 Hour Body" Book Review

This book is all the rage, apparently. Walk into any Barnes & Noble and it is right there with Stieg Larsson and other bestsellers. So, I decided to pick it up and see what all the fuss is about.

This isn't your typical fad diet book. It wants to be more than that. Described as an "uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex, and becoming superhuman," author Tim Ferriss has some real ambition here. He aims to show you how to do the following and more:

* How to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends)
* How to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice
* How Tim gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, without steroids, and in four hours of total gym time
* How to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested
* How to produce 15-minute female orgasms
* How to triple testosterone and double sperm count
* How to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks
* How to reverse “permanent” injuries
* How to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months

Ferriss is not a doctor, but he has experimented extensively on himself to arrive at the prescriptions detailed in this book. A human guinea pig, so to speak. Do the programs work?

I was unable to test every program, but I did try the diet (lose 20 pounds in 30 days without exercise), so I will speak exclusively of that. Yes, I did lose some weight while on the diet. But, I suspected I was also losing muscle mass and I felt undernourished while on it. This diet is not really intended for endurance athletes in training, to say the least. It certainly isn't very vegan friendly. So, I had to stop the program.

But, for the average person, it probably would be effective. Although, I have serious concerns about what happens after the 30 days are up. The dieter runs a risk of putting all the weight back on because he or she has not learned to make healthy food decisions for themselves, but has rather just been following a rigid set of restrictions for a month. The dieter also hasn't learned the value and joy of exercise. Effective, long-term weight loss requires that your change your entire frame of mind regarding food and exercise. You don't get that with this program.

And to be honest, there's nothing really very revolutionary about the diet anyway. It merely reiterates principles that have been expounded upon by health professionals for years: a low carb, low fat, high protein diet.

The writing itself is fun, fresh, and interesting. The science here is speculative, but compelling. Ferriss takes liberties where few scientists or doctors would (or could).

I'm fine with that. It's all very fascinating. But, here is my biggest problem with the book: it seems tailored for that specific attitude that demands fast results with the least amount of work put in. It's an obsession of the American public to want things done now and to not have to break a sweat for it. The world doesn't work that way. The best things in life are never easy. That's my problem with fad diets. They are in it for the short-haul. People follow them for a month or two and then things fall to pieces. Yo-yo dieting becomes the trend. I said this book wants to be more than your typical diet book. But, I fear it may be just that.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Few Lessons from Rocky Raccoon 100

1. Attitude adjustment - At a certain point, I just stopped talking to my pacer. Every step was a struggle. Things were kind of miserable, but I made things worse by dwelling on the misery. I need to learn to take my mind off the pain, to focus on the positive rather than focus on the negative.

2. Don't resist the pain - There were times when I could have pushed harder, but I didn't because my legs hurt. In retrospect, I was resisting the pain. I was holding back because I was afraid of the pain. Recently, I came across a quote by Ann Trason (I think it was Ann who said this) that went like this: "it hurts up to a certain point and then it doesn't get any worse." Next time I run a 100 miler, I need to keep this mantra in mind. Just push through the pain. It ain't gonna to kill ya. (There is such a thing as bad pain, but that's a horse of a different color). Just when you feel that you can't push any harder, that is precisely when you need to push harder.

3. Stay on top of fueling from the beginning. Don't fall behind. You will regret it.

4. Tylenol can be your friend in cases of emergency. You can pop some every 3 to 4 hours if absolutely needed.

5. Keep the breaks to a minimum - the longer you stop, the harder it will be to start back up again. You leg muscles will seize up and it will take you longer to loosen back up again. Also, in the cold, the longer you stay still, the lower your core temperature will drop and your run a greater risk of hypothermia. Keep moving.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What I need...

I need to start doing mountain running. Pikes Peak Marathon seems pretty extreme.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On the road to Badwater

"Now what shall seem the hill but a moment of surmounting, the height but a place to dream of something higher!"
-The Climb, Winifred Welles

I'm having a reality check. After successfully completing Rocky Raccoon 100 last week, I felt a surge of pride. I immediately wanted to sign up for other races. Big mountain races. I felt invincible. Now, I'm deflated. I realize that I am not yet ready for these bigger races that are out there. Rocky Raccoon was just one of many steps needed to get to where I want to be. I recognize my accomplishment in finishing, but I also recognize that there is still so much work to be done.

