Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Inspirational: Back From Africa...Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

I just had to share this.

The following is an e-mail that I received from Mike Schupp. Mike and Barb Schupp have run with us Trail Nerds in the past, and they have run a few ultra trail runs together.

Mike is a true renaissance man. He uses both of his right and left brains more than most folks use the whole. He can paint a beautiful portrait, play the piano, build and wire a house, or replace a transmission on his van. He and I used to run a lot of long, early morning runs together. A few years ago, he personally pushed me (and Dan Kovacs) at the St George Marathon, and helped us both to qualify for Boston at that race. He is one of the runners that inspired me to run ultras in the first place.

Barb and her smile are a joy to be around. She is a very talented runner and a great athlete, in general. She decided a couple of years ago to get her doctorate in dentistry; she was accepted into the program, and is now working toward that goal.

Both of them are very busy at being parents, as well. The two of them took some time out of their busy lives to complete this marvelous feat.


Barb and I are back from Africa. What an incredible
experience. Putting the experience into words is
difficult. Hopefully will we be able to share
pictures with you and give a better perspective on
everything. We were blest during the trip with making
all our connections, no lost luggage, injuries, or
illnesses. The flight and travel time to and from is
very long. We left Kansas City Friday morning, 6/30
and arrived in Tanzania late Saturday night (plus 8
hours). Our first nice was in a very nice lodge where
we meet out guides for . The next
day we moved to a ranch in a large animal reserve
where we were in luxury tents and took a walking
safari. Fun, but the elephants decided we shouldn’t
be there and we decided not to argue with them. The
third morning we divided our bags between what went up
the mountain and what could be sent on to the animal
safari portion of the trip. Our mountain gear was
divided between what the porters would carry and what
we would carry. The maximum weight for a porter was
about 33 lbs. We typically carried between 15-20 lbs
in our backpacks. After baggage sorted and weighed,
we headed off on a long and very rough ride to the
gate where we would check in with the park rangers.
It was hard to call the roads roads by any definition
we have, and Land Rovers are not the most comfortable
vehicles. The villages we went through were very
poor…hard to imagine living like they do. The
Tanzanians are very friendly and happy people. They
call their country the “Island of Peace.” Basically
the Masai and Chagga tribes were in the areas we
traveled. Barb decided she would have a difficult
time living in the culture where women have very
little status.

Once we were registered, it was another hour or so
ride on the rough roads to the entrance where we would
start our trip up the mountain. In hopes of telling
the story with pictures, I won’t give a lot of details
in this note. The first day was through the rain
forest, which fortunately for us, was fairly dry (not
the case on the way down). Our first night was a
Forest camp, about 9,500 ft. Day two we emerged from
the rain forest, through the Heather region and into
the Moraine to Shira 1 camp, 11,700 ft. Day three was
a fairly easy trek across the Shira plateau to Shira 2
camp, 13,000 ft. We took a side trip to climb the
Shira Cathedral which was the original top of the
mountain. We had lunch on the side of the mountain.
The meals were incredible…you will have to see the
pictures to believe. Day four took us to Lava Tower,
15,100 ft. We climbed to the top of the tower which
had some precarious rock scrambling sections. That
night we had some very strong winds…guessing 50-60
mph. Fortunately, we didn’t run into such strong
winds again. Day five we went down to Karanga camp,
13,000 ft. Day six was a hard day of climbing back up
to Barafu camp, 15,100 ft. What made it particularly
hard was the Baranco wall…1,000 ft of almost straight
up climbing, scary at points. We were amazed at how
the porters could manage the climb while balancing
loads on their heads and backs. As we approached
Barafu we first could see the camp on the next
ridge…looked like only about 30 minutes of hiking.
After a few more steps, we saw that there was a deep
gorge between us and camp. Needless to say, we were
very glad to be in camp that night.

