Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stoneman Marathon, December 17, 2011
University of Sao Paulo
I work for a company based in Brazil and they had me in Sao Paulo for most of the fall. I had scoured the international race websites and found a few races, but either the timing was wrong or the city was wrong. I could see traveling to Rio for a weekend, but I seriously doubted that I would make it to some 7:00 start after partying there. The Brazilians have been very accommodating. I speak no Portuguese and while Spanish is close to Portuguese, my Spanish is pretty bad too. Sure, I could fake my way getting a steak (or a beer), but anything complicated, even on the web, is a pretty tall order.

So I was running out of time, I had been in Brazil for two three-week sessions and no race. The final week I was at work on Tuesday and one of the local IT guys, Fernando, was going over some materials with the group. I noticed Fernando was wearing a Garmin as we reviewed data. During a break, I asked him about local running events. He assured me that there were events every weekend in Sao Paulo. We sat down and he pulled up ( Brazilian style!) and we started looking at races. We ran out of time, so I kept looking after work. After digging through the websites , I finally found a full marathon, on December 17, my last Saturday in Brazil!! Oh bummer, it is already closed! Well, I had nothing to lose, so I typed out a very simple email asking the RD for a chance to run and copied it into Google Translate. I sent the email in both in English and Portuguese, fully confident that I would never hear anything.

Wednesday morning at work, I kept fighting the temptation to check my personal email. Even if the RD had seen my email, the odds were low that he already responded. So when I finally gave in at mid-morning, I was shocked to see that the RD had responded and in English! He was happy to let me join. I was in!

Back home, I am always looking at races and events and trying to find good races to run. I usually sign up way early for the races I really want to do and I usually am a little picky, I like to run my kind of race. Seems fair, entry fees being what they are. I don’t choose loop races at home. Going ‘round and ‘round in circles does not appeal to me. I like to think I am getting somewhere, I guess. From a race director stand point, loops are ideal. You can keep an eye on your runners, you can set up one or two awesomely stocked aid stations, no one can be in trouble out in the middle of no where…I completely understand. But, I also know, as a runner, some times you have to dig deep to push to the finish. However, if you could quit and just drop on a middle loop, it would be very easy to do. I also know some great runners who run loop courses and run them very well. So maybe there is more than meets the eye.

So, the Stoneman Marathon is a charity race. I found out later, the proceeds had helped more than 5000 needy kids. Very impressive! The course utilizes a long, narrow, man-made lake at the University of Sao Paulo that is set up for crew practice. Each loop is 4.6 k and you need nine laps to get the 42.2 k marathon distance. The race director had set up the race for a variety of distances to draw the largest group of runners. 5.4k, 10k, 14.6k, 19.2k, 23.8k, 28.4k 33k, 42.2k. When I signed up, the RD said there were a few in the marathon. Later it turned out three signed up and two finished.

So, I brought Diana and Christina to Brazil with me on my second venture in Brazil. It was a sacrifice, but we looked at it like a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Diana and Christina to see Brazil and take in the sights. I let Diana know about getting in the race and I was a little concerned that she would not approve of using up valuable sight-seeing time. Instead, I got a text back that she had found gels and a handheld! She knew I liked to have those for long races and had found them at a local store…talk about a great crew!

When we showed up for the race, the race director made a point of finding me and explaining everything in English. He wanted to make sure I
understood. He explained that the start would be 800 meters down the trail so that the distances worked out with the 4.6 k loop. I would need to run nine loops to complete the marathon, but if I dropped back to a shorter distance, that was ok. Would I please head that way now? It was the beginning of a day where I would absolutely be treated like a king. I started down the path with about 200 other folks. So all the runners are all standing in loose groups, most are chatting away. I have no idea what anyone is saying. I am sure it is the same the same nervous energy that comes out of all of us before the start. The Race Director rides up on his bike and presses the air horn that is in his hand! We are off! A large group on a narrow path is always a slow start. I ran at a comfortable pace and found myself weaving in and out of the groups of runners.

It is tempting to think we are unique and the events we attend are one-of-a-kind. As I walked to the start line, I was reminded how similar we all. Two guys came across each other and started chatting in Portuguese, like old pals, who ran into each other unexpectedly. One asked the other how far he was running today, the reply: “Ses” (six k). The old pal: “Sol Ses??!” (…only six??!!) …and then they broke in the same old give and take that we all enjoy at races back in the US. I flashed on a conversation I had once with Richard Schick.

Richard: “Cremers, how far you running today?”
Me: “I am in for the half (marathon)”
Richard: “Half? Why are you wimping out?”

Same stuff…different country, different language, different hemisphere…runners are the same everywhere.

As I round the turn toward the what would be the eventual finish line, Diana and Christina are there cheering me. The next section contained a glade of trees, nice and shady, then the boathouse which was bustling with activity even in the early morning. Past the boathouse there was a tree, off by itself, right by our path. As I passed the tree, I could hear a bird scolding and dive bombing me. It is Spring South of the equator and all the birds are nesting. It was hard to believe the bird would dive bomb every runner on every lap, but I am pretty sure that is what happened.

Past the nesting tree there was a pretty open area and we made the turn on the short side of the lake. The second aid station was there, just fluids, but it would turn out to be expertly ran.
The long back straight-a-way was the really test. Most of the day, this would be running into the
sun. There were few trees and an ugly concrete wall. On the other side of the wall was a very busy highway. A long, lonely run. One of the sponsors had placed an aid station with only their drink (an Acai drink) about 1/3 of the way down. One of their marketing whizzes had hired two women to hand out the refreshment. Brazil has more than its share of beautiful women and these two ladies were picked special to draw attention. They would stand there, all day, bored out of their minds to hand out their special drink. Aside from that, there were no distractions…wall, water, sun, for the back stretch of the lake.

