Wednesday, June 13, 2018

USAT Off-Road National Championship Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 6th Edition 
52.6 miles run and 3000 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: USAT Off-Road National Championship
Place: Waco, TX
Miles from home: 100
Weather: 84 degrees; sunny, humid

I have two main goals when I participate in a race:
1. Give all I have on that day.
2. Don't get injured. 

As I just celebrated my 42nd birthday, the second axiom holds more sway than the first. I don't recover as quickly from, well, anything, anymore and I have less patience to deal with the human race if I am injured and can't exercise. So being injury free is paramount to my, nay, all of society's survival.

Which brings me to my DNF at the USAT Off-Road National Championship this past weekend. But before I put the cart ahead of the horse, let me describe why I had both a cart and a horse to begin with.

While searching local races about a month ago, I saw this national championship race was taking place just up the road. As I do not have otherworldly athletic ability and will never really participate in national championship races where the absolute best athletes compete per se, I jump at any chance to take part in an event like this. Three years ago, when living in Portland, OR I saw the US Mountain Running Championships were three hours away in Bend. I am not a mountain or trail runner, and I hate running uphills, but hey - National Championship race.  I took part, did about as well as I could expect (horrible), and was glad I did it.  I knew that an off-road bike being sponsored
by Xterra would probably be out of my league skill-wise but I figured I would give it a go.

A week before the event I did a 42-mile bike ride on my 42nd birthday, which was just long enough to be the second longest bike ride I have ever done. (It is only bested by two half-ironman bike rides. Yep, I don't ride often or far.) I had picked up my swimming a bit in the last month and felt even if I was mid-pack on the bike, I should do a-ok overall. Who knows what might happen if I held it all together.

 

Race Morning:

I got to the Cameron Park starting line way earlier than I needed to on the morning of the race, because I know how hard it can be to set up all you need for a triathlon. So it was better to be safe than sorry and arrive early.  However, even putzing around for a bit, I had 45 minutes to kill.  Unfortunately, this had me looking around at all the gear all the people who knew what they were doing had with them. I don't normally care too much what everyone else brings to a race but that is when I am aware what is in store for me. Seeing bike gloves and elbow pads, and bike helmets which looked like could protect the wearer from a meteor shower did little to assuage my fears. Fortunately, I was blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead.

We gathered near the start of the swim which was the lukewarm 84 degree Brazos River.  I was told the event had once been shortened because the water had reached 92 degrees. A swim being shortened because the water was too warm was a new one for me. Texas life. One of the guys next to me told me he had come from Denver and was shocked how I was pleasantly surprised that our 8 a.m. start time only had a temperature of 82 degrees. "I don't think we have hit 82 degree yet for the year," he mused.

Swim:

I scoped out a place to try and get an unhindered swimming start but found even in this wide river, there were still people all over each other. I guess those pushing to the front were good swimmers.  As the megaphone the RD was using had conked out on him (this seriously happens more times than it doesn't at races I have attended. How fragile are megaphones?) a quietly spoken "go" was our firing pistol.

Immediately I was caught in a tangle of arms and feet as bodies swarmed over each other. I thought perhaps the one thing I felt I would do well at today, this swim, might be a weak leg for me.  The swim was to begin heading downstream to a bridge, around a buoy, upstream past our starting point to another buoy further up the river before turning around and heading home. As I pulled a bit inside to try and remove myself from the bodies, I saw a few swimmers already out in front of me. I also saw plenty of swimmers to my right who were WAY to my right. Not sure why they started so far over there as there is no need to swim longer than you need. Maybe to avoid all the other thrashing swimmers.

When we got to the first buoy and began to swim upstream, I can honestly say I felt no difference in the current. In fact, if I hadn't known which way the river flowed, I wouldn't have even known there was movement. (Interestingly enough, I read in other reports from other athletes how they HAD noticed it.) I had heard someone say knowing the river helps as there are places where the current is stronger and can tell you I had never once in my life thought of that in terms of racing. (I also learned about a thing called "fetch" from the overall winner - and I actually still have no idea what he is talking about.  ) Talk about home river advantage!

Approaching the second buoy I was a little confused. I could only see a handful of swimmers in front of me and none had turned to come back home yet. When they finally did, I could only count a few.  Was I really doing that well?

Turning and heading for home, it appeared I was in the top ten. Huh. I finally was beginning to feel my groove and passed one last swimmer in front of me before exiting the water. It ends up I was seventh out of 126 men (and technically 40 women as well but they started after us.) In addition, while I am not necessarily going by my GPS, I will go by my time and there is no way that was only  1500m swim.

Transition:

There was a long tenth of a mile run on the road from the swim to where bikes were racked.  A bit further than I would like to run but it gave me a chance to get out of swimming mode and ready to bike. I didn't speed through the transition, as I wanted to make sure I had all my various accoutrements. I grabbed a drink of water and Gatorade from the station and was a bit bummed they were lukewarm.This would play in my decision-making a little bit later. (FORESHADOWING!) As an occasional race director I have prided myself on making sure drinks are always cold. That is so paramount to runner success, especially on a blisteringly warm day.

Bike:

I was pretty unaware of the actual bike course. I knew it was supposed to be hilly, twisting, and had lots of roots and cervices. I figured, worse-case scenario I would just take it easy when necessary and just power through. I came out of the transition right after another cyclist and was immediately on his heels (tires?). I didn't know we had about half a mile of payment riding before hitting the trails or I would have sped up a little bit to take advantage of the part I was half decent at. As it stands I passed him and another cyclist as we climbed a big steep hill.

I had rented a nice mountain bike from a store in Austin with shocks and bouncy bits and air canisters and lots of other things I had no idea what they were. What I did learn, however, is that getting "up in the saddle" as they say didn't really work on this contraption. Every time I tried it, I just bounced up and down on the shocks. No bueno.  Once I got to the top of the hill, saw the narrow entrance to the trail and motioned the two cyclists behind me to go ahead. I wasn't going to start out with two guys on my ass when I had no idea what lay in store.

Here is where I am going to cut this short. I am not going to describe every fall I took (at least four),
every time I almost fell (at least ten) and the countless times I trepidatiously scooted around one twisty-turny bend only to be confronted by a steep uphill that almost had me losing my manhood on my handlebars. All I know is that once I took a tree trunk full-onto the collarbone and chest.  I was certain I broke it as I came to a stop with a sickening thud. (Same overall winner from above in his recap mentioned he crashed a quarter of a mile in as well. I feel less bad about my skills now.)  I know I went over the handlebars twice. I almost went down about three ravines. I will say without a doubt that half of that was because of my inexperience of riding a mountain bike. But half the credit goes to this course which was absolutely ridiculous. I don't mean that in a bad way per se. If one had ridden it they would know what was in store for them. I did not and I am glad as I wouldn't have even attempted it.

After about the 30th rider who passed me (seriously) where I either had to pull over or just stayed over after a crash, I was beginning to wonder what I was doing out here. I thought perhaps I could just take it easy and go slow and make it out alive. The problem was that even taking it slow was dangerous. On one particular hill, I had pulled over after almost crashing and five cyclists went by in rapid succession. Then, this blur of a human, went down the hill like he was on rails. I have zero idea how he avoided ever hole, root, branch, rock, etc. and make it look like it was a sled ride down a water park hill.

