Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Meeting in the Clouds

“Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.”
― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

I shouldn’t be going south on Saturday to run the Cloudsplitter (25k) 100.  My event season should be over.  I know this.  I just can’t get this event out of my mind.  It’s the first year and it’s a pretty big step for Eastern Kentucky.  Ultra-running has come to the East Kentucky coal fields.  It’s something I want to be a part of.
Since I wasn’t certain until just recently that I’d be going down to Elkhorn City at the end of the week I really hadn’t been carrying on with my diet and running regime.  I tried half-heartedly, but nothing really stuck.  I’m back up to my resting weight. 
I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about doing well down south, but Saturday I went out for a scouting run on the first half of the Rugged Red course.  I was running it to ascertain conditions for a possible change in dates next year.  Would the course be in good shape at the end of September as opposed to the beginning?  That’s why I went, but I’m not reporting to you, so the result is irrelevant.
Bean had picked up a stomach bug earlier in the week and missed a day of school and a couple of cross country practices.  She went into the Beast in the East meet at Owsley County (Booneville) with less than normal Bean-levels of energy.  Poor thing finished dead last in her race, but she crushed the Beast: a short, steep grassy knoll that frightens young children.
Kicking at the end

Slaying the "beast"; my little lanterne rouge
Our daughter is doing us proud.  She has overcome the mental demon of climbing hills.  She has decided she’s good at climbing hills and she has become so.  She has learned to bend herself instead of focusing on the spoon.
I’ve told the story of the one meet I won as a teenage runner when I was a student at Springboro high school in Ohio, but there was a race where I actually ran smarter and performed better.  For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the place but it had something to do with wood or the name of a tree like “walnut” or “oak” or something like that.  What I do remember is that it was cold. The course was wooded and hilly.  My teammates and all of the other racers were dreading the hills.
In my mind I had decided because I was from Kentucky that I would climb those hills better than all of those Buckeyes.  For whatever reason it worked.  I passed demoralized Ohiotians (pronounced “OH-hee-shans”) throughout the entire race.  I came in sixth overall and was first, second or third on my team.  My memory is really fuzzy of the details.
The Beast in the East meet is infamous for its “beast” of a hill.  It’s really not so bad.  It is a little over three hundred feet long and gains thirty feet.  So it averages nine or ten percent for a short distance.  It’s enough to crush any hopes of a PR at the distance and enough to decimate the morale of young people who are forced to run up it by their parents and coaches.
Middle school racers squaring up against the Beast

Angle at the crux
All of the kids did really good considering the hype that gets thrown around over the hill.  Most of the race is flat through a cornfield.  Anyway…
Cloudsplitter is not flat.  The out-and-back format is nice except the 25k route runs uphill and gains more than two thousand feet before turning around and losing it like a fat kid loses his lunch in gym class.  My knees are humming a familiar ditty as I write this. 
During my recent Rugged Red scouting run/final Cloudsplitter prep run I felt as if I might have picked up a touch of the stomach issue Bean had.  My energy levels were way down.  My heart wasn’t in the run but I had the time.  I almost turned around and headed home twice before I ever reached the trailhead.  The first few steps down the trail were the toughest.  I was certain it was going to be a mistake to run away from the car. 
Strangely—as I suspected was a remote possibility which is what kept me moving on toward the trail even though I didn’t feel it—I threw down one of my faster average paces in general and  what I think might be my fastest time on the first few miles of the Rugged Red trails to date. 
The funny thing is I felt slow.  Strava isn’t consistent in the torturous terrain of the Red River Gorge so I had to do some critical analysis.  But because Saturday’s mileage came up short but my moving time is known the pace I set had to be faster than previous times.  The first climb (Cuss Joe Hill) went down hard under my pounding piston legs.  I shuffled along the ridge after gaining it, and only jogged down Buck Trail before snarlfing up the second climb, but once on top of the second ridge (Pinch Em Tight) I kept a steady pace all the way back to the car. 
Flow carried me through the hardest miles.  Mentally I just put my head down and ran.  I didn’t run fast; I just kept moving.  While I didn’t feel great afterward (for more than twenty-four hours) I didn’t feel awful as I ran. 
Sometimes things you perceive as friction actually ease your passage.  And that’s why I’ll never assume because I’m sick or tired or lethargic that I won’t do well on a run or ride or walk or crawl.  The human body is pretty amazing.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Relinquish the Hiatus!

