Saturday, July 13, 2013

Race Report:  The Coureurs De L'ic in Pordic, France (I think that's what it was called)

I just returned from a trip to France with my wife, and happened upon a trail race while we were staying in Brittany.  This region is a beautiful region along the Northwest Coast, and Americans rarely go there.  Consequently not many folks speak English, which made registration a bit difficult, but I was blown away by the kindness and willingness to help on the part of everyone, especially the running community.

So here's how it went down.  I was not allowed to register, because the French require a doctors verification that a runner in suitable health to compete in a race.  For this reason the race director reluctantly told me that he could not issue me a bib, but invited me to run along anyway.  He was super nice and so I toed the line as a sanctioned bandit.  I noticed that if I told people I was American, they reacted as though it forgave any idiotic thing I might have done (like going the the wrong way...etc).

View of the start/finish (Depart/Arrive).  I was shocked to see the dirt bikes and riders at the start line, because in America runners are not usually aligned with bikers, but the riders helped with course management.  Very cool.

View from mid pack at the start.  It was an interesting view with the centuries old cathedral.  The race was a 12k and 20k and had about 385 runners.

View of the pack as we headed out of town through wheat fields.  The weather was warm, but dry and crisp; beautiful running weather and incredible light.

OK, this requires some explanation.  I was cruising along and I smelled something funky and heard a mammal breathing irregularly and then this dude appears beside me.  He has a great big beard and spit was hung up in it under his mouth.  He had no race bib, or anything else except those incredibly tight shorts.  I ran with him for a while, and I could hear snickers from the other runners and I realized that I was placing myself in his company, and thus was probably considered a slightly less dedicated version of the same species.  Very few men have beards there, and I probably had a little funk too (when in Rome).  I figured I could just say I was American if questioned, and it would suffice as an explanation for my strange behavior and running companion, but he took the 12k turn off and I never saw him again.  So long Captain Caveman!

This is a view of a Roman viaduct that we crossed--breathtaking!  Yeah, I said Roman.

We doubled back and ran under the viaduct.  I had to shoot this to give you some idea of the scale. 

We made our way through some nice trails down to the beach, and then back up the cliffs for some serious ill action.  By the way, I opted for the 20k, duh.

View from the top.  The beach in the last pic is way down there, WAY DOWN THERE.

The course was marked with flour.  I noticed that the French are very environmentally conscious and go to great lengths to preserve the natural and historical aspects of the land.  Another very cool!

Back down again to the beach.  The trail along the seaside goes up to the cliffs, and then back down to beach access over and over again.  I think this is what the race director was referring to when he told me the 20k was "challenging".

We left the coast heading back to the village of Pordic, and ran some beautiful trails which ended up here.  I think of this neighborhood as the Tributary of Pordic; nice trails designed for use by the residents.  

So this is the course map.  The red is the 20k.  I am not sure how I did, but I am almost positive that I was the 1st American across the line.  I suppose my award is in the mail.  By the way, the awards for the top finishers included a basket with a bottle of wine and some other goodies.

This was by far the most beautiful race I have ever run, and I was treated very well by everyone that I interacted with.  The race cost me nothing, and I bought a shirt afterward for 5 euros.  The experience really made the trip that much more special, and I highly recommend Brittany as a travel destination.

Here is a link to the race blog in France:

Au revoir!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georgia Death Race Report

Georgia Death Race   03/16/2013 

It has been a long time since I have created a race report, but I decided at some point after daylight yesterday during the race to make a series of videos to document the race experience.

The race started at 4:00AM at Vogel State Park, and ended (for me and my friend Nathan) just before midnight.

On the Duncan Ridge Trail:

I decided to run ahead of Nathan and video him coming down a hill shortly after sunrise.  We have already been running for about 4 hours.

This clip shows just one of a succession of brutal ascents and descents that is called the Dragon's Spine and compromises most of the Duncan Ridge Trail.  There ain't no switchbacks!

