Gear Review – KEEN Newport Pants

A month ago I signed up to be a “wear tester” for KEEN’s new line of pants (full disclosure, I get a free pair of shoes and socks out of the deal).  The goal of the testing program is to wear the pants doing the things you do and report back on how they fared.  Well, they fared pretty darn well.

The first thing you notice when trying them on is that they don’t slide on easily.  The reason is that the legs aren’t straight like every other pant I’ve ever owned.  Instead, they are shaped like, well, like legs.  From day one they feel like they are broken in and contoured to your body.

climb2

Another feature of their construction is a gusseted crotch.  For my first big test of the pants (and specifically the crotch part!) I wore them to help out with my son’s flag football practice.  They needed a designated snapper, so the pants got a good workout.  For pants that aren’t baggy or spandex, I was really happy with their performance.

The next test was a combo: work + climbing.  The work part is easy – not much challenge for a pair of pants when I basically just stand at my computer all day.  The key takeaway though, it’s nice to have pants that look good at work and then can be worn right to the climbing gym.

My cousin and I have been meeting once a week at a gym near my work, and it’s been great.  The problem is that I am not great, so my legs have been knocked about pretty good.  And I did it again – I ground my knee into a rock.  But the pants were unscathed.  The pants move like loose sweatpants, but are much tougher and not sweaty.

One of the nice attributes of these pants is big pockets.  I like that the thigh pockets don’t stick out from the leg of the pant like cargo pants, but they are still big enough to fit a bottle of water.  One of the thigh pockets is zippered, which is nice for securing a cell phone.  The regular front and back pockets are also unusually deep.  I have pants with front pockets that coins and keys fall out of when I sit in the car – never going to happen with these pants.

tentFor the ultimate test, I wore my KEENs on a Boy Scout camping trip…where I was in charge of the kitchen.  After the Saturday night Thanksgiving feast I looked down at the pants and they were pretty trashed.  But like when climbing, the pants weren’t at all scuffed up in the places where I had scraped against an oven door or other kitchen perils.  The pants took everything I could throw at them.

What would I change?  I’m not much of a logo guy – and there are three.  I’m good with the K on the knee – kinda cool.  But the back pocket and center back belt loop are also branded, it’s enough already.

One other beef: I’m an odd number waist size (33).  KEEN’s not the only pant manufacturer to skip odd numbers – but it means I have to wear a belt.  OK, true confessions, the day after Thanksgiving gluttony they fit just right without the belt :roll:.  Hopefully the demand for these pants will encourage KEEN to offer them in a wider assortment of sizes…and I’d buy!

Cost: $95

Site: http://www.keenfootwear.com/us/en/product/clothing/men/pants/mens%20newport%20pant/khaki!olive%20green

Mini-Review: With the amount of trail running I do, I blow out the big toes of my socks a lot.  The KEEN socks that I’ve been wearing are individually Left/Right shaped, so it feels like with the extra room in the big toe of these socks will fix this problem.  Somebody remind me in a year, and I’ll write update on how they held up 😛

Ultramarathoning

An ultramarathon is a run longer than a marathon.  Because most ultras are run off-road, please first read the trail running page.  This article will specifically address training for, and running in ultras – not how to be trail savvy.

First off, for most mortals, running an ultra is probably not a good warm up for an “A race” ironman.  It is not uncommon to need upwards of a week of serious recovery after a 50 mile race.  But if you have an early season IM race, and don’t want your season to be done in May or June, picking a fall ultra definitely falls under the “doing cool s*$^ with your fitness” motto!

Building up to your first ultra

 Just as in the leap from olympic triathlons up to long course, there’s a big leap from a marathon to a 50 miler, or even a 50 kilometer run.  While the distances are believable from a fitness point of view, one must run an ultra very differently from how you would run a marathon.  The assumption here is that most ultras are on trails, and most ultras contain a significant amount of climbing – and descending. 

I’ve heard people on marathon courses complain about the “hills” – when the only bump in the road is a freeway overpass.  In contrast, the Western States 100 starts out with about 2000 feet of climb in the first 3 miles!!  Oh, and the start is at 6,000 feet!  Many triathletes will survive the climbs due to strong thighs and glutes from biking, but the matching descents can really tear you up.  Start slow and build up.  Rushing into running hills can send you to the doc.

A great way to learn about how to run an ultra is to volunteer.  Ask to be at an aid station out on the course (as opposed to helping with registration!). This will teach you a lot about what people are wearing, how they are running, eating, and acting (the ‘vibe’ is much different than at tris and shorter running races).  Many groups that put on trail races will give you a 1/2 off credit for a future race if you volunteer, which is an additional perk.

Many ultraraces provide shorter distances as well.  Your first race should probably not be more than a 1/2 marathon or a 30k (18 miles).  Run EASY, learn, talk with other racers, enjoy the scenery.  This is a training/learning run!

Another way to gain HUGE amounts of experience and knowledge – for free – is to pace another racer.  Many races (generally only 50 miles or longer) allow registered runners to be acompanied by a pacer for the second half of the race.   You get to run the course, eat the aid station food, and enjoy some great company.  If you are looking to race past 50 miles, I would STRONGLY encourage you to first pace another runner.  Some races have discussion forums (or Facebook groups) that will light up with requests for pacers in the months before a race.

Selecting an ultra

There are two main kinds of races: Distance races, and timed races.  There are four primary ultra distances: 50k, 50m, 100k, 100m.  For timed races, these are mostly in 12 and 24 hour flavors – run around a loop for the time, most miles run wins.

The calendar at the Ultrarunning magazine website is one of the most comprehensive lists of ultras.  Start there to find races.  A nice feature of their calendar is that it includes two ranking numbers – one for terrain (how much climbing), and one for surface (paved, dirt, technical rock).  PLEASE pay attention to these numbers – and for your first couple of ultras…UNDERestimate your abilities.  When the surface ranking gets to a 3 (out of 5), these trails can be quite difficult to run.  A level 1 or 2 is managable, but it is not uncommon to see at least some blood at the end of a level 3, 4, or 5 race.

