Saturday, March 24, 2012

Grasslands from the other side of the aid station table

Over the last four years, I have run in a couple dozen races, trail and road.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that today was the first time I have volunteered to work at an aid station in a race.  If you've ever run an organized race, you know how important the aid stations can be.  When you're trudging down the trail, especially late in the race, and you come around a bend or emerge from the woods to see the aid station, it's a welcome relief.  Today's runners expressed their appreciation repeatedly for our aid station, an oasis in their journey through the LBJ National Grassland.
Elliot was quick to lend a hand wherever needed.
I somehow convinced Elliot, my 12-year-old son, to get up and leave the house at 5 so we could drive an hour to the middle of nowhere to serve water and pb&js to hungry trail runners.  He was a great sport, up and showered before I was even out of bed.  He stayed engaged with the runners, actively helping out throughout the day, jumping up to fill water bottles, slice oranges, and offer words of encouragement.  I'm sure he could have thought of other things he'd like to have done on a Saturday, but he said he had a good time.

The weather was gorgeous today, but it did get rather warm toward midday.  Quite a contrast to the sleet and freezing rain during my 2010 DNF (see my post here).  Conditions were much better today, sunny and breezy, getting up into the 80s by the afternoon.  According to the runners, the trails were very runnable, but the mud caking their shoes and legs told the story of some muddy portions.  
We enjoyed hanging out with fellow trail runner, Steve.
From my view at the Red Ant aid station, Paul Smith and the North Texas Trail Runners volunteers did a great job, as usual, putting on this race.  I enjoyed being on the other side of the table for this one, but look forward to getting back on the trail soon!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How many miles can you go in an hour?

I'm a little reluctant to post this, as it may be one of those viral videos that gets passed around.  But I thought this girl was hilarious, demonstrating her ignorance of what "miles per hour" actually represents.  Her point of reference is her running pace--she says she runs 7 minute miles when she's in shape.  She could beat me.  I wonder how she feels about her husband posting this. . . .

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I have a lot of respect for those endurance athletes who take on the ultramarathons that make Leadville and Badwater look like a warm-up.  You know the ones: the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara, the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska, the Race Across America.  These are amazing feats which few runners could imagine completing.

However, running an organized race, on a predetermined course, with crew and support, does not begin to compare with the real-life endurance feat featured in The Way Back.  This movie, based on true events, depicts the daring escape of a scrappy bunch of political prisoners from a Siberian prison camp.  Braving the elements and avoiding any signs of civilization, they trekked over 4000 miles from Siberia to Tibet, crossing the Gobi desert and the Himalayas.
Thousands of miles to go, and not an aid station in sight.
The movie is based on a 1956 book, the veracity of which has been questioned.  However true or elaborated the events in the movie are, there are certainly many similar stories of escapees following a similar route, or else traveling similar distances from Siberia eastward to parts of Europe.  So next time you come to an aid station during your ultramarathon, take a moment to thank the volunteers and to think about what it takes to keep going when your life depends on it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nice Place to Run: Eisenhower Park

Today was not an ideal vacation day for me, but it's a ritual many parents have to tolerate: standing in line for hours to ride a roller coaster.  After our ride on Fiesta Texas's Rattler, I asked E if he thought that 3 minute ride was worth waiting in line for 2 hours and 10 minutes.  Without hesitation, he said it was.  Despite the long lines, I think all the kids had fun.

After dinner, I left Kelly and the kids at the hotel watching the Disney Channel (the highlight of any vacation for this cable-free family) and drove over to Eisenhower Park.  A couple miles north of 1604 on NW Military Highway, this San Antonio city park offers a concentrated but satisfying trail running experience.
The south half of the Hillview Trail.  Not too technical, but a steady climb.
I took the Hillview Trail, which loops around the park.  Rocky, wide, and nicely groomed, the south half of the loop is a gradual climb to the observation tower at the top of the park.  The north half is more technical in parts and has more tree cover.  I should have started there; it was pretty dark when I descended, and my night vision was pushed to the limit, so I had to take it slow.  The Hillview Trail loop is about 2 1/2 miles.

There are some other side trails and connecting trails, as well as a paved trail that goes up the middle of the park to the tower.  The paved trail is less than a mile, and definitely wheelchair friendly.  Just be careful on the way down!
Had I arrived a bit earlier, I would have had this view from the top.
You might not want to come here for a long run.  The park only has about 5 miles of trails, and if you're like me, the loops might get monotonous.  But it's a great place for hill repeats and practice on some rocky, technical terrain.  If I lived in San Antonio, this would definitely become a favorite spot to run.

