August 25, 2014

Lessons

Man, did I have this one wrong.

And man oh man did I pay the price for it.

I went into my Wild Oak Trail 100-Mile solo supported adventure thinking that it was me vs. the mountains. That if I trained right, tapered well and drew myself up to my most full bad-ass stature at the start,  there would be no option other than the full four loops. My psyche was "Damn the details and full steam ahead!!"

That approach got me just two loops, with the final four hours washing away in the worst suffer-fest of all my running.

Some observations, a mix of erroneous and otherwise ...

• I'm not THAT bad-ass. It would have been bad enough if the critter who destroyed my FS96 drop point aid had just eaten the Fritos, but that critter also punctured the gallon of water I had there. So Pacer No. 1 and dear buddy Jack Broaddus and I did Miles 16-26 in the steamy mid-day temps on half a bottle of water. Oopsie. Didn't seem all that bad at the time. Didn't seem all that bad largely because I have a remarkable ability to ignore any signs my body is sending me (such as that slight burning sensation in my lower back) that things will be getting really, really hard in the not too distant future thanks to this boo-boo. Interestingly, the critter left my Ensure untouched. No need to dwell on the ramifications of that. Next time: A more critter-challenged container sans critter-attractive food. Plenty of room in my pack to carry bars and salty snacks and such.

• I'm not THAT bad-ass, either. Having the option to take the old-school portion of the trail that crosses North River or take the newer Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition spur trail that adds about a mile to each loop but that keeps one's feet completely dry, I chose old school. An extra four miles might be an extra 1 hour plus across the entire four loops, right? Wow. An extra hour. I mean, that could mean the difference between 38 hours and 39 hours. Never mind that my feet would be completely dry the whole time and not as susceptible to blisters and ... (if you want to stop now and look up "stupid," I bet you find my mug nearby. Hopefully it's a flattering shot ... ). Next time: Take the bike spur. Keep the feet dry.

• It's just night running. Whatever. My Petzl Tikka 2 is A-OK for Umstead 100 and Crooked Road 24-Hour and Hinson Lake 24-Hour. It's not even close to OK for Wild Oak. Loop 2 pacer Dave Frazier (aka one of my dear buddies and also the Cold TWOT course record-holder) fired up his Princeton Tec head lamp and -- BAM -- now that's a head lamp. That thing emits more light than one of my Honda Element headlights. Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking that I wouldn't have put myself in such a fix with my back if I had been able to see better and hadn't slipped 423 times during that foggy stretch after midnight. Next time: Use a real light system. And go practice with it.

• Back spasms suck, but not as badly as a 100-percent pain beat-down all the way across the lower back. I think I've only cramped up twice on runs in my life before this weekend. The third time back on top of Big Bald when I pulled up short after realizing that I was going off trail. ARRRGH SCREAM LIKE A GRADE-SCHOOL KID CALF CRAMP. No problem. Sat down. Stretched the toes. All is well. No way that's gonna happen again on this run ... until the final four hours, when my back essentially decided that it was gonna play a little game with me and see how many times it would make me throw up and sit down, in no particular order. Good news: I only threw up once. Almost within sight of the finish. Other news: I sat down a bagillion times. It never really helped, unless you consider that it made Frazier and I go so slowly that the sun actually came up as we were finishing the second loop. Next time: See above for critter-proof fluid placement.

• Four hours to go 6 miles in the dark and fog is a special kind of beat-down. I once ran an entire Wild Oak loop in less than 6 hours. I regularly ran one in 6:15. Thanks to the dehydration and the sleep factor and the remarkable Left Lean (yes, it does deserve initial capital letters!!), I took me 4 hours to go the final 6 miles. (Did I mention that Dave Frazier is a saint for staying with me? He is. And then some!)

• Hellbenders and Orb Weavers are amazing creatures. Thanks to my night out on Wild Oak with Dave, I can now identify both Hellbenders and Orb Weavers. I apologized to both Orb Weavers on the climb up Hankey for taking out their hard-earned work, although I was still pulling those sticky webs from parts of my hydration vest some five hours later.

