Frosty the “Joel Man”

Frosty the “Joel Man”

So being the Ultra running couples’ blog, it was time that Hubs stepped up to share his “pearls of wisdom” with the virtual running community.  Joel felt particularly motivated this week to share his experiences with cold weather running after much whining in our household about having to go out to run in the single digit and teen temps, with possible snow and gross temperatures on the horizon for this weekend.  And naturally, the treadmill is never an option.  What follows is from the Joel Man, describing his experiences with cold weather running during Dirk’s Fat Ass 50K.

“The recent Dirk’s Fat Ass 50K may have been the coldest run I’ve ever done.  The temps that morning put a little hesitation in me as I’m sure it did to others who showed up for the run.  As with all other cold runs I’ve done, the hardest part was just getting started.  Just getting past the dread.

When we began running at 8:00 am my toes and hands were in a lot of pain.  I wondered if I could do this and wondered why I was even there.  But as all runners know, the coldest part is the standing around before, and especially after.  After about 2 miles my hands and feet felt okay.  I was sweating.  My body was warming up even in the 6 degree temps.  That’s when I felt, “I got this”.

For most of the 3 x 10 mile laps (we refer to each 10 mile lap as a ‘Dirk’ in honor of the founder and race Director, Dirk Hayes – to complete a full “Fat Ass 50K” – you have to pay homage to Dirk three times), I was running with the legendary David Jones.  He was wearing black and I could see he had ice all over his back.  In all honesty, I saw a lot of his back on that day.  I felt my own shirt and found that it too was frozen (like a wet towel stuffed in a freezer).  It may sound scary to think of being in 6 degree temps and covered with frozen sweat, but in reality, the ice probably provided an extra layer of insulation (think – Eskimos build their houses out of this stuff).

This day reinforced my philosophy that if you are facing a cold run, just get started!  You are much colder just standing around dreading the experience.”

Preach Hubs!  The hardest part is just before the beginning.  It isn’t getting any warmer folks and the Spring Races will be here before we know it, so in the multi-billion dollar words of Nike – “Just Do It!”

Looking ahead to 2018 – What Lifts You

Looking ahead to 2018 – What Lifts You

Tis the season for putting away things that are better left behind in 2017 and looking to the horizon to plan what could be for 2018.  It may surprise people who know me, but due to a lot of family “things” over the last few years, I have rarely approached the New Year with droves of optimism.  In fact, our family received another “bomb shell of worry” for Christmas this year that would make you think I would be approaching 2018 with the same measure of apathy of optimism as past years.  But oddly enough, this year does feel different.  This year feels like I’ve finally found that measure of maturity required to truly accept the grace associated with the “Serenity Prayer” . . . “Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;  accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.”

So what is different this year?

If I am being completely honest, it is my running tribe that has made me excited.  I blame them for an audacity of enthusiasm in the New Year that has hitherto been lacking.  Many of the folks in my running group, the Mad Cows, have set bold goals for the New Year.  Many of them blame me for their “bad choices”.  I tell them that they need better friends. We have folks who have gone from never running trails to signing up to run a race on the side of the mountain, at night, in the cold.  We have folks who started running 1.5 years ago and are now signed up to run an ultra marathon . . .or maybe two.  We have folks that made their goal to run a marathon in 2018 and then somehow ended up registered for a 50 miler.  My running tribe has invited me to be part of an exciting journey to run the Black Toe 12 hr Trail Race, the Strolling Jim 41.2 miler/marathon, and the sweetest one of all, the Tunnel Hill 50 miler.