I have certain goals (Badwater). In order to achieve those goals, I have to be at a certain level. I have to be good enough. Right now, I am just not good enough. I'm not. That is hard to digest after a big race like Rocky. It's always hard to recognize your weaknesses. But, the truth is the truth. It cannot be ignored. 100 miles at Rocky Raccoon is nothing. Nothing. I mean, yes, it is something. But it's also nothing.

Rocky Raccoon is one of the easier 100 milers out there. True, there is no such thing as an easy 100 mile race, but consider this: there is really no comparison between Rocky and some beast of a race like like Hardrock. Get what I'm saying? Just because I did Rocky does not mean I can jump to something like Hardrock or Leadville without seriously altering and specializing my training. It's a matter of taking things step by step. Measured progress.

Could I have finished Rocky without my pacer and crew present? Probably not. Could I have done it on tougher terrain? Could I have done it without Lisa Smith-Batchen saving my ass at mile 40? I don't think so. I need to get to a point where I can do these things for myself. I need to get smarter about ultrarunning and I need to get in better physical condition.

This is not me being negative. It is me being realistic. I knew, when I started this ,that things were going to be difficult. I knew it was going to take a lot of work, and that progress would be slow-going. It has taken me two and a half years to do a 100 miler. How much longer will it take me to get to Badwater?

I don't know. But, I want to utilize my time as efficiently as possible so I can get to Badwater as soon as possible. I'm not saying I want to rush into things. Ultrarunning is about patience and discipline. My problem is not lack of patience. Nor is it lack of heart. I want Badwater more than anything. There has not been a day that has gone by in the past two years when I haven't thought about Death Valley. I want it so bad that it almost hurts.

But, I am my own coach. I train by myself. Help is all around me and I am so grateful for the people in my life that teach me what it is to be an ultrarunner. However, in the end, I am responsible for my own progress and retrogression. No one is going to do the work for me. This is my journey. I am the one at the helm.

So what am I going to do? Specifically, what am I going to do to get to Badwater? What steps am I going to take? That... That is something I need to think about... I have all the tools and knowledge at my disposal. Time to figure it out.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rocky Raccoon 100 Race Report 2011 (Part 3)

In the zone at mile 80.

If anyone knew what to do, it would be Lisa. For the past two years, Lisa Smith-Batchen has mentored me in my running endeavors. We have become friends. She is an extraordinary, world-class endurance athlete and ultrarunner. 9-time finisher of the Badwater Ultramarathon (with two first place finishes) and winner of the Marathon des Sables in 1999, Lisa has competed in dozens of ultramarathons all over the world, and has even completed the Badwater double crossing. This past summer, she ran 50 miles in 50 states in 62 days. If anyone knew how to handle a little knee pain, it would be Lisa.

I called her up and her cheerful voice came on the line.

"Hey kiddo," she said. "How's it going?"

"Well, not too good Lisa. I'm at 40 miles and I've got this pain in my knee. I'm not doing a whole lot of running. I'm worried that if I continue at this pace, I won't be able to finish in time."

"Where on the knee is the pain?"

"It's like right in there. It feels like there's a little popping."

"Maybe the bone is out of alignment."

"I'm not going to DNF. I will walk the rest of the 30 hours if I have to," I exclaimed defensively

"Of course. I understand. Look, do you have Tylenol," she asked.

"I think so."

"Take three or four Tylenol. This summer when I did Run Hope, I got this really sharp knee pain and I thought I was finished. I took some Tylenol and the pain went away. I was able to keep running and we took care of the knee. Take three or four Tylenol. Take them with food and then see how you feel."

"Okay, Lisa."

"Keep it up, kiddo. You are at 40 miles already. You are at that point where things are going to start to hurt. Just keep moving. Run what you can. If it hurts less to run the uphills, then run the uphills. You can zig-zag on the trail so your weight doesn't come down directly on your knee."

"Thank you, Lisa."

Ice bath to heal my legs. This recovery method was taught to me by Lisa Smith-Batchen. It works.

We hung up. It was nice to just hear her friendly voice. I did what she told me: at the next aid station, I popped four Tylenol and headed out once again on the trail. I could still feel the pain in my knee. I would run some, and the pain would swell, and then I would stop and power-walk. Run, then walk, then run some more. On and on it went.

