Zion 100km 2019 – Raising The Bar

What a Day

A wonderful day indeed!

Background
It was January 1st and I was attempting my first run of the year while on holiday vacation back in the states.  That 17km run was painful because I was A. out of shape, B. 7kgs/15lbs over my typical race weight, and C. pretty exhausted from the night before. On that run, I decided it was time to get my act together and use the New Year’s Rich Roll podcast with David Goggins as my fuel to get back to top form.  I went back to my training logs and found that the best thing for me is to run streak aka run every day.  The way I can do that is by doing the vast majority of my runs at a very easy pace which prevents injury.  As fate would have it, the new Mexican president decided to create a gas shortage to fight theft from fuel lines.  Since I didn’t want to wait 2-3 hours to fill my tank, in mid-January, I began commuting to work by foot—a journey of 12-13kms/7mi.  That allowed me to build a big base for my fitness.  On top of that, I stayed out of the brutally horrible Mexican traffic.  For the next 3 months, I ran 99 straight days leading up to the race and had 11 straight weeks of over 161km/100mi.  Along the way, I saw amazing gains in fitness getting to the best shape of my life.  I dropped 10kgs/22lbs and set two half-marathon PRs in a span of three days without intending to.

Going into the race, I had a good level of confidence.  Because of my fitness gains and looking at previous results of the Zion 100km, I thought that I had the potential to podium (finish 1, 2, or 3) and set a new PR for 100km which was a 10:48 two years ago at the Javelina 100mi.  In fact, I dared to dream big and wanted to go for the win—something I had never thought of in my 6 years as a runner.

Zion StartThe Race
This was my 6th ultramarathon and I’ve refined my routine down to a science.  I woke up at 3am, got some food and coffee and headed to the start arriving at 5am.  My wife and I hung out in the car since it was barely above freezing that morning.  Around 5:30, we walked over to the starting line.  I positioned myself at the front because I didn’t want to get stuck behind the 500 runners going up the big climb, 425m/1500ft in around a mile or less, to the top of Goosebump Mesa.  The race started with around ten of us in the lead pack.  I was a bit surprised at the pace as we were at a <5min/km or 8min/mi rate.  I though fewer would begin that fast. Looking around, I didn’t think everyone would sustain the pace and some may have have had early race adrenaline pushing them.  At 7km, we hit the giant climb and boy was it a kick to the mid section.  To prepare for this climb, I practiced often by hiking up the staircase in my 24-story apartment building.  I would do 4-7 repetitions and would skip a stair to simulate hiking up a mountain.  It really helped condition my muscle groups for climbing and also gave me a true mental boost.  At 8-9km, we reached the top and I crossed the timing mat at the first aid station (Goosebump) and headed towards the course markings in front of me.  The aid station volunteers cheered me on and were a bit surprised I wasn’t stopping.

On top of this mesa the views were astonishing.  The trail was single track and slightly technical with various rocks mixed in with the dirt.  It was right up against the edge of the mesa which gave me views below that reminded me of photos I had seen of the Grand Canyon.  It also freaked me out because one false step and I’d be falling to my demise 1500 feet below. About 6 or 7 minutes in I heard a motorbike approaching and some screaming.  Hmm, what could be happening?  I listened closer and I heard, “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!”  I headed back to the guy on the bike.  There was a group of four of us and he said we could go back or finish this loop and skip it later in the race.  Another runner spoke up and said he wanted to go back because the timing would be all wrong and it would be hard to figure out the rankings throughout the race.  Since I really didn’t know what to do and the fact I had just listened to the Ultrarunners Podcast with the race director of the Georgia Death Race regarding not following the proper course, I decided to head back with the pack.

The Climb

The climb to the top (courtesy of Davy Crockett’s Blog)

As we were running back, I did remember seeing a runner headed back to the aid station from the beginning of this trail.  I thought he forgot something at the aid station but he must have realized it was the wrong way.  For the sake of ultrarunning and sportsmanship, it would have been nice if he said something but I chalk it up to focus and him trying to figure out what was going on.  He may have been unsure and was trying to get verification.  I think he ended up 2nd overall.  Our pack arrived back to Goosebump aid station with a loss of 12-15 minutes.  To add insult to injury, the race workers had installed a new barrier to prevent all other runners from going the wrong direction and they re-positioned the timing mat to face the correct direction.  Instead of 5th or 6th place for me, I was now behind 100+ runners and quite perturbed.  All this training I did and the fact I was going for the win to have this happen practically out of the gate—what the &$#% was I going to do now??!!

WWGD was the answer to my current plight.  That means What Would Goggins Do?  For those who are unfamiliar with David Goggins, he is an amazing story of perseverance, self-teaching, and mind discipline.  He came from a devastating family situation and suffered terrible hardships only to figure ways to turn the situation on its head to achieve things everyone thought impossible.  I implore you to look him up.  The answer to the question WWGD was for me to shut the (blank) up, stop complaining, and figure what needed to be done to right the ship.  Starting down the correct trail, I pushed the pedal to the metal and arrived at the next aid station over 10km away in less than 50 minutes!  I was flying and worked my way up the field passing numerous people.

smiles

Smiling all day!

I arrived at Grafton Station to meet my super crew aka my wife.  We worked out our plan before the race for her to have bottles and gels ready for quick exchanges to limit downtime.  I got rid of my jacket, grabbed my grub, and sped out in roughly a minute or two.  It was a 3km downhill to Wire Mesa aid station and I continued to push the pace.  I still had no idea of my position but when I looked at the results after the race, I had climbed up to 55th.  The Wire Mesa loop was a little more technical than the double track drive-able dirt roads between Goosebump to Wire but not super difficult.  It had a lot of winding back on itself but I locked into a good groove.  After completing this loop it was the same 3km but uphill to Grafton.  This is where I started making some headway as well because I didn’t walk any of it and most of the other runners were taking walk breaks to rest during the inclines.  For me, the grade was exactly like my daily run from work to home.  It was my “bread and butter” so to speak.  At Grafton I swapped bottles with my wife and did an 8km loop with a solid effort.  Ending the loop, I saw my wife for the third time.  I loaded up on gels since I wouldn’t see her for another 4-5 hours.  Coincidentally, there was a nearby speaker playing music with another crew waiting for their runner and a Disney song began…I recognized this as a princess song for my daughters, the one, the only, “Let It Go”.  It was as if the heavens were telling me to shut up and stop worrying about the misfortune of the extra 2km earlier in the race. And from then on, I put it behind me and just focused on my best race I could have.

