Thursday, June 30, 2016

Camelbak Quantico Review

I had a backpack that Road ID gave to me so many years ago I lost count. I absolutely loved this pack. You can see it in so many pictures of me traveling. And traveling.  And traveling.  When it finally started to give away to Father Time, I was reluctant to let it go. It held so much, so conveniently. But I knew there were some options. I knew I could count on Camelbak.

I reached out to my sponsor as I knew they had put together some packs that were of an "urban friendly" design. Not meant to carry water per se, they were more of what I was looking for to replace my carry all. I had seen their Urban Assault pack on friends but wasn't sure that was the pack I needed. They suggested the Camelbak Quantico (and also their Coronado) might fit my needs. So, I thought I would give them a shot.

From the outset, the back just looks cool. Sure, it matters if it is functional but if it is pleasantly appealing on the exterior, then all the better. (Sorta like dating, right?) On the front of the backpack, there is a full panel of Mollee webbing for attaching hiking poles or other similarly sized accessories.. Behind this Mollee panel, there is a front stash pocket. I was a little bummed you couldn't close this pocket but have never had anything fall out of it on my repeated uses. In fact, I often forget what is in there because I feel I have emptied it.  Then I reach down and voila! Shurky Jurky!

Above the open stash pocket, there is a fleece line tech or sunglass pocket that is large enough to fit  iPhone, keys, and wallet. I put a trave l mouse and a few other things in there that need a smidgen more protection.

On the bottom of the backpack, there is a smaller pocket. I had a rolled up mousepad and some change in there. Why a mousepad?  Because I still love using a mouse and hotels, for some reason, often have glass-tops which screws with the electric eye on the mouse. Stop that, hotels!

The more I carried the pack, the more I realized how there seems to be a dedicated pocket for everything you could think of, and even some things you could not.

The next zippered pocket, which isn't the main pocket but huge nonetheless, is highly organized. This
pocket has room for all of your pens/pencils along with slots for business cards and a large zippered pocket that runs across the bag. This pocket is great for chargers, external hard drives, and other tech. In fact, it is so large I almost wish it had a divider to separate it into two pockets.  It runs deep for sure.

The Quantico has a fully padded laptop sleeve that will allow storage of a 15-inch laptop and an iPad. I recently won a best blogger (*cringe at "blogger"*) contest from the nice people at RunUltra UK. The prize was an iPad.  I never saw the need for it but it has come in quite handy now. So, to have a pocket for both it and my laptop in the Quantico is a big plus. The laptop sleeve is really where the Quantico shines as it is padded on both sides and my devices are safe and sound in their new home.

The shoulder straps are fantastic. Breathable, comfy and what you want from something you will be wearing for a while. They have just the right amount of padding and form to make carrying the bag a breeze. The back panel is also padded and made with mesh to help with breathability as well. The shoulder straps come with a sternum strap to help with heavier loads. But if I am carrying that much stuff, I hope it is not for long.

On the right side of the pack, there is a deployable water bottle sleeve that can hold a bottle.  It has a nifty little sliding mechanism that allows it to disappear on the side when not in use.  It is hard to explain until you see it, but "nifty" is what I guarantee you will say when you do. On the opposite side of the Quantico, there is a smaller water bottle slot that can store smaller items as well.

The only negatives I could see are limited color options (Stone, olive, and subtle camo color) and that the pack has a hard time standing up on its own because of the slanted bottom. But that's it.  Everything else, including the price and Camelbak's Got Your Back lifetime guarantee are pretty darn nice.

Now I am not writing a separate review for the Coronado because it has many of the same options.  It is just smaller with a few different pockets. If you are not using the bag as your carry-on for the airplane and rather just getting around from office to home with a few other things stuffed inside, you are golden with the Coronado. But all the pros that hit the Quantico go along with the Corondao as well.

Kudos, Camelbak! I am a creature of habit and hated seeing the other pack go (I literally put duct tape in the bottom inside pockets of the old pack just to extend its life) but these are beyond suitable replacements.  Not sure what I expected from the only hydration pack company I have used with any regularity since I ran my very first 100 miler back in 2007. 

But without a doubt, Camelbak scores again with yet another fantastic product. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Know Your Worth

Here is one of my most recent "business interactions."

Person: Hey Dane, since you do what you do, how about the chance to do it for me, for free, on my website so I can draw attention to my website/races/magazine.  (I am paraphrasing this sentence only to be vague about the person and not call undue attention to them directly.) Here is a link with the details! (Link shows I would pay my own way to races, run them, report back to Person my thoughts and feelings on the race.)

Me: "Thanks, Person. I see no benefit for me in doing this."

Person: "Really? Why?"

Me: "Perhaps you can explain to me."

Person: "You run a lot of races and it would be cool to know what races (you have either fun (sic) of (sic) want to run) you think are the best. That's all."

Me: "Oh, of course. It would benefit anyone to have my take on the races. But, as I said, I don't see the benefit to me to do all that work and share it for no compensation."

Person: "Just forget Dane (sic). Good luck to you!"

Me: "By all means if I am missing something please convey it to me."

No response. But I guarantee you, this person feels I missed out on this opportunity to be an ambassador or what have you. Part of the problem with doing some relatively intangible line of work (e.g., speaking or writing) is that people think nothing of asking you to do it for free or next-to-nothing. This is one of the many reasons why this whole "ambassador program" is a bunch of hooey. Giving someone the pleasure of seeing their name next to a byline that is not their own blog is almost too much for some to handle. Throw in some socks, too, and Hellzapoppin, where and when do I start!?
I have created a brand through a decade of hard work and achievements, which means something. It might not mean the world and to some it might not mean anything. But I have said many times the greatest value is in knowing your worth. I know mine both monetarily and otherwise. Sure, you question it when someone of fairly decent status gives you the above exchange but when you know your website generates more attention than their collective series of work, you have to trust you know what you are doing.

Even if your relative value is not as great as another's you must trust that what you have created does have worth. Do not give it away for free. Don't write for HuffPost for free. Don't do TED Talks for free. In a world where people share Netflix passwords and Costco cards, make people pay you what you are worth.

So, yeah I will "Just forget" and get paid for what I do.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Do It For You

Far too often, I see someone get far too much attention (be it retweets, likes, or whatever) for a statement akin to:

    “There is no greater pleasure in life than doing what people say you cannot do.”

I could not possibly disagree more. Those who say you can’t aren’t an inspiration.  Or they shouldn't be.
Those who say you can’t aren’t an inspiration.

I see this defiant attitude all the time. It boils down to “You said I couldn’t; now watch me while I do.” stance, which I find to be counterproductive to a happy mindset. I personally think there are few worse ways to live your life than to derive pleasure from what others say you can or cannot do.

Achieving whatever you think is success or fulfillment should not be either spurred on or validated by negative opinions. Perhaps the reason some feel this mindset has merit stems from the fact that studies show negative people are seen as being more intelligent. So, if you can prove those people wrong, they are not as smart as they think they are.

Obviously there is a certain amount of comeuppance we enjoy giving to those who stand in our way. I mean, I understand why it can feel good to stick it to someone, but making it the crux of your enjoyment is a horrible idea. You see, there are many things in life which feel better than showing people they were wrong. Indeed, not caring at all what people say about your wants and dreams might just be the best feeling in the world. Indifference is freeing.

Is it easy not to care about what people say? Of course not. No one who is a decent person likes to have people put down their desires. Even those in the public eye, who have to develop thicker skins, don’t like to hear negativity spewed from the anonymous (or not so anonymous) reaches of the Internet. But focusing your mind on the task at hand and ignoring those who say nay is the best use of your time and energy. Then, when you do what was deemed impossible, celebrate with the ones who supported you rather than giving the jerks who derided you more attention. Why take away good vibes from people who like you so you can waste time on those who don’t?

Instead, know that virtually everything difficult achieved by anyone throughout history was seen as impossible or ludicrous by many. If you truly wish to accomplish something, and feel the best at having done it, the only way you can achieve that is by doing it for yourself. The satisfaction of completing what you hoped you could do is a delicious treat.