By mile 50, I was starting to get a bigger appetite. Before the race, I had assembled and cut up several peanut and apple butter sandwiches on flaxseed bread. I downed a quarter of sandwich every now and then, but for the most part, I stuck to gels and Heed to get my calories. At one aid station, a woman cut up some avocado for me after I told her I was vegan. Each time I went by that particular aid station, she would have avocado ready for me, saying, "Here you go, Vegan Boy!" I downed the delicious, rich-sweet flesh of the fruit and continued down the trail.

Eventually, I heard a man's voice on the trail that sounded so familiar. I knew I had heard it before, but I couldn't place where. Then, I saw him. Just ahead of me. A short, small-framed man with gray hair and thick mustache.

"Bob Becker, is that you," I called out.

He turned around. "Yes it is!"

I had talked to Bob on the phone a few weeks earlier. Bob is a fixture in the ultrarunning world. Director of the Keys 100 Ultramarathon in Florida, he is a tough-as-nails guy with an impressive resume of ultra feats. Bob helped me out a while back on a paper I was writing for law school. I was interviewing race directors about how to put on an ultramarathon for my sports law class. My topic: the legal aspects of putting on an ultra trail race. Bob was gracious enough to share his wisdom.

"You don't remember me, but you helped me out a while back with my sports law paper," I began.

"Of course I remember you!"

We ran together for quite a bit, chit-chatting about this and that. Sometimes he would run a bit ahead of me and I would fall behind, only to pass him up a little farther down the trail. Back and forth we went, from aid station to aid station, swapping friendly encouragements as we passed. It was nice. And I enjoyed his company very much.

Before long, I noticed that the pain in my knee had subsided. It was completely gone! The Tylenol had worked its magic. I could run again! Sure, my quads were burning and my feet were aching, but that kind of pain was tolerable, expected. This renewed liberation lightened my spirits. I felt like I was invincible, on top of the world. I took off at a steady pace.

On the trail, I bumped into Shannon Farrar-Griefer. Shannon is an ultrarunner out of California. She is also the founder and owner of Moeben sportswear line. I first met Shannon in 2010, when I first attempted Rocky Raccoon 100 (I DNF'd that year at mile 66). I was running at night and I tripped on a root and fell. She helped me to my feet and asked me if I was okay. I ran with her for a bit, bitching about the falls I was taking. "Don't worry, I've had my share of falls, too," she assured me. It wasn't until after the race that I realized Shannon was quite a figure in thee ultrarunning community. Mother of three, she has completed Badwater five times and was the first woman to complete the Badwater double. Shannon was here for her for her sixth Rocky Raccoon 100 finish. When we saw each other on the trail, we hugged and gave each other words of encouragement as we each ran towards our respective fates on the course.

The sun had already set. When I came in for my third loop (mile 60), I met up with Joe Barber. Joe had agreed to pace me from mile 60 to 100. He is from San Antonio, Texas, and I first met him while training for Cactus Rose 100 in 2010. Joe was set to run Cactus, but he pulled out just before the race because he was busy getting ready for his wedding! He works as a fitness trainer for the U.S. Army and has raced marathons and triathlons for over seven years. Joe was ready to run by the time I got into the aid station.

At first it was all fun and games. We talked and joked a lot as we ran into the night. He asked me questions about my training. I tried to respond briefly. It became increasingly difficult to concentrate on the trail and hold a conversation at the same time. Eventually, I got so fatigued, all I could do was listen to him talk. Gradually, my run devolved into a slow and tiresome walk. The night was in full bloom, and my spirits were depleted. I knew that this fourth loop was going to be the most psychologically taxing. Lisa had told me beforehand not to think that way.

"If you think it's going to be your worst loop, then you can bet it is going to live up to your expectations. Don't think that way. Make it your best loop," she urged.

I tried to stay optimistic, but no matter how much I told myself I wasn't tired, I could feel exhaustion taking over. The soreness in my legs creeped into my brain. Slowly, the pain trickled into my consciousness, invading my thoughts and suffocating my optimism. I wanted to quit. Joe noticed my dangerous silence and he at once snapped me out of it.

"We need to keep running," he told me. "I want you to do four minutes of running and one minute of walking," he instructed.

"Okay," I said.

We took off running. It was a slow and painful run. It took every ounce of effort to put one foot in front of the other. My quads were screaming. My calf muscles were begging for mercy. Keep running. One more minute. Thirty more seconds. Then, we walked.

"Four more minutes. Come on! Four more minutes," he called out.

