Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Grand Canyon -- R2R

"The Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world......You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it." --Theodore Roosevelt

I think it was mentioned in the summer of 2014 by my running friend, Don, that he would someday like to traverse the Grand Canyon by foot (running, if possible).  It's a route that should be on every runner's 'bucket list'.  Well, it doesn't take much to get me riled up about adventures, and several weeks later, we had our hotel reserved on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for a mid-October 2015 adventure.

First off, running from South Rim to North Rim, a distance of approximately 21-miles, just wasn't enough.  Don and I both wanted to cross and return in the same day.  But, again, that would've only been 42-miles and that wasn't enough.  So, with some planning and side trips, we decided to stretch the round trip to 50-miles.  In a single day.  Up and down the GRAND CANYON.  This famous double-crossing is called the Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim, or R3 for short.

This trip was planned for October 12th.....Columbus Day.  While I no longer agree with the principles of Columbus and the celebration for his 'achievements', I will leave politics for another day.  To me, the point of Columbus Day is to celebrate those who explore the world by challenging their comfort zones.  From the moment you step foot up to the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, your comfort level is challenged.  You can't take pictures that do the canyon any justice.  "Grand" just doesn't seem like a big enough word for it, because as you stand there, you are speechless.

Our comfort zones would be challenged on this trip to varying degrees.  I am no fan of heights, and there are several places in the canyon where the trail is on the edge of a cliff.  The sheer distance alone is daunting without thinking about descending 5,000' and ascending 5,000'.  Food and water were not provided like aid stations on race day...this was a solo effort.  There are poisonous snakes along the trail.  People do die each year, just trying to hike, let alone run, the canyon.

"DO NOT attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day.  Each year hikers suffer serious illness or death from exhaustion."

None of that really mattered, though....we are runners.  I don't know many types of athletes more resilient (or stupid?) than runners.  The old 'Pain is temporary, pride is forever' motto.

So, the morning of the 12th, at 5AM, we took off from Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim for a long day of adventure.  We walked the first 5-miles along the top of the rim as a group because only 3 of us were going to try to run it.  Our 5 mile walk brought us to the South Kaibab Trailhead at 6:15AM...just in time for sunrise.

L->R, Myself, Carlos, Don, Linda, and Jody

We took our obligatory pictures and parted ways.  Immediately, the trails begin what seems like miles of switchbacks plunging around corners and into depths you can't see from the top rim.

This, to me, is a runner's paradise.  Plunging down a mountainside, bouncing off rocks, churning your feet faster and faster while surveying the ground ahead of you for the next toe placement.....this is living.  If it wasn't for the massive piles of green manure from the mules (along with their smell) it would've been perfect.  We weren't the first ones to delve into the canyon that morning, so our initial ascent also included avoiding hikers.  As a side note, I will say that we as a group said "Excuse us", "Mind if we go around?", and "Have a great day, thank you!" to every, single passing group all day long.  The stories of runners being rude on the trails never left my mind and I made sure it wasn't us that put that mark on the running community.  And, it paid off........the politeness we received in return was wonderful.

Bright Angel Trail switchbacks, for reference.

Our day really didn't begin until we started that plunge into the canyon.  I didn't want our group to get separated at any point during the day, but this descent I was like a chained dog just let off its leash.  I had to open it up and run, but that left several stops waiting for my running partners.  Well, about 2-miles into the descent, I stopped and waited for Carlos & Don.  Suddenly, they both came around the corner where I could immediately see the red on Don's right knee.  As they catch up, Don explains to me that he took a 'tumble', hit his knee & head but he was OK.  As we start back to running, Don illuminates Carlos and I with a bit of knowledge and he says:
"For three reasons, I'm not supposed to be a trail runner.  One...I get lost easily.  Two...I don't drink beer.  And, three....I'm clumsy."
We all get a good laugh and carry on.  The trail continues to plummet (you have to drop nearly 4,500' to get to the Colorado River over the course of about 7-miles).  I continue to fly down the trail and pounce from rock to rock with what has to be the widest grin on my face.  About a mile later, I realize we are a bit separated again, and I stop to wait.  And I wait.  And I wait.  And I wait.  Again, Don and Carlos emerge and explain to me that Don had fallen again.  I feel it's worth noting that Don's right knee was not 100% as we arrived at the Canyon, so 7-8 miles into the day he'd already beaten it up quite a bit.  I hope Don doesn't mind me using this picture......but there's still a SMILE on his face!!