Savor it without the spiteful aftertaste of needing to prove others wrong.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Only Atoms Apparel Review

I am always intrigued by the how and why of the naming of things. Like in the book "How the States Got Their Shapes" things are always a little mysterious until they aren't anymore. Then it is just "Oh. Because of some random land dispute or a river." The same is true with the naming of most, well, everything.

However, when a brand of running clothing called Only Atoms kept popping up on my social media, I became interested in the name and its etymology.  When I saw they used Neil deGrasse Tyson as their muse, I was interested. Actually, as a big fan of the Notorious NDT, I was more than interested. Next thing you know I had a pair of shorts and a singlet to try out and review.

I am a big fan of the singlet for racing.  Given how I perpetually am burning up in even the coolest of temperatures, a sleeveless shirt is the way to go or me.  I would be trying out the Proton Singlet Tank and as the weather in Portland had been quite warm lately, it would be put to the test. Only Atoms makes the claim that "Our premium stretch performance fabric wicks away sweat and keeps you dry and comfortable for maximum performance on your run"  Then again, so does virtually every other company.  So I took it on a couple of 12 mile runs in Forest Park in Portland amongst some others to give it the Dane Sweat Test.  It passed with flying colors.

Without a doubt the product pulled the sweat off my skin. Granted, the way I sweat it could have just saturated it through general principle but I remained as dry as I ever remain on a run. A simple wringing out of the shirt post-run showed how much it had gathered from my pours. It felt a little clingy and maybe a little heavier than other singlets I run and race in but overall the performance was rather stellar. The fact that the shirt is also made of recycled bottles is a nice little touch but only would matter if the shirt performed.  It did, so kudos on being green as well.

The shorts were what I was most interested in. Only Atoms asked me to test their Velocity Running Shorts which I wasn't exactly keen on. I like my short shorts. I like my split leg. These were neither.  But I was curious and given how well the singlet had worked, thought I would give them a try.

I took the shorts on a variety of different workouts from the trail to the streets.  Even though I was noticing I was wearing a short longer than I wanted, I was surprised that they fit so well.  They are described as having a fit that is "loose but not too loose" and I think that is a perfect description. While I didn't carry anything in the pocket for these runs it was nice to know that there was a zippered one on the back and also a small pocket in the front inner.

They worked out so well for me I thought that perhaps I should give them the ultimate test: race day. So on an exceedingly hot day (re: I am going to sweat a great deal and give the "Anti-chafing, flat seam stitching" a run for its money) I ran the Windermere Half Marathon in the shorts. While they were drenched within two miles and by the time I was done with the race, I was caked in sweat, I can give the greatest praise I can for any piece of running apparel: I didn't notice them at all.

Because of the logistics of the race and needing to be bused back to the start, I did use the pocket in the back this time to carry my car key.  It was a very spacious pocket but at the same time did not bounce with my key back there. The tie for the shorts could have been a bit longer but that is an easy fix. And even with all the sweating I did, when I got back to the hotel and went to shower, I had not an inch of chafing. That is a huge plus for me.

All and all both the singlet and the shorts were solid products. I would still like to see the company branch out into the shorter shorts and a few more options for men (the women's apparel options are far greater at this point.) One of the selling points is the product can be worn to grab a drink with friends post-run, and perhaps that is true.  Personally, I can never imagine sitting around after a workout in my own filth, but that is because I sweat like it is my job.  Nevertheless, I can see how the shorts at least look snazzy enough that you could grab a burger with buddies post-run and not look too much like you missed the left turn on the oval and ran out of the stadium into the bar.

If you are looking to try out some new running apparel, I would say you won't go wrong with Only Atoms.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Windermere Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 9th Edition 
132.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Windermere Half Marathon
Place: Spokane, WA
Miles from home: 348
Weather: 70s; humid; sunny

You can only do your first once. Best to do it wisely.

That is what I told myself when I chose the Windermere Half Marathon as my first race as a Masters runner. I had run the marathon put on in Spokane two years ago when abysmal and abnormal heat had left me demolished on the side of the road before finally nearly crawling to the finish. I figured that record-breaking temperatures wouldn't happen again. I was, of course, wrong.

As little as 72 hours before the race, some of the daytime temperatures for Spokane were in the 40s. Beautiful racing weather. But then, inexplicably, each day added 10 or more degrees to the daily high so that race day had a projected high of 97 degrees. Sure, when you start a race at 7 a.m. and hope to only take 90 minutes to finish, the true high of the day won't be when you are running. But the day doesn't start in the 30s either with a high like that. When it became apparent my first race as a 40 year old wasn't going to be ideal, I made some changes.

First, I decided on the Wednesday beforehand, when I actually turned 40, to run 40 km around a track. Of course, that day, in Portland reached 90 degrees during the actual running of the event.  And, double of course, it was a high of 73 and cloudy the next day. But I did this because I knew I wouldn't be racing well in Spokane. As such, it wasn't a problem to exhaust myself beforehand.  Regardless, when I got to the race on Sunday morning, I still hoped to have a solid day. Solid however, had much more to do with placement than it did time.

I spent time at the expo talking to fellow runners about their own desires and dreams.  Many were interested in the product I was talking about, called ASEA which I have been using to recover from races since 2009. These events are always blogworthy in and of themselves. There is an interesting cast of characters who populate these races we run and their motives and actions always provide at last one head-shaking moment per expo.

I have run a fair amount of races. Suffice it to say I have run all kinds of terrain, routes and with all sorts of participants. Many races these days talk about how they are no-frills and wear this as a badge of honor. Maybe that is what some want. For the most part, that someone is not me. I have said it before but I like frills. I am not talking about needing a ridiculous amount of catering but when I am racing, it is nice to actually feel like I am racing. I train 99% of the time alone. If I wanted to race alone, and experience that, well, I don't need a medal and an official result to do so. I race to run hard, beat as many people as possible, and hopefully see many of them along the way. So when I stood on the starting line of the Windermere Half Marathon, with ~1500 or so other people, I was happy. It was hardly the biggest event in the world.  But it at least felt like an event was going on and not just a little group run.

First Three Miles:

When the gun went off, myself and three other guys knew, just KNEW that the three women standing at the front, headphones in, iPhone in hand, would have to be run around. It would be nice to say we were wrong. We weren't. Come on people. It is simple race etiquette. No one can claim ignorance about this anymore. If you aren't where you are supposed to be, you know it. We know it. Everyone knows it. Just step aside. It is not like the local newspaper is the only place where you can see a picture of yourself anymore.

Immediately after two-stepping around the selfie triplets, a few runners bolted out. I was not one of them. Within a few hundred yards I could counted and it appeared I was 14th overall. I was happy with that number. I had a feeling some of those who were quickly disappearing would come back to me in the end if I ran a smart race.  And that was going to be absolutely paramount to today's success: intelligent running. My legs were tired from the aforementioned 40 km run, it was hot as heck, and I wasn't going to run "fast" today.  Ergo, run smart but hard and get to the end unscathed.

Before even a full mile of running along a nice curving road went by, we were on the Centennial Trail. A bike trail that goes from Washington and into Idaho, this was the exact same course I had run for the marathon in 2014. As such, I knew what to expect.

My first mile went according to plan. Unfortunately there was no second mile marker for the half-marathoners. It took me until mile three to see that I had fallen off the pace a little bit but was still well within my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, my stomach wasn't agreeing with me too much at this point and I couldn't understand why. I hadn't had anything for breakfast (my norm) to upset it.  I think it was simply revolting at the heat. Here a gentleman who looked like he was in my age group passed me and I got a little bummed. I am not going to lie: I wanted to win the Master's Division in my first race. It didn't look like that was going to happen.

To Mile Six:

The first woman had passed me in the second mile. She fell in with a few runners, including one who had been riding my coattails for about a mile earlier in the race. And by "riding my coattails" I mean no matter where I went on the bike path, he stayed about 6 inches behind me. With no wind to break and no discernible reason for him to be so close, I had to admit it was a bit annoying. When he latched onto the female, I was glad to be rid of him. I didn't have to use my patented phrase for this situation which is not exactly family-friendly (but hilarious and you should ask me what it is in private.)

