Monday, December 17, 2018

Runzas!!

I grew up in Nebraska.  So, naturally, my childhood was dotted with trips to Runza.  And, like everyone else from Nebraska, when we go back to visit friends & family, a trip to Runza is ALWAYS included.  In the last 7-10 years, I've learned to enjoy cooking, and especially baking.  One item that has always eluded me was the right recipe for making Runzas.  Everyone has a recipe from their mom, aunt, grandma, whatever....but none of them are the same.  Sometimes it's dough from a can, just rolled out.  Sometimes it's more of a casserole.  Sometimes, it's shaped like a little dough ball.  But, it never is quite the same.

So, I found a recipe (I can't remember where) but it's really, really close to the restaurant product!  So, here I am making 'one of those' food posts!  I always swore I wouldn't do a baking post, and if I did, you wouldn't have to scroll thru 87 paragraphs, a life story, and 16 pictures of me chopping veggies to get to the recipe.  So, here it is:


Now, you can go start baking....or casually scroll thru the rest of my description, tips, etc!  You're welcome!

Start with the dough!

It takes just a few minutes and you get some really great, elastic dough.  That elasticity comes in handy later when you are trying to shovel in all that yummy beef & cabbage mixture!

So, take 1¾ cups flour, ½ cup sugar, 1tsp salt and the yeast and turn on the mixer.  Let it stir all that together while you put ¾ cup whole milk, ½ cup water, and ½ cup shortening in a bowl and nuke it.  Get it hot...somewhere north of 120º.  Add the eggs to the dry mixture and the hot liquids.  Mix it all on low speed for about a minute.  Then, crank it up to medium for 2-3 minutes until it starts to look really elastic.  Take it out of the mixer, spread a little flour on the counter and knead the dough for 6-8 minutes.


Grease up a bowl with shortening, toss the dough around in it, cover it with a light cloth (or plastic wrap) and set it somewhere warm (I put it on the stove-top with the oven set to 250º) for an hour or until it doubles.

The insides....simple as can be.

Now, you just gave yourself an hour to get everything else ready.  Dice up the onions and cabbage.  DO NOT BUY MORE THAN ONE HEAD OF CABBAGE.  A head of cabbage will yield like....8-15cups of diced up cabbage.  Even if you are doubling or tripling the recipe.....one head of cabbage will be PLENTY.  Trust me.
Chopped cabbage

Chopped onion

Get a big stew pot,  throw the ground beef in and get it browning.  Add the onions and cook until they are clear.  Drain the mixture....and drain it well.  You don't want the juices from fatty beef to come out in your Runza or you'll have a soggy bottom.

Beef & Cabbage mixture

After you've drained it well, add the cabbage and keep cooking until the cabbage is wilted.  Add the seasoned salt (and you can use whatever seasoning you like), the garlic powder, and pepper.  Be VERY liberal with the pepper....one teaspoon just isn't enough.

After an hour (or when it's double), punch the dough down.  Divide it into 12 separate balls, place them on a baking sheet and cover them.  Working with just one ball at a time, roll it out to a 6" square.


Easily rolled out to 6" square.

From here, I like to lay the cheese on the dough because that will be the top of the Runza and as the cheese melts, it will make it's way into the meat mixture.  Cheddar cheese has worked best.  I used Gouda, but it melts easier and gets kinda greasy.  I haven't experimented with any pre-sliced cheeses.....I'll keep slicing from the block.

Sharp cheddar cheese is my usual.
Gouda cheese for something different!

Then, pile on ¾ cup of the beef & cabbage mixture. Yeah, it's gonna look like a lot, but it will barely be enough.  And, your dough should be elastic enough you can pull it further out and close it.


From here, grab the ends and fold them on top of the mixture.


Now, fold the part furthest from you on top of the mixture.  Pull the closest part to the top and overlap.  The dough should pull and stretch enough to make it work.  Tuck under the ends and pinch the seam closed.


Lay the seam down on a covered baking sheet.  I manage to get about 5-7 Runzas per sheet.


Throw that sheet in the oven for 18-20 minutes.  I like to set it for 18 minutes and check on them.  If the tops aren't brown, I don't pull them out.  Not golden or lightly toasted....brown.  When they are brown, I get them outta the oven and onto a cooling rack ASAP.

Finished product....browned to perfection!

The tops will be brown and somewhat crusty.  A quick tap on several of them with your fingernail will tell you that it's done.

That's it!  It really isn't hard at all!  An hour's worth of work can yield a pretty big supper for the family!  And, you don't need to follow this recipe....experiment!  I put together scrambled eggs, bacon, jalapenos, onions, tomatoes and spinach into the same dough and made a breakfast Runza that was to die for!

Breakfast Runza!

We will definitely be experimenting with more mixtures for the insides as the years go by.  But, to me, nothing really beats the original cheese Runza, so there will always be plenty of those at my table.  Everything from scratch in this recipe just makes it so much better!

Make it right....make it from scratch!


Recipe

Monday, December 10, 2018

Hitchcock Experience, Round 3

Hitchcock?  Again?  Seriously?

Yes, seriously.  Like the fourth Thursday of November, the last Monday of May, or first Monday of September.........early December means Hitchcock to me.
Sunrise over the Loess Hills of Western Iowa.
The Hitchcock Experience really is the perfect name for the race.  To normal ultra runners, like myself, it sounds like more than you can chew.  Twelve-and-a-half mile loops.....EIGHT TIMES.  Twenty THOUSAND feet of elevation gain.  Early December chills in Omaha/Iowa.  But, I've always heard it said, "I'd rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity."

And, I've been doing quite a bit of 'choking' at Hitchcock.  In 2016, I could only muster 75 miles before pains from a swollen tendon in my right knee had me quit.  In 2017, I managed to finish all 100 miles.  So, in 2018, I went in with the motto that this was gonna be "Best 2-out-of-3"!


Like usual, if I sign up for a race....the weather isn't going to be "sunny and 75".  A week prior to race day, about 7-10" of snow fell on the Omaha area.  Temperatures were expected to be highs in the 20s and lows near zero.  Thankfully, I love cold weather and in particular...snow.  This was playing into my hands.