Don's "battle scars" (Tonto East)

Amazingly, after two crashes and some blood, Don was still smiling and running.  It should be noted that the pair of our group doing the hiking (Jody & Linda) would occasionally ask if anyone had seen a group of runners and we got some great reviews like "Yeah, you should see them flying down the trail!".  It was really good to hear things like this when we finished.....we came here to run the Grand Canyon--in full or in part--and we had at the very least accomplished that feat.

It wasn't much later that we met our first (and only) mule train of the day and we had to take a break to let them pass.  Within minutes, we reached the 'Black Bridge' crossing the Colorado River.

Black Bridge

We had reached the Colorado River, a distance of approximately 13-miles from our starting point, in about 3.5hrs (We walked the first 5-miles/1hr 15min).

From here, we refilled and refreshed at the bathrooms and water from the Phantom Ranch.  We also purchased souvenirs and t-shirts that you only get at the Phantom Ranch.  We met a ton of other hikers whom had spent the night at Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.  Everyone was so pleasant and just excited to be in the Grand Canyon.

Bright Angel Canyon....our 14-mile climb back out.

"Going in is optional, coming out is MANDATORY."

From Phantom Ranch, you climb 14-miles up Bright Angel Canyon following Bright Angel Creek to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The first 7-miles is a relatively small incline and quite runnable up to Cottonwood Campground.  Unfortunately, our running for the day was all but over with.  Don's knee was causing enough pain to keep him from running and he broke out the hiking poles as we left Phantom Ranch.

I think this was the spot for me where it sank in just how big our endeavor was.  You are 5,000' below the rim of an enormous canyon.  The only exit is a 14-mile, UPHILL hike.  The years of nature that it took to create this giant hole in the ground humbles you and your measly hundred years of existence.  This canyon was here an eon before you and it'll be here an eon after you.

We made our way to Cottonwood Campground at a fairly good hiking pace.  The views are stunning and you just can't take pictures.....but I still tried.  You cell phone doesn't work.  The GPS kept losing satellite signal.  They aren't kidding when they tell you the only way out is by your own man-power.

From Cottonwood, it's supposed to be about 7 more miles to the North Rim.  That was quite possibly the longest seven miles of my life.  Almost immediately after leaving Cottonwood, the stairs start.  Oh, the stairs.  Stairs.  Stairs.  Stairs.  Someone really needs to highlight the STAIRS for future trekkers/runners.  We knew there'd be an incline getting out of the canyon, we just didn't expect it to be SO MANY stairs.

When the stairs started, the cramps in my legs came alongside them.  I don't know what it is, but cramps are the bane of my running.  I wasn't out of energy--not even close.  I wasn't injured.  However, every step up triggered a quick pause to make sure the 'rolling-on-the-ground-screaming-obscenities' cramps didn't trigger.  I'm sure it has something to do with nutrition/water, but I just haven't figured it out yet.  To my credit though, they are getting more tolerable (if tolerating cramping in your legs for 4-6hrs is 'tolerable').

It was here that Carlos took over the lead for us and kept us moving.  Carlos' "relentless forward progress" (a quip I had given Jody & Linda the night before) kept us climbing to freedom.  We had told Carlos' wife we planned to arrive at the North Rim around 12-1pm, but we missed our target time by about 4.5hrs.  This was no small task for Carlos' wife, as the drive from South to North rim is FOUR hours one-way.

Eventually, around 4:30pm, we reached the North Rim.  The last 14-miles weren't pretty, but it was relentless.  We stopped, but never for too long.  We kept putting one foot in front of the other knowing that was the only path to our destination.