I carried my handheld and wore a fanny pack full of the gels Diana had bought (same brand as back home with a nutrition sticker in Portuguese stuck on the back). I decided to follow my standard strategy, drink all I wanted, each a gel every even lap. Normally, I would have an electrolyte tablet every other gel, but they were all back home…I was going to have to wing it on that side. If I saw any real food that looked desirable, I would eat it. The aid station at the far end of the loop was manned by runners. They knew just what to do when I wanted to fill my handheld. Every lap, they made sure I was taken care of.

As I came down the last of the long back stretch, I would hear Christina screaming “Go Daddy Go!” from across the narrow lake. She would jump and yell each lap and help keep me on track. After I rounded the corner to the front side of Diana would be there with her camera d Christina would give me a high five. Strong motivation!

The first few laps went by went by pretty fast. About the sixth lap, I had a terrible thought. What if I was the last runner and all these people were stuck out here in the sun because of me? Maybe I should drop out and let them go home? Was it wrong to make these people wait another hour and a half so that I could brag about a race? What if Diana was sitting at the other end of the lake just looking at the time saying “C’mon, c’mon, this is getting old!” I really wanted to finish the entire race, but what if I was just being proud and stupid? As I finished the back straight away, Christina cheered and Diana took pictures and gave me an awesome smile. The RD asked me how I felt and was I ok? I said I was. Then, the coolest thing happened. The runners who had finished and hung around, were clustered around and started saying “Go John Go!” “Run Strong!” Wow! The crowd was pushing me along! Very cool. Very, very motivating. And so it went on, I kept moving forward, The bird kept buzzing my head, the guys at the aid station kept me hydrated, high fives from Christina and cheering folks. Awesome.

The seventh lap is when the sun really started to make its presence known. I would drizzle water on my head and my neck. I was drinking a lot more water. At some point, Diana got me a sports drink to replenish electrolytes. Laps seven and eight my pace was falling off considerably. As I started lap nine, I was hot and ready to be done. A guy that I did not know came up on
a bike. His name turned out to be Michael and his English was very good. “How are you doing?” “Do you need some water?” “I will ride along with you.” Michael rode along for my last lap. Richard Schick always had told me how having someone to chat with made the miles go by so much faster. He was (is still) right and Michael was going to help me on my last lap. We talked about why I was in Sao Paulo and all the normal running chit chat. It worked perfectly. Michael was going to get me home. We passed the two guys at the far aid station and the three of them had a healthy exchange in Portuguese. We passed the girls with the Acai juice. We passed the other last runner on the course, an older guy who was running the 33k. And suddenly, I can hear Christina cheering and calling for me. As we made the final turn, Michael left me to finish and get cheered to the finish. The last few folks were lining the road and cheering. “Go John Go!” “Finish Strong!” “Great Race!” I finished! I rolled in across the mat and then The RD was there, handing me my finisher's award, and Diana and Christina came up, cheering. I was done, I had run my first overseas race and I kept it under four hours. Official results say 3:55:30, my new South of the Equator PR.

After I finished, Michael and the RD asked me how I was. Diana brought me some cold water.
I saw a nurse looking at me intently, from a distance. There was a little food and Christina introduced me to the kids who she had played with during the day. I got a chance to work the kinks out of my legs. People came up and congratulated me on finishing. The guys from the far end aid station shook my hand. What a great day! What a great race! Maybe, just maybe...I might have to think harder about running loops in the future...

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I had this entire blog worked out; clever comments, witty witticisms, thought-provoking observations. All of this pretty much focused on me and running and a new PR. Then, I got a phone call that changed things. My mother had been to the doctor. She had found a lump on her breast and it was diagnosed as cancer. My clever commentary would have to wait.

Breast cancer does not run in my family. My dad died of lung cancer and I, myself had skin cancer while in high school. Other serious ailments are way more common in our family. My mother is a nurse. She is a wealth of knowledge and I have called her often to understand croup, infantigo and other, common ailments. I am used to my Mom being the resource of information when someone else is sick. I have called her late in the night for advice on a sick kid. It is not cool to have her be the patient. Not cool at all.

My Mom will undergo surgery on Wednesday. If you think of it, say a little prayer for her.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Back in the saddle again!

Ok, I broke my collar bone cycling November 10. Plates and screws and re-assembled on Nov 22. Follow up visit with the Doctor on December 2.

Picture from Jaydene Reardon

So I had promised my wife to listen to the doc and not to run too early...The doctor had said three weeks and technically I was few days early...but, hey, GUTS was having a training run at Red Top Mountain...practically in my back yard! And it was just a couple of days early. well, ok, four days...

I think my lovely wife, Diana went along with it because I told Jaydene (Red Top Rumble RD) that I would sweep and help out. I think Diana was re-assured because she knew I could not push the pace and there would be others around in case I had any issues.

So sure enough, last Sunday, Jaydene had a Red Top Rumble training run and I was the sweeper, which involved keeping people on the right trail and picking up the flags when we were done. Words cannot describe how good it felt to be out on the trails! It was perfect winter running. Rime on the fallen leaves. Just a hint of wind. The sun would pop out from time to time. Not to mention a great trail running crowd...I could not have asked for a better time to be back! Oh, and Jaydene brought snacks and hot coffee for everyone to enjoy after the run! Just awesome!