I obliged. The four minutes seemed to go on for an eternity. Then I walked for the shortest minute of my life. I relished every second of that minute of walking, but before long it was time to run again.

"Four more minutes. Come on! Four minutes, man!"

I began to thoroughly abhor Mr. Joe Barber. The man obviously didn't understand the pain I was in.

"Come on, dude! Two more minutes of running!"

The man is trying to kill me. That much is obvious, I thought.

He made me run up hills and down, flats and root-covered sections. The routine of 4-1-4-1 was relentless. Never-ending. Run. Then walk. Then run some more. I felt trapped in the ruthlessness of it all. On and on it went, all night long, an endless string of run/walk alternations. Throughout the whole ordeal, I hardly spoke a word.

At the aid station at mile 70, I noticed a small stinging sensation on the side of my left foot. I sat down in one of the chairs and took off my trail shoe. When I pulled the sock down, I noticed a big red blister on the side of my heel.

"Hey Joe, look at this."

"We have to pop it," he said.

"Why?" I didn't want to pop it. I felt like any pain in my feet I could deal with.

"We have to pop it because if we don't it might pop in the shoe and make a big mess," he explained. "Better to pop it now and get it out of the way."

He got a safety pin from the volunteers at the aid station and pricked away. A brilliant little streak of pus fluid jet-sprayed out of the blister. I laughed, unable to contain myself. It was so absurd. Only in a sport this wacky could I induce this man, a total stranger, really, to squat down over my stinky feet in the middle of the night to pop an ugly blister on my foot. I think he recognized the ridiculousness of the situation, too, because he started laughing as well. He wiped the skin area with a baby wipe and I put my shoes back on.

Post-race feet.

Before long, we were back on our run/walk schedule.

As we came in for our fourth loop (mile 80), I was thoroughly discouraged. My feet were killing me, but that wasn't too big of a deal. What sucked the most was that I was just so psychologically down in the dumps. I couldn't muster up any optimism. I needed some relief. Anything to pick me up out of this dull funk. So, I did something kind of risky.

"Hand me my bag," I told Clarissa

She brought it over and I reached down for my old Asics shoes.

"My feet are hurting in this trail shoes I'm wearing. These old Asics are comfortable. I'm gonna change into them," I explained.

As I picked up the beat-up pair of old Asics (a road running shoe), I noticed a pair of fresh socks.

"What the hell. Might as well change socks, too. These DryMax socks I'm wearing aren't really holding up too well anyway. They are all wet."

The pair I was putting on was brand new. They were folded neatly in their packaging. Joe and Clarissa looked on as I fumbled with the sock.

"You've never worn those socks before," he asked.

"No, actually. I haven't. To tell you the truth, I've never even tried this brand before."

The socks I was referring to were Injinji Toesocks. I picked them up at the running store a few days before the race and had never used toesocks before.

"Is this a bad idea," I asked Joe.

"Well, maybe. You don't know if the socks will work for you."

"What's the worst that can happen," I asked.

"Worst case scenario, the sock could keep slipping under your heel and -"

"Look," I interrupted him. "Worst case scenario, these socks cause my feet to hurt more. My feet already hurt. What's a little more pain, right? No matter what, I'm finishing this race. Trust me, I am not going to stop just because my feet hurt."

We set off on our final loop. By this point my Garmin watch had died, so I had no idea how long it was from one aid station to the next. That's a hard thing to handle when you are living from aid station to aid station. Eventually, your thinking becomes very single-track: where is that stupid aid station already!

By mile 90, I was so tired that I was nearly falling asleep on the trail. Joe was falling asleep, too. He was swerving off trail like a drunk driver until he would smack into a tree. On and on it went. When the sun came up, I felt so disconcerted. The thing that brought me to was the sight of that beautiful lake, the steam rising off it like a eerie specter. As we came to the lake, the sun was just rising over it, causing me to squint in the brilliance of the sunlight. I had made it through the night. I knew the end was near. But, the task at hand was far from finished.

With Clarissa. Immediately after crossing the finish line.

At mile 96, he left me. He said he had to get home for a Super Bowl party that he and his wife were throwing. Joe, my pacer, had to leave. I felt kind of devastated. Abandoned. Would I be able to make it on my own? I had serious doubts. Four miles seemed like an eternity. I looked around. There was no sign of any other runner. I didn't know what happened to Dave, Lee, Steven, Bob, or Shannon. I took off from the aid station, that last, final aid station. I felt alone. Just four more miles.