This is a bit of foreshadowing.  I decided to poke fun at Nathan for wearing three pairs of socks, but as it turns out, this was a brilliant move to prevent blisters.  I am suffering now with multiple blisters on both feet.

Crossing this bridge gave us a rare opportunity during the race to see normal people doing normal fun things.  The river was absolutely beautiful, and people seemed to be having a great Saturday afternoon.  Both of us talked about seriously re-evaluating our choices in hobbies after this bridge.

The guy in the video was really cool and stopped to make sure I was OK when I was nursing a nose bleed a few miles down the trail.  He also was rockin the best beard on the trail.

This is what a typical aid station looks like on one of these runs.  Lots of folks come out to help for these races, and they really try to help the runners.  Big thanks to all the volunteers.

I am beginning to be a little incoherent at this point, but we are still feeling optimistic.  Nathan was texting his wife to let her know that we were OK and give her an estimated finish time.  The controlled burn landscape was strange and reminded me of a volcano that I climbed in Guatemala many years ago.

There was another video here, but it would not upload.  We had just left the best aid station in the world, ever. They had grilled cheese sandwiches, beer, and BACON.  It was truly a transcendent experience, and they, hands down, win the best aid station award.

After climbing on rocky roads for forever, the road felt like carpet and we were elated.  Right after this, we met some kids who ran with us for a bit.  They really had a hard time understanding why we would pay someone to run 65 miles over mountains to get a t-shirt and a trinket.  I really did not have an answer for them, but a guy we were running with told them "you'll understand when your 40".

OK, there was another video here, but thankfully you don't have to see it (it wouldn't upload).  Conditions deteriorated a bit and we were a bit disheartened because of a 7 or 8 mile climb in the dark on seemingly endless rocky forest service roads.

This is a video of my nose.  

This stretch was the lowest point of the race because we new the finish was only 5 or 6 miles away, but it seemed like it would take an eternity to get there.  


Thanks to all the volunteers, to Alicia and David Milner for their hospitality, Sean Blanton for organizing a great race, and Nathan for running with me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Training Update

It has been a while since I posted, but I guess I just haven't had much to say.  I am back on a high mileage training schedule (50 to 60 miles a week), and getting ready for the Strolling Jim 40 miler in May.  Since my last post, I had difficult race at Mt. Cheaha due to illness, and a good bounce-back run at the Gate River Run 15k in Jacksonville.

I have resumed running with the Rooster Beaters early morning crew three days a week which strengthens my resolve by forcing me to wake up at 3:45am to get in 5 or 6 miles before work.  Having people to run with early is a huge factor in my training, because it reinforces my dedication to training and I use it as a motivator during races.

I am sad that my unofficial running coach, Orlando, is out with a serious knee injury, but I'm sure he will be back soon and we are carrying on, waiting for him to get better.

Another running friend, Nathan, is training hard and logging impressive times in races, and we are doing long runs every weekend together.

I was talking to a co-worker the other day about running, and she asked me how one trains for ultras and I said you just have to run high mileage and focus on the long run, but I got to thinking about it, and the real answer is that you have to enjoy running.  I remember when I started and could not run a mile without stopping (and that was only about three years ago).  I did not enjoy it at first, but over time I have come to truly enjoy running.  Some people report that they can get a lot of thinking and problem solving done while running, but that has not been the case with me; I simply enjoy the experience.  I'm not much for multi-tasking, and if running becomes an extension of work or other problems, then I will find some other habit.  I think of running much like playing the guitar; I just get into the flow of what I am doing and everything else tends to melt away.

Anyway, training is going well now, and I am expecting a great race up in Tennessee at Strolling Jim in May.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mt Mist 2011 Race Report

“This race will hook ya” – Bryan Campbell

The t-shirt proclaims that Mt. Mist is the South’s premier trail race, and I believe it.  I had my best race so far (in my limited experience), and I will be back next year.  I had a great day and I think I am starting to get this ultra thing.

