Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wrestlin' Grizzlies

It started on Friday, December 21, at around 7:15 PM.  As Chris Martin dubbed it, we were embarking on the first annual "Shortest Day - Run Long" event on the new TARC 100 mile course.  The plan?  Run through the night and complete two laps of the 25 mile course, finishing before the sun rose on the 22nd.  Unfortunately, those eastern Massachusetts grizzlies thwarted our efforts.

This story necessitates a bit of background.  My birthday is December 24th (and, despite what everyone thinks, I've always enjoyed having my birthday the day before Christmas.  I owe much of this to my mom, who made sure I had a "special" day every year (and continues to do so)).  For the past several years, I have sought to celebrate my birthday with a "big" run.  It started four years ago by running from my folks' house in Waterbury, VT up to the old log cabin (built by my parents) where I grew up at the base of Camel's Hump in Duxbury, VT.  I had been battling an injury, but survived this 20-miler with no issue.  The next year I was too injured to run, and then last year, Liz suggested I run from our place to New Hampshire to meet her and the boys at a Burger King off the highway.  This 37-miler ended with me unable to walk the last 8 miles, and hitchhiking on a back road in rural New Hampshire, with the temperature hovering around 5 degrees.  I couldn't run for over a week after this.  So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached this year's birthday run.  Naturally, given my proclivity for hurting myself on these runs, I decided to be conservative this year and run through the woods, overnight, for 50 miles.

Improved judgement aside, what made this year different than the previous three was that I decided to make it a social gathering.  I've been rather fortunate over the last couple of years to become friends with a great group of people through running.  So, about two or three weeks before the "birthday" run, I sent out an email to those crazy folks who live near me with two options for the run. Plan A was to start at a reasonable hour on Saturday morning, running the 50 miles and getting home before dinner.  Plan B was to put the kids to bed, meet up at 7:00 PM and run through the night.  In a demonstration of their foolhardiness, Plan B was the unanimous pick from all those involved.  So it was that I found myself, on the longest night of the year, making Ramen noodles and stuffing them into my kids' thermos, and dropping them off with homemade "Ginger Balls" (recipe available upon request - they are actually quite good), Coke, water, and energy gels at various points in the woods of Weston, MA.  50 miles or bust!

Friday morning, I faced a bit of a dilemma.  It was supposed to rain very hard.  My bike was at school.  I wanted to get as much sleep as possible, knowing I would be running 50 miles overnight, but, alas, after many crashes on my bike, I am truly scared of riding in any sort of inclement weather.  So I ran the 7.5 miles to school (more miles, more smiles!), and even  managed to stay dry.  The dry weather did not last, and for several hours that day the skies unleashed a deluge.  Liz and the boys kindly picked me up at school, and in the time it took them to drive from Arlington to Charlestown, the skies cleared and the sun came out.  I merely laughed at the emails and texts I had received throughout the day concerning the night's run, asking things like, "Is this thing still on?" or "Any second thoughts?" Pah! 50 miles or bust!

Of course, I was the last to arrive at Burchard Park.  The other 7 guys were ready to go: C1 (C-uno), C3, Huss, McBuffie, Anthony, Jeff, and Justin.  I was truly amazed that these guys were willing to run through the night.  I at least had winter vacation to look forward to - I could sleep in and take naps as I wished.  These other guys all had regular work to return to, and Jeff and Justin both have young kids at home!  Yet, they were all there, and after waiting for about 20 minutes to speak with the Weston Police (to ensure our cars were not towed), we started out into the cold, dark (and rather wet) woods.

The miles themselves passed fairly easily (although by 22 miles C3 was complaining of cramps, and, not to be outdone, C-uno said he was on the verge of a heart attack.  Sandbaggers.).  The trails were wet, but the weather was pretty mild (several folks were running in shorts), and I think we were all a bit relieved that we were not facing the rain from earlier in the day.  I managed to keep us (mostly) on track (a feat I am rather proud of given the circuitous nature of the course), and the time was punctuated by a lot of flatulence-based discussion (funny how the conversation of eight grown men is not much different than the conversation of my 4 and 6 year old boys.  I think the main difference is that the 8 men can produce a much higher volume of methane than the 4 and 6 year old.), the occasional Superman fall, a run in with, what I thought to be, some sort of blood thirsty cult/pagan worshipers (turns out it was just some Weston residents out celebrating the winter solstice with candles.  What were they thinking?  Out in the woods in the middle of the night!), and C1 trying to turn this into a biathlon by swimming through one of the stream crossings.  Still, we managed to finish the first loop about 2 minutes before midnight, at which point we all held hands and comforted each other before the impending Mayan apocalypse, and, when that failed to materialize, swore to never mention the tears we had all shed in fear.  Some folks said goodbye at this point to either embrace their families, avoid cardiac emergency, and/or try to capture at least a few hours of sleep.  Four of us remained (Justin, McBuffie, Anthony, and myself - all who happen to be running 100 miles at the Double Top 100 on March 2 in Georgia).  After a wardrobe change by the other three (seriously, it was like something out of a Broadway production, with changing pants, shirts, jackets, and probably shoes and undergarments too).

The pace picked up the next 4.5 mile section and when we got back to the cars, Justin was ready to fall asleep (the dude has a 6 month old, and as a teacher in Grafton, wakes up at 4 every morning.  Hard-nosed), so he made the reasonable choice and called it a day (night?).  Justin had been the first to say "50 miles or bust" so  a bit of the steam was taken from my sails.  Although I felt gfine physically, mentally, I started thinking that the next 20 miles were going to take us at least 4 more hours, and I wasn't getting home much before 6 AM.  So, when McBuffie, Anthony and I reached the next aid stop 2 miles later, I was rather happy to see three enormous grizzlies there, snacking on our vittles.  Anthony or McBuffie had not run that fast all night, as they both hysterically fled into the woods.  Being the calm, incredibly tough person that I am, I stood to face the grizzlies alone (do not concern yourself with the fact that at this time of year bears are hibernating or the fact that grizzlies tend not to live east of the Mississippi outside of zoos).  I dispatched of them quickly, saving my prized "Ginger Balls" (considered by many to be the source of much of the night's flatulence) and then ran back into the woods to gather my two companions (their shrill cries made them easy to track).  After this unexpected ursine encounter (and after calming both Anthony and Michael down), we decided it would behoove us to return to the cars and call it a run.  I stopped the clock at 33.6 miles, a figure I was pleased with, as I turned 33 a couple of days post-run.

And so it was that I managed to survive a birthday run injury free (in the 5 days since, I've been in Vermont and have managed to run up a mountain (albeit slowly, in some deep snow) and run from my folks' to my sister's, a back road journey of 25 miles (into a headwind, which froze my eyeballs and water bottle).  But the birthday/overnight run was quite memorable as I also got to share some good miles with some great friends.  Perhaps we have hit upon another great TARC tradition, the "Shortest Day - Run Long" (SDRL), which may grow to have a DRB-like following.  Afterall, the course is equally as confusing and, as of the first running of the 50 miler, there is a 0% finishers rate.  Registration for next year's run will be open soon.  The fee will be a bottle of Gas-X.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stone Cat 2012: Diesel-san's Psychic Network


In the days leading up to Stone Cat 2012, an online conversation began between Bob “Diesel-san” Crowley, Sam “T.I.M.” Jurek, and myself.  Diesel-san initiated by sending T.I.M. (which stands for The Invisible Man, a moniker, which, after Stone Cat, speaks for itself) and me an inspirational video.  Naturally the electronic “conversation” turned to how we were feeling, strategies for race day, and other such pre-race perseverations.  At the end of the ruminations, in his zen/Yoda-esque wisdom, Diesel-san said:

I've a really good feeling for both of you.  You're relaxed, approaching this as fun - not a task - and I'll think you'll both enjoy each other's company and push each other.  My prediction?  You go 1 and 2 and both break the record.  Who pants who to take the top podium spot?  I'd go with rock, paper, scissors . . .

Diesel-san is currently enjoying a winning streak in Vegas.

For many reasons Stone Cat 2012 was an important race for me, personally and as a runner.  As such, this write-up is going to delve into my own personal running psychosis.  Brevity has never been a strength (heck, I run ultras!), so be warned.

As I’ve written before, at the conclusion of Western States in June, I was in a complete running funk.  My body was lethargic all summer, my running confidence was crushed because of unmet expectations at Western, and my personal spirit/energy were thrown into our new house and time with the family (not a bad thing at all).  10 milers were daunting.  My GPS told me my pace was slow.

September marked a gradual change in the winds and my thoughts turned to tackling Stone Cat once again.  My running was coming around and my body had a spark.  I stopped running with a watch and simply ran by feel, for joy.  After my last big training run on the course, two weeks before, I was legitimately excited for the whole Stone Cat experience and decided to run the race sans-watch, a first for me.  Sam and I made a plan for race day: run much more conservatively than last year by complete the first two loops in the 1:35 range (last year we ran these in 1:28), plug into music for the 3rd and 4th loops, wear the slick new TARC singlets, and he would drive me to the race.  On Saturday morning he was early.  He was clearly ready to go.

The most memorable part about the drive up to Ipswich was how the night before we both had been thinking that we might as well just “go for it” and chuck our conservative game plan out the door.  Why not just run hard from the start?  We laughed at ourselves.