At the North Rim, I did some light jogging and was preparing myself for a return trip.  Don wasn't going back and I'm not sure Carlos was going to either.  After about 45-minutes of stretching, jogging, etc. my cramps were almost completely gone and I was ready to descend back into the canyon.  But, the sun was setting and Don and Carlos didn't want me to head back in solo.  I knew it would be a long trek back, in complete darkness (it was a new moon that night), but I was prepared (headlamp, extra batteries, etc).  The thought of a soft bed, a warm meal, and something other than sports drink was enough of a temptation to persuade me to call it a day after 11hrs, 31-miles, and 62,262 steps.

North Rim Finish

My companions for this trip made it memorable.  Don's injury(ies) came early but didn't stop him in a display of tremendous determination.  Carlos' energy seemed to grow throughout the day and I look forward to dragging him along for another ultra someday.  Jody & Linda shared in our pain of crossing and joy of accomplishment.  We had good meals, good drinks, and good conversation.  Carlos' wife is to be commended.  She drove four hours one-way, with two kids in tow, to sit and wait for a group of idiots trying to run across the world's biggest ditch, just so she could deliver us some sandwiches and watch us run off again.  And, while we didn't run off again, we couldn't have finished our day without her.

So, our R3 adventure was cut into an R2.  But, that's still nothing to be ashamed of.  Don changed from a road runner to a trail runner over the course of the year.  Both Don & Carlos ran ultramarathons as part of the training.  We all tackled the trails more vigorously than normal.  The work put into preparing was more of a story than the day of our adventure.

Nearly five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year and only 5% actually go below the rim.  Of that 5%, there's not many that complete the crossing in a single day.  This adventure will be assigned a tag of 'unfinished business' in my log book, though.  I will return....and when I do, it will be an R3 day.

--Camelbak Mini-MULE 1.5L Hydration pack(this is actually a kids hydration pack, but I can stuff so much into it!)
-- Mizuno Wave Kazan Trail Shoes
--Shaklee Performance Hydration drink/mix provided by Carol Adams
--Petzl TIKKA headlamp
--Outdoor Research Sun Runner cap
--Sony HDRAS20/B action camera
--Garmin Forerunner 310XT
--Copious amounts of Bodyglide.
--Ridiculous number of PB&Js
--Oat bars

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tahoe Rim Trail 50-mile Endurance Run....My Turn.

“A Glimpse of Heaven….a Taste of Hell”......Take 2

Last year I had the pleasure of pacing an ultra-runner for the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs 100-mile race.  I paced him for most of the final 50 miles.  Since the moment we finished that day, I wanted to run the 50-miler for myself.....because 100 miles is just CRAZY.
Take the road less traveled....every time.
Some race registrations just aren't as simple as your normal 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, etc.  Quite a few ultras, anymore, have lotteries to determine who gets to run.  And, quite often, you have to run a qualifying race to even put your name in the hat for the lottery.  In October, I attempted my first 50-miler with the intention of finishing under 13hrs so I could put my name in the 100-mile lottery.  Unfortunately, I DNF'd (Did Not Finish) at mile-44, ending my chances for the TRT100 lottery this year.  Fortunately, the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance runs didn't require me to provide a qualifying race for the 50-miler, but only 55% of all entrants got selected.  So, late December 2014, we signed me up for the lottery.  And, on the early morning of January 1st, our credit card was charged and we knew my name had been drawn.

