Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tough Lessons from a Failed Hike

"We extract people from the canyon all the time. Rafters, mountain bikers, dehydrated hikers - a lot can go wrong out there. If you find yourself needing help, the best place to get picked up is Bradley Wales; about the halfway point. There's a road and cell service there. We can just drive up and get you if something goes wrong."

I could here his words ring in my head as I dialed the number for the outfitter that had shuttled us to the southern terminus of the trail.

"Pine Creek Outfitters. How can I help you?" a kind sounding voice answered. It was the same guy that shuttled us out.

"Hi... you guys, uh, dropped us off at the southern terminus of the West Rim trail yesterday... Uh..." It was almost painful to spit out the next part. "We need you to come extract us from the trail. We're at Bradley Wales."

As I assured the man on the phone that nobody was injured or dehydrated, and that we would be fine to wait until morning, I couldn't shake the shock of finding myself making this call. I wasn't sure if I was more embarrassed or disappointed.

I like to finish what I start. As an ultramarathoner, I have only DNF'd one race and it wasn't until the trail was completely washed out and one of my pacers fell into a ravine that I decided to call it a day. I'll push myself to breaking. I take pride in that. And if I'm honest, some sick, twisted part of me, enjoys the challenge. Yet here I was, making the call. Not because I felt tired or broken but because half of my team did.

It was an eye-opening experience. Over the last few days I've been reflecting on how this happened and I've come to the realization that I will need to modify the way I organize trips in the future. It turns out, my easygoing, laissez-faire attitude toward organizing backcountry excursions can be problematic, if not kept in check. I'm not saying that I have any intention of becoming a type A trip planner. But I've realized that there are a few things that I will never do the same way again. If you're like me, and you like to let the adventure just happen, here are a few tips that could help reduce the risk of finding your group in need of rescue, on your next outing:

Know Your Party
Before, I kind of had this attitude of "the more, the merrier!" I let anyone invite anyone. Never again. You need to know someone well before you head into the backcountry with them. And I'm not talking about their favorite color, food, or political views. What I mean, is that you need to know their level of experience and their backpacking philosophy. Everyone has their own personal take on backpacking. Everyone's packing list is different. But not everyone's philosophies mesh out on the trail. If you are an "Ultralight" backpacker on the trail with an "Overly Prepared" type, there's a good chance you'll run into problems. If you prefer to move slow, taking in the scenery, and making lots of detours and you're on a trip with someone who's trying to cover 15+ miles a day, you're both going to be frustrated,  no matter how well you get along in your everyday lives. Before you (or your friends) invite anyone new on a trip, make sure you know how they approach backcountry life.

Stragglers Must Carry a Map
I've seen it on documentaries about backpacking and now I've experienced it firsthand. Stragglers get lost. Why is it that nobody ever thinks to make sure they have a map when they end up at the back of the pack?? In retrospect, it seems like common sense that the guy (or girl) a half mile behind everyone else, should probably have a way to know where they're going. Make sure the the person at the back of the pack is armed with a map, a compass, and the knowledge of how to use both. Or better yet, insist that everyone carry a map & compass just in case. If you have someone on trail with you who is inadequate at orienteering, DO NOT LEAVE THEM BEHIND. Otherwise they could find themselves wandering onto private property with signs posted saying that trespassers will be shot on sight. And a lost or dead hiker is bad for moral all the way around.

Foggy Sunrise Over the PA Grand Canyon 
Plan to Start Unnecessarily Early
To me, this one is the hardest to swallow. But, what I have found is that, more than half the time there is a delay in getting on the trail, the first day. If you plan to get started at 10am there's a good chance that you won't actually hit the trail until noon. Once you have determined what time you need to get started, move that time up a few hours. Getting into camp at 11pm is no fun. Making up missed mileage the next day is hard. Sitting at camp a few extra hours, or having time to do some exploring without a pack on your back, can only be a bonus. Get started early, then if something doesn't go as planned, you'll roll into camp on time instead of late.

I've read a thousand blog posts about backpacking and none of them have suggested these things. Maybe everyone else assumes that they're a given. Or perhaps, learning this is all a part of the initiation process. Either way, it is my hope that sharing the lessons I learned from my mistakes will help others to have a more enjoyable hiking experience. This is by no means an all inclusive list, so if you have any other tips that you've learned the hard way, please share them in the comments section!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pokémon GO: An Ultramarathoner's Take

"I'm so sick of that game" I overheard the gas station attended blurt to her coworker. "I go into the woods for a peaceful, quiet workout and the park is full of losers being loud and looking for fictitious monsters!"