We could see the trail we would take the next morning
to the crater…looked long, steep, and cold. We didn’t
sleep very well that night. We got up at 5:00 and
were on the climb a little after 6:00 AM. It took us
eight hours of the hardest effort Barb and I could
remember doing to reach the rim of the crater, 18,700
ft. We celebrated with a song and congratulations
from the guides. We headed down into the crater and
the 45 minute walk to our camp in the crater. The
feeling was breathtaking and beautiful. By the time
we got to camp, Barb had a very bad headache and took
some medicine and went to our tent. One other guy,
John, and I headed out for the Ash Pit (the center of
the volcano). The trek was about 45 minute climb up
to 19,000 ft across hard packed snow. The volcano is
still technically alive and there was sulfur gas
coming out on one edge. We took pictures and head
back down to camp. We had to force ourselves to eat
and drink at this point. That night the temps dropped
to 10 degrees F. Everything was hard to do in the
cold and low atmosphere. During the night my head
started hurting fairly bad. At 3:00 AM I decided I
needed to drink more water. By 5:00 AM I had consumed
a liter of water and my headache was mostly gone.
None of us slept much that night. Even our assistant
guide was getting headachy and sick. By 6:00 AM we
started the final 600 foot climb up the steep crater
wall to the Uhuru peak: the highest point in Africa,
19,433 ft. The climb took us about 1.5 hours to reach
the upper rim of the crater. From that point it was
an easy walk up to the official top of the tallest
free standing mountain in the world. What an awesome
feeling to have made it. We took pictures and then
started our descent. Going down to Barafu camp was
much easier than climbing up. What took us eight
hours to climb up, only took us 2.5 hours to descend;
most of the time we were “skiing” down through the
volcanic ash and sand…kind of like x-country skiing
our way down the mountain.

We arrived at Barafu around 10:30 where we were able
to change out of most of our artic gear into more
comfortable and cooler clothes for the next 5,000 ft
descent to Maweki camp at the edge of the Rain Forest.
On day eight we had climbed up 600 ft and descended
about 9,000 ft. The camp was in the middle of a cloud
and everything was soaking wet, but we slept like
babies. Amazing what some extra oxygen will do. The
next morning we started our trek down the final 5,000
ft to the gate. The hike was through rain and all
mud. We were glad that we hadn’t gone through so much
mud at the beginning of the trip, which would have
been a real mess to deal with. We didn’t care at this
point because we knew we would be off the mountain
soon. At the gate, our crew had a big celebration for
us and the park authorities presented us with a
certificate of accomplishment for reaching the peak.
Leaving the crew was hard. We had grown attached to
them and them to us. The meals were awesome, so much
more to tell.

That night we were taken to the Kigongoni lodge in
Arusha where we had our first soft bed, shower, and
relaxing meal in nine days. We washed out some
clothes and let them dry on the balcony as we made
ready for the safari part of our trip. The next day
we headed for the Ngorngoro Crater for 2.5 days of
animal viewing. To our disappointment, it was cold
and damp in our camp on the crater rim each night.
The setting was beautiful and the elephants and lions
roamed around out tents at night. The crew did hire a
Masai warrior to guard out camp from the other Masai.
Apparently, they consider is dishonorable to steal
from other Masai, but not from non-Masai. We did have
safari style showers. They brought us warm water, but
with the shower outside, just canvas walls, the wind
and air was cold. Still, showers felt wonderful. The
animal viewing was wonderful.

From the Ngorngoro Crater we bounced across about 150
miles of rough dusty gravel roads to the center of the
Serengeti where we again were in nice tents. The
temps were moderate at 60 degrees at night and in the
low 80s during the day. We could finally relax and
feel warm. We ended up seeing almost every animal of
Africa: lions, elephants, zebra, giraffes, wart hogs,
cape buffalo, leopards, cheetah, hippos, crocodiles,
wildebeests, topes, hart beast, eland, Thomson
gazelles, hyenas, jackals, various birds, and more.

The trip back was very long. We traveled for about 46
hours solid from when we left the Serengeti to
arriving at home. Fortunately we made all our
connections and we had no real problems. We still
haven’t gotten our nights and days completely back in
order, but being home is great. It was an incredible
experience that Barb and I will never forget.