Are you still there?
Good!  The recent silence here was an attempt to weed out the riff raff.  For those three or four of you who have stayed be prepared to be dazzled.  The best is yet to come.
The fourth draft is completed; though I wouldn’t say finished necessarily.  Believe it or not I’m already starting to throw down ideas for the second Leadville book.  I don’t really feel like the story is over.  There is no belt buckle in the tale, and I’ve hinted around that one of these days I’m going to run a hundred mile race.
One thing the Rugged Red convinced me of is despite my inherent mediocrity and lack of corporate sponsorships that as I move into my forties I do have the potential to excel at endurance racing.  I don’t have to do a lot of events—I’ve got plenty of private schemes to keep me happy—but there are two ultra events that whisper to me: the Cloudsplitter 100 in Kentucky and the Leadville 100. 
There is no timeline for either path.  It is conceivable that I could force culmination of either story angle as early as 2015.  I’ve learned that sometimes the patience to let the process take its course is as much a part of the endurance event as the physical part of it.  Sometimes you need long periods of time to truly develop the mental and physical fortitude to succeed.  Time is not a bad thing.
That’s saying a lot coming from me.  I am one of the most impatient people you’ll ever meet.  I have passed cars on the shoulder on the interstate.  Once.  Maybe twice.  And I was much younger!  But impatience is as much a part of me as the energetic drive to do these crazy things on trails. 
In the woods behind the house I have a trail that I’ve been working on for over a year.  It started out as a mountain bike trail but stalled when I took up this mantle of running.  Well, technically it stalled when the ground froze last winter and I just never started back on it in the spring.  I’ve made a little progress late this summer and through the fall intend to get it into good shape for running.  I can morph it into a mountain bike trail over time.  It’s three quarters of a mile long with about a hundred feet of gain in a single loop.  It rolls with the terrain adding a little elevation to the overall net.  As we settle into the long winter to come I know I’ve got a quick go-to place to get my running in.  I can stay off the roads.  I can run in the dark and feel safe.  And I can continue on into the wilderness of Kaincaid Mountain and its system of old logging roads and obscure ATV trails.  I have my running playground already at hand.
Fall is upon us.  I haven’t been a regular rock climber since 2005.  But each year when the weather cools and the leaves start to fall I pine to be one again.  I’m not in shape, but maybe this is the year I/we get back on the rock.  The kids are finally old enough to either enjoy it or not, but they aren’t too small to drag around through the woods anymore.  I was obsessed with rock climbing for a long time, but I truly did enjoy it.  I truly do miss doing it.
I have a few other announcements I want to make and things I want to pontificate about, but I need to get back into the swing of things.  The past few weeks I just let the blog lay fallow.  There wasn’t much to say and I really needed a short break.  If you couldn’t tell from this post I’ve also been struggling with things to write about.
Mandy’s Iron Horse is coming up quick.  I’ve tried to forget about the Cloudsplitter because I don’t want to overshadow her needs going into that race.  I find it hard to completely forget about it.  The Rugged Red definitely whetted my appetite for trail running, and I want to get an idea what the Cloudsplitter is like for next year.  I’m not saying I’ll be running a 100 mile race a year from now, but I’m planning on being able to run a 50k or 50 mile race by then.
Things have been evolving to the point where I may not be able to run the Rugged Red next year.  Right now it’s up in the air.  More on that in weeks to come.  If I don’t it won’t be because I haven’t trained or can’t run.  It won’t be because I don’t want to.  No, there are loftier things afoot.
Anyway, I hope to try and return to a more regular posting schedule.  I’m not just yet committing to a five day a week regime.  I still want to put more energy into my broader writing pursuits.  If I’m ever going to be a paid published author I need to be developing that aspect of my writing.

"Forest Fire"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shine On You Crazy Book Update

Awright already!

I finished up the fourth draft.  I think I really jubarred the continuity of the book, but it was pretty disjointed already, so its possible I might have inadvertently fixed the continuity problems.

In other words: I need HELP!

My original draft was 50,000 words.  Now we're clocking in at about 67,000.  The longer this thing sits the more I add to it.  That's not what I want.  War and Peace has been done to death.  I just want to be finished!

Secretly I want to begin writing my second book: Return to Leadville, wherein I chronicle my rise to notoriety as an ultrarunner.

In other authorship news my editor (I love saying that...well, writing that) tweeted this the other day:

That's right, I have a comedic effect on people.  I make them comedy out their noses.  I mean, laugh and spray coffee out their noses.  Something like that.
So I have a forthcoming short story, a book I need to get whipped into shape and published, and this hyere blog which probably does more to destroy literary appreciation than anything else. 
I have some other good book ideas and a few short stories floating around out there which I should be submitting to other places where they might end up being published.  So why am I still blathering on here?
Good question.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekend Photo Dump

Coaches Classic XC meet at Lykins Park in Winchester
Looking back cost her 25th place
Seriously, she did great with a time of 10:38 for the 1600m

Kicking hard

The Powell County elementary school girls won second
There were a few other girls who had already left


Jeaph's home skate bowl



Friday, September 19, 2014

Living Vicariously Through a Seven Year Old

Lily had her best run ever last night.  I'm proud of my little running bean.  Her team's cross country meet was near Owingsville in Bath County.

My mom came out to watch and I drove straight through from Lexington after work to catch the meet.  There were about five teams.  The elementary school teams lined up and were off without much ado.

Mom and I watched as my diminutive spawn ran across a soccer field and into the woods with her peers.  A few minutes later the field stretched back into view and here was my little runner about half a dozen from the back!

Until last night she had pretty much come in dead last in all her practices and meets.  It had been getting her down and she was somewhat embarrassed.  She wanted to quit all the time but we insisted she stick the season out.

With great pride in my heart I watched as she ran out of the woods and back around the soccer field.  With a good stretch to go still she started her kick early and ran hard past us with a huge grin on her face.  Instead of counseling conservation of energy I yelled "Run Lily! Run!" as she strode past.

When she was only a few dozen yards out she was still running fast and then I saw her finally slack off.  By then she was near her coach who urged her to go faster.  She kicked one final time with a rocket booster blast of speed into the chute.  She actually passed a couple of other runners at the last.

At the finish she sported a grin and was in great spirits.  Usually she's grumpy and complains of being tired and hungry, but she seemed quite proud of her effort and so were we.

I texted her mom right away and she texted back how proud she was.

Standing on the sidelines was hard for me.  I desperately wanted to be running with those kids.  I think I'm trying to live in the past and claim back some of the lost years when I didn't get to run cross country.  I ran my freshman year when we lived in Ohio, but when we moved back to Kentucky there was no cross country team at my high school.

Anyway, she has a meet Saturday and I'm excited to see how well she'll do.


How About a Book Update?