It's a sentiment that seems to be pervading the internet. Like the original Pokémon games of the 1990's this cultural phenomenon known as Pokémon GO has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. But there's a different tone to it this time. Instead of complaining about an entire generation never leaving their bedrooms, the complaints seem to be centered around an entire generation getting out of the house, invading our communities and even... (wait for it) going for walks in the woods! *shudder!*

Every time I hear someone complaining about this game I just want to shout, "Are we serious right now?!?! We're complaining about kids getting exercise?" But the attendants comments got me thinking... Where were these complaints when Nintendo launched the Wii and then the Wii Fit? I don't seem to remember hearing anyone complain that kids (and adults) who were previously living sedentary lives in front of a television screen, are now moving their bodies more. As a matter of fact, that seems to be one of the praises I remember being sung about the new game machine. And those praises continued to be sung about subsequent systems, like the Xbox 360 that used even more advanced technology, allowing a greater freedom of motion as remotes became unnecessary. So, why are we so upset about this new generation of video game?

It seems to me that what people are upset about is that Pokémon GO takes kids outdoors. A whole generation of teens and young adults are invading the places we love. They're going for walks in the woods, they're visiting monuments, libraries, museums and other points of interest in our community, many for the first time in their lives. The places that we have cherished are no longer as quiet and secluded as they once were. But isn't that what we want?

As an ultra marathoner and outdoor enthusiast, much of my social media is dedicated to sharing my adventures with the hope of inspiring others to get out there and experience the beauty of nature themselves. Many of my friends do the same thing. We share our adventures so that others will be inspired to have a few of their own, to get fit, or just to get outside more. But when something actually manages to get people out there en masse, we complain about it. Some of the complaints might have some validity. Others... I'm not so sure about. Here are the three most common complaints I've heard, and what I think we can or should do about it.

The places I go for peace and quiet are now crowded with young people!

Isn't that what you want? Sharing things we love with younger generations ensures that they continue to be appreciated. Additionally, parks exist for people to visit them. If people don't go to them, then they aren't worth the cost of upkeep. This surge of visitors to your favorite park or monument likely means that your local government will continue to fund it's existence when budget revisions come around. And lets face it, it's not THAT crowded. A few people walking up to look over the same pond you admire on a regular basis isn't really that big of a deal. And if it is, keep in mind that most parks have a few places that people rarely visit. Maybe it's time to find a new spot if you need more seclusion.

They're always looking at their phone. They're missing the beauty that surrounds them.

This is the same tired old argument that hikers have said about runners forever. I can't tell you how many times that I've heard hikers complain that I can't possibly enjoy the woods moving so fast. It's ridiculous. I love to hike and backpack as well. I am fully aware of the difference in experiences and I realize that I might not see as many small details while running but that doesn't mean that there's a better place for me to run. I still see more than I would have had I decided to stay at home and run on the treadmill. And, things still catch my eye that cause me to pause and take in the scenery. The same is true for kids hunting imaginary monsters on their phones. Yesterday on my run, I saw two teens holding their phones, looking up at the trees in search of a woodpecker that they could hear but not see. I watched a girl, looking at her phone, walk up to a bench near a pond, sit down, and admire the view. And I saw an overweight father and daughter walking down the road together in search of tiny monsters. There is a solid chance that none of these things would have taken place, had these people not been playing a video game on their phones.

They don't know trail etiquette. They're loud and take up the whole trail.

We weren't born knowing trail etiquette. Someone had to teach us. Someone has to teach them. Instead of complaining, how about kindly offering some instruction. For example, politely say, "passing on your left" instead of just yelling "on your left." It may take some time but eventually they'll catch on. Even better, slow down and ask them about the game, inquire about what they have caught, tell them what wildlife that you've seen, and then slip in that if they are quiet, they may see the same wildlife. Also, keep an eye out for things that you're local parks might be doing that do the same thing.