Daughter's Poster

Who wouldn’t be motivated by this?

Heading back via the 10km to the Goosebump aid station it was mainly uphill with some flats but it was completely runable for me.  Again, these were hills very much like the ones I train on in Mexico City.  It was through this section where I caught a couple runners that were in that original lead pack.  I asked one if he knew where we were in the standings and he said he thought in the back half of the top ten.  I thought HOLY MOLY, great recovery and we were only half way done.  I played leap frog with these two all the way to the aid station.  I made a very quick stop for a piece of watermelon and a boiled potato. 

Plan A

My ideal race day Plan “A”.

The next segment was an 18km loop around Goosebump mesa and it would prove to be the toughest part of the entire day for me.  The vast majority was across the uneven slickrock which made any sort of rhythm practically impossible.  My definite weakness is highly technical terrain.  I found I had to stop running often and hike the tricky parts.  Instead of my typical 5-5:30min/km pace I had most of the day, I was clocking 7min+ kms.  It was frustrating me but I just put my head down to persevere.  I knew once I completed this section, I would make some hay after I descended the mesa.  Those two runners I was leapfrogging both passed me in this loop because of my tentativeness.  And to top it all off, I caught a toe climbing a rock and smacked both of my palms extremely hard as I caught my fall.  I ended up whacking my right elbow quite bad in the process—but at least it wasn’t a full out crash and burn fall.  Fatigue was setting in and I wasn’t lifting my feet enough.  My Altra Olympus shoes have a great grip and while they kept me upright in most situations, I found them almost too sticky for dry slickrock.  Although, it was probably “user error” and not the shoe’s fault—haha!  My annoyance of the near fall didn’t have a chance to dissipate because less than two minutes later I did the exact same thing but this time a full crash to the ground—taking the brunt of the force with my right shoulder and hip.  The lovely part about this was that I experienced the exact same fall two weeks prior and still had bruises which were not completely healed.  Mmm-hmmm, “That felt spectacular!”, I thought in between my choice vocabulary shouted.

Zion Aid

Forward progress

With approximately 3km to go, the trail converted back to single and double track allowing me to open my stride up again.  I laid down a few 5 min kilometers and passed one of the two runners again.  My focus, when I hit the Gooseberry aid station for the third time, was to get some ibuprofen for my fall and pop the AirPods in to listen to a couple great mixes I had cued up for the final 2-3 hours of the race.  The bad news was that my dexterity was a bit deteriorated from fatigue and I struggled getting the pills out of a pocket in my drop bag.  When I put my AirPods in, only one worked which added a couple more minutes to my stop to reset them.

I headed to the huge descent with great music in place ready to close this race out.  My head was in a great place—lots of smiling, singing out loud to myself, and a ton of positive self-talk.  I did get held up by a volunteer for a minute or two as he was warning me not to miss a turn at the bottom of the descent.  I suppose this was their attempt at making up for what happened earlier to us.  I turned to go again and he stopped me again asking if I saw some girl behind me…I had no idea who but I just wanted to go!  I wish I didn’t get so delayed on this stop, but it was the only bad aid station transition all day so I chalk it up to a lesson learned for my after action report on what to improve next time.

Daughter's Poster2

My wife had these ready for me at each aid station.

The descent itself was fun but difficult.  I slipped a few times but never fell. I felt very inefficient yet I employed a technique of turning my feet diagonal to aid with shifting loose rock/scree.  Once at the bottom, the turn this volunteer referenced was beyond obvious rendering all that lost time listening to the advice useless.

From this point, I thought it would be mostly flat but there were some real climbs that surprised me.  On top of that, some of our course took us through recently wet riverbeds—meaning there was plenty of mud.  The issue with mud was the added weight to my shoes.  I tried to choose my steps carefully without losing too much time. 

Daughter's Poster3As this section of 6km progressed, I encountered both of the two runners I had been leapfrogging all day.  The first one was an awesome guy from Canada and, unfortunately for him, his quads were locking up.  I know EXACTLY how that feels and it is awful.  I gave him true condolences and motored on.  In the distance I spotted this other tall runner from Utah that was much better than me in the technical sections.  Yet, I told myself that we were on double track and the end of the race.  That meant we were in “My Area”!

Sidebar:  I am not a lifelong runner.  I only got into it at age 37.  I started ultras in 2013.  I’ve never been a fast runner based on times I see from others.  However, I have seen that I am a strong runner late in ultras which means I don’t slow as much as others.  Maybe it’s my natural stubbornness, maybe it’s talent, but I lean towards my stubbornness that keeps me going late in the event.

Seeing him in front of me gave me a target.  I was achieving nearly 5 min/km in this section.  I truly attribute it to having a purpose.  Had he not been there, I’m sure I would have fallen into a more casual pace.  After 15-20 minutes, I reeled him in on an uphill where he was walking and I wasn’t.  I gave him encouragement but also tried to pass with confidence to show him I was serious.  I had read that from a psychologically standpoint, if you pass someone extremely hard that it would demotivate them and reduce the possibility they would try to keep pace.  One year ago in the Massannuten 100, it worked for me in the final 5km.  I passed at least three runners who had reached their limit.  My passing velocity was so much faster than theirs that they never considered running with me.  Little did they know, I was quite fatigued, too, but I wanted to move up in the standings.

Checking The Chart

Checking my timing chart

From this point, I wanted to keep my position and not lose ground.  I arrived at the Virgin River aid station strong.  Many were cheering and my wife was expressing how proud she was.  I found out that I was 5th overall and 4th male!  All I could think about was to not let those behind to pass me.  I was in and out fast thanks to the expediency of my fabulous wife.  For the final 15-16km, I looked over my shoulder many times but only saw a runner once in the distance.

The majority of the final two sections was single track but runable.  Yet, some of it was the dreaded slickrock.  The other frustrating thing was that we were skirting a river to eventually run on both sides.  This meant I could see future parts of the course but it would take me 15-30 minutes to arrive.  Around 6km later I arrived at the final station which was water only.  I decided I wouldn’t fill my bottles and use what I had left to survive until the end.  I tried to drink from the tap but did not anticipate how low the tank actually sat.  As I began to drink my legs started to cramp in multiple places…PAIN!!

Zion Finish

Success!

Leaving this place, I knew I was practically home.  I pushed as hard as I could.  It wasn’t a noteworthy pace but it was a <6 min/km.   That made me very proud considering we were ending a 100km.  I came off the dirt/rock road to the main road of the town and tried to run even faster.  I turned to the finish line around 10 min later and had a huge smile on my face.  I crossed a champion—not of the race, but of my own challenges!

