Poodle Chomp!!

Running as frequently as I do, I get to know a lot of the local dogs. Most of them are unleashed, which is totally cool with me. My runs take me out into the middle of nowhere, where pedestrians are few and kids are non-existent. The houses are on acres and you can go half a mile without running into any houses on some stretches. Tuesday, I set out for a 15-miler on a loop that takes me by a number of friendly mongrels. Unfortunately, it would prove that one of those mongrels was feeling less than friendly yesterday.

Poodle Choomp!! (Might have been a Wheaton, I can't tell...)

Poodle Choomp!! (Might have been a Wheaton, I can’t tell…)

I love dogs. I always had dogs growing up, and I currently have two. They don’t really scare me, and more often than not, I’m fairly smart when it comes to approaching them. With that said, I was kind of a moron on Tuesday. About a mile and a half in there’s a house with two poodles, a black one, and a white one. They’re never leashed, and while the white one is somewhat timid and stays on the lawn, the black one will come running towards me barking. Typically we both stop in arms reach of each other and commence the whole ass-sniffing-dog-greeting thing. (I just put out a upside down hand and let him give me a sniff or two.) After a few moments he wanders off, and I mosey on up the road.

Figuring that since this dog and I have been through this routine a huge number of times, I could just keep running and do away with the greeting. And it may have worked, except that his person was out getting the mail, and I neglected to take that in. Here he saw a half naked person who usually stops, keep running towards his person – he panicked and took a nip at my calf. I can’t really fault him as I figure he was just doing what dogs do – protect their owners. (I don’t really know anything about dogs, but it seems to make sense to me.)

Luckily, I wasn’t wearing the synthetic Phase, and not the leather Core. Could have been a lot worse if I had leather on my feet…

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Twin State 50: The RD Post

I remember my parents – probably my mother – chastising me as a child to “think before I act.” Generally speaking, I do. However, I have a bit of a problem thinking about long-term effects of my decisions. It’s easy enough to think about a month out, or maybe two, but go beyond that and things start getting fuzzy. Usually, this is a good thing; if I actually thought about the long-term impact of half the things I’ve decided to do in my life, I probably wouldn’t have done them out of fear and “rational” thinking. So it was that I decided to create a Fat Ass event and try my hand at Race Directing. As it would turn out, it was a grand learning experience, it just so happened (and I feel rather poorly about it) that a number of folks unfamiliar in my long-term planning skills would join me on this venture.

Having no experience in this race organization sort of thing, I reached out to a few friends who RD’ed before for a bit of advice. In hindsight, I think most of it was sound, and I’m glad I asked because it gave me somewhere to jump from. The big hurdle – and the obvious thing – is permits. I wasn’t planning on taking this run on anything other than public roads, but it’s nice to give the heads up to local governments (and then there’s the whole ‘public assembly’ permit thing…).

Once permits were done, it was time for some course figuring. I know these roads well – they are what I run everyday – but looping them together into a  50 kilometer or a 50 mile course, took some time on the computer. At night I would spend my time linking loops together then head out the next morning and make sure they worked. A few times, I found my path washed away and impassable, or barricaded with chain and “No Trespassing” signs.

Finally, with the course mapped out – for the most part – and the town’s blessing, it was time to see who might show up for this thing. So I went out, took some pictures of the nicer views and talked to the guys at Ultrasignup.com. (As it was a Fat Ass and free of charge – they would host sign-up, for free.) I figured I might get five or six people, mostly friends, to sign-up, but slowly the registrations started coming in, and as the winter months dragged, the registrations kept coming. Sometime in January/February, I decided to cap things at 150 people as the reality of my choice to do this was creeping into my brain and giving me cold sweats at night. With 150 people signed up, there was no backing out. Runners can always opt for a DNS, Race Directors cannot. (It should be mentioned here that of 150 signed up, we had 67 actually show up on race day.)

Winter progressed and I tried to prepare myself for the certain impending doom that awaited me in April. I sent out some e-mails to shoe companies trying to get free shoe vouchers to raffle off as prizes (Skora and Newton came through). Luckily, I had received a couple of emails from people looking for volunteer hours, and willing to help me out on race day – I hadn’t planned on this, and it turned out to be one of the most helpful things I received for this event.

As the day of the run approached, I started to scramble trying to make sure I had everything sorted – course marked, water coolers mixed, tables secured. The problem is, none of these things can be done in advance; when race day approaches it’s a flurry of last minute preparations.  (Again, I was able to procure help marking the course from a couple of runners who came out early.)