John in Cartersville

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I guess I knew that being hurt was no fun. When others have explained their injuries, I really did think I understood that yeah, it hurts and yeah, there are things you would like to do and you can't.
But now that I am hurt and I can't do what I want to do, I REALLY understand. I mean for a couple of weeks, I couldn't wear a t-shirt or put on deodorant (ok, I wasn't gross, but it is a little humbling, no?).
So, I am fortunate in that I hadn't signed up for any races that I could not run. I am (very) fortunate that I can do other things (hike and spin on a trainer in the basement). So whining is not what this is about.
I can promise that my next race (Mt Cheaha 50k) is going to be very special after a four month break. I can promise to thank my lucky stars every time I get a chance to run after I am mended. I am positive I will listen more closely to my running comrades when they are out for injury.
...and I might even be a little more focused, more careful, more dialed in next time I get on that bike...
After all, there was no car, there was no little black cat, there was no tree in the road...just me on the bike.
The doctor says the x-rays look good. Wounds are healing. Bones are knitting. Man, I feel pretty darn good. The doc says three weeks...three more weeks and I can run. I sure am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pinhoti 100 - A Pacer's View

Pinhoti 100 - a Pacer's view.
November 6-7, 2010
John Cremers

My family has tolerated my running and triathlons and have been pretty good sports about their weekends and camping in strange locales. But when I mention 100 mile trail runs, my wife's eyes definitely narrow and her smile fades, just that slight amount.
Last year, I got to meet Todd Henderson and run with him for a distance (he was having a bad day, otherwise I would have never seen him) at Pine Mountain 40 miler. Todd is the race director for the Pinhoti 100. I had heard of the Pinhoti 100 (it had just had the second running a few weeks before) and I had many questions. Todd was a good sport and helped me wrap my head around the concept of running 100 miles, in the woods, through the night, all in one go.
The Pinhoti 100 is a point-to-point trail run that starts in Heflin, Alabama and ends up in Sylacauga, Alabama. The race starts at 6:00 am on a Saturday and you must be finished by noon on Sunday. Your challenge is to finish in 30 hours. The race follows the Pinhoti trail which travels through parts of Alabama and on into Georgia (but not for this event) ending on the Benton MacKaye trail.
I am new to the long distance trail run concept and Pine Mountain 40 miler is my longest race to date. Making the leap from 40 to 100 miles is a different as working an eight-hour shift is to pulling an all nighter at work. I knew that there was a real experience to be had and that I was not ready to run my own 100 miler. I resolved to help at an aid station or in some other way. I wanted to see the race and see the runners who had put it out there to challenge 100 miles of trails.
So I sign on with Sean Oh and company. They are crewing and pacing Christian Griffith and Wayne Downey. Christian has run and finished a few 100 mile runs. He has shared his experiences at Christian knows the value of a crew, having finished a 100 miler with none. Christian ran and finished this very race last year and has completed a loop at Barkley. For Wayne, he has moved steadily up in distances and this is his first 100 mile race. Wayne is an everyday guy. He goes to work everyday. Like me, he balances work, family and training. Wayne is eager to finish this race, but knows that this is an awesome challenge.
So I get to Sean's house and Sean's friends, Haley and Charlotte and I pile into his SUV. We are in Atlanta and heading to meet up with the runners at mile 40. This is the earliest in the race that the runners are allowed to have a pacer and it just happens to be the top of Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama at 2407 feet.
The concept of time was very fluid in this race. Why do I say that? Well, first off, I live in Georgia, which was on Eastern Daylight Saving Time at the beginning of the race. The race is held in Alabama, which is on Central Daylight Savings Time at the beginning of the race (an hour earlier than Georgia). Then right smack dab of the middle of my sleep-deprived weekend, the time changed back to Central Standard Time. I am not suggesting that as an added cruelty that Todd scheduled the race on the day we turn the clocks back, but yes it did make for complete confusion for me. So If I mention a time, it is probably Central time and it is probably the time with a nod to the time change. Bear with me.
At some point Sean got a text from Wayne's wife that Christian had dropped out of the race. She had no details, but it looked like Christian had been injured or had a medical issue. We scrambled for more information, but had no luck getting any. Two additional support guys showed up at this time. Victor and Phil drove up in Christian's SUV. Both had completed 100 mile races and were helping to crew Christian. We talked about the race and the way the night would play out.
Then all of a sudden, Wayne called Sean. Our intrepid trail runner was reaching out with the cell phone. Wayne had found a sign that he was ½ mile from the summit. The last aid station was out of water and Wayne had none left in his hand-held. We sprang into action. Sean had me dig out water and he ran down the trail to meet Wayne. I followed with two 20 oz water bottles in hand. When I reached Wayne, he and another runner were just making the nice boardwalk that reaches out from the parking lot to the summit. I dumped one 20 oz bottle into each runner's hand-held water bottle. Wayne was really disappointed having to make the climb low on water. He had also turned an ankle and it was bugging him. We asked him about Christian and Wayne explained that Christian was having heart palpitations and had laid down on the trail in an effort to calm everything down. Another runner had taken Christian back to the aid station and he got help there. Wayne was not in a great frame of mind. The aid station at the base of the climb not having water was a recurring theme, most of all. All I could think was, how are we going to perk him up?
Sean jumped in and said, “Wayne, Christian is out of this thing. We are here for you, man. We are going to get you some food and liquids and make sure you finish this race!” We walked onto the parking lot and sat Wayne down and suddenly Christian drives up. We put Wayne in a chair and got him in dry socks and filled his water bottle and got Wayne some food. Out of nowhere Wayne asks: “Who is going to pace me?” I jump in and say: “Wayne, I am ready to go!” There was talk of whether Wayne needed a jacket or this or that and suddenly Victor says, “Wayne, you are good to go with what you've got. You need to leave right now, no messing around. You want to cross Blue Hell before it gets dark.” Blue Hell is the next section of the trail, right after the aid station. Is is not a section to run, it is a climbing, hands and feet section and Victor (of course) was right. I grabbed my water and Wayne and I head out.