Go!

I really don't like early race starts, especially for 100-milers.  Like....why the !@#$% do we need to start at 4am or 5am?  Can't we all agree to start at 10am?  I mean, most of us are still gonna be out here tomorrow at 10am.....let's not get up early when we have to stay up for longer than a day!  But, that 5am start at Hitchcock is perfect.  You get a lap in before the sun comes up (or atleast make it to the final ridge just as the sun is rising...see pic above), which is a great start to your day!  You get a taste of how cold it will be overnight so you can think on it during the day and plan accordingly.  But still....that 3:30am alarm....SUUUUUUUCKS.
Beardcicles during the first loop!

My plan was simple enough this time around.  I was gonna start in the back of the pack.  I was going to let the half marathoners catch & pass me (they have a short out-and-back half-mile loop at the beginning).  I wanted everyone else on course to stomp down the snow for me and I was happy to let them do so.  I think my plan worked well enough as I blazed thru lap #1 in 2:49:13 in 7th place.  Night running in the snow.....is pretty damn awesome....

The course, for having so much snow, really wasn't bad.  You just had to be patient and careful on the downhills....this wasn't a day for bombing down them.  But....if you started to slip....just go with it and let gravity run it's course....which meant flying down the hills sometimes.  One hill in particular, at about mile 5.5 was really steep.  My first loop, I slipped...both poles flew outta my hands and slid down the hill as I fell on my arse and started to slide, too.  I slid about 60 feet, grabbed my poles, stood up and continued running.  I realized, almost immediately, that the best way down that hill was to slide like a kid on a sled.  So, that's exactly what I did the rest of the day......
I was like a little kid in a playground all day.  The ground was soft because of the snow.  The temps were low 20s, but the sunlight and all the climbing kept me warm to the point of sweaty.  I only had my sweet red tights, one layer of socks, and a running shell on, but it was more than enough.

During loop #1, it might have been me, but the Campground Aid Station (Mile 3.5-ish) wasn't open.  Everyone just turned right and kept going...so I followed.  The Oasis Aid Station (mile 6.5-ish) didn't seem to have food ready either, so I refilled water and left.  The Ski Patrol station only had water.  By about mile 11, it dawned on me that I hadn't eaten.  In a half marathon, this wouldn't be a big deal to me.  But, 11 miles into 100 miles, I should have been eating....and drinking more.  At some point during lap #2, I was greeted with a slight twitch in my right groin, right hammy, and right quad.  The cramps were about to start.  Cramps are debilitating to me and the end of my day.  I swore at myself and promised that I'd intake more calories and nutrition for the rest of the day.  I think the jury is still out on the EXACT cause of cramps and every day I am more convinced it is mostly a neurological condition.  From that point on, every single aid station was Oreos, M&M bars, ramen noodles, pickles, granola bars, and coke for me.  I tried to drink my handheld water bottle (20oz) down between each aid station and refill with my Shaklee Hydration mix.  By loop #3, the cramps had subsided and all was under control again.  This was a HUGE win for me.  Usually, when the cramps begin...they don't go away.  Man, I was knocking out the laps, controlling my nutrition....I was just killin' it!  I managed to make my first Facebook Live video during lap #3....


Since I've had several hundred miles of experience on the trails at Hitchcock, I feel like I can draw the course map from memory.  I know the downhills, the uphills, the aid stations, etc.  I was really running the flats and downhills, power hiking the uphills and generally just enjoying rolling thru the course.  Lap 1 was 2:49, Lap 2 was 3:10, Lap 3 was 3:10, etc. I am, however, what people call a "social butterfly".  I like company, regardless of pace.  I would stop and talk to nearly everyone as I passed by them.  They all seemed to have one thing in common....I was lapping them.  THIS scared me.  I've been told, time and time and time and time again, that I go out too fast.  I repeatedly asked Andy if I was going to fast.  He said 'No', and he also said "If it feels good, just go with it."  And, about the time I was really starting to feel good about lapping people, Cory Logsdon, the course record holder and eventual winner, lapped me.

I will pause here to say that ultrarunning is the best sport because the elites run with the newbies.  There is no division.  We are all out there to conquer some demons and get thru the same race.  I talked to Cory and his pacer for about 2 minutes.  I've chatted with him in races past -- both during the race and afterwards.  What an amazing athlete he is and what a great and seemingly humble guy, too!  Speaking of running with elites, I ran into Kaci Lickteig in the main aid station and she gave me some quick tips on keeping my toes warm.  She had won the half marathon and I congratulated her.  She stuck around and started the 50-milers off later that night.  I mean, how cool is that?  You think LeBron James will be on the same court as me this week shooting hoops?  Yeah, no chance.  The G.O.A.T.z runners are so incredibly lucky to have Cory & Kaci.  Top notch athletes, but more importantly, just top notch people.

I rounded out Lap #4 in 3:15-ish for a very, very, very solid 50-mile effort of 12:32:42.  I was aiming to finish 50 miles in the daylight and I just missed it by minutes.  A 24-hour finish was a semi-goal for me, but I knew even under the best conditions that would be hard.  At this point, I was just trying to keep knocking down 4 miles every hour to finish in 25 hours.  I was smiling and enjoying every minute of just playing in the snow!

Post-50 Miles

I took a little longer stop at the main aid station at mile 50, but it wasn't for bad reasons.  I needed socks changed, headgear changed, etc.  It wasn't long and Andy and I set out on the course.  Andy was roaring to go because he'd seen my sweet sliding video earlier in the day.  I was super pumped to slide down the hill with Andy!

Lap #5 was pretty uneventful.  Andy and I did plenty of catching up on everything .... course conditions, next year's aspirations and life in general.  We slid down the hill and just knocked out the miles in a very "business-like" manner.  About 10 miles into the lap, I noticed the pains in my muscles were getting pretty noticeable.  Yeah, they were hurting earlier, but this sport is about a certain level of suffering and I didn't think much of it more than 'over use'.  I told Andy my ankles were sore (I hadn't rolled them, amazingly enough), as well as my IT bands (yes, both) and hip flexors (yes, both).  I think this was from all the sliding around.  Every step had a little bit of slide to it.  The pains really grew quickly and I told Andy we needed to walk.  We hiked it into the main aid station, completing lap #5 (Mile 62.5) at 16:27:xx into my day.  This was still a pretty good place for me to be.