Pre-race at Doyon Elementary is always fun, like a family reunion of sorts.  I got a kick out of handing RD-extraordinaire, Marty, a loaf of bread and some cheese (I had been ribbed for my mind-boggling consumption of grilled cheese at the finish last year and had promised Marty to make amends).  As Sam and I set out our extra bottles and gear for quick ins/outs at the start/finish, we caught up with Sebastien, who, in his first 50, placed 2nd at Stone Cat last year, and had just run some fast marathons and 50s.  Despite the convivial mood, my mind was focused on besting my 6:29 from last year and, hopefully, running under Ben Nephew’s course record (6:24).

As we lined up to go, I noticed my headlamp seemed weak.  I asked Sam if it was on, and he told me it wasn’t.  I was pretty sure I had already turned it on.  I tried again.  As we ran down the field it was not a big deal, but when we hit the woods, I noticed my lamp, again, was not on.  For the third time, I turned it on.  Seconds later it went out.  Curses! I had even thought about switching the batteries the night before.  I asked Sam if I could just follow him.  He graciously said yes, as, on the first hill, Sebastien made an early move and put a bit of a gap on us.  I tried my headlamp again.  Seconds later it was out.  I decided not to try it again.  (Two little asides about this.  First, at one point both Sam and Sebastien got off course.  I must be eating a lot of carrots because I, the one without the headlamp, was able to see the trail.  Second, when I got home, I explained the technical difficulties to my family and took out my headlamp to demonstrate.  Wouldn’t you know, the thing burned brightly, without fail, as I shook and tossed it, for about ten minutes before finally shutting it off.  My mom, who was visiting, told me it was my Uncle Norm (who recently lost a battle with cancer), ever the trickster, just reminding me to not take myself too seriously.  Thanks Uncle Norm.  Your misadventures continue and I appreciate that you didn’t send a buck charging at me.).

The first loop continued as such, Sebastien a minute up on Sam and I, and Jack Bailey (who I had the pleasure of running with a bit with at the VT 100 this summer) running with us.  We came in to the start/finish, got a read on Sebastien’s lead (almost exactly a minute), and were back out without breaking stride.  The clock read 1:30.  As we started the 2nd loop Sam and I put a bit of a gap on Jack and were running together, strong.  We started joking that we were just as foolish as last year, but neither of us suggested we slow.  On the 2nd loop Sebastien maintained his lead.  Sam and I plugged away, and after the 2nd aid station I started to feel the pace a little.  I settled behind Sam and he did the work.  With about 1.5 miles before the start/finish I broke what had been a very quiet time and said, “Sam this is the least we’ve ever talked on a run.” He laughed and said, “We’re just conserving energy.” That was the extent of our conversation for the majority of those 12.5 miles.  We finished the loop in 1:29, 2:59 elapsed.  Sebastien had the exact same lead on us.  And then my wheels nearly came off.

As we grabbed our fresh bottles at the start/finish for some reason (that I am yet to figure out) I became a deflated balloon.  Sam quickly gapped me by maintaining our previous pace.  I knew the pace had been solid, and I desperately wanted to keep stride with T.I.M. (Sam = The Invisible Man, or T.I.M.  because of his speed), to help him close the minute lead Sebastien had.  By the top of the first hill T.I.M.. was, well, invisible to me.  The next 6 or 7 miles were what I will remember as my self-pity party.  I wasn’t bonking, my energy was good, but my legs just couldn’t keep up.  An emotional highlight came 2 miles into this loop when someone yelled at me, “Your brother is just a minute ahead.”  I know it was to do with our TARC shirts, but Sam and I have shared a lot of miles and everything that comes with that (he was the reason I finished Western States), and whoever said this does not know how meaningful his comment was to me.  Just coasting it in the last two loops sounded really appealing, but I couldn’t let my “brother” down.  Yet my legs just weren’t responding.  And then music saved my day.

After never using it before, in August I started listening to music while running (Liz gave me the gift of a new iPod Shuffle - it weighs less than half an ounce!).  I have to admit, it is great.  And, as I plodded along, pitying myself and my slowing legs, all of a sudden a remixed version of John Denver’s classic Country Roads pumped through my tiny iPod.  It wasn’t the song itself, but the image of my younger son, Jacoby, singing along to one particularly upbeat section.  This thought put a smile on my face and I remembered that my family was going to be at the finish line.  The idea of finishing with my two boys made me, in a word, happy.  My legs seemed to respond.  I dropped the negative thoughts, which had been a near-constant companion for the first 8 or so miles of the loop, and told myself, “It is going to hurt, but simply enjoy it.  Sam is up there.  Sebastien is up there.  Go.”  The last 4 miles or so went a lot better.  I also knew that my friend (and winner of many TARC races), Eric Ahern, was going to be running the 4th loop with me.  I saw Sam and Sebastien on the out-and-back section at the start of the course.  Sebastien was about 6 or 7 minutes up on me and Sam was about 40 seconds behind him. I shouted my encouragement to both (although tempted to tell Sam to wait for me, I saw he was ready to crush it).  Seeing him moving so well buoyed my spirit further, and, when I met Eric at the edge of field, things picked up.  The loop was slower than I wanted, but not as bad as it had felt: 1:39.  

I have run a bunch with Eric.  I’ve noticed something each time: he literally floats.  The plan was for him to just be a few feet in front of me and basically drag me through the 4th loop.  At first his graceful stride annoyed me as my feet clopped along.  But it quickly inspired.  He was a machine, and my mind was on autopilot.  It was just what I needed.  The negative thoughts were gone.  It was just a matter of how fast we could get it done.  I said all of 5 words the whole loop, but grunted a lot.  We were moving well enough by the first aid station that I started thinking we would be closing on Sam and Sebastien.  When we would see runners up ahead I immediately thought it was one of them.  We pulled into the 2nd aid station and Bill Howard (who, if you don’t know him, is currently in the running for one of the top-ten greatest people in the world) told me they were just minutes up (the simple fact that he understood my incoherent inquiry speaks to his greatness).  It was on.

Eric pushed me through those last 5+ miles.  And just when I thought third was my spot that day, we hit a long straightaway, just before you make a left on a little U singletrack, about 3 miles from the finish, and I saw someone 100 yards up.  “Eric, I think that’s Sebastien.” (My five words for the loop).  “You’re right.  Let’s go!”  We shouted encouragement to Sebastien, who had clearly hit a very rough spot, but I ran as hard as I could.  I didn’t look back.  I saw Eric check and asked how far back he was.  “He’s out of sight.”  We ran harder.  Visions of catching Sam and finishing together, in our slick new TARC singlets (seriously the most comfortable running shirt I’ve ever worn) now danced in my head.  As Eric and I turned onto the new singletrack leading to the car, Jeff Lane (who was a champion volunteer at that intersection all day) told us that Sam had just come through the other side.  I knew we wouldn’t catch him, but we still ran hard.  

We hit the field, the last 200 yards to the finish, and I let out a yell, a sort of cathartic release, my spirit telling my body that I had recovered from unmet expectations.  That I had found joy in my running, had run hard, and run well.  And, just as they had said, my family was there at the finish, my mom, my sister, my nephews, my wife, and my boys.  Running the last few steps with them was amazing.  I felt no pain.  It was pure joy.  Sam had waited at the finish (even though he came in 5 minutes ahead of me).  We had fulfilled Diesel-san’s prophecy, coming in 1 - 2, both under the old course record.  I may have lost the rock/paper/scissors for the win (at one point I tried to throw a real rock at Sam so I could catch up.  He was too fast), but I’ve never had a more fulfilling race.  

A father's greatest joy: finishing with my two boys, Cooper
(in red, with the Mohawk) and Jacoby (in stripes). 

The "TARC Brothers," all smiles (I might be grimacing -
hard to tell) at the finish.  Sweet new shirts!
Post-race, the joy continued, watching friends finish (many their first 50), joking around with all the incredible GACers, eating a slightly more reasonable number of delicious grilled cheese (thanks Chris - the one you made was extra special!), and enjoying everyone’s company.  Sebastien, who had traveled from Quebec without his family, came over for dinner (pizza and ice cream) and, just so he wouldn’t miss his kids too much, plenty of energy from my two boys and two nephews.  It is amazing the bond that is formed from such a shared experience.  I have only met Sebastien briefly before (twice at Stone Cat and once this summer as we were all leaving Storyland up in New Hampshire), but we hung out for several hours, talking about our lives, laughing about our toenails and the state of an ultra-runner's feet (for the first time ever in an ultra, I had no blisters, and, unlike years past at Stone Cat where I have lost 7 toenails, I am happy to report, not a one will be coming off after this year’s race!), and looking at pictures of his kids (and watching my kids tear around the house).  

Stone Cat 2012 will be remembered as being an as close to perfect ending to the 2012 competitive season as I could have wished for.  If Marty will have me, I’ll be back for sure (bread and cheese in hand!).  

Gear note: For those interested, I wore inov-8’s new Trailroc 245s.  Best shoes the company makes.  And, as I said, no blisters or lost toenails.  That speaks for itself!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sisyphus Smiles

A few days before this school year started I read a book that my father gave me as a "housewarming" present, Buddha in the Classroom, by Donna Quesada.  It is her memoir of being a burned-out community college professor, returning to her learnings as a Zen practitioner to find a renewed passion for her work.  The book had collected dust for months, and I had simply picked it up as a means to not doing anything to actually prepare for the fast-approaching school year (burned out high school teacher much?).  It is a shame I let the book sit for so long, because there have been many lessons and ideas from it that have brought a renewed passion to my work.  Chief among them was a profoundly simple, yet incredibly powerful, image that has stuck in my head: Sisyphus smiling.

