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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making the Best of It

"You know what Scott, I think you could bounce back from this on the next section" said the great Errol "Rocket" Jones at the mile 29 aid station of the Bear 100.  I had already dropped from the race and told my friend Amanda to go one without me.  I wasn't in any real pain, but I knew it wasn't my day.  I had been getting over a tendonosis in my hip for several months.  I had run 20 miles once in three months.  My mileage was down, my weight was up and my fitness was at a low I hadn't experienced in a while.

Don't get me wrong.  I was having fun.  The Bear 100 starts in Logan Utah and almost immediately climbs to somewhere near Jupiter.

It's a Hardrock 100 qualifier.  It's a graduate level course.  For someone like me (i.e. a painstakingly mediocre flatlander who spends little time climbing, descending, or at altitude) just finishing this course while actually in shape would be tough.  The Bear is, well, a bear.

As I have indicated in the past, it is really hard to deal with limitations.  This is especially so in a sport where pain is sometimes to be ignored.  In my case, I knew I was going to have to deal with the fact that I would not complete a Western States Qualifier and I would, again, be resigned to cheering for others.

"It's a very gentle downhill, the perfect stretch to see if you can bounce back.  I only turned back because I puked."  The Rocket is from Chicago so I have always been fond of his writing.  He's a legend.  He is a co-RD of the race and has done it 16 times.  If anyone knows, it's him.  I took his advice, saddled up, let the HAM radio guys know I was "un-dropping" and got back into the race with a new vigor.

Oh, one more thing about the Rocket.  He's a total fucking liar.  No gentle downhill.  No easy trail.  Just up up up in the blazing sun.  The only part of that section that I enjoyed was seeing his puke spot on the side of the road and thinking "serves you right."  :)

So I trudged onward.  Reluctantly.  To mile 36.

At that point I knew I was only kidding myself.  But something dawned on me.  It was beautiful.  I wasn't in severe pain.  And you know what?  there really wasn't anyplace in the world I would have rather been.  So I made the best of it.

At mile 36 I considered dropping, but then decided to run until the sun set.  So I took off.   About a mile down the trail I stopped.  I wondered what the hell I was doing.  I was kidding myself.  So I turned back to the aid station to drop.  Halfway back I stopped and started criticizing my decision.  this continued for about a half hour, until I started criticizing myself about spending so much time criticizing myself.  Eventually I decided to just call it quits.  I headed back to 36 and dropped.  Again.

It's really hard to make these decisions.  It's even harder when you're injured.  As I packed my bag in shame my friend Amanda came rocketing into the aid station in tears.  She missed the turn, ran six extra miles, and was now in danger of missing the cutoff.  I asked her if she needed me to jog a bit with her and she said yes.  So I un-dropped.  Again.  As a consequence three things happened: 1) I got to give her a little more support in hopes of her making it to the finish; 2) I got to run until the sun set;

and 3) I found an injured Haley Pollack and got to keep her company while she limped in to 45 in the dark.

Two of the Flatlanders finished this amazing race.  I was glad I could be there to support them both.  I'll be back for more next year.  Hopefully making the best of it again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What kind of ultra runner do I want to be?

I handed my timing chip to the AS captain at mile 20 with a smile on my face.  I knew finishing would be impossible and continuing to 50 would be improbable.  I looked out on the scenic Superior (Sawtooth) Trail 100 course and wondered: what's happened to me?

I started the year by running the Frozen Gnome 50K and Sean O' Brien 50 milers as training runs for POT150 (which I DNF'ed at mile 100).  I PR'ed in the marathon, and then things went downhill.

Headed up Hope Pass at LT100
It has been a very tough summer.  I've been recovering from an injury which has derailed many of my running plans.  I felt a bit of back pain after Comrades.  I think that I altered my gait to compensate for it and I ran.  I ran too much while injured.  As a consequence, I caused another injury.

After seeing a few doctors, including a sports ortho I have figured out that I have tendonosis in my gluteus minimus and medius muscles.  It sucks.

I had planned to do three 100 milers this summer/fall - AC100, Superior Trail 100 and Bear 100.  I was forced to DNS AC100 (which is one of my dream races) and scale back my plans for Superior to trying to get to the halfway point.  Basically, when I get to about 15 or so miles it starts to hurt.  Bad. To make matters worse, I haven't been able to train as much, and of course I still been eating as much, so I have gained weight.  It's a spiral.

Starting the Leadville International Beer Mile

I was lucky to have attended Leadville Trail 100, crew Andy Kumeda to a finish and summit a couple of peaks.  I didn't meet my Superior goal.  I dropped at 20 miles and crewed my friends Tony Cesario and Mike Wolkowicz to their first finish.  While doing so I had a little time on my hands to reflect, plan and philosophize.

I decided that I need to start acting like the kind of ultra runner I want to be.  The problem is figuring out what that is.  I know there's a few kinds of runners I won't ever be.  The elite runner, the competitive runner and, let's face it, the fast runner.

At the Mt. Elbert Summit

I know there are a few runners I don't want to be: the selfish runner, the whining runner, the runner that can't handle hard races or the runner that makes excuses for themself.

I already have the cheeseburger runner down and the overweight runner down.  In fact, I might be the patron saint of both types of runners.  I know I am also the guy that helps everyone else.  I love being that guy and being known for being that guy.  But somehow it isn't enough.

Dovi and Me at the Krispy Kreme Challenege

After the frozen gnome a group of us went out for dinner.  I recall hearing my friend Blair Piotrowski whisper something to his son at the table.  It was something like: "See that guy over there....he might not look like much, but he can do really hard things."  I think that's EXACTLY the runner I want to be again.  To do that I have to get healthy and go back on my eating plan.  It's going to suck and take some time.  It might mean forgetting about some near term goals and looking to some long term ones.  I have to do PT.  I might end up stretching or having a foam roller applied to me.  Things may change.  I may change.