I was going to rewrite the whole derned thing.  I started at the beginning.  As I went back through the earlier drafts and my old blog posts and other writings mining for the important bits I realized that I still really like what I’ve previously written about my journey to finish the Leadville 100.  I don’t want to start over and rewrite it.  My emotions and observations were captured well when I wrote it all down the first time.  I can’t dredge up those beautiful moments from my fading memory better than I could when the dust was still settling around me and even before my wrecked muscles had recovered.
Instead I decided to go ahead with the re-ordering that prompted the notion of a rewrite.  One of the biggest concerns my volunteer editing team has come up with is confusion with the timeline.  Having participated in two Leadville 100 mountain bike races and then writing about both together can obviously be confusing.  So I put the chronicle of the first race right at the beginning.  The book begins with my dark moment on the side of Turquoise Lake Road when I quit the 2012 race.
Then I go into my background, how I ended up on the road to Leadville, and ultimately how I got back in and finished the 2013 race.  I strongly resist the urge to begin writing about my newfound love for trail running.  I’m leaving it all out, but there may be need for a post script referencing it if things work out as planned.
My task now is to make the re-ordering cohesive and that will take reading, re-reading, and reading some more.  But hopefully it will take less time than if I had gone ahead with a complete rewrite.  I now have a deadline to meet, but I’ll let you in on that in a couple of months.
And no, it’s not a publication deadline but more of an opportunity for greatness Lloyd.  Publication is still a crux. 

Cycling hurts my knees now.  I suffered a major setback after the Hub City Tour.  Running seemed to have strengthened them greatly, but one measly century ride has my bad (left) knee singing to me throughout the days.  The right knee—the one that pained me on the last ride—has felt great since I got off the cussed bike.  I went out running the night before last and it gave me no problems though now there is the lingering pain I felt when I rode more.
If I had access to a good gym (read: could afford to go) I’d begin working on strengthening my knees.  I’m going to have to just suck it up and look at DIY home methods.  I can’t afford to ignore this.  It’s not going to go away. 
In brighter news: fall has arrived.  This is my favorite time of year.  From now until at least Thanksgiving I live in a constant state of eagerness to be outside.  I can’t stand being cooped up with this fine weather existing just beyond my cubicle window.
Fall brings back good memories, as does editing the book.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What's So Challenging About It?

This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit.  This is not a story about me.

At mile 55 on the Hub City Tour I stared hard at my right knee—my good knee—and willed it to stop being disagreeable.  I was walking up the meagerest of hills unable to pedal my bike.  I could walk with no pain, but there was no strength in my knee to push the pedal and the pain fluctuated between a 3 and an 8.

Staring at that one foot as I pushed my bike up the tiniest hills.
Mandy was somewhere far ahead of me and for once I was the one suffering most on a long ride.  It rounded my perspective somewhat.  I felt some desperation as we rolled out of each aid station as the volunteers were loading everything up and closing the spot down.  We were the laterne rouge peloton: me, Mandy and Jeff and Casey.  We’ve never been the last riders on an organized ride before.  It was somewhat surreal.

Just before the first aid station Jeff had a flat.  Before the ride finished Casey had two flats.  Mandy and I had shifting problems the whole ride.  She needs a good tune up.  I’ve decided I can no longer ignore my gummed up cables and housings.  For a year I’ve neglected them and for a year my rear shifting has gotten progressively worse.  There’s no excuse for my laziness.

We were all suffering due to a non-existent summer of cycling.  Going into the Redbud Ride we all had some miles under us.  I was riding more to get ready for the Mohican than for the Redbud, but I had some miles.  The nasty winter had limited all of our saddle time, but we were making due.

The day of the Hub City Tour started off cool and overcast and that would be the theme for most of the day.  At times we were downright chilly and actually had to break out the gloves and arm- and knee warmers.  The cooler fall weather was a welcome reprieve from the oppressively hot Preservation Pedal.  That ride had been tough for many reasons despite our collective familiarity of the route.


By the time the Preservation Pedal came around I was coasting on my Mohican conditioning but Mandy rolled out in “off the couch” status for that ride.  For the first time since starting out to do the Kentucky Century Challenge it felt like a challenge for me.  I think we all felt it.

In the long weeks between the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour we became dedicated runners (training for our respective events) and left the bikes idle in a corner of our living room.  We rode the Gorge loop after District 10 put down some fresh blacktop and Mandy and I rode from Mount Sterling to Owingsville and back more than a month and half prior to the last KCC ride in E-town.

Two weeks before Hub City and with one week to go until the Rugged Red we were both bemoaning the situation.  Then it was still wicked hot and we worried it would be another miserably hot ride like Preservation.  I needed to focus on my trail run, and Mandy needed to be ramping up for Iron Horse.  The bikes had to wait a little longer, but we didn’t think we had that luxury.  For whatever reason we never got around to riding our bikes.

Making for very dangerous conditions
Jeff and Casey were in the same boat.  All four of us were dreading the sufferfest to come.  Mandy and I seriously considered just not doing the ride.  As late as Friday night in the hotel room in E-town we were discussing bailing on the ride.

Miles into it our sit-bones hurt, our hands tingled and twinged, and our necks ached.  Those things made me want to quit, but they weren’t enough to make me give up.  You learn to tough things out.  After a while you can just work through them.  That’s part of developing mental endurance.  I firmly believe mental endurance sticks with you a lot longer than physical.

After the fourth aid station (at 65 miles) our group was fractured.  My knee dictated I finish my century faster and earlier so Mandy and I split up there.  It was odd for us to do that.  She was going to be riding all alone.  We’ve never diverged like that: me, leaving her to fend for herself.  I felt like I was abandoning her to torment and death.  She seemed to be in pretty good spirits about it.

“I’m a big girl,” she assured me.  I had completely confidence in her, but still I was concerned for her.  It was a lot of miles to tackle on your own.  At that point there was 30-35 mile to go.

Early in the ride when we were all still together.
More reinforcement that fall had come in force.
Once I finished I jumped in with the roving SAG truck that was out sweeping the course.  At that point Mandy was the official laterne rouge.  She wasn’t too far back from another woman (who looked strangely familiar) and another guy who was struggling with cramps.  Her determination to finish was obvious.  She had many opportunities to quit.  She had good reasons to quit.  But she never looked like she was struggling or going to give up. There was a look in her eyes that told me she wanted to finish more than she wanted to live with the regret of not having covered the miles.