Around the fourth mile my stomach still hadn't settled and right around mile five the second female passed me. I kept telling myself that mile six is where my body wakes up and I have no business making any decisions about anything before then. You know, decisions like "I am going to stop here and take an Uber and never run again." I did recall that mile six was where I had gotten very downtrodden in the marathon two years prior. Thinking it was mile 20 and realizing it was mile 19, my spirit had been crushed. Knowing I would feel infinitely better today as compared to then, when we approached this section my mood actually brightened. It brightened even more when I was able to avoid a child manslaughter charge by doing a spin move around the four year old who was hiding behind a tree and decided RIGHT NOW would be the opportune time to sprint to mommy on the other side. Don't mind us racers, who are in the zone and not paying attention to chitlins.  By all means, let them wander all around amongst our feet. Actually, it was a double pirouette as the guy I was running next to had to do the mirror image move on his side of the trail.  It is things like this, and not the Chewbacca Mask Lady (bless her heart) that I wish were on videotape.

Onto Mile 10:

After getting away from the Spokane River and running through some neighborhoods, here we joined her on the other side.  It was a nice section that had a little more shade for me this year than the
marathon year simply because of the time of day. Nevertheless, whenever I hit the shade I felt like a different man. In fact, I had already passed three runners who had gone out fast and felt like I might have inched back into the top 20.

The course ran close to, but for the most part, not on the road as we traversed the trail. One fella, the aforementioned back-clinger, decided his course was on the road. Technically he wasn't running the course. But I wasn't sure if it was helping or hindering him. He was also still too far ahead for me to bother or even advise him. Why, when everyone else was following the path, he thought his race was on the road was beside me. But the distraction helped me get into my mind a little bit and I either missed a mile marker completely or it wasn't there. Next thing I knew I was at mile nine and feeling fairly good. And, a slew of runners were coming into focus again.  Did I have enough real estate left and energy in my legs to reel them in?

Heading Toward the Finish

The race had been a little bit frustrating to me. Even though I knew I was tired and it was hot, I still thought I should be able to throw down 6:50 miles with ease.  Instead I was running 7:05s and it was simply annoying. Yet whatever the miles were time-wise, I was catching other runners. As I mentioned above, the race would not be about time, but rather racing those around me suffering in the same heat. In fact, at one point I saw no less than nine of us within one minute of each other. I had to decide whether I wanted to push hard and try to catch them or push medium and try to catch them.  I went somewhere in between.

It is difficult to really dig deep when even digging deep will give you a time that is less than stellar. If I was fighting for an overall podium finish, without a doubt I wouldn't care about the time or the pain it took to push harder. But when you are just battling for a top 20 spot it is harder to find that killer instinct. You rationalize a great deal. You make bargains. You, more or less, find copouts. But I was still in the stage where I wanted to ignore those nagging Slow Down Demons, especially since I had made so much progress in catching these runner who had originally left me for dead.

Up ahead, something interesting was happening and it alone was spurring me on. The overall female had come back into sight and it looked like 2nd place might just catch her. In order to witness this I had to pick it up. So pick it up I did!

This section was new to me as when I ran the marathon it had been just a sufferfest. So the twists and turns and ups and downs of the trail were unfamiliar. The drama in front of me was not.  I have been privy to the top female overall battle on numerous occasions and could almost hear the broadcaster's voice in my head if they had been lucky enough to be in this vantage point. In fact, it wasn't until mile 12.7 that the 2nd woman (Lori) overtook the first woman (Kara).

We crossed over a bridge which carried runners over a portion of the Spokane River which comes to an end in a park and it looked like Kara's hopes of winning were dashed. She had led for all of the race except the part which was important: the finish. (Side note: I am unsure if this division in the Spokane River is manmade or what but it is an absolutely beautiful park and area to finish a race in.)

As we headed into Riverfront Park, I could see Kara was struggling a bit but was valiantly trying to hold on. We did a left turn and then a right turn before crossing a bridge onto Canada Island for the last 100 meters. I lost sight of them both here for just a second before regaining a glimpse.  In that time Kara had made a move, passed Lori and with ten yards left, gave it everything she had. The women ended up only being separated by three seconds on the clock with Kara eking out the win! What a great finish!

I had made great inroads into catching a slew of runners but more than half a dozen had remained uncaught but all in the same minute as me. One included the Stage Five Clinger mentioned above.  I looked at the results and noticed that I had placed second overall in the Master Division in a time of 1:34:55. At the time I didn't know who had beaten me but if it had been that fella, I figured I might just make a stink. Fortunately, he was a few years younger than me and the guy I originally thought was in my category way back in the early portion of the race had beaten me handily. Somehow that was a better consolation. But in my first race as a 40 year old, I ended up with second place overall in my age group, 19th overall in the standings and more importantly, not in a medical tent.

I went back to cheer on runners and wait for my best friend Shannon. She was finishing her 10th half marathon ever. I find that funny since she has done something like 30 ultramarathons and a month prior to this race set a new PR in the 50k.

This race was also a testing ground for me as I was trying out some relatively new shorts and some new shoes. Look for reviews of those to come soon. All told, I was more than pleased with how events went down even if they were not my best results ever.  But that is what makes your best results ever the best: the fact that they don't happen all that often.

I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of my 40s has in store with me and plan on sucking every ounce of fun I can out of each and every day.  For the next few days, however, I am sucking down even more ASEA than usual. Man, do I not like racing in heat!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

40th Birthday Celebration Run

Wow. I'm 40. How did that happen?

Let me cut short any comments about how I am still young or that this is the best decade of my life or anything else. I am not lamenting that I am 40 years of age. I am just surprised that it is here. Being 40 just doesn't seem possible. I am as old as the 40 Year-Old Virgin. Or Mike Gundy. That said, I am close to, if not in, the best shape of my life. Aside from some grey hairs, I look far better than I did when I was 20. (That is a fact I need to really start letting people see. You know, the ones who think that my fitness has come easily. When they see 240ish-lb Dane they might think differently about how what I have accomplished is a tad more impressive. But I digress.)

A few years ago I thought it would be neat to run my age in miles on my birthday. I did that for a few years and then on my 35th birthday rode my age in miles as I prepped for my first Ironman 70.3. A bike crash meant no miles on my 36th birthday. Going to watch the Pre Classic in Eugene, Oregon on my 37th birthday took the place of any long run that year ( I still did 7 miles on Pre's Trail). In 2014, I ran not a single mile as I had a marathon the next day in Spokane. Last year I celebrated my last birthday in my 30s by running the length of Forest Park in Oregon. Twas only 31 miles but a hilly 50 km nonetheless.

It was only a few weeks ago I decided to run 40 km on my 40th birthday. I had flirted with the idea of 40 miles but with a half marathon on the next Sunday I thought that might not be the best preparation.  Then the forecast for my birthday run called for 90 degrees. That's a smidgen uncommon in Portland in May. Also, the forecast high for my race on Sunday was 99 degrees. Oy. Looks like I made the right decision to go with the "short" distance.

I created a Facebook event for people to come and run a few laps with me. Naturally, as I have 10,000 acquaintances and about 5 friends, I expected none to show. Only one random local runner, Jan, showed up. (Thanks for running, Jan!) Of course, that doesn't count my best friend and crew-member extraordinaire, Shannon. With the temperature soaring I decided that a 4 pm start would be best. Of course, contrary to what my East Coast upbringing taught me, that time of day is usually the hottest over here on the best coast. But at least it would be getting cooler, rather than hotter from then on out.

Setting up our little encampment, we used a light pole as a source of shade. As we put down some chairs and some drinks, the Cleveland High School Marching Band showed up to practice on the track. Of course, they did. I have worked out here numerous times with all kinds of distractions but never was a marching band on the track. I only hoped we could co-exist.

At promptly 4 pm, I started my watch and away I went. I figured a nice 2 minutes per lap would have me finishing in a respectable time around three and a half hours. While it was indeed hot (89 degrees is what the weather report says) it was extremely dry. That I like. A few miles went by before I even thought about a drink.  However, as I have done these multiple loop courses many times, I knew that one must be careful to hydrate. The readiness of liquids makes on tend not to drink it until it is too late. I tried not to make that error.