So now that I have talked about the goals of our running tribe, what are the ultra running couples’ goals for 2018?  Our goals for this year are to stay in the moment and focus on enjoying each experience or alternatively, learning from each struggle.  We will not try to overlook or escape the experience by wishing it over or looking to a finish line that does not exist until we complete the run.  Our goals are to do what lifts us and during our journey, to do what lifts others.  So here are the race goals for 2018:

  • Black Toe Trail Race – 12 hour – We want to stay committed to the full 12 hours rather than get bored or tired and stop early.
  • Strolling Jim 41.2 miler – Our perpetual goal is to run the course in under 7 hours and earn the coveted “red shirt”
  • The NRC Dark Sky 50 miler – We have run 50 mile races but never one on a technical trail . . . and this race is a week after “the Jim” so the physical and mental challenge will be high
  • 100K – We have never run a 100K race.  We have run longer than 100K but never signed up for a 100K trail race.
  • The Barkley Fall Classic – This is some serious crazy.  We want to complete this prelude to the Barkley at Frozen Head State park.  We want to battle thorns and climbs and face the very real possibility of defeat.  We want to test ourselves.  We want the Croix de Barque.
  • Tunnel Hill 50 miler – We are looking to run the course in under 9 hours and bear witness to the Mad Cows who will be experiencing the distance for the first time.
  • El Camino de Lavaca – 225 mile Pilgrimage – We want to travel 225 miles in 10 days in a Texas “winter” with nothing but our trusty running shoes, our hydration packs, and each other.  If we can succeed, in 2019 – Vol State 500K, we are coming for you.

And then there are the “other” running goals that are even more important than adding to our race resume:

  • We want to do everything possible to help our running tribe meet their goals in 2018.
  • We want to run with new runners and meet with new running groups in our local community.
  • We want to have fun.  So simple and yet somehow we as humans often find a way to lose sight of the idea of fun and muck things up.

So with that, Happy New Year dear reader.  We hope you plan audacious goals in 2018 and that you do “what lifts you” and on your journey, do what lifts others.

Dirk’s Fat Ass 50 K – because you need better friends

Dirk’s Fat Ass 50 K – because you need better friends

It was on this day, the first day of January in the year of our Lord, 2018, that the 12th running of Dirk’s Fat Ass 50K took place.  Each year, a figure of legend, “Old Man Dirk”, challenges runners to crawl out of bed at an ungodly hour on New Year’s Day to spend their last day of holiday vacation battling uncertain weather and ill-advised hang overs for the glory of running 31 miles, with no prize, and no ultrasignup statistics.  Some say that Dirk is immune to cold and fear, that he is Buri, the primeval man of Norse mythology who had no parents but rather was created “by a cow named Audhumla. As she licked the salt blocks of Ginnagagap, [into] the shape of a man”.  Others say he is one of the White Walkers, and still others say he’s a dang swell guy who makes swank chicken and dumplings and serves the running community by being a great pacer at the middle-half marathon.

But I digress.

On this day, the temperatures were 6 F.  Yes.  6.  The winds were howling and the fear of hypothermia was real.  And yet, the runners came.  A rag tag group of Divas, Cows, “RIF”ers, Boro2Squarerers, and Nemos – no men (free of all running affiliations).  They showed up  in blankets, mismatched spandex, and wore cowls.  There were 26 brave souls who toed the line and only 2 who finished the full 50K.  A Badwater master and a Bull-headed man (my hubs)!

The course is simple.  Runners start from the home aid station located at the General Bragg Trail Head of the Murfreesboro Greenway.  They run a figure-eight loop that takes them for a 4ish mile quest through the hallowed Stones River Battlefield, back to the Bragg Trail Head, and then a 6ish mile out and back to Cannonsburgh Village along the smoky Stones River.  Complete the full figure-eight and you have a completed a 10ish mile Dirk.  Do it three times, and you have a 50K.  The course is mostly flat and all paved.  What makes the run difficult to complete is not the distance, but the sweet siren song of the Bragg Trail Head aid station.

Each year, runners pay no fee to enter Dirk’s Fat Ass 50K.  The only thing required is a culinary sacrifice made to Dirk himself.  He demands cakes, pies, chilies, donuts, beer, and bourbon.  This buffet is laid out in tribute to the runners’ suffering and available to participants each time they pass the aid station – which if you complete the whole distance is 7 times.  Dirk also summons forth a fire from the bowels of the Earth to create a fire pit which warms the haggard runners.  When you pass the Bragg Trail Head, the Siren’s of “Warmth, Comfort, and Rest” call to you.  And many will answer the call.  Each year, only a few finish the distance, but all appreciate the challenge and the fellowship around the fire.