I used this stopped time to take a long swig from my water bottle and drained the entire thing. I had a feeling the aid stations were going to just have beverages warmer than before. I was three miles into a nine-mile loop we had to do twice. Granted there looked to be about two miles on each loop near the end which would be easy to ride but who knows what the rest would have in store for me. Then, my last tumble ended it for me.

Just last year I had to get my thumb surgically repaired after I was attacked by two men at an intersection in Austin. I got my thumb caught in the shifter as I went ass over tincups and I felt for sure I messed it up. I sat there for ten seconds before I even tried to move my thumb. When I finally mustered the courage and could tell it was just sore, I knew it was time for me to call it a day. Sure, I think I could have pushed my bike the rest of the way and still finished high enough to qualify for the World Championship team (I am serious) but that was not why I was here.

I rode on and came to a road we had to cross. I asked one of the volunteers how I could get back to the start. Then I did the painful but smart thing and quit. I rode down the hill, passed the spot where we entered the trail, and found the referee for the event. I turned in my chip and stood there.

Finally I decided to go for a little bit of a run to just feel out my body and make sure nothing really was broken.  I have hurt myself before, gone to get x-rays and been given a clean bill of health, only to find out I did a doozy of a number to myself weeks later. (How do you miss this?!) After a short two-miler, it felt like I was ok. I won't rule out I somehow put my spleen into my stomach or something else just yet but all systems seem go.

The decision I made was correct. It still sucks. Then going to grab some consolatory food after the race I got a speeding ticket in some street that magically went from 45 to 30 for one block. That has nothing to do with anything other than let's just say the day was not a good one. In talking with a few people at the event, most of them offered consolation but at the same time told their stories of how they had continued on with a broken femur or a case of Black Death they caught at an aid station or how they fought off a lion, skinned it, and wore its pelt back to transition two before going back out to look for their arm. It is this kind of bravado which is lost on me.

There is absolutely nothing impressive about continuing on in a race where nothing but your pride is on the line when you are hurt or about to be hurt. Sure if you are stuck in the mountains and the only way down is to keep on going, then you should keep on going. But too often we applaud the efforts of people who soldier on when they were either unprepared, under-trained, or any of a variety of things where the "Come back with your shield or on it" faux toughness is paramount. I wonder how many of these people would be so willing to risk their health or well-being if there wasn't social media to tell them how epic they are.Well, I know I am not one of them. Think you are tougher than me because you would have kept going? Okey dokes. Doesn't bother me one bit. Even if our health care system didn't suck, it is not worth it to me to collect a non-precious medal or bauble, rather than return home unwounded.

But I went for a swim two days after my race and it was the best swim workout I have had since I was in high school.  So I have that going for me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's All About the Weather

Having been running races for two decades now, in every conceivable condition, for every conceivable type of distance, I can tell you what matters most when you want to have a good day: weather.

It is not how fit you are, what the course is like, what you ate the night before or anything else. Being under-trained, or overcoming a big hill, or puking out some bad food are often things you can't get over relatively quickly in a race.  But the weather on race day is the one variable which will bring you to your knees the hardest.

I have paid special attention to how weather affects performance mostly because of something very specific: I am horrible in warm temperatures. And by "warm" I mean basically anything over 60 degrees. So bad am I when the mercury rises in the ole thermometer that, I was asked to give a speech in Ecuador at a Gatorade Sports Science Institute on sweat loss. In addition, while there, I performed like a gerbil on the treadmill, doing a brisk 45 minute run, indoors, losing seven pounds in sweat alone. (I wish I could tell you how hilarious the owner of the treadmill, who was loaning it to the event, was when he continued to wipe down the outer plastic shell as I ran. Isn't that what the plastic shell is for? He acted as if I had Alien acid sweat that would burn through it if he didn't wipe immediately or thoroughly.  But I digress.)

In addition, I have Gilbert's Syndrome. A relatively mild disorder (if you listen to Wikipedia) it comes into play for those of us who do endurance sports as it affects one's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Since I put myself in situations where I push my body further than most people ever have, I would disagree about how mild it is. Nevertheless, you take all of what I have described and suffice it to say I look at the weather app more than I do anything else as race day approaches.

Of my top ten fastest marathons, only one came when the weather was inclement: the Steamtown Marathon in 2007. Run on the day that Chicago infamously had to blackflag its race for heat, how I was able to put this race out of the hat (after a wrong turn added extra miles) is beyond me. In fact, as I look through even the top 25 marathons I have run there are many different things which present themselves. I was in various level of fitness. I ran them over various terrains. Different elevations. Various times of my life. But one things remains the same: nice weather.

I don't say this without proof.  In fact, I have written down what the weather is for every race I have ever run. (They are all accessible on this very website on the right sidebar.) Over and over again, I perform best when it is cooler.

OK, so that is anecdotal. It is rather Dane-centric. So don't just look at what works for me.  Look at science.  Then look again. And again. Wherever you look, it shows you that when the weather is cooler you run better. If it is less humid, you run better. If it is less windy, you run better.

Obviously there are going to be some people who feel they run better in heat and when people just want to "feel" something, you can't tell them otherwise. But the science points to how our bodies warm the ambient air around us by 20 degrees when we run which is why we are told to dress for the run we will be having in the middle rather than the one we start with.  Otherwise, you end up sweating so much that your clothes get soaked and even if it is cold when you start, you will be drenched in sweat. Then when you finish you freeze because of all the wet clothing.

Note that with this analysis, I am primarily speaking about longer distances races. Shorter distance races like the 100 meter dash (which I still contend is more like power lifting than it is running) need a warmer temperature to keep those ridiculous fast-twitch muscle fibers from snapping like a twig. But the longer you run, the cooler you want the temperature to be. Again, don't take my word for it.  Read this exhaustive study here.  Researchers reviewed weather and race data from past Olympics and determined the ideal temp for elite marathoners was 49.4 degrees for men and 51.8 degrees for women. Athletes in sprint events fared better in warmer temps. For the 100m dash, for example, men did best when the race day temperature was 72.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and women excelled at 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they run so much faster than us mortals, elite runners are in the weather for far less time than the rest of us.  A person finishing in 5 hours for a marathon is essentially running in a different day than when they started, the way temperatures climb.

So, next time you are looking for that fast race, it may behoove you to check out its historic weather even more than what type of downhill course it has or anything else people use to determine how they will have a good time. Planning for the factor which will probably have the biggest impact on your race, shouldn't be left to chance.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Shut Up and Run

I have been told to "shut up and run." I won't. And I am not even remotely sorry.

I am mostly referring to taking a stance in the past few years to all the horrible atrocities which are going on around our country, mostly regarding those which touch on politics and minorities. In 2016, when trump (I refuse to capitalize his name) was showing that he was, at the very least, one of the leading faces of the Republican party, something I had been struggling with for years finally became quite clear. The vast majority of the Republican party leaders are horrific humans, with either zero desire to help this country, or such vast ignorance to how to get it done that their existence might as well be labeled as treason. In many cases, it is obvious their own desires have often led to selling out the American people and this country as a whole. I saw anyone who supported trump as an enemy of me and the things I stand for because, well, they were. I deleted hundreds of Facebook friends, cut ties with real life friends and family, and began to make it clear that I wasn't just a runner who would run.

My website has chronicled how my stances have cost me tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, sponsorships, partnerships, etc in a post here. I will not go into that again but I do ask you read it. I couldn't have been more shocked to get pushback from people who agreed with what I was saying but refused to get involved. When I saw that reaction I knew I was in for a rough ride. I don't have a "job" per se. I have an occupation. It is one which relies on others to pay me. I was well aware I would be taking a hit in the pocket from people who either disagreed with me or were on the fence but I wasn't expecting it from those who were behind me. And behind me in such a way that they would gingerly peak out occasionally to see if it was ok to even say  "Yeah, what he said" before ducking back for cover.