Results
10:24 was my time…how to process this?  I missed my goal of sub-10 hours.  I missed the podium by one place finishing as the 4th male.  I was sent the wrong way for 12-15 minutes in error.  Then it hit me–I set a new PR for 100km in the Utah mountains.  My previous best was in the flat desert of Arizona.  Quite an improvement if I do say so myself!  In any of the past 3-4 races Zion 100km results, my time would have been first or second.  And to top it all off, my wife pointed I out that I was the top masters (40+) runner.  

When I finally let it all sink in, I realized I had actually achieved the best race in my life and felt I could even do better!!!  The net-net of it all was that I had put myself in the best shape of my adult life, finished 4th in a Western States qualifier, and had an amazing experience!!!  Not bad for an old man.

Post Race
I hung out at the finish line to cheer on the others.  I found out the winner didn’t take the wrong route but males 2 and 3 did.  This meant my wrong turn didn’t matter.  However, I do think if I were around the front pack it might have pushed me harder to catch the competition.  I could be wrong but I do believe it.

Best Crew

Best Crew Ever!

This was the best I have ever felt in all the years I’ve raced.  The next day, I actually went out for a run and maintained a very respectable pace for 30 min.  As I write this report, my running streak has grown to 106 days.  I have set bigger goals than the Zion 100km in the hopes of continuous forward progress.  My fitness is the best of my life and my near miss of a podium finish had only focused me more.  What is certain is someday I will run and COMPETE in both the WSER and UTMB.  My mindset is that I’m not just a casual ultra-runner.  I may not be a professional/elite but I can compete out there on the trails—even as a someone who became a runner later in life.

 

 

 

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Javelina Jundred 2017 – Chasing The Moon

Sunrise

Spirits are up early in the race.

This is a very long report that combines the months leading up to the race and the race itself, if you want to skip ahead to the race details, you can scroll down to the section labeled The Race.

logo
Training
At the end of June I needed to make plans for a qualifying race for Western States.  I intended to enter the Ultra Trail Mexico 100km race in Huasca—the same race I signed up for last year but didn’t end up running due to a surgical procedure I had prior to the race (not running related).  Yet when I went to enter the race it was already full.  Now I was a bit panicked since I needed to have enough time to train for a race.  The only time frame that seemed reasonable was October since the first week of November was the cutoff for all qualifying races for Western states.  As I scoured the list of approved races, I didn’t see many options that were feasible in terms of cost of travel, distance from home, and time frame.  I planned on running a 100km race since I only had 3 months to train but the only one that really seemed to fit was the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  Fear set in because 3 months or more accurately 14 to 15 weeks of training did not seem like it was sufficient to prepare for a 100 miler.  I took the plunge thinking that even under trained, I only needed to finish the race within 30 hours.  Considering I finished the Keys 100 in 20:28, I could walk a good portion of this race and still finish in time.

Prerace

3am and ready to go.

My running had been pretty focused from January through May but as May finished and June rolled around, travel and life events started eating into my regular training.  To prepare for this race, I looked at my training log for the Keys 100 and set up a detailed plan that steadily ramped up my weekly distance as well as my long runs.  The plan focused on three 4 week training blocks that would ramp up for 3 weeks and decline in the 4th week.  

About to Start

Waiting for the start.

Everything went to plan for the first three weeks until a fateful Sunday on July 16th.  I was running 20km on a mainly flat trail in the mountains near my home but at 9.5km, the trail drops dramatically by around 100m.  I descended just fine, turned around at the 10km mark, and ascended back up the incline.  Just as I was reaching the top of the hill I felt a sharp pain in a straight line up my left medial gastrocnemius muscle (inner upper calf).  As soon as it happened I knew something was seriously wrong.  I had never had such acute pain while running before.  The issue now was that I was 10km from my car in a remote part of this forest mountain trail.  I figured out a way to use a modified stride to run back but I had to be very careful not to put too much pressure on my left calf.  When I got back to the house, the pain did not subside and just touching the muscle hurt tremendously.  

Squirrel Nut Butter

Anyone see a squirrel?

The next morning I needed to travel for work.  Luckily I was traveling to Merida, Mexico a city where I used to live.  I contacted the physiotherapist I knew and the clinic was able to see me that day.  They examined me and immediately recommended I get an MRI.  Being the obsessed person I am, I had investigated throughout the day on Monday and had a hunch that I had a grade 1 or 2 tear of my medial gastrocnemius—most likely a grade 2.  My MRI revealed that I did have a grade 2 tear which meant I couldn’t run for 4-6 weeks.  I was very worried now.  How the heck was I supposed to prepare for a 100 miler on a condensed schedule already that will now cut another 4-6 weeks of running?

Motivation

One of the many posters Karina made.

After some contemplation, I decided I couldn’t fight reality and would concentrate on what I could control.  I did some research on power/speed walking, read some articles, and watched some YouTube videos.  My decision, after verifying with the physiotherapist, was to practice power walking during the weeks without running.  When I got back to Mexico City and met with an orthopedic doctor, she confirmed no running for 6 weeks and I had to go to 3 sessions per week for those 6 weeks of rehabilitation.  Quite a setback indeed but I was determined to follow the doctor’s instructions and not screw things up by rushing back.

On the trail

Staying focused.

Over the next 6 weeks, I never missed a rehabilitation session, did my stretching and prescribed exercises at home, and power walked 5-6 days per week.  I ended up walking 70-90 km per week during this time.  A funny thing happened as I continued to walk so much, my efficiency steadily improved to the point that I was able to walk at a speed equal to a slow run/jog.  This made me happy because I felt like in a serendipitous way, I gained a new skill set that could help me tremendously in a 100 mile ultra—the ability to walk much faster than most.  I remember at the Keys 100, my walking was a key to my success because I passed many other runners late who were also walking but much slower.  Beyond that, I knew it was good to focus on the positive and not dwell on the things that I couldn’t control.

Crew

Best crew ever.

Come September, I was given the green light to do 30 minutes of running to test out the calf.  The first test run was a bit scary and it felt weird running again because I had a lot of trepidation that the injury would return.  Luckily it did not.  I reported back to the clinic that all went well and I proceeded over the next two weeks to transition from the majority of the time power walking to the majority of the time running.  As a result of this injury, I did alter my my stride slightly on uphills.  Normally when I ran uphill my heels wouldn’t touch the ground but now I went slower allowing my heels to completely touch the ground to reduce pressure on my calves.  