This year, two runners silenced the Sirens and completed the run.  The Badwater master ran with smooth stride and fire in his eyes.  He wore a mantel of frost and knew no fear of elements or exhaustion.  He ran with purpose and killer instinct.  He ran with some bitchin’ sexy spandex tights that made the Sirens take pause.  The Bull-headed runner could not quite keep pace with the Badwater master but was completely oblivious to the Sirens, focusing mainly on cookies and puppies.  He ran with a “here to unheard of” singular focus, layered with a strange patina of ice and sweat, and imbued with a fierce desire to finish the distance after 2 previous failed attempts.  Men of legendary stature.

Is any of this true?  Meh . . . trueish.  And besides, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that on New Year’s Day, 26 runners braved the cold to find fellowship in frost and fire.  So next year . . . will you be with us and earn your way into running legend?

Bryant Grove Trail – Review

Bryant Grove Trail – Review

The Mad Cows were on the mooooove yesterday!  Say what?  My local running group is the Mad Cow Running Company (MCRC), located in Murfreesboro, TN.  For some strange reason, we like each other enough to crawl out of bed on a frosty Saturday morning to hit the trails.  We have a really great and dedicated group of folks so it isn’t uncommon for some of the herd to drive for an hour (or more) to find our next great trail running adventure.

Being in Tennessee, we have access to so many wonderful trails, it seems like I should start sharing the details with everyone else.  As such, I will try to share information about the trails we encounter when the herd is on the move.  Yesterday, MCRC went for a fun run on the Bryant Grove Trail.

Here the basics of the trail:

Location:  The trail is located in Long Hunter State Park (2910 Hobson Pike, Hermitage, TN 37076) – go in the main entrance of the park, make your first left, and the trail head is on the right hand side of the parking lot near the play ground.  There are number of other great trails in Long Hunter State Park, including a beautiful 2 mile paved loop around the lake, but we’ll focus on the Bryant Grove Trail for the purposes of this post.

Length:  The trail is 4 miles out and 4 miles back for a total distance of 8 miles.  The trail does NOT loop.

What else? The park opens at 8 am (sometimes earlier in the summer) and closes at sunset.  No pets allowed on this trail or in the Couchville Lake Recreation area.  There are bathrooms at both ends of the trail.  The trail is clearly marked with white blazes and mile markers.  And if you really like the trail, there is a 9 mile race there in August, sponsored by the Nashville Striders, called the Wild Thang 9 miler.

In my mind, this is one of the best trails for new trail runners.  The trail has minimal elevation gain (approximately 200 ft) over the course of the trail, so that runners can focus on the run.  Most of the folks I have talked to about becoming trail runners report that their biggest fear is tripping and twisting and ankle or falling and getting really hurt.  This is always a risk, but this trail is not super technical so it allows runners to get their trail legs.  In fact, yesterday I ran this trail as my first trail run after spraining my ankle at a trail race in mid-December.

I like this trail because it gives me an opportunity to run fast due to large open stretches without a lot of obstacles.  And let’s face it, the best part of trail running is the adrenaline high of zipping through the woods.  There are a few more technical spots that allow you to test out “quick feet”.  With short stretches of rocks and roots coming in clusters, some quick feet are needed to keep moving without tripping.  This is a good place to practice the skill.  If you are new to trails and want to get better at quick feet and improve ankle stability, I highly recommend jump roping.

If you come from the Couchville Lake Recreational Area side, you will pass by beautiful views of the water on your right during the first mile.  There is a mixture of cedar tree groves and single track trail but also plenty of parts of the trail where you can run two folks across.  The deer in the area are without fear and it isn’t uncommon for them to walk out onto the trail to investigate the people.  If you are lucky, and get up early on a cold day, you may also see some frost flowers like the herd found yesterday.

In short, this trail offers a lot of opportunities for new and veteran runners. For those dabbling in trail running, the trail allows runners the chance to practice basic trail running skills of quick feet and the ever important, picking up of your feet (so you don’t trip) without having to worry about hills, poor trail markings, or an overgrown trail.  As for veteran runners, it is a great place to practice raw trail speed.