For the first hour and change, I ran along next to the marching band who were kind enough to leave lane one open. Every once in a while I had to dodge a fella who didn't seem to grasp the notion that track is run counter-clockwise, in spite of the fact that we were all, save him, going that way.  The band was actually quite entertaining even if I did get sick of Katrina and the Waves "Walking on Sunshine" and the Black Eyed Peas "Let's Get it Started" both of which I heard probably ten times at least. But the snap of the snare drum kept me in check.

Shannon would pop in for a few laps here and there (and eventually totaled 7 plus miles of her own) but mostly was just supporting me. Handing me drinks, playing the Rocky Theme on her phone and waving an inflatable "Happy Birthday!" balloon around.  Next thing I knew I was half way done and it was time to towel off and get some fluid. 12.5 miles in 1:40 and I felt really good.

As I started the second half, I still had a bounce in my step.  In fact, the last few miles of the first half had gone smashingly. The next two miles were more of the same as I was averaging 2 seconds per 400 meters faster than I planned.  I decided I would take a small break after 5 miles of running and then have just 7.5 to go broken into three 2.5 mile runs with small breaks as well. By now the band had dispersed and the lacrosse team was on the infield. I was a bit more aware of my surroundings than I had been earlier when it was just the football team. Errant footballs are far less frequent and far less painful than errant lacrosse balls.

The break at 17.5 came and in hindsight I should have stopped a mile sooner.  It was still blisteringly hot and the weather and my DNA was taken its toll. Why my DNA? Because I was blessed with Gilbert's Syndrome which basically means I can't do any of the things I have actually done or continue to try to do, to some extent. In layman's terms, my body says no when I push it hard. But if I focus inward, I can often ignore it and push on. All I needed to do was zone out.

Unfortunately, that was when the asshat and his sons appeared.

As I began these last few miles, a man and two sons decided to set up camp in lane one. They sauntered along at a snail's pace, randomly meandering into another lane. At one point, as I ran close to them in lane two, the father swerved in front of me and I cut inside to avoid a collision. This sat none to well with the man complete devoid of any sense of common courtesy or situational awareness. The next few laps consisted of him purposefully walking in lane one, arms outstretched and saying "If you touch me, I sue!" If this is your first time reading my writing, let's just say I am not exactly a shrinking violet. Furthermore, let's also say that I am happy I was 20 miles into a run and needing to conserve energy for the last five miles. Unfortunately, dealing with this moron and his offspring who were just as rude and contentious (seriously, believe me on this one) took up way too much energy. Finally, with three miles to go they left the track.

By this time, however, I was shot. I could run half of a mile no problem, right on pace. Then the next half mile would have me near death.  I ran the last four miles, one mile at a time with a small break after each mile.  I should have called it quits with that last 5kms to go but I had it in my head to finish.  It wasn't a race. There was no reason. I just wanted to get those 40 km. Stopping every mile allowed me to do that while also using my head not to push myself to the point of exhaustion and then onto stupidity. But man were those last few miles very tough.  Cramping was setting in, as was the dizziness. Shannon joined me for the last half of a mile and I leaned on her emotionally if not physically.  I am still a large sweaty man and that wouldn't have gone over well if it had been the latter.

Finally, 3:25:56 later, I finished the 24.85 miles or 40 km.  My GPS, which almost always under
estimates my runs, especially when I do them in one of my favorite parks, somehow gave me more miles than I ran.  This coming when it is quite evident that it still didn't measure exactly where I ran.  For those who complain to race directors that their GPS showed something different than the course, look how messed up me running around a defined measured track is. (And RDs, you are welcome that I did this for you to show the how wrong they are when they complain!)

I had a rough night ahead as the cramping got far worse. It was hard to take in what I needed to take in, given the salt loss and the upset stomach.  However, after a delicious birthday lasagna baked by Shannon, and some sack time on the couch, I woke this morning feeling amazingly good after just a few hours of sleep.

While it is National Running Day and I would like to do a small jog, I am listening to my own advice.  Rest and recovery are as important and integral to running well, as any workout. So, today I will take it easy. I will put together a new desk chair that I got as a present and drink tons of ASEA.  I will also reflect a little bit on what got me to this 14,610th day of my life.

I still have so many things I wish to accomplish both in and out of the running world. I am not saying 40 is the next 30 or anything else so trite.  I am saying that 40 is fantastic if you treat yourself well. If you do what you are supposed to do, the miles on the life odometer mean very little. I am, however, trying to make those miles as interesting as possible until the wheels do fall off.  Hopefully, in another 40 years or so.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Putting the Ass in Ambassador

What is an ambassador? Well, Webster’s defines “ambassador” as …just kidding. As a rule, if anyone starts an article with the “Webster’s defines…” thing, stop reading. They are a horrible writer and you should not give them any of your time (quickly checks website to make sure I have never done that.) But we do need a definition, at least when it comes to what it means in the sporting world, especially running. So how do we define it?

I often get asked if I have sponsors. Almost always my reply is what the person asking me thinks of as a sponsor. To me, a sponsor is someone who pays you money or its ilk to endorse a product/service. Anything else is a partnership. However, lately, what makes a sponsor has become quite murky. 

A runner I once knew of limited talent, and even less appeal, would endorse virtually anything that came their way. I was curious how they had received so many sponsorships. I assumed if a company was willing to allow someone to speak for them, they were both well-thought of and paid for their endorsement. While none of the products this runner endorsed were conflicting per se, they were hardly cohesive. Only after a few questions did I understand more. This is where the term “ambassador” was first introduced to me.

Let me start here by saying there is absolutely a little bit of sour grapes in me writing this post. As part of my living is made by working with companies who feel I influence others, if this influence is watered down by hundreds willing to do the same thing, it hurts my bottom line. So save the a-ha moments on this one. Also, let me clearly state I am absolutely jealous of the brilliant marketing job various companies have done to get the ambassadors they have. For a free pair of socks, or even, in some case, paying for the “privilege” of being first in line to get discounts on gear (i.e., paying for the right to then pay more just to show they belong) hundreds of people are lining up to be part of a team. Freaking brilliant.

However, I wonder how much these companies get from this. I know they don’t have to sacrifice a great deal. X product allows Y runner to have a minimal amount of product and Y runner simply won’t shut up about it. At first there must be something good which comes from this exchange. But there has to be a law of diminishing returns on the runner's rambling. There must be some over-saturation point. And dear lord do I hope we are hitting it soon.

I am extremely upfront with the companies with whom I partner. I am hopefully refreshingly honest not only to them but to people who ask my opinion. If someone asks what shoe I wear, I tell them what I wear, how I like it, and also how hardly ever does a shoe mean the difference between being 50th overall and winning a marathon. I hope the companies I work for appreciate this honesty and see how if I am not just being a completely obnoxious cheerleader, how my words mean so much more.  In fact, I have eschewed working with companies who take part in this whole ambassador thing.  I have also had races approach me and ask me to be an ambassador and I have balked at the name. Instead, I find products I like and even if they can’t “afford” me, find a way to make things work. Insome instances, I like the product so much I become a minority owner in the company.

Being self-aware is a good thing. I know I am not the greatest runner out there. I also do not have the most Instagram followers. But I have done things no one else has ever done.  I also have people who appreciate what I have to say and are passionate fans. That passion means a great deal more to companies who realize this ambassador thing is garnering very little. If every person who is talking about your product are also the only the people who are part of the ambassador program, how much is it helping you? Like the people on twitter who create circles that seem popular or deep but are only shallow pools of self-congratulatory inner-worship amongst a baker's dozen of people, it is like shouting loudly in an empty room.

Are there ambassadors who are runners trying their best, repping a product that they actually enjoy?  Of course. Unfortunately, the hacks who fall into the category of the runner I mentioned above are usually the ones who squawk the loudest and actually do the least. I have heard people say that any publicity is good publicity especially for when it comes to creating brand awareness. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the only thing you recall about a company is they have some shill whose mere presence would make you not buy a product, that's not a good thing.

