Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Winter morphed into Spring, which blew right into a hot Summer. Summer flew by quickly and cooler temps ushered in the Fall weather. Then suddenly Fall was gone and poof! it was winter again.

So goes our lives....It's really true the old saying that "life is what happens to you while you're making other plans."

So how to catch up on nine months??  What happened?? Well here's the abbreviated story:

After suffering a bout with pneumonia in Jan/Feb. of last year I slowly got back into running with Terrapin Mountain where I had a good reintroduction to the 50K distance. Since I was on the mend and was still recovering from a collapsed lung I took it easy and didn't push anything except the last couple of downhill miles. Success!  I felt really strong and ready for Promise Land (my favorite race!) I had no goals except to finish in the time cutoffs but ended up PRing by almost thirty minutes over my previous time.  "Alrighty then" I thought...I guess I'm ready for the season.

We had two summer races on our calendars for this past year. Dances With Dirt in Devils Lake, WI, and another favorite of mine Damn Wakely Dam 50K. I thought I was ready mentally and physically for both of these races. Dances with Dirt is a 50 miler with a 50K option to bail if things get tough.....which it did.  The day was hot.  Really hot, and I wasn't prepared (or smart) enough for the day.  I ran well through the early part of the race, but there were some fairly long, exposed sun sections which sapped my energy and at the "decision point" I knew that it would be a slog to the finish.  I hadn't been salting enough, had some cramping issues but what really was telling was how sour my stomach was.  Really didn't feel like eating much and felt nauseous for much of miles 20 to 30.  Although I was disappointed in having to take a 50K finish I finished in a pretty respectable time of 7 :30. 

Damn Wakely Dam was a virtual repeat of Dances with Dirt.  Great first half of the race....way ahead of previous years times and then BLAM!  Heat stroke!  I felt nauseous, clammy, and wobbly and there wasn't anything I could do except keep going.  Wakely is a point to point run with no aid stations, no cross roads, and zero support.  The only option was get out alive....which I did....barely....  A projected 7:30 finish turned into a ten hour ordeal.  It took several days after this race before I could even think about running....the heat had really sapped my mojo.

In between these two semi-disastrous races Peg and I bought a run down house close to ours and began demolishing the inside in preparation for a total renovation (which is still going on in mid January!)  Meanwhile we were feverishly trying to sell our previous house in VA and the market was NOT cooperating at all.  Prices were plummeting, no showings, a so-so realtor all led to a pretty stressful summer.  So what did I do? Sign up for Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness  50 miler of course. A running buddy wanted to give it a try as his first 50 miler and I knew that despite the nighttime running it was a relatively easy 50 miler with a good amount of road running interspersed with some really pretty trails. "Why not" I said to myself!  I've done so well already in the heat!  Why not give it a go!   And so we did....   I felt great throughout the run.
  I can't really say the same for my buddy who struggled mightily on the trail sections and had some serious difficulty on the final seventeen miles which is all road and pretty much all downhill.  We were almost DFL...but not quite... 

So September rolled around and year two at my (now not quite so new) school began with a whirl.  I was still filled with optimism that I would be able to run my dream race  Grindstone 100. I was feeling pretty good but there was a little pain/twinge in my right knee as I ran.  "Ignore it"  I thought.  It'll go away.  Except it didn't.  It got worse.  I had real trouble on the downhills of trails, I even had trouble on the downstairs in my house.  Real pain that was there and didn't get better with rest.  Uh Oh!  time to go see a doctor.  My GP said rest.   "Thanks a lot"  I thought, as I called an orthopedic doc who scheduled me for an x-ray, then an MRI, and finally meniscus surgery after the tests revealed a tear.  So much for Grindstone 100 this year.  I scheduled the surgery for the 29th of December and was relieved when it wasn't too big of a deal. I didn't especially like the general anesthesia but the pain killers after the surgery were definitely alright! A few days of recovery, another trip to the ortho doc and then a clean bill of health.

Today is January 19th.  I've been back running four days now-all of them indoors on a treadmill.  My max long run is .........drum roll please........3.25 miles.  I tore up that treadmill with a sub 12:00 minute mile yesterday.  The good news is I feel good.  The knee feels good.  It feels good to sweat and to run...even slowly...even on a treadmill.  I have a feeling that the recovery will be slow, but am confident that I will be full strength soon.  So confident that Peg and I have signed up for a brand new ultra here in Pennsylvania- The Glacier Ridge Ultra. We'll see what else is out there for us this year.  New Jersey has a trail series.  There is the Oil creek 100/50, and of course there always Laurel Highland if I can fit it in.

It feels good after a couple of topsy turvy years to say that I'm a Pennsylvanian, and a Lancastrian. We love where we live, we love living in the city, we really love the trails in this area and have good running friends and a great running club-the LRRC.