Some people love courses with tons of climbing, some don’t.  Pay very close attention to the profile contours that are provided on most race sites.  And keep in mind that the scale is pretty crunched – fitting 100 miles of contour into a 3 inch picture means you are missing a LOT of detail.

Race specific training

A big surprise to many new ultrarunners is the amount of time spent walking during a race.  Many courses have prolonged (more than a mile) sections where you are best off walking – so you need to train to walk!  Walking (quickly) up a steep hill uses different muscles than you are used to using – and the hills can go on for 15 minutes to an hour or more(no joking!).  Try to find a hill that resembles the most knarly on the race course and walk quickly up, and run hard down, lather, rinse, repeat.

It is important to do some of your training at your actual race pace/intensity. Your running mechanics might change substantially when you are running this slow – and you’ll be doing it for a long time.  Make sure your ultra race pace running is as smooth and efficient as when you are pushing it.

You MUST practice running downhill.  There is a right way to run downhill, and a wrong way.  The wrong way is slow, hurts, tears up your quads, and kicks up a lot of dust (which will make you popular with your competitors right before they blow by you on the trail).  There is a big section on running downhill in the ‘Special Techniques’ section of the trail running page.  Read it, try it, practice it.  DO NOT try it first time on race day!  Remember when we talked about ‘blood’ earlier?!?!

Another aspect that needs to be worked out in your training is race day nutrition.  In most 5k – marathon races there are aid stations every mile or so.  Not in ultras.  It is not uncommon for aid stations to be 5 or 7 miles apart, which for most runners will be an hour or more of running.  Oh, and since many aid stations are remote, you CANNOT trust that they’ll have all kinds of goodies…or that they will be there at all in some smaller races!  There is also a very real possibility that you will get lost.  It happens.  A lot.  Usually this just means “bonus miles!” – the point is, make sure you are equipped to carry enough water, and train with that equipment.

If your race will start, or end, in the dark, be prepared to run with a light.  Know how it feels to run on an uneven trail at night – it takes practice.  Some people have a hard time doing this – they get dizzy and disoriented.  That doesn’t get better after running 50 miles!  Practice with your equipment.

Race day

Be prepared to be underwhelmed!!  The atmosphere at most ultras is almost sleepy!  Five minutes before race start some guy will stand up with a bull horn and say a bunch of stuff that nobody can hear, and those that can hear can’t understand it anyhow.  Someone will say go…and you’re off.

The ultra-mantra is: “Start slow, then slow down”.  The good news is that ultra racing lends itself well to Endurance Nation style pacing.  The EN guidance on riding a bike up a steep hill translates directly to ultra racing.  You will feel like you are going backwards as people pass you going up hill.  Smile, offer them kind words, you will see them again 😉  Use your uphill walk to adjust equipment, pop a salt tablet, drink, stretch.  As the crest of the hill approaches and the trail levels some, start jogging.  At the top, start your run.  The others who ran past you a while back will now start going the other way.  You are now flying downhill on fresh legs and a clear head.

Just like using a power meter to restrain yourself on a bike climb, a heart rate monitor can do you a big favor in an ultra.  Aim to keep your HR stable between the flats and the climbs.  Even more difficult is keeping your HR constant on the descents.  It’s common to drop 25 beats from your HR going downhill.  And while it’s probably inevitable that it will go down some – fight it, and RUN the downhills.  Running downhill intelligently is where the smart ultra runner wins the race.

Because it’s next to impossible to apply your road pacing to a hilly ultra, we are left with Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), and Heart Rate (HR).  My (untested!) suggestion: shoot for a target HR of 70% of your threshold HR (your flat 10k HR).

Like a long course tri, you will probably want to have someone drive you home if the race is local.  A 2 hour car trip after a 50 miler is torture.  No really…torture.  Cruise control can help 🙂

 

Trail running basics

Trail running is a great break from miles on the road, or hours on the treadmill.  Trail running is also a key part of Ultramarathons.  Here are some tips to make your experience fun and safe.

Hydration

One of the first things you’ll discover about trail running is that you often have to be more self reliant than you might otherwise be.  While you may know every park and schoolyard in your neighborhood that has a drinking fountain, five miles back from a trail head you will hurting if you don’t bring your own.  You should also plan on carrying extra fluids, just in case (see the Navigation section below :|).  A Camelbak comes in very handy, because in addition to providing an easy way to carry lots of fluid, they also typically have room for stowing some extra gear – either to put on if it gets cold, or to hold things that you strip off as you warm up.

If you plan on being way out in nowheres-ville, you should know how to make water safe out on the trail – typically this means carrying some sort of chemical treatment like iodine tablets.

Critters and plants

One of the great treats of trail running is seeing wildlife.  One of the worst things about trail running is seeing wildlife :?.  Hitting the trails in the early early morning almost guarantees you a sighting or two.  Common animals on the trails (at least in Northern California) are rabbits, deer, coyote (they’re WAY more afraid of you than you are of them!), the occasional (and very illusive) bobcat, snakes, gophers, squirrels, and all manner of birds.  And then one morning I came around a bend and saw a chewed off deer leg lying in the middle of the trail – probably the victim of a mountain lion.  Yipes.

OK, some big predator tips.  Unless you have crazy speed – don’t run.  Running triggers a “catch the prey” response that you DO NOT want to trigger!  The general rule is get BIG.  Stand up tall, raise your hands out, and talk defiantly to the cat/bear.  If they do attack, fight back.  (Note, some might say that playing dead for a bear is better – but I’ve never had occasion to have to figure that out).

Poison oak and ivy are a continual concern.  There’s a special soap called Tecnu that does a good job of washing off the offending oils – and can also be applied pre-run if you are pretty sure you’re going to be exposed.  A note about these plants, they are still dangerous even if there are no leaves.  So be cautious kicking branches out of the way – you can still get a good stripe of painful itch.

