Sunday, June 9, 2013

REI Garage Sale Assessment

I had never been to one of these storied sales, I happened to be off and in possession of a $100 gift card, so I brewed up some coffee and pointed the Cherokee towards Greenville.

Greenville is not a large or very busy store, so there wasn't a huge amount of stuff for this one.  I had heard that these sales could get out of hand, so I felt some apprehension melt a little when an employee came around handing out little handbills with some rules of the trail.

I got there about 7am the morning of and there was around 70 people in front of me in line.
I had done some research and many suggested knowing what you want when you go in so you can look for that first.  I wanted a bike trainer and some clip on aerobars.  I don't know if there were any aerobars, but there was one trainer and it got snapped up pretty quickly.

Here's what I ended up with.

 I got a Long Big Agnes Aircore pad whose advertised problem was "water stains on bottom, Holds Air!"  Next I found a pair of really functional Prana pants.  They're called the Stretch Zion Pant and had "stitching coming apart" on their tag.  I was looking for that last little something to make the trip worthwhile.  I was standing at a table sorting through a bunch of non-working electronics when someone sat down a little sack in front of me.  I guess they didn't feel like waiting through the growing checkout line for this one little item.  It was a Sea to Summit silk sleeping bag liner.  The tag notes "seam popped around head."

The Return Tags
The break down:

Item           New Price    Paid Price    Savings
Silk Bag     69.95           19.83          50.12
Sleep Pad   49.93           29.83          20.10
Pants          75.00           39.83          35.17

So, if these prices are correct, the I saved $105.39 or 54% off.   A good deal, to be sure, but not mind blowing.  If I would bought some socks or shoes, the savings percentage would have been a great deal higher, but that's not why I was there.  I hate wearing socks and I have plenty of shoes.

All in all I'm satisfied.  The defects were well documented and were not things that would bother me in a product.  Take, for instance, the pants with the stitching coming apart.
These pants are really cool.  They have a couple of vent holes in the crotch area, a built in belt that doesn't go all the way across the front, and, as you can see in the picture, buttons so you can secure the pants leg for your bike commute to work or whatever.
Or, the sleeping pad.  I call it that because it sounds a lot better than the mattress with the stains on it. Ewww!  The stains or near the bottom of the photo.

The popped seam towards the top of the bag.  If this bothered me I could sew it up.  It doesn't bother me.  I am so hot-natured that I am always on the hunt for something super cool to sleep in.  Bag liners do great for me instead of sleeping bags when it's warm out, but you still want to cover up.

Well that's it. Peace, homies!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

If All My Friends Jumped Off of a Bridge

So, there!  I did it.  I signed up for my first triathlon.  Yeah, I know.  One of those. 

An integral part of Triathlon training
Many men in middle age buy a sports car or take some other pleasurable extreme.  I did most of my pleasure seeking in my twenties, so now I'm signing up for suffer fests.  In a couple of weeks I'll be running Rock Creek's Chattanooga Stage Race, a 3 day stage race covering 60 miles, and in September I'll be doing the Rev 3 Cedar Point Triathlon

140.6 miles of super extra flat land in Ohio.  The largest elevation gain I'm likely to encounter is if there are waves kicking up in Lake Erie that day. 

Doing something this long requires a solid "Why?"

The Start:  "Why am I doing this?"
4 hours in :  "Why am I STILL doing this?"
5 hours in:  "Why am I STILL doing this?"
6 hours in :  "Why am I STILL doing this?"
et cetera...

First, let me tell you why I've never done one before.

Rollin' it out, trail runner style.

I know that I am a trail runner.  How do I know?  One way is that I instinctively make fun of triathletes.  I mean, those clothes, their fuel belts, their Oakleys?  Another giveaway that I am an animal of the trail is that I enjoy a race as a mostly social gathering.  I'm not really dawdling, but I would not call what I'm doing "racing."

Triathlon training, on the other hand, is all about shaving minutes, seconds, and legs.(and arms?)  Now, get this, I'm reading beginner training books and, to be fair, they usually have a sentence about how your goal for your first triathlon should just be to finish.  Then, they spend a couple hundred pages talking about gear that will save you ounces or a minute of time and techniques so that when you're racing, you can climb higher up into your age group. 

I mean, some people are training balls out so they can place a little bit higher in their age group.  No prize, no recognition, and some are sacrificing their adrenal glands, sleep, social life, and family.  Don't get me wrong. Many know how to balance and have a healthy perspective, but normal people usually just blend into normalcy such that I don't notice them.

There's nothing wrong with trying to get a better time or being a better racer or moving one place in your age group in a race versus last year, but I can't justify some of the seemingly unnecessary intensity that some think it requires. 

