Sunday, November 30, 2008

Traditions and Family Time

Traditions can be fun and should be. This time of year abounds with opportunities to recover ones long gone, continue ones that haven't skipped a beat in years, or to create new ones. Thanksgiving started out with a new one...that being right here on my blog. A chance to share some personal thoughts on Thanks/Giving, as I coined it. The day continued with the Home Run for the Homeless, an ongoing tradition. This very challenging 4 mile race is one of my very favorites...not because of the course, the distance or anything even related to running and competing. The race directly benefits the homeless in Akron. First off, hundreds of runners bring their used running shoes to waiting bins at the soup kitchen. They'll be distributed to the area homeless. As shoes not fit to run in anymore, they are the perfect and comfortable shoes for someone with no shoes or falling-apart shoes. Over $1700 of door prizes were given by local businesses like Target, Hartville Kitchen, Dick's Sporting Goods, Giant Eagle, restaurants, etc. Each age group winner took home a full size frozen turkey, too. Everything is donated! For this year, it was a record pre-registered count of over 1400 and a record race day turnout of around 1700 runners. Frigid temps below freezing but clear, sunny skies provided for a fast race day for many. For me, I looked up my PR and it was 26:25 from last year...about a 6:37 pace. Last year, I had been doing speed work and very little long, slow ultra-training so I was faster than this year. I set a goal to be happy with anything around 27 minutes with no true aspirations of a PR. I went out and as many of you know, Mile 1 is mostly downhill and it got clicked off in 6min, 13sec....a bit fast for this big guy. The middle gut section of this course is rolling hills within Glendale Cemetary. Not gentle, rolling hills, either. Steep ups and fast downs...and ice/snow to dodge along the way. Once you leave the cemetary and crest the last major hill, it levels out and the 3rd mile marker is met. Since you've essentially hacked up the legs by this point at such a high intensity level, it takes a lot to maintain the pace. As I look at my 3 mile split, I realize I'm actually in reach of a PR. I figure that I need to run around a 6:30 last mile to PR. I gave it all I had and as the finishing clock came into view, I saw 26:25 click by...as if in slow motion. 26:30 was my final time and honestly, I'm thrilled with it. I guess the mid-week pickups during my 4:30am runs has helped get a little speed back. Like I always say, your body will not forget past training...it just needs woke up from time to time. Afterwords, I mingled about with the Vertical Runner onslaught that dominated the race, grabbed some hot chocolate (or two!) and hung out to see if I'd win any door prizes...not this year!

Thanksgiving Day itself was spent at my parents' home with all the usual fixins'...turkey, the best homemade stuffing in the world, cranberries, and my sister-in-laws corn casserole creation...now THAT was good...but full of "bad" stuff for my normal whole-wheat diet. That's OK...it'll get run off soon enough! All-in-all, a relaxing day with family.

Luckily, my every-other-Friday-off at work just happened to fall on Black Friday. I work 9 hr work days to have every other Friday off. I took the opportunity to meet up with fellow VR runners at Happy Days for a post-Turkey trail run. As just over 1 week to Tecumseh, this was meant to only be about an hour and E A S Y. I showed up early for 3.2 miles on the Boston Run Trail and then at 8am, the rest of the crew headed over to the Ledges and Pine Grove Trail. For the day, I racked up a quick 8.7 miles. I should have checked my mileage for the week after this. Last week's mileage was 32 miles so this week should be less as I approach the last 7 days to Tecumseh. Well, I awoke on Saturday morning with the last-minute plans for a family weekend trip to central Ohio including the Longaberger Homestead and an overnight stay in Sugarcreek. Since I don't like to miss more than one day of running in a row, I figured I'd better run on Saturday. With no time crunch, I took a longer loop, watched the absolutely brilliant sunrise, and got back home with 7.7 miles. I log in to my online running log and dang, I now have 34 miles! ARGH! Some taper, eh?! Well, I'll keep it simple this next week. Sunday off, 5 on Monday, 4 on Tuesday, off Wednesday and begin carbo load at dinner, 2.5 on Thursday, travel Friday, and race on Saturday. No big deal.

Our trip down to Longaberger was great. Actually, I'm blogging this morning from the Carlisle Inn in Sugarcreek while the family still sleeps...hard to sleep in when your internal clock is used to waking up between 3:30am and 4:30am every day. On the way down, we took a break to stop in at the Breitenbach Winery outside Sugarcreek. I love the sampling and all the cheese and crackers. Pretty cool place to visit. Now, I'm not a girly man, but I will endure a little "discomfort" and walk the grounds of the Longaberger Homestead, the headquarters of the well-known Longaberger Basket Company. We've been coming down here annually since we moved back to Ohio in 2002. This weekend, they were having a Santa workshop for kids and 20% off everything in every shop...a big surprise since this place is typically high dollar. I've heard of layoffs down here but oh my, this place has been hurt really bad. Every restaurant that used to exist is gone. Much of the manufacturing areas where baskets are individually made have been cleaned out and now remain dark. It was like looking at a graveyard of basket-making workstations. I also thought that given the first shopping weekend and the 20% discount on EVERYTHING, it would be busy. FAR from it. It was a ghost-town. It was what I'd expect on a typical Monday morning, not a Saturday afternoon. I asked a clerk about the financial health of the company and they said 2008 has been a really bad year and just two weeks ago, another 75 people lost their job. I guess when people are cutting their spending, extras like premium baskets are the first to go. We really didn't buy much of anything. We sampled a lot of foods, took a lot of time at Santa's Workshop, toured the basket-making area, then hit the road for the Carlisle Inn in Sugarcreek.

Whether you have kids or not, I highly recommend the Carlisle. Instead of snapping pictures, I recommend checking out their website. Great as a getaway for just a couple or for the family. Great indoor pool and hot/cold continental breakfast. Plus, the decor is just breathtaking in here. A couple of fireplaces, comfy couches, a two-story pair of Christmas trees, and rooms that feel like luxury. If you're in to the Amish shopping experience, just remember that most of those shops are closed on Sunday.

