Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shoe Failure at Cedar Ridge

For the second Saturday in a row, I headed to Cedar Ridge Preserve for a morning run.  This time, I got there before all the hikers and walkers, so for the first hour or so, I had the whole place to myself (except for--what was that figure I saw?--maybe a raccoon).  Greeting the new day on the trails, quiet and alone, I ran and enjoyed the great weather and fantastic trails.
Sunrise over Cattail Pond
I can't say enough about this place.  Maybe because I've gotten so bored with running on the streets in my neighborhood, or maybe because I have been able to run so little the last few weeks, but I have really enjoyed these last 2 runs.  Winding, hilly single track, with a good sprinkling of rocks and roots, make this a great place to run.

This morning I planned to run 18-20 miles.  After 7 or so, I started feeling like I was getting a hot spot, which surprised me, because I very rarely get blisters while wearing my VFFs.  I stopped at the picnic tables and looked at my foot.  My shoe's seam was splitting along the big toe!  That's so very frustrating.  That lets trail grit get in the toes, creating abrasion in all the wrong places.
Then I looked at my other foot, and saw this lovely sight.  Dirt had gotten in there and rubbed me raw (That's blood between my toes).  Ouch.  I'm not saying trail running should be pain free, and dirt in the shoes is certainly part of trail running, but I would like to avoid this kind of unnecessary pain when possible, especially due to a simple shoe failure.
For a little background, I bought my first pair of VFF Trek Sports last fall.  I wore them on a short training trail run (5-6 miles), then at Palo Duro Canyon.  After about 17 miles at PD, that same seam split, letting in dirt, dust, and pebbles with every step.  That's not the whole reason I DNFed that day, but it was a contributing factor.  Vibram has a 90-day warranty on their shoes, and Luke's Locker was generous in taking them back and giving me store credit for them.

After a few weeks of calling all the Luke's locations, waiting for them to get a pair in my size, I finally got a new pair, identical to the first.  I wore them last week at Cedar Ridge for the first time.  And today the seam went out.  In both cases, in less than 30 miles, the seam went out.  I will not buy VFF Trek Sports again!  The problem is, I LOVE running in them!  I don't know that I'd want to run in anything else!  I've ordered some VFF Treks, which have the same sole, but have a leather upper, rather than the fabric of the Trek Sport.  I'm sure hoping they will perform better.  Oh, and by the way, I wore a pair of VFF Sprints, decidedly not made for trail running, at the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler last year, and had no problems at all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nice Place to Run: Cedar Ridge Preserve (again)

For some reason, I waited over a year before returning to Cedar Ridge Preserve.  I ran there once last year, on New Years Day, as part of an NTTR club run (posted here).  This south Dallas park is about a 30-40 minute drive from home, so my only excuse for not going back is that it adds at least an hour to the time I schedule for a run.  I prefer to run out my front door, but the options there are limited.  I was reminded on Saturday why Cedar Ridge is worth the drive.
In the D/FW area, this is the only trail system I know of that offers hills, a variety of trail surfaces, easy access, and is closed to mountian bikes.  Now, I don't have anything against mountain bikes, but to have to dodge them and their ruts can take away from a trail running experience.

The parking lot was much more full than I thought it would be on a cold Saturday morning.  I saw some groups of ladies in an exercise class, several small groups of random hikers and/or birdwatchers (it is an Audobon park, after all), and a troop of Boy Scouts training for a Philmont trek.  I also saw 2 trail runners.  After passing a guy in black tights going the opposite direction several times, I saw him at a trail head and thought I'd catch up with him.  He was about 20-30 yards ahead of me at the time, and I never saw him again--he was going much too fast for me!
Then I ran into another guy I had passed a couple of times and stopped to chat.  His name was Mike, and it turns out we have run several races together without ever meeting.  We ran together for a couple of hours and had a great time talking about running and life.  We agreed that Black Tights was pretty fast--too fast for us!  We kept a nice pace, and with the company, I ended up going farther than I probably would have on my own.

Other than my 25 miles at Palo Duro, this was my longest run in the VFF Treks.  They did great, and this run convinced me to go ahead and run at Cross Timbers with them rather than shoes.  If memory serves, Cedar Ridge is a great triaing ground for Cross Timbers, with lots of short, steep climbs, and similar trail surfaces.  I'll need to get out here a couple more times before Cross Timbers, hopefully with Mike or some other good running company.

Monday, January 24, 2011

50/50: Dean Karnazes's Marathon Challenge

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of Ultramarathon Man, the movie documenting Dean Karnazes's running of 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days (posted here).  The accompanying book, 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days--and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance! chronicles those 50 days and throws in lots of practical running and training advice. 

