Sunday, February 28, 2010

Is there really a human race?

I was recently listening to Ziggy Marley's CD Family Time (yes, he's Bob Marley's son).  For some reason, the last track is Jamie Lee Curtis narrating her children's book Is There Really a Human Race?  In it, a child wonders about this human race, and mom replies.  I have excerpted it here because it sounds at times like the ruminations of an ultrarunner.  Enjoy!

Is the race like a loop, or an obstacle course?
Do some of us win?  Do some of us lose?
Why am I racing?  What am I winning?  Does all of my running keep the world spinning?
If I get off-track when I take a wrong turn, do I make my way back from mistakes?  Do I learn?
Is it a sprint, a dash to the end?  Am I aware of the time that I spend? 
And why do I do it, this zillion yard dash?
If we don't help each other, we're all going to crash!

Mom replies:
Sometimes it's better not to go fast.  There are beautiful sites to be seen when you're last.
Shouldn't it be that you just try your best, and that's more important than beating the rest?

I think I had some of these very thoughts at Cross Timbers!  Why am I racing?  Why do I do it?  Seems like at least a zillion yards!  And she's right, I know from experience that the view from the back of the pack isn't so bad after all!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Temptation . . . .

The Cowtown Marathon is tomorrow.  I ran there last year, my second marathon.  I even got to run with my nephew, Clinton, who ran the 1/2.  I thought I'd run there every year so I could get the cool medal--you get 5 and put them together and they make a star!  I know, that's a stupid reason to want to run a race.  But it's still a cool idea.
When I first put together my plan for the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam, I put Cowtown on the calendar with a question mark.  After Palo Duro, I ran a 16 mile training run on Friday, so I thought I might feel like at least the 1/2 marathon.  After Rocky Raccoon, I knew there was no way I'd feel like Cowtown.  But by mid-week this week, a few days after my super-slow Cross Timbers finish, I starting feeling great, moving much better than I was in the days after Rocky!  So I was thinking maybe I'd give Cowtown a shot!  I was very tempted to head down to the expo to register. . . .

But the reality of my need for rest aside, I don't want to miss another basketball game.  Elliot was moved to the starting line up on his team, and both boys have their final game of the regular season Saturday.  I do enjoy races, and if I didn't have a family to hang out with this weekend I think I would be lining up at Cowtown.   I think I do a good job of balancing family and running, but I hope if my internal controls ever fail, Kelly will snap be back to what's most important.

I won't be there, but good luck to Brett, my Palo Duro running buddy, who's running the Ultra, to my friends Michelle and Ronnie at work who are running the 10K, to T.O., who I finally met at RR, and who will be running his 50th race of marathon distance or more, to Kim, who I met after Cross Timbers, and who ran at RR, then the Austin Marathon, then Cross Timbers, and now Cowtown ("I like to race!" he told me.  I figured that out!), and to all the others running.  I wish I were out there, cheering you on from the back of the pack (or maybe the middle, if I'm having a good day)!

(By the way, someone left a comment on my Cross Timbers entry saying he ran at CT, and gave a link to his blog.  I approved the comment, but for some reason it disappeared.  Please comment again, or send me an email, so I can read your blog.  Thanks!)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A New PR at Cross Timbers!

Yes, I set a new PR (personal record) at Cross Timbers yesterday, but not one I want to repeat.  I finished in a whopping 14:57.  Yes, it was a long day.  It was also my first DFL (dead friggin' last).  I know the course has changed over the years, but, according to past results posted on their web site, I think I actually set a new course record!  [Nope--I went back and checked last year's results.  Looks like a 64 year old man finished in 16:11 last year.]  Wow, what a momentous day!

After Rocky Racoon 2 weeks ago, which is put on by Joe Prusaitis and Tejas Trails, and is attended by hundreds of runners from all over the country, I was sort of expecting Cross Timbers to be a bit more provincial.  It was smaller, and did not draw the same kind of national field, but it was every bit as well-run as RR.  The check in, start-finish amenities, and the aid stations all exceeded expectations.  The aid stations were well-stocked and well-staffed by helpful, encouraging volunteers, most of whom were experienced trail runners who passed along more than "Good job, buddy" but gave specific advice and knew the right questions to ask of the runners.  The well-marked trail was easy to follow, even in the dark of night.
The mud on my shoes was nothing.  You should have seen the mud caked on my legs.