Several years ago I became fascinated by the Greek myth of Sisyphus - the king punished by the gods for his hubris and made to push an enormous rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down and then compelled to repeat the process, for all eternity.  It made me feel smart knowing the story.  I felt even smarter when I would glibly use "Sisyphean" in conversation.  There was nothing positive about Sisyphus's chore.  He was wretched.  The task was pointless.  It never ended and was always repeated.  It sounds a lot like training for an ultra (minus the endorphins and shiny new belt buckle at the end).  Misery comes to mind.  Until you picture him smiling.

The idea is so simple: here is Sisyphus, the wretch, interminably pushing his boulder up the hill, watching it roll down and repeating.  In my mind he was always completely defeated, hopeless.  And then, as I read this short passage, everything about the picture changed.  Imagining Sisyphus smiling, embracing his situation as his reality, not wanting a different past or a different future, but accepting the present, the scene totally changed.  He was no longer hopeless, but happy in his acceptance of the situation.  I discussed this image with my students.  They said things like, "Maybe he's happy because he's getting stronger," or, "It's kinda fun to push rocks down a hill." The point, for me at least, is that there is something to take joy in, to find happiness in, from almost any situation, if we simply accept it and smile. (A little aside here: the idea of imagining Sisyphus smiling originally came from the French absurdist/nihilist,  Albert Camus.  This past weekend I was on a run with some TARC friends and met a guy doing his graduate work in theology, Paul.  I brought up this idea created by, "Al-bert Cam-us," said just like that, with a nice American accent.  Paul was gracious enough to wait until later (when I suggested that I had butchered the name) to tell  me (very politely and with no pretension) that it is actually "Cah-moo."  I went home and also found out that his first name is pronounced, "Al-bear" with a sort of rolling r sound.  Freakin' French.).

Should I ever get a tattoo (no plans to), I think it would be an image of Sisyphus smiling (maybe an emoticon instead?).  I have thought about it nearly ever day since coming across it in the book.  I have used it in my classroom when conferencing with students or trying to explain an assignment (for the 7th time).  I have used it while running when the legs feel leaden and tired (or fleet and spry!).  I have used it when I find myself wishing I were somewhere else than were I am (after-school meetings, stuck behind that insanely slow (I mean 10 mph slow) driver all the way to the Y).  I'm sure that I'm missing much of the nuance of the philosophical reasoning with my simply interpretation, but I'm okay with that because right now it makes sense to me.  It has helped me rethink situations and find deeper joy in tasks and activities that just weeks ago I struggled to get through (running and, to a certain extent, teaching).  Picturing Sisyphus smiling through his labor, I stopped wearing my GPS on every run.  With no watch, all of a sudden runs were not being judged "good" or "bad" based on a time.  Some are faster and at a greater effort because that is what happens at that time.  Some are slower.  Some I try to get lost on.  Some are direct to/from school.  I've come to embrace every step.  No run is good or bad, but it simply is and I am content with that.  It's amazing what a little change in perspective can do.
That's more like it.  Nice shades too!
Yeah, doing this once looks pretty awful.  Don't worry, only all of eternity to go . . . 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Aye! Tunes!

Beginning the new school year there was one thing that I dreaded more than anything: my daily run to and from school.  While I love running, this run is not the most scenic.  It follows a nearly arrow-straight, main-road through Somerville, MA.  There is no great way to avoid it on quaint side streets.  There are no great urban trails within more than a half dozen miles.  And I run all 7.5 miles of it every school day.  Twice a day.  Sometimes in the dark.  Both ways.  By my reckoning, I ran nearly this exact route close to 340 times in the 10 month school year.  I was gearing up to do at least that many times again.

So it was on the first day of school that when the alarm clock went off for the first time since the last day of school, I was a bit apprehensive about beginning my daily routine.  I was no longer in love with this route.  The completely sluggish feeling I had nearly every time I traced these steps at the end of last school year was still fresh on my mind.  My lackluster summer of running was even fresher.  My mind was totally defeated before I even started lacing up my shoes.  It was well before the sun woke up and I opened the door to begin a new school year.  Little did I know, my wife, Liz, had given me two incredible gifts, which have resuscitated my running in great measure.

Liz and I just celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary yesterday, on September 14.  We met during orientation week of college, so this time of year also marks our 15th year of sharing our lives.  Just as she continues to surprise me, the gifts she gave me, helped me find new joy in (what I used to refer to as) my daily "slog" (now happily called commute or run) to work.

The first was a bit silly: a rice cooker for my classroom.  It sounds odd, but, by committing to schlepping groceries (oatmeal, rice, various seeds, and other sundries) to school once a week on my bike, my morning runs are now freed from the burden of carrying each day's food on my back (I eat a lot).  Not only does this make the morning run easy, I'm eating a heck of a lot better at school (I'm making a very strange form of sushi rolls every day and have more variety than my old daily staples, cold oatmeal and 6 or 7 pears).  This makes the afternoon run that much easier - I actually have energy at the end of the day (it's amazing how key nutrition is). But the real game changer came in a package that weighed less than 0.5 ounces: an iPod shuffle.

I have considered myself a runner for eleven years (since finishing college).  Not once in those years did I ever listen to music on a run.  People would ask me what I thought about the idea of listening to music while running, and I would always have some verbose response that went on too long and likely made little sense (funny, that's what most of these blog posts are like . . .).  Then, this summer while we were up in New Hampshire, I kept talking about how I should try out listening to music (it seems like all the runners I know now listen to tunes at some point, and I cow to peer pressure all the time), especially since the new (I have no idea if it is new or not) iPod shuffle was so light and could hold all the music I own (about 6 songs).  After much hemming and hawing, Liz made the decision and surprised me when she went out one day (she is very thoughtful and probably knew I would never have spent the $35 myself).  I tried it as soon as I could.  In my fantasy I pictured myself floating through the woods with a Jerry Bruckheimer-worthy soundtrack playing.  In reality I found it infuriating.

My ears are large and, I discovered, lack the requisite cartilage to allow ear buds to rest in them (I'm not joking about either of these things).  I tried five different styles and could make it no more than a mile before the cursed headphones fell out.  Even the ones designed by an "Ironman triathlete and guaranteed never to fall out." They made it 3/4 of a mile.  Laughable.  I finally found a cheap pair at Radio Shack, the kind that wrap behind your head and literally squeeze the speakers into your ear canal.  Aside from the over-the-ear model I tried from the Dollar Store, they were the cheapest I tried.  Despite my poor expectations, they work brilliantly, never so much as budging or fading (even through one of the hardest rain storms I have ever run through).  And they have totally changed my daily commute.

That first morning of school, there I was: no eight pound pack full of food and water on my back, cell phone tucked perfectly into my handheld's pocket, iPod clipped to my shorts, t-shirt tucked into the waistband, headphones securely in ears, dreading that run down Broadway, until . . . a remix of Flo Rida's Whistle came on with that first step.  It was like crack to my groggy mind.  I flew up the little hill at the end of our street.  The first miles of this all-too-familiar route disappeared in a soundtrack of pop and hipster songs that would have made my two boys dance on our counter tops (it doesn't take much).  I got to school feeling happy.

I've since learned how to create playlists in iTunes.  I've since ripped many great songs from YouTube (and, yes, I may have "borrowed" a few songs from Timothy Olson's Western States Playlist because, well, I'm that lame).  I've since started to enjoy my runs to school (it's amazing how fast one can run to Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons.  And try not sprinting at full tilt while listening to the Dropkick Murphys Going Out In Style - seriously, try to.  It's not possible).  I've since PR'd on my run to school by about 2 minutes.  I've since run the 0.3 mile hill near school nearly 15 seconds faster (while doing 10 repeats, instead of just running up it once) than I was "in shape" for Western at the end of last school year.  I've since stopped wearing any sort of watch because I no longer feel the need to know exactly how many miles I've gone (I'm taking a few more detours now).

Do the tunes completely shut me off from the people I see on the streets?  Yeah.  Do the tunes make me feel like I am "cheating" some how while I run?  A little bit.  Have the tunes recharged my running and put a new vigor into my training?  Without a doubt.  So I must thank Liz, again, for continuing to surprise me and make me a happier (and better) person after nearly half our lives together - now, whenever asked what I think about listening to music while running I will have a simple, two word response: AYE!  TUNES!




Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Misadventures of Uncle Norm

They say lightning never strikes twice.  Maybe that explains why my Uncle Norm's been struck four times.  There was the first time, when he was 18, bailing hay in a field, and it burned right through his work gloves.  There was the time, just after putting his youngest daughter in the car, when it launched him into the air across a parking lot.  There was the time on his boat when his friends saw it arch between him, the boat, and the water.  And, finally, there was the time in his garage/workshop, when he didn't take his boots off for several hours, convinced that they had been scorched and were no longer there.  Needless to say, no one in our family will go out on the water with him if there is the slightest chance of poor weather (fortunately it was all clear skies the day I caught my first walleye on his boat.  I can still hear the thunk his mallet made on the top of the fish's head when I reeled it in after Santiago-esque battle).

You sometimes hear fantastic stories of super-human feats, especially in the realm of survival.  If there is one thing that the outside world would say of Uncle Norm, it is that he is a survivor (among many other, more incredible things).  Once while deer hunting in tree blind, he fell while climbing down, breaking his back in three places.  For many, this would be a death sentence - his friends were all back at camp and he had gone out for another go at tagging a trophy.  Yet, impossibly, Uncle Norm managed to crawl the mile back to his truck and get to his friends.  The doctors said he was lucky to be alive and would probably never walk again.  I've never seen him in a wheelchair.  There was also the time when a tree fell on one of his friend's legs.  Uncle Norm lifted the tree off his friend, and carried him to the car.  Later, four men could not move the tree.  