Wayne is still fighting the demons of the dried up aid station and the rolled ankle as we headed out of the parking lot. I talked to Wayne the entire time; “Wayne, you gotta do this thing,” ”Wayne, we are all here for you,” “Wayne you are kicking ass,” (which was true, he just needed to hear it). Victor had been correct. Blue Hell would have been just that in the dark. We picked our way through and it wasn't terribly long until we hit the trail at the bottom. Not long after we hit gravel road and the light faded pretty quickly.
We go to the aid station at mile 45 and saw more folks we knew from other races. Haley asked if I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. When I said yes, she handed me a fresh one, nestled in foil and ready to go! I suddenly understood how great a crew could be! We left the aid station in solid dark.
I paced Wayne to mile 55. It took us a few hours to run fifteen miles and I felt the effort. Wayne was in much better spirits as he felt the full effect of the support of the crew plus food and hydration. I also think that Wayne started to make this his own challenge during this section as he made it more personal for him and make it less about Christian.
When we entered the aid station at 55, we were met by hooping and hollering. Music was played loudly. We came out to a gravel road and cars were pulled off on both sides. Sean was ready to take Wayne on the next leg of the run and I have to admit that it felt good to have the responsibility shifted away from me. Again, Haley asked if I was hungry, and she and Charlotte gave me food and drink.
Haley drove Sean's SUV to the next aid station. We followed Phil and Victor who had Christian and Sully. Sully had been in his first 100 miler as well. He got lost on the trails and when he finally found his way back, he met up with the sweeps, or the sweepers. Sweepers are the official people who clear the course. If they catch up to you, you are too slow and your race is over. Sully was less upset than I would have been, but what do I know...
We pulled into the aid station at mile 60, but it was cramped and there was not much to it. We talked amongst ourselves and decided that we would be more help to Wayne at the next aid station. It was not far. We piled into the trucks and headed out. Mile 65 aid station was next to a rail road track. If there had been any doubt that there was a track there, the trains came by not once but twice. It really is something to stand next to a freight train hauling ass in the dark. What is more remarkable is that there was a house about 100 yards away. These people must be deaf. We tried to heat up some soup and be ready for Wayne and Sean, but it felt like we only did “ok” at this aid station.
At this aid station I saw another runner that I had seen at other races. This was not his race. He was angry and complaining to the aid station folks. The stress of the race was hitting him hard. It was dark and cold and I was reminded that this distance was an awesome challenge...even for a young, fit runner like this guy.
We drove to mile 68 and prepared for Wayne and Sean. I had suited up in dry clothes and fresh shoes and socks. I had fresh batteries in my light. Water bottle was full...all set. This aid station was more laid out and I counted three generators running. There was a warm, friendly fire and someone had even brought a grill. Victor wanted to grill steaks, this was not standard aid-station fare. For some reason, the lady at the aid station was not on-board with grilling steaks. Victor and Phil tried to sweet talk her and cajole her, but finally I think they just moved stuff until there was enough space and grilled their steaks. Haley and Charlotte made grilled cheese on Sean's camp stove and that was what my belly wanted. I also dabbled in the double-shots...caffeine seems to work for me. As I waited, I noticed the drop bags set off to the side. I noticed some had names, Kena Yutz, Perry Sebastian, Charles Raffenberger, Psyche Wimberly, and many others. The bags had the thinest coating of frost starting to appear.
Suddenly, Sean and Wayne were here with us! Victor gave them a little steak. Somebody topped off Wayne's camelbak. Wayne put on some fresh socks. Victor and Phil talked to Wayne and I about strategy. Next thing I know, Victor is pointing to the trail and telling me to get Wayne moving. Wayne and I started shuffling to the trail head, dropping the extra stuff we were carrying and starting to pickup speed. I looked at my watch and it was 1:50 am. The cutoff at the aid station we were leaving was 2:30 am. We were cool, time-wise, but could not dilly-dally.
From mile 68 to 75, Wayne and I knew we were approaching the Pinnacle. We knew this to be the last big climb and the reward at the top was an aid station that our own running club (GUTS) was stocking! So, big climb and then familiar faces with warm food. Victor and Phil had coached us not to overdo it on the climb because there was plenty of race left. One of the other runners had told Wayne to get to the Pinnacle before 3 am and that he could walk the marathon distance (give or take) to the finish. Wayne repeated this guy's comment more than once. All I could think about was, big climb and then downhill to aid stations 80 and 85 and then I could take a nap.
Well, it was not what we expected. First off, the trail leading to the climb was probably three or four miles, but Wayne and I were so sure that it was around the next bend that we power-walked almost all of it. To do it over again, we should have ran a little more. We just did not know any better. Then as we finally started to climb, it seemed pretty gradual...maybe we were just too cautious...or maybe I am just warm and well-rested as I write this...either way, just a little different that what I expected. Then, and others have written about this, you are climbing this trail in the dark (and it is really dark) and you come around a bend and you can see the lights of the aid station! Hey look! There it is! But the trail continues on and points away from the obvious destination...and then comes to another ridge and you turn back to the aid station. Wayne knew about this crazy layout and so was not disheartened...but until he told me, I was not a happy camper!
So we start whooping towards the lights and our Georgia Ultramarathon and Trailrunning Society (GUTS) comrades start whooping back. “Wayne?” “John?” “Is that you?” How cool is be in the dark, in the woods in the wee hours and you are expected? We walk into an over-bright aid station and are immediately handed warm, fresh, fried egg sandwiches. The table is an ultra runner's delight...peanut butter sandwiches, pretzels, m&m's and everything else, high-energy and easy to digest. Kim Pike, Kim Fuller, Mark Elson, James Taylor and aid station commander Len Thompson all were there. They were tired but they took great care of us. Wayne and I had agreed not to mess around and we were looking forward to the descent to mile 80. We started to leave...the watch said 3:50 am. The cut off at mile 75 was 4:15 am. We were 25 minutes ahead. Still ok and heading downhill.