To this point, I wasn’t entirely sure why I had decided to embark on this, adventure. While I did enjoy communicating with runners via email, the enjoyment wasn’t enough to balance the stress of the last minute setup. Despite the stress race day provided, once I started seeing people on the course, and crossing the line, I began to understand why some people do this. There is something gratifying seeing the smiles as they cross the line, and knowing you helped do that; hearing ultra-virgins lament about the difficulty of what they just did, but grinning because they just accomplished something grand. I was also able to meet some wonderful people, and some legends as well (so maybe not like nationally recognized heroes, but certainly regional and local legends). In the end, it is something I would like to attempt again (given my wife’s graces, and assuming anyone would return to an event I put on…). There are also a number of things I learned, both as a race director and a runner.

1. RD’ing is like parenting. As a teenager, you may hate your parents at times and not understand their reasons or rationale, but once you become a parent, it all makes sense.

2. When marking a course, get someone unfamiliar with it to make sure your markings are clear and visible. What is obvious to you will undoubtedly be obscure to some.

3. You can’t keep everyone happy.

4. Over the course of 50 miles, even in the back woods of NH, someone – knowingly or not – will take down a sign.

5. No matter how many times you tell people they cannot rely solely on your course markings, and should bring their own map and directions (that you provided), someone will rely solely on your course markings.

6. You can tell yourself it’s just a Fat Ass, and since no one paid for anything expectations should be lowered, so it’s okay if things suck, but at the end of the day, you know you’re just lying to yourself.

7. It’s a really crappy feeling knowing people got lost.

8. Ultra-runners are a decidedly unhealthy bunch. They will bring food to aid stops, half of it will be eaten, and then as RD you will be left with a pantry full of Oreo’s and candy; tasty, but not exactly healthy or enjoyable when you have two small children constantly trying to steal cookies. (Canada produces some fine Jujubes, by the way.)

9. When a race closes, join the wait list. And when an RD says no, don’t beg. This was a Fat Ass, so all were welcome – sort of – but I can only imagine the difficulty a real RD goes through having to turn people down.

10. People are more than willing to help when given the chance. This may not be 100% true of a paid race, but when things are free, people will pitch in.

11. As an RD you really get to know and appreciate the ultra community, more so than as just a runner.

12. Everyone should put on a FA, or help put one on.

My Beautiful Shoes

Skora PHASESo this has been a really long time coming, but it’s kind of tough for me. I’ve been in the Phase for a while, so I have nothing much new to say. With that in mind, I’ve kind of been waiting until after my first 50 miler to give my thoughts. Now with my 50 out of the way, I’m here to say these shoes rock. (If you want to know more about Skora – check them out online.)

To start they are a zero drop shoe, and I traditionally run with the insole removed which gives them an 8mm stack height. For Sunday’s race I decided to put the insoles in for an 11mm stack. Some of the veteran runners I conferred with ahead of time mentioned that a little more cushion might be nice. Not sure if I needed the insoles in the end, but insole in or out, the shoes rode the same and felt just as comfortable. For me it’s always a plus when I can remove the insole and not tell the difference. That’s one of the things I love about my Phases – and I think it probably holds true for all Skoras – the ability to be comfortable. They’re designed to have a seamless interior and to be worn socked or sockless. For 50 miles I wore these guys and developed not one hot spot, let alone blister.  (I did get a little “warm” spot on the ball of my foot, but that was due to crappy sock choice.) At first, their asymmetrical, wrap-around tongue, may seem a little hokey,  maybe even a bit gimmicky, I assure you, it’s not. The wrap-around tongue essentially hugs your foot without creating any seams. or pressure points and as they say eliminates hot spots. I’m surprised this hasn’t caught on with some of the big retailers yet…

Another thing I love about these shoes is their flexibility. Not just the super thin, flexible, lightweight upper, but the flexibility of the sole. I Bendlike to feel the ground when I run – proprioception – and if I’m in big clunky shoes, that doesn’t happen. Even if I’m in ‘minimal’ shoes with a firm sole, ground feel starts to disappear and I start to get cranky. Just because the sole is super flexible, doesn’t mean it’s lacking in durability. This is my third pair, and I’ve been able to put near 1000 miles on each pair. The sole is durable and I’d challenge anyone to kill them in 500 or less (unless you have absolute garbage form and are running on hot hot asphalt all the time, or a treadmill). Along with the flexibility comes a nice roomy toe box so your toes can spread out and enjoy the space nature intended them to have. For me this is huge. I have wide feet, and there are a number of minimal-type shoes that just aren’t wide enough. They all claim to have wide toe boxes, but when I put them on, my paddle-like feet immediately strain the upper and spill out over the sole to the point where my whole pinky toe is essentially riding in air.