For my birthday, in late January, Angela gave me a book by ultra-runner Hal Koerner (Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ulrarunning).  Even if you aren't willing to go the distance of ultras, I highly suggest his book for all runners.  Advice for everything from diet to race day tactics.  At the very back of his book was a training plan for 50M/100K distances.  The basic gist of the training plan was shorter mileage during the week (6-10miles per day) with back-to-back long runs on the weekends and rest days on Monday.
Find a plan and stick to it!
So, the last week of March, I started the training plan (my first-ever training plan) by skipping the first four days due to a vasectomy the week prior (Ha!).  For the next 15 weeks, I did my very best to stick the plan.  I ran in rain, lightning, heat, mud, etc.  I would put in over 900miles (56+ miles/week), 3 pairs of shoes and countless hours.  Unfortunately, most of my miles were on pavement, but I made the effort to put the back-to-back long runs on the weekends on trails at local state parks.  The time commitment on the weekends was strenuous on my family, but it was something we discussed and agreed upon prior to the start of the plan.

Race Week
This year, we decided to make the race a family affair.  We drove out to Lake Tahoe a week early and spent the week forcing our children to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail each morning.
Hiking up and down the Tahoe Basin

The payoff.....wading in Lake Tahoe!
If you have never experienced the Tahoe Rim Trail or the Tahoe Basin, I highly suggest you plan a week there.  The children might have complained each day, but at the end of the week, they had hiked over 20miles on the mountaintops surrounding beautiful Lake Tahoe.  Throughout our hikes, I told them to keep their eyes peeled for a glimpse of a bear.  We never saw one during our hikes, but as we returned one evening, we were greeted by a baby black bear on our back porch!

Right in the back yard!
Friday night, I packed my hydration pack.  Bars, S-caps, first-aid kit, etc.  I laid out my race outfits (yes, plural....ultras are long races, and a change of clothes is a refreshing moment in the middle of the race).  I checked, and I double-checked.  Everything was there.....I thought.

Race Day
Finally, Saturday, July 18th, arrived.  You never get a good night's sleep before a race (but two days prior you should!).  I was up at 3AM.  I laid in bed running thru the course in my head, like I had done on all the countless runs the prior 16 weeks.  I knew the course.  I knew what laid ahead.  It was finally time to reap the rewards.
Ready to roll!
We made our way to the starting line.  Like the prior year, nothing special occurred.  The race director welcomed us, played a recorded national anthem, and sent us on our way.

The first 5 miles was a steady, but not steep, climb to Marlette Lake.  Since there were so many runners, it was just a single file hike for about 4 miles.  A quick downhill and then a 2-3mile uphill towards the Hobart aid station finally separated the pack and I was able to run for the first time.

Climbing the hillside to Hobart aid station.
Hobart aid station is a wonderful site to see because after the aid station, is a quick climb up Marlette Peak where the views of the race finally start in earnest.

Marlette Lake (foreground), Lake Tahoe (background)
From Marlette Peak, it's mostly a 4-mile downhill on sandy single-track switchbacks to Tunnel Creek aid station.  If you are like me, you don't want to waste a good downhill.  I took those downhills fast....but still under control because those switchbacks come fast and furious.  According to the Garmin, the pace dropped as low as 6:20min/mile for the last couple miles into the Tunnel Creek aid station for the first time.

Tunnel Creek was my first full re-fuel.  They re-filled my hand-held and hydration pack.  I grabbed a banana and headed down to the course's lowest point (6,800') at Red House.  You literally plummet down the mountainside as you drop nearly 1,200' over 2 miles.  But, you are quickly reminded that every downhill comes with an uphill as you must climb 600' up to the Red House aid station.

The long climb back from Red House.
Then, in rude fashion, the course makes an abrupt U-turn and sends you right back up that 1,000' you just dropped in a return to Tunnel Creek aid station for a second visit.  The climb back up from Red house, at approximately mile 17, is where I made my first mistake.  A rock, jumping out of nowhere, caught my foot and sent me directly into a face-plant.  I immediately popped back up and continued the climb with no damage done.  Not 60' later, I slightly tripped on another hidden rock but maintained my balance.  A few choice words followed reminding myself to pay more attention for the rest of the race.

The climb back from Red house....sandy uphill.
My second trip into Tunnel Creek aid station was quick.  A piece of banana, a re-fill on my hand-held, and a quick washing to get the dirt/sand off me from my fall and I was out of there.  The Garmin said 18 miles in 3:14.  Slightly slower than my goal pace (10hrs) but respectable.