I called Lisa.

"Savor it," she told me. "Use this time to reflect on everything you have accomplished and savor this final, miserable process."

Before long, four miles became three. Three miles became two.

My phone rang. It was Dave Carder.

"Did you finish," came his happy voice.

"I'm at mile 98," I told him.

"Wow! Keep moving," he exclaimed. Dave told me he dropped from the race. I was saddened by this. I eventually found out that Steven, Lee, and Shannon had dropped from the race as well. I want nothing more than for my friends to have a successful race. But, these ultra runs are not always about finishing. The end is not the most important goal in ultrarunning. The journey is what matters most. Each of my friends had embarked on their own special journey. Mine was not over. Not yet. Keep moving. I started to run.

Each step was kind of miserable, but I could practically smell the finish line. I wound and twisted my way through the trail in the woods. The sun beat down on my brow, and I felt a glorious rush of excitement. My legs kicked up faster. Soon, I was running at what felt like full speed towards the end. The trees whipped past me. The pine-needle covered ground flowed beneath my feet. I could hear commotion in the distance. Voices. As I rounded the corner, I saw it. The finish. Straight ahead of me. About a hundred feet away. I mustered what strength I had left and I took off. The pain in my legs gave way to a kind of bliss. There was Clarissa. She was cheering me on. There were the race directors. They were holding the buckle. My buckle. With fury, pain, pride, happiness, humility, grace, and a thoroughly grateful heart, I crossed that finish line.

Me crossing the finish line.

For Part 1 of this race report, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rocky Raccoon 100 Race Report 2011 (Part 2)

The first few miles of a race are always just a frenzied blur for me. I typically end up taking off way to fast, caught up in the excitement of the moment. That is not a problem for most runners at Rocky Raccoon 100 because it is near impossible to actually run the first couple of miles.

The single-track trail gets so crowded with over 700 runners on it that things start off at a steady walking pace. By the first aid station, the crowd starts to thin out as people fall into their respective paces and race strategies. Some take off like race horses. Others play it more conservatively and hold back. I'm a fan of the latter strategy. My feeling is this: the goal is to be as fresh as possible late in the game. If you burn all your energy early on, you're going to be doing a heck of a lot of walking towards the end. Patience is key in these races.

I understand some people have their time goals. Many ultrarunners view a sub-24 hour finish as the benchmark for a good finishing time, much in the same way amateur marathoners view a sub-4 hour marathon as achievement worth striving for. And that's fine. But, for this particular race, my first 100 mile finish, all I wanted was to make it to the end. If it took me the full 30 hours, I would be happy with that. So, I took off at a steady, but conservative pace.

You know how they say in ultrarunning that something is always bound to go wrong? No matter how much you train for something, no matter how prepared you are, the unexpected will almost always happen. Things will fall apart. I knew this going into it. I expected shit to happen. What I didn't expect was for it to happen so soon.

As soon as we left the start line, my flashlight started giving out. I don't know if it was the cold weather or what, but the light would just dim suddenly and then go out completely. Crap. All I had left for back-up was a headlamp. Note to self: take a couple of flashlights with you out on the trail. Don't get me wrong. Headlamps are fine for providing light, but since the light of a headlamp illuminates from above rather than from a low angle (as a flashlight do), you do not get to see as much of the relief of the trail, the technicalities that obstruct your path. It is easier to trip on roots and rocks at night when all you have to guide your way is a measly headlamp. Oh well. I had to make do.

Eventually, we all came up to the first set of wooden plank bridges that adorn the trail. Normally, these bridges are a welcome change in the monotony of the flat, pine needle-covered trail. Not this time. The wood was covered with a thin layer of ice, and the ice was slick! One wrong step, and your ass was down on the ground. It was really quite dangerous. You had to be cautious. At first, I sort of shuffled across the bridges. Then I saw something that made my stomach turn.

I was running behind this woman, and we were both going steadily along, minding the trail, when we came upon another one of these bridges. As she made her way across, I saw her spread out her arms to balance herself. And in the blink of an eye, I saw her lose her balance. She must have put all her weight on one foot in completely the wrong way because her ankle just snapped from under her. She fell to the ground screaming.

"Oh, shit! My ankle," she cried out. I was running right behind her when she fell, so I had to quickly jump around her to avoid falling on top of her. I stopped and stood over her as she continued to scream. "This is bad," she kept saying. Soon, some other runners came up from behind and we all helped carry her to the side of the trail. After assuring us that she couldn't stand up, we decided to keep going and tell the volunteers at the next aid station that there was a runner down. This was just 4.5 miles into the race.