Ahh, the trail.  They call it the "Toughest Little Trail in Texas" and while I hesitate to pass judgement on any other trails, I know this is a tough one.  It has just about everything a trail runner could want: it's rocky, rooty, hilly, windy, and muddy.  There are several stream crossings--I lost count of how many.  Because of the recent snowfall, there was still a lot of slippery, suck-your-shoes-off-your-feet mud, and portions of the trail had turned into muddy streams themselves.  And not to be missed are the panoramic views of beautiful Lake Texoma.

The course for the fifty mile was an out and back and out and back--a 12.5 mile stretch repeated 4 times.  The first portion started with a nice long climb, a hint of things to come.  This 2.5 mile stretch had lots of climbing and some of the best lake views.  The first aid station, at 2.5 miles, was the turnaround for the 5 mile race.  For someone who's never run a trail race, this 5 mile race would be a perfect introduction.  Not too long, but some tough sections to give a little flavor.  From that point to the half-marathon turn around/aid station, as you might surmise, is ostensibly 4.05 miles.  I am no cartographer or geographer, but I can definitively say that this is the longest 4.05 miles in Texas.  Every time, it took forever.  This section seems to have the most climbing, and the most technical sections (by which I mean parts of the trail where you almost have to use your hands to pull yourself along, where it's steeper than a steep staircase, or where only a mountain goat on speed could actually run down it.  I don't know if that's the technical definition of a technical trail, but it works for me!)

From the 1/2 marathon turnaround to the 9 mile aid station is a bit of a break.  This part has some dirt road, so it's smoother (but still a little steep in parts), and before and after the 9 mile aid station there are some open, grassy areas to run through.  After that grassy area is some flat trail, then some moderate climbing to the 12.5 mile turnaround.  Then turn around and do it again, in reverse!  Then again, and again!

And my race?  You may be wondering, what must one do to set a slowest-ever course record at Cross Timbers?  It's not hard.  Or maybe it is.  Within a few minutes of the start, I knew that this race would be a test of my own mettle.  I knew I wasn't fully recovered from Rocky Raccoon, but before the race I didn't have a sense of my own overall fatigue.  I spent a good portion of the first couple of hours weighing the merits of taking my first DNF, but that was quickly replaced with a determination simply to finish, slow as it may be.  A DNF briefly crossed my mind again when I returned to the start/finish, halfway through.  I had left my drop bag in the tent, where the marathoners were kicking back with beer and burgers.  Big mistake.  The burgers smelled great, my car was only a few yards away . . . .  But I pressed on.

From the start, I ran right behind a gentleman (whose name I never got) who said he's run about fifty 50 mile races.  He appeared to be older than me, was bit heavier than me, and had a kind of energizer bunny quality about him, so I thought I could hang with him.  I did until the 9 mile aid station, but he took off from there and I never did catch him.  From that point, I ran alone, except for runners passing me, and runners going in the opposite direction, until 3 or 4 miles into the second loop.  I had seen 2 ladies coming into the start/finish shortly after I left, and one of them, Laura from Beaumont, caught up with me.  She's an experienced road runner and triathlete, but this was her first trail 50.  I ran with her for a good while, I would guess 6-8 miles, and we had a nice time visiting.  I think she was hanging back for me, and I eventually slowed and she took off ahead.  A little while later, the other lady, Shishana, who now was being paced by her husband Don, came into the 12.5 mile turnaround as I was leaving.  Shortly after, they caught up with me, so I decided to piggyback on Don's pacing.  I ran with them for a bit, but as much as I enjoyed hanging out with them, had to fall back again.  So for probably at least 2/3s of the race, I ran alone, and, especially on the second lap, I sometimes went hours without even seeing anyone else.

Speaking of seeing, I was already going pretty slow on the second lap, except for the time running with Shishana and Laura.  About the time I got to the aid station at the half marathon turnaround, it was dark enough that I needed my headlamp.  Did I mention that the trail from there to the 2 1/2 mile aid station is really, really long?  It's even longer in the dark.  This stretch was especially slow.  Even if I had fresh legs, I wouldn't have been doing much running on that difficult section at night.  From 2 1/2 mile to the end wasn't so bad.  Energy has a way of returning when the finish is close.
One of the cooler finishers' awards I've seen

I'm sure everyone was ready to go home well before I got there, but the race crew was there to welcome me and give me a cool sweatshirt and a unique wood finisher's plaque.  They even saved me a burger!  I ate and visited with Shishana and Don and a few other finishers until the lights went out--the generator ran out of gas!  I was humbled by the generosity and graciousness of the race staff and aid station workers who stuck around to help me to the finish and to serve me once I got there.  To all of you, sorry I kept you from getting to bed any earlier.