When you criticize something, those on that side always retort with the "Yeah, well you would say that! You are a [opposite of what they are.]" When I criticized the Republican party the flamethrowers on the right seemed to not realize that until 2016 I was a registered Republican. When I pointed out the problem with guns in America, the ignorant labeled me a a libtard snowflake. This ignored the fact that I absolutely love shooting guns, grew up in a part of the country where I thought the first day of Buck Season was a national holiday, and absolutely know more about guns than most of them. (I'd link to my tweet thread about that but, well, I will get to that in a second.) I detailed greatly how I knew who the trump voters were, especially the real hard core ones, because I lived amongst them for the first two decades of my life. They were my classmates, teachers, grocery clerks, repairmen, etc. After all that time living with them, and the years since then hearing why they supporter trump, I didn't need any new information on why they were doing what they did. It was all quite clear.

For over two years now I have taken deep personal financial hits. I am not lying when I say it would have been SO much easier to keep my mouth shut. I am a white, straight, male. There is literally nothing better to be in today's world unless you want to add "rich" to the front of that description. Nothing is truly against me. Disagree? Well if you are any of those things, if given a genie in a bottle, would you change them? If you said yes, you are lying. The world is set up currently to make it far easier for someone like me to succeed.

But I was given a small niche of fame. A little corner I carved out by being semi-athletic in a sport North Carolina until it resembled a democracy again, to all the things I have already mentioned, I knew I was risking a livelihood.
which has a lot of people in it. I did a few things no one has ever been able to do before, was articulate enough to write about them, and gained a following. I took a huge risk by being so outspoken. From ending a personal goal of running a marathon in every state at 49  by boycotting

A sponsor with whom I have been working with since 2009 up and disappeared. Every other athlete that remained on their roster said not one word outside of "I like sports!" and toed the company line. I continued on. Through Twitter I amassed a sizable following and felt like I was helping make a difference. From supporting the crisis in Flint by buying t-shirts to rebroadcasting stories to my followers who might not have seen them otherwise, I still tried to keep as many of my athletic endeavors on the forefront as well. I did not wish to just be a provocateur but someone who also inspired and empowered others.

Then my Twitter account got indefinitely suspended. Why? Because I dared call out a white supremacist. Suddenly, one of the venues I had cultivated to get out my message, to earn paychecks, and do what I could was taken from me. Recently, I had begun to regain support from groups and organization who liked my overall message. A few paychecks came in. Things were looking better for me to continue to do what I do. Now, who knows?

I received death threats on Facebook. I received trolling on Twitter. I wanted to tell these people that I take them seriously but I am not one to stop. I have been dealing with assholes online for a decade. I have had people come after my livelihood, my friends, and my family before. In other words, bitch, I am the one who knocks. Do you really want to test the resolve and endurance of a person who ran 202 miles straight? Is questioning the intestinal fortitude of a man who competes in highly taxing athletic endeavors with Gilbert's Syndrome, a liver disorder that more or less says what I have done should be impossible for me, your best bet?

My point is, if I haven't stopped yet, I am not going to. I do not put myself on the same level of people like Colin Kaepernick who risked his entire NFL career to take stand. But I also didn't have a few million in my pocket when I started doing what I was doing. Nor did I have the national media there to potentially help elevate what I was doing.

Instead, I will continue to do what I can with what I have. I will fight for those who are not me. I will show compassion for ones with less, who have had so much taken from them, or never had anything to begin with. Ideally, I would love to simply talk about the tough times while running the entire coast of Oregon in a week's time. Or coming back from having been attacked by two men who fractured my face and hand last summer and qualifying for the U.S Aquathlon team. But I will not shirk the responsibilities that come with having more, of being able to do more, and pretend others do not matter.

If I can't make rent, or have to sell my car, or anything else, I guarantee you, I have been in tougher times. I grew up in subsidized housing. My father was crippled in a hunting accident right before I was born. My mother, who was bed ridden for three years a child with rheumatic fever had two open heart surgeries by the time she was my age to fix problems which stemmed from that illness. I'd rather not suffer and struggle obviously, but even when I wonder how I will pay for groceries sometimes, I at least warm myself inside by the knowledge I am doing what it right.

Want to see me shut up and run? Catch me in the middle of a marathon. I tend to talk less then. Otherwise, grab a chair because it is going to be a long ass wait.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Suspended from Twitter

About two years ago I began using my public persona to talk about more things than just athletics. I know any athlete that does as such gets the whole "stick to sports" routine from those who don't want to think of their athletes as being anything besides one-dimensional. (Like Laura Ingraham's "Shut up and dribble" banality to LeBron.)

That said, I still do try to talk about sports the most as they are what matter to me - namely running and the like. However, two weeks ago, during the Royal Wedding, something I could not possibly care less about, KT Hopkins, noted white supremacist and all around anal carbuncle said the following about Meghan Markle. "No competition.  You can't buy class."  Now, even with trump and his ilk allowing Nazis, racists, sexists, etc more free reign to say things out loud that they should be saying in their inside voice, KT still had the brains(?) to be mildly vague with her racist dogwhistling about Markle's blackness.  So I replied.



Granted, this is not the most couth reply. But I would much rather someone speak the truth in a harsh tone than peddle bullshit with embroideries. It was well-received by many who felt the same. (And I put this picture up to show I am not afraid of what I said. You can disagree with it and that is fine. I
am used to dealing with people who want to silence me.  Hell even the ones who agree with me don't have the balls to say so.)

KT replied to me with some inane retort about how it was not two women getting married (intentionally missing the point) and I replied to her. Then it was done. I went about my life.

A week later I get notification my Twitter account has been suspended for "targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice."While this is utter b.s. I know women on Twitter who have posted messaged they received threatening to rape and kill them and THEY have gotten suspended - not the person who sent the message. So I wasn't surprised. Disappointing but not surprised. I assumed I would wait 48 hours or whatnot and be back on Twitter.  But then I realized it was an indefinite suspension.

I can no longer tweet. I can no longer access my direct messages with personal information from those who purchased my book and whose addresses I need to send them said book.   can't see virtually any tweet posted in an article online as I essentially no longer have an account  Guess who still has an account - KT Hopkins. (and trump and Orrin Hatch's Social media guy who likes to say just as insulting things about me and like a billion other people who are far worse than me. Hell, Roseanne Barr still has an account, even after she said she was done with Twitter after calling a black woman an "ape.")

I appealed this suspension. Twice. I'm on the third time right now. I have begun sending daily messages to Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter) through his email stating my case.  I don't exactly expect him to reply (and a week into doing so he hasn't) but one hopes. I have been fortunate enough to have a variety of people send tweets and messages in my support, both famous and not, as well.  (You can, too: Jack@twitter.com or @jack on Twitter.) I have also had some people gloat. And honestly, if you want to judge me as a person, look who supports me and look who is gloating. That says everything you need to know about my message.

Some say "And he calls himself a motivational speaker!" First, I never have. Second, even if I did, a speaker who wants to motivate isn't beholden to every single person who demands they spout nothing but flowery platitudes. "Dance for me, monkey!" has never been something I responded to. I do my best to inspire people. And I have tons of examples that I have. However, because what I said made you unhappy doesn't mean I have failed at what I do.

