WEEK 8 – Fear, Self-doubt

For the most part, I am happy with this week’s training. I logged over 50 miles of running this week with yet another brutal weekend of back-to-back, 3-hour Saturday and 4-hour Sunday runs. I continue to be amazed at my body’s ability to adapt to this extreme running. It’s Monday morning and after a little hot tub soaking, my muscles feel rested and ready to go. Well, maybe not “ready to go”, …but I’m not nearly as sore as expected.

This week marks the halfway point in my training and I’m scared.

The Mountain Masochist race is no joke. If my only goal was to simply finish 50+ miles, well, I feel confident that I could do that today. Unfortunately, I had to choose a 50-mile race initiation that not only is longer than 50 miles, but has very strict cut-off times. During the Masochist, I have to maintain a strict pace, and at the halfway point at mile 25, my pace will be judged there, and at each additional aid station from that point on. All race participants must finish in less than 11:59:59 and I could be pulled from the race if it does not appear I will finish in under twelve hours.

Imagine running your heart out for 25 miles only to be pulled from the race; or, being o-so-close, but crossing the finish line in 12:03:00 and still getting a DNF. It happens. In fact, It happens frequently, and even to veteran ultrarunners at this particular race.

I have been reading every race report I can get my eyes on. I have been studying the course map, the elevation charts, the necessary splits, other previous runners’ performances, and planning my constantly-evolving strategy; and it all points to one thing – I need to get faster.

I have the endurance. I am pretty good at enduring a tremendous amount of pain and continuing to push forward; however, what I need is to add some speed to that equation. It’s a simple fact – If I do not get faster, I will not complete this race in under 12 hours.

But I refuse to let negativity in.

Am I in a little over my head? maybe.

Can I overcome it? Beat the odds? absolutely.

It just fear. It’s just my mind creating self-doubt. Why should I be afraid of something that doesn’t really exist? Fear and self-doubt are manufactured in my own head. Participating in fear and self-doubt won’t change the race date, nor will it make the race distance any shorter, nor the course any less difficult. All those feelings can do is get in the way of my training and cause me to perform less than my best.

Why should I allow negative thoughts and feelings that can do nothing but cripple my training?

As hard as my race training is, as well as all the self-doubt I am trying like heck to fight off, it’s nothing compared the self-doubt that the homeless kids from Project Kids Eat must feel every single day. Here I am, concerned about internal and external perceptions regarding whether or not I can triumph over this race, while there are young kids out there wondering where they might be living next week …or whether or not they will be eating today.

All of a sudden, my worries seem rather trivial.

I’m glad I have this cause. It always brings everything back into perspective.

If you’d like to help me in my quest to raise $2500.00 for Project Kids Eat, please donate.

Please remember, I don’t use any of this money as sponsorship. I pay for all of my own training and race day preparation and travel. Every penny donated is used to provide healthy meals to the kids of Project Kids Eat.

WEEK 7 – Seeking Balance

It’s not all about me.

32 miles one Saturday, an out-of-town 40 miles the next …3 hours of training this Saturday followed by 4 hours of running on Sunday. That’s a lot of running, and a lot of necessary recovery; but after all the running, eating, resting and recovering, what is left over for my family?

This is where I need to learn better balance.

I’m not a believer in Christianity as it has been dictated to me, but I do enjoy attending church with my wife and stepson, and listening to the open-minded preacher’s message. I do believe in the foundations of most religions, which are generally centered around being good, helping others and staying positive, and a little weekly renewing is always a good thing for me. Unfortunately, my long run days are also on Sundays, so during this Mountain Masochist training, unless I am recovering from a Saturday ultra race, I am usually absent from my wife’s side in the pews.

Although she doesn’t really say anything, I know she would like me to be there, by her side. I know that Austin would prefer I was there as well, if for no other reason, than to at least have someone to relate to as he slumps in the pews, bored to tears.

I am learning that the real challenge of difficult training is not-so-much the actual running, strength-training and conditioning, but instead, marrying those training elements with my current lifestyle and family routine.