A couple of personal notes: As as said in my Rocky Raccon report, I ran there in my VFFs, but, because I had heard how much more technical the Cross Timbers trail is, I chose to wear regular trail running shoes.  I think I made the right choice, even though I ended up with a lima bean sized blister on my right foot.  I also reported that I hurt so much after Rocky that I went to the doctor for x-rays and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle.  I do hurt today, but less than I did the day after Rocky, and the offending ankle did not bother me at all during or after the race.

My Garmin did better than at Rocky, but we were still running through lots of trees, so the readings weren't very reliable.  I think I'll stick with a regular watch for these races.  In any case, the battery ran out when I was still several miles from the finish, so for the last couple of hours, I had no idea what time it was.  My splits were something like this, roughly (I think): 3:00, 3:20, 3:50, and 4:50.

I'm still not sure if I am an ultramarathoner or a marathoner running out of my league.  I know this for sure: I'd rather run on trails than roads.  I also know this: as much as I fantasize about running a mountain 100 mile race, like Leadville or Western States, it will remain a fantasy as long as I ran like I did yesterday.  Barely surviving a 50 at a few hundred feet about sea level does not build confidence that I can complete 100 at 11,000 feet.  I'll keep plugging away, and with time and experience, maybe I won't set any more almost-slowest-on-the-course records.  I am still on track to complete the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam.  I have 4 weeks to recover before Grasslands, then 2 weeks after that is Hell's Hills.  Neither of those are as difficult as Cross Timbers, so, barring something unforeseen, I'm pretty confident about finishing.

One final note: I am so grateful to Kelly!  She lets me leave her as a single mom to cart the kids around to basketball and soccer games while I run through the woods for hours in pursuit of a glorious t-shirt, medal, or plaque.  She is really sweet to accommodate my time-consuming pastime.  You might get a kick out of what she posted on her Facebook page this morning: "Paul finished his 50 mile race yesterday. For all 50 milers in the future, I'm sleeping in a different room -- the moaning and groaning and heavy breathing of a man in pain is even worse than a man snoring!"  The things she puts up with.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Barefoot Running in the Star-Telegram

It seems like barefoot running is popping up everywhere.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran this article yesterday, discussing not only barefoot running but also Chi running.  Aside from the dorky headline, it's a pretty good article.

Bare-foot runners rock with a ride on sole train

Posted Monday, Feb. 15, 2010
Special to the Star-Telegram

If your bare feet have ever been punctured by a small piece of glass, jabbed by a jagged pebble or carried you across ice-cold pavement or blazing hot concrete, then you know what it's like for Rick Roeber.

You might have braved those conditions to retrieve the mail; Roeber, however, was putting one bare foot in front of the other during a marathon.

Since he ditched his shoes for the comfort of pavement in 2003, Roeber has completed 51 marathons and two ultramarathons of more than 40 miles. Today he's known as "Barefoot Rick" across the nation.

"There is more of a freedom. I just feel it was the way we were designed to run," Roeber said. "It was like an epiphany when I first started running barefoot. You can feel the ground and get instant feedback. Of course, if you step on something wrong you get instant feedback that way too."

Roeber was one of the pioneers of a now-growing trend of barefoot runners taking part in distance races; a trend that has especially caught on since last year's release of Chris McDougall's New York Times bestseller, Born To Run, which is about the minimalist running style of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.

Roeber kicked his kicks to the curb after his 18th marathon because his shoes left him constantly injured. He discovered that running barefoot encourages proper foot strike, which, alleviated knee problems because he was no longer over-striding.

"I was a chronic heel striker," said Roeber, 54, who attended Arlington Sam Houston High School and now lives in Lee's Summit, Mo. "I would over-stride."

So Roeber researched the art of running barefoot and has run that way for close to 930 consecutive days. He averages between 45 to 50 miles a week regardless of weather. His first barefoot marathon was Boston in April 2004. Street temperatures reached 110 as the temperature reached into the 80s.

"They thought I was a little whacked out, a little nuts," Roeber said of others when he first began. "The last few years, especially since Chris McDougall's book, it's getting more recognized. It's gaining more credibility. But it will always be a little weird for people."

