Thursday, April 20, 2017

Boston: The Documentary - My Review

I saw a review of this movie, which bills itself as the "first ever feature-length documentary film about the world’s most legendary running race – the Boston Marathon" which said non-runners may be bored by it. I thought "Who the hell cares? Also, what is a non-runner?" I am so funny.

But then I got pissed at runners because after speaking with dozens of friends all over the country, the one-night showing of this movie (about the race which more or less is the reason any of us are running, tangentially in one way or another) was sparsely attended. This is why we can't have nice things, runners. We are such a navel-gazing society with our bling and our instagram pictures that god forbid we take a night away and watch a movie about running that isn't exactly about us. Supposedly, there are 30 million people in America who are runners. Why whenever I go to a movie about running are there 19 people in the theatre? (Makes me feel better that my own little documentary was so well attended in the few theatres it was shown in.)

But I have gotten off on the wrong foot here. This is a review about Boston: The Documentary.  As I mentioned, I will basically watch any movie about running. Even when I know it will be bad, I will watch it. I go in with moderate expectations and on occasions they are exceeded. With this film I had a little apprehension as the director, Jon Dunham, had done a decent job with his previous work, Spirit of the Marathon, but its sequel Spirit II: Electric Jogaloo, fell rather short. (I am kidding. Well, about the name, not about falling short.)  But it is Boston; you can't mess this up, right?

Fortunately, right.

There are probably eleventy billion people who have a closer connection to the Boston Marathon than I do. But I have a small but neat tie most don't. In 2008, after running a 3:01 at Boston, straggling through town, sitting on a hard cold sidewalk, and hoping in a conversion van with Race Director Dave McGillivray, I ran Boston again with Dave and his crew. Only a select number of people have done this very surreal jog and I am lucky to be one of them. As such, I am intrinsically interested in this race even if I have only run it in 2005 and 2008. (I have qualified for it for 12 straight years, though, so that is something.) What I was very interested in was what exactly they were going to do with the movie. How were the going to condense a century and a quarter to one movie?

First, it is indeed a full-length film. Nearly two hours long, (but under, just like the Nike-headed project that is trying to run the marathon under 2 hours) it covers a great deal. While the pinnacle of the film is the 2014 running of the Boston Marathon, it is not all about that race. But this 2014 race, the year after the horrible bombings, does serve as the final resting point for the film. Like running, however, it is the journey that makes the destination worthwhile.

If you are at least semi-steeped in running lore, let alone Boston, you have seen many of the images and know many of the stories told in this film already. That's fine as they bear repeating.  However, when the iconic image of Kathrine Switzer almost being Bill O-Reilly'd by Jock Semple (oh yeah, I'm topical, baby!) which we have all seen a million times, morphed into color freaking footage of the event seconds before it happened, I nearly peed myself. I didn't know that existed! A few other similar instances of well-known images were interlaced with footage or pictures that I bet few have ever seen. That alone was worth the price of admission for me.

There is definitely some time spent on the horrible tragedy of 2013 and it only took me a few second to remember how enraged I was at that whole saga. I just wanted to both stop it from happening and rain fists down on the two brothers who took something so special from so many.  I am guessing that race will never be a footnote but it is semi-comforting to know that time will hopefully heal a great deal of wounds.

Or maybe that is terrifying, now that I think about it. If that event has a significance which can be lost on future generations, how easily will I be forgotten as well. (Fairly easy, I guarantee.)  But I think that is why this film works so well.  It ties us all together into one race.  It brings all runners into this one shared room allowing us to feel that even once we are gone, our connection will live on in the next person to lace up a pair of shoes.

As the film jumps through time, taking us forward to the 2014 race, and then back throughout Boston's illustrious past, we are given an incredibly comprehensive, but no where near cumbersome, history lesson on this race. Heck, books (plural) have been written about singular years in the history of the 121 runnings of Boston. Somehow tying together so much history without necessarily glossing over important parts is a testament to some good filming and editing.

Without a doubt my personal bias comes through when Bill Rodgers is featured prominently near the end. I have had the great fortune and pleasure to be able to call Bill a friend over the past decade. There still is hardly any sport I can think of where a person like me could randomly not only be friends with a legend like Bill but be the one he asks to go on runs with when he is in the town you live in.

The culmination into what unfolded in 2014, with *spoiler alert* Meb winning the marathon in what seems far too good to be true for the city of Boston and America itself, is bittersweet.  At one point, President Obama is giving an invocation of sorts and his rhetoric is well-spoken and thoughtful.  It feels like, even though he is known to play basketball, that he too might have a runner inside of him.  The sting comes when I realized that our current leader would have botched this moment so bad that the film would have been unwatchable. (And if you lament that fact I am talking about politics in a running movie then you missed the point of the movie entirely. From race relations, to charity runners, to women being told they were "not physiologically able to run marathon distances"  every single bit of Boston, and running itself, is intertwined with politics. We may run to get away from it sometimes, but it is always there.)

Fortunately, we are quickly swept back to the amazing moment when Meb crosses the finish line marking the first American victory in the race in 31 years. I obviously knew what happened but still expected Wilson Chebet to nip him at the line. I still get chills.

The best way I can describe this movie is that for the last 30 minutes, I had to pee. But there was no way I was going to run to the bathroom and miss a second if it. 

If a movie defeats my bladder, then you know it is a good one.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (1 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 6th Edition 
84.4 miles run; 750m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 70s; sunny; humid

I was searching around lookng for some local races and came upon this series of 6 aquathlons (swim/runs) put on by a nearby gym in Austin.  Occurring on one Tuesday every month for the next 6 months, they looked like something I would be interested in at a very low cost. So, evn though one was coming up in a week, I decided I would throw my hat in the ring (or my goggles in the pool, if ou will.)

With the National Aquathlon Championships coming up October 1st here in Austin, I wanted to actually give these swim run races a go once again.  Back in 2009 I had a hellacious travel experience getting the the championships game in Asheville, NC (a state I am still boycotting stopping my 50 state marathon goal short one at 49) and was able to qualify for the World Championship race.  Life intervened and I never got a chance to compete at Worlds.  I hope to not only qualify again but go race in the champs this time when they occur in 2018. One surefire way to get better at an event is by doing many more of them.

November was the last time I swam a lap and it might have even been earlier than that when I last wet my gills. I had given some thought to a swim workout or two before the race but figured it wouldn't improve my standing much right before the race and first swim in 6 months might just make me sore. So, I figured I would go in cold, lower my expectations, still be disappointed, and then hopefully force myself back into the pool. The tired excuse of "well, I just haven't been working out" is, well, tired.  But this time it was at least true.

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.

I arrived with plenty of time to get checked in, in spite of horrific Austin traffic from my home to the race site. I am still a relative newbie to multi-sport racing and each venue adds its own level of figuringoutness. A small amount of foresight did allow me to remember to bring a collapsible chair and a towel along with my gear. As I walked down to the quarry I could see that once you left the immediate area of the water, the hill leading up to start the run was extremely craggily.  Since I have the tender soft feet of a newborn I was extremely happy I had thought this might be the case and planned accordingly. 

You see, even though the race was just 2 miles of running, I wasn't going to go without socks.  Some people can do that and I find it amazing but that is just not my cup of tea.  However, I did not want to have to waste time putting the socks on once I left the water as that can be quite difficult. So, I opted for a pair of semi-compression Feetures socks that I would wear during the swim, and then when I transitioned they would protect my little tootsies as I made the jaunt over to my gear.  Similar routines have worked for me in the few other triathlons I have done so I assumed it would work fine here as well.

As I waded into the water for the floating start, the water was a perfect temperature. Some Austinites were wearing wetsuits but I was just sporting a pair of Speedo shorts. In such a short, fast race, worrying about a wetsuit (which I currently do not own) was hardly something I was going to waste my time on.

They started the countdown and at the airhorn (for some, maybe a half second faster than others) we were underway.

Swim:

I immediately was caught in a little bit of a washing machine as people churned for position.  In addition, I could tell that wow, I was NOT in swimming shape.  As I jockeyed for a place to get my swim on, I had no idea where I was place-wise. Soon, however, I found some open water and began to do my best to get into a groove.

The water was fairly clear to see other competitors and for the first half I was decently sighting.  I was definitely winded but as we near the halfway portion, my lungs opened and I passed a swimmer or two. We then turned westward and the setting sun blinded me, making it difficult to see the buoys.  I was basically hoping the guy in front of me was going in the right direction and I think he was hoping the same of the guy in front of him.