Ticks can also be a concern.  Always wear a hat, and give yourself a look over after the run.  Dogs running free are magnets for ticks – if Fluffy is running with you, be sure to check her out as well.

Navigation

Trail running almost always means getting lost sometimes.  Make sure you have a trail map which often available at the trail head, or sometimes you can download them from the park’s website.  One thing is for sure – trail signs are very, very often not enough for you to successfully navigate a large area with many trails.

If you can, run with someone who is familiar with the area and the trails.  A GPS can help…if you know how to use it!  A Forerunner type device will give you some help – but again, you have to know how to use it.  If you’ve never played with the GPS functions, start by taking it on a familiar road run.

General Safety

Be aware.  No really, that’s one of the most important tips for trail running.  If you can “only” run with headphones – deal with it and don’t wear them for a while.  You NEED to hear the sounds around you.  You should be aware, particularly on singe track trails, of other people on the trails.

Until you get very comfortable running on trails, and even after that, it’s also critical that you focus on what you are doing.  One of the joys of running on roads, tracks, and treadmills is zoning out and just hammering.  You just can’t do that on a trail.  Rocks and roots, mud and branches.  When you fall (notice that wasn’t an “if” ;)), take a quick second and think back to what was going on in your mind – probably work, what to cook for dinner tonight, etc., etc. – but it was something other than “trail”.  It always happens…you’ve been warned.

Run in the middle of the trail/fireroad.  You are much less likely to brush up against harmful plants, and much less likely to surprise a nasty critter.  Many snakes will try camoflage first, then rattle, then strike – staying in the middle of the trail helps.

Gear

The best thing about trail running is your free license to spend $$$ on GEAR!!

  • Trail shoes.  While not an absolute necessity (you can get by with your regular shoes), trail shoes offer a number of benefits:
    • they typically have protection against sharp rocks poking through the sole (guess what, it HURTS)
    • they also typically have a good chunk of rubber on the front of the toe to protect you when you kick a rock or root
    • some level of water-proofness, and many trail shoes come in a Gore-tex version
    • wider base
    • “stickier” sole (hint, this means you should NOT run too much on hard surfaces since they will wear out fast)
    • bigger cushion around the ankle (keeps rocks out)
  • Camelbak – drinking is good
  • Trail socks.  Huh?  Yep, they are important, here’s why.
    • trail socks are usually crew or 1/2 crew – providing some abrasion protection, and a bit of protection from poison oak/ivy
    • the additional height keeps rocks out of your socks (which is a major pain) – anklet socks have a gap around your ankle bones that catch little rocks!
    • trail socks tend to have a bit more cushion, which really helps when running downhill.  The downhills on trails tend to be MUCH steeper than roads, and your toes will smush into the toes of your shoes.  Socks with cushion in the toes really help
    • you will ruin your regular socks (unless they already happen to be trail-dust-brown)
    • One brand that meets all of these: Injinji – highly recommended
    • I’ve also been running a lot with Drymax socks (I sweat a lot, and they don’t get soggy)
  • GPS – and know how to use it!
  • Survival kit.  Check out the S.O.L. (Survive Outdoors Longer) kit.  It’s missing water treatment tablets, but otherwise it’s a very light and compact way to carry most of what you need just in case.
  • Trail map(s)
  • Hat.  Good protection from ticks, sun, and the occasional overhead branch.
  • Sunglasses.  They are good to have for a number of reasons:
    • protection from bugs and branches
    • keep dust out of your eyes (kicked up from other runners, horses, mountain bikes, wind)
    • increased visibility in some situations
    • photochromatic glasses rock (they self adjust between light and dark) – highly recommended when running in and out of tree cover
  • After run – hopefully you won’t have to buy all this:
    • towel to cover your car seat
    • recovery drink (you’ll often have to drive home, so get recoverin’ on your way!)
    • new shoes if you don’t want to get your car dirty/muddy
  • Tracking tools.  If you have some geek-fu, there are many solutions for tracking your run in realtime.  Here’s an example: Where’s Mike Now?  This will help if you miss your return time (you did tell someone where you are going and when you will return, RIGHT!?!?).

Special techniques

Downhill – in trail running the ups tend to be more up, and the downs tend to be more steep than other running.  Going downhill the wrong way is slow, tiring and painful.  Most novices run downhill with the brakes on – leaning your boddy back, taking big steps and jarring their heels in on each step.  This results in trashed quads and lots of hip and knee strain.  Going downhill the right way is fast and exhilarating (ok, maybe “sphincter puckering terrifying” is a bit more accurate than “exhilerating”).  The strategy is to lean forward, take tons of small quick steps, and keep things moving under your feet, rather than trying to stop yourself with every step.  For illustration, think about a BIG rock falling straight towards your head.  You wouldn’t dif your feet in and hold your hands up and try to stop the rock, as it approached you would put your hands to the side of the rock and push it a bit to the side, and yourself the other way – so the rock “slides” by.  Well, there is a big rock, the earth, coming at you pretty fast.  So rather than trying to stop it with your feet, try to push it to the side, and yourself a little to the other side.  Running this way lets gravity move you, and all you have to do is stay ahead of it.  The first time you try this, you will feel very tired – this is due to the inevitable adrenaline rush that will flood your bloodstream as your brain thinks “I’m going to die”.  If you don’t die (if!), you will be on your way to mastering an important skill.

Uphill – Two rules: in training run, in racing walk.  When your running slows to 15:00 min/mile or slower, you aren’t really doing yourself any favors running rather than walking.  But the only way to get faster going uphill is to…go faster uphill.  So run up when training.  But when racing you’re just burning tons of energy without much speed gain.  Running uphill causes a lot of up and down of your body that doesn’t typically translate into faster across the ground.  Better to walk the ups, bring down your heartrate, and fly down on your newly freshened legs.  By the way, by “uphill” we’re talking UP, and HILL – not speedbumps or freeway overpasses.

One exception to the “run uphill in training” rule – if you will be racing in an ultra with extended very steep sections (like a mile or more of steep-steep), you should get some hill walking training in.  Walking uphill uses more glutes than normal.