Something really triggered a switch in my brain just prior to finishing Lap #5.  My brain was telling me to "Stop idiot, you're gonna get hurt".  I came into the aid station and told Angie, "I don't wanna go back out there anymore.  I'm done."  Both Angie and Andy told me to get fixed up and let's get back out there.  I took my shoes off and put on a warm pair of socks.  I avoided Andy, intentionally, because I didn't want his positivity.  The self-inflicted pity party had begun in earnest.  I went upstairs and laid on a bench.  Angie agreed to let me sleep for 20minutes.  I don't know how long it was, but it was more than 20.  Angie kept reminding me how I wouldn't let her life flight out of the Grand Canyon in September and I made her walk out.  I told her Hitchcock wasn't going to kill me so it was different.  In my head, I was so pissed at her.  I just wanted to scream "!@#$% off!!!".  According to my Garmin, we spent two hours in the main aid station.  I finally decided that neither Andy nor Angie was going to let me just quit.  So, rather than lay around and shiver, I laced 'em up and headed out again.

Immediately, I told Andy there would be no running.  He said we'd try.  He kept saying things like "next lap, we'll be running this part".  About two miles into lap #6, we came up the hill on the backside of the campground.  I told Andy, "I am done and will be heading to the aid station to quit."  I knew we could shortcut up the road and quit at the aid station just 200meters away.  We stood up on the road and Andy said "Fine, let's quit and get outta this cold.".  I didn't catch it then, but I know now, he was using that "father psychology" on me like I was a child.  Fine, you whiny little shit...just quit and be a quitter your whole life!  I thought for a minute and then, surprisingly, I said "No, we are gonna keep on course until we hit the aid station."  We trudged along thru the cow field with a very chilly wind at our backs.  The course makes a U-turn and we headed back into that wind at a snails pace.  I was freezing and shivering.  I tried to run, repeatedly, but to no avail.  I think this was the point Andy realized I was actually trying....but it wasn't there.  We reached the aid station a couple miles later and I quit.

Quitting sucks.

So, that makes me 1-for-5 on 100 mile races in my lifetime.  I've managed 100k+ in all of them, but that doesn't make it any easier.  I keep saying, "Maybe I'm not meant to do this....".  But, just like golf....you can suck really, really bad at it....but you make one chip shot from 12yds off the green....and you'll come back the next day.  I keep signing up.  Anyone who knows me, knows that the flames of competition burn inside me and I HATE quitting.  It tears me up.  You gotta get me to a really bad place to get me to quit.  And, I like to live by the motto that it doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down.....it only matters how many times you get back up.

Thanks!

First, and foremost, my wife Angela.  She understands me and this crazy need to beat myself up and keep trying.  She sacrifices time, energy, money, and sanity for my dreams and aspirations.  She's there at every aid station to change socks, offer food, chide my attitude and encourage me to push through.  I love that woman....and it's not just because she buys me new shoes every 6 weeks.

Next, Andy.  My pacer.  My friend.  My co-hort.  I'm glad Andy lives 3+ hours away, because if he were any closer, we'd get into some real trouble about every weekend.  The last two times Andy has paced me it has been blistering, wintry conditions....and he doesn't complain.  He would pace for 99 miles if you'd let him.  He's a badass and a hard-ass.  I was glad he was along for this adventure....I only wish we could have slid down that hill another 3 times!

Lastly, Ron Ruhs and the GOATz.  Alongside my local Trail Nerds organization, the GOATz running group in Omaha, Nebraska is just fabulous, amazing, outstanding, wonderful people.  I don't keep going back to Hitchcock because I like the pain (OK, maybe a little...).....but because people like Ron will greet you by name at the end of every lap.  Because the aid stations are rocking and SUPER helpful.  Because the Hitchcock Nature Center is an amazing secret tucked away in the hills.  The Hitchcock Experience is aptly named because it's more than a race.  And, to me, the race should be at the top of every ultra runner's bucket list.

I will, however, lodge one complaint with Ron.  Bib #150.  That bib is a steaming pile of dung.  In 2016, I quit at mile 75 while wearing bib #150.  This year, I quit at 66-ish while wearing bib #150.  Every time I wear #150, I quit.  So, next year, don't give me #150...please?  Seriously...this is #science.


And yeah, you heard me right..."next year".  Angie doesn't know yet (until she proofreads this).  I'm making Hitchcock an annual holiday for me.  There's no way I miss the 5th anniversary edition.  Plus, I might have said best 2-of-3......but with this latest beating Hitchcock gave me.....let's make that best-of-seven?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Never Summer 100k -- Never Again



Never Summer Mountains

Colorado

In 2018, I wanted to scale back a little bit and take a "break".  Angela and I decided that I was pretty good at getting thru 50 miles in all my races and we should do something closer to that mileage.  I think we all know by now that I love the mountains in Colorado and we kinda pinpointed that state for a return trip.  There's just something about standing on top of a mountain, above the treeline and just enjoying the view that keeps pulling me back.

So, I had never attempted a 100k (~62 miles) race and we chose the Never Summer 100k near Gould, Colorado in late July as the highlight of my 2018 running calendar.  Never Summer was advertised as no easy race.  In fact, the UTMB points awarded for it's completion put it on the same scale as a 100-miler.  But, it looked beautiful, fun and challenging, so Never Summer 100k it was!


Like usual, all I had to do was say the word "Colorado" and my friends jumped on it.  Kymie & Tyler immediately offered to come along.  I goaded Kymie into offering to be my pacer for the final 14 miles.  We even decided to go on the cheap and just camp out for the duration of the race.

Kymie & Tyler's view
I didn't even have to ask and Andy brought his family out (dogs and all) to camp, too!  I think we all have an addiction to the mountains.