Unfortunately, what actually is true and what works sometimes don't make it up the chain to the decision makers. And in some instances, I am sure the program works for those who are deciding whether to keep it. As I said, it costs them very little from their bottom line. I, for one, however, now hesitate at even the mention of the word "ambassador." I came to learn a long time ago how few runners ever make any sort of living at being a runner (and few athletes in any sport, while we are talking about it) and how little "sponsorships" actually paid. (E.g., I read a few years back how the average sponsorship for a WNBA player was $5,000 a year. A mere pittance for a league of athletes at the top of their game in their sport.) Ambassadors rarely get anything other than fake prestige. 
Then again, in an era where being known for simply being known, rather than for achievements, is what many are seeking, perhaps that is more than enough for them.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Salt Flats (Adjacent) 50K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 8th Edition 
119.1 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Salt Flats 50k
Place: Salt Flats, UT
Miles from home: 735
Weather: 50s; windy; sunny

Winning a race is something I have done a handful of times. Doing so, when you are not a world- (or even national-) class athlete is a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, you know that if just some mildly talented runners had shown up, you would not win. On the other hand, they didn't and you did. Heading into the Salt Flats 50k, I knew the overall top-level quality of competition was centered in the two other distances the weekend held: the 50 miler and 100 miler. So while my chances of winning were high, they weren't, and never are, guaranteed.

I had been a thorn in the race director's side of this race since running the 50 miler last year. With 16 miles of running on the absolutely amazing Salt Flats, I asked why there wasn't a simple out and back 50k.  Mostly (I am sure just to shut me up), he finally lamented and added one.  (And here let me say something about Vince Romney, the RD and his merry band of wonderful organizers.  For the most part, I don't give a damn if a race director is nice. Get the job done properly and chances are we will get along fine. When you have a group of people who do both - count yourself lucky. Exhibit A: Someone asked about getting a drop bag when the race was finished.  An organizer said not to worry; if they left it, they would wash the clothes and mail them back to them.  Seriously?! Amazing.)

So everything seemed set for an inaugural running of an awesome event in an unbelievable place.  Then rain happened.  A lot of it. The dry lake bed in which those running the 50k would run the entirety of their race (and the other runners 16 miles of their respective races) became a sea of water four inches deep as far as one could see. As such, there was simply no way the course could be the
same as planned. Jumping into action, showing great planning in advance as well as the ability to function without sleep for like four days, the organizers had an alternate route ready for us runners. Unfortunately, it wouldn't spend 31 inches on the salt, let alone 31 miles. Hence we would be running the inaugural Salt Flats (Adjacent) 50k.

Race Morning:

In spite of the rain of the previous week, the forecast for the morning of the race called for pretty ideal racing conditions. About six hours later there might be some rain but I hoped to be long done and showered and back cheering for others by then.  Arriving at the start with my best friend Shannon, who would also be running the 50k, the weather seemed to be as forecasted. Unfortunately, the change that occurred was a very hard and very gusty headwind.  As the first 4 miles would be run directly into this headwind in an unwavering direction, we knew that already the race was going to be tougher than expected. In addition, because of a complete change of what we would be running underfoot, we knew there would be a great deal of changes to strategy, footwear, hydration, etc.  It would be entirely different than what we had in mind. Might as well get it underway.

To Mile 15 Turnaround:

From the start a pack of seven of us all went out together. It was me running the 50k and six others doing the 50 miler and 100 miler. I felt the pace was maybe a smidge slower than I would prefer, as it should be since they were all running longer than me.  But the difference was not so much that I did not mind running in a group. I was none to keen on taking on the headwind alone and these chaps seemed more than happy to run in front of me breaking the wind. However, it was a swirling wind and no matter where I positioned myself in the group it seemed like it was blowing me around. So it really didn't matter what I did.

As we ran down this long straight paved path, we chatted and either introduced ourselves or reacquainted ourselves, as the case may be.  I looked around and realized there was not another soul running the 50K. As my goal was to win, I saw no real reason to push the pace here. Since I normally have far better closing speed than a fast start, this was playing out well for me.

We mercifully turned out of the wind after 3.5 miles and made a right angle turn...into heavier wind.  Up a sloping hill we ran, leaving the pavement behind and hitting the trail. We made another right angle turn which abated the wind some, thankfully. Here we passed a self-service aid station with water and a solo porta-potty. I made note that this was located five miles from the start. With no mile markers or anything else to help realize distance, I knew these markers would be helpful down the road. Relying on any GPS system is never anything I care to do.

Our pack had dwindled to five runners now and we more or less ran in a group of two or three, spaced out by a few yards. Some pulled ahead for a bit and then fell behind. I tried my best to keep an even pace. I felt as if I could easily move ahead but if there was no other competitor around me I knew I would be running the entire return trip alone. I didn't need to add any more time to my solo running. Winning was the main goal, with me running sub-4 hours as a secondary goal.  My pace was keeping right on pace for both, so no need to change it here.

We passed an aid station around mile nine and a few runners hopped in it for a second.  Earlier around mile seven I had tried to avoid some mud and stepped awkwardly on what I thought was solid ground. I had sorta wretched my groin a bit so I just took a few second here to walk it out. When the guys caught up to me again, I began running. I looked behind me at this point and still there appeared to be no challengers to my 50k winning attempt.

I talked with Joe, who had won the 50 miler last year and was attempting to do the same here.  He agreed with me about the running alone thing and how in races we like to at least have some competitors if we can't have spectators. Beautiful vistas are great for running; when it comes to racing we need a little bit more.

As we all passed the 13 mile aid station I continued on, thinking the guys would catch me. They never did. After a few miles of running, I saw the turnaround in front of me.  Sarah Patino, who will take over race director duties next year so Vince can actually run his race, and her family sat there checking runners.  One of their small children had a pump-action air horn. I know because I have the same one from the Dollar Store. The pump, in the echoing desert sounds less like an airhorn than a distressed goose.  It made me laugh with each "HONK!"  I hit my watch at the halfway, saw I had run a 1:57 and readied myself for 15.5 miles of solo running.

To mile 18.5:

As a group of four runners came up to me, I wished them all good luck. Three were running the 100 miler and Joe the 50. I felt for them indeed as I knew the rain they would run into later would be no fun. In addition, they were undoubtedly going to run into far less runnable footing conditions further down the line. While Joe would go onto to win the 50 in a stellar time of 7:32, I was very curious if Steven Jeffs, who I had met last year, would get the course record he was shooting for.  In either case, I marveled at the speed they were taking out the first portion of the course.  I asked them about it earlier and they said that with the hills to come they were just trying to get fast miles under their belt when they could.

About a minute or so running later I passed Tom Wolfe who was in our group earlier. He told me the race was mine for the losing but I knew I couldn't be so sure. A minute or so later an unknown runner, whose bib number told me he was running the 50k, appeared. I realized I had only a six minute lead on him, which was far less than what I was comfortable with. We both wished each other good luck and continued in our opposite directions.

About a mile later I began to feel a little queasy.  My stomach was sloshing which is usually a sign of drinking too much water. As I would learn later, that was not the case at all. But for some indiscernible reason I simply couldn't push the pace I wanted to without fear of throwing up.  The problem is I had virtually nothing to throw up. As I am wont to do before races, I had consumed next to no calories. I run best running on the food from the previous evening. All of that had been digested by now so whatever was bothering me was from an unknown origin.

I passed through the aids station from before, with a handful of exuberant and helpful volunteers at the ready. They told me I was the first in the 50k (which made me laugh as I figured that being the first person period, that was a given) and asked me if I needed anything. I couldn't think of a thing so I continued on after thanking them profusely for being out here. If I could just get this stomach settled.

To mile 22:

Not soon thereafter I saw Shannon and I stopped to chat for a bit. I asked her how her race was going and she lamented the wind from earlier as well. She was excited I was in first but I said I wasn't sure if that would be something I could maintain if my stomach continued to disagree with me. We parted ways and I began again the delicate dance of pushing the envelope without vomiting on my shoes.  What was enjoyable about this return trip was the fact that I got to see every single entrant in all of the races. As such, I could wish them all good luck. In return, seeing another human allowed me to go that much further without becoming a little bored.

Around the 21 mile I came to a walk. I don't recall making the decision to walk. I just did. If a camera had been on me I am sure it would have captured my surprised face. Something was just not right. If I ran an 8:00 mile I was fine. If I ran a 7:59, I was on the verge of puking. I guess my body did not want me to puke and overrode the orders from my brain to keep running. Fortunately, the aid station was just up over the next hill.