There were a few buoys we had to keep on our right to guide us and when we got to a small dock it signified a hard right angle turn.  I almost swam headlong into the last dock before just barely missing it since the sun had hid it from my view. In front of me I saw a line of buoys I didn't recall when I first looked at the course but figured I had to follow them. I hugged them close for the next 50 yards or so.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the finishline. I apparently was starting to make another loop instead of just swimming toward the finish. Quickly I changed directions and began making a beeline for the finish. A little perturbed to add more distance than necessary, I just used that anger to fuel me to a quick end of the swim. I closed closely on the next guy in front of me but he still beat me out of the water.

Popping out of the quarry, I was a bit wobbly. I had definitely exerted myself.  My chair was off to the right and I quickly plopped into it to make a change. The socks did wonders for the ten or so steps I had to make over the rocks.  I threw on my shoes and a visor and began the climb out of the quarry as I slid my singlet over my head.  I definitely need to get one of those fancy-dancy swimsuits with my name on the ass. Maybe if I get remotely fast enough to wear one, someone will buy me one.  Although I don't have nearly the ass for "Rauschenberg."  I guess "Dane" it is.

Run:

Leaving the hill, the path around the quarry revealed itself to be a soft, crushed gravel surface.  Pleasant to run on but not to run fast.  Up ahead there was a guy who I thought had been the one out of the water right in front of me but this guy was running with a little dog on a leash.  It took me half a loop to catch him but sure enough: dog on leash; chip on ankle; numbers on arm.  Did the dog go swimming with him, too?!

The loop was .67 of a mile around, with more than a fair share of small twists and turns, roving
pedestrian traffic, a sizeable hill to climb each time, and was not a loop I would ever say was "easy." Nevertheless, I knew what was in store for the next two loops. Crossing through the timing mat in 4:24, I was hoping to pass even more runners ahead. I had zero idea what place I was in.

The second loop had me tracking down one runner who must have just killed me in the swim. But his running was suffering for sure.  In addition, as the ladies started 5 minutes after we did, beginning the second loop gave me an opportunity to have the first few fast females as rabbits to chase as well.  Unfortunately, while I was passing runners, none had been in front of me except for the one. I went through the timing mat in an identical 4:24 loop. That was interesting. 

I heard some footsteps behind me right as I was beginning the last loop but they quickly tailed off. I figured perhaps I had a pursuer and when I picked up the pace they figured it wasn't worth it.  Looking back I see now it was the overall winner. Thank god he didn't lap me. That would have been a kick to the manparts.

Throughout this loop I saw there would be no one else to pass so whatever position I was in would be my end position. But was it 5th? 25th? I had literally no idea.

I finished the final loop in 4:21 and could not have been more happy to be finished. Twenty-six minutes and two seconds has rarely hurt this much. The only question would be my final place. I grasped at my shorts as I doubled over trying to catch my breath. Sprints hurt!


When we gathered for the final results, I wasn't expecting much.  But when they said I won the Masters overall award, I was pleasantly surprised.  I was also happy to hear that the overall female winner, a 13 year old girl, did not beat me. You laugh but read that again: she was the overall winner. Who was 3rd place for the women?  A 15 year old. Egads, these ladies is fast! I finished 9th place overall (which surprised me as well) and two young boys also kicked my ass.  Good job to all of them!

This was a very good barometer for which to measure where I am right now.  I have no intention of coming in as unprepared for the other races. I fully expect significant drops in times, as well.  Placement, as always, depends on who shows up so another Masters award is up for grabs. But for now, a couple of 6:30 miles after a hard swim on uneven surface is not too shabby.

 Onward and upward!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Brazos Bend 25k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 5th Edition 
82.4 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: Brazos Bend 25k
Place: Needville, TX
Miles from home: 161
Weather: 70s; sunny; humid

I signed up for the Brazos Bend 25k the week before the race.  Mainly, after my last race's debacle, I was looking for a little redemption.  I had also heard good things about this race prior to even running the aforementioned debacle, which was put on by the same company: Trail Racing Over Texas.  Note, my calling the race what I did had nothing to do with the way the event was put on, which was top notch, but rather some strange breathing affliction which hit me partway through making it almost impossible for me to finish.  Read more about that here.

But with the Salt Flats 50k coming up here in three weeks, I did not wish to go into this race without something good under my belt.  I hoped the supposed flat and very runnable course touted here would do that for me.  The weather wasn't going to be much better for my racing tastes than it was at the other race but it didn't seem like it would be worse. That's saying something for Texas.

I stayed in nearby Rosenberg as I did not want to make the 2.5 hour drive the morning of and am not nearly hearty enough of a soul to camp out the night before a race.  I can run a long way and do things others cannot, but I also want a nice comfy bed, my own toilet and Pawn Stars on History Channel the night before a race. I did still get up earlier than I would desire just to make sure I made it through the gate of the park, the walk from the parking lot and setting up my chair to sit down and wait out the start. I made it to the park just fine, used the facilities, milled around a bit as I cheered on the 50k starters and tried to get psyched up.  I wanted a top 5 finish but more than anything I wanted a good race.

First Aid Station: 4 miles

When the gun sounded two guys shot out of the gate.  I knew if they were keeping that pace, I
wasn't catching them.  If they weren't, well, they would come back to me.  I initially let them go not because of any major design by rather because, as has happened in probably 99% of the races I have run, people were starting in front of me (and others) who should not be starting there. Until the very last race I run, I will never understand why people line up in a place that all but guarantees that dozens of people will be forced to immediately pass you. Never.  Will never, ever understand that.

Two women I recognized and a chap I ran against at the San Felipe ShootOut (Brett) also were in front of me, after I finally extracted myself from the slowly flailing arms and legs of the out-of-place. Up ahead was one exceedingly tall chap (named Tim) who I immediately felt some sympathy.  Not just because of how hard racing with that much frame much be but just day to day life. I am 6'1'' and the world isn't really built for me.  He was 6'5'' if he was an inch. Just not fun.


For the first half mile, as the course did some small twists and turns to get out of the starting area and skirted through the two Horseshoe Lakes, I fell into a rhythm.  As I hugged the curves and cut the tangents, I didn't even hear a young guy come up from behind me. Wearing Vibram Five Fingers he passed me and I swore a bit. I hate when anyone wearing those shoes passes me. This distaste is irrational but it is my pet peeve. Now, from my count, I was in 8th place. And *spoiler alert*, that is where I would stay for the rest of the race (even though the end results say I finished 7th, for some reason they do not list Tall Tim.)  You can now stop reading if the end result is all you came here for. 

Still here?  I will continue.

My biggest concern was how shaded the course would be during this race.  To say I was nervous given my previous race is an understatement.  However, for this time of day, I would say that 75% of the course was under some canopy of tree. I knew this may change as the day went on but if I could get an hour or so under shade, I could power through the rest. The other runners in front of me quickly spread out to their respective positions and once there, stayed almost the exact same distance in front of me the rest of the race. I almost think that if I had just matched their initial bursts I would have been close behind them at the end  (I was able to see a couple of their Strava splits and this bears out.  Interesting that the first few miles more or less decided the entire race. Just two people changed positions after this first mile.)  But truth be told, I was concerned about how my lungs were going to work, my legs were going to function, and I just decided I was going to let this race come to me.  Whatever it gave me, I would take.

There were no mile markers to mention and not much to go off of with regards to pace. As we quickly began passing runners doing the other races, it was a confidence booster. Granted it does nothing for your overall standing but passing anyone always helps you mentally.

At 1.5 miles we had a 180 degree turn for an out and back and I got to see how close other runners were behind me. Some I recognized from the Shootout were in positions I assumed they would be in and a few others I did not recognize.  I think I saw virtually every other runner behind us and a few shouted my name. I returned greetings and tried to stay as far right as possible. For some reason, even though I was the 8th person to pass people, some were still running three abreast. The looks of "Yeah, but why?" I would give them if I wasn't wearing sunglasses would probably be meme-worthy.

As we approached Elm Lake, I saw a photographer taking pictures not of runners but rather the water. Could it be?!

This race is known for being in a park where there are active alligators. Apparently great pains are gone to make sure they don't bother runners but they are apex predator lizard missile and there are no guarantees. As I approached the man with the camera I looked in the water and lo and behold there was a little dinosaur sliding through the top of the morning stillness. I was so excited! I momentarily spaced out and my speed dropped.  But it was worth it!