As for form when running uphill, particularly in a triathlon when your quads are probably fatigued, you can help yourself by “recruiting” your glutes (butt).  As you’re running, rock your hips forward a bit – think of pointing your belly button down a bit.  You should pretty instantly feel the pressure come off your quads, and your glutes will come alive.

 

What I do

When people ask me what I do, I generally respond with “I’m a software guy”.  That’s the short version, but what I really want to say is…

I write software that makes peoples’ lives better.  I’m passionate about well written software that empowers people. One of my particular interests is in creating “mashups” – bringing together different technologies to fix a problem.

One example is my “Where’s Mike?” page.  I wanted to be able to record my runs, but I also wanted my wife (and rescue personnel!) to be able to find me if I was late coming home from a long trail run.  This page takes advantage of a web enabled iPhone app which records where I am, and then I designed a webpage that uses Google Maps to display the live track.

Writing the code is only part of the joy for me.  I get real joy out of giving away my ideas and seeing where they lead.  I posted up the code for my Where’s Mike page on the developers forum of the iPhone app, and many people have used my code for their own site, and many have made improvements and extensions that I never would have thought of!

The company I work for (IntraPace) makes an implantable gastric stimulator for the treatment of obesity.  We have a website for patients to interact with each other, track their eating and exercise, record goals, listen to podcasts, etc.  Right now, all of our patients are in Europe, and I was concerned about how we could get patients in Germany, Spain, and the UK to interact together.  One of the common problems of obesity is isolation – so wouldn’t it be cool if a person in Hamburg could see that someone in Italy was experiencing the same challenges (like finding it’s difficult to go walking when the weather is lousy), and another patient from London joins in and suggests that on rainy days they go to the mall and power walk!  Wow, that would be cool.

Since it was hard for me to read the German posts of our first members, I hacked up a little tool to grab their forum posts, send them off to Google’s online translation tool, and then re-insert the translated text.  That initial seed of an idea has now blossomed into a full blown feature called “LiveTranslate” for our website.  Here’s a video of LiveTranslate in action:

 

 

Desert R.A.T.S 2011

22eb8-day2campview-scaled1000

Back in November of 2010, I read a short race report about a six day, stage running race – 148 miles across the Colorado and Utah desert on foot.  My imagination was hooked, and eight months later I found myself on a bus with 31 other racers, driving away from Moab, UT, on our way to the starting line nearly 150 miles away.  The bus stopped at a trailhead, we got out, and after some brief encouragement from the race director, we began our trek back to Moab, along the Kokopelli trail.

Day 1 was actually one of the shorter days, “only” 20 miles.  But starting in the midafternoon meant that we experienced the heat and wind of the day.  I was struck by the beauty majesty of the surroundings.  I’m used to trees and flowers, so it was hard for me to see the beauty that first day, where rocks, scrub brush, rocks, and more rocks were our steady diet for hours.  But the majesty of the canyons and buttes is plain to see – and everywhere in this part of the desert.  My run went well on that first day, but I grossly underestimated my fluid needs.  I ended the day severely dehydrated, and after finishing spent upwards of half an hour on my back with my feet elevated trying to get my blood pressure stabilized and my fluid levels settled.

During this time I was watched over by an outstanding medical team.  There were four docs who travelled with us – some were ER docs, some with military combat medicine experience, and all of them visibly committed to making our run a success.  Each night, the medical team would set up a “blister clinic”, and treat all comers – draining blisters, and taping feet and toes for the next stage.  I’m glad that on the whole, their week was uneventful.  But they were a great asset to the race, made us feel more secure, and were great guys as well.

Photo: Glen Delman

d5781-088-scaled1000

Blister Clinic

Before the race, I considered Day 2 the most difficult, and it did not disappoint.  Since we started Day 1 so late in the day, we didn’t have much recovery time between these stages.  It also traditionally was the warmest stage.  Due to recent flooding of the Colorado River, our planned camping area at the end of Day 2 had to be moved, so our mileage for the day was shorter than planned, around 35 miles.  I spent much of this day (and many of the others) running with Kurt and Shelley Egli.  They had run RATS twice before, and were a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Kurt was my “desert whisperer” – throughout the week he would quietly inform me of some nugget of info about the heat, the course for the day, or the week ahead.  Shelley taught me that I have a whole other gear with which I can climb hills!

Photo: Glen Delman

c91e8-009-scaled1000
Kurt and Shelley Egli

Somewhere near the middle of the day we met up with Jason McGinniss – who had been way out in front of us up until then.  Jason had taken a wrong turn, and had burned a fair bit of time and energy before getting back on the course.  The four of us ran/walked for what seemed like hours.

Photo: Glen Delman

57662-071-scaled1000

Jason, Shelley, Kurt and me

Much of the second half of the day was on one LONG, relatively straight “road”, so someone would pick a landmark (typically a telephone pole), and we’d run to that.  Then walk to the next pole, and then we would run to the next landmark. Repeat. And again. Do that 30 more times.  And that was Day 2 in the books.  I spent much more mental effort on drinking a LOT of fluid, and keeping my electrolytes topped off – so thankfully I had no hydration/energy/GI problems at all.

Each day the wonderful camp crew would tear down camp as we ran, and when we arrived at the day’s finish line, miraculously we arrived at a fully assembled camp.  Food was plentiful and very tasty.  And I’m not sure how many watermelons gave their lives during the week, but I’m guessing it was somewhere north of 100.

fb333-img_0957-scaled1000
It takes a lot of eggs to feed a bunch of hungry RATS!

Starting on Day 2, each of our camps was close enough to the Colorado river to allow us to soak our legs, and take a QUICK dip – the water was very recent snow melt, and was probably in the mid 50s.  But it felt soooooooooo good on the legs, and it was nice to get at least the top layer or two of dirt off.