Little Hot

A little hot out there.

As a side note, I tried to figure out how I injured myself.  The best I can gather is that in early June I went out for a 30km run and woke up the next day with pain in the back of my knee.  It seems the pain was a case of tendinitis on the tendon that attaches to the top of the calf muscle I injured.  I thought it healed because I monitored it closely and after 4 weeks it seemed to have gone away.  However, the day before I injured myself, I did a hard run in the mountains—3.5 hours with tons of elevation gain.  The next day when I went out for the the 20km run where I injured myself I noticed the tendinitis pain return a bit.  I suppose that I needed more rest after that hard mountain run and my calf was simply too tight.  When I went up the hill the calf just gave out and tore.

tarahumara.jpg

Karina with some Tarahumara.

During September I modified my training plan to reduce my weekly distance (100-120km per week vice 130-160km as previously planned).  I had a handful of 3-5 hour runs programmed with one huge training run of 74km to give me a feel of where my fitness was for the 100 miler.  All the running went well leading up to the race.  I made sure not to push too hard.  The first long run of 3 hours was humbling because I hit the wall only after 2 hours and slogged the last hour.  Yet as the weeks progressed I noticed my strength returning.  I did my 74km run 5 weeks out from the Javelina Jundred to give myself enough time to fully recover.  That run went quite well which gave me confidence that I’d at least be able to run a good portion of the 100 miler.  I didn’t start tapering quite as early like I did for the the Keys 100.  Instead I ran my full training load until two weeks before the race.  The week before the race, I reduced the distance by 20%.  The week of the race I did runs of 9, 8, and 5km.  I had two reasons for not doing a 3-4 week taper.  First, I couldn’t afford to back off since I already lost 6 weeks of running.  Second, I felt like the taper period lasted too long the first time and that it really wasn’t necessary to back off so much.

Supplies

Where’d that magic potion go?

Another side effect from the injury was to reset my race expectations.  Originally I wanted to beat my 20:28 time making a sub 20 my A goal.  My B goal was sub 24.  My C goal was to simply finish under 30 to make sure I qualified for the Western States lottery.

Off and Running

Keeping the eye on the prize.

Race Preparation 
I am a detailed oriented person.  In preparation for my first 100 miler I made spreadsheet that was a checklist of all supplies, gear, activities, and race day things I needed to do.  I modified it a bit based upon things I had learned in the subsequent two years but it was more or less the same.  That definitely made packing and prep much easier.  I also made timing sheets — one small one that I’d carry with me during the race to help me know what I needed to do at various sections of the race and one double sided chart to give to my wife as my crew with my plan A and plan B so she’d have an idea where and when I’d be throughout the race.  I’m not quite sure why, but as I made these timing sheets, I decided to alter my plan A to shoot for an 18 hour race and plan B for a 19 hour race.  As I’m writing this report now, I don’t really know what possessed me to not only forget about my post injury revised plan A/B but shoot for even better times than my pre injury plan A/B.  I simply told my wife that I may as well shoot for the stars and give myself a huge challenge rather than just sit back and semi-give up before the race even started.  It’s crazy, I know, since I never had come close to an 18 hour pace in such long distances.

Desert

Arizona desert.

Pre Race Days
We arrived to Phoenix on Thursday with the race start on Saturday.  As we went to pick up our luggage at the airport, I turned to my wife and said, “Now’s the moment of truth” referring to our suitcases.  As I grabbed our first suitcase I glanced at my phone that had a message stating 1 of 2 suitcases arrived.  OH NO!  The other suitcase was still in Los Angeles and that, of course, was my suitcase with all my gear, supplies, clothes, etc.  I was not a happy camper.  We proceeded to make our claim and then pray to the Aztec gods that it would show up that night at the hotel.  Otherwise Friday would be a crazy day of running around Phoenix trying to buy everything I needed.

Race Expo

The famous saguaro cactus.

When I awoke Friday morning, I immediately went to the front desk of the hotel and luckily the suitcase arrived!  Whew–now I could concentrate on getting checked into the race and relax the best I could.  Once I started seeing other runners at the hotel, however, I started to have a bit of panic and feelings of not belonging.  All the other runners seemed to be super fit, focused, and practically pros whereas I felt a bit like a fraud and out of place.  This has happened to me at all 3 of the races I’ve been in.  I think it’s partly due to the fact that I run 98% of the time by myself and partly due to the fact my self-image still has an ingrained concept of myself from 10 years ago when I was 70lbs/30kgs heavier and at my unhealthiest point in my life.  

Supplies

What else do I need?

My wife and I went to the race expo, picked up my bib and goodies.  We browsed around, bought a few items, and stopped at the massage both.  I figured this might be a good opportunity for me to calm my pre-race jitters.  I bought a 15 minute massage for my wife and me.  As soon as the lady started on my back/shoulders I could feel that I was extremely stressed out.  This 15 minute massage changed everything for me.  After it was over, I relaxed for the first time since arriving to Arizona and my mood calmed as well.

The rest of the day was filled with small preparation errands as well as simple light foods (veggies/fruits/tofu).  That night we had dinner at the hotel and I tried to get to sleep as soon as possible (9pm).  I set the alarm for 3am but with nerves I ended up waking up for a couple bathroom breaks and by 2:15am, I was up for good.

lap 4

Got to stay positive

Race Day
I got all my gear on and packed up the supplies.  I drank a simple vegetable protein shake with some turmeric as well as a chia gel for some calories to start the day.  I’ve found in the past that I do not want a lot of food in my stomach from the day before nor from breakfast.  I train week after week with a pretty empty stomach so my strategy is to do the same thing as in my training and consume the calories I need while running.  I had one cup of coffee and tried to do all the bathroom business I could to avoid any “issues” while in the race.  Right before leaving the hotel I took some Imodium to ensure I wouldn’t be looking for a nearby cactus due to intestinal issues.

Once we arrived to the starting area around 5am, we staged my two drop bags–one at the start and one that would be at the halfway point of the loop at the aid station named Jackass Junction.  We went over the race plan one more time, took some pictures, said some jokes, and awaited the start.  In comparison to the Keys 100, I was surprisingly calm with barely any nerves at all.  In fact, I was really ready to get the show on the road.  I ran a quick loop around the start area about 15 minutes before the start to loosen the legs up.  After that I stood near the start line to try to avoid being caught behind hundreds of runners in the beginning of the race.  I read that the first 1-2km of the trail are pretty narrow and if you are in the middle to back the pace will be practically walking.  I did not want that to happen because I had a different strategy to go out faster than my first 100 miler where I held back quite a bit.