I watched from the truck as she pedaled on, alone, and out in the middle of nowhere in a strange place.  I was proud of her, but I worried about her.  Having been in lonely situation like that I know how deep you have to dig to find the will to keep going.  It’s not that I didn’t have faith in my wife—I know she had it in her—but that she would struggle to find her strength too long and give up without having tapped into it.

We all do that.  The strength is there within us, but we can’t manage to harness it when we need it.  Afterward we kick ourselves because we know we could have finished, but we gave in too soon.

I was waiting for her at the last aid station.  Just before she came in the last group of cyclists rolled out.  The familiar woman—named Michelle according to the SAG guys I was riding with—had just pulled in.  I finally put it altogether.  Michelle is married to an old climbing friend.  I’d bumped into him a month or so ago at the bike shop and he told me she was planning on doing her first century.  He hadn’t mentioned it was the Hub City ride and it didn’t occur to me until the SAG guys referred to her as “Michelle” and said it was her first century and she had said her husband had probably finished.

She didn’t recognize me at first.  It’s been seven years since we last bumped into each other, but we struck up a conversation while she recharged for the final push into E-town.  She was excited that she was going to finish her first century and told me it had been an ambitious goal to get herself active and off the couch.  She’d worked hard all summer and her efforts were ten miles from paying off.

Before Michelle pulled out Mandy rolled in to cheers from the volunteers.  She stopped next to me with a look of pure misery on her face.  She could have given up then.  I might have myself had I been in her bike shoes.

“Is there real food here?”

Sadly I shook my head ‘no.’

“Then I’m going to go on to the finish.”

And she took off.

Michelle left right after her.  I helped the other volunteers pack up the last aid station and jumped back in with the roving SAG guys.  We followed Michelle until she overtook and passed Mandy and then we followed behind her as traffic increased on the outskirts of town.

Heading into the intersection Mandy had a close call and my heart almost stopped.  She moved into the left lane approaching a left turn and the SAG truck had moved into the center turn lane anticipating her moving on over.  A car zipped past us on the right in the left lane and bore down on her.  They must have thought she was in the right lane.

I watched in horror as the car kept on speeding toward her without slowing.  In my mind I was praying for the car to stop and whispering for Mandy to get on over.

Finally, with only a couple of car lengths to go, brakes lights flashed and the car slowed hard.  I let out held breath.  My heart was slamming in my chest.  The horrific image of her tumbling head over heels through the air was stuck in my head.

At the same intersection Michelle went straight through and after making the turn Mandy took the lead.  As we came through in the SAG truck Michelle fell in in front of us and closed in on Mandy once again.  It looked like they were in a race for dead last.  It was going to be close.

The second time Michelle overtook Mandy more slowly.  As she came abreast of her she fell in and for the last few miles they rode together.  Later Mandy said Michelle was the reason she was able to ride those last few miles to the finish.  I was happy to see them sticking together.  Those pedals kept turning.  They both were fighting through those final miles.  There’s nothing quite like riding the last few miles of a super long bike ride.

At the finish Mandy looked beat, but there was a glimmer of satisfaction through the weariness. 

“I will never…EVER ride my bike a hundred miles again,” she said with dramatic finality.

“On purpose,” I added with my best devious grin.  The look she lobbed back at me almost quelled my warm fuzzy feeling.  I was so proud of her toughness and her resolve to keep on riding long after the fun had gone.  She worked hard to earn her 2014 Kentucky Century Challenge jersey.  If anyone deserves one it’s her. 

This year we all felt the challenging nature of it.  The SAG guys I rode around with asked how much I rode and I said two years ago I had been riding 5,000 miles a year, last year was about 2,500 and this year probably 1,000 or less.  It’s been a really sparse cycling year for us Chainring people.  That makes my beautiful wife’s feat of off-the-couchedness even more impressive. 
We’ve decided next year we’re not doing the Century Challenge regardless of how cool the jersey is.  Of course I said I wasn’t going to do it this year either.  Sigh…

Course was marked well, but as usual with these types
of rides could have had upright signs in key places

The Nolin River at White Mills


Thursday, September 11, 2014


At the end of this post will be my final Rugged Red photo dump.  I didn't take tons because I was actually running. 

Basically I wanted to jump in and say this Saturday Mandy and I and Jeaph and his wife will be heading west to E-Town (for E-lectric!) to complete the Hub City Tour and the 2014 Kentucky Century Challenge.  I had vowed not to do it this year and then Mandy fell in lust with the jersey.  Since we were already planning on riding the Redbud and the Preservation Pedal would be right on our front porch in Clark County we decided we could complete the Challenge this year and never, ever, never do it again.  No matter how cool the jersey would be.

And so now we're committed to this ride we had absolutely no interest in doing.  We've not been riding at all, and Mandy really wants/needs to be running this weekend to train for the Iron Horse in October.

We've debated just not doing it.  We were able to do two really good organized rides this year and they were both worth it.  So what if we don't get the jersey?

Except I think Mandy's earned the jersey already.  She did the Old KY Home Tour last year with me with no prospect of getting said jersey.  Then she did two rides this year.  It counts, right?

Anyway, so we're off to tick one last organized ride in 2014.  And after the Iron Horse it may be our last organized event of the year.  I'm still keeping my options open for the Cloudsplitter 25k, but that usually means I won't end up doing an event.  I'd love to do it, but...

I have already indicated my desire to be a proofer (in the tradition of the Tomahawk) at the Mohican next spring.  I'm not going to race, but I'll get to ride and get the t-shirt, free meal, atmosphere, etc., etc.

