Things nobody really cares about but I'll comment on them anyway

Monday, December 24, 2007

OK I guess it's go time...

Just looking over the calendar and realizing how quickly Black Mountain will be upon me. I ran just over 12 miles on Saturday at Warrior's Path in Kingsport near Amy's parents. This is where the love hate part of this goal comes quite clear. I'm dancing with the devil here. The thoughts of some etherial goal out there just beyond the stretch of fingers is addictive and intoxicating. Yet forcing myself back into the training regemine it will take to deliver me ready and worthy is like pulling proverbial teeth (molars here folks). I guess part of it's fear. Will my body handle this? That's a really long time, a lot of pounding, do I really want to put myself through this??? This isn't even mentioning the looming skeleton in the closet from Shut-In. Apparently there's a calf devouring monster on race day somewhere out there. It found me just shy of twelve miles at Shut-In and gnawed a little at the quads too.

And then I'm out there on the trail feeling the exertion, listening to the gasps, feeling the sweat pouring even on a cold day and the little voice is almost silent. Then I'm just hearing, seeing, smelling, even tasting the goal and already day dreaming out the next run and ensueing training. It feels good to be getting back into the swing of this. Twelve miles felt like such a huge distance and I guess still does. Running for over two hours wasn't ever anything I truly envisioned myself doing. And the truly tragic part is that I can't piss and moan over even the marathon distance because of my demented pack of friends that decided almost at the same exact moment that I was digesting the decision to run a marathon, to sign up for an Iron Man Triathalon. You know a marathon just isn't enough for these maniacs. No they need to swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles before they run their marathon. Did I mention these guys are all diabetic. Talk about stealing thunder, talk about emasculating your good budy Zircon. I mean just when I was thinking I'd bit off something that would be an admirable accomplishment not really for bragging rights mind you, well ok maybe for bragging rights in my own schitsophrenic inner dialogue. But now the guy across the hall who never really ran before is going to knock off the KING KILLER ACCOMPLISHMENT! OH yeah and he's doing it without a fully functioning pancreas. Madness I tell you. At least I'll be able to say I knew him before he was famous. Maybe I'll even get a cameo shot in the documentary their making about these guys. What delusions of grandeur???

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shut In Rideg Run (The Race)

Ok day before the race Amy and the kids and I blast out of Boone on our way to Asheville. I drop everyone off at our friends Dan and Laura and head to the packet pick-up/ pre-race meal. I got there a little early picked up my packet and then thought about heading out for a quick cruise up the parkway to scout the course but instead got to talking to a nice guy from Asheville who had run the race before. Turns out he grew up as a kid in Boone and Valle Crucis (he noticed my standard Friday attire VC t-shirt). Before we knew it dinner was set up and the room was full of runners. The meal was preemo. It just kept getting better the farther down the line you went and there was plenty of it. After dinner I did take the scenic detour up the parkway all the way to the finishing parking lot and then took a very windy highway back to Enka my old stomping grounds. It took forever but how funny it was to pop out back on Smokey Park Highway just across from the turn that went to the trailer Dad and I shared. From there I headed back to Dan and Laura's and had a good time hanging out before getting to bed at a decent time.

RACE DAY: Woke up to a rather chilly morning packed and repacked my camel back borrowed a few gels from Laura (these would probably save me during the race) had a light breakfast and we headed out. At the Arboretum the sun was quickly warming the chill off and by race start I was down to poly pro t-shirt and shorts. The start was pretty uneventful and despite the general nervousness about how really prepared I was I tried remembering some of the beta I had heard the night before. At the megaphone blast we ran downhill on pavement before gaining the gravel roads. Starts of races are my least favorite time of running period. Everyone is packed around you, all you can hear is their breathing, and all you want to do is establish your running rhythm which is nearly impossible with all variations of paces around you. At the same time you desperately want to get ahead of as many slow people as you can before the trail turns to single track. Within the first few miles I found the crowd beginning to thin out and the passing of runners falling off. The first hill was not bad at all and I felt very strong heading up to the parkway. As I recognized the first aid station after gaining the ridge that's when the trail began to get alot steeper. I found myself dropping into a power walk much sooner than expected but was not too worried about it as I kept track on my watch. After powering through that first hill and then following the descent I still felt great. I knew the big hump of Ferrin Knob lay ahead and after that the innevitable head wall finish. In between those first few knobs I hit some of the most beautiful trail running I have experienced. The leaves still hadn't peaked yet or were just peaking in color in Pisgah and the running was serene. I managed to choke down a few apple newtons and some water from the camelback. I tried to take water from most of the aid stations if even a few swallows. I remeber coming into the aid station right before the big Daddy Ferrin Knob and people cheering and saying now's where it really starts. I was still on a cranking pace and was beginning to feel the uphills a little more. I power walked almost the entire ascent of Ferrin, remember cresting the top and realizing that it shouldn't be any worse than that. Then running the descent into Bearverdam Gap feeling relieved at getting there in two hours and good, making it to the far side of the parking area and feeling the first calf cramps twinge in one leg and then the other. Rather conveniently during this time as I dropped to a walk I stepped over a log water bar and saw the telltale spiraling rise of hornets rising up to attack. They got me on the knee and back of the leg as I tried to hobble run past them still cramping. I made it past them and continued up the short climb trying to ascertain how bad this was going to be. I also remember immediately beginning to calculate where I was on the course and how much time had passed. I realized I had somewhere close to six mile left and was still determined to try and push through the situation.