The Race
At 6am 535 runners departed from the start chute.  The beginning area wraps around the camp sites, main aid station, and eventually spits you out on the actual trail.  I think I was in the group of the first 40 people.  In my first 100 miler, I used my heart rate as my limiter as to how fast I would run.  I tried to keep it in the 140s and due to that fact I ran at a pace that was quite a bit slower than I wanted.  In this race and because of the experience I have gained over the two years since, I decided to pay attention to my heart rate but also use my perceived exertion and my breathing rate to dictate how fast I would go.  I figured that I could sustain long stretches keeping my heart rate in the 150s.  After about 2-3km, the group of runners started opening up and the trail had a lot more space.  I took this opportunity to pick up the pace.

Moving

Keep on keepin’ on.

Another side note: My strategy was to break the race up into quarters or 40km each.  In each quarter of the race, I had an average pace goal.  Each 40km would progressively slow so I built that into my pacing goals.  The course itself is a loop which we repeat 5 times with the first loop having a slightly longer extra part built in.  Loop one is 35.9km/22.3mi and loops two through five are 31.3km/19.45mi.  It has a total elevation gain of 2409m/7900ft.  You essentially are on an aggregate incline to the far point of the loop and downhill coming back to the front.  The tricky part is that some of the inclines are imperceivable but you notice your pace reducing.  After each loop you reverse course and go back the way you came.  It’s an interesting feature of the race because your are constantly passing other runners making it more social than a point to point ultra and by reversing course you are seeing everything from the opposite point of view.  That helps you from getting bored and feeling like you are just doing the same thing over and over again.

hot

It was roasting

Back to the race:  Arriving at the first aid station “Coyote Camp” I was keeping the pace that I needed.  I filled my two water bottles and got out in under 2 minutes.  I used a hydration vest for storing my supplies but decided I was going to try to avoid using the water bladder unless I really needed to.  I thought that with my two water bottles which held a ½ liter each, that it would be enough for me to get to each aid station.  That strategy turned out to be correct.  The reason I didn’t want to fill the hydration vest with water is that it adds another 5-6lbs of weight.  Over 100 miles that would require a significant increase in energy expenditure.

The next section from Coyote Camp to Jackass Junction is the longest segment between aid stations 10.4km/6.5mi.  It’s also the roughest section with several very rocky portions where you definitely have to watch your step or else you’ll take spill.  In fact I heard of one older runner who had a serious fall in that section and had to be taken to a hospital.  As I navigated this section my pace picked up a little more.  I had good conversation with another runner who ended up finishing 8th in the race.  He ran an amazingly well paced race.

skel

I hoped I wouldn’t turn into that guy.

As I arrived to Jackass Junction, I filled water bottles again, grabbed some food from my drop bag and was off again.  Crossing the timing mat, I was 35th.  On the back half the loop and with the downhills ahead, I pushed the pace some more and was running at clips of 5:10min/km to 4:55min/km.  It felt good to run at that pace.  I had slight worries that maybe it was too much but I quickly eliminated those thoughts and reminded myself that this race was a perfect opportunity to experiment and find out what I could do.  I didn’t want to feel like I was too conservative after finishing this race.  As we made our way down to Rattlesnake Ranch, I had passed several other runners.  I got in and out quickly and set off for the the end of loop one.  At this point, the sun had got to a point in the sky where the temperatures were starting to rise significantly.

I really wasn’t too concerned about the heat since I had run extremely hot and humid race before, I had lived in a very hot tropical environment for two years, and I really don’t mind the heat.  Plus in this part of the country, there was absolutely no humidity.  That would help to cool the skin since the sweat would evaporate vice just stay on your skin.  I wore a singlet along with white arm sleeves.

As I arrived to the start/finish area, I surprised my wife since I was there 18 minutes prior to my predicted time for my A goal (3:18 total time).  I handed all my gear to her so she could refill my water and supplies while I ran to the timing mat.  I got back to the aid station area where my wife was and she was so happy for me.  She showed me one of the great motivational posters she designed, gave me a big hug, took some pictures with me and sent me on my way.

Going out on loop 2 back to Rattlesnake Ranch, I quickly realized that my wife didn’t see the other water bottle I had tucked in a front pocket of my vest.  My fault completely for not showing her where it was.  The good news was that the aid station was closer this time since loop 2 had a shorter total distance.  Ultimately I ran out of water with less than 10 minutes to the aid station so no big deal indeed.

The slight uphill to the back of the course was a lot more difficult this time now that I had run over 40km.  Leaving out of Jackass Junction I had the long section with lots of rocks and wouldn’t you know it, I was checking my watch for something and BOOM–down goes Avery.  I caught the bulk of my fall with the palms of my hand but I also fell to the left hitting my hip and back.  I got up dusted myself off, checked for any serious injury or dropped supplies.  Besides some cuts on my hand and elbow I was good to go.  From there on out I was much more careful with my steps knowing that the later in the race it got, the harder it is to lift your feet.

I finished loop 2 in 3:16 for a total time of 6:34.  I had also PRd my 50k time in a race by quite a lot with a 4:50 time.  Things were looking very positive so far.

avery jj100-02

Loop 3 was the repeat of Loop 1 minus the longer final quarter.  This time it was much hotter reaching the high temperature of the low 90s F or 32-34 C.  As I was ascending the hills towards the back of the loop my speed started dropping markedly.  I ran with for a while and was passed by the overall female winner of the race Larisa Dannis.  Closer to Jackass Junction the same thing happened to me with the 2nd overall female finisher Dana Anderson.  Both of these ladies were so positive and encouraging.  They were incredible in their consistent pacing.  As I was fading a bit, they kept on going.  It reminded me of the old Energizer Bunny commercials in the 80s where they were the Energizer batteries and I was the off-brand battery.  Passing through Jackass Junction and using the aggregate downhill helped instill a little more confidence after a little less than 2 hours of a fading pace.  