Tell everyone hi.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Taper for 50-Miler & Floyd Landis Look-Alike Contest

Well, I'm enjoying the taper for my next race, but I really want to run more, damnit!

Saturday, I ran just 1-hour by myself (on trails), and did 1:16:00 of trailrunning on Sunday with the Trail Nerds at Kill Creek Park. The rest of the weekend was spent doing household chores and watching the Floyd Landis Show. Last night, my son and I had a glass of Bordeaux and listened to Aaron Copeland's American in Paris to celebrate.

I've had scores of people say that Floyd looks a lot like me. I will be partially silent on this issue. All I will say is, he does have a similar smile, reddish hair, and the same stubborn streak that all ultra-distance athletes need to have to git-da-job-dun. We're both tenacious mutha's. We could be twin sons of different mothers (and different generations), I guess. Holy crap; I am theoretically old enough to be his daddy! And there was that one cute gal that I met in Pennsylvania in early '75 that was selling Menonite home-baked pies on the side of the road...no...no way...it couldn't be! (Sorry; especially to Floyd and his real parents, I had a "Bad Ben" moment).

Tonight, I'm going to start to pack for our trip to Oregon. I've already put-aside my running clothes, water bottles, waist pack, and all other running-related items that I'll need for the 50-miler. I'll have to be cagey about my suitcase packing, though. My dog gets really upset if he thinks I'm going on a trip without him. That goes super-ditto for my grandson.

My hips are both fine, but Floyd has better reading vision than me.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hot Trail Run

I'm going to run on trails tonight in the oppressive heat with some of the Trail Nerds. At 8 pm tonight, the heat index is supposed to finally be below 110F. Luckily, our ground-level ozone alert level is in the yellow, instead of the red, for tonight.
Keep cool out there!

Here are some spoof ads to have fun with from Adbusters.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Weekend Trailrunning & Racing in the Severe Heat

Well, the Xterra Stump Jump trail race last Saturday, was a blast. Several of us Trail Nerds showed up at Clinton Lake State Park in Lawrence, Kansas to run in the trail 10K and/or 5K. Some of us decided to run the course prior to the race to do a recon/warm-up. We were dripping wet by the end of our warm-up from the high heat and humidity. Trail conditions were perfect though...no dust, but no mud, either, and the dirt was perfectly tacky. The course was moderately hilly and moderately technical.

Racing Highlights:
Caleb and I were both going to run at an 85% effort, since we both have 50-mile trail races within the next 2 weeks. I stuck to my plan, but I still won my age group in the 10K, at 49-minutes. Woo-hoo! Caleb may or may not have run at a 100% effort, but he still ended up crushing the competition like an elephant stepping on a can of Bud Light. He finished the 10K in a speedy 35-minutes and change, for first place overall! Jessica N. was first in her age group in the 10K. Greg Burger took first in his age group in the 10K (and 4th overall), and then he ran in the 5K and placed 2nd in his age group! Every Trail Nerd that ran in the event(s), did well. It just shows that if you train on trails, you can run races on trails pretty darn well.

Three of us ended up having a decent breakfast at Wheatfields after Saturday's race. We were home before 11:30 a.m.

Ten trail runners showed up at Kill Creek Park, to train on technical trails on a very hot Sunday morning. We ended up doing two 1-hour & 20-minute loops. Some of us had about 2:44:00 worth of running in for the day. Not bad, since it was 96F, by the time we finished.

Stay hydrated out there, and don't forget the electrolytes!
Happy trails,
Bad Ben

Friday, July 07, 2006

I'm a Crazy Ultrarunner, and It's Sensei Chinen's Fault

Just the other day, I was thinking about why I love running long distances or enduring a challenging workout, so much. Part of my "work ethic" I was born with. The other part came from being around my dad and knowing both of my grandfathers, and how much they valued and practiced hard work.

But regarding my athletic pursuits, I have Sensei Teruo Chinen to blame. He taught me that I can go WAY BEYOND what I think I can do. He had (and still has) a knack for knowing just how hard to push his students, without breaking them.