I could continue and go further down the hater rant hole, but let's refocus and look at why I DID decide to sign up and do my first triathlon.  The reason: Meg Wempe. 

Meg is a triathlete. She's also an Ironman.  Meg also likes the trails.  Though we've known each other since high school, it was only about 3 years ago that we started running together on the trails of upstate South Carolina.  We've even done a few trail races together.  One day in a bout of smack talking, Meg says "You may be able to beat me in a running race, J Scott, but you couldn't beat me in a triathlon!" 

There it is.  It was that easy.  All someone had to do to get me to train for 3 months and then drag my body across 140.6 miles of Sandusky, Ohio was talk the tiniest bit of trash. 

That sort of motivation only lasts a little while, so I had to search for a more meaningful, long-lasting "why."

Enter the non-profit Team Red, White, and Blue. 
They help returning vets by organizing social and athletic events to reintegrate them back into the society that they belong.  Many of our modern vets return with physical, mental, and moral injuries and find themselves severely disjointed from their community, friends, and even family.  PTSD, survivor's remorse, and a host of other obstacles often drive folks to drug and alcohol abuse, seclusion, and suicide. 

Meg and I are a couple of these
Team RWB gives folks a social and physical outlet to reconnect, belong, and function actively. 

I believe in what they do and how they do it, so that is
my "why." 
Meg and I have a team called "Team Outsiders."  We love to be and recreate outside.  Also, when we were in high school, Meg and I were voted "Most Unique"  for our senior class superlatives, so the name is very appropriate. 

Team Outsiders has a donation page to raise money for Team RWB, please take time and give as little or as much as you want to help our returning vets that are having to overcome so much.

When I am training and I hit a tough spot, I think of many of the testimonies of the soldiers who have returned and are in so much physical and emotional pain. I also think about how there are so many in their position who would trade me, pain for pain, to be in the position that I am.  Team RWB gives them the chance to exchange some of their war-related hollow pain for athletic related enjoyable pain. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Cake Walk 100 Mile Attempt

On December 1st, Lester Farmer and I set out at 5am to attempt running 100 miles from Palmetto Bible Camp to Oconee State Park.  Lester made it all the way to the other side of the Laurel Valley section by Whitewater Falls.  I only made it to the entrance to Laurel Valley which was about 35 miles. 

Garmin data for the first twenty something miles. Check out the elevation profile.

In my run I got to go across Jones Gap State Park, over Raven Cliff Falls, across Caesar's Head State Park, across the Watson Cooper Heritage Preserve, and up and back down Sassafrass Mountain.  Whew!  For the last 18 miles or so I battled cramps mostly in my quads but also in my back.  I kept pressing on the hopes that they would give up, but that never did happen.  I knew that once I entered Laurel Valley it would mean 33 miles of no turning back so that meant I really needed to assess myself on that last little 4.7 miles before getting there.

 Well, the first step I took downwards, my leg locked up.  I fell down the next few steps and landed on the leaf cushioned trail.   My quads were cramping so I would try to bend my leg, but then my quad would cramp in the way that it makes a huge dimple in the heart of the muscle.  I would try to straighten it out and the quad would speak up again.  The whole scene was pretty humorous to me so I started laughing.

Bad idea.  My little muscles around my ribs locked up.  That was even funnier, but since I didn't really have it in me to physically laugh, I just made a note of it and took in the coming sunset from the top of the tallest mountain in South Carolina.

 I knew that Meg would be driving like a bat out of hell to get to the bottom and set up the most elaborate and important aid station so far so there would be no hope of catching her in time to bail.  I considered going to the top and begging for a ride, but I thought that since I would not be finishing the whole run that I might as well do this last 4.7 miles.

Did I mention that downhills are what was killing me and that this section is all downhill climbing?  Fun stuff.

There is a road intersection about 2 miles from the bottom that I considered waiting until I could flag someone down, but then I figured I could make the last little bit.  I was worried about holding up Lester and Scott Hodukavich.  Scott had come up from Columbia to pace Lester and I through Laurel Valley.  Scott met up with me before I reached the bottom of the mountain and walked it in with me all the way to the entrance to Laurel Valley.  That was nice.  I convinced him that I was definitely not going to continue after much encouragement from him and he left to catch up with Lester who had left about 15 minutes earlier.

That is where my trail fun would end and the car cramping would begin.  Hips, quads, and stomach.  All of this suffering gave me great cause to sharpen my pencil on what I might do differently next time to be more successful.

Here's what I came up with:

I need to more consistently train.  I did long difficult runs, but doing theothers in between would have better prepared me.