For Day 3, we ran a little longer than expected, to make up for some of the lost distance the prior day, the consensus was that it was around 11.5 or so.  The joke around camp was that: “It’s an unusual group of people who consider an 11 mile run a ‘rest’ day”.  I ran with the Egli’s again, and Doone and Tim Watson – a delightful couple (of fearsome runners!) from Canada.  Well, I ran with that crowd until the mud.  We had been warned about the mud that the receding river had left on the trail – and nobody had any trouble…except me.  My very first step into the mud resulted in my shoe and gaitor being sucked right off my foot!!  I was glad there was a big rock there, so I sat down and put myself back together again.  And tied my shoes a little tighter this time.  Maybe too tight…

Day 4 – the Expedition Stage – 52 miles, up and over a mountain range, and back down the other side.

Photo: Glen Delman

73322-108-scaled1000
All through the morning we could see our destination –
the saddle between the right two peaks in the distance

One of the challenges of Desert RATS is staying on the right trail.  During this stage, at least two people got off course long enough to end their race.  I felt so bad for those folks.  And I was very nearly one of them myself.  I was running with the Watsons through a nice area, and had drifted ahead on a long downhill section.  Cruising through a trail intersection, I realized I hadn’t looked carefully for a trail marker, and went back.  I found the marker, but in my haste I looked at it from the wrong side (so no matter what, I wasn’t seeing the correct arrow), and then I must have not even read the marker correctly, and started off on the side trail, uphill, full speed ahead.  Doone and Tim arrived at the crossing shortly afterwards and saw me blundering up the wrong trail, and called me back.  A minute later and I would have crested the hill, and they wouldn’t have seen me…and I have no idea what would have happened.  I was very low on water at that stage, and we were literally, out in the outskirts of nowhere’s-ville.  I told them that when I get home I was going to have another set of twins, just so I could name them “Tim” and “Doone”.

Thankfully, most of the rest of the Expedition Stage went off without a hitch.  I was very disciplined to take a shot of nutrition – Infinit concentrate – each 15 minutes, an S-Cap each 20 minutes, and to wash them down with lots and lots of water.  I was pee-ing about every hour and a half, and had no bloating.  In one particularly long segment (11-12 miles) I drained my main Camelbak bladder (100oz) and my reserve bladder (35oz).  I was NEVER so thankful to see a water drop!!!

With 7.5 miles to go, I hit the last aid station and was feeling very good.  I realized that I would not be making my 12 hour goal for the day, which I really needed to hit in order to reach my 30 hour goal for the week.  But the last 6 miles was downhill on pavement, so I was anticipating making up a bit of time.  I got a refill on water, and had my mandatory equipment check.  Each aid station, the crew would ask for one piece of mandatory gear – the knife, strobe light, mirror, etc., and mark it off in our expedition book, as well as recording our time.  We exchanged well wishes, I took a step, and my knee exploded in pain.  I could instantaneously tell that my IT band had siezed while I was standing there, and each step brought me to new levels of pain.  I hobbled off, not wanting to get corralled by the med guys at the aid station, and got my pain induced hyperventilating under control.  By walking with my leg straight, it didn’t hurt too bad, so I kept moving, and rubbing the outside of my leg to try to soften up the spasming tendon.  After a while, my peg leg started to bend a bit, then a few test steps jogging, then I was back into it.  Then, like a moron, I stopped to pee.  I hadn’t pee’ed before the last aid station in case they were goint to weigh me (if I had lost too much weight, they could pull me off the course).  Well, now it was time, so I went to the side of the road, and went.  First step, and HELLO KNEE!!!  Crap.  Let’s try this again.  Peg leg walking, massaging as much as I could, and it softened up enough to get going again.

I started the day by cruising the first 10 miles, and enjoyed some brilliant scenery and good company.  But at hour 2, I really started to “race” in pursuit of the 12 hour goal, and my body and mind paid for it.  I have never before focused so intently, and for so long, on moving forward.  Working hard to tackle the uphills without losing too much time, and really pushing on the downhills – of which there were many, and many of them were quite technical.  I got two new blisters this day to complement the little guy on my pinkie toe.  I finished in 12:18, and was very happy with that result.

Photo: Glen Delman

1cb68-225-scaled1000
 A very happy Mike at the finish of the Expedition Stage (note the salt line on my shorts!)

Day 5 was a real rest day, no running, just soaking in the river, and eating.  One of the best lines of the week was delivered this morning…from one of the tents I hear: “I feel like I got hit by the ugly truck. Then it backed up, and hit me again.”  So true.  We were all pretty beat up, and filthy, and I can’t imagine what the scent was like downwind.  I got my feet taped up, and ready to go for the marathon on Saturday.

381de-img_0962-scaled1000

We also enjoyed a slide show of photos that Glen Delman had taken through the week (and he graciously allowed me to use some of them here).  It was an emotional night, as we realized the magnitude of the adventure we had shared together, and the beauty we had started to see in the desert – and in our fellow racers and the crew.

Day 6 – let’s run a marathon!  This stage starts with a monster up, and then a huge downhill, with a little slice of technical trail running on a 5 mile out and back spur.

Photo: Glen Delman

e4952-290-scaled1000

The view from the climb

Well, it WOULD have been only a marathon if I wasn’t a doofus.  Going into the first aid station at the top of the huge hill, I let my companions drift ahead so that I could go into the station a bit slower, but spend less time there.  I was very concerned that my knee would flare up again, so I wasn’t taking any chances.  I left the aid station and crested the hill, and my companions were already long gone – so I took off running down the hill at a really good pace…until the car came up next to me.  One of the runners saw that I went right past the trailhead and screamed and whistled for me, but I never heard him.  He got the attention of the aid station folks, and they sent a car after me.  I was about .4 miles down the road when he told me I needed to turn around (and walk back up the hill – grrrrrrrrr).