It has been a long and winding road from there to here, but the road continues and I have miles to go before I sleep....before I sleep.

Peace to all, and I promise it won't be nine more months before another post!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Terrapin Mountain 50K

It's been a tough winter-let me say that right up front. House renovations, sickness, snow, snow, and more snow have-how shall I put it-killed any serious training for Terrapin Mountain 50K.  I had intended to do the six race "Beast Series" but missed the first race due to pneumonia, and so approached this first serious race of 2010 with quite a bit of apprehension.  Would my lungs hold out?  Did I have enough miles in the bank to even finish the race?

Peg and I drove down to Sedalia Center, VA with a Lancaster friend, Steve Goss, who was running his second ultra marathon. We arrived around 8:30, checked in with race director Clark Zealand, grabbed some pizza and set up our tents in the large field adjacent to the pavilion.  It was a cold night with frost on the tent but Peg had packed flannel sheets so we were toasty warm in our little cocoon.  5:30 came very early, we dressed quickly, and milled about in the semi darkness talking to friends and waiting for the race to begin. 7:00 came, the gong went off, and we were off.  The first 4.1 miles are all uphill and was an excellent way to warm up for the day.I hit AS#1 at 59:00 and felt really good.

And now a word about fuel and hydration!
In past races, fearful of stomach upset, I have run exclusively on gels and salt tabs.  It's worked pretty well early in the race but I think I would get behind on my calories later in races when I couldn't take another gel hit and bonk. Also my stomach would get queasy after 20 miles and so I would neglect water further compounding the problem. I was talking with Peg about the upcoming race and she commented that she ate solid food until her stomach rebelled, and she drank coca cola to calm the stomach.  This sounded like a good strategy so decided-at the last minute- to try it.  It worked like a charm!  What a difference it made in my race.  I managed to eat solid food through most of the race, augmenting with gel when I felt a little hunger pang, and drank water with nuun for electrolyte replacement.  I also popped a salt tab at every aid station to make sure that there would be no cramping issues.

After AS#1 there was a long five mile section that I hammered at a sub 9:00 pace.  It felt good to run, the sun was out and warming us nicely, and the conversation was flowing with friends on the trail.  I still was being pretty cautious about running too close to the edge of my comfort level and kept reminding myself that the "A game" plan TODAY was simply to finish.  Time goals could wait for another day.  I reached the halfway point of 16.4 miles at 3:38, and knew that the day was going well. I felt absolutely great and charged up Terrapin mountain.  The section from AS#6 to AS#7 is just over three miles but it is the toughest section in the course. You first climb hard to the summit of Terrapin Mountain, then pick your way down the steep, rocky scree to "Fat Man's Misery" and then another tortuous descent to the final aid station.  Despite the climbing and descent I still had loads of energy and attribute a large portion of this energy to proper nutrition and hydration.
I crossed the finish line in 7:40:44 and felt absolutely energized. Lots of folks cheered me in (Thanks Rick, Sophie, David, Markie Mark, and Goose!) and it felt so good to to feel so good!

Could I have run this race faster?  You bet.  Am I ready for Promise Land 50K in four weeks time?  Bring it on!  The "A game" is to break eight hours.  My PR on this course is 8:02 two years ago, and I think that I have it in me this year to squeak under that.

Capon Valley 50K in early May, Dances with Dirt 50 mile and the Damn Wakeley Dam 50K in July will give me a good training base for my first attempted leap to big boy status-Grindstone 100.

 Here's wishing everyone good running this spring!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mid Winter Inspiration

I went for a short trail run today slogging through the deep snow on trails. It was a beautiful day-not too cold, a bit of sunshine then a bit of snow, pretty trails, and good friends. There is a season for everything and I know that under the snow is the trail that I love so much.  It will be there soon enough. The wild flowers will start to bloom, the days will get longer, and the runs will start to feel better and better.

Don't rush things is the mantra for February. Everything in it's time.  The distances will lengthen like the days, the uphills will get easier, and there will be less pain as spring comes.

After getting home this afternoon I found a great link on Trail Running Soul, a great web site with videos and stories. I'm planning to run my first 100 miler this year in October at the Grindstone 100. On Trail Running Soul there is a fantastic series of six, ten minute videos, which together make up a documentary called A Race For The Soul. If you wonder why people attempt extreme things (like running 100 miles) watch this incredibly inspirational film.

Can I run 100 miles?  I don't know.  I know that I have to try.  I need to do something epic in my life and running 100 miles is certainly pushing the limits of what is possible for me.  (Especially at 51 years)

The question is.....How bad do I want it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The joy of Running

The best part of finishing up an illness is the real joy that you get when you lace up your shoes for the first time. I ran yesterday for the first time in three weeks-pneumonia and fluid in the lungs-and although I wasn't fast, and I was tired, it was a great run. An hour on roads (which normally I dislike) was a great reintroduction to the real joy of running. I felt the pulse rate climb a little bit, a trickle of sweat appeared, and the breathing became deeper and a touch faster as we pushed up the tiny hills. 