Well, it would be downhill after we topped the first ridge. No, just around this bend...Well, when we get past this ridge. Perhaps it is just a little further. The fact was that there is no real downhill from mile 75 to 80. Wayne and I thought we'd been flim-flammed. We kept moving, running a little and walking a lot. We were moving forward and were holding back at the same time. Ready to kick it into high gear, but waiting for the right moment...
And that moment just never showed up.
We started to see little glow sticks hung in the pine trees and realized a little suddenly that we had made it to mile 80. The mood was somber, no music. The fire burned low. I remember grabbing some m&m's and I think we just kept going. Jason Rogers had escorted an injured runner here from the Pinnacle aid station and we did talk to him briefly. Jason is a great guy and helping this runner out and putting himself out in the process just bears out his selflessness. The stay was brief and I did not check my watch as we left.
The trail out of this aid station was gravel road. Flagging had been tied to the trees and we stayed on the road for a long time. Wayne and I started to wonder if we missed a turn, because the road just kept going. Just when we really started to sweat it, there would be more flagging in the tree to reassure us. The road followed the ridge line and there were little downhills. The feel was that we were losing just that little bit of elevation, but we would still climb just that little bit. Wayne was resolved to run the downs and walk the uphills. It was the right strategy. We would run and just as the road started to climb, we would power walk once again. The road required less attention than single-track and I started to think about the aid station at 85. The plan had been for Sean Oh to to pace Wayne from mile 85 to the finish and I was looking forward to letting him take over. But I had a sudden thought, what if Sean could not pace Wayne? What if he had limped into the aid station, not telling Wayne? What if he had turned an ankle and needed to pass on the last fifteen miles? I resolved then and there, that I would press on if Sean could not. I just had to mentally be ready, because had I obsessed all the way to mile 85, it would have been tough to switch plans.
The old saying tells us that it is darkest before the dawn. All through pacing I tried to keep things upbeat and positive. Wayne and I had talked about family and kids and, to me, keeping Wayne talking was as big a part of my pacer job as any running. I had to keep both our hearts in this thing. Neither one of us could afford to be sour or down. But, the truth is that we were out in the cold dark night, each thinking about our houses and warm beds and the trail was not all that inviting in the wee hours. The sky started to lighten and we were still on the top of the ridge. Out of no where, I looked left and there was a line of pink on the horizon. I remember telling Wayne to look left. As the light got stronger, I could feel it lift my spirit. It was not something tangible and I could not look at it continuously since we were moving on the trail and we did not want to stop. The pink line grew into the blue morning and I have to say that I have never welcomed a dawn such as this. Almost by magic, the course turned off the gravel road and onto single track. At first the single track was regular old trail with roots and rocks, but then, as the sky brightened, the trail dropped from the top of the ridge and was covered in pillow-like pine straw. It was a wonder. I kept picking up speed and then looking back and putting on the brakes to keep Wayne in sight. I did not know how far to the aid station, but it had to be just felt close. The trail turned and twisted, but was always moving down the ridge. The woods was pretty open here, like there had been a burn. Wayne and I had passed a few runners on the road, but there had stuck with us and were with us now. Some of them hooted and whooped and all of our moods lightened in the morning light. We happened upon Dan Burstein, who was peeing by the trail. He watched us pass and wished us good morning. He let the entire group of us pass and fell in behind. Sure enough the aid station was the one or two turns away. We dropped off the trail and onto a road. From relative seclusion to cars and tents and people milling around, each waiting for their runner.
Well, of course, Sean Oh had not been beset by any mystery injury and he was ready to go. The crew immediately surrounded Wayne and were giving him food, instruction and changing his socks. I was suddenly not very important. I backed up a little to get out of the way, just in time to see Dan Burstein drop onto the road off of the trail. Dan, it turns out, was running this alone. He had a drop bag at this aid station and intended to get out of some of the wet clothes and keep moving. With Wayne in good hands, I offered to help Dan. Dan was happy to get some help, as would anyone trying to get out of wet clothes. He got changed, put water in his hand-held and moved on down the road. Wayne had a handful of food, someone was handing him his filled hand-held and Sean was pulling him out of the aid station as well. I yelled to all of them and watched them head out. Victor looked at his watch and gave me, what appeared to be, a very sincere thumbs up. Haley and Charlotte gave me some food and we talked about how the trail had been. We jumped into the vehicles and I could not help but to relax into the seat of Sean's SUV and think about taking a nap.
Haley followed Victor again and they sped down the hill and we were suddenly in a town. I figured out later that this was downtown Sylacauga. The Burger King was closed and we ended up at McDonald's. Haley and Charlotte offered to let me relax and would I like anything from inside? I sheepishly asked for a cup of black coffee and apple dippers. They were so nice to offer, but I really felt like a bum sitting there. I thought about it for a minute but I really did not want to go inside either. They were gone for a minute, and another minute and then they are back in the car asking me if I had dozed off...? Crazy question....
We drove over to the local High School and pulled up to the stadium. The race finishes on the track at the High School. The morning chill was just wearing off and you could tell it was going to be a beautiful fall day. Suddenly a runner, who I did not know, was on the track. Everyone at the finish had been talking but now turned their attention to this newly-found runner. People started clapping and yelling. Someone called out a name. The runner did not speed up, but did lean forward, ever slow slightly. Clearly, this person was tired but was pushing to reach that final, dare I say it, achievable mark. The cheers grew louder and the runner kept moving forward. Finally, the runner crossed the line and people came to meet and congratulate on the special moment.
I suddenly had to be out of my comfy seat and out by that finish line. I had seen a piece of what that finisher had ran. I knew what that dark had been like, even if I only dealt with a small chunk of the race. I wanted to cheer those runners in who were coming in next.
I watched so many different reactions. One woman cried and swore “this will never happen again!?” So many smiles, so many tired people who were just glad to be done. I saw families run out to meet Dad or Mom as they finished. I saw two guys come in with Mom, Dad, girlfriends (in t-shirts that spelled out their names) plus Grandma and Grandpa cheer them in. They celebrated, and hugged and took pictures and had a little party, all their own. Of course, I got to see many friends from GUTS finish too: Scott Stetson (fresh from Afghanistan), Kena Yutz, Perry Sebastian, Dan Burstein,
I hit up Christian and suggested we go walk the course back until we saw Wayne. I am not much good at waiting and figured we could bring him home. Christian was game and we started walking. A few runners past us as we walked and we yelled encouraging things and cheered them on. We finally reached a corner and crossed a somewhat busy street. I looked up and there is Wayne! With Sean Oh! Sean is barking orders at Wayne to keep him on task and Christian and I start yelling and hollering: “Wayne! You did it!!” Wayne sees us both and just shakes his head. Christian and I are both telling Wayne it's right here, just a little farther! We cross the busy street and we are next to the stadium and suddenly Wayne is on the track and I am sprinting across the infield because I don't think I will be at the finish fast enough. Everyone is cheering for Wayne at the finish. He is motoring the last part and he crosses the finish. Unbelievable! Todd Henderson hands Wayne his finisher's belt buckle and smiles. Wayne holds it up for everyone to see. We all mob around Wayne and pictures are being snapped and smiles and handshakes all around...what a moment!