I second-guessed every step I took on the bridges after that. I was so afraid of getting injured like that lady. I felt bad for her. Her screams echoed in my head. Eventually, I just started going around the bridges rather than run on them. Soon the sun came up and the ice started to melt.

Another unexpected happening occurred when I came to the first aid station: I didn't want to eat. That's a rarity! I usually love the prospect of food, but as I was coming into the aid stations, I found myself repulsed by the idea of downing solids. Maybe it was nerves or something, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Second aid station went by. No dice. I just wasn't in the mood to eat. Even the GU gels were difficult to get down. The cold weather made the gel thick and hard to chew. It all made my stomach quite nauseous. I didn't vomit, but I felt capable of vomiting if I pushed it. So, for the first couple of loops, I stuck to just one GU gel an hour and about half a bottle of Heed. Occasionally, I would grab a handful of pretzels, but even then, I could only manage to put two or three in my mouth. However, I wasn't too worried about my decreased appetite. I felt that as long as I kept moving forward and was feeling okay things would be fine. Gotta keep on moving.

By the time I hit Lake Raven, the most scenic part of the trail, I was fully enjoying my racing experience. The mist that came off the surface of the lake was absolutely enchanting. I felt like I was in some exotic land, a story-book world where anything was possible. Dragons. Knights. Mermaids. Magic. This land had it all. And I was smack in the middle of it. My spirits were lifted as I soared in to complete the first loop.

As I made my way in to the main aid station, the 20 mile mark, I noticed a small, sharp pain in my left knee. It didn't exactly hurt, but it was enough to get me to notice there was a problem developing. These ultramarathons are funny in that they tend to magnify the small stuff. Little problems become big problems if left untreated. A baby blister can become a fist-sized pustule. A small leg cramp can become a debilitating, throbbing pain. This knee thing worried me. It was popping a little bit when it bent, like the bone was out of alignment or something. All I could think to do was tie a bandanna around the knee to brace it and keep going.

By mile 40, the pain was obvious, crystal clear and brilliant. There was no ignoring it now. I was in trouble. With serious doubts about my ability to finish - still sixty more miles left to go - I did the only thing left to do: I started to walk. I walked and walked. And I walked some more. With each passing mile, my thoughts grew darker and darker. What if I didn't finish? What if I had to DNF? No. I couldn't allow myself to DNF. I had to stick with it. Even if I had to walk the rest of the race, I would rather be pulled off the course for not making the time cut-off than drop out of this one. No throwing in the towel. So I just kept walking.

But, dammit, I wanted to finish. I didn't want to get pulled off the course for not making the cut-off time! But, I knew that at my current pace, I would probably not make it in 30 hours. I needed a miracle. I needed this knee pain to subside so that I could continue running. I needed... Then it hit me. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my contacts list.

This race report will be published in three parts. For Part 1, click here. For Part 3, click here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rocky Raccoon 100 Race Report 2011 (Part 1)

There's a Japanese proverb that goes, “When you have completed 95 percent of your journey, you are only halfway there.” That's true of the 100 mile distance. Those last four miles were the longest four miles of my life. I ran/walked/trudged through the woods in a kind of daze, a determined stupor that would see me to the finish line. In the past 27 hours, I had seen a woman snap her ankle in half, a man collapse and shiver uncontrollably on the side of the trail, copious amounts of vomit, blood, blisters, and weeping. By the time I reached the last aid station before the finish, I had already seen the sun rise twice. I felt like - what did I feel like? It's so hard to conjure up the words to describe what it's like to run 100 miles. Joy. Pride. Pain. Courage. Somehow those words don't adequately convey the subjective experience. So rather than try to describe how I felt, I will stick to telling you what happened.


I played "American Pie" on the ride from Lubbock to Huntsville. Don McLean usually has no trouble calming down my nerves. But the good ol' boy wasn't doing much to ease my tension this time, so I broke out the big guns: The Allman Brothers, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Johnny Cash. As "Folsom Prison Blues" blasted from my iPod, I found myself gazing out the window of the backseat of the van. The roads were icy and slick. It occurred to me that we might not make it to the race. I kept getting e-mails on my Blackberry from runners who were encountering dangerous travel conditions on the way to the race site. Dozens of flights had been canceled. Roads were being closed down. But, Lee, Clarissa, and I carefully made our way from town to town, trying to avoid the worst of the weather. I was glad my friends were with me to make the trip easier. Lee drove, bless him, and Clarissa sat up front, helping him navigate. Lee was going to run the 100 miler with me. Clarissa came as my crew and race volunteer. To pass the time, we played a provocative game of "20 Questions."