Happy to be back in the world of the living. I'm sad that I missed Holiday Lakes. But there are lots of races out there, and the Beast Series will be there next year. It will give me even more time to train and prepare mentally and physically.

Next up is Terrapin Mountain 50K, a wonderful, epic race in the hill of Virginia. It will be good to see old friends and run on familiar trails in the spring. Yipee!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mini update...and last "medical post!"

Status update: Approximately 3/4 of a liter of piss looking fluid in lungs drained by pulmonologist last night allowing me to really get a breath for the first time in several days. Prognosis is good, and I should be back on the trail in a week or so.  However what really saved me was the strong lungs and breathing built up by running. The doctor was shocked yesterday when he did my pulse oxygen rate before the Thorocentesis process. It was totally "normal."

So legs feel strong, mind is clear, snow will stop sometime???  (12-18 more today and tomorrow), and lungs are generally healing.  Life is good.

Finally good luck to all the Holiday Lake runners this weekend.  The snow will make it tough to earn your shirt, but will really be a beautiful run.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010


Thanks to all who posted to the blog-even the anonymous folks.  Hey free speech right? As of Friday night-when I now can sit upright!-I thought I would spend this snowy night talking a little common sense about Pneumonia (yes), heart attacks (definitely no), Pleurisy (nope), and why I run (it definitely isn't about the beast series.)

I went to the ER about 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening when the tightness and stabbing became too tough to "suck it up."  I'm no stranger to the "pain cave" and I can tell you that around 50 miles into a race you have to be pretty tough mentally. And after tougher race years than 2010 on my calendar (except for Hellgate 100K) I can also tell you that I have a pretty good idea about what my limitations are.  I'm also not going to be stupid about my running (short or long term.) My friend Sophie says sometimes DNS means "did nothing stupid." That's the correct thing to do when the the diagnosis is Bacterial Pneumonia. Believe me I didn't order up this particular disease.  In fact this is the first time I've been sick in 20 plus years.Pneumonia is nothing to be cavalier about, and I'd like to think that in running nearly 30 ultras and marathons in the past five years has given me the wisdom and patience to work through what ever ails me and come out on the other side happy and stronger.

So maybe I won't get the beast this year.  So what? In the big picture I run to spend time with friends, my wife, and seeing new trails. For now -today that's enough

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Injury! Help!

About a week ago, I noticed a sharp pain in my left side centered in the rib cage area. I had been running a bit so didn't think much of it. I brushed it off...running produces aches and pains right??
Except this pain didn't go away. It got more severe as the weekend started. I did a solid 20 with Steve on Saturday, and then another 16 with LRRC folks on Sunday. The pain was there, manageable, but still there. It didn't hurt while I was running but when I finished on Sunday afternoon I had-what I can only describe as a full on attack that left me gasping for air and writhing in pain on the floor. It was very severe and localized in my left rib cage area. The pain wrapped around from the back to the front of the ribs and lasted 20-25 minutes. After a half hour the pain eased somewhat and two hours after the attack it was totally gone! As if I'd never had any pain. Hmmm.
Yesterday same story except not quite as severe. I couldn't drive however, and was basically incapacitated for almost two hours. The difference with the second attack is that there is a fair amount of residual pain.Ibuprofen doesn't seem to do a thing, and I'm at a loss here. As I write there is difficulty in breathing, a bit of upsetness in the gut, and a pain radiating into my left shoulder. Peg called our insurance company, I spoke to a RN who determined that 1. it was not a life threatening issue, and 2. yes, I should see someone. Brilliant!
Tomorrow I have an appointment with a GP and am hoping for the best. Not running is NOT AN OPTION...... At least for race #1 in the Beast series on February 13th.
I bagged running yesterday and today. we'll see about tomorrow, but I'm hoping that I'm alright to do a final long run on Sunday.

Only time will tell.......

So suggestions, comments, sarcastic remarks? Bring it on.

My mom-who knows everything about medicine (not)-is positive that it is Pleurisy-a disease that does have many symptoms in common with me.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Big Miles, great trails, and new friends

A big mileage week, some new trails that redefine big hills, and a weekend party with some new runner friends at the LRRC. 50+ miles in the bank by the end of today.
Today a group of folks got together and ran a portion of the Buzzards A.C. Marathon Course. All I can say at the end of the day is wow! Fantastically hard, long climbs (the gas line power cut deserves special mention as it is particularly evil in so many ways!), sweet downhill that are mostly runnable, and some nice level fire road to do some actual running! The views from the ridge tops were superb despite the cold conditions, the sun shone all day long, and the conversation was excellent except when everyone was sucking air on the salmon trail leading up to the horseshoe trail.

