Monday, November 28, 2011

Chicago Mountain Running Club

Well I made it through a week of flat running, and honestly it wasn't so bad. 

Wampum Lake 5k - 19:08

I should have known I was in trouble when I was on the 12:50 AM train back from Chicago, after a Black(out?) Wednesday that involved at least 2 dozen grape and blue raspberry Twizzlers. 
I should have known I was in trouble when there was nowhere to leave my drop bag and I didn't find any aid stations on the course map. 
I should have known I was in trouble when 15 fit high school harriers lined up next to me at the start line (why was I standing so close to the front in the first place...?). 

I knew I was in trouble when, 30 seconds into the affair, I was completely out of breath, wondering how I could get out of this with my dignity in tact. 

The 5k is a beast of a race, and I enjoy watching people run this distance very much.  Despite the fact that I have coached at a high school (as a volunteer assistant, don't worry I wasn't actually telling people how to run) I've never raced the distance myself.  For good reason, it hurts!  A lot.  Wampum Lake was a great venue for my first 5000m, there was no pavement, a sprinkling of SINGLETRACK and lots of mud.  It was fun to actually race and I was surprised at how much oxygen helps the whole process of running fast.  I actually managed to run a 6:08 mile and not pass out immediately after.   

Without boring anyone with the details of my race, I'm proud to report that I sprinted past one teen and got out-kicked by another, finished 1st in my age group (so did my mom!) and actually enjoyed running fast-ish. I think I'll be planning a few more 5k/10k races this winter. 

City Runnin' Advice for Mountain Folks.  

- Running across the Chicago River, in a canyon of skyscrapers, is not as cool as the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.

- Running through the Lincoln Park Zoo, and seeing "wildlife" (monkeys! lions! zebras!) is WAY better than seeing wildlife in the mountains of Colorado.  In the zoo, there are fences.

- Always carry a $20 with you when you run in the city.  When you want to quit there is usually a taxi nearby to take you to the end of your run. Keep the Garmin on though!

- DO NOT splash in the puddles of Chicago.  They are not like mountain puddles, as evidenced by the oily sheen.

- Just because you can run the 4 miles to catch a late-night train, doesn't mean you should

- You can run most of our race courses solo, and still feel a similar course.  Good luck running a big city marathon course, unless you like spending half of your time waiting for stoplights.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trail Running and the Maximalist Ethic

            There is a certain vein of piety to the minimalist movement.  The logic goes something like this: If I eschew the comforts of modern society (flat screen TVs, fossil fuel burning cars, McDonalds monopoly, etc…) then I will achieve a higher level of goodliness than lesser, materialistic Americans.

                              There may be some truth to this, but I disagree even if it is true:
             I love my HDTV; I love watching football on Saturdays and Sundays, and now Thursdays too!    My car – it is great for driving around town.  But what if I’m headed somewhere that has managed to outsmart global warming and still has snowfall?  You better believe I’m taking my brother’s gas-guzzlin’ SUV.  And McDonalds is awesome, so what if their chicken nuggets aren't certified free-range and organic.  I love their french fries too, and one day I’ll get that stupid Boardwalk monopoly piece.
            The great part about America is that we can all live together, minimalists and maximalists.  Unfortunately, I’m beginning to notice a disturbing trend in ultrarunning.  The phenomenon of the minimalist mystique.  Find any gathering of trail runners nowadays, and your likely to hear the following conversations:  What’s the heel to toe drop on your shoes?  Do you carry a pack? Handhelds? Water? Gels?  Do you use a Garmin? Timex? Sundial?  I made it 6 hours on 2 Gu's and handful of many calories did you need? 

 Personally, I have a pretty strict policy on the gear I use.  If it’s on sale and it’ll help, count me in! 


Without dissecting my entire running outfit (blog rules - no sponsors, no free advertising), here is a rundown of the most important items – my color coded coat system.

Orange coat – warm shell
Green Coat - windbreaker
Red Coat – Bombproof rain jacket

When in doubt, I bring all three with me (and those who know me, know that I am full of self-doubt).  You never know when a bluebird day is going to turn into the 2011 edition of Run Rabbit Run!  Besides, I’m banking on my 10% odds of getting into Western States, why should I dismiss 10% chances of rain?