We left the lake, and went through a moss-covered tree-lined section and over a wooden bridge.  The bridge was cool but a little narrow when more than a few people were on it. A little of trail etiquette goes a long way and at no point in any race should probably be running three abreast.  Speaking of abreast, outside of Utah, I have never seen so many fake mammaries in an ultra race. I saw this proliferation of silicone at the Shootout as well. A curiosity to say the least. I think this is a sign that ultras are becoming more and more mainstream. Looks like the diehards are going to have to embrace some other ridiculous thing to move onto (Oh, look.  Barkley Marathons just got unprecedented publicity in the past week or so. Total coincidence, I am sure.)  But I digress.

The aid station appeared and I didn't stop. I looked at my watch and was happy. Not elated. I had forgotten to look at the exact miles for each aid station so I couldn't be too happy. If this was 4.5 miles, I would be over the moon. Varying degrees of moon overness would go down the closer I got to four miles. Regardless, in hindsight, seeing the first four miles were all under 7 minutes per, even on a "easy" trail, shocked me. If I had known how fast I was running at the time, I would have been happy. But as I couldn't catch anyone, my pace felt lackluster. But in reality, it was one of the better starts to a race I have had in a while, in conditions far from ideal for me.

Second Aid Station: 7.7 miles

This section had us backtrack around a totally awesome lookout post that I sorta kinda wanted to run
up. I know there is a marathon somewhere in Wisconsin or something where you have to ring a bell after climbing a fire tower.  I would never want to do that in a marathon but in a trail ultra I could see the fun. But as the race didn't call for it, I decided against it.  Plus, I didn't see a bell.

We then we retraced our steps along the cool wooden footbridge (again, people not running single file) under the trees and back to Elm Lake, circumventing it the other direction from previously. I saw not one but two gators! I was loving it!  I began to wonder when they would come out on the paths as was warned they might and if this would be the last I would see of them (unfortunately, it was.)

On this crushed gravel path, I saw I had gained a little ground on the runners in front of me. It was difficult to actually ascertain which runners were in our race as so many other runners in the other races were on the course.  However, here and there, no shirt colors and memorizing runner forms, I would catch a glimpse. As we ran nearby the starting point, and turned away, I was feeling fairly good. Then we hit the quicksand.

OK, not actual quicksand but for half of a mile we were running in cinders along a path that I had walked to the start early in the morning. It slowed everything down to what felt like molasses and right here the sun was beating down. I thought this might be the beginning of the end for me as I was feeling quite drained. But getting out of both the cinders and he sun, crossing a road and onto a paved path (with a patchwork of cracks filled with tar that was so extensive they should have just tarred the whole path) and I immediately felt better.

We crossed another road, did a sharp 45 degree angle, ran about a half of a mile and the other aid station popped out of nowhere. As I was sporting my Camelbak, I didn't really need anything to drink.  If there had been less people milling around I might have grabbed a cool glass of Fanta or something but alas. The wonderful thing about ultra/trail aid stations is that they are smorgasbord.  They are also traps for grazers and tend to draw you in, making you unaware of someone who might just want to grab a cup and go. I skipped it all and kept going. Time wise, going by what I thought it would take me to run this race, I was slightly over halfway done. I was still feeling fairly decent.


Third Aid Station: 10.9 miles

There was no shortage of people around me here even if there wasn't a single spectator.  Runners in all the different races were coming and going so there was always some activity. Nevertheless, it was easy to feel alone simply because, like repeating background in a low budget cartoon, the people you are not racing against can tend to fade off into the background.  I tried to "goodjob" every person I passed but more often than not didn't waste my breath on those wearing headphones.

As I had more or less acquiesced that I was in the position I was going to be in for the rest of the race, I will admit I sort of fell a bit out of race mode.  Without any mile markers I had no real idea of my speed but it didn't feel fast at all.  As such, I was passing time looking at all the gear people had.  Compression sleeves, handheld water bottle, hydration packs, taped shoulders with fancy colors, knee braces, trucker hats, and every discernible shoe which has ever been made. It truly is amazing how much product is tied up into running - a sport which really doesn't need much product. But good for all these companies trying to make a buck.

Before I expected it, the two lead runners, separated by mere feet came back toward me.  Either they were blasting it or I was slowing down as I did not expect to see them so quickly. It turns out they were indeed running fast but so was I.  Next up were the overall female runner and Tall Tim. Thirty seconds behind them were the second woman and Brett. I could see up ahead was the turn around and Vibram guy was coming back to me. I wasn't really expecting to be turning around so quick and this gave me pause. Were we just going to run back to the start or were we going to pass it to add on some extra miles.  No time to worry about it now.  Turn around and head back.


Fourth Aid Station: 14.1 miles

Regardless of how much further we may have to run back to the finish, I at least knew how far it was to get back to the next aid station, time-wise.  I felt like I was slowing here as I lost sight of all the runners I was racing in between the rest of the participants. I could have sworn I was running over 8:00 per mile but I only had one single mile of 7:30. Again, it was just the relative nature of running against fast people which made me feel slow.

As we headed back the way we came, I did not know it but I was lessening the gap between me and the other runners. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and my tired overheated body to cramp or tire. However, even though I felt I was slowing, I still felt good.  In and out of the next aid station I went without stopping, again drawing from the ice cold reservoir of my Camelbak strapped to my
back.

To The Finish: 

I was trying hard to figure out how much was left of the race based on runners in all the other races. It involved an elaborate using of the maths and who I saw where based on what race they were running, but in the end it did nothing but occupy my mind for a bit. My slowest mile of the whole race came after the aid station as I dealt with a dicey situation passing a few runners, and then making just a slight misstep in the wrong direction.  A "wrong way" sign quickly put me back on course but this would be the only mile that wasn't under 7:30 for the whole race.

I passed a few runners doing the 50 mile race and I just felt bad.  They told me "Good job!" and all I could think was how happy I was to be running 1/3 the distance they were.  As I got closer to where I knew we started I looked at my watch.  I knew there was no way that we could just finish back at the start without making some sort of loop to add on some distance.

Back onto the cinder path I traveled, getting ready to push for what I thought was the last mile.  Up ahead I saw other runners in all the other races simply heading toward the finish arch. It suddenly dawned on me that this was indeed the finish and  before I could even begin to muster some sort of a finishing sprint, it was all over. I finished 8th overall in a time of 1:46:34.

My time was exponentially faster than I thought it would be for two reasons:
1. The course was undeniably short. My guess is half of a mile.
2. I ran WAY faster than I thought I was running. I can't tell you how pleased that made me when I plugged in my data and saw so many sub-6 minute miles.



As I stated earlier, I was very worried how this race was going to go with my breathing problems at the Shootout two weeks prior. I was worried how everything was going with my training for the Salt Flats 50k. I have been home more these first three months of the year than any time in the past decade. As such, my miles are the highest they have ever been, even if I have not been putting in individual long runs. This ace gave me the confidence I need heading into my last two weeks before Salt Flats to try and defend my title there.  Now, if I can just get some nice weather there, I should be ok.

I was beyond happy that I liberally applied some Body Glide as I was, per usual, sweating like a
whore on Nickel Night. A few weeks ago I went for a ten miler and forgot to apply the Glide. I ended up with some of the worst chafing you can imagine from such a short run. This picture does not even do it justice how I was torn to shreds on both sides of my body, around my torso, and in places that can't be pictured. So, to come out chafe-free from this race was a huge win.  I wore my Features socks and they kept my feet fantastically blister-free.  The aforementioned Camelbak Circuit continues to be an outstanding pack and I plan on using it for Salt Flats as well. I opted for the Julbo Aero sunglasses as they had a lighter lens and I wasn't aware how dark it would being in the park at the start of the race.  All in all, my gear choices were all spot-on.

In spite of the short course, the race was once again excellently put on by Trail Racing Over Texas. There is indeed a nice festival atmosphere to the races they put on without being too much about not competing. They want you to have a good time, they encourage all types of runners or all shapes with very generous cutoffs yet at the same time they don't have disdain for those who have the gall to want to run fast.  That is a very nice and rare combination. Kudos to Rob and his crew at TROT for another well-run event. (Although, damn it, Master's Awards should start at 40, not 50. I am old! Give me a trinket when I am the fastest old guy!)

If you get a chance you need to put one of these events in your racing plans.  You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

San Felipe Shootout Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 4th Edition 
66.6 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: San Felipe Shootout
Place: San Felipe, TX
Miles from home: 118
Weather: 70-80s; sunny; very humid

About a week before this race I was feeling very good.  My training had been going very solid lately and the format of this race suited me well. The San Felipe Shootout was a 5k, 10k, and half-marathon race all separated by just enough time to brush the sweat off before racing again.  A 7:30 am 5k was followed by an 8:30 am 10k, followed by a 10:30 am half-marathon. Excellent.