From Tunnel Creek to Bull Wheel there is only 3 miles to cover.  Those 3 miles are all uphill thru some rocky, granite, single-track on the ridge line between the Tahoe Basin and Washoe Valley.  Some spectacular glimpses of Lake Tahoe are provided between the boulders.

Bull Wheel aid station is a 'water only' stop.  But, it's an important stop because you won't see another aid station for 9 miles, the longest stretch on the course.  Of course, both the hand-held and hydration pack were topped off in preparation for the trek.

After leaving Bull Wheel, you are tossed onto the backside of Diamond Peak and onto the Incline Trail (leaving the Tahoe Rim Trail).  Once on the Incline Trail it is a nearly 2,000' drop to the Diamond Peak aid station over the course of approximately 5 miles.  It is here where I took solace in knowing that my wife and pacer would be at the bottom of the hill to greet me.  I took a moment to make a short video at mile 25 to later remind myself of my feelings at the halfway point.

My second mistake came somewhere around mile 26.  The course is VERY well marked with markers approximately every 100 meters.  I apparently got caught up in the moment of running and missed a turn.  Two other competitors followed me down the wrong path, too.  A half-mile later, we all noticed our mistake and backtracked to the turn we missed.....adding nearly a mile to our journey thus far.  What's another mile when you are going to do 50 on the day anyhow?

Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak aid station resides at mile 30.  I arrived at Diamond Peak in 6 hours and 15minutes....one of my fastest 50Ks.  A person could say this was too fast, or that my problems later on stemmed from getting to Diamond Peak too fast.  But, I was feeling great with no significant pains or injuries and I don't regret getting there as fast as I did.  I ran into the aid station to the cheers of the crowd and the smiling faces of my wife and Mark (my pacer).   It was a lively party filled with hundreds of people.  This is the only place on the course where the 50-mile runners can pick up their pacer.

Picking up Mark at Diamond Peak.

Diamond Peak has been on my mind since I was able to climb it a year ago with John.  They call it 'one of the rudest awakenings trail running has to offer'.  It's a 2-mile climb up nearly 2,000'.  I knew this was coming and it didn't scare me.  I was prepared to walk it all.  I figured if I got thru it in decent time, the rest of the race would be easy enough.
Mark pondering the climb before us.
Last year, I power-walked the mountain at Diamond Peak in under 50 minutes.  This year, I'm not sure what changed.  Perhaps I ran too hard to get to mile 30.  Perhaps I didn't eat enough.  Perhaps I had weary legs from hiking all week.
Up, up, up.....
Whatever it was, I trudged up the mountain alongside Mark in just under 80 minutes.  It wasn't pleasant.  It wasn't pretty.  It drained the life from me.  Mark talked me thru it and we were rewarded with a quick selfie at the peak.

Rewarded for the climb!

You'd think after climbing 2,000' in such a short time, you'd be thru the worst.  After Diamond Peak and a quick pit stop at Bull Wheel again, you are rewarded with a 3-mile downhill back to Tunnel Creek for the third and final time.

For one of the first times on the day, I encountered the beginning of cramps in my right groin and left quadricep.  Thankfully, this wasn't the usual cramps I encounter where I'm writhing in pain on the ground yelling obscenities.  Keeping the cramps at bay was the newest concern and the highest priority with 15 miles still left.  But, to add to the list of concerns, my stomach was not enjoying the EFS drink provided by the aid stations.  I don't usually drink EFS and I know it's not good to try something new on race day, but I had to have my electrolytes and the only thing I forgot this entire trip was my Shaklee electrolyte mix.

Mark knew what to do right away.  He knew I wasn't eating right.  He tried hard to pump me full of sodium, potassium and calories at the Tunnel Creek aid station.  I had to choke down potatoes covered in salt, chicken broth, and bananas.  The only food I seemed to enjoy was watermelon.  Unfortunately, watermelon doesn't provide much nutrition other than water and sugar.