So it's taper week to Tecumseh. Training wise, I'll just be smart early on but have a focused effort on lots of water all week and start a concentrated carbo load on Wednesday. You have to start early and not the day before the event. I actually recommend backing off the day prior to the event. I don't like being stuffed to the gills the night before. It should be a really fun time with 5 other guys joining me on the road trip. Vince has been bold enough to state his predicted times for all of us....3:38 for me. I think that's a bit bold for a trail marathon, but you never know what could happen. I just want to have a good time, run strong, and finish strong. This will be my last major event of the year and I think, the 10th marathon or ultra-marathon of the year, and my 23rd marathon. Oh yea, just because people wouldn't believe me unless I could prove it, I snapped this picture of a road-sign last night. Who on earth would name a road this? Does this mean there is a "Blackwoman" road out there, too?!?!? Good grief!

Happy Trails, everyone!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks/Giving: an UNnatural approach

I'd like to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoy this day off from work and the hustle and bustle of the daily grind and can find the time to sit down and consider all the things to be thankful for. Perhaps, a few laps around the Thanksgiving Dinner table sharing the same. I propose a different view/approach to Turkey Day: Thanks/Giving. With every Thanks, follow it with a way to give back. After all, without Giving by someone or something, we couldn't really be thankful for anything, could we? To stick to the principal of "practicing what you preach," I'll go first.

Disclaimer: in no particular order!

I am thankful for a beautiful wife and 2 beautiful daughters. In my line of work, I see a part of society every day that is lonely and without something this simple. A part of society with multiple physical/mental problems and hardly a soul who cares. I pray with my girls every night to be thankful for each other...mom, dad, a sister, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins...and the list goes on. We can't ever forget or take for granted the ones we surround ourselves with day in and day out.

I commit to give my full attention and love to my family and cherish every day I have on Planet Earth with them. I also commit to give compassion and caring to those not nearly as fortunate as me and serve them in any way I can. I also commit to impart this to my kids and raise them to always be thankful and to spread that around.

I am thankful that I have the God who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that I may have eternal life one day. (oh boy, he's goin' religious!) Well yea, it's pretty hard to get by THANKSgiving Day and not thank the One who is the ULTIMATE Sustainer, Giver, and Forgiver. For it is He who started it all and sustains my every breath and waking moment. I am forever thankful for His blessings upon my life, my family's life, my country, and the world we live in. May we stop taking so much for granted that He has and continues to provide for us.

I commit to do my best to walk in His footsteps and live a life worthy of Him. Although impossible for any man or woman to achieve, I will strive to follow Him in every moment of every day. I commit to continue to be thankful for His creations every day and soak them up. Beautiful trails to run on, fresh air to breathe, and good health for myself and my family. All blessings to not take for granted.

I am thankful for family who lives so close. In the 21st century, many families are fractured and many live hundreds of miles or even thousands of miles apart. With the advent of technology, we can "feel" much closer but nothing replaces the physical. Little cousins getting to know and grow up with each other, brothers to support and know better as life happens, and parents to support and spend time with. All things that I am thankful for.

I will give my best to not let these relationships crumble and be unworthy and a failure. It is one thing to be thankful for something but then let it get stale and moldy like old, stinky cheese in the fridge. For something living and fluid like family, attention must be given to it. Attention in the form of time, listening, love, support, caring, and a "genuineness" that at times can be hard.

I am thankful for jobs for both myself and Marjie. Period. We now have jobs that in an economy where people are getting their hours reduced or losing their job altogether, we must be thankful each and every day for the privilege to go to work. As I heard many times this week on WCRF, 103.3FM, live every day with the motto: "Overflow with Thankfulness Everyday". Can you imagine what a different kind of world we'd live in if we all approached our each and every day like this? Sure, we shout out our thankfulness as we slip and slide over the Buckeye Trail while running with some of the best people around each Saturday morning, but what if we lived our "daily grind" every day like this? It would...and WILL change everything.

I commit to put a little sign up on my computer at work that says "Overflow with Thankfulness Everyday" when I get back to work on Monday. I will give my very best to my job and and give the very best service I possibly can to the ones I have been called to serve in the public.

I am thankful for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I am thankful for every man and woman who has served our great country in the past, present, and future and I salute them. I am also thankful for those in the service profession such as police and fire that protect us all right here in our hometowns. They have committed to put their lives on the line if duty calls so that we may live. I am also thankful that we have a fighting force today that is 100% volunteer. No one is forced to take the Oath and defend our country. I have heard that many view service today in the Armed Forces as support for the current War on Terror and for policies of the current presidential administration. Let me be clear on this one (for yes, it is a touchy subject for me!): I serve my country and have sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. My Commander-in-Chief is whoever is elected by the citizens of this country. I follow orders from this person regardless of their political slant or views. I gave up my "right" to not follow orders when I raised my right hand. With that said, please do not think a person in uniform supports any kind of campaign or war because he/she fights in it. It is service to Country, its Constitution, its Citizens, and upholding Freedom which drives us to lay down some of our rights and perhaps our life. My blood flows Red, White, and Blue...not Red OR Blue.

I will continue to serve my country selflessly without complaint or disregard for orders I have been given. I will do my best to represent myself and my country in such a way that is beyond reproach. I will continue to live the motto of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps: "Honor, Courage, Commitment" and uphold the Honor Code of a Naval Officer: "A Naval Officer Will Not Lie, Cheat, or Steal, nor Tolerate Those Who Do."

Lastly, I am thankful for the physical ability to run and run far. I am also thankful for some of the most beautiful places to run, mostly right here in northeast Ohio. I am also thankful for some of my very best friends that I now have as a direct result of a vibrant and growing running community here in NE Ohio. As I have contemplated in the past of different career paths, many options led me away from NE Ohio. Why not live in the warm south? Why not near a beach and crashing waves? Each time, it came down to family and for me personally, my relationships and friendships with the local running community. Believe it or not, at heart I am an introvert. I have never been one with one or multiple "best" friends or been in the "in" crowd. I've always just been one on my own on the outside. Fortunately, the running and ultra-running community is one where ALL are accepted, regardless of, well, everything. We're all the same out there. For that, I am forever thankful.

