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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.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Comrades - An unexpected reaction to a legendary race

I've known about the Comrades a Marathon since reading "A Step Beyond" when I first became an Ultrarunner.   The book has a chapter on must do races.  The Comrades is #1 on the must do list.

The specs a history of the race are the subjects of numerous books.  It's the world's oldest and biggest ultramarathon.  18,000 participants.  89k. (Around 56 miles).  It's a road race that changes directions annually.  One direction is more up than down. The other is the opposite.  This year was a down year.

It took forever to get to South Africa.  From Chicago to Munich to Johannesburg to Cape Town where I spent a week relaxing, touring and running along the ocean.  To say it was beautiful would be an understatement.  Within hours I was in love.  From the coastal scenery, to the roadside zebra...the sights, sound, smells and tastes were like nothing I have ever experienced.  By day two my wife and I were already discussing the next time we visit.  I could write three blog posts about the first week of this trip alone....but we had to leave Cape Town and fly to Durban for the race.

We arrived two days before the race and were warmly welcomed.  The whole city was about Comrades.  Everyone was wearing Comrades apparel.  The energy was intense.  The whole town was buzzing.

In the morning I had the pleasure of doing a shakeout run with some of the other Americans, Michael Wardian and British phenom Jo Meek (who would go on to finish 5th).  They were so nice.  It was amazing.

The expo was typical.  Booths of vendors, chaos, excitement, energy.   There was a great display of the history of Comrades.  Many people complained about the lines and the fact that a lot of the race branded products were sold out.   It didn't seem too unusual to me.   It became clear that this race is extremely important to it's participants.  In fact, your bib indicates how many finishes you have.   It also indicates your name and whether you are an international participant which provides a good conversation starter during the race.  "where you from Scott?"

I woke up at 1:00 am.  After a breakfast spread put on by the hotel we (me and a small group of strangers from Germany that I found myself with) headed out looking for the buses.  It took some scaling of fences but we got it done.

After an extremely long bus ride through Durban I found myself at the start of the race, in Pietermaritzburg jamming into my corral.  It was interesting being around so many different people, different languages, etc.  The excitement was extreme.

The start of the race was amazing.  Chills.  We started with the National Anthem.  followed by the song Shosholoza.  Everyone was arm in arm singing.  It was moving. I cried a little.  After this they played a traditional recording of a rooster and the theme from chariots of fire.   Then a cannon blasted and off we went.

We started in the dark.  We had to stay on out toes to avoid tripping on the clothing on the trail.  I quickly learned a few things.  1) this race was not going to be easy; 2) the "down" run wasn't really down, or all down, or didn't feel down.  This race was brutal.  It was warmish, in the 80's and we were constantly either running up (too steeply) or down (too steeply).   My goals going into this race were to : 1) finish; 2) NOT spend my only run across Africa worrying about my time.  I accomplished both.  (11:03ish).

A few initial observations.  No headphones allowed and people really didn't use them.  I felt self conscious about it and only used them twice for about 15 minutes.  The race was painstakingly marked by kilometer (which I have no sense of).  I didn't like that aspect.  I like not knowing.  Also, aid stations were every couple of kilometers.   They served water and an extremely sweet endurance drink out of plastic tubes that you had to bite to squirt water out of.  They also had some random fruit, potatoes and energy bites.  I also had some GU's.  The spacing and type of food effected me, but not to a degree that it made a difference.

People were extremely friendly.  I met many people while running.  I even stopped at one point to meet a Doberman and her owner was the head of a Doberman Rescue in SA.  With the exception of the presumably drunk person near the end that yelled "be a man and run faster," every single person running, spectating and/or working at the race was AMAZING and acted as if my finish was personal to them.  My bib had my name and people used it.  I can't say enough about how important this event the entire country.

I struggled.  I figured I would take it conservative until the halfway point and then cruise the down portion comfortably.  From a running perspective none of it was comfortable.   4,000 feet of vertical climbing over 56 miles.  It was crazy.  I wasn't prepared for it.   I did quite a bit of walking.

I made it to the finish in 11:03.  The race ends through the streets of downtown Durban and then into a huge stadium which is PACKED.   Everyone was screaming my name.  It felt like I won the Super Bowl.   I'll never forget that.

I learned a lot about life, the world, and myself on this trip.   In Cape town we stayed in a really upscale area and only saw the poorer neighborhoods on occasion (and quickly turned around).  During the race the magnitude of the poverty many South Africans live in completely devastated me.  I made a point of high fiveing every child on the course that was near me.  Sometimes with two hands.  Sometimes to the detriment of my race.  They wanted anything I could give them, but they settled for a touch.  They collected the clothing we threw away, they collected the unused water tubes and food.  I looked deeply into their eyes as they sang Shosholowza to me.  I thought about them every time I heard that song for the rest of the race and it brought me to tears.  I spent much of the race in a state of extreme sadness.   Seeing the wealthy folks later in the race only made that feeling worse.

I realize the race brings money and good to the community.  I know only a few of you will really understand this, those of you who have been there.  There's nothing wrong with the Comrades.  It was amazing.  But I can't lie, the poverty and sadness ruined the experience for me.  I completely broke down in tears of sadness at the finish.  I will forever be haunted by the looks on their faces.  I'm crying as I write this on the plane ride home.  A part of me is ashamed to live in a world where it is OK for people to live like that.  If I ever return it will be with something more for that community than high fives.

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