As I pulled into the aid station I knew I should go to the bathroom. What I saw in there showed me I was severely dehydrated. But the thought of drinking water right now did not sit well with me at all.  I came out and asked for a Coke as I felt it would perfectly settle my stomach. I had thought about eating some of my trusty Shurky Jurky which I had stashed in my pack but any food at all didn't seem like a wise idea.

As I drank the Coke and began to walk away, I made the executive decision to go back to the aid station and top off my Camelbak Circuit bladder. It was there I realized that here, 22 miles in, I hadn't drank nearly as much as I thought. Perhaps that had been the problem. Pack filled, I walked out of the aid station for another hundred yards.Time to get to the finish.

Heading Home:

It is funny what runners of ultras say. As I left I must have had a worried look on my face as the aid station guys said "Just nine more miles. You'll be there in a jiff." I vividly recall thinking that they were right.  But nine miles is a full third of the total distance of the race. Plus, I was hardly feeling like it would take just a jiff. I knew it had taken me an hour and twelve minutes to get here from the start. Unfortunately, because of the numerous walk breaks I had taken in the last few miles, I knew that even equaling that time on the way home would not get me under four hours. While it should have been easier to go home than it was to get here, given there was a touch more downhill and the wind should be gone, I knew I simply did not have the chops today. So it was all hands on deck to make sure no one passed me. The overall time would be a very distant second place goal.

I had broken the remaining miles into just a 4 plus mile run to the portpotty and self-service aid station at mile 5; then a brisk 1.5 miles to the straightaway on the road; then 3.5 miles to victory.  Unfortunately, that "just" a four miler turned into a long slog.  A brief bit of just a smattering of sprinkles earlier around the turnaround had given away to a very warm and unrelenting sun. From my clothing at the end of the race I could tell I had sweat quite a great deal. I might not be running on the Salt Flats but I was creating my own on my clothing. Over the next four miles, I walked four separate
times. The elevation profile doesn't make it look like there were many hills to climb but I know I wasn't the only one who was feeling these small rises. Each time I walked, however, I would look back and see where my competition was. Each time, I saw nobody.

Finally seeing the final aid station ahead gave me a new resolve. I made it there and deiced to take a long draught from the self-serve bucket. I used a handy collapsible cup I had toted with me to take more than a few drinks. I felt refreshed and ready to go. I started running. I began to feel like I would toss my cookies. This was getting old.

Down the last hill of the course I got to the straightway with 21 minutes to make it under four hours. I knew that wasn't going to happen. But I was feeling good finally and with no more turns or hills or anything to go, it was time to point my ship due west and go get this done. I took one last walk break and then began moving.

The tricky thing about this whole area is perspective. You have none. Items which look 100 yards away are actually half of a mile. If you have good eyes you can see something substantial on the horizon from miles away. As I traversed this lonesome freeway, I could see something in the distance. Was the the finish area of sagebrush? I had nothing to gauge its size on. I began to get excited. Maybe I could break four hours after all. If I had been able to do math at this juncture I would have know that wasn't possible. But math was out the window. My pace picked up. Sub-8 minute pace. Then the governor of my stomach said "Whoa nelly!" once again. THIS was the last walk break, damn it.

Finally, with the finish line actually being in sight this time I glanced behind me to make sure no one had snuck up on me while I was in my haze. Not a single runner was in sight. I laid on the throttle, vomit be damned, threw down a 6:49 pace and crossed the finishline. I finished in 4:12:32 for my second 50k win in as many attempts Maybe I should retire from the distance.

The next competitor would not come in until 14 minutes later and only one other runner would break five hours. The course may not have looked all the challenging but apparently it was harder than we expected. When Shannon came in breaking her PR by over half an hour, it was great icing on an already wonderful day.

As I have delineated above, there were many things that caused this race to not be what it was expected. My hat goes of and all the way to the salty ground to the organizers of this race for tirelessly working to make everything workout as smoothly as possible. I can't even go into enough detail to talk about how much they had to do to just keep their heads literally above water. This doesn't even count the salt, mud and everything else Mother Nature threw at them. A major kudos goes to all that were involved in getting this race off the ground. It was well- attended but simply amazing to me that it is not filled to the brim with more runners. With an unparalleled race visages put on by the nicest, battle-tested directors, it should be capped every year.

My gear for this race included:
Karhu Fluid3 shoes:  If the race had been on the actual salt flats I would have included IceSpike.  But with 8 miles on pavement I opted out (even though IceSpike works just fine on pavement.)
Camelbak Circuit: Now undefeated in three separate races.  Hard to get a better review than that!
Julbo Race sunglasses: I have worn these for a variety of races and they worked perfectly.
Times One GPS+: This measured the courses to be 31.0 miles. Gonna say that was pretty accurate!

Now I have to get back to thinking about next year and running the 50k on the salt.  Hopefully they will never run that course again so my record will remain ad infinitum. A boy can hope!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Karhu Fast 6 MRE and Fluid 5 MRE review

I have had a partnership with Karhu for well over three years now. So, if you feel that affects my ability to properly review their shoes, so be it. Also, this shows you have no idea how much I have no problem speaking my mind on whether a product is right for me or not.

So, with that out of the way, let me review  both the Fast 6 MRE and the Fluid 5 MRE, two of the newest shoes from Karhu.  *clears throat*


OK, just kidding. But I will tell you this much: these are some good dang shoes.

I will start with the Fast 6 MRE (MSRP $139.99). I have always thought the name was interesting as the shoe is Karhu's heaviest model. Weighing in at 11.2 ounces, the Fast6 is a mildly heavier shoe. It isn't nearly as heavy as many other brands out there (Hoka, for example) but it's weight is at least worth mentioning.

As with all Karhu, it relies on the midfoot fulcrum for its special features. That is where the MRE comes in. "MRE" stands for Maximum Rolling Effect, which Karhu says blends a plush ride for the recreational runner with an improved rolling effect. I think that is an excellent description. I put about 60 miles on these shoes before forming an opinion and plush is a perfect fit.

The Fast tends to run a little small but Karhu specifically addresses this issue on their website. I don't recall any other shoe company going out of their way to make sure customers are aware of a potential sizing issue as such. Usually you have to rely on a shoe salesman or friends to tell you or perhaps by trial and error. (Just another example of what a great company Karhu is and how disappointed I am when I mention them and get a blank stare from runners.  But I digress.) So, I sized up a half-size and had no problems at all. In fact, I think I could have stayed at my usual 10.5 and experienced no major difference but better to err on the side of caution.

Like with the Fluid 5 I will get to next, I took the Fast 6 on runs of varying speed, distance and terrain. Obviously not a trail shoe, the cushion still provided ample amount of support and never felt like I would feel a stone through the shoe at any point. I traipsed up Mt. Tabor in Portland which allowed me to run on road and trail, both cedar chips, mud and roots. Also, Tabor is great to test how a shoe runs up steep uphills and screaming downhills. They performed admirably on all. This was one solid trainer. I felt no problems with any hotspots and had a great fit all over.

Could you race in them? Sure. However, I feel they are best suited for longer training runs, maybe even slanted more towards a recreational runner who is putting in 20-30 miles a week or so. Without a doubt a heavier runner looking for a tad more cushion would love this shoe. As as mentioned above, if you were coming from some of the other brands out there which are always a tad heavy, this would feel very light. It is indeed all about perspective. If you want something with a little less heft, well, that's where the Fluid 5 comes in.

Don't get me wrong, the Fluid 5 (MSRP $129.99) is not exactly a track spike, either. However, even at 10.5 ounces but it simply feels much lighter than it is. I noticed this difference after the first run and assumed that was because I was moving from the Fast 6 to this one. But even after a few runs, and mixing in other shoes, it still felt like it weighed less than it did. So off the bat that was a big plus.

The sizing was normal with the Fluid5 so I stuck with my norms on that. Everything worked out perfectly. Equipped with a half-length fulcrum (as opposed to the Fast 6 with a full-length fulcrum) The Fluid5 felt a bit more responsive. As if the shoe simply wanted you to get out of each stride and onto the next one, almost propelling you forward.  I did a few more runs with this show on the Waterfront in Portland.  Flatter than some of the other runs I do, it was meant to test the shoe out as a racer.  I could easily see myself taking on a road marathon in these. But just because I am weight snob, I will probably use them mostly for training. When you weigh 185 lbs, you want your shoes to be as light as possible over many miles of racing.