Here's a trail map.
Here's park information.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Q

Did I mention that I have really been enjoying Evan Mandery's Q?  I finished it tonight; loved it.  I recommend it whole-heartedly.

In my last post, I didn't really say what Q is about.  In Q, the narrator's future self travels back in time repeatedly to correct his path.  Eventually the visits become more and more frequent and contradictory.  In one visit, his 60-year-old self encourages to become more socially involved.  Among other things, he then joins the Hash House Harriers, whose goal is to "acquire a good thirst and satisfy it in beer."  That, and the beer and jalape no poppers at Diablos Cantina, do not help him get healthy.

Then his 68-year-old self visits him and shows of his scars from open-heart surgery.  He decides to get serious about fitness:
I quit the Harriers and join the Central Park Running Club.  They meet on Tuesdays for interval training, Wednesdays to run hills, and Thursdays for speed workouts.  On weekends, the members take long runs, sometimes fifteen or twenty miles, either around the park loop, or up Riverside Drive, or east onto Randall's Island. . . . The running is addictive, and I find myself going out to train every morning. . . . In the fall I run the New York Marathon, in the spring, the Boston.  I begin to plot training regimens to get my marathon time down under three hours.  I consider the Hawaii ultra-marathon, one hundred miles on the Big Island.
However, his 72-year-old self shortly drops in and bursts his bubble.  "You need to stop running so much. . . . You're ruining your knees."  So, with his older self's encouragement, he takes up . . . swimming.

 Evan Mandery, Q: A Novel (Harper: New York, 2011), 303-308.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How far would you walk for a Chick-fil-A sandwich?

I have been reading the terrific novel Q, by Evan Mandery.  It's a great story, with plenty of thoughtful and provocative passages, as well as lots of laugh-out-loud humor.  About half-way into it, I came across this passage that made me think of Jeff Rudisill, whom I mentioned in my blog last year.  You may recall that Mr. Rudisill, in his 60s, decided to walk across America.  He made it, coast to coast.

In Q, a dinner party debate has arisen over the inherent goodness of progress.  The local eccentric, Tristan Handy, begs to differ with his host's insistence that bridges and highways make our lives better by enabling us to travel more swiftly from place to place.  I have decided to quote this passage at length.  I hope you enjoy it!
But is getting someplace faster an end in itself?  You know, one night about twenty-four years ago this week, I was watching Alice on television when I developed a craving for the Chick-fil-A. . . .  I wanted the Chick-fil-A and they do not have so much as one such establishment north of the Mason-Dixon line.  [Handy lived in New York.]  So I called my travel agent and began making arrangements to fly to Atlanta.  Because if you are going to get the Chick-fil-A, you want to go to the original and not to one of these "franchisees."

So there I am on the phone booking my flight . . . when I asked myself, why do I not just walk?  It is a fine night outside, I said.  Once I had the thought I did not waste another minute. . . . Before  you know it, fifteen hundred and seventy-three miles later, there I am at the Greenbrier Mall in Atlanta, Georgia. . . . Well, I will be darned if that was not the sweetest-tasting sandwich I have ever had in my entire life. . . .

When I look back on that experience, as wonderful as that sandwich was, it is not what I recall most fondly.  What I remember most favorably is the walk itself.  I remember the things I thought about, the places I saw, and, most of all, the people I met along the way.  Many of these people . . . had me into their homes, and together we built friendships that have lasted until this day. . . .

My point is merely that oftentimes the journey is the superior to the destination.
 Evan Mandery, Q: A Novel (Harper: New York, 2011), 156-58.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hell's Hills, here I come!

I have officially registered for Hell's Hills 50K!  No refunds, no excuses, no turning back now!  I have 5 weeks to recover some of that running passion and log some miles.  These last couple of months, I have felt like my body has been taken over by someone else.  Who was that guy who ran 100 days straight and ran White Rock in 3:33?  It sure doesn't feel like it was me.
Come April 7, I plan to be there in Smithville.  I may be at the back of the pack, the 50 mile runners may be passing me up, but I'll be there.  And the bonus: I'll be running with my brother.  As my son Zippy has pointed out, I'm fatter, older, and slower than Mark, so I don't know if I'll be able to keep up, but at least we can start together, and maybe he'll drive his broken-down big brother home afterwards.