Our road trip to Colorado even included a mini tornado near Goodland, Kansas that we barely avoided.  It looked like this was shaping up to be a normal race for Russell -- bad weather and all.

Training

It's just impossible to train for the elevation of Colorado's mountains when you live on the plains (~1000' elev).  So, we do the best we can to find hills and trails and just put the miles in.  This year, I added a road bike to my exercise regimen.  It was quite unintentional, but a good offer came and I couldn't refuse.  So, in March, I bought a bike and started riding.  At first, I tried very hard to not let it interfere with my running schedule.  But, the excitement of the bike overwhelmed me and I found myself riding it quite often (and often in lieu of a run).  I even signed up for a 100-mile gravel grinder bike race in June and managed to complete it in ~8hrs.

I don't want to say the bike hurt my training, but it certainly cut into my mileage.  But, I will say the cardio from the bike is awesome.  The ability to rest your running muscles but still get in valuable training is another plus.  And, whenever you are injured, taking to the bike for a few days really helps.  At any rate....this round of training for a long race included many, many miles on the bicycle.

In addition, summer 2018 started on about March 1st and never relented.  Two conditions that I absolutely deplore running in: hail & humidity.  Humidity was the forecast description for every single day of April, May, June and July.  It was just relentless.  Several long run days I was aiming for 20-25 miles and would quit after 12-15 because I was just drained.  There's never enough ice.  Never enough water.  Finally, about three weeks out from race day, I managed a 30+ mile day and I was feeling pretty good.  Several "cooler" days followed that and I saw some good runs, so I knew my body was in good shape.....it was just the weather tearing me apart early and often.

Race Day!

July 28th came too fast.  I wouldn't say I was 100% prepared, but I was in the high 90s.  I had done a lot of training and focused solely on Never Summer.

An early alarm clock (3:30a) got me up and going.  We made our way to a small shack in the middle of nowhere, called the Gould Community Center (9,100').  Hundreds of runners (like 300+) lined up for a pre-dawn start (5:30a).

The first 2.5-3 miles are relatively flat along what I would deem as "logging roads".  It's a good chance to shake out the large group of runners and get ready to single-file the trails ahead.

Everyone knows the pinnacle of Never Summer is Diamond Peak (11,850') at approximately mile 20.  It's a brutal climb up the side of the mountain to the tune of about 2300' in elevation gain over 2+ miles.  But, the climbing in Never Summer starts WAY earlier.  Mile 3 to be exact.  It is there that the "logging road" turned up the side of the hill and everyone's jog ended.  Trekking poles made their way out and the congo line of walkers ascended towards Seven Utes mountain (11,453').

Watching the sunrise on your race is NEVER boring.


For the next 3 miles, we just kept climbing.  The scenery was beautiful, the trail was easy, and the people were entertaining.


Finally, we reached our first downhill of the day and it was STEEP.  It's just not something I was comfortable bombing down at top speed.  It was rocky and footing placement was a priority.  I spent the next few miles enjoying some of the most beautiful single-track I've ever had the pleasure of being on.  Eventually, we managed to descend to the shoreline of Lake Agnes.

Lake Agnes

 After Lake Agnes came a short scree field that was easily traversed in our usual single-file line of runners.  And then we were treated to several miles of logging/jeep roads that were mostly downhill.  It was a great running part to stretch the legs out.  After a few miles, we made our way around the Nokhu Crags and descended pretty sharply to the Diamond aid station (Mile 17-ish).  At this point in my day, we'd climbed a pretty steady 11-mile climb from the start to the Seven Utes Mountains and I was tired, but still moving pretty well on the flat and downhill sections.

After a short run along the highway, we turned into the forest and started the long hike up Diamond Peak.  The first mile or so was in the trees which was lucky for me because it began to rain and hail.  As I ascended and neared the treeline, I ran into Angela.  She was intending to hike up Diamond Peak with Andy & Tyler and meet me at the peak.  But, she was done and headed back down.  Diamond Peak was no joke!

Shortly after passing Angela, I exited the trees and the rain stopped.  The wind was howling!  The climb was getting steeper........

No, I didn't turn the camera.....that's the slope....

I had my trekking poles out and just continued to push forward.  I thought back to the hours spent climbing with Andy during High Lonesome the prior summer.  At one point in the race, amidst the darkness, snow and sleet....we climbed a really steep and rocky incline by taking 20 steps and then stopping for a couple breaths.  So, I quickly employed that tactic on Diamond Peak.  Twenty steps....a couple breaths......twenty steps....a couple breaths.... I began to notice the ascent getting easier.  Eventually, it was forty steps....a couple breaths....forty steps.....etc.  You just have to remember to never look up....because if you do, you are greeted with the unpleasant view of more.....just....MORE....


Yup!  That's people ahead of me
But, sooner or later, you have to reach the top.  And what a sight it was!  The sun was out (the wind was still howling) and the views were clear for miles and miles.  And, as an added bonus, Andy & Tyler were there to greet me!  I gotta be honest....I was more than impressed that Tyler had hiked up that mountain.

Diamond Peak; Friends make it so much better!

I'm not sure if Diamond Peak did it to me, but this is the point in the race where my mind started to fall apart.  It was only about 21 miles in, but we had climbed thousands of feet in those 21 miles.  And then, leaving Diamond Peak, you are rewarded with a nice long saddle along the summit of the Medicine Bow Mountains.  The was Montgomery Pass.  The wind was fierce.  Several times, I had to pull my hat on further.  At one point, my trekking poles were blowing sideways in my hands!

Montgomery Pass
But, as usual, the mountains of Colorado afforded me views that one can only appreciate when standing up so high.  I could spend hours above the treeline enjoying the views on a clear day.  Unfortunately, the pass wasn't as flat as you'd expect.  There were quite a few "hills" which were actually just other peaks that we had to climb.  I think this was the most distressing part to me because I was looking forward to a relaxing run of several miles after that arduous hike up Diamond Peak.  Navigating the pass, with such high winds, was nothing relaxing.




