Thursday, July 3, 2014

Louis Zamperini (1917-2014): Unbroken

This post is a bit of a deviation from normal running posts, but today Louie Zamperini, Olympic distance runner turned  WWII POW passed away at the age of 97.  A few years ago, I read Laura Hillenbrand's book, Unbroken, which traces Louie's inspiring story, a true testament to the human ability to endure most anything.  Louis survives a plane crash, sharks and strafings and 47 days in a raft, only to end up being captured by the Japanese.  Things only keep getting worse for Louie, but somehow he perseveres and survives.

Shortly after I read the book, generous local veterans donated a class set of the book for my Military History students. We spend twenty minutes or so a day reading the book and his story never gets old. My students love the book and as a teacher,  I love to hear them ask if they can read more.  For some of them, this is the first book they have actually wanted to read and during the semester, Louie becomes part of our class.

After a test this year, I gave my students an impromptu extra credit assignment, to write a letter to Louie.  I happened to have kept the letters, so I wanted to share a few excerpts today in memory of Mr. Zamperini.  Excuse the grammar and organization as they were written spur of the moment with no opportunity to make corrections.  (And if you are reading this blog, you are probably a runner.  If you haven't read Unbroken, it's a great book and the author spends the first part talking about how running saved Louie, which many of us can relate to.  It also puts all our self-inflicted suffering in perspective and makes giving up a bit harder, too.)  Here are the excerpts:

Dear Louie Zamperini, 
      I was wanting to write you and let you know how incredibly stunning your story is...You are really an amazing person and I will always remember this story and keep to myself that the human mind is almost impossible to break and the resilience that you have shown will forever signify the true meaning of perseverance. Your strengths will influence a nation. As we stand united, you have shown us that that no matter who you are are where you're from, you can remain Unbroken.

Dear Louis Zamperini,

After reading the book about your life, I've realized the strength and endurance the human body can withstand. I have so much respect for you and your family. You have taught me a lot about what it means to keep faith and never give up. I am currently enlisted in the US Marine Corps and I plan on serving my country in whatever way I am needed. I know I will probably never have to go through the experiences that you did, but if anything ever goes bad, I will remember you and your story. You
were stronger than I could ever be and you are a great role model.

Your heroism and leadership has been a great influence on me and I hope I could have been half as brave as you were in that situation. You put others before yourself, risking your life in the process. You defied the Japanese rules and guards, proving to everyone that it could be done. You endured beatings that were so severe that I really can't even begin to understand. Through it all, you kept your dignity and faith. You never stopped believing that you could make it through the war, which is more than many others could say. There are plenty of other stories of delinquent children overcoming the odds and doing great things, but your story has had the greatest impact on my life. I think everyone needs to hear your story.

You are a great hero, Mr. Zamperini. I will carry what you have taught me throughout my life and be the best that I can be. I hope your story has influenced others in the same way it has me. Thank you for your service to our country and for sharing your story.

Hello Louie,

 I've read your book with one of my classes at school and I can honestly say it's the most inspiring story of perseverance and hope I've honestly ever read. You were pushed well beyond the breaking
point but somehow your inner resilience was unleashed and your hatred for The Bird pushed you to survive and provide hope for all of the POWs around you. I never knew how terrible the conditions were in foreign POW camps until I read this story. I knew things would be unpleasant but this was far worse than unpleasant, it was some of the most unimaginable things to put a human through yet you rose above all the challenges. Your story has inspired so many and shows us how far mental strength can get you in bad situations...

Hello Louie,

We just finished reading your biography "Unbroken" in my history class and it has got to be one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read.  From start to finish there was not a second I wanted to
stop reading it... Reading this book made our class feel like we sort of know you in a way.  I could not come close to imagining how hard it was to go through what you did...

After everything you had been through and dealt with, you turned to God and found a way to forgive them and I believe not many people would be able to do a thing like that.  Your story has made me realize that there is always someone who has it worse than you so don't take what you have for granted and cherish every moment you have with friends and family, you never know when you will see them again.  I just want to thank you for having the courage to share your story with the world, thank you Louie.

Dear  Louis Zamperini,

Your story is incredible. The determination, fight, and calmness that you showed during your difficult times in World War Two is truly inspiring. I always knew that POW camps were rough, but is never realized how horrific it actually was. Hearing about the atrocities that you and your comrades had to endure has given me a new level of respect and gratification for veterans and current members of the armed services. It even hits home even more because most soldiers were not much older than I currently am. I connected more with your story because I am also a runner... (At) the Berlin Olympic race where you were falling behind, but still had a huge kick really showed how giving up is not in your personality and that you had perseverance. Just from seeing a few of your personality traits that were portrayed in the book, make me believe that you were built to make it through the war alive and that you weren't going to let the enemy "beat" you, just like you didn't let competitors beat you in competitions. Once again, I am truly grateful for what you and your comrades went through and I can only hope that no one will have to see what you saw or go through what you went through again. Also, they way that God spoke to you and caused you to change your life is very inspiring. Thank you for your service to our Country. If it wasn't for you and other members of the armed services, I would not be where I am today. To me, all members of the armed services are heroes.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Adventures with Giardia and Other Cautionary Tales

As Wayne and I were headed towards Tellico Gap during the Nantahala Adventure Run, he told me a story about almost passing out while running one day. It turned out that he had not eaten for 24 hours and opted to go for a run before he did so.  In retrospect, of course, that was a bad decision, but at the time he didn't think too much about it.