The last Christmas I spent with Uncle Norm and my family in Michigan, about ten years ago, I noticed the large scar on Norm's thumb, and asked what happened.  He nonchalantly explained how he had nearly sliced his thumb off while hunting.  The story got much more interesting when he explained that this happened while wrestling a buck.  Being a runner I have become fascinated by the idea of persistence hunting.  My uncle, who probably never ran more than half a mile at a go his whole life, had lived this dream, in a way: he had shot a buck, which proceeded to jump over a log and collapse.  Uncle Norm gave it a few minutes before going to examine.  As he straddled the tree, the buck picked its head up and started at Norm.  Uncle Norm describes the next several moments of his life as a flurry of deer spit, antlers, sweat and adrenaline, before he was able to unsheathe his hunting knife from his leg, and slit the deer's throat (and his thumb in the process).  As he lay on the ground with the deer on top of him, its blood and his own covering him, he heard another deer running through the forest - sent to avenge its brother.  It took him a minute to realize this was actually just his heart thumping in his chest.  The only thing that made this story better was the fact that moments later Uncle Norm would scoop an enormous portion of wasabi, thinking it was guacamole, onto a tortilla chip.  I swear, just like in cartoons, there was smoke coming out of his ears!

Sadly, Uncle Norm, my mom's baby brother, died this morning.  The man who had more lives than a cat, and lived each one of them full of nature, family, friends, and hard-work, spent his last days valiantly battling cancer.  When he was diagnosed, with stage-four lung cancer (he never smoked) his first doctor told him he had a few weeks to live.  That was almost two years ago.  Two years filled with trips, farming, hunting, spear-fishing, boating, the birth of grand-kids, and, typical for Uncle Norm, practical jokes.  

May all our lives be filled with the sort of moments that make us laugh and give us joy.  May all our lives be filled with misadventures like Uncle Norm.  

Smiling to the last - Uncle Norm enjoying a banana split a couple of weeks ago



Monday, August 13, 2012

Slackin' & Sufferin'

When one slacks, one usually suffers.  It makes sense - if you are concert pianist but never practice you will, likely, suffer from embarrassment.  If you want to run long distances, but don't run consistently or very far, well, you will likely suffer on some of your runs.  I discovered this to be very true on a run today.

As I continue to try to build myself back from a disappointing summer of running, I have completely slacked on being consistent (there have been moments of solid running, but nothing like what I am used to).  While there are perks to this (most notably, more time with the family to do things like hike up mountains in New Hampshire or play around on our new slackline - and in the end, this is more important than getting in solid training), the negatives were brought out in sharp relief when I met up with a couple of inov-8 teammates, Double J and Kevin Tilton, for an "easy" run tonight.  

After a long day at Storyland with the boys (this is typically its own form of suffering, but today it was quite fun, albeit, very long), and a short run to test some new earbuds (my ears are freakish and not designed to hold earbuds, even ones "guaranteed not to fall out," I discovered), Liz dropped me off at Cathedral Ledge for a 10-miler with Jim and Kevin.  These guys are exceptional runners: name a race in New England, and, chances are one (or both) of these guys have won it.  I was looking forward to running with them (as I don't race the shorter events, I've never seen these guys at a race) and getting to know some more of the local trails.  We took off from the bottom of Cathedral Ledge and meandered some trails that I was familiar with.  The pace was mellow, and we were chatting away.  About 7.5 miles in (at this point I was thoroughly turned around and lost), we made it to the top of Thomspon Falls, an impressive waterfall.  It was here that I knew things were going to be heading downhill (unfortunately, not literally).  I was thirsty.  I was very thirsty.  I started salivating thinking about drinking from the falls.  Or at least lying down in it; I was soaked in sweat).  One mile later I pulled up during a short incline, nauseous and dizzy.

As a runner, I think there are fewer things more embarrassing than running with some guys for the first time, bonking, and having to stop and hike, especially on a short, easy run.  It sucked.  I felt bad for slowing these guys down (they were both quite nice about it.  I would have mocked me mercilessly and fully expect to be, should they ever agree to "run" with me again!).  I felt bad because we were less than two miles from the car and I could barely lift my legs up an incline (flashback to the last many miles of Western).  I was frustrated because it was exactly one year ago when I had been floating up these trails with ease, sometimes twice a day.  The nausea didn't help things much either.  Neither did the slight spins.  I was thinking a lot about water.  This is what I expect in the late miles of an ultra if I've done a horrible job with nutrition and hydration. I'll chalk it up to not eating anything after breakfast and being completely dehydrated.  That's better than fully admitting I've been slacking on the running front and have a long way to go to get back to where I want to be.

There was a silver (or slightly less-precious metal) lining to this run for me (aside from the fact that Kevin and Jim were very gracious and let me suffer in silence - maybe it was all our talk of speedwork that made me ill . . .).  As strange as this sounds, it was turning down Kevin's (very tempting) offer of a ride back to my rental condo.  I knew it was about 3 miles, and that it would really hurt (mentally more than anything).  It did.  My legs were lead.  It was just me and my thoughts, which were few beyond, "One more step." I had missed dinner with the family.  I thought I was going to miss bed time (I made it back as Liz was finishing a reading of Captain Underpants).  These were some of the toughest miles I have run.  Ever.  But I got 'em done.  They weren't pretty and I knew I had earned all the suffering I got.  Which is where that silver lining came from.  

Today's suffering reminds me of my first foray into long runs, when I returned home after about 19 (unplanned) miles and was literally smelling water in peoples' homes.  That was almost ten years ago.  Today's suffering reminds me of descending off of Cayambe with my dad, and lying down at the refugio, body so spent that I could barely move, but my spirit in a state of euphoria (it could have been sleep deprivation).  That was about eight years ago.  It was a different suffering than what you feel at the end of most ultras even.  Today's suffering hurts (physically and it's a big-time ego bruise), but it's a special place, one that doesn't present itself very often, because, well, it's pretty ugly and actually takes a considerable effort to get there.  Today's suffering is a place that I don't readily want to return to (at least for several years!), but I know how to avoid it: stop slackin'!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What's For Dinner?

In lazy, or uninspired, moments, this seems to be the question de rigueur for Liz and I.  After a morning of mini-golf and an afternoon of river swimming (note to self: googles make everything in the water better - it was great to be able to see the river from its perspective!) and ice-cream, I was not feeling an elaborate meal preparation.  A fun movie, an enormous cucumber and hummus, and I wasn't even feeling getting out for a run.

So it was a salad, green beans (picked from from Google Grandma's garden the day before), and noodles with olive oil and salt followed by a short little family walk to the entrance of Whittaker Woods here in North Conway.  My belly was stuffed, but, as the boys were going to be taking an extended bubble bath, I took the opportunity to get out for a couple of very easy miles.  At least that was the plan.

The first 0.75 miles, despite having several pounds of pasta in my belly, felt comfortable enough that I decided to go a bit further before turning around (my running our first two days in North Conway had been marked by a lot of UP and a lot of DOWN.  My legs, after 6 weeks of little training, were feeling it, hence the planned easy day).  Right at a mile, I was running up a slight hill to where I would be turning around when I discovered that the Katzman family had not been the only ones considering the question "What's for dinner?"

From the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game: What you should do if you encounter a black bear:

  • Make it aware of your presence;
  • Remove any sight or smell of food;
  • Stand your ground and slowly back away.
I bring up this official New Hampshire State checklist of how to safely enjoy wildlife because, right when I was about to turn around and head home for bed time, my planned easy run took a sudden shift.  There, a mere eight feet from me, was a large (nigh gargantuan!) black bear, considering, for itself, what to eat for an evening meal.  Let's consider how I did in regards to the experts' recommendations for such encounters:
  1. Make it aware of your presence: FAILED.  I was essentially snuggling with this fellow (or lady?) before either of us knew what was going on.
  2. Remove any sight or smell of food: NEEDS IMPROVEMENT.  Considering I had eaten a large meal about 10 minutes before, I probably smelled delicious (at least to bears.  I don't think I had showered for a couple of days, but had been in the river earlier . . .).  At least I was not wearing a shirt.
  3. Stand your ground and slowly back away. EPIC FAIL!  Apparently I lack the nerves to stare down an animal that has more strength in its small claw than I have in my entire body.  After a brief moment of eye contact and a very loud noise from my ursine friend (probably an equally loud noise from myself), flight beat fight, I turned, and high-tailed it from whence I came.  Clearly, I would not do well to write brochures regarding wildlife encounters.  
As I ran, back turned to ursus americanus, adrenaline coursing through my tired and stiff legs, I had no idea how fast I was moving, but it was faster than I have for some time.  Unfortunately, probably no more than 30 seconds after fleeing my impending mauling, I felt my dinner trying to make a second appearance.  At this point I began thinking, "I'm totally f'ed.  I can't keep running this hard.  I am what's for dinner tonight!"  To gauge how much longer I had before Smokey made a meal of me, I chanced a looked behind me.  There was no sign of my friend.  Perhaps he was stalking me from the brush.  I kept running hard until I hit the train tracks.  Still no large black shadow pursuing me.  I spent the rest of my run checking behind me every couple of seconds, until I made it back to our unit.  The boys were mildly interested in my wildlife encounter - covering each other with bubbles was much more engaging at the moment.  