I will commit to do more to give back. I have now run 22 marathons and a good deal of ultra-marathons. I have volunteered very little. I did some in 2008 but commit to much more in 2009. I still want to run my favorite events, but I commit to do more in organization, publicizing, course marking/clean-up, and anything else I can do. I'll start that today at the Turkey Day 4-miler in Akron. I'm also going to be the newsletter editor for Western Reserve Trail Running which is really going to take off in 2009. Stay tuned for more details...but take it from me, our trail running community in NE Ohio is going to get a major "upgrade" in 2009! Very exciting times! I also hope to get more involved in the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run...not just running it, but helping out in any way I can. (even Marjie will be getting involved by volunteering at the Boston Store Aid Station...a good place for an Emergency Room nurse!) I also hope to help out Lloyd in the new Fools Day 50K on April Fools Day weekend. Let me encourage you to get involved and give back to our local running community. It is growing by leaps and bounds and I feel that we're just cracking the surface of what's to come.

Friends and Family, thanks for "enduring" my UNnatural approach to our beloved national holiday. I wish you the very best today and in the future. Remember, "overflow with thankfulness everyday!"

To you local runners...

Happy Trails!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mortal...Indeed

"Running might not add years to your life, but definitely adds life to your years."

- Jim Fixx, Best-selling author who died at age 52 in 1984 while out on a run (he had heart disease and doctors say running probably added about 10 years to his life)


Masochist came back to haunt me a short 2 days ago. You may remember when reading my race report that my toes on both feet took quite a beating. Specifically, I feared for my left big toe. Losing toenails is pretty normal for us long-distance runners. For me, I've lost #2/3/4 on both feet multiple times, but never has a big toe been at risk. As predicted, my left nail died off and this week, it was time for removal. If you have a weak stomach, I'll try and spare you the details because just thinking about it gets me queasy a bit, too. In a nutshell, all came off with no problem except for the right side. A bit ingrown, I'd say. Well, if you know my medical history, you know I am highly susceptible to vasovagal syncope. It is the most common cause of fainting. It occurs when your body reacts in an exaggerated way to such triggers as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. The trigger results in a sudden drop in your heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces blood flow to your brain and causes you to briefly lose consciousness. There are many triggers out there but for me, there are 3 main ones: sudden sharp pain, dehydration, and illness. Since I have a resting heart rate around 40 beats per minute, the sudden drop causing me to pass out and my heart stops...momentarily. I know this because I was tested in 1997 on the "tilt table test" which confirms this condition. I had all the medical equipment attached to me and sure enough, I passed out and flat-lined. As soon as they lowered the table, my heart re-started. ANYWAY, back to the toenail. You see...the pesky right side was giving me problems and hurt. I gave up on the tugging and grabbed the scissors. When I did this, I must have yanked on it, because all of a sudden I felt flushed...a warm fuzzy sensation starting in my mid-section and moving upward. I knew this feeling as I've had it before. The way to stop crashing to the floor is to get down there first so I got down on the kitchen floor slowly and just waited for it to subside. Usually, this works. I got up after a few minutes and felt totally out of sorts. Marjie wasn't home and my girls were in bed. Luckily, Marjie showed up within 5 minutes and I just sat down on the couch feeling totally "wrong." I was NOT OK. She came in and said I looked as white as a ghost. She laid me down and propped up my feet to get blood moving to my head. Strangely, this was NOT working as it should. I was feeling nauseated and felt the room closing in around me. I felt like I was slipping away and couldn't do anything. (this is upsetting just putting this into words) OK, pause the story for just a minute: one of the reasons I fear passing out so much is what happens when my heart restarts. It's the same every time. Each sense comes back one at a time. 1st: I can hear Marjie saying "Nick! Can you hear me?!" I can hear her, but can't see her, move, or talk back. Then, I can see...straight up at the ceiling. I can still hear her shouting at me but I can't answer. It's like an out-of-body experience....like I'm not alive and "observing" something happening. Confusing, I know. Then, I can start to move and speak...more like mumble. Almost immediately, a flood of emotion hits...I just want to start crying. Then, I start sweating, then get chilled, then sweaty again, and it continues. Oh yea, nauseated, too. It is just awful and it happens exactly in this order every single time, without exception. I've crashed through a shower door (the last episode in June 2006), woken up under a sink in a car dealership's bathroom after passing out and hitting my head on the counter top, and been flown off an aircraft carrier (the USS John C. Stennis CVN-74) after being found on the bathroom floor. OK, OK...back to the story: I passed out laying down with my legs raised and it all happened again. Afterwards, Marjie told me that I curled my arms and hands up like I was seizing while I passed out....and was moaning. I don't remember that...and that's pretty dang strange stuff for this tough ultra-running, never-stop guy! I laid there for an hour...hot/cold/hot/cold, then falling asleep...and finally felt like I could make it to bed. The next day at work (Friday), I didn't feel "right" until after lunch. It took that long to recover. What really stinks about all of this is that after the Rolls-Royce of cardiology testing I had 2 years ago, my cardiologist told me that I would grow more resilient to passing out as more time passes without an episode. So, this just hits the big 'ol RESET button. And so the clock starts tickin' again...


I've been popping ibuprofen for the past 2 days and did so at about 6am this morning in preps for our scheduled VR group trail run this morning. With trail shoes that fit tighter, I didn't want the pain of that toe stopping today's run...and it worked. Today's run gathered up 20+ fearless runners at the Boston Store at 7am for a deep snow, turned to mud trail run. It was only 20F at the start but the woods provided protection from the light breeze and the biting cold. I ended up with a refreshing, but short 13 miles. I did my 20 mile, 3.5 hr trail run a week ago and that was my last long run before the Tecumseh Trail Marathon in a short 2 weeks from now. All in all, I racked up 32 miles this week and will now "officially" begin my taper to Tecumseh starting tomorrow. Vince R., Greg D., Jim Chr., Rob L., and Brandon R. are all joining me on a road trip to Bloomington, Indiana two Saturdays from now.