I knew the weather was going to be a problem and was more or less doing all I could to prepare for that. Hot and sunny and humid were the forecast but that was basically the weather I have experienced every day since moving to Austin. What I didn't expect was a serious bout with lethargy in the week leading up to the race.

As I am wont to do, when I want to do some fartlek workouts, I will search for some courses around my house in Austin. While where I live is very conducive to running on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail (one of the reasons I chose my home is this exact trail) it is a simple out and back without much variance. I don't mind this (I ran 3,000 miles around 1.5 mile loop of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City in the four years I lived there) but I like to explore by running.  As such, I will look to see what some other runners have done on Strava, find some segments and try to set the course record on them.

For those not in the know, Strava is a place to load your workouts online. Segments are small portions that people designate with names that cover a certain distance (e.g. from the post office to the watertower through a trail).  Usually, if I go after a CR in a segment it is because it is attainable (not some 3 mile piece at 4:50 pace like some of these Olympians in Austin run) and humanly manageable. However, in spite of repeated attempts on one segment that felt like it was within my
wheelhouse, I could not best the owner of this one segment's course record. Yes, it was fast (5:10 pace) but over a short distance (.375 of a mile.) Yet, for some reason, I just couldn't seem to get enough wind in my lungs every time I tired it. I would fall two seconds short on three separate occasions. (I take some solace in the fact that no one else had come within 15 seconds on this segment.)  While I tried to figure out why I couldn't turn on the jets, I heard everyone else talking about the pollen and their allergies.

Prior to moving to Oregon I had never had a problem with my lungs in any capacity.  Or, what is probably more accurate, I did but I just chalked it up to a pay day, or I was sick or something else.  Here I realized that apparently I was dealing with allergies.  So I took a day off before the race and hoped running in a locale two hours away would help solve the problem.

Race Morning:

My bestie Shannon, coming back from a nasty ankle break last fall, and I both decided to take on this triple. I had hopes of placing in the top 5 and she wanted to do her longest run of the year. We got up at the ungoldy hour of 4 a.m. and were on the road at 5 a.m. for the two-hour trip down to the race. It was a relatively uneventful trek, and before long we were situated in the quaint Stephen F. Austin State Park. Temps were already in the 70s but there were some clouds in the sky and a nice breeze.

We set up our chairs, laid out some changes of clothing, used the facilities, lubed up with Body Glide and took one last swig of cool liquid. It was time to race.

5K:

Out of the gate, we ran out of the parking lot and almost immediately plunged into the trail.  The 5k would be one traversing one loop of what would later be the same course for the 10k and essentially the same course for the half-marathon but with two and four loops instead of one.  The trail was very runnable, but hardly smooth or straight.  (Click here to see the course from my own race.) We ran counterclockwise, with two out and backs which allowed us to see many, but not all of the participants behind us. We were lucky this year to have dry footing as the previous two years had been mucky and "possessing of moats", respectively.

I started out about 6th or 7th knowing that a 5k is not my type of race, a trail is not my type of footing, and I did not know the course as many running already did. This effort was not about doing well in a sprint 5k but rather doing well overall in the combined races. Unfortunately, even running relatively conservatively, I found myself unable to breathe. For the entirety of the 5k I was nearly clutching at my chest, waiting for the body to realize it was racing, and clear up the passages.  It never happened.

The only notable thing which happened during the 5k was one of those things that makes you tilt your head like a dog trying to understand its owner.  At one point there was a turnaround in a small grass circle. Every single person seemed to decide exactly where they specifically were going to turn around as the sign was not clear if you turned in front of it, behind it, or whatnot. Whatever you chose was a matter of feet and for the most part no one really cared. I have seen this in races many times, especially on a trail. But one ironclad rule of thumb is that you can't cut your route shorter than the person in front of you, especially if they are still making the turn.  As I made my turn, I almost ran into the back of a runner who had been previously behind me. I thought it took some titanium balls to make such a brazen move and respected her chutzpah. Then I passed them 20 yards later and never saw them again.

In spite of breathing through mud through a straw, I still came into the finish in 13th place overall.  I peeled of my short and wrung out about three pounds of sweat.  Rob Goyen, the RD and one heck of a guy (I will get to that in a minute) stared as the river of water poured out.  I toweled off, put on a different shirt, drank a ton of fluids and got ready for the 10k to start in 35 minutes.

10K:

I had debated carrying my handheld Camelbak bottle for the 10k but figured that even though the only aid station was at the end of the loop, and you would have to go a few feet out of your way to get it, I would simply go without.  I took a big ole swig of water before the start of the race and got ready to rock. I figured I was now fully awake, had coughed out the crap in my lungs for the 5k, and would be ready to turn on the jets.  Ready! Aim!

*Millenium Falcon HyperDrive Fail Noise*

There was absolutely no response from my body at all. No kick in the legs and definitely no air from the lungs. As we made our first out and back, I was wondering what the rest of the day would hold.  Then as I was making a turn, I saw some runners coming back toward me when they weren't supposed to be. They passed me and I asked the trailing runner what was happening.  Apparently, a runner or two went the wrong way and these people were backtracking thinking they were going the wrong way.  I came to a stop, grabbed one runner, and yelled at the rest, "It is a 5k loop we run twice. Come back here!" When I saw that the runners in sight were heading back, I continued on my way.  (You can see me come to a dead stop at 1.3 miles.) I think every one of the runners I yelled at passed me within seconds. Even with a head start, I couldn't perform. (That's what she said.)

Resigned to run out the loop, I just put my head down and trounced forward. In this state of acquiescence I moved forward and was more than pleased to see the end of the loop in sight. As I turned around the cone and headed out for the second loop, I was surprised that I wasn't all that much slower in this first 5k of the 10k then I was in the 5k itself. Time to get this over with.

My goal was to simply keep as many people behind me as possible. For the next mile I just sort of hung in place. The same people in front of me and the same people behind me.  Suddenly, at the
infamous "Touch me and Turn Around" sign, (which made me giggle every time) it was like someone put a siphon into my lungs and sucked all the crap out of them. (One of the great things about GPS and tracking is how hyperbolic bullcrap can be shown to be just that. I have often pilloried those who embellish for trying to play up or down their accomplishments or failings but with GPS you can see the truth.)

Suddenly, I went from 7:30 miles to 6:30s. Even if I didn't have the data to back it up, I had the runners who I passed to show the abrupt pick-up in speed.

I had two last guys to try and reel in and was almost in their backpocket ready to make a move when I felt the slightest twinge of a cramp. Knowing I had 13.1 more miles to go, and sprinting here was pointless, I slowed a touch in the last quarter mile, still negative-splitting the second half of the race.  My place was 17th overall which was hardly what I had wanted but far better than what it could have been if I had continued my lethargic slide.

But then I sat down.

For the next hour I fought with myself about whether I even wanted to run the half-marathon.  The day was already not going where I had wanted it to go.  As the heat continued to rise, I knew my chances of performing better were lessening greatly.  When Shannon came in from her 10k, she told me she had never seen me look so utterly crestfallen before.  She has seen me running 350 miles up the coast of Oregon and still apparently the look on my face was of utter defeat.

I tried to figure out if I should go on.  I finally decided that my original intention was to use this day of racing as a prep run for the Salt Flats 50k coming up in a month.  If I was going to get a proper day of training in, it wasn't going to be by running 9.5 miles. So, I finally sucked it up and decided that yes, I would run but it would just be slow. No longer would I care about who I beat but instead today would be about smartly running the remaining miles.

Half Marathon

When the half started it was now in the high 70s but the humidity had at least dropped.  I donned my Camelbak Circuit backpack and thanked the running gods I had the foresight to freeze the bladder beforehand.  Half icewater now because of the heat, it barely registered cold on my back as I slid it
on.

As we began the first loop, I hung tight to the right side of the trail letting anyone who wanted to pass me, do so.  Not many did but I was obviously not where I had been in previous races on the day. During this first loop, I can honestly say that I could not care less about finishing the half marathon.  I can count on one hand the number of time in a race where I felt as abjectly disheartened as I did here. I know often it is something that is just in the mind and did my best to not think.  Left, right, repeat.  It didn't improve.

While the whole loop is trail, there was one section that suited me better than any other.  It was a completely flat, straight section with no twisting or turning and footing that was more or less as nice as you can hope for on a trail. Each time I hit this part I would pick up the pace and close gaps on runners. Once again I did the same in this race.  Closing in on the first loop, I passed a few runners and began feeling decent.  As I started the next loop, I thought perhaps I would finish after all.