I had read that this shoe could feel a little stiff and I am unsure where that came from. I went into the runs with that in mind, searching for stiffness and found no such problem. In fact, the seamless upper reduced weight and provides excellent flexibility. I took it again to Mt. Tabor but this time utilized the slightly longer than half mile square around Reservoir to burn off some fast miles. It handled the speed and the tight turns more than adequately.  And it looked all kinds of snazzy to boot with the blue hue and the bear which pops off the shoe. (Karhu is Finnish for "bear", bee tee dubs.)

All told, I got a good 60+ miles out of each pair of shoes before forming an opinion. I can't see why they won't continue to be great shoes like everything else Karhu puts out.

Stay tuned for the Flow 6 MRE review. I am extremely excited about this shoe.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Illinois River to River Relay Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 7th Edition 
88 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Illinois River to River Relay
Place: Southern Illinois
Miles from home: 2135
Weather: High of 86, sunny, humid

The impetus for this race was many-fold. One of the main reasons was to experience a race which was a candidate for the book I am writing about must-run races in North America. Another was to take on a difficult feat with my buddy, Mosi.  We have been trying to get schedules to coordinate ever since we met over 7 years ago at a marathon in California.  However, during that time, in spite of our efforts, nothing came to fruition. When I approached him about taking on this challenging relay here in Southern Illinois we finally had our challenge.

I have had some experience taking on a multiple legged relay with just one partner.  I also have had the opportunity of conquering on a 202-mile relay by myself. So, logistics-wise I felt I had this one in the bag. Given the relay was 80 miles, I figured that if we tackled three legs at a time (roughly ten miles each) it would give each runner just enough time to recover from their run without getting too sore or stiff. Mosi would run approximately 39 miles and I would run 41.  It was about the easiest way to doll out the miles and get them as close to even as possible. Whether they evened out in difficulty from leg to leg was not to be trifled with.  Having done all this, I can say unequivocally this plan would have worked just fine. I say "would" because we were not expecting a high of 86 degrees and unrelenting sun. But I will get to that in a bit.

Another perk of this adventure was staying the night at a former law school professor of mine's house in Carbondale.  I hadn't seen Peter in 14 years and being able to catch up with one of my favorite teachers of all-time was an absolute treat. His house was also located in close proximity to many of the places we needed to go which was just an added bonus. So, after a steak dinner for both of Mosi and me, we were off to dreamland. Forget carbs, it is all about protein.

Race Morning: 

We were scheduled for a 7:15 start. In hindsight, I wish we had started an hour earlier. Then again, we didn't know it would be 86 degrees. (Sensing a theme, here?)  Plus, given my complete nocturnal nature, needing to get up any earlier than necessary was not on the list of wants for the day. As such, 7:15 seemed perfectly fine.  We got up in the 5 o'clcok hour somewhere, moseyed into the car and headed toward the start. We perfectly allocated just the right amount of time to get Mosi to the start and for me to cool my heels for a few minutes. I bid him farewell, gave him a high-five and watched him head off to begin our trek..

Mosi's First Leg: 10.15 miles (All distances according to website.)

I got a sense of how each run went for the Ebony of Team Ebony and Ivory as we chatted post-race.  Nevertheless, my recaps of his experiences will not do them justice.  Suffice it to say that this first set of runs was the easiest of the day for all of us. According to the Mosi and the website, there were no three consecutive runs which rated "easier." Throw in the fact that these were run in the morning, when the temperature was still 55 degrees, and mostly in the shade and Mosi had it made. This is verified by the fact he was cruising along at barely over 7 minutes per mile. I told him before we started to take it easy. He needed to remember we were running 40 miles today.

He didn't listen to me.


It was a bit of a clusterbomb to get through the first series of turns with the car as everyone seemed to have the early-in-the-race jitters and was pushing the brakes like it was the plunger on Press Your Luck.  No Whammies! Fortunately, the cars/vans were given a 5 minute head start on the runners or otherwise Mosi would have caught me at the first exchange. This is no knock on anyone in particular, as we were on a narrow winding road and we needed to be safe.  I just wanted to get to my exchange ASAP and get ready.

I finally got to my exchange and parked the car. I readied my gear which included a Camelbak Circuit pack and got the car ready for Mosi to towel off and get going himself.  I figured it would take him about 1:15 for this leg. In fact, I hoped that was what we would both average for each leg as that would get us a 9:59:59 for an overall time. Ambitious, but I knew we had it in us. Sure enough, at 1:14 and change, here he was. Looked fresh as a daisy, too.  Even though he admitted he had gone out too fast.

My First Leg: 10.3

I took off knowing it would take me a few miles to get feeling right. Let's just say that not everything on the ole body has been working well. Not with the broken hand on Christmas and the 103 degree pneumonia in March. But I would be OK. Of course, I start off an immediately go up a hill. Not a big one but a hill nonetheless. Not soon thereafter I had someone pass me. Our rule for the day was it didn't matter who passed us. We had to remember that virtually everyone was running ten miles total.  However, when you are a competitor it is one thing to think this. It is another thing entirely to follow-through with sane plans.

I did my best to simply stay on target. Before long, I caught the gentleman and said good job to him.  Then the course sloped down a bit and I finally felt half-decent. Soon thereafter, we reached the first exchange and the runner I had passed sprinted past me to hand off.  I doubted that would be the last time that would happen on this day (and it most assuredly was not.) I also didn't realize this would be my easiest run of the day.

The next two legs presented quite a bit more hills. But I was still fresh and it wasn't too hot. Yet. I ran with a few people whose teams I would see a great deal of throughout the day. In fact, the 6:20 Club Team pulled up to me and said; "Hey, we are behind you and are a team of 8. Can you please slow down?"  I laughed and said if they would carry my water I would think about it.

I crested the last little hill, handed the baton to Mosi, and he handed the keys to the car to me.  We were 25% done for the day.

Mosi's Second Leg: 9.95 miles

Right out of the gate, Mosi had a monster hill to climb.  Then he settled into some flatter sections before some rollers at the end of his three legs. He told me that even though we had talked about pacing, he felt he wasn't going to be the one to "let us down." As such, seeing me come into the aid station right on time for our overall goal, he took off likewise. I told him afterward that finishing alone would be an accomplishment.  Even though we had an "A" goal, the caveat to any goal was we finished healthy.


I was caught once again in a bit of a bottleneck and this time Mosi actually did catch up to me at the first exchange. I jumped out and gave him a high five. The problem is, this meant I had even less time than planned to get to my exchange, change clothes, get lubed up, etc. Suffice it to say I was a wee bit nervous. In fact, I had barely parked, gone to the bathroom and got everything ready when here my teammate came chugging down the hill. Here I go with Leg Two!

My Second Leg:  9.9 miles

I was happy to know that this leg was a little shorter than my first one.  There were also no majorly noticeable hills. Well, I take that back. The River to River Relay is virtually nothing but hills. There
are few times when you are on a flat. So it all comes down to a matter of perspective. In this instance, there were no hills that I audibly groaned at when I saw them.  Maybe a slight whine.

This section however, was the time where  I was 100% completely exposed to the elements. With a bright hot sun overhead, and running on open roads, I could tell I was slowing more than I would like. I was trying to focus on just getting to the exchange but then I realized that Mosi's next run would be his shortest of the legs all day. It would also be the easiest. This meant I would have even less time than normal to rest and recover.  I shouldn't have thought that far ahead but when you have to plan and conserve, there are many factors you must consider.

In both my first leg and this one I passed double-digit runners. I tried my best to encourage them all.  Unfortunately, some had headphones in and I didn't want to waste my energy if they couldn't hear me. So I would often just give a thumbs up as I passed, hoping it was encouraging to them.  At the same time, I hoped, out of the corner of their eye, they did not think I was giving them the bird.

Mosi's Third Leg: 8.85 miles

Mosi tells me that this is where he knew things were starting to get rough.  The temperature climbed dramatically and his pace did as well.  If we had been able to communicate (cell reception was all but non-existent) and had a third person to handle driving duties, it might have been wise to break up the legs differently. Unfortunately, all we had was our feet to get us to the next exchange.


