Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Belly Flops

"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. 
The real mistake is to stop trying."
B.F. Skinner

Zoe Summits Hope Pass

     I'm dubbing 2014 the "Year of the Belly Flop" for me.  Not only was 2014 filled with injuries, I DNF'ed every distance except the 50K.  (Potawatomi 150, Bear/Sawtooth 100, San Juan Solstice 50 mile and Las Vegas Marathon (though this is a long story).  I did more crying and quitting than usual. Poor Dovi had his mileage cut by almost 1/2 (from 1250 in 2013 to around 800 in 2014).  I also parted ways with several good friends and my former running group New Leaf.  

How bad did I want to quit?

     I didn't re-qualify for Hardrock.  I didn't finish a 100 mile race.  My pants grew tighter.  My hip hurt.  I became more bald and more grey.  2014 didn't turn out the way I wanted it to.

     That being said, it wasn't a total loss.  My friends often prevailed where I didn't:

     We also set up a small running group called Flatlanders.  It's growth hasn't shocked me.  It was built on a few very simple principles.  No money, no bitching, keep running and help one another.  I'm proud to be part of that group.

Trail Work

Lakefront 50/50 Aid Station

     OK, I know, I did some stuff too.  I ran the Comrades, Sean O Brien 50, 100 at Potawatomi, a PR marathon, the Gnome 50K, to name a few.  I climbed some mountains

Mt. Elbert

I made some new friends.  I volunteered.  I paced.  I crewed.  We laughed and cried.  We ran from Milwaukee to Chicago.  We put on some great fatasses (re-taste, krispy kreme, salichia) and we helped a few people reach their goals.  

Vicki - first 50 mile!

     Also, Dovi completed his first Ultra at McNotAgain 30.  He even beat me (by a nose).

     I'm convinced that you learn a hell of a lot more from failure than success.  I learned how to be OK with being injured.  I made some good decisions.  I learned how to cheer for the success of others while experiencing failure.  In short, I learned to make the best of it.

     2015 will be very different.  

     My main running and training partner Alfredo has been diagnosed with ALS.  This year I will think about him often.  My wife has laminated pictures of him to take with me on all of my races so we can continue to run together.  I will remember that he is suffering more than I.  and that my suffering has been self-inflicted by choice, for sport.  I won't take another run for granted.  When times are tough I will draw on him for strength.  

     Don't get me wrong.  I know for CERTAIN that there will be more belly flops.  I don't think Alfredo would have it any other way.  With that being said, I am off to tackle the next thing....Tuscobia 150.  This will be a long run n the snow carrying my gear on a sled (named Alfredo) which I drag.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  Things are about to get interesting.

    Please keep Alfredo and his family in your thoughts and prayers and have a great holiday!!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

World's Longest Turkey Trot II - a/k/a the "Bonkfest"

It was 3 a.m. and after 3 hours of no food or water, running into a headwind at about 25 degrees.  Katerina Claiborne, Tony Cesario and I found ourselves eating on the floor of the first gas station we passed in what seemed like an eternity.  Katerina was shoveling munchos into her mouth like her life depended on it. I reasoned with them: "Listen, I'll support you guys in whatever you decide, but I've done this before, I'm bonked and miserable and we were re-routed so we can't really do what we set out to do.  A bed sounds real good.  It's getting colder, we're moving slower, we're all dehydrated and this isn't any fun.  We have about 15 hours to go.  Then again, it'd be nice to finish.  You decide."  I tried to lay out our options as diplomatically as I could.  I would have bet you every dollar to my name that we were done for the night.  I was done.

The second annual World's Longest Turkey Trot took a reverse route this year - Milwaukee to Chicago.  The distance was approximately 95 miles.  Three basically insane people decided to take part this year (up a full person from last year).  The event was self-supported.  (Last year we had a dedicated crew person for the last 60 miles - this year we weren't so lucky).  We ran mostly on roads, jumping from inattentive cars to the shoulder of country roads.  We almost got hit by a car on a bridge (this was before the whole "please run me over" sentiment kicked in so it left us breathless).   At one point the police instructed us to get into the car and bypass a section of the route due to two (2) shootings taking place along the route while we were running.   

We did have some pacers in the night (Susan and Brian Smock) who entertained us with their stories and shenanigans...

but for the most part, it was a cold suffer-fest on rock hard concrete.  Leading up to the bottom at the gas station I would say we had fun about 20% of the time, and suffered for 30% of the time. Oh, the other 50% of the time (13 hours total over the event) was spent in restaurants eating, with wet clothes hanging everywhere and electronics charging wherever we could find space.

No.  We're finishing.  Katerina said.  It broke my heart.  I was so ready for bed.  But she had a point.  You see, we aren't particularly fast (most of the time) but we have a reputation for doing really hard things, and often times finishing them.  The Turkey Trot isn't about the running.  No one really cares how long it takes.  There's no medal or buckle at the end.  The only reward you get (other than the bizarre look on people's faces when you explain what you are doing) takes place when you look back and say "Did that really happen?"  

Once we had no choice but to finish we made the best of it.  We even had a few more pacers along the way (Jen DeSalvo and Julie Bane).

In all, we finished in 34 hours.  We ran roughly 85 miles.  We ate three breakfasts, a pizza, a fancy burger, some amazing soup and almost 30 peanut butter cups.  We mostly carried all of our own gear.

My Strava data, with many, many fails, can be found here:

Now that I've done this trot in both directions I'm prepared to crew it next year.  So watch my FB/Twitter if you are interested.  Trust me, it is MUCH easier when crewed.

Things I learned: concrete sucks.  Hydration is trickier in the cold.  Aid stations and crews are worth their weight in gold.  I have the best friends in the world.

There is something uniquely difficult about goals without rewards.  They really make you dig deep.  Without the possibility of an award, a PR or a crowd at the finish you find yourself with only one reason to continue.  Because you said it out loud.

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: http://vimeo.com/72294207

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!!