One thing's for sure.  I'm not going to let it get me down and I'm not going to give up.  This is all just part of the process.

Next up: Bear 100.  9/27/14.  My plan: run until someone tells me I can no longer proceed.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Re-Taste of Chicago II - 2014

The Starters

On July 27, 2014, I put on the second annual Re-Taste of Chicago fatass (ultra)marathon.  The event was inspired last year by Jimmy Dean Freeman's 5000 calorie LA Marathon Route Run.  The event basically follows the route of the Chicago Marathon (OK, it's closer to 30 miles - sue me), but throws in 9 REQUIRED eating stops.  Here is a video from last year:

Billy Goat - Eat an entire Cheezeborger!

Stop Two - Chicago Style Dog or Cheese Fries

The rules are simple: run the entire route, eat all of the food, do not throw up.  You puke, you DNF.  You fail to eat the food, DNF.  Last year 12 started and 4 finished.
Stop 3 - Ann Sather - Eat a Cinnamon Bun

This year every single person finished and ate everything, inlcuding the fact that I threw in two undisclosed stops: a half of an italian beef sandwich and (at mile 29) a cup of (bad) Chili with cheese and raw onions, and a (PBR) beer.  I should mention it was 90 degrees all day!

Stop 4 - Lou Malnatti's - Eat a Piece of Chicago Style Pizza (thick crust)

Stop 5 - Greektown - Baklava!!
Stop 6 - Mario's Italian Ice (Mario is second from the left)

Bonus half on Italian beer sandwich with your Italian ice
Stop 7 - Commales Tacos - Eat a chicken taco

Stop 8 - Egg Roll - ENORMOUS

Stop 9 - Spicy Fried Chicken!!

Undisclosed Chili and Beer Stop - Mile 29

A piece of Cake must be eaten to be an official finisher
Winner - Aaron Braunstein!!
With everyone finishing I guess next year I will have to raise my game!!!  Special thanks to the volunteers, without which this wouldn't have happened: Kylia Kummer, Eric Skocaj, Siamak Moustoufi, Vicki Brassil, Amanda Runnion, Whitney Richman and Jen DeSalvo!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fear of Failure

Well, I completely fell flat on my face at the San Juan Solstice 50 miler.  It was an amazing trip/experience with some really great friends.  We camped in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, we ran Hope Pass, we hung out in Lake City with many really fun ultra-people, and, best of all, I got to see some incredible sights.....the kinds of things you only see when you run ultras.

David Hill and winner Paul Hamilton

Tony Cesario getting the campsite ready

Tony Cesario and I on Hope Pass

Chey Hasemeyer triumphing at Hope Pass

I knew going into it that San Juan Solstice would be a tough 50 miler, but I would have never guessed that I would have my ass handed to me at mile 15.7!!  I ran at a comfortable pace and worked my way up and down the first climb/ascent at what I thought was a fair pace.  Nonetheless, at the second aid station I learned that I was being cutoff.  That's never happened to me before.  I was really surprised.  I'll be back again to try next year.

But make no mistake about it.  I failed to finish.

I have tried to think of words to describe the San Juan Mountains to you guys.  I'm sorry, I just can't.  It's like nothing I have ever seen in my life.  I've traveled quite a bit this year.  Being on top of the San Juan's is like giving a handshake to god.  You are surrounded by the most awesome and humbling's indescribable.

I may have paused here too long.

Lake City

Next up for me is the Angeles Crest 100.  One of the hardest 100 mile races in the country.  It will be hot.  It will be mountainous.  I will be dealing with these two elements that I have not had the luxury of training in.  It's outside my skill level.  It will hurt.  I may fail again.  Miserably.

I realize I have chosen a sport that entails a certain degree of uncertainty.  If you know someone that has never failed to finish a race, they probably either haven't been racing long enough, or haven't tried anything hard enough to push their limits.  Some people try to excuse their fears, joke about them or brush them under the table and chalk their ultimate failures up to circumstances beyond their control.  I've found that this community of ultra runners is extremely supportive of a specific kind of runner - one I believe I am becoming - the mediocre person that isn't afraid to haul ass head first at a failure waiting to happen.

But make no mistake about it.  I'm scared.  I am really afraid I may fail.  I'm afraid that after my wife and I spend thousands of dollars to make this trip happen and I get cut off at mile 40 she will tell me that my successes to this point may have been a fluke and it might be time to find a new hobby.

This fear of being discovered as a fraud isn't new.  On my first day of college I felt like I had somehow sneaked in under the admissions radar.  That suspicion continued well into law school, the bar exam, my first legal job and today.  In fact, the next time I step up in front of a judge I will have a passing fear that the judge will discover I am a fraud and I have no business practicing law.

Similarly, at times I believe my wife must have caught me on a good day.  I'm not that handsome and I'm not that nice.  Sometimes I fear she will look over at me and let me know that I'm really not as awesome as she thought I was - and tell me and my collection of rather smelly clothes to take a hike.

We all live with these fears.  I know I'm not alone.

What's the point?  Facing these fears head on is what makes us feel alive.  My sincere fear is that there will come a time in early August that my feet will be raw and the majority of my body will be chaffed.  The sun will be beating on my head and it will be over 90 degrees.  I will have not slept in 30 hours and my wife and pacer will both decide once this race is over they are done with me.  I'll be looking up at Mount Wilson and wishing I was dead. 

Then I will face that fear and finish the race.