Would you rather have assured sex with an unattractive person for the rest of your life, or no sex at all for the rest of your life?

Hmmm... I had to think about that one.

Could I at least masturbate if I chose the no sex option?


Then, I choose assured sex with an unattractive person. Maybe I will become enamored with their personality and start to see them as attractive. Or, at the very least, I can close my eyes and fantasize about someone else.

Next question.

Eventually, my mind started wandering back to the race. What if we didn't make it? What if we encountered some bad weather and had to turn back around and head home? Shit. That would be tough to handle. I knew it was just a race, but I had spent so many weeks thinking about this run. I had planned it out so carefully, sacrificing so much time, money, and effort to make it to the start line. I had envisioned myself crossing the finish, finally and gloriously. And now there was the possibility I wouldn't even get the chance to run!

I put the thought out of my head and let myself be washed over by Laura Nyro's haunting voice:
"Never mind the forecast
Cause the sky has lost control,
Cause the fury and broken thunder's come
To match my raging soul..."

I think Lee was equally nervous. As we got closer and closer to Huntsville, we all got a little more pensive and quiet. Not a somber kind of quiet, but an excited kind, the kind that comes when you know something big is about to happen. By the time we got to runner check-in, I was so hyper, I could hardly contain myself. I bounded out of the van like a bat out of hell, ready to charge into the registration room and proudly declare, "Yes! We are here! We made it!" But before I could even take a single step, I was blasted with the cruel breath of some winter beast.

The cold hit me at once. It whipped my face and legs. This did not bode well for my run tomorrow. The race started at 5 am, while the sun was still down. Then we would run all day and into the night! I knew running in the sunlight would be okay. The snow would have a chance to melt. But the idea of running at night in these conditions scared me. I had never done much icy weather running. I knew hypothermia was a serious threat, but other than wearing lots of clothing layers and moving constantly to keep up your core temperature, I didn't know much about how to prevent it. All I had to run in was a big jacket, a windbreaker, and some skimpy running shorts. Oh well. Too late to worry about that now.

I went inside with my friends to check in to the race. On the way inside, I saw a couple of my ultrarunning friends: Dave Carder and Steven Monte, both from Dallas. Dave was sporting an impressive beard. A few weeks ago, he started an online group called "The Running Beard Movement," a forum for trail running men with long facial hair. Dave is a good guy and a superb athlete.

I introduced Clarissa and Lee to Steven. Steven is a lawyer and in his spare time he runs in these extreme events. After picking up our race packets, we all headed to eat, a little Italian place with the crappiest service I've ever encountered in a restaurant. Despite the rudeness of the waitstaff (I'll give them some credit: they were kind of busy), food was a welcome nourishment.

Eating out brought to mind another issue for me: veganism. There weren't many vegan choices on the menu. Everything had cheese or butter. I ended up ordering a garden salad with lots of olives and a side of olive oil and vinegar. Ordering at the restaurant wasn't nearly as troubling, though, as the thought of eating vegan at the race. Here is how ultras work: You run and run and run until you get to an aid station. Aid stations are stocked with food to keep you fueled to go. Calorie intake is very important in these long distance races. You pick up a handful of candy or potato chips and stuff them in your mouth, refill your water bottles and then keep going until you hit the next aid station.

Well, this was going to be my first race as a vegan. I didn't know what to expect. Would my body respond well to the limited food intake? I knew I needed to take in about 150 to 200 calories an hour, every hour. But, in prior races, there always came a point, usually at night, where I needed a surge of energy. In these cases, a slice of pizza or a cup of hot chicken noodle soup did the trick. I would not have those options now. Would I be able to do it? Would I drop my vegan diet just to get through the race? Wouldn't that make me a hypocrite? These thoughts plagued me as a munched unhappily on my lettuce.