Falling asleep last night, I kept thinking about this little run.  As a human, I was stoked - how many people have a chance to experience something like this (and, melodrama here to make it more exciting, live to tell about it?)?  As a runner, I realized I'm really slow - but have a whole new incentive to hit the track!  In the end, one thing is clear - I LOVE New Hampshire!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

D'oh!


In my graduate training to become a teacher, we were drilled about the importance of reflection.  I know the value of it (both personally and professionally), but, at times, it is necessary to remind one's self just how powerful and important it can be.  This is such a reminder . . .

Recently, as we packed for our annual pilgrimage to North Conway, New Hampshire, I decided, naturally, to procrastinate by looking back at my training since February (thank goodness Garmin Connect collects all this for me!).

Six weeks removed from Western, still not feeling 100%, I have been getting a little antsy to feel more consistent in my daily runs - just getting out for longer each day.  I’m trying to be patient, but when I’m not working in the summer and the weather is perfect, it’s hard.  After running through my second speed workout (an 8 X 400 workout on a rolling dirt path yesterday), my confidence was pretty low.  Just a few days ago I was running 200 meter repeats at well under sub-5:00 pace.  Yesterday, it was a struggle to approach 5:00 pace (and I think I only did once).  I blamed it on the 95 degrees and the fact that there were a bunch of uphill sections (the “track” I used is a great, rolling ~0.5 mile crushed-gravel loop around a local park).  What was going though?  I should be able to run harder.  Shouldn’t I?

Then I looked at the data on Garmin Connect.  Following Rocky Raccoon (my first 100 miler), I remember feeling “off” for a bit, but it didn’t seem as long as this summer.  The record tells it differently: it took me five weeks before I ran 14 or more miles at a go. For that first 14 miler, Adam Wilcox drove down to the Blue Hills and I remember being very tentative about my tight knee.  It was six weeks before I made it 20 or more miles.  But most of my runs remained less than 10 miles, and were largely flat.  Since Western?  It took me only two weeks to make it to 14 miles, and I've had several more 10+ mile runs at a solid effort.   There was a hard 12 miler.  There were a couple of hard mountain runs in Vermont.  And there was 39 miles last weekend pacing for Scott.  D’oh!  I should remember the past – I’m actually mending faster following Western than Rocky.  I may not feel like it, but I'm actually being pretty consistent and, mostly, am running them hard (a little aside – as I looked at all my runs in the month and half or so leading up to Western, it was clear that my average pace to/from school (which is the same run each day, twice a day, and, as such, a good measure of my fitness/energy) completely plateaued and even got a bit slower, when it should have been getting faster.  Again, D’OH!). 

Lessons?  One, it looks like it takes me 5 – 6 weeks to recover, physically and mentally, from a hundred miler (this, the 6th week following Western, was the first that I made it through all my runs without really noticing the tightness in my knee, which, according to Garmin Connect, is just when I started feeling better following Rocky).   Two, I should use the info in Garmin Connect and start being less stubborn (foolish) when I begin feeling worn down or when I get warning signs about injuries, and try to take more days “off,” at least from running – swim around Walden Pond (or the Y . . .), take the bike out for a couple of hours, something like that.  Three (and I’ve written this earlier this week), patience is key.  

It is amazing what a little reflection can do . . .

Friday, August 3, 2012

In Thoreau's Shadow

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. 


Henry David Thoreau, Walden: What I Lived For


Growing up I was not much of a daredevil.  I didn't like climbing trees.  I was tentative about jumping into swimming holes.  I was scared to light a firecracker.  I never rode a roller coaster until I was 21.  So, you can imagine my sense of equal parts dread and joy yesterday when Cooper and Jacoby told me they were swimming across Walden Pond.


Since moving to Massachusetts ten years ago Walden Pond has always held a certain mystique on me.  Thoreau made it famous, but my own experiences have cemented it as a "favorite place:"


  • On my first 30+ mile run, running around the pond as the sun came up, totally alone, save the loon that was calling through the mist rising off the water;
  • The first hike that the boys and I took with my father, the smell of autumn hanging in the air;
  • Seeing Liz enjoy the cool water on a sweltering day, just days before Cooper was born and our lives were changed (for the better) forever;
  • The humid summer run, my first with a handheld water bottle, when the skies opened and thunder rolled.
Some say that Walden is overcrowded, that the fences along the paths go against Thoreau's ethos of living free.  But it is still a special, beautiful place, and since today was a boy's day (Liz was working), and it was over 90 degrees, we drove the 15 or 20 minutes to swim.  

As we walked down to the pond (you come out to the main, roped-off, life-guarded swimming area), Cooper kept asking how far it was from our place.  I told him about 11 miles the way we came.  "I could run that or I could ride my bike here," he said.  He's 6.  I was proud.  Seeking a bit of adventure, we shunned the crowded "beach" and began walking around the pond to one of the "private" entries.  Jacoby (who can, at times, be less than enthusiastic about these "hikes") picked our spot, and climbed down the steep rocks to the pond first.  Both of the boys were a bit tentative about getting in the water - this was one of the first times we were actually swimming in wild (more or less) water - no ropes, no life guards, just us.  And so it was, after both boys dunked their heads, I decided to jump in and swim out - to encourage them to push their limits a bit, to live fully and in the moment.

We spent about an hour in the water, trying to catch fish with our hands, and swimming a little further out at times, but always returning quickly to the shore (because of Walden's depth, once you get a few feet from the shore, you can't see the bottom - it's pretty intimidating, especially for a 4 and 6 year old!).  When the boys got cold, we decided to walk a little further around the pond, and ended, auspiciously, at "Thoreau's Cove," a small inlet near the site of old Hank's cabin.  It was here, where I had been expecting to simply enjoy some more "fishing" and easy soaking, that Jacoby said he wanted to swim across the inlet, to the other side (Cooper had wanted to swim the ~0.5 miles across the entire pond earlier).  At first my mind said, "NO WAY!" The water is deep, it is further than Cooper has ever swam, and there is no chance that he can simply bob to the bottom and come back up (the water is probably about 25 feet where we crossed).  Plus we didn't have our googles, and the boys, who are both incredible swimmers, are not quite as confident without them.  Yet, they persisted, and after agreeing that Jacoby would hold onto my back (tightly!) the whole time, and that Cooper would stay within arm's reach, I was floating on my stomach and Jacoby was climbing on.  We were off.

Thoreau's Cove is only about 70 meters across.  Yet that small distance led to one of the toughest and proudest moments of my life.  It was difficult to put my kids into a potentially dangerous situation - I knew they could both make it, but still, what-if?  I was incredibly proud of the confidence both boys showed.  Jacoby for wanting to do something like this and for cheering both me and Cooper the whole way and staying cool as we swam (he was a bit upset that I didn't let him swim alone, but I wasn't ready for that).  Cooper for diving right in, and as he struggled a bit towards the end, for sticking with it, for staying calm and reaching the other side.  Despite my reservations, seeing the joy and sense of pride from both boys made it worth it.

The boys' original plan had been to swim both ways (we had to get our stuff!).  Cooper summed up our decision to hike back along the path as such, "Jacoby (who was all for swimming back), that was hard!  My chest is pounding so hard!"  So was mine.

Perhaps my two boys will forget this day in the near future.  I will not.  I will remember the day when both of my children, together, "fronted only the essential facts of life," and truly challenged themselves, and truly lived.  The mystique of Walden continues to grow.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Running 'Round in Circles

This past Saturday, I ran around a 3.17 mile sidewalk loop.  For 39 miles.  Boring?  Mindless?  Awful?   Nothing could be further from the truth . . .

Just ask Scott Traer.  While most people would think my 39 mile around this loop was impressive, consider this: Scott ran 101.5 miles more than me on this loop.  That's 140.5 miles.  Without stopping.  That's why this run was so incredible.

Scott was competing in the 24 Hours Around the Lake race.  He had competed in this race last year (when I was competing in the measly 12 hour version) and had some unfinished business.  I have been fortunate enough to run with Scott throughout this past year, and was looking forward to joining him for as long as I could (five weeks out, I am still combatting a post-Western funk, and only had two "long" runs of 14 miles since that point).  I joined Scott around mile 83 or 86 for him.  He was cruising.  As we started out, it became clear that he was having a solid day, easily running 7:30ish pace.  For the next six and half hours we just ran around in circles, stopping at his all-vegan, self-service aid station at the start/finish, where I discovered the incredible power of dates, with sliced almonds and agave nectar.  Simply amazing fuel.  Conversation and energy ebbed and flowed, but still we ran the circle.

Suffice it to say that Scott ran hard, stopping only because a two-hour downpour near the end left him hypothermic.  Watching him for a more than 6 hours got me thinking: his training and diet are pretty intense, and to continue to try to compete in this sport, I've got to revamp my own training.  Leading up to Western I had 11+ weeks in a row over 100 miles and about 15 weeks in a row in the 90+ range.  But those miles were mostly junk.  Just casually running to and from school, exhausted physically and mentally, because, well, I was exhausted (I wasn't confident to take a bit of a break when my body was telling me to and I believe that is now why I still feel a bit haggard).  It was with this new thinking that I found myself three days after pacing Scott, again, running 'round in circles, this time at the Arlington High School Track.