Montgomery Pass sign
After a short two miles along the summit, we descended onto the Yurt trail.  What a son-of-a-bitch the Yurt trail was.  Rocky and unforgiving.  This is where I really started to fall apart.  My mind gave up on me.  I was ready to quit.  I continued to trudge along into the Ruby Jewel AS.

Ruby Jewel AS

Coming into Ruby Jewel aid station, I was greeted about a half mile out by Andy.  I was physically exhausted but still able to move quite well.  But, my mental game was in shambles.  It was pouring rain and the lightning strikes were VERY nearby.  The hail was on and off again.  The thunder that preceded the lightning strikes was less than two seconds from each strike.  The storm was right on top of us again.

Andy, like Jody, has no quit.  Both of them are extremely motivating.  I told Andy as we walked in that I was done.  He just kept telling me "No you're not.".  My feet hurt so bad from the descents.  I was almost in tears and I told Andy, "I think my feet are bleeding."  I didn't want to sit during this race, but once I reached the Aid Station, I plopped into a chair.  We had to check my feet.  So, to my surprise, Kymie and Andy tore into it and removed my shoes and socks.  To everyone's surprise....my feet were FINE!  I could really tell the mental game was failing me hard at that point.  I was pretty dehydrated and really lacking on calories.

Andy went to work pumping me full of soup, tortillas, watermelon and coke.  We changed my socks and got my shoes back on.  Andy suggested that I stuff my cheeks full of jelly beans, like a squirrel and just suck on them for a few miles.  I think I fit 20-30 jelly beans in my mouth.  I came into that station ready to quit, but I left with a little bit of enthusiasm.

This was Tyler's first ultra experience and I remember him at Ruby Jewel AS.  He was like a deer in headlights.  He watched Angela, Kymie and Andy just go to town on me and my needs.  I think he wasn't sure what to do, so he just stood there and watched.  I'm glad he got to see it.  I'm sorry he had to see me at such a low point, but.....shit happens.

Kelly Lake
I left Ruby Jewel AS, with my cheeks plum full of jelly beans, and started the ascent to Kelly Lake.  After about a mile, I spit a couple jelly beans out, but it was working!  I was absorbing the sugar and feeling much better.

Then, I noticed a runner (#231) walking towards me.  At first, I thought I was lost.  I asked if everything was OK.  That's where I met Brooks.  Brooks was headed back to the aid station to quit because he was throwing up.  I stopped him.  I said, "Why don't you walk with me for a while?  I'm not moving fast, and will probably be walking, but let's walk this out together."  Brooks and I continued to walk and talk for a couple miles.  And then...<snap>...Brooks was gone.  He stopped throwing up and his slow trudging turned to a fast walk and then into a jog.  I didn't see him ever again.  But, the next morning, at the post-race awards, I saw him and we chatted.  Brooks finished the race in a little less than 23hrs.  He thanked me for getting him turned around.

If there's a positive to take from this race, it's the encounter with Brooks.  I guess it's here that I tell you that I didn't finish.  My mental game collapsed early on me and I never recovered.  But to see that my actions got Brooks turned around and finished made me happy.

The Rest Of The Story

From Ruby Jewel, we climbed to Kelly Lake.  It was raining.  The sun was disappearing over the edge of the mountains.  But, the views as we ascended the gullys between the mountain peaks were just amazing.  The race had thinned out and there wasn't many people to talk to or run/hike/walk with.  This was a pretty lonely spot for me.  But, to be at such an emotionally drained position while amongst the mountain peaks.....is something so peaceful.

After several miles of endless uphill, we reached Kelly Lake.  What a gorgeous, blue, high-country lake.  You cross a saddle between two gorgeous peaks and the lake just jumps out below you.



It was here that I quit.  Mile 35.  Barely past halfway.  I know this because I took this video.....


I can't pinpoint something exactly.  The altitude maybe?  The steep, early climbs?  I put the blame on my head for this one.  I just didn't get it turned around.

Immediately after seeing Kelly Lake, you get to descend to the lake shore.  But first, you get to cross a boulder field.  The rocks were as big as cows.  This is where I caught another runner.  And, to my dismay/fear....he said "There's a bear."  And sure enough, more than 100yds in front of us and below us, near the lake shore, a bear was meandering perpendicular to our position.  We both stopped in our tracks.  What do you do?  Well, in less than five minutes, the bear had wandered several hundred yards to the East (away from the lake).  Our path was headed to the lake (the opposite direction of the bear), so we started off.  I will admit that our pace down the hillside and along the lake was faster than I had anticipated.  I kick myself here for not getting my camera out for pictures, but the adrenaline running thru us didn't make me think of taking pictures....and, to boot, he was quite a distance from us.  As we ran down along Kelly Lake, we spooked a couple deer out of hiding.  Perhaps that is why the bear was up so high?  In any case, that was the only significant wildlife I would see all day.

Finished....

I actually ran the final few miles into the Clear Lake aid station at mile 37.  It was thru a gorgeous alpine forest full of white aspen trees. I plopped into a chair at the aid station......I was a disaster in my head.  I remember sitting and enjoying some warm ramen noodles, refilling my water, and changing my shirt.  It was dark.  I knew from here it was a 3-mile climb up to Clear Lake and then a quick turn-around and back down to this very same aid station.  I don't know what got me up, but I stood and left the aid station.  I knew my race was done at that point, but I still wasn't ready to concede.

I made my way to Clear Lake......which I didn't get to see in the absolute darkness of the mountains.  I met two race volunteers, who checked my bib with a marker and I turned around.  I made my way back down to Clear Lake aid station.

As I entered the Aid Station, I was told I had 3 minutes to leave before the cut-off.  I was depressed.  I've never chased cutoffs like that.  I needed water and food.  I looked around and no one was helping.  In fact, the volunteers were pushing food into the trash.  Looking back now, I know I could have filled my water and ran off with some cookies or chips in time.  But, the thought of another seven miles before meeting Kymie, in the darkness, chasing a cutoff...........just pushed me over.  I talked to the Aid Station Captain and I quit.

Never Again....probably.....