I had a couple of those moments in April and as Willy Natureboy says, bad decisions make for good stories.  I'm not sure how good of a story this is, but it is a cautionary tale....

There's a forest road near my house that I run fairly often.  I've only seen four people on this road in years, two hunters and a couple out for a walk.  One day after school, I headed there to run, but was surprised by a man coming down the hill as I was getting out of my car.  Not only was this person number five, but he was a runner, too.  So, we talked for a couple of minutes (he is a deputy that lives nearby) and then I headed up the hill.  I was distracted by the conversation and didn't realize until a few hundred yards up the hill that I had forgotten to take my earrings out.  Not just any earrings, but ones with blue diamonds in them that Tony had given me.

In retrospect, I should have turned around and headed back to the car and put them in a safe place.  But I was wearing a little waist belt that I stick my phone and keys in, so I stuck them in there.  It zips up securely and I didn't think about them again until the next morning, when I took my phone out of the belt and an earring fell out.  An, as in one, earring.

I searched the house, car, driveway, gym bag, every place I thought it could be.  Then I remembered that I had taken pictures at three places during my run, which meant I had opened that waist belt three times.  After school, I went back to the road and searched there.  Nothing.  I dragged Tony there with a metal detector the next evening.  Nothing.  I ran there a couple more times and again, nothing. This is a fairly big earring that would be hard to miss, especially in the sunlight and I finally assumed that someone saw it and took it home.  I spent a long time kicking myself for being stupid.

Tony, being Tony, went and got me a similar pair and we planned to make necklace out of the lone earring.  Then two or three weeks later, I was running on the road again and my shoelace came untied. I crouched down to tie it, and there was my earring, in the gravel and intact.

Now I have two pairs of nice blue diamond earrings and a secure case to put them in when I take them off to go run.  Lesson learned. Unfortunately, the weekend before, I had unknowingly made another bad, bad decision.

April is thru-hiker season here on the Appalachain Trail.  I go all winter, rarely seeing anyone, to suddenly seeing dozens of people on a short run.  The hikers hit the 100 mile mark here and many are still unversed in wilderness etiquette and procedures.  Which brings me to my bad decision.

I decided to run a 20 mile loop, a majority of which was on the AT.  On a long run, where there are several water sources, I carry a handheld bottle instead of a bladder, scoop water as I go and treat it with a Steripen, which uses UV light to zap any bad critters that might be in it.

Several months prior, I had dropped my Steripen, but it appeared to be working fine. The flashing light that indicates the steripen is making proper contact with the water was working, along with the green indicator light that tells me the water has been zapped for the appropriate 45 seconds.  I use gray bottles and never thought to look down inside the bottle to see if the most important light,the UV light was actually working.

All winter went by without incident.  Then the weekend of the 20 mile loop, I scooped water from couple of places right next to the trail.  In retrospect, of course they were not the best options.  Somewhere along the way, I, for some reason, thought to look to see if the UV light was working. It was not.  I was not too concerned because I know a lot of people do not treat their water and I realized I has been drinking untreated water for several months. But it was now thru-hiker season, when you smell all sorts of bad smells along the trail and find toilet paper in all sorts of places.

Warning:   TMI coming, but I wanted to write this down, because my symptoms were a little different than most of the internet info.  You'll be safe if you skip the next paragraph.

So, a couple weekends later, I had stomach/bathroom issues.  A couple nights later, I was awakened by an urgent need to, umm, use the restroom.  That never happens.  Then I was nauseous.  I lost my appetitie and could not eat anything but crackers and toast. I alternated between not going at all for days to explosive incidents.  I sat in the recliner and stared into space.  I could not focus enough to read or watch T.V.  I felt fuzzy-headed and dizzy.  I did not throw up.  The doctor and I assumed it was the stomach flu, but I have never had the stomach flu.  A couple weeks went by.  I missed a lot of work. I would feel a bit better and head back to work, only to have to leave early. One morning, I was on my way out the door when I had to make a run for the bathroom. I was shaky and weak and as a teacher, I had to find a sub and come up with a lesson plan in a half hour.  I cried for awhile, then our secretary helped me find a sub and I came up with a lesson plan.  They ran tests, blood tests and a regular stool test.  Low blood sugar, nothing in the stool.  By this point, over three weeks had gone by.  I lost eight pounds sitting in the recliner.  I was apparently very pale because people kept remarking on that. I spent a lot of time being angry that I could not do the things I wanted to do and not understanding what was wrong. The fourth week, the doctor and I discussed the possibility of giardia.  First she gave me a round of antibiotics in case it was animal e coli. That didn't work. The stool test for giardia came back negative, but apparently they only pass every so often, so you usually have to do multiple tests.  Instead of that, she just went ahead and gave me the antibiotic from hell, flagyll.