We left Tunnel Creek and I might be able to call the one of the lowest points of the race.  I knew we had to re-trace my steps back to Hobart aid station which meant climbing back up those wonderful switchbacks I had such a fun time flying down early in the race.  Going up was a long hike.  The miles ticked away much more slowly than anticipated.

Marlette Lake again.

Finally, we crested Marlette Peak again.  Something gave me a burst of energy.  Perhaps it was knowing that Hobart aid station was so close.  Perhaps it was the sparkling shores of Marlette Lake far below me.  Marlette Lake can never fully be captured in photos and getting to it requires quite the hike commitment.  Certainly, the effort getting to Marlette is what makes it so mysterious.  No matter, I used that energy to descend the final mile or two into Hobart breaking into a run again.

This new found energy really excited me.  I knew Hobart was mile 40 and only 10 miles were left.  Ten miles seemed so insignificant and something I commonly do without thinking.  We left Hobart with that excitement knowing it was only 3 miles to Snow Valley Peak aid station.

Snow Valley Peak brought me to my knees.  I think I can say it was the lowest point of my day.  Snow Valley Peak, not Diamond Peak, is the highest point on the course at over 9,000'.  The 3-mile climb from Hobart to Snow Valley covered approximately 1,000' of elevation gain.  It seemed insignificant, but as we climbed it was apparent that the elevation was finally going to take it's toll on me.  My breaths were short.  I could never seemingly catch my breath.  It felt like someone was standing on my chest the entire hike up.  The tree-covered mountains gave way to fields of flowers and boulders.
Climbing Snow Valley Peak.
We climbed.  Higher and higher.  Marlette Lake faded into the distance as more of Tahoe came into view.

Finally......I mean.......FINALLY.......we could see Snow Valley Peak aid station.  Snow Valley Peak aid station is manned by the Boy Scouts from Carson City.  They use binoculars to see your race bib from a distance and they greet you by name (as they look it up).  I half-jogged to the aid station and plopped myself down into one of the chairs.

It is here, where I couldn't breathe any longer, at mile 43 that I very nearly broke down.  I wouldn't eat what Mark was offering me.  I'm pretty sure I was on the verge of crying.  Left quad hurt, right calf hurt, right groin hurt, lungs hurt, etc.  There was only 7 miles left, and it was all downhill.  I know that sounds wonderful, but try running downhill for 7 miles in a row sometime.

We left Snow Valley Peak slowly.  The final 7 miles, Mark prodded me to run.  I think we ran about one-tenth of a mile at a time followed by a quarter-mile walk for the duration of the descent.  Every time I stopped running I would grunt and chastise myself.  I knew I should be running this downhill, but I just couldn't.  I was broken.

With just 2 miles left, we made it to the bottom of the mountain and onto the sparkling shores of Spooner Lake.
Spooner Lake
Even with the finish line in sight and within earshot, it wasn't enough to get me running 100% of the time.  We kept up the run/walk tactic.  With less than a mile to go, we finally broke into a jog/run to the finish.

In the end, I came to Tahoe and did what I set out to do.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Yeah, I didn't make my time goal, but I did make it to the finish, and that's what really counted that day.  I will be back to run this race again (or perhaps two loops for the 100-miler).  I left something out on that course and I want another crack at it.

None of this would have been possible without two extremely important people.  First, and foremost, my wife, Angela.  You wouldn't believe the number of times she had to get up 4 kids by herself just so I could go out for an early morning run.  She put up with afternoon runs, early morning runs, long runs, two-a-days, etc.  Through it all, she never complained one bit.  Her continual piece of advice was, "Oh, you're GOING to finish."

Secondly, Mark.  Mark has run numerous 50-milers.  Mark traveled all the way from Michigan to join me on probably his slowest 20-mile run/walk in a LONG time.  Mark's knowledge was invaluable.  I might not have listened as well as he would have liked, but I soaked it all in.  You can't put a price on a man's willingness to babysit you thru 20+ miles of hiking, running, sweating, etc.  There really wasn't a moment's pause when I decided I wanted a pacer and who I would ask.  Thanks Mark!  I promise.....next race will be stronger, better, faster!