Haley and Charlotte (picture is from a different event)

Phil, Me, Sean, Victor, Christian hoisting Wayne, Sully

Me, Wayne and Sean

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Advice for New Runners: Some basic things I recommend to anyone who is walking or running

OK, truth is that I have not been running very long. Everyone runs for different reasons. For me, I run to keep my blood pressure down and my weight under control. Probably pretty common reasons. I wrote the notes below because I fumbled through and learned many things about running by trial and error. Maybe some of the items mentioned below will be helpful to others who are new to running.

One of the coolest things about running is that everyone has what they need to run in their closet. No special equipment is required. That said, when I was at my first 5k, I was sure that there was going to be some secret knowledge that everyone else had and I didn't. Of course, I was just nervous, the only thing I didn't have at that point was experience. If you are a new runner or taking up running, the best thing to do to get better is to run miles.

Walk/run. If you are starting out and running for a distance is tough, consider walk/run. Jeff Galloway and others have built entire training regimens around this. The basic idea is to walk for a specified time (say five minutes to start) and then run for one minute. As you build up endurance, the walk time should shorten and the run time should get longer. I should say that I did not do this starting out (I just ran), but this system has many followers. The very cool thing about this system is that as you build up, you get that sense of accomplishment. It is cool to be able to think how just two months ago you were at five minute walk and one minute run, but now you are four minute walk and two minute run!

Mix it up. For my first three years of running, I would get up early (which is tough for me) and run laps of my neighborhood. I got to see some great sights with falling stars, bats buzzing me and beautiful star-lit mornings.

However, after three years, I knew the every crack in the pavement and every leaning mailbox. I started having more and more trouble getting up early. The reason? I was bored. I am not a morning person anyway, but when I got bored with the route it took away another piece of my motivation. My advice to new runners? Find four routes minimum. Personally, I like trails more than roads and I have options for both. I do like running the local roads by my house and the idea of stepping out the front door and going for a run has greater appeal than driving and parking and then running. So I mix it up. I am fortunate enough to be able to run at lunch and even there I have three different routes.

Mixing it up gives a runner different challenges (hilly/flat), different surfaces (paved/gravel/trail) and keeps your mind engaged as well. It will not take long for you to find out that you have preferences...put in a little bit of effort to find those preferences and find place that fit those preferences. You will stay motivated and you will keep running. It will pay off.

Keep a log. As you run, you will get better and better at running. If you keep a log, you give yourself a place to check off and say “Look what I did today!” But also, fast forward to a year later, looking back and seeing your old miles and your old comments will amaze you. One part of you will say, “...that seems so easy now...” and another part of you will rewind to the rain storm you ran in or the deer you saw while running in the woods.

The other part of keeping a log is once you decide to run a race, you can use it to track your progress. It is easy to find free training schedules (a gift of the Internet) that you can use with your schedule to get ready for a race.