This halfmarathon loop was marginally different than the other loops in order to make the distance as accurate as possible. There was a small dogleg section halfway through where we ran through the area that last year was in chest-deep water. I wondered if I would sacrifice the potential chafing for some cooling wetness but given how bad I chafe I knew that was not the case.

As my pace picked up near the end of this second loop, I could see I was in the top ten of runners.  However, on the straight stretch I mentioned above, I felt a slight twinge in my hamstrings.  I knew at some point the dehydration and heat would have an effect but I wondered when that would be.  It was obvious it was happening now.  I approached the end of the loop and decided that while stopping short was hardly what I wanted to do, it was the wise move.  I went through the end of the loop, stopped my watch and sat down.

Drinking heavily from some ice cold beverages, I grabbed a towel and wiped myself dry. I continued to sit there for about 10 minutes or so and then decided to go to the bathroom.  To my surprise, there wasn't nearly the signs of dehydration that I would have expected.  I drank a little bit more and dunked my head in an ice bucket. Talking to the Rob again, he told me there wasn't a darn thing wrong with stopping but I could take all the time in the world to finish if I wanted to. Then he again commented on the deluge of sweat which poured off of me. I figured I might as well give the rest of the race a shot.

Out I went again on the third loop, after close to 20 minutes of downtime. To my surprise, my legs were not that cramped up or stiff. I began passing runners left and right and feeling far better than I had any right to do so.  Obviously well behind where I should have been, the break, toweling and ice had obviously combated some of the worse effects of the heat and my own DNA (my endurance sapping liver is affected by Gilbert's Syndrome.) The loop went by rather uneventfully and I found myself back at the start. While I did not sit down for 20 minutes again, I did take another break, sat for a bit, toweled off again, and jammed a chunk of ice between my CamelBak and my back.  Now with only three miles to go, I knew I would at least finish. My time was of no concern.

Because of that knowledge, I spent the first .6 of a mile in a fast walk. I wanted to go faster but people in Hell want ice water. So I went with what I knew would work and that was measured forward motion.  Finally, feeling well enough to run, I took off.  As I passed some of the same people for like the third time in less time than it should take to pass someone three times (they had all passed me on one of my breaks) one guy in a huge sombrero asked "How many laps are you doing?!"  I told him I decided to quit.  Then decided I was bad at quitting and began again. He cheered me on and I gave him a thumbs up.

I may have passed another runner or two near the finish but it was of no matter.  I crossed the finish
line in 39th place overall and could not have been more happy to be done. I also was beyond proud of myself for not only persevering but doing so wisely.  If I had put my health or the overall objective to prepare for this 50k  in jeopardy, I would have stopped. But by running smart, I finished.

All told, out of 107 people who finished the Triple race, I was 18th overall. Take out just the 20-minute break and I would have been in the top ten. However, without that break who knows if I would have even finished. Without a doubt the day did not turn out as planned. With running, pushing your body to perform, that happens. The bad days far outweigh the good days. You just hope the good days fall on race day.

My Camelbak circuit worked perfectly and as always was the perfect pack for a shorter distance race (Even though I was used it to win two separate 50Ks.) I was trying out some new Feetures socks and in spite of the need to change pairs after the first two races because I am the Sweatatron 3000 they worked marvelously. Not a single hot spot or blister. I also lubed myself up quite liberally between each race with Body Glide. I cannot tell you how shocked I was that I didn't have a single abrasion after the race. I will often go for a leisurely ten miler and come back with (and I am not joking) 2nd degree burns from chafing if I forget my Body Glide. When I got home I expected to hit the shower and cringe a bit but not a thing. Hallelujah. I wore a lululemon singlet and short sleeve shirt for two of the races and lululemon shorts for all three of the races. They too worked very well, as I expected.  As I have for half a decade now, I wore Julbo sunglasses and absolutely loved them.  After the race I slipped my feet into some OOFOS sandals which, honestly, if you don't have pair, what are you doing to yourself?!

The race itself was put together magnificently. The signage and markings were great. How people got off track is beyond me but as they say: don't worry too much about making something foolproof- they just make the fools better. The volunteers were amazing and while they only had to man the one aid station at the beginning of the loop it was fully stocked with liquid and food at all times. The Race Director was still at the finish line greeting people who came in when I finally left sometime around 2:30 pm. Lord knows what time his day actually started but to be on your feet even during the length of the race cheering every runner on is something special indeed.

With a slew of races on his docket, I am sure I will find myself at the starting line of another Trail Racing Over Texas race.  Hopefully in cooler weather and with working lungs.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Casper Mattress Review

I have the utmost respect for many of my running friends who go on adventures where they do multiple-day runs, often sleeping in a tent or in their car. They rough it, sometimes wearing clothes for days or washing them in a stream. I truly admire how hearty they are and how they can push themselves while also getting less than optimum sleep and recovery. The same respect is reserved for stage-races where they have to carry most of their own gear, like the Marathon De Sables. I have always said that I can run pretty far, pretty fast but I am pampered.  I don't like to carry my gear and I don't like sleeping in a tent in between runs. My point is that I am all about comfort.

I told readers on my Facebook page that I would be reviewing more than a few products in the upcoming weeks that focus on comfort. More accurately they focus on recovery. If I am known for anything it is my ability to quickly recover from a strenuous activity. I do that by, for the most part, paying special attention to the things many of my running friends don't seem to care about. They focus on shoes and socks and occasionally their diets. But they don't think about resting, taking a break, and moderation.

One of the ways I have been able to overcome Gilbert's Syndrome and how it impedes me from recovering from hard exercise is by taking my recovery seriously. Recently, I have upped that game.  As I am now in my 40s and have hundreds of races in my legs, I know I need to take more precautions. So I am starting with how I sleep.

Always a proponent of rest, I decided to up my game by getting a mattress that made that rest the best it possibly could be. I have been in communication with the people at Casper Mattress for a few years now. I have had the opportunity to take a quick rest on one of their mattresses on a few occasions and those few seconds of MMMM finally made me make the leap to procure one for my own.


I have spent the past few weeks sleeping on a King size Casper mattress and the difference has been amazing.  I have always been a solid sleeper.  I don't sleep the recommend right hours but I feel the sleep I get is deeper and more beneficial.  I put my head down and if I am not sleeping within five minutes, that is considered a restless night. However, with this Casper mattress, I have assured raised my sleeping expert level.

For those who aren't aware of what makes Casper Mattress different, check out their own website here. Casper describes their mattress as "pressure-relieving memory foam and a breathable, springy layer" coming together and I could not agree more. Often when I would be on a mattress I would feel "hot-spots" on my heels or other areas where discomfort would emanate from the extra pressure of having a pointy object on a mattress. Instead, with Casper, I just melted into the mattress with none of that pressure. But I didn't sink into it so much that it felt like I was completely enveloped and could not get out. It is far from the firmest mattress out there but it is not soft and mushy either. The mattress provided me with the exact combination of support but plushness that I had been looking for.

In addition, if you are sleeping for two, the mattress is so much of a sleeping-partner-silencer that you can often move on your side with the other side not even knowing you are there. Getting up to pee at night or even different wake-up times for partners do not mean the other person will be disturbed.

Some of the best things about the Casper mattress are that it gets delivered to your door for free, it super easy to set-up, and you get a free 100-day sleep trial test. Honestly, how can you not want to try that out?  Three months to see if the mattress you bought is the one for you and if it isn't you can ship it back at no cost?  I thought that this might be too good to true but as I do when I write reviews of products, I look for the most negative things that people have to say and then try to see if those affect me. Not a single person I saw had a problem with returning the mattress.  Probably because no one wants to return it!

It is a fact: Americans do not get enough sleep and we assuredly do not get enough quality sleep.  If you are an endurance athlete the need for rest is even more important that for the average Joe or Jill. You owe it to yourself, to your finish times, and to those around you who are tired of you being cranky, to get yourself a Casper Mattress. While I am not being compensated for this review, I am still happy to share with you a code to save you $50 off your purchase. Simply click on this link to go to Casper's website and the discount is automatically attached when you shop.

You owe it to your wallet to use this code and you owe it to your body to sleep on Casper.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

nicetrails - 3D mapping of your most epicest runs

I have been sitting on a review of a nicetrails product for a while now as I was waiting to give their awesome running relief map as a gift to my best friend. Now that I have done so (she loved it) I can finally give my review. (Note: I receive no compensation for this review and have no ties to the company. Although, after seeing how cool this is, maybe I should try.)