10x200.  It may not seem like much, and, considering I ended the day with a mere 5 miles, I usually wouldn't think of this as much of a workout, but to me it was a start.  I had just finished assembling the boys' new swingset/fort (not an easy 8 hours of work, especially since I missed lunch and drank nothing all day).  I was beat and I smelled.  My back was sore from leaning over to tighten screws and level the fort.  My legs were still sore from the shock the received pacing Scott.  But I laced up, and jogged the ~1.25 miles to the high school track.  I planned on running 5 - 7 200m repeats.  Then I started running hard.  200 meters.  Online I had read to give myself 2 - 3 minutes recovery.  That seemed too easy, so after the second repeat, it became a 200 meter recovery.  I kept the pace consistent (and fast, for me).  I got to the fifth repeat feeling pretty good.  I decided to go for 8 (1 mile of hard running).  I got to 8 and went for 10.  I felt like I could have kept this up, but am trying to ease into this whole speedwork thing.  Trying to be patient.

And that is what I am taking away from running around in circles the last few days - patience.  Think of things as a part of a cycle.  Be patient with this cycle of recovery for my body, even if it seems to be interminable.  Be patient listening to what my body is telling me.  Be patient as I try to rebuild myself into a stronger runner.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A New Attitude

Last week, when visiting my family in Vermont, my older son attended a morning soccer camp with his cousins.  He did great - playing in the 4 - 6 year old group, without any of his cousins and 56 other kids.  He was very proud to demonstrate the "sole reverse" and insisted on wearing his "jersey" (a yellow, cotton t-shirt) everyday, all day - lots of night-time laundry!  While the camp was a 35 minute drive from my folks' (about 5 from my sister's), there was one great benefit for me, as a father who runs: Mt. Mansfield State Park was 6 miles away.


On the first day of camp, it was overcast and damp.  I still drove up to park, and set out, sans-shirt, up the Sunset Ridge Trail to the roof of Vermont (sadly, having grown up in the state, I don't think I had ever reached the summit of Mansfield).  The trail was wet.  My X-Talons weren't slipping, but I was slowed by fear - I couldn't afford a fall because I only had about 1 1/2 hours to run and get back to watch Cooper's scrimmage.  My "run" quickly turned into a hike.  At the intersection of the Sunset Ridge Trail, the summit trail and the Laura Crowles Trail, I decided to bail on the summit.  I was anxious to get back to watch soccer, so, logically, decided to take the shorter Laura Cowles Trail back to the parking lot.


And thus, I found a flap of skin hanging from my thumb bleeding on the rocks as I lowered myself down the LCT.  Seeing the shorter mileage, I reckoned I would get to the parking lot faster - "I am hard-nosed ultra runner," I thought.  I am also a fool.  Not knowing the trails, I didn't realize that the LCT is reminiscent of the toughest, most gnarly trails in the Whites, or anywhere for that matter, especially when wet, which it was.  I slothed down the trail, spitting blood from my finger (it was a minor wound, but bleed like a beast!).  When the trail leveled out, I started running, but tentatively.  I started thinking about how I felt in the days after Western States - disappointed in myself for not pushing harder.  I hit the dirt road that leads to the parking lot.  I pushed hard.


For the better part of the past 10 years, running has been a major part of my life.  Yet, since finishing Western States I've been less motivated than I have been in a while.  The plica in my knee continues to inhibit any serious training, and the joys of moving large rocks and tons (literally tons) of earth with my bare hands (and a sturdy shovel) in our new back yard are many. I have again started running everyday, but my main focus has been the projects around the house (I worked on the boys' new swing set until well after dark tonight, and, like when on a great run, I didn't want to stop).  This Saturday will mark five weeks since Western.  I haven't run more than 14 miles at a clip in that time.  Yet, there is a bit of a routine.  I have been running, at least a mile, everyday.  And while I have been running shorter, I have been running harder.  I have often been running without my trusty Garmin (either on purpose, because of forgetting to charge it, or, as with my run through the Fells this morning, because of boneheadedness (I forgot to press "Start"!)), but have been pushing myself harder.  I don't care what the pace is, as long as I truly feel (mentally, not necessarily physically), that I am putting forth a solid effort.  


It was with this new attitude that I was grunting up the hill around the 0.6 mile dirt road loop at my parent's.  It was the end of a less than 2 mile run, but I was running hard enough that I was grunting, pumping my arms all the way to the driveway.  


It was with this new attitude that I returned to Mt. Mansfield and the Sunset Ridge Trail, and ran the whole way to the top, grunting sections (and walking some, but probably less than a 2 minutes total).  


It was with this new attitude that I found myself, pushing hard up Mt. Hunger, one of my favorite places to run (it's close to my parents' and is tough: a bit shy of two miles to the summit with ~2,200 ft of climbing on some rugged terrain - an Garmin from an old run is here).  I will remember this run for a long time because at one point, about 3/4 of the way up, I stopped, huffing and puffing, hands on some rocks, and considered bailing - I had a family dinner to get back to.  But something wouldn't let me bail.  Something wouldn't even let me hike.  I just put my head down and ran and grunted.  I knew there were a couple of places where I would have to scramble and could break the running cadence there.  I did that.  Then I ran.  I ran the slabs to the summit, grunting.  I had the summit to myself (no small bonus as the parking lot had been overflowing as I had never seen it).  I hustled down to make it to dinner.  I'll never know if it was a PR (it sure felt like it), but on this day, it didn't matter (my dad exclaimed, upon my return, "How can you run up Hunger and not keep track of your time?" Next time . . .).  


After a couple of weeks of running like this, I've come to enjoy it.  I'm even considering hitting a track!  I am finally starting to crave the long runs again, but am imagining those runs through this new attitude.  I can feel a shift in my spirit, and it's exciting.  But, for now, I've got a swing set to finish, and that's exciting!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

How Western States Helped Me (Temporarily) Conquer A Phobia

I am, to put it mildly, afraid of snakes.  At my older son’s second birthday party, we hired a company that brings exotic animals to come entertain the kids.  I was holding Cooper when the presenter brought out a six-foot, black (non-venomous) milk snake.  Parental instinct be damned, I dropped Cooper and ran as far and as fast as I could.  Being bitten by a snake is probably my greatest fear.

Which is why I was rather surprised during the last 20 miles of this year’s Western States Endurance Run, that I really wanted to see a snake.  Specifically, an enormous, venomous (preferably non-lethal), rattlesnake.  As Sam (my friend and pacer) and I left Green Gate (the top of a climb at mile 80), things got very difficult for me, physically and mentally.  I thought a stick on the side of the trail was a rattler and came to a dead stop, Sam nearly crashing into me (he, perhaps mostly to be supportive, said it did look a bit like a snake).  We then ran over a dead baby snake.  As my body shut itself down, my mind kept trying to tell me that time goals were unattainable and started playing horrible tricks on me.  The worst?  Actually wanting to get bit by a rattler, so that I could lie down and have a good excuse to stop moving.  It seemed that we were not even moving.  It felt like I wasn’t actually running anything.  As my pace continued to slow, as each slight uphill grade seemed insurmountable, giving in to “defeat,” to expectations not met, became a tempting siren song.  That rattler could have given me the “out” I was looking for, and allowed me to live in the land of “what ifs” instead of facing the reality of the day, of my feelings about a sub-par performance.

When you set high expectations and fall short, it is a bit hard to not feel disappointed.  I went into this year’s Western States with a goal of running under 17 hours.  Knowing that the field was incredibly deep, I knew that this sort of performance would in no way guarantee a top-10 finish (in fact, 10th place ran a 16:18, a time that, almost any other year, would have won the race outright), but I was fine with that.  I wanted to leave Auburn knowing that I had performed at the level I am capable of.  I had the training, had rested, and believed I could meet my goal.  My mom and dad had traveled to the race to “take care” of me (thank you both, I needed your support more than I knew, or probably let on).  Sam Jurek, a good friend, had traveled to crew and run the last 38 miles with me.  This race was not just about me – I wanted to run my heart out.  I ended up finishing in 18:11, a time that, while others may not care, did not satisfy my ego (more on that later).

The race starts in Squaw Valley with the fire-road climb up the Escarpment, a ~4 mile, ~2,500 ft climb to 8,700 feet.  This part of the course frightened me from the day we arrived in Squaw.  Sam and I had gone out for a jog, and after running the first two miles, I had to stop.  My lungs burned.  I got tunnel vision and nearly passed out.  Was this altitude or something more maligned?  Would I be able to “run” this climb, just two or three days later?  The second day we hiked up to the top of Escarpment, and I felt much better, meeting Jay Smithberger, a speedy 100-mile runner from Ohio, who is running the Grand Slam this summer.  Later in the day I jogged a mile up, and felt fine the whole way.

On race morning, a pack of about 20 guys took off up the hill.  I desperately wanted to be there, but decided to be conservative, and not run hard, hiking good portions of the first climb – the race was not going to be won in the first 3 miles, and, to be totally honest, I didn’t have the wheels to hang on the climb.  Far from the typical Western States weather though, we were greated with a New England winter – high winds, sleet and hail (the wet/cold would last for much of the first 40 miles).  I was determined to be very conservative through Robinson Flat (~30 miles), and, based on the various reports I heard, was doing well at that (I was running with ultra-runner extraordinaire, Mike Wardian for much of this, and he relayed that the leaders were 15 minutes up, 10 miles into the race.  This was rather discouraging, but, I should have asked how far the next people were – only a few minutes.  I definitely got psyched out by hearing that 15 minute number).  I was cold, and at one aid station asked for something hot to drink.  They offered some soup and a campfire.  I took the soup and, probably not much more than 20 miles into the race, the campfire sounded much too inviting (alas, I did not enjoy its appealing aroma and inviting embers).