You say: “All of this gear weighs me down and distracts from the true experience of trail running.” 
I say: “If a two pound pack weighs you down, get a little stronger (or use hiking poles).”

All of these things make my life easier!  Why drink from a stream when I can bring water with me?  Why nibble on roots and berries when Hammer and CLIF put so much effort into these gel packs?  If I am ever that desperate to cut a few ounces off of the weight I carry, I’ll drink a few less beers the month before a race and limit (not eliminate!) deep-fried food.  To this day, noone can explain to me why they are so upset to summit Pikes Peak and see all of that wholesome awesomeness.  Embrace the doughnuts and soda fountains, use the bathroom!  We can’t build mountains, so why not add amenities the ones we already have?! 

One more thing – Hoka wearers, buy some real shoes.  You are taking this too far.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grand Canyon R2RandomPoint2R FKT has recently featured an interview about some kid setting a new FKT at the Grand Canyon.  I am waiting for them to call me about my record, but since it's Monday and they haven't called yet (time is money, Bryon) I decided to sell the story to myself at a steep discount.

There is a rock, somewhere in between Phantom Ranch and the Cottonwood Campground, that marks the turn around point of the standard R2RandomPoint2R route.  I can not describe it exactly, though it makes a nice seat, and there is probably still a large wad of phlegm in the vicinity.  I travelled from the South K-bob trailhead to this point and back in 6:53:38.  My original goal was to complete the entire R2R2R, but generally I set the bar high and gradually lower it until my level of competence is matched (it's important to remember that at one point I wanted to be a doctor, then a teacher, then just to find any job).

The Grand Canyon is awesome for many reasons, the most important being that the Double Crossing is not an official race and my DNF wouldn't appear on  This allowed me, mid-run, to create my own route, set an FKT and make it back to the South Rim in time to see Dakota steal the FKT spotlight from me.  What a punk.

Our day started with the national anthem, sung by a chorus of runners whose voices were more Biz Markie than Mariah Carey.  This picture was taken less than .01 miles into the adventure, and proves that I was on FKT pace, if only for a switchback.
                                                       Photo credit - Brandon Stapanowich

We made our way down the canyon, and I enjoyed a PR cliff-pee (it had to be a 1,500 foot drop).  The group acted like the ends of an accordion, splitting up and regrouping down the trail, straining for glimpses of our 7th and fastest member.  At the river we split for good.  Some running happened in the next section, but I decided that sight-seeing would be the order of the day as my legs were moving as slowly as the mighty Colorado cuts through granite.  At the aforementioned sittin-rock I turned around and headed back to Phantom Ranch.  Beer at Phantom Ranch costs $4.95, I was in a place where I would have needed at least four to feel good so I decided to save my money and start walking up.

It's a cool but daunting feeling to stand at the bottom of the Grand Canyon whilst totally spent.  There are no chairlifts and the mule train had left the station.  At every other race I've DNFd this year (2, but who's counting) I hitched a ride back to the start.  This does not work in the Big Ditch.  I still had to get out.  So I hiked, and passed the time cajoling hikers to cheer on Dakota when they saw him.  I chatted with a 17 year old kid about football (not even Tebowing would save me), I cursed the "3.5 miles from South Rim" sign and enjoyed the truly spectacular views.  Finally, about .25 miles from the rim I stopped and waited for Dakota.  We both got our FKTs and spent a few minutes waiting for the bus, flexing under our spandex tights for the tourists to prove our manliness.

Occupy Ultra

Here it is folks, another running blog!  Just what the ultra-community needs.  I'm no elite athlete, I pay for my own shoes and steal gels from races to re-coup entry fees.  So why am I writing?  More importantly, why are you reading?!  In the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement, this site will reflect life as the 99%  -  the runners who finish the day after a race starts, spend more than 45 seconds in aid stations and occasionally walk the downhills.  Did you know that some runners actually check cutoff times, rather than course record splits?  Welcome to I Run Slow!