Do more training bombing downhills.  Slamming down the hills seems to be theeasiest, quickest, safer, and more importantly, funnest way to get down steephills.  Unfortunately, because of my lackof sufficient training in this area, it really beat me up which became an issuewhen piled on top of huge climbs, more huge descents, and everything inbetween.
Core training. Squats, dead lifts, planks, side planks, supermans.  My back was killing me after all of thatsteep climbing, more than a little of it using all four limbs.
I had cut a v shape in the heel of my shoes because when Iran in them without socks it would rub on my Achilles and remove skin.  When running in those same shoes insemi-thick socks, my heel would all but slip out the back when climbing steepascents.  So, for big climbing runs,either wear a shoe with a more substantial heel cup or very thin or nosocks.
Weighing less would certainly help when doing that muchclimbing and descending.  I believe I amaround 185.  I would prefer more around160.  The number 1 culprit?  Beer.

Need to also focus on strengthening my hips.  Though some serious downhill running and moreconsistent training would help this.  Ithink some more focused work such as doggy peeing on the fire hydrant leg liftsand clock squats will help as well.

What worked well?
My ultraspire pack.  I usually carry a handheld as well, but I just used my pack.  With the crewing Meg Wempe did, the pack was enough.  I would have refilled out of the streams in Laurel Valley, but, other than that, I had more than enough fluid between aid.

Drymax socks.  I have never worn socks while running.  Though they created more slippage because of their cushion, I had no rubbed spots.  I never get blisters so that was unchanged.

Tights and a tight shirt.  No chaffage!

Meg Wempe-great crew person and someone that you can depend on to both be there and be there in good spirits.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Some "Epic" Stuff

Yesterday I set out with some other locals to tackle the The Foothills Trail Heartbreak Bench Marathon. You start out near the foot of the tallest mountain in South Carolina and weave the Foothills Trail through creeks and streams, passing some gorgeous waterfalls. When I run with my friend Meg I often will say in a sort of surfer dude voice "EPIIIIC!"

So, as I ran on in the woods seeing pretty things I would say it in my head in the surfer/stoner voice.

People dragging their feet never seem to sneak by me because it bothers me so much, but the whole calling every little thing that some person sees epic sits me right on the edge. If I could imagine someone justifiably going postal, I could see a High School english teacher being pushed over the edge by this.



adjective Also, ep·i·cal.
1.noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style: Homer's Iliad is an epic poem.

For some reason, this definition rings true. However, someone making a slam dunk, running naked down a hall, or going to a concert, to me, does not constitute an epic event.

When you look at epic journeys, someone sets out to do something, the stuff hits the fan at least once or several times, usually in resulting in everyone thinking that the goal is now unachievable. Then, the hero overcomes the seemingly impossible odds and continues on until he achieves his end or is killed in some grand fashion. Stories that come to mind are the Alamo, Joan of Arc, and Odysseus.

For instance, read this excerpt from wikipedia on Moses:

"Moses' Hebrew mother, Jochebed, hides him when the Pharaoh ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed, and the child is adopted as a foundling by the Egyptian royal family. After killing an Egyptian slave-master, Moses flees across the Red Sea to Midian where he has his encounter with the God of Israel in the form of the "burning bush". God sends Moses to request the release of the Israelites. After the Ten Plagues, Moses leads the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, after which they base themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses dies aged 120, within sight of the Promised Land."

He murdered, talked to a burning bush, freed the Israelites, and got a book right out of God's hands. They don't even mention that he parted the Red Sea, got water out of a stone by hitting it with his stick, and won a stick/snake-off. The pharaoh had a couple of magicians that could turn sticks into snakes so they did. Moses took his stick, turned it into a snake and his snake ATE those other two snakes.

Now that is some epic shit.

Going to some trail race and doing exactly the thing that you had planned to do. That is far and away not epic at all.

The Geico commercial is a good example. The Gecko says that he is embarking on a journey of epic proportions. He is, but he is also 5 inches tall and is going to walk all over America and talk to every single person in it.

Remember, the dictionary is your friend, and fail is a verb, failure is the noun.

Here is a non-epic picture of numero uno.

Thank you to Brian Guzik for letting me use his pictures.

Have an epic week everybody!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fort Yargo State Park Thrill in the Hills 42K

The day before yesterday I ran my first marathon. It was the Thrill in the Hills trail marathon put on by Dirty Spokes at Fort Yargo State Park.

I was somewhat untrained in that I had ran about 4 or 5 runs in the preceding month, and, as a result, wasn't sure what to expect.

And that is exactly what I got.