My luck in ultras has not been good.  My finish rate is pretty abysmal.  But, I would like to go back to each race I've failed and do it again (I managed to complete the hardest one to date -- Hitchcock -- already).  But, I'm not sure about Never Summer.  I'm not sure I really have the desire to go back to this race.  It broke me mentally in a way that I did not enjoy.  The race was very well ran.  The course was beautiful.  The course was absurdly challenging.  Oh, who am I kidding....I'll sign up again.

People still tell me "Why don't you do an easy race?"  My reply is always "Why?"  I'm doing these races to push myself.  Sometimes, that push is a little too much.  But, I'm growing with each success and with each failure.  It isn't in my nature to do anything the easy way.  The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there!!!


Thanks!

As with all my races, it wasn't just me.  Again, my wife, Angela, provided me with the time to train and a raceday captain that I'm always glad to see.

For the second time, Kymie has come along to pace me.  And, for the second time, I haven't made it to her.  I PROMISE that I will reach Kymie in an ultra someday and she can babysit my pathetic self for several tens of miles.  But, she also puts in the miles with me during training and makes running fun.  She brought along her husband, Tyler, and I'm hopeful he enjoyed it.  Ultras are truly something to behold.  Kymie will soon tackle an ultra and Angela and I will be by her side to watch her finish!!

Again, the mention of Colorado just attracts my friends.  A big thank you to Andy, his wife, and his son for coming out and camping in the absolute middle of nowhere.  For climbing mountains to meet me.  For hiking back on trails to push me.  I wish I could just shut my brain off and do what Andy says because he's never wrong on race day.  I really, really hated to disappoint him again.

You just can't find friends like this anywhere.  The ultra running community provides people who will literally go to the ends of the Earth to help you.  I stopped some of my 'race' to help Brooks.  Andy, Kymie and Angela hiked mountains, drove several states away, camped in bear country, weathered storms......all of it....to watch some idiot wear himself out over the course of 45 miles and 17 hours.  You guys are the BEST!!

Life is an adventure.  Mine has it's ups and downs.  But, I firmly live by the saying: "If you are breathing, you're alive.  If you are breathing heavily, you are living."  What an adventure I am on!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Hitchcock Experience -- 2017

The Hitchcock Experience

Decisions


In 2017, I decided to tackle another 100-miler.  And, as usual, I chose one I thought more difficult than the last.  And, as usual, I failed to complete the race.  It started a self-inflicted "pity party" where I was beginning to think that 100-mile races weren't my "thing".

Then, in September, I woke up one morning to my wife telling me she had signed up for the Hitchcock Experience half-marathon the night before as I was sleeping (race registration opened up at midnight).  My friend & pacer, Jody, had tried to sign up at 5AM and he was wait-listed.  It's a popular trail half marathon in the Loess hills East of Omaha.  So, hearing that Angela had signed up gave me a little bit of jealousy.  I wanted to run, too!  But, the half marathon was already full. :-(

Some people might remember, but last December, I attempted the 100-mile race at Hitchcock.  The course took a mean toll on me both physically and mentally.  I opted to quit at mile 75 with a fairly swollen knee tendon(s).  I didn't even make a blog post about it because it was kinda depressing.....my second attempt....my second failure.

Well, in late October, I decided I would run the Hitchcock Experience half marathon.....eight times.  So, I signed up for the 100-mile race again.  (Hey, I've said in past blogs that I'm not a very smart man!)

Hitchcock


Hitchcock is a mean course.  You might think Iowa is just another flat state, but Hitchcock can prove otherwise in a matter of minutes.  The course is a 12.5-mile loop with 2,464' of elevation gain and descent.  The 100-mile course is 'just' 8 loops....with a total of 20,000' of elevation gain.  Each mile contains anywhere from 70-400' of elevation gain.  The hills are just.....RELENTLESS.  And, they aren't the kind of hills you just jog up....they reduce you to walking immediately.  They are so steep you can reach out and touch the ground in front of you as you walk/climb up them.

Hitchcock Nature Center -- What a gem of trail running!

For some reference, my Garmin has a goal of 25 flights of stairs per day for me.  When I run in Excelsior Springs, it takes about 2-5 miles to get that goal.  Within the first three-quarters of mile #1 at Hitchcock, my watched buzzed alerting me to my accomplished goal!

To add to the 'flavor' of the course, the trails take you up onto ridge lines with beautiful views of Omaha's skyline.....and gusty, bone-chilling, Northwesterly December winds.

(Running) The Hills


I, generally, enjoy running hills.  Yeah, they are work to climb, but the reward is the descent.  I absolutely love to bomb down hills.  And that is exactly what I did in last year's attempt at Hitchcock.  And, about 60-70 miles into the race, the constant pounding of my 175lb frame on my knees took it's toll and I quit with a fairly swollen patellar tendon in my right knee.  This year, I knew I had to go easier.  As insurance, I brought along cheap knee braces for both knees.  I told myself at the slightest inkling of pain in my knees those braces would go on and not come off.

If I was going to go easier on the downhills, I knew I had to make up that time somewhere else.  Anyone who runs with me knows I can climb the hills with the best of them.  So, that's exactly where I placed that extra energy.  I didn't run the very steepest hills, but I pushed up them.  Like I tell Jody all the time......"walk with purpose".  I walked, without stopping, every hill until probably about mile 80.  In fact, I took extra brownies from each aid station and put them in my hydration vest.  I told myself, "Walk with purpose to the top of this hill and you can have a brownie".  It was like baiting a child to do something, and it worked beautifully.  I don't have enough fingers and toes to count all the people I passed going up the hills each lap.

Slow It Down?


Everyone tells me I have to slow down.  When we look back on my past failures, people first point to "you did your first lap too fast" or "you ran the first half too hard".

So, how did my first lap at Hitchcock go?  I just fell in line with the other 100 mile runners and ran a comfortable pace......which turned out to be 2:15.  That would have been good enough for 8th overall in the half marathon.  That was 18-hr pace!  I grabbed some soup, refilled my water bottle, took a picture of my Garmin and posted on Facebook for Angie & Jody to see.  Then, figuring I had beaten both my wife and pacer(Jody) back and there was no reason to wait, I headed out onto lap #2.