What the hell is THAT over there? Fog-covered Lookout Mountain area. 2:15 a.m. Dave sees these eyes peering out from the left side of the trail. None other than a bobcat. Lying down. Watching us watch him. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

• All I have to do is taper for Wild Oak, and I'll be fine. Haha! HAHAHAH! AHAHAHAHA!! I am at times a remarkably obtuse ultra runner. There is so much more to one of these back country ultra runs -- even with fabulous support crew Vince Bowman and pacers Jack and Dave -- than showing up to the starting line in tip-top shape. Details matter. Next time: Put out extra water. Lots of it. In thick containers. Without food in them. Get a real head lamp. Buy some hiking poles and practice with them.

• It sure is special out there in those mountains. While I am still stinging from the indignity of falling so miserably short of my goal, there were so, so many hours of pure, unfettered one-foot-in-front-of-the-other joy being out there. I'll be forever grateful to Jack, Dave and Vince for helping me chase this dream of mine. This time, I came up massively shy. Yet oh, the stuff I learned. Next time: Plan some better. Be less aggressive. Take what the mountains give. Respect the place a bit more.

Will I dance with The Wild Oak Trail again? Yes. Yes I will.

And next time, I'll keep all the Fritos in my pack.














August 8, 2014

An Open Letter to The Wild Oak Trail

I see you.

Big and hairy and painfully steep and sometimes just a little more technical than I’m completely comfy cruising.

I see you.

Beautiful and at times breathtakingly peaceful, yet at other times incredibly demanding and just plain down raw.

I see you.

When I’m sleeping, you come to me in a whisper, your raspy tone that sounds like a tree groaning through the darkness, and you say, “Are you really sure you have what it takes?”

I see you.

We both know I’ve put in a lot of time out there with you across the past 20-some years and, although I’m not the regular that I was back in the day, I am familiar enough with you to be sure that four loops around your layout is destined to take pretty much everything I have to give.

I see you.

I’ve fallen on you often, thrown up on you, was nearly struck by lightning with you and came pretty close to getting washed down the North River once because I got cocky on you.

I see you.

Your white blazes and reflective trail markers and overgrown vegetation and sometimes slippery surfaces will ask much of me.

I see you.

You are in my head, and on my heart and – starting sometime around daybreak on Friday, Aug. 22 – you will be in my legs. All 32,000 feet of your up and down, provided I’m able to click off the entire 100-and-a-few miles of you.

I see you.

I’ve studied the minutiae and believe that if everything breaks right, I can finish four loops of you in somewhere around 38 hours. If everything breaks right. But just in case, I’ve cordoned off enough time to be able to hike and hike and hike some more to get four loops of you finished whenever it happens.

I see you.

Thanks to you, I’ve been running more hills, have had some monster training weeks, am paying more attention to recovery and am pushing a little harder on the strength work, yoga and core.

I see you.

My respect for you is so massive that I’ve rallied several of my closest running buddies to help me out. Their respect for you is so vast that they jumped at the chance to help me see this dream of mine come to fruition.

“Are you really sure you have what it takes?” you ask.

I think so. But I’m not sure.

That’s what we’re both about to see.

July 5, 2014

Beyond Grateful

Freedom.

Freedom that comes my way thanks to the magnificence that is movement. Freedom that happens when I get to experience a day jam-packed with mountain views. Freedom that’s borne of good, old physicality that sometimes leaves my legs sore and nearly always leaves my mind spinning. 

Need.

Need to jog the endorphins around 10 to 16 hours a week at a frequency that allows my brain to fully engage. Need to feel the fatigue in my quads on the steep ups and downs, and in my hamstrings and calves after the short, fast runs. Need to play with the push-ups and weights and pull-up bar and TRX trainer so as to take my upper-body muscles to failure and my cardiovascular system to its favorite panting place.

Hope.

Hope that my next big creative idea for work is out there somewhere waiting for me to run into it. Hope that I will make my way to another friend or two along the way. Hope that my 14-year-old will see the old dude out there getting it done over and over and over — and loving it more and more as time marches on — and maybe just maybe find his own calling in running or some other thing physical.

Joy.