Ran a good deal of the day with my running buddy Steve (the ultra machine) Goss who is two weeks out from his first ultra marathon. Considering that we ran 20 yesterday, and 16 today I think that he's in great shape for finishing Holiday Lake 50K++
Yesterday was the coldest day of 2010 so far, and naturally we picked that day to do 20 on the trails around Mt. Gretna. We both (Steve and I) started the run with a twisted butterfly wing around the Governor Dick tower and trails that surround it. After a brief stop back at the car (aid station) to top off bottles, eat, and get dry clothes we head off for the other half of the butterfly loop. 5 hours and 10 minutes later we end up back at the car tired and ready for some serious nutrtion and rehydration!

Home for a short time to shower and then I attended the LRRC yearly banquet. Being new to town, new to the club, and not a particularly outgoing person
when first meeting people I was a little unsure of how the evening would turn out. However from the moment I walked through the door everyone was so friendly, talkative, and generally embracing of a new comer! The beer was terrific, the food was really awesome, and the conversation and laughs flowed as fast as the beer. I look forward to many more parties with the LRCC folks.

Start of Sunday Run on the Buzzards A.C. Course.

Stream crossing at 20 degrees!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A view from the trail

In my last blog I wrote about the slow process of getting "there" from "here." It has been a slow, year long recovery for me to begin the steps back to physical strength and mental calmness. With a couple of extended mileage weeks under my shoes (and toes) I am catching glimpses of where I am heading. As my mileage increased over the last few weeks I began to notice a sharpened mental acuity and "in the moment" feeling that is such a welcome friend in the dead of winter. I also noticed that my body is responding better to the demands of longer mileage runs. What a wonderful feeling to get 8, 10, 12 miles into a run and have that serenity feeling come over there is NO other place you'd rather be than right there on the trail with your buddies- or in my case-buddies and Peg.

An old Ultra running joke...."what are you running from??" And that's just not it is it? For me it's trying to be right in the moment on the trail with the sun slowly setting or rising, the feeling of your breath-now moderated and even-slowly rising and falling with the curves and hills of the trail. To feel the dirt, rocks, mud, water, ice, and snow under your feet is a really magical experience if you focus on being where you are right in the moment. Not thinking about the ice cold beer waiting at the end of the run, or worrying about bills, or kids, or work, or.....aches and pains of your body. A wise UR said "pain is mandatory, suffering is optional."

What am I running from? Nothing. I'm running to the moment where I am totally one with the trail. Step by step feeling the wind and sweat. Step by step experiencing the pain and letting it be there. Step by step dancing your way down the dark path with your love, your friends, and your compatriots in the big game.

Step by step.

(photo taken October 3rd, 2008 at inaugural Grindstone 100. Mile 85 at sunset with a view west to the Piedmonts)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why we run

Why do we run long distances? Some blogs and books suggest that we are genetically hardwired to run long, ultra distances. (Of course most people aren't in touch with that part of their genetic code, and so haven't got the message.) Others say we are running away from something? A bad relationship, troubles at home, problems with the kids. Still others say that ultra runners are obsessive compulsive, and that ultra running fills that needs. And finally there are those who think that we're punishing ourselves physically for some reason.

I say we run to feel the warm sunshine on our face after the sun has come up over a particularly beautiful ridge line. I say we run to be with friends who love nature as much as we do, who love camaraderie, jokes, and long intimate trail conversations. We are people who are in touch with being alive-all the way alive. We love the buzz that we get when we're five, six, ten hours into a race and suddenly feel like we could run another five, six, or ten hours more. The sweet endorphin rush is better than any drug or liquor. (O.K., maybe there are a few beers that come close to the endorphin rush.....)

Today I spent the better part of the day with a great group of UR people. Unlike most initial meetings of people who don't know each other there was a comfortableness right from the get go, as we climbed up to the ridge line on the AT. The miles flew by with sweet views, good running, and fine conversation that flowed in a natural, fun way. Soon we reached the half way point of our run, refueled, and headed back. Conversations ranged from the base (you know what I mean if you run ultras) to the esoteric (what is an oenophile?) Again the miles melted away as the sun shone down on our mini-ultra on the AT, and all too soon we were back at the trail head sharing a frosty post race beverage. Part two consisted of a very fine set of micro brews at the Appalachian Brewing Company with some good grub and more good laughs.

Is there a better way to spend the day? I really can't think of one. It was great to meet the folks in the LRRC, Harry, Steve, Beth, and several others whose voice I would recognize instantly but couldn't put a name with. (That's what happens when you're staring at the trail trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall!)

Here's to many more miles and smiles together.