That pretty much sums up the next 50 miles.  I would eat soup or broth.  I had nothing on the uphills, and so hiked a lot more than I wanted to.  I passed a few people, got passed back when I was using the port-a-potties (no major stomach issues though, which was a big change from my first 100-miler).  I moved.  I felt like I was not moving quickly, so I just moved forward.  I was running downhills fine, uphills, not so much.  I was trying to get calories.  I was trying to rebound.  The finish was never much in doubt, I knew I could cover 100 miles, but I was here to run hard.  I felt like I was letting myself down.

Sam joined me for the duration at Foresthill, mile 62.  I forced down some solid calories and then we took off down Cal Street.  Running felt good and we passed a couple of guys in the early stages (one of these guys, who I had seen at the start because he was sporting Salomon and Slovenia gear, would later pass me with about 12 to go and stay in front of me).  It was clear that our job was to get in calories and move (looking back, I probably had a spot early on where I wasn’t taking enough calories – I was trying to eat solids to save my gut for an all-Gu diet at the end – and this may have created a calorie deficiet that I never really climbed out of, which might explain my general lack of energy for much of the day).  We did okay for the first 15 miles or so, and then got a big boost running into the Rucky Chucky river crossing – we caught up to Lizzy Hawker, who had led the ladies’ race from the go (she had since been passed by Ellie Greenwood, who I shared a number of miles with early on).  When you catch up to one of the best runners in the world (even if she is a she!), it certainly helps the morale a bit.  That, and I was looking forward to a nice, cold crossing of the American River to ice down my sore knees and legs.  This was, it turns out, the greatest disappointment of the race for me (more so than not finishing as quickly as I would have liked): instead of fording the river on foot, Sam and I were thrown into a boat with Lizzy and her pacer.  Apparently the water was still too high.  Sam and I were bummed, but we kept moving on the other side – up Green Gate, which I had decided to hike the whole way (Lizzy would run sections, and, somewhat comically, not gain anything on us.  Sam and I hiked the whole thing and we reached the top maybe 5 or 10 seconds behind).

Hiking up Green Gate (which is over a mile) was probably a mistake.  Mile 80 is at the top, and when we got there, it was as if my legs had forgotten how to run.  Looking back I should have forced myself to run more than I did (Sam made the effort to get me running for short stretches, but I did not budge) to keep the legs moving.  The next twenty miles were a grunt-fest (literally.  I was grunting or moaning with nearly every step from here to the finish), punctuated by a couple of decent patches of running.  Sam got to witness me at a pretty dark time - several hours where I was questioning everything I have put into running, questioning why I wasn’t running as hard as I wanted, as hard I as believed I could.  We passed one or two more people here, but it was of little consolation.  I wanted one of two things: the finish to magically appear, or that rattlesnake to materialize to let me lie down.  Maybe more calories would have helped.  Maybe more hill training.  Maybe more mental toughness.  At that point, it didn’t matter.  I just wanted to be done.  It has been said before, but the last 20 miles of a 100 are pretty special place (and even though they were miserable, especially because they were taking me much longer than intended, they really are special).   

Eventually, the run did finish, far short of my personal expectations, but in a classic, “This-is-why-we-do-this-sort-of-thing” way.  In the last mile and a half there is a climb up Robie Point that feels interminable (I am curious to go back and see it, when not completely wiped).  About 100 yards shy of the crest (although Sam had promised me long before that the climb was over!), the neighbors of Robie Point had come out in force.  There seemed to be over one hundred people there, yelling and screaming, kids on scooters giving high fives, Christmas lights, music.  I had the biggest smile on my face, because, as one New Englander (Kevin Sullivan, who happens to have finished top-5 at Western in 2009, and who’s time I was chasing for most of the day) told me, “No one cares about time or place.” I finally “got” what he meant by that.  While my ego is bruised because I didn’t meet some self-imposed goal, in the end, those people were cheering for me as much as they were for the winner, or for others who would be finishing 12 hours behind me.  My family wouldn’t care if I won, got top-10, or met my goal.  They just want daddy to be able to walk.  I got to share those incredibly tough last miles with a great person and friend,and the day with my folks, and those who were “watching” back home (my aunt, on Eastern time, stayed up to the bitter end - she said she was glued to her iPad!).  Sam and I ran around the track at Auburn High, I hugged Craig (the soon to be RD) as he gave me the finisher’s medal, and hugged Sam, thanking him for his support in what was a very dark time for me mentally.  I looked for my parents who got to witness me finish a 100 miler (they took great care of me throughout the day, with patience and fuel for both the body and spirit).  And now that it is over, my feet are not swollen, I can walk normally, and I’m back East (unfortunately, already thinking about what is next - damn you ego and short term memory loss!), I have two, overwhelming thoughts: One, I am still afraid of snakes, and two, thank goodness one never showed up – although it may have given me the adrenaline boost I needed to run like hell!  
ROCKY (ROAD)

5 years ago, when laid-up with my first-ever running injury, I stopped eating ice
cream. This past summer, my two little boys asked me why I never eat ice cream.
Claiming a healthy lifestyle, I vaguely told them that, after I finished my first 100-
miler, I would take them out for ice cream and actually eat some too. Looks like it’s
time for me start thinking about what flavor to get . . .

ROCKY RACCOON 100 MILER

We must always be gracious to our hosts, especially when they are as wonderful
as the folks from Tejas Trails. A huge thanks is due to Joe and Joyce Prusaitis and
their exceptional volunteers for marshalling the small army that makes this event
possible. From my perspective it was flawless. Thank you all. I have a whole new
respect for Texas!

This was to be my first attempt at 100 miles and I was approaching it as a practice
run for Western States in June. My primary goal in any race is simply to finish, but
entering Rocky I added two additional goals: finish in 15 hours, plus/minus and
hour, and finish top-5. From a goals standpoint, the race was an incredible success: I
learned some invaluable lessons for Western, finished in 15:35, and was fifth. Here
is the (nearly 3,000 word) blow-by-blow, starting at the very beginning.

EMAIL: Me to Joe (Rocky RD): I’m a neophyte to the 100 mile distance and am
planning to run alone. If you know of anyone who might be interested in pacing the
last 20 miles, I wouldn’t say no.

EMAIL: Joe to Me: Meet Meredith Terranova [a human dynamo].

EMAIL: Meredith to Me: I’ve got a great guy to run with you, Pete.

The stage was set, and all I had to do was get myself to Texas. After tweaking my
knee on my 32nd birthday (December 24), I had had about 6 sessions with PT
Danielle Clark at Boston Sports Medicine in Somerville (any folks in Boston looking
for an excellent PT, I cannot speak highly enough about Danielle’s skills),. My body
was healthy, and I knew the training was there to get me to the finish line in a time
I could feel good about. I felt remarkably calm, and knew I would be running 100
miles on February 4. I did not feel cocky, but had a total belief in my preparation.
The anxiety I did have centered around how many GUs I would be allowed to carry-
on the plane (I was bringing a lot – too many, as I learned). Despite my desire to
travel sans-checked luggage (I’m cheap), I checked a bag ($25 dollars on top of my
plane ticket? Really?). I (and the bag) all arrived safely in Houston on Friday, and I
headed the hour north to Huntsville State Park.

I finally got to meet Meredith and Pete (veteran of some gnarly 100 milers) the night
before the race. They proved their incredibly kind natures by introducing me to a
second pacer, Bryan, who would run miles 60-80 with me, Pete’s wife, Kristy, and
Meredith’s husband, Paul (an accomplished ultrarunner/triathlete), who would be
offering encouragement and crew-support during the race – all for a total stranger!
(Meredith and Paul were really crewing/pacing for Ian Sharman, but stuck around
at many aid stations to cheer me through). I proved my lack of race experience by
asking them how to assemble the chip-timing bracelet we would be wearing.

Race morning began with an unwelcome wake-up call. After being hot and, mostly,
dry (the course had been in near-perfect condition), around 4:15 AM the heavens
opened up and it rained. It rained hard. And it kept raining. Hard. One can either
embrace this sort of situation or suffer through it. Given the downright pleasant
mood of everyone, it seemed the former was the preferred philosophy on this day.
By the 6:00 AM start, the rain had let up (a bit), and we were off.

The race is 5 loops of a 20 mile course, with several sections you run twice each
loop. Every step is runnable, and if you’ve ever run in places like the Fells or Blue
Hills around Boston, you will feel like you are running on a road. As expected, a
group made up of Ian Sharman, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, and Osawldo Lopez were
running at a very fast clip. I found myself about 1 minute back through the first
several miles, thinking that I had a long day, and not wanting to push things too
much too early. The course was superbly marked, making it easy to follow. I simply
ran at what felt like a comfortable pace. I found myself running alone for much of
the first loop, just keeping a comfortable pace, finishing the first loop about 5 or 6
minutes down from the leaders.

I ran the second loop entirely alone***, after being buoyed by the all-star crew of
Pete, Kristy, and Bryan at the start finish (***One is rarely alone on the Rocky Course
– there are a lot of people. I was thrilled to see so many friendly/furry Trail Animals
from the Boston area, including Dima (who gave me accurate splits all day, and made
me smile while telling me to run faster when I had about 7 miles to go), Karen, Gail,
Jason, a gentleman who volunteered at Stone Cat (sorry, my memory was shot at that
point!), and “Sully’s Friend.” I also saw Randy, who I met in the airport the day before,
who managed a strong finish).