Joy that floods my being on every long run. Joy that allows me to share my gifts of gab and endurance and mental weirdness with my regular running buddies and anybody else who happens to grace me with their on-the-run presence. Joy of reaching for a little longer, a little faster, a little more patience, a little brighter day. Joy of putting up a performance that surprises me. Joy of landing on a crazy new goal, then quietly striving in pursuit of it.

So beyond grateful that running found me.

May 21, 2014

Get Lost

Get lost.

Get lost in the effort. Three hours of runwalk before the workday begins. And 200 early-morning push-ups. And slow-motion pull-ups. And the bent-over breathlessness of all-out fast runs. And dragging yourself out of bed in the dark. And putting yourself to bed when normal people are just cranking up their evenings in the front of the TV.

Get lost in the joy. Experiencing the scenery and the rawness and the expansiveness of a solo run through the nearby forest. And the tick-tick-tick of your shoes brushing over the rocks as you climb and climb and climb your favorite single-track. And the breath-taking crash of the far-off waterfall that you know you'll be standing beside and feeling its mist on your face within the hour.

Get lost in your senses. Revel in watching your frigid early-morning winter breath rise up through your head lamp. And the sun peeking out. And the glorious full moon casting its knowing visage on all the world. Drink in the sounds of the birds awakening. And the rhythm of your gentle cadence as you shuffle down a crooked country road.

Get lost in your mind. Enter that second -- and third and sometimes even eighth or 14th -- hour of steady motion, that exquisite time when you peel back the veil, release your inner philosopher and become immersed in a magical place that is solely yours.

Get lost.

The most pure way I know of to really, truly get found.

April 30, 2014

Dream Chasing

Why?

Reasonable question.

Why?

The challenge. The opportunity to write a novel in 72 hours with your legs. And your drive. And with the will to keep going over and over and over.

Why?

The possibility that it will be fun the whole time. The hope that maybe just maybe I'll keep my goofy smile burning the whole time. And that perhaps I'll even be able to help some people reach out and touch their own dreams as I propel myself toward mine.

Why?

Because some weird stuff happens to you thanks to the fatigue that sets in when you are on the same loop for so long, riding the waves that come with feeling good and feeling bad. And hopefully good again.

Why?

For that sweet, sweet moment when you recognize that you're not really sure what day it is, yet you're completely sure that this pursuit is, for a time, the most important journey you can take.

Why?

That sensation somewhere during the evening of Day 2 — as your mind starts to drift away — that this is harder than you recall, and yet entwined in this realization is the assurance that the Fun Factor is about to take a significant, prolonged dip unless you shove some food in your mouth RIGHT NOW.

Why?

Because these people are your people. Your bonds are strong. They understand you in ways few others do. They have seen you staring at your demons, and they have held your hand anyway. They know when to cheer you up. They have seen you rubbed raw, and they still care about you. They remind you to eat. And re-apply sunscreen. And lie to you about how great you look.

Why?

Because these people are your people. They laugh at your stories. They make you the brunt of their jokes. They walk with you throughout the nights because they know that you can talk for hours about basketball refereeing or the book you're writing or how awesome your son is or what a fabulous college James Madison University is — all of which give them welcome breaks from their iPod play lists.

Why?

It's a great time to put Think Small to another test and then to see what comes of it. Will I really be able to chop this gargantuan task up into smaller segments and then fall into a rhythm of regular stop breaks? Will I really sleep only four hours a night for three consecutive nights? Will I keep up with calorie intake in such a way that my energy stays high enough to keep moving. And moving. And moving. Will I really be able to stay right here right now, especially when the going gets truly difficult?

Why?

Because this 1-mile, mostly asphalt stage speaks to me in a voice like no other, a persistent whisper that tells me that I have more in me than perhaps I realize.

Three Days at the Fair 72-Hour is May 15-18. This is my fifth go-round — having done the 48-hour the first year and then the 72-hour each of its three years.

Why?

Because I still feel the searing need to add another chapter to this ongoing saga.

And I want to see if, yet again, I still have what it takes to chase down another dream.

April 21, 2014

The Feeling

You know the feeling.