I could not tell if the flagyll was working, because it gives you the exact same side-effects as the symptoms of giardia.  Only I felt worse. Finally, when I was finished with it, after five weeks of hanging with Little G and eight days of antibiotics, I began to feel better.  I had some energy and was hungry.  Then I had a bad couple days.  Then several good ones.  Then a bad one.  According to Dr. Google, it can take a few months for the intestines to heal, especially since I went so long before we figured it out.  Also, that doc says a lot of people become lactose intolerant for a while, and I think that has given me a couple bad days before I realized it.

So, eight weeks later, I feel more normal; I just get tired quicker. I still have some nausea and days when I just feel "off."  I am running, but not very far yet.  Today a group was running the Nantahala Adventure Run, which I was supposed to do, but instead I provided some aid and hiked/ran out four miles to see people as they came through.  My plan was to head all the way to the NOC and back, but my body thought differently.  I enjoyed hanging out on a rock in a quiet place in the sunshine and although I wished I could run the loop, was okay with doing what I did. 

Another very hard lesson learned.  If you do not treat your water, consider it.  And according to some sources, options such as bleach may not kill giardia unless it is used in fairly high concentration.  If you use bleach, you may want to do some research.  This person did a lot of research on the different ways of purifying water.  Apparently the Steripen is very effective....but only if you are sure it is working.  And I may trade in my gray bottles for some clear ones.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Burningtown Loop/Nantahala Adventure Run and Burningtown 100K

Burningtown Loop/NAR
56ish miles

1. Start at the Bartram Parking area at the end of Wayah Road, near the Raft Put-in Area. Head north on the Bartram on a paved walkway to single track on the other side of Highway 19.  This is the first tough climb, to Cheoah Bald. The first part of the trail is pretty overgrown in the summer and the climbs are pretty deep in leaves in the fall and winter.  Plenty of water and lots of creek crossings, including one you can't rock hop.  You will connect with the AT south, shortly before you reach Cheoah Bald.  Once at Cheoah Bald, take the AT south down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  (I don't remember where water is, but there is a shelter below Cheoh, so I imagine there is water there.) Crew access (and restaurant, store at NOC)) 13.2 total miles.

2. Continue south on the AT, climbing back up to Tellico Gap. This is another long, tough climb. 8 miles. Little to no water until after the shelter that is 2.2 miles from Tellico Gap.  Great views from the Jumpoff and the Wesser fire tower. Crew access.

3. Head south on Appalachian Trail 9.3 miles to Wayah Bald. There is a long climb (about 30 minutes for me) and then it becomes more rolling to Icewater Springs shelter.  The spring runs right in front of the shelter, and for that reason, I do not use it.  You will have a long descent (a little over a mile) to Burningtown Gap.  You could have crew access you at Burningtown Gap.  About a half mile past the gap is a good water source.  The trail is nice from here to Wayah, runnable until the climb up Wayah which is not that bad.  There is a shelter and a sign that points to a water source, but the water is quite a ways off the trail.  The Bartram and AT will run together here for a while. As you climb up to Wayah, there is a spring where I usually get water.  At Wayah, be prepared for lots of people at the tower (which is always jarring after so long in the quiet woods).  There are pit toilets here. Crew Access

4. Continue south until the Bartram Trail leaves the AT.  Right before it does, there is a spring at Wine Springs.  It unfortunately does not dispense wine.  Take the Bartram toward Nantahala Lake. 3.9 miles downhill to crew access at Sawmill Gap on Dirty John Road.  You will hear firing from the firing range below, but it is quite a ways down in the valley.  Be careful at this isolated road crossing.

5. Continue steeply (very steeply/butt slide in points) downhill to Nantahala Lake.  There is water right before you reach the lake and also a creek running into the lake shortly thereafter.  Take the paved road and go right.  Be careful during the summer for traffic.  You will pass a restaurant and small store.  4.1 miles downhill. Crew access.

6. Follow Bartram to Appletree Group Campground. 4.9 miles.  Watch for the turn to the left off the road after the store.  It goes down a driveway and then makes a sharp right uphill.  It then heads to the left of a cabin at the top of the hill.  It is usually overgrown here.  Follow the trail and cross a couple of gravel roads.  Be alert to trail markings because you will take one of the gravel roads a short distance before leaving it to head back onto single track.  You will have some nice single track to run before getting dumped out on road past the dam.  You will follow roads with some turns, so again watch for markings.  There is a spring coming out of the rock wall as you get closer to Appletree.  Crew access.