The next few miles was spent jogging short flat or downhill stretches when I felt I could but otherwise trying to power walk to the best of my ability everything else. At one aid station I spent a few minutes trying to stretch out the cramps and eating a few banana chunks they had available. A fellow runner also offered me a salt tablet which I quickly swallowed. My new goal quickly changed to simply finishing. Secretly I still hoped to finish in under four hours but my mantra through all of this became, "I'm getting the damn t-shirt" They only give the coveted long sleeve shirts to the finishers. I was determined. For these miles I stayed pretty close to the guy who had given me the salt tablet. At this point I had eaten the gels I had been carrying. Heading across the road at the final aid station with the head wall looming above I was still powerwalking through the hills albeit at a much slower rate. Anything dead flat I was able to shuffle run for about 1-200 yds. before dropping back to a walk. As I came over the final small knob the trail dropped a little into a little wooded vail and I was actually able to muster a run as I passed the guy I had been hanging with for the past 40 minutes. I remember saying, " I don't know why I'm passing you right now but I'll see you anyway in a few minutes when you pass me back." He just chuckled.

THE HEADWALL: Yeah the guys who came up with this race were truly demented to set up a course with the kind of steep gain that the shut in holds for the last mile. It was brutal to say the least but I was able to keep moving. I began passing other casualties on the way up including one guy stetched out on his back in a small patch of grass beside the trail hands behind his back in a very relaxed pose. A little odd but oh well. In the middle of the headwall I realized that nobody was gaining on me even though there were people behind me. I began to delude myself into thinking maybe I can hold off any runners behind me. I could hear them talking and at a few switchbacks even saw them behind and below me but still managed to stay out in front of them. It was also at this time that I began realizing that a sub four hour result was probably doable. When I crested the final rise the steep descent to the finish began and my crampy and shaky legs became all the more unsteady. At this point I was hopping/ hobbling down the very stepped and rocky trail. I passed a couple of people who had finished and were coming back up the trail to cheer friends and fellow runners on. And then I could hear the crowd at the finish, the traffic on the road below and before I knew it I had popped out of the rododendrun into the short steps and finishing clock area.

I made sure I found where to get my t-shirt as I got hugs from Amy, Carter, and Dan who even snapped a few pics for us. I was wasted. Later when I picked up my camelback I noticed the salt crust on the shoulder straps and the level of salt depletion became readily apparent as a possible explanation for the cramps. But with t-shirt and 3 hour 54 minute finish under my belt I just wanted to get a shower and relax. We had a post run celebration at Barley's Taproom in downtown Asheville after a quick visit to Laura's studio.

Powered by CAKE

OK true confession time here. The real reason I have taken on these ridiculous running challenges is that it gives me an excuse to stuff my face with as many sweet things as I can find. Normally that has meant intentional denial of the self by simply not buying anything sweet ( if you really believe this I've got some ocean front property for sale). For those of you reading this that don't know I work in a school. In the top drawer of my filing cabinet is "THE STASH". For the past four years I have worked directly across the hall from a diabetic teacher. First it was Steve and now it's been Dave since last year. They have provided a rather convenient excuse to keep sugary items in this top drawer as an "EMERGENCY" supply of blood sugar spiking goodness. With Steve who rarely touched the stash I had to seek further justification. For a while I was the middle school hall's chocolate fix. For a while there I was even getting high quality regular contributions to keep the drawer stocked. We're talking HIGH QUALITY expensive dark chocolate goodies here. Now with Dave on the other hand who regularly comes calling there's been an increase in the variety of offerings including even some healthy fruit bars.