Lap #1 - Too fast or just right?
I continued my comfortable pace, my hill attack strategy, and my downhill conservation efforts.....and I pulled into lap #2 around 2:30.  I started to tell myself that if I could just keep the laps under 3hrs, I'd be banking time for later laps when I'm hurting and still maybe even touch that sub-24hr finish.  As I rolled into the aid station, I was almost immediately chided by Angie for 'going too fast' that first lap.  I didn't need much, so I just grabbed more soup/ramen and refilled my water bottle and left.

Lap #3 brought more of the same.  My plan was working.  My body, amazingly, was working like clockwork.  This was a bit of a surprise because I went into this 100-miler more banged up than ever before.  Two months earlier, on a training run, I had rolled an ankle pretty badly.  Less than two weeks later, I rolled and popped that ankle again.  For the next six weeks, I would drop my weekly mileage in hopes of finding an equilibrium between resting a bad ankle and getting my miles in.

Weekly mileage just tanking due to injury...
The weekly mileage kept dropping because the ankle just wasn't healing.  Then, during the week of Thanksgiving, I told myself I needed some good miles.  I put on 70+ miles that week and the world seemed right again.

The ankle injury wasn't my only injury.  I was dealing with plantar fasciitis in both feet, but particularly the left foot (the one with the ankle sprain).  And, I had developed tennis elbow in my right arm, which I use exclusively for carrying my handheld water bottle.  My body was falling apart on me.

Nevertheless, loop #3 only took me 2:35 and I was still feeling good.  I rolled into the aid station, changed some socks, refilled my water bottle, gulped down soup/ramen and coke, and headed out again.

37.5 miles and still cruisin'

Lap #4 brought me to the halfway point and I had finished the first 50 miles of Hitchcock with no falls, no sprains, no muscle spasms, feeling pretty good, and in 10:45.  Still sub-24 pace and still moving along very efficiently.  I was, however, telling my crew that my legs just felt dead.  Not exhausted, per se, but dead.  When I'd ask them to pick the pace up or climb harder, there just wasn't any "giddyup" in them.  But, we were still moving forward, and doing it at a pretty good clip, so I wasn't about to change what I was doing.
50 miles complete! Ramen & Coke please!!
I want to break here and say this is where I decided that everyone is wrong when they tell me to slow it down.  My body isn't built for slow.  It hates slow.  I think I even told Jody at the aid station, "Instead of slowing down....let's just feed the hungry dog, ya?"  Meaning, I was tired of everyone telling me to slow it down because that kind of effort or strategy doesn't work for them or for most people.  Well, I'm not most people.  I like to go fast.  Like Scott & Stacey would say to me, "Shake and Bake!"  So, you know what?  SCREW THAT SLOWING DOWN CRAP.  I'm gonna run what my body tells me is comfortable and effortless.  And, if that pace looks like suicide pace to the rest of the world........so be it.  Let's just keep my body fed and hydrated!

Did that just happen??!!

The next 50 miles...


I've been very adept at getting thru 50 miles and 100k and this year's Hitchcock was no different.  I knew the next 50 miles would get worse.  But, as my friend, LeeJae tells me, "Get your shit together, Carol!".  I just had to keep my shit together.

Jody was ready to go out on lap #5 with me but I told him 'no'.  I wanted him to take me to 75 miles, which was basically my personal best (82.2), and get me started on the next lap.  If I could get out onto lap #7 I would finish this race.

So, I headed out onto lap #5 alone but feeling very accomplished.  There was nothing particularly eventful on that lap.  I finished in just under 3hours.  Still knocking on the door of a really, really good race and respectable time.
Eyes starting to get a bit glossy.  Ramen and coke again!

Jody was ready to go, and after 62.5 miles alone, I was ready for company.  Jody always tells me I'm a 'social person' and I most certainly am.  We started off on the lap and we talked about how the half marathon went for him and Angie.  I was pointing out every root, rock, turn and climb.  Jody asked if I had a 'photographic memory'.  I do, but my recollection of the Hitchcock course, at this point in my life, is coming from experience (this was about to be my 12th lap all-time here).

Around mile 65, I told Jody that my right foot hurt and we needed to stop and look.  If I've learned one thing, it's that when you feel something rubbing, you stop and correct it before it explodes on you.  We stopped in the middle of the night, in the middle of a field full of cow patties, and I sat down to remove clothes.  I peeled away my three layers of socks to reveal a pretty big blister on my right pinky toe and another blister underneath the first.  There was nothing I could do, but the aid station was about 1.5 miles away.  So, I geared back up and we continued.

At the aid station, I took a seat in their heated tent and asked if they could pop my blister.  The aid station worker accepted and went to work.  He popped and drained my blisters and put a band aid on it.  After several minutes, I managed to get my socks back on.  I had my usual ramen & coke and we headed out.  The pain was pretty intense.  Jody and I both agreed that it would eventually dull itself.  I knew my left foot was in the same predicament, but I didn't want to look at it.  I had seen both my toes after lap #2 and they were bleeding.....I didn't want to see or think about it until I was done.

Fixing a flat!

Jody and I traversed the hills for another nine miles.  We relentlessly attacked the hills and managed a 3:30 lap.  My pace was still fantastic.  Jody had ran 25 miles of Hitchcock's hills and I could tell he was done.  If I would have asked him to do another lap, he would have because he's that type of guy.  But, I knew the rest of the race was gonna be on me.

Unfortunately, at this point, the hills and the injuries were starting to drain my energy at an exceedingly quicker rate.  I sat in the main aid station at mile 75 for atleast 15 minutes just shaking my head and wondering how I was gonna do another marathon.  Eventually, I sprawled out on the floor and told my crew that if I fall asleep, wake me up in 30minutes.  And, that is exactly what happened.  Suddenly, I lifted my head and they told me my time was up.

Just a quick nap!


ANOTHER marathon?


I grudgingly changed some clothes, layered up, and headed out onto lap #7.  I knew I would be freezing from spending so long in the nature center only to exit into 25-degree weather.  But, one of the positives of Hitchcock is that within a mile, you are climbing a massive hill and your heart rate will jump and your body will warm up.