6. Continue on Bartram to where you started. 12.4 miles.  The trail runs along the river very briefly, takes a gravel road through the campground and then heads back to the river.  There are bathrooms in the campground and I assume they are open in the summer, but I have never tried them.  Be alert to where the trail leaves this road and heads down to the river.  Most of this section is rolling until you hit the climb up Rattlesnake Knob.  It tends to get overgrown and can be a little confusing because it will follow an old forest road for awhile then abruptly leave it for singe track. There is abundant poison ivy in places and a couple of small streams.  You're at a lower elevation, so it is also hotter and buggier.  Before you get to Rattlesnake Knob, you will cross a creek that usually gets my feet wet  Shortly after that, there is an intersection with Piercy Creek Trail.  (If you had some sort of issue, you could take this trail, which is rocky and wet but downhill, to the Nantahala River, cross it, and then head left a mile or two back to your car.)  The climb up Rattlesnake is not overly steep, but at this point, it just seems to go forever.  There are a couple spots you could get water, but it would be better to fill up at the creek rather than take a chance that they are dry. You'll finally top out, hit some narrow singletrack with hairpin curves and steep dropoffs and pop out at a water tower.   Take the nice gravel road for a long downhill, where you will end up back where you started.  . 


This second description is a 100K course with a little out and back to bump up the mileage. It starts/ends in a different place on the loop and ends with a killer climb.

Burningtown 100K
62.3 miles
Goal: sub 18 hour

Course description with mileage and goal times.

1. Start/finish on Otter Creek Road, 3.2 miles from Tellico Gap. (Just past last old house on left. Parking place past there on right at forest road gate). Run 3.2 miles to Tellico Gap. 1:00 am
2. Head south on Appalachian Trail 9.3 miles to Wayah Bald. Crew access there. 3:45 am
3. Continue south until the Bartram Trail intersects. Take the Bartram toward Nantahala Lake. 3.9 miles downhill. Crew access at Sawmill Gap on Dirty John Road. 4:454. Continue downhill to Nantahala Lake and the Lakeside Store. 4.1 miles downhill. Crew access. 5:45 am
5. Follow Bartram to Appletree Group Campground. 4.9 miles. Crew access. 7:15 am
6. Continue on Bartram to Winding Stairs, where the raft put-in is. 12.4 miles. Crew access. 10:15 am
7. Climb 3000 in 5.1 miles with 7 stream crossings up to Cheoah Bald. Then take the AT south down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Crew access (and restaurant). 13.2 total miles. 2:30 pm.
8. Continue south on the AT, climbing back up to Tellico Gap. I did part of this on Saturday and there were a lot of steep, narrow areas on the trail, along with a lot of slick leaves. This might take some time. 8 miles. Crew access. 5 pm
9. Arrive at Tellico Gap, and head back down Otter Creek to the finish. 3.25 miles. 5:45 pm.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Down Time, A Shoe Review and a Spartan Race Giveaway

Down Time

If you read my previous blog post, you know I had some mental issues going on with trying to hit my mileage goals.   I ditched the record keeping and, voila, I started having fun running.  What's more, I was actually motivated to start really training again and even started going to the gym on a more regular basis.  All this was going well for two or three weeks, until I ran a very technical trail covered with several inches of snow.  I hit the side of a snow-camouflaged rock  and did some impressive acrobatics to stay upright.  Everything was fine until I got home and took a nap.  When I tried to get up, I couldn't.  Those acrobatics twisted my back out of place and I was pinching a nerve. It took over three weeks, after some deep-tissue massage by Tony and some manipulation by the chiropractor, until I was finally pain-free.

But that was a month of no running. I was angry at first because one, I was in pain and that just made me grumpy, and two, because things had just started going well running-wise and I was back to square one.   It turned out that that time off was a good thing, though.  I explored non-technical forest roads that wouldn't aggravate my back and found some new places to run.  Once I started back running, I eased into it, walking when I felt like it, limiting how long I ran and taking days off.   As a result, I feel much better than I have in awhile.

A Shoe Review (kind of)

First of all, a disclaimer.  I have been sponsored by Brooks for nine years and am not at all impartial.   However, I don't think I have ever written a shoe review and it is not something Brooks expects me to do.  Secondly, I wear road shoes on technical trail.  So I am reviewing a road shoe as a trail shoe.

There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the release of the Brooks Transcend as it would be the cushiest shoe in their lineup.  I pre-ordered mine, hoping to find a solution to joints that ached on downhills and on really long runs. When they finally came, I admired the bright pink color and then sent them back because they apparently run large.  My second pair came and again I admired the bright pink color, but couldn't wear them for another month because of my injury.