Will I ever get my account back? I honestly do not think so. It is disappointing but for a week and counting to not see the horrible things that trump and his feeble-minded supporters have done has been a blessing. I will miss being able to do what I can with what I have to help people who are not me. But I fortunately still have other forums.

But for any other person who has an audience, especially athletes, and does not attempt to use it, I feel sorry for you. I know I am the one who has lost thousands of dollars in sponsorships, partnerships etc, but you are the one who silently stands by while others are harmed. I hope the money helps you sleep at night. I hope refusing to take a stand allows you to be able to look at your minority friends in the eye.

It appears people are finally beginning to back me up (now that it is safe for them to do so, naturally.) I bore the brunt of the worst of it for coming out first, which, well, kinda sucks, but I am who I am. In the meantime, I will continue to push my body to new heights athletically. It is what I have control over. The rest is just noise.

I turned 42 yesterday. I continue to grow as a person. Could I have just said "Now, KT, I think it is bad you don't like black people."?  Absolutely. But horrible people don't deserve niceties. They don't necessarily deserve harassment either.  Regardless, I didn't harass her.

So, Jack Dorsey., CEO of Twitter: why don't you get half of a backbone and stop kowtowing to the worst dredges of your website and give me back my account? It is fun to be on the right side of history. Come join me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 2 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 5th Edition 
52.6 miles run and 1500 meters swam in races in 2018 races

Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 89 degrees;cloudy

I'm going to be straightforward and say that these races are starting to get a little frustrating for me.

I ran this series in Austin last year five of the six times they had it. (I missed one after I was attacked by two homeless men who fractured my face and hand.) I ran a 26:02, 25:49, 26:13, 26:33, and 27:13. All of those races were hodgepodge of similar run and swim times, with one race having a slightly faster swim or a slightly faster run but barring the final race where I was coming back from the injury, more or less the same time. When I started the year this year with a 26:35 just two days after my longest run/race of the year  (a race I won) I wasn't pleased but I wasn't unhappy.

Going into this race I felt relatively rested and even though it was a warm day in Austin, just minutes before the race started, the skies clouded over. They clouded over so much that storms were seen in the distance and unfortunately for about a quarter of the women in the race which started three minutes after the men, they were pulled from the quarry for safety reasons.

I am frustrated because it seems no matter what I do or how I feel I am destined to be stuck a bit in this time frame. I will be the first to admit that I have not been swimming nearly enough to garner the times I know I am capable of doing. In addition, this race is a short distance which is just not what my body is built for.  But I should, nevertheless, be able to go faster than I have.

My swim felt strong. After the initial washing machine of arms and legs for 25 yards or so, I found myself in position from which I would not move for the entire of the swim. No one passed me and I passed no one. I had a solid straight-line swim, felt great throughout and while I did come out of the water and the transition with basically my fastest time of any of the events, it was a full minute slower than what it felt.

The run was equally disappointing as each lap felt easily 15 seconds faster than it was with times of 4:36, 4:37, and 4:33 being some of my slowest lap times ever. As far as I can tell, I got passed by two swimmers and passed one. So basically I finished the race in almost the exact same position that I started it. Not only literally in place but figuratively in frustration. 26:17 was my time.

Now as the heat of the Austin summer will be upon us soon, I need to make some decisions about what sort of racing I wish to do. If I am going to improve at these shorter distances I am going to have to commit to doing so. But the trade-off is knowing that even if I do work hard, I am just not a sprinter. Never have been, and no matter how hard I try, I am not going to find fast-twitch muscle fibers at two weeks from my 42nd birthday.

Look, I know no one has sympathy for the guy who finished in the top ten (or close to it. I think it was 12th this time.) But I was reading an article recently about memories and stories from endurance athletes like myself. Or "extreme athletes": a term I think I actually coined a decade ago when I realized "Ultraunner, triathlete, sometimes-obstacle course racer, but also dabbles in snowshoe racing, winter sports, and the occasional sprint races runner" was a bit too lengthy. The article talked about how these athletes spin their tales of wonder mixed with crushing lows and euphoric highs, painting pictures of pulling themselves from the depths. I get it. That sells books. But I abhor this type of embellishment.

I truly believe athletes of all skill levels can be just as impressed and inspired by true  and honest stories about "Man, this shit is just NOT going right for me and I don't know why." That type of story is far more relatable that the superhuman tales spun. Sure, it brings you down off your pedestal a bit and people won't romanticize how badass and amazing you are (just like holding opinions about things that matter and taking a stand against injustices are done by like .01% of people trying to catch a comet by the tail in order to garner sponsorships or paychecks) but this is how I am made.

Sure it would be great if people were impressed with my feats. But what I want most is for them to read what I write, listen to my tales, and see themselves in me. Whether they are faster than me or not. So, with the that all said, the fact that my fourth book, Run This Place, is hitting bookshelves this week, I do hope if you enjoy reading what I write here for free, that you will help support forthright writing from an athlete who has done a thing or two. Get yourself an autographed copy simply by heading over here and throwing down a few quid.

And I promise to keep trying to get to the finish line faster.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Wildflower 25k Trail Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 4th Edition 
50.6 miles run and 750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Wildflower 25k Trail Run
Place: Bastrop, TX
Miles from home: 40
Weather: 60-70 degrees; sunny; 95% humidity

A few years ago a friend told me how the Bastrop State Park has been decimated by a fire. Starting to regrow, the park was something I wanted to see and had not taken the time to do so as a nearby resident of Austin. As I try to eschew driving to run, I hadn't made the trek out there to do so yet for  a training run. Seeing a friend who owns a great racing company (Trail Running Over Texas - one of his races is in my upcoming book of must-run races) had a series of events going on there, I put a pin in it in my mind. When this weekend's weather proved to be about the best one could hope for in the greater Austin area in May, I decided to pull the trigger on the 25km race.

Race Morning:

The park is just close enough that it I needn't grab a hotel but just far enough away that I still have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to make it on time. If you are new to See Dane Run Dot Com, let me fill you in: Dane doesn't like mornings. Picked the wrong sport for it, I know but one doesn't get to choose the talents the almighty gives you. All glory to God.

That said, I hit every single green light on the way to Bastrop, parked, walked to the shuttle which took us into the park, and grabbed the last seat on the bus. I was at the park, with my bib in hand, and my various race accoutrements set up with an hour to kill. Now what? I chatted with a guy whose chair was right next to mine whose wife was running the 50km race and he was also running the 25km. We both commiserated that even this "nice" weather was too warm for great racing.

As the course was three loops, two 6.2 miles(ish) and one 3.1 miles(ish), this allowed you to have your own little drop-bag station with all your goodies in one place. Normally, for a race of this distance, I wouldn't have single thing to bring with me. However, this was a cupless race meaning you had to have your own containers to receive fluids at the aid stations.  I understand the need and desire for these (cuts down on waste - yay!) but it is not my fave racing condition. So I loaded up a Camelbak with a 1.5 liter (mostly frozen) bladder and felt I should be fine without needing to stop once. Why mostly frozen?  Because like the star in Avengers: Infinity War (*small spoiler*) my body heat could toast Thor.

Soon it was time to go.