The last thing I’ll mention is their utility. You can use these shoes for anything. I used them as racers in short 5ks, or on the track for 400 workouts. I ran through a harsh Vermont winter through ice and snow and -10F temps. Before the ice came they would accompany me on the local trails and up mountains. All this, of course, was twenty miles or below.  The leap to 50 miles was one of faith, and I was not let down (I plan on using these guys at VT100 – though maybe a different pair by July.) I understand these shoes might not be for everyone, but the next time  you go to the store looking for a light weight racer for next weekends 5k, or when you decide to go the zero-drop route, or you’re just looking for a nice roomy shoe take a look at the Skora line-up.

lwoodOne note of caution, or insight, or whatever. The first time I ever put them on, I felt a little strange. The heel almost seemed higher, or uneven. I’m not sure if this is because it was the first time I was in a shoe with anatomically shaped, rounded heel, or if it was something with the shoe, either way, after the first run, I never noticed it again. I’ve heard this from others as well, but as I haven’t picked up any injuries, and it went away after the first run, I’ve taken no heed of it.

If you have questions, connect with Skora on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or on their website. They have a plethora of running related information, and a crackpot customer service team that is beyond helpful.\

More Reviews:
SKORA Fit
SKORA Core

Twin State 50: The Run

No one but my mother ever called me a genius, and even then, I think she was referring to my brother. Back in November I made one of those genius decisions: to go for a 50 mile run. Ultra’s – especially 50ks and 50ms aren’t really hard to come by, but I don’t like to travel and I don’t like to pay ridiculous sums so I decided to cook one up myself, throw it out there into cyber space and see what suckers I could catch. I caught a few, and we had a blast (I’ll throw up an RD’ing post later.)

I had planned the race for early April to give everyone a taste of Vermont during Mud Season. Lots of snow melt and run off, cool mornings, warm afternoons, and muddy back roads. As April 6th approached, I was a little worried my plans would be way-laid by the tortuous winter we expierenced, but as luck would have it, spring finally came. There was still snow on the ground and the course had to be rerouted to avoid a mile and a half of post-holing through a foot of snow, but spring came. The morning started at a brisk 26 degrees but once the sun came out the southern slopes started to warm nicely. Of course, that was probably only half the time I was out there as the course is built on hills. After all it is Vermont, and some of the course coincides with the VT50 and the fabled VT100, so the flats were minimal. Fortunately, the course was 80% hard pack dirt road and only 20% asphalt, so while it is technically a road ultra, it’s not.  (A link to the course; it might take a bit to load).

Going into this thing, I had some ideas of what to expect, after all, I’ve run a couple of marathons, a handful of halves and did a fair bit of talking/reading before I decided to have a go at it. Some of my expectations came to fruition and others were left a bit wanting.

tsLeg Strength

It may sound presumptuous, but I was fairly confident I could run the 50 miles in its entirety – no walking up hills – even if it was atrociously slow. The Twin State course proved this tragically wrong. I managed to make it through the first 35 without walking, but by Gap Hill (about 325 feet up over half-a-mile), I was walking. I’m not really sure how much it saved me, but I was still able to go strong on the flats – though they were few – and hobble the downhills. One thing no one tells you when you ask how to take on an ultra: The Down Hills Will Kill You. Maybe this is a rule kept secret to punish ultra virgins, but by the end, I preferred a little incline to a little decline.

Nutrition

I was also fairly confident I would blow up. Since most of my long runs this winter can’t really be termed as ‘long,’ and I neglected toying with nutrition on the run, I was sure this would be my downfall. I have been training with HoneyMaxx, and am very comfortable with how I react to it, so I knew it was my drink of choice, but food, well forget it. It was a pretty big crap shoot, but I think I crapped it pretty well. I ended up mashing a baked sweet potato with two tablespoons of coconut oil, a dollop of honey, and two tablespoons of dried ground rabbit meat (I raise rabbits). I packaged them in five sandwich bags and stuffed them in my HydraQuiver, which had plenty of room for more. I started sucking them down about 1.5 hours in, and consumed about one bag in an hour. It seemed to work, though I think I might need to find a way to boost the calories per serving for longer runs. By 45 miles I could tell I was hungry and started to want food.

Shoes

I’ve been running in my Skora Phase for a while now, but nothing close to this far. Being zero drop and having an 11mm stack – I put the insoles in for this – I wasn’t sure how my feet would feel afterwards, as I’ve heard you need more cushion for these long events. Thankfully, and as I had anticipated, this wasn’t a problem. My feet were quite comfortable in terms of my shoes.  I did, however,  get some grit in there that gave me a few raw spots, but that’s a gaiter/sock thing, and I’m not sure I really want to go that route.

The Pain

Having run a couple marathons, I was ready for some pain. My marathons have left me totally wiped. A puddle of unrecognizable humanity. My legs are fried. My upper body is tired. My brain is mush. I expected this to be no different – it was. Somewhere around 33/38 miles, my legs started getting really tired and sore. To be precise it was mostly my quads. As I took in the discomfort and took mental note of the rest of my body, I was pleasantly surprised to see I could still think remotely clear and even whistle a few bars of Dr. Hook’s Queen of the Silver Dollar – it was in my head the whole time… I’m not sure if this is normal 50 mile feeling: sore legs, but otherwise okay, or if this is my legs not being fit enough to keep up with what my brains and cardiovascular system could pull.