On the positive side of life (outside running, of course), Marjie and I celebrated 16 years of marriage yesterday. Yea...we got married young. I was only 19...and woundn't have done it any different if I could! I got home at about dinner time and our girls were at their cousins for the evening. We spent the evening at a winery about 25 minutes west of us in Berlin Center. It's called the Mastropietro Winery and I highly recommend it. I had an appetizer of homemade potato chips and a delicious gyro wrap for dinner. Excellent! A catering company actually provides the food and the winery...well, they provide the wine! A tasting station inside the cozy cafe is there for you to try out the options first. We will definitely revisit in the spring/summer and sit outside by the lake. If you go, leave the kids at home.

Happy Trails, everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

3:30am Part 2: Mental Warfare

3:25am? Why did I set it for that? Oh yea, a winter snow warning last night. A few minutes ahead to get me on the road a few minutes early to work. I've gotta make that 7am appointment or the whole day will be in shambles! Same 'ol routine: brew the espresso, make the lunch, check the e-mail. Nothing new this morning. Oh, wait a minute: "What is that I see?" A quick turn on of the back patio light reveals large flakes of white matter falling from the sky and about 2" of it on the patio table. The snowflakes are falling straight down...not a hint of wind. "I wonder how cold it is....YES! It's 28 degrees." A PERFECT day to try on my new running "equipment." Shiny silver with accents of blue, they are. They arrived yesterday in a beat-up Brooks' box: my new TOP SECRET pair of Brooks wear-tester shoes. I applied about a year ago and my profile finally matched up with a current shoe they are testing. I agreed to confidentiality but I will say that they're perfect for a neutral, high mileage runner like myself. I'd post a pic but that's a big no-no.
So, 28F and snow-packed roads await. Ahhhh, and look up there...there's Mr. Moon once again shining bright to light the way. "You mean to tell me that just as I step outside the house, the clouds part, the flakes cease, and under moonlight I stand?" A week ago I ran 7.2 miles under moonlight so let's try a repeat, but this time, pay attention and run 7.0 miles! I head out and the sound of crunching snow is music to my ears. I don't really love the cold or winter-time for that matter. However, I do love running in the winter and in fresh-fallen snow. The fresh snow and bright moon created an easy path to follow without the LED light of my headlamp. Out I go towards my quiet nook of roller-coaster hills, hiding wildlife, and little or no traffic. It is amazing how such a familiar course is so very different just 7 days later. The trucks haven't plowed yet so my tracks are the first. So far, so good for my Brooks. They feel absolutely perfect. Nothing feels out of place at all. I can tell now that it'll be hard to send them back in February. I just hope they make it to Vertical Runner's shelves soon thereafter. I'm already sold on them.

I get out to where I found the poor 'ol opposum on the bridge around 3 miles last week and sure enough, he lays packed in snow right where I last saw him. I start to wonder if Cigarette Man will be out this morning getting his paper. I'm guessing I won't see him and I'm right. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. I get to the 3.5 mile turnaround and wow, I've been clocking 8:07 miles and it's felt easy. I turn around with the goal to get back home with overall average pace under 8 min/mi. Time to pick it up on this slush/snow/ice mixture and see what these gorgeous Brooks' shoes are made of. I get back to my roller-coaster hills and cruise smoothly over all of them. Luckily, no Honda Odyssey this week going airborne over them. Mr. Moon still shines bright over my head, casting a shadow at my feet. Not quite full, but full of light. There isn't a cloud nearby this time so no need to sprint home. It does, however, look like I've really sped up...kinda feelin' like around 7:30-7:40 pace...a good thing...and it feels great! The cold air does wonders this time of year.

As I approach civilization again, I once again glance at my shadow and feel incredibly thankful for health, my family, my very good friends who I share with, run with, joke with, and cross the finish line with, and lastly...for every step forward. Each one truly is a blessing and I pray I never take it for granted. As I take the step into my driveway at home, I glance down at a very good thing: 7 miles, 2nd half average pace of 7:39/mi, overall pace at 7:53, and 1071 calories burned. Sweet!

So what about "Mental Warfare," the sub-title of today's post? I've heard a lot of talk about this time of year about not being able to just "get out the door" to go run. Let me encourage you to mentally defeat all the urges to stay in...all nice and cozy...and sedentary. You'll be warmed up soon enough and you'll be thankful you got out there. Don't have the correct clothes? Need I refer yet another person to Vertical Runner?!?!? The panels on their walls are nearly falling down due to the weight of so much winter gear. Plus, there are lots of specials going on right now. Just do yourself a favor, don't delay in getting out there....just do it and go...you'll be so thankful you did.

Happy Trails, friends!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Title Sums Up This Post

That last post was fun. I got a lot of funny feedback but no one mentioned anything about my Bush's Kidney Beans mixed with low fat cottage cheese. I get a lot of twisted faces when I mix that up during lunch each day. Don't knock it until you try it! The funny thing about that post is that I had no intention of writing it until the idea came to me once I hit the road on the run. Be careful out there...weird and crazy things can happen.

This past week wasn't too shabby. It started out pretty rough at work on Monday but Tuesday brought Veterans Day and a day off. Instead of running the trails, I suited up in my uniform with the intention of speaking to my daughters' kindergarten and 2nd grade classes about Veterans Day. Well, the word spread and after 5 hours at the school, I had spoken to 12 classes in all. I had a blast and I think the kids enjoyed it, too. It was a challenge, however, to switch gears when going from 5th graders to kindergarteners. Comprehension levels is just a tad bit different. A few days later, my daughter brought home a stack of hand-made thank you cards from the kindergarten class. That was the icing on the cake.