A study released Jan. 27 by Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor in Harvard University's Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, suggests barefoot running is not as far-fetched as one might imagine. Lieberman found that barefoot runners often land on the forefoot before bringing down the heel, and also with a mid-foot strike. And shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, "facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe."

Lieberman's study found that more than 75 percent of runners wearing shoes land on their heels first, which can cause an initial impact of two or three times their body weight.

"The reason barefoot running is catching on is because a lot of scientific studies are saying that barefoot running lowers the impact on your feet much more than running shoes," said Danny Dreyer, the founder of ChiRunning, which teaches runners to run using a natural running form with or without shoes. "This flies right into the face that running shoe companies have been promoting since 1970. It's a huge revelation for a lot of people."

ChiRunning has been teaching runners to run with a mid-foot strike since 1999, when Dreyer discovered a way to run efficiently and without injury during his days as a competitive ultramarathoner.

"So I combined what I learned from all my training with what I have learned in my practice of Tai Chi, which is all about learning how to move from your center, to use your core and not use your peripherals as much," Dreyer said.

The result: faster times and injury-free legs. People have taken notice. His book, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running was released in 2004 and has since sold more than 250,000 copies and been translated into seven languages. There are 115 certified instructors teaching ChiRunning across the nation, including one in Dallas.

As the trend of barefoot running continues to grow, so do the amount of marathons with "Barefoot Running" divisions. The Waco Miracle Match Marathon on Jan. 31 was the latest.

Race directors for The Cowtown Marathon won't have a division for this year's race on Feb. 27. But they said as it becomes more popular it is possible that at some point they would add the division to their award categories.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Once a Runner, by John Parker

While driving to and from Hunstville for Rocky Racoon, I listend to John Parker's Once a Runner, which Runner's World calls the "best novel ever written about running." Well, I don't know how many novels have been written about running, but this is definitely a good one. Perhaps the best thing about Once a Runner is the legendary cult following around it. Parker self published the novel in the late 1970s and famously sold it out the trunk of his car at running events. It eventually gained a following and good reviews in the running world. After catching some high prices on the used book market, it was finally reprinted last year.

Once a Runner is best enjoyed by competitive runners. It follows Quenton Cassidy's quest for a four minute mile and Olympic glory. As a captain of a college track team and an aspiring lawyer, the other guys solicit his help with a petition protesting new haircut and dress code policies imposed by the athletic director, who's also head football coach. In the interest of quieting the upstarts, Cassidy is banned from the team and the campus. He retreats to his mentor's country house, where he trains for his big comeback.

The appeal of Once a Runner reaches well beyond runners. With the details about training and racing, the non-runner might skip over some passages, but mostly this is a novel about college life in the 1970s, and one young man's determination to follow his dreams. But even a non-runner will get caught up in Cassidy's climactic race, feeling his heart beating right along with the runner's.

Of course, I have to mention a brief endorsement of barefoot running. When Denton, trying to convince Cassidy to move out to the country house to train, describes the setting, says, "Move out here, Quenton, and train. . . . There are great trails out here and a little grassy field for intervals. You can run barefoot on it the way you like to. It'd be ideal, a runner's paradise." Great trails, grassy fields; runner's paradise indeed!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Ultramarathons are Better Than Marathons

Or, Why Trail Racing is Better Than Road Racing.

I admit, I am a relative newcomer to the sport of running.  I have never run the major trail races, like Western States or Leadville.  Nor have I run in a premier marathon, like Boston or New York.  But I've run a in few road races and a few trail races, and have come to the incontestible conclusion that trail running is far superior.  Here are a few reasons:

1. Trail races are a better bargain. 
Entry fees for trail runs are quite reasonable.  For a 50 or 100 mile trail run, you would pay in the neighborhood of $60-$100.  For a big city marathon, easily twice that.  Some of the elite trail races have higher fees, but overall, trail runs tend to be cheaper and longer.  And if you figure it on a dollar per mile basis, ultras win hands down!

2. The food is better on trail runs.
Not only do you get to the starting line for less cash, you get tons more food!  Here's what I've seen available at road race aid stations: water, sports drinks, gels, bananas, oranges, and beer.  Here's what I've seen available at trail races: water, sports drinks, gels, bananas, oranges, M&Ms, pretzels, energy bars, peanuts, gummy bears, fig bars (store bought and homemade), many kinds of homemade cookies, many kinds of store bought cookies, brownies, potatoes, potato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, PB&J, PB&bananas, tortillas with peanut butter, Ramen soup, chicken noodle soup, Snickers, pizza, hamburgers, Reese's peanut butter cups, Coke, and beer.