As I approached DamNation the second time (26 miles in), I had my lowest moment
of the race (which is saying a lot – if you keep reading, you’ll understand . . .). My
knee started to get tight, like it had been off and on since November, and for the only
time in the race, I thought, NO! I STILL HAVE 74 MILES TO GO! I was on top of my
calorie intake (until the last 14 miles, I only used the aforementioned GU, GU’s new
Grape Roctane drink, and, thanks to the wisdom of TARCer Julie O’Mara, ginger).
This time through the DamNation loop was fairly depressing. The loop begins with
a long straightaway over some gentle rollers, but it just seemed to go on forever, my
mind slowly creeping to the negative, as the knee continued to give the slightest hint
of getting angry. Fortunately, by the time I finished the loop the knee felt fine, but it
had definitely raised some doubts in my psyche. At the next aid station I told Pete
that the knee was being a little funky – I think mostly as a way to simply accept what
was happening (and because I like to whine).

To find a good groove, and try to forget about the knee (which was feeling fine at
this point), loop three started out just running a pace that felt very comfortable,
trying to build up momentum like a big Diesel train. As I headed out, I saw one 100
miler a couple of minutes behind me, looking strong, which gave me a little extra
motivation (as did the crew All-Stars, who kept me in and out of aid stations in a
flash – whatever I needed, they had, ready to go. They were topnotch all day). After
seeing the crew at the first aid station (mile 43.5), things started feeling good, and
I just went with it. There were about 3 miles to go until DamNation and it clicked
by easily. It got even easier when 100 yards before the aid station I saw Oswaldo
Lopez, the 2011 winner of Badwater.

Oswaldo looked like he was hurting. After being up on me by ~8 minutes six miles
before, he was limping and moving slowly (he later told me that through 30 miles
he and Ian had been running 7:00 pace). I was stoked by the possibility of taking
over fourth and building a strong lead, but I introduced myself, and said, “BAMOAS
OSWALDO! Let’s run fast together!” He understood, and hung on my back. At first
he was doing a lot of grunting on the little rollers, but we kept at it – chatting in a
comical mix of English and Spanish (Oswaldo was probably hallucinating and in
need of a medical check when he said he was impressed with my Spanish!) - and
made very short work of the next ten miles, hitting some low 7:00 miles out of
DamNation. And then I learned my first lesson about the difference between 100
milers and 50 milers: I cannot exclusively eat GU!

56 miles in, after running strong with Oswaldo for the past 10 miles, I had to stop at
the aid station for a pit-stop. While doing this, Brooks Williams caught up. We ran
together into the start/finish, where Bryan would be joining me for miles 60 – 80. I
had been hoping to run more with Brooks, but he stopped to change socks, I needed
to keep moving to stop getting tight. As Bryan and I started, we almost immediately
caught Ian Sharman, and Paul (who was pacing Ian). I asked Ian if he wanted to run
with us, but he was clearly hurting. Still, passing the guy with the course record
and such talent was rather uplifting 60 miles into the race (to his great credit, after
dropping, Ian stuck with the All-Star crew for much of the remainder of the race
cheering folks on).

Having Bryan along was a great morale boost. His shiny shoes made me laugh,
thinking about what they would look like after some of the muddier sections (to
his credit, his shoes stayed shiny for a long time). I was still taking in GUs, but after
60+ miles of that, the body was starting to “get rid of it.” I felt as if I was running
pretty well, but on this 4th loop, started to make more “pit stops,” which killed some
momentum – I would gain ground on Oswaldo, only to lose it in the bushes. Brooks
caught us at the end of the DamNation loop (where Meredith started pacing him),

and we ran together until I needed to make another pit stop. The running still felt
smooth, but I was becoming less responsive – I had to tell Bryan that some stories
would have to wait until the end of the race, because the mind didn’t have the ability
to run and talk in great detail at this point. Bryan and I cruised into the start/finish
for a final transition with the All-Stars.

With a final start/finish transition with the crew All-Stars, Pete and I took off, less
than a minute behind Brooks and about 10 minutes behind Oswaldo. This was
unchartered territory – I would be running further than I ever had. Pete was patient
(he does teach middle school . . .) putting up with my inability to communicate,
and, at this point, my very frequent pit stops. As we pulled into DamNation to
begin the final loop, I contemplated what to do to get the gut back on track. Pete
suggested forgoing the GU (we only had 14 miles to go!). Knowing that Josh Finger
(who finished 6th) was only about 25 minutes back at the start of the last loop and
I was having to stop so frequently, we went with Pete’s idea (Meredith had been at
DamNation, and offered my an Imodium. I was nervous of any side effects, so did
not take it – perhaps a poor choice). A few more pit stops were needed, but at mile
90, I had my final trip to the side of the trail.

Unfortunately, with this final stop, came a new problem. Stepping back onto
the trail and starting to run, my left knee, which had been bothering me since
November, seized up. For a moment, I thought I was done, but with Pete’s steady
presence, we started jogging and it loosened up. We kept moving as best we could
over the next several miles, running a couple around 8:15 pace (according to my
Garmin). We pulled into the final aid station, and, having not been taking any GUs, I
stopped for Coke. I drank a couple cups, and psyched myself up for the final push.

The race nearly ended about 50 feet from that last aid station. The knee did not
realize it still had 4.5 miles to the finish. Suffice it to say that it hurt. This may
sound clich├ęd, but I actually thought about my family who had been following the
race all day online. I thought about taking my boys out to ice cream. The idea of
stopping quickly left my mind, and again, Pete offered a steady presence. After some
rather unsuccessful walking steps, we decided it would be better to simply “get it
done.” I started “running.” The knee loosened up (with the exception of these two
moments, it never actually hurt at all during the race). I felt the need for another pit
stop, but Pete kindly suggested that we just push forward, lest the knee lock up. We
hit the out-and-back from the start/finish. We hit the boardwalks/bridges. ~1.5
miles to go. Was that a guy driving an ATV telling us, “Good job!”? Did Pete really
say, “Good job driving” back to him? 0.5 miles to go. I told Pete I was really looking
forward to sitting down in a chair. We ran the last little hill. The final turn. The end.

Sitting down has rarely felt so good. Ramen noodles have never tasted so good.
Taking my shoes and socks off has never felt so good (although it was a bit
embarrassing that Paul had to take them off for me . . .). I have never washed that
much mud off my legs before. And, a day later, when I got home, my boys have never
looked so stunned as we all sat down to enjoy our ice cream together (we had Oreo,
cherry, and ginger snap). Looks like I’ll have to finish another 100 pretty soon . . .

THE AFTERMATH

Thank goodness Pete, Kristy, Bryan, Meredith, and Paul were all there. They got my
car, helped me walk to it (after sitting for a while, I could put no weight on the knee),
drove me back to the Motel, and Paul basically carried me up to the room. The
interesting thing was, with the exception of the left knee, the body felt surprisingly
good. The next morning, with the knee so sore, I contemplated buying crutches. I
also noticed that my right ankle was a swollen (and, naturally, both feet were a bit
swollen). As Meredith had foretold, the Ramen post-race had settled the stomach a
bit, but I hadn’t really eaten much after the race. So Sunday morning, I headed over
to IHOP.

There were many knowing nods walking into/out of the restaurant (and motel, and
airport) that morning. It was clear who had just spent the better part of the past
24+ hours running around Huntsville State Park. We shared a special bond (and a
special “walk”). It was great travelling back with Dima and Karen – we were all a
little punch drunk so we could abandon all civility and just relax (I also managed
to score us bulkhead/exit row seats for Huston - Phili. I was the last person on the
plane from Phili – Boston, and the flight attendant took such pity on me that she
allowed me to literally fall into a 1st class).

I finally got home at 2:00 AM, using my rolling suitcase’s handle as a make-shift crutch.  I was tired.  I got to the door, and there, in my 5 year-old’s handwriting was a giant poster saying, “Congratulations Daddy!  We Love You!”  Perfect.
With the exception of my left knee and right ankle, the body feels
surprisingly “spry.” I only got one small blister – impressive given my feet were
wet and muddy for 15+ hours. Yet the drive back to Houston, and then 4+ hours on
planes did not serve me well. By the time I got home at 2:00 AM Monday morning,
my feet had both ballooned, with my right foot/ankle (where I had been wearing
the timing chip for most of the race) about 4 times it’s normal size. My wife took
me to the ER yesterday morning (after I had called in to school, and we had gotten
our boys to school). Sitting in a wheelchair was surprisingly comfortable. It was
reassuring to get X-rays showing nothing was broken in the foot, ankle, or knee. It
was very reassuring to have ultrasound and find no blood clots (given the swelling
in my foot, I was pretty freaked out about that – I wish I had taken a picture, as it
was, objectively, impressively swollen). I was told to not go to work until at least
Thursday, and to basically lie on my back with my feet up for the next 2 days, taking
Aleve.

As I write this, the knee is still sore, but greatly improved. The left foot is back
to almost normal. The only real issue continues to be the right ankle/foot. Still
swollen (but I can actually see the bones at the top of the foot, and there is no
longer a straight line between the ankle and calf. Not sure what exactly caused the
issue with the ankle – I never twisted it during the race, but did notice that it was a
little swollen around mile 80 (expected). I had tried to make the timing chip very
loose, and even switched it to the other foot at mile 80. All I can figure is that it has
something to do with the chip and swollen ankles (now that the swelling has gone
down a bit, there is a pretty big dent right where the bracelet was, so I’m leaning
towards that being the issue . . .). Hopefully nothing too serious, but I’m going to see
an orthopedist tomorrow, and given the progression from yesterday at 2:00 AM to
now, I’m encouraged. The ankle feels insanely tight, but I’m just happy it doesn’t
look like a grotesque balloon anymore (I wasn’t planning on running this week
anyway!).