The total time for loop 3 was 3:44 which meant I ran 27 minutes slower than loop 2.  I had lost all the extra time I banked early in the race and was slightly behind my A goal now.  Starting loop 4 meant Karina, my super wife, crew, cheering section, and overall hero, was going to run with me to the first aid station at Rattlesnake Ranch.  As we headed out, I noticed I was in some definite trouble in terms of flexibility and pain in my legs.  I had a very hard time opening up my stride and there was some mounting pain near my kneecaps.  The best I could figure was that my quads were tightening up severely.  I also had a little bit of pain in my hip to groin area when I had to take any steeper inclined steps with my right leg.  Karina pulled out every trick in the book to cheer me up–from jokes, to videos from my daughters, to even tickling me, she was a real trooper.  We arrived to the aid station and I knew I was hosed for my A goal and I let her know.  My pace couldn’t even reach anything faster than 7min/km and according to my pacing charts, I needed to run around a 6:30min/km.  The problem was that I simply couldn’t muster any quicker turnover in my feet nor the strength to move faster.  I felt like I was stuck in first gear.  This happened to me in the second half of the Keys 100 when all I could do was alternate running and walking until I reached the end.  The upshot of this day was that I was strong enough to barely have to walk.

When I reached Jackass junction for the 4th time, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, dejected, and slightly disoriented.  The fatigue from the day really sunk in, the disappointment of fading so quickly from my A and possibly B goal was bothering me, and I just wanted to run faster.  I got out of there and headed back down the trail through the rocky section once more.  At this point it was dark and I was using my waist lamp.  I definitely was very careful not to eat it again on the rocks.  Because this was a washing-machine style race I was passing runners going the other way, going my way, and being passed as well.  I could tell for the most part who was who but the closer I got back to the start/finish line, the less accurate my assumptions were.  It felt as if I faded very far back in the race.  At 8:34pm I arrived at the start/finish line for the 4th time.  It took me 4:15 to complete that loop and 32 minutes more than loop 3.  I was not happy.

aid station

Now was the time of reckoning.  Karina was about to run another segment with me after she did all the crewing and aid station work I needed.  She could see I was in distress and offered me some ibuprofen for the second time.  I didn’t mention it earlier in this report but prior to lap 4 she offered me some but I generally avoid all pain medication, especially when running/racing.  She had been spending time with the crew and wife of another runner I met.  Apparently the wife of this runner had a medical background and explained that I was having quite a bit of inflammation and that a single dose of ibuprofen was not going to cause the damage I was so worried about.  I had heard many horror stories of runners with kidney failure in races because of ibuprofen and I did not want that to happen to me.  However, as a good runner should do, I listened to my crew since she was much more sane and capable of thinking than I was.  I consumed the ibuprofen with some water and we were off.

Wouldn’t you know that after about 20 minutes of running, I started feeling better.  I felt a little lighter on my feet, I was cracking jokes, smiling, and just felt like things were improving.  We rolled into Coyote Camp and Christmas music was playing.  It was awesome.  I grabbed some supplies, kissed my lovely wife goodbye and headed off into the wilderness feeling renewed.  For the first time I decided to listen to some music to distract me.  Using DJ mixes I had, I queued one up that really made me feel good in the past and the next thing I know I’m singing out loud as I went up the gradual hill to the back half of the loop.  As the kilometers clicked off, my speed kept increasing.  The only glitch I hit was when my waist lamp was losing juice.  I didn’t realize that it only had around a 4-5 hour battery life at full power.  The tricky part was that in order to change batteries I had to remove the other one.  It had a screw cap but with a tricky pin insert you had to align with the lamp tube.  Once I turned off the lamp it was quite dark.  I slid the battery into the tube and tried to screw the cap back on but it wouldn’t turn on.  UGH!  No panicking yet…What to do??  Using my logic, I figured that if I tilted the tube forward putting the small hole, where the pin was to align, closest to the ground, I could use gravity to help align the pin in the cap.  I took a deep breath, screwed it on, hit power and voila–LET THERE BE LIGHT!

refill

I hit Jackass Junction just as happy as could be.  I encouraged several runners sitting there to keep pushing.  I was giving pats on the backs and high fives.  What was going on with me I thought?  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Grabbing my final supplies out of my drop bag, I passed the timing belt and headed down the back half of the trail for the final time.

Now things were really getting fun.  I felt a certain momentum building from within.  Little by little I continued to push the pace.  I passed several runners who were in front of me but were reduced to walking.  I understood exactly what they were going through from being there myself in other races but for some reason it wasn’t me in this race.  They call this reeling people in and passing the carnage.  Rattlesnake Ranch was visible in the distance but the trail was quite winding so it took longer to get there than the crow flies.

I stayed barely a minute at the aid station only filling up on water.  Looking back, I still had a full bottle of water in my vest so I didn’t need to stop there at all.  It was only 6.5km to the finish line.  Now is where I wanted to drop the hammer as the elites say. I upped my pace as best I could and I felt like I was flying.  I continued to pass people coming and going and rarely saw anybody running.  After about 15-20 minutes I could see the glow of the lights of the finish line.  I could smell the end of the race. I also looked over a large hill and saw the moon was still up.  Prior to the race, I told my wife that I would race the moon meaning I wanted to finish before the moon set (around 1am I think).  I called it my quest to Chase the Moon.  In my happiness of the moment I had a conversation with that moon to explain who won the race between him and me.  Mind you I was actually talking out loud…but who cares…I do some strange things late in races to entertain myself.

avery jj100-04

Finally I approached the start/finish camp.  The first thing I did was look for me wife.  She was nowhere to be found so I tried my best to sprint around the chute leading up to the finish line.  I was passing people all over the place and probably looked like a lunatic running so hard.  Yet a funny thing happened, it seemed to charge up the crowd and everyone was cheering loud for me.  Then I did what I dreamed for months, I crossed the finish line—at 12:12am!  Final time 18 hours and 12 minutes.  The final lap took me 3:37 meaning I ran it 38 minutes faster than loop 4 and 6 minutes faster than loop 3.  Amazing!  I had no idea I had that capability inside of me.  It surprised me more than anyone.

I left the finish area and headed back to where my drop bag was–still no wife.  Looking towards the trailhead area, I spotted her waiting at the gates with the crowd looking for me to come in.  We apparently missed each other as I came around the chute.  She went from the finish line to the trailhead as I went through the chute to the finish line.  After hugs and kisses, we headed to the finish line again to take pictures together to capture the happy moment forever.

Looking back on this race makes me very happy.  I learned that I now have the capacity to run almost all of a 100 miler and have the ability after 90 miles to pick up my pace to levels I ran in miles 20-40.  Listening to your crew is an important lesson as well.  In my mind I hit my A goal and 18:12 for 100 miles for a guy who 10 years ago couldn’t run a mile and was extremely overweight is something I’m very proud of.  I think 5 or 6 of the top finishers are pro runners and 12th place among 535 starters is not too shabby.  