What I would like to do is get focused on just riding again.  I was adamant I was going to commute two days a week over the summer and into the fall, but so far that's not happened.  I was going to mountain bike more, just for fun, but again the plan kind faded into the background.  My running career took off and threw my cycling into a tailspin. 

Egad!  I have an amazing secret I want to share, but can't until it's already occurred and maybe not even then.

Anyway, work on the book has been slow, but I've made some more notes and organizational tweaks.  I think I'm getting ready to begin a NaNoWriMo type effort to rewrite it from scratch.  We'll see.

Here are your photos:


"When I grow up I'm going to be fast like dad"

Best event shirt EVER

We got $65 in donations for elementary school uniforms!


Megan Reiger: overall female winner, and she was also 7th overall

Joe Pawlish of Danville: masters division winner and third overall

Steph Lovely (race director) and Joe Bowen (creator and host)

At the start just before taking off

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To Be a Ruggedeer

380 signed up.  261 finished. 
A few suffered minor injuries.  Some became overheated.  Tons were tired, woozy, and wrung out like an old raggedy rag at the finish.  I know I was.
Thirteen miles is no giveaway.  I ran increasingly longer and harder distances all summer in preparation for the Rugged Red.  I was fortunate enough to have weekly access to the actual race route.  I managed to run the initial and hardest miles no less than three times in the months leading up to the race.
261 finished.  The winner came in one hour and forty-nine minutes after starting.  The second place racer came in at one hour and fifty-one minutes after taking a detour.  The other 259 runners came in spread out over the next three hours.
I finished just shy of three hours in and just a little more than an hour after the winner.  When I crossed the finish it was already hot and humid as only Kentucky in September can be.  Between the cutoff point at mile 8 and the finish there is a long stretch of lonely trail and one heartbreaking climb.
If you’re a mere mortal like me then somewhere around mile 10 you stop worrying about your time and hope you can still finish.  Early in the race I had a chance at a 2:30 finishing time, but after the second grueling climb of the day I lost my advantage and was looking at a 2:45 target. 
Somewhere around the base of Cloudsplitter (not associated with the race on Pine Mountain) I settled for finishing with hopes of ducking in under three hours. 
Sunday I was pretty wrecked.  Monday I let Papa Joe sucker me into sweeping the first “half” of the course with him.  We took a three and a half hour hike from the Rough Trail parking lot on Chimney Top (where the course first entered the trail) down to the suspension bridge at KY 715.  So much for resting this week!
I was able to reflect more directly as we hiked along looking for gel wrappers and empty water bottles.  Some of those trails I hadn’t hiked in twenty years.  Oh, I’ve ran them multiple times this summer, but taking the slow walk on them was a new feeling.  And it let me look a lot deeper at the experience.
The course was brutal.  I knew it was brutal.  The organizers knew it was brutal.  Many of the runners who came out and trained on it knew the course was brutal.  So many were surprised at the difficulty. 
The descents were knee pounding, ankle wrenching, slip-slidin’-away affairs.  They demanded focus and strength to negotiate at a race pace.  People pulled off to the side on the first downhill, seemingly overwhelmed by the severity of the grade.
On the first hill—Cuss Joe Hill—hearts broke.  Spirits withered.  On our sweep even Papa Joe was cussing Joe.
While he and I were out sweeping Monday afternoon something occurred to me.  A photo had been posted of Joe sending a wave of runners off on Saturday morning suggesting that he should run the race next year.  Joe is 71 years old.  For a man his age he’s in pretty good shape.  He’s not currently a long distance runner though.
But Joe has the experience to succeed if he wanted to be a trail runner.  He’s ridden his bike across the country and then some twice in his life.  He made two trips of 14,000 miles each.  He also walked most of the way across the continent on stilts to raise money for muscular dystrophy.  He’s mentioned that another 14,000 mile bike trip might be in his future.  He has that mental endurance that you need to be a Ruggedeer.
Monday night we hiked six hard miles taking down course markers and picking up trash.  We did the first two big climbs on the course and Joe and I talked about the difficulty of the course.  We’ve both heard from others and seen for ourselves that people are looking for challenging experiences like the Rugged Red.  If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth it.
So when I read headlines on a local news story about how a few people had been injured and that a bus had gone off the road carrying racers (no one was injured and the bus drove away) I had to reply: “and hundreds had an incredible time!”
If you approach an event like the Rugged Red or the Mohican 100 or one of the Leadville Race Series events with an attitude that the organizers should make it as comfortable and safe for you as they possibly can then you’re probably going to leave with a feeling of disappointment and perhaps even disdain.  You don’t go to those events to be coddled and carried along the way.  You go to seek and find the stone foundation within you.
The organizers of races like these provide a crucible for those who are willing to take on the challenges that the organizers set up for them to overcome.  I’m not saying that justifies a poorly run event, but it kinda means there are going to be challenges to overcome.
You may get lost.  You may get tired.  Your muscles may cramp.  You might slip and fall, twist your ankle, get stung by bees, or even pass out from the sheer joy of yourself running under the hot sun.  It’s the feeling of uncertainty you get lined up at the start that make events like the Rugged Red so compelling.  If the outcome were known there would be no point in setting out on the journey.  There would be nothing to be learned; nothing to be gained. 
I continually referred to my experiences in training for and participating in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race as a journey.  That’s exactly what it was.  It was a spiritual and physical journey that took me from an uncertain antsy state of rest to a peace and calm and stillness that is hard to achieve without overcoming adversity to get there.  My running journey this past year has been very similar and as rewarding as my Leadville obsession.  In some ways it has been more satisfying. 
To be a Ruggedeer means you’ve accepted that life is hard and you are not afraid to face the path ahead.
To be a Ruggedeer means you will keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how hard the trail becomes.
To be a Ruggedeer is to tell the world that you can overcome anything between you and your goal.

To be a Ruggedeer is to have an unbridled spirit and an unquenchable desire to discover your inner strength.