The course is made of two 13.1 mile loops. I made my way around the first one in about 2 hours flat. I started to get the twinge of calf cramps and so would be the rest of my race. A little crampy, a little nauseous, and a little slow. I ended up finishing in 5:11. But, because there were so few racers at the full marathon distance and only three in my age group, I got the bronze medal for my age group.

When the guy called me up to get my age group award, I told him "I already got my finisher's award." He replied, "This is for coming in 3rd." I told him thank you, shrugged my shoulders, and put it on. Hardly worth a booming "BOOYA!" but I certainly wasn't going to hide my medal.

The one big thing I took away from this race is this: I have issues in races. Mostly with cramps or nutrition. I never have these issues in training. To me that means that I am not training hard enough in order to iron these things out so that I can perform better in racing. So, now, I have a fever, and the only prescription is more demanding and consistent training.

I'm off to train for the Foothills Trail 77 mile challenge on St Patty's Day. Take care everybody and if you want some, GET SOME!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Post workout roller for trail runners

This therapeutic roller will help smooth out those post-workout knots and is available in cedar for those odor challenged athletes.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Why Do You Run?

Today I saw on post on Trail Runner Nation asking the question "Why do you run Ultramarathons? Why Why Why..." I hear that question all the time in magazines, canteens, and latrines. Usually the answer is something quippy like "because I can" or "so I can drink more beer." I never really thought of the real reason why I do it. I figured it out and here's the long answer.

I started running four years ago this February directly on the heels of quitting smoking after 15 years of loyal puffing. I figured 30! cigarettes a day at 7 minutes each was an extra three and a half hours of time I gained by not standing around smoking. I asked myself
"Self, what are you going to do with all that free time?
Um, I dunno, maybe start a non-profit teaching kids who grew up in a digital age what clockwise versus counter-clockwise is?
Well, we used to like running when we were in high school.
That sounds good. Let's roll with that."

And that's how it started. I put on my running shoes and headed out the front door with no thought to whether I would do it again after I gave it this try. Well, I kept jogging a little at a time and started looking up stuff and clubs on the internet when I discovered the Hill Country Trail Runners in my town, Austin,TX. I hadn't even considered running in the woods but when I saw their website I said slowly out loud "TRAIIIL RUNNNNING." My eyes got big, the clouds parted, angels played harps and butterflies left their cocoons. I knew EXACTLY where I was putting my running shoes down next. I did a couple of 5Ks, then did my first 50 miler, Rocky Raccoon.

I ran the first loop like a crazy man, then had the pleasure of finding out what the death march is all about for the other two loops. Even after a somewhat miserable experience, it was only three days before I was back out on the trails for the Wednesday Club Run But why? I am not huge on the thoughts of revenge or redemption so I did not feel the need to "take care of unfinished business," training relentlessly in a montage like Rocky Balboa after getting it handed to him. Furthermore I do not consider myself an over obsessed nut. Then what is it that keeps me coming back?

The real reason? I like to explore and I like to ambulate in the sense of the word meaning to move about. Bruce Lee once said "If you love life don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of." Trail running allows me to enjoy more of both of these by speeding up both the rate at which I move about and the amount of land I get to explore. Awesome!

I moved away from the birthplace of my trail running, Austin, TX and back to my hometown of Seneca, SC in the Golden Corner of South Carolina at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When I was younger I did some hiking and camping, but there are still tons of trails left unexplored by me. With my increased confidence and competence at covering large distances unsupported I get to take in large doses of these beautiful mountains. Within a 30 minute drive there is a 77 mile-long trail that stretches between two state parks and goes right over the top of the tallest mountain in South Carolina. Just beyond that trail is the beginning of another that runs 111 miles from the South Carolina/Georgia Border into North Carolina and meets up with the Appalachian Trail. 15 minutes away is an experimental forest surrounding uninhabited Issaqueena Lake with 47 miles of trails.

The possibilities are endless for my exploring mind. So, how long will I keep running? I don't know. There sure are lots of bears, hogs, and hunting all year round so it's hard to say. But one thing is for sure. I'd have to be trying pretty hard in order to be bored. And I want to see a lot more.

I'll leave you with a couple things Matt Kirk said after run/hiking the 930+ mile Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina in 24 days. I got them from the Fastest Known Times website which I will be writing about next.

"I wish to inspire people of all ages to break free of the self-destructive habit of driving everywhere and get out and use their original God-given vessels, their bodies, for transportation. There are a million excuses, and some of them are fairly legitimate, for remaining encapsulated inside a car. But the benefits of walking, running and biking are undeniable."


"I like to hike."