But I digress. We are currently in that magical HOLIDAY time of year. The flow of sweet treats through the staff mail room is ceaseless and of very excellent variety. Resting now for the temptation of all (particularly me) is the remnant of the cake from yesterday's faculty/holiday party meeting. What this time of year means for me is a time of hoarding any of the food gifts given by my students into the stash like a squirrel stocking up for the apocalypse while at the same time packing into my orafice any and all manner of sweet, savory, or salty snackage that appears on the mail room table. It's kind of like a bear packing on the calories for a deep winter sleep. Anything that will not last in the stash for at least a month is of course brought home to share. However, as Amy is also at a school she also brings home countless delights.

Which brings me back to the topic of cake. I can think of no other baked good that can bring the sheer volume of gastro-intestinal-emotional interactive joy than cake. Occurring in such a preposterous variety of forms I am convinced that there exists a cake for everyone. Frosting or no, dense or light, singularly flavored or a Potpourri of melding spices, how can you not love cake? I will not get into the hierarchies of cake divisions here but ponder if you will another more perfect blend of sugar delivery system. I myself cannot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Zircon's Run Criteria

In the past few years I have run only a handful of official races. But now that I am getting more serious about running I find that the races I choose still follow the same methods of selection as the others. Listed below are my general selection criteria for races.

Cost: The most easily overridden factor effecting race selection. Can be trumped by any other of the criteria listed below.

Difficulty: not a primary factor unless the race is deemed to be difficult and then this can be a reason in and of itself to run.

Novelty: Somewhat related to difficulty but also how unique the race is considered. Also in my nerdish tendency are there facts and history of the race that have to be learned to fully appreciate it? (see also Cult Appeal)

Cult Appeal: Somewhat related to Novelty. Is this race widely known or simply known by "The Inner Circle". Definately more appealing the more secretive the sense.

Regional: Location, location, location. I'm not big on road tripping for races unless of course the location of the race is a desireable destination all by itself. IE The Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC.

Convenience: not just in getting to the race itself but post race proximity to amenities (showers, good food, or other fun post race activities) This has led to the abandonment of a race or two. Amy and I were once signed up for a 10k in Fairbanks, AK during our summer trip there. After spending several days in essentially the least exciting location in Alaska we bailed the afternoon of the race literally a couple of hours prior to the start. Perhaps we should have stuck around and ran the race but looking ahead at a three day back-country trip and nowhere to get clean after the race, not to mention a 4-5 hour drive to get down to Denali National Park. We woosed out.

Shwag: Also can tip the scales for or against a race. Tech t-shirts, cool design shirts, long sleeve shirts, and othe gdunk. Aside from the BEAR all other races I have run have had only t-shirts. By far the coolest shirt has got to be the Shut-In Finisher long sleeve. It became a huge part of my motivation to finish despite cramping through the last six miles. (see Shut-In Run report). Although I still like the sound of the Virginia Creeper paper weight and no shirt.

Now as I look at future races while still training for my big upcoming first marathon, these criteria continue to influence my choices.

Shut In The Prelude

So as I approached the end of this Summer I signed up and ran in a couple of "fun" runs on our return from the road. OK so the BEAR is not exactly what you'd call a "fun" run but it is a short distance that feels very rewarding to complete and also a run that can be done perhaps not in stellar style "off the couch". The Belle Chere 5k was definately one of those more enjoyable runs both in distance, difficulty, and in experience running it with our friends Dan and Laura. Laura has gotten more serious about running lately and is one of those people it is easy to get psyched about running just talking to her. Both Dan and Laura have run a marathon in exceedingly fine style doing one of those programs where they raised money along the way of their training for a worthy cause then culminating in the successful running of a marathon in Montana a few years back. After the Belle Chere I was looking through the stack of swag and noticed a race called the Springmaid Splash billing itself as an extreme 10k . Come to find out Dan and Laura were already registered and so I quickly made up my mind to run it as well. The 10k distance was not overly intimidating even though the course was described as a single track with lots of hills and something about 4 stream crossings. Needless to say I was beginning to get sucked in. A thought was kindled in these days of running a race I had heard about, knew a few people that had run, and was a monumental accomplishment in my mind. They called it the Shut-In. Dah Dah Dah!!!

The Shut-In was the devious creation of the Lower Arden Track Club some time back in the seventies. They came up with a no-frills pure running (read that as sadistic challenge to any moron willing to inflict intentional prolonged suffering on themselves). I had heard of it off and on since leaving Asheville several years ago. It was always talked about with a certain reverence. Perhaps that is because it represented a 17.8 mile course climbing several thousand feet as it rolled upwards from the NC arboretum paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to the trailhead parking lot for Mount Pisgah. I guess it could have been worse and actually gone to the summit of Mt. Pisgah but the parking lot finish was plenty heinous I would no doubt discover.