When I finally got to run in them, I hated them.  They didn't fit like any other Brooks shoe.  They were a little wider, especially in the heel box and didn't have that glove-like feel that all of my other Brooks shoes did.  But I wore them any way.  I spent a lot of time adjusting the laces to try to get them to fit like my other shoes did.  Finally, I just accepted the fact that they would fit differently.

I started using them on my easy forest road runs.  I worked up to two hours in them.  Then I took them on trails, through creeks and mud, over rocks and roots.  I built up to a 20 mile somewhat technical run in them.  And I liked them. Actually  my body liked them.  A lot.  They are not super-cushy like Hokas, but I do feel a noticeable difference in them.  I run over gravel and I can feel that there is gravel under me, but I do not really feel the hardness or sharpeness of the gravel.  Unlike stiff trail shoes, they allow me to still feel the trail while protecting my feet. I run downhill and although I am not floating on a fluffy cloud, my joints feel a lot better.  When I get to the car after a long run, I do not have the usual urge to quickly take my shoes off.  They grip just fine on wet rocks and in the mud.  They do not have an aggressive sole and I was worried I would be slipping around, but I didn't.  They passed the "kick a rock hard with your toes" test, twice.  (Not a planned test, either time.)  They don't have any sort of toe protector, but in comparison to the Ravennas, Glycerins and Ghosts (my usual running shoes), it didn't hurt quite as bad.  They drained just fine after running through creeks.  And the fluorescent pink color got a lot of compliments from color-starved Appalachian Trail through-hikers.  No blisters, no hotspots despite the difference in the fit.

So the downside.  They are heavier than what I usually wear (10.1 ounces) but not by much.  They are expensive, but if they last as long or longer than other shoes, happy joints will be worth it.  And then there is super-technical trail.  The last long run I did in them was on a 20 mile run that was very rocky:  lots of big rocks on the trail and a long section of essentially running upstream through a rocky creek bed.   The last seven miles were pretty painful.  I think that the "guide rails" in the shoes that are intended to keep your feet doing what they are supposed to be doing  (on the road) worked against all that twisting and turning my feet were doing on those rocks.  Plus, I couldn't get one shoe laced right and it hurt my foot.  That day I was very glad to get them off my feet.

However, all the other experiences I had with the Transcends were positive and they will be my go-to shoe on everything non-technical.  In fact, I wore my Ghosts for a long run the weekend after that technical run and really missed the Transcends.  I could tell a big difference by the time I got back to the car.

A Spartan Race Giveaway

A lot of my friends like obstacle racing.  Alan Buckner does a 24 hour obstacle race every year.  Other friends really like the short, fast ones and yet others have not run one, but have put it on the to-do list.  I personally haven't had the urge to do one, simply because I think I would just hurt a lot.

I did, however, have a lot of fun with Tony training Alan for his 24 hour race last year on a very cold day that ended with a bit of snow.  We went out into the woods and tortured Alan by making him do situps in the frigid creek, retrieve rocks from the bottom of deep pools, do burpees and pushups in the mud, climb vertical slopes, throw logs, climb trees and up bridges, all with a heavy pack on.  I did kind of feel an urge to do that sort of free-style obstacle but got over it as his wet-suit started icing over.  This is my favorite picture from that day.  It kind of sums it up.

Anyway, for those of you who would like to try one of these races (no creek training required), the Reebok Spartan Race folks have kindly donated a race-entry as a giveaway AND a link to a 15% discount on a race.   It looks like there is supposed to be a Spartan Super this year in Asheville, so I might even be interested in doing that since it's in the backyard.  Email me at and tell me why you want to run a Spartan Race in five words or less.  The first email with a cool response wins. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Numbers Game

I never really kept track of my mileage until after my ACL surgery.  Before, my record keeping consisted of this blog and a couple scraps of paper on which I wrote down my times for routes I ran frequently.  I usually ran six days a week, simply because I felt better and fitter when I did.  I tried to focus on quality workouts:  a long run every week and a hill or speed work day thrown in here and there.  I ran what I liked to run or what was convenient at the time, not just what I thought I ought to run. I think this worked out pretty well for me.  I wasn't speedy or very competitive, but I could usually eek out a finish that I was happy with.

But then, the torn ACL changed everything.  Not so much the injury itself, but how I began to look at running and training.  After six months of rehabbing when I was finally allowed to start running again, I downloaded an app that would let me track my mileage.  This was a great tool to make sure that I slowly eased back into running. Over the next six months, I worked on increasing my mileage
until finally I ran a 24 hour race and a 100 mile trail race.

Somewhere along the line though, numbers got stuck in my head.  This was my thought process:   If you are going to run a 100, you need to be running at least X number of miles a week.  You also need to run X number of days a week.  If you don't do that, you won't be able to finish X race without pushing too hard and reinjuring yourself.