3. Trail runs are held at better places.
Some road races are in nice places.  The race directors try to route the course through pretty or memorable parts of the city.  But you're still usually running on pavement looking at houses and buildings.  Yippee.  Go to a trail race!  Run on trails!  Rocky, rooty, muddy, grassy, smooth, or bumpy, they're all better than sidewalks and streets.  And rather than running through a cityscape, you can run through trees, rocks, meadows, woods, by a lake, down a stream, with the wildlife, away from traffic noise, in cleaner air, and if you're really lucky, up and down hills and mountains.

4. Trail runs aren't so crowded.
Have you ever lined up for a major road marathon?  Or tried to park near the start?  What a mob!  Unless you're one of the elite runners who starts out in front and finishes in less than 2 1/2 hours, you spend at least the first 5-10 miles shoulder to shoulder with the mob.  A crowded trail run might have a few hundred people, often less.  The atmosphere is less like a traffic jam at rush hour, and more like a bunch of friends on a Sunday drive.

5.  Trail runners are cooler.
The pace at trail runs is typically slower than road races, and with the longer distances, you're out on the trail longer.  So there are lots more opportunities to chat and get to know other runners.  And trail runners tend to be more laid back and friendly.

6.  The aid station volunteers are better.
Speaking of terrific people, it's been my experience that the volunteers at trail race aid stations are experienced trail runners themselves.  I appreciate the Hooters girls' willingness to pass out Cliff gels at mile 19 in Dallas, and the little neighborhood kids handing out orange slices are sweet, but what I really need is someone who I can talk to at mile 42 of a 50 miler about what is best to eat or drink.  I need to hear encouragement and tips from someone who has finished this race before, and who has faced the same physical and mental roadblocks to finishing an ultra.

7.  There are no obnoxious bands at trail runs.
I know some marathon organizers think they have to have a "rock and roll" atmosphere, but to me having a mediocre band playing cover tunes every half mile does not provide a motivation; it's just noise.  What's better than a quiet trail, where you are miles away from the noise of everyday life?

I know I have only scratched the surface.  Feel free to post your comments adding your own reasons to run trails!

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Beautiful Day in Hurtsville

Saturday marked the annual Rocky Raccoon 50m/100m trail race at Huntsville State Park.  This is the first race I have been a part of in which there was a 100 mile option.  Amazingly enough, more people registered for the 100 miler than for the 50 miler!  This event has grown tremendously; they had over 700 runners register.  Joe Prusaitis and his team at Tejas Trails organize this run as well as several others around Texas (including the 60K I ran at Inks Lake last August).  They do a tremendous job.  The fifty mile race is the second of five in the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam.

The original long-term forecast of rain on race day did not pan out, but the area got plenty during the week.  Driving down I-45 I couldn't believe the amount of standing water beside the road.  There were even sections where the access roads were closed because of standing water.  I thought this could be a messy race.  But the trails were in great shape.  In a couple of spots runners had to tiptoe around the edge of the puddles or just plow through and get muddy feet, but that's part of trail running.  We saw no rain on race day.  The weather was perfect, cold in the morning, warming up but not too much in the afternoon, and cooling down nicely as the sun went down.  The 100 mile runners were changing into their tights and long sleeves as I was leaving.

The weather was perfect, the trails were great, and, as I have always found to be the case, the company was delightful.  I enjoy meeting other runners and swapping stories.  I met runners from Texas, of course, but also from Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Ontario, British Columbia, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia, and Guatemala.  I have no doubt that many other states, and perhaps other countries, were represented there.  One guy from Canada (he was running the 100; later I met his wife, who was running the 50) told me there was a Canadian woman there who holds the world record for the most 100s in a year, and is working on breaking her own record.  Later I ran with another Canadian who was out to break the first woman's record!

So how about my run?  I went into the race very optimistic.  I had heard how nice and smooth and mostly flat the course was.  After my 11:47 finish at Palo Duro, I figured I might have a chance to finish under 10.  I don't know if I was too naive, didn't respect the course or the distance, or just didn't push hard enough, but I ended up finishing in 11:02:18.  Official results put me at 122nd out of 249 finishers (296 started).

