Monday, October 22, 2007

Trail and Ultra Running From "The Other Side"

I've had a really busy couple of weekends. What else is new?

I'll start with this past weekend:
I went to work on Saturday morning for a couple of hours for an "all hands on deck" meeting with "my guys." Then I volunteered for "The Pumpkin Patch" to raise money for a local school; a charity event that my son was in charge of. My job: I got to play Barista for the Starbucks booth, and not charge anyone a thing. During the event, the Kansas City Marathon was streaming by on the adjacent street. It made for a festive, if not familiar atmosphere for a runner like me. I helped my son break down the booth and hauled it away in my car.

Then I got all of my race stuff together to put on our Fall Fell 7-Mile Trail Run, on Sunday morning. I drove home, and had enough time to ride around the neighborhood with my grandson on my bike and pedal-trailer rig.

At 5 p.m. I met Shane Jones at the race location to run the course and mark it with signs on bamboo poles and orange engineer's tape. Shane is a character. I've never known a guy that could keep a cigar lit while running on a rocky trail with his hands full, carrying a load of signs on poles.

About our event:
This was the first-ever (official) off-pavement event at Kill Creek Park. It was a low-key FUN trail race, like many of our smaller events. The Kill Creek Trail system is fairly technical, and has roots, rocks and two stream crossings on the course. It's a beautiful park. Course Map

We run in this park all of the time on training runs. It's always a "wonderfully good time" on these trails. We were excited when we finally got permission to put on an event in the Park.

The weather was great on race day, the trail conditions were perfect, and everything went-off without a hitch. We raised $214 for ERTA for the park's trail maintenance, despite our low $8 entry fee and just 36 entrants. Many entrants gave more than $8, and we kept expenses low. We gave away hydration belts and a pair of Vasque trailrunning shoes. We even had coffee and Krispey Kreme donuts for the runners.

I love these low-key, small events. I can fit all of the race gear into the back of my Element, and still have room for my bike. About my bike. I had a little accident. I've got a safety tip...if you're riding a bike to take down trail markings and signs, don't carry 30 signs tucked-under your left arm while cradling a cellphone with your right shoulder. Multi-tasking is bad news on a bike, and I've got the wounds and goose-eggs to prove it! My old martial arts instructor would be proud of my landing, though. I didn't even shatter my new helmet.

I give the Pre-race "Talk"

Stuart Johnson being chased by Gabe Bevan and another runner.

Many thanks to the volunteers, and to Shane Jones for helping me mark the course the night before.

By every measure, our little race was a success. And we introduced quite a few "trail newbies" to the wonders of off-pavement racing, and everyone went home with a great story to tell.

After the race, I drove home, mowed the lawn and did yard work, and then settled-in to watch some NFL while I tallied and posted the race results.

RESULTS, including "1st Knitter" and "1st Guy with a Cool Name"

Here are
Dick Ross' photos

Shane Jones

Fall Fell 7-Mile Trail Run
10/21/2007 (Sun)
Shelter #1, Kill Creek Park
Olathe, KS
Race web site

Some comments from participants:

What a great park and a great run. Even though it wasn't my best run ever, I had tons of fun. And I'm quite proud to be 1st Knitter (thanks, Ben). It doesn't get any better than this. Running in the woods, through creeks, over rocks and roots, under low handing branches, between trees, up the dry creek bed and then back again. Zippety doo dah!
- Cheri Sutton

Thanks to everyone who put on this race. It was a great event. The course was excellent, challenging, and well-marked. The water (meaning, the 30-foot wide gushing stream through which we passed not once but twice) was highly refreshing. The post-race donuts sealed the deal.
Thanks again
J. Erik Hartel





Now for my other weekend, (one week ago).

Raul Flores and I were going to drive down to the Heartland 50 and 100-mile trail run, and set-up our Mile 95 "Mirage" aid station, once again. We both had our hands full on Saturday morning, so we didn't leave town until about noon. He was supposed to time a race, but it got cancelled due to "severe weather and lightning." There was also a lot of flooding going on in town due to 5 or 6 inches of rain.

Last year, we set up the aid station in a place that had previously had an un-staffed aid station. It was a big hit. That year, we had also run in the 50-mile race, prior to setting up our station. We probably over-did it, energy-wise, and were really tired the next day for the 3-hour drive back to town.

This year, we had a different itenerary. We decided to drive around on the course and take a few photos of participants during the 50 and 100-mile race instead, and then set up the station. This was a much better plan.