Pokémon GO is an opportunity for us to engage an entire generation in the outdoors. Instead of fighting it, lets embrace it. Lets look at the positives. And then, lets encourage these teens and young adults to look up from their phones for a minute to admire the places they're visiting for the first time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Exploring the Twists & Turns of My Running Journey

Six years ago I started a journey. It began when I bought my first pair of real running shoes and said, "Maybe I am a runner after all" (See How I Became a Runner). It's a journey that has been full of twists and turns, victories and injuries, accomplishments and failures. It has been been a labor of love and a path to self discovery. But what I have discovered has not come to me through running alone. There have been other factors; other contributors and influencers that impacted me rather unexpectedly. I was not really aware that these things were at work until recently, when I realized that my whole perspective on running has changed.

Allow me to backtrack a little.

My First 50K
It didn't take long after I began running for me to discover that I loved to run on trails while I only tolerated it on roads. Road running was monotonous and painful. The miles stretched ahead with little variety but the woods, they called to me. Trail running was and continues to be an adventure full of variety and challenge. Every step was different. The scenery was both peaceful and exhilarating and I couldn't get enough of it. I built up my milage and ran a marathon, then a 50K, then another. I got injured and 6 weeks after I could run again, I ran another 50K. The following year I ran in two 50 mile races. I loved everything about trail running and ultra marathoning. I loved the process. I loved the time in the woods. I loved exploring new trails.

And then my kids reached an age where I could take them all camping. This was an activity that I enjoyed as a child and I wanted to share it with my own children. We started making it a point to camp at least once a month in the summer. Chanda did not share my fondness for camping but she supported the kids and my adventures nonetheless, often coming out to visit us, and occasionally staying the night. While I loved taking the kids camping, the twins were only 2 and the work of setting up camp for eight, while trying to keep seven children entertained, was exhausting. As camping took up more of my time, I allowed my training slide.

Last summer, while training for the Run With Scissors Double Marathon (RWS), I often found myself viewing one short run and one long run per week as acceptable training. I was running the heaviest I had been in years and, to no surprise, I got seriously injured a month before the race. Two stress fractures in my left leg: The doctors recommended I take a 3 month break from running to let myself recover and then ease into running slowly. I agreed, and immediately contacted the race director and volunteered to help mark the course. I might not get to run the race but I wasn't going to let that keep me off the course.

In the months that followed, I started preparing for a new adventure: an early spring backpacking trip (See 10 Things I Learned on my First Backpacking Trip). Preparations included online research, the acquisition of gear, and hiking. Lots and lots of hiking. I told myself that this would be good cross training and that I would be a better runner because of it. I took the kids on many of my hikes and found myself pulling facts and theories that I had learned from recent biology, geology, and natural disasters classes, my favorite of the general education courses I've been plugging away at as I work toward a psychology degree.

I missed running, but not as badly as I had anticipated. I looked at backpacking as a nice distraction from the hole that injury and the break from running had left in my life. But to my surprise, when I returned home from backpacking, all i wanted was to do it again. I loved everything about it. I loved the slower pace. I loved the beauty. I loved the quiet. I loved the physical challenge of carrying everything you need to survive for 10, 15, even 20 miles in a day.

Cumberland Island, GA
I had a fall trip on the calendar within a week. Then Chanda and I planned an anniversary trip backpacking Cumberland Island, GA. When I wasn't planning a trip into the woods, I was reading about them. I finished Henry David Thoreau's Walden, which I had started in the fall and moved on to devouring the writings of John Muir as fast as I could. Slowly and steadily, my running mileage was increasing and I found myself looking forward to each run with great anticipation. Last week, I sat down at my computer and began working out a training plan for a second shot at RWS. Intertwined into my training are several camping trips and several backpacking trips. I considered the physical demands and the benefits of each as I planned out my mileage and was able to create a training plan that should have me going into this race stronger and more fit than ever.

Then, this past Monday, as I was running through the woods, marveling at the beauty that surrounded me I was struck by a thought: I don't love running nearly as much I thought I did. I was confused. I misunderstood my feelings. Like a person has confused their love for someone with their love for that persons family, I had misunderstood my love for running. In fact, it isn't running that I love at all. I don't love running just anywhere. I don't love running roads, I dread running on a track, and I despise running on the treadmill. If I truly loved running, shouldn't I feel differently?

