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?
No!
No?
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."

and

"I like to hike."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Stars of UltraRunning


I was looking through the list of runners signed up for Bandera 2012 and was initially going to write a post highlighting all the "stars" of ultrarunning that I recognized and put links to their blogs so you could join me in the stargazing.

Then I started thinking about people outside the spotlight that left me feeling like I could not go on concentrating on the "elite" runners.. I read the piece in the December TrailRunner about Brooks Williams finishing 19th at Leadville despite having cystic fibrosis, a respiratory and digestive disease. Then I thought about the guy who parked next to me last year at Bandera and I had the pleasure of talking with the night before the race.

He was a mature trail runner who lived in an assisted living community and who did not have a bladder because of cancer. He drove his tired, old ass from California and slept in the bed of his truck the night before Bandera just so he could try and walk the whole 100K in under the cutoff time. When the other old men at the senior village had asked him why he puts himself through it, he told them that he couldn't play golf and he wasn't going to sit around and play bored games, waiting to die. He later told me that he it did for his sister who loved life and he had lost to cancer.

The real heroes in life and in ultrarunning are ones we never really hear about until we meet them in life, at a race, or they become a warm-fuzzies-feature story in Trail Runner magazine. They are the people that life chops off at the knees and they rise up on their nubs or stumps or whatever, without dusting themselves off, and kick ass. They make us "regular" people look like a bunch of wimps.

Overall, I am a positive person, but when I'm feeling tired or sore on a long run, sometimes I have to pistol-whip myself back into being positive. I think back to something I heard on UltraRunner podcast. I'm not going to quote it verbatim, but basically it said that no matter what kind of pain you are feeling, there are terminally ill people laid up in the hospital that would HAPPILY trade you pain for pain to be doing what you are doing. That usually sets me on my way back to my happy place knowing how awesome I got it.

You know that you got it good when you have to find things to complain about such as your watch that uses satellites in friggin space to tell you how you are running. When we complain about the new version of the shoe that was our go-to for years on end is now a little different, perhaps we should just be grateful to have legs.

When we're feeling bad that we couldn't/didn't give everyone the Christmas gifts we wished that we could've, just be glad that you are alive to get to see them and tell them that you love them.

Merry Kwanzukka, everybody.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Emil Zatopek's Training for Breaking the 5000 Meter Record

What follows is an excerpt from Running with the Legends by Michael Sandrock. The book details the running lives of 21 runners. The first chapter is about Emil Zatopek. In this section he details his training to break the 5,000 meter record.

Begin Excerpt
In 1954, Zatopek was now 32 and competing for the Dukas Sporting Club. Once more his military superiors called him in.
"Emil," his voice grows low and gruff, imitating an officer. "You have world record 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, 30,000, but no 5,000. 5,000 is Olympic event." The record was 13:58, by Gunder Hagg from Sweden. "Can you get it?"
"Please, allow me to practice in the woods, in the forest, on soft terrain," Zatopek told them, as he had previously when asked to make a record attempt. "Three weeks. I need three weeks. Two weeks very intense productivity, third week, less and less, and then to try for the record."
With time off from his military duties, Zatopek did the hardest training of his life, perhaps the hardest training ever. "I ran every day 100 X 400 meters. In the woods, 400 meters," he whistles, saying "arrhh," and making a face. "Then 150 meters jogging for recovery," he pants, with his tongue hanging out. "50 times in the morning and 50 times in the afternoon. Every day for two weeks. Oh, it was a lot of work." One hundred by 400 meters every day for two weeks-with warm-up and warmdown he was running over 30 miles per day.
End Excerpt

Well, those were some serious workouts, eh? Let me cut the story short for you. He broke the record. After a week of rest, he flew to Paris and ran the 5K in 13:57.2, breaking the record that had stood for twelve years. The very next day he flew to Belgium and became the first person to run the 10K in under 29 minutes. Second place was almost two minutes behind him.

This coming year of 2012 finds me getting serious about running hard and seeing what my limits are. For instance, I always felt like I needed a lot of time off to rest between runs. I am pushing back on that right now. Last week I ran 7 days in a row of 10 miles mostly working on form/posture. Looking forward, I took the Runner's Festive challenge of running 200K between the 10 days of Christmas eve to New Years Day. Check it out. 200K is the longest distance to which you can commit. They have distances as short as 50K(31 miles.) For my commitment that's just 20K(12.5 miles) a day, but it will be more than I have run in a row, ever. Guess it's time to load up on UltraRunner Podcast, which you should totally check out. Very informative and entertaining. These guys talk to legends, elites, and experts about history, strategy and beer.