For the first half to 2/3s of the race, I felt great!  The day was perfect, the trails, mostly soft dirt covered in pine needles, made running a pleasure.  The trails do have a lot of roots, which I'm sure caused many of the night runners to stumble.  Actually, quite a few day runners took spills over the roots as well.  For me, one bad thing was an unanticipated problem.  You see, I'm quite dependent on my Garmin to help me stay on pace.  I did not anticipate that the tall, piney woods would interfere with the signal.  If I got readings at all, they were frequently wildly inaccurate.  I became frustrated that I really had no idea of my pace for much of the race.

Toward the end of the second of three loops, I was starting to feel some pain in my left shin and ankle.  I don't think I've ever had shin splints, so I wondered if that was the problem, besides simple fatigue.  Starting the 3rd loop, I wondered if I ought to be heading out at all.  Once I got started, I was OK, but anytime I stopped at an aid station or to water the plants, it was tough getting back to "speed" again.  So this last lap was super slow and painful.  At times I must have been a little comical to watch: "Look at that guy!  He's swinging his arms like he thinks he running, but he's barely moving his feet!"  I haven't seen the official splits yet, but I think my first lap was in 3:03, the second was 3:20 or 3:30, so the third was probably 4:30 or so.  Ugh.

A note on nutrition: Although I was more sore after this race than after Palo Duro Canyon, I felt much better.  My attitude was good.  Toward the end of Palo Duro I got grumpy and despondent.  Brett Buettner's positive attitude kept me going that day.  At the end of Rocky Racoon, I was definitely tired and ready to be done, but still pretty positive.  Also, I didn't feel nauseous or yucky like I did late in PD.  I deliberately ate more real food (quesadillas, soup, PB&J, grilled cheese) and fewer Sport Beans.  I also drank more water and less Gatorade.  Plus I took a couple of sodium tablets before I got nauseous instead of after.

A note on apparel: this was the longest race yet in my Vibram Five Fingers.  They felt great!  There were some short sections of the trail that had a few rocks, but 98% of it was absolutely ideal for VFFs: soft, dirt trails covered with leaves and pine needles (as long as you remember to carefully avoid the roots!).  They got wet ocassionally, from splashing through muddy puddles, but dried quickly.  I didn't take them off the whole race.  Bonus: I didn't get one blister!  Not even a hot spot.  Negative: I'm still too sore to spend much time bending over in the shower, so I still have Huntsville mud under my toenails.

Following the example of my ultrarunning muse, Stuart Skeeter, I wore a fishing shirt.  It worked great because I started out in the morning with it buttoned up against the cold, then as I warmed up I could unbutton it, then button back up as the evening cooled.  Amazing what a difference that makes.  I don't know why running shirts aren't made with buttons or zippers. The only ones I've seen only have about a 3 or 4 inch zipper, which hardly seems worth it.  I also wore my Tilley hat.  I like to wear that since it provides sun protection for my ears and neck, which a regular cap doesn't, but the course was so shady (keeping out the sun and the satellites) that I probably didn't need it.  One guy asked if I was going fishing or going running. . . . I guess I looked a little non-traditional.

I know I'll always be pretty stiff and sore the morning after a long, hard run, but Sunday morning my left ankle was red and quite swollen and I could hardly walk on it.  I hobbled around all day.  Fearing a stress fracture, I went to have it x-rayed at CareNow.  No fracture, just a sprain, she said.  I'll be keeping it iced and elevated and wearing a brace for a few days.  I have Cross Timbers on the schedule for February 20th.  I haven't marked it off the calendar yet.  I am hoping for a quick recovery so I can attempt that one as well and continue toward the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam

My perception of my ultramarathon ability has gone about like this:
Before the race: I can finish a 50 mile race fairly easily.
Early in the race: This is great!  Why didn't I sign up for the 100!
Mid-race: I'm feeling a bit tired.  I'm glad I'm in the 50.
Late in the race: I don't know if I can finish this thing.
At the end: I did it!  But it wasn't pretty.  Am I an ultramarathoner or am I a marathoner who's out of his league?
The next day: I'm sore, but 50 miles isn't so bad.  I could do it again.
Two days later: I'm still sore, but getting better!  I can't wait to run another 50 miler, and soon I'll be finishing a 100 miler!  Bring it on!

Friday, February 5, 2010

50 Milers--A little history

Tomorrow I will be running at Huntsville State Park in Rocky Raccoon, the second run in the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam.  (Palo Duro was the first.)  A friend of mine, noting my "fetish" for 50 mile races, gave me some background on 50 mile races.  I had no idea that these races follow a historical connection from Teddy Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy.