Speaking of Internet training schedules, they are abundant and many are free. If you choose to train for a specific distance race, I recommend being choosy. What I mean by that, choose one that make sense to you. Some of the training schedules recommend so many minutes of running (Example: Tuesday - week 2, run 15 minutes). If you run so many minutes, you are going to cover one set of miles if you are brand new to running and it will mean a whole different set of miles with more experience. That is the beauty of the time-based schedules, they fit at many experience levels.

Other schedules will say run a certain distance (Example: Tuesday – week 2,run 3 miles). Well, if you are brand-new, that distance may not make sense. Make sure the training schedule fits you. Lastly, there are some training schedules that are complicated. If you want complicated that is ok, but if it just confuses you, try a different training plan. Running never has to be complicated.

Listen to your body. A new runner might be running three days a week and may build into more. If you legs or joints hurt, take a day off. It is ok to take a day off. Also, if you feel sore the day after a run, it may be from lactic acid. Lactic acid is a by-product of exerting yourself. As you run more and more, your muscles will get better and better at getting rid of it. By walking or taking in a light run it will help get build blood flow to remove the lactic acid and you should feel less sore.

If you are sore after three days of rest or it hurts to run, see your doctor. If your body is just getting used to a new level of endurance, rest should fix soreness. If not, trust your doctor.

After some set period of time, say six months, of continuous running, go buy a pair of shoes from a running store that actually fits you and pays attention to your feet and stride. They say it takes three weeks to form a habit, if you have been serious about getting out there for six months, you are serious enough to invest in a good fitting and a good pair of shoes. Many times when I can feel stiffness in my joints, I will realize that I am overdue for a new pair of shoes. I don't want to be cliché say you deserve a good pair of shoes, but if you are going to run and stay injury-free, shoes are a good start. The great part is that any other equipment: socks, GPS, dry-weave clothes; are completely optional. I strongly recommend investing in a good pair of shoes from a place that actually looks at you run.

Find a friend. It is very cool to have someone to bounce ideas off of and talk up running. If you really don't know anyone who runs, join a local running club. Running clubs can offer insights into local running venues, the local running stores and local races. Also, if you go to your first race and you know Joe and Jan from your club, chatting with them will make you that much less nervous waiting at the start. I will never forget being at a local (and very small) 5k, and a group of ladies showed up from one of the local gyms. They had matching t-shirts and it was most of their first 5k's. They had a blast. They all ran and finished. These were not fast runners, but they were outside, enjoying the challenge, laughing and encouraging each other. It made my day to see them have so much fun.

Set a goal. If you set a goal to be in a race, you will train that much harder to get ready. I ran my first 10k at the Peachtree Road Race. If you are not familiar, the Peachtree is a 10k that goes down Peachtree street in Atlanta. There are 55,000 people in the race. That is a bunch of folks. I was scared to death that I was not going to finish. I had run a few 5k's...and not really set any land-speed records, but the Peachtree was a daunting challenge to me...I ran my training runs like never before. I would wake up in a cold sweat, before my alarm...dreaming of not finishing the race. Well, I did train and I did finish...and back to an earlier comment...I really wish I had someone to hang out with at the start because it was a long wait!

Also, the goal does not have to be to run in a race. It could be to run a certain distance without walking or to run so far in a certain amount of time. Since it is your goal, make sure it is something important to you.

Gear. Ok, I did say that the shoes are the only real piece of gear that you should worry about, but there is a secret piece of gear that most people use once they find it. Compression shorts. Compression shorts are underwear for people who run. These shorts prevent chafing in sensitive areas...male or female, it doesn't matter. You can wear whatever you want over these shorts, and no one sees the brand name on your compression shorts (i.e. don't pay brand name prices). My wife always finds these at the end-of-season close outs and buys all she can. I highly recommend them.

Celebrate! So many times I have sat down after a long run and been completely exhausted, but I have a smile on my face. I feel so good writing down my miles afterward. Celebrate your running. If you make some milestone or run farther than ever before, call your Mom (or Dad/Daughter/someone special), tell them what a great thing you did. Celebrate the fact that you did it! No one else ran the miles for you. No one else built the miles to propel you to a new distance. Give your self a big pat on the back. Post it on Face book, Write it on your cubicle wall. Post it on the refrigerator. Celebrate running!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Georgia to Alabama Century+ Ride

Georgia to Alabama Century+ Ride

Silver Comet Trail

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Well, two days before the ride it was 100 degrees. I had been telling the guys at work that there was a good chance we would not make it to Alabama (mile 61.5) on the Silver Comet trail and we would turn at mile 50 and go back.

I never told Sean Oh.

We arrived at mile zero on Saturday morning just before 6:30 am. It was overcast but the just light enough to see. Sean Oh was at his car getting his bike together and we chatted for a minute. Then Matt Kahrs came down the trail! Matt was going to join us for the first ten miles, but later that morning he had a commitment so he would turn back.

As we were busy getting set up, I noticed a, well, serious cyclist go down the trail and then reappear and start to put his bike back on his bike rack. He explained there were trees down on the trail and he wasn't dealing with it.

Sure enough there were many trees down on the trail. Some we could pull off the trail, but some were too big and we had to put our bikes on our shoulder and climb over large limbs. I should have brought a saw! The damage was limited to the first seven or eight miles and clear the rest of the way.

Matt was great company for the start and he said that the smaller limbs were a blessing in disguise. Negotiating the limbs kept us from starting off too fast and having nothing left at the end of the ride. He was right on the money, we kept a pretty steady pace and that really paid off.

Unfortunately for Matt, just as the trail really cleared up, he had to turn and go back. Having him along was very cool even if just for ten miles.