The Currency of our Field

The Currency of our Field

In every field, there is a “currency” – a method by which we and our peers can assess our level of achievement.  The word currency comes from Middle English: “curraunt”, meaning “in circulation”, in the most specific use of the word, it refers to money in any form when in actual use or circulation is used as a medium of exchange.  I like this definition because the key elements in defining currency are 1.) being in circulation and 2.) being a medium of exchange – something of value to the users.

Let’s start with the first element of currency, being in circulation.  This may in fact be the most important part of the definition for us as humans.  We always want to be in circulation.  We want to be on the road, in the game, at the table, and we want to be relevant.  We as humans are terrified of becoming irrelevant and removed from circulation.

As for the second element of currency, a medium of exchange, in every walk of life, there is a currency by which we as a collective field, profession, and human race, assess achievement or value to ourselves and our communities.  As a scientist, our currency is often papers published, grant funding obtained, patents submitted, and in some cases tenure achieved.  As runners, our form of currency is typically PR’s (personal records), the ubiquitous Strava data, and “bling”.

“Bling” is the shiny medals, pint glasses, kitsch, and the most coveted bling, the belt buckle that accompanies the completion of a race and is tangible symbol of achievement in our community.  In an ever growing competition for our race registration dollars, races from 5K’s to 100 milers (or more) often give out bling of epic proportions to attract prospective runners.  Some races are giving our medals of dinner platter dimension and topping out at greater than 3 lbs.  That’s a veritable albatross to carry after a long and grueling run.

For ultra runners, the greatest currency is the belt buckle.  But of course, no one is quite sure when the belt buckle should be awarded.  I have heard from some members of the ultra community that a belt buckle is the highest level of achievement and should only be awarded to runners who have mastered (or suffered) the 100 mile plus distance.  Others maintain 50 miles of suffering is sufficient to warrant a belt buckle.  However, one thing that most ultra runners will agree upon is that belt buckles should never be given for anything less than 50 miles as that seemingly “cheapens” the awarding of a belt buckle because it is no longer special at shorter distances.  I have earned a belt buckle at distances ranging from a 50 K (see picture above from the Arctic Frog 50 K) to a 100 miler.  I also earned one after completing 5 marathons in 5 days.  I never felt I hadn’t earned it when I was presented with the belt buckle.

This issue of awarding belt buckles for certain distances or considering giving participation medals to race finishers (of any distance) is all one and the same; should we reserve our currency for only those runners who prove that can suffer the most or run the furthest?  It is a fine line between recognizing achievement in our field without becoming elitist.  I think at the end of the day, it comes down to each of us in how we choose to view our bling.  I have run a lot of races and have a lot of bling.  And in all honesty, when I look at 5 K participation medals and 100 mile belt buckles, I see the same thing, a memory.  A wonderful memory of a struggle, a challenge, fellowship with my running tribe, and the thrill of a finish.  I have run 5 K’s at paces well beyond my normal ability and wanted to lose my cookies at the finish.  Is that somehow less suffering or achievement than crawling to a finish of a 100 mile race?  Maybe.  But not to me.  If I give all of my talent and effort to a race, I have achieved and do not mind if the Race Director wants to give me a token to remember that effort.  That being said, I am far more grumpy with a medal when I have run poorly and not given my best effort, because then I am stuck with a memory of weakness and perceived failure.

I think that ultimately, it all washes out.  The most determined people who seek the toughest races and will be granted medals, buckles, or the coveted Croix de Barque as merited by their effort.  And the community knows the hardest races and will appreciate the struggle and the accompanying bling.

As for the rest of us mortals, maybe the currency is not the bling or the buckle, maybe it is the memory.  The memory that reminds us that we are in circulation.  That we sped down the trails (or roads) with reckless abandon and felt truly alive.  That we ran with our tribe (or herd) and struggled together and found value in a hard earned finish and a cold pint of beer (or chocolate milk) at the finish.  That in the end, we enjoyed fellowship and told stories about other races and running foolishness and that we held value to ourselves and our peers by simply showing up and giving our best effort to drive competition and excellence.  That we did not squander the gift that is running.  That most definitely is a currency of immeasurable value.