I knew of a couple of people that had run the S.I. One was a dominating female Ultra-runner who actually had won events with distances like 50 and even 100 miles. Not exactly someone that would naturally inspire me to think I could do this. The other was the principal of my school. Wayne although a few years younger than I was not an uber athlete. I had seen him completely transform himself a few years back when I first ran the Bear. In the midst of a divorce he had thrown himself into running, dropped several pounds, and a few years later was still training and running consistently. He ran it the first year he became principal of my school. After hearing his account that year 2005, I actually began to consider the possibility. Wayne's story was inspirational in the way that you begin to believe that if you really did want to put yourself through something like this you could probably pull it off. Normally the distance itself was enough to snap me back to reality and say there's no way I would want to spend that amount of time actually running.

I have run off and on since high school when I used it as a way to get in shape for lacrosse. In college I started running a little more often on my own although I was never what you would call consistent. I would usually have a good couple of weeks and then wouldn't run for months. During this time though I could knock out up to six miles "off the couch" without too much difficulty. I even ran the odd fun run such as Cooper River 10k a couple of years. In 2004 going through a rather rough spot I ran the BEAR for the first time with almost no training. Since then I had run very little and was finding it difficult to motivate myself to get out. This Spring and Summer though something clicked and I found it enjoyable to have a goal to motivate me to run. By the time Springmaid rolled around I had pretty much made up my mind to enter. Leading up to Springmaid I had started running in and around my neighborhood which contains some sizeable hills in a rolling 4 mile course. Those runs paid off at Springmaid and although I didn't run all of the hills I was able to finish in just under an hour on a pretty demanding course. It was also secretly gratifying to catch and pass my friend Laura within the first half of the race. Back at the Belle Chere 5k I had caught up to within sight of her about 50-100 yards ahead of me in the last mile of the race. However, in the final half mile as the course headed into a downhill finish she kicked in the afterburners and I never saw her again. When I caught and passed her at Springmaid it was on a switchback uphill and I cruised past feeling great and saw it as a true sign of progression. At the completion of Springmaid as I sprinted to make it two seconds under 60 minutes I felt totally wasted. It was a feeling that was to hang with me until well into the next day. The post race conclusion was contradictory for me. On one hand I felt like I could do the Shut-In and wanted to work towards it. On the other had having completed roughly one third of its length on a demanding course it was becoming quite clear that this was going to be quite a challenge. But having accepted the realities I was now committed. A few weeks later when I downloaded the application it was with nervous excitement and also the lack of certainty that due to the limited number of slots that I would even get in. During this time I also began looking inadvertently at the Black Mountain Marathon. When I looked at the Shut-In it was billed as a race that was a pretty good predicter of a marathon performance. Although not as long in distance the elevation gain and difficulties yielded much longer times than the distance would suggest. I had been thinking of a marathon a friend had run the previous spring in Damascus, VA called the Virginia Creeper. It sounded like a great no frills first marathon and I was seriously considering it. I figured if I was going to run almost 18 miles I might as well take on a full 26.2. I'm sure you can imagine the internal dialogue or maybe not. It went something like.

"Yeah a marathon. That would be a nice personal accomplishment. Something to feel good about."

Little voice "But the longest you've run ever is 9 miles"

"Sure but I can train for this so many people pull this off."

Little voice "but you've always said you didn't enjoy running enough to want to do it for more than an hour."

Needless to say the little voice lost out in the excitement of possibility. He would come back every now and again to question whether I was really going to do this, but for the most part he was drowned out by the mental planning that happened incessantly around my training.

So I was committed and even decided that considering the amount of hill training I would be doing to prepare myself for the Shut-In that I ought to find a trail marathon that was more in line with the specific type of running I would be training for during the fall. Uh, that would be uphill running. I definately found a worthy challenge in signing up for the Black Mountain Marathon. But more on that later.

I spent the fall obsessing in the finest Zircon style over training runs and distances, hill running, and poured myself into reading anything on the web that could prepare me for what I had gotten myself into. I analyzed and re-analyzed the online topo map with the course super-imposed on it. I even managed to stay relatively diligent on my training regimen using a modified marathon plan I copied and taped into the cover of my school planning calendar. The miles started to build and even after an almost two week set-back involving a crick in my neck and the completion of our upstairs, I still felt good about my preparation. I also had worked in some runs up Howard's Knob and on to our neighborhood. They were grueling but a good measuring stick to see gains. My set-back had put me a little closer to the race with my longest runs but after a sixteen mile stretch in and around my neighborhood I felt as ready as I would get. Jelly legs and all I was out of time to get any longer runs in.