Lap One:


The course started in a small parking lot and IMMEDIATELY went up a steep, single-track hill.
Watching the 50k runners go off at 6 a.m. showed me that if you weren't one of the first few through, you were destined to be walking up the hill behind a conga line of runners. That was after you got through a bottleneck to even get on the trail. This meant I had to start off sprinting, uphill - two things I do not do well in a race. Alas, it was a necessity. Hitting the trail, after the countdown, I was in third place. That's a good position to be in.

It had rained the night before and I am thankful for that indeed. There was a great deal of this course
which was sandy or other similar footings which, if dry, would have been a bear to run in. The rain undoubtedly helped pack it a bit and the 50k runners who had gone through an hour before beat it down a little more. As we started climbing, I had sunglasses on my head. The sun was just now creeping over the horizon. Its yellow tendrils  were playing shadows between our feet and I wasn't ready to misjudge a step and break a hand or a face out here just yet. I mean, hell, the Austin police department wouldn't do anything about it if I did. (Oooh, thousands of dollars of medical bills from being assaulted burn! Take that APD!)

Within a quarter of a mile we crested this steep hill and me and the second-place runner (Tony) passed first place on a nice downhill. The first dollop of sweat dripped out of my hair and into my eyes. I was four minutes into this race. It was going to be hot.

We came to a footbridge crossing (one of half a dozen or so) and Tony went the wrong way. I yelled at him to correct his error and found myself, undesirably so at this juncture, in first place. I was not quite awake yet, I was not feeling my legs, and I did not want to be leading at this point. Fortunately, before another half mile or so, we came to one of many steep embankments and as I leaned to the right, he passed me on the left. I don't know what it is that makes people so much better than me on uphills (or me so much better than most on downhills) but I have no problem ceding way to those who are.

I knew we had a bit of a distance until the biggest hill of the course ending right around the second mile. There would be a few ups and downs, an area I would call the valley, and then some twists and turns as well. But before we got there, on another steep embankment, I heard an "on your left"  in my ear. Wasn't expecting to have to move for another fella just yet. Well, pooh. I didn't catch his name but he had a UK accent so I am going to call him Nigel.

Tony had pulled a way from me a bit as we hit that big hill at mile two, and ole Nige had split the difference between us. I ran this entire hill, without using the patented Dane HillWalk Method, and got to the top not in the worst shape. A nice downhill, followed by a series of switchbacks in a valley of sorts had me not too far back of the chaps in front of me. This vantage point also allowed me to see there was a relatively steady stream of other runners far too close behind me for comfort.

We crossed over a dirt road where we would turn right on our third lap for a shorter loop and went through a series of terrain and fauna that was rather surprising. I say surprising because we ran under and through a variety of types of trees, through a variety of types of footing, and altogether were presented with a variety of types of visages which I was not expecting. Without a doubt there was a plethora of things to keep your eyes on and your mind off your running.

At mile 3.8 we slid out of the woods and past the only aid station on the course and onto a dirt road. I had seen this on the map and thought this brief half-mile section might give me a chance to make up some ground, being that it was the closest to running on a road we were going to get.  However, it slopped uphill at a noticeable angle and all I saw were Tony and Right Good Chap staying just as far away from me as always. However, right before we turned off, I seemed to notice a small slowdown in Captain Britain. The game is afoot, Billy S.

Over the next half a mile I found myself gaining on Nigel and was soon in his back pocket. I thought about staying in there but I could no longer see Tony. If I wanted any chance of winning, I couldn't lose touch with the leader. So I finally passed Bowler Wearer and began my tracking down of Big T.

There were a ton of twists and turns on this course which blocked any long-term viewing of those in front of you. Just when I felt Tony might be out of reach, he appeared in front of me not too far away. We then hit a steep but short uphill that I had forgotten about and I walked just for a second. Then, knowing the vast majority was downhill until the cruel 100 yard uphill to finish the loop, I picked up the pace.

Screaming downhill, the route went over some washed-out ravines which I knew would provide for some sticky wicket of running on tired legs on the third loop. But here I could fly.  An abrupt turn onto a tiny trail appeared and I found myself ducking three branches as I accelerated at break-neck speed. Unfortunately, there were four branches to duck under.

*THWACK*

The branch knocked my sunglasses clear off my head and I had to come to a screeching halt to try to locate them. Took me a full ten second to grab them and begin running again, completely throwing off all momentum. I have often said I learned that trail running when you are 6'1'' means you are going to take a lot of branches to the face that most runners will glide right under.

Over a log bridge which I knew would also cause some trepidation on tired legs, up a hill to cross a road, up some stairs, through the last bit of twisting uphill and one lap was done in 52:37.  Definitely slower than I expected (and I don't think this was exactly a 6.2 mile course but it's trail so, meh.)

The race director was standing there cheering people on and as he knows about my propensity to sweat, commented: "Sweating already, huh, Dane?!" If he had only known I was drenched to the bone three miles earlier.

Lap Two:


I looked to see if Tony had stopped to fill his bottle but couldn't see him around. I could also tell from the cheering that there was a runner right behind me as well. I took the hill at the start of the loop with less vigor this time but still felt decent. By now the sun was beginning to beat down on us all, not a single of those supposedly partly cloudy skies had a cloud in it, and I could drop my sunglasses down. As we were beginning to encounter other racers from the other races going on, we had to be a touch more careful where the footing was more challenging. I couldn't see Tony and thought perhaps he had stopped back at the finish for a drink.

Almost at the exact same place where Nigel had passed me before I heard footsteps behind me. The CamelBak I was wearing had, by now, melted most of the ice and was creating a back-and-forth swishing sound of ice and water. As such, I didn't hear approaching foot steps as far back as usual.  As a fresh-faced fella passed me, I assumed he was the one runner I had scoped out on the registrants list who appeared he might give me a challenge today. I fed off of his energy and allowed him to pull me along for a while.

Soon we approached the big hill at mile two and suddenly Tony appeared in front of us. First Young Buck passed him and then I did as well. This time, however, I walked a bit of the uphill.  Near the top, I heard Tony's footsteps and decided I would take off again.

I kept waiting to pass over the path which on the third loop we would take to the finish but it didn't seem to come. When I finally hit it I knew there was no way that the third loop was only half of the second. Even knowing this course was definitely on the long side, all I could think was "One more lap and I can take it." I thought I might try to grab some ice or something cool at the midway aid station on the road but when I popped out of the forest there was a huge gathering of other racers there filling their bottles, packs etc. I decided it wasn't worth the wait or effort to grab a drink here and just began up the dirt road hill.

Up ahead, Young Buck (Alex was his name)  was just turning out of sight and he was cooking.  I looked down for a second and saw that my bib number with the chip on it was in danger of falling off my shorts. Near the top of this hill road I decided there would be no better time to fix it than right here. So I slowed to a walk and reached down to fumble with the safety pins. I had sweat so much that I dampened the semi-laminated type bib number to the point that the pin had pulled right through it. Bib reattached with a new hole created further down the paper, I began running again.

Even though I could tell I was slowing, I was passing loads of runners which always helps placate the
ego. I decided to purposefully slow just a touch more as I could tell the third loop was really going to take a lot out of me. Also, my legs were getting a bit wobbly. At one point, ascending some stairs to cross a footbridge, I stumbled a bit and almost smashed my face into a log.

I finished the second loop in 56:30 which was slower than I hoped but not as slow as I expected given a few walk breaks on the hills.

Third Loop:

I began this loop a little perturbed. There were a large number of runners sort of milling around in the narrow area where we went from the parking lot to the hill and none seemed too concerned about getting the hell out of the way. I mean, we ALL just came through there at one point, people. Come on.