I continued my run, rounding a corner into a patch of pine forest and took a deep breath. The smell of decomposing needles filled my nose like a strong perfume. I heard the distinct thumping of a large Pileated Woodpecker drilling holes in a nearby tree, and like a veil had been lifted from my minds eye, I was able to see clearly. It had not been running that I loved. Nor was it camping or backpacking that I adored. These are merely tools. My love affair was not with any activity in particular. What I realized was that my love affair was with the wild itself and I would use any method available to me to get close to her.

This realization has not had any negative impact on my desire to run in the woods. If anything, it has been strengthened by a clarity of purpose that I previously lacked. I have often said that fitness goals should be determined by what you love to do not by how you want to look. I understand what I love now more than ever. I love to experience the wild; to watch the changing of the woods follow the changing of the seasons; to experience the infinite biological variety and processes in different ecosystems; to stand in awe of the seeming permanence of geological structures; to stair into a night sky, unpolluted by city lights, and try to wrap my mind around the vastness of cosmological time and distance; and to wonder at the handiwork of a God who simultaneously works in the infinite and the microscopic. That is what propels me forward as I train for my next race. It's what compels me to drag my kids away from tv and computer screens and into the woods. It's what leads me away from the comfort of my bed and my home, to wander through the forest with my shelter and food strapped to my back for days at a time.

I've rounded a corner on this journey. I have a greater understanding of where it is that I'm headed. And the best part is: I have much further to go!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

10 Things I Learned on My First Backpacking Trip

"I've been thinking about getting a backpack and doing some hammock camping trips. You know, hike out and find a place to camp, kind of an ultra low impact sort of thing."

The idea resonated with me as we sat around the fire. Maybe it was the quiet night and the campfire. Or the sense of euphoria that accompanies completing a challenging race like Hocking Hills Indian Run, in which I had taken 2nd in my age group that morning, but whatever the reason, a whole new type of adventure (for me anyway) was set into motion, that September night.

Fast Forward to Mid-March. None of us had ever set out on an adventure like this before. But here we were, 5 guys, armed with hammocks, backpacks, sleeping bags, and 6 months worth the research, leaving the safety of the car for a 3 day point to point trek through Shawnee National Forest. We thought we knew what to expect. Looking back, we had no idea how strong the learning curve would be. Here are 10 things I learned on my first backpacking trip:

1. Everything weighs more on the trail
It's true. Putting on a fully loaded pack that weighs 40 or 50 pounds and walking around the house does not give you an accurate idea of what your pack actually weighs or how it fits. While a 50 pound pack might seem completely manageable, even light, within the confines of your living room, it can seem unbearable after 6 hours on the trail, especially if your pack doesn't fit right. My pack fit right and weighed in at 24 lbs and I was tired of carrying it by the end of each day, I can't imagine what the guy with a 50(plus) lb pack that didn't fit right was experiencing.

2. You need a lot less gear than you think
Online, you'll find a ton of packing lists. Everyone has their own idea of what gear is necessary and honestly, packing lists are a highly personal thing. But there are really only a few things that you actually need in your pack: shelter, sleeping bag, and water. If you view everything else as a luxury it becomes much easier to to pair down what you plan to carry.

3. Some things are worth the extra weight
Two luxury items that I definitely splurged on were extra socks and instant coffee.  I knew there was a strong possibility that I would find myself wet and cold at some point. Dry socks and a hot cup of coffee seemed like they could do wonders for moral. I was right. They were little things that made a huge difference to me and they were worth every ounce of extra weight. Ask yourself, "If things turn bad, what little thing might boost my spirits?" That item is probably worth the extra weight.

4. Something will go wrong
For me, it was the realization that I had forgotten gloves. For my brother, it was finding out that the cook box he had bought for his alcohol stove made it less efficient and he didn't have enough fuel. For another guy, it was the discovery that his pack didn't fit right. And on day 3, it was the realization that the trail was 9 miles longer than we had all previously believed. Which leads me to my next 3 lessons...

5. Test your gear before you're relying on it
Whether its a pack, a tent, a cookstove, or a sleeping bag, test it out before you take it on a trip. Make sure you know how to use it and that it functions the way you expect it to. Getting a day into a three day trip and realizing you're pack doesn't fit right is the pits. Finding yourself setting up a tent that you don't know in the dark is frustrating. Hanging a hammock for the first time, only to realize your tarp doesn't cover it, can be a nightmare. Give it a shot before you are depending on it.