The weather in this part of Kansas' Flint Hills was much better (and drier) than the weather we had left at home. We drove straight to a major aid station, just in time to see fellow Trail Nerd, Cody Jones run by on his first 100-mile attempt, with his brother Shane pacing him.
Young Trail Nerd, Cody Jones.

We snapped a few shots on the course, and then headed to the start/finish line. We checked-in with the race directors, and hung around to cheer-on some of the 50-mile finishers coming in.
A supportive husband giving his wife a Feet Fixin'

Right before sundown, we drove to our aid station location and began to set up. Shortly after setting-up, we had our first suprise visitor - Paul DeWitt on his way to a course 100-mile record of 14-hours, 28-minutes. He grabbed a squirt of water in his water bottle, and was gone. The only photos I got of him were some rapidly receding shots of his hind-end. It would be a full 3-hour wait until the next runner ran through: course veteran Mark Henderson (of Texas).
Paul DeWitt flies through our station.

To pass the time, we had some DVDs to watch. Raul hadn't yet seen "Run Lola Run" or "Sin City," so those were my video offerings. He had brought the Nicholas Cage flick "Next," and the astronaut movie, "The Right Stuff." Between the videos, our music, and the Crazy Ultrarunners, we were set for entertainment for the long night and following morning. We also made a serious dent in my keg of homebrewed "Harvest IPA," and once again had hot chicken noodle soup for us (and the runners).
Raul, at our video station/computer.
We can take care of whatever "ales" you.

The runners appreciated the food, the attention, and the unexpected shelter that was brightly-lit with Christmas lights. It really did look like a "Mirage" to the runners, as they crested a hill over a mile away.
Front view of aid staion.

A New Zealand 100-mile participant enjoys a couple of my brews. "Best beer in the States," he said.

Some of the high-points of my night was watching severe lightning storms to the north (on the horizon), and seeing a "real" night sky with many of the stars of the Milky Way nakedly visible.

If you ever get the chance, try to see a race or two from "the other side," by volunteering. You can't believe how much fun it can be.

Happy trails,
Bad Ben

Eric Steele drops by.

Paul Schoenlaub, volunteering after a tough Summer of racing, (finishing his Mountain Slam of four 100-mile races).

Raul and I toast to a job well done, with some "breakfast beer!"

All of my photos are HERE.
Heartland race information is HERE.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Thoughts of Chicago

Photo by Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

The 2007 Chicago Marathon debacle was sad. A well-respected marathon will now have to justify its existence and its management's actions, even if they attempted to do everything right. The death was really sad, but it appears to be a heart-related, instead of a heat-related death, (not that that matters to the surviving family).

I'll start out by saying "Humans can adapt their bodies to run in hot & humid conditions." But failure to adapt does not necessarily result in heat stroke or heat illness. It can make you slow down and really feel like crap, though. (Believe me, I know this from experience). I think many of the folks that "needed medical attention" may have fallen into this latter category, and helped to overload Chicago's medical infrastructure.

There is also a wide-held belief that "anyone can run a marathon" with little or no training. "The marathon is the new 10K," and "the Ultramarathon is the new marathon." What people forget is, even "Oprah" trained hard (with a personal trainer) to accomplish her goal of running a marathon safely. People need to respect the distance! Most experienced runners respect EVERY DISTANCE that they run, including 5Ks. If you're running any distance at your limit, you can "blow-up" and keel-over, if the circumstances are ripe for disaster.

Chicago always attracts tons of marathon newbies. I wonder how many first-time marathoners were at this year's Chicago? Remembering back to my first marathon: I was under-trained and clueless about what I was getting into. I was a totally stupid Newbie. Yes, I finished; but I suffered severely for days, and couldn't/wouldn't run for weeks afterward. I learned from my experience, but I'm still amazed when I talk to some would-be first time marathoners. Many have not trained for the hot/cold or hilly conditions, and some (gym-based newbies) haven't even run on a real surface (outside) before.

Knowing how ignorant some of these first-timers can be, any organization hosting a non-qualifying long-distance event should be wary. Especially if it is a mega-sized event like Chicago. There were 45,000 entrants signed-up for Chicago. 10,000 didn't even attempt it, and 24,000 finished, but the city's ambulances, etcetera were still stretched to the limit. What if the other 10,000 DNS-ers HAD shown up? When is a race TOO BIG for race management (and a city's infrastructure) to handle? Other major events limit their field. Even relatively "small" events in the Ultra & Tri world limit their size, based on what they can handle. Maybe Chicago should at least consider it.