I really enjoyed Dean's recounting of the runs, of his ups and downs through the 50 days, and his personal stories of the people he met along the way.  This was late 2006, before I was interested in running at all, but  through Runner's World magazine, blogs, and e-mail lists, runners accross the country signed up and ran with him.  On weekends, many of the marathons were large events.  During the week, he ran the certified course in whatever city they were in, and worked with the race director for logistical help.  This marathon tour was a huge production, with dozens of people supporting him the whole time, and many more volunteers pitching in at each stop.  Besides the physical feat of running the 50 marathons, the practical feat of coordinating this travelling circus is impressive as well.  (Oh, and by the way, after his last marathon--New York City--Dean said, "No one had booked me a return flight from New York to San Francisco.  So I decided to run instead."  For the next 90 days, he ran all the way to St. Charles, Missouri, where he had started the 50/50, but decided he missed his family and went straight home from there.)
The crew set up full marathon amenities, like this cool finish line, at every event.  This lady ran the 6 New England marathons with Dean and cartwheeled across every finish line!
I must admit I was taken in by the subtitle of the book.  I want to achieve Super Endurance like Dean!  Well, maybe I can.  Mixed in with the travelogue, Dean offers lots of training and running advice for both beginners and experienced runners.  I don't believe you can ever get too much input.  If you read a magazine like Runner's World for more than a few months, you soon realize you're reading lots of similar running wisdom, presented in different forms.  50/50's advice is in the same vein.  Throughout the book is some great advice for runners, but it interrupts the prose of the 50/50 quest, and is presented in a scattershot way which would make referencing it difficult later on.

All that good advice fails on the promise of the subtitle.  If I did everything Dean says, I know I would be a better runner.  While I don't want to minimize Dean's amazing commitment to running and his intensity and love of the sport, I think he has to admit that he is genetically gifted.  I still wonder if I could reach his level of endurance; I'll never know if I don't try, but I'll never be able to try because that guy runs so freakin' much!  As one example, during the 50/50, Dean's blood was tested periodically.  At the end of it, he showed 1/4 as much muscle damage, as measured by creatine phosphokinase in the bloodstream, as a typical runner after one marathon!  Has his body adapted, or is this a genetic advantage he has?  Who knows.
Dean raised money for his charity, Karno's Kids.  You gotta love the slogan, "No child left inside."

On a side note, even though the 50/50/50 challenge sounds likes something no one has ever done before, at least one person beat Dean to it.  Sam Thompson started a similar quest earlier in the same year, completing 51 marathons in the 50 states plus D.C. in 50 days to raise money for Katrina victims.  In this Runner's World interview, Dean sounds supportive, "What Sam's doing is absolutely terrific. . . . if he encourages other people to get out and do things, I can't take anything away from him," but gets in a little jab, too: "He's obviously wanting to scoop what I was doing."  According to this Sports Illustrated article, Dean had some nice things to say about Sam Thompson's feat, and, in fact, talked his own major sponsor, North Face, into taking Sam on as well.  While Dean finished it with a small army and a large sponsor, Sam finished it with his wife and a trickle of a word-of-mouth campaign.  Both are amazing, but I tend to think Sam's might be a bit more amazing.

All things considered, Dean is an amazing runner and remains high on my list of running heroes.  I'm pretty sure I'll never match anywhere near his accomplishments, whether completing the 50/50/50, winning Badwater or Leadville, or running 300 miles in one stretch.  But he is an example to all runners to stretch ourselves, and set out to accomplish things we never thought we could do.  For some, that might mean finishing a marathon.  For me, it might be qualifying for Boston or completing a mountain 100.  More importantly, he promotes running just for fun.  Step out the front door, and run as far as you can in one direction, then run back home.  I love his take on the Australian walkabout.  He says to set aside a day for a runabout.  Start running in the morning, before the sun comes up, and run until after the sun goes down.  And just like Dean, enjoy every step of the way.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sleeping, not running

I have neglected this blog for a few days, and I have neglected my running for a few days!  Between working lots of overtime and trying to get to the kids' concerts and basketball games and practices, I haven't been able to carve out time to run.  I have to weigh hours of sleep versus hours running, and this week have concluded that I need the sleep more than the run.

I guess most runners face this dillemma at some point.  Running invigorates and energizes, but it also uses up energy.  Any coach or runner will tell you, you must get your sleep to rebuild; it's just as important as a good diet.  So this week, I have chosen sleep over running.  Hopefully I can get in couple of good runs this weekend.

I need to log a couple of long runs soon--I went ahead and signed up for the Cross Timbers marathon.  I ran the 50 miler there last year (I came in last.), but I am not confident in my current ability to do well for 50 miles.  If I come in last on the marathon, at least a few of the 50 mile runners will still be on the course!  It's a fun, hilly course, so I'll plan on taking it easy and having fun.  Meanwhile, I'll be trying to find some time to run!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