Friday Jan 21st

“It’s going to be cold” – Nathan Jackson

I called my friend Nathan to see if he wanted to ride together but he was already at his campsite at Monte Santo and said there was about an inch of snow on the ground.  So I threw my cold weather gear in my gym bag after work, tried to leave the house twice, and after finally going though my mental checklist one last time, left for the three-hour drive to Huntsville.  The first part of the journey I occupied myself with my timing dilemma.  I recently sent my GPS watch back to Garmin because it was not charging correctly and my old Timex had a broken watchband, so I was trying to decide if I should stop at a Major Mart store somewhere and purchase either a watchband or a new watch.  Neither seemed like a favorable option so I eventually tabled the discussion.  It turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

I arrived at the hotel and found the entire Rouge Runner crew in the hotel lobby, and as we stood around exchanging pleasantries I began to notice that everybody else coming and going through the lobby looked kinda like me; lots of poly-whatever-shell outerwear, hats with Montrail, Marmot, Patagonia…etc. embroidered on them, and shoes, shoes, and more shoes.  This was a new experience for me, because I have never stayed at a hotel near a major race.  It was like a sort of brother/sisterhood thing.  We all nodded at each other acknowledging the 50 to 60 mile weeks that it takes to run one of these things and I was comforted to find so many people with the same mental disability that I have. 

Saturday Jan 22nd

I roomed with Orlando Baez, ultra racing superhero and my coach, and went through the race morning ritual oatmeal, coffee, etc. and drove up to the Monte Sano lodge.  When I turned off of Hwy. 431 onto Monte Sano, I was fiddling around with something in the passenger seat of my truck when I suddenly realized that I was moving in a direction that was perpendicular to the direction of my truck.  I hit a patch of ice and had to do some Dukes of Hazzard driving to recover.  As it turns out, Orlando hit the patch too and I heard talk at the lodge of someone else taking out a sign.  I wondered if this was a precursor of things to come.

My last ultra was the Dizzy Fifties at this same park, and it was such a disappointment on so many levels that I devoted myself to training like I never have before.  I was going to get back at Monte Sano and have a great race.  I wanted to run hard, stay mentally focused, and be able to feel proud of myself at the end.  At the lodge, I chatted with the Rogue crew and tried to decide on a strategy for the race.  Orlando and Johnny Buice (ultra running great) have run this race multiple times and the consensus was to take advantage of the first half because it is very runable and then deal with the second half the best you can.  Nathan blasted a 3:29 marathon last week in Warner Robins, so his strategy was to take it easy and get ready to PR Cheaha next month.  I knew Johnny and Orlando would go out hard, and I was leery of a fast start after the Dizzy race, so I decided to start off easy and run with Nathan.


With the report  of some sort of old-timey gun, off we went.  Since we are Southerners and don’t particularly care for cold, Nathan and I waited until the last minute to come out the warmth of the lodge and into the low 20’s air.  We ended up pretty far back in the pack at the start.  No problem, Nathan had his Garmin and was keeping us at around 11:00 min/mile for the first stretch.  We went off into the woods and Nathan and I were talking a lot because we hadn’t run together in a while.  We covered music, astrophysics (thanks for spell check-I could never spell that by myself), and other esoteric subjects.  We were just talking and having a nice time.  The course was amazing; it looked like a Christmas card.  There was a soft powder of snow on the ground and the runners looked like a string of lights with the bright colors of the running gear trailing down the single track. 

Things progressed smoothly and pleasantly through aid station one, and aside from a few inclines and logjams, we ran the course like a nice Saturday long run.  There was a memorable section where the trail spilled out onto a powerline trail that opened up and allowed a nice view of the surrounding hills and dales.  We continued to the next aid station, which was about mile 12 or so, and I was feeling pretty good.  I grabbed some chips and a banana and moved out for the next leg.  As I started out, I felt the urge to pick up the pace, and so I did.  Nathan already told me to go ahead when I felt like it, so I quickened my steps and ran free.  There were several downhills that I ran with abandon.  I kept thinking that I was running like a mountain goat (it’s weird—I know), but I flew down the rocky sections quick stepping and juking and jiving.  I was having a great time.  I was surprised to run into Johnny, because I did not expect to see him until I got to the lodge, but he had suffered a turned ankle that never turned back the right way.  I started passing folks and I know they thought I was crazy, but I was having fun.  A quick side note, I passed folks continuously from aid station two till the end, but I always made some sort of effort to be considerate to the other runners.  I believe in that. 