As I began the hill climb again I let go of all pretense of shuffling up this beast and just power-walked it. I tried to drink heartily from my Camelbak but while not warm, the water wasn't particularly cold, either. I could tell all I was doing by drinking it was bloating myself. It stinks when you want to remedy the energy level of your over-heated body but know what you have won't do it. Yet, you drink anyway. Alas *holds back of hand to head*

I felt great on any downhills had but any semblance of an up brought me to a slow walk. You really begin to notice how many quick up and downs a course has when you are forced to walk when the path slopes at all. Realizing I didn't have a chance to catch Alex in first place took the wind right out of my sails. Would have been wonderful if there was some actual wind, I thought.

Passing runners and thanking those who went out of their way to step off the trail (I would tell them they did not have to do so and wanted to let them know that if they simply stayed where they were at the pace they were going it was easier to gauge where they would be — I had one or two close calls when someone just stopped) I got a little bit of a second wind. Then, as I approached the big hill at mile two I heard footsteps behind me.

A spritely young lass passed me and I hoped she wasn't in the 25k.  When I inquired and she cheerfully said she was, my spirits sank. Not because I was being "chicked", mind you.  Rather, in the late stage of a races, I have often been able to fend off many runners who might make a move too soon. But those runners are often male  If a female runner is with me at the end, chances are almost 100% that girl can fly and has properly paced herself throughout. As it stands, Anna had done just that. At the end of the first lap, she as in eighth place. At the end of the second lap, she was in fourth. And now, with ~two miles to go, she as in second.  Solid run, Anna!

I will cut to the chase and say the remainder of my race was a war of attrition. It was walking up hills and wondering if I should just lie down and then hitting a downhill and feeling like a champ.  Undoubtedly this was part of being less trained than I would like to be at this point of the year, trail running being very different from road racing, and the fact I have Gilbert's Syndrome. The latter being where when I start to overheated and bake my insides, my body basically says "Yeah, you're done. Sit down, son."

But I pulled it together for the final surge, even running the last bit of up hill.  I was disappointed as heck with a 41-minute last lap (on a supposedly half as long loop — which there was no way it wasn't longer than stated) came in with a final sprint to go 2:29:59. This was good enough for third place overall and 2nd male. Tony had regrouped, came in fourth about a minute behind me, and told me after that he saw me walking the hills but I had put too much distance in between us in the interim.

Coming in third in any race is nothing to be bummed about, but just because it isn't doesn't mean I am not. Part of the reason I moved to Austin, Texas in 2016 was to try to get my body to the point where it can tolerate heat. So far that hasn't worked as well as I would have hope it had but I am still working on it. Running is a constant experiment and we must always tinker. I guess I will just keep on tinkering!

All told the event was extremely well-run with helpful volunteers. Rob Goyen, the RD, is as affable a fella as you will meet and he is seemingly at the finish for every single runner as they come through. He has created quite a company and I love telling people about good people doing fun things. If you are virtually anywhere in Texas, Rob probably has a race an hour's drive from you.

Go check them out.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Do Stop 3 Hour Trail Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 2nd Edition 
33.1 miles run in races in 2018 races
Race: Do Stop 3 Hour Trail Run
Place: Bremond, TX
Miles from home: 113
Weather: 50 degrees; partly sunny; VERY windy

I like running loops. I liked timed races. Running a certain time rather than a certain distance is a different type of racing which requires a different mindset. (I wrote about that here.) When I saw this oddly named race relatively nearby in a part of Texas that I wouldn't necessarily have any other reason to go to, I checked it out. When the weather looked positively delightful for race day, I was sold.

My training has been very much off this year. For well over six weeks in February and March I was either sick or had the flu or was coughing or whatever. I don't know what I had and it doesn't matter. What matters was I was barely running and when I was it was utter crap.When I looked at the three-hour option for this race I knew that was the absolute most I should attempt. Glancing at my trusty Dane Running Spreadsheet™, I could see that the longest I had run all year was 97 minutes on a 12.6 mile training run in the second week of January. Yes, I could probably hobble through six hours or more on such minimal training but it would be a disaster. Three hours was plenty.

The course was deceptively tough. I mapped it out myself to try to get a sense of the elevation and I saw there were virtually 50 meters on the two mile loop we would be running that were flat. The rest of it was undulating in one direction or another. In addition, upon checking it out the night before I ran, I could see there was a creek crossing we would have to make twice per loop and a lot of the course had little twists and turns in it. Without a doubt this would be no walk in the woods.


Race Morning:


While the temperature and humidity were both to my liking, what rolled in the day before the event was a hellacious wind. The race itself started at 7:30 p.m. Friday night for those doing the 24-hour edition. Also, for about half an hour in the middle of the night, rain absolutely poured down on the runners. When I woke to race in the morning, the rain was gone but the wind, gusting well over 40 mph and making life hell for the organizers of this race, was ever present and swirling.

Setting up at the starting line was an easy task for all four races going on (3, 6, 12, and 24 hour) as there were only about 25 competitors. When I went to collect my bib to pin, they told me it was on my chair. As I held my chair in my hand I was a bit confused. Then I saw, as part of the race premium, there wasn't a t-shirt but rather, your own folding chair with your name on it. Now that is
pretty damn cool!

The wind was whipping around something fierce and as I was down to my customary shorts and shirt with nothing else on (I knew I would be way too hot with anything else once I started running) I alternated between using the Porta-Potty and a last-minute reprieve in my car to stay warm. This race truly was set up about as easy as possible for anyone wanting to run it.  The land owner had recently built a beautiful home with a pool and hot tub and what appeared to be more than a few rooms in a line all with separate doors. Sure enough, it was almost like a hotel. If they want there is no way they couldn't sell these out next year to people wanting not to camp nearby or in a hotel 20 miles away (like I did). Before too long, it was time to line up and go.

First Four Loops:

I had no idea if the other seven or so people would present any challenge for me today but I intended
to make them work for it if they did. I shot out of the gate and immediately plunged down a hill before going back up again. Through a small cluster of trees the trail led us to the steepest downhill of the course and then through a cattle fence.

After that, I saw the creek crossing ahead and realized that it might have been more of a puddle. There appeared to be at least a small portion on the righthand side where I might be able to skip the water entirely.  Granted it was rocky and partially covered in slippery mud but that was better than wet feet. Half way across, however, I noticed some bushes protruding and before I could avoid it, I took a few of them right to the thigh. Literally two minutes into this races and I was bleeding already. Then I took two full steps each in the water soaking my feet for good measure.

He's a big dumb animal, ladies and gentlemen.

Next we went over a quick bump with some white, fist-sized rocks which were very loose and hard to navigate, through an easier to avoid puddle, and then back up a small hill. After that we weaved through a forest with quick turns and a few ankle-breaking turns as you tried to swiftly navigate the terrain. After sliding through there, an opening appeared and we entered the field we would run through later in the loop. This small section was the flattest stretch of the entire race.

Into the forest we went again for another twisty-turny portion, also with a small climb before leading into a fast descent with another quick climb again. through another cattle guard and now we were in the field for the longest downhill of the race. Unfortunately, what goes down comes back up in this loop and around a cluster of trees, and through some low-hanging branches we went before cresting this hill and rejoining the trail we ran on previously to once again navigate the two bodies of water.