In 1908, President Roosevelt issued an executive order mandating that military officers walk 50 miles.  Kennedy decided to see how the 1963 military measured up, and, given Kennedy's desire to promote physical fitness among all Americans, the 50 mile walk spread to civilian life.  Bobby Kennedy put on his leather dress shoes and walked 50 miles in the snow in 17 hours 50 minutes.  Boy Scout troops, college students, and communities took up the challenge.  For a few months, there were 50 mile walks all over the place.

After Kennedy's assassination, the 50 mile movement all but died out.  The JFK 50 Mile in Maryland is the last relic of that movement, but one could assume that 50 mile races run around the country can trace their heritage, at least in part, to Kennedy's challenge.

For a fuller story, here's the link the my friend gave me: The 50-Mile Hike Phenomenon

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Barefoot Running in the 19th century

Barefoot Ted, who featured prominently in Born to Run, and who has a great blog with resources on barefoot running, dug up a terrific article on running from The Journal of Hygiene and Herald of Health, 1895.  He reproduces it in its entirety at his web site.  I'll just pull some relevant passages here.

On the benefits of running for building core muscles: 
I lately conversed with an athlete, an ex-champion in the Caledonian games, and he told me of the physical condition of some famous runners he had once examined. “The muscles on their abdomens were so hard that when I tapped them with my finger it was like tapping a board,” he said.
Observe the flabby sac which retains the bowels of the average sedentary man and think what this difference must mean in absence of abdominal obesity, constipation, prolapsed bowels, piles and hernia, to say nothing of a host of other pelvic weaknesses. 
Can any of you "average sedentary men" out there relate to the "flabby sac"?  Hey, I resemble that remark!

On the joy of running:
Never race for prizes, or run against time, or compete for anything. Avoid over-strain. Don’t make work of your sport. 
The runs I recommend are through the dewy meadows of morning, over the hills of afternoon, or through the aisles of forest temples—runs with an easy breath, a light foot, and a gay heart.
I do enjoy races, and I like tracking time and improving my pace, but I do often think I "make work" of it too much.  Less work, more "light foot" and "gay heart"!

On barefoot running: 
Wear knee-breeches, woolen stockings, and low running-shoes, or, better still, wear no stocking and no shoes whenever the weather will permit.
There is wonderful comfort in a bare foot, as everyone knows. Contact with the earth is healthful. And in summer, after a rain, or in the dewy morning, how refreshing a running foot-bath through wet grass! Even in winter a short run, barefooted, through the loose snow may be made perfectly safe for those who have taken the right training, producing a warmth and glow in the feet which will last for hours.
Barefoot runners know that glow!  

The whole article can be found at Barefoot Ted's site or at Google books.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cliff Young, Australian Ultrarunner

I had never heard of Cliff Young before, but he is a legend among runners.  Someone on the NTTR list sent a link about him around the other day, and I became fascinated with his story.  The story below is copied from a web site called Elite Feet and I reproduce it here shamelessly.  After the article I've added one of several YouTube videos about Cliff.  Be inspired by his persistence!

An Unlikely Competitor

Cliff Young winning Melbourne Sydney race

Cliff Young

Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world's most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.
In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this race. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone's shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.
The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, "You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this race." To which he replied, "Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I believe I can run this race."
When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn't even run properly; he appeared to shuffle. Many even feared for the old farmer's safety.

The Tortoise and the Hare

Cliff Young waving during ultra marathon

Cliff Young

All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn't know that!
When the morning of the second day came, everyone was in for another surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he had continued jogging all night.
Eventually Cliff was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. To everyone's disbelief, he claimed he would run straight through to the finish without sleeping.
Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record.
When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn't know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.

Continued Inspiration

In the following year, Cliff entered the same race and took 7th place. Not even a displaced hip during the race stopped him.
Cliff came to prominence again in 1997, aged 76, when he attempted to raise money for homeless children by running around Australia's border. He completed 6,520 kilometers of the 16,000-kilometer run before he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. Cliff Young passed away in 2003 at age 81.
Today, the "Young-shuffle" has been adopted by ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more energy-efficient. At least three champions of the Sydney to Melbourne race have used the shuffle to win the race. Furthermore, during the Sydney to Melbourne race, modern competitors do not sleep. Winning the race requires runners to go all night as well as all day, just like Cliff Young.