In the meantime, Do you want some? Well, then GET SOME!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bandera 100K USATF Trail National Championship Preview

It's only two and a half weeks until what has become quite the showdown at the Bandera 100K west of San Antonio in the self-proclaimed "cowboy capital of the world," Bandera, Texas. I'm completely stoked on so many levels. This was where, last year, I ran my first 100K. The race is put on by Tejas Trails(Joe & Joyce Prusaitis) and I love their races. Joe is a father figure of sorts to the Central Texas trail running community and he is an excellent steward of this position.

Anyhoo, enough gushing.

The race course itself is a lot of loose rock with steep small hills, unavoidable slicing from sotol cactus, and some long stretches of flats where you can turn up the heat. The most appropriate word is "rugged." Aid stations are great(both the food and drink and the volunteers.) Also, last year they had an iPad and a larger screen set up so that when folks came across the line, their results were immediately visible. That was pretty cool.

This year I'm not running the race, but still get to enjoy it by volunteering. One of the many benefits of this is that I get to check out this pretty tough field that I now can partially recognize because of my recent ultra-geeking on the runners.

Here is a brief list of some of the folks that could take it home:

The Men

Timothy Olson-This two-time winner of the Pine to Palm 100 has also taken home first place finishes at the Silver State 50M and the Waldo 100K. Most recently, while running The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Fran battling cramps and going off course for about ten minutes, he still took 4th.

Nick Clark-Looking at his UltraSignup profile, it looks like he has not finished under third place in all but one of the ten races they show. Blatantly absent from these results is his continued domination and course record at the 2011 Vertical Beer Mile.

Paul Terranova-An Austinite who has the advantage of familiarity with the course, Paul is a top 3 runner at almost all of the trail races he enters, though most of them are at 50 miles or less.

Dylan Bowman-With this year's first place finish at the San Diego 100 and second place at Leadville Trail 100, Dylan looks like one tough cookie at only age 25. His blog lets you know that he doesn't have much of a poker face when it comes to this year's Bandera:
"Since October, my training has been laser focused on this particular race. I can say with full confidence that I’ve never been this fit or enthused in any December of my life."

Dave Mackey-On his blog he states that he is only using this run as a tuneup race and that he feels "recharged and ready to go." Keep in mind, though, he won this race last year while setting the course record of 8:16:48.

Men's Postscript: I could not make out if the David James from Phoenix, AZ who is registered this year is the Dave James from Northfield, OH and last year's Bandera who was second and came in under the previous course record in 8:33:36. If he is, then, Yeah, him too!

The Women

Pam Smith-After last year's 2nd place finish at Bandera and this year's win at Miwok 100K, Pam gets an automatic entry into the front running of this race. The fact that she just trained and ran a 2:55 road marathon means she will have a little speed for making time on the flats.

Joelle Vaught-UltraSignup.com shows Joelle as having 5 first place finishes this year plus her 3rd place finish in TNFEC in San Francisco. Here again, these results are for races 50 miles and under, though she does still hold the course record for her 10:23:32 finish at the Waldo 100k in 2009.
update!!!
I've been told Joelle is out of this race.

Liza Howard-A resident of nearby San Antonio, Liza Howard loves hundreds. And they love her back. She won 2010's Leadville. This year she both won and set course records at both the 50 mile and 100k version of the USATF National Championship. This year she also won and set the course record at the Javelina Hundred and took first at Rocky Raccoon 100 in 15:33. All from someone who just started running ultras in 2009 at age 39.

Darcy Africa-She has a ton of first place finishes on her resume. The last three big races that I saw her finishing were 1st at Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50K, 2nd at Hardrock 100, and 3rd at UTMB. Pretty freakin' impressive.

Bree Lambert-Two time winner of Tahoe Rim Trail 100 as recently as this year and fourth at TNFEC SF are a couple of quills in Bree's hat. She is definitely going to help fill out the field.

Kara Henry-Kind of a wildcard, Kara is a former collegiate steeplechaser delving into ultras. She took first at the Bear Chase 50M and second at the Quad Dipsea.

WARNING! Though you may be exhausted by this geekiness, it is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to adjust my outlook.

Good luck to all the runners and I look forward to seeing all of you out there!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Screening JB Benna's Unbreakable: The Western States 100



Well, I went up to Asheville the day before yesterday to the Altamont Brewing Company for their screening of the JB Benna film Unbreakable:The Western States 100. That was my first time at Altamont and it was a cool West Asheville vibe on a 62 degree day. It had the open garage feel with a table tennis setup, a disc golf target, and a stage.