I never thought like that before. I knew that the more I could run, the better I would do, but I didn't really add things up.  Now I was making myself go out and run two more miles, so I could get at least X number that week.  I was measuring routes to make sure the numbers were correct.  And there it all was, laid out on the tablet.  I wasn't measuring up.  Look at that calendar.  Look at all those days you missed.  Look at what your average weekly mileage is.  Heck, you shouldn't even be running 5Ks on those numbers.  I even DNS'ed a race because I didn't think I had enough miles in.

It's only been in this last week that I did some realistic adding in my head. If I run six miles after school every day and a 25 mile long run on the weekend, the best I could do would be 55 miles, not even close to the numbers running around in my head. Which also means that for all those years I didn't track miles, I was rarely doing more than 55 miles a week. 

The other morning, I spent a really long time deciding where to run on a beautiful winter day.  I felt like I needed to get another longer run in since I was three weeks out from a race.   So, I could either run somewhere to get those miles in or I could go somewhere just because I wanted to.  I finally decided on the latter and ran half the miles I could have.  I ran up to Black Rock  (running being a very general term), which is a little less than eight miles, but climbs (and descends) about 1000 feet per mile.

from the Assault on Black Rock Facebook page
You know, that eight miles is a whole different animal than eight miles around town.  And I enjoyed that eight miles a lot more.  After thinking on that fact for a little bit, I decided that this whole tracking my mileage thing is not working out for me. The app has got to go.

I'm going to head out for a run in the snow now.  I don't know what direction I am heading nor how far I am running.  All I know is it sounds like a lot of fun. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Cuboids, DNFs and a New Year

I didn't even know I had a cuboid.  I don't remember it from anatomy lessons and the bones song doesn't mention it.  You know the song.  "The toe bone is connected to the foot bone, the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone."  In case you don't remember the song, here is Mr. Mike to sing it for you.

Mr. Mike and the Bones song

It turns out that the song leaves a lot of bones out of our skeletal structure.  I guess "The fifth metatarsal is connected to the cuboid" doesn't have the same lyrical qualities. Here's the diagram:

Anyway, the day after Hellgate I had sharp pain on the side and bottom of my foot opposite from my arch.  It continued to get worse, to the point where I could not put much weight on it.  Apparently it was not going to get better on its own, so I allowed Dr. Google to diagnose my problem and cuboid subluxation is what he came up with.  In other words, that little bone was not where it was supposed to be.  Dr. Google advised that it could be fixed with manipulation of the bone but he cautioned, "This form of manual manipulation of the foot should be done by a trained specialist."  So I turned to Tony, who watched a couple of  YouTube videos and set forth manipulating and mobilizing.  It immediately felt a bit better, despite me not allowing him to do the "Cuboid Whip", which although supposedly effective, was way beyond my comfort zone.

I began icing it and self-mobilizing it.  I also started using KT tape on it to support it.  (One strip, starting on the heel, wrapping it under the cuboid from the side and a second strip, starting from the opposite side of my foot in front of my arch, wrapping it under my foot and cuboid.) As a result, two weeks later, I have run for three consecutive days, not pain free, but improving with each run.

So, how does one injure a cuboid to begin with?  At Hellgate, I was intending to change shoes, but didn't, and ended up wearing shoes that were tied way too tight and I don't think my foot was able to move the way it should have on technical surfaces.  I also remember rolling my ankle over (which is not uncommon), but this time the side of the foot hit a rock pretty hard.

The question then is, did the injury contribute to my DNF at Hellgate?  Unfortunately, I don't think so.  I say unfortunately because having an injury as an excuse for a DNF makes one feel a bit better.  Instead, the injury gave me two weeks of down time to contemplate my DNF, rather than being able to head back out to the trails with vengeance. 

This was not my first DNF.  I DNF'ed at Hellgate before because of the ice.  I DNF'ed at Old Dominion because of a hamstring injury.  I DNF'ed another time at Old Dominion because I simply did not want to be out there any more.  This was my first DNF caused by just being too slow and the mental beating I took when I realized that early on in the race. Before I started the race, I had already sabotaged myself by thinking I might DNF because of my lack of training.  But I imagined that it would come late in the race, when I was just too tired to run, not because I was just too slow.  Hmmm.  Regardless of the reason, all the DNFs suck because I know that somehow I could have done better. 

The disappointment in myself is balanced out by how much I enjoyed the race, which says something about the difference between racing and running.  There haven't been too many times when I have enjoyed a course that I am really trying to race.  I do, however, enjoy all my runs.

As the new year approaches, I have simple goals. I want to get fitter and faster and see how far I can go in a 48 hour race. If I don't get into the cycle of racing and recovering without a whole lot of time for training, I should be able to do that.  And if I can keep my cuboids where they belong, connected to the calcaneus and the metatarsals. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hellgate 100K 2013

Ten years ago, I stood in front of a forest gate in the middle of the dark, cold woods with a hundred or so other runners. It was midnight in the mountain of Virginia and we were getting ready to run a brand new David Horton race, the Hellgate 100K.  It was December and freezing cold and in the first three miles, we would get wet from a stream crossing.  There was a lot of climbing and descent, some technical single track, rolling forest roads and cutoffs designed to push the average runner.  It also happened to be a special year because I started a conversation with the man who had given up his seat in the van for me.  We ended up running the first twenty four miles together and were married by the next Hellgate.