With that, all hopes of a 30 hour final time evaporated, and I turned my attention to just running hard and doing the best I could.  The technical out and back on Porcupine Rim was really hard for me – since it was out and back I was able to see how far ahead the other runners in my morning group were, but I just couldn’t summon the juice to close the gap.  To my credit, I got “lost” again, but only got 3 yards down the trail and realized that I was maybe on the wrong trail.  I started looking for tracks, and seeing none went back to the last “Y” and saw a bunch of tracks on the other trail.  It only took 6 days, but I finally learned how to stay on the trail!!

The finish line was a raucus celebration.  All the finishers clapped, shouted, and whistled for each runner as they rounded the last turn.

79256-img_0979-scaled1000

I was SOOOOOO happy to see the flags of the finish line, and to hear the screaming and banging of water jugs.  I had finished Desert R.A.T.S., and the smile didn’t leave my face for four days.  My final time was 30:18, which placed me as the 4th male, 5th overall.  That one female was Suzanna Bon – a delightfully humble runner who demolished the women’s course record by five hours.  We ran together for a while on Day 1, and after a while she politely said something like “I think I’m going to go on ahead” as I walked up a hill, and she ran it like a mountain goat.

Photo: Glen Delman

73de3-307-scaled1000

 

Epilogue – This race was something special.  It was much more of an “event” than a running race.  Reid Delman, the Race Director, and his crew, were incredibly generous with their time, efforts, and themselves, and made it possible for us to focus on running. In the days following the race, it became clear to me that the race had made a big impact on me.  Here’s an excerpt from an email exchange I had with Jason McGinnis:

Me: I am having a A LOT of trouble getting focused and back to work this week – just feels like I should be somewhere else…

Jason:  Yes, getting back to reality has been really tough for us too. The emails, the calls, work, traffic, rude people…it all sucks. The Tulsa crew has been calling it “post rats depression”. It makes me wonder if people might have been much happier hundreds and thousands of years ago. I think we lived for a brief while somewhat like nomadic native americans. A small tribe of ultrarunners, who instead of going out every morning and hunting for food, we went out and ran. Then we came back to camp and ate, relaxed, and slept. No bills, no taxes, no tv, no phones, no shopping malls, no government, just new relationships and a beautiful landscape. We washed our clothes by hand and bathed in sandy cold water. And somehow that is more satisfying to me than what we all go home too. I think through industrialization and technology the western world has lost something special very special. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is we have lost, but I think RATS gives us a glimpse of what life could be like. To me simpler is better. Also being surrounded by endurance athletes is awesome. Everyone there has tested themselves and pushed their bodies to extreme levels at some point in their lives. Everyone of us has experienced suffering and persevered through it and whether we talk about it or not it makes us different kinds of people than the rest of the modern world.

Me: I always think it funny when we “discover” a new tribe out in the middle of the Amazon or something, and we feel so happy that we can bring “civilization” to them – to free them from their horrible life in sync with the earth and their environment…but with out Nintendo (oh the terror!!)

I’m thinking that something we all experienced was “accepting” our environment. It was hot, and the hot wasn’t going to go away by bitching about it – so we didn’t bitch, and accepted the heat. And the climbs weren’t going away – they were something to be accepted and experienced, until they were gone, and a new challenge presented itself. For me, I didn’t fight the desert, and I think that greatly helped my race and my attitude. And it helped that camp wasn’t full of a bunch of drama queens/kings.

The first time I paced someone (very early in my ultra running career) the guy taught me “you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” And maybe that’s the glue that joins RATS together – we’ve all made that adjustment to life, that discomfort isn’t something that MUST BE ELIMINATED at all costs, but rather, can be accepted, and maybe even enjoyed a bit.

Dang, awful philosophical for a Friday morning!!!

Jason: I think its nearly impossible to do something as awesome and challenging as RATS and not get philosophical or come away with a different perspective on life. And trying to explain all this to friends and family…forget about it.

Medical Epilogue – Remember when I pulled my shoe out of the mud and tied it real tight? Well, I’m thinking I did something bad to my foot that day.  When I woke up the morning of the 52 mile stage, the top of one of my feet (right under where the knot was) was very sore – and it stayed sore throughout the day, and through the rest of the race.  It’s a little over a week gone by now, and it still hurts. I’ve had it x-rayed, but nothing showed.  I’ll go back again in a couple of days since stress fractures often don’t show up right way.

Another thing that happened in my first week back – I was VERY lethargic.  After a couple of days I stepped on a scale, and saw that I was 5 pounds lighter than when I started the race.  I then began “recovery eating” in earnest, and my energy returned very quickly.

Mini-Review: Gutr

Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m a sweater.
No really, I sweat a lot. And one of my pet peeves is crap on my sunglasses – and there’s nothing worse than a nice big dribble of salty sweat on sunglasses. This has driven me to try lots of headbands.

On the bike I’m a fan of the Halo headband, but it’s pretty thick (maybe ‘wide’ is a better word), and it gets pretty saturated. Enter, the Gutr. It’s basically a silicone(?) headband with a profile shape of a ‘J’. The theory is that your sweat will collect in the gutter, and drip out the sides. Since it’s essentially just a strip of rubber, it doesn’t absorb any sweat at all, but rather channels the sweat to the side of your head.

In practice, I haven’t seen the bottom of the gutter get wet – I presume because the long part of the J isn’t laying flat against my face. BUT, I do feel the sweat dripping off the sides, and I have had clean sunglasses since using the Gutr.

One situation where I’ve had drips is when messing with my shoes out on the trail. Looking down can allow the sweat to pour over the top of the Gutr. When I remember, I first run for a few steps looking up into the sky – to empty out any pooled up sweat – and then lean down to do whatever. I tried the Gutr when I was on a bike trainer, and found that I’m too prone to glancing down (generally to check gearing), and I got a few ‘spills’. So for the bike, I’ll probably stick with the Halo.

Aesthetically, the Gutr is pretty understated (though they do have a camo version if you want to express your inner warrior!). It’s only about a 1/4″ wide. And in case you are wondering, it does NOT have to be super tight to work.