6. Backpacker Magazine isn't always right
Sure, they're an authority on backpacking. But they're also an organization made up of humans. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they give out bad advice. Sometimes they tell you that a trail is 24.6 miles when it's really 33.4. 8.8 miles is almost a whole extra day of hiking. A WHOLE. EXTRA. DAY!!! So take everything you read with a grain of salt.

7. A good sense of humor is invaluable
When you're tired and you realize that you have a lot further to go than you thought, sometimes you just need a good laugh. Being able to look at your situation and make light of it is a great way to process what you're experiencing without letting it drag you down. In the end, backpacking like running, is all about putting one foot in front of the other, and nothing makes that harder than allowing yourself to sink down into a pit of despair.

8. Factor in unscheduled downtime
An itinerary that requires you to be on the move for 10 hours a day, is a bad plan. Give yourself some the freedom to explore a rock formation, or rest at a fallen tree. You never know what might put you behind schedule so give yourself some wiggle room.

9. If you look for it, there is beauty in even the worst conditions
The second day, we woke up to the sound of rain, ice, and snow falling on our tarps. Before any of us had even opened our eyes, we knew that it was going to be a day of trekking through miserable conditions. But what we found in those conditions was an abundance of beauty that we would have not seen otherwise. There were ice covered spider webs, starkly contrasting hues of the snow and the forest in early spring, and delicate cherry blossoms kissed by ice and snow. It was in some ways, the most beautiful of our days on the trail.

10. Bring a camera
Seriously, there is a chance that you will see something that you want to remember, or that you'll never make it to that same place again. There are so many unique and wonderful places to explore, take a camera (or a phone with a camera) and capture the beauty. If nothing else, maybe your pictures will inspire someone else to get outside and explore for themselves.

What about you? What are some invaluable lessons you've learned out on the trail?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nike Terra Kiger Shoe Review


Like many runners I walk the fence on the whole "minimalist" debate that has been brewing over the last few years. While this debate has revolutionizing the shoe industry I believe it has also lead many runners to make foolish shoe choices, leading to injury. After much deliberation my official stance is this:

Runners should wear as little shoe as their biomechanics will allow for the distance and type of terrain they are running. 

What does that mean? Basically this; when you are out on a run you should be relatively unaware of your shoes because you have found the right balance of weight, support and cushioning. Too little shoe may not offer enough support, cushioning or protection while too much shoe could feel heavy, clunky or unstable.

That being said, my review is written through the filter of that perspective. I see no need to give the specs for the shoe as you can easily find everything you need to know at Nike's Website. Instead, I will focus on my initial impressions of fit, comfort and ride on various terrains. I hope you find my perspective helpful.


Initial Impressions

I've never been a Nike guy. I've always found their shoes to be too narrow for my foot but I've got to be honest; When I first tried on this shoe I thought, "This is exactly what I had hoped the KinvaraTR would be." This shoe sports a 4mil offset, wide toe box, soft upper, and a cushy, flexible midsole. The sock-liner, which is designed to allow the runner to wear the Kiger without socks, is luxurious and the burrito tongue helps the shoe to lock your foot into place without squeezing it. I was quite pleased with the way the shoe felt underfoot but I was a little concerned with how the shoe would perform with such a mild looking lug design and no rock plate.

On The Run

I could think of no better way to really test this shoe than to take it out for 8 miles on the gnarliest trails around after about 24 hours of nearly continuous rain. On this run I traversed steep ascents and descents, mud, wet sand, a stream crossing, large rocks and slippery, wet, wooden bridges. I felt that this run would offer a good all around experience with a solid understanding of how these shoes will perform under just about any condition the average trail runner might face.

My run started in a soggy wet field. The shoe performed fabulously which should be no surprise considering that Nike boasts about its lug design being derived from a XC shoe but what did surprise me was how at home this shoe felt on the trails. Being someone who has generally been drawn to a trail shoe that looks like it has a mud tire glued to the bottom of it, I was somewhat amazed at the Kiger's offroad performance. The shallower lugs helped prevent the shoe from collecting mud, increasing traction and preventing me from feeling bogged down by the extra weight of mud caked shoes. The absence of a rock plate makes the Terra Kiger feel nimble on even the most technical of terranes and the Zoom technology in the midsole provide more than adequate protection against roots and sharp rocks looking to pierce the bottom of your foot.