Wednesday and Thursday were wisked away as fast as humanly possible with the intent of getting to Friday ASAP. Friday was a day off and a day for a long run on the trails for 3 to 4 hours. With temps in the low 50s and trail conditions ranging from wet to extremely muddy, it was a great run. I parked at Pine Lane and took the Valley Bridle Trail over to Wetmore, followed the BR100 course for a bit, hit Butler Trail, took a right on Langes Run and returned to Wetmore. I then crossed the barricade and circled all of Wetmore. That was the muddiest part of the day and the shoes got totally mud/water soaked. I continued on to the Pine Hollow area off Quick Rd. and picked up Salt Run for a bit, then crossed A/P and jumped back on the Valley Bridle back to Pine Lane. I saw a countless number of deer, especially out around Wetmore/Butler/Langes Run. When there's a train of runners yappin' down the trail, a lot of wildlife scatters. However, when running solo and the only noise is trail shoes on fallen leaves, the likelihood of spooking animals and getting spooked go dramatically upward. So was the case for me. Since the coat of fur on the deer has turned more dirty brown/gray, they blend in with the tall browning grasses. There was one time when we both got spooked...I was so close I could reach out and touch him/her. The highlight was halfway through Butler Trail when I froze in my tracks. Now I'm no hunter, but I know a buck when I see one. I counted either 12 or 14 points on this beautiful animal. I took one step towards him just to get a better look and he took off, leaping high and powerfully. I just don't know how hunters pull the trigger. I, for one, could never do it.

Round trip was 11.75 miles. Once back to Pine Lane, I decided to do and out-n-back to the Boston Store. When the day was over, I logged 19.8 miles in 3.5 hours (remember the odd-ball 0.2 mile extra from my last post?!?!?) and ended up with 40 miles for the week. Not too shabby on a 4-day run week and only 14 days after Masochist. Here on Saturday, I feel like I didn't even run yesterday. All systems go! I will attribute part of today to how I immediately recovered. I made up the recommended Hammer Whey/Hammer Heed recovery drink and drank it within minutes of finishing. I followed it up with a healthy diet the rest of the day with plenty of protein, starting with my favorite Hummus Falaffel Rolled Pita from Aladdin's. YUM!

OK, guys...ever go to Hobby Lobby? Well, neither had I until yesterday. I was searching for some supplies for my 7 year old's school project that my wife said that "Hobby Lobby will DEFINATELY have that!" No kidding. Guys, take it from me: unless you're one part girly, stay away from this place. It is beyond overwhelming. I could not wait to get out of there. Walking in the front door, it was like getting body-slammed with a mountain of Chinese-made inventory of Christmas decor straight off the container ship at the pier. I understand: to some this is heaven. Not to this non-crafty, non-decorating, no-hobby guy. I was in sensory overload. (If it were up to me, I'd have marathon posters and medals hanging on my walls at home with a candle here and there.) I found the tiny little animals that we needed for our project and forgot any soreness from the run and sprinted for the checkout. Ahhh, my 2nd finish line for the day!

OK, feel free to comment on my last topic for today's post. (yea, I know today's post is a bit long but a "blog" is an online diary of thoughts...and mine [thoughts, that is] is spilling over today) It's the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run. It is held June 6th and 7th next year, 2 months ahead of Burning River. It's northwest of Chicago in Wisconsin...or more precisely, here. Essentially, I don't want to wait until August to tackle the distance again. My prime training season is the winter and I will mostly likely (as long as injuries stay away) come out of it stronger and fitter. The KM100 is comprised of 2 out-n-back sections. The first is 100K (62.4 miles) and the rest is about 38 miles, a different out-n-back. From what I hear, it's not as technical as our beloved BT or nearly as hilly, but it does rack up 12,000 feet of elevation gain. Weather is the X-factor. Just about anything could happen. Last year it hit 92F, 100% humidity, thunderstorms, and tornado warnings. It's a total crap shoot....but so is BR100. Support and organization have a great reputation from everything I've heard within the ultra community. The picture to the right is Clementina from Peru holding the hand-made Kettle...the prize for crossing the finish line. Not a buckle, but very unique and a prized possession in its own right. You can vote in my very own poll over on the right side of this page.