Cost: $16
Site: http://www.sweatgutr.com/sports-sweatband.html

Mini-Review: Snap+Map for iPhone

This is a helpful app for finding yourself in a map. For example, if you’re at a large zoo you can take a photo of their park map, then calibrate the app by dropping two points on it at known spots in the park (say, the main entrance and the front of the monkey cage). From then on, the app can show your position in the map.

Maybe a zoo wouldn’t be too much or a challenge, but how about a large ski resort? This morning I downloaded a PDF version of the trail map for Fremont Older preserve – a favorite trail running area of mine. I extracted an image of the map and mailed it to myself (easy way to get a photo to an iPhone). The Snap+Map app can use an existing photo, so it imported it and I was off. I ran to two easily identifyable spots (tops of hills) and dropped my two “Snap Points”. I continued my run, and stopped at a couple of other known spot, and checked the map – it showed me pretty close to where I was, within 100 feet.

When I got home I added another map, but used GPS coordinates printed on the map and hand entered the Snap Points. Since this task only has to be performed once (well, at least once per edition of the map!) I don’t mind spending the 10 minutes.

I also used their Upload feature, and sent my maps to their service – so others will be able to just use a pre-calibrated map. I can foresee maps of common tourist attractions (Disneyland, etc.) being readily available as more people use the app.

Of course, this app is IN NO WAY a substitute for a paper map, general navigation skills, and situational awareness. I wouldn’t download someone else’s map of a large trail run area and trust that I’d be able to find my way.

Cost: $1.99
Site: http://www.fogtechnologies.com/products.html

Why Twitter Matters

It’s quite common for me to hear people grump: “Twitter is so stupid – I don’t care what flavor of Latte someone is drinking RIGHT NOW.” The grumpers inevitably go on to add their disdain for the amount of time people spend on Facebook, and how crazy kids are to post pictures of themselves on MySpace. Yep, Yep, and Yep, I reply.

But there is much more to the story, and those of us from the pre-text generation (we use phones to talk, not text!) would do ourselves a favor to see where things are going, what good can be found, and why it all matters.

First off, an apologia – I don’t care about people’s latte flavor either. I don’t care about much of what comes across my social networks. But I’m committed to the baby, and I’m learning how to efficiently deal with the bath water. This isn’t much different than a newspaper though, is it? Does anyone read a whole newspaper anymore. Heck, does anyone read a newspaper at all anymore?!? No, we skim the headlines and read the interesting bits. Sites like Facebook do that one better – they have the option to Hide content you don’t want to read. I have Facebook “friends” who are actually just high school buddies that I haven’t seen for years. I have no qualms against “hiding” their daily (hourly!) posts about how long the line is at the bank.

But what good comes from all this stuff anyway? I’m going to skip all the obvious stuff – catching up with old friends, staying connected, yada, yada. What about the cool stuff going on!??! Here’s a scattering of ways that social networking is impacting real life and business…

Kogi – This is a “virtual” restaurant in the L.A. area. They serve Korean fusion food from a group of taco trucks – that are deployed through Twitter. They tweet where they’re going to be and at what time, and a loyal following is waiting when they arrive. On the other side, if there are a bunch of hungry people at some sort of gathering, like a street fair, the Kogi folks pick up on the temporary emerging market by following their fan’s tweets, and get a truck over there.

Facebook vs. Simon Cowell – It’s a recent British tradition that the winner of X-Factor TV show(similar to American Idol) handily wins the coveted spot of #1 single during the Christmas season. Some kid on Facebook decided that he was sick of the X Factor telling him what to listen to, and started a group on Facebook to stop it. He asked people to join the cause and purchase a (7 year old) song from the group Rage Against the Machine. Within a week or two, over 500,000 copies of the song had been purchased, knocking the X Factor guy into second place. Cost: $0.00, Impact: over half a million participants, Time: weeks. And this wasn’t all about something as visible as Haiti relief, it was about someone finding something that people felt strongly about, and giving them an opportunity to jump in and impact the world (in a small way).

Google Flu – Google is in a unique position of being able to determine, right now, what’s going on. And while they’ve been able to parlay that knowledge into some serious dinero ($1.9 Billion in profits in Q4 of 2009 – yes, that’s “B” billion, and “p” for profit!), they also do some good with it. Google tracks searches for “tamiflu”, “aches”, oh, and probably “flu”, and maps those searches by location (which they can determine from a variety of methods). Out pops a map of pockets of people seeking flu related information. I heard an interview that observed that the US Centers for Disease Control takes advantage of Google Flu Trends to anticipate where the next outbreak of flu will be, since Google typically knows a week before they do. Yipes!

Earthquake tracking – While Google is looking for flu, the US Geological Survey is looking for earthquakes…on Twitter. It costs A LOT of money to put seismological sensors all over the country in places that aren’t susceptible to being fooled by human influences (big trucks, fireworks, etc). But within minutes of an earthquake, Twitter lights up with people reporting their experience. The USGS uses this data to very quickly map out the extent of an earthquake’s impact and to help locate the epicenter. Sure it’s still experimental, but it’s off the hook cool.

And that’s just a sampling, and there’s surely more to come. In this morning’s paper there was an<a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/search/ci_14242473?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com“> article about a team at Microsoft trying to do real-time search: not looking at stale indexed web pages, but sifting through live, dynamic social media feeds for up-to-the-second search. A month or two back there was talk of Google buying Twitter to achieve the same goal.

Yes, much of what goes across these social networks is mundane crap. But there’s also some gold in all that dirt – if you know how to look.

And since I’m sure you’re dying to know, while I typed this I was enjoying a refreshing tangerine Italian Soda, mmmmmm.

Dick Collins Firetrails 50

badc2-media_httpwwwfiretrai_fsbff-scaled1000

What a great day. Not a day free of pain mind you, but great nonetheless!

 

I started my Saturday at 3am (I had planned on 4, but I woke up early). Had my standard race breakfast at 4 – Banana, hard boilded egg, Cliff bar, 1/2 bagel, and a Gatorade. Drove with Karen to the start, where it was still dark. After some quick words from the Race Director, we were off.