I had a relatively smooth going through to get to next exchange.  Good thing, as it was such a short leg. I parked and wandered over to the exchange area. Some lovely volunteers had a little picnic table with a umbrella and I asked if I could join them. Given the heat of the day, this respite was necessary. I couldn't take advantage of the bathrooms or the country store nearby as I simply couldn't risk missing Mosi. When he came in, we exchanged our normal pleasantries to tell each other how we felt, where the car was, etc. He then told me he was baked. I knew it was just getting hotter and Mosi runs in heat better than I do.


My Third Leg: 11.1 miles

I wanted to get this leg done as soon as possible. Perhaps that had me taking it out too fast at the beginning. The nice steep downhill assuredly didn't help me in holding back.  All that was on my mind was that when I finished this leg, we both had 30 miles under out belt.  I did the math and could see that unless we had a herculean effort in both of our last legs, we probably were not going to break 10 hours like we had wanted. But if we were able to keep everything in check then sub-11 was no problem.

My first portion of this section went fine. Not great but fine. Every once in a while a runner from another team might catch me and chat for a bit. I wanted to be friendly but I also wanted to save my energy. It is hard to do both. The second portion of this leg was just about the same. Slower pace, friendly runners. Then when I began the last portion I began to feel the heat. I felt like what Mosi had described at the end of his last leg. With two miles left in this leg I took a quick walking break and drank heartily from my Camelbak. It seemed to help and I powered forward. With one mile left, I knew I needed to take another walking break. As I took this break and made a turn I was presented with a rather cruel uphill. As I began moving again, my legs seized up. I came to a dead stop.

I was offered water by one runner and more from another. I knew, however, that lack of water was not the problem. It was a complete lack of salt that I had tried to balance throughout the race. I had the energy. I could powerwalk. But if I tried to run, the entire quad just shot through like lightning with searing pain. I knew that stopping here wasn't an option. I had to suck it up, walk, and hopefully get ready for my last three legs.

As I approached the handoff I told Mosi what had happened. I asked him did he think he could pick up one of my legs for me. Instead of him doing three and me three, if he could do two and then one for me and then repeating it, we could finish this. I knew he was tired but I also knew at this point I couldn't do what we needed to do. It is one of the things I have learned about my body from having Gilbert's Syndrome. Once I am wrecked, there is almost no coming back from it without serious time and calories off.  He said he could do it. I can't tell you how grateful I was for that.

Mosi's Next Two:

We didn't get to talk much about these.  I just know they did not go well for him.


With just two legs to get ahead, I knew this was going to be even tighter than normal for me to get to the exchange. As I passed Mosi while driving I told him to simply go slow.  It would allow me to recuperate and would keep him from hurting himself as well.  As it had been a 41.85 to 38.15 split as originally planned, I told him this would also give him bragging rights as the numbers would be reversed. He smiled his million watt smile and away I went.

When I parked and began walking I knew I had a blister on my toe.  But I didn't have time to take care of it at this point. Plus I knew I needed to walk around and get ready for my next leg. The last thing I needed to do to Mosi was not be ready.

When he rolled into the exchange, I knew something was not good. He told me he simply could not do the extra leg. I know Mosi and if there is any way he can push himself to do something, he will do it. If he said, no, then it was a definite. The only problem was that I had only brought my handheld from the car and not my normal Camelbak. It was too far to go back, and I didn't have the energy to add extra miles. I told him he had to go to the next exchange and meet me there with the car and liquid. I couldn't do two legs with just the handheld. I didn't realize how right I was.

My Next Two Legs:

Without a doubt I was a bit crestfallen I had to do these two legs. There was no fault or blame put on Mosi, I just had convinced myself of what I could do.  As I began the first portion, I could get the legs moving but only for a little bit before they threaten to cramp. Let's just move ahead to the exchange and say that the next three miles were much of the same. Awful, potential cramps, followed my loathing of my situation.  Anger that we had made it so far doing so well just to have the end be this death march.

When I came into the exchange, Mosi was waiting for me with water, ice-cold. I told him I needed to sit down in the car.

While there, my friend David from Evansville, IN just a few hours away, stopped by the car to offer support. He too was taking on the leg that I was about to try and get through. I asked him what his take was on this next leg and he paused.  He looked like he didn't want to tell me what he had to tell me.  "Um, it is the hardest leg of the entire course."

Well, crap.  To put it in the words of the race itself  "This is the favorite section for everyone except Runner number 6."

It was not pretty. It wasn't even ugly. I wouldn't even try to sell this leg to my friends as having a
nice personality. I sheepishly trotted down the long beginning downhill before crossing the bridge and seeing the hill from hell. Starting at 379 feet and going to 729 feet there was nothing to like. I walked virtually every step of this.  My heart was lifted only by the fact that many of the runners in front of me didn't seem to be going all that much faster. Only pride pushed me forward in the last few yards to give the baton to Mosi.

Mosi's Last Leg:

Screw that jerky jerkface with his jerky being done jerkness. Oh yeah, he finished strong, too. Or something.


With just one leg to recover, there was no recovery. I had just given Mosi an hour and a half to recover and now I knew I wasn't going to get a third of that back. When I parked the car, I simply put the seat back and tried to get myself settled. Everything was cramping. My heart was racing. I looked at my shorts and saw they were covered in salt. It almost looked like a pattern on the shorts.  I had to remind myself that I had pure black shorts.  I had intended to change them throughout the day but there had simply not been enough time.

Sitting there, I had zero desire to do this last 3.3 miles. I looked at the chart. Oh, good.  It is a "hard" leg. too. And then I looked in the rear view mirror. There is Mosi.  Only like 7 hours earlier than I wanted him to be here.

I ambled out of the car, gave him a quick high-five as he gave me the baton and a swat on the ass.  I then promptly shuffled out of the exchange zone. I couldn't run.  I wanted to.  For all the people who were cheering me on, I wanted to.  I just couldn't.

My Last Leg:

I saw we had an hour and 45 minutes to finish the race under the time limit. I figured even if I crawled the last 3 miles that would still be enough.  As before, I had energy, not much of it, but it was the cramping that was the problem. Again, I do not wish to bore you with the woe is me portion of this run, so I will simply skip ahead to the last mile where I could finally run again. Well, "jog."

As I approached the merciful end of this relay in Golconda, I could see Mosi waiting for me to run the last .2 in. I told him that would still put him less than two miles than me for the whole race and that I hated him and he was a poophead.

We trotted down the final stretch to more than a few cheers from the teams who had finished, many I recognized from the run and had passed us in our last ten miles. I was a little ashamed to be ambling in after such a solid effort earlier in the day but the fact I was upright was an accomplishment in itself. As we neared the finish, I could hear another team coming up behind us. I looked at Mosi and said "There is no way in hell I am letting them pass me." I hobbled forward at double time and held off what was undoubtedly a great group of people who I had no intention of finishing after.

We held the baton aloft together, took a few steps, and crossed the finish line. I stopped my watch, and then embraced Mosi in a hug. Eleven hours and 48 minutes after we started, we could finally sit down.

Well, not just yet as a line of well-wishers had gathered. The last thing I wanted to do was seem rude to those who had stopped by to wish us congratulations. But I also thought it would be rude if I pitched forward as I passed out from exhaustion. So after a few conversations, I excused myself and sat down. Mosi, who doesn't exactly like the limelight, was forced into being the spokesperson for a bit. Thankfully, he had his wits about him a tad more than I did at this point.

Within a few minutes, I was able to get moving again, albeit slowly. We spoke to the race director, Brad Dillard, and told him what a wonderfully put together race he had with excellent volunteers and staff. Virtually every runner we encountered was affable and friendly, whether they knew we were a two man-team or not. It is no secret why this race completely fills, year in and year out, within minutes of its registration opening.

We were sincerely grateful to Brad for allowing us to compete as a two-man team as we knew he often gets such requests. I think, like all things in life, he looked at the totality of the circumstances and decided this one time would be worth the exception. We can only hope that we made everyone comfortable with their decision.

Next year is the 30th running of this race.  Maybe Mosi and I will come back with a few more people in our van to hand off to!

End total: Mosi - 38.15; Dane - 41.85.  Not that anyone's counting.  :)