Then it was up the steepest uphill of the race before a spin around a field leading to a downhill and then an uphill which brought you to the conclusion of the loop. As I said, this was not an "easy" course. I was hoping to get these loops in around 15 minutes or so to attempt to get 24 miles in for the three-hour period. When my first loop took 17:08, I realized I was probably going to have to re-evaluate my whole plans.

As I began the second loop, the landowner's blue heeler dog decided that I obviously needed to be herded. For the next loop, Emma, the dog, would run right next to me until such time as she saw someone else ahead of me. What was really nice about this race was at virtually no time were you alone. When Emma saw someone else she would sprint ahead to guide them. Then I would catch up and she would look at me like "Oh! You are the pack leader. My bad!" and stay with me until another person appeared. Lather, rinse, repeat. I ran this loop in 16:56 and I credit Emma for helping me.

On the third loop, I finally felt like I was catching my wind. With Emma by my feet I started to pick things up. She would cut through the forest where I was sure she was going to go chase a squirrel or something and then somehow always ended up in front of me. She obviously knew the lay of the land and was looking at me like "We doing this, biped?" When I came in with a time of 16:28 for the third loop I thought maybe I could still get those 12 laps and 24 miles.

Emma decided to leave me here and grab a drink of water or scratch herself. To be quite honest I was a little bummed. Even though she had twice run into my foot and almost tripped me in a wooded section, I was loving her company. She had helped take my mind off the wind which was truly one of the top three windiest races I have ever run. On this fourth lap I assumed I would slow a touch without the aid of my illegal pacer but coming in at an exact 16:28 again buoyed my spirit.

Next Two Loops:


I grabbed my first swig of a drink of any kind after these four loops. I didn't feel like I necessarily needed it but I knew I was already eight miles in. The wind was still gusting and had made me a little parched. As it was a feed-yourself kind of race, I simply grabbed my water bottle, stopped to swig it, and then kept running. I came in at 16:38 for this lap and the only difference in time between the previous two laps was essentially the time I spent stopping and drinking.


By now I realized I would not be running close to 15 minutes per lap no matter how hard I tried. As such I was in a bit of a dilemma. Five loops done put me at 1:23 on the clock. If I equaled that for the next five loops I would have 14 minutes to complete one loop before the three hours was done.

Now, each timed  race is different and some count partial loops, some mark exactly where you were when the time is up (usually a track race) and others say any unfinished loop doesn't count at all. So if I equaled my time, I wouldn't really have enough time to do a full lap. The next loop would tell me what my fate would be. As I barely broke 17 minutes with a 16:57, I knew it would be next to impossible to get an extra loop. I would have to settle for ten loops and 20 miles run.

I drank heartily from an electrolyte drink and the race director appeared next to me. He must have seen exactly what I saw and told me that any loop that starts before the clock hits the hour can be completed. They just tack the time on. So if I ran what I was running, I could finish 22 miles in three hours and two minutes. I told him it would give me something to think about and took off.

Next Two Loops:

By now I had gotten adept at prancing across some rocks which had been placed in the puddle in order to help keep feet dry. They weren't the most stable but they were better than nothing. As I entered the forest after this water hazard, I ran straight into a branch. It took a sizeable chunk out of my neck and hurt like the dickens. I actually had lamented that being tall in trail racing is a big pain in the butt. Most shorter runners never take out the obstacles which end up wacking me in the face!

I was definitely feeling a bit knackered and when I came in this loop at a 17:24 (which counted the time of me drinking and talking with the RD) I realized I was only going to do ten loops. It actually made me feel good to know I only had three more to go. The next loop gave me a 17:16 and my legs were feeling weary.

A funny thing happened when I was looking at the pictures after the race. I detailed it in a series of tweets here but I would be remiss to not at least mention it here. I highly suggest you check it out.

In addition, I want to take the time to mention a father-son combo who were doing the six-hour race. Running side by side, Craig (14) and Jose (39 - damn, I am almost three years older than a guy who has a 14-year old?!) were in lock step the whole way. As you may know, my father was crippled in a hunting accident right before I was born. I never so much as played catch with my Dad let alone ran a race with him. Seeing families run together always gets me right in the heart. These two were exuberant and friendly and always had a good word for me whether we were going in different directions or I was passing them. I love the example Jose is setting for his son and I can only wish them the very best.


Final Two Loops:

Feeling quite parched as I finished my eighth loop I spent an entire minute drinking a Gatorade. The wind had really taken a great deal out of me, as did the up-and-down on the trail. I decided I would take this loop a little easy and then really pour it on for the last loop. Since I wasn't concerned about how much time I left for a loop I wasn't going to attempt, a few more seconds of reprieve here was appreciated.  The race has a side challenge I have never heard of before in timed races. In order to persuade people to be moving as much as possible, they have time limits for how long you can be sitting down somewhere. For the three-hour event, you only had twenty minutes where you could be lollygagging and not running. It wasn't exactly enforced per se but it was interesting nonetheless.

After traversing the loop and coming onto the fist-sized rocks, I could tell my legs were quite tired. I stumbled and barely had the proprioception and energy to keep myself upright. Falling down on those rocks would have hurt a great deal. Far and away my slowest lap of the day, even taking out the drink break, I went through the mat at 18:40. I then began to give it all I had.

It was quite clear that even though there was one guy nearly two laps behind me, no one else was going to challenge me today. I pushed hard throughout the loop, this time running straight through the water each way..  I hoped I might be able to get a sub-16 lap but fell just short with a 16:11. I sat down with ten minutes to spare and a total of 20 miles in two hours and fifty minutes. I was the winner. There was great rejoicing.

This marks the fourth straight year I have won some race outright which is pretty nice. Winning a race for some people is easy. I am fast but I am not fast. I've had three second places in just the last few years because of the fact that all it takes to not win is have one person show up who is faster than you. So I savor overall victories far more than I do age group wins as those are the same thing as overall wins but on a smaller scale. I never poo-poo any of them because your running days could be over any day. But winning a race?  That's pretty fun even if there are only a handful of other competitors. As I turn 42 next month, I might have to accept that many of my PRs might be permanent PRs.

I might have to accept that eventually, but I am not ready to do so just yet.

In total, I think this event could be a destination race if they promoted it a little better, came up with a better name (it is supposed to be almost a challenge, like saying "Go ahead. Stop." but really kinda falls flat) and worked out a few more tweaks. The organizers seem to be very affable chaps and I hope this recap gives their registrations a little boost in the future. This victory, and just my second race in 2018 (which is just mindboggling to me) really helped apply salve to a rough athletic start to the year. I am ready to use it as a springboard to a far better second half.

Hopefully with less wind.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 1 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 3rd Edition 
35.1 miles run and 750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 86 degrees; sunny

This was only my third race of the year. My second race of the year was three days ago at a three hour trail run in Bremond, Texas whose recap I have yet to write. The fact I made it to mid-April with one race under my belt is a testament to how "off" a year this has been for me. A sickness for the better part of six weeks helped nothing at all and it was only because I thought the weather was going to be nice for the trail race that I even attempted it. (More on that later.)

I raced this aquathlon series last year, missing only one race after I was assaulted by two men whom the police never arrested and the DA's office never charged in spite of me jumping through every loop you can imagine for six months.  (Thanks, assholes!) I wasn't sure I would do it again this year, having not swam one meter since last October when I qualified for the World Championships in Denmark this July but won't be going. But after my race on Saturday I knew I had to sign up for these if only because of their convenience to my home and how I do best when I race myself back into shape.