The sticky rubber outsole provided excellent grip on both the large rocks and the wet wooden bridges I traversed. I  often found myself running abnormally fast for this route, blissfully unconcerned with the varying surfaces beneath me and while I haven't yet tested this shoe on pavement, the mild lug design and the soft underfoot feel lead me to believe that this will be an excellent Door-to-Trail shoe.

The upper is a little more substantial than what I am used to and at first I was concerned that this shoe may feel too warm and not breath enough but those concerns quickly vanished as I actually began running. The shoe breaths quit well and boasts excellent drainage as well. While my feet did get rather wet on my run today, the Kigers never felt as if there was standing water in them. What came in seemed to exit the shoe just as quickly.

Overall Opinion

I am very pleased with these shoes. It is my intent to use them on my next 50k in just over two weeks. I expect this shoe will provide me with more than enough support, cushion and traction to traverse the course without any foot issues. I would recommend that anyone who has struggled to find a trail shoe they like and instead chosen to stick with a road shoe, check out the Terra Kigers! They offer that soft, flexible, light, road shoe feel without sacrificing performance on the trail. Ultimately, I find this to be an excellent, all around trail shoe and expect that this will be a staple for me from here on out.

So, until next time; train hard, eat right and live life to the fullest!  

The top half of one of the climbs

After running a 50K on some of the most brutal trails I have ever experienced I can say with confidence that I still love these shoes. They offered plenty of support and protection for the rugged terrain. The traction they provided appeared to be as good or better then the traction provided by the shoes that the other racers were wearing. And we're talking about some steep, long climbs and descents! Even without a rock plate, roots and rocks were not a problem and my feet felt adequately protected for all 32 miles. These are definitely going to be my go to trail shoe for every distance.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Facing Reality

Is it possible to change my registration from 100K to 50K? If so, I'd like to do that...

I read that last line of my email over and over. Maybe I can still do this. Maybe I should just hold out and try to get back on track. The race was still over a month out. maybe I can still do this... 

No, getting back on track was not an option. Since pinching a nerve in my back and missing 6 weeks of training, my longest run had only been 16 miles. 16 slow, miserable, painful miles. Getting back on track meant a 30 miler that Saturday. Cognitively, I knew it was impossible. And even if it were possible, covering that sort of distance in my unrehabilitated state would likely cause greater injury forcing me to drop out of the race altogether.

Yes, this was the right choice. But still I was struggling to hit the send button. Every time I read that line, I felt like it translated to, "I'm a big loser who can't finish what I started." I hit send and took a deep breath. I felt like I was letting myself, my family and everyone else who has supported me this past year, down. I felt like a failure and even said aloud to myself, "It's official. Now I'm just running a 50k."

It was more than a week after hitting send that it hit me. Just a 50k? JUST??? You're going to attempt running more than 31 miles on the toughest race course in Ohio less than 2 months after you couldn't walk 31 feet without needing to rest. Who do you think you are?!?! The very fact that you are running competently again is a miracle! Let alone the fact that you are running any sort of distance! You have forgotten who gave you this gift! It's time to face reality! If you finish that 50k it will be nothing short of an act of God! 

It was true. I had lost sight of why I run. I had taken for granted the fact that running is a gift. That not everyone is blessed with the ability to relentlessly move forward, swiftly, over rough terrain for distances in excess of 20 and 30 miles. I had become arrogant and maybe this injury was God's way of saying, "Son, you need to reevaluate." 

I've always said that every runner runs for their own reason and their goals should reflect the reason that they run. There is no point in comparing yourself to other runners since no two people run for the exact same reason. But in a way, I had begun comparing myself to myself. I had to beat my old distance, I had to do something far more epic than what I had done before. Running because I love the woods, the quiet, the beauty of it all wasn't enough anymore. It had somehow been overshadowed by this arbitrary measurement of distance. And letting myself be depressed because I was "only" going to run 50k was complete foolishness!