Happy Trails, everyone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

3:30am

That's what the clock reads and the forecast is being read starting with "overnight temps in the low 30s..."...it's so early that they're still speaking as if it's Tuesday night, not Wednesday morning. I stand up, stretch, confirm in fact that it is 3:30am and time to get up. (There have been times where I didn't confirm this and I still got up, just to find out later it's 1am.) I wandered slowly out to the kitchen where it is quiet and dark, except for the dim light over the oven. My arms STILL feel as if their filled with lead from my return to the bench press and heavy bag on Sunday. All I need is some espresso and I'll wake up and get the blood flowing...that'll make it feel better. I open the cupboard, pick out some fresh ground Italian Lavazza espresso, grab my espresso pot, fill it with water, pack in the grinds, and fire up the stovetop for 2min of brewing. Ahhh, the fresh smell of espresso...just the aroma is nearly enough to fire up the engines. After the pot starts bubbling and the brewing has completed, I marry it up with a packet of Splenda and presto, my pre-run jump start has begun. Next, in order to not be rushing at 6:15am when I need to be hitting the road for Canton, I figure I'd better make my lunch BEFORE I plop down in front of the life-sucking computer to check e-mail. Let's see: whole wheat pasta with feta cheese...got it. Low fat cottage cheese mixed with Bush's Dark Red Kidney Beans...got it. A giant Fuji apple...check! A baggie full of Kashi crackers and a Kashi cookie, plus a Kashi fruit bar...got it. So, I think: "How cold is it out there?" The thermostat reads 35F but I wander to the front window and peak through the window to look at the flag on front of the house. Old Glory stands at attention with not a hint of movement...perfect, calm morning. I also notice light outside...that being natural light from the sun being reflected off of the full moon. "It could be one of those perfect runs today," I think. OK, time to check e-mail. Nothing much is new, but I did read Red's blog post...dang, she cracks me up. I really do think her thoughts literally spill on to her keyboard. Next up, I balance out the checkbook online....yikes! Thank goodness payday is soon! "OK, what do I wear today?" No wind, crisp air, starlit sky...the verdict is: tech tee, vest, Sporthill pants, Mizuno Breathe-Thermo headband, headlamp, Smartwool socks, Smartwool gloves, and my free Brooks shoes from the Akron Marathon. As I sneak out as quiet as possible, as not to wake anyone in the house, I realize my goal for the run: a 4:30am run with no headlamp. The moonlight is so bright! I head out, feeling on top of the world and head towards the most serene place in Rootstown for an early morning run...an area with no traffic, few homes, and farmland. As I slip out of my neighborhood at 1/2 mile, I enter into darkness but covered in a veil of a starlit and moonlit sky. I'm highly cautious in this first mile as just 2 days ago, I got spooked by a screaming cat scrambling up a pine tree. (Imagine the worst screaching cat you can imagine...evil, just plain evil!) Mile 1 checks in and no spooks yet and I'm fully warmed up so I pick it up for a bit until the next stop sign...ahhh, the cool air feels good pumping through my lungs. Fleeting thoughts are now skipping through my mind about yesterday's awesome experience at the elementary school talking to 12 different classes about Veterans Day while in uniform. I also keep thinking about the decisions those little ones will have to make some day...whether to serve their country or not...I wish them the best regardless of their choices. I get to the stop sign and hang a left and begin a series of rollercoaster hills. The moon is now full uncovered by any clouds and next to me, runs my shadow. "How cool is it to see your shadow before 5am?," I think to myself. "Thanks, Mr. Moon." Mile 2 clocks in, I turn the corner and run by the very old St. Peter of the Fields church, and approach the 3 mile point. UGH!!! A dead opossum lays on the little bridge just past the church...I just hate roadkill during night-time runs. At 3, I decide 6 is just not enough so I continue on with the plan to turn around at 3.5 when all of a sudden, I'm spooked...some 'ol man in his sweats is out to get his morning paper. At first, I think he shines a pen light at me but I soon discover via my sense of smell, it's his morning cigarette. Smoke on, friend...smoke on. I carry on....but soon discover that my Garmin reads 3.6! RATS! Now, I'm going to have more than 7!! I just don't like decimal points in my running log! Oh well, I'll have to even it all up on Friday on the trails. I head on back, tracing my steps, being sure to avoid the roadkill on the bridge. As I enter the rollercoaster hills again, the moon shines bright...but I notice an approaching ridge of clouds at a 45 degree angle at its lower left...slowly approaching. "Can I get back home before I lose my light? Can I keep this lamp off?" The race begins. Nothing like some speed in these hills. As I pass by mile 5, the first car of the day shines from behind. I move far over to remain safe and disappear as I crest another hill. This Honda Odyssey nearly goes airborne as it crests the hill...it HAD to see me before as my back had to light up with all the reflective piping. Still, in true Rootstown fashion, they care nothing for me nor my safety. I just closed my eyes and prayed they weren't driving on the wrong side of the road. I was nearly falling in the ditch just trying to stay as far away as possible. By it went...cruising to the unknown. As I made my last major turn, I turned to the moon only to see that rift closing in fast. My light was threatened and I needed to move...and move quick. Mile 6 passed and darker it became. As I neared the main road, bustling with morning traffic and semi's, I turned to see the moonlight fully snuffed out. Luckily, the artificial light within my neighborhood guided me in. As I ran up the last ascent to my home, I felt thankful for such a great run. "Thanks, Mr. Moon...thanks for lighting my way today. Run again, sometime?" I arrived home only to find the lights extinguished just as I had left them. I looked down at my wrist: "58min 27sec, 7.2 miles. 1098 calories burned." Sweet...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veterans Day 2008 - Please Remember

I'm not exactly sure, but the topic of the War on Terror has been a topic alot in our home over the last week. My suspicion is that it started on Wednesday morning when I heard the news of my newly elected Commander-in-Chief. Regardless of my political leanings, I have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and that knows no Republican or Democratic Party nor does it allow me to choose whom I take orders from. Later in the week, I was at work in Canton and in the newspaper, read about a military funeral to take place on Saturday (yesterday) for Stark County's first fallen soldier during the war in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). I last attended a very similiar service a few miles from my home last year and it is an event that rocked me to my core. A flag-draped coffin, family members in pain from the emotion of their lost hero, the playing of Taps, and the ceremonial folded flag given to the surviving spouse. I attended that service in my full dress uniform to pay respect to my fallen countryman and also in an attempt to raise awareness in my small town of people who have served and currently serve and reside among us. It is very easy in our small nook in NE Ohio to become insulated from the reality of war, which continues to this day a half-world away, but receives so very little media attention anymore. It pains me to see flags go up for the "holiday" and quickly pulled back down the day after. The flag is not a Christmas wreath, nor a pumpkin that is to be set out during the "season." It represents our country and the blood shed to keep it flying. If you fly your flag, please keep it up, not only this Tuesday but all year round.

The soldier who was killed on October 27th in Afghanistan was killed by a suicide bomber. He was 22 years old and has 3 and 2 year old sons. His wife is also in the Army. He was in secure compound but still fell prey to those trained to kill him, simply because of the country whom he swore to protect. I encourage you to read the Repository's article on the service. It is in today's paper and can be read here. The story, even though I have never met this family and probably never will, hit home. Perhaps it is because the fallen soldier's name is Nick so reading it just felt strange. The fact that he was killed in a secure compound added to this as this type of location is most like where I'll find myself when the time comes for me to go. The photo is of his wife receiving his folded flag at the conclusion of the service.
As this Tuesday rolls around, please take a moment or two to remember and to honor those who have served before, and to constantly remind yourself of those in harm's way this very second in places several time zones away. It is so easy to forget about them when we don't see or hear about them....but they are still there. For me, my 6 month old federal job has some cool perks and one of those is federal holidays. Since I have Tuesday off, I am going to head up to my girls' elementary school and talk to the Kindergarten and 2nd Grade classes and have lunch with them in my uniform. I hope to get lots of questions and have really good dialogue with all of them. I have found it difficult in my own home to translate and explain what the military is to my kids. All they see is Daddy "going to the Navy" once a month but their understanding stops there. The best way I can make it understandable is bringing it down to service...they get that. They know what it means to serve. In this case, it's just service to our United States to maintain all the freedoms we enjoy 24/7. For young kids, this seems like the most tangible message they can take home with them.
Lastly, take a moment to view "Remember Me":