So what if I just ran for four hours on Sunday – there are family necessities that need to be met. We need to go to Whole Foods. We need to buy school clothes. We need pick up this kid’s birthday present, or that that work colleague’s present. There’s always something. Should my wife go alone? While I rest on the sofa from my “tough training”?

No. That’s not fair to her and I won’t let that happen. It’s important that I am an active participant in my family.

I have to remember that those seemingly boring periods of shopping at CVS, shooting into PetSmart and even, {gasp} tagging along at Victoria’s Secret for “bra shopping”, are the times when we communicate and share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences as a family. That kind of communication is so important and more often than not, brings us closer together throughout the day and into the evening.

Dinners together, …important.

Family time talking, all in the same room, with no TV, …important.

Constant, comfortable communication, especially with a preteen in the house, is just flat-out important. If he is not comfortable communicating with us on a consistent basis, how will he be comfortable communicating when there are difficult things going on in his life in which he NEEDS to communicate?

I suppose I don’t need to get into a big, heavy discussion in the middle of my week seven training report, but it’s just another example of how this entire project is opening up my mind, opening up my heart and teaching me to live a little less for myself and my needs, and a little more those around me.

I have a feeling, donating a little to my cause, might give you some of these very same feelings – give it a try – any small amount is acceptable and appreciated and all payment methods are possible. {wink}

Donate here – and thanks for following along in this running project that’s turning into a swirl of life lessons.

WEEK 6 – Pushing to New Levels

Ok, so that’s a weak title for the week six update, but what a week of training it has been.

I took most of the early part of the week off to recover from the 32 miles I logged at the Hot to Trot 8-hour race the previous Saturday. By Wednesday, I felt better but still had a large, nagging blister that made it almost impossible to wear shoes. So what do I do? Why, run barefoot, of course!

Wednesday, I logged two miles, at a decent clip, barefoot on the asphalt. You should have seen the looks from the mini-van moms and tie-guys on their way to work. Here’s this guy, sun-burnt from Saturday, running through the neighborhood with his dogs and without his shoes. I’m sure I made for some lively conversation in the Amberfield neighborhood.

But the highlight of the week was the Laurel Valley White Water Run on Saturday, a “somewhere-around-40-miles” trek through the Foothills of South Carolina. I can’t possibly do Saturday’s experience justice in this weekly update. You’ll have to read my Laural Valley race report for yourself. I will tell you this – the run now ranks as the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life …but more than that, was the emotional and spiritual experience that accompanied that endurance effort. Give it a read, and please let me know your thoughts…

And, as I always mention, please don’t forget the kids in which I am trying to help through my running efforts. I’m not kidding when I say even a five spot, the price of Venti Latte at Starbucks, can make a difference.

Onward and upward…

Laurel Valley Race Report

I abandoned all conventional wisdom and rather than resting completely after my 32-mile Hot to Trot experience, I chose to head out to the mountains of South Carolina to participate in the Laural Valley White Water Run.

At somewhere around 40 miles, this would not only be my longest distance, but due to the extreme hills, it would far surpass the amount of time I have ever spent on my feet in one outing.

Oh, and the race is self-supporting. There are no aid stations every X number of miles like there are in most ultramarathons. Nothing. Once you go in, there are only two ways out: Finish, or turn around and head back to the start before you log 20 miles.

Because of the extremely hilly terrain and long, steep climbs, the race director makes all first-timers run “sweep”. Sweeps are runners that start after the rest of the race field and our jobs were to ensure that no one was left alone. The trail is marked well with white blazes, but the intense heat and brutal course terrain has proven over the years to potentially be very tough on a few of the other athletes. I ended up sweeping a very nice lady named Terri Hayes, but more about her later…

Why I was drawn to Rocky Bottom

Growing up, I was closest to my grandparents. I emulated my tough-as-nails grandfather and craved the love and attention of my grandmother. My grandmother was from rural, upstate South Carolina. Growing up she’d tell me wild stories of her father, Carl “Will” Drake, the “unofficial mayor of Rocky Bottom”, as the local newspaper once called him. He lived as a mountain man in Rocky Bottom, a small mountain community on Sassafras Mountain in Pickens County, SC. He had a reputation of being a kind and gentle man …that is, until he got hold of the whiskey; Being an entertaining drunk, he’d have a few sips and march up and down the mountain with an ol’ shotgun slung over his shoulder hootin’ and hollerin’.