The format for the event was simple: one 750meter (ish) swim in an unbelievable cool quarry that Pure Fitness Austin apparently owns as part of their gym (I am extremely intrigued how much that cost or how they came to own it) then three loops of a 1 km(ish) loop around the quarry. I say (ish) because, well, the race says so itself and without a doubt the 3 km (1.86 miles) is definitely 2 miles. Sounds nitpicky but .14 of a mile at 6:30 pace is another 55 seconds of running.

Swim:



I got into the water where people were wearing wetsuits and other accoutrements and in spite of being a bit chilly it was not bad at all. I relished this as I remember how much it turns into soup in the later Austin summer months. As we started off, more than a little unnecessary pushing and shoving by people who had no business being at the front was a bit frustrating.

I could tell this wasn't going to be a fast swim but after say a third of the swim I finally started to feel good. I more or less stayed in the exact same position for the entire lap of the quarry with me passing one guy about half way through and a guy passing me with about a third left.

As I got out of the water, I looked to see my time and was confused. Something had happened to my watch and it wasn't recording. Then I pushed some buttons and saw it was recording the time but it hadn't grabbed the GPS. Some of the kicking at the start seemed to have clicked a button or two. Oh
well. I fiddled with that far too long as I climbed up the (now paved) ramp to transition.

Run:



I was a little slower getting through the transition than I would have liked but it still went pretty smooth.  When I hit the start of the run I was pleasantly surprised to see my time of swim and T1 was 12:50. I expected it to be much slower.

One chap had left the transition just a few seconds before I did and I assumed he would be easy prey for me to run down. I assumed incorrectly. He shot out like a lightning bolt and within half a loop he wasn't in sight anymore. He ended up running the fastest run split by a WIDE margin but only finished 8th overall because of his "pedestrian" swim.

As I approached the end of the first loop I prepared for the worst. I know I am capable of running under 4 minutes for each loop but the fastest I have achieved has been 4:18 or so. Here, however, I was fully prepared to see a 5:00 on my watch. When it came through in 4:38, I was pumped.

I began the second loop and I knew it was more than likely that the overall winner would lap me. I was hoping for that not to happen but given my overall time it was destined to be so. About halfway through this loop, sure enough he did. I tried to stay on his heels but he was just a superior athlete to me. However, on one section of this loop (which is a surprisingly difficult loop because of the footing and the tight corners and the small hills in it, not to mention the people who are also doing workouts and seem to care very little there is a race going on in tight quarters) I saw him veer off the path a bit and run next to it on the grass. How I had never thought to do this in a section that had the biggest hill, in the the loosest footing, is beyond me. I hit the second loop in 4:36 and was ready to give it all I had.

The third loop presented more of a challenge as now there were many more people on the course.  I had one woman who was passing more than a few people who seemed to be unaware I was on her tail.  I finally had to cut inside to get around her. Then I saw a gentleman in front of me whom I was fairly certain actually was in front of me and not behind me by a loop. I passed him with half a loop to go and then set my sights on using the little footing "shortcut" I saw the leader use the last loop. It was a godsend.


Up ahead I could see I was closing on two runners but I was unsure if they were a loop behind me or not. As I hit the final stretch, which is a slight downhill with good footing, I gave it everything I had and passed them both. Then the kept on going as they had another loop to go. No worries as it helped spur me on to a 4:28 loop and a time of  26:35 and 15th overall.

This was actually the same time as one of my races last year and faster than another. I know the "cooler" temperatures helped even though this was one of the warmer days in Austin this year but it made me feel quite happy about what could be in store for the rest of this year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

See The Sites, Go For A Run



I once had a discussion with a friend about the word "sight seeing." I was flabbergasted to find out during the discussion that it was not "site seeing" which, to me is the only form of the phrase which makes sense. You are seeing sites. You are not seeing vision. (Yes, I know "sight" also means something worth seeing but "site” just makes so much more sense.) Nevertheless, grammar aside, we came upon the conclusion that the best way to really get a feel for the land around you is on your feet. Preferably at a pace faster than walking.

In my book 138,336 Feet of Pure Bliss I have a chapter entitled "This Country is Beautiful". In this chapter I talk about seeing the country on foot. To clarify, I also talk about seeing the whole world on foot. Korea, Italy, the Caribbean. I've come to the realization that the more I see, the more I know I have seen so little. One can stay put their entire life and get to know their little nook so well that a bent weed is noticeable from its ramrod straightness the day before. Or, they can venture out and become acutely aware of the vast amount of things that they know nothing about. Obviously, many choose the comfort of familiarity. I myself barely left a 90 mile circle from my home until I went to college. But fortunately for me, things have changed. I want to see as much as possible and I wanted to do it while sweating, breathing heavy, and exhausting myself. (Get your mind out of the gutters 50 Shades of Grey-ers. I am talking about running.)

Back in 2013 I made my first foray into the province on British Columbia on New Year's Eve. My best friend wanted to see snow (she is originally from Texas) and I knew Portland wasn't going to get any. So we hopped a plane to Spokane, Wash. and picked a random city in Canada to go and play for a day. Cranbrook in BC was our destination and using my uncanny ability to find awesome places to run, I happened upon the Cranbrook Community Forest. Soft powdery snow and with a temp getting no lower than 18 degrees, it was ideal. Well, maybe not ideal but about as ideal as one can expect for December in Canada.

A year later in late summer, I took another trip to Canada. This time I wanted to take advantage of a rare weekend off and with the weather still nice and headed up to points along the Pacific coast. Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria, Campbell River and all the towns in between were just a few places we hit. (By the by, holy crap are ferry rides expensive. The two I rode on were about 1/3 of the total expenses for the whole five-day trip. No wonder people stay put. As an aside, I saw there is a marathon on one of the islands in the Strait of Georgia that requires three ferry rides to get to. Yeah,
I'll just buy a seaplane, thanks. Must be cheaper.)

But while the 1400 miles of driving allowed me to see some fantastic sites, it was when I got out of the car and went for little six milers that the true awesomeness showed itself. Granted most of the running was planned as exploring for too long just wasn't in the time table, but the nuances of a town or a city are lost when you are in a car. Walking takes too darn long to explore an area. Cycling is quicker but since we live in a rather biker-unfriendly world this means you are always about to become fenderfood and most pay more attention to safety than your surroundings. Running is the perfect blend of safety and speed that allows us to see so much of the world.

It is running that allowed me to check out the Burnaby Lake in suburban Vancouver and learn more about how it is in need of some serious dredging. My shoes took me to pay homage to Terry Fox statues in both his childhood home and also where he would have ended his cross-Canada journey if osteosarcoma hadn't taken his life far too soon. I found an odd bit of art along the Victoria SeaWalk which was hidden from virtually every other view that I would have had if I had not run right next to it.

Once I left BC and headed back to Portland via the long way along the Washington Coast, it was oddities like running on a beach in the westernmost zipcode in the contiguous United States that helped break up what would have otherwise been long drives. After leaving Forks, Wash. (home of the Twilight saga - I am Team Dane in case you cared to know) and heading to the famous Hole In the Wall rock formation, I found I could get there and back far faster than the hikers (who looked like they were going on a 7 day tour and not an hour long hike with all the provisions they had with them) leaving me more time to go see other things as well.

This was just one trip to a few places. Multiply that by all the places you can see not only in far-flung destinations but in your own area. Obviously a car will get you to places faster and walking will allow you to take everything in more deeply. But nothing quite melds the best of both worlds like a nice jog through the world.