Some people call it work. Others call it torture. Still others call it crazy.

You know better.

You know the feeling.

Sailing along a peaceful country road with only the sounds of your footfalls and a sweet, light springtime breeze.

Blasting around a compact oval in powerful mid-stride with the entire world reduced to the concentrated in and out of your diaphragm and your completely relaxed lower lip.

That resounding sense of worth from beating your 0345 alarm out of bed on a frost-covered December Tuesday workday morn because you promised yourself that you would.

The utter joy of tooling along at 4 or 5 mph and being completely awash in your own mind for hours and hours.

The unfailing beauty of the ever-changing pre-dawn light, especially when you're running along a mountain trail with the soft crunch of leaves underfoot.

The peaceful uneven softness of semi-packed ocean sand as the rising sun dots the skyline and early-morning waves give you relentless chase.

The purity that comes about from looking around and having it come home to roost that, yes, you are the only one up here on the top of this mountain. And that you got here by the power of your legs. And your will.

You know the feeling.

Freedom.

April 15, 2014

Favorite Moments from U100 circa 2014

We did it.

My buddy Jack Broaddus and I kicked, clawed, scratched and meandered our way through Umstead 100-Miler April 5-6. It was 64-years-young Jack's first 100-mile finish. I have a bunch more, but this 28 hours, 25 minutes and 53 seconds belongs absolutely, completely to my dear friend Jack.

Some of my favorite moments from the 8-lap trek ...

• Me nearly halfway through Lap 7, so some ridiculous time early Sunday morning when a bit of hallucination action kicked in: "Oh wow. That just looked like a guillotine back there. Damn. I think I need some food. Bad."

• Getting trail time with friends old and new, a list that is so long that I have absolutely no shot at naming them all. Each of you know who you are, and I hope you also know what a true delight each of you is to my very soul (yes, even you Tom Green!!).

• All the kind, kind volunteers who pitched in and helped us out across the hours and days. Your smiles, your laughs and your occasional kicks in the behind kept us buoyed and happy and ever-mindful of the idea that one can stay focused on the ultimate goal and still have a helluva great time.

• Me dropping back and falling sound asleep later on Lap 7.  While hiking. And eating a mouthful of animal crackers. Then me saying to Jack, "Dude, I just fell asleep hiking." And Jack coming back with, "Well, what in the hell did you do that for? Now, get back up here!"

• Every single step and all the laughs with the adorable Amy Surrette, who guided us around the course for the about 4 hours that were Lap 6. Amy is a dear friend, has one of the most shining personalities ever and is also among the toughest humans I have shared a race course with in all my days. So incredibly grateful for your help, Amy.

• Me and Jack trudging our way along on the final lap and just after passing the 11-mile mark on the 12.5-mile loop, we look up to see none other than our guardian angel Amy coming back out to meet us. She had gone home, grabbed a quick nap and daggone if she didn't come back out to check on us yet another time. Such joy in her smile that we were closing in on the final line that Jack and I even managed to break into a couple run segments as Amy joined in all the way home.

• Somewhere near the middle of Lap 8, Jack and I had the following exchange ...

Me: "Jack, you're leaning pretty far to right there, dude."

Jack (as he almost tumbles off the edge of the trail): "I am?"

• That blessed final section where you come back to the start-finish, me crowing to all who were within earshot at 10:25ish a.m. Sunday "This is Jack's first 100 finish!!" Him trying to get me to quiet down. Him realizing how remarkably pointless it was to protest.

• Jack breaking into a run as we made it halfway down that final downhill, and then holding it all the way up the final short uphill and across the finish line.

• The amazing sleepy, proud, radiant smile on Jack's face when RD Blake Norwood presented him with his finisher's belt buckle. Blake and I have been friends for 18 years now, and I'm not quite sure that I've ever seen Blake smile as widely as he did when he gave Jack that buckle.

This one was a good one. Really, really good. We went there with the goal that Jack was going to finish. Although it's so unlikely when this actually happens, I held out a glimmer of hope that we could do the whole enchilada together. Check. And check.

Moments that will last me a lifetime.