My grandmother would share many stories of ol’ Will Drake gettin’ drunk and causing trouble with his brothers. Sometimes, he’d get lonely up there and set up detour signs to route tourist traffic past his doorstep where he’d be sitting out front, with that ol’ shotgun, waving to the people. He had a few run-ins with the law, but it seemed they all knew him, and most of the law officers would just “tell ol’ Will to go on home”… and, he’d usually go and sleep it off. If they did have to take him to jail, he’d tell my grandmother, then a little girl, to sit outside the jail house window so he could give her various instructions. You probably can’t picture it like I can – but I laugh when I think about those nutty mountain people.

My grandmother died in the Fall of 2005, but right before she died, she came to Atlanta and asked me to take her “back to our land at Sassafras”. We spent time on her land and visiting with some of the mountain locals who actually knew Will, my great grandfather, and had even more interesting and entertaining stories regarding him and his antics. Despite his wild nature, they all loved him and his heart.

By participating in this run, I was hoping to add some personal closure to the death of my grandmother and perhaps meet the spirit of my great grandfather somewhere on those mountain trails. Did I expect to see a ghost? No. Of course not – but I did hope to feel something out there that would ease the emotional loss I felt regarding my grandmother’s death; and perhaps, in some odd way, meet my great grandfather on some kind of spiritual level.

You t’aint in Atlanta no more, boy

Man, my first 10 hours in the mountains was a big eye-opener for this city kid. When I got into Pickens County around 8:00 P.M. the night before, I couldn’t find any food because the two or three, small, side-road country restaurants were already closed. There were no QuikTrip stores or 24-hour convenience stores. No ATMs. Just mountains and trees and winding roads.

My hotel was called, “A Nice Little Motel” and consisted of four wooden rooms adjacent to the Country Store. When I made reservations and asked for directions, the lady said, “Aw, just say your lookin’ for Shirley’s Place, they’ll know whatcha mean…” – but thank goodness I found it, ’cause there would have been no one to ask where “Shirley’s Place” was…

Because the store was already closed, they left my key under the mat. I thought that was funny and certainly nothing you’d ever see in the city. Imagine that – people trusting people.

This is when I met Doug Dawkins. A longtime ultrarunner who apparently puts on a 50-mile race somewhere in North Carolina. He was very nice and we talked about what I could expect for the next day. He told me, as a sweep, I should expect to be out on the course for at least 12 hours. wow – 12 hours…

Getting to the starting line

Since there was no alarm clock in the Nice Little Motel, my wife, still in Atlanta, set hers and called me a 3:30 a.m. to wake me up. S’ok, I couldn’t really sleep anyway. I was too excited about the run …as well as a little frightened at the raw nature of what I was about to attempt.

By 4:00 a.m., I was driving to the finish line to leave my truck, and then ride to the starting line with other runners. I’m not sure how it happened, but I ended up bouncing down the road in the back of a small pickup truck, with four other runners, making our hour-long drive to the starting line. It was dark, a little chilly and I was hungry. I asked the other runners who had been here before, “do they have any food at the start?” ….One guy, grinned a little, and said “nope.”

Thankfully, another runner gave me a granola bar and while I ate it, I listened to their stories of 100-milers and other ultras they’ve done, before the inevitable happened…

“How many ultras have you run?”, I was asked.

“uhh… I have only run two 50K races and one 8-hour timed event with 32 miles being my max distance to date”, I sheepishly admitted. “And the 32 mile run was last week. This will actually be my furthest distance so far.”

They were a little surprised by this which only made me more nervous.

At the starting line, I just kind of stood in amazement at all the ultrarunning talent in attendance. None of these runners knew me, but I knew a lot of them through all my ultramarathon research and reading. Some I recognized from ultras in which I have participated in Atlanta, but most were mountain runners from NC and SC. By the time I snapped out of my trance, it was 6:20 a.m. and the race start preparation began. The runners left the starting area, and as sweeps, we took off about five minutes after them.