A few weeks ago, the Star-Telegram ran this article by David Casstevens about Jeff Rudisill, a man in his 60s who is walking across the U.S.  I was immediately taken by the task itself and the attitude of Rudisill.  He's by no means the first person to take such a journey, but I couldn't help giving him a distant slap on the back for his boldness and simplicity.
Can you live for a year on this many supplies?
A few years back, Rudisill spread out a map of the United States, and drew a line from Southern California to Emerald Isle, S.C.  From there he began planning his route.  Starting in August of last year, he began walking, pushing his cart of supplies.  As of now, he's in South Carolina, getting close to his destination.  Along the way, he has reveled in the places he's seen and the people he's met.  "This is a pretty nice nation, with a lot of good people."  You can read about the people and place of his journey at his blog,

Rudisill's home for most of the journey.  He spent some nights in home or hotels, too.
 Casstevens sums up Rudisill's walking philosophy like this:
Jeff Rudisill isn't walking across America to honor the troops or save the whales or raise money to find a cure for plantar fasciitis.  God didn't tell him to do this. . . . Is he doing this for the environment? The homeless? Women's rights? World peace?  A smile creased his tanned face as the earnest, slow-talking man considered the questions. He answered with Forrest Gump simplicity.  "I like walkin'," he said.
I don't fault anyone who does walk or run or anything else to raise money or awareness for his or her favorite cause.  But I love Rudisill's heart here.  What more reason does he need that a love of walking?

I look at running like that.  I don't run to raise money or awareness (but I'm not saying I ever will.).  I certainly don't run to win a race or set a record (OK, I might as well admit I never will, anyway!).  There's nothing wrong with running just to run, walking just to walk.  I like runnin'.  Maybe when I'm in my 60s, I'll run across the U.S.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession, by Richard Askwith

If you thought fell running referred to the common experience of many trail runners, you would only be partly right.  In British English, a fell is "a barren or stony hill."  In the UK, fell running is a long and storied tradition.  In Feet in the Clouds, journalist Richard Askwith gives his first-hand accounts of his experiences in the sport and reports of his runs, facing down some of fell running's great challenges.

Most of the fell races have a simple course and simpler origins.  It's no coincidence that many of them start from a village pub.  You can almost hear the challenge after a couple of drinks: "I bet you a round of drinks that I can run to the top of that fell and back in an hour," as he points out the window to the nearby mountain.  So many of the races, though they are short in terms of mileage, are run basically straight up the mountain and straight back down.

Of course, over the years, many of the races have become more refined, and draw more than just the patrons of the local pub.  Askwith starts running with friends on weekends, and frequents these races, taking us on a tour of fells around the U.K. and the races held on them, and walking us through a hall-of-fame of British fell runners.  The stories he tells are entertaining, but they do contribute to drawing out the book longer than I felt like it ought to be.

Anyone who has been a trail runner or has been around trail runners will get a kick out of his descriptions of the races and the racers.  A couple of examples: "Fell-runners, I was learning, see sports injuries in a different way to other athletes. . . . Pig-headed refusal to face the medical facts is a central tenet of fell-running dogma. . . . Most of them see demonstrable indifference to health-threatening agonies as a necessary badge of honour, without which you cannot really claim to be a paid-up member of the sport."  I haven't suffered real "health-threatening agonies" but have certainly seen people press on through pain to finish a race.  This piece of advice sums up a key area of wisdom for ultrarunning: "I have learnt that successful ultra-distance fell-running can have as much to do with what you eat and drink as anything else."

Along the way on the Bob Graham Round.
A key thread through the book follows Askwith's pursuit of the ultimate fell running challenge: finishing the Bob Graham round.  This is not a race run on a specific date, but a course on which runners summit (and descend) 42 Lake District peaks, covering a distance of about 72 miles, in 24 hours.  Based on his descriptions, this is much harder than it sounds.  I'll save you the suspense: he does finish, but it takes him several tries.

As I said, Feet in the Clouds seemed overlong.  But I did enjoy his profiles of the fell running legends.  As I read I thought about how much fun it would be to write a book about the races and runners I have met in my short, quite limited trail running career (career?  That sounds funny.  You know what I mean.)  In the North Texas Trail Runners, and people I have met from Tejas Trails, and others I have read or heard about, there are plenty of great stories that could easily fill a book.  Maybe someone like Askwith, with his writing talent and a passion for trail running, will take on such a project.  In the meantime, it's fun to read about American trail runners' counterparts across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2 years, 11 races

Two years ago, I ran my first marathon, the White Rock Marathon in Dallas.  Last month, I ran it again.  In between the two, I ran a number of other races, a grand total of 11 races of marathon distance or greater in a span of just under 2 years, plus a couple of ultras in which I DNF'd (after 19 and 25 miles respectively) and a few shorter races.  On the one hand, that sounds like a lot of running.  On the other hand, during that time I've met a number of runners who run marathons almost every weekend, or run back-to-back ultras.

I don't know where my perfect balance is.  Sometimes I think I recover well, but sometimes not.  It took me a while to feel back to normal after White Rock.  I'd love to be one of those guys who can run a marathon on Saturday, then another one on Sunday, and then run a 50 mile trail run on Saturday.  Or who can finish 4 mountain 100 milers in one season.  At this point, I'm not one of those guys.  But I think I can get there.