This is where the course left Chimney Top Road for Rough Trail at mile 1.7

Alright, it's time to move on.  I'm going to go back into hiatus mode and try to focus my energies on getting my fourth draft of my book finished.  I'll throw a post or two your way from time to time, but I really have to get this thing finished so I can work on getting it published.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm Calling You Out

It's called the Rugged Red for the Red River Gorge.  The Gorge area is a rugged terrain that has thwarted persistent human settlement.  The landscape confounds even foot travel with its steep slopes under towering cliffs below rocky ridges choked with scrubby pines and greenbriars.  Some of us frequently walk in its shady hollows and along its rushing streams that crash all toward the Red River.  We drink it in. 

My body is sixty percent Red River.  It's in my blood and bones.  The energy that erodes those sandstone promontories out of the sky rushes through my veins. 
Admittedly NOT in Powell County or on the Red River

C'mon Powell County people, I'm thirty pounds overweight, and I ran the inaugural Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon!  I'm pretty sure I was the only native Powell Countian who ran the race.  I know there are runners in Powell County.  I see you running past my house in droves.  I know many of you.  You're strong.  You're fast.  And now there is established a world class running event in your own backyard!

Commit to it next year.  Whatever fears or reservations you have now can be overcome.  We're smart people.  We can do this!  It was a tough course, though.  Tough enough to test your spirit.

I intend to improve my results drastically.  In a field of 380 I was 75th overall, the 60th male, and 6th in my age group (40-44).  I was the second Powell County resident and the first native to finish.  Out of 380 registrants only 261 finished.  Eight states were represented.  The furthest distance travelled was from Livermore, California.  There were 205 runners from Kentucky, 62 from Lexington, 38 from Louisville and there were runners from Estill, Clark, Montgomery and Wolfe Counties.  I would also call out runners from Menifee and Lee Counties to come out next year.   

We have no excuses.  We can run the trails in the Gorge after work, early morning, and of varying lengths.  There are also trails at Pilot Knob if you live in the western end of the county.  Heck, I have a hill behind my house with an old logging road I can run that would make a mule puke.  This week I'm going to be out raking the leaves and clearing the cobwebs and next week I'm going to start working on being the best darn hill climber in the state.  My training for the 2015 Rugged Red is about to begin.

We Powell Countians should be dominating this race.  A local should have won it.  I intend to do my best to win it next year.  This should be our thing.

The author of the book of Proverbs wrote:

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Joe Bowen has created an event to benefit our community.  No matter what you think about Joe he is trying to sharpen you—us—and we should seize this opportunity in our community and make it bigger than any event like it in the state.  We need to support it, promote it, and by gosh we need to participate in it!

Your fitness level does not matter.  All that matters is what kind of spirit you want to have for yourself.  If you don't run now look up a couch to 5k training planYou could be in shape for it in time to do a Thanksgiving Day run.  If you are really ambitious try a couch to half marathon and focus on training to the distance on the road first.  If that's too much to wrap your mind around work on the couch to 5k first and then try a plan for 5k to half marathon.  That's how I trained for my first half.

If you’re already a runner then seriously consider stepping up to this challenge.  If you've run half marathons on the road it's simply a matter of conditioning your body to trail running.  If you already trail run then you have absolutely no excuse not to do the Rugged Red next year.

If you run but not that far you have plenty of time to ease up to the distance and condition yourself to run on trails. 

Another local race that needs to grow and needs more community support is the Kiwanis Natural Bridge 5k in May.  It's a fantastic course from the Sky Lift parking lot to the lodge, across the lake and back to the start.  If you've never participated in an official running race you should consider doing it.  Once you do that race next spring you could have plenty of time to train for the Rugged Red.  We also have at least two other 5k events in the county in a given year.
PCHS cross country team in action

Ok, so I'm calling all of you out—my fellow Powell Countians—not because I think you'll fail and put your weakness on display, but because I know you're strong and I want everyone to see your successes.  This race will grow bigger than it has started out.  It was mostly central Kentuckians that participated, but soon the popularity will grow and it will become hard to get into the race, and by then our community will have seen hundreds or thousands of out-of-towners run our trails.  Why not get out ahead of them and show them what we've got?
I'm not saying that everyone out there should be a runner, or a hiker, or a rock climber, or a cyclist.  But we need to own our natural assets in a meaningful way.  We need to take pride in what we have to offer the world that's unique and inspiring. Our landscape, and this race, inspire people. 
There is a group of local people who have started the Powell County Search and Rescue (SAR) Team.  They came out and supported this event in a huge way along with Wolfe County SAR and Menifee County SAR.  They do a lot of good work for visitors to our community and for us.  They provide an advanced level of rescue service to our area.  Please support them.  Please donate to their efforts if you can. 

There were many local people involved in the planning and organization of the event and their energy was crucial to the success of it.  The local government agencies were supportive throughout, and early reports are they are satisfied with the outcome. 
In regards to putting my money where my mouth is I propose the formation of a local running club.  It could be a positive environment where we can share ideas, encouragement, and resources.  The more people that are involved the better it will be.  You don't have to want to race, or run trails, or run on the road, or run fast.  But any of us can benefit by getting involved in a healthy activity and forming stronger community ties.

What say you?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hare or Tortoise: Local Boy Represents!

I saw the sign next to the trail:

Mile 12
The Rugged Red 
Half Marathon

Ever fiber of my being wanted to begin my kick.  I was on a downhill with a short creek crossing and insignificant climb out, then a gradual downhill, a short bit on the road and into Gladie Creek historic site to the finish.  I wanted to kick.  Actually there were some fibers of my being that didn’t want to kick.  My energy was gone.  My engine was boiling over and running hot; ready to ‘splode.

I was off my goal pace somewhat.  Two hours and thirty minutes was what I wanted.  When it was obvious I couldn’t make two forty-five I decided there was no way I was going to be over three hours.  But then I had nothing left to push with.  I could keep running but only just.