God willing, on September 28th I will spend most of the day in a national park, traversing 31+ miles of beautiful and brutal trails. It will be painful, and awful, and perfect. And I will finish this race with a smile because I have remembered the real reason I run. And I will honor the gift giver with every step. This race, quite possibly will be my most epic one yet!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Race Report - Medina Half Marathon

I am in the orange shirt and my dad is in the
green shirt. We are gaining on the guy in red.
On Saturday, I had the honor of participating in the inaugural running of the Medina Half Marathon. I've got to be honest, going into this running season, I had no intentions of running a spring half, especially not a road half but when I found out that my running club was putting this race on and offering free entry to get the word out about it I figured I might as well. After all, it was on my long run day. I might as well take advantage of a free supported run. I had no expectations. No time goals.

A few days prior to the race I cranked out an 8:20 mile, mid run and pretty much thought I was going to die. "Well," I thought, "I guess a PR is out of the question." I chuckled to myself and finished out my run. This last year has been dedicated to distance trail running. I have spent a lot of time out on trails. I've put in a lot of slow, hilly, difficult miles. I ran a 50k last fall and my goal is to complete the Not Yo Momma's 100k this September. Needless to say, speed work has not been a priority. But no big deal. My dad was running it too and I figured we'd just go and have a good time.

The morning of the race, my dad picked me up at 6:15 and we headed to packet pickup. The race starts and ends at the Historic Medina Square. It's a quaint little downtown area, with old timey storefronts everywhere. It was 35 degrees and sunny. The temperature was rising steadily but it promised to be a fairly cool day. Both my dad and I were wearing warmup pants and jackets over our shorts and long sleeve tech shirts. We pinned our bibs to our shirts and headed out for a 1 mile warmup. After our warmup we headed back to the car to drop off our jackets and pants, then headed to the start line.

Considering that this was just a training run I decided not to use any GPS. My dad was wearing a watch with a stopwatch function and had decided to track our time on that. Since he had just PR'd at the Flying Pig Marathon a few weeks prior, he had no time goals either and so we decided to stick together, go out at a comfortably hard pace, and just see what happened.  

The Race
This is a PR course if I have ever seen one. The first four and a half miles or so are primarily downhill. Just after mile 3 you run through a park, utilizing a dirt road and a section well kept grass path. Prior to entering the park we had maintained an 8:30 pace (Not surprising considering it was mostly downhill) but lost several minutes waiting in line to use a port-o-potty. As we entered the park we calculated that our average had fallen to about a 9:15 pace. We were both perfectly content with that and continued to run at the same effort level.

At around the four and a half mile mark you exit the park and take on the "one big hill" we had been warned about at packet pickup. Honestly, I was a little surprised by the hill. I mean, it's a long climb, maybe three quarters of a mile but I'm guessing you only climb seventy five or a hundred feet over that entire distance. We maintained the same effort and barely slowed our pace.

For miles six through ten, I can think of no better way to describe the course than simply that they were pleasant. We weaved through neighborhoods filled with modest yet beautiful homes, well manicured lawns and peppered with families standing at the ends of their driveways cheering for the runners as they passed. There were no real hills to speak of and with each passing mile our average pace fell closer and closer to the 8:30 pace we had started with.

As we approached the 10 mile mark, my dad asked me how I was feeling. "Good" I replied. "I think we should try to Pedro it. (Make the last 5K the fastest 5K of the race). My dad agreed and so we began to steadily increase our pace, each mile faster than the one before it. When we hit mile twelve, my dad took the lead. I estimate we were running somewhere close to a seven minute pace.

At less than a half mile from the finish line I was going to be sick.

"I'm gonna puke." I said to my dad.

"Hold it." He replied without looking back. "I can see the finish line. You can do this!"

He broke into a full on sprint. I swallowed hard and tried to follow. With about 100 feet to the finish line my cardio had reached it's limit. I was forced to ease up a little and coast through the finish line fifteen or twenty seconds behind my dad. We crossed the finish line in 1:48, a PR for both of us. I was honestly shocked at how good our time was. Through the whole race was continually anticipating the bottom to drop out and to have to slow down but it never happened.

My Assessment of the Race:
I definitely recommend this race and will most likely sign up for it again next year. There aren't all the bells and whistles of a big city race but, honestly, I didn't miss that. This is a pleasant, flat, loop course with fantastic community support! Early registration has already begun and right now the cost is only $30. If you are thinking about a spring half, you should definitely consider the Medina Half Marathon!