My mission on lap #7 was to eclipse my personal-best of 82.2 miles.  I continued to chug along, but my pace had slowed due to the blistered feet.  I never stopped climbing the hills.  I never lingered at aid stations.  I just kept plugging away.  The pain from the blisters, sore Achilles and now sore knees were all piling up on me, but my legs were still just moving fine.

I managed lap #7 in 4 hours.  It was now 23 hours into the race.  There would be no sub-24 hour finish today.  But, that was never really a goal.  The goal was always....JUST FINISH.  I was pretty down and out after 87.5 miles.  I sat in the main aid station too long.  I kept telling Angie that maybe my body just wasn't built to go 100 miles.  That the pain was greater than last year.  She wasn't having any of it.

And, after a while, she put on her clothes and offered to start the final lap with me.  This would put her mileage past anything she'd ever done.  But, she didn't care....and out the door we went.

I'm dead....she's like "this jackass is finishing this one"

As we left the nature center, it was becoming more apparent that my miles of running were behind me and we would be walking a LOT of the course.  And, we did just that.  There was a few moments of running, but it would only last 30 seconds and then back to walking/hiking.  After five miles, the trail comes very near to the start/finish line.  After five miles, Angie had had enough of my whiny attitude.  She was asking if I wanted my hiking poles and suggested she could quickly grab them and bring them back to me.  Eventually, I just told her to forget it and go back to the start/finish....I would do the last 7.5 miles on my own.

I don't know what it was, but almost immediately after leaving Angie, I did some running.  I think the course is pretty easy at that point and I took advantage.  It would only take a few minutes to reach a point where I was back to forced walking.

I plodded my way thru the course until mile 97.  There's a big hill at approximately mile 10 each lap.  The other side of that hill is the last aid station and then 2.5 miles of rolling hills to the finish.  I ran that hill.  I could smell the blood in the water.  It was starting to hit me that I was really gonna pull this off.

FINISH.


Immediately after leaving the final aid station, I ran into Jennifer B.  She was a fellow Kansas Citian.  She was an accomplished ultra runner.  She was finishing up her seventh lap.  I slowed down my hike a bit and chatted with her.  I don't know if she welcomed it or not, but I continued to walk in front of her only a few yards and just talk.  We chatted about our races, our kids and the course.  It passed the time.  And, at that point in my race, time was of no concern.  Finally, we came to the final hill that would lead to the finish.  I wished her the best and said I had to finish this my way.  I picked up my pace.  I tackled the hill relentlessly.  I could hear the people cheering at the finish and from the tower.  One of the screams I heard was Jody!  I could hear another person saying "Run!".....which is kinda funny because the finish of each lap (and the race) is probably a 400' climb over a half mile.  And the last 80 feet of the trail climb about 20' up.  So, I mustered up what energy was left within me and I finished a 100-mile race the way I've always wanted to.......running.


I did it.  I tackled the hardest course I've ever been on.  I took revenge on a course that took it from me a year earlier.  I battled back from a pretty low spot and thru some nasty injuries.  I had finally done it.  I finished in 28:22:53.  It wasn't a great time, but it wasn't a DNF.  I was 12th overall.  The drop rate was pretty high, and of the 50+ that started the 100-miler, only 22 finished.  I was finally on the right side of the drop rate.

Exhausted.

I immediately hugged Jody.  Besides Angie and myself, I'm not sure this finish meant so much to anyone as it did to Jody.  I'm so glad he was there to see it through with me!

The race swag.
To quite a lot of people, this is just a 'crazy guy doing a crazy race'.  But, to those who know me best....to those who run with me.......this was 2 years of blood, sweat, tears and failures.  I didn't let it stop me and I'm so glad I have the support of my family and friends that keep me going for more.


It will take weeks for this euphoria to wear off.  I still keep the buckle with me as I tackle my daily life.  The meaning behind it is so much more than just a reward for completing a race.

Earned, not given.


Thanks!


There is no one who deserves more credit than my wife, Angela.  From the moment I crossed the finish line, I kept saying "we did it".  And, I meant that.  Yeah, I did the running part, but Angela did everything else.  She watched kids while I did weekend back-to-back long runs.  She bought my running gear and kept me well geared.  She encouraged my running.  And, she took me out on the course to start that final lap.  I can't do these races without her support.  I love you, Angela!

I already made a Facebook post about Jody, so here it is verbatim:
Jody is my hero!

During our run last night he was calling me ‘Superman’, but the whole time I couldn’t help think about how selfless he has been for me.

Jody has traveled from Colorado to Michigan to Omaha to watch me chase a crazy dream of running 100 miles. He does it without question and without thought.

True friends are hard to find. But, friends who will strap on a headlamp and traverse a sadistic course of punishing hills in sub-freezing temperatures after already running a half marathon on those same hills without so much as a peep of complaint are immensely harder to find.

His advice and companionship during some of the lowest moments in my life cannot be understated.
I was so glad to see him at the finish line today...he was the first person I had to hug! I honestly could not have accomplished today’s feat without you, Jody!!
I can't wait to answer the call when Jody decides to tackle a big race.  I will be there!

A 'Thank You' to Jennifer B. is deserved, too.  I know she probably didn't think much of it, but our talk for 2.5 miles was fun.  It kept my mind off the pains.  It was fun to listen to her stories.  She was really the only runner who I spent any time talking to.  I was happy to see the post later in the day confirming that she had finished.

My running friends, who are too numerous to list individually, deserve my thanks as well.  They get up at 3AM to run with me.  They run in the cold, heat, rain, snow, etc.  We run in the dark.  We pound the pavement.  We tear up trails.  We give each other hell about our failures AND our successes.  Running has brought us all together.  Running doesn't define me, but every mile, especially with these wonderful people, adds to the person I want to be.


In the end, it wasn't the physical aspect that I had yet to conquer, it was the mental one.  And, this time around, I held it together for most of the race.  I still have work to do, but I now know what it takes.

I'm ready for the next challenge.