Really, there wasn't much doubt I would finish this race.  I put in the miles.  I put in the time.  I had my head on right.  Each race presents it's own unique challenges....some brought on by yourself, some handed out by the course....but you just have to adapt and overcome.

Through the whole race, I kept reminding myself of the quote above.  I really urge everyone to step outside your normal, step outside your comfort zone and at least TRY to do something extraordinary.  You will never know your limits unless you push yourself to them!  This is just a stepping stone in my running journey.  There are bigger things to come this year alone.  And, hopefully, in the near future, I will toe the line for a 100-mile race.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Break the rules.....pay the price!

Most sports have rules.  The main purpose, for which, is to keep the sport a fair and competitive challenge.  But, like I've said in the past, running isn't "most sports."

With that said, there really aren't rules when it comes to running (except cutting the course to cheat).  There are, however, some standard 'rules' (or perhaps more like 'guidelines') of running that every runner knows and for which the only penalty for breaking them is probably humiliation and/or pain to oneself.

Just a few examples:
  1. Don't break in a new pair of shoes on race day.
  2. Prepare yourself mentally for the task at hand...it's not always about the physical effort.
  3. Don't go out too fast.  Better to start slow and finish strong, than start strong and not finish at all.
  4. Run YOUR race.
  5. Don't try anything new (food, drink, gel, etc) on race day.

 "Bite off more than you can chew.....and then chew like hell." -- Peter Brock

Last year, the Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run 50K was my first attempt at the 50K distance.  And, the weather decided to provide us runners with several inches of snow the week prior.  It was brutal, with a DNF rate greater than 50%.  This year, the weather cooperated and provided us with cool temps, frozen ground, and a sunny day.....it was a good day to run!

I'm a Brooks guy.  But, I've never owned a pair of shoes intended for trail running.  I got a new pair of Brooks the first week of December.  Well, December was ~175miles and January (my biggest month ever) was ~251miles.  It reeked havoc on my shoes and a week prior to the Psycho Wycho, my shoes blew out (I mean, 425+miles on them....).  Right down to the day before the race, I was fretting over which pair of blown out Brooks road shoes I'd be wearing, knowing that whatever the choice, my feet would be getting wet and blisters could be an issue.  The day before the race, my wife and I visited Up & Running, a wonderful new shoe store in Kearney, MO.  Thanks to a sale going on and a gift card, I was able to secure a new pair of running shoes.  This time, though, a pair of trail shoes.  So, Saturday morning, I would be breaking in my new Mizuno Wave trail shoes.  And break Rule #1.

With one of the cardinal rules of running already broken, it seems my mind decided why not break a few more?  I woke up the morning of the race and it just didn't feel like a running day.  I was sluggish and my mind was elsewhere.  Did I mention that my wife was due to have our 4th child the next day?  Yeah, that might have been weighing on my mind.  But, I packed up my belongings, slapped on the tights, laced up my new shoes, drug myself to the car and off I went!  Even up until the race start, I don't think I was settled on running 31+miles that day, I was simply going thru the motions.  Rule #2 broken.

Rule #3 will be forever my bane in running.  I'm a former sprinter, and I still have the legs for it.  I love the feeling of running fast.  I've just been able to add stamina to it the last few years.  I told my running buddy, Don, prior to the start, that I was going to try to run with the lead pack for a bit.  I knew I wasn't fast enough to win the race, but a solid start would get me out beyond the herd of walkers and allow me to run for the entire day.  Maybe even help me set a PR.  Well, that lead group went out about 7:30/mile (which I'm fine with running for 15-20miles, but certainly not 31...).  After 4 miles, I eased back on the throttle.  I would still come thru lap #1(10.3miles) in 11th place with a solid 1:37:01.4.  Two more laps like that, and I'd have a solid time.