I knew that the course was going to get tough eventually, so I decided to run everything I could until I got to something I couldn’t run. 

The Three Hill Race

When I got to the 3rd aid station, I was feeling good and I asked a volunteer what the mile marker was.  He said 17.1 and “this is where the hard part starts”.  At this point I started to realize the beauty of not having my GPS watch.  I had taken my Timex off the band and it was tucked in my belt, but with my gloved fingers it was nearly impossible to get at.  I stopped and checked my watch and it had recorded 3:11 since the start of the race, so I figured I had a shot at 6 hours if I pushed it.  That’s all the thinking I did about time, and it freed me to think about terrain and energy and running.  I resolved to keep running hard and let the terrain dictate my pace; time became irrelevant.  

I ran until I got to a giant hill (Waterline).  I have always thought that power walk was oxymoronic or maybe just moronic, but I now know what that means.  It means that your strides are purposeful and commanding.  I took charge of the situation and told myself that this was a good break from running because I was using different muscle groups.  I am not sure about the science behind this but I mentally I made it work.  I was alone at the top of this massive hill and I stood in front of a rock face at a waterfall trying to find the course markers.  I looked to both sides several times and finally looked straight up, and there were the markers.  Then, in my mind-mush and jelly-legged state, tried to figure out how I was going to get up the icy face of this rock.  I climbed up the rock like a chimpanzee (swinging from trees--literally) and then collected myself. 

I knew there were two more hills, so I hit the trail hard as long as it was runable, taking advantage of every fairly level spot.  I ran behind two girls for a while that were hitting a good pace.  One asked me if I wanted to pass and I replied, “no, I am just trying to keep up”.  Ultra running is great like that, when you are feeling down, you just might meet up with someone who can help you pick it up. 

Somewhere along the line I ran up on Bryan Campbell, who I met at the Dizzy race and we talked for a while.  He is a fellow schoolteacher and a local who provided me with a lot of useful local knowledge (which came in handy at the end).  I really wanted to talk more about teaching and such, but my mush-mind prohibited intelligent conversation. 

To the Finish

The rest of the race is simple.  There are two more big hills, and I ran as much of them as I could.  The parts that I could not run I walked with purpose (I still can’t say powerwalk).  I felt great.  I had a couple of mantras that I kept repeating to myself to fend off the negativity that plagued me on the last ultra: I have trained for this, and move forward relentlessly.  OK, I will admit that I could not for the life of me recall the word relentlessly, but I kept trying to think of it and it occupied a lot of time.  I came up with determinitably (yeah, I know it is not a word), doggedly, and some other nonsense, but I knew what I meant. 

At the last aid station, Bryan was talking to some of his students, and I joked with the volunteers about the lack of Krystal burgers and doughnuts at the aid station.  Then it was back at it for the last leg.  We ran for a while and then started up a hill.  I asked Bryan if there were any more and he said no.  I asked him about time, and he did not have a watch (another reason why I like this guy).  I dug my watch out and realized that I had stopped it at 3:11 somehow, but I switched it to actual time and it was 1:39.  He said that if we got up the hill in 5 minutes that we would have a shot at a sub-six hour race. 

Ok then, it’s on. 

I did my best up the hill and when we got to the top I started running.  Bryan was struggling a bit, but picked it up and we both ran-I mean ran-the last mile and a half.  My stomach was growling, my lungs were howling, my legs were shot, but my mind was right.  I was going to give it my best. 