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Reflections

Changed. Permanent. Forever. These are all words that are inevitable in each of our lives and those around us. On a global scale, just think of where the world was 100 years ago when our dependence on oil simply didn't exist like today. Think of how that has changed our world and everything around it. The computer you read this on has petroleum products IN it...it's everywhere. That "change" has had a permanent and forever change on the environment. The petroleum-based products we discard today will outlast us and future generations. How about our democratic elections here in the United States? Some countries will go decades without a change in leadership. We have the freedom to change every 4 years. That change brings about even more change...both good and bad, depending on your perspective and political leanings, of course! As I woke up on Wednesday this week, I heard the news of our new president and Commander-in-Chief. I take that last part a bit more seriously than most as I still serve in the Navy Reserve. Knowing that the call will eventually come to support the War on Terror, the position of Commander-in-Chief and its occupant matters greatly. With that said, I've always committed to keep my blog free of politics and political leanings and I won't change now. What I WILL say is that while digesting the outcome yesterday morning, I had 103.3FM on and heard Mark Z. say basically, that when at times so much will change, so much will stay the same. In times of struggle, disbelief, pain, suffering, joy, adoration, stress, hopelessness, excitedness, I think it best to focus on that which will never change and is a Rock. "Focus on the positive" is what I always say. "Seek the upside and make every day the best it can be" are ways to channel your energies to things benefiting you and those around you. For me, it would be my faith and its never-changing place at the forefront of my life. Democratic, Republican, Independent...it is none of these. Those things will always change...for that we can be sure.
So friends...reflect on the past 4 years. Reflect on the last 20, for that matter. Look forward to the next 20. Just don't seek out and dwell on the negative...find the positive and be sure your foundation for every thought, word, and action is grounded deep and firm. You can apply this concept to nearly every aspect of life, and yea...running, too. Give it a try. I feel like I was forever-changed due to the Masochism this past Saturday. With such a grueling course, I really had to dig deep to remain positive and keep moving forward. I certainly found things out about myself and had lots of time to reflect and ponder nearly every part of my life, as it currently is. I found that moving forward, regardless of the obstacles, pain, and discomfort...can be extremely rewarding in the end. Everything will pass in time...good and bad. Forge on and keep your mind and head up!
Today, I've included a few pics my dad and I took during our rest break on our drive home on Sunday. They are from the Grandview area of the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Some gorgeous views up there! My recovery has gone very well this week. I had my most painful, but necessary deep tissue massage on Monday night. On Tuesday, I ran an easy 4 miles and felt good. I took Wednesday off for more recovery and tissue rebuilding. Today, I ran an easy 5.5 and again, felt great. This Saturday, I'll be back in my "element" on the trails in the park with friends. I hope to cover around 15 or so all on the trails....ahhhh, it'll feel good! No giant rocks, either! Oh yea, one result of the Masochist I'm not so thrilled with: I've lost the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th toenails on each foot many times over the years so no big deal there. However, I've never lost a big toe nail. I fear the left may be in jeopardy for the first time. I am NOT happy about that! I'm crossing my fingers that it'll hang on, but it's not looking too good right now!

Race apps are out for the Thanksgiving Race and New Year's Eve Race! Links are at the top right of my blog. I'm also looking forward to our 2nd Annual Waterfalls Trail Run on the last Saturday of the year...a 30K trek to the Buttermilk, Blue Hen, and Brandywine Falls areas...all via the Buckeye Trail. Stay tuned for more details! I'm also excited to hear of a new April Fools 50K/25K in the Kendall Lake area...still waiting for some more details. Lastly, a huge SHOUT OUT to Greg D. for finally qualifying for Boston this past Sunday at the Inland Trail Marathon in Elyria, OH. Lloyd has pics of it posted on his blog (see link on the right >>>>>>).

Have a great end of the week and an even better weekend! I hope to see some of you this Saturday morning!

Happy Trails, everyone!

Monday, November 3, 2008

2008 MMTR Race Report

25 years ago, Dr. David Horton got this crazy idea for a trail run through the George Washington National Park, starting on the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside Lynchburg, VA and ending about 50 miles north at a small town called Montebello. Due to the grueling nature of the event, Horton’s wife said “You’re just a bunch of masochists.” And so the event was born with a name fitting its characteristics perfectly. According to Dictionary.com, masochism is: “gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one's own actions or the actions of others, esp. the tendency to seek this form of gratification.” In this case, the pain is a by-product of the seemingly never-ending hills. I’m not talking about the hills we find in our stomping grounds of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Buckeye Trail, but hills that truly don’t appear to have an end. I will say this, I’ll never complain about any hill in NE Ohio ever again. Not being technically correct, I’ll estimate this: from somewhere in low 20s to around 30 miles, it is straight up. Absent of some fast down hills, plateaus, or any type of relief. Typically, I slip into my mental “funk” in the upper 20s, low 30s of an ultra. I got there a little bit early this time. Once I pushed through it and reached the top of Long Mountain and Buck Mountain, I felt much better. Mentally and physically stronger.

From the very beginning, the aid stations were very well done. One thing I think was great was that they filled 1 gallon jugs with water and electrolyte drinks which made the re-filling process upon aid station arrival extremely fast. No standing in line to refill out of the cooler.