Done

Done and done!

The other interesting thing about this whole adventure was the fact that I had to take 6 weeks off from running in the middle of my training.  I returned to running with less than 8 weeks until the race.  I’m still trying to distill what that meant.  The best I can guess is that the power-walking helped my base fitness, the lower volume weeks kept me from overtraining, and when I came back from running I was very focused on trying to maximize my training days while making sure to build in true rest days around my long training runs.

Success

We did it!

So that’s my long winded report…for those that stuck with it until the end, you have a taste of the patience it takes to run an ultra.  I want to give a big thanks to Justin and Candice for giving my wife a slice of your popup tent during the race.  Another big thanks goes to my family for putting up with my craziness and for supporting me.  My friends were very encouraging leading up to and during the race.  The race director, staff, and volunteers were awesome.  Yet the biggest thanks has to go to my wife, crew, running mate, best friend, and superhero Karina.  None of this ever happens without her.  She has a special gift of bringing the best out of me despite my crazy ways and stubbornness.

Buckle

Sub 24 hour buckle.

Lap 1 – 35.9km/22.3mi – 3:18 – 5:33min/km – 24th place
Lap 2 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:18 – 6:17min/km – 23rd place
Lap 3 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:43 – 7:09min/km – 19th place
Lap 4 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 4:15 – 8:11min/km – 18th place
Lap 5 – 31.3km/19.45mi – 3:37 – 6:58min/km – 12th place
Total – 161.1km/100.1mi – 18:12 – 6:47min/km 10:55min/mi – 12th place

Race Accomplishments:
100 mile PR – 18:12
100 km PR – 10:48
50 mi PR – 8:23
50 km PR – 4:47

 

New Challenges – New Perspectives

Onward I goAbout three weeks ago, a fear most athletes have came true when I had my first major injury.  My training had been going very well and I had just started incorporating some mountain training.  I was hoping that it was just a slight strain–something that would go away with some rest or reduced training.  Yet deep inside I knew it was probably something worse.  Over the five years I have been running regularly, only once had an injury occurred and it was just something the set me back for a week or so–nothing serious.  When this injury happened, the pain and severity was quite different than anything I ever experienced.  Immediately I went to several medical/athletic websites to try to figure out what the injury may be.  The symptoms lead me to believe it was a type 2 (maybe a type 1) tear of my left medial gastrocnemius aka the upper inside part of my left calf.  On the recommendation of a physiotherapist I got an ultrasound that confirmed that it was indeed a type 2 tear.  That meant 4-6 weeks of recovery–right in the middle of my training for my 100 mile race in late October.  Not what I was hoping…

The good news is that prior to this injury, I had been focusing on many ways to improve my life, attitude, performance, etc.  Several books I read had large sections focusing on the power of a positive mental attitude–no matter the situation.  When the news hit that I had to stop running for over a month, my positive perspective was that this would make me stronger and with a little luck and a lot of elbow grease, I would gain some new skills that will ultimately make me a better runner.

The doctors and physiotherapists all agreed that I could continue to walk.  With that, I set out to become an efficient power walker.  Using many websites, photos, and videos, I learned some tips to improve my pace as a walker which is immensely useful in ultramarathons.  During the Keys 100, I think one of my assets was my ability to walk at a faster clip than most, allowing me to make up a lot of ground in the second half of the race.

Over the past 3 weeks, my walking has improved by leaps and bounds.  It reminds me of when I first started to learn how to run regularly.  I am pretty sure that my form is not legal for the competitive speed walkers but I am definitely not running.  Any motion that is close to running still bothers my calf.  When I walk, my feet land on the heels and roll to the front.  Plus, I am much less fatigued even after walking for 60-90 minutes compared to running.

My adjusted view is this:  I know that I will not be able to match or beat my Keys 100 time at the Javelina Jundred (20:28) but the whole purpose of this race is for the experience and to run a qualifier for entry to the Western States 100.  The only requirement is that I finish under 30 hours.  I am confident that I can walk 100 miles in under 30 hours.  While my running fitness will not be where I want it going into the race, my hope is to have enough in the tank to give it a 50/50 or even a 75/25 run/walk ratio.

Beyond this new power walking ability I am honing, I have been focusing on increased flexibility especially in areas that have been neglected during my years of running.  Also, I have (finally) started to learn how to practice mindful meditation.  It has been a goal of mine for numerous years but I never made the time to learn or try.  In addition, I am working on increasing strength in the supporting areas of the body for running–better balance, posture, and range of motion.

The funny thing out of all of this is that I am not worried or scared.  I have a feeling of peacefulness that tells me I am learning and improving myself.  This is exactly where I should be despite it not being my chosen path.  In a zen-like approach, I am not focusing on what might happen and wishing I could change the past.  Right here is where I want to be.

The Charity Dilemma

wellFor most of my conscious life I have considered myself a caring person.  In fact a pillar of my identity is the desire to help others.  In my adult existence, I have donated a considerable amount of clothes and items to those less fortunate.  I volunteered to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Nigeria.  Yet, I have always battled with the concept of giving money.  Many times I come across people begging in the street.  It is very difficult to determine whether a simple handout of money will help or not.  Is this money going to be used to feed and/or clothe or will it simply be used for destructive purposes.  The mental battle not to judge arises as well.  Things have been compounded as my daughters have grown a little older.  They ask me all the time why a person is asking me for money.  Generally I respond by telling them the different possibilities but also stress that simply asking for handouts is not the preferred route.  The message I convey to them is that work is always available, you have to be willing to do it.  What I will do is hand out food to those asking for change.  If they are truly desperate, they gladly take my offering but some refuse.

cleanwaterOn the other side of the coin, I do live a fortunate life and have money to spare–not that I am rich by any means–just a normal middle class life.  I have tried to donate to organizations in the past but then find out how little of the money goes to the efforts they claim to support.  It has paralyzed me to not give out money at all–until now.  Recently on my favorite podcast–The Rich Roll Podcast–there was an episode with Scott Harrison who started Charity Water.  I was greatly moved by the message of this charitable organization.  First, their battle is to bring clean water to the over 663 million people around the globe who have no access to a clean source.  Second, their model is completely transparent in which we as donors can see exactly where all the money goes.  They have 100% open books for their financials and do not keep any extra portion of the donations.  Their operating costs are completely covered by private donors.  They have even teamed with Google so you can track the status of the well(s) in which you contributed to see its status.