 

The course starts out on a flat, paved bike path – which is good since it’s still pretty dark and it serves as a warmup before the first real hills at mile 3. Which is where I made my first change in plan…and I think it was a good one. I had every intention of at least jogging up all the hills. In a past race I had a lot of problems getting going again after walking due to dehydration. Well, I got to the first hill and EVERYONE was walking. Duh. Maybe I should listen. The problem was dehydration, not walking. And there was still a LOT of day ahead, so I joined the plodding procession. I was happy when things leveled out and we could get running again. That first hill is one of the bigger ones of the course, so it was great to get it over with so quickly.

 

Then I was surprised – the course was much, much flatter than I had expected (and trained for). I had read online race reports that this course has very few flat sections, and the elevation profile backed that up:

297db-media_httpwwwfiretrai_vqjdh-scaled500

But after that first big spike, things leveled out and became pretty gentle rollers for quite a while. There were still plenty of hills to walk up though, and I tried to be disciplined to not hammer on the downhills to “make up lost time”.

 

Karen drove ahead of me and met me at many of the aide stations. Here’s a picture of me coming into an aide station at mile 21.7:

d4fe7-media_http3bpblogspot_cmjlg-scaled500

The next big chunk of the race was pretty uneventful. I was really focusing on hydration, and had already pee-ed 2 or 3 times before the turnaround. One embarrassing moment – there was a winding section of single track trail, and I was all alone, and really had to “go”. So I figure “why not?” Pulled down my shorts a bit and just kept running (I learned this trick from Matt Aro when I paced him at the Headlands 100 last year). Fifty feet later I’m turning a switchback and hear some people, glance back, and I was definitively NOT alone. They didn’t say anything, and I didn’t ask – but I did pick up the pace and put some distance between us!!

 

Funniest line of the day – at the turn around aid station a young lady ready to start out on the second half gave her boyfriend a hug and then quickly apologized: “Sorry for being so sweaty!” – after 26 miles of trail running and she wasn’t Downey Fresh – the nerve! I cracked up 🙂

 

The next event for me came at mile 34. I was cruising along in a pretty technical section and kicked a root or rock. I didn’t fall down, but I was pretty sure my big toenail was toast. The good news was that about 15 feet after cracking my toe I started down the steepest, most technical section of the whole course. It’s basically a stream bed with tons of rocks, and very steep. Steep = foot jammed into the toe of your shoe. Yeah, definitely uncomfortable.

 

Another hour or so went by with pretty much just easy flat cruise, but then somewhere around mile 40 I lost my focus on hydrating properly. I remember getting to the aid station at 44.1 and refilling my Camelbak, and then in the intervening 2.9 miles to the next aid station I pretty much drained it. This section was the most exposed and arid of the course, and also had a 660 foot rise (so there was a lot of walking). Why do race directors feel compelled to put the hot, dry sections of a race right near the end?!? But indicative of how well this race is run – there were aid stations on either side – so that was nice.

 

Then the real pain began – not due to the course as much as my own (pick one): vanity, drive, insanity. Right at mile 45 I glanced at my watch and saw: 9:08. I was stunned. I was thinking it would be saying 10 something. Up until then I had tried to keep my eyes off my watch, not stress about pace, not endlessly do the math of this many miles divided by that time, yada, yada. But 9:08!? Dang, if I could bang out 10 minute miles from now on I could beat 10 hours! The only problem is that my normal pace on trails is more like 12 minute miles…and I’ve had a 45 mile “warmup”. Screw it – I’m going to go for it. And I started working like I’ve never worked before. There was an aid station at mile 47 that I took like an Indy car pit stop – they reached for my bottle, but I just kept it in my hand, got a top off of water, and bolted. Leaving the aid station I looked down – 9:30:01, with three miles left. Up to that station had been pretty flat, so I was feeling upbeat. Then I turned the first corner in the trail and was hit in the face with a long steep uphill. Oops. I power walked it and kept drinking, and then started running as soon as I could. If you look at the last three miles of the elevation profile above you’ll see the many little hills – ouch. After walking the first one I knew I couldn’t walk any of the others. Those last three miles were the hardest miles I’ve ever run.

 

I was really, really, really happy to come around the last corner and see the finish chute. I glanced down and saw that I had a minute to spare. My final official time was 9:59:35. All grins for me. And then something new – I came within an inch of breaking down in tears. It was such a relief to be done, so happy to have squeezed in under 10 hours (when my stretch goal had been 10:30). Here’s me right after the race (and yes, I do my own hair!):

ca5e0-media_http3bpblogspot_nlfsu-scaled500

Then the eating. Oh, the eating. According to my Garmin watch, I expended 6646 calories over the course of the run. I calculate that I took in around 3000 calories from my Infinit drink. Right after the race I had two bottles of recovery drink, and I tried some bread, soup and a hamburger (but the hot food just didn’t sit well). On the way home from the race I asked Karen to pull over so I could pee and get some french fries, which ended up being a hamburger and fries (which I drenched in salt). Even though my Infinit has the electrolytes turned all the way up, and taking 2 Thermolyte tablets an hour, my body still craved salt after the race. When I got home I sliced up a mango and sprinkled it with chili powder and salt (Mexican style!). At 10pm I asked Karen to cook me some eggs and (5 pieces!) of bacon. There was something else in there, but I can’t remember what it was.

 

As for the schwag – this race is schweet! In a reusable shopping bag was a nice windbreaker, a tech shirt, a logo’ed wine glass, a water bottle, TrailRunner and UltraRunning magazines, and then the requisite coupons and ads.

 

Sunday morning – I feel pretty good today. My shoulders are sore – I’m not sure if it’s from the Camelbak, or more likely from carrying a bottle all day. My legs are fine as long as I’m stationary, but they like to “remind” me whenever I move around. The toe I whacked is tender, but it looks like it will be fine. All in all, not too bad.

 

Thanks to everyone for their well wishes, and to Karen for being my chief supporter and super crew during the race!