What is nicetrails? Well, you know the navel-gazing we runners love to do of all our data and Strava segments and shiny bauables? Imagine a company which takes your GPS route and turns it into a three-dimensional sculpture. Bam. That is nicetrails. Here is a video to explain a bit more.

What I loved about the company's website was how you could load any data and play with it to find just the right way in which the route would work for you. You can skew the Y-Axis of the map to increase the height of your elevation to give greater depth to mountains you climbed.

As a caveat, some of your most favorite runs, or most memorable races, won't necessarily "pop" the way they do in your memory. For example, my 100 mile personal best was run on an incredibly flat (not easy, mind you) course along the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Well, running along the beach is not going to give you a staggering relief map of any nature.The best case scenarios are for runs that travel over a large area (point to point rather than looped) and go up and down a great deal of elevation.  Or, in the alternative, if the run is closely located next to mountains, the mountains will be included in the map even if your own run doesn't traverse them.  Mainly, as you can upload any GPX data and play around with it without creating an account or going through much trouble at all, you can see which of your maps will look best before buying.


For example, my Rim2Rim running of the Grand Canyon was absolutely fantastic. While the total distance as the crows flies is only like 14 miles, the fact we went up and down thousands of feet gives so much detail.

The red line you see traces the route you ran. You have the option of removing that red line, although I don't know why you would. Seeing exactly the route you took is so personal and rewarding.  You look at it and think "Yep.  Ran that." There is also an option to emboss on the front the name of the run or race or whatever else you want.

The product comes in three different sizes, 3.9 inches, 5.9 inches and 7.8 inches. I went el grande because I wanted something that really stood out but I can see a case being made for all sizes. I can also see wanting every single run I have ever done to be made into a map like this but I don't have endless funds. I think the hardest part of the whole process is choosing the route you want to use.

If you are looking for a gift for that runner that is unique for that runner in your life this is it. The personalization of the map being their specific run is what will really hook them.Visualizing how they were feeling through all the twists and turns is a great way to take someone back to that day. Staring lovingly at a piece of resin polymer thingmajig that will make them smile each time they look at it. Makes an amazing conversation piece for your desk as well.

With free shipping included in the price of all the products, you really can't go wrong. You can order yours by heading over to their website here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Galveston Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 3rd Edition 
42.2 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: Galveston Half Marathon
Place: Galveston, TX
Miles from home: 200
Weather: 70s; mostly cloudy; very humid

My best friend is from Galveston. So, when the opportunity came to run a race there during a time of the year when it might not be a soupy swamp, I jumped at the chance to head down, race, and visit her ole stomping grounds.

The race itself was one held on a new course and it was one I rather enjoyed.  Mostly consisting of three out and backs in a t-shape, it provided runners with the opportunity to see so many more of the other racers around them. I have always enjoyed that. Sure, the course could have run through some of the more historic and grand parts of town which showcase some amazing churches, beautiful architecture, trolleys and many things associated with the once-named Wall Street of the South but the race is not big enough yet to command that sort of citywide shutdown. As I have often said, it is nice to run through cool parts of a city, or through scenic areas; but it is nicer to run in a well-run race.  That is what this race was.

Race: 

The race began right off the beach which had ample free parking making it easy both in before the race and out after. Plentiful bathrooms were available at the start which almost never seems to be the case. Unfortunately, weather-wise, there was record breaking warmth. On the good side, in spite of the starting temperature being over 70 degrees and the humidity being at pure soup levels, there was a thick impenetrable haze of clouds which kept the sun at bay for the entirety of the race. My goal was to run around 1:25 and hope that the training in the heat and humidity of Austin would get me headed in the right direction time-wise again.  But I knew it would be tough in these conditions.

First Four Miles:

Right off the bat I knew that there was no way I would win this race as one runner shot off the blocks. I know this sounds funny to some but when you are just fast enough to be possibly in contention for a win in a smaller race, it can be a load of your shoulders when someone shows up who beat you in genetic poker. Nevertheless, it is still a bummer. Winning is fun.

As we headed off the beach, out onto the Seawall Boulevard and then off the road again to begin the first out and back mini loop, I was already out of the top ten of runners. I thought I wasn't feeling necessarily all that great but was surprised how many were in front of me. When I hit the first mile in 6:30, right on pace for how I wanted to run for the day, I was surprised. First, it had been relatively easily and second because so many people were already so far in front of me.  At this pace the top ten would all be under 1:20. That would be a huge shock. This race did not seem to draw that level of competition.

The next mile brought me back to earth as I hit right around 7 minutes. Not too surprising as I often have a mile or two of feeling out a race before things settle in. We passed through what appeared to be an entirely new subdivision on the east tip of the island here on Galveston and the soupy fog and clouds gave it an ethereal haze.  There was next to no one out cheering here, as expected given it was mostly blocked to traffic, so it made us feel like we were running in a dream.

A few runners passed me as we hit the third mile and I was beyond disappointed to run it right around 7:00 again. It had felt so much faster. As we snaked through small curves on this road out of the development, we passed a few runners pushing people in wheelchairs. I say "people" as they were not always children but instead appeared to be many afflicted with cerebral palsy or other diseases. It is always such an energy boost and a swelling of the heart to see those selflessly giving of their time and effort to help others who desperately need it. However, even this energy boost kept me right at seven minutes for the next mile again. It seemed like today was not my day to run fast.

To Mile Nine:

I had driven the course the day before just to get an idea how things would go. The island is quite windy and I figured once we got onto the seawall at mile four we would feel its effects. One of the good things about the course was that no matter which way the wind was blowing, you would soon turn out of it for a few miles. Oddly, however, there was next to no wind.  When I needed it most to help cool me off, I had nothing. Curses!

Right around the 5th mile a runner helping to pace the 3 hour marathon group caught up to me. He had no marathoners with him, (not a surprise in such a small race) but a few halfers.  I thought perhaps I would stay with him but I just didn't have the gumption. A few days prior to the race I had done an exceedingly hard work out and tweaked my groin. It seemed fine here four days later but the last thing I was going to do was run extra hard just to still run subpar. I treat every race with respect but one must know when there is a time to back off. I was still hardly running "slow" as the next few miles were right around 7:10 but that was all I had.

We turned off of the seawall and down onto a small twisting road between tall grasses. Again, it felt like we were in a dream land with just the road to buttress us against the netherworld. This is one of the nicest things about racing: having the world stop just so you can go for a jog. Wind finally billowed these grasses a touch and some sand blew across the pavement. A gulls cry could be heard here and there as they searched for ice cream to snatch.

I was beginning to catch up to a few runners during this section in spite of not speeding up.  I had, by my count, dropped to about 23rd place overall at once juncture. A bitter pill to swallow but I knew I would reel in some before the end of the race. Top 20 would be a decent finish, I figured. As we turned around to head off the beach and back to the seawall, I felt I might actually be ready for a surge. I had expected to feel sluggish as the 93% humidity had me dripping with sweat but instead felt fine. Up onto the seawall we went and I passed through the 8th mile in the slowest of the day.  However, I knew it was time soon to pick it up.

Right before the 9th mile a chap sidled up next to me. I would later learn Kyle was his name and he was down from Ohio.  I can only imagine what this heat and humidity were doing to him. Here I saw my bestie Shannon, far sooner than I expected, heading toward the small out and back on the beach. With very little training in the past few months do to an ugly ankle break and tendon tear, she was running amazingly well.  I slid over to give her a high five. Doing so was almost like a mushroom power-up in Super Mario Bros. It was time to run fast.  Or, at least "faster."

Last 4 Miles:

Now back on the seawall with just a straight shot down and then back, I could see all the runners in front of me. I love long straightaways like this as they give me a chance to focus in on my competition. The race may have been over with regards to the time I wanted to run but it was now on to track down and catch as many runners in front of me as I could. Here, with the coast still flooded with fog and clouds, the crowds were thicker and more boisterous. We had a full lane of traffic all to ourselves as the rest of the island was just waking up to enjoy some beach time.  I knocked off one sub-7 mile and passed a few runners. Then I knocked off another and the same number of runners fell behind me.  I wasn't necessarily running all that much quicker but they were also slowing down. Somehow, the heat and humidity were, for once, not draining me the way they normally did.  Or at least they were draining others more rapidly.

I knew the turn around was right in front of the historic Pleasure Pier and I could see the Ferris Wheel up ahead.  I was counting runners in front of me returning home and I wasn't exactly sure if I had miscounted or if I was really passing that many who had been in front of me. In either regard, I simply had to keep it going.