Sean and I know each other from Ultra races in the area. We both have run some good distances and have experience with fuel and water over many hours. We compared notes before we started off. Sean brought gels, gummi bears and Sally (Brooking) told him to bring beef jerky. Sean and I agreed we should always listen to Sally. I brought a few gels, salty tortilla chips, granola bars and animal crackers. I try to bring real food, because after so many hours I can't make myself eat more gels. We both had two water bottles on our bikes. The beef jerky was a good choice and Sean shared. I should have left the animal crackers, they just dried out my mouth. We both brought electrolytes as well. The plan was to eat early and drink water often. Sean had a handy chart that showed where we could fill our water bottles and we noted where there would be long dry areas.

I should also mention that neither of us had gone more than 50 (or so) miles on a bike before. We were learning all this together.

Once Matt turned, the other runners and cyclists thinned out. Then at mile 15 or so, who should we see but Kena Yutz and Greg Myers running the other way. It was so cool to see them! We said hi and talked about Kena's upcoming race and chitchatted for a couple of minutes. They wished us well on our adventure and we were back on the bikes.

The Silver Comet trail is an abandon railroad right-of-way that has been converted into a paved trail for running and biking. No motorized vehicles (except for the Pauling County Sheriff) are allowed on the Silver Comet. This was a nice break for me from road biking where I am trying to avoid cars. There are nice parks at the access points to the trails some have better facilities than others, but it is all well marked and the website has tons of information. No surprises on our long ride.

We passed through more scenic wooded areas and got to the Brushy Mountain tunnel. I gather from the length that it was used by the railroad to go under the mountain in stead of over the mountain. Here Sean and I stopped and took pictures and checked it out. We continued through beautiful forest onto Rockmart.

Once the trail was in Rockmart the landscape changed from wooded to small town. There is a very nice park in the center of Rockmart with a bandstand right by a river. On the return trip there were kids playing in the river and a band setting up. I came away impressed with Rockmart.

As you leave Rockmart, the trail appears to leave the old rail route. The trail has some (brief) climbs and follows highway 278 for a while. Neither Sean or I had noticed to climbs on the maps. Up to this point, the grade was pretty flat and any changes very gradual. There was a board walk section right after Rockmart the made our teeth chatter! I am glad the rest of the trail is asphalt and concrete. We passed by some businesses and a more industrial area and then back to the woods. The trail was more open and we started to see more of the sun. Up to this point, we hadn't even noticed to temperature because it was so pleasant.

At mile 45 we got into the only real climbs on the trail. Combined with some twists and turns it made for a couple of exciting moments. After the longest climb we had a nice, stretched out downhill. Right at the end of the downhill there is a sudden S-curve. Sean saw it coming, but I almost didn't slow down in time. We didn't wreck, but it was touch and go for a second. Once past this section there were not many more climbs.

At mile fifty I felt compelled to stop and take a picture of the marker. The was never any debate that we wouldn't continue. Once past the downed trees, we had sailed along at a comfortable pace. We had been very conservative, like Matt had suggested, and we both felt great. If trail running has taught me anything, it is to listen to my body and my body was saying: “Let's go to Alabama!” And so we headed for Cedartown.

I don't think I have been to Cedartown before. I am sure that Cedartown has a good side, but the trail does not go through that part.

Here the trail goes on roads for short pieces and on sidewalks as well. One sidewalk section puts you right in front of a small store. Going in, it was pretty sparse, but they knew we were coming! M&M's and candy bars were in the fridge along with Cokes and Powerades. Score! I opted for the M&M's and a diet Coke. Sean got a Gatorade and something to eat as well. Sean and I stood outside and relished the break from the saddle and downed the sugary snacks. What a great find!!

Farther along in Cedartown, that is a historic depot and what looked like a museum. The trail then leaves Cedartown and is surrounded by farms. We passed by a farmer mowing hay and heard roosters crowing nearby. After the snack break it was easy to enjoy the open country.

From Cedartown, it is nine miles to the state line. The trail felt more like the first section, but I am not sure we were on the old rail line. Next thing there was an arch over the trail!

At the Alabama line the Silver Comet meets the Chief Ladiga trail. I am impressed that the trail goes all the way to Anniston. At one stop another cyclist had told us that you can ride the length of both trails and take a train back to Atlanta. That might be pretty cool to try someday!

We got off the bikes and snapped pictures of the archway...we had made it! Well, halfway anyway. The sun was warming things up and the bikes do make a nice cooling breeze as you ride. After a brief break, we made the turn and headed for home.

Sean was using this ride as an alternative to running in the heat. I am training for a triathlon in August. We both are planning out our fall races and it made for great conversation as we cranked out the miles. We compared notes on races we had both run. I asked Sean many questions about the races he had run and I had only seen the race web site.

On the return trip we had the advantage of knowing what was coming up and obviously, there were no surprises. At Cedartown, we stopped for a sugar rush again and at Rockmart we stopped for some food at a road-side stand.

Success! Both of us newbies had made the entire 123 miles! We had started in Atlanta, touched Alabama and made it back in one piece. Sean was great company and that really made the trip awesome. Maybe I talked Sean into trying a triathlon and maybe Sean talked me into trying Stump Jump 50k. Either way, we both can proudly say we completed out first century ride and had a great time.

Lastly, I have to say kudos to Polk, Paulding and Cobb counties and the States of Georgia and Alabama. The trail a gem to be treasured. To have the trail continue on in Alabama must have been a lot of effort. Good job to the people who made it happen.