I passed a slower runner who was standing beside the trail.  He then fell in right behind me and hung right off my heels.  My brain didn’t have the energy to deal with someone passing so I pulled off to the side.  He stopped in the trail.

“You can go on; I’ll follow you in.”

Exasperated I took off again.  But then I realized I didn’t have to worry about him passing me.  And when I came out of the woods at the Bison Way trailhead he was nowhere to be seen.  I ran across the finish line alone.  At 2:57:22.

I started in the first wave right on the dot at 8:00 am.  It was almost anti-climactic.  The bus ride up to the start from Stanton was long and stiffening.  We only had twenty minutes to loosen up before the start.  Three hundred people cued up for five porta-johns and hoped to void their bladders before their wave was released upon the sloppy trails of the Red River Gorge.  I did the math.  My bladder had no hope.

It’s good knowing the area.  My warm up involved heading a few hundred yards down the unofficial Half Moon trail to a sizable tree, then a slow jog back doing high-steps, skips, and high kicks.  I stretched some in the starting corral, and then we lined up.  Before I had time to let my gut churn we were off.

I was in the first wave.  Some fast people were in the first wave.  Some fast people took off and I never saw them again.  I sorted to the back soon enough.  Near the end of the initial two miles on gravel Chimney Top Road I was sorted into the second wave.  I worried then that I was going to have a bad race.  Had I carb-loaded too much?  Was my breakfast still weighing too heavy in my belly?

My rigid plan went out the window as I ignored my first fueling cue when I turned onto Rough Trail.   Nothing was settled in my gut.  I grabbed a cup from the water station and sucked it dry.  Then the trail part of the race (the entire remainder except a tenth of a mile or so on the road at the end) began.  I stayed ahead of the second wavers who almost overtook me before the water station.  The first big descent comes right away and I quickly caught up with some of the faster second wave Ruggedeers before the initial steep part was behind us.

The field was bunched up until we reached Cuss Joe Hill.  The fastest went on, running up the steep terrain, while the mere mortals like me who had been fortunate enough to fall into the early waves struggled with the ridiculously steep lower section of the Koomer Ridge Trail climb.

A steady effort seemed prudent so early in the day.  It was already warm, I was already lagging, and the field had proved to be formidable enough to dash any hopes I had for accidental glory.  When I reached the easier ridge section of Koomer I had finally sorted into a gap in the field.  I was all alone as I raced toward the Buck Trail junction at my 11:00/mi pace. 

My chest was heaving as I turned onto the familiar descent.  Two runners had caught up with me, but when I dropped off the ridge the gap between us opened far enough that I didn’t even hear them behind me.  Finally I my legs had loosened up, I was hitting my stride, and it seemed like there was some hope for me to finish strong.

An old acquaintance from my climbing days was the course marshal where Buck crosses Chimney Top Creek.  She gave me a high five and said I was doing great.  That actually put a spring in my step as I leapt deer-like from the cool waters of the stream onto the short flat section before the second gnarly climb of the day to gain Pinch Em Tight Ridge.

Runners caught me low on the Buck-U segment.  Two guys passed me wearing the exact same shoes as me: the Brooks Cascadias in black and red.  By the end of the race I had seen enough of those shoes to think they must have been the official shoe of the Rugged Red.  Or should have been anyway.

Powell County school colors

While Buck-U is technically easier than the Koomer Ridge climb it feels more brutal as there is little recovery between the two.  And then after the crux low section was behind us the long gradual ridge climb to the Sheltowee junction was a relief and a strength-sapping deceiver.  I knew this though, and only ran hard enough to slowly recover and slowly increase the speed.

When I heard Tomahawk in the distance I knew the next turn was close.  He was marshalling at Buck Trail and Sheltowee/Rough. 

“Hey Tom-MEH!” I called before he could see me.  I heard his cowbell clanging and smiled to myself.  Then I heard other voices calling and more hands clapping.  Tom had a lot of company at his station.  The Rugged Red SAR team (a combination of Powell, Wolfe, and Menifee SAR teams) was there as well. 

The local SAR teams really stepped it up for the event.  They did an awesome job and were out in force.  I chatted Friday night with the Powell County folks at the expo and Mandy and I have been discussing the possibility of getting involved with them.  After all my years of recreating and guiding in the Gorge it might be time I started to give back a little more.  My knowledge of the area would be a huge asset to the team as well.

Anyway, I moved through just shy of a 12:00/mi pace, but I had a solid three miles of significantly easier trail ahead of me.  Others knew it too.  Along Pinch Em Tight Ridge I began getting passed by more and more people.  They all looked fast.  I knew they must have been from later waves. 

I carved out a niche for myself just before the descent.  I didn’t want to have to pass or be passed by anyone coming down from Pinch Em Tight.  I knew I could make good time but it’s also a tight and tricky section.  It went well.  Near the bottom I caught up with a young lady and we actually chatted for a bit through the lower limestone band and out to the second crossing of Chimney Top Creek.  That’s where the long flats begin and I took advantage of her hesitation at the second crossing, took the lead, and opened my throttle wide open.

Here’s where I wish Strava had been accurate for me on Saturday: it showed I ran mile seven at a 3:59/mi pace.  I assure you, as strong as I felt on that mile and a half section I did not run that fast.  I wish I knew what it really was, but it doesn’t matter.  I reached the swinging bridge at mile 8 feeling solid.

Climber Kipp caught up with me as I crossed the road.  Joe was there cheering people on and he saw me.  It wasn’t quite a Ken Chlouber moment, but it was close.  Give Joe a few years doing this and I’ll be he takes on more of that kind of persona.