Another thing was the presence of salted/boiled potatoes. I’d heard from many people that this is a great fuel source but I’d never had it before. Anxious to learn if it would work for me, I starting scooping them up each time I saw them, along with the occasional PB&J, M&Ms, bananas, oranges, and the best thing…Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Energy deprivation seems to be a real problem for me in ultras, so the MMTR was yet another day to test some new strategies. I headed out with one handheld, one bag of Clif Shot Bloks, 5 gels, 2 Pure Fuel bars, and a compliment of Endurolytes. Lesson learned from Burning River this past year: don’t wait till Mile 30 to take salt tabs. With that in mind, I took 2 Endurolytes every 45-60 minutes and alternated one Shot Blok and a gel each hour. That, along with the “real” food at the aid stations, should’ve kept me fueled. The longest distance between most aid stations is 2-3 miles. The longest leg is a tough 5.2 mile loop on another challenging trail. This is where I ate a whole Pure Fuel bar. Unfortunately, this was from Miles 33-38 so my mouth was really dry and required lots of fluid to get the bar down which meant I ran out of fluid too early before the AS. Oh yea, another little “incident” on this trail. Due to the extremely rocky terrain all day long, I nearly had my own face-plant when I tripped. On the way down, I grabbed onto a flimsy 1” diameter tree with one hand and with the other hand, dropped my bottle and clinched my right calf. Why? I got the mother of all Charlie horses in conjunction with tripping. My right calf was so tightened up that it felt like a baseball in my hand. Now THAT hurt. I just stood there waiting for it to subside. My AS fuel goal from that point on was to consume as many bananas and oranges which are loaded with potassium to help prevent that from happening again during the race and also after the race when I normally get them. (that worked, by the way)
Back to maintaining energy levels: overall, with temps that climbed into the 70s with full sun (NOT in the forecast, by the way!), I am very happy with how I felt…energy wise. (Looking back at the race’s history, it was a warm day). Nothing upset me at all. The potatoes were great! I loved them and never got tired of them, which I do with PB&Js in the later miles of ultras. One thing I was NOT happy with was the different electrolyte brands. One aid station, it’s Clif and then the next, it’s Moon. I really think you need to stick with one. Not a problem for me personally, but this causes intestinal distress for some runners. I think Clif tastes more like Gatorade and Moon tastes more like Hammer’s Heed…very different tastes, indeed. Luckily, no problems for me.

Horton Miles: there’s been a lot of discussion over the true length of this course. It’s publicized as “50+” miles. The most common number I’ve heard is 54 miles. They were off from the beginning…which was on the road…by a whole mile. That can’t be an accident. The rest of the course was pretty close to right on. At the end of the day, my Garmin read exactly 51 miles, so who knows…at least it’s at least 50 miles.

The terrain: an overwhelming majority of the course is wide, groomed gravel access roads. When not on those, you are tip-toeing through extremely rocky trail. Oh how I appreciate our trails in NE Ohio…much more enjoyable and less treacherous to the body. I’m sure some people take nasty falls out there and get cut up pretty bad. The only really blistering downhill in the whole race is within 2 miles of the finish. By this point, my toes hurt from being jammed all day, my hamstrings were trashed from the uphills, so what’s left? The quads! One last attempt by the Masochism to trash what’s left of my legs. However, this is the best place to have the downhill just in case someone comes through the last aid station at 47 miles very close to the 12hr cutoff time.

Overall take-away: I’m glad I did it. I have zero regrets from preparation, fueling strategy, or anything else. According to the local newspaper, it was the peak weekend for the fall foliage which provided breathtaking vistas to soak in throughout the day. It was also a great to have my dad accompany me to Virginia and provide the encouragement at so many aid stations. This was his first exposure to anything past a marathon and I’m sure he saw a different side of humanity pouring through those aid stations all day. So will I do it again? Highly unlikely. I see value in doing it once and having the whole “experience” but I don’t see the value in doing that type of course again. I guess I’m really not one for getting pleasure out of pain!

Finishing time: 10hrs, 50min, 8sec
90 of 185 finishers

(I'm not sure of the number of starters...that's unofficial right now. A lot of no-shows, I hear.)

For now, I started my recovery immediately at the finish line with Hammer’s Recoverite followed by Hammer’s Whey on Sunday morning. Halfway home, we stopped in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia and took a challenging hike in the “Grandview” area. We hiked the short trail very slowly but it felt good to wake up all the muscles. It was a gorgeous place to take a break to stretch the legs during a road trip. Next up will be my deep tissue massage by Lori tonight (she’s got her work cut out for her!).

I gotta testify to how I feel this morning (that being Monday morning): not too good! My arms feel like I bench-pressed yesterday (definitely didn’t happen), my legs feel like half-formed cement (thank you, lactic acid!), and I feel like I need an IV of espresso (in progress, thank you!). I actually had the intent of a short 4 or 5 miler to warm up the muscles and help the acid to move on out but after my tiptoe out to get the newspaper, that’s not happening. I think I’ll take some long walks in Canton today during my breaks just to get it all flowing a bit. Yea, I’m going to work as scheduled…there’s a weird type of pleasure going back to work as scheduled and acting as nothing happened over the weekend. Inside, I’m shouting for joy. Outside, they’ll only see my coveted Patagonia finisher’s tech tee. “2008 MMTR Finisher” it reads.


video

5 weeks to the Tecumseh Trail Marathon in Bloomington, IN in the Yellowwood State Forest! After a smart and calculated recovery, I hope to see you all soon on our beloved trails. Till then…

Happy Trails, everyone!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Masochism: Conquered

I'm way too tired to edit all the pics my dad took or write a report, but I promise, it's all coming. In the meantime:
Finished in 10hrs, 50min, 8sec

90 of 185 finishers.
There were 256 starters.

No doubt, the toughest, most brutal ultra I've ever done. Hills like you can't even imagine in NE Ohio....and they're relentness and seemingly, never ending. Try about 10 miles straight of them with no break. 9200 ft of gain, 7200 ft of loss.

Check back soon for the full report. By the way, before filling your water bottle with fluids, ASK what it is you are pouring in. There was one aid station that I filled my Nathan bottle with Mountain Dew. No wonder it popped under pressure the first time I went for a drink!

Yes, the trails were happy today!