At the hotel that night, I unpacked my gear and clothes. I told Clarissa to set the alarm for 4:15 am. I laid everything out on a chair for the morning. Flashlight, headlamp, BodyGlide, gloves. All was ready. I affixed my number bib to my shirt. Number 171. I didn't know what the morning would bring. All I knew was that in a few hours I would be waking up to an unknown. I would be embarking on a journey, the end of which was uncertain, scary, and so damned exciting! My stomach was doing cartwheels. I love this stuff.

Okay 171, we're soon to see what you're made of.

This race report will be published in three parts. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.

Rocky Raccoon 100 Video Finish

Monday, February 7, 2011

Updates for Rocky Raccoon 100...

Well, I guess all the training and hard work paid off because I finished Rocky Raccoon 100. 28 hours. That's how long it took me. I feel good. My legs are sore, but I guess that is expected, huh? Race report soon to come.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Inspiration for the 100 Miler!

The days of physical conditioning and training have drawn to a close for those registered for Rocky Raccoon 100 this coming Saturday. The taper is in full swing now. Just a few more days left to go. This week is all about mental preparation. It is about visualizing the goal and thinking about your strategy, conceiving of the obstacles and imaging yourself overcoming them.

I usually spend the week before a race reflecting on all the hard work I have put into training. Inspiration comes in many forms. It comes from our family and friends. It comes from the stories we read and the people we meet. But, the most important inspiration comes from within, from that innermost place of contentedness and peace.

Nonetheless, it can never hurt to have some media inspiration. Below are just a few clips, some video and some audio, that I find really inspiring for different reasons. Enjoy.

1. Al Pacino's speech in "Any Given Sunday"

"Any Given Sunday" is a very strong movie directed by Oliver Stone about a professional football team. If you haven't seen it, check it out. In this clip, Pacino, who plays the head coach, gives his team a rousing speech at half-time in the locker room. The team is losing. The chips are down and the pressure is on. Listen to Pacino's words. They are about more than football. They are about life. See if by the end of this one you aren't pumped.

2. "Defying Gravity" as sung by the cast of "Glee"

Lea Michelle is such a powerful singer. She has the gift of belt. This song highlights that quality. She and Chris Colfer nail this song from Broadway's "Wicked." Listen to the lyrics. They are about dreaming big and doing the impossible.

3. "8 Mile" final rap battle

Anger is a priceless asset. Sometimes it can bring out the best in you. If you can harness your anger and use it correctly, you are capable of so many things. Eminem is a rapper who personifies anger. His lyrics are charged with such raw pain and emotion, that they sometimes even transcend the rap genre. In this final scene from the movie "8 Mile," Eminem's character Rabbit is in a showdown with the most talented rappers from Detroit. As the underdog, he must use all his talents and harness all his aggression to beat his opponents.

4. "Lose Yourself" by Eminem

Since we are on the subject of Eminem, we might as well include his song, "Lose Yourself." Now, here is a song to get your blood moving. Just listen to these lyrics: "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment; you own it. You better never let it go. You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance to blow; this opportunity comes once in a lifetime..."

5. Robin Williams' Carpe Diem speech from "Dead Poets' Society"

I was not a fan of this movie. To be sure, "Dead Poets' Society" has some very good acting in it, especially from Williams as the eccentric English literature teacher in a posh all-boys prep school. The acting deserved a better screenplay. But, this particular scene works really well. It is an odd, funny, and ultimately chilling and poignant scene where the teacher urges his students to seize the day and make life extraordinary.

6. The ending of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (Spoiler Warning)

Milos Forman's movie matches Ken Kesey's novel in scope and power. A classic, this film needs to be seen in its entirety to get the full effect of this final scene. If you've seen the movie, you know what a tremendous moment it is when the Chief breaks out of the asylum.

7. "Dream On" by Aerosmith

I've always found this song to be quite inspirational. The sound of it is epic. It makes me feel like I am about to do something big. Life-changing. Just those words, "dream on," capture the simple truth of human existence: we are capable of incredible feats, anything we set our minds to.

8. The violin scene from "The Alamo"

"The Alamo" (2004) got a lot of negative hype surrounding its release. And that's too bad, because it is a very strong movie with some wonderful performances, especially by Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett. There is a scene, about midway through the film, when Crockett plays his violin to show up the surrounding Mexican army, which is bigger and better-stocked than the ragtag group of fighters in the mission. The moment is inspiring. It showcases the beauty of the courage it took for those who remained to fight inside the Alamo walls. They had to have known they were going to die. But, their cause was too important, too noble, to allow fear to get the better of them. They did not retreat.