Kipp and I stopped at the water station.  I was running low and wanted my hydration pack to carry me the final five miles so I needed that extra bit of fluid.  We dumped our cups and as we started up the trail Kipp said he was going to walk and then we could run after the first hill.  I was down with that up until the point when he took off running.  I’d found my limit for the day.

The humidity felt heavy on me as we gained that initial hundred feet or so.  It’s long and gradual before you get into a nice smooth section of contouring trail that seems to go on forever (FOR-ever).  That was the section Jeff and I ran the week before.  I’d crushed it that day.  On race day I felt sluggish and weak.  I had nothing to throw at the short hills.  I kept up with Kipp for a little while, even passed him while he slowed to eat and drink a little, but then he passed me followed quickly by a group of four, and then I lost him for good.

My energy ebbed and surged through that long section.  I made myself eat and drink.  I kept hoping to see mile 10 and mile 11.  Somehow I missed the 10 sign, but 11 was very welcome to see.  It meant the last big climb was just around the bend.  I held out hope that after the last climb along the ensuing mile and a half of descent I could kick hard.

I labored with a few other runners up the climb.  That’s when my head started radiating heat, or gamma rays, or flames, or something.  It was almost 11:00 am and the cold front that had been predicted to pass over us about that time had failed to make a showing.  The sun beat us down as we climbed out of the still air under the canopy to the more open ridgetops.  Even when I began the wicked steep descent after Indian Arch I didn’t feel much relief.  Once the trail leveled out around about 11.5 miles I had nothing to give.  I could only keep my feet moving in semblance of a race gait.

As we passed under the Frog’s Head overhang I dug a little deeper and found something.  I kicked it up a notch.  There was a young lady ahead of me that I just couldn’t catch, but I was determined not to lose sight of her either.  I chased her for a half mile and then she was gone.  When I turned on Bison Way, the final mile, I caught a glimpse of her down near the creek even as I heard footsteps coming behind me.  Keeping ahead of a runner behind I knew a passing was coming once I started the super-short climb out of the small drainage to the final contouring section of Bison.  I was right.

The short climb with its newly reconstructed steps took all of the life left in my legs and ground it away to nothing.  I felt light-headed.  After the first switchback I worried I would fall over the slope and back down on the trail below.  When I turned the second switchback the runner that had passed me started running.  I bore down on my wrung out sense of will and started running for the final push.  That’s when I passed the stalled runner and he fell in behind me.  That’s when I knew I had no energy left to kick with.  That’s just before I could hear the announcer over the PA and the finish line crowd cheering in finishing runners.

Bison Way was slop.  I took great care not to slip-n-slide.  I just wanted it to be over, to feel the weight of the medal around my neck, and to fall down in the grass at Gladie and die.

Across the stone bridge, past Mike Kelso (don’t taze me bro!), down through the grass, and up a loose gravel path with a short hill.

“C’mon, you can do it!” spectators were calling.  I walked the hill until I could see the finish a few dozen yards hence.  Boone stood grinning off to my left.  I saw the finish clock:  2:56.

“Ah!” I gasped.  And I ran.

I saw Mandy with the camera.  I saw her point it at the finish as I passed her while attempting to grin.  That might have been a mistake.  I think the grin took the last of my energy.  I basically walked across the line as the clock ran past 2:57:22.  I was done.

It took everything I had to accept the cold washcloth from a volunteer and walk out of the way of the finish.  People were calling out.  I saw Kipp off to the side soaking wet from his efforts and I managed to let my grin go as I saw him hoping it would look like I had acknowledged his presence.  He nodded at me and waved, banana pausing on its way to his mouth.  My mind retched.  My body had no juice to retch with.

I was past the chute and didn’t see Mandy.  Boone had kept up with me so I sort of hugged him as he bumped into me.  Then there was Lily, and Mandy, and we were all together again.  I sat down hard on the cool ground by a tree despite Mandy’s protests.

“I have to,” I answered her admonishment not to stop moving.

She kept bringing the washcloth back to me with ice-cold water.  And for an eternity that’s all my mind could process despite questions, comments, and suggestions from the peanut gallery.  The external world and my internal dialogue was a cacophonous white noise that cancelled out everything I was feeling.  I knew I should stretch.  I wanted to get up.  I wanted to watch others come across the line.  I wanted to care about the world around me but I could not muster the energy to care about anything other than the presence or absence of that cold washcloth.

“Are you cooling down?” a voice asked.

Somewhere near the center of the spinning of my mind I answered: “I think I want to stand up.”

I didn’t know if I would cramp, if my legs would buckle, or if I would just topple over as soon as I got upright.  Thankfully I was next to a substantial tree and used it to remain perpendicular to the earth until my mind was able to take over that task.

We managed to wander over to talk with Kipp, Dan, and Al—all local climbers—and only then did I started to feel like I was in the same time zone with normal again.

Come to find out Al and his wife are regular climbers and they got their start with a climbing guide that shares my name many years ago.  They’d hired him through Red River Outdoors.  Wait a minute!  I desperately wanted to remember Al’s face, but what I eventually did remember is Tomahawk calling out to Al’s wife Doris as she climbed that day so long ago: “You’re getting new technique with every move!”

Tomahawk was a fixture in our guiding business.  We had a lot of good times, and it was a pleasant surprise—almost overwhelmingly so—to reconnect with Al and Doris after so long and find out that we had a hand in getting them started as climbers.  They’ve been involved in the local community and seem to have done a lot of good for it.  That was a priceless memory.

I was 75th overall out of 261 finishers and 380 registrants.  I was the 60th male finisher.  In my age group (40-44) was 6th; 4th if you don't count the two forty-somethings who placed in the masters division.  

There’s more to tell about the inaugural Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon, but I’ll save it for next time.  Suffice it to say I am incredibly satisfied with my effort.  Mandy keeps telling me how proud she is of me for all of my hard work and how well I did.  We are sold on the benefit of this race to our community.