 

 

The White Runners

The White Runners

The White Runners, is a not so veiled reference to the White Walkers of Game of Thrones fame, an ancient race of humanoid ice creatures, who come from North of the Wall.  The White Runners (Walkers) are thousands of years old, from the time preceding the Age of Heroes. Born of powerful and untested magic.

Now you’re talking.

This is how I want to see myself as we slowly creep away from the Winter Solstice, with short days, and long nights.  A period of raw cold and wind.  Ice and snow.  I want to see myself as a creature born of powerful magic to usher in an Age of Heroes. A fierce runner.  In reality, when temps dip below 30 F, I want to don  fuzzy socks and fleecy sweat pants, wrap myself in a blanket, and beach myself in front of the electric fireplace like an overstuffed woolly burrito.  That image is infinitely less sexy.

I know that when temps are low and nights are long, others are still training . . .and so must I.  So how do you convince yourself to hit the trails when a Netflix GoT’s binge and tacos await?

Let’s start with how to dress.  The rule of thumb is that you should always dress for 20 degrees warmer than ambient temperature, as you will heat up when you start running.  For me, I consider windchill in the ambient temperature.  So . . .this morning’s temps at my house are a blistering 15 F.  This means my gear selection should reflect what I would wear in 35 F temps.  A few key tips:  1.) dress in layers with a moisture wicking base layer – this will pull moisture away from your skin so you don’t sit in your own sweat and get cold; 2.) wear outer layers that allow for temperature modulation – 3/4 zip shirts, vests, zippers in the sleeves/underarms; 3.)  if it’s windy, add a wind resistant, light weight outer layer; and 4.) Protect your face/ears and hands with hats, gloves, and buffs.  Additional ideas for how to dress can be found using this handy dandy tool.  And don’t forget for night runs, add reflective gear and headlamps – nobody needs to finally get motivated to brave the cold night for a run only to be sideswiped by a taco truck.

Now that you’re dressed to impress, how do you motivate yourself to get out the door?  For me, the hardest part is the first few minutes in the cold.  If I have a couple minutes standing around before I start running, I will surely lose motivation.  So, I always arrive at run group with just minutes to spare so I can hop right from my warm car to the back of my running pack until the blood flow gets going.  When running from home or work, I like to get all my gear on and warm up in the house/office (i.e. doing a few chores or stretches).  I have heard that some folks will drink a cup of hot coffee or cocoa to warm up before the run.  I also knew someone who took a hot shower and then went for a run.  They liked starting warm and fantasizing about returning to the hot shower after their run.

Regardless of how you do it, the principle is the same, start warm and get going.  Science agrees, you need to raise your energy level to make it easier to get over the energy of activation.  Say what?  For every chemical reaction (like fuel combustion in an engine), a certain amount of energy needs to be put into the system; you need to get over an “energy hump” (aka – energy of activation) to get the reaction to easily proceed.  And guess what. . .most chemical reactions use heat to reach the energy of activation.  So, grab the warm socks, chug a cup of Joe, and do a few jumping jacks, then get moving!

Winter is also a good time to set running “dates” and goals for the New Year.  Motivation to go out into the frozen tundra is easier found when you have a bunch of friends waiting for you.  We are fortunate in that we have multiple local running groups that meet during the week.  I am guaranteed to get in my week night runs when I meet up with my running family.  I also have several folks in my running group who have set ambitious goals for the new year – running their first marathon or ultra-marathon.  Big goals means big commitment so there is no room for slacking during the winter months.

So now that we are armed with the tools to face the cold and dark, it is time to rekindle our fierceness for running with more Game of Thrones references:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. . . I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

Aww yeah.  It’s time to run.

The Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) – A microcosm for  . . . everything

The Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) – A microcosm for . . . everything

Let’s take this one from the top.  The Barkley Marathon’s are the somewhat disputed pinnacle of ultra running achievement, or at the least, badassery.  The race takes place each year in Frozen Head State Park (TN), as close to April Fool’s Day as possible.  I will not go into too many details as the internet is filled with the lore and legend of the race, made even more epic by the release of the 2015 documentary, The Barkley Marathons:  The Race That Eats Its Young.  In short, runners start at a random time, one hour after the blowing of a conch shell and concurrent with the lighting of a cigarette.  The course is only sort of marked with “runners” using a map and compass to guide themselves along a 20ish mile loop to randomly hidden books that serve as way points along the course.  Competitors must run the loop in alternating directions for a total five loops (on the last loop, the first one back picks the direction and the remaining runners are distributed clockwise and counterclockwise based on that decision – not that there are too many runners to have to worry at that point).  And by the way, you have to cover the 5 loops of nearly 130ish miles, 54,200 feet of elevation, thorns, poisonous snakes, frigid temps, wasps, and white walkers (the last obstacle is a joke – sort of) in 60 hours.

The Barkley Fall Classic (BFC), is NOT the Barkley Marathons.  It does have its similarities, particularly that both are the brain child of Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus “Laz” Lake), both take place in Frozen Head State Park, and both cover similarly grueling terrain in the park.  The BFC is held in September and participants sign up to complete a 50K . . . sort of.  The reality is that at roughly 20 miles into the race, at Laz’s checkpoint, you are given a choice, to head downhill another several miles to a marathon finish (which is actually more like 30ish miles) or keep suffering and continue to the end of the 50K (which is actually more like 40-43ish miles).

[READER’s NOTE:  I keep giving miles as an “ish” as GPS is not allowed during the race.  You bring your toy, you go home DQ’d.  You share the map or try to run portions of the course on private property (outside of race day), you get DQ’d and banned.]

2018 will be the the 5th running of the BFC, which was designed to give runners just a taste of the real Barkley Marathons.  And that’s where it all begins.  Word has gotten out about this race, in no small part to the documentary and pop culture coverage of the Barkley Marathons. Not surprisingly, when word go out about registration for this race the ultra running (and running) community lost its collective mind.  Like Cinderella, the registration opened at precisely midnight central time on Saturday, September 23rd.  And literally hundreds of prospective runners crashed the ultrasignup site to snag the coveted 400 or so spots.  With seemingly no rhyme or reason, some folks got invited to the dance and others were smashing pumpkins on the wait list.  Running partners and couples were separated across wait list lines and experienced streakers with plenty of  croix de barques to their name were locked out while newbies on a whim gained admittance.

And then they took to the BFC Facebook page and social media in storm.  Newbies claimed streakers were selfish, streakers felt the newbies should have more experience before facing the task, and some even used the vile word, “unfair”.  There were demands for a registration lottery or showing a “running resume” to level the playing field.  To the credit of Laz, he came forth and “nipped it in the bud” and explained what happened with the website and was completely transparent about the wait list and how some people are specifically jumped to the front of the wait list line to be put into the race (e.g. streakers, some internationals, folks with a real shot to “win” the race, other geographical/logistical reasons) but most will rise and fall with the ebb and flow of drop outs.

And so why do I write this post?  Well dear reader, I was one caught in the midnight masses.  My husband and I have thought of doing this race for a number of years and it just so happened that the stars aligned that we were able to attempt registration this year.  As fate would have it, I registered my husband first and he was one of the lucky (or unlucky ones) who got in and I am wait listed.  Laz does not typically release the wait list as it tends to create a lot of fussiness and unrest so I have no idea how far out of the entrants I sit on the list.  Laz has conceded however, that there are 600+ persons on the wait list.  And I have said very little on social media and have simply watched.  And here is what I have learned:

The BFC is a microcosm for pretty much everything in life.  Sometimes you come prepared and you still get left out in the cold.  Sometimes teams and partners get divided and are forced to tackle a challenge by themselves.  Sometimes life is really not fair and those we see as deserving are not allowed to compete while those we see as wanting are given top billing.  And as is often the case, everyone thinks they are more justified than the next person.  . . and there is epic whining.  What I have learned, is that it’s not about the entrants or the wait list or the social media.  We can only control our training and our racing.

But perhaps most of what I know is that that just as in life, I do not know the day or the hour (if at all) that I will be called up, so I must be ready.  We are already working on Joel’s training plan and I will be right there doing squats, hill repeats, bear crawls, and every other torturous thing along with him so that he is ready . . . and so am I, if I get the chance.