I slowed slightly as I went around the cone at the turn around but had two last runners in my sight.  Any others were far out of reach so these were the only two I need concern myself with.  I passed one right before the mile to go marker and had the last one in front of me by just a few yards I was steadying myself for a fight with this guy as I assumed he would not let me go without a struggle. However, right before I caught up to him, he slowed and began walking. I love racing. I love besting my competition.  But I love doing it most when they are giving it their all without any problems. Running past a competitor who has come to a walk almost feels wrong.  Yet, as soon as I passed him I heard his footsteps begin afresh. He was ready to fight!

I picked up the pace and was running the fastest I had since the first mile. I could see the arch of the finish ahead and laid on the throttle. The announcer was a fellow Penn State grad and as I neared the finished he shouted "We ARE!"  I of course replied with "PENN STATE!" and gave a smile.

 I crossed over the mat in a time of 1:32:21 good enough for 12th place overall and first in my age group.  In what was only the 69th fastest of my lifetime 97 half marathons, I had performed to the bets of my ability on that day. It also continued a surprising showing in the placement category ever since I became a Masters runner. I haven't had the best races in that time but somehow I am beating most of the fellow old guys.

Kyle, the runner from Ohio I mentioned above, finished about a minute behind me in a new PR of almost 8 minutes. We chatted afterward and I told him how impressive that was.  Granted the course was relatively forgiving but the heat and humidity were stifling.  Kudos to him indeed.  I was also beyond excited to see Shannon finish in a healthy time with no major problems to her ankle. She still has a long way to go until she is happy with her times again but this is a fantastic showing.

All told, this was an excellently run race by the organizers. The post-race spread was absolutely fantastic. For the most part, the fare after a race doesn't appeal to me and I don't stick around for it.  But free pizza, soda pop, frozen yogurt (and for those who want it) beer was available. On the course, the race had well-marked mile markers, and very cold drinks. I cannot tell you the last time I ran a race where the drinks were cold.  To put a drink to your lips when you are hot and sweaty and feel a nice tingle go down your throat is something that should not go without mentioning.

If you are looking for a race to run in a very historic, very enjoyable area where you are almost guaranteed to run fast if the weather cooperates, you would be hard pressed to find a better locale then this.  I can see me running events put on by this organizer again very soon.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Pono Board Review

I am fortunate enough to get messages from companies every once in a while asking me to review their stuff.  I am a pragmatist and realize that:
1. they are contacting oodles of people;
2. they are contacting me because of some SEO that shows I get enough hits that sending me a product is well within their market budget to do so given the eyeballs reading my review make up for the cost of the product.

That said, I politely decline most requests, occasionally say yes, and even less frequently get blown away. Once instance where I became enamored with a product is Shurky Jurky.  A beef (and other meat) jerky product, I saw this at a local market in Portland, tried it, loved it and became a part-owner in the company (long story short.) It is some ridiculously good jerky. Read more and get a free bag here. But I digress.

The people at Pono Ola reached out to me and I was initially intrigued. As I utilize a stand up desk and have for years, I am always looking for a way to take pressure off my feet and remove fatigue. I am a writer but I am also a runner. I need fresh tootsies. So anything that is going to help my feet I am big fan of trying.

I had been utilizing an awesome product called FluidStance and wasn't really looking for anything else, to be honest. But as I said, I was intrigued. Getting the board in the mail, I knew immediately this was something different altogether.

The company really stresses a yoga/exercise/fitness vibe. I wanted to see how it worked for the person who doesn't want to do a downward facing dog backbend while working on their already perfect abs. So I put it to the test of replacing my FluidStance.  Now note, I love my Fluidstance. I love rocking back and forth on it while I write and type. It is fun. But immediately, the Pono Board showed me something else.

First of all, the board is a rectangular piece of flat wood in a lightwood color. Made out of pure bamboo, the board is meant to be sturdy, but it is also very lightweight (5.9 lbs). I was curious how it would hold up to daily wear and tear and my body weight (180 lbs).  Granted I have not had it long enough to know how that will play out but it seems incredibly well-made. On the four corners of the board are four grey balls which allows you to balance while using the board. (There is presently another option for the balls to be colored teal.) The balance feature is supposedly what makes the board the effective and useful device that it is.

I found myself, like the Fluidstance, bouncing back and forth a bit while I wrote.  I would be doing minor balance corrections which is supposed to help you work on your core. Obviously this alone isn't going to allow me to do laundry on my abs but it isn't going to hurt.  Most importantly, it was really comfortable. Surprisingly so. With regard to using it for this form, I was sold. So I wanted to try other things.

Every day when I come in from a run, I throw down 100 pushups in sets of three. I figured I could see what it would be like to do them on the board. Doing so added just a little bit of wobbliness to my pushups that made me need to try and stabilize without make them impossible. Believe me, from a guy who has always had upper body problem (two broken collarbones on both sides, dislocated shoulders, separated shoulders and so much more) if I am able to balance doing a pushup on this board, so can you.

Admittingly I do not do a whole range of other floor exercises that the board touts people using the board for but I could see immediately how one could do just that.  To say I am impressed would be an understatement.

The board retails for $140 which is a very solid price point. It has a weight limit of 250 lbs so if you exceed that, I guess maybe drop a few pounds before buying one. Or buy one and use that to help motivate you. The balls themselves can be adjusted using an included pump from between 5 and 15 lbs. With dimensions of 14.5 x 29.5 x 3.5 in, it is relatively totable while still being significant enough that you won't feel like you will step off the edges while moving around.

All in all, it is rare I am taken aback by how good a product it. The Pono Board is one of those times. Get yourself one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Goodwater 16 Mile Trail Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 2nd Edition 
29.1 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: Goodwater 16 Mile Trail
Place: Georgetown, TX
Miles from home: 40
Weather: 60s; mostly cloudy;very humid

It is good to run a trail race every once in a while to remind yourself why you don't really enjoy racing on trails.

Now calm down, dirt-lovin' trail runners. We don't want the supposed kumbaya, we-love-all facade to be displaced because I dare besmirch the single track. As I have said for years, it is no great feat to appreciate running next to a babbling brook or a mountain visage as opposed to a parking lot strewn with broken glass and Twinkies wrappers. But racing on it is not necessarily my cup of tea. Well, since I have never had tea (or coffee) in my life that's a bad analogy. It isn't my cut of steak. (I like that one better. Let's start using it.)

So, why don't I enjoy racing on trail much? Mostly because I like to run as fast as I possibly can. On trails, that is more or less impossible. And yes, while you can trip and fall anywhere (broke my hand running on clear sidewalk a year ago) the odds you end up busting a face on trail are greater. I long ago lost, or have actually never had, any desire to seem to be macho by shrugging off wounds as if they are no big thing. I like my body to be in the non-broken state. I'm crazy like that.

All of that aside, I wished to take advantage of a weekend I was home, to run in a nearby park near my new town, and do so at a relatively low-cost event. The people putting on the race appeared to know what they were doing and had some good reviews, so I figured I would give it a go. The race was fairly organized, fairly well-marked, and there was a general good vibe to the weekend's activities. There were a variety of races going on (including a double marathon and a double marathon "relay" where two people ran the marathon in opposite directions, combining their times: something I had never heard of but thought was pretty neat) but by and large it appeared we would be running virtually alone.  Again, not my cut of steak on race days but there you have it.

Race Morning:

I asked a few people what I could expect on the trail and got differing answers. I also realized that what one person considers "technical" is another person's driveway.  Remember, the aforementioned downplaying by seasoned trail people.  As if warning about slick rocks, cacti, and whatnot might be against some code of "Learnin' on the Run!"

[side note: I have been writing this website for ten years now and one of the first articles I wrote was about the Old Dominion 100 mile race and how finding information online about its course was next to impossible.  A decade later and many race websites still provide a plethora of information but often hide the basics. Where is the race, when is the race, and what is the course like. This continues to baffle me to this day. ]

While some of the other distances were already underway, it appeared the only people we would have to contend with where those running the 16 mile and 8 mile races. As we would start together, there was no way of knowing who was doing what until the 4 mile turn around for the 8ers. I thought I may be able to win the race but based that on nothing more than intuition. The only way to find out would be to run.

First Four Miles:

From the start of the race, which began in the grass median of the parking lot and immediately dove into the woods on a crushed gravel trail before crossing two roads, I could see it would be very hard to pass anyone at all.  It was a single track course and it was clear from the start there would be next to no uniformity in the footing we ran upon.