Once you go in, there’s only two ways out

Once you start this race, you only have two choices – Run to the end or quit early and make your way back to the start. There is no way for any vehicular traffic to come get you. You’re on your own. …Cool!

The edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a really beautiful place to run. The nature was as raw as it could be. Huge trees, whitewater rivers and streams, and an almost 100% single-track course. I was amazed at how well the course was maintained being that is was so out in the boonies…

I had a very difficult time getting into the swing of everything for the first mile or so. For one, I was carrying an hydration backpack which I was not yet used to carrying. Coupled with my two hand-held water bottles, the pack added extra weight and hassle. “Great”, I was thinking to myself, “why not add some extra weight to an already PR distance.” …sheesh. Second, we got lost in the first mile and had to retrace our steps to get back on the course. Grrr. Not a fantastic way to start.

I skarfed down a mocha-flavored caffeine gel pack and an electrolyte pill and felt instantly better. I ran the next 3 miles or so alone, just checking out the nature, getting a feel for the trail, and listening to my body. So far so good. “A little bit of a rough start, but I’m in the swing of things now. ”

The Vet Tech from Hendersonville

I caught up to another group of runners around mile 4-ish and ended up running the next 10 miles or so with a girl named Lisa (I think — I’m terrible with names). She was an excellent person to run with although I kept feeling like her pace was faster and that all my yapping was probably slowing her down …If, so, sorry Lisa. But she was interesting and we both share a deep love and appreciation for animals and most of the conversations related to animals, nature or travel.

This was very pleasant time for me. I felt good and was running effortlessly for the most part. We’d chill out a little and hike the steep hills, but for the most part we ran along rather comfortably, maybe 10-minute pace-ish, and commented on our surroundings.

Drinking from the river

Being a self-supported race, the only water available was straight out of the many rivers and streams. I had purchased purification tablets to prevent Giardia, a nasty gut-wrenching bacteria that is sometimes found in recreational water. A few runners from previous Laurel Valley races have experienced it, so most were treating their water.

The first time I stopped to refill my hydration pack and water bottles was the only time I treated my water. After that, it became a hassle and I thought to myself, “I’m pretty immune to a lot of stuff – Forget it – I’m just going to drink it…”

I guess I got lucky, because I never got sick and I never had to drink a bunch of chemicals, either. Win-win.

A side benefit of the rivers that really saved me was the fact that I could lay down in them. Shirt, shoes and all …just plop right down in the cold water. It soothed my aching feet and leg muscles beautifully and really gave me some added recovery throughout the day. I must have done it 10 times or more.

Up, up, up ….and then, up, up, up again

Deceptive summits are not very pleasant. There were many times during the middle part of the run where I would shimmy up some steep climb, that looked relatively short, only to be presented with a lot more “climb” around the corner. I let out quite a few cuss words in these situations, but it’s ok – I was mostly alone at this point.

I don’t know much about mountains, but during the middle of the race, I felt I was mostly climbing, running some ridges, climbing again, and then running some more ridges. This is where I got my spiritual on. I was alone. No runners in sight and I hooted a few times to make sure none were in earshot either.

I began my conversation with my grandmother.

I won’t go on about all that. It’s personal to me and boring to you – so let’s just say I am a little more at peace with her passing than I was before I entered that forest.

And then there were two

After the largest river section of the race, I was feeling pretty good. I had caught back up with some of the runners who were ahead of me so I soaked in the river for about five minutes, refilled all my hydration gear, sucked down a gel and immediately started the VERY steep climb out of the gorge and back on the trail.

It was now around 1:00 p.m. and I had been running for about seven hours. One more hour and I would be in uncharted territory. That was a little worrisome, but exciting at the same time. I was running along nicely, proud of my race management thus far, and figuring I had to be well over halfway through the course; and that’s when I met Terri Hayes.