Miscellaneous

A lot of race recaps are really long – and I tried to avoid that, but here I am at near 800 words like the verbose bastard I am. Apologies. I’ll save all my ramblings of how gorgeous and hilly the course is, my complaints about the jack-hole RD that marked it, and the praises of the ultra community for my RD post to come later… I also managed to take one of those snappy pre-race photos of all my get up – I even wrote the post. Unfortunately, when I went to upload the picture, I buggered it up and lost it, so you’ll have to pretend you can imagine me in my white and brown cotton gloves, camouflage bandanna, orange tech-t, bright orange HydraQuiver, massively short shorts, and fluorescent orange and blue Skoras gingerly slogging downhill (or don’t, it’s probably better if you don’t).

In Short,

(You could have just skipped down here, and no one would have known the difference. Hell, you probably did you cheeky monkeys…) I managed to keep my pace fairly consistent until I started to walk a bit on the uphills. I did a bit of course maintenance mid-run because some d-bag decided to pull down my surveyor tape. I even fielded a phone call from a lost runner around mile 43. But I had a great time, and things went well. My goal at the beginning of the year was to be somewhere in the 8:00 hour range for this, and in the 7:00 range for VT50. I ended up running 6:58:16, just nipping under 7:00 on what I’m gathering is a fairly rugged course. Pretty stoked with that.

Why Race Directors Are Wrong

Or

Why We Need to Ask Why People Bandit

Earlier today, I was perusing twitter, and I caught a link to an article in Runners World entitled Why Banditing Is Wrong. If you have any familiarity with running, you’ve undoubtedly heard of these vile bandits who show up on race day without a number, contaminate the port-o-potty’s meant for registered runners with their unsavory body functions, enslave volunteers at aid stations until they are adequately fed and ready to assault the next aid station, or even keep one of those highly regarded and hard to earn finishers medals. It’s true, these monsters exist, sucking up valuable resources and making everyone have a miserable time.

I have never bandited a race before – though I thought really hard about it once – and I have some friends that have bandited races, and there’s a couple of things in common, both missed by the RW article. Most bandits I know are aware of what they are doing. They are aware they are putting an extra stress on a race in terms of food, facilities, awards, etc, and guess what, they don’t use them. If the race is long enough they need fuel of some sort, they bring their own. Port-o-potty? How about port-o-tree. And most bandits I know will pull up before the finish and not even cross it, let alone keep one of those medals that end up becoming child’s toys, put in the rubbish bin before the days up, or scavenged from the corral floor.

Now I’m sure there are bandits who are less scrupulous and actually take advantage of races and what they offer beyond adrenaline, but I feel it’s a minority, and I think some of the points (most) brought up by RW lead to one thing: money. Fifteen years ago, I remember signing up for 5ks for $15 or less. Try to find a $15 5k now. Forget it; they don’t exist. I know, inflation has been rough, which is why the cost of your average 5k is around 66% more than it was 15 years ago (it’s also why my salary has gone up 66% too…). For me, the reason I almost bandited a race was the cost. I could not justify forking over $25 to run 3.1 miles. (That’s $8.06/mile – think about that in terms of gas money…).

The cost of races has increased, and sure, so have the perks, but seriously race directors, give us the option. I have plenty of tech-tees with huge screen printed logos ready to chaff my nipples right off. I don’t need anymore crappy finishers medals covered with lead paint cluttering my house and making my kids sick. I’m okay without the great big schwag bag full of junk. And can we just forget expensive timing? The folks who are looking to compete for front of the pack places are on the front of the starting line. What’s wrong with a simple watch timer? Why does everyone need to know their “official chip time?” You can get your own $10 watch at Wal-Mart and get your own “chip time” when you cross the line if it’s that important. (Are we that self-important we need to have our exact 5k time documented in the local paper so we can gloat at work?)

But really, the biggest issue with the cost of races for me comes down to transparency. Most races out there are for some non-profit organization looking to raise money, and maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t trust them. They need to cover their ‘costs’ but really, how much are their costs? It’s tax season, I think we all know how to fluff numbers a little bit… I want to know that $40 of my $60 fee goes to said charity, not just ‘proceeds’ from the race.

So before RD’ers get out there and whinge on about bandits sucking up resources and costing money, let us ask why they bandit in the first place. Let us take running back to what it should be: sweat and good times. Keep the glitzy glam crap for little league baseball and beauty pageants and I’ll gladly donate to your cause, on my terms.