We finally came up to the lodge and I saw the clock at 5:58, and there was Orlando cheering me on.  I made it in under six and so did Bryan.

The End

This truly is a selfish habit, eccentricity, or whatever you want to call it, because the thing that I feel best about is my own effort in this race, but I know that I could not have done this by myself.  Mt. Mist is a great race that is well organized, has great volunteers, and great competition.  Above all, I train with people who are not just great runners, but great people.  That is what keeps me motivated, and I think that is why I am starting to get this ultra thing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Annual Music Post

Yesterday was a snow day and I was unable to meet my normal (I use the term loosely) running crew, and had to go it alone in the sleet/freezing rain.  So, I dusted off my old MP3 player and headed out into the tundra with only 3 or 4 hundred songs and some podcasts to keep me company.  Having not run with my MP3 player in a long time, I was able to appreciate listening to music and it prompted me to write down my thoughts about some great tunes for running.

Now, I know that some runners have strong feelings about headphones, but I don't.  If you want to run with headphones and are being safe, then go for it, If you don't like it, then don't wear 'em.  The use of music in training or races is certainly not indicative of a runners performance, and purists who are against headphones are just being a little bit snobby if you ask me.  I think about this the same way I think about the super-short, split-side, old-school running shorts--if you want to rock those babies, go ahead, but they are not for everybody.

Back to the music.  First of all, I am a music junkie.  The first thing that I do when I get paid each month is spend a couple hours selecting an album to download.  I buy the entire album because I am old; trying to cherry-pick good songs is depressing and unsatisfying to me.  I really try to find new music, but also look up stuff that I missed somehow.  So, my year-end music recommendations are a combination of new music and old.

My first recommendation is The album Stuck On Nothing by Free Energy.  You will only like this album if you like rock and roll, because that's all it is...just good rock and roll.  Nothing pretentious, just good guitar licks, simple lyrics, and cocky R&R strut.  I can't get enough of it.

The next standout is Haughty Melodic by Mike Doughty, released in 2005.  Mike Doughty is the former singer/songwriter for Soul Coughing, who, as it turns out, never really stopped making music and touring since Soul Coughing's demise.  I was very excited to stumble upon Doughty's solo work because I loved Soul Coughing, and I like his solo work even better.  He has a very distinctive voice, and the songs on this record have a driving rhythm and cadence that is perfect for running.  Doughty's sings his lyrics with such authority that I imagine I am the main character of the songs even though I am not sure what they are about. 

For something a bit more indie, try Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter.  The songs on this album combine dreamy, ethereal melodies with 70's glam rock influenced rhythms, but manage to be original (check out the blistering sax on Coronado) and very listenable.  Great for long stretches of open road. 

Finally, my wife turned me on to All Day by Girl Talk.  This is the greatest running music, ever.  All Day is a mash-up of hundreds of popular songs to create a continuous one hour and eleven minutes of running bliss.  The beauty of this music is that it changes frequently and I make a game of trying to recognize and identify the different songs in the mix.  It has a good rhythm for running and seamlessly blends hip hop, rock, R&B, and folk to create something new and exciting...and it's free!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dizzy Fifties Race Report

I have experienced my first major running disappointment, but I am OK.  It could have been worse.

As the fall ultra season was approaching a few months ago, I was feeling good.  I had conveniently forgotten about the pain involved in running last year's Stump Jump 50k, and replaced those memories with the camaraderie and fellowship that trail running offers.  So, I signed up for an ambitious (for me) schedule that started with the 2010 Stump Jump, and included my first attempt at a 50 miler.  I was knocking out 50 to 60 mile weeks and feeling healthy when Stump Jump rolled around and ended up with a PR at Stump Jump with the help of my friend Nathan.  He encouraged me a the finish, and we both PR'd the distance, but on the last 4 miles I was breaking down badly.  On those last few miles I began thinking about how much further I would need to run to complete the 50 miler, and honestly, I think that is when I jeopardised my next race.