openbookFinally, and this blew me away, they have generated this concept of “Pledging Your Birthday”.  Instead of receiving gifts (almost all of which we do not really need), you can ask your family and friends to donate to this charity instead.  Some people use their age to be in dollars as the amount to ask and others just say donate whatever amount you would have spent.  I was very moved by this especially after hearing stories of children aged 7 donating their birthdays.  Can you believe that??!!  A child that age who is so wrapped up in the concept of getting new toys, dolls, gadgets, etc. being willing to forgo it all to help others. Wow! On top of that, I have been going through a slow transformation in the past several years of trying to minimize my life’s possessions.  When birthdays and holidays come around, I really do not wish to receive more “stuff”.  I am truly grateful for those thinking of me, but at age 42, I can honestly say I have everything I need (and more) materially.  My next birthday (unfortunately 11 months away) will be pledged.

100Maybe I buried the lede with this charity but you ask why water?  According to what I learned diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence including war.  In Africa alone, women spend 40 billion hours a year walking for water.  Clean water helps keep kids in schools, especially girls.  Less time collecting the water means more time in class.  Women are responsible for 72% of the water collected in Sub-Saharan Africa.  When a community gets water, women and girls get their lives back.  They start businesses, improve their homes, and take charge of their own futures.

gpsI am fully aware that a post like this is way of the beaten path for me but I am excited over this project.  Personally, I am going to start contributing using their monthly subscription model.  According to their model, it only costs $30 to bring clean water to a person.  It is my hope that some of you will see this in the same light I did and feel comfortable to finally have an outlet to give and feel confident you are truly helping your fellow human.

Five Years a Runner

keysLeave it to me to forget the anniversary marking five years as a dedicated runner–June 1, 2017.  If you know me or have read some of my backstory on this blog, you’ll know that this whole thing started back in June 2012 when I challenged myself to 30 days of running.  I never could run more than 2 or 3 days in a week without injuring myself prior to this challenge.  Short version is that I researched run streakers and websites about getting into running regularly.  I needed to run slow as possible (lose the ego) and keep the distance low.  I’m good at following a plan and after a month, I was hooked.

Over the past five years, I have had incredible experiences, highs, lows, and have learned a lot about myself and abilities–not just on an athletic level.  I have met plenty of incredibly nice and wonderful people.  From running 5-10km at a time to finishing 8th at the Keys 100 miler in 2015, it seems as if I have packed a lifetime of experience on the roads and trails in just five years.

It has not been easy and I think there has been at least four separate times where my training has gotten off kilter or out of focus but I never quit.  Today I am with a renewed focus and know that I will continue to put one foot in front of the other for as long as my body permits.  I am a better person because of running.  It grounds me, makes me happier, gives me a stronger sense of confidence while providing me the ability to roll with the ups and downs in life.  It is cliché but one truly experiences life in a day when running ultra distances.

Finally, I am grateful that my wife and daughters support me and my crazy passion for a sport that such a small percentage of the world participates.  Next on the horizon: an even stronger five years to come.

Living Vice Not Dying

grug-eep-the-croods-34956736-940-473Today as I drove around Mexico City doing family errands, my girls were watching a movie — The Croods.  I overheard some dialog that resonated with me:

  • Eep: Dad, you have to stop worrying about us.
  • Grug: But it’s my job to worry!  It’s my job to follow the rules.
  • Eep: The rules don’t work out here.
  • Grug: They kept us alive.
  • Eep: That wasn’t LIVING! That was just… “Not Dying”! There’s a difference.

That last line repeated in my mind all day.  It’s quite profound on many levels.  Too often I find in today’s hustle and bustle we are conforming to this set of norms and that set of rules–continuously trying to stay within the lines.  How should I be raising my daughters?  What food should they eat?  What should I not do at work?  How should I comport myself in this or that social situation.

In my athletic world, how much should I be training?  How hard should I train?  What should I eat?  Is this the right form?  Did I recover enough?  Am I “fueling and hydrating” properly? And on and on and on…

Rules and regulations permeate practically every facet of my life.  I actually revel in the rules and get a weird sense of accomplishment when I feel as if I have checked all the imaginary boxes on self imposed checklists of things I should and should not do.

While I definitely am not proposing anarchy and mayhem in a ruleless society, this quote was a reminder that I should be more mindful of my actions and decisions.  I don’t have a meaningful takeaway to share with the world but what I do know is the next time I go out and run, it will be with a youthful exuberance and push the limits of fun.  The next time I interact with my daughters, I will be mindful to not stress the rules but instead promote what they can do–ask them what they think.

Let us choose to live rather than simply not die.

Twice as Nice

IMG_0838Sunday marked the return to the trails of Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones (The Lions Desert National Park).  I went there about 9 months ago trying to find good trails on the mountainsides.  Unfortunately I only ran for 35 minutes and spent nearly an hour hiking through knee to waste high grass, shrubs, and plants.  I was highly frustrated and for the most part gave up on trying to run up there.  Instead of asking around and putting on the hat of adventure, I made up excuses in my head and fully convinced myself to not return.  I did my fair share of complaining repeatedly about no marked trails nor published maps.IMG_0837

This time I had a new buddy show me a different entrance to the park.  We hiked to about 3300 meters of elevation.  Lo and behold, I saw a nice double track running trail.  We did an out an back of a total of 12km.  The time absolutely flew by.  My perceived time on the trail was 15-20 minutes when in reality we ran for 1:15.  The run absolutely recharged my enjoyment of nature running–and it is only 20 minutes from my home.  When I lived in Luxembourg, these trail runs were the norm–little did I know how spoiled I was.IMG_0839Since the two trail runs this weekend, I have not stopped thinking about when I can get back.  I feel like a kid who cannot wait to play with his brand new toy or game again.  With my new attitude, I decided that I won’t let the lack of maps/trail markings hold me back.  I took my GPX files (these are files that show your GPS track on the run) from Sunday and 9 months ago and uploaded them to some websites with open source maps.  I was able to match up where I was in relation to other supposed trails in the park.  That gave me a better perspective where the good trails were vice the un-runable trails.  I printed them out and now am excited to explore the whole park.  Every weekend I plan to go back and become a master of the trails up there.  It is amazing how one new friendship, a social running app (Strava), and a positive attitude can change everything.

IMG_0836

This is one happy guy after finding some fun trails.