Terri is 64 years old. I realize women aren’t typically fond of having their ages announced, but I feel confident that Terri is proud of her accomplishments at her age and can care less about all the “girly stuff”. She sure as heck should be proud. She’s done a lot of races in her life, including some of the big name 100-mile races such as Western States. She’s lived all over the place including California, Hawaii, South Carolina and who knows where else. I got a big kick out of this woman and really enjoyed spending the next 5 hours with her.

When I ran up on Terri she was having a very rough time. I’ll be honest, I was scared. Not just for her, but also for me. I was a sweep. It was my responsibility to stay with her and especially during her condition at the time. What would I do if something terrible happened to her? I really did not think she was going to make it another mile, let alone another 15-20 miles; but she proved me very wrong.

After some gel nutrition, a little water and some encouragement, she became much more alert and alive and pushed on with a sort of “no choice” determination that really moved me. She would stand at the bottom of some of the steep climbs proclaiming that she just couldn’t lift her legs; but I’d look back and here she’d be coming… still moving.

Then on the downhills, even when she was feeling awful, she’d break into a little sprint-like run and force herself to push down the trail. I loved it! I couldn’t help but think there was some sort of spiritual intervention here. Somehow, I needed this experience with Terri as a sort of a component to my ultra experience in these mountains.

I hope I can be as dedicated, stubborn and pleasantly feisty as Terri when I’m 64 years old.

Ha! 1.7 miles my butt!

It was getting late in the day. I had been moving for over 11 hours and I was starting to really fatigue. I believe the ultra-esque word for this period is “the wheels were falling off”. I was tired and starving. I was ready to stop running.

Then, BAM! In my face was a wonderful wooden sign stating 1.7 miles to the Upper Falls Parking Area. Woo Hoo! I took off. I knew Terri was right behind me and I knew she was going to finish, but I was so fatigued that I sped up in an effort to get to the end sooner rather than later.

So I ran.

And I ran.

And I ran.

“This is the longest 1.7 miles of my life… and, why don’t I hear any waterfalls?”

Still kept running.

Then I started cussing again. Cussing at the Park for lying. Cussing at my legs. Cussing at myself for taking off with 35+ miles on my legs without knowing the true completion point.

Then I found another river and just plopped down in the river and waited about 10 minutes for Terri to catch up. …and that’s when she told me, “that sign lies. I tried to tell you but you took off.” I felt like an idiot.

No such thing as an easy ending

So we crossed the stream and quickly came to another spot in the river where we had to actually scale some big boulders at the edge of water. Then came some very steep steps built into the mountain. Then some very steep rock steps. Then even more steps. I felt like I was doing squats.

And then more steps.

This is probably one of the only times I did not smile for awhile. I was mad at all these steps.

and then, just like that, I began seeing tourists, all of whom were looking at me like I just crawled out of the mud. I was dirty, bleeding, exhausted, grumbling and huffin’ and puffin’ like the little engine that could.

And I did.

Approximately 12 hours and 24 minutes later, I arrived at the finish area, with Terri just behind me.

It wasn’t long ago, like 3 or 4 months, where I proclaimed that the SweetH20 race was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Well, now Laurel Valley is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

Even if it wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to do after coming off 32 miles last Saturday, I’m glad I did it. I feel I gained valuable training and experience for the next challenge, the Mountain Masochist 50-mile.

Full speed ahead.

WEEK 5 – Grew Just a Little Bit More

This week of training was all about the Hot to Trot 8 Hour Trail Run. I learned so much about myself from the 29 laps around the 1.1 mile trail course. It was definitely one of the most grueling experiences of my life and I came away from the event a lot stronger, smarter and better equipped to not only conquer my November 3rd, Mountain Masochist 50-mile Trail Race, but any other difficult situations in life that could come my way.

If you haven’t read my race report from Sunday’s eight hour trail race, please read it here. I think you’ll find it an interesting and revealing read.

I have 12 more weeks of tough training ahead. It only gets harder from here.

…and as always, if you have some pocket coin to spare, why not help me help the homeless kids of metro Atlanta. Without boring you, it’s important that I reiterate that none of the donations go to supporting my race. I support my own race. I just want to bring awareness and support to these kids.