 The Dizzy Fifties is a two loop course at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville Alabama.  The race offers a 50k, with an option for a 40 and 50 miler.  The tricky part is that you come back to the start/finish area after each loop and the temptation to hang around is great.  I was feeling good at the start of the race and my friend Nathan and I started at the back of the pack to purposely keep it slow at the beginning.  This strategy worked great and we were sailing along, occasionally chatting with other runners (although I mostly just listen to other peoples conversations).  The North loop of the course is the hillier of the two and the shorter of the two.  It includes a long descent and a long uphill at the end.  I enjoyed the scenery of this loop as it offers beautiful overlooks of Huntsville and some interesting rock formations.  The second loop is longer, but flat and I remarked to Nathan that we could really make some time up on the very runnable South loop. 

I was enthusiastic, but still cautious after completing the first 10 miles and the weather was perfect.  I switched into a short sleeve shirt out of my drop bag which contained practically all of the running gear I own, and we set out for the second North loop.  I talked for a while with a nice runner from Huntsville (I didn't catch his name), and Nathan and I took turns leading through the South loop.  I was feeling great along the South loop and told Nathan I was going to pickup the pace for a while and we made good time finishing that section, but I began to notice that the South loop really seemed long.  This was a bad thing for me to notice.

We grabbed some food and hydration and headed back out for the North loop.  The North loop went smoothly, but I was tired when we got back to the aid station.  No problem, we drank a small can of Coke each and headed back out for the South loop again.  Somewhere on the South loop I began to feel bad.  My legs were hurting, and I kept thinking about how long this loop seemed, even though it was flat.  At mile 25 I was really hurting, but I kept pushing on.  Nathan found a zone and pushed on ahead as I began to take walk breaks.  I knew that I could quit and call it a day at the end of this loop and would have completed a 50k, but I had signed up for the 50 mile race and was conflicted.  I ran/walked my way back to the aid station finally and the race director and time keeper immediataly asked me if I was going back out.  I told them I didn't know and sat down at a picnic table under the pavillion.  Nathan was already there waiting for me and after a few minutes, he and the race director talked me into heading back out for another loop.  We walked back to the trail head and ran for a while then I stopped to walk.  Nathan walked with me, but I realized that he was ready to run and I told him to go ahead.  I did not want to mess up his race and I had no idea what I was going to do. 

My legs were hurting, that's it; I was not injured, I did not have blisters, no stomach problems.  I was just tired of putting up with the pain in my legs.  So I found a great rock that overlooked the long descent and I sat down.  I just sat there and looked at the trees for about ten minutes.  It felt great not to be moving and I tried to think of anything but the race.  At this point I did not see any other runners, and for a few nimutes I felt better, so I headed back out on the trail.  I ran/walked for a while, but I could not get my head in the right place.  I tried to think about having Thankgsgiving dinner next week with my family, my friends in the running club, my job, anything to not think about my legs but nothing worked.  My mind made it's way back around to the current situation every time.  So, I just walked.  I walked the rest of the North loop back to the aid station and told the race director I was done.  His wife was the timekeeper, and she was very nice and gave me a finshers award for the 50k, but I felt really bad about quitting.  I took my stuff and laid down in the back of Nathans truck for about 30 minutes, feeling sorry for myself.  Then I decided that sulking was not going to help at all and decided to get up and cheer Nathan in as he finished the South loop.  I ended up talking with some very nice people and Nathan soon finished up his last loop to complete the 40 miler.

The highlight of the day came when I watched a guy finish the race and his girlfriend was trying to find something for him to drink.  I overheard her say that the Poweraid was upsetting his stomach, so I went over and offered him one of my Cokes.  The look on his face of relief and gratitude was worth the whole experience.

I have been humbled by this experience, and will never take any race for granted.  I will train harder for the next two ultras this season (Mt. Mist50k and Mt. Cheaha50k), but most importantly I will always remember that helping out someone else made me feel better than anything else that day.