They set up the movie on the stage with a projector and around 50? folks showed up to take it in and drool. Even local celebrity Jennifer Pharr Davis and her husband Brew showed up and let me have a picture with them!



Anyhoo, the movie was very balanced. It showed the competitors gathering their gear together at home, nervously chatting at the packet pickup, and interacting with their crews and significant others. The race footage was definite "eye of the tiger" material with amped up music that I'm happily surprised did not result in a spontaneous run after the show. Also mixed in was footage of a shirtless Gordy Ainsleigh retelling the running of his first Western States. The movie had a balanced mixture of all the previously mentioned elements and while I'm sure it had a shortcoming or two, between the race battle footage, awesome scenery, and the camaraderie of an audience filled with wonder and beer, none come to mind.

Great Job JB Benna and West Asheville's Altamont Brewing Company. If you haven't had a chance to check out JB Benna filming/running a mile following Geoff Roes and Uli Steidl click here.

Also, DVD presales of the film are at http://www.ws100film.com/

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rabun Bald Trail in Georgia



It seems like most of my life I've read about people doing cool stuff while I've been just working and playing basically in my yard. I have the spirit of an explorer, but I haven't been following that spirit.

F that S.


Starting now, I am going to start doing the stuff I like to read about. What do you want to do, Scott? What event or activity could you participate in that would make you stop whining like so many children at a Wal-Mart during Christmas time?

My first 100 mile race.

I'm going to do the Pine to Palm 100 race in Ashland Oregon in September. It starts out with a pretty long climb, so I've been looking for some of those around here. A tall climb I found that is about 25 miles from my house is Rabun Bald in Georgia. At 4696 feet, it stands as the second tallest peak in Georgia. The trail from the Forest Service Road runs about 2.9 miles, so I thought, "What the Heck?" and set on my way on Saturday.

My original goal was to run up to this trail head and just slog up the mountain, take some pictures at sunrise, and jog down. Basically, I was going to try and do this as a hill repeat 3X. Well, I started out running, but that didn't last for very long. As you can see from my Garmin, I ended up with a 24:11min/mile average pace and whipped as I was, called a day after one rep. I learned what I needed to learn from this mountain and left the rest of the day to let it sink in.



Obstacles:
1.Went past the trail a little bit when driving down the gravel road in the dark. That paired with my impromptu squat in the woods while lost contributed to me missing the sunrise.
B.My lack of fitness dissappointed my watch.
Thirdly. It was 27 degrees and windy as a Congressional hearing.

Triumphs:
Uno. I moved so slowly and stopped so often I got to take in some wonderful views.
Deux. I got a great workout with virtually no impact to my joints and whatnot.
叄. The time and temp toughened my temper

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Foothills Trail Traverse


This past weekend I had the honor of running some of the Foothills Trail in SC/NC with some folks that were running the whole thing. I just started out with them at Midnight and ran the first 14 miles from Table Rock State Park to the entrance to Laurel Valley where I had left my trusty Jeep.

Starting out were Lester Farmer, Mimi Hughes, Naresh Kumar, Mark Hickman, and Psyche Wimberly. Watching them go out into Laurel Valley while I headed home for a shower and a nap left me feeling a little guilty. I would not see them until about 11 hours later when they would arrive at Whitewater Falls.

I brought my accordion and occupied a little time waiting for the runners to get to WWF by playing to the trees and trying to figure out a song for them to come up the pretty monstrous hill to the parking lot. I ended up picking out my best effort of Eye of the Tiger. So, when I or someone else spotted someone at the bottom of the hill I would let the Survivor hit loose. I enjoyed it, but the grueling climb that the runners had just pushed up left them with less than an enthusiastic look on their faces.

Mark came into WWF first and then left with Chad Henderson pacing him. Psyche arrived shortly after Mark's departure, then Naresh. Each of them ate, changed out some clothes, and refilled their water. A couple of them had a beer. A little bit later Lester came in and threw in the towel. He had been puking his guts out in Laurel Valley and had gotten his fill o' fun. A little while later it got dark and we had a couple of phone calls with Mimi trying to reel her in to WWF. After one of the calls, a pack of coyotes let out this mob of noise like they were giving something their best effort. That led to uneasy jokes about waiting to hear back from Mimi. Scott Hodukavich ended up heading down the trail to help her get to the last little bit up to the parking lot where she called it an evening.

I ended up driving Mimi down to Oconee State Park where I called it a night and headed back to my home in Seneca. Congratulations on everyone who started out and a special hoot and holler to those that finished!

Results of folks traversing the trail can be found on http://www.foothillstrailultras.com/