Two chaps jolted out to the front and I just had a feeling they were running the 8 mile version.  Four other gentlemen were in front of me as we quickly separated ourselves from the rest of the  pack.  For the next 2.5 miles I stayed in the back pocket of the last runner, trying to figure out who was running what, who was going to separate, and when might be a good time to pick things up. The footing was definitely on the difficult side and ever-changing. Roots and grass here, rocks and slickness there. I spent very little time looking ahead of me and most of it looking at the ground so I didn't become part of it. So much for enjoying the scenery. When I could take a second to look, it was a nice view.

The first runner in the four had separated himself and the next runner followed a bit behind.  However, I was tuck behind the next two and couldn't make a move.  Finally, I "onyourleft"ed and in a small opening bounded forward. I soon was on the next runners' heels with the first runner vanished into the twists and turns ahead.

In the next mile, I kept attempting to figure out if this runner was in my race and if so, how I could get around him. We passed a section where the forest opened and we ran across some slate surface.  To our right was the lake below and it was a rather precipitous drop with nothing really stopping someone if they fell. It wasn't exactly "dangerous" but it wasn't exactly "safe" either. I can't imagine what someone running in darker conditions would do here.

At one mild fork in the trail, he went right. I saw a pink pin flag to our left signifying the correct way and yelled he was going the wrong way. He only lost about ten feet but it was enough for me to get around him. Finally, an open trail.

Not long after that the first runner overall running the 8 mile race came flying back at me.  A minute or so later the second runner did as well. As expected, the two I surmised were running the shorter version of the race were doing just that. That meant I was, at worst, in 2nd place overall in my own race. When I saw no one else coming back to me I figured the last runner was running the 16 miler.  I approached the aid station at the 4th mile and saw him darting through the trees in the distance. Good.  I will go catch him.  I then promptly then went the wrong direction.

To The Half Way Point

Running up the trail I popped out into a parking lot.  I immediately knew I was running the wrong way. Damn it. I ran back and got myself back on trail. Or at least thought I did. I picked up the pace trying to ascertain if I was on the right trail but couldn't see the first place runner.  I exploded out of the trail into a long opening and I saw no one up ahead. I assumed I would be able to see the lead runner here if I was on the right track. Bollocks. Nothing to do but keep pressing forward.

I ran up this small hill and into the forest again, pressing the pace even more. Half of a mile later, I finally saw the leader up ahead. I let out a huge sigh of relief knowing I was on the right trail. He would disappear out of view every once in a while over the next few miles but each time he came back into my sight I saw I was closer. He had put a sizeable lead on me at one point and I don't know if it was because of my wrong turn or he was just running hard. Either way I was closing the gap now.

With about half of a mile to go, I saw three people sitting in a field. I thought this might be the turn around but instead they were the only spectators. Well, they weren't spectating but rather walking a dog. But one made eye contact with me and that sorta counts, like my high school dating life.

We hit a paved section and I recall the RD telling us this was the last bit before the turn around.  I turned up the pace again and when the lead runner stopped at the aid station, I passed him. I ran another ten feet around the turnaround pole and decided to grab a cup of Coke at the aid station.  I was wearing my Camelbak Circuit and felt it would be enough to get me back but given the humidity and how much I was sweating figured grabbing fluid where it was offered was wise.  I saw a can of Coke but the three cans they had out where all unopened. There didn't seem to be any cups at the ready with Coke already in them. Waiting for someone to pour is fine and dandy when you aren't trying to race a guy who is six inches from you but wasn't working for me. So I grabbed a can of Coke, opened it up, poured a bit down my throat (never letting the can touch my lips), thanked the volunteers, placed it on the table, and took off.

To Mile 12:

Downhill.  On Pavement.  Now that is how I like to trail run! With the runner (Allen) behind me by a few steps, I knew it was now time for me to be the mouse and him to be the cat.  But I felt good in my ability to turn it on in this second half.  I knew the route now, I knew what was in store and it was time to run to victory.

*slip* *Splat* *LOUD EXPLETIVE*

Down I went. Right when I was feeling good, I took my eyes off the trail.  I had just had a few people pas me heading out to the turn around so as I went down and then back up a small hill on a curve, I looked ahead to make sure I wasn't going to run into anyone.  That lapse had my feet go out from underneath me and sent me, ribs and forearm first, onto a rock. Sumbitch that hurt.  I checked to make sure that I didn't break anything and still wasn't sure when I started running again.  But it appeared I would just be leaving behind flesh, skin and blood.  Not the worst thing in the world, thankfully. The runner behind me (Allen) had caught me and graciously stopped to see if I was OK.  I thanked him and waved him on.  Since I was OK and sure as hell was going to try to beat him, I wanted him to keep going.

Now, more cautious, I began to try and make up the distance.  Surprisingly, I was still within striking distance of Allen, albeit further away than I would like. However, after picking my way back, I was his shadow once again. As long as I didn't fall, I would be...


*slip* *Splat* *LOUD EXPLETIVE*


This one hurt more than the first but didn't come with a bone crushing hit.  Instead it was just a hand slice and some contusions on the other side of the body. Allen turned around to see if I was OK and once again, I point out this was a very classy move.  Yeah, I am pretty sure anyone who has a soul would do the same thing but anyway.  I thanked him again and said I think I was going to be fine.

A few hundred yards later we passed a stream crossing and I splashed water on my wounds to make sure nothing looked specifically horrible.  Fortunately it appeared this wouldn't require a doctor's visit.  So once again I dusted myself off and began to make the trek back to catching Allen. For those of you scoring at home, his is the third time I have been in this position.  (And it is the third time even if you are alone. - Thank you, Keith Olbermann, SportsCenter Days.)

This time the gap to close was not as large as last time. As we entered the clearing from before when I had thought I might be on the wrong trail, I passed Allen. I told him it was awfully cool of him to wait and said "There's no room for ego if someone is hurt." We chatted a little bit here and there as we entered a relatively rocky and slick section.  Now it was Allen's turn to be right on my heels.

I felt bad as we approached the aid station with 4 miles to go as I felt I might be holding him back a touch. I was cautiously traversing the rocks as I think one more fall would have done me in.  But he didn't seem in any hurry to try and pass me so we stayed this way until the water tubs on the table at mile 12.

Heading Home:

Again, even though I had the Camelbak on (and had been drinking from it) I decided to grab a drink here nonetheless. In fact, using the conical cups next to the jug, I took three drinks. Allen drank as well and then as I took off he was right behind me. We stayed this way for about two miles as the sun was beginning to penetrate the overcast skies.

My cautiousness continued but I didn't hear Allen as much.  I previously realized my watch had stopped on my second fall so I had no idea really how much time I had left until I was finished.  With no real way to gauge distance until the finish, I was hoping to use my watch to help me through a rough patch or two.  Unfortunately, that was not to be. Just focus on the trail, Dane.

As I trudged on I came to a rather steep hill that forced me to walk. I stepped to the side a bit to let Allen pass if he needed to. He wasn't there. Hmm. I started hiking up the hill and then behind me heard footsteps. It appeared I had started to put a gap between us. This race was mine to lose.

I continued to push the envelope with one last splurge of energy. I passed over the first road near the start and completely forgot there was a second.  My energy was waning as I figured I had to be close. Every bit of the trail looked like every other bit of the trail.  Finally with 100 yards to go I could see some movement through the forest that looked like finish line flags. Noise from a speaker filtered through the trees. Colored banners appeared and the clearing opened. Twenty yards later I was finished.

Crossing in 2:19:32, I had won.

Since it was a first year race, I also got the course record.  Off the top of my head, that would be 5 course records I still possess. One can never be taken from me (Iron Horse 50 miler had parts of its course paved, making it much easier), one race seems to be dead (Dam 15 miler), one is nearly impossible to find info about (Flat Ass 50k), this one, and then probably my greatest running feat ever the 84 miles on the Presque 12 Hour Endurance Classic.  There may be more but those I know of (I can think of at least three others I have lost over time too.  Darn it.)

Allen finished a little over a minute behind me and I made sure to thank him for being such a
stand-up guy. I was greeted at the finish by my best friend Shannon who was coming back from a nasty ankle break this past Fall. This was her first trail race back and she picked a doozy. She wisely stuck to the 8 mile race just to be safe but it was no walk in the park, even if it was a run in the park.

The race atmosphere was very relaxed but nice. There was some food and drink for runners to nosh on and occasionally a runner would come from either direction finishing one of the many races. I wanted to stay longer but after receiving my award I knew I need to head home to tend to my wounds.  Not a bad way to start a weekend as I continue to get very luck as a Master's runner. I have won or placed in a good percentage of the races I have run since turning 40, which, as I have always said, is just a matter of having people who are faster than you not showing up.

But life is about showing up. So while I know that on any given day I am not the fastest runner out there, I can only get to the finish by getting to the start.