My group's Psycho Psummer 50K/25K this past July had a much higher heat index, but we had no heat-related illnesses and a high finish rate, despite a very hilly course.

Course Profile of one 25Km Loop.

Why didn't our Trail Nerd race have "Course Carnage" like Chicago?
- We had knowledgeable aid station help, who pushed water, sports drink, ice, food, and electrolytes. We take care of our runners!!!
- There was a requirement for participants to carry their own additional water, or risk a DQ.
- Most 50K athletes and trail runners are not "virgins" to the idea of taking electrolytes and proper hydration, but many marathoners (and marathon race managers) don't have a clue.
- Our number of entrants was an amount that we could handle.
Our Psycho Psummer Race

Here's a generalized opinion, based upon my observations and personal experience:
For the most part, Ultrarunners know what they're in for, and know how to prepare and be self-sufficient, and don't expect to be "coddled." Many newbie and first-time marathoners expect a "turn-key" race, and if they screw-up and don't show up well-prepared, the "knowledgeable" race and aid station help will lead them by the hand and tell them what to do. They aren't as self-sufficient or well-trained as most ultra or trail folks.

Chicago is an "extreme weather" city, and it can be either very hot or very cold. Race management knew it was going to be unseasonably hot & humid. They even sent out a warning to participants. But this should not let them off the I've stated, many newbies are ignorant, and won't (or can't) believe they'll be in any danger, during their first "very special" marathon.
It's been said that some Chicago aid stations ran out of water because of runners dumping water on their heads. Honestly, you've got to factor-in "the dumping quotient" on hot days, if you're a race director. At our (hot) races, we have extra ice and wet bandanas that we soak and give away, too. More than a few (hot season) marathons enlist the help of National Guard water trucks to spray-down runners and restock water aid stations. Many races use PVC water-misting arches for the runners to run through. There are many solutions to this problem.

I guess what I'm saying is, there are no excuses to not have the "safety" bases covered in an event of this scope. If there are way too many participants to handle, limit the size of the field or limit the number of newbies by having "qualifications" like Boston does, or like many ultramarathons or Ironman races do. Or maybe they should have a requirement to carry a water bottle or other hydration device, like many ultras require.

Happy trails,
Bad Ben

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Advice From An Ultra-Codger

A fellow trail runner and blogger, (Scott) from Washington State, just turned thirty years old.

He is "hoping to get advice from other old people out there about how to deal with life as it is now in a state of uncontrollable decline."
I have some advice for him.

Advice from a "Codger" who is older than you:

The # 1 Rule - Act the age you feel, but don't necessarily look the age you feel.

1) If you have hair loss, wear the "comb-over of the new Millenium," a baseball cap.

2) Never wear your baseball cap backward.

3) Buy another pair of cargo shorts and get used to them.

4) Oh yeah, get used to Polo shirts, too.

5) Never let-on that you like MF Doom, DJ Spooky, or any underground Hip Hop at all...if you get caught listening to it, claim it's your kid's music, and it somehow was put onto your Ipod by mistake.

6) Stay up late, and wake up'll need less sleep now that you are "more mature." With all of this added time, you can spend more time "reading" on the toilet; which you'll coincidentally spend more time on.

7) Now that you're thirty, it's okay to cut in front of teenagers in line at the local Safeway. (At least if you think you can beat them up). And never look a teenager in the eye again...they can sense fear in old farts like you.

8) Speaking of grocery stores, make sure that your key ring has umpteen-bazillion discount cards on it, for every store that issues one.

9) Don't stare at pretty young'll be labelled a lecherous old fool. Save that for big races like Bloomsday, Chicago, or New York...find a gal with great legs and "whatever," and "pace her" from behind. That's the only lecherous joy you can get away with, now that you're officially a geezer.

10) Be in denial about being an old fogy. Start planning and training for two or three 100-mile trail runs or Ironman triathlons per year; even if it kills you. Besides, you'll need something to replace sex as a means for a physical outlet.

11) Learn to enjoy oatmeal, and check to see which "statin" drug your insurance covers without a substantial co-pay.

12) Quit playing online video games. In fact, you should quit video games altogether, because now that you're 30, you suck at them, brother.

13) Drive slower and never use the passing lane, except to passive-aggressively piss-off the drivers behind you. Everybody else is a "speeding maniac," and you are the only safe and sane driver out there, because of your experience and maturity.

And the most important rule:
Never take advice or follow any rules from a stranger!

Happy 30th Birthday, and Happy trails,

Bad Ben