I ran four Hellgates in a row and each of them was unique.  That first one was marked by very high water and a lot of ice from flooding.  There was some snow and it was very cold.  It was also the only race I have ever finished over the time limit.  Hellgate #2 was also very cold with much more snow.  I finished that one, with ten minutes to spare.  Hellgate #3 was the ice year.  Not ice like the first year, but a few inches of snow covered by a half inch of ice.  Sometimes the ice broke when you stepped on it, other times it didn't.  The trail was a mess for a back of the packer, with chunked up ice everywhere.  I missed a cutoff that year at mile 42, the only time I had ever missed a cutoff.  Hellgate #4 was the very, very cold year.  I watched my breath freeze when I exhaled.  Up high, it was 12 degrees with about a 20 mph headwind.  When the sun came up, everything was foggy.  It turned out my corneas had frozen, as had other people's, giving rise to a new term "Hellgate eyes."  Despite that, I finished with a nice 43 minute cushion.  I was content with tying the score 2-2, and didn't run Hellgate again.

That is until this year, when I had the brilliant idea to run Hellgate one more time, as an anniversary run.  It didn't matter that Tony had long since quit running ultras; I thought it would be a nice little trot down memory lane.  As the race date drew closer and closer, however, I became really concerned about my training.  Or lack thereof.  From July to November, I coach cross country, which doesn't allow me to get the miles and type of training in that I would like.  I looked back at my mileage over the months, which averaged 33 miles per week. A month ahead of time, I went out and ran 50 miles, just to make sure I still could. Even if my body was ready, my mind was convinced I was not.

As the days ticked closer, I ended up with a cold.  I overdosed on Vitamin C and zinc, trying to keep it at bay.  This gave me nausea.  Then I started obsessively checking the weather.  The forecast fluctuated between cold rain, freezing rain and a wintery mix. This started a few days of trying to figure out what to wear.  I would only have access to my drop bag at mile 28 and then 42.  (Tony was not crewing me until the next morning and would not see me until mile 42.)   I finally decided on a tried and true combo- an old Patagonia race shirt, followed by an equally old CWX base layer, topped by a Brooks Utopia top and pants.  I carried my Marmot Precip jacket in my pack.  Then came the shoe decision.  I wear Brooks Glycerins on trail, but had run some in the Ghosts.  I decided I would wear the Ghosts for the first section, because they were lighter and would drain better in the creek.  Then I would change into nice dry Glycerins, which I have worn in the snow many times and have pretty good traction.  The forecast didn't call for the precipitation to start until morning.

Okay, all decisions were finally made and Tony and I once again stood at the forest gate in the middle of the woods with 132 other people.  This time, however, I ventured out onto the trail and Tony went back to a nice warm hotel room.

The first section is a double track trail, leafy and rolling.  It is all runnable but  I took a few short walk breaks on hills, pacing myself off the other runners around me.  I felt pretty good and the dreaded wet stream crossing was neither too deep nor too cold.

The next section is all forest road.  You go a mile or so on flat to gently up, then take a sharp right and head steeply up the hill to the next aid station.  I ran/walked and again, thought I was moving pretty good.  But when I looked down the hill, I didn't see very many headlamps coming up behind me.  I reached the top at the next aid station, quickly refilled water and changed out of my wet socks and headed down the trail.

The third section starts off with a nice downhill technical section.  I still felt like I was moving good, keeping the distance between me and the other runners and passing one partway down.  The trail changes into grassy road and then back into singletrack.  You end up the section with an uphill gravel road and it was here that it started sleeting hard.  To keep my mind off eveyrthing, I tried to listen to my iPod but it was too cold to work.  Partway up, I started changing places with another woman.  She asked, "Am I last?" and I assured her that we couldn't be.  When I got to the aid station, however (where it was now snowing hard), the aid station worker told me there were only three others behind me, but I was 15 minutes ahead of cutoffs, which, this early on, was fine.

I headed out quickly, leaving some runners behind at the aid station and passing a handful more on the now snowy road.   I chatted briefly with a runner who had run all of the Hellgates and he told me we were indeed doing fine.  At this point in the race's history, he said, there are no marginal runners.  Except me, I thought, or maybe said out loud, opening the door for more negativity.