I still remember the long Saturday morning dojo workouts, or the workouts during "Hell Week." I swear, they were harder than ANY 100-mile trail race that I've ever run. I was in such incredibly good shape back then, (and didn't even realize it). Many of us students would go to his house after an especially hard workout, and we would help him with a few "tasks" around his property, and then have a great meal and an impromptu party.

Alas, after a few years, I decided that I wanted to check out other martial arts. In the course of a decade, I practiced a number of arts, but all of the instructors paled in comparison to Sensei's intensity.

The style of martial art that Sensei taught was Gojo Ryu karate, combined with a good working knowledge of Aikido and Judo techniques. Basically, it was very good close-in street-fighting technique. (And we practised our Judo falls on real-world surfaces, not on cushy Judo mats). "There are no mats on the street," he would say.

No other style that I have taken subsequently has come close to its "real world" self-defense capability, save maybe Krav Maga. One time, 3 of us students went to check out the local "full-contact" karate, jujitsu, and boxing studio (where all of the cops went to practice). We each had our shot in the ring, but all three of us ended up being disqualified for various infractions. (We didn't know that they had strict rules in their "real world" fighting style). I was DQ'd for lifting a guy off of his feet by his groin, with a nice, swift kick.

Sensei Chinen taught me many other things besides self defense. I learned never to underestimate anyone, especially myself. He taught me to respect others, especially those that are more experienced in life. He taught me when to keep my big mouth shut. Heck, he even taught me how to "party" responsibly and stay out of "tenuous situations" that could get me in trouble.

Thanks, Sensei Chinen!

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Busy Weekend and Confidence-Builder

The weekend started out with me getting off from work at 6 pm Friday, then hitting the gym for a 1-1/2 hour weight workout with my personal trainer (Igor). Then, instead of having an recovery meal immediately after my workout, I waited for the rest of my family's meal at about 9 p.m. that night! I must not have been thinking too clearly, because this intense workout followed by no food, would have an affect on my running performance, less than 12 hours later. I also didn't sleep well that night; I ended up with about 4 hours sleep.

At 6 a.m. Saturday morning, a few of us Trail Nerds met to run a long run on the rocky trails at SM Park. It started out hot and humid enough, but was supposed to get to 96 degrees (F) and 60% humidity by 11 a.m. or so. Just great; 3 of us were slated for a 6-hour training run.

I felt pretty good for the first 2 hour loop, and we came back to the cars to refill our water bottles and hydration packs. I didn't feel like eating, but probably should have been eating something at this point. We took off and ran for another hour and circled-back to the cars to drop off another runner. Curt K. was waiting there to start running with us, so we picked-up another runner. By the time 4 hours had elapsed, I was feeling severely depleted. I started to eat some Clif Shot Blocks, and they seemed to help somewhat. By the time we made our way back to the cars again, our total running time was 5:23:00. I decided to call it quits at that point and keep from running myself into the ground. After all, I had a big party to prepare for (that I was hosting at my house), that night. Caleb and Kyle ended up doing more than 6 hours of running.

The party went well, and I seemed to have a lot of energy that night. I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. and woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready to run. Great...another measly 4-hours of sleep!

We started our trail run from Kill Creek Park, which has some fairly-technical rocky MTB trails. Five of us Trail Nerds were running, 3 guys and 2 gals. Caleb had had even less sleep than me, (but he is 23 years younger, after all, so what the heck). I started us down the trail in the lead. My legs were a little tight, but I found that I could still run at a decent pace. We hit both of the fun loops there, with 2 times on the first loop. We ran a total of 1-hour, 30 minutes, and covered about 9.4 miles. I felt good about that.

The rest of the day, I felt both hungry and lazy, but could only muster getting a 1-hour nap. I felt good about the whole weekend's training, though. I started out on a low-energy note, got only 4 hours of sleep per night, but still ran strong on the 2nd day. My hamstring and calf issues never surfaced...they felt strong. My next 50-miler is just 4 weeks out. I'm finally starting to feel confident about finishing it in decent form!

Happy trails!
Bad Ben