Run YOUR race.  Don't try to run alongside someone else.  Don't try to follow in someone's footsteps.  Run your pace, your way, your race.  Going out fast was not exactly my attack plan for this race several months ago.  But, with a 50K already under my belt this year, I took a chance.  After backing off the lead group, I fell in behind several different people and found myself content to just follow them.  I had my opportunities to pass them, but for some reason (probably not being mentally prepared) I just settled into position.  Lap #2 wasn't bad (2:01:07.9), and my body was in good shape, but it was just slower than hoped for.  Rule #4 broken.
Still smiling!

Hey, rules are meant to be broken, right?  Well, Lap #3 brought along the usual cramps that seem to be unavoidable in my long runs.  Breaking my usual habit(and Rule #5), I grabbed chewable antacids and bananas in an attempt to rid myself of the cramps and get back to solid running.  Miles 23-27 were a struggle and mixture of cramping, hill climbing, running, etc.  But, the cramps had disappeared!  I was closing in on another 50K completion on the daunting Wyandotte County Lake course and at mile 28, I stopped and had a beer with the guys at the aid station (another unusual drink choice during a race for me), but it was a celebratory beer because nothing was going to stop me at that point.....right?

Mile 29.5 would bring the 'Three Sisters' (this is the clean version of what a lot of runners call them)....a series of 3 hills that are nearly un-runnable due to their steepness.  Right before these three hills, though, is a small river crossing and a fairly sizeable short climb.  Per usual, I decided to jump the river crossing (I mean, this is what trail running is all about).  Well, mid-air, my left leg went into a cramp and let's just say I didn't get a score from the judges on my landing.  As I lay on the ground nearly seizuring from the cramp for a few minutes, I found the time to curse myself for thinking the cramps were entirely gone.  But, with a little over a mile left in the race, I picked myself up and began to hike the hill.  Within 6 feet, there was a rock step of nearly 18".  I lifted my leg to step and dropped backwards into cramping seizures again.  More cursing.  After subsiding the latest round of cramps, I approached the rock again.  Again, I lifted my leg, and again my leg muscles responded by throwing me backwards into cramping.  Heavy cursing.  After waiting out the cramps for a third time, I didn't even bother to pick myself up from the ground.  Come Hell or high-water, I was going to finish this race.  But for this moment, some stupid 18" rock step was in my way.  I crawled.  Yes, crawled.  I'm not too proud to admit it.  For nearly 8' of the 31.25miles I traveled Saturday morning, I was on my knees, crippled from my own ignorance.  I crawled, rather pathetically, over that rock, stood myself up, and hiked the rest of that hill.  I walk/hiked the 'Three Sisters' with ease and jogged home the final 1/4-mile to another successful(I mean, I finished...that's successful, right?) 50K finish.

Yeah, I broke some cardinal rules of running on Saturday.  So, what were my consequences (if any)?
  1. Found an enjoyable pair of trail running shoes.  No blisters.  No cuts.  No black toenails.  Dry feet.
  2. Perhaps could have hung around with that lead group longer, but the mindest wasn't there.  Thankfully, after running 10-12miles, my mind was back in the place it needed to be to tackle the task at hand.
  3. I lucked out here.  Yeah, I started too fast.  But, boy was that fun running!  The cramps later in the race were probably partly due to this.  But, I finished anyways, so the day was not a total loss.
  4. My 2nd lap could have been faster, so the price I paid here was purely time.  I rectified the situation quickly and got past it.
  5. Hey, you know what.....chewable antacids worked.  Bananas worked (although, I'm still no fan of running after eating them).  And beer......well, maybe I'll fill my hydration bladder with Boulevard Wheat next time!

I think the running gods looked kindly on me on Saturday.  Or perhaps my weeks/months of training beforehand helped me more than I realized.  Either way, I broke a few rules, learned a few lessons, and have no regrets about any of it.

PS--The Trail Nerds put on a first-class event. Wonderful aid stations.  Great gear!  Awesome medals!  A CHALLENGING course!