This next section is my favorite part in the race and the main reason why I wanted to come back.  It's part of the Promise Land course and follows a grassy road, overlooking the lights of the towns in the valley below for a good couple of miles.  This year it was exceptionally beautiful.  It was still snowing hard, but huge goose feather snowflakes were coming down and there were about three inches on the ground.  I could still see the lights below and I usually wonder what the "normal" people are doing down there at four in the morning.  This time, I just felt lucky that I was not one of the normal people and instead, part of a small group of people who were getting to experience this.  It was really quiet, as it is when it snows, the people behind me were still quite aways back and it was snowing so hard it was difficult to see through the beam of light.  Everything was white and despite the footprints in front of me and the lights behind me, it felt like I was alone.

This idyllic state abruptly ended when the double track turned to downhill single track.  All those footprints that had been somewhat dispersed on the road were now concentrated into a thin line, packing down the heavy wet snow.  My first thought was, "hmm...this could be a problem."  I didn't have time for a next one because I was down on the ground.  I sure was wishing I had worn my other shoes.

My ACL surgery comes into play at this point.  My knee did not hurt, but it is not as agile as it used to be.  So, I picked my way very slowly and gingerly down the snowy, slick, singletrack.  All those runners who I had passed and kept in front of on the uphill now passed me.  Finally I was at the bottom of the hill at the first hard cutoff aid station with about 13 minutes to spare.  This concerned me a bit so I got out quick and kept moving up the hill.

When we passed the spot where that aid station used to be, before bad weather forced it to move, I checked my watch and found I was almost 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  There was some good running here on nice snow covered roads before it changed back to single track.  I passed another runner, who was concerned we weren't going to meet the next cutoff.  I told him I thought we would be fine and I started to relax some.  I felt like the cutoffs should be getting less tight and I was determined not to be stressed out, constantly checking my watch and not enjoying a thing.  Instead, it was getting light and the trail snaked its way over and around hills and I just settled in and enjoyed the run.  Then the downhill technical section began.  I was once again slowly picking my way down and continued to move slowly when the trail turned to downhill double track. After getting passed again, I looked at my watch and really started to panic.  Regardless of how my legs felt about running fast downhill, I had to move and so I did.  I didn't look at the time when I got to the aid station, but I knew I was cutting it close.  I grabbed my dropbag, pulled my bag of food out of it, and headed out with five minutes to spare.  I was in such a hurry, I didn't think about the fact that I really needed to change shoes.

The next section is a long uphill on a gravel road that was packed with snow.  Same theme:  I thought I was moving well.  I left some runners behind and was only passed by one other person, who was using trekking poles.  However, that nice uphill is followed by a lot of downhill and I continued to be slow.  Same story:  I was passed by the people I had just passed and I began looking at my watch.  I lost a lot of time on the downhill and knew I wouldn't make the next cutoff.  I still kept moving hard and moved well up the long uphill to the aid station.  There, I was about 13 minutes past the cutoff and assumed I would be pulled, but they told me I could go on. I was actually disappointed in a way, because the weather had deteriorated, I knew the next section was hard and I knew I was not going to gain all that time back to meet the next cutoff. 

I ended up enjoying the next section, in part because I knew my race was over.  It starts off downhill on double track and then starts rolling.  It transitions to single track, climbing up the mountain and then down some technical trail.  The footing was very slippery on all the single track, the wind and sleet picked up and I heard a hunter shoot from somewhere down the hill below me.  I was hoping it was not in my direction. As the weather continued to worsen, the trail got slicker, I became concerned that I might fall and hang out here by myself for a long time.  I worked to catch up with another runner and stayed with him for the rest of the technical section.  More uphill double track follows, then a final long section of single track, where there was snow and leaf-covered rocks.  I had started this section knowing I wouldn't make the next cutoff, but I kept moving hard anyway.  The sleet changed to a steady rain, but I was still warm. After another wet creek crossing, the trail approached the aid station and here Tony came walking down the trail.  As always I was very happy to see him and walked the final third mile with him.  When I got to the aid station, I was about 13 minutes over.

I was not unhappy to have to stop.  I really enjoyed the night section and the daylight trail sections where I wasn't panicking.  I never felt exhausted and never felt like I was doing a death march. It was just stressful knowing I was behind and I am to the point where I just want to run and enjoy it.  Hellgate is the only race that I have ever had trouble with cutoffs and I think I am ready to concede defeat.  

So, a week later, I have been beating myself up for being so slow. Tony's practical advice is to just get faster and quit worrying about it. So, once my foot heals (wrong shoes, too tight), I will.

Year in Review and What's Next?

This year has been nothing to write home about.  I did the inaugural Georgia Death Race, the Inaugural Leatherwood 50 miler, ran a 50K at Black Mountain Monster and went to Vermont and ran the 100 there.  It seems like my running has been very inconsistent this year, so my goal for next year is to get consistent.  The inconsistency has made me feel like not much of a runner, so I want to put more miles in, drag the tire more, do a little speedwork and hillwork.  Once again, I would like to run the Bartram and do 100 on the AT.  I am running Delerium